The Deemster (Chapters XI to XX)
Chapters XI to XX
THE HERRING BREAKFAST
IT was between four o’clock and five when the fleet ran into Peeltown harbour after the first night of the herring season, and towards eight the fisher-fellows, to the number of fifty at least, had gathered for their customary first breakfast in the kitchen of the “Three Legs of Man.” What sport! What noisy laughter What singing and rollicking cheers! The men stood neither on the order of their coming nor their going, their sitting nor their standing. In they trooped in their woollen caps or their broad sou’westers, their oilskins or their long sea-boots swung across their arms. They wore their caps or not as pleased them, they sang or talked as suited them, they laughed or sneezed, they sulked or snarled, they were noisy or silent, precisely as the whim of the individual prescribed the individual rule of manners. Rather later than the rest Dan Mylrea came swinging m, with a loud laugh and a shout, and something like an oath, too, and the broad homespun on his lips.
“Billy Quilleash-I say, Billy, there-why don’t you put up the young mastha for the chair?”
“Aw, lave me alone,” answered Billy Quilleash, with a contemptuous toss of the head.
“Uncle Billy’s proud uncommon of the’ mastha,” whispered Davy Fayle, who sat meekly on a form near the door, to the man who sat cross-legged on the form beside him.
“It’s a bit free them chaps is making,” said old Billy, in a confidential undertone to Dan, who was stretching himself out on the settle. Then rising to his feet with gravity, “Gen’l’men,” said Quilleash, “what d’ye say now to Mistha Dan’l Mylrea for the elber-cheer pander?”
At that there was the response of loud raps on the table with the heels of the long boots swung over various arms, and with several clay pipes that lost their heads in the encounter. Old Billy resumed his seat with a lofty glance of patronage at the men about him, which said as plainly as words them- selves, ” I tould ye to lave it all to me.”
“Proud, d’ye say? Look at him,” muttered the fisherman sitting by Davy Fayle.
Dan staggered up, and shouldered his way to the elbow-chair at the head of the table. He had no sooner taken his seat than he shouted for the breakfast, and without more ado the breakfast was lifted direct on to the table from the pans and boilers that simmered on the hearth.
First came the broth, well loaded with barley and cabbage; then suet puddings; and last of all the frying-pan was taken down from the wall, and four or five dozen of fresh herrings were made to grizzle and crackle and sputter over the fire.
Dan ate ravenously, and laughed noisily, and talked incessantly as he ate. The men at first caught the contagion of his boisterous manners, but after a time they shook their tousled heads and laid them together in gravity, and began to repeat in whispers, “What’s agate of the young mastha, at all at all?”
Away went the dishes, away went the cloth, an oil lamp with its open mouth-a relic of some monkish sanctuary of the Middle Ages-was lifted from the mantelshelf -.and put on the table for the receipt of custom; a brass censer, choked with spills, was placed beside it; pipes emerged from waistcoat pockets, and pots of liquor, with glasses and bottles, came in from the outer bar.
“Is it heavy on the liquor you’re going to be, Billy?” said Ned, the mate; and old Billy replied with a superior smile and the lifting up of a whisky bottle, from which he had just drawn the cork.
Then came the toasts. The chairman arose amid hip, hip, hooraa! and gave “Life to man and death to fish!” and Quilleash gave ” Death to the head that never wore hair!”
Then came more noise and more liquor, and a good deal of both in the vicinity of the chair. Dan struck up a song. He sang “Drink to me only,” and the noisy company were at first hushed to silence and then melted to audible sobs.
“Aw, man, the voice he has, anyway! ” “And the loud it is, and the tender, too, and the way he slidders up and down, and no squeaks and jumps.”
“No, no; nothin’ like squeezin’ a tune out of, an ould sow by pulling the tail at her.”
Old Billy listened to this dialogue among the fisher-fellows about him, and smiled loftily. “It’s nothin’,” he said condescendingly, “that’s nothin’. You should hear him out in the boat, when we’re lying at anchor, and me and him together, and the stars just makin’ a peep, and the moon, and the mar- fire, and all to that, and me and him lying aft and smookin’, and having a glass maybe, but nothin’ to do no harm-that’s the when you should hear him. Aw, man alive, him and me’s same as brothers.”
“More liquor there,” shouted Dan, climbing with difficulty to his feet.
“Ay, look here. D’ye hear down yander? Give us a swipe o’ them speerits. Right. More liquor for the chair!” said Billy Quilleash. “And for some one besides?-is that what they’re saying, the loblolly boys? Well, look here, bad cess to it, of coorse, some for me, too. It’s terrible good for the narves, and they’re telling me it’s morthal good for steddyin’ the vice. Going to sing? Coorse, coorse. What’s that from the elber-cheer Enemy, eh? Confound it, and that’s true, though. What’s that it’s sayin’? ‘Who’s fool enough to put the enemy into his mouth to stale away his brains?’ Aw, now, it’s the good ould Book that’s fine at summin’ it all up.”
Then there was more liquor and yet more, till the mouth of the monastic lamp ran over with chinking coin. Old Billy struck up his song. It was a doleful ditty on the loss of the herring fleet on one St. Matthew’s Day not long before.
An hour before day,
Tom Grimshaw, they say,
To ran for the port had resolved;
Himself and John More
Were lost in that hour,
And also unfortunate Kinved.
The last three lines of each verse were repeated by the whole company in chorus. Doleful as the ditty might be, the men gave it voice with a heartiness that suggested no special sense of sorrow, and loud as were the voices of the fisher-fellows, Dan’s voice was yet louder.
“Aw, Dan, man, Dan, man alive, Dan,” the men whispered among themselves. “What’s agate of Mastha Dan? it’s more than’s good, man, aw, yes, yes, yes.”
Still more liquor and yet more noise, and then, through the dense fumes of tobacco smoke, old Billy Quilleash could be seen struggling to his feet. “Silence!” he shouted; “’aisy there! ” and he lifted up his glass. “Here’s to Mistha Dan’1 Mylrea, and if he’s not going amongst the parzons, bad cess to them, he’s going amongst the Kays, and when he gets to the big house at Castletown, I’m calkerlatin’ it’ll be all up with the lot o’ them parzons, with their tithes and their censures, and their customs and their canons, and their regalashuns agen the countin’ of the herrin’, and all the rest of their messin’. What d’ye say, men? ‘Skulking cowards?’ Coorse, and right sarved, too, as I say. And what’s that you’re grinning and winkin’ at, Ned Teare? It’s middlin’ free you’re gettin’ with the mastha anyhow, and if it wasn’t for me he wouldn’t bemane himself by comin’ among the like of you, singin’ and makin’ aisy. Chaps, fill up your glasses every man of you, d’ye bear? Here’s to the best gen’l’- man in the island, bar none-Mistha Dan’l Mylrea, hip, hip, hooraa! ”
The toast was responded to with alacrity, and loud shouts of “Dan’l Mylrea-best gen’l’man -bar none.”
But what was going on at the head of the table? Dan had risen from the elbow-chair; it was the moment for him to respond, but he stared wildly around, and stood there in silence, and his tongue seemed to cleave to his mouth. Every eye was now fixed on his face, and that face quivered and turned white. The glass he had held in his hand fell from his nerveless fingers and broke on the table. Laughter died on every lip, and the voices were hushed. At last Dan spoke; his words came slowly, and fell heavily on the ear.
“Men,” he said, “you have been drinking my health. You call me a good fellow. That’s wrong. I’m the worst man among you. Old Billy says I’m going to the House of Keys. That’s wrong, too. Shall I tell you where I am going? Shall I tell you? I’m going to the devil,” and then, amid breathless silence, he dropped back in his seat, and buried his head in his hands.
No one spoke. The fair head lay on the table among broken pipes and the refuse of spilled liquor. There could be no more drinking that morning. Every man rose to his feet, and, picking up his waterproofs or his long sea-boots, one after one went shambling out. The room was dense with smoke; but outside the air was light and free, and the morning sun shone brightly.
“Strange now, wasn’t it?” muttered one of the fellows,
“He’s been middlin’ heavy on the liquor lately.”
“And he’d never no right to strike the young parzon, and him his cousin, too, and terrible fond of him, as they’re saying.”
“Well, well, it’s middlin’ wicked any way.” And so the croakers went their way. In two minutes more the room was empty, except for the stricken man, who lay there with hidden face, and Davy Fayle, who, with big tears glistening in his eyes, was stroking the tangled curls.
DAN rose to his feet a sobered man, and went out of the smoky pot-house without a word to any one, and without lifting his bleared and bloodshot eyes to any face. He took the lane to the shore, and behind him, with downcast eyes, like a dog at the heels of his master, Davy Fayle slouched along. When they reached the shore Dan turned towards Orris Head, walking within a yard or two of the water’s edge. Striding over the sands, the past of his childhood came back to him with a sense of pain. He saw himself flying along the beach with Ewan and Mona, shouting at the gull, mocking the cormorant, clambering up the rocks to where the long-necked bird laid her spotted eggs, and the sea-pink grew under the fresh grass of the corries. Under the head Dan sat on a rock and lifted away his cap from his burning forehead; but not a breath of wind stirred his soft hair.
Dan rose again with a new resolve. He knew now what course he must take. He would go to the Deemster, confess to the outrage of which he had been guilty, and submit to the just punishment of the law. With quick steps he strode back over the beach, and Davy followed him until he turned up to the gates of the new Ballamona, and then the lad rambled away under the foot of Slieu Dhoo. Dan found the Deemster’s house in a tumult. Hommy-beg was rushing here and there, and Dan called to him, but he waved his arm and shouted something in reply, whereof the purport was lost, and then disappeared. Blind Kerry was there, and when Dan spoke to her as she went up the stairs, he could gather nothing from her hurried answer except that some one was morthal bad, as the saying was, and in another moment she too had gone. Dan stood in the hall with a sense of impending disaster. What had happened? A dread idea struck him at that moment like a blow on the brain. The sweat started from his forehead. He could bear the uncertainty no longer, and had set foot on the stairs to follow the blind woman when there was the sound of a light step descending. In another moment he stood face to face with Mona. She coloured deeply, and his head fell before her.
“Is it Ewan?” he said, and his voice came like a hoarse whisper.
“No, his wife,” said Mona.
It turned out that not long after daybreak that morning the young wife of Ewan, who had slept with Mona, had awakened with a start, and the sensation of having received a heavy blow on the forehead. She had roused Mona and told her what seemed to have occurred. They had looked about and seen nothing that could have fallen. They had risen from bed and examined the room, and had found everything as it had been when they lay down. The door was shut and there was no hood above the bed. But Mona had drawn up the window blind, and then she had seen, clearly marked on the white forehead of Ewan’s young wife, a little above the temple, on the spot where she had seemed to feel the blow, a streak of pale colour such as might have been made by the scratch of a thorn that had not torn the skin. It had been a perplexing difficulty, and the girls had gone back to bed, and talked of it in whispers until they had fallen asleep in each other’s arms. When they had awakened again, the Deemster was rapping at their door to say that he had taken an early breakfast, that he was going off to hold his court at Ramsey, and expected to be back at mid-day. Then, half timidly, Mona had told her father of their strange experience, but he had bantered them on their folly, and they had still heard his laughter when he had leapt to the saddle in front of the house, and was cantering away over the gravel. Re- assured by the Deemster’s unbelief, the girls had thrown off their vague misgivings, and given way to good spirits. Ewan’s young wife had said that all morning she had dreamt of her husband, and that her dreams had been bright and happy. They had gone down to breakfast, but scarcely had they been seated at the table before they had heard the click of the gate from the road.
Then they bad risen together, and Ewan had come up the path with a white bandage about his head, and with a streak of blood above the temple. With a sharp cry, Ewan’s young wife had fallen to the ground insensible, and when Ewan himself had come into the house they had carried her back to bed. There she was at that moment, and from a peculiar delicacy of her health at the time, there was aut too much reason to fear that the shock might have serious results.
All this Mona told to Dan from where she stood three steps up the stairs, and he listened with his head held low, one hand gripping the stair-rail, and his foot pawing the mat at the bottom. When she finished, there was a pause, and then there came from, overhead a long, deep moan of pain.
Dan lifted his face; its sudden pallor was startling. “Mona,” he said, in a voice that was husky in his throat, “do you know who struck Ewan that blow?”
There was silence for a moment, and then, half in a whisper, half with a sob, Mona answered that she knew. It had not been from Ewan himself, but by one of the many tongues of scandal that the news had come to Ballamona.
Dan railed at himself in bitter words, and called God to witness that he had been a curse to himself and every one about him. Mona let the torrent of his self-reproach spend itself, and then she said: “Dan, you must be reconciled to Ewan.”
“Not yet,” he answered.
“Yes, yes, I’m sure he would forgive you,” said Mona, and she turned about as if in the act of going back to seek for Ewan.
Dan grasped her hand firmly. “No,” he said, “don’t heap coals of fire on my head,
Mona; don’t, don’t.” And after a moment, with a calmer manner, “I must see the Deemster first.”
Hardly had this been spoken when they heard a horse’s hoofs on the gravel path, and the Deemster’s voice calling to Hommy-beg as he threw the reins over the post near the door and entered the house. The Deemster was in unusual spirits, and slapped Dan on the back and laughed as he went into his room. Dan followed him, and Mona crept nervously to the open door. With head held clown, Dan told what had occurred. The Deemster listened and laughed, asked further particulars and laughed again, threw off his riding-boots and leggings, looked knowingly from under his shaggy brows, and then laughed once more.
“And what d’ye say you want me to do for you, Danny veg?” he asked, with one side of his wrinkled face twisted awry.
“To punish me, sir,” said Dan.
At that the Deemster, who was buckling his slippers, threw himself back in his chair, and sent a shrill peal of mocking laughter through the house.
Dan was unmoved. His countenance did not bend as he said slowly, and in a low tone,
“If you don’t do it, sir, I shall never look into Ewan’s face again.”
The Deemster fixed his buckles, rose to his feet, slapped Dan on the back, said “Go home, man veen, go home,” and then hurried away to the kitchen, where in another moment his testy voice could be heard directing Hommy- beg to put up the saddle on the “lath.”
Mona looked into Dan’s face. “Will you be reconciled to Ewan now?” she said, and took both his hands and held them.
“No,” he answered firmly, “I will see the Bishop.” His eyes were dilated; his face, that had hitherto been very mournful to see, was alive with a strange fire. Mona held his bands with a passionate grasp.
“Dan,” she said, with a great tenderness, “this is very, very noble of you; this is like our Dan, this -”
She stopped; she trembled and glowed; her eyes were close to his.
“Don’t look at me like that,” he said.
She dropped his hands, and at the next instant he was gone from the house.
Dan found the Bishop at Bishop’s Court, and told him all. The Bishop had heard the story already, but he said nothing of that. He knew when Dan hid his provocation and painted his offence at its blackest. With a grave face he listened while Dan accused him- self, and his heart heaved within him.
“It is a serious offence,” he said; “to strike a minister is a grievous offence, and the Church provides a censure.”
Dan held his face very low, and clasped his hands in front of him.
“The censure is that on the next Sabbath morning following, in the presence of the congregation, you shall walk up the aisle of the parish church from the porch to the communion behind the minister, who shall read the 51st Psalm meantime.”
The Bishop’s deep tones and quiet manner concealed his strong emotion, and Dan went out without another word.
This was Friday, and on the. evening of the same day Ewan heard what had passed between Dan and the Deemster and between Dan and the Bishop, and with a great lump in his throat he went across to Bishop’s Court to pray that the censure might betaken off.
“The provocation was mine, and he is penitent,” said Ewan; and with heaving breast the Bishop heard him out, and then shook his head.
“The censures of the Church were never meant to pass by the house of the Bishop,” he said.
“But he is too deeply abased already,” said Ewan.
“The offence was committed in public, and before the eyes of all men the expiation must be made.”
“But I, too, am ashamed-think of it, and remove the censure,” said Ewan, and his voice trembled and broke.
The Bishop gazed out at the window with blurred eyes that saw nothing. “Ewan,” lie said, “it is God’s hand on the lad. Let it be; let it be.”
Next day the Bishop sent his sumner round the parish, asking that every house might send one at least to the parish church next morning.
On Sunday Ewan’s young wife kept her bed; but when Ewan left her for the church the shock to her nerves seemed in a measure to have passed away. There was still, how. ever, one great disaster to fear, and Mona remained at the bedside.
The meaning of the sumner’s summons had eked out, and long before the hour of service the parish church was crowded. The riff-raff that never came to church from year’s end to year’s end, except to celebrate the Oiel Verree, were there with eager eyes. While Will-as-Thorn tolled the bell from the rope suspendedin the porch there was a low buzz of gossip, but when the bell ceased its hoarse clangour, and Will-as-Thorn appeared with his pitch- pipe in the front of the gallery, there could be heard in the silence that followed over the crowded church the loud tick of the old wooden clock in front of him.
Presently from the porch there came a low tremulous voice reading the Psalm that begins, “Have mercy upon me, O God, after Thy great goodness: according to the multitude of Thy mercies do away mine offences.”
Then the people who sat in front turned about, and those who sat at the side strained across, and those who sat above craned forward.
Ewan was walking slowly up the aisle in his surplice, with his pale face and scarred forehead bent low over the book in his hand, and close behind him, towering above him in his great stature, with head held down, but with a steadfast gaze, his hat in his hands, his step firm and resolute, Dan Mylrea strode along.
There was a dead hush over the congregation.
“Wash me throughly from my wickedness and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my faults; and my sin is ever before me.”
The tremulous voice rose and fell, and nothing else broke the silence except the un- certain step of the reader, and the strong tread of the penitent behind him.
“Against Thee only have I sinned, and done this evil in Thy sight-”
At this the tremulous voice deepened, and stopped, and went on and stopped again, and when the words came once more they came in a deep, low sob, and the reader’s head fell into his breast.
Not until the Psalm came to an end, and Ewan and Dan had reached the communion, and the vicar had begun the morning prayer, and Will-as-Thorn had sent out a blast from his pitch-pipe, was the hard tension, of that moment broken.
When the morning service ended, the Deemster rose from his pew and hurried down the aisle. As usual, he was the first to leave the church. The ghostly smile with which he had witnessed the penance that had brought tears to the eyes of others was still on the Deemster’s lip, and a chuckle was in his throat when at the gate of the churchyard he met Hommy-beg, whose face was livid from a long run, and who stood for an instant panting for breath.
“Well, well, well?” said the Deemster, sending the words like small shot into Hommy-beg’s deaf ear.
“Terrible, terrible, terrible,” said Hommy- beg, and he lifted his hands.
“What is it? What? What?”
“The young woman-body is dead in child-bed.”
Then the ghostly smile fled from the Deemster’s face.
HOW EWAN MOURNED FOR HIS WIFE
WHAT passed at the new Ballamona on that morning of Dan’s penance was very pitiful. There in the death-chamber, already darkened, lay Ewan’s young wife, her eyes lightly closed, her girlish features composed, and a faint tinge of colour in her cheeks. Her breast was half open, and her beautiful head lay in a pillow of her soft brown hair. One round arm was stretched over the counterpane, and the delicate fingers were curved inwards until the thumb-nail, like an acorn, rested on the inner rim of a ring. Quiet, peaceful, very sweet and tender, she lay there like one who slept. After a short, sharp pang she had died gently, without a struggle, almost with- out a sigh, merely closing her eyes as one who was weary, and drawing a long, deep breath. In dying she had given premature birth to a child, a girl, and the infant was alive, and was taken from the mother at the moment of death.
When the Deemster entered the room with a face of great pallor and eyes of fear, Mona was standing by the bed-head gazing down, but seeing nothing. The Deemster felt the pulse of the arm over the counterpane with fingers that trembled visibly. Then he shot away from the room, and was no more seen that day. The vicar, the child-wife’s father, came with panting breath and stood by the bedside for a moment, and then turned aside in silence. Ewan came, too, and behind him Dan walked to the door and there stopped, and let Ewan enter the chamber of his great sorrow alone. Not a word was said until Ewan went down on his knees by the side of his wife, and put his arms about her, and kissed her lips, still warm, with his own far colder lips, and called to her softly by her name, as though she slept gently, and must not be awakened too harshly, and drew her to his breast, and called again in a tenderer tone that brushed the upturned face like a caress-
“Aileen! Aileen! Aileen!”
Mona covered her eyes in her hands, and Dan, where he stood at the door, turned his head away.
Aileen! Ailee! Ailee! My Ailee!”
The voice went like a whisper and a kiss into the deaf ear, and only one other sound was heard, and that was the faint cry of an infant from a room below.
Ewan raised his head and seemed to listen; he paused and looked at the faint colour in the quiet cheeks; he put his band lightly on the heart, and looked long at the breast that did not heave. Then he drew his arms very slowly away, and rose to his feet.
For a moment he stood as one dazed, like a man whose brain is benumbed, and with the vacant light still in his eyes he touched Mon on the arm and drew her hand from her eyes and he said, as one who tells you something that you could not think, “She is dead!”
Mona looked up into his face, and at sight of it the tears rained down her own. Dan had stepped into the room noiselessly, and came behind Ewan, and when Ewan felt his presence, he turned to Dan with the same vacant look, and repeated in the same empty tone, “She is dead!”
And never a tear came into Ewan’s eyes to soften their look of dull torpor; never again did he stretch out his arms to the silent form beneath him; only with dazed, dry eyes, he looked down, and said once more, “She is dead!”
Dan could bear up no longer; his heart was choking, and he went out without a word.
It was the dread silence of feeling that was frozen, but the thaw came in its time. They laid out the body of the young wife in the- darkened room, and Ewan went away and rambled over the house all day long, and when night fell in, and the lighted candles were set in the death-chamber, and all in Ballamona were going off to bed, Ewan was still rambling aimlessly from room to room. He was very quiet, and he spoke little, and did not weep at all. In the middle of that night the Deemster opened his bed room door and listened, and Ewan’s step was still passing from room to room, and Mona heard the same restless footfall in every break of her fitful sleep. But later on, in the dark hour that comes before day, the Deemster opened his door and listened again, and then all was quiet in the house. “He has gone to bed at last,” thought the Deemster; but in the early morning as he passed by Ewan’s room he found the door open, and saw that the bed had not been slept in.
The second day went by like the first, and the next night like the former one, and again in the dead of night the Deemster opened his door and heard Ewan’s step. Once more in the dark hour that goes before the day he opened his door and listened again, and all was quiet as before. “Surely he is in bed now,” thought the Deemster. He was turning back into his own room when he felt a sudden impulse to go to Ewan’s room first and see if it was as he supposed. He went, and the door was open and Ewan was not there, and again the bed had not been slept in.
The Deemster crept back on tiptoe, and a gruesome feeling took hold of him. He could not lie, and no sleep had come near his wakeful eyes, so he waited and listened for that unquiet beat of restless feet, but the sound did not come. Then, as the day was breaking over the top of Shen Dhoo, and all the Curraghs around lay veiled in mist, and far away to the west a deep line stretched across where the dark sea lay with the lightening sky above it, the Deemster opened his door yet again, and went along the corridor steadily a until he came to the door of the room where the body was. “Perhaps he is sitting with her,” he thought with awe, and he turned the handle. But when the door swung open the Deemster paused; a faint sound broke the n silence; it was a soft and measured breathing from within. Quivering with dread, the Deemster stepped into the death-chamber, and his head turned rigidly towards the bed. There, in the gloom of the dawn that came over the light of the last candle that flickered in its socket, Ewan lay outstretched by the side of the white, upturned face of his dead wife, and his hand lay on her hand, and he was in a deep sleep.
To the Deemster it was as if a spirit had passed before his face, and the hair of his flesh stood up.
They buried Ewan’s young wife side by side with his mother under the elder-tree (now thick with clusters of the green berry) by the wall of the churchyard that stood over by the sea. The morning was fine, but the sun shone dimly through a crust of hot air that gathered and slumbered and caked above. Ewan passed through all without a word, or a sigh, or a tear. But when the company returned to the Deemster’s house, and Mona spoke to Ewan and he answered her without any show of feeling, and Dan told him of his own remorse and accused himself of every disaster, and still Ewan gave no sign, but went in and out among them all with the vacant light in his eyes, then the Bishop whispered to Mona, and she went out and presently came again, and in her arms was the infant in its white linen clothes.
The sun was now hidden by the heavy cloud overhead, and against the window panes at that moment there was a light pattering of raindrops. Ewan bad watched with his vacant gaze when Mona went out, but when she came again a new light seemed to come into his eyes, and he stepped up to her and looked down at the little face that was sleeping softly against her breast. Then he put out his arms to take the child, and Mona passed it to him, and he held it, and sat clown with it, and all at once the tears came into his dry eyes and he wept aloud.
WRESTLING WITH FATE
So far as concerned the Deemster, this death of Ewan’s wife was the beginning of the end. Had she not died under the roof of the new Ballamona? Was it not by the strangest of accidents that she had died there, and not in her own home? Had she not died in child bed? Did not everything attending her death suggest the force of an irresistible fate? More than twenty years ago the woman Kerruish, the mother of Mally Kerruish, had cursed this house, and said that no life would come to it but death would come with it.
And for more than twenty years the Deemster had done his best to laugh at the pre diction and to forget it. Who was he that he should be the victim of fear at the sneezing of an old woman? What was he that he should not be master of his fate? But what had occurred? For more than twenty years one disturbing and distinct idea had engrossed him. In all his waking hours it exasperated him, and even in his hours of sleep it lay heavy at the back of his brain as a dull feeling of dread. On the bench, in the saddle, at table, alone by the winter’s fire, alone in summer walks, the obstinate idea was always there. And nothing but death seemed likely to shake it off.
Often he laughed at it, in his long, lingering, nervous laugh; but it was a chain that was slowly tightening about him. Everything was being fulfilled. First came the death of his wife at the birth of Mona, and now, after an interval of twenty years, the death of his son’s wife at the birth of her child. In that stretch of time he had become in his own view a childless man; his hopes had been thwarted in the son on whom alone his hopes had been built; the house he had founded was but an echoing vault; the fortune he had reared, an empty bubble. He was accursed; God had heard the woman’s voice; he looked too steadily at the facts to mistake them, and let the incredulous fools laugh if they liked.
When, twenty years before, the Deemster realised that he was the slave of one tyrannical idea, he tried to break the fate that hung over him. He bought up the cottage on the Brew, and turned the woman Kerruish into the roads. Then he put his foot on every sign of superstitious belief that came in his way as judge.
But not with such brave shows of unbelief could he conquer his one disturbing idea. His nature bad never been kindly, but now there grew upon him an obstinate hatred of every body. This was in the days when his children, Ewan and Mona, lived in the cosy nest at Bishop’s Court. If in these days any man mentioned the Kerruishes in the Deemster’s presence, he showed irritation, but he kept his ears open for every syllable said about them. He knew all their history; he knew when the girl Mally fled away from the island on the day of Ewan’s christening; he knew by what boat she sailed; he knew where she settled herself in England; he knew when her child was born, and when, in terror at the unfulfilled censure of the Church that hung over her (separating her from all communion with God’s people in life or hope of redemption in death), she came back to the island, drawn by an irresistible idea, her child at her breast, to work out her penance on the scene of her shame.
Thereafter he watched her daily, and knew her life. She had been taken back to work at the net-looms of Kinvig, the Peeltown net. maker, and she lived with her mother at the cottage over the Head, and there in poverty she brought up her child, her boy, Jarvis Kerruish, as she had called him. If any pointed at her and laughed with cruelty; if any pretended to sympathise with her and said, with a snigger, “The first error is always forgiven, Mally woman;” if any mentioned the Deemster himself, and said, with a wink, “I’m thinking it terrible strange, Mally, that you don’t take a slue round and put a sight on him;” if any said to her when she bought a new garment out of her scant earnings, a gown or even a scarf or bit of bright ribbon such as she loved in the old days, “Dearee dear! I thought you wouldn’t take rest, but be up and put a sight on the ould crooky “-the Deemster knew it all. He saw the ruddy; audacious girl of twenty sink into the pallid slattern of thirty, without hope, without joy in life, and with only a single tie.
And the Deemster found that there grew upon him daily his old malicious feeling; but, so far as concerned his outer bearing, matters took a turn on the day he came upon the boys, Dan Mylrea and Jarvis Kerruish, fighting in the road. It was the first time he had seen the boy Jarvis. “Who is he?” he had asked, and the old woman Kerruish had made answer, “Don’t you know him, Deemster? Do you never see a face like that? Not when you look in the glass?”
There was no need to look twice into a mirror like the face of that lad to know whose son he was.
The Deemster went home to Ballamona, and thought over the fierce encounter. He could tolerate no longer the living reproach of this boy’s–presence within a few miles of his own house, and, by an impulse no better than humbled pride, he went back to the cottage of the Kerruishes at night, alone and afoot. The cottage was a lone place on the top of a bare heath, with the bleak sea in front and the purple hills behind, and with a fence less cart-track leading up to it. A lead-mine, known as the Cross Vein, had been worked there forty years before. The shaft was still open, and now full of dark, foul water almost to the surface. One roofless wall showed where the gear had stood, and under the shelter of this wall there crouched a low thatched tool-shed, having a door and a small window. This was the cottage; and until old Mrs. Kerruish had brought there her few rickety sticks when, by the Deemster’s orders, they had been thrown into the road, none had ever occupied the tool-shed as a house.
The door was open, and the Deemster stepped in. One of the women, old Mrs. Kerruish, was sitting on a stool by the fire-it was a fire of sputtering hazel sticks-shredding some scraps of green vegetables into a pot of broth that swung from the iron hook of the chimney. The other woman, Mally, was doing something in the dark crib of a sleeping-room, shut off from the living-room by a wooden partition like the stanchion board of a stable. The boy was asleep; his soft breathing came from the dark crib.
“Mrs. Kerruish,” said the Deemster, ” I am willing to take the lad, and rear him, and when the time comes to set him to business, and give him a start in life.”
Mrs. Kerruish had risen stiffly from her stool, and her face was set hard.
“Think of it, woman, think of it, and don’t answer in haste,” said the Deemster.
“We’d have to be despard hard put to for a bite and a sup before we’d take anything from you, Deemster,” said the old woman.
The Deemster’s quick eyes, under the shaggy grey brows, glanced about the room. It was a place of poverty, descending to squalor. The floor was of the bare earth trodden hard, the roof was of the bare thatch, with here and there a lath pushed between the unhewn spars to keep it up, and here and there a broken patch dropping hay-seed.
“You are desperate hard put to, woman,” said the Deemster, and at that Mally herself came out of the sleeping-crib. Her face was thin and pale, and her bleared eyes had lost’ their sharp light; it was a countenance with out one ray of hope.
“Stop, mother,” she said; “let us hear what the Deemster has to offer.”
“Offer? Offer?” the old woman rapped out. “You’ve had enough of the Deemster’s offers, I’m thinking.”
“Be quiet, mother,” said Mally; and then she turned to the Deemster and said, “Well, sir, and what is it?”
“Aw, very Pate and amazing civil to dirks like that-go on, girl, go on,” said the old woman, tossing her head and hand in anger Sowards Mally.
“Mother, this is my concern, I’m thinking what is it, sir?”
But the old woman’s wrath at her daughter’s patience was not to be kept down. “Behold ye!” she said, “it’s my own girl that’s after telling me before strangers that I’ve not a farthing at me, and me good for nothing at working, and only fit to hobble about on a stick, and fix the house tidy maybe, and to have no say in nothing-go on, och, go on, girl.”
The Deemster explained his proposal. It Was that the boy Jarvis should be given entirely into his control, and be no more known by his mother and his mother’s mother, and perhaps no more seen or claimed or acknowledged by them, and that the Deemster should provide for him and see him started in life.
Mrs. Kerruish’s impatience knew no bounds. “My gough!” she cried, “my gough, my gough! ” But Mally listened and reflected. Her spirit was broken, and she was thinking of her poverty. Her mother was now laid aside by rheumatism, and could earn nothing, and she herself worked piecework at the net making-so much for a piece of net a hundred yards long by two hundred meshes deep toiling without heart from eight to eight, and earning four, five, and six shillings a week. And if there was a want, her boy felt it. She did not answer at once, and after a moment the Deemster turned to the door. “Think of it,” he said; “think of it.”
“Hurroo! hurroo!” cried the old woman derisively from her stool, her untamable soul aflame with indignation.
“Be quiet, mother,” said Mally, and the hopelesness that had spoken from her eyes seemed then to find a way into her voice.
The end of it was that Jarvis Kerruish was sent to a school at Liverpool, and remained there three years, and then became a clerk in the counting-house of Benas Brothers, of the Goree Piazza, ostensibly African merchants, really English money-lenders. Jarvis did not fret at the loss of his mother, and of course he never wrote to her; but he addressed a careful letter to the Deemster twice a year, beginning “Honoured sir,” and ending “Yours, with much respect, most obediently.”
Mally had miscalculated her self-command. If she had thought of her poverty, it had been because she had thought of her boy as well. He would be lifted above it all if she could but bring herself to part with him. She wrought up her feelings to the sacrifice, and gave away her son, and sat down as a broken-spirited and childless woman. Then she realised the price she had to pay. The boy had been the cause of her shame, but he had been the centre of her pride as well. If she had been a hopeless woman before, she was now a heartless one. Little by little she fell into habits of idleness and intemperance. Before young Jarvis sat in his frilled shirt on the stool in the Goree Piazza, and before the down had begun to show on his lean cheeks, his mother was a lost and abandoned woman.
But not yet had the Deemster broken his fate. When Ewan disappointed his hopes and went into the Church and married with out his sanction or knowledge, it seemed to him that the chain was gradually tightening about him. Then the Deemster went over once more to the cottage at the Cross Vein alone, and in the night.
“Mrs. Kerruish,” he said, “I am willing to allow you six pounds a year pension, and I will pay it in three pound-notes on Lady Day and Martinmas,” and putting his first payment on the table, he turned about, and was gone before the rheumatic old body could twist in her chair.
The Deemster had just made his third visit to the cottage at the Cross Vein, and left his second payment, when the death of Ewan’s young wife came as a thunderbolt and startled him to the soul. For days and nights there. after be went about like a beaten horse, trembling to the very bone. He had resisted the truth for twenty years; he had laughed at it in his long lingering laugh at going to bed at night and at rising in the morning; he had ridiculed superstition in others, and punished it when he could; he was the judge of the island, and she through whose mouth his fate fell upon him was a miserable ruin cast aside on life’s highway; but the truth would be resisted no longer: the house over his head was accursed – accursed to him, and to his children, and to his children’s children.
The Deemster’s engrossing idea became a dominating terror. Was there no way left to him to break the fate that hung over him? None? The Deemster revolved the problem night and day, and meantime lived the life of the damned. At length he hit on a plan, and then peace seemed to come to him, a poor paltering show of peace, and he went about no longer like a beaten and broken horse. His project was a strange one; it was the last that prudence would have suggested, but the first that the evil spirit of his destiny could have hoped for-it was to send to Liverpool for Jarvis Kerruish, and establish him in Ballamona as his son.
In that project the hand of his fate was strongly upon him; he could not resist it; he seemed to yield himself to its power; he made himself its willing victim; he was even as Saul, when the Spirit of the Lord had gone from him and an evil spirit troubled him, sending for the anointed son of Jesse to play on the harp to him and to supplant him on the throne.
THE LIE THAT EWAN TOLD
IT was not for long that Dan bore the signs of contrition. As soon as Ewan’s pale face had lost the weight of its gloom, Dan’s curly poll knew no more of trouble. He followed the herrings all through that season, grew brown with the sun and the briny air, and caught the sea’s laughter in his rollicking voice. He drifted into some bad habits from which he had hitherto held himself in check. Every morning when the boats ran into harbour, and Teare, the mate, and Crennel, the cook, stayed behind to sell the fish, Dan and old Billy Quilleash trooped up to the “Three Legs of Man” together. There Dan was made much of, and the lad’s spirit was not proof against the poor flattery. It was Mastha Dan here, and Mastha Dan there, and Where is Mastha Dan? and What does Mastha Dan say? and great shoutings, and tearings, and sprees; and all the time the old cat with the whiskers who kept the pot-house was scoring up against Dan at the back of the cupboard door.
Did the Bishop know? Know? Did ever a young fellow go to the dogs but some old woman of either sex found her way to the very ear that ought not to be tormented with
Job’s comfort, and whisper, “Aw, dear! aw dear!” and ” Lawk-a-day!” and ” I’m the last to bring bad newses, as the saying is,” and ” Och, and it’s a pity, and him a fine, brave young fellow too!” and “I wouldn’t have told it on no account to another living soul!”
The Bishop said little, and tried not to hear; but when Dan would have hoodwinked him, he saw through the device as the sun sees through glass. Dan never left his father’s presence with out a sense of shame that was harder to bear than any reproach would have been. Some thing patient and trustful, and strong in hope, and stronger in love, seemed to go out from the Bishop’s silence to Dan’s reticence. Dan would slink off with the bearing of a whipped hound, or, perhaps, with a muttered curse under his teeth, and always with a stern resolve to pitch himself or his cronies straightway into the sea. The tragical purpose usually lasted him over the short mile and a half that divided Bishop’s Court from the “Three Legs of Man,” and then it went down with some other troubles and a long pint of Manx jough.
Of all men, the most prompt to keep the Bishop informed of Dan’s sad pranks was no other than the Deemster. Since the death of Ewan’s wife the Deemster’s feelings towards Dan had undergone a complete change. From that time forward he looked on Dan with eyes of distrust, amounting in its intensity to hatred. He forbade him his house, though Dan laughed at the prohibition and ignored it. He also went across to Bishop’s Court for the first time for ten years, and poured into the Bishop’s ears the story of every bad bit of business in which Dan got involved. Dan kept him fully employed in this regard, and Bishop’s Court saw the Deemster at frequent intervals.
If it was degrading to the Bishop’s place as father of the Church that his son should consort with all the “raggabash” of the island, the scum of the land, and the dirtiest froth of the sea, the Bishop was made to know the full bitterness of that degradation. He would listen with head held down, and when the Deemster, passing from remonstrance to re proach, would call upon him to set his own house in order before he ever ascended the pulpit again, the Bishop would lift his great heavy eyes with an agonised look of appeal, and answer in a voice like a sob, “Have patience, Thorkell, have patience with the lad; he is my son, my only son.”
It chanced that towards the end of the herring season an old man of eighty, one William Callow, died, and he was the captain of the parish of Michael. The captaincy was a semi-civil, semi-military office, and it included the functions of parish head-constable. Callow had been a man of extreme probity, and his walk in life had been without a slip. “The ould man’s left no living craythur to fill his shoes,” the people said when they buried him; but when the name of the old man’s successor came down from Castletown, who should be the new captain but Daniel Mylrea? The people were amazed, the Deemster laughed in his throat, and Dan himself looked appalled.
Hardly a month after this event, the relations of Dan and the Deemster, and Dan and the Bishop, reached a climax.
For months past the Bishop had been hatching a scheme for the subdivision of his episcopal glebe, the large extent of which had long been a burden on the dwindling energies of his advancing age; and he had determined that, since his son was not to be a minister of the Church, he should be its tenant, and farm its lands. So he cut off from the demesne a farm of eighty acres of fine Curragh land, well drained and tilled. This would be a stay and a solid source of livelihood to Dan when the herring fishing had ceased to be a pastime. There was no farm-house on the eighty acres, but barns and stables were to be erected, and Dan was to share with Ewan the old Ballamona as a home.
Dan witnessed these preparations, but entered into them with only a moderate enthusiasm. The reason of his lukewarmness was that he found himself deeply involved in debts whereof his father knew nothing. When the fishing season finished and the calculations were made, it was found that the boat had earned no more than £240. Of this old Billy Quilleash took four shares, every man took two shares, there was a share set aside for Davy, the boy, and the owner was entitled to eight shares for himself, his nets, and his boat. So far all was reasonably satisfactory. The difficulty and dissatisfaction arose when Dan began to count the treasury. Then it was discovered that there was not enough in hand to pay old Billy and his men and the boy, leaving Dan’s eight shares out of the count.
Dan scratched his head and pondered. He was not brilliant at figures, but he totted up his numbers again with the same result. Then he computed the provisioning-tea, at four shillings a pound, besides fresh meat four times a week, and fine flour biscuits. It was heavy but not ruinous, and the season had been poor but not bad, and, whatever the net results, there ought not to have been a deficit where the principle of co-operation between master and man was that of share and share.
Dan began to see his way through the mystery-it was most painfully transparent in the light of the score that had been chalked up from time to time on the inside of the cupboard of the “Three Legs of Man.” But it was easier to see where the money bad gone than to make it up, and old Billy and his chums began to mutter and to grumble.
“It’s raely wuss till ever,” said one.
The tack we’ve been on hasn’t been worth workin’,” said another.
Dan heard their murmurs, and went up to Bishop’s Court. After all, the deficit was only forty pounds, and his father would lend him that much. But hardly had Dan sat down to breakfast than the Bishop, who was clearly in lower spirits than usual, began to lament that his charities to the poor bad been interrupted by the cost of building the barns and stables on the farm intended for his son.
“I hope your fishing will turn out well, Dan,” he said, “for I’ve scarce a pound in hand to start you.”
So Dan said nothing about the debt, and went back to the fisher-fellows with a face as long as a haddock’s. “I’ll tell you, men, the storm is coming,” he said.
Old Billy looked as black as thunder, and answered with an impatient gesture, “Then keep your weather eye liftin’, that’s all.”
Dan measured the old salt from head to foot, and hitched his hand into his guernsey. “You wouldn’t talk to me like that, Billy Quilleash, if I hadn’t been a fool with you. It’s a true saying, that when you tell your servant your secret you make him your master.”
Old Billy sniggered, and his men snorted. Billy wanted to know why he had left Kinvig’s boat, where he had a sure thirty pounds for his season; and Ned There wished to be told what his missus would say when he took her five pound ten; and Crennel, the slushy, asked what sort of a season the mastha was afther callin’ it, at all, at all.
Not a man of them remembered his share of the long scores chalked up on the inside of the cupboard door.
“Poor old dad,” thought Dan, “he must find the money after all-no way but that,” and once again he turned towards Bishop’s Court.
Billy Quilleash saw him going off, and followed him. “I’ve somethin’ terrible fine up here,” said Billy, tapping his forehead mysteriously.
“What is it?” Dan asked:
“Och, a shockin’ powerful schame. It’ll get you out of the shoal water anyways,” said Billy.
It turned out that the ‘shockin’ powerful ‘schame’ was the ancient device of borrowing the money from a money-lender. Old Billy knew the very man to serve the turn. His name was Kisseck, and he kept the “Jolly Herrings ” in Peeltown, near the bottom of the crabbed little thoroughfare that wound and twisted and descended to that part of the quay which over looked the castle rock.
“No, no; that’ll not do,” said Dan. “Aw, and why not at all?”
“Why not? Why not? Because it’s blank robbery to borrow what you can’t pay back.” “Robbery? Now, what’s the use of sayin’ the like o’ that? Aw, the shockin’ notions l Well, well, and do you raely think a person’s got no feelin’s? Robbery? Aw, well now, well now.”
And old Billy tramped along with the air of an injured man.
But the end of it was that Dan said nothing to the Bishop that day, and the same night found him at the “Jolly Herrings.” The landlord had nothing to lend, not he, but he knew people who would not mind parting with money on good security, or on anybody’s bail, as the sayin’ was. Couldn’t Mastha Dan get a good man’s name to a bit o’ paper, like? Coorse he could, and nothing easier, for a gentl’man same as him. Who was the people? They belonged to Liverpool, the Goree Peaizy-Benas they were callin’ them.
Three days afterwards the forty pounds, made up to fifty for round numbers, came to Kisseck, the landlord, and the bit o’ paper came with it. Dan took the paper and went off with it to the old Ballamona. Ewan would go bail for him, and so the Bishop need know nothing of the muddle. But when Dan reached his new home Ewan was away-a poor old Quaker named Christian, who had brought himself to beggary by neglecting Solomon’s injunction against suretyship, was dying, and had sent for the parson.
Dan was in a burry; the fisher-fellows were grumbling, and their wives were hanging close about their coat-tails; the money must be got without delay, and of course Ewan would sign for it straight away if he were there. An idea struck Dan, and made the sweat to start from his forehead. He had put the paper on the table and taken up a pen when he heard Ewan’s voice outside, and then he threw the pen down, and his heart leapt with a sense of relief.
Ewan came in, and rattled on about old Christian, the Quaker. He hadn’t a week to live, poor old soul, and he hadn’t a shilling left in the world. Once he farmed his hundred acres, but he had stood surety for this man and surety for that man, and paid up the defalcations of both, and now, while they were eating the bread of luxury, he was dying as a homeless pauper.
“Well, he has been practising a bad virtue,” said Ewan. “I wouldn’t stand surety for my own brother-not for my own brother if I had one. It would be helping him to eat to-day the bread he earns to-morrow.”
Dan went out without saying anything of the bit of paper from Liverpool. The fisher fellows met him, and when they heard what he had to say their grumblings broke out again.
“Well, I’m off for the Bishop, and no disrespec’,” said old Billy.
He did not go; the bit o’ paper was signed, but not by Ewan; the money was paid; the grateful sea-dogs were sent home with their wages in their pockets and a smart cuff on either ear.
A month or two went by, and Dan grew quiet and thoughtful, and sometimes gloomy, and people began to say, “It’s none so wild the young mastha is at all at all,” or perhaps, “Wonderful studdv he’s growing,” or even, “I wouldn’t trust but he’ll turn out a parson after all.” One day in November Dan went fiver to new Ballamona and asked for Mona, and sat with her in earnest talk. He told her of some impending disaster, and she listened with a whitening face. From that day forward Mona was a changed woman. She seemed to share some great burden of fear with Dan, and it lay heavy upon her, and made the way of life very long and cheerless to the sweet and silent girl.
Towards the beginning of December sundry letters came out of their season from the young clerk of Benas Brothers, Jarvis Kerruish. Then the Deemster went over more than once to Bishop’s Court, and had grave interviews with the Bishop.
“If you can prove this that you say, Thorkell, I shall turn my back on him for ever yes, for ever,” said the Bishop, and his voice was husky and his sad face was seamed with lines of pain.
A few days passed and a stranger appeared at Ballamona, and when the stranger bad gone the Deemster said to Mona, “Be ready to go to Bishop’s Court with me in the morning.”
Mona’s breath seemed to be suddenly arrested. “Will Ewan be there?” she asked.
“Yes; isn’t it the day of his week-day service at the chapel-Wednesday-isn’t it?”
“And Dan?” she said.
“Dan? Why Dan? Well, woman, perhaps Dan too-who knows?”
The Bishop had sent across to the old Ballamona to say that he wished to see his son in the library after service on the following morning.
At twelve next day, Dan, who had been ploughing, turned in at Bishop’s Court in his long boots and rough red shirt, and there in the library he found Mona and the Deemster seated. Mona did not speak when Dan spoke to her. Her voice seemed to fail; but the Deemster answered in a jaunty word or two; and then the Bishop, looking very thoughtful, came in with Ewan, whose eyes were brighter than they had been for many a day, and behind them walked the stranger whom Mona had seen at Ballamona the day before.
“Why, and how’s this?” said Ewan, on perceiving that so many of them were gathered there.
The Bishop closed the door, and then answered with averted face, “We have a painful interview before us, Ewan-be seated.”
It was a dark day; the clouds hung low, and the dull rumble of the sea came through the dead air. A fire of logs and peat burned on the hearth, and the Deemster rose and stood with his back to it, his hands interlaced behind him. The Bishop sat in his brass clamped chair at the table, and rested his pale cheek on his hand. There was a pause, and then, without lifting his eyes, the Bishop said, “Ewan, do you know that it is contrary to the customs of the Church for a minister to stand security for a debtor?”
Ewan was standing by the table fumbling the covers of a book that he had lifted. “I know it,” he said quietly.
“Do you know that the minister who disregards that custom stands liable to suspension at the hands of his Bishop?”
Ewan looked about with a stare of bewilderment, but he answered again and as quietly, “I know it.”
There was silence for a moment, and then the Deemster, clearing his throat noisily, turned to where Dan was pawing up a rug that lay under a column and bust of Bunyan.
“And do you know, air,” said the Deemster in his shrill tones, “what the punishment of forgery may be?”
Dan’s face had undergone some changes during the last few minutes, but when he lifted it to the Deemster’s it was as firm as a rock.
“Hanging, perhaps,” he answered sullenly; “transportation, perhaps. What of it? Out with it-be quick.”
Dan’s eyes flashed; the Deemster tittered audibly; the Bishop looked up at his son from tinder the rims of his spectacles and drew a long breath. Mona had covered her face in her hands where she sat in silence by the ingle, and Ewan, still fumbling the book in his nervous fingers, was glancing from Dan to the Deemster, and from the Bishop to Dan, with a look of blank amazement.
The Deemster motioned to the stranger, who thereupon advanced from where he had stood by the door, and stepped up to Ewan.
“May I ask if this document was drawn by your authority? ” and saying this the stranger held out a paper, and Ewan took it in his listless fingers.
There was a moment’s silence. Ewan glanced down at the document. It showed that fifty pounds had been lent to Daniel Mylrea, by Benas Brothers, of the Goree Piazza, Liverpool, and it was signed by Ewan’s own name as that of surety.
“Is that your signature?” asked the stranger, Ewan glanced at Dan, and Dan’s head was on his breast and his lips quivered. The Bishop was trembling visibly, and sat with head bent low by the sorrow of a wrecked and shattered hope.
The stranger looked from Ewan to Dan, and from Dan to the Bishop. The Deemster gazed steadily before him, and his face wore a ghostly smile.
“Is it your signature?” repeated the stranger, and his words fell on the silence like the clank of a chain.
Ewan saw it all now. He glanced again at the document, but his eyes were dim, and he could read nothing. Then he lifted his face, and its lines of agony told of a terrible struggle.
“Yes,” he answered, “the signature is mine -what of it?”
At that the Bishop and Mona raised their eyes together. The stranger looked incredulous.
“It is quite right if you say so,” the stranger replied, with a cold smile.
Ewan trembled in every limb. “I do say so,” he said.
His fingers crumpled the document as he spoke, but his head was erect, and the truth seemed to sit on his lips. Dan dropped heavily into a chair and buried his face in his hands.
The stranger smiled again the same cold smile. “The lenders wish to withdraw the loan,” he said.
“They may do so-in a month,” said Ewan.
“That will suffice.”
The Deemster’s face twitched; Mona’s cheeks were wet with tears; the Bishop had risen and gone to the window, and was gazing out through blurred eyes into the blinding rain that was now pelting against the glass.
“It would be cruel to prolong a painful interview,” said the stranger; and then, with a glance towards Dan where he sat convulsed with distress that he made no effort to conceal, he added in a hard tone
“Only the lenders came to have reasons to fear that perhaps the document had been drawn without your knowledge.”
Ewan handed the paper back with a nerve less hand. He looked at the stranger through swimming eyes, and said gently, but with an awful inward effort, “You have my answer, sir, -I knew of it.”
The stranger bowed and went out. Dan leapt to his feet and threw his arms about Ewan’s neck, but dared not to look into his troubled face. Mona covered her eyes and sobbed.
The Deemster picked up his hat to go, and in passing out he paused in front of Ewan and said in a bitter whisper
“Fool! fool! You have taken this man’s part to your own confusion.”
When the door closed behind the Deemster the Bishop turned from the window. “Ewan,” he said, in a voice like a cry, “the Recording Angel has set down the lie you have told to-day in the Book of Life to your credit in heaven.”
Then the Bishop paused, and Dan lifted his head from Ewan’s neck.
“As for you, sir,” the Bishop added, turning to his son, “I am done with you for ever; go from me; let me see your face no more.”
Dan went out of the room with betided, head.
THE PLOUGHING MATCH
WHEN Ewan got back home, Dan was sitting before the fire in the old hall, his legs stretched out before him, his hands thrust deep in his pockets, his head low in his breast, and his whole mien indicative of a crushed and broken spirit. He glanced up furtively as Ewan entered, and then back with a stony stare to the fire. If Ewan bad given him one word of cheer, God knows what tragic consequences would have been spared to both of them. But Ewan had saved Dan from the penalty of his crime at the cost of truth and his self esteem.
“Dan,” he said, “you and I must part; we can be friends no longer.”
He spoke with a strong effort, and the words seemed to choke him. Dan shambled to his feet; he appeared to collect his thoughts for a moment, like one who had fainted and returns to consciousness.
“Mind, I don’t turn you out of the house,” said Ewan, “only if we are to share this place together we must be strangers.”
A hard smile broke out on Dan’s face. He seemed to be trying to speak, but not a word would come. He twisted slowly on his heel, and lifted the latch of the door that led to the inner part of the house.
“One thing more,” said Ewan, speaking quickly and in a tremulous voice; ” I will ask you to look upon yourself as a stranger to my sister also.”
Dan stopped and turned about. Over the forced smile his hard face told of a great struggle for self-command. He said nothing, and after a moment he went out, drawing his breath audibly.
Then straightway Ewan flung himself in the chair from which Dan had risen, and his slight frame shook with suppressed sobs. After some minutes the sense of his own degradation diminished, and left room for a just idea of Dan’s abject humiliation. “I have gone too far,” he thought; ” I will make amends.” He had risen to follow Dan, when another thought trod heavily on the heels of the first. “Leave him alone, it will be best for himself; leave him alone, for his own sake.” And so, with the madness of wrath fermenting in his own brain, he left it to ferment in Dan’s brain as well.
Now when Dan found himself left alone, he tried to carry off his humiliation by a brave show of unconcern. He stayed on at the old Ballamona, but he never bothered himself not he, forsooth-to talk to folks who passed him on the stairs without a word of greeting, or met in the hall without a glance of recognition.
It chanced just then that, in view of a threatened invasion, the authorities were getting up a corps of volunteers, known as the Manx Fencibles, and that they called on the captains of the parishes to establish companies. Dan threw himself into this enterprise with uncommon vigour, took drills himself, acquired a competent knowledge of the rudiments in a twinkling, and forthwith set himself to band together the young fellows of his parish. It was just the sort of activity that Dan wanted at the moment, and in following it up the ” Three Legs ” saw him something oftener than before, and there the fellows of the baser sort drank and laughed with him, addressing him sometimes as captain, but oftener as Dan, never troubling themselves a ha’p’orth to put a handle to his name.
This was a turn of events which Ewan could not understand. “I have been mistaken in the man,” he thought; “there’s no heart left in him.”
Towards the middle of December Jarvish Kerruish arrived at Ballamona, and forthwith established himself there in a position that would have been proper to the Deemster’s heir. He was a young man of medium height and size, closely resembling the Deemster in face and figure. His dress was English: he wore a close-fitting undercoat with tails, and over it a loose cloak mounted with a brass buckle at the throat; he had a beaver hat of the shape of a sugarloaf; and boots that fitted to his legs like gloves. His manner was expansive, and he betrayed a complete un consciousness of the sinister bar of his birth, and of the false position he had taken up in the Deemster’s house. He showed no desire to visit the cottage at the Cross Vein, and he spoke of the poor with condescension. When he met with Ewan he displayed no uneasiness, and Ewan on his part gave no sign of resentment. Mona, on the other hand, betrayed an instinctive repulsion, and in less than a week from his coming their relations had reached an extraordinary crisis, which involved Ewan and Dan and herself in terrible consequences. This is what occurred. On the day before Christmas Day there was to be a ploughing match in a meadow over the Head, and Ewan stood pledged by an old promise to act as judge. The day came, and it was a heavy day, with snow-clouds hanging overhead, and misty vapours floating down from the hills and up from the Curraghs, and biding them. At ten in the morning Mona muffled herself in a great-cloak and went over to the meadow with Ewan. There a crowd had already gathered, strong men in blue pilots, old men in sheepskin coats, women with their short blue camblet gowns tucked over their linen caps, boys and girls on every side, all coming and going like shadows in the mist. At one end of the meadow several pairs of horses stood yoked to ploughs, and a few lads were in charge of them. On Ewan’s arrival there was a general movement among a group of men standing together, and a respectful salutation to the parson. The names were called over of the ploughmen who had entered for the prize-a pound note and a cup-and last of all there was a show of hands for the election of six men to form a jury.
Then the stretch was staked out. The prize was to the ploughman who would make the stretch up and down the meadow in the shortest time, cutting the furrows straightest, cleanest, and of the most regular depth.
When all was ready, Ewan took up his station where the first furrow would be cut into the field, with Mona at his side, and the six jurors about him. The first plough man to bring up his plough was a brawny young fellow with a tanned face. The ploughman had brought up his horses in front of the stake, and had laid hands on his plough handles, and was measuring the
stretch with his eye for a landmark to sight by, when Jarvis Kerruish came into the meadow and walked through the crowd and took up a place by Mona’s side. There were audible comments, and some racy exclamations as he pushed through the crowd, not lifting an eye to any face; but he showed complete indifference, and began to talk to Mona in a loud, measured tone.
“Ah! this is very gratifying,” he was saying, “to see the peasantry engaged in manly sports -useful sports-is, I confess, very gratifying to me.”
“My gough!” said a voice from one side. “Hurroo!” said a voice from the other side.
“Lawk-a-day!” came from behind in a shrill female treble. “Did ye ever see a grub turn butterfly?”
Jarvis seemed not to hear. “Now there are sports=’ he began; but the ploughman was shouting to his horses, “Steady, steady,” the plough was dipping into the succulent grass, the first swish of the upturned soil was in the air, and Jarvis’s wise words were lost.
All eyes were on the bent back of the ploughman plodding on in the mist. “He cuts like a razor,” said one of the spectators. “He bears his hand too much on,” said another. “Do better yourself next spell,” said a third.
When the horses reached the far end of the stretch the ploughman whipped them round like the turn of a wheel, and in another moment he was toiling back, steadily, firmly, his hand rigid, and his face set hard. When he got back to where Ewan, with his watch in his hand, stood surrounded by the jurors, he was covered with sweat. “Good, very good six minutes ten seconds,” said Ewan; and there were some plaudits from the people looking on, and some banter of the competitors who came up to follow.
Jarvis Kerruish, at Mona’s elbow, was beginning again, “I confess that it has always been my personal opinion-” but in the bustle of another pair of horses whipped up to the stake no one seemed to be aware that he was speaking.
Five ploughmen came in succession, but all were behind the first in time, and cut a less regular furrow. So Ewan and the jurors announced that the prize was to the stranger. Then as Ewan twisted]about, his adjudication finished, to where Mona stood with Jarvis by her side, there was a general rush of competitors and spectators to a corner of the meadow, where, from a little square cart, the buirdly stranger who was victor proceeded to serve out glasses of ale from a small barrel.
While this was going on, and there was some laughter and shouting and singing, there came a loud Hello! as of many voices from a little distance, and then the beat of many irregular feet, and one of the lads in the crowd, who had jumped to the top of the broad turf hedge, shouted, “It’s the capt’n-it’s Mastha Dan.”
In another half-minute Dan and some fifty or sixty of the scum of the parish came tumbling into the meadow on all sides-over the hedge, over the gate, and tearing through the gaps in the gorse. These were the corps that Dan had banded together towards the Manx Fencibles, but the only regimentals they yet wore were a leather belt, and the only implement of war they yet carried was the small dagger that was fitted into the belt. That morning they had been drilling, and after drill they had set off to see the ploughing match, and on the way they had passed the ” Three Legs,” and, being exceeding dry, they had drawn up in front thereof, and every man had been served with a glass, which had been duly scored off to the captain’s account.
Dan saw Mona with Ewan as he vaulted the gate, but he gave no sign of recognition, and in a moment he was in the thick of the throng at the side of the cart, hearing all about the match, and making loud comments upon it in his broadest homespun.
“What!” he said, “and you’ve let yourselves be bate by a craythur like that. Hurroo!” He strode up to the stranger’s furrow, cocked his eye along it, and then glanced at the stranger’s horses.
“Och, I’ll go bail I’ll bate it with a yoke of oxen.”
At that there was a movement of the crowd around him, and some cheering, just to egg on the rupture that was imminent.
The big stranger heard all, and strode through the people with a face like a thundercloud.
“Who says he’ll bate it with a yoke of oxen?” he asked.
“That’s just what I’m afther saying, my fine fellow. Have you anything agen it?”
In half a minute a wager had been laid of a pound a side that Dan with a pair of oxen would beat the stranger with a pair of horses in two stretches out of three.
“Davy! Davy!” shouted Dan, and in a twinkling there was Davy Fayle, looking queer enough in his guernsey, and his long boots, and his sea-cap, and withal his belt and his dagger. Davy was sent for the pair of oxen to where they were leading manure, not far away. He went off like a shot, and in ten minutes he was back in the meadow, driving the oxen before him.
Now these oxen had been a gift of the Bishop to Dan. They were old, and had grown wise with their years. For fifteen years they had worked on the glebe at Bishop’s Court, and they knew the dinner-hour as well as if they could have taken the altitude of the sun. When the dinner-bell rang at the Court at twelve o’clock the oxen would stop short, no matter where they were or what they were doing, and not another budge would they make until they had been unyoked and led off for their mid-day mash.
It was now only a few minutes short of twelve, but no one took note of that circumstance, and the oxen were yoked to a plough.
“Same judge and jury,” said the stranger; but Ewan excused himself.
“Aw, what matter about a judge?” said Dan from his plough handles. “Let the jury be judge as well.”
Ewan and Mona looked on in silence for some moments. Ewan could scarce contain himself. There was Dan, stripped to his red flannel shirt, his face tanned and, glowing, his whole body radiant with fresh life and health, and he was shouting and laughing as if there had never been a shadow to darken his days.
“Look at him,” whispered Ewan, with emotion, in Mona’s ear. “Look! this good nature that seems so good to others is almost enough to make me hate him.”
Mona was startled, and turned to glance into Ewan’s face.
“Come, let us go,” said Ewan, with head aside.
“Not yet,” said Mona.
Then Jarvis Kerruish, who had stepped aside for a moment, returned and said “Will you take a wager with me, Mona-a pair of gloves?”
“Very well,” she answered. “Who do you bet on?”
“Oh, on the stranger,” said Mona, colouring slightly, and laughing a little.
“How lucky,” said Jarvis; “I bet on the captain.”
“I can stand it no longer,” whispered Ewan. “Will you come?” But Mona’s eyes were riveted on the group about the oxen. She did not hear, and Ewan turned away, and walked out of the meadow.
Then there was a shout, and the oxen started with Dan behind them. On they went through the hard, tough ground tranquilly, steadily, with measured pace, tearing through roots of trees that lay in their way as if nothing could stop them in their great strength.
When the oxen got back after the first stretch the time was called-five minutes thirty seconds – and there was a great cheer, and Mona’s pale face was triumphant.
The stranger brought up his horses, and set off again, straining every muscle. He did his stretch in six minutes four seconds, and another cheer-but it was a cheer for Dan went up after the figures were called.
Then Dan whipped round his oxen once more, and brought them up to the stake. The excitement among the people was now very great. Mona clutched her cloak convulsively, and held her breath. Jarvis was watching her closely, and she knew that his cold eyes were on her face.
“One would almost imagine that you were anxious to lose your bet,” he said. She made no answer. When the oxen started again, her lips closed tightly, as if she was in pain.
On the oxen went, and made the first half of the stretch without a hitch, and, with the blade of the plough lifted, they were wheeling over the furrow end, when a bell rang across the Curragh-it was the bell for the mid-day meal at Bishop’s Court-and instantly they came to a dead stand. Dan called to them, but they did not budge; then his whip fell heavily across their snouts, and they snorted, but stirred not an inch. The people were in a tumult, and shouted with fifty voices at once. Dan’s passion mastered him. He brought his whip down over the flanks and across the eyes and noses of the oxen; they winced under the blows that rained down on them, and then shot away across the meadow, tearing up the furrows they had made.
Then there was a cry of vexation and anger from the people, and Dan, who had let go his reins, strode back to the stake. “I’ve lost,” said Dan, with a muttered oath at the oxen.
All this time Jarvis Kerruish had kept his eye steadily fixed on Mona’s twitching face. “You’ve won, Mona,” he said, in a cold voice and with an icy smile.
“I must go. Where is Ewan?” she said tremulously, and, before Jarvis was aware, she had gone over the grass.
Dan had heard when Ewan declined to act as judge, he had seen when Ewan left the meadow, and, though he did not look, he knew when Mona was no longer there. His face was set hard, and it glowed red under his sunburnt skin.
“Davy, bring them up,” he said; and Davy Fayle led back the oxen to the front of the stake.
Then Dan unyoked them, took out the long swinging tree that divided them-a heavy wooden bar clamped with iron -and they stood free and began to nibble the grass under their feet.
“Look out!” he shouted, and he swung the bar over his shoulder.
The crowd receded, and left an open space in which Dan stood alone with the oxen, his great limbs holding the ground like their own hoofs, his muscles standing out like bulbs on his bare arms.
“What is he going to do-kill them?” said one.
“Look out!” Dan shouted again, and in another moment there was the swish of the bar through the air. Then down the bar came on the forehead of one of the oxen, and it reeled, and its legs gave way, and it fell dead.
The bar was raised again, and again it fell, and the second of the oxen reeled like the first and fell dead beside its old yokefellow.
A cry of horror ran through the crowd, but heeding it not at all, Dan threw on his coat and buckled his belt about him and strode through the people and out at the gate.
THE WRONG WAY WITH DAN
WHAT happened next was one of those tragedies of bewildering motive, so common and so fatal, in which it is impossible to decide whether evil passion or evil circumstance plays the chief malicious part.
Dan walked straight to the new Ballamona, and pushed through the house without ceremony, as it had been his habit to do in other days, to the room where Mona was to be found. She was there, and she looked startled at his coming.
“Is it you, Dan?” she said in a tremulous whisper.
He answered sullenly
“It is I. I have come to speak with you. I have something to say-but no matter-” He stopped and threw himself into a chair. His head ached, his eyes were hot, and his mind seemed to him to be in darkness and confusion.
“Mona, I think I must be going mad,” he stammered after a moment.
“Why talk like that?” she said. Her bosom heaved and her face was troubled.
He did not answer, but after a pause turned towards her, and said in a quick, harsh tone, “You did not expect to see me here, and you have been forbidden to receive me. Is it not so? ”
She coloured deeply, and did not answer at once, and then she began with hesitation
“My father-it is true, my father-”
“It is so,” he said sharply. He got on to his feet and tramped about the room. After a moment he sat down again, and leaned his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands.
“But what of Ewan?” he asked.
“Ewan loves you, Dan, and you have been at fault,” said Mona in broken accents.
There was a sudden change in his manner. He spoke brusquely, even mockingly, and laughed a short grating laugh.
“They are taking the wrong way with me, Mona-that’s the fact,” he said, and now his breast heaved and the words came with difficulty.
Mona was gazing absently out at the window, her head aslant, her fingers interlaced before her. “Oh, Dan, Dan,” she murmured in a low tone, “there is your dear, dear father, and Ewan and-and myself -”
Dan had leapt to his feet again. “Don’t turn my eyes into my head, Mona,” he said. He tramped to and fro in the room for a moment, and then broke out nervously, “Ail last night I dreamt such an ugly dream. I dreamt it three times, and O God! what an ugly dream it was! It was a bad night, and I was walking in the dark, and stumbling first into bogs and then in cart ruts, when all of a sudden a man’s hand seized me unawares. I could not see the man, and we struggled long in the darkness, and it seemed as if he would master me. Ire gripped me by the waist, and I held him by the shoulders. We reeled and fell together, and when I would have risen, his knee was on my chest. But a great flood of strength seemed to come to me, and I threw him off, and rose to my feet and closed with him again, and at last I was over him. covering him, with his back across my thigh and my hand set hard in his throat. And all this time I heard his loud breathing in the darkness, but never once the sound of his voice. Then instantly, as if by a flash of lightning, I saw the face that was close to mine, and-God Almighty! it was my own face-my own-and it was black already from the pressure of my stiff fingers at the throat.”
He trembled as he spoke, and sat again and shivered, and a cold chill ran down his back.
“Mona,” he said, half in a sob, “do you believe in omens?”
She did not reply. Her breast heaved visibly, and she could not speak.
“Tush!” he said, in another voice, “omens!” and he laughed bitterly, and rose again and picked up his hat, and then said in a quieter way, “Only, as I say, they’re taking the wrong way with me, Mona.”
He had opened the door, and she had turned her swimming eyes towards him.
“It was bad enough to make himself a stranger to me, but why did he want to make you a stranger, too? Stranger! Stranger!” He echoed the word in a mocking accent, and threw back his head.
“Dan,” said Mona, in a low, passionate tone, and the blinding tears rained down her cheeks, “nothing and nobody can make us strangers, you and me-not my father, or your dear father, or Ewan, or”-she dropped her voice to a deep whisper-” or any misfortune or any disgrace.”
“Mona!” he cried, and took a step towards her, and stretched out one arm with a yearning gesture.
But at the next moment be had swung about, and was going out at the door. At sight of all that tenderness and loyalty on Mona’s face his conscience smote him as it had never smitten him before.
“Ewan was right, Mona. Ile is the noblest man on God’s earth, and I am the foulest beast on it.”
He was pulling the door behind him, when he encountered Jarvis Kerruish in the hall. That gentleman had just come into the house, and was passing through the hall in hat and cloak. He looked appalled at seeing Dan there, and stepped aside to let him go by; but Dan did not so much as recognise his presence by lifting his head as he strode out at the porch.
With head still bent, Dan had reached the gate to the road and pushed through it, and sent it back with a swing and a click, when the Deemster walked up to it, and half halted, and would have stopped. But Dan went moodily on, and the frown on the Deemster’s wizened face was lost on him. He did not take the lane towards the old Ballamona, but followed the turnpike that led past Bishop’s Court, and as he went by the large house behind the trees Ewan came through the smaller gate, and turned towards the new Ballamona. They did not speak, or even glance at each other’s faces.
Dan went on until he came to the parish church. There was singing within, and he stopped. He remembered that this was Christ mas Eve. The choir was practising the psalms for the morrow’s services.
“Before I was troubled, I went wrong; but now have I kept Thy word.”
Dan went up to the church porch, and stood there and listened.
“It is good for me that I have been in trouble, that I may learn Thy statutes.”
The wooden door, clamped and barred and worm-eaten and cut by knives, was ajar, and from where he stood Dan could see into the church. There were the empty pews, the gaunt, square, green-clad boxes on which he had sat on many a Christmas Eve at Oiel Verree. He could picture the old place as it used to be in those days of his boyhood, the sea of faces, some solemn and some bubbling over with mischief, the candles with their ribbons, the old clerk, Will-asThorn, standing up behind the communion rail with his pitch-pipe in his hand, and Hommy-beg, in his linsey-wolsey petticoat, singing lustily from a paper held upside down. The singing stopped. Behind were’ the hills Slieu Dhoo and Slieu Volley, hidden now under a thick veil of mist, and from across the flat Curragh there came in the silence the low moan of the sea. “” Once more,” said a voice within the church, and then the psalm was sung again. Dan began to breathe easier, he scarce knew why, and a great weight seemed to be lifted off his breast.
As he turned away from the porch a heavy web of cloud was sweeping on and sweeping on from over the sea. He looked up and saw that a snowstorm was coming, and that the snow-cloud would break when it reached the mountains.
The clock in the grey tower was striking -one-two-three-so it was now three o’clock. Dan went down towards the creek known as the Lockjaw, under Orris Head. There he expected to see old Billy Quilleash and his mates, who had liberty to use the Ben-my-Chree during the winter months for fishing with the lines. When he got to the creek it was an hour after high water, and the lugger, with Quilleash and Teare, had gone out for cod. Davy Fayle, who, like Dan himself, was still wearing his militia belt and dagger, had been doing something among scraps of nets and bits of old rope, which lay in a shed that the men had thrown together for the storing of their odds and ends.
Davy was looking out to sea. Down there a stiff breeze was blowing, and the white curves of the breakers outside could just be seen through the thick atmosphere.
“The storm is coming, Mastha Dan,” said Davy. “See the diver on the top of the white wave out there D’ye hear her wild note?”
Davy shaded his eyes from the wind, which was blowing from the sea, and looked up at the stormy petrel that was careering over the head of the cliff above them and uttering its dismal cry. “Ay, and d’ye see Mother Carey’s chickens up yonder?” said Davy again. “The storm’s coming, and wonderful quick too.”
Truly, a storm was coming, and it was a storm more terrible than wind and snow.
THE BLIND WOMAN’S SECOND SIGHT
Now when Jarvis Kerruish encountered Dan in the act of coming out of Mona’s room, his surprise was due to something more than the knowledge that Dan had been forbidden the house. On leaving the meadow after the ploughing match, and the slaughter of the oxen that followed it, Jarvis had made a long circuit of the Curragh, and returned to Ballamona by the road. He had been pondering on Mona’s deportment during the exciting part of the contest between Dan and the stranger, and had just arrived at obvious conclusions of his own by way of explaining the emotion that she could not conceal, when he recognised that he was approaching the cottage occupied by Hommy-beg and his wife Kerry. A droning voice came from within, accompanied by some of the most doleful wails that ever arrested mortal ears.
Jarvis was prompted to stop and enter. He did so, and found both the deaf husband and the blind wife at home. Hommy was squatting on a low three-legged stool, with his fiddle at his shoulder, playing vigorously, and singing as he played. It was Christmas Eve to Hommy-beg also, and he was practising the carol that he meant to sing at the Oiel Verree that night. Blind Kerry was sitting by the fire knitting with grey yarn. The deaf man’s eyes and the blind woman’s ears simultaneously announced the visit of Jarvis, and as Hommy-beg dropped his fiddle from his shoulder, Kerry let fall the needles on her lap, and held up her hand with an expression of concern.
“Och, and didn’t I say that something was happening at Ballamona?” said Kerry.
“And so she did,” said Hommy.
“I knew it,” said Kerry. “I knew it, as the sayin’ is.”
All this in return for Jarvis’s casual visit and mere salutation surprised him.
“The sight! The sight! It’s as true as the ould Book itself. Aw, yes; aw, yes,” continued Kerry, and she began to wring her hands.
Jarvis felt uneasy. “Do you know, my good people,” he said largely, “I’m at a loss to understand what you mean. What is it that has happened at Ballamona?”
At that the face of the blind wife looked puzzled.
“Have ye not come from Ballamona straight?” she asked.
“No; it’s four hours since I left there,” said Jarvis.
“Aw dear, aw dearee dear I” said Kerry. “The sight! the sight!”
Jarvis’s uneasiness developed into curiosity, and in answer to many questions he learned that blind Kerry had that day been visited by another of those visions of Dan which never came to her except when her nursling was in some disgrace or danger, and never failed to come to her then. On this occasion the vision had been one of great sorrow, and Kerry trembled as she recounted it.
‘If saw him as plain as plain, and he was standing in Mistress Mona’s room, atween the bed and the wee craythur’s cot, and he went down on his knees aside of it, and cried, and cried, and cried morthal, and Mistress Mona herself was there sobbing her heart out, as the sayin’ is, and the wee craythur was sleeping soft and quiet, and it was dark night outside and the candle was in the mistress’s hand. Aw yes, I saw it, sir, I saw it, and I tould my man here, and, behould ye, he said,
“Drop it, woman, drop it,” says he. “It’s only drames, it’s only drames.”
Jarvis did not find the story a tragic one, but he listened with an interest that was all his own.
“You saw Mr. Dan in Miss Mona’s room-do you mean her chamber?”
“Sure, and he climbed in at the window, and white as a haddock, and all amuck with sweat.”
“Climbed in at the window-tire window of her chamber-her bedroom-you’re sure it was her bedroom?”
“Sarten sure. Don’t I know it same as my own bit of a place? The bed, with the curtains all white and dimity, as they’re sayin’, and the wee thing’s cot carved over with the lions and the tigers and the beasties, and the goat’s rug, and the sheepskin-aw, yes; aw, yes.”
The reality of the vision had taken such hold of Kerry that she bad looked upon it as a certain presage of disaster, and when Jarvis had opened the door she had leapt to the conclusion that he came to announce the catastrophe that she foresaw, and to summon her to Ballamona.
Jarvis smiled grimly. He had heard in the old days of Kerry’s second sight, and now he laughed at it. But the blind woman’s stupid dreams bad given him an idea, and he rose suddenly and hurried away.
Jarvis knew the Deemster’s weakness, for he knew why he found himself where he was. Stern man as the Deemster might be, keen of wit and strong of soul, Jarvis knew that there was one side of his mind on which he was feebler than a child. On that side of the Deemster Jarvis now meant to play to his own end and profit.
He was full to the throat of the story which he had to pour into credulous ears that never listened to a superstitious tale without laughing at it, and mocking at it, and believing it, when he stepped into the hall at Ballamona, and came suddenly face to face with Dan, and saw the door of Mona’s sitting-room open be. fore and close behind him.
Jarvis was bewildered. Could it be possible that there was something in the blind woman’s second sight? He had scarcely recovered from his surprise when the Deemster walked into the porch, looking as black as a thundercloud.
“That man has been here again,” he said. “Why didn’t you turn him out of the house?”
“I have something to tell you,” said Jarvis. They went into the Deemster’s study. It was a little place to the left of the hall, half under the stairs, and with the fireplace built across one corner. Over the mantelshelf a number of curious things were hung from hooks and nails-a huge silver watch with a small face and great seals, a mask, a blunderbuss, a monastic lamp and a crucifix, a piece of silvered glass, and a pistol.
“What now?” asked the Deemster.
Jarvis told the blind woman’s story with variations, and the Deemster listened intently and with a look of deadly rage.
“And you saw him come out of her room -you yourself saw him? ” said the Deemster.
“With my own eyes, dear sir,” said Jarvis. The Deemster’s lip quivered. “My God! it must be true,” he said.
At that moment they heard a foot in the hall, and going to the door in his restless tramping to and fro, the Deemster saw that Ewan had come into the house. He called to him, and Ewan went into the study, and on Ewan going in Jarvis went out.
There was a look of such affright on the Deemster’s face that before a word was spoken Ewan had caught the contagion of his father’s terror. Then, grasping his son by the wrist in the intensity of his passion, the Deemster poured his tale into Ewan’s ear. But it was not the tale that blind Kerry had told to Jarvis, it was not the tale that Jarvis had told to him; it was a tale compounded of superstition and of hate. Blind Kerry had said of her certain knowledge that Dan was accustomed to visit Mona in her chamber at night alone, entering in at the window. Jarvis Kerruish himself had seen him there-and that very day, not at night, but in the broad daylight, Jarvis had seen Dan come from Mona’s room. What? Had Ewan no bowels, that he could submit to the dishonour of his own sister?
Ewan listened to the hot words that came from his father in a rapid and ceaseless whirl. The story was all so fatally circumstantial as the Deemster told it; no visions, no sights, no sneezings of an old woman; all was clear, hard, deadly, damning circumstance, or seemed to be so to Ewan’s heated brain and poisoned heart.
“Father,” he said, very quietly, but with visible emotion, “you are my father, but there are only two persons alive from whose lips I would take a story like this, and you are not one of them.”
At that word the Deemster’s passion overcame him. “My God,” he cried, “what have I done that I should not be believed by my own son? Would I slander my own daughter?”
But Ewan did not hear him. He had turned away, and was going towards the door of Mona’s room. He moved slowly; there was an awful silence. Full half a minute his hand rested on the door handle, and only then did his nervous fingers turn it.
He stepped into the room. The room was empty. It was Mona’s sitting-room, her work room, her parlour, her nursery. Out of it there opened another room by a door at the farther end of the wall on the left. The door of that other room was ajar, and Ewan could hear, from where he now stood quivering in every limb, the soft cooing of the child-his child, his dead wife’s child-and the inarticulate nothings that Mona, the foster-mother, babbled over it.
“Boo-loo-la-la-pa-pa,” “Dearee-dearee-dear,” and then the tender cooing died off into a murmur, and an almost noiseless long kiss on the full round baby-neck.
Ewan stood irresolute for a moment, and the sweat started from his forehead. He felt like one who has been kneeling at a shrine when a foul hand besmudges it. He had half swung about to go back, when his ear caught the sound of the Deemster’s restless foot outside. Ile could not go back; the poison had gone to his heart.
He stepped into the bedroom that led out of the sitting-room. Mona raised her eyes as her brother entered. She was leaning over the cot, her beautiful face alive with the light of a tender love-a very vision of pure and delicious womanhood. Almost she had lifted the child from the cot to Ewan’s arms when at a second glance she recognised the solemn expression of his face, and then she let the little one slide back to its pillow.
“What has happened?”
“Is it true,” he began very slowly, “that Dan has been here?”
Then Mona blushed deeply, and there was a pause.
“Is it true?” he said again, and now with a hurried and startled look, “is it true that Dan has been here-here?”
Mona misunderstood his emphasis. Ewan was standing in her chamber, and when he asked if Dan had been there, he was inquiring if Dan had been with her in that very room. She did not comprehend the evil thought that had been put in his heart. But she remembered the prohibition placed upon her, both by Ewan and her father, never to receive Dan again, and her confusion at the moment of Ewan’s question came of the knowledge that, contrary to that prohibition, she had received him.
“Is it true?” he asked yet again, and he trembled with the passion he suppressed. After a pause he answered himself with an awful composure, “It is true.”
The child lifted itself and babbled at Mona with its innocent face all smiles, and Mona turned to bide her confusion by leaning over the cot.
Then a great wave of passion seemed to come to Ewan, and be stepped to his sister and took her by both hands. He was like a strong man in a dream, who feels sure that he can only be dreaming-struggling in vain to awake from a terrible nightmare, and knowing that a nightmare it must be that sits on him and crushes him.
“No, no, there must be a mistake; there must, there must,” he said, and his hot breathing beat on her face. “He has never been here-here-never.”
Mona raised herself. She loosed her hands from his grasp. Her woman’s pride had been stung. It seemed to her that her brother was taking more than a brother’s part.
“There is no mistake,” she said with some anger. “Dan has been here.”
“You confess it?”
She looked him straight in the eyes and answered, “Yes, if you call it so-I confess it. It is of no use to deceive you.”
Then there was an ominous silence. Ewan’s features became deathlike in their rigidity. A sickening sense came over him. He was struggling to ask a question that his tongue would not utter.
“Mona-do you mean-do you mean that Dan has-has-outrage-Great God! what am I to say? How am I to say it?”
Mona drew herself up.
“I mean that I can hide my feelings no longer,” she said. “Do with me as you may; I am not a child, and no brother shall govern me. Dan has been bere-outrage or none-call it what you will-yes, and-” she dropped her head over the cot, “I love him.”
Ewan was not himself; his heart was poisoned, or then and there he would have unravelled the devilish tangle of circumstance. He tried again with another and yet another question. But every question he asked, and every answer Mona gave, made the tangle thicker. His strained jaw seemed to start from his skin.
“I passed him on the road,” be said to himself in a hushed whisper. “Oh, that I had but known!”
Then with a look of reproach at Mona h( turned aside and went out of the room.
He stepped back to the study, and there the Deemster was still tramping to and fro. “Simpleton, simpleton! to expect a woman to acknowledge her own dishonour,” the Deemster cried.
Ewan did not answer at once; but in silence he reached up to where the pistol hung over the mantelshelf and took it down.
“What are you doing?” cried the Deemster. “She has acknowledged it,” said Ewan, still in a suppressed whisper.
For a moment the Deemster was made speechless and powerless by that answer. Then he laid hold of his son’s hand and wrenched the pistol away.
“No violence,” he cried.
He was now terrified at the wrath that his own evil passions had aroused; he locked the pistol in a cabinet.
“It is better so,” said Ewan, and in another moment he was going out at the porch.
The Deemster followed him, and laid a hand on his arm.
“Remember-no violence,” he said; “for the love of God, see there is no violence.” But Ewan, without a word more, without relaxing a muscle of his hard, white face, without a glance or a sign, but with bloodshot eyes and quivering nostrils, with teeth compressed and the great veins on his forehead large and dark over the scar that Dan had left there, drew himself away, and went out of the house.
HOW EWAN FOUND DAN
EWAN went along like a man whose reason is clogged. All his faculties were deadened. He could not see properly. He could not hear.
He could not think. Try as he might to keep his faculties from wandering, his mind would not be kept steady.
Time after time he went back to the passage’, of Scripture which he had fixed on that morning for his next lesson and sermon. It was the story how Esau, when robbed of the birthright blessing, said in his heart, “I will slay my brother Jacob;” how Jacob fled from his brother’s anger to the home of Laban; how after many years Esau married the daughter of Ishmael, and Jacob came to the country of Edom; how in exceeding fear of Esau’s wrath Jacob sent before him a present for Esau out of the plenty with which God had blessed him; and how Jacob lifted up his eyes and beheld Esau, and ran to meet him and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept.
Ewan would see the goats and the ewes, and the rams, and the milch-camels toiling along through the hot lush grass by the waters of the Jordan; then all at once these would vanish, and he would find himself standing alone in the drear winter day, with the rumble of the bleak sea far in front, and close overhead the dark snow-clouds sweeping on and on.
His strong emotion paralysed, all his faculties. He could neither fix his mind on the mission on which he had set out, nor banish the thought of it. Mission! What was it? At one moment he thought he knew, and then his eyes seemed to jump from their sockets. “Am I going mad?” he asked himself, and his head turned giddy.
He went on; a blind force impelled him. At length he reached the old Ballamona. His own especial room in the house was the little book-encased closet, looking over the Curraghs towards the sea-the same that had been the study of Gilcrist Mylrea, before he went away and came back as Bishop.
But Ewan turned mechanically towards another part of the house, and entered a room hung about with muskets and the horns of deer, fishing-rods and baskets, a watchman’s truncheon lettered in red, loose pieces of net, and even some horse harness. A dog, a brown collie, lay asleep before the fire, and over the rannel-tree shelf a huge watch was ticking.
But Dan was not in his room. Then Ewan remembered in a dazed way-how had the memory escaped him so long?-that when Dan passed him on the road he was not going homewards, but towards the village. No doubt the man was on his way to the low pot-house he frequented.
Ewan left Ballamona and went on towards the “Three Legs of Man.” He crossed the fields which the Bishop had cut off from the episcopal demesne for his son’s occupation as a farm. As he walked, his wandering, aimless thoughts were arrested by the neglected state of the land and the stock upon it. In one croft the withered stalks of the last crop of cabbage lay rotten on the ground; in a meadow a sheep was lying dead of the rot, and six or seven of the rest of the flock were dragging their falling wool along the thin grass.
Ewan came out of the fields to the turnpike by the footpath that goes by Bishop’s Court, and as he passed through the stile he heard the Bishop in conversation with some one on the road within.
“What is the balance that I owe you, Mr. Looney, for building those barns on my son’s farm?” the Bishop was saying.
“Seven pounds five shillings, my lord,” the man answered; “and rael bad I’m wanting the money, too, my, lord, and three months I’m afther waiting for it.”
“So you are, Mr. Looney. You would have been paid before this if I’d had wherewith to pay you. ”
Then there was silence between the two, and Ewan was going on, when the Bishop added” Here-here-take this.” There was a sound as of the rattle of keys and seals and a watchchain. “It was my old father’s last gift to me, all he had to give to me-God bless his memory!-and I little thought to part with it -but there, take it and sell it, and pay yourself, Mr. Looney.”
The man seemed to draw back.
“Your watch!” he said. “Aw, no, no, no! Och, if I’m never paid, never, it’s not Patrick Looney that is the man to take the watch out of your pocket.”
“Take it-take it! Why, my good man the Bishop’s voice was all but breaking-” you should not refuse to take the time of day from your Bishop.” Then there was a jaunty laugh, with a great sob at the back of it. “Besides, I’ve found the old thing a sore tax on my failing memory this many day to wind it and wear it. Come, it will wipe out my debt to you.”
Ewan went on; his teeth were set hard. Why had he overheard that conversation? Was it to whet his purpose? It seemed as if there might be some supernatural influence over him. But this was not the only conversation he over heard that day. When he got to the “Three Legs of Man” a carrier’s cart stood outside. Ewan stepped into the lobby of the house. The old cat was counting up the chalk marks, vertical and horizontal, at the back of the cupboard door, and the carrier was sitting on a round table recounting certain mad doings at Castletown.
” ‘Let’s down with the watch and take their lanterns,’ says the captain, says he, laughing morthal and- a bit sprung, maybe; and down they went, one atop o’ the other, Jemmy the Red, and Johnny-by-Nite, and all the rest of them, bellowing strong, and the captain and his pals whipping up their lanterns and their truncheons, and away at a slant. Aw, it was right fine.”
The carrier laughed loud at his story.
“Was that when Mastha Dan was down at Castletown fixing the business for the Fencibles?”
“Aw, yes, woman, and middlin’ stiff it cost him. Next morning Jemmy the Iced and Johnny-by-Nite were off for the Castle, but the captain met them, and ‘I’m not for denying it,’ says he, and ‘ a bit of a spree,’ he says, and ‘Take this, Jemmy,’ says he, ‘and say no more.'”
“And what did he give the watch to sweeten them?”
“Three pound, they’re saying. Aw, yes, woman, woman-liberal, very. None o’ yer close-fisted about the captain.”
The blood rushed to Ewan’s heart. In a moment he found himself asking for Dan, and hearing from the old woman with the whiskers, who spoke with a curtsey after every syllable, that Waster Dan had been seen to go down towards the creek, the Lockjaw, under Orris Head.
Ewan went out of the pot-house and turned the lane towards the creek. What was the mysterious influence on his destiny that he of all men must needs overhear two such conger. sations, and hear them now of all times? The neglected lands, the impoverished old Bishop, the reckless spendthrift all rose before Ewan’s mind in a bewildering haze.
The lane to the Lockjaw led past the shambles that stood a little out of the village. Ewan had often noticed the butcher’s low waggon on the road, with sheep penned in by a rope across the stern-board, or with a calf in a net. All at once he now realised that he was walking behind this waggon, and that a dead ox lay in it, and that the driver at the horse’s head was talking to a man who plodded along beside him. Ewan’s faculties were now more clouded than before, but he could hear, with gaps in which his sense of hearing seemed to leave him, the conversation between the two men.
“Well, well, just to think-killing the poor beast for stopping when the dinner-bell rang at the Coort! And them used of it for fifteen years! Aw, well, well.”
“He’s no Christian, anyway, and no disrespec’.”
“Christian? Christian, is it? Brute beast as I’m sayin’. The ould Bishop’s son? Well, well.”
Bit by bit, scarcely listening, losing the words sometimes, as one loses at intervals the tick of a clock when lying awake at night with a brain distraught, Ewan gathered up the story of the bad business at the ploughing match after he had left the meadow.
“Christian? Och, Christian? ” one of the men repeated, with a bitter laugh of mockery. “I’m thinkin’ it would be a middlin’ little crime to treat a Christian like that same as he treated the poor dumb craythurs.”
Ewan’s temples beat furiously, and a fearful tumult was rife in his brain. One wild thought expelled all other thoughts. Why had he overheard three such conversations? There could be but one answer-he was designed by supernatural powers to be the instrument of a fixed purpose. It was irrevocably decided-he was impelled to the terrible business that was in his mind by an irresistible force to which he was blind and powerless. It was so-it was so.
Ewan pushed on past the waggon, and heard the men’s voices die off to an indistinct mumble behind him. How hideous were the meditations of the next few minutes! The beating of his temple drew the skin hard about the scar above it. He thought of his young wife in her grave, and of the shock that sent her there. He felt afresh the abject degradation of that bitter moment in the library at Bishop’s Court, when, to save the honour of a forger, he had lied before God and man. Then he thought of the grey head of the august old man, serenest of saints, fondest of fathers, the Bishop, bowed down to the dust with shame and a ruined hope. And after his mind had oscillated among these agonising thoughts there came to him over all else, and more hideous than all else, the memory of what his own father, the Deemster, had told him an hour ago.
Ewan began to run, and as he ran all his blood seemed to rush to his head, and a thousand confused and vague forms danced before his eyes. All at once he recognised that he was at the mouth of the creek, going down the steep gate to the sea that ended in the Lockjaw. Before he was aware, he was talking with Davy Fayle and asking for Dan. He noticed that his voice would scarcely obey him. “He’s in the crib on the shore, sir,” said Davy, and the lad turned back to his work. He was hammering an old bent nail out of a pitch-pine plank that had washed ashore with the last tide. After a moment Davy stopped and looked after the young parson, and shook his head and muttered something to himself. Then he threw down his hammer and followed slowly.
Ewan went on. His impatience was now feverish. He was picturing Dan as he would find him-drinking, smoking, laughing, one leg thrown over the end of a table, his cap awry, his face red, his eyes bleared, and his lips hot.
It was growing dark, the snow-cloud was very low overhead, the sea-birds were screaming down at the water’s edge, and the sea’s deep rumble came up from the shingle below and the rocks beyond.
Ewan saw the tent and made for it. As he came near to it he slipped and fell. Regaining his feet, he perceived that in the dusk he had tripped over some chips that lay about a block. Davy bad been chopping firewood of the driftwood that the sea had sent up. Ewan saw the hatchet lying among the loose chips. In an instant he had caught it up. Recognising in every event of that awful hour the mysterious influence of supernatural powers, he read this incident as he had read all the others. Until then he had thought of nothing but the deed he was to do; never for one instant of how he was to do it. But now the hatchet was thrust into his hand. Thus was everything irrevocably decided.
And now Ewan was in front of the tent, panting audibly, the hatchet in his hand, his eyes starting from their sockets, the great veins on his forehead hard and black. Now, O God! for a moment’s strength, one little moment’s strength, now, now!
The smoke was rising from the gorse-covered roof; the little black door was shut. Inside was Dan, Dan, Dan; and while Ewan’s young wife lay in her grave, and Ewan’s sister was worse than in her grave, and the good Bishop was brought low, Dan was there, there, and he was drinking and laughing, and his heart was cold and dead.
Ewan lifted the latch and pushed the door open, and stepped into the tent.
Lord of grace and mercy, what was there? g On the floor of earth in one corner of the small place a fire of gorse, turf, and logs burned slowly, and near this fire Dan lay outstretched on a bed of straw, his head pillowed on a coil of old rope, one hand twisted under his head, the other resting lightly on his breast, and he slept peacefully like a child.
Ewan stood for a moment shuddering and dismayed. The sight of Dan, helpless and at his mercy, unnerved his arm and drove the fever from his blood; there was an awful power in that sleeping man, and sleep had wrapped him in its own divinity.
The hatchet dropped from Ewan’s graspless fingers, and he covered his face. As a drowning man is said to see all his life pass before him at the moment of death, so Ewan saw all the past, the happy past-the past of love and of innocence, whereof Dan was a part-rise up before him.
“It is true I am going mad,” he thought, and he fell back on to a bench that stood by the wall. Then there came an instant of un. consciousness, and in that instant he was again by the waters of the Jordan, and the ewes and the rams and the milch-camels were toiling through the long grass, and Esau was falling on the neck of Jacob, and they were weeping together.
BLIND PASSION AND PAIN
DAN moved uneasily, and presently awoke, opened his eyes, and saw Ewan, and betrayed no surprise at his presence there.
“Ah I is it you, Ewan?” he said, speaking quietly, partly in a shamefaced way, and with some confusion. “Do you know, I’ve been dreaming of you-you and Mona?”
Ewan gave no answer. Because sleep is a holy thing, and the brother of death, whose shadow also it is, therefore Ewan’s hideous purpose had left him while Dan lay asleep at his feet; but now that Dan was awake the evil passion came again.
“I was dreaming of that Mother Carey’s chicken-you remember it-when we were lumps of lads, you know? Why, you can’t have forgotten it-the old thing I caught in its nest just under the Head?”
Still Ewan gave no sign, but looked down at Dan resting on his elbows. Dan’s eyes fell from Ewan’s face, but he went on in a confused way
“Mona couldn’t bear to see it caged, and would have me put it back. Don’t you remember I clambered up to the nest and put the bird in again? You were down on the shore, thinking sure I would tumble over the Head, and Mona-Mona–”
Dan glanced afresh into Ewan’s face, and its look of terror seemed to stupefy him; still he made shift to go on with his dream in an abashed sort of way.
“My gough! if I didn’t dream it all as fresh as fresh, and the fight in the air, and the screams when I put the old bird in the nest the young ones had forgotten it clean, and they tumbled it out, and set on it terrible, and drove it away-and then the poor old thing on the rocks sitting by itself as lonesome as lonesome-and little Mona crying and crying down below, and her long hair rip-rip-rippling in the wind, and-and-”
Dan had got to his feet, and then seated himself on a stool as he rambled on with the story of his dream. But once again his shifty eyes came back to Ewan’s face, and he stopped short.
“My God, what is it?” he cried.
Now Ewan, standing there with a thousand vague forms floating in his brain, had heard little of what Dan had said, but he had noted his confused manner, and had taken this story of the dream as a feeble device to hide the momentary discomfiture.
“What does it mean?” he said. “It means that this island is not large enough to hold both you and me.”
“It means that you must go away.”
“Yes-and at once.”
In the pause that followed after his first cry of amazement, Dan thought only of the had business of the killing of the oxen at the ploughing match that morning, and so in a tone of utter abasement, with his face to the ground, he went on in a blundering, humble way, to allow that Ewan had reason for his anger.
“I’m a blind headstrong fool, I know that, and my temper is-well, it’s damnable, that’s the fact; but no one suffers from it more than I do, and if I could have felled myself after I had felled the oxen, why down. Ewan, for the sake of the dear old times when we were good chums, you and I and little Mona, with her quiet eyes, God bless her!
“Go away, and never come back to either of us,” cried Ewan, stamping his foot.
Dan paused, and there was a painful silence. “Why should I go away?” he said, with an effort at quietness.
“Because you are a scoundrel-the basest scoundrel on God’s earth-the foulest traitor the blackest-hearted monster-”
Dan’s sunburnt face whitened under his tawny skin.
“Easy, easy, man veen, easy,” he said, struggling visibly for self-command, while he interrupted Ewan’s torrent of reproaches.
“You are a disgrace and a by-word. Only the riff-raff of the island are your friends and associates.”
“That’s true enough, Ewan,” said Dan, and his bead fell between his hands, his elbows resting on his knees.
“What are you doing? Drinking, gambling, roystering, cheating-yes”
Dan got to his feet uneasily and took a step to and fro about the little place; then sat again, and buried his head in his hands as before.
“I’ve been a reckless, self-willed, mad fool, Ewan, but no worse than that. And if you could see me as God sees me, and know how I suffer for my follies and curse them, for all I seem to make so light of them, and how I am driven to them one on the head of another, perhaps-perhaps-perhaps you would have pity ay, pity.”
Pity? Pity for you? You who have brought your father to shame? He is the ruin of the man he was. You have impoverished him; you have spent his substance and wasted it. Ay, and you have made his grey head a mark for reproach. ‘ Set your own house in order’ -that’s what the world says to the man of God whose son is a child of the-”
“Stop!” cried Dan.
He had leapt to his feet, his fist clenched, his knuckles showing like nuts of steel.
But Ewan went on, standing there with a face that was ashy white above his black coat. “Your heart is as dead as your honour. And that is not all, but you must_ outrage the honour of another.”
Now, when Ewan said this, Dan thought of his forged signature, and of the censure and suspension to which Ewan was thereby made liable.
“Go away,” Ewan cried again, motioning Dan off with his trembling hand.
Dan lifted his eyes. “And what if I refuse?” he said in a resolute way.
“Then take the consequences.”
“You mean the consequences of that-that -that forgery?”
At this Ewan realised the thought in Dan’s mind, and perceived that Dan conceived him capable of playing upon his fears by holding over his head the penalty of an offence which he had already taken upon himself. “God in heaven! ” he thought, ” and this is the pitiful creature whom I have all these years taken to my heart.”
“Is that what your loyalty comes to?” said Dan, and his lip curled.
“Loyalty,” cried Ewan in white wrath. “Loyalty, and you talk to me of loyalty, you who have outraged the Honour of my sister-”
“I have said it at last, though the word blisters my tongue. Go away from the island for ever, and let me never see your face again.”
Dan rose to his feet with rigid limbs. He looked about him for a moment in a dazed silence, and put his hand to his forehead as if he had lost himself.
“Do you believe that?” he said, in a slow whisper.
“Don’t deny it-don’t let me know you for a liar as well,” Ewan said eagerly; and then added in another tone, “I have had her own confession.”
“Yes; and the witness of another.” “The witness of another!”
Dan echoed Ewan’s words in a vague, halfconscious way. Then, in a torrent of hot words that seemed to blister and sting the man who spoke them no less than the man who heard them, Ewan told all, and Dan listened like one in a stupor.
There was silence, and then Ewan spoke again in a tone of agony. “Dan, there was a time when in spite of yourself I loved you -yes, though I’m ashamed to say it, for it was against God’s own leading; still I loved you, Dan. But let us part for ever now and each go his own way, and perhaps, though we can never forget the wrong that you have done us, we may yet think more kindly of you; and time may help us to forgive.”
But Dan had awakened from his stupor, and he flung aside.
“Damn your forgiveness l” he said hotly, and then, with teeth set, and lips drawn hard, and eyes aflame, he turned upon Ewan and strode up to him, and they stood together face to face.
“You said just now that there was not room enough in the island for you and me,” he said in a hushed whisper. “You were right, but I shall mend your words: if you believe what you have said – by Heaven I’ll not deny it for you! – there is not room enough for both of us in the world.”
“It was my own thought,” said Ewan, and then for an instant each looked into the other’s eyes and read the other’s purpose.
The horror of that moment of silence was broken by the lifting of the latch. Davy Fayle came shambling into the tent on some pretended errand. He took off his militia belt with the dagger in the sheath attached to it, and hung it on a long rusty nail driven into an upright timber at one corner. Then he picked up from among some ling on the floor a waterproof coat and put it on. He was going out, with furtive glances at Dan and Ewan, who said not a word in his presence, and were bearing themselves towards each other with a painful constraint, when his glance fell on the hatchet which lay a few feet from the door. Davy picked it up and carried it out, muttering to himself, “Strange, strange uncommon!”
Hardly had the boy dropped the latch of the door from without than Ewan took the militia belt from the nail and buckled it about his waist. Dan understood his thought; he was still wearing his own militia belt and dagger. There was now not an instant’s paltering between them-not a word of explanation.
“We must get rid of the lad,” said Dan. Ewan bowed his head. It had come to him to reflect that when all was over Mona might hear of what had been done. What they had to do was to be alone. For her honour, or for what seemed to be her honour in that blind tangle of passion and circumstance. But none the less, though she loved both of them now, would she loathe that one who returned to her with the blood of the other upon him.
“She must never know,” he said. “Send the boy away. Then we must go to where this work can be done between you and me alone.”
Dan had followed his thought in silence, and was stepping towards the door to call to Davy, when the lad came back, carrying a log of driftwood for the fire. There were some small flakes of snow on his waterproof coat.
“Go up to the shambles, Davy,” said Dan, speaking with an effort at composure, “and tell Jemmy Curghey to keep me the oxhorns.”
Davy looked up in a vacant way, and his lip lagged low. “Aw, and didn’t you tell Jemmy yourself, and terrible partic’lar, too?” “Do you say so, Davy?” “Sarten sure.”
“Then just slip away and fetch them.”
Davy fixed the log on the fire, tapped it into the flame, glanced anxiously at Dan and Ewan, and then in a lingering way went out. His simple face looked sad under its vacant expression.
The men listened while the lad’s footsteps could be heard on the shingle, above the deep murmur of the sea. Then Dan stepped to the door and threw it open.
“Now,” he said.
It was rapidly growing dark. The wind blew strongly into the shed. Dan stepped out, and Ewan followed him.
They walked in silence through the gully that led from the creek to the cliff head. The snow that bad begun to fall was swirled about in the wind that came from over the sea, and, spinning in the air, it sometimes beat against their faces.
Ewan went along like a man condemned to death. He had begun to doubt, though lie did not know it, and would have shut his mind to the idea if it had occurred to him. But once when Dan seemed to stop as if only half resolved, and partly turn his face towards him, Ewan mistook his intention. “He is going to tell me that there is some hideous error,” he thought. He was burning for that word. But no, Dan went plodding on again, and never after shifted his steadfast gaze, never spoke, and gave no sign. At length he stopped, and Ewan stopped with him. They were standing on the summit of Orris Head.
It was a sad, a lonesome, and a desolate place, in sight of a wide waste of common land, without a house, and with never a tree rising above the purple gorse and tussocks of long grass. The sky hung very low over it; the steep red cliffs, with their patches of green in ledges, swept down from it to the shingle and the sharp shelves of slate covered with sea-weed. The ground swell came up from below with a very mournful noise, but the air seemed to be empty, and every beat of the foot on the soft turf sounded near and large. Above their heads the sea-fowl kept up a wild clamour, and far out, where sea and sky seemed to meet in the gathering darkness, the sea’s steady blow on the bare rocks of the naze sent up a deep, hoarse boom.
Dan unbuckled his belt, and threw off his coat and vest. Ewan did the same, and they stood there face to face in the thin flakes of snow, Dan in his red shirt, Ewan in his white shirt open at the neck, these two men whose souls had been knit together as the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and each ready to lift his hand against his heart’s best brother. Then all at once a startled cry came from near at hand.
It was Davy Fayle’s voice. The lad had not gone to the shambles. Realising in some vague way that the errand was a subterfuge and that mischief was about, he had hidden himself at a little distance, and had seen when Dan and Ewan came out of the tent together. Creeping through the ling, and partly hidden by the dust, he had followed the men until they had stopped on the Head. Then Davy had dropped to his knees. His ideas were obscure, he scarcely knew what was going on before his eyes, but he held his breath and watched and listened. At length, when the men threw off their clothes, the truth dawned on Davy, and though he tried to smother an exclamation, a cry of terror burst from his husky throat.
Dan and Ewan exchanged glances, and each seemed in one moment to read the other’s thoughts. In another instant, at three quick strides, Dan had taken Davy by the shoulders.
“Promise,” he said, “that you will never tell what you have seen.”
Davy struggled to free himself, but his frantic efforts were useless. In Dan’s grip he was held as in a vice.”
“Let me go, Mastha Dan,” the lad cried. “Promise to hold your tongue,” said Dan; “promise it, promise it.”
“Let me go, will you? let me go,” the lad shouted sullenly.
“Be quiet,” said Dan.
“I won’t be quiet,” was the stubborn answer. “Help! help! help!” and the lad screamed lustily.
“Hold your tongue, or by G-”
Dan held Davy by one of his great hands hitched into the lad’s guernsey, and he lifted the other hand threateningly.
“Help! help! help!” Davy screamed still louder, and struggled yet more fiercely, until his strength was spent, and his breath was gone, and then there was a moment’s silence.
The desolate place was still as desolate as before. Not a sign of life around; not an answering cry.
“There’s nobody to help you,” said Dan. “You have got to promise never to tell what you have seen to man, woman, or child.”
“I won’t promise, and I won’t hould my tongue,” said the lad stoutly. “You are goin’ to fight, you and Mastha Ewan, and-”
Dan stopped him. “Hearken here. If you are to live another hour, you will promise-“But Davy had regained both strength and voice.
“I don’t care – help! help! help! ” he shouted.
Dan put his hand over the lad’s mouth, and dragged him to the cliff bead. Below was the brant steep, dark and jagged and quivering in the deepening gloom, and the sea-birds were darting through the mid-air like bats in the dark.
“Look,” said Dan, “you’ve got to swear never to tell what you have seen to-night, so help you God.”
The lad, held tightly by the breast and throat, and gripping the arms that held him with fingers that clung like claws, took one horrified glance clown into the darkness. He struggled no longer. His face was very pitiful to see.
“I cannot promise,” he said in a voice like a cry.
At that answer Dan drew Davy back from the cliff edge, and loosed his hold of him. He was abashed and ashamed. He felt himself a little man by the side of this half-daft fisher-lad.
All this time Ewan had stood aside looking on while Dan demanded the promise, and saying nothing. Now he went up to Davy, and said in a quiet voice
“Davy, if you should ever tell any one what you have seen, Dan will be a lost roan all his life hereafter.”
“Then let him pitch me over the cliff,” said Davy in a smothered cry.
“Listen to me, Davy,” Ewan went on; “You’re a brave lad, and I know what’s in your head, but-”
“Then what for do you want to fight him?” Davy broke out.
The lad’s throat was dry and husky, and his eyes were growing dim.
Ewan paused. Half his passion was spent. Davy’s poor dense head had found him a question that he could not answer.
“Davy, if you don’t promise, you will ruin Dan-yes, it will be you who will ruin him-you, remember that. He will be a lost man, and my sister, my good sister Mona, she will be a broken-hearted woman.”
Then Davy broke down utterly, and big tears filled his eyes and ran down his cheeks.
“I promise,” he sobbed. “Good lad!-now go.”
Davy turned about and went away, at first running, and then dragging slowly, then running again, and then again lingering.
What followed was a very pitiful conflict of emotion. Nature, who looks down pitilessly on man and his big little passions, that clamour so loud but never touch her at all–even Nature played her part in this tragedy.
When Davy Fayle was gone, Dan and Ewan stood face to face as before, Dan with his back to the cliff, Ewan with his face to the sea. Then, without a word, each turned aside and picked up his militia belt.
The snowflakes had thickened during the last few moments, but now they seemed to cease and the sky to lighten. Suddenly in the west the sky was cloven as though by the sweep of a sword, and under a black bar of cloud and above a silvered water-line the sun came through very red and hazy in its setting, and with its ragged streamers around it.
Ewan was buckling the belt about his waist when the setting sun rose upon them, and all at once there came to him the Scripture that says, “Let not the sun go down on your wrath.” If God’s hand had appeared in the heavens, the effect on Ewan could not have been greater. Already his passion was more than half gone, and now it melted entirely away.
“Dan,” he cried, and his voice was a sob, “Dan, I can not fight—right or wrong I can not,” and he flung himself down, and the tears filled his eyes.
Then Dan, whose face was afire, laughed loud and bitterly. “Coward,” he said, “coward and poltroon!”
At that word all the evil passion came back to Ewan and he leapt to his feet.
“That is enough,” he said; “the belts–buckle them together.”
Dan understood Ewan’s purpose. At the next breath the belt about Dan’s waist was buckled to the belt about the waist of Ewan, and the two men stood strapped together. Then they drew the daggers, and an awful struggle followed.
With breast to breast until their flesh all but touched, and with thighs entwined, they reeled and swayed, the right hand of each held up for thrust, the left for guard and parry. What Dan gained in strength Ewan made up in rage, and the fight was fierce and terrible, Dan still with his back to the cliff, Ewan still with his face to the sea.
At one instant Dan, by his great stature, had reached over Ewan’s shoulder to thrust from behind, and at the next instant Ewan had wrenched his lithe body backward and had taken the blow in his lifted arm, which forthwith spouted blood above the wrist. In that encounter they reeled about, changing places, and Ewan’s back was henceforward toward the cliff, and Dan fought with his face toward the sea.
It was a hideous and savage fight. The sun had gone down, the cleft in the heavens had closed again, once more the thin flakes of snow were falling, and the world had dropped back to its dark mood. A stormy petrel came up from the cliff and swirled above the men as they fought, and made its direful scream over them.
Up and down, to and fro, embracing closely, clutching, guarding, and meantime panting hoarsely, and drawing hard breath, the two men fought in their deadly hate. At last they had backed and swayed to within three yards of the cliff, and then Ewan, with the gasp of a drowning man, flung his weapon into the air, and Dan ripped his dagger’s edge across the belts that bound them together, and at the next breath the belts were cut, and the two were divided, and Ewan, separated from Dan, and leaning heavily backward, was reeling, by force of his own weight, toward the cliff.
Then Dan stood as one transfixed with uplifted hand, and a deep groan came from his throat. Passion and pain were gone from him in that awful moment, and the world itself seemed to be blotted out. When he came to himself, he was standing on the cliff head alone.
The clock in the old church was striking. How the bell echoed on that lonely height! One–two–three–four–five. Five o’clock! Everything else was silent as death. The day was gone. The snow began to fall in thick, large flakes. It fell heavily on Dan’s hot cheeks and bare neck. His heart seemed to stand still, and the very silence itself was awful. His terror stupefied him. “What have I done?” he asked himself. He could not think. He covered his eyes with his hands, and strode up and down the cliff head, up and down, up and down. Then in a bewildered state of semi-consciousness he looked out to sea, and there far off, a league away, he saw a black thing looming large against the darkening sky. He recognized that it was a sail, and then perceived that it was a lugger, and quite mechanically he tried to divide the mainmast and mizzen, the mainsail and yawlsail, and to note if the boat were fetching to leeward or beating down the Channel.
All at once sea and sky were blotted out, and he could not stand on his legs, but dropped to his knees, and great beads of perspiration rolled down his face and neck. He tried to call “Ewan! Ewan!” but he could not utter the least cry. His throat was parched; his tongue swelled and filled his mouth. His lips moved, but no words came from him. Then he rose to his feet, and the world flowed back upon him; the sea-fowl crying over his head, the shrillness of the wind in the snow-capped gorse, and the sea’s hoarse voice swelling upward through the air, while its heavy, monotonous blow on the beach shook the earth beneath him. If anything else had appeared to Dan at that moment, he must have screamed with terror.
Quaking in every limb, he picked up his clothes and turned back toward the shore. He was so feeble that he could scarcely walk through the snow that now lay thick on the short grass. When he reached the mouth of the gully he did not turn into the shed, but went on over the pebbles of the creek. His bloodshot eyes, which almost started from their sockets, glanced eagerly from side to side. At last he saw the thing he sought, and now that it was under him, within reach of his hand, he dare hardly look upon it.
At the foot of a jagged crag that hung heavily over from the cliff the body of Ewan Mylrea lay dead and cold. There was no mark of violence upon it save a gash on the wrist of the left hand, and over the wound there was a clot of blood. The white face lay deep in the breast, as if the neck had been dislocated. There were no other outward marks of injury from the fall. The body was outstretched on its back, with one arm–the left arm–lying half over the forehead, and the other, the right arm, with the hand open and the listless fingers apart, thrown loosely aside.
Dan knelt beside the body, and his heart was benumbed like ice. He tried to pray, but no prayer would come, and he could not weep.
“Ewan! Ewan!” he cried at length, and his voice of agony rolled round the corpse like the soughing of the wind.
“Ewan! Ewan!” he cried again; but only the sea’s voice broke the silence that followed. Then his head fell on the cold breast, and his arms covered the lifeless body, and he cried upon God to have mercy on him, and to lift up His hand against him and cut him off.
Presently he got on his feet, and scarcely knowing what he was doing, he lifted the body in his arms, with the head lying backward on his shoulder, and the white face looking up in its stony stare to the darkening heavens. As he did so his eyes were raised to the cliff, and there, clearly outlined over the black crags and against the somewhat lighter sky, he saw the figure of a man.
He toiled along toward the shed. He was so weak that he could scarce keep on his legs, and when he reached the little place at the mouth of the creek he was more dead than alive. He put the body to lie on the bed of straw on which he had himself slept and dreamed an hour before. Then all at once he felt a low sort of cunning coming over him, and he went back to the door and shut it, and drew the long wooden bolt into its iron hoop on the jamb.
He had hardly done so when he heard an impatient footstep on the shingle outside. In another instant the latch was lifted and the door pushed heavily. Then there was a knock. Dan made no answer, but stood very still and held his breath. There was another knock, and another. Then, in a low tremulous murmur there came the words:
“Where is he? God A’mighty! where is he?” It was Davy Fayle. Another knock, louder, and still no reply.
“Mastha Dan, Mastha Dan, they’re coming; Mastha Dan, God A’mighty!–”
Davy was now tramping restlessly to and fro. Dan was trying to consider what it was best to do, whether to open to Davy and hear what he had to say, or to carry it off as if he were not within, when another foot sounded on the shingle and cut short his meditations.
“Have you seen Mr. Ewan–Parson Ewan?”
Dan recognized the voice. It was the voice of Jarvis Kerruish.
Davy did not answer immediately.
“Have you seen him, eh?”
“No, sir,” Davy faltered.
“Then why didn’t you say so at once? It is very strange. The people said he was walking toward the creek. There’s no way out in this direction, is there?”
“Way out–this direction? Yes, sir,” Davy stammered.
“How? show me the way.”
“By the sea, sir.”
“The sea! Simpleton, what are you doing here?”
“Waiting for the boat, sir.”
“What shed is this?”
Dan could hear that at this question Davy was in a fever of excitement.
“Only a place for bits of net and cable, and all to that,” said Davy, eagerly.
Dan could feel that Jarvis had stepped up to the shed, and that he was trying to look in through the little window.
“Do you keep a fire to warm your nets and cables?” he asked in a suspicious tone.
At the next moment he was trying to force the door. Dan stood behind. The bolt creaked in the hasp. If the hasp should give way, he and Jarvis would stand face to face.
“Strange–there’s something strange about all this,” said the man outside. “I heard a scream as I came over the Head. Did you hear anything?”
“I tell you I heard nothing,” said Davy, sullenly.
Dan grew dizzy, and groping for something to cling to, his hand scraped across the door.
“Wait! I could have sworn I heard something move inside. Who keeps the key of this shed?”
“Kay? There’s never a kay at the like of it.”
“Then how is it fastened? From within? Wait–let me see.”
There was a sound like the brushing of a hand over the outside face of the door.
“Has the snow stopped up the keyhole, or is there no such thing? Or is the door fastened by a padlock?”
Dan had regained his self-possession by this time. He felt an impulse to throw the door open. He groped at his waist for the dagger, but belt and dagger were both gone.
“All this is very strange,” said Jarvis, and then he seemed to turn from the door and move away.
“Stop. Where is the man Dan–the captain?” he asked, from a little distance.
“I dunno,” said Davy, stoutly.
“That’s a lie, my lad.”
Then the man’s footsteps went off in dull beats on the snow-clotted pebbles.
After a moment’s silence there was a soft knocking; Davy had crept up to the door.
“Mastha Dan,” he whispered, amid panting breath.
Dan did not stir. The latch was lifted in vain.
“Mastha Dan, Mastha Dan.” The soft knocking continued.
Dan found his voice at last.
“Go away, Davy–go away,” he said, hoarsely.
There was a short pause, and then there came from without an answer like a sob.
“I’m going, Mastha Dan.”
After that all was silent as death. Half an hour later, Dan Mylrea was walking through the darkness toward Ballamona. In his blind misery he was going to Mona. The snow was not falling now, and in the lift of the storm the sky was lighter than it had been. As Dan passed the old church, he could just descry the clock. The snow lay thick on the face, and clogged the hands. The clock had stopped. It stood at five exactly.
The blind leading that is here of passion by accident is everywhere that great tragedies are done. It is not the evil in man’s heart more than the deep perfidy of circumstance that brings him to crime.
“I can see that the year 1887 must always be an epoch in Manx history, the year The Deemster was published.”
T. E. Brown’s estimation of the importance of Hall Caine’s first full-length Manx novel is perhaps not much of an overstatement. However, when Caine first asked him his opinion of an earlier version of the novel, T. E. Brown responded by begging him not to write it:
“just write the words, ‘A Manx Epic’ and behold the totally impossible at once!”
It is a blessing that Caine ignored entirely Brown’s recommendation of setting it elsewhere than on the Isle of Man. What emerged was one of the most thrilling novels of the age set upon a thoroughly Manx scene. The story of one man’s descent into crime and the ensuing punishment and atonement took in a whole range of Manx history, life and folklore, ranging from Bishop Wilson to the Moddey Dhoo. In this Caine made good on depicting the vivid richness of the Island that he saw as one of the key attractions:
“It has the sea, a fine coast on the west, fine moorland above; it has traditions, folk-talk, folk-lore, a ballad literature, and no end of superstition, — and all these are very much its own.”
The story was written in only seven months, recycling much of the material from the earlier, shorter and imperfect novel, She’s All The World To Me. The action of The Deemster ranged down the west coast of the island, from Bishopscourt in the north down through Peel and St. Johns and around to Cregneash and the Chasms in the south. This particularly Manx tale was the novel that shot Caine, and the Isle of Man, into literary fame. The runaway success of the novel soon saw it being referred to as “The Boomster”, and it would eventually run through 50 editions.
Caine was to write many novels and plays after this, but the characters of The Deemster would stay with him and in his readers’ hearts for the rest of his life. Dan Mylrea, the tragic protagonist of the book can be seen today on Caine’s tombstone in Maughold churchyard, so important was he to Caine’s life and work.
“And together these shipwrecked voyagers on the waters of life sat and wept, and wondered what evil could be in hell itself if man in his blindness could find the world so full of it.”
Hall Caine is without a doubt the greatest novelist that the Isle of Man has ever known. He was the best-selling novelist on both sides of the Atlantic at the end of the 19th Century, writing novels such as The Manxman which grew comparisons to Tolstoy and earned him recognition from Royalty and Prime Ministers. It would be hard to overestimate the importance of Hall Caine in the literary history of the Isle of Man.