The Manxman (Part VI. Man and God)
PART VI. MAN AND GOD.
The summer had gone, the gorse had dried up, the herring-fishing had ended, and Pete had become poor. His Nickey had done nothing, his last hundred pounds had been spent, and his creditors in scores, quiet as mice until then, were baying about him like bloodhounds. He sold his boat and satisfied everybody, but fell, nevertheless, to the position of a person of no credit and little consequence. On the lips of the people he descended from “Capt’n Pete” to Peter Bridget. When he saluted the rich with “How do!” they replied with a stare, a lift of the chin, and “You’ve the odds of me, my good man.” To this he replied, with a roll of the head and a peal of laughter, “Have I now? But you’ll die for all.”
Ballajora Chapel had been three months rehearsing a children’s cantata entitled “Under the Palms,” and building an arbour of palm branches on a platform for Pete’s rugged form to figure in; but Cæsar sat there instead.
Still, Pete had his six thousand pounds in mortgage on Ballawhaine. Only three other persons knew anything of that—Cæsar, who had his own reasons for saying nothing; Peter Christian himself, who was hardly likely to tell; and the High Bailiff, who was a bachelor and a miser, and kept all business revelations as sacred as are the secrets of another kind of confessional. When Pete’s evil day came and the world showed no pity, Cæsar became afraid.
“I wouldn’t sell out, sir,” said he. “Hould on till Martinmas, anyway. The first half year’s interest is due then. There’s no knowing what’ll happen before that. What’s it saying, ‘He shall give His angels charge concerning thee.’ The ould man has had a polatic stroke, they’re telling me. Aw, the Lord’s mercy endureth for ever.”
Pete began to sell his furniture. He cleared out the parlour as bare as a vault. “Time for it, too,” he said. “I’ve been wanting the room for a workshop.”
Martinmas came, and Cæsar returned in high feather. “No interest,” he said. “Give him the month’s grace, and hould hard till it’s over. The Lord will provide. Isn’t it written, ‘In the world ye shall have tribulation’? Things are doing wonderful, though. Last night going home from Ballajora, I saw the corpse-lights coming from the big house to Kirk Christ’s Churchyard, with the parson psalming in front of them. The ould man’s dying—-I’ve seen his soul. To thy name, O Lord, be all the glory.”
Pete sold out a second room, and turned the key on it. “Mortal cosy and small this big, ugly mansion is getting, Nancy,” he said.
The month’s grace allowed by the deed of mortgage expired, and Cæsar came to Elm Cottage rubbing both hands. “Turn him out, neck and crop, sir. Not a penny left to the man, and six thousand goolden pounds paid into his hands seven months ago. But who’s wondering at that? There’s Ross back again, carrying half a ton of his friends over the island, and lashing out the silver like dust. Your silver, sir, yours. And here’s yourself, with the world darkening round you terrible. But no fear of you now. The meek shall inherit the earth. Aw, God is opening His word more and more, sir, more and more. There’s that Black Tom too. He was talking big a piece back, but this morning he was up before the High Bailiff for charming and cheating, and was put away for the Dempster. Lord keep him from the gallows and hell-fire! Oh, it’s a refreshing saison. It was God spaking to me by Providence when I tould you to put money on that mortgage. What’s the Scripture saying, ‘For brass I bring thee goold’? Turn him out, sir, turn him out.”
“Didn’t you tell me that ould Ballawhaine had a polatic stroke?” said Pete.
“I did; but he’s a big man; let him pay his way,” said Cæsar.
“Samson was a strong man, and Solomon was a wise one, but they couldn’t pay money when they hadn’t got it,” said Pete.
“Let him look to his son then,” said Cæsar”.
“That’s just what he’s going to do,” said Pete. “I’ll let him die in his bed, God forgive him.”
The winter came, and Pete began to think of buying a Dandie, which being smaller than a Nickey, and of yawl rig, he could sail of himself, and so earn a living by fishing the cod. To do this he had a further clearing of furniture, thereby reducing the size of the house to three rooms. The featherbed left his own bedstead, the watch came out of his pocket, and the walls of the hall-kitchen gaped and yawned in the places where the pictures had been.
“The bog-bane to the rushy curragh, say I, Nancy,” said Pete. “Not being used of such grandeur, I was taking it hard. Never could remember to wind that watch. And feathers, bless you! Don’t I remember the lil mother, with a sickle and a bag, going cutting the long grass on the steep brews for the cow, and drying a handful for myself for a bed. Sleeping on it? Never slept the like since at all.”
The result of Pete’s first week’s fishing was twenty cod and a gigantic ling. He packed the cod in boxes and sent them by Crow and the steam-packet to the market in Liverpool. The ling he swung on his back over his oilskin jacket and carried it home, the head at his shoulder and the tail dangling at his legs.
“There!” he cried, dropping it on the floor, “split it and salt it, and you’ve breakfas’es for a month.”
When the remittance came from Liverpool it was a postal order for seven-and-sixpence.
“Never mind,” said Pete; “we’re bating Dan Hommy anyway—the ould muff has only made seven-and-a-penny.”
The weather was rough, the fishing was bad, the tackle got broken, and Pete began to extol plain living.
“Gough bless me,” he said, “I don’t know in the world what’s coming to the ould island at all. When I was for a man-servant with Cæsar the farming boys were ateing potatoes and herrings three times a day. But now! butcher’s mate every dinner-time, if you plaze. And tay! the girls must be having it reg’lar—and taking no shame with them neither. My sake, I remember when the mother would be whispering, ‘Keep an eye on the road, boy, while I’m brewing myself a cup of tay.’ Truth enough, Nancy. An ounce a week and a pound of sugar, and people wondering at the woman for that.”
The mountains were taken from the people, and they were no longer allowed “to cut turf for fuel; coals were dear, the winter was cold, and Pete began to complain of a loss of appetite.
“My teeth must be getting bad, Nancy,” he whined. They were white as milk and faultless as a negro’s. “Don’t domesticate my food somehow. What’s the odds, though I Can’t ate suppers at all, and that’s some constilation. Nothing like going to bed hungry, Nancy, if you’re wanting to get up with an appetite for breakfast. Then the beautiful drames, woman! Gough bless me, the dinners and the feasts and the bankets you’re ateing in your sleep! Now, if you filled your skin like a High Bailiff afore going to bed, ten to one you’d have a buggane riding on your breast the night through and drame of dying for a drink of water. Aw, sleep’s a reg’lar Radical Good for levelling up, anyway.”
Christmas approached, servants boasted of the Christmas boxes they got from their masters, and Pete remembered Nancy.
“Nancy,” said he, “they’re telling me Liza Billy-ny-Clae is getting twenty pound per year per annum at her new situation in Douglas. She isn’t nothing to yourself at cooking. Mustn’t let the lil one stand in your way, woman. She’s getting a big girl now, and I’ll be taking her out in the Dandie with me and tying her down on the low deck there and giving her a pig’s bladder, and she’ll be playing away as nice as nice. See?”
Nancy looked at him, and he dropped his eyes before her.
“Is it wanting to get done with me, you are, Pete?” she said in a quavering voice. “There’s my black—I can sell it for something—it’s never been wore at me since I sat through the sarvice with Grannie the Sunday after we got news of Kirry. And I’m not a big eater, Pete—never was—you can clear me of that anyway. A bit of bread and cheese for my dinner when you are out at the fishing, and I’m asking no better——”
“Hould your tongue, woman,” cried Pete. “Hould your tongue afore you break my heart I’ve seen my rich days and I’ve seen my poor days. I’ve tried both, and I’m content.”
Meantime, Philip in Douglas was going from success to success, from rank to rank, from fame to fame. Everything he put his hand to counted to him for righteousness. When he came to himself after the disappearance of Kate, his heart was a wasted field of volcanic action, with ashes and scoriae of infernal blackness on the surface, but the wholesome soil beneath. In spite of her injunction, he set himself to look for her. More than love, more than pity, more than remorse prompted and supported him. She was necessary to his resurrection, to his new birth. So he scoured every poor quarter of the town, every rookery of old Douglas, and this was set down to an interest in the poor.
An epidemic broke out on the island, and during the scare that followed, wherein some of the wealthy left their homes for England, and many of the poor betook themselves to the mountains, and even certain of the doctors found refuge in flight, Philip won golden opinions for presence of mind and personal courage. He organised a system of registration, regulated quarantine, and caused the examination of everybody coming to the island or leaving it. From day to day he went from house to house, from hospital to hospital, from ward to ward. No dangers terrified him; he seemed to keep his eye on each case. He was only looking for Kate, only assuring himself that she had not fallen victim to the pest, only making certain that she had not come or gone. But the divine madness which seizes upon a crowd when its heart is touched laid hold of the island at the sight of Philip’s activities. He was worshipped, he was beloved, he was the idol of the poor, almost everybody else was forgotten in the splendour of his fame; no committee could proceed without him; no list was complete until it included his name.
Philip was ashamed of his glories, but he had no heart to repudiate them. When the epidemic subsided, he had convinced himself that Kate must be gone, that she must be dead. Gone, therefore, was his only hold on life, and dead was his hope of a moral resurrection. He could do nothing without her but go on as he was going. To pretend to a new birth now would be like a death-bed conversion; it would be like renouncing the joys of life after they have renounced the renouncer.
His colleague, the old Deemster, was stricken down by paralysis, and he was required to attend to both their duties. This made it necessary at first that all Deemster’s Courts should be held in Castletown, and hence Ramsey saw him rarely. He spent his days in the Court-house of the Castle and his nights at home. His fair hair became prematurely white, and his face grew more than ever like that of a man newly risen from a fever.
“Study,” said the world, and it bowed its head the lower.
Yet he was seen to be not only a studious man, but a melancholy one. To defeat curiosity, he began to enter a little into the life of the island, and, as time went on, to engage in some of the social duties of his official position. On Christmas Eve he gave a reception at his house in Athol Street. He had hardly realised how it would tear at the tenderest fibres of memory. The very rooms that had been Kate’s were given over to the ladies who were his guests. All afternoon the crush was great, and the host was the attraction. He was a fascinating figure—so young, yet already so high; so silent, yet able to speak so splendidly; and then so handsome with that whitening head, and that smile like vanishing sunshine.
In the midst of the reception, Philip received a letter from Ramsey that was like the cry of a bleeding heart:—
“My lil one is ill theyr sayin shes Diein cum to me for gods. sake.—Peat.”
The snow was beginning to fall as the guests departed. When the last of them was gone, the clock on the bureau was striking six, and the night was closing in. By eight o’clock Philip was at Elm Cottage.
Pete was sitting at the foot of the stairs, unwashed, uncombed, with his clothes half buttoned and his shoes unlaced.
“Phil!” he cried, and leaping up he took Philip by both hands and fell to sobbing like a child.
They went upstairs together. The bedroom was dense with steam, and the forms of two women were floating like figures in a fog.
“There she is, the bogh,” cried Pete in a pitiful wail.
The child lay outstretched on Grannie’s lap, with no sign of consciousness, and hardly any sign of life, except the hollow breathing of bronchitis.
Philip felt a strange emotion come over him. He sat on the end of the bed and looked down. The little face, with its twitching mouth and pinched nostrils, beating with every breath, was the face of Kate. The little head, with its round forehead and the silvery hair brushed back from the temples, was his own head. A mysterious throb surprised him, a great tenderness, a deep yearning, something new to him, and born as it were in his breast at that instant. He had an impulse, never felt before, to go down on his knees where the child lay, to take it in his arms, to draw it to him, to fondle it, to call it his own, and to pour over it the inarticulate babble of pain and love that was bursting from his tongue. But some one was kneeling there already, and in his jealous longing he realised that his passionate sorrow could have no voice.
Pete, at Grannie’s lap, was stroking the child’s arm and her forehead with the tenderness of a woman.
“The bogh millish! Seems aisier now, doesn’t she, Grannie? Quieter, anyway? Not coughing so much, is she?”
The doctor came at the moment, and Cæsar entered the room behind him with a face of funereal resignation.
“See,” cried Pete; “there’s your lil patient, doctor. She’s lying as quiet as quiet, and hasn’t coughed to spake of for better than an hour.”
“H’m!” said the doctor ominously. He looked at the child, made some inquiries of Grannie, gave certain instructions to Nancy, and then lifted his head with a sigh.
“Well, we’ve done all we can for her,” he said. “If the child lives through the night she may get over it.”
The women threw up their hands with “Aw, dear, aw, dear!” Philip gave a low, sharp cry of pain; but Pete, who had been breathing heavily, watching intently, and holding his arms about the little one as if he would save it from disease and death and heaven itself, now lost himself in the immensity of his woe.
“Tut, doctor, what are you saying?” he said. “You were always took for a knowledgable man, doctor; but you’re talking nonsense now. Don’t you see the child’s only sleeping comfortable? And haven’t I told you she hasn’t coughed anything worth for an hour? Do you think a poor fellow’s got no sense at all?”
The doctor was a patient man as well as a wise one—he left the room without a word. But, thinking to pour oil on Pete’s wounds, and not minding that his oil was vitriol, Cæsar said—
“If it’s the Lord’s will, it’s His will, sir. The sins of the fathers are visited upon the children—yes, and the mothers, too, God forgive them.”
At that Pete leapt to his feet in a flame of wrath.
“You lie! you lie!” he cried. “God doesn’t punish the innocent for the guilty. If He does, He’s not a good God but a bad one. Why should this child be made to suffer and die for the sin of its mother? Aye, or its father either? Show me the man that would make it do the like, and I’ll smash his head against the wall. Blaspheming, am I? No, but it’s you that’s blaspheming. God is good, God is just, God is in heaven, and you are making Him out no God at all, but worse than the blackest devil that’s in hell.”
Cæsar went off in horror of Pete’s profanities. “If the Lord keep not the city,” he said, “the watchman waketh in vain.”
Pete’s loud voice had aroused the child. It made a little cry, and he was all softness in an instant. The women moistened its lips with barley-water, and hushed its fretful whimper.
“Come,” said Philip, taking Pete’s arm.
“Let me lean on you, Philip,” said Pete, and the stalwart fellow went tottering down the stairs.
They sat on opposite sides of the fireplace, and kept the staircase door open that they might hear all that happened in the room above.
“Get thee to bed, Nancy,” said the voice of Grannie. “Dear knows how soon you’ll be wanted.”
“You’ll be calling me for twelve, then, Grannie—now, mind, you’ll be calling me.”
“Poor Pete! He’s not so far wrong, though. What’s it saying? ‘Suffer lil childers’——”
“But Cæsar’s right enough this time, Grannie. The bogh is took for death as sure as sure. I saw the crow that was at the wedding going crossing the child’s head the very last time she was out of doors.” Pete was listening intently. Philip was gazing passively into the fire.
“I couldn’t help it, sir—I couldn’t really,” whispered Pete across the hearth. “When a man’s got a child that’s ill, they may talk about saving souls, but what’s the constilation in that? It’s not the soul he’s wanting saving at all, it’s the child—now, isn’t it, now?”
Philip made some confused response.
“Coorse, I can’t expect you to understand that, Philip. You’re a grand man, and a clever man, and a feeling man, but I can’t expect you to understand that—now, is it likely? The greenest gall’s egg of a father that isn’t half wise has the pull of you there, Phil. ‘Deed he has, though. When a man has a child of his own he’s knowing what it manes, the Lord help him. Something calls to him—it’s like blood calling to blood—it’s like… I don’t know that I’m understanding it myself, neither—not to say understand exactly.”
Every word that Pete spoke was like a sword turning both ways. Philip drew his breath heavily.
“You can feel for another, Phil—the Lord forbid you should ever feel for yourself. Books are your children, and they’re best off that’s never having no better. But the lil ones—God help them—to see them fail, and suffer, and sink—and you not able to do nothing—and themselves calling to you—calling still—calling reg’lar—calling out of mercy—the way I am telling of, any way—O God! O God!”
Philip’s throat rose. He felt as if he must betray himself the next instant.
“Perhaps the doctor was right for all. Maybe the child isn’t willing to stay with us now the mother is gone; maybe it’s wanting away, poor thing. And who knows? Wouldn’t trust but the mother is waiting for the lil bogh yonder—waiting and waiting on the shore there, and ‘ticing and ‘ticing—-I’ve heard of the like, anyway.”
Philip groaned. His brain reeled; his legs grew cold as stones. A great awe came over him. It was not Pete alone that he was encountering. In these searchings and rendings of the heart, which uncovered every thought and tore open every wound, he was entering the lists with God himself.
The church bell began to ring.
“What’s that?” cried Philip. It had struck upon his ear like a knell.
“Oiel Verree,” said Pete. The bell was ringing for the old Manx service for the singing of Christmas carols. The fibres of Pete’s memory were touched by it. He told of his Christmases abroad—how it was summer instead of winter, and fruits were on the trees instead of snow on the ground—how people who had never spoken to him before would shake hands and wish him a merry Christmas. Then from sheer weariness and a sense of utter desolation, broken by the comfort of Philip’s company, he fell asleep in his chair.
The night wore on; the house was quiet; only the husky rasping of the child’s hurried breathing came from the floor above.
An evil thought in the guise of a pious one took possession of Philip. “God is wise,” he told himself. “God is merciful. He knows what is best for all of us. What are we poor impotent grasshoppers, that we dare pray to Him to change His great purposes? It is idle. It is impious…. While the child lives there will be security for no one. If it dies, there will be peace and rest and the beginning of content. The mother must be gone already, so the dark chapter of our lives will be closed at last God is all wise. God is all good.”
The child made a feeble cry, and Philip crept upstairs to look. Grannie had dozed off in her seat, and little Katherine was on the bed. A disregarded doll lay with inverted head on the counterpane. The fire had slid and died down to a lifeless glow, and the kettle had ceased to steam. There was no noise in the room save the child’s galloping breathing, which seemed to scrape the walls as with a file. Sometimes there was a cough that came like a voice through a fog.
Philip crept in noiselessly, knelt down by the bed-head, and leaned over the pillow. A candle which burned on the mantelpiece cast its light on the head that lay there. The little face was drawn, the little pinched nostrils were beating like a pulse, the little lip beneath was beaded with perspiration, the beautiful round forehead was damp, and the silken silvery hair was matted.
Philip thought the child must be dying, and his ugly piety gave way. There was a movement on the bed. One little hand that had been clenched hard on the breast came over the counterpane and fell, outstretched and open before him. He took it for an appeal, a dumb and piteous appeal, and the smothered tenderness of the father’s heart came uppermost. Her child, his child, dying, and he there, yet not daring to claim her!
A new fear took hold of him. He had been wrong—there could be no security in the child’s death, no peace, no rest, no content. As surely as the child died he would betray himself. He would blurt it all out; he would tell everything. “My child! my darling! my Kate’s Kate!” The cry would burst from him. He could not help it. And to reveal the black secret at the mouth of an open grave would be terrible, it would be horrible, it would be awful, “Spare her, O Lord, spare her!”
In a fear bordering on delirium he went downstairs and shook Pete by the shoulders to awaken him. “Come quickly,” he said.
Pete opened his eyes with a bewildered look» “She’s better, isn’t she?” he asked.
“Courage,” said Philip.
“Is she worse?”
“It’s life or death now. We must try something that I saw when I was away.”
“Good Lord, and I’ve been sleeping! Save her, Philip! You’re great; your clever——”
“Be quiet, for God’s sake, my good fellow! Quick, a kettle of boiling water—a blanket—some hot towels.”
“Oh, you’re a friend, you’ll save her. The doctors don’t know nothing.”
Ten minutes afterwards the child made a feeble cry, coughed loosely, threw up phlegm, and came out of the drowsy land which it had inhabited for a week. In ten minutes more it was wrapped in the hot towels and sitting on Pete’s knee before a brisk are, opening its little eyes and pursing its little mouth, and making some inarticulate communication.
Then Grannie awoke with a start, and reproached herself for sleeping. “But dear heart alive,” she cried, with both hands up, “the bogh villish is mended wonderful.”
Nancy came back in her stockings, blinking and yawning. She clapped and crowed at sight of the child’s altered face. The clock in the kitchen was striking twelve by this time, the bells had begun to ring again, the carol singers were coming out of the church, there was a sound on the light snow of the street like the running of a shallow river, and the waits were being sung for the dawn of another Christmas.
The doctor looked in on his way home, and congratulated himself on the improved condition. The crisis was passed, the child was safe.
“Ah! better, better,” he said cheerily. “I thought we might manage it this time.”
“It was the Dempster that done it,” cried Pete. He was cooing and blowing at little Katherine over the fringe of her towels. “He couldn’t have done more for the lil one if she’d been his own flesh and blood.”
Philip dared not speak. He hurried away in a storm of emotion. “Not yet,” he thought, “not yet.” The time of his discovery was not yet. It was like Death, though—it waited for him somewhere. Somewhere and at some time—some day in the year, some place on the earth. Perhaps his eyes knew the date in the calendar, perhaps his feet knew the spot on the land, yet he knew neither. Somewhere and at some time—God knew where—God knew when—He kept his own secrets.
That night Philip slept at the “Mitre,” and next morning he went up to Ballure.
The Governor could not forget Tynwald. Exaggerating the humiliation of that day, he thought his influence in the island was gone. He sold his horses and carriages, and otherwise behaved like a man who expected to be recalled.
Towards Philip he showed no malice. It was not merely as the author of his shame that Philip had disappointed him.
He had half cherished a hope that Philip would become his son-in-law. But when the rod in his hand had failed him, when it proved too big for a staff and too rough for a crutch, he did not attempt to break it. Either from the instinct of a gentleman, or the pride of a strong man, he continued to shower his favours upon Philip. Going to London with his wife and daughter at the beginning of the new year, he appointed Philip to act as his deputy.
Philip did not abuse his powers. As grandson of the one great Manxman of his century, and himself a man of talents, he was readily accepted by the island. His only drawback was his settled melancholy. This added to his interest if it took from his popularity. The ladies began to whisper that he had fallen in love, and that his heart was “buried in the grave.” He did not forget old comrades. It was remembered, in his favour, that one of his friends was a fisherman, a cousin across the bar of bastardy, who had been a fool and gone through his fortune.
On St. Bridget’s Day Philip held Deemster’s Court in Ramsey. The snow had gone and the earth had the smell of violets. It was almost as if the violets themselves lay close beneath the soil, and their odour had been too long kept under. The sun, which had not been seen for weeks, had burst out that day; the air was warm, and the sky was blue. Inside the Court-house the upper arcs of the windows had been let down; the sun shone on the Deemster as he sat on the dais, and the spring breeze played with his silvery wig. Some^ times, in the pauses of rasping voices, the birds were heard to sing from the trees on the lawn outside.
The trial was a tedious and protracted one. It was the trial of Black Tom. During the epidemic that had visited the island he had developed the character of a witch doctor. His first appearance in Court had been before the High Bailiff, who had committed him to prison. He had been bailed out by Pete, and had forfeited his bail in an attempt at flight. The witnesses were now many, and some came from a long distance. It was desirable to conclude the same day. At five in the evening the Deemster rose and said, “The Court will adjourn for an hour, gentlemen.”
Philip took his own refreshments in the Deemster’s room—Jem-y-Lord was with him—then put off his wig and gown, and slipped through the prisoners’ yard at the back and round the corner to Elm Cottage.
It was now quite dark. The house was lit by the firelight only, which flashed like Will-o’-the-wisp on the hall window. Philip was surprised by unusual sounds. There was laughter within, then singing, and then laughter again. He bad reached the porch and his approach had not been heard. The door stood open and he looked in and listened.
The room was barer than he had ever seen it—a table, three chairs, a cradle, a dresser, and a corner cupboard. Nancy sat by the fire with the child on her lap. Pete was squatting on the floor, which was strewn with rushes, and singing—
“Come, Bridget, Saint Bridget, come in at my door,
The crock’s on the bink, and the rush is on the floor.”
Then getting on to all fours like a great boy, and bobbing his head up and down and making deep growls to imitate the terrors of a wild beast, he made little runs and plunges at the child, who jumped and crowed in Nancy’s lap and laughed and squealed till she “kinked.”
“Now, stop, you great omathaun, stop,” said Nancy. “It isn’t good for the lil one—’deed it isn’t.”
But Pete was too greedy of the child’s joy to deny himself the delight of it. Making a great low sweep of the room, he came back hopping on his haunches and barking like a dog. Then the child laughed till the laughter rolled like a marble in her little throat.
Philip’s own throat rose at the sight, and his breast began to ache. He felt the same thrill as before—the same, yet different, more painful, more full of jealous longing. This was no place for him. He thought he would go away. But turning on his heel, he was seen by Pete, who was now on his back on the floor, rocking the child up and down like the bellows of an accordion, and to and fro like the sleigh of a loom.
“My faith, the Dempster! Come in, sir, come in,” cried Pete, looking over his forehead. Then, giving the child back to Nancy, he leapt to his feet.
Philip entered with a sick yearning and sat down in the chair facing Nancy.
“You’re wondering at me, Dempster, I know you are, sir,” Said Pete, “‘Deed, but I’m wondering at myself as well. I thought I was never going to see a glad day again, and if the sky would ever be blue I would be breaking my heart. But what is the Manx poet saying, sir? ‘I have no will but Thine, O God.’ That’s me, sir, truth enough, and since the lil one has been mending I’ve never been so happy in my life.”
Philip muttered some commonplace, and put his thumb into the baby’s hand. It was sucked in by the little fingers as by the soft feelers of the sea-anemone.
Pete drew up the third chair, and then all interest was centred on the child. “She’s growing,” said Philip huskily.
“And getting wise ter’ble,” said Pete. “You wouldn’t be-lave it, sir, but that child’s got the head of an almanac. She has, though. Listen here, sir—what does the cow say, darling?”
“Moo-o,” said the little one.
“Look at that now!” said Pete rapturously.
“She knows what the dog says too,” said Nancy. “What does Dempster say, bogh?”
“Bow-wow,” said the child.
“Bless me soul!” said Pete, turning to Philip with amazement at the child’s supernatural wisdom. “And there’s Tom Hommy’s boy—and a fine lil fellow enough for all—but six weeks older than this one, and not a word out of him yet.”
Hearing himself talked of, the dog had come from under the table. The child gurgled down at it, then made purring noises at its own feet, and wriggled in Nancy’s lap.
“Dear heart alive, if it’s not like nursing an eel,” said Nancy. “Be quiet, will you?” and the little one was shaken back to her seat.
“Aisy all, woman,” said Pete. “She’s just wanting her lil shoes and stockings off, that’s it.” Then talking to the child. “Um—am-im—lum—la—loo? Just so! I don’t know what that means myself, but she does, you see. Aw, the child is taiching me heaps, sir. Listening to the lil one I’m remembering things. Well, we’re only big children, the best of us. That’s the way the world’s keeping young, and God help it when we’re getting so clever there’s no child left in us at all.”
“Time for young women to be in bed, though,” said Nancy, getting up to give the baby her bath.
“Let me have a hould of the rogue first,” said Pete, and as Nancy took the child out of the room, he dragged at it and smothered its open mouth with kisses.
“Poor sport for you, sir, watching a foolish ould father playing games with his lil one,” said Pete.
Philip’s answer was broken and confused. His eyes had begun to fill, and to hide them he turned his head aside. Thinking he was looking at the empty places about the walls, Pete began to enlarge on his prosperity, and to talk as if he were driving all the trade of the island before him.
“Wonderful fishing now, Phil. I’m exporting a power of cod. Gretting postal orders and stamps, and I don’t know what. Seven-and-sixpence in a single post from Liverpool—that’s nothing, sir, nothing at all.”
Nancy brought back the child, whose silvery curls were now damp.
“What! a young lady coming in her night-dress!” cried Pete.
“Work enough! had to get it over her head, too,” said Nancy. “She wouldn’t, no, she wouldn’t. Here, take and dry her hair by the fire while I warm up her supper.”
Pete rolled the sleeves of his jersey above his elbows, took the child on his knee, and rubbed her hair between his hands, singing—
“Come, Bridget, Saint Bridget, come in at my door.”
Nancy clattered about in her clogs, filled a saucepan with bread and milk, and brought it to the fire.
“Give it to me, Nancy,” said Philip, and he leaned over and held the saucepan above the bar. The child watched him intently.
“Well, did you ever?” said Pete. “The strange she’s making of you, Philip? Don’t you know the gentleman, darling? Aw, but he’s knowing you, though.”
The saucepan boiled, and Philip handed it back to Nancy.
“Go to him then—away with you,” said Pete. “Gro to your godfather. He’d have been your name-father too if it had been a boy you’d been. Off you go!” and he stretched out his hairy arms until the child touched the floor.
Philip stooped to take the little one, who first pranced and beat the rushes with its feet as with two drumsticks, then trod on its own legs, swirled about to Pete’s arms, dropped its lower lip, and set up a terrified outcry.
“Ah! she knows her own father, bless her,” cried Pete, plucking the child back to his breast.
Philip dropped his head and laughed. A sort of creeping fear had taken possession of him, as if he felt remotely that the child was to be the channel of his retribution.
“Will you feed her yourself, Pete?” said Nancy. She was coming up with a saucer, of which she was tasting the contents. “He’s that handy with a child, sir, you wouldn’t think ‘Deed you wouldn’t.” Then, stooping to the baby as it ate its supper, “But I’m saying, young woman, is there no sleep in your eyes to-night?”
“No, but nodding away here like a wood-thrush in a tree,” said Pete. He was ladling the pobs into the child’s mouth, and scooping the overflow from her chin. “Sleep’s a terrible enemy of this one, sir. She’s having a battle with it every night of life, anyway. God help her, she’ll have luck better than some of us, or she’ll be fighting it the other way about one of these days.”
“She’s us’ally going off with the spoon in her mouth, sir, for all the world like a lil cherub,” said Nancy.
“Too busy looking at her godfather to-night, though,” said Pete. “Well, look at him. You owe him your life, you lil sandpiper. And, my sakes, the straight like him you are, too!”
“Isn’t she?” said Nancy. “If I wasn’t thinking the same myself! Couldn’t look straighter like him if she’d been his born child; now, could she? And the curls, too, and the eyes! Well, well!”
“If she’d been a boy, now——” began Pete.
But Philip had risen to return to the Court-house, and Pete said in another tone, “Hould hard a minute, sir—I’ve something to show you. Here, take the lil one, Nancy.”
Pete lit a candle and led the way into the parlour. The room was empty of furniture; but at one end there was a stool, a stone mason’s mallet, a few chisels, and a large stone.
The stone was a gravestone.
Pete approached it solemnly, held up the candle in front of it, and said in a low voice, “It’s for her. I’ve been doing it myself, sir, and it’s lasted me all winter, dark nights and bad days. I’ll be finishing it to-night, though, God willing, and to-morrow, maybe, I’ll be taking it to Douglas.”
“Is it——” began Philip, but he could not finish.
The stone was a plain slab, rounded at the top, bevelled about the edge, smoothed on the face, and chiselled over the back; but there was no sign or symbol on it, and no lettering or inscription.
“Is there to be no name?” asked Philip at last.
“No,” said Pete.
“Tell you the truth, sir, I’ve been reading what it’s saying in the ould Book about the Recording Angel calling the dead out of their graves.”
“And I’ve been thinking the way he’ll be doing it will be going to the graveyards and seeing the names on the gravestones, and calling them out loud to rise up to judgment; some, as it’s saying, to life eternal, and some to everlasting punishment.”
“Well, sir, I’ve been thinking if he comes to this one and sees no name on it”—Pete’s voice sank to a whisper—”maybe he’ll pass it by and let the poor sinner sleep on.”
Stumbling back to the Court-house through the dark lane Philip thought, “It was a lie then, but it’s true now. It must be true. She must be dead.” There was a sort of relief in this certainty. It was an end, at all events; a pitiful end, a cowardly end, a kind of sneaking out of Fate’s fingers; it was not what he had looked for and intended, but he struggled to reconcile himself to it.
Then he remembered the child and thought, “Why should I disturb it? Why should I disturb Pete? I will watch over it all its life. I will protect it and find a way to provide for it. I will do my duty by it. The child shall never want.”
He was offering the key to the lock of the prisoners’ yard when some one passed him in the lane, peered into his face, then turned about and spoke.
“Oh, it’s you, Deemster Christian?”
“Yes, doctor. Good-night!”
“Have you heard the news from Ballawhaine? The old gentleman had another stroke this morning.”
“No, I had not heard it. Another? Dear me, dear me!”
Back in his room, Philip resumed his wig and gown and returned to the Court-house. The place was now lit up by candlelight and densely crowded. Everybody rose to his feet as the Deemster stepped to the dais.
“Come, Bridget, Saint Bridget, come in at my door,
The crock’s on the bink and the rush——”
“She’s fast,” said Nancy. “Rocking this one to sleep is like waiting for the kettle to boil. You may try and try, and blow and blow, but never a sound. And no sooner have you forgotten all about her, but she’s singing away as steady as a top.”
Nancy put the child into the cradle, tucked her about, twisted the head of the little nest so that the warmth of the fire should enter it, and hung a shawl over the hood to protect the little eyelids from the light. “Will you keep the house till I’m home from Sulby, Pete?”
“I’ve my work, woman,” said Pete from the parlour.
“I’ll put a junk on the fire and be off then,” said Nancy.
She pulled the door on to the catch behind her and went crunching the gravel to the gate. There was no sound in the house now but the gentle breathing of the sleeping child, soft as an angel’s prayer, the chirruping of the mended fire like a cage of birds, the ticking of the clock, and, through the parlour wall, the dull pat-put, pat-put of the wooden mallet and the scrape of the chisel on the stone.
Pete worked steadily for half an hour, and then came back to the hall-kitchen with his tools in his hands. The cob of coal had kindled to a lively flame, which flashed and went out, and the quick black shadows of the chairs and the table and the jugs on the dresser were leaping about the room like elves. With parted lips, just breaking into a smile, Pete went down on one knee by the cradle, put the mallet under his arm, and gently raised the shawl curtain. “God bless my motherless girl,” he said, in a voice no louder than a breath. Suddenly, while he knelt there, he was smitten as by an electric shock. His face straightened and he drew back, still holding the shawl at the tips of his fingers.
The child was sleeping peacefully, with one of its little arms over the counterpane. On its face the flickering light of the fire was coming and going, making lines about the baby eyes and throwing up the baby features. It is in such lights that we are startled by resemblances in a child’s face. Pete was startled by a resemblance. He had seen it before, but not as he saw it now.
A moment afterwards he was reaching across the cradle again, his arms spread over it, and his face close down at the child’s face, scanning every line of it as one scans a map. “‘Deed, but she is, though,” he murmured. “She’s like him enough, anyway.”
An awful idea had taken possession of his mind. He rose stiffly to his feet, and the shawl flapped back. The room seemed to be darkening round him. He broke the coal, though it was burning brightly, stepped to the other side of the cradle, and looked at the child again. It was the same from there. The resemblance was ghostly.
He felt something growing hard inside of him, and he returned to his work in the parlour. But the chisel slipped, the mallet fell too heavily, and he stopped. His mind fluctuated among distant things. He could not help thinking of Port Mooar, of the Carasdhoo men, of the day when he and Philip were brought home in the early, morning.
Putting his tools down, he returned to the room. He was holding his breath and walking softly, as if in the presence of an invisible thing. The room was perfectly quiet—he could hear the breath in his nostrils. In a state of stupor he stood for some time with bis back to the fire and watched his shadow on the opposite wall and on the ceiling. The cradle was at his feet. He could not keep his eyes off it. From time to time he looked down across one of his shoulders.
With head thrown back and lips apart, the child was breathing calmly and sleeping the innocent sleep. This angel innocence reproached him.
“My heart must be going bad,” he muttered. “Your bad thoughts are blackening the dead. For shame, Pete Quilliam, for shame!”
He was feeling like a man who is in a storm of thunder and lightning at night. Familiar things about him looked strange and awful.
Stooping to the cradle again, he turned back the shawl on to the cradle-head as a girl turns back the shade of her sun-bonnet Then the firelight was full on the child’s face, and it moved in its sleep. It moved yet more under his steadfast gaze, and cried a little, as if the terrible thought that was in his mind had penetrated to its own.
He was stooping so when the door was opened and Cæsar entered violently, making asthmatic noises in his throat. Pete looked up at him with a stupefied air. “Peter,” he said, “will you sell that mortgage?”
Pete answered with a growl.
“Will you transfer it to me?” said Cæsar.
“The time’s not come,” said Pete.
“The time foretold by the prophet, when the lion can lie down with the lamb.”
Pete laughed bitterly. Cæsar was quivering, his mouth was twitching, and his eyes were wild. “Will you come over to the ‘Mitre,’ then?”
“What for to the ‘Mitre’?”
“Ross Christian is there.”
Pete made an impatient gesture. “That stormy petrel again! He’s always about when there’s bad weather going.”
“Will you come and hear what the man’s saying?”
“What’s he saying?”
“Will you hear for yourself?”
Pete looked hard at Cæsar, looked again, then caught up his cap and went out at the door.
With two of his cronies the man had spent the day in a room overlooking the harbour, drinking hard and playing billiards. Early in the afternoon a messenger had come from Ballawhaine, saying, “Your father is ill—come home immediately.” “By-and-bye,” he had said, and gone on with the game.
Later in the afternoon the messenger had come again, saying, “Your father has had a stroke of paralysis, and he is calling for you.” “Let me finish the break first,” he had replied.
In the evening the messenger had come a third time, saying, “Your father is unconscious.” “Where’s the hurry, then?” he had answered, and he sang a stave of the “Miller’s Daughter”—
“They married me against my will,
When I was daughter at the mill.”
Finally, Cæsar, who had been remonstrating with the Ballawhaine at the moment of his attack, came to remonstrate with Ross, and to pay off a score of his own as well.
“Honour thy father and thy mother, that thy days——” cried Cæsar, with uplifted arm and the high pitch of the preacher. “But your days will not be long, anyway, and, if you are the death of that foolish ould man, it won’t be the first death you’re answerable for.”
“So you believe it, too?” said Ross, cue in hand. “You believe your daughter is dead, do you, old Jephthah Jeremiah? Would you be surprised to hear, now——” (the cronies giggled) “that she isn’t dead at all?——Good shotr-cannon off the cushion. Halloa! Jephthah Jeremiah has seen a ghost seemingly. Saw her myself, man, when I was up in town a month ago. Want to know where she is? Shall I tell you? Oh, you’re a beauty! You’re a pattern! You know how to train up a child in the way——Pocket off the red——It’s you to preach at my father, isn’t it? She’s on the streets of London—ah, Jeremiah’s gone——
‘They married me against my will ‘—
There you are, then—good shot—love—twenty-five and nothing left.”
Pete pushed through to the billiard-room. Fearing there might be violence, hoping there would be, yet thinking it scarcely proper to lend the scene of it the light of his countenance, Cæsar had stayed outside.
“Halloa! here’s Uriah!” cried Ross. “Talk of the devil—just thought as much. Ever read the story of David and Uriah? Should, though. Do you good, mister. David was a great man. Aw” (with a mock imitation of Pete’s Manx), “a ter’ble, wonderful, shocking great man. Uriah was his henchman. Ter’ble clavar, too, but that green for all, the ould cow might have ate him. And Uriah had a nice lil wife. The nice now, you wouldn’t think. But when Uriah was away David took her, and then—and then” (dropping the Manx) “it doesn’t just run on Bible lines neither, but David told Uriah that his wife was dead—ha! ha! ha!——
‘Who saw her diet
I said the fly,
I saw her——’
Stop that—let go—help——You’ll choke me—help! help!”
At two strides Pete had come face to face with Ross, put one of his hands at the man’s throat and his leg behind him, doubled him back on his knee, and was holding him there in a grip like that of a vice.
“Help!—help!—oo—ugh!” The fellow gasped, and his face grew dark.
“You’re not worth it,” said Pete. “I meant to choke the life out of your dirty body for lying about the living and blackening the dead, but you’re not worth hanging for. You’ve got the same blood in you, too, and I’m ashamed for you. There! get up.”
With a gesture of indescribable loathing, Pete flung the man to the ground, and he fell over his cue and broke it.
The people of the house came thronging into the room, and met Pete going out of it. His face was hard and ugly. At first sight they mistook him for Ross, so disfigured was he by bad passions.
Cæsar was tramping the pavement outside. “Will you let me do it now?” he said in a hot whisper.
“Do as you like,” said Pete savagely.
“The wicked is snared in the work of his own hand. Higgaion. Selah,” said Cæsar, and they parted by the entrance to the Court-house.
Pete went home, muttering to himself, “The man was lying—she’s dead, she’s dead!”
At the gate of Elm Cottage the dog came up to him, barking with glee. Then it darted back to the house door, which stood open. “Some one has come,” thought Pete. “She’s dead. The man lied. She’s dead,” he muttered, and he stumbled down the path.
While the Deemster was stepping up to the dais, and the people in the court were rising to receive him, a poor bedraggled wayfarer was toiling through the country towards the town. It was a woman. She must have walked far, her step was so slow and so heavy. From time to time she rested, not sitting, but standing by the gates of the fields as she came to them, and holding by the topmost bar.
When she emerged from the dark lanes into the lamplit streets her pace quickened for a moment; then it slackened, and then it quickened again. She walked close to the houses, as if trying to escape observation. Where there was a short cut through an ill-lighted thoroughfare, she took it. Any one following her would have seen that she was familiar with every corner of the town.
It would be hard to imagine a woman of more miserable appearance. Not that her clothes were so mean, though they were poor and worn, but that an air of humiliation sat upon her, such as a dog has when it is lost and the children are chasing it. Her dress was that of an old woman—the long Manx cloak of blue homespun, fastened by a great hook close under the chin, and having a hood which is drawn over the head. But in spite of this old-fashioned garment, and the uncertainty of her step, she gave the impression of a young woman. Where the white frill of the old countrywoman’s cap should have shown itself under the flange of the hood, there was a veil, which seemed to be suspended from a hat.
The oddity and incongruity of her attire attracted attention. Women came out of their houses and crossed to the doors of neighbours to look after her. Even the boys playing at the corners looked up as she went by.
She was not greatly observed for all that. An unusual interest agitated the town. A wave of commotion flowed down the streets. The traffic went in one direction. That direction was the Court-house.
The Court-house square was thronged on three of its sides by people who were gathered both on the pavement and on the green inside the railings. Its fourth side was the dark lane at the back going by the door to the prisoners’ yard and the Deemster’s entrance. The windows were lit up and partly open. Some of the people had edged to the walls as if to listen, and a few had clambered to the sills as if to see. Around the wide doorway there was a close crowd that seemed to cling to it like a burr.
The woman had reached the first angle of the square when the upper half of the Court-house door broke into light over the heads of the crowd. A man had come out. He surged through the crowd and “came down to the gate with a tail of people trailing after him and asking questions.
“Wonderful!” he was saying. “The Dempster’s spaking. Aw, a Daniel come to judgment, sir. Pity for Tom, though—the man’ll get time. I’m sorry for an ould friend—but the Lord’s will be done! Let not the ties of affection be a snare to our feet—it’ll be five years if it’s a day, and (D.V.) he’ll never live to see the end of it.”
It was Cæsar. He crossed the street to the “Mitre.” The woman trembled and turned towards the lane at the back. She walked quicker than ever now. But, stumbling over the irregular cobbles of the paved way, she stopped suddenly at the sound of a voice. By this time she was at the door to the prisoners’ yard, and it was standing open. The door of the corridor leading by the Deemster’s chamber to the Court-house was also ajar, as if it had been opened to relieve the heat of the crowded room within.
“Be just and fear not,” said the voice. “Remember, whatever unconscious misrepresentations have been made this day, whatever deliberate false-swearing (and God and the consciences of the guilty ones know well there have been both), truth is mighty, and in the end it will prevail.”
The poor bedraggled wayfarer stood in the darkness and trembled. Her hands clutched at the breast of the cloak, her head dropped into her breast, and a half-smothered moan escaped from her. She knew the voice; it had once been very sweet and dear to her; she had heard it at her ear in tones of love. It was the voice of the Deemster. He was speaking from the judge’s seat; the people were hanging on his lips.
And he was standing in the shadow of the dark lane under the prisoners’ wall.
The woman was Kate. It was true that she had been to London; it was false that she had lived a life of shame there. In six months she had descended to the depths of poverty and privations. One day she had encountered Ross. He was fresh from the Isle of Man, and he told her of the child’s illness. The same night she turned her face towards home. It was three weeks since she had returned to the island, and she was then low in health, in heart, and in pocket. The snow was falling. It was a bitter night. Growing dizzy with the drifting whiteness and numb with the piercing cold, she had crept up to a lonely house and asked shelter until the storm should cease.
The house was the home of three old people, two old brothers and an old sister, who had always lived together. In this household Kate had spent three weeks of sickness, and the Manx cloak on her back was a parting gift which the old woman had hung over her thinly-clad shoulders.
Back in the roads Kate had time to tell herself how foolish was her journey. She was like a sailor who has alarming news of home in some foreign port and hears nothing afterwards until he comes to harbour. À month had passed. So many things might have happened. The child might be better; it might be dead and buried. Nevertheless she pushed on.
When she left London she had been full of bitterness towards Philip. It was his fault that she had ever been parted from her baby. She would go back. If she brought shame upon him, let him bear it. On coming near to home this feeling of vengeance died. Nothing was left but a great longing to be with her little one and a sense of her own degradation. Every face she recognised seemed to remind her of the change that had been wrought in herself since she had looked on it last. She dare not ask; she dare not speak; she dare not reveal herself.
While she stood in the shadow of the prisoners’ yard listening to Philip’s voice, and held by it as by a spell, there was a low hiss and then a sort of white silence, as when a rocket breaks in the air. The Deemster had finished; the people in the court were breathing audibly and moving in their seats.
A minute later she was standing by her old home, hers no longer, and haunted in her mind by many bitter memories. It was dark and cheerless. A candle had been burning in the parlour, but it was now spluttering in the fat at the socket. As she looked into the room, it blinked and went out.
During the last mile of her journey she had made up her mind what she would do. She would creep up to the house and listen for the sound of a child’s voice. If she heard it, and the voice was that of a child that was well, she would be content, she would go away. And if she did not hear it, if the child was gone, if there was no longer any child there, if it was in heaven, she would go away just the same—only God knew how, God knew where.
The road was quiet. With trembling fingers she raised the latch of the gate, and stepped two paces into the garden. There was no sound from within. She took two steps more and listened intently. Nothing was audible. Her heart fell yet lower. She told herself that when a child lived in a house the very air breathed of its presence, and its little voice was everywhere. Then she remembered that it was late, that it was night, that even if the child were well it would now be bathed and in bed. “How foolish!” she thought, and she took a few steps more.
She had meant to reach the hall window and look in, butt before she could do so, something came scudding along the path in her direction. It was the dog, and he was barking furiously. All at once he stopped and began to caper about her. Then he broke into barking again, this time with a note of recognition and delight, shot into the house and came back, still barking, and making a circle of joyful salutation in the darkness round her.
Quaking with fear of instant discovery, she crept under the old tree and waited. Nobody came from the house. “There’s no one at home,” she told herself, and at that thought the certainty that the child was gone fell on her as an oppression of distress.
Nevertheless she stepped up to the porch and listened again. There was no sound within except the ticking of the clock. Making a call on her courage, she pushed the door open with the tips of her fingers. It made a rustle as the bottom brushed over the rushes. At that she uttered a faint cry and crept back trembling. But all was silence again in an instant. The fire gave out a strong red glow which spread over the walls and the ceiling. Her mind took in the impression that the place was almost empty, but she had no time for such observations. With slow and stiff motions she slid into the house.
Then she heard a sleepy whimper and it thrilled her. In an instant she had seen the thing she looked for—the cradle, with its hood towards the door and its foot to the fire. At the next moment she was on her knees beside it, doubled over it and crying softly to the baby, looking so different, smelling of milk and of sleep, “My darling! my darling!”
That was the moment when Pete was coming up the path. The dog was frisking and barking about him. “She’s dead,” he was saying. “The man lied. She’s dead.” With that word on his lips he heaved heavily into the house. As he did so he became aware that some one was there already. Before his eye had carried the news to his brain, his ear had told him. He heard a voice which he knew well, though it seemed to be a memory of no waking moment, but to come out of the darkness and the hours of sleep. It was a soft and mellow voice, saying, “My beautiful darling! My beautiful, rosy darling I My darling! My darling!”
He saw a woman kneeling by the cradle, with both arms buried in it as though they encircled the sleeping child. Her hood was thrown back, and her head was bare. The firelight fell on her face, and he knew it. He passed his hand across his eyes as if trying to wipe out the apparition, but it remained. He tried to speak, but his tongue was stiff. He stood motionless and stared. He could not remove his eyes.
Kate heard the door thrown open, and she lifted her head in terror. Pete was before her, with a violent expression on his face. The expression changed, and he looked at her as if she had been a spirit. Then, in a voice of awe, he said, “Who art thou?”
“Don’t you know me?” she answered timidly.
It seemed as if he did not hear. “Then it’s true,” he muttered to himself; “the man did not lie.”
She felt her knees trembling under her. “I haven’t come to stay,” she faltered. “They told me the child was ill, and I couldn’t help coming.”
Still he did not speak to her. As he looked, his face grew awful. The dew of fear broke out on her forehead.
“Don’t you know me, Pete?” she said in a helpless way.
Still he stood looking down at her, fixedly, almost threateningly.
“I am Katherine,” she said, with a downcast look.
“Katherine is dead,” he answered vacantly.
“She is in her grave,” he said again.
“Oh, that she were in her grave indeed!” said Kate, and she covered her face with her hands.
“She is dead and buried, and gone from this house for ever,” said Pete.
He did not intend to cast her off; he was only muttering vague words in the first spasm of his pain; but she mistook them for commands to her to go.
There was a moment’s silence, and then she uncovered her face and said, “I understand—yes, I will go away. I oughtn’t to have come back at all—I know that. But I will go now. I won’t trouble you any more. I will never come again.”
She kissed the child passionately. It rubbed its little face with the back of its hand, but it did not awake. She pulled the hood on to her head, and drew the veil over her face. Then she lifted herself feebly to her feet, stood a moment looking about her, made a faint pathetic cry and slid out at the door.
When she was gone, Pete, without uttering a word or a sound, stumbled into a chair before the fire, put one hand on the cradle, and fell to rocking it. After some time he looked over his shoulder, like a man who was coming out of unconsciousness, and said, “Eh?”
The soul has room for only one great emotion at once, and he had begun to say to himself, “She’s alive! She’s here!” The air of the house seemed to be soft with her presence. Hush!
He got on to his feet. “Kate!” he called softly, very softly, as if she were near and had only just crossed the threshold.
“Kate!” he called again more loudly.
Then he went out at the porch and floundered along the path, crying again and again, in a voice of boundless emotion, “Kate! Kate! Kate!”
But Kate did not hear him. He was tugging at the gate to open it, when something seemed to give way inside his head, and a hoarse groan came from his throat.
“She’s better dead,” he thought, and then reeled back to the house like a drunken man.
The fire looked black, as if it had gone out. He sat down in the darkness, and put his hand into his teeth to keep himself from crying out.
The Deemster in the half-lit Court-house was passing sentence.
“Prisoner,” he said, “you have been found guilty by a jury of your countrymen of one of the cruellest of the crimes of imposture. You have deceived the ignorant, betrayed the unwary, lied to the simple, and robbed the poor. You have built your life upon a lie, and in your old age it brings you to confusion. In ruder times than ours your offence would have worn another complexion; it would have been called witchcraft, not imposture, and your doom would have been death. The sentence of the court is that you be committed to the Castle Rushen for the term of one year.”
Black Tom, who had stood during the Deemster’s sentence with his bald head bent, wiping his eyes on his sleeve and leaving marks on his face, recovered his self-conceit as he was being hustled out of court.
“You’re right, Dempster,” he cried. “Witchcraft isn’t worth nothing now. Religion’s the only roguery that’s going these days. Your friend Cæsar was wise, sir. Bes’ re-spec’s to him, Dempster, and may you live up to your own tex’ yourself, too.”
“If my industry and integrity,” said a solemn voice at the door—”and what’s it saying in Scripture?—’If any provide not for his own house he is worse than an infidel.’ But the Lord is my shield. What for should I defend myself? I am a worm and no man, saith the Psalms.”
“The Psalms is about right then, Cæsar,” shouted Black Tom from between two constables.
In the commotion that followed on the prisoner’s noisy removal, the Clerk of the Court was heard to speak to the Deemster. There was another case just come in—attempted suicide—woman tried to fling herself into the harbour—been prevented—would his Honour take it now, or let it stand over for the High Bailiff’s court.
“We’ll take it now,” said the Deemster. “We may dismiss her in a moment, poor creature.”
The woman was brought in. She was less like a human creature than like a heap of half-drenched clothes. A cloak which looked black with the water that soaked it at the hood covered her body and head. Her face seemed to be black also, for a veil which she wore was wet, and clung to her features like a glove. Some of the people in court recognised her figure even in the uncertain candlelight. She was the woman who had been seen to come into the town during the hour of the court’s adjournment.
Half helped, half dragged by constables, she entered the prisoner’s dock. There she clutched the bar before her as if to keep herself from falling. Her head was bent down between her shrinking shoulders as if she were going through the agony of shame and degradation.
“The woman shouldn’t have been brought here like this—quick, be quick,” said the Deemster.
The evidence was brief. One of the constables being on duty in the market-place had heard screams from the quay. On reaching the place, he had found the harbour-master carrying a woman up the quay steps. Mr. Quarry, coming out of the harbour office, had seen a woman go by like the wind. A moment afterwards he had heard a cry, and had run to the second steps. The woman had been caught by a boathook in attempting to get into the water. She was struggling to drown herself.
The Deemster watched the prisoner intently. “Is anything known about her?” he asked.
The clerk answered that she appeared to be a stranger, but she would give no information. Then the sergeant of police stepped up to the dock. In emphatic tones the big little person asked the woman various questions. What was her name? No answer. Where did she come from? No answer. What was she doing in Ramsey? Still no answer.
“Your Honour,” said the sergeant, “doubtless this is one of the human wrecks that come drifting to our shores in the summer season. The poorest of them are often unable to get away when the season is over, and so wander over the island, a pest and a burden to every place they set foot in.”
Then, turning back to the figure crouching in the dock, he said, “Woman, are you a street-walker?”
The woman gave a piteous cry, let go her hold of the bar, sank back to the seat behind her, brushed up the wet black veil, and covered her face with her hands.
“Sit down this instant, Mr. Gawne,” said the Deemster hotly, and there was a murmur of approval from behind. “We must not keep this woman a moment longer.”
He rose, leaned across to the rail in front, clasped his hands before him, looked down at the woman in the dock, and said in a low tone, that would have been barely loud enough to reach her ears but for the silence, as of a tomb, in the court, “My poor woman, is there anybody who can answer for you?”
The prisoner stooped her head lower and began to cry.
“When a woman is so unhappy as to try to take her life, it sometimes occurs, only too sadly, that another is partly to blame for the condition that tempts her to the crime.”
The Deemster’s voice was as soft as a caress.
“If there is such a one in this case, we ought to learn it. He ought to stand by your side. It is only right; it is only just. Is there anybody here who knows you?”
The prisoner was now crying piteously.
“Ah! we mean no harm to any one. It is in the nature of woman, however low she may sink, however deep her misfortunes, to shield her dearest enemy. That is the brave impulse of the weakest among women, and all good men respect it. But the law has its duty, and in this instance it is one of mercy.”
The woman moaned audibly.
“Don’t be afraid, my poor girl. Nobody shall harm you here. Take courage and look around. Is there anybody in court who can speak for you—who can tell us how you came to the place where you are now standing?”
The woman let fall her hands, raised her head, and looked up at the Deemster, face to face and eye to eye.
“Yes,” she said, “there is one.”
The Deemster’s countenance became pale, his eyes glistened, his look wandered, his lips trembled—he was biting them, they were bleeding.
“Remove her in custody,” he muttered; “let her be well cared for.”
There was a tumult in a moment. Everybody had recognised the prisoner as she was being taken out, though shame and privation had so altered her. “Peter Quilliam’s wife!”—”Cæsar Cregeen’s daughter—where’s the man himself?”—”Then it’s truth they’re telling—it’s not dead she is at all, but worse.”—”Lor-a-massy!”—”What a trouble for the Dempster!”
When Kate was gone, the court ought to have adjourned instantly, yet the Deemster remained in his seat. There was a mist before his eyes which dazzled him. He had a look at once wild and timid. His limbs pained although they were swelling to enormous size. He felt as if a heavy, invisible hand had been laid on the top of his head.
The clerk caught his eye, and then he rose with an apologetic air, took hold of the rail, and made an effort to cross the dais. At the next moment his servant, Jem-y-Lord, had leapt up to his side, but he made an impatient gesture as if declining help.
There are three steps going down to the floor of the court, and a handrail on one side of them. Coming to these steps, he stumbled, muttered some confused words, and fell forward on to his face. The people were on their feet by this time, and there was a rush to the place.
“Stand back! He has only fainted,” cried Jem-y-Lord.
“Worse than that,” said the sergeant. “Get him to bed, and send for Dr. Mylechreest instantly.”
“Where can we take him?” said somebody.
“They keep a room for him at Elm Cottage,” said somebody else.
“No, not there,” said Jem-y-Lord.
“It’s nearest, and there’s no time to lose,” said the sergeant.
Then they lifted Philip, and carried him as he lay, in his wig and gown as Deemster, to the house of Pete.
There is a kind of mental shock which, like an earthquake under a prison, bursts open every cell and lets the inmates escape. After a time, Pete remembered that he was sitting in the dark, and he got up to light a candle. Looking for candlestick and matches, he went from table to dresser, from dresser to table, and from table back to dresser, doing the same thing over and over again, and not perceiving that he was going round and round. When at length the candle was lighted, he took it in his hand and went into the parlour like a sleepwalker. He set it on the mantelpiece, and sat down on the stool. In his blurred vision confused forms floated about him. “Ah! my tools,” he thought, and picked up the mallet and two of the chisels. He was sitting with these in his hands when his eyes fell on the other candlestick, the one in which the candle had gone out “I meant to light a candle,” he thought, and he got up and took the empty candlestick into the hall. When he came back with another lighted candle, he perceived that there were two. “I’m going stupid,” he thought, and he blew out the first one. A moment afterwards he forgot that he had done so, and seeing the second still burning, he blew that out also.
So dull were his senses that he did not realise that anything was amiss. His eyes were seeing objects everywhere about—they were growing to awful size and threatening him. His ears were hearing noises—they were making a fearful tumult inside his head.
The room was not entirely dark. A shaft of bleared moonlight came and went at intervals. The moon was scudding through an angry sky, sometimes appearing, sometimes disappearing. Pete returned to the stool, and then he was in the light, but the nameless stone, leaning against the wall, was in the shade. He took up the mallet and chisels again, intending to work. “Hush!” he said as he began. The clamour in his brain was so loud that he thought some one was making a noise in the house. This task was sacred. He always worked at it in silence.
Pat-put! pat-put! How long he worked he never knew. There are moments which are not to be measured as time. In the uncertain handling of the chisel and the irregular beat of the mallet something gave way. There was a harsh sound like a groan. A crack like a flash of forked lightning had shot across the face of the stone. He had split it in half. Its great pieces fell to the floor on either side of him. Then he remembered that the stone had been useless. “It doesn’t matter now,” he thought. Nothing mattered.
With the mallet hanging from his hand he continued to sit in the drifting moonlight, feeling as if everything in the world had been shivered to atoms. His two idols had been scattered at one blow—his wife and his friend. The golden threads that had bound him to life were broken. When poverty had come, he had met it without repining; when death had seemed to come, he had borne up against it bravely. But wifeless, friendless, deceived where he had loved, betrayed where he had worshipped, he was bankrupt, he was broken, and a boundless despair took hold of him.
When hope is entirely gone, anguish will sometimes turn a man into a monster. There was a fretful cry from the cradle, and, still in the stupor of his despair, he went out to rock it. The fire, which had only slid and smouldered, was now struggling into flame, and the child looked up at him with Philip’s eyes. A knife seemed to enter his heart at that moment. He was more desolate than he had thought. “Hush, my child, hush!” he said, without thinking. His child? He had none. That solace was gone.
Anger came to save his reason. Not to have felt anger, he must have been less than a man or more. He remembered what the child had been to him. He remembered what it was when it came, and again when he thought its mother was dead; he remembered what it was when death frowned on it, and what it had been since death passed it by. Flesh of his flesh, blood of his blood, bone of his bone, heart of his heart. Not his merely, but himself.
A lie, a mockery, a delusion, a deception! She has practised it. Oh, she had hidden her secret. She had thought it was safe. But the child itself had betrayed it. The secret had spoken from the child’s own face.
“Yet I’ve seen her kneel by the cot and pray, ‘God bless my baby, and its father and its mother’——-”
Why had he not killed her? A wild vision rose before him of killing Kate, and then going to the Deemster and saying, “Take me; I have murdered her because you have dishonoured her. Condemn me to death; yet remember God lives, and He will condemn you to damnation.”
But the pity of it—the pity of it! By a quick revolt of tenderness he recalled Kate as he had just seen her, crouching at the back of the cradle, like a hunted hare with uplifted paws uttering its last pitiful cry. He remembered her altered face, so pale even in the firelight, so thin, so worn, and his anger began to smoke against Philip. The flower that he would have been proud to wear on his breast Philip had buried in the dark. Curse him! Curse him!
She had given up all for that man—husband, child, father, mother, her friends, her good name, the very light of heaven. How she must have loved him! Yet he had been ashamed of her, had hidden her away, had been in fear lest the very air should whisper of her whereabouts. Curse him! Curse him! Curse him!
In the heat of his great anger Pete thought of himself also. Jealousy was far beneath him, but, like all great souls, this simple man had known something of the grandeur of friendship. Two streams running into them and taking heaven into their bosom. But Philip had kept him apart, had banked him off, and yet drained him to the dregs. He had uncovered his nakedness—the nakedness of his soul itself.
Bit by bit Pete pieced together the history of the past months. He remembered the night of Kate’s disappearance, when he had gone to Ballure and shouted up at the lighted window, “I’ve sent her to England,” thinking to hide her fault. At that moment Philip had known all—where she was (for it was where he had sent her), why she was gone, and that she was gone for ever. Curse him! Curse him!
Pete recalled the letters—the first one that he had put into Philip’s hand, the second that he had read to him, the third that Philip had written to his dictation. The little forgeries’ to keep her poor name sweet, the little inventions to make his story plausible, the little lies of love, the little jests of a breaking heart! And then the messages! The presents to the child! The reference to the Deemster himself! And the Deemster had sat there and seen through it all as the sun sees through glass, yet he had given no sign, he had never spoken; he had held a quivering, naked heart in his hand, while his own lay within as cold as a stone. Curse him, O God! Curse him!
Pete remembered the night when Philip came to tell him that Kate was dead, and how he had comforted himself with the thought that he was not altogether alone in his great trouble, because his friend was with him. He remembered the journey to the grave, the grave itself—another’s grave-how he knelt at the foot of it, and prayed aloud in Philip’s hearing, “Forgive me, my poor girl!”
“How shall I kill him?” thought Pete. Deemster too! First Deemster now, and held high in honour! Worshipped for his justice! Beloved for his mercy! O God! O God!
There are passions so overmastering that they stifle speech, and man sinks back to the animal. With an inarticulate shout Pete went to the parlour and caught up the mallet. A frantic thought had flashed on him of killing Philip as he sat on the bench which he had disgraced, administering the law which he had outraged. The wild justice of this idea made the blood to bubble in his ears. He saw himself holding the Deemster by the throat, and crying aloud to the people, “You think this man is a just judge—he is a whited sepulchre. You think he is as true as the sun—he is as false as the sea. He has robbed me of wife and child; at the very gates of heaven he has lied to me like hell. The hour of justice has struck, and thus I pay him—and thus—and thus.”
But the power of words was lost in the drunkenness of his rage. With a dismal roar he flung the mallet away, and it rolled on the ground in narrowing circles. “My hands, my hands,” he thought. He would strangle Philip, and then he would kill everybody in his way, merely for the lust of killing. Why not? The fatal line was past. Nothing sacred remained. The world was a howling wilderness of boundless license. With the savage growl of a caged beast this wild man flung himself on the door, tore it open, and bounded on to the path.
Then he stopped suddenly. There was a thunderous noise outside, such as the waves make in a cave. A company of people were coming in at the gate. Some were walking with the heavy step of men who carry a corpse. Others were bearing lanterns, and a few held high over their heads the torches which fishermen use when they are hauling the white nets at night.
“Who’s there?” cried Pete, in a voice that was like a howl.
“Your friend,” said somebody.
“My friend? I have no friend,” cried Pete, in a broken roar.
“‘Deed he’s gone, seemingly,” said a voice out of the dark.
Pete did not hear. Seeing the crowd and the lights, but only as darkness veined with fire, he thought Philip was coming again, as he had so often seen him come in his glory, in his greatness, in his triumph.
“Where is he?” he roared. “He’s here,” they answered.
And then Philip was brought up the path in the arms of four bearers, his head hanging aside and shaking at every step, his face white as the wig above it, and his gown trailing along the earth.
There was a sudden calm, and Pete dropped back in awe and horror. A bolt out of heaven seemed to have fallen at his feet, and he trembled as if lightning had blinded him.
His anger had ebbed, his fury had dashed itself against a rock. His towering rage had shrunk to nothing in the face of this awful presence. The Dark Spirit had gone before him and snatched his victim out of his hands. He had come out to kill this man, and here he met him being brought home dead.
Dead? Then his sin was dead also. God forgive him!
God forgive him, where he was gone! Presumptuous man, stand back.
Oh, mighty and merciful Death! Death the liberator, the deliverer, the pardoner, the peace-maker! Even the shadow of thy face can quench the fires of revenge; even the gathering of thy wings can deaden the clamour of madness, and turn hatred into love and curses into prayers.
In that stripped and naked house there was one room still untouched. It was the room that had been kept for the Deemster. Philip lay on the bed, motionless and apparently lifeless. Jem-y-Lord stood beating his hands at the foot. Pete sat on a low stool at the side with his face doubled on to his knees. Nancy, now back from Sulby, was blowing into the bars of the grate to kindle a fire. A little group of men stood huddled like sheep near the door.
Some one said the Deemster’s heart was beating. They brought from another room a little ivory hand-glass and held it over the mouth. When they raised it the face of the mirror was faintly blurred.
That little cloud on the glass seemed more bright than the shining tread of an angel on the sea. Jem-y-Lord took a sponge and began to moisten the cold forehead. One by one the people behind produced their old wife’s wisdom. Somebody remembered that his grandmother always put salts to the nostrils of a person seemingly dead; somebody else remembered that when, on the very day of old Iron Christian’s death, his father had been thrown by a colt and lay twelve hours unconscious, the farrier had bled him and he had opened his eyes instantly.
The doctor had been half an hour gone to Ballaugh, and a man had been put on a horse and sent after him. But it was a twelve-miles’ journey; the night was dark; it would be a good hour before he could be back.
They touched Pete on the shoulder and suggested something.
“Eh?” he answered vacantly.
“Dazed,” they told themselves. The poor man could not give a wise-like answer. He had had a shock, and there was worse before him. They talked in low voices of Kate and of Ross Christian; they were sorry for Pete; they were still more sorry for the Deemster.
The Deemster’s wig had been taken off and tossed on to the dressing-table. It lay mouth upwards like any old woman’s night-cap. His hair had dragged after it on the pillow. The black gown had not been removed, but it was torn open at the neck so that the throat might be free. One of Philip’s arms had dropped over the side of the bed, and the long, thin hand was cold and green and ethereal as marble.
Pete was crouching on his low stool beside this hand. He needed no softening to touch it now. The chill fingers were in his palm, and his hot tears were falling on them. Remembering the crime that he had so nearly committed, he was holding himself in horror. His friend! His life-long friend! His only friend! The Deemster no longer, but only the man. Not the man either, but the child. The cruel years had rolled back with all their burden of trouble. Forgotten days were come again—days long buried under the débris of memory. They were boys together again. A little, sunny fellow in velvet, and a bigger lad in a stocking-cap; the little one talking, always talking; the big one listening, always listening; the little one proposing, the big one agreeing; the little one leading, the big one following; the little one looking up and yet a little down, the big one looking down and yet a little up. Oh, the happy, happy times, before anger and jealousy and rage and the mad impulse of murder had darkened their sun shine!
The memories that brought the tenderest throb to Pete as he sat there fingering the lifeless hand were of the great deeds that he had done for Philip—how he had fought for him, and been licked for him, and taken bloody noses for him, and got thrashed for it by Black Tom. But there were others only less tender. Philip was leaving home for King William’s, and Pete was cudgelling his dull head what to give him for a parting gift. Decision was the more difficult because he had nothing to give. At length he had hit on making a whistle—the only thing his clumsy fingers had ever been deft at. With his clasp-knife he had cut a wondrous big one from the bough of a willow; he had pared it; he had turned it; it blew a blast like a fog-horn. The morning was frosty, and his feet were bare, but he didn’t mind the cold; he didn’t feel it—no, not a ha’p’orth. He was behind the hedge by the gate at Ballure, waiting for the coach that was to take up Philip, and passing the time by polishing the whistle on the leg of his shining breeches, and testing its tone with just one more blow. Then up came Crow, and out came Philip in his new peaked cap and leggings. Whoop! Gee-up! Away! Off they went without ever seeing him, without once looking back, and he was left in the prickly hedge with his blue feet on the frost, a look of dejection about his mouth, and the top of the foolish whistle peeping out of his jacket-pocket.
The thick sob that came of these memories was interrupted by a faint sound from the bed. It was a murmur of delirium, as soft as the hum of bees, yet Pete heard it.
“Cover me up, Pete, cover me up!” said Philip, dreaming aloud.
Philip was a living man! Thank God! Thank God!
A whisper goes farther than a shout. The people behind whispered the news to the passage, the passage to the stairs, the stairs to the hall, and the hall to the garden, where a crowd had gathered in the darkness to look up at the house over which the angel of death was hovering.
In a moment the room was croaking like a frog-pond. “Praise the Lord!” cried one. “His mercy endureth for ever,” cried another. “What’s he saying?” said a third. “Rambling in his head, poor thing,” said a fourth.
Pete turned them out—all except Jem-y-Lord, who was still moistening the Deemster’s face and opening his hands, which were now twitching and tightening.
“Out of this! Out you go!” cried Pete hoarsely.
“No use taking the anger with him—the man’s tried,” they muttered, and away they went.
Jemmy was loth to see them go. He was afraid to be left alone with Pete—afraid that the Deemster should be at the mercy of this wild creature with the flaming eyes.
And now that Philip was a living man Pete began to feel afraid of himself. At sight of life in Philip’s face, his gnawing misery returned. He thought his hatred had been overcome, but he was wrestling in the throes of forgiveness again. Here was the man who had robbed him of wife and child and home! In another moment he might have held him in the grip of his just wrath.
It is an inscrutable and awful fact, that just at that moment when a man’s good angel has conquered, but is spent, his evil angel is sure to get the advantage of chance. Philip’s delirium set in strong, and the brute beast in Pete, going through its final struggle, stood over the bed and watched him. In his violence Philip tore at his breast, and dragged something from beneath his shirt. A moment later it fell from his graspless fingers to the floor. It was a lock of dark hair. Pete knew whose hair it was, and he put his foot on it, and that instant the mad impulse came again to take Philip by the throat and choke him. Again and again it came. He had to tread it down even amid his sobs and his tears.
But love cannot be killed in an instant. It does not drop down dead. There was a sort of tenderness in the thought that this was the man for whom Kate had given up all the world. Pete began to feel gently towards Philip because Kate loved him; he began to see something of Kate in Philip’s face. This strange softening increased as he caught the words of Philip’s delirium. He thought he ought to leave the room, but he could not tear himself away. Crouching down on the stool, he clasped his hands behind his head, and tightened his arms over his ears. It was useless. He could not help but listen. Only disjointed sentences, odd pages torn from the book of life, some of them blurred with tears; but they were like a cool hand on a fevered brow to him that heard him.
“I was a child, Philip——didn’t know what love was then——coming home by Ramsey steamer——tell the simple truth, Philip——say we tried to be faithful and loyal and could not, because we loved each other, and there was no help for——tell Kirry——yes, Auntie, I have read father’s letters——that picture is cracked——”
This in the voice of one who speaks in his sleep, and then in a hushed, hot whisper, “Haven’t I a right to you?——yes, I have a right——take your topcoat, then, the storm is coming——I’ll never let you go——don’t you remember?——can you ever forget——my husband!——my husband!”
Pete lifted his head as he listened. He had been thinking that Philip had robbed him of Kate. Was it he who had robbed Kate of Philip?
“I can’t live any longer in this house, Philip——the walls are crushing me; the ceiling is falling on me; the air is stifling me——three o’clock, Pete——yes, three to-morrow, in the Council Chamber at Douglas——I’m not a bad woman, Philip Christian——there is something you have never guessed and I have never told you——is it the child, Kate?——did you say the child?——you are sure——you are not deceiving yourself?”
All this in a tone of deep entreaty, and then, with quick-coming breath, “Jemmy, get the carriage at Shimmin’s and drive it yourself——if there is any attempt at Ramsey to take the horse out——drive to the lane between the chapel and the cottage——the moment the lady joins you——you are right, Kate——you cannot live here any longer——this life of deception must end——that’s the churring of the night-jar going up to Ballure Glen.”
Jem-y-Lord, who was beating out the pillow, dropped it, in his fumbling, half over the Deemster’s face, and looked at Pete in terror. Would this cruel delirium never break? Where was the doctor? Would he not come at all?
Pete had risen to his feet, and was gazing down with a look of stupor. He had been thinking that Philip had robbed him of the child. Was it he who had robbed Philip?
“Yes, Pete is telling the same story. He is writing letters to himself——such simple things!——poor old Pete——he means no harm——he never dreams that every word is burning——Jemmy, leave out more brandy to-night, the decanter is empty——”
Pete leaned over the pillow. All at once he started back. Philip’s eyes were open and shining up at him. It was hard to believe that Philip was not speaking to him eye to eye. But there was a veil between them, the veil of the hand of God.
“I know, Philip, I know,” said the unconscious man in a quick whisper; he was breathing fast and loud. “Tell him I’m dead——yes, yes, that’s it, that’s it——cruel?——no, but kind——’Poor girl,’ he’ll say, ‘I loved her once, but she’s gone’——I’ll do it, I’ll do it.” Then, in tones of fear, “It’s madness——to paint faces on the darkness, to hear voices in the air is madness.” And then, solemnly, with a chill, thick utterance, “There——there——that one by the wall——”
Big drops of sweat broke out on Pete’s forehead. Had he been thinking that Philip had tortured him? It was he who had been torturing Philip. The letters, the messages, the presents, these had been the whips and scorpions in his hand. Every innocent word, every look, every sign, had been as thongs in the instrument of torture. Pete began to feel a great pity for Philip. “He had suffered plenty,” thought Pete. “He has carried this cross about far enough.”
“Good-night, boatman!——I went too far——yes, I am back again, thank God——”
These words brightly, cheerily, hopefully; then, in the deepest tones, “Good-bye, Philip——it’s all my fault——I’ve broken the heart of one man, and I’m destroying the soul of another——I’m leaving this lock of hair—it is all I have to leave——good-bye!——I ought to have gone long ago——you will not hate me now——”
The last words frayed off, broke in the throat, and stopped. Then quickly, with panting breath, came, “Kate! Kate! Kate!” again and again repeated, beginning in a loud beseeching cry and dying down to a long wail, as if shouted over a gloomy waste wherein the voice was lost.
Jem-y-Lord had been beating round towards the door, wringing his white hands like a woman, and praying to God that the Deemster might never come out of his unconsciousness. “He has told him everything,” thought Jem. “The man will take his life.”
“I came between them,” thought Pete. “She was not for me. She was not mine. She was Philip’s. It was God’s doings.”
The bitterness of Pete’s heart had passed away. “But I wish——what’s the good of wishing, though? God help us all,” he muttered, in a breaking voice, and then he crouched down on the stool as before and covered his face with his hands..
Philip had lifted his head and risen on one elbow. He was looking out on the empty air with his glassy eyes, as if a picture stood up before them.
“Yes, no, yes——don’t tell me——that Kate?——it’s a mistake——that’s not Kate——that white face!——those hollow eyes!——that miserable woman!——besides, Kate is dead——she must be dead——what’s to do with the lamps?——they are going out——in the dock, too, and before me——she there and I here!——she the prisoner, I the judge!”
All this with violent emotion, and with one arm outstretched over Pete’s crouching head.
“If I could hear her voice, though——perhaps her voice now——I’m going to fall——it’s Kate, it’s Kate! Oh! oh!”
Philip had paused for several seconds, as if trying to listen, and then, with a loud cry of agony, he had closed his eyes and rolled back on to the pillow.
“God has meant me to hear all this,” thought Pete. God had intended that for this, the peace of his soul, he should follow the phases of this drama of a naked heart. He was sobbing, but his sobs were like growls.
“What’s he doing now?” thought Jem-y-Lord, craning his neck at the door. “Shall I call for somebody?”
Pete had picked up from the floor the lock of hair that had been lying under his foot, and he was putting it back into Philip’s breast.
“Nothing but me between them,” he thought, “nothing but me.”
“Sit down, sir,” cried the unconscious man. It was only the last outbreak of Philip’s delirium, but Pete trembled and shrank back.
Then Philip groaned and his blue lips quivered. He opened his eyes. They wandered about the room for a moment, and afterwards fixed themselves on Pete in a long and haggard gaze. Pete’s own eyes were too full of tears to be full of sight, but he could see that the change had come. He panted with expectation, and looked down at Philip with doglike delight.
There was a moment’s silence, and then, in a voice as faint as a breath, Philip murmured. “What’s——where’s——is it Pete?”
At that Pete uttered a shout of joy. “He’s himself! He’s himself! Thank God!”
“Eh?” said Philip helplessly.
“Don’t you be bothering yourself now,” cried Pete. “Lie quiet, boy; you’re in your own room, and as nice as nice.”
“But,” said Philip, “will you not kindly——”
“Not another word, Phil. It’s nothing. You’re all serene, and about as right as ninepence.”
“Your Honour has been delirious,” said Jem-y-Lord.
“Chut!” said Pete behind his hand, and then, with another joyful shout, “Is it a beefsteak you’ll be having, Phil, or a dish of tay and a herring?”
Philip looked perplexed. “But could you not help me——” he faltered.
“You fainted in the Court-house, sir,” said Jem-y-Lord.
“Ah!” It had all come back.
“Hould your whisht, you gawbie,” whispered Pete, and he made a furtive kick at Jemmy’s shins.
Pete was laughing and crying in one breath. In the joyful reflux from evil passions the great fellow was like a boy. He poked the fire into a blaze, snuffed the candle with his fingers, sang out “My gough!” when he burnt them, and then hopped about the floor and cut as many capers as a swallow after a shower of rain.
Philip looked at him and relapsed into silence. It seemed as if he had been on a journey and something had happened in his absence. The secret which he had struggled so long to confess had somehow been revealed.
Jem-y-Lord was beating out his pillows. “Does he know?” said Philip.— “Yes,” whispered Jemmy.
“Everything. You have been delirious.”
“Delirious!” said Philip, with alarm.
Then he struggled to rise. “Help me up. Let me go away. Why did you bring me here?”
“I couldn’t help it, sir. I tried to prevent——”
“I cannot face him,” said Philip. “I am afraid. Help me, help me.”
“You are too weak, sir. Lie still. No one shall harm you. The doctor is coming.”
Philip sank back with a look of fear. “Water,” he cried feebly.
“Here it is,” said Jem-y-Lord, lifting from the dressing-table the jug out of which he had moistened the sponge.
“Tut!” cried Pete, and he tipped the jug so that half the water spilled. “Brandy for a man when he’s in bed, you goosey gander. Hould, hard, boy; I’ve a taste of the rael stuff in the cupboard. Half a minute, mate. A drop will be doing no harm at all,” and away he went down the stairs like a flood, almost sweeping over Nancy, who had come creeping up in her stockings at the sound of voices.
The child had awakened in its cradle, and, with one dumpy leg over its little quilt, it was holding quiet converse with its toes.
“Hollo, young cockalorum, is it there you are!” shouted Pete.
At the next moment, with a noggin bottle of brandy in his fist, he was leaping upstairs, three steps at a time.
Meanwhile Jem-y-Lord had edged up to the Deemster and whispered, with looks of fear and mystery, “Don’t take it, sir.”
“What?” said Philip vacantly.—”The brandy,” said Jem.
“It will be——” began Jem, but Pete’s step was thundering up the stairs, and with a big opening of the mouth, rather than an audible utterance of the tongue, he added, “poisoned.”
Philip could not comprehend, and Pete came shouting—
“Where’s your water, now, ould Snuff-the-Wind?”
While Pete was pouring the brandy into a glass and adding the water, Jemmy caught up a scrap of newspaper that was lying about, rummaged for a pencil, wrote some words on the margin, tore the piece off, and smuggled it into the Deemster’s hand.
“Afraid of Pete!” thought Philip. “It is monstrous! monstrous!”
At that moment there was the sound of a horse’s hoofs on the road.
“The doctor,” cried Jem-y-Lord. “The doctor at last. Wait, sir, wait,” and he ran downstairs.
“Here you are,” cried Pete, coming to the bedside, glass in hand. “Drink it up, boy. It’ll stiffen you. My faith, but it’s a oner. Aw, God is good, though. He’s all that. He’s good tremenjous.”
Pete was laughing; he was crying; he was tasting a new sweetness—the sweetness of being a good man again.
Philip was holding Jem-y-Lord’s paper before his eyes, and trying to read it.
“What’s this that Jemmy has given me?” he said. “Read it, Pete. My eyes are dazed.”
Pete took the paper in his left hand, still holding the glass in his right. To get the light on to the writing he went down on his knees by the bed-head and leaned over towards the fire. Then, like a school-boy repeating his task, he read in a singsong voice the words that Jem-y-Lord had written:—”Don’t drink the brandy. Pete is trying to kill you.”
Pete made a grating laugh. “That’s a pretty thing now,” he began, but he could not finish. His laughter ceased, his eyes opened wide, his tongue seemed to hang out of his mouth, and he turned his head and looked back with an agony of doubt into Philip’s face.
Philip struggled up. “Give me the brandy, Pete.” He took the glass out of Pete’s hand, and without a second thought, with only a smile of faith and confidence, he raised it to his lips and drank. When the doctor entered the room a moment afterwards, Pete was sobbing into the bed-clothes, and Philip’s hand was resting on his head.
Early the next morning Pete visited Kate in prison. He had something to say to her, something to ask; but he intended to keep back his own feelings, to bear himself bravely, to sustain the poor girl’s courage. The light was cold and ashen within the prison walls, and as he followed the sergeant into the cell, he could not help but think of Kate as he had first known her, so bright, so merry, so full of life and gaiety. He found her now doubled up on a settle by a newly-kindled fire in the sergeant’s own apartment. She lifted her head, with a terrified look, as he entered, and she saw his hollow cheeks and deep eyes and ragged beard.
“I’m not coming to trouble you,” he said. “I’ve forgiven him, and I’m forgiving you, too.”
“You are very good,” she answered nervously.
“Good?” He gave a crack of bitter laughter. “I meant to kill him—that’s how good I am. And it’s the same as if all the devils out of hell had been at me the night through to do it still. Maybe I hadn’t much to forgive. I’m like a bat in the light—I’m not knowing where I am ezactly. Daresay the people will laugh at me when they’re getting to know. Wouldn’t trust, but they’ll think me a poor-spirited cur, anyway. Let them—there’s never much pity for the dog that’s licked.”
His voice shook, although so hard and so husky. “That’s not what I came to say, though. You’ll be laving this place soon, and I’m wanting to ask—I’m wanting to know——”
She had covered her face, and now she said through her hands, “Do as you like with me, Pete. You are my husband, and I must obey.”
He looked down at her for a moment. “But you cannot love me?”
“I have deceived you, and whatever you tell me to do I will do it.”
“But you cannot love me?”
“I’ll be a good wife for the future* Pete—I will, indeed, indeed I will.”
“But you cannot love me?”
She began to cry. “That’s enough,” he said. “I’ll not force you.”
“You are very good,” she said again.
He laughed more bitterly than before. “Dou yo think I’m wanting your body while another man has your heart? That’s a game I’ve played about long enough, I’m thinking. Good? Not me, missis.”
His eyes, which had been fixed on the fire, wandered to his wife, and then his lips quivered and his manner changed.
“I’m hard—I’ll cut it short. Fact is, I’ve detarmined to do something, but I’ve a question to ask first. You’ve suffered since you left me, Kate. He has dragged you down a dale—but tell me, do you love him still?”
She shuddered and crept closer to the wall.
“Don’t be freckened. It’s a woman’s way to love the man that’s done wrong by her. Being good to her is nothing—sarvice is nothing—kindness is nothing. Maybe there’s some ones that cry shame on her for that—but not me. Giving herself, body and soul, and thinking nothing what she gets for it—that’s the glory of a woman when she cares for anybody. Spake up, Kate—do you love him in spite of all?”
The answer came in a whisper that was like a breath—”Yes.”
“That’ll do,” said Pete.
He pressed his hand against the place of his old wound. “I might have known you could never care for me—I might have known that,” he said with difficulty. “But don’t think I can’t stand my rackups, as the saying is. I know my course now—I know my job.”
She was sobbing into her hands, and he was breathing fast and loud.
“One word more—only one—about the child.”
“Have I a right to her?”
She gasped audibly, but did not answer, and he tried a second time.
“Does she belong to me, Kate?”
Her confusion increased. He tried a third time, speaking more gently than before.
“If I should lave the island, Kate, could I—must I—may I take the child along with me?”
At that her fear got the better of her shame, and she cried, “Don’t take her away. Oh, don’t, don’t!”
He pressed his hand hard at his side again.
“But maybe that’s only mother’s love, and what mother——”
He broke off and then began once more, in a voice so low that it was scarcely to be heard. “Tell me, when the time comes—and it will come, Kate, have no fear about that——”
He was breaking down, he was struggling hard. “When the time comes for himself and you to be together, will you be afraid to have the little one with you—will it seem wrong, Kate—you two and little Katherine—one household—one family—no?—n—o?”
The words seemed to come out of the depths of his throat. “I’ve nothing more to think about. He must think of all the rest.”
“And you, Pete?”
“What matter about me? D’ye think there’s anything worse coming? D’ye think I’m caring what I ate, and what I drink, and what becomes of me?”
He was laughing again, and her sobs broke out afresh.
“God is good,” he said more quietly. “He’ll take care of the likes of me.”
His motionless eyes were on the crackling fire, and he stood in the light that flashed from it with a face like stone. “I’ve no child now,” he muttered, as though speaking to himself.
She slid to her knees at his feet, took the hand that hung by his side and began to cover it with kisses. “Forgive me,” she said; “I have been very weak and very guilty.”
“What’s the use of talking like that?” he answered. “What’s past is past,” and he drew his hand away. “No child now, no child now,” he muttered again, as though his dispair cried out to God.
He was feeling like a man wrecked in mid-ocean. A spar came floating towards him. It was all he could lay hold of from the foundering ship, in which he had sailed, and sung, and laughed, and slept. He had thought to save his life by it, but another man was clinging to it, and he had to drop it and go down.
She could not look into his face again; she could not touch his hand; she could not ask for his forgiveness. He stood over her for a moment without speaking, and then, with his hollow cheeks, and deep eyes, and ragged heard, he went away in the morning sunlight.
Phillip fell into a deep sleep. When he awoke, he saw, as in a mirror, a solution to the tumultuous drama of his life. It was a glorious solution, a liberating and redeeming end, an end bringing freedom from the bonds which had beset him. What matter if it was hard; if it was difficult; if it was bitter as Marah and steep as Calvary? He was ready, he was eager. Oh, blessed sleep! Oh, wise and soothing sleep I It had rent the dark cloud of his past and given the flash of light that illumined the path before him.
He opened his eyes and saw Auntie Nan seated by his side, reading a volume of sermons. At the change in his breathing the old dove looked round, dropped the book, and began to flutter about. “Hush, dearest, hush!” she whispered.
There was a heavy, monotonous sound, like the beating of a distant drum or the throb of an engine under the earth.
“What day is it?”
“Sunday. Oh, you’ve had a long, long sleep, Philip. You slept all day yesterday.”
“Is that the church-bell ringing?”
“Yes, dear, and a fine morning, too—so soft and springlike. I’ll open the window.”
“Then my hearing must be injured.”
“Ah! they muffled the bell—that’s it. ‘The church is so near,’ they said, ‘it might trouble him.'”
A carriage was coming down the road. It rattled on the paved way; then the rattling ceased, and there was a dull rumble as of a cart sliding on to a wooden bridge. “That horse has fallen,” said Philip, trying to rise.
“It’s only the straw on the street,” said Auntie Nan. “The people brought it from all parts. ‘We must deaden the traffic by the house,’ they said. Oh, you couldn’t think how good they’ve been. Yesterday was market-day, but there was no business done. Couldn’t have been; they were coming and going the whole day long. ‘And how’s the Deemster now?’ ‘And how’s he now?’ It was fit to make you cry. I believe in my heart, Philip, nobody in Ramsey went to bed the first night at all. Everybody waiting and waiting to see if there wasn’t something to fetch, and the kettle kept boiling in every kitchen round about. But hush, dearest, hush! Not so much talking all at once. Hush, now!”
“Where is Pete?” asked Philip, his face to the wall.
“Oiling the hinges of the door, dearest. He was laying carpets on the stairs all day yesterday. But never the sound of a hammer. The man’s wonderful. He must have hands like iron. His heart’s soft enough, though. But then everybody is so kind—everybody, everybody! The doctor, and the vicar, and the newspapers—oh, it’s beautiful! It’s just as Pete was saying.”
“What was Pete saying, Auntie?”
“He was saying the angels must think there’s somebody sick in every house in the island.”
A sound of singing came through the open window, above the whisper of young leaves and the twitter of birds. It was the psalm that was being sung in church—
“Blessed is the man that considereth the poor and needy;
The Lord shall deliver him in time of trouble.”
“Listen, Philip. That must be a special psalm. I’m sure they’re singing it for you. How sweet of them! But we are talking too much, dear. The doctor will scold. I must leave you now, Philip. Only for a little, though, while I go back to Bal lure, and I’ll send up Cottier.”
“Yes, send up Cottier,” said Philip.
“My darling,” said the old soul, looking down as she tied her bonnet strings. “You’ll lie quiet now? You’re sure you’ll lie quiet? Well, good bye! good-bye!”
As Philip lay alone the soar and swell of the psalm filled the room. Oh, the irony of it all! The frantic, hideous, awful irony! He was lying there, he, the guilty one, with the whole island watching at his bedside, pitying him, sorrowing for him, holding its breath until he should breathe, and she, his partner, his victim, his innocent victim, was in jail, in disgrace, in a degradation more deep than death. Still the psalm soared and swelled. He tried to bury his head in the pillows that he might not hear.
Jem-y-Lord came in hurriedly and Philip beckoned him close. “Where is she?” he whispered.
“They removed her to Castle Rushen late last night, your Honour,” said Jemmy softly.
“Write immediately to the Clerk of the Bolls,” said Philip. “Say she must be lodged on the debtors’ side and have patients’ diet and every comfort. My Kate! my Kate!” he kept saying, “it shall not be for long, not for long, my love, not for long!”
The convalescence was slow and Philip was impatient. “I feel better to-day, doctor,” he would say, “don’t you think I may get out of bed?”
“Traa dy liooar (time enough), Deemster,” the doctor would answer. “Let us see what a few more days will do.”
“I have a great task before me, doctor,” he would say again. “I must begin immediately.”
“You have a life’s work before you, Deemster, and you must begin soon, but not just yet.”
“I have something particular to do, doctor,” he said at last. “I must lose no time.”
“You must lose no time indeed, that’s why you must stay where you are a little longer.”
One morning his impatience overcame him, and he got out of bed. But, being on his feet, his head reeled, his limbs trembled, he clutched at the bed-post, and had to clamber back. “Oh God, bear me witness, this delay is not my fault,” he murmured.
Throughout the day he longed for the night, that he might close his eyes in the darkness and think of Kate. He tried to think of her as she used to be—bright, happy, winsome, full of joy, of love, of passion, dangling her feet from the apple-tree, or tripping along the tree-trunk in the glen, teasing him? tempting him. It was impossible. He could only think of her in, the gloom of the prison. That filled his mind with terrors. Sometimes in the dark hours his enfeebled body beset his brain with fantastic hallucinations. Calling for paper and pens, he would make show of writing a letter, producing no words or intelligible signs, but only a mass of scrawls and blotches. This he would fold and refold with great elaboration, and give to Jem y-Lord with an air of gravity and mystery, saying in a whisper, “For her!” Thus night brought no solace, and the dawn found him waiting for the day, that he might open his eyes in the sunlight and think, “She is better where she is; God will comfort her.”
A fortnight went by and he saw nothing of Pete. At length he made a call on his courage and said, “Auntie, why does Pete never come?”
“He does, dearest. Only when you’re asleep, though. He stands there in the doorway in his stockings. I nod to him and he comes in and looks down at you. Then he goes away without a word.”
“What is he doing now?”
“Going to Douglas a good deal seemingly. Indeed, they’re saying—but then people are so fond of talking.”
“What are people saying, Auntie?”
“It’s about a divorce, dearest!”
Philip groaned and turned away his face.
He opened his eyes one day from a doze, and saw the plain face of Nancy Joe, framed in a red print handkerchief. The simple creature was talking with Auntie Nan, holding council, and making common cause with the dainty old lady as unmarried women and old maids both of them.
“‘Why don’t you keep your word true?’ says I. ‘Wasn’t you saying you’d take her back,’ says I, ‘whatever she’d done and whatever she was, so help you God?’ says I. ‘Isn’t she shamed enough already, poor thing, without you going shaming her more? Have you no bowels at all? Are you only another of the gutted herrings on a stick?’ says I. ‘Why don’t you keep your word true?’ ‘Because,’ says he, ‘I want to be even with the other one,’ says he, and then away he went wandering down by the tide.”
“It’s unchristian, Nancy,” said Auntie Nan, “but it’s human; for although he forgives the woman, he can hardly be expected to forgive the man, and he can’t punish one without punishing both.”
“Much good it’ll do to punish either, say I. What for should he put up his fins now the hook’s in his gizzard? But that’s the way with the men still. Talking and talking of love and love; but when trouble is coming, no better than a churn of sour cream on a thundery day. We’re best off that never had no truck with them—I don’t know what you think, Miss Christian, ma’am. They may talk about having no chances—I don’t mind if they do—do you? I had chance enough once, though—I don’t know what you’ve had, ma’am. I had one sweetheart, anyway—a sort of a sweetheart, as you might say; but he was sweeter on the money than on me. Always asking how much I had got saved in the stocking. And when he heard I had three new dresses done, ‘Nancy,’ says he, ‘we had better be putting a sight up on the parzon now, before they’re all wore out at you.'”
The Governor, who was still in London, wrote a letter full of tender solicitude and graceful compliment. The Clerk of the Rolls had arranged from the first that two telegrams should be sent to him daily, giving accounts of Philip’s condition. At last the Clerk came in person, and threw Auntie Nan into tremors of nervousness by his noise and robustious-ness. He roared as he came along the path, roared himself through the hall, up the stairs, and into the bedroom, roared again as he set eyes on Philip, protesting that the sick man was worth five hundred dead men yet, and vowing with an oath (and a tear trickling down his nose) that he would like to give “time” to the fools who frightened good people with bad reports. Then he cleared the room for a private consultation. “Out you go, Cottier. Look slippy, man!”
Auntie Nan fled in terror. When she had summoned resolution to invade afresh the place of the bear that had possession of her lamb, the Clerk of the Rolls was rising from the foot of the bed and saying—
“We’ll leave it at that then, Christian. These d——— things will happen; but don’t you bother your head about it. I’ll make it all serene. Besides, it’s nothing—nothing in a lifetime. I’ll have to send you the summons, though. You needn’t trouble about that; just toss it into the fire.”
Philip’s head was down, his eyes were on the counterpane, and a faint tinge of colour overspread his wasted face.
“Ah! you’re back, Miss Christian? I must be going, though. Good-bye, old fellow! Take care of yourself—good men are scarce. Good-bye, Miss Christian! Good-bye, all! Good-bye, Phil! God bless you!”
With that he went roaring down the stairs, but came thunging up again in a moment, put his head round the doorpost, and said—
“Lord bless my soul, if I wasn’t forgetting an important bit of news—very important news, too! It hasn’t got into the papers yet, but I’ve had the official wrinkle. What d’ye think?—the Governor has resigned! True as gospel. Sent in his resignation to the Home Office the night before last. I saw it coming. He hasn’t been at home since Tynwald. Look sharp and get better now. Good-bye!”
Philip got up for the first time the day following. The weather was soft and full of whispers of spring; the window was open and Philip sat with his face in the direction of the sea. Auntie Nan was knitting by his side and running on with homely gossip. The familiar and genial talk was floating over the surface of his mind as a sea-bird floats over the surface of the sea, sometimes reflected in it, sometimes skimming it, sometimes dipping into it and being lost.
“Poor Pete! The good woman here thinks he’s hard. Perhaps he is; but I’m sure he is much to be pitied. Ross has behaved badly and deserves all that can come to him. ‘He’s the same to me as you are, dear—in blood, I mean—but somehow I can’t be sorry…. Ah! you’re too tender-hearted, Philip, indeed you are. You’d find excuses for anybody. The doctor says overwork, dearest; but I say the shock of seeing that poor creature in that awful position. And what a shock you gave me, too! To tell you the truth, Philip, I thought it was a fate. Never heard of it? No? Never heard that grandfather fainted on the bench? He did, though, and he didn’t recover either. How well I remember it! Word broke over the town like a clap of thunder, ‘The Deemster has fallen in the Court-house.’ Father heard it up at Ballure and ran down bareheaded. Grandfather’s carriage was at the Courthouse door, and they brought him up to Ballawhaine. I remember I was coming downstairs when I saw the carriage draw up at the gate. The next minute your father, with his wild eyes and his bare head, was lifting something out of the inside. Poor Tom! He had never set foot in the house since grandfather had driven him out of it. And little did grandfather think in whose arms he was to travel the last stage of his life’s journey.”
Philip had fallen asleep. Jem-y-Lord entered with a letter. It was in a large envelope and had come by the insular post.
“Shall I open it?” thought Auntie Nan. She had been opening and replying to Philip’s letters during the time of his illness, but this one bore an official seal, and so she hesitated. “Shall I?” she thought, with the knitting needle to her lip. “I will. I may save him some worry.”
She fixed her glasses and drew out the letter. It was a summons from the Chancery Division of the High Court of Justice—a petition for divorce. The petitioner’s name was Peter Quilliam; the respondent——, the co respondent——.
As Philip awoke from his doze, with the salt breath of the sea in his nostrils and the songs of spring in his ears, Auntie Nan was fumbling with the paper to get it back into the envelope. Her hands trembled, and when she spoke her voice quivered. Philip saw in a moment what had happened. She had stumbled into the pit where the secret of his life lay buried.
The doctor came in at that instant. He looked attentively at Auntie Nan, and said significantly, “You have been nursing too long, Miss Christian, you must go home for a while.”
“I will go home at once,” she faltered, in a feeble inward voice.
Philip’s head was on his breast. Such was the first step on the Calvary he intended to ascend. O God, help him! God support him! God bear up his sinking feet that he might not fall from weakness, or fear, or shame.
Cæsar visited Kate at Castle Rushen. He found her lodged in a large and light apartment (once the dining-room of the Lords of Man), indulged with every comfort, and short of nothing but her liberty. As the turnkey pulled the door behind him, Cæsar lifted both hands and cried, “The Lord is my refuge and my strength; a very present help in trouble.” Then he inquired if Pete had been there before him, and being answered “No,” he said, “The children of this world are wiser in their generation than the children of light.” After that he fell to the praise of the Deemster, who had not only given Kate these mercies, comfortable to her carnal body, if dangerous to her soul, but had striven to lighten the burden of her people at the time when he had circulated the report of her death, knowing she was dead indeed, dead in trespasses and sins, and choosing rather that they should mourn her as one who was already dead in fact, than feel shame for her as one that was yet alive in iniquity.
Finally, he dropped his handkerchief on to the slate floor,-went down on one knee by the side of his tall hat, and called on her in prayer to cast in her lot afresh with the people of God. “May her lightness be rebuked, O Lord!” he cried. “Give her to know that until she repents she hath no place among Thy children. And, Lord, succour Thy servant in his hour of tribulation. Let him be well girt up with Christian armour. Help him to cry aloud, amid his tears and his lamentations, ‘Though my heart and hers should break, Thy name shall not be dishonoured, my Lord and my God!'”
Rising from his knee and dusting it, Cæsar took up his tall hat, and left Kate as he had found her, crouching by the fire inside the wide ingle of the old hall, covering her face and saying nothing.
He was in this mood of spiritual exaltation as he descended the steps into the Keep, and came upon a man in the dress of a prisoner sweeping with a besom. It was Black Tom. Cæsar stopped in front of him, moved his lips, lifted his face to the sky, shut both eyes, then opened them again, and said in a voice of deep sorrow, “Aw, Thomas! Thomas Quilliam! I’m taking grief to see thee, man. An ould friend, whose hand has rested in my hand, and swilling the floor of a prison! Well, I warned thee often. But thou wast ever stony ground, Thomas. And now thou must see for thyself whether was I right that honesty is the better policy. Look at thee, and look at me. The Lord has delivered me, and prospered me even in temporal things. I have lands and I have houses. And what hast thou thyself? Nothing but thy conscience and thy disgrace. Even thy very clothes they have taken away from thee, and they would take thy hair itself if thou had any.”
Black Tom stood with feet flatly planted apart, rested himself on the shank of his besom, and said, “Don’t be playing cammag (shindy) with me, Mr. Holy Ghoster. It isn’t honesty that’s making the diff’rance between us at all—it’s luck. You’ve won and I’ve lost, you’ve succeeded and I’ve failed, you’re wearing your chapel hat and I’m in this bit of a saucepan lid, but you’re only a reg’lar ould Pharisee, anyway.”
Cæsar waved his hand. “I can’t take the anger with thee, Thomas,” he said, backing himself out. “I thought the devil had been chained since our last camp-meeting, but I was wrong seemingly. He goeth about still like a raging lion, seeking whom he may devour.”
“Don’t be trying to knock me down with your tex’es,” said Thomas, shouldering his besom. “Any cock can crow on his own midden.”
“You can’t help it, Thomas,” said Cæsar, edging away. “It isn’t my ould friend that’s blaspheming at all. It’s the devil that has entered into his heart and is rending him. But cast the devil out, man, or hell will be thy portion.”
“I was there last night in my dreams, Cæsar,” said Black Tom, following him up. “‘Oh, Lord Devil, let me in,’ says I. ‘Where d’ye come from?’ says he. ‘The Isle of Man,’ says I. ‘I’m not taking any more from there till my Bishop comes,’ says he. ‘Who’s that?’ says I. ‘Bishop Cæsar, the publican—who else?’ says he.”
“I marvel at thee, Thomas,” said Cæsar, half through the small door of the portcullis, “but the sons of Belial have to fight hard for his throne. I’ll pray for thee, though, that it be not remembered against thee when(D.V.) there will be weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth.”
That night Cæsar visited the Deemster at Elm Cottage. His eyes glittered, and there was a look of frenzy in his face. He was still in his mood of spiritual pride, and when he spoke it was always with the thees and the thous and in the high pitch of the preacher.
“The Ballawhaine is dead, your Honour,” he cried, “They wouldn’t have me tell thee before because of thy body’s weakness, but now they suffer it. Groanings and moanings and ‘stericks of torment! Ter’ble sir, ter’ble! Took a notion he would have water poured out for him at the last. It couldn’t wash him clane, though. And shouting with his dying voice, ‘I’ve sinned, O God, I’ve sinned!’ Oh, I delivered my soul, sir; he can clear me of that, anyway. ‘Lay hould of a free salvation,’ says I. ‘I’ve not lived a right life,’ says he. ‘Truth enough,’ says I; ‘you’ve lived a life of carnal freedom, but now is the appointed time. Say, “Lord, I belaive; help thou my unbelaife.”‘ ‘Too late, Mr. Cregeen, too late,’ says he, and the word was scarce out of his mouth when he was key-cold in a minute, and gone into the night of all flesh that’s lost. Well, it was his own son that killed him, sir; robbed him of every silver sixpence and ruined him. The last mortgage he raised was to keep the young man out of prison for forgery. Bad, sir, bad! To indulge a child to its own damnation is bad. A human infirmity, though; and I’m feeling for the poor sinner myself being tempted—that is to say inclining—but thank the Lord for his strengthening arm——”
“Is he buried?” asked Philip.
“Buried enough, and a poor funeral too, sir,” said Cæsar, walking the room with a proud step, the legs straightened, the toes conspicuously turned out. “Driving rain and sleet, sir, the wind in the trees, the grass wet to your calf, and the parson in his white smock under the umbrella. Nobody there to spake of, neither; only myself and the tenants mostly.”
“Where was Ross?”
“Gone, sir, without waiting to see his foolish ould father pushed under the sod. Well, there was not much to wait for neither. The young man has been a besom of fire and burnt up everything. Not so much left as would buy a rope to hang him. And Ballawhaine is mine, sir; mine in a way of spak-ing—my son-in-law’s, anyway—and he has given me the right to have and to hould it. Aw, a Sabbath time, sir; a Sabbath time. I made up my mind to have it the night the man struck me in my own house in Sulby. He betrayed my daughter at last, sir, and took her from her home, and then her husband lent six thousand pounds on mortgage. ‘Do what you like with it,’ said he, and I said to myself, ‘The man shall starve; he shall be a beggar; he shall have neither bread to eat, nor water to drink, nor a roof to cover him.’ And the moment the breath was out of the ould man’s body I foreclosed.”
Philip was trembling from head to foot. “Do you mean,” he faltered, “that that was your reason?”
“It is the Lord’s hand on a rascal,” said Cæsar, “and proud am I to be the instrument of his vengeance. ‘God moves in a mysterious way,’ sir. Oh, the Lord is opening His word more and more. And I have more to tell thee, too. Balla-whaine would belong to thyself, sir, if every one had his rights. It was thy grandfather’s inheritance, and it should have been thy father’s, and it ought to be thine. Take it, sir, take it on thy own terms; it is worth a matter of twelve thousand, but thou shalt have it for nine, and pay for it when the Lord gives thee substance. Thou hast been good to me and to mine, and especially to the poor lost lamb who lies in the Castle to-night in her shame and disgrace. Little did I think I should ever repay thee, though. But it is the Lord’s doings. It is marvellous in our eyes. ‘Deep in unfathomable mines’——”
Cæsar was pacing the room and speaking in tones of rapture. Philip, who was sitting at the table, rose from it with a look of fear.
“Frightful! frightful!” he muttered. “A mistake! a mistake!”
“The Lord God makes no mistakes, sir,” cried Cæsar.
“But what if it was not Ross——” began Philip. Cæsar paid no heed.
“What if it was not Ross——” Cæsar glanced over his shoulder.
“What if it was some one else——” said Philip. Cæsar stopped in front of him.
“Some one you have never thought of—some one you have respected and even held in honour——”
“Who, then?” said Cæsar huskily.
“Mr. Cregeen,” said Philip, “it is hard for me to speak. I had not intended to speak yet; but I should hold myself in horror if I were silent now. You have been living in awful error. Whatever the cost, whatever the consequences, you must not remain in that error a moment longer. It was not Ross who took away your daughter.”
“Who was it?” cried Cæsar. His voice had the sound of a cracked bell.
Philip struggled hard. He tried to confess. His eyes wandered about the walls. “As you have cherished a mistaken resentment,” he faltered, “so you have nourished a mistaken gratitude.”
“Who? who?” cried Cæsar, looking fixedly into Philip’s face.
Philip’s rigid fingers were crawling over the papers on the table like the claws of crabs. They touched the summons from the Chancery Court, and he picked it up.
“Read this,” he said, and held it out to Cæsar.
Cæsar took it, but continued to look at Philip with eyes that were threatening in their wildness. Philip felt that in a moment their positions had been changed. He was the judge no longer, but only a criminal at the bar of this old man, this grim fanatic, half-mad already with religious mania.
“The Lord of Hosts is mighty,” muttered Cæsar; and then Philip heard the paper crinkle in his hand.
Cæsar was feeling for his spectacles. When he had liberated them from the sheath, he put them on the bridge of his nose upside down. With the two glasses against the wrinkles of his forehead and his eyes still uncovered, he held the paper at arm’s length and tried to read it. Then he took out his red print handkerchief to dust the spectacles. Fumbling spectacles and sheath and handkerchief and paper in his trembling hands together, he muttered again in a quavering voice, as if to fortify himself against what he was to see, “The Lord of Hosts is mighty.”
He read the paper at length, and there was no mistaking it. “Quilliam v. Quilliam and Christian (Philip).”
He laid the summons on the table, and returned his spectacles to their sheath. His breathing made noises in his nostrils. “Ugh cha nee!” (woe is me), he muttered. “Ugh cha nee! Ugh cha nee!”
Then he looked helplessly around and said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”
The vengeance that he had built up day by day had fallen in a moment into ruins. His hypocrisy was stripped naked. “I see how it is,” he said in a hoarse voice. “The Lord has de-ceaved me to punish me. It is the public-house. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. What’s gained on the devil’s back is lost under his belly. I thought I was a child of God, but the deceitfulness of riches has choked the word. Ugh cha nee! Ugh cha nee! My prosperity has been like the quails, only given with the intent of choking me. Ugh cha nee!”
His spiritual pride was broken down. The Almighty had refused to be made a tool of. He took up his hat and rolled his arm over it the wrong way of the nap. Half-way to the door he paused. “Well, I’ll be laving you; good-day, sir,” he said, nodding his head slowly. “The Lord’s been knowing what you were all the time seemingly. But what’s the use of His knowing—He never tells on nobody. And I’ve been calling on sinners to flee from the wrath, and He’s been letting the devils make a mock at myself! Ugh cha nee! Ugh cha nee!”
Philip had slipped back in his chair, and his head had fallen forward’ on the table. He heard the old man go out; he heard his heavy step drop slowly down the stairs; he heard his foot dragging on the path outside. “Ugh cha nee! Ugh cha nee!” The word rang in his heart like a knell.
Jem-y-Lord, who had been out in the town, came back in great excitement.
“Such news, your Honour! Such splendid news!”
“What is it?” said Philip, without lifting his head.
“They’re signing petitions all over the island, asking the Queen to make you Governor.”
“God in heaven!” said Philip; “that would be frightful.”
When Philip was fit to go out, they brought up a carriage and drove him round the bay. The town had awakened from its winter sleep, and the harbour was a busy and cheerful scene. More than a hundred men had come from their crofts in the country, and were making their boats ready for the mackerel-fishing at Kinsale. There was a forest of masts where the flat hulls had been, the taffrails and companions were touched up with paint, and the newly-barked nets were being hauled over the quay.
“Good morning, Dempster,” cried the men.
They all saluted him, and some of them, after their Manx fashion, drew up at the carriage-door, lifted their caps with their tarry hands, and said—
“Taking joy to see you out again, Dempster. When a man’s getting over an attack like that, it’s middling clear the Lord’s got work for him.”
Philip answered with smiles and bows and cheerful words, but the kindness oppressed him. He was thinking of Kate. She was the victim of his success. For all that he received she had paid the penalty. He thought of her dreams, her golden dreams, her dreams of going up side by side and hand in hand with the man she loved. “Oh, my love, my love!” he murmured. “Only a little longer.”
The doctor was waiting for him when he reached home.
“I have something to say to you, Deemster,” he said, with averted face. “It’s about your aunt.”
“Is she ill?” said Philip.—”Very ill.”
“But I’ve inquired daily.”
“By her express desire the truth has been kept back from you.”
“The carriage is still at the door——” began Philip.
“I’ve never seen any one sink so rapidly. She’s all nerve. No doubt the nursing exhausted her.”
“It’s not that—I’ll go up immediately.”
“She was to expect you at five.”
“I cannot wait,” said Philip, and in a moment he was on the road. “O God!” he thought, “how steep is the path I have to tread.”
On getting to Ballure, he pushed through the hall and stepped upstairs. At the door of Auntie Nan’s bedroom he was met by Martha, the housemaid, now the nurse. She looked surprised, and made some nervous show of shutting him out. Before she could dc so he was already in the room. The air was heavy with the smell of medicines and vinegar and the odours of sick life.
“Hush!” said Martha, with a movement of lips and eyebrows.
Auntie Nan was asleep in a half-sitting position on the bed. It was a shock to see the change in her. The beautiful old face was white and drawn with pain; the chin was hanging heavily; the eyes were half open; there was no cap on her head; her hair was straggling loosely and was dull as tow.
“She must be very ill,” said Philip under his breath.
“Very,” said Martha. “She wasn’t expecting you until five, sir.”
“Has the doctor told her? Does she know?”
“Yes, sir; but she doesn’t mind that. She knows she’s dying, and is quite resigned—quite—and quite cheerful—but she fears if you knew—hush!”
There was a movement on the bed.
“She’ll be shocked if she—and she’s not ready to receive—in here, sir,” whispered Martha, and she motioned to the back of a screen that stood between the door and the bed.
There was a deep sigh, a sound as of the moistening of dry lips, and then the voice of Auntie Nan—not her own familiar voice, but a sort of vanishing echo of it. “What is the time, Martha?”
“Twenty minutes wanting five, ma’am.”
“So late! It wasn’t nice of you to let me sleep so long, Martha. I’m expecting the Governor at five. What a mercy he hasn’t come earlier. It wouldn’t be right to keep him waiting, and then—bring me the sponge, girl. Moisten it first. Now the towel. The comb next. That’s better. How lifeless my hair is, though. Oil, you say? I wonder! I’ve never used it in my life: but at a time like this—well, just a little, then—there, that will do. Bring me a cap—the one with the pink bow in it. My face is so pale—it will give me a little colour. That will do. You couldn’t tell I had been ill, could you? Not very ill, anyway? Now side everything away. The medicines too—put them in the cupboard. So many bottles. ‘How ill she must have been!’ he would say. And now open the drawer on the left, Martha, the one with the key in it, and bring me the paper on the top. Yes, the white paper. The folded one with the endorsement. Endorsement means writing on the back, Martha. Ah! I’ve lived all my life among lawyers. Lay it on the counterpane. The keys? Lay them beside it. No, put them behind my pillow, just at my back. Yes, there—lower, though, deeper still—that’s right. Now set a chair, so that he can sit beside me. This side of the bed—no, this side. Then the light will be on him, and I will be able to see his face—my eyes are not so good as they were, you know. A little farther back—not quite so much, neither—that will do. Ah!”
There was a long breath of satisfaction, and then Auntie Nan said—
“I suppose it’s——what time is it now, Martha?”
“Ten minutes wanting five, ma’am.”
“Did you tell Jane about the cutlets? He likes them with bread-crumbs, you know. I hope she won’t forget to say ‘Your Excellency.’ I shall hear his voice the moment he comes into the hall. My ears are no worse, if my eyes are. Perhaps he won’t speak, though, ‘She’s been so ill,’ he’ll think. Martha, I think you had better open the door. Jane is so forgetful. She might say things, too. If he asks, ‘How is she to-day, Martha” you must answer quite brightly, ‘Better to-day, your Excellency.'”
There was an exclamation of pain.
“Oh! Ugh—Oo! Oh, blessed Lord Jesus!”
“Are you sure you are well enough, ma’am? Hadn’t I better tell him——”
“No, I’ll be worse to-morrow, and the next day worse still. Give me a dose of medicine, Martha—the morning medicine—the one that makes me cheerful. Thank you, Martha. If I feel the pain when he is here, I’ll bear it as long as I can, and then I’ll say, ‘I’m finding myself drowsy, Philip; you had better go and lie down.’ Will you understand that, Martha?”
“Yes, ma’am,” said Martha.
“I’m afraid we must be a little deceitful, Martha. But we can’t help that, can we? You see he has to be installed yet, and that is always a great excitement. If he thought I was very ill, now—very, very ill, you know—yes, I really think he would wish to postpone it, and I wouldn’t have that for worlds and worlds. He has always been so fond of his old auntie. Well, it’s the way with these boys. I daresay people wonder why he has never married, being so great and so prosperous. That was for my sake. He knew I should——”
Philip was breathing heavily. Auntie Nan listened. “I’m sure there’s somebody in the hall, Martha. Is it——? Yes, it’s——; Go down to him quick——”
“Yes, ma’am,” said Martha, making a noise with the screen to cover Philip’s escape on tiptoe. Then she came to him on the landing, wiping her eyes with her apron, and pretended to lead Philip back to the room.
“My boy! my boy!” cried Auntie Nan, and she folded him in her arms.
The transformation was wonderful. She had a look of youth now, almost a look of gaiety. “I’ve heard the great, great news,” she whispered, taking his hand.
“That’s only a rumour, Auntie,” said Philip. “Are you better?”
“Oh, but it will come true. Yes, yes, I’m better. I’m sure it will come true. And, dear heart, what a triumph! I dreamt it all the night before I heard of it. You were on the top of the Tynwald, and there was a great crowd. But come and sit down and tell me everything. So you are better yourself? Quite strong again, dear? Oh, yes, any where, Philip-sit anywhere. Here, this chair will do—this one by my side. Ah! How well you look!”
She was carried away by her own gaiety. Leaning back on the pillow, but still keeping his hand in hers, she said, “Do you know, Philip Christian, who is the happiest person in the world? I’m sure you don’t, for all you’re so clever. So I’ll tell you. Perhaps you think it’s a beautiful young wife just married to a husband who worships her. Well, you’re quite, quite wrong, sir. It’s an old, old lady, very, very old, and very feeble, just tottering on, and not expecting to live a great while longer, but with her sons about her, grown up, and big, and strong, and having all the world before them. That’s the happiest person on earth. And I’m the next thing to it, for my boy—my own boy’s boy—-”
She broke off, and then, with a far-off look, she said, “I wonder will he think I’ve done my duty!”
“Who?” asked Philip.
“Your father,” she answered.
Then she turned to the maid and said, quite gaily, “You needn’t wait, Martha. His Excellency will call you when I want my medicine. Won’t you, your Excellency?”
Philip could not find it in his heart to correct her again. The girl left the room. Auntie Nan glanced at the closing door, then reached over to Philip with an air of great mystery, and whispered—
“You mustn’t be shocked, Philip, or surprised, or fancy I’m very ill, or that I’m going to die; but what do you think I’ve done?”
“I’ve made my will! Is that very terrible?”
“You’ve done right, Auntie,” said Philip.
“Yes, the High Bailiff has been up and everything is in order, every little thing. See,” and she lifted the paper that the maid had laid on the counterpane. “Let me tell you.” She nodded her head as she ran over the items. “Some little legacies first, you know. There’s Martha, such a good girl—I’ve left her my silk dresses. Then old Mary, the housemaid at Ballawhaine. Poor old thing! she’s been down with rheumatism three years, and flock beds get so lumpy—I’ve left her my feather one. I thought at first I should like you to have my little income. Do you know, your old auntie is quite an old miser. I’ve grown so fond of my little money. And it seemed so sweet to think—but then you don’t want it now, Philip. It would be nothing to you, would it? I’ve been thinking, though—now, what do you think I’ve been thinking of doing with my little fortune?”
Philip stroked the wrinkled fingers with his other hand.
“What’s right, I’m sure, Auntie. What is it?”
“You would never guess.”—”No?”
“I’ve been thinking,” with sudden gravity. “Philip, there’s nobody in the world so unhappy as a poor gentlewoman who has slipped and fallen. Then this one’s father, he has turned his back on her, they’re telling me, and of course she can’t expect anything from her husband. I’ve been thinking, now——”
“Yes?” said Philip, with his eyes down.
“To tell you the truth, I’ve been thinking it would be so nice——”
And then, nervously, faltering, in a quavering voice, with many excuses, out came the great secret, the mighty strategy. Auntie Nan had willed her fortune to Kate.
“You’re an angel, Auntie,” said Philip in a thick voice.
But he saw through her artifice. She was talking of Kate, but she was thinking of himself. She was trying to relieve him of an embarrassment; to remove an impediment that lay in his path; to liberate his conscience; to cover up his fault; to conceal everything.
“And then this house, dear,” said Auntie Nan. “It’s yours, but you’ll never want it. It’s been a dear little harbour of refuge, but the storm is over now. Would you—do you see any objection—perhaps you might—could you not let the poor soul come and live here with her little one, after I—when all is over, I mean—and she is—eh?”
Philip could not speak. He took the wrinkled hand and drew it up to his lips.
The old soul was beside herself with joy. “Then you’re sure I’ve done right? Quite sure? Lock it up in the drawer again, dearest The top one on the left. Oh, the keys? Dear me, yes; where are the keys? How tiresome! I remember now. They’re at the back of my pillow. Will you call Martha? Or perhaps you would yourself—will you?” (very artfully)—”you don’t mind then? Yes, that’s it; more this way, though, a little more—ah! My boy! my boy!”
The old dove’s second strategy had succeeded also. In fumbling behind her pillow for the keys, Philip had to put his arms about her again, and she was kissing him on the forehead and on the cheeks.
Then came a spasm of pain. It dragged at her features, but her smile struggled through it. She fetched a difficult breath, and said—
“And now—dear—I’m finding myself—a little drowsy—how selfish of me—your cutlets—browned—nicely browned—breadcrumbs, you know——”
Philip fled from the room and summoned Martha. He wandered aimlessly about the house for hours that night. At one moment he found himself in the blue room, Auntie Nan’s workroom, so full of her familiar things—the spinning-wheel, the frame of the sampler, the old-fashioned piano, the scent of lavender—all the little evidences of her presence, so dainty, so orderly, so sweet A lamp was burning for the convenience of the doctor, but there was no fire.
The doctor came again towards ten o’clock. There was nothing to be done; nothing to be hoped; still she might live until morning, if——
At midnight Philip crept noiselessly to the bedroom. The condition was unaltered. He was going to lie down, but wished to be awakened if there was any change.
It was long before he dropped off, and he seemed to have slept only a moment when there was a knocking at his door. He heard it while he was still sleeping. The dawn had broken, the streamers of the sun were rising out of the sea. A sparrow in the garden was hacking the air with its monotonous chirp.
Auntie Nan was far spent, yet the dragging expression of pain was gone, and a serenity almost angelic overspread her face. When she recognised Philip she felt for his hand, guided it to her heart, and kept it there. Only a few words did she speak, for her breath was short. She commended her soul to God. Then, with a look of pallid sunshine, she beckoned to Philip. He stooped his ear to her lips, and she whispered, “Hush, dearest! Never tell any one, for nobody ever knew—ever dreamt—but I loved your father—and—God gave him to me in you.”
The dear old dove had delivered herself of her last great secret. Philip put his lips to her cheek, iced already over the damps and chills of death. Then the eyes closed, the sweet old head slid back, the lips changed their colour, but still lay open as with a smile. Thus died Auntie Nan, peacefully, hopefully, trustfully, almost joyfully, in the fulness of her love and of her pride.
“O God,” thought Philip, “let me go on with my task. Give me strength to withstand the temptation of love like this.”
Her love had tempted him all his life His father had been twenty years dead, but she had kept his spirit alive—his aims, his ambitions, his fears, and the lessons of his life. There lay the beginnings of his ruin, his degradation, and the first cause of his deep duplicity. He had recovered everything that had been lost; he had gained all that his little world could give; and what was the worth of it? What was the price he had paid for it? “What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?”
Philip put his lips to the cold forehead. “Sweet soul, forgive me! God strengthen me! Let me not fail at this last moment.”
Philip did not go back to Elm Cottage. He buried Auntie Nan at the foot of his father’s grave. There was no room at either side, his mother’s sunken grave being on the left and the railed tomb of his grandfather on the right. They had to remove a willow two feet nearer to the path.
When all was over he returned home alone, and spent the afternoon in gathering up Auntie Nan’s personal belongings, labelling some of them and locking them up in the blue room. The weather had been troubled for some days. Spots had been seen on the sun. There were magnetic disturbances, and on the night before the aurora had pulsed in the northern sky. When the sun was near to sinking there was a brilliant lower sky to the west, with a bank of rolling cloud above it like a thick thatch roof, and a shaft of golden light dipping down into the sea, as if an angel had opened a door in heaven. After the sun had gone a fiery red bar stretched across the sky, and there were low rumblings of thunder.
Pausing in his work to look out on the beach, Philip saw a man riding hard on horseback. It was a messenger from Government Offices. He drew up at the gate. A moment later the messenger was in Philip’s room handing him a letter.
If anybody had seen the Deemster as he took that letter he must have thought it his death-warrant. A deadly pallor came to his face when he broke the seal of the envelope and drew out the contents. It was a commission from the Home Office. Philip was appointed Governor of the Isle of Man. “My punishment, my punishment!” he thought. The higher he rose, the lower he had to fall. It was a cruel kindness, a painful distinction, an awful penalty. Truly the steps of this Calvary were steep. Would he ever ascend it?
The messenger was bowing and smirking before him. “Thousand congratulations, your Excellency!”
“Thank you, my lad. Go downstairs. They’ll give you something to eat.”
A moment later Jem-y-Lord came into the room on some pretence and hopped about like a bird. “Yes, your Excellency—No, your Excellency—Quite so, your Excellency.”
Martha came next, and met Philip on the landing with a courageous smile and a courtesy. And the whole house, lately so dark and sad, seemed to lighten and to laugh, as when, after a sleepless night, you look, and lo! the daylight is on the blind; you listen and the birds are twittering in their cages below the stairs.
“She will hear it too,” thought Philip.
He wrote her two lines of a letter, the first that he had penned since his illness—
“Keep up heart, dear; I will be with you soon.”
This, without signature or superscription, he put into an envelope, and addressed. Then he went out and posted it himself.
There was lightning as he returned. He felt as if he would like to wander away in it down to Port Mooar, and round by the caves, and under the cliffs, where the sea-birds scream.
The night had fallen, and he was sitting in his room, when there was a clamour of loud voices in the hall. Some one was calling for the Deemster. It was Nancy Joe. She was newly returned from Sulby. Something had happened to Cæsar, and nobody could control him.
“Go to him, your Honour,” she cried from the doorway. “It’s only yourself that has power with him, and we don’t know in the world what’s doing on the man. He’s got a ram’s horn at him, and is going blowing round the house like the mischief, calling on the Lord to bring it down, and saying it’s the walls of Jericho.”
Philip sent for a carriage, and set off for Sulby immediately. The storm had increased by this time. Loud peals of thunder echoed in the hills. Forks of lightning licked the trunks of the trees and ran like serpents along the branches. As they were going by the church at Lezayre, the coachman reached over from the box, and said, “There’s something going doing over yonder, sir. See?”
A bright gleam lit up the dark sky in the direction they were taking. At the turn of the road by the “Ginger,” somebody passed them running.
“What’s yonder?” called the coachman.
And a voice out of the darkness answered him, “The ‘Fairy’ is struck by lightning, and Cæsar’s gone mad.”
It was the fact. While Cæsar in his mania had been blowing his ram’s horn around his public-house under the delusion that it was Jericho, the lightning had struck it. The fire was past all hope of subduing. A great hole had been burnt into the roof, and the flames were leaping through it as through a funnel. All Sulby seemed to be on the spot. Some were dragging furniture out of the burning house; others were running with buckets to the river and throwing water on the blazing thatch.
But encircling everything was the figure of a man going round and round with great plunging strides, over the road, across the river, and through the mill-pond behind, blowing a horn in fierce, unearthly blasts, and crying in a voice of triumph and mockery, first to this worker and then to that, “No use, I tell thee. Thou can never put it out. It’s fire from heaven. Didn’t I say I’d bring it down?”
It was Cæsar. His eyes glittered, his mouth worked convulsively, and his cheeks were as black with the flying soot as the “colley” of the pot.
When he saw Philip, he came up to him with a terrible smile on his fierce black face, and, pointing to the house, he cried above the babel of voices, the roar of the thunder, and crackle of the fire, “An unclean spirit lived in it, sir. It has been tormenting me these ten years.”
He seemed to listen and to hear something. “That’s it roaring,” he cried, and then he laughed with wild delight.
“Compose yourself, Mr. Cregeen,” said Philip, and he tried to take him by the arm.
But Cæsar broke away, blew a terrific blast on his ram’s horn, and went striding round the house again. When he came back the next time there was a deep roll of thunder in the air, and he said, “It’s the Ballawhaine. He had the stone five years, and he used to groan so.”
Again Philip entreated him to compose himself. It was useless. Round and round the burning house he went, blowing his horn, and calling on the workers to stop their ungodly labour, for the Lord had told him to blow down the walls of Jericho, and he had burnt them down instead.
The people began to be afraid of his frenzy. “They’ll have to put the man in the Castle,” said one. “Or have him chained up in an outhouse,” said another. “They kept the Kirk Maug-hold lunatic fifteen years on the straw in the gable loft, and his children in the house grew up to be men and women.” “It’s the girl that’s doing on Cæsar. Shame on the daughters that bring ruin to their old fathers!”
Still Cæsar went careering round the fire, blowing his ram’s horn and crying, “No use! It’s the Lord God!”
The more the fire blazed, the more it resisted the efforts of the people to subdue it, the more fierce and unearthly were Cæsar’s blasts and the more triumphant his cries.
At last Grannie stepped out and stopped him. “Come home, father,” she whimpered. He looked at her with bewildered eyes, then he looked at the burning house, and he seemed to recover himself in a moment.
“Come home, bogh,” said Grannie tenderly.
“I’ve got no home,” said Cæsar in a helpless way. “And I’ve got no money. The fire has taken all.”
“No matter, father,” said Grannie. “We had nothing when we began; we’ll begin again.”
Then Cæsar fell to mumbling texts of Scripture, and Grannie to soothing him after her simple fashion.
“‘My soul is passing through deep waters. I am feeble and sore broken. Save me, O God, for the waters are come in unto my soul, I sink in deep mire, where there is no standing.'”
“Aw, no Cæsar, we’re on the road now. It’s dry enough here, anyway.”
“‘Many bulls have compassed me; great bulls of Bashan have beset me round. Save me from the lion’s mouth; for Thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorn.'”
“Never mind the lion and the unicorn, father, but come and we’ll change thy wet trousers.”
“‘Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.'”
“Aw, yes, we’ll wash thee enough when we get to Ramsey. Come, then, bogh.”
He had dropped his ram’s horn somewhere, and she took him by the hand. Then he suffered himself to be led away, and the two old children went off into the darkness.
There was a letter waiting for Philip at home. It was from the Clerk of the Rolls. Only a few lines scribbled on the back of a draft deposition, telling him the petition for divorce had been heard that day within closed doors. The application had been granted, and all was settled and comfortable.
“I don’t want to hurt your already much wounded feelings, Christian,” wrote the Clerk of the Rolls, “or to add anything to your responsibility when you come to make provision for the woman, but I must say she has given up for your sake a deuced good honest fellow.”
“I know it,” said Philip aloud.
“When I told him that all was over, and that his erring wife would trouble him no more, I thought he was going to burst out crying.”
But Philip had no time yet to think of Pete. All his heart was with Kate. She would receive the official intimation of the divorce, and it would fall on her in her prison like a blow. She would think of herself, with all the world against her, and of him with all the world at his feet. He wanted to run to her, to pluck her up in his arms, to kiss her on the lips, and say, “Mine, mine at last!” His wife—her husband—all forgiven—all forgotten!
Philip spent the rest of the night in writing a letter to Kate. He told her he could not live without her; that now for the first time she was his, and he was hers, and they were one; that their love was re-born, and that he would spend the future in atoning for the wrongs he had inflicted upon her in the past. Then he dropped to the sheer babble of affection and poured out his heart to her—all the babydom of love, the foolish prattle, the tender nonsense. What matter that he was Governor now, and the first man in the island? He forgot all about it. What matter that he was writing to a fallen woman in prison? He only remembered it to forget himself the more.
“Just a little longer, my love, just a little longer. I am coming to you, I am coming. Older, perhaps, perhaps sadder, and a boy no more, but hopeful still, and ready to face whatever fate befall, with her I love beside me.”
Next day Jem-y-Lord took this letter to Castle Rushen and brought back an answer. It was one line only—”My darling! At last! At last! Oh, Philip! Philip! But what about our child?”
The proclamation of Philip’s appointment as Governor of the Isle of Man had been read in the churches, and nailed up on the doors of the Court-houses, and the Clerk of the Rolls was pushing on the arrangements for the installation.
“Let it be on the Tuesday of Easter week,” he wrote, “and of course at Castle Rushen. The retiring Governor is ready to return for that day to deliver up his seals of office and to receive your commission.”
“P. S.—Private. And if you think that soft-voiced girl has been long enough ‘At Her Majesty’s pleasure,’ I will release her. Not that she is taking any harm at all, but we had better get these little accounts squared off before your great day comes. Meantime you may wish to provide for her future. Be liberal, Christian; you can afford to treat her liberally. But what am I saying? Don’t I know that you will be ridiculously over-generous?”
Philip answered this letter promptly. “The Tuesday of Easter week will do as well as any other day. As to the lady, let her stay where she is until the morning of the ceremony, when I will myself settle everything.”
Philip’s correspondence was now plentiful, and he had enough work to cope with it The four towns of the island vied with each other in efforts to show him honour. Douglas, as the scene of his career, wished to entertain him at a banquet; Ramsey, as his birthplace, wanted to follow him in procession. He declined all invitations.
“I am in mourning,” he wrote. “And besides, I am not well.”
“Ah! no,” he thought, “nobody shall reproach me when the times comes.”
There was no pause, no pity, no relenting rest in the world’s kindness. It began to take shapes of almost fiendish cruelty in his mind, as if the devil’s own laughter was behind it.
He inquired about Pete. Hardly anybody knew anything; hardly anybody cared. The spendthrift had come down to his last shilling, and sold up the remainder of his furniture. The broker was to empty the house on Easter Tuesday. That was all. Not a word about the divorce. The poor neglected victim, forgotten in the turmoil of his wrongdoer’s glory, had that last strength of a strong man—the strength to be silent and to forgive.
Philip asked about the child. She was still at Elm Cottage in the care of the woman with the upturned nose and the shrill voice. Every night he devised plans for getting possession of Kate’s little one, and every morning he abandoned them, as difficult or cruel or likely to be spurned.
On Easter Monday he was busy in his room at Ballure, with a mounted messenger riding constantly between his gate and Government offices. He had spent the morning on two important letters. Both were to the Home Secretary. One was sealed with his seal as Deemster; the other was written on the official paper of Government House. He was instructing the messenger to register these letters when, through the open door, he heard a formidable voice in the hall. It was Pete’s voice. A moment afterwards Jem-y-Lord came up with a startled face.
“He’s here himself, your Excellency. Whatever am I to do with him?”
“Bring him up,” said Philip.
Jem began to stammer. “But—but—and then the Bishop may be here any minute.”
“Ask the Bishop to wait in the room below.”
Pete was heard coming upstairs. “Aisy all, aisy! Stoop your lil head, bogh. That’s the ticket!”
Philip had not spoken to Pete since the night of the drinking of the brandy and water in the bedroom. He could not help it—his hand shook. There would be a painful scene.
“Stoop again, darling. There you are.”
And then Pete was in the room. He was carrying the child on one shoulder; they were both in their best clothes. Pete looked older and somewhat thinner; the tan of his cheeks was fretted out in pale patches under the eyes, which were nevertheless bright. He had the face of a man who had fought a brave fight with life and been beaten, yet bore the world no grudge. Jem-y-Lord and the messenger were gone from the room in a moment, and the door was closed.
“What d’ye think of that, Phil? Isn’t she a lil beauty?”
Pete was dancing the child on his knee and looking sideways down at it with eyes of rapture.
“She’s as sweet as an angel,” said Philip in a low tone.
“Isn’t she now?” said Pete, and then he rattled on as if he were the happiest man alive. “You’ve been wanting something like this yourself this long time, Phil. ‘Deed you have, though. It would be diverting you wonderful. Ter’ble the fun there is in babies. Talk about play-actorers! They’re only funeral mutes where babies come. Bittending this and bittending that—it’s mortal amusing they are. You’d be getting up from your books, tired shocking, and ready for a bit of fun, and going to the stair-head and shouting down, ‘Where’s my lil woman?’ Then up she’d be coming, step by step, houlding on to the bannisters, dot and carry one. And my gracious, the dust there’d be here in the study! You down on the carpet on all fours, and the lil one straddled across your back and slipping down to your neck. Same for all the world as the man in the picture with the world atop of his shoulders. And your own lil world would be up there, too, laughing and crowing mortal. And then at night, Phil, at night—getting up from your summonses and your warrantees, and going creeping to the lil one’s room tippie-toe, tippie-toe, and ‘Is she sleeping comfor’bly?’ thinks you; and listening at the crack of the door, and hearing her breathing, and slipping in to look, and everything quiet, and the red fire on her lil face, and ‘Grod bless her, the darling!’ says you, and then back to your desk content. Aw, you’ll have to be having a lil one of your own one of these days, Phil.”
“He has come to say something,” thought Philip.
The child wriggled off Pete’s knee and began to creep about the floor. Philip tried to command himself and to talk easily.
“And how have you been yourself, Pete?” he asked.
“Well,” said Pete, meddling with his hair, “only middling, somehow.” He looked down at the carpet, and faltered, “You’ll be wondering at me, Phil, but, you see “—he hesitated—”not to tell you a word of a lie——” then, with a rush, “I’m going foreign again; that’s the fact.”
“Well, I am,” said Pete, looking ashamed. “Yes, truth enough, that’s what I’m thinking of doing. You see,” with a persuasive air, “when a man’s bitten by travel it’s like the hydrophobia ezactly, he can’t rest no time in one bed at all. Must be running here and running there—and running reg’lar. It’s the way with me, anyway. Used to think the ould island would be big enough for the rest of my days. But, no! I’m longing shocking for the mines again, and the compound, and the niggers, and the wild life out yonder. ‘The sea’s calling me,’ you know.” And then he laughed.
Philip understood him—Pete meant to take himself out of the way. “Shall you stay long?” he faltered.
“Well, yes, I was thinking so,” said Pete. “You see, the stuff isn’t panning out now same as it used to, and fortunes aren’t made as fast as they were in my time. Not that I’m wanting a fortune, neither—is it likely now? But, still and for all—well, I’ll be away a good spell, anyway.”
Philip tried to ask if he intended to go soon.
“To-morrow, sir, by the packet to Liverpool, for the sailing on Wednesday. I’ve been going the rounds saying ‘goodbye’ to the ould chums—Jonaique, and John the Widow, and Niplightly, and Kelly the postman. Not much heart at some of them; just a bit of a something stowed away in their giblets; but it isn’t right to be expecting too much at all. This is the only one that doesn’t seem willing to part with me.”
Pete’s dog had followed him into the room, and was sitting soberly by the side of his chair. “There’s no shaking him off, poor ould chap.”
The dog got up and wagged his stump.
“Well, we’ve tramped the world together, haven’t we, Dempster? He doesn’t seem tired of me yet neither.” Pete’s face lengthened. “But there’s Grannie, now. The ould angel is going about like a bit of a thunder-cloud, and doesn’t know in the world whether to burst on me or not. Thinks I’ve been cruel, seemingly. I can’t be explaining to her neither. Maybe you’ll set it right for me when I’m gone, sir. It’s you for a job like that, you know. Don’t want her to be thinking hard of me, poor ould thing.”
Pete whistled at the child, and halloed to it, and then, in a lower tone, he continued, “Not been to Castletown, sir. Got as far as Ballasalla, and saw the castle tower. Then my heart was losing me, and I turned back. You’ll say good-bye for me, Phil Tell her I forgave—no, not that, though. Say I left her my love—that won’t do neither. You’ll know best what to say when the time comes, Phil, so I lave it with you. Maybe you’ll tell her I went away cheerful and content, and, well, happy—why not? No harm in saying that at all. Not breaking my heart, anyway, for when a man’s a man—H’m!” clearing his throat, “I’m bad dreadful these days wanting a smook in the mornings. May I smook here? I may? You’re good, too.”
He cut his tobacco with his discoloured knife, rolled it, charged his pipe, and lit it.
“Sorry to be going away just before your own great day, Phil. I’ll get the skipper to fire a round as we’re steaming by Castletown, and if there’s a band aboord I’ll tip them a trifle to play ‘Myle Charaine.’ That’ll spake to you like the blackbird’s whistle, as the saying is. Looks like deserting you, though. But, chut! it would be no surprise to me at all. I’ve seen it coming these years and years. ‘You’ll be the first Manxman living,’ says I the day I sailed before. You’ve not deceaved me neither. D’ye remember the morning on the quay, and the oath between the pair of us? Me swearing you same as a high bailiff—nothing and nobody to come between us—d’ye mind it, Phil? And nothing has, and nothing shall.”
He puffed at his pipe, and said significantly, “You’ll be getting married soon. Aw, you will, I know you will, I’m sarten sure you will.”
Philip could not look into his face. He felt little and mean.
“You’re a wise man, sir, and a great man, but if a plain common chap may give you a bit of advice—aw, but you’ll be losing no time, though, I’ll not be here myself to see it. I’ll be on the water, maybe, with the waves washing agen the gun’ale, and the wind rattling in the rigging, and the ship burrowing into the darkness of the sea. But I’ll be knowing it’s morning at home, and the sun shining, and a sort of a warm quietness everywhere, and you and her at the ould church together.”
The pipe was puffing audibly.
“Tell her I lave her my blessing. Tell her—but the way I’m smooking, it’s shocking. Your curtains will be smelling thick twist for a century.”
Philip’s moist eyes were following the child along the floor.
“What about the little one?” he asked with difficulty.
“Ah I tell you the truth, Phil, that’s the for I came. Well, mostly, anyway. You see, a child isn’t fit for a compound ezactly. Not but they’re thinking diamonds of a lil thing out there, specially if it’s a girl. But still and for all, with niggers about and chaps as rough as a thornbush and no manners to spake of——”
Philip interrupted eagerly—”Will you leave her with Grannie!”
“Well, no, that wasn’t what I was thinking. Grannie’s a bit ould getting and she’s had her whack. Wanting aisement in her ould days, anyway. Then she’ll be knocking under before the lil one’s up—that’s only to be expected. No, I was thinking—what d’ye think I was thinking now?”
“What?” said Philip with quick-coming breath. He did not raise his head.
“I was thinking—well, yes, I was, then—it’s a fact, though—I was thinking maybe yourself, now——”
Philip had started up and grasped Pete by the hand, but he could say no more, he felt crushed by Pete’s magnanimity. And Pete went on as if he were asking a great favour. “‘She’s been your heart’s blood to you, Pete,’ thinks I to my-. self, ‘and there isn’t nobody but himself you could trust her with—nobody else you would give her up to. He’ll love her,’. thinks I; ‘he’ll cherish her; he’ll rear her as if she was his own; he’ll be same thing as a father itself to her’——”
Philip was struggling to keep up.
“I’ve been laving something for her too,” said Pete.
“Yes, though, one of the first Manx estates going. Cæsar had the deeds, but I’ve been taking them to the High Bailiff, and doing everything regular. When I’m gone, sir——”
Philip tried to protest.
“Aw, but a man can lave what he likes to his own, sir, can’t he?”
Philip was silent. He could say nothing. The make-believe was to be kept up to the last tragic moment.
“And out yonder, lying on my hunk in the sheds—good mattresses and thick blankets, Phil, nothing to complain of at all—I’ll be watching her growing up, year by year, same as if she was under my eye constant. ‘She’s in pinafores now’ thinks I. ‘Now she’s in long frocks, and is doing up her hair.’ ‘She’s as straight as an osier now, and red as a rose, and the best looking girl in the island, and the spitting picture of what her mother used to be.’ Aw, I’ll be seeing her in my mind’s eye, sir, plainer nor any potegraph.”
Pete puffed furiously at his pipe. “And the mother, I’ll be seeing herself, too. A woman every inch of her, God bless her. Wherever there’s a poor girl lying in her shame she’ll be there, I’ll go bail on that. And yourself—I’ll be seeing yourself, sir, whiter, maybe, and the sun going down on you, but strong for all. And when any poor fellow has had a knock-down blow, and the world is darkening round him, he’ll be coming to you for light and for strength, and you’ll be houlding out the right hand to him, because you’re knowing yourself what it is to fall and get up again, and because you’re a man, and Grod has made friends with you.”
Pete rammed his thumb into his pipe, and stuffed it, still smoking, into his waistcoat pocket. “Chut!” he said huskily. “The talk a man’ll be putting out when he’s going away foreign! All for poethry then, or something of that spacious. H’m! h’m!” clearing his throat, “must be giving up the pipe, though. Not much worth for the voice at all.”
Philip could not speak. The strength and grandeur of the man overwhelmed him. It cut him to the heart that Pete could never see, could never hear, how he would wash away his shame.
The child had crawled across the room to an open cabinet that stood in one corner, and there possessed herself of a shell, which she was making show of holding to her ear.
“Well, did you ever?” cried Pete. “Look at that child now. She’s knowing it’s a shell. ‘Deed she is, though. Aw, crawling reg’lar, sir, morning to night. Would you like to see the prettiest sight in the world, Phil?” He went down on his knees and held out his arms. “Come here, you lil sandpiper. Fix that chair a piece nearer, sir—that’s the ticket. Good thing Nancy isn’t here. She’d be on to us like the mischief. Wonderful handy with babies, though, and if anybody was wanting a nurse now—a stepmother’s breath is cold—but Nancy! My gough, you daren’t look over the hedge at her lammie but she’s shouting fit for an earth wake. Stand nice, now, Kitty, stand nice, bogh! The woman’s about right, too—the lil one’s legs are like bits of qualebone. ‘Come, now, bogh, come?”
Pete put the child to stand with its back to the chair, and then leaned towards it with his arms outspread. The child staggered a step in the sea of one yard’s space that lay between, looked back at the irrecoverable chair, looked down on the distant ground, and then plunged forward with a nervous laugh, and fell into Pete’s arms.
“Bravo! Wasn’t that nice, Phil? Ever see anything prettier than a child’s first step? Again, Kitty, bogh! But go to your new father this time. Aisy, now, aisy!” (in a thick voice). “Grive me a kiss first!” (with a choking gurgle). “One more, darling!” (with a broken laugh). “Now face the other way. One—two—are you ready, Phil?”
Phil held out his long white trembling hands.
“Yes,” with a smothered sob.
The child’s fingers slipped into Philip’s palm; there was another halt, another plunge, another nervous laugh, and then the child was in Philip’s arms, his head was over it, and he was clasping it to his heart.
After a moment, Philip, without raising his eyes, said, “Pete!”
But Pete had stolen softly from the room.
“Pete! where are you?”
Where was he? He was on the road outside, crying like a boy—no, like a man—at thought of the happiness he had left upstairs.
The town of Peel was in a great commotion that night. It was the night of St. Patrick’s Day, and the mackerel fleet were leaving for Kinsale. A hundred and fifty boats lay in the harbour, each with a light in its binnacle, a fire in its cabin, smoke coming from its stove-pipe, and its sails half-set. The sea was fresh; there was a smart breeze from the northwest, and the air was full of the brine. At the turn of the tide the boats began to drop down the harbour. Then there was a rush of women and children and old men to the end of the pier. Mothers were seeing their sons off, women their husbands, children their fathers, girls their boys—all full of fun and laughter and joyful cries.
One of the girls remembered that the men were leaving the island before the installation of the new Governor. Straightway they started a game of make-believe—the make-believe of electing the Governor for themselves.
“Who are you voting for, Mr. Quayle?”—”Aw, Dempster Christian, of coorse.”—”Throw us your rope, then, and we’ll give you a pull.”—”Heave oh, girls.” And the rope would be whipped round a mooring-post on the quay, twenty girls would seize it, and the boat would go slipping past the pier, round the castle rocks, and then away before the north-wester like a gull.
“Good luck, Harry!”—”Whips of money coming home, Jem!”—”Write us a letter—mind you write, now Î “—”Goodnight, father!”
No crying yet, no sign of tears—nothing but fresh young faces, bright eyes, and peals of laughter, as one by one the boats slid out into the fresh, green water of the bay, and the wind took them, and they shot into the night. Even the dogs on the quay frisked about, and barked as if they were going crazy with delight.
In the midst of this happy scene, a man, wearing a monkey-jacket and a wide-brimmed soft hat, came up to the harbour with a little misshapen dog at his heels. He stood for a moment as if bewildered by the strange midnight spectacle before him. Then he walked through the throng of young people, and listened awhile to their talk and laughter. No one spoke to him, and he spoke to no one. His dog followed with its nose at his ankles. If some other dog, in youthful frolic, frisked and barked about it, it snarled and snapped, and then croodled down at his master’s feet and looked ashamed.
“Dempster, Dempster, getting a bit ould, eh?” said the man.
After a little while he went quietly away. Nobody missed him; nobody had observed him. He had gone back to the town. At a baker’s shop, which was still open for the convenience of the departing fleet, he bought a seaman’s biscuit. With this he returned to the harbour by way of the shore. At the slip by the Rocket House he went down to the beach and searched among the shingle until he found a stone like a dumb-bell, large at the ends and narrow in the middle. Then he went back to the quay. The dog followed him and watched him.
The last of the boats was out in the bay by this time. She could be seen quite plainly in the moonlight, with the green blade of a wave breaking on her quarter. Somebody was carrying a light on her deck, and the giant shadow of a man’s figure was cast up on the new lugsail. There were shouts and answers across the splashing water. Then a fresh young voice on the boat began to sing “Lovely Mona, fare thee well.” The women took it up, and the two companies sang it in turns, verse by verse, the women on the quay and the men on the boat, with the sea growing wider between them.
An old fisherman on the skirts of the crowd had a little girl on his shoulder.
“You’ll not be going to Kinsale this time, mate?” said a voice behind him.
“Aw, no, sir. I’ve seen the day, though. Thirty years I was going, and better. But I’m done now.”
“Well, that’s the way, you see. It’s the turn of the young ones now. Let them sing, God bless them! We’re not going to fret, though, are we? There’s one thing we can always do—we can always remember, and that’s some constilation, isn’t it.”
“I’m doing it reg’lar.” said the old fisherman.
“After all, it’s been a good thing to live, and when a man’s time comes it’ll not be such a darned bad thing to die neither. Don’t you hould with me there, mate?”
“I do, sir, I do.”
The last boat had rounded the castle rock, and its topsail had diminished and disappeared. On the quay the song had ended, and the women and children were turning their faces with a shade of sadness towards the town.
“Well,” with a deep universal inspiration, “wasn’t it beautiful?”— “Wasn’t it?”—”Then what are you crying about?”
The girls laughed at each other with wet eyes, and went off with springless steps. The mothers picked up their children and carried them home whimpering; and the old men went a way with drooping heads and shambling feet.
When all was gone, and the harbour-master had taken his last look round, the man with the dog went to the end of the empty quay, and sat on the mooring post that had served for the running of the ropes. All was quiet enough now. The voices, the singing, the laughter were lost. There was no sound but the gurgle of the ebbing tide, which was racing out with the river’s flow between the pier and the castle rock.
The man looked at his dog, stooped to it, gave it the biscuit, and petted it and stroked it while it munched its supper. “Dempster, bogh! Dempster! Getting ould, eh? Travelled far together, haven’t we? Tired a bit, aren’t you? Couldn’t go through another rough journey, anyway. Hard to part, though, Machree! Machree!”
He took the stone out of his pocket, tied it to one end of the string, made a noose on the ether end, slipped it about the dog’s neck, and without warning, picked up the dog and stone at once, and dropped them over the pier. The old creature gave a piteous cry as it descended; there was a splash, and then—the racing of the water past the pier.
The man had turned away quickly, and was going heavily along the quay.
It had been a night of pain to Philip. All the world seemed to be conspiring to hold him back from what he had to do. “Thou shalt not” was the legend that appeared to be written everywhere. Four persons had learnt his secret, and all four seemed to call upon him to hide it. First, the Clerk of the Rolls, who had heard the divorce proceedings within closed doors; next Pete, who might have clamoured the scandal on all hands, and plucked him down from his place, but had chosen to be silent and to slip away unseen; then Cæsar, whose awful self-deception was an assurance of his secrecy; and, finally. Auntie Nan, whose provision for Kate’s material welfare had been intended to prevent the necessity for revelation. All these had seemed to say to him, whether from affection or from fear, “Hold your peace. Say nothing. The past is the past; it is dead; it does not exist. Go on with your career. It is only beginning. What right have you to break it up? The island looks to you, waits for you. Step forward and be strong.”
Thank God, it was too late to be moved by that temptation. Too late to be bought by that bribe. Already he had taken the irrevocable course, he had made the irrevocable step. He could not now go back.
But the awful penalty of the island’s undeceiving! The pain of that moment when everybody would learn that he had deceived the whole world! He was a sham—a whited sepulchre. Every step he had gone up in his quick ascent had been over the body of some one who had loved him too well. First Kate, who had been the victim of the Deemstership, and now Pete, who was paying the price that made him Governor.
He could see the darkened looks of the proud; he could hear the execration of the disappointed; he could feel the tears of the true-hearted at the downfall of a life that had looked so fair. In the frenzy of that last hour of trial, it seemed as if he was contending, not with man and the world, but with the devil, who was using both to make this bitter irony of his position—who was bribing him with worldly glory that he might damn his soul forever.
And therein lay a temptation that sat closer at his side—the temptation to turn his face and fly away. It was midnight. The moon was shining on the boundless plain of the sea. He was in the slack water of the soul, when the ebb is spent, before the tide has begun to flow. Oh, to leave everything behind—the shame and the glory together!
It was the moment when the girls on Peel Quay were pulling the rope for the men on the boats who were ready to vote for Christian.
The pains of sleep were yet greater. He thought he was in Castletown, skulking under the walls of the castle. With a look up towards Parliament House and down to the harbour, he fumbled his private key into the lock of the side entrance to the council chamber. The old caretaker heard him creep-down the long corridor, and she came clattering out with a candle, shaded behind her hand. “Something I’ve forgotten,” he said. “Pardon, your Honour,” and then a deep courtesy.
He opened noiselessly the little door leading from the council chamber to the keep, but in the dark shadow of the steps the turnkey challenged him. “Who’s there? Stop!”—”Hush!”—”The Deemster! Beg your Honour’s pardon.”—”Show me the female wards.”—”This way your Honour.”—”Her cell.” “Here, your Honour.”—”The key; your lantern. Now go back to the guard-room.” He was with Kate. “My love, my love!”—”My darling!”— “Come, let us fly away from the island. I cannot face it. I thought I could, but I cannot. I’ve got the child too. Come!” And then Kate—”I would go anywhere with you, Philip, anywhere, anywhere. I only want your love. But is this worthy of a man like you? Leave me. We have fallen too low to drop into a pit like that. Away with you! Go!” And he slunk out of the cell, before the wrathful love that would save him from himself. He, the Deemster, the Governor, had slunk out like a dog.
It was only a dream. When he awoke, the birds were singing and the day was blue over the sea. The temptation was past; it was under his feet. He could hesitate no longer; his cup was brimming over; he would drink it to the dregs.
Jem-y-Lord came with his mouth full of news. The town was decorated with bunting. There was to be a general holiday. A grand stand had been erected on the green in front of the Court-house. The people were not going to be deterred by the Deemster’s refusals. He who shrank from honours was the more worthy of being honoured. They intended to present their new Governor with an address.
“Let them—let them,” said Philip.
Jem looked up inquiringly. His master’s face had a strange expression.
“Shall I drive you to-day, your Excellency?”
“Yes, my lad. It may be for the last time, Jemmy.”
What was amiss with the Governor? Had the excitement proved too much for him?
It was a perfect morning, soft and fresh, and sweet with the odours and the colours of spring. New gorse flashed from the hedges, the violets peeped from the banks; over the freshening green of the fields the young lambs sported, and the lark sang in the thin blue air.
The town, as they dipped into it, was full of life. At the turn of the Court-house the crowd was densest. A policeman raised his hand in front of the horses and Jem-y-Lord drew up. Then the High Bailiff stepped to the gate and read an address. It mentioned Iron Christian, calling him “The Great Deemster”; the town took pride to itself that the first Manx Governor of Man was born in Ramsey.
Philip answered briefly, confining himself to an expression of thanks; there was great cheering and then the carriage moved on. The journey thereafter was one long triumphal passage. At Sulby Street, and at Ballaugh Street, there were flags and throngs of people. From time to time other carriages joined them, falling into line behind. The Bishop was waiting at Bishop’s Court, and place was made for his carriage immediately after the carriage of the Governor.
At Tynwald there was a sweet and beautiful spectacle. The children of St. John’s were seated on the four rounds of the mount, boys and girls in alternate rows, and from that spot, sacred to the memory of their forefathers for a thousand years, they sang the National Anthem as Philip passed on the road.
The unhappy man lay back in his seat. His eyes filled, his throat rose. “Oh, for what might have been!”
Under Harry Delany’s tree a company of fishermen were waiting with a letter. It was from their mates at Kinsale. They could not be at home that day, but their hearts were there. Every boat would fly her flag at the masthead, and at twelve o’clock noon every Manx fisherman on Irish waters would raise a cheer. If the Irishmen asked them what they meant by that, they would answer and say, “It’s for the fisherman’s friend, Governor Philip Christian.”
The unhappy man was no longer in pain. His agony was beyond that. A sort of divine madness had taken possession of him. He was putting the world and the prince of the world behind his back. All this worldly glory and human gratitude was but the temptation of Satan. With God’s help he would not succumb. He would resist. He would triumph over everything.
Jem-y-Lord twisted on the box-seat. “See, your Excellency! Listen!”
The flags of Castletown were visible on the Eagle Tower of the castle. Then there was a multitudinous murmur. Finally a great shout. “Now, boys! Three times three! Hip, hip, hurrah!”
At the entrance to the town an evergreen arch had been erected. It bore an inscription in Manx: “Dooiney Vannin, lhiat myr hoilloo“—”Man of Man, success as thou deservest.”
The carriage had slacked down to a walk.
“Drive quicker,” cried Philip.
“The streets are crowded, your Excellency,” said Jem-y-Lord.
Flags were flying from every window, from every roof, from every lamp-post. The people ran by the carriage cheering. Their shout was a deafening uproar.
Philip could not respond. “She will hear it,” he thought. His head dropped. He was picturing Kate in her cell with the clamour of his welcome coming muffled through the walls.
They took the road by the harbour. Suddenly the carriage stopped. The men were taking the horses out of the shafts. “No, no,” cried Philip.
He had an impulse to alight, but the carriage was moving again in a moment. “It is the last of my punishment,” he thought, and again fell back. Then the shouting and the laughter ran along the quay with the crackle and roar of a fire.
A regiment of soldiers lined the way from the drawbridge to the porlcullis. As the carriage drew up, they presented arms in royal salute. At the same moment the band of the regiment inside the Keep played “God save the Queen.”
The High Bailiff of the town opened the carriage-door and presented an address. It welcomed the new Governor to the ancient castle wherein his predecessors had been installed, and took fresh assurance of devotion to the Crown from the circumstance that one of their own countrymen had been thought worthy to represent it. No Manxman had ever been so honoured in that island before since the days of the new Governor’s own great kinsman, familiarly and affectionately known to all Manxmen through two centuries as Illiam Dhone (Brown William).
Philip replied in few words, the cheering broke out afresh, the band played again, and they entered the castle by the long corridor that led to the council chamber.
In an anteroom the officials were waiting. They were all elderly men and old men, who had seen long and honourable service, but they showed no jealousy. The Clerk of the Rolls received bis former pupil with a shout wherein personal pride struggled with respect, and affection with humility. Then the Attorney-General welcomed him in the name of the Bar, as head of the Judicature, as well as head of the Legislature, taking joy in the fact that one of their own profession had been elevated to the highest office in the Isle of Man; glancing at his descent from an historic Manx line, at his brief but distinguished career as judge, which had revived the best traditions of judicial wisdom and eloquence, and finally wishing him long life and strength for the fulfilment of the noble promise of his young and spotless manhood.
“Mr. Attorney-General,” said Philip, “I will not accept your congratulations, much as it would rejoice my heart to do so. It would only be another grief to me if you were to repent, as too soon you may, the generous warmth of your reception.”
There were puzzled looks, but the sage counsellors could not receive the right impression; they could only understand the reply in the sense that agreed with their present feelings. “It is beautiful,” they whispered, “when a young man of real gifts is genuinely modest.”
“Excuse me, gentlemen,” said Philip, “I must go into my room.”
The Clerk of the Rolls followed him, saying—
“Ah! poor Tom Christian would have been a proud man this day—prouder than if the honour had been his own—ten thousand thousand times.”
“Have mercy, have mercy, and leave me alone,” said Philip.
“I didn’t mean to offend you, Christian,” said the Clerk.
Philip put one hand affectionately on his shoulder. The eyes of the robustious fellow began to blink, and he returned to his colleagues.
There was a confused murmur beyond the farther wall of the room. It was the room kept for the Deemster when he held court in the council chamber. One of its two doors communicated with the bench. As usual, a constable kept this door. The man loosened his chain and removed his helmet. His head was grey.
“Is the Court-house full?” asked Philip.
The constable put his eye to the eye-hole. “Crowded, your Excellency.
“Keep the passages clear.”—”Yes, your Excellency.”
“Is the Clerk of the Court present?”—”He is, your Excellency.”
“And the jailor?”—”Downstairs, your Excellency.”
“Tell both they will be wanted.”
The constable turned the key of the door and left the room. Jem-y-Lord came puffing and perspiring.
“The ex-Governor is coming over by the green, sir. He’ll be here in a moment.”
“My wig and gown, Jemmy,” said Philip.
“Deemster’s wig, your Excellency?”—”Yes.”
“Last time you’ll wear it, sir.”
“The last, indeed, my lad.”
There was a clash of steel outside, followed by the beat of drum.
“He’s here,” said Jem-y-Lord.
Philip listened. The rattling noise came to him through opening doors and reverberating corridors like the trampling of a wave to a man imprisoned in a cave.
“She’ll hear it, too.” That thought was with him constantly. In his mind’s eye he was seeing Kate, crouching in the fire-seat of the palace room that was now her prison, and covering her ears to deaden the joyous sounds that broke the usual silence of the gloomy walls.
Jem-y-Lord was at the eye-hole of the door. “He’s coming on to the bench, sir. The gentlemen of the council are following him, and the Court-house is full of ladies.”
Philip was pacing to and fro like a man in violent agitation. At the other side of the wall the confused murmur had risen to a sharp crackle of many voices.
The constable came back with the Clerk of the Court and the jailor.
“Everything ready, your Excellency,” said the Clerk of the Court.
The constable turned the key of the door, and laid his hand on the knob.
“One moment—give me a moment,” said Philip.
He was going through the last throes of his temptation. Something was asking him, as if in tones of indignation, what right he had to bring people there to make fools of them. And something was laughing as if in mockery at the theatrical device he had chosen for gathering together the people of rank and station, and then dismissing them like naughty school-children.
This idea clamoured loud in wild derision, telling him that he was posing, that he was making a market of his misfortune, that he was an actor, and that whatever the effect of the scene he was about to perform, it was unnecessary and must be contemptible. “You talk of your shame and humiliation—no atonement can wipe it out. You came here prating to yourself of blotting out the past—no act of man can do so. Vain, vain, and idle as well as vain! Mere mummery and display, and a blow to the dignity of justice!”
Under the weight of such torment the thought came to him that he should go through the ceremony after all, that he should do as the people expected, that he should accept the Governorship, and then defy the social ostracism of the island by making Kate his wife. “It’s not yet too late,” said the tempter.
Philip stopped in his walk and remembered the two letters of yesterday. “Thank God! it is too late,” he said.
He had spoken the words aloud, and the officers in attendance glanced up at him. Jem-y-Lord was behind, trembling and biting his lip.
It was indeed too late for that temptation. And then the vanity of it, the cruelty and insufficiency of it! He had been a servant of the world long enough. From this day forth he meant to be its master. No matter if all the devils of hell should laugh at him! He was going through with his purpose. There was only one condition on which he could live in the world—that he should renounce it. There was only one way of renouncing the world—to return its wages and strip off its livery. His sin was not only against Kate, against Pete; it was against the island, and the island must set him free.
Philip approached the door, slackened his pace with an air of uncertainty; at one step from the constable he stopped. He was breathing noisily. If the officers had observed him at that moment they must have thought he looked like a man going to execution. But the constable gazed before him with a sombre expression, held his helmet in one hand, and the knob of the door in the other.
“Now,” said Philip, with a long inspiration.
There was a flash of faces, a waft of perfume, a flutter of pocket-handkerchiefs, and a deafening reverberation. Philip was in the Court-house.
It was remarked that his face was fearfully worn, and that it looked the whiter for the white wig above it and the black gown beneath. His large eyes flamed as with fire. “The sword too keen for the scabbard,” whispered somebody.
There is a kind of aloofness in strong men at great moments. Nobody approaches them. They move onward of themselves, and stand or fall alone. Everybody in court rose as Philip entered, but no one offered his hand. Even the ex-Governor only bowed from the Governor’s seat under the canopy.
Philip took his customary place as Deemster. He was then at the right of the Governor, the Bishop being on the left. Behind the bishop sat the Attorney-General, and behind Philip the Clerk of the Rolls. The cheers that had greeted Philip on his entrance ended with the clapping of hands, and died off like a wave falling back from the shingle. Then he rose and turned to the Governor.
“I do not know if you are aware, your Excellency, that this is Deemster’s Court-day?”
The Governor smiled, and a titter went round the court. “We will dispense with that,” he said. “We have better business this morning.” 34
“Excuse me, your Excellency,” said Philip; “I am still Deemster. With your leave we will do everything according to rule.”
There was a slight pause, a questioning look, then a cold answer. “Of course, if you wish it; but your sense of duty——”
The ladies in the galleries bad ceased to flutter their fans, and the members of the House of Keys were shifting in their seats in the well below.
The Clerk of the Deemster’s Court pushed through to the space beneath the bench. “There is only one case, your Honour,” he whispered up.
“Speak out, sir,” said Philip. “What case is it?”
The Clerk gave an informal answer. It was the case of the young woman who had attempted her life at Ramsey, and had been kept at Her Majesty’s pleasure.
“How long has she been in prison?”—”Seven weeks, your Honour.”
“Give me the book and I will sign the order for her release.”
The book was handed to the bench. Philip signed it, handed it back to the Clerk, and said with his face to the jailor—
“But keep her until somebody comes to fetch her.”
There had been a cold silence during these proceedings. When they were over, the ladies breathed freely. “You remember the case—left her husband and little child—divorced since, I’m told—a worthless person.”—”Ah! yes, wasn’t she first tried the day the Deemster fell ill in court?”—”Men are too tender with such creatures.”
Philip had risen again. “Your Excellency, I have done the last of my duties as Deemster.” His voice had hoarsened. He was a worn and stricken figure.
The ex Governor’s warmth had been somewhat cooled by the unexpected interruption. Nevertheless, the pock-marks smoothed out of his forehead, and he rose with a smile. At the same moment the Clerk of the Rolls stepped up and laid two books on the desk before him—a New Testament in a tattered leather binding, and the Liber Juramentorum, the Book of Oaths.
“The regret I feel,” said the ex-Governor, “and feel increasingly, day by day, at the severance of the ties which have bound me to this beautiful island is tempered by the satisfaction I experience that the choice of my successor has fallen upon one whom I know to be a gentleman of powerful intellect and stainless honour. He will preserve that autonomous independence which has come down to you from a remote antiquity, at the same time that he will uphold the fidelity of a people who have always been loyal to the Crown. I pray that the blessing of Almighty God may attend his administration, and that, if the time ever comes when he too shall stand in the position I occupy to-day, he may have recollections as lively of the support and kindness he has met with, and regrets as deep at his separation from the little Manx nation which he leaves behind.”
Then the Governor took the staff of office, and gave the signal for rising. Everybody rose. “And now, sir,” he said, turning to Philip with a smile, “to do everything, as you say, according to rule, let us first take Her Majesty’s commission of your appointment.”
There was a moment’s pause, and then Philip said in a cold clear voice—
“Your Excellency, I have no commission. The commission which I received I have returned. I have, therefore, no right to be installed as Governor. Also, I have resigned my office as Deemster, and, though my resignation has not yet been accepted, I am, in reality, no longer in the service of the State.”
The people looked at the speaker with eyes that were full of the stupefaction of surprise. Somebody bad risen at the back of the bench. It was the Clerk of the Rolls. He stretched out his hand as if to touch Philip on the shoulder. Then he hesitated and sat down again.
“Gentlemen of the Council and of the Keys,” continued Philip, “you will think you have assembled to see a man take a leap into an abyss more dark than death. That is as it may be. You have a right to an explanation, and I am here to make it. What I have done has been at the compulsion of conscience. I am not worthy of the office I hold, still less of the office that is offered me.”
There was a half-articulate interruption from behind Philip’s chair.
“Ah! do not think, old friend, that I am dealing in vague self depreciation. I should have preferred not to speak more exactly, but what must be, must be. Your Excellency has spoken of my honour as spotless. Would to God it were so; but it is deeply stained with sin.”
He stopped, made an effort to begin afresh, and stopped again. Then, in a low tone, with measured utterance, amid breathless silence, he said— “I have lived a double life. Beneath the life that you have seen there has been another—God only knows how full of wrongdoing and disgrace and shame. It is no part of my duty to involve others in this confession. Let it be enough that my career has been built on falsehood and robbery, that I have deceived the woman who loved me with her heart of hearts, and robbed the man who would have trusted me with his soul.”
The people began to breathe audibly. There was the scraping of a chair behind the speaker. The Clerk of the Rolls had risen. His florid face was violently agitated.
“May it please your Excellency,” he began, faltering and stammering, in a husky voice, “it will be within your Excellency’s knowledge, and the knowledge of every one on the island, that his Honour has only just risen from a long and serious illness, brought on by overwork, by too zealous attention to his duties, and that—in fact, that—well, not to blink the plain truth, that——”
A sigh of immense relief had passed over the court, and the Governor, grown very pale, was nodding in assent. But Philip only smiled sadly and shook his head.
“I have been ill indeed,” he said, “but not from the cause you speak of. The just judgment of God has overtaken me.”
The Clerk of the Rolls sank back into his seat.
“The moment came when I had to sit in judgment on my own sin, the moment when she who had lost her honour in trusting to mine stood in the dock before me. I, who had been the first cause of her misfortunes, sat on the bench as her judge. She is now in prison and I am here. The same law which has punished her failing with infamy has advanced me to power.”
There was an icy quiet in the court, such as comes with the first gleam of the dawn. By that quick instinct which takes possession of a crowd at great moments, the people understood everything—the impurity of the character that had seemed so pure, the nullity of the life that had seemed so noble.
“When I asked myself what there was left to me to do, I could see but one thing. It was impossible to go on administering justice, being myself unjust, and remembering that higher bar before which I too was yet to stand. I must cease to be Deemster. But that was only my protection against the future, not my punishment for the past. I could not surrender myself to any earthly court, because I was guilty of no crime against earthly law. The law cannot take a man into the court of the conscience. He must take himself there.”
He stopped again, and then said quietly, “My sentence is this open confession of my sin, and renunciation of the worldly advantages which have been bought by the suffering of others.”
It was no longer possible to doubt him. He had sinned, and he had reaped the reward of his sin. Those rewards were great and splendid, but he had come to renounce them all. The dreams of ambition were fulfilled, the miracle of life was realised, the world was conquered and at his feet, yet he was there to give up all. The quiet of the court had warmed to a hush of awe. He turned to the bench, but every face was down. Then his own eyes fell.
“Gentlemen of the Council, you who have served the island so long and so honourably, perhaps you blame me for permitting you to come together for the hearing of this confession. But if you knew the temptation I was under to fly away without making it, to turn my back on my past, to shuffle, my fault on to Fate, to lay the blame on Life, to persuade myself that I could not have acted differently, you would believe it was not lightly, and God knows, not vainly, that I suffered you to come here to see me mount my scaffold.”
He turned back to the body of the court.
“My countrymen and countrywomen, you who have been so much more kind to me than my character justified or my conduct merited. I say good-bye; but not as one who is going away. In conquering the impulse to go without confessing, I conquered the desire to go at all. Here, where my old life has fallen to ruin, my new life must be built up. That is the only security. It is also the only justice. On this island, where my fall is known, my uprising may come—as is most right—only with bitter struggle and sorrow and tears. But when it comes, it will come securely. It may be in years, in many years, but I am willing to wait—I am ready to labour. And, meantime, she who was worthy of my highest honour will share my lowest degradation. That is the way of all women—God love and keep them!”
The exaltation of his tones infected everybody.
“It may be that you think I am to be pitied. There have been hours of my life when I have been deserving of pity. But they have been the hours, the dark hours, when, in the prodigality of your gratitude, you have loaded me with distinctions, and a shadow has haunted me, saying, ‘Philip Christian, they think you a just judge—you are not a just judge; they think you an upright man—you are not an upright man.’ Do not pity me now, when the dark hours are passed, when the new life has begun, when I am listening at length to the voice of my heart, which has all along been the voice of God.”
His eyes shone, his mouth was smiling.
“If you think how narrowly I escaped the danger of letting things go on as they were going, of covering up my fault, of concealing my true character, of living as a sham and dying as a hypocrite, you will consider me worthy of envy instead. Good-bye! good-bye! God bless you!”
Before any one appeared to be aware that his voice had ceased he was gone from the bench, and the Deemster’s chair stood empty. Then the people turned and looked into each other’s stricken faces. They were still standing, for nobody had thought of sitting down.
There was no further speaking that day. Without a word or a sign the Governor descended from his seat and the proceedings came to an end. Every one moved towards the door. “A great price to pay for it, though,” thought the men. “How he must have loved her, after all,” thought the women.
At that moment the big Queen Elizabeth clock of the Castle was striking twelve, and the fishermen on Irish waters were raising a cheer for their friend at home. A loud detonation rang out over the town. It was the report of a gun. There was another, and then a third. The shots were from a steamer that was passing the bay.
Philip remembered—it was Pete’s last farewell.
Half an hour later the Keep, the courtyard, and the passage to the portcullis were filled with an immense crowd. Ladies thronged the two flights of external steps to the prisoners’ chapel and the council chamber. Men had climbed as high as to the battlements, and were looking down over the beetle-browed walls. All eyes were on the door to the debtors’ side of the prison, and a path from it was being kept clear. The door opened and Philip and Kate came out. There was no other exit, and they must have taken it. He was holding her firmly by the hand, and half-leading, half-drawing her along. Under the weight of so many eyes, her head was held down, but those who were near enough to see her face knew that her shame was swallowed up in happiness and her fear in love. Philip was like a man transfigured. The extreme pallor of his cheeks was gone, his step was firm, and his face was radiant. It was the common remark that never before had he looked so strong, so buoyant, so noble. This was the hour of his triumph, not that within the walls; this, when his sin was confessed, when conscience had no power to appal him, when the world and the pride of the world were beneath his feet, and he was going forth from a prison cell, hand in hand with the fallen woman by his side, to face the future with their bankrupt lives.
And she? She was sharing his fiery ordeal. Before her outraged sisters and all the world she was walking with him in the depth of his humiliation, at the height of his conquest, at the climax of his shame and glory.
Once for a moment she halted and stumbled as if under the hot breath that was beating upon her head. But he put his arm about her, and in a moment she was strong. The sun dipped down from the great tower on to his upturned face, and his eyes were glistening through their tears.
“There is not a Manx proverb, a Manx anecdote, a Manx jest, a Manx situation which will not be found in The Manxman. All Manx men are in it, all Manx women. It sweeps like a trawl-net the whole bottom of the Manx waters, and gathers within its meshes every living creature that inhabits the depths which are so fertile and so unexplored.”
T. E. Brown’s assessment of the most famous Manx book of all, The Manxman, does well in explaining why the 1894 novel was not only the best-selling novel of the time, but also internationally recognised as being of seminal importance in opening up the Isle of Man as a new territory fit for World Literature.
Hall Caine had achieved his first great success with The Deemster in 1887 but he was dissatisfied with the picture it drew of the Isle of Man. He conceived his second full-length novel set on the Island to correct these failures.
“The Man of The Deemster is not the Man you will see. In that novel I looked at the Isle through a mist of romance. I pictured rather what might have been than what was. I was truer to faith than to fact – and in consequence I sorely puzzled my prosaic countrymen. But with The Manxman I have striven to paint things as they are.”
The first of Caine’s novels to be written whilst actually resident on the Island, he wrote the book between Greeba Castle and the house he rented at 4 Marine Parade, Peel. Whilst here Caine used the opportunity to research Manx characters for his story, befriending Manx fishermen and entertaining them at his Greeba Castle mansion with other guests that included T. E. Brown and Sir James Gell. The yarns, songs and tales that emerged from his friendships with these men shine through in the novel, though his inclusion of much of it rather froze the relationship with many of the men at the publication of the work in serial form from January 1894.
The story behind The Manxman is one of two half brothers in love with the same woman. The innate goodness of the simple Ramsey fisherman, Pete, leads him to trust completely both his friend the Deemster, Philip, and his wife, Kate, even after she secretly has the other’s child and flees to live with him in Douglas. Philip watches as he drags both himself and Kate through ever-deepening levels of moral degradation, until he is called upon to confess and atone for everything.
The novel was published in book form on the 3rd of August 1894, to immediate and staggering worldwide success. This was the novel that firmly established Caine as a household name in the UK, America and beyond. The Manxman was also the novel on which Caine’s reputation was to rest, being taken as it was as the greatest example of the literary art to emerge from his pen.
However, the success of the novel hardly helped his reputation on the Island. Central to the novel’s controversy was its apparent “coarseness,” particularly in an unmarried Manx woman having a sexual relationship with a man and even secretly living with him. The popularity of the novel only stoked the antipathy of the Manx, who were horrified that such a picture of Manx sexual morality was being broadcast so widely and so loudly.
The impact of this novel on the wider Manx life at the time and its continued place as the Island’s most famous novel may prove The Manxman’s significance, but it is only in reading it that we can grasp its brilliance. Opening the book and experiencing some of the most exciting and best-known scenes of all of Manx literature is the only way to truly understand why Hall Caine was the most successful novelist of his day and why he will always be known as the Manx Novelist.
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.