The Master of Man (Seventh Book: The Resurrection)
Seventh Book: The Resurrection
CHAPTER FORTY -FIVE
THE WAY OF THE CROSS
THERE had been wild doings in Douglas since the Chief Constable’s visit to Government House. Stones had been thrown and windows broken. At length the Mayor, not without personal risk, had read the Riot Act from the steps of the Town Hall.
The result had been the reverse of what the Governor expected. The police, a small force, had charged the mob with their batons, but they had soon been overpowered. Then the soldiers from Castletown, a little company of eighty, had attempted to intimidate the crowd with their rifles, but twice as many stalwart fishermen, coming up behind, had disarmed them. After that the people had surged through the streets in delirious triumph.
At ten o’clock the throng was densest outside Government Office, which stands midway on the steep declivity of the Prospect Hill. The police and the soldiers had as much as they could do to guard the doors of the building. The space in front of it was packed with people of both sexes and all ages. They were squirming about like worms on an upturned sod. There were loud shouts and derisive cries.
“Down with the Governor!”
“Tell him the steamer leaves for England at nine in the morning.”
Suddenly, with the rapidity of a desert wind, word went through the crowd that mounted soldiers from England had just been landed at the pier, and were riding up the principal thoroughfares, driving everything before them.
A cold fear came, culminating in terror. Presently the cavalry were seen to turn the bottom of the hill. They were swinging the flats of their swords to scatter the crowd. The people screamed and ran in frantic haste to the parapets on either side of the street.
In a moment the broad space in front of Government Office was clear.
Clear, save for one tiny object. It was a child, a little girl of four, who had been clinging to her mother’s skirts and in the scramble had lost her hold of them.
The cavalry were now coming up the hill at a gallop and the little one’s danger was seen by all.
“Save the child,” people shouted, and more than one ran out a few paces and then ran back, for the horses seemed to be almost upon them. The mother was screaming and trying to break into the open, but women were holding her back.
At that moment a man, whom nobody recognised at first, pushed his way through the crowd with powerful arms, and darted out in the direction of the child.
“Come back; you’ll be killed,” cried someone, but the others held their breath.
At the next instant the man was lost to sight in the midst of the cavalry. In the confused movement that followed one of the horses was seen to rear and swing aside, as if it had been struck in the mouth by a strong hand.
When the crowd were conscious of what happened next the cavalry had galloped past, with its clang of hoofs and rattle of steel, and the broad space was once more empty .
Empty save for the man. His head was bare, his hand was bleeding, and the skirt of the loose overcoat he wore was torn as if a sword had accidentally slashed it. But in his arms was the child unhurt and untouched.
Then the people saw who he was. He was the Deemster, and they crowded about him. He gave the little one back to its mother, who had a still younger child at her breast, and was too breathless from fright to thank him.
He tried to conceal himself in the crowd, but they followed him down the hill to Athol Street, where the Court-house is a long train, chiefly of women and children, with wet eyes and open mouths, crying to him and to each other,
“The Deemster! God bless him!”
They thought he was going to the Court-house to sit on the bench as Judge, but when he came to the big portico he passed it, and, turning down a side street, he stopped at a little black door and knocked.
The door was opened by a police sergeant who was not wearing his helmet. The Deemster stepped into the vault-like place within and the door was closed behind him.
It was the Douglas prison.
The High Bailiff of Douglas held a Court that day. The court-house was almost empty. Not more than six or seven persons sat in the places assigned to the public. Three young reporters yawned over their note-books in their box beside the wall. In the well allotted to Counsel there were only two advocates in wig and gown.
A few bare-headed policemen stood near the bench and the Clerk of the Court sat under it. There was nobody else in the court-house except the High Bailiff himself, an elderly man with a red face and a benevolent expression.
He was trying a number of petty cases, chiefly of larceny and drunkenness. The light was low and the voices echoed in the vacant chamber. But from time to time a deadened rumble came from the streets outside the clang of horses’ hoofs, the derisive cries of a crowd, the loud shout of a commanding officer, and then a scamper of feet that was like heavy rain pelting down on the pavement.
Behind the Jury-box, which was empty, there was a door that led to the prison below. The last case was being heard when this door was opened and the Chief Constable came up into Court, followed by Stowell and a policeman. The Chief Constable took a seat in the advocates’ well; Stowell and the policeman sat on the public benches.
When the High Bailiff, who was a great respecter of authority, saw the Deemster enter, he sent a policeman to ask him to come up to a seat by his side on the bench, but Stowell shook his head.
The case being tried was that of a farmer who was charged with driving his country cart on the high road without a stern light. The defence was that the lamp was alight when he left town, and had been put out by a high wind that was blowing. On this issue there was a long questioning and cross-questioning by the advocates, but at length the case came to a close.
“Half-a-crown and costs,” said the High Bailiff; and then reaching over to his clerk he asked if that was the last case for the day.
“Yes, your Worship,” said the Clerk, and the High Bailiff was pushing back his chair, when the Chief Constable rose with an air of importance.
“Your Worship, I have a serious charge to make.”
He beckoned to the policeman at the back, who opened the door of the dock and Stowell stepped into it.
“I charge his Honour Deemster Victor Stowell on his own confession with breaking prison on Sunday night last between the hours of ten and twelve, to effect the escape from custody of a prisoner lying there under sentence of death.”
The High Bailiff seemed to be stupefied and the charge had to be repeated to him.
“Eh? What? God bless my soul! On his own confession, you say? Is the Deemster well? What conceivable motive . . .”
“I will give formal evidence, your Worship, and ask for a committal to General Gaol, when the question of motive will be fully gone into.”
“Well, well! Good gracious me! If it must be it must. It is my painful duty to put the Deemster back for trial. But I suggest that a doctor be asked to see him immediately. And meantime” (the High Bailiff turned to the reporters, who were now busy enough over their note-books), “may I request the representatives of the press to publish nothing about this painful matter at present?”
It was all over in a few minutes. The door behind the Jury-box was opened again and Stowell and the policeman returned to the cells.
In less than half-an-hour the news was all over the town. Special editions of the newspapers (single sheets) had been run off in furious haste, and the newsboys were shouting through the streets, Arrest of Deemster Victor Stowell. The news fell on the public like a thunderbolt. It eclipsed their interest in the soldiers.
Like lightning out of a thunder-cloud the news fell on Government House also. On hearing it the Governor, who had been thinking less about the riot than about Stowell’s last words to him, broke into uncontrollable rage.
“The fool! The infernal fool! After I had given him such a chance, too!”
With a determined step he went into the library, where Fenella was writing letters, and broke the news to her with a kind of fierce joy. At first her eyes filled with tears and then a proud smile shone through them.
“You were right after all, Fenella. I see now that you must throw the man up,” said the Governor.
“On the contrary,” said Fenella. ” Now I must stand by him.”
“What on earth do you mean?”
“I mean that Victor has justified himself.”
“Yes. The only thing I was afraid of was that he might take his life to escape from his dishonour. But now that he has made his choice I have made mine also.”
“I cannot cut him out of my heart because he has been brave enough to face the consequences of his crime.”
“But good heavens, girl, don’t you see that he will be brought up for trial, and then all the wretched story of the Collister girl will come out?”
“I’m prepared for that, father.”
“Fenella,” said the Governor, white with the passion that was mastering him, ” if you were my son instead of my daughter do you know what I should do with you?”
“You mean you would turn me out of the house? There will be no need for that I will go of myself, father.”
“Fenella! Fenella!” cried the Governor, recovering himself, but Fenella had gone from the room.
The Governor returned to his smoking-room. For a long half-hour he ranged about, kicking things out of his way, ringing bells and snapping at the servants. What was Fenella doing? Could it be possible that she was taking him at his word? Unable to contain himself any longer he sent for Miss Green. He got nothing out of the old lady except lamentations.
“Oh dear, oh dear, what is the world coming to?”
At length, with an air of authority, he went up to Fenella’s bedroom, and found her on her knees before an open trunk into which she was packing her clothes.
“Fenella,” he said, ” this is nonsense. It cannot be.”
“I’m afraid it must be, father.”
“Look here, girl, when a man’s angry he doesn’t always mean what he says. I never meant you were to go.”
“It’s better that I should, father.”
The Governor struggled hard with his pride and said,
“Listen. Don’t make me ridiculous in the eyes of the whole island, Fenella. I may not have acted wisely in relation to Stowell and the advice I gave him I see that now. But if so perhaps it was because I was thinking less of the public service than of you. If you were a father you would understand that. But you cannot wish to leave me. You are my only child. I am your father, remember. What, after all, is this man to you?”
Fenella leaned back on her heels and her eyelids quivered for a moment. Then she said,
“We are told that a man must leave father and mother and cling to his wife, and surely it’s the same with a woman and her husband. Victor is my husband, or soon will be.”
“Good Lord, what are you saying, girl?”
“I promised myself to him, and I intend to keep my promise.”
“But he’s a prisoner, and if the governing authority objects . . .”
“In that case I’ll wait iintil he is a prisoner no longer, and then . . . then I’ll marry him.”
”That you never shall. Not in this island anyway. No clergyman here will marry you to that man against my wish.”
“Then I’ll go to him just the same.”
“Yes, I’m prepared even for that sacrifice.”
“You’re mad. You’re both mad stark mad.”
Again the Governor returned to his smoking-room. After a while he heard a hackney carriage coming up the drive to the porch, and then old John, the watchman, lugging a trunk along the corridor. A moment later, looking through the window, he saw Fenella, in the blue and white costume of her Settlement (the same in which, with so much pride, he had brought her up to the house from the pier in his big landau), stepping into the coach.
Then his anger and emotion together burst all bounds. He tore open his door with the intention of countermanding Fenella’s orders and driving the hackney carriage off his grounds. But before he could bring himself to do so he heard the door of the carriage close and saw its wheels moving away.
Miss Green came back to the house with her handkerchief to her eyes, saying,
“She was crying as if her heart would break, poor darling!”
The Governor went slowly back to his room once more. The masterful man, who had never known before what it was to have tears in his eyes, was utterly broken. He had lost his daughter; he was to be a childless man henceforward; he was to spend the rest of his life alone. But after a while he thought of Stowell as the man who had taken Fenella from him, and his anger rose again.
“He wants punishment, does he? Very well, he shall have it, and damned quick too.”
Two hours later Fenella was at Castle Rushen, in the living-room
of the new jailer and his wife.
“I hear you want a female warder, and I’ve come to offer myself,”
she said. The new jailer, who was embarrassed, stammered something about menial labour, but Fenella was not to be gainsaid.
“I’m a trained nurse, and have experience in managing people will you take me?”
“Well … if the Governor doesn’t . . . for the present, perhaps.”
“For good,” said Fenella.
Within a few minutes she was settled in her new quarters a large, dark, cell-like chamber, of irregular shape, with a deeply-recessed window, a piece of cocoanut matting, a deal table, a chair, a wash-stand and a truckle bed.
Two hundred years before it had been the ‘tiring room of the greatest of her ancestors, Charlotte de la Tremouille (Countess of Derby), when, in the absence of her husband, she held the fortress for weeks against the siege of Cromwell’s forces.
The blood of the Stanleys was in it still.
VICTORY THROUGH DEFEAT
A LITTLE later Stowell was brought up for trial at a special sitting of the Court of General Gaol Delivery held in Douglas.
“This wretched case has injured the credit of the island in England,” said the Governor to the Attorney-General. The sooner it was over and done with the better.
For a long half-hour before the proceedings began the court-house was dark with men. Indignation against Stowell had succeeded to astonishment. Piecing things together (from Fenella’s outburst in Court to Gell’s threat of personal violence against the Deemster) people had arrived at something like the truth. The lips which a few days before had saluted Stowell with cries of worshipful love were ready to break into shouts of execration.
The scoundrel! The traitor! Poor young Gell! And then that girl Collister was not so bad as they had thought her.
Stowell’s enemies had been crowing with satisfaction. “Well, what did I tell you?” said Hudgeon, the advocate. And Qualtrough, M.H.K., repeated what he had said in the smoking-room of the Keys you had only to give the rascal rope and he would hang himself.
His friends were yet more deadly. Nearly all had deserted him. The good things they had said had been forgotten. Every bad thing they could remember was revived, as far back as his reckless days at Mount Murray as a young man and his expulsion from King William’s as a boy. He was a man of straw. It was surprising what people had seen in him, and astonishing that the Governor had recommended him for the position of Deemster.
The press had been silent, from fear of the penalties of contempt, but the pulpit (Sunday having intervened) had been loud with platitudes, inspired by the text, “Be sure your sin will find you out.”
When the time came for the Judges to enter the court-house the atmosphere was rank with evil passions and the acid odour of perspiring people.
Taubman was the Deemster. Although tortured by rheumatism he had dragged himself out of bed, having scented an opportunity of gaining favour with the Governor.
The Governor presided, as it was his duty to do, but it was remarked that except for one moment on taking his seat, when he looked round at the open-mouthed spectators with an expression which seemed to say, ” What a race!” he never raised his eyes.
It was a short trial, and rarely had there been a more irregular one. Taubman was notorious for his legal deficiencies. In earlier days Stowell, in one of his “Limericks,” had christened him “Old Necessity,” because “necessity knew no law.” He had long been jealous of Stowell’s popularity and particularly of his rapid rise to a position which he had had to wait forty years for. Now he had the ” upstart ” in his hand at last.
When the case was called Stowell was brought up by two police-men and placed in the dock. His cheeks were very pale and his eyes heavy as with unshed tears. It was almost as if his youth had stepped with one stride into age. But suffering gives a certain sublimity, and it was said afterwards that never before had he looked so strong and noble.
The spectators saw nothing of that now. His calm seemed to them to be callousness. He did not appear to see the scorching glances they cast at him. The last time they had seen him in Court he was on the bench, now he was in the dock, and they would have been better pleased if, in the dread certainty of his fate, he had betrayed the fellness of terror. But except for one moment, when he turned slowly round to look at them, and their murmurs ceased suddenly at full sight of his face, he seemed to them to have forgotten the shame of the place he stood in.
Taubman, in a rasping voice, read out the charge to the prisoner and called on him to plead.
“How say you, are you Guilty or Not Guilty?”
“Guilty,” said Stowell in a clear voice, and then, after a moment of merciless silence, there was a deep drawing of breath.
“Had you any accomplices?”
“Humph! And what was your motive in committing this
Again there was a’ moment of merciless silence, and then Stowell, speaking very slowly, said,
“I had seduced the prisoner and was therefore the first cause of her crime.”
Ah! There was another long indrawing of breath among the spectators. It was a wonder the man didn’t fall dead with shame!
“And what, if you please, was your reason for making this confession?”
“I could not allow an innocent person to suffer for my crime.”
“Was that your only reason?”
The silence became breathless. After a pause Stowell said, in a low voice,
“That is a question I will answer to a higher tribunal.”
“Indeed!” said Taubman, with a sneer, and then the silence was broken by a cowardly titter which passed through the court-house.
The Attorney-General rose to summarise the facts. His face was white and decomposed; his thin hair was disordered, and the linen slip under his chin was awry.
Only once before since leaving Government House had he been out of doors to visit Stowell at the police-station and receive the letter which had been found on him. He, too, had dragged himself from bed to come to Court, being afraid to leave the prosecution of the son of his old friend, the boy brought up in his own office, to the Deputy whom the Governor was sure to appoint in his place Hudgeon, who sat by his side.
His speech did not please either the Court or the spectators. It gave the impression of being a plea for the prisoner. And indeed there were moments when the Attorney seemed to forget that he was there to prosecute.
Speaking in a tremulous voice, and never once looking towards the dock, he said it would seem incredible that anyone in the position of the accused could be guilty of the crime with which he was charged. But the lucidity of his confession, and its correspondence to the facts as they knew them, made it inconceivable that he had told a lie. There could be no doubt he was guilty, and being so he came under the condemnation of the law.
“But,” said the old man, flashing his moist eyes on the glistening eyes behind him, “the Crown stands for Justice, not revenge.”
The Court would remember that the prisoner had made a voluntary confession, that nothing would have been known of his crime if he had not of himself disclosed it, and before the sublime spectacle of a man who was making the only reparation in his power to the Justice he had sullied, it would be touched by the fire of a great renunciation.
A murmur of dissent passed through the court-house.
Again, the Court would remember that the prisoner had confessed to the secret sin which had tempted him to his crime. If he had been a scoundrel he could have concealed it, but he had put conscience before liberty, before reputation, perhaps before life.
Once more the Court would remember that the prisoner had surrendered to Justice because another was in danger of arrest, and it would not be human if it were not moved by the sight of a man giving himself up to the law so that an innocent man might not suffer in his stead.
Finally, the Court would remember the youth of the prisoner, his undoubted talents, his brilliant promise, his high position, and the revered memory of his father, and if, moved by these considerations, it decided to impose a nominal penalty, the Crown would be satisfied.
“But whatever the punishment the Court thinks fit to impose on the prisoner,” said the Attorney, “it can be as nothing to that which he has inflicted upon himself. Never in this island has there been so great a downfall, and rarely can suffering for sin have been more terrible since the Veil of the Temple was rent in twain and darkness covered the land.”
It was impossible for the spectators not to be hushed to awe by the daring words and quivering tones with which the old Attorney closed his speech, but Taubman, in the ferocity of his malice, was unmoved.
“Humph!” he said. “All that means, I suppose, that a man may be innocent and guilty at the same time.”
And then another cowardly titter ran through the court-house.
The time had come for judgment. Taubman leaned over the bench, clasped his bony fingers in front of him, and said,
“Victor Stowell, stand up.”
Stowell rose, and stood with his hands interlaced, and his heavy
eyes fixed steadfastly on his Judge.
“Have you anything to say why judgment should not be pronounced upon you?”
It needs no skill to wound the defenceless, and for the next few minutes Taubman seemed to glory in the exercise of his power.
“Prisoner at the bar,” he said, “you have confessed to the crime of breaking prison to effect the escape from custody of a young woman whom you had first debauched and then abandoned.”
“It has been said on your behalf (strangely enough by the public servant whose duty it was to arraign you) that your confession was voluntary. Nothing of the kind. It was made when the hand of the law was upon you, when the warrant for the arrest of an innocent man was about to be issued, and you were face to face with the certainty of exposure and punishment.”
“It has also been said that the confession of your private sin shows the operation of your conscience. But your conscience would have been better employed when you sat in judgment on your own victim a deliberate offence that is probably without precedent in the history of criminal jurisprudence.
“Finally it has been argued that your high position and family connections ought to mitigate your punishment. On the contrary, they ought to increase it, as showing your disregard of your responsibilities, and especially your ingratitude to the head of the judiciary, his Excellency ” (here Taubman bowed to the Governor), “whose favours you have so ill requited.”
“Your crime is clear. It is without a particle of justification. You have disgraced your name, your profession, and your island. Therefore the Court can only mark its sense of the enormity of your offence by inflicting the maximum penalty prescribed by the law two years’ imprisonment in Castle Rushen.”
Hardly had the last words been spoken when the spectators broke into frenzied shouts of approval. Neither the police nor the Judge made any attempt to repress them. The Governor rose hastily and hurried off the bench, and Taubman, gathering up his papers, his spectacles and his two walking-sticks, hobbled after him.
The shouting went on. It surged about Stowell as he stepped out of the dock and passed with slow stride through the door that led down to the prison. The deadened sound of it followed him while he descended the stairs, and when he reached the cell it mingled with yet wilder shouting from the streets, where a tumultuous crowd had been waiting for the verdict. The delight of the mob seemed delirious. Some women from the meaner streets by the quay were dancing on the pavement.
Meantime, in his robing-room with the Governor, Taubman was congratulating himself on his travesty of Justice. Taking his wig off his stubbly grey hair he said,
“I think I gave my gentleman his deserts for his bad treatment of your Excellency. Eh? What?”
And then the Governor spoke for the first time that day.
“Maybe so,” he said, “but all the same you are not fit to wipe his boots, Sir.”
Early next morning Stowell was removed to Castle Rushen.
There was a rumour (probably inspired by the police) that he would travel by the seven o’clock train, therefore at half-past six the railway station and its approaches were full of a noisy crowd. But at ten minutes to seven the prison van, drawn by two horses, drew up at the back door under the court-house and Stowell was hustled into it.
“Come, get in, quick,” said the Chief Constable (all his former deference gone), and then the van rolled away, Stowell being shut up in the windowless compartment within, while the Chief Constable and his Inspector of Police occupied the outer one with the grill.
Crossing a swing-bridge which spanned the top of the harbour, they climbed the lane to the Head until they reached the cliff road, and had the town behind them under a veil of morning mist, and the open sea in front. There had been wind overnight, and a fiery sun was blazing out of a fierce sky like the red light from the open door of a furnace.
Stowell, in his dark compartment, had not yet asked himself which way he was going. The feeling of exaltation, of doing a divinely appointed duty, which had buoyed him up during the trial, was now gone. The nullity of his past life, the hopelessness of the future had left him with the sense of being already a dead man. Two years inside the blind walls of Castle Rushen, while the sun shone and the flowers grew and the birds sang outside, and the world went on without him how could he live through it?
At length, having a sense of physical as well as spiritual suffocation, he tapped timidly at his door, and asked, when it was opened, if it might remain so for a few moments that he might have a breath of air.
“Certainly not,” said the Chief Constable, and he clashed the door back.
“Better so,” thought Stowell.
He had caught a glimpse of the scene outside, and knew where they were on the rocky shelf along which he had driven with Fenella after the oath-taking at Castletown.
The memory of that day came back to him like a stab. He could feel Fenella’ s warm presence by his side; he could see her gleaming eyes; he could hear her rich contralto voice as they sang together above the boom of the sea below and the cry of the sea-fowl over- head:
“Love is the Queen for you and for me, Salve, Salve Regina!”
What memories! What regrets! Only now did he know how necessary Fenella had been to him only now when he had lost her. He felt like a dead man dead, yet doomed to remember his former existence.
An hour and a half passed. Stowell sat huddled up in the close atmosphere of the van, with the thunderous rumble of the roof above him and the crack of the driver’s whip outside. He knew every mile of the way. When the van swung round at a turn of the road, or the horses slowed down at the foot of a hill, the memory of some moment in his drive with Fenella came back to him, and he told himself how far they had still to go.
At length they were entering Castletown. He knew that by the hollow sound under the horses’ hoofs as they crossed the bridge over the harbour the bridge from which Fenella had looked back and waved her hand to the crowd about the Castle gate who had raised the deafening shout ” Long live the new Deemster, hip, hip, hip!”
Groaning audibly, digging with his fingernails deep trenches in his palms, praying for strength of spirit, he waited for the ordeal which he felt was before him.
Another crowd had gathered about the Castle gate that morning.
Telegrams had been received from Douglas saying that Stowell was travelling by road, so half the people of Castletown had come down to the quay as to a funeral to see the last of the condemned man before he was buried in his living tomb.
They were of two classes. The larger and noisier class consisted of raw youths and young men to whom the trial of the Deemster had been mainly a subject for lewd jests about Bessie Collister.
One of them, with the small eyes of a sow and the thick lips of a cod, wore a butcher’s apron and a steel attached to a belt about his waist. This was John Qualtrough (son of Caesar), the lusty ruffian whose skull had been cracked in his boyhood by the blow from the stick which had been intended for Alick Gell.
The Castle walls were low by the gate, and off the shoulders of a comrade Qualtrough clambered to a seat on the battlements. From that elevation he beguiled the time of waiting by conducting a chorus of his companions on the ground, using his steel for baton. He selected the crudest of the old Manx ditties, and amid shrieks of laughter, he emphasised the doubtful lines by frequent repetition.
“I’m not engaged to any young man I solemnly do swear, For I mane to be a vargin and still the laurels wear. For I mane to be a vargin and still the laurels wear”
The other class, consisting chiefly of women, demure and severe, occupied themselves with serious talk about Fenella. That splendid young woman! It was shocking the way Stowell had treated her worse than the other in a manner of speaking.
“They’re telling me she wasn’t at the trial in Douglas yesterday.”
“What wonder if she wasn’t, poor thing! I wouldn’t trust but she’ll never show her face in public again.”
“It’s no use talking, the man has brought shame on the lot of us and is a disgrace to the name of a Manxman.”
Suddenly, over the loud clamour there came a wild shout from the battlements.
“Here he is!”
The prison van was seen to cross the bridge, and as it came up to the gate, it was received with a howl of execration.
Stowell heard it. In his dark compartment the surging of the crowd around the outside of the van was like the breaking of a tidal wave on a sleeping town in the middle of the night. The van stopped with a sickening jolt, and he heard the Inspector of Police crying,
“Stand back! Make way!”
Then there was a flash of daylight and the voice of the Chief Constable saying peremptorily,
“Come, get out! Be quick about it.”
At the next moment he was on the ground with a roar of hoarse voices and a rush of contorted faces around him. There were screams of lewd laughter and yells of merciless derision. Arms were raised as if to strike him. He felt himself being pushed and pulled by the police through the open gate and up the passage way to the Portcullis
The crowd, not yet appeased, tried to force their way past the jailer and his turnkeys as if to lynch him. But they were checked by an unexpected sight. A young woman, in the costume of a nurse, with heaving breast, quivering nostrils, and flaming eyes, gushed through the gate with outstretched arms to stop them.
They recognised -her instantly, but it was not that alone that cowed them. There is something in a brave act which pierces the noisiest crowd to the core of its cruel soul. Certainly this crowd fell back and its uproar died down.
Then in a voice which vibrated with contempt and scorn, Fenella tried to speak to them.
“You . . . you . . . you . . .” she began, but further words would not come, and returning to the Castle she clashed its iron-studded gate in the people’s faces.
The crowd broke up rapidly and slank away, subdued and ashamed.
Within two minutes nearly all were gone. The open space in front of the Castle gate was empty, save for two old women with little black shawls over their heads, who were wiping their eyes on their cotton aprons.
“Did thou see that, Bella?”
“‘Deed I did, though.”
“I belave in my heart it was the girl herself the one they say he has done so bad to.”
“Aw well, if a woman isn’t willing to stand up for her man whatever he has done what is she anyway?”
THE RESURRECTION OF A SOUL
THREE days later, Fenella set out for Bishop’s Court in a two-horse landau.
The island had begun to recover from its fit of moral intoxication. Sympathy was swinging round to Stowell. The pathos of his stupendous downfall had taken hold of the people. Taubman had been wrong. Nobody would have known anything of Stowell’s guilt if he had not revealed it himself. There must be something great in a man who could take up his cross like that. And as for that wonderful woman who might be living in Government House but was living in Castle Rushen instead . . . As Fenella, in her nurse’s costume, drove through the town some of the women curtsied to her, and most of the men raised their hats. She returned the salutations of none.
“So that’s how they expect to wipe out what they did to Victor! Not if I know it though!”
Two hours afterwards she was at the Bishop’s palace a somewhat palatial place, partly old, partly new, sleeping in the shelter of big trees and surrounded by a blaze of rhododendrons.
The Bishop, in his dapper black clothes, received her in a room in the old part of the house. It had been the study of the most famous of his predecessors, the fanatic and saint who had ordered that Kate Kinrade, for the saving of her soul, should be dragged at the tail of a boat. Souvenirs of the dead Bishop were on the walls and tables his portrait, his Bible, his short crozier, his tasselled staff, and his horn-rimmed spectacles.
The living Bishop was suave and voluble. ,He congratulated Fenella on looking so well after so much trouble.
“Such a calamity! I might almost say such a tragedy! How the island will miss him!”
He agreed with the Attorney-General. Stowell’s act had been one of renunciation. When a man had sinned against God, and violated the world’s law, he set a great example by submitting to authority.
“God forbid that I should excuse his crime, but already his renunciation is having a good effect throughout the island. The rioting is over. The soldiers are being sent back, and as for the agitators nobody listens to them any longer. Only this morning the man Baldromma . . .”
Fenella, who had been beating her foot impatiently on the carpet, at length broke into her own business.
“Bishop, you have heard that I have gone to the Castle as female warder?”
“Yes, indeed. It’s so nice of you to stay by the poor man’s side while he is in prison, to see that his bodily comforts are being cared for.”
“But more than that will have to be done for him if his soul is to be kept alive,” said Fenella.
“Really? If you think there is anything / can do . . .”
“There is, Sir. . . . You know that I was to have married Mr. Stowell?”
“Indeed I do. Wasn’t the marriage to have taken place before very long in our chapel at Bishop’s Court?”
“Well, I want it to take place now. Only it must be in the Chapel at Castle Rushen instead.”
“You mean . . . the prison Chapel?”
For a moment the Bishop was speechless. Then recovering from his astonishment, he rose and stepped to the hearth-rug, and standing with his back to the fire, he said, as if addressing an assembly,
“Beautiful and noble, dear lady! To be ready to become the wife of the fallen man just when the whole world is hissing at him in chorus, to inspire him day by day with the hope of a great resurrection, of taking up manful work anew, of regaining all he has lost and more yes, it is beautiful and noble.”
“Then you will be willing to marry us, Sir?” said Fenella. The Bishop hesitated, and then asked Fenella what view the Governor took of her intention.
“He disapproves of it altogether, and says no clergyman in the island can marry us without incurring his displeasure.”
“But I have always understood that the Bishop is a baron in his own right and therefore independent of the Governor.”
“True! That’s true! Still . . .”
The river of rhetoric had suddenly stopped.
“Mr. Stowell is a prisoner. Why marry when you can’t live together? Why not wait until he is at liberty?”
“Because he may be dead of despair before the time for that comes,” said Fenella, “and the resurrection you speak of may never take place. His heart is breaking. He wants something to live for now. He wants me.”
Her eyes had filled and the Bishop had to turn his own away. At length he said, stammering painfully, that he was sorry, very sorry, but having to live at peace with the Governor . . . Fenella leapt to her feet.
“Bishop,” she said, “the chaplain at Castletown is a poor man with five young children and his living is in the gift of the Governor. But if I can find any other clergyman who is willing to perform the ceremony, will you permit him to do so?”
“Yes . . . that is to say, if you tell him what you have told me, and he is prepared to take the risk.”
Within two minutes more Fenella was back in her landau, driving towards Ballamoar across the Curragh roads, with their warm and rooty odour of the bog.
Janet came running out of the house to meet her, and in a flash they were crying in each other’s arms. But. to Fenella’s surprise, there was a look of joy in Janet’s face, and on stepping into the house she found an explanation. An army of maidservants were in every room, with an arsenal of brushes and mops and pails.
“Why, Janet, what are you doing?”
“Getting ready for my boy coming back, that’s what I’m doing.”
“But, dear heart, don’t you know . . .”
“Certainly I know. But do you think they can keep a Ballamoar in yonder place long? ‘Deed they can’t. He’ll be coming out soon, and then those dirts of Manx ones who have been making such a mouth will be the first to run off to meet him.”
It would have been cruel to gainsay her, therefore Fenella described the object of her journey, told of her father’s threat and the Bishop’s excuses.
“So now I’m looking for a clergyman who will be brave enough to marry us,” she said.
They were in the dining-room, and through the glass door to the piazza they could see, on the edge of the cliffs, a field’s space from the church, a lonely house without a tree or a bush about it, looking as if it had been slashed by the rain and winds of a hundred winters. It was the Jurby parsonage the home of Parson Cowley. Janet pointed to it and said,
“Have you been there?”
At that question Fenella remembered a story her father had told her about something splendid that Victor had done, before she returned to the island, to save the drunken parson of Jurby in the eyes of his parishioners. In another minute she was back in her carriage.
“Good-bye, child, and God bless you!” said Janet by the carriage door. “And don’t forget to tell my boy that Mother will be lighting the fire in the Deemster’s room every night of life for him.”
The parsonage looked yet more desolate at a nearer view than at a distance. Sea-fowl were screaming in the sky above it and the earth was quaking from the measured beat of the waves against the cliffs below. A patch of garden in front was rank with long grass, and the salt breath of the sea had encrusted the glass of the windows with a grey scale that was like the mould on a dead face.
The door was opened by a timid, elderly woman, the parson’s wife, who was her own servant and looked as if all the pride of life had been crushed out of her.
“Please come in, miss,” she said. And when the door had been closed from the inside and she was taking Fenella into the study, she called at the foot of the stairs,
“John, a young lady to see you.”
The dingy little room looked like an epitome of the life of the man who lived in it. Everything was faded and worn out books in torn bindings on bulging shelves against the walls; a threadbare carpet trodden thin by the fender; a handful of earthen fire; an arm-chair upholstered in horsehair and sunk in the seat as if the springs had broken; a table laden with loose papers and sprinkled with shreds of tobacco, which seemed to have fallen from a shaking hand; and behind a mirror, from which half the silvering was worn away, two objects on the mantelpiece a drinking glass, which had obviously contained a frothy liquor and a photograph in a mourning frame of a young man in sailor’s costume with the fell stamp of consumption in his eyes and cheeks.
After a moment there was an unsteady step on the stairs and the parson came into the room, wearing a faded skull cap and a dressing-gown much patched and stained.
Fenella told him her story, as she had told it to the Bishop, and then said,
“So I’ve come to ask if you dare run the risk of marrying us?”
The old parson, who had been listening intently, seemed eager to reply, but something checked him, and looking across at his wife, who continued to stand timidly by the door, he said,
“What do you say, Sarah?”
The old lady did not reply immediately, and pointing to the photograph on the mantelpiece the parson said,
“If it had been John James’s case, eh?”
“Do as you think best, John.”
“Then I’ll do it! Certainly I’ll do it! What do I care what the Governor may do to me? Once a priest always a priest he can’t take that from me anyway.”
It was just the chance he had been waiting for. Victor Stowell had done something for him, and before he died he wanted to do something for Victor Stowell.
“I will too! I’ll give him a good wife and that’s the best thing a man gets in this world anyway. I’ve been publishing your banns too. Do you know I’d been publishing your banns these three Sunday mornings, Victor Stowell being one of my parishioners?”
Fenella, who was feeling a tightness in the throat, contrived to say,
“Then perhaps you’ll drive back with me to Castletown and celebrate the service to-morrow?”
“Why shouldn’t I?” said the parson, and off he went upstairs (with a firm step this time) to put on his clerical clothes and pack his surplice in a hand-bag.
While his quick footsteps were shaking the ceiling above them the two women stood together in the study, the young one and the old one, face to face.
“It is very good of you, Mrs. Cowley, to take this risk with your husband,” said Fenella.
“But isn’t that what we women have all got to do?” said Mrs. Cowley.
And then Fenella, unable to say more, put her arms about the timid old thing, who had submerged her own life in the wrecked life of her husband, and kissed her.
Stowell had been four days in prison and his depression had deepened to despair. The sense of being buried alive was crushing. Even when he was taken into the courtyard for exercise, and the white birds sailed through the blue sky, he had the sensation of being in a roofless tomb.
Yet he did not spare himself. He had a right to certain indulgences, but asked for none. They put him into an upstairs room, which had once been the armoury of the Castle, but he said,
“Put me in the cell that was occupied by Bessie Collister.”
He might have continued to wear his own clothes, but said,
“Give me the same clothes as any other prisoner” a rough tweed, uncombed and undyed, just as it had come from the back of the sheep.
The silence was terrible. The first night was calm, and the only sound that reached him through the thick walls was the monotonous wash of the waves on the shore, which lay empty and alone under the dark sky.
Next morning he heard the clamour of the gulls, and knew that the boats had come in from their night’s fishing and the birds were fighting for the refuse thrown overboard. A little later he heard the deadened sound of hammering at a distance they were caulking the deck of a new vessel in the shipyard across the bay. The world was going on as usual, yet there he was in a silence like that of the grave.
“Don’t people sometimes go mad in a place like this?” he asked the jailer.
On the second night the sea was loud, but over the wailing of the waves he heard a raucous voice outside. It was the voice of Dan Baldromma, who, ranging round the Castle walls like an evil spirit, was calling up his taunting message at every lancet window, not knowing which was the window of Stowell’s cell.
“The Spaker is dead the day. That’s the way they go, the big ones that rob the people. But there’s no pocket in the shroud, Dempster no pocket in the shroud.”
On the morning of the third day Stowell received a letter from London, telling him that His Majesty the King had withdrawn his commission, having no longer any use for his services. This smote him like a blow on the brain. It was an abject degradation, like that of an officer being stripped of his decorations before the eyes of the soldiers who had served under him.
But the worst of his pains were his thoughts about Fenella. Like a man suddenly struck blind he was always living over again the scenes of his past life. Sitting on his bed, with his head in his hands and his eyes tightly closed, all the beautiful moments of their love passed in procession before him, from the moment in the glen when he had picked her up in his quivering arms and carried her across the stream, to that parting in the porch at Government House, after she had promised to marry him, and he had seized her about the waist and fastened his lips to her mouth.
Do what he would, he could not resist the intoxication of these cruel memories. But crueller still were his dreams of the future the dead dreams of their married love, when she would be wholly his, the beautiful body as well as the beautiful soul. Nothing in the world was to have been so lovely as her bare arms about his neck; nothing so thrilling as the throbbing of her breasts, when he told her how much he loved her. But when he opened his eyes and saw the blank walls of his cell about him, he felt as if some devil from hell had been tormenting him.
Was this to be his greatest punishment that what he had lost in Fenella was to be for ever haunting him? Was he never to be left in peace, now that all hope of her was gone from him for ever?
“Better die,” he thought. “A thousand times better.”
Several times every day the jailer had been in to talk with him. The prison was nearly full of prisoners now, many of the rioters having been arrested (“Not the ring-leaders, they are always too cunning “), so that his turnkeys and lady warder had as much as they could do to keep things going.
This, through the thick haze of his preoccupied mind, brought back to Stowell’s memory a glimpse he had got of a woman in nurse’s costume who had flashed past him when he was being hustled through that furnace of wrathful faces at the Castle gate, and he asked who she had been.
“Oh, that . . . that’s our lady warder,” said the jailer.
“Is Mrs. Mylrea better then?”
“No, she’s dead. We have another one now, Sir.”
“Who is she?”
The jailer hesitated and then said, “Don’t you know, your Honour?”
Stowell looked up quickly and a stifling recollection of Fenella’s last words (“If you have to go to prison, I will follow you “) came surging back on him.
“Is it … is it … she?” he faltered.
That night, when Stowell’s supper was brought to him, he sent it away untouched. But the morning broke fair on his sleepless eyes, for he had made up his mind what to do.
A pale ray of reflected sunshine from the eastern wall of the court-house was on the upper part of his cell, and he could hear the voices of children who were playing on the shore.
He asked for a candle, pen and ink and paper, and sat down to write a letter.
“MY DEAR FENELLA, They have told me what you have done and I cannot bear to think of it. When it became necessary to do what I did, I knew I should have to give up all hope of you, and since doing so I have suffered as few men can ever have suffered before. But if you remain in this place I shall never know another hour’s sleep by night or rest by day. I shall feel that in surrendering to Justice I was not really doing a courageous act, as perhaps I thought, but a cowardly one, because I was throwing half the burden of my sins on to you, who are innocent of any of them. That thought would break my heart.”
He paused. The sea outside was singing on the shore; the children were laughing at their play.
“Fenella, at this last moment I must tell you something. Ever since I came to care for you, it has been the dearest wish of my heart that, God helping me, I should make your life a happy one that, whatever happened to me, in a world so full of cloud and shadow, you should live in the sunshine. And now that you follow me here, to this prison, this tomb, … it is too much. I cannot bear it.
“Go home, dear. Good-bye and God bless you! Don’t let me regret the impulse that brought me here. If it was right and true I must bear my punishment alone. Leave me the comfort of thinking that at least your outer life goes on as if I had never shattered it. We have had many happy hours together, but they are over. Life is for ever closed against me. You can do nothing for me now. It was sweet and good of you to come to this place, and I feel as if I could give my heart’s blood for one more look into your dear face, but …”
He had written thus far when the key rattled in the lock of his cell. The door opened and there was a flash of the jailer’s lantern. Instinctively, without looking up, Stowell covered his letter in his blotting-paper and busied himself with both for a moment. When he raised his eyes the lantern was on the table, but the jailer was gone and somebody else was standing before him.
It was Fenella. She was in wedding dress, with the veil thrown back, looking more lovely than in the most delirious of his dreams. At first he thought it was a phantom, born of the preoccupation of his tortured brain, and in a hushed whisper, trembling all over and rising from his chair, he said,
She, too, was trembling, but she put on a brave air and even a little of her gay raillery.
“Yes, it is Fenella. She has come, as she said she would, you know.”
“But why have you come?”
“Why? Don’t you know what day this is, Victor? This was to have been our wedding-day. It shall be, too.”
“Do you mean it?”
“Look at me. Do you think I have dressed up like this for nothing?”
“But don’t you see it is impossible?”
“Impossible? Don’t you want me any longer then? You promised to marry me, Sir are you going to break your promise?”
She was laughing, but trying at the same time not to cry.
Stowell’s voice grew thick and husky.
“Go home to your father’s house, Fenella. That is the only place for you.”
“But my father has turned me out, so if you send me away also I shan’t have a roof to cover me.”
“Is that true?”
She tried to laugh again with her old gaiety.
“Well . . . nearly.”
“You cannot live in a place like this, Fenella.”
“Why not? I have the apartments of a Queen, and what was good enough for her will be good enough for me, surely.”
“But you forget I am a prisoner, and if the Governor objects . . .”
“He doesn’t. He has been told and has raised no objection.”
“But there isn’t a clergyman in the island who would marry a woman like you to a man like me.”
“Oh yes, there’s one, and I have brought him with me.”
“Who . . .”
“Somebody you did a beautiful thing for long ago, and who now wants to do something for you for me, I mean. Come in, Parson Cowley.”
Then Stowell saw that the door was open and that Parson Cowley was standing in the darkness beyond it. The old parson came into the cell at Fenella’s call, sober as a Judge, but with his face more broken up by emotion than it had ever been by drink, for he had heard everything.
“Parson Cowley,” said Stowell, in a hoarse voice, “show her it is impossible.”
The old man swallowed something in his throat and answered,
“Nothing seems impossible to love, my son.”
“But tell her that no good woman can live all her life with a dishonoured man like me.”
Again the old parson cleared his throat.
“I know one who has been doing so for forty years, Sir.”
Stowell fell back on his chair and dropped his head over his arms on the table. Parson Cowley, unable to bear more, slipped out of the cell and pulled the door behind him.
Fenella and Stowell were then alone. She knew that her last chance had come. She had to conquer him now or lose him for ever. It was the primitive man against the primitive woman, only their age-long positions were reversed, and with all the battery of her womanhood she meant to win him. Stepping closer she said, in a caressing voice,
“Victor, you won’t send me away from you, will you?”
“I shall always love you, Fenella,” said Stowell, whose head was still down. “I shall love you as an angel.”
“But forgive me, dear, I am only a woman, and I want to be loved as a woman first.”
He raised his head and looked at her. Her eyes were glistening, her lips were trembling, never before had she seemed to him so beautiful. Feeling himself weakening he rose and turned away.
“I should never forgive myself, Fenella, if I allowed you to make this sacrifice.”
“What sacrifice? Everything I want in the world is within these walls.”
“Don’t tempt me, Fenella. Go away, I beg of you.”
“Victor, I am for you. You are for me. Do you want to rob me of the only man in the world for me?”
His heart was beating fast.
“Go away, I tell you. I cannot trust myself any longer.”
But the more he commanded her to go, the more her eyes glistened with a look of triumph.
“If I am to go out of this place, you’ll have to carry me out,” she said, “just as you carried me across the river in the glen.”
He gasped, and then flung out at her in a torrent of words.
“Why do you come like this? Is it only to torture me with the thought of what might have been? Haven’t I done enough wrong to you already? If I do this wrong also I shall hate myself. And the end of that will be that I shall come to hate you also. I do hate you. Go away! For God’s sake go!”
Fenella, with gleaming eyes, took one step closer.
“Victor,” she said, “you love me. You know you do. You have never loved any other woman in the world never for one single moment.”
He looked back at her again. Her arms were stretched out to him; her bosom was heaving; her lips were quivering and apart. He could struggle no longer.
She had conquered. They were clasped in each other’s arms.
Half-an-hour afterwards they were married in the prison chapel. The little place was naked enough now. No flowers, no flags, no carpets, no cushions. Only the two rows of forms, without backs, and the placards on the whitewashed walls at either side ” FOR MEN ” and “FOR WOMEN.”
The deal table which served for altar was covered by a kitchen table-cloth, on which nothing stood but a plain brass cross and a couple of lighted candles in kitchen candlesticks.
Parson Cowley, in his surplice, stood in front of it, with his well-thumbed prayer-book in his trembling hands. The two who were being married were kneeling at his feet the sin-soiled man and the daughter of a line of old Manx Kings, bearing a name that had been written high in English history for five hundred years. The jailer and his wife were standing somewhere in the shadows. There was no sound except that of the parson’s quavering voice within and the low rumble of the sea outside.
“I require and charge you, as ye will answer at the dreadful day of Judgment, when the secrets of all hearts shall be disclosed, that if either of you know of any impediment why ye may not be lawfully joined together in Matrimony, ye do now confess it.”
Stowell made a stifled sound as of protest. Fenella put down her hand and took his hand and held it.
“Victor Christian, wilt thou have this Woman to thy wedded wife?”
There was a sensible pause, and Parson Cowley leaned down to Stowell and whispered, “Say ‘I will,’ my son.”
Then came a slow, half -smothered murmur, “I … will.”
“Fenella Charlotte de la Tremouille, wilt thou have this Man to thy wedded husband?”
In a clear, unfaltering voice Fenella answered,
It was all over. The parson and the jailer and his wife were gone. Stowell and Fenella were alone together in the prison chapel, locked in a passionate embrace. The kitchen candles were burning out, but the little dark place shone with glory. The air was stirred as with the presence of angels and lit as by a celestial torch.
In their immense happiness every trouble of life seemed to be gone. Two years? It would be like two months, two weeks, two days it would be like a walk in the sunshine.
“We must hold together now, dear.”
“Yes, until death parts us.”
Their hearts swelled with gratitude. Love had taken the sting out of suffering Love, the saviour, the redeemer. A great hymn of thanksgiving was going up from body and from soul.
They talked of the future.
“Will you leave the island when your time comes, dear?”
“Indeed no, never.”
Where his sin had been there also should be his expiation.
“How great! How glorious!”
She cried a little, being so happy, and he had to comfort her. Oh, mystery of the heart of woman! They had changed places again, and now it was she who was the weak one or pretended to be so just to make him feel how strong he was, being the man, and that she would have to look up to him all her life to guide and protect her.
“Will you love me always, Victor?”
“Always? As sure as God . . .”
“Hush! I know you will, dearest. But being only a woman I shall want you to tell me so every night and every morning.”
He warned her of the struggles they would have to go through yet, even when the time came to leave that place and return to the world of the many who would look askance at them for his sin’s sake. But she said no, and painted for him a picture of his coming out of prison.
What a scene it would be! His people, his beloved countrymen and countrywomen, who were good at heart, would be at the Castle gates to meet him. There would be thousands and tens of thousands of them to go back with him over the hill road to Ballamoar. Carriages, cars, spring-carts, stiff-carts, fishermen in their ganzies and lifeboatmen in their stocking caps such a procession across the mountains as nobody had ever seen in that island before, his little nation taking him home.
“Oh, I see it all, Victor. When the time comes for you to go through the Castle gates it will be like passing out of death into life, out of the cloud of night into the glory of the sunrise.”
He smiled, a melancholy smile, and shook his head.
“I have much to go through yet. You. too, Fenella.”
But well she knew that the victory had been won, that the resurrection of his soul had already begun, that he would rise again on that same soil on which he had so sadly fallen, that shining like a star before his brightening eyes was the vision of a far greater and nobler life than the one that lay in ruins behind him, and that she, she herself, would be always by his side to ” ring the morning bell for him.”
THE herring shoal which in the early summer comes down from Norway to the western coast of Man drifts eastward as the year advances, past the Calf Island, the Sound and the Spanish Head, with their deafening clamour of ten thousand sea-fowl, to where the big waves of the Atlantic roll to their organ music, and the porpoises tumble through the blue waters of the Channel on their way back to the frozen seas.
In the late autumn of the year of Victor Stowell’s trial and imprisonment the fishermen from Ramsey and Douglas, going south to their fishing ground in the evening of the day, would find as they sailed past Castletown, and opened the Poolvaish, that the sun had set behind Castle Rushen and its square tower stood up black against the crimsoning sky.
Then they would go down on their knees on the decks of their boats, just as in old days they used to do after they had shot their nets at night, to acknowledge their Maker, and pray, in their Manx, to St. Bridget and St. Patrick to send them safely home in the morning with a full cargo of “the living and the dead.”
But it was not the harvest of the sea they were thinking of then. It was of the two who lay interned within the walls of the grim fortress the man who had voluntarily made the great Sacrifice for his sin, and the woman, who in the greatness of her love was living out his punishment beside him.
In my early manhood I used to hear old Methodist fishermen say that when they rose from their knees, after their rough hands had been held close over their eyes, and looked back at the Castle, they would sometimes see a golden cross plainly outlined in the sky above it.
Perhaps it was only another of their Manx superstitions, but it seemed to bring a certain inspiration to their simple hearts for all that, by reminding them of a story which resembled (very remotely and feebly) the great one which they told each other every Sunday in their little wayside chapels the story of Him Who ” gave the world away and died.”
“He descended into hell; the third day He rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty. . . .”
“Sir Hall Caine in The Master of Man has shown himself to be the English Tolstoy.”
Hall Caine’s last full-length Manx novel, The Master of Man, was published in 1921, 34 years after his first great success, and it is in many ways a stronger and more sustained story than any of his other works.
The story revolves around Victor Stowell, the Deemster’s son from Ballamoar in the Curraghs, who commits a romantic indiscretion one night and then tries to cover it up as the consequences build towards disaster. The story was conceived as presenting to its readers the moral lesson given in the book’s motto – “Be sure your sin will find you out” – but the novel is much too rich to become bogged down in simple moralising. The plot weaves through passion, prison-breaks, murder and revolution, making the novel one of the most exciting that Hall Caine ever wrote.
Centering on a immediately-regretted passionate encounter that results in apparent infanticide, and painted in a more realistic and vivid light than previous works, the plot caused outrage upon its release, although this did not stop it becoming the best selling novel in the UK. However, 1921, the year that this book was released, was also the year that works like T. S. Eliot’s The Wasteland and James Joyce’s Ulysses were published, leaving Caine’s book exposed as of a style very much past its heyday. Caine was surprised and disappointed to see the book soon replaced by other novels in the public’s attention. Perhaps it is this that leaves the novel forgotten today in comparison to the earlier and more timely The Deemster and The Manxman. Reading them together today, it is clear that The Master of Man is a great novel and deserves to stand as such in its own right.
Resist this great temptation and peace will come to you. Do the right, and no matter how low you may fall in the eyes of men, you will look upon the face of God.
Hall Caine is without a doubt the greatest novelist that the Isle of Man has ever known. He was the best-selling novelist on both sides of the Atlantic at the end of the 19th Century, writing novels such as The Manxman which grew comparisons to Tolstoy and earned him recognition from Royalty and Prime Ministers. It would be hard to overestimate the importance of Hall Caine in the literary history of the Isle of Man.