[from 'The Manxman' 1894]

V

 

Ix the middle of the night following the Melliab, Kate, turning in bed, kissed her hand because it had held the hand of Philip. When she awoke in the morning she felt a great happiness. Opening her eyes and half raising herself in bed, she looked around. There were the pink curtains hanging like a tent above her, there were the scraas of the thatched roof, with the cracking whitewash snipping down on the counterpane, there were the press and the wash-hand table, the sheep-skin on the floor, and the sun coming through the orchard window. But everything was transfigured, everything beautiful, everything mysterious. She was like one who had gone to sleep on the sea, with only the unattainable horizon round about, and awakened in harbour in a strange land that was warm and lovely and full of sunshine. She closed her eyes again, so that nothing might disturb the contemplation of the mystery. She folded her round arms as a pillow behind her head, her limbs dropped back of their own weight, and her mouth broke into a happy smile. Oh, miracle of miracles! The whole world was changed.

She heard the clatter of pattens in the room below; it was Nancy churning in the dairy. She beard shouts from beyond the orchard -it was her father stacking in the haggard; she heard her mother talking in the bar, and the mill-wheel swishing in the pond. It seemed almost wonderful that the machinery of ordinary life could be working away the same as ever.

Could she be the same herself ? She reached over for a hand-glass to look at her face. As she took it off the table, it slipped from the tips of her fingers, and, falling face downwards, it broke. She had a momentary pang at that accident as at a bad omen, but just then Nancy came up with a letter. It was the letter which Philip had written at Ballure. When she was alone again she read it. Then she put it in her bosom. It seemed to be haunted by the odour of the gorse, the odour of the glen, of the tholthan, of Philip, and of all delights.

A faint ghost of shame came to frighten her. Had she sinned against her sex? Was it disgraceful that she had wooed and not waited to be won ? With all his love of her, would Philip be ashamed of her also ? Her face grew hot. She knew that she was blushing, and she covered up her head as if her lover were there to see. Such fears did not last long. Her joy was too bold to be afraid of tangible things. So overwhelming was her happiness that her only fear was lest she might awake at some moment and find that she was asleep now, and everything bad been a dream.

That was Friday, and towards noon word came from Kirk Michael that the Deemster had died on the afternoon of the day before..

"Then they ought to put Philip Christian in his place," she said promptly; "I'm sure no one deserves it better."

They had been talking in low tones in the kitchen with their backs to her, but faced about with looks of astonishment.

" Sakes alive, Kirry," cried Nancy, is it yourself it was ! What were you saying a week ago !"

" Well, do you expect a girl to be saying the one thing always? " laughed Kate.

"Aw, no," said Caesar. "A woman's opinions isn't usually as stiff as the tail of a fighting Tom cat. They're more coming and going, of a rule."

Next day, Saturday, she received Philip's second letter, the letter written at Douglas after the supper and the arrival of Pete's telegram. It was written crosswise, in a hasty hand, on a half-sheet of note-paper, and was like a postscript, without signature or superscription:-

"Most , urgent. Must see you immediately. Meet me at Port Mooar at two o'clock to-morrow. We can talk there without interruption. Be brave, my dear. There are serious matters to discuss and arrange."

The message was curt, and even cold, but it brought her no disquiet. Marriage ! That was the only vision it conjured up. The death of the Deemster had hastened things-that was the meaning of the urgency. Port Mooar was near to Ballure-that was why she had to go so far. They would have to face gossip, perhaps backbiting, perhaps even abuse-that was the reason she had to be brave. Why and how the Deemster's death should affect her marriage with Philip was a matter she did not puzzle out. She had vague memories of girls marrying in delightful haste and sailing away with their husbands, and being gone before you had time to think they were to go. But this new fact of her life was only a part of the great mystery, and was not to be explained by everyday ideas and occurrences.

Kate ran up to dress, and came down like a bud bursting into flower. She had dressed more carefully than ever. Philip had great expectations; he must not be disappointed. Making the excuse of shopping, she was setting off towards Ramsey, when her father shouted from the stable that he was for driving the same way. The mare was harnessed to the gig, and they got up together.

Caesar had made inquiries and calculations. He had learned that the Johannesburg, from Cape Town, arrived in Liverpool the day before; and he concluded that Pete's effects would come by the Peveril, the weekly steamer to Ramsey, on Saturday morning. The Peveril left Liverpool at eight; she would be due at three. Caesar meant to be on the quay at two.

" It's my duty as a parent, Kate," said he. " What more natural but there's something for yourself ? It's my duty as a pastor, too, for there's Manx ones going that's in danger of the devil of covetousness, and it's doing the Lord's work to put them out of the reach of temptation. You may exhort with them till you're black in the face, but its throwing good money in the mud. Just chuck ! So ring at all; no way responsive !."

Kate was silent, and Csar added familiarly, " Of course, it's my right too, for when a man's birth is that way, there's no heirship by blood, and possession is nine points of the law. That's so, Kate. you needn't be looking so hard. It's truth enough, girl. I've had advocate's opinion."

Kate had looked, but had not listened. The matter of her father's talk was too trivial, it's interest was too remote. As they drove, she kept glancing seaward and asking what time it was.

" Aw, time enough yet, woman," said Csar. "No need to be unaisy at all. She'll not be round the Head for an hour anyway.

Will you come along with me to the quay, then ? No ? Well, better not, maybe."

At the door of a draper's she got down from the gig, and told her father not to wait for her on going home. Csar moistened his forefinger and held it in the air a moment.

Then don't be late," said he, " there's weather coming."

A few minutes afterwards she was walking rapidly up Ballure. Passing Ballure House, she found herself treading softly. It was like holy ground. She did not look across; she gave no sign; there was only a tremor of the eyelids, a quiver of the mouth, and a tightening of the hand that held her purse, as, with head down, she passed on, Going by the water-trough, she saw the bullet-head of Black Tom looking seaward over the hedge' through a telescope encased in torn and faded cloth. Though the man was repugnant to her, she saluted hire cheerfully,

" Fine day, Mr. Quilliam."

" It was doing a fine day, ma'am, but the bees is coming home," said Tom.

He glowered at her as at a scout of the enemy, but she did not mind that. She was very happy. The sun was still shining. On reaching the top of the brow, she began to skip and run where the road descends by Folieu. Thus, with a light heart and a light step, thinking ill of no one, in love with all the world, she went hurrying to her doom.

The sea below lay very calm and blue. Nothing was to be seen on the water but a line of black smoke from the funnel of a steamship which had not yet risen above the horizon.


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