The Deemster (Chapters XXXI to XXXVI)
Chapters XXXI to XXXVI
FATHER AND SON
THE prison for felons awaiting trial in the civil courts was in Castle Rushen at Castletown, but Dan Mylrea was not taken to it. There had been a general rising in the south of the island on the introduction of a coinage of copper money, and so many of the rioters had been arrested and committed for trial, without bail, at the Court of General Gaol Delivery, that the prison at Castle Rushen was full to overflowing. Twenty men had guarded the place day and night, being relieved every twenty-four hours by as many more from each parish in rotation, some of them the kith and kin of the men imprisoned, and all summoned to Castletown in the morning by the ancient mode of fixing a wooden cross over their doors at night.
Owing to this circumstance the Deemster made the extraordinary blunder of ordering his coroner to remove Dan to the prison beneath the ruined castle at Peeltown. Now, the prison on St. Patrick’s Islet had for centuries been under the control of the Spiritual Courts, and was still available for use in the execution of the ecclesiastical censures. The gaoler was the parish sumner, and the sole governor and director was the Bishop him. self. All this the Deemster knew full well, and partly in defiance of his brother’s authority, partly in contempt of it, but mainly in bitter disdain of his utter helplessness, where his son’s guilt was manifest and confessed, he arrogated the right, without sanction from the spiritual powers, of committing Dan to the Church prison, the civil prison being full.
It was a foul and loathsome dungeon, and never but once had Bishop Mylrea been known to use it. Dark, small, damp, entered by a score of narrow steps, down under the vaults on the floor of the chapel, over the long runnels made in the rock by the sea, it was as vile a hole as the tyranny of the Church ever turned into a gaol for the punishment of those who resisted its authority.
The sumner in charge was old Paton Gorry, of Kirk Patrick a feeble soul with a vast respect for authority, and no powers of nice distinction between those who were placed above him. When he received the Deemster’s warrant for Dan’s committal he did not doubt its validity; and when Quayle, the coroner, for his own share, ordered that the prisoner should be kept in the close confinement of the dungeon, he acquiesced without question.
If Dan’s humiliation down to this moment bad not been gall and wormwood to his proud and stubborn spirit, the fault did not lie at the door of Quayle the Gyke. Every indignity that an unwilling prisoner could have been subjected to, Dan underwent. From the moment of leaving the court-house at Ramsey, Dan was pushed and huddled and imperiously commanded with such an abundant lack of need and reason that at length the people who crowded the streets or looked from their windows-the same people, many of them, who had shrunk from Dan as he entered the town-shouted at the coroner and groaned at him. But Dan himself, who had never before accepted a blow from any man without returning it, was seen to walk tamely by the coroner’s side, towering above him in great stature, but taking his rough handling like a child at his knees.
At the door of the prison where Quayle’s function ended that of the sumner began, and old Gorry was a man of another mould. Twenty times he had taken charge of persons imprisoned sixty days for incontinence, and once he had held the governor’s wife twelve hours for slander, and once again a fighting clergyman seven days for heresies in looking towards Rome, but never before had he put man, woman, or child into the pestilential hole under the floor of the old chapel. Dan he remembered since the Bishop’s son was a boy in corduroys, and when the rusty key of the dungeon turned on him with a growl in its wards, and old Gorry went shivering to the guard-room above and kindled himself a fire there and sat and smoked, the good man under his rough surtout got the better of the bad gaoler. Then down he went again, and with a certain shamefacedness, some half-comic, half-pathetic efforts of professional reserve, he said he wouldn’t object, not he, if Dan had a mind to come up and warm himself. But Dan declined with words of cold thanks.
“No, Gorry,” he said, “I don’t know that I feel the cold.”
“Oh, all right, all right; sit ye there, sit ye there,” said Gorry. He whipped about with as much of largeness as he could simulate, rattled his keys as he went back, and even hummed a tune as he climbed the narrow stairs. But, warming itself at the fire, the poor human nature in the old man’s breast began to tear him pitilessly. He could get no peace for memories that would arise of the days when Dan plagued him sorely, the sad little happy dog. Then up he rose again, and down he went to the dungeon once more.
“I respects the ould Bishop,” he said, just by way of preliminary apology and to help him to carry off his intention, “and if it be so that a man has done wrong, I don’t see-I don’t see,” he stammered, “it isn’t natheral that he should be starved alive anyway, and a cold winter’s night too.”
“It’s no more than I deserve,” Dan mumbled; and at that word old Gorry whipped about as before, repeating loftily, “Sit ye there, sit ye there.”
It was not for him to cringe and sue to a prisoner to come up out of that foul hole, och! no; and the Bishop’s sumner inflated his choking chest and went back for another pipe. But half-an-hour later the night had closed in, and old Gorry, with a lantern in his hand, was at the door of Dan’s prison again.
“To tell the truth, sir,” he muttered, “I can’t get lave for a wink of sleep up yonder, and if you don’t come up to the fire I wouldn’t trust but I’ll be forced to stay down here in the cold myself.”
Before Dan could make answer there came a loud knocking from overhead. In another moment the key of the door had turned in its lock from without, and Gorry’s uncertain foot. fall was retreating on the steps.
When Dan had first been left alone in his dark cell, he had cast himself down on the broad slab cut from the rock which was his only seat and bed. His suspense was over; the weight of uncertainty was lifted from his brain, and he tried to tell himself that he had done well. He thought of Ewan now with other feelings than before-of his uprightness, his tenderness, his brotherly affection, his frequent intercession and no less frequent self-sacrifice. Then he thought of his own headlong folly, his blank insensitiveness, his cold ingratitude, and, last of all, of his blundering passion and mad wrath. All else on both sides was blotted from his memory in that hour of dark searching. Alone with his crime-tortured no more by blind hopes of escaping its penalty, or dread misgivings as to the measure of his guilt-his heart went out to the true friend whose life he had taken with a great dumb yearning and a bitter remorse. No cruel voice whispered now in palliation of his offence that it had not been murder, but the accident of self-defence. He had proposed the fight that ended with Ewan’s death, and, when Ewan would have abandoned it, he, on his part, would hear of no truce. Murder it was; and, bad as murder is at the best, this murder had been, of all murders, most base and foul. Yes, he had done well. Here alone could he know one hour of respite from terrible thoughts. This dark vault was his only resting-place until he came to lie in the last resting-place of all. There could be no going back. Life was for ever closed against him. He had spilled the blood of the man who had loved him with more than a brother’s love, and to whom his own soul had been grappled with hooks of steel. It was enough and the sick certainty of the doom before him was easiest to bear.
It was with thoughts like these that Dan had spent his first hours in prison, and when old Gorry had interrupted them time after time with poor little troubles about the freezing cold of the pestilential place, he hardly saw through the old man’s simulation into the tender bit of human nature that lay behind it.
A few minutes after Gorry had left the cell, in answer to the loud knocking that had echoed through the empty chambers overhead, Dan could hear that he was returning to it, halting slowly down the steps with many a pause, and mumbling remarks meantime, as if lighting some one who came after him.
“Yes, my lord, it’s dark, very dark. I’ll set the lantern here, my lord, and turn the key.”
In another moment old Gorry was at Dan’s side, saying, in a fearful undertone, “Lord a massy! it’s the Bishop hisself, I lied to him mortal, so I did-but no use. I said you were sleeping, but no good at all at all. He wouldn’t take rest without putting a sight on you. Here he is-Come in, my lord.” Almost before Dan’s mind, distraught by other troubles, had time to grasp what Gorry said, the old gaoler had clapped his lantern on the floor of the cell, and had gone from it, and Dan was alone with his father.
“Dan, are you awake?” the Bishop asked, in a low, eager tone. His eyes were not yet familiar with the half-light of the dark place, and he could not see his son. But Dan saw his father only too plainly, and one glance at him in that first instant of recovered consciousness went far to banish as an empty sophism the soothing assurance he had lately nursed at his heart that in what he had done he had done well.
The Bishop was a changed and shattered man. His very stature seemed to have shrunk, and his Jovian white head was dipped into his breast. His great calm front was gone, and in the feeble light of the lantern on the floor his eyes were altered and his face seemed to be cut deep with lines of fear, and even of cunning. His irresolute mouth was half open, as if it had only just emitted a startled cry. In one of his hands he held a small parcel bound tightly with a broad strap, and the other hand wandered nervously in the air before him.
Dan saw everything in an instant. This, then, was the first-fruits of that day’s work. He rose from his seat.
“Father!” he cried in a faint tremulous voice.
“My son l” the Bishop answered, and for some swift moments thereafter the past that had been very bitter to both was remembered no more by either.
But the sweet oblivion was cruelly brief. “Wait,” the Bishop whispered, “are we alone?” And with that the once stately man of God crept on tiptoe like a cat to the door of the cell, and put his head to it and listened.
“Art thou there, Paton Gorry?” he asked, feebly simulating his accustomed tone of quiet authority.
Old Gorry answered from the other side of the door that he was there, that he was sitting on the steps, that he was not sleeping, but waiting my lord’s return.
The Bishop crept back to Dan’s side with the same cat-like step as before.
“You are safe, my son,” he whispered in his low eager tone. “You shall leave this place. It is my prison, and you shall go free.”
Dan had watched his father’s movements with a sickening sense.
“Then you do not know that I surrendered?” he said faintly.
“Yes, yes, oh yes, I know it, But that was when your arrest was certain. But now – listen.”
Dan felt as if his father had struck him across the face. “That was what the Deemster said,” he begun; “but it is wrong.”
“Listen-they have nothing against you. I know all. They cannot convict you save on your own confession. And why should you confess? ”
“Don’t speak-don’t explain-I must not hear you-listen!” and the old man put one arm on his son’s shoulder and his mouth to his ear. “There is only one bit of tangible evidence against you, and it is here; look!” and he lifted before Dan’s face the parcel he carried in his other trembling hand. Then down he went on one knee, put the parcel on the floor, and unclasped the strap. The parcel fell open. It contained a coat, a hat, two militia daggers, and a large heavy stone.
“Look!” the Bishop whispered again, in a note of triumph, and as he spoke a grin of delight was struck out of his saintly old face.
Dan shuddered at the sight.
“Where did you get them?” he asked. The Bishop gave a little grating laugh.
“They were brought me by some of my good people,” he answered. “Oh yes, good people all of them; and they will not tell. Oh no, they have promised me to be silent.”
“Yes-listen again. Last night-it was dark, I think it must have been past midnight-I went to all their houses. They were in bed, but I knocked, and they came down to me. Yes, they gave me their word-on the Book they gave it. Good people all — Jabez the tailor, Stean the cobbler, Juan of Ballacry, and Thormod in the Street. I remember every man of them.”
“Father, do you say you went to these people-these, the very riff-raff of the island -you went to them-you, and at midnight and begged them -”
“Hush, it is nothing. Why not? But this is important.”
The Bishop, who was still on his knee, was buckling up the parcel again. “You can sink it in the sea. Did you mark the stone? That will carry it to the bottom. And when you are in the boat it will be easy to drop everything overboard.”
“Ah! have I not told you? Thormod Mylechreest – you remember him? A good man, Thormod, a tender heart, too, and wronged by his father, poor misguided man. Well, Mylechreest has promised-I have just left him-to come down to the harbour at nine to-night, and take the fishing-smack, the Ben-my-Chree, and bring her round to the west coast of St. Patrick’s Islet, and cast anchor there, and then come ashore in the boat, and wait for you.”
“Wait for me, father?”
“Yes; for this prison is mine, and I shall open its doors to whomsoever it pleases me to liberate. Look!”
The Bishop rose to his full height, threw back his head, and with a feeble show of his wonted dignity strode to the door of the cell and cried, in a poor stifled echo of his accustomed strong tone, “Paton Gorry, open thou this door.”
Old Gorry answered from without, and presently the door was opened.
The door was thrown wide.
“Now, give me the keys, Paton Gorry,” said the Bishop, with the same assumption of authority.
Old Gorry handed his keys to the Bishop. “And get thee home, and stay there.”
Old Gorry touched his cap and went up the steps.
Then, with a bankrupt smile of sorry triumph, the Bishop turned to his son.
“You see,” he said, “you are free. Let me look-what is the hour?” He fumbled for his watch. “Ah! I had forgotten. I paid my watch away to poor Patrick Looney. No matter. At nine by the clock Mylechreest will come for you, and you will go to your boat and set sail for Scotland, or England, or Ireland, or-or -”
Dan could bear up no longer. His heart was choking. ” Father father, my father, what are you saying?” he cried.
“I am saying that you are free to leave this place.”
“I will not go-I cannot go.”
The Bishop fetched a long breath and paused for a moment. He put one trembling hand to his forehead, as if to steady his reeling and heated brain.
“You cannot stay,” he said. “Hark! do you hear the wind how it moans? Or is it the sea that beats on the rock outside? And over our heads are the dead of ten generations.”
But Dan was suffocating with shame; the desolation around, the death that was lying silent above, and the mother of sorrows that was wailing beneath, had no terrors left for him.
“Father, my father,” he cried again, “think what you ask me to do. Only think of it. You ask me to allow you to buy the silence of the meanest hinds alive. And at what a price? At the price of the influence, the esteem, the love, and the reverence that you have won by the labour of twenty years. And to what end? To the end that I – I –” “To the end that you may live, my son. Remember what your father’s love has been to you. No, not that-but think what it must have been to him. Your father would know you were alive. It is true he would never, never see you. Yes, we should always be apart-you there, and I here-and I should take your band and see your face no more. But you would be alive?”
“Father, do you call it living? Think if I could bear it. Suppose I escaped-suppose I were safe in some place far away-the Indies, America, anywhere out of the reach of shame and death-suppose I were well, ay, and prosperous as the world goes-what then? ”
“Then I should be content, my son. Yes, content, and thanking God.”
“And I should be the most wretched of men. Only think of it, and picture me there. I should know, though there were none to tell me, I should remember it as often as the sun rose above me, that at home, thousands of miles away, my poor father, the righteous Bishop that once was, the leader of his people and their good father, was the slave of the lowest offal of them all, powerless to raise his hand for the hands that were held over him, dumb to reprove for the evil tongues that threatened to speak ill. And, as often as night came and I tried to sleep, I should see him there growing old, very old, and maybe very feeble, and wanting an arm to lean on, and good people to honour him and to make him forget-yes, forget the mad shipwreck of his son’s life, but with eyes that could not lift themselves from the earth for secret shame, tortured by fears of dishonour, self-tormented and degraded before the face of his God. No, no, no, I cannot take such sacrifice.”
The Bishop had drawn nearer to Dan and tried to take his hand. When Dan was silent he did not speak at once, and when Dan sat on his stone seat he sat beside him, gentle as a child, and very meek and quiet, and felt for his hand again, and held it, though Dan would have drawn it away. Then, as they sat together, nearer the old Bishop crept, nearer and yet nearer, until one of his trembling arms encircled Dan’s neck, and the dear head was drawn down to his swelling, throbbing breast, as if it were a child’s head still, and it was a father’s part to comfort it and to soothe away its sorrows.
“Then we will go together,” he said, after a time, in a faint forlornness of voice, “to the utmost reaches of the earth, leaving all behind us, and thinking no more of the past. Yes, we will go together,” he said very quietly, and he rose to his feet, still holding Dan’s hand.
Dan was suffocating with shame.
“Father,” he said, “I see all now; you think me innocent, and so you would leave everything for my sake. But I am a guilty man.”
“Hush! you shall not say that. Don’t tell me that. No one shall tell me that. I will not hear it.”
The hot eagerness of the Bishop’s refusal to hear with his ears the story of his son’s guilt told Dan but too surely that he had already heard it with his heart.
“Father, no one would need to tell you. You would find it out for yourself. And think of that awful undeceiving! You would take your son’s part against the world, believing in him, but you would read his secret bit by bit, day by day. His crime would steal in between you like a spectre, it would separate you hour by hour, until at length you would be for ever apart. And that end would be the worst end of all. No, it cannot be. Justice is against it; love is against it. And God, I think, God must be against it, too.” “God!”
Dan did not hear.
“Yes, I am guilty,” he went on. “I have killed the man who loved me as his own soul. He would have given his life for my life, even as he gave his honour for my honour. And I slew him. Ewan! Ewan! my brother, my brother!” he cried, and where he sat he buried his face in his hands.
The Bishop stood over his son with the same gentle calm that had come upon him in the cell, and with not one breath of the restless fever with which he entered it. Once again he tried to take Dan’s hand and to hold it, and to meet with his own full orbs Dan’s swimming eyes.
“Yes, father, it is right that I should die, and it is necessary. Perhaps God will take my death as an atonement-”
“Or, if there is no atonement, there is only hell for my crime, and before God I am guilty.”
The Bishop echoed Dan’s words in a dull, mechanical under-breath, and stood a long time silent while Dan poured forth his bitter remorse. Then he said, speaking with something of his own courageous calm of voice, from something like his own pure face, and with some of the upright wrinkles of his high forehead smoothed away, “Dan, I will go home and think. I seem to be awakening from a dreadful nightmare in a world where no God is, and no light reigns, but all is dark. To tell you the truth, Dan, I fear my faith is not what it was or should be. I thought I knew God’s ways with His people, and then it seemed as if, after all these years, I had not known Him. But I am only a poor priest, and a very weak old man. Good-night, my son; I will go home and think. I am like one who runs to save a child from a great peril and finds a man stronger than himself and braver one who looks on death face to face and quails not. Good-night, Dan; I will go home and pray.”
And so he went his way, the man of God in his weakness. He left his son on the stone seat, with covered face, the lantern and the parcel on the floor, and the door of the cell wide open. The keys he carried half-consciously in his hand. He stumbled along in the darkness down the winding steps hewn from the rock to the boat at the little wooden jetty, where a boatman sat awaiting him. The night was very dark, and the sea’s loud moan and its dank salt breath were in the air. He did not see, he did not hear, he did not feel. But there was one in that lonesome place who saw his dark figure as he passed. “Who is there?” said an eager voice, as he went through the deep portcullis and out at the old notched and barred door ajar. But the Bishop neither answered nor heard.
At the house in Castle Street, near to the Quay, he stopped and knocked. The door was opened by the old sumner.
“I’ve brought you the keys, Paton Gorry, Go back to your charge.”
“Did you lock the doors, my lord?” “Yes-no, no-I must have forgotten. I fear my mind-but it is of no moment. Go back, Paton-it will be enough.”
“I’ll go, my lord,” said the sumner.
He went back, but others had been there before him.
WELL satisfied with his day’s work, the Deemster drove from the Ramsey court-house to midday dinner with his father-in-law, the old archdeacon, taking Jarvis Kerruish with him. Mona he sent home in the lumbering car driven by the coroner. It suited well with the girl’s troubled mind to be alone, and when night fell in and the Deemster had not returned, the grim gloom of the lonely house on Slieu Dhoo brought her no terrors. But towards nine o’clock the gaunt silence of the place was broken, and from that time until long after midnight Ballamona was a scene of noise and confusion.
First came blind Kerry, talking loudly along the passages, wringing her hands, and crying, “Aw, dear! oh, main! oh, goodness me!”
Mastha Dan was no longer in prison, he had been kidnapped; four men and a boy had taken him by main force; bound hand and foot, he had been carried through the mountains to a lonely place, and there at daybreak to-morrow he was to be shot. All this and more, with many details of place and circumstance, Kerry had seen as in a flash of light, just as she was raking the ashes on the fire preparatory to going to bed.
Mona had gone through too much to be within touch of the blind woman’s excitement.
“We must not give way to these fancies, Kerry,” she said.
“Fancies, main? Fancies your saying? Scoffers may mock, but don’t you, mam brought up with my own hand, as the saying is.”
“I did not mean to mock, Kerry; but we have so many real troubles that it seems wicked to imagine others-and perhaps a little foolish, too.”
At that word the sightless face of Kerry grew to a great gravity.
“Foolish, main? It is the gift-the gift of the good God. He made me blind, but He gave me the sights. It would have been hard, and maybe a taste cruel, to shut me up in the dark, and every living craythur in the light; but He is a just God and a merciful, as the saying is, and He gave me the gift for recompense.”
“My good Kerry, I am so tired to-night, and must go to bed.”
“Aw, yes, and well it has sarved me time upon time-”
“We were up before six this morning, Kerry.”
“And now I say to you, send immadient, main, or the Lord help-”
The blind woman’s excitement and Mona’s impassibility were broken in upon by the sound of a man’s voice in the hall asking sharply for the Deemster.
At the next moment Quale, the coroner, was in the room. His face was flushed, his breath came quick, and his manner betrayed extreme agitation.
“When the Deemster comes home from Kirk Andreas tell him to go across to Bishop’s Court at once, and say that I will be back before midnight.”
So saying the coroner wheeled about without ceremony, and was leaving the room.
“What has happened at Bishop’s Court?” Mona asked.
“Nothing,” he said impatiently.
“Then why should I tell him to go there?” The tone of the question awakened the curmudgeon’s sense of common policy.
“Well, if you must know, that man has escaped, and I’m thinking the Bishop himself has had his foot in the mischief.”
Then Kerry, with a confused desire to defend the Bishop, interrupted, and said
“The Bishop’s not at the Court-let me tell ye that.”
Whereupon the coroner smiled with a large dignity, and answered, “I know it, woman.”
“When did this happen?” said Mona.
Not an hour ago; I am straight from Peel-town this minute.”
And without more words the coroner turned his back on her, and was gone in an instant.
When Quayle had left the room Kerry lifted both hands; her blind face wore a curious expression of mingled pride and fear. “It is the gift,” she said in an awesome whisper.
Mona stood a while in silence and perplexity, and then she said in tremulous voice
“Kerry, don’t think me among those that scoff, but tell me over again, my good Kerry, and forgive me.”
And Kerry told the story of her vision afresh, and Mona now listened with eager attention, and interrupted with frequent questions.
“Who were the four men and the boy? Never saw their faces before? Never? Not in the street? No? Never heard their voices? Ah I surely you remember their voices. Yes, yes, try to recall them; try, try, my good
Kerry. Ah! the fishermen-they, were the voices of the fishermen! How were you so long in remembering? Quilleash? Yes, old Billy? And Crennell? Yes, and Teare and Corkell, and the boy Davy Fayle? Poor young Davy, he was one of them? Yes? Oh, you dear, good Kerry!”
Mona’s impassibility was gone, and her questions, like her breath, came hot and fast.
“And now tell me what place they took him to. The mountains? Yes, but where? Never saw the place before in all your life? Why, no, of course not; how could you,
Kerry? Ah! don’t mind what I say, and don’t be angry. But what kind of place? Quick, Kerry, quick.”
Kerry’s blind face grew solemn, and one hand, with outstretched finger, she raised before her, as though to trace the scene in the air, as she described the spot in the mountains where the four men and the boy had taken Dan.
“It was a great lone place, main, with the sea a-both sides of you, and a great large mountain aback of you, and a small low one in front, and a deep strame running under you through the gorse, and another shallow one coming into it at a slant, and all whins and tussocks of the lush grass about, and maybe a willow by the water’s side, with the sally-buds hanging dead from the boughs, and never a stick, nor a sign of a house, nor a barn, but the ould tumbled cabin where they took him, and only the sea’s roar afar away, and the sheep bleating, and maybe the mountain geese cackling, and all to that.”
Mona had listened at first with vivid eagerness and a face alive with animation, but as Kerry went on the girl’s countenance saddened. She fell back a pace or two, and said in a tone of pain and impatience-
“Oh, Kerry, you have told me nothing. What you say describes nearly every mountain-top in the island. Was there nothing else? Nothing? Think. What about the tumble-down house? Had it a roof? Yes? No one living in it? No buildings about it? A shaft-head and gear? Oh, Kerry, how slow you are! Quick, dear Kerry! An old mine? A worked-out mine? Oh, think, and be sure!”
Then the solemnity of the blind woman’s face deepened to a look of inspiration.
“Think? No need to think,” she said in an altered tone. “Lord bless me, I see it again. There, there it is-there this very minute.”
She sank back into a chair, and suddenly became motionless and stiff. Her sightless eyes were opened, and for the first few moments that followed thereafter all her senses seemed to be lost to the things about her. In this dream state she continued to talk in a slow, broken, fearsome voice, exclaiming, protesting, and half-sobbing. At first Mona looked on in an agony of suspense, and then she dropped to her knees at Kerry’s feet, and flung her arms about the blind woman with the cry of a frightened bird.
“Kerry, Kerry!” she called, as if prompted by an unconscious impulse to recall her from the trance that was awful to look upon. And in that moment of contact with the seer she suffered a shock that penetrated every fibre; she shuddered, the cry of pain died off in her throat, her parted lips whitened and stiffened, her eyes were frozen in their look of terror, her breath ceased to come, her heart to beat, and body and soul together seemed transfixed. In that swift instant of insensibility the vision passed like a throb of blood to her from the blind woman, and she saw and knew all.
Half-an-hour later, Mona, with every nerve vibrating, with eyes of frenzy and a voice of fear, was at Bishop’s Court inquiring for the Bishop.
“He is this minute home from Peel,” said the housekeeper.
Mona was taken to the library, and there the Bishop sat before the fire, staring stupidly into the flame. His hat and cloak had not yet been removed, and a riding-whip hung from one of his listless hands.
He rose as Mona entered. She flew to his arms, and while he held her to his breast his sad face softened, and the pent-up anguish of her heart overflowed in tears. Then she told him the tangled, inconsequent tale, the coroner’s announcement, Kerry’s vision, her own strange dream state, and all she had seen in it.
As she spoke the Bishop looked dazed; he pressed one hand on his forehead; he repeated her words after her; he echoed the questions she put to him. Then he lifted his head to betoken silence. “Let me think,” he said.
But the brief silence brought no clearness to his bewildered brain. He could not think; he could not grasp what had occurred, and the baffled struggle to comprehend made the veins of his forehead stand out large and blue. A most pitiful look of weariness-came over his mellow face, and he said in a low tone that was very touching to hear
“To tell you the truth, my dear child, I do not follow you-my mind seems thick and clouded-things run together in it-I am only a feeble old man now, and- But wait” (a flash of light crossed his troubled face); “you say you recognise the place in the mountains? ”
“Yes, as I saw it in the vision. I have been there before. When I was a child I was there with Dan and Ewan. It is far up the Sulby river, under Snaefell and over Glen Grammag. Don’t say it is foolish and womanish and only hysteria, dear uncle. I saw it all as plainly as I see you now.”
“Ah I no, my child. If the patriarch Joseph practised such divination, is it for me to call it foolishness? But wait, wait, let me think.” And then in a low murmur, as if communing with himself, he went on
“The door was left open . . . yes, the door . . . the door was .
It was useless. His brain was broken, and would not link its ideas. He was struggling to piece together the fact that Dan was no longer in prison with the incidents of his own abandoned preparations for his son’s escape. Mumbling and stammering, he looked vacantly into Mona’s face, until the truth of his impotence forced itself upon her, and she saw that from him no help for Dan could come.
Then with many tears she left him and hastened back to Ballamona. The house was in confusion; the Deemster and Jarvis Kerruish had returned, and the coroner was with them in the study.
“And what of the Peeltown watch?” the Deemster was asking sharply. “Where was he?”
“Away on some cock-and-bull errand, sir.”
“By whose orders?”
“And what of the harbour-master when the Ben-my-Chree was taken away from her moorings? ”
“He also was spirited away.”
“The same messenger-Will-as-Thorn, the parish clerk.”
“Old Gorry, the sumner, gave up the prison keys to the Bishop, you say?”
“To the Bishop, sir.”
“And left him in the cell, and found the door open and the prisoner gone upon his return?”
“Just so, sir.”
“What have you been doing in the matter? ” “Been to Ramsey, sir, and stationed three men on the quay to see that nobody leaves the island by the Cumberland packet that sails at midnight.”
“Tut, man, who will need the packet?-the man has the fishing-boat.”
Mona’s impatience could contain itself no longer. She hurried into the study and told her tale. The Deemster listened with a keen, quick sense; he questioned, cross-questioned, and learned all. This done, he laughed a little, coldly, and bitterly, and dismissed the whole story with contempt.
“Kidnapped? No such matter. Escaped, woman, escaped! And visions, forsooth! What pedlar’s French! Get away to bed, girl. ”
Mona had no choice but to go. Her agitation was painful; her sole thought was of Dan’s peril. She was a woman, and that Dan was a doomed man whether in prison or out of it, whether he had escaped or been kidnapped, was a consideration that had faded from her view. His life was in imminent danger, and that was everything to her.
She had tried to save him by help of the Bishop, and failing in that direction, she bad attempted the same end by help of the Deemster, his enemy.
The hours passed with feet of lead until three o’clock struck, and then there was a knock at her door. The Deemster’s voice summoned her to rise, dress quickly and warmly, and come out immediately. She had not gone to bed, and in two minutes more was standing hooded and cloaked in the hall. The Deemster, Jarvis, the coroner, and seven men were there. At the porch a horse, saddled and bridled, was pawing the gravel.
Mona understood everything at a glance. Clearly enough the Deemster intended to act on the guidance of the vision which he had affected to despise. Evidently it was meant that she should go with the men to identify the place she had described.
“An old lead mine under Snaefell and over Glen Grammag, d’you say?”
“It was daybreak.”
“You would know the place if you saw it again?”
The Deemster turned to the coroner. “Which course do you take?”
“Across Glen Dhoo, sir, past Ravensdale, and along the mountain path to the Sherragh Vane.”
“Come, girl, mount; be quick.”
Mona was lifted to the saddle, the coroner took the bridle, and they started away, the seven men walking behind.
WHAT had happened was a strange series of coincidences. Early that day the crew of the Ben-my-Chree, in the mountain solitude where they found freezing and starving safety, had sent one of their number back to Sulby village to buy a quarter of meal. Teare was the man chosen for the errand, and, having compassed it, he was stealing his way back to the mountains when he noticed that great companies of people were coming from the direction of Ramsey. Lagging behind the larger groups on the road was a woman whom he recognised as his wife. He attracted her attention without revealing himself to the people in front. She was returning from the Deemster’s inquest, and told what had occurred there; that Dan, the Bishop’s son, had surrendered, and that the indictment to the Court of General Gaol Delivery had been made out not only in his name, but in the names of the four men and the boy of the Ben-my-Chree.
Teare carried back to the mountains a heavier burden than the quarter of meal. His mates had watched for him as he plodded up the bank of the Sulby river, with the bag on his back. When he came up his face was ominous.
” Send the lad away for a spell,” he muttered to old Billy Quilleash, and Davy Fayle was sent to cut gorse for a fire.
Then the men gathered around Teare and heard what had happened. The disaster had fallen which they foresaw. What was to be done? Crennell, with a line from a psalm, was for trusting in the Lord, and old Quilleash, with an oath, was for trusting in his heels. After a pause Teare propounded his scheme. It centred in Dan. Dan with his confession was their sole danger. Once rid of Dan they were as free men. Before his confession of guilt their innocence was beyond his power to prove or their power to establish. On his way up from the valley Teare had hit on a daring adventure. They were to break into the castle at Peel, take Dan by force, bring him up to the mountains, and there give him the choice of life or death: life if he promised to plead Not Guilty to the indictment, death if he adhered to the resolution by which he had surrendered.
The men gathered closer about Teare, and with yet whiter faces. Teare gave his plan; his scheme was complete; that night they were to carry it out. Paton Gorry was the gaoler at Peel Castle. The lad Davy was the old sumner’s godchild. Davy was to go forth and smuggle Gorry’s keys out of the guardroom. If that were found impossible-well, Paton was an old man; he might be put quietly out of harm’s way-no violence – och! no, not a hap’orth. Then Corkell was sonin-law of the watch at Peeltown, and hence the watch must take the harbour-master to the “Jolly Herrings” in Castle Street, while they themselves, Teare, Quilleash, Crennell, and Corkell, took the Ben-my-Chree from her moorings at the mouth of the harbour. On the west coast of St. Patrick’s Isle they must bear down and run the dingey ashore. Then Dan must be seized in his cell, bound hand and foot, and brought aboard. With a fair wind-it was blowing east-sou’-east-they must set sail for Ramsey Bay, put about at Lague, anchor there, and go ashore. “That’ll lave it,” said Teare, “to raisonable inf’rence that Mastha Dan had whipped off to England by the Whitehaven packet that sails at midnight from the quay.”
This done, they were to find a horse, strap the fettered man to its back, fetch him into the mountains in the dark hours of the night, and at daybreak try him solemnly and justly on the issue they had hit upon of life or death. No violence! Acv, no, all just and straight! If so be that the man was hanging them, they’d do him justice man to man as fair as the backbone lies down the middle of a herring. Deemster’s justice couldn’t be cleaner; no, nor as clean. Aw, yes, no violence!
It was an intricate plan, involving many risks, presupposing many favourable chances. Perhaps it was not a logical computation of probabilities. But, good or bad, logical or illogical, probable or improbable, easy of accomplishment or full of risk and peril, it was the only alternative to trusting in the Lord, as Crennell had suggested, or in their heels, as Quilleash had preferred. In the end they took it, and made ready to act on it.
As the men arrived at their conclusion Davy Fayle was returning with an armful of withered gorse for a fire. The first move in that night’s adventure was to be made by him. “Lave the lad to me,” whispered Quilleash, and straightway he tackled Davy. Veracity was not conspicuous in the explanation that the old salt made. Poor Mastha Dan had been nabbed, bad sess to it, and jiggered up in Peel Castle. He would be hanged sarten sure. Aw, safe for it, if some chaps didn’t make an effort immadient. They meant to do it, too. Ay, that very everin! Wouldn’t they let him help? Well, pozzible, pozzible. They wasn’t no objection to that. Thus Davy fell an eager victim to a plan that was not propounded to him. If saving Mastha Dan from the dirts that had nabbed him was the skame that was goin’, why nothin’ would hould him but he would be in it. “Be aisy with the loblollyboy and you have him,” whispered old Billy behind the back of his band, as he spat a long jet from his quid.
Relieved of doubt as to their course of action, they built a fire and warmed themselves, and with water from the river below they made cold porridge of the meal, and ate and drank, and waited for the night. The darkness came early, it was closing in at four o’clock. Then the men smothered their fire with turf and earth and set out for Peeltown. Their course was over Colden, and between Greeba and Beary, to the breast of Slieu Whallin, and then down to St. Patrick’s Isle by the foot of Corrin’s hill. It was twelve miles over hill and dale, through the darkness and the muggy air of the winter’s night. They had to avoid the few houses and to break their pace when footsteps came their way. But they covered the distance in less than four hours. At eight o’clock they were standing together on the south of the bridge that crosses the Neb river at the top of Peel harbour. There they separated. Corkell went off to the market-place by a crooked alley from the quay to find the watch, and dispose of him. When the harbour-master had been removed, Corkell was to go. to the Ben-my-Chree, which was moored in deep water at the end of the wooden pier, open the scuttle on the south, and put the lamp to it as a signal of safety to Quilleash, Teare, and Crennell above the bridge on the headland opposite. They were then to come aboard. Davy Fayle took the south quay to St. Patrick’s Isle. It was now the bottom of the ebb tide, and Davy was to wade the narrow neck that divided the isle from the mainland. Perhaps he might light on a boat; perhaps cross dry-shod. In half-an-hour he was to be on the west of the castle, just under a spot known as the Giant’s Grave, and there the four men were to come ashore to him in the dingey. Meantime he was to see old Paton Gerry and generally take the soundings. Thus they parted.
Davy found the water low and the ford dry. He crossed it as noiselessly as he could, and reached the rocks of the isle. It was not so dark but he could descry the dim outlines of the ruined castle. A flight of steps ascended from the water’s edge to the portcullis. Davy crept up. He had prepared to knock at the old notched door under the arch, but he found it standing open. He stood and listened. At one moment he thought he heard a movement behind him. It was darkest of all under these thick walls. He went on; he passed the doorway that is terrible with the tradition of the Moddey Dhoo. As he went by the door he turned his head to it in the darkness, and once again he thought he heard something stir. This time the sound came from before him. He gasped, and had almost screamed. He stretched his arms towards the sound. There was nothing. All was still once more.
Davy stepped forward into the courtyard. His feet fell softly on the grass that grew there. At length he reached the guard-room. Once more he had lifted his hand to knock, and once more he found the door open. He looked into the room. It was empty; a fire burned on the hearth, a form was drawn up in front of it; a pipe lay on a bare deal table. “He has gone down to the cell,” Davy told himself, and he made his way to the steps that led to the dungeon. But he stopped again and his heart seemed to stand still. There could now be no doubt but some one was approaching. There was the faint jingle as of keys. “Paton! Paton!” Davy called fearfully. There was no answer, but the footsteps came on. “Who is there?” he cried again in a tremulous whisper. At the next instant a man passed in the darkness, and Davy saw and knew him. It was the Bishop.
Davy dropped to his knees. A moment afterwards the Bishop was gone through the outer gate and down the steps. His footsteps ceased, and then there were voices, followed by the plash of an oar, and then all was silence once more, save for the thick boom of the sea that came up from the rocks.
Davy rose to his feet and turned towards the steps that led down to the door of the dungeon. A light came from below. The door was open also, and stretching himself full length on to the ground Davy could see into the cell. On the floor there was a lantern, and beside it a bundle lay. Dan was there; he was lying on the stone couch; he was alone.
Breathless and trembling Davy rose again and fled out of the old castle and along the rocky causeway to a gullet under the Giant’s Grave. There the men were waiting for him.
“The place is bewitched,” he said with quick-coming breath; and he told how every door was open, and not a soul was in the castle except Dan. The men heard him with evident terror. Corkell had just told them a similar story. The watch and the harbourmaster had both been removed before he had gone in search of them. Everything seemed to be done to their hands. Nothing was left to them to do but simply to walk into the castle and carry out their design. This terrified them. “It’s a fate,” Corkell whispered; and Crennell, in white awe of the unseen hand that was helping them, was still for trusting in the Lord. Thus they put their heads together. Quilleash was first to recover from superstitious fears. “Come, lay down, and no blather,” he said, and stalked resolutely forward, carrying a sack and a coil of rope. The other men followed him in silence. Davy was ordered to stay behind with the small boat.
They found everything as the lad had left it; the notched door of the portcullis was open, the door of the guard-room was open, and when they came to the steps of the dungeon the door there was also open. A moment they stood and listened, and heard no sound from below but a light, regular breathing, as of one man only. Then they went quietly down the steps and into the cell. Dan was asleep. At sight of him, lying alone and unconscious, their courage wavered a moment. The unseen hand seemed to be on them still. “I tell thee it’s a fate,” Corkell whispered again over Quilleash’s shoulder. In half-a-minute the sleeping man was bound hand and foot, and the sack was thrown over his head. At the first touch he awoke and tried to rise, but four men were over his prostrate body, and they overpowered him. He cried lustily, but there was none to hear. In less time than it takes to tell it the men were carrying Dan out of the cell. The lantern they left on the floor, and in their excitement they did not heed the parcel that lay by it.
Over the courtyard, through the gate, along the ledge under the crumbling walls they stumbled and plunged in the darkness. They reached the boat and pushed off. Ten minutes afterwards they were aboard the Ben-my-Chree, and were beating down the bay.
Dan recognised the voices of the men, and realised the situation. lie did not shout again. The sack over his head was of coarse fibre, admitting the air, and he could breathe through it without difficulty. He had been put to lie on one of the bunks in the cabin, and he could see the tossing light of the horn lantern that hung from the deck planks. When the boat rolled in the strong sea that was running he could sometimes see the lights on the land through the open scuttle.
With a fair wind for the Point of Ayre, full sail was stretched. Corkell stood to the tiller, and, when all went smoothly, the three men turned in below, and lit a fire in the stove, and smoked. Then Davy Fale came down with eyes dull and sick. He had begun to doubt, and to ask questions that the men could not answer. What for was Mastha Dan tied up like a haythen? And what for the sack? But the men were in no humour for cross-examination. No cross-crossing! The imperent young idiot wastrel, let him keep his breath to cool his porridge. To quiet the lad the men plied him with liquor, and at the second draught he was reeling drunk. Then he laughed a wild laugh, and sang a mad song, and finally stood up to dance. It was a grim sight, but it was soon ended, and Davy was put to sleep in another of the bunks. Then two hours passed, and there was some growling- and quarrelling.
Crennell and Teare went up on deck. Quilleash remained below, sitting before the stove cleaning with oil and a rag a fowling-piece that Dan had brought aboard at the beginning of the herring season. Sometimes he crooned a Manx carval, and sometimes whistled it, as – he worked, chewing his quid meantime, and glancing at intervals at Dan’s motionless figure on the bunk:
“With pain we record The year of our Lord,
Sixteen hundred and sixty and sayven, When it so come to pass
A good fishing there wass
Off Dooglas, and a wonderful sayson.”
There was no other sound in the cabin, except Davy’s heavy breathing, and the monotonous beat of the water at the boat’s bow.
Dan lay as quiet as the dead. Never once had he spoken or been spoken to.
The boat was flying before the wind. The sky had cleared, and the stars were out, and the lights on the shore could be plainly seen. Orrisdale, Jurby, and the Rue went by, and when Bishop’s Court was passed the light in the library window burned clear and strong over the sea. Towards ten o’clock the lighthouse on the Point of Ayre was rounded, and then the boat had to bear down the Ramsey Bay in tacks. Before eleven they were passing the town, and could see the lights of the Cumberland packet as she lay by the quay. It was then three-quarter tide. In half-an-hour more the lugger was put about at Port Lague, and there Dan was taken ashore by Teare and Crennell. Quilleash went with them, carrying the fowling-piece.
Corkell and Davy Fayle, who had recovered from his stupor, were to take the Ben-my-Chree back into Ramsey Bay, to drop anchor under Ballure, and then to rejoin their companions at Lague before twelve o’clock. This was to divert suspicion, and to provoke the inference, when the fishing-boat would be found next morning, that Dan had escaped to England by the Whitehaven packet.
The Ben-my-Chree sailed off with Corkell and Davy. Teare went in search of a horse, Quilleash and Crennell remained on the shore at Lague with Dan. It was a bleak and desolate place, with nothing to the south but the grim rocks of the Tableland Head, and with never a house to the north nearer than Folieu, which was half a mile away. The night was now bitterly cold. The stars were gone, the darkness was heavy, and a nipping frost was in the dense atmosphere. But the wind had dropped, and every sound sent a dull echo through the air. The two men waited and listened. Thus far all had gone well with them, but what remained to do was perilous enough. If Corkell and the lad happened to be seen when coming from the boat, if Teare were caught in the act of borrowing a horse without leave, then all would be over with them. Their suspense was keen.
Presently there came up to them from the bay, over the dull rumble of the waves on the shore, a quick creaking sound, followed by a splash and then a dead roll. They knew it was the anchor being slipped to its berth. Soon afterwards there came from the land to the south the sharp yap of dogs, followed at a short interval by the heavy beat of a horse’s hoofs on the road. Was it Teare with the horse? Was he pursued? The men listened, but could hear no other noise. Then there came through the dense air the muffled sound of a bell ringing at the quay. It was the first of three bells that were rung on the Cumberland packet immediately before it set sail.
The horse behind drew nearer, the bell in front rang again. Then Teare came up leading a big draught mare by the bridle. He had been forced to take it from the stable at Lague, and in getting it away he had aroused the dogs; but he had not been followed, and all was safe. The bell rang a third time, and immediately a red light crept out from the quay towards the sea, which lay black as a raven below. The Cumberland packet had gone.
At that moment Corkell and Davy Fayle returned, Corkell holding Davy by the neck of his guernsey. The lad had begun to give signs of a mutinous spirit, which the man had suppressed by force. Davy’s eyes flashed, but he was otherwise quiet and calm.
“What for is all this, you young devil?” said Quilleash. “What d’ye mean? Out with it, quick! what tricks now? D—- fool’s face, what for does he look at me like that?”
“Dowse that, Billy, and bear a hand and be quiet,” said Crennell.
“The young pauper’s got the imperence of sin,” said Quilleash.
Then the men lifted Dan on to the back of the big mare, and strapped him with his covered face to the sky. Never a word was spoken to him, and never a word did he speak.
“Let’s make a slant for it,” said Teare, and he took the bridle. Corkell and Crennell walked on either side of the horse. Quilleash walked behind, carrying the fowling-piece over his left shoulder. Davy was at his right hand.
The journey thereafter was long and heavy. They took the path that is to the north by Barrule and Clag Ouyre, and runs above Glen Auldyn and winds round to the south of Snaefell. Ten miles they plodded on in the thick darkness and the cold, with only the rumbling rivers for company, and with the hidden mountains making unseen ghosts about them. On they went, with the horse between them taking its steady stride that never varied and never failed, even when the rivers crossed the path and their own feet stumbled into ruts. On and on, hour after hour, until their weary limbs dragged after them, and their gossip ceased, and even their growling and quarrelling was no more beard. Then on and still on in the gruesome silence.
Under the breast of Snaefell they came into the snow of two days ago, which had disappeared in the valleys but still lay on the mountains, and was now crisp under their feet. It seemed, as they looked down in the darkness, to pass beneath them like short smoky vapour that dazed the eyes and made the head giddy. Still higher the sound of running waters suddenly stopped, for the rivers were frozen and their voices silenced. But the wind blew more strongly as they ascended the chill heights.
Sometimes at the top of a long raise they stopped to breathe the horse, and then, with no sound above or around except the shrill sough of the wind in the gorse, their courage began to fail. Ghostly imaginings would not be kept down.
“Did you ever hear the Lockman?” said Crennell beneath his breath.
“I never come agen him,” said Quilleash “When I see anything at night on the mountains I allis lave it alone.”
The other men shuddered, and forthwith began to whistle right lustily.
Sometimes they passed a mountain sheep pen, and the sheep being disturbed would bleat. Sometimes a dog at a distant house would hear them and bark; and even that though it was a signal of danger, was also a sort of human companionship on the grim mountain-side.
It was a dreary walk, and to Dan, bound hand and foot on the horse, it was a painful ride-a cold one it could not be, for the awkward motion brought warmth. The night wore on, and the air grew keener; the men’s beards became crisp with the frost.
At length the silent company rounded Snaefell to the north of Cronk-y-Vane and Beinny-Phott. Then Teare at the horse’s head twisted about.
“Do we take the ould mine shed for it?” he asked.
“Ay,” said Quilleash.
Their journey was almost ended. The sky over the sea behind them was then dabbled with grey, and a smell of dawn was coming down from the mountains.
A RUDE TRIBUNAL
THE course taken by the coroner and his seven men, with Mona on the horse, came to a triangle of mountain paths above a farm known as the Sherragh Vane. One path wound close under the west foot of Snaefell, another followed the bed of the river that ran through a glen called Crammag, and the third joined these two by crossing the breast of Beinn-y-Phott. At the acute angle of the Sherragh Vane the coroner drew up.
“Can any one see the lead shaft?” he asked. None could see it. The darkness had lifted away, and the crown of Snaefell was bare against the sky, like an islet of green floating over a cloud of vapour. But the mists still lay thick on the moorlands, and even the high glens were obscure.
“It must be yonder, about a mile and a half up the river,” said the coroner.
The lead mine was in the south-east angle of the triangle of paths, under the south-west of Snaefell and the north of Beinn-y-Phott. For some minutes the company was at a stand while the coroner considered their movements.
Mona’s impatience was manifest. “Let us push on,” she said.
The coroner merely eyed her largely and resumed his deliberations.
“Oh, how we waste our time!” she said – again. “If the lead mine is there, what have we to do but reach it?”
The coroner with an insolent smile inquired if the lady felt the cold.
“He is in danger for his life, and here we waste the precious minutes in idle talk,” she answered.
“Danger for his life,” the coroner echoed, and laughed coldly. Then in a tone of large meaning he added, “Possible, possible,” and smiled at his own subtle thought.
Mona’s anxiety mastered her indignation.
“Look, the mist is lifting. See, there is the shed-there in the gap between the hills, and it is the very place I saw. Come, make haste -look, it is daylight.”
“Be aisy, be aisy. If they’re in yonder shed, they are packed as safe as herrings in a barrel,” said the coroner.
Then he divided his forces. Three men he sent down the path of the Glen Crammag. Two he left where they then stood to guard that outlet to the Curraghs of the north and west. Two others were to creep along the path under Snaefell, and shut out the course to the sea and the lowlands on the south and east. He himself would walk straight up to the shed, and his seven men, as they saw him approach it, were to close quickly in from the three corners of the triangle.
“Is it smoke that’s rising above the shed? A fire? Possible. He thinks he’s safe, I’ll go bail. Och! yes, and maybe eating and drinking and making aisy. Now, men, away with you.,,
Within the shed itself at that moment there was as grim a scene as the eye of man has yet looked upon. The place was a large square building of two rooms, one on the ground level, and the other above it, the loft being entered by a trap in the floor with a wooden ladder down the wall. It had once served as gear-shed and office, stable and store, but now it was bare and empty. In the wall looking east there was a broad opening without door, and in the wall looking north a narrow opening without window.
To a hasp in the jamb of the doorway the big mare was tethered, and in the draught between the two openings the lad Davy with wandering mind was kindling a fire of gorse over two stones. The smoke filled the place, and through its dense volumes in the dusk of that vaporous dawn the faces of the men were bleared and green and haggard. The four fishermen stood in a group together, with old Quilleash a pace to the fore, the fowling-piece in his hand, its butt on the ground. Before him and facing him, two paces in front, stood Dan, his arms still bound to his sides, his head uncovered, and his legs free. There was a gaunt earnestness in every face.
“Listen to me,” said old Quilleash. “We’re going to judge and jury you, but all fair and square as God is above us, and doing nothing that we can’t answer for when the big day comes and every man has to toe his mark. D’ye hear what we’re saying, sir?”
Dan moved his head slightly by way of assent.
“We’ve trapped you, it’s true, and fetched you by force, that’s sartin; but we mean to be just by you, and no violence; and it’s spakin’ the truth we’re going to do, and never a word of a lie.”
The other men muttered “Ay, ay;” and Quilleash went on
“We’re chaps what believes in a friend, and buckin’ up for them as bucks up for you, and being middlin’ staunch, and all to that; but we’re after doing it once too often.”
“So we are,” said Crennell, and the others muttered again, “Ay, ay.”
Quilleash spat behind his hand and continued: “The long and short of it is that you’re goin’ middlin’ straight for hanging us, and it isn’t natheral as we’re to stand by and see it done.”
Dan lifted his face from the ground. “I meant to do you no harm, my good fellows,” he said quickly.
“Meaning’s meaning, but doing’s doing, and we’ve heard all that’s going,” said Quilleash. “You’ve surrendered and confessed, and the presentment is agen us all, and what’s in for you is in for us.”
“But you are innocent men. What need you fear? ”
“Innocent we be, but where the Deemster comes there’s not a hap’orth to choose between you and us.”
Dan’s face flushed, and he answered warmly, “Men, don’t let your miserable fears make cowards of you. What have you done? Nothing. You are innocent. Yet how are you bearing yourselves? Like guilty men. If I were innocent do you think I would skulk away in the mountains?”
“Aisy, sir, take it airy. Maybe you’d rather run like a rat into a trap. Cowards? Well, pozzible, pozzible. There’s nothing like having a wife and a few childers for making a brave chap into a bit of a skunk. But we’ll lave `cowards’ alone, if you plaze.”
Quilleash made a dignified sweep of the back of his hand, while the other men said, “Better, better.”
“Why have you brought me here?” said Dan.
“There isn’t a living sowl knows where you are, and when they find you’re missing at the castle they’ll say you’ve thought better of it and escaped.”
“Why have you brought me here?” Dan repeated.
“The Whitehaven boat left Ramsey after we dropped anchor in the bay last night, and they’ll say you’ve gone off to England.”
“Tell me why you have brought me to this place.”
“We are alone and can do anything we like with you, and nobody a hap’orth the wiser.”
“What do you mean to do?”
Then they told him of the alternative of life or death. There was nothing against him but his own confession. If he but held his tongue there was not enough evidence to hang a cat. Let him only promise to plead “Not guilty” when the trial came on, and they were ready to go back with him and stand beside him. If not
“What then?” Dan asked.
“Then we’ll be forced-” said Quilleash, and he stopped.
“I’m saying we’ll be forced-” He stopped again.
“Out with it, man alive,” Teare broke in” forced to shoot him like a dog.”
“Well, that’s only spakin’ the truth anyway,” said Quilleash quietly.
Davy Fayle leapt up from the fire with a cry of horror. But Dan was calm and resolute.
“Men, you don’t know what you’re asking. I cannot do it.”
“Aisy, sir, aisy, and think agen. You see we’re in if you’re in, and who’s to know who’s deepest? ”
“God knows it, and lie will never allow you to suffer.”
“We’ve childers and wives looking to us, and who can tell how they’d fend in the world if we were gone? ”
“You’re brave fellows, and I’m sorry for the name I gave you.”
“Shoo! Lave that alone. Maybe we spoke back. Let’s come to the faces.”
They stated their case again and with calm deliberation. He asked how it could mend their case if his life was taken. They answered him that they would go back and surrender, and stand their trial and be acquitted. Those four men were as solemn a tribunal as ever a man stood before for life or death. Not a touch of passion, hardly a touch of warmth, disturbed their rude sense of justice.
“We’re innocent, but we’re in it, and if you stand to it we must stand to it, and what’s the use of throwing your life away?”
Dan looked into their haggard faces without wavering. He had gone too far to go back now. But he was deeply moved.
“Men,” he said, “I wish to God I could do what you ask, but I cannot, and besides, the Almighty will not let any harm come to you.
There was a pause, and then old Quilleash said with quiet gravity
“I’m for religion myself, and singing hymns at whiles, and maybe a bit of a spell at the ould Book, but when it comes to trusting for life, d-d if I don’t look for summat substantial.”
As little was their stubborn purpose to be disturbed by spiritual faith as Dan’s resolution was to be shaken by bodily terrors. They gave him as long to decide as it took a man to tell a hundred. The counting was done by Teare amid dead silence of the others.
Then it was that, thinking rapidly, Dan saw the whole terrible issue. His mind went back to the visit of the Bishop to the castle, and to the secret preparations that had been made for his own escape. He remembered that the sumner had delivered up his keys to the Bishop, and that the Bishop had left the door of the cell open. In a quick glance at the facts he saw but too plainly that if he never returned to take his trial, it would be the same to his father as if he had accepted the means of escape that had been offered him. The Bishop, guilty in purpose, but innocent in fact, would then be the slave of any scoundrel who could learn of his design. Though his father had abandoned his purpose, he would seem to have pursued it, and the people whom he had bribed to help him would but `think that he had used other instruments. There could be only one explanation of his absence — tat he escaped; only one means of escape-the Bishop; only one way of saving the Bishop from unmerited and life-long obloquy-returning to his trial; and only one condition of going back alive promising to plead “Not guilty” to the charge of causing the death of Ewan.
It was an awful conflict of good passions with passions that were not bad. At one moment the sophistry took hold of him that, as his promise was being extorted by bodily threats, it could not be binding on his honour; that he might give the men the word they wanted, go back to save his father, and finally act at the trial as he knew to be best. But at the next moment in his mind’s eye he saw himself in the prisoner’s dock by the side of these five brave fellows, all standing for their lives, all calmly trusting in his promise, and he heard himself giving the plea that might send them to their deaths. Better any con.
sequences than such treachery. Truth it must be at all costs: truth to them and to himself. And as for the Bishop, when did the Almighty ask for such poor help as the lie of a bloodstained criminal to save the honour of a man of God?
It was a terrible crisis of emotion, but it was brief. The counting ended, and Quilleash called for the answer.
“No, I cannot do it-God forgive me, I wish I could,” said Dan, in a burst of impatience. It was said. The men made no reply to it. There was awful quiet among them. They began to cast lots. Five copper coins of equal size, one of them marked with a cross scratched with the point of a nail, they put into the bag. One after one they dipped a hand and drew out a coin, and every man kept his fist clenched till all had drawn. The lad was not for joining, but the men threatened him, and he yielded. Then all hands were opened together.
The lot had fallen to Davy Fayle. When he saw this, his simple face whitened visibly and his lip lagged very low. Old Quilleash handed him the gun, and he took it in a listless way, scarcely conscious of what was intended.
“What’s goin’ doing?” he asked vacantly. The men told him that it was for him to do it.
“Do what?” he asked, dazed and stupid: ‘ Shamefully, and with a touch of braggadocio, they told what he had to do, and then his vacant face became suddenly charged with passion, and he made a shriek of terror and let the gun fall. Quilleash picked the gun from the ground and thrust it back into Davy’s hand. “You’ve got to do it,” he said; “the lot’s fallen to you, and it’s bad work flying in the face of fate.”
At first Davy cried that nothing on God’s earth would make him do it; but suddenly he yielded, tools the gun quickly, and was led to his place three or four paces in front of where Dan stood with his arms bound at his sides, his face of an ashy whiteness and his eyes fearful to look upon.
“I can’t kill him while he’s tied up like that,” said Davy. “Loose him, and then I’ll shoot.”
The men had been startled by Davy’s sudden acquiescence, but now they understood it. Not by so obvious a ruse were they to be deceived. They knew full well that Dan as a free man was a match for all four of them unarmed.
“You’re meaning to fire over his head,” they said to Davy; and carried away by his excitement, and without art to conceal his intention, the lad cried hysterically, “That’s the truth, and so I am.”
The men put their heads together, and there was some hurried whispering. At the next minute they had laid hold of Davy, bound him as Dan was bound, and put him to stand at Dan’s side. This they did with the thought that Davy was now Dan’s accomplice.
Then again they cast lots as before. This time the lot fell to Quilleash. He took his stand where the lad had stood, and put the trigger of the gun at cock.
“Men,” he said, ” if we don’t take this man’s life nothing will hould him but he’ll take ours; and it’s our right to protect ourselves, and the ould Book will uphold us. It isn’t murder we’re at, but justice, and Lord Almighty ha’ massy on their cowls! ”
“Give him another chance,” said Teare, and Quilleash, nothing loath, put his question again. Dan, with a glance at Davy, answered as before, with as calm a voice, though his face was blanched and his eyes stood out from their sockets, and his lips and nostrils quivered.
Then there was silence, and then down on their knees behind Quilleash fell the three men, Crennell, Corkell, and Teare.
“Lord ha’ massy on their cowls! ” they echoed, and Quilleash raised the gun.
Never a word more did Dan say, and never a cry or a sign came from Davy Fayle. But Quilleash did not fire. He paused and listened, and turning about, he said in an altered tone, “Where’s the horse?”
The men lifted their heads and pointed, without speaking, to where the horse was tethered by the doorway. Quilleash listened with head aslant.
“Then who’s foot is that?” he said.
The men leapt to their feet. Teare was at the doorway in an instant.
“God A’mighty, they’re on us!” he said in an affrighted whisper.
Then two of the others looked, and saw that from every side the coroner and his men were closing in upon them. They could recognise every man, though the nearest was still half a mile away. For a moment they stared blankly ‘into each other’s faces and asked themselves what was to be done. In that moment every good and bad quality seemed to leap to their faces. Corkell and Crennell, seeing themselves outnumbered, fell to a bout of hysterical weeping. Teare, a fellow of sterner stuff, without pity or ruth, seeing no danger for them if Dan were out of sight, was for finishing in a twinkling what they had begun-shooting Dan, flinging him into the loft above, down the shaft outside, or into a manure-hole at the doorway, that was full of slimy filth and was now half-frozen over.
Quilleash alone kept his head, and when Teare had spoken the old man said, No, and set his lip firm and hard. Then Dan himself, no less excited than the men themselves, called and asked how many they were that were coming. Crennell told him nine-seven men and the coroner, and another-it might be a woman-on a horse.
“Eight men are not enough to take six of us,” said Dan. “Here, cut my rope and Davy’s-quick.”
When the men heard that, and saw by the light of Dan’s eyes that he meant it, and that he whose blood they had all but spilled was ready to stand side by side with them and throw in his lot with their lot, they looked stupidly into each other’s eyes, and could say nothing. But in another breath the evil spirit of doubt had taken hold of them, and Teare was laughing bitterly in Dan’s face.
Crennell looked out at the doorway again. “They’re running, we’re lost men,” he said; and once more he set up his hysterical weeping. Dowse that,” said Quilleash; “where’s your trustin’ now?”
“Here, Billy,” said Dan eagerly, “cut the lad’s rope and get into the loft, every man of you.”
Without waiting to comprehend the meaning of this advice, realising nothing but that the shed was surrounded and escape impossible, two of them, Crennell and Corkell, clambered up the ladder to the loft. Old Quilleash, who from the first moment of the scare had not budged an inch from his place on the floor, stood there still with the gun in his hand. Then Dan, thinking to free himself by burning one strand of the rope that bound him, threw himself down on his knees by the fire of gorse and wood, and held himself over it until one shoulder and arm and part of his breast were in the flame. For a moment it seemed as if, bound as he was, he must thrust half his body into the fire, and roll in it, before the rope that tied him would ignite. But at the next moment he had leapt to his feet with a mighty effort, and the rope was burning over his arm.
At that same moment the coroner and the seven men, with Mona riding behind them, came up to the doorway of the shed. There they drew up in consternation. No sight on earth was less like that they had looked to see than the sight they then beheld.
There, in a dense cloud of smoke, was Davy Fayle, still bound and helpless, pale and speechless with affright; and there was Dan, also bound, and burning over one shoulder as if the arm itself were afire, and straining his great muscles to break the rope that held him. Quilleash was in the middle of the floor as if rooted to the spot, and his gun was in his hands. Teare was on the first rung of the wall-ladder, and the two white faces of Corkell and Crennell were peering down from the trap-hole above.
“What’s all this?” said the coroner.
Then Teare dropped back from the ladder and pointed at Dan and said
“We caught him, and were taking him back to you, sir. Look, that’s the way we strapped him. But be was trying to burn the rope and give us the slip.”
Dan’s face turned black at that word of treachery, and a hoarse cry came from his throat.
“Is it true?” said the coroner, and his lip curled as he turned to Dan. Davy Fayle shouted vehemently that it was a lie, but Dan, shaking visibly from head to foot, answered quietly and said, “I’ll not say no, coroner.”
At that Quilleash stepped out.
“But I’ll say no,” he said firmly. “He’s a brave man, he is; and maybe I’m on’v an ould rip, but d- me if I’m going to lie like that for nobody-no, not to save my own Bowl.”
Then in his gruff tones, sometimes faltering, sometimes breaking into deep sobs, and then rising to deeper oaths, the old fellow told all. And that night all six of them-Dan, the four fishermen, and the lad’ Davy-were lodged in the prison at Castle Rushen.
THE COURT OF GENERAL GAOL DELIVERY
FROM Christmas-tide onward through the dark months, until a “dream of spring” came once again on the slumbering face of winter, the six men lay in Castle Rushen. Rumours from within the grey walls of the gaol told that some of them were restive under their punishment, and that the spirits of others sank under it, but that Dan bore up with the fortitude of resignation, and, though prone to much sadness, with even the cheerfulness of content. It was the duty of each man to take his turn at cleaning the cell, and it was said that Dan’s turn seemed by his own counting to come frequently. Reproaches he bore with humility, and on one occasion he took a blow from Crennell, who was small of stature and had a slight limp in one leg. Constant bickerings were rife among them, and Dan was often their subject of quarrel, and still oftener their victim; but they had cheerful hours too, and sometimes a laugh together.
Such were some of the reports that made gossip outside, where public curiosity, and excitement grew keener as the half -yearly sitting of the Court of General Gaol Delivery drew nearer. Copper riots and felonies of all descriptions, disputes as to tithe, and arbitrations as to the modes of counting the herrings, sank out of sight in prospect of the trial of Dan and his crew. From Point of Ayre to the Calf of Man it was the engrossing topic, and none living could remember a time when public feeling ran so high. The son of the Bishop was to be tried for the murder of the son of the Deemster, and a bigger issue could no man conceive. Variable enough was the popular sympathy-sometimes with Dan, sometimes against him, always influenced by what way the wave of feeling flowed with regard to the Deemster and the Bishop. And closely were these two watched at every turn.
The Deemster showed uncommon animation, and even some sprightliness. He was more abroad than at any time for fifteen years before, and was usually accompanied by Jarvis Kerruish. His short laugh answered oftener to his own wise witticisms than at any time since the coming to the island of his brother, the Bishop; but people whispered that his good spirits did not keep him constant company within the walls of his own house. There his daughter, Mona, still soft as the morning dew and all but as silent, sat much alone. She had grown “wae” as folk said, rarely being seen outside the gates of Ballamona, never being heard to laugh, and showing little interest in life beyond the crib of her foster-child, Ewan’s orphaned daughter. And people remembered her mother, how silent she had been, and how patient, and how like to what Mona was, and they said now, as they had said long ago, “She’s going down the steep places.”
The Bishop had kept close to Bishop’s Court. Turning night into day, and day into night, or knowing no times and seasons, he had been seen to wander at all hours up and down the glen. If any passed him as he crossed the road from the glen back to the house, he had seemed not to see. His grey hair had grown snowy white, his tall figure drooped heavily from his shoulders, and his gait had lost all its spring. Stricken suddenly into great age, he had wandered about mum. bling to himself, or else quite silent.
The chapel on his episcopal demesne he had closed from the time of the death of Ewan, his chaplain. Thus had he borne himself, shut out from the world, until the primrose had come and gone, and the cuckoo had begun to call. Then as suddenly he underwent a change. Opening the chapel at Bishop’s Court, he conducted service there every Sunday afternoon. The good souls of the parish declared that never before had he preached with such strength and fervour, though the face over the pulpit looked ten long years older than on the Christmas morning when the long-shore men brought up their dread burden from the Mooragh. Convocation was kept on Whit Tuesday as before, and the Bishop spoke with calm and grave power. His clergy said he had gathered strength from solitude, and fortitude from many days spent alone, as in the wilderness, with his Maker. Here and there a wise one among his people said it might look better of him to take the beam out of his own eye than to be so very zealous in pointing out the motes in the eyes of others. The world did not stand still, though public interest was in suspense, and now and again some girl was presented for incontinence or some man for drunkenness. Then it was noticed that the censures of the Church had begun to fall on the evildoer with a great tenderness, and this set the wise ones whispering afresh that some one was busy at sweeping the path to his own door, and also that the black ox never trod on his own hoof.
The day of the trial came in May. It was to be a day of doom, but the sun shone with its own indifference to the big little affairs of men. The spring had been a dry one, and over the drought came heat. From every corner of the island the people trooped off under the broiling sun to Castletown. The Court of General Gaol Delivery was held in Castle Rushen, in the open square that formed the gateway to the prison chapel, under the clear sky, without shelter from any weather. There the narrow space allotted to spectators was thronged with hot faces under beavers, mutches, and sun-bonnets. The passages from the castle gate on the quay were also thronged by crowds who could not see but tried to hear. From the lancet windows of the castle that overlooked the gateway eager faces peered out, and on the lead flat above the iron staircase and over the great clock tower were companies of people of both sexes, who looked down and even listened when they could. The windows of the houses around the castle gate were thrown up for spectators who sat on the sills. In the rigging of the brigs and luggers that lay in the harbour close under the castle walls sailors had perched themselves to look on, and crack jokes and smoke. Nearly the whole floor of the market-place was thronged, but under the cross, where none could see or hear, an old woman had set up ninepins, tipped with huge balls of toffee, and a score of tipsy fellows were busy with them amid much laughter and noise. A line of older men, with their hands in their pockets, were propped against the castle wall; and a young woman from Ballasalla, reputed to be a prophetess, was standing on the steps of the cress, and calling on the careless to take note that, while they cursed and swore and forgot their Maker, six men not twenty yards away were on the brink of their graves.
The judges were the Governor of the island (who was robed), the Clerk of the Rolls, the two Deemsters (who wore wigs and gowns), the Water Bailiff, the Bishop, the Archdeacon, the Vicars-General, and the twenty-four Keys. All these sat on a raised platform of planks. The senior and presiding Deemster (Thorkell Mylrea), who was the mouthpiece of the court, was elevated on a central dais.
Thorkell was warm, eager, and even agitated. When the Bishop took his seat, amid a low murmur of the spectators, his manner was calm, and his quiet eyes seemed not to look into the faces about him.
The prisoners were brought in from the cell that opened to the left of the gateway. They looked haggard and worn, but were not wanting in composure. Dan, towering above the rest in his great stature, held his head low; his cheeks were ashy, but his lips were firm. By his side, half clinging to his garments, was the lad Davy, and at the other end of the line was old Quilleash, with resolution on his weather-beaten face. Crennell and Corkell were less at ease, but Teare’s firm-set figure and hard-drawn mouth showed the dogged determination of a man who meant that day to sell his life dear. Sixty-eight men were present, summoned from the seventeen parishes of the island to compose a jury of twelve to be selected by the prisoners. Over all was the burning sun of a hot day in May.
When the officer of the court had made the presentment, and was going on to ask the prisoners to plead, the proceedings were suddenly interrupted. The steward of the spiritual barony of the Bishop, now sole baron of the island, rose to a point of law. One of the six prisoners who were indicted for felony was a tenant of the Bishop’s barony, and as such was entitled to trial, not by the civil powers of the island, but by a jury of his barony, presided over by the proper president of his barony. The prisoner in question was Daniel Mylrea, and for him the steward claimed the? privilege of a remand until he could be brought up for trial before the court of the lord of the barony under which he lived.
This claim created a profound sensation in the court. Dan himself raised his eyes, and his face bad a look of pain. When asked by the Deemster if the claim was put forward by his wish or sanction, he simply shook his head. The steward paid no attention to this repudiation. “This court,” he said, “holds no jurisdiction over a tenant of the Bishop’s barony;” and forthwith he put in a document showing that Daniel Mylrea was tenant of a farm on the episcopal demesne, situate partly in Kirk Ballaugh and partly in Kirk Michael.
The Deemster knew full well that he was powerless. Nevertheless he made a rigid examination of the prisoner’s lease, and, finding the document flawless, be put the point of law to the twenty-four Keys with every hampering difficulty. But the court was satisfied as to the claim, and allowed it. “The prisoner, Daniel Mylrea, stands remanded for trial at the court of his barony,” said the Deemster, in a tone of vexation; “and at that trial,” he added, with evident relish, “the president of the barony shall be, as by law appointed, assisted by a Deemster.”
Dan was removed, his name was struck out of the indictment, and the trial of the five fishermen was proceeded with. They pleaded “Not guilty.”
The Attorney-General prosecuted, stating the facts so far as they concerned the remaining prisoners, and reflecting at the evidence against the prisoner who was remanded. He touched on the evidence of the sailcloth, and then on the mystery attaching to a certain bundle of clothes, belts, and daggers that had been found in the prison at Peel Castle. At this reference the steward of the barony objected, as also against the depositions that inculpated Dan. The witnesses were fewer than at the Deemster’s inquest, and they had nothing to say that directly criminated the fishermen. Brief and uninteresting the trial turned out to be with the chief prisoner withdrawn, and throughout the proceedings the Deemster’s vexation was betrayed by his thin, sharp, testy voice. Some efforts were made to prove that Dan’s disappearance from Peel Castle had been brought about by the Bishop; but the steward of the barony guarded so zealously the privileges of the ecclesiastical courts, that nothing less than an open and unseemly rupture between the powers of Church and State seemed imminent when the Deemster, losing composure, was for pressing the irrelevant inquiry. Moreover, the Keys, who sat as arbiters of points of law and to “pass” the verdict of the jury, were clearly against the Deemster.
The trial did not last an hour. When the jury was ready to return a verdict, the Deemster asked in Manx, as by ancient usage, “Vod y fer-carree soie?” (May the Man of the Chancel [the Bishop] sit?) And the foreman answered, “Fod” (He may); the ecclesiastics remained in their seats; a verdict of “Not guilty” was returned, and straightway the five fishermen were acquitted.
Later the same day the Deemster vacated his seat on the dais, and then the Bishop rose and took it with great solemnity. That the Bishop himself should sit to try his own son, as he must have tried any other felon who was a tenant of his barony, made a profound impression among the spectators. The Archdeacon, who had hoped to preside, looked appalled. The Deemster sat below, and on either side were the ecclesiastics, who had claimed their right to sit as judges in the civil court.
Another jury, a jury of the barony, was empannelled. The sergeant of the barony brought Dan to the bar. The prisoner was still very calm, and his lips were as firm, though his face was as white and his head held as low as before. When a presentment was read over to him, charging him with causing the death of Ewan Mylrea, deacon in holy orders, and he was asked to plead, he lifted his eyes slowly, and answered in a clear, quiet, sonorous voice, that echoed from the high walls of the gateway, and was heard by the people on the clock tower, “Guilty.”
As evidence had been taken at the Deemster’s inquest, no witnesses were now heard. The steward of the barony presented. He dwelt on the prisoner’s special and awful criminality, in so far as he was the son of the Bishop, taught from his youth up to think of human life as a holy thing, and bound by that honoured alliance to a righteous way in life. Then he touched on the peculiar duty of right living in one who held the office of captain of his parish, sworn to preserve order and to protect life.
When the steward had appended to his statement certain commonplaces of extenuation based on the plea of guilty, the Deemster, amid a dead hush among the spectators, put questions to the prisoner which were intended to elicit an explanation of his motive in the crime, and of the circumstances attending it. To these questions Dan made no answer.
“Answer me, sir,” the Deemster demanded; but Dan was still silent. Then the Deemster’s wrath mastered him.
It ill becomes a man in your position to refuse the only amends that you can make to justice for the pains to which you have put this court and another.”
It was an idle outburst. Dan’s firm lip was immovable. He looked steadily into the Deemster’s face, and said not a word.
The steward stepped in.
“The prisoner,” he said, “has elected to make the gravest of all amends to justice,” and at that there was a deep murmur among the people. “Nevertheless, I could wish,” said the steward, “that he would also make answer to the Deemster’s question.”
But the prisoner made no sign.
“There is some reason for thinking that, if all were known, where so much is now hidden, the crime to which the prisoner pleads guilty would wear a less grievous aspect.”
Still the prisoner gave no answer.
“Come, let us have done,” said the Deemster, twisting impatiently in his seat. “Pronounce the sentence, and let your sergeant carry it into effect.”
The murmur among the people grew to a great commotion, but in the midst of it the Bishop was seen to rise, and then a deep hush fell on all.
The Bishop’s white head was held erect, his seamed face was firm as it was pale, and his voice, when he spoke, was clear and full.
“Daniel Mylrea,” he said, “you have pleaded guilty to the great crime of murder. The sergeant of your barony will now remove you, and on the morning of this day of next week he will take you in his safe custody to the Tynwald Hill, in the centre of the island, there, in the eye of light, and before the faces of all men, to receive the dreadful sentence of this court, and to endure its punishment.”
CUT OFF FROM THE PEOPLE
DURING the week that followed the trial of Daniel Mylrea at the court of his barony, the excitement throughout the island passed all experience of public feeling. What was to be the sentence of the barony? This was the one question everywhere-at the inn, the mill, the smithy, the market cross, the street, in the court-house; and if two shepherds hailed each other on the mountains they asked for the last news from Peel.
With a silent acceptance of the idea that death alone could be the penalty of the crime that had been committed, there passed through the people the burden, first of a great awe and then of a great dread that any Christian man should die the death of hanging. Not for nearly two score years had the island seen that horror, and old men shuddered at the memory of it.
Then it came to be understood in a vague way that something unlocked for was to occur. Whispers went from mouth to mouth that old Quilleash had sailed down to the Calf Sound with the Ben-my-Chree well stored with provisions. In a few days the old salt returned, walking overland, preserving an air of vast mystery, and shaking his head when his gossips questioned him. Then poor human nature, that could not bear to see Daniel Mylrea die, could not bear to see him saved either, and men who had sworn in their impotent white terror that never again should a gallows be built in the island, lusty fellows who had shown ruth for the first time, began to show gall for the hundredth, to nudge, to snigger, and to mutter that blood was thicker than water, and there was much between saying and doing, as the sayin’ was.
The compassion that bad been growing in secret began to struggle with the ungentle impulses that came of superstitious fear. It seemed to be true, as old folk were whispering, that Daniel Mylrea was the Jonah of the island. What had happened in the first year of his life? A prolonged drought and a terrible famine. What was happening now?. Another drought that threatened another famine. And people tried to persuade themselves that the sword of the Lord was over them, and that it would only rest and be quiet when they had executed God’s judgment on the guilty man.
The day of Tynwald came, and the week before it had passed like a year. There was no sun, but the heat was stifling, the clouds hung low and dark and hot as the roof of an open oven, the air was sluggish, and the earth looked blue. Far across the sea to the northwest there was a thin streak of fiery cloud, and at some moments there was the smell of a thunderstorm in the heavy atmosphere. From north and south, from east and west the people trooped to Tynwald Hill. Never before within the memory of living man had so vast a concourse been witnessed on that ancient ground of assembly. Throughout the island the mill-wheel was stopped, the smithy fire was raked over with ashes, the plough lay in the furrow, the sheep were turned out on to the mountains, and men and women, old men, old women, and young children, ten thousand in all, with tanned faces and white, in sunbonnets, mutches, and capes, and some with cloaks in preparation for the storm that was coming, drove in their little springless carts, or rode on their small Manx ponies, or trudged on foot through the dusty roads, and over the bleached hill-sides and the parched Curraghs.
At ten o’clock the open green that surrounds the hill of Tynwald was densely thronged. Carts were tipped up in corners, and their stores of food and drink were guarded by a boy or a woman, who sat on the sternboard. Horses were tethered to the wheels, or turned loose to browse on a common near at hand. Men lounged on the green and talked, their hands in their pockets, their pipes in their mouths, or stood round the Tynwald Inn, lifting pannikins to their lips, and laughing for there was merriment among them, though the work for which they had come together was not a merry one.
The mount itself was still empty, and twelve constables were stationed about the low wall that surrounded it, keeping the crowd back. And though, as the people met and mingled, the men talked of the crops and of the prospect for the fishing, and women of the wool and yarn, and boys tossed somersaults, and young girls betook themselves to girlish games, and girls of older growth in bright ribbons to ogling and giggling, and though there was some coarse banter and coarser singing, the excitement of the crowd beneath all was deep and strong. At intervals there was a movement of the people towards a church, St. John’s Church, that stood a little to the east of Tynwald, and sometimes a general rush towards the gate that looked westward towards Peeltown and the sea. Earlier in the day some one had climbed the mountain called Greeba, beyond the chapel, and put a light to the dry gorse at the top, and now the fire smouldered in the dense air, and set up a long sinuous trail of blue smoke to the empty vault of the sky.
Towards half-past ten old Paton Gorry, the sumner, went down the narrow, tortuous steps that led to the dungeon of Peel Castle. He carried fetters for the hands and legs of his prisoner, and fixed them in their places with nervous and fumbling fingers. His prisoner helped him as far as might be, and spoke cheerily in answer to his mumbled adieu.
“I’m not going to St. John’s, sir. I couldn’t give myself lave for it,” the sumner muttered in a breaking voice. With a choking sensation in his throat Daniel Mylrea said, “God bless you, Paton,” and laid hold of the old man’s hand. Twenty times during the week the sumner had tried in vain to prevail on the prisoner to explain the circumstances attending his crime, and so earn the mitigation of punishment which had been partly promised. The prisoner had only shaken his head in silence.
A few minutes afterwards Daniel Mylrea was handed over in the guard-room to the sergeant of the barony, and Paton Gorry’s duties-the hardest that the world had yet given him to do-were done.
The sergeant and the prisoner went out of the castle and crossed the narrow harbour in a boat. On the wooden jetty, near the steps by which they landed, a small open cart was drawn up, and there was a crowd of gaping faces about it. The two men got into the cart, and were driven down the quay towards the path by the river that led to Tynwald under the foot of Slieu Whallin. As they passed through the town the prisoner was dimly conscious that white faces looked out of windows, and that small knots of people were gathered at the corners of the alleys. But all this was soon blotted out, and when he came to himself he was driving under the trees and by the side of the rumbling water.
All the day preceding the prisoner had told himself that when his time came, his great hour of suffering and expiation, he must bear himself with fortitude, abating nothing of the whole bitterness of the atonement he was to make, asking no quarter, enduring all contumely, though men jeered as he passed or spat in his face. He thought he had counted the cost of that trial. Seven sleepless nights and seven days of torment had he given to try his spirit for that furnace, and he thought he could go through it and not shrink. In his solitary hours he had arranged his plans. While he drove from Peel to St. John’s he was to think of nothing that would sap his resolution, and his mind was to be a blank. Then, as he approached the place, he was to lift his eyes without fear, and not let them drop though their gaze fell on the dread thing that must have been built there. And so, very calmly, silently, and firmly, he was to meet the end of all.
But now that he was no longer in the dungeon of the prison, where despair might breed bravery in a timid soul, but under the open sky where hope and memory grow strong together, he knew, though he tried to shut his heart to it, that his courage was oozing away. He recognised this house and that gate, he knew every turn of the river-where the trout lurked and where the eels sported and when he looked up at the dun sky he knew how long it might take for the, lightning to break through the luminous dulness of the thunder-cloud that hung over the head of Slieu Whallin. Do what he would to keep his mind a blank, or to busy it with trifles of the way, he could not help reflecting that he was seeing these things for the last time.
Then there came a long interval, in which the cart wherein he sat seemed to go wearily on, on, on, and nothing awakened his slumbering senses. When he recovered consciousness with a start, he knew that his mind had been busy with many thoughts such as sap a man’s resolution and bring his brave schemes to foolishness. Ile had been asking himself where his father was that clay, where Mona would be then, and how deep their shame must be at the thought of the death he was to die. To him his death was his expiation, and little had he thought of the manner of it; but to them it was disgrace and horror. And so he shrunk within himself. He knew now that his great purpose was drifting away like a foolish voice that is emptied in the air. Groaning audibly, praying in broken snatches for strength of spirit, looking up and around with fearful eves, he rode on and on, until at length, before he was yet near the end of his awful ride, the deep sound came floating to him through the air of the voices of the people gathered at the foot of Tynwald. It was like the sound the sea makes as its white breakers fall on some sharp reef a mile away: a deep, multitudinous hum of many tongues. When he lifted his head and heard it, his pallid face became ashy, his whitening lips trembled, his head dropped back to his breast, his fettered arms fell between his fettered legs, river and sky were blotted out of his eyes, and he knew that before the face of his death he was no better than a poor broken coward.
At eleven o’clock the crowd at Tynwald had grown to a vast concourse that covered every foot of the green with a dense mass of moving heads. In an enclosed pathway that connected the chapel with the mount three carriages were drawn up. The Deemster sat in one of them, and his wizened face was full of uncharity. By his side was Jarvis Kerruish. On an outskirt of the crowd two men stood with a small knot of people around them; they were Quilleash and Teare. The Ballasalla prophetess, with glittering eyes and hair in ringlets, was preaching by the door of the inn, and near her were Corkell and Crennell, and they sang when she sang, and while she prayed they knelt. Suddenly the great clamorous human billow was moved by a ruffle of silence that spread from side to side, and in the midst of a deep hush the door of the chapel opened, and a line of ecclesiastics came out and walked towards the mount. At the end of the line was the Bishop, bareheaded, much bent, his face white and seamed, his step heavy and uncertain, his whole figure and carriage telling of the sword that is too keen for its scabbard. When the procession reached the mount the Bishop ascended to the topmost round of it, and on the four green ledges below him his clergy ranged themselves. Almost at the same moment there was a subdued murmur among the people, and at one side of the green, the gate to the west, the crowd opened and parted, and the space widened and the line lengthened until it reached the foot of the Tynwald. Then the cart that brought the sergeant and his prisoner from the castle entered it slowly, and drew up, and then with head and eyes down, like a beast that is struck to its death, Daniel Mylrea dropped to his feet on the ground. He was clad in the blue cloth of a fisherman, with a brown knitted guernsey under his coat, and sea-boots over his stockings. He stood in his great stature above the shoulders of the tallest of the men around him; and women who were as far away as the door of the inn could see the seaman’s cap he wore. The sergeant drew him up to the foot of the mount, but his bowed head was never raised to where the Bishop stood above him. An all-consuming shame sat upon him, and around him was the deep breathing of the people.
Presently a full, clear voice was heard over the low murmur of the crowd, and instantly the mass of moving heads was lifted to the mount, and the sea of faces flashed white under the heaviness of the sky.
“Daniel Mylrea,” said the Bishop, “it is not for us to know if any hidden circumstance lessens the hideousness of your crime. Against all question concerning your motive your lips have been sealed, and we who are your earthly judges are compelled to take you at the worst. But if, in the fulness of your remorse, your silence conceals what would soften your great offence, be sure that your Heavenly Judge, who reads your heart, sees all. You have taken a precious life; you have spilled the blood of one who bore himself so meekly and lovingly, and with such charity before the world, that the hearts of all men were drawn to him. And you, who slew him in heat or malice, you he ever loved with a great tenderness. Your guilt is con. fessed, your crime is black, and now your punishment is sure.”
The crowd held its breath while the Bishop spoke, but the guilty man moaned feebly and his bowed head swayed to and fro.
“Daniel Mylrea, there is an everlasting sacredness in -human life, and God who gave it guards it jealously. When man violates it God calls for vengeance, and if we who are His law-givers on earth shut our ears to that cry of the voice of God, His fierce anger goes forth as a whirlwind and His word as a fire upon all men. Woe unto us if now we sin against the Lord by falling short of the punishment that He has ordered. Righteously and without qualm of human mercy, even as God has commanded, we, His servants, must execute judgment on the evildoer, lest His wrath be poured out upon this island itself, upon man and upon beast, and upon the fruit of the ground.”
At that word the deep murmur broke out afresh over the people, and under the low sky their upturned faces were turned to a grim paleness. And now a strange light came into the eyes of the Bishop, and his deep voice quavered.
“Daniel Mylrea,” he continued, “it is not the way of God’s worse chastisement to take an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, and to spill blood for blood that has been spilled. When the sword of the Lord goes forth it is sometimes to destroy the guilty man, and sometimes to cut him off from the land of the living, to banish him to the parched places of the wilderness, to end the days wherein his sleep shall be sweet to him, to blot out his name from the names of men, and to give him no burial at the last when the darkness of death shall cover him.”
The Bishop paused. There was a dreadful silence, and the distant sea sent up into the still air, under the low clouds that reverberated like a vault, a hoarse threatening murmur.
“Daniel Mylrea, you are not to die for your crime.”
At that ill-omened word the prisoner staggered like a drunken man, and lifted his right hand mechanically above his head, as one who would avert a blow. And now it was easy to see in the wild light in the eyes of the Bishop, and to hear in his hollow, tense voice, that the heart of the father was wrestling with the soul of the priest, and that every word that condemned the guilty man made its sore wound on the spirit of him that uttered it.
“You have chosen death rather than life, but on this side of death’s darkness you have yet, by God’s awful will, to become a terror to yourself; you have water of gall to drink; toilfully you have to live in a waste land alone, where the sweet light of morning shall bring you pain, and the darkness of night have eyes to peer into your soul; and so on and on, from year to weary year, until your step shall fail and there shall be never another to help you up; hopeless, accursed, finding death in life, looking only for life in death, and crying in the bitterness of your desolation, ‘Cursed be the day wherein I was born; let not the day wherein my mother bare me be blessed! Cursed be the man that brought tidings to my father, saying, “A man child is born unto thee,” making his heart glad.”‘
One hoarse cry as of physical pain burst from the prisoner before these awful words were yet fully uttered. The guilty man gripped his head between his hands, and like a beast that is smitten in the shambles he stood in a stupor, his body swaying slightly, a film upon his eyes, and his mind sullen and stunned. There was silence for a moment, and when the Bishop spoke again, his tempest beaten head, white with the flowers of the grave, trembled visibly. The terrified people were grasping each other’s hands, and their hard-drawn breath went through the air like the hiss of the sea at its ebb. As they looked up at the Bishop they understood that an awful struggle of human love and spiritual duty was going on before them, and over all their terror they were moved to a deep compassion.
“Daniel Mylrea,” said the Bishop again, and, notwithstanding his efforts to uphold it, his voice softened and all but broke, ”vengeance belongs to God, but we who are men and prone to fall are not to deny mercy. When your fetters are removed, and you leave this place, you will go to the Calf Sound that flows at the extreme south of the island. There you will find your fishingboat, stored with such as may meet your immediate wants. With that offering we part from you while life shalt last. Use it well, but henceforward look for no succour whence it has come. Though you loathe your life, be zealous to preserve it, and hasten not, I warn you, by one hour the great day of God’s final reckoning. Most of all be mindful of the things of an eternal concernment, that we who part from you now may not part for ever as from a soul given over to everlasting darkness.”
The prisoner gave no further sign. Then the Bishop turned with a wild gesture to the right and to the left and lifted both his hands.
“Men and women of Man,” he said in a voice that rose to the shrillness of a cry, ” the sentence of the court of the barony of the island is, that this man shall be cut off from his people. Henceforth let him have no name among us, nor family, nor kin. From now for ever let no flesh touch his flesh. Let no tongue speak to him. Let no eye look on him. If he should be an-hungered, let none give him meat. When he shall be sick, let none minister to him. When his death shall come, let no man bury him. Alone let him Eve, alone let him die, and among the beasts of the field let him hide his unburied bones.”
A great hoarse groan arose from the people, such as comes from the bosom of a sullen sea. The pathos of the awful struggle which they bad looked upon was swallowed up in the horror of its tragedy. What they had come to see was as nothing to the awful ness of the thing they bad witnessed. Death was terrible, but this was beyond death’s terror. Somewhere in the dark chambers of the memory of their old men the like of it lived as a grim gorgon from old time. They looked up at the mount, and the gaunt figure standing there above the vast multitude of moving heads seemed to be something beyond nature. The trembling upraised hands, the eyes of fire, the white quivering lips, the fever in the face which consumed the grosser senses, appeared to transcend the natural man. And below was the prisoner, dazed, stunned, a beast smitten mortally and staggering to its fall.
The sergeant removed the fetters from the prisoner’s hands and feet, and turned him about with his face towards the south. Not at first did the man seem to realise that he was no longer a prisoner but an outcast, and free to go whither he would save where other men might be. Then, recovering some partial consciousness, he moved a pace or two forward, and instantly the crowd opened for him and a long wide way was made through the dense mass, and he walked through it, slow yet strong of step, with head bent and eyes that looked into the eyes of no man. Thus he passed away from the Tynwald towards the foot of Slieu Whallin and the valley of Foxdale that runs southward. And the people looked after him, and the Bishop on the mount and the clergy below followed him with their eyes. A great wave of compassion swept over the crowd as the solitary figure crossed the river and began to ascend the mountain path. The man was accursed, and none might look upon him with pity; but there were eyes that grew dim at that sight.
The smoke still rose in a long blue column from the side of Greeba, and the heavy cloud that had hung at poise over the head of Slieu Whallin had changed its shape to the outlines of a mighty bird, luminous as a sea-gull, but of a sickly saffron. Over the long line of sea and sky to the west the streak of red that had burned duskily had also changed to a dull phosphoric light, that sent eastward over the sky’s low roof a misty glow. And while the people watched the lonely man who moved away from them across the breast of the hill, a pale sheet of lightning, without noise of thunder, flashed twice or thrice before their faces. So still was the crowd, and so reverberant the air, that they could hear the man’s footsteps on the stony hill-side. When he reached the topmost point of the path, and was about to descend to the valley, he was seen to stop, and presently to turn, his face, gazing backwards for a moment. Against the dun sky his figure could be seen from head to foot. While he stood the people held their breath. When he was gone and the mountain had hidden him the crowd breathed audibly.
At the next moment all eyes were turned back to the mount. There the Bishop, a priest of God no longer, but only a poor human father now, had fallen to his knees and lifted his two trembling arms. Then the pent-up anguish of the wretched heart that had steeled itself to a mighty sacrifice of duty burst forth in a prayer of great agony.
“O Father in heaven, it is not for him who draws the sword of the Lord’s vengeance among men to cry for mercy, but rather to smite and spare not, yea, though his own flesh be smitten; but, O Thou that fillest heaven and earth, from whom none can hide himself in any secret place that Thou shalt not see him, look with pity on the secret place of the heart of Thy servant and hear his cry. O Lord on high, whose anger goes forth as a whirlwind, and whose word is like as a fire, what am I but a feeble, broken, desolate old man? Thou knowest my weakness, and how my familiars watched for my halting, and how for a period my soul failed me, and how my earthly affections conquered my heavenly office, and how God’s rule among this people was most in danger from the servant of God, who should be valiant for the Lord on the earth. And if through the trial of this day Thou hast been strength of my strength, woe is me now, aged and full of days, feeble of body and weak of faith, that Thou hast brought this heavy judgment upon me. God of goodness and righteous Judge of all the earth, have mercy and forgive if we weep for him who goeth away and shall return no more, nor see his home and kindred. Follow him with Thy Spirit, touch him with Thy finger of fire, pour upon him the healing of Thy grace, so that after death’s great asundering, when all shall stand for one judgment, it may not be said of Thy servant, “Write ye this old man childless.”‘
It was the cry of a great shattered soul, and the terrified people dropped to their knees while the voice pealed over their heads. When the Bishop was silent the clergy lifted him to his feet, and helped him down the pathway to the chapel. There was then a dull murmur of distant thunder from across the sea. The people fell apart in confusion. Before the last of them had left the green the cloud of pale saffron (over the head of Shen Whallin had broken into lightning, and the rain was falling heavily.
“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.