"Ask the gentleman to draw up, mother," said Caesar.
"Draw up, sir, draw up. Here's your bowl of butter-milk. A knife and fork, Nancy. We're no people for knife and fork to a herring, sir. And a plate for Mr. Christian, woman; a gentleman usually likes a plate. Now ate, sir, ate and welcome—but where's your friend, though?"
"Pete! oh! he's not far off." Saying this, Philip interrupted his laughter to distribute sage winks between Nancy Joe and Grannie.
Caesar looked around with a potato half peeled in his fingers. "And the girl—where's Kate?" he asked.
"She's not far off neither," said Philip, still winking vigorously. "But don't trouble about them, Mr. Cregeen. They'll want no supper. They're feeding on sweeter things than herrings even." Saying this he swallowed a gulp with another laugh.
Caesar lifted his head with a pinch of his herring between finger and thumb half way to his open mouth. "Were you spaking, sir?" he said.
At that Philip laughed immoderately. It was a relief to drown with laughter the riot going on within.
"Aw, dear, what's agate of the boy?" thought Grannie.
"Is it a dog bite that's working on him?" thought Nancy.
"Speaking!" cried Philip, "of course I'm speaking. I've come in to do it, Mr. Cregeen—I've come in to speak for Pete. He's fond of your daughter, Caesar, and wants your good-will to marry her."
"Lord-a-massy!" cried Nancy Joe.
"Dear heart alive!" muttered Grannie.
"Peter Quilliam!" said Caesar, "did you say Peter?"
"I did, Mr. Cregeen, Peter Quilliam," said Philip stoutly, "my friend Pete, a rough fellow, perhaps, and without much education, but the best-hearted lad in the island. Come now, Caesar, say the word, sir, and make the young people happy."
He almost foundered over that last word, but Caesar kept him up with a searching look.
"Why, I picked him out of the streets, as you might say," said Caesar.
"So you did, Mr. Cregeen, so you did. I always thought you were a discerning man, Caesar. What do you say, Grannie? It's Caesar for knowing a deserving lad when he sees one, eh?"
He gave another round of his cunning winks, and Grannie replied, "Aw, well, it's nothing against either of them anyway."
Caesar was gitting as straight as a crowbar and as grim as a gannet. "And when he left me, he gave me imperence and disrespeck."
"But the lad meant no harm, father," said Grannie; "and hadn't you told him to take to the road?"
"Let every bird hatch its own eggs, mother; it'll become you better," said Caesar. "Yes, sir, the lip of Satan and the imperence of sin."
"Pete!" cried Philip, in a tone of incredulity; "why, he hasn't a thought about you that isn't out of the Prayer-book."
Caesar snorted. "No? Then maybe that's where he's going for his curses."
"No curses at all," said Nancy Joe, from the side of the table, "but a right good lad though, and you've never had another that's been a patch on him."
Caesar screwed round to her and said severely, "Where there's geese there's dirt, and where there's women there's talking." Then turning back to Philip, he said in a tone of mock deference, "And may I presume, sir—a little question—being a thing like that's general understood—what's his fortune?"
Philip fell back in his chair. "Fortune? Well, I didn't think that you now——"
"No?" said Caesar. "We're not children of Israel in the wilderness getting manna dropped from heaven twice a day. If it's only potatoes and herrings itself, we're wanting it three times, you see."
Do what he would to crush it, Philip could not help feeling a sense of relief. Fate was interfering; the girl was not for Pete. For the first moment since he returned to the kitchen he breathed freely and fully. But then came the prick of conscience: he had come to plead for Pete, and he must be loyal; he must not yield; he must exhaust all his resources of argument and persuasion. The wild idea occurred to him to take Caesar by force of the Bible.
"But think what the old book says, Mr. Cregeen, 'take no thought for the morrow'——"
"That's what Johnny Niplightly said, Mr. Christian, when he lit my kiln overnight and burnt my oats before morning.".
"'But consider the lilies'——"
"I have considered them, sir; but I'm foiling still and mother has to spin."
"And isn't Pete able to toil, too," said Philip boldly. "Nobody better in the island; there's not a lazy bone in his body, and he'll earn his living anywhere."
"What is his living, sir?" said Caesar.
Philip halted for an answer, and then said, "Well, he's only with me in the boat at present, Mr. Cregeen."
"And what's he getting? His meat and drink and a bit of pence, eh? And you'll be selling up some day, it's like, and going away to England over, and then where is he? Let the girl marry a mother-naked man at once."
"But you're wanting help yourself, father," said Grannie. "Yes, you are though, and time for chapel too and aisement in your old days——"
"Give the lad my mill as well as my daughter, is that it, eh?" said Caesar. "No, I'm not such a goose as yonder, either. I could get heirs, sir, heirs, bless ye—fifty acres and better, not to spake of the bas'es. But I can do without them. The Lord's blest me with enough. I'm not for daubing grease on the tail of the fat pig."
"Just so, Caesar," said Philip, "just so; you can afford to take a poor man for your son-in-law, and there's Pete——"
"I'd be badly in want of a bird, though, to give a groat for an owl," said Caesar.
"The lad means well, anyway," said Grannie; "and he was that good to his mother, poor thing—it was wonderful."
"I knew the woman," said Caesar; "I broke a sod of her grave myself. A brand plucked from the burning, but not a straight walker in this life. And what is the lad himself? A monument of sin without a name. A bastard, what else? And that's not the port I'm sailing for."
Down to this point Philip had been torn by conflicting feelings. He was no match for Caesar in worldly logic, or at fencing with texts of Scripture. The devil had been whispering at his ear, "Let it alone, you'd better." But his time had come at length to conquer both himself and Caesar. Rising to his feet at Caesar's last word, he cried in a voice of wrath, "What? You call yourself a Christian man, and punish the child for the sin of the parent! No name, indeed! Let me tell you, Mr. Caesar Cregeen, it's possible to have one name in heaven that's worse than none at all on earth, and that's the name of a hypocrite."
So saying he threw back his chair, and was making for the door, when Caesar rose and said softly, "Come into the bar and have something." Then, looking back at Philip's plate, he forced a laugh, and said, "But you've turned over your herring, sir—that's bad luck." And, putting a hand on Philip's shoulder, he added, in a lower tone, "No disrespeck to you, sir; and no harm to the lad, but take my word for it, Mr. Christian, if there's an amble in the mare it'll be in the colt."
Philip went off without another word. The moon was rising and whitening as he stepped from the door. Outside the porch a figure flitted past him in the uncertain shadows with a merry trill of mischievous laughter. He found Pete in the road, puffing and blowing as before, but from a different cause.
"The living devil's in the girl for sartin," said Pete; "I can't get my answer out of her either way." He had been chasing her for his answer, and she had escaped him through a gate. "But what luck with the ould man, Phil?"
Then Phil told him of the failure of his mission—told him plainly and fully but tenderly, softening the hard sayings but revealing the whole truth. As he did so he was conscious that he was not feeling like one who brings bad news. He knew that his mouth in the darkness was screwed up into an ugly smile, and, do what he would; he could not make it straight and sorrowful.
The happy laughter died off Pete's, lips, and he listened at first in silence, and afterwards with low growls. When Phil showed him how his poverty was his calamity he said, "Ay, ay, I'm only a wooden-spoon man." When Phil told him how Caesar had ripped up their old dead quarrel he muttered, "I'm on the ebby tide, Phil, that's it." And when Phil hinted at what Caesar had said of his mother and of the impediment of his own birth, a growl came up from the very depths of him, and he scraped the stones under his feet and said, "He shall repent it yet; yes, shall he."
"Come, don't take it so much to heart—it's miserable to bring you such bad news," said Phil; but he knew the sickly smile was on his lips still, and he hated himself for the sound of his own voice.
Pete found no hollow ring in it. "God bless you, Phil," he said; "you've done the best for me, I know that. My pocket's as low as my heart, and it isn't fair to the girl, or I shouldn't be asking the ould man's lave anyway."
He stood a moment in silence, crunching the wooden laths of the garden fence like matchwood in his fingers, and then said, with sudden resolution, "I know what I'll do."
"What's that?" said Philip.. "I'll go abroad; I'll go to Kimberley."
"Yes, will I though, and quick too. You heard what the men were saying in the evening—there's Manx ones going by the boat in the morning? Well, I'll go with them."
"And you talk of being low in your pocket," said Phil. "Why, it will take all you've got, man."
"And more, too," said Pete, "but you'll lend me the lave of the passage-money. That's getting into debt, but no matter. When a man falls into the water he needn't mind the rain. I'll make good money out yonder."
A light had appeared at the window of an upper room, and Pete shook his clenched fist at it and cried, "Good-bye, Master Cregeen. I'll put worlds between us. You were my master once, but nobody made you my master for ever—neither you nor no man."
All this time Philip knew that hell was in his heart. The hand that had let him loose when his anger got the better of him with Caesar was clutching at him again. Some evil voice at his ear was whispering, "Let him go; lend him the money."
"Come on, Pete," he faltered, "and don't talk nonsense!"
But Pete heard nothing. He had taken a few steps forward, as far as to the stable-yard, and was watching the light in the house. It was moving from window to window of the dark wall. "She's taking the father's candle," he muttered. "She's there," he said softly. "No, she has gone. She's coming back though." He lifted the stocking cap from his head and fumbled it in his hands. "God bless her," he murmured. He sank to his knees on the ground. "And take care of her while I'm away."
The moon had come up in her whiteness behind, and all was quiet and solemn around. Philip fell back and turned away his face.
When Caesar came in after seeing Philip to the door, he said, "Not a word of this to the girl. You that are women are like pigs—we've got to pull the way we don't want you."
On that Kate herself came in, blushing a good deal, and fussing about with great vigour. "Are you talking of the piggies, father?" she said artfully. "How tiresome they are, to be sure! They came out into the yard when the moon rose and I had such work to get them back."
Caesar snorted a little, and gave the signal for bed. "Fairies indeed!" he said, in a tone of vast contempt, going to the corner to wind the clock. "Just wakeness of faith," he said over the clank of the chain as the weights rose; "and no trust in God neither," he added, and then the clock struck ten.
Grannie had lit two candles—one for herself and her husband, the other for Nancy Joe. Nancy had slyly filled three earthenware crocks with water from the well, and had set them on the table, mumbling something about the kettle and the morning. And Caesar himself, pretending not to see anything, and muttering dark words about waste, went from the clock to the hearth, and raked out the hot ashes to a flat surface, on which you might have laid a girdle for baking cakes.
"Good-night, Nancy," called Grannie, from half-way up the stairs, and Caesar, with his head down, followed grumbling. Nancy went off next, and then Kate was left alone. She had to put out the lamp and wait for her father's candle.
When the lamp was gone the girl was in the dark, save for the dim light of the smouldering fire. She began to tremble and to laugh in a whisper. Her eyes danced in the red glow of the dying turf. She slipped off her shoes and went to a closet in the wall. There she picked an apple out of a barrel, and brought it to the fire and roasted it. Then, down on her knees before the hearth, she took took two pinches of the apple and swallowed them. After that and a little shudder she rose again, and turned about to go to bed, backwards, slowly, tremblingly, with measured steps, feeling her way past the furniture, having a shock when she touched anything, and laughing to herself, nervously, when she remembered what it was.
At the door of her father's room and Grannie's she called, with a quaver in her voice, and a sleepy grunt came out to her. She reached one hand through the door, which was ajar, and took the burning candle. Then she blew out the light with a trembling puff, that had to be twice repeated, and made for her own bedroom, still going backwards.
It was a sweet little chamber over the dairy, smelling of new milk and ripe apples, and very dainty in dimity and muslin. Two tiny windows looked out from it, one on to the stable-yard and the other on to the orchard. The late moon came through the orchard window, over the heads of the dwarf trees, and the little white place was lit up from the floor to the sloping thatch.
Kate went backwards as far as to the bed, and sat down on it She fancied she heard a step in the yard, but the yard window was at her back, and she would not look behind. She listened, but heard nothing more except a see-sawing noise from the stable, where the mare was running her rope in the manger ring. Nothing but this and the cheep-cheep of a mouse that was gnawing the wood somewhere in the floor.
"Will he come?" she asked herself.
She rose and loosened her gown, and as it fell to her feet she laughed.
"Which will it be, I wonder—which?" she whispered.
The moonlight had crept up to the foot of the bed, and now lay on it like a broad blue sword speckled as with rust by the patchwork counterpane.
She freed her hair from its red ribbon, and it fell in a shower about her face. All around her seemed hushed and awful. She shuddered again, and with a back ward hand drew down the sheets. Then she took a long, deep breath, like a sigh that is half a smile, and lay down to sleep.
Somewhere towards the dawn, in the vague shadow-land between a dream and the awakening, Kate thought she was startled by a handful of rice thrown at her carriage on her marriage morning. The rattle came again, and then she knew it was from gravel dashed at her bedroom window. As she recognised the sound, a voice came as through a cavern, crying, "Kate!" She was fully awake by this time. "Then it's to be Pete," she thought. "It's bound to be Pete, it's like," she told herself. "It's himself outside, anyway."
It was Pete indeed. He was standing in the thin darkness under the window, calling the girl's name out of the back of his throat, and whistling to her in a sort of whisper. Presently he heard a movement inside the room, and he said over his shoulder, "She's coming."
There was the click of a latch and the slithering of a sash, and then out through the little dark frame came a head like a picture, with a face all laughter, crowned by a cataract of streaming black hair, and rounded off at the throat by a shadowy hint of the white frills of a night-dress.
"Kate," said Pete again.
She pretended to have come to the window merely to look out, and, like a true woman, she made a little start at the sound of his voice, and a little cry of dismay at the idea that he was so close beneath and had taken her unawares. Then she peered down into the gloom and said, in a tone of wondrous surprise, "It must be Pete, surely."
"And so it is, Kate," said Pete, "and he couldn't take rest without spaking to you once again."
"Ah!" she said, looking back and covering her eyes, and thinking of Black Tom and the fairies. But suddenly the mischief of her sex came dancing into her blood, and she could not help but plague the lad. "Have you lost your way, Pete?" she asked, with an air of innocence.
"Not my way, but myself, woman," said Pete.
"Lost yourself! Have the lad's wits gone moon-raking, I wonder? Are you witched then, Pete?" she inquired, with vast solemnity.
"Aw, witched enough. Kate——"
"Poor fellow!" sighed Kate. "Did she strike you unknown and sudden?"
"Unknown it was, Kirry, and sudden, too. Listen, though——"
"Aw dear, aw dear! Was it old Mrs. Cowley of the Curragh? Did she turn into a hare? Is it bitten you've been, Pete?"
"Aw, yes, bitten enough. But, Kate——"
"Then it was a dog, it's like. Is it flying from the water you are, Pete?"
"No, but flying to the water, woman. Kate, I say——"
"Is it burning they're doing for it?"
"Burning and freezing both. Will you hear me, though? I'm going away—hundreds and thousands of miles away."
Then from the window came a tone of great awe, uttered with face turned upward as if to the last remaining star.
"Poor boy! Poor boy! it's bitten he is, for sure."
"Then it's yourself that's bitten me. Kirry——"
There was a little crow of gaiety. "Me? Am I the witch? You called me a fairy in the road this evening."
"A fairy you are, girl, and a witch too; but listen, now——"
"You said I was an angel, though, at the cowhouse gable; and an angel doesn't bite."
Then she barked like a dog, and laughed a shrill laugh like a witch, and barked again.
But Pete could bear no more. "Go on, then; go on with your capers! Go on!" he cried, in a voice of reproach. "It's not a heart that's at you at all, girl, but only a stone. You see a man going away from the island——"
"From the island?" Kate gasped.
"Middling down in the mouth, too, and plagued out of his life between the ruck of you," continued Pete; "but God forgive you all, you can't help it."
"Did you say you were going out of the island, Pete?"
"Coorse I did; but what's the odds? Africa, Kimberley, the Lord knows where——"
"Kimberley! Not Kimberley, Pete!"
"Kimberley or Timbuctoo, what's it matter to the like of you? A man's coming up in the morning to bid you good-bye before an early sailing, and you're thinking of nothing but your capers and divilments."
"It's you to know what a girl's thinking, isn't it, Mr. Pete? And why are you flying in my face for a word?"
"Flying? I'm not flying. It's driven I am."
"Driven away by them that's thinking I'm not fit for you. Well, that's true enough, but they shan't be telling me twice."
"They? Who are they, Pete?"
"What's the odds? Flinging my mother at me, too—poor little mother! And putting the bastard on me, it's like. A respectable man's girl isn't going begging that she need marry a lad without a name."
There was a sudden ejaculation from the window-sash. "Who dared to say that?"
"Whoever they are, you can tell them, if it's me they mean, that, name or no name, when I want to marry I'll marry the man I like."
"If I thought that now, Kitty——"
"As for you, Mr. Pete, that's so ready with your cross words, you can go to your Kimberley. Yes, go, and welcome; and what's more—what's more——"
But the voice of anger, in the half light overhead, broke down suddenly into an inarticulate gurgle.
"Why, what's this?" said Pete in a flurry. "You're not crying though, Kate? Whatever am I saying to you, Kitty, woman? Here, here—bash me on the head for a blockhead and an omathaun."
And Pete was clambering up the wall by the side of the dairy window.
"Get down, then," whispered Kate.
Her wrath was gone in a moment, and Pete, being nearer to her now, could see tears of laughter dancing in her eyes.
"Get down, Pete, or I'll shut the window, I will—yes, I will." And, to show how much she was in earnest in getting out of his reach, she shut up the higher sash and opened the lower one.
"Darling!" cried Pete.
"Hush! What's that?" Kate whispered, and drew back on her knees.
"Is the door of the pig-sty open again?" said Pete.
Kate drew a breath of relief. "It's only somebody snoring," she said.
"The ould man," said Pete. "That's all serene! A good ould sheepdog, that snaps more than, he bites, but he's best when he's sleeping—more safer, anyway."
"What's the good of going away, Pete?" said Kate. "You'd have to make a fortune to satisfy father."
"Others have done it, Kitty—why shouldn't I? Manx ones too—silver kings and diamond kings, and the Lord knows what. No fear of me! When I come back it's a queen you'll be, woman—my queen, anyway, with pigs and cattle and a girl to wash and do for you."
"So that's how you'd bribe a poor girl is it? But you'd have to turn religious, or father would never consent."
"When I come home again, Kitty, I'll be that religious you never seen. I'll be just rolling in it. You'll hear me spaking like the Book of Genesis and Abraham, and his sons, and his cousins; I'll be coming up at night making love to you at the cowhouse door like the Acts of the Apostles."
"Well, that will be some sort of courting, anyway. But who says I'll be wanting it? Who says I'm willing for you to go away at all with the notion that I must be bound to marry you when you come back?"
"I do," said Pete stoutly.
"Oh, indeed, sir."
"Listen. I'll be working like a nigger out yonder, and making my pile, and banking it up, and never seeing nothing but the goold and the girls——"
"My goodness! What do you say?"
"Aw, never fear! I'm a one-woman man, Kate; but loving one is giving me eyes for all. And you'll be waiting for me constant, and never giving a skute of your little eye to them drapers and druggists from Ramsey——"
"Not one of them? Not Jamesie Corrin, even—he's a nice boy, is Jamesie."
"That dandy-divil with the collar? Hould your capers, woman!"
"Nor young Ballawhaine—Ross Christian, you know?"
"Ross Christian be—well, no; but, honour bright, you'll be saying, 'Peter's coming; I must be thrue!'"
"So I've got my orders, sir, eh? It's all settled then, is it? Hadn't you better fix the wedding-day and take out the banns, now that your hand is in? I have got nothing to do with it, seemingly. Nobody asks me."
"Whist, woman!" cried Pete. "Don't you hear it?"
A cuckoo was passing over the house and calling.
"It's over the thatch, Kate. 'Cuckoo! Cuckoo! Cuckoo!' Three times! Bravo! Three times is a good Amen. Omen is it? Have it as you like, love."
The stars had paled out by this time, and the dawn was coming up like a grey vapour from the sea.
"Ugh! the air feels late; I must be going in," said Kate.
"Only a bit of a draught from the mountains—it's not morning yet," said Pete.
A bird called from out of the mist somewhat far away.
"It is, though. That's the throstle up the glen," said Kate.
Another bird answered from the eaves of the house.
"And what's that?" said Pete. "Was it yourself, Kitty? How straight your voice is like the throstle's!"
She hung her head at the sweet praise, but answered tartly, "How people will be talking!"
A dead white light came sweeping over the front of the house, and the trees and the hedges, all quiet until then, began to shudder. Kate shuddered too, and drew the frills closer about her throat. "I'm going, Pete," she whispered.
"Not yet. It's only a taste of the salt from the sea," said Pete. "The moon's not out many minutes."
"Why, you goose, it's been gone these two hours. This isn't Jupiter, where it's moonlight always."
"Always moonlight in Jubiter, is it?" said Pete. "My goodness! What coorting there must be there!"
A cock crowed from under the hen-roost, the dog barked indoors, and the mare began to stamp in her stall.
"When do you sail, Pete?"
"First tide—seven o'clock."
"Time to be off, then. Good-bye!"
"Hould hard—a word first."
"Not a word. I'm going back to bed. See, there's the sun coming up over the mountains."
"Only a touch of red on the tip of ould Cronky's nose. Listen! Just to keep them dandy-divils from plaguing you, I'll tell Phil to have an eye on you while I'm away."
"Call him Philip, Kate. He's as free as free. No pride at all. Let him take care of you till I come back."
"I'm shutting the window, Pete!"
"Wait! Something else. Bend down so the ould man won't hear."
"I can't reach—what is it?"
"Your hand, then; I'll tell it to your hand."
She hesitated a moment, and then dropped her hand over the window-sill, and he clutched at it and kissed it, and pushed back the white sleeve and ran up the arm with his lips as far as he could climb.
"Another, my girl; take your time, one more—half a one, then."
She drew her arm back until her hand got up to his hand, and then she said, "What's this? The mole on your finger still, Pete? You called me a witch—now see me charm it away. Listen!—'Ping, ping, prash, Cur yn cadley-jiargan ass my chass.'"
She was uttering the Manx charm in a mock-solemn ululation when a bough snapped in the orchard, and she cried, "What's that?"
"It's Philip. He's waiting under the apple-tree," said Pete.
"My goodness me!" said Kate, and down went the window-sash.
A moment later it rose again, and there was the beautiful young face in its frame as before, but with the rosy light of the dawn on it.
"Has he been there all the while?" she whispered.
"What matter? It's only Phil."
"Good-bye! Good luck!" and then the window went down for good.
"Time to go," said Philip, still in his tall silk hat and his knickerbockers. He had been standing alone among the dead brown fern, the withering gorse, and the hanging brambles, gripping the apple-tree and swallowing the cry that was bubbling up to his throat, but forcing himself to look upon Pete's happiness, which was his own calamity, though it was tearing his heart out, and he could hardly bear it.
The birds were singing by this time, and Pete, going back, sang and whistled with the best of them.
In the mists of morning, Grannie had awakened in her bed with the turfy scraas of the thatch just visible above her, and the window-blind like a hazy moon floating on the wall at her side. And, fixing her nightcap, she had sighed and said, "I can't close my eyes for dreaming that the poor lad has come to his end untimeously."
Caesar yawned, and asked, "What lad?"
"Young Pete, of course," said Grannie.
Caesar umpht and grunted.
"We were poor ourselves when we began, father."
Grannie felt the glare of the old man's eye on her in the darkness. "'Deed, we were; but people forget things. We had to borrow to buy our big overshot wheel; we had, though. And when ould Parson Harrison sent us the first boll of oats, we couldn't grind it for want of——"
Caesar tugged at the counterpane and said, "Will you lie quiet, woman, and let a hard-working man sleep?"
"Then don't be the young man's destruction, Caesar."
Caesar made a contemptuous snort, and pulled the bedclothes about his head.
"Aw, 'deed, father, but the girl might do worse. A fine, strapping lad. And, dear heart, the cheerful face at him! It's taking joy to look at—like drawing water from a well! And the laugh at the boy, too—that joyful, it's as good to hear in the morning as six pigs at a lit——"
"Then marry the lad yourself, woman, and have done with it," cried Caesar, and, so saying, he kicked out his leg, turned over to the wall, and began to snore with great vigour.
The tide was up in Ramsey Harbour, and rolling heavily on the shore before a fresh sea-breeze with a cold taste of the salt in it. A steamer lying by the quay was getting up steam; trucks were running on her gangways, the clanking crane over her hold was working, and there was much shouting of name, and ordering and protesting, and general tumult. On the after-deck stood the emigrants for Kimberley, the Quarks from Glen Rushen, and some of the young Gills from Castletown—stalwart lads, bearing themselves bravely in the midst of a circle of their friends, who talked and laughed to make them forget they were on the point of going.
Pete and Phil came up the quay, and were received by a shout of incredulity from Quayle, the harbour-master. "What, are you going, too, Mr. Philip?" Philip answered him "No," and passed on to the ship.
Pete was still in his stocking cap and Wellington boots, but he had a monkey-jacket over his blue guernsey. Except for a parcel in a red print handkerchief, this was all his kit and luggage. He felt a little lost amid all the bustle, and looked helpless and unhappy. The busy preparations on land and shipboard had another effect on Philip. He sniffed the breeze off the bay and laughed, and said, "The sea's calling me, Pete; I've half a mind to go with you."
Pete answered with a watery smile. His high spirits were failing him at last. Five years were a long time to be away, if one built all one's hopes on coming back. So many things might happen, so many chances might befall. Pete had no heart for laughter.
Philip had small mind for it, either, after the first rush of the salt in his blood was over. He felt at some moments as if hell itself were inside of him. What troubled him most was that he could not, for the life of him, be sorry that Pete was leaving the island. Once or twice since they left Sulby he had been startled by the thought that he hated Pete. He knew that his lip curled down hard at sight of Pete's solemn face. But Pete never suspected this, and the innocent tenderness of the rough fellow was every moment beating it down with blows that cut like ice and burnt like fire.
They were standing by the forecastle head, and talking above the loud throbbing of the funnel.
"Good-bye, Phil; you've been wonderful good to me—better nor anybody in the world. I've not been much of a chum for the like of you, either—you that's college bred and ought to be the first gentry in the island if everybody had his own. But you shan't be ashamed for me, neither—no you shan't, so help me God! I won't be long away, Phil—maybe five years, maybe less, and when I come back you'll be the first Manxman living. No? But you will, though; you will, I'm telling you. No nonsense at all, man. Lave it to me to know."
Philip's frosty blue eyes began to melt.
"And if I come back rich, I'll be your ould friend again as much as a common man may; and if I come back poor and disappointed and done for, I'll not claim you to disgrace you; and if I never come back at all, I'll be saying to myself in my dark hour somewhere, 'He'll spake up for you at home, boy; he'll not forget you.'"
Philip could hear no more for the puffing of the steam and the clanking of the chains.
"Chut! the talk a man will put out when he's thinking of ould times gone by!"
The first bell rang on the bridge, and the harbour-master shouted, "All ashore, there!"
"Phil, there's one turn more I'll ask of you, and, if it's the last, it's the biggest."
"What is it?"
"There's Kate, you know. Keep an eye on the girl while I'm away. Take a slieu round now and then, and put a sight on her. She'll not give a skute at the heirs the ould man's telling of; but them young drapers and druggists, they'll plague the life out of the girl. Bate them off, Phil. They're not worth a fudge with their fists. But don't use no violence. Just duck the dandy-divils in the harbour—that'll do."
"No harm shall come to her while you are away."
"Swear to it, Phil. Your word's your bond, I know that; but give me your hand and swear to it—it'll be more surer."
Philip gave his hand and his oath, and then tried to turn away, for he knew that his face was reddening.
"Wait! There's another while your hand's in, Phil. Swear that nothing and nobody shall ever come between us two."
"You know nothing ever will."
"But swear to it, Phil. There's bad tongues going, and it'll make me more aisier. Whatever they do, whatever they say, friends and brothers to the last?"
Philip felt a buzzing in his head, and he was so dizzy that he could hardly stand, but he took the second oath also. Then the bell rang again, and there was a great hubbub. Gangways were drawn up, ropes were let go, the captain called to the shore from the bridge, and the blustering harbour-master called to the bridge from the shore.
"Go and stand on the end of the pier, Phil—just aback of the lighthouse—and I'll put myself at the stern. I want a friend's face to be the last thing I see when I'm going away from the old home."?
Philip could bear no more. The hate in his heart was mastered. It was under his feet. His flushed face was wet.
The throbbing of the funnels ceased, and all that could be heard was the running of the tide in the harbour and the wash of the waves on the shore. Across the sea the sun came up boldly, "like a guest expected," and down its dancing water-path the steamer moved away. Over the land old Bar-rule rose up like a sea king with hoar-frost on his forehead, and the smoke began to lift from the chimneys of the town at his feet.
"Good-bye, little island, good-bye! I'll not forget you. I'm getting kicked out of you, but you've been a good ould mother to me, and, God help me, I'll come back to you yet. So long, little Mona, s'long? I'm laving you, but I'm a Manxman still."
Pete had meant to take off his stocking cap as they passed the lighthouse, and to dash the tears from his eyes like a man. But all that Philip could see from the end of the pier was a figure huddled up at the stern on a coil of rope.
PART II. BOY AND GIRL.
Auntie Nan had grown uneasy because Philip was not yet started in life. During the spell of his partnership with Pete she had protested and he had coaxed, she had scolded and he had laughed. But when Pete was gone she remembered her old device, and began to play on Philip through the memory of his father.
One day the air was full of the sea freshness of a beautiful Manx November. Philip sniffed it from the porch after breakfast and then gathered up his tackle for cod.
"The boat again, Philip?" said Auntie Nan. "Then promise me to be back for tea."
Philip gave his promise and kept it. When he returned after his day's fishing the old lady was waiting for him in the little blue room which she called her own. The sweet place was more than usually dainty and comfortable that day. A bright fire was burning, and everything seemed to be arranged so carefully and nattily. The table was laid with cups and saucers, the kettle was singing on the jockey-bar, and Auntie Nan herself, in a cap of black lace and a dress of russet silk with flounces, was fluttering about with an odour of lavender and the light gaiety of a bird.
"Why, what's the meaning of this?" said Philip.
And the sweet old thing answered, half nervously, half jokingly, "You don't know? What a child it is, to be sure! So you don't remember what day it is?"
"What day? The fifth of Nov—oh, my birthday! I had clean forgotten it, Auntie."
"Yes, and you are one-and-twenty for tea-time. That's why I asked you to be home."
She poured out the tea, settled herself with her feet on the fender, allowed the cat to establish itself on her skirt, and then, with a nervous smile and a slight depression of the heart, she began on her task.
"How the years roll on, Philip! It's twenty years since I gave you my first birthday present I wasn't here when you were born, dear. Grandfather had forbidden me. Poor grandfather! But how I longed to come and wash, and dress, and nurse my boy's boy, and call myself an auntie aloud! Oh, dear me, the day I first saw you! Shall I ever forget it? Grandfather and I were at Cowley, the draper's, when a beautiful young person stepped in with a baby. A little too gay, poor thing, and that was how I knew her."
"Yes, dear, and grandfather was standing with his back to the street. I grow hot to this day when I remember, but she didn't seem afraid. She nodded and smiled and lifted the muslin veil from the baby's face, and said 'Who's he like, Miss Christian?' It was wonderful. You were asleep, and it was the same for all the world as if your father had slept back to be a baby. I was trembling fit to drop and couldn't answer, and then your mother saw grandfather, and before I could stop her she had touched him on the shoulder. He stood with his bad ear towards us, and his sight was failing, too, but seeing the form of a lady beside him, he swept round, and bowed low, and smiled and raised his hat, as his way was with all women. Then your mother held the baby up and said quite gaily, 'Is it one of the Ballures he is, Dempster, or one of the Ballawhaines?' Dear heart when I think of it! Grandfather straightened himself up, turned about, and was out on the street in an instant."
"Poor father!" said Philip.
Auntie Nan's eyes brightened.
"I was going to tell you of your first birthday, dearest. Grandfather had gone then—poor grandfather!—and I had knitted you a little soft cap of white wool, with a tassel and a pink bow. Your mother's father was living still—Capt'n Billy, as they called him—and when I put the cap on your little head, he cried out, 'A sailor every inch of him!' And sure enough, though I had never thought it, a sailor's cap it was. And Capt'n Billy put you on his knee, and looked at you sideways, and slapped his thigh, and blew a cloud of smoke from his long pipe and cried again, 'This boy is for a sailor, I'm telling you.' You fell asleep in the old man's arms, and I carried you to your cot upstairs. Your father followed me into the bedroom, and your mother was there already dusting the big shells on the mantelpiece. Poor Tom! I see him yet. He dropped his long white hand over the cot-rail, pushed back the little cap and the yellow curls from your forehead, and said proudly, 'Ah, no, this head wasn't built for a sailor!' He meant no harm, but—Oh, dear, Oh, dear!—your mother heard him, and thought he was belittling her and hers. 'These qualities!' she cried, and slashed the duster and flounced out of the room, and one of the shells fell with a clank into the fender. Your father turned his face to the window. I could have cried for shame that he should be ashamed before me. But looking out on the sea,—the bay was very loud that day, I remember—he said in his deep voice, that was like a mellow bell, and trembled ratherly, 'It's not for nothing, Nannie, that the child has the forehead of Napoleon. Only let God spare him and he'll be something some day, when his father, with his broken heart and his broken brain, is dead and gone, and the daisies cover him.'"
Auntie Nan carried her point. That night Philip laid up his boat for the winter, and next morning he set his face towards Ballawhaine with the object of enlisting Uncle Peter's help in starting upon the profession of the law. Auntie Nan went with him. She had urged him to the step by the twofold plea that the Ballawhaine was his only male relative of mature years, and that he had lately sent his own son Ross to study for the bar in England.
Both were nervous and uncertain on the way down; Auntie Nan talked incessantly from under her poke-bonnet, thinking to keep up Philip's courage. But when they came to the big gate and looked up at the turrets through the trees, her memory went back with deep tenderness to the days when the house had been her home, and she began to cry in silence. Philip himself was not unmoved. This had been the birthplace and birthright of his father.
The English footman, in buff and scarlet, ushered them into the drawing-room with the formality proper to strangers.
To their surprise they found Ross there. He was sitting at the piano strumming a music-hall ditty. As the door opened be shuffled to his feet, shook hands distantly with Auntie Nan, and nodded his head to Philip.
The young man was by this time a sapling well fed from the old tree. Taller than his father by many inches, broader, heavier, and larger in all ways, with the slow eyes of a seal and something of a seal's face as well. But with his father's sprawling legs and his father's levity and irony of manner and of voice—a Manxman disguised out of all recognition of race, and apeing the fashionable follies of the hour in London.
Auntie Nan settled her umbrella, smoothed her gloves and her white front hair, and inquired meekly if he was well.
"Not very fit," he drawled; "shouldn't be here if I were. But father worried my life out until I came back to recruit."
"Perhaps," said Auntie Nan, looking simple and sympathetic, "perhaps you've been longing for home. It must be a great trial to a young man to live in London for the first time. That's where a young woman has the advantage—she needn't leave home, at all events. Then your lodgings, perhaps they are not in the best part either."
"I used to have chambers in an Inn of Court——"
Auntie Nan looked concerned. "I don't think I should like Philip to live long at an inn," she said.
"But now I'm in rooms in the Hay market."
Auntie Nan looked relieved.
"That must be better," she said. "Noisy in the mornings, perhaps, but your evenings will be quiet for study, I should think."
"Precisely," said Boss, with a snigger, touching the piano again, and Philip, sitting near the door, felt the palm of his hand itch for the whole breadth of his cousin's cheek.
Uncle Peter came in hurriedly, with short, nervous steps. His hair as well as his eyebrows was now white, his eye was hollow, his cheeks were thin, his mouth was restless, and he had lost some of his upper teeth, he coughed frequently, he was shabbily dressed, and had the look of a dying man.
"Ah! it's you, Anne! and Philip, too. Good morning, Philip. Give the piano a rest, Ross—that's a good lad. Well, Miss Christian, well!"
"Philip came of age yesterday, Peter," said Auntie Nan in a timid voice.
"Indeed!" said the Ballawhaine, "then Ross is twenty next month. A little more than a year and a month between them."
He scrutinised the old lady's face for a moment without speaking, and then said, "Well?"
"He would like to go to London to study for the bar," faltered Auntie Nan.
"Why not the church at home?"
"The church would have been my own choice, Peter, but his father——"
The Ballawhaine crossed his leg over his knee. "His father was always a man of a high stomach, ma'am," he said. Then facing towards Philip, "Your idea would be to return to the island."
"Yes," said Philip.
"Practice as an advocate, and push your way to insular preferment?"
"My father seemed to wish it, sir," said Philip.
The Ballawhaine turned back to Auntie Nan. "Well, Miss Christian?"
Auntie Nan fumbled the handle of her umbrella and began—"We were thinking, Peter—you see we know so little—now if his father had been living——"
The Ballawhaine coughed, scratched with his nail on his cheek, and said, "You wish me to put him with a barrister in chambers, is that it?"
With a nervous smile and a little laugh of relief Auntie Nan signified assent.
"You are aware that a step like that costs money. How much have you got to spend on it?"
"I'm afraid, Peter——"
"You thought I might find the expenses, eh?"
"It's so good of you to see it in the right way, Peter."
The Ballawhaine made a wry face. "Listen," he said dryly. "Ross has just gone to study for the English bar."
"Yes," said Auntie Nan eagerly, "and it was partly that——"
"Indeed!" said the Ballawhaine, raising his eyebrows. "I calculate that his course in London will cost me, one thing with another, more than a thousand pounds."
Auntie Nan lifted her gloved hands in amazement.
"That sum I am prepared to spend in order that my son, as an English barrister, may have a better chance——"
"Do you know, we were thinking of that ourselves, Peter?" said Auntie Nan.
"A better chance," the Ballawhaine continued, "of the few places open in the island than if he were brought up at the Manx bar only, which would cost me less than half as much."
"Oh! but the money will come back to you, both for Ross and Philip," said Auntie Nan.
The Ballawhaine coughed impatiently. "You don't read me," he said irritably. "These places are few, and Manx advocates are as thick as flies in a glue-pot. For every office there must be fifty applicants, but training counts for something, and influence for something, and family for something."
Auntie Nan began to be penetrated as by a chill.
"These," said the Ballawhaine, "I bring to bear for Ross, that he may distance all competitors. Do you read me now?"
"Read you, Peter?" said Auntie Nan.
The Ballawhaine fixed his hollow eye upon her, and said, "What do you ask me to do? You come here and ask me to provide, prepare, and equip a rival to my own son."
Auntie Nan had grasped his meaning at last.
"But gracious me, Peter," she said, "Philip is your own nephew, your own brother's son."
The Ballawhaine rubbed the side of his nose with his lean forefinger, and said, "Near is my shirt, but nearer is my skin."
Auntie Nan fixed her timid eyes upon him, and they grew brave in their gathering indignation. "His father is dead, and he is poor and friendless," she said.
"We've had differences on that subject before, mistress," he answered.
"And yet you begrudge him the little that would start him in life."
"My own has earlier claim, ma'am."
"Saving your presence, sir, let me tell you that every penny of the money you are spending on Ross would have been Philip's this day if things had gone different."
The Ballawhaine bit his lip. "Must I, for my sins, be compelled to put an end to this interview?"
He rose to go to the door. Philip rose also.
"Do you mean it?" said Auntie Nan. "Would you dare to turn me out of the house?"
"Come, Auntie, what's the use?" said Philip.
The Ballawhaine was drumming on the edge of the open door. "You are right, young man," he said, "a woman's hysteria is of no use."
"That will do, sir," said Philip in a firm voice.
The Ballawhaine put his hand familiarly on Philip's shoulder. "Try Bishop Wilson's theological college, my friend; its cheap and——"
"Take your hand from him, Peter Christian," cried Auntie Nan. Her eyes flashed, her cheeks were aflame, her little gloved hands were clenched. "You made war between his father and your father, and when I would have made peace you prevented me. Your father is dead, and your brother is dead, and both died in hate that might have died in love, only for the lies you told and the deceit you practised. But they have gone where the mask falls from all faces, and they have met before this, eye to eye, and hand to hand. Yes, and they are looking down on you now, Peter Christian, and they know you at last for what you are and always have been—a deceiver and a thief."
By an involuntary impulse the Ballawhaine turned his eyes upward to the ceiling while she spoke, as if he had expected to see the ghosts of his father and his brother threatening him.
"Is the woman mad at all?" he cried; and the timid old lady, lifted out of herself by the flame of her anger, blazed at him again with a tongue of fire.
"You have done wrong, Peter Christian, much wrong; you've done wrong all your days, and whatever your motive, God will find it out, and on that secret place he will bring your punishment. If it was only greed, you've got your wages; but no good will they bring to you, for another will spend them, and you will see them wasted like water from the ragged rock. And if it was hate as well, you will live till it comes back on your own head like burning coal. I know it, I feel it," she cried, sweeping into the hall, "and sorry I am to say it before your own son, who ought to honour and respect his father, but can't; no, he can't and never will, or else he has a heart to match your own in wickedness, and no bowels of compassion at him either."
"Come, Auntie, come," said Philip, putting his arm about the old lady's waist. But she swerved round again to where the Ballawhaine came slinking behind him.
"Turn me out of the house, will you?" she cried. "The place where I lived fifteen years, and as mistress, too, until your evil deeds made you master. Many a good cry I've had that it's only a woman I am, and can do nothing on my own head. But I would rather be a woman that hasn't a roof to cover her than a man that can't warm to his own flesh and blood. Don't think I begrudge you your house, Peter Christian, though it was my old home, and I love it, for all I'm shown no respect in it I would have you to know, sir, that it isn't our houses we live in after all, but our hearts—our hearts, Peter Christian—do you hear me?—our hearts, and yours is full of darkness and dirt—and always will be, always will be."
"Come, come, Auntie, come," cried Philip again, and the sweet old thing, too gentle to hurt a fly, turned on him also with the fury of a wild-cat.
"Go along yourself with your 'come' and 'come' and 'come.' Say less and do more."
With that final outburst she swept down the steps and along the path, leaving Philip three paces behind, and the Ballawhaine with a terrified look under the stuffed cormorant in the fanlight above the open door.
The fiery mood lasted her half way home, and then broke down in a torrent of tears.
"Oh dear! oh dear!" she cried. "I've been too hasty. After all, he is your only relative. What shall I do now? Oh, what shall I do now?"
Philip was walking steadily half a step behind, and he had never once spoken since they left Ballawhaine.
"Pack my bag to-night, Auntie," said he with the voice of a man; "I shall start for Douglas by the coach to-morrow morning."
He sought out the best known of the Manx advocates, a college friend of his father's, and said to him, "I've sixty pounds a year, sir, from my mother's father, and my aunt has enough of her own to live on. Can I afford to pay your premium?"
The lawyer looked at him attentively for a moment, and answered, "No, you can't," and Philip's face began to fall.
"But I'll take you the five years for nothing, Mr. Christian," the wise man added, "and if you suit me, I'll give you wages after two."
Philip did not forget the task wherewith Pete had charged him. It is a familiar duty in the Isle of Man, and he who discharges it is known by a familiar name. They call him the Dooiney Molla—literally, the "man-praiser;" and his primary function is that of an informal, unmercenary, purely friendly and philanthropic matchmaker, introduced by the young man to persuade the parents of the young woman that he is a splendid fellow, with substantial possessions or magnificent prospects, and entirely fit to marry her. But he has a secondary function, less frequent, though scarcely less familiar; and it is that of lover by proxy, or intended husband by deputy, with duties of moral guardianship over the girl while the man himself is off "at the herrings," or away "at the mackerel," or abroad on wider voyages.
This second task, having gone through the first with dubious success, Philip discharged with conscientious zeal. The effects were peculiar. Their earliest manifestations were, as was most proper, on Philip and Kate themselves. Philip grew to be grave and wondrous solemn, for assuming the tone of guardian lifted his manners above all levity. Kate became suddenly very quiet and meek, very watchful and modest, soft of voice and most apt to blush. The girl who had hectored it over Pete and played little mistress over everybody else, grew to be like a dove under the eye of Philip. A kind of awe fell on her whenever he was near. She found it sweet to listen to his words of wisdom when he discoursed, and sweeter still to obey his will when he gave commands. The little wistful head was always turning in his direction; his voice was like joy-bells in her ears; his parting how under his lifted hat remained with her as a dream until the following day. She hardly knew what great change had been wrought in her, and her people at home were puzzled.
"Is it not very well you are, Kirry, woman?" said Grannie.
"Well enough, mother; why not?" said Kate.
"Is it the toothache that's plaguing you?"
"Then maybe it's the new hat in the window at Miss Clu-cas's?"
"Hould your tongue, woman," whispered Caesar behind the back of his hand. "It's the Spirit that's working on the girl. Give it lave, mother; give it lave."
"Give it fiddlesticks," said Nancy Joe. "Give it brimstone and treacle and a cupful of wormwood and camomile."
When Philip and Kate were together, their talk was all of Pete. It was "Pete likes this," and "Pete hates that," and "Pete always says so and so." That was their way of keeping up the recollection of Pete's existence; and the uses they put poor Pete to were many and peculiar.
One night "The Manx Fairy" was merry and noisy with a "Scaltha," a Christmas supper given by the captain of a fishing-boat to the crew that he meant to engage for the season. Wives, sweethearts, and friends were there, and the customs and superstitions of the hour were honoured.
"Isn't it the funniest thing in the world, Philip?" giggled Kate from the back of the door, and a moment afterwards she was standing alone with him in the lobby, looking demurely down at his boots.
"I suppose I ought to apologise."
"For calling you that."
"Pete calls me Philip. Why shouldn't you?"
The furtive eyes rose to the buttons of his waistcoat. "Well, no; there can't be much harm in calling you what Pete calls you, can there? But then—"
"He calls me Kate."
"Do you think he would like me to do so?"
"I'm sure he would."
"Shall we, then?"
"Just for Pete's sake?"
They didn't know what they felt. It was something exquisite, something delicious; so sweet, so tender, they could only laugh as if some one had tickled them.
"Of course, we need not do it except when we are quite by ourselves," said Kate.
"Oh no, of course not, only when we are quite alone," said Philip.
Thus they threw dust into each other's eyes, and walked hand in hand on the edge of a precipice.
The last day of the old year after Pete's departure found Philip attending to his duty.
"Are you going to put the new year in anywhere, Philip?" said Kate, from the door of the porch.
"I should be the first-foot here, only I'm no use as a qualtagh," said Philip.
"I'm a fair man, and would bring you no luck, you know."
There was silence for a moment, and then Kate cried "I know."
"Come for Pete—he's dark enough, anyway."
Philip was much impressed. "That's a good idea," he said gravely. "Being qualtagh for Pete is a good idea. His first New Year from home, too, poor fellow!"
"Exactly," said Kate.
"Shall I, then?"
"I'll expect you at the very stroke of twelve."
Philip was going off. "And, Philip!"
Then a low voice, so soft, so sweet, so merry, came from the doorway into the dark, "I'll be standing at the door of the dairy."
Philip began to feel alarm, and resolved to take for the future a lighter view of his duties. He would visit "The Manx Fairy" less frequently. As soon as the Christmas holidays were over he would devote himself to his studies, and come back to Sulby no more for half a year. But the Manx Christmas is long. It begins on the 24th of December, and only ends for good on the 6th of January. In the country places, which still preserve the old traditions, the culminating day is Twelfth Day. It is then that they "cut off the fiddler's head," and play valentines, which they call the "Goggans." The girls set a row of mugs on the hearth in front of the fire, put something into each of them as a symbol of a trade, and troop out to the stairs. Then the boys change the order of the mugs, and the girls come back blindfold, one by one, to select their goggans. According to the goggans they lay hands on, so will be the trades of their husbands.
At this game, played at "The Manx Fairy" on the last night of Philip's holiday, Csesar being abroad on an evangelising errand, Kate was expected to draw water, but she drew a quill.
"A pen! A pen!" cried the boys. "Who says the girl is to marry a sailor? The ship isn't built that's to drown her husband."
"Good-night all," said Philip.
"Good-night, Mr. Christian, good-night, sir," said the boys.
Kate slipped after him to the door. "Going so early, Philip?"
"I've to be back at Douglas to-morrow morning," said Philip.
"I suppose we shan't see you very soon?"
"No, I must set to work in earnest now."
"A fortnight—a month may be?"
"Yes, and six months—I intend to do nothing else for half a year."
"That's a long time, isn't it, Philip?"
"Not so long as I've wasted."
"Wasted? So you call it wasted? Of course, it's nothing to me—but there's your aunt——"
"A man can't always be dangling about women," said Philip.
Kate began to laugh.
"What are you laughing at?"
"I'm so glad I'm a girl," said Kate.
"Well, so am I," said Philip.
It came at his face like a flash of lightning, and Philip stammered, "I mean—that is—you know—what about Pete?"
"Oh, is that all? Well, good-night, if you must go. Shall I bring you the lantern? No need? Starlight, is it? You can see your way to the gate quite plainly? Very well, if you don't want showing. Good-night!"
The last words, in an injured tone, were half lost behind the closing door.
But the heart of a girl is a dark forest, and Kate had determined that, work or no work, so long a spell as six months Philip should not be away.
One morning in the late spring there came to Douglas a startling and most appalling piece of news—-Ross Christian was constantly seen at "The Manx Fairy." On the evening of that day Philip reappeared at Sulby. He had come down in high wrath, inventing righteous speeches by the way on plighted troths and broken pledges. Ross was there in lacquered boots, light kid gloves, frock coat, and pepper and salt trousers, leaning with elbow on the counter, that he might talk to Kate, who was serving. Philip had never before seen her at that task, and his indignation was extreme. He was more than ever sure that Grannie was a simpleton and Caesar a brazen hypocrite.
Kate nodded gaily to him as he entered, and then continued her conversation with Ross. There was a look in her eyes that was new to him, and it caused him to change his purpose. He would not be indignant, he would be cynical, he would be nasty, he would wait his opportunity and put in with some cutting remark. So, at Caesar's invitation and Grannie's welcome, he pushed through the bar-room to the kitchen, exchanged salutations, and then sat down to watch and to listen.
The conversation beyond the glass partition was eager and enthusiastic. Ross was fluent and Kate was vivacious.
"My friend Monty?"
"Yes; who is Monty?"
"He's the centre of the Fancy."
"Ornaments of the Ring, you know. Come now, surely you know the Ring, my dear. His rooms in St. James's Street are full of them every night. All sorts, you know—featherweights, and heavy-weights, and greyhounds. And the faces! My goodness, you should see them. Such worn-out old images. Knowledge boxes all awry, mouths crooked, and noses that have had the upper-cut. But good men all; good to take their gruel, you know. Monty will have nothing else about him. He was Tom Spring's packer. Never heard of Tom Spring? Tom of Bedford, the incorruptible, you know, only he fought cross that day. Monty lost a thousand, and Tom keeps a public in Holborn now with pictures of the Fancy round the walls."
Then Kate, with a laugh, said something which Philip did not catch, because Caesar was rustling the newspaper he was reading.
"Ladies come?" said Ross. "Girls at Monty's suppers? Rather! what should you think? Cleopatra—but you ought to be there. I must be getting off myself very soon. There's a supper coming off next week at Handsome Honey's. Who's Honey? Proprietor of a night-house in the Haymarket. Night-house? You come and see, my dear."
Caesar dropped the newspaper and looked across at Philip. The gaze was long and embarrassing, and, for want of better conversation, Philip asked Caesar if he was thinking.
"Aw, thinking, thinking, and thinking again, sir," said Caesar. Then, drawing his chair nearer to Philip's, he added, in a half whisper, "I'm getting a bit of a skute into something, though. See yonder? They're calling his father a miser. The man's racking his tenants and starving his land. But I believe enough the young brass lagh (a weed) is choking the ould grain."
Caesar, as he spoke, tipped his thumb over his shoulder in the direction of Ross, and, seeing this, Ross interrupted his conversation with Kate to address himself to her father.
"So you've been reading the paper, Mr. Cregeen?"
"Aw, reading and reading," said Caesar grumpily. Then in another tone, "You're home again from London, sir? Great doings yonder, they're telling me. Battles, sir, great battles."
Ross elevated his eyebrows. "Have you heard of them then?" he asked.
"Aw, heard enough," said Caesar, "meetings, and conferences, and conventions, and I don't know what."
"Oh, oh, I see," said Ross, with a look at Kate.
"They're doing without hell in England now-a-days—that's a quare thing, sir. Conditional immorality they're calling it—the singlerest thing I know. Taking hell away drops the tailboard out of a man's religion, eh?"
The time for closing came, and Philip had waited in vain. Only one cut had come his way, and that had not been his own. As he rose to go, Kate had said, "We didn't expect to see you again for six months, Mr. Christian."
"So it seems," said Philip, and Kate laughed a little, and that was all the work of his evening, and the whole result of his errand.
Caesar was waiting for him in the porch. His face was white, and it twitched visibly. It was plain to see that the natural man was fighting in Caesar. "Mr. Christian, sir," said he, "are you the gentleman that came here to speak to me for Peter Quilliam?"
"I am," said Philip.
"Then do you remember the ould Manx saying, 'Perhaps the last dog may be catching the hare?'"
"Leave it to me, Mr. Cregeen," said Philip through his teeth.
Half a minute afterwards he was swinging down the dark road homewards, by the side of Ross, who was drawling along with his cold voice.
"So you've started on your light-weight handicap, Philip. Father was monstrous unreasonable that day. Seemed to think I was coming back here to put my shoulder out for your high bailiffships and bum-bailiffships and heaven knows what. You're welcome to the lot for me, Philip. That girl's wonderful, though. It's positively miraculous, too; she's the living picture of a girl of my friend Montague's. Eyes, hair, that nervous movement of the mouth—everything. Old man looked glum enough, though. Poor little woman. I suppose she's past praying for. The old hypocrite will hold her like a dove in the claws of a buzzard hawk till she throws herself away on some Manx omathaun. It's the way with half these pretty creatures—they're wasted."
Philip's blood was boiling. "Do you call it being wasted when a good girl is married to an honest man?" he asked.
"I do; because a girl like this can never marry the right man. The man who is worthy of her cannot marry her, and the man who marries her isn't worthy of her. It's like this, Philip. She's young, she's pretty, perhaps beautiful, has manners and taste, and some refinement. The man of her own class is clumsy and ignorant, and stupid and poor. She doesn't want him, and the man she does want the man she's fit for—daren't marry her; it would be social suicide."
"And so," said Philip bitterly, "to save the man above from social suicide, the girl beneath must choose moral death—is that it?"
Ross laughed. "Do you know I thought old Jeremiah was at you in the corner there, Philip. But look at it straight. Here's a girl like that. Two things are open to her—two only. Say she marries your Manx fellow, what follows? A thatched cottage three fields back from the mountain road, two rooms, a cowhouse, a crock, a dresser, a press, a form, a three-legged stool, an armchair, and a clock with a dirty face, hanging on a nail in the wall. Milking, weeding, digging, ninepence a day, and a can of buttermilk, with a lump of butter thrown in. Potatoes, herrings, and barley bonnag. Year one, a baby, a boy; year two, another baby, a girl; year three, twins; year four, barefooted children squalling, dirty house, man grumbling, woman distracted, measles, hooping-cough; a journey at the tail of a cart to the bottom of the valley, and the awful words 'I am the——'"
"Hush man!" said Philip. They were passing Lezayre churchyard. When they had left it behind, he added, with a grim curl of the lip, which was lost in the darkness, "Well, that's one side. What's the other?"
"Life," said Ross. "Short and sweet, perhaps. Everything she wants, everything she can wish for—five years, four years, three years—what matter?"
"Every one for himself and God for us all, my boy. She's as happy as the day while it lasts, lifts her head like a rosebud in the sun——"
"Then drops it, I suppose, like a rose-leaf in the mud." Ross laughed again. "Yes, it's a fact, old Jeremiah has been at you, Philip. Poor little Kitty——"
"Keep the girl's name out of it, if you please."
Ross gave a long whistle. "I was only saying the poor little woman——"
"It's damnable, and I'll have no more of it."
"There's no duty on speech, I hope, in your precious Isle of Man."
"There is, though," said Philip, "a duty of decency and honour, and to name that girl, foolish as she is, in the same breath with your women—But here, listen to me. Best tell you now, so there may be no mistake and no excuse. Miss Cregeen is to be married to a friend of mine. I needn't say who he is—he comes close enough to you at all events. When he's at home, he's able to take care of his own affairs; but while he's abroad I've got to see that no harm comes to his promised wife. I mean to do it, too. Do you understand me, Ross? I mean to do it. Good night!"
They were at the gate of Ballawhaine by this time, and Ross went through it giggling.
The following evening found Philip at "The Manx Fairy" again. Ross was there as usual, and he was laughing and talking in a low tone with Kate. This made Philip squirm on his chair, but Kate's behaviour tortured him. Her enjoyment of the man's jests was almost uproarious. She was signalling to him and peering up at him gaily. Her conduct disgusted Philip. It seemed to him an aggravation of her offence that as often as he caught the look of her face there was a roguish twinkle in the eye on his side, and a deliberate cast in his direction. This open disregard of the sanctity of a pledged word, this barefaced indifference to the presence of him who stood to represent it, was positively indecent. This was what women were! Deceit was bred in their bones.
It added to Philip's gathering wrath that Caesar, who sat in shirt-sleeves making up his milling accounts from slates ciphered with crosses, and triangles, and circles, and half circles, was lifting his eyes from time to time to look first at them and then at him, with an expression of contempt.
At a burst of fresh laughter and a shot of the bright eyes, Philip surged up to his feet, thrust himself between Ross and Kate, turned his back on him and his face to her, and said in a peremptory voice, "Come into the parlour instantly—I have something to say to you."
"Oh, indeed!" said Kate.
But she came, looking mischievous and yet demure, with her head down but her eyes peering under their long upper lashes.
"Why don't you send this fellow about his business?" said Philip.
Kate looked up in blank surprise. "What fellow?" she said.
"What fellow?" said Philip, "why, this one that is shillyshallying with you night after night."
"You can never mean your own cousin, Philip?" said Kate.
"More's the pity if he is my cousin, but he's no fit company for you."
"I'm sure the gentleman is polite enough."
"So's the devil himself."
"He can behave and keep his temper, anyway."
"Then it's the only thing he can keep. He can't keep his character or his credit or his honor, and you should not encourage him."
Kate's under lip began to show the inner half. "Who says I encourage him?"
"What right have you?"
"Haven't I seen you with my own eyes?"
Kate grew defiant. "Well, and what if you have?"
"Then you are a jade and a coquette."
The word hissed out like steam from a kettle. Kate saw it coming and took it full in the face. She felt an impulse to scream with laughter, so she seized her opportunity and cried.
Philip's temper began to ebb. "That man would be a poor bargain, Kate, if he were twenty times the heir of Ballawhaine. Can't you gather from his conversation what his life and companions are? Of course it's nothing to me, Kate——"
"No, it's nothing to you," whimpered Kate, from behind both hands.
"I've no right——"
"Of course not; you've no right," said Kate, and she stole a look sideways.
Philip did not see the glance that came from the corner of Kate's eye.
"When a girl forgets a manly fellow, who happens to be abroad, for the first rascal that comes along with his dirty lands—"
Down went the hands with an impatient fling. "What are his lands to me?"
"Then it's my duty as a friend——"
"Duty indeed! Just what every old busybody says."
Philip gripped her wrist. "Listen to me. If you don't send this man packing——"
"You are hurting me. Let go my arm."
Philip flung it aside and said, "What do I care?"
"Then why do you call me a coquette?"
"Do as you like."
"So I will. Philip! Philip! Phil! He's gone."
It was twenty miles by coach and rail from Douglas to Sulby, but Philip was back at "The Manx Fairy" the next evening also. He found a saddle-horse linked to the gate-post and Ross inside the house with a riding-whip in his hand, beating the leg of his riding-breeches.
When Philip appeared, Kate began to look alarmed, and Ross to look ugly. Caesar, who was taking his tea in the ingle, was having an unpleasant passage with Grannie in side-breaths by the fire.
"Bad, bad, a notorious bad liver and dirty with the tongue," said Caesar.
"Chut, father!" said Grannie. "The young man's civil enough, and girls will be girls. What's a word or a look or a laugh when you're young and have a face that's fit for anything."
"Better her face should be pitted with smallpox than bring her to the pit of hell," said Caesar. "All flesh is grass: the grass withereth, the flower fadeth."
Nancy Joe came from the dairy at that moment. "Gracious me I did you see that now?" she said. "I wonder at Kitty. But it's the way of the men, smiling and smiling and maning nothing."
"Hm! They mane a dale," growled Caesar.
Ross had recovered from his uneasiness at Philip's entrance, and was engaged in some narration whereof the only words that reached the kitchen were I know and I know repeated frequently.
"You seem to know a dale, sir," shouted Caesar; "do you know what it is to be saved?"
There was silence for a moment, and then Ross, polishing his massive signet ring on his corduroy waistcoat, said, "Is that the old gentleman's complaint, I wonder?"
"My husband is a local preacher and always strong for salvation," said Grannie by way of peace.
"Is that all?" said Ross. "I thought perhaps he had taken more wine than the sacrament."
"You're my cross, woman," muttered Caesar, "but no cross no crown."
"Lave women's matters alone, father; it'll become you better," said Grannie.
"Laugh as you like, Mistress Cregeen; there's One above, there's One above."
Ross had resumed his conversation with Kate, who was looking frightened. And listening with all his ears, Philip caught the substance of what was said.
"I'm due back by this time. There's the supper at Handsome Honey's, not to speak of the everlasting examinations. But somehow I can't tear myself away. Why not? Can't you guess? No? Not a notion? I would go to-morrow—Kitty, a word in your ear——"
"I believe in my heart that man is for kissing her," said Caesar. "If he does, then by—he's done it! Hould, sir."
Caesar had risen to his feet, and in a moment the house was in an uproar. Ross lifted his head like a cock. "Were you speaking to me, mister?" he asked.
"I was, and don't demane yourself like that again," said Caesar.
"Like what?" said Ross.
"Paying coort to a girl that isn't fit for you."
Ross lifted his hat, "Do you mean this young lady?"
"No young lady at all, sir, but the daughter of a plain, respectable man that isn't going to see her fooled. Your hat to your head, sir. You'll be wanting it for the road."
"Father!" cried Kate, in a voice of fear.
Caesar turned his rough shoulder and said, "Go to your room, ma'am, and keep it for a week."
"You may go," said Ross. "I'll spare the old simpleton for your sake, Kate."
"You'll spare me, sir?" cried Caesar. "I've seen the day—but thank the Lord for restraining grace! Spare me? If you had said as much five-and-twenty years ago, sir, your head would have gone ringing against the wall."
"I'll spare you no more, then," said Ross. "Take that—and that."
Amid screams from the women, two sounding blows fell on Caesar's face. At the next instant Philip was standing between the two men.
"Come this way," he said, addressing Ross.
"If I like," Ross answered.
"This way, I tell you," said Philip.
Ross snapped his fingers. "As you please," he said, and then followed Philip out of the house.
Kate had run upstairs in terror, but five minutes afterwards she was on the road, with a face full of distress, and a shawl over head and shoulders. At the bridge she met Kelly, the postman.
"Which way have they gone," she panted, "the young Ballawhaine and Philip Christian?"
"I saw them heading down to the Curragh," said Kelly, and Kate in the shawl, flew like a bird over the ground in that direction.
The two young men went on without a word. Philip walked with long strides three paces in front, with head thrown back, pallid face and contracted features, mouth firmly shut, arms stiff by his side, and difficult and audible breathing. Ross slouched behind with an air of elaborate carelessness, his horse beside him, the reins over its head and round his arm, the riding-whip under his other arm-pit, and both his hands deep in the breeches pockets. There was no road the way they went, but only a cart track, interrupted here and there by a gate, and bordered by square turf pits half full of water.
The days were long and the light was not yet failing. Beyond the gorse, the willows, the reeds, the rushes and the sally bushes of the flat land, the sun was setting over a streak of gold on the sea. They had left behind them the smell of burning turf, of crackling sticks, of fish, and of the cowhouse, and were come into the atmosphere of flowering gorse and damp scraa soil and brine.
"Far enough, aren't we?" shouted Ross, but Philip pushed on. He drew up at last in an open space, where the gorse had been burnt away and its black remains desolated the surface and killed the odours of life. There was not a house near, not a landmark in sight, except a windmill on the sea's verge, and the ugly tower of a church, like the funnel of a steamship between sea and sky.
"We're alone at last," he said hoarsely.
"We are," said Ross, interrupting the whistling of a tune, "and now that you've got me here, perhaps you'll be good enough to tell me what we've come for."
Philip made no more answer than to strip himself of his coat and waistcoat.
"You're never going to make a serious business of this stupid affair?" said Ross, leaning against the horse and slapping the sole of one foot with the whip.
"Take off your coat," said Philip in a thick voice.
"Can I help it if a pretty girl——" began Ross.
"Will you strip?" cried Philip.
Ross laughed. "Ah! now I remember our talk of the other night. But you don't mean to say," he said, flipping at the flies at the horse's head, "that because the little woman is forgetting the curmudgeon that's abroad——"
Philip strode up to him with clenched hands and quivering lips and said, "Will you fight?"
Ross laughed again, but the blood was in his face, and he said tauntingly, "I wouldn't distress myself, man. Daresay I'll be done with the girl before the fellow——"
"You're a scoundrel," cried Philip, "and if you won't stand up to me——"
Ross flung away his whip. "If I must, I must," he said, and then threw the horse's reins round the charred arm of a half-destroyed gorse tree.
A minute afterwards the young men stood face to face.
"Stop," said Ross, "let me tell you first; it's only fair. Since I went up to London I've learnt a thing or two. I've stood up before men that can strip a picture; I've been opposite talent and I can peck a bit, but I've never heard that you can stop a blow."
"Are you ready?" cried Philip.
"As you will. You shall have one round, you'll want no more."
The young men looked badly matched. Ross, in riding-breeches and shirt, with red bullet head and sprawling feet, arms like an oak and veins like willow boughs. Philip in shirt and knickerbockers, with long fair hair, quivering face, and delicate figure. It was strength and some skill against nerve alone.
Like a rush of wind Philip came on, striking right and left, and was driven back by a left-hand body-blow.
"There, you've got it," said Ross, smiling benignly. "Didn't I tell you? That's old Bristol Bull to begin with."
Philip rushed on again, and came back with a smashing blow that cut his nether lip.
"You've got a second," said Ross. "Have you had enough?"
Philip did not hear, but sprang fiercely at Ross once more. The next instant he was on the ground. Then Ross took on a manner of utter contempt. "I can't keep on flipping at you all night."
"Mock me when you've beaten me," said Philip, and he was on his feet again, somewhat blown, but fresh as to spirit and doggedly resolute.
"Toe the scratch, then," said Ross. "I must say you're good at your gruel."
Philip flung himself on his man a third time, and fell more heavily than before, under a flush hit that seemed to bury itself in his chest.
"I can't go on fighting a man that's as good for nothing as my old grandmother," said Ross.
But his contempt was abating; he was growing uneasy; Philip was before him as fierce as ever.
"Fight your equal," he cried.
"I'll fight you," growled Philip.
"You're not fit. Give it up. And look, the dark is falling."
"There's enough daylight yet. Come on."
"Nobody is here to shame you."
"Come on, I say."
Philip did not wait, but sprang on his man like a tiger. Ross met his blow, dodged, feinted; they gripped, swinging to and fro; there was a struggle, and Philip fell again with a dull thud against the ground.
"Will you stop now?" said Ross.
"No, no, no," cried Philip, leaping to his feet.
"I'll eat you up. I'm a glutton, I can tell you." But his voice trembled, and Philip, blind with passion, laughed.
"You'll be hurt," said Ross.
"What of that?" said Philip.
"You'll be killed."
Ross tried to laugh mockingly, but the hoarse gurgle choked in his throat. He began to tremble. "This man doesn't know when he's mauled," he muttered, and after a loud curse he stood up afresh, with a craven and shifty look. His blows fell like scorching missiles, but Philip took them like a rock scoured with shingle, raining blood like water, but standing firm.
"What's the use?" cried Ross; "drop it."
"I'll drop myself first," said Philip.
"If you won't give it up, I will," said Ross.
"You shan't," said Philip.
"Take your victory if you like."
"Say you've licked me."
"I'll do it first," said Philip.
Ross laughed long and riotously, but he was trembling like a whipped cur. With a blob of foam on his lips he came up, collecting all his strength, and struck Philip a blow on the forehead that fell with the sound of a hammer on a coffin.
"Are you done?" he snuffled.
"No, by God," cried Philip, black as ink with the burnt gorse from the ground, except where the blood ran red on him.
"This man means to kill me," mumbled Ross. He looked round shiftily, and said, "I mean no harm by the girl."
"You're a liar!" cried Philip.
With a glance of deep malignity, Ross closed with Philip again. It was now a struggle of right with wrong as well as nerve with strength. The sun had set under the sea, the sally bushes were shivering in the twilight, a flight of rooks were screaming overhead. Blows were no more heard. Ross gripped Philip in a venomous embrace, and dragged him on to one knee. Philip rose, Ross doubled round his waist, pushing him backward, and fell heavily on his breast, shouting with the growl of a beast, "You'll fight me, will you? Get up, get up!"
Philip did not rise, and Ross began dragging and lunging at him with brutal ferocity, when suddenly, where he bent double, a blow fell on his ear from behind, another and another, a hand gripped his shirt collar and choked him, and a voice cried, "Let go, you brute, let go, let go."
Ross dropped Philip and swung himself round to return the attack.
It was the girl. "Oh, it's you, is it?" he panted. She was like a fury. "You brute, you beast, you toad," she cried, and then threw herself over Philip.
He was unconscious. She lifted his head on to her lap, and, lost to all shame, to all caution, to all thought but one thought, she kissed him on the cheek, on the lips, on the eyes, on the forehead, crying, "Philip! oh, Philip, Philip!"
Ross was shuddering beside them. "Let me look at him," he faltered, but Kate fired back with a glance like an arrow, and said, screaming like a sea-gull, "If you touch him again I'll strangle you."
Ross caught a glimpse of Philip's face, and he was terrified. Going to a turf pit, he dipped both hands in the dub, and brought some water. "Take this," he said, "for Heaven's sake let me bathe his head."
He dashed the water on the pallid forehead, and then withdrew his eyes, while the girl coaxed Philip back to consciousness with fresh kisses and pleading words.
"Is he breathing? Feel his heart. Any pulsation? Oh, God!" said Ross, "it wasn't my fault." He looked round with wild eyes; he meditated flight.
"Is he better yet?"
"What's it to you, you coward?" said Kate, with a burning glance. She went on with her work: "Come then, dear, come, come now."
Philip opened his eyes in a vacant stare, and rose on his elbow. Then Kate fell back from him immediately, and began to cry quietly, being all woman now, and her moral courage gone again in an instant.
But the moral courage of Mr. Ross came back as quickly. He began to sneer and to laugh lightly, picked up his riding-whip and strode over to his horse.
"Are you hurt?" asked Kate, in a low tone.
"Is it Kate?" said Philip.
At the sound of his voice, in that low whisper, Kate's tears came streaming down.
"I hope youll forgive me," she said. "I should have taken your warning."
She wiped his face with the loose sleeve of her dress, and then he struggled to his feet.
"Lean on me, Philip."
"No, no, I can walk."
"Do take my arm."
"Oh no, Kate, I'm strong enough."
"Just to please me."
Ross looked on with jealous rage. His horse, frightened by the fight, had twirled round and round till the reins were twisted into a knot about the gorse stump, and as he liberated the beast he flogged it back till it flew around him. Then he vaulted to the saddle, tugged at the curb, and the horse reared. "Down," he cried with an oath, and lashed brutally at the horse's head.
Meantime Kate, going past him with Philip on her arm, was saying softly, "Are you feeling better, Philip?"
And Ross, looking on in sulky meditation, sent a harsh laugh out of his hot throat, and said, "Oh, you can make your mind easy about him, if your other man fights for you like that you'll do. Thought you'd have three of them, did you? Or perhaps you only wanted me for your decoy? Why don't you kiss him now, when he can know it? But he's a beauty to take care of you for somebody else. Fighting for the other one, eh? Stuff and humbug! Take him home, and the curse of Judas on the brace of you."
So saying, he burst into wild, derisive laughter, flogged his horse on the ears and the nose, shouted "Down, you brute, down!" and shot off at a gallop across the open Curragh.
Philip and Kate stood where he had left them till he had disappeared in the mist rising off the marshy land, and the hud of his horse's hoofs could be no more heard. Their heads were down, and though their arms were locked, their faces were turned half aside. There was silence for some time. The girl's eyelids quivered; her look was anxious and helpless. Then Philip said, "Let us go home," and they began to walk together.
Not another word did they speak. Neither looked into the other's eyes. Their entwined arms slackened a little in a passionless asundering, yet both felt that they must hold tight or they would fall. It was almost as if Ross's parting taunt had uncovered their hearts to each other, and revealed to themselves their secret. They were like other children of the garden of Eden, driven out and stripped naked.
At the bridge they met Caesar, Grannie, Nancy Joe, and half the inhabitants of Sulby, abroad with lanterns in search of them.
"They're here," cried Caesar. "You've chastised him, then! You'd bait his head off, I'll go bail. And I believe enough you'll be forgiven, sir. Yonder blow was almost bitterer than flesh can bear. Before my days of grace—but, praise the Lord for His restraining hand, the very minute my anger was up He crippled me in the hip with rheumatics. But what's this?" holding the lantern over his head; "there's blood on your face, sir?"
"A scratch—it's nothing," said Philip.
"It's the women that's in every mischief," said Caesar.
"Lord bless me, aren't the women as good as the men?" said Nancy.
"H'm," said Caesar. "We're told that man was made a little lower than the angels, but about women we're just left to our own conclusions."
"Scripture has nothing to do with Ross Christian, father," said Grannie.
"The Lord forbid it," said Caesar. "What can you get from a cat but his skin? And doesn't the man come from Christian Ballawhaine!"
"If it comes to that, though, haven't we all come from Adam?" said Grannie.
"Yes; and from Eve too, more's the pity," said Caesar.
For some time thereafter Philip went no more to Sulby. He had a sufficient excuse. His profession made demand of all his energies. When he was not at work in Douglas he was expected to be at home with his aunt at Ballure. But neither absence nor the lapse of years served to lift him out of the reach of temptation. He had one besetting provocation to remembrance—one duty which forbade him to forget Kate—his pledge to Pete, his office as Dooiney Molla. Had he not vowed to keep guard over the girl? He must do it. The trust was a sacred one.
Philip found a way out of his difficulty. The post was an impersonal and incorruptible go-between, so he wrote frequently. Sometimes he had news to send, for, to avoid the espionage of Caesar, intelligence of Pete came through him; occasionally he had love-letters to enclose; now and then he had presents to pass on. When such necessity did not arise, he found it agreeable to keep up the current of correspondence. At Christmas he sent Christmas cards, on Midsummer Day a bunch of moss roses, and even on St. Valentine's Day a valentine. All this was in discharge of his duty, and everything he did was done in the name of Pete. He persuaded himself that he sank his own self absolutely. Having denied his eyes the very sight of the girl's face, he stood erect in the belief that he was a true and loyal friend.