The Deemster (Chapters XXXVII to XLV)
Chapters XXXVII to XLV
THE BRIEF RELATION OF DANIEL MYLREA WRITTEN BY HIMSELF
OF HIS OUTCAST STATE
I, DANIEL MYLREA, the son (God forgive me!) of Gilcrist Mylrea, Bishop of Man grace and peace be with that saintly soull – do set me down in the year (as well as my reckoning serves me) 17-, the month September, the day somewhere between the twentieth and the thirtieth, to begin a brief relation of certain exceeding strange accidents of this life that have befallen me since, at the heavy judgment of God, I first turned’ my face from the company of men. Not, as the good Bunyan was, am I now compelled to such a narration-bear with me though I name myself with that holy man-by hope or thought that the goodness and bounty of God may thereby be the more advanced before the sons of men, though it is for me also to magnify the Heavenly Majesty, insomuch as that by this door of my outcast state He has brought me to partake of grace and life. Alone I sit to write what perchance no eye may read, but it is with hope, perhaps only vain, that she who is dear to me beyond words of appraisement may yet learn of the marvels which did oft occur, that I try in these my last days to put my memory under wardship. For it has fastened on me with conviction that God has chosen me for a vessel of mercy, and that very soon He will relieve me from the body of the death I live in. If I finish this writing before I go hence, and if when I am gone she reads it, methinks it will come to her as a deep solace that her prayer of long since was answered, and that, though so sorely separated, we twain have yet been one even in this world, and lived together by day and hour in the cheer of the spirit. But if the gracious end should come before I bring my task to a period, and she should know only of my forlorn condition and learn nothing of the grace wherein much of its desolation was lost, and never come to an understanding of such of those strange accidents as to her knowledge have befallen, then that were also well, for she must therein be spared many tears.
It was on May 17-, seven years and four months, as I reckon it, back from this present time, that in punishment of my great crime the heavy sentence fell on me that cut me off for ever from the number of the people. What happened on that day, and on the days soon following it, I do partly remember with the vividness of horror, and partly recall with difficulty and mistrust from certain dark places of memory that seem to be clouded over and numb. When I came to myself as I was plodding over the side of Slieu Whallin, the thunder was loud in my ears, the lightning was flashing before my eyes, and the rain was swirling around.me. I minded them not, but went on, hardly seeing what was about or above me, on and on, over mountain road and path, until the long day was almost done and the dusk began to deepen. Then the strength of the tempest was spent, and only the hinder part of it beat out from the west a thin, misty rain, and I found myself in Rushen, on the south brow of the glen below Car-ny-Gree. There I threw myself down on the turf with a great numbness and a great stupor upon me, both in body and in mind. How long I lay there I know not, whether a few minutes only, or, as I then surmised, near four-and-twenty hours; but the light of day was not wholly gone from the sky when I lifted my head from where it had rested on my hands, and saw that about me, in a deep half-circle, stood a drift of sheep, all still, save for their heavy breathing, and all gazing in their questioning silence down on me. I think in my heart, remembering my desolation, I drew solace from this strange fellowship on the lone mountain-side, but I lifted my hand and drove the sheep away, and I thought as they went they bleated, but I could hear nothing of their cry, and so surmised that under the sufferings of that day I had become deaf.
I fell back to the same stupor as before, and when I came to myself again the moon was up, and a white light was around the place where I sat. With the smell of the sheep in my nostrils I thought they might be standing about me again, but I could see nothing clearly, and so stretched out my hands either way. Then, from their confusion in scurrying away, I knew that the sheep had indeed been there, and that under the sufferings of that day I had also failed in my sight.
The tempest was over by this time, the mountain turf had run dry, and I lay me down at length and fell into a deep sleep without dreams; and so ended the first day of my solitary state.
When I awoke the sun was high, and the wheatear was singing on a stone very close above me, whereunder her pale blue egg she had newly laid. I know not what wayward humour then possessed me, but it is true, that I reached my hand to the little egg and looked at it, and crushed it between my finger and thumb, and cast its refuse away. My surmise of the night before I now found to be verified, that hearing and sight were both partly gone from me. No man ever mourned less at first knowledge of such infirmities, but in truth I was almost beyond the touch of pain, and a sorer calamity would have wanted strength to torture me. I rose and set my face southwards, for it was in the Calf Sound, as I remembered, that I was to find my boat, and if any hope lived in my heart, so numb of torpor, it was that perchance I might set sail and get myself away.
I walked between Barrule and Dalby, and came down on the eastward of Cronk-na-Irey-Lhaa. Then I, who had never before known my strength to fail, grew suddenly weary, and would fain have cast me down to rest. So to succumb I could not brook, but I halted in my walking and looked back, and across the plain to the east, and down to the Bay of Fleswick to the west. Many times since have I stood there and looked on sea and sky, and mountain and dale, and asked myself was ever so fair a spot, and if the plains of heaven were fairer? But that day my dim eyes scoured the sea for a sail and the mountains for a man, and nothing did they see of either, and all else was then as nothing.
Yet, though I was so eager to keep within sight of my fellow-man, I was anxious not to come his way, and in choosing my path I walked where he was least likely to be. Thus, holding well to the west of Fleswick, I took the cliff head towards Brada, and then came down between Port Erin and Port-le-Mary to the moors that stretch to the margin of the sound. Some few I met, chiefly shepherds and fishermen, but I lifted my eyes to none, and none gave me salutation. This was well, for my heart was bitter, and if any had spoken, not knowing me, I doubt not I should have answered ill. In my great heart-torpor, half-blind, half-deaf, I was that day like a wounded beast of the field, ranging the moorland with a wild abandonment and dangerous to its kind.
When I came to Cregneesh and saw it for the first time, a little disjointed gipsy encampment of mud-built tents pitched on the bare moor, the sky was reddening across the sea, and from that I knew how far advanced the day must be, how slow my course had been, and how low my strength. In half-an-hour more I had sighted my boat, the Ben-my-Chree, where she lay in the Doon Creek of the sound, at the length of some fifty fathoms inside the rocks of Kitterland. When I came up to her, I found her anchored in some five fathoms of water, with the small boat lying dry on the shingly beach. Her cabin contained provisions enough for present needs, and more than that I was in no mood to think about. Since the morning of the day before I had not broken fast, but now I ate hungrily of oaten and barley cake. Later in the evening, when the stars were out and the moon, which was in its last quarter, was hanging over the Calf, I mixed myself some porridge of ryemeal and cold water, and ate it on the deck, and then I went below to my bunk and lay me down alone. Between sleep and waking I tried to think of my position and to realise it, but an owl was hooting somewhere on the land, and some. where over the waters of the sound a diver was making his unearthly laugh. I could not think save of the hooting owl and the screaming diver, and when I thought of them, though their note was doleful and seemed to tell of suffering or perhaps of demoniac delight, I could not thank God that I had been made a man. Thus, feeling how sore a thing it is to be a creature living under the wrath of God, I tossed on my bunk until I fell to sleep; and so ended the second day of my unblessed condition.
To follow closely all that befell on the next day, or the many days thereafter, whereof I kept no reckoning, were to weary my spirit. One thing I know, that a sudden numbness of the spiritual life within me left me a worse man than I had been before the day of my cutting off, and that I did soon lose the little I had of human love and tenderness. My gun had been put in the boat, and with that I ranged the cliffs and the moor from the Mull Hills that lie to the west of Cregneesh to the Chasms that are to the east of it. Many puffins I shot, that much frequent these shores, but their flesh was rank and salt, and they were scarcely worth the powder I spent on them. Thus it sometimes happened that, being in no straits for food, I cast the birds away, or did not put myself to the pains of lifting them up after they fell to my gun, but went on, nevertheless, to destroy them in my wanton humour. Rabbits I snared by a trick I learned when a boy, and sometimes cooked them in the stove and ate them like a Christian man, and at other times I sat me down on the hill-side and rived them asunder as a wild creature of the hills might do. But whether I ate in my boat or on the cliff, I took no religion to my table, and thought only that I liked my food or misliked it.
Many times in these first days I had to tear myself away from thinking of my condition, for to do so was like the stab of a knife to my brain, and I plainly saw that in that way madness itself would lie. If I told myself that other men had been cast alone ere now in desolate places where no foot of man was and no sound of a human voice, a great stroke would come upon my spirit with the thought that only their bodies had been cast away, but that my soul was too. The marooned seaman on an uninhabited island, when at length he set eyes on his fellow-man, might lift up his heart to God, but to me the company of men was not blessed. Free I was to go where men were, even to the towns wherein they herded together, but go where I would I must yet be alone.
With this thought, and doubting not that for me the day of grace was past and gone, since God had turned His face from the atonement I had erewhile been minded to make, I grew day by day more bitter in my heart, and found it easiest to shut my mind by living actively from hour to hour. Then, like a halfstarved hound, I went abroad at daybreak and scoured the hills the day long, and returned to my bed at night. I knew I was a baser thing than I had been, and it brought some comfort then to know that I was alone, and no eye saw me as I now was. Mine was a rank hold of life, and it gave me a savage delight unknown before to live by preying on other creatures. I shot and slew daily and hourly, and if for a moment I told myself that what I had killed held its life on the same tenure that I did, my humanity was not touched except to feel a strange wild thrill that it was not I that lay dead. Looking back over these seven years, it comes to me as an unnatural thing that this mood can ever have been mine; but mine it was, and from the like of it may God in His mercy keep all Christian men.
One day-I think it must have been somewhere towards the end of the first month of my outcast state-I was ranging the cliff side above the grey rocks of the Black Head when I chanced on a hare and shot it. On coming up with it, I found it was lean and bony, and so turned aside and left it as it squeaked and bounced from my feet. This was in the morning, and towards nightfall I returned by the same way, and saw the hare lying by a brookside, ragged and bleeding, but still alive. At sight of me the wee thing tried to move away, but its weakness and a clot of its blood kept it down, and feeling its extremity, it lifted its two slender paws in the air, while its glistening eyes streamed visibly, and set up a piteous cry like the cry of a little child. I cannot write what then I did, for it wounds me sore to think of it, but when it was done, and that piteous cry was no more in mine ears, suddenly I said with myself this awful word
“I am no longer a man, but a beast of the field; and the God of mercy and of tenderness has cast me for ever out of the hollow of His hand.”
OF HIS WAY OF LIFE
This meeting with the poor hare, though now it looks so trivial a thing, did then make a great seizure upon my mind, so that it changed my course and habit of life. For ceasing not to believe that I was wholly given over to a reprobate soul, I yet laid my gun aside, and locked my shot and powder in a drawer beneath my bunk, and set my face towards new ways of living. First I put myself to counting all that I possessed. Thus I found that of rye and Indian meal I had a peck each, of barley a peck, with two quarters of fine barley flour, of oats a peck, with two quarters of oaten meal, of potatoes two kischen, beside onions and a little common salt. In the hold under the hatches there were stored sundry useful implements-a spade, a fork, a hedge-knife, some hempen rope and twine, and with the rest were the four herring nets which belonged to the boat, a mackerel-net, and some deep-sea lines. Other things there were that I do not name -wanting memory of them at this time of writing-but enough in all for most uses that a lone man might have.
And this bad ofttimes set me wondering why, if it bad been meant that I should be cast utterly away, I had been provided with means of life, who could well have found them for myself. But after that meeting with the hare I perceived the end of God in this, namely, that I should not, without guilt, descend from the state of a Christian man when hunger had to be satisfied.
And herein also I found the way of the stern Judge with guilty man, that, having enough for present necessities, I had little for the future, beyond the year that then was, and that if I must eat, so I must work. Thus upon a day somewhere, as I reckon, about a month after my cutting off, I rose early, and set myself to delve a piece of fallow ground-where all was fallow-two roods or more in extent, lying a little to the north of the Black Head, and to the south of the circle of stones that stand near by. All day I wrought fasting, and when darkness fell in the fallows were turned. Next morning I put down my seed, of potatoes a half-kischen, cut in quarters where the eyes were many, and also of barley and oats half a peck each, keeping back my other halfpeck lest the ground were barren, or the weather against it, or the year too far worn for such-like crops.
And that day of the delving, the first on which I wrought as a man, was also the first on which I felt a man’s craving for the company of other men. The sun was strong all the fore part of the day, and its hot rays scorched the skin of my back-for I had stripped to my waist for my labour-and that set me thinking what month it was, and wondering what was doing in the world, and how long I had been where I then was. When I returned to my boat at nightfall, the air, as I remember it, was quiet over the sound as it might be in a cloister, and only the gulls were jabbering on Kitterland and the cormorants at the water’s edge. And I sat on the deck while the sun went down in the sea, and the red sky darkened and the stars began to show and the moon to look out. Then I went below and ate my barley-bread, and thought of what it was to be alone.
It was that night that I betbought me of my watch, which I had not once looked for since the day of my immersion in the Cross Vein on Orrisdale, when I found it stopped from being full of water. In my fob it had lain with its seals and chain since then, but now I took it out and cleaned it with oil from the fat of the hare and wound it up. For months thereafter I set a great store by it, always carrying it in my fob when I went abroad, and when I came home to the boat always banging it on a nail to the larboard of the stove-pipe in the cabin. And in the long silence of the night, when I heard it, sure, I thought, it is the same to me as good company. Very careful I was to wind it when the sun set, but if perchance it ran down, and I awoke in my bunk, and, listening, heard it not, then it was as if the pulse had stopped of the little world I lived in, and there was nothing but a great emptiness.
But withal my loneliness increased rather than diminished, and though I had no longer any hankering after my old way of life in ranging the moorlands with my gun, yet I felt that the activity of that existence had led me off from thinking too much of my forlorn condition. Wherefore, when my potatoes had begun to show above the ground, and I had earthed them up, I began to be. think me touching my boat, that it must be now the time of the herring-fishing come again, and that I would go out of nights and see what I could take. So never doubting that single-handed I could navigate the lugger, I hoisted the nets out of the hold athwart the bunk-board, and took them ashore to mend and to bark them on the beach. I had spread them out on the shingle, and was using my knife and twine on the holes of the dog-fish, when suddenly from behind me there came the loud bark of a dog. Well I remember how I trembled at the sound of it, for it was the nearest to a man’s voice that I had heard these many lonesome days, and how fearfully I turned my head over my shoulder as if some man had touched me and spoken. But what I saw was a poor mongrel dog, small as a cur, and with ragged ears, a peaky nose, and a scant tail, which for all its loud challenge it dangled woefully between its legs. Until then I had never smiled or wept since my cutting off, and I believed myself to have lost the sense of laughter and of tears, but I must have laughed at the sight of the dog, so much did it call to mind certain brave vaunters I had known, who would come up to a bout of wrestling with a right lusty brag, and straightway set to trembling before one had well put eyes on them. At the sound of my voice the dog wagged his tail, and crept up timidly with his muzzle down, and licked the hand I held out to him. All day he sat by me and watched me at my work, looking up in my face at whiles with a wistful gaze, and I gave him a morsel of oaten cake, which he ate greedily, seeming to be half starved of hunger. And when at
dusk my task was finished and I rose and got into the dingey, thinking now he would go his ways and be seen of me no more, he leaped into the boat after me, and when we reached the lugger he settled himself in the corner under the locker as if he had now fully considered it that with me he would make his habitation henceforth.
Having all things in readiness for the fishing, I slipt anchor upon an evening towards autumn, as I reckoned, for the leaves of the trammon were then closing like a withered hand and the berries of the hollin were reddening. When the stars were out, but no moon was yet showing, I put about head to the wind, and found myself in no wise hampered because short-handed, for when I had to take in my sails I lashed my tiller, and being a man of more than common strength of arm, it cost me nothing to step my mainmast.
That night, and many nights thereafter, I had good takings of fish, and in the labour of looking after my corks and making fast my seizings, the void in my mind was in some wise filled with other matter than thoughts of my abject state. But one thing troubled me at first, namely, that I took more fish by many mazes than I could ever consume. To make an end of my fishing was a thing I could not bring myself to, for I counted it certain that so to do would be to sink back to my former way of living. Wherefore I thought it safest to seek for some mode of disposing of my fish, such as would keep me at my present employment and do no harm to my feelings as a man, for with this I had now to reckon watchfully, being in constant danger, as I thought, of losing the sense of manhood.
So I soused some hundreds of my herrings with rough salt, which I distilled from the salt water by boiling it in a pan with pebbles. The remainder I concluded to give to such as would consume them, and how to do this, being what I was, cost me many bitter thoughts, wherein I seemed to be the most unblessed of all men. At length I hit on a device, and straightway brought it to bear. Leaving my fishing-ground while the night was not yet far spent, I ran into the sound before dawn, for soon I learned those narrow waters until they grew familiar as the palm of my hand. Then before the sun rose above the Stack of Scarlet, and while the eastern sky was only dabbled with pink, I, with a basket of herrings on my shoulder, crossed the moor to Cregneesh, where the people are poor and not proud, and, creeping in between the cabins, laid my fish down in the open place that is before the little chapel, and then went my way quickly lest a door should suddenly open, or a window be lifted, and a face look forth. Thrice I did this before I marked that there were those who were curious to know whence the fish came, and then I was put on my mettle to go into the village and yet to keep myself from being seen, for well I knew that if any eye beheld me that knew me who I was, there would henceforward be an end of the eating of my herrings, even among the poorest, and an end of my fishing also. But many times I went into Cregneesh without being seen of any man, and now I know not whether to laugh or to weep when I look back on the days I write of, and see myself like a human fox stealing in by the grey of dawn among the sleeping homes of men.
OF THE GHOSTLY HAND UPON HIM
ALL that autumn I followed the herrings, choosing my ground mainly by guess, but sometimes seeing the blue lights of the herring fleet rise close under my quarter, and at other times, when the air was still, hearing voices of men or the sound of laughter rumoured over the quiet waters. But ever fanciful to me, as a dream of a friend dead when it is past, was that sound on the sea, and as often as I heard it I took in my nets and hauled my sails, and stood out for the sound. Putting no light on my mitch-board, I would ofttimes pass the fleet within a cable’s length and yet not be known, but once and again I knew by the hush of voices and the dying away of laughter on the boats about me that my dark craft was seen scudding like a black bird of evil omen through the night.
In my cabin I was used to burn a tallow dip made of the fat of the birds I had shot and rushes from the soft places of the moor, and while my boat drifted under the mizzen between take and take of herrings I would go below and sit with my dog. He grew sleek with the fare I found him, and I in these days recovered in a measure my sense of sight and hearing, for the sea’s breath of brine is good to man. Millish veg-veen I called him, and, though a man of small cheer, I smiled to think what a sorry mis-name that name would seem, in our harder English tongue. For my poor mongrel cur had his little sorry vices, such as did oft set me wondering what the chances of his life had been, and whether, like his new messmate, he had not somewhere been driven out. Nevertheless he had his good parts, too, and was a creature of infinite spirits. I think we were company each to the other, and if he had found me a cheerier mate-fellow, I doubt not we should have had some cheerful hours together.
But in truth, though my fishing did much to tear me away from the burden of myself, it yet left me many lonesome hours wherein my anguish was sore and deep, and, looking to the years that might be before me, put me to the bitter question whether, being a man outside God’s grace, I could hold out on so toilsome a course. Also, when I fell to sleep in the daytime, after my work of the night was done, I was much wrought upon by troublous dreams, which sometimes brought back the very breath and odour of my boyish days with the dear souls that filled them with joy, and sometimes plagued me with awful questions which in vain I tried to answer, knowing that my soul’s welfare lay therein. And being much followed by the thought that the spirit of the beast of the field lay in wait to fall on the spirit of the man within me, I was also put to great terror in my watchfulness and the visions that came to me in hours of idleness and sleep. But suddenly this sentence fell on my mind: “Thou art free to go whithersoever thou wilt, though it be the uttermost reaches of the earth. Go, then, where men are, and so hold thy soul as a man.”
Long did this sentence trouble me, not being able to make a judgment upon it, but at length it fastened on me that I must follow it, and that all the dread I had felt hitherto of the face of man was no more than a think-so. Thereupon I concluded that I would go into Castletown at high fair on the next market-day, which I should know from other days by the carts I could descry from the top of the Mull! going the way of Rushen Church and Kentraugh. This resolve I never brought to bear, for the same day whereon I made it a great stroke fell upon my spirit and robbed me of the little wherewith I had tried to comfort me.
Going out of the sound that night by the Spanish Head, for the season was far worn and the herrings lay to the eastward of the island, I marked in the dusk that a smack that bore the Peel brand on its canvas was rounding the Chicken Rocks of the Calf. So I stood out well to sea, and did not turn my head to the wind, and cast my nets, until I was full two leagues from shore. ‘Then it was black dark, for the night was heavy, and a mist lay between sea and sky. But soon thereafter I saw a blue light to my starboard bow, and guessed that the smack from Peel had borne down in my wake. How long I lay on that ground I know not, for the takings were good, and I noted not the passage of time. But at short whiles I looked towards the blue light, and marked that as my boat drifted so did the smack drift, and that we were yet within bail. The moon came out with white streamers from behind a rack of cloud, and knowing then that the fishing was over for that night-for the herring does not run his gills into mischief when he has light to see by-I straightway fell to hauling my nets. And then it was that I found the smell of smoke in my nostrils, and heard loud voices from the Peeltown smack. Lifting my eyes, I could at first see nothing, for though the moon’s light was in the sky, the mist was still on the sea, and through it there seemed to roll slowly, for the wind was low, a tunnel of smoke like fog. Well I knew that something was amiss, and soon the mist lifted like a dark veil into the air, and the smoke veered, and a flash of red flame rose from the smack of the Peelmen. Then I saw that the boat was afire, and in two minutes more the silence of the sea was lost in the fire’s loud hiss and the men’s yet louder shouts. It was as if a serpent in the bowels of the boat struggled to make its way out, and long tongues of fire shot out of the scuttle, the hold, the combings, and the flue of the stove. Little thought had I then of these things, though now by the eye of memory I see them, and also the sinuous trail of red water that seemed to crawl over the dark sea from the boat afire to the boat I sailed in. I had stepped my mast and hoisted sail before yet I knew what impulse possessed me, but with my hand on the tiller to go to the relief of the men in peril. On a sudden I was seized with a mighty fear, and it was as though a ghostly hand were laid on me from behind, and a voice above the tumult of that moment seemed to cry in my ears, “Not for you, not for you.” Then in great terror I turned my boat’s head away from the burning smack, and as I did so the ghostly hand did relax, and the voice did cease to peal in mine ears.
“They will drop into their dingey,” I said with myself. “Yes,” I said, as the sweat started cold from my forehead, “they will drop into the dingey and be saved;” and turning my head I saw, by the flame of the fire, that over the bulwark at the stern two men were tumbling down into the small boat that they hauled behind. And I sped away in agony, for now I knew how deep was the wrath upon me, that it was not for me so much as to stretch my accursed hand to perishing men to save them. Scarce had I gone a cable’s length when a great shout, mingled with oaths, made me to turn my head, thinking the crew of the boat were crying curses down on me, not knowing me, for deserting them in their peril, but I was then in the tunnel of smoke wherein I might not be seen, and, lo, I saw that the dingey with the two men was sheering off, and that other two of their mates were left on the burning boat.
” Haul the wind and run the waistrels down, d- them,” shouted one of the two men on the smack, and amid the leaping flames the mainsail shot up and filled, and a man stood to the tiller, and with an oath he shouted to the two in the small boat that for their treachery they should go down to hell straightway.
In the glare of that fierce light and the turmoil of that moment my eyes grew dim, as they had been on the day of my cutting off, and I squeezed their lids together to relieve them of water. Then I saw how fearful a thing was going on within my cable’s length. Two men of a crew of four in the burning smack had got themselves into the small boat and cleared off without thought of their comrades who were struggling to save their craft, and now the two abandoned men, doomed to near death in fire or water, were with their last power of life, and in life’s last moments-for aught they could tell-thirsting for deadly vengeance. On the smack went, with its canvas bellied, and the flames shooting through and hissing over it, but just as it came by the small boat the men therein pulled to the windward and it shot past.
Ere this was done, and while the smack’s bow was dead on for the dingey, I too had sheered round and was beating up after the burning boat, and when the men thereon saw me come up out of the smoke they ceased to curse their false comrades and made a great cry of thanks to God. At a distance of six fathoms I laid to, thinking the men would plunge into the sea and come to me, but, apprehending my thoughts, one shouted me to come closer, for that he could not swim. Closer to the burning smack I would not go from fear of firing my own boat, and I dared not to risk that fate wherein we might all have been swallowed up together. For despair, that fortifies some men, did make of me a coward, and I stood in constant terror of the coming of death. So I stripped me of my jacket and leapt into the water and swam to the boat, and climbed its open combings as best I could through the flame and heat. On the deck the two men stood, enveloped in swirling clouds of smoke, but I saw them where they were, and pulling one into the water after me, the other followed us, and we reached my boat in safety.
Then, as I rubbed my face, for the fire had burnt one cheek, the men fell to thanking me in a shamefaced way-as is the manner of their kind, fearing to show feeling-when on a sudden they stopped short, for they had lifted their eyes, and in the flame of their boat had seen me, and at the same moment I had looked upon them and known them. They were Illiam Quilleash and Edward Teare, and they fell back from me and made for the bow, and stood there in silence together.
Taking the tiller, I bore in by tacks for Port-le-Mary, and there I landed the men, who looked not my way nor ever spoke word or made sign to me, but went off with their heads down. And when I stood out again through the Poolvash to round the Spanish Head and make for my moorings in the sound, and saw the burning smack swallowed up by the sea with a groan that came over the still waters, its small boat passed me going into harbour, and the men who rowed it were Crennell and Corkell, and when they saw me they knew me, and made a broad sweep out of my course. Now all this time the ghostly hand had been on my shoulder, and the strange voice had pealed in mine ears, and though I wanted not to speak with any man, nor that any man should speak with me, yet I will not say but that it went to my heart that I should be like as a leper from whose uncleanness all men should shrink away.
For many days hereafter this lay with a great trouble upon me, so that I let go my strong intent of walking into Castletown at high fair, and put this question with myself; whether it was written that I should carry me through this world down to death’s right ending. Not as before did I now so deeply abhor myself; but felt for myself a secret compassion. In truth I had no bitterness left in my heart for my fellow-men, but, tossed with the fear that if I lived alone much longer I must surely lose my reason, and hence my manhood, sinking down to the brute, this consideration fell with weight upon me: What thou hast suffered is from men who know thy crime, and stand in terror of the curse upon thee, wherein thou art so blotted out of the book of the living that without sin none may look thy way: Go therefore where no man knows thee, and the so heavy burden thou bearest will straightway fall from thee. Now, at this thought my heart was full of comfort, and I went back to my former design of leaving this place for ever. But before I had well begun what I was minded to do a strange accident befell me, and the relation thereof is as followeth.
By half-flood of an evening late in autumn -for though the watch showed short of six the sun was already down-I left my old moorings inside the rocks of Kitterland, thinking to slip anchor there no more. The breeze was fresh in the sound, and outside it was stiff from the nor’-east, and so I ran out with a fair wind for Ireland, for I had considered with myself that to that country I would go, because the people there are tender of heart and not favoured by God. For a short while I had enough to think of in managing my cordage, but when I was well away to son’. west of the Calf suddenly the wind slackened. Then for an hour full I stood by the tiller with little to do, and looked back over the green waters to the purple mountains vanishing in the dusk, and around to the western sky, where over the line of sea the crimson streamers were still trailing where the sun had been, like as the radiance of a goodly life remains a while after the man has gone. And with that eye that sees double, the thing that is without and that which is within, I saw myself then in my little craft on the lonely sea like an uncompanionable bird in the wide sky, and my heart began to fail me, and for the first time since my cutting off I must have wept. For I thought I was leaving for ever the fair island of my home, with all that had made it dear in dearer days. Though it bad turned its back on me since, and knew me no more, but had blotted out my name from its remembrance, yet it was mine, and the only spot of earth on all this planet-go whither I would-that I could call my own. How long this mood lasted I hardly can say, but over the boat two gulls hovered or circled and cried, and I looked up at their white transparent wings, for lack of better employment, until the light was gone and another day bad swooned to another night. The wind came up with the darkness, and, more in heart than before, I stood out for the south of Ireland, and reached my old fishing port of Kinsale by the dawn of the next day.
Then in the gentle sun of that autumn morning I walked up from the harbour to the market-place, and there found a strange company assembled about the inn, and in the midst were six or seven poor ship-broken men, shoeless, half naked, and lean of cheek from the long peril and privation that eats the flesh and makes the eyes hollow. In the middle of the night they had come ashore on a raft, having lost their ship by foundering twelve days before. This I learned from the gossip of the people about them, and also that they had eaten supper at the inn and slept there. While I stood and looked on there came out in the midst of the group two other men, and one of them was their captain and the other the innkeeper. And I noted well that the master of the inn was suave to his tattered customers, and spoke of breakfast as being made ready.
“But first go to the Mayor,” said he, addressing the captain, “and make your protest, and he will lend whatever moneys you want.”
The captain, nothing loath, set out with a cheerful countenance for the Mayor of the town, a servant of the inn going with him to guide him. The ship-broken crew stayed behind, and I, who was curious to learn if their necessities would be relieved, remained standing in the crowd around them. And while we waited, and the men sat on the bench in front of the inn, there came down on them from every side the harpies that find sea-going men with clothes. There was one with coats and one with guernseys, and one with boots of leather and one of neat’uskin, and with these things they made every man to fit himself. And if one asked the price, and protested that he had got no money, the Samaritans laughed and bade them not to think of price or money until their captain should return from the treasury of the Mayor. The seamen took all with good cheer, and every man picked out what he wanted, and put it on, throwing his rags aside laughing.
But presently the master of the crew returned, and his face% was heavy; and when his men asked how he had fared, and if the Mayor had advanced him anything, he told them No, and that the Mayor bad said he was no usurer to lend money. At that there were groans and oaths from the crew, and looks of bewilderment among those who had fetched the clothes; but the innkeeper said all would be well, and that they had but to send for a merchant in the next street who made it his trade to advance money to ship-broken men. This news brought back the light to the dark face of the captain, and he sent the servant of the inn to fetch the merchant.
When this man came my mind misgave, for I saw the stamp of uncharity in his face. But the captain told his story, whereof the sum was this:-That they were the English crew of the brig Betsey, and were seven days out from Bristol, bound for Buenos Ayres, when they foundered on a rock, and had made their way thither on a raft, suffering much from hunger and the cold of the nights, and that they wanted three pounds advance on their owners to carry them to Dublin, whence they could sail for their own port. But the merchant curled his hard lip and said he had just before been deceived by strangers, and could not lend money except to men of whom he knew something; that they, were strangers, and, moreover, by their own words entitled to no more than six days’ pay apiece. And so he went his way.
Hardly had he gone when the harpies of the coats and boots and guernseys called on the men to strip off these good garments, which straightway they rolled in their several bundles, and then elbowed themselves out of the crowd. The poor seamen, resuming their rags, were now in sad case, scarce knowing whether most to curse their misfortunes or to laugh at the grim turn that they were taking, when the captain, in a chafe, called on the innkeeper to give breakfast to his men, for that he meant to push on to the next town, where people might be found who had more humanity. But the innkeeper, losing his by-respects, shook his head, and asked where was his pay to come from for what he had already done.
Now, when I heard this, and saw the men rise up to go on their toilsome way with naked, bleeding feet, suddenly I bethought me that, though I had little money, I had what would bring money, and before I had taken time to consider I had whipped my watch from my fob to thrust it into the captain’s hands. But when I would have parted the crowd to do so, on a sudden that same ghostly hand that I have before mentioned seemed to seize me from behind. Then on the instant I faced about to hasten away, for now the struggle within me was more than I could bear, and I stopped and went on, and stopped again, and again went on, and all the time the watch was in my palm, and the ghostly hand on my shoulder. At last, thinking sure that the memory of the seven sea-going men, hungry and ill-clad, would follow me, and rise up to torment me on land and sea, I wheeled around and ran back hot-foot and did as I was minded. Then I walked rapidly away from the market-place, and passing down to the harbour, I saw a Peeltown fisherman, and knew that he saw me also.
Now, -I should have been exceeding glad if this thing had never befallen, for though it made my feeling less ungentle towards the two men, my old shipmates, who had, turned from me as from a leper when I took them from the burning boat, yet it brought me to a sense that was full of terror to my oppressed spirit, namely, that though I might fly to lands where men knew nothing of my great crime, yet that the curse thereof was mostly within mine own afflicted soul, from which I could never flee away.
All that day I stayed in my boat, and the sun shone and the sky was blue, but my heart was filled with darkness. And when night fell in I had found no comfort, for then I knew that from my outcast state there was no escape. This being so, whether to go back to mine own island was now my question. Oh, it is a goodly thing to lie down in the peace of a mind at ease and rise up from the refreshment of the gentle sleep. But not for me was that blessed condition. The quaking of my spirit was more than I could well stand under without losing my reason, and in the fear of that mischance lay half the pain of life to me. Long were the dark hours, and when the soft daylight came again I did resolve that go back to my own island I would. For what was it to me though the world was wide if the little place I lived in was but my own narrow soul?
That night in the boat for lack of the tick of my watch there seemed to be a void in the air of my cabin. But when the tide was about the bottom of the ebb I heard the plash of an oar alongside, and presently the sound of something that fell overhead. Next morning I found my watch lying on the deck by the side of the batches.
At the top of the flood I lifted anchor and dropped down the harbour, having spoken no word to any man since I sailed into it.
OF HIS GREAT LONELINESS
BACK at my old moorings inside the racks of Kitterland, I knew full well that the Almighty Majesty was on this side of me and on that, and I had nothing to look for now or hereafter. But I think the extremity of my condition gave me some false courage, and my good genius seemed to say, What have you to lament? You have health, and food, and freedom, and you live under no taskmaster’s eye. Let the morning see you rise in content, and let the night look on you lying down in thankfulness. And turn not your face to the future to the unsettling of your spirit, so that when your time comes you may not die with a pale face. Then did I laugh at my old yearning for fellowship, and asked wherefore I should be lonely since I lived in the same planet with other men, and had the same moon and stars above my sleep as hung over the busy world of men. In such wise did I comfort my torn heart, and shut it up from troubling me, but well I knew that I was like to one who cries peace where there is no peace, and that in’ all my empty sophistry concerning the moon and the stars there was no blood of poor human neighbourliness.
Nevertheless, I daily went about my business, in pursuance whereof I walked up to the place over the Black Head where I had planted my corn and potatoes. These in their course I reaped and delved, cutting the barley and rye with my clasp-knife for sickle, and digging a burrow in the earth for my potatoes. Little of either I had, but enough for my frugal needs until more might grow.
When my work was done, and I bad no longer any employment to take me ashore, the autumn had sunk to winter, for in this island of Man the cold and the mist come at a stride. Then sitting alone in my boat, with no task save such as I could make for myself, and no companion but little Veg-veen, the strength of the sophistry wherewith I had appeased myself broke down pitifully. The nights were long and dark, and the sun shone but rarely for many days together. Few were the ships that passed the mouth of the sound, either to east or west of it, and since my coming to moorage there no boat had crossed its water. Cold and bleak and sullen it lay around my boat, reflecting no more the forehead of the Calf, and lying now under the sunless sky like a dead man’s face that is moved neither to smiles nor tears. And an awful weariness of the sea came to me then, such as the loneliest land never brought to the spirit of a Christian man, for sitting on the deck of my little swaying craft, with the beat of the sea on its timbers, and the sea-fowl jabbering on Kitterland, and perhaps a wild colt racing the wind on the Calf, it came into my mind to think that as far as eye could see or ear could hear there was nothing around me but the hand of God. Then all was darkness within me, and I did oft put the question to myself if it was possible for man to be with God alone and live.
Now it chanced upon a day that I wanted potatoes out of my burrow over the Black Head, and that returning therefrom towards nightfall I made a circuit of the stone circle above the Chasms, and at the northernmost side of it, midway to Cregneesh, came on a sight that arrested my breath. This was a but built against a steepness of rugged land from which stones bad sometimes been quarried. The walls were of turf; the roof was of gorse and sticks, with a hole in it for chimney. Window there was none, and the doorway was half closed by a broken gate, whereof the bars were intertwined with old straw.
Mean it was, and desolate it looked on the wild moorland, but it was a mark of the band of man, and I who had dwelt so long with God’s hand everywhere about me was touched with a sense of human friendliness. Hearing no voice within, I crept up and looked into the little place. A bed of straw was in one corner, and facing it was a lump of freestone hollowed out for the bed of a fire. A broken pipe lay near this rude hearth, and the floor was of mountain turf worn bare and hard. Two sacks, a kettle, a saucepan, and some potato-parings were the only other things in the hut, and poor as it all was, it touched me so that in looking upon it I think my eyes were wet, because it was a man’s habitation. I remember that as I turned to go away the rain began to fall, and the pattering drops on the roof seemed to my eye and ear to make the place more human.
In going back to my boat that day I came nearer to Cregneesh than was my wont in the daytime, and though the darkness was coming down from the mountains, I could yet see into the streets from the knoll I passed over. And there in the unpaved way before a group of houses I saw a witless man in coat and breeches, but no vest or shirt, and with a rope about his waist, dancing and singing to a little noisy crowd gathered about him.
After that I had come upon the but my mind ran much on the thought of it, and in three days or thereabouts I went back to look at it again, and coming near to it from behind saw sundry beehives of a rude fashioning made of straw and sticks. Veg-veen was with me, for he was now my constant company, and in a moment he had bounced in at the doorway and out again at yet more speed, with three of his kind close at his tail. Before I could turn me about to go away a man followed the dogs out of the hut, and he was the same witless being that I had seen at his dancing in the streets of Cregneesh. His lip lagged low and his eyes were dull as a rabbit’s; on his head was a crownless hat through which his hair was seen, and I saw that his breast, where his shirt should be, was blackened as with soot. I would have gone about my own employments, but he spoke, telling me not to fear him, for it was false that he was possessed, as hardspoken people said, with the spirit of delusion. I answered nothing to this, but stood and listened with eyes turned aside, while the broken brain of the poor creature rambled on.
“They call me Billy the Bees,” he said, “because I catch them and rear them-look,” and he pointed to his hives. He talked of his three dogs and named them, saying that they slept in a sack together, and that in the same sack he slept with them. Something he said of the cold that had been coming latterly, and pointed to the soot on his breast, saying that it kept him warm. He told how he made a circuit of the farmhouses once a week, dancing and singing at all of them, and how the people gave him barley-meal and eggs. Much more he said, but because the method of it-where method there was any-has gone from my memory I pass it. That the world was nigh about its end he knew of a surety, because he saw that if a man had money and great store of gear, it mattered not what else he wanted. These with other such words he spoke ramblingly and I stood aside and answered him nothing neither did I look up into his face. At last he said timidly, “I know I have always been weak in my intellects,” and hearing that could bear to hear no more, but went about my business with a great weight of trouble upon me. And “O God,” I cried that night in my agony, ” I am an ignorant sot, without the grace of human tenderness or the gift of understanding. I am guilty before Thee, and no man careth for my soul, but from this affliction, O Almighty Master, save me; save me from this degradation, for it threatens me, and when death comes that stands at the foot of life’s awful account will pay its price with thankfulness.”
Now after this meeting with the witless man the weariness that I had felt of my home on the sea lay the heavier on my spirits, and I concluded with myself that I should forsake my boat and build me a home on the land within sight of man’s habitation. So I walked the cliffs from the Mull Hills to the Noggin Head, and at last I lit on the place I looked for. Near to the land where I had lately broken the (allows and grown me a crop of corn and potatoes there were four roofless walls. Sometime a house had stood there, but being built on the brink of the great clefts in the earth that we call the Chasms, it had shrunken in some settlement of the ground. This had affrighted the poor souls who inhabited it, and they had left it to fall into ruins. Such was the tale I heard long afterwards, but none came near it then, and none have come near to it since. Save the four bare walls, and a wall that crossed it midway, nothing was left. Where the floor had been the grass was growing; wormwood was in the settle nook, and whinberries had ripened and rotted on the hearth. The door lintel was gone, and the sill of the window was fallen off. There was a round patch of long grass where the well had been, and near to where the porch once stood the trammon-tree still grew, and thus, though the good people who had lived and died there, been born and buried, were gone from it for ever, the sign of their faith, or their superstition, lived after them.
Better for me than this forsaken place it was hard for any place to be. On a dangerous spot it stood, and therefore none would come anigh it. Near to Cregneesh it was, and from the rising ground above it I could look down on the homes of men. Truly it looked out on the sea, and had a great steepness of shelving rocks going down to an awesome depth, where, on the narrow beach of shingle, the tide beat with a woeful moan; but though the sea was so near, and the sea-fowl screamed of an evening from the great rock like a cone that lifted its gaunt finger a cable’s length away, yet to me it was within the very pulse of human life.
So I set to work, and roofed it with drift e wood and turf and gorse; and then with lime from a cliff at the Tubdale Creek in the Calf I whitened it within and without, walls and roof. A door I made in somewise, and for n a window I had a piece of transparent skin, I having no glass. And when all was made ready I moved my goods from the boat to my house, taking all that seemed necessary flour, flour, and meat, and salt, and my implements, as well as my bed and the spare clothes I had, which were not many.
I had been in no haste; with this work, being well content with such employment, but it e came to an end at last, and the day that I finished my task was a day late in the first year after my cutting off. This I knew I because the nights were long, and I had been trying with my watch to cast on the shortest day, and thereby recover my lost count of time. On the night of my first sleeping in my new home there came a fierce storm of wind and rain from the east. Four hours the gale lasted, and often the gulls were dashed screaming at the walls wherein I sat by the first fire I had yet kindled on my hearth. Towards midnight the wind fell suddenly to a dead calm, and, looking out, I saw that the moon was coming very bright in its rising from behind a heavy cloud over the sea. So, wondering what chance had befallen my boat -“or though I had left it I had a tenderness for it and meant perchance to use it again – I set out for the sound. When I got to the head of the cliff I could plainly see the rocks of Kitterland, and the whole length of the Doon Creek, but where my boat had been moored no boat could I see, nor any trace of one from Fistard Head on the east to Half-Walk Rock on the west. Next morning, under a bright winter’s sun, I continued the search for my boat, and with the rising tide at noon I saw her thrown up on to the beach of the Doon, dismasted, without spar or boom, bilged below her water-line, and altogether a hopeless hulk. I made some scabbling shift to pull her above high-water mark, and then went my ways.
Now this loss, for so I considered it, did at first much depress me, thinking, with a bitter envy of my late past, that my future showed me a far more unblessed condition, seeing that I was now for ever imprisoned on this island, and could never leave it again whatsoever evil might befall. But when I had thought twice upon it my mind came to that point that I was filled with gratitude: first, because the wrecking of my boat on the very day of my leaving it seemed to give assurance that, in making my home on the land, I had done that which was written for me to do; and next, because I must inevitably have been swallowed up in the’ storm if I had stayed on the sea a single night longer. And my terror of death was such that to have escaped the peril of it seemed a greater blessing than releasement from this island could ever be.
Every day thereafter, and oftenest at day. break, I walked up to the crest of the rising ground at the back of my house, and stood awhile looking down on Cregneesh, and watching for the white smoke that lay like a low cloud over the hollow place wherein Port Erin lay. After that I had done this I felt strangely refreshed as by a sense of companionship, and went about my work, such as it was, with content. But on a bitter morning, some time in December, as I thought, I came upon a sight that well-nigh froze my heart within me, for, outstretched on the bare moorland, under the bleak sky and in the lee of a thick gorse bush tipped with yellow, I found the witless man, Billy the Bees, lying cold and dead. His bare chest was blue, as with starvation, under the soot wherewith in his simpleness he had blackened it, and his pinched face told of privation and of pain. And now that he lay stretched out dead I saw that be had been a man of my own stature. In his hut, which was farther away than my own house from the place where he lay, there was neither bite nor sup, and his dogs seemed to have deserted him in his poverty, for they were gone. The air had softened perceptibly for some minutes while I went thither, and as I returned to the poor body, wondering what to do with it, the snow began to fall in big flakes. “It will cover it,” I said with myself. “The snow will bury it,” I thought; and casting a look back over my shoulder, I went home with a great burthen of trouble upon me.
All that day, and other two days, the snow continued to fall, until the walls of my house were blocked up to the level of my window, and I had to cut a deep trench to the gable where I piled my wood. And for more than a week following, shut in from my accustomed walk, I sat alone in the great silence, and tried to keep my mind away from the one fearful thought that now followed it. Remembering those long hours and the sorry employments I found for them-scrabbling on all-fours in play with Millish-veg-veen, laughing loud, and barking back at the dog’s shrill bark, I could almost weep while here I write to think of the tragic business that was at the same time lying heavy on my spirit. Christmas Day fell while thus I was imprisoned, for near to midnight I heard the church bells ring for Oiel Verree.
When the snow began to melt I saw that the dog put his muzzle to the bottom of the door constantly, and as often as I drove him away he returned to the same place. I will not say what awful thing came then to my mind, knowing a dog’s nature, and how near to my door lay the body of the witless man; only that I shuddered with a fear that was new to me when I remembered that, by the curse I lived under, the time would come when my unburied bones would lie on the bare face of the moor.
As soon as the snow had melted down to within a foot’s depth of the earth, I went out of my house and turned towards where my poor neighbour lay; but before I bad come close to him I saw that two men were coming over the hill-side by way of Port-le-Mary, and,
wishing not to be seen by them, I crept back and lay by the hinder wall of my house to watch what they did. Then I saw that they came up to the body of the witless man and saw it, and stood over it some minutes talking earnestly, and then passed along on their way. And as they walked they turned aside and came close up by the front of my house, and looked in at the window, pushing the skin away. Standing by the wall, holding Veg-veen by the throat lest he should betray me, I heard some words the men said each to the other before they went on again.
“Well, man, he’s dead at last, poor craythur,” said one, “and good luck too.”
And the other answered, ” Aw, dear, to think, to think! No man alive could stand up agen it. Aw, ter’ble, ter’ble! ”
” I was at the Tynwald myself yander day,” said the first, “and I’ll give it a year, I was saying, to finish him, and behould ye, he’s lying dead in half the time.”
Then both together said, “God bless me!” and passed on.
At that moment my eyes became dim, and a sound as of running water went through my ears. I staggered into my house, and sat down by the cold hearth, for in my eagerness to go forth on my errand at first awakening no fire had I kindled. I recalled the words that the men had spoken, and repeated them aloud one by one, and very slowly, that I might be sure I took their meaning rightly. This done, I said with myself, ” This error will go far, until the wide island will say that he who was cut off, he who is nameless among men, is dead.” Dead? What then? I had heard that when death came and took away a bad man, its twin-angel, the angel of mercy, bent over those who were left behind on the earth, and drew out of their softened hearts all evil report and all uncharity.
And a great awe slid over me at that thought, and the gracious dew of a strange peace fell upon me. But close behind it came the other thought, that this error would reach my father also-God preserve him!-and Mona-God’s holy grace be with her!-and bring them pain. And then it came to me to think that when men said in their hearing, “He whom you wot of is newly dead,” they would take heart and answer, “No, he died long ago; it was only his misery and God’s wrath that died yesterday.”
With this thought I rose up and went out, and put some shovels of earth over the body of my poor neighbour, that his face might be hidden from the sky.
OF HOW HE KEPT HIS MANHOOD
THE great snow lay long on the mountains, and died off in its silence like one who passes away in sleep. And the spring came, the summer and the winter yet again, and to set down in this writing all that befell would be a weariness, for I feel as I write that the pulse of my life is low; and neither am I one who can paint his words with wit. My way of life has now grown straight and even, and at my simple employments I wrought early and late, that by much bodily toil I might keep in check the distempers of my mind.
With my fishing-boat, my gun, which I had left behind me of design, had been carried to the bottom of the sound, and when the hulk of the lugger drifted up with the tide the gun was no longer within her. This I took for a direction to me that I should hunt no more. Nevertheless for some while I went on to fish with a line from my small boat, which, being on the beach, the storm had spared. But soon it was gotten into my head that, if to shoot a hare was an ill deed, to take a cod was but a poor business. Well I knew that there was some touch of insanity in such fancies, and that for man to kill and eat was the law of life, and the rather because it was enjoined of God that so he should do. But being a man like as I was, cut off from the land of the living, never more to have footing there for the great crime committed of spilling blood, I think it was not an ungentle madness that made me fear to take life, whether wantonly or of hunger’s need. This dread lay close to me, and got to extremities whereat one of healthy mind might smile. For being awakened some nights in succession by the nibble of a mouse, I arose from my bed in the dawn, and saw the wee mite, and struck it with an iron rod and killed it, and then suffered many foolish twitches, not from pity for the mouse, for of humanity I had none left, but from the sudden thought that the spirit of its life, which I had driven from its harmless body, was now about me as an invisible thing. Though I had fallen into such a weakness, yet I think that where choice was none for one like me between the weakness of a man and the strength of a beast, I did least injury to my own nature and disposition by yielding with childish indulgence towards the gentler side.
And truly it is a beautiful thing to mark how the creatures of earth and air will answer with confidence to man’s tenderness, whether, as with my saintly father, it comes of the love of them, or, as with me, of the love of myself. The sea – fowl flew in at my door and pecked up the morsels that fell at my feet; the wild duck on the moor would not rise though I walked within a stride of it; a fat hare nested in a hole under my house and came out at dusk to nibble the parings of potatoes that I threw at the door, and, but for Millish-veg-veen and’ his sly treacheries, with the rabbits of the Black Head I might have sported as with a kitten.
I could fill this account with the shifts I was put to by want of many things that even a lone man may need for his comfort or his cheer. Thus, I was at pains to devise a substitute for tinder, having lost much of all I had in the wrecking of my boat; and to find leather for the soles of my shoes when they were worn to the welt was long a search.
Yet herein my case was but that of many another man who has told of his privation, and the less painful was my position for that I had much to begin my battle of life with. In this first year of my unblessed condition my senses not only recovered their wonted strength, but grew keener than before my cutting off. Oft did my body seem to act without help of my intelligence, and, with a mind on other matters, I would find my way over the trackless moor back to my home in the pitch of darkness, and never so much as stumble by a stone. When the wind was from the north, or when the air lay still, I could hear the church bells that rang in the market square at Castletown, and thereby I knew what the day of the week was. None came nigh to my dwelling, but if a man passed it by at the space of two furlongs I seemed to feel his tread on the turf.
And now, as I hold the pen for these writings, my hand is loath and my spirit is not fain to tell of the strange humours of these times. So ridiculous and yet so tragic do they look as they come back to me in the grave-clothes of memory, that my imagination, being no longer turned way. ward, shrinks from them as sorry things that none shall see to be of nature save he who has lived in an outcast state. But if the eyes I look for should ever read these lines, the tender soul behind them will bring me no laughter for my pains, and I ask no tears. Only for my weakness let it be remembered that the terror of my life was that the spirit of madness and of the beast of the field waited and watched to fall upon me and to destroy the spirit of the man within me.
It is not to be expressed with what eagerness I strove to live in my solitude as a man should live in the company of his fellows. Down to the pettiest detail of personal manners I tried to do as other men must be doing. Whatsoever seemed to be the habit of a Christian man, that I practised, and (though all alone and having no man’s eye to see me) with a ‘grim and awesome earnestness. Thus before food, I not only washed but dressed afresh, taking off the sea-boots or the curranes I worked in, ~ and putting on my shoes with silver buckles. My seaman’s jacket I removed for a long coat of blue, and I was careful that my shirt was spotless. In this wise I also never failed to attire myself in the evening of the day for the short hours of rest between my work and my bed. That my cheeks should be kept clean of hair and that the hair of my head should never outgrow itself was a constant care, for I stood in fear of the creeping consciousness which my face in the glass might bring me that I was other than other men. But I am loath to set down my little foolish formalities on sitting to meat and rising from it, and the silly ceremonies wherewith I indulged myself at going abroad and coming home. Inexpressibly comic and ridiculous some of them would seem to me now, but for the tragic meaning that in my terror underlay them. And remembering how much a defaulter I had been in all such courtesies of life when most they were called for, I could almost laugh to think bow scrupulous I was in their observance when I was quite alone, with never an eye to see me, what I did or how I was clad, or in what sorry fashion I in my solitude acquitted myself like a man.
But though I could be well disposed to laugh at my notions of how to keep my manhood while compelled to live the life of a beast, alone like a wolf and useless for any purposes of man or the world, it is not with laughter that I recall another form of the insanity that in these times possessed me. This was the conviction that I was visited by Ewan, Mona, and my father. Madness I call it, but never did my pulse beat more temperately or my brain seem clearer than when conscious of these visitations. If I had spent the long day delving or gathering limestone on the beach of the sound, and returned to my house at twilight, I would perhaps be suddenly aware as I lifted the latch-having thought only of my work until then -that within my kitchen these three sat together, and that they turned their eyes to me as I entered. Nothing would be more convincing to my intelligence than that I actually saw what, I say, and yet I always seemed to know that it was not with my bodily eyes that I was seeing. These indeed were open, and I was broad awake, with plain power of common sight on common things-my stool, my table, the settle I had made myself, and perhaps the fire of turf that burned red on the hearth. But over this bodily vision there was a spiritual vision more stable than that of a dream, more soft and variable than that of material reality, in which I clearly beheld Ewan and Mona and my father, and saw their eyes turned towards me. Madness it may have been, but I could say it at the foot of the White Throne that what I speak of I have seen not once or twice, but many times.
And well I remember bow these visitations affected me: first as a terror, for when on a sudden they came to me as I lifted the latch, I would shrink back and go away gain, and return to my house with trembling; and then as a strange comfort, for they were a sort of silent company in my desolation. More than once, in these days of great loneliness, did I verily believe that I had sat me down in the midst of the three to spend a long hour in thinking of the brave good things that might have been for all of us but for my headstrong passion, helped out by the cruel tangle of our fate.
One thing I noted that even yet seems strange in the hours when my imagination is least given to waywardness. Throughout the period wherein I lived in the boat, and for some time after I removed me to my house, the three I have named seemed to visit me together; but after that I had found my witless neighbour lying dead on the moor, and after that I had heard the converse of the men who mistook his poor body for my own, the visitations of Mona and my father ceased altogether, and Ewan alone did I afterwards seem to see. This I pondered long, and at length it fastened on me with a solemn conviction that what I had looked for bad come about, and that the error that I was a dead man had reached the ears of my father and of Mona. With Ewan I sat alone when he came to me, and oft did it appear that we were loving company, for in his eyes were looks of deep pity, and I on my part had ceased to rail at the blind passion that bad parted us flesh from flesh.
These my writings are not for men who will look at such words as I have here set down with a cold indifferency, or my hand would have kept me back from this revelation. But that I saw apparently what I have described is as sure before God as that I was a man cut off from the land of the living.
A more material sequel came of the finding of the body on the moor. I was so closely followed by dread of a time that was coming when I must die, and stretch out my body on the bare ground with no man to give it Christian burial in the earth, that I could take no rest until I had devised a means whereby this terror might not haunt me in my last hours. In front of my house there were, as I have said, the places we call the Chasms, wherein the rock of this hungry coast is honeycombed into a hundred deep gullies by the sea. One of these gullies I descended by means of a cradle of rope swung overthwart a strong log of driftwood, and there I found a long shelf of stone, a deep fissure in the earth, a tomb of shelving rock coated with fungus and mould, whereto no dog could come, and wherein no bird of prey could lift its wing. To this place I resolved that I would descend when the power of life was on the point of ebbing away. Having lowered myself by my cradle of rope, I meant to draw the cordage after me, and then, being already near my end, to lie down in this close gully under the earth, that was to serve me for grave and death-bed.
But I was still a strong man, and, ungracious as my condition was, I shrank from the thought of death, and did what I could to put by the fear of it. Never a day did I fail to walk to the crest of the rising ground behind me and look down to where in the valley lay the habitations of men. Life, life, life, was now the constant cry of the voice of my heart, and a right goodly thing it seemed to me to be alive, though I might be said not to live, but only to exist.
Whether from the day whereon I heard the converse of the two men who went by my house I was ever seen of any man for a twelvemonth or more I scarce can tell. Great was my care to keep out of the ways wherein even the shepherds walked, and never a foot seemed to come within two furlongs of these abandoned parts from the bleak Black Head to the margin of the sound. But it happened upon a day towards winter, beginning the second year since my cutting, off, that I turned towards Port-le-Mary, and walking on with absent mind, came nearer than I had purposed to the village over the Sallow Point. There I was suddenly encountered by four or five men who, much in liquor, were playing at leap-frog among the gorse. English seamen they seemed to be, and perhaps from the brig that some time before I had noted when she lay anchored to the lea of the Carrick Rock in the Poolvash below. At sight of them I was for turning quickly aside, but they raised such a cry and shot out such a volley of levities and blasphemies, that try how I would to go on I could not but stop on the instant and turn my face to them.
Then I saw that of me the men took no note whatever, and that all their eyes were on my dog Millish-veg-veen, who was with me, ‘and was now creeping between my feet with his stump of a tail under his belly, and his little cunning face full of terror. ” Why, here’s the dog that killed our monkey,” said one, and another shouted, ” It’s my old cur, sure enough,” and a third laughed and said he had kept a rod in pickle for more than a year, and the first cried again, “I’ll teach the beast to kill no more Jackeys.” Then, before I was yet fully conscious of what was being done, one of the brawny swaggerers made towards us, and kicked at the dog with the fierce lunge of a heavy seaman’s boot. The dog yelped and would have made off, but another of the blusterers kicked him back, and then a third kicked him, and whatever way he tried to escape between them one of them lifted his foot and kicked again. While they were doing this I felt myself struggling to cry out to them to stop, but not a syllable could I utter, and, like a man paralysed, I stood stock-still, and did nothing to save my housemate and only companion in life. At length one of the men,
d laughing a great roystering laugh, stooped and seized the dog by the nape of the neck and swung him round in the air. Then I saw the poor cur’s piteous look towards me and heard its bitter cry; but at the next instant it was flying ten feet above our heads, and when it fell to the ground it was killed on the instant.
At that sight I heard an awful groan burst from my mouth, and I saw a cloud of fire flash before my eyes. When next I knew what I was doing I was holding one of the men by a fierce grip about the waist, and was swinging him high above my shoulders.
Now if the good God had not given me back my consciousness at that moment I know full well that at the next he who was then in my power would have drawn no more the breath of a living man. But I felt on a sudden the same ghostly hand upon me that I have written of before, and heard the same ghostly voice in mine ear. So, dropping the man gently to his feet, as gently as a mother might slip her babe to its cot, I lifted up my poor mangled beast by its hinder legs and turned away with it. And as I went the other men fell apart from me with looks of terror, for they saw that God had willed it that, with an awful strength, should I, a man of great passions, go through life in peril.
When I had found coolness to think of this that had happened I mourned for the loss of the only companion that had ever shared with me my desolate state; but more than my grief for the dog was my fear for myself, remembering with horror that when I would have called on the men to desist I could not utter one word. Truly, it may have been the swift access of anger that then tied my tongue, but I could not question that my sudden speechlessness told me I was losing the faculty of speech. This conclusion fastened upon me with great pain, and I saw that for a twelvemonth or more I had been zealously preserving the minor qualities of humanity, while this its greatest faculty, speech, that distinguishes man from the brute, had been silently slipping from me. Preserve my power of speech also I resolved I would, and though an evil spirit within me seemed to make a mock at me, and to say, “Wherefore this anxiety to keep your speech, seeing that you will never require it, being a man cut off for ever from all intercourse with other men?” yet I held to my purpose.
Then I asked myself how I was to preserve my speech save by much and frequent speaking, and how I was to speak having none not even my dog now-to speak to. For to speak constantly with myself was a practice I shrank from as leading perchance to madness, since I had noted that men of broken wit were much given to mumbling vain words to themselves. At last I concluded that there was but one way for me, and that was to pray. Having lit on this thought, I had still some misgivings, for the evil spirit within me again made a mock at me, asking why
I should speak to God, being a man outside God’s grace, and why I should waste myself in the misspent desire of prayer, seeing that the Heavenly Majesty had set His face from me in rejecting the atonement of my life which I had offered for my crime. But after great inward strivings I came back to my old form of selfishness, and was convinced that though when I prayed God would not hear me, yet that the yearning and uplooking of prayer might be a good thing for the spiritual part of my nature as a man-for when was the beast known to pray?
At this I tried to recall a few good words such as my father used, and at length, after much beating of the wings of my memory, I remembered some that were the words of Bishop Jeremy Taylor, and did betake myself to prayer in this manner:
“O most gracious God, I tremble to come into Thy presence, so polluted and dishonoured as I am by my foul stain of sin which I have ‘contracted; but I must come or I perish. I am useless to any purposes of God and man, and, like one that is dead, unconcerned in the changes and necessities of the world, living only to spend my time, and, like a vermin, eat of the fruits of the earth. O my God, I cannot help it now; miserable man that I am, to reduce myself to so sad a state that I neither am worthy to come to Thee nor dare I stay from Thee. The greatness of my crime brings me to my remedy; and now I humbly pray Thee to be merciful to my sin, for it is great.”
And this prayer I spoke aloud twice daily thenceforward, at the rising and the setting of the sun, going out of my house and kneeling on the turf on the top of the Black Head. And when I prayed, I sang what I could remember of the psalm that runs
“It is good for me that I have been in trouble, that I may learn Thy statutes.”
In my mind’s eye I see myself a’ solitary man in that lone place, with the sea stretching wide below me, and only the sound of its heavy beat on the rocks rising over me in the quiet air.
OF THE BREAKING OF THE CURSE
THUS far have I written these four days past, amid pain and a quick lessening of the powers of life. In sleepless hours of the night I have made this writing, sitting oftenest by the light of my feeble candles until the day has been blue over the sea. And now that I glance back and see my own heart in the mirror I have made for it, I am like to one who has been brought through a fearsome sickness, that has left its marks upon him, to look for the first time at his altered face in the glass. And can it be that I, who have penned these words, am the man of seven years ago? Ah I now I see how profound has been the change that my great punishment has made in me, and perceive the end of God in refusing my poor atonement of life for life, and cutting me off from among men.
I will not say that what I have already written has not cost me some pangs, and perhaps some tears. But now I am come to that place where I must tell of the great turning-point in my sad state, and though the strength fails me wherewith I hold the pen to write of it, my spirit rises before it like as the lark awakened by the dawn.
This year-surely the darkest within the memory of our poor people of Man-began with more than its share of a winter of heavy rains. The spring that followed was also rainy, and when I looked for the summer to begin, the rains were still incessant. Heavy and sodden was the ground even of the moor whereon I lived, so that my feet sank into it as into a morass, and much of the seed I sowed was washed from it and wasted. When at length the long rains ceased to fall, the year was far worn into June, and then the sun came quick and hot. My house stood on a brow descending to the cliffs of the coast, and beneath me were less than two feet of mould above the rock, but when the great heat came after the great rain, out of the ground there arose a thick miasmic mist that filled the air, obscured the light, lay heavy in sweat upon my hair and flesh, and made the walls and floor, the furniture and the bed of my home, damp and dripping with constant dew.
Quickly I set myself to the digging of deep trenches that went vertically down the brow to the cliff head, and soon the ground about me across many acres was drained dry. But though I lived in a clear air, and could now see the sun as well as feel it, yet I perceived that the mists stood in a wide half circle around me like walls of rain seen afar, while the spot whereon you stand is fair and in the sunshine. In my daily walks to the top of the moor I could no longer see the houses of Cregneesh for the cloud of vapour that lay over them, and when I walked to the Kallow Head for the first time since the day I lost my dog, the basin below, where Port-le-Mary stands, was even as a vast vaporous sea, without one islet of house or hill.
My health suffered little from this unaccustomed humidity, for my bodily strength was ever wonderful; but my spirits sank to a deep depression, and oft did I wonder how the poor souls must fare who lived on the low wet Curraghs, near to where my own home once lay. From day to day, and week to week, the mist continued to rise from the dank ground under the hot sun, and still the earth came up in thick clods to the spade.
The nights alone were clear, and towards midsummer I was witness to strange sights in the heavens. Thus I saw a comet pass close across the island from coast to coast, with a visible motion as of quivering flame. What this visitation could foretell I pondered long and sadly, and much I hungered for knowledge of what was being done in the world of men. But therein it seemed to my wayward mind that I was like a man buried in the churchyard while he is yet alive, who hears the bell in the tower that peals and tolls, but has no window in his tomb from which to see who comes to rejoice, and who to mourn.
When the fleet of fishing-boats should have put out from Port Erin for the ground that lies south of the Calf, scarce a sail could I see, and not a boat had I noted coming from the Poolvash, where Port-le-Mary stands above the bay. From the top of the Mull Hills I could faintly descry the road to Castletown, but never a cart on market-day seemed to pass over it. Groups of people I vaguely saw standing together, and once, at midday, from the middle of a field of new-mown hay, there came to me the sounds of singing and prayer. Oftener than at any period during my solitary life I saw men on the mountains or felt their presence near me, for my senses were grown very keen. Oftener, also, than ever before, the sound of church bells seemed to come through the air. And going to the beach where my shattered boat lay, I one day came upon another boat beating idly down the waters of the sound, her sails flapping in the wind, and no hand at her tiller. I stood to watch while the little craft came drifting on with the flow of the tide. She ran head on to the cliff at Fistard, and then I went down to her, and found never a living soul aboard of her.
From these and other startling occurrences that came to me vaguely, as if by the one sense of the buried man, I felt that with the poor people of this island all was not well. But nothing did I know of a certainty until a day towards the first week of September-as I have reckoned it-and then a strange thing befell.
The sun was not shining, and when there was no sun there was little mist. A strong wind, too, had got up from the north-east, and the atmosphere over land and sea grew clearer as the day wore on. The wind strengthened after the turn of the ebb, and at half-flood, which was towards three in the afternoon, it had risen to the pitch of a gale, with heavy swirling rain. The rain ceased in a few hours, and in the lift of the heavy clouds I could see from the rising ground above my house a brig with shortened sail toiling heavily to the south-west of the Calf. She was struggling in the strong currents that flow there to get into the lea of the island, but was beaten back and back, never catching the shelter of the cliffs for the rush of the wind that swept over them. The darkness was falling in while I watched her, and when she was swept back and hidden from me by the forehead of the Calf I turned my face home. ward. Then I noticed that on the top of the Mull Hills a great company of people had gathered, and I thought I saw that they were watching the brig that was labouring heavily in the sea.
That night I had close employment at my fireside, for I was finishing a coat that I had someways fashioned with my undeft fingers from the best pieces of many garments that of themselves would no longer hold together. Rough as a monk’s long sack it was, and all but as shapeless, but nevertheless a fit companion for the curranes on my feet, which I had made some time before from the coat of my hapless Millish-veg-veen.
While I wrought with my great sailmaker’s needle and twine, the loud wind moaned about the walls of my house and whistled through its many crevices, and made the candle whereby I worked to flicker and gutter. Yet my mind was more cheerful than had lately been its wont, and I sang to myself with my face to the glow of the fire.
But when towards ten o’clock the sea below sent up a louder hiss than before, followed by a deeper under-groan, suddenly there was a clash at my window, and a poor, panting seamew, with open beak, came through it and fell helpless on the floor. I picked up the storm-beaten creature, and calmed it, and patched with the needle the skin of the window which it had broken by its entrance.
Then all at once my mind went back to the brig labouring in the sea behind the Calf. Almost at the same moment, and for the first time these seven years, a quick knock came to my door. I was startled, and made no answer, but stood stock-still in the middle of the floor with the frightened bird in my hand. Before I was yet fully conscious of what was happening, the wooden latch of the door had been lifted, and a man had stepped across the threshold. In another moment he had closed the door behind him, and was speaking to me.
“You will never find heart to deny me shelter on such a night as this?” he said.
I answered him nothing. Surely with my mind I did not hear him, but only with mine ears. I was like one who is awakened suddenly out of a long dream, and can scarce be sure which is the dream and which the reality, what is behind and what is before.
The man stumbled a step forward, and said, speaking falteringly, “I am faint from a blow.”
He staggered another pace forward, and would have fallen, but I, recovering in some measure my self-command, caught him in my arms, and put him to sit on the settle before the hearth.
Scarce had he gained this rest when his eyelids trembled and closed, and he became insensible. He was a large, swart, and bony man, bearing in his face the marks of life’s hard storms. His dress was plainly the dress of a priest, but of an order of priesthood quite unknown to me. A proud poverty sat upon the man, and before I yet knew wherefor, my heart went out to him in a strange, uncertain reverence.
Loosening the hard collar that bound his neck, I made bare his throat, and then moistened his lips with water. Some other offices I did for him, such as with difficulty removing his great boots, which were full of water, and stretching his feet towards the fire. I stirred the peats, too, and the glow was full and grateful. Then I looked for the mark of the blow he spoke of, and found it where most it was to be feared, on the hinder part of the head. Though there was no blood flowing, yet was the skull driven in upon the brain, leaving a hollow spot over a space that might have been covered by a copper token.
He did not soon return to consciousness, but toiled hard at intervals to regain it, and then lapsed back to a breathless quiet. And I, not knowing what else to do, took a basin of lukewarm water and bathed the wound with it, damping the forehead with water that was cold. All this time the seamew, which I had cast from my hand when the priest stumbled, lay in one corner panting, its head down, its tail up, and its powerless wings stretched useless on either side.
Then the man, taking a long breath, opened his eyes, and seeing me, he made some tender of gratitude. He told me that in being put ashore out of the brig Bridget, from Cork, in Ireland, he had been struck on the head by the boom as it shifted with the wind, but that heeding not his injury, and thinking he could make Port-le-Mary to lie there that night, he had set out over the moor, while his late comrades of the brig put off from our perilous coast for England, whither they were bound.
So much had he said, speaking painfully, when again he fell to unconsciousness, and this time a strong delirium took hold of him. I tried not to hear what then he said, for it seemed to me an awful thing that in such an hour of reason’s vanquishment the eye of man might look into the heart which only God’s eye should see. But hear him I must, or leave him alone in his present need. And he talked loudly of some great outrage, wherein helpless women were thrown on the roads without shelter, and even the dead in their graves were desecrated. When he came to himself again he knew that his mind had wandered, and he told me that four years before he had been confessor at the convent of Port Royal in France. He said that in that place they had been men and women of the Order of Jansenists, teaching simple goodness and piety. But their convent had been suppressed by commission of the Jesuits, and being banished from France, he had fled to his native country of Ireland, where now he held the place of parish priest. More in this manner he said, but my mind was sorely perplexed, and I cannot recall his words faithfully, or rightly tell of the commerce of conversation between us, save that he put to me some broken questions in his moments of ease from pain, and muttered many times to himself after I had answered him briefly, or when I had answered him not at all.
For the sense that I was a man awakening out of a dream, a long dream of seven lonesome years, grew stronger as he told of what traffic the world had lately seen, and he himself been witness to. And my old creeping terror of the judgment upon me that forbade that any man should speak with me, or that I should speak with any man, struggled hard with the necessity now before me to make a swift choice whether I should turn away and leave this man, who had sought the shelter of my house, or break through the curse that bound me.
Choice of any kind I did not make with a conscious mind, but before I was yet aware I was talking with the priest, and he with me.
The Priest: He said, t am the Catholic priest that your good Bishop sent for out of Ireland, as you have heard, I doubt not?
Myself: I answered, No, that I had not heard.
The Priest: He asked me did I live alone in this house, and how long I had been here? Myself: I said, Yes, and that I had been seven years in this place come Christmas.
The Priest: He asked, What, and do you never go up to the towns?
Myself: I answered, No.
The Priest: Then, said the priest, thinking long before he spoke, you have not heard of the great sickness that has broken out among your people.
Myself – I told him I had heard nothing.
The Priest: He said it was the sweating sickness, and that vast numbers had fallen to it and many had died. I think he said – I cannot be sure – that after fruitless efforts of his own to combat the disease, the Bishop of the island had sent to Ireland a message for him, having beard that the Almighty had blessed his efforts in a like terrible scourge that broke out two years before over the bogs of western Ireland.
I listened with fear, and began to comprehend much that had of late been a puzzle to me. But before the priest had gone ‘far his sickness overcame him afresh, and he fell to another long unconsciousness. While be lay thus, very silent, or rambling afresh through the ways of the past, I know not what feelings possessed me, for my heart was in a great turmoil. But when he opened his eyes again, very peaceful in their quiet light, but with less than before of the power of life in them, he said he perceived that his errand bad been fruitless, and that he had but come to my house to die. At that word I started to my feet with a cry, but be-thinking that my thoughts were of our poor people, who would lose a deliverer by his death-told me to have patience, for that God who had smitten him down would surely raise up in his stead a far mightier saviour of my afflicted countrymen.
Then in the lapses of his pain he talked of the sickness that bad befallen his own people: how it was due to long rains that soaked the soil, and was followed by the hot sun that drew out of the earth its foul sweat; how the sickness fell chiefly on such as had their houses on bogs and low-lying ground; and how the cure for it was to keep the body of the sick person closely wrapped in blankets, and to dry the air about him with many fires. He told me, too, that all medicines he had yet seen given for this disease were useless, and being oftenest of a cooling nature went sometimes deadly. He said that those of his own people who had lived on the mountains had escaped the malady. Much he also said of how men had fled from their wives, and women from their children, in terror of the infection, but that, save only in the worst cases, contagion from the sweating sickness there could be none. More of this sort he said than I can well set down in this writing. Often he spoke with sore labour, as though a strong impulse prompted him. And I who listened eagerly heard what he said with a mighty fear, for well I knew that if death came to him as he foretold, I had now that knowledge which it must be sin to hide.
After he had said this the lapses into unconsciousness were more frequent than before, and the intervals of cool reason and sweet respite from pain were briefer. But a short while after midnight he came to himself with a smile on his meagre face and peace in his eyes. He asked me would I promise to do one thing for him, for that he was a dying man; and I told him yes before I had heard what it was that he wished of me. Then he asked did I know where the Bishop lived, and at first I made no answer.
“Bishop’s Court they call his house,” he said, “and it lies to the north-west of this island by the land they have named the Curraghs. Do you know it? ”
I bent my head by way of assent.
The Priest: I would have you go to him, he said, and say-The Catholic priest you sent for out of Ireland, Father Dalby fulfilled his pledge to you and came to your island, but died by the visitation of God on the night of his landing on your shores. Will you deliver me this message?
I did not make him an answer, and he put the question again. Still my tongue clave to the roof of my mouth and I could not speak.
The Priest: You need not fear, he said, to go to the Bishop, for he is a holy man, as I have heard, without pride of worldly place, and the poor and outcast are his constant guests.
Even yet I answered nothing, but only held down my head while my heart surged within me. The Priest: The fame of him as a righteous servant of God had gone far into other lands, and therefore it was I, who love Protestantism not at all, and hold no dalliance with it, came to your island at his call.
He took my hand in his hands and asked me again if I would go to the Bishop to say the words which he had given me, and I, with swimming eyes that saw nothing of the dying face before me, bowed my head, and answered, ” I will go.”
Near three hours longer he lived, and much of that time he passed in a feeble delirium. But just before the end came he awoke, and motioned to a, small bag that hung about his waist. I guessed his meaning, and drawing out a crucifix I placed it in his hands.
Then he passed silently away, and Death, the black camel that had knelt at the gate of my lone house these seven years of death in-life, had entered it at last to take another man than me.
OF HIS GREAT RESOLVE
WHEN he had ceased to breathe, the air of my house became suddenly void and empty. With a great awe upon me I rose and stretched him out on the settle, and covered his white face with a cloth. Then in the silence I sat and tried to think of the strange accident that had that night befallen. One thing I saw with a fearful certainty, that a great burden of responsibility had fallen upon me. I thought of the people of this island perishing in their sickness, and I remembered that I alone of all men here knew how to succour and save them. I alone, and who was I? The one man accursed among men; the one man cut off for ever from the company of the living; the man without family or kin or name among the people; whose flesh no man might touch with his flesh; whose eye no other eye might look upon.
And thus with the burden of responsibility came a yet more terrible burden of doubt. Was it for me to break through the dread judgment pronounced upon me and go down among the people to heal them? And if I went would the people receive me, even in this their last extreme? Before the face of death would all other fears sink out of their sight? Or, fearing death itself less than the curse, would they rise up and drive me from them?
Long I sat in the anguish of black misgivings, and then rose and ranged my room from side to side, if perchance I might find some light in my darkness. And oft did the strangeness of that night’s accidents so far bewilder me that for an instant it would seem that I must be in a dream. Once I lifted the facecloth from the face on the settle, that I might be sure that I was awake.
At length it fixed itself on my mind that whatsoever the judgment upon me, and whatsoever the people’s terror of it, I had no choice but to bear the burden that was now mine own. Go down among my sick countrymen I should and must, let the end be what it would! Accursed man though I was, yet to fulfil the dead priest’s mission was a mission wherewith God Himself seemed to charge me!
And now I scarce can say how it had escaped me, that my first duty was to take the body of the priest who bad died in my house to one of the (churchyards for Christian burial. There must have been some end of Providence in my strange forgetfulness, for if this thing had but come into my wild thoughts, and I had indeed done what it was fitting that I should do, then must certain wonderful consequences have fallen short of the blessing with which God has blessed them.
What I did, thinking no evil, was to pick up my spade and go out on the moor and delve for the dead man a shallow grave. As I turned to the door I stumbled over something that lay on the floor. Stooping to look at it, I found it to be the poor seamew. It was dead and stiff, and had still its wings outstretched as if in the act of flight.
I had not noted until now, when with a fearful glance backwards I stepped out into the night, that the storm had gone. A thick dew-cloud lay deep over the land, and the round moon was shining through it. I chose a spot a little to the south of the stone circle on the Black Head, and there by the moon’s light I howket a barrow of earth. The better part of an hour I wrought, and when my work was done I went back to my house, and then the dead man was cold. I took a piece of old canvas, and put it about the body, from head to feet, wrapping it over the clothes. and covering the face. This done, I lifted the dead in my arms and carried it out.
Very hollow and heavy was the thud of my feet on the turf in that uncertain light. As I toiled along I recalled the promise that I had given to the priest to see my father and speak with him. This memory brought me the sore pain of a wounded tenderness, but it strengthened my resolve. When I had reached the grave which I had made the night was near to morning, the dew-cloud bad lifted away, and out of the unseen, murmuring sea that lay far and wide in front of me a grey streak, like an arrow’s barb, was shooting up into the darkness of the sky.
One glance more I took at the dead man’s face in that vague fore-dawn, and its swart meagreness seemed to have passed off under death’s composing hand.
I covered the body with the earth, and then I said my prayer, for it was nigh to my accustomed hour. Also I sang my psalm, kneeling with my face towards the sea. And while I sang in that dank air the sky lightened and the sun rose out of the deep.
I know not what touched me then, if it was not the finger of God Himself, but suddenly a great burden seemed to fall from me, and my heart grew full of a blessed joy. And, ” O Father,” I cried, “I am delivered from the
body of the death I lived in I – I have lived, I have died, and I live again!”
I saw apparently that the night of my long imprisonment was past, that the doors of my dungeon were broken open, and that its air was to be the breath of my nostrils no more.
Then the tears gushed from mine eyes and rained down my bony cheeks, for well I knew that God bad seen that I, even I, had suffered enough.
And when I rose to my feet from beside the dead man’s grave I felt of a certainty that the curse had fallen away.
HIS LAST WORDS
Three days have gone since last I put my hand to this writing, and now I know that though the curse has fallen from me, yet must its earthly penalties be mine to the end. Sorely weary, and more sorely ashamed, I have within these three hours past, escaped from the tumult of the people. How their wild huzzas ring in my ears!” God bless the priest!” “Heaven save the priest!” Their loud cries of a blind gratitude, how they follow me! Oh, that I could fly from the memory of them, and wipe them out of my mind! There were those that appeared to know me among the many that knew me not. The tear-stained faces, the faces hard and stony, the faces abashed and confused-bow they rive before my eyes! And at the Tynwald, how the children were thrust under my hand for my blessing! My blessing-mine! and at the Tynwald! Thank God, it is all over! I am away from it for ever. Home I am at last and for the last time.
Better than three weeks have passed since the priest died in my house, and I buried him on the moor. What strange events have since befallen, and in what a strange new world! The Deemster’s terrible end, and my own going with the priest’s message to the Bishop, my father. But I shall not live to set it down. Nor is it needful so to do, for she whom I write for knows all that should be written henceforward. Everything she knows save one thing only, and if this writing should yet come to her hand that also she will then learn.
God’s holy grace be with her! I have not seen her. The Deemster I have seen, the Bishop I have spoken with, and a living vision of our Ewan, his sweet child-daughter, I have held to my knee. But not once these many days has she who is dearest of all to me passed before my eyes. It is better so. I shunned her. Where she was there I would not go. Yet, through all these heavy years I have borne her upon my heart. Day and night she has been with me. Oh, Mona, Mona, my Mona, apart for ever are our paths in this dim world, and my tarnished name is your reproach. My love, my lost love, as a man I yearned for you to bold you to my breast. But I was dead to you, and I would not break in with an earthly love that must be brief and might not be blessed, on a memory that death had purified of its stains. Adieu, adieu, my love, my own Mona; though we are never to clasp hands again, yet do I know that you will be with me as an unseen presence when the hour comes – ah I how soon of death’s asundering.
For the power of life is low in me. I have taken the sickness. It is from the Deemster that I have taken it. No longer do I fear death. Yet I hesitate to do with myself what I have long thought that I would do when the end should come. “To-morrow,” and to-morrow,” and ” to-morrow,” I say in my heart, and still I am here.
THE END OF THE RELATION OF DANIEL MYLREA
THE SWEATING SICKNESS!
WHEN the sweating sickness first appeared in the island, it carried off the lone body known as Auntie Nan, who had lived on the Curragh. “Death never came without an excuse -the woman was old,” the people said, and went their way. But presently a bright young girl, who had taken herbs and broths and odd comforts to Auntie Nan while she lay helpless, was stricken down. Then the people began to hold their heads together. Four days after the girl was laid to rest her mother died suddenly, and two or three days after the mother’s death the father was smitten. Then three other children died in quick succession, and in less than three weeks not a soul of that household was left alive. This was on the south-west of the Curragh, and on the north of it, near to the church at Andreas, a similar outbreak occurred about the same time. Two old people named Creer were the first to be taken; and a child at Cregan’s farm and a servant at the rectory of the archdeacon followed quickly.
The truth had now dawned upon the people, and they went about with white faces. It was the time of the hay harvest, and during the two hours’ rest for the midday meal the haymakers gathered together in the fields for prayer. At night, when work was done, they met again in the streets of the villages to call on God to avert His threatened judgment. On Sundays they thronged the churches at morning and afternoon services, and in the evening they congregated on the shore to hear the Quaker preachers, who went about, under the shadow of the terror, without hindrance or prosecution. One such preacher, a town-watch at Castletown, known as Billy-by-Nite, threw up his calling, and travelled the country in the cart of a carrier, prophesying a visitation of God’s wrath, wherein the houses should be laid waste and the land be left utterly desolate.
The sickness spread rapidly, and passed from the Curraghs to the country south and east of them. Not by ones but tens were the dead now counted day after day, and the terror spread yet faster than the malady. The herring season had run a month only, and it was brought to a swift close. Men who came in from the boats after no more than a night’s absence were afraid to go up to their homes lest the sickness had gone up before them. Then they went out to sea no longer, but rambled for herbs in the rank places where herbs grew, and, finding them, good and bad, fit and unfit, they boiled and ate them.
Still the sickness spread, and the dead were now counted in hundreds. Of doctors there were but two in the island, and these two were closely engaged sitting by the bedsides of the richer folk, feeling the pulse with one hand and holding the watch with the other. Better service they did not do, for rich and poor alike fell before the sickness.
The people turned to the clergy, and got “beautiful texes,” but no cure. They went to the old Bishop, and prayed for the same help that he had given them in the old days of their great need. He tried to save them and failed. A preparation of laudanum, which had served him in good stead for the flux, produced no effect on the sweating sickness. With other and other medicines he tried and tried again. His old head was held very low. “My poor people,” he said, with a look of shame, “I fear that by reason of the sins of me and mine the Spirit of the Lord is gone from me.”
Then the people sent up a cry as bitter as that which was wrung from them long before when they were in the grip of their hunger. “The Sweat is on us,” they groaned; and the old Bishop, that he might not hear their voice of reproach, shut himself up from them like a servant whom the Lord had forsaken.
Then terror spread like a fire, but terror in some minds begets a kind of courage, and soon there were those who would no longer join the prayer-meetings in the hay-fields or listen to the preaching on the shore. One of those was a woman of middle life, an idle slattern, who had for six or seven years lived a wandering life. While others prayed she laughed mockingly, and protested that for the Sweat, as well as for every other scare of life, there was no better preventive than to think nothing about it. She carried out her precept by spending her days in the inns and her nights on the roads, being supported in her dissolute existence by secret means, whereof gossip spoke frequently. The terrified world about her, busy with its loud prayers, took small heed of her blasphemies until the numbers of the slain had risen from hundreds to thousands. Then in their frenzy the people were carried away by superstition, and heard in the woman’s laughter the ring of the devil’s own ridicule. Somebody chanced to see her early one morning drawing water to bathe her hot forehead, and before night of that day the evil word had passed from mouth to mouth that it was she who had brought the sweating sickness by poisoning the wells.
Thereupon half a hundred lusty fellows, with fear in their wild eyes, gathered in the Street, and set out to search for the woman. In her accustomed haunt, the “Three Legs of Man,” they found her, and she was heavy with drink.
They hounded her out of the inn into the road, and there, amid oaths and curses, they tossed her from hand to hand until her dress was in rags, her face and arms were bleeding, and she was screaming in the great fright that had sobered her.
It was Tuesday night, and the Deemster, who had been holding court at Peeltown late that day, was riding home in the darkness when he heard this tumult in the road in front of him. Putting spurs to his horse, he came upon the scene of it. Before he had gathered the meaning of what was proceeding in the dark road, the woman had broken from her tormentors and thrown herself before him, crawling on the ground and gripping his foot in the stirrup.
“Deemster, save me! save me, Deemster!” she cried in her frantic terror.
The men gathered round and told their story. The woman had poisoned the wells, and the bad water had brought the Sweat. She was a charmer by common report, and should be driven out of the island.
“What pedlar’s French is this?” said the Deemster, turning hotly on the crowd about him. “Men, men, what forgotten age have you stepped out of that you come to me with such drivelling, doddering, blank idiocy?”
But the woman, carried away by her terror, and not grasping the Deemster’s meaning, cried that if he would but save her she would confess. Yes, she had poisoned the wells. It was true she was a charmer. She acknowledged to the evil eye. But save her, save her, save her, and she would tell all.
The Deemster listened with a feverish impatience. “The woman lies,” he said under his breath, and then lifting his voice he asked if any one had a torch. “Who is the woman?” he asked; “I seem to know her voice.”
“D- her, she’s a witch,” said one of the men, thrusting his hot face forward in the darkness over the woman’s cowering body. “Ay, and so was her mother before her,” he said again.
“Tell me, woman, what’s your name?” said the Deemster stoutly; but his question seemed to break down as he asked it.
There was a moment’s pause.
“Mally Kerruish,” the woman answered him, slobbering at his stirrup in the dark road before him.
“Let her go,” said the Deemster in a thick underbreath. In another moment he had disengaged his foot from the woman’s grasp and was riding away.
That night Mally Kerruish died miserably of her fright in the little tool-shed of a cottage by the Cross Vein, where six years before her mother had dropped to a lingering death alone.
News of her end was taken straightway to Ballamona by one of the many tongues of evil rumour. With Jarvis Kerruish, who was in lace collar and silver-buckled shoes, the Deemster had sat down to supper. He rose, left his meat untouched, and Jarvis supped alone. Late that night he said uneasily-
“I intend to send in my resignation to Castletown — the burden of my office as Deemster is too much for my strength.”
“Good,” said Jarvis; “and if, sir, you should ever think of resigning the management of your estate also, you know with how much willingness I would undertake it, solely in order that you might spend your days in rest and comfort.”
“I have often thought of it latterly,” said the Deemster
Half-an-hour thereafter he spent in an uneasy perambulation of the dining-room, while Jarvis picked his teeth and cleaned his nails.
“I think I must surely be growing old,” he said then, and, drawing a long breath, he took up his bedroom candle.
The sickness increased, the deaths were many in the houses about Ballamona, and in less than a week after the night of Mally Kerruish’s death, Thorkell Mylrea, a Deemster no longer, had made over to Jarvis Kerruish all absolute interest in his estates. “I shall spend my last days in the cause of religion,” he said. He had paid up his tithe in poundnotes — five years’ tithe in arrears, with interest added at the rate of six per cent. Blankets he had ordered for the poor of his own parish, a double blanket for each family, with cloaks for some of the old women.
This done, he relinquished his worldly possessions, and shut himself from the sickness in a back-room of Ballamona, admitting none, and never stirring abroad except to go to church.
The Bishop had newly opened the chapel at Bishop’s Court for daily prayers, and of all constant worshippers there Thorkell was now the most constant. Every morning his little shrivelled figure knelt at the form before the Communion, and from his blanched lips the prayers were mumbled audibly. Much he sought the Bishop’s society, and in every foolish trifle he tried to imitate his brother. A new canon of the Church had lately ordered that every Bishop should wear an episcopal wig, and over his flowing white hair the Bishop of Man had perforce to put the grotesque head-covering. Seeing this, Thorkell sent to England for a periwig, and perched the powdered curls on his own bald crown.
The sickness was at its worst, the terror was at its height, and men were flying from their sick families to caves in the mountains, when one day the Bishop announced in church, that across in Ireland, as he had heard, there was a good man who had been blessed under God with miraculous powers of curing this awful malady.
“Send for him! send for him!” the people shouted with one voice, little heeding the place they sat in.
“But,” said the Bishop, with a failing voice, “the good man is a Romish Catholic — indeed, a Romish priest.”
At that word a groan came from the people, for they were Protestants of Protestants.
“Let us not think that no good can come out of Nazareth,” the Bishop continued. “And who shall say, though we love the Papacy not at all, but that holy men adhere to it?”
There was a murmur of disapproval.
“My good people,” the Bishop went on falteringly, “we are in God’s hands, and His anger burns among us.”
The people broke up abruptly, and talking of what the Bishop had said, they shook their heads. But their terror continued, and before its awful power their qualms of faith went down as before a flood. Then they cried, “Send for the priest!” and the Bishop sent for him.
Seven weary days passed, and at length, with a brightening countenance, the Bishop announced that the priest had answered that he would come. Other three days went by, and the news passed from north to south that in the brig Bridget of Cork, bound for Whitehaven, with liberty to call at Peeltown, the Romish priest, Father Dalby, had sailed for the Isle of Man.
Then day after day the men went up to the hill-tops to catch sight of the sail of an Irish brig. At last they sighted one from the Mull Hills, and she was five leagues south of the Calf. But the wind was high, and the brig laboured hard in a heavy sea. For hours the people watched her, and saw her bearing down into the most dangerous currents about their coast. Night closed in, and the wind rose to the strength of a gale. Next morning at early dawn the people climbed the headlands again, but no brig could they now see, and none had yet made their ports.
“She must be gone down,” they told themselves, and so saying they went home with heavy hearts.
But two days afterwards there went through the island a thrilling cry, “He is here!-he has come!-the priest!” And at that word a wave of rosy health swept over a thousand haggard faces.
In the dark sleeping-room of a little ivy-covered cottage that stood end-on to the highroad through Michael a blind woman lay dying of the sickness. It was old Kerry; and on a three-legged stool before her bed her husband Hommy sat. Pitiful enough was Hommy’s poor ugly face. His thick lubber lips were drawn heavily downwards, and under his besom brows his little eyes were red and his eyelids swollen. In his hands he held a shovel, and he was using it as a fan to puff air into Kerry’s face.
“It’s all as one, man,” the sick woman moaned. “Ye’re only keeping the breath in me. I’m bound to lave ye.”
And thereupon Hommy groaned lustily and redoubled his efforts with the shovel. There was a knock at the door, and a lady entered. It was Mona, pale of face, but very beautiful in her pallor, and with an air of restful sadness.
“And how are you now, dear Kerry?” she asked, leaning over the bed.
“Middling badly, mom,” Kerry answered feebly. “I’ll be took, sarten sure, as the saying is.”
“Don’t lose heart, Kerry. Have you not heard that the priest is coming?”
“Chut, mom! I’ll be gone, plaze God, where none of the like will follow me.”
“Hush, Kerry! He was in Patrick yester. day; he will be in German to-morrow, and the next day he will be here in Michael. He is a good man, and is doing wonders with the sick.” Kerry turned face to the wall, and Hommy talked with Mona. What was to become of him when Kerry was gone? Who would be left to give him a bit of a tidy funeral? The Deemster? Bad sess to the like of him. What could be expected from a master who had turned his own daughter out of doors?’
“I am better where I am,” Mona whispered, and that was her sole answer to the deaf man’s too audible questions. And Hommy, after a pause, assented to the statement with his familiar comment, “The Bishop’s a rael ould archangel, so he is.”
Thereupon Kerry turned her gaze from the wall and said, “Didn’t I tell ye, mom, that he wasn’t dead?”
“Why-him-him that we mayn’t name him.”
“Hush, dear Kerry, he died long ago.”
“I tell ye, mom, he’s a living man,’ and coming back-I know it-he’s coming back immadient – I saw him.”
“Drop it, woman; it’s drames,” said Hommy.
“I saw him last night as plain as plain wearing a long grey sack and curranes on his feet, and a queer sort of hat.”
“It must have been the priest that you saw in your dream, dear Kerry.”
The sick woman raised herself on one elbow, and answered eagerly, “I tell you no, mom, but him-him”
“Lie still, Kerry; you will be worse if you uncover yourself to the cool air.”
There was a moment’s quiet, and then the blind woman said finally
“I’m going where I’ll have my eyes same as another body.”
At that Hommy’s rugged face broadened to a look of gruesome sorrow, and he renewed his exertions with the shovel.
At seven o’clock that day the darkness had closed in. A bright turf fire burned in a room in Bishop’s Court, and the Bishop sat before it with his slippered feet on a sheepskin rug. His face was mellower than of old, and showed less of strength and more of sadness. Mona stood at a tea-table by his side, cutting slices of bread and butter.
A white face, with eyes of fear, looked in at the dark window. It was Davy Fayle. He was but little older to look upon for the seven years that had gone heavily over his troubled head. His simple look was as vacant and his lagging lip hung as low; but his sluggish intellect had that night become suddenly charged with a ready man’s swiftness.
Mona went to the door. “Come in,” she said; but Davy would not come. He must speak with her outside, and she went out to him.
He was trembling visibly. “What is it?” she said.
“Mistress Mona,” said Davy, in a voice of great emotion, “it’s as true as the living God.” “What? ” she said.
“He’s alive-ould Kerry said true-he’s alive, and coming back.”
Mona glanced into his face by the dull light that came through the window. His eyes, usually dull and vacant, were aflame with a strange fire. She laid one hand on the doorjamb, and said, catching her breath, “Davy, remember what the men said long ago-that they saw him lying in the snow.”
“He’s alive, I’m telling you-I’ve seen him with my own eyes.”
“I went down to Patrick this morning to meet the priest coming up-but it’s no priest at all-it’s-it’s-it’s him.”
Again Mona drew her breath audibly. “Think what you are saying, Davy. If it should not be true! Oh, if you should be mistaken! ”
“It’s Bible truth, Mistress Mona-I’ll go bail on it afore God A’mighty.”
“The priest, you say?”
“Aw, lave it to me to know Mastha – I mean – him.”
“I must go in, Davy. Good night to you, and thank you- Good night, and -“‘ the plaintive tenderness of her voice broke down to a sob. “Oh, what can it all mean?” she exclaimed more vehemently.
Davy turned away. The low moan of the sea came up through the dark night.
It happened that after service the next morning the Bishop and Thorkell walked out of the chapel side by side.
“We are old men now, Gilcrist,” said Thorkell, “and should be good friends together.”
“That is so,” the Bishop answered.
“We’ve both lost a son, and can feel for each other.”
The Bishop made no reply. “We’re childless men, in fact.”
“There’s Mona, God bless her!” the Bishop said very softly.
“True, true,” said Thorkell, and there was silence for a moment.
“It was partly her fault when she left me partly, I say — don’t you think so, Gilcrist?” said Thorkell nervously.
“She’s a dear sweet soul,” the Bishop said. “It’s true.”
They stepped on a few paces, and passed by the spot whereon the two fishermen laid down their dread burden from the Mooragh seven years before. Then Thorkell spoke again and in a feverish voice.
“D’ye know, Gilcrist, I sometimes awake in the night crying ‘ Ewan! Ewan!”‘
The Bishop did not answer, and Thorkell, in another tone, asked when the Irish priest was to reach Michael.
“He may be here to-morrow,” the Bishop said.
“It must be that God is revenging Himself upon us with this fearful scourge.”
“It dishonours God to say so,” the Bishop replied. “He is calling upon us to repent.” There was another pause, and then Thorkell asked what a man should do to set things right in this world if perchance he had taken a little more in usury than was fair and honest.
“Give back whatever was more than justice,” said the Bishop promptly.
“But that is often impossible, Gilcrist.”
“If he has robbed the widow, and she is dead, let him repay the fatherless.”
“It is impossible-I tell you, Gilcrist, it is impossible-impossible.”
As they were entering the house, Thorkell asked if there was truth in the rumour that the wells had been charmed.
“To believe such stories is to be drawn off from a trust in God and a dependence on His good providence,” said the Bishop.
“But I must say, brother, that strange things are known to happen. Now I myself have witnessed extraordinary fulfilments.”
“Superstition is a forsaking of God, whom we have most need to fly to in trouble and distress,” the Bishop answered.
“True-very true-I loathe it; but still it’s a sort of religion, isn’t it, Gilcrist?”
“So the wise man says-as the ape is a sort of a man.”
Three days later the word went round that he who had been looked for was come to Michael, and many went out to meet him. He was a stalwart man, straight and tall, bony and muscular. His dress was poverty’s own livery: a grey shapeless sack-coat, reaching below his knees, curranes on his feet of untanned skin with open clocks, and a cap of cloth, half helmet and half hood, drawn closely down over his head. His cheeks were shaven and deeply bronzed. The expression of his face was of a strange commingling of strength and tenderness. His gestures were few, slow, and gentle. His measured step was a rhythmic stride-the stride of a man who has learned in the long endurance of solitude to walk alone in the ways of the world. He spoke little, and scarcely answered the questions which were put to him. “Aw, but I seem to have seen the good man in my drames,” said one; and some said “Ay” to that, and some laughed at it.
Within six hours of his coming he had set the whole parish to work. Half of the men he sent up into the mountains to cut gorse and drag it down to the Curraghs in piles of ten feet high, tied about with long sheep lankets of twisted straw. The other half he set to dig trenches in the marshy places. He made the women to kindle a turf fire in every room with a chimney-flue, and when night came he had great fires of gorse, peat, withered vegetation, and dried sea-wrack built on the open spaces about the houses in which the sickness had broken out. He seemed neither to rest nor eat. From sick house to sick house, from trench to trench, and fire to fire, he moved on with his strong step. And behind him at all times, having never a word from him and never a look, but trudging along at his heels like a dog, was the man-lad Davy Fayle.
Many of the affrighted people who had taken refuge in the mountains returned to their homes at his coming; but others, husbands and fathers chiefly, remained on the hills, leaving their wives and families to fend for themselves. Seeing this, he went up and found some of them in their hiding-places, and, shaming them out of their cowardice, brought them back behind him, more docile than sheep behind a shepherd. When the extown-watch, Billy-by-Nite, next appeared on the Curraghs in the round of his prophetic itineration, the strange man said not a word, but he cut short the vehement jeremiad by taking the Quaker prophet by legs and neck, and throwing him headlong into one of the drain troughs newly dug in the dampest places.
But the strength of this silent man was no more conspicuous than his tenderness. When in the frenzy of their fever the sufferers would cast off their clothes, and try to rise from their beds and rush into the cooler air from the heat by which he had surrounded them, his big horny hands would restrain them with a great gentleness.
Before he had been five days in Michael and on the Curraghs the sickness began to abate. The deaths were fewer, and some of the sick rose from their beds. Then the people plied him with many questions, and would have overwhelmed him with their rude gratitude. To their questions be gave few answers, and when they thanked him he turned and left them.
They said that their Bishop, who was grown feeble, the good ould angel, thought it strange that he had not yet visited him. To this he answered briefly that before leaving the parish he would go to Bishop’s Court.
They told him that Mistress Mona, daughter of the Dempster that was, had sess to him, had been seeking him high and low. At this his lip trembled, and he bent his head.
“The good man’s face plagues me mortal,” said old Billy-the-Gawk. “Whiles I know it, and other whiles I don’t.”
Only another day did the stranger remain in Michael, but the brief time was full of strange events. The night closed in before seven o’clock. It was then very dark across the mountains, and the sea lay black beyond the cliffs, but the Curraghs were dotted over with the many fires which had been kindled about the infected houses.
Within one of these houses, the home of Jabez Gawne, the stranger stood beside the bed of a sick woman, the tailor’s wife. Behind him there were anxious faces. Davy Fayle, always near him, leaned against the door-jamb by the porch.
And while the stranger wrapped the sweltering sufferer in hot blankets, other sufferers sent to him to pray of him to come to them. First there came an old man to tell of his grandchild, who had been smitten down that day, and she was the last of his kin whom the Sweat had left alive. Then a woman, to say that her husband, who had started again with the boats but yesterday, bad been brought home to her that night with the sickness. He listened to all who came, and answered quietly, “I will go.”
At length a young man ran in and said, “The Dempster’s down. He’s shouting for you, sir. He sent me hot-foot to fetch you.”
The stranger listened as before, and seemed to think rapidly for a moment, for his under lip trembled, and was drawn painfully inward. Then he answered as briefly as ever, and with as calm a voice, “I will go.”
The man ran back with his answer, but presently returned, saying, with panting breath, “He’s rambling, sir; raving mad, sir; and shouting that he must be coming after you if you’re not for coming to him.”
“We will go together,” the stranger said, and they went out immediately. Davy Fayle followed them at a few paces.
Through the darkness of that night a woman, young and beautiful, in cloak and hood like a nun’s, walked from house to house of the Curraghs, where the fires showed that the sickness was still raging. It was Mona. These three days past she had gone hither and thither, partly to tend the sick people, partly in hope of meeting the strange man who had come to cure them. Again and again she had missed him, being sometimes only a few minutes before or after him.
Still she passed on from house to house, looking for him as she went in at every fresh door, yet half dreading the chance that might bring them face to face.
She entered the house where he had received her father’s message almost on the instant when he left it. The three men had gone by her in the darkness.
Jabez, the tailor, who sat whimpering in the ingle, told her that the priest had that moment gone off to Ballamona, where the Dempster that was-hadn’t she heard the newses Y-was new down with the Sweat.
Her delicate face whitened at that, and after a pause she turned to follow. But going back to the hearth, she asked if the stranger had been told that the Bishop wanted to see him. Jabez told her yes, and that he had said he would go up to Bishop’s Court before leaving the parish.
Then another question trembled on her tongue, but she could not utter it. At last she asked what manner of man the stranger was to look upon.
“Aw, big and sthraight and tall,” said Jabez.
And Billy-the-Gawk, who sat at the opposite side of the ingle, being kin to Jabez’s sick wife, said, “Ay, and quiet like, and solemn extraordinary.”
“A wonderful man, wonderful, wonderful,” said Jabez, still whimpering. “And wherever he comes the Sweat goes down before him with a flood.”
“As I say,” said Billy-the-Gawk, “the good man’s face plagues me mortal. I can’t bethink me where I’ve seen the like of it afore.”
Mona’s lips quivered at that word, and she seemed to be about to speak; but she said nothing.
“And the strong he is!” said Jabez: “I never knew but one man in the island with half the strength of arm at him.”
Mona’s pale face twitched visibly, and she listened as with every faculty.
“Who d’ye mane?” asked Billy-the-Gawk. At that question there was a moment’s silence between the men. Then each drew a long breath, dislodged a heavy burden from his throat, glanced significantly up at Mona, and looked into the other’s face.
“Him,” said Jabez, in a faint under-breath, speaking behind his hand.
Billy-the-Gawk straightened his crooked back, opened wide his rheumy eyes, pursed up his wizened cheeks, and emitted a low, long whistle.
For an instant Jabez looked steadily into the old mendicant’s face, and then drew himself up in his seat
Mona’s heart leapt to her mouth. She was almost beside herself with suspense, and felt an impulse to scream.
Within a week after old Thorkell had conversed with the Bishop about the rumour that the wells had been charmed, his terror of the sickness had grown nigh to madness. He went to church no longer, but shut himself up in his house. Night and day his restless footstep could be heard to pass from room to room and floor to floor. He ate little, and such was his dread of the water from his well that for three days together he drank nothing. At length, burning from thirst, he went up the Dhoon Glen and drank at a pool, going down on hands and knees to lap the water like a dog. Always he seemed to be mumbling prayers, and When the bell of the church rang, no matter for what occasion, he dropped to his knees and prayed audibly. He forbade the servants of the house to bring him news of deaths, but waited and watched and listened at open doors for their conversation among themselves. At night he went to the front windows to look at the fires that were kindled about the infected houses on the Curraghs. He never failed to turn from that sight with bitter words. Such work was but the devil’s play: it was making a mock at God, who had sent the sickness to revenge
Himself on the island’s guilty people. Thorkell told Jarvis Kerruish as much time after time. Jarvis answered contemptuously, and Thorkell retorted angrily. At length they got to high words, and Jarvis flung away.
One morning Thorkell called for Hommy-beg. They told him that Hommy had been nursing his wife. The blind woman was now dead, and Hommy was burying her. At this Thorkell’s terror was appalling to look upon. All night long he had been telling himself that he despised the belief in second sight, but that he would see if Kerry pretended to know whether he himself was to outlive the scourge. No matter, the woman was dead. So much the better!
Later the same day Thorkell remembered that somewhere on the mountains there lived an old farmer who was a seer and bard. He would go to see the old charlatan. Yes, he would amuse himself – with the superstition that aped religion. Thorkell set out, and found the bard’s lonely house far up above the Sherragh Vane. In a corner of the big fireplace the old man sat, with a black shawl bound about his head and tied under his chin. He was past eighty years of age, and his face was as old a face as Thorkell had ever looked upon. On his knee a young child was sitting, and two or three small boys were playing about his feet. A brisk middle-aged woman was stirring the peats and settling the kettle on the chimney-hook. She was the old man’s wife, and the young brood were the old man’s children. Thorkell began to talk of carvals, and said he had come to hear some of them. The old bard’s eyes brightened. He had written a carol about the sickness. From the “lath” he took a parchment pan, full of papers that were worn, thumb-marked, and greasy. From one of these papers he began to read, and Thorkell tried to listen. The poem was an account of a dream. The dreamer had dreamt that he had gone into a church. There was a congregation gathered, and a preacher was in the pulpit. But when the preacher prayed the dreamer heard nothing of God. At length he discovered that it was a congregation of the dead in the region of the damned. They had all died of the Sweat. Every man of them had been warned by wise men and women in this world. The congregation sang a joyless psalm, and when their service was done they began to break up. Then the dreamer recognised some whom he had known in the flesh. Among them was one who had killed his own son, and he was afflicted with a burning thirst. To this unhappy man the dreamer offered a basin of milk-and-water, but the damned soul could not get the basin to his parched lips, struggle as he might to lift it in his stiff arms.
At first Thorkell listened with the restless mind of a man who had come on better business, and then with a feverish interest. The sky had darkened since he entered the house, and while the old bard chanted in his singsong voice, and the children made their clatter around his feet, a storm of heavy rain pelted against the window-pane.
The ballad ended in the grim doggerel of a harrowing appeal to the sinner to shun his evil courses:
“O sinner, see your dangerous state, And think of hell ere ’tis too late;
When worldly cares would drown each thought, Pray call to mind that hell is hot.
Still to increase your godly fears Let this be sounding in your ears, Still bear in mind that hell is hot, Remember and forget it not.”
Thus, with a swinging motion of the body, the old bard of the mountain chanted his rude song on the dangers of damnation. Thorkell leapt up from the settle and sputtered out an expression of contempt. What madness was this? If he had his way he would clap all superstitious people into the Castle.
The next morning, when sitting down to breakfast, Thorkell told Jarvis Kerruish that he had three nights running dreamt the same dream, and it was a terrible one. Jarvis laughed in his face, and said he was a foolish old man. Thorkell answered with heat, and they parted on the instant, neither touching food. Towards noon Thorkell imagined he felt feverish, and asked for Jarvis Kerruish; but Jarvis was at his toilet and would not be disturbed. At five o’clock the same day Thorkell was sweating from every pore, and crying lustily that he had taken the sickness. Towards seven he ordered the servant-a young man named Juan Caine, who had come to fill Hommy’s place-to go in search of the Romish priest, Father Dalby.
When the stranger came, the young man opened the door to him, and whispered that the old master’s wits were gone. “He’s not been wise these two hours,” the young man said, and then led the way to Thorkell’s bedroom. He missed the corridor, and the stranger pointed to the proper door.
Thorkell was sitting up in his bed. His clothes had not been taken off, but his coat – a blue coat, laced – and also his long yellow vest were unbuttoned. His wig was perched on the top of a high-backed chair, and over his bald head hung a torn piece of red flannel. His long hairy hands, with the prominent blue veins, crawled like a crab over the counterpane. His eyes were open very wide. When he saw the stranger he was for getting out of bed.
“I am not ill,” he said; “it’s folly to think that I’ve taken the sickness. I sent for you to tell you something that you should know.” Then he called to the young man to bring him water.
“Juan, water!” he cried; “Juan, I say, more water.”
He turned to the stranger.
“It’s true I’m always athirst, but is that any proof that I have taken the sickness? Juan, be quick-water!”
The young man brought a pewter pot of cold water, and Thorkell clutched at it, but as he was stretching his neck to drink, his hot lips working visibly, and his white tongue protruding, he drew suddenly back. “Is it from the well?” he asked.
The stranger took the pewter out of his hands, unlocking his stiff fingers with his own great bony ones. “Make the water hot,” he said to the servant.
Thorkell fell back to his pillow, and the rag of red blanket dropped from his bald crown. Then he lifted himself on one elbow and began again to talk of the sickness. “You have made a mistake,” he said. “It is not to be cured. It is God’s revenge on the people of this sinful island. Shall I tell you for what offence? For superstition. Superstition is the ape of religion. It is the reproach of God. Juan! Juan, I say, help me off with this coat.
And these bedclothes also. Why are there so many? It’s true, sir-Father, is it?-it’s true,
Father, I’m hot, but what of that? Water! Juan, more water-Glen water, Juan!”
The stranger pushed Thorkell gently back, and covered him closely from the air.
“As I say, it is superstition, sir,” said Thorkell again. “I would have it put down by law. It is the curse of this island. What are those twenty-four Keys doing that they don’t stamp it out? And the clergy-what are they wrangling about now, that they don’t see to it? I’ll tell you how it is, sir. It is this way. A man does something, and some old woman sneezes. Straightway he thinks himself accursed, and that what is predicted must certainly come about. And it does come about. Why? Because the man himself, with his blundering, doddering fears, brings it about. He brings it about himself-that’s how it is! And then every old woman in the island sneezes again.”
Saying this, Thorkell began to laugh, loudly, frantically, atrociously. Jarvis Kerruish had entered while he was running on with his tirade. The stranger did not lift his eyes to Jarvis, but Jarvis looked at him attentively.
When Thorkell had finished his hideous laugh he turned to Jarvis and asked if superstition was not the plague of the island, and if it ought not to be put down by law. Jarvis curled his lips for answer, but this form of contempt was lost on old Thorkell’s dim eyes.
“Have we not often agreed that it is so?” said Thorkell.
“And that you,” said Jarvis, speaking slowly and bitterly, “are the most superstitious man alive.”
“What? what?” Thorkell cried.
The stranger lifted his face, and looked steadily into Jarvis’s eyes. “You,” he said calmly, ” have some reason to say so.”
Jarvis reddened, turned about, stepped to the door, glanced back at the stranger, and went out of the room.
Thorkell was now moaning on the pillow. “I am all alone,” he said, and he fell to a bout of weeping.
The stranger waited until the hysterical fit was over, and then said, “Where is your daughter?”
“Ah!” said Thorkell, dropping his red eyes. “Send for her.”
“I will. Juan, go to Bishop’s Court. Juan, I says, run fast and fetch Mistress Mona. Tell her that her father is ill.”
As Thorkell gave this order Jarvis Kerruish returned to the room.
“No!” said Jarvis, lifting his hand against the young man.
“No?” cried Thorkell.
“If this is my house, I will be master in it,” said Jarvis.
“Master! your house! yours!” Thorkell cried; and then he fell to a fiercer bout of hysterical curses. “Bastard, I gave you all! But for me you would be on the roads-ay, the dunghill!”
“This violence will avail you nothing,” said Jarvis, with hard constraint. “Mistress Mona shall not enter this house.”
Jarvis placed himself with his back to the door. The stranger stepped up to him, laid one powerful hand on his arm, and drew him aside. “Go for Mistress Mona,” he said to the young man. “Knock at the door on your return. I will open it.”
The young man obeyed the stranger. Jarvis stood a moment looking blankly into the stranger’s face. Then he went out of the room again.
Thorkell was whimpering on the pillow. It is true,” he said, with labouring breath, “though I hate superstition and loathe it, I was once its victim-once only. My son Ewan was killed by my brother’s son Dan. They loved each other like David and Jonathan, but I told Ewan a lie, and they fought, and Ewan was brought home dead. Yes, I told a lie, but I believed it then. I made myself believe it. I listened to some old wife’s balderdash, and thought it true. And Dan was cut off-that is to say, banished, excommunicated; worse, worse. But he’s dead now. He was found dead in the snow.” Again Thorkell tried to laugh, a poor despairing laugh that was half a cry. “Dead! They threatened me that he would push me from my place. And he is dead before me! So much for divination! But tell me – you are a priest – tell me if that sin will drag me down to to – But then, remember, I believed it was true-yes, I –”
The stranger’s face twitched, and his breathing became quick.
“And it was you who led the way to all that followed?” he said in a subdued voice.
“It was; it was-”
The stranger had suddenly reached over the bed and taken Thorkell by the shoulders. At the neat instant he had relinquished his hard grasp, and was standing upright as before, and with as calm a face. And Thorkell went jabbering on
“These three nights I have dreamt a fearful dream. Shall I tell you what it was? Shall I? I thought Dan, my brother’s son, arose out of his grave, and came to my bed side, and peered into my face. Then I thought I shrieked and died; and the first thing I saw in the other world was my own son Ewan, and he peered into my face also, and told me that I was damned eternally. But, tell me, don’t you think it was only a dream? Father! Father! I say tell me-”
Thorkell was clambering up by hold of the stranger’s coat.
The stranger pushed him gently back.
“Lie still! lie still-you too have suffered much,” he said. “Lie quiet-God is merciful.” Just then Jarvis Kerruish entered in wild excitement. “Now I know who this man is,” he said, pointing to the stranger.
“Father Dalby,” said Thorkell. “Pshaw!-it is DAN MYLREA,”
Thorkell lifted himself stiffly on his elbow, and rigidly drew his face closely up to the stranger’s face, and peered into the stranger’s eyes. Then he took a convulsive hold of the stranger’s coat, shrieked, and fell back on to the pillow.
At that moment there was a loud knocking at the door below. The stranger left the room. In the hall a candle was burning. He put it out. Then he opened the door. A woman entered. She was alone. She passed him in the darkness without speaking. He went out of the house and pulled the door after him.
An hour later than this terrible interview, wherein his identity (never hidden by any sorry masquerade) was suddenly revealed. Daniel Mylrea, followed closely at his heels by Davy Fayle, walked amid the fires of the valley to Bishop’s Court. He approached the old house by the sea front, and went into its grounds by a gate that opened on a footpath to the library through a clump of elms. Sluggish as was Davy’s intellect, he reflected that this was a path that no stranger could know.
The sky of the night had lightened, and here and there a star gleamed through the thinning branches overhead. In a faint breeze the withering leaves of the dying summer rustled slightly. On the meadow before the house a silvery haze of night-dew lay in its silence. Sometimes the croak of a frog came from the glen; and from the sea beyond (though seemingly from the mountains opposite) there rose into the air the rumble of the waves on the shore.
Daniel Mylrea passed on with a slow, strong step, but a secret pain oppressed him. He was walking on ground that was dear with a thousand memories of happy childhood. He was going back for some brief moments that must be painful and joyful, awful and delicious, to the house which he had looked to see no more. Already he was very near to those who were very dear to him, and to whom he, too-yes, it must be so-to whom he, too, in spite of all, must still be dear. “Father, father,” he whispered to himself. “And Mona, my Mona, my love, my love.” Only the idle chatter of the sapless leaves answered to the yearning cry of his broken spirit.
He had passed out of the shade of the elms into the open green of the meadow with the stars above it, when another voice came to him. It was the voice of a child singing. Clear and sweet, and with a burden of tenderness such as a child’s voice rarely carries, it floated through the quiet air.
Daniel Mylrea passed on until he came by the library window, which was alight with a rosy glow. There he stood for a moment and looked into the room. His father, the Bishop, was seated in the oak chair that was clamped with iron clamps. Older he seemed to be, and with the lines a thought deeper on his massive brow. On a stool at his feet, with one elbow resting on the apron in front of him, a little maiden sat, and she was singing. A fire burned red on the hearth before them. Presently the Bishop rose from his chair and went out of the room, walking feebly, and with drooping head.
Then Daniel Mylrea walked round to the front of the house and knocked. The door was opened by a servant whose face was strange to him. Everything that he saw was strange, and yet everything was familiar. The hall was the same but smaller, and when it echoed to his foot a thrill passed through him.
He asked for the Bishop, and was led like a stranger through his father’s house to the door of the library. The little maiden was now alone in the room. She rose from her stool as he entered, and, without the least reserve, stepped up to him and held out her hand. He took her tender little palm in his great fingers, and held it for a moment while he looked into her face. It was a beautiful child-face, soft and fair and oval, with a faint tinge of olive in the pale cheeks, and with yellow hair-almost white in the glow of the red fire-falling in thin tresses over a full, smooth forehead.
He sat and drew her closer to him, still looking steadily into her face. Then in a tremulous voice he asked her what her name was, and the little maiden, who had shown no fear at all, nor any bashfulness, answered that her name was Aileen.
“But they call me Ailee,” she added promptly; “everybody calls me Ailee.”
“Oh, everybody,” she answered, with a true child’s emphasis. “Your mother?”
She shook her head.
“Your-your-perhaps-your –” She shook her head more vigorously,
“I know what you’re going to say, but I’ve got none,” she said.
“Got none?” he repeated.
The little maiden’s face took suddenly a wondrous solemnity, and she said, “My father died a long, long, long time ago-when I was only a little baby.”
His lips quivered and his eyes fell from her face.
“Such a long, long while ago-you wouldn’t think. And auntie says I can’t even remember him.”
But shall I tell you what Kerry said it was that made him die? – shall I? – only I must whisper-and you won’t tell auntie, will you? because auntie doesn’t know -shall I tell you?” His quivering lips whitened, and with trembling bands he drew aside the little maiden’s head that her innocent eyes might not gaze into his face.
“How old are you, Ailee ven?” he asked in a brave voice.
“Oh, I’m seven-and auntie, she’s seven too; auntie and I are twins.”
“And you can sing, can you not? Will you sing for me?”
“What shall I sing?”
“Anything, sweetheart-what you sang a . little while since.”
“Kerry says no, it’s uncle, not grandpa. But that’s wrong,” with a look of outraged honour; “and besides, how should Kerry know? It’s not her grandpa, is it? Do you know Kerry?” Then the little face saddened all at once. ” Oh, I forgot poor Kerry.”
“Poor Kerry? ”
“I used to go and see her. You go up the road, and then on and on and on until you come to some children, and then on and on and on until you get to a little boy-and then you’re there.”
“Won’t you sing, sweetheart?”
“I’ll sing grandpa’s song.” “Grandpa’s?”
“Yes, the one he likes.”
Then the little maiden’s dimpled face smoothened out, and her simple eyes turned gravely upwards as she began to sing:
“O Myle Charaine, where got you your gold? Lone, lone, you have left me here.
O not in the Curragh, deep under the mould, Lone, lone, and void of cheer.”
It was the favourite song of his own boyish days; and while the little maiden sang, it seemed to the crime-stained man who gazed through a dim haze into her cherub face that the voice of her dead father had gone into her voice. He listened while he could, and when the tears welled up to his eyes, with his horny hands he drew her fair head down to his heaving breast, and sobbed beneath his breath, “Ailee ven, Ailee ven.”
The little maiden stopped in her song to look up in bewilderment at the bony, wet face that was stooping over her.
At that moment the door of the room opened, and the Bishop entered noiselessly. A moment he stood on the threshold, with a look of perplexity. Then he made a few halting steps, and said
“My eyes are not what they were, sir, and I see there is no light but the firelight; but I presume you are the good Father Dalby? ”
Daniel Mylrea had risen to his feet. ” I come from him,” he answered. ” Is he not coming himself? ”
“He cannot come. He charged me with a message to you.”
“You are very welcome. My niece will be home presently. Be seated, sir.”
Daniel Mylrea did not sit, but continued to stand before his father, with head held down. After a moment he spoke again.
“Father Dalby,” he said, “is dead.”
The Bishop sank to his chair. “When? when? ”
“He died the better part of a month ago. “The Bishop rose to his feet.
“He was in this island but yesterday.”
“He bade me tell you that he had fulfilled his pledge to you and come to the island, but died by the visitation of God the same night whereon he landed here.”
The Bishop put one hand to his forehead. “Sir,” he said, “my hearing is also failing me, for, as you see, I am an old man now, and besides I have had trouble in my time. Perhaps, sir, I did not hear you aright.”
Then Daniel Mylrea told in few words the story of the priest’s accident and death, and bow the man at whose house he died had made bold to take the good priest’s mission upon himself.
The Bishop listened with visible pain, and for a while said nothing. Then, speaking in a faltering voice, with breath that came quickly, he asked who the other man had been. “For the good man has been a blessing to us,” he added nervously.
To this question there was no reply, and be asked again, ” Who?”
The Bishop lifted with trembling fingers his horn-bridged spectacles to his eyes.
“Your voice is strangely familiar,” he said. “What is your name? ”
Again there was no answer.
“Give me your name, sir-that I may pray of God to bless you.”
Still there was no answer.
“Let me remember it in my prayers.”
Then in a breaking voice Daniel Mylrea replied, ” In your prayers my poor name has never been forgotten.”
At that the Bishop tottered a pace backward.
“Light,” he said faintly. “More light.”
He touched a bell on the table, and sank quietly into his chair. Daniel Mylrea fell to his knees at the Bishop’s feet.
“Father,” he said in a fervent whisper, and put his lips to the Bishop’s hand.
The door was opened, and a servant entered with candles. At the same moment Daniel Mylrea stepped quickly out of the room.
Then the little maiden leaped from the floor to the Bishop’s side.
“Grandpa, grandpa! Oh, what has happened to grandpa?” she cried.
The Bishop’s head had dropped into his breast and he had fainted. When he opened his eyes in consciousness Mona was bathing his forehead and damping his lips.
“My child,” he said nervously, “one has come back to us from the dead.”
And Mona answered him with the thought that was now uppermost in her mind.
“Dear uncle,” she said, “my poor father died half-an-hour ago.”
“OUR FATHER, WHICH ART IN HEAVEN”
NOT many days after the events recorded in the foregoing chapter, the people of Man awoke to the joyful certainty that the sweating sickness had disappeared. The solid wave of heat had gone; the ground had become dry and the soil light, and no foetid vapours floated over the Curraghs at midday. Also the air had grown keener, the nights had sharpened, and in the morning the fronds of hoar-frost hung on the withering leaves of the trammon.
Then the poor folk began to arrange their thoughts concerning the strange things that had happened; to count up their losses by death; to talk of children that were fatherless; and of old men left alone in the world, like naked trunks, without bough or branch, flung on the bare earth by yesterday’s storm.
And in that first roll-call after the battle of life and death the people suddenly became aware that, with the sweating sickness, the man who had brought the cure for it had also disappeared. He was not on the Curraghs, he was no longer in Michael, and farther east he had not travelled. None could tell what had become of him. When seen last he was walking south through German towards Patrick. He was then alone, save for the halfdaft lad, Davy Fayle, who slouched at his heels like a dog. As he passed up Creg Willey’s Hill the people of St. John’s followed him in ones and twos and threes to offer him their simple thanks, But he pushed along as one who hardly heard them. When he came by the Tynwald he paused and turned partly towards Greeba, as though half minded to alter his course. But, hesitating no longer, he followed the straight path towards the village at the foot of Slieu Whallin. As he crossed the green the people of St. John’s, who followed him up the hill-road, had grown to a great number, being joined there by the people of Tynwald. And when he passed under the ancient mount, walking with long, rapid steps, his chin on his breast and his eyes kept steadfastly down, the grey-headed men uncovered their heads, the young women thrust their young children under his hands for his blessing, and all by one impulse shouted in one voice, “God bless the priest!” “Heaven save the priest!”
There were spectators of that scene who were wont to say, when the sequel had freshened their memories, that amid this wild tumult of the gratitude of the island’s poor people, he who was the subject of it made one quick glance of pain upwards to the mount, now standing empty above the green, and then, parting the crowds that encircled him, pushed through them without word, or glance, or sign. Seeing at last that he shrank from their thanks, the people followed him no farther, but remained on the green, watching him as he passed on towards Slieu Whallin, and then up by the mountain track. When he had reached the top of the path, where it begins its descent to the valley beyond, he paused again and turned about, glancing back. The people below saw his full figure clearly outlined against the sky, and once more they sent up their shout by one great impulse in one great voice that drowned the distant rumble of the sea, “God bless the priest!”
“Heaven save the priest!” And he heard it, for instantly he faced about and disappeared. When he was gone it seemed as if a spell had broken. The people looked into each other’s faces in bewilderment, as if vaguely conscious that somewhere and sometime, under conditions the same yet different, all that they had then seen their eyes had seen before. And bit by bit the memory came back to them, linked with a name that might not be spoken. Then many things that had seemed strange became plain.
In a few days the whisper passed over Man, from north to south, from east to west, from the sod cabins on the Curragh to the Castle at Castletown, that he who bad cured the people of the sickness, he who had been mistaken for the priest out of Ireland, was none other than the unblessed man long thought to be dead; and that he had lived to be the saviour of his people.
The great news was brought to Bishop’s Court, and it was found to be there already. Rumour said that from Castletown an inquiry had come asking if the news were true, but none could tell what answer Bishop’s Court had made. The Bishop had shut himself up from all visits, even those of his clergy. With Mona and the child, Ewan’s little daughter, he had passed the days since Thorkell’s death, and not until the day of Thorkell’s funeral did he break in upon his solitude. Then he went down to the little churchyard that stands over by the sea.
They buried the ex-Deemster near to his – son Ewan, and with scarcely a foot’s space between them, Except Jarvis Kerruish, the Bishop was Thorkell’s sole mourner, and hardly had the service ended, or the second shovel of earth fallen from old Will-as-Thorn’s spade, when Jarvis whipped about and walked away. Then the Bishop stood alone by his brother’s unhonoured grave, trying to forget his malice and uncharity, and his senseless superstitions that had led to many disasters, thinking only with the pity that is nigh to love of the great ruin whereunto his poor beliefs had tottered down. And when the Bishop had returned home the roll-call of near kindred showed him pitiful gaps. “The island grows very lonesome, Mona,” he said.
That night Davy Fayle came to Bishop’s Court with a book in his hand. He told Mona how he had found the Ben-my-Chree a complete wreck on the shingle of the Dhoon Creek in the Calf Sound, and the book in its locker. Not a syllable could Davy read, but he knew that the book was the fishing-log of the lugger, and that since he saw it last it had been filled with writings.
Mona took the book into the library, and with the Bishop she examined it. It was a small quarto bound in sheepskin, with corners and back of untanned leather. Longways on the back the words “Ben-my-Chree Fishing Log” were lettered, as with a soft quill in a bold hand. On the front page there was this inscription:
Owner, Daniel Mylrea, Bishop’s Court, Isle of Man.
Master, Illiam Quilleash.
Over page was the word “ACCOUNTS,” and then followed the various items of the earnings . and expenditure of the boat. The handwriting was strong and free, but the bookkeeping was not lucid.
Eight pages of faintly-tinted paper, much frayed, and with lines ruled by band one way of the sheet only, were filled with the accounts of the herring season of -. At the bottom there was an attempt at picking out the items of profit and loss, and at reckoning the shares of owner, master, and man. The balance stood but too sadly on the wrong side. There was a deficit of forty pounds four shillings and sixpence.
The Bishop glanced at the entries, and passed them over with a sigh. But turning the leaves, he came upon other matter of more pathetic interest. This was a long personal narrative from the owner’s pen, covering some two hundred of the pages. The Bishop looked it through, hurriedly, nervously, and with eager eyes. Then he gave up the book to Mona. Read it aloud, child,” he said, in a voice unlike his own, and with a brave show of composure he settled himself to listen.
For two hours thereafter Mona read from the narrative that was written in the book. What that narrative was does not need to be said.
Often the voice of the reader failed her, sometimes it could not support itself. And in the lapses of her voice the silence was broken by her low sobs.
The Bishop listened long with a great outer calmness, for the affections of the father were struggling with a sense of the duty of the servant of God. At some points of the narrative these seemed so to conflict as to tear his old heart woefully. But he bore up very bravely, and tried to think that in what he had done seven years before he had done well. At an early stage of Mona’s reading he stopped her to say
“Men have been cast on desert islands beforetime, and too often they have been adrift on unknown seas.”
Again he stopped her to add, with a slow shake of the head
“Men have been outlawed, and dragged out weary years in exile-men have been oftentimes under the ban and chain of the law.”
And once again he interrupted and said, in a trembling undertone, “It is true-it has been what I looked for-it has been a death in life.”
But as Mona went on to read of how the outcast man, kept back from speech with every living soul, struggled to preserve the spiritual part of him, the Bishop interrupted once More, and said in a faltering voice
“This existence has been quite alone in its desolation.”
As Mona went on again to read of how the unblessed creature said his prayer in his solitude, not hoping that God would hear, but thinking himself a man outside God’s grace, though God’s hand was upon him thinking himself a man doomed to everlasting death, though the blessing of Heaven bad already fallen over him like morning dew-then all that remained of spiritual pride in the heart of the Bishop was borne down by the love of the father, and his old head fell into his breast, and the hot tears rained down his wrinkled cheeks.
Later the same night Mona sent for Davy Fayle. The lad was easily found; he had been waiting in the darkness outside the house, struggling hard with the desire to go in and tell Mistress Mona where Daniel Mylrea was to be found.
“Davy,” she said, “do you know where he is?”
“Sure,” said Davy.
“And you could lead me to him?”
“Then come here very early in the morning, and we will go together.”
Next day when Mona, attired for her journey, went down for a hasty breakfast, she found the Bishop fumbling a letter in his trembling fingers.
“Read this, child,” he said in a thick voice, and he handed the letter to her.
She turned it over nervously. The superscription ran: “These to the Lord Bishop of Man, at his Palace of Bishop’s Court,” and the seal on the other face was that of the insular Government.
While the Bishop made pretence of wiping with his handkerchief the horn-bridged spectacles on his nose, Mona opened and read the letter.
It was from the Governor at Castletown, and said that the Lord of Man and the Isles, in recognition of the great services done by Daniel Mylrea to the people of the island during their recent affliction, would be anxious to appoint him Deemster of Man, in succession to his late uncle, Thorkell Mylrea (being satisfied that he was otherwise qualified for the post), if the Steward of the Ecclesiastical Courts were willing to remove the censure of the Church under which he now laboured.
When she had finished reading Mona cast one glance of nervous supplication upwards to the Bishop’s face, and then with a quick cry of joy, which was partly pain, she flung her arms about his neck.
The old Bishop was quite broken down. “Man’s judgments on man,” he said, “are but as the anger of little children-here to-day, gone to-morrow, and the Father’s face is over all.”
What need to tell of one of the incidents of Mona’s journey, or of the brave hopes that buoyed her up on the long and toilsome way? Many a time during these seven years past she had remembered that it was she who had persuaded Dan to offer his life as an atonement for his sin. And often the thought came back to her with the swiftness of remorse that it was she who, in her blindness, had sent him to a doom that was worse than death. But Heaven’s ways had not been her ways, and all was well. The atonement had been made, and the sin had been wiped out of the book of life. Dan, her love, her beloved, had worked out his redemption. He had proved himself the great man she had always known he must be. He was to come back loaded with honour and gratitude, and surrounded by multitudes of friends.
More than once, when the journey was heaviest, she put her hand to her bosom and touched the paper that nestled so warmly there. Then in her mind’s eye she saw Dan in the seat of the Deemster, the righteous judge of his own people. Oh yes, he would be the Deemster, but he would be Dan still, her Dan, the lively, cheerful, joyous, perhaps even frolicsome Dan once more. He would sport with her little Ailee. he would play with her as he used to play long ago with another little girl that she herself could remember-tickling her under her armpits and under her chin-while she sent up a chorus of squealing laughter.
The burden of Mona’s long years of weary sorrow bad been so suddenly lifted away that she could not restrain her thoughts from childish sportiveness. But sometimes she remembered Ewan, and then her heart saddened, and sometimes she thought of herself, and then it flushed full of quick, hot blood. And oh! how delicious was the secret thing that sometimes stole up between her visions of Dan and the high destiny that was before him. It was a vision of herself, transfigured by his noble love, resting upon and looking up to him, and thus passing on and on and on to the end.
Once she remembered, with a chill passing through her, that in the writing which she had read Dan had said he was ill: But what of that? She was going to him, and would nurse him back to health.
And Davy Fayle walking at her side, was full of his own big notions, too. Mastha Dan would be Dempster, true; but he’d have a boat for his pleasure, sarten sure. Davy Fayle would sail man in her, perhaps mate, and maybe skipper some day-who knows? And then, lying aft and drifting at the herrings, and smokin’, and the stars out, and the moon makin’ a peep-aw, well, well, well!
They reached the end of their journey at last. It was in a small gorse-covered house far over the wild moor, on the edge of the Chasms, looking straight out on the hungry sea. In its one bare room (which was without fire, and was cheerless with little light) there was a table, a settle, a chair, a stool, and a sort of truckle-bed. Dan was there, the same, yet, oh! how different! He lay on the bed unconscious, near to death of the sickness the last that the scourge was to slay.
Of this story of great love and great’ suffering what is left to tell?
There are moments when life seems like the blind swirl of a bat in the dusk-blundering, irresponsible, not to be counted with the swift creature of evil chance. We see a little child’s white face at a hospital window, a strong man toiling hopelessly against wrong, the innocent suffering with the guilty, good instincts thwarted and base purposes promoted, and we ask ourselves, with a thrill of the heart, What, after all, is God doing in this His world? And from such blind labouring of chance the tired and beaten generations of men seem to find it reward enough to drop one after one to the hushed realms of rest.
Shall we marvel very much if such a moment came to this pure and noble woman as she stood in the death-chamber of her beloved, with whom, after years of longing, she was at last brought face to face?
But again, there are other moments, higher and better, when there is such a thing in this so bewildering world as the victory of vanquishment, when the true man crushed by evil chance is yet the true man undestroyed by it and destroying it, when Job on his dunghill is more to be envied than Pharaoh on his throne, and death is as good as life.
And such a higher moment came to Mona in that death-chamber. She sat many hours by Dan’s side, waiting for the breaking of his delirium and the brief space of consciousness and of peace which would be the beginning of the end. It came at long, long length, and, ah! how soon it came!
The night had come and gone whilst she sat and watched. When the sunrise shot red through the skin-covered window it fell on Dan and awakened him. Opening his eyes he saw Mona, and his soul smiled over his wasted face. He could not speak, nor could he lift his worn hands. She knew that the time was near, and holding back her grief, like wild creatures held by the leash, she dropped to her knees, and clasped her hands together to pray. And while she prayed the dying man repeated some of the words after her. “Our Father –”
“Our – Father –”
“Which art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name –”
“Hallowed – be – Thy – name –”
“Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven; give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil –”
“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.