The Master of Man (Fourth Book: The Retribution)
Fourth Book: The Retribution
THE WIND AND THE WHIRLWIND
NEXT day the insular newspapers announced that the new Deemster, on his return home from Castletown, after the ceremony of his swearing-in, had had a sudden seizure. A heavy fall had been heard by the servants, and they had found their master lying on the floor of the library, unconscious.
Early in the morning Robbie Creer had driven into town for Dr. Clucas, who had ordered rest absolute rest.
“We must have three full days in bed, Mr. Stowell, Sir. And if it is necessary to postpone the Court of General Gaol Delivery, I think … I really think we must ask his Excellency to do so.”
Stowell drew a deep breath and fell asleep. When he awoke it was mid-day. He was in bed in his father’s bedroom and Fenella was sitting by his side, holding his hand. After he had opened his eyes she leaned over him and kissed him, saying in a soft voice that he would soon be better.
“It was that oath-taking, dear. I could see you were taking it too seriously.”
His heart was still warm with the embraces of yesterday, yet he tried in vain to kiss her back. But he laughed a little and made light of his seizure. It was nothing, a little dizziness; he would be about again in a day or two.
“Would you like me to stay and nurse you?'”
“No, no! … I mean you needn’t. . . .”
His stammering broke down and his face gloomed, but with a quick smile she said,
“Oh, very well, Sir, if you won’t have me, Janet will take care of you, and send me a telegram night and morning to say how you are. Won’t you, Janet?”
From some unseen place behind the curtains of the four-poster, Janet, snuffling and blowing her nose, answered that she would.
“And now I’ll be wishing you good-morning, Sir,” said Fenella, making (after another kiss) a stately curtsey to him as he lay in bed.
The sounds of the wheels of the Governor’s carriage having died off on the drive, Stowell found himself alone and face to face with a tragic problem what was he to do about the trial of Bessie Collister?
This, then, was the case Fenella had written about while he was in London. Why had he not thought of it before? He could not pretend that he had never had misgivings. Again and again the evil shadow of a dread possibility had crossed his mind like a vanishing dream at the moment of awakening.
He had put it aside, banished it, explained it away to himself. In the fullness of his happiness he had even forgotten it altogether. But Nature did not forget. And now his sin had fallen on him like an avalanche fallen as only an avalanche falls, when the sky is blue, the air is warm and the sun is shining.
He had no doubt about Bessie’s guilt. But what about his own? And if he were guilty (in the second degree), being the first cause of the girl’s crime, how could he sit in judgment upon her?
To try his own victim, to question her, to go through the mockery of weighing the evidence against her, to condemn her, to sentence her it would be impossible, utterly impossible, contrary to all legal usage, a violation of the spirit if not the letter of his oath in his first hour as a Judge.
And then the human side of it the terror, the peril! That poor girl in the dock, in the depths of her shame and the throes of her temptation, while he, her fellow sinner . . .
No, no, no! It would not only be a crime against Justice; it would be a sin against God.
Joshua Scarff came in the afternoon. Standing by the bed, and looking down through his dark spectacles, he said,
“This is a pity, your Honour! A great pity! Such interesting cases! Your Honour must have wished to study them before sitting in Court.”
“Joshua,” said Stowell (he was breathing hard and speaking with difficulty), “go to Deemster Taubman, tell him what has happened, and say that if, as a great favour, he can take the Court next week, I shall be eternally grateful.”
The Deemster’s clerk was almost speechless with dismay. His Honour’s first Court! Pity! Great pity!
But Stowell felt an immense relief. Thank God, there was another Deemster to fall back upon. He need not break the spirit of his oath. Bad as the event was at the best, at least there need be no conflict between his private interests and his public duty.
Stowell, in spite of Dr. Clucas, got up next morning. He was sitting before the fire in the library when Janet came in to say that Mrs. Collister of Baldromma was asking to see the Deemster. She had come to plead for her daughter that girl who was to be tried for killing her baby.
“I told her she shouldn’t have come here and that the old Deemster would never have seen her. But it’s pitiful to see the poor thing. She is lame, too, and has walked all the way. What am I to say to her?”
Stowell struggled with himself for a moment, and then, with an embarrassed utterance, said,
“Let her come in.”
“This is very wrong of you, Mrs. Collister ” (he was trying to keep a firm lip and to speak severely); ” you know it is against all rule.”
The old woman, trembling and wiping her eyes, said she knew it was, but she had known his father. There had been none like him no, not the whole island over. He had been every poor person’s friend. If anybody had been injured she had only to draw to him for refuge and he had protected her. And if any poor girl had gone wrong, and broken the law, perhaps, it was the big man himself who was always there to show her mercy.
“That’s why I thought maybe his son, if he had his father’s heart . . . and people are saying he has too . . . maybe his son wouldn’t send a poor mother away when she’s in trouble and has nobody else to go to.”
“Sit down, Mrs. Collister.”
The old woman sat in the chair which Janet turned for her, and began on her story.
“It’s about Bessie.”
She had always been a good girl. No mother ever had a better. And if people were saying she had been in trouble before, might the Lord forgive them when their own time came, for it was lies they were putting on the girl.
“And if she’s in trouble now, your Honour, it’s like it’s not all her own fault neither.”
First there was her father. He had been shocking hard on the girl, shutting her out ot the house in the dark of night and so throwing her into the way of temptation.
“Until they lay me under the sod I’ll never get it out of my ears, Sir the sound of her foot going off on the street.”
And when the girl came home again, looking that weak that it seemed as if the world wasn’t willing to stand under her, the father had taunted her with coming back to eat them up, and maybe bringing another mouth to feed.
“So if she did the terrible shocking thing they’re saying . . . I don’t know if she did, your Honour … I don’t know if she ever left the dairy loft from the minute I took her up to it until Cain the constable (may the Lord forgive him!) came dragging her down . . . but if she did, it’s like it was because the poor child was alone in the dark midnight, and out of herself entirely, and not knowing what she was doing, and perhaps freckened of what the old man would be saying in the morning.”
Stowell was silent. The old woman cried softly to herself for a moment and then said,
“Nobody knows what that is, your Honour, except them that has gone through it.”
Then she wiped her eyes, one after another and said she could not sleep ” a wink on the night,” lying in her white bed and thinking of Bessie where she was now. And having read “in class” last evening how the Lord heard the cry of Hagar for her son in the wilderness she had thought his Honour might hear her cry for her daughter.
Stowell knew that his feelings as a man were getting the better of his duty as a Judge, so he tried to be severe with the old woman, telling her she had no right to come to him, and that he had done wrong to listen to her.
“In fact I could not have received you at all but for one thing I am not going to try your daughter’s case.”
The old woman was appalled.
“Do you mean, Sir, that you’ll not be trying Bessie?”
“No, Deemster Taubman will probably do so.”
At that the old woman broke into a flood of tears.
“Aw dear! Aw dear! And me praying on my knees on the kitchen floor that the Lord would bring you back in time from London someones being so hard on poor girls in trouble!”
Again Stowell was silent, and for some moments nothing was heard but the woman’s broken sobs. At length, unable to bear any longer the sight of the old mother’s disappointment, he said he would do what he could for her. If he could not sit on her daughter’s case he would write to Deemster Taubman, explaining her condition and describing her temptations.
“God bless you for that,” cried the old woman. And then Janet said it was time to go, his Honour being unwell.
“May the Lord give him health and strength and long life, ma’am!”
People were right when they were telling her he had his father’s heart. He had too. She was going out of the room with hope kindled, when she said,
“You must excuse a poor woman if she did wrong in coming to you, Sir.”
“We’ll say no more about that now,” said Stowell. ” Go home and rest, mother.”
At that word the old woman broke down utterly. But after a moment her weak eyes shone and she said,
“Bessie is not your quality, Sir, but if she gets off she’ll write to thank you.”
“No, no! She must never do that,” said Stowell.
“Come now, Mrs. Collister,” said Janet.
But having reached the door, the old woman turned her wet face, and seeing the portrait of Stowell’s mother on the wall, and mistaking it for that of Fenella, she said,
“They’re telling me you’re to be married soon, your Honour. May the Lord give you peace and love in your own home, and that’s better than gold or lands, Sir.”
Stowell tried to reply, but he could only wave his hand and turn to the window as the old woman left the room.
Why not? What sin against God would it be to unite this suffering woman to her suffering daughter, if he could do so without wronging Justice?
A moment afterwards Janet came back wiping her eyes.
“Oh, these mothers! They’re fit enough to break one’s heart, Victor.”
Stowell was in the dining-room next day when he heard the clatter of a horse’s hoofs on the drive, and, a moment later, a voice in the hall, saying,
“The Deemster will see me, Jane.”
It was Alick Gell. His tall figure was more bent than usual; his hair was disordered; his eyes glittered; he was deeply agitated.
“Excuse me, old fellow. You know why I’ve not been here before. It’s Bessie. I’m busy every hour, getting up her case. Awful, isn’t it? I can’t make myself believe it even yet. Sometimes in the middle of the night I hear myself crying ‘ Good God, it can’t be true!'”
Stowell could scarcely find voice to reply. He remembered what he had advised Fenella to get Gell to do. Had Bessie told him?
“I received Fenella’s letter and of course I am taking up the defence. I’ve seen Bessie, too, and arranged everything. She’s innocent and I’ll fight for her to the last breath in my body. But look here read this,” he said, dragging a crumbled newspaper from his pocket, and handing it to Stowell with a trembling hand.
It was a copy of the day’s insular paper containing a paragraph which said that the continued illness of the new Deemster would probably prevent him from presiding at the forthcoming sitting of the Court of General Gaol Delivery.
“That’s the first edition. When it was published at twelve o’clock I couldn’t wait until the afternoon train, so I hired a horse from Fargher, the jobmaster, and I’ve galloped all the way. Don’t tell me it’s true.”
Stowell answered in a low tone that perhaps it might have to be, whereupon Gell made a cry of dismay.
“Then God help my poor girl! It will be Taubman, and she’ll not have a dog’s chance with him.” Taubman was a brute especially in cases of this kind. What did people say about him that when he saw a woman in the dock he was like a cat who had seen a rat? It was true. He was always bullying the juries who showed humanity to girls in trouble.
“The infernal old blockhead! He has rheumatism in the legs, they say. I wish to heaven he had it in his throat, and it would choke him.”
And then the barbarous old Statute! Practically repealed in every other country, but still capable of operation in the Isle of Man. Think of it! Five years, ten years, fifteen years even death itself, perhaps!
“Stowell, we are old chums . . . it’s not right of me, I know that . . . but for the sake of our old friendship, sit on Bessie’s case yourself.”
Stowell felt as if he were on the edge of a precipice. Abysmal depths lay before him at the next step. With the awful secret in his heart he felt that it was almost impossible to speak one word more without betraying himself. He was silent for a moment while Gell stood over him with wild eyes which he had never seen before. At length he said,
“Bessie is to plead Not Guilty?”
“Will she stick to that?”
“Undoubtedly. Why shouldn’t she? Besides, she has given me her promise.”
Again Stowell was silent for a moment; then he said,
“I cannot promise to conduct the Court, but if Taubman will do so, and I’m fit to sit with him, I’ll . . . I’ll see she has a fair trial.”
Gell made a shout of joy.
“That’s good enough for me. Just like you, old fellow.”
He snatched up his cap a different man in a moment.
“I must get back to town now. I have the witnesses to arrange for. Not too many of them unfortunately. There’s the mother, she’s all right, but not likely to be good in the box. I’m not calling the step-father. It seems he’s giving the case away in the glen. The damned old blackguard! I should like to break his ugly neck. I jolly well will, too, one of these days. But Bessie will clear herself. Since she’s going to be my wife she must leave the Court without a stain. Good-bye and God bless you, old chap! . . . No, no, don’t come to the door.” (Stowell was for seeing him out.) “Take care of yourself. Good men are scarce. And then you’ve got to be fit for the Court, you know. By -bye!”
Stowell watched him from the window as he rode down the drive on his tired horse, patting its neck and encouraging it with cheery cries.
Now he understood why Bessie had held off while Gell had wished to marry her. It had been a case of the wife of the Peel fisherman over again, with the difference that Bessie (to avoid the danger of deceiving her husband) had made away with her child before marriage instead of after it. Wild, foolish, frantic scheme! Yet what courage! What strength! What affection!
But if, under Taubman’s searching questions, the conspiracy of love should fail, and Bessie’s defence should collapse, and Gell should see that she had deceived him, and that he too . . .
No, no, that must not be! After all, what outrage on Justice would it be to keep a case like this out of the hands of a cold-blooded inhuman legal machine who would commit more crime than he punished?
Still standing by the window, Stowell heard the clatter of a horse’s hoofs on the high road. Gell, in high spirits, was galloping home.
Later in the day Stowell was alone in the library reading the Depositions. In his secret heart he knew that a wicked temptation had come to him the temptation to get Bessie off, and so stop the flood of evil which would surely follow if Deemster Taubman tried her and she were condemned. But all the same he was struggling to drown his qualms in contempt of the case against her. How little there was to it! The direct evidence was almost childish. The medical testimony was the only thing of consequence, but how sloppy, how inconclusive! Was there anything against Bessie which he, if he had been the advocate for the defence, could not have riddled with as many holes as there were in a cullender? Then why shouldn’t he sit on her case?
Guilty? Perhaps she was; but, even so, was it not the theory of the law that she had to be proved guilty that a prisoner should have a fair legal trial and be convicted or acquitted according to the evidence before the Court? Why shouldn’t he?
Suddenly he became aware of a tumult at the front door. Somebody was bawling in a loud voice,
“I’ll see the Dempster if I have to shout the house down.” It was Dan Baldromma. Stowell stepped into the hall and said to the housemaid, who was barring the door against the intruder, “Let him come in, Jane.”
Dan, with his short, gross figure, rolled into the house without remembering to take his hat off.
“Well, what do you want?” said Stowell he was quivering with anger.
“I want to know what is to be done for me?” said Dan. “For you?”
“For my daughter then my step -daughter, I mane.” When he had seen Mr. Sto’ll last it was at his office in Ramsey he had warned him that the man who had got his daughter into disgrace had got to marry her. But had he? No! He had refused he must have done. And that was the reason why she did what they say. But, behold you, who was being blamed for it? Himself! Yes, people were looking black at him and saying he had thrown the girl into the way of temptation.
That was not the worst of it either. He had expected dacent tratement about the farm when he became father-in-law to the man who would come into it by heirship. But now the girl was in Castle Rushen, and if they sent her over the water the Spaker would be turning him out of house and home.
“He’s after threatening it already to show me the road at Hollantide. . . . What’s that you say, Sir? Thinking of myself, am I? Maybe I am, then, and what for shouldn’t I? Near is my shirt but nearer is my skin, they’re saying.”
Stowell, swept by gusts of passion, was doing his best to control himself.
“Well, what have you come to me for?” he asked.
Dan thrust forward his thick neck with his bull-like gesture, and said,
“To tell you to get her off.”
“Even if she is guilty?”
“Chut! Who’s to know that if the Coorts acquit her? They are wayses and wayses. Lawyers are mortal clever at twisting the law when they’re wanting to. You’re Dempster now; and the bosom friend of the man that got my girl into this trouble has got to get her out of it.”
“So,” said Stowell, breathing hard, “you have come to ask me to degrade Justice ” (Dan made a grunt of contempt), “not to save the girl but to protect you you and your rag of a character?”
Dan drew himself up with a short laugh, half bitter and half triumphant.
“Rag, is it? Take care what you’re saying, Mr. Sto’ll, Sir. You may be a big man in the island now, but there’s them that’s bigger and that’s the people.”
Stowell pointed with a quivering hand to the clock on the landing, and said,
“Look at that clock. If you’re not out of this house in one minute . . .”
Dan’s laugh rose to a cry of derision.
“So that’s it, is it? That’s what the first Justice of the Peace in the Isle of Man is, eh? Son of the ould Dempster too! The grand ould holy saint as they’re . . .”
But before he could finish, Stowell, with a shout that drowned Dan’s laugh as if it had been the whimper of a baby girl, laid hold of the man by the collar of his coat and the slack of his trousers and flung him out of the open door and clashed it after him.
Dan, who had rolled and tossed and bumped on the path like a fat hogshead kecked from the tail of a cart, picked himself up and went staggering down the drive, shaking his fist at the house and pouring his maledictions upon it in a voice that was like the broken howl of a limping dog.
Janet came running from her room, and seeing Stowell with his eyes aflame and panting for breath, said,
“Oh dear! Oh dear! Now you’ll be worse.”
“On the contrary, I’ll be better better in every way,” he said.
His resolution was taken. Never would he sit on Bessie’s case. Nothing should tempt him to do so.
But Fate had not yet done with him.
On the afternoon of the following day Stowell walked for a long hour on the shore, trying to deaden the tumult in his brain in the loud surge of the sea. Returning to Ballamoar he found the Governor’s carriage outside the house. Had the Governor come to see him? It was Fenella. She was at tea with Janet in the library.
Although she rose to greet him with all the sunshine of her smile he could see that her face was feverish.
“I’ve come to the north on three errands,” she said.
“First to see yourself, of course, and I find that, in spite of doctor’s orders, you have already resumed your gypsy habits.”
“He would go out, dear,” said Janet.
“Next, to deliver a message from the Governor.”
“He has postponed the Court for three days in the hope that you may be able to sit then.”
“My last errand was to see the mother of that poor girl who is to be charged with the murder of her child.”
“Yes, I’ve just left her. She still says she knows nothing. It’s pitiful! A simple, sincere, religious old soul, who has seen trouble of her own apparently. I don’t think for a moment she would tell an untruth, yet it is easy to see that in her heart she believes her daughter to be guilty.”
“Yes, but there’s somebody guiltier than the girl the man.”
Stowell was silent; but he felt his face twitching.
“That’s why I am so anxious that you should sit on this case if you can, Victor, not leave it to Deemster Taubman. Old Judges often refuse to investigate collateral facts, and so the woman is punished and the man goes free.”
“They can’t do otherwise, dear. They can’t try the man.”
“Not if he has been a party to the crime?”
“A party . . .”
“Yes! I’m satisfied that in this case he is, too.”
The girl might be guilty, but she could not have done all she was charged with. It was physically impossible. Somebody must have helped her. And that somebody (the old mother having to be ruled out) must be the man who had it to his interest to save his miserable character by concealing the fact that the girl had given, birth to a child at all.
Stowell had as much as he could do to cover his embarrassment. He lowered his voice and said,
“That’s a blind alley. I’ve read the Depositions. I’m sure it is, dear.”
“Perhaps it is, perhaps it isn’t,” said Fenella. ” I intend to follow it up anyway.”
“How?” said Stowell, but rather with his mouth than his voice.
“I’m already on the track of something.”
“On the track . . .”
“Yes. It seems that somebody has been telling the mother that on the night when the girl left home (shut out by her abominable step-father, you know) she went to the house of a Mrs. Quayle, living on the south shore in Ramsey.”
Stowell’s heart thumped and his lips quivered.
“Why, that must be the housekeeper at your chambers, dear,” said Janet, busy with her teacups.
“You know her? . . . But then everybody knows everybody in the Isle of Man,” said Fenella.
With a sense of duplicity, Stowell found himself saying, ” Well?”
“Well, I’m going to see this Mrs. Quayle on my way home to Government House. She’ll be able to tell me how long the girl stayed with her, who took her away, and where she went to.”
Stowell dropped his head, feeling that he wanted to escape from the room, and Fenella (indignantly, passionately, vehemently) went on to denounce the guilty man.
“Of course the girl is shielding him. A woman always does that. I should do it myself if I were in the same position. But oh, how I should like to find him out! Even if he has taken no part in the actual crime, how I should like to punish him to expose him! You must sit on this case you really must, dear.”
When the time came for Fenella to go Janet took her upstairs to look at some new decorations that had been made in the room that was to be her boudoir. Stowell remained in the library, and the sound of Fenella’s step on the floor above beat on his stunned brain with the drumming noise of a train in a tunnel.
He had a sense of cowardice which he had never felt before. At one moment he wanted to tell Fenella everything, thinking that would be the end of his tortures. But at the next he reflected that it would be the beginning of hers inflicting an incurable wound upon her affection. And then if Bessie were going to be acquitted, as seemed possible (the evidence being so unconvincing), why should he enlarge the area of the shameful secret?
When Fenella returned (saying, as she came downstairs, how beautiful her room was and how proud she would be of it) he took her out to the carriage.
“Do you remember,” she whispered (she had recovered her gay spirits, the coachman was on the box), “do you remember the first tune you saw me off from here?”
He nodded and tried to smile.
“I was too bashful to shake hands and you were too shy to look at me.”
And being seated in the carriage and the door closed on her, she said,
“By the way, wouldn’t you like to drive over with me to Mrs. Quayle if I brought you home again?”
“No, no. … I mean . . .”
She laughed merrily. “Oh, very well! You’ve refused me again! I’ll remember it, Sir.”
After the carriage had disappeared at the turn of the drive, Stowell went up to his room, shut the door behind him and covered his face in his hands.
Fenella hunting him down! Blindly, unconsciously, innocently s while urging him, entreating him, almost compelling him to sit on the case. The woman he loved and who loved him was trying to destroy him. Was this to be his punishment?
Mrs. Quayle? No, she would say nothing. If she thought it would injure his mother’s son no power on earth would prevail upon her to speak. But sooner or later, by one means or other, Fenella would find out, and then . . .
“God be merciful to me, a sinner!” he moaned, smothering the sound of the words behind his hands.
Could he sit in judgment on Bessie Collister’s case with all the forces of the defence (inspired by Fenella) directed towards branding the Judge as the real criminal? Impossible! Yet what could he do?
At length an idea occurred to him. He would go up to Government House, tell the whole truth to the Governor and ask to be relieved of his duty. It would be a terrible ordeal, but there was no escape from it.
“Yes, I will go up to the Governor in the morning.”
CHAPTER TWENTY – SEVEN
THE JUDGE AND THE MAN
“HELLOA! Glad to see you about again. Fenella has gone off to the south of the island somewhere, but she’ll be home for luncheon. Take a cigar? No? Not smoking yet? I must anyway.”
“I’ve come to see you on a serious matter, Sir,” said Stowell he felt his lips trembling.
The Governor glanced up quickly, charged his pipe and then settled himself to listen.
“You will remember the story I told you about the man who had promised to marry a girl and then fallen in love with somebody else?”
Stowell paused a moment. His lips became pale and his hands contracted.
“That was my own story, Sir.”
There was another moment of silence. Stowell had expected an exclamation of surprise, a clang of astonishment, but the Governor’s face was still to the fire and the only sound he made was the swivelling of the pipe between his teeth.
“You advised me to break off the engagement and I did so.”
“What was the result?”
“The girl was relieved.”
“Yes, because she, too, had in the meantime fallen in love with somebody else my friend Gell.”
“It seemed so at first. I thought Providence had stepped in to help me out. But Fate has kept a terrible reckoning, Sir.”
“What has happened?”
“The girl has committed a crime. She is in Castle Rushen awaiting her trial for the murder of her new-born child.”
“The woman Collister?”
“Yes. And now I’m a Judge and in ordinary course it is my duty to try her.”
There was another period of silence, broken only by the rapid puffing of the Governor’s pipe.
“But that’s not all, Sir. Being in this frightful position everything is tempting me to corrupt Justice. First, my natural desire to influence the trial in favour of the girl perhaps to get her off altogether. Next, pity for her poor mother who has been pleading for mercy. Then, friendship for Gell who has been begging me to try the case because the old Statute is severe and my colleague cruel. And last of all the step -father of the girl who has been trying to intimidate me.”
“I think you will see it is impossible for me to sit on a case in which my private interest and my public duty conflict utterly impossible. It would be against all usage, all justice.”
The Governor removed his pipe. His face had become cold and hard. “You speak of your colleague have you done anything with him?”
“Yes. I’ve asked him to sit instead of me.”
“What if he cannot?”
“Then I will ask you, Sir, to send for another Judge from across the water.”
Stowell had struggled through to the end, although perspiration had been breaking out on his forehead. When he had finished the Governor sat for some time without speaking.
Obscure motives were operating within him. In the depths of his mind (scarcely known to himself) he was asking himself, “How will all this, if I allow it to go farther, affect Fenella? Will it stop her marriage, disturb her happiness, destroy her life?” But on the surface of his mind he was only aware of considerations of public welfare. He was irritated by what had occurred. It was an impediment in his path which he wished to kick out of the way.
He rose, laid his pipe on the mantelpiece, and standing with his back to the fire and his hands behind him, his chin firm and his mouth set hard, he said, with sudden energy,
“Now listen to me. I always knew that was your own story.”
“What I did not know was that any harm had been done. Did you?”
“Did the girl?”
“It is incredible.”
“Do you know that she has killed her child?”
“Not certainly. She denies it, and the evidence is not too convincing.”
“Do you know that she ever had a child?”
“No … I can’t say. . . . She denies that also, and the medical testimony is far from conclusive.”
“Do you know are you satisfied that if she had a child, and killed it, the child was yours?”
Stowell, with a gulp, stammered something about Bessie having been a good girl before he met her.
“But do you know anything?”
“Well, no … I can’t say. . . .”
“Then, good heavens, what are you thinking about? Knowing nothing, nothing really, you are acting, and asking me to act, on a cloud of conjectures. I’ll not do it.”
Stowell drew his breath with a gasp of relief. It was just as if he had been living for days in the stuffy atmosphere of a sealed room and somebody had broken open a window. His head was down; the Governor touched his shoulder.
“My friend, you are doing that poor girl a cruel injustice.”
Stowell was startled and looked up.
“In your own mind you are finding her guilty before she has been tried.”
“You are doing yourself an injustice, too. Even if the girl committed this crime I say if you are not responsible for it.”
Stowell began to stammer again. “I … I did wrong in the first instance, Sir, and nothing but wrong . . .”
But the Governor said sharply, “Of course you did wrong in the first instance. But that has nothing to do with the wrong which she (if she is guilty) has done since. It can’t be supposed that you had any sympathy with her act, can it?”
“Did you desert her? Did you leave her to the mercy of the world? Has she ever been in want? Was she in any danger of being unable to provide for her offspring when it came?”
“No … I cannot say. . . .”
“Then what folly to think you are responsible for what she did in taking the life of her child if she did take it. No, other facts and motives operated with the girl. And whatever those facts and motives were, you, so far as I can see, had nothing to do with them nothing whatever.”
Stowell’s pulse was beating high. He tried to say something about his moral responsibility, but again the Governor cut him short.
“Your moral responsibility!” he said, with a ring of sarcasm.
“I’m sick of this sentimental talk about moral responsibility man’s responsibility for the conduct of woman, and all the rest of it. The person who commits the crime is the criminal that’s the only foundation of law and order.”
” Then you think, Sir,” said Stowell, “that since I …”
“I think,” said the Governor, “that the whole thing is unfortunate, damnably unfortunate, but since you are not responsible for the girl’s crime, if she committed a crime at all, and knew nothing about it, and have no sympathy with it, you ought to go on doing your duty. Why shouldn’t you? . . . Interested? Of course you are interested. In a little community like this a Judge is nearly always interested. Isn’t that what your Deemster’s oath is intended to provide for?”
Stowell muttered something about being afraid, and again the Governor caught him up.
“Afraid? What are you afraid of? The public? Doesn’t it occur to you that the only risk you run in that direction is not the risk of sitting on this case but of not sitting on it? There must be people who have seen you coming here this morning, and if you are not in Court on the appointed day, aren’t they likely to ask why?”
“There’s Gell . . .”
“Certainly there’s Gell. . . . When the marriage was broken off you didn’t tell him anything, did you?”
Stowell shook his head. “How could I?”
“Yes, how could you? And now he wishes you to sit, and, if you don’t, isn’t he likely to suspect the reason?”
“There’s . . . there’s Baldromma.”
“That wind-bag! Likely to make a cry against the administration of justice, is he? Well, the surest way to squelch such people is to walk over them.”
“There’s the girl herself.”
“Of course, there’s the girl herself. But if she is guilty and has held her tongue thus far, she’ll probably continue to do so.”
The Governor made a turn across the room and then drew up sharply.
“There’s myself, too. I suppose I deserve some consideration?”
“Then go on with your duty that’s all I ask of you.”
With a thrill of relief Stowell rose to go. But oh, misery of the heart, he had kept his most searching objection to the last.
“There is somebody else, your Excellency.”
“Who else?” asked the Governor, laying down the pipe he had taken up.
“I hate to mention her in this connection Fenella.”
“Fenella? Why, what on earth has Fenella . . .”
And then Stowell told him.
Having interested herself in this case, Fenella was hunting down the guilty man that he might be exposed and punished punished by public obloquy if he could not be punished by law.
“If she finds him before the trial how can I possibly sit? Whatever happens it will be coloured by her knowledge of the truth. If the girl is acquitted she will think I have helped her to escape punishment in order to salve my conscience or cover my share in her crime. And if she is condemned what happiness can there be for either of us after that?”
He had spoken with emotion, but the Governor, who had recovered from his surprise, replied impatiently,
“Aren’t you crossing the bridge before you come to the river?”
Stowell made no answer, and at the next moment there was the sound of carriage wheels coming up the drive.
“It’s Fenella,” said the Governor, looking out of the window. “I’ll ask you to say nothing to her about the subject of our conversation. And listen ” (he was re-lighting his pipe and puffing at it with lips that smacked angrily; Stowell’s hand was on the door), “don’t let my girl make a damned fool of you.”
“Victor, I have something to tell you,” said Fenella.
They were in the library. She was looking feverish; he was feeling ashamed, embarrassed and afraid.
“I have found out who was the friend of that poor girl.”
He gazed at her without speaking.
“It will be a great shock to you it was Alick Cell.”
“I’m sorry, dear. I knew you would be unable to believe it. But it’s true terribly true.”
Mrs. Quayle, the evening before, had said very little. Nobody had called to see the girl while she stayed at her house, and nobody had come to take her away. She, herself, had seen her off by the train, and all the girl had told her was that she was going to a school at Derby Haven.
“But that was enough for me,” said Fenella. “This morning
I went down to Derby Haven and found there was only one school there. It is kept by two maiden ladies named Brown. Simple old things, very timid and old-fashioned. They were thrown into terrible commotion by my call, and having read the reports in the newspapers they were at first afraid to say anything. But after I had promised that they should not be mixed up in the matter in any way, I got them to speak. Mr. Alick Gell had brought the girl to their house. He had paid for her, and they had always looked upon him as her intended husband. So it’s a certainty, you see a shocking certainty.”
Stowell was breathless.
“But my dear Fenella,” he said, “this is a mistake. You are drawing a false inference. . . .”
But Fenella only shook her head.
“Yes. I knew your loyalty to your friend would compel you to say so. But what do you think? I have since found that the fact is common knowledge.”
Returning in the train she had occupied a compartment with two men the strangest looking creatures she had ever seen in a first-class carriage. One of them turned out to be the girl’s step-father and the other a member of the House of Keys.
“Caesar? Yes, that was the name. They talked about the forthcoming trial and didn’t seem to mind my hearing them perhaps wished me to. The step-father (he spoke as if the whole case had been got up to disgrace him) was complaining that he had not been called by either side. But no matter, he would force himself upon the Court and expose the real criminal the Speaker’s son. It was all a trick. But it should not succeed. He would put the saddle on the right horse, he would. And then they talked about you.”
“What . . . what about me?”
“That the report of your being too ill to sit was a lie. You were not ill at all and never had been the step -father knew better. You were merely shirking your duty to save your friend in some way. But that trick shouldn’t succeed either, or the people should know what Judges in the Isle of Man were. So you see you must sit on this case, dear if you are fit for it. You can’t afford to have it said that you have sacrificed your duty as a Judge to your personal interests. At your first Court, too.”
Stowell was in torture. In spite of the Governor’s warning, an almost overpowering impulse came to him to confess, to make a clean breast of everything, there and then, and once for all.
“Fenella,” he began (his breath was coming and going in gusts), “who knows if the guilty man is Gell? It may be somebody else.”
“Who else can it be?”
He tried to say “It is I,” but hesitated he could not shatter in a word the whole world he lived in. At the next moment she was praising his fidelity, which would not allow him to think ill of his life-long friend.
“But he has no such delicacy,” she said. “Knowing what he knows he is still going to defend the girl, and that’s equal to defending himself, isn’t it? How shocking!”
Stowell’s shame at his moral cowardice reached the point of abasement, and he dropped his head. Then, carried away by her own pleading, Fenella put her arms about his neck, tenderly and caressingly, and told him she knew well what a hard thing she was asking him to do to sit in judgment on his friend also, for that was what it would come to. But she would love him for ever if he would do it. It would be like the crown of all her hopes, the fulfilment of all she had worked for, if in some way (he would know best how) a poor girl who had sinned and suffered should have mercy shown to her, and not be left alone in her shame, but have the partner of her sin (no matter who he was or how near he came) standing side by side with her.
There was a moment of silence. Stowell was like a man groping in the dark of a black midnight. At length a light seemed to dawn on him. If he sat on this case he could save an innocent man at all events.
“You will sit, will you not?”
And then she kissed him.
Back at Ballamoar, Stowell found the Deemster’s clerk waiting for him.
It had taken Joshua three days to see Deemster Taubman, and when at length he was admitted to the big man’s presence he had found him in bed, with his shaggy head and unshaven face on the pillow and his lower extremities through the legs of a cane-bottomed chair which supported his bed-clothes.
“What? What’s that?” he had roared. “Sit at the General Gaol? Go back to your master and tell him I’m lying here in the tortures of the damned, not able to put a foot to the ground.”
Stowell drew a long breath. Fate had spoken its last word! It was now certain that he must sit on the case of Bessie Collister.
His spirits rose and he began to see things more clearly. Had he not exaggerated his own importance in this affair? He had been thinking of his part in the forthcoming trial as if the issue of Bessie’s fate depended upon him. But not so. It depended upon the Jury. Guilty or not Guilty, he had nothing to do with that. Therefore, in the deeper sense, Bessie would not be tried by him at all. Why had he been frightening himself?
Had a Judge, then, no power, no voice, no influence? Thank God, yes! It was for the Judge to direct the jury on questions of law, to see that they had a right understanding of it and that their verdict corresponded with the evidence. What an important function especially in a case like this! What a mercy old Taubman was unable to sit on it!
He thought again of Bessie’s position. Pitiful, most pitiful! But the law was no Juggernaut, intended to crush the life out of a poor unfortunate girl. Mercifully administered it was rather her Sanctuary to which she might fly for refuge. And it should be mercifully administered.
Why not? Good heavens, why not? What wrong would it be to temper Justice with mercy even to strain the law a little in the prisoner’s favour? No one but himself would know. And if it were suspected that he was showing favour to the prisoner, people would consider him deserving of praise rather than censure for trying to snatch a young and helpless creature from the clutches of a cruel old Statute.
Besides, was it not one of the higher traditions of the bench that the Judge was first Counsel for the accused? Judges had not always acted on that principle. Some of them, in times past, had hunted their wretched prisoners gallowswards with gibes. Taubman was still like that. He thought sympathy with such women as Bessie Collister was sentimental weakness, that to deal mercifully with them was to encourage them, and thereby do a wrong to public morality.
“God bless me, yes! I know Taubman,” he told himself.
Then he thought of Gell. Whatever Bessie might be, Gell was innocent, and after the girl herself the greatest sufferer. Should he suffer further from an unfounded suspicion? God forbid! It would be his duty as Judge to see that no blustering person in Court bellowed accusations which, once out, might stick to an innocent man for the rest of his natural life.
After that ho thought of himself. The only risk he ran was from Bessie’s despair. If Gell were falsely accused she might break silence and tell the truth to save him. What a vista! Bessie, Gell, himself, Fenella! But no, that should not be! The law was no thumb-screw; a law-court was no torture -chamber. It would be his duty as Judge to protect the girl against any form of legal provocation.
Last of all, with a thrill of the heart, he thought of Fenella. She had drawn him on, constrained and compelled him to promise to sit on Bessie’s case. But she had only wished, out of the greatness of her pity, to see that the poor girl should have a just trial. She should too! It would be his duty as Judge to see to that.
“Good Lord, yes! And what a mercy the case is not coming before Taubman.”
Thus in the scorching fire of his temptation he tried to stand erect in the belief that he had sunk himself in his high office that he was about to become the champion and first servant of Justice. But well he knew in his secret heart that in the fierce struggle which had been going on within him between the Judge and the Man, the Man had conquered.
During the next two days he worked day and night in the library, looking up authorities and verifying references. On the third day he set out in his car for Castletown. Janet saw him off in the mist of early morning. He was very pale; he had eaten scarcely any breakfast. She looked anxiously after him until he disappeared behind the trees. There was the odour of fresh earth in the air and the rooks were calling. It was like an echo from the past.
When he arrived at Castle Rushen there was a crowd at the gate, and all hats were off to him, as they had been to his father, when he passed through the Judge’s private entrance.
Inside the courtyard, where the steps go up to the public part of the Court-house, there was another crowd and a certain commotion. The police were pushing back a tumultuous person who in a raucous voice was demanding to be admitted although the place was full.
It was Dan Baldromma.
FOR a good hour before the arrival of the Deemster, Castle Rushen had been full of activity. In the Court-house itself, warm with sunshine from the lantern light, Robbie Stephen, the chief Coroner of the island, who looked like a shaggy old sheep-dog, had been selecting candidates for the Jury-box.
Seventy-two of them had been summoned, six from each of twelve parishes, and now he was reducing the number to thirty-two, twelve for the Jury and twenty more to meet the contingency of arbitrary challenging.
Everybody claimed exemption, but the Coroner listened to none. Standing back to the empty bench, swelling with importance and with his seventy-two men huddled together like sheep at one side of the chamber, he called them out at his discretion and with a wave of the hand passed them over to the other side to wait for the trial.
“Now then, Willie Kinnish, thou’rt a good man; over with thee.” “No, no, Mr. Stephen, you must excuse me to-day, Sir.” “Tut, tut! You Maughold men haven’t served on a jury these seven years.” “But I have fifty head of sheep going to Ramsey mart this morning, and what’s to pay my half year’s rent if I’m not there to sell them?” “Chut, man! Lave that to herself. She’s thy better half, isn’t she?”
Meantime, in the chill corridors underground the jailer and his turnkey were rattling their keys, opening the doors of the cells and shouting to the prisoners to make ready for the Court.
“Patrick Kelly! Charles Quiggin! Nancy Kegeen! John Corlett! Caesar Crow! Robert Quine! Elizabeth Corteen!”
Hearing her name called, Bessie, having no fear, got up from her plank bed, and when Mrs. Mylrea, the woman warder, with her short, loud, difficult breathing, brought back her cloak and fur hat, she put them on leisurely.
“Quick, girl!” said the warder. “You don’t want to keep the Dempster waiting, do you?”
Bessie laughed, but made no answer. At the next moment she was in the darkness of the corridor, walking at the end of a short procession of other prisoners, and at the next she was drawn up, with her prison companions, into the blinding sunlight of a little paved quadrangle which was surrounded by high walls and had the sound of the sea coming down into it from the free world outside.
By this time the Court-house upstairs was in a state of yet greater activity. The thirty-two possible jurymen, having reconciled themselves to being ” trapped,” were standing under the jury-box, talking of the weather which was bringing the crops on rapidly and would increase the price of early potatoes. Inspectors of police were bustling about; Joshua Scarff was laying a green portfolio with paper, pens and ink, on the bench in front of the Deemster’s scarlet armchair, and a number of advocates were coming in laughing by a door which communicated with their room off the ramparts.
The last of the advocates to enter was Alick Gell. He took a seat immediately in front of the empty dock, looking pale and worn and scarcely able to hold the papers which he carried in his nervous hands. A little later the Attorney-General, who was to prosecute for the Crown, came in with a grave face, followed by old Hudgeon, his junior, with a sour one. And shortly before eleven (the hour appointed for the beginning of the trial) a lady was brought by an Inspector from the door to the Judge’s room and seated beside Gell in front of the dock. It was Fenella.
Then the outer doors to the courtyard were thrown open and the public admitted. They rushed and tore their way into the Courthouse, men and women together, talking and laughing loudly. The big clock in the Castle tower was heard to strike, and the Inspector, standing near the dais, cried in a loud voice,
“Silence in Court!”
The babel of voices subsided and everybody rose who had been seated. Then the Court came in and took their seats on the bench of judgment the Governor in his soldier’s uniform, and Stowell and the Clerk of the Rolls in their Judges’ wigs and gowns.
It was remarked that the new Deemster looked ill and almost old. A wave of sympathy went out to him from the first. It was whispered among the spectators that he had come straight from a sick-bed, and that the Governor had insisted on his presence, saying he must have him “dead or alive.”
“Coroner, fence the Court,” said the Governor, and then old Stephen, who had already taken his place in the Coroner’s box, raising the pitch of his voice, recited the ancient formula:
“I do hereby fence this Court in the name of our Sovereign Lord the King. I charge that no person shall quarrel, bawl or molest the audience, that all persons shall answer to their names when called. I charge this audience to witness that this Court is fenced; I charge this audience to witness that this Court is fenced; I charge this whole audience to witness that this Court is fenced.”
Everybody knew that it was for the Deemster to speak next, but for a sensible moment he did not do so. Then he said, almost beneath his breath,
“Let the prisoners be brought in.”
In the continued silence there came the sound of bustle outside, with the patter of feet on the pavement below, and then a shuffling of steps on the stairs. The prisoners were coming up, but the police had difficulty in clearing a passage for them. The voice of the jailer, Tommy Vondy, was heard to cry, “Make way!” There was a period of waiting. At one moment the people in court caught the sound from the staircase of a scarcely believable thing the laugh of a woman? Who could she be?
At length the prisoners were brought in, pushed through the throng that stood thick at the back, and hurried into the dock, which was like a long pew behind the circular seats of the advocates and directly in front of the bench.
There were seven of them, a sorry company, two women and five men, with nothing in common save the pallid, almost pasty complexions which had come of the dank air they had been living in.
There was another moment of silence. It was time for the Deemster to take the pleas, but again he did not speak immediately. He had the look of a man who was struggling against physical weakness. The blood rushed to his pale face and as quickly disappeared. “He’s not fit for it to-day,” people whispered.
But at the next moment, in a low voice, and with the appearance of one who was making an effort to command his strength, the Deemster was reading the indictments.
He took the prisoners in the order in which they stood before him, beginning with the one on the extreme left. He was a very young man, almost a boy, with a face that might have been that of his mother when she was a girl. His name was Quiggin; he had been a bank clerk and was charged with embezzlement. He pleaded Guilty and looked down as if he expected the earth to open under his feet.
The next was a gross, fat, middle-aged woman with red cheeks and many heavy gold rings on her stubby fingers. Her name was Kegeen, and she was charged with robbing drunken sailors in a house she had kept in an alley off the south quay. In a torrent of words she denied everything and accused the police of blackmailing her.
The last was Bessie Collister and the Deemster paused perceptibly when he came to her.
She had carried herself straight when she entered the Court and was now sitting with her head thrown back. But, seeing that of all the prisoners she was the one on whom the eyes of the spectators were fastened, she had reached up her hands to a veil which was wrapped about her fur hat and drawn it down over her face. Observing this at the last moment, and thinking it the cause of the Deemster’s silence, the jailer said in an audible whisper,
“Put up your fall, Bessie.”
She did so, disclosing her thin white face and large eyes. And then in a voice so low that it would have been scarcely audible but for the strained silence in the court-house, the Deemster said,
“Elizabeth Corteen, stand up.”
Bessie rose without embarrassment and fixed her eyes on the Deemster. And then he charged her.
“It is charged against you that on or about the fifth day of April in the parish of Ballaugh, in the Isle of Man, feloniously, wilfully and of your malice aforethought, you did kill and murder a certain male child, contrary to the form of the Statute in such case made and provided, and against the peace of our Sovereign Lord the King, his Crown and dignity. How say you, are you guilty or not guilty?”
Without hesitation or halting, looking straight into the eyes of the Judge and speaking in a voice so clear that it resounded through the silent Court-house, Bessie answered,
Her tone and bearing had gone against her. “The huzzy!” whispered one of the female spectators. “She might have more shame for her position, anyway. And did you see the way the forward piece looked up at the Deemster?”
It was not until Stowell had stepped on to the bench that he had realized what he had done for himself.
When he had asked for the prisoners to be brought in, and Bessie had come at the end of the short line and taken her place in the dock with the constable behind her, he had been seized with a feeling of choking shame.
That woman, looking so much older, with pallid cheeks sucked in by suffering, could she be the same? All the barrage he had built up for the protection of his position as Judge seemed to have gone down at the first sight of the girl’s face. What a scoundrel he had been!
From that moment a whirl of confused emotions had held possession of him. When the time came to charge the prisoner he had felt as if he were reading out his own indictment. And when she had looked up fearlessly into his lace and pleaded Not Guilty it was the same as if she were accusing himself.
After that he had a sense of acting as a detached person. In a strange voice, which did not seem to be his own, he heard himself asking the Attorney-General which case he wished to take first. The Attorney answered, “The murder case,” and after the Clerk of the Rolls had read out the names of the jurymen, and they had taken their places in the jury-box, he heard himself, in the same strange voice, swearing them on the holy evangelists to “a true verdict give, according to the evidence and the laws of this isle.”
When he turned his eyes back, Bessie was alone in the dock, save for the woman warder (with blue lips and a look of suffering) who sat at the farther end of it. She was still looking fearlessly up at him, and in front of her sat two others whose eyes were also fixed on his face Alick Gfell and Fenella. At that sight a terrible feeling took hold of him that these three were the real judges in this trial and he was the prisoner at the bar.
He did not recover from the shock of this feeling until the Attorney-General began on the prosecution.
The Attorney, usually so kindly, was bitterly severe. The time had gone by when it could be said with truth that crime was practically unknown in the Isle of Man. Here, as elsewhere, crimes of all kinds were only too common, and not least common was the crime of infanticide.
The present case was one of peculiar atrocity. The prisoner was a young woman who might be said, not uncharitably, to have inherited a lawless disposition. After a reckless girlhood she had disappeared from her home, for no apparent reason, rather less than a year ago and remained away (nobody knew where or in what company) until a few weeks ago. She had then been ill and was put to bed in a condition which gave only too much reason for the belief that she was about to become a mother. That was on the fifth of April and two days later the body of a new-born infant had been found in a remote place, wrapped up and hidden away.
It would be established by witnesses that the infant had been born alive, that it had died by suffocation, and that the prisoner (incredible as it might appear) had been seen to bury it.
“Such,” said the Attorney-General, “are the facts of this most unhappy case, and though the prisoner pleads Not Guilty, the evidence which I shall now call will leave no doubt that the child was her child and that it died by her hands. Therefore I ask (as well for the sake of humanity as for the good name of this island) that the Jury shall give such a verdict against the prisoner as will act as a deterrent on the heartless women, unworthy of the name of mothers, who, to save themselves from the just consequences of their evil conduct, are taking the innocent lives which under God they gave.”
There had been a tense atmosphere in the Court-house during the Attorney-General’s speech, and when it was over there were half-suppressed murmurs, hostile to the prisoner.
Looking towards the dock Stowell saw that Bessie was quite unmoved, but that Fenella, in front of her, was flushed and hot, and GelPs lower lip was trembling. Stowell was conscious of a complicated struggle going on within him and then of a blind and headlong resolution. He was going to save that girl he was going to save her at all costs!
The first witness was the constable, a middle-aged man with a sour expression. After he had been sworn by the Deemster, the Attorney-General examined him.
His name was Cain and he was constable for the parish in which the crime had been committed. On the morning of April the seventh he received an information from Old Will Skillicorne of Baldromma-beg that something had been seen under the Clagh-ny-Dooiney. He had gone there and found the body of a new-born child, and had taken it to Dr. Clucas, who had made an examination. Later the same day he had taken statements from Old Will and his wife, relating to the prisoner, and had sent them up to the Chief Constable of the island at Douglas. The Chief Constable had ordered him to make a house-to-house visitation through the parish to see if any other woman might have been the mother of the child. He had done so, with the result that the prisoner was the only person who had come under suspicion. She was then ill in bed, but in due course he had arrested her, and charged her before the High Bailiff, who had committed her for trial at that court sending her to the hospital in the meantime.
With obvious nervousness Gell rose to cross-examine the witness.
“How far is it from the prisoner’s home to the Clagh-ny-Dooiney?”
“Half a mile, maybe.”
“What kind of road would you call it?”
“Rough and thorny, most of it.”
Gell sat with a look of satisfaction, and the Deemster leaned forward.
“Constable,” he said, “when you made your house-to-house visitation did you go beyond the boundary of your parish?”
“No, your Honour.”
“Where is the boundary?”
“The glen is the boundary the western side of it, Sir.”
“How near to the western boundary are the nearest houses in the next parish?”
“Four hundred yards, perhaps.”
“How many of them are there?”
“Fifteen or twenty, your Honour.”
“Yet, though you visited the prisoner’s home, which was half-a-mile from the Clagh-ny-Dooiney, you did not visit you were not told to visit the fifteen or twenty houses which were only four hundred yards away?”
“They were not in my parish, your Honour.”
There was audible, drawing of breath in court. Fenella, who had been reaching forward, dropped back, and Gell’s pale face was smiling.
The next to be called was Dr. Clucas. His hands were twitching and his rubicund face was moist with perspiration he was obviously an unwilling witness.
Yes, when the constable brought the body of the child he made a post-mortem examination. Applying the usual medical tests he came to the conclusion that the child had been born alive and had died of suffocation. On the morning of the following day he had been called in to see the prisoner. She was suffering from extreme exhaustion a condition not inconsistent with the idea of recent confinement.
Gell, gathering strength but still agitated, rose again.
“How long had the child lived?”
“An hour or two, probably.”
“And how long had it been dead?”
“Twenty-four to thirty hours at the outside.”
“Is it your experience that within twenty-four to thirty hours after confinement a woman can walk half-a-mile along a rough and thorny road and carry a burden?”
“It certainly is not, Sir.”
Gell sat with a piteous smile of triumph on his pale face, and the Deemster leaned forward again.
“Doctor,” he said, “you speak of applying the usual medical tests are they entirely reliable?”
“They are not infallible, your Honour. They have been known to fail.”
“Then this child may have breathed and yet not had a separate existence?”
“It may it is just possible, Sir.”
“And the unhappy mother, whoever she may be, though obviously guilty of concealing its birth, may not have been guilty of the much greater crime of killing it?”
“That’s so … she may not, your Honour.”
There was a still more audible drawing of breath in court when the doctor stood down. Fenella’ s eyes were shining and Gell’s were sparkling with excitement.
The next witness was Bridget Skillicorne. She wore a big poke bonnet and a Paisley shawl which smelt strongly of lavender. She was very voluble (provoking ripples of laughter by her broad Manx tongue) and the Attorney-General had more than he could do to restrain her.
Aw, ‘deed yes, she remembered the night of the sixth-seventh April, for wasn’t it the night she had a cow down with the gripes? Colic they were calling it, but wutching it was, and she believed in her heart she knew who had wutched the craythur. So she sent her ould man over to the Ballawhaine for a taste of something to take off the evil eye. And while she was sitting in the cowhouse itself, waiting for the man to come home (it was terr’ble slow the men were, both in their heads and their legs), she saw the light of a fire that had blown up on the mountains. “Will it reach the hay in my haggard?” she thought, and out she went to look. And, behold ye, what did she see but the glen as light as day and a woman on her knees putting something under the Clagh-ny-Dooiney. Who was she? The Collister girl of course. Sure? Sarten sure! And as soon as it was day she went down to the stone to see what the girl had left there. What was it? A baby what else? Lying there in a scarf, poor bogh, like a little white mollag.
“What’s mollag?” (Bridget’s Manx had gone beyond the Attorney, but the jurymen were smiling.) “Ask them ones they know.”
Gell, with a newspaper-cutting in his hand, rose to cross-examine the old woman.
“You and your husband are sub-tenants of the prisoner’s step- father, isn’t that so?”
“Certainly we are you ought to know that much yourself, Sir.”
“I see you told the High Bailiff you were on bad terms with your landlord.”
“Bad terms, is it? I wouldn’t bemane myself with being on any terms at all with the like.”
“He threatened to turn you out of your croft at Hollantide, didn’t he?”
“He did, the dirt!”
“And you said you’d see him thrown out before you?”
“It’s like I did, and it’s like I will, too, for if your father, the Spaker . . .”
The Attorney- General rose in alarm. “Is it suggested by these questions that the witness has an animus against the prisoner’s family and is conspiring to convict her?”
“That,” said Gell, in a ringing voice, ” is precisely what is suggested.”
“What?” cried Bridget, bobbing her poke bonnet across at Gell. “Is it a liar you’re making me out? Me, that has known you since you were a loblolly -boy in a jacket?”
The Deemster intervened to pacify the old woman, and then took her in hand himself.
“Bridget,” he said, “how far is it from your house on the brews down to the Clagh-ny-Dooiney? Is it three or four hundred yards, think you?”
“Maybe it is. But it’s yourself knows as well as I do, your Honour.”
“Is your sight still so good that you can see a woman to know her at that distance?”
“Aw, well, not so bad anyway. And then wasn’t it as bright as day, Sir?”
“Listen. This court-house is not more than fifteen yards across, and less than ten to any point from the box in which you stand. Do you think you could recognise anybody you know in this
“Anybody I know? Recognise? Why not, your Honour?”
“You know Cain the constable?”
“‘Deed I do, and his mother before him. A dacent man enough, but stupid for all . . .”
“Well, he is one of the three constables who are now standing at this end of the jury-box which of them is he?”
“Which? Do you say which, your Honour?” said Bridget, screwing up her wrinkled face. “Why, the off-one, surely.”
There was a burst of irrepressible laughter in court Bridget had chosen wrongly.
The next witness was old Will Skillicorne. He was wearing his chapel clothes, with black kid gloves, large and baggy, and was carrying a silk hat that was as straight and long and almost as brown as a length of stove-pipe. When called upon to swear he said he believed the old Book said “Swear not at all,” and when asked what he was he answered that he believed he was “a man of God.”
Aw, yes, he believed he remembered the night of the sixth-seventh of April, and he was returning home from an errand into Andreas when the prisoner passed him coming down the glen.
“At what time would that be?” asked Gell.
“Two or three in the morning, I belave.”
“Then it would be still quite dark?”
“I was carrying my lantern, I belave.”
“What was the prisoner doing when she passed you?”
“Covering her eyes with shame, I belave, as well she might be.”
“Then you did not see her face?”
“I belave I did, though.”
“Believe! Believe! Did you or did you not yes or no?”
“I belave I did, Sir.”
“Mr. Skillicorne,” said the Deemster, ” you attach importance to your belief, I see.”
The old man drew himself up, and answered in his preaching tone,
“It’s the rock of my salvation, Sir.”
“Your wife told us that your errand into Andreas was to see the Ballawhaine about your sick cow. Is that the well-known witch-doctor?”
“I … I … I belave it is, Sir.”
“And what did he give you?”
“A … a wisp of straw and a few good words, Sir.”
“Then you believe in that too that a wisp of straw and a few good words …”
But the Deemster could not finish a ripple of laughter that had been running through the Court having risen to a roar which he did not attempt to repress. “He has made up his mind about this case,” said someone.
The Attorney-General, who was looking hot and embarrassed, called the last of his witnesses. This was the house-doctor at the hospital, the young man with the thin hair and pugnacious mouth.
Asked if he remembered the prisoner being brought into hospital he said ” Perfectly.” Had he formed any opinion of her condition? He had. What was it? That she had been confined less than five days before. What made him think so? First her unwillingness to be examined and then . . .
“She did, your Honour, and threatened violence, but she became unconscious soon afterwards and then . . .”
“Stop!” said the Deemster, and looking down at the Attorney he asked if the High Bailiff, in committing the prisoner, had ordered that she should be examined.
The Attorney-General shook his head helplessly, whereupon the Deemster, with a severe face, turned back to the witness.
“You are a qualified medical practitioner?”
“I am,” said the witness, straightening himself.
“Then of course you know that for a doctor to examine a woman against her will and without a magistrate’s order is to commit an offence for which he may be severely punished?”
The pugnacious mouth opened like a dying oyster.
“Y-es, your Honour.”
“Therefore you did not examine her?”
“N-o, your Honour.”
“And you know nothing of her condition?”
“Stand down, Sir.”
There was a commotion in the court-house. The prisoner’s face was still calm, but Fenella’s was aglow and Gell’s was ablaze.
“Mr. Attorney,” said the Deemster quietly, “have you any further evidence?”
The Attorney, who had been whispering hotly to Hudgeon, said,
“No, there was a nurse who might have given conclusive evidence, but, thinking the doctor’s would be sufficient, my colleague has allowed her to leave the island. No, that is my case, your Honour.”
Stowell, secretly glad at the turn things had taken, was about to put an end to the trial, when Gell, intoxicated by his success, leapt up and said,
“I might ask the Court to dismiss this case immediately on the ground that there is nothing to put before the jury. But the wicked and cruel charge may follow the accused all her life, therefore I propose, with the Court’s permission, to waive my right of reply and call such positive evidence of her innocence as will enable her to leave this court without a stain on her character.”
“The fool!” thought Stowell. But just at that moment the clock of the Castle struck one, and the Governor said,
“The Court will adjourn for luncheon and resume at two.”
As Stowell stepped off the bench his eye caught a glimpse of the inscription on a brass plate which had lately been affixed to the wall under his father’s portrait
“Justice is the most sacred thing on earth” His head dropped; he felt like a traitor.
When the trial was resumed the Attorney-General had not returned to court, so Hudgeon represented the Crown. He was offensive from the first, but Gell, whose spirits had risen perceptibly, was not to be put out.
The witness he called first was Mrs. Collister. The old mother had to be helped into the witness-box. Her poor face was wet with recent tears, and in administering the oath Stowell hardly dared to look at her. Remembering the admissions she had made to him at Ballamoar he knew that she had come to give false evidence in her daughter’s cause.
She made a timid, reluctant and sometimes inaudible witness. More than once Hudgeon complained that he could not hear, and Gell, with great tenderness, asked her to speak louder.
“Speak up, Mrs. Collister. There’s nothing to fear. The Court will protect you,” he said. But Stowell, who saw what was hidden behind the veil of the old woman’s soul, knew it was another and higher audience she was afraid of.
With many pauses she repeated, in answer to Gell’s questions, the story she had told before that her daughter had returned home ill on the fifth of April, that she had put her to bed in the dairy-loft and that the girl had never left it until Cain the constable came to arrest her.
“You saw her day and night while she was at your house?”
“Aw, yes, Sir, last thing at night and first thing in the morning.”
“And you know nothing that conflicts with what she says that she never had a child and therefore could not have killed it?”
“‘Deed no, Sir, nothing whatever.”
She had answered in a tremulous voice which the Deemster found deeply affecting. Once or twice she had lifted her weak eyes to his with a pitiful look of supplication, and he had had to turn his own eyes away. ” I should do it myself,” he thought.
“And now, Mrs. Collister,” said Gell, “if you were here this morning you heard what the Attorney-General said that your daughter had been of a lawless disposition and had run away from home without apparent reason. Is there any truth in that?”
“Bessie was always a good girl, Sir. It was lies the gentleman was putting on her.”
“Is the prisoner your husband’s daughter?”
“No, Sir,” the old woman faltered, “his step -daughter.”
“Is it true that her step -father has always been hard on her?”
The old woman hesitated, then faltered again, “Middling hard anyway.”
“Don’t be afraid. Remember, your daughter’s liberty, perhaps her life, are in peril. Tell the Jury what happened on the day she left home.”
Then nervously, fearfully, looking round the Court-house as if in terror of being seen or heard, the old woman told the story of the first Saturday in August.
“So your husband deliberately shut the girl out of the house in the middle of the night, knowing well she had nowhere else to go to?”
“Yes, if you plaze, Sir.”
“It’s a lie a scandalous lie!” cried somebody at the back of the court.
“Who’s that?” asked the Governor, and he was told by the Inspector of Police (who was already laying hold of the interrupter) that it was the husband of the witness.
“A respectable man’s character is being sworn away,” cried Dan. “Put me in the box and I’ll swear it’s a lie.”
In the tumult that followed the Deemster raised his hand.
“This Court has been fenced,” he said severely, “and if anybody attempts to brawl here . . .”
“Then let me be sworn. I’m only a plain Manxman, blood and bone, but I can tell the truth as well as some that make a bigger mouth.”
“Give me a chance to save my character and fix the disgrace of these bad doings where it belongs.”
“I give you fair warning …”
“Put the saddle on the right horse, Dempster. He’s near enough to yourself, anyway.”
“Why doesn’t he come out into the open, not hide behind the skirts of a girl with a by-child?”
“Remove that man to the cells, and keep him there until the trial is over.”
“What?” cried Dan, in a loud voice.
“Remove him!” cried the Deemster, in a voice still louder, and at the next moment, Dan, shaking his fist at the prisoner and cursing her, was hustled out of Court.
When the tempestuovis scene was over and silence had been restored, the witness was trembling and covering her face in her hands and Hudgeon was on his feet to cross-examine her.
“I think your father was the late John Corteen, the Methodist?”
“He was a good man, wasn’t he?”
“As good a man as ever walked the world, Sir.”
“He had a reputation for strict truthfulness isn’t that so!”
“‘Deed it is, Sir. The old Dempster would take his word without asking him to swear to it.”
“You were much attached to him, were you not?”
The old woman wiped her eyes, which were wet but shining.
“That’s truth enough, Sir.”
“And now he’s dead and I daresay you sometimes pray for the time when you’ll see him again?”
“Morning and night, every day of my life since I closed the man’s dying eyes for him.”
The advocate turned his gleaming eyes to the Jury and the side of his powerful face to the witness.
“You are a Methodist yourself, aren’t you?”
“Such as I am, Sir.”
“And as a Methodist you are taught to believe that truth is sacred and that a lie (no matter under what temptation told) is a thing of the devil and no good can come of it?”
The old woman faltered something that was barely heard, and then the big advocate turned quickly round on her, and said in a stern voice, looking full into her timid eyes,
“Mrs. Collister, as you are a Christian woman and expect to meet your father some day, will you swear that when your daughter returned home on the fifth of April you did not see at a glance that she was about to become the mother of a child?”
The old woman shuddered as if she had been smitten by an in- visible hand, breathed audibly, tried to speak, stopped, then closed her eyes, swayed a little and laid hold of the bar in front of her.
“Inspector, see to the witness quickly,” cried the Deemster.
At the next moment the old woman was being helped out of the witness-box and borne towards the door, where, realising what she had done for her daughter, she broke into a fit of weeping, which rent the silence of the Court until the door had closed behind her.
“In that cry,” said the advocate, “the Jury has heard the answer to my question. It is proof enough that the prisoner had a child, and that her mother knew it.”
“If so, it is proof of something else,” cried Gell (he had leapt to his feet and was speaking in a thrilling voice), ” that a strong man can find it in his heart to use his great forensic skill to crush a poor weak woman who is fighting for the life of her child. All his life through he has been doing the same thing driving people into prison and dragging them to the gallows. He has made his name and grown rich and fat on it. God save me from a life like that! I am only a young lawyer and he is an old one, but may I live in poverty and die in the streets rather than outrage my humanity and degrade my profession by using the lures of the procurator and the arts of the hangman.”
There was a sensation in Court. One of the younger advocates was heard to say, “My God, who thought Alick Gell was a fool?” And another who remembered the “Fanny” case in the Douglas police-courts, said, “He’s got a bit of his own back, anyway.”
When the commotion subsided, Hudgeon, with a face of scarlet,, appealed to the Court:
“Your Honour, I ask your protection against this outrageous slander.”
“Since you appeal to me,” said the Deemster (whose own face was aflame), ” I can only say that you deserved every word of it.”
Hudgeon tried to speak, but could not, his voice being choked in his throat. And seeing that the Attorney-General had come back to Court (he had just returned with Cain the constable, who was carrying a parcel) he picked up his bag and fled.
Cell’s time had come at last the great moment he had been waiting for so long. Although he had been shaken for an instant by Mrs. Collister’s silence he was not afraid now. He was going to play his last and greatest card put the prisoner in the box to demolish for ever the monstrous accusation that had been intended to ruin the life of an innocent woman. The Deemster trembled as he saw Gell look round the Court with a confident smile before he called his witness.
Bessie, whose big eyes had flamed with fury during her mother’s cross-examination, passed with a firm step from the dock to the witness-box. In answer to Gell’s questions she repeated the evidence she had given before the High Bailiff, only more emphatically and with a certain note of defiance.
When the Attorney-General rose to cross-examine her, it was observed that he, too, had an air of confidence, as if something had become known to him since morning.
“Do you adhere to your plea?” he asked.
“Indeed I do. Why shouldn’t I?” said Bessie.
“Think again before it is too late. Do you still say that you have never had a child, and therefore never killed and never buried one?”
“Certainly I say so,” said Bessie. ” I don’t know what you are talking of.”
“Constable,” said the Attorney, turning to Cain, “open your parcel.”
There was a whispering among the spectators in Court, while the constable was cutting the string and opening the brown-paper parcel. The Deemster was shuddering, Gell’s lower lip was trembling, and Fenella (who was sitting, as before, in front of the dock) was breathing deeply. The prisoner alone was unmoved. The sun (it was now going round to the West) was shining down on her from the lantern light. It lit up with pitiful vividness her thin white face with its look of confidence and contempt.
“Do you know what this is?” asked the Attorney, holding up a portion of a white silk scarf.
Bessie started as if she had seen a ghost. Then, recovering herself and turning her eyes away, she said, remembering what Gell had told her,
“I know nothing about it.”
“You have never seen it before?”
“I know nothing about it.”
The Attorney-General put the scarf outstretched on the table in front of him, and held up a narrower strip of the same material.
“Do you know anything about this, then?”
Bessie gasped and was silent for a moment. Then she said again, but with a stammer,
“I know nothing about it.”
“Will you swear that it never belonged to you?”
A stabbing memory came back to Bessie. She remembered what she had heard about ” a remnant ” when the constables were ranging her room, and seeing no way of escape by further denial she said,
“Oh yes, I remember it now. I found it on the road when I was on my way home and bound it about my hat to keep it from blowing off in the wind.”
The silence which had fallen upon the Court was broken by an audible drawing of breath. Gell, who had risen and leaned forward, dropped back.
“But if you found it on the road, how do you account for the fact that it has your name stamped on the corner of it? See Bessie”
Bessie was speechless for another moment. Then she said,
“Bessie is a common name, isn’t it?”
“But how do you account for the further fact that these two pieces fit each other exactly?” asked the Attorney laying the narrow strip by the broader portion.
Bessie became dizzy and confused.
“I can’t account for it. I know nothing about it,” she said.
The Deemster, who was breathing with difficulty, asked the Attorney what he suggested by the exhibits. The Attorney answered,
“The larger piece, your Honour, is the scarf which the body of the child was found in, while the narrower one was discovered in the prisoner’s room, and the suggestion is that, taken together, they form a chain of convincing evidence that she is guilty of the crime with which she is charged.”
Gell leapt to his feet. He had recognised the scarf as a present of his own on Bessie’s last birthday, and his great faith in the girl was breaking down, yet in a husky voice he said,
“Give her time, your Honour. She may have some explanation.”
The Deemster signified assent, and then Gell, stepping closer to the witness-box, said,
“Be calm and think again. Don’t answer hastily. Everything depends on your reply. Are you sure the scarf was not yours and that you lost the larger piece of it? Think carefully, I beg, I pray.”
The advocate was losing himself, yet nobody protested. At length Bessie, with the wild eyes of a captured animal, broke into violent cries.
“Oh, why are you all torturing me? Wasn’t it enough to torture my mother? I know nothing about it.”
Gell dropped back to his seat. There was a profound silence. The great clock of the Castle was heard to strike four. The Deemster felt as if every stroke were beating on his brain. At length he said,
“A new fact has been introduced by the prosecution and it is only right that the defence should have time to consider it. It is now four o’clock. The Court will adjourn until morning. It is not for me to anticipate the evidence which the accused may give when the Court resumes, but if in the interval she can remember anything which will put a new light on the serious fact the Attorney-General has just disclosed, nothing she has said in her agitation to-day shall prejudice what she may say to-morrow.”
He paused for a moment and then (with difficulty maintaining an equal voice) he added,
“It sometimes happens that a young woman in the position of the accused mistakes concealment for the much more serious crime of murder.”
He paused again and then said,
“Whatever the facts in this unhappy case may prove to be, if I may speak to that mystery of a woman’s heart which is truly said to be sacred even in its shame, I will say, ‘Tell the truth, the whole truth; it will be best for you, best for everybody.'”
“The Court stands adjourned until eleven in the morning,” said the Governor. “Meantime, let the advocate for the defence see the accused and give her the benefit of his legal advice and assistance. Jailer, look to the Jury that they are properly lodged in the Castle, and see that they hold no communication with persons outside.”
The Judges, the advocates and the spectators were gone, and Gell was alone in the Court-house. He was like a drowning man in an empty sea, clinging to an upturned boat.
Time after time he gathered up his papers and put them in his bag, then took them out again and spread them before him. At length, rising with a haggard face, he went downstairs with a heavy step.
At the door to the private entrance he came upon Fenella, who was waiting for her father. Her eyes were red as if she had been weeping, but they were blazing with anger also.
“Are you going down to her as the Governor suggested?”
“I cannot! I dare not!” he replied. And then, as if struck by a sudden thought he said, ” But won’t you go?”
“You wish me to speak to her instead of you?”
“Won’t you? If she has anything to say she’ll say it more freely to a woman.”
Fenella looked at him for a moment.
“Very well, I’ll go if you are willing to take the consequences.”
“The consequences? To me? That’s nothing nothing whatever. Go to her, for God’s sake. I’ll wait here for you.”
In the Deemster’s room the Governor was putting on his military overcoat. He was not too well satisfied with himself, and as the only means of self -justification he was nursing a dull anger against Stowell.
“Well, we can only go on with it. There’s nothing else to do now. Unfortunate damnably unfortunate!”
A few minutes later, Stowell, sitting at the table in wig and gown, heard the clash of steel outside (a company of the regiment quartered in the town were acting as a guard of honour) and saw through the window the Governor’s big blue landau passing over the bridge that crossed the harbour.
Gell would be with Bessie in her cell by this time. She was guilty. He must see that she was guilty. What a shock! What a disillusionment! All his high-built faith in the girl wrecked and broken!
At last he unrobed and went down the empty staircase. On opening the door to the courtyard he was startled to see Gell pacing to and fro with downcast head among the remains of some tombs of old kings which lay about in the rank grass.
“Ah, is it you?” said Gell, looking up at the sound of Stowell’s footsteps. “You were good to her, old fellow. I can’t help thanking you.”
Stowell mumbled some reply and then said he thought Gell would have been with Bessie.
“I daren’t go,” said Gell. “But Fenella has gone instead of me.”
Stowell felt as if something were creeping between his skin and his flesh. Fenella and Bessie those two and the dread secret!
” My poor girl!” said Gell. ” If she has anything to say to confess it won’t hurt so much to say it to somebody else. But of course she hasn’t she can’t have.”
Stowell felt as if he had been suddenly deprived of the power of speech. Yes, Bessie would confess everything to Fenella. Not merely the birth of her child but also the name of her fellow-sinner Fenella’s desire to punish the guilty man would drag that out of her. Perhaps the confession was going on at that very moment. What a shock for Fenella too! All her high-built faith in him wrecked and broken!
“Well, let us hope . . .”
“Yes, that is all we can do.”
And then the two men parted, Gell returning to his pacing among the tombs of the dead kings and Stowell going out by the Deemster’s door.
A few of the spectators at the trial were waiting to see the Deemster off, but he scarcely saw their salutations and did not respond to them.
THE TWO WOMEN – THE TWO MEN
ON being taken back to her cell Bessie had burst into a fit of hysteria.
“The brutes! They’re only trying to catch me out that they may kill me. Why don’t they do it then? Why don’t they finish me? This waiting is the worst.”
Her face was blue with rage, her voice was coarse and husky, her mouth was full of ugly and vulgar words all the traces of her common upbringing coming uppermost.
At length, out of breath and exhausted, she broke into sobs. This quietened her and after a while she asked what had become of her mother.
Fenella, who was alone with her (the woman warder having gone home ill), answered that some good women had carried her mother away and were going to take care of her.
“And where is . . .”
“Mr. Gell? Upstairs. He sent me down to speak to you.”
“I won’t speak to anyone. They’re all alike. They’re only torturing me.”
Fenella reproved the girl tenderly. Could she not see that the Deemster himself was trying to help her? He had adjourned the Court to give her another chance, and if she could only explain away the evidence of the scarf . . .
“I won’t explain anything. Why can’t you leave me be?”
“You heard what the Deemster said, Bessie? Tell the truth; the whole truth; it will be best for you; best for everybody.”
After that Bessie became calmer, and then Fenella (little knowing what she was doing for herself) pleaded with the girl to confess.
“I think I understand,” she said. “Sometimes a girl loves a man so much that she cannot deny him anything. Thousands and thousands of women have been like that. Not the worst women either. But the dark hour comes when the man does not marry her perhaps cannot and then she tries to cover up everything. And that’s your case, isn’t it?”
“Don’t ask me. I can’t tell you,” cried Bessie.
Fenella tried again, still more tenderly.
“And sometimes a girl who has done wrong tries to shield somebody else somebody who is as guilty as herself, perhaps guiltier. Thousands of women have done that too, ever since the world began. They shouldn’t, though. A bad man counts on a woman’s silence. She should speak out, no matter who may be shamed. And that’s what you are going to do, aren’t you?”
But still Bessie cried, “I can’t! I can’t!”
“Don’t be afraid,” said Fenella. “The Deemster is not like some other judges. He has such pity for a girl in your position that he will do what is right by her whoever the man may be.”
“Oh, why do you torture me?” cried Bessie.
“I don’t mean to do that,” said Fenella. “But a girl has to think of her own position in the long run, and it’s only right she should know what it is. If she is charged with a terrible crime, and there is evidence against her which she cannot gainsay, the law has the power to punish her to inflict the most terrible punishment, perhaps. Have you thought of that, Bessie?”
Bessie shuddered and laid hold of Fenella by both hands.
“On the other hand if she can explain … if she can say that her child was born dead and that she merely concealed the birth of it, or that she killed it by accident, perhaps, when she was alone and didn’t know what she was doing . . .”
Bessie was breathing rapidly, and Fenella (still unconscious of the fearful game the unseen powers were playing with her) followed up her advantage.
“You can trust the Deemster, Bessie. He will be merciful to a girl who has stood silent in her shame to save the honour of the man she loves I’m sure he will. And the Jury too, when they see that you did not intend to kill your child, they may . . . who knows? . . . they may even acquit you altogether.”
Bessie was silent now, and Fenella could see, in the half darkness of the cell, that the girl’s big pathetic eyes were gazing up at her.
“And then the people who have been thinking hard of you, because you have deceived them, will soften to you when they see that what you did, however wrong it was and even criminal, was done perhaps for somebody you loved better than yourself.”
Suddenly Bessie dropped to her knees at Fenella’s feet and cried,
“Very well, I will confess. Yes, it’s true. I had a child, and I … I killed it. But I didn’t mean to God knows I didn’t.”
“Tell me everything,” said Fenella. And then, burying her face in Fenella’s lap and clinging to her, Bessie told her story, mentioning no names, but concealing and excusing nothing.
Before she had come to an end, Fenella, who had been saying “Yes” and “Yes,” and asking short and eager questions (the two women speaking in whispers as if afraid that the dark walls would hear), felt herself seized by a great terror.
“Then it was not Mr. Gell who took you into his rooms when your father shut you out?”
“No, no! Would to God it had been!”
“Then who was it?”
“Don’t ask me that. I cannot answer you.”
“Who was it? Tell me, tell me.”
“I can’t! I can’t!”
“Was it in Ramsey his chambers?”
“Is he … is he anything to me?”
Bessie dropped her head still deeper into Fenella’s lap and made no answer.
“Is he?” said Fenella, and in her gathering terror, getting no reply, she lifted Bessie’s head and looked searchingly into her face, as if to probe her soul.
At the next moment the dreadful truth had fallen on her. The girl’s fellow-sinner, the man she had been hunting down to punish him, to shame him, to expose him to public obloquy, was Victor Stowell himself!
At the first shock of the revelation the woman in Fenella asserted itself the simple, natural, deceived and outraged woman. This girl had gone before her! This common, uneducated creature of the fields and the farmyard! For one cruel moment she had a vision of Bessie in Stowell’s arms. This was the face he had loved! These were the lips he had kissed! And she had thought he had loved her only never having loved anybody else!
A feeling of disgust came over her. The girl had not even had the excuse of caring for Stowell. She had been thinking merely of a way of escape from the tyrannies of her step-father. Or perhaps an admixture of sheer animal instinct had impelled her. How degrading it all was!
Bessie, who had begun to realise what she had done, tried to take her hand, but Fenella drew back and cried,
“Don’t touch me!”
All the thoughts of years about woman as the victim seemed to be burnt up in an instant in the furnace of her outraged feelings. An almost unconquerable impulse came to leave Bessie to her fate. Let her pay the penalty of her crime! Why shouldn’t she?
But after a while a great pity for the girl came over her. If she had sinned she had also suffered. If she was there, in prison, it was only because she had been trying in her ignorant way to wipe out her fault.
But she herself . . . her hopes gone, her love wasted . . .
Fenella burst into a flood of tears. And then Bessie (the two women had changed places now) began to comfort her.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t think what I was doing. Don’t cry.”
At the next moment they were in each other’s arms, crying like children two poor ship-broken women on the everlasting ocean of man’s changeless lust.
Bessie was the first to recover. She was full of hope and expectation, and visions of the future. Now that she had confessed everything the Deemster would tell the Jury to let her off, and then Alick would forgive her also.
“He will forgive me, will he not?”
She was like a child again, and Fenella found a cruel relief in humouring her.
“Yes, yes,” she answered.
“When I leave this place I’m going to be so good,” said Bessie. “I will make him such a happy life. We’ll be married immediately by Bishop’s licence, you know and then leave the Isle of Man and go to America. He often spoke of that, and it will be best. . . . After all this trouble it will be best, don’t you think so?”
“No doubt, no doubt,” said Fenella.
At length she remembered that Gell would be waiting for her. She must go to him. When she reached the corridor she paused, wondering what she was to say and how she was to say it. While she stood there she heard sounds from the cell behind her. Bessie was singing.
Meantime Gell had been fighting his own battle. The black thought which had come hurtling down on him at Derby Haven, when he first read the letter which Bessie had left behind her, was torturing him again. It was about Stowell, and to crush it he had to call up the memory of the long line of good and generous things that Stowell had done for him all the way up since he was a boy.
When at last he saw Fenella approaching he searched her face for a ray of hope, but his heart sank at the sight of it.
“She has confessed.”
“She had a child?”
“It was born dead?”
“No, she killed it.”
“God in heaven!” said Gell, and it seemed to Fenella that at that moment the man’s heart had broken.
She knew she ought to say more, but she could not do so nothing being of consequence except the one terrible fact of the man’s betrayal.
“God in heaven!” said Gell again, and he turned to leave her.
“What are you going to do in the morning?”
“I don’t know . . . yet.”
“Where are you going to now?”
“To … to Ballamoar.”
Again she knew that she ought to say more, but again she could not.
Gell was making for the gate, and Fenella, bankrupt in heart herself, wanted to comfort him.
“Mr. Gell,” she said, “I have been doing you a great injustice. I ask you to forgive me.”
With his hand on the bolt he turned his broken face to her.
“That’s nothing nothing now,” he said.
And again she heard ” God in heaven!” as the gate closed behind him.
“Ah, here you are, dear!”
It was Janet who had heard the hum of Stowell’s car on the drive and had come hurrying out to meet him.
“You’ve had a tiring day I can see that,” she said, as she poured out a cup of tea for him. “Ah, these high positions! ‘There’s nothing to be got without being paid for,’ as your father used to say.”
To escape from Janet’s solicitude and to tire himself out so that he might have a chance of sleeping that night, he walked down to the shore.
A storm was rising. The gulls were flying inland and their white wings were mingling with the black ones of the rooks. The fierce sky to the south, the cold grey of the sea to the north, the bleak church tower on the stark headland, looking like a blinded lighthouse they suited better with his mood.
Fenella! She must know everything by this time. How was he to meet her eyes in the morning?
Gell! He, too, must know everything now. How every innocent thing he had done to help his friend would look like cunning bribery and cruel treachery!
It was a lie to say that a sin could be concealed. An evil act once done could never be undone; it could never be hidden away. A man might carry his sin out to sea, and bury it in the deepest part of the deep, but some day it would come scouring up before a storm as the broken seaweed came, to lie open and naked on the beach.
The sky darkened and he turned back. On the way home he met Robbie Creer, and they had to shout to each other above the fury of the wind. The farmer had been over to the Nappin (the fields above the Point) and found hidden fissures in the soil three feet deep. They would lose land before morning.
At dinner Janet did her best to make things cheerful. There was the sweet home atmosphere the wood fire with its odour of resin and gorse, the snow-white table-cloth, the silver candlesticks, all the old-fashioned daintiness. But Stowell was preoccupied and hardly listened to Janet’s chattering. So she went early to her room, saying she was sure he wished to be alone his father always did, during the adjournment of a serious case. His father again! How her devotion to his father drove the iron into his soul!
It was late and the rain had begun to slash the window-panes when he heard the front door bell ringing. After a few moments he heard it ringing again, more loudly and insistently. Nobody answered it. The household must be asleep.
Then came a hurried knocking at the window of the dining-room and a voice, which was like the wind itself become articulate, crying out of the darkness,
“Let me in!”
It was Gell. For the first time in his life Stowell felt a spasm of physical fear. But he remembered something which Gell had said at the door of the railway carriage in Douglas on the day of the trial of the Peel fisherman (” J should have killed the other man “), and that strengthened him. Anything was better than the torture of a hidden sin anything!
“Go back to the door I’ll open it,” he called through the closed window, and then he walked to the porch.
His heart was beating hard. He thought he knew what was coming. But when Gell entered the house he was not the man Stowell had expected with flaming eyes and passionate voice but a poor, broken, irresolute creature. His hair was disordered, his step was weak and shuffling, and he was stretching out his nervous hands on coming into the light as if still walking in the darkness.
“I had to come and tell you. She’s guilty. She has confessed,” he said.
And then he collapsed into a chair and broke into pitiful moaning. It was too cruel. He could have taken the girl’s word against the world, yet she had deceived him.
“Did she say . . . who . . .”
“I didn’t ask. Some miserable farm-hand, I suppose some brute, some animal. Damn him, whoever he is! Damn him! Damn him to the devil and hell!”
Stowell felt a boundless relief, yet a sense of sickening duplicity.
“But what matter about the man?” said Gell. “It’s the girl who has deceived me. I daresay I’m not the first either. Perhaps her step-father didn’t turn her out for nothing. There may have been something to say for the old scoundrel.”
Choking with hypocrisy, Stowell found himself pleading for the girl. Perhaps . . . who could say? . . . perhaps she had been more sinned against than sinning.
“Then why didn’t she tell me?” said Gell. His voice was like a wail.
“Who can say . . .” (Stowell felt a throb in his throat and was speaking with difficulty), “who can say she wasn’t trying to save you pain . . . knowing how you believed in her and cared for her?”
“But if she had only told me,” said Gell. “If she had only been straight with me!”
Stowell felt himself on the edge of terrible revelations. But he controlled himself. If Bessie had concealed part of the truth what right had he to reveal it? After a moment of silent terror he asked Gell what he meant to do in the morning.
“Advise her to amend her plea and cast herself on the mercy of the Court.”
“Yes, that is the only proper course now,” said Stowell, and then Gell rose to go.
It was a wild night. The wind was higher than ever by this time and the rain on the windows was rattling like hail. Stowell asked Gell to sleep the night at Ballamoar, secretly hoping he would refuse. He did. He had bespoken a bed at the Railway Inn near to the station he must go up by the first train in the morning.
Stowell saw him to the door, and held it open with his shoulder against the wind, which swirled through the hall, making the flame of the lamp on the landing to flame up in its funnel. Outside there was the slashing of leaves and the crackling of boughs among the elms around the lawn.
“Well, good-night,” said Gell, and turning up the collar of his coat, he went off in the darkness and the rain.
Stowell turned back into the house with a sense of degradation he had never felt before. Oh, what a miserable coward a hidden sin made of a man! Sooner or later it would be revealed and then . . . what then?
Suddenly he was startled by a new thought. Bessie’s confession would give the trial an entirely different turn. If she pleaded guilty in the morning there would be nothing for the Jury to do. Either they would have to be dismissed or instructed to bring in a formal verdict. The verdict against the prisoner would depend upon the Judges. That is to say, Bessie’s fate would depend upon him upon him alone!
The first shock of this thought was terrible, but after a while he told himself that it came to the same thing in the end. The real responsibility was with the law. A judge was only the law’s spokesman. For a given crime a given punishment. A judge did not make the sentence on a prisoner he had only to pronounce it.
Strengthening himself so, he went to bed. For a long time he lay awake, listening to the many sounds of the storm. In the middle of the night he was startled out of his troubled sleep by a loud crash in the distance.
The morning broke fair, with a clear sky and the sea lying under the sunshine like a sleeping child. But as he drove off, after a scanty breakfast, he found the carriage-drive strewn with young leaves, the torn bough of an old elm stretching across his path, and a number of dead rooks lying about the lawn.
Outside the big gates he met Robbie Creer, who was riding bare-backed on a farm horse. The farmer had been over to the Nappin and seen what he had expected. The headland was down; there was a Gob (a mouth) where the Point had been, and the sea was flowing between two cliffs that had been torn asunder.
Driving hard, Stowell arrived early at Castletown and found a crowd at the Castle gate, waiting for the trial as for a show. He was passing through the Deemster’s private entrance when he had a vision of a scene which the spectators could not be counting upon. What if the prisoner, while making her confession, accused her Judge?
Joshua Scarff, in his coloured spectacles, was waiting at the door to the Deemster’s room.
“I’m afraid your Honour is not well this morning,” said Joshua.
“A little headache, that’s all,” said Stowell.
But he had stumbled on the threshold (a bad omen) and was wondering what would happen before he came out again.
WHEN the Court resumed Gell rose, with a haggard face, to make an announcement.
In accordance with the suggestion of his Excellency, the accused had been seen during the adjournment (though not by him), with the result that she had confessed to having given birth to a child and being the cause of its death.
“In these circumstances,” he said, speaking in a husky voice, “I have taken the only course open to me that of advising her to revise her plea, and with the permission of the Court she will now do so.”
There was a moment of agitation in which the Court was understood to assent . and then Bessie was called upon to plead again.
But hardly had she risen at the call of the Deemster when she broke down utterly and sob followed sob at every question that was put to her. At length she bowed her head and that was accepted as her plea of guilty.
Then Gell rose again and said,
“Although the prisoner pleads guilty to causing the death of her child, she says she did not do so wilfully. Therefore I propose to put her back in the box to prove extenuating circumstances.”
Once more the Court agreed, but when Bessie was removed from the dock to the witness-box she broke down again and not a word could be got out of her.
“It is only natural,” said Gell, ” that she should feel shame at having to take back what she said yesterday.”
The Deemster bowed, and speaking with an obvious effort he appealed to the girl to answer the questions of her advocate. But still Bessie sobbed and made no answer.
“The Court has nothing left to it but to go on to judgment,” said the Attorney-General.
At that moment, when the trial seemed to be brought to a stand-still, Fenella (sitting near to the witness-box) was seen to lean over and whisper to Gell, who rose and asked to be allowed to make a suggestion that inasmuch as the accused was unable to answer for herself, somebody else, who knew what she wished to say, should be empowered to answer for her.
The Deemster, seeing what was coming, seemed to catch his breath, but after a moment he agreed. The course proposed, although unusual, was not contrary to the interests of justice or altogether without precedent a deaf and dumb witness always giving evidence by a speaking proxy. Therefore if the Attorney-General did not object . . .
“Not at all,” said the Attorney.
“In that case,” said Gell, “I will ask the lady who received the prisoner’s confession to speak on her behalf Miss Stanley.”
It was said afterwards, when the events of that day had a fierce light cast back upon them, that when Fenella stepped up to the witness-box, and stood side by side with the prisoner, ready to take her oath, the Deemster seemed scarcely able to recite the familiar words to her.
“Please tell the Court, as nearly as possible in her own words, what the prisoner told you,” said Gell.
There was a deep and concentrated silence. Never before had anybody witnessed so strange a scene. Speaking calmly and firmly, Fenella told Bessie’s story as Bessie herself had told it her journey from the south of the island, the birth and death of her child, and the burying of it under the Clagh-ny-Dooiney.
When she had finished, and Bessie, who was stifling her sobs, had bowed her head in reply to a question from Gell (that she assented to what had been said on her behalf), the Attorney-General rose to cross-examine.
“Does the prisoner deny,” he said, ” that when she returned home she told her mother of her condition?”
“Yes, her mother knew nothing about it.”
“Does she deny that by keeping her condition secret from the person most proper to know of it, she deliberately intended to put her child away by violence?”
“No, she does not deny that, but says that when her baby came the instinct of motherhood came too. and from that moment onward the idea of taking its life was far from her heart.”
“Does the prisoner wish the Court to believe that in spite of her subsequent conduct in concealing the birth and death of her child and in secretly burying it?”
“Yes, she does, and if a court of men cannot believe it, a court of women would, because …”
But the Attorney-General, with a look of triumph, sat down quickly, and Fenella, flushing up to her flaming eyes, stopped suddenly.
There was another moment of deep silence in Court, and then Gell, who had to struggle with his emotion, rose to re-examine.
“Does the prisoner say that when she killed her child she did so unconsciously and under the influence of fear?”
“Yes, under the influence of fear fear of her step-father who had behaved like a brute to her.”
“Does she think that, however lamentable her act, she was moved to it by pardonable motives?”
Not pardonable motives merely,” said Fenella, flaming up again, “but nobly unselfish ones.”
“Nobly unselfish motives!” said the Attorney-General, rising again. “Will the witness please tell the Court what she means by nobly unselfish motives in a case like this?”
“I mean,” said Fenella, hesitating for a moment, looking up at the Deemster and then (before she could be stopped) speaking with *passion and rapidly, “I mean that this girl was betrayed at the time of her sorest need by one who should have protected her, not taken advantage of her. I mean that, falling in love afterwards with another man a good man who was willing to make her his wife she committed the crime solely and only in an effort to cover
up her fault and to save her honour in the eyes of the man who loved her. I mean, too, that the real guilt lies not so much with this poor creature who sits here in her shame, as with the man who used her, caring nothing for her, and then left her to bear the consequences of their sin alone. Shame on him! Shame on him! May no good man own him for a friend! May no good woman take him for a husband! May he live to . . .”
The irregular outburst was interrupted by a cry from the advocates’ benches. Gell had risen with wild eyes. He seemed to be trying to speak. His mouth opened but he said nothing, and after looking first at Fenella and then at the Deemster he sank back to his seat. And then Fenella, as if realising what she had done, sat also.
There were some moments of uneasy silence, and then the Attorney-General rose for the last time.
“It is impossible,” he said, “not to be moved by what we have just heard, however improper on legal grounds it may have been. But the Court will not allow themselves to be carried away by their feelings. It is the natural consequence of great crimes that they should bring great suffering. The prisoner has confessed to a great crime. She has failed to establish proof of extenuating circumstances. Therefore, for the protection of human life, as well as the good name of this island, I ask for the utmost penalty of the law.”
After that there was a long pause, broken only by some whispering on the bench. It was observed that the Deemster took no part in it, except to bend his head when the Governor and the Clerk of the Rolls leaned across and spoke to him. At length, with a manifest effort, and in a low voice (so low that the people in Court had to lean forward to hear him) he began to address the Jury.
“When a prisoner pleads Guilty,” he said, “it is usual for the Court to proceed at once to the sentence. But in the present unhappy case it has been thought right that the Judge, in directing the Jury to find a formal verdict, should indicate the grounds on which the Court has based its judgment.
“The prisoner has pleaded guilty to taking the life of her new-born child. She has confessed that down to the hour of its birth she had the deliberate intention of making away with it, and the Court is unhappily compelled to find in her conduct only too many evidences of that design.
“But she has also said that after her child’s birth, under the divine love and compassion of awakened motherhood, she repented of her intention of killing it, and that it came to its death by accident the accident of semi-consciousness and the consequences of her fear. The Court would gladly accept this explanation if it could be corroborated by the evidence. Unfortunately it cannot. On the contrary the prisoner’s subsequent behaviour points to an entirely different conclusion. Therefore the Court has nothing before it but the prisoner’s confession that she intended to take the life of her child, and the fact that she did indeed take it.”
The Deemster paused (Gell had risen and was seen crushing his way out of Court); then he continued,
“How her child came by its death is between God and her conscience. It is not for me, or perhaps for any man, to read the secret of a woman’s heart in the dark hour of the birth of her misbegotten child. Into the cloud of that mystery only the eye of Heaven can follow her. But I should fail in my duty as a Judge if I did not try to show that the Court is fully conscious of the physical weaknesses and spiritual temptations which lie in the way of a woman who is in the position of the accused.”
Then followed, during some breathless moments, such speaking as nobody present had ever heard before except from Stowell himself, and only from him on the day when he snatched from the gallows the rag of a woman who had killed her husband.
It was a contrast of the conditions attending the birth of a child born in wedlock, and of a child born illegitimate. They all knew the first. The beloved young wife watching with a thrilling heart for the signs of that coming event which was to complete her joy; the happy months in which she is shielded from all harm; the tender solicitude of her husband; her own sweet and secret preparations for the little stranger who is to come; the guesses as to its sex; the discussions as to its name until at length, in the fulness of its appointed time, the child born in wedlock comes, like an angel floating out of the sunrise, into a world that is waiting for it to take it into its arms.
But the child born out of wedlock what of that? The poor mother, betrayed perhaps, abandoned perhaps, bereft of the love she counted upon, living for months in fear of every accusing eye, in dread of the being under her heart who is coming to shame her, to drive her from her home, to make her an outcast and a byword among women until at last she creeps away to hide herself in some secret place, where, alone, in the darkness of night, distraught, amid the groans as of a thunderstorm, she faces death to bring her fatherless babe into a world that wants it not.
“What wonder if sometimes,” said the Deemster, ” in the pain of her body and the disorder of her soul, a woman (all the more if she has hitherto borne a good character) should be tempted to scape from her threatening disgrace by killing the child who is the innocent cause of it?”
But rightly or wrongly, the law could take no account of such temptations. In the great eye of Justice the issues of life and death were in God’s hands only. Life was sacred, and not more sacred was the life that came in the palace, with statesmen waiting in the antechamber, the life of the heir to a throne, than the life that came in the hovel and under the thatch, the life of the bastard who was to run barefoot on the roads.
“It may be thought to be a hard law which takes no account of temptations to which women are exposed when nature demands that penalty from them which it never demands from men. But we who sit here have nothing to do with that. Judges are sworn to administer the law as they find it, whatever their own feelings may be. Therefore the Court has now no choice but to direct the Jury to find a verdict of guilty against the prisoner.”
There was a deep drawing of breath in Court, and everybody thought the Deemster had finished, but after another short pause, in a tremulous voice which vibrated through all hearts, he continued,
“But the Jury has a right which the Judges cannot exercise they can go beyond the law. And if, having heard the evidence in this case, and having God and a good conscience before them, the Jury, in finding their formal verdict, can come to a conclusion favourable to the prisoner’s story, they may recommend her to the mercy of the Crown, and thereby lead, perhaps, to the lessening of her punishment, and even to the wiping of it out altogether. If not, the law must take its course, at the discretion of the Governor as the representative of the King.”
When the Deemster’s tremulous voice had ceased the jurymen put their heads together for a moment. Then one of them rose to ask if they might retire to their own room to consider the point left to them by His Honour.
“The Court agrees,” said the Governor, and the jurymen trooped out.
The Judges and the advocates went out also, and the prisoner (who had been clinging to Fenella’s hand) was removed. Only the spectators remained in their places. They were afraid to lose them for the concluding scene.
In a small unventilated room overlooking the Keep the Jury considered their share of the verdict.
“Gentlemen,” said one (he was an auctioneer and a Town Commissioner), “you heard what the Deemster said. We can’t let her off but we can recommend her to mercy.”
“Why should we?” said another, a tall landowner with a bad reputation about women. ” She killed her child. Let her swing, I say.”
“But she said she didn’t intend to and that she was out of herself and frightened by her step-father,” said a third a fat butcher who was sitting astride on a chair and making it creak under him.
“Chut! That was only an after-thought,” said a fourth a little bald-headed English grocer.
“Still and for all we know what Dan Baldromma is,” said the butcher, “an infidel who believes neither in God nor the devil.”
“He’s devil enough himself,” said the grocer. “His father was the ‘angman.”
“That was his uncle,” said the butcher.
“No, but his father. They called him Dan the Black, and after the ‘anging of Patrick Kelly of Kentraugh …”
“Question! Question!” cried the Town Commissioner. “Let’s keep to the point, gentlemen.”
“Let’s get finished and away,” said the grocer. “I’ve ‘ad an addition to my family, I may tell you. A son at last after four daughters. My wife’s getting up to-day and we’re to ‘ave a turkey for dinner. Let the woman off, I say.”
“But we can’t, man. Didn’t you hear what the Deemster said?”
“Then let the ‘uzzy ‘ang.”
“Are we to recommend the girl to mercy that’s the question,” said the Town Commissioner.
“Why shouldn’t we?” said the butcher. “Hundreds and tons of girls have done as bad before now, and nobody a penny the wiser. Why make flesh of one and fowl of another?”
“If we show mercy to women of this sort we’ll only encourage them in their bad conduct,” said the landowner.
This led to a random discussion on the question of Women or Men, which were the worst? The landlord was loud in denunciation of women, the butcher was more indulgent.
“Look here,” said the butcher, ” this isn’t a game a woman can go into a corner and play all by herself, you know. For every bad woman there’s a bad man knocking about somewhere.”
“A man isn’t always filling his house with by children anyway,” said the landowner.
“No,” said the butcher, “but he is sometimes filling other people’s though.”
“That’s personal, and I won’t stand it,” cried the landowner, and then there were loud shouts with much smiting of the table.
In the midst of the tumult a quiet voice was heard to say,
“Hadn’t we better lay this matter before the Lord, brothers?”
It was a northside farmer and local preacher, who (not always to his financial advantage) had made it the rule of his life, whether in the reaping of his corn or the sowing of his turnips, to wait for Divine guidance. In another moment he was on his knees, and one by one his fellow- jurymen, including the long landowner, had slithered down after him.
When they rose they were apparently of one opinion that inasmuch as nobody except God knew why Bessie had killed her child (being alone and under the cloud of night) the only thing to do was to leave her to the Lord.
Meantime Gell, with restless and irregular footsteps, was striding about in the courtyard. Fenella’s outburst had fallen on him like a flash of lightning in the darkness. Everything had suddenly become clear all the vague fears that had haunted him so long, the suspicions he had thrust behind his back, the facts he had been unable to understand. What a blind fool he had been!
Stowell! His life-long friend, on whose word he would have staked his soul! There must have been a conspiracy to deceive him. Both Stowell and Bessie had been in it Stowell to get rid of the girl he no longer wanted, and Bessie to cover up her disgrace by marrying him. What a plot! The woman he had loved and the man he had worshipped! He saw himself hoodwinked by both of them, lied to, perhaps laughed at. His life, his faith, his love had crashed down in a moment. It was too cruel, too damnable!
The air was chill, though the sun was shining, but Gell took off his wig and carried it in his hand, for his head seemed to be afire.
After a time the hatred he had felt for Bessie became centred, with a hundredfold intensity, upon Stowell. Even if Bessie had begun with an intention of betraying him, she must have repented of it afterwards, and committed her crime, poor girl, because (as Fenella had said) she had come to love him. But Stowell had
carried on his deception to the last moment. He was carrying it on now, when he was sitting in judgment on his own victim. He meant to sentence her to death, too. Yes, under all his fine phrases it was easy to see that he meant to sentence her. But if he did so Gell would murder him.
“Yes, by God, I’ll murder him,” he thought.
In the darkness of her cell, with no light on her tortured face except that of the candle behind the grill, Bessie, breaking into another fit of hysteria, was reproaching Fenella with deceiving her.
“You told me that if I confessed the Deemster would let me off. But he is going to condemn me. Why couldn’t you let me be? What for did you come here at all? I didn’t ask you, did I?”
“Be calm,” said Fenella, “and I will explain everything.”
After awhile Bessie regained her composure and then she asked for forgiveness.
“I beg your pardon. Sometimes I don’t know what I am saying. It has been like that all through the time of my trouble. It was very wrong to forget how you spoke up for me in Court. You’ll forgive me, won’t you?”
And then Fenella, though sorely in need of comfort herself, comforted the girl and reassured her. The Court might be compelled to sentence her, as it had sentenced other girls for similar crime, but the sentence would not be carried out. It never was in these days.
“Besides,” she said, “the jury will recommend you to mercy, and then the Judges will exercise their discretionary power to reduce your punishment.”
Bessie’s eyes began to shine.
“You must really forgive me. . . . And Alick do you think Alick will forgive me too?”
“Yes, when he sees that what you did was done out of your love for him.”
“How good you are! . . . And shall we be able to leave the Isle of Man and go away somewhere?”
“Perhaps . . . some day.”
“Oh, how good you are! I don’t know what I’ve done for you to be so good to me. I didn’t think anybody except a girl’s mother could be so good to her.”
She was like a child again. Her face, though still wet, was beaming. In the selfishness of her suffering it had not occurred to her before that her comforter had been suffering also, but now, in some vague way, she became aware of it.
“If they ask me who he was,” she said, in a whisper (meaning who had been her fellow-sinner), ” I’ll never tell them never!”
Fenella’s humiliation was abject. “When we go back to Court,” she said, “you must be brave, whatever happens.”
“Will you let me hold your hand?” said Bessie.
And Fenella, scarcely able to speak, answered,
In the Deemster’s room there was a painful silence. The Clerk of the Rolls was under the deeply-recessed window, turning over the crinkling folios of the Depositions in the case to be taken next. The Governor, stretched out in the leathern bound armchair before the empty fireplace, was smoking hard and trying to justify himself to his own conscience. Stowell was sitting at the end of the long table, with his head in his hands, gazing down at the red blotting-pad in front of him.
No one spoke. Occasionally there came from without the mournful cry of the gulls flying over the harbour, and, at one moment, the ululation of a crew of Irish sailors who were weighing anchor on a schooner in the bay.
The profound silence around only made louder the thunder in Stowell’s soul. He knew he was at the crisis of his life. On what he did now the future of his life depended.
The address to the Jury had been a fearful ordeal, but the sentence would be terrible. To sentence Bessie Collister, having been the first cause of her crime could he do it? It might only be a formal sentence (the Crown being certain to commute the punishment), but the awful words prescribed by the Statute would they not choke in his very throat?
And then Fenella! Her voice was ringing in his ears still: “Shame on him! Let no good man own him for a friend! Let no good woman take him for a husband!”
“And what will be the end?” he asked himself.
He heard the door open behind him. A low hum of voices came down the staircase from the Court-house. There was a footstep on the carpeted floor. Somebody by his side was speaking. It was Joshua Scarff.
“The Jury are ready to return to Court, your Honour.”
When Stowell resumed his seat on the bench, and the buzz of conversation had subsided, he was conscious of the presence of only three persons besides himself Bessie in the dock with Fenella by her side, and Alick Gell, with distorted face and wig a little awrv, in the bench in front of them.
The Jurymen filed back. The Clerk of the Bolls read out their names and then asked for their formal verdict.
“You find the prisoner Guilty, according to the instructions of the Court?”
“Aw, yes, guilty enough, poor soul,” said the foreman (it was the northside farmer),; ‘ but lave her to the Lord, we say.”
There was a titter at this quaint finding, but it was quickly suppressed. Then the Clerk of the Rolls said,
“I assume that means that you recommend her to mercy?”
“Aw, yes, mercy enough too,” said the foreman, “for when the sacrets of all hearts are revealed it’s mercy we’ll all be wanting.”
After that Stowell was conscious of a still deeper hush in Court. He saw Bessie, in the full glare of her shame, standing in the dock, holding the rail with one hand and clinging to Fenella with the other.
He heard himself asking her if she had anything to say why judgment should not be pronounced upon her. She made no answer, but there was a strange expression of frightened hope in her face. He understood she was expecting that he would save her even at the last moment.
At that sight there came to him one of those frightful impulses which tempt people on dizzy heights, from sheer fear of danger, to fling themselves into the abyss below.
“Prisoner at the bar,” he said, “it has been said on your behalf that you were first led to do what you did by the act of one who remains unpunished while you have to bear the full weight of your fall. If you think it will lessen the burden of your crime to plead this as an extenuating circumstance speak it is not too late to do so.”
Bessie made no reply, and Stowell, who felt Fenella’s eyes fixed on him, continued,
“Don’t be afraid. If you think it will lighten your guilt in the eyes of the Court to mention that man’s name, mention it.”
Bessie swayed a little, as if dizzy, looked round at Fenella, and then turned back to the bench and shook her head.
The hush in Court was broken by a rustle of astonishment. Had the Deemster lost himself? Stowell was conscious of a movement by his side and of the Governor saying, in an angry whisper,
“Go on, for God’s sake!”
At length, in a voice so low as to be only just heard even in the breathless silence, he said,
“Elizabeth Corteen, you have pleaded guilty to the charge of taking the life of your innocent child, the little helpless babe who had no other natural protector than the r mother who bore it on her bosom. By this act you have brought yourself under the condemnation of the law, and it is for the law to punish you. But out of regard to your sufferings and the uncertainty as to your motives, the Jury have recommended you to mercy, and it will be my duty to see that their prayer is sent, through His Excellency the Governor, to the high and proper authority, in the hope that the measure of pardon which, in all but exceptional cases, is granted to persons in your position, may be extended to you also.”
The tears were rolling down Bessie’s cheeks, but Stowell saw that she was still looking up at him with the same expression.
“Meantime,” he continued, “and however that may be, the Court has no choice but to condemn you to the punishment prescribed by law. We who sit here must act according to our oath and our duty. Justice” (he was pointing with a trembling hand to the motto under his father’s picture) “is the most sacred thing on earth, and even . . . even if your fellow-sinner himself sat on this bench, his first duty would be to Justice, for Justice is above all.”
Then lowering his head and speaking rapidly, in a muffled and indistinguishable whisper, Stowell pronounced the sentence of death. None of it seemed to be clearly heard until he reached the last words (“and may God have mercy on your soul”), and then there came a loud scream from the dock.
Bessie, who had been leaning forward and listening intently (the look of hope and expectation on her face darkening to dismay and terror), had dropped back, and would have fallen but for Fenella, who had leapt up and caught her.
“Remove the prisoner,” said the Governor sharply, and at the next moment the constables were carrying the girl out of Court screaming and sobbing.
But before she had gone there was a movement in the benches of the advocates. Alick Gell had risen again, with wild eyes, and he was shouting after her:
“Never mind, Bessie! I would rather be you than your Judge.”
There was consternation in Court. Everybody was on his feet to look after the prisoner, and at Gell, who was being hustled out after her. But hardly had the door closed behind them, when there was another cry in Court:
Stowell had risen also. He had stood looking after the prisoner until her last cry had died away in the corridor. Then he had turned about, as if intending to leave the bench, taken a step forward, stumbled, and dropped to one knee.
The Governor rose and reached forward to help him. But he recovered himself immediately. His face was very pale, but he smiled, a pitiful smile, as if saying, “A little dizziness, nothing more,” and waved off assistance.
Bracing himself up, he stood aside for the Governor to go before him, and then walked out of Court with a firm step. The ring of his tread was plainly heard as he passed through the green baize door that led to the Deemster’s room.
The spectators looked into each other’s faces as if bewildered by what they had seen and heard. Although the business of the day was not yet over most of them trooped out, feeling that they had been witnessing a drama whereof only a part had been revealed to them- as by dark shadows on a white blind.
END OF FOURTH BOOK