[from 'The Manxman' 1894]

IX

 

WHEN Caesar got to the quay, he looked about with watchful eyes, as if fearing he might find somebody there before him. The coast was clear, and he gave a grunt of relief. After fixing the horse. cloth, and settling the mare in a nose-bag, he began to walk up and down the fore part of the harbour, still keeping an eager look-out. As time went on he grew comfortable, exchanged salutations with the harbour-master, and even whistled a little to while away the time. "Quiet day, Mr. Quayle."

"Quiet enough yet, Mr. Cregeen ; but what's it saying? ` The greater the calm the nearer the south wind."'

By the time that Caesar, from the end of the pier, saw the smoke of the steamer coming round Kirk Maughold Head, he was in a spiritual, almost a mournful, mood. He was feeling how melancholy was the task of going to meet the few possessions, the clothes and such like, which were all that remained of a dear friend departed. It was the duty of somebody, though, and Caesar drew a long breath of resignation.

The steamer came up to the quay, and there was much bustle and confusion. Caesar waited, with one hand on the mare's neck, until the worst of it was over. Then he went aboard, and said in a solemn voice to the sailor at the foot of the gangway, "Anything here the property of Mr., Peter Quilliam ? "

"That's his luggage," said the sailor, pointing to a leather trunk of moderate size among similar trunks at the mouth of the hatchway. " Win ! " said Caesar, eyeing it sideways, and thinking how small it was. Then, reflecting that perhaps valuable papers were all it was thought worth while to send home, he added cheerfully, " I'll take it with me."

Somewhat to Caesar's surprise, the sailor raised no difficulties, but just as he was, regarding the trunk with that faith which is the substance of things hoped for, a big, ugly hand laid hold of it, and began to rock it about like a pebble.

It was Black Tom, smoking with perspiration.

" Aisy, many aisy," said Caesar, with lofty dignity. " I've the gig on the quay."

And I've a stiff cart on the market," said Black Tom.

" I'm wanting no assistance," said Caesar ; "you needn't trouble yourself."

" Don't mention it, Caesar," said Black Tom, and he turned the trunk on end and bent his back to lift it.

But Caesar put a heavy hand on top and said, " Gough bless me, man. but I am sorry for thee. , Mammon hath entered into thy heart, Tom." "He have just popped out of thine, then," said Black Tom, swirling the trunk on one of its corners.

But Caesar held on, and said, " I don't know in the world why you should let the devil of covetousness get the better- of you."

" I don't mane to-let go the chics," said Black Tom, and in another minute he had it on his shoulder.

"Now, I believe in my heart," said Caesar, "I would be forgiven a little violence," and he took the trunk by both hands to bring it down again.

"Lob go the chins, or I'll strek thee into the harbour," bawled Black Tom under his load.

"The Philistines be upon thee, Samson," cried Caesar, and with that there was a struggle.

In the midst of the uproar, while the- men were shouting into each other's faces, and the trunk was rocking between them shoulder high, a sunburnt man, with a thick beard and a formidable voice, a stalwart fellow in a pilot jacket, aud wide-brimmed hat,. came hurrying up the cabin-stairs, and a dog came running behind him. A moment later he had parted the two men, and the trunk was lying at his feet.

Black Tom fell back a step, lifted his straw hat, scratched his bald crown, and muttered in a voice of awe, " Holy sailor ! "

Caesar's face was livid, and his eyes went up towards his forehead. v Lord have mercy upon me," he mumbled; "have mercy on my soul, O Lord,"

" Don't be afraid," said the stranger. " I'm a living man and not a ghost."

" The man himself," said Black Tom,

" Peter Quilliam alive and hearty,"' said Caesar.

" I am," said Pete. " And now, what's the bobbery between the pair of you? Shuperintending the beaching of my trunk, eh "

But having recovered from his terror at the idea that. Pete was a spirit, Caesar began to take him to task for being a living man. " How's this? " said he. " Answer me, young man, I've praiched your funeral."

You'll have to do it again, Mr. Cregeen, for I'm not gone yet," said Pete.

" No, but worth ten dead men still," said Black Tom. " And my goodness, boy, the smart and stout you're looking, anyway. Been thatching a bit on the chin, eh ? Foreign parts has made a man of you, Peter. The straight you're like the family, too! You'll be coming up to the trough with me-the ould home, you know. I'll be whipping the chics ashore in a jiffy, only Caesar's that eager to help, it's wonderful. No, you'll not then?"

Pete was shaking his head as he went up the gangway, and seeing this, Caesar said severely-

" Lave the gentleman alone, Mr. Quilliam. He knows his own business best,",

" So do you, Mr. Collecting Box," said Black Tom. " But your head's as empty as a mollag, and as full of wind as well. It's a regular ould human mollag you are, anyway, floating other people's nets and taking all that's coming to them."

They were ashore by this time; one of the quay porters was putting the trunk into the gig, and Caesar was removing the horse-cloth and the nose-bag.

"Get up, Mr. Peter, and don't listen to him," said Caesar. "If my indus'try and integrity have been blessed with increase under Providence

Lave Providence out of it, you grasping ould Ebenezer, Zachariah, Amen," bawled Black Tom.

" You've been flying in the face of Providence all your life, Tom," said Cwsar, taking his seat beside Pete.

" You haven't, though, you miser," said Black Tom; "you'd sell your soul for sixpence, and you'd raffle your ugly ould body if you could get anybody to take tickets."

"Go home, Thomas," said Caesar, twiddling the reins, "go home and try for the future to be a better man."

But that was too much for Black Tom. "Better man, is it? Come down on the quay and up with your fiss, and I'll show you which of us is the better man."

A moment later Caesar and Pete were rattling over the cobbles of the market-place, with the dog racing behind. Pete was full of questions.

" And how's yourself, Mr. Cregen ? "

" I'm in, sir, I'm in, sir, praise the Lord." "And Grannie ? "

" Like myself, sir, not getting a dale younger, but caring little for spiritual things, though."

" Going west, is she, poor ould angel? There ought to be a good piece of daylight at her yet, for all. And-and Nancy Joe? "

"A happy sinner still," said Caesar. "I suppose, sir, you'd be making good money out yonder now? We were hearing the like, anyway."

" Money! " said Pete. " Well, yes, Enough to keep off the divil and the coroner. But how's-how's -"

" There now ! For life, eh ?" said Caesar.

"Yes, for life; but that's nothing," said Pete; "how's " Wonderful!" cried Csar; "five years too! Boy veen, the light was nearly took out of my eyes when I saw you."

"But Kate?' How's Kate? How's the girl herself ?" said Pete nervously.

Smart uncommon," said Caesar.

"God bless her!" cried Pete, with a shout that was heard acrose the street.

" We'll pick her up at Crellin's, it's like," said Csar.

"What? Crellin's round the corner-Crellin the draper's! Woa !

Let me down ! The mare's tired, father;" grid Pete was over the wheel at a bound.

He came out of the shop saying Kate had left word that her fatbei was not to wait for her-she would perhaps be home before him. Amid a crowd of the "mob beg " children of the streets, to whom he showered coppers to be scrambled for, Pete got up again to Csar's side, and they set off for Sulby. The wind had risen suddenly, and was hooting down the narrow streets coming up from the harbour.

"And Philip? How's Philip?" shouted Pete.

"Mr. Christian? Well and hearty, and doing wonders, sir." "I knew it," cried Pete, with a resounding laugh.

"Going like a flood, and sweeping everything before him," said C fesar.

" The rising day with him, is it ? " said Pete. " I always said be'd be the first man in the island, and he's not going to deceave me neither."

" The young man's been over putting a sight on us times and times-he was up at my Melliah only a week come Wednesday," said Caesar.

"Man alive ! " cried Pete; "him and me are same as brothers." `I Then it wasn't true what they were writing in the letter, sir-that your black boys left you for dead?"

"They did that, bad luck to them," said Pete; "but I was thinkinn it no sin to disappoint them, though."

" Well, well ! lying began with the world, and with the world it will end," said Csar.

As they passed Ballywhaine, Pete shouted into Caesar's ear, above the wind that was roaring in the trees, and scattering the ripening leaves in clouds, " And how's Dross ? "

" That wastrel? Aw, tearing away, tearing away," said Csar. "Floating on the top of the tide, is he?" shouted Pete.

"Maybe so, but the devil is fishing where yonder fellow's swimming," answered Caesar.

"And the ould man-the Ballawhaine-still above the sod?" bawled Pete behind his hand.

"Yes, but failing, failing, failing," shouted Caesar. "The world's getting too heavy for the man. Debts here, and debts there, and debts everywhere."

"Not much water in the harbour then, eh ? " cried Pete.

"No, but down on the rocks already, if it's only myself that knows it," shouted Caesar.

When they had turned the Sulby Bridge, and come in sight of "The Manx Fairy," Pete's excitement grew wild, and he leaped up from his seat and shouted above the wind like a man possessed.

"My gough, the very place! You've been thatching, though-yes, you have. The street ! Holy sailor, there it is! Brownie at you still ? Her heifer, is it? Get up, Molly ! A taste of the whip'll do the mare no harm, sir. My sakes, here's ould Flora hobbling out to meet us. Got the rheumatics, has she ? Set me down, Csar.

Here we are, man. Lord alive, the smell of the cowhouse. That warm and damp, it's grand ! What, don't you know me, Flo ? Got your temper still, if you've lost your teeth? My sakes, the haggard!

The same spot again! It's turf they're burning inside! And, my

gracious, that's herrings roasting in their brine 1 Where's Grannie, though? Let's put a sight in, Caesar. Well, well, aw well, aw well! " Thus Pete came home, laughing, shouting, bawling, and bellowing

above the tumult of the wind, which had risen by this time to the strength of a gale.

"Mother," cried Caesar, going in at the porch, "gentleman here from foreign parts to put a word on you."

"I never had nobody there belonging to me," began Grannie. "No, then, nobody?" said Caesar.

" One that was going to be, maybe, if he'd lived, poor boy "Grannie !" shouted Pete, and he burst into the bar-room. "Goodness me!" cried Grannie ; "it's his own voice anyway."

" It's himself," shouted Pete, and the old soul was in his arms in an instant.

"Aw dear ! Aw dear! " she panted. "Pete it is for sure. Let me sit down, though."

" Did you think it was his ghost, then, mother ? " said Caesar with an indulgent air.

"'Deed no," said Grannie. "The lad wouldn't comeback to plague nobody, thinks I."

"Still, and for all the uprisement of Peter, it bates everything," said Caesar. "It's a sort of a resurrection. I thought I'd have a sight up to the packet for his chiss, poor fellow, and, behould ye, who should I meet in the two eyes but the man himself !"

"Aw, dear! It's wonderful! it's terrible ! I'm silly with the joy;" said Grannie.

" It was lies in the letter the Manx ones were writing," said Caesar. "Letters and writings are all lies," said Grannie. "As long as I live I'll take no more of them, and if that Kelly, the postman, comes here again, I'll take the bellows to him."

"So you thought I was gone for good, Grannie ?" said Pete. "Well, I thought so to. Will I die ? I says to myself times and times; but I bethought Me at last there wasn't no sense in a good man like we laving his bones out on the bare Veldt yonder; so, you see, I spread my wings and came home again."

" It's the Lord's doings-it's marvellous in our eyes," said Caesar; and Grannie, who had recovered herself and was bustling about, cried-

"Let me have, a right look at him, then. Goodness me, the whisker ! And as soft as Manx carding from the mill, too. I like him best when he takes off his hat. Well, I'm proud to see you,

boy. 'Deed, but I wouldn't have known you, though. `Who's the gentleman in the gig with father?' thinks I. And I'd have said it was the Dempster himself, if he hadn't been dead and in his coffin."

"That'll do, that'll do," roared Pete. "That's Grannie putting the fun on me."

"It's no use talking, but I can't keep quiet; no I can't," cried Grannie, and with that she whipped up a bowl from the kitchen dresser and fell furiously to peeling the potatoes that were there for sUpper. "

"But where's Kate?" said Pete.

"Aw, yes, where is she ? Kate! Kate! " called Grannie, leaning her head towards the stairs, and Nancy Joe, who had been standing silent until now, said,-

"Didn't she go. to Ramsey with the gig, woman ?"

"Aw, the foolish I am ! Of course she did," said Grannie ; " but why hasn't she come back with father ? "

" She left word at Crellin's not to wait," said Caesar. "She'll be gone to Miss Clucas's to try on," said Nancy. "Wouldn't trust now," said Grannie. "She's having two new dresses done, Pete. Aw, girls are ter'ble. Well, can you blame them either ? "

She shall have two-and-twenty if she likes, God bless her," said Pete.

" Goodness me," said Nancy; " is the man for buying frocks for a Mormon?"

"But you'll be empty, boy. - Put the crow down and the griddle on, Nancy," said Grannie.. "We'll have cakes. Cakes? Coorse I said crakes. Get me the cloth and I'll lay it myself. The cloth, I'm saying, woman. Did you never hear of a tablecloth? Where is it ? Aw, dear knows where it is now ! It's in the parlour; no, it's in the chest on the landing; no, it's under the sheets of my own bed. Fetch it, bogh."

" Will I bring you a handful of gorse, mother? " said Caesar.

" Coorse you will, and not stand chattering there. But I'm laving you dry, Pete. Is it ale you'll have, or a drop of hard stuff? You'll wait for Kate? Now I like that. There's some life at these totallers, Steady abroad ?' How dare you, Nancy Joe? You're a deal too clever. Of course he's been steady abroad-steady as a gun." "But Kate," said Pete, tramping the sanded floor, "is she changed at all ? "

"Aw, she's a woman now, boy," said Grannie. " Bless my soul! " said Pete.

"She was looking a bit white and narvous one while there, but she's sprung out of it fresh and bright, same as the ling on the mountains. Well, that's the way with young women."

" I know," said Pete. " Just the break of the morning with the, darlings."

" But she's the best-looking girl on the island now, Pete," said Nancy Joe.

" I'll go bail on it," cried Pete.

" Big and fine and rosy, and fit for anything."

" Bless my heart ! "

" You should have seen her at the Melliah ; it was a trate." " God bless me !"

" Sun-bonnet and pink frock and tight red stockings, and straight as,a standard rose."

" Hould your tongue, woman," shouted Pete. " I'll see herself first, and I'm dying to do it."

Caesar came back with the gorse; Nancy fed the fire and Grannie stirred the oatmeal and water. And while the cakes were baking, Pete tramped the kitchen and examined everything, and recognised old friends with a roar.

" Bless me ! the same place still. There's the clock on the shelf, with the scratch on its face and the big finger broke at the joint, and the latb-and the peck-and the whip-you've had it new corded, though-"

" Sakes, how the boy remembers ! " cried Grannie.

"And the white rumpy" (the cat had leapt on to the dresser out of the reach of Pete's dog, and from that elevation was eyeing him steadfastly), "and the slowrie-and the kettle-and the poker-my gracious, the very poker-"

" Now, did you ever! " cried Grannie with amazement.

" And-yes-no-it is, though-I'll swear it before the Dempster -that's," said Pete, picking up a three-legged stool, "that's the very stool she was sitting on herself in the fire-seat in front of the turf closet. Let me sit there now for the sake of ould times gone by."

He put the stool in the fireplace and sat on it, shouting as he did so, between a laugh and a cry, " Aw, Grannie, bogh-Grannie, bogh ! to think there's been half the world between us since I was sitting here before ! "

And Grannie herself, breaking down, said, "Wouldn't you like the tongs, boy? Give the boy the tongs, woman, just to say he's at home."

Pete plucked the tongs out of Nancy's hands, and began feeding the fire with the gorse: "Aw, Grannie, have I ever been away?" he cried, laughing, and his wet eyes gleaming.

" Nancy Joe, have you no nose at all ?" cried Grannie. " The cake's burning to a cinder."

"Let it burn, mother," shouted Pete. "It's the way she was doing herself when she was young and forgetting. Shillings a-piece for all that's wasted. Aw, the smell of it's sweet !"

So saying, he piled the gorse on the fire, ramming it under the griddle and choking it behind the crow. And while the oatcake crackled and sparched and went black, he sniffed up the burning odour, and laughed and cried in the midst of the smoke that went swirling up the chimney.

And meanwhile, Grannie herself, with the tears rolling down her cheeks, was flapping her apron before her face and saying, "He'll make me die of laughing, he will, though-yes, he will! " But behind the apron she was blubbering to Nancy, " It's coming home, ,woman, that's it-it's just coming home again, poor boy !"

By this time word of Pete's return had gone round Sulby, and the bar-room was soon thronged with men and women, who looked through the glass partition into the kitchen at the bronzed and bearded man who sat smoking by the fire, with his dog curled up at his feet. "There'll be a wedding soon," said one. "The girl's in luck," said another. " Success to the fine girl she always was, and lucky they kept her from the poor toot that was beating about on her port bow."-" The .young Ballawhaine, eh !"-" Who else.?". Presently the dog went out to them, and, in default of his master,

became a centre of excited interest. He was an old creature, with a settled look of age, and a gravity of expression that seemed to say he had got over the follies of youth, and was now reserved and

determined to keep the peace. His back was curved in as if a cartwheel had gone over his spine, he bad gigantic ears, a stump of a tail, a coat thin and prickly like the bristles of a pig, but white and spotted with brown.

" Lord save us! a queer dog, though-what's his breed at all ?" " said one; and then a resounding voice came from the kitchen doorway, saying

"A sort of a Manxman crossed with a bat. Got no tail to speak of, but there's plenty of ears at him. A handy sort of a dog, only a bit spoiled in his childhood. Not fit for much company anyway, and no more notion of dacent behaviour than my ould shoe. Down, Dempster, down."

It was Pete. He was greeted with loud welcomes, and soon filled the room all round with the steaming odour of spirits and water.

" You've the Manx tongue at you still, Mr. Quilliam," said Jonaique; "and you're calling the dog Dempster; what's that for at all? "

"For sake of the ould island, Mr. Jelly, and for the straight he's like Dempster Mylrea when he's a bit crooked," said Pete.

"The old man's dead, sir," said John the Clerk. "You don't say?" said Pete.

"Yes, though; the sun went down on him a Wednesday. The drink, sir, the drink ! I've been cutting a sod of his grave to-day." " And who's to be Dempster now !" asked Pete. " Who are they putting in for it?"

"Well," said John the Clerk, "they're talking and talking, and some's saying this one and others that one; but the most is saying your ould friend Philip Christian."

" I knew it-I always said it," shouted Pete; "best man in the island, bar none. Oh, he'll not deceive me."

The wind was roaring in the chimney, and the light was beginning to fail. Pete became restless, and walked to and fro, peering out at intervals by the window that looked on to the road. At this there was some pushing and nudging and indulgent whispering.

It's the girl ! Aw, be aisy with the like! Five years apart, be aisy ! "

"The meadow's white with the gulls sitting together like parrots; what's that a sign of, father ?" said Pete.

"Just a slant of rain maybe, and a puff of wind;" said Csar. "But," said Pete, looking up at the sky, "the long cat tail was going off at a slant awhile ago, and now the thick skate yonder is hanging mortal low."

"Take your time, sir," said Csar. "No need to send round the Cross Vustba (fiery cross) yet. The girl will be home immadicntly." " It'll be dark at her, though," said Pete.

The company tried to draw him into conversation about the ways of life in the countries he had visited, but he answered absently and jerkily, and kept going to the door.

" Suppose there'll be Dempsters enough where you're coming from ? " said Jonaique.

" Sort ofDempsters, yes. Called one of them Ould Necessity, because it knows no law. He rigged up the statute books atop of his stool for a high sate, and when he wanted them he couldn't find them high or low: Not the first judge that's sat on the law, though.

. . : It's coming, Csar, d'ye hear it? That's the rain on the street."

" Aisy, man, airy, man," said Caesar. " New dresses isn't rigged up in no time. There'll be chapels now, eh? Chapels and couterences, and proper religious instruction? "

" Divil a chapel, sir, only a rickety barn, belonging to someones they're calling the Sky Pilots to. Wanted the ould miser that runs it to build them a new tabernacle, but he wouldn't part till a lump of plaster fell on his bald head at a love-feast, and then be planked down a, hundred pound, and they all shouted, 'Hit him again, Lord -you might !' . . . D'ye hear that, then? That's the water coming down from the gill. I can't stand no more of it, Grannie."

Grannie was at the door, struggling to hold it against the wind, while she looked out into the gathering darkness. "'Deed, but I'm getting afraid of it myself," she said, "and dear heart knows where Kirry can be at this time of night."

"I'm off to find her," said Pete, and, catching up his hat and whistling to the dog, in a moment he was gone.


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