[from 'The Manxman' 1894]

VI

 

PHILIP put up his horse at the Hibernian, a mile farther on the high-road, and the tongue of the landlady, Mistress Looney, went like a mill-race while he ate his dinner. She had known three generations of his family, and was full of stories of his grandfather, of his father, and of himself in his childhood. Full of facetiŠ, too, about his looks, which were "rasonable promising," and about the girls of Douglas, who were "neither good nor middling." She was also full of sage counsel, advising marriage with a warm girl having "nice things at her-nice lands and pigs and things "-as a ready way to square the "bobbery" of thirty years ago at Ballawhaine.

Philip left his plate half full, and rose from the table to go down to Port Mooar.

" But, boy veen, you've destroyed nothing," cried the landlady. And then coaaingly, as if he had been a child, "You'll be ateing bits for me, now, come, come ! No more at all ? Aw, it's failing you are, Mr. Philip! Going for a walk is it? Take your topcoat then, for the clover is closing."

He took the road that Pete had haunted as a boy on returning home from school in the days when Kate lived at Cornaa, going through the network of paths by the mill, and over the brow by Ballajora. The new miller was pulling down the thatched cottage in which Kate had been born to put up a slate house. They had built a porch for shelter to the chapel, and carved the figure of a slaughtered lamb on a stone in the gable. Another lamb-a living lamb-was being killed by the butcher of Ballajora as Philip went by the shambles. The helpless creature, with its inverted head swung downwards from the block, looked at him with its piteous eyes, and gave forth that distressful cry which is the last wild appeal of the stricken animal when it sees death near, and has ceased to fight for life.

The air was quiet and the sea was calm, but across the Channel a leaden sky seemed to hover over the English mountains, though they were still light and apparently in sunshine. As Philip reached Port Mooar, a cart was coming out of it with a load of sea-wrack for the land, and a lobster-fisher on the beach was shipping his gear for sea.

" Quiet day," said Philip in passing.

"I'm not much liking the look of it, though," said the fisherman. "Mortal thick surf coming up for the wind that's in." But he slipped his boat, pulled up sail, and rode away.

Philip looked at his watch and then walked down the beach. Coming to a cave, he entered it. The sea-wrack was banked up in the darkness behind, and between two stones at the mouth there were the remains of a recent fire. Suddenly be remembered the cave. It was the cave of the Carasdhoo men. He could hear the voice of Pete in its rumbling depths; he could bear and see himself.

" Shall we save the women, Pete?-we always do." "Aw, yes, the women-and the boys." The tenderness of that memory was too much for Philip. He came out of the cave, and walked back over the shore.

" She will come by the church," he thought, and he climbed the cliffs to look out. A line of fir-trees grew there, a comb of little misshapen ghoul-like things, stunted by the winds that swept over the seas in winter. In a fork of one of these a bird's nest of last year was still hanging; but it was now empty, songless, joyless, and dead.

"She's here,"he told himself, and he drew his breath noisily. A white figure had turned the road by the sundial, and was coming on with the step of a greyhound.

The black clouds above the English mountains were heeling down on the land. There was a storm on the other coast, though the sky over the island was still fine. The steamship had risen above the horizon, and was heading towards the bay.


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