[From Mannin, #4, 1914]
HE following day was the Feast of S. Swithin. Juan coming down to the ford remembered Conall's jesting words ' Try Thorir,' and looked in at his untidy hovel. Through the reek he was able by degrees to make out a low, bare chamber filled with heaps of rubbish; there were broken and rusty pieces of iron, sacks of wool, ropes and fishing gear and worn out or broken household goods. At the hearth in the middle vas Thorir's wife stooping like an old witch over the fire. He found that she was baking little images of dough, Odin seated on his steed, Frey and Freyja joined together, Goldcomb the cock which proclaimed the dawn of Ragnarok, and others; these would be smeared with butter and honey and taken to Thorir for sale to the crowd at the races. But Juan seeing the unclean surroundings in which they were made thought he would never care to eat another. It seemed from the evil smell as though the fire must be made of decayed fish and seaweed and he was not sorry to learn that Thorn: had already started and to make his way out, coughing and rubbing his eyes. Olaf and Conall came along the brooghs from the Fort and met him at the Craig Og, a great boulder of granite borne hither ages ago by the Frost giants, standing about four feet high, near the southern end of the isle, where they and other boys were wont to meet to play ball.
As the three walked along towards the Chapmen's booths, Olaf said that a merchant-ship had come in with the tide, and they thought they would see who she was and what she had brought. Presently they caught sight of Mac Gilliechreest with his family and other Rafnsey folk now returning from mass.
Mac Gilliechreest, known among the men of Garff as Yn Assag--the Weasel, was tall and thin,with straight yellow hair and spotty face showing no visible ey ebrows. He was wearing red hosen, and tight-fitting breeches having the socks knitted on to them in one piece, a brown kirtle or sleeved tunic, and a hood. He was a man of consequence but knew when to fawn and when to bully. Having married his master's daughter he had succeeded to the business which in his hands had greatly prospered. For the last few days he had been anxious for his ship which was overdue from Ballylisnevin, at the head of Strangford Lough, whence she was to bring him a cargo of linen goods. The previous day his fears had got the better of his greed, and, having ordered his skipper to bring him among other things a supply of wax, he had vowed two large candles to the Blessed Virgin if his ships should make the harbour by that evening's tide. No news of her had come however and he had hesitated whether to go with his wife to mass. It is to be feared that his devotions were somewhat mixed. He began to wonder if his men had been drunk when they left, and having missed the tide had been driven ashore at the south end of the Lough; then he feared they might have fallen into the hands of pirates, or even, for he was suspicious as well as imaginative, that his skipper might himself have turned pirate and have carried off his boat.
As soon as he could do so. he came out of Church, when he was met by his apprentice with the news that the ' Sancta Maria' had safely- arrived, having been detained only by contrary winds, At this his heart was uplifted, but he tried not to show it as he carried him- self with the righteous air of one conscious of having done his duty, and the comfortable feeling that, having got a discharge for all past offences, he might now prepare to open a new account with Heaven. He smiled silly as he reflected that while his ship was in and her cargo being safely stored, he would yet be saved the cost of the candles he had vowed, since she had missed the vester-tide.
Now, he was talking with his apprentice, a curly- haired and bright-faced youth who had been made to feel his impatience at the long delay. But his apprentice had hoped for a walk with Brigit his daughter and was tired listening to his preaching.
Mac Gilliechreest's wife was addressed as ' Dame' for she boasted of her lineage, having had an uncle who was a priest. She was of middle height and rather stout, dark and good-looking, fine but a slattern and vain. She was clad in a red gown and a tight-fitting bodice fastened in the front, wide a low collar and a large brooch ; on her head was a white coiffure ; at her girdle a pocke,, of leather, pearled with latten which looked like isold ; her fingers and wrists were a-glitter with bracelets and rims. A pace behind her walked her maid, dressed in white, her flowing locks uncovered, who carried her costly fur cloak. This could not have been for use since the day was bright and the weather warm, but, if such things of price might not be worn she thought that at the least they should be seen, and, as she told her gossip, har uncle Father Thomas had been wont to warn folks that they were not ' to lay their treasures by where rust or moth doth corrupt.'
They were followed by their three boys and four girls, walking demurely, looking on the ground, and by Mac Teir with his small family and many another, old and young, some in blue, some in red, a few in grey; some hooded, some bare-headed, matrons with coifs ; maids with hair flowing free or tressed behind and confined only by a fillet across the forehead, children dressed in white, bare-legged and bare-headed; but all in holiday- attire and in happy mood, little weeting of the effect of the bright little procession as it wound slowly along the smooth turf, past hollows of white sand, with the blue-green bent and sea-holly reaching to the water's edge. On the one side sparkled the dancing sea, on the other spread the still waters of the flooded river, while the hills from Ballure, Maughold Head jutting out in the far distance, to Scacafell, with Barrule rising up from the midst of them, and the sun over the rounded top of Snaefell seen away beyond the head of the narrow Alta dale, perfected the setting and completed the picture. At the end of the procession came Robert the Bowyer, dis- tinguished rather by his figure and bearing than by h:s raiment, which was of the best but simple. On his right hand and his left walked a young and comely damsel who appeared to find his conversation very entertaining. His golden-haired little grand-daughter followed after, along with the gipsy child of Ragna of the Inn.
Mac Gilliechreest was now close to his house, a large building of timber set on a foundation of stone. Against the gable and facing the road was the merchant's booth, with a narrow door at the side of it ; behind was his warehouse, over which was a `solar' or chamber containing the dwelling rooms and entered from the outside by a flight of stone steps. A court-yard surrounded by store-houses, had at the further end a stable with hay-loft. He sent his apprentice to open the booth, and saw his wife and children to the steps, then came forward and greeted the boys in his disagreeable high-pitched voice.
' How then, my masters, is there ought that I can do for you ? My ship is in and I was on my way to see her unladen.'
' Have you any bow-staves on board?' asked Juan, I could do with a long-bow and a sheaf of arrows.'
' Oh ho ' said the merchant eyeing him, ' sits the wind in that quarter? You seem rather young for a marksman. But there is to be some shooting on the green; get your friend there to lend you his bow and mayhap you will win another for yourself.'
' But I want one of my own' quoth Juan, "where can I get the like. ?'
' Well now, that is more easily asked than answered. I could get you a bow, none better, but you would not be able to draw it. You will need to have one made for you and that could not be done in a day. On a venture the Bowyer might have one of your weight ; you had better see him.'
With that he started for his ship and they with him, Olaf asked many questions about her and heard how she had been delayed, and how another cargo was now ready for her to take, together with half the linen she had brought, to Brightstowe (Bristol). Then Mac Gilliechreest went on board. After spending some time in watching and in looking at the other boats in the river, the boys turned and made for the house of the Bowyer, but on arrival were told that he had gone to the Inn.
So they came to the Inn, which was kept by Ragna, a widow of good repute and wise. It was very clean, the floor strewn with white sand instead of rushes. One or two ship-men from a Norwegian vessel were drinking, seated on benches round the walls. In the centre stood a wooden tub from which men carried horns of ale to the guests; at the further end of the room a small table had been set on trestles, at which Robert the Bowyer and Thorliot the Icelander were playing chess. The boys sat down and watched the game which evidently was coming to an end. In about six moves the Bowyer won.
I rather wonder you took that pawn,' ventured Juan.
The Bowyer turned his kindly blue eyes on the lad who seemed so keenly interested.
You know the game then, do you?'
I have seen it played, but can hardly say I know, the game.'
Modestly spoken' said the old man, who was feeling rather pleased with his victory. 'Let uis see now how you would have finished it.' And he began setting the board as it was when Thorliot took the pawn.
But Juan answered and said 'I do not suppose I could save the game, but I could have held out rather longer than Thorliot did!'
And that, pardie, is a great thing, whether you should be fighting on sea or land. It may even turn a defeat into a victory if you have the luck. Did you ever hear tell of Senlac ? When Duke William of Normandy landed in Engleland, just over a hundred years ago, he was met by Harold, the Saxon King, at a place called Senlac and there was a very great battle. The Normans were getting the worst of it; their clouds of arrows failed against the Saxons as they had never failed before, their cavalry charges were of no avail, and it was given out that the Duke had fallen ; That would have been checkmate! But William rode up and down bareheaded, to show his troops that lie was still alive and was not going to give in. He ordered yet another charge but at the same time told them they were to feign retreat. Then the Saxon made his mistake. He took the pawn. In other words, he followed in pursuit and so broke his line. The Normans, expecting this, rallied and burst through, and though the battle continued to rage for many an hour, there was no longer a doubt what the end must be; and presently King Harold was struck by an arrow in the eye and that was his bane. So the Norman won the game! And now, it is your move. You shall be Harold and I am William; let us see what you can do.'
Neither Olaf nor Conall could play chess, but they followed the moves with interest and pride in their Juan. Thorliot was interested too, but he looked chiefly at Olaf, deeming him to have the makings of a famous Viking. His fair beauty, with bright blue eyes set far apart, clear, healthy skin, ruddy complexion, and long golden hair, was set off by contrast with Juan's olive complexion and black hair. 'His name should be Sigurd,' thought the Icelander, he would surely prove the bane of Fafm ! '
Juan studied the board long and carefully before making his first move, after which he was cautious but unhesitating. Save for the light in his eyes he gave no sign of the excitement he was feeling, and managed to keep the enemy off for some moves more than had been done by Thorliot, so that the latter exclaimed ' Well played, youngling !' But the old Bowyer got up, placed a hand upon each shoulder and gazed upon his face.
' You and I are going to be friends, Juan ; you are coming to play with me again, and, in time parfay, you may be able to beat me and Thorliot together.'
' Nay,' quoth Juan, with flashing eyes, ` but that is great praise, my master, for I have heard that you and Thorliot are the best players in Mann.'
Robert the .Bowyer smiled at the eager !ad. I And now, boys, what is it ? You did not come here to see two old men play chess, I ween.'
Thereupon Conall handed him his bow and asked if he knew it. He fingered it and examined it closely, 'A boy's three-wood bow,' he said, ' of elm, not badly made, and somedeal the worse for wear. I remember Callaghan of the Fort, asking me once about the making of a bow; he wanted two, I think, for young boys of his. Are you his sons then?'
Conall spoke. ' I am a son of his and have been trying to teach my friends Olaf and Juan to shoot. Juan was in hopes that perhaps you might make one for him.'
' You are young yet to be a bowman, boy, and must be careful not to strain yourself. Come over to my house. It may be that I have a small bow there, made long ago for a boy of my own, but I hardly think I can find it now.
He took the board under his arm and they went all together up to the house.
They found themselves in a large well-lighted hall, more richly furnished than they had been wont to see. The floor was strewn with fresh bent which gave it a pleasantly cool appearance and peculiar but refreshing smell : there was a long hearth in the middle, but, as it was summer, there was no fire and the covering had been opened in the roof above which gave so much more light. On either side of the hall were pillars with panelling between, and doors led into chambers which were the private rooms of the dwelling. On the walls were some shields, not round as the boys had been accustomed to see, but triangular ; some of the arms too, were strange to them. In one corner stood a harp; costly furs and skins were on the benches. From a handsomely-carved cupboard their host took out a very beautiful bow of yew, ornamented with gold. 'That,' he said, ' was given to me by Prince Henry, now the King of Engleland ; someday I may tell you the story ;
Thorliot knows it.' He showed them more bows of different makes, but had none below men's size.
' Let me take your measure, lad,' he said, standing Juan against one of the pillars and marking off his height with a notch. ' Now, add a span to that and you will have the size of bow you can manage; but in three years time you will be under-bowed with it even as Conall must be now with his. Then you must come to me again and I will give you one which will last you a lifetime.'
He asked Conall about their shooting; then,hearing that he was going to have a try on the green, and that they wanted also to see the races, he said he would set them to the door. But Juan did not want his bow for nothing and had been thinking what there was in his mother's stores that he could get to give in exchange. Finally he offered a pot of honey to which the Bowyer laughingly consented, saying that it must he a big one, and they must all come and try it with him. He took them to a large carved chest on which stood a flagon; from this he filled a silver cup and handed it to Olaf, saying that his grandfather was an old friend of his and that some day he would come to see them at Ballure. Then, seeing hicn look at the Icelander, 'Never mind Thorliot, I am sure he cannot be thirsty.'
I am not thirsty,' said Thorliot. 'but thanks be to God and Saint Julian, I have a throat. I know where my friend stores his good heather-ale, and will just see how it is keeping.'
The boys thought they had never tasted such delicious mead; it was flavoured with spices and he called it Hippocras.
When they reached the sands the racing had begun but they were in time for the long race which interested them most. They had a good look at the horses and their riders; rough and shaggy and small, they were by no means beautiful nor were they bred or trained for running ; but some had been more carefully treated for the past three months and groomed for the occasion. Olaf picked out a sorrel which he thought might win. Juan had been thinking of his bargain for the bow and immediately wagered a pot of honey not only that it would be beaten but that he would name the winner.
You are rash, my Juan,' laughed Olaf, ' and set on losing your honey-pots, but let us see which you fancy.'
'They looked again at the sorrel which seemed to be in good condition but had a grim-looking rider, then after a more careful scrutiny of the others, Juan made his choice. ' That,' he said, ' is one of MacKraale's and I know that he treats his animals well.' It was a dapple-grey, and, though small, was full of spirit : his rider was talking to and caressing him, and Juan told him hemust be sure and win that race as he had a wager on it, at which the man grinned. Olaf said they must go back as it was only fair that he should say the same thing to his horseman ; but the man bid him run away and play, which was not pleasing to Olaf.
There were seven horses, all of different shapes and sizes, bridled but not saddled, starting from a post near the north end of the isle, and rounding another off the Craig Og. There was plenty of room on the sands and the gravel beach for a good view of the course. Off Craig Og, the sorrel was leading, with the grey and two others close behind. Just then the boys caught sight of Callaghan and called to him. They told him which they had backed and asked what he thought of it.
' I think Juan is likely to win, and I have a wager on that one myself. What made you pick him out, Juan.'
' I did not like the look of the sorrel's rider for one thing; and then I know Mac Kraale's horses and feel sure that his man will get all he wants out of his beast without worrying him.'
Mayhap you are right ' quoth Callaghan. ' See that fellow is using his whip already.'
The grey had gained in rounding the, post, and, was now coining up on the sorrel. Men and boys, fleet of foot, were running alongside cheering or mocking the riders ; one of the horses had got out of hand and was galloping off to Ballure to the amusement of the crowd. They came neck and neck, and there was shouting from the throng, followed by a cry-' won by a neck,' as the crowd closed in; the boys were not sorry to have Callaghan with them in the rush.
' You have lost your honey, Olaf, and I have made somewhat on this race as well as Juan.' He gave them some of Thorir's baked images, but Juan preferred to chew his root of rest-harrow, gritty with sand.
By and by they made their way to the Butts on the green. There were many lads there who knew Conall and encouraged him to go in and win in the boys' contest. He asked what were the distances and they told him ten, fifty, and seventy-five fathoms ; with two shots at each, and the best scores in all three to win, Conall took his turn, carefully studied the wind, and shot very deliberately, making a Bulls'-eye in every instance. The other boys had known that he could shoot but were not prepared for this, and, as many of his competitors were older and bigger than he was, it seemed even more remarkable. None were jealous at Conall's victory ; he was well-known and much liked and all acknowledged that he deserved it.
So Conall won a fine new bow, and the boys, now fairly tired, made for home. When they got free of the crowd Conall handed his old bow to Olaf. ' Now,' quoth he, 'we shall all be marksmen ; who knows but we may meet some day on the field of battle.
If we do,' said Olaf, "we shall stand or fall together."
There was boisterous merriment in the Inn that night. Mac Kraale, who had won more than his prize over the races, had given orders for the supply of ale to all comers, and many were there who gladly helped to get rid of it. Callaghan was in great form and kept the company laughing. Thorliot had come to talk with the shipmen from Bergen who were to sail next tide with a cargo he had gathered for them. They thought nought of the races. 'In our country' they said 'we train horses to fight, not to run,' and they told their listeners grim stories of noted horse-fights. The drunken miller from Ballure began to brawl and tried to quarrel with Callaghan, who only grew more jovial in his cups nor could be driven to lose his temper ; but the smith glowered upon him and was with difficulty prevented from hammering him. Mac Teir had won at the races and was now gambling with dice with one of the shipmen. Then it grew dark and there came a heavy rain storm which drove more people to the shelter of the Inn. Thorir had had a good day, making more by his tips to country lads than by the sale ofhis cakes, for he knew a deal about the horses, and about their owners and their riders ; he had picked up various small things dropped by people at the races which he was afterwards able to peddle with his wares. He crept in out of the wet and stood near the door, trying to strike a bargain with some of the Norsemen who were attracted by his wily tongue ; but, when he offered to sell the skipper a fair wind for his voyage, the latter said he would trust to Thor and to his own might, and wanted no dealings with Trolls. Donal heard from Callaghan about the boys doings and said. ' That boy of yours, Callaghan, will be a soldier and a fine fellow ; as for the other youngsters, it is time they should cease their play and be set to work."
About midnight a messenger came to tell the skipper that all was ready and the crew on board excepting the two or three who lingered at the Inn. So he collected his men and made his way down to the wharf. Thorliot walked with him to the jetty and there they found Father Daniel who had shriven the men on board and now did so to the rest, blessing their ship and praying for a prosperous voyage. But as soon as they skipper was on board, his prayers were of a different kind, as with blustering and shouting he got his vessel shoved off into midstream, and his men settled at the oars. The rain had almost ceased and between the clouds, low in the southern sky, the full moon glowed red as they swept across the white-streaked bar ; then with heavings and creakings they hoisted sail and soon before a good wind the ship sped northwards into the mist.
Callaghan did not leave the Inn that night, but was at the Fort to see the Watch turn out and the Ward relieved in the morning. Donal went home; he had not hitherto given much thought to Juan, but now he told Callybrid that he ought to be doing something ; he was old enough to be herding the sheep and next spring should go with Niel the shepherd to Barrule.
P. M. C. KERMODE.