Mirry-Ann: A Manx Story (Chapters XI to XX)
Mirry-Ann: A Manx Story
Chapters XI to XX
The Mheillea at the farm was a great success. The supper of fat geese and prime roast beef, and some of Black Sally’s fat hams, had been well patronized, and the supply of home-brewed ale had been most liberal. After supper the big barn was cleared for dancing, but it was not a popular form of entertainment. Dancing had for so long a time been denounced as a sin by the strict followers of Wesley that the younger generation who were becoming more lax in their religion had not the instinctive love of dancing in their bones. Just as in Scotland almost every form of social entertainment ends with dancing, so in the Isle of Man everything,
to be at all popular, must end with singing.
But before the singing commenced there was a “toffee-join.” A large pot of toffee was made on the kitchen fire and then brought into the barn to cool in large dishes. The fun of the evening began when the loving couples took a piece of soft toffee and pulled it out between them until it became a long band of shining gold. There was much chaff and laughter when some gold band which had been pulled out to its farthest to test the lovers’ faith suddenly snapped. John Thomas Costain had insisted on trying his luck with Mirry-Ann, and his luck had failed in this very way. The girl’s heart leapt with fear when he turned with a savage curse to the laughing onlookers, who took the matter as a joke, although there was a certain amount of prophecy in their laughter.
The squire in his turn took a piece of toffee and asked Mirry-Ann to pull it with him. She would fain have refused, but to have done so would have been more conspicuous than to consent. The band of toffee had not broken, but was stretching out thinner and thinner when, time being up, the bystanders cried out for the knot to be tied. The squire was on the point of complying, when John Thomas suddenly dashed forward and cut the thin band in two with his fist. He turned on the squire a face flushed with beer and jealousy, and an impudent grin.
“I forbid the banns,” he said insultingly.
Mirry-Ann flushed crimson at the outburst of vulgar laughter which followed. John Thomas moved toward her, and was about to put his hand through her arm and draw her away, when Mrs. Hedges stepped forward.
“Mirry-Ann,” she said, “come and help to choose some part songs. I think you’ve all had enough of the toffee-pulling for to-night. You must wrap your lovers’ knots up in that buttered paper and take them home.” The crowd of laughing men and women respectfully made way for the girl to pass with Mrs. Hedges to the other end of the long flag-tiled kitchen.
Mrs. Hedges took Mirry-Ann’s arm in hers. “Don’t be so upset,” she said affectionately. “They’ve not very refined feelings, have they? And they are more or less excited.”
“I didn’t want to come,” the girl replied. “John Thomas Costain has been half mad lately, and beer always excites him; but uncle was set on my coming.”
“I’m sorry it happened, dear. But you take things, too seriously; forget all about it. I’m glad the squire had the good sense to let it pass. John Thomas has a violent temper.”
But it was not easy to forget the unpleasant incident with John Thomas hovering near her all night, hoping to raise her jealousy by paying Emily Corrin familiar attention. The squire had tactfully withdrawn from the scene to spare the girl’s feelings. Emily Corrin was gay with triumph; she felt that for once she outshone her rival. What could John Thomas Costain find worth courting in a girl who could not even join in the fun of the Mheillea, and who looked so sad and serious in her plain black dress? Miss Christian had presented Emily Corrin with a fine blue-silk sash from her last season’s wardrobe, which she wore over an ostentatiously starched white pique dress.
But what John Thomas saw no woman’s eyes could understand. He saw the woman he loved with the whole strength of his dogged, narrow nature passing farther from him than ever. He saw her mixing in the happy crowd of village people, who were mostly too shy or too familiar, looking like the Governor’s wife herself, as he expressed it in his heart.
A bow of black velvet looped through her shining hair was the only addition Mirry-Ann had made to her usual afternoon dress. That the girl was beautiful no one could deny, but it was not her beauty that stirred John Thomas’s heart.
He had never hated Emily Corrin as he hated her that night when she gave him a vulgar account of how Mirry-Ann had “gone off” up at Ballaugh the day before, and how Miss Christian had given her ” a bit of her mind.”
The merry-making broke up at midnight — it had begun at seven o’clock. Mrs. Hedges and Dick Schofield were both tired out with the exertion of the evening. Dick had scarcely spoken to Mirry-Ann. He had not yet told her that he was definitely leaving the island; it was impossible to do so that night, for they had no chance of a private conversation.
Mirry-Ann was the first to leave the farm. She had tried to slip away unobserved to avoid the risk of a tete-&-tete walk with John Thomas, but his jealous eyes were watching her, and he suddenly shook off Emily Corrin’s arm, and hurried after the retreating figure of Mirry-Ann.
“I’ve come to see ye home, Mirry-Ann,” he said. “I don’t care to stop no longer.”
“You’ll vex Emily, Tom,” the girl said, “and I can see myself home well enough.” The girl would have liked to remind him that he had offended her and insulted the squire, but she was alone with him and his temper frightened her.
John Thomas held on to the girl’s shrinking arm and strode on, almost pulling her with him.
“O Emily Corrin,” he said. “Let the squire see her home. He’ll be waitin’ somewhere near here, I reckon, for somebody.”
“I can take care of myself, John Thomas. Let me go.”
“I’m thinkin’ I’d better see ye safe home, for I’m no so sure of that.”
“What do you mean, John Thomas, and what right have you to speak to me as you have spoken to-night? ”
“I mean this, Mirry-Ann, that ye want some honest man to protect ye. I’ve been hearin’ that the squire’s been makin’ free with ye, and that’s why ye won’t look at a rough fellow like meself.”
“John Thomas,” Mirry-Ann said softly, in her most persuasive tones, for anger had a disastrous effect upon the love-crazed youth, “you promised you would never speak to me like that again. You promised you would only ask to be my great friend; now you’ve broken your promise.”
“For the squire’s broken me heart,” he said doggedly, “and ye’ve told me a lie, Mirry-Ann.”
“No, I’ve not broken my word. I’m always willing to be your dear friend.” John Thomas’s grasp tightened on her arm. “Let me go,” the girl cried. “Oh, you hurt me!” But he still held her fiercely. They were now within a short distance of her uncle’s cottage.
“Ye said ye hadn’t any love-feelins in ye, Mirry-Ann. Ye said it warn’t ’cause I was a rough chap with no book-larnin’ at me, and now yer full of love-feelins for the squire. Mirry-Ann!” he said hoarsely, “have ye forgotten your religion and taken up with sin?”
As John Thomas finished speaking his face was suddenly lit up by a curious glare of light. It came from behind the girl, for they stood facing each other, and her figure remained in the deep shadow. The burst of red light which lit up John Thomas’s face spread out into a crimson glow in the sky. Then it died down or was obscured by a volume of smoke which tore up with the wind.
John Thomas suddenly dropped the girl’s arm and started to run. “My gaughl Mirry-Ann,” he cried, “is the ould man all alone?”
The girl’s heart had turned to stone; she was literally paralyzed with fear. “Yes, he’s all alone. O John Thomas! if you love me, save him.”
It is impossible to describe adequately the hopeless conflagration of a village fire. In the whole countryside there was not a fire engine, and old Ned Gawne’s little thatched cottage, which was as dry as a rainless August could make it, made a good bonfire in the fresh night breeze. The majority of the inhabitants who had not attended the Mheillea at the farm were old people and little children, and they were all sleeping soundly when the fire broke out in the farthest end of the village.
John Thomas, with Mirry-Ann’s last words ringing in his ears, did the single service of a fireman. As he ran at full speed down the street he shouted “Help, help! fire, fire!” but there were only a few old sleepy heads to heed it. Mirry-Ann remembered that, and ran back toward the farm whence the merry-makers were coming idly home.
The ablest of the men were soon on the scene of action, but hand pails of water were of small avail to allay the fury of the fire, which had started in the straw thatch, no one knew how, for the old man was insensible when they carried him out. John Thomas Costain had dragged him down the narrow box stair on his back, spread-eagle fashion, and not a moment after parts of the roof fell in over the old man’s bed.
John Thomas was honestly working in the cause of humanity, but as he staggered out of the burning pile with the old man on his back, and caught Mirry-Ann’s look of gratitude and felt her tender clinging to his arms, he realized that the supreme moment of his life had come. The few poor pieces of common furniture in the kitchen were saved and were now standing grimly in the street. A horrible smell of charred wood and soaking straw — for the Colby cottages were straw-thatched — filled the air. The little home was a pitiful sight. When now and again the flames seemed to have been in a measure got under by the continuous supply of water from the long line of pails which had been formed to reach to the nearest roadside pump by a band of willing workers, one furious flame would dart out and lick up into the clear night blue of the summer sky, as if it had suddenly escaped from captivity. Then the eager faces of the women and idle onlookers would suddenly become brazenly vivid, and the utter devastation of the little cottage more appalling than before.
The fuchsia tree was bruised and broken, and its branches were covered with smouldering, water-soaked thatch, and the rosemary bush would never more be a token of remembrance, or the sweet lavender a playground for white butterflies.
Old Ned Gawne had been taken off to Nance Quin’s cottage, which happened to be the nearest, and Mirry-Ann stood for a moment beside John Thomas, who was almost overcome with fatigue, looking at the remains of her devastated home. With a sudden cry she left him and flew to the door of the burning cottage. John Thomas sprang after her and held her back, but the girl was stronger than the man at the moment. “My uncle’s Bible!” she cried. “I must save it.”
“Stop her!” the men cried. “She’ll be kilt.”
With a determined thrust John Thomas pushed her aside and plunged into the kitchen. The smoke and steam were blinding, and heat, as from a furnace, filled the room; but as there were no flames round the woodwork of the raftered roof the corner press was reached in safety, and as John Thomas seized the old man’s Bible the words of the fourth Song of Solomon came into his brain, and he remembered the night when he had read them with Mirry-Ann — “Behold, thou art fair, my love; thou hast doves’ eyes within thy locks.”Yes, his love was fair, and he was winning her to-night. He stumbled through the scorching steam and blinding smoke back toward the door, when he heard a warning shout. They meant to warn him, but did not particularize the danger. He staggered to the door, just as a huge mass of burning thatch slipped down from the roof.
Brave hands did their best to rescue him, but for some moments he lay almost smothered in the burning thatch. Then he, too, was borne off, unconscious, to Nance Quin’s cottage, and the big Bible, which had been preserved below his coat unsinged, was given to Mirry-Ann Gawne.
The girl turned her back on the burning cottage and followed the unconscious figure of John Thomas. Her little home, with all that she and her uncle possessed, was now left to smoulder away in the lovely summer dawn. But what did it matter? What did utter destitution matter as long as John Thomas was not dead? Oh, if she had killed him!
An hour or so later, when there was nothing more to be done, the last handful of tired villagers gradually dispersed and drifted to their different houses. The cottage stood by itself, so no further harm could arise from the smouldering bonfire within the shell of the four whitewashed walls. It had taken just the hours between midnight and dawn to utterly devastate the home in which the oldest inhabitant of the village had lived for eighty-eight years.
It was the early morning of the second day from that of the fire when John Thomas awoke from the stupor of unconsciousness he had lain in from the time he had been carried to Nance Quin’s cottage. Old Ned Gawne, too, had done little else but sleep since John Thomas had saved his life. His feeble system had received a severe shock, and there was no young life in him, such as there was in John Thomas, to resist it. The old man made no fight for recovery; he accepted his end as inevitable.
With the assistance of Nance Quin, Mirry-Ann had nursed John Thomas, and watched eagerly for his returning consciousness. The doctor had visited him during the night, and had warned Mirry-Ann that his waking was likely to prove the critical point of his recovery. He had also warned her of a terrible fate that might be in store for the man. He had reason to fear that the nerves of the eyes were seriously affected.
When John Thomas awoke his brain was clear and steady. The long, refreshing sleep seemed to have restored his nervous system, and he took eagerly the light nourishment Mirry-Ann had prepared for him. She was almost afraid to speak to him lest she should discover that there was truth in the fear which had haunted her since the doctor’s warning.
“John Thomas,” she said softly, “thank God, you are better. It is so good to see you come back again. You seemed so far away when you were unconscious. I couldn’t reach you to thank you.”
John Thomas sighed, and a happy, contented smile lit up his heavy face. “Were ye longin’, Mirry-Ann?”
“Yes, dear, I was longing dreadfully. You risked your life for to please me, and I couldn’t have lived if you had died.” Mirry-Ann was weeping.
“Is it weepin’ ye are, Mirry-Ann? But I’m not took yet, lass; I’m only feelin’ dreadful wake.”
“You were so brave, John Thomas, and I was so selfish. Oh, it was all so dreadful; but you are better now. Oh, yes; you are really better, and you are going to get quite well.”
“Would ye care that much if I wass took, Mirry-Ann?” The sick man murmured brokenly to himself. “But I’ll not be goin’ to die if you feel like that at all.”
“Yes, I would care,” she said. “Oh, I thought you were going to die, and that I had killed you, and that you would never, never know how grateful I was, or would speak to me again. I have prayed all night, John Thomas, and God has heard me.”
“He’s mortal good, Mirry-Ann. Will ye put up a prayer for me and thank him?” John Thomas moved feebly. “It’s powerful dark, I’m thinkin’. I should like a light to see ye, lass.”
Mirry-Ann stared at John Thomas’s open eyes in stricken silence. Her fear was realized. The early morning sunshine was flooding old Nance Quin’s little cottage while the girl was dressing his burns with oil; but she left his side, sick and stunned, and went in silence to the window. She closed the little shutter to keep out the brilliant morning. She must give herself time to act and to think. The doctor had cautioned her against any excitement.
“Is that a bit lighter now?” she asked, standing heartsick by the window, miserable, awaiting his answer. “O God! if he should say it was just the same!”
“Not a ha’porth. Maybe it’ll be mornin’ soon, Mirry-Ann, for I can hear the ould roosters crowin.”
The girl forted herself to speak and to lie for his sake.
“Yes, dear, it will be dawn soon. Try to be patient.” She sat down beside the bed, limp and shattered. How was she to tell him that his dawn would never come— that he had begun a new lifetime of endless night — that the dear green earth, and the sky and sea, would all be merged in the one blackness of this little room? With the rapid working of an excited brain she found it easy to picture to herself the beautiful world one vast, empty, black ocean.
“Mirry-Ann,” he said, “it would be more cheerfuller like if you would light a lamp. I was always hatin’.the darkness.”
A stream of sunlight shot right across John Thomas’s bed as he spoke, and the girl’s intense face was bathed in it. “The burns is mortal bad and the darkness seems to be makin’ them more worse like. If I could just put a sight on ye I shouldn’t feel them that bad.”
“Is the pain so bad, dear?” and the girl moistened the bandages again with oil. “I wish I could ease it.”
“I’d like powerful to put a sight on ye, Mirry-Ann, for I know yer speakin’ saf like that an’ genteel; that yer eyes is just like doves’. It’s tremenjous hard not to see ye when yer speakin’ lovin’ to me for the first time. Strike a light, lass, and look at the clock. I can hear the ould thing tickin’ over yonder as busy as a hen with her chicks.”
Mirry-Ann rose and struck a match and held it to the face of the clock. You could scarcely see its flame for the bright sunshine, but her courage failed her. She could not tell the poor impatient man, who could not bear to wait the coming of one morning, that Nance Quin’s clock was pointing its warning fingers to ten o’clock; that it was only with him there was darkness.
“It’s no time at all by this foolish clock; it’s quite wrong,” she said, telling her sad lie with a tearful laugh. “I quite forgot Nance only keeps it ticking for company’s sake.”
John Thomas laughed too, feebly. “An ould maid’s husband. Poor company instead of a man, Mirry-Ann, I’m thinkin’; don’t you?”
“Hush, dear; you must try to sleep again. It will bring the morning sooner.” The pitiful deceit the girl was practising seemed to turn her to stone; she could almost have said anything. John Thomas was tired enough to obey; he drank the sedative she gave him, and in a short time was fast asleep.
Mirry-Ann sat by his side, wearied with misery. If John Thomas was permanently blind, he was blind for her sake. It was she who had turned his daylight into darkness. He had saved her uncle’s life out of common humanity, but he had gone back into the fire and lost his eyesight for her sake alone. John Thomas had rescued the proof of her mother’s marriage — her mother’s dying gift to her — at the cost of all that was worth having in his simple life. A blind fisherman — who could imagine such a thing? He could no longer tell the state of the sea by the expression of the moon’s face. It would be cruel to feel the breath of the storm but never to see it — to have the deep blue go round Bradda’s high head all one flooding blackness. Oh, surely it were better a thousand times to die! To live and to have to bear the sufferings of the world and never to see its beauty! A thousand beauties of mountain, sky, and sea danced before her mind’s eye.
“John Thomas,” she said, looking at the sleeping figure of the young fisherman, “God must restore your sight. Let me be the atonement.”
With a flash of inspiration as she said the words, the full meaning of the atonement came to her. She held her breath and listened, but the voice which was speaking was only the conviction of her own heart, yet she heard the unspoken words with painful distinctness. “My love must be my atonement, my eyesight must be his eyesight, my life must be his. O God! had all this misery to happen before I could see my way clearly? God’s will be done.” In a flood of silent weeping she knelt by his bedside and tried to pray.
A gentle knocking came to the door. Mirry-Ann rose softly and hurried to answer it; quite unexpectedly she was confronted by her lover. She stood before him feeling as if a lifetime had passed since they were lovers together, or since it had ever seemed possible that she could marry him. There was no tender love in her tired eyes to lighten the expression of misery that had suddenly killed the youth in her face. The distressing change in her appearance startled him. He could not venture to speak words, of love when he saw how deeply she was suffering. His first thought was that her uncle had just died, for he had heard that he was not expected to recover from the shock.
“What has happened, Mirry?” he said. “Why do you look like this?”
She put her hand on his arm as if to steady herself and tried to speak.
“I — can’t tell you; don’t ask me to tell you now. Please leave me. I can bear it better alone.”
“Bear what, dearest? You must tell me. Mirry, is your poor old uncle dead? Mayn’t I try to comfort you? I love you so. Let me send that look out of your eyes. Won’t you let me, dearest?”
“No. My uncle is not dead,” she said, “and you must never speak to me of love again. Oh, don’t you see that it will kill me if you say any more? I must go back to John Thomas.”
“Is John Thomas better?” he said, a little coldly, hurt by the girl’s refusal. “I came to say good-bye. Is this how we are to part?”
“John Thomas is asleep,” she said, and spoke softly to warn him. She seemed scarcely to have heard her lover’s words of farewell.
“I have come to say good-bye, Mirry,” he said again, still feeling heart-wounded at her aloofness. But to the girl it was as if a long time had elapsed since the night of the Mheillea, when Mrs. Hedges had suddenly told her that Dick Schofield was going away; now she felt only surprise that he had not already gone. The last twenty-four hours had seemed like years to her. The wreck of her home and her fear for her uncle’s life, mingled with her anxiety for John Thomas, had for the time drowned the importance of her own selfish love.
“Good-bye,” she said wearily, not lifting her eyes to his. He had taken her hand in his own and had tried to draw her to him.
“Mirry,” he said, with a determined effort to break through her reserve, and touch her feeling for himself, “will you let me hope? I shall be able to marry you in a year’s time. Will you wait for me? Mrs. Hedges will give you a home; you can live with her and take my place. She requires some one to help her.”
“No, no, no!” suddenly broke from the lips as she drew herself from his arms.
“Why not? ” he said, startled at her vehemence. “My darling, you love me, and in time your uncle will give you to me. When I come ready to marry you, then he will believe I am not an idle lover. We can keep our secret, sweetheart. Only I must have your promise.”
“My uncle will never get over this shock,” she replied. “Oh, don’t make my task harder than I can bear.”
“Dear heart,” he said, with a sweet tenderness in his voice that reduced the girl to physical submission, “what new task? ”
Mirry-Ann turned her head to where John Thomas lay, and pointed to him with her eloquent eyes.
“I am going to marry John Thomas,” she said, with a pitiful fight for loyalty to the unconscious man in her voice.
“Good God! Mirry, what do you mean? Are you mad? Oh, my darling,” he said, with desperate entreaty in his voice, ” don’t frighten me. I know you are capable of any self-sacrifice, but don’t sacrifice us both. It isn’t right. Is my life and love of no account? John Thomas saved your uncle, but he will recover. He can’t expect it of you. Any able-bodied man would have done the same.”
“He is blind, and it was for my sake,” she said. “Now do you understand?”
They had moved into Nance Quin’s little parlour, opposite the room in which John Thomas lay. They could hear Nance at her spinning wheel as she watched by the old man overhead. The busy whirr, whirr, .and the tap, tap, of the footboard on the floor broke the oppressive silence that followed the girl’s words.
“John Thomas blind!” her lover said. “Oh, my God!”
“Yes, blind,” Mirry-Ann said, “quite blind. And he can’t bear darkness even for a minute. John Thomas lives by his eyes — they were his brains. Oh, it is too cruel to a man like him, with no resources in himself. You see now,” she continued, with a desperate conviction in her voice, “that it is my duty to make his life more bearable. I sent him back into the fire.”
“What for?” her lover asked, almost sternly. “Oh, why was not I there? Why did not I win you by risking my life?”
Mirry-Ann took a deep breath before she answered.
“I asked him to save a paper which meant a great deal to me. It meant,” the girl said, with her voice full of the tenderest love, ” it meant that I might perhaps one day have married you. It was the certificate of my mother’s marriage. I found it in the Bible press. I could not let it be burnt, for I had forgotten the address of the office she was married in.”
“O Mirry! ” he exclaimed. “Oh, my poor love! your mother’s story was nothing to me. Did you think I cared? Have I lost you for so little? God have pity on us both.”
“Oh! but it was everything to me,” she said. “Until I found that paper I would not have married you. After I knew that although my father broke my poor mother’s heart, that the blood in my veins, on his side at least, was as good as yours, and that I had no reason to blush for my birth, I thought,” she said, with a world of regret in her tone, ” that if our love proved good and true, and your theory that we were destined for each other seemed right, that I -” she hesitated. ” But I was all wrong; I see now that it was never intended. I had fought against marrying a man of my mother’s people — against obeying my uncle’s wish — until this dreadful thing happened to show me my duty.”
“Your sacrifice is too great; it almost amounts to insanity,” he said passionately. “Oh, my love, my dear, dear love, it is too horrible that you, my own sweetheart, my dear, pure heart, should marry a blind man whose very love is distasteful to you — a man whose caresses will make love hideous in your eyes, and our love is so sweet. O God! what can I do? Have pity on me, Mirry. How can I live and think of you as his wife?”
“Oh, hush! ” she said. “Have pity on him — he needs it most. Perhaps I imagine the horror of blindness more vividly than you, for in my lonely life the beauty of Nature has been everything to me. Nature was my lover till you came. John Thomas is only a child of Nature; without his eyesight he is lost. Oh, think! shut your eyes and think,” she cried, “where the horizon in darkness lies! His world is limited now to the space he stands in. I must make a new world for him; I must make him see.” She paused for a moment, then said, almost in a whisper, ” Goodbye. God give courage to us both.”
For one exquisite moment she lay in his arms, and he kissed her weeping eyes and fondled her wonderful hair. The droning of the spinning wheel in the room above made a mournful music to the girl’s low sobs. Oh, the comfort of his touch and the love in his gentle caresses! They were each other’s now, the girl unresisting and the world forgotten. Dick Schofield, with love’s unconquerable hope in his heart, forgot that his momentary joy was rooted in despair. With the girl he loved in his arms, mutely confessing her love by gentle acceptance of his kisses, how could he realize that some day she would marry the village fisherman lying asleep in the cottage kitchen?
When John Thomas awoke he was impatient of the continued darkness.
“Mirry-Ann,” he said fretfully, “it’s a dreadful long night; open the shutters. It seems as if I had been sleepin’ for hours, and yet it’s as dark as night.”
“You’ve been asleep rather less than an hour, and the daylight is bad for your eyes,” Mirry-Ann replied,, trembling with the misery of the task imposed upon her of breaking the truth to the unsuspecting man.
“My gaugh! Mirry-Ann, but it’s dreadful wearisome lyin’ here in the dark. Let the light in, lass; I’ll risk hurtin’ me eyes.”
Mirry-Ann took John Thomas’s poor, scorched hand in hers. “Dear John Thomas,” she began, in the soft voice he loved to hear, “be good and brave, for I want to tell you that your eyes are very, very bad. If I open the shutters and let a glare of light in, you might never, never see again.”
“An’ ‘deed, but that would be a shockin’ pity, Mirry-Ann,” he said, as far from the truth as ever. “But I’m as good as blind, lyin’ here like a bat. How long is the doctor to be keepin’ me in the dark? ”
“I don’t know how long you may be in the dark,” she answered, feeling what bitter truth lay in her words, “but if I were always to stay near you and try my best to tell you about everything that is going on around you, would you try to be patient, dear?”
“If you was contented like to sit here and hould me hand joost like that, and let me know by yer voice that ye love me, Mirry-Ann, I’d stay in this dark hole as contented as a sand louse all me days.”
“Dear, dear John Thomas,” the girl said, and for the pity of it her blue eyes too were blind with tears, “dear John Thomas, I will stay with you always.”
A sob escaped the blind man and hurt the girl as a man’s weeping always does affect a true woman. “O Mirry-Ann, joost to think of it — joost to think that it’s HI* Mirry-Ann Gawne that’s sayin’ them lovin’ words! An’ it was me that was always courtin’ and never gettin’ no love from ye at all And now yer joost as sweet and lovin’ as a dove with its mate.”
The girl’s double deception was driving her on; she must offer herself to him now. “If you were to suffer always, John Thomas, would — would — would you be happy if I were your wife?”
The blind eyes tried in their darkness to find the eyes that were like doves’. “If I was clane blind as a mole, Mirry-Ann, for the rest of me life, I’d be as saucy as a conger with you for me wife; but it would be dreadful hard not seein’ ye at all. I’m that langin’ to put a sight on ye now, Mirry-Ann, that I’m thinkin’ I’ll not give me eyes a chance.”
“John Thomas,” and the girl’s arm went
round him tenderly. Half shrinkingly she
kissed him, trying to mingle some love with her
pity. “Can’t you guess what I’m afraid to tell
you? Don’t you understand, dear? I must be
such a good “wife to you that you will be able
to see through my eyes. My eyes must do for
us both. Oh!” — and the gentle voice broke
into weeping — “it may be His way of drawing
us closer together. Can you bear it, John
Thomas? My heart is breaking for you.”
“Is it clane blinded I am, Mirry-Ann?” John Thomas’s voice seemed to penetrate out of the darkness that distanced his world from her, and the girl’s weeping choked her answer.
“Don’t be frekened to tell me, Mirry-Ann. With ye lovin’ me, and houldin’ me in ye arms, I can stan’ a powerful deal of trouble.”
Mirry-Ann’s part was easier to play because of his blindness. If she could control her voice her eyes would not betray her. The man had accepted with so stout a heart and such simple dignity the dreadful fate that had befallen him, that the admiration she felt for his courage strongly endeared him to her.
“Yes, John Thomas,” she said, “the doctor was afraid that your eyes had been affected. I was warned what might have happened. If I could only give you mine. It isn’t fair that you should suffer all this for me.” She tried to control her horror of blindness, for the orders were that John Thomas was not to be excited. She must try to make him believe that” there still remained some hope. “It may only be temporary, dear; the doctor says the nerves will perhaps come right again in time.” There was a pathetic note of forced encouragement in her voice which contradicted her words.
John Thomas did not answer. His mind was in a curious chaos. It was as impossible for a sailor, whose eyes were ever looking into things beyond, to contemplate the horrors of a lifelong blindness, as it is for the man whose destined span upon earth is but threescore years and ten to realize the meaning of eternity. John Thomas knew that a great blow had fallen on him, but he found it impossible to believe that this horrible darkness was to remain unbroken . for the rest of his life. It was well for him that the terror of his affliction was to come upon him gradually. And above all, there was at the moment the crowning happiness of Mirry-Ann’s love; for he never doubted but that his illness and the danger he had gone through had suddenly convinced the girl that she loved him.
“Mirry-Ann,” he said, after a long silence, “tell me the houl’ truth. Could ye do with a blin’ man?”
“Yes, yes,” she said eagerly; “don’t you know I could? I care for yon now as I never did before — all women love brave men.”
“My gaugh! Mirry-Ann, but women are mortal quare fish. It’s always hidin’ their real feelin’s they are, till all of a suddent like somethin dreadful happens to the man that’s courtin’ them, and then it’s the mother in them that’s out just as sure and sartin as the spring’s comin’ after winter. A woman’s always lookin’ for somethin’ to take care of; ‘deed, but it’s strange though.”
“We understand so little of those dearest to us, and the world we live in and help to make,” she said sadly, “that sometimes the great loneliness makes one afraid.”
“Ye’ve a mighty fine way of sayin’ things, Mirry-Ann, mighty fine. Even if I’m not quite understandin’ it all, it’s doin’ me good to hear ye talk. Could ye do some readin’?”
It was a relief to be allowed to read the Bible instead of to respond to John Thomas’s love-making, so the girl quickly agreed to his request.
About a month from the night of the fire, when John Thomas had almost regained his health, Mirry-Ann’s uncle, old Ned Gawne, died.
He had been sinking toward his end in a dreamy, half-conscious state for many days before it came. His brain had never been quite clear since the night he had received the shock. Mirry-Ann and John Thomas were sitting in silence in the room where he lay, chained by such a feeble thread of life to their world that they were both startled by his speaking quite clearly. It was as if his voice had floated from another world.
“Mirry-Ann, are ye there, lass?” he said. ” I’m wantin’ ye near me, chil’, for I’m thinkin that I’m about goin’.”
The girl rose and went to his side.
“Yes, I’m here, dad, houldin’ thy hand.”
“Mirry-Ann,” he called her again softly, “if I wart only sure sartin that you’d take John Thomas for your man it would make me goin’ aisier like.”
John Thomas got up when he heard the words, and felt his way to the old man’s side.
“It’s you that’s houldin’ me back on this side, Mirry-Ann, for I darn’t lave ye. The Lord’s waitin’ right over there, chil’,” and his dim eyes turned toward the sea, “and I’m dreadful langin’ to go to him. Can ye see him, Mirry-Ann, houldin’ out his han’, and lil’ Emma with him? ”
” John Thomas,” the girl whispered hoarsely, knowing that the words she was about to speak were to seal her doom, “John Thomas, tell him I’ve promised.”
John Thomas felt for the old man’s hand, and held out his other for Mirry-Ann’s. Solemnly the girl put her hand between his and the old man’s, which was cold with approaching death.
“Ould Ned,” John Thomas said proudly, “we’re axin’ thy blessin’, Mirry-Ann an’ me. We’ve been doin’ a deal of courtin’ since you was took bad, and we’ve fixed things up now.”
The smeared blue eyes of the dying man gleamed suddenly with a youthful brightness, and he struggled to find breath to speak.
“God bless you, Mirry-Ann; God bless you, John Thomas.” There was a pause for a moment, and when the old man spoke again John Thomas had bent his ear to listen. “John Thomas, you’ll be mighty kind to yer wo-m’n. She likes a deal of lovin’, does Mirry-Ann. An’ if she’s a bit saf, John Thomas, be aisy with her. She’s not one of them sort as can stan’ a bit of scouldin’.”
“I’ll promise all that, ould Ned,” he said reverently. “It’s easy to be kind to her when I’m lovin’ her like I do.”
The old man lay without speaking for some time; the little flame of life that had burnt up so brightly had waned again. Mirry-Ann and John Thomas still stood hand in hand watching his last moments.
“He’s trying to speak,” Mirry-Ann said, and she placed her ear close to his lips.
“It’s makin’ me go aisy, Mirry-Ann. Are ye there, chil’? Would ye put up a prayer?”
John Thomas and Mirry-Ann knelt down and together they said the Lord’s prayer in Manx:
“Ayr ain t’ ayns niau, Casherick dy row dt ennym. Dy jig dty reeriaght. Dt’ aigney dy row jeant er y thalloo myr te ayns niau. Cur dooin nyn arran jiu as gagh laa. As leih dooin nyn loghtyn myr ta shin leih dauesyn ta jannoo loghtyn nyn ‘oi. As ny leeid shyn ayns miolagh; agh livrey shin veih oik. Son lhiats y reeriaght, as y phooar, as y ghloyr, son dy bragh as dy bragh. Amen.”
The girl knew that the dying man loved the sound of the familiar prayer in the old language that was dearest to his heart. It is impossible to imagine the fine flow and musical rhythm there is in the prayer if it is spoken by one who knows the Manx language well enough to let the words undulate and lapse into each other. Soft murmurs came from his lips in place of his old accustomed groans and the repetition of particular lines. The girl waited for a moment; then she repeated the last words again. “For thine is the kingdom of heaven, the power and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.”
“Son lhiats y reeriaght, as y phooar, as y ghloyr, son dy bragh as dy bragh. Amen.” The old man raised his head from the pillow and said the words slowly after the girl. His dim eyes were gazing at something beyond, with an expression which told Mirry-Ann that already his feet were in the deep waters, that he had seen Jesus.
Then his head fell back. The peace of death was on his face, the feeble light had burned out; old Ned Gawne’s girl was left alone to the care of blind John Thomas.
The months that followed the old man’s death were the most terrible in Mirry-Ann’s life. A strong reaction set in from the mental excitement she had been labouring secretly under for many months. There were now the dull autumn days to be spent principally in John Thomas’s company — uneventful days of ponderous devotion, which forced themselves upon her as a foretaste of her whole future life.
She had leisure now to weigh and consider the position she had rushed into at an over-whelming crisis — at a moment when gratitude and pity were her strongest feelings. Her pity for John Thomas had increased instead of lessened, for it was as she had expected — only as time went on that the man was able to realize his own pathetic condition. How it hurt the girl to see him daily press a bit of seaweed to his cheeks to feel the state of the weather from its variable texture instead of reading with his eyes the sailor’s message in the sky; or when his mates called out to him on their way to and from the port, leaving him sitting like an old man past the day’s work, yet knowing by long custom just what each man was doing. He began, too, to realize in his blindness the exquisite beauty of the world he was now excluded from, feeling it as he had never felt it when he had eyes to see. John Thomas in the days of his youth had looked upon day as beautiful if it was favourable for fishing or dry for harvesting — a day in fact that could be put to some practical use. It was strange, he thought, that the pictures that now forced themselves upon his brain had other beauties in them. He loved to recall the dazzling heat rays in the clear Island atmosphere, or the exquisite stillness of drifting clouds hovering in a circle round the top of some green mountain near the sea, or the tearing scud rushing inland from the Atlantic, enveloping even Bradda’s proud head in its wild chase. All these things seemed now to belong to the truest pleasures of life. That deep sympathy with Nature which had been Mirry-Ann’s birthright only came to John Thomas as a mournful regret. Beauties of land and sea were now reflecting themselves upon his brain in a way exactly similar to a dreamer’s reflections of some object or incident which had quite unconsciously affected his brain while awake. As the long autumn days slowly passed John Thomas grew fretful and irritable. He was more deeply in love with Mirry-Ann than ever, but he had commenced to take her unselfish attentions to himself as his right and a matter of course. He was living again in his own stone house and Mirry-Ann was sharing Nance Quin’s cottage, but John Thomas’s people let the girl understand that as she was to be married to John Thomas in the spring they expected her to take the burden of amusing the blind man on her shoulders. And the blind lover was terribly exacting. If Mirry-Ann did not appear at the very moment John Thomas had appointed he grew uneasy and suspicious, for there was always Emily Corrin’s tittle-tattle about the squire’s attentions to Mirry-Ann to feed the old fire of hatred which had burnt and burnt in his heart until it had affected him like a deadly poison.
Mirry-Ann had kept the secret of her mother’s marriage to herself. She had dwelt and pondered over the subject until there seemed no clear way out of the difficulty but the one sure way of perfect silence. It would be impossible to tell John Thomas half of her story without telling it all, and now, more than ever, as she was to be his wife it would be better for their chance of happiness if her position in his eyes remained unchanged. It seemed to be her duty more clearly every day to marry and to take care of this man who had lost so much for her sake; and day by day, as she watched his narrow limits of life and heard his fretful murmuring, she prayed that her atonement would in some way compensate for the affliction she had brought on him. John Thomas’s blindness had the effect of almost suffocating him; he never grew more accustomed to the darkness, but felt that each succeeding day must of necessity bring daylight. His mind was living in hideous imprisonment, rebelling and waiting for release. His other senses had not developed as acutely as might have been expected, for he had taken no trouble to use them. He was blind, there was an end of it ; for him there could never be any substitute for sight. He merely laughed when Mirry-Ann assured him that blind people grew in time to know the sense of colour by touch.
“My gaugh! Mirry-Ann,” he would exclaim impatiently, “that fellow’s blindness was only shammin’; it warn’t d__d ugly blackness like mine at all;” and so to comfort John Thomas was impossible.
What good could it do any one to tell him that she was the deserted daughter of the late Squire of Ballaugh — that the young squire, who was so well liked by every one in the village, was not the rightful owner of Ballaugh; that he ought to be turned out into the world penniless, and his Uncle Robert reign in his place?
It was thus that the autumn days slipped into winter, and the mild Island winter broke into spring. Once more the fleet was getting ready to sail and the little village was all astir. In a few days there would be none but women and children left, and a few ailing old men. Even the boys who had just left school were getting ready to go off to sea to serve as cooks on board the boats. Some of the men were provident enough to have learnt a trade to occupy the winter months. John Thomas’s marriage suit had just been cut and sewn by one who was half tailor, half fisherman. But in the springtime the tailor would give up his cross-leg seat on the kitchen table, and lay aside the old suit that was to be turned and the bales of blue cloth waiting to be made into chapel clothes with the promise that they should be finished in time.
John Thomas and Mirry-Ann were to be married before the fleet went out. John Thomas had urged it, for the movement of life and bustle in the village had made his own state more unbearable than ever. Perhaps if he had seen the look of uncomplaining misery in the girl’s eyes he would have hesitated ere he accepted his own happiness at such a price. But his pity for himself and the desire to make his life as bearable as possible, left him little thought for others. His passion for her had become almost a mania, and often the girl doubted if in his heart he really loved her, or if her society was the pleasure to him that he imagined it to be; for he was constantly complaining of her lack of spirits, and accused her of being poor company for a fellow who had to depend on what he heard for the pleasure of his days. He thought nothing of confessing his annoyance of the fact that although he was soon to be married to the girl whom he had loved every day of his life since he had carried her books home from school, he had no sympathetic insight into her true nature. This he seemed to look upon as her fault. Yet bluntly sensitive as he was, he felt very keenly that in their married life Mirry-Ann would ever be treating him with womanly pity — that her love for him was but the outcome of her tender loyal nature.
And yet there was no mistake about the anxiety John Thomas evinced for the girl’s presence. It really seemed as if his whole being was burning with a devastating fever when she was away from him; but instead of her return bringing peace and repose to his mind, he was fretful and jealous of her repeated assurance of devotion.
This man, who had accepted the knowledge of his blindness so quietly and thus unwittingly kindled a new respect for himself in the girl’s heart, was growing day by day more irritable and discontented. He was no hero now. He was feeling the spring, the neighbours said, and the spring was mighty trying to some folk.
John Thomas was feeling the spring, but not in the manner their words suggested. He was feeling the spring in the song of the birds, the scent of the blackthorn, the cries of the young lambs, and indeed in the consciousness of all things green and tender renewed upon the earth. Even the blind man was instinctively aware, without referring to the months, that it was springtime, and that the beauty of youth was over all the land. The glossy leaves of the celandine were turning the brown ditch sides green, and here and there precocious pimpernels were asserting their belief in sun-worship. But the birth of spring had come without hope for John Thomas; it had indeed forced its poetic charm on his senses only to make his blindness still more blind. With the return of spring a young man’s healthy desire for an active, busy life awoke in him a heartsick longing to be up and busy about his fishing. Ah! if he had only eyes now he would enjoy every little occupation which before had only gone to make up a day’s work.
One spring day Mirry-Ann had deserted John Thomas for a few hours to wander over hill and dale, and into the dark glens full of soft uncurling ferns and nesting birds. These secluded glens, so typical of the Island’s rich beauty, had boastful little streams playing through them, where fish of goodly weight were often caught. Mirry-Ann had some youthful association with almost every step of the Colby stream. Here she had paddled in it as a child and reached for the big blackberries which hung, so full and cool, just over the water’s brim; there, on the tall rowan tree which lent one branch to form a bridge across two high boulders on either side of the stream, she had sat and read the few books which had been awarded to her as prizes at school. One deep “dub,” as a pool is called, held the miller’s trout, which had grown so fat and wise that no man had ever succeeded in catching it. Then there was the beautiful open piece of greensward right in the middle of the glen, called the Fairies’ Mount, which the children were afraid of passing even in the daytime. As she wandered on, living in the memory of the past, her step grew elastic and the present became entirely forgotten. She walked heedless of where her feet were leading her, trusting to her instinct to take her home when she was bodily fatigued. For the time being it was enough to drink in the deep throat-notes of the cuckoo as it journeyed through the glen, calling out over the distant hills its amorous song of spring. The sweet scent of the pungent earth was sweeter than a bouquet of flowers in the girl’s nostrils, for her heart was throbbing and beating for spring. She would lie down on the green moss banks to get closer to the dear earth. The dark-green needles pricked her soft cheeks, like the sweet pain of her lover’s parting kisses. She lay for a moment on the steep bank with her face pressed against the green mossy pillow. The cuckoo’s note was travelling farther and farther from her; she heard an eager trout splash now and again in the water below. Suddenly a footstep came stealthily toward her and a hot breath swept over her face. She started up in alarm, but only the meek brown eyes of a calf gazed inquiringly down upon her. It had strayed from its mother in the field beyond. She put her hand into its soft mouth and let the young thing lick her fingers— the tickling sensation thrilled her nerves. She would have pulled her hand away but the calf clung to it. A half-hysterical laugh burst from her lips; the calf was frightened and flew bounding and gambolling into the field. “You dear, dear young thing,” she said, “do you know that everything is beautiful and you as well; that though my heart is broken, to-day I can forget it? To-day I won’t let myself think for one single moment. I will just feel and see God’s beautiful world.”
She rose to her feet with impatient haste. There were a hundred spots she wished to visit on this glorious spring day, a hundred dear memories to recall. She almost tripped and fell as she hurried over the rough ground. The beauty of the world was all her own to-day; soon she would have to share it with blind John Thomas. Nature was her lover once more, as she had been in the days long ago when they had wandered and wandered in sweet, silent sympathy. Those were days when it was a joy to be alive because she was young and the world was beautiful, and Youth holds a kingdom of Hope. Those were the simple days when she had seen God’s hand in all things clearly pointing out her duty. Duty itself had been so simple.
She wandered on to the opening of the glen at the foot of the mountain valley, and followed the stream by its bank. The sharp click and the whirr-whirr of a fishing line pulled taut by some rebellious trout caught her ear. She looked up suddenly and saw the Squire of Ballaugh fishing within a few feet of her. Curiosity to see whether the fish would be safely landed kept her perfectly still. She stood with eyes fixed on the line which the squire was playing in and out to humour the antics of the struggling trout. Suddenly the fish appeared high in the air, and then by an adroit turn of the wrist was landed safe on the bank, just at the girl’s feet. Mirry-Ann gave a breathless little ejaculation of surprise and admiration, and knelt down on the grass beside it.
“What a beauty!” she said, with eager eyes upturned to the man standing above her. “It must weigh quite half a pound.”
Fishing was the only form of sport which awakened no pity in Mirry-Ann’s heart. She was a true fisherman’s child in that respect, for to her all kinds of fish, from trout to whales, seemed the legitimate and natural food or sport for human beings. There was no fox-hunting in the Island to arouse her sympathy for the fox, but the sight of a pack of beagles in full scent after a panting hare was loathsome to her. What pleasure could be derived from running a gentle beast to death she never could understand. She had often argued the point, both with Dick Schofield and John Thomas. But the skill required to deceive a trout into the belief that an artificial fly was real, and thereby hooking him, held some scientific claim to being sport. A net full of shimmering herrings was a beautiful sight in her eyes, just as black nets (meaning empty) were ugly. So now, though she turned her head away while the squire unhooked the wriggling trout and broke its neck, its sudden death did not demand her pity. He opened his fishing basket, bedded with soft moss, and was about to lay the fine trout in it, when she laid a detaining hand on the lid.
“Let me see, please. Have you had good sport?”
He looked into her eyes before he opened it, and the girl dropped hers in embarrassment. Then he raised the lid mechanically and held the basket to her for inspection.
“What a fine basketful!” she said, a little nervously.
“Yes,” he said, “I was out early. But it’s too clear now. I shall have to leave off.” He wound up his reel and swung the basket round on his back. “Where are you walking to?” he asked. “May I come with you?”
“I am going to nowhere,” she said, trying to speak naturally.
“Then I will go to nowhere too,” he said. “It is much nicer wandering to nowhere on a day like this than doing something prosaically definite, like going home to lunch. No, don’t be afraid,” as he saw her eyes grow troubled. “I won’t distress you with any unwelcome attentions. I hear the date of your marriage is fixed. I must wish you happiness.”
They walked by the bank of the stream, and the gurgling and running of its waters over a rocky bed broke the silence and saved her replying to his words. The lights on the mountain were as beautiful as they had been half an hour before, the cuckoo’s note was as full; but for the girl the magnetism of the spring had died out ; it was no longer smiling with the assurance of youth, a shadow had fallen on the landscape. Going on their idle way they came across a table-shaped rock, a tempting seat in the sunlight.
“Will you rest here,” he said, “and tell me about your marriage?”
The girl sat down wearily. She was wondering within herself if it would not be wise to tell him her true relationship with himself without divulging her mother’s whole story. The suggestion forced her lips into speech, for she knew at the moment their eyes met that it was morally the right thing to do.
“Yes, if you will listen,” she replied. “There is something about my marriage and myself that I must tell you, for it concerns you as well as me.”
He sat down beside her, wondering what she had to say, fondly grasping at a hope that it might be a confession of love for himself. And so it came to pass on that sweet spring day which was to have been her one careless day of roaming, that Mirry-Ann told the squire, with her head bowed as if in shame, the story of his father’s love for her mother.
When she had finished she sat nervous at the painful silence, waiting for some comment from the man at her side, but the gurgling river went hurrying on over the shallows and boulders, and the green linnets chirped and twitted as they flew with staccato movement from bush to bush. Earth’s many voices filled the air, but the man remained silent.
“Pray God I have done wisely in telling you,” she said at length, tenderly; but she spoke to deaf ears, for the squire was momentarily unconscious of sight or sound; thought dominated every sense. Mirry-Ann’s eyes travelled over mountain, sky, and glen, Attentively she watched the gathering and parting of the white cloud which drifted round the heights of Barrule. The cuckoo’s two liquid notes were faint now, the homeless wanderer was nearing a gorse cover in the foothills. She repeated to herself the old rhyme which always came to her with the first cuckoo’s song:
“A cuckoo’s note in May is worth a ton of hay;
A cuckoo’s note in June is not worth a silver spoon.”
She put her hand on the squire’s arm, a little pleadingly. He turned and looked at her; there was an expression in his eyes as if he was seeing her as she really was for the first time.
“Is this quite true?” he’ asked. “Are you perfectly sure?”
“I am quite, quite sure; perfectly certain.”
“Have you unmistakable evidence? Could you prove it?”
“Yes, I could prove it, but I never shall — you must promise that. No, no! no one but you must know,” she said earnestly. “Not even John Thomas. It is a secret between you and me.” Her eyes beseeched him to comply.
“O God!” he said with a cry, “to think that you are my father’s child — to think that he was the cause of all your mother’s suffering — to think that I loved you! “A great sob of horrified misery shook him.
“Can you not love me a little as a sister now?” she said pleadingly.
He rose to his feet and looked down on her. “No,” he said, “you ask too soon. You do not understand. Can there be no mistake? How has the secret been kept so long?”
She looked up at his pale, agonized face questioningly. He was still looking searchingly down at her. “Of course it is true; your undeniable proof is in your very existence. You are more like my father’s people than my sister Grace is.” He put his hand before his eyes and groaned. “How are the sins of the fathers visited upon the children! ”
Mirry-Ann rose and stood by his side.
“Do you blame me for telling you? I thought that if we were to go on living in the same village, and if we were to see each other very often, it would make my life a little easier if you thought of me differently — if you learnt to look upon me -”
“Yes, yes,” he said gently. “I see, I understand. It made the knowledge of my love hideous to you. You were right to tell me, and I thought my love for you was so pure.”
She stood without speaking by his side, feeling as if she was in some measure to blame for her father’s sin. She had brought this misery upon him. His face, so handsome in its boyish beauty, seemed suddenly withered. She hated herself for having told him.
“Mirry-Ann,” he said, forcing himself to speak, “I will go away and I will not come back till I have learned to think of you as my sister. My love for you was a pleasure to myself. I loved you with all that was best and highest in me — and now it is a crime.”
“Oh! — but you will” the choice of words to express her meaning delicately was hard to find, “you will keep our secret. You will never, by your treatment of me, arouse suspicion. If you avoid your home and me -”
“No, no,” he answered sadly, “I will never do anything which will betray your mother’s secret, or cast a slur on our father’s name. He died an honoured man. He has left his children to bear the shame.”
“Thank you,” Mirry-Ann said; “and you may trust me. Your sister shall never know.” She held out her hand to say good-bye. “I will go home now.” She knew that the world
she had opened to him excluded her, and yet she had only told him the half of what she knew. “Good-bye, Mirry-Ann, good-bye,” he said,
trying not to detain her. “Our walk together
has taken us farther than I thought.”
A few days after Mirry-Ann’s meeting with the squire, when John Thomas was sitting alone waiting for her usual evening visit, Emily Corrin looked in on her way to chapel. She had been a pretty frequent visitor at John Thomas’s stone house of late, and the nervous, over-wrought man had grown to enjoy the chatter of her busy tongue, for she was not above re-peating to him any evil gossip going through the village, or telling him a coarse joke with a hearty laugh. This particular evening she bounded into the kitchen parlour with an air of great importance, and asked slyly for Mirry-Ann. On being told that she was not there she laughed suspiciously, and said saucily:
“I’d best keep it then till she comes, or the master will be angry.”
“Keep what?” John Thomas asked jealously.
“Only a letter from the squire,” the girl answered casually. “He was axin’ me to give it to her myself. He was mortal particular about it.” Emily drew a big breath, and paused dramatically. “My brother saw them walking in Colby Glen together the other day. You’ll have to hurry up and get married soon, John Thomas.”
“Read the d__d thing this moment.”
John Thomas’ said, with all the fury of his ungovernable temper roused in a second. “There’s nothing the squire’s got to say to Mirry-Ann that I haven’t a right to hear. Read it, Emily.”
Emily Corrin hesitated and pretended to object. “But, John Thomas, there may be something about Mirry-Ann that I’ve no right to know; ” she said the words meaningly as she laid the letter down on the table.
John Thomas felt for it, and took it up in his trembling hands. He cursed his blindness, and cursed the woman he loved, and then threw the letter at the girl by his side. “If Mirry-Ann’s contented to go out to the chapel to a meetin’ and leave me sittin’ alone here all afternoon, I’ll be using some other person’s eyes besides hers to read to me.”
Emily tossed her head and answered him pertly.
“The letter warn’t for you, John Thomas. There may be something particular in it,” and she put it noiselessly into her pocket. Her last remark had been said on purpose to annoy her faithless lover. He was blind now, and she had no fancy to be a blind man’s wife, even if he owned the big stone house of the village, for a slate roof would scarcely make up for such an irritable husband. But her grudge against Mirry-Ann was not lessened. However, she had reckoned without her host, for although John Thomas was blind he had still a man’s strength. He caught the girl’s hands in his and twisted her wrist until she screamed out with the pain.
“My gaugh!” he cried, “but ye’ll read every d__d word or I’ll squeeze the life out of ye. If I’m to be livin’ in cursed darkness for the rest of me days I’m not goin’ to be made a fool of by my wife. Read me every word, d’ye hear?”
Emily Corrin gasped with pain. “Lave go, John Thomas, lave go, an’ I’ll do what yer axin’.”
John Thomas let her go. “Quick!” he said, “be quick, for Mirry-Ann will be comin’ back.” But the treacherous Emily free was a very different person from Emily bound. She jumped nimbly off her seat at John Thomas’s side, and crossed the reborn to where he could not reach her.
“There’s no need to marry Mirry-Ann, John Thomas. You’re a free man yet, though they are axin’ yer banns in church.”
“Hould yer d__d tongue,” John Thomas growled. “I’ll marry Mirry-Ann Gawn as sure as I’m livin’, and if the squire’s tryin’ any more of his dirty tricks I’ll find a way to kill him if I’m sendin’ my own soul to hell for doin’ it.”
Emily took the letter from her pocket. “Well, it’s your own affair, John Thomas. If trouble comes of it, it’s you as has frekened me into doin’ it.” She burst open the letter and read it aloud slowly, for the squire’s writing was difficult to read:
“Dear, dear, little Mirry-Ann: How can we live in the same village and keep our secret? I can not promise, and yet I should like to spare my sister — you know what her pride is, her pride of race. I can’t trust myself to see you. God bless you, little Mirry-Ann, and reward you. I leave home in a few days. Good-bye.”
When the letter was finished, Emily crept into the far corner of the kitchen, trembling and terrified at the blind man’s rage. The purple veins in his forehead stood out like soft cords, and he ground his teeth together like an angry dog. Abusive language was hurled at the squire, and in his madness he called upon God to curse him. Yells of awful rage at his own blindness interrupted his curses.
“John Thomas,” the girl cried to him in despair, “you’ll not be gettin’ at the squire that way at all. Now if I was you I wouldn’t be lettin’ on to a mortal soul that I’d seen the letter, or that the squire was comin’ after Mirry-Ann, and it’s a deal more chance ye’ll have of bein’ even with him.”
“How can a blind man be aven with one as has got his eyes?” he said sullenly, but with his rage cooled down. “How can I be trustin’ to Mirry-Ann for the truth of what she’s sayin’, when I can’t see her eyes, and him comin’ tryin’ to soil her pure soul?” for Mirry-Ann was still pure in his eyes.
“John Thomas, if you are that set on marryin’ her, I’d not be lettin’ on that yer know at all. Wait till ye’re her husband.”
“Aye, wait,” John Thomas said vindictively; “wait till I’m her husband!” and the poor jealous lover broke into bitter weeping. “Burn
the letter, Emily, burn the dirty thing. O Mirry-Ann, Mirry-Ann!” he cried, “if I could joost put a sight on yer eyes I would know if ye was deceivin’ me. But what else can it be? Have ye burnt it, Emily Corrin?”
A bright little flame licked the letter up and left it a soft brown roll in the middle of the red coals; but Emily could still trace the formation of the squire’s handwriting on it quite plainly. She took the poker and touched it gently, and the squire’s poor letter fell into a little heap of soft powder.
“It’s clane gone now, John Thomas,” she said, when she had watched the letter fall into dust, ” it’s clane gone. You’ll keep the secret, John Thomas? Don’t be let tin’ her guess till after you’re married at all.”
“After I’m married,” John Thomas said, “after I’m married. I’m thinkin’ the days won’t never pass at all. Did ye ever believe in a pree-sentiment, Emily?” John Thomas was proud of the big word and pronounced it slowly, emphasizing the first syllable. “I’ve had a pre-sentiment them last two nights.”
“What’s that, John Thomas?”
“Something ye can’t see nor speak to, tellin’ ye somethin’ bad is goin’ to happen. It was mortal plain to me last night and I was fair frekened. When I was sittin’ here seem’ myself goin’ to church with Mirry-Ann, somethin’ dreadful like was always comin’ between us, and joost as soon as ever I was forgettin’ about it and talkin’ there with Mirry-Ann, it was comin’ again. Mirry-Ann couldn’t see it at all, and she was lafin’ at me, but it was true all the same.”
“What was it like, John Thomas?” asked Emily, all her native superstition and Manx curiosity aroused.
“Don’t axe me, gal. The kind of thing you’ll be seein’ only in the dark sometimes, and I’m seein’ now all day long — things that aren’t goin’ about in the daytime at all. It may be ye’re thinkin’ it’s only fancy, but I’m callin’ it pree-sentiment. Ough! it’s dreadful. Sometimes when I’m takin’ hould of Mirry-Ann’s hand I’m feelin’ a could hand she can’t feel at all comin’ between us, and sometimes -”
“Hush!” Emily Corrin said; “that’ll be Mirry-Ann and Nance Quin comin’ now, so I’ll be sayin’ good-bye, John Thomas. I wish I could see ye lookin’ a bit cheerfuller like, for I’m not the sort to wish ye bad luck cause ye acted badly to me.”
“Good-bye,” said John Thomas, his mind still running on his presentiment.
When Mirry-Ann appeared with the tender welcome she always gave the blind man, he demanded gruffly where she had been, but he never could withstand long the softness of her voice.
“Over to the churchyard,” she said softly. “I went to put some flowers on dad’s grave.” She did not tell John Thomas that she kept another grave (which had grown green since John Thomas had seen it) bright with fresh wild flowers. There was a beautiful wreath of wind-flowers and wild violets on it now. “The primroses are so beautiful, dear,” she said, “I brought some home for you.” She held the soft bunch of spring-scented flowers to his face. “Don’t they smell of spring and everything that is fresh and new-born? ”
John Thomas drew in a deep breath of their innocent perfume and held them with the girl’s two hands close to his face. She felt a tremor of anguish pass through him. He did not speak, he could not, for the primroses and the sweet air of the woods clinging to the girl had struck the deepest chords of his being. Oh, to be out with her, to wander through the green fields, to linger by the spring hedges smiling with flowers, to open his impotent eyes and see again! All this the primroses suggested by their subtle scent. To most people the scent of some flowers is full of association.
Mirry-Ann drew his strained face down to her lips and kissed his blind eyes. She leant against his breast affectionately and whispered, “My dear, my dear, I didn’t think. I might have known. Oh!” she cried suddenly, “I couldn’t bear it, not in the springtime.” She was sobbing, and John Thomas felt her hot tears drop on his hands. Then he tried to comfort her — comfort her in her pity for him- self.
“Mirry-Ann,” he said, stroking her pretty hands with his, which had grown strangely smooth and white, ” there’s somethin’ I’m longin’ to see a powerful lot more nor the hedge flowers — somethin’ I’m wantin’ to make sure and sartin isn’t changed since I’ve been blind.”
“Can’t I tell you, Tom? Shouldn’t I know? ”
“No, Mirry-Ann, ye can’t, for no one can read the truth about their own eyes.”
She laughed a little nervously. She had grown rather afraid of Tom’s wild sayings of late.
“My eyes are all right, dear. What makes you think they’re changed?”
“The kind of voice yer speakin’ in, Mirry-Ann; it’s clane changed. It’s makin’ tears come in me blind eyes sometimes.”
The girl tried to speak lightly. “Oh, that’s only a foolish fancy. What do you think could have changed my voice?”
“I mean, Mirry-Ann, that there’s somethin’ in yer voice that’s hurtin’ me a deal more nor bein’ blind. Augh! but if I could only see yer eyes, I could know if they were changed at all. It’s mortal aisy to deceive a man that’s blind, lass, but yer forgettin’ that me ears is gettin’ powerful smart, and they’re tellin’ me a lot more nor ye would think.”
The girl disengaged herself from his arm, and said with spirit, “You imagine all sorts of foolish things in your fond heart, Tom, but I’m not going to listen. I’m going to put the primroses in a dish on the table, for it’s time to see about getting something for yer supper.”
John Thomas let her go from him apathetically, and his head dropped as he murmured: “Not foolish things, Mirry-Ann, but evil things. Oh! if the Lord would only come down and look into my heart he’d find it as black as coal. Maybe he’d have pity on the evil he’d find there, and set about makin’ it as clane again as a little child’s.”
John Thomas had many a time, in the days when they were children together, laughed at Mirry- Ann’s tender heart, but ah! how precious it was to him in his blindness to feel that it ached for him now. In her gracious pity she understood even the blackness that was in his heart, and comforted him with the assurance that the most saintly lives had experienced the blackness of hell in times of temptation, and that it was only by prayer that she herself could drive out the sin that entered her heart. And her words comforted John Thomas, for he was overwhelmed with a Methodist’s despair that the Lord had forsaken him.
As the days drew nearer to their marriage, John Thomas Costain’s presentiment of coming evil took a stronger hold on his mind, and his people, by the urgent advice of the doctor, took him over to the Port for change of air. While he was there a great storm arose at sea, and John Thomas had persuaded two of his friends to walk out with him to the point of Bradda Head, for he had a restless longing to feel the storm-spray on his face once more from some windy headland, and to hear the roar of the wide Atlantic. News had just been brought to the Port of a fresh landslip on the lower slopes of Bradda Head, which looks, as it stands up proudly from the sea below, a glorious natural monument. But ah! for the vainglory of Bradda’s proud head, the Island knows well that the apparently precipitous crag is a mere boastful mass of unreliable earth, good for no mariner’s warning light, but lending a grand beauty to Port Erin’s blue bay.
Before reaching the Head, however, John Thomas confessed to his companions that his long imposed idleness had made him a bit soft, and begged to be left on a seat on the slope of the headland where he could feel the salt spray on his face and hear the thunder of the waves pounding on the rocks three hundred feet below. He had taken out his pipe and was content to sit and smoke in solitary silence. His companions were to pick him up on their way back from a small farm they intended to visit about a mile from where they left him on the road to Fleshwick Bay.
Their last words to John Thomas were words of warning that the narrow road beyond the seat on which he sat, and which led northward to the Head, was cut sheer off by the new landslip. A vast chasm had been formed right down to the sea, as if the earth had been suddenly split open by the fury of the storm. John Thomas knew well the danger of the famous chasms near Spanish Head, the greatest natural curiosities in the Island; and when his companions described the fresh rupture as being exactly similar in appearance to these famous chasms he had so often visited as a boy in search of rare sea-birds’ nests, it was not necessary to warn him twice not to move from his seat.
When his companions left him the evening was beginning to draw on, and the air, now that the last rays of the sun had left both land and sea, was fresh and chill. The moment the last note of colour had died out of the horizon the twin lighthouses on the Calf of Man shot out their lights like two early evening stars, and for twenty miles inland and at sea their revolving lights could clearly be seen, a warning to those journeying by sea that it is unwise for strangers to become too familiar with the outline of this particular Calf of Man.
The natural quietness of the high headland was only intensified by the crying of the sea birds, for the storm had driven them inland, and thousands of white gulls were hovering disconsolately about, finding no rest for their weary wings. John Thomas could hear their many wings swooping and fanning the air, while they curved round and round in endless circles. Their hungry crying was strangely like the persistent wailing of a fractious child. They were miserable and ill at ease, these exiles from the sea. Their cries of longing and impatience to get back to it reminded John Thomas of his own miserable condition; like them his home was the sea. How bitterly he resented his aimless life on land! He could never bear to sit alone in his darkness; his thoughts at once grew morbid and self-centred. He regretted having let his companions go.
Suddenly the blind man’s quickened ears caught the vibration of human footsteps. He listened intently while the steps grew distinct. He could count each footstep now, crisp and clear. It was the elastic walk of some one in the youth of life.
In another moment Squire Christian’s voice addressed him in surprised accents.
“Good-evening, John Thomas, are you enjoying the storm?”
“As much as a blind man can,” he answered gruffly, with little or no respect in his voice, for his hatred of the squire had become a rooted mania.
“It’s a glorious sight,” went on the young man pleasantly. “I’ve walked all the way round by Spanish Head. The Sugar Loaf and the chasms are fine on a day like this — the waves were coming right over the Loaf. Have you got any one with you?”
John Thomas made no answer, but gave a grunt of discontent. The squire walked on a few steps. He was now on the narrow path running up to the headland, the path which the men had told John Thomas was cut by the chasm. “Well, good-day, John Thomas,” he said; “if the storm abates I’m going away tomorrow, and I shan’t see you again for some time. I’m getting tired of this small place; I want a change.” He paused for a moment as if to collect himself for an effort. “I wish both you and Mirry-Ann great happiness in the future. You’ll be old married people when I return.”
John Thomas little knew what it cost the squire to say these few pleasant words, or perhaps even he in his sullen heart might have thanked him. Frank Christian had been walking in the sight of the storm all the afternoon; the meeting of the winds and the waves hurling themselves with such reckless abandonment on the rugged coast, seemed to be in sympathy with his own troubled heart. When the sea was troubled it dashed itself against the rocks, and spent its fury by scattering its white spray far and near. The fever of the storm would rise higher and higher until it had exhausted itself, then the calm blue of peace would come again; but his peace — would that ever return?
The squire, after wishing the blind man another good-evening, had walked halfway to the edge of the precipice before John Thomas recollected the sudden danger which was close at hand. He had forgotten his companions’ warning that the narrow goat path round the headland was cut off clean by the new chasm. When he suddenly realized the horrible danger which lay a few feet in front of the squire, and the certainty of instant death if he was not stopped in time, John Thomas tried to call out, but some power with the giant force of a nightmare held him tongue-bound. For two eternal seconds he fought to produce a sound, but his tongue rolled about like the tongue of an idiot.
Had his speech then become impotent as was his sight? But the power of speech is ruled by the brain, and deep-rooted in John Thomas’s jealous brain was the maniac’s desire for revenge, dominating and paralyzing his will power, and conquering the natural instinct to save a human life from destruction.
What devil in ambush, patient for the opportune moment, willing to wait half a lifetime, if necessary, had suggested to his overwrought brain that this was a blind man’s chance for revenge, this lonely moment which held but two human beings in a world of silence? The suggestion, followed by envy and hatred, awakened by the comparison of the squire’s healthy, vigorous manhood and his own helpless condition, came simultaneously with the recollection that the yawning chasm lay not two yards off. There was little time for mercy or justice; it was the devil’s moment, and with his magic power of suggestion he spread out before the blind man’s sightless eyes all the desire and love of a lifetime. In a critical moment the brain can receive suggestions and urge temptations which would take a whole lifetime to consider. In that supreme moment the dominion of evil over good may dictate actions which will bear fruit for all time.
John Thomas’s deed of revenge when the opportunity offered was wholly unpremeditated. There was but one chance given him of saving the man whom he hated pitted against the whole odds of the devil, and the chance was a small one even if the best in him had been given time to conquer. He was blind, and he could not trust himself to reach the man if he had sprung suddenly forward to detain him where he stood. There was but one chance of calling out a clear warning which should instantly arrest his steps, but elastic youth is not easily arrested. Quicker than words can describe, with revengeful, fevered thoughts the man reasoned that no warning now would prevent his enemy taking the few steps which would hurl him into hideous space. Does youth ever halt instantly at a warning cry? John Thomas could hear the fury of the sea lashing itself against the rocks in the chasm below. He knew the sharp rocks that lay there waiting where the bed of soft foam gathered. The sea birds swooped and circled overhead, heedless of the human tragedy which was being enacted so silently below. Facing him was the angry sea; behind him and on both sides was the clear green Island with its calm fields and heathered headlands.
Still John Thomas was silent, while he heard and mechanically counted, one, two, three crisp footfalls on the stony path; then, suddenly, there were no more! He was still struggling for the dominion of speech when unexpectedly his voice found its power in one long, hideous cry of warning.
It was like no human cry, and the countless sea birds took fright inland. He held his breath and listened. A cold, sickly sweat was dropping down his blanched face, and his heart was pounding like the incessant waves round the high headland and in the chasm below.
But the footsteps had either gone too far, or the squire was still standing rooted to the spot where he had heard the warning cry, not knowing which way to move. It was John Thomas’s eternal moment of blindness.
The devil had tempted him — was there no God to pity?
He shouted again, calling desperately on the squire to speak to him if he still lived. With bursting heart and burning brain he waited for the answer, but only his own words echoed round the high cliffs. If the squire had answered him the sea gulls must have drowned his voice, and the boom, boom, of the heavy sea as it cannoned against Bradda Head sounded to the desperate man like the signal guns of some ship in distress out at sea. John Thomas cried again in a voice hollow with lost hope and fear, but after the ghostly echo had died away like a floating spirit of despair all human sound was still.
The two revolving lights from the Calf still flashed alternately on land and sea, and the sea gulls, finding that no danger had followed that startling human cry, had become brave once more, and were venturing familiarly near the silent image of a man sitting on the seat near the cliff edge. They walked inquisitively round him with the proud strut and conscious balance of the sea bird ashore. They appeared to be taking wise counsel together, and inspecting him for future use. In the beautiful stillness of the scene there was nothing to suggest the awful human tragedy which had just been enacted, for the calm beauty of the land was intensified by the unrest of the sea.
John Thomas had been smoking when the squire first spoke to him, and so short a time had it taken to send that young soul on the wondrous journey, that his pipe was still alight when the fearful tragedy was ended. As John Thomas pulled at his pipe to kindle its smouldering ashes, he realized the awfulness of sudden death from which every Sunday he prayed to be delivered, and fear for his soul overwhelmed him. The loneliness of the scene in the deepening twilight was increased by the fearlessness of the wild birds. Some soft-toned rabbits were playing in and out of their round holes and sporting their white scuts in the gray air, while hovering over the high cliffs two wise jackdaws were choosing a close night’s shelter. But the one human being sat alone in his blindness and in terror of his God.
In the village of Colby the next morning there was unusual stir, for the Squire of Ballaugh was missing. He had left the “Big House” in the afternoon of the day before, and had not returned. All night Grace Christian had lain awake listening for his footsteps on the gravel under her window, and his rapid mounting of the stairs to his smoking room. It had not troubled her when he did not appear at dinner, for she naturally concluded that he had met some friends who had carried him off to dine with them in Castletown, their nearest town; but when lunch time came next day and there was still no news of, or message from him, she became anxious. The day was fair and calm, and the sea had abated. Everything was in readiness for his departure from the Island, which Grace had eagerly urged. Since the day on which Mirry-Ann had fainted the squire and his sister had gradually become estranged. But the long day passed and evening came again, and still the wanderer did not return.
The last that had been heard of him in the village was gathered from some one who had talked with a young fisherman who had seen the squire pass through the little town of Port Erin and take the road toward Bradda Head. It appeared to the man who saw him that he was making for Fleshwick Bay, and would probably drop down on the four cross-roads near Kirk Rushin, which was on the direct road to Colby and Ballaugh.
The news that he had been seen so near home late the evening before caused Grace and the villagers the greatest alarm. Before they heard this they hoped that he had been suddenly called to Douglas or Castletown, and had been detained there on business. In the old days, before their estrangement, her brother would never have left her, even for the night, without letting her know and saving her any anxiety. But within the last few months he had gone his own way, and there had been little or no confidence between them.
The third day of his absence left only three days until that fixed for Mirry- Ann’s marriage. John Thomas was still at Port Erin; he had urged on his wedding with anxious and morbid entreaties. His health had certainly not improved, nor had his spirits. He was determined only to return to the village the day before his marriage. He dreaded, in truth, having to listen to the endless discussions about the squire’s mysterious disappearance, which had by this time spread over the little Island. From far and near every effort was made, both publicly and privately, to find a clue to the mystery, but none was forthcoming. In Port Erin it was said that he had stopped to drink a glass of beer in an inn, and had spoken a few words to the barman about the storm. He seemed then to be in his usual good health and spirits.
Of course no one questioned John Thomas, for he was blind, and the sad news of the squire’s disappearance, and the only too likely conjecture that he had met with a sudden death, had completely unnerved him. The fact had to be faced that the squire could not have left the Island without first going to Douglas, for there was no steamer from Port Erin or Castletown, and that he had been seen in the town of Port Erin, not three miles from his home, on the evening of the day he disappeared. These two facts argued conclusively that he could have returned to his home before leaving the Island the next day if he had wished to do so. Besides, plenty of time had now elapsed for him to have communicated with his sister if he had left the Island unexpectedly. The Isle of Man Steamship Company were confident that he had not sailed by one of their boats, for they knew him well by sight, and before the tourist season began in the Island their passengers were not so numerous that he could have easily been over-looked.
The coast line round Fleshwick Bay was carefully searched, but with no result. “Wait till the ninth day,” the fishermen said, “and his body will be found floating where many a one’s been found before. Aye, and sheep and horses too, for every living thing has been swept off these wild rocks in a high wind.” It had been taken for granted that the squire had branched off to Fleshwick Bay before he had gone far on the road to Bradda Head, for he had spoken to the barman of going that way.
While there was no actual proof of his death there was still room for hope, and every day Grace Christian looked and waited for some sudden explanation of the mystery. But Mirry-Ann had no hope. A conviction had come to her that the squire was dead, and to her his death was not wholly sad. What other means could God have chosen to solve the problem of his life? To the girl, whose heart was breaking, death did not seem the worst thing that could happen. It seemed a simple, restful thing, and only too far from her, for she was young and healthy. Her personal sorrow for his loss was none the less, however, and the mystery connected with it was terrible. But one day the sea would give up its dead; and it was to the sea which centred round the whole life of her village that she looked for his grave. She said to herself that his death was one which would be described as accidental, for to human beings it was sudden and unexpected. But if the death of one sparrow is of account in his eyes, how much more ordained must be the death of one of his children. In God’s administration there are no accidents or unforeseen events.
On the night of the third day the village accepted his death, but Grace Christian alone remained stubborn in her belief that her brother would surprise her at Ballaugh by appearing at some unexpected moment. Yet in her heart she knew that it was unlike his affectionate disposition to cause her such unnecessary pain and anxiety by remaining silent. Every moment of the day she expected his return, and in her fierce rebellion against the supposition that he was dead she tried to pass the miserable days as if nothing unusual had happened. Each succeeding day saw the hope of the breakfast hour dragged into luncheon, and the lonely luncheon into dinner.
The squire’s place at table was always set in readiness for his return, and Grace would order the servant, her proud eyes burning with unshed tears, not to draw the master’s jug of beer until he came. His letters, too, remained unopened, for to open them would be to countenance the fear which hovered behind her like a ghost during her solitary meals. One trivial thing far more than the mournful forebodings of the villagers brought despair to the girl’s heart — the misery of the squire’s white cockatoo. The bird refused to be comforted, and mourned for its master with an almost human sorrow. It had been accustomed to sit on his shoulder during lunch and to feed from his hand. In his absence it now occupied his vacant chair and, with its white wings drooped and its uncanny eyes half closed, it sat opposite Grace Christian, mocking her poor effort at hope.
Grace grew frightened of the bird; its persistent mourning depressed and unnerved her. One day she attempted to turn it out of the room, but its wild shrieks rang through the house, and in the end the bird conquered. But its presence seemed to the girl like a white angel of death. It was unreasonable to conjecture that it was suffering from any specific malady, for it was plain to every one that it would have eaten heartily if its master had been at hand to feed it; without its master it had no desire for food, nor did it care to live. As the days passed and the squire did not return the bird pined and died, and with its pathetic death Grace felt that her dwindling hope too had died. Still she bore herself proudly and refused to accept openly the reasonable theory that her brother had lost his life in the storm. She would not publicly mourn for him until his dead body was brought home to Ballaugh.
But to return to Mirry-Ann. The few days previous to her marriage were slipping from her almost unconsciously. She was living like one in a dream, scarcely aware of her own identity, or of what was taking place around her. Physically she was in good health, for she ate and slept and worked like an ordinary person, but her sensitive feelings were for the time being dead. To think deeply was what she had schooled herself to avoid, to enable her to fulfil her promise to her dead uncle and to keep her troth with her blind lover. She had arrived at that point of mental anguish and pain of heart when insensibility to fresh sorrow is provided, just as physical suffering exceeding a certain degree is relieved by unconsciousness.
Mirry-Ann was living like a person walking in his sleep, performing mechanically the duties of her quiet life, but hardly aware at the close of each day of any event which had taken place or of the duties she had performed. The working of her brain seemed suddenly arrested; she was for a time merely a human machine. Mirry-Ann was a woman of strange but not wide possibilities. In her lonely and primitive life her religion had been the only outlet for her passionate nature, and there were two natures at war in her — the one inherited from her father’s family, a race of dare-devil men who had put little restraint on their natural desires, and the other inherited from her island forefathers, morbidly conscientious, schooled in the old puritanical teachings of the strictest of her sect. According to her environment the latter had predominated, but the former was like a smouldering fire that could never be quite put out. She belonged to the type of woman who finds a spiritual exultation in doing her strictest duty, and in making the most complete renunciation and self-sacrifice. The physical sufferings of such women are not one whit lessened, nor are their human desires less keen, but Mirry-Ann was sustained by a real and conscious support derived from the momentary uplifting of her heart in prayer in all situations of doubt and trouble. This unfailing habit of prayer was no doubt largely due to her early religious training and surroundings; for be it from true sincerity or from pious custom, a Methodist makes perpetual calls upon his God, and his name is never far from his lips. In his life habit is stronger than faith.
Why Mirry-Ann Gawne with her serious and intense nature was so sexually attractive it is difficult to explain, for men as a rule fight shy of such sombre tones in a woman. Yet to see her was to understand; for to see her was to feel her — it was in the whole blending of the woman. While you were touched by her gentleness, her beauty, and her reverence, you felt above all the power of her womanhood; you felt that this woman was a creature born to be loved. In her the divine and the human were exquisitely mingled.
And so the days, spent by all in watching and waiting for the squire’s return, slipped on to the date of John Thomas’s wedding. The bride had urgently begged her lover to again postpone their marriage, if only for one week further, until something had definitely been heard of the squire, but John Thomas would not be persuaded. His entreaties were persistent; if they waited one week they might have to wait many, and he had waited long enough. And what difference could it make if they were man and wife? There was to be no feasting or merry-making; they were to be married, and that was all. He appeared to be suffering from a state of extreme, nervous excitement, and the dread of any delay in securing the girl for his wife greatly increased it. As his nervous system was already so seriously exhausted Mirry-Ann gave in. John Thomas had made her the confidant of his evil presentiments. Over at Port Erin he had had warnings that their marriage would never take place, and he wished to defy them. They had tortured him for months past. Every Manx superstition associated with weddings found credence in his excited and overwrought brain.
On the evening before Mirry-Ann’s marriage Mrs. Hedges brought the bride a present, and told her a piece of news concerning her late tutor. His sister, she said, had married a wealthy stock broker, and their old maiden aunt had died and left her nephew all her money. He had sent kind messages to all his old friends in the village.
“He is terribly cut up about the squire’s sad disappearance. He says it will be many years, if ever, before he will have courage to come back to the Island.”
Mrs. Hedges was totally unconscious of the effect her words produced on the bride elect before her. When Dick Schofield had hinted to her that his reason for leaving the Island was to make a home for himself and the woman he loved, Mrs. Hedges had never questioned that the woman could be other than Grace Christian.
“Now that he will have a settled income for life of six hundred a year,” she said, “and with what he gets from his business appointment, he will not be such an impossible suitor for Miss Christian after all.”
Mirry-Ann looked at her with stricken, questioning eyes. “Miss Christian,” she breathed, almost inaudibly. “Do you think he will marry Miss Christian?” Though nothing mattered to her now, the words seemed to hit her with a blow.
“You must not say I said so,” the good-natured matchmaker cautioned, “but I believe he cares for her. You see his position was so hopeless before.”
“Why?” the girl asked, scarcely knowing what she said. “Why hopeless — if they loved each other?”
“He had nothing to marry upon.”
“No, nothing but love, you mean — nothing but foolish love. Does she love him?”
“I’m sure of it.” Mrs. Hedges laughed heartily. “She couldn’t have shown her feeling much more plainly unless she had asked him outright to marry her. For a proud nature like hers she was wonderfully humble when with him. They’ll make a lovely couple,” she continued reflectively. “I hope he’ll come soon and comfort her. In spite of what he says he ought to come — she’s so dreadfully lonely, poor child; but he speaks of going to America. It was not a happy letter in spite of the fortune, but love has many moods.”
Mirry-Ann suddenly came forward to where her visitor was standing and said hurriedly: “Perhaps marrying for love is not the highest thing after all, for that is marrying to please one’s self. If your life is not of any real use, if you are only living for yourself, do you think it is right to sacrifice your love for another’s happiness? If you can do good to others and make their life brighter and higher, there is surely something better in life than living for one’s own happiness and enjoyment. There is surely some reward — something to make amends for the sacrifice of love.”
The words poured forth in a nervous torrent from the girl’s lips, as if in protest.
“I think no one should demand such a sacrifice of another, or accept it.”
“But if they have a right to demand it— if they accepted it unknowingly — if the gift is willingly given?”
The woman, who was a true mother, put her arms round the girl and kissed her.
“Poor child,” she said, “we must all live our own lives, and be true to our own nature. No one can understand another’s, or advise; but take care that you have not overreached God’s estimate of human pity and self-sacrifice. It was he who gave us our natural feelings, and the highest of them is love.”
“Do you not think that if you can save even one life from slipping downward, and if the living can in a measure repay the debt of gratitude to the dead, the knowledge of it will in a measure repay the sacrifice?” The girl’s eyes were burning with suppressed emotion.
“Yes, if there is one human person who can live their life for others only, it may — their life of hot youth and desire. It is easy to give the sad end of your life to others, but not the beginning. But it is a difficult problem to solve, child. Life without love is a tasteless thing.”
The last words were spoken more lightly, for the anguish in Mirry-Ann’s eyes startled the kind-hearted woman.
Mirry-Ann did not speak, but followed her visitor to the door, and watched her active, practical figure go up the street a few yards. With a troubled heart Mrs. Hedges turned abruptly and came back to the girl. She put her large, warm hand on the girl’s slim cold one, and pressed it.
“Married life has many trials,” she said, not looking at the girl’s eyes, for her own were wet with tears. “Will you come to me as a friend? A little sympathy and fellow feeling sometimes helps, you know.” Then the brisk, matronly figure in its stout serge dress, the last that Dick Schofield had helped to buy, turned hastily away to save the bride a response.
On the wedding morning it was Nance Quin who helped to dress the bride. There had been no bridal grandeur, for the bridegroom could not see, and Mirry-Ann had no wish to array herself in smart wedding garments for the benefit of the villagers. The wedding was a “Poosey Fannag,” according to the old Manx saying, meaning a “cow’s wedding,” a term applied to a marriage where the bride has no relatives. But the Captain of the Parish was to give Mirry-Ann away, and act in the place of a father to the bride. Mrs. Hedges had sent her pony carriage to drive the bride to church, and John Thomas was to meet her with his best man at the church door.
The old maid’s fingers were trembling more than the bride’s when she helped to fasten John Thomas’s bouquet of “genteel” flowers in the front of Mirry-Ann’s black dress. To the romantic old woman who had cherished her own love story fondly in her heart for forty years, this solemn little wedding was more tragic than any funeral, and the bride’s quiet self-restraint more pathetic than tears.
As the two women drove to the church Mirry-Ann thought of the morning which now seemed so far away, when they had gone together to bury the lonely old woman, whose mysterious visit had so strangely altered the course of her life. How little she dreamt that harvest day that she would ever consent to become the bride of John Thomas Costain. How little her poor mother had known of the terrible legacy she was leaving her child in that paper which John Thomas had lost his sight to save. Of what value was it now?
The day was one when the Island was at its best, a smiling bridal morn, and she, Mirry-Ann Gawne, was driving to be married along the old road she had walked to and from school in the days of her childhood.
Nance Quin looked furtively at the bride now and then, and marvelled at her strange quietness, but the girl’s mind was travelling through past years of happiness and regret. A sad smile softened her firmly set mouth when a bird’s song or a wandering breath of meadow-sweet touched some slumbering chord in her heart. Surely on her wedding morning (which she had anticipated would drive her almost to madness in the early days of her betrothal) she should have something more important and serious to think about and to occupy her brain than these memories of her childhood, but the bird’s song overhead had brought clearly before her the day when John Thomas and some boy companion had robbed a skylark of its nest and brought it home to Mirry-Ann in triumph. The lark’s song now, afar up in the blue overhead, made her a little child again, taking back the nest, with John Thomas sulky and obdurate. She could feel the boy’s hot hand in hers as they knelt behind the green hedge of honeysuckle trailers and brambles, she watching with eager eyes the passionate despair of the bereaved mother, hovering in the air over the spot where her nest had been. And then the joy she had felt when the bird suddenly dropped down as it spied the returned nest and heard the cry of its young. Mirry-Ann had promised to walk home from school with John Thomas for three days in succession if he would restore the nest. She remembered that John Thomas had always expected some form of payment when he did anything for her sake, even when they were children.
And now they were passing the old inn with its family tree encircled with a seat spread half across the road. Richard Kenvig’s Halfway House it was called, and conveniently near it was one of the old funeral halting stones. Yes, the milestones of her childhood were being left behind, and soon they would be at Arbory church, a little whitewashed building without steeple or tower.
The shortest path through the little churchyard to the west end door where she was to meet John Thomas led across a stone stile and up a straight gravel path close by the churchyard boundary wall; but Nance felt that it would be undignified for a bride to stride the high stile, and for herself impossible, so the pony drew up at the iron gate, which was arched over by a flowering elder tree. The Captain of the Parish heard their arrival and was waiting at the gate to meet them.
With a good deal of importance and fatherly tenderness he helped the two women out of the low-seated pony carriage, and with an official air drew the girl’s arm through his. “John Thomas is a bit late, Mirry-Ann,” he said, “but don’t be feelin’ uneasy. It’ll be too particular over his tie, he is, I’m thinkin’. Now as I think on it, I was very near spoilin’ me blue silk tie meself the day I was married. So don’t be uneasy, lass.”
“I will wait for him here,” Mirry-Ann said, sighing unconsciously with relief at the little respite given her. She sat down on the old gray stone vault belonging to the family of Christian, and the Captain sat down beside her, but the old maid fussed up to them tenderly.
“Oh, don’t sit there, my dear. Let us come into the church. You must wait for John Thomas in the porch, not here.”
“No, no,” the girl exclaimed anxiously, “not in the church; it is so dark and gloomy. I can’t wait there, let me wait here.”
But Nance whispered in the Captain’s ear — “A bride must not wait on a gravestone or her bridegroom will be Death. A raven flew across our path as we came to church, but she did not see it. It quite startled the horse.”
The Captain frowned. He believed in the superstition as truly as the women, but by his superior education and the position he held in the parish he was supposed to scorn the old beliefs. He rose slowly, however, with the bride still on his arm, and walked toward the church. The old clerk who heralded the responses at marriages and all church functions met them and inquired anxiously if the bridegroom had come. The vicar, he said, was in the vestry waiting to perform the ceremony, and as he, the clerk, had had no opportunity of catechizing John Thomas in his responses and general behaviour during the service, his vanity was sorely hurt, for he had coached the entire population of Arbony parish in their various religious ceremonies — baptisms, confirmations, and marriages — for forty successive years.
“I’ll be goin’ to take a look up the road to see if I can put a sight on him,” the Captain said. “Don’t be uneasy, Mirry-Ann,” and he patted the girl’s hand tenderly; “he’ll be comin’ fast enough.”
Down the narrow path, white with seashore gravel and the glistening of broken shells, the girl heard the tread of the Captain’s heavy feet. When he reached the stile he stood on it and balanced himself with one hand against the high wall of the churchyard; from that point of vantage he could see a very long way up the straight road which led to the village. He stood for a moment shading his eyes, for it was a day of dazzling brightness.
“Here they come!” he cried back gaily to the bride. But the Captain spoke too soon, for there was only one figure in black hurrying along the road with a freer stride than the blind man had yet learnt to travel. The Captain waited a moment, straining his eyes to distinguish the figure on the dusty white road, for without doubt it was some one connected with the marriage, for he was wearing his Sunday suit.
The man put on an extra spurt as he neared the stile, and the Captain’s heart beat quickly, for he now recognised John Thomas’s best man in his blue pilot coat and his soft wideawake hat — a Colby man’s Sunday clothes, come heat or cold, come sunshine or come rain. The best man’s face was flushed and he was perspiring freely, for his blue coat was heavy and he had run the greater part of the way. He beckoned to the Captain to come to him, for he was not certain if the bride was close by.
“What’s up, lad?” the Captain asked, trying to speak lightly. “Has the bridegroom turned shy? ”
Before he answered the best man mopped his face with a coloured handkerchief and waited for breath. Then he burst out:
“My Gosh! Captain, it’s an awful thing that’s happened — ‘dade, but it’s fair awful. How can I tell the poor lass? ”
The Captain caught him roughly by the arm, for Mirry-Ann was running, her feet lightly crushing the white gravel on the path.
“Don’t be shoutin’ like that,” he said, “or ye’ll be lettin’ her hear, sure enough. What’s up, man — but speak saf — where’s John Thomas?”
The man replied in a hoarse, breathless whisper, with eyes looking wildly beyond the Captain at the figure of the bride, “Clane gone off his head.”
“John Thomas gone off his head?”
“Yes, in God’s truth, he’s gone clane off, and this his weddin’ day. ‘Deed, but it’s fair awful though! ”
Insanity was no uncommon thing in the remote Island villages, but this was a real tragedy. John Thomas was a distant relation to the Captain and his father, and they had been school friends together.
“What sent him off? He’s been lookin’ very bad them few weeks past, but I warn’t thinkin’ of his brain at all, though he’s been sayin’ some mighty queer things.”
“It’s dreadful strange. No one knows what sent him off at all, but he’s wantin’ to kill Mirry-Ann if he can get at her, and he’s talkin’ that wild about how he saw the squire fall over the cliff, just as if he had a couple of eyes as good as ye please. It was a treemenjous pity they took the news to him last night that the squire’s body was found right under the spot he had been sittin’ on that very night. Oh! but it’s shockin’, fair shockin’, the way he’s carryin’ on. You darn’t let Mirry-Ann go near him at all, for he’s took the mania to kill her.”
“Where is he now?” the Captain asked. He had drawn the man into a far corner of the little graveyard so that Mirry-Ann should not hear.
“Two young fellows is houldin’ him down for it’s dreadful strong he is. When I went to call for him this mornin’, thinkin’ he’d be waitin’ for me to fix him up a bit and set his weddin’ tie, I couldn’t put a sight on him anywhere, and would ye believe it, he was hidin’ in the little outhouse and cryin like a liI’ chil’, joost as clane naked as an Injen. The next moment he were blasphemin’ and cursin’ till it would make yer blood run cold to hear him, and all the time callin’ out that the sweet-lookin’ lass he was goin’ to marry was the worst devil in hell. It’s her eyes, he says, as is followin’ him about and cursin’ him. It’s her eyes as has drove him mad.”
He stopped suddenly, for Mirry-Ann had joined them, and she demanded to know what had become of John Thomas.
“What has happened?” she cried. “You must tell me. Don’t be afraid.” The poor bride looked searchingly from one man’s face to the other’s. “Is Tom dead?”
Neither had the courage to answer her direct question, for surely death would have been far better than the news they had to tell her.
“I am sure he is dead,” she said with an air of gentle conviction. “Every one belonging to me dies. I bring ill luck to every one. Don’t stand there afraid to tell me.” She put her hand entreatingly on the Captain’s arm. “You know I can bear it,” she said — “I have borne so much.” But the Captain could not speak.
“He’s a deal worse nor dead, lass,” the best man answered. “But he’s too ill to come to church.”
“Too ill,” the girl echoed in a voice of astonishment; “then he must be dying! Yes, John Thomas must be dying, or he would have come to his wedding. Oh! if you only knew what his marriage means to him! Let me get home as quickly as I can.”
She pushed aside the two men and hurried across the little green sunken mounds covered with tall grass and yellow kingcups, to the path which led to the gate. It was all that the men could do to reach her before she had jumped into the pony carriage and had started off for the village.
“Stop, stop! Mirry-Ann,” the Captain said entreatingly, ” yer man won’t know ye at all.”
“But I shall know him and nurse him. I must be with him when he dies.” She had paused a moment but was hurrying on again.
“But John Thomas isn’t dying, Mirry-Ann. It isn’t his body that’s sick at all!”
The girl’s eyes grew, and such a horrible fear came into their blueness that the man had not the courage to look at them.
“What is the matter with him? Please explain,” she said abruptly. She spoke with difficulty. “Be quick. Can not any of you ever tell a single thing directly? How can John Thomas be too ill to come to his own wedding if he is not ill at all?” Her voice ended in a cry.
“‘Cause it’s his mind that’s sick, Mirry-Ann. John Thomas’s brain’s a bit unsettled. He’ll be comin’ all right in time.”
“A bit unsettled,” she repeated slowly, and her slender figure swayed as if she were going to faint, while her hands went out to steady herself against the rail of the pony carriage. “A bit unsettled. O God!” and she laughed hysterically. “Are you trying to break it to me that John Thomas has gone mad?”
The young man stepped forward, for now that the news was out he felt anxious to take his part in the telling.
“Yes, John Thomas has gone clane off. He’s tremenjous bad — just as bad as Billy Costain’s wife, her as died in the luna-a-tic assy-lum last year. She was John Thomas’s first cousin, and John Thomas was the livin’ spit of her.”
“Oh, hush, hush!” said Nance Quin, “you’ll kill the girl. Poor, poor John Thomas! ”
“No, it won’t kill me,” Mirry-Ann said wildly. “All these things happen, and I have to go on living. When did he go mad? I saw him only yesterday. He was very queer and nervous, but I never thought — O God! I never thought. He has been so irritable of late. Is he so very bad?” she asked, scarcely pausing for an answer.
“Yes, he’s dreadful bad,” the best man said. “Ye’ll not be axin’ to see him joost yet, Mirry-Ann, for the poor fellow’s usin’ words he’s not meanin’ at all, and it’s a mortal strange thing, Mirry-Ann, that when any one’s gone clane off their head like, it’s always the one they are lovin’ the most that they’re takin’ a turn agin’. It’s mortal quare, isn’t it? Now Billy Costain’s wife was joost the same. She were tryin’ to murder her HI’ baby, the same as she’d nursed all them weeks when the fever was in. John Thomas is joost the same.”
Mirry-Ann shuddered. She only heard the man with her ears — her brain was conjuring up horrible pictures of the blind man in his madness. “Is he as bad as that?” she said wearily. “Surely blindness was sufficient affliction for one man.”
“Joost as bad and a deal worser; but when he’s better he’ll be lovin’ you all the more to make up for it. It ain’t no. fault of his at all, Mirry-Ann.”
The sudden shock had drowned all thought of herself, and of this strange explanation of John Thomas’s presentiment that his marriage would never take place, but at the man’s words that John Thomas would* love her even better when he had got over his madness, she recoiled.
“Oh, take me home, Nance,” she said miserably, turning feebly to the old maid; “perhaps I am going mad, too. What a terrible noise the rooks are making!” Her hand went up to her head as if to shut out the sound of their cawing, or to still the throbbing of her brain. In the old Friary grounds across the meadows there was a settlement of rooks, and hundreds of the birds were now swerving and swooping and blackening the sky, like a shower of black snowflakes. The old maid helped the girl tenderly into the carriage and took her place beside her.
Curious eyes were waiting in the village for the return of the bride. They were kind-hearted folk, the Colby women, and genuinely sorry for the girl who had suffered so much of late, but their native curiosity and love of morbid excitement was too strong to allow the finer feeling to interfere with their pleasure.
The flowers the little ones had gathered to throw at the young couple for luck when they came back from the church were left inside their homes, while the wives and maidens stood silently at their doorsteps and stared at the girl’s white face as she drove back with the old maid to her home
As Mirry-Ann’s wedding day passed, the outward calm of the village was undisturbed. There was no sign of tragedy in the quiet streets, or cloud in the sky to dim the wondrous atmosphere which sparkled from village to sea, and sea to distant Barrule. Nature’s conscience was seemingly at rest and her peace was reflected in her blue heavens and placid land. She took no moods or sadness from the human lives she surrounded, for at the time of their gravest sorrows she wore her gayest smile, while heartbreaks and widowed homes had never checked the gray anger of her cruel seas. Nature was in no humour to sympathize with sorrow on this spring day. She was decked in her finest from cockcrow till the owls barked, and well pleased with herself, she looked smilingly round for a beauty’s share of admiration.
But there was something more human than the beauty of a fine spring day for the folk in Colby village to think about, so they contributed but little response to her desire for admiration. If the day had been wet and had donned itself in sad mourning for the bride, or out of sympathy for the death of the young squire, it would perchance have passed not so wholly unnoticed.
There was so much to discuss, and the women did their best, talking eagerly from door to door in the intervals of setting their houses in order, for no Colby house was ever seen dirty or in disorder, in sickness or in health; indeed no heard-of event, unless an earthquake, could upset a Colby wife enough to prevent her from scouring her flagged floor every day and dusting it with dry silver sand. On this particular day there were the wives of the men to be questioned who had found the squire’s body, and the horrible details of its disfigurement to be gloated over and discussed.
Then there was John Thomas’s madness, a common enough thing in itself apart from the tragedy of the marriage. They were, one and all, anxious to know how the bride was bearing it, but the girl had not been seen in the village; no one had caught sight of her since her return from the church. In the past few days the village had been shaken to its depths with the succession of tragic events, but the simple methodical lives of the people preserved it outwardly calm.
Late in the afternoon a grim brown conveyance, with no windows and an iron-grated door, driven by two strong men in trim warders’ uniform, drove up the village street, and stopped at the slate-roofed house which was to have been Mirry-Ann’s new home. The children ceased playing marbles for a moment to look at it, and the women shook their heads sadly as it passed. But it was not the first time that this strange van had stopped at one of their cottage homes. Most of the elder people were familiar with it, for the dread skeleton of insanity chooses its hiding places in peaceful spots and remote communities where strange blood seldom enters, and where easy contact with the outer world is cut off. Its terrible visitations had too often in the history of the village taken away some valued member of a family, who might or might not, according to the fierceness or mildness of the malady, return to their midst. But it was strongly conjectured that John Thomas would never return.
In the little Island there are lingering twilights, and the days were now touching their longest. But the villagers did not wait for darkness to close; their day’s work began too early for that. Before the heavens had deepened for the night, and while wide-winged bats were still floundering in the sky, the house doors were shut and the white window blinds closely drawn down. Enough coal and light had to be burned in the winter, and if in late springtime it was still gray twilight when chapel was over, and the evening meal finished, what need was there of the unnecessary extravagance of burning lamp oil? Here and there a light could be seen from some low window where the geraniums and fuchsias which shut out the bright sunshine in the daytime were now reflected like skeleton flowers on the white blinds. At regular intervals of time Langness Lighthouse from its distant point at sea shot out its bright shaft and turned it on the village as if to show with greater distinctness the still peacefulness of the scene. Even on such an eventful day as this, if their men were at sea, bedtime came soon for the women, and the Colby street was early quiet. A new day would begin be-times, with its gossip and its sadness.
Only a mind familiar with village life can picture such a scene — the peculiar evening stillness and repose which dignified the little thatched village left in charge of the women while their men were out casting their nets on the sunless sea — a quiet little village gone early to rest, between mountain and sea, when the spring day was at its gayest with the artificial life of some far distant city.
Such a scene conveys an impression of domestic purity and peace. But those who dwell in small places will tell you that great tragedies happen in quiet lives, casting no shadow on their surroundings, and they will tell you also that village morality is often as whitewashed as its cottage walls.
Meanwhile Grace Christian in the Big House up on the hill was wandering from window to window, looking out at the lingering trails of gray smoke curling up into the evening sky.
There was a guilty look in her restless eyes which spoke of a soul’s first knowledge of remorse, the grim and pitiless destroyer of youth. Innocent sorrow is relieved by tears, but remorse burns like a destroying fire. No tears had come to soften her grief. As the hours went by she saw stretched out before her a lifetime of unforgiveness, and despair, almost to madness, filled her heart. All her life she would carry the burden of remorse, all her life she would hunger for forgiveness. If for one moment she could reach the ears of her dead, how humbly she would crave for pardon. O God ! how sweet to be forgiven.
Alone, looking down on the slumbering village, so callous of the sorrows of her children, a mother sleeping soundly while young hearts are sore, sleeping apparently unconscious of either sin or sorrow, stood Grace Christian, the penitent woman. Youth with its audacious assurance and golden beauty, youth with its unwaked pity, had been left behind her at day-break; dawn had seen the death of her youth, when the conger fishers brought home the dead body of her brother. Youth was as far behind her now as cold winter is forgotten in the fever of mid- June.
The woman in her had but one wish now — to be forgiven by the girl whom her brother had loved, to humble herself for his sake, and to beg of her pity. Her sorrow would be only half if it were robbed of its remorse. Ah, if God would but have pity and give her back her dead, just for a time, that she might show him how in the last trouble that had come to Mirry-Ann she meant to treat the girl as a sister, and to love her for his sake, and ask her forgiveness! If this could be, she would bear her own loneliness uncomplainingly. It was so cruel to be parted in anger, to make the remorse of a lifetime out of the thoughtless anger of youth.
She knew that Mirry-Ann down in the little village was awake while others slept. Mirry-Ann’s humble position, which had seemed of so much account in the girl’s eyes some few months ago, was entirely forgotten now in the woman’s, for Death is a ruthless leveller.
Thus she wandered miserably from room to room, wringing her hands in mute misery, begging favours of Death, and magnifying her harsh treatment of her brother. To atone for it, she planned in her tired brain strange and romantic ways of effecting a reconciliation between herself and Mirry-Ann. If in some poor measure she could make the girl’s future happier, it might bring rest to her own heart. In all her young life there had been no demand for self-sacrifice, and now in the anguish of her penitence there was none good enough to pay back the debt she owed. As she wandered from room to room she caressed the things that were his and lingered over them fondly. For this was the last night that his home would be her own, it was the last night that she could look upon it as still belonging to her dear dead. To-morrow Uncle Robert would step in with the cold indifference of an heir-at-law. To-morrow the servants would call him master. The squire is dead; long live the squire!
Grace hated death and rebelled against its unconquerable power. It was unjust and unnatural in her brother’s case. Death was a thing which perfect health never contemplates. If it came to those who were sick she accepted it as natural and as a matter of course, but she never connected it in any way with herself, or with those who were dear to her. To the two young healthy lives it had seemed such a long way off, a dread to be reckoned with at the end of a long life — not at the beginning. They could afford to treat each other with the outward indifference and scorn of emotion cultivated by the Anglo-Saxon race, for no warning or shadow of an eternal parting had developed their latent tenderness toward each other.
Could we but realize that it is the unex-pected which so often happens, that it is the frail and weary who are left to linger while the young-blooded and eager go before, should we have courage to go on? Should we dare to let our hearts go out to another’s keeping, knowing where there is more joy in the beginning there will be the greater pain in the end?
Grace, clad in her soft white gown, flitting noiselessly through the Big House, looked like Longfellow’s Vision of the Night. The servants, loudly bemoaning their master’s death, did not understand their mistress’s intense sorrow, and regarded her with a strange fear. Silently she moved along the old wainscotted corridor which led to the head of the wide staircase, with the rapid, almost floating movement of one walking in her sleep. Her steps were bound for nowhere, but her restless spirit would not let her rest — it urged her on unceasingly. She was afraid to sit down, for when the body is quiet the brain begins to work. She stopped suddenly at the head of the staircase, staring at the opposite
Wall which headed the second flight of stairs. On this panel hung her grandmother’s earliest portrait, but to-night, instead of the familiar picture, the soulful face of Mirry-Ann Gawne smiled down upon her. Grace stood transfixed and magnetized. For some full seconds the optical delusion lasted in the dim light, then the familiar details of the picture grew clearer and clearer, and the face of the living girl died out.
But a strange thing had happened, for the optical delusion had served to point out to Grace Christian whom it was that Mirry-Ann so strongly resembled, a resemblance which had always played upon Grace’s brain like a will-o’-the-wisp and eluded her tongue. She did not feel surprised or try to solve the reason of the resemblance, for in her deep sorrow it was merely a trivial brain-puzzle suddenly solved, an irritation ended.
But she passed down the stairs more quickly, more alive to outward influences, more aware of her own personality. The shock had made her ask herself where she was going. Was she looking for some hiding place for her misery? Her shaken nerves made her start at dark shadows and sounds. Her long hair was all unbound, for its heavy coils had oppressed her tired head.
At that moment the living Mirry-Ann crossed the square hall which led to the staircase Grace was descending. She paused a moment at the foot of the steps and stared spellbound at the lovely apparition of the slender white figure with its mantle of shimmering hair. Grace stopped at the same moment, and fixed her frightened gaze on the upturned eyes of the girl standing so quietly in the hall. Her breath shortened and her heart ‘beat loudly. As she gazed she wondered if this second vision of Mirry-Ann would fade away and leave in its place another portrait of her dead ancestor.
Was the reproachful face of Mirry-Ann always to haunt her? She waited a moment, still expecting the girl’s face and figure to melt into air, but instead it moved and came toward her. It was a living, breathing woman.
“I thought you wanted me,” Mirry-Ann said quietly, “and so I came.”
Grace Christian put out her cold, trembling hands, and Mirry-Ann took them in hers, but it was a full minute before Grace could command her voice to speak, and then it was only to repeat Mirry-Ann’s words — “You thought I wanted you and so you came?”
It was the proud Grace Christian who spoke so pleadingly. Mirry-Ann trembled at the change, for who can hear unmoved the death of youth and pride?
“Yes. Down in the village I felt that up here, in the ‘Big House’ there was death and sorrow, that you were alone, and that in your trouble you wished me to come. The feeling grew stronger and stronger until I could not resist it; that is why I am here. I have had these strange presentiments so often, and they have never failed. I dare not go against them, but if I have trespassed you will forgive me; we are both suffering. I will go back.”
This formal speech was all that Mirry-Ann could manage to utter. Now that she was in the presence of the woman who had once spoken so scornfully to her she had lost the strange feeling of spiritual magnetism between their two souls, the feeling which had urged her almost unconsciously to start on her strange visit. All the way up the hill she had pictured to herself a very different meeting. No excuse would be needed, for Grace would understand that she herself had communicated with Mirry-Ann, who came in answer to that entreaty.
“Then you have forgiven me,” Grace said. “You have forgiven me or you would not have come.” Her words were a pitiful entreaty.
“Oh,” Mirry-Ann answered quickly, “that all belonged to so long ago. In all that has happened since how could I remember my poor little anger? Our troubles will be lighter if we may sorrow and mourn together. Death has wiped everything out.”
“You loved him?” Grace asked, almost hoping that the girl would say yes, so that she might love her for so doing.
“Not as you understand,” Mirry-Ann said, her voice full of sincerity; “he knew I never did.”
“But he loved you,” Grace cried, wringing her hands, “and I behaved so cruelly to him. I did everything I could to make him despise you, but it only made him despise me and love you more. But have pity. Forgive me, for his sake, and who knows but that he will forgive me too?”
“But what you did was only natural. You blame yourself too much, and, indeed, I forgive you everything. Your brother only loved me as a very young man loves; he would have forgotten his love very soon, he would have been distressed at his own folly if I had accepted his love. It would have been unfair. We women must always act the part of mothers to those whom we love. We must protect them from themselves.”
“You were so wise” Grace said, “and I was so blind. I thought then that the worst evil that could have befallen him would have been to marry you, and now he is gone — gone before I was given sense to learn the value of a good woman, gone before I had asked his forgiveness. And you had no wish to marry him,” Grace said reproachfully; “and yet my brother was lovable — most women thought so.”
“A woman does not feel that when she loves another.”
“Nor a man when he loves one woman to the exclusion of all others; to him the rest are unsexed and meaningless, their beauty has no moving power.” Grace was thinking of Dick Schofield’s passion for the girl at her side. “How strange that you should have come to me! I have been praying for little else than to have your pardon and forgiveness for all that I have said in my anger. But how dare I ask it. For if such things had been said unjustly to me I could never have forgiven them, and, Mirry-Ann, God knows I knew they were unjust at the moment they were spoken! ”
To hear the proud girl asking her forgiveness and seeking comfort from her, Mirry-Ann Gawne, old Ned Gawne’s girl, brought tears to her eyes; the pity of it was almost more than she could bear. Where was now her old longing for justice and the power to humble her enemy?
“Don’t, don’t!” she said, trying to steady her tearful voice. But in times of sorrow tears are infectious, and the first that Grace Christian had shed since her brother’s death were poured out in Mirry-Ann’s arms. “Don’t ask my pardon,” the girl said, comforting her with gentle, half-shy caresses; “I can’t bear it; indeed you mustn’t. Only love me a little. May I kiss you?” she asked, in a tone of such sweet deference that fresh sobs shook Grace, as if the -words were a reproach.
“O Mirry!” she cried, unknowingly using Dick Schofield’s name for the girl he loved, “O Mirry, don’t humble me any more.” She raised her eyes and looked at her companion, and as if in wonder, whispered: “Surely the beauty of holiness is past understanding; ” and she drew the tender face toward her own. “It is I who should ask it, dear. May I kiss you?”
And then the two beautiful heads were laid together and Grace kissed Mirry-Ann in a way which she had never kissed any one since she was a little child — in the days when she had kissed the young mother who understood the warm heart of her child.
“If you would love me,” Mirry-Ann said, “it would be so sweet that I should forget all that has passed. I have been so lonely all my life. I have always wanted a woman’s love.”
“All women want to be loved,” Grace said; “that is what makes us what we are — some of us jealous, some of us kind. But love has always come to you; it is I who have been lonely.” Grace kissed the bright blushes which covered Mirry-Ann’s face and neck. “And who could wonder, dear? Don’t make poor excuses; it was never your doing, it was the grace of your womanhood. Do you know what Frank once said to me?” — there was a poor little attempt at mirth in her tone — “that I was only a female, but that you were a woman.”
“He saw you only with a brother’s eyes.”
“No one has ever seen me with a lover’s, Mirry.” There was a world of sadness in the girl’s voice. “While I deceived the world into believing that I was cold and hard — while I made those that were dear to me afraid to show their affection, all the time in my heart I was longing for love, I was longing for someone to conquer. But the habit of self-deception becomes second nature with women; it often ruins our whole lives.”
Mirry-Ann became troubled as she listened. How could she comfort her? Love had been the cause of so much sorrow in her own life. She had been deprived of parental affection, but the love of man had devastated her happiness.
“We will love each other now,” she said at length, “and there need be no more self-deceptions. Perhaps a woman’s love is more peaceful. I have grown afraid of all other.”
“My poor Mirry,” Grace answered, “I know you have, for love has wrought such havoc in your life. But the woman in you, Mirry, is chilled and wounded if love never comes. It is better to have loved.”
“Oh, let me forget,” said Mirry, and she trembled with horror at the memory of John Thomas’s love and the madness it had brought him, “let me try to forget.”
Grace knew what filled her thoughts, and said soothingly, “Yes, try to forget; but to forget is so difficult, Mirry. I have been trying to forget until my brain is burning with unlovely memories.”
“Poor, poor John Thomas!” murmured Mirry- Ann; “poor, poor John Thomas!”
“Poor John Thomas!” echoed Grace. “Such love as his is surely rare.”
“Yes, pray God,” Mirry-Ann replied earnestly. “And all I had for him in my heart was pity. Oh, how I have prayed for a little love to come, a little love to animate my pity, a little love to glow with his! Pity never glows,” she said sadly, “and yet they say it is akin to
They were both seated on a low couch in Grace’s bedroom. By mutual understanding Mirry-Ann was to spend the rest of the night at Ballaugh. For a little both were silent; then Grace said timidly: “Shall I tell you why love never came — shall I tell you why your pity was nothing warmer than a great self-sacrifice?”
She took the girl’s face, blushing with the knowledge of her heart’s secret, in her hands, and looked long and searchingly into the troubled eyes. “No, I need not tell you,” she said slowly, “I need not tell you, for every woman knows when love has come, but your love was not for poor John Thomas.”
A little sob broke Grace Christian’s voice, her eyes dropped, and her hands fell to her side.
Mirry-Ann took the pretty hands in her own and pressed them silently to her lips, and in the great house, where was the silence of Death, the two sisters made mute confession of their love.
When the men were away and the village belonged to the women there was one hour when their daily life was stirred into a little flame of excitement, one hour every day which might hold the promise of a new future for some young heart, one hour which brought news to the village of fathers, brothers, and lovers, the hour when the women found their way in good time to the little post office where her Majesty’s royal mail was unsealed, and the contents of the official bag thrown out on the white wooden table in Ned Quilliam’s cottage. Not so very many years before this important hour had come but once a week, but that was in the days when visitors to the Island were few, and a daily postal communication with the mainland a thing undreamt of. Now, every evening, when the fleet was in “foreign parts,” the little post office was crowded to overflowing, and wives and sweethearts pressed as close to the sorting table as Mr. Ned Quilliam’s official dignity would permit. But it was always near enough, the kitchen being small, for eager eyes to read the addresses on each letter, and recognise the various rude handwritings. A few eyes peered through the window, quite a point of vantage, for the table lay broadside with the window and low front wall, as most Colby kitchen tables do.
Some late comers stood round the white doorstep, and learned their luck from a friend who stood near the table. Ned Quilliam’s movements were at all times slow, but never so slow as when weighted with the dignity of his official calling. There was scarcely a woman among the onlookers who could not have sorted and distributed the whole contents of the bag in less time than it took the old man to break the seal and untie the string. His son, who had been robbed of an eye by the contents of an erring catapult, and consequently rejected by the fleet as cook, had to be content to remain in the village with the women and children, and to help his father with his postal responsibilities. When some expected letter, containing the weekly household remittance, was laid by the old man deliberately on the table, the eager hand stretched but to reach it would be waved imperiously back. There was to be no advantage taken of the fact that the sorting room of her Majesty’s mails was at other times the sociable kitchen of Ned Quilliam’s cottage.
Besides, it was surely the postmaster’s perquisite to thoroughly examine the handwriting so as to understand which Mrs. Richard Kenvig the letter was for? Was it at last the often-asked-for letter from Richard Kenvig, who was not as careful as he might be to in close the weekly money order? Or was it for Mrs. Richard Kenvig, whose eldest son (she was a widow) was putting a slight on the Colby girls by taking unto himself a wife from among the women of Kinsale?
When at last the letters were sorted and the postmaster was left alone in his kitchen to read as best he could (by holding the envelopes up to the light of the lamp) the few letters which had not been called for, the little crowd slowly dispersed. The wives and mothers took their way back to their homes, reading their letters as they went, and calling out now and then some piece of good news for the benefit of the old men and women in whose days there had been no such excitement as the receiving of letters. But the sweethearts hurried off to some quiet corner to devour theirs in silence, while those who were left empty-handed turned into their chapel to see what comfort they could find there. But not much was doing at the chapels, alas! although there was as usual a service held every night. Walking home with one of your own sex did not conduce to the sustaining of the fine fire of spiritual enthusiasm stirred into a flame by the eloquent sermon. It was a flat finish to an evening of high emotions.
For the last two nights an unusual figure had joined the little waiting crowd, and had taken its stand just outside the cottage post office, a figure whose appearance caused a respectful hush in the women’s shrill chatter. Some mothers among them, and those who had known sorrow, were moved to pity as they looked at the face of the girl who stood in their midst, a head and shoulders above the tallest of their short, sturdy race.
They wondered what had brought her down from the “Big House” to wait like one of themselves for the evening letters. During all the years they could remember some boy had been paid to carry up the letters to Ballaugh, and it was now one of the duties of the rejected cook. As Grace Christian stood in the centre of the little group of women she tried to speak a few pleasant words in answer to their evening greeting. But though grief had softened her, and she had grown fond of the village folk who had shown her much genuine kindness in her trouble, speaking with them and really understanding their curious natures was as yet a great difficulty to her. How few of us are blessed with that most delicate gift of tongue, the power to enter sympathetically into the life of those beneath us, and the simplicity of heart to understand the mind of a little child!
As a token of respect and distinction the postmaster did not compel Miss Christian to wait until the letters were all sorted, but handed her each letter addressed to Ballaugh as it came. In this way three letters were passed to her from hand to hand by the women waiting near the table. When the third reached her, and she saw the handwriting, a little flush of colour dyed her fair cheeks. Then she moved silently out from the crowd. But Grace did not return home like the wives and mothers — her letter shared the privileges of a lover’s.
In the silence of Colby Glen she rested, and opening the letter with beating heart prepared to read it.
“If I have done unwisely,” she said, making ready her excuse if the letter was not to her liking, “I did it for the best. I have made a woman’s hardest sacrifice.
As she read the letter the wood pigeons cooed in the tall trees overhead; the tenderness of their wooing stirred her lonely heart.
“Yes, he is coming. By this time to-morrow night he will be here. I was right; he did
not know Mirry-Ann was free.” As she folded up the letter she murmured: “I am so glad, I am so glad;” but no gladness showed in her face or in her eyes. But a new beauty came into her face, born of the death of lingering hope.
It was the same hour the next evening, the post hour, when the women had but one thought in common, and the mail train, which was the last to pass through the village station that night, was winding its way peacefully and leisurely, its day’s work o’er, to the terminus at Port Erin. The few passengers who had come by it had all but one left the small platform. The station master was locking the place up for the night; his services would not be required again until 8.30 on the following morning.
“Where shall I send it to? ” he asked of the passenger, pointing to a portmanteau. “One of the lads will be glad to carry it up to the farm for twopence, if it’s there you’ll be goin’, sir.”
“Yes, send it up to the farm,” said Dick Schofield absently, as if he had not yet considered the matter of his destination. “Are you all well at home, Thomas?”
“Only middling middlin’, thank you, sir. Are you keepin’ pretty well yourself? Glad to see you back again. There’s been sad changes, sir, since you wass away, sir.”
“Yes, indeed,” Dick replied, marvelling in his anxious heart how the village could look so unchanged in spite of all that had happened. How could it have preserved its exquisite air of peace and happiness when the bright young life which had been the very centre of its existence had been so rudely torn from its midst? There were the same groups of women standing by the post office, carrying neat bundles fastened up compactly in coloured handkerchiefs, with the addresses of their absent men written on a piece of white calico and stitched firmly on. He knew these bundles were in readiness to be sent off by parcels’ post after the women had opened their letters and extracted the expected money order, for some of it would be required for the posting of the primitive parcel. There was a curious want of variety in the surnames on the bundles, and one and all were destined for Kinsale.
“You would be hearin’ it like,” the station master continued, ” that John Thomas Costain, him as went clane off his head on the very day of his marriage, died them two weeks back. There warn’t no hope from the first at all, but it’s a shockin’ pity for such a fine young fellow as he wass.”
“Yes, I heard of his death only a few days ago,” Dick Schofield answered, wishing that the end of the station lane would speedily come, for the station master had taken upon himself the duties of welcoming him back to Colby by walking with him as far as their ways lay together. When at last they parted Dick Schofield, with expectant eyes eagerly scanning the road, saw the figure of a woman in black coming quickly toward him.
For a few moments, until she drew near enough for him to distinguish the rich character of Grace Christian’s dress from the simplicity of
Mirry-Ann’s, he mistook the one woman for the other. The similarity of their manner of walking and contour of figure had never struck him before.
As Dick Schofield went forward to meet Grace his generous nature was filled with bounding gratitude toward her. He thought of her now as a dear, dear friend who was helping him to happiness. For the time being she possessed all the love he had to give apart from his passionate devotion as a lover. In the fulness of his own affairs he had forgotten that he must first sympathize with her on the death of her brother. He had done so, of course, by letter, and had sorrowed long in. his heart, but at the moment of meeting he forgot that he had not seen her since.
In the sudden shock he experienced at her changed appearance his feelings almost mastered his self-control — it was so unexpected, so heartrending. A few months back he had left an imperious girl, he now found a broken woman. He tried to put aside his own expected happiness; it was unseemly in the presence of such sorrow.
As they met Grace held out both her hands, the pretty hands that had tempted him when they were stung with raspberry pricks. Bold hearts were too full for speech, and the man took the slim hands eagerly in his. For a short minute they stood in silence, Grace’s gray eyes filled with unshed tears.
“Don’t speak one word of sympathy,” she said; “please don’t. I can’t bear it yet. I know just how you feel, but for my sake don’t.” Her eyes dropped under his. “If you speak kindly I shall break down. The least sympathy brings tears.”
The words came brokenly, and the sadness of the girl’s voice wrung every nerve in the healthy young man’s body. He was only desirous now to comfort and solace her. How pitiful was the memory of her dear pride and exquisite girlhood!
“No, I won’t speak about it,” he said, “for indeed I can’t.”
Grace heard the struggle in his throat for calm words, and the strong effort he made to control his emotion for her sake.
“I love you for feeling like that,” she said. “Every one that loved him is dear to me now.” Her voice broke into quiet sobs, but with a sudden effort she forced them back and said almost brightly: “But I didn’t ask you to come all this way to sympathize with me. I am not so exacting now. Shall I tell you where you will find her?”
The eager lover could not answer. How could he seize his happiness in the sight of such sorrow?
“You will find her,” Grace went on, not heeding his silence, and looking searchingly into his eyes, “in the old Druids’ Chapel, where you first met her. You see, I know everything! Mirry is there waiting for me. If you go you will find her there.”
“Won’t you take me to her?” he said, hating to leave the girl whose voice betrayed unconsciously the loneliness that filled her heart.
“Not to-night,” Grace said with grave determination. “Some other night, if you will, but not to-night. I wish everything to happen just as I have planned.” She put her hand on his arm. “Tell Mirry,” she said softly, “that I sent you instead. Tell her I did what I could — Mirry will understand.”
The Druids’ Chapel, as the ancient circular mound was familiarly called, was situated in the corner of a field on the High Farm, on the Ballaugh estate. It was a queer, solemn little spot, very dark and cool, surrounded by a plantation of tall fir trees. The Druidical mound which represented the chapel was covered with dark-green moss, and in the open centre there were still standing two rude upright runic stones. The grim fir trees seemed to have planted themselves around the ancient monument to preserve it from the ruthless destruction of the farmer’s plough. As Mirry-Ann sat there awaiting Grace Christian, she recalled the warm summer days of her childhood when she had often come to the old place for the sake of its coolness, and how she and John Thomas together had dug their sharp young nails into the old masonry and done some excavating on their own account, for it had been one of the many dreams of her childhood to find buried there some wonderful treasure-trove of the ancients.
In those old days the boys had come there regularly every spring to rifle the magpies’ nests built in the tall fir trees. She could see above her now the remains of one old weather-beaten nest in a rotten branch which told her that the birds had deserted the old place for some fresh building ground.
Then her thoughts passed from her childhood to later days. It was here among the ancient ruins that Dick Schofield had first met her; it was here that she had come when she deceived herself into the belief that she had not expected to meet her lover, and other memories crowded in on her brain. The solemn place seemed haunted with the ghost of other days, ghosts of her childhood, ghosts of her love. She grew nervous and apprehensive. Overhead the evening wind stirred the pine trees into mournful whispering. In their cold unbending way they had whispered and sighed together over the secrets of the old ruined mound, which their dark presence had kept sacred for countless years.
To Mirry-Ann the evening had grown cold; the place was heavy with sad associations. She rose to her feet and looked cautiously around, her soft eyes alert with nervous fear. Were the ghosts of her past looking and laughing at her in superior wisdom from their cold invisible world, their world of secret silence? She walked quickly with foolishly careful steps through the sombre plantation; the brown fir needles made a noiseless carpet for her feet. She reached the lighter outskirts and was welcoming the reassuring daylight, the simple daylight which scatters the fanciful tragedies of the dark, when suddenly her whole being was filled with bewildering fear and joy — the two at first hopelessly confounded, for the surprise of an unsuspected human presence so near her brought a startled cry to her lips, and at the same moment she recognised that the man standing in the clear evening light was her lover; no cold ghost of her nervous imagination, but a human man with strong arms held out to gather her to him, eager with love and gladness, warm with the fire of human passion.
Safe in his arms she asked no poor questions, whence he had come or how he had found her. Words must not disturb that exquisite silence, that supreme moment when love was complete. Speech was for less sacred moments, when lips had left lips and eyes were kindling love’s fires afresh.
Nor would she tell him till the calmer future the secret which it was his right to know, the secret which had fallen upon Grace, not as a blow to the proud, but as the blessed dews of heaven on a heart withering with loneliness.
With Mirry-Ann tenderness was a beauty, and surrender the instinct of her womanhood.
To her his presence required no explaining, for Love had brought him. In his coming Love was made manifest.
“The Manx person who has not read these books has really missed something.” [P. W. Caine]
This 1900 novel focuses on Mirry-Ann Gawne and her search for love in the South of the Isle of Man. After being passionately courted by the son of a local squire who pleads with her to marry him, she discovers that she is a relation of his and so they are forced apart. This is followed by her relationship with a man who she pities for the disability that she unwittingly caused him. But ultimately her happy ending lies elsewhere.
Although certain scenes were universally praised for their breathless brilliance, the novel as a whole was criticised on its release for being, like the author herself, only half Manx; in dialect, antiquarian learning, folklore, facts and more. Most striking of these is the inclusion of a “squire” in the plot; a role requiring a social and economic set-up that has never existed on the Isle of Man. However, the Manx half of her work has rightly brought praise for its vivid and inciteful descriptions of Manx characters and situations. Indeed, it was noted in reviews at the time that the book could have appropriately been sub-titled “the charm of Colby,” so clear was Lorimer’s love of the Island in this book.
The great commentator on Manx literature, P. W. Caine, saw the book as important for Manx readers because it showed the Island as “seen through the eyes of an intelligent, impartial, decidedly critical but not inimical observer.” It was for this and the vividness of its portrayal that he noted it as something that any Manx person who had not read it would be missing out.
Born in Auchterarder in Perthshire, Scotland, in 1864, Norma Lorimer was raised in the South of the Isle of Man, attending Castletown High School and living at Ballasherlodge, Colby. It was to this period of her life that she returned to in her fiction, particularly in her first two novels, Mirry-Ann and The Pagan Woman. These novels earned her the position of being one of the most notable early female novelists of the Isle of Man.