The Master of Man (Fifth Book: The Reparation)
Fifth Book: The Reparation
“VICTOR! VICTOR! MY VICTOR!”
“GOOD heavens, how was I to know that things would turn out so badly?”
It was the Governor, alone with Stowell in the Deemster’s room, at the end of the second day of the Court of General Gaol Delivery.
“As for you, what have you to reproach yourself with? So far as this case is concerned you have done nothing that is wrong or irregular. The girl was guilty. You gave her a fair trial. The law required that she should be condemned. You had to condemn her. Then why take things so tragically?”
“She will get over it. Of course she will. What sensible woman is going to throw away the happiness of a life-time because of something that happened before she came on to the scene?”
“You heard what she said, Sir?”
“I did, and thought it nonsense. I heard what you said also, and thought it madness. What a providential escape! Thank God it is all over! The miserable case is at an end. Let us think no more about it.”
An Inspector of Police came into the room to say that Miss Stanley had left the Castle at the close of the murder trial and asked him to tell her father that she was going home by train. The Governor, with knitted eyebrows and a frown, dismissed the Inspector, and then said to Stowell, as he turned to go,
“All the same I am bound to say the whole thing has been unfortunate damnably unfortunate!”
Stowell continued to sit for some minutes in his robes after the Governor had left him. Joshua Scarff came with a glass of brandy.
“Take this, your Honour. It will strengthen your nerves for your drive home. I could see you were not well when you arrived this morning.”
Stowell had drunk the brandy and was setting down the tumbler when the Inspector came back to say that after the murder trial he had liberated Dan Baldroma, but had just been compelled to arrest somebody else..
“Mr. Gell. The gentleman seems to have gone clean off it, Sir. It’s the loss of his case, I suppose.”
Ever since the Court had risen he had been demanding to be allowed to see the Deemster and threatening what he would do to him. So to prevent the Advocate from doing a mischief the police had put him in the cells.
“Set him at liberty at once,” said Stowell.
“Before your Honour leaves the Castle?”
The Inspector being gone (with the intention of disobeying the Deemster’s command in order to ensure his safety), Joshua Scarff proceeded to read Gell’s conduct by quite a different light. It was easy to see now that Mr. Gell had been the girl’s fellow-sinner and therefore the cause of her crime.
“Pity! Great pity!” said Joshua, as he helped Stowell to unrobe. “But such connections always begin to end badly.”
There were still a few of the spectators at the gate, waiting to see the Deemster away, and when he came out, with his white face, another wave of sympathy went out to him.
“They’ve been putting the young colt into the shafts too soon that’s what it is, I tell thee.”
Driving over the harbour bridge in his automobile Stowell began to feel better. The fresh air from the sea, after the close atmosphere of the Court-house, brought the blood back to his brain, and he thought he saw things more clearly.
The Governor had been right. He could not have acted otherwise without being false to his oath as a Judge. And if the miserable fact remained that he should never have been the Judge in this case at all, it was Fenella herself, above everybody else, who had thrust him into the furnace of that position. Surely she would remember this, and it would plead in her heart for him?
Half -a -mile beyond the town he passed the Governor’s big blue landau, and realised that by some half-conscious impulse he was taking the road to Government House instead of the direct way home! So much the better! He must see Fenella at the first possible moment, and find out what his fate was to be.
His spirits rose as he bounded along. Granted he had done wrong in the first instance, terribly and cruelly wrong, hadn’t he had many excuses? If Bessie Collister had told her everything, surely Fenella would see this, too, and seeing it, would understand?
But the great fact of all was that (except for the first catastrophe) his love of Fenella had been the root cause of all that had happened. If he had not loved Fenella with that deep, unconquerable, unquenchable love which had swept everything else away (all qualms and perhaps all conscience), nothing worse could have occurred. He would have married that poor girl now lying in prison. Yes, whatever the consequences to himself, he would have married her before Cell came back into her life, and further complications ensued. But after Fenella returned to the island no other woman had been possible to him. Surely she would see this also? And, if she did, nothing else would matter to either of them nothing in this world.
Presently, driving at high speed, he realised that the half -conscious impulse which had carried him on to the road to Government House was sweeping him on to the rocky shelf on the coast along which he had driven with Fenella on the day he took his oath.
How fortunate! What was that she had said, then, as they sang together in the fulness of their joy over the hum of the engine and the boom of the sea? that love, what she called love, never died and never changed, and if she loved anybody, and anything happened to him, she would fight the world for him, even though he were in the wrong!
Even though he were in the wrong!
She would do it now! He was sure she would! Yes, the first shock of the wretched revelation being over, she would see how he had suffered, and how he had striven to do the right, and then then everything would be well.
Thus, as he flew over the roads, he built himself up in the hope of Fenella’s forgiveness. But as he approached Government House his heart failed him again. Something whispered that the excuses he had been making for himself were no better than a pretence that Fenella would see him now for the first time as the man he really was, not the man she had imagined him to be.
And then what would happen then?
As soon as the trial was over and Bessie, weeping bitterly, was taken back to the cells, Fenella had left Castle Rushen. She was ashamed. Remembering her wild outburst under the Attorney-General’s examination, she was reproaching herself bitterly. Whatever Victor Stowell had done, what right had she to denounce him? She of all others! In open Court too!
And then Gell! Although nobody else had understood her, he had done so. He might have been living in a fool’s paradise, but was it for her to reveal the awful truth to him? In public, too, and at that harrowing moment?
To escape from the pain of self-reproach she kept on telling herself, as she went back in the train, that Stowell had deceived her. Oh, if he had only confessed, at any rate to her, she thought she could have forgiven him in spite of all. But no, he had hidden everything down to the last moment, and left her to find him out.
On reaching home she excused herself to old Miss Green and hurried up to her bedroom. Her head ached and her heart was sore the young woman she had been working for had been found guilty and condemned. She told her maid she was tired, and if anybody asked for her she was not to be disturbed.
Two hours passed. Her heart was going through a wild riot of mingled anger and love. It was like madness. She loved Stowell; she hated him; she worshipped him; she despised him. At one moment she recalled with a bitter laugh the mockery of his questioning of Bessie Collister in the dock; at the next she remembered with scorching tears the pathos of his sentencing her.
Obscure motives were operating in her soul to intensify her pain. Jealous? She, jealous of that illiterate country girl who had murdered her illegitimate child what nonsense! No, her idol was broken. She had set it so high and now it was in the dust.
She expected Stowell to come to her as soon as his Court was over. Again and again she raised her head from her wet pillow to listen for the sound of his car on the drive. Yet when a knock came at her door and her maid announced the arrival of the Deemster (never dreaming that the injunction against callers had been intended to apply to him) her first impulse was to send him away.
“Say I’m unwell and can’t see him,” she cried from her bed.
But at the next moment she was up and whispering at the door,
“Show Mr. Stowell into the library and tell him I shall be down presently.”
Her voice was hoarse; her face was aflame; her eyes were red from persistent weeping. No water could sponge away those marks of her emotion. Never mind! He should see how he had made her suffer. She would go downstairs and charge him, face to face, with his deceit and hypocrisy, and then then fling herself into his arms.
But when she opened the library door and saw him standing on the hearthrug, with head down and a look of utter abasement, her courage failed her. She dare not look twice at his ravaged face, so she sank on to the sofa and covered her eyes with her hands.
Several minutes passed in which neither of them spoke. There was no sound except that of his laboured breathing and of the ticking of the clock on the mantelpiece. “If he does not speak soon,” she thought, “I shall break into tears and fly out of the room.”
But she did not move, and at last came his voice, humble and broken, and thrilling through and through her:
She did not answer; she could not; and again, after another moment of silence, he said,
“Fenella, I have come to ask you to forgive me.”
She wanted to burst out crying, and to prevent herself from doing so she broke into a flood of wrath.
“Forgive you?” she said. “Ask that poor creature in Castle Rushen to forgive you that poor girl whom you have just condemned for a crime that is the consequence of your own sin.”
He did not reply for a moment, and then came the same humble, unsteady voice, saying,
“No doubt you are quite right, quite justified, but if you knew everything that I could not help myself that it was the law . . .”
“Oh, I know nothing about your laws,” she cried, leaping up and crossing the room, ” but they are unjust and barbarous and against reason and humanity if they allow a girl to be condemned to death for a crime like that while the Judge who was the first cause of it sits in judgment on his own victim.”
“You are right there too,” said Stowell, ” but if you knew how I tried to avoid sitting on the case, and only allowed myself to do so at last in the hope of seeing justice done and thereby making some sort of amends …”
“Amends!” cried Fenella. “What amends can there be for a wrong like that? Oh, I hate people who think they can make amends for one fault by committing another.”
There was silence again for a moment and then Stowell said,
“You are right there also. There is a kind of wrongdoing that cannot be atoned for. I see that now. But if you knew how I have suffered for it and still suffer . . .”
Suffer? Why shouldn’t you suffer? Isn’t that poor girl suffering? Hasn’t she suffered all along? And whatever you do for her now, won’t she go on suffering to the last day and hour of her life?”
He dropped his head still lower under the lash of Fenella’s scorn.
“That is not all either,” she said in a broken voice, sitting on the sofa again and brushing her handkerchief over her eyes. “Perhaps that girl is not the only one who is suffering. I wanted to think so well of you, to be so proud of you. You were to be the defender of women, fighting their battles for them when they were wronged and helples.8. And when you became a Judge . . . Oh, I cannot bear to think of it. You have disappointed and deceived me. You are not the man I took you to be.”
Outside the sun was setting. A dull ray from it was falling on his haggard face and brushing her bronze-brown hair.
“I thought you loved me too. It was so sweet to think you loved me me only never having loved anybody else. Every woman has felt like that, hasn’t she? I have anyway. Other men might be faithless, but not you, not Victor Stowell. And yet, for the sake of your poor fancy for this country girl . . .”
“Oh, what a fool I’ve been,” she cried, leaping up again and dashing the tears from her eyes. “Forgive you? Never while that girl lies in prison as the consequence of your sin.”
Stowell could bear no more. Stepping forward, he laid hold of Fenella by the shoulders, and approaching his face to her face he said,
“Listen to me, Fenella. I have done wrong I know that. I am not here to excuse or defend myself, and if your heart does not plead for me I have nothing to say. But I swear before God that I have loved you with all my soul and strength, and if it hadn’t been for that . . .”
“Loved me!” cried Fenella, between a laugh and a sob. And then in the wild delirium of the sheer woman, she said,
“What proof of your love have you given to me compared to the proof you have given to that girl? Oh, when I think of it I could almost find it in my heart to envy her. I do envy her. Yes, degraded and shamed and condemned and in prison as she is, I envy her, and could change places with her this very minute. I would have given you anything in the world rather than this should be anything, my honour, myself …”
“Let me go! You are driving me mad. Leave me. I hate you. I despise you. You have broken my heart. I thought you were brave and true, but what are you but a common …”
“Coward! Hypocrite! Let me go!”
But she had no need to wrench herself away from him. His hands fell from her shoulders like lead, and at the next moment she was gone from the room.
He stood for a while where she had left him with the echo of her stinging words ringing in his ears. Bitter, unjust and cruel as they had been, he was struggling to excuse her. She did not understand. Bessie had not told her all. Presently she would come back and ask his pardon.
But she did not come, and after a while (it seemed like an eternity), feeling crushed, degraded, trampled upon, dragged in the dust and wounded in his tenderest affections, he left the room and the house.
Outside, where his automobile was standing, he still lingered, expecting to be called back. It was impossible that Fenella would let him part from her like this. He knew where she was in the Governor’s smoking-room which overlooked the drive. At the last moment she would knock at the window and cry, “Stay!”
Slowly he moved around his car, opening the bonnet, touching the engine, starting it, pulling on his long driving gloves. But still she gave no sign, and at length he prepared to step into his seat. Was this to be the end the end of everything?
Meantime, Fenella, alone in her father’s room and recovering from the storm of her anger, was beginning to be afraid. She wanted to go back to Stowell and say, ” I was mad. I didn’t know what I was saying. I love you so much.”
But her pride would not permit her to do that, and she waited for Stowell to do something. Why didn’t he burst through the door, throw his arms about her, and compel her to forgive him?
She listened intently for a long time, but there came no sound from the adjoining room. What was he doing? Presently she heard him coming out of the library, walking with a firm step down the corridor to the porch, opening the front door and closing it behind him.
Was he leaving her? Like this? Then he would never come back. She heard his footstep on the gravel and looking through the window she saw him, with his white face, raising his soft hat to wipe his perspiring forehead, and then climbing into the car. Could it be possible that he was going away without another word?
In spite of her jealousy and rage, she felt an immense admiration for the man who, loving her as she was sure he did, was yet so strong that he could leave her after she had insulted and humiliated him. She wanted to throw up the window and cry, “Wait! I am coming out to you.”
But no, her pride would not permit her to do that either, and at the next instant the car was moving away.
She watched it until it had disappeared behind the trees. Then she turned to go back to her bedroom. At the foot of the stairs she met Miss Green who, shocked at the sight of her disordered face, said,
“My goodness, Fenella! What has happened?”
In the plaintive voice of a crying child, Fenella answered,
”He has gone. I have driven him away.”
Then she stumbled upstairs, locked the door of her room on the inside, threw herself face down on the bed, burst into a flood of tempestuous tears, and cried aloud to Stowell, now that he could no longer hear her –
“Victor! Victor! My Victor!”
THE VOICE OF THE SEA
“FORGIVE you? Never while that girl lies in prison as the consequence of your sin.”
The words beat on Stowell’s brain with the paralysing effect of a muffled drum. He was driving up the mountain road. Char-a-barics, full of English visitors (who were laughing and singing in chorus), were coming down. The drivers shouted at him from time to time. This irritated him until he realised that his motor-car was oscillating from side to side of the road.
When he reached the top, where the road turns towards the glen, all the heart was gone out of him. The great scene no longer brought the old joyousness. With love lost and hope quenched the soul of the world was dead, and the heavens were dark above him.
At the bottom of the glen, where it dips into the Curragh, he came upon a group of bare-headed women, with their arms under their aprons, surrounding a little person with watery eyes, in a poke bonnet and a satin mantle. Mrs. Collister had returned from Castletown, and her neighbours were taking her home.
“Never mind, woman! It will be all set right at the judgment. And then the man will be found out and punished, too!”
At the corner of the cross roads Dan Baldroma threw himself in front of the car, to draw it up, and in his raucous voice he fell on Stowell with a torrent of abuse.
“You’ve been locking up a respectable man, Dempster, but you can’t lock up his tongue, and the island is going to know what justice in the Isle of Man can be.”
Stowell made no answer. Any poor creature could insult him now.
Janet was waiting for him at Ballamoar, with a fire in the library, and the tea-tray ready. But the sweet home atmosphere only made him think of the happiness that had been so nearly within his reach.
Seeing that something was amiss, Janet assumed her cheeriest tone, brought out two patterns of damask, laid them over chairs, and asked which Fenella would like best for her boudoir.
“I don’t know. I can’t say. But … it doesn’t matter now.”
Janet gathered up her patterns and went out of the room without a word.
“Forgive you? Never while that girl lies in prison.” The stinging words followed him to his bedroom. They broke up his sleep. They rang like the screech of an owl through the darkness of the night.
Next day, not trusting himself to drive his car, he returned to Castletown by train. There were only two first-class compartments and both were full. He was about to step into a third-class carriage when a voice cried,
“This way, Deemster. Always room enough for you.”
There was to be a sitting of the Keys that day and the compartment was full of northside members. The talk was about yesterday’s trial, and Stowell realised that his management of the case had created a favourable impression. Merciful to the prisoner? Yes, until her guilt was established, but then just, even at the expense of friendship.
This led to talk about Gell as the girl’s fellow-sinner.
“Shocking! But it’s not the first time he has been mixed up with a woman.”
Stowell felt an intolerable shame at Gell’s undeserved obloquy and his own unmerited glory, but he could say nothing.
“It will kill the old man,” said one of the Keys. The train had drawn up at a side station and his voice was loud in the vacant air.
The Speaker was in the next compartment.
When the train started again a little man with the face of a ferret began to make facetious references to “Fanny.” Stowell’s hands were itching to take the ribald creature by the throat and fling him out of the window, but something whispered, “Who are you to be the champion of virtue?”
At Court that day, and the day following, he found it hard to concentrate. At one moment an advocate said,
“Perhaps your Honour is not well this morning?”
“Oh no! I heard you. You were saying …”
The rapidity of his mind enabled him to make up for his lapses in attention, and when his time came to sum up he was always ready.
He was indulgent to the accused. All the other prisoners were acquitted the fat woman for the reason that, bad as her character might be, the characters of her drunken sailors were yet worse (therefore no credit could be attached to their evidence), and the boy who had embezzled on the ground that his superiors at the bank had been guilty of almost criminal negligence, and the four months he had been in prison already were sufficient to satisfy the claims of justice.
The boy’s mother, who was standing at the back, threw her arms about him and kissed him when he stepped out of the dock, and then, turning her streaming face up to the bench, she cried,
“God bless you, Deemster! May you live long and every day of your life be a happy one.”
Back at home, Stowell plunged into the task of drawing up the report for the English authorities which was to accompany the recommendation to mercy. In two days (having his father’s library to fall back upon) he knew more about the grounds upon which the prerogative of the Crown could properly be exercised than anybody in the island had ever before been required to learn, and when he had finished his task he had no misgivings.
Bessie’s sentence would be commuted to imprisonment. And then (life for the poor soul being at an end in the Puritanical old island) he must find some secret means of sending her away.
“Never while that girl . . .” But wait! Only wait!
Being legislator as well as Judge, he attended the first meeting of Tynwald Court after his appointment. The Governor administered the oath for him in a private room, and then, taking his arm, led the way to the legislative chamber.
“Do you know it’s six days since you were at Government House, my boy? What is Fenella to think of you?”
“Has she . . . has she been asking for me, Sir?”
“Well, no, not to say asking, but still . . . six days, you know.”
Stowell sat on a raised dais between the Attorney-General and Deemster Taubman, who was sufficiently recovered to hobble in on two sticks. The proceedings were of the kind that is usual in such assemblies, the Manx people being the children of their mothers, loving to talk much and about many things.
He found it difficult to fix his attention, and was watching for an opportunity to slip away, when the vain repetitions which are called debate suddenly ceased and the Governor called on an Inspector of Police to carry round a Bill which had to be signed by all.
In the interval of general conversation that followed, Deemster Taubman, a gruff and grizzly person, leaned back in his seat, put his thumbs in the armholes of his soiled white waistcoat and talked to Stowell.
“You did quite right in that case of the girl Collister, Sir. In fact you were only too indulgent. I have no pity for the huzzies who run away from the consequences of their misconduct. Murder is murder, and there is no proper punishment for it but death.”
“But the Jury recommended the girl to mercy, and her sentence will be commuted,” said Stowell.
“Eh? Eh? Then you haven’t heard what has happened?”
“The Governor has reported against the recommendation.”
“Reported against it?”
“Certainly. And as the authorities in London are not likely to read the report and are sure to act on the Governor’s advice, the girl will go to the gallows.”
Stowell felt as if he had been struck over the eyes by an unseen hand. As soon as he had signed the Bill (in a trembling scrawl) he whispered to the Attorney-General that he was unwell and fled from the chamber.
“Humph!” said Taubman, looking after him. “That young man is going to break down, and no wonder. His appointment as Deemster was the maddest thing I ever knew.”
“No, Mr. Stowell, no! You must stay in bed for the next two days at least. I must really insist this time. No work, no excitement, no heart-strain. Remember your father, and take my advice, Sir.”
It was Doctor Clucas, who, sent for by Janet, had arrived at Ballamoar before Stowell got out of bed in the morning.
With closed eyes Stowell reviewed the situation. It was shocking, horrible, intolerable. Not for fifty years had a woman suffered the full penalty of such a crime. He must find some way to prevent it.
But after a while a terrible temptation came to him. “Why can’t I leave things alone?” he asked himself.
He had done all he could be expected to do. If the Crown, acting on the advice of the Governor, refused to exercise its prerogative of mercy, what right had he to interfere?
It might be best for himself, too, that the law should take its course best in the long run. If Bessie’s sentence were commuted to imprisonment what assurance had he that on coming out of prison she would allow him to send her away from the island? On the contrary she might refuse to be banished, and if she found that the blame of her misfortune had fallen on Gell she might tell the truth to free him.
What then? He would be a dishonoured man. His position as a Judge would be imperilled; his marriage with Fenella would be impossible, and his whole life would crash down to a welter of disgrace and ruin. But if Bessie were gone there would be no further danger. And after all, it would not be he but the law that had taken her life.
“Then why can’t I leave things alone?” he thought.
He decided to do so, but his decision brought him no comfort. Towards evening he got up and went out to walk in the farmyard. There he met Robbie Creer, who was just home from the mill with his head full of a pitiful story.
It was about Mrs. Collister. Since her daughter’s trial the old woman had fallen into the habit of walking barefoot in the glen, chiefly at midnight, and generally in the neighbourhood of the ClagJi-ny-Dooiney. At first she had seen a light. Then she had heard a pitiful cry. She was certain it was the cry of a child, a spirit-child, unbaptised and therefore unnamed, and for that reason doomed to wander the world, because unable to enter Paradise. At length she had taken heart of God and going out in her nightdress she had called through the darkness of the trees, “If thou art a boy I call thee John. If thou art a girl I call thee Joney.” After that she had heard the cry no more, and now she knew it had been Bessie’s child, and the bogh-millish was at rest.
This story of the old mother’s developing insanity rested heavily on Stowell’s heart and went far to shake his resolution.
After a day or two he began to find his own house and grounds haunted. He could not go into the library without the kind eyes in his mother’s picture following him about the room with a pleading look. He could not sit in the dining-room after dinner without remembering his week-ends as a student-at-law, when his father and he would draw up at opposite cheeks of the hearth, and the great Deemster would talk of the great crimes, the great trials and the great Judges.
But his worst ordeal was with Janet. Not a word of explanation had passed between them, yet he was sure she knew everything. One evening, going into her sitting-room he found her with her knitting on her lap, and a copy of the insular newspaper on the floor, looking out on the lawn with a far-off expression. That brought memories of another evening when he had told her that no girl on the island had ever fallen into trouble through him, or ever should do.
“Ah! Is that you, Victor?” she cried, ‘recovering herself and making her needles click, but he had gone, and her voice followed him from the room.
Still wrestling with his temptation to stand aside and let the law take its course, Ballamoar became intolerable to him. On the lame excuse of his fortnightly court in the northside town he decided to go to Ramsey, and wrote to Mrs. Quayle to get his old rooms ready.
But going from Ballamoar to his chambers was like leaping out of the fire into the furnace. When he opened a disordered drawer up came the Castletown portrait of Bessie Collister like a ghost out of the gloom. When he went for a walk to tire himself for the night his steps involuntarily turned towards the pier where the lighthouse had been shattered by lightning. When he returned and was putting the key in the lock of his outer door he had the tingling sense of a woman’s warm presence behind him. When he pulled down his bedroom blind the broken cord brought a stabbing memory. And when he awoke in the morning he felt that he had only to open his eyes to see a girl’s raven black hair on the pillow beside him.
But Mrs. Quayle’s presence was the keenest torment of all. The good old Methodist moved about him at breakfast without speaking, but one morning, fumbling with her bonnet strings before going, she said,
“Deemster, have you remembered this case of Bessie Collister in your prayers?”
He removed to Douglas the Fort Anne Hotel, a breezy place, which sits on the ledge of the headland and just over the harbour. At first the babble and movement of the hotel distracted him, but after a day or two he was drawn back into the maelstrom of his own thoughts.
Having a private sitting-room he borrowed law books from the Law Library and sat far into the night to read them. He selected the treatises on Infanticide those bitter records of the age-long strife between the laws of man and of God. Particularly he read the charges of the British Judges (Scottish too frequently), the bewigged ruffians who, in the abomination of their Puritanical tyranny, and the brutal lust of their judicial vengeance, had hounded poor women to the gallows in the very nakedness of shame.
“Damn them! Damn them!” he would cry, leaping up with a desire to trample on the dead Judges’ graves. But then the same persistent voice within would say, “Wait awhile! Who are you to stand up for justice and mercy?”
Crushed and ashamed he would creep up to bed through the silent house, and thinking of the girl whose dark eyes had intoxicated him in the glen (the girl he had afterwards held in his arms) he would say,
“Is it possible that I can stand by and see her given over to the hangman?”
That terrified him. In the darkness he pictured to himself the scene of Bessie’s death and burial, and thought of his after-life as a Judge, when he would have to go to Court to try other such cases and Bessie lying out there in the prison-yard.
After Ballamoar, with its pastoral tranquillity, the twittering of birds and the sleepy singing of the streams, Fort Anne was sometimes a tempestuous place, with the wash of the waves in the harbour, the monotonous moan of the sea outside and the melancholy wail of the gulls. He thought he heard Bessie’s cry in the voice of the sea her piercing cry when she was being carried out of Court after he had sentenced her.
One night he thought Bessie was dead. He was dead too. They were standing side by side in an awful tribunal and she was accusing him before God.
“He let me die! He killed me! He is my assassin!”
The sound of his own voice awakened him. A dream! It was the grey of dawn; a storm had arisen in the night; the white sea was rolling over the breakwater and the sea -fowl were screaming through the mist and roar.
No, by God! If it was a question of Bessie witnessing against him in this world or in the next, he had no longer any doubt which it should be. No more temptations! No more hypocrisy and self-doubt! No more wandering about like a lost soul!
He would go up to the Governor. He would call upon him to withdraw his objection to the Jury’s recommendation. And if he refused … he should see what he should see.
At eight o’clock in the morning he was walking down the quay in the calm sunshine, looking at the activities of the harbour, and nodding cheerfully to the fishermen as he passed. He was on his way to Government House, and his conscience, with which he had wrestled so long, was triumphant and erect.
Then came a shock.
He was crossing the stone bridge that leads up to the town when he saw the Governor’s blue landau coming down in the direction of the railway station. It was open. Fenella was sitting in it.
Stowell was certain she saw him. But she only coloured up to the eyes and dropped her head. At the next instant her carriage had crossed in front of him and swept into the station-yard.
Something surged in his throat; something blinded his eyes. But after a moment he threw up his head and walked firmly forward.
“Wait! Only wait! We’ll see!”
THE HEART OF A WOMAN
MEANWHILE Fenella had been going through her own temptation. On the night after the trial, having bathed her swollen eyes, she went down to dinner. Her father looked searchingly at her for a moment, and, as soon as they were alone, he said,
“Was it Stowell I saw driving towards the mountain road as I came up?”
“Perhaps it was,” said Fenella.
“Then why didn’t he stay to dinner?”
“Because … I told him to go.”
Fenella gulped down the lump that was rising in her throat and said,
“I have been deceived in him. He is not the man I supposed him to be.”
“Don’t be a fool, my dear. I understand what you mean. It is his conduct as a man, not as a Judge you are thinking of. But if every woman in the world thought she had a right to make a scrutiny into her husband’s life before she married him there would be a fine lot of marriages, wouldn’t there?”
Crude and even coarse as Fenella thought her father’s moral philosophy, she found her self-righteousness shaken by it. Perhaps she had been unfair to Stowell. But why didn’t he come and plead his own cause? She couldn’t talk to her father, but if Victor came and told his own story . . .
Victor did not come. For two days her pride fought with her love and she thought herself the unhappiest woman in the world. Then to escape from the pains of self-reproach she conceived the idea of a fierce revenge upon Stowell. She would devote herself to his victim! Yes, she would make it her duty to lighten the lot of the poor creature he had ruined and deserted.
After a struggle, and many shameful tears, she went back to Castle Rushen, little knowing what a scorching flame she was to pass through.
By this time Bessie was feeling no bitterness against Stowell. The jailer had told her that the Deemster could not have acted otherwise. The law compelled him to condemn her. But he had told the Jury to recommend her to mercy, and now he would be writing to the King to ask him to let her off.
“Aw, he’s good, miss he’s real good for all.”
“Do you say that, Bessie? After he has betrayed you?” said Fenella,
“Betrayed? I wouldn’t say that, miss.”
“But he … he took you to his rooms?”
“What else could he do, miss? All the inns were shut and it was raining, and I had nothing in my pocket.”
“But . . . having taken advantage of your homelessness and poverty, he afterwards cast you off?”
A mysterious wave of injured vanity struggled with Bessie’s shame and she said,
“‘Deed he didn’t, then. He wanted to marry me.”
“Marry you . . . did you say marry . . .”
“Yes, he did, and that was why he sent me to school.”
“But afterwards . . . afterwards he changed his mind and turned you off … I mean turned you over to somebody else?”
“‘Deed no,” said Bessie, with her chin raised. “It was me that gave him up after I found I was fonder of Alick.”
Breathing hard, scarcely able to speak, with the hot blood rushing to her cheeks, Fenella compelled herself to go on.
“Did he know then that you . ..”
“No, miss, and neither did I, nor Alick, nor anybody.”
“And when . . . when was it that you went . . .”
“To his rooms in Ramsey? The first Saturday in August, miss.”
Fenella went home, happy, miserable, tingling with shame and yet thrilling with love also. Stowell’s victim had brought her heart back to him.
It was just because he had loved her more than he had loved that girl in prison that the worst had happened. It was just because she herself had persuaded, constrained and almost compelled him that he had sat on the case, not fully knowing what was to be revealed by it.
This lasted her half-way home in the train, and then her wounded pride rose again. After all Victor had been faithless to the love with which she had inspired him. If a man loved a woman it was his duty to keep himself pure for her. Victor had not done so, therefore she would never forgive him never!
The Governor’s carriage met her at the Douglas station, and when (wiping the scorching tears from her eyes) she reached Government House, she found another carriage standing by the porch.
“Miss Janet Curphey is here to see you, miss,” said the maid.
From the day of the trial, when Victor had returned home with a white face and said, ” It doesn’t matter now,” Janet had known what had occurred.
That Collister girl had corrupted Victor. She had always feared it would be so since “Auntie Kitty” had whispered over her counter that that “forward thing” of Liza Corteen’s was boasting that Mr. Stowell had been “sooreying ” with her in the glen. And now she had brought him under the very shadow of shame itself, just when life looked so bright and joyful.
Then came the insular newspaper with an account of Fenella’s outburst at the trial. That was the cruellest blow of all. She had loved Fenella, and had always thought there would be nothing so sweet as to spread her wedding-bed for her, but now that she had taken sides against Victor and publicly denounced him, Janet’s blood boiled. She would go up to Government House and give Fenella a piece of her mind. Why shouldn’t she?
It was a dull afternoon when she set off for Douglas, and as she drove along the coast road she rehearsed to herself the sharp things she was going to say.
But when Fenella came into the drawing-room, looking so pale as to be scarcely recognisable as the radiant girl she used to be, and kissed her and sat by her side, Janet could scarcely say anything.
At length (Miss Green, who had been sitting at tea with her, having gone) Janet braced herself, and said, not without a tremor,
“I’ve come about Victor.”
“Then he has told you?” said Fenella.
“‘Deed he hasn’t, and you needn’t either, because I know.”
Fenella drew her hand away and dropped her head.
“I don’t say he hasn’t done wrong,” said Janet, “but you seem to think he’s the only one who is to blame.”
“Oh no! I see now that the girl in Castle Rushen …”
“The girl? I’m not thinking about the girl. Of course she is to blame. But is there nobody else to blame also?”
“Oh, I’m telling you the truth, dear. That’s what I’ve come for. ”
“But it all happened before I returned to the Island.”
“That’s why. If you hadn’t stayed away so long it wouldn’t have happened at all.”
Then up from the sweet and sorrowful places of Janet’s memory came the story of Stowell’s love for Fenella how he had worked for her and waited for her through all his long years as a student-at-law.
“It’s me to know, my dear. He used to come home every weekend, and his poor father thought it was to see him, but I knew better. ‘ Any fresh news? ‘ he would say, and I knew what news he wanted. When your photo came he held it under the lamp and said, ‘ Don’t you think she’s like my mother, Janet just a little like? ‘ And I told him yes, and that was to say you were like the loveliest woman that ever walked the world in this island anyway.”
Fenella was struggling to control herself.
“Poor boy, how he worked and worked for you! Jacob never worked harder or waited longer for Rachel. And what was his reward? You signed on at your ridiculous Settlement for seven years and sent word you would never marry. I had it from Catharine Green and it was a sorrowful woman I was to break the news to him. He looked at me with his mother’s eyes, and it was fit enough to break my heart to see how he cried with his face on the pillow. But it was with his father’s eyes he rose and said, ‘It shall never happen again, mother.’ He called me mother too, God bless him!”
Fenella was smothering her mouth in her handkerchief.
“If he went wrong after that, was it any wonder? Young men are young men, and the Lord won’t be too hard on them for being what He has made them. Some people seem to think when trouble comes between a young man and a young woman that the young woman is the only one to be pitied. Well, I’m a woman and I don’t. And when a young man has been cut off from the love that would have kept him right and the heavens have gone dark on him …”
“But I loved him all the time, Janet.”
“Then why didn’t you come back, instead of leaving him to the mercy of these good-looking young vixens who will run any risks with a young man if they can only get him to marry them?”
Fenella’ s eyes were down again.
“But that’s not all. Not content with deserting him for so many years, you must try to disgrace him also.”
“Oh, I saw what you said at the trial.”
“But nobody knows whom I . . .”
“Don’t they indeed! The men may not: most of them are so stupid. They may even think you meant somebody else. But you can’t deceive the women like that. And then he knew that you intended it for him. Just when you were about to become his wife, too, and you were the only woman in the world to him!”
“I was so shocked. I thought he wasn’t the man I had taken him for.”
“Perhaps he wasn’t, perhaps he was, but thousands of women have lost faith in their men and clung to them for all that, and they’re the salt of the earth, I say. I’m only an old maid myself, but to stand up for your husband, right or wrong, that’s what I call being a wife, if you ask me.”
Fenella could bear up no longer. She flung her arms about Janet’s neck and buried her face in her breast.
The darkness was gathering before they broke from their embrace and then it was time for Janet to smooth out her silvery hair and go, Fenella saw her to the carriage and whispered as she kissed her,
“Tell him to come back to me.”
And then Janet went home with shining eyes.
Day after day Fenella waited at home for Victor, denying herself to everybody else. Every afternoon she dressed herself in some gown he had said he liked her in. She dressed her hair, too, in the way he liked best. But still he did not come.
At length she determined to write to him. Writing was a terrible ordeal. Her pride fought with her love and she could never satisfy herself with her letters. First it was –
“DEAR VICTOR, Don’t you really think you’ve stayed away long enough? Remember your ‘Manx ones’ especially your lovely and beloved Manx women won’t they be talking?”
But no, that was too much like threatening him, so she began again –
“DARLING, Did you really think I meant all I said that day? Don’t you know a woman better than that? I suppose you think I am very hard-hearted and can never forgive, but . . .”
No, that was wrong, too.
“VICTOR, Don’t you think I have been punished enough? It has been very hard for me, yet I love you still. . . .”
But the trembling of her handwriting betrayed the emotion she wished to conceal. At last, after a long day of solitude and abandonment, two little lines
“Vic, I am so lonely. Come to me. Your broken-hearted FENELLA.”
But all her letters, with their cries and supplications, were torn up and thrown into the fire.
Why did he stay away? Did he expect her to bridge all the gulf between them? At length she thought he must be ill. The idea that he could be suffering (for her sake perhaps) swept down all her pride, and she determined to go to him.
But just as she was setting out for Ballamoar somebody brought word that Stowell was staying at Fort Anne. That quenched her humility. So near, yet never coming to see her! Oh, very well! Very well!
For two days she felt crushed and abased. Then she heard that Stowell was constantly to be seen at the Law Library, and that brought a memory and an explanation. She remembered that she had said (in that wild moment when she didn’t know what she was saying) that she would never forgive him while the girl Bessie lay in prison.
That was it! He was finding a solid legal ground on which the prisoner could be liberated, and when he had convinced the law officers of the Crown that this was a proper case for the exercise of mercy, he would come up to her and say, “Bessie Collister is free! the barrier between us is broken down.”
For a full day after that her heart was at ease. Nay more, she was almost happy, for hidden away in some secret place of semi-consciousness was the thought that the measure of Stowell’s efforts for Bessie Collister was the meter of his love for herself.
At length her impatience got the better of her tranquillity and she became eager to know what was going on. There was only one person who could tell her that her father.
Coming down to breakfast on the sunny morning after the storm, she saw, among the letters by the Governor’s plate, a large envelope superscribed, “HOME SECRETARY.” When her father had opened it she said, as if casually,
“Any news yet about that poor thing in Castle Rushen?”
“Yes, there’s something here.”
“Of course she’s pardoned?”
“On the contrary, her death-sentence has been confirmed.”
“Yes, she’s to die, and it only remains for me to fix the date of the execution.”
The sun went out as before a thunderstorm, and, rising from her unfinished breakfast, Fenella fled from the room. A great wave of pity seemed to sweep down every other feeling. She determined to go to Castle Rushen again and break the news tenderly to the unhappy woman.
On her way to the railway station her mind swung back to Stowell. After all he could have done nothing to save the girl’s life. It was inconceivable that the authorities in London could have been indifferent to the opinion of the Judge who had tried the case.
“No, he can have done nothing, nothing whatever.”
Then came a shock to her also.
As her carriage dipped into the hill going down to the station she saw Stowell coming up from the bridge with rapid strides. Something told her that, having heard the news, he was going to Government House to protest. But what was the good of going now? Useless! Worse than useless!
One glance she got of his face before she dropped her own. It was whiter and thinner than before, as if from sleepless nights and suffering. She wanted to stop; she wanted to go on; she did not know what she wanted.
At the next moment her coachman, who had seen nothing of Stowell, being occupied with the difficulties of the hill, had swept into the station-yard.
When she got out of the carriage her heart was burning with the pangs of mingled love and rage.
“If that girl dies in prison there shall never be anything between us never,” she thought.
But deep in her heart, almost unknown to herself, there was a still more poignant cry,
“He does not care for me he cannot.”
THE MAN AND THE LAW
WHEN Stowell reached Government House he found the Governor in the garden, bareheaded and smoking a cigar of which he was obviously trying to preserve the ash, while he watched his gardener at his work of repairing the ravages of last night’s storm among the flower-beds.
“Ah, you’ve come at last! But you have just missed Fenella. She has gone to Castletown that girl again, I suppose.”
“I know. I saw her. That’s the matter I’ve come to speak about.”
“So? Oblige me then by walking here so that I may keep an eye on the gardener.”
Stowell winced, but stepped to and fro on the path by the Governor’s side while in a low tone he broached his business.
“Deemster Taubman told me at Tynwald that you had reported against the Jury’s recommendation.”
“I thought perhaps you would permit me to explain the exact legal position.”
“It is fifty years at least since the prisoner has been executed on this island for that crime.”
“Fifty, is it?”
The Governor blew his light blue smoke into the lighter blue air and watched it rising.
“Deemster Taubman seems to think that a prisoner who has wilfully taken life is necessarily a murderer. That is wrong, Sir.”
“Quite wrong. It is established by the laws of this and every civilised country that it is the reason of man which makes him accountable for his action and the absence of reason acquits him of the crime.”
“And is there any ground for thinking that this girl was not responsible?” said the Governor.
“Every ground, Sir. No woman in her position ever was or can be responsible.”
“No? . . . Gardener, don’t you think those tulips . . .”
“That’s why the law of England,” continued Stowell, “has ceased to look upon infanticide as a crime punishable by death. In some foreign countries it is not looked upon as a crime at all. The woman who kills her child within five days after its birth is thought to be suffering from temporary mania and therefore not guilty of murder. Besides . . .”
Stowell breathed heavily and then said,
“There are exceptional circumstances in this case which call for merciful treatment.”
“You mean . . .”
“I mean,” said Stowell, speaking rapidly and in a vibrating voice, “that the girl had no bad motives such as usually inspire murder no greed, no lust, no desire for revenge. In fact, she meant no harm to anybody. On the contrary it is conceivable that she meant good good even to her child to save it from a life of suffering in a world in which it would have no father, no family, and nobody to care for it but its shamed and outcast mother.”
The Governor looked at Stowell for a moment and thought, “He’s ill, and he’s trying to unload his conscience.”
Then he said aloud,
“So you’ve come to ask me to . . .”
“I’ve come to ask you, Sir, to withdraw your objection to the recommendation to mercy, so that the death sentence may be commuted to imprisonment.”
Again the Governor looked at Stowell’s heated face and thought, “Yes, he’s ill, and doesn’t see that I am fighting his own battle.”
“Do it, Sir,” said Stowell. “Do it, for God’s sake, before it is too late, and there is such an outcry throughout the kingdom as will shake the very foundations of justice in the island.”
The Governor was still smoking leisurely and keeping his eye on his flower-beds.
“Gardener, don’t you think that bed of geraniums . . .” he began, but Stowell could bear no more.
“Good God, Sir, isn’t this matter of sufficient importance to merit your attention?”
The Governor turned sharply upon him, threw away his half-smoked cigar and said,
“Come this way.”
Not another word was spoken until, returning to the house with a certain pomp of stride, with Stowell behind him, the Governor reached his room and closed the door behind him. Then, unlocking his desk, he took out a large envelope (the same that Fenella had seen at breakfast) and handed the contents of it to Stowell, saying,
“Look at that.”
Stowell saw at a glance what it was and uttered a cry of astonishment.
“Then it’s done.”
“Yes, it’s done. And now sit down and listen to me.”
But Stowell continued to stand with the paper crinkling in his trembling fingers.
“You say Taubman told you I reported against the Jury’s recommendation. Quite true! As President of the Court and head of the Manx judiciary, I told the Home Secretary I saw no justification for it no justification whatever.”
Stowell was silent.
“You say it is fifty years since such a crime has been punished by death. Perhaps it is, but the fact that the Statute remains is proof enough that the law contemplates cases in which it may properly be exercised. This in my view was such a case and I had every right to say so.”
Still Stowell remained silent.
“You say the prisoner may have acted from a good motive. I see no good motive in a mother who takes the life of her child. You speak of her shame, but shame is no excuse for crime. Why shouldn’t such women suffer shame? Shame is the just consequence of their evil conduct, and to try to escape from it by making away with their misbegotten children is crime.”
Stowell was trembling but still silent.
“Pity for women of that sort is sentimental weakness. Worse, it is a danger to public safety. The sooner such people are put out of the world the better for the public good.”
There was a palpable silence on both sides for some moments. The Governor glanced at Stowell’s twitching face and began to be sorry for him. “Good Lord!” he thought, “why can’t the man see that it’s best for himself that the girl should die? As long as she lives the wretched scandal may break out again and his own share in it may come to light. And then Fenella! How could I allow her to marry him with that danger hanging over his head?”
Stowell’s fingers were contracting over the paper that crinkled in his hand. At length he threw it on the desk and said,
“Your Excellency, if you carry out that sentence you will be committing a crime a monstrous judicial crime.”
The Governor returned the paper to his desk, and then rose and said, with a ring of sarcasm in his voice,
“So I am the criminal, am I? Well, I am responsible for public security in this island, and as long as I am here I am going to see that it is preserved. Offences of this kind have been too frequent of late and they can only be put down by law. The prisoner in the present case has been justly tried and rightly condemned, and it shall be my business to see that she pays the penalty of her crime.”
Stowell’s pale face had become scarlet, his lower lip was trembling. Outside the sea was sparkling in the sunlight; a band was playing far off on the promenade.
“Your Excellency,” said Stowell, quivering all over, ” it will be a life-long grief to me to resist your authority, but I must tell you at once that if you order that girl’s execution it shall never be carried out.”
“What do you say?”
“I say it shall never be carried out.”
“Because I shall prevent it.”
The Governor rose. His face was red, his throat had swelled; his lips were compressed.
“Do you mean that you will go over my head . . .”
“I do. . . .”
The Governor brushed Stowell aside in making for the bell.
“There’s no need for that. I’m going, Sir,” said Stowell, and at the next moment the Governor was alone in his room, speechless with astonishment and wrath.
Going down the corridor Stowell passed the open door of the library the room in which he had parted from Fenella. In quarrelling with her father had he burnt the last bridge by which Fenella and he could come together?
“But, God forgive me, I could do nothing else nothing whatever.”
Fenella found that the tragic news had reached Castle Rushen before her.
Bessie had received it at first with incredulity. Her expectation of pardon had reached the point of conviction, and every morning as she rose from her plank bed, she had said to herself, “It will come to-day.”
When Tommy Vondy went into the condemned cell, blowing his nose repeatedly and talking about death, how it came to everybody sooner or later, Bessie looked at him with terror and screamed, “Oh God help me! God help me!”
For a while she raved like a madwoman. Everybody had lied to her and deceived her, and the Deemster had done nothing to save her, because he wanted her out of the way.
But after a while an idea occurred to her and she became calm. Alick Gell! If Alick would go up to London and see the King and tell him that she had never intended to kill her baby he would forgive her. And then Alick would come galloping back, at the last moment perhaps, waving a paper over his head and crying, “Stop!”
She had seen such things in her illustrated Weekly Budget the story paper she used to read on Sunday mornings at home, while the dinner was cooking in the oven-pot and her mother was singing hymns in the Primitive chapel and her father was poring over the “Mistakes of Moses.”
But would he do it? She had deceived him twice. And then his sisters had always been trying to drag him away from her.
All at once, like the echo of a bell through a thick mist over the sea, came the memory of his cry as she was being carried out of Court: “Never mind, Bessie, I would rather be you than your Judge!”
Yes, he loved ‘her still, and (out of the cunning which the air of a prison breeds) a scheme flashed upon her. She would write a letter to Alick Gell, not telling him what she wanted him to do, but plainly pointing to it.
Fenella was amazed to find Bessie apparently reconciled to her end. She had expected torrents of tears and even the coarse language of the farmyard.
“The suspense was the worst. I shall be glad when it’s all over,” said Bessie.
The only thing that troubled her was to die while Alick was thinking so hard of her, and if her hand did not shake so much she would write to ask for his forgiveness.
“I’ll write for you,” said Fenella.
“And will you give the letter into his own hands, miss, so that his sisters may not see it?”
“I’ll try, dear.”
Sitting by the door of the cell, under the light from the grill, Fenella wrote with the prison paper on her lap, while Bessie, without a vestige of colour in her forlorn face, dictated from the bed:
“DEAR ALICK, You will have heard what they are going to do to me. It is dreadful, isn’t it? I thought perhaps you would have written me a few lines, though I know it is too much to expect after all the sorrow and shame I have brought on you.
“Oh, if I could only have lived to make it up to you! We could have gone away, as you always said, to America or somewhere. I should have been so good, and we should have been so happy and nobody to cast all this up to us.
“What I did was very wrong, but I don’t see what good it will do to the King to take my life, and me a poor girl he never saw in the world. I still think if there were anybody to speak for me he would forgive me even yet and everything would be all right. But that’s more than anybody would do for me now, I suppose even you, though I have always loved you so dear.”
“Is that all?” asked Fenella, in a husky whisper.
“Not quite,” said Bessie, and she began again.
“Mother was here last week and brought me your photo. It got wet in my bag on the way from Derby Haven, and it is cracked and smudged. But I kiss it constant and it is such company.
“Good-bye, Alick! My last thoughts will be of you and my last prayer that God will bless you. If I could only see you for a minute I think I should be satisfied. But if you can’t come, write and say you forgive me. It has been all through my love for you that I am here, so think the best of me.”
Bessie signed the letter, filling up the remaining space with crosses, and then wrote with her own hand
“P.S. It’s a weak to-day, so if anything is to be done there’s no time to lose.”
Fenella saw through the girl’s pitiful subterfuge, but knew well that Gell could do nothing. There was only one man in the island who could have saved Bessie, and that was the Judge who had tried her.
Why hadn’t he?
All the way home in the train Fenella asked herself this question. The only answer she could find was that Stowell was afraid of offending the Governor, owing so much to him. But oh, if he had only resisted her father in this case standing up against him and fearing no one how she would have loved him!
She found Government House shuddering with awe, as if a tornado had swept through it and gone. At length Miss Green explained what had happened. Mr. Stowell had called to see the Governor and been turned out of the house!
Hardly had she reached her room when her father followed her into it.
“I suppose you know that Stowell has been here?” he said.
“Yes. What did he come for?”
“To threaten me that’s what he came for. To threaten me that if I attempted to carry out the sentence of the law on that girl in Castle Rushen he would prevent it.”
Fenella tried to conceal the joy that was rising within her.
“What do you think he intends to do?” she asked.
“Appeal to the Home Secretary against me, I suppose. I shouldn’t wonder if he leaves the island in the morning. And if he does, and brings back a pardon, it will be a vote of censure upon me nothing short of it.”
The Governor strode across the room in his wrath, and then suddenly drew up on seeing that Fenella was smiling.
“But I see who is the cause of the man’s insane conduct,” he said.
“You! You’ve broken with him, haven’t you? Because he had the misfortune to encounter that woman long ago you hold him responsible for everything she has done since. So to satisfy your ridiculous qualms he falls back upon me. The fool! The damned fool! And you are no better! I don’t know what’s taking possession of women in these days. I’m sick to death of their feminist imbecilities and the braying of their male asses!”
“But father . . .”
“Don’t talk to me,” said the Governor, and with blazing eyes he swept out of the room.
Then Victor had done something! He did care for her! And now he was going to take some great risk to save the life of the girl in prison.
A momentary qualm about her duty to her father was swept down by the tide of her love for Stowell. After all, he was the man she had thought him to be! God bless and speed him!
“AND GOD MADE MAN OF THE DUST OF THE GROUND”
STOWELL had travelled far by this time.
When he left Government House in the heat and flame of his anger he was at war with God and man. There was a kind of self-defence in thinking that, however deep his own wrong-doing, the whole world was full of infamy.
He found that news of the forthcoming execution had reached Fort Anne before he returned to it. To avoid the whispering groups in the public rooms he packed his bag and took the afternoon train to Ballamoar.
Alone in the railway carriage he had time to review the situation. His visit to the Governor had been a wretched failure. But even if it had been a success what would have been the result to Bessie Collister? Substitution of the jail for the gallows. Instead of death, three years, five years, perhaps ten years’ imprisonment. Thank God he had not succeeded!
“But what am I to do now?” he asked himself.
Appeal to London? Useless! The Home officials would support the resident authority, and, having made a hideous error, they would be reluctant to correct it.
“Then what can I do?” he thought.
Suddenly he saw that every argument he had used with the Governor against putting Bessie to death applied equally to keeping her in prison. This was not a question of degrees of guilt of murder or manslaughter. Either Bessie was guilty of murder and ought to be executed or she was not guilty (not being responsible) and ought to be set at liberty.
“Then the law under which she has been condemned is a crime,” he thought.
This terrified him. All his inherited instinct of reverence for the justice and majesty of the law revolted.
“The law a crime! Good heavens, what am I thinking about?”
And yet why not? Why had there been so much misery in the world? Was it because of the crimes committed against the law? No, but chiefly because of the crimes committed by the law. Yes, that was the real key to the long martyrdom of man throughout the ages.
“If a law is a crime it ought to be broken,” he told himself.
But how? There was only one proper way in a free country through Parliament and by the slow uprising of the human conscience. But that was a long process, and meantime what would happen in this case? Bessie would be dead and buried! That must not be! No, the law that had condemned Bessie Collister must be broken at once now!
“But who is to break it?”
He trembled at that question, but found only one answer. It shivered at the back of his mind like the white water over a reef at the neck of a narrow sea, and it was not at first that he dared to think of it. But at length he saw that since he had been the instrument of the law in dooming Bessie to death it was he who must set her free.
When he reached this point on his dark way he was horrified.
“What? A Judge break the law!”
He thought of his oath as Deemster and of the execration that would fall on him if found out. He remembered his father’s motto: “Justice is the most sacred thing on earth.” No, no, it was impossible! His honour as a Judge forbade it.
But, as the train ran on, the call of nature conquered and he asked himself what, after all, was his honour as a Judge compared with that poor girl’s life?
Bessie Collister must not die! She must not remain in prison! She must escape! He must help her to do so. Secretly, though, nobody knowing, not even the girl herself or Fenella.
At St. John’s, a junction between the north of the island and the south, the Bishop of the island stepped into Stowell’s compartment. He had been holding a confirmation service at a neighbouring church, and a company of young girls, in white muslin frocks, were seeing him off from the platform. While the carriages were being coupled he stood at the open door and said good-bye to them.
“And now go home, dear children, and have your suppers and get to bed. Home, sweet home, you know!”
But the children would not go until they had sung again in their sweet young voices the hymn they had just been singing in church – “Now the day is over.” By the time the engine whistled and the train was moving out of the station, they had reached the verse –
“Comfort every sufferer,
Watching late in pain;
Those who plan some evil
From their sin restrain.”
Stowell dare not look at them. He was thinking of the girl in Castle Rushen and picturing to himself a similar scene of joy and innocence which might have taken place only a few years before in the station by the glen.
“Ah!” said the Bishop, settling himself in his seat.
He was a short, dapper, almost dainty little man, who talked continually like the brook that often runs behind a Manx cottage and fills it with cheerful chatter.
“I suppose you’ve heard the news, Deemster?”
He produced a small evening newspaper.
“That poor young person in Castle Rushen is to be executed after
all! Terrible, isn’t it?”
Stowell bent his head.
“I really thought that after your address to the Jury she would have been pardoned. But who am I to set up my opinion against that of the King’s advisers? And then think of the effect of bad example! Those dear children, for instance, they are not too young to remember. And if that unhappy girl had got off who knows what effect . . .”
Stowell, nursing the fires of his rebellion, hardly heard the running stream of commonplace.
“And then Holy Wedlock! I always say that every act of carnal transgression is a sin against the marriage altar.”
The train was running along the western coast; the sun was setting; the Irish mountains were purple against the red glow of the sky behind them.
“And then think of the poor soul herself! It may be best for her too! God knows to what depths she might have descended!”
Stowell wanted to burst out on the Bishop, but a secret voice within him whispered, ” Hold your tongue! Say nothing!”
“All the same, I’m sorry for the poor creature, and only yesterday I was using my influence to get her into a Refuge Home for Fallen Women across the water.”
The train drew up at the station for Bishop’s Court, and the Bishop, after a cheerful adieu, hopped like a bird along the platform to where his carriage stood waiting for him, with its two high-stepping horses and its coachman in livery.
Stowell’s heart was afire.
“Refuge Home! Send some of your fashionable women to your Refuge Homes! Holy Wedlock! There are more fallen women inside your Holy Wedlock than outside of it!”
At the station for the glen Stowell got out himself, and there he saw a different spectacle an elderly woman in a satin mantle, surrounded by a group of other elderly women in faded sun -bonnets.
It was Mrs. Collister again. In one hand she held her blackthorn stick, and in the other she carried a small bundle in a print handkerchief probably containing her underclothing.
Stowell understood. The news about Bessie had reached her home, and the heart-broken (almost brain-broken) old mother was waiting for the south-going train to Castletown.
A hush fell on the women when Stowell stepped out of the railway carriage, but as he made his way to his dog-cart at the gate, he heard one of them say,
“It’s a wicked shame! But you’ll be with the poor bogh at the end and that will comfort her.”
A kind of savage pride had taken possession of Stowell.
“Not yet! Not yet!” he thought.
The law was wrong, therefore it was right to resist the law. It was more than right it was a kind of sacred duty.
From that time forward the Judge went about like a criminal.
He stayed at home the following day to think out his plans. All his schemes revolved about Castle Rushen. The great, grey, bastioned fortress how was he to get the prisoner out of it?
His first idea was to use the jailer, who was a simple soul and had obligations to his family. But he abandoned this thought rather from fear of the old man’s garrulous tongue than from qualms of conscience.
It was Tuesday, and Bessie’s execution had been fixed for the Monday following, but the day passed without bringing any better thought to him.
Somewhere in the dark reaches of Wednesday morning an idea flashed upon him. It was usual for one of the Deemsters to make an annual examination of the prisons of the island, the time being subject to his own convenience. Stowell determined to make his examination of Castle Rushen now.
At eleven o’clock he was going round the Castle with the jailer. There were two sides to the prison, a debtor side and a criminal side, and they went over both the jailer complaining of decaying doors and rusty padlocks, and the Deemster, with a sense of shame, pretending to make notes of them, while his eyes and his mind were on other matters.
“Not much chance of a prisoner escaping from a place like this, Mr. Vondy.”
“Not a ha’porth! Those old Normans knew how to keep people out and in too, Sir. But there’s one cell you haven’t looked at yet, your Honour the girl Collister’s.”
“We’ll leave her alone, Mr. Vondy. How is she now, poor creature?”
“Wonderful! That cheerful and smart you wouldn’t believe, Sir.”
“Then she doesn’t know . . .”
“‘Deed she does, Sir. But she thinks Mr. Gell, the advocate, is up in London getting her pardon, and she’s listening and listening for his foot coming back with it.”
Stowell went to bed on Wednesday night also without any scheme for Bessie Collister’s escape. But in the grey dawn of Thursday morning, when the world was awakening from a heavy sleep, another idea came to him. The Antiquarian Society of the island had made him a Vice -President when he became a Deemster, and having opened up certain portions of the Castle that were outside the precincts of the prison, they had asked him to inspect their discoveries.
With another spasm of hope, Stowell returned to Castletown.
“Give me your lantern, and let me wander about by myself, Mr. Vondy.”
“‘Deed I will, Sir. Your Honour knows the Castle as well as I do.”
There was said to be a subterranean passage under the harbour for escape in case of siege. Stowell found it (a noisome, slimy, rat-infested place, dripping with water) but the further end of it had been walled up.
There was a foul dungeon in which a Bishop had been confined when he came into collision with the civil authorities, and tradition had it that he had preached through a window to his people on the quay. Stowell found that also, but the window was narrow and barred.
There were ramparts round the four-square walls, but on one side they looked down into the back yards of the little houses that lay against the great fortress and on the other three sides they were exposed to the market-place, the Parliament-square and the harbour.
For the second time Stowell went home in the lowering nightfall with a heavy heart. As the time approached for the execution his agitation increased, and on Thursday night also he tossed about, thinking, thinking. At length he remembered something. He had a key to the Deemster’s private entrance to the Castle, and though the door was always bolted on the inside, a plan of escape occurred to him.
On Friday morning he was in the jailer’s room. It had been the guard-room of the Castle and was hung about with souvenirs of earlier times maps, plans, a cutlass that had been captured in a fight with Spanish pirates, a blunderbuss that had been used by Manx Fencibles, a keyboard, a line of handcuffs, and a rope, in a glass case, that had been used in the hanging of a Manx criminal.
“You haven’t many prisoners in the Castle now, Mr. Vondy?”
“Aw, no! Didn’t your Honour discharge all but one at the last General Gaol?”
“And not much company?”
“Only Willie Shimmin, the turnkey, and he’s a drunken gommeral, always wanting out, and never sure of coming back at all.”
“What about your female warder?”
“Mrs. Mylrea? A dying woman, Sir. Not been here since the trial, and if it wasn’t for Miss Stanley . . .”
“Does she come often?”
“Nearly every day now, Sir.”
At that moment there was the clang of a bell.
“There she is, I’ll go bail,” said the jailer, and snatching a big key from the keyboard he turned to go.
In the collapse of his better nature Stowell was afraid to meet Fenella, knowing well she would see through him.
“Don’t trouble about me, or mention that I’m here,” he said, and picking up his lantern he made a show of going on with his researches.
But as soon as the jailer had disappeared he turned rapidly to the Deemster’s door and had opened it and stepped out and closed it behind him, before the jailer and Fenella (whose voices he could hear) had emerged from the Portcullis into the courtyard.
It was done! Light had fallen on him at last. Now he knew how Bessie Collister was to escape from Castle Bushen.
But it was not enough that Bessie should escape from her prison; she must escape from the island also; and to do so by means of the regular steam packet from Douglas to England was impossible. Was this to be another and still greater difficulty?
The tide was up in the harbour and the fishing-boats were making ready to go out for the night. As Stowell walked down the quay he saw a blue-coated and brass -buttoned elderly man coming up with unsteady steps the harbour-master. A sudden thought came to him. Why not by a fishing-boat?
He remembered his night with the herrings on the Governor’s yacht, when, lying off the Carlingford sands, he had seen the lights of Dublin. Why could not a fishing-boat steal away in the darkness and put Bessie ashore in Ireland?
It was the very thing! Only it must not be a Castletown boat, lest she should be missed when the fleet came back to port in the morning. Why not a Ramsey boat, or, better still, a boat from Peel?
After dinner that night he walked on the gravelled terrace in front of the house. The moon was shining in a pale sky and the bald crown of old Snaefell was visible through the motionless trees. He drew up on the spot on which he had first parted from Fenella, and a warm vision of the scene of so many years ago returned to him. Then came the memory of their last parting and of the scorching words with which she had driven him away from her.
“But wait! Only wait!” he thought.
He was satisfied with himself. He was sure he was doing right. He even believed God was using him as an instrument of His divine justice, to correct the infamy of the world by a signal action. It was one of those lulls between the wings of a circling storm which come to the soul of man as well as to nature.
He was almost happy.
Next morning, under pretext of the Deemster’s fortnightly Court at Douglas and of important business to do before it, Stowell breakfasted by the light of a lamp and the crackling of a fire, and set out in his car for Peel.
Soon after six he was descending into the little white fishing-port that lies in the lap of its blue circle of sea, with the red ruins of its Cathedral at its feet and the green arms of its hills behind it.
The little town was still half asleep. Middle-aged women were gutting herrings from barrel to barrel, while blood dripped from their broad thumbs; old men were baiting lines with shell-fish; cadgers’ carts were standing empty at the foot of the pier, with their horses’ heads in bags of oats and chopped hay; a hundred fishing-boats by the quay, with their sails hanging slack from their masts, were swaying to the ebbing tide, and an Irish tramp steamer, the Dan O’Connor, was lazily letting down the fires under her black and red funnel.
But at the pier-head, close under the blind eyes of the Cathedral, there was a scene of real activity. It was the fish auction for the night’s catch. The auctioneer, an Irishman, was standing on a barrel, with a circle of fish-cadgers around him, and an empty space, like a cock-pit, in front, to which the long-booted fishermen, one by one, with ponderous agility, were carrying specimen baskets of herrings and dropping them down on the red flags with a thud.
“Now, gintlemen, here’s your last chance of a herring this week. We’re a religious people in the Isle of Man and sorra a wan more will ye get till Tuesday.”
Stowell, who had drawn up his car, and was standing at the back of the crowd, was startled. How had he come to forget that Manx fishing boats did not go out on Saturday or Sunday? Was this going to defeat his plan?
The fish auction went on.
“Now, min, what do you say to forty mease from the Mona? Thirty-five shillin’! Thank you, Mr. Flynn! Any incrase on thirty-five?”
“Thirty-six and a quid for yourself if you’ll lave me to put a sight up on the wife,” said a voice from the back of the crowd.
During the laughter which the rude jest provoked, Stowell looked at the speaker. He was the skipper of the Irish tramp steamer a grizzly old salt, spitting tobacco juice from behind a discoloured hand, and having rascal written on every line of his face.
Turning away, Stowell walked slowly to the further end of the bay, and as slowly back again. A new scheme had occurred to him something better than a fishing-boat, far better. He was now more sure than ever that the Almighty was using him for His righteous ends since even his failures of memory were helping him.
By the time he returned the auction was over. The pier was empty and nobody was in sight except the Irish Captain who was standing on the deck of his ship by the side of the cabin companion. After looking to right and left, Stowell saluted him.
“Where are you going to when you leave Peel, Captain?”
“To Castletown, Sir.”
“And from there?”
“To wherever the dust ” (the money) ” looks brightest.”
“May I come aboard, Captain? I have something to say to you.”
After another look to right and left, Stowell stepped on to the steamer and followed the Captain to his cabin.
When he came on deck r half-an-hour later, his face was flushed.
“Then it’s settled, Captain?”
“Take the world aisy it’s done, Sir.”
“At what time will it be high water on Sunday night?”
“Elivin o’clock, Sir.”
“You’ll sail immediately your passengers come aboard?”
“The minit they put foot on deck, Sir.”
“What about the harbour-master?”
“Him and me are same as brothers.”
“And the turnkey?”
“Willie Shimmin? He’s got a petticoat at the ‘ Manx Arms.’ ”
“You have no doubt you can do it?”
“Divil a doubt in the world, Sir.”
Stowell, back in his car, was driving to Douglas. The Judge had bribed a blackguard, but he was still sure that he was doing God’s service.
Only one thing remained to do now, and through the long hours of an uneasy night he had thought of it. It was not even enough that Bessie Collister should escape from the island. If she were not to be tracked and brought back it was essential that somebody should go with her. Who should it be? There was only one answer to this question Alick Gell.
Would Alick go? He must! Betrayed and deceived as he had been, if he did not see that he must forgive the woman who had faced death for him, and save her from an unjust punishment, Stowell would feel like taking him by the throat and choking him.
But would Gell forgive him also? That was a different matter. Memory flowed back, and he saw again the fierce yet broken creature who had come stumbling into Ballamoar on the night after the adjournment, crying in the torment of his betrayal, “Damn him, whoever he is! Damn him to the devil and hell!”
“No matter! I must face it out,” thought Stowell.
He must unite those two injured ones. And perhaps some day, when they were gone from the island, and safe in some foreign country, the Almighty would accept his act as a kind of reparation and cover up all his wretched wrongdoing in the merciful veil which is God’s memory. But meantime he must go about for a few days longer, a few days after to-day, warily, secretly, unseen and unsuspected by anybody.
Driving into Douglas, he came upon the Chief Constable, Colonel Farrell (a cringer to all above him and a bully to all beneath), who hailed him and said,
“Just the gentleman I wished to see, Sir. It’s about Mr. Gell. Ever since you sentenced that woman of his he has been threatening you, and we’ve had to keep a close watch on him. But he seems to be going out of his mind, and I’ve been warning the Speaker that we may have to put him away. The other night he gave us the slip and we believe he went to Ballamoar.”
“We wish you to allow a plain-clothes man to go about with you for the next few days.”
Stowell was startled.
“No, certainly not. It is quite unnecessary,” he said.
“Well, if you say so it’s all right, Sir. Still, with a madman about, who may make a murderous attack on you . . .”
“Where is he now?”
“In his chambers.”
“Good-morning, Colonel!” said Stowell, and before the Chief Constable had replied he was gone.
A few minutes later the policeman who, for the protection of the Deemster, was on point duty outside Gell’s rooms was astonished to see the Deemster himself go up the carpetless staircase.
At a door on the second landing, with Gell’s name on it in white letters, he stopped and knocked. The door was not opened, but he heard shuffling steps inside and knocked again.
OUT OF THE DEPTHS
ALICK GELL, also, had travelled far.
After his temporary detention at Castletown, he had returned to Douglas in a frenzy.
For four days everything had feel his fury. Having no house-keeper he took his meals in a neighbouring hotel which was frequented by his younger fellow-advocates. Sitting alone in a corner he spoke to none of them, but they seemed to be always speaking at him. In loud voices they praised Stowell his eloquence, his knowledge, above all his impartiality, his superiority to the calls of friendship.
This was gall and wormwood to Gell. He wanted to come face to face with Stowell that he might charge him with his treachery. He knew the police were watching him, but one day he eluded them and took the train to Ballamoar.
It was evening when he got there. The cowman, who lived in the lodge, told him the master was out in his car and might not return until late. To beguile the time of waiting Gell walked in the lanes and woods about the house. These evoked both kind and cruel memories, the worst of them being the memory of the day when he stammered his excuses for loving Bessie Collister, and Stowell had said, “Good-bye and God bless you, old fellow!” What a scoundrel!
The darkness gathered. There was the last bleating of the sheep, the last calling of the curlew (like the cry of a bird without a mate), and then night fell, dark night, without a star, and still Stowell did not come.
Where was he? Gell thought he knew. He was at Government House with Fenella Stanley. They were reconciled, of course, thev were kissing and caressing, while Bessie . . . but no, he dare not think of that.
What stung him most was the thought of the money he had taken from Stowell. It had been neither more nor less than the price of Bessie’s honour. He remembered the Peel fisherman who had burnt his boat. How he wished he had the money now that he might ram it down Stowell’s throat!
There had been rain and the frogs were croaking, but otherwise the air was still. All at once the silence of the Curraghs was broken by a low hum. Stowell’s car was coming! Looking down the long straight road Gell saw its two white headlights opening the darkness like a reversed wedge. Then in a moment, unpremeditated, unprepared for, his wild thirst for personal vengeance returned to him.
“Now, now,” he thought, and he closed the gates to give himself time.
But when Stowell came up and got out of his car to open them, and his lamps lit up his face, a mysterious wave of emotion heaved up out of the depths of Gell’s soul. Something took him by the throat and cried ” Stop! What are you doing?” and he dropped back into the deeper darkness of some bushes behind one of the gateposts. He must have made a noise, for Stowell cried,
But Gell made no answer, and at the next moment Stowell was back in his seat and gliding up the drive.
After that, horrified by the homicidal impulse which had so suddenly taken possession of him, Gell kept his rooms for several days, going out only at night, with the collar of his coat up to his ears, to eat and drink in the tap-room of a low tavern on the quay.
He had been denying himself to everybody who called at his chambers, but one morning there came an unsteady knock, followed by a peremptory voice, saying,
“Alick, let me in!”
It was his father, and an inherited instinct of obedience compelled him to open the door. He was shocked to see the change in the Speaker. His burly figure had become slack, his clothes (especially his trousers) baggy, his long beard thinner and more white, the crown of his head bald. Only his red eyes, with their unquenchable fire, remained the same.
The old man sat down heavily with his stick between his knees, and his trembling hands on its ebony handle.
“I didn’t expect that I should have to come here, but Farrell says that since that trial at Castletown you have not been responsible, and if things go farther he’ll have to put you away.”
“Put me away?”
“Don’t you understand? the asylum.”
“He doesn’t know, father, and neither do you . . .”
“I don’t want to know. If you had listened to me long ago this wouldn’t have happened. But I’m not here to reproach you. I’m here to advise you to do something for your own good mine, too, everybody’s.”
“What is that, father?”
Gell had expected the usual storm and his father’s emotion was moving him deeply.
“Leave the island before anything worse happens. Look ” (the Speaker drew a stout envelope from his breast pocket), “I’ve just been to the bank for you. A thousand pounds in Bank of England notes, and if it’s not enough there’s more where that came from. Take it and go away at once to America anywhere.”
Alick drew back and his lips tightened. “This is a trick to, get me to desert Bessie,” he thought.
“I can’t do it,” he said, and he pushed back the old man’s trembling hand.
The Speaker fixed his red eyes on his son, and said,
“Alick, I must tell you something. I’ve heard on good authority that they are going to hang that girl.”
“They can’t. Some of them would like to, but they can’t.”
“They can and they will, I tell you.”
“Then I’ll . . . I’ll murder . . .”
“There you are! That’s what Farrell says. A little more and you’ll be capable of anything. Go away, my boy. Think of me. It has taken me forty years to get to where I am. I was born neither an aristocrat nor a pauper, but I’ve got my hand on all of them. That’s just the kind of man both sorts would like to pull down. If my son disgraced me I should have to give up everything. Go, my son, go.”
“I can’t, father, I can’t.”
The old man passed his hand over his bald head and in a low voice he said,
“Perhaps I’ve not been a good father exactly, but there’s your mother. Bad as it would be for me it would be worse for her. She has only one son one child you might say and since that affair at Castletown she has never been out of doors just creeping over the fire with her feet in the fender. If you don’t want to bring your mother to her grave . . .”
Gell felt as if his heart were breaking.
“But I can’t, I can’t!”
“You mean you won’t?”
“Very well, I won’t.”
The old man’s voice thickened the storm was coming.
“And for the sake of this woman who killed her brat . . .”
“Call her what you like. I’ll stay here until she comes out of prison, and then . . . then I’ll marry her.”
“You fool! You damned heartless fool! God forgive me for bringing such a fool into the world.”
Struggling to his feet the old man made for the door. But having reached it, and while tugging at the handle, he stopped and said,
“Look here, I’ll give you one more chance.”
He took the stout envelope out of his breast pocket again and flung it on to Alick’s desk.
“There’s the money and this is Monday. If you are not off the island by this day week I’ll not leave matters to Farrell I’ll have you put into a madhouse myself to prevent you from plunging vis all into disgrace and ruin. Idiot! Fool! Madman!”
He screamed like a sea-gull until his breath was gone, and then, gesticulating wildly, went downstairs with heavy thudding steps like a man walking on stilts.
A few minutes later Gell, going to the window with wet eyes, saw his father on the opposite side of the street, looking up at the house as if half minded to return. His stick fell from his nervous hand, and with difficulty he picked it up. It dropped again, and a passer-by handed it back. Then he went off in the direction of the railway station, dragging his feet after him.
Frightened by what his father had said about the intention of the Chief Constable to have him arrested as insane, Gell stayed indoors altogether.
This meant days without food. At first he drank a great deal of water, being very thirsty. Then his thirst abated and his head began to feel light. After a while he became dizzy, and even in the darkness everything seemed to float about him.
On the morning after his father’s visit he heard a woman’s step on the stairs, followed by her knock at his door. He thought it was his sister Isabella and that she had come, with her sharp tongue, to remonstrate, so he made no answer.
On the day following he heard the same light step. Isabella again! But no, she had always railed against Bessie, and he was not going to give her another opportunity of doing so.
Meantime, without food or drink, he was travelling fast towards the borderland of the desert realm of Insanity, with its cruelly-beautiful mirages.
Lying on his sofa with eyes closed he was picturing to himself the day of Bessie’s release, when he would go to Castletown to bring her away, and then the day after, when he would marry her, and then the day after that when they would leave the island for America Bessie walking along the pier with head down, but himself with head up, as if saying, “There you are I told you so!”
The knock came again, and again he did not answer it. “No, no, Mistress Isabella! You shan’t speak ill to me of the woman who cared so much for me that she went to prison for my sake.”
He had still travelled farther by this time. He was out in the middle-west, on one of the high plains of that free continent. He was working at his profession. He. was not a great lawyer, but he could speak out of his heart, and when he defended injured women juries heard him and judges listened.
He saw them coming to him from far and near that long trail of the broken followers after the merciless army of civilisation. They were nearly always poor and could pay him nothing. But what matter about that? At home, at night, wet or cold, there was a bowl of soup, a cheerful fire and . . . Bessie!
On the Saturday morning he awoke from a dizzy sleep, with the sun shining into his room and the sea outside the breakwater singing softly. He was in his shirt sleeves, for he had thrown himself on the bed in his clothes; his boots were unbuttoned; his fair hair was tangled; he had not shaved for many days.
Again he heard the light step on the stairs. But something in the rustle of the dress seemed to say that after all it was not his sister. He listened. There were two knocks, louder and more insistent than before; then the rattle of the brass lid of his letter-box, and then something falling on the floor.
A letter! After the light footsteps had gone downstairs he crept over the carpet on tiptoe, picked up the letter and looked at it. There were two lines at the top, partly printed, and partly written
“Castle Rushen Prison Number 7.”
Gell stared at the blue envelope, and then with trembling fingers tore it open. It was the letter which Bessie had dictated to Fenella Stanley. She was to die, and was calling on him to save her. Through her heart-breaking words he could hear her cries and supplications. The letter had been written five days ago, and in two days more she was to be executed!
Whatever he had been before, Gell was no longer a sane man now. He was thinking of Stowell and cursing him. Oh, that God would I only put it in his power to punish him!
Then he remembered that this was the Deemster’s fortnightly Court-day. The Court began to sit at eleven, and it was now half-past ten.
He would go across to the Court-house. Why not? He was an advocate nobody dare refuse him admission to a Court of Law. And as soon as Stowell stepped on to the bench he would rise in his place and cry, ” You scoundrel! Come down from the Judgment seat! Because you were rich you thought you could buy a man’s soul and a woman’s body. But take that, and that!” and then he would fling his father’s money into Stowell’s face.
At that moment, having parted from the Chief Constable, Stowell was driving down the street.
Gell dragged his black bag from the corner into which he had thrown it on returning from Castletown, and put on his gown without remembering that he was in his shirt-sleeves, and then his wig, without knowing that his hair was dishevelled.
He was staggering from weakness and the pictures on the walls were going round him with an increasing vertigo, but he was struggling to regain his strength.
He heard a step on the stair (a man’s step this time) and then a firm knock at his door.
“Farrell!” he thought. The Chief Constable was coming to arrest him. But nobody should do that yet not until he had come face to face with Stowell.
The knock was repeated.
“Go away!” he cried.
Then he pulled open the door, and found Stowell himself standing on the threshold. He fell back breathless. Stowell entered the room and closed the door behind him.
“I have something to say to you.”
“Go away, I tell you.”
“But I have something to tell you.”
“There’s only one thing you can tell me. Is it true is she to die?”
“It … it is so appointed.”
“Then take that,” cried Gell, and flinging himself upon Stowell with the fury of madness he struck him in the face and laid open his cheek-bone.
There was an awful silence. Gell had staggered to c, book-case behind him, expecting Stowell to strike back. But Stowell remained standing, and then said, with a break in his voice,
“I have well deserved it.”
That was too much for Gell. He began to stammer incoherently and when he saw a streak of blood begin to flow down Stowell’s cheek he broke down altogether. Out of the depths of a thousand memories of their friendship, all the way up since they were boys, a great tide of tenderness came surging over him, and he dropped into a chair and cried,
“Then it’s true I’m mad.”
But after another moment he was up and hurrying into the next room for a sponge and a basin of water.
“It’s nothing! Nothing at all,” said Stowell. “See, it has stopped already. And now sit down and listen.”
A few minutes later they were sitting side by side on the sofa Gell sniffling, Stowell talking quietly.
“Bessie is waiting for you. She thinks you are trying to obtain her pardon.”
“I know. She has written. But what can I do? Nothing!”
“If I can help her to escape from Castle Rushen will you take her away from the island?”
Gell’s eyes glistened. “Only give me the chance,” he said.
“She could never come back. Therefore you could never come back either.”
“What do I care?”
“You would have to give up everything your inheritance, your family, your . . .!”
” I … I can’t help that.”
“You are sure you would never regret the sacrifice?”
“Never! Only show me the way …”
“I will,” said Stowell.
And then he explained his scheme and the motives which had inspired it. He had been compelled to condemn the girl, according to law, but he had come to see that the old Statute was a crime, and that it was his duty to break it.
“Do you say that, Victor you?”
An Irish tramp steamer would be lying in Castletown Harbour on Sunday night. She would berth in front of the Castle, not more than fifteen yards from the gates. At eleven o’clock Stowell would open the Deemster’s private door and bring Bessie out. Gell must be there to take her aboard. The tide being up, the vessel would sail immediately. She would sail north, past the Point of Ayre, to give the appearance of going to Scotland; but in the morning, when out of sight from the land, she would steer south and land her passengers at Queenstown. Atlantic liners called there twice a week and Gell and Bessie must take passages to New York. On reaching New York they must travel west far west . . .
“But can it be done? Can you get Bessie out of the Castle?”
“I’ve counted every chance,” said Stowell. “Whatever happens, I must not fail.”
“What a good fellow . . .” began Gell, but Stowell dropped his head and hurried on with his story.
“I’ve given the Irish Captain a hundred pounds, and you are to give him another hundred when he puts you ashore at Queenstown. I’ll find you the money.”
“No, no! I’ve enough of my own see,” said Gell, and he showed the bundle of banknotes given to him by his father.
“Your father gave you that?”
“Yes, to pay my way to America.”
Stowell’s face glowed with a kind of superstitious rapture. More than ever now he was certain he was doing right, that the Divine powers were directing him. But all the same he kept up the cunning of the criminal.
“I must see you again to-morrow night in some secret place. Where shall it be?”
“Why not the Miss Browns’ at Derby Haven? They’ll hold their tongues. They owe me something.”
“Very well, eight o’clock, Sunday night,” said Stowell, and he rose to go.
“What a good fellow . – ” began Gell again, but Stowell looked at him and he stopped.
The Deemster’s Court had to wait for the Deemster. When he arrived with a patch of plaster on his cheek-bone, he told Joshua Scarff that he had accidentally knocked his face against a gasbracket and had had to go to a chemist to get the wound dressed.
It was an intricate case he tried that day, but the advocates engaged in it said he had never before been so cool, so clear, so collected.
“After all, the Governor knew what he was doing,” they told themselves.
That night, Saturday night, after a furtive visit to the tavern on the quay, Gell slipped through the back streets to the railway station and leapt into the last train for the north as the carriages were leaving the platform.
He was going home to say good-bye to his mother not with his tongue, for he had no hope of speaking to her, but with his eyes and his heart. If he could only see her for a moment before leaving the island!
It was late when he reached the lane to his father’s house, and the night was dark,, for it was the time between the going and the coming of two moons.
At length the blacker darkness of the house stood out against the gloomy sky. There was no light in any of the windows the family had gone to bed. But Alick had been born there, and he thought he could find his way blindfold.
For some time he walked stealthily about, trying to discover the dining-room window, for he remembered what his father had said about his mother sitting with her feet in the fender. He found it at last, but, peering behind the edge of the blind, he saw nothing except the dull slack of the fire dropping to ashes in the grate.
Groping about in the darkness on the gravel his footsteps had made a noise and presently a dog inside began to bark. It was his own dog, Mona, and he remembered that when he was a boy he had bought her as a pup for five shillings from a farmer and brought her home in his arms, licking his hand.
The dog’s clamour awakened the household, and presently, through the long staircase window, he saw his sisters on the landing, in their nightdresses and curl-papers, carrying candles and looking frightened.
Then the sash of a window went up with a bang and his father’s voice came in a husky roar through the night,
With a chill down his back, Alick turned about and hurried away, feeling that he was being driven from the home of his boyhood as if he were a thief.
NEXT day was Sunday. It was a blind day at Ballamoar, with a chill air and white mists sweeping up from the sea.
In the morning Stowell went to church. In the afternoon he sat in the Library, reading in many volumes the stories of prison-breakings and escapes. He saw that in nearly every case of failure chance had played a part at the last moment, and he thought hard to foresee every possible contingency.
Towards evening he brought his car round from the garage and told Janet not to wait up for him. She had delivered Fenella’s message (” Tell him to come back to me “) and thought she knew where he was going to. He was going to Government House. The sweet old soul was very happy.
“I’ll leave the piazza door on the catch, dear,” she said, as he u as going off into the moving shadows of the trees.
By the time he reached Castletown the mist had deepened to a fog. The broad tower of the Castle looked monstrously large and forbidding against the gloom of the sky, and the fog-horn of the light-house on Langness was blowing with a measured and melancholy sound across the unseen sea.
Coming upon a tholthan (a ruined cottage) by the roadside he ran his car into it, and then walked into the town.
The little place was once the capital of the island, and still retained many of its primitive characteristics. There were no lamps in the streets, which were therefore quite dark. Only a few of the houses gave out light, for the younger children were already in bed. and their parents were trooping to church or chapel.
The church bells were ringing. Save for that, and the footsteps of his fellow pedestrians who walked in the darkness beside him, Stowell heard nothing but the blowing of the far-off fog-horn. Everything favoured his design. “It was meant to be,” he told himself.
Nevertheless he was conscious of making his steps light and of trying to escape observation. He took the least frequented thorough – fares, so that he might walk fast and not be recognised, but in a narrow lane that ran along under the Castle he came upon a pitiful spectacle and was compelled to stop.
An elderly woman, wearing little except her nightdress, with her feet bare and her long grey hair hanging loose, was kneeling on the paved way and praying.
“Oh Lord, as Thou didst send Thine angel to take Peter out of prison, send him now to take my poor girl out of the Castle.”
By a dull light from a curtained window, Stowell saw who the poor demented creature was. It was Mrs. Collister. Little as he desired it, he had to pick her up and take her home.
“Come, mother,” he said, raising her to her feet.
She looked into his face with awe, and permitted herself to be led away by the hand like a child. A group of boys and girls who had gathered round told him where she lived and that she was the mother of the woman who was to be “hangt” in the morning.
Just then the people, a man and his wife, with whom she lodged, came hurrying up, saying they had left her in bed while they went into their yard on some errand and on returning to the kitchen they had missed her.
In a few moments they were all at the open door of the house, a tiny place two steps down from the street, with a lamp burning on the table.
Finding the light on his face Stowell said Good-evening and hurried away, but not before the man and his wife had seen him.
“That must be the young Dempster,” said the man.
“It was his father,” said Mrs. Collister.
“But his father is dead, woman,” said the wife.
“It was his father, I tell thee,” said Mrs. Collister, and they let her have her way.
Still the church-bells rang, the fog-horn blew and Stowell stepped lightly through the dark streets of the little town. He passed the new Methodist chapel with the dark figure of the pew-opener against the coloured glass screen of the vestibule; the barracks, with the sentinel pacing outside and a number of red -coated soldiers in a bare room within, smoking and playing cards. The market-square was ablaze with light from the windows of the church (the same at which Bessie had kept Oie’l Verree) and the shadowy forms of the congregation were passing in at the porch.
At length he reached the quay with its smell of rock-salt and tar. The Dan O’Connell was lying under the Castle gates, lazily getting up steam, and the Captain was smoking by the gangway.
“Everything right, Captain?”
“Will the fog interfere?”
“Not a ha’porth, yer Honour.”
“What about the Harbour-master?”
“In church with the wife, but I’m to have supper with him after the sarvice and take a bottle of something.”
“And the Turnkey?”
“Blind polatic at the ‘Manx Arms,’ Sir.”
There came a dull hammering from inside the Castle. Stowell shivered.
“Will they be gone in time?”
“Going back by the last train they’re telling me.”
“You’ll whistle when you’re clear away?”
As Stowell crossed the foot-bridge at the back of the Church, he heard the congregation singing the opening hymn (“Nearer, my God, to Thee “) and thought he knew the subject of the forthcoming sermon. The melancholy blowing of the fog-horn was coming through the blindness of the sea; the revolving light was blinking in and out on Langness.
A quarter of an hour later he was at Derby Haven. Most of the houses of the little port were dark, but the window of one of them gave out a faint light. Stowell tapped at it and Gell opened the door.
For two hours they sat together in the old maids’ stuffy sitting-room, talking in whispers. Stowell gave Gell his last instructions.
“You remember that there are two gates to the Castle?”
“At eleven o’clock exactly, the moment the clock has ceased striking, you’ll ring at the big gate, and then step round to the Deemster’s.”
“Somebody will open the gate. It will be the jailer. If he calls you’ll make no answer.”
“As soon as he has closed the big gate the little one will be opened and Bessie will be brought out to you.”
“That’s all. You know the rest.”
After that there was a cold silence, quite unlike the warmth of yesterday. Each was thinking of the cruel thing which had come between them, and neither dared to talk about. At length Gell, taking something from his pocket, said,
“I owe you some money.”
“No, you don’t. Remember the terms I lent it on.”
“Then take this anyway,” said Gell, handing Stowell a sealed envelope.
After that there was another long silence, and then Gell said, in a thick voice,
“When we’re far enough away I’ll write.”
“Do you mean that I’m never to write to you?”
“But I will … I must. . . .”
“Don’t be a damned fool, man. Can’t you see you never can?”
There was a pause.
“Victor,” said Gell, “that’s the first unkind word you have ever said to me.”
“Alick,” said Stowell, “it shall be the last.”
The wash of the tide (it was near to the flood) on the stones of the shore, the monotonous blowing of the fog-horn and the deliberate ticking of the clock on the mantelpiece were the only sounds they heard except the irregular heave of their own breathing.
The two men were alternately watching the fingers of the clock and gazing down at the pattern of the carpet. At a few minutes to ten Stowell got up and said,
“I must go now.”
“I’ll walk down the road with you,” said Gell.
They walked side by side in the mist until they came to the ruins of Hango Hill (where long before Alick had had his fight with the townsmen) and were breast to breast with King William’s College.
“You had better go back now. We must not be seen together,” said Stowell.
They stood for some moments without speaking. The clock in the school tower was striking ten. The school itself was in darkness. Another generation of boys were lying asleep in it now.
“I suppose we’ve got to say good-bye,” said Gell.
Stowell made no reply, but he took Gell’s hand and there was a long handclasp. Then they separated, Stowell going on towards the town, and Gell turning back to Derby Haven. Each had walked a few paces when Gell stopped and called,
“What is it?”
There was a pause, and then, in a thick voice,
And so they parted.
There was loud laughter and a voice with a brogue from a house on the quay with the blind down but the top sash of the window partly open. The church was dark and the market-place silent, save for the measured tread of the sentry.
But as Stowell crossed the square he heard a light step and saw through the thick air the shadowy form of a woman coming from the direction of the Castle and going towards the hotel opposite.
He hung back until she had passed, and when the door of the hotel opened to her knocking, and the light from within rushed out on her, he saw who it was.
It was Fenella. Stowell understood. She had come from the cell of the condemned woman, and was sleeping in Castletown that night in order to be with her in the morning.
“But wait! Only wait!”
In spite of his certainty that Providence was on his side he stepped more lightly than ever as he went down to the quay.
The funnel of the Irish steamer was now throbbing hard, and a few sailors on the forward deck were swearing. Save for this and the wash of the tide against the sides of the harbour, all was still.
Stowell looked around and listened for a moment. Then he stepped up to the Deemster’s door and pulled the bell, and heard its clang inside the walls.
“Ah, is it you, Dempster? You’ve come for Miss Stanley? She’s just gone, Sir.”
“I know. I saw her. Are you alone, Mr. Vondy?”
“Alone enough, Sir. It’s shocking! The night before an execution too! That Willie Shimmin, the drunken gommeral, went off at four and isn’t back yet. I wouldn’t trust but I’ll be here by myself until the High Bailiff and the Inspector and long Duggie Taggart come at six in the morning.”
“How is your prisoner to-night, Mr. Vondy?”
“Wonderful quiet, Sir.”
“Still expecting her pardon?”
“‘Deed she is, poor bogh, and listening for Mr. Cell’s feet to fetch it. Now she thinks he’ll come in the morning. ‘Something tells me he’ll come at daybreak,’ she said, and that’s the for she’s gone to sleep.”
They had reached the guard-room, where a fire was burning, and an old oak armchair (once the seat of the Kings of Man) was drawn up in front of the hearth.
“Gone to sleep, has she? I must see her though. I have something to tell her.”
“Is it the pardon itself, Sir? Has it come then?”
“Not yet, but a telegram may come from London at any moment.”
“You don’t say?”
“Give me your key, and sit here and make your supper” (a kettle was singing on the hob), ” and if you hear the bell you will go off to the gate immediately.”
“I will that, Sir.”
At the end of a long corridor Stowell stopped at a cell that had a label on the door-post (” Elizabeth Corteen. Murder. Death “) and looked in through the grill. In the dim light he saw the prisoner lying on her plank bed under her brown prison blanket. With a tremor of the heart he opened the door quietly and closed it behind him.
It had been hardly more than a whisper, but through the mists of sleep Bessie heard it. There was a cry, a bound, and then a rapturous voice saying in the half darkness,
“Ah, you are here already! I knew you would come.”
But at the next moment, seeing who her visitor was, she stared at him with wide-open eyes, and then fell on him with reproaches.
“So it’s you, is it? What have you come for? Is it only to tell me that I’m to die in the morning?”
Stowell stood with head down, feeling like a prisoner before his Judge. Then he said,
“You are not to die, Bessie.”
She caught her breath and put up her hands to her breast.
“Do you mean that I am . . .”
“You are pardoned and have to leave this place immediately.”
For a perceptible time Bessie stood silent, save for her breathing, which was loud and rapid.
“Is it true? Really true?”
There is something childlike in sudden joy; Paradise itself must be a place of children. Bessie dropped back on her bed. clasped her hands together like a child, and said,
“I see it all now, and it has been just as I thought at first. You wrote a letter to the King and he has pardoned me. The law is hard but the King is so tender-hearted. ‘Poor girl,’ he thought, ‘she didn’t mean to kill her baby not after it came, anyway.'”
Her eyes, which had been glistening, suddenly became grave, and lifting them to the ceiling, with her hands clasped before her face, she began to pray.
“Oh God, I’ve not been a good girl and I don’t know how to pray right, but …” and then came a flood of words too sacred to be set down.
When she had finished her prayer she said,
“But you have been good too, and I have been insulting you! That’s the way with a girl when she has been in trouble. You’ll forgive me, won’t you?”
Her face lit up and she went on talking, more to herself than to Stowell.
“Did you say I was to leave this place immediately? That means first thing to-morrow, doesn’t it? I’ll go to mother. She’s staying with some Methodist people in Quay Lane. Poor mother, she won’t be able to believe it. We’ll go home by the first train.”
Thinking of home she found a kind of proud revenge in triumphing over her enemies.
“Dan Baldroma will have to hold his tongue now. And those Skillicornes will never be allowed to show their ugly old faces again. And Cain the constable will have to find another beat, too, and those impudent girls who stared at me at Douglas station they’ll never have the face to sit in the singing-seat again.”
But the smiling background of her thoughts was love.
“Alick will hear of it, won’t he? I wrote to him but he didn’t answer. Perhaps his sisters prevented him they’ve always been casting me up to him. Poor Alick! He’ll forgive me I know he will. It was for Alick I did it. And just think! Next Sunday, perhaps, when people are walking about, we’ll go down Parliament Street together! And me on Alick’s arm, and nobody to say a word against it, now that the King has forgiven me!”
Stowell hardly dared to look at the girl. For a long time he could not speak. But at length he compelled himself to tell her that she was not to go home. It was a condition of her pardon that she should leave the island.
“Leave the island?”
“Yes, there’s a steamer in the harbour, and you are to sail by it to-night.”
“Yes, to Ireland, and from there, by another steamer, to New York.”
“To New York?”
“Yes, but Alick is to go with you. I’ve just left him. We have arranged everything.”
She looked searchingly into his agitated face and the radiance died off her own.
“But are you telling me the truth?” she said. “Am I really pardoned? You are not helping me to escape, are you?”
He pretended to laugh it was hollow laughter.
“What an idea! A Deemster helping a prisoner to escape!
Who would believe such a thing?”
“No! People wouldn’t believe such a thing, would they?” she said, and her eyes again began to shine.
“At eleven o’clock the big bell will ring,” said Stowell. “That will be Alick coming for you. You must give me your hand and I’ll take you down to him.”
“Oh, how happy we shall be!” she said. ” We shall go far away, I suppose where nobody will know what has happened here?”
“Yes, but you must make no noise on going out, and not call to anybody.”
“But Mr. Vondy he has been so good I may stop and thank him?”
“He won’t be there. I’ll give him your message.”
“But mother if I’m going so far away I must say good-bye to her.”
“No, I’m sorry the steamer will sail immediately.”
She looked again into his agitated face and then, raising her voice, she said,
“Mr. Stowell, you are deceiving me. I have not been pardoned. You are helping me to escape.”
But (again in a loud voice) she cried,
“Don’t lie to me any longer. Tell me the truth.”
He hesitated for a moment, and then he told her. Yes, he was helping her to escape. He had tried to procure her pardon and failed, so he had determined to set her free.
While she listened to his tremulous voice she became a prey to a strange confusion. For days she had felt as if she hated this man, and now a mysterious feeling of warmth from the past came over her.
“But what about you?” she asked.
“I can take care of myself,” he answered.
“But if anything becomes known after Alick and I have gone . . .”
“Nothing will become known.”
“But if anything does, and you get into trouble . . .”
“Bessie,” said Stowell (he was breathing hard), ” I did you a great wrong a year ago . . .”
“No, that was as much my fault as yours. I have been praying and praying for pardon, but rather than run away now and leave you to … No, I won’t go!”
There was a moment of uneasy silence and then Stowell said,
“Alick is waiting outside for you, Bessie. He is ready to give up everything in the world for your sake. Are you going to break his heart at the last moment?”
“But I can’t! I can’t! I … I won’t! And you shan’t either. Mr. Vondy! Mr. Von …”
“Be quiet! Be quiet!”
She had tried to reach the door, but he had thrown his arms about her and was covering her mouth to smother her cries. Ceasing to shout she began to moan, and then he tried to coax her.
“Come, girl! Trust me! I know what I’m doing. Pull yourself together. Stand up! It’s nearly eleven o’clock. You’ll have to walk to the gate presently. Come now, be brave.”
But her eyes had closed, and by the dim light from the grill he saw that she was insensible.
“Bessie! Bessie!” he whispered, but she was lying helpless in his arms.
For a moment he was bewildered. Of all the chances that might prevent success this was the only one he had not counted with. But at the next instant his mind, which was working with lightning-like rapidity, saw a new opportunity.
“Better so,” he thought, and laying the unconscious woman on her bed he hurried back to the jailer.
“Mr. Vondy! Mr. Vondy! Your prisoner is ill.”
The jailer, who had fallen asleep after his supper, staggered to his feet.
“God bless my soul! And the doctor living at the other end of the town too.”
“Never mind the doctor! Brandy! Quick!”
“There isn’t a drop in the Castle, Sir.”
“Yes, there’s a flask in my room. Take these ” (giving him a bunch of keys) ” and go for it.”
“Where will I find it, Sir?”
“I don’t know. I can’t remember. Look everywhere in every drawer, every cupboard.”
“I will, your Honour!”
“Don’t come back without it.”
“I won’t, Sir.” And still in the mists of sleep the jailer picked up his lantern from the table and staggered off.
Stowell listened to the sounds of the old man’s retreating footsteps until they had died away.
“This will give more time,” he thought he had sent the jailer on a fruitless errand.
It was then five minutes to eleven. Returning to the cell he lifted Bessie in his arms and carried her out of the prison. At first he was no more conscious of her weight than he had been of the weight of the sheep on the mountains.
But outside it was very dark, and at every uncertain step his burden became heavier. In the open space between the main building and the outer walls the fog lay thick as in a well, and it was as much as he could do to see one foot before him.
Over the wooden drawbridge his feet fell with a thudding sound, but he groped for the grass at the bottom of the stone steps, so that he should not be heard on the gravel path.
There was no sound in the courtyard except that of the fierce belching from the funnel of the steamer, the wash of the tide in the harbour, the boom of the sea in the bay and the monotonous blowing of the fog-horn.
He was making for the Deemster’s private entrance and had no light to guide him except the borrowed gleam from the door to the Deemster’s rooms, which the jailer in his haste had left open.
As he passed this door he heard the sound of the rapid opening and closing of drawers. The weight of the woman in his arms was becoming unbearable.
At one moment he saw the shadowy outlines of a white thing which the carpenters had erected against the walls. He shuddered and went on.
The damp air was chill and Bessie began to revive under it. At first she breathed heavily, and then she made those low, inarticulate moans of returning consciousness which are the most unearthly sounds that come from human lips.
“Mr. Von … Mr. Von . . .”
Both arms being engaged, Stowell had to crush the girl’s mouth against his breast to stop her cries. They ceased and she swooned again.
His burden was becoming monstrous. With a savage strength of will and muscle he struggled along. At length he reached the Deemster’s door. It was fastened as he knew, not only by the lock of which the key was in his waistcoat pocket, but also by three long bolts. With the unconscious girl in his arms it was as much as he could do to open it. At last he did so. A pale face was outside. It was Gell’s.
“Take her she has fainted.” Not another word was spoken.
Gell, breathing rapidly, took Bessie into his arms, and carried her across the quay. Stowell watched him until he reached the gangway, and then the sea mist hid him. He heard Gell walking on the deck and then going, with heavy footsteps, down the cabin companion.
He closed the Deemster’s door, locked and bolted it, and then turned back to the prison. Again he kept to the grass and was conscious of an effort to make his footsteps light.
On reaching the drawbridge he looked back and listened. The opening and closing of drawers was still audible. The funnel of the steamer was still belching invisible smoke, and red sparks from the fires below were shooting through it. The tide was still washing in the harbour, the sea was still booming in the bay, and the fog-horn was still blowing on Langness. Save for these sights and sounds, everything was dark and silent within the great blind walls.
Then the clock in the tower struck eleven. Every stroke fell on the clammy air like a blow from a padded hammer.
Five minutes passed.
Stowell had returned to the cell, stretched out the brown prison blankets so as to give the appearance, in the dim light, of a body on the bed. and was now sitting in the armchair before the fire in the guard-room. His work was not yet done, and he was listening to the sounds outside. Until the steamer had sailed he must remain in the Castle to keep watch on the jailer. He was more sure than ever that he was doing God’s work, but he was still behaving like a criminal.
Footsteps approached. The jailer entered, mopping his forehead.
“I can’t find it, your Honour, and I’ve searched everywhere.”
“Never mind, Mr. Vondy. Your prisoner recovered from her attack and is now sleeping peacefully.”
“Sleeping, is she? I’ll take a look at her.”
“Don’t! I mean don’t go into the cell and disturb her.”
“I won’t, Sir,” said the jailer, from half-way down the corridor.
Stowell listened intently. Presently the jailer returned.
“Aw, yes, she’s fast enough! Wonderful the way they sleep on the last night. Something you told her, perhaps. Has the telegram come, your Honour?”
“No, and it won’t come now. Eleven o’clock, they said. If it didn’t come then I was not to expect it.”
“Poor bogh! It will be a shocking thing when Duggie Taggart comes in the morning. I wouldn’t trust but it will be a dead woman itself we’ll be taking out of the cell, Sir.”
“I wouldn’t trust,” said Stowell.
Insensibly he had dropped into the Anglo-Manx. He was trying to find some excuse for remaining.
“It’ll be a middlin’ cold drive home, old friend couldn’t you make me a cup of coffee?”
“With pleasure, Sir,” said the jailer. And while the old man stirred the peats and hung the kettle on the slowrie, Stowell, listening at the same time to the voices without (the husky brogue of the Irish Captain and the guttural croaking of the half -tipsy harbour-master) got him to tell the story of his appointment.
“It was thirty years ago, when I was coachman at Ballamoar in the ‘Stranger’s’ days a wonderful kind woman your mother was, Sir.”
“Hurry up, boys. Bear a hand with that crank” the swing-bridge was being opened; the steamer was to go out in spite of the fog.
“I used to be taking her for drives in the morning, and it was always ‘Thank you, Mr. Vondy! A beautiful drive, Mr. Vondy!’ Aw, gentry, Sir, gentry born!”
“Damn your eyes, let go that forrard rope ” the Captain was on the bridge.
“We had a young Irish mare in them days, Sir, and coming home one morning in harvest, not more than a month before your Honour was born, Illiam Christian (he was always a toot was Illiam) started his new reaper in the road field just as we were passing tho Nappin, and the mare bolted.”
“Why the divil don’t you take in the slack of that starn rope? Do you want me to come down and dump you overboard?” the funnels had ceased to roar and the paddles were plashing.
“I was a middling strong young fellow then, Mr. Stowell, Sir, and if the mare pulled I pulled too, until one of the reins broke at me and I was flung off the box.”
“Aisy does it! Take in that breast rope, bys” the steamer was passing through the gate.
“I wasn’t for letting go for all. Not me! Just holding on like mad, though it was tossing and tumbling on the road I was like a mollag in a dirty sea.”
“Half steam below there ” the steamer was opening the bay.
“I bet her at last, Sir, and up she came at the Ballamoar gates blowing like a smithy bellows and sweating tremenjous, but quiet as a lamb.”
“Heave oh and away!”
“I was ragged and torn like a scarecrow, and herself was as white as a sea-gull, but never a scratch, thank God!”
“The Dempster had heard the yelling on the road and down the drive he came in his dressing-gown and slippers, trembling like a ghost. And when he saw it was all right with herself, ‘Mr. Vondy,’ says he, with the water in his eyes, ‘I’ll never forget it, Mr. Vondy,’ he says.”
“And he didn’t?”
“‘Deed no! Aw, a grand man, the ould Dempster, Sir. Middlin’ stiff in the upper lip, but a man of his word for all. And when Capt’n Crow pegged out and this place was vacant he put me in for it.”
Straining his powers of listening Stowell was still waiting for the whistle that was to tell him the steamer was clear away.
“Crow? That was Nelson’s Crow, wasn’t it?”
“Nelson’s Crow it was, Sir. One-eyed Crow we were calling him. He was boatswain on the Victory, and when the big man went down he was in the cockpit holding him in his arms. ‘Will I die, Mr. Crow?’ said Nelson. ‘We had better wait for the opinion of the ship’s doctor, Sir,’ said Crow.”
There was a long shrill whistle from a distance. Stowell leapt to his feet and laughed the steamer had gone.
“Ah, a rael Manxman, wasn’t he? Wouldn’t commit himself, you see.”
Then he slapped the jailer on the shoulder and said,
“So you’ve been here thirty years, old friend?”
“About that, Sir,” said the jailer.
“But do you know you wouldn’t be here thirty hours longer if I were to tell the Governor what you’ve done to-night?”
“Why, what’s that, your Honour?”
“Left a condemned prisoner without guard, or even without remembering to lock her up and carry away the keys ” and he threw the keys of the cell on the table.
“God bless me, yes! I never thought of that. But it was yourself that sent me out, and your Honour will not tell.”
“Not I, old friend. But listen! Nobody in the island knows
that I’ve been trying to get your prisoner’s pardon, and now that it hasn’t come, it’s better that nobody should know. So you’ll say nothing to anybody about my being here to-night?”
“Not a word, Sir. But you’ve done your best for the poor bogh, and it’s Himself will reward you.”
It was not until Stowell was outside the Castle that he reflected that whatever else happened in the morning the jailer must certainly fall into disgrace.
“I must find a way to make it up to him,” he thought.
The quay was deserted and the berth of the tramp steamer in the harbour was an empty space, but in the fever of his impatience Stowell walked to the end of the pier to make sure that the ship had gone.
The fog had lifted a little by this time, the fog-horn was no longer blowing, and against the dark sea he could just make out the darker hull of the steamer leaving the bay. Farther away he saw the revolving light from Langness, which was shooting red vapour into the sky like breath from fiery nostrils. The night air was still cold, but his forehead was perspiring.
Bessie would be recovering consciousness by this time. “Where am I?” she would be saying. And then she would hear the throb of the engines and the wash of the water, and see Alick by her side.
For a moment he lost sight of the ship’s stern light (a mist was sweeping over the surface of the sea) and his anxiety became agony, but it reappeared at the other side of the light-house and his spirits rose again. Yes, she was steering north.
“Sail on! Sail on! Sail on!”
He returned to the town. In the thinning fog everything looked immensely large and frightening. He walked slowly in order not to attract attention. Passing through the narrow streets he found nearly all the houses dark. Only two or three of the upper windows showed light, and from one of them, partly open, he heard the cry of a sick child.
But in a winding lane, close under the Castle, he came upon cottage that was lit up in the lower storey, and loud with many voices. He recognised it as the house at which he had left Mrs. Collister, and understood what was happening. The old woman’s Primitive friends were holding a prayer-meeting by her bedside in the kitchen to comfort her. A man was praying and many women were shouting responses.
“Save the sinner. O Lord!” (Hallelujah!) “She may be inside prison walls to-night, but show her the Golden Gates are always open.” (Hallelujah!) “Remember Thy servant, her mother!” (Aw yes, remember her!) “Her soul is passing through deep waters.” (‘Deed it is, Lord!) “Stretch out Thy hand as Thou didst to Peter of old and suffer her not to sink.”
Outside the town Stowell had an impulse to run. He found his motor-car where he had left it and pushed it into the road. While lighting his lamp he thought he heard sounds from the direction of the Castle. Had the escape become known? He listened for anything that might denote alarm. There was nothing.
The Castle clock struck twelve. The fog had nearly gone now, and looking back he saw the gloomy and forbidding fortress towering over the sleeping town. A few stars had appeared above it.
All was quiet. The condemned woman had escaped from Castle Rushen. There was nothing to show that he himself had been there.
With a last look back he started his engine and released his levers, and his car shot away.
THE GRAVE OF A SIN
NEARLY three hours later Stowell was at the Point of Ayre, where the head of the island looks into the sea. Leaving his car at the end of the last paved road he walked over the bent-strewn plain to where the tall, white, brown-belted light-house stands up against sea and sky. The light-houseman, who had just put out the light, seeing the Deemster approach, went down to meet him.
“May I go up to your lantern, Light-houseman? I’ve always wanted to see the sun rise from there.”
“With pleasure, your Honour,”said the Light -houseman, and he led the way up the circular stone stairway, through the eye of the light-house, with its glistening columns of bevelled glass, to the iron-railed gallery that ran like a scarf round its neck.
For a long half -hour Stowell walked to and fro there. He felt as if he were on the prow of some mighty ship, with the sea racing in white foam along the rocks on either side. Far below were the booming waves; the sea-fowl were calling in the midway air; the sky to the east was reddening; the day was striding over the waters and driving the trailing garments of the night before it, and the sea was singing the great song of the dawn.
At last, straining his sight to the south, he saw what he had come to see a steamer with a red and black funnel. Kept back during the dark hours by the fog on the coast, she was now coming on at full-speed.
There was a pang in thinking that this was the last he t was to see of the two who were aboard of her, but there was a boundless joy in it also. They were united; they were happy; they were safe; he had wiped out his offence against them.
He watched the vessel as she passed. She lurched a little as she went through the cross-current of the Point. But now she was out in the Channel; now she was heading towards the Mull of Galloway; now she was fading into the northern mist and seemed to be dropping oft’ into another planet.
At half -past three Stowell was back in his car. He could go home now with a cleaner heart, a surer conscience. It was a beautiful morning. The sun had risen. It was slanting over his shoulder as he drove along the grass-grown road on the north-west coast, with the sea singing and dancing by his side over a stretch of yellow sand. The lambs were bleating in the fields and the larks were loud in the sky.
What relief! What joy! His car was bounding on past the Lhen, the Nappin, the old Jurby church with its four-square tower on the edge of the cliff going faster than he knew, faster and still faster, like a winged creature, parting the way as it went, making the road itself to fly open, and the hedges, the trees, and the sleeping farm-houses to slant off on either side, and coming round at last, as with the heart of a bride, to the big gates of Ballamoar.
Home once more!
As he slackened speed and slid up the drive the rooks were calling in the tall elms and the song-birds in the bushes were singing. As silently as possible he ran his car into the garage and crept into the house.
The blinds were down and the rooms were dull with a yellow light, like sunshine behind closed eyelids. The grandfather’s clock on the landing was striking four. Only four hours since he had left Castletown!
The servants were not yet stirring, and he stepped upstairs on tiptoe, hoping to reach his room unheard, but as he passed Janet’s door she called to him.
“Is that you, Victor?”
He answered, “Yes.”
“How late you are, dear!”
“Don’t waken me in the morning.”
In his bedroom he was partly conscious that familiar things looked strange or was it that another man had come back to them? He undressed rapidly and got into bed, drawing a deep breath. It was all over. Bessie Collister was gone. It was nearly impossible that she could ever be traced and brought back. A monstrous judicial crime had been prevented. He had been permitted to prevent it. And now for the long, long rest of a dreamless sleep.
But in the vague, intermediate half- world of consciousness before sleep conies, he was aware of another, a warmer and more secret motive. Fenella! “Tell him to come back to me!” Ah, no, not until he had wiped out his fault. But now he could go to her! He had broken down the barrier between them. He had buried his sin in the sea.
Thank God! Thank God!
And then sleep, deep sleep, and the breathless day coming on.
END OF FIFTH BOOK