[from 'The Manxman' 1894]

X

 

TE1n door was hard to close behind him, for it was now blowing a gale from the north-east. Csar slipped through the dairy to see if the outbuildings were safe, and came back with a satisfied look. The stable and cow-house were barred, the barns were shut up, the mill-wheel was on the brake, the kiln fire was burning gently, and all was snug and tight. Grannie was wringing her bands as he returned, crying "Kate! Oh, Kate!" and he reproved her for want of trust in Providence.

People were now coming in rapidly with terrible stories of damage done by the storm. It was reported that the Chicken Rock Lighthouse was blown down, that the tide had risen to twenty-five feet in Ramsey and torn up the streets, and that a Peel fisherman had been struck by his mainsail into the sea and drowned.

More came into the house at every minute, and among them were all the lonesome and helpless ones within a radius of a mile -Blind Jane, who charmed blood, but could not charm the wind; Shemiah, the prophet, with beard down to his waist and a staff up to his shoulder; and old Juan Vessy, who "lived on the houses" in the way of a tramp. The people who had been there already were afraid to go out, and Grannie, still wringing her hands and crying " Kate, Kate," called everybody into the kitchen to gather about the fire. There they bemoaned their boys on the sea, told stories of former storms, and quarrelled about the years of wrecks and the sources of the winds that caused them.

The gale increased to fearful violence, and sometimes the wind sounded like sheets flapping against the walls, sometimes like the deep boom of the waves that roll on themselves in mid-ocean and never know a shore. It began to groan in the chimney as if it were a wild beast struggling to escape, and then the smoke came down in whorls and filled the kitchen. They had to put out the fire to keep themselves from suffocation, and to sit back from the fireplace to protect themselves from cold. The door of the porch flew open, and they barricaded it with long-handled brushes; the windows rattled in their frames, and they blocked them up with the tops of the tables. In spite of all efforts to shut out the wind, the house was like a basket, and it quaked like a ship at sea. "I never beard the like on the water itself, and I'm used of the sea, too," said one. The others groaned and mumbled prayers.

Kelly the Thief, who had come in unopposed by Grannie, was on his knees in one corner with his face to the wall, calling on the Lord to remember that he had seen things in letters-stamps and such-but had never touched them. John the Clerk was saying that he had to bury the Deemster; Jonaique, the barber, that he had been sent for to "cut" the Bishop; and Claudius Kewley, the farmer, that he had three fields of barley still uncut and a stack of oats unthatched." Oh, Lord," cried Claudius, "let me not die till I've got nothing to do ! "

Csar stood like a strong man amidst their moans and groans, their bowings of the head and clappings of the hands, and, when he heard the farmer, his look was severe.

"Cloddy," said he, "how do you dare to doubt the providence of God? "

"Aisy to talk, Mr. Cregeen," the farmer whined, "but you've got your own harvest saved," and then Csar had no resource but to punish the man in prayer. "The Lord had sent His storm to reprove some that were making too sure of His mercies; but there was grace in the gale, only they wouldn't be patient and trust to God's providence; there was milk in the breast, only the wayward child wouldn't take time to find the teat. Lord, lead them to true stillness "

In the midst of Csar's prayer there was a sudden roar outside, and he leapt abruptly to his feet with a look of vexation. "`I believe in my heart that's the mill-wheel broken loose," said he, "and if it is, the corn on the kiln will be going like a whirlingig." "Trust in God's providence; Csar,"cried the farmer.

So I will," said Csar, catching up his hat, "but I'll put out my kiln fire first."

When Pete stepped. out of the porch, he felt himself smitten as by an invisible wing, and he gasped like a fish with too much air. A quick pain in the side at that moment reminded him of his bullet-wound, but his heels had heart in them, and he set off to run. The night had fallen; but a green rent was torn in the leaden sky, and through this the full moon appeared.

When he got to Ramsey the tide was up to the old cross, slates were flying like kites, and the harbour sounded like a battlefield with its thunderous roar of rigging. He made for the dressmaker's, and beard that Kate had not been there for six hours. At the draper's he learned that at two o'clock in the afternoon she had been seen going up Ballure. The sound rocket was fired as he pushed through the town. A schooner riding to an anchor in the bay was flying her ensign for help. The sea was terrific-a slaty grey, streaked with white foam like quartz veins; but the men who had been idling on the quay when the water was calm were now struggling, chafing, and fighting to go out on it, for the blood of the old Vikings was in them.

Going by the water-trough, Pete called on Black Tom, who was civil and conciliatory until he heard his errand, then growled with disappointment; but nevertheless answered his question. Yes, he had seen the young woman. She went up early in the " everin," and left him good-day. Giving this grateful news, Black Tom could not deny himself a word of bitterness to poison the pleasure. "And when you are finding her," said he, " you'll be doing well to take her in tow, for I'm thinking there's some that's for throwing her a rope." " Who d'ye mane !" said Pete.

" I lave it with you," said-Black Tom; and Pete pulled the door after him.

On the breast of the hill there was the meeting of two roads, one of them leading up to the " Hibernian," the other going down to Port Mooar. To, resolve the difficulty of choice, Pete inquired at a cottage standing some paces beyond, and as Kate had not been seen to pass up the higher road, he determined to take the lower one. But he gathered no tidings by the way, for Billy by the mill knew nothing, and the woman by the sundial had gone to bed. At length he dipped into Port Mooar, and came to a little cottage like a child's Noah's ark, with its tiny porch and red light inside, looking out on the white breakers that were racing along the beach. It was the cottage of the lobster-fisher. Pete inquired if he had seen Kate. He answered no; he had seen nobody that day but Mr. Christian.

Which of the Christians? Mr. Philip Christian. - The news carried only one message to Pete's mind. It seemed to explain something which had begun to perplex him-why Philip had not met him at the quay, and why Kate had not heard of his coming.

Clearly Philip was at present at Ballure. He had not yet received the telegram addressed to Douglas.

Pete turned back. Surely Kate had called somewhere. She would be at home by this time. He tried to run, but the wind was now in his face. It was veering northwards every minute, and rising to the force of a hurricane. He tied his handkerchief over his head and under his chin to hold on his hat. His hair whipped his ears like rods. Sometimes he was swept into the hedge; often he was brought to his knees. Still he toiled along through sheets of spray that glistened with the colours of a rainbow, and ran over the ground like driven rain. His eyes smarted, and the taste on his lips was salt.

The moon was now riding at the full through a wild flecked sky, and Pete could clearly see, as he returned towards the bay, a crowd of human figures on the cliffs above Port Lewaige. Quaking with undefined fears, he pushed on until he had joined them. The schooner, abandoned by her crew, had parted her cable, and was rolling like a blinded porpoise towards the rocks. She fell on them with the the groan of a living creature, and, the instant her head was down, the white lions of the sea leapt over her with a howl, the water swirled through her bulwarks and filled her hatches, her rudder was un. shipped, her sails were torn from their gaskets, and the floating hone wherein men had sailed, and sung, and slept, and laughed, and jested, was a broken wreck in the heavy wallowings of the waves.

Kate had not returned when Pete got back to Sulby, but the excitement of her absence was eclipsed for the time by the turmoil of Caesar's trouble. Standing in the dark on the top of the midden, he was shouting to the dairy door in a voice of thunder, which went off at the end of his beard like the puling of a cat. The mill-wheel was going same as a " whirlingig "-was there nobody to " hould the brake p, The stable roof was stripped, and the mare was tearing herself to pieces in a roaring " pit of hell "-was there never a shoulder for the door? The cow-house thatch was flapping like a sail-was there nothing in the world but a woman (Nancy Joe) to help a man to throw a ladder and a stone over it ?

Only when Caesar had been pacified was there silence to speak of Kate. " I picked up news of her coming back by Claughbane," said Pete, "and traced her as near home as the 'Ginger.' She can't be far away. Where is she?"

Those who were cool enough fell to conjecture. - Grannie had no resource but groans. Nancy was moaning by her side. The rest were full of their own troubles. Blind Jane was bewailing her affliction. "You can all see," she cried; "but I'm not knowing the harm that's coming on me."

" Hush, woman, hush," said Pete; " we're all same as yourself half our lives-we're all blind at night."

In the midst of the tumult a knock came to the door, and Pete made a plunge towards the porch.

"Wait;" cried Caesar. "Nobody else comes here to-night except the girl herself. Another wind like the last and we'll have the roof off the house too."

Then he called to the new-comer, with his face to the porch door, and_ the answer came back to him in a wail like, the wind itself. "Who's there?"

It was Joney from the glen.

"We're like herrings in a barrel-we can't let you in."

She wasn't wanting to come in. But her roof was going stripping, and half her house was felled,' and she couldn't get her son (the idiot boy) to leave his bed. He would perish ; he would die ; he was all the family she had left to her-wouldn't the master come and save him ?

"Impassible !" shouted Caesar. " We've our own missing this fearful night, Joney, and the Lord will protect His children."

Was it Kate ? She had seen her in the glen

" Let me get at that door," said Pete.

" But the house will come down," cried Caesar. " Let it come," said Pete.

Pete shut the door of the bar-room, and then the wind was heard to swirl through the porch.

" When did you see her, Joney, and where?" said the voice of Pete; and the voice of Joney answered him-

"Going by my own house at the start of the storm this everin."

" I'll come with you-go on," said Pete, and Grannie shouted across the bar-

Take Caesar's topcoat over your monkey-jacket."

"I've sail enough already for a wind like this, mother," cried the voice of Pete, and then the swirling sound in the porch went off with a long-drawn whirr, and Caesar came back alone to the kitchen.

Pete's wound ached again, but he pressed his hand on the place of it and struggled up the glen, dragging Joney behind him. They came to her house at last. One half of the thatch lay over the other half; the rafters were bare like the ribs of the wreck ; the oat-cake peck was rattling on the lath ; the meal-barrel in the corner was stripped of its lid, and the meal was whirling into the air like a waterspout; the dresser was stripped, the broken crockery lay on the uncovered floor, and the iron slowrie hanging over the place of the fire was swinging and striking against the wall, and ringing like a knell. And in the midst of this scene of desolation the idiot boy was placidly sleeping on his naked bed, and over it the moon was scudding through a tattered sky.

The night wore on, and the company in the kitchen listened long, and sometimes heard sounds as of voices crying in the wind, but Pete did not return. Then they fell to groaning again, to praying aloud without fear, and to confessing their undiscovered sins without shame.

" I'm searched terrible--I can see through me," cried Kelly, the Postman.

Some were chiefly- troubled lest death should fall on them while they were in a public-house.

"I keep none," cried Caesar.

"But you wouldn't let us open the door," whined the farmer.

If the door had been wide enough for a Bishop, not a soul would have stirred. For the first time within any one's recollection, Nancy Joe was on her knees.

" O Lord," she prayed, " Thou knowest well I don't often bother thee. But save Kate, Lord; oh, save and presarve my little Kirry ! It's twenty years and better since I asked anything of Thee before, and if Thou wilt only take away this wind, I'll promise not to say another prayer for twenty years more."

"Say it in Manx, woman," moaned Grannie." "I always say in, prayers in Manx as well, and the Lord can listen to the one he knows best." _

"There's prayer as well as praise in singing," cried Csar; and they began to sing, all down on their knees, their eyes tightly closed, and their hands clasped before their faces. They sang of heaven and its peaceful plains, -its blue lakes and sunny skies, its golden cities and emerald gates, its temples and its tabernacles, where " congrega. tions ne'er break up and Sabbaths never end." .z It was some comfort to drown with the wild discord of their own voices the fearful noises of the tempest. When they finished the hymn, they began on it again, keeping it up without a break, sweeping the dying note of the last word into the rising pitch of the first one. ~. In the midst of their singing, they thought a fiercer gust than ever was beating on the door, and, to smother the fear of it, they sang yet louder. The gust came a second time, and Caesar cried- .

"Again, brothers," and away they went with another wild whoop through the hymn.

It came a third time, and Caesar cried-

" Once more, beloved," and they raced madly through the hymn again.

Then the door burst open as before a tremendous kick, and Pete, fierce and wild-eyed, and green with the drift of the salt foam caked thick on his face, stepped over the threshold with the unconscious body of Kate in his arms and the idiot boy peering over his shoulder.

" Thank the Lord for an answer to prayer," cried Caesar.Where aid you find her?"

" In the tholthan up the glen," said Pete. " Up in the witch's tholthan."


  Back index next  

Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received The Editor
HTML Transcription © F.Coakley , 2008