In the midst of this agony of uncertainty, thinking of Pete and of the wrong she had done him, yet pressing the child to her breast with trembling arms, as if some one were tearing it away, the babe itself settled everything. Making some inarticulate whimper of communication, it nuzzled up to her, its eyes closed, but its head working against her bosom with the instinct of suckling, though it had never sucked.
"I'm only half a mother, after all," she thought.
The highest joys, the deepest rights of motherhood had been denied to her—the child taking from the mother, the mother giving to the child, the child and the mother one—: this had not been hers.
"My little baby can live without me," she thought. "If I leave her, she will never miss me."
She nearly broke down at that thought, and almost let her purpose slip. It was like God's punishment in advance, God's hand directing her—thus to withdraw the child from dependence on herself.
"Yes, I must leave her with Pete," she thought.
She put the child back into the cradle, half dressed as it was, and rocked it until it slept again. Then she hung over the tiny bed as a mother hangs over the little coffin that is soon to be shut up from her eyes for ever. Her tears rained down on the small counterpane. "My sweet baby I my little Katherine! I may never kiss you again—never see you any more'—you may grow up to be a woman and know nothing of your mother!"
The clock ticked loud in the quiet room—it was twenty-five minutes past seven.
"One kiss more, my little darling. If they ever tell you... they'll say because your mother left you... Oh, will she think I did not love her? Hush!"
Through the walls of the house there came the sound of a band playing at a distance. She looked at the clock again—it was nearly half-past seven. Almost at the same moment there was the rumble of carriage-wheels on the road. They stopped in the lane that ran between the chapel and the end of the garden.
Kate rose from her knees and opened the door softly. The house had been as a dungeon to her, and she was flying from it like a prisoner escaping. A shrill whistle pierced the air. The Peveril was leaving the quay. Through the streets there was a sound as of water running over stones. It was the scuttling of the feet of the townspeople as they ran to meet the procession.
She stepped out. The garden was dark and quiet as a prison yard; Hardly a leaf stirred, but the moon was breaking through the old fir-tree as she lifted her troubled face to the untroubled sky. She stood and listened. The band was coming nearer. She could hear the thud of the big drum.
Boom! Boom! Boom!
Pete was there. He was helping at Philip's triumph. That was the beat of his great heart made audible.
At this her own heart stopped for a moment. She grew chill at the thought of the brave man who asked no better lot than to love and cherish her, and at the memory of the other upon whose mercy she had cast herself. The band stopped. There was a noise like the breaking of a mighty rocket in the sky. The people were cheering and clapping hands. Then a clearer sound struck her ear. It was the clock inside the house chiming the half-hour.
Nancy would be back soon.
Kate listened intently, inclining her head inwards. If the child had awakened at that instant, if it had stirred and cried, she must have gone back for good. She returned for one moment and flung herself over the cradle again. One spasm more of lingering tenderness. "Good-bye, my little one! I am leaving you with him, darling, because he loves you dearly. You will grow up and be a good, good girl to him always. Good-bye, my pet! My precious, my precious! You will reward him for all he has done for me. You are half of myself, dearest—the innocent half. Yes, you will wipe out your mother's sin. You will be all he thinks I am, but never have been. Farewell, my sweet Katherine, my little, darling baby—good-bye—farewell—good-bye!"
She leapt up and fled out of the house at last, on tiptoe, like a thief, pulling the door after her.
When she heard the click of the lock she felt both wretchedness and exultation—immense agony and immense relief. If little Katherine were to cry now, she could not return to her. The door was closed, the house was shut, the prison was left behind. And behind her, too, were the treachery, the duplicity, and deceit of ten stifling months.
She hurried through the garden to a side-door in the wall leading to the lane. The path was like a wave of the sea to her stumbling feet. Her breathing was short, her sight was weak, her temples were beating audibly. Half across the garden something touched her dress, and she made a faint scream. It was Pete's dog, Dempster. He was looking up at her out of the darkness of the bushes. By the light through the blind of the house she could see his bat's ears and watchful eyes.
Boom! Boom! Boom!
The band had begun again. It was coming nearer. Philip! Philip! He was her only refuge now. All else was a blank.
The side-door had been little used. Its hinges and bolt were rusty and stiff. She broke her nails in opening it. From the other side came the light jingle of a curb chain, and over the wall hovered a white sheet of smoking light.
The carriage was in the lane, and the driver—Philip's servant, Jem-y-Lord—stood with the door open. Kate stumbled on the step and fell into the seat. The door was closed.
Then a new thought smote her. It was about the child, about Philip, about Pete. In leaving the little one behind her, though she had meant it so unselfishly, she had done the one thing that must be big with consequences. It would bring its penalty, its punishment, its retribution. Stop! She would go back even yet. Her face was against the glass; she was struggling with the strap. But the carriage was moving. She heard the rumble of the wheels; it was like a deafening reverberation from the day of doom. Then her senses dwaled away and the carriage drove on.
Outside Ballure House there was a crowd which covered the garden, the fence, the high-road, and the top of the stone wall opposite. The band had ceased to play, and the people were shouting, clapping hands, and cheering. At the door—which was open—Philip stood bareheaded, and a shaft of the light in the house behind him lit up a hundred of the eager faces gathered in the darkness. He raised his hand for silence, but it was long before he was allowed to speak. Salutations rugged, rough—almost rude—but hearty to the point of homeliness, and affectionate to the length of familiarity, flew at his head from every side. "Good luck to you, boy!"—"Bravo for Ramsey!"—"The Christians for your life!"—"A chip of the ould block—Dempster Christian the Sixth!"—"Hush, man, he's spaking!"—"Go it, Phil!"—"Give it fits, boy!"—"Hush! hush!"
"Fellow-townsmen," said Philip—his voice swung like a quivering bell over a sea,—"you can never know how much your welcome has moved me. I cannot say whether in my heart of hearts I am more proud of it or more ashamed. To be ashamed of it altogether would dishonour you, and to be too proud of it would dishonour me, I am not worthy of your faith and good-fellowship. Ah!"—he raised his hand to check a murmur of dissent (the crowd was now hushed from end to end)—"let me utter the thought of all. In honouring me you are thinking of others also ('No,' 'Yes'); you are thinking of my people—above all, of one who was laid under the willows yonder, a wrecked, a broken, a disappointed man—my father, God rest him! I will not conceal it from you—his memory has been my guide, his failures have been my lightship, his hopes my beacon, his love my star. For good or for evil, my anchor has been in the depths of his grave. God forbid that I should have lived too long under the grasp of a dead hand. It was my aim to regain what he had lost, and this day has witnessed its partial reclamation. God grant I may not have paid too dear for such success."
There were cries of "No, sir, no."
He smiled faintly and shook his head. "Fellow-countrymen, you believe I am worthy of the name I bear. There is one among you, an old comrade, a tried and trusted friend, whose faith would be a spur if it were not a reproach——"
His voice was breaking, but still it pealed over the sea of heads. "Well, I will try to do my duty—from this hour onwards you shall see me try. Fellow-Manxmen, you will help me for the honour of the place I fill, for the sake of our little island, and—yes, and for my own sake also, I know you will—to be a good man and an upright judge. But"—he faltered, his voice could barely support itself—"but if it should ever appear that your confidence has been misplaced—if in the time to come I should seem to be unworthy of this honour, untrue to the oath I took to-day to do God's justice between man and man, a wrongdoer, not a righter of the wronged, a whited sepulchre where you looked for a tower of refuge—remember, I pray of you, my countrymen, remember, much as you may be suffering then, there will be one who will be suffering more—that one will be myself."
The general impression that night was that the Deemster's speech had not been a proper one. Breaking up with some damp efforts at the earlier enthusiasm, the people complained that they were like men who had come for a jig and were sent home in a wet blanket. There should have been a joke or two, a hearty word of congratulation, a little natural glorification of Ramsey, and a quiet slap at Douglas and Peel and Castletown, a few fireworks, a rip-rap or two, and some general illumination. "But sakes alive! the solemn the young Dempster was! And the melancholy! And the mystarious!"
"Chut!" said Pete. "There's such a dale of comic in you, boys. Wonder in the world to me you're not kidnapped for pantaloonses. Go home for all and wipe your eyes, and remember the words he's been spaking. I'm not going to forget them myself, anyway."
Handing over the big drum to little Jonaique, Pete turned to go into the house. Auntie Nan was in the hall, hopping like a canary about Philip, in a brown silk dress that rustled like withered ferns, hugging him, drawing him down to the level of her face, and kissing him on the forehead. The tears were raining over the autumn sunshine of her wrinkled cheeks, and her voice was cracking between a laugh and a cry.
"My boy! My dear boy! My boy's boy! My own boy's own boy!"
Philip freed himself at length, and went upstairs without turning his head, and then Auntie Nan saw Pete standing in the doorway.
"Is it you, Pete?" she said with an effort. "Won't you come in for a moment? No?"
"A minute only, then—just to wish you joy, Miss Christian, ma'am," said Pete.
"And you, too, Peter. Ah!" she said, with a bird-like turn of the head, "you must be a proud man to-night, Pete."
"Proud isn't the word for it, ma'am—I'm clane beside myself."
"He took a fancy to you when you were only a little barefooted boy, Pete."
"So he did, ma'am."
"And now that he's Deemster itself he owns you still."
"Aw, lave him alone for that, ma'am."
"Did you hear what he said about you in his speech. It isn't everybody in his place would have done that before all, Pete."
"'Deed no, ma'am."
"He's true to his friends, whatever they are."
"True as steel."
The maid was carrying the dishes into the dining-room, and Auntie Nan said in a strained way, "You won't stay to dinner, Pete, will you? Perhaps you want to get home to the mistress. Well, home is best for all of us, isn't it? Martha, I'll tell the Deemster myself that dinner is on the table. Well, good-night, Peter. I'm always so glad to see you."
She was whisking about to go upstairs, but Pete had taken one step into the dining-room, and was gazing round with looks of awe.
"Lord alive, Miss Christian, ma'am, what feelings now-barefooted boy, you say? You're right there, and cold and hungry too, sleeping in the gable-house with the cow, and not getting much but the milk I was staling from her, and a leathering at the ould man for that. Philip fetched me in here one evenin'—that was the start, ma'am. See that pepper-and-salt egg on the string there? It's a Tommy Noddy's. Philip got it nesting up Gob-ny-Garvain. Nearly cost him his life, though. You see, ma'am, Tommy Noddy has only one, and she fights like mad for it. We were up forty fathom and better, atop of a cave, and had two straight rocks below us in the sea, same as an elephant's hoofs, you know, walking out on the blue floor. And Phil was having his lil hand on the ledge where the egg was keeping, when swoop came the big white wings atop of his bare head. If I hadn't had a stick that day, ma'am, it would have been heaven help the pair of us. The next minute Tommy Noddy was going splash down the cliffs, all feathers and blood together, or Philip wouldn't have lived to be Dempster.... Aw, frightened you, have I, ma'am, for all it's so long ago? The heart's a quare thing, now, isn't it? Got no yesterday nor to-morrow neither. Well, good-night, ma'am." Pete was making for the door, when he looked down and said, "What's this, at all? Down, Dempster, down!"
The dog had came trotting into the hall as Pete was going out. He was perking up his big ears and wagging his stump of a tail in front of him.
"My dog, ma'am? Yes, ma'am, and like its master in some ways. Not much of itself at all, but it has the blood in it, though, and maybe it'll come out better in the next generation. Looking for me, are you, Dempster? Let's be taking the road, then."
"Perhaps you're wanted at home, Pete?"
"Wouldn't trust. Good night, ma'am." Auntie Nan hopped upstairs in her rustling dress, relieved and glad in the sweet selfishness of her love to get rid of Pete and have Philip to herself.
Pete went off whistling in the darkness, with the dog driving ahead of him. "I'm to blame, though," he thought. "Should have gone home directly."
The town was now quiet, the streets were deserted, and Pete began to run. "She'd be alone, too. That must have been Nancy in the crowd yonder by Mistress Beatty's. 'Lowed her out to see the do, it's like. Ought to be back now, though."
As Pete came near to Elm Cottage, the moon over the tree-tops lit up the panes of the upper windows as with a score of bright lamps. One step more, and the house was dark.
"She'll be waiting for me. Listening, too, I'll go bail."
He was at the gate by this time, and the dog was panting at his feet with its nose close to the lattice.
"Be quiet, dog, be quiet."
Then he raised the latch without a sound, stepped in on tiptoe, and closed the gate as silently behind him.
"I'll have a game with her; I'll take her by surprise."
His eyes began to dance with mischief, like a child's, and he crept along the path with big cat strides, half doubled up, and holding his breath, lest he should laugh aloud.
"The sweet creatures! A man shouldn't frighten them, though," he thought.
When he reached the porch he went down on all fours, and began mewing like a mournful tom-cat near to the bottom of the door. Then he listened with his ear to the jamb. He expected a faint cry of alarm, the raucous voice of Nancy Joe, and the clatter of feet towards the porch. There was not a sound.
"She's upstairs," he thought, and stepped back to look up at the front of the house. There was no light in the rooms above.
"I know what it is. Nancy is not home yet, and Kirry's fallen asleep at the rocking."
He stole up to the window and tried to look into the hall, but the blind was down, and he could not see much through the narrow openings at the sides of it.
"She's sleeping, that's it. The house was quiet and she dropped off, rocking the lil one, that's all."
He scraped a handful of the light gravel and flung a little of it at the window. "That'll remind her of something," he thought, and he laughed under his breath.
Then he listened again with his ear at the sill. There was no noise within. He flung more gravel and waited, thinking he might catch her breathing, but he could hear nothing.
Then rising hurriedly and throwing off his playfulness, he strode to the door and tried to open it. The door was locked. He returned to the window.
"Kate!" he called softly. "Kate! Are you there? Do you hear me? It's Pete. Don't be frightened, Kate, bogh!"
There was no response. He could hear the beat of the sea on the shore. The dog had perched himself on one end of the window sill and was beginning to whine.
"What's this at all? She can't be out. Couldn't take the child anyway. Where's that Nancy? What right had the woman to lave her? She has fainted, being left alone; that's what's going doing."
He tried to open the window, but the latch was shot. Then he tried the other windows, and the back door, and the window above the hall, which he reached from the roof of the porch; but they would not stir. When he returned to the hall window, the white blind was darker. The lamp inside the room was going out.
The moonlight was dripping down on him through the leaves of the trees. He found some matches beside his pipe in his side pocket, struck one, and looked at the sash, then took out his clasp knife to remove the pane under the latch. His hand trembled and shook and burst through the glass with a jerk. It cut his wrist, but he felt the wound no more than if it had been the glass instead of his arm that bled. He thrust his hand through, shot back the latch, then pushed up the sash, and clambered into the room past the blind. The cat, sitting on the ledge inside, rubbed against his hand and purred.
"Kirry! Kate!" he whispered.
The lamp had given up its last gleam with the puff of wind from the window, and, save for the slumbering fire, all was dark within the house. He hardly dared to drop to his feet for fear of treading on something. When he was at last in the middle of the floor he stood with legs apart, struck another match, held the light above his head, and looked down and around, like a man in a cave.
There was nothing. The child, awakened by the draught of the night air, began to cry from the cradle. He took it up and hushed it with baby words of tenderness in a breaking voice. "Hush, bogh, hush! Mammie will come to it, then. Mammie will come for all."
He lit a candle and crept through the house, carrying the light about with him. There was no sign anywhere until he came to the bedroom, when he saw that the hat and cloak of Kate's daily wear had gone. Then he knew that he was a broken-hearted man. With a cry of desolation he stopped in his search and came heavily downstairs.
He had been warding off the moment of despair, but he could do so no longer now. The empty house and the child, the child and the empty house; these allowed of only one interpretation. "She's gone, bogh, she's left us; she wasn't willing to stay with us, God forgive her!"
Sitting on a stool with the little one on his knees, he sobbed while the child cried—two children crying together. Suddenly he leapt up. "I'm not for believing it," he thought. "What woman alive could do the like of it? There isn't a mother breathing that hasn't more bowels. And she used to love the lil one, and me too—and does, and does."
He saw how it was. She was ill, distraught, perhaps even—God help her I—perhaps even mad. Such things happened to women after childbirth—the doctor himself had said as much. In the toils of her bodily trouble, beset by mental terrors, she had fled away from her baby, her husband, and her home, pursued by God knows what phantoms of disease. But she would get better, she would come back.
"Hush, bogh, hush, then," he whimpered tenderly. "Mammie will come home again. Still and for all she'll come back."
There was the click of a key in the lock, and he crept back to the stool. Nancy came in, panting and perspiring.
"Dear heart alive! what a race I've had to get home," she said, puffing the air of the night.
She was throwing off her bonnet and shawl, and talking before looking round.
"Such pushing and scrooging, you never seen the like, Kirry. Aw, my best Sunday bonnet, only wore at me once, look at the crunched it is! But what d'ye think now? Poor Christian Killip's baby is dead for all. Died in the middle of the rejoicings. Aw, dear, yes, and the band going by playing 'The Conquering Hero' the very minute. Poor thing! she was distracted, and no wonder. I ran round to put a sight on the poor soul, and——why, what's going wrong with the lamp, at all? Is that yourself on the stool, Kirry? Pete, is it? Then where's the mistress?"
She plucked up the poker, and dug the fire into a blaze. "What's doing on you, man? You've skinned your knuckles like potato peel. Man, man, what for are you crying, at all?"
Then Pete said in a thick croak, "Hould your bull of a tongue, Nancy, and take the child out of my arms."
She took the baby from him, and he rose to his feet as feeble as an old man.
"Lord save us!" she cried. "The window broke, too. What's happened?"
"Nothing," growled Pete.
"Then what's coming of Kirry? I left her at home when I went out at seven.".
"I'm choking with thirst, woman. Can't you be giving a man a drink of something?"
He found a dish of milk on the table, where the supper had been laid, and he gulped it down at a mouthful.
"She's gone—that's what it is. I see it in your face." Then going to the foot of the stairs, she called, "Kirry! Kate! Katherine Cregeen!"
"Stop that!" shouted Pete, and he drew her back from the stairs.
"Why aren't you spaking, then?" she cried. "If you're man enough to bear the truth, I'm woman enough to hear it."
"Listen to me, Nancy," said Pete, with uplifted fist. "I'm going out for an hour, and till I'm back, stay you here with the child, and say nothing to nobody."
"I knew it!" cried Nancy. "That's what she hurried me out for. Aw, dear! Aw, dear! What for did you lave her with that man this morning?"
"Do you hear me, woman?" said Pete; "say nothing to nobody. My heart's lying heavy enough already. Open your lips, and you'll kill me straight."
Then he went out of the house, staggering, stumbling, bent almost double. His hat lay on the floor; he had gone bareheaded.
He turned towards Sulby. "She's there," he thought "Where else should she be? The poor, wandering lamb wants home."
The bar-room of "The Manx Fairy" was full of gossips 'that night, and the puffing of many pipes was suspended at a story that Mr. Jelly was telling.
"Strange enough, I'm thinking. 'Deed, but it's mortal strange. Talk about tale-books—there's nothing in the 'Pilgrim's Progress' itself to equal it. The son of one son coming home Dempster, with processions and bands of music, at the very minute the son of the other son is getting kicked out of the house same as a dog."
"Strange uncommon," said John the Widow, and other voices echoed him.
Jonaique looked round the room, expecting some one to question him. As nobody did so, except with looks of inquiry, he said, "My ould man heard it all. He's been tailor at the big house since the time of Iron Christian himself."
"Truth enough," said Caesar.
"And he was sewing a suit for the big man in the kitchen when the bad work was going doing upstairs."
"You don't say!"
"'You've robbed me!' says the Ballawhaine."
"Dear heart alive!" cried Grannie. "To his own son, was it?"
"'You've cheated me!' says he, 'you deceaved me, you've embezzled my money and broke my heart!' says he. 'I've spent a fortune on you, and what have you brought me back?' says he. 'This,' says he, 'and this—and this—barefaced forgeries, all of them!' says he."
"The Lord help us!" muttered Caesar.
"'They're calling me a miser, aren't they?' says he. 'I grind my people to the dust, do I? What for, then? Whom for? I've been a good father to you, anyway, and a fool, too, if nobody knows it!' says he."
"Nobody! Did he say nobody, Mr. Jelly?" said Caesar, screwing up his mouth.
"'If you'd had my father to deal with,' says he, 'he'd have turned you out long ago for a liar and a thief.' 'My God, father,' says Ross, struck silly for the minute. 'A thief, d'ye hear me?' says the Ballawhaine; 'a thief that's taken every penny I have in the world, and left me a ruined man.'"
"Did he say that?" said Caesar.
"He did, though," said Jonaique. "The ould man was listening from the kitchen-stairs, and young Ross snaked out of the house same as a cur."
"And where's he gone to?" said Caesar.
"Gone to the devil, I'm thinking," said Jonaique.
"Well, he'd be good enough for him with a broken back—pity the ould man didn't break it," said Caesar. "But where is the wastrel now?"
"Gone to England over with to-night's packet, they're saying."
"Praise God, from whom all blessings flow," said Caesar.
A grunt came out of the corner from behind a cloud of smoke. "You've your own rasons for saying so, Caesar," said the husky voice of Black Tom. "People were talking and talking one while there that he'd be 'bezzling somebody's daughter, as well as the ould miser's money."
"Answer a fool according to his folly," muttered Caesar; and then the door jerked open, and Pete came staggering into the room. Every pipe shank was lowered in an instant, and Grannie's needles ceased to click.
Pete was still bareheaded, his face was ghastly white, and his eyes wandered, but he tried to bear himself as if nothing had happened. Smiling horribly, and nodding all round, as a man does sometimes in battle the moment the bullet strikes him, he turned to Grannie and moved his lips a little as if he thought he was saying something, though he uttered no sound. After that he took out his pipe, and rammed it with his forefinger, then picked a spill from the table, and stooped to the fire for a light.
"Anybody—belonging—me—here?" he said, in a voice like a crow's, coughing as he spoke, the flame dancing over the pipe mouth.
"No, Pete, no," said Grannie. "Who were you looking for, at all?"
"Nobody," he answered. "Nobody partic'lar. Aw, no," he said, and he puffed until his lips quacked, though the pipe gave out no smoke. "Just come in to get fire to my pipe. Must be going now. So long, boys! S'long! Bye-bye, Grannie!"
No one answered him. He nodded round the room again and smiled fearfully, crossed to the door with a jaunty roll, and thus launched out of the house with a pretence of unconcern, the dead pipe hanging upside down in his mouth, and his head aside, as if his hat had been tilted rakishly on his uncovered hair.
When he had gone the company looked into each other's faces in surprise and fear, as if a ghost in broad daylight had passed among them. Then Black Tom broke the silence.
"Men," said he, "that was a d——— lie."
"Si———" began Caesar, but the protest foundered in his dry throat.
"Something going doing in Ramsey," Black Tom continued. "I believe in my heart I'll follow him."
"I'll be going along with you, Mr. Quilliam," said Jonaique.
"And I," said John the Clerk.
"And I"—"And I," said the others, and in half a minute the room was empty.
"Father," whimpered Grannie, through the glass partition, "hadn't you better saddle the mare and see if any thing's going wrong with Kirry?"
"I was thinking the same myself, mother."
"Come, then, away with you. The Lord have mercy on all of us!"
As soon as he was out of earshot Pete began to run. Within half an hour he was back at Elm Cottage. "She'll be home by this time," he told himself, but he dared not learn the truth too suddenly. Creeping up to the hall window, he listened at the broken pane. The child was crying, and Nancy Joe was talking to herself, and sobbing as she bathed the little one.
"Bless its precious heart, it's as beautiful as the angels in heaven. I've bathed her mother on the same knee a hundred times. 'Deed have I, and a thousand times too. Mother, indeed! What sort of mothers are in now at all? She must have a heart-as hard as a stone to lave the like of it. Can't be a drop of nature in her.... Goodness, Nancy, what are saying for all? Kate is it? Your own little Kirry, and you blackening her! Aw, dear!—aw, dear! The bogh!—the bogh!"
Pete could not go in. He crept back to the cabin in the garden and leaned against it to draw his breath and think. Then he noticed that the dog was on the path with its long tongue hanging over its jaw. It stopped its panting to whine woefully, and then it turned towards the darker part of the garden.
"He's telling me something," thought Pete.
A car rattled down the side road at that moment, and the light of its lamp shot through the bushes to his feet.
"The ould gate must be open," he thought.
He looked and saw that it was, and then a new light dawned on him.
"She's gone up to Philip's," he told himself. "She's gone by Claughbane to Ballure to find me."
Five minutes afterwards he was knocking at Ballure House. His breath was coming in gusts, perspiration was standing in beads on his face, and his head was still bare, but he was carrying himself bravely as if nothing were amiss. His knock was answered by the maid, a tall girl of cheerful expression, in a black frock, a white apron, and a snow-white cap. Pete nodded and smiled at her.
"Anybody been here for me? No?" he asked.
"No, sir, n—o, I think not," the girl answered, and as she looked at Pete her face straightened.
There was a rustling within as of autumn leaves, and then a twittering voice cried, "Is it Capt'n Quilliam, Martha?"
Some whispered conference took place at the dining-room door, and Auntie Nan came hopping through the hall. But Pete was already moving away in the darkness.
"Shall I call the Deemster, Peter?"
"Aw, no, ma'am, no, not worth bothering him. Good everin', Miss Christian, ma'am, good everin' to you."
Auntie Nan and Martha were standing in the light at the open door when the iron gate of the garden swung to with a click, and Pete swung across the road.
He was making for the lane which goes down to the shore at the foot of Ballure Glen. "No denying it," he thought. "It must be true for all. The trouble in her head has driven her to it. Poor girl, poor darling!"
He had been fighting against an awful idea, and the quagmire of despair had risen to his throat at last. The moon was behind the cliffs, and he groped his way through the shadows at the foot of the rocks like one who looks for something which he dreads to find. He found nothing, and his catchy breathing lengthened to sighs.
"Thank God, not here, anyway!" he muttered.
Then he walked down the shore towards the harbour. The tide was still high, the wash of the waves touched his feet; on the one hand the dark sea, unbroken by a light, on the other the dull town blinking out and dropping asleep.
He reached the end of the stone pier at the mouth of the harbour, and with his back to the seaward side of the lighthouse he stared down into the grey water that surged and moaned under the rounded wall. A black cloud like a skate was floating across the moon, and a startled gannet scuttled from under the pier steps into the moon's misty waterway. There was nothing else to be seen.
He turned back towards the town, following the line of the quay, and glancing down into the harbour when he came to the steps. Still he saw nothing of the thing he looked for. "But it was high water then, and now it's the ebby tide," he told himself.
He had met with nobody on the shore or on the pier, but as he passed the sheds in front of the berth for the steamers he was joined by the harbour-master, who was swinging home for the night, with his coat across his arm. Then he tried to ask the question that was slipping off his tongue, but dared not, and only stammered awkwardly——
"Any news to-night, Mr. Quay le?"
"Is it yourself, Capt'n? If you've none, I've none. It's independent young rovers like you for newses, not poor ould chaps tied to the harbour-post same as a ship's cable. I was hearing you, though. You'd a power of music in the everin' yonder. Fine doings up at Ballure, seemingly."
"Nothing fresh with yourself then, Daniel? No?"
"Except that I am middling sick of these late sailings, and the sooner they're building us a breakwater the better. If the young Deemster will get that for us, he'll do."
They were nearing a lamp at the corner of the marketplace.
"It's like you know the young Ballawhaine crossed with the boat to-night? Something wrong, with the ould man, they're telling me. But boy, veen, what's come of your hat at all?"
"My hat?" said Pete, groping about his head. "Oh, my hat? Blown off on the pier, of coorse."
"'Deed, man! Not much wind either. You'll be for home and the young wife, eh, Capt'n?"
"Must be," said Pete, with an empty laugh. And the harbour-master, who was a bachelor, laughed more heartily, and added——
"You married men are like Adam, you've lost the rib of your liberty, but you've got a warm little woman to your side instead."
"Ha! ha! ha! Goodnight!"
Pete's laugh echoed through the empty market-place.
The harbour-master had seen nothing. Pete drew a long breath, followed the line of the harbour as far as to the bridge at the end of it, and then turned back through the town. He had forgotten again that he was bareheaded, and he walked down Parliament Street with a tremendous step and the air of a man to whom nothing unusual had occurred. People were standing in groups at the corner of every side street, talking eagerly, with the low hissing sound that women make when they are discussing secrets. So absorbed were they that Pete passed some of them unobserved. He caught snatches of their conversation.
"The rascal," said one.
"Clane ruined the ould man, anyway," said another.
"Ross Christian again," thought Pete. But a greater secret swamped everything. Still he heard the people as he passed.
"Sarve her right, though, whatever she gets—she knew what he was."
"Laving the child, too, the unfeeling creature."
Then the sharp voices of the women fell on the dull consciousness of Pete like forks of lightning.
"Whisht, woman! the husband himself," said somebody.
There was a noise of feet like the plash of retiring waves, and Pete noticed that one of the groups had broken into a half circle, facing him as he strode along the street. He nodded cheerfully over both sides, threw back his bare head, and plodded on. But his teeth were set hard, and his breathing was quick and audible.
"I see what they mane," he muttered.
Outside his own house he found a crowd. A saddle-horse, with a cloud of steam rising from her, was standing with the reins over its head, linked to the gate-post. It was Caesar's mare, Molly. Every eye was on the house, and no one saw Pete as he came up behind.
"Black Tom's saying there's not a doubt of it," said a woman.
"Gone with the young Ballawhaine, eh?" said a man.
"Shame on her, the hussy," said another woman.
Pete ploughed his way through with both arms, smiling and nodding furiously. "If you, plaze, ma'am I If you plaze."
As he pushed on he heard voices behind him. "Poor man, he doesn't know yet."—"I'm taking pity to look at him."
The house-door was open. On the threshold stood a young man with long hair and a long note-book. He was putting questions. "Last seen at seven o'clock—left alone with child—husband out with procession—any other information?"
Nancy Joe, with the child on her lap, was answering querulously from the stool before the fire, and Caesar, face down, was leaning on the mantelpiece.
Pete took in the situation at a glance. Then he laid his big hand on the young man's shoulder and swung him aside as if he had been turning a swivel.
"What going doing?" he asked.
The young man faltered something. Sorry to intrude—Capt'n Quilliam's trouble.
"What trouble?" said Pete.
"Need I say—the lamented—I mean distressing—in fact, the mysterious disappearance——"
"What disappearance?" said Pete, with an air of amazement.
"Can it be, sir, that you've not yet heard——"
"Heard what? Your tongue's like a turnip-watch in a fob pocket—out with it, man."
"Your wife, Captain——"
"What? My wife disa—— What? So this is the jeel! My wife mysteriously disappear—— Oh, my gough!"
Pete burst into a peal of laughter. He shouted, roared, held his sides, doubled, rocked up and down, and at length flung himself into a chair, threw back his head, heaved out his legs, and shook till the house itself seemed to quake.
"Well, that's good! that's rich! that bates all!" he cried.
The child awoke on Nancy's knee and sent its thin pipe through Pete's terrific bass. Caesar opened his mouth and gaped, and the young man, now white and afraid, scraped and backed himself to the door, saying—
"Then perhaps it's not true, after all, Capt'n?"
"Of coorse it's not true," said Pete.
"Maybe you know where she's gone."
"Of course I know where's she's gone. I sent her there myself!"
"You did, though?" said Caesar.
"Yes, did I—to England by the night sailing."
"'Deed, man!" said Caesar.
"The doctor ordered it. You heard him yourself, grandfather."
"Well, that's true, too," said Caesar.
The young man closed his long note-book and backed into a throng of women who had come up to the porch. "Of course, if you say so, Capt'n Quilliam——"
"I do say so," shouted Pete; and the reporter disappeared.
The voices of two women came from the gulf of white faces wherein the reporter had been swallowed up. "I'm right glad it's lies they've been telling of her, Capt'n," said the first.
"Of coorse you are, Mistress Kinnish," shouted Pete.
"I could never have believed the like of the same woman, and I always knew the child was brought up by hand," said the other.
"Coorse you couldn't, Mistress Kewley," Pete replied.
But he swung up and kicked the door to in their faces. The strangers being shut out, Caesar said cautiously—
"Do you mane that, Peter?"
"Molly's smoking at the gate like a brewer's vat, father," said Pete.
"The half hasn't been told you, Peter. Listen to me. It's only proper you should hear it. When you were away at Kim-berley this Ross Christian was bothering the girl terrible."
"She'll be getting cold so long out of the stable," said Pete.
"I rebuked him myself, sir, and he smote me on the brow. Look! Here's the mark of his hand over my temple, and I'll be carrying it to my grave."
"Ross Christian! Ross Christian!" muttered Pete impatiently.
"By the Lord's restraining grace, sir, I refrained myself—but if Mr. Philip hadn't been there that night—I'm not hould-ing with violence, no, resist not evil—but Mr. Philip fought the loose liver with his fist for me; he chastised him, sir; he—"
"D———the man!" cried Pete, leaping to his feet. "What's he to me or my wife either?"
Caesar went home huffed, angry, and unsatisfied. And then, all being gone and the long strain over, Pete snatched the puling child out of Nancy's arms, and kissed it and wept over it.
"Give her to me, the bogh," he cried, hoarse as a raven, and then sat on the stool before the fire, and rocked the little one and himself together. "If I hadn't something innocent to lay hould of I should be going mad, that I should. Oh, Katherine bogh! Katherine bogh! My little bogh! My I'll bogh millish!"
In the deep hours of the night, after Nancy had grumbled and sobbed herself to sleep by the side of the child, Pete got up from the sofa in the parlour and stole out of the house again.
"She may come up with the morning tide," he told himself. "If she does, what matter about a lie, God forgive me? God help me, what matter about anything?"
If she did not, he would stick to his story, so that when she came back, wherever she had been, she would come home as an honest woman.
"And will be, too," he thought. "Yes, will be, too, spite of all their dirty tongues—as sure as the Lord's in heaven."
The dog trotted on in front of him as he turned up towards Ballure.
Philip had not eaten much that night at dinner. He had pecked at the wing of a fowl, been restless, absent, preoccupied, and like a man struggling for composure. At intervals he had listened as for a step or a voice, then recovered himself and laughed a little.
Auntie Nan had explained his uneasiness on grounds of natural excitement after the doings of the great day. She had loaded his plate with good things, and chirruped away under the light of the lamp.
"So sweet of you, Philip, not to forget Pete amid all your success. He's really such a good soul. It would break his heart if you neglected him. Simple as a child, certainly, and of course quite uneducated, but——"
"Pete is fit to be the friend of any one, Auntie."
"The friend, yes, but you'll allow not exactly the companion——"
"If he is simple, it is the simplicity of a nature too large for little things."
"The dear fellow! He's not a bit jealous of you, Philip."
"Such feelings are far below him, Auntie."
"He's your first cousin after all, Philip. There's no denying that. As he says, the blood of the Christians is in him."
The conversation took a turn. Auntie Nan fell to talking of the other Peter, uncle Peter Christian of Ballawhaine. This was the day of the big man's humiliation. The son he had doted on was disgraced. She tried, but could not help it; she struggled, but could not resist the impulse—in her secret heart the tender little soul rejoiced.
"Such a pity," she sighed. "So touching when a father—no matter how selfish—is wrecked by love of a thankless son. I'm sorry, indeed I am. But I warned him six years ago. Didn't I, now?"
Philip was far away. He was seeing visions of Pete going home, the deserted house, the empty cradle, the desolate man alone and heart-broken.
They rose from the table and went into the little parlour, Auntie Nan on Philip's arm, proud and happy. She fluttered down to the piano and sang, to cheer him up a little, an old song in a quavering old voice.
"Of the wandering falcon The cuckoo complains, He has torn her warm nest, He has scattered her young."
Suddenly Philip got up stiffly, and said in a husky whisper, "Isn't that his voice?"
"In the hall."
"I hear nobody. Let me look. No, Pete's not here. But how pale you are, Philip. What's amiss?"
"Nothing," said Philip. "I only thought——"
"Take some wine, dear, or some brandy. You've overtired yourself to-day, and no wonder. You must have a long, long rest to-night."
"Yes I'll go to bed at once."
"So soon! Well, perhaps it's best. You want sleep: your eyes show that. Martha! Is everything ready in the Deemster's room? All but the lamp? Take it up, Martha. Philip, you'll drink a little brandy and water first? I'll carry it to your room then; you might need it in the night. Go before me, dear. Yes, yes, you must. Do you think I want you to see how old I am when I'm going upstairs? Ah! I hadn't to climb by the banisters this way when I came first to Bal-lure."
On reaching the landing, Philip was turning to his old room, the bedroom he had occupied from his boyhood up, the bedroom of his mother's father, old Capt'n Billy.
"Not that way to-night, Philip. This way—there! What do you say to that?"
She pushed open the door of the room opposite, and the glow of the fire within rushed out on them.
"My father's room," said Philip, and he stepped back.
"Oh, I've aired it, and it's not a bit the worse for being so long shut up. See, it's like toast Oo—oo—oo! Not the least sign of my breath. Come!"
"No, Auntie, no."
"Are you afraid of ghosts? There's only one ghost lives here, Philip, the memory of your dear father, and that will never harm you."
"But this place is too sacred. No one has slept here since——"
"That's why, dearest. But now you have justified your father's hopes, and it must be your room for the future. Ah! if he could only see you himself, how proud he would be! Poor father! Perhaps he does. Who knows—perhaps—kiss me, Philip. See what an old silly I am, after all. So happy that I have to cry. But mind now, you've got to sleep in this room every time you come to hold court in Ramsey. I refuse to share you with Elm Cottage any longer. Talk about jealousy! If Pete isn't jealous, I know somebody who is—or soon will be. But Philip—Philip Christian——"
The sweet old face grew solemn. "The greatest man has his cares and doubts and divisions. That's only natural—out in the open field of life. But don't be ashamed to come here whenever you are in trouble. It's what home is for, Philip. Just a place of peace and shelter from the rough world, when it wounds and hurts you. A quiet spot, dear, with memories of father and mother and innocent childhood—and with an old goose of an auntie, maybe, who thinks of you all day and every day, and is so vain and foolish—and—and who loves you. Philip, better than anybody in the World."
Philip's arms were about the old soul, but he had not heard her. With a terrified glance towards the window, he was saying in a low quick voice, "Isn't that a footstep on the gravel?"
"N—o, no! You're nervous to-night, Philip. Lie and rest. When you're asleep, I'll creep back and look at you."
She left him, and he looked around. Not in all the world could Philip have found a spot so full of terrors. It was like a sepulchre of dead things—his dead father, his dead mother, his dead youth, his dead innocence, his slaughtered friendship, and his outraged conscience.
Over the fireplace hung a portrait of his mother. It was the picture of a comely girl, young and soft, with full ripe lips and bright brown eyes. Philip shuddered as he looked at it. The portrait was like the ghost of himself looking through the veil of a woman's face.
Facing this, and hanging over the side of the bed, was a portrait of his father. The eyes were full of light, the lines of the cheek were round; the mouth seemed to quiver with a tender smile. But Philip could not see it as it was. He saw it with straggling hair, damp and long as reeds, the cheeks pallid and drawn, the eyes like lamps in a mist, the throat bare of the shirt, and the lips kept apart by laboured breathing.
Near the window stood the cot where he had once slept with Pete, and leaped up in the morning and laughed. On every hand, wherever his eye could rest, there rose a phantom of his lost and buried life. And Auntie Nannie's love and pride had brought him to this chamber of torture!
The night was calm enough outside; but it seemed to lie dead within that room, so quiet was it and so still. There was a clock, but it did not go; and there was a cage for a bird, but no bird pecked in it, Philip thought he heard a knocking at the door of the house. Nobody answered it, so he rang for the maid. She came upstairs with a smile.
"Didn't you hear a knock at the front door, Martha?"
"No, sir," said the girl.
"Strange! Very strange! I could have sworn it was the knock of Mr. Quilliam."
"Perhaps it was, sir. Ill go and look."
"No matter. I've a singing in my ears to-night. It must be that."
The girl left him. He threw off his boots and began to creep about the room as if he were doing something in which he feared detection. Every time his eyes fell on the portrait of his father he dropped his head and turned aside. Presently he heard voices in the room below. This time the sound in his ears was no dreaming. He opened the door noiselessly and listened. It was Pete. Martha was answering him. Auntie Nan was calling from the dining-room, and Pete was saying "No, no," in a light way and moving off. The gate of the garden clicked and the front door was closed quietly. Then Philip shut the door of his own room without a sound.
A moment later Auntie Nan re-opened it. She was carrying a lighted candle.
"Such an extraordinary thing, Philip. Martha says you thought you heard Peter knocking, and, do you know, he must have been coming up the hill at that very moment. He was so strange, too, and looked so wild. Asked if anybody had been here inquiring for him; as if anybody should. Wouldn't have me call to you, and went off laughing about nothing. Really, if I hadn't known him for a sober man——"
Philip felt sick-and chill, and-he began to shiver. An irresistible impulse took hold of him. It was like the half-smothered fear which makes guilty men go to sit at the inquests on their murdered victims.
"Something wrong," he said. "Where are my boots?"
"Going to Elm Cottage, Philip? Pity the coachman drove back to Douglas. Hadn't you better send Martha? Besides, it may be only my fancy. Why worry in any case? You're too tender-hearted—indeed you are."
Philip fled downstairs like one who flies from torture. While dragging on his coat in the hall, he began to foresee what was before him. He was to go to Pete, pretending to know nothing; he was to hear Pete's story, and show surprise; he was to comfort Pete—perhaps to help him in his search, for he dared not appear not to help—he was to walk by Pete's side, looking for what he knew they should not find. He saw himself crawling along the streets like a snake, and the part he had to play revolted him. He went upstairs again.
"On second thoughts, you must be right, auntie."
"I'm sure I am."
"If not, he'll come again."
"I'm sure he will."
"If there's anything amiss with Pete, he'll come first to me."
"There can be nothing amiss except what I say. Just a glass too much maybe and no great sin either, considering the day, and how proud he is, for your sake, Philip. I believe in my heart that young man couldn't be prouder and happier if he stood in your own shoes instead."
"Good-night, Auntie," said Philip, in a thick gurgle.
"Good-night, dear. I'm going to bed, and mind you go yourself."
Being alone, Philip found himself leaning against the mantelpiece and looking across at his father's picture. He began to contrast his father with himself. He was a success, his father had been a failure. At seven-and-twenty he was Deemster at all events; at thirty his father had died a broken man. He had got what he had worked for; he had recovered the place of his people; and yet how mean a man he was compared to him who had done nothing and lost all.
Failure was all that his father had had to reproach himself with; but he had to accuse himself of dishonour as well. His father's offence had been a fault; his own was a crime. If his father had been willing to betray love and friendship, he might have succeeded. Because he himself had been true to neither, he had not failed. The very excess of his father's virtues had kept him down. Every act of his own selfishness had pushed him up. His father had thought first of love and truth and an upright life, and last of money and rank and applause. The world had renounced his father because his father had first renounced the world. But it had opened its arms to him, and followed him with shouts and cheers, and loaded him with honours. And yet, miserable man, better be down in the ooze and slime of a broken life, better be dead and in the grave—for the dead in his grave must despise him.
An awful picture rose before Philip. It was a picture of himself in the time to come. An old man—great, powerful, perhaps even beloved, maybe worshipped, but heart-dead, tottering on to the grave, and the mockery of a gorgeous funeral, with crowds and drums and solemn music. Then suddenly a great silence, as if the snow had begun to fall, and a great white light, and an awful voice crying, "Who is this that comes with dust for a bleeding heart, and ashes for a living soul?"
Philip screamed aloud at the vision, as piece by piece he put it together. His cry died off with a tingle in the china ornaments of the mantelpiece, and he remembered where he was. Then two gentle taps came to the door of his room. He composed himself a little, snatched up a book, and cried "Come in!"
It was Auntie Nan. She was in her night-dress and night-cap. A candle was in her hand, and the flame was shaking.
"Whatever's to do, my child?" she said.
"Only reading aloud, Auntie. Did I awaken you?"
"But you screamed, Philip."
"Macbeth, Auntie. See, the banquet scene. He has become king, you know, but his conscience——"
He stopped. The little lady looked at him dubiously and made a pull at the string of her night-cap, causing it to fall aside and give a grotesque appearance to her troubled old face.
"Take a little brandy, dear. I left it here on the dressing-table."
"Don't trouble about me, Auntie. Good-night again. There! go back to bed."
Half coaxing, half forcing her, he drew her to the door, and she went out slowly, reluctantly, doubtfully, the wandering strings of her cap trailing on her shoulders, and her bare feet nipping up the bottom of the night-dress behind her.
Philip looked at the book he had snatched up in his haste. What had put that book of all books into his hand? What had brought him to that room of all rooms? And on that night of all nights? What devil out of hell had tempted Auntie Nan to torture him? He would not stay; he would go back to his own bed.
Out on the landing he heard a low voice. It came from Auntie Nan's room. A spear of candle-light shot from her door, which was ajar. He paused and looked in. The white night-dress was by the bedside, the night-cap was buried in the counterpane. A cat had established itself beside it, and was purring softly. Auntie Nan was on her knees. Philip heard his own name——
"God bless my Philip in the great place to which he has been called this day. Give him wisdom and strength and peace!"
Holy woman, with angels hovering over you, who dared to think of devils tempting your innocence and love?
Philip went back to his father's room. He began to reconcile himself to his position. Though he had been extolling his father at his own expense, what had he done but realise his father's hopes. And, after all, he could not have acted differently. At no point could he have behaved otherwise than he had. What had he to accuse himself for? If there had been sin, he had been dragged into it by blind powers which he could not command. And what was true of himself was also true of Kate.
Ah! he could see her now. She was gone where he had sent her. There were tears in her beautiful eyes, but time would wipe them away. The duplicity of her old life was over; the corroding deceit, the daily torment, the hourly infidelity—all were left behind. If there was remorse, it was the fault of destiny; and if she was suffering the pangs of shame, she was a woman, and she would bear it cheerfully for the sake of the man she loved. She was going through everything for him. Heaven bless her! In spite of man and man's law, she was his love, his darling, his wife—yes, his wife—by right of nature and of God; and, come what would, he should cling to her to the last.
Suddenly a thick voice cut through the still air of the night.
It was Pete at last He was calling up at the window from the path below. Philip groaned and covered his face with his hands.
With rigid steps Philip walked to the window and threw up the sash. It was starlight, and the branches were bending in the night air.
"Is it you, Pete?"
"Yes, it's me. I was seeing the lamp, so I knew you war'n in bed at all. Studdying a bit, it's like, eh? I thought I wouldn't waken the house, but just shout up and tell you."
"What is it, Pete?" said Philip. His voice shivered like a sail at tacking.
"Nothing much at all. Only the wife's gone to England over by the night's steamer."
"Aw, time for it too, I'm thinking; the wake and narvous she's been lately. You remember what the doctor was saying yonder everin,' when we christened the child? 'Send her out of the island,' says he, 'and she'll be coming home another woman.' Wasn't for going, though. Crying and shouting she wouldn't be laving the lil one. So I had to put out a bit of authority. Of course, a husband's got the right to do that, Philip, eh? Well, I'll be taking the road again. Doing a fine night, isn't it? Make's a man unwilling to go to bed."
Philip trembled and felt sick. He tried to speak, but could utter nothing except an inarticulate noise. As Pete went off, an owl screeched in the glen. Philip drew down the sash, pulled the blind, tugged the curtains across, stumbled into the middle of the floor, and leaned against the bed.
"Such is the beginning of the end," he thought.
The duplicity, the deceit, the daily torment which Kate had left behind, were henceforward to be his own! At one flash, as of lightning, he saw the path before him. It was over cliffs and chasms and quagmires, where his foot might slip at any step.
His head began to reel. He took the brandy bottle from the dressing-table, poured out half a tumbler, and drained it at one draught. As he did so, his eyes above the rim of the glass rested on the portrait of his mother over the fireplace. The face as he saw it then was no longer the face of the winsome bride. It was the living face as he remembered it—bleared, bloated, gross, and drunken. She smiled on him, she beckoned to him.
It was the beginning of the end indeed. He was his mother's son as well as his father's. The father had ruled down to that day, but it was the turn of the mother now. He could not resist her. She was alive in his blood, and he was hers.
Never before had he touched raw spirits, and the brandy mastered him instantly. Feeling dizzy, he made an effort to undress and get into bed. He dragged off his coat and his waistcoat, and threw his braces over his shoulders. Then he stumbled, and he had to lay hold of the bedpost. His hand grew chill and relaxed its hold. Stupor came over him. He slipped, he slid, he fell, and rolled with outstretched arms on to the floor. The fire went out and the lamp died down.
Then the sun came up over the sea. It was a beautiful morning. The town awoke; people hailed each other cheerfully in the streets, and joy-bells rang from the big church tower for the first court-day of the new Deemster. But the Deemster himself still lay on the floor, with damp forehead and matted hair, behind the blind of the darkened room.
PART V. MAN AND MAN.
It was Saturday, and the market-place was covered with the carts and stalls of the country people. After some feint of eating breakfast, Pete lit his pipe, called for a basket, and announced his intention of doing the marketing.
"Coming for the mistress, are you, Capt'n?"
"I'm a sort of a grass-widow, ma'am. What's your eggs to-day, Mistress Cowley?"
"Sixteen this morning, sir, and right ones too. They were telling me you've been losing her."
"Give me a shilling's worth, then. Any news over your side, Mag?"
"Two—four—eight—sixteen—it's every appearance we'll be getting a early harvest, Capt'n."
"Is it yourself, Liza? And how's your butter to-day?"
"Bad to bate to-day, sir, and only thirteen pence ha'penny. Is the lil one longing for the mistress, Capt'n?"
"I'll take a couple of pounds, then. What for longing at all when it's going bringing up by hand it is? Put it in a cabbage leaf, Liza."
Thus, with his basket on his arm and his pipe in his mouth, Pete passed from stall to stall, chatting, laughing, bargaining, buying, shouting his salutations over the general hum and hubbub, as he ploughed his way through the crowd, but listening intently watching eagerly, casting out grapples to catch the anchor he had lost, and feeling all the time that if any eye showed sign of knowledge, if any one began with "Capt'n, I can tell you where she is," he must leap on the man like a tiger, and strangle the revelation in his throat.
Next day, Sunday, his friends from Sulby came to quiz and to question. He was lounging in his shirt-sleeves on a deck-chair in his ship's cabin, smoking a long pipe, and pretending to be at ease and at peace with all the world.
"Fine morning, Capt'n," said John the Clerk.
"It is doing a fine morning, John," said Pete.
"Fine on the sea, too," said Jonaique.
"Wonderful fine on the sea, Mr. Jelly."
"A nice fair wind, though, if anybody was going by the packet to Liverpool. Was it as good, think you, for the mistress on Friday night, Mr. Quilliam?"
"I'll gallantee," said Pete.
"Plucky, though—I wouldn't have thought it of the same woman—I wouldn't raelly," said Jonaique.
"Alone, too, and landing on the other side so early in the morning," said John the Clerk.
"Smart, uncommon! It isn't every woman would have done it," said Kelly the Postman.
"Aw, we've mighty boys of women deese days—we have dough," snuffled the constable, and then they all laughed together.
Pete watched their wheedling, fawning, and whisking of the tail, and then he said, "Chut! What's there so wonderful about a woman going by herself to Liverpool when she's got somebody waiting at the stage to meet her?"
The laughing faces lengthened suddenly. "And had she, then," said John the Clerk.
Pete puffed furiously, rolled in his seat, laughed like a man with a mouth full of water, and said, "Why, sartenly—my uncle, of coorse."
Jonaique wrinkled his forehead. "Uncle," he said, with a click in his throat.
"Yes, my Uncle Joe," said Pete.
Jonaique looked helplessly across at John the Clerk. John the Clerk puckered up his mouth as if about to whistle, and then said, in a faltering way, "Well, I can't really say I've ever heard tell of your Uncle Joe before, Capt'n."
"No?" said Pete, with a look of astonishment. "Not my Uncle Joseph? The one that left the island forty years ago and started in the coach and cab line? Well, that's curious. Where's he living? Bless me, where's this it is, now? Chut! it's clane forgot at me. But I saw him myself coming home from Kimberley, and since then he's been writing constant. 'Send her across,' says he; 'she'll be her own woman again like winking.' And you never heard tell of him? Not Uncle Joey with the bald head? Well, well! A smart ould man, though. Man alive, the lively he is, too, and the laughable, and the good company. To look at that man's face you'd say the sun was shining reg'lar. Aw, it's fine times she'll be having with Uncle Joe. No woman could be ill with yonder ould man about. He'd break your face with laughing if it was bursting itself with a squinsey. And you never heard tell of my Uncle Joe, of Scotland Road, down Clarence Dock way? To think of that now!"
They went off with looks of perplexity, and Pete turned into the house. "They're trying to catch me; they're wanting to shame my poor lil Kirry. I must keep her name sweet," he thought.
The church bells had begun to ring, and he was telling himself that, heavy though his heart might be, he must behave as usual.
"She'll be going walking to church herself this morning, Nancy," he said, putting on his coat, "so I'll just slip across to chapel."
He was swinging up the path on his return home to dinner, when he heard voices inside the house.
"It's shocking to see the man bittending this and bittending that." It was Nancy; she was laying the table; there was a rattle of knives and forks. "Bittending to ate, but only pecking like a robin; bittending to sleep, but never a wink on the night; bittending to laugh and to joke and wink, and a face at him like a ghose's, and his hair all through-others. Walking about from river to quay, and going on with all that rubbish—it's shocking, ma'am, it's shocking!"
"Hush-a-bye, hush-a-bye!" It was the voice of Grannie, low and quavery; she was rocking the cradle.
"You can't spake to him neither but he's scolding you scandalous. 'I'm not used of being cursed at,' I'm saying, 'and is it myself that has to be tould to respect my own Kitty?' But cry shame on her I must when I look at the lil bogh there, and it so helpless and so beautiful. 'Stericks, you say? Yes, indeed, ma'am, and if I stay here much longer, it's losing myself I will be, too, with his bittending and bittending."
"Lave him to it, Nancy. His poor head's that moidered and mixed it's like a black pudding—there's no saying what's inside of it. But he's good, though; aw, right good he is for all, and the world's cold and cruel. Lave him alone, woman; lave him alone, poor boy."
The child awoke and cried, and, under cover of this commotion and the crowing and cooing of the two women, Pete stepped back to the gate, clashed it hard, swung noisily up the gravel, and rolled into the house with a shout and a laugh.
"Well, well! Grannie, my gough! Who'd have thought of seeing Grannie, now? And how's the ould angel to-day? So you've got the lil one there? Aw, you rogue, you. You're on Grannie's lap, are you? How's Caesar? And how's Mrs. Gorry doing? Look at that now—did you ever? Opening one eye first to make sure if the world's all right. The child's wise. Coo—oo—oo! Smart with the dinner, Nancy—wonderful hungry the chapel's making a man. Coo—oo! What's she like, now, Grannie?"
"When I set her to my knee like this I can see my own lil Kirry again,'' said Grannie, looking down ruefully, rocking the child with one knee and doubling over it to kiss it.
"So she's like the mammy, is she?" said Pete, blowing at the baby and tickling its chin with his broad forefinger. "Mammy's gone to the ould uncle's—hasn't she, my lammie?"
At that Grannie fell to rocking herself as well as the child, and to singing a hymn in a quavery voice. Then with a rattle and a rush, throwing off his coat and tramping the floor in his shirt-sleeves, while Nancy dished up the dinner, Pete began to enlarge on Kate's happiness in the place where she had gone.
"Tremenjous grand the ould man's house is—you wouldn't believe. A reg'lar Dempster's palace. The grandeur on it is a show and a pattern. Plenty to ate, plenty to drink, and a boy at the door with white buttons dotting on his brown coat, bless you like—like a turnip-field in winter. Then the man himself; goodness me, the happy that man is—Happy Joe they're calling him. Wouldn't trust but he'll be taking Kate to a theaytre. Well, and why not, if a person's down a bit? A merry touch and go—where's the harm at all? Fact is, Grannie, that's why we couldn't tell you Kate was going. Caesar would have been objecting. He's fit enough for it—ha, ha, ha!"
Grannie looked up at Pete as he laughed, and the broad rose withered on his face.
"H'm! h'm!" he said, clearing his throat; "I'm bad dreadful wanting a smook." And past the dinner-table, now smoking and ready, he slithered out of the house.
Caesar was Pete's next visitor. He said nothing of Kate, and neither did Pete mention Uncle Joe. The interview was a brief and grim one. It was a lie that Ross Christian had been sent by his father to ask for a loan, but it was true that Peter Christian was in urgent need of money. He wanted six thousand pounds as mortgage on Ballawhaine. Had Pete got so much to lend? No need for personal intercourse; Caesar would act as intermediary.
Pete took only a moment for consideration. Yes, he had got the money, and he would lend it. Caesar looked at Pete; Pete looked at Caesar. "He's talking all this rubbish," thought Caesar, "but he knows where the girl has gone to. He knows who's taken her; he manes to kick the rascal out of his own house neck and crop; and right enough, too, and the Lord's own vengeance."
But Pete's thoughts were another matter. "The ould man won't live to redeem it, and the young one will never try—it'll do for Philip some day."
For three days Pete bore himself according to his wont, thinking to silence the evil tongues of the little world about him, and keep sweet and alive the dear name which they were waiting to befoul and destroy. By Tuesday morning the strain had become unbearable. On pretences of business, of pleasure, of God knows what folly and nonsense, he began to scour the island. He visited every parish on the north, passed through every village, climbed every glen, found his way into every out-of-the-way hut, and scraped acquaintance with every old woman living alone. Sometimes he was up in the vague fore-dawn, creeping through the quiet streets like a thief, going silently, stealthily, warily, until he came to the roads, or the fields, or the open Curragh, and could give swing to his step, and breath to his lungs, and voice to the cries that hurst from him.
Two long weeks he spent in this wild quest, and meanwhile he was as happy as a boy to all outward seeming—whistling, laughing, chaffing, bawling, talking nonsense, any nonsense, and kicking up his heels like a kid. But wheresoever he went, and howsoever early he started on his errands, he never failed to be back at home at seven o'clock in the evening—washed, combed, in his slippers and shirt-sleeves, smoking a long clay over the garden gate as the postman went by with the letters.
"She'll write," he told himself. "When she's mending a bit she'll aise our mind and write. 'Dear ould Pete, excuse me for not writing afore'—that'll he the way of it. Aw, trust her, trust her."
But day followed day, and no letter came from Kate. Ten evenings running he smoked over the gate, leisurely, largely, almost languidly, hut always watching for the peak of the postman's cap as it turned the corner by the Court-house, and following the toes of his foot as they stepped off the curb, to see if they pointed in his direction—and then turning aside with a deep breath and a smothered moan that ended in a rattle of the throat and a pretence at spitting.
The postman saw him as he went by, and his little eyes twinkled treacherously.
"Nothing for you yet, Capt'n," he said at length.
"Chut!" said Pete, with a mighty puff of smoke; "my business isn't done by correspondence, Mr. Kelly."
"Aw, no; but when a man's wife's away——" began the postman.
"Oh, I see," said Pete, with a look of intelligence, and then, with a lofty wave of the hand, "She's like her husband, Mr. Kelly—not bothering much with letters at all."
"You'll be longing for a line, though, Capt'n—that's only natural."
"No news is good news—I can lave it with her."
"Of coorse, that's truth enough, yes! But still and for all, a taste of a letter—it's doing no harm, Capt'n—aisy writ, too, and sweet to get sometimes, you know—shows a woman isn't forgetting a man when she's away."
"Mr. Kelly! Mr. Kelly!" said Pete, with his hand before his face, palm outwards.
"Not necessary? Well, I lave it with you. Good-night, Capt'n."
"Good-night to you, sir," said Pete.
He had laughed and tut-tutted, and lifted his eyebrows and his hands in mock protest and a pretence of indifference, but the postman's talk had cut him to the quick. "People are suspecting," he thought. "They're saying things."
This made him swear, but a thought came behind that made him sweat instead. "Philip will be hearing them. They'll be telling him she doesn't write to me; that I don't know where she is; that she has left me, and that she's a bad woman."
To make Kate stand well with Philip was an aim that had no rival but one in Pete's reckoning—to make Philip stand well with Kate. Out of the shadow-land of his memory of the awful night of his bereavement, a recollection, which had been lying dead until then, came back now in its grave-clothes to torture him. It was what Caesar had said of Philip's fight with Ross Christian. Philip himself had never mentioned it—that was like him. But when evil tongues told of Ross and hinted at mischief, Philip would know something already; he would be prepared, perhaps he would listen and believe.
Two days longer Pete sat in the agony of this new terror and the dogged impatience of his old hope. "She'll write. She'll not lave me much longer." But she did not write, and on the second night, before returning to the house from the gate, he had made his plan. He must silence scandal at all hazards. However his own heart might bleed with doubts and fears and misgivings, Philip must never cease to think that Kate was good and sweet and true.
"Off to bed, Nancy," he cried, heaving into the hall like a man in drink. "I've work to do to-night, and want the house to myself."
"Goodness me, is it yourself that's talking of bed, then?" said Nancy. "Seven in the everin', too, and the child not an hour out of my hands? And dear knows what work it is if you can't be doing it with good people about you."
"Come, get off, woman; you're looking tired mortal. The lil one's ragging you ter'ble. But what's it saying, Nancy—bed is half bread. Truth enough, too, and the other half is beauty. Get off, now. You're spoiling your complexion dreadful—I'll never be getting that husband for you."
Thus coaxing her, cajoling her, watching her, dodging her, nagging her, driving her, he got her off to bed at last. Being alone, he looked around, listened, shut the doors of the parlour and the kitchen, put the bolt on the door of the stairs, the chain on the door of the porch, took off his boots, and went about on tiptoe. Then he blew out the lamp, filled and trimmed and relit it, going down on the hearthrug to catch the light of the fire. After that he settled the table, drew up the armchair, took from a corner cupboard pens and ink, a blotting pad, a packet of notepaper and envelopes, a stick of sealing wax, a box of matches, a postage stamp, the dictionary, and the exercise-book in which Kate had taught him to write.
As the clock was striking nine, Pete was squaring himself at the table, pen in hand, and his tongue in his left cheek. Half an hour later he was startled, by an interruption.
"Who's there?" he shouted in a ferocious voice, leaping up with a look of terror, like a man caught in a crime. It was only Nancy, who had come creeping down the stairs under pretence of having forgotten the baby's bottle. He made a sort of apologetic growl, handed the flat bottle through an opening like a crack, and ordered her back to bed.
"Goodness sakes!" said Nancy, going upstairs. "Is it coining money the man is? Or is it whisky itself that's doing on him?"
Two hours afterwards Pete fancied he saw a face at the window, and he caught up a stick, unchained the door, and rushed into the garden. It was no one; the town lay asleep; the night was all but airless; only the faintest breeze moved the leaves of the trees; there was no noise anywhere, except the measured beat of the sea in its everlasting coming and going on the shore.
Stepping back into the house, where the fire chirped and the kettle sang and all else was quiet, he resumed his task, and somewhere in the dark hours before the dawn he finished it. The fingers of his right hand were then inky up to the first joint, his collar was open, his neck was bare, his eyes were ablaze, the cords on his face were big and blue, great beads of cold sweat were standing on his forehead, and the carpet around his chair was littered as white as if a snowstorm had fallen on it.
He went down on his knees and gathered up these remnants and burnt them, with the air of a man destroying the evidences of his guilt. Then he put back the ink and the dictionary, the blotting pad and sealing wax, and replaced them with a loaf of bread, a table knife, a bottle of brandy, and a drinking glass. After that he made up the fire with a shovel of slack, that it might burn until morning; removed the lamp from the table to the window recess that it might cast its light into the darkness outside; and unchained the outer door that a wanderer of the night, if any such there were, might enter without knocking.
He did all this in the absent manner of a man who did it nightly. Then unbolting the staircase door, and listening a moment for the breathing of the sleepers overhead, he crept into the dark parlour overlooking the road, and lay down on the sofa to sleep.
It was done! Pete's great scheme was afoot! The mighty secret which he had enshrouded with such awful mystery lay in an envelope in the inside breast-pocket of his monkey-jacket, signed, sealed, stamped, and addressed.
Pete had written a letter to himself.
Next day the crier was crying: "Great meeting—Manx fishermen—on Zigzag at Peel when boats come in to-morrow morning—protest agen harbour taxes."
"The thing itself," thought Pete, with his hand pressed hard on the outside of his breast-pocket. At five o'clock in the afternoon he went down to the harbour, where his Nickey lay by the quay, shouted to the master, "Take an odd man tonight, Mr. Kemish?" then dropped to the deck and helped to fetch the boat into the bay.
They had to haul her out by poles alone the quay wall, for the tide was low, and there was no breakwater. It was still early in the herring season, but the fishing was in full swing. Five hundred boats from all parts were making for the fishing round. It lay off the south-west tail of the island. Before Pete's boat reached it the fleet were sitting together, like a flight of sea-fowl, and the sun was almost gone.
The sun went down that night over the hills of Mourne very angry and red in its setting; the sky to the north-west was dark and sullen; the round line of the sea was bleared and broken, but there was little wind, and the water was quiet.
"Bring to and shoot," cried Pete, and they dropped sail to the landward of the fleet, off the shoulder of the Calf Island, with its two lights making one. The boat was brought head to the wind, with the flowing tide veering against her; the nets were shot over the starboard quarter, and they dropped astern; the bow was swung round to the line of the floating mollags, and boat and nets began to drift together.
Supper was served, the pump was worked, the lights were run up, the small boat was sent round with a flare to fright away the evil spirits, and then the night came down—a dark night, without moon or stars, shutting out the island, though it stood so near, and even the rocks of the Hen and Chicken. The first man for the look-out took up his one hour's watch at the helm, and the rest went below.
Pete's bunk was under the binnacle, and the light of its lamp fell on a stamped envelope which he took out of his breast-pocket from time to time that he might read the inscription. It ran—
Capn Peatr Quilliam,
Lm Cottig Ramsey I O Man.
He looked at it lovingly, fondly, yearningly, yet with a certain awe, too, as if it were the casket of some hidden treasure, and he hardly knew what it contained. The dim-lit cabin was quiet, the net boiler sparched drops of hot water at intervals, the fire of the cooking stove slid and fell, the men breathed heavily from unseen beds, and the sea washed as the boat rolled.
"What's she saying, I wonder! I wonder! God bless her!" he mumbled, and then he, too, fell asleep.
Two hours before hauling, they proved the fishing by taking in a "pair" of the net, found good herring, and blew the horn as signal that they were doing well. Then out of the black depths around, wherein no boat could be seen, the lights of other boats came floating silently astern, until the company about them in the darkness was like a little city of the sea and the night.
At the first peep of morning over the round shoulder of the Calf, the little city awoke. There were the clicks of the capstan, and the shouts of the men as the nets came back to the boats, heavy and white with fish. All being aboard, the men went down on the deck, according to their wont, every man on his knee with his face in his cap, and then leapt up with a shout (perhaps an oath), swung to the wind, hoisted the square sails, and made for home. The dark northwest was lowering by this time, and the sea was beginning to jump.
"Breakfast, boys," sang out Pete, with his head above the companion, and all but the helmsman went below. There was a pot full of the drop-fish, and every man ate his warp of herring. It had been a great night's fishing. Some of the boats were full to the mouth, and all had plenty.
"We'll do middling if we get a market," said Pete.
"We've got to get home first," said the master, and at the same moment a sea struck the windward quarter with the force of a sledge-hammer, and the block at the masthead began to sing.
"We'll run for Peel this morning, boys," said Pete, smothering his voice in a mouthful.
"Peel?" said the master, shooting out his lip. "They've got no harbour there at all with a cat's paw of a breeze, let alone a northwester."
"I'm for going up to the meeting," said Pete in an incoherent way.
Then they tacked before the rising gale, and went off with the fleet as it swirled like a flight of gulls abreast of the wind. The sea came tumbling down like a shoal of seahogs, and washed the faces of the men as they sat in oilskins on the hatch-head, shaking the herring out of the nets into the hold.
But their work only began when they came into Peel. The tide was down; there was no breakwater; the neck of the harbour was narrow, and four hundred boats were coming to take shelter and to land their cargoes. It was a scene of tumult and confusion—shouting, swearing, and fighting among the men, and crushing and cranching among the boats as they nosed their way to the harbour mouth, threw ropes on to the quay, where fifty ropes were round one post already, or cast anchors up the bank of the castle rock, which was steep and dangerous to lie on.
Pete got landed somehow, but his Nickey with half the fleet turned tail and went round the island. As he leapt ashore, the helpless harbour-master, who had been bellowing over the babel through a cracked trumpet, turned to him and said, "For the Lord's sake, Capt'n Quilliam, if you've got a friend that can lend us a hand, go off to the meeting at seven o'clock."
"I mane to," said Pete, but he had something else to do first. It was the task that had brought him to Peel, and no eye must see him do it. Slowly and slyly, like one who does a doubtful thing and pretends to be doing nothing, he went stealing through the town—behind the old Court-house and up Castle Street, into the market-place, and across it to the line of shops which make the principal thoroughfare.
At one of these shops, a little single-roomed place, with its small shutter still up, but the door half open and a noise of stamping going on inside, he stopped in a lounging way, half twisting on his heel as if idly looking back. It was the Post-Office.
With a stealthy look around, he put a trembling hand into his breast-pocket, drew out the letter, screened it by the flat of his big palm, and posted it. Then he turned hurriedly away, and was gone in a moment, like a man who feared pursuit, down a steep and tortuous alley that led to the shore. The morning was early; the shops were not yet open; only the homes of the fishermen were putting out curling wreaths of smoke; the silent streets echoed to his lightest footstep.
But the shore road was busy enough. Fishermen in sea-boots and sou'westers, with oilskin over one arm and a string of herring in the other hand, were trooping from the harbour up to the Zigzag by the rock called the Creg Malin. It was at the end of the bay, where cliff and beach and sea together form a bag like the cod-end of the trawl net.
"It's not the fishermen at all—it's the farmers they're thinking of," said one.
"You're right," said Pete, "and it's some of ourselves that's to blame for it."
"How's that?" said somebody.
"Aisy enough," said Pete. "When I came home from Kimberly I met an ould fisherman—you know the man, Billy—well, you do, Dan—Phil Nelly, of Ramsey. 'How's the fishing, Phil?' says I. He gave me a Hm! and a heise of his neck, and 'I'm not fishing no more,' says he. 'The wife's keeping a private hotel,' says he. 'And what are you doing yourself,' says I. 'I'm walking about,' says he, and, gough bless me, if the man wasn't wearing a collar and carrying a stick, and prating about advertising the island, if you plaze."
At the sound of Pete's voice a group of the men gathered about him. "That's not the worst neither," said he. "The other day I tumbled over Tom Hommy—you know Tom Hommy, yes, you do, the lil deaf man up Ballure. He was lying in the hedge by the public-house, three sheets in the wind. 'Why aren't you out with the boats, Tom?' says I. 'Wash for should I go owsh wish the boash, when the childer can earn more on the roads?' says the drunken wastrel. 'And is yonder your boys and girls tossing summersaults at the tail of the trippers' car?' says I. 'Yesh,' says he; 'and they'll earn more in a day at their caperings than their father in a week at the herrings.'"
"I believe it enough," said one. "The man's about right," said another; and a querulous voice behind said, "Wonderful the prosperity of the island since the visitors came to it."
"Get out with you, there, for a disgrace to the name of Manxman," sang out Pete over the heads of those that stood between. "With the farming going to the dogs and the fishing going to the divil, d'ye know what the ould island's coming to? It's coming to an island of lodging-house keepers and hackney-car drivers. Not the Isle of Man at all, but the Isle of Manchester."
There was a tremendous shout at this last word. In another minute Pete was lifted shoulder high over the crowd on to the highest turn of the zigzag path, and bidden to go on. There were five hundred faces below him, putting out hot breath in the cool morning air. The sun was shooting over the cliffs a canopy as of smoke above their heads. On the top of the crag the sea-fowl were jabbering, and the white sea itself was climbing on the beach.
"Men," said Pete, "there's not much to say. This morning's work said everything. We'd a right fishing last night, hadn't we? Four hundred boats came up to Peel, and we hadn't less than ten maise apiece. That's—you that's smart at your figguring and ciphering, spake out now—that's four thousand maise isn't it?" (Shouts of "Right.") "Aw, you're quick wonderful. No houlding you at all when it's money that's in. Four thousand maise ready and waiting for the steamers to England—but did we land it? No, nor half of it neither. The other half's gone round to other ports, too late for the day's sailing, and half of that half will be going rotten and getting chucked back into the sea. That's what the Manx fishermen have lost this morning because they haven't harbours to shelter them, and yet they're talking of levying harbour dues."
"Man veen, he's a boy!"—"He's all that"—"Go it, Capt'n. What are we to do?"
"Do?" cried Pete. "I'll tell you what you're to do. This is Friday. Next Thursday is old Midsummer Day. That's Tynwald Coort day. Come to St. John's on Thursday—every man of you come—come in your sea-boots and your jerseys—let the Governor see you mane it. 'Give us raisonable hope of harbour improvement and we'll pay,' says you. 'If you don't, we won't; and if you try to make us, we're two thousand strong, and we'll rise like one man.'Don't be freckened; you've a right to be bould in a good cause. I'll get somebody to spake for you. You know the man I mane. He's stood the fisherman's friend before to-day, and he isn't going taking off his cap to the best man that's setting foot on Tynwald Hill."
It was agreed. Between that day and Tynwald day Pete was to enlist the sympathy of Philip, and to go to Port St. Mary to get the co-operation of the south-side fishermen. The town was astir by this time, the sun was on the beach, and the fishermen trooped off to bed.
Pete was back in his ship's cabin in the garden the same evening with a heart the heavier because for one short hour it had forgotten its trouble. The flowers were opening, the roses were creeping over the porch, the blackbird was singing at the top of the tree; but his own flower of flowers, his rose of roses, his bird of birds—where was she? Summer was coming, coming, coming—coming with its light, coming with its music, coming with its sweetness—but she came not.
The clock struck seven inside the house, and Pete, pipe in hand, swung over to the gate. No need to-night to watch for the postman's peak, no need to trace his toes.
"A letter for you, Mr. Quilliam."
Hearing these words, Pete, his eyes half shut as if dosing in the sunset, wakened himself with a look of astonishment.
"What? For me, is it? A letter, you say? Aw, I see," taking it and turning it in his hand, "just'a line from the mistress, it's like. Well, well! A letter for me, if you plaze," and he laughed like a man much tickled.
He was in no hurry. He rammed his dead pipe with his finger, lit it again, sucked it, made it quack, drew a long breath, and then said quietly, "Let's see what's her news at all."
He opened the letter leisurely, and read bits of it aloud, as if reading to himself, but holding the postman while he did so in idle talk on the other side of the gate. "And how are you living to-day, Mr. Kelly? Aw, h'm—getting that much better it's extraordinary—Yes, a nice everin', very, Mr. Kelly, nice, nice—that happy and comfortable and Uncle Joe is that good—heavy bag at you to-night, you say? Aw, heavy, yes, heavy—love to Grannie and all inquiring friends—nothing, Mr. Kelly, nothing—just a scribe of a line, thinking a man might be getting unaisy. She needn't, though—she needn't. But chut! It's nothing. Writing a letter is nothing to her at all. Why, she'd be knocking that off, bless you," holding out a half sheet of paper, "in less than an hour and a half. Truth enough, sir." Then, looking at the letter again, "What's this, though? PN. They're always putting a P.N. at the bottom of a letter, Mr. Kelly. P.N.—I was expecting to be home before, but I wouldn't get away for Uncle Joe taking me to the theaytres. Ha, ha, ha! A mighty boy is Uncle Joe. But, Mr. Kelly, Mr. Kelly," with a solemn look, "not a word of this to Caesar?"
The postman had been watching Pete out of the corners of his ferret eyes. "Do you know, Capt'n, what Black Tom is saying?"
"What's that?" said Pete, with a sudden change of tone.
"He's saying there is no Uncle Joe."
"No Uncle Joe?" cried Pete, lifting voice and eyebrows together.
The postman signified assent with a nod of his peak.
"Well, that's rich," said Pete, in a low breath, raising his face as if to invoke the astonishment of the sky itself. "No Uncle Joe?" he repeated, in a tone of blank incredulity. "Ask the man if it's in bed he is. Why," and Pete's eyes opened and closed like a doll's, "he'll be saying there's no Auntie Joney next."
The postman looked up inquiringly.
"Never heard of Auntie Joney—Uncle Joe's wife? No? Well, really, really—is it sleeping I am? Not Auntie Joney, the Primitive? Aw, a good ould woman as ever lived. A saint, if ever the like was in, and died a triumphant death, too. No theaytres for her, though. She won't bemane herself. No, but she's going to chapel reg'lar, and getting up in the middle of every night of life to say her prayers. 'Deed she is. So Black Tom says there is no Uncle Joe?"
Pete gave a long whistle, then stopped it sudden with his mouth agape, and said from his throat, "I see."
He put his mouth close to the postman's ear and whispered, "Ever hear Black Tom talk of the fortune he's expecting through the Coort of Chancery?" The postman's peak bobbed downwards. "You have? Tom's thinking to grab it all for himself. Ha, ha! That's it! Ha, ha!"
The postman went off blinking and giggling, and Pete reeled up the path, biting his lip, and muttering, "Keep it up, Pete, keep it up—it's ploughing a hard furrow, though." Then aloud, "A letter from the mistress, Nancy."
Nancy met him in the porch, clearing her fingers, thick with dough.
"There you are," said Pete, flapping the letter on one hand.
"Good sakes alive!" said Nancy. "Did it come by the post, though, Pete?"
"Look at the stamp, woman, and see for yourself," said Pete.
"My goodness me! From Kirry, you say?"
"Let me in, then, and I'll be reading you bits."
Nancy went back to her kneading with looks of bewilderment, and Pete followed her, opening the letter.
"She's well enough, Nancy—no need to read that part at all. But see," running his forefinger along the writing "'Kisses for the baby, and love to Nancy, and tell Grannie not to be fretting? et setterer, et setterer. See?"
Nancy looked up at her thumping and thunging, and said, "Did Mr. Kelly give it you?"
"He did that," said Pete, "this minute at the gate. It's his time, isn't it?"
Nancy glanced at the clock. "I suppose it must be right," she said.
"Take it in your hand, woman," said Pete.
Nancy cleaned her hands and took the letter, turned it over and felt it in her fingers as if it had been linen. "And this is from Kirry, is it? It's nice, too. I haven't much schooling, Pete, but I'm asking no better than a letter myself. It's like a peppermint in your frock on Sunday—if you're low you're always knowing it's there, anyway." She looked at it again, and then she said, like one who says a strange thing, "I once had a letter myself—'deed I had, Pete. It was from father. He went down in the Black Sloop, trading oranges with the blacks in their own island somewhere. They put into the port of London one day when they were having a funeral there. What's this one they were calling after the big boots—Wellingtons, that's the man. They were writing home all about it—the people, and the chariots, and the fighting horses, and the music in the streets and the Cateedrals—and we were never hearing another word from them again—never. 'To Miss Annie Cain—your affecshunet father, Joe Cain.' I knew it all off—every word—and I kept it ten years in my box under the lavender."
Philip came later. He was looking haggard and tired; his face was pallid and drawn; his eyes were red, quick, and wandering; his hair was neglected and ragged; his step was wavering and uncertain.
"Gough alive, man," cried Pete, "didn't you take oath to do justice between man and man?"
Philip looked up with alarm. "Well?" he said.
"Well," cried Pete, with a frown and a clenched fist, "there's one man you're not doing justice to."
"Who's that?" said Philip with eyes down.
"Yourself," said Pete, and Philip drew a long breath. Pete laughed, protested that Philip must not work so hard, and then plunged into an account of the morning's meeting.
"Tremenjous! Talk of enthusiasm! Man veen, man veen! Didn't I say we'd rise as one man? We will, too. We're going up to Tynwald Coort on Tynwald day, two thousand strong. Tynwald Coort? Yes, and why not? Drum and fife bands, bless you—two of them. Not much music, maybe, but there'll be noise enough. It's all settled. Southside fishermen are coming up Foxal way; north-side men going down by Peel. Meeting under Harry Delany's tree, and going up to the hill on mass (en masse). No bawling, though—no singing out—no disturbing the Coort at all."
"Well, well! What then?" said Philip.
"Then we're wanting you to spake for us, Dempster. Aw, nothing much—nothing to rag you at all. Just tell them flat we won't—that'll do."
"It's a serious matter, Pete. I must think it over."
"Aw, think and think enough, Dempster—but mind you do it, though. The boys are counting on you. 'He's our anchor and he'll hould,' they're saying; But, bother the harbours, anyway," reaching his hand for something on the mantelpiece. "What do you think?"
"Nay," said Philip, with a long breath of weariness and relief.
"Guess, then," said Pete, putting his hand behind him.
Philip shook his head and smiled feebly. Then, with the expression of a boy on his birthday, Pete leaned over Philip, and said in a half-whisper across the top of his head, "I've heard from Kate."
Philip turned ghastly, his lip trembled, and he stammered, "You've—you've—heard from Kate, have you?"
"Look at that," cried Pete, and round came the letter with a triumphant sweep.
Philip's respiration grew difficult and noisy. Slowly, very slowly, he reached out his hand, took the letter, and looked at its superscription.
"Read it—read it," said Pete; "no secrets at all."
With head down and eyebrows hiding his eyes, with trembling hands that tore the envelope, Philip took out the letter and read it in passages—broken, blurred, smudged, as by the smoke of a fo'c'stle lamp.
"Deerest peat i am gettin that much better... i am that happy and comforbel... sometimes i am longing for a sight of the lil ones swate face... no more at present... ure own trew wife."
"Come to the P. N. yet, Philip?" said Pete. He was on his knees before the fire, lighting his pipe with a red coal.
"axpectin to be home sune but... give my luv and bess respects to the Dempster when you see him he was so good to me when "were forren the half was never towl you"
"She's not laving a man unaisy, you see," said Pete.
Philip could not speak. His throat was choking; his tongue filled his mouth; his eyes were swimming in tears that scorched them. Nancy, who had been up to Sulby with news of the letter, came in at the moment, and Philip raised his head.
"I told my aunt not to expect me to-night, Nancy. Is my room upstairs ready?"
"Aw, yes, always ready, your honour," said Nancy, with a curtsey.
He got up, with head aside, took a candle from Nancy's hand, excused himself to Pete—he was tired, sleepy, had a heavy day to-morrow—said "Good-night," and went upstairs—stumbling and floundering—tore open his bedroom door, and clashed it back like a man flying from an enemy.
Pete thought he had succeeded to admiration, but he looked after Philip, and was not at ease. He had no misgivings. Writing was writing to him, and it was nothing more. But in the deep midnight, Philip, who had not slept, heard a thick voice that was like a sob coming from somewhere downstairs. He opened his door, crept out on to the stairhead, and listened. The house was dark. In some unseen place the voice was saying—
"Lord, forgive me for deceaving Philip. I couldn't help it, though; Thou knows, Thyself, I couldn't. A lie's a dirty thing, Lord. It's like chewing dough—it sticks in your throat and chokes you. But I had to do it to save my poor lost lamb, and if I didn't I should go mad myself—Thou knows I should. So forgive me, Lord, for Kirry's sake. Amen."
The thick voice stopped, the house lay still, then the child awoke in a room beyond, and its thin cry came through the darkness. Philip crept back in terror.
"This is what she had to go through! O God! My God!"
Caesar called next day and took Pete to the office of the High Bailiff, where the business of the mortgage was completed. The deeds of Ballawhaine were then committed to Caesar's care for custody and safe keeping, and he carried them off to his safe at the mill with a long stride and a face of fierce triumph.
"The ould Ballawhaine is dying," he thought; "and if we kick out the young one some day, it'll only be the Lord's hand on a rascal."