"The dirt!" said Nancy.
"He was up at Caesar's before breakfast this morning," said Grannie.
"There now!" cried Nancy. "There's men like that, though. Just aiger for mischief. It's sweeter than all their prayers to them.... But where can she be, then? Has she made away with herself, poor thing?"
"That's what I was asking Caesar," said Grannie. "If she's gone with the young Ballawhaine, what for aren't you going to England over and fetching her home?" says I.
"And what did Caesar say?"
"'No,' says he, 'not a step,' says he. 'If she's dead,' says he, 'we'll only know it a day the sooner, and if she's in life, it'll be a disgrace to us the longest day we live.'"
"Aw, bolla veen, bolla veen!" said Nancy. "When some men is getting religion there's no more inside at them than a gutted herring, and they're good for nothing but to put up in the chimley to smook."
"It's Black Tom, woman," said Grannie. "Caesar's freckened mortal of the man's tongue going. 'It's water to his wheel,' he's saying. 'He'll be telling me to set my own house in order, and me a local preacher, too.' But how's the man himself?"
"Pete?" said Nancy. "Aw, tired enough last night, and not down yet.... Hush!... It's his foot on the loft."
"Poor boy! poor boy!" said Grannie.
The child cried, and then somebody began to beat the floor to the measure of a long-drawn hymn. Grannie must have been sitting before the fire with the baby across her knees.
"Something has happened," thought Pete as he drew on his clothes. A moment later something had happened indeed. He had opened a drawer of the dressing-table and found the wedding-ring and the earrings where Kate had left them. There was a commotion in the room below by this time, but Pete did not hear it. He was crying in his heart. "It is coming! I know it! I feel it! God help me! Lord forgive me! Amen! Amen!"
Caesar, the postman, and the constable, as a deputation from "The Christians," had just entered the house. Black Tom was with them. He was the ferret that had fetched them out of their holes.
"Get thee home, woman," said Caesar to Grannie, "This is no place for thee. It is the abode of sin and deception."
"It's the home of my child's child, and that's enough for me," said Grannie.
"Get thee back, I tell thee," said Caesar, "and come thee to this house of shame no more."
"Take her, Nancy," said Grannie, giving up the child. "Shame enough, indeed, I'm thinking, when a woman has to shut her heart to her own flesh and blood if she's not to disrespect her husband," and she went off, weeping.
But Caesar's emotions were walled in by his pietistical views. "Every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or land, for My name's sake, shall receive an hundredfold," said Caesar, with a cast of his eye towards Black Tom.
"Well, if I ever!" said Nancy. "The husband that wanted the like of that from me now.... A hundredfold, indeed! No, not for a hundred hundredfolds, the nasty dirt."
"Don't he turning up your nose, woman, but call your master," said Caesar.
"It's more than some ones need do, then, and I won't call my master, neither—no, thank you," said Nancy.
"I've something to tell him, and I've come, too, for to do it," said Caesar.
"The devil came farther than ever you did, and it was only a lie he was bringing for all that," said Nancy.
"Hould your tongue, Nancy Cain," said Caesar, "and take that Popish thing off the child's head." It was the scarlet hood.
"Pity the money that's wasted on the like wasn't given to the poor."
"I've heard something the same before, Caesar Cregeen," said Nancy. "It was Judas Iscariot was saying it first, and you're just thieving it from a thief."
"Chut!" cried Caesar, goaded by the laughter of Black Tom. "I'll call the man myself. Peter Quilliam!" and he made for the staircase door.
"Stand back," cried Nancy, holding the child like a pillow over one of her arms, and lifting the other threateningly.
"Aw, you'll never be raising your hand to the man of God, woman," giggled Black Tom.
"Won't I, though?" said Nancy grimly, "or the man of the devil either," she added, flashing at himself.
"The woman's not to trust, sir," snuffled the constable. "She's only an infidel, anyway. I've heard tell of her saying she didn't believe the whale swallowed Jonah."
"That's the diff'rance between us, then," said Nancy; "for there's some of you Manx ones would believe if Jonah swallowed the whale."
The staircase door opened at the back of Nancy, and Pete stepped into the room. "What's this, friends?" he asked, in a careworn voice.
Caesar stepped forward with a yellow envelope in his hand. "What's that, sir?" he answered.
Pete took the envelope and opened it.
"That's your letter back to you through the dead letter office, isn't it?" said Caesar.
"Well?" said Pete.
"There's nobody of that name in that place, is there!" said Caesar.
"Well?" said Pete again.
"Letters from England don't come through Peel, but your first letter had the Peel postmark, hadn't it?"
"Parcels from England don't come through Port St. Mary, but your parcel was stamped in Port St. Mary, wasn't it?"
"The handwriting inside the letter wasn't your own handwriting, was it? The address on the outside of the parcel wasn't your own address—no?"
"Is that all?"
"Enough to be going on, I'm thinking."
"What about Uncle Joe?" said Black Tom, with another giggle.
"Your mistress is not in Liverpool. You don't know where she is. She has gone the way of all sinners," said Caesar.
"Is that what you're coming to tell me?" said Pete.
"No; we're coming to tell you," said Caesar, "that, as a notorious loose liver, we must be putting her out of class. And we're coming to call on yourself to look to your own salvation. You've deceaved us, Mr. Quilliam. You've grieved the Spirit of the Lord," with another "glime" in the direction of Black Tom; "you've brought contempt on the fellowship that counts you for one of the fold. You've given the light of your countenance to the path of an evildoer, and you've brought down the head of a child of God with sorrow to the grave."
Caesar was moved by his self-satisfied piety, and began to make' noises in his nostrils. "Let us lay the case before the Lord," he said; and he went down on his knees and prayed—
"Our brother has deceived us, O Lord, but we forgive him freely. Forgive Thou also his trespasses, so that at the last he escape hell-fire. Count not Thy handmaid for a daughter of Belial, wherever she is this day. May it be good for her to be cut off from the body of the righteous. Grant that she feel this mercy in her carnal body before her eternal soul be called to everlasting judgment. Lord, strengthen Thy servant. Let not his natural affections be as the snare of the fowler unto his feet. Though it grieve him sore, even to tears and tribulation, help him to pluck out the gourd that groweth in his own bosom——"
"Dear heart alive!" cried Nancy, clattering her clogs, "it's a wonder in the world the man isn't thinking shame to blacken his own daughter before the Almighty Himself."
"Be merciful, O Lord," continued Caesar, "to all rank unbelievers, and such as live in heathen darkness in a Christian land, and don't know Saturday from Sunday, and are imper-ent uncommon and bad with the tongue——"
"Stop that now." cried Nancy, "that's meant for me."
Pete had stood through this in silence, but with an angry, miserable face.
"Beg pardon all," he said. "I'm not going for denying to what you say. I'm like the fish at the heel of the trawl-boat—the net's closing in on me and I'm caught. The game's up. I did deceave you. I did write those letters myself. I've no Uncle Joe, nor no Auntie Joney neither. My wife's left me. I'm not knowing where she is, or what's becoming of her. I'm done, and I'm for throwing up the sponge."
There were grunts of satisfaction. "But don't you feel the need of pardon, brother," said Caesar.
"I don't," said Pete. "What I was doing I was doing for the best, and, if I was doing wrong, the Almighty will have to forgive me—that's about all."
Caesar shot out his lip. Pete raised himself to his full height and looked from face to face, until his eyes settled on the postman.
"But it takes a thief to catch a thief," he said. "Which of you was the thief that catcht me? Maybe I've been only a blundering blockhead, and perhaps you've been clever, and smart uncommon, but I'm thinking there's some of you hasn't been rocked enough for all that."
He held out the yellow envelope. "This letter was sealed when you gave it to me, Mr. Cregeen—how did you know what was inside of it? 'On Her Majesty's Sarvice,' you say. But it isn't dead letters only that's coming with words same as that."
The postman was meddling with his front hair.
"The Lord has His own wayses of doing His work, has He, Caesar? I never heard tell, though, that opening other people's letters was one of them."
Mr. Kelly's ferret eyes were nearly twinkling themselves out.
Pete threw letter and envelope into the fire. "You've come to tell me you're going to turn my wife out of class. All right! You can turn me out, too, and if the money I gave you is anywhere handy, you can turn that out at the same time and make a clane job."
Black Tom was doubling with suppressed laughter at the corner of the dresser, and Caesar was writhing under his searching glances.
"You're knowing a dale about the ould Book and I'm not knowing much," said Pete, "but isn't it saying somewhere, 'Let him that's without sin amongst you chuck the first stone?' I'm not worth mentioning for a saint myself, so I lave it with you."
His voice began to break. "You're thinking a dale about the broken law seemingly, but I'm thinking more about the broken heart. There's the like in somewhere, you go bail. The woman that's gone may have done wrong—I'm not saying she didn't, poor thing; but if she comes home again, you may turn her out, but I'll take her back, whatever she is and whatever she's done—so help me God I will—and I'll not wait for the Day of Judgment to ask the Almighty if I'm doing right."
Then he sat down with his back to them on a chair before the fire.
"Now you can go home to nurse," said Nancy, wiping her eyes, "and lave me to sweeten the kitchen—it's wanting water enough after dirts like you."
Caesar also was wiping his eye—the one nearest to Black Tom. "Come," he said with plaintive resignation, "our errand was useless. The Ethiopian cannot change his skin, nor the leopard his spots."
"No, but he can get a topcoat to cover them, though," said Nancy. "Oh, that flea sticks, does it, Caesar? Don't blame the looking-glass if your face is ugly."
Caesar pretended not to hear her. "Well," he said, with a sigh discharged at Pete's back, "we'll pray, spite of appearances, that we may all go to heaven together some day."
"No, thank you, not me," said Nancy. "I wouldn't be-mane myself going anywhere with the like of you."
The Job in Caesar could bear up no longer. "Vain and ungrateful woman," he cried, "who hath eaten of my bread and drunken of my cup——"
"Cursing me, are you?" said Nancy. "Sakes! you must have been found in the bulrushes at Pharaoh's daughter and made a prophet of."
"No use bandying words, sir, wid a single woman dat lives alone wid a single man," said Mr. Niplightly.
Nancy flopped the child from her right arm to her left, and with the back of her hand she slapped the constable across the face. "Take that for the cure of a bad heart," she said, "and tell the Dempster I gave it you."
Then she turned on the postman and Black Tom. "Out of it, you lil thief, your mouth's only a dirty town-well and your tongue's the pump in it. Go home and die, you big black spider—you're ould enough for it and wicked enough, too. Out of it, the lot of you!" she cried, and clashed the door at their backs, and then opened it again for a parting shot. "And if it's true you're on your way to heaven together, just let me know, and I'll see if I can't put up with the other place myself."
That evening Pete was sitting with one foot on the cradle rocker, one arm on the table, and the other hand trifling tenderly with the ring and the earrings which he had found in the drawer of the dressing-table, when there was a hurried knock on the door. It had the hollow reverberation of a knock on the lid of a coffin.
"Come in," called Pete.
It was Philip, but it was almost as if Death had entered, so thin and bony were his cheeks, so wild his eyes, so cold his hands.
Pete was prepared for anything. "You've found me out, too, I see you have," he said defiantly. "You needn't tell me—it's chasing caught fish."
"Be brave, Pete," said Philip. "It will be a great shock to you."
Pete looked up and his manner changed. "Speak it out, sir. It's a poor man that can't stand——"
"I've come on the saddest errand," said Philip, taking a seat as far away as possible.
"You've found her—you've seen her, sir. Where is she?"
"She is——" began Philip, and then he stopped.
"Go on, mate; I've known trouble before to-day," said Pete.
"Can you bear it?" said Philip. "She is——" and he stopped again.
"She is—where?" said Pete.
"She is dead," said Philip at last.
Pete rose to his feet. Philip rose also, and now poured out his message with the headlong rush of a cataract.
"In fact, it all happened some time ago, Pete, but I couldn't bring myself to tell you before. I tried, but I couldn't. It was in Douglas—of a fever—in a lodging—alone—unattended——"
"Hould hard, sir! Give me time," said Pete. "I'd a gunshot wound at Kimberley, and since then I've a stitch in my side at whiles and sometimes a bit of a catch in my breathing."
He staggered to the porch door and threw it open, then came back panting—"Dead! dead! Kate is dead!"
Nancy came from the kitchen at the moment, and hearing what he was saying, she lifted both hands and uttered a piercing shriek. He took her by the shoulders and turned her back, shut the door behind her, and said, holding his right hand hard at his side, "Women are brave, sir, but when the storm breaks on a man——" He broke off and muttered again, "Dead! Kirry is dead!"
The child, awakened by Nancy's cry, was now whimpering fretfully. Pete went to the cradle and rocked it with one foot, crooning in a quavering treble, "Hush-a-bye! hush-a-bye!"
Philip's breathing was oppressed. He felt like a man at the edge of a precipice, with an impulse to throw himself over. "God forgive me," he said. "I could kill myself. I've broken your heart;——"
"No fear of me, sir," said Pete. "I'm an ould hulk that's seen weather. I'll not go to pieces from inside at all. Give me time, mate, give me time." And then he went on muttering as before, "Dead! Kirry dead! Hush-a-bye! My Kirry dead!"
The little one slept, and Pete drew back in his chair, nodded into the fire, and said in a weak, childish voice, "I've known her all my life, d'ye know? She's been my lil sweetheart since she was a slip of a girl, and slapped the schoolmaster for bating me wrongously. Swate lil thing in them days, mate, with her brown feet and tossing hair. And now she's a woman and she's dead! The Lord have mercy upon me!"
He got up and began to walk heavily across the floor, dipping and plunging as if going upstairs. "The bright and happy she was when I started for Kimberley, too; with her pretty face by the aising stones in the morning, all laughter and mischief. Five years I was seeing it in my drames like that, and now it's gone. Kirry is gone! My Kirry! God help me! O God, have mercy upon me!"
He stopped in his unsteady walk, and sat and stared into the fire. His eyes were red; blotches of heart's blood seemed to be rising to them; but there was not the sign of a tear. Philip did not attempt to console him. He felt as if the first syllable would choke in his throat.
"I see how it's been, sir," said Pete. "While I was away her heart was changing her, and when I came back she thought she must keep her word. My poor lamb! She was only a child anyway. But I was a man—I ought to have seen how it was. I'm like a drowning man, too—things are coming back on me. I'm seeing them plain enough now. But it's too late! My poor Kirry! And I thought I was making her so happy!" Then, with a helpless look, "You wouldn't believe it, sir, but I was never once thinking nothing else. No, I wasn't; it's a fact. I was same as a sailor working all the voyage home, making a cage, and painting it goold, for the love-bird he's catcht in the sunny lands somewhere; but when he's putting it in, it's only wanting away, poor thing."
With a sense of grovelling meanness, Philip sat and listened. Then, with eyes wandering across the floor, he said, "You have nothing to reproach yourself with. You did everything a man could do—everything. And she was innocent also. It was the fault of another. He came between you. Perhaps he thought he couldn't help it—perhaps he persuaded himself—God knows what lie he told himself—but she's innocent, Pete; believe me, she's——"
Pete brought his fist down heavily on the table, and the rings that lay on it jumped and tingled. "What's that to me?" he cried hoarsely. "What do I care if she's innocent or guilty? She's dead, isn't she? and that's enough. Curse the man! I don't want to hear of him. She's mine now. What for should he come here between me and my own?"
The torn heart and racked brain could bear no more. Pete dropped his head on the table. Presently his anger ebbed. Without lifting his head, he stretched his hand across the rings to feel for Philip's hand. Philip's hand trembled in his grasp. He took that for sympathy, and became the more ashamed.
"Give me time, mate," he said. "I'll be my own man soon. My head's moithered dreadful—I'm not knowing if I heard you right. In Douglas, you say? By herself, too? Not by herself, surely? Not quite alone neither? She found you out, didn't she? You'd be there, Phil? You'd be with her yourself? She'd be wanting for nothing?"
Philip answered huskily, his eyes still wandering. "If it will be any comfort to you... yes, I was with her—she wanted for nothing."
"My poor girl!" said Pete. "Did she send—had she any—maybe she said a word or two—at the last, eh?"
Philip clutched at the question. There was something at last that he could say without falsehood. "She sent a prayer for your forgiveness," he said. "She told me to tell you to think of her as little as might be; not to grieve for her too much, and to try to forget her, so that her sin also might be forgotten."
"And the lil one—anything about the lil one?" asked Pete.
"That was the bitterest grief of all," said Philip. "It was so hard that you must think her an unnatural mother. 'My Katherine! My little Katherine! My sweet angel!' It was her cry the whole day long."
"I see, I see," said Pete, nodding at the fire; "she left the lil one for my sake, wanting it with her all the while. Poor thing! You'd comfort her, Philip? You'd let her go aisy?"
"'The child is well and happy,' I told her. 'He's thinking nothing of yourself but what is good and kind,' I said."
"God's peace rest on her! My darling! My wife!" said Pete solemnly. Then suddenly in another tone, "Do you know where she's buried?"
Philip hesitated. He had not foreseen this question. Where had been his head that he had never thought of it? But there was no going back now. He was compelled to go on. He must tell lie on lie. "Yes," he faltered.
"Could you take me to the grave?"
Philip gasped; the sweat broke out on his forehead.
"Don't be freckened, sir," said Pete; "I'm my own man again. Could you take me to my wife's grave?"
"Yes," said Philip. He was in the rapids. He was on the edge of precipitation. He was compelled to go over. He made a blindfold plunge. Lie on lie; lie on lie!
"Then we'll start by the coach to-morrow," said Pete.
Philip rose with rigid limbs. He had meant to tell one lie only, and already he had told many. Truly "a lie is a cripple;" it cannot stand alone. "Good night, Pete; I'll go home. I'm not well to-night."
"We'll stop the coach at your aunt's gate in the morning," said Pete.
They stepped to the door together, and stood for a moment in the dank and lifeless darkness.
"The world's getting wonderful lonely, man, and you're all that's left to me now, Phil—you and the child. I'm not for wailing, though. When I got my gun-shot wound out yonder, I was away over the big veldt, hundreds of miles from anywhere, behind the last bush and the last blade of grass, with the stones and the ashes and the dust—about as far, you'd say, as the world was finished, and never looking to see herself and the ould island and the ould faces no more. I'm not so lonesome as that at all. Good-night, ould fellow, and God bless you!"
The gate opened and closed, Philip went stumbling up the road. He was hating Pete. To hate this open-hearted man who had dragged him into an entanglement of lies was the only resource of his stifled conscience.
Pete went back to the house, muttering, "Kirry is dead! Kirry is dead!" He put the catch on the door, said, "Close the shutters, Nancy," and then returned to his chair by the cradle.
Later the same night Pete carried the news to Sulby. Grannie was in the bar-room, and he broke it to her gently, tenderly, lovingly.
Loud voices came from the kitchen. Caesar was there in angry contention with Black Tom. An open Bible was between them on their knees. Tom tugged it towards him, bobbed his blunt forefinger down on the page, and cried, "There's the text—that'll pin you—publicans and sinners."
Caesar leaned back'in his seat, and said with withering scorn, "It's a bad business—I'll give you lave to say that. It's men like you that's making it bad. But whether is it better for a bad business to be in bad hands or in good ones? There's a big local praicher in London, they're telling me, that's hot for joining the public-house to the church, and turning the parsons into the publicans. That's what they all were on the Isle of Man in ould days gone by, and pity they're not so still. Oh, I've been giving it my sarious thoughts, sir. I've been making it a subject for prayer. 'Will I give up my public or hould fast to it to keep it out of worse hands?' And I'm strong to believe the Lord hath spoken. 'It's a little vineyard—a little work in a little vineyard. Stick to it, Caesar,' and so I will."
Pete stepped into the kitchen and flung his news at Caesar with a sort of wild melancholy, as who would say, "There, is that enough for you? Are you satisfied now?"
"Mair yee shoh—it's the hand of God," said Caesar.
"A middling bad hand then," said Pete; "I've seen better, anyway."
A high spiritual pride took hold of Caesar—Black Tom was watching him, and working his big eyebrows vigorously. With mouth firmly shut and head thrown back, Caesar said in a sepulchral voice, "The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord!"
Pete made a crack of savage laughter.
"Aren't you feeling it, sir?" said Caesar.
"Not a feel near me," said Pete. "I never did the Lord no harm that I know of, but He's taken my young wife and left my poor innocent lil one motherless."
"Unsearchable the wisdom and justice of God," said Caesar.
"Unsearchable?" said Pete. "It's all that. But I don't know if you're calling it justice. I'm not myself. It isn't my tally. Blasphemy? I lave it with you. A scoffer, am I? So be it. The Lord's licked me, and I've had enough. But I'm not going down on my knees for it, anyway. The Almighty and me is about quits."
With that word on his lips he strode out of the place, grim, implacable, almost savage, a fierce smile fluttering on his ashy face.
Grannie came to Elm Cottage next morning with two duck eggs for Pete's breakfast. She was boiling them in a saucepan when Pete came downstairs.
"Come now," she said coaxingly, as she laid them on the table, with the water smoking off the shells. But Pete could not eat.
"He hasn't destroyed any food these days," said Nancy. A little before she had rolled her apron, slipped out into the street, and brought back a tiny packet screwed up in a bit of newspaper.
"Perhaps he'll ate them on the road," said Grannie. "I'll put them in the hankerchief in his hat anyway."
"My faith, no, woman!" cried Nancy. "He's the mischief for sweating. He'll be mopping his forehead and forgetting the eggs. But here—where's your waistcoat pocket, Pete? Have you room for a hayseed anywhere? There!... It's a quarter of twist, poor boy," she whispered behind her hand to Grannie.
Thus they vied with each other in little attentions to the down-hearted man. Meantime Crow, the driver of the Douglas coach, a merry old sinner with a bulbous nose and short hair, standing erect like the steel pins of an electric brush, was whistling as he put his horses to in the marketplace. Presently he swirled round the corner and drew up at the gate. The women then became suddenly quiet, and put their aprons to their mouths, as if a hearse had stopped at the door; but Pete bustled about and shouted boisterously to cover the emotion of his farewell.
"Good-bye, Grannie; I'll say a word for you when I get there. Good-bye, Nancy; I'll not be forgetting yourself neither. Good bye, lil bogh," dropping on one knee at the side of the cradle. "What right has a man's heart to be going losing him while he has a lil innocent like this to live for? Good-bye!"
There was a throng of women at the gate talking of Kate. "Aw, a civil person, very—a civiller person never was."—"It's me that'll be missing her too. I served her eggs to the day of her death, as you might say. 'Good morning, Christian Anne,' says she—just like that. Welcome, you say? I was at home at the woman's door."—"And the beautiful she came home in the gig with the baby! Only yesterday you might say. And now, Lord-a-massy!"—"Hush! it's himself! I'm fit enough to cry when I look at the man. The cheerful heart is broke at him."—"Hush!"
They dropped their heads so that Pete might avoid their gaze, and held the coach-door open for him, expecting that he would go inside, as to a funeral. But he saluted them with "Good morning all," and leapt to the box-seat with Crow.
The coach stopped to take up the Deemster at the gate of Ballure House. Philip looked thin and emaciated, and walked with a death-like weakness, but also a feverish resolution. Behind him, carrying a rag, came Aunty Nan in her white cap, with little nervous attentions, and a face full of anxiety.
"Drive inside to-day, Philip," she said.
"No, no," he answered, and kissed her, pushed her to the other side of the gate with gentle protestation, and climbed to Pete's side. Then the old lady said—
"Good-morning, Peter. I'm so sorry for your great trouble, and trust... But you'll not let the Deemster ride too long outside if it grows... He's had a sleepless night and——"
"Go on, Crow," said Philip, in a decisive voice.
"I'll see to that, Miss Christian, ma'am," shouted Crow over his shoulder. "His honour's studdying a bit too hard—that's what he is. But a gentleman's not much use if his wife's a widow, as the man said—eh? Looking well enough yourself, though, Miss Christian, ma'am. Getting younger every day, in fact. I'll have to be fetching that East Indee capt'n up yet. I will that. Ha! ha! Get on, Boxer!" Then, with a flick of the whip, they were off on their journey.
The day was calm and beautiful. Old Barrule wore his yellow skull-cap of flowering gorse, the birds sang on the trees, and the sea on the shore sang also with the sound of far-off joy-bells. It was a heart-breaking day to Pete, but he tried to bear himself bravely.
He was seated between Philip and the driver. On the farther side of Crow there were two other passengers, a farmer and a fisherman. The farmer, a foul-mouthed fellow with a long staff and two dogs racing and barking on the road, was returning from Midsummer fair, at which he had sold his sheep; the fisherman, a simple creature, was coming home from the mackerel-fishing at Kinsale, with a box of the fish between his legs.
"The wife's been having a lil one since I was laving in March," said the fisherman, laughing all over his bronzed face. "A boy, d'ye say? Aw, another boy, of coorse. Three of them now—all men. Got a letter at Ramsey post-office coming through. She's getting on as nice as nice, and the ould woman's busy doing for her."
"Gee up, Boxer—we'll wet its head at the Hibernian," said Crow.
"I'm not partic'lar at all," said the fisherman cheerily. "The mack'rel's been doing middling this season, anyway."
And then in his simple way he went on to paint home, and the joy of coming back to it, with the new baby, and the mother in child-bed, and the grandmother as housekeeper, and the other children waiting for new frocks and new jackets out of the earnings of the fishing, and himself going round to pay the grocer what had been put on "strap" while he was at Kin-sale, till Pete was melted, and could listen no longer.
"I'm persuaded still she wasn't well when she went away," he whispered, turning his shoulder to the men and his face to Philip. He talked in a low voice, just above the rumble of the wheels, trying to extenuate Kate's fault and to excuse her to Philip.
"It's no use thinking hard of anybody, is it, sir?" he said. "We can't crawl into another person's soul, as the saying is."
After that he asked many questions—about Kate's illness, about the doctor, about the funeral, about everything except the man—of him he asked nothing. Philip was compelled to answer. He was like a prisoner chained at the galleys—he was forced to go on. They crossed the bridge over the top of Ballaglass, which goes down to the mill at Cornaa.
"There's the glen, sir," said Pete. "Aw, the dear ould days! Wading in the water, leaping over the stones, clambering on the trunks—aw, dear! aw, dear! Bareheaded and barefooted in those times, sir; but smart extraordinary, and a terble notion of being dressy, too. Twisting ferns about her lil neck for lace, sticking a mountain thistle, sparkling with dew, on her breast for a diamond, twining a trail of fuchsia round her head for a crown—aw, dear! aw, dear! And now—well, well, to think! to think!"
There was laughter on the other side of the coach.
"What do you say, Capt'n Pete?" shouted Crow.
"What's that?" asked Pete.
The fisherman had treated the driver and the farmer at the Hibernian, and was being rewarded with robustious chaff.
"I'm telling Dan Johnny here these childers that's coming when a man's away from home isn't much to trust. Best put a sight up with the lil one to the wise woman of Glen Aldyn, eh? A man doesn't like to bring up a cuckoo in the nest—what d'ye say, Capt'n?"
"I say you're a dirty ould divil, Crow; and I don't want to be chucking you off your seat," said Pete; and with that he turned back to Philip. *
The driver was affronted, but the farmer pacified him by an appeal to his fear. "He'd be coarse to tackle, the same fellow—I saw him clane out a tent with one hand at Tyn-wald."
"It's a wonder she didn't come home for all," said Pete at Philip's ear—"at the end, you know. Couldn't face it out, I suppose? Nothing to be afraid of, though, if she'd only known. I had kept things middling straight up to then. And I'd have broke the head of the first man that'd wagged a tongue. But maybe it was myself she was freckened of! Freckened of me! Poor thing! poor thing!"
Philip was in torment. To witness Pete's simple grief, to hear him breathe a forgiveness for the erring woman, and to be trusted with the thoughts of his heart as a father might be trusted by a young child—it was anguish, it was agony, it was horror. More than once he felt an impulse to cast off his load, to confess, to tell everything. But he reflected that he had no right to do this—that the secret was not his own to give away. His fear restrained him also. He looked into Pete's face, so full of manly sorrow, and shuddered to think of it transformed by rage.
"Sit hard, gentlemen. Breeches' work here," shouted Crow.
They were at the top of the steep descent going down to Laxey. The white town lay sprinkled over the green banks of the glen, and the great water-wheel stood in the depths of the mountain gill behind it.
"She's there! She's yonder! It's herself at the door. She's up. She's looking out for the coach," cried the fisherman, clambering up on to the seat.
"Aisy all," shouted Crow.
"No use, Mr. Crow. Nothing will persuade me but that's herself with the lil one in a blanket at the door."
Before the coach had drawn up at the bridge, the fisherman had leapt to the ground, shouldered his keg, shouted "Good everin' all," and disappeared down an alley of the town.
The driver alighted. A crowd gathered around. There were parcels to take up, parcels to set down, and the horses to water. When the coach was ready to start again, the farmer with his dogs had gone, but there was a passenger for an inside place. It was a girl, a bright young thing, with a comely face and laughing black eyes. She was dressed smartly, after her country fashion, in a hat covered with scarlet poppies, and with a vast brooch at the neck of her bodice. In one hand she carried a huge bunch of sweet-smelling gilvers. A group of girl companions came to see her off, and there was much giggling and chatter and general excitement.
"Are you forgetting the pouch and pipe, Emma?"
"Let me see; am I? No; it's here in my frock."
"Well, you'll be coming together by the coach at nine, it's like?"
"It's like we will, Liza, if the steamer isn't late."
"Now then, ladies, off the step! Any room for a lil calf' in the straw with you, missy? Freckened? Tut! Only a lil calf, as clane as clane—and breath as swate as your own, miss. There you are—it'll be lying quiet enough till we get to Douglas. All ready? Ready we are then. Collar work now, gentlemen. Aise the horse, sir. Thank you! Thank you! Not you, your Honour—sit where you are, Dempster."
Pete got down to walk up the hill, but Philip, though he made some show of alighting also, was glad of the excuse to remain in his seat. It relieved him of Pete's company for a while, at all events. He had time to ask himself again why he was there, where he was going to, and what he was going to do. But his brain was a cloudy waste. Only one picture emerged from the maze. It was that of the burial of the nameless waif in the grave at the foot of the wall. If he was conscious of any purpose, it was a vague idea of going to that grave. But it lay ahead of him only as an ultimate goal. He was waiting and watching for an opportunity of escape. If it came, God be praised! If it did not come, God help and forgive him!
Meanwhile Pete walked behind, and caught fragments of a conversation between the girl and Crow.
"So you're going to meet himself coming home, miss, eh?"
"My faith, how d'ye know that? But it's yourself for knowing things, Mr. Crow. Has he been sailing foreign? Yes, sir; and nine months away for a week come Monday. But spoken at Holyhead in Tuesday's paper, and paid off in Liverpool yesterday. That's his 'nitials, if you want to know—J. W. I worked them on the pouch myself. I've spun him a web for a jacket, too. Sweethearting with the miner fellows while Jemmy's been away? Have I, d'ye say? How people will be talking!"
"Aw, no offence at all. But sorry you're not keeping another string to your bow, missy. These sailor lads aren't partic'lar, anyway. Bless your heart, no; but getting as tired of one swateheart as a pig of brewer's grain. Constant? Chut! When the like of that sort is away foreign, he lays up of the first girl he comes foul of."
The girl laughed, and shook her head bravely, but the tears were beginning to trickle from her eyes, and the hand that held the flowers was trembling.
"Don't listen to the man, my dear," said Pete. "There's too much comic in these ould bachelor bucks. Your boy is dying to get home to you. Go bail on that, Emma. The packet isn't making half way enough for him, and he's bad dreadful wanting to ship aloft and let out the topsail."
At the crest of the hill Pete climbed back to Philip's side, and said, "The heart's a quare thing, sir. Got its winds and tides same as anything else. The wind blows contrary ways in one day, and it's the same with the heart itself. Changeable? Well, maybe! We shouldn't be too hard on it for all.... If I'd only known now.... She wasn't much better than a child when I left for Kimberley... and then what was I? I was only common stuff anyway... not much fit for the likes of herself, when you think of it, sir.... If I'd only guessed when I came back.... I could have done it, sir—I was loving the woman like life, but if I'd only known, now.... Well, and what's love if it's thinking of nothing but itself? If I'd thought she was loving another man by the time I came home, I could have given her up to him—yes, I could; I'm persuaded I could—-so help me God, I could."
Philip was wasting on that journey like a piece of wax. Pete saw his face melting away till it looked more like a skeleton than the face of a man really alive.
"You mustn't be taking it so bad at all, Phil," said Pete. "She'll be middling right where she's gone to, sir. She'll be right enough yonder," he said, rolling his head sideways to where the sun was going round to its setting. And then softly, as if half afraid she might not be, he muttered into his beard, "God be good to my poor broken-hearted girl, and forgive her sins for Christ's sake."
An elderly gentleman got on the coach at Onchan.
"Helloa, Deemster!" he cried. "You look as sober as an old crow. Sober! Old Crow! Ha, ha!"
He was a facetious person of high descent in the island.
"Crow never goes home without getting off the box once or twice to pick up the moonlight on the road—do you, Crow?"
"That'll do, parson, that'll do!" roared Crow. And then his reverence leaned across the driver and directed the shaft of his wit at Philip.
"And how's the young housekeeper, Deemster?"
Philip shuddered visibly, and made some inarticulate reply—
"Good-looking young woman, they're telling me. Jem-y-Lord's got taste, seemingly. But take care, your Honour; take care! 'Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his ox, nor his ass'——"
Philip laughed noisily. The miserable man was writhing in his seat.
"Take an old fiddler's advice, Deemster—have nothing to do with the women. When they're young they're kittens to play with you, but when they're old they're cats to scratch you."
Pete twisted his body until the whole breadth of his back blocked the parson from Philip's face.
"A fortnight ago, you were saying, sir?"
"A fortnight," muttered Philip.
"There'll be daisies growing on her grave by this time," said Pete softly.
The parson had put up his nose-glasses. "Who's this fellow, Crow? Captain—what? His honour's cousin? Cousin? Oh, of course—yes—I remember—Tynwald—ah—h'm!"
The coach set down its passengers in the market-place. Pete inquired the hour of its return journey, and was told that it started back at six. He helped the girl to alight, and directed her to the pier, where a crowd of people' were awaiting the arrival of the steamer. Then he rejoined Philip, who led the way through the town.
The Deemster was observed by everybody. As he passed along the streets there was much whispering and nudging, and some bowing and lifting of hats. He responded to none of it He recognised no one. He, who was famous for courtesy, renowned for gracious manners, beloved for a smile like sunshine—the brighter and more winsome when it broke as from a cloud—returned no man's salutation that day, and replied to no woman's greeting. His face was set hard like a marble mask. It passed along without appearing to see.
Pete walked one step behind. They did not speak as they went through the town. Not a word or a sign passed between them. Philip turned into a side street, and drew up at an iron gate which opened on to a churchyard. They were at the churchyard of St. George's.
"This is the place," said Philip huskily.
Pete took off his hat.
The gate was partly open. It was Saturday, and the organist was alone in the church practising hymns for Sunday's services. They passed through.
The churchyard was an oblong enclosure within high walls, overlooked on its long sides by rows of houses. One of these rows was Athol Street, and one of the houses was the Deemster's.
It was late afternoon by this time. Long shadows were cast eastward from the tombstones; the horizontal sunlight was making the leaves very light.
Philip walked noisily, jerkily, irregularly, like a man conscious of weakness and determined to conquer it. Pete walked behind, so softly that his foot on the gravel was hardly to be heard. The organist was playing Cowper's familiar hymn—
"God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform."
There was a broad avenue, bordered by railed tombs, leading to the church-door. Philip turned out of this into a narrow path which went through a bare green space, that was dotted with pegs of wood and little unhewn slabs of slate, like an abandoned quoit ground. At the farthest corner of this space he stopped before a mound near to the wall. It was the new-made grave. The scars of the turf were still unhealed, and the glist of the spade was on the grass.
Philip hesitated a moment, and looked round at Pete, as if even then, even there, he would confess. But he saw no escape from the mesh of his own lies, and with a deep, breath of submission he pointed down, turned his head over his shoulder, and said in a strange voice—
The silence was long and awful. At length Pete said in a broken whisper—
"Lave me, sir, lave me."
Philip turned away, breathing audibly. A moment longer Pete stood where he was, gripping his hat with both hands in front of him. Then he went down on his knees. "Oh, forgive me my hard thoughts of thee," he said. "Jesus, forgive me my hard thoughts of my poor Kirry."
Philip heard no more. The organ was very loud and triumphant.
"Deep in unfathomable mines Of never-failing skill, He treasures up His bright designs And works His sovereign will."
A red shaft of sunlight tipped down on Pete's uncovered head from the top of the wall. The blessed tears had come to him. He was sobbing aloud; he was alone with his love at last.
He was alone with her indeed. At that moment Kate was looking down from the window of her room. She saw him kneeling and praying by another's grave.
Philip never knew how he got out of the churchyard. He crawled out—creeping along by the wall, and slinking through the gate—heart-sick and all but heart-dead. When he came to himself, he was standing in Athol Street, and a company of jolly fellows in a jaunting-car, driving out of the golden sunset, were rattling past him with shouts and peals of laughter.
Kate was standing in her room with the door open, beating her hands together in the first helpless stupor of fear, when she saw a man coming up the stairs. His legs seemed to be giving way as he ascended; he was bent and feeble, and had all the look of great age. As he approached he lifted his face, which was old and withered. Then she saw who it was. It was Philip.
She made an involuntary cry, and he smiled upon her—a hard, frozen, terrible smile. "He is lost," she thought. Her scared expression penetrated to his soul. He knew that she had seen everything. At first he tried to speak, but he could utter nothing. Then a mad desire seized him to lay hold of her—by the arms, by the shoulders, by the throat. Conquering this impulse, he stood motionless, passing his hands through his hair. She dropped her eyes and hung her head. Their abasement in each other's eyes was complete. He was ashamed before her, she was ashamed before him. One moment they faced each other thus, in silence, in pitiless and awful silence, and then slowly, very slowly, stupefied and crushed, he turned away and crept out of the house.
"It is the end—the end." What was the use of going farther? He had fallen too low. His degradation was abject. It was hopeless, irreparable, irremediable. "End it all—end it all." The words clamoured in his inmost soul.
Halting down the quay, he made for the ferry steps, where boats were waiting for hire. He had lately hired one of an evening, and pulled round the Head for the sake of the breath and the silence of the sea.
"Going far out this evening, your Honor?" the boatman asked.
"Farther than ever," he answered.
Pull, pull! Away from the terrible past. Away from the horrible present. The steamer had arrived, and had discharged her passengers. She was still pulsing at the end of the red pier like a horse that pants after running a race.
A band was playing a waltz somewhere on the promenade. Pleasure boats were darting about the bay. Sea-birds were sitting on the water where the sewers of the gay little town empty into the sea.
Pull, pull! He was flying from remorse, from despair, from the deep duplicity of a double life, from the lie that had slain the heart of a living man. How low he had fallen! Could he fall lower without falling into crime?
Pull, pull! He would be a criminal next. When a man had been degraded in his own eyes, and in the eyes of her he loved, crime stood beckoning him. He might try, but he could not resist; he must yield, he must fall. It was the only degradation remaining. Better end everything before dropping into that last abyss.
Pull, pull! He was the judge of his island, and he had outraged justice. Holding a false title, living on a false honour, he was safe of no man's respect, secure of no woman's goodwill. Exposure hung over him. He would be disgraced, the law would be disgraced, the island would be disgraced. Pull, pull, pull, before it is too late; out, far out, farther than tide returns, or sea tells stories to the shore.
He had rowed like a slave escaping from his chains, in terror of being overtaken and dragged back. The voices of the harbour were now hushed, the music of the band was deadened, the horses running along the promenade seemed to creep like ants, and the traffic of the streets was no louder than a dull subterranean rumble. He had shot out of the margin of smooth blue water in which the island lay as on a mirror, and out of the shadow of the hill upon the bay. The sea about him now was running green and glistening, and the red sun-? light was coming down on it like smoke. Only the steeples and towers and glass domes of the town reached up into luminous air. He could see the squat tower of St. George's silhouetted against the dying glory of the sky. Seven years he had been its neighbour, and it had witnessed such happy and such cruel hours. All the joy of work, the sweetness of success, the dreams of greatness, the rosy flushes of love, and then—the tortures of conscience, the visions, the horror, the secret shame, the self-abandonment, and, last of all, the twofold existence as of husband with wife, hidden, incomplete, unfulfilled, yet full of tender ties which had seemed like galling bonds so many a time, but were now so sweet when the hour had come to break them.
How distant it all appeared to be! And was he flying from the island like this? The island that had honoured him, that had rewarded him beyond his deserts, and earlier than his dreams, that had suffered no jealousy to impede him, no rivalry to fret him, no disparity of age and service to hold him back—the little island that had seemed to open its arms to him, and to cry, "Philip Christian, son of your father, grandson of your grandfather, first of Manxmen, come up!"
Oh, for what might have been! Useless regrets! Pull, pull, and forget.
But the home of his childhood! Ballure—Auntie Nan—his father's death brightened by one hope—the last, but ah! how vain!—Port Mooar—Pete, "The sea's calling me." Pull, pull! The sea was calling him indeed. Calling him to the deep womb that is death, not birth.
He was far out. The sun had gone, the island was like a bird of ashy grey stretched across the horizon; the great wing of night was coming down from the sky, and up out the mysterious depths of the sea came the profound hum, the mighty voice that is the organ of the world.
He took in the oars, and his tiny shell began to drift At that moment his eye caught something at the bottom of the boat. It was a flower, a broken stem, a torn rose, and a few scattered rose leaves. Only a relic of the last occupants, but it brought back the perfume of love, a sense of tenderness, of bright eyes, of a caress, a kiss. His mind went back to Sulby, to the Melliah, to the glen, to the days so full of tremulous love, when they hovered on the edge of the precipice. They had been hurled over it since then. It was some relief that between love and honour he would not have to struggle any longer.
And Kate? When all was over and word went round, "The Deemster is gone," what would happen to Kate? She would still be at his house in Athol Street. That would be the beginning of evil! She would wait for him, and when hope of his return was lost, she would weep for him. That would be the key of discovery! The truth would become known. Though he might be at the bottom of the sea, yet the cloud that hung over his life would break. It was inevitable. And she would be there to bear the storm alone—alone with the island which had been deceived, alone with Pete, who had been lied to and betrayed. Was that just? Was that brave?
And then—what then? What would become of her? Openly shamed, charged, as she must be, with the whole weight of the crime from whose burden he had fled, accused of his downfall, a Delilah, a Jezebel, what fate should befall her? Where would she go? Down to what depths? He saw her sinking lower than ever man sinks; he heard her appeals, her supplications.
"Oh, what have I done," he cried, "that I can neither live nor die?"
Then in that delirium of anguish in which the order of nature is reversed, and external objects no longer produce sensation, but sensation produces, as it were, external objects, he thought he saw something at the bottom of the boat where the broken rose had been. It was the figure of a man, stretched out, still and lifeless. His eyes went up to the face. The face was his own. It was ashy grey, and it stared up at the grey sky. The brain image was himself, and he was dead. He watched it, and it faded away. There was nothing left but the scattered rose-leaves and the torn flower on the broken stem.
The terrible shadow was gone; he felt that it was gone for ever. It was dead, and it would haunt him no longer. It had lived on an empire of evil-doing, and his evil-doing was at an end. He would "see his soul" no more. The tears gushed to his eyes and blinded him. They were the first he could remember since he was a boy. Alone between the two mirrors of sea and sky, the chain that he had dragged so long fell: away from him. He was a free man again.
"Go back! your place is by her side. Don't sneak out of life, and leave another to pay. Suffering is a grand thing. It is the struggle of the soul to cast off its sin. Accept it, go through with it, come out of it purged. Go back to the island. Your life is not ended yet."
"We were just going sending a lil yawl after you, Dempster, when we were seeing you a bit overside the head yonder coming back. 'He's drifting home on the flowing tide,' says I, and so you were. Must have been a middling stiff pull for all. We were thinking you were lost one while there."
"I was almost lost, but I'm here again, thank God," said Philip.
He spoke cheerily, and went away with a light step. It was now full night; the town was lit up, and the musicians of the pavement were twanging their banjos and harps. Philip felt a sort of physical regeneration, a renewal of youth, a new birth of heart and hope. He was like a man coming out of some hideous Gehenna of delirious illness; he though he had never been so light, so buoyant, so happy in his life before. The future was vague. He did not yet know what he would do. It would be something radical, something that would go down to the heart of his condition. Oh, he would be strong, he would be resolute, he would pay the uttermost farthing, he would not wait to count the cost. And she—she would be with him. He could do nothing without her. The partner of his fault would share his redemption also. God bless her!
He let himself into the house and shut the door firmly behind him. The lights were still burning in the hall, so it was not very late. He mounted the stairs with a loud step and swung into his room. The lamp was on the table, and within the circle cast by its blue shade a letter was lying. He took it up with dismay. It was in Kate's handwriting:—
"Forgive me! I am going away. It is all my fault. I have broken the heart of one man, and I am destroying the soul of another. If I stay here any longer you will be ruined and lost. I am only a millstone about your neck. I see it, I feel it. And yet I have loved you so, and wished to be so proud of you. Your heart is brave enough, though I have sunk it down so low. You will live to be strong and good and true, though that can never be while I am with you. I have been far below you from the first. All along I have only been thinking how much I loved you, but you have had so many other things to consider. My life seems to have been one long battle for love. I think it has been a cruel battle too. Anyway, I am beaten, and oh! so tired.
"Do not follow me. I pray of you do not try to find me. It is my last request. Think of me as on a long journey. I may be—the Great God of heaven knows.
"I am taking the little cracked medallion from the bottom of the oak box. It is the only picture I can find, and it will remind me of some one else as well—my little Katherine, my motherless baby.
"I have nothing to leave with you but this (it was a lock of her hair). At first I thought of the wedding-ring that you gave me when I came here, but it would not come off, and besides, I could not part with it.
"Good-bye! I ought to have done this long ago. But you will not hate me now? We could never be happy together again. Good-bye!"
PART VI. MAN AND GOD.
The summer had gone, the gorse had dried up, the herring-fishing had ended, and Pete had become poor. His Nickey had done nothing, his last hundred pounds had been spent, and his creditors in scores, quiet as mice until then, were baying about him like bloodhounds. He sold his boat and satisfied everybody, but fell, nevertheless, to the position of a person of no credit and little consequence. On the lips of the people he descended from "Capt'n Pete" to Peter Bridget. When he saluted the rich with "How do!" they replied with a stare, a lift of the chin, and "You've the odds of me, my good man." To this he replied, with a roll of the head and a peal of laughter, "Have I now? But you'll die for all."
Ballajora Chapel had been three months rehearsing a children's cantata entitled "Under the Palms," and building an arbour of palm branches on a platform for Pete's rugged form to figure in; but Caesar sat there instead.
Still, Pete had his six thousand pounds in mortgage on Ballawhaine. Only three other persons knew anything of that—Caesar, who had his own reasons for saying nothing; Peter Christian himself, who was hardly likely to tell; and the High Bailiff, who was a bachelor and a miser, and kept all business revelations as sacred as are the secrets of another kind of confessional. When Pete's evil day came and the world showed no pity, Caesar became afraid.
"I wouldn't sell out, sir," said he. "Hould on till Martinmas, anyway. The first half year's interest is due then. There's no knowing what'll happen before that. What's it saying, 'He shall give His angels charge concerning thee.' The ould man has had a polatic stroke, they're telling me. Aw, the Lord's mercy endureth for ever."
Pete began to sell his furniture. He cleared out the parlour as bare as a vault. "Time for it, too," he said. "I've been wanting the room for a workshop."
Martinmas came, and Caesar returned in high feather. "No interest," he said. "Give him the month's grace, and hould hard till it's over. The Lord will provide. Isn't it written, 'In the world ye shall have tribulation'? Things are doing wonderful, though. Last night going home from Ballajora, I saw the corpse-lights coming from the big house to Kirk Christ's Churchyard, with the parson psalming in front of them. The ould man's dying—-I've seen his soul. To thy name, O Lord, be all the glory."
Pete sold out a second room, and turned the key on it. "Mortal cosy and small this big, ugly mansion is getting, Nancy," he said.
The month's grace allowed by the deed of mortgage expired, and Caesar came to Elm Cottage rubbing both hands. "Turn him out, neck and crop, sir. Not a penny left to the man, and six thousand goolden pounds paid into his hands seven months ago. But who's wondering at that? There's Ross back again, carrying half a ton of his friends over the island, and lashing out the silver like dust. Your silver, sir, yours. And here's yourself, with the world darkening round you terrible. But no fear of you now. The meek shall inherit the earth. Aw, God is opening His word more and more, sir, more and more. There's that Black Tom too. He was talking big a piece back, but this morning he was up before the High Bailiff for charming and cheating, and was put away for the Dempster. Lord keep him from the gallows and hell-fire! Oh, it's a refreshing saison. It was God spaking to me by Providence when I tould you to put money on that mortgage. What's the Scripture saying, 'For brass I bring thee goold'? Turn him out, sir, turn him out."
"Didn't you tell me that ould Ballawhaine had a polatic stroke?" said Pete.
"I did; but he's a big man; let him pay his way," said Caesar.
"Samson was a strong man, and Solomon was a wise one, but they couldn't pay money when they hadn't got it," said Pete.
"Let him look to his son then," said Caesar".
"That's just what he's going to do," said Pete. "I'll let him die in his bed, God forgive him."
The winter came, and Pete began to think of buying a Dandie, which being smaller than a Nickey, and of yawl rig, he could sail of himself, and so earn a living by fishing the cod. To do this he had a further clearing of furniture, thereby reducing the size of the house to three rooms. The featherbed left his own bedstead, the watch came out of his pocket, and the walls of the hall-kitchen gaped and yawned in the places where the pictures had been.
"The bog-bane to the rushy curragh, say I, Nancy," said Pete. "Not being used of such grandeur, I was taking it hard. Never could remember to wind that watch. And feathers, bless you! Don't I remember the lil mother, with a sickle and a bag, going cutting the long grass on the steep brews for the cow, and drying a handful for myself for a bed. Sleeping on it? Never slept the like since at all."
The result of Pete's first week's fishing was twenty cod and a gigantic ling. He packed the cod in boxes and sent them by Crow and the steam-packet to the market in Liverpool. The ling he swung on his back over his oilskin jacket and carried it home, the head at his shoulder and the tail dangling at his legs.
"There!" he cried, dropping it on the floor, "split it and salt it, and you've breakfas'es for a month."
When the remittance came from Liverpool it was a postal order for seven-and-sixpence.
"Never mind," said Pete; "we're bating Dan Hommy anyway—the ould muff has only made seven-and-a-penny."
The weather was rough, the fishing was bad, the tackle got broken, and Pete began to extol plain living.
"Gough bless me," he said, "I don't know in the world what's coming to the ould island at all. When I was for a man-servant with Caesar the farming boys were ateing potatoes and herrings three times a day. But now! butcher's mate every dinner-time, if you plaze. And tay! the girls must be having it reg'lar—and taking no shame with them neither. My sake, I remember when the mother would be whispering, 'Keep an eye on the road, boy, while I'm brewing myself a cup of tay.' Truth enough, Nancy. An ounce a week and a pound of sugar, and people wondering at the woman for that."
The mountains were taken from the people, and they were no longer allowed "to cut turf for fuel; coals were dear, the winter was cold, and Pete began to complain of a loss of appetite.
"My teeth must be getting bad, Nancy," he whined. They were white as milk and faultless as a negro's. "Don't domesticate my food somehow. What's the odds, though I Can't ate suppers at all, and that's some constilation. Nothing like going to bed hungry, Nancy, if you're wanting to get up with an appetite for breakfast. Then the beautiful drames, woman! Gough bless me, the dinners and the feasts and the bankets you're ateing in your sleep! Now, if you filled your skin like a High Bailiff afore going to bed, ten to one you'd have a buggane riding on your breast the night through and drame of dying for a drink of water. Aw, sleep's a reg'lar Radical Good for levelling up, anyway."
Christmas approached, servants boasted of the Christmas boxes they got from their masters, and Pete remembered Nancy.
"Nancy," said he, "they're telling me Liza Billy-ny-Clae is getting twenty pound per year per annum at her new situation in Douglas. She isn't nothing to yourself at cooking. Mustn't let the lil one stand in your way, woman. She's getting a big girl now, and I'll be taking her out in the Dandie with me and tying her down on the low deck there and giving her a pig's bladder, and she'll be playing away as nice as nice. See?"
Nancy looked at him, and he dropped his eyes before her.
"Is it wanting to get done with me, you are, Pete?" she said in a quavering voice. "There's my black—I can sell it for something—it's never been wore at me since I sat through the sarvice with Grannie the Sunday after we got news of Kirry. And I'm not a big eater, Pete—never was—you can clear me of that anyway. A bit of bread and cheese for my dinner when you are out at the fishing, and I'm asking no better——"
"Hould your tongue, woman," cried Pete. "Hould your tongue afore you break my heart I've seen my rich days and I've seen my poor days. I've tried both, and I'm content."
Meantime, Philip in Douglas was going from success to success, from rank to rank, from fame to fame. Everything he put his hand to counted to him for righteousness. When he came to himself after the disappearance of Kate, his heart was a wasted field of volcanic action, with ashes and scoriae of infernal blackness on the surface, but the wholesome soil beneath. In spite of her injunction, he set himself to look for her. More than love, more than pity, more than remorse prompted and supported him. She was necessary to his resurrection, to his new birth. So he scoured every poor quarter of the town, every rookery of old Douglas, and this was set down to an interest in the poor.
An epidemic broke out on the island, and during the scare that followed, wherein some of the wealthy left their homes for England, and many of the poor betook themselves to the mountains, and even certain of the doctors found refuge in flight, Philip won golden opinions for presence of mind and personal courage. He organised a system of registration, regulated quarantine, and caused the examination of everybody coming to the island or leaving it. From day to day he went from house to house, from hospital to hospital, from ward to ward. No dangers terrified him; he seemed to keep his eye on each case. He was only looking for Kate, only assuring himself that she had not fallen victim to the pest, only making certain that she had not come or gone. But the divine madness which seizes upon a crowd when its heart is touched laid hold of the island at the sight of Philip's activities. He was worshipped, he was beloved, he was the idol of the poor, almost everybody else was forgotten in the splendour of his fame; no committee could proceed without him; no list was complete until it included his name.
Philip was ashamed of his glories, but he had no heart to repudiate them. When the epidemic subsided, he had convinced himself that Kate must be gone, that she must be dead. Gone, therefore, was his only hold on life, and dead was his hope of a moral resurrection. He could do nothing without her but go on as he was going. To pretend to a new birth now would be like a death-bed conversion; it would be like renouncing the joys of life after they have renounced the renouncer.
His colleague, the old Deemster, was stricken down by paralysis, and he was required to attend to both their duties. This made it necessary at first that all Deemster's Courts should be held in Castletown, and hence Ramsey saw him rarely. He spent his days in the Court-house of the Castle and his nights at home. His fair hair became prematurely white, and his face grew more than ever like that of a man newly risen from a fever.
"Study," said the world, and it bowed its head the lower.
Yet he was seen to be not only a studious man, but a melancholy one. To defeat curiosity, he began to enter a little into the life of the island, and, as time went on, to engage in some of the social duties of his official position. On Christmas Eve he gave a reception at his house in Athol Street. He had hardly realised how it would tear at the tenderest fibres of memory. The very rooms that had been Kate's were given over to the ladies who were his guests. All afternoon the crush was great, and the host was the attraction. He was a fascinating figure—so young, yet already so high; so silent, yet able to speak so splendidly; and then so handsome with that whitening head, and that smile like vanishing sunshine.
In the midst of the reception, Philip received a letter from Ramsey that was like the cry of a bleeding heart:—
"My lil one is ill theyr sayin shes Diein cum to me for gods. sake.—Peat."
The snow was beginning to fall as the guests departed. When the last of them was gone, the clock on the bureau was striking six, and the night was closing in. By eight o'clock Philip was at Elm Cottage.
Pete was sitting at the foot of the stairs, unwashed, uncombed, with his clothes half buttoned and his shoes unlaced.
"Phil!" he cried, and leaping up he took Philip by both hands and fell to sobbing like a child.
They went upstairs together. The bedroom was dense with steam, and the forms of two women were floating like figures in a fog.
"There she is, the bogh," cried Pete in a pitiful wail.
The child lay outstretched on Grannie's lap, with no sign of consciousness, and hardly any sign of life, except the hollow breathing of bronchitis.
Philip felt a strange emotion come over him. He sat on the end of the bed and looked down. The little face, with its twitching mouth and pinched nostrils, beating with every breath, was the face of Kate. The little head, with its round forehead and the silvery hair brushed back from the temples, was his own head. A mysterious throb surprised him, a great tenderness, a deep yearning, something new to him, and born as it were in his breast at that instant. He had an impulse, never felt before, to go down on his knees where the child lay, to take it in his arms, to draw it to him, to fondle it, to call it his own, and to pour over it the inarticulate babble of pain and love that was bursting from his tongue. But some one was kneeling there already, and in his jealous longing he realised that his passionate sorrow could have no voice.
Pete, at Grannie's lap, was stroking the child's arm and her forehead with the tenderness of a woman.
"The bogh millish! Seems aisier now, doesn't she, Grannie? Quieter, anyway? Not coughing so much, is she?"
The doctor came at the moment, and Caesar entered the room behind him with a face of funereal resignation.
"See," cried Pete; "there's your lil patient, doctor. She's lying as quiet as quiet, and hasn't coughed to spake of for better than an hour."
"H'm!" said the doctor ominously. He looked at the child, made some inquiries of Grannie, gave certain instructions to Nancy, and then lifted his head with a sigh.
"Well, we've done all we can for her," he said. "If the child lives through the night she may get over it."
The women threw up their hands with "Aw, dear, aw, dear!" Philip gave a low, sharp cry of pain; but Pete, who had been breathing heavily, watching intently, and holding his arms about the little one as if he would save it from disease and death and heaven itself, now lost himself in the immensity of his woe.
"Tut, doctor, what are you saying?" he said. "You were always took for a knowledgable man, doctor; but you're talking nonsense now. Don't you see the child's only sleeping comfortable? And haven't I told you she hasn't coughed anything worth for an hour? Do you think a poor fellow's got no sense at all?"
The doctor was a patient man as well as a wise one—he left the room without a word. But, thinking to pour oil on Pete's wounds, and not minding that his oil was vitriol, Caesar said—
"If it's the Lord's will, it's His will, sir. The sins of the fathers are visited upon the children—yes, and the mothers, too, God forgive them."
At that Pete leapt to his feet in a flame of wrath.
"You lie! you lie!" he cried. "God doesn't punish the innocent for the guilty. If He does, He's not a good God but a bad one. Why should this child be made to suffer and die for the sin of its mother? Aye, or its father either? Show me the man that would make it do the like, and I'll smash his head against the wall. Blaspheming, am I? No, but it's you that's blaspheming. God is good, God is just, God is in heaven, and you are making Him out no God at all, but worse than the blackest devil that's in hell."
Caesar went off in horror of Pete's profanities. "If the Lord keep not the city," he said, "the watchman waketh in vain."
Pete's loud voice had aroused the child. It made a little cry, and he was all softness in an instant. The women moistened its lips with barley-water, and hushed its fretful whimper.
"Come," said Philip, taking Pete's arm.
"Let me lean on you, Philip," said Pete, and the stalwart fellow went tottering down the stairs.
They sat on opposite sides of the fireplace, and kept the staircase door open that they might hear all that happened in the room above.
"Get thee to bed, Nancy," said the voice of Grannie. "Dear knows how soon you'll be wanted."
"You'll be calling me for twelve, then, Grannie—now, mind, you'll be calling me."
"Poor Pete! He's not so far wrong, though. What's it saying? 'Suffer lil childers'——"
"But Caesar's right enough this time, Grannie. The bogh is took for death as sure as sure. I saw the crow that was at the wedding going crossing the child's head the very last time she was out of doors." Pete was listening intently. Philip was gazing passively into the fire.
"I couldn't help it, sir—I couldn't really," whispered Pete across the hearth. "When a man's got a child that's ill, they may talk about saving souls, but what's the constilation in that? It's not the soul he's wanting saving at all, it's the child—now, isn't it, now?"
Philip made some confused response.
"Coorse, I can't expect you to understand that, Philip. You're a grand man, and a clever man, and a feeling man, but I can't expect you to understand that—now, is it likely? The greenest gall's egg of a father that isn't half wise has the pull of you there, Phil. 'Deed he has, though. When a man has a child of his own he's knowing what it manes, the Lord help him. Something calls to him—it's like blood calling to blood—it's like... I don't know that I'm understanding it myself, neither—not to say understand exactly."
Every word that Pete spoke was like a sword turning both ways. Philip drew his breath heavily.
"You can feel for another, Phil—the Lord forbid you should ever feel for yourself. Books are your children, and they're best off that's never having no better. But the lil ones—God help them—to see them fail, and suffer, and sink—and you not able to do nothing—and themselves calling to you—calling still—calling reg'lar—calling out of mercy—the way I am telling of, any way—O God! O God!"
Philip's throat rose. He felt as if he must betray himself the next instant.
"Perhaps the doctor was right for all. Maybe the child isn't willing to stay with us now the mother is gone; maybe it's wanting away, poor thing. And who knows? Wouldn't trust but the mother is waiting for the lil bogh yonder—waiting and waiting on the shore there, and 'ticing and 'ticing—-I've heard of the like, anyway."
Philip groaned. His brain reeled; his legs grew cold as stones. A great awe came over him. It was not Pete alone that he was encountering. In these searchings and rendings of the heart, which uncovered every thought and tore open every wound, he was entering the lists with God himself.
The church bell began to ring.
"What's that?" cried Philip. It had struck upon his ear like a knell.
"Oiel Verree," said Pete. The bell was ringing for the old Manx service for the singing of Christmas carols. The fibres of Pete's memory were touched by it. He told of his Christmases abroad—how it was summer instead of winter, and fruits were on the trees instead of snow on the ground—how people who had never spoken to him before would shake hands and wish him a merry Christmas. Then from sheer weariness and a sense of utter desolation, broken by the comfort of Philip's company, he fell asleep in his chair.
The night wore on; the house was quiet; only the husky rasping of the child's hurried breathing came from the floor above.
An evil thought in the guise of a pious one took possession of Philip. "God is wise," he told himself. "God is merciful. He knows what is best for all of us. What are we poor impotent grasshoppers, that we dare pray to Him to change His great purposes? It is idle. It is impious.... While the child lives there will be security for no one. If it dies, there will be peace and rest and the beginning of content. The mother must be gone already, so the dark chapter of our lives will be closed at last God is all wise. God is all good."
The child made a feeble cry, and Philip crept upstairs to look. Grannie had dozed off in her seat, and little Katherine was on the bed. A disregarded doll lay with inverted head on the counterpane. The fire had slid and died down to a lifeless glow, and the kettle had ceased to steam. There was no noise in the room save the child's galloping breathing, which seemed to scrape the walls as with a file. Sometimes there was a cough that came like a voice through a fog.
Philip crept in noiselessly, knelt down by the bed-head, and leaned over the pillow. A candle which burned on the mantelpiece cast its light on the head that lay there. The little face was drawn, the little pinched nostrils were beating like a pulse, the little lip beneath was beaded with perspiration, the beautiful round forehead was damp, and the silken silvery hair was matted.
Philip thought the child must be dying, and his ugly piety gave way. There was a movement on the bed. One little hand that had been clenched hard on the breast came over the counterpane and fell, outstretched and open before him. He took it for an appeal, a dumb and piteous appeal, and the smothered tenderness of the father's heart came uppermost. Her child, his child, dying, and he there, yet not daring to claim her!
A new fear took hold of him. He had been wrong—there could be no security in the child's death, no peace, no rest, no content. As surely as the child died he would betray himself. He would blurt it all out; he would tell everything. "My child! my darling! my Kate's Kate!" The cry would burst from him. He could not help it. And to reveal the black secret at the mouth of an open grave would be terrible, it would be horrible, it would be awful, "Spare her, O Lord, spare her!"
In a fear bordering on delirium he went downstairs and shook Pete by the shoulders to awaken him. "Come quickly," he said.
Pete opened his eyes with a bewildered look" "She's better, isn't she?" he asked.
"Courage," said Philip.
"Is she worse?"
"It's life or death now. We must try something that I saw when I was away."
"Good Lord, and I've been sleeping! Save her, Philip! You're great; your clever——"
"Be quiet, for God's sake, my good fellow! Quick, a kettle of boiling water—a blanket—some hot towels."
"Oh, you're a friend, you'll save her. The doctors don't know nothing."
Ten minutes afterwards the child made a feeble cry, coughed loosely, threw up phlegm, and came out of the drowsy land which it had inhabited for a week. In ten minutes more it was wrapped in the hot towels and sitting on Pete's knee before a brisk are, opening its little eyes and pursing its little mouth, and making some inarticulate communication.
Then Grannie awoke with a start, and reproached herself for sleeping. "But dear heart alive," she cried, with both hands up, "the bogh villish is mended wonderful."
Nancy came back in her stockings, blinking and yawning. She clapped and crowed at sight of the child's altered face. The clock in the kitchen was striking twelve by this time, the bells had begun to ring again, the carol singers were coming out of the church, there was a sound on the light snow of the street like the running of a shallow river, and the waits were being sung for the dawn of another Christmas.
The doctor looked in on his way home, and congratulated himself on the improved condition. The crisis was passed, the child was safe.
"Ah! better, better," he said cheerily. "I thought we might manage it this time."
"It was the Dempster that done it," cried Pete. He was cooing and blowing at little Katherine over the fringe of her towels. "He couldn't have done more for the lil one if she'd been his own flesh and blood."
Philip dared not speak. He hurried away in a storm of emotion. "Not yet," he thought, "not yet." The time of his discovery was not yet. It was like Death, though—it waited for him somewhere. Somewhere and at some time—some day in the year, some place on the earth. Perhaps his eyes knew the date in the calendar, perhaps his feet knew the spot on the land, yet he knew neither. Somewhere and at some time—God knew where—God knew when—He kept his own secrets.
That night Philip slept at the "Mitre," and next morning he went up to Ballure.
The Governor could not forget Tynwald. Exaggerating the humiliation of that day, he thought his influence in the island was gone. He sold his horses and carriages, and otherwise behaved like a man who expected to be recalled.
Towards Philip he showed no malice. It was not merely as the author of his shame that Philip had disappointed him.
He had half cherished a hope that Philip would become his son-in-law. But when the rod in his hand had failed him, when it proved too big for a staff and too rough for a crutch, he did not attempt to break it. Either from the instinct of a gentleman, or the pride of a strong man, he continued to shower his favours upon Philip. Going to London with his wife and daughter at the beginning of the new year, he appointed Philip to act as his deputy.
Philip did not abuse his powers. As grandson of the one great Manxman of his century, and himself a man of talents, he was readily accepted by the island. His only drawback was his settled melancholy. This added to his interest if it took from his popularity. The ladies began to whisper that he had fallen in love, and that his heart was "buried in the grave." He did not forget old comrades. It was remembered, in his favour, that one of his friends was a fisherman, a cousin across the bar of bastardy, who had been a fool and gone through his fortune.
On St. Bridget's Day Philip held Deemster's Court in Ramsey. The snow had gone and the earth had the smell of violets. It was almost as if the violets themselves lay close beneath the soil, and their odour had been too long kept under. The sun, which had not been seen for weeks, had burst out that day; the air was warm, and the sky was blue. Inside the Court-house the upper arcs of the windows had been let down; the sun shone on the Deemster as he sat on the dais, and the spring breeze played with his silvery wig. Some^ times, in the pauses of rasping voices, the birds were heard to sing from the trees on the lawn outside.
The trial was a tedious and protracted one. It was the trial of Black Tom. During the epidemic that had visited the island he had developed the character of a witch doctor. His first appearance in Court had been before the High Bailiff, who had committed him to prison. He had been bailed out by Pete, and had forfeited his bail in an attempt at flight. The witnesses were now many, and some came from a long distance. It was desirable to conclude the same day. At five in the evening the Deemster rose and said, "The Court will adjourn for an hour, gentlemen."
Philip took his own refreshments in the Deemster's room—Jem-y-Lord was with him—then put off his wig and gown, and slipped through the prisoners' yard at the back and round the corner to Elm Cottage.
It was now quite dark. The house was lit by the firelight only, which flashed like Will-o'-the-wisp on the hall window. Philip was surprised by unusual sounds. There was laughter within, then singing, and then laughter again. He bad reached the porch and his approach had not been heard. The door stood open and he looked in and listened.
The room was barer than he had ever seen it—a table, three chairs, a cradle, a dresser, and a corner cupboard. Nancy sat by the fire with the child on her lap. Pete was squatting on the floor, which was strewn with rushes, and singing—
"Come, Bridget, Saint Bridget, come in at my door, The crock's on the bink, and the rush is on the floor."
Then getting on to all fours like a great boy, and bobbing his head up and down and making deep growls to imitate the terrors of a wild beast, he made little runs and plunges at the child, who jumped and crowed in Nancy's lap and laughed and squealed till she "kinked."
"Now, stop, you great omathaun, stop," said Nancy. "It isn't good for the lil one—'deed it isn't."
But Pete was too greedy of the child's joy to deny himself the delight of it. Making a great low sweep of the room, he came back hopping on his haunches and barking like a dog. Then the child laughed till the laughter rolled like a marble in her little throat.
Philip's own throat rose at the sight, and his breast began to ache. He felt the same thrill as before—the same, yet different, more painful, more full of jealous longing. This was no place for him. He thought he would go away. But turning on his heel, he was seen by Pete, who was now on his back on the floor, rocking the child up and down like the bellows of an accordion, and to and fro like the sleigh of a loom.
"My faith, the Dempster! Come in, sir, come in," cried Pete, looking over his forehead. Then, giving the child back to Nancy, he leapt to his feet.
Philip entered with a sick yearning and sat down in the chair facing Nancy.
"You're wondering at me, Dempster, I know you are, sir," Said Pete, "'Deed, but I'm wondering at myself as well. I thought I was never going to see a glad day again, and if the sky would ever be blue I would be breaking my heart. But what is the Manx poet saying, sir? 'I have no will but Thine, O God.' That's me, sir, truth enough, and since the lil one has been mending I've never been so happy in my life."
Philip muttered some commonplace, and put his thumb into the baby's hand. It was sucked in by the little fingers as by the soft feelers of the sea-anemone.
Pete drew up the third chair, and then all interest was centred on the child. "She's growing," said Philip huskily.
"And getting wise ter'ble," said Pete. "You wouldn't be-lave it, sir, but that child's got the head of an almanac. She has, though. Listen here, sir—what does the cow say, darling?"
"Moo-o," said the little one.
"Look at that now!" said Pete rapturously.
"She knows what the dog says too," said Nancy. "What does Dempster say, bogh?"
"Bow-wow," said the child.
"Bless me soul!" said Pete, turning to Philip with amazement at the child's supernatural wisdom. "And there's Tom Hommy's boy—and a fine lil fellow enough for all—but six weeks older than this one, and not a word out of him yet."