"Ah! you're back, Miss Christian? I must be going, though. Good-bye, old fellow! Take care of yourself—good men are scarce. Good-bye, Miss Christian! Good-bye, all! Good-bye, Phil! God bless you!"
With that he went roaring down the stairs, but came thunging up again in a moment, put his head round the doorpost, and said—
"Lord bless my soul, if I wasn't forgetting an important bit of news—very important news, too! It hasn't got into the papers yet, but I've had the official wrinkle. What d'ye think?—the Governor has resigned! True as gospel. Sent in his resignation to the Home Office the night before last. I saw it coming. He hasn't been at home since Tynwald. Look sharp and get better now. Good-bye!"
Philip got up for the first time the day following. The weather was soft and full of whispers of spring; the window was open and Philip sat with his face in the direction of the sea. Auntie Nan was knitting by his side and running on with homely gossip. The familiar and genial talk was floating over the surface of his mind as a sea-bird floats over the surface of the sea, sometimes reflected in it, sometimes skimming it, sometimes dipping into it and being lost.
"Poor Pete! The good woman here thinks he's hard. Perhaps he is; but I'm sure he is much to be pitied. Ross has behaved badly and deserves all that can come to him. 'He's the same to me as you are, dear—in blood, I mean—but somehow I can't be sorry.... Ah! you're too tender-hearted, Philip, indeed you are. You'd find excuses for anybody. The doctor says overwork, dearest; but I say the shock of seeing that poor creature in that awful position. And what a shock you gave me, too! To tell you the truth, Philip, I thought it was a fate. Never heard of it? No? Never heard that grandfather fainted on the bench? He did, though, and he didn't recover either. How well I remember it! Word broke over the town like a clap of thunder, 'The Deemster has fallen in the Court-house.' Father heard it up at Ballure and ran down bareheaded. Grandfather's carriage was at the Courthouse door, and they brought him up to Ballawhaine. I remember I was coming downstairs when I saw the carriage draw up at the gate. The next minute your father, with his wild eyes and his bare head, was lifting something out of the inside. Poor Tom! He had never set foot in the house since grandfather had driven him out of it. And little did grandfather think in whose arms he was to travel the last stage of his life's journey."
Philip had fallen asleep. Jem-y-Lord entered with a letter. It was in a large envelope and had come by the insular post.
"Shall I open it?" thought Auntie Nan. She had been opening and replying to Philip's letters during the time of his illness, but this one bore an official seal, and so she hesitated. "Shall I?" she thought, with the knitting needle to her lip. "I will. I may save him some worry."
She fixed her glasses and drew out the letter. It was a summons from the Chancery Division of the High Court of Justice—a petition for divorce. The petitioner's name was Peter Quilliam; the respondent——, the co respondent——.
As Philip awoke from his doze, with the salt breath of the sea in his nostrils and the songs of spring in his ears, Auntie Nan was fumbling with the paper to get it back into the envelope. Her hands trembled, and when she spoke her voice quivered. Philip saw in a moment what had happened. She had stumbled into the pit where the secret of his life lay buried.
The doctor came in at that instant. He looked attentively at Auntie Nan, and said significantly, "You have been nursing too long, Miss Christian, you must go home for a while."
"I will go home at once," she faltered, in a feeble inward voice.
Philip's head was on his breast. Such was the first step on the Calvary he intended to ascend. O God, help him! God support him! God bear up his sinking feet that he might not fall from weakness, or fear, or shame.
Caesar visited Kate at Castle Rushen. He found her lodged in a large and light apartment (once the dining-room of the Lords of Man), indulged with every comfort, and short of nothing but her liberty. As the turnkey pulled the door behind him, Caesar lifted both hands and cried, "The Lord is my refuge and my strength; a very present help in trouble." Then he inquired if Pete had been there before him, and being answered "No," he said, "The children of this world are wiser in their generation than the children of light." After that he fell to the praise of the Deemster, who had not only given Kate these mercies, comfortable to her carnal body, if dangerous to her soul, but had striven to lighten the burden of her people at the time when he had circulated the report of her death, knowing she was dead indeed, dead in trespasses and sins, and choosing rather that they should mourn her as one who was already dead in fact, than feel shame for her as one that was yet alive in iniquity.
Finally, he dropped his handkerchief on to the slate floor,-went down on one knee by the side of his tall hat, and called on her in prayer to cast in her lot afresh with the people of God. "May her lightness be rebuked, O Lord!" he cried. "Give her to know that until she repents she hath no place among Thy children. And, Lord, succour Thy servant in his hour of tribulation. Let him be well girt up with Christian armour. Help him to cry aloud, amid his tears and his lamentations, 'Though my heart and hers should break, Thy name shall not be dishonoured, my Lord and my God!'"
Rising from his knee and dusting it, Caesar took up his tall hat, and left Kate as he had found her, crouching by the fire inside the wide ingle of the old hall, covering her face and saying nothing.
He was in this mood of spiritual exaltation as he descended the steps into the Keep, and came upon a man in the dress of a prisoner sweeping with a besom. It was Black Tom. Caesar stopped in front of him, moved his lips, lifted his face to the sky, shut both eyes, then opened them again, and said in a voice of deep sorrow, "Aw, Thomas! Thomas Quilliam! I'm taking grief to see thee, man. An ould friend, whose hand has rested in my hand, and swilling the floor of a prison! Well, I warned thee often. But thou wast ever stony ground, Thomas. And now thou must see for thyself whether was I right that honesty is the better policy. Look at thee, and look at me. The Lord has delivered me, and prospered me even in temporal things. I have lands and I have houses. And what hast thou thyself? Nothing but thy conscience and thy disgrace. Even thy very clothes they have taken away from thee, and they would take thy hair itself if thou had any."
Black Tom stood with feet flatly planted apart, rested himself on the shank of his besom, and said, "Don't be playing cammag (shindy) with me, Mr. Holy Ghoster. It isn't honesty that's making the diff'rance between us at all—it's luck. You've won and I've lost, you've succeeded and I've failed, you're wearing your chapel hat and I'm in this bit of a saucepan lid, but you're only a reg'lar ould Pharisee, anyway."
Caesar waved his hand. "I can't take the anger with thee, Thomas," he said, backing himself out. "I thought the devil had been chained since our last camp-meeting, but I was wrong seemingly. He goeth about still like a raging lion, seeking whom he may devour."
"Don't be trying to knock me down with your tex'es," said Thomas, shouldering his besom. "Any cock can crow on his own midden."
"You can't help it, Thomas," said Caesar, edging away. "It isn't my ould friend that's blaspheming at all. It's the devil that has entered into his heart and is rending him. But cast the devil out, man, or hell will be thy portion."
"I was there last night in my dreams, Caesar," said Black Tom, following him up. "'Oh, Lord Devil, let me in,' says I. 'Where d'ye come from?' says he. 'The Isle of Man,' says I. 'I'm not taking any more from there till my Bishop comes,' says he. 'Who's that?' says I. 'Bishop Caesar, the publican—who else?' says he."
"I marvel at thee, Thomas," said Caesar, half through the small door of the portcullis, "but the sons of Belial have to fight hard for his throne. I'll pray for thee, though, that it be not remembered against thee when(D.V.) there will be weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth."
That night Caesar visited the Deemster at Elm Cottage. His eyes glittered, and there was a look of frenzy in his face. He was still in his mood of spiritual pride, and when he spoke it was always with the thees and the thous and in the high pitch of the preacher.
"The Ballawhaine is dead, your Honour," he cried, "They wouldn't have me tell thee before because of thy body's weakness, but now they suffer it. Groanings and moanings and 'stericks of torment! Ter'ble sir, ter'ble! Took a notion he would have water poured out for him at the last. It couldn't wash him clane, though. And shouting with his dying voice, 'I've sinned, O God, I've sinned!' Oh, I delivered my soul, sir; he can clear me of that, anyway. 'Lay hould of a free salvation,' says I. 'I've not lived a right life,' says he. 'Truth enough,' says I; 'you've lived a life of carnal freedom, but now is the appointed time. Say, "Lord, I belaive; help thou my unbelaife."' 'Too late, Mr. Cregeen, too late,' says he, and the word was scarce out of his mouth when he was key-cold in a minute, and gone into the night of all flesh that's lost. Well, it was his own son that killed him, sir; robbed him of every silver sixpence and ruined him. The last mortgage he raised was to keep the young man out of prison for forgery. Bad, sir, bad! To indulge a child to its own damnation is bad. A human infirmity, though; and I'm feeling for the poor sinner myself being tempted—that is to say inclining—but thank the Lord for his strengthening arm——"
"Is he buried?" asked Philip.
"Buried enough, and a poor funeral too, sir," said Caesar, walking the room with a proud step, the legs straightened, the toes conspicuously turned out. "Driving rain and sleet, sir, the wind in the trees, the grass wet to your calf, and the parson in his white smock under the umbrella. Nobody there to spake of, neither; only myself and the tenants mostly."
"Where was Ross?"
"Gone, sir, without waiting to see his foolish ould father pushed under the sod. Well, there was not much to wait for neither. The young man has been a besom of fire and burnt up everything. Not so much left as would buy a rope to hang him. And Ballawhaine is mine, sir; mine in a way of spak-ing—my son-in-law's, anyway—and he has given me the right to have and to hould it. Aw, a Sabbath time, sir; a Sabbath time. I made up my mind to have it the night the man struck me in my own house in Sulby. He betrayed my daughter at last, sir, and took her from her home, and then her husband lent six thousand pounds on mortgage. 'Do what you like with it,' said he, and I said to myself, 'The man shall starve; he shall be a beggar; he shall have neither bread to eat, nor water to drink, nor a roof to cover him.' And the moment the breath was out of the ould man's body I foreclosed."
Philip was trembling from head to foot. "Do you mean," he faltered, "that that was your reason?"
"It is the Lord's hand on a rascal," said Caesar, "and proud am I to be the instrument of his vengeance. 'God moves in a mysterious way,' sir. Oh, the Lord is opening His word more and more. And I have more to tell thee, too. Balla-whaine would belong to thyself, sir, if every one had his rights. It was thy grandfather's inheritance, and it should have been thy father's, and it ought to be thine. Take it, sir, take it on thy own terms; it is worth a matter of twelve thousand, but thou shalt have it for nine, and pay for it when the Lord gives thee substance. Thou hast been good to me and to mine, and especially to the poor lost lamb who lies in the Castle to-night in her shame and disgrace. Little did I think I should ever repay thee, though. But it is the Lord's doings. It is marvellous in our eyes. 'Deep in unfathomable mines'——"
Caesar was pacing the room and speaking in tones of rapture. Philip, who was sitting at the table, rose from it with a look of fear.
"Frightful! frightful!" he muttered. "A mistake! a mistake!"
"The Lord God makes no mistakes, sir," cried Caesar.
"But what if it was not Ross——" began Philip. Caesar paid no heed.
"What if it was not Ross——" Caesar glanced over his shoulder.
"What if it was some one else——" said Philip. Caesar stopped in front of him.
"Some one you have never thought of—some one you have respected and even held in honour——"
"Who, then?" said Caesar huskily.
"Mr. Cregeen," said Philip, "it is hard for me to speak. I had not intended to speak yet; but I should hold myself in horror if I were silent now. You have been living in awful error. Whatever the cost, whatever the consequences, you must not remain in that error a moment longer. It was not Ross who took away your daughter."
"Who was it?" cried Caesar. His voice had the sound of a cracked bell.
Philip struggled hard. He tried to confess. His eyes wandered about the walls. "As you have cherished a mistaken resentment," he faltered, "so you have nourished a mistaken gratitude."
"Who? who?" cried Caesar, looking fixedly into Philip's face.
Philip's rigid fingers were crawling over the papers on the table like the claws of crabs. They touched the summons from the Chancery Court, and he picked it up.
"Read this," he said, and held it out to Caesar.
Caesar took it, but continued to look at Philip with eyes that were threatening in their wildness. Philip felt that in a moment their positions had been changed. He was the judge no longer, but only a criminal at the bar of this old man, this grim fanatic, half-mad already with religious mania.
"The Lord of Hosts is mighty," muttered Caesar; and then Philip heard the paper crinkle in his hand.
Caesar was feeling for his spectacles. When he had liberated them from the sheath, he put them on the bridge of his nose upside down. With the two glasses against the wrinkles of his forehead and his eyes still uncovered, he held the paper at arm's length and tried to read it. Then he took out his red print handkerchief to dust the spectacles. Fumbling spectacles and sheath and handkerchief and paper in his trembling hands together, he muttered again in a quavering voice, as if to fortify himself against what he was to see, "The Lord of Hosts is mighty."
He read the paper at length, and there was no mistaking it. "Quilliam v. Quilliam and Christian (Philip)."
He laid the summons on the table, and returned his spectacles to their sheath. His breathing made noises in his nostrils. "Ugh cha nee!" (woe is me), he muttered. "Ugh cha nee! Ugh cha nee!"
Then he looked helplessly around and said, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord."
The vengeance that he had built up day by day had fallen in a moment into ruins. His hypocrisy was stripped naked. "I see how it is," he said in a hoarse voice. "The Lord has de-ceaved me to punish me. It is the public-house. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. What's gained on the devil's back is lost under his belly. I thought I was a child of God, but the deceitfulness of riches has choked the word. Ugh cha nee! Ugh cha nee! My prosperity has been like the quails, only given with the intent of choking me. Ugh cha nee!"
His spiritual pride was broken down. The Almighty had refused to be made a tool of. He took up his hat and rolled his arm over it the wrong way of the nap. Half-way to the door he paused. "Well, I'll be laving you; good-day, sir," he said, nodding his head slowly. "The Lord's been knowing what you were all the time seemingly. But what's the use of His knowing—He never tells on nobody. And I've been calling on sinners to flee from the wrath, and He's been letting the devils make a mock at myself! Ugh cha nee! Ugh cha nee!"
Philip had slipped back in his chair, and his head had fallen forward' on the table. He heard the old man go out; he heard his heavy step drop slowly down the stairs; he heard his foot dragging on the path outside. "Ugh cha nee! Ugh cha nee!" The word rang in his heart like a knell.
Jem-y-Lord, who had been out in the town, came back in great excitement.
"Such news, your Honour! Such splendid news!"
"What is it?" said Philip, without lifting his head.
"They're signing petitions all over the island, asking the Queen to make you Governor."
"God in heaven!" said Philip; "that would be frightful."
When Philip was fit to go out, they brought up a carriage and drove him round the bay. The town had awakened from its winter sleep, and the harbour was a busy and cheerful scene. More than a hundred men had come from their crofts in the country, and were making their boats ready for the mackerel-fishing at Kinsale. There was a forest of masts where the flat hulls had been, the taffrails and companions were touched up with paint, and the newly-barked nets were being hauled over the quay.
"Good morning, Dempster," cried the men.
They all saluted him, and some of them, after their Manx fashion, drew up at the carriage-door, lifted their caps with their tarry hands, and said—
"Taking joy to see you out again, Dempster. When a man's getting over an attack like that, it's middling clear the Lord's got work for him."
Philip answered with smiles and bows and cheerful words, but the kindness oppressed him. He was thinking of Kate. She was the victim of his success. For all that he received she had paid the penalty. He thought of her dreams, her golden dreams, her dreams of going up side by side and hand in hand with the man she loved. "Oh, my love, my love!" he murmured. "Only a little longer."
The doctor was waiting for him when he reached home.
"I have something to say to you, Deemster," he said, with averted face. "It's about your aunt."
"Is she ill?" said Philip.—"Very ill."
"But I've inquired daily."
"By her express desire the truth has been kept back from you."
"The carriage is still at the door——" began Philip.
"I've never seen any one sink so rapidly. She's all nerve. No doubt the nursing exhausted her."
"It's not that—I'll go up immediately."
"She was to expect you at five."
"I cannot wait," said Philip, and in a moment he was on the road. "O God!" he thought, "how steep is the path I have to tread."
On getting to Ballure, he pushed through the hall and stepped upstairs. At the door of Auntie Nan's bedroom he was met by Martha, the housemaid, now the nurse. She looked surprised, and made some nervous show of shutting him out. Before she could dc so he was already in the room. The air was heavy with the smell of medicines and vinegar and the odours of sick life.
"Hush!" said Martha, with a movement of lips and eyebrows.
Auntie Nan was asleep in a half-sitting position on the bed. It was a shock to see the change in her. The beautiful old face was white and drawn with pain; the chin was hanging heavily; the eyes were half open; there was no cap on her head; her hair was straggling loosely and was dull as tow.
"She must be very ill," said Philip under his breath.
"Very," said Martha. "She wasn't expecting you until five, sir."
"Has the doctor told her? Does she know?"
"Yes, sir; but she doesn't mind that. She knows she's dying, and is quite resigned—quite—and quite cheerful—but she fears if you knew—hush!"
There was a movement on the bed.
"She'll be shocked if she—and she's not ready to receive—in here, sir," whispered Martha, and she motioned to the back of a screen that stood between the door and the bed.
There was a deep sigh, a sound as of the moistening of dry lips, and then the voice of Auntie Nan—not her own familiar voice, but a sort of vanishing echo of it. "What is the time, Martha?"
"Twenty minutes wanting five, ma'am."
"So late! It wasn't nice of you to let me sleep so long, Martha. I'm expecting the Governor at five. What a mercy he hasn't come earlier. It wouldn't be right to keep him waiting, and then—bring me the sponge, girl. Moisten it first. Now the towel. The comb next. That's better. How lifeless my hair is, though. Oil, you say? I wonder! I've never used it in my life: but at a time like this—well, just a little, then—there, that will do. Bring me a cap—the one with the pink bow in it. My face is so pale—it will give me a little colour. That will do. You couldn't tell I had been ill, could you? Not very ill, anyway? Now side everything away. The medicines too—put them in the cupboard. So many bottles. 'How ill she must have been!' he would say. And now open the drawer on the left, Martha, the one with the key in it, and bring me the paper on the top. Yes, the white paper. The folded one with the endorsement. Endorsement means writing on the back, Martha. Ah! I've lived all my life among lawyers. Lay it on the counterpane. The keys? Lay them beside it. No, put them behind my pillow, just at my back. Yes, there—lower, though, deeper still—that's right. Now set a chair, so that he can sit beside me. This side of the bed—no, this side. Then the light will be on him, and I will be able to see his face—my eyes are not so good as they were, you know. A little farther back—not quite so much, neither—that will do. Ah!"
There was a long breath of satisfaction, and then Auntie Nan said—
"I suppose it's——what time is it now, Martha?"
"Ten minutes wanting five, ma'am."
"Did you tell Jane about the cutlets? He likes them with bread-crumbs, you know. I hope she won't forget to say 'Your Excellency.' I shall hear his voice the moment he comes into the hall. My ears are no worse, if my eyes are. Perhaps he won't speak, though, 'She's been so ill,' he'll think. Martha, I think you had better open the door. Jane is so forgetful. She might say things, too. If he asks, 'How is she to-day, Martha'' you must answer quite brightly, 'Better to-day, your Excellency.'"
There was an exclamation of pain.
"Oh! Ugh—Oo! Oh, blessed Lord Jesus!"
"Are you sure you are well enough, ma'am? Hadn't I better tell him——"
"No, I'll be worse to-morrow, and the next day worse still. Give me a dose of medicine, Martha—the morning medicine—the one that makes me cheerful. Thank you, Martha. If I feel the pain when he is here, I'll bear it as long as I can, and then I'll say, 'I'm finding myself drowsy, Philip; you had better go and lie down.' Will you understand that, Martha?"
"Yes, ma'am," said Martha.
"I'm afraid we must be a little deceitful, Martha. But we can't help that, can we? You see he has to be installed yet, and that is always a great excitement. If he thought I was very ill, now—very, very ill, you know—yes, I really think he would wish to postpone it, and I wouldn't have that for worlds and worlds. He has always been so fond of his old auntie. Well, it's the way with these boys. I daresay people wonder why he has never married, being so great and so prosperous. That was for my sake. He knew I should——"
Philip was breathing heavily. Auntie Nan listened. "I'm sure there's somebody in the hall, Martha. Is it——? Yes, it's——; Go down to him quick——"
"Yes, ma'am," said Martha, making a noise with the screen to cover Philip's escape on tiptoe. Then she came to him on the landing, wiping her eyes with her apron, and pretended to lead Philip back to the room.
"My boy! my boy!" cried Auntie Nan, and she folded him in her arms.
The transformation was wonderful. She had a look of youth now, almost a look of gaiety. "I've heard the great, great news," she whispered, taking his hand.
"That's only a rumour, Auntie," said Philip. "Are you better?"
"Oh, but it will come true. Yes, yes, I'm better. I'm sure it will come true. And, dear heart, what a triumph! I dreamt it all the night before I heard of it. You were on the top of the Tynwald, and there was a great crowd. But come and sit down and tell me everything. So you are better yourself? Quite strong again, dear? Oh, yes, any where, Philip-sit anywhere. Here, this chair will do—this one by my side. Ah! How well you look!"
She was carried away by her own gaiety. Leaning back on the pillow, but still keeping his hand in hers, she said, "Do you know, Philip Christian, who is the happiest person in the world? I'm sure you don't, for all you're so clever. So I'll tell you. Perhaps you think it's a beautiful young wife just married to a husband who worships her. Well, you're quite, quite wrong, sir. It's an old, old lady, very, very old, and very feeble, just tottering on, and not expecting to live a great while longer, but with her sons about her, grown up, and big, and strong, and having all the world before them. That's the happiest person on earth. And I'm the next thing to it, for my boy—my own boy's boy—-"
She broke off, and then, with a far-off look, she said, "I wonder will he think I've done my duty!"
"Who?" asked Philip.
"Your father," she answered.
Then she turned to the maid and said, quite gaily, "You needn't wait, Martha. His Excellency will call you when I want my medicine. Won't you, your Excellency?"
Philip could not find it in his heart to correct her again. The girl left the room. Auntie Nan glanced at the closing door, then reached over to Philip with an air of great mystery, and whispered—
"You mustn't be shocked, Philip, or surprised, or fancy I'm very ill, or that I'm going to die; but what do you think I've done?"
"I've made my will! Is that very terrible?"
"You've done right, Auntie," said Philip.
"Yes, the High Bailiff has been up and everything is in order, every little thing. See," and she lifted the paper that the maid had laid on the counterpane. "Let me tell you." She nodded her head as she ran over the items. "Some little legacies first, you know. There's Martha, such a good girl—I've left her my silk dresses. Then old Mary, the housemaid at Ballawhaine. Poor old thing! she's been down with rheumatism three years, and flock beds get so lumpy—I've left her my feather one. I thought at first I should like you to have my little income. Do you know, your old auntie is quite an old miser. I've grown so fond of my little money. And it seemed so sweet to think—but then you don't want it now, Philip. It would be nothing to you, would it? I've been thinking, though—now, what do you think I've been thinking of doing with my little fortune?"
Philip stroked the wrinkled fingers with his other hand.
"What's right, I'm sure, Auntie. What is it?"
"You would never guess."—"No?"
"I've been thinking," with sudden gravity. "Philip, there's nobody in the world so unhappy as a poor gentlewoman who has slipped and fallen. Then this one's father, he has turned his back on her, they're telling me, and of course she can't expect anything from her husband. I've been thinking, now——"
"Yes?" said Philip, with his eyes down.
"To tell you the truth, I've been thinking it would be so nice——"
And then, nervously, faltering, in a quavering voice, with many excuses, out came the great secret, the mighty strategy. Auntie Nan had willed her fortune to Kate.
"You're an angel, Auntie," said Philip in a thick voice.
But he saw through her artifice. She was talking of Kate, but she was thinking of himself. She was trying to relieve him of an embarrassment; to remove an impediment that lay in his path; to liberate his conscience; to cover up his fault; to conceal everything.
"And then this house, dear," said Auntie Nan. "It's yours, but you'll never want it. It's been a dear little harbour of refuge, but the storm is over now. Would you—do you see any objection—perhaps you might—could you not let the poor soul come and live here with her little one, after I—when all is over, I mean—and she is—eh?"
Philip could not speak. He took the wrinkled hand and drew it up to his lips.
The old soul was beside herself with joy. "Then you're sure I've done right? Quite sure? Lock it up in the drawer again, dearest The top one on the left. Oh, the keys? Dear me, yes; where are the keys? How tiresome! I remember now. They're at the back of my pillow. Will you call Martha? Or perhaps you would yourself—will you?" (very artfully)—"you don't mind then? Yes, that's it; more this way, though, a little more—ah! My boy! my boy!"
The old dove's second strategy had succeeded also. In fumbling behind her pillow for the keys, Philip had to put his arms about her again, and she was kissing him on the forehead and on the cheeks.
Then came a spasm of pain. It dragged at her features, but her smile struggled through it. She fetched a difficult breath, and said—
"And now—dear—I'm finding myself—a little drowsy—how selfish of me—your cutlets—browned—nicely browned—breadcrumbs, you know——"
Philip fled from the room and summoned Martha. He wandered aimlessly about the house for hours that night. At one moment he found himself in the blue room, Auntie Nan's workroom, so full of her familiar things—the spinning-wheel, the frame of the sampler, the old-fashioned piano, the scent of lavender—all the little evidences of her presence, so dainty, so orderly, so sweet A lamp was burning for the convenience of the doctor, but there was no fire.
The doctor came again towards ten o'clock. There was nothing to be done; nothing to be hoped; still she might live until morning, if——
At midnight Philip crept noiselessly to the bedroom. The condition was unaltered. He was going to lie down, but wished to be awakened if there was any change.
It was long before he dropped off, and he seemed to have slept only a moment when there was a knocking at his door. He heard it while he was still sleeping. The dawn had broken, the streamers of the sun were rising out of the sea. A sparrow in the garden was hacking the air with its monotonous chirp.
Auntie Nan was far spent, yet the dragging expression of pain was gone, and a serenity almost angelic overspread her face. When she recognised Philip she felt for his hand, guided it to her heart, and kept it there. Only a few words did she speak, for her breath was short. She commended her soul to God. Then, with a look of pallid sunshine, she beckoned to Philip. He stooped his ear to her lips, and she whispered, "Hush, dearest! Never tell any one, for nobody ever knew—ever dreamt—but I loved your father—and—God gave him to me in you."
The dear old dove had delivered herself of her last great secret. Philip put his lips to her cheek, iced already over the damps and chills of death. Then the eyes closed, the sweet old head slid back, the lips changed their colour, but still lay open as with a smile. Thus died Auntie Nan, peacefully, hopefully, trustfully, almost joyfully, in the fulness of her love and of her pride.
"O God," thought Philip, "let me go on with my task. Give me strength to withstand the temptation of love like this."
Her love had tempted him all his life His father had been twenty years dead, but she had kept his spirit alive—his aims, his ambitions, his fears, and the lessons of his life. There lay the beginnings of his ruin, his degradation, and the first cause of his deep duplicity. He had recovered everything that had been lost; he had gained all that his little world could give; and what was the worth of it? What was the price he had paid for it? "What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?"
Philip put his lips to the cold forehead. "Sweet soul, forgive me! God strengthen me! Let me not fail at this last moment."
Philip did not go back to Elm Cottage. He buried Auntie Nan at the foot of his father's grave. There was no room at either side, his mother's sunken grave being on the left and the railed tomb of his grandfather on the right. They had to remove a willow two feet nearer to the path.
When all was over he returned home alone, and spent the afternoon in gathering up Auntie Nan's personal belongings, labelling some of them and locking them up in the blue room. The weather had been troubled for some days. Spots had been seen on the sun. There were magnetic disturbances, and on the night before the aurora had pulsed in the northern sky. When the sun was near to sinking there was a brilliant lower sky to the west, with a bank of rolling cloud above it like a thick thatch roof, and a shaft of golden light dipping down into the sea, as if an angel had opened a door in heaven. After the sun had gone a fiery red bar stretched across the sky, and there were low rumblings of thunder.
Pausing in his work to look out on the beach, Philip saw a man riding hard on horseback. It was a messenger from Government Offices. He drew up at the gate. A moment later the messenger was in Philip's room handing him a letter.
If anybody had seen the Deemster as he took that letter he must have thought it his death-warrant. A deadly pallor came to his face when he broke the seal of the envelope and drew out the contents. It was a commission from the Home Office. Philip was appointed Governor of the Isle of Man. "My punishment, my punishment!" he thought. The higher he rose, the lower he had to fall. It was a cruel kindness, a painful distinction, an awful penalty. Truly the steps of this Calvary were steep. Would he ever ascend it?
The messenger was bowing and smirking before him. "Thousand congratulations, your Excellency!"
"Thank you, my lad. Go downstairs. They'll give you something to eat."
A moment later Jem-y-Lord came into the room on some pretence and hopped about like a bird. "Yes, your Excellency—No, your Excellency—Quite so, your Excellency."
Martha came next, and met Philip on the landing with a courageous smile and a courtesy. And the whole house, lately so dark and sad, seemed to lighten and to laugh, as when, after a sleepless night, you look, and lo! the daylight is on the blind; you listen and the birds are twittering in their cages below the stairs.
"She will hear it too," thought Philip.
He wrote her two lines of a letter, the first that he had penned since his illness—
"Keep up heart, dear; I will be with you soon."
This, without signature or superscription, he put into an envelope, and addressed. Then he went out and posted it himself.
There was lightning as he returned. He felt as if he would like to wander away in it down to Port Mooar, and round by the caves, and under the cliffs, where the sea-birds scream.
The night had fallen, and he was sitting in his room, when there was a clamour of loud voices in the hall. Some one was calling for the Deemster. It was Nancy Joe. She was newly returned from Sulby. Something had happened to Caesar, and nobody could control him.
"Go to him, your Honour," she cried from the doorway. "It's only yourself that has power with him, and we don't know in the world what's doing on the man. He's got a ram's horn at him, and is going blowing round the house like the mischief, calling on the Lord to bring it down, and saying it's the walls of Jericho."
Philip sent for a carriage, and set off for Sulby immediately. The storm had increased by this time. Loud peals of thunder echoed in the hills. Forks of lightning licked the trunks of the trees and ran like serpents along the branches. As they were going by the church at Lezayre, the coachman reached over from the box, and said, "There's something going doing over yonder, sir. See?"
A bright gleam lit up the dark sky in the direction they were taking. At the turn of the road by the "Ginger," somebody passed them running.
"What's yonder?" called the coachman.
And a voice out of the darkness answered him, "The 'Fairy' is struck by lightning, and Caesar's gone mad."
It was the fact. While Caesar in his mania had been blowing his ram's horn around his public-house under the delusion that it was Jericho, the lightning had struck it. The fire was past all hope of subduing. A great hole had been burnt into the roof, and the flames were leaping through it as through a funnel. All Sulby seemed to be on the spot. Some were dragging furniture out of the burning house; others were running with buckets to the river and throwing water on the blazing thatch.
But encircling everything was the figure of a man going round and round with great plunging strides, over the road, across the river, and through the mill-pond behind, blowing a horn in fierce, unearthly blasts, and crying in a voice of triumph and mockery, first to this worker and then to that, "No use, I tell thee. Thou can never put it out. It's fire from heaven. Didn't I say I'd bring it down?"
It was Caesar. His eyes glittered, his mouth worked convulsively, and his cheeks were as black with the flying soot as the "colley" of the pot.
When he saw Philip, he came up to him with a terrible smile on his fierce black face, and, pointing to the house, he cried above the babel of voices, the roar of the thunder, and crackle of the fire, "An unclean spirit lived in it, sir. It has been tormenting me these ten years."
He seemed to listen and to hear something. "That's it roaring," he cried, and then he laughed with wild delight.
"Compose yourself, Mr. Cregeen," said Philip, and he tried to take him by the arm.
But Caesar broke away, blew a terrific blast on his ram's horn, and went striding round the house again. When he came back the next time there was a deep roll of thunder in the air, and he said, "It's the Ballawhaine. He had the stone five years, and he used to groan so."
Again Philip entreated him to compose himself. It was useless. Round and round the burning house he went, blowing his horn, and calling on the workers to stop their ungodly labour, for the Lord had told him to blow down the walls of Jericho, and he had burnt them down instead.
The people began to be afraid of his frenzy. "They'll have to put the man in the Castle," said one. "Or have him chained up in an outhouse," said another. "They kept the Kirk Maug-hold lunatic fifteen years on the straw in the gable loft, and his children in the house grew up to be men and women." "It's the girl that's doing on Caesar. Shame on the daughters that bring ruin to their old fathers!"
Still Caesar went careering round the fire, blowing his ram's horn and crying, "No use! It's the Lord God!"
The more the fire blazed, the more it resisted the efforts of the people to subdue it, the more fierce and unearthly were Caesar's blasts and the more triumphant his cries.
At last Grannie stepped out and stopped him. "Come home, father," she whimpered. He looked at her with bewildered eyes, then he looked at the burning house, and he seemed to recover himself in a moment.
"Come home, bogh," said Grannie tenderly.
"I've got no home," said Caesar in a helpless way. "And I've got no money. The fire has taken all."
"No matter, father," said Grannie. "We had nothing when we began; we'll begin again."
Then Caesar fell to mumbling texts of Scripture, and Grannie to soothing him after her simple fashion.
"'My soul is passing through deep waters. I am feeble and sore broken. Save me, O God, for the waters are come in unto my soul, I sink in deep mire, where there is no standing.'"
"Aw, no Caesar, we're on the road now. It's dry enough here, anyway."
"'Many bulls have compassed me; great bulls of Bashan have beset me round. Save me from the lion's mouth; for Thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorn.'"
"Never mind the lion and the unicorn, father, but come and we'll change thy wet trousers."
"'Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.'"
"Aw, yes, we'll wash thee enough when we get to Ramsey. Come, then, bogh."
He had dropped his ram's horn somewhere, and she took him by the hand. Then he suffered himself to be led away, and the two old children went off into the darkness.
There was a letter waiting for Philip at home. It was from the Clerk of the Rolls. Only a few lines scribbled on the back of a draft deposition, telling him the petition for divorce had been heard that day within closed doors. The application had been granted, and all was settled and comfortable.
"I don't want to hurt your already much wounded feelings, Christian," wrote the Clerk of the Rolls, "or to add anything to your responsibility when you come to make provision for the woman, but I must say she has given up for your sake a deuced good honest fellow."
"I know it," said Philip aloud.
"When I told him that all was over, and that his erring wife would trouble him no more, I thought he was going to burst out crying."
But Philip had no time yet to think of Pete. All his heart was with Kate. She would receive the official intimation of the divorce, and it would fall on her in her prison like a blow. She would think of herself, with all the world against her, and of him with all the world at his feet. He wanted to run to her, to pluck her up in his arms, to kiss her on the lips, and say, "Mine, mine at last!" His wife—her husband—all forgiven—all forgotten!
Philip spent the rest of the night in writing a letter to Kate. He told her he could not live without her; that now for the first time she was his, and he was hers, and they were one; that their love was re-born, and that he would spend the future in atoning for the wrongs he had inflicted upon her in the past. Then he dropped to the sheer babble of affection and poured out his heart to her—all the babydom of love, the foolish prattle, the tender nonsense. What matter that he was Governor now, and the first man in the island? He forgot all about it. What matter that he was writing to a fallen woman in prison? He only remembered it to forget himself the more.
"Just a little longer, my love, just a little longer. I am coming to you, I am coming. Older, perhaps, perhaps sadder, and a boy no more, but hopeful still, and ready to face whatever fate befall, with her I love beside me."
Next day Jem-y-Lord took this letter to Castle Rushen and brought back an answer. It was one line only—"My darling! At last! At last! Oh, Philip! Philip! But what about our child?"
The proclamation of Philip's appointment as Governor of the Isle of Man had been read in the churches, and nailed up on the doors of the Court-houses, and the Clerk of the Rolls was pushing on the arrangements for the installation.
"Let it be on the Tuesday of Easter week," he wrote, "and of course at Castle Rushen. The retiring Governor is ready to return for that day to deliver up his seals of office and to receive your commission."
"P. S.—Private. And if you think that soft-voiced girl has been long enough 'At Her Majesty's pleasure,' I will release her. Not that she is taking any harm at all, but we had better get these little accounts squared off before your great day comes. Meantime you may wish to provide for her future. Be liberal, Christian; you can afford to treat her liberally. But what am I saying? Don't I know that you will be ridiculously over-generous?"
Philip answered this letter promptly. "The Tuesday of Easter week will do as well as any other day. As to the lady, let her stay where she is until the morning of the ceremony, when I will myself settle everything."
Philip's correspondence was now plentiful, and he had enough work to cope with it The four towns of the island vied with each other in efforts to show him honour. Douglas, as the scene of his career, wished to entertain him at a banquet; Ramsey, as his birthplace, wanted to follow him in procession. He declined all invitations.
"I am in mourning," he wrote. "And besides, I am not well."
"Ah! no," he thought, "nobody shall reproach me when the times comes."
There was no pause, no pity, no relenting rest in the world's kindness. It began to take shapes of almost fiendish cruelty in his mind, as if the devil's own laughter was behind it.
He inquired about Pete. Hardly anybody knew anything; hardly anybody cared. The spendthrift had come down to his last shilling, and sold up the remainder of his furniture. The broker was to empty the house on Easter Tuesday. That was all. Not a word about the divorce. The poor neglected victim, forgotten in the turmoil of his wrongdoer's glory, had that last strength of a strong man—the strength to be silent and to forgive.
Philip asked about the child. She was still at Elm Cottage in the care of the woman with the upturned nose and the shrill voice. Every night he devised plans for getting possession of Kate's little one, and every morning he abandoned them, as difficult or cruel or likely to be spurned.
On Easter Monday he was busy in his room at Ballure, with a mounted messenger riding constantly between his gate and Government offices. He had spent the morning on two important letters. Both were to the Home Secretary. One was sealed with his seal as Deemster; the other was written on the official paper of Government House. He was instructing the messenger to register these letters when, through the open door, he heard a formidable voice in the hall. It was Pete's voice. A moment afterwards Jem-y-Lord came up with a startled face.
"He's here himself, your Excellency. Whatever am I to do with him?"
"Bring him up," said Philip.
Jem began to stammer. "But—but—and then the Bishop may be here any minute."
"Ask the Bishop to wait in the room below."
Pete was heard coming upstairs. "Aisy all, aisy! Stoop your lil head, bogh. That's the ticket!"
Philip had not spoken to Pete since the night of the drinking of the brandy and water in the bedroom. He could not help it—his hand shook. There would be a painful scene.
"Stoop again, darling. There you are."
And then Pete was in the room. He was carrying the child on one shoulder; they were both in their best clothes. Pete looked older and somewhat thinner; the tan of his cheeks was fretted out in pale patches under the eyes, which were nevertheless bright. He had the face of a man who had fought a brave fight with life and been beaten, yet bore the world no grudge. Jem-y-Lord and the messenger were gone from the room in a moment, and the door was closed.
"What d'ye think of that, Phil? Isn't she a lil beauty?"
Pete was dancing the child on his knee and looking sideways down at it with eyes of rapture.
"She's as sweet as an angel," said Philip in a low tone.
"Isn't she now?" said Pete, and then he rattled on as if he were the happiest man alive. "You've been wanting something like this yourself this long time, Phil. 'Deed you have, though. It would be diverting you wonderful. Ter'ble the fun there is in babies. Talk about play-actorers! They're only funeral mutes where babies come. Bittending this and bittending that—it's mortal amusing they are. You'd be getting up from your books, tired shocking, and ready for a bit of fun, and going to the stair-head and shouting down, 'Where's my lil woman?' Then up she'd be coming, step by step, houlding on to the bannisters, dot and carry one. And my gracious, the dust there'd be here in the study! You down on the carpet on all fours, and the lil one straddled across your back and slipping down to your neck. Same for all the world as the man in the picture with the world atop of his shoulders. And your own lil world would be up there, too, laughing and crowing mortal. And then at night, Phil, at night—getting up from your summonses and your warrantees, and going creeping to the lil one's room tippie-toe, tippie-toe, and 'Is she sleeping comfor'bly?' thinks you; and listening at the crack of the door, and hearing her breathing, and slipping in to look, and everything quiet, and the red fire on her lil face, and 'Grod bless her, the darling!' says you, and then back to your desk content. Aw, you'll have to be having a lil one of your own one of these days, Phil."
"He has come to say something," thought Philip.
The child wriggled off Pete's knee and began to creep about the floor. Philip tried to command himself and to talk easily.
"And how have you been yourself, Pete?" he asked.
"Well," said Pete, meddling with his hair, "only middling, somehow." He looked down at the carpet, and faltered, "You'll be wondering at me, Phil, but, you see "—he hesitated—"not to tell you a word of a lie——" then, with a rush, "I'm going foreign again; that's the fact."
"Well, I am," said Pete, looking ashamed. "Yes, truth enough, that's what I'm thinking of doing. You see," with a persuasive air, "when a man's bitten by travel it's like the hydrophobia ezactly, he can't rest no time in one bed at all. Must be running here and running there—and running reg'lar. It's the way with me, anyway. Used to think the ould island would be big enough for the rest of my days. But, no! I'm longing shocking for the mines again, and the compound, and the niggers, and the wild life out yonder. 'The sea's calling me,' you know." And then he laughed.
Philip understood him—Pete meant to take himself out of the way. "Shall you stay long?" he faltered.
"Well, yes, I was thinking so," said Pete. "You see, the stuff isn't panning out now same as it used to, and fortunes aren't made as fast as they were in my time. Not that I'm wanting a fortune, neither—is it likely now? But, still and for all—well, I'll be away a good spell, anyway."
Philip tried to ask if he intended to go soon.
"To-morrow, sir, by the packet to Liverpool, for the sailing on Wednesday. I've been going the rounds saying 'goodbye' to the ould chums—Jonaique, and John the Widow, and Niplightly, and Kelly the postman. Not much heart at some of them; just a bit of a something stowed away in their giblets; but it isn't right to be expecting too much at all. This is the only one that doesn't seem willing to part with me."
Pete's dog had followed him into the room, and was sitting soberly by the side of his chair. "There's no shaking him off, poor ould chap."
The dog got up and wagged his stump.
"Well, we've tramped the world together, haven't we, Dempster? He doesn't seem tired of me yet neither." Pete's face lengthened. "But there's Grannie, now. The ould angel is going about like a bit of a thunder-cloud, and doesn't know in the world whether to burst on me or not. Thinks I've been cruel, seemingly. I can't be explaining to her neither. Maybe you'll set it right for me when I'm gone, sir. It's you for a job like that, you know. Don't want her to be thinking hard of me, poor ould thing."
Pete whistled at the child, and halloed to it, and then, in a lower tone, he continued, "Not been to Castletown, sir. Got as far as Ballasalla, and saw the castle tower. Then my heart was losing me, and I turned back. You'll say good-bye for me, Phil Tell her I forgave—no, not that, though. Say I left her my love—that won't do neither. You'll know best what to say when the time comes, Phil, so I lave it with you. Maybe you'll tell her I went away cheerful and content, and, well, happy—why not? No harm in saying that at all. Not breaking my heart, anyway, for when a man's a man—H'm!" clearing his throat, "I'm bad dreadful these days wanting a smook in the mornings. May I smook here? I may? You're good, too."
He cut his tobacco with his discoloured knife, rolled it, charged his pipe, and lit it.
"Sorry to be going away just before your own great day, Phil. I'll get the skipper to fire a round as we're steaming by Castletown, and if there's a band aboord I'll tip them a trifle to play 'Myle Charaine.' That'll spake to you like the blackbird's whistle, as the saying is. Looks like deserting you, though. But, chut! it would be no surprise to me at all. I've seen it coming these years and years. 'You'll be the first Manxman living,' says I the day I sailed before. You've not deceaved me neither. D'ye remember the morning on the quay, and the oath between the pair of us? Me swearing you same as a high bailiff—nothing and nobody to come between us—d'ye mind it, Phil? And nothing has, and nothing shall."
He puffed at his pipe, and said significantly, "You'll be getting married soon. Aw, you will, I know you will, I'm sarten sure you will."
Philip could not look into his face. He felt little and mean.
"You're a wise man, sir, and a great man, but if a plain common chap may give you a bit of advice—aw, but you'll be losing no time, though, I'll not be here myself to see it. I'll be on the water, maybe, with the waves washing agen the gun'ale, and the wind rattling in the rigging, and the ship burrowing into the darkness of the sea. But I'll be knowing it's morning at home, and the sun shining, and a sort of a warm quietness everywhere, and you and her at the ould church together."
The pipe was puffing audibly.
"Tell her I lave her my blessing. Tell her—but the way I'm smooking, it's shocking. Your curtains will be smelling thick twist for a century."
Philip's moist eyes were following the child along the floor.
"What about the little one?" he asked with difficulty.
"Ah I tell you the truth, Phil, that's the for I came. Well, mostly, anyway. You see, a child isn't fit for a compound ezactly. Not but they're thinking diamonds of a lil thing out there, specially if it's a girl. But still and for all, with niggers about and chaps as rough as a thornbush and no manners to spake of——"
Philip interrupted eagerly—"Will you leave her with Grannie!"
"Well, no, that wasn't what I was thinking. Grannie's a bit ould getting and she's had her whack. Wanting aisement in her ould days, anyway. Then she'll be knocking under before the lil one's up—that's only to be expected. No, I was thinking—what d'ye think I was thinking now?"
"What?" said Philip with quick-coming breath. He did not raise his head.
"I was thinking—well, yes, I was, then—it's a fact, though—I was thinking maybe yourself, now——"
Philip had started up and grasped Pete by the hand, but he could say no more, he felt crushed by Pete's magnanimity. And Pete went on as if he were asking a great favour. "'She's been your heart's blood to you, Pete,' thinks I to my-. self, 'and there isn't nobody but himself you could trust her with—nobody else you would give her up to. He'll love her,'. thinks I; 'he'll cherish her; he'll rear her as if she was his own; he'll be same thing as a father itself to her'——"
Philip was struggling to keep up.
"I've been laving something for her too," said Pete.
"Yes, though, one of the first Manx estates going. Caesar had the deeds, but I've been taking them to the High Bailiff, and doing everything regular. When I'm gone, sir——"
Philip tried to protest.
"Aw, but a man can lave what he likes to his own, sir, can't he?"
Philip was silent. He could say nothing. The make-believe was to be kept up to the last tragic moment.
"And out yonder, lying on my hunk in the sheds—good mattresses and thick blankets, Phil, nothing to complain of at all—I'll be watching her growing up, year by year, same as if she was under my eye constant. 'She's in pinafores now' thinks I. 'Now she's in long frocks, and is doing up her hair.' 'She's as straight as an osier now, and red as a rose, and the best looking girl in the island, and the spitting picture of what her mother used to be.' Aw, I'll be seeing her in my mind's eye, sir, plainer nor any potegraph."
Pete puffed furiously at his pipe. "And the mother, I'll be seeing herself, too. A woman every inch of her, God bless her. Wherever there's a poor girl lying in her shame she'll be there, I'll go bail on that. And yourself—I'll be seeing yourself, sir, whiter, maybe, and the sun going down on you, but strong for all. And when any poor fellow has had a knock-down blow, and the world is darkening round him, he'll be coming to you for light and for strength, and you'll be houlding out the right hand to him, because you're knowing yourself what it is to fall and get up again, and because you're a man, and Grod has made friends with you."
Pete rammed his thumb into his pipe, and stuffed it, still smoking, into his waistcoat pocket. "Chut!" he said huskily. "The talk a man'll be putting out when he's going away foreign! All for poethry then, or something of that spacious. H'm! h'm!" clearing his throat, "must be giving up the pipe, though. Not much worth for the voice at all."
Philip could not speak. The strength and grandeur of the man overwhelmed him. It cut him to the heart that Pete could never see, could never hear, how he would wash away his shame.
The child had crawled across the room to an open cabinet that stood in one corner, and there possessed herself of a shell, which she was making show of holding to her ear.
"Well, did you ever?" cried Pete. "Look at that child now. She's knowing it's a shell. 'Deed she is, though. Aw, crawling reg'lar, sir, morning to night. Would you like to see the prettiest sight in the world, Phil?" He went down on his knees and held out his arms. "Come here, you lil sandpiper. Fix that chair a piece nearer, sir—that's the ticket. Good thing Nancy isn't here. She'd be on to us like the mischief. Wonderful handy with babies, though, and if anybody was wanting a nurse now—a stepmother's breath is cold—but Nancy! My gough, you daren't look over the hedge at her lammie but she's shouting fit for an earth wake. Stand nice, now, Kitty, stand nice, bogh! The woman's about right, too—the lil one's legs are like bits of qualebone. 'Come, now, bogh, come?"
Pete put the child to stand with its back to the chair, and then leaned towards it with his arms outspread. The child staggered a step in the sea of one yard's space that lay between, looked back at the irrecoverable chair, looked down on the distant ground, and then plunged forward with a nervous laugh, and fell into Pete's arms.
"Bravo! Wasn't that nice, Phil? Ever see anything prettier than a child's first step? Again, Kitty, bogh! But go to your new father this time. Aisy, now, aisy!" (in a thick voice). "Grive me a kiss first!" (with a choking gurgle). "One more, darling!" (with a broken laugh). "Now face the other way. One—two—are you ready, Phil?"
Phil held out his long white trembling hands.
"Yes," with a smothered sob.
The child's fingers slipped into Philip's palm; there was another halt, another plunge, another nervous laugh, and then the child was in Philip's arms, his head was over it, and he was clasping it to his heart.
After a moment, Philip, without raising his eyes, said, "Pete!"
But Pete had stolen softly from the room.
"Pete! where are you?"
Where was he? He was on the road outside, crying like a boy—no, like a man—at thought of the happiness he had left upstairs.
The town of Peel was in a great commotion that night. It was the night of St. Patrick's Day, and the mackerel fleet were leaving for Kinsale. A hundred and fifty boats lay in the harbour, each with a light in its binnacle, a fire in its cabin, smoke coming from its stove-pipe, and its sails half-set. The sea was fresh; there was a smart breeze from the northwest, and the air was full of the brine. At the turn of the tide the boats began to drop down the harbour. Then there was a rush of women and children and old men to the end of the pier. Mothers were seeing their sons off, women their husbands, children their fathers, girls their boys—all full of fun and laughter and joyful cries.
One of the girls remembered that the men were leaving the island before the installation of the new Governor. Straightway they started a game of make-believe—the make-believe of electing the Governor for themselves.
"Who are you voting for, Mr. Quayle?"—"Aw, Dempster Christian, of coorse."—"Throw us your rope, then, and we'll give you a pull."—"Heave oh, girls." And the rope would be whipped round a mooring-post on the quay, twenty girls would seize it, and the boat would go slipping past the pier, round the castle rocks, and then away before the north-wester like a gull.
"Good luck, Harry!"—"Whips of money coming home, Jem!"—"Write us a letter—mind you write, now I "—"Goodnight, father!"
No crying yet, no sign of tears—nothing but fresh young faces, bright eyes, and peals of laughter, as one by one the boats slid out into the fresh, green water of the bay, and the wind took them, and they shot into the night. Even the dogs on the quay frisked about, and barked as if they were going crazy with delight.
In the midst of this happy scene, a man, wearing a monkey-jacket and a wide-brimmed soft hat, came up to the harbour with a little misshapen dog at his heels. He stood for a moment as if bewildered by the strange midnight spectacle before him. Then he walked through the throng of young people, and listened awhile to their talk and laughter. No one spoke to him, and he spoke to no one. His dog followed with its nose at his ankles. If some other dog, in youthful frolic, frisked and barked about it, it snarled and snapped, and then croodled down at his master's feet and looked ashamed.
"Dempster, Dempster, getting a bit ould, eh?" said the man.
After a little while he went quietly away. Nobody missed him; nobody had observed him. He had gone back to the town. At a baker's shop, which was still open for the convenience of the departing fleet, he bought a seaman's biscuit. With this he returned to the harbour by way of the shore. At the slip by the Rocket House he went down to the beach and searched among the shingle until he found a stone like a dumb-bell, large at the ends and narrow in the middle. Then he went back to the quay. The dog followed him and watched him.
The last of the boats was out in the bay by this time. She could be seen quite plainly in the moonlight, with the green blade of a wave breaking on her quarter. Somebody was carrying a light on her deck, and the giant shadow of a man's figure was cast up on the new lugsail. There were shouts and answers across the splashing water. Then a fresh young voice on the boat began to sing "Lovely Mona, fare thee well." The women took it up, and the two companies sang it in turns, verse by verse, the women on the quay and the men on the boat, with the sea growing wider between them.
An old fisherman on the skirts of the crowd had a little girl on his shoulder.
"You'll not be going to Kinsale this time, mate?" said a voice behind him.
"Aw, no, sir. I've seen the day, though. Thirty years I was going, and better. But I'm done now."
"Well, that's the way, you see. It's the turn of the young ones now. Let them sing, God bless them! We're not going to fret, though, are we? There's one thing we can always do—we can always remember, and that's some constilation, isn't it."
"I'm doing it reg'lar." said the old fisherman.
"After all, it's been a good thing to live, and when a man's time comes it'll not be such a darned bad thing to die neither. Don't you hould with me there, mate?"
"I do, sir, I do."
The last boat had rounded the castle rock, and its topsail had diminished and disappeared. On the quay the song had ended, and the women and children were turning their faces with a shade of sadness towards the town.
"Well," with a deep universal inspiration, "wasn't it beautiful?"— "Wasn't it?"—"Then what are you crying about?"
The girls laughed at each other with wet eyes, and went off with springless steps. The mothers picked up their children and carried them home whimpering; and the old men went a way with drooping heads and shambling feet.
When all was gone, and the harbour-master had taken his last look round, the man with the dog went to the end of the empty quay, and sat on the mooring post that had served for the running of the ropes. All was quiet enough now. The voices, the singing, the laughter were lost. There was no sound but the gurgle of the ebbing tide, which was racing out with the river's flow between the pier and the castle rock.
The man looked at his dog, stooped to it, gave it the biscuit, and petted it and stroked it while it munched its supper. "Dempster, bogh! Dempster! Getting ould, eh? Travelled far together, haven't we? Tired a bit, aren't you? Couldn't go through another rough journey, anyway. Hard to part, though, Machree! Machree!"
He took the stone out of his pocket, tied it to one end of the string, made a noose on the ether end, slipped it about the dog's neck, and without warning, picked up the dog and stone at once, and dropped them over the pier. The old creature gave a piteous cry as it descended; there was a splash, and then—the racing of the water past the pier.
The man had turned away quickly, and was going heavily along the quay.
It had been a night of pain to Philip. All the world seemed to be conspiring to hold him back from what he had to do. "Thou shalt not" was the legend that appeared to be written everywhere. Four persons had learnt his secret, and all four seemed to call upon him to hide it. First, the Clerk of the Rolls, who had heard the divorce proceedings within closed doors; next Pete, who might have clamoured the scandal on all hands, and plucked him down from his place, but had chosen to be silent and to slip away unseen; then Caesar, whose awful self-deception was an assurance of his secrecy; and, finally. Auntie Nan, whose provision for Kate's material welfare had been intended to prevent the necessity for revelation. All these had seemed to say to him, whether from affection or from fear, "Hold your peace. Say nothing. The past is the past; it is dead; it does not exist. Go on with your career. It is only beginning. What right have you to break it up? The island looks to you, waits for you. Step forward and be strong."
Thank God, it was too late to be moved by that temptation. Too late to be bought by that bribe. Already he had taken the irrevocable course, he had made the irrevocable step. He could not now go back.
But the awful penalty of the island's undeceiving! The pain of that moment when everybody would learn that he had deceived the whole world! He was a sham—a whited sepulchre. Every step he had gone up in his quick ascent had been over the body of some one who had loved him too well. First Kate, who had been the victim of the Deemstership, and now Pete, who was paying the price that made him Governor.
He could see the darkened looks of the proud; he could hear the execration of the disappointed; he could feel the tears of the true-hearted at the downfall of a life that had looked so fair. In the frenzy of that last hour of trial, it seemed as if he was contending, not with man and the world, but with the devil, who was using both to make this bitter irony of his position—who was bribing him with worldly glory that he might damn his soul forever.
And therein lay a temptation that sat closer at his side—the temptation to turn his face and fly away. It was midnight. The moon was shining on the boundless plain of the sea. He was in the slack water of the soul, when the ebb is spent, before the tide has begun to flow. Oh, to leave everything behind—the shame and the glory together!
It was the moment when the girls on Peel Quay were pulling the rope for the men on the boats who were ready to vote for Christian.
The pains of sleep were yet greater. He thought he was in Castletown, skulking under the walls of the castle. With a look up towards Parliament House and down to the harbour, he fumbled his private key into the lock of the side entrance to the council chamber. The old caretaker heard him creep-down the long corridor, and she came clattering out with a candle, shaded behind her hand. "Something I've forgotten," he said. "Pardon, your Honour," and then a deep courtesy.
He opened noiselessly the little door leading from the council chamber to the keep, but in the dark shadow of the steps the turnkey challenged him. "Who's there? Stop!"—"Hush!"—"The Deemster! Beg your Honour's pardon."—"Show me the female wards."—"This way your Honour."—"Her cell." "Here, your Honour."—"The key; your lantern. Now go back to the guard-room." He was with Kate. "My love, my love!"—"My darling!"— "Come, let us fly away from the island. I cannot face it. I thought I could, but I cannot. I've got the child too. Come!" And then Kate—"I would go anywhere with you, Philip, anywhere, anywhere. I only want your love. But is this worthy of a man like you? Leave me. We have fallen too low to drop into a pit like that. Away with you! Go!" And he slunk out of the cell, before the wrathful love that would save him from himself. He, the Deemster, the Governor, had slunk out like a dog.
It was only a dream. When he awoke, the birds were singing and the day was blue over the sea. The temptation was past; it was under his feet. He could hesitate no longer; his cup was brimming over; he would drink it to the dregs.
Jem-y-Lord came with his mouth full of news. The town was decorated with bunting. There was to be a general holiday. A grand stand had been erected on the green in front of the Court-house. The people were not going to be deterred by the Deemster's refusals. He who shrank from honours was the more worthy of being honoured. They intended to present their new Governor with an address.
"Let them—let them," said Philip.
Jem looked up inquiringly. His master's face had a strange expression.
"Shall I drive you to-day, your Excellency?"
"Yes, my lad. It may be for the last time, Jemmy."
What was amiss with the Governor? Had the excitement proved too much for him?
It was a perfect morning, soft and fresh, and sweet with the odours and the colours of spring. New gorse flashed from the hedges, the violets peeped from the banks; over the freshening green of the fields the young lambs sported, and the lark sang in the thin blue air.
The town, as they dipped into it, was full of life. At the turn of the Court-house the crowd was densest. A policeman raised his hand in front of the horses and Jem-y-Lord drew up. Then the High Bailiff stepped to the gate and read an address. It mentioned Iron Christian, calling him "The Great Deemster"; the town took pride to itself that the first Manx Governor of Man was born in Ramsey.
Philip answered briefly, confining himself to an expression of thanks; there was great cheering and then the carriage moved on. The journey thereafter was one long triumphal passage. At Sulby Street, and at Ballaugh Street, there were flags and throngs of people. From time to time other carriages joined them, falling into line behind. The Bishop was waiting at Bishop's Court, and place was made for his carriage immediately after the carriage of the Governor.
At Tynwald there was a sweet and beautiful spectacle. The children of St. John's were seated on the four rounds of the mount, boys and girls in alternate rows, and from that spot, sacred to the memory of their forefathers for a thousand years, they sang the National Anthem as Philip passed on the road.
The unhappy man lay back in his seat. His eyes filled, his throat rose. "Oh, for what might have been!"
Under Harry Delany's tree a company of fishermen were waiting with a letter. It was from their mates at Kinsale. They could not be at home that day, but their hearts were there. Every boat would fly her flag at the masthead, and at twelve o'clock noon every Manx fisherman on Irish waters would raise a cheer. If the Irishmen asked them what they meant by that, they would answer and say, "It's for the fisherman's friend, Governor Philip Christian."
The unhappy man was no longer in pain. His agony was beyond that. A sort of divine madness had taken possession of him. He was putting the world and the prince of the world behind his back. All this worldly glory and human gratitude was but the temptation of Satan. With God's help he would not succumb. He would resist. He would triumph over everything.
Jem-y-Lord twisted on the box-seat. "See, your Excellency! Listen!"
The flags of Castletown were visible on the Eagle Tower of the castle. Then there was a multitudinous murmur. Finally a great shout. "Now, boys! Three times three! Hip, hip, hurrah!"
At the entrance to the town an evergreen arch had been erected. It bore an inscription in Manx: "Dooiney Vannin, lhiat myr hoilloo"—"Man of Man, success as thou deservest."
The carriage had slacked down to a walk.
"Drive quicker," cried Philip.
"The streets are crowded, your Excellency," said Jem-y-Lord.
Flags were flying from every window, from every roof, from every lamp-post. The people ran by the carriage cheering. Their shout was a deafening uproar.
Philip could not respond. "She will hear it," he thought. His head dropped. He was picturing Kate in her cell with the clamour of his welcome coming muffled through the walls.
They took the road by the harbour. Suddenly the carriage stopped. The men were taking the horses out of the shafts. "No, no," cried Philip.
He had an impulse to alight, but the carriage was moving again in a moment. "It is the last of my punishment," he thought, and again fell back. Then the shouting and the laughter ran along the quay with the crackle and roar of a fire.
A regiment of soldiers lined the way from the drawbridge to the porlcullis. As the carriage drew up, they presented arms in royal salute. At the same moment the band of the regiment inside the Keep played "God save the Queen."
The High Bailiff of the town opened the carriage-door and presented an address. It welcomed the new Governor to the ancient castle wherein his predecessors had been installed, and took fresh assurance of devotion to the Crown from the circumstance that one of their own countrymen had been thought worthy to represent it. No Manxman had ever been so honoured in that island before since the days of the new Governor's own great kinsman, familiarly and affectionately known to all Manxmen through two centuries as Illiam Dhone (Brown William).
Philip replied in few words, the cheering broke out afresh, the band played again, and they entered the castle by the long corridor that led to the council chamber.
In an anteroom the officials were waiting. They were all elderly men and old men, who had seen long and honourable service, but they showed no jealousy. The Clerk of the Rolls received bis former pupil with a shout wherein personal pride struggled with respect, and affection with humility. Then the Attorney-General welcomed him in the name of the Bar, as head of the Judicature, as well as head of the Legislature, taking joy in the fact that one of their own profession had been elevated to the highest office in the Isle of Man; glancing at his descent from an historic Manx line, at his brief but distinguished career as judge, which had revived the best traditions of judicial wisdom and eloquence, and finally wishing him long life and strength for the fulfilment of the noble promise of his young and spotless manhood.
"Mr. Attorney-General," said Philip, "I will not accept your congratulations, much as it would rejoice my heart to do so. It would only be another grief to me if you were to repent, as too soon you may, the generous warmth of your reception."
There were puzzled looks, but the sage counsellors could not receive the right impression; they could only understand the reply in the sense that agreed with their present feelings. "It is beautiful," they whispered, "when a young man of real gifts is genuinely modest."
"Excuse me, gentlemen," said Philip, "I must go into my room."
The Clerk of the Rolls followed him, saying—
"Ah! poor Tom Christian would have been a proud man this day—prouder than if the honour had been his own—ten thousand thousand times."
"Have mercy, have mercy, and leave me alone," said Philip.
"I didn't mean to offend you, Christian," said the Clerk.
Philip put one hand affectionately on his shoulder. The eyes of the robustious fellow began to blink, and he returned to his colleagues.
There was a confused murmur beyond the farther wall of the room. It was the room kept for the Deemster when he held court in the council chamber. One of its two doors communicated with the bench. As usual, a constable kept this door. The man loosened his chain and removed his helmet. His head was grey.
"Is the Court-house full?" asked Philip.
The constable put his eye to the eye-hole. "Crowded, your Excellency.
"Keep the passages clear."—"Yes, your Excellency."
"Is the Clerk of the Court present?"—"He is, your Excellency."
"And the jailor?"—"Downstairs, your Excellency."
"Tell both they will be wanted."
The constable turned the key of the door and left the room. Jem-y-Lord came puffing and perspiring.
"The ex-Governor is coming over by the green, sir. He'll be here in a moment."
"My wig and gown, Jemmy," said Philip.
"Deemster's wig, your Excellency?"—"Yes."
"Last time you'll wear it, sir."
"The last, indeed, my lad."
There was a clash of steel outside, followed by the beat of drum.
"He's here," said Jem-y-Lord.
Philip listened. The rattling noise came to him through opening doors and reverberating corridors like the trampling of a wave to a man imprisoned in a cave.
"She'll hear it, too." That thought was with him constantly. In his mind's eye he was seeing Kate, crouching in the fire-seat of the palace room that was now her prison, and covering her ears to deaden the joyous sounds that broke the usual silence of the gloomy walls.
Jem-y-Lord was at the eye-hole of the door. "He's coming on to the bench, sir. The gentlemen of the council are following him, and the Court-house is full of ladies."
Philip was pacing to and fro like a man in violent agitation. At the other side of the wall the confused murmur had risen to a sharp crackle of many voices.
The constable came back with the Clerk of the Court and the jailor.
"Everything ready, your Excellency," said the Clerk of the Court.
The constable turned the key of the door, and laid his hand on the knob.
"One moment—give me a moment," said Philip.
He was going through the last throes of his temptation. Something was asking him, as if in tones of indignation, what right he had to bring people there to make fools of them. And something was laughing as if in mockery at the theatrical device he had chosen for gathering together the people of rank and station, and then dismissing them like naughty school-children.
This idea clamoured loud in wild derision, telling him that he was posing, that he was making a market of his misfortune, that he was an actor, and that whatever the effect of the scene he was about to perform, it was unnecessary and must be contemptible. "You talk of your shame and humiliation—no atonement can wipe it out. You came here prating to yourself of blotting out the past—no act of man can do so. Vain, vain, and idle as well as vain! Mere mummery and display, and a blow to the dignity of justice!"
Under the weight of such torment the thought came to him that he should go through the ceremony after all, that he should do as the people expected, that he should accept the Governorship, and then defy the social ostracism of the island by making Kate his wife. "It's not yet too late," said the tempter.
Philip stopped in his walk and remembered the two letters of yesterday. "Thank God! it is too late," he said.
He had spoken the words aloud, and the officers in attendance glanced up at him. Jem-y-Lord was behind, trembling and biting his lip.
It was indeed too late for that temptation. And then the vanity of it, the cruelty and insufficiency of it! He had been a servant of the world long enough. From this day forth he meant to be its master. No matter if all the devils of hell should laugh at him! He was going through with his purpose. There was only one condition on which he could live in the world—that he should renounce it. There was only one way of renouncing the world—to return its wages and strip off its livery. His sin was not only against Kate, against Pete; it was against the island, and the island must set him free.
Philip approached the door, slackened his pace with an air of uncertainty; at one step from the constable he stopped. He was breathing noisily. If the officers had observed him at that moment they must have thought he looked like a man going to execution. But the constable gazed before him with a sombre expression, held his helmet in one hand, and the knob of the door in the other.
"Now," said Philip, with a long inspiration.
There was a flash of faces, a waft of perfume, a flutter of pocket-handkerchiefs, and a deafening reverberation. Philip was in the Court-house.
It was remarked that his face was fearfully worn, and that it looked the whiter for the white wig above it and the black gown beneath. His large eyes flamed as with fire. "The sword too keen for the scabbard," whispered somebody.
There is a kind of aloofness in strong men at great moments. Nobody approaches them. They move onward of themselves, and stand or fall alone. Everybody in court rose as Philip entered, but no one offered his hand. Even the ex-Governor only bowed from the Governor's seat under the canopy.
Philip took his customary place as Deemster. He was then at the right of the Governor, the Bishop being on the left. Behind the bishop sat the Attorney-General, and behind Philip the Clerk of the Rolls. The cheers that had greeted Philip on his entrance ended with the clapping of hands, and died off like a wave falling back from the shingle. Then he rose and turned to the Governor.
"I do not know if you are aware, your Excellency, that this is Deemster's Court-day?"
The Governor smiled, and a titter went round the court. "We will dispense with that," he said. "We have better business this morning." 34
"Excuse me, your Excellency," said Philip; "I am still Deemster. With your leave we will do everything according to rule."
There was a slight pause, a questioning look, then a cold answer. "Of course, if you wish it; but your sense of duty——"
The ladies in the galleries bad ceased to flutter their fans, and the members of the House of Keys were shifting in their seats in the well below.
The Clerk of the Deemster's Court pushed through to the space beneath the bench. "There is only one case, your Honour," he whispered up.
"Speak out, sir," said Philip. "What case is it?"
The Clerk gave an informal answer. It was the case of the young woman who had attempted her life at Ramsey, and had been kept at Her Majesty's pleasure.
"How long has she been in prison?"—"Seven weeks, your Honour."
"Give me the book and I will sign the order for her release."
The book was handed to the bench. Philip signed it, handed it back to the Clerk, and said with his face to the jailor—
"But keep her until somebody comes to fetch her."
There had been a cold silence during these proceedings. When they were over, the ladies breathed freely. "You remember the case—left her husband and little child—divorced since, I'm told—a worthless person."—"Ah! yes, wasn't she first tried the day the Deemster fell ill in court?"—"Men are too tender with such creatures."
Philip had risen again. "Your Excellency, I have done the last of my duties as Deemster." His voice had hoarsened. He was a worn and stricken figure.
The ex Governor's warmth had been somewhat cooled by the unexpected interruption. Nevertheless, the pock-marks smoothed out of his forehead, and he rose with a smile. At the same moment the Clerk of the Rolls stepped up and laid two books on the desk before him—a New Testament in a tattered leather binding, and the Liber Juramentorum, the Book of Oaths.
"The regret I feel," said the ex-Governor, "and feel increasingly, day by day, at the severance of the ties which have bound me to this beautiful island is tempered by the satisfaction I experience that the choice of my successor has fallen upon one whom I know to be a gentleman of powerful intellect and stainless honour. He will preserve that autonomous independence which has come down to you from a remote antiquity, at the same time that he will uphold the fidelity of a people who have always been loyal to the Crown. I pray that the blessing of Almighty God may attend his administration, and that, if the time ever comes when he too shall stand in the position I occupy to-day, he may have recollections as lively of the support and kindness he has met with, and regrets as deep at his separation from the little Manx nation which he leaves behind."
Then the Governor took the staff of office, and gave the signal for rising. Everybody rose. "And now, sir," he said, turning to Philip with a smile, "to do everything, as you say, according to rule, let us first take Her Majesty's commission of your appointment."
There was a moment's pause, and then Philip said in a cold clear voice—
"Your Excellency, I have no commission. The commission which I received I have returned. I have, therefore, no right to be installed as Governor. Also, I have resigned my office as Deemster, and, though my resignation has not yet been accepted, I am, in reality, no longer in the service of the State."
The people looked at the speaker with eyes that were full of the stupefaction of surprise. Somebody bad risen at the back of the bench. It was the Clerk of the Rolls. He stretched out his hand as if to touch Philip on the shoulder. Then he hesitated and sat down again.
"Gentlemen of the Council and of the Keys," continued Philip, "you will think you have assembled to see a man take a leap into an abyss more dark than death. That is as it may be. You have a right to an explanation, and I am here to make it. What I have done has been at the compulsion of conscience. I am not worthy of the office I hold, still less of the office that is offered me."
There was a half-articulate interruption from behind Philip's chair.
"Ah! do not think, old friend, that I am dealing in vague self depreciation. I should have preferred not to speak more exactly, but what must be, must be. Your Excellency has spoken of my honour as spotless. Would to God it were so; but it is deeply stained with sin."
He stopped, made an effort to begin afresh, and stopped again. Then, in a low tone, with measured utterance, amid breathless silence, he said— "I have lived a double life. Beneath the life that you have seen there has been another—God only knows how full of wrongdoing and disgrace and shame. It is no part of my duty to involve others in this confession. Let it be enough that my career has been built on falsehood and robbery, that I have deceived the woman who loved me with her heart of hearts, and robbed the man who would have trusted me with his soul."
The people began to breathe audibly. There was the scraping of a chair behind the speaker. The Clerk of the Rolls had risen. His florid face was violently agitated.