The Master of Man (Second Book: The Reckoning)
The Second Book: The Reckoning
THE RETURN OF FENELLA
“FATE has played me a scurvy trick,” thought Stowell. “No matter! I’ll go on.”
Within an hour he settled Bessie Collister temporarily with Mrs. Quayle. He told her they were to be married ultimately, but meantime (that she might feel more comfortable in her new condition) he intended to find some suitable place in which she would complete her education.
He tried to say this tenderly so as not to hurt the girl’s pride, and even affectionately, so as to convey the idea that it was she who would be doing the favour. But a certain shallowness in Bessie’s nature disappointed him. While he unfolded his plans she said “Yes ” and “yes,” looking alternately surprised and startled, but it was with a troubled face, rather than a glad one, that she went off with Mrs. Quayle, whose own face was grave also.
Two days later Stowell went up to see Gell. He had determined to say nothing about his intimate relations with Bessie. Why should he? If it was his duty to marry the girl, it was equally his duty to protect her honour the honour of the woman who was to become his wife.
Gell was astounded. He listened, with a twinkling eye, to Stowell’s story of how he had come upon Bessie in the street, after midnight, friendless and homeless, being shut out by her abominable father, and how he had taken her to Mrs. Quayle ‘s. But when Stowell went on to say that, feeling a certain responsibility for the girl’s misfortune, having been a principal cause of it (by keeping her out too late at night) and having seen something of her since, he had come to like and even to love her, and had made up his mind to marry her, Gell broke into exclamations of astonishment which cut Stowell to the quick.
“But Bessie? Bessie Collister? Do you really mean it?”
“Well … it is not for me to say why not. She was a sort of old flame of my own, you know.”
Stowell flinched at this, but went on with his story. For Bessie’s sake he had decided to put back the marriage until she could be educated a little. And if Gell knew of any school, not too well known, and far enough away ….
“Why, yes, of course I do.” said Gell.
It was that of the Misses Brown at Derby Haven a remote village at the south of the island. Two old maids who had formerly been governesses to his sisters. Only yesterday the elder of them had written asking if there was anything he could put in her way. It looked like the very thing. At all events he would go down and see. And if Stowell wished to keep tilings quiet for a while, as of course he would, if it was only for the sake of the Deemster, he was ready to act as go-between.
“What a good fellow you are, Alick!”
“Not a bit! It’s no more than you would have done for me less than you’ve done already.”
Next day Stowell had a letter from Gell saying he had arranged everything. The Misses Brown, who had no other pupil at present, would be only too delighted. Bessie might be sent up at any time and he would see her to her destination.
Within a week the girl was despatched to Douglas, with such belongings as Mrs. Quayle had bought for her, and in due course Stowell had a second letter from Gell, saying,
“It’s all right. I’ve delivered the goods! Of course I made no unnecessary explanations, and old Miss Brown, smelling a secret, thinks I am to be the happy man. What larks! But I don’t mind if you don’t. Bessie looked a little wistful when I came away, so I had to promise to run down and see her sometimes. That’s all right, I suppose?”
Then Stowell set to work. Letting it be known that he was willing to accept cases of all kinds it was not long before he was fully occupied. Common assault, drunkenness, petty larceny he took anything and everything that came his way. He did his work well. In a little while people began to whisper that he was a chip of the old block and to employ the Deemster’s son was to ensure success.
Meantime he saw nothing of Fenella. Having made up his mind to do the right thing he tried his best to banish all thought of her. But everybody was talking of the Governor’s daughter. She was beautiful; she was charming; she was wonderful! Oh, the joy of it all! But the pain and the misery of it, also!
One day he met Janet driving in the street, and after she had asked if he had received her letter, and he had answered no, it had arrived too late, she said,
“But of course you’ll call, dear. I’m sure she’ll expect it.”
The Governor sent out invitations to a garden-party in honour of his daughter’s return home, but Stowell excused himself on the ground of urgent work. A little later Fenella herself issued invitations to a meeting towards the establishment of a League for the Protection of Women, but again Stowell excused himself a case in the Courts.
Still later he went out to Ballamoar to see his father, whom he had neglected of late, and the Deemster (who looked older and feebler and had a duller light in his great but melancholy eyes) flamed up with a kind of youth when he talked of Fenella.
“It’s extraordinary,” he said. “Do you know, Victor, she is the only woman I have ever met who has reminded me of your mother? And if I close my eyes when she is speaking, I can almost persuade myself it is the same.”
Stowell began to think he hated the very name of Fenella. But there were moments when he felt that he could have given the whole world, if he had possessed it, just to look upon her face.
One day Gell came to “report progress” about Bessie. She was getting on all right, but “longing” a little in those unaccustomed surroundings, so he had to go down in the evenings sometimes to take her out for walks.
“We’ll have to be careful about that, though,” he said, “for what do you think?”
“Dan Baldromma suspects me, and is having me watched.”
Stowell was startled and ashamed. Where had his head been that he had not thought of this before? He had got up from his desk and was looking vacantly out of the window when he became aware that the Governor’s big blue landau was drawing up in the street below.
At the next moment there was a light step on the stairs, and at the next the door of his room was opened by his young clerk, and through the doorway came someone who was like a vision from, a thousand of his dreams, but now grown in her stately height out of the beauty of a bewitching girl into the full bloom of womanly loveliness.
It was Fenella Stanley.
“You wouldn’t come to see me, so I’ve come to see you.”
Stowell never knew what answer he made when he took her outstretched hand; but after a moment he said,
“You know my friend Gell?”
“Indeed I do … And how’s Isabella? . . . And Adelaide? . . . And Verbena?”
While Fenella was talking to Gell, Stowell had time to look at her. She was the most beautiful woman in the world! Those dark eyes, beaming with bluish opal; those lips like an opening rose; that spacious forehead, with its brown hair shot with gold they had not told him the half.
Gell made shift to answer for the sisters he had not seen for months, and then went off.
And then Fenella, taking the chair that Stowell had set for her, and dropping her voice to a deeper note, said,
“And now to business. You know we’ve established on the island a branch of the Women’s Protection League?”
“One of its objects is to protect women from the law.”
“Yes, sir, the law,” said Fenella smiling. “Your law can be very cruel sometimes especially to women. But our first case is not one of that kind. It is a case in which the law, if rightly guided, can best do justice by showing mercy.”
A young wife in Castletown had killed her husband. She had already appeared at the High Bailiff’s Court and been committed for trial to the Court of General Gaol Delivery the Manx Court of Assize.
“There seems to be no question of her guilt,” said Fenella, “so we can neither expect nor desire that she should escape punishment altogether. The poor thing she’s scarcely more than a girl will say nothing in self-defence, but when we remember how the soul of a woman shrinks from a crime of that kind we feel that she must have suffered some great injustice, some secret wrong, which, if it could be brought out in Court . . . .”
“I see,” said Stowell.
Fenella paused a moment and then said, in a voice that was becoming tremulous,
“Therefore we have thought that for this case we need an advocate who loves women as women and can see into the heart of a woman then she’s down and done, because God has made him so. And that’s why . .”
“That’s why I’ve brought this first case to you.”
Stowell could scarcely speak to answer her. But after a moment he stammered that he would do his utmost; and then Fenella brought out of her hand-bag some printed papers that were a report of the preliminary inquiry.
“I’ll read them to-night,” he said, putting them into his breast pocket.
“Of course you’ll require to see the prisoner?”
“She hasn’t opened her lips yet, but you must get her to speak.”
“That’s all for the present,” said Fenella, rising; and at the next moment she was smiling again, and her eyes were beginning to glow. “So this is where you live?”
“No, this is my office; I live at the other side of the house.”
“Really? I wonder . . . .”
“You would like to see my living rooms?”
“I’d love to. I’ve always wanted to see how young bachelors live alone.”
“Come this way then.”
Stowell had not realised what he was doing for himself until he was on the landing, with the key in the lock, and Fenella behind him, but then came a stabbing memory of another woman in the same position.
“Come in,” he cried (his voice was quivering now), and drawing up the Venetian blind he let in a flood of sunshine and the soft song of the sea.
“What a comfy little room!” said Fenella. As she looked around her eyes seemed to light up everything. “It’s easy to see that you’ve been racing all over the earth, sir. That Neapolitan girl on the mantelpiece came from Rome, didn’t she?”
“And that lamp from Venice, and that silver bowl from Cairo, and that cedar- wood photograph frame from Sorrento?”
“Books! Books! Books! All law books, I see. Not a human tiling among them, I’ll be bound. And yet they’re all terribly, fearfully, tragically human, I suppose?”
“Gas fire? So you have a gas fire for the cold wet nights?”
“Yes, a bachelor has to have …” But another stabbing memory came, and he could get no further.
“And so this is where you sit alone until all hours of the night reading, reading, reading?”
He tried to speak, but could not. She glanced at the bedroom door which stood open, and said, with eyes that seemed to laugh,
“Is that your ….?”
He nodded, breathing deeply, and trying to turn his eyes away.
“May I perhaps ….?”
“If you would like to.”
She stood in the doorway, looking into the room for a moment, with the sunlight on her bronze-brown hair, and then, turning back to him with the warmer sunshine of her smile, she said,
“Well, you young bachelors know how to make yourselves comfortable, I must say. But I seem to scent a woman about this place.”
He found himself stammering: “There’s my housekeeper, Mrs. Quayle. She comes every morning …”
“Ah, that accounts for it.”
She walked downstairs by his side, and said, as he opened the carriage door for her,
“You’ll do your best for that poor girl?”
“My very best.”
“And by the way, the Deemster has invited the Governor and me to Ballamoar. We go on Monday and stay a week. Of course you’ll be there?”
“I’m afraid . . .”
“Oh, but you must.”
“I’ll … I’ll try.”
He stood, after the carriage had gone until it had crossed to the other side of the square, where, from the shade of the inside (it had been closed in the meantime) Fenella reached her smiling face forward and bowed to him again. Then he went back to his room now empty, silent and dead.
Oh God, why had that senseless thing been allowed to happen! Lord, what a little step in front of him on life’s highway a man was permitted to see!
Stowell did not return to his office that afternoon. His young clerk locked up, left the keys, went downstairs and shut the door after him, but still he sat in the gathering darkness like a man nursing an incurable wound. He would never forgive himself for allowing Fenella to come into his rooms never!
“You fool!” he thought, leaping up at last. “What’s done is done, and all you’ve got to do now is to stand up to it.”
Then he lit the gas and taking the report out of his pocket he began to read it. What a shock! As, little by little, through the thick-set hedge of question, and answer, the story of the wretched young wife came out to him, he saw, to his horror, that it was the story of Bessie Collister as he had imagined it might be if he deserted her.
What devil out of hell had brought this case to him as a punishment? By the hand of Fenella, too! No matter! If the unseen powers were concerning themselves with his miserable misdoings perhaps it was only to strengthen him in his resolution to compel him to go on.
Suffer? Of course he would suffer! It was only right that he should suffer. And as for the haunting presence of Fenella’s face in that room, there was a way to banish that.
So, sitting at his desk, he wrote,
“DEAR BESSIE, Please go into Castletown to-morrow and have your photograph taken, and send it on to me immediately.”
After that he felt more at ease and sat down before the fire to study his case.
“I must not go to Ballamoar while she’s there. It would be madness,” thought Stowell.
To escape from the temptation he made a still deeper plunge into the cauldron of work, going to Courts all over the island and whining his cases everywhere.
Twice he went to Castle Rushen to see the young wife in her cell. What happened there was made known to the frequenters of the “Manx Arms ” by Tommy Vondy, the gaoler. Tommy, who had been coachman at Ballamoar hi the “Stranger’s” days, and appointed to his present post by the Deemster’s influence, was accustomed to scenes of loud lamentation. But having listened outside the cell door, and even taken a peep or two through the grill, he was “free to confess” that “the young Master” could not get a word out of the prisoner.
As the week of Fenella’s visit to Ballamoar was coming to a close, Stowell’s nervousness became feverish. One day, as he was walking down the street, a dog-cart drew up by his side and a voice called,
It was Dr. Clucas, a jovial, rubicund full-bearded man of middle age, not liable to alarms.
“I’ve just been out to Ballamoar to see the Deemster, and I think perhaps you ought to keep in touch with him.”
“Is my father . . . .”
“Oh no, nothing serious, no immediate danger. Still, at his age, you know . . . .”
“I’ll go home to-morrow,” said Stowell.
On the following afternoon he walked to Ballamoar. It was a bright day in early September. There was a hot hum of bees on the gorse hedges and the light rattle of the reaper in the fields, but inside the tall elms there was the usual silence, unbroken even by the cawing of the rooks.
The house, too, when he reached it, seemed to be deserted. The front door was open but the rooms were empty.
“Janet!” he cried, but there came no answer. Then he heard a burst of laughter from the back, and going through the dining-room to the piazza, he saw what was happening.
The yellow corn field which had been waving to a light breeze when he was there a fortnight before, was now bare save for the stooks which were dotted over part of it, and in the corner nearest to the mansion house a group of persons stood waiting for the cutting of the last armful of the crop the Deemster, leaning on his stick; the Governor smoking his briar-root pipe; Parson Cowley, with his round red face; Janet in her lace cap; the house servants in their white aprons; Robbie Creer, in his sleeve waistcoat; young Robbie, stripped to the shirt; a large company of farm lads and farm girls, and Fenella, in a sunbonnet and with a sickle in her hand. It was the Melliah the harvest home.
“Now for it,” cried Robbie, “strike them from their legs, miss.” And at a stroke from her sickle Fenella brought the last sheaf to the ground.
Then there was a shout of “Hurrah for the Melliah!” and at the next moment Robbie was dipping mugs into a pail and handing them round to the males of the company, saying, when he came to the Parson,
“The Parson was the first man that ever threw water in my face ” (meaning his baptism), “but there’s a jug of good Manx ale for his own.”
The rough jest was received with laughter, and then the Deemster, being called for, spoke a few words with his calm dignity, leaning both hands on his stick:
“‘Custom must be indulged with custom, or custom will weep.’ So says our old Manx proverb. The sun is going west on me, and I cannot hope to see many more Melliahs. But I trust my dear son, when he comes after me, will encourage you to keep up all that is good in our old traditions.”
Then there was another shout, followed by some wild horse-play, with the farm- boys vaulting the stooks and the girls stretching straw ropes to trip them up, while the Deemster and his company turned back to the house.
Fenella, coming along in her sun bonnet (a little awry) and with her sheaf over her arm, was the first to see Victor, and she cried,
“At last! The Stranger has come at last!”
Janet was in raptures, and the Deemster said, while his slow eyes smiled,
“You are sleeping at home to-night, Victor?”
After saluting everybody Victor found himself walking by Fenella’s side, and she was saying in a low voice, with a side-long glance,
“And how do you like me in a sun bonnet, sir? You rather fancy sun bonnets, I believe.” But at that moment a wasp had settled on her arm and he was too busy removing it to reply.
At dinner that night Stowell found himself drawn into the home atmosphere as never before since his days as a student-at-law. The dining-table was bright with silver and many candles, and the wood fire, crackling on the hearth, filled the low-ceiled room with the resinous odour of the pine.
Everybody except himself and the doctor (who had arrived as they were sitting down) had dressed. The beauty of Fenella, who came in with the Deemster, seemed to be softened and heightened by her pale pink evening gown like the beauty of a flower-bud when it opens and becomes a rose.
With Janet’s complete approval Fenella had taken control of everything, and as Victor entered she said,
“That’s your place, Mr. Stranger,” putting him at the end of the table, with Janet and the doctor on either side.
She herself sat by the Deemster, whose powerful face wore an expression of suffering, although, as often as she spoke to him, he turned to her and smiled.
“She’s lovelier than ever, really,” whispered Janet, and then (with that clairvoyance in the heart of a woman which enables her to read mysteries without knowing it), ” What a pity she ever went away!”
As a sequel to the Melliah the talk during dinner was of the ancient customs and old life of the island. The Deemster, who could have told most, said little, but the Governor spoke of the riots of the Manx people (especially the copper riot when they wanted to burn down Government House), and Janet of the roysterers and haffsters of the Athols who kept racehorses and fought duels her mother in her girlhood had seen the blue mark of the bullet on the dead forehead of one of them.
Such sweetness, such nobility, the men, the women, and the manners! Fenella joined in the talk with great animation, but Stowell was silent and in pain. Here they were, his family and friends, without a suspicion that some day, perhaps soon, he would bring quite another atmosphere into this house, this room. Visions of the mill, the miller, his wife and his daughter rose before him, and he felt like a traitor.
But it was not until they went into the library (it was library and drawing-room combined) that he knew the full depth of his humiliation. The Deemster, who was by the fire, asked Fenella to sing to them, and she did so, sitting at the piano, with Doctor Clucas (who in his youth had been the best dancer in the island) tripping about her with old-fashioned gallantry to find the music and turn over the leaves.
“This is for. the Stranger,” she said (cutting deeper than she knew), and then followed a series of old Manx ballads, some of them like the wailing of the wind among the rushes on the Curraghs, and some like the dancing of the water in the harbour before a fresh breeze on a summer day.
Then the doctor brought out from a cupboard a few faded sheets inscribed “Isobel Stowell,” and Fenella sang “Allan Water” and “Annie Laurie.” And then the Deemster closed his eyes, and it seemed to Victor who sat on a hassock by his side, that his father’s blue-veined hands trembled on his knees.
“And this is for myself,” said Fenella, dropping into a deeper tone as she sang:
“Less than the weed that grows beside thy door …. Even less am I.”
Victor wanted to fly out of the room and burst into tears. But just then the clock on the landing struck, and Fenella rose from the piano.
“Ten o’clock! Time to go upstairs, Deemster.”
The old man seemed to like to be controlled by the young woman, and leaning on her arm, he bowed all round in his stately way, and permitted himself to be led from the room.
Then the Governor (being a privileged person) lit his pipe with a piece of red turf from the fire, and Janet whispered to the maid who had come back for the coffee-tray,
“See that Mr. Victor’s night-things are laid out, Jane.”
But Victor himself was in the hall, helping the Doctor with his overcoat, and saying,*
“Can you take me back to town with you?”
“Certainly, if you’ll wait at the lodge while I look in on the cowman’s wife.”
“Why, what’s this mischief you are plotting?” It was Fenella coming downstairs.
The doctor explained, and Victor said,
“There’s that case. It comes on soon. I must see the poor woman again in the morning.”
“Well, if you must, you must, and I’ll go down to the gate with you,” said Fenella. And putting something over her head she walked by his side (the doctor having gone on), taking his arm unasked and keeping step with him.
“I was just wanting a word with you.”
“It’s about your father. You must really come back to live with him.”
“Has he asked . . . .”
“Not to say asked! ‘ Victor doesn’t come to see me very often – that’s all.”
“After this case is over I’ll . . . .”
“Do. You can’t think how much it will mean to him.”
On the way back to Ramsey, with the lamps of the dog-cart opening up the dark road in front of them, Stowell was silent, but the doctor talked continuously, and always on the same subject.
“I’ve seen something of the ladies in my time, Mr. Stowell, sir, but I really think . . . yes, sir, I really do think …” and then rapturous praises of Fenella. They rang like joy-bells in Stowell’s ear, but struck like minute-bells also.
When he closed the street door to his chambers he found a large envelope in the letter-box behind it. Bessie’s photograph! As he held it under the gas globe in his cold room the pictured face gave him a shock. Beautiful? Yes, but there was something common in its beauty which he had never observed before.
His first impulse was to hide the photograph out of sight. But at the next moment he tore open the cedar-wood frame on the mantelpiece, removed the portrait it contained, inserted Bessie’s in its place, and then put it to stand on the table by the side of his bed.
“There! That shall be the last face I see at night and the first I see in the morning!”
But oh vain and foolish thought! With the first sleep of the night another face was in his dream.
THE DEATH OF THE DEEMSTER
THE Deemster had not intended to sit at the next Court of General Gaol Delivery, and had already arranged for the second Deemster to take his place, but when, next morning at breakfast, he heard from Fenella that Victor was to plead, he determined to preside.
“I must hear Victor’s first case at the General Gaol,” he said.
“We shall have to be careful, then,” said Dr. Clucas. “No excitement, your Honour! No more heart-strain!”
On the morning of the trial he was up early. Janet heard him humming to himself in the conservatory as he cut the flowers for the vase in front of his young wife’s picture. When he was ready to go she helped him on with his overcoat, turning up the collar and putting a muffler about his neck. And when young Robbie came round with the dog-cart he stepped up into it with surprising strength.
And then Janet, who had smuggled a brandy-flask into the luncheon basket at the back of the dog-cart, stood with a swollen heart and watched the old man as he went off in the morning mist, with the awakened rooks cawing over the unseen tops of the trees.
Three hours later, the Deemster arrived at Castletown. The sun was up, and there was a crowd at the castle gate. All hats were off as he passed through the Judge’s private passage-way to the dark robing-room with its deeply recessed window. The Governor, in General’s uniform, was there already, for he sat also in the high court of the island.
A few minutes later they were in the Court-house. It was densely crowded, and all rose as they entered. But at that moment the Deemster was conscious of one presence only his own youth in wig and gown (himself as he used to be forty years before) in the curved benches for the advocates immediately below. It was Victor.
Then the prisoner was brought in a forlorn-looking creature of three or four-and-twenty, not without traces of former comeliness, but now a rag of a woman, ill-clad and slatternly.
When asked to plead she said nothing, therefore the customary plea of Not Guilty was made for her, and without more ado the Attorney- General embarked on the history of her crime.
It was not a case for refinement; the crime was palpable; it bad no redeeming feature, and for the protection of life in the island it called for the extreme penalty of the law.
Then, with the usual long pauses, the woman’s story was raked out of the witnesses her neighbours in the low streets that crept under the Castle walls, the police and the doctor. She had been an orphan from her birth, brought up at the expense of the parish by a woman who had ill-treated her. As a young servant-girl she had been “taken advantage of” in the big house she lived in, perhaps by the footman, more probably by an officer of the regiment then garrisoned in the town. Finally she had married the dead man, lived a cat-and-dog life with him (there was a dark record of drink and assaults) and at last stabbed him to the heart in a fatal quarrel and been found standing over his body with a table-knife in her hand.
Stowell’s cross-examination consisted of three questions only. When the dead man was found had he anything in his hand? “Yes, a poker,” said the policeman. When the prisoner was arrested were there any wounds on her? “Yes, three on the head,” said the doctor. Were there any wounds on the dead man’s body except the heart-stab from which he died? “None whatever.”
“Ah!” said the Deemster, and he reached forward to make a note.
When the Court adjourned for luncheon, the case for the Crown was over, and it almost seemed as if the rope of the hangman were already about the prisoner’s neck.
Stowell did not leave the Court-house. He sat in his place with folded arms and closed eyes. Tommy Vondy, the jailer, looked in on him sitting alone, and presently returned (from the direction of the Deemster’s room) with a plate of sandwiches and something in a glass, but he sent back both untouched.
When the Court resumed it appeared to be still more crowded and excited than before. As the Deemster took his seat, he saw that his son’s face was strongly illumined by the sun (which was now streaming from a lantern light in the roof) and that it was pale and drawn. Immediately behind Victor a lady was sitting it was Fenella Stanley.
Then Stowell rose for the defence. There was a hush, and the Deemster found himself breathing audibly and wishing that he could pour something of himself into his son himself as he used to be in the old days when God had given him strength.
But that was only for a moment. Stowell began slowly, almost nervously, but was soon speaking with complete command, and the Deemster, who had been bending forward, leaned back.
He did not intend to call witnesses. Neither would he put the prisoner into the box. He would content himself with the evidence for the Crown. He knew no more about the crime than the jury did. The accused had told him nothing, and degraded as they might think her, he had not thought it right to invade the sanctity of a woman’s soul. That she had killed her husband was clear. If killing him was a crime she was guilty. But was it a crime? To answer that let the jury follow him while he did his best to piece together, from the evidence before them, the torn manuscript of this poor creature’s story.
Then followed such speaking as none could remember to have heard ‘in that court before. Flash after flash of spiritual light seemed to recreate the stages of the prisoner’s life. First, as the child, who should have been happy as the birds and bright as the flowers, but had never known one hour of the love and guidance of her natural protectors. Next, as the young girl, pretty perhaps, with the light of love dawning on her, but betrayed and abandoned. Next, as the deserted creature, braving out her disgrace with “Wait! only wait! My gentleman will come back and marry me yet!” Next, as the badgered and shame-ridden woman, with all hope gone, saying to her despairing heart, “What do I care what happens to me now? Not a toss!” and then marrying (as the last cover for a hunted dog) the brute who afterwards had beaten her, brutalized her, cursed her, taught her to drink, and brought her down, down, down to … what they saw.
Kill him? Yes, she had killed him there couldn’t be a doubt about that. But if she had three wounds on her body, and he had only the wound from which he died, was it not clear as noonday that she had been the victim of a murderous assault, and had struck back to save her life? If so her act was not murder and the only righteous verdict would be Not Guilty.
For the last passage of his defence Stowell faced full upon the jury, and spoke in a ringing and searching voice:
“Long ago, in Galilee, out of the supreme compassion which covered with forgiveness the transgressions of one who had sinned much but loved much, it was said, ‘ Let him that is without sin among you cast the first stone.’ We have all done something we would fain forget, and when we lay our heads on our pillow we pray that the darkness may hide it. But does anybody doubt that if the all-seeing justice could enter this Court this day another figure would be standing there in the dock by the side of that unhappy woman a man in scarlet uniform perhaps, with decorations on his breast, and that the Deemster would have to say to him, ‘You did this, for you were the first.’ Mercy, then mercy for the beaten, the broken, the scapegoat, the sinner.”
People said afterwards that Stowell was a full half minute in his seat before anybody seemed to be aware that he was no longer speaking.
The spectators had listened without making a sound; the jury (a panel of stolid Manx farmers) had sat without moving a muscle; the prisoner had raised her head for the first time during the trial and then dropped it lower than before and her shoulders had shaken as if from inaudible sobs; the Governor, who had all day been drawing geometrical patterns on the sheet of foolscap in front of him, had let his pencil fall and stared down at the paper, and the Deemster had looked up at the lantern light from which the sunlight (it had moved on) was now streaming upon his face, showing at last a solitary tear that was rolling slowly down his cheek to the end of his firm-set mouth.
Then there w r as a rustle, as if the windows of a room on the edge of the sea had suddenly been thrown open. The Attorney General was speaking again. After the defence they had just listened to (there being no evidence to rebut) he would waive his right of reply the Crown desired justice, not revenge.
The Deemster’s summing-up was the shortest that had ever been heard from him. There were legal reasons which justified the taking of human life, but the cases to which they applied were few. If the jury thought the prisoner had wilfully killed her husband they would find her Guilty. If they were satisfied from what they had heard that she had reasonable grounds for thinking that a felony was being committed upon her which endangered her own life they would find her Not Guilty.
Without leaving their box the jury promptly gave a verdict of Not Guilty; and then the Deemster in a loud, clear, almost triumphant voice said:
“Let the prisoner be discharged.”
A few minutes later there was a scene of excitement on the green within the Castle walls. The spectators, being turned out of the Court-house with difficulty, were waiting for the chief actors in the life-drama to come down the stone steps, and from the private door to the Deemster’s room.
“Wonderful! He snatched the woman out of the jaws of death, Sir!” “The Deemster’s a grand man, but he’ll have to be looking to his laurels!” “Man alive, that was a speech that must have been dear to a father’s heart, though!”
Stowell was one of the first to appear. He looked pale, almost ill, and was carrying his soft felt hat in his hand, for the Court-house had been close and there was perspiration on his forehead still. A way was made for him and he passed through the courtyard without speaking or making sign, until he came under the arch of the Portcullis and there he was stopped by someone. It was Fenella. She was waiting for the Governor and hoping she might come upon Stowell also. Her eyes were red and swollen.
“How magnificent you were!” she said. And then with a half-tremulous laugh: “But how could you see into a woman’s heart like that? I shall always be afraid of you in future, Sir!”
The Deemster came next. He was muffled in his great-coat and scarf, and was walking heavily on his stick, but there was a proud look in his uplifted face. With his left hand he grasped Victor’s right, but he did not look at him, and he passed on without a word. Fenella followed, offering her arm, but he insisted on giving his the grand old gentleman to the last.
But this time the Attorney- General had taken possession of Stowell. He had lost his case, but one of his “boys” had won it. “I’ve just been telling your father I always knew the root of the matter was in you,” he said, and then others gathered around.
The Governor came last, having had documents to sign, and taking Stowell’s arm, he carried him away, saying, ” Come along they’ll kill you.”
The Deemster’s dog-cart had now gone, but the Governor’s carriage was at the gate, with Fenella inside.
“Don’t forget your promise about Ballamoar,” she said.
“I’m going to-morrow,” said Stowell.
Just then there was a commotion among the crowd. The liberated woman was coming out of the Castle, surrounded by a tumultuous company of her friends from the back streets. She saw Stowell by the carriage door, and breaking away from her companions she rushed up to him, threw herself at his feet, laid hold of his hand and covered it with kisses.
“That settles it,” said Fenella, in a thick voice, after the woman had been carried off. “Now you know what the future of your life is to be that of the champion of wronged and helpless women.”
At the railway station, and in the railway carriage, Stowell’s fellow advocates overwhelmed him with congratulations, but he hardly heard them. At last he folded his arms and closed his eyes, and, thinking he was tired, they left off troubling him.
On arriving at Ramsey his pulses were beating fast, and on going down the High Street past the Old Plough Inn, he hardly felt the ground under his feet.
Clashing his door behind him he went into his bedroom and threw himself down on his bed. An immense joy had taken possession of him. Ambition, dead so long, had been restored to vivid life under Fenella’s last words.
And then came a shock. Turning to the table by his bedside, his eyes fell on the photograph that stood upon it.
The Deemster had a cheerful homegoing. Young Robbie Creer said afterwards that he had never seen the old man so strong and hearty. Driving himself, he saluted everybody on the roads, always by name and generally in the Anglo-Manx. All the way back it was “How do, John?” or “Grand day done, Mr. Killip.”
Janet was waiting for him at the porch of Ballamoar.
“You must be tired after your long day, your Honour?”
“Not at all!”
“And Victor how did he get on, Sir?”
“Wonderfully! Won his case and covered himself with honour.”
At dinner (he insisted on Janet dining with him) he talked of nothing but Victor and the trial.
“He has got his foot on the ladder now, Miss Curphey, and there is no height to which he may not ascend.”
Janet could do nothing but wipe her shining eyes and say,
“Aw, well now! Think of that now!” And then, with a wise shake of her old head, “But nobody can say I didn’t know he would make us proud of him some day.”
Night fell. Janet began to be afraid of the Deemster’s excitement. She remembered Doctor Clucas’s order (privately given to her) to knock at the Deemster’s door between six and seven every morning, and, if she got no answer, to go into the room. She would do so to-morrow.
After Janet had gone to bed the Deemster sat at his desk in the Library and wrote for a long time in his leather-bound book. When he rose the clock on the landing was striking twelve.
He closed the book, but instead of putting it under lock and key, as he had always done before, he left it open on the desk, merely shutting the lid on it. Then with a long look round the room he put out the lamps and turned to go upstairs.
The reaction had begun by this time, and he staggered a little and laid hold of the handrail. He paused three times on the stairs, but his weakness did not frighten him. Lighting his candle on the landing, he wound the clock, extinguished the lamp that stood by it and faced the last flight with a smile. All was silent in the house now.
On reaching his own bedroom he paused again, and then stepped down the corridor to Victor’s. The door was ajar. He pushed it open, took a step into the empty room and looked round at the cocoanut matting, the rugs, the bed in the shadow, the discoloured school trunk in the corner. And then he smiled again. But he was breathing deeply at intervals and had the look of a man who knew that he was doing familiar things for the last time.
The window in his own room was open, and the smell of tropical plants (especially the magnolia, with its sleep-inducing odour) was coming up from, the garden. He remembered that his own father had brought them from the East long ago, when he was himself a boy. The sky was dark, but the hidden moon broke through silvery clouds for a moment, and, looking through the surrounding blackness, he saw the bald crown of Snaefell, far beyond the trees and above the glen. He remembered that he had seen it so all the way up since he was a child.
He closed the curtains slowly and taking his candle again he walked around the room and looked long at the pictures on the walls. They were chiefly portraits or miniatures of Victor, at various periods of childhood and youth the latest being a photograph sent home to him from abroad.
That was the last oscillation of the pendulum. When he was about to prepare for bed he found his strength exhausted, and he was compelled to sit several times while he undressed. But he continued to smile, and when he lay down at length and put his head on the pillow he did it with a will.
Then he closed his eyes, and drew a deep breath, as one who has gone through a long day’s labour but has seen it finish up well at the end. And then he closed his eyes and the surge of sleep passed over him.
Outside the house everything seemed to slumber. It was a night strangely calm and dark. The tall elms stood like soundless sentinels in the darkness. Not a leaf stirred. The rivers flowed without noise, as if a supernatural hand had been laid on them to silence them. The only sound was the slow boom of the sea, which seemed to come up out of the ground and to be the pulse of the earth itself. The deep mystery of night was over all.
Towards morning there was a faint waft of wind in the trees and along the grass. Was it the movement in the earth’s bosom of the new day about to be ‘ born? Or some invisible presence striding along with noiseless footsteps?
Within the house everything seemed to sleep. But the Deemster lay dead.
“Mr. Victor, Sir! Mr. Victor!”
It was Robbie Creer, who, after knocking in vain at Stowell’s door in the grey hours of morning, was shouting up at his window. He had driven into town in the dog-cart and the little mare was steaming with perspiration.
Stowell threw up the window and heard the dread news. After a moment he answered, in a voice that sounded strange in Bobbie’s ears:
“Wait for me. I will go back with you.”
When he was ready to go he wrote a message to Fenella, and left it for Mrs. Quayle to send off as soon as the telegraph office opened:
“He has gone, heaven forgive me. I am going home now.”
It was Sunday morning, and the sleeping streets echoed to the rattle of the flying wheels. When they got into the country (they were taking the shortest cuts) the farms were lying idle and quiet. Stowell sat with folded arms while they raced past the whitewashed cottages with thatched roofs, and scattered flocks of geese that went off with screams and stretched necks.
On arriving at Ballamoar he paused before entering the house. The pastoral tranquillity of the place was heart-breaking. The sun had risen, the rooks were cawing, the linnets were twittering in the eaves, a kitten was playing with a butterfly in the porch it was just as if nothing had happened during the night.
Janet was in his father’s room, with red eyes and a handkerchief in her hand. She did not speak, but her silence seemed to say, “Why didn’t you come before?”
Stowell advanced to the side of the bed. The august face on the pillow, in the majesty and tranquillity of death, had never before looked so calm and noble, but that also seemed to say: “Why didn’t you come before?” He reached over and put his lips to the cold forehead. And then, with head down, he hurried from the room.
He could never afterwards remember what he did during the rest of that day only that to escape from the vague cheerfulness, the hushed bustle, the half-smothered hysteria, which come to a house after a death, he had strolled along the shore and past the ruined church in which he had walked with Fenella.
At length Janet came to him in the library to say “Good-night” and to sob out something about not grieving too much. And then he was left alone.
Sitting at the desk, where his father had sat the night before, he took up the leather-bound book and read it from end to end not without a sense of looking into the sanctuary of another soul, where only God’s eyes should see.
It was a large volume, of some five hundred quarto pages, with “Isobel’s Diary” inscribed on its first page, and these words below:
“Inasmuch as I cannot believe that my beloved companion who has died to-day is lost to me even in this life, and being convinced that the divine purpose in leaving me behind is that I may care for and guard her child, I dedicate this book to the record of my sacred duty.”
Then followed, in the Deemster’s steady handwriting, a daily entry, sometimes only a phrase or a line, sometimes a page, but always about his son:
“This morning in the library, making my desk under your portrait his altar, Parson Cowley baptised your boy Janet Curphey standing godmother, and the Attorney his other sponsor. We called him Victor, so the last of your dear wishes has been fulfilled.”
Stowell looked up and around him. He was on the very spot of that scene of so many years ago. Then came records of his childhood, his childish talk, his childish rhymes, his childish ailments:
“Your boy contracted a cold yesterday, and fearing it might develop into bronchitis, I sat up most of the night that I might go into the nursery at intervals to mend the fire under the steam kettle, Janet being worn out and sleepy. Thank God his breathing is better this morning!”
Stowell felt as if he were choking. Then came the records of his school-days; his expulsion; the slack times before he set to work; the bright ones when he was a student-at-law; the dark ones when he was going headlong to the dogs. After these latter entries it would be:
“A son is a separate being, Isobel. I can only stand and wait.”
Or sometimes, as if for comfort, a line from one of the great books, not rarely the Bible:
“Thy way is in the sea, and thy path is the great waters, and thy footsteps are not known.”
It was now the middle of the night. A dog was howling somewhere in the farm. Stowell paused and thought of the superstition about a howling dog and a dead body. When he resumed his reading he turned the pages with a trembling hand.
“It is six months since Victor returned to the island and he has only been here twice. I had hoped he would come to live with me at Ballamoar. But I must not complain. Nature looks forward, not backward. No son can love his father as the father loves the son. That is the law of life, Isobel, and we who are fathers must reconcile ourselves to it.”
Stowell felt his head reel and his eyes swim. If he had only known! If somebody had only told him!
The fire behind him had gone out by this time and he had begun to shiver. But he turned back to the book for the few remaining pages. And then came a shock. They were all about Fenella, and the Deemster’s hope that she and his son would marry.
“Never were two young people better matched to the outer eye, Isobel that splendid girl with her conquering loveliness or your son with his mother’s face. Her influence on him seems to be wonderful. She has only been a month back from London, but he is like a new man already.”
Overwhelmed with confusion Stowell tried to close the book, but he could not do so.
“A man looks for a woman who is a heroine, and a woman for a man who is a hero, and please God these two have found each other.”
Then came a glowing account of the trial at Castle Rushen, and then:
“So it’s all well at last, Isobel. Your son can do without me now. He needs his father no longer. With that fine woman by his side he will go up and up. They will marry and carry on the tradition of the Ballamoars. It is the dearest wish of my heart that they should do so.”
There was only one entry after that, and it ran:
“I am tired and my work is done. Now I can rejoin you, having waited so long. When I close my eyes to-night I shall see your face I know I shall. So Good-night, Isobel! Or should I say, Good-morning?”
The clock on the landing was striking three the most solemn hour of day and night, for it is the hour between. Stowell, with a heavy heart, the book in one hand and his candle in the other, was going to bed. Reaching the door of his father’s room he dropped to his knees.
“Forgive me! Forgive me! Forgive me!”
But after a while a light seemed to break on him. Where his father now was he would know that there was no help for it that he, too, must follow the line of honour.
“Yes,” he thought, rising and going on to his own room. “I must do the right, whatever it may cost me.”
On the morning of the burial, Stowell received a letter from Bessie Collister:
“I am sorry to here from Alick about the death of the Deemster you must feel it verry much the loss of such a good kinde father everrybody is talking about him and saying he was the best gentleman that everr was thank you for the nice cloths Mrs. Quayle bought me. Alick is very kinde
The poor, illiterate, inadequate, ill-spelt message made Stowell’s heart grow cold, and with a certain shame he read it by stealth and then smuggled it away.
The news of the Deemster’s death had fallen on the Manx people like a thunder-bolt. The one great man of Man had gone. It was almost as if the island had lost its soul.
No work was done on the day of the funeral. At ten o’clock in the morning the whole population seemed to be crossing the Curragh lanes to Ballamoar. By eleven the broad lawn was covered with a vast company of all classes, from the officials to the crofters. A long line of carriages, cars and stiff carts, lined the roads that surrounded the house.
The day had broken fair, with a kind of mild brightness, but out on that sandy headland the wind had risen and white wreaths of mist were floating over the land. It was late September and the leaves were falling rapidly.
Nobody entered the house. According to Manx custom all stood outside. At half-past eleven the front door was opened and the body was brought out, under a pall, and laid on four chairs in front of it. A moment later Victor Stowell came behind, bareheaded and very pale. A wide space was left for him by the bier. A creeper that covered the house was blood-red at his back.
Somebody started a hymn “Abide with me” and it was taken up by the vast company in front. The rooks swirled and screamed over the heads of the singers. The bald head of old Snaefell looked down through the trees.
Then the procession was formed. It took the grassy lane at the back by which the Deemster had always gone to church. Everybody walked, and six sets of bearers claimed the right “to carry the old man home.”
They sang two hymns on the way: “Lead, Kindly Light” and “Rock of Ages.” Between the verses the wind whistled through the gorse hedges on either side. Sometimes it raised the skirt of the pall and showed the bare oak beneath.
When they reached the cross roads in front of the church the bell began to toll. At that moment a white mist was driving across the church tower and almost obscuring it.
The Bishop of the island was at the gate, waiting for the procession, but Parson Cowley, pale and trembling, was also there, and he would have fought to the death for his right to bury the Deemster. “I am the Resurrection and the Life,” he began in his quavering voice, as the procession came up, and at the next moment the mists vanished. The little churchyard with its weather-beaten stones, seemed to look up at the wondering sky and out on the sightless sea. The bearers had to bend their knees as they passed through the low door.
Every seat in the body of the church was occupied, and great numbers had to remain outside. But Victor Stowell sat alone in the pew of the Ballamoars with the marble tablet on the wall behind him four hundred years of his family and he the last of them. During the reading of the Epistle the lashing and wailing of the wind outside almost drowned the Bishop’s voice.
The service ended with the singing of another hymn, “O God, our help in ages past.” Everybody knew the words, and they were taken up by the people outside:
“Time, like an ever-rolling stream, Bears all its sons away.”
Thus far Victor Stowell had gone through everything in a kind of stupor. He was conscious that the island was there to do honour to her greatest son, but that was nothing to him now. When he same to himself he was standing by the open vault of the Stowells. A line of stones lay over the closed part of it, some of them old and worn and with the lettering almost obliterated. But a cross of white marble, which had been dislodged from its place, lay at his feet, and it bore the words:
“To the dear memory of Isabel, the beloved wife of Douglas Stowell, Deemster of this Isle.”
Victor’s throat was throbbing. He was losing (what no man can lose twice) his father and greatest friend, whose slightest word and wish should be as sacred to him as his soul.
He heard the words “dust to dust” and they were like the reverberation of eternity. Then came a dead void, after Parson Cowley’s voice had ceased, and it was just as if the pulse of the world had stopped.
And then, at that last moment as he stepped forward and looked down, and everybody fell back for him, and only the sea’s boom was audible as it beat on the cliffs below, somebody (he did not turn to look, for he knew who it was) coming up to his side, and putting her arm through his, said in a tremulous voice,
“He is better there. In their death they are not divided.”
It was Fenella.
At the next moment, something he could not resist, something unconquerable and overwhelming, made him put his arms about her and kiss her.
THE SAVING OF KATE KINKADE
The Governor was waiting for Stowell at the side gate to Ballamoar.
“You look ill, my boy, and no wonder,” he said. “Fenella and I are to take a short cruise in the yacht before the autumn ends. You must come along with us.”
For the farmers and fishermen who had travelled long distances a meal had been provided in the barn a kind of robustious afterwake for the Deemster, presided over by the elder and younger Robbie Creers.
Alick Gell alone returned with Stowell to the house. In his black frock coat and tall silk hat he had walked back from the Church by Stowell’s side, snuffling audibly but saying nothing. To Stowell’s relief he was still silent through luncheon and for several hours afterwards. It was not until they were in the porch, and Gell was on the point of going, that anything of consequence was said.
“What about Bessie?” asked Stowell.
“Oh, Bessie?” said Gell (he looked a little confused) “Bessie’s all right, I think. But there’s trouble coming in that quarter, I’m afraid.”
“As we were walking along Langness yesterday I went down to tell her about the Deemster we met Caesar Qualtrough coming from the farm.”
“You know father of the young scoundrel who got us into that scrape at King William’s.”
“He’s a friend of Dan Baldromma’s, and Dan is a tenant of my father’s and. . . . But good Lord, what matter! I’ve worse things than that to worry about.”
As Gell was going out of the gate, the night was falling and the stars were out, and he was saying to himself, “Does he really care for the girl, or is it only a sense of duty?”
And Stowell, as he closed the door and went back into the house (empty and vault-like now, as a house is on the first night after the being who has been the soul of it has been left outside) was thinking, “I can’t allow Alick to be my scapegoat any longer.”
But at the next moment he was thinking of Fenella. With mingled shame and joy he was asking himself what was being thought of the incident in the churchyard by Fenella herself, by the Governor, by everybody.
Next day the Attorney- General came with the will. Except for a few legacies to servants, the Deemster had left everything to his son.
“So, with your mother’s fortune, you are one of the rich men of the island, now, Victor. A great responsibility, my boy! I pray God you may choose the right partner. But” (with a meaning smile) “that will be all right, I think.”
During the next days Stowell occupied himself with Joshua Scarff, the Deemster’s clerk (a tall, thin, elderly man wearing dark spectacles) in paying-off the legacies. Only one of these gave him any anxiety. This was Janet’s, and it was accompanied by a pension, in case Victor should decide to superannuate her. Against doing so all his heart cried out, but something whispered that if Janet were gone it might be the easier for Bessie.
Janet was in floods of tears at the possibility.
“I couldn’t have believed it of the Deemster!” she said. “I really couldn’t! You can keep the legacy, dear. I have no use for it except to give it back to you. But I won’t leave Ballamoar. ‘Deed, I won’t! Not until another woman comes to be mistress in it, and wants me to go. And she never will, the darling I’ll trust her for that, anyway.”
A day or two later Stowell was in his father’s room, when he came upon an envelope inscribed: “To be opened by my son.” It contained a ring, a beautiful and valuable gem, with a note saying:
“This teas your mother’s engagement ring. I wish you to give it to Fenella Stanley. Take it yourself.”
Stowell was stupefied. Struggling with a sense of his duty to the girl whom he had sent to Derby Haven he had been telling himself that he must never see Fenella again. But here was a sacred command from the dead.
For three days he thought he could not possibly go to Government House. On the fourth day he went.
The beauty and charm of the atmosphere of Fenella’s home were heart-breaking. And Fenella herself, in a soft tea-gown, was almost more than he could bear to look upon.
She, too, seemed embarrassed, and when Miss Green (an English counterpart of Janet) left them alone with each other, and he gave her the ring, saying what his father had told him to do with it, her embarrassment increased.
She held it in her ringers, turned it over and looked at it, and said, “How lovely! How good of him!” And then, trembling and tingling, and with a slightly heightened colour, she looked at Stowell.
Suddenly a thought flashed upon him. Why had his father told him to take the ring to her himself? The answer was speaking in Fenella’s eyes that, at the topmost moment of their love, he should put it on.
At the next instant the Governor entered the drawing-room, and Fenella, holding up her hand (she had put the ring on for herself by this time) cried:
“See what the Deemster has left to me!”
“Beautiful!” said the Governor, and then he looked from Stowell to his daughter.
Stowell rose to go. He had the sense of flying from the house.
Fenella must have thought him a fool. The Governor must have thought him a fool. But better be a fool than a traitor!
A week passed and then an idea came to him. He would tell the truth to Bessie’s people the whole truth if necessary. That would commit him once for all to the line of honour. Having taken that public plunge there could be no looking back, and the bitter struggle between his passion and his duty would then be over.
With a certain pride at the thought of being about to do an heroic thing he set out one day for Ramsey, intending to return by Baldromma. But on entering his outer office his young clerk told him that Mr. Daniel Collister was in his private room, that he had been waiting there for two hours, and refusing to go away.
Dan, with his short, gross figure, was standing astride on the hearthrug, and without so much as a bow he plunged into his business.
A respectable man’s house was in disgrace. His step-daughter had run away. Been carried off by a scoundrel there couldn’t be a doubt of it. A month gone and not the whisper of a word from her. The mother was broken-hearted, so he had been traipsing the island over to find the girl.
“I belave I’m on the track of her at last though. She’s down Castletown way, and the man that’s been the cause of her trouble isn’t far off, I’m thinking.”
“And whom do you say it is, Mr. Collister?”
“Somebody that’s middling close to yourself, sir Mr. Alick Gell, the son of the Spaker.”
“No, no, no!”
“Who else then?”
Stowell tried to speak but could not.
“Wasn’t he the cause of her disgrace at the High Bailiff’s? And hasn’t he been keeping up his bad character ever since standing by the side of disorderly walkers in the Douglas Coorts, they’re saying?”
He must have promised to marry the girl. But he hadn’t. He (Dan) had been to the Registrar’s at Douglas and found that out.
“The toot! The boght! The booby! I was warning her enough. The man that takes advantage of a dacent girl isn’t much for marrying her afterwards.”
Remembering Dan’s share in the catastrophe, Stowell was feeling the vertigo of a temptation to take the gross creature by the neck and fling him through the window.
“Why do you come to me?” he asked.
“To ask you to tell your friend that he’s got to make an honest woman of the girl.”
“Is that all you are thinking about?”
Dan drew a quick breath, then dug both hands into the upright pockets of his trousers, thrust forward his thick neck, with a gesture peculiar to the bull, and answered:
“No, I’m thinking of myself as well, and what for shouldn’t I? I’m going to stand up for nay own rights, too. The man that treats my girl like that has got to marry her, and I’m not going to be satisfied with nothing less.”
Then picking up his billycock hat and making for the door he said:
“I lave it with you, Mr. Stowell, Sir. If the Dempster was the grand gentleman people are saying, his son will be seeing justice done to me and mine. If not, the island will be too hot for the guilty man, I’m thinking.”
When Dan had gone Stowell felt sick and dizzy, and as if he were drawing back from the edge of a precipice. His heroic act of self-sacrifice had dwindled to a ridiculous weakness.
This man, with his blatant vulgarity of mind and soul, at Ballamoar! His father-in-law! A member of his family! Biding over him with a degrading tyranny! In the dining-room, with his broad buttocks to the fire never, never, never!
Hardly had Dan’s footsteps ceased on the stair when the young clerk came from the outer office in great excitement.
“His Excellency is here. He’s coming upstairs, Sir.”
“Helloa, I’ve found you.”
The Governor was in yachting costume.
“Well, the yacht is lying outside, and Fenella and I are doing a little circumnavigating of the island, so come along.”
Stowell tried to excuse himself, but the Governor would listen to no excuses.
“Everybody says you are looking like a ghost these days, and so you are. Therefore come, let’s get a breath of sea-air into you.”
“But your Excellency. …”
“I’ve brought one of the ship’s boys ashore for your bag, so pack it quick. . . .”
“But really. . . .”
“Where’s your bedroom and I’ll pack it myself.”
“No, no! But if I must. . . .”
“That’s better I I’ll smoke a pipe and wait for you.”
“Alter all, why not?” thought Stowell, as he packed his bag and put on flannels and a blue jacket. This flying away from Fenella was unworthy of a man. It was cowardly, contemptible. He must learn to resist temptation.
Half an hour later he was riding with the Governor in a dinghy over the fresh waters of the bay towards a large white yacht, “The Fenella,” with the red ensign fluttering over her. The gangway was open and as Stowell stepped on to the spotless deck of the ship, her namesake, also in yachting costume, was waiting to receive him.
The mainsail, mizzen and jib being set, the grey-bearded captain, in blue with brass buttons, called on his boys to swing the ‘dinghy up to the davits and haul in the anchor. In a few minutes more, to the hiss and simmer of the sea, the yacht was running free before the wind, leaving the town to the south behind it.
The bell rang for luncheon, and with the Governor and Fenella, Stowell crossed to the companion and went down to the saloon. Books and field-glasses were lying about the sofas and the table was glistening with silver and glass. Blue silk curtains, with the sunlight shining through them, were fluttering over the skylight and the port-holes. How fresh I How charming!
When they came up on deck an hour afterwards they were doubling the Point of Ayre, and the lighthouse at the northernmost end of it was looking like a marble column with a glittering eye. Towards six o’clock they cast anchor for the night off Peel.
The sun was then setting, and the herring fleet (a hundred boats) going out for the night were passing in front of the red sky like a flight of black birds. By the time dinner was over the drowsy spirit of the sunset had died over the waters behind them, the twilight had deepened to a ghostly grey, and the moon had risen over the little fishing town in front and the gaunt walls of the ruined Peel Castle which stands on an island rock.
The Governor, who had sent ashore for the day’s newspapers, remained in the cabin to read them. But Stowell and Fenella sat on deck under the moon and the stars. The air had become very quiet. There was no sound anywhere except the tranquil wash of the waves against the yacht and the whispering of the sea outside.
Fenella talked and laughed. Stowell laughed and talked. They found it so easy to talk to each other.
The night wore on. The moon going westward made the broken walls of the Castle stand up black above the shore, with its empty window-sockets like eyes looking from the lighter sky.
Stowell talked of the old ruin and its legendary and historical associations St. Patrick, the spectre hound (the Mauthe Doo), the ecclesiastical prison and the graves in the roofless Cathedral.
“But I’ll tell you a story that beats all that,” he said.
“About a woman of course?” said Fenella.
“Yes a fallen woman.”
“Her name was Kate Kinrade. She gave birth to an illegitimate child, and the Bishop he was a saint thinking that her conduct tended to the dishonour of the Christian name, ordered that, for the saving of her soul, she should be dragged after a boat across the bay of Peel on the fair of St. Patrick at the height of the market.”
“And was she?”
“The fishermen refused at first to carry out the censure, and then excused themselves on the ground that St. Patrick’s day was too tempestuous. But being threatened with fines, they did it at last in the depth of winter.”
Fenella’s gaiety had gone. Stowell gazed at her face in the moonlight. It was quivering and her bosom was heaving.
“And the Bishop was a saint, you say?”
“If ever there was one.”
“He ordered the woman to be dragged through the sea at the tail of a boat?”
“And what did he do to the man?”
Stowell gasped. There was silence for a moment, and then the Governor’s voice came from the skylight of the cabin:
“Are you people never going to turn in?”
“I am, anyway.”
It was late. The lights of the little town had blinked out one by one. Only the red light on the stone pier was burning.
Fenella recovered her gaiety after a while, shouted for echoes to the Castle rock, and then took Stowell’s arm to go down the companion.
On reaching the darkened saloon she stepped on tiptoe and dropped her voice under pretence of not disturbing her father, who would be asleep. At the door of her cabin she ceased laughing and said,
“Hush! I’m going to say something.”
“I don’t know if you’re aware of it, but ever since I came home you’ve been calling me 4 Miss Stanley,’ and I’ve been calling you anything.”
“We used to call each other by our Christian names before.
Couldn’t we go back to that?”
“Would you like to?”
There was a pause, and then, in a whisper,
It had been like a kiss.
Stowell went to his cabin in rapture, in pain, with a delicious thrill and a sense of stifling hypocrisy. What a hypocrite he had been? It was not to resist temptation but to dally with it that he had come on this cruise.
He was there under false pretences. He had pledged himself to the girl at Derby Haven, and yet. . . .
Thank God, he had gone no farther! There was only one way of escape from the perpetual fire of temptation to hasten his marriage with Bessie Collister. He must see her as soon as possible and suggest that they should marry immediately. It was heart-breaking, but there was no help for it, if he was to stand upright as an honourable man.
Dan Baldromma? Well, what of him? He could shut the door on Dan of course he could!
Next morning Stowell was the first on deck. The air was salt and chill; the day had not yet opened its eyes; there was a whirring of wings and a calling of sea-birds; and through a sleepy white mist, that might have been the smoke of the moon, the herring fleet were coming like pale ghosts back to harbour.
A fresh breeze sprang up with the sunrise and the Captain lifted anchor and stood out towards the south. Sheep were bleating on the head-land of Contrary, and as they opened the broad bay of the Niarbyl the thatched cottages under the cliffs were smoking for breakfast.
When they reached Port Erin the Governor came up and ordered anchor to be cast again, saying they would lie there and go out with the herring fleet in the evening.
Seeing his opportunity, Stowell said he would like to go ashore for a few hours a little business.
“Mind you’re back by four o’clock then we’ll sail at high-water.”
As Stowell was being sculled ashore in the dinghy he was saying to himself:
“No Kate Kinrade for me never, never!”
An hour later Stowell was in Derby Haven, a little hidden fishing village, smelling of sea-wrack and echoing with the cry of gulls.
The Misses Brown, in their oiled ringlets and faded satin dresses, received him, in their old maids’ sitting-room, with much ceremony, and he speedily realised that Gell, in trying to shield him, had gone farther than he expected.
“You wish to see Miss Collister? Well, since you are such a close friend of Mr. Gell there can be no objection. . . . Bessie! A gentleman to see you.”
Stowell heard Bessie coming downstairs with great alacrity, but on seeing him she drew up with a certain embarrassment.
“Oh, it’s you?”
She was shorter than he had thought, and the impression made by her photograph of something common in her beauty was deepened by the reality.
“Should we take a walk?” he said.
She hesitated for a moment, then went upstairs and returned presently in a round hat and a close-fitting costume which sat awkwardly upon her. What a change! Where was the free, warm, natural, full-bosomed girl with bare neck and sunburnt arms who had fascinated him in the glen?
They took the unfrequented path on the western side of Langness a long serpentine tongue of land which protruded from the open mouth of the sea. He tried to begin upon the subject of his errand but found it impossible to do so.
“Bye and bye,” he thought, “bye and bye.”
Bessie kept step with him, but was almost silent. He asked if she was comfortable in her new quarters, and she said they were lonesome after the farm, but old Miss Brown was a dear and Miss Ethel a “dozey duck.”
The common expression humiliated him. He inquired if she had been able to relieve her mother’s anxiety, and she answered no, how could she, without letting her stepfather know where she was?
“They’re telling me he’s travelling the island over looking for me, but I don’t know why. He was always dead nuts on me when I was at home.”
Again he felt ashamed. He found it impossible to keep up a conversation with the girl. To attempt to do so was like throwing a stone into the sand no echo, no response.
Only once did Bessie say anything for herself. She was walking on the landward side of the path, and seeing an old man, with a pair of horses, grubbing a hungry-looking field, with a cloud of seagulls swirling behind him, she said it was dirty land, full of scutch, and the farmer was laying it open to the frosts of winter.
Stowell was feeling the sweat on his forehead. How was it possible to lift up a girl like this? She would be the farm girl to the last. Good Lord, what magic was there in marriage to change people and ensure their happiness?
Ballamoar? That lonesome place inside the tall trees! He might shut out her family, but would not she illiterate, uninteresting, inadequate shut out his friends? And then, he and she together there, with nothing in common, alone, in the long nights of winter . . . Oh God!
Ashamed of thinking like that of the girl, and having reached the lighthouse by this time, he drew her arm through his and turned to go back. The warmth of the contact revived a little of the former thrill, and he laughed and talked.
The voice of the sea was low that day, and across the bay came shouts and cheers in fresh young voices the boys of King William’s were playing football. That brought memories to both of them and he began to talk about Gell.
“Dear old Alick, he’s such a good fellow, isn’t he?”
“‘Deed he is,” said Bessie.
“By the way, he’s a sort of old flame of yours, I believe,” said Stowell, looking sideways at the girl, and Bessie blushed and laughed, but made no answer.
Those black eyes, those full red lips. Yes, this was the girl who . . .
But the idea of a marriage founded on the passion which had brought them together revolted him now, and he let Bessie’s arm fall to his side.
When they got back to the old maid’s cottage he had still said nothing of what he had come to say. “Later on,” he was telling himself, but a secret voice inside was whispering, ” Never! It is impossible!”
The elder of the Miss Browns followed him to the gate to ask if he did not see a great improvement in her charge, and when he Said that Bessie seemed to be a little subdued, she cried:
“Bessie? Oh dear no, not generally! Ask Mr. Gell.”
Perhaps the girl was not well to-day they had thought she had not been very well lately.
“And how is she getting on with …” (the word stuck in his throat) “with her lessons?”
“Wonderfully! Of course she has long arrears to make up, but the way she works to fit herself for her new station . . . well, it’s enough to make a person cry, really.”
Stowell felt as if something were taking him by the throat.
“In fact my sister and I used to wonder and wonder what she did with her bedroom candles until we found out she was sitting up after everybody had gone to sleep to learn her grammar and spelling.”
Stowell felt as if something had struck him in the face. Every hard thought about Bessie seemed to be wiped out of his mind in a moment.
Going back to Port Erin (he walked all the way) he could think of nothing but that girl sitting up in her bedroom to educate herself, in her poor little way, that she might become worthy to be his wife.
If he disappointed her now what would become of her? Would she kill herself? Would the world kill her? Kate Kinrade? The days of the Bishop and the woman were not over yet.
No, he must keep his pledge, and make no more wry faces about it. If it had been his duty before it was more than ever his duty now.
He must put her out of his mind for ever. He would be the most unhappy man alive, but then his own happiness was not the only thing he had to think about. He could not live any longer under false pretences. He must find some way of telling Fenella that he had engaged himself while she was away that he was a pledged man.
But what then? There would be nothing more between them as long as they lived not a smile or the clasp of a hand! She whom he had loved so long, never having loved anybody else! It would be like signing his death-warrant.
The dead leaves from the roadside were driving over his feet; his eyes ached and his throat throbbed, but he gulped down his emotion. After all he would be the only sufferer! Thank God for that anyway!
As he reached Port Erin, he saw the white sails of the yacht against the blue sea and sky.
“Yes, I must tell Fenella I must tell her to-night,” he thought.
THE EVERLASTING SONG OF THE SEA
“An, here you are at last! Just in time! A breeze sprang up an hour ago, and the Captain would have gone without you but for me. The herring fleet have gone already. Look, there they are, sailing into the sunset.”
Fenella was in high spirits. Having prevailed upon the Governor to let them have a real night with the herrings (turning the yacht into a fishing boat) she had borrowed a net and hired fishermen’s clothes oilskins and a sou’-wester for herself and a “ganzy” and big boots for Stowell.
It was impossible to resist the contagion of Fenella’s gaiety. “Why try?” thought Stowell. It would be his last night of happiness. To-morrow he would have to bury it for ever.
In a few minutes, having cleared the harbour, they had opened the land on either side and were standing out for the fishing ground. Within two hours, in the midst of the fleet, they were sailing over the Carlingford sands, midway between the island and Ireland, and the sea-birds skimming above the water were showing them the shoal.
Dinner was over, and Stowell, in jersey and big boots up to his thighs, saw Fenella come on deck in her oilskin coat and sou’-wester with the new and surprising beauty which fresh garments, whatever they are, give to every woman in the eyes of the man who loves her.
What shouts! What laughter! Stowell kept saying to himself: “Why not? It will soon be over.”
They slackened sail and waited for the sun to go down before shooting their nets. Presently the great ball of flame descended into the sea, the admiral of the fleet ran his flag to his masthead, and the Captain cried, “Shoot!”
Then the brown net, with its floats, was dropped over the stern (Fenella taking a hand and shouting with the men), the foresail was hauled down, and the mizzen set to keep the ship head to the wind. And then, all being snug for the night, came the fishermen’s prayer:
“Dy hannie Patrick Noo shin as nyn maaty” (May St. Patrick bless us and our boat) with something about the living and the dead the crew and the fish.
After that came the throwing of the salt, a more robustious and less religious ceremony, which threw Fenella into fits of laughter.
“What does it mean?” she asked.
The grey twilight came down from the northern heavens, and then night fell a dark night without moon but with a world of stars. Stowell and Fenella were leaning over the side to watch the phosphorescent gleams which, like flashes of light under the surface, came from the fish that were darting away from the prow.
“Isn’t it wonderful the fish going on and on to the goal of their perpetual travels?” said Fenella.
“They always come back to the place they were spawned, though,” said Stowell.
“Like humans, are they? You remember ‘ Back to the heart’s place here I keep for thee.’ ”
Stowell felt as if a hand were at his throat again. “Bye and bye,” he thought. Before they turned in for the night he would tell her everything.
Suddenly there was a crash at the stern the anchor had been lifted up and then banged down on the deck.
“What’s that?” cried Fenella.
“They’re proving the nets to see if the fish are coming,” said Stowell, and hurrying aft together they found the water milky white and full of irridescent rays.
A couple of warps of the net were hauled aboard, and twelve or fifteen herring fell on to the deck. Fenella picked them up, wriggling, cheeping and twisting in her hands and threw them into a basket she was in a fever of excitement.
After that several of the boats that were fishing alongside called across to know the result of the proving, and the Captain answered them in Manx, with the crude symbolism of the sea.
“Let me do it next time,” said Fenella.
“Do you think you can, miss?” asked the Captain.
“She can do anything,” said Stowell, and when the next boat called, Fenella (with Stowell to prompt her) stood ready to reply.
“R’ou prowal, bhoy!” cried the voice out of the darkness.
“What’s he saying? Quick!”
“He’s asking were you proving, boy. Say Va I was.”
Fenella put her open palms at each side of her mouth, under her sou-‘wester, and cried, ” Va I”
“Quoid oo er y piyr?”
“He asks what you found in your net. Say ‘ Pohnnar a child.’ ”
“Oh my goodness! Pohnnar,” cried Fenella.
“Cre’n cash dy pohnnar?”
“He asks what is the age of your child. Say Dussan ny quieg-yeig twelve to fifteen.”
“My goodness gracious! Dussan ny quicg-yeig,” cried Fenella.
By this time everybody was in convulsions of laughter, and Stowell could scarcely resist the impulse to throw his arms about Fenella and kiss her. “Soon! Soon! I must tell her soon!” he thought.
The wind had dropped and a great stillness had fallen on the sea. The glow from the lights of the Dublin was in the western sky; the revolving light of the Chicken Bock (the most southerly point of Man) was in the east; and for two miles round lay the herring boats, with their watch-lights burning on the roofs of their net houses, and looking like stars which had fallen from the darkening sky on to the bosom of the sea.
Fenella began to sing, and before Stowell knew what he was
doing he was singing with her:
She: Oh Molla-caraine, where got you your gold?
He: Lone, lone, you have left me here.
It was entrancing the hour, the surroundings, the charm and sonority of the sea. “But this is madness,” thought Stowell. It would only make it the harder to do what he had to do.
Nevertheless he went on, and when they came to the end of another Manx ballad Kiree fo naightey (the sheep under the snow) he said:
“Would you like to know where that old song was written?”
“In Castle Rushen by a poor wretch whose life had been sworn away by a vindictive woman.”
“And what had he done to her? Betrayed her, and then deserted her for another woman, I suppose. That’s the one thing a woman can never forgive never should, perhaps.”
“I must tell her soon,” thought Stowell. But he could think of no way to begin no natural way to lead up to what he had to say.
The night was now very dark and silent. The majesty and solemnity around were grand and moving. Fenella, who had been laughing all the evening, was serious enough at last.
“It’s almost as if the sea, grown old, had gone to sleep with the going down of the sun, isn’t it?” she said.
“The sea isn’t always like this, though,” said Stowell.
“No, it can be very cruel, can’t it? Boiling on and on, with its incessant, monotonous roar through the ages! What heartless things it has done! Millions and millions of women have prayed and it has paid no heed to them.”
“How cap I do it? How can I do it?” Stowell was asking himself.
“Oh, what a thing it is to be a sailor’s wife!” said Fenella. “Only think of her with her little brood, in her cottage at Peel, perhaps, when a sudden storm comes on! Giving the children their supper and washing them and undressing them, and hearing them say their prayers and hushing them to sleep, and then going downstairs to the kitchen, and listening to the roar of the sea on the castle rocks, and thinking of her man out here in the darkness, struggling between life and death.”
Stowell knew, though he dare not look, that she was brushing her handkerchief over her eyes.
“Victor,” she said, “don’t you think women are rather brave creatures?”
“The bravest creatures in the world!” he answered.
“I knew you would say that,” said Fenella, in a low voice. “And that’s why I always think of you as their champion, fighting their battles for them when they are wronged and helpless.”
Stowell felt as if he were choking. He could not go on with this hypocrisy any longer. He must tell her now. It would be like committing suicide, but what must be, must be.
“Fenella. . . .”
But just then the loud voice of the Captain cried “Strike!” and at the next moment Fenella was flying aft, to tug at the net and
shake out the herrings that came up with it.
What shouts! What screams! What peals of laughter I
It was midnight before the joy and bustle of the catch were over, and the net was shot again. The Governor was then smoking his last pipe in the Captain’s cabin, and Stowell, with Fenella on his arm, was walking to and fro on the deck.
“Need I tell her at all?” he was thinking.
He felt as if he were being swept along by an irresistible flood. He could not doom himself to death. With Fenella by his side he could think of nobody and nothing but her. Sometimes, when they crossed the light from the skylight, they turned their faces towards each other and smiled.
After a while Stowell found himself bantering Fenella. Catching a flash of her ring (his mother’s ring) on the hand that was on his arm, he pretended it was gone and asked if it had fallen off while she was pulling at the net.
“Gone! The ring you ga . … I mean the Deemster gave me! No, here it is! What a shock! I should have died if I had lost it.”
She was radiant; he was reckless; the little trick had uncovered their hearts to each other.
They heard a step on the other side of the deck.
It was the Governor going down the companion. “Time to turn in, girl! We are to breakfast at Port St. Mary at nine in the morning, you know.”
“I’m coming, father.”
But he could not let Fenella go. It was a sin to go to bed at all on such a heavenly night. At last, at the top of the companion, he loosed her arm, with a slow asundering, and said,
“The Governor says we are to breakfast at Port St. Mary do you think we shall if this calm continues?”
She laughed (her laugh seemed to come up from her heart) and said, “I’m not worrying about that.”
“When a woman has all she wants in the world in one place why should she wish to go- to another?”
“And have you?”
“Good-night!” she said, holding out both hands.
He caught them, and the touch communicated fire. At the next moment he had lifted her hands to his lips.
She drew them down, and his hands with them, pressed them to her breast and then broke away, and was gone in an instant,
Stowell gasped. “She loves me! She loves me! She loves me!”
Nothing else mattered! Let the world rip!
Stowell did not go below that night. For two hours he tramped the deck, laughing to himself like a lunatic.
“She loves me! She loves me! She loves me!”
When the watch had to be changed at two o’clock he sent the man to his berth and took his place. And when the dawn broke and the lamps of the fishing fleet blinked out, and the boats showed grey, like ghosts, on the colourless waste around, and the monotonous chanting of the crews far and near told him the nets were being hauled in, he shouted down the fo’c’sle for the men. And when they came on deck he helped them to haul in their own net and to empty their catch (it was the Governor’s order) into the first “Nickey”
that came along.
The grey sky in the east had reddened to a flame by this time. Then up from the round rim of the sea rose the everlasting sun, and lo, it was day! God, what an enchanted world it was! All the glory and majesty of the sea seemed to be singing hymns to the same tune as that of his own heart:
“She loves me! She loves me! She loves me!”
A light wind sprang up, a cool blowing from the south, just enough to ripple the surface of the water. Already some of the fishing boats had swung about and were standing off for home.
Stowell helped to haul the mainsail, and shouted with the men as they pulled at the ropes and the white canvas rose above them.
“She loves me! She loves me! She loves me!”
Within half an hour the wind had freshened to a summer gale and they were running before a roaring sea. The sails bellied out, the yacht listed over, the scuppers were half full of water, but Stowell would not go below. For a long hour more he held on and looked around at the fishing boats as they flew together in the brilliant sunshine between the two immensities of sky and sea.
“She loves me! She loves me! She loves me!”
Helloa! Here was his own little island with the sun riding over the mountain-tops! The plunging and rearing of the yacht gave the notion that the mountains were nodding to him. “Good morning, son.” What nonsense came into a man’s head when his heart was glad!
“She loves me! She loves me! She loves me!”
Ah, here were the cliffs of the Calf, with their hoary heads in the flying sky and their feet in the thunder of the sea! And here was the brown-belted lighthouse of the Chicken Bock, which Fenella and he had picked up last night! And here was the shoulder of Spanish Head, and here was the belly of the Chasms, ringing with the cry of ten thousand sea fowl I
“She loves me! She loves me! She loves me!”
Suddenly there came a shock. They were opening the bay of Port St. Mary, with the little fishing town lying asleep along its sheltered arm, when he saw across the Poolvaish (the pool of death) the grey walls of Castle Rushen, and the long reach of Langness. And then memory flowed back on him like a tidal wave.
Derby Haven! The old maids’ house! The girl burning her candle in her bedroom to educate herself that she might become worthy to be his wife!
“Oh God! Oh God!”
If Fenella loved him he had stolen her love. He had no right to it, being married already, virtually married bound by every tie that could hold an honourable man.
He felt like a traitor a traitor to Fenella now. He recalled what he had said last night. One step more and
Thank God, he had gone no farther! If he had allowed Fenella to engage herself to him, and then the facts about Bessie Collister had become known, as they might have done through Dan Baldromma
He must go. He must go immediately. His miserable mistake must not bring disgrace on Fenella also.
The yacht was sliding into the slack water of the bay, and the row-boats of the fish-buyers, each flying its little flag, were coming out to meet the fishing boats, when Stowell went down to the saloon still dark with its blue silk curtains over skylight and portholes.
He took off his fisherman’s clothes, put on his own, and sat down at the table to scribble a note to the Governor:
“Excuse me! I must go up to Douglas by the first train. Have just remembered an important engagement. Hope to call at Government Office to-morrow.”
As he was leaving the saloon he looked back towards the cabin in which Fenella lay asleep. His eyes were wet, his heart throbbed painfully, he felt as if he were being banished from her presence as by a curse. Renunciation- life-long renunciation that was all that was left to him now.
The fleet were in harbour when he went on deck, a hundred boats huddled together. And when he stepped ashore the fish salesmen were selling the night’s catch by auction, and the bronze-faced and heavy-bearded fishermen, in their big boots, were counting their herrings in mixed English and Manx:
“Nane, jeer, three, kiare, quieg . . . warp, tally!”
THE WOMAN’S SECRET
WHEN Stowell awoke next morning at Ballamoar a flock of sheep, liberated from a barn, were bleating before a barking dog. He had passed a restless night. All his soul revolted against the renunciation he had imposed upon himself. It was like life-long imprisonment. Yet what was he to do? He must decide and decide quickly.
Suddenly he thought of the Governor. The strong sense and practical wisdom of the Governor might help him to a decision. But Fenella’s father! How could he tell his story to Fenella’s father?
At last an idea came to him whereby he could obtain the Governor’s counsel without betraying his secret. He was at the crisis. On what he did now the future of his life depended. And not his own life, only, but Fenella’s also, perhaps, and . . . Bessie Collister’s.
At three o’clock he was at the Government offices in Douglas. Police inspectors were at the door and moving about in the corridors. One of them took him up to the Governor’s room a large chamber overlooking the street and noisy from the tram-cars that ran under the windows. The Governor’s iron-grey head was bent over a desk-table.
“Sit down I shall not be long.”
Stowell felt his heart sink in advance. Never would he be able to say what he had come to say.
“Well, you gave us the slip nicely, didn’t you?” said the Governor, raising his head from his papers.
“I’m sorry, Sir,” said Stowell (he felt his lip trembling). “It was an important matter, and I’ve come to town to-day to ask your advice on it.”
“Something you’ve been consulted about?”
“Well . . . yes.”
“I’m no authority on law, you know.”
“It’s not so much a matter of law, Sir, as of morality what an honourable man ought to do under difficult circumstances.”
The Governor looked up sharply. Stowell struggled on.
“A client … I should say a friend . . . engaged himself to a young woman awhile ago, and now, owing to circumstances which have arisen since, he finds it difficult to decide whether it is his duty to marry her.”
Stowell felt his voice as well as his lips trembling. “Oh, good enough class, I think.”
The Governor picked up his pipe from the table, charged it, lighted it, turned his chair towards the fireplace, threw his leg over the rail-fender and said:
Then trembling and ashamed, but making a strong call on his resolution, Stowell told his own story as if it had been that of another man.
When he had come to an end there was a long silence. The Governor pulled hard at his pipe and there was no other sound in the room except the rattle of the tram-cars in the street.
Stowell felt hot, his lips felt dry, and pushing back his black hair, he found sweat on his forehead.
“It was a shocking blunder, of course,” he said. “My man doesn’t defend himself. Still he thinks the circumstances …”
“You mean it wasn’t deliberate?”
“Good Lord, no!”
“In fact a kind of accident?”
“One might say so.”
“Any harm done?”
“Harm?” Stowell turned white and began to stammer. “I . . . no, that is to say . . . no, I’ve never heard …”
“And yet he promised to marry the girl?”
“He felt responsible for her. He couldn’t be a scoundrel.”
“Did he care for her love her?”
“I can’t say that, Sir. He might have thought he did.”
“And now he loves another woman?”
“With all his heart’ and soul, Sir.”
“But,” (the Governor was puffing placidly) ” he has promised to marry the little farm girl, and she’s away somewhere educating herself to become his wife?”
“That’s it, Sir,” said Stowell (his head was down), “and now he is asking himself what it is his duty to do. I have told him it is his duty as a man of honour to carry out his promise to marry the girl, whatever the consequences to himself. Am I right, Sir?”
There was another moment of silence, and then the Governor, taking his pipe out of his mouth, and bringing his open palm down on the table, said:
“It would be marrying the wrong woman, wouldn’t it?”
“Well . . . yes, one might say that, Sir.”
“Then it would be a crime.”
“A three-fold crime.”
The Governor rose, crossed the floor, then drew up in front of Stowell and spoke with sudden energy.
“First, against the girl herself. She’s an attractive young person, I suppose, eh?” Stowell nodded.
“But uneducated, illiterate, out of another world, as they say?” Stowell nodded again.
“Then does your man suppose that by sending her to school for a few months he will bridge the gulf between them? Is that how he expects to make her happy? Ten to one the girl will be a miserable outsider in her husband’s house to the last day of her life. But that’s not the worst, by a long way.”
“If he marries her it will be out of a sense of duty, will it not?”
“Well, what woman on God’s earth wants to be married out of a sense of duty? And if he loves another woman do you think his wife will not find it out some day? Of course she will! And when she does what do you think will happen? I’ll tell you what will happen. If she’s one of the sensitive kind she’ll feel herself crushed, superfluous, and pine away and die of grief and shame, or perhaps take a dose of something . . . we’ve heard of such happenings, haven’t we? And if she’s a woman of the other sort she’ll go farther.”
“You mean . . . .”
“Suspicion, jealousy, envy! She may not care a brass farthing about her husband, but her pride as a wife will be wounded. She won’t give him a day’s peace, or herself either. He’ll never be an hour out of her sight but she’ll think he’s with the other woman. And then what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander! If he has another woman as likely as not she’ll have another man we’ve heard of that, too, haven’t we?”
Stowell dropped his head. His heart was beating high, and he was afraid his face was betraying it. The Governor touched him on the shoulder, and continued,
” In the next place, it would be a crime against the man himself. He’s a young fellow of some prospects, I suppose?”
“I … I think so.”
“And the girl has some family, hasn’t she?”
“They may be good and worthy folk of whom he would have no reason to be ashamed. But isn’t it just as likely that they are people of quite another kidney? Sisters and brothers and cousins to the tenth degree? Some vulgar and rapacious old father, perhaps, who hasn’t taken too much trouble to keep the girl out of temptation while she has been at home, but freezes on to her fast enough after she has made a good marriage. Possible, isn’t it?”
“Quite possible, sir.”
“Well, what are your man’s own friends going to do with him with a menagerie like that at his heels? No, he has fettered himself for life to failure as well as misery, and while his wife is railing at him about the other woman he is reproaching her with standing in his light. So the end of his noble endeavour is that he has set up a little private hell for himself in the house he calls his home.”
Stowell was wincing at every word, but all the same he knew that his eyes were shining. The Governor looked sharply up at him for a moment, lit his pipe afresh and said,
“Then there’s the other woman. I suppose her case is worthy of some consideration? ”
“If she cares for the man . . . .”
“I can’t say that, Sir.”
“Well, if she does, she too will suffer, will she not? And what has she done to deserve suffering? Nothing at all! She’s the innocent scapegoat, isn’t she?”
“Fine woman, I suppose?”
“The finest woman in the world, Sir.”
“Just so! But your man would doom her to renunciation a solitary life of sorrow and regret. And so the only result of his praiseworthy principles, his sense of duty, as you say, and all the rest of it, is that he will have ruined three lives the life of the woman he marries and does not love, the life of the woman he loves and does not marry, and his own life also.”
“Then you think, Sir . . . you think he should stop even yet?”
“Even at the church door, at the altar-steps if there’s no harm, done, and he is sure she is the wrong woman.”
Stowell felt as if the vapours which had clouded his brain so long had been swept away as by a mountain breeze, but he thought it necessary to keep up the disguise.
“I feel you must be right, sir,” rising to go. ” At all events I cannot argue against you. But I think you’ll agree that . . . that if my man can wipe out this bad passage in his life without injury to anybody and without scandal … I think you will agree that his first duty is to tell the woman he loves . . . .”
“Eh? What the deuce . . . Good heavens, no!”
“But surely he couldn’t ask a pure-minded girl . . . .”
“To take the other woman’s leavings? Certainly he couldn’t if she knew anything about it. But why should she? Why should a pure-minded girl, as you say, be told about something that happened before she came on to the scene?”
Stowell’s scruples were overcome. He had argued against himself, but he knew well that he had wished to be beaten. He was going off when the Governor, following him to the door, laid a hand on his shoulder and said,
“When a man has done wrong the thing he has got to do next is to say nothing about it. That’s what your man has got to do now. It’s the woman’s secret, isn’t it? Very well, he must never reveal it to anybody never, under any circumstances never in this world!”
Next day, at Ballamoar, after many fruitless efforts to begin, Stowell was writing to Bessie Collister.
“DEAR BESSIE, I am sorry to send you this letter and it is very painful for me to write it. But I cannot allow you to look forward any longer to something which can never happen. ” The truth is I must tell you the truth, Bessie since you went to Derby Haven I have found that I do not love you as I ought to become your husband. That being so, I cannot do you the great wrong of marrying you. It would not be either for your good or for mine. And since I cannot marry you, I feel that we must part. I am miserable when I say this, but I see that in justice to you, as well as to myself, nothing else can be … .”
He could go no further. A wave of tenderness towards Bessie came over him. He had visions of the girl receiving and reading his letter. It would be at night in , her little bedroom, perhaps the room in which she burnt her candle to learn her lessons.
No, it would be too cruel, too cowardly. He would not write he would go to Derby Haven and break the news to the girl himself. But that evoked other and more fearful visions. They would be walking along the sandy path at Langness with the stark white lighthouse at the end of it. ” Bessie,” he would be saying, “We must part; it will be better for both of us. It has all been my fault. You have nothing to reproach yourself with. But you must try to forget me, and if there is anything else I can do . . .” And then the reproaches, the recriminations, the tears, the supplications, the appeals: ” Don’t throw me over! You promised to stand up for me, you know. I will be good.”
It would be terrible. It would make his heart bleed. Nevertheless he must bear it. It was a part of his punishment.
He had torn up his letter and was putting his hand on the bell to order the dog-cart to be brought round to take him to the railway station, when a servant came into the room and said, “Mr. Alick Gell to see you, sir.”
Gell came in with a gloomy and half -shamefaced look. His tall figure was bent, his fair hair was disordered, and his voice trembled as he said,
“Can’t we take a walk in the wood, old fellow? I have something to say.”
“I don’t know how to tell you,” he began. They were crossing the lawn towards the plantation. “It’s about Bessie.”
“I … I’m madly in love with her.”
Stowell stopped and looked without speaking into Cell’s twitching face.
“I knew you wouldn’t be able to believe it, but don’t look at me like that.”
“Tell me,” said Stowell.
And then, stammering and trembling, Gell told his story. He didn’t know how it began. Perhaps it was pity. He had been sorry for the girl, over there in that lonely place, so he went down at first just to cheer her up. Then he had found himself going frequently, buying her presents and taking her out for walks. When he had realised how things were he had tried to pull up, but it was too late. He had struggled to be loyal to strengthen himself by talking of Stowell praising him to the girl, excusing him for not coming to see her but it was useless. His pity had developed into love, and before he had known what he was doing Bessie was in his arms. At the next instant he had felt like a traitor. He was frantically happy and yet he wanted to kill himself.
“It was terrible,” he said. “I couldn’t sleep at night for thinking of it. Bessie wanted you to be told. In fact she wrote you a letter, saying we couldn’t help loving each other, and asking you to release her. But I couldn’t let her go that far. Then go to Ballamoar and tell him yourself,’ she said. And at last I’ve come. And now . . . now you know.”
Stowell listened in silence. His first feeling was one of wounded pride. He had really been a great fool about the girl! What fathomless depths of conceit had led him to think she would break her heart if he gave her up? And then the long struggle between his love and his duty what a mountebank Fate seemed to have made of him! But his next feeling was one of relief boundless, inexpressible relief. The iron chain he had been dragging after him had been broken. He was free!
Gell, who was breathing hard, was watching Stowell from under his cap, which was pulled down over his forehead. They were walking in a path that was thick with fallen leaves, and there was no sound for some moments but that of the rustling under their feet.
“Why don’t you speak, old fellow? I’ve behaved like a cad, I know. But for God’s sake, don’t torture me! Strike me in the face with your fist. I would rather that upon my soul, I would.”
“Alick,” said Stowell, putting his arm through Gell’s. “I’m going to tell you something.”
“Do you know what I was on the point of doing when you came? Going down to Derby Haven to ask Bessie to let me off.”
“Is that true? You’re not saying it merely to …. But why?”
“Because what’s happened to her has happened to me also I love somebody else.”
“No? Really? …. But who. . . . who is the other girl? …. Is it … It’s Fenella Stanley, isn’t it?”
“How splendid! I’m glad! And of course I congratulate you …. No? …. You’ve not asked her yet? But that will be all right of course it will!”
Taking off his cap to fan himself with Gell broke into fits of half hysterical laughter. Then he said:
“You don’t mind my saying something now that it’s all over? No? Well, to tell you the truth I could never believe you really cared for Bessie. I thought you were only marrying her as a sort of duty, having got her into trouble with Dan Baldromma. And it was so partly so wasn’t it? That didn’t excuse me, though, did it? Lord, what a relief! I feel as if you had lifted ten tons off my head.”
A dark memory came to Stowell. “Has she told him?”
“Bessie will be relieved, too, and just as glad as I am. Do you know, there’s a heart of gold in that girl. She’s never had a dog’s chance yet. Not much education, I admit, but such spirit, such character! Such a woman too you said so yourself, remember.”
A still darker memory of something the Governor had said came to Stowell. “Didn’t you say Bessie had written to me?” he asked.
“Yes, she did, yesterday; but I destroyed her letter.”
“Do you know, I wrote to Bessie to-day, and I destroyed my letter also.”
“No? What fun if your letters had crossed in the post,” said Gell, and tossing his cap into the air, he broke into still louder peals of laughter.
Again Stowell felt immense relief. It was impossible that Bessie could have told him. And if she hadn’t, why should he? Why injure the girl in Gell’s eyes? Why tarnish his faith in her? It was the woman’s secret, therefore he must never reveal it never in this world.
They were walking on. Gell with a high step was kicking up the withered leaves.
“What about your people?” asked Stowell.
“Ah, that’s what I’ve got to find out. I’m going home now to tell them. My mother is always advising me to marry and settle down, but of course she’ll jib at Bessie, and the sisters will follow suit. As for my father, he has only one son, as he says, and I must have a better allowance. He cut it down after that affair in the Courts, you know.”
They were at the gate to the road, and pulling it open, Gell said:
“Phew! How different I feel from what I did when I was coming in here half an hour ago! I thought you would kick me out the minute I had told you. But now we’re going to be better friends than ever, aren’t we?”
“Good-bye and good luck, old fellow,” said Stowell.
“Good-bye, and God bless you, old chap,” said Gell.
Stowell stood at the gate and watched him going off with long strides, his shoulders working vigorously.
“Never again! We can never be the same friends again,” thought Stowell, as he turned back to the house.
He was feeling like a man who in a moment of passion has secretly wronged his life-long friend and can never look straight into his eyes again.
But the sense of a barrier between Gell and himself was soon wiped out by the memory of Fenella. He was free to love her at last! No more hypocrisy! No more self-denial! No more struggles between passion and duty! The past was dead, life from that day forward was beginning again for all of them.
“Was that Alick Gell in the wood with you?” asked Janet, who had come to the door to call Stowell in to tea.
“Goodness me! He must be a happy boy. He was laughing enough, anyway.”
Stowell went to bed early that night, slept soundly and was up with the coming of light in the morning.
The farm lads were not yet astir, but going round to the stable he saddled a horse for himself (a young chestnut mare that had been born on one of his own birthdays) and set off for a ride to relieve the intoxication of his spirits.
The air was keen, but both he and his horse sniffed it with delight. As they passed out of Ballamoar the sun rose and played among the red and yellow leaves of the plantation, for the summer was going out in a blaze of glory. They crossed the Curragh, dipped into the glen, and climbed the corkscrew path to the mountain.
Stowell thought he had never felt so well. And the little mare, catching the contagion of his high spirits, snorted and swung her head at every stride and dug her feet into the ringing ground.
“Helloa, Molly, here we are at the top!”
Looking back he saw the flat plain below, dotted over with farms, each with its little farmhouse surrounded by its clump of sheltering trees. God, how good to think that every one of them was a home of love! Love! That was the great uniter, the great comforter, the great liberator, the great redeemer I
And to think that all this had been going on since the beginning of the world! That generation after generation some boy had come up this lovely glen to court his girl! Lord, what a glorious place the world was, after all!
His eyes were beaming like the sunshine, and to make his joy complete he galloped over the mountain-tops until he came to a point at which he could look down on Douglas and catch a glimpse of Fenella’s home in the midst of its trees.
“Peace in her chamber, wheresoever it be, A holy place . . . .”
Then back to Ballamoar at a brisk canter, with the air musical with the calls of cattle, the bleating of sheep and the songs of birds. And then breakfast for a hungry man cowrie and eggs and fresh butter and honey and junket, which the Manx called pinjean.
At three o’clock in the afternoon he was on his way to Government House, and by that time the intoxication of his high spirits had suffered a check.
What had Fenella thought of his flight from the yacht? Had she believed his excuse for it? What interpretation had she put upon his intention of calling at Government Offices the following day? And the Governor had he seen through the thin disguise of that story?
But the cruellest question of all, and the hardest to answer, was whether after all, even now that he was free, he had any right to ask Fenella to become his wife? He, a sin-soiled man, and she a stainless woman!
He felt as if he ought to purge his soul by telling Fenella everything. Yet how could he do that without inflicting an incurable wound on her faith in him? And then what had the Governor said? “Never under any circumstances.”
As he walked up the carriage drive to Government House he saw the Governor’s tall figure, and the Attorney-General’s short one, through the windows of the smoking-room. The Governor came to the door to meet him.
“The very man we were talking about. Come in! Sit down. We have something to propose to you.”
The Governor was going up to London on urgent business at the Home Office and the Attorney had to go with him. In these circumstances it had been necessary to arrange that the Court of General Gaol Delivery (interrupted by the Deemster’s death, but now summoned to resume) should sit without the Governor, and the Attorney had been suggesting that Stowell should represent him in an important case.
“What is it, Sir?” asked Stowell.
“Murder again, my boy; but of a different kind this time.”
A Peel fisherman had killed his wife with shocking brutality, yet everybody seemed to sympathise with him, and there was a danger that a Manx jury might let him off.
“Splendid opportunity to uphold law and order ! You’ll take the case?”
“Good! The Attorney will send you the papers. And now, I suppose, you would like to see Fenella?”
“Why not? You’ll find her in the drawing-room.”
On his way to the drawing-room Stowell met Miss Green coming out of it. She smiled at him, and said, in a half-whisper,
“I think you are expected.”
When he opened the door he saw Fenella sitting with her back to him at a little desk on one side of the bay window, with a glint of its light on her bronze-brown hair.
“Who is it?” she said as he entered. But at the next moment she seemed to know, and, rising, she turned round to him and smiled.
He thought she had never looked so beautiful. He wanted to crush her in his arms, and at the same time to fall at her feet and kiss the hem of her dress.
There was a moment of passionate silence. He stepped towards her but stopped when two or three paces away. A riot of conflicting emotions were going on within him. He felt strong, he felt weak, he felt brave, he felt cowardly, he felt proud, he felt ashamed.
Still nothing was said by either of them. Her eyes were glistening, she was breathing quickly and her bosom was heaving. He saw her moving towards him. Her hand was trailing^ along the desk.
He felt as if she were drawing him to her, and by a nervous, but irresistible impulse he held out his arms.
“Fenella,” he said, hardly audibly.
At the next moment, as in a flash of light, she sprang upon his breast, and at the next her arms were about his neck, his own were around her waist, her mouth was to his mouth, and the world had melted away.
Ten minutes later, with faces aflame, they went, hand in hand, into the smoking-room. The Governor wheeled about on his revolving chair to look at them.
“Well,” he said, “it’s easy to see what you two have come about. But not for six months J I won’t agree to a day less, remember.”
AT THE SPEAKER’S
BEFORE Alick Gell reached his father’s house another had been there on the same errand.
Earlier in the afternoon Dan Baldromma, while running his hands through the ground flour in the mill, with the wheel throbbing and the stones groaning about him, had been struck by a new idea.
“Liza,” he said, returning to the dwelling house and standing with his back to the fire and his big hands behind him, ” that young wastrel ought to be freckened into marrying the girl, and I’m thinking I know the way to do it, too.”
“It’s like thou do, Dan,” said Mrs. Collister.
Dan’s device was of the simplest. It was that of sending the mother of Bessie Collister to the mother of Alick Gell to threaten and intimidate her.
“But sakes alive, man, that’s an ugly job, isn’t it?”
“It’s got to be done, woman, or there’ll be worse to do next, I tell thee. Thou don’t want to see thy daughter where her mother was before her.”
“Well, well, if I must, I must,” said Mrs. Collister. “But, aw dear, aw dear! If thou hadn’t thrown the girl into the way of temptation by shutting the door on her . . . .”
“Hould thy whist, woman, and do as I tell thee, and that will be the best night’s work I ever done for her.”
Half an hour later, having swept the earthen floor, hung the kettle on its sooty chain, and laid the table for Dan’s tea, Mrs. Collister toiled upstairs to dress for her journey, and came down in the poke bonnet and satin mantle which she wore to chapel on Sunday.
Meantime Dan had harnessed the old mare to the stiff cart and brought it round to the door. Having helped his wife over the wheel and put the rope reins in her hands, he gave her his parting instructions,
“See thou stand up for thy rights, now I This is thy chance and thou’s got to make the best of it!”
“Aw well, we’ll see,” said the old woman, and then the stiff cart rattled over the cobbled “street” on its way to the Speaker’s.
In her comfortable sitting-room, thickly carpeted and plentifully cushioned, Mrs. Gell was awakened from her afternoon nap by the scream of the peacocks.
“It’s Mistress Daniel Collister of Baldromma to see you, ma’am,” said the maid.
At the next moment, Mrs. Collister, with a timid air, hobbled into the room on her stick, and the two mothers came face to face.
“You wish to speak to me,” said Mrs. Gell.
“If you plaze, ma’am,” said Mrs. Collister, huskily.
Isabella Gell, a sour-faced young woman, came into the room and stood behind her mother’s chair. Mrs. Collister took the seat that was assigned to her, and fumbled the ribbons of her bonnet to loosen them.
“It’s about my daughter, ma’am.”
“My daughter and your son, ma’am.”
“Caesar Qualtrough of the Kays has seen them together. They’re living down Castletown way, they’re saying.”
“Living . . . my son and your daughter?”
“So they’re saying, ma’am.”
“I don’t believe it! I don’t believe a word of it!”
“I wish in my heart I could say the same, ma’am. But it’s truth enough, I’m fearing.”
“And if it is I don’t say it is, but if it is why have you come to me?”
Then trembling all over, Mrs. Collister continued her story. Her poor girl was in trouble. When a girl was in trouble the world could be cruel hard on her. Nobody would think the cruel hard it could be. If a girl did wrong it was because somebody she wag fond of had promised to marry her. What else would she do it for? When a young man had behaved like that to a poor girl he ought to keep his word to her. And if he had a mother, and she was a good Christian woman . . . .”
Mrs. Cell, who was beating her foot on the carpet, broke in impatiently.
“In short, you think my son ought to marry your daughter?”
“It’s nothing but right, ma’am.”
“And you’ve come here to ask me to tell him to do so?”
“If you plaze, ma’am.”
“Well, I never!” said Isabella.
“She’s a mother herself, I was thinking, and if one of her own girls was in the same position . . . .”
“The idea!” said Isabella.
“Mrs. Collister,” said Mrs. Gell, with a proud lift of her head, “I was sorry when I heard of the trouble your daughter had brought on you, but what you are doing now is a piece of great assurance.”
“But Bessie is a good girl, ma’am. And if she married your son you would never have raison to be ashamed of her.”
“Good indeed I If a girl isn’t ashamed to be living with a young man the less said about her goodness the better.”
“Aw well, ma’am,” said Mrs. Collister (her faltering tongue had become firmer and her timid eyes had begun to flash), ” if she’s living with the young man, he’s living with her, and the shame is the same for both, I’m thinking.”
Mrs. Gell drew herself up in her chair.
“I’m astonished at you, Mrs. Collister I A woman yourself, and not seeing the difference.”
“Aw yes, difference enough, ma’am ! And when a young man doesn’t keep his word it’s the woman that’s knowing it best by the trouble that’s coming on her.”
Mrs. Gell, whose anger was rising, lifted her chin again and said, “If your daughter is in trouble, Mrs. Collister, how are we to know that she had not brought it on her own head, just to get Alick to marry her?”
“The creature !” said Isabella.
“And how are we to know that you and your husband have not encouraged the girl hi her wickedness just to get our son for your son-in-law?”
“Aw well, ma’am,” said Mrs. Collister (she was fumbling at the strings of her bonnet to tighten them), ” if you are thinking as bad of me as that . . . .”
“You talk of the danger to your daughter if my son doesn’t marry her,” said Mrs. Gell. “But what of the danger to my son if he does? His life will be ruined. He will never be able to raise his head in the island again. His father will disown him. Marry your daughter indeed! Not only will I not ask him to marry her, but if I see the slightest danger of his doing anything so foolish I will do everything I can to prevent it.”
“Aw well, we’ll say no more, ma’am,” said Mrs. Collister, and she shuffled to her feet.
But Mrs. Gell was up before her.
“Alexander Gell, son of the Speaker and grandson of Archdeacon Mylechreest, married to the step-daughter of Dan Baldromma and the nameless offspring of Liza Collister . . . .”
Mrs. Collister had hobbled to the door, and was going out, humbled and beaten, when Mrs. Gell’s last words cut her to the quick. For more than twenty years she had taken the punishment of her own sin and bowed her head to the lash of it, but at this insult to her child the weak and timid creature turned about, as brave as a lion and as fierce as a fury.
“I’m not your quality, I know that, ma’am,” she said, breathing quickly, ” but a day is coming, and maybe it’s near, when we’ll be standing together where we’ll both be equal. Just two old mothers, and nothing else between us. If you’ve loved your son, I’ve loved my daughter, whatever she is, ma’am. And when the One Who reads all hearts is after asking me what I did for my child in the day of her trouble, I’ll be telling Him I came here to beg you on my knees to save her from a life of sin and shame, and you wouldn’t, because your worldly pride prevented. And then it’s Himself, ma’am, will be judging between us!”
There had been a sitting of the Keys that day, and when the Speaker returned home he found his wife on the sofa with a damp handkerchief over her forehead and a bottle of smelling-salts in her hand. She told him what had happened.
“Well, well,” he said, “so that’s what it means. But there’s no knowing what hedge the hare will jump from.”
His figure was less burly than before, his head was more bald and his full beard was whiter, but his eyes flashed with the same ungovernable fire.
“That girl must be a thoroughly bad one,” said Mrs. Gell. “It’s not the first time she has got our Alick into trouble, remember. We must save our son from the designing young huzzy.”
“Tut! It’s not the girl I’m troubling about.”
“Who else, then?”
“The man! I might have expected as much, though!”
Coming home in the train he had had some talk with Kerruish, his advocate and agent. Dan Baldromma, who was back with his rent, was refusing to pay, and saying ” Let the Spaker fetch me to Coort, and I’ll tell him the raison.”
“Then can’t you settle with the man, Archie?”
“Settle with Dan? I’ll settle with Alick first, Bella, and if he has given that scoundrel the whip hand of me I’ll break every bone in his body.”
“But it may not be true. It cannot be true. Unless Alick tells me so himself I’ll never believe a word of it.”
They were at tea in the dining-room, country fashion, the Speaker at the head of the table with a plate of fish before him, and his wife and daughters at either side, when Alick entered.
“Helloa!” he cried, with a forced gaiety. But only his mother responded to his greeting and made room for him by her side. She saw that he was paler and thinner, and that his hand trembled when he took his cup.
The Speaker, who had turned his rough shoulder to his son, tried to restrain himself from breaking out on him until the meal would be over and he could take him into his own room, but before long his impatience overcame him.
“What’s this we’re hearing about you that you are carrying on with a girl?”
“Do you mean Bessie Collister, Sir?” said Alick.
“Certainly I mean Bessie Collister. And I thought you gave me your word that you would see no more of her.”
“But that was the promise of a boy, Sir. Did you expect it to bind the man also?”
“The man? The man!” said the Speaker, mimicking his son’s voice in a mincing treble. “Do you call yourself a man, bringing disgrace on your name and family.”
“What disgrace, Sir?”
“What disgrace? All the island seems to have heard of it. Is it necessary to tell you? Living secret, so they say, with a woman who isn’t fit company for your mother and sisters.”
“If anybody told you that, Sir,” said Alick (his lower lip was trembling), “he told you a lie a damned lie, Sir!”
“There!” cried Mrs. Gell, turning to her husband. “What did I say? It isn’t true, you see.”
“Of course it isn’t true, mother; and the best proof that I’m not behaving dishonourably to Bessie Collister is that I intend to marry her.”
It was a sickening moment for Mrs. Gell, and the Speaker, for an instant, was dumbfounded.
“Eh? What? You intend to marry –”
“Yes, Sir; and that’s why I’m here to-day to bring you the news, and to ask you to restore the allowance you cut down in the spring, you know.”
“That . . . that . . . that bast . . . .”
“Archie!” cried Mrs. Gell, indicating their daughters.
“Bessie is a good girl, father,” said Alick. ” What happened before she was born wasn’t her fault, Sir.”
“So you’ve come to bring us the news and to ask me to double your allowance?”
“If you please, Sir. You couldn’t wish your son and his wife . . . .”
“His wife! There you are, Bella! That’s what I’ve been working day and night thirty years for to see my son throw half my earnings all that I can’t will away from him into the hands of a man like Dan Baldromma!”
“But Alick will be reasonable,” said Mrs. Gell. ” He’ll give the girl up.”
“He’ll have to do that, and quick too, or I’ll cut off his allowance altogether.”
“Do you mean it, Sir?” said Alick he was pushing his chair back.
“Do I mean it? Certainly I mean it. You’ll give the girl up or never another penny of mine shall you see as long as I live!”
“All right,” said Alick, rising from the table, ” I’ll earn my own living.”
The Speaker broke into a peal of scornful laughter. “You earn your living! That’s rich!”
“Give her up?” cried Alick. “I’ll break stones on the highway or porter on the pier before I’ll give up her little finger!”
“You fool! You confounded fool! But no fear! She’ll give you up when she finds you’ve lost your income.”
“Will she? I’ll trust her for that, Sir.”
“Then get away back to her you’ll not be the first by a long way.”
Alick, who had been trying to laugh, stopped his laughter suddenly, and said, ” What do you mean by that, Sir?”
“Mean? Do you want me to tell you what I mean?”
“Archie,” cried Mrs. Gell, and again she indicated their daughters.
“Get out of this, will you?” cried the Speaker to the girls, who had been sitting with their noses in their teacups.
The girls fled from the room, but stood outside to listen.
“Father,” said Alick, “you must tell me what you mean.”
“Mean! Mean! Don’t stand there cross-examining your own father. You know what I mean! If half they say about the young b… is true she’s fit enough for it, anyway.”
“If any other man had said that,” said Alick, quivering, “I should have knocked him down, Sir.”
“What’s that? You threaten me?” cried the Speaker. His voice was like the scream of a sea-gull, and making a step towards Alick he lifted his clenched fist to him.
Mrs. Gell intervened, and Alick retreated a pace or two.
“Take care, Sir,” he said. “You can’t treat me like that now. I’m not a child any longer.”
“Then get away to your woman . . . and to hell, if you want to.”
“There was no need to tell me twice, Sir. I’m going. And as God is my witness, I’ll never set foot in this house again.”
At the next moment the peacocks were screaming outside, and the Speaker, who had thrown up the window, was shouting through it in a broken roar,
“Alick! Alick Gell! Come back, you damned scoundrel! Alick! Alexander . . . .”
They had to carry him upstairs and send for Dr. Clucas. It had been another of his paralysing brain-storms. It was not to be expected that he could bear many more of them.
THE BURNING BOAT
Two days later, Gell was stepping into the train for Castletown on his way to Derby Haven.
“Give me up because my income is gone? Not Bessie! Not Bessie Collister!”
But Bessie had gone through deep waters since he had seen her last.
From the first Victor Stowell had disappointed her. To live in the dark hidden away, unrecognised, suppressed it had not been according to her expectations. Her pride, too, had been wounded by being sent back to school. It was true that without being asked, Mr. Stowell had promised to marry her at some future time, but perhaps that was only because he was the son of the Deemster and therefore afraid of her step-father and of the cry there would be all over the island if anything became known.
If it had only been Alick! Alick would not have been ashamed of her. He would have taken her just as she was and never seen any shortcomings.
After the first days at Derby Haven she had found herself looking forward to Alick’s visits. When she knew he was coming everything brightened up in her eyes and even her tiresome lessons became delightful. Before long she felt her heart leap up whenever the Misses Brown called, “Bessie, a gentleman to see you!”
It is easy to kindle a fire on a warm hearth. Alick had been Bessie’s first sweetheart, perhaps her only one. Suddenly a wonderful thing happened to her. She found herself in love. She had thought she had always been in love with somebody, but now she realized that she had never been in love before. She was in love with Alick Gell. And she wished to become his wife.
That altered everything. She began to see how ignorant she was compared with Alick and how much she was beneath him. She remembered his three tall sisters who held their heads so high at anniversaries and bazaars, and thought what a shocking thing it would be if they were able to look down on her. How she worked to be worthy of him!
She had no qualms about Stowell. Her only anxiety was about Alick. She was certain that he loved her, yet what a fight she had for him ! He was always talking about Stowell, and praising him up to her. When he excused his friend for not coming to see her she was quite sure it was all nonsense. And when he gave her presents and said they were from Stowell she knew where they came from.
One day he brought a wrist-watch with the usual message, and after he had put it on (how his hands were trembling!) she tried to thank him, but didn’t know how to do so.
At last an idea occurred to her. They were walking on the Langness, just by the ruin of a windmill, whose walls and roof had been carried away by a gale.
“Alick,” she said, “I wonder if my new watch is right by the clock at Castle Rushen?”
Alick put his hands to his eyes like blinkers (for the sun was setting) and looked long across the bay. While he did so, Bessie slipped off on tiptoe and hid behind the walls of the windmill. As soon as she was missed there was a laugh and a shout and then a chase. Bessie dodged and Alick doubled, Bessie dodged again, but at length she slipped into a hole, and at the next moment Alick caught her up and kissed her.
“Now, what have you done?” she said, and her face was suffused with blushes.
After that there could be no disguise between them. Bessie felt no shame, and it never occurred to her that she had been guilty of treason. But Gell talked about disloyalty and said he would never be at ease until she had made a clean breast of it to Stowell.
“Then go and tell him we couldn’t help loving each other,” she said.
When he was gone she was very happy. Mr. Stowell would give her up. Of course he would. What had happened between them was dead and buried. Whatever else he was Victor Stowell was a gentleman. He would say nothing to Alick.
Then came a shock. On the following morning she felt unwell. She had often felt unwell since she came to Derby Haven, and the Misses Brown, simple old maids, seeing no cause except the change in the girl’s way of life, wanted to send for a doctor. But doctors were associated in Bessie’s mind with death. If you saw a doctor going into a farmhouse one day you saw a coffin going in the next.
Chemists were not open to the same objection. Often on market days, after she had sold out her basket of butter and eggs, she had called at the chemist’s at Ramsey for medicine for her mother. So, saying nothing to her housemates, she slipped round to the chemist’s at Castletown and asked for a bottle of mixture.
The chemist, an elderly man with a fatherly face, smiled at her, and said:
“But what is it for, miss?”
Bessie described her symptoms, and then the smiling face was grave.
“Are you a married woman, ma’am?” asked the chemist.
Bessie caught her breath, stared at the man for a moment with eyes full of fear, and then turned and fled out of the shop.
All that day she felt dizzy and deaf. The earth seemed to be slipping from under her. Memories of what she had heard from older women came springing to the surface of her mind, and she asked herself why she had not thought of this before. For a long time she struggled to persuade herself that the chemist was wrong, but conviction forced itself upon her at last.
Then she asked herself what she was to do, and remembering what she had learned as a child at home of her mother’s miserable life before her marriage, she found only one answer to that question. She must ask Mr. Stowell to marry her. The thought of parting from Alick was heart-breaking. But the most terrible thing was that she found herself hoping that Stowell would refuse to release her.
It had been a wretched day, dark and cheerless, with driving mist and drizzling rain. Towards nightfall the old maids lighted a fire for her in the sitting-room, which was full of quaint nicknacks and old glass and china. The tide, which was at the bottom of the ebb, was sobbing against the unseen breakwater, and the gulls on the cobbles of the shore were calling continually.
Bessie was crouching over the fire with her chin in her hand when she heard the sneck of the garden gate, a quick step on the gravel, a light knock at the front door, a familiar voice in the lobby, and then old Miss Ethel saying behind her:
“A gentleman to see you, Bessie.”
Her heart did not leap up as before, and she did not rise with her former alacrity, but Alick Gell came into the room like a rush of wind.
“What’s this unwell?” he cried.
“It’s nothing ! I shall be better in the morning,” she said.
“Of course you will.”
And then, after a kiss, Gell sat on a low stool at Bessie’s feet, stretched his long legs towards the fire, and began to pour out his story.
He had seen Stowell and that matter had turned out just as she had expected. Splendid fellow! Best chap in the world, bar none t
“But what do you think, Bess? The most extraordinary coincidence! Dear old Vic, he has been busy falling in love, too! Fact! Fenella Stanley, daughter of the Governor! Magnificent girl, and Vic is madly in love with her! So there’s to be no heart-breaking on either side, and that’s the best of it. Makes one think there must be something in Providence, doesn’t it?”
He was laughing so loud that the china in the room rang, but Bessie was turning cold with terror.
“And . . . what about your father?” she faltered.
“Well … to tell you the truth there was a bit of a breeze there,” he said, and then followed the story of the scene at the Speaker’s.
“But no matter! I’m not without money, so we can be married at once, and the sooner the better.”
“But Alick,” she said (he was stroking her hand and she was trying to draw it away), “do you think it’s best?”
“Best? Why, of course I think it’s best. Don’t you?”
She did not reply.
“Don’t you?” he said again, and then, getting no answer, he became aware that she, who had been so eager for their marriage before he went to Ballamoar, was now holding back.
“Bessie,” he said, “has anything happened while I’ve been away?”
“No! Oh no!”
“You’re . . . you’re not thinking of the loss of the income, are you?”
“No, no; ‘deed, no!”
“I knew you wouldn’t. When my father taunted me with that, saying you would give me up as soon as you knew my allowance was gone, I said, ‘Not Bessie! I’ll trust her for that, Sir.'”
Bessie began to cry. Alick was bewildered.
“What is it, then? Tell me! Are you . . . are you thinking of Stowell?”
At that name she was seized by the mad impulse which comes to people on dizzy heights when they wish to throw themselves over she wanted to blurt out the truth, to confess everything. But before she could speak Alick was saying,
“I shouldn’t blame you if you were. I’m not his equal I know that, Bessie. But even if he were free I shouldn’t give you up to him now. No, by God, not to him or to anyone.”
His voice was breaking. She looked at him. There were tears in his eyes. She could bear up no longer. With the cry of a drowning soul she flung her arms about him and sobbed on his breast.
An hour later, having comforted and quietened her, Gell was going off with swinging strides through the mist to catch the last train back to Douglas.
“She was thinking of me that was it,” he was telling himself.
“Thought I would come to regret the sacrifice and wanted to save me from being cut off by my family. So unselfish! Never thinking of herself, bless her!”
And Bessie, in her bedroom was saying to herself, “He’s that fond of me that he’ll forgive me, whatever happens.”
She lay a long time awake, with her arms under her head, looking up at the ceiling.
“Yes, Alick will forgive me, whatever happens,” she thought.
And then she blew out her candle, buried her head in her pillow, and fell asleep.
When Gell reached the railway-station he found the carriages waiting at the platform, half-full of impatient passengers. A trial, which was going on in the Castle, was nearing its close, and the station-master had received orders that the last train to town was to be kept back for the Judges and advocates.
“The Peel fisherman,” thought Gell. And, remembering that this was the case in which Stowell was to represent the Attorney-General, he walked over to the Court-house, whose lantern-light was showing like a hazy white cloud above the Castle walls.
The little place was thick with sea mist, hot with the acid odour of perspiration, and densely crowded but breathlessly silent. The trial was over, the prisoner had been found guilty, and the Deemster (it was Deemster Taubman, sitting with the Clerk of the Rolls as Acting Governor) was beginning to pronounce sentence:
“Prisoner at the bar, it will be my duty to communicate to the proper quarter the Jury’s recommendation to mercy, but I can hold out no hope that it will be of any avail. You have been found guilty of the wilful murder of your wife, therefore I bid you prepare …”
And then followed those dread words in that dead stillness, which bring thoughts of the day of doom.
Gell caught one glimpse of the prisoner, as he stood in the dock, in his fisherman’s guernsey, looking steadfastly into the face of his Judge, and another glimpse as a way was cleared through the spectators and he walked with a strong step to the door leading to the cells.
Then the court-house cleared to a low rumble that was like the muffled murmuring that is heard after a funeral.
Gell asked for Stowell, and was told that his friend had gone clown to the Deemster’s room with one of the advocates for the defence to draw up the terms of the recommendation. Therefore he returned to the station with a group of his fellow advocates, and on the way back he heard the story of the trial little knowing how close it was to come to him.
The prisoner (his name was Morrison) had married the murdered woman in the winter. She had been a comely girl who had always borne a good character. On their wedding morning they had received many presents, one of them being a fishing-boat. This had been the gift of a distant relation of the bride’s, a middle-aged man who had since married a rich widow.
At Easter, Morrison had gone off with the fleet to the mackerel fishing at Kinsale, and while there he had received an anonymous letter. It told him that his young wife had given birth, less than six months after their marriage, to a still-born child.
Morrison had said nothing about the letter, but he had made inquiries about the man who had given him the boat, and been told that he had borne a bad reputation.
At the end of the mackerel season Morrison had returned to the island with the rest of the fleet, and for everybody else there had been the usual joyful homecoming.
It had been late at night on the first of June, when the stars were out and the moon was in its first quarter. As soon as the boats had been sighted outside the Castle Rock the sound signal had gone up from the Rocket House, and within five minutes the fishermen’s wives had come flying down to the quay, with their little shawls thrown over their heads and pinned under their chins.
Then, as the boats had come gliding into harbour, there had been the shrill questions of the women ashore and the deep-toned answers of the man afloat:
“Are you there, Bill?” “Is it yourself, Nancy?”
Some of the younger women, who had had babies born while their husbands had been away, had brought them down with them, and one young wife, holding up her little one for her man to see, by the light of the moon and the harbour-master’s lantern, had cried:
“Here he is, boy! What do you think of him?”
Almost before the boats could be brought to their moorings the fishermen had leapt ashore in their long boots and gone off home with their wives, laughing and talking.
Morrison had not gone. His wife had not been down to meet him. Somebody had shouted from the quay that she was still keeping her bed and was waiting at home for him. But he had been in no hurry to go to her. When everything was quiet he had shouldered his boat to the top of the harbour, unstepped her mast, and run her ashore on the dry bank above the bridge.
Then going back to the quay, which was now deserted, he had broken the padlock of an open yard for ship’s stores, taken possession of a barrel of pitch, rolled it down to the bank by the bridge, fixed it under his boat, pulled out its plug, applied a match to it, and then waited until both barrel and boat were afire and burning fiercely.
After that he had walked home through the little sleeping town to his house in the middle of a cobweb of streets at the back of the beach. Opening the door (it had been left on the latch for him) he had bolted it on the inside, and then going to the bedroom and finding his young wife in bed, with a frightened look under a timid smile, he had charged her with her unchastity, compelled her to confess to it, and then strangled her to death with his big hands the marks of his broad thumbs, black with tar, being on her throat and bosom.
In the middle of the night the fishermen who lived in the streets nearest to the harbour, awakened by a red glow in their bedrooms, had said to their wives:
“What for are they burning the gorse on Peel hill at this time of the year?”
But others, who were neighbours of Morrison’s, having heard cries from his house in. the night, had gathered in front of his door in the morning, and, getting no answer to their knocking, had burst it open and found the woman lying dead on the bed and the man huddled up on the floor at the foot of it. And when they had pushed him and roused him he had lifted Lis haggard face and said,
“I’ve killed my sweetheart.”
Such was the fishermen’s story, and when the defence had concluded their case, asking for an acquittal on the ground of unbearable moral provocation, and saying that never could there have been better grounds for the application of the unwritten law, the Jury were obviously impressed, and somebody at the back of the court was saying,
“If they hang him for that they’ll hang a man for anything.”
Against this sympathy for the accused, Stowell had risen to make his reply for the Crown.
He did not deny the dead woman’s transgression. It was true that she must have known when she married the prisoner that she was about to become the mother of a child by another man. But if that moral fact could be urged against the wife, was there nothing of the same kind that could be advanced in her favour?
She had been cruelly betrayed and abandoned. Looking to the future she had seen the contempt of her little world before her. What had happened? In the dark hour of her desertion the prisoner had come with the offer of his love and protection. It was in evidence that for a time she had held back and that he had pressed himself upon her. None could know the secret of the dead woman’s soul, but was it unreasonable to think that standing between the two fires of public scorn and the prisoner’s affection she had said to herself, as poor misguided women in like cases did every day: “He loves me so much that he will forgive me whatever happens.”
But had he forgiven her? No, he had killed her, wilfully, cruelly, brutally, not in the heat of blood, but after long deliberation he, the big powerful brute and she the weak, helpless, half-naked woman the woman who had been faithful to him since the day he married her, the woman he had sworn to love and cherish until death parted them.
No, the plea of moral justification was rotten to the heart’s core, and had nothing to say for itself in a Court of Law. The defence had urged that it was founded on the laws of nature that marriage implied chastity on the woman’s part, and this woman had come to her husband unchaste. On the contrary, it was founded on the barbarous law of man the infamous theory that a wife was the property of her husband and he was at liberty to do as he liked with her.
A wife was not the property of her husband. He was not at liberty to do as he liked with her. There was no such thing as the unwritten law. What was not written was not law. And if, as the result of the verdict in that court, it should go forth that any man had a right to kill his wife in any circumstances to be judge and jury and accuser and executioner over her the reign of law and order in this island would be at an end, no woman’s life would be secure, the daughter of no member of that jury would any longer be safe, and human society would dissolve into a welter of civilised savagery the worst savagery of all.
The effect of Stowell’s reply had been overwhelming. The jury had either been frightened or convinced, and even the prisoner himself, during the more intimate passages, had held down his head as if he felt himself to be the vilest scoundrel on earth.
Among the advocates (they had reached the station by this time, got into their carriages, and lit up their pipes) opinion was more divided. The younger men were enthusiastic, but some of the older ones thought the closing speech for the Crown had been false in logic and bad in law.
One of the latter, with a special cock of the hat, (it was old Hudgeon, the young men called him ” Fanny ” now), sat with his shaven chin on the top of his stick and said:
“Well, it’s a big gospel the young man has got to live up to, with all his tall talk about women. But we’ll see! We’ll see!”
Gell, who was wildly excited by his friend’s success, was walking to and fro on the platform waiting for Stowell’s arrival. When he came (he was the last to come) he had a graver look on his face than Gell had ever seen there before, except once, and he seemed to be painfully preoccupied.
“Ah, is it you?” he had said, when Gell laid hold of him he had started as if he had seen a ghost.
They got into the train together and had a carriage to themselves.
Gell began with his congratulations, but Stowell brushed them aside, and said:
“What happened with your father?”
Gell told his story as he had told it at Derby Haven that the Speaker had cut up badly and turned him out of the house.
“But what do I care? Not a ha’porth! Best thing that ever happened to me, perhaps.”
“Oh, Bessie? Well, that’s all right now. A bit troubled at first about my being cut off by the family and losing my income. Just like a woman I So unselfish!”
There was silence for some time after that save for the rumble of the carriage wheels. Then Gell said he was sorry he had told Bessie about the loss of the income. She would always be thinking he would regret the sacrifice he had made for her. If he could only find some way of showing her it didn’t matter, because he could always get plenty of money ….
“And why can’t you?” said Stowell.
“It’s two pounds a week you draw on me for Miss Brown, isn’t it?”
“Then I’ll make it ten on condition that you don’t pay me back a penny until I ask for it.”
“What a good chap . . . .” But Gell could get no farther his eyes were full and his throat was hurting him.
On arriving at Douglas he saw Stowell across the platform to the northern train, and just as it was about to start, he said:
“By the way, old man, you don’t mind my saying something?”
“Not a bit! What is it?”
” You’ve hanged that poor devil of a Peel fisherman, and I suppose
he deserved it. But I caught a glimpse of him as he was going down
to the cells, and I thought he looked a fine fellow.”
“He is a fine fellow.”
“Do you say that? He made a big mistake in killing the wife, though, didn’t he? If I had been in his place do you know what I should have done?”
“Killed the other man.”
Stowell drew back in his seat and at the next moment the train started.
As it ran into the country a black thought, a vague shadow of something, was swirling like a bat in the darkness of Stowell ‘s brain.
That was not the first time it had come to him. It had come to him in Court, while he was speaking, startling him, stifling him, almost compelling him to sit down.
“But Bessie’s case was different,” he thought. ” She was not deserted. She sent Alick to me herself. Therefore it’s impossible, quite impossible.”
Nevertheless, he slept badly that night, and as often as he awoke he had the sense of a red glow in his bedroom and of being blinded by the fierce glare from a burning boat.
THE GREAT WINTER
“COME in, my boy. Sit down. Take a cigarette. I have important news for you.”
The Governor had returned from London and was calling Stowell into his smoking-room.
“First, about that recommendation to mercy. It has gone through. The death sentence has been commuted to ten years’ imprisonment.”
“I am gJad, Sir very glad.”
“Next, your speech, deputizing for the Attorney, was reported part of it in the London newspapers and made a good impression.”
“I’m very proud, Sir.”
“I dined with the Home Secretary the following night, and the Lord Chief Justice, who was among the guests, was warm in his approval. Acid old fellow with noisy false teeth, but quite enthusiastic about your defence of law and order. Crime was contagious like disease, and there was an epidemic of violence in the world now. If society was to be saved from anarchy then law alone could save it. Some of their English courts judges as well as juries had been criminally indulgent to crimes of passion. Our little Manx court had shown them a good example.”
“That is very encouraging, Sir.”
“Very ! And now the last thing I have to tell you is that Tynwald Court this morning voted a sum for a memorial to your father, leaving the form of it to me. I’ve decided on a portrait by Mylechreest, your Manx artist, to be hung in the Court-house at Castle Rushen. Mylechreest knew the Deemster (saw him at his last Court, in fact) and thinks he can paint the portrait from memory. But if you have any photographs let him have them without delay. And now off you go! Somebody’s waiting for you in the drawing-room.”
During the next six months Stowell worked as he had never worked before. Four hours a day at his office or in the Courts, and uncounted hours at home. Janet used to say she could never look out of her bedroom window at night without seeing his light from the library on the lawn.
Nevertheless he was at Government House every day, and Fenella and he had their cheerful hours together.
Winter came on. It was such a winter as nobody in the island could remember to have seen before. First wind that lashed the sea into loud cries about the coast, blew over the Curraghs with a perpetual wailing, ran up the glen with a roar, and brought the “boys ” out of their beds to hold the roofs on their houses by throwing ropes over the thatch and fastening them down with stones.
Then rain that deluged the low-lying lands, so that women had to go to market in boats; and then mist that hid the island for a week and brought more ships ashore than anybody had seen since the days of the ten black brothers of Jurby who (long suspected of wrecking) were caught stuffing the box tombs in the churchyard with rolls of Irish cloth.
But neither wind, nor rain, nor mist, kept Stowell from Fenella.
Clad in boots up to his thighs, with an oilskin coat tightly belted about the waist and a sou’wester strapped down from crown to chin, he would cross the mountains on his young chestnut mare, with the island roaring about him like a living thing, and arrive at Fenella’s door with his horse’s flanks steaming and his own face ablaze.
After the wind and the rain came a long frost, which laid its unseen hand on the rivers and waterfalls, making a deep hush that was like a great peace after a great war. In the middle of the island (the valley of Baldwin) there was a tarn into which the mountains drained, and as soon as this was frozen over Stowell and Fenella skated on it.
What a delight! The ice humming under their feet like a muffled drum; the air ringing to their voices like a cup; the sun sparkling in the hoar frost on the bare boughs of the trees; the blue sky sailing over the hilltops, capped with white clouds that looked like soft lamb’s wool.
God, how good it was to be alive!
Then came a great snow that brought a still deeper silence, broken at Ballamoar only by the skid of the steel runners of the stiff carts, whose wheels had been removed, and the smothered calling of the cattle which had been shut up in the houses.
But what rapture! Every morning the farmers looked out of their windows, thick with ice, to see if the snow had gone, but as Stowell drew his blind and the snow light of the winter’s sun came pouring in upon him, he thought only of another joyous day with Fenella.
Then up to Injebreck in white sweaters and woollen helmets to fly down the long slopes on ski, with all the world around them robed and veiled like a bride.
There was a broad ridge on the top, a great divide, separating the north of the island from the south, and as they skimmed across it from sight of eastern to sight of western sea, it was just as if they were sailing through the sky with the white round hills for clouds and the earth lying somewhere far below.
They were doing this one day when Stowell came upon a place where the snow was honeycombed with holes.
“Helloa! There’s something here!” he cried.
Digging into the snow he found a buried sheep, still alive but unable to stand. So, taking it by its front and back legs he swung it over his head on to his shoulders and carried it to a shepherd’s hut a mile away, where a turf fire was burning, and dogs, with snow on their snouts, were barking about a pen of bleating sheep that had been similarly recovered.
His delight at this rescue was so boisterous that he went back and back for hours and brought in other and other sheep.
Fenella, who followed him with his ski staffs, was in raptures. This was a new side of Victor Stowell, and she had a woman’s joy in it. He was not only clever, he was strong. He could not only make speeches (as nobody else in the world could), he could ride and skate and ski, and (if he liked) he could lift a woman in his arms and throw her over his shoulder. Something would come of this some day she was sure it would.
They were at the top of the pass, stamping the snow off their ski, and shaking it out of their gloves, before going down to the Governor’s carriage which (also on runners) was waiting for them at the inn at the bottom of the hill. The sun was setting and the red light of it was flushing Fenella’s face. She looked sideways at Stowell with a mischievous light in her eyes a*d said,
“Now I know what you are, Sir?”
“You are not a lawyer, really.”
“You’re an old Viking, born a thousand years after your time.”
“You don’t say.”
“Yes,” she said, making ready for flight, “one of those sea robbers you told me of, who came to take possession of the island and capture its women.”
“I dare say you’re sorry you’re not back with your ridiculous old ancestors, catching a woman for your wife.”
“Not a bit! I’ve caught one already.”
“Eh? What? If you mean . . . Don’t be too sure, Sir! You’ve not caught me yet!”
“Haven’t I? Look out then I’m going to catch you now.”
“Catch me!” she cried, and away she flew down the slopes, laughing, screaming, rocking, reeling, and leaping over the drifts, until at length she tumbled into a deep one, with head down and ski in air, and came up half blind, with Stowell’s arms about her and his lips kissing the snow off her chin and nose.
What a winter! Could there be any sorrow or sin or crime in the world at all? And what did it want its prisons and courts for?
But the thaw came at length, and then the noises of the garrulous old island began again with the rattle of the cart wheels, the rumble of the rivers running to the sea, and the mooing and bleating of the liberated cattle and sheep, coming out of their Ark and going back to the discoloured grass of the fields.
Stowell and Fenella felt as if they were descending to a world of reality from a world of dreams.
They were in the porch at Government House after the last of their winter expeditions. He was crushing her in his arms again, to the ruin of her beautiful hair, and whispering of the time that was coming when there would be no need for such partings,
“Three months yet, Sir!”
“Heavens, what an age!”
And then home to Ballamoar, with his young chestnut under him sniffing the night air, and over his head a paradise of stars.
“Come immediately. Important news for you.”
It was a telegram from the Governor, who had been in London again. Stowell went up to Douglas by the first train.
“It’s about the Deemstership.”
“Old Taubman, as you know, has been complaining of overwork ever since your father died. The winter has crippled him and he is down with rheumatism. Fortnightly courts being postponed, cases in arrears it was necessary to do something. So I went up to Whitehall last week and told them a successor would have to be appointed. They asked me to recommend a name and I recommended yours.”
“Yours ! It was all right, too, until I had to tell them your age, and then phew I A judge and not yet thirty! I stood to my ground, said this was the age of youth, quoted the classical examples. Anyhow, there was my recommendation take it or leave it.”
“And what was the result, Sir?”
“The result was that the Lord Chief was consulted, and then our insignificance saved us. Yes, there was precedent enough for young judges in colonies and dependencies. And this being a case of a worthy son succeeding a worthy father … and so on and so forth.”
“Well, the end of it is that you are to go up to see the Home Secretary after the House has risen at Easter.”
Stowell’s heart was beating high, yet he hardly knew whether he was more proud than afraid. He mumbled something about the claims of his seniors at the bar.
“Oh yes, I know! All the old stick-in-the-muds! But keep your end up in London and I’ll keep mine up here.”
“You are very good, Sir. You have always been good to me.”
The Governor, who had been rattling on, in a rush of high spirits, suddenly became grave and spoke slowly.
“Not at all,” he said. “And I’m not thinking of you as … what you are going to be. I’m thinking of you as your father’s son, and expecting you to live up to your traditions. We want the spirit of the great Deemster in the island these days. Violence! Violence! Violence I I agree with the Lord Chief. It seems as if the world is getting out of hand. Justice is the only thing that can save it from anarchy utter anarchy and ruin. Let’s have no more recommendations to mercy! When people commit crime let them suffer. When they take life no matter who or what they are let them die for it.”
“And by the way” (Stowell was leaving the room), ” your father’s portrait is finished. We must unveil it before you go up to London.”
Trembling all over, Stowell went into the library to tell Fenella.
“How splendid!” she said. She was glowing with excitement. “You’ve done magnificent work for women as an advocate, but only think what you will be able to do as a judge! There isn’t a poor, wronged girl in the island who won’t know that she has a friend on the Bench!”
END OF SECOND BOOK