"He shall marry me for my sake," she thought, "for my own sake—my own sake only."
Thus in the wild disorder of her soul—the tempest of conflicting passions—her pride barred up the one great way.
There was no help for it after all—she must go on as she had begun, with the old scheme, the old chance, the old gambling hazard. Heart-sick and ashamed, waiting for Philip, and listening to every step, she kept her room two days longer. Then Caesar came and rallied her.
"Gough bless me, but nobody will credit it," he said. "The marriage for Monday, and the bride in bed a Wednesday. People will say it isn't coming off at all."
This alarmed her. It partly explained why Philip did not come. If he thought there was no danger of the marriage, he would be in no hurry to intervene. Next day (Thursday) she struggled up and dressed in a light wrapper, feeling weak and nervous, and looking pale and white like apple-blossom nipped by frost. Pete would have carried her downstairs, but she would not have it. They established her among a pile of cushions before a fire in the parlour, with its bowl of sea-birds' eggs that had the faint, unfamiliar smell—its tables of old china that shook and rang slightly with every step and sound. The kitchen was covered with the litter of dressmakers preparing for the wedding. There were bodices to try on, and decisions to give on points of style. Kate agreed to everything. In a weak and toneless voice she kept on telling them to do as they thought hest. Only when she heard that Pete was to pay did she assert her will, and that was to limit the dresses to one.
"Sakes alive now, Kirry," cried Nancy, "that's what I call ruining a good husband—the man was willing to buy frocks for a boarding-school."
Pete came, sat on a stool at her feet, and told stories. They were funny stories of his life abroad, and now and again there came bursts of laughter from the kitchen, where they were straining their necks to catch his words through the doors, which they kept ajar. But Kate hardly listened. She showed signs of impatience sometimes, and made quick glances around when the door opened, as if expecting somebody. On recovering herself at these moments, she found Pete looking up at her with the big, serious, moist eyes of a dog.
He began to tell of the house he had taken, to excuse himself for not consulting her, and to describe the progress of the furnishing.
"I've put it all in the hands of Cannell & Quayle, Kitty," he said, "and they're doing it beautiful. Marble slabs, bless you, like a butcher's counter; carpets as soft as daisies, and looking-glasses as tall as a man."
Kate had not heard him. She was trying to remember all she knew of the courts of the island—where they were held, and on what days.
"Have you seen Philip lately?" she asked.
"Not since Monday," said Pete. "He's in Douglas, working like mad to be here on Monday, God bless him!"
"What did he say when he heard we had changed the day?"
"Wanted to get out of it first. 'I'm sailing on Tuesday,' said he."
"Did you tell him that I proposed it?"
"Trust me for not forgetting that at all. 'Aw, then,' says he, 'there's no choice left,' he says."
Kate's pale face became paler, the dark circles about her eyes grew yet more dark. "I think I'll go back to bed, mother," she said in the same toneless voice.
Pete helped her to the foot of the stairs. The big, moist eyes were looking at her constantly. She found it hard to keep an equal countenance.
"But will you be fit for it, darling?" said Pete.
"Why, of course she'll be fit, sir," said Caesar. "What girl is ever more than middling the week before she's married?"
Next day she persuaded her father to take her to Douglas. She had little errands there that could not be done in Ramsey. The morning was fine but cold. Pete helped her up in the gig, and they drove away. If only she could see Philip, if only Philip could see her, he would know by the look of her face that the marriage was not of her making—that compulsion of some sort was being put on her. She spent four hours going from shop to shop, lingering in the streets, but seeing nothing of Philip. Her step was slow and weary, her features were pinched and starved, but Caesar could scarcely get her out of the town. At length the daylight began to fail, and then she yielded to his importunities.
"How short the days are now," she said with a sigh, as they ran into the country.
"Yes, they are a cock's stride shorter in September," said Caesar; "but when a woman once gets shopping, Midsummer day itself won't do—she's wanting the land of the midnight sun."
Pete lifted her out of the gig in darkness at the door of the "Fairy," and, his great arms being about her, he carried her into the house and set her down in the fire-seat. She would have struggled to her feet if she had been able; she felt something like repulsion at his touch; but he looked at her with the mute eloquence of love, and she was ashamed.
The house was full of gossips that night. They talked of the marriage customs of old times. One described the "pay-weddings," where the hat went round, and every guest gave something towards the cost of the breakfast and the expenses of beginning housekeeping—rude forefather of the practice of the modern wedding present. Another pictured the irregular marriages made in public-houses in the days when the island had three breweries and thirty drinking shops to every thousand of its inhabitants. The publican laid two sticks crosswise on the floor, and said to the bride and bridegroom—
"Hop over the sticks and lie crossed on the floor, And you're man and wife for nevermore."
There was some laughter at this, but Kate sat in the fire-seat and sipped her tea in silence, and Pete said quietly, "Nothing to laugh at, though. I remember a girl over Foxal way that was married to a man like that, and then he went off to Kinsale, and got kept for the herring riots—d'ye mind them? She was a strapping girl, though, and when the man was gone the boys came bothering her, first one and then another, and good ones among them too. And honour bright for all, they were for taking her to the parzon about right But no! Did they think she was for committing beggamy? She was married to one man, and wasn't that enough for a dacent girl anyway. And so she wouldn't and she didn't, and last of all her own boy came back, and they lived together man and wife, and what for shouldn't they?"
This question from the man who was on the point of going to church was received with shouts of laughter, through which the voice of Grannie rose in affectionate remonstrance, saying, "Aw, Pete, it's ter'ble to hear you, bogh."
"What's there ter'ble about that, Grannie?" said Pete. "Isn't it the Almighty and not the parzon that makes the marriage?"
"Aw, boy veen, boy veen," cried Grannie, "you was used to be a good man, but you have fell off very bad."
Kate was in a fever of eagerness. She wanted to open her heart to Pete, to beg him to spare her, to tell him that it was impossible that they should ever marry. Pete would see that Philip was her husband by every true law, human and divine. In this mood she lived through much of the following day, Friday, tossing and turning in bed, for the exhaustion of the day in Douglas had confined her to her room again.
In the evening she came downstairs, and was established in the fire-seat as before. There were four or five old women in the kitchen spinning yarn for a set of blankets which Grannie intended for a wedding present. "When the day's work was nearly done, two or three old men, the old husbands of the old women, came to carry their wheels home again. Then, as the wheels whirred for the last of the twist, Pete set the old crones to tell stories of old times.
"Tell us of the days when you were young, Anne," said Pete to an ancient dame of eighty. Her husband of eighty-four sat sucking his pipe by her side.
"Well," said old Anne, stretching her arms to the yarn, "I was as near going foreign, same as yourself, sir, just as near, now, as makes no matter. It was the very day I married this man, and his brother was making a start for Austrillya. Jemmy was my ould sweetheart, only I had given him up because he was always stealing my pocket-handkerchers. But he came that morning and tapped at my window, and 'Will you come, Anne?' says he, and I whipped on my perricut and stole out and down to the quay with him. But my heart was losing me when I saw the white horses on the water, and home I came and went to church with this one instead."
While old Anne told her story her old husband opened his mouth wider and wider, until the pipe-shank dropped out of his toothless gums on to his waistcoat. Then he stretched his left arm and brought down his clenched hand with a bang on to her shoulder.
"And have you been living with me better than sixty years," said he, "and never telling me that before?"
Pete tried to pacify his ancient jealousy, but it was not to be appeased, and he shouldered the wheel and hobbled off, saying, "And I sent out two pound five to put a stone on the man's grave!"
There was loud laughter when the old couple were gone, but Pete said, nevertheless, "A sacret's a sacret, though, and the ould lady had no right to tell it. It was the dead man's sacret too, and she's fouled the ould man's memory. If a person's done wrong, the best thing he can do next is to say darned little about it."
Kate rose and went off to bed. Another door had been barred to her, and she felt sick and faint.
The next day was Saturday. Kate remembered that Philip came to Ballure on Saturdays. She felt sure that he would come to Sulby also. Let him only set eyes on her, and he would divine the trouble that had taken the colour out of her cheeks. Then he would speak to Pete and to her father; he would deliver her; he would take everything upon himself. Thus all day long, like a white-eyed gambler who has staked his last, she waited and listened and watched. At breakfast she said to herself, "He will come this morning." At dinner, "He will come this evening." At supper, "He will come tonight."
But Philip did not come, and she grew hysterical as well as restless. She watched the clock; the minutes passed with feet of lead, but the hours with wings of fire. She was now like a criminal looking for a reprieve. Every time the clock warned to strike, she felt one hour nearer her doom.
The strain was wearing her out. She reproached Philip for leaving her to this cruel uncertainty, and she suffered the pangs of one who tries at the same time to love and to hate. Then she reproached herself with altering the date of the marriage, and excused Philip on the grounds of her haste. She felt like a witch who was burning by her own spell. Hope was failing her, and Will was breaking down as well. Nevertheless, she determined that the wedding should be postponed.
That was on Saturday night. On Sunday morning she had gone one step farther. The last pitiful shred of expectation that Philip would intervene seemed then to be lost, and she had resolved that, come what would, she should not marry at all. No need to appeal to Pete; no necessity to betray the secret of Philip. All she had to do was to say she would not go on with the wedding, and no power on earth should compel her.
With this determination, and a feeling of immense relief, she went downstairs. Caesar was coming in from the preaching-room, and Pete from the new house at Ramsey. They sat down to dinner. After dinner she would speak out. Caesar sharpened the carving-knife on the steel, and said, "We've taken the girl Christian Killip back to communion to-day."
"Poor thing," said Grannie, "pity she was ever put out of it, though."
"Maybe so,—maybe no," said Caesar. "Necessary anyway; one scabby sheep infects the flock."
"And has marriage daubed grace on the poor sheep's sore then, Caesar?" said Pete.
"She's Mistress Robbie Teare and a dacent woman, sir," said Caesar, digging into the beef, "and that's all the truck a Christian church has got with it."
Kate did not eat her dinner that day, and neither did she speak out as she had intended. A supernatural power seemed to have come down at the last moment and barred up the one remaining pathway of escape. She was in the track of the storm. The tempest was ready to fall on her. Where could she fly for shelter?
What her father had said of the girl had revealed her life to her in the light of her relation to Philip. The thought of the possible contingency which she had foreseen with so much joy, as so much power, had awakened the consciousness of her moral position. She was a fallen woman! What else was she? And if the contingency befell, what would become of her? In the intensity of her father's pietistic views the very shadow of shame would overwhelm his household, overthrow his sect, and uproot his religious pretensions. Kate trembled at the possibility of such a disaster coming through her. She saw herself being driven from house and home. Where could she fly? And though she fled away, would she not still be the cause of sorrow and disgrace to all whom she left behind—her mother, her father, Pete, everybody?
If she could only tear out the past, at least she could stop this marriage. Or if she had been a man she could stop it, for a man may sin and still look to the future with a firm face. But she was a woman, and a woman's acts may be her own, but their consequences are beyond her. Oh, the misery of being a woman! She asked herself what she could do, and there was no answer. She could not break the web of circumstances. Her situation might be false, it might be dishonourable, but there was no escape from it. There was no gleam of hope anywhere.
Late that night—Sunday night—they were sitting together in the kitchen, Kate in the fire-seat as usual, Pete on the stool by the turf closet, smoking up the chimney, Caesar reading aloud, Grannie listening, and Nancy cooking the supper, when the porch door burst open and somebody entered. Kate rose to her feet with a startled cry of joy, looked round eagerly, and then sat down again covered with confusion.
It was the girl Christian Killip, a pale, weak, frightened creature, with the mouth and eyes of a hare.
"Is Mr. Quilliam here?" she asked.
"Here's the man himself, Christian," said Grannie. "What do you want with him?"
"Oh, God bless you, sir," said the girl to Pete, "God bless you for ever and ever."
Then turning back to Grannie, she explained in woman's fashion, with many words, that somebody unknown had sent her twenty pounds, for the child, by post, the day before, and she had only now guessed who it must be when John the Clerk had told her what Pete had said a week before.
Pete grunted and glimed, smoked up the chimney, and said, "That'll do, ma'am, that'll do. Don't believe all you hear. John says more than his Amens, anyway."
"I'm axing your pardon, miss," said the girl to Kate, "but I couldn't help coming—I couldn't really—no, I couldn't," and then she began to cry.
"Where's that child?" said Pete, heaving up to his feet with a ferocious look. "What! you mane to say you've left the lil thing alone, asleep? Go back to it then immajent. Good night!"
"Good night, sir, and God bless you, and when you're married to-morrow, God bless your wife as well!"
"That'll do—that'll do," said Pete, backing her to the porch.
"You desarve a good woman, sir, and may the Lord be good to you both."
"Tut! tut!" said Pete, and he tut-tutted her out of the house.
She smoothed her baby's hair more tenderly than ever that night, and kissed it again and again.
Kate could scarcely breathe, she could barely see. Her pride and her will had broken down utterly. This greathearted man loved her. He would lay down his life if need be to save her. To morrow he would marry her. Here, then, was her rock of refuge—this strong man by her side.
She could struggle against fate no longer. It's invisible hand was pushing her on. It's blind power was dragging her. If Philip would not come to claim her she must marry Pete.
And Pete? She meant no harm to Pete. She had not yet thought of things from Pete's point of view. He was like the camel-bag in the desert to the terrified wayfarer when the sand-cloud breaks oyer him. He flies to it. It shelters him. But what of the camel itself, with its head in the storm? Until the storm is over he does not think of that.
Meantime Philip himself was in the throes of his own agony. At the news of Kate's illness he was overwhelmed with remorse, and when he inquired if she had been delirious, he was oppressed with a sense of meanness never felt before. At his meeting with Pete he realised for the first time to what depths his duplicity had degraded him. He had prided himself on being a man of honour, and he was suddenly thrown out of the paths in which he could walk honourably.
When the first shock of Kate's disaster was over, he remembered the interview with the Governor. The Deemstership burnt in his mind with a growing fever of desire, but he did not apply for it. He did not even mention it to Auntie Nan. She heard of his prospects from Peter Christian Balla-whaine, who first set foot in her house on this errand of congratulation. The sweet old soul was wildly excited. All the hopes of her life were about to be realised, the visions and the dreams were coming true. Philip was going to regain what his father had lost. Had he made his application yet? No? He would, though; it was his duty.
But Philip could not apply for the Deemstership. To sit down in cold blood and write to the Home Secretary while Kate was lying sick in bed would be too much like asking the devil's wages for sacrificing her. Then came Pete with his talk of the wedding. That did not really alarm him. It was only the last revolution of the old wheel that had been set spinning before Pete went away. Kate would not consent. They had taken her consent for granted. He felt easy, calm, and secure.
Next came his old master, the college friend of his father, now promoted to the position of Clerk of the Polls. He was proud of his pupil, and had learnt that Philip was first favourite with the Governor.
"I always knew it," he said. "I did, ma'am, I did. The first time I set eyes on him, thinks I, 'Here comes the makings of the best lawyer in the island,' and by ——— he's not going to disappoint me either."
The good fellow was a noisy, hearty, robustious creature, a bachelor, and when talking of the late Deemster, he said women were usually the chief obstacles in a man's career. Then he begged Auntie Nan's pardon, but the old lady showed no anger. She agreed that it had been so in some cases. Young men should be careful what stumbling-blocks they set up in the way of their own progress.
Philip listened in silence, and was conscious, through all the unselfish counselling, of a certain cynical bitterness. Still he did not make application for the Deemstership. Then came Caesar's letter announcing the marriage, and even fixing a date for it. This threw him into a fit of towering indignation. He was certain of undue pressure. They were forcing the girl. It was his duty to stop the marriage. But how? There was one clear course, but that course he could not take. He could not go back on his settled determination that he must not, should not marry the girl himself. Only one thing was left—to rely on Kate. She would never consent. Not being able to marry him, she would marry no man. She would do as he was doing—she would suffer and stand alone.
By this time Philip's love, which, in spite of himself, had grown cool since the Melliah, and in his fierce battle with his worldly aims, suddenly awakened to fresh violence at the approach of another man. But his ambition fought with his love, and he began to ask himself if it made, any difference after all in this matter of Kate whether he took the Deemstership or left it. Kate was recovering; he had nothing to reproach himself with, and it would be folly to sacrifice the ambition of a lifetime to the love of a woman who could never be his, a woman he could never marry. At that he wrote his letter to the Home Secretary. It was a brilliant letter of its kind, simple, natural, strong, and judicious. He had a calm assurance that nothing so good would leave the island, yet he could not bring himself to post it. Some quiverings of the old tenderness came back as he held it in his hand, some visions of Kate, with her twitching lips, her passionate eyes, some whisperings of their smothered love.
Then came Pete again with the decisive blow. Kate had consented. There was no longer any room for doubt. His former indignation seemed almost comic, his confidence absurd. Kate was willing to marry Pete, and after all, what right had he to blame her? What right had he to stop the marriage? He had wronged the girl enough already. A good man came and offered her his love. She was going to take it. How should he dare to stop her from marrying another, being unable to marry her himself?
That night he posted his letter to the Home Secretary, and calmed the gnawings of his love with dreams of ambition. He would regain the place of his father; he would revive the traditions of his grandfather; the Christians should resume their ancient standing in the Isle of Man; the last of their race should be a strong man and a just one. No, he would never marry; he would live alone, a quiet life, a peaceful one, slightly tinged with melancholy, yet not altogether unhappy, not without cheer.
Under all other emotions, strengthening and supporting him, was a secret bitterness towards Kate—a certain contempt of her fickleness, her lightness, her shallow love, her readiness to be off with the old love and on with the new. There was a sort of pride in his own higher type of devotion, his sterner passion. Pete invited him to the wedding, but he would not go, he would invent some excuse.
Then came the change of the day to suit his supposed convenience, and also Kate's own invitation. Very well, be it so. Kate was defying him. Her invitation was a challenge. He would take it; he would go to the wedding. And if their eyes should meet, he knew whose eyes must fall.
Early next day the sleeping morning was awakened by the sound of a horn. It began somewhere in the village, wandered down the glen, crossed the bridge, plodded over the fields, and finally coiled round the house of the bride in thickening groans of discord. This restless spirit in the grey light was meant as herald of the approaching wedding. It came from the husky lungs of Mr. Jonaique Jelly.
Before daylight "The Manx Fairy" was already astir. Somewhere in the early reaches of the dawn the house had its last dusting down at the hands of Nancy Joe. Then Grannie finished, on hearth and griddle, the baking of her cakes. After that, some of the neighbours came and carried off to their own fires the beef, mutton, chickens, and ducks intended for the day's dinner. It was woman's work that was to the fore, and all idle men were hustled out of the way.
Towards nine o'clock breakfast was swallowed standing. Then everybody began to think of dressing. In this matter the men had to be finished off before the women could begin. Already they were heard bellowing for help from unseen regions upstairs. Grannie took Caesar in hand. Pete was in charge of Nancy Joe.
It was found at the last moment that Pete had forgotten to provide himself with a white shirt. He had nothing to be married in except the flannel one in which he came home from Africa. This would never do. It wasn't proper, it wasn't respectable. There was no choice but to borrow a shirt of Caesar's. Caesar's shirt was of ancient pattern, and Pete was shy of taking it. "Take it, or you'll have none," said Nancy, and she pushed him back into his room. When he emerged from it he walked with a stiff neck down the stairs in a collar that reached to his ears at either side, and stood out at his cheeks like the wings of a white bat, with two long sharp points on the level of his eyes, which he seemed to be watching warily to avoid the stab of their ironed starch. At the same moment Caesar appeared in duck trousers, a flowered waistcoat, a swallow-tail coat, and a tall hat of rough black beaver.
The kitchen was full of men and women by this time, and groups of young fellows were gathered on the road outside, some with horses, saddled and bridled for the bride's race home after the ceremony; others with guns ready loaded for firing as the procession appeared; and others again with lines of print handkerchiefs, which, as substitutes for flags, they were hanging from tree to tree.
At every moment the crowd became greater outside, and the company inside more dense. John the Clerk called on his way to church, and whispered Pete that everything was ready, and they were going to sing a beautiful psalm.
"It isn't many a man's wedding I would be taking the same trouble with," said John. "When you are coming down the alley give a sight up, sir, and you'll see me."
"He's only a poor thing," said Mr. Jelly in Pete's ear as John the Clerk went off. "No more music in the man than my ould sow. Did you hear the horn this morning, sir? Never got up so early for a wedding before. I'll be giving you 'the Black and the Grey' going into the church."
Grannie came down in a gigantic bonnet like a half-moon, with her white cap visible beneath it; and Nancy Joe appeared behind her, be-ribboned out of all recognition, and taller by many inches for the turret of feathers and flowers on the head that was usually bare.
Then the church bells began to peal, and Caesar made a prolonged A—hm! and said in a large way, "Has the carriage arrived?"
"It's coming over by the bridge now," said somebody at the door, and at the next moment a covered wagonette drew up at the porch.
"All ready?" asked Caesar.
"Stop, sir," said Pete, and then, turning to Nancy Joe, "Is it glad a man should be on his wedding-day, Nancy?"
"Why, of coorse, you goose. What else?" she answered.
"Well, no man can be glad in a shirt like this," said Pete; "I'm going back to take it off."
Two minutes afterwards he reappeared in his flannel one, under his suit of blue pilot, looking simple and natural, and a man every inch of him.
"Now call the bride," said Caesar.
Kate had been kept awake during the dark hours with a sound in her ears that was like the measured ringing of far-off bells. When the daylight came she slept a troubled sleep, and when she awoke she had a sense of stupefaction, as if she had taken a drug, and was not yet recovered from the effects of it. Nancy came bouncing into her room and crying, "It's your wedding-day, Kitty!" She answered by repeating mechanically, "It's your wedding day, Kitty."
There was an expression of serenity on her face; she even smiled a little. A sort of vague gaiety came over her, such as comes to one who has watched long in agony and suspense by the bed of a sick person and the person is dead. Nancy drew the little window curtain aside, stooped down, and looked out and said, "'Happy the bride the sun shines on' they're saying, and look! the sun is shining."
"Oh, but the sun is an old sly-boots," she answered.
They came up to dress her. She kept stumbling against things, and then laughing in a faint way. The dress was the new one, and when they had put it on they stood back from her and shouted with delight. She took up the little broken hand-glass to look at herself. Her great eyes sparkled piteously.
The church bells began to ring her wedding-peal. She had to listen hard to hear it. All sounds seemed to be very far away; everything looked a long way off. She was living in a sort of dead white dawn of thought and feeling.
At last they came to say the coach was ready and everything was waiting for the bride. She repeated their message like a machine, made a slow gesture, and followed them downstairs. When she got near to the bottom, she looked around on the faces below as if expecting to see somebody. Just then her father was saying, "Mr. Christian is to meet us at the church."
She smiled faintly and answered the people's greetings in an indistinct tone. There was some indulgent whispering at sight of her pale face. "Pale but genteel," said some one, and then Nancy reached over and drew the bride's veil down over her face.
At the next minute she was outside the house, standing at the back of the wagonette. The coachman, with his white rosette, was holding the door open on one side, and her father was elevating her hand on the other.
"Am I to go, then?" she asked in a helpless voice.
"Well, what do you think?" said Caesar. "Shall the man slip off and get married to himself, think you?"
There was laughter among the people standing round, and she laughed also and stepped into the coach. Her mother followed her, crinkling in noisy old silk, and Nancy Joe came next, smelling of lavender and hair-oil. Then her father got in, and then Pete, with his great warm presence.
A salute of six guns was fired straight up by the coach-windows. The horses pranced, Nancy screamed, and Grannie started, but Kate gave no sign. People were closing round the coach-door and shouting altogether as at a fair. "Good luck to you, boy. Good luck! Good luck!" Pete was answering in a rolling voice that seemed to be lifting the low roof off, and at the same time flinging money out in handfuls as the horses moved away.
They were going slowly down the road. From somewhere in front came the sound of a clarionet. It was playing "the Black and the Grey." Immediately behind there was the tramp of people walking with an even step, and on either side the rustle of an irregular crowd. The morning was warm and beautiful. Here and there the last of the golden cushag glistened on the hedges with the first of the autumn gorse. They passed two or three houses that had been made roofless by the recent storm, and once or twice they came on a fallen tree-trunk with its thin leaves yellowing on the fading grass.
Kate was floating vaguely through these sights and sounds. It was all like a dream to her—a waking dream in shadow-land. She knew where she was and where she was going. Some glimmering of hope was left yet. She was half expecting a miracle of some sort. Philip would be at the church. Something supernatural would occur.
They drew up sharply, the glass of the windows rattled, and the talk that had been going on in the carriage ceased. "Here we are," cried Caesar; there were voices outside, and then the others inside stepped down. She saw a hand held out to her and knew whose it was before her eyes had risen to the face. Philip was there. He was helping her to alight.
"Am I to get down too?" she asked in a helpless way.
Caesar said something that made the people laugh again, and then she smiled like faded sunshine and took the hand of Philip. She held it a moment as if expecting him to say something, but he only raised his hat. His face was white as marble. He will speak yet, she thought.
Over the gateway to the churchyard there was an arch of flowers and evergreens, with an inscription in coloured letters: "God bless the happy pair." The sloping path going down as to a dell was strewn with gilvers and slips of fuchsia.
At the bottom stood the old church mantled in ivy, like a rock of the sea covered by green moss.
Leaning on her father's arm she walked in at the porch. The church was full of people. As they passed under the gallery there was a twittering as of birds. The Sunday-school girls were up there, looking down and talking eagerly. Then the coughing and hemming ceased; there was a sort of deep inspiration; the church seemed to hold its breath for a moment. After that there were broken exclamations, and the coughing and hemming began again. "How pale!"—"Not fit, poor thing." Everybody was pitying her starved features.
"Stand here," said somebody in a soft voice.
"Must I?" she said quite loudly.
All at once she was aware that she was alone before the communion rail, with the parson—old ruddy-faced Parson Quiggin—in his white surplice facing her. Some one came and stood beside her. It was Pete. She did not look at him, but she felt his warm presence again, and was relieved. It was like shelter from the eyes around. After a moment she turned about Philip was one step behind Pete. His head was bent.
Then the service began. The voice of the parson muttered words in a low voice, but she did not listen. She found herself trying to spell out the Manx text printed over the chancel arch: "Bannet T'eshyn Ta Cheet ayns Ennyn y Chearn" ("Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord").
Suddenly the words the parson was speaking leapt into meaning and made her quiver.
".... is commended of Saint Paul to be honourable among all men, and therefore not by any to be enterprised, nor taken in hand unadvisedly, lightly, or wantonly——"
She seemed to know that Philip's eyes were on her. They were on the back of her head, and the veil over her face began to shake.
The voice of the parson was going on again—
"Therefore if any man can show just cause why they may not lawfully be joined together, let him now speak, or else hereafter for ever hold his peace."
She turned half around. Her eyes fell on Philip. His face was colourless, almost fierce; his forehead was deathly white. She was sure that something was about to happen.
Now was the moment for the miracle. It seemed to her as if the whole congregation were beginning to divine what tie there was between him and her. She did not care, for he would soon declare it. He was going to do so now; he had raised his head, he was about to speak.
No, there was no miracle. Philip's eyes fell before her eyes, and his head went down. He was only digging at the red baize with one of his feet. She felt tired, so very tired, and oh! so cold. The parson had gone on with his reading. When she caught up with him he was saying—
"—as ye shall, answer at the great day of judgment, when the secrets of all hearts shall be disclosed, that if either of you know any impediment why ye may not be lawfully joined together in matrimony, ye do now confess it."
The parson paused. He had always paused at that point. The pause had no meaning for him, but for Kate how much! Impediment! There was indeed an impediment. Confess? How could she ever confess? The warning terrified her. It seemed to have been made for her alone. She had heard it before, and thought nothing of it. Now it seemed to scorch her very soul. She began to tremble violently.
There was an indistinct murmur which she did not catch. The parson seemed to be speaking to Pete—
"—love her, comfort her, honour and keep her... so long as ye both shall live."
And then came Pete's voice, full and strong from his great chest, but far off, and going by her ear like a voice in a shell—"I will."
After that the parson's words seemed to be falling on her face.
"Wilt thou have this man to thy wedded husband, to live together after God's ordinance in the holy estate of matrimony? Wilt thou obey him and serve him, love, honour, and keep him in sickness and in health; and forsaking all other, keep thee unto him, so long as ye both shall live?"
Kate was far away. She was spelling out the Manx text, "Bannet T'eshyn Ta Cheet," but the letters were dancing in and out of each other, and yellow lights were darting from her eyes. Suddenly she was aware that the parson's voice had stopped. There was blank silence, then an uneasy rustle, and then somebody was saying something in a soft tone.
"Eh?" she said aloud.
The parson's voice came now in a whisper at her breast—"Say, 'I will.'"
"Ah I," she murmured.
"I-will! That's all, my dear. Say it with me, 'I—will.'"
She framed her lips to speak, but the words were half uttered by the parson. The next thing she knew was that a stray hand was holding her hand. She felt more safe now that her poor cold fingers lay in that big warm palm.
It was Pete, and he was speaking again. She did not so much hear him as feel his voice tingling through her veins.
"I, Peter Quilliam, take thee, Katherine Cregeen——'"
But it was all a vague murmur, fraying off into nothing, ending like a wave with a long upward plash of low sound.
The parson was speaking to her again, softly, gently, caressingly, almost as if she were a frightened child. "Don't be afraid, my dear! try to speak after me. Take your time."
Then, aloud, "'I, Katherine Cregeen.'"
Her throat gurgled; she faltered, but she spoke at length in the toneless voice of one who speaks in sleep.
"'I, Katherine Cregeen—-'"
"'Take thee, Peter Quilliam——'"
The toneless voice broke—— "take thee, Peter Quilliam———'"
And then all came in a rush, with some of the words distinctly repeated, and some of them droned and dropped—
"—'to my wedded husband, to have and to hold——-'"
"—'have and to hold——-'"
"—'from this day forward.... till death do us part——-'"
"—'death do us part———'"
"—'therefore I give thee my troth———'"
The last word fell like a broken echo, and then there was a rustle in the church, and much audible breathing. Some of the school-girls in the gallery were reaching over the pews with parted lips and dancing eyes.
Pete had taken her left hand, and was putting the ring on her finger. She was conscious of his warm breath and of the words—
"With this ring I thee wed, with my body I thee worship, and with all my worldly goods I thee endow, Amen."
Again she left her cold hand in Pete's warm hand. He was stroking it on the outside with his other one.
It was all a dream. She seemed to rally from it as she moved down the aisle. Ghostly faces were smiling at her out of the air on either side, and the choir in the gallery behind the school-girls were singing the psalm, with John the Clerk's husky voice drawling out the first word of each new verse as his companions were singing the last word of the preceding one—
"Thy wife shall be as the fruitful vine upon the walls of thine house; Thy children like the olive branches round about thy table. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be; World without end, A—men."
They were all in the vestry now, standing together in a group. Her mother was wiping her eyes, Pete was laughing, and Nancy Joe was nudging him and saying in an audible whisper, "Kiss her, man—it's only respectable."
The parson was leaning over the table. He spoke to Pete, and then said, "A substantial mark, too. The lady's turn next."
The open book was before her, and the pen was put into her hand. When she laid it down, the parson returned his spectacles to their sheath, and a nervous voice, which thrilled and frightened her, said from behind, "Let me be the first to wish you happiness, Mrs. Quilliam."
It was Philip. She turned towards him, and their eyes met for a moment. But she was only conscious of his prominent nose, his clear-cut chin, his rapid smile like sunshine, disappearing as before a cloud. He said something else—something about a new life and a new beginning—but she could not gather its meaning, her mind would not take it in. At the next moment they were all in the open air.
Philip had been in torment—first the torment of an irresistible hatred of Kate. He knew that this hatred was illogical, that it was monstrous; but it supported his pride, it held him safe above self-contempt in being present at the wedding. When the carriage drew up at the church gate, and he helped Kate to alight, he thought she looked up at him as one who says, "You see, things are not so bad after all!" And when she turned her face to him at the beginning of the service, he thought it wore a look of fierce triumph, of victory, of disdain. But as the ceremony proceeded and he observed her absent-ness, her vacancy, her pathetic imbecility, he began to be oppressed by an awful sense of her consciousness of error. Was she taking this step out of pique? Was she thinking to punish him, forgetting the price she would have to pay? Would she awake to-morrow morning with her vexation and vanity gone, face to face with a hideous future—the worst and most terrible that is possible to any woman—that of being married to one man and loving another?
Faugh! Would his own vanity haunt him even there? Shame, shame! He forced himself to do the duty of a best man. In the vestry he approached the bride and muttered the conventional wishes. His heart was devouring itself like a rapid fire, and it was as much as he could do to look into her piteous eyes and speak. Struggle as he might at that moment, he could not put out of his heart a passionate tenderness. This frightened him, and straightway he resolved to see no more of Kate. He must be fair to her, he must be true to himself. But walking behind her up the path strewn with flowers from the church door to the gate, the gnawings of the worm of buried love came on him again, and he felt like a man who was being dragged through the dirt.
Four saddle-horses, each with its rider seated and ready, had been waiting at the churchyard gate, pawing up the gravel. The instant the bride and bridegroom came out of the church the horses set off for Caesar's house at a furious gallop. Kate and Pete, Caesar, Grannie, and Nancy, with the addition of Philip and Parson Quiggin, returned in the covered carriage.
At the turn of the road the way was blocked by a group of stalwart girls out of the last of the year's cornfields. With the straw rope of the stackyard stretched across, they demanded toll before the carriage would be allowed to pass. Pete, who sat by the door, put his head out and inquired solemnly if the highway women would take their charge in silver or in kind—half-a-crown apiece or a kiss all round. They laughed, and answered that they saw no objection to taking both. Whereupon Pete, whispering behind his hand that the mistress was looking, tossed into the air a paper bag, which rose like a cannon-ball, broke in the air like a shell, and fell over their white sun-bonnets like a shower.
At the door of "The Manx Fairy" the four riders were waiting with smoking horses. The first to arrive had been rewarded already with a bottle of rum. He had one other ancient privilege. As the coach drove up to the door, he stepped up to the bride with the wedding-cake and broke it over her head. Then there was a scramble for the pieces among the girls who gathered round her, that they might take them to bed and dream of a day to come when they should themselves be as proud and happy.
The wedding-breakfast (a wedding-dinner) was laid in the loft of the mill, the chapel of The Christians. Caesar sat at the head of the table, with Grannie on one side and Kate on the other. Pete sat next to Kate, and Philip next to Grannie. The parson sat at the foot with Nancy Joe, a lady of consequence, receiving much consideration, at his reverent right hand. Jonaique Jelly sat midway down the table, with a fine scorn on his features, for John the Clerk sat opposite with a fiddle gripped between his knees.
The neighbours brought in the joints of beef and mutton, the chickens and the ducks. Caesar and the parson carved. Black Tom, who had been invited by way of truce, served out the liquor from an eighteen-gallon cask, and sucked it up himself like the sole of an old shoe. Then Caesar said grace, and the company fell to. Such noise, such sport, such chaff, such laughter! Everything was a jest—every word had wit in it. "How are you doing, John?"—"Haven't done as well for a month, sir; but what's it saying, two hungry meals make the third a glutton."—"How are you doing, Tom?"—"No time to get a right mouthful for myself Caesar; kept so busy with the drink."—"Aw, there'll be some with their top works hampered soon."—"Got plenty, Jonaique?"—"Plenty, sir, plenty. Enough down here to victual a menagerie. It'll be Sunday every day of the week with the man that's getting the lavings."—"Take a taste of this beef before it goes, Mr. Thomas Quilliam, or do you prefer the mutton?"—"I'm not partic'lar, Mr. Cregeen. Ateing's nothing to me but filling a sack that's empty."
Grannie praised the wedding service—it was lovely—it was beautiful—she didn't think the ould parzon could have made the like; but Caesar criticised both church and clergy—couldn't see what for the cross on the pulpit and the petticoat on the parson. "Popery, sir, clane Popery," he whispered across Grannie to Philip.
Away went the shanks of mutton, the breasts of birds, and the slabs of beef, and up came an apple-pudding as round as a well-fed salmon, and as long as a twenty-pound cod. There was a shout of welcome. "None of your dynamite pudding that,—as green as grass and as sour as vinegar."
Kate was called on to make the first cut of the monster. A faint colour had returned to her cheeks since she had come home. She was talking a little, and even laughing sometimes, as if the weight on her heart was lightening every moment. She rose at the call, took, with the hand nearest to the dish, the knife that her father held out, and plunged it into the pudding. As she did so, with all eyes upon her, the wedding-ring on her finger flashed in the light and was seen by everybody.
"Look at that, though," cried Black Tom. "There's the wife for a husband, if you plaze. Ashamed of showing it, is she? Not she, the bogh."
Then there was much giggling among the younger women, and cries of "Aw, the poor girl! Going to church has been making her left-handed!"
"Time enough, my beauties," cried Pete; "and mind you're not struck that way yourselves one of these days."
Away went the dishes, and the parson rose to return thanks.
"Never heard that grace but once before, Parson Quiggin," said Pete, "and then"—lighting his pipe—"then it was a burial sarvice."
"A burial sarvice!"
A dozen voices echoed the words together, and in a moment the table was quiet.
"Yes, though," said Pete. "It was up at Johannesburg. Two chums settled there, and one married a girl. Nice lil thing, too; some of the Boer girls, you know; but not much ballast at her at all. The husband went up country for the Consolidated Co., and when he came back there was trouble. Chum had been sweethearting the wife a bit!"
"Aw, dear!"—"Aw, well, well!"
"Do? The husband? He went after the chum with a repeater, and took him. Bath-chair sort of a chap—no fight in him at all. 'Mercy!' he cries. 'I can't,' says the husband. 'Forgive him this once,' says the wife. 'It's only once a woman loses herself,' says the man. 'Mercy, mercy!' 'Say your prayers.' 'Mercy, mercy, mercy!' 'Too late!' and the husband shot him dead. The woman dropped in a faint, but the man said, 'He didn't say his prayers, though—I must be doing it for him.' Then down he went on his knees by the body, but the prayers were all forgot at him—all but the bit of a grace, so he said that instead."
Loud breathings on every side followed Pete's story, and Caesar, leaning over towards Philip, whose face had grown ashy, said, "Terrible, sir, terrible! But still and for all, right enough, though, eh! What's it saying, Better an enemy than a bad friend."
Philip answered absently; his eyes were on the opposite side of the table. There was a sudden rising of the people about Kate.
"Water, there," shouted Pete. "It's a thundering blockhead I am for sure—frightning the life out of people with stories fit for a funeral."
"No, no," said Kate; "I'm not faint Why should you think so?"
"Of coorse, not, bogh," said Nancy, who was behind her in a twinkling. "White is she? Well, what of it, man? It's only becoming on a girl's wedding-day. Take a lil sup, though, woman—there, there!"
Kate drank the water, with the glass jingling against her teeth, and then began to laugh. The parson's ruddy face rose at the end of the table. "Friends," he said, "after that tragic story, let us indulge in a little vanity. Fill up your glasses to the brim, and drink with me to the health of the happy couple. We all know both of them. We know the bride for a good daughter and a sweet girl—one so naturally pure that nobody can ever say an evil word or think an evil thought when she is near. We know the bridegroom for a real Manxman, simple and rugged and true, who says all he thinks and thinks all he says. God has been very good to them. Such virginal and transparent souls have much to be thankful for. It is not for them to struggle with that worst enemy of man, the enemy that is within, the enemy of bad passions. So we can wish them joy on their union with a full heart and a sure hope that, whatever chance befall them on the ways of this world, they will be happy and content."
"Aw, the beautiful advice," said Grannie, wiping her eyes.
"Popery, just Popery," muttered Caesar. "What about original sin?"
There was a chorus of applause. Kate was still laughing. Philip's head was down.
"And now, friends," continued the parson, "Captain Quilliam has been a successful man abroad, but he has had to come home to do the best piece of work he ever did." (A voice—"Do it yourself, parzon.") "It is true I've never done it myself. Vanity of vanities, love is not for me. It's been the Lord's will to put me here to do the marrying and leave my people to do the loving. But there is a young man present who has all the world before him and everything this life can promise except one thing, and that's the best thing of all—a wife." (Kate's laughter grew boisterous.) "This morning he helped his friend to marry a pure and beautiful maiden. Now let me remind him of the text which says, 'Go thou and do likewise.'"
The toast was drunk standing, with shouts of "Cap'n Pete," and, amid much hammering on the table, stamping on the floor, and other thunderings of applause, Cap'n Pete rolled up to reply. After a moment's pause, in which he distributed sage winks and nods on every side, he said: "I'm not much for public spaking myself. I made my best speech and my shortest in church this morning—I will. The parzon has has been telling my dooiney molla to do as I have done today. He can't. Begging pardon of the ladies, there's only one woman on the island fit for him, and I've got her." (Kate's laughter grew shrill.) "My wife——"
At this word, uttered with an air of life-long familiarity, twenty clay pipes lost their heads by collision with the table, and Pete was interrupted by roars of laughter.
"Gough bless me, can't a married man mention his wife in company? Well then. Mistress Cap'n Peter Quilliam——"
This mouthful was the signal for another riotous interruption, and a general call for more to drink.
"Won't that do for you neither? I'm not going back on it, though. 'Whom God hath joined together let no man put asunder'—isn't that it, Parzon Quiggin? What's it you're saying—no man but the Dempster? Well, the Dempster's here that is to be—I'll clear him of that, anyway."
Kate's laughter became explosive and uncontrollable. Pete nodded sideways to fill up the gap in his eloquence, and then went on. "But if my dooiney molla can't marry my wife, there's one thing he can do for her—he can make her house his home in Ramsey when he goes to Douglas for good and comes down here to the coorts once a fortnight."
Kate laughed more immoderately than ever; but Philip, with a look of alarm, half rose from his seat, and said across the table, "There's my aunt at Ballure, Pete."
"She'll be following after you," said Pete.
"There are hotels enough for travellers," said Philip.
"Too many by half, and that's why I asked in public," said Pete.
"I know the brotherly feeling——" began Philip.
"Is it a promise?" demanded Pete.
"If I can't escape your kindness——"
"No, you can't; so there's an end of it."
"It will kill me yet——"
"May you never die till it polishes you off.".
At Philip's submission to Pete's will, there was a general chorus of cheers, through which Kate's shrill laughter rang like a scream. Pete patted the back of her hand, and continued, "And now, young fellows there, let an ould experienced married man give you a bit of advice—he swore away all his worldly goods this morning, so he hasn't much else to give. I've no belief in bachelors myself. They're like a tub without a handle—nothing to lay hould of them by." (Much nudging and whispering about the bottom of the table.) "What's that down yonder? 'The vicar,' you say? Aw, the vicar's a grand man, but he's only a parzon, you see. Mr. Christian, is it? He's got too much work to do to be thinking about women. We're living on the nineteenth century, boys, and it's middling hard feeding for some of us. If the fishing's going to the dogs and the farming going to the deuce, don't be tossing head over tip at the tail of the tourist. If you've got the pumping engine inside of you, in plain English, if you've got the indomable character of the rael Manxman, do as I done—go foreign. Then watch your opportunity. What's Shake-spar saying?" Pete paused. "What's that he's saying, now?" Pete scratched his forehead. "Something about a flood, anyway." Pete stretched his hand out vigorously. "'Lay hould of it at the flood,' says he, 'that's the way to make your fortune.'"
Then Pete melted to sentiment, glanced down at Kate's head, and continued, "And when you come back to the ould island—and there isn't no place like it—you can marry the girl of your heart, God bless her. Work's black, but money's white, and love is as sweet on potatoes and herrings three times a day, as on nothing for dinner, and the same every night of the week for supper. While you're away, you'll be draming of her. 'Is she faithful?' 'Is she thrue?' Coorse she is, and waiting to take you the very minute you come home." Kate was still laughing as if she could not stop. "Look out for the right sort, boys. Plenty of the like in yet. If the young men of these days are more smart and more educated than their fathers, the young women are more handsome and more virtuous than their mothers. So ben-my-chree, my hearties, and enough in the locker to drive away the divil and the coroner."
Through the volley of cheers which followed Pete's speech came the voice of Black Tom, thick with drink, "Drive off the crow at the wedding-breakfast."
Everybody rose and looked. A great crow, black as night, had come in at the open door of the mill, calmly, sedately, as if by habit, for the corn that usually lay there.
"It manes divorce," said Black Tom.
"Scare it away," cried some one.
"It's the new wife must do it," said another.
"Where's Kate?" cried Nancy.
But Kate only looked and went on laughing as before.
The crow turned tail and took flight of itself at finding so eager an audience. Then Pete said, "Whose houlding with such ould wife's wonders?"
And Caesar answered, "Coorse not, or fairies either. I've slept out all night on Cronk-ny-airy-Lhaa—before my days of grace, I mane—and I never seen no fairies."
"It would be a fool of a fairy, though, that would let you see him, Caesar," said Black Tom.
At nine o'clock Caesar's gig was at the door of "The Manx Fairy" to take the bride and bridegroom home. They had sung "Mylecharane," and "Keerie fu Snaighty," and "Hunting the Wren," and "The Win' that Shook the Barley," and then they had cleared away the tables and danced to the fiddle of John the Clerk and the clarionet of Jonaique Jelly. Kate, with wild eyes and flushed cheeks, had taken part in everything, but always fiercely, violently, almost tempestuously, until people lost enjoyment of her heartiness in fear of her hysteria, and Caesar whispered Pete to take her away, and brought round the gig to hasten them.
Kate went up for her cloak and hat, and in the interval between her departure and reappearance, Grannie and Nancy Joe, both glorified beings, Nancy with her unaccustomed cap askew, stood in the middle of a group of women, who were deferring, and inquiring, and sympathising.
"I don't know in the world how she has kept up so long," said Grannie.
"And dear heart knows how I'm to keep up when she's gone," said Nancy, with her apron to her eyes.
Kate came down ready. Everybody followed her into the road, and all stood round the gig with flashes from the gig-lamps on their faces, while Pete swung her up into the seat, lifting her bodily in his great arms.
"You wouldn't drown yourself to-night for an ould rusty nail, eh, Capt'n?" cried somebody with a laugh.
"You go bail," said Pete, and he leapt up to Kate's side, twiddled the reins, cracked the whip, and they drove away.
Philip had stood at the door of the porch, struggling to command his soul, and employing all his powers to look cheerful and even gay. But as Kate had passed she had looked at him with an imploring look, and then he had seemed to understand everything—that she had made a mistake and that she knew it, that her laughter had been bitterer than tears, that some compulsion had been put upon her, and that she was a wretched and miserable woman. At the next moment she had gone by with an odour of lace and perfume; and then a flood of tenderness, of pity, of mad jealousy had come upon him, and it had been as much as he could do to restrain himself. One instant he held himself in hand, and at the next the wheels of the gig had begun to move, the horse had started, the women had trooped into the house again, and there was nothing before him but the broad back of Caesar, who was looking into the darkness after the vanishing gig-lamps, and breathing asthmatical breath.
"Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother and shall cleave unto his wife," said Caesar. "You're time enough yet, sir; come in, come in."
But the man was odious to Philip at that moment, the house was odious, the people and the talk inside were odious, and he slipped away unobserved.
Too late! From the torment of his own thoughts he could not escape—his lost love, his lost happiness, his memories of the past, his dreams of the future. A voice—it was his own voice—seemed to be taunting him constantly: "You were not worthy of her. You did not know her value. She is gone; and what have you got instead!"
The Deemstership! That was of no consequence now. A name, an idle name! Love was the only thing worth having, and it was lost. Without it all the rest was nothing, and he had flung it away. He had been a monster, he had been a fool. The thought of his folly was insupportable; the recollection of his selfishness was stifling; the memory of his calculating deliberations was dragging him again in the dust. Thus, with a sense of crushing shame, he plunged down the dark road, trying not to think of the gig that had gone swinging along in front of him.
He would leave the island. To-morrow he would sail for England. No matter if he lost the chance of promotion. To-morrow, to-morrow! But to-night? How could he live through the hours until morning, with the black thoughts which the darkness generated? How could he sleep? How lie awake? What drug would bring forgetfulness? Kate! Pete! To-night! Oh, God! oh, God!
Six strides of the horse into the darkness and Kate's hysteria was gone. She had been lost to herself the whole day-through, and now she possessed herself again. She grew quiet and silent, and even solemn. But Pete rattled on with cheerful talk about the day's doings. At the doors of the houses on the road as they passed, people were standing in the half-light to wave them salutations, and Pete sent back his answers in shouts and laughter. Turning the bridge they saw a little group at the porch of the "Ginger."
"There's company waiting for us yonder," said Pete, giving the mare a touch of the whip.
"Let us get on," said Kate in a nervous whisper.
"Aw, let's be neighbourly, you know," said Pete. "It wouldn't be dacent to disappoint people at all. We'll hawl up for a minute just, and hoof up the time at a gallop. Woa, lass, woa, mare, woa, bogh!"
As the gig drew up at the inn door, a voice out of the porch cried, "Joy to you, Capt'n, and joy to your lady, and long life and prosperity to you both, and may the Lord give you children and health and happiness to rear them, and may you see your children's children, and may they call you blessed."
"Glasses round. Mrs. Kelly," shouted Pete.
"Go on, please," said Kate in a fretful whisper, and she tugged at Pete's sleeve.
The stars came out; the moon gave a peep; the late hay of the Curragh sent a sweet odour through the night. Kate shuddered and Pete covered her shoulders with a rug. Then he began to sing snatches. He sang bits of all the songs that had been sung that night, but kept coming back at intervals to an old Manx ditty which begins—
"Little red bird of the black turf ground, Where did you sleep last night?"
Thus he sang like a great boy as he went rolling down the dark road, and Kate sat by his side and trembled.
They came to the town, rattled down the Parliament Street, passed the Court-house under the trees, turned the sharp angle by the market-place, and drew up at Elm Cottage in the corner.
"Home at last," cried Pete, and he leapt to the ground.
A dog began to bark inside the house. "D'ye hear him?" said Pete. "That's the master in charge."
The porch door was opened, and a comfortable-looking woman in a widow's cap came out with a lighted candle shaded by her hand.
"And this is your housekeeper, Mrs. Gorry," said Pete.
Kate did not answer. Her eyes had been fixed in a rigid stare on the hind-quarters of the horse, which were steaming in the light of the lamps. Pete lifted her down as he had lifted her up. Then Mrs. Gorry took her by the hand, and saying, "Mind the step, ma'am—this way, ma'am," led her through the gate and along the garden path, and up to the porch. The porch opened on a square hall, furnished as a sitting-room. A fire was burning, a lamp was lit, the table was laid for supper, and the place was warm and cosy.
"There! What d'ye say to that?" cried Pete, coming behind with the whip in his hand.
Kate looked around; she did not speak; her eyes began to fill.
"Isn't it fit for a Dempster's lady?" said Pete, sweeping the whip-handle round the room like a showman.
Kate could bear no more. She sank into a chair and burst into a fit of tears. Pete's glowing face dropped in an instant.
"Dear heart alive, darling, what is it?" he said. "My poor girl, what's troubling you at all? Tell me, now—tell me, bogh, tell me."
"It's nothing, Pete, nothing. Don't ask me," said Kate. But still she sobbed as if her heart would break.
Pete stood a moment by her side, smoothing her arm with his hand. Then he said, with a crack and a quaver in his great voice, "It is hard for a girl, I know that, to lave father and mother and every one and everything that's been sweet and dear to her since she was a child, and to come to the house of her husband and say, 'The past has been very good to me; but still and for all, I'm for trusting the future to you.' It's hard, darling; I know it's hard."
"Oh, leave me! leave me!" cried Kate, still weeping.
Pete brushed his sleeve across his eyes, and said, "Take her upstairs, Mrs. Gorry, while I'm putting up the mare at the 'Saddle.'"
Then he whistled to the dog, which had been watching him from the hearthrug, and went out of the house. The handle of the whip dragged after him along the floor.
Mrs. Gorry, full of trouble, took Kate to her room. Would she not eat her supper? Then salts were good for headache-should she bring a bottle from her box? After many fruitless inquiries and nervous protestations, the good soul bade Kate good-night and left her.
Being alone, Kate broke into yet wilder paroxysms of weeping. The storm-cloud which had been gathering had burst at last. It seemed as if the whole weight of the day had been deferred until then. The piled-up hopes of weeks had waited for that hour, to be cast down in the sight of her own eyes. It was all over. The fight with Fate was done, and the frantic merriment with which she had kept down her sense of the place where the blind struggle had left her made the sick recoil more bitter.
She thought of Philip, and her trouble began to moderate. Somewhere out of the uncrushed part of her womanhood there came one flicker of womanly pride to comfort her. She saw Philip at last from the point of revenge. He loved her; he would never cease to love her. Do what he might to banish the thought of her, she would be with him always; the more surely with him, the more reproachfully and unattainably, because she would be the wife of another man. If he could put her away from him in the daytime, and in the presence of those worldly aims for which he had sacrificed her, when night came he would be able to put her away no more. He would never sleep but he would see her. In every dream he would stretch out his arms to her, but she would not be there, and he would awake with sobs and in torment. There was a real joy in this thought, although it tore her heart so terribly.
She got strength from the cruel comforting, and Mrs. Gorry in the room below, listening intently, heard her crying cease. With her face still shut in both her hands, she was telling herself that she had nothing to reproach herself with; that she could not have acted differently; that she had not really made this marriage; that she had only submitted to it, being swept along by the pitiless tide, which was her father, and Pete, and everybody. She was telling herself, too, that, after all, she had done well. Here she lay in close harbour from the fierce storm which had threatened her. She was safe, she was at peace.
The room lay still. The night was very quiet within those walls. Kate drew down her hands and looked about her. The fire was burning gently, and warming her foot on the sheepskin rug that lay in front of it. A lamp burned low on a table behind her chair. At one side there was a wardrobe of the shape of an old press, but with a tall mirror in the door; on the other side there was the bed, with the pink curtains hanging like a tent. The place had a strange look of familiarity. It seemed as if she had known it all her life. She rose to look around, and then the inner sense leapt to the outer vision, and she saw how it was. The room was a reproduction of her own bedroom at home, only newer and more luxurious. It was almost as if some ghost of herself had been there while she slept—as if her own hand had done everything in a dream of her girlhood wherein common things had become grand.
Kate's eyes began to fill afresh, and she turned to take off her cloak. As she did so, she saw something on the dressing-table with a label attached to it. She took it up. It was a little mirror, a handglass like her own old one, only framed in ivory, and the writing on the label ran—
Insted of The one that is bruk with fond Luv to Kirry.
Her heart was now beating furiously. A flood of feeling had rushed over her. She dropped the glass as if it stung her fingers. With both hands she covered her face. Everything in the room seemed to be accusing her. Hitherto she had thought only of Philip. Now for the first time she thought of Pete.
She had wronged him—deeply, awfully, beyond atonement or hope of forgiveness. He loved her; he had married her; he had brought her to his home, to this harbour of safety, and she had deceived and betrayed him—she had suffered herself to be married to him while still loving another man.
A sudden faintness seized her. She grew dizzy and almost fell. A more terrible memory had come behind. The thought was like ravens flapping their black wings on her brain. She felt her temples beating against her hands. They seemed to be sucking the life out of her heart.
Just then the voice of Pete came beating up the echoes between the house and the chapel beyond the garden—
"Little red bird of the black turf ground, Where did you sleep last night?"
She heard him open the garden gate, clash it back, come up the path with an eager step, shut the door of the house and chain it on the inside. Then she heard his deep voice speaking below.
"Better now, Mrs. Gorry?"
"Aw, better, sir, yes, and quiet enough this ten minutes."
"Give her time, the bogh! Be aisy with the like, be aisy."
Presently she heard him send off Mrs. Gorry for the night, saying he should want no supper, and should be going to bed soon. Then the house became quiet, and the smell of tobacco smoke came floating up the stairs.
Kate's hot breath on her hands grew damp against her face. She felt herself swooning, and she caught hold of the mantelpiece.
"It cannot be," she thought. "He must not come. I will go down to him and say, 'Pete, forgive me, I am really the wife of another.'"
Then she would tell him everything. Yes, she would confess all now. Oh, she would not be afraid. His love was great. He would do what she wished.
She made one step towards the door, and was pulled up as by a curb. Pete would say, "Do you mean that you have been using me as a cloak? Do you ask me to live in this house, side by side with you, and let no one suspect that we are apart? Then why did you not ask me yesterday? Why do you ask me to-day, when it is too late to choose?"
No, she could not confess. If confession had been difficult yesterday, it was a thousand times more difficult to-day, and it would be a thousand thousand times more difficult tomorrow.
Kate caught up the cloak she had thrown aside. She must go away. Anywhere, anywhere, no matter where. That was the one thing left to her—the only escape from the wild tangle of dread and pain. Pete was in the hall; there must be a way out at the back; she would find it.
She lowered the lamp, and turned the handle of the door. Then she saw a light moving on the landing, and heard a soft step on the stairs. It was Pete, with a candle, coming up in his stockinged feet. He stopped midway, as if he heard the click of the latch, and then went noiselessly down again.
Kate closed the door. She would not go. If she left the house that night she would cover Pete with suspicion and disgrace. The true secret would never be known; the real offender would never suffer; but the finger of scorn would be raised at the one man who had sheltered and shielded her, and he would die of humiliation and blind self-reproach.
This reflection restrained her for the moment, and when the stress of it was spent she was mastered by a fear that was far more terrible. For good or for all she was now married to Pete, and he had the rights of a husband. He had a right to come to her, and he would come. It was inevitable; it had to be. No boy or girl love now, no wooing, no dallying, no denying, but a grim reality of life—a reality that comes to every woman who is married to a man. She was married to Pete. In the eye of the world, in the eye of the law, she was his, and to fly from him was impossible.
She must remain. God himself had willed it As for the shame of her former relation to Philip, it was her own secret. God alone knew of it, and He would keep it safe. It was the dark chamber of her heart which God only could unlock. He would never unlock it until the Day of Judgment, and then Philip would be standing by her side, and she would cast it back upon him, and say, "His, not mine, O God," and the Great Judge of all would judge between them.
But she began to cry again, like a child in the dark. As she threw off her cloak a second time, her dress crinkled, and she looked down at it and remembered that it was her wedding-dress. Then she looked around at the room, and remembered that it was her wedding chamber. She remembered how she had dreamt of coming in her bridal dress to her bridal room—proud, afraid, tingling with love, blushing with joy, whispering to herself, "This is for me—and this—and this. He has given it, for he loves me and I love him, and he is mine and I am his, and he is my love and my lord, and he is coming to—"
There was a gentle knocking at the door. It made her flesh creep. The knock came again. It went shrieking through and through her.
"Kirry," whispered a voice from without.
She did not stir.
"It's only Pete."
She neither spoke nor moved.
There was silence for a moment, and then, half nervously, half jovially, half in laughter, half with emotion as if the heart outside was palpitating, the voice came again, "I'm coming in, darling!"
PART IV. MAN AND WIFE.
Next morning Kate said to herself, "My life must begin again from to-day." She had a secret that Pete did not share, but she was not the first woman who had kept something from her husband. When people had secrets which it would hurt others to reveal, they ought to keep them close. Honour demanded that she should be as firm as a rock in blotting Philip from her soul. Remembering the promise which Pete had demanded of Philip at the wedding to make their house his home in Ramsey, and seeing that Philip must come, if only to save appearances, she asked herself if she ought to prevent him. But no! She resolved to conquer the passion that made his presence a danger. There was no safety in separation. In her relation to Philip she was like the convict who is beginning his life again—the only place where he can build up a sure career is precisely there where his crime is known. "Let Philip come," she thought. She made his room ready.
She was married. It was her duty to be a good wife. Pete loved her—his love would make it easy. They were sitting at breakfast in the hall-parlour, and she said, "I should like to be my own housekeeper, Pete."
"And right, too," said Pete. "Be your own woman, darling—not your woman's woman—and have Mrs. Gorry for your housemaid."
To turn her mind from evil thoughts, she set to work immediately, and busied herself with little duties, little economies, little cares, little troubles. But the virtues of housekeeping were just those for which she had not prepared herself. Her first leg of mutton was roasted down to the proportions of a frizzled shank, and her first pudding was baked to the colour and consistency of a badly burnt brick. She did not mend rapidly as a cook, but Pete ate of all that his faultless teeth could grind through, and laid the blame on his appetite when his digestion failed.
She strove by other industries to keep alive a sense of her duty as a wife. Buying rolls of paper at the paperhanger's, she set about papering every closet in the house. The patterns did not join and the paste did not adhere. She initialled in worsted the new blankets sent by Grannie, with a P and a Q and a K intertwined. Than she overhauled the linen; turned out every room twice a week; painted every available wooden fixture with paint which would not dry because she had mixed it herself to save a sixpence a stone and forgotten the turpentine. Pete held up his hands in admiration at all her failures. She had thought it would be easy to be a good wife to a good husband. It was hard—hard for any one, hardest of all for her. There are the ruins of a happy woman in the bosom of every over-indulged wife.
She could not keep to anything long, but every night for a week she gave Pete lessons in reading, writing, and arithmetic. His reading was laborious, his spelling was eccentric, his figuring he did on the tips of his heavy fingers, and his writing he executed with his tongue in his cheek and his ponderous thumb down on the pen nib.
"What letter is that, Pete?" she said, pointing with her knitting needle to the page of a book of poems before them.
Pete looked up in astonishment. "Is it me you're asking, Kitty? If you don't know, I don't know."
"That's a capital M, Pete."
"Is it, now?" said Pete, looking at the letter with a searching eye. "Goodness me, the straight it's like the gate of the long meadow."
"And that's a capital A."
"Sakes alive, the straight it's like the coupling of the cart-house."
"And that's a B."
"Gough bless me, d'ye say so? But the straight it's like the hoof of a bull, though."
"And M A B spells Mab—Queen Mab," said Kate, going on with her knitting.
Pete looked up at her with eyes wide open. "I suppose, now," he said, in a voice of pride, "I suppose you're knowing all the big spells yourself, Kitty?"
"Not all. Sometimes I have to look in the dictionary," said Kate.
She showed him the book and explained its uses.
"And is it taiching you to spell every word, Kitty?" he asked.
"Every ordinary word," said Kate.
"My gough!" said Pete, touching the book with awe.
Next day he pored over the dictionary for an hour, but when he raised his face it wore a look of scepticism and scorn. "This spelling-book isn't taiching you nothing, darling," he said.
"Isn't it. Pete?"
"No, nothing," said Pete. "Here I've been looking for an ordinary word—a very ordinary word—and it isn't in."
"What word is it?" said Elate, leaning over his shoulder.
"Love," said Pete. "See," pointing his big forefinger, "that's where it ought to be, and where is it?"
"But love begins lo," said Kate, "and you're looking at lu. Here it is—love."
Pete gave a prolonged whistle, then fell back in his chair, looked slowly up and said, "So you must first know how the word begins; is that it, Kitty?"
"Why, yes," said Kate.
"Then it's you that's taiching the spelling-book, darling; so we'll put it back on the shelf."
For a fortnight Kate read and replied to Pete's correspondence. It was plentiful and various. Letters from heirs to lost fortunes offering shares in return for money to buy them out of Chancery; from promoters of companies proposing dancing palaces to meet the needs of English visitors; from parsons begging subscriptions to new organs; from fashionable ladies asking Pete to open bazaars; from preachers inviting him to anniversary tea-meetings, and saying Methodism was proud of him. If anybody wanted money, he kissed the Blarney Stone and applied to Pete. Kate stood between him and the worst of the leeches. The best of them he contrived to deal with himself, secretly and surreptitiously. Sometimes there came acknowledgments of charities of which Kate knew nothing. Then he would shuffle them away and she would try not to see them. "If I stop him altogether, I will spoil him," she thought.
One day the post brought a large envelope with a great seal at the back of it, and Kate drew out a parchment deed and began to read the indorsement—"'Memorandum of loan to Caesar Cre——-'"
"That's nothing," said Pete, snatching the document and stuffing it into his jacket-pocket.
Kate lifted her eyes with a look of pain and shame and humiliation, and that was the end of her secretaryship.
A month after their marriage a man came through the gate with the air of one who was doing a degrading thing. The dog, which had been spread out lazily in the sun before the porch, leapt up and barked furiously.
"Who's this coming up the path with his eyes all round him like a scallop?" said Pete.
Kate looked. "It's Ross Christian," she said, with a catch in her breathing.
Ross came up, and Pete met him at the door. His face was puffy and pale, his speech was soft and lisping, yet there lurked about the man an air of levity and irony.
"Your dog doesn't easily make friends, Peter," he said.
"He's like his master, sir; it's against the principles of his life," said Pete.
Ross laughed a little. "Wants to be approached with consideration, does he, Capt'n?"
"You see, he's lived such a long time in the world and seen such a dale," said Pete.
Ross looked up sharply and said in another tone, "I've just dropped in to congratulate you on your return home in safety and health and prosperity, Mr. Quilliam."
"You're welcome, sir," said Pete.
Pete led the way indoors. Ross followed, bowed distantly to Kate, who was unpicking a dress, and took a chair.
"I must not conceal from you, however, that I have another object—in fact, a private matter," said Ross, glancing at Kate.
The dress rustled in Kate's fingers, her scissors dropped on to the table, and she rose to go.
Pete raised his hand. "My wife knows all my business," he said.
Ross gave out another little chirp of laughter. "You'll remember what they say of a secret, Captain—too big for one, right for two, tight for three."
"A man and his wife are one, sir—so that's two altogether," said Pete.
Kate took up the scissors and went on with her work uneasily. Ross twisted on his seat and said, "Well, I feel I must tell you, Peter."
"Quilliam, sir," said Pete, charging a pipe; but Ross pretended not to hear.
"Only natural, perhaps, for it—in fact, it's about our father."
"Tongue with me, tongue with thee," thought Pete, lighting up.
"Five years ago he made me an allowance, and sent me up to London to study law. He believes I've been called to the English bar, and, in view of this vacant Deemstership, he wants me admitted to the Manx one."
Pete's pipe stopped in its puffing. "Well?"
"That's impossible," said Ross.
"Things haven't come with you, eh?"
"To tell you the truth, Captain, on first going up I fell into extravagant company. I thought my friends were rich men, and I was never a niggard. There was Monty, the patron of the Fancy"—the scissors in Kate's hand clicked and stopped—and Ross blurted out, "In fact, I've not been called, and I've never studied at all."
Ross squirmed in his chair, glancing under his brows at Kate. Pete leaned forward and puffed up the chimney without speaking.
"You see I speak freely, Peter—something compels me. Well, if a man can't reveal his little failings to his own brother, Peter——"
"Don't let's talk about brothers," said Pete. "What am I to do for you?"
"Lend me enough to help me to do what our father thinks I've done already," said Ross, and then he added, hastily, "Oh, I'll give you my note of hand for it."
"They're telling me, sir," said Pete, "your notes of hand are as cheap as cowries."
"Some one has belied me to you, Captain. But for our father's sake—he has set his heart on this Deemstership—there may still be time for it."
"Yes," said Pete, striking his open hand on the table, "and better men to fill it."
Ross glanced at Kate, and a smile that was half a sneer crossed his evil face. "How nice," he said, "when the great friends of the wife are also the great friends of the husband."
"Just so," said Pete, and then Ross laughed a little, and the clicking of Kate's scissors stopped again. "As to you, sir," said Pete, rising, "if it's no disrespect, you're like the cormorant that chokes itself swallowing its fish head-ways up. The gills are sticking in your gizzard, sir, only," touching Ross's shoulder with something between a pat and push, "you shouldn't be coming to your father's son to help you to ram it down."
As Ross went out Caesar came in. "That wastrel's been wanting something," said Caesar.
"The tide's down on him," said Pete.
"Always was, and always will be. He was born at low water, and he'll die on the rocks. Borrowing money, eh?" said Caesar, with a searching glance.
"Trying to," said Pete indifferently.
"Then lend it, sir," said Caesar promptly. "He's not to trust, but lend it on his heirship. Or lend it the ould man at mortgage on Ballawhaine. He's the besom of fire—it'll come to you, sir, at the father's death, and who has more right?"
The shank of Pete's pipe came down from his mouth as he sat for some moments beating out the ash on the jockey bar. "Something in that, though," he said mechanically. "But there's another has first claim for all. He'd be having the place now if every one had his own. I must be thinking of it—I must be thinking of it."
Philip had left the island on the morning after the marriage. He had gone abroad, and when they heard from him first he was at Cairo. The voyage out had done him good—the long, steady nights going down the Mediterranean—walking the deck alone—the soft air—the far-off lights—thought he was feeling better—calmer anyway. He hoped they were settled in their new home, and well—and happy. Kate had to read the letter aloud. It was like a throb of Philip's heart made faint, feeble, and hardly to be felt by the great distance. Then she had to reply to it on behalf of Pete.