The Master of Man (Third Book: The Consequence)
Third Book: The Consequence
THE EVE OF MARY
BESSIE COLLISTER had passed through a very different winter.
When she read in the insular newspaper the long report of the trial of the Peel fisherman she was terrified. Men did not forgive their wives, then, in such cases? On the contrary the more they loved them the less they forgave them.
Gell came bounding into the sitting-room while she had the newspaper in her hand and before she had time to hide it away he saw what she had been reading.
“Terrible, isn’t it?” he said. “Poor devil, I was sorry for him. When a woman deceives a man like that the law ought to allow him to put her away. He did wrong, of course, but he had no legal remedy not an atom. Old Vic made out a magnificent case for the woman, but she deserved all she got, I’m afraid.”
Bessie gave a frightened cry, and then Gell said, as if to conciliate her,
“I’ll tell you what, though. If the woman was guilty there was somebody else who was ten times guiltier, and that was the other man. The scoundrel! The treacherous, deceitful scoundrel, skulking away in the dark! I should like to choke the life out of him. That’s what I said to Stowell going up in the train. ‘If I had been in the husband’s place do you know what I should have done?’ I said. ‘I should have killed the other man.'”
Bessie’s terror increased ten-fold. Dread of what Gell might do sat on her like a nightmare. To marry him seemed to be impossible, yet not to marry him, now that she loved him so much, seemed to be impossible also.
A secret hope came to her. It was early days yet. Perhaps something would happen to her bye-and-bye, which, being over and done with, would leave her free to marry Alick with a clean heart and conscience.
To help it to come to pass, she stayed indoors, took no exercise, and ate as little as possible. Her health declined, and her face in the glass began to look peaky. She took a fierce joy in these signs of increasing weakness. The Miss Browns kept a few chickens in their back garden, and one morning, after the snow had begun to fall, they found Bessie in bare feet going out to feed them.
“Bessie, what are you doing?” they cried.
“It’s nothing,” she said. “I’m used of it, you know. I was eight years old before I wore shoe or stocking.”
Meantime she was putting Gell off and off. “Time enough yet, boy,” she would say as often as he asked her.
“She’s thinking of me again,” thought Gell, and he began on a long series of fictions to account for his new-found prosperity. He was getting along wonderfully in his profession, and was better off now than he had been before he lost his allowance. But still it was “Bye-and-bye! Time enough yet, boy!”
One day Gell came with an almost irresistible story. He had bespoken a house in Athol Street. It was just what they wanted. Close to the Law Library and nearly opposite the new Court House. Two rooms on the ground floor for his offices, two on the first floor for their living apartments, and two on the top for the kitchen and for the maid.
It is the temptation that no woman can resist the desire to have a home that shall be all her own and for a few weeks Bessie fell to it. Evening after evening, she and Alick sat side by side in the sitting-room making catalogues of all they would require to set up a household. Gell took charge of the tables and chairs and side-boards. Bessie was the authority on the blankets and linen. It was such a delight to construct a home from memory! And then what laughs and thrills and shamefaced looks when, in spite of all their thinking, they remembered some intimate and essential thing which they had hitherto forgotten.
“Sakes alive, boy, you’ve forgotten the bedstead.”
“Lord, so I have. We shall want a bedstead, shan’t we? ”
But even this fierce gambling with her fate broke down at last with Bessie. The certainty had fallen on her. The natural strength of her constitution had withstood all the attacks she had made upon it. Whether she married Gell, or did not marry him, there was nothing before except suffering and disgrace. How could she keep his love against the shame that was striding down on her?
Christmas had come. It was Christmas Eve. The Manx people call it Oie’l Verry (the Eve of Mary), and during the last hour before midnight they take possession of their parish churches, over the heads of their clergy, for the singing of their ancient Manx carvals (carols). The old Miss Browns were to keep Oie’l Verry at their church in Castletown. They had always done so, and this time Bessie was to go with them.
It was a clear cold winter’s night with crisp snow underfoot, and overhead a world of piercing stars.
As the two old maids in their long black boas, and Bessie in a fur-lined coat which Gell had sent as a Christmas present, crossed the foot-bridge over the harbour and walked under the blind walls of the dark castle, the great clock in the square tower was striking eleven. But it was bright enough in the market place, with the light from the church windows on the white ground, and people hurrying to church at a quick trot and stamping the snow off their boots at the door.
It was brighter still inside, for the altar and pulpit had been, decorated with ivy and holly, and, though the church was lit by gas, most of the worshippers, according to ancient custom, had brought candles also.
The church was very full, but the old Miss Browns, with Bessie behind them, walked up the aisle to the pew under the reading- desk which they had always rented. The congregation about them was a strangely mixed one, and the atmosphere was half solemn and half hilarious.
The gallery was occupied by farm lads and fisher-lads chiefly, and they were craning their necks to catch glimpses of the girls in the pews below, while the girls themselves (as often as they could do so without being observed by their elders) were glancing tip with gleaming eyes. In the body of the church there were middle-aged folks with soberer faces, and in the front seats sat old people, with slower and duller eyes and cheeks scored deep with wrinkles the mysterious hieroglyphics of life’s troubled story, sickness and death, husbands lost at half-tide and children gone before them.
An opening hymn had just been sung, the last notes of the organ were dying down, the clergyman, in his surplice, was sitting by the Bide of the altar, and the first of the carol singers had risen in his pew, candle in hand, to sing his carval.
He was a rugged old man from the mountains of Rushen, half landsman and half seaman, and Ms carol (which he sang in the Manx, while the tallow guttered down on his discoloured fingers) was a catalogue of all the bad women mentioned in the Bible, from.
Eve, the mother of mankind, who brought evil into the world, to “that graceless wench, Salome.”
After that came similar carols, sung by similar carol-singers and received by the boys in the gallery with gusts of laughter which the Clerk tried in vain to suppress. But at last there came a carval sung in chorus by twelve young girls with sweet young voices and faces that were chaste and pure and full of joy all carrying their candles as they walked slowly up the aisle from the western end of the church to the altar steps.
Their carol was an account of the Nativity, scarcely less crude than the carols that had gone before it, though the singers seemed to know nothing of that how Joseph, being a just man, had espoused a virgin, and finding she was with child before he married her, be had wished to put her away, but the angel of the Lord had appeared to him and told him not to, and how at last he had carried his wife and child away into the land of Egypt, out of reach of the wrath of Herod the King, who was trying to disgrace and destroy them.
A little before midnight the clergyman rose and asked for silence. And then, while all heads were bowed and there was a solemn hush within, the great clock of the Castle struck twelve in the darkness outside. After that the organ pealed out “Hark, the herald angels sing,” and everybody who had a candle extinguished it, and all stood up and sang.
The bells were ringing joyfully as the congregation trooped out of the church, but for some while longer they moved about on the crinkling snow in front of it, saluting and shaking hands, everybody with everybody.
“A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you.”
“Same to you, and many of them.”
They saluted and shook hands with Bessie also.
Then the Verger put out the lights in the church behind them, and in the sudden darkness the crowd broke up, one more Oie’l Verry over, and under the slow descent of the starlight the cheerful voices and crinkling footsteps went their various ways home.
Back at Derby Haven, Bessie, who had been on the point of crying during the latter part of the service, ran up to her room, flung herself face down on her bed and burst into a flood of tears.
If she, too, could only fly away, and stay away, until her trouble was over! But how could she do that? And where could she go to?
Two months passed. Bessie’s time was fast approaching, and the nearer it came the more she was terrified by the signs of it. The symptoms of coming maternity which are a joy and a pride to married mothers were a dread and a terror to her. Had she brought herself so low that she could not live through the time that was before her? At one moment she thought of going to Fenella. Everybody said how good Miss Stanley was to girls in trouble. But when she remembered Fenella’s relation to Stowell, and Stowell’s to Gell, and her own to all three, she told herself that Fenella Stanley was the one woman in the world whom she must never come face to face with.
At length, thinking death was certain, she saw only one thing left to do to go back to her mother. It was not thus that she had expected to return, but nothing else was possible now. In her helplessness and ignorance, having no one to reassure her, the high-spirited girl became a child again. Twenty years of her life flipped back at a stride, and she felt as she used to do when she ran bare-foot on the roads and fell and bruised her knees, or tore her little hairy legs in the gorse and then went home to lie on her mother’s lap and be rocked before the fire and comforted.
But going home had its terrors also. There was Dan Baldromma! What could she do? Was there no way out for her?
One day the elder of the Misses Brown (she gave music lessons to old pupils at their own homes) came back from Castletown with a ” shocking story.” It was about a witch-doctor at Cregnaish a remote village at the southernmost extremity of the island, where the inhabitants were supposed to be descended from a crew of Spanish sailors who had been wrecked on the rocky coast below.
The witch-doctor was a woman, seventy years of age, and commonly called Nan. Hitherto she had lived by curing ring-worms on children and blood-letting in strong men by means of charms that were half in Latin and half in Manx. But now young wives were going to her to be cured of barrenness, or for mixtures to make their husbands love them; and worst of all, the young girls from all parts of the island were flocking to her to be told their fortunes whether their boys at the mackerel fishing were true to them, or going astray with the Irish girls of Kinsale and Cork.
“It’s shocking, this witchcraft,” said old Miss Brown. “In my young days it was given for law that the women who practised such arts should stand in a white sheet on a platform in the market-place with the words For Charming and Sorcery in capital letters on their breasts.”
Bessie said nothing, but next day, after breakfast, making excuse of her need of a walk, she hurried out, took train to Port Erin, and climbed, with many pauses, the zigzag path up the Mull Hills to where a Druids’ circle sits on the brow, and Cregnaish (like a gipsy encampment of mud huts thatched with straw) sprawls over the breast of them.
It was a fine spring morning, with the sea lying still on either side of the uplands, and the sun, through clouds of broken crimson, peering over the shoulder of the Calf like a blood-shot eye.
Bessie had no need to ask her way to the witch-doctor’s house, for troops of young girls were coming down from it, generally in pairs, whispering and laughing merrily. At length she came upon it a one-storey thatched cottage with a queue of girls outside.
When the last of the girls had gone, and Bessie still stood waiting on the opposite side of the rutted space which served for a road, a wisp of a woman, with hair and eyebrows as black as a sloe, but a face as wrinkled as the trunk of the trammon tree, came to the door and said,
“Come in, my fine young woman. There’s nothing to be freckened of.”
It was Nan, the witch-doctor, and Bessie followed her into the house.
The inside was a single room with a fire at one end and a bed at the other. The floor was of hardened clay and the scraas of the roof were so low overhead that a tall man could scarcely have stood erect under them. Bundles of herbs hung from nails in the sooty rafters and when the old woman closed the door, Bessie saw that the Crash cuirn (the cross of mountain ash) was standing at the back of it.
“I’m in trouble, ma’am,” said Bessie, who was on the verge of tears, “and I’m wanting to know what to do and what is to happen to me.”
The witch-doctor, whose quick eyes had taken in the situation at a glance, said,
“Aw yes, bogh, trouble enough. But knock that cat off the cheer in the choillagh and sit down and make yourself comfortable.”
Bessie loosened her fur-lined cloak and sat in the ingle, with the fire at her feet and a peep of the blue sky coming down on her from the wide chimney.
“They were telling me a fine young woman was coming,” said the witch-doctor (she meant the invisible powers), “and it was wondering and wondering I was would she have strength to climb the brews. But here you are, my chree, and now a cup o’ tay will do no harm at all.”
Bessie tried to refuse, but the old woman said,
“Chut! A cup o’ tay is nothing and here’s my taypot on the warm turf and the tay at the best, too.”
While Bessie sipped at her cup the witch-doctor went on talking, but she took quick glances at the girl from time’ to time and sometimes asked a question.
At length she bolted the door, drew a thick blind over the window, knelt before the hearth, and called on Bessie to do the same, so that they were kneeling side by side, with no light in the darkened room except the red glow from the fire on their faces and the blue streak from the sky behind the smoke from the chimney.
After that the witch-doctor mumbled some rhymes about St. Patrick and the blessed St. Bridget, then put her ear to the ground, saying she was listening to the Sheean ny Feaynid, the invisible beings who were always wandering over the world. And then she began on the fortune, which Bessie, who was trembling, interrupted with involuntary cries.
“There’s a fair young man in your life, my chree (Yes) and if you’re not his equal you’re the apple of his eye. There’s a poor ould woman, too, and she praying and praying for her bogh-millish to come home to her (Oh!) and the longing that’s taking the woman at times is pitiful to see. ‘Where is my wandering girl to -night?’ she’s singing when she’s sitting by her fireside; and when she’s going to bed she’s saying, ‘In Jesu’s keeping nought can harm my erring child.'”
At this Bessie broke down utterly, and the witch-doctor had to stop for a moment. Then she began again in a different strain,
“There’s an ould man too . . . yes … no … (Yes, yes!) as imperent as sin and as bould as a white stone, and with a vice at him as loud as a trambone. Aw, yes, woman-bogh, yes, there’s trouble coming on you, but take heart, gel, for things will come out right before long and it’s a proud woman you’re going to be some day. But you must go home to the mother, my chree, and never take rest till you’re laying your head under the same roof with her.”
“And will the young man be true to me whatever happens?”
“True as true, my chree, and his heart that warm to you at last – that it will be like gorse and ling burning on the mountains.”
“And will the old man be able to do him any injury?
“Lough bless me, no! Neither to him nor you, gel. Roaring and tearing and mad as a wasp, maybe, but nothing to do no harm at all.”
Bessie had crossed the old woman’s palm with sixpence as she came into the house, but she emptied her purse into it going out, and then went down the hill with a light step and a lighter heart.
Alick Gell was at Derby Haven when she got back, having been waiting for more than an hour. Seeing her coming down the road with her face aglow, he dashed off to meet her, and broke into a flood of joyous words.
“Helloa! Here you are at last! Looking as fresh as a flower, too! What did I say? Didn’t I tell you that you had only to get about and take exercise and you would be as right as rain in no time? But, look here, Bess ” (he had drawn her arm through his), “you’ve kept me waiting all winter and now that you’re getting better I’m going to stand no more nonsense.”
Bessie was laughing.
“I’m not! Upon my soul, I’m not! You wouldn’t let me put up the banns at Malew, thinking Dan Baldromma would hear of them through Caesar Qualtrough, and come here making a noise at Miss Brown’s, though he has no more right over you than the Coroner, and no more power over me than a tomtit. But there are other ways of marrying besides being called in church, and one of them is by Bishop’s licence.”
” Certainly! You just go up to the Registrar’s in Douglas, sign your names in a book, pay a few pounds, get the Bishop’s certificate, and then you can be married wherever you like and as quietly as you please. And that’s what we’re going to do now.”
“Now? You mean to-day?”
“Well, no, not to-day. I have to go to the Castle this afternoon. They’re unveiling a portrait of the old Deemster. And what do you think, Bess?”
“There’s a whisper that Stowell is to be made Deemster in succession to his father. Glorious, isn’t it? Splendid chap! Straight as a die! Rather young, certainly, but there’s not one of the old gang fit to hold a candle to him. He’s to go up to London to-morrow, so I want to see the last of him. But I’ll be clown by the first train after the boat sails in the morning, and then we’ll go back to Douglas together.”
They had reached the gate of the old maid’s house by this time and Gell was looking at his watch.
“Pshew! I must be off! Ceremony begins at three and it’s that already. Wouldn’t miss it for worlds. By-bye! . . . Another one! . . Oh, but you must, though.”
Bessie looked after him as he hurried down the road, swinging his arms and pitching his shoulders, as he always did when his heart was glad. Then she went indoors, ran upstairs and set herself to think things out.
She must go before Alick could get back. When he arrived tomorrow she must be on her way to her mother’s. It was earlier than she had intended, but there was no help for that now. And then it would be all right in the end the Sheean ny Feaynid (the Voices of Infinity) had said so.
After her child had been born her mother would take it and bring it up as her own she had heard of such things happening in Manx houses, hadn’t she? And when all was over and everything was covered up, she would come back, and then . . . then Alick and she would be married.
In the light of what the witch-doctor had said it seemed to her so natural, so simple, so sure. But later in the evening, it tore her heart woefully to think of Alick coming from Douglas on the following day and finding her gone. So she wrote this note and stole out and posted it:
“Don’t come to-morrow. I’ll be writing again in the morning, telling you the reason why.”
VICTOR STOWELL’S VOW
THE old Court-house at Castle Rushen was full to overflowing. Nearly all the great people of the island were there the Legislative Council, the Keys, the leaders of the Bar, the more prominent members of the clergy, the long line of insular officials, with their wives and daughters.
A pale shaft of spring sunshine from the lantern light was on the new portrait of the Deemster, which had been hung on the eastern wall and was still covered by a white sheet.
The time of waiting for the proceedings to begin was passed in a low buzz of conversation, chiefly on one subject. “Is it true that he is to follow his father?” “So they say.” “So young and with so many before him I call it shocking.” “So do I, but then he’s the son of the old Deemster, and is to marry the daughter of the Governor.”
At the last moment Stowell and Fenella arrived and were shown into seats reserved for them at the end of the Jury-box. Then the conversation (among the women at least) took another turn. “Well, they’re a lovely pair I will say that for them.”
The Governor, accompanied by the Bishop and the Attorney-General, stepped on to the crimson-covered dais, and the proceedings commenced.
The Governor’s own speech was a short, one. They had gathered to do honour to the memory of one of the most honoured of their countrymen. The memory of its great men was a nation’s greatest inheritance. If that was true of the larger communities it was no less true of the little realm of Man.
“Hence the island,” said the Governor, “is doing a service to itself in setting up in this Court-house, the scene of his principal activities, the memorial to its great Deemster which I have now the honour to unveil.”
When the Governor pulled a cord and the white sheet fell from the face of the picture there was a gasp of astonishment. The impression of reality was startling. The Deemster had been painted in wig and gown and as if sitting on the bench in that very Court-house. The powerful yet melancholy eyes, the drawn yet firm-set mouth, the suggestion of suffering yet strength it was just as he had been seen there last, summing up after the trial of the woman who had killed her husband.
As soon as the spectators, who had risen, had resumed their seats, the Governor called on the Attorney- General.
The old man was deeply moved. The Deemster had been his oldest and dearest friend. It was difficult for him to remember a time when they had not been friends and impossible to recall an hour in which their friendship had been darkened by so much as a cloud. If it was true that the memory of its great men was a nation’s greatest inheritance, the island had a great heritage in the memory of Deemster Stowell. He had been great as a lawyer, great as a judge, great as a gentleman, as a friend, as a lover, as a husband, and (with a glance in the direction of the jury-box) as a father also.
“I pray and believe,” said the Attorney, “that this memorial to our great Deemster may be a stimulus and an inspiration to all our young men whatsoever, particularly to such as are in the profession of the Bar, and especially to one who bears his name, has inherited many of his splendid talents, and may yet be called, please God, to fill his place and follow in his footsteps.”
When the old man sat down there was general applause, a little damped, perhaps, by the last of his references, and then followed the event of the afternoon.
By the blind instinct that animates a crowd, all eyes turned in the direction of Victor Stowell. He sat by Fenella’s side, breathing audibly with head down and hands clasped tightly about one of his knees.
There was a pause and then a low stamping of feet and Fenella whispered,
“They want you to speak, dear.”
But Stowell did not seem to hear, and at length the Governor called on him by name.
When he rose he looked pale and much older, and bore a resemblance to the picture of his father on the opposite wall which few had observed before.
He began in a low tense voice, thanking His Excellency for asking him to speak, but saying he would have given a great deal not to do so.
“The only excuse I can have for standing here to-day,” he said, “is that I may thank you, Sir, and this company, and my countrymen and countrywomen generally, in the name of one whose voice, so often heard within these walls, must now be silent.”
After that he paused, as if not quite sure that he ought to go further, and then continued,
“If my father was a great Judge, it was chiefly because he was a great lover of Justice. Justice was the most sacred thing on earth to him, and no man ever held higher the dignity and duty of a Judge. Woe to the Judge who permitted personal motives to pervert his judgment, and tlirice woe to him who committed a crime against justice. Therefore if I know my father’s heart and have any right to speak for him, I will say that what you have done this afternoon is not so much to perpetuate the memory of Douglas Stowell, Deemster of Man, as to set up in this old Court-house, which has witnessed so many tragic scenes, an altar to the spirit of Justice, so that no Judge, following him in his place, may ever forget that his first and last and only duty is to be just and fear not.”
He paused again and seemed to be about to stop, but, in a voice so low as to be scarcely audible, he said,
“As for myself I hardly dare to speak at all. What my dear master has said of me makes it difficult to say anything. Some people seem to think it is a great advantage to a young man to be the son of a great father. But if it is a great help it is also a great responsibility and may sometimes be the source of a great sorrow. I never knew what my father had been to me until I lost him. I had always been proud of him, but I had rarely or never given him reason to be proud of me. That is a fault I cannot repair now. But there is one thing I can do and one thing only. I can take my solemn vow and here and now I do so that whatever the capacity in which my duty calls me to this place, I will never wilfully do anything in the future, with my father’s face on the wall in front of me, that shall be unworthy of my father’s son.”
There were husky cheers and some clapping of hands when Stowell sat down, but most of the men were clearing their throats and wiping the mist off their spectacles, and nearly all of the women were coughing and drying their eyes.
Others were to have spoken but the Governor closed up the proceedings quickly, and then there was a general conversazione.
The officials were talking in groups: “Wonderful! The Governor and the old Attorney were grand, but the young man was wonderful!” “We might go farther and fare worse.” “Lake his father, you say?” (it was the Attorney- General) ” so like what his father was at his age that sometimes when I look at him I think I’m a young man myself again, and then it’s a shock to go home and see an old man’s face in the glass.”
A group of old ladies had gathered about Fenella, whose great eyes were ablaze.
“It was beautiful, my dear, but there was just one other person who ought to have been here to hear it.”
“The old Deemster himself, dear.”
“But he was,” said Fenella.
The Governor drew Stowell aside. ” It’s all right, my boy! Must have been instinct, but you touched your people on their tenderest place. Pretty hard on you, perhaps, but I knew what I was doing. The opposition in the island is as dead as a door nail already. Get into the saddle in London and you’ll never hear another word about it.”
There were only two dissentients.
“Aw well, we’ll see, we’ll see,” said the Speaker he was going out of the Castle (head down and his big beard on his breast), with old Hudgeon the advocate.
As he passed through the outer gate his son Alick came running hotfoot up to it.
It was a cruel moment.
Victor Stowell left the island for London at nine o’clock next morning. The first bell of the steamer had been rung, the mails were aboard, and the more tardy of the passengers were hurrying to the gangway, with their porters behind them, when the Governor’s, carriage drew up and Stowell leapt out of it.
A large company of the younger advocates (all former member of the “Ellan Vannin”) were waiting for him.
“Come to see me off? Yes? Jolly good of you,” said Stowell, and he stood talking to them at the top of the pier steps till the second bell had been rung.
Down to that moment nobody had said a word about the object of his journey, although every eye betrayed knowledge of it. But just as he was crossing the gangway to the steamer one of the advocates (a little fat man with the reputation of a wag) cried, with a broad smatch of the Anglo-Manx,
“Bring it back in your bres’ pockat, boy” meaning the King’s commission for the Deemstership.
“You go bail,” said Stowell, and there was general laughter.
He was settling himself with his portmanteau in the deck cabin that had been reserved for him when somebody darkened the doorway.
It was Gell. His cheeks were white, his face looked troubled, and he was breathing rapidly as if he had been running.
“What’s amiss?” said Stowell. “Something has happened to you. What is it?”
Gell stepped into the cabin, and with a suspicion of tears both in his eyes and voice, told his story.
It was Bessie again. He didn’t know what had come over the girl. She had been holding off all winter. First one excuse, then another.
“I’ve done all I can think of. Taken a house in Athol Street and furnished it beautifully (thanks to you, old fellow), but it’s no use, seemingly.”
“When did you see her last?”
“Yesterday, and I thought I had settled everything at last. She wouldn’t be called in church, so I arranged that I was to go down to Derby Haven this morning, as soon as your boat sailed, and we were to come up to the Registrar’s to sign for a Bishop’s license. And now, by the first post . . . this.”
With a trembling hand Gell took out of his pocket the letter which Bessie had written the night before and handed it to Stowell.
With a momentary uneasiness Stowell read the letter.
“Reason? What is it likely to be, think you?”
“I don’t know. I can’t say. It’s a mystery. I’ve racked my brains and can only think of one thing now.”
“And what’s that?”
“That she finds out at last that she doesn’t care enough for me to marry me.”
“Nonsense, old fellow.”
“What else can it be? There can be nothing else, can there?”
Stowell’s uneasiness increased. “What do you intend to do?”
“Go down just the same. I’ve been telegraphing saying I’m coming. That’s why I’m late getting down to the boat.”
“And if she persists?”
“Give her up and clear out, I suppose.”
“You mean leave the island?”
“Why shouldn’t I? I’ve only been a stick-in-the-mud here and couldn’t do much worse anywhere else, could I? Besides –” (his voice was breaking) “there’s my father. You remember what he said. I couldn’t face it out if the girl threw me over.”
“She’s not well, is she?”
“No nothing, the Miss Browns think, that we might not expect after such a change in her life and condition.”
“Then that’s it! Cheer up, old man! It will all come right yet. Women suffer from so many things that we men know nothing about.”
“If I could only think that …”
“You may of course you may.”
“Victor,” said Cell, taking Stowell’s hand, “will you do one thing more for me?”
“Certainly what is it?”
“Nobody can read a woman as you can everybody says that. If Bessie gives me the same answer to-day will you go down to Derby Haven with me when you come back, and find out what’s amiss with her?”
“Assuredly I will . . . that is to say … if you think . . . . ”
“Is it a promise?”
“Undoubtedly. It shall be the first thing I do when I return to the island.”
“All ashore! All ashore!”
A sailor was shouting on the deck outside the cabin door, and the third bell was ringing.
Gell was the last to cross the gangway.
“Good-bye and God bless you, and good luck in London! You deserve every bit of it!”
At the next moment the gangway was pulled in, the ropes were thrown aboard, and the steamer was gliding away.
The young advocates on the pier-head were beginning to make a. demonstration. One of them (the wag of course) was singing a sentimental farewell in a doleful voice and the others were joining in the chorus:
“Better lo’ed ye canna be,
Will ye no come back again?”
Some of the other passengers (English commercial travellers apparently) were looking on, so to turn the edge of the joke Stowell sang also, and when his deep baritone was heard above the rest there was a burst of laughter.
“Good-bye! Good-luck! Bring it back, boy!”
Gell was standing at the sea-end of the pier, waving his cap and struggling to smile. At sight of his face Stowell felt ashamed of his own happiness. A vague shadow of something that had come to him before came again, with a shudder such as one feels when a bat strikes one in the dusk.
At the next moment it was gone. The steamer was swinging round the breakwater and opening the bay, and he was looking for a long white house (Government House) which stood on the heights above the town. He had slept there last night, and this morning Fenella, parting from him in the porch, while the Governor’s high-stepping horses were champing on the gravel outside, had promised to signal to him when she saw the steamer clearing the harbour.
Ah, there she was, waving a white scarf from an upper window. Stowell stood by the rail at the stern and waved back his handkerchief. Fenella! He could see nothing but her dark eyes and beaming smile, and Gell’s sad face was forgotten.
It was a fine fresh morning, with the sun filtering through a veil of haze and the world answering to the call of Spring. As the boat sailed on, the island seemed to recede and shrink and then sink into the sea until only the tops of the mountains were visible looking like a dim grey ghost that was lying at full stretch in the sky.
At length it was gone; the sea-gulls which had followed the steamer out had made their last swirl round and turned towards the land, but Stowell was still looking back from the rail at the stern.
The dear little island! How good it had been to him! How eager he would be to return to it!
The sun broke clear, the waters widened and widened, the glistening blue waves rolled on and on, the ship rose and fell to the rhythm of the flowing tide, the throb of the engines beat time to the deep surge of the sea, and the still deeper surge of youth and love and health and hope within him.
Dear God, how happy he was! What had he done to deserve such happiness?
MOTHER’S LAW OR JUDGE’S LAW?
BESSIE had passed a miserable night. Having been awake until after five in the morning she was asleep at nine when somebody knocked at her bedroom door. It was old Miss Ethel with a telegram. Bessie opened it with trembling fingers.
“Nonsense dear am coming up as arranged Alick.”
With fingers that trembled still more noticeably Bessie returned the telegram to its envelope and slid it under her pillow, saying (with a twitching of the mouth which always came when she was telling an untruth),
“It’s from Mr. Gell. He wants me to meet him in Douglas. I am to go up immediately.”
“That’s nice,” said Miss Ethel. “The change will do you a world of good, dear. I’ll run down and hurry your breakfast, so that you can catch the ten-thirty.”
Bessie dressed hastily, put a few things into a little handbag, and then sat down to write her promised letter.- It was a terrible ordeal. What could she say that would not betray her secret? At length she wrote:
“DEAR ALICK, Do forgive me. I must go away for a little while. It is all my health. I have been ill all winter and suffered more than anybody can know. But God is good, and I will get my health and strength back soon, and then I will return and we can be married and everything will be alright. Do not think I do not love you because I am leaving you like this. I have never loved you so dear as now. But I am depressed, and I cannot get away from my thoughts. And please, Alick dear, don’t try to find me. I shall be quite alright, and I shall think of you every night before I go to sleep, and every morning when I awake. So now I must close with all my love and kisses. BESSIE, xxxxx ”
Having written her letter, and blotted it with many tears, she pinned it to the top of her pillow, without remembering that the telegram lay underneath. Then she hurried downstairs, swallowed a mouthful of breakfast standing, said good-bye to her old house-mates with an effort at gaiety, and set off as for the railway station.
She had no intention of going there. The morning haze was thick on the edge of the sea, and as soon as she was out of sight of the house she slipped across the fields to a winding lane which led to the open country.
During the night, crying a good deal and stifling her sobs under the bed-clothes, she had thought out all her plans. It was still two months before her time, and to be separated from Alick as long as that was too painful to think about. It was also too dangerous. Long before the end of that time he would search for her and find her, and then her secret would become known, and that would be the end of everything.
She had been to blame, but what had she done to be so unhappy? Why should Nature be so cruel to a girl? Was there no way of escape from it?
At length a light had dawned on her. Remembering what she had heard of women doing (wives as well as unmarried girls) to get rid of children who were not wanted, she determined that her own child should be still-bom. Why not? It threatened to separate her from Alick to turn his love for her into hatred. Why should it come into the world to ruin her life, and his also?
Yes, she would tire herself out, expose herself to some great -strain, some fearful exhaustion, and thereby bring on a sudden and serious illness. Instead of taking the train she would walk all the way home to her mother’s house twenty odd miles, fifteen of them over a steep and rugged mountain road. It would be dangerous to a girl in her condition, but not half so dangerous as marrying Alick now, and running the risk of an end like that of the poor young wife of the Peel fisherman.
And then it would be so much fairer. If her fault, her misfortune, could be wiped out before she married Alick, nobody could say she had deceived her husband.
Such was the wild gamble with life and death which Bessie had decided upon at the prompting of love and shame and fear. The consequences were not long in coming.
The winding lane had to cross the railway line near to a village station before it reached the open country, and coming sharply upon the level-crossing at a quick turning she found the gates closed and a train drawing up at the platform.
She knew at once that this must be the train from Douglas which Alick Gell was to travel by, and in a moment she saw him. He was sitting alone in a first-class carriage, looking pale and troubled. In the next compartment were four or five young advocates from the south side of the island, who had been up to see Stowell off by the steamer. They were smoking and laughing, and one of them, who appeared to have been drinking also, seeing Bessie coming up to the gate, dropped his window and swung off his hat to her.
Bessie dropped back to the partial cover of the fence. Only her fear of attracting attention restrained her from flying off altogether. Alick had not yet seen her. It tore her terribly to see how ill he looked. He was only three or four yards away from her. His head was down. At one moment he took off his cap and ran his fingers through his fair hair as if his head were aching. She could scarcely resist an impulse to pass through the turnstile and hurry up to him. One look, one smile, one word, and she would have thrown everything to the winds even yet.
But no, the guard waved his flag, the engine whistled, the train jerked backward, then forward, and at the next instant it had slid out of the station. Alick had not seen her. He was gone. It had been like a stab at her heart to see him go.
Half an hour later she was on the rugged mountain road that led to her mother’s house in the north of the island. Her first fear was the fear of being overtaken and carried back. At Silverburn, where a deep river gurgles under the shadow of a dark bridge, she heard the crack of whips, the clatter of horses’ hoofs and the whoop of loud voices.
It was nothing. Only two farm shandries, the first containing a couple of full-blooded farm girls, and the second a couple of lusty farm lads, racing home after market, laughing wildly and shouting to each in the free language of the countryside. It was like something out of her former life one of the outbreaks of animal instinct that had brought her to where she was.
But no matter! She would be a proud and happy woman yet the Sheean ny Feaynid had said so.
After the fear of being pursued came the fear of being lost becoming an outcast and a wanderer. She had toiled up to the Black Fort on the breast of the hill. The morning haze had vanished by this time, the sun had come out, the larks were singing in the cloudless sky, the smell of spring was rising from the young grass in the fields, the roadsides were yellow with primroses and daffodils, and the whole world was looking glad with the promise of the beautiful new year that was already on the wing. It was heart-breaking.
Feeling hot and tired after her climb, she sat on a stone. The sea was open from that point, and on the farthest rim of it she could see a red-funnelled steamer and two black shafts of smoke. Stowell! Never before had she thought bitterly of him. But he was there, going up to London in comfort, in luxury, while she . . .
It was cruel. But crueller than her bitter thoughts of Stowell were her tender thoughts of Gell. He would be at Derby Haven now, reading (with that twitching of the lower lip which she knew so well) the letter she had left behind for him, while she was here, running away from the arms of the man who loved her. But no matter about that, either! One day, two days, three days, a week perhaps, and she would return to him. She was to be a proud and happy woman yet the Sheean ny Feaynid had said so.
Hours passed. The road stretched out and out, became steeper and steeper. Bessie felt more and more tired. She was often compelled to sit by the wayside, and sometimes, being worn out by the want of sleep, she fell into a dose. The sky darkened and dropped; the sun went down behind the mountains to the west with a straight black bar across its face that was like a heavy lid over a sullen eye. Would she be able to reach home that night? She would! She must! Alick was waiting for her to come back. She dare not keep him long.
Evening had closed in before she reached the top of the hill. It was a long waste of bracken and black rock, with no farms anywhere, and only a few thatched cottages that crouched in the sheltered places like frightened cattle in a storm. Feeling weak and faint from long climbing and want of food, she was about to sit down again and cry, having lost hope of reaching her mother’s house that night, when she came upon a little lamb, scarcely a month old, which had strayed away from the flock and was too tired to go farther.
The poor creature bleated piteously into her face, and she lifted it up in her arms and carried it a long half mile (the lost carrying the lost, the desolate comforting the desolate) until she came to a high gate at which a mother sheep was plunging furiously in her efforts to get out to them. Bessie put the lamb to its feet, and it clambered through the bars, plucked at the teat, and then there was peace and silence.
This strengthened her and she went on for some time longer with a cheerful heart. Yes, she must reach home that night. And if it was as late as midnight before she got there, so much the better! Nobody must see her come, and then her mother would be able to conceal everything.
Night fell. It began to rain and the wind to rise. She had never been afraid of darkness or bad weather, but now she took a wild delight in them. Remembering what other women had done, she took off her shoes and walked on the wet roads in her stockings. It was risky but she cared nothing about that.
It might bring on a fever, but she was strong she would soon get over it.
Farmers returning empty from market offered her a lift, but she declined and toiled on. The lighted windows of the farmhouses, gleaming through the darkness, called her in to warmth and shelter, but she struggled along. The soles of her stockings were soon worn to shreds and the stones of the roads were beginning to cut her feet, but she would not put on her shoes. In her frenzy she hardly felt the pain. And besides, what she was suffering for Alick was as nothing compared to what Alick had suffered for her. Only one night! It would soon be over.
She had walked at her slow pace down a deep descent and through a long valley when she came upon an inn and a big barn that was a scene of great festivity. She knew what it was. It was one of the ” Bachelors’ Balls ” which, beginning with Oiel Thomase Dhoo (the Eve of Black Thomas) and going on through the spring of the year, the unmarried men in remote places gave to the unmarried girls of the parish.
The rain was now falling in torrents and the wind had risen to the strength of a gale, but it must have been close and hot inside the barn, for as Bessie passed on the other side of the way, the doors were thrown open. The rude place was densely crowded. Stable lamps hung from the rough-hewn rafters. At one end the musicians sat on a platform raised on barrels; at the other end girls in white blouses were serving tea from, a long plank covered with a table-cloth and resting on trestles. In the space between, a dense group of young men and women were dancing with furious energy.
This, too, was like something out of her own life. Ah, if somebody had only told her ….
But what matter! She would be a proud and happy woman yet the Sheean ny Feaynid had said so.
It was now midnight by the wrist-watch that Alick had given her, and she had still another hill to climb, steeper than the last if shorter. While she was going up the rain flogged her face as with whipcord, and, when she reached the top, the wind, sweeping across the low-lying lands from the sea, tore at her skirts as if it were trying to strip her naked. At one moment it brought her to her knees, and she thought she would never be able to rise to her feet again. It was very dark. She was feeling weak and helpless.
Once more she remembered Stowell. He would be on his way to London now. She could see him (Alick had often painted such pictures) sitting in a brightly-lit first-class railway carriage, smoking cigarettes and sipping coffee.
At this thought her whole soul rose in revolt. Why was he there while she was here? She had never loved him; he had never loved her; they had both done wrong. But why for the same fault should there be such different punishment?
People who went to churches and chapels talked of nature and God. They said God was good and He was the God of nature. It was a lie a deception! If God was good He was not the God of nature. If He was the God of nature He was not good. Nature was cruel an’d pitiless. Only to a man was it kind. If you were a woman it had no mercy on you. It never forgot you; it never forgave you. Therefore a woman had a right to fight it, and when it threatened to destroy her happiness, and the happiness of those who loved her, she had a right to kill it.
That was what she was doing now. Perhaps she had done it already. The heavy burden that had been lying so long under her heart had given no sign of life for hours. So much the better! That passage in her life must be dead and buried. Victor Stowell must be wiped out for ever. Then she could marry Alick Gell with a clean heart and conscience.
Therefore, courage, courage! She would be a proud and happy woman yet the Sheean ny Feaynid had said so.
Only the great thing was to get home before daybreak, so that nobody might see her until all was over.
Somewhere in the dead and vacant dawn a pale, forlorn-looking woman, whom nobody could have known for Bessie Collister, was approaching the village of the glen. She had been eighteen hours on her journey, most of the time on her feet. Her fur-lined cloak was sodden and heavy. Her black hair had been torn from its knot and was hanging dank over her neck and shoulders. Her feet, in her dry boots, were cold and bleeding. A silk scarf which had been tied over her closely-fitting fur cap was dripping, and a little bag on her arms was wet through with all that was contained in it.
She had expected to arrive before break of day, but nobody in the village was yet stirring. In the long street of whitewashed houses all the window blinds were still down and looking like closed eye-lids.
She tied up her hair, removed the scarf and put on a veil from her handbag, drew it closely over her face, and then walked with head down and a step as light as she could make it, through the sleeping village.
She met nobody. Not a door was opened; not a blind was drawn aside; she had not been seen. She drew a long breath ofrelief. But suddenly, with the first sight of the mill, came a stab of memory,
Since the witch-doctor had told her that though Dan might rage and tear he could do no harm to her of to Alick she had ceased to think of him. But why had she not thought of the harm he might do to her mother? All the way up since she was a child she had seen the tyrannies he had inflicted upon her mother through her. What fresh tyranny would he inflict on her now that she was coming home like this to be a burden to …
For a moment Bessie told herself she must go back even yet. But she was too weak and too ill to go one step farther. All the same she could not face her step-father in her present condition. If she could only get upstairs to her bedroom and sleep sleep, sleep!
She listened for the mill-wheel it was not working. She looked at the mill-door it had not yet been opened. It was impossible that Dan could be in bed he was such an early riser. He must have gone up the brews to look at the heifers in the top fields.
With a slow step she went over to the dwelling-house. The door was shut, but she could hear sounds from the kitchen. There was the shuffling of slow feet, accompanied by the tap of a walking-stick; then the blowing and coughing of bellows and the crackling of burning gorse; and then the measured beating of a foot on the hearthstone, keeping time to a husky and tremulous voice that was singing
“Safe in the arms of Jesus , Safe in His tender care.”
With a palpitating heart Bessie lifted the latch, pushed the door open and took one step into the kitchen. Her mother, who was still wearing her night-cap, was sitting on the three-legged stool in the choillagh, stirring porridge in the oven-pot that hung from the slowrie. She had heard the click of the latch and was looking round.
There was silence for a moment. Bessie tried to speak and could not. The old woman rose on rigid limbs and her hand on the handle of her stick was trembling. It was just as if the spirit of someone she had been thinking about had suddenly appeared before her.
“Is it thyself, girl?” she said, in a breathless whisper.
“Mother!” cried Bessie, and she took another step forward.
Again there was a moment of silence. With her heart at her lips Bessie saw that her mother’s eyes were wandering over her figure.
Then the stick dropped from the old woman’s hand to the floor and she stretched out her arms, and her thin hands shook like withered leaves.
“Bolla veen! bolla veen!” she cried, in a low voice that was a sob. “It’s my own case over again.”
And then the girl fell into her mother’s arms and buried her head in her breast and cried, as only a suffering child can cry, helplessly, piteously.
A moment later, there was a heavy footstep outside, and the ring of an iron tool thrown down on the “street.” The old woman raised her face with a look of fear.
“It’s thy father,” she whispered.
Dan Baldronna had risen earlier than usual that morning. For more than a week there had not been water enough to his mill wheel for his liking, and suspecting the cause of the shortage he had put a pick over his shoulder and walked up the glen.
There was a little croft on the top of the brews half a mile nearer to the mountain. It was called Baldromma-beg (the little Baldromma) and its occupants (sub-tenants of Dan Baldromma) were a quaint old couple Will Skillicorne, a long, slow-eyed, slow-legged person who was a class-leader among the “Primitives,” and his wife, Bridget, a typical little Manxwoman of her class, keen-eyed, quick-tongued, illiterate and superstitious.
Their croft was thirsty land, though water in abundance was so near, and to every request that it should be laid on in pipes from the glen, Dan had said, “Let your wife carry it what else is the woman there for?”
Bridget had carried it for ten years. Then her anger getting the better of her, she put on a pair of her husband’s big boots and rolled two great boulders into a neck of the river, with the result that a deep stream of sweet water came flowing down to her house and fields.
This was just what Dan had suspected, and coming upon the new-made dam, he stretched his legs across it, swung his pick and sent the boulders tumbling down the glen, with a torrent of water from Baldromma-beg at the back of them.
But Bridget, also, had risen earlier than usual that morning, and, hearing the sound of Dan’s pick, she went out to him at his bad work and fell on him. with hot reproaches.
“Was there nothing doing down at the mill, Dan Collister,” she cried, “that thou must be coming up here to put thy evil eye on other people’s places?”
“Get thee indoors, woman,” growled Dan, ” and put thy house in order.”
“My house in order? Mine? And what about thine? Thine that is a disgrace to the parish and the talk of the island.”
“Keep a civil tongue in thy head, Mrs. Skillicorne, or maybe I’ll be showing thee the road at Hollantide.”
“Turn me out of the croft, will thou? Do it and welcome I I give thee lave. It would be middling aisy to find a better farm, and Satan himself couldn’t find a worse landlord. But set thou one foot on this land until my year is over and if there’s a bucket of dirty water on the cowhouse floor I’ll throw it over thee. Put my house in order indeed! Where’s thy daughter, eh? Where’s thy daughter, I say?”
“I’ve got no daughter, woman, and well thou knows it,” said Dan.
“‘Deed I do. No wonder the Lord wouldn’t trust thee with a daughter of thy own, the way thou’s brought up this one. The slut! The strumpet I Away with thee and look for her it will become thee better.”
But Dan having finished his work was now plunging down the glen and old Will Skillicorne had come out of his house half dressed, with his braces hanging behind him.
“Come in, woman lave the man to God,” said Will.
“God indeed! The dirt! The ugly black toad! God wouldn’t bemane Himself talking to the like.”
“Thou’s done it this time, though, I’m thinking. Thou heard what he said about Hollantide?”
“Chut I Get thee back to bed. What’s thou putting thy mouth in for? Who knows where the man himself will be by that time?”
With a face like a black cloud after this encounter, Dan threw down his pick on the cobbles of the street and went into the kitchen to work off his anger on his wife.
“That’s what thou’s done for me, ma’am I There’s not a trollop in the parish that isn’t throwing thy daughter’s bad doings in my face.”
The kitchen was full of smoke, for the porridge in the oven-pot had been allowed to burn, and it was not until he was standing back to the fire, putting his pipe in the pocket of his open waistcoat, that Dan saw Bessie where she had seated herself, after breaking out of her mother’s arms, by the table and in the darkest corner.
He took in the girl’s situation at a glance, but after the manner of the man he pretended not to do so.
“God bless my soul,” he cried. “Back, is she? Well, well! But what did I say, mother? ‘ No need to send the Cross Vustha (the fiery cross) after her, she’ll come home.’ And my goodness the grand woman’s she’s grown! Fur caps and fur-lined cloaks and I don’t know the what! Just come to put a sight on the mother and the ould man, I suppose. No pride at all at all! I wouldn’t trust but there’s a grand carriage waiting for her at the corner of the road.”
“Aisy, man, aisy,” said Mrs. Collister, picking up her stick, “don’t thou see the girl has walked?”
“Walked, has she?” said Dan, raising his thick eyebrows in pretended astonishment. ” You don’t say! All the way from Castletown? Well, well! So that’s how it is, is it? The young waistrel has thrown her over, has he?”
Bessie had to put her hand to her throat to keep back the cry that was bubbling up.
“Aisy, man, aisy with the like,” said the old woman. But Dan was for showing no mercy.
“Goodness me, the airs she gave herself going away! I might shut my door on her, but there would be others to open theirs. And now they have opened them, and shut them too, I’m thinking.”
Bessie, crushed and silent, was clutching the end of the table. Dan stepped over to her, laid hold of her left hand, lifted it up, as if looking for her wedding-ring, and then flung it away.
“Nothing!” he said. “She’s got nothing for it neither. I might have followed her to Castletown, but I didn’t. ‘I’ll lave her to it,’ I thought. ‘Maybe the girl’s cleverer than we thought, and will come home mistress of Baldromma and a thousand good acres besides.’ But no, not a ha’porth! And now she has come back to ate us up for the rest of our lives! The toot! The boght! The booby!”
“Dan Collister,” said the old woman, “don’t thou see the girl is ill?”
“Ill, is she?” said Dan. “I wouldn’t trust but she is, ma’am. So it’s worse than I thought, and maybe before long there’ll be another mouth to feed.”
Bessie dropped her head on to the table.
“But not in this house, if you plaze, miss. It happened here once before, and the island would be having a fine laugh at me if it happened again.”
Once more Dan stepped over to Bessie and touched her arm.
“You’re like a dead letter, you’ve come to the wrong address, mistress. It wasn’t Dan Baldromma’s thatched cottage you were wanting, but the big slate house down the road where the paycocks are scraming. I’ll trouble you to go there.”
“Sakes alive, man,” cried the old woman, “thou’rt not for turning the girl out of doors?”
“I am that, ma’am,” said Dan, going over to the door. “No trollop shall be telling me again that my house is the disgrace of the parish and the talk of the island.”
Then throwing the door wide and rattling the catch of it, he said,
“Out of my house, miss! Out of it! Out of it!”
Bessie, who had been sitting motionless, raised her head and rose to go, although scarcely able to take a step forward, when she felt a hand that was trembling like a leaf laid on her shoulder.
“Stay thou there, girl, and leave this to me.”
It was the old woman who had been crouching over the fire on the three-legged stool and had now risen, thrown her stick away as if she had no longer any need of it, and was facing her husband with blazing eyes.
” Thou talks and talks of this house as thine and thine,” she said. “What made it thine?”
“The law, if thou wants to know, woman,” said Dan.
“Then the law is a robber and a thief.”
Dan looked at his wife in astonishment, and then burst into a fit of forced laughter.
“Well, that’s good! That’s rich I That’s wonderful! What next, I wonder?”
“Do thou want me to tell thee the truth, Dan Collister? Before the girl, too? Then there’s not a stick or a stone in the place that in the eyes of heaven does not belong to me.”
“Not a stick or a stone, except the landlord’s, that wasn’t bought with my father’s money John Corteen, a man of God, if ever there was one.”
“Pity his daughter didn’t take after him, then.”
“Pity enough, Dan Collister. But when I brought shame into his house he forgave me. And when the finger of death was on the man the only trouble he had in life was what was to become of his girl when he was gone.”
“Truth enough, ma’am, he had to find thee a husband, hadn’t he?”
“He hadn’t far to look, though. And if thou had nothing in thy pocket and not much on thy back thou had plenty in thy mouth to make up for it. Thou were not afraid of scandal! Thou didn’t mind marrying a girl who had been talked of with another man!”
“And I did, didn’t I?”
“Thou did, God forgive thee! But not till the man’s trembling hand had reached up to the hole in the thatch over his bed for his stocking purse and counted the money out to thee. Three hundred good Manx pounds he had worked thirty years for and saved up for his daughter. -And then thou swore on the Holy Book to be good to his girl and her baby, and the man’s dying eyes on thee. And now – now thou talks of turning my girl out of the house this house that would have been her house some day if thou had not come between us. But no! Thou shan’t do that.”
“‘Deed thou shan’t! She may have done wrong, but if she has it’s no more than her mother did before her, and if I daren’t turn her out for it thou shalt not.”
“We’ll see, ma’am, we’ll see,” said Dan. He was buttoning up his waistcoat and putting on his coat.
“It’s no use talking to a woman. There’s not much sense to be got out of the like anyway. But when a man marries, the property of the wife becomes the property of the husband that’s Dempster’s law, isn’t it? And standing up for your legal rights, and not being forced by your wife, or anybody else, to find maintenance for another man’s offspring when it comes that’s Dempster’s law too, I belave.”
“Yes,” said the old woman, “and standing up for your own flesh and blood when she’s sick and weak and the world is going cold on her and she has nowhere else to lay her head in her trouble that’s Mother’s law, Dan Collister, and it’s older than the Dempster’s, I’m thinking.”
“Do as you plaze, ma’am,” said Dan. “If you want more noising about the bad doings of your daughter it’s all as one to me.”
He took his billycock hat down from the ” lath ” under the ceiling and continued,
“I’ll hear what the Speaker has to say about this, though. His wife wasn’t for doing much for thee when the honour of this house was in question, but maybe she’ll alter her tune now that it’s the honour of her own.”
He drew his whip from its nail over the fireplace and stepped to the door.
“And if this matter ends as I expect I’ll be hearing what the Coorts have to say about it, too. Young Mr. Sto’ll is to be made Dempster they’re telling me. They’re putting him in for it, anyway. and he is bosom friend to the Spaker’s son. But friend or no friend,” he said, with his hand on the hasp, and ready to go, “maybe his first job when he comes back to the island will be to send his Coroner to this house to turn the man’s mistress and her by-child into the road.”
“Tell him to send her coffin at the same time, then,” cried the old woman, almost screaming. “Mine too, Dan Collister. That’s the only way he’ll turn my daughter out of this house, I promise thee.”
But the old woman collapsed the moment her husband had gone, and staggering to the rocking-chair she dropped into it and cried. Then Bessie, who had not yet spoken, rose and said, crying herself,
“Don’t cry, I’ll go away myself, mother.”
But the old woman was up again in a moment.
“No, thou’ll not,” she said. “Thou’ll go up to thy bedroom in the dairy loft the one thou had in the innocent old times gone by. Come, take my arm my good arm, girl. Lean on me, woman-bogh.”
THE SOUL OF HAGAR
Two hours had passed. Bessie was in her bedroom the little one-eyed chamber (entered from the first landing on the stairs) in which she had dressed for Douglas. But the sheet of silvered glass on the whitewashed wall which had shone then with the light of her beaming eyes was now reflecting her broken, tear-stained, woe-begone face.
She knew that her journey had been in vain, that her sufferings had been wasted. Her child was not to be stillborn. Through the closed door she heard Dan Baldromma going off in the stiff cart. He was going to the Speaker, to threaten him with the shame of her unborn child, and to call upon him to compel his son to marry her.
Wild, blind error! But what would’ be the result? Alick would hear of her whereabouts and learn of her condition and that would be the end of everything between them. All her secret scheme to wipe out her fault, to keep her name clean for Alick, to preserve his beautiful faith in her, would be destroyed, and he would be dead to her for ever.
But no, come what would that should not be! And if the only way to prevent it was to make away with her child when it came she must do so. Only nobody must know not even her mother.
Time and again the old woman came hobbling upstairs, bringing food and trying to comfort her.
“Will I send for Doctor Clucas, Bessie?”
“No, no. I shall be better in the morning.”
The day passed heavily. She could not lie down. Sometimes she sat on the edge of the bed; sometimes stood and held on to the end of it; and sometimes walked to and fro in the narrow space of her bedroom floor. Having no window in her room her only sight of the world without was through the skylight in the thatch, which showed nothing but the sky. The only sound that reached her was the squealing of a pig that was being killed at a neighbouring farm.
At length darkness fell. Hitherto she had been thinking of her unborn child with a certain tenderness, even a certain pity. But now, in the wild disorder of her senses, she began to hate it. It seemed to be some evil spirit that was coming into the world to destroy everybody. Why shouldn’t she kill it? She would! Only she must be alone quite alone.
Shivering, perspiring, weak, dizzy, she was sitting in the darkness when her mother came to say good-night.
“Here are a few broth. Take them. They’ll warm thee.”
“Come, let me coax thee, bogh.”
Bessie refused again, and the old woman’s eyes began to fill.
“Will I stay up the night with thee, Bessie?”
“Oh, no, no!”
“I’ll leave my door open then, and if thou art wanting anything thou’ll call.”
“Thy father isn’t home yet, and if thou’rt no better when he goes by thy door thou must tell him and he’ll let me know.”
Bessie raised her eyes in astonishment, and the old woman, with a shamefaced look, began to apologise for her husband. He was not so bad after all, and when a woman had taken a man for better or worse . . .
“Do you say that, mother?”
Something quivered in the old woman’s wrinkled throat.
“Well, we women are all like that, thou knows.”
“Good-night and go to sleep, mother.”
Bessie hustled her mother out of the room, but hardly had she gone than she wanted to call her back.
“Mother! Mother!” she cried in the sudden access of her pain, but though her door was ajar her mother, who was going deaf- did not hear her.
At the next moment she was glad. Her mother believed in God and religion. To burden her conscience with any knowledge of what she meant to do would be too cruel.
But Bessie’s terror increased at every moment. The night outside was quiet, yet the air seemed to be full of fearful cries. At the bidding of some instinctive impulse she blew out the candle, and then, in the darkness and solitude, a great terror took hold of her.
“Alick! Alick!” she cried, but only the deep night heard her. At last, in the paroxysm of her pain, she fell back on the bed she was unconscious.
When she came to herself again she had a sense of blessed ease, like that of sailing into a quiet harbour out of a tempestuous sea. Before she opened her eyes she heard a faint cry. She thought at first it was only a memory of the bleating of the lost lamb on the mountains. But the cry came again and then she knew what had happened her child had been born!
Time passed how long or what she did in it, she never afterwards knew. Her weakness seemed to have gone and she had a feeling of surprising strength. The bitterness of her heart had gone too, and a flood of happiness was sweeping over her.
It was motherhood! To Bessie too, in her misery arid shame, the merciful angel of mother-love had come. Her child! Hers! Hers! Make away with it? Kill it? No, not for worlds of worlds!
It was a boy too! Thank God it was a boy! A woman was so weak; she had so much to suffer, so many things to think about. But a man was strong and free. He could fight his own way in life. And her boy would fight for her also, and make amends for all she had gone through.
It was the middle of the night. The glimmering and guttering candle on the wash-table (she had been up and had lit it afresh) was casting dark shadows in the room. Only a little dairy loft with the turfy thatch overhead, and the sheepskin rugs underfoot, but oh, how it shone with glory!
Bessie was singing to her baby (words and tune springing to her mind in a moment) when suddenly she heard sounds from outside. They were the rattle of cart wheels and the clatter of horse’s hoofs on the cobbles of the “street.”
Ban Baldromma had come home!
Her heart seemed to stop its beating. She blew out her candle and listened, scarcely drawing breath. She heard her step-father tipping up his stiff -cart and then shouting at his horse as he dragged off its harness in the stable. After that she heard him coming into the house and throwing his heavy boots on to the hearthstone. Then she heard the thud, thud, thud of the old man’s stockinged feet on the kitchen floor he was about to come upstairs.
At that moment the child, who had been asleep on her arm, awoke and cried. Only a feeble cry, half-smothered by the closeness of the little mouth to her breast, but in Bessie’s ears it sounded like thunder. If her step -father heard it, what would he do? Involuntarily, and .before she knew what she was doing, she put her hand over the child’s mouth.
Then thud, thud, thud! Dan Baldromma was coming upstairs. Bessie could hear his thick breathing. He had reached the landing. He seemed to stop for a moment outside her door. But he passed on, went up the second short flight, pushed open the door of her mother’s room and clashed it noisily behind him.
Then Bessie drew breath and turned back to her child. She was shocked to find that in her terror she had been holding her trembling hand tightly down on the child’s mouth. It had only been for a moment (what had seemed like a moment), but when she took her hand away and listened, in the throbbing darkness, for the child’s soft breathing, no sound seemed to come.
With shaking fingers she lit her candle again, and then held the light to the baby’s face.
The little, helpless, innocent face lay still.
“Can it be possible . . . no, no. God forbid it!”
But at length the awful truth came surging down on her. She had killed her child.
When Bessie awoke the next day the sun was shining on her eye lids from the skylight in the thatch. She had some difficulty in realising where she was. Before opening her eyes she heard the muffled lowing of the cows in the closed-up cow-house, and had an impulse to do as she had done in earlier days get up and milk them. At the next moment she heard her mother’s shuffling step on the kitchen floor, and then the tide of memory swept back on her.
But she was a different woman this morning. She had no remorse now, no qualm, no compunction. What she had done, she had done, and after all it was the best thing that could have happened best for her, best for Alick, best for everybody.
Her child being dead she no longer loved it. All she had to do was to bury it away somewhere, and then everything would go on as she had intended. Meantime (before going to sleep) she had taken her precautions. Nobody must know. If there had been reasons why she should not take her mother into her confidence last night they were now increased tenfold.
After a while her mother came up with her breakfast. A veil seemed to dim the old woman’s eyes she looked as if she had been crying.
“How art thou now, bogh?”
“Better! Much better! I told you I should be better in the morning.”
The old woman was silent for a moment and then said,
“Thou were not up and downstairs in the night, Bessie?”
“‘Deed no! Why should you think so?”
“Because I shut the wash-house door when I went to bed and it was open when I came down in the morning.”
Bessie’s lip trembled, but she made no answer.
A little later she heard her step-father talking loudly in the kitchen. He had seen the Speaker, having waited all day for him. There had been a stormy scene. The big man had foamed at the mouth, talked about blackmail, threatened to turn him out of the farm at Hollantide, and finally shouted for Tom Kermode, his steward, to fling him into the road.
“I lave it with you, Sir,” Dan had answered. “If you prefer the new Dempster, when he comes, to see justice done to the girl, it’s all as one to me.”
Bessie could have laughed. Wicked, selfish, scheming how she was going to defeat it!
All morning she lay quiet, thinking out her plans. Half a mile up the glen there was a large stone of irregular shape, surrounded by a wild tangle of briar and gorse. The Manx called it the Clagh-ny-Dooiney-marroo the dead man’s stone, the body of a murdered man having been found on it. By reason of this gruesome association of the bloody hand upon it, few approached the stone by day and the bravest man (unless he were in drink) would hesitate to go near it by night.
Bessie decided to bury her child under the Clagh-ny-Dooiney. It would lie hidden for ever there; nobody would find it.
The day was long in passing, for Bessie was waiting for the night. She heard the young lambs bleating in the fields and the cocks crowing in the haggard. A linnet perched on the ledge of her skylight (her mother had opened it) and looked in on her and sang.
At length the sky darkened and night fell. The moon (it was in its first quarter) sailed across her patch of sky and disappeared. Once or twice the skylight was aglow with a palpitating red light someone was burning gorse on the mountains. But the fires died down and then there was nothing save the sky with its stars.
Her mother came again to say good-night. She had the pitiful look of a woman who was struggling to keep back her tears.
“Wilt thou not sit up, Bessie, while I make thy bed for thee?”
Bessie started and then stammered: “Oh no! I mean … it will do in the morning.”
The old woman looked down at her with eyes which seemed to say, “Can thou not trust thy mother, girl?” But she only sighed and went off to bed.
Somewhere in the early morning (Dan having gone to bed also) Bessie got up to make ready. She found herself very weak, and it took her a long time to dress. When she was about to put on her shoes she remembered that they were new and told herself they would creak as she went downstairs, so she decided to go barefoot again.
Having finished her dressing she took from under the bedclothes what she had hidden there, and began to wrap it in a large silk scarf. It was the scarf she had worn in the storm a present from Alick, with “Bessie” stamped on one corner.
Seeing her name at the last moment, she tore a strip of the scarf away, and threw it aside (intending to destroy it in the morning), opened her door, listened for an instant and then crept downstairs and out of the house.
The night was chill and the ground struck cold into her body. It was very dark, for the moon and stars had gone out, and there was no light anywhere except the dull red of the gorse fires on the mountains, which had sunk so low as to look like a dying eye. But Bessie could have found her way blindfold.
Carrying her burden she crossed the wooden bridge and reached the path that went up the glen. Just as she did so she heard the sound of singing, of laughter and of carriage-wheels on the high road. A company of jolly girls and boys were driving home after one of their Bachelor Balls in a neighbouring parish. That cut deep, but Bessie thought of Alick and the wound passed away. She would return to him in a few days; they would be married soon, and then she, too, would be glad and happy.
How dark it was under the trees, though! She had left it late. The dawn was near, for the first birds were beginning to call.
“It must be here,” she thought, and she slipped down from the path to the bed of the glen.
But the trees were thicker there, and, being already in early leaf, they obscured the little light that was left in the sky. Where could the stone be? The briars were tearing at her dress and the tall nettles were stinging her hands. She was feeling weak and lost and had begun to cry. How the dogs howled at her step-father’s farm!
Suddenly a breeze rose and fanned the gorse fires on the mountains to a crackling glow. And then a red flame rent the darkness and lighted up the valley from end to end, making it for a few moments almost as clear as day.
Bessie was terrified. Here was the Clagh-ny-Dooiney almost at her feet, but this bright light was like an accusing eye from heaven looking down on her and pointing her out.
For a moment she wanted to drop down among the briars and hide herself. But making a call on her resolution she crept up to the big stone, stooped, pushed her burden under the overlapping lip of it, and then rose, turned about and ran.
Trembling and weeping she stumbled her way home. It was lighter now. The day was coming rapidly and the small spring leaves were shivering in the cold wind that runs over the earth before the dawn. The lambs were bleating in the unseen fields, and the newly-born ones were making their first pitiful cry. It sounded like the cry of her child as she had heard it last night, and it tore her terribly.
The little face, the little hands, the little feet she had left behind why had she not been brave and strong and faced the world with them?
Should she stop and go back? She tried to do so but could not. The more she wanted to return the faster she ran away.
Her strength was failing her, and she was scarcely able to put one foot before another. Often she stumbled and fell and got up again. Was she going the right way home?
“Alick! Alick!” she cried, and the hot tears fell over her cold cheeks.
At last she saw the dark roof of the mill-house against the leaden grey of the sky. She had reached the bridge over the mill-race when she felt a light on her face and saw a figure approaching her. Somebody was coming up the glen and the lantern he carried was swinging by his side as he walked.
Then the instinct of self-preservation took possession of her. Dizzy, dazed, breathing rapidly and trembling in every limb, she crossed the bridge quickly, crept up to the door of the dwelling house, stumbled upstairs to her room, tore off her outer garments, dropped back on to her bed, and then fell (almost in a moment) into the sleep of utter exhaustion.
Bridget Skillicorne had had a cow sick that night. It had been suffering from a colic, probably due to grazing among the rank grass which had been lying under the water that had been drained away. But Bridget was sure that “that dirt Baldromma” had “wutehed” it (bewitched it) just. to spite her for what she had said.
She had tried a hot bran mash in vain. The cow still writhed and roared, so nothing remained, if they were not to lose their creature, but that Will should go to the Ballawhaine (a witch-doctor who lived nine or ten miles away on the seaward side of the Curragh) and get a charm to take off the witching.
Old Will, being a class-leader, was well aware that such sorcery was the arts of Satan. But if the cow died it would make a big hole in their stocking-purse to buy another, so his conscience compounded with his pocket, and he agreed to go.
“Aw well, a few good words will do no harm at all,” he said, and carrying his stable lantern he set out towards nine o’clock on his long journey.
Then Bridget, taking another lantern, a half-knitted stocking and a three-legged stool, went into the cow-house to sit up with her cow and watch the progress of its malady.
Towards midnight the creature became easier, and, gathering her legs under her, lay down to sleep. But Bridget remained three hours longer in the close atmosphere of the cow-house, waiting for old Will but thinking of Dan, and making her needles go with a furious click at the thought of his threat to evict her.
The upper half of the cow-house door stood open, and somewhere in the dark hours towards dawn she was startled by a bright light and the hissing and crackling of a sudden fire ‘outside. She knew what it was (such fires on the mountains were not uncommon), but nevertheless she stepped out to see.
She saw more than she had expected. In the glen below her brew, where every bush and tree stood out for a moment in the flare of the burning gorse, she saw the figure of a woman. The woman was standing by the Clagh-ny-Dooiney. She had something white under her arm. After a moment she knelt, put her parcel under the lip of the stone and then hurried away.
Who was she? In her present mood, with her mind running on one subject, Bridget could have no uncertainty. It was the Collister girl! It must be! What had she been doing down there? In her own walk through life Bridget had never stepped aside, therefore she was severe on those who had. There was only one thing that could bring a girl out of bed in the middle of the night to a place like that. The slut! The strumpet!
When Will Skillicorne reached home half-an-hour afterwards he was carrying a wisp of straw. With this he was to make the sign of the cross on the back of the sick cow, and say some good words about St. Patrick and St. Bridget, giving it at the same time a hot drink of meal and water.
“But the craythur is better these three hours,” said Bridget.
“Praise the Lord!” said Will. “That must have been the very minute the good man came down from his bed to me in his flannel drawers!”
“But did thou meet anybody as thou was coming up the glen?”
“Maybe I did.”
“Was it a woman?”
“It’s like it was, now.”
“Did she go into the mill-house?”
“I believe in my heart she did, though.”
Bridget was triumphant.
It was the Collister girl! There could not be a doubt about it. And at break of day she would go down to the glen and see what she had left under the Clagh-ny-Dooiney.
“Show me the road at Hollantide, will he? The dirt! The dirty black toad! We’ll see! We’ll see!”
Bessie’s sleep of exhaustion deepened to delirium and for a long day she lay in the grip of it. When she floated out of her unconsciousness, she had a sense of confusion. A babel of meaningless voices, like the many sounds of a wild night, were clashing in her brain. A man and a woman were in her bedroom, talking like somnambulists.
“Her feet have been bleeding. Where has she been, think you?”
The man’s voice must be that of Doctor Clucas, and then came some vague answer in the woman’s voice, with a thick snuffle and a, suppressed sob her mother’s.
Bessie heard no more. A cloud passed over her brain that was like the rolling mist that alternately reveals and conceals a bell-buoy at sea. When it cleared she heard a strange woman’s voice outside the house her bedroom door had been left open that her mother might hear her if she called.
“I didn’t know thy daughter had come home, Liza Collister.”
“And how dost thou know now, Bridget Skillicorne?”
“How? There’s someones coming will tell thee how, woman.”
Bessie felt as if somebody had struck her in the face. Had anything become known? Later she heard her step-father speaking in the kitchen.
“Is she herself yet?”
“Better she never should be.”
“Sakes alive, man, what art thou saying?”
“I’m saying that old trollop on the brews is after finding something under the Clagh-ny-Dooiney and sending her man to the police to fetch it.”
“Just a parcel in a silk scarf with a lil arm sticking out that’s all, ma’am.”
The doctor at the hospital had been holding a post-mortem, and now Cain, the constable, was to make a house to house visitation of the parish to find the mother of the child.
Bessie covered her mouth to suppress a scream. But something whispered, “Hush! Keep still! They know nothing!”
Early next day she was awakened by the sound of many men’s voices downstairs, and her mother’s voice in angry protestation.
“I tell thee, I know nothing about it. The girl came home to me three days ago, and I put her to bed, and she has never since been out of it.”
“They all say that, ma’am,” said one of the men. It was Cain, the constable.
A little later, while Bessie lay with closed eyes and her face to the wall, she became aware of several persons in her bedroom, and one of them leaning over her. She knew it was Cain she could hear his asthmatical breathing.
“Is she really unconscious, doctor?”
“Undoubtedly she is. You can leave her for a few days anyway. She’ll not run away, you see.”
After that, listening intently, Bessie heard the constable ranging the room as if examining everything.
“What’s this?” he asked.
Bessie drew a quick breath, but dared not look round.
“Only a remnant seemingly,” said the doctor.
“We’ll be taking it with us, though,” said the constable, and then the rolling mist of unconsciousness covered everything again.
When it passed Bessie knew that the police were suspecting her. They thought they had found her out, and they were going to bring the whole machinery of the law to punish her. What a wicked thing the law was! She had injured nobody nobody that anybody had ever seen in this world. She had only tried to save somebody she loved from shame and pain. And yet the constables, the courts and the coroners were all in a conspiracy to crush one poor girl! No matter! She would deny everything.
Next day was Sunday. Bessie heard the church bells ringing across the Curragh, and, before they stopped, the singing of a hymn. The Primitives were holding a service at the corner of the high road before going into their chapel. After the hymn somebody prayed. It was Will Skillicorne. Bessie (listening through her open skylight) recognised the high pitch of his preaching voice. He would be standing on the chapel steps.
There was a great deal about ” carnal transgression,” about “brands plucked from the burning,” about “the judgments of the Lord,” and finally about the “conscious sinner,” throwing herself upon her Saviour and repenting of “the sin she had committed against God.” At the close of his prayer Will gave out the first two lines of another hymn
“I was a wandering sheep,
I did not love the fold.”
Bessie knew whom all this was meant for. The Primitives were torturing her. But they were torturing somebody else as well. Through the singing and praying she heard her mother’s sighs downstairs, and the beating of her foot on the hearthstone, as she sat by the fire and listened to the service for her guilty child.
What a cowardly thing religion was! Sin? What sin had she committed? She had never intended to do wrong, and only those who had gone through it could know what she had suffered. Anyway, such as she was God had made her. She would admit nothing. Nothing whatever.
Two days passed. Bessie’s heart softened and became calm. The police were leaving her alone they must have given up that nonsense about punishing her. Everything was going to turn out as she had expected.
On the third day, her mother, coming into her bedroom, found her with widely-opened eyes and all her face a smile. Yes, she was herself once more. In fact there had not been much amiss with her. Only, never having been ill before, she had been frightened and had come home to be nursed by her mother. But now she was better and must soon go back . . . back to where she came from.
She told her mother about Alick and how fond he was of her parting from his father and sisters and even his mother for her sake. It was quite a mistake to suppose that Alick had refused to marry her. He would have married her long ago, and it was she who had been holding back. Why? She wished to be strong and well first. It wasn’t fair to a man to let him marry a sick wife was it?
The old woman, with a broken face, looking sadly down at the girl, said, “Yes, bogh! It’s like it isn’t, bogh,” and turned her eyes away.
On the fourth day Bessie got out of bed and moved about the room just to show how strong she was.
“See what a step I have now. I could walk miles and miles, mother.”
The moral of that was that she must go back to Derby Haven without more delay. Alick was waiting for her and he would be growing anxious. She must take the first train in the morning.
“It’s rather early, but never mind about breakfast. A cup of tea and a piece of barley bonnag that will do.”
Late that night, when Mrs. Collister, going to bed with a heavy heart, looked in to say good-night, Bessie asked to be called in good time in the morning.
“Don’t forget to waken me. I used to be the first up, you know, but now I’m such a sleepy-head.”
And then she kissed her mother (never having kissed her since she was a child) and the old woman’s eyes overflowed.
Left alone, in the dark, she began to think how good God had been to her after all. Only those who had sinned and suffered knew how good He could be. She remembered the text about the friend who, when all earthly friends forsake you, sticketh closer than a brother. Also, with a certain shame, she recalled the hymn the Primitives had sung on Sunday morning, and, covering her head in the bedclothes, she sang two lines of it –
“But now I love my Father’s voice,
I love my Father’s home”
How happy she was! At that time to-morrow she would be in bad at Derby Haven, having seen Alick and arranged everything.
Next morning, when she awoke, she was startled to find the sun pouring into the room. She knew by the line it made on the wall that the first train must have gone. The chickens, too, were clucking at the kitchen door, and they never came round before breakfast.
She had risen on her elbow intending to call, when she heard the roll of a van-like vehicle drawing up in front of the house, and immediately afterwards, a man’s husky, asthmatical voice in the kitchen, mingling with her mother’s shrill treble.
“Go upstairs and tell her to make ready, ma’am.”
“No, no; the girl’s not fit for it, I tell thee.”
“She’s fit enough for the prison hospital, anyway.”
“She has never been out of my door since she came into it.”
“We’ll lave that to the High Bailiff and the Dempster, if you plaze.”
Bessie, supporting herself on her trembling arm, could scarcely restrain herself from screaming. One moment she sat and gasped, and then, grasping her head with both hands, she turned about and fell forward and buried her face in her pillow.
At the next moment she was conscious of somebody coming into her room, and at the next, from somewhere at the foot of the bed, she heard her mother say, in a strange voice she had never known before – throbbing, choking, scarcely audible –
“They have come for thee, Bessie.”
STOWELL IN LONDON
VICTOR STOWELL had been more than a week in London. Fortune had favoured him from the first. The Home Secretary (a tall, spare, elderly man, with a clean-shaven face of rather severe expression) rose when Stowell entered his room as if a spirit had appeared before him. “My youth again,” the young man thought, but it was a different matter this time.
“Has anybody ever told you that you resemble your father, Mr. Stowell?”
It turned out that the old Deemster and the Home Secretary (a barrister before he became a statesman) had been in chambers together in the Middle Temple while reading for the bar, and that the politician had never lost respect for the man who, in spite of brilliant promise of success in England (he might have become an English High Court Judge with six times his Manx salary), had returned to the obscurity of his little island and the service of his own people.
“You have high traditions to live up to, young man. Sit down.”
Then came the subject of the interview. The authorities had satisfied themselves that on the score of legal capacity the Governor’s recommendation was not unjustified. The only serious difficulty was Stowell’s youth. The principles on which the Crown selected elderly and even old (sometimes very old) men for the positions of Judges were simple and sound. First, seniority of service, and next, maturity of character, so as to avoid the dangers that come from the temptations, the trials, even the turbulent emotions of early life, which might easily conflict with the calm of the judicial office. Still, these principles could be too rigidly followed particularly in remote colonies and small dependencies where the range of suitable selection was limited.
After this came a personal catechism, the old man looking at the young one over the rims of his tortoise-shell spectacles. Married? Not yet. Expect to be? Yes, Sir. Soon? No, not for a long time. How long? Six weeks at least, Sir.
The ends of the severe mouth rose perceptibly, and in any other face they might have broken into a smile.
Daughter of the Governor, isn’t she? Yes, but that isn’t her chief characteristic, Sir. What is? That she is the loveliest and noblest woman in the world.
Again the severe mouth relaxed, and the Home Secretary asked Stowell where he was staying. Stowell told him (the Inns of Court Hotel, Holborn) and he made a note of it.
“Remain there until you hear from me again, Mr. Stowell, and meantime say nothing about this interview to anybody.”
“Not anybody whatever, Sir?”
The Home Secretary’s stern old face became genial and charming as he rose and held out his hand.
“Well, that supreme being, perhaps. . . . Good-day!”
“So here I am, my dear Fenella,” wrote Stowell, “back in the bedroom of my hotel, telling you all about it. How long I may have to remain in London, goodness knows, therefore I propose to tell you something about my ways of life while I wait.
“Such a change in me! When I was in London last (with Alick Gell, you remember) I spent my days and nights in the hotels, restaurants, theatres and music-halls that are the lovely and beloved world of woman. It is the world of woman still, but quite another realm of it.
“Two nights ago I strolled westward along Oxford Street, and thought (with a lump in my throat) about De Quincey and his Ann. Then, cutting through Clare Market to the Temple and finding the gate closed, I tipped the porter to let me walk through the Brick Court, and stood a long half hour before a house in the silent little square, thinking of the day when the w of the town sat on the stairs while poor Noll (Oliver Goldsmith) lay dead in his rooms above. And then, coming out into Fleet-street (midnight now) where the big printing presses were throbbing behind dark buildings, I tried to think I saw the great old Johnson, God bless him, picking up the prostitute from the pavement, carrying her home on his back and laying her on his bed.
“Last night I strolled eastward to look at the outside of the Settlement in which you used to be Lady Warden (in the unbelievable days before you came back to Man), and returning by a dark side street, I came upon a queue of women crouching in the cold before the doors of a Salvation Shelter. They were waiting for four in the morning when they would have a fighting chance of one of the beds (i.e. boxes like open coffins lying cheek by jowl on the floor of a big hall) after the washerwomen who were then asleep in them would get up and go to work.
“But the climax came this morning (Sunday morning) when I went to service at the Foundling Hospital. Such a sweet scene at first sight at all events. The little women, like little nuns, in their linen caps and aprons, singing like little angels in their sweet young voices. But my God, what tragedy lurked behind that picture also!
“I did not hear much of the sermon for thinking of the mothers of these ‘ children of shame ‘ and the conditions under which they must have given birth to them sometimes in a garret, in secret, alone, driven to dementia by a sense of impending shame. How often a poor miserable girl in the degradation of childbirth (which should be the crown of a woman’s glory) must have been tempted to kill her child in fear of the fate that awaited both it and her! And to think of the giant arm of the mighty law coming down on a creature like that to punish her! Lord, what crimes are committed in the name of Justice!
“There you are now! That’s what you’ve done for me. ‘Deed you have though. It’s truth enough, girl. You’ve opened my ears to the cry of the voice of suffering woman, and that is the saddest sound, perhaps, that breaks on the shores of life. And the moral of it all is that if I do become a Judge (God knows I’m almost afraid to hope for it) you must be my helper, my inspirer, the tower of my strength.
“Oh, my darling, how much I love you! It seems to me that I lost all my life until I came to love you. How well I recall the blessed day when I loved you first! It was the first time I saw you the first time really. Don’t you remember? In the glen, that glorious autumn afternoon. The vision has followed me ever since and I wish I could blot out every day of my life when I have not thought of you.
“There you are again! You see what you’ve done, ma’am. But I’m not always on the heights. What do you think? I’ve bought a motor car, and every morning I go up to Hampstead with a teacher to learn to drive.
“It is for our honeymoon. You called me a Viking once, and I’m not going to be a Viking for nothing. As soon as you are mine, mine wholly, I am going to pick you up and carry you off to all the inaccessible places in the island the bent-strewn plains of Ayre, where a lighthouse-man lives alone with his wife and nothing else save the sea for company; the shepherd’s hut on Snaefell, where there is nothing but the sky, and the sandy headlands of the Calf with the mists of the Atlantic sweeping over them.
“Meantime, think of me in a box of a bedroom five storeys up, with the roaring tide of London traffic running, like a Canadian river, sixty feet below, and write write, write! Tell me what is happening in the ‘lil islan’ which is lying asleep to-night in the Irish Sea. God bless it, and all the kind and cheery souls in it! God bless it for evermore!
“MY DEAR VICTOR, You cannot imagine what a joy your letter was. Do you know it was my first love-letter? Of course I behaved like a dairymaid took it up to bed, put it on my pillow and said, ‘ You are Victor, you know,’ and laid my cheek on it.
“Whatever have you done to make me so foolish? Was it only half of you (the physical half) that went away, leaving the spirit half with me? I want the other half, though, the substantial half, so tell your Home Secretary (I like him) to hurry up and send you home.
“You do wrong not to see the beautiful women, dear. The woman who is afraid of her husband looking at other women is building her house on the sand. I should like to say to myself, ‘He has seen the loveliest women in the world, yet he comes back to me.’
“All the same I love you for looking at the darker side of woman’s life. It is more apparent in the greater communities, but it is here, too, and that is why I am looking eagerly forward to your appoint ment as Deemster, which will make you a creator of the law as well as an administrator of it. You must have no misgivings, though. Why should you? A man who has a stainless scutcheon is just what women want for their champion. And if I may help you how happy I shall be!
“You ask what is happening in the island. Well, apart from politics (of which I know nothing except that they seem to be always the same story) the only thing of consequence is the case of a young woman charged with the murder of her illegitimate child.
“She is a country girl who, having run away from home some months ago, returned recently very ill and was put to bed, and remained there until arrested. But in the meantime the body of a new-born infant was found under a large stone half a mile away, and it is said to have been hers.
“She denies all knowledge of the child, but the medical testimony seems to be sadly against her, and there is some direct evidence also, though it is not above the suspicion of being tainted by malice.
“She has been up before the High Bailiff and committed to the next sitting of the General Gaol Delivery, so you are likely to hear more of the case. Poor thing, whatever her sin, she has already had a fearful punishment, for she is very ill, having apparently exposed herself to dreadful sufferings in the hope of preventing her baby from being born alive.
“She is now in the prison hospital, and this morning I drove over to see her. A good-looking girl, almost beautiful (with the sort of beauty which attracts the less worthy side of a certain type of man), but her cheeks are now terribly thin and pale, and her big black eyes (her finest feature) have that wild look which one sees in a captured animal that gazes and gazes.
“I liked the girl, but she did not seem to like me. In fact she shrank from me (the only girl who ever did so) and when I tried to be nice to her, and asked her to trust me, and to tell me who was responsible for her condition, so that I might find him and fetch him to her, she broke into a flood of fierce denial.
“Either the girl is a great story-teller or she is a great heroine, and I am half inclined to think she may be both. My guess would be that she is trying to shield the guilty man. The clothes she had worn were better than a farm girl could afford to buy, and that suggests that her fellow-sinner belongs to a class above her.
“Isn’t it shocking that the law provides no punishment for the man who ruins a girl’s life ruining her soul at the same time, for that is what it often comes to. But, please God, you will be on the bench, so she is sure to have justice.
“Our Society has decided to undertake her defence, but we are at a loss whom to employ. We cannot afford a high fee either ten or fifteen guineas at the outside. Can you suggest anybody?
“I intend to be present at the trial, and to stand by the girl’s side, for she will have nobody else, poor creature. But oh, how I wish I might plead for her! Although her fellow-sinner will not stand for judgment, how I should like to tear the mask from his face and cry in open court, ‘Thou art the man! ‘
“Good-night, dear! It’s 10 p.m., and such, delicious dreams are waiting for me upstairs. Bring your motor-car back, and when the time conies (I shall not keep you long) you may carry me off to wherever you please.
“Listen, I am going to say something. There is not much in the heart of a woman that you don’t know already, but I am about to let you into a secret. The woman who does not want her husband (if only he loves her) to control her, command her, and do anything and everything he likes with her, isn’t really a woman at all she’s only a mistake for a man!
“Victor, after that burst of nonsense I cannot conclude without telling you again how much I love you. I love you for yourself, just yourself alone, quite apart from anything you may do or have done, whether good or bad, right or wrong, and I shall go on loving you whatever may happen to you in the future, whether you become Deemster or not, go up or go down.
“But when I think of the life that is so surely before you, and that I shall walk through it by your side, perfectly united with you, sharing the same hopes and aims and desires, enjoying the same sunshine and weathering the same storms, I have a vision of happiness that makes me cry for joy.
“Come back to me soon, dearest. The spring is here in all her youthful beauty; the daffodils are nodding; the gorse on the hedges is a blaze of gold; the sky is blue; the sea is lying asleep under a divine shimmer of sunshine, and your island your island that is going to be so proud of you is waiting to clasp you to her heart.
“And so am I, my Victor!
“MY OWN DEAR FENELLA, I am so troubled about the young woman who is to be charged with the murder of her child that (time being short) I must write at once on the subject. It looks like a case of the temporary mania which so often prompts women to take life (their own or their children’s) in the hope of avoiding shame.
“God, when I think of it, that in all ages of the world tens of thousands of women have gone through that fiery furnace and that never one man since the days of Adam has come within sight of it, I want to go down on my knees to the meanest and lowest of them as the martyrs of humanity.
“Infanticide is of course a serious crime in any country, and especially serious in the Isle of Man now, when the Governor has made up his mind to show no mercy to persons guilty of fatal violence. But the killing of a new-born child is usually treated as felonious homicide. Therefore, if you carry out your intention of standing by the girl’s side, you may safely tell her (in order to save her from possible shock) that even a verdict of guilty will not mean death.
“How I wish you could plead for the poor thing! But instruct counsel for the defence and you will really be pleading, and I, for one, if I am present, will hear your quivering voice in every word he says.
“As for the choice of an Advocate why not Alick Gell? He has not had too many chances, poor chap, and it will hearten him (he was rather down when I saw him last) to be entrusted with a serious case like this.
“Tell him to look up Galabin and Murrell on Forensic Medicine he’ll find both in the Law Library. The first step is to make sure that the poor creature (I assume she is not too well educated) has not mistaken infanticide for concealment; and the next, to insist on proof of ‘ a live birth,’ which it is practically impossible to establish (except on the girl’s confession) in a case of solitary delivery.
“Yes, you are almost certainly right in thinking she is trying to shield the guilty man, and, criminal though she is, she may be (as you say) an absolute heroine. In that event I trust it may not fall to my lot to try her. God save me from sitting in judgment on a woman who stands silent in her shame to shield the honour of the man she loves!
“But as for hunting down the guilty man, that (don’t you think so?) is perhaps another matter. If it has to be done at all it is only a woman a pure and stainless woman who has a right to do it. No man who knows himself, and how near every mother’s son of us has been to the verge of the pit, will be the first to throw a stone. You remember ‘But for the grace of God there goes John Wesley.’ Oh, my darling, how can I ever be grateful enough for what you have done for me. . . .
“Helloa! The page boy has just been up with a letter from the Home Secretary. ‘ I have the pleasure to inform you that the King has been pleased to approve of your appointment to the position of the Deemster of the Isle of Man. . . .’
“How glorious! Here I have been all day saying to myself, ‘Who, in God’s name, are you that you should be Judge over anybody?’ and now I’m glad damned glad, there is no other word for it.
“I shall telegraph the news to you in a few minutes, but I feel as if I want to take the first boat home and become my own messenger. That is impossible, for I have to call on the Home Secretary to-morrow about my Warrant. And then I have to see to the transport of my car, and the purchase of my Judge’s wig and gown. But wait, only wait! Three days more I shall have you in my arms.
“My respectful greetings to the Governor. Say I know how much I owe to him for this unprecedented appointment. Say, too, I shall hold myself in readiness for the ceremony of the swearing-in, whenever he desires it to take place; also for the next Court of General Gaol Delivery if Deemster Taubman is still down with his rheumatism.
“And now bless you again, dearest, for all your beautiful faith in me. God helping me, I’ll do my best to deserve it. But you must be my guardian watcher, my sentinel t my star.
“What a dear old world it is, darling! It seems as if there ought to be no suffering of any kind in it now – now that the sky is so bright for you and me.
“P.S. Important. Don’t forget to employ Gell in that case of the girl who killed her baby. Alick’s her man. Mind you, though he must compel her to tell him everything.”
FOR ten days Alick Gell had been searching for Bessie Collister. When he first read her letter on reaching Derby Haven (he read it a hundred times afterwards) he remembered something his father had said in taunting him “You’ll not be the first by a long way!” Then he recalled the case of the Peel fisherman and a black thought came hurtling down on him. At the next moment he hated himself for it.
“What devil out of hell made me think of that?” he asked himself.
But why had Bessie run away from him? The only explanation he could find was the one Stowell had given on the steamboat women had illnesses which men knew nothing about, and in the throes of their mania they sometimes hid themselves, like sick animals, from their friends most of all from those they loved. Were not the newspapers full of such cases?
“That’s it! That’s it! My poor girl!”
Having arrived at this explanation of Bessie’s flight, he had no compunction about going in search of her. Her malady might be only temporary, but, while it lasted, Heaven alone knew what dangers she might expose herself to.
At first it occurred to him to call in the assistance of the police. But no, that would lead to publicity, and publicity to misunderstanding. Bessie would get better; he must keep her name clear of scandal. His voice shook and his lip trembled as he told the Misses Brown to say nothing to anybody. His warning was unnecessary. The terrified old maids, who had at length begun to scent the truth, had decided to keep their own counsel.
Within half an hour Alick was on the road. He had no doubt of overtaking Bessie she was only half an hour gone. But which way would she go? It was easier to say which way she would not go. She- would not go to the north of the island where she would be known to nearly everybody. Above all, she would not go home the home of Dan Baldromma.
All that day he wandered through Castletown every street and alley. At nightfall he was back at Derby Haven. Had Bessie returned? No! Had anything been heard of her? Nothing!
Next day he set out on a wider journey all the towns and villages of the south, Port St. Mary, Port Erin, Fleswick, Ballasalla, Colby, Ballabeg and Cregneash. He walked from daylight to dark, and asked no questions, but at every open door he paused and listened. When he saw a farm-house that stood back from the high road he made excuse to go up to it a drink of milk or water.
Day followed day without result. His heart was sinking. More than once he met somebody whom he knew and had to make excuse for his rambling. Wonderful what a walking tour did to blow the cobwebs from a fellow’s brain after he had been shut up too long in an office! His friends looked after him with a strange expression. He had been something of a dandy, but his hair was uncombed and his linen was becoming soiled and even dirty.
At length he became a prey to illusions. He always slept in the last house he came to, and one night, in a fisherman’s cottage near Fleswick, he was awakened by the wind blowing over the thatch. He thought it sounded like the voice of Bessie, and that she was wandering over the highway in the darkness, alone and distraught.
Next day he began to inquire if anything had been seen of such a person. He was’ told of a young woman who, found walking barefoot on the lonely road to Dreamlang, had been taken to the asylum, and he hurried there to inquire. No, it was not Bessie. Some poor young wife who (only six months married and beginning to be happy in the prospect of a child) had lost her husband in an accident at the mines at Foxdale.
The dread of suicide took hold of him. One day a fish-cadger on the road told him that a young woman’s body had been washed ashore at Peel. Again it was nothing nothing to him. The wife of the captain of a Norwegian schooner which had been wrecked off Contrary with her eyes open and her baby locked in her rigid arms.
Alick’s heart was failing him. Do what he would to keep down evil thoughts they were getting the better of him. Sometimes he rested on the seat that usually stands outside the whitewashed porch of a Manx cottage, and although he thought he said so little, he found that the women (especially such of them as were mothers of grown-up girls) seemed to divine the object of his journey.
“Aw, yes, that’s the way with them, the boghs, especially when there’s a man bothering them. Was there any man, now …”
But Alick was up and gone before they could finish their question.
Thus ten days passed. Absorbed in his search, perplexed and tortured, he had seen no newspaper and heard nothing of what was happening in the island. Suddenly it occurred to him that Bessie could not have left him so long without news of her. She could not be so cruel; she must have written, and her letter must be lying at his office.
People who knew him, and saw him return to Douglas, could scarcely recognise him in the pale, unwashed, unshaven man who climbed the steps from the station, looking like a drunkard who had been sleeping out in the fields.
His chambers, when he turned the key (he had no clerk now), were stuffy and cheerless. The ashes of his last fire were on the hearth, and his desk was covered with dust. Behind the door (he had no letter-box) a number of circulars and bills lay on the ground, but, running his trembling fingers through them, he found no letter from Bessie –
There was a large and bulky envelope, though, with the seal of Government House, and marked “Immediate.” What could it be? On the top of a thick body of folio paper he found a letter. It was from Fenella Stanley.
“DEAR MR. GELL, At the suggestion of Mr. Stowell, who is still in London, I am writing on behalf of the Women’s Protection League, to ask you if you can undertake the defence of the young woman in the north of the island who is to be charged with the murder of her new-born child.”
Alick paused a moment to draw breath.
“You will see by the report of the High Bailiff’s inquiry and the copy of the Depositions which I enclose that the girl denies everything, and that her mother supports her, but the evidence is only too sadly against her particularly that of the doctors and of two neighbours who live higher up the glen.”
Alick felt his heart stop and his whole body grow cold.
“Her step-father …”
The letter almost dropped from his fingers.
“Her step-father has not been asked by the prosecution to depose, and it is doubtful if the defence ought to call him.”
He was becoming dizzy. The lines of the letter were running into each other.
“Innocent or guilty, the girl has suffered terribly. She has been several days in hospital at Ramsey, but she was to be removed to Castle Rushen this morning. Her case is to come on next week at the Court of General Gaol Delivery, so perhaps you will send me a telegram immediately saying if you can take up the defence.
“As you see the poor creature is herself an illegitimate child the name by which she is commonly known being Bessie Collister.”
Alick shrieked. He had seen the blow coming, but when it came it fell on him like a thunderbolt.
It was all a lie a damned lie! Nobody would make him believe it. Bessie arrested for the murder of her child! She had never had a child.
He leapt to his feet and tramped the room on stiffened limbs and with a heart throbbing with anger. Then, half afraid, but doing his best to compose himself, he took the report and the Depositions out of the big envelope, and, sitting before the dead hearth with his shaking feet on the fender, and holding the folio pages in his dead-cold hands, he read the evidence.
As he did so he shrieked again, but this time with laughter. What a tissue of manifest lies! The Skillicornes and their quarrel with Dan Baldromma what a malicious conspiracy! Lord, what blind fools the police could be! And the Attorney, had he come to his second childhood?
Again and again Alick thumped the desk with his fist and filled the air of the room with the dust that rose in the sunshine which was now pouring through the windows.
There was a photograph of Bessie on the mantelpiece a copy of the same that she had sent to Stowell. He snatched it up and kissed it. Never had Bessie been so dear to him as now now when she was in prison under a false accusation. And the best of it was that he was to get her off. He must see her at once, though.
“My poor girl! In Castle Rushen!”
The first thing to do was to wash and change (he cut himself badly in shaving), but in less than half-an-hour he was at the Post-office telegraphing to Fenella.
Brief as the message was, the clerk at the counter could hardly decipher the agitated handwriting.
A few minutes later he was at the Police office, asking the Chief Constable for an order to allow him, as Bessie’s advocate, to see her alone in her cell.
At two o’clock he was back at the railway-station, taking the train for Castletown. As he stepped into his carriage the newsboys were calling the contents of the evening paper:
Victor Stowell appointed Deemster.
Glorious! Bessie would have a human being on the bench. Thank God for that anyway!
“I don’t know what you are talking about I really don’t. You make me laugh. Whatever will you say next! I was ill and I came home to have my mother nurse me, and that was all I knew until Cain, the constable, came to bring me here.”
It was Bessie before the High Bailiff. Her face was thin and pale, and she was clutching the rail of the dock in an effort to keep herself erect, while her shrill voice echoed to the roof.
The magistrate was about to commit her to prison when Dr. Clucas rose in the body of the Court-house.
“Your worship,” he said (his voice was husky and his eyes had a look of tears), “the defendant is suffering from the temporary mania which is not unusual in such cases. I suggest that she should be sent to the hospital.”
Bessie fainted. The next thing she knew was that she was in bed in a hospital ward, and that another doctor (a younger man with thin hair and a large pugnacious mouth) was leaning over her, and laying his hand on her breast. She pushed it off, and then he said, in an authoritative tone,
“My good woman, if you are innocent, as you say, the best proof you can give is that of a medical examination.”
At this Bessie broke into fierce wrath.
“If you touch me again,” she cried, “I’ll tear your eyes out!”
Then she fainted once more, and for two days lay in a strong delirium. When she came to herself a nurse with a kind face was by her side, saying “Hush!” and doing something at her breast with a glass instrument.
She knew she had been delirious (having a vague memory of crying “Alick! Alick!” as she returned to consciousness) and was in fear of what she might have said.
“Is it morning?” she asked.
“Then it’s the next day?”
“The next but one.”
“Have I been wandering?”
“Did I call for anybody?”
She dare not ask whom, but lay wondering if Alick knew where she was and what had happened to her. After a while she said,
“Is it in the papers?”
The nurse nodded, and after a moment, with her eyes down, Bessie said,
“Has anybody been here to ask for me?”
“Yes, your mother she comes night and morning.”
Bessie broke into sobs and turned her face to the wall. Alick knew! He had given her up! She had lost him!
When she recovered from an agony of tears her eyes were glittering and her heart was bitter. What did she care what became of her now? They might do what they liked with her. Deny?
What was the good? She would deny no longer. She would tell the truth about everything.
Then Fenella Stanley came. Bessie thought she liked Miss Stanley better than any woman, except her mother, she had ever known. But that only made it the harder to hold to her resolution, for if she told the truth she would surely hurt Fenella. “Oh, why do you come to torture me?” she cried, when Fenella asked who was her “friend.” And not another word would she say.
Two days later, before breakfast, Cain, the constable, came with a sergeant of police to take her to Castle Rushen. She did not care! Why should she? But as she was leaving the hospital the nurse with the kind face whispered,
“Good-bye, dear. You’re all right now. I’m going away and will say nothing.”
It was a cruelly beautiful morning, with a golden shimmer from the rising sun upon a tranquil sea. The railway station was full of townspeople going up to Douglas (it was market day there), so Bessie was hurried into the last compartment.
When the train ran into the country a flood of memories swept over her and she found it hard to keep back her tears. The young lambs were skipping on the hill-sides; the sheep were bleating; girls in sun bonnets were coming from the whitewashed outhouses to drive the cattle into the fields.
When they drew up at the station for the glen the shingly platform was crowded with passengers waiting for the train rosy-faced women with broad open baskets of butter and eggs, and elderly farmers smoking their strong thick twist and surrounded by their panting dogs. Bessie knew them all. At the last moment a young woman in a low cut blouse ran up it was Susie Stephen.
Bessie crept into a corner of the carriage and closed her eyes. But she could not shut out everything. Over the rumble of the wheels, when the train started again, she heard shrieks of laughter from the compartment in front. The elderly men were jesting in their free way with the girls, and the girls, nothing loth, were answering them back.
At the junction of St. John’s, the train had to stop for carriages from Peel to be linked on to it, and while the coupling was going on one of the passengers strolled along the platform. It was Willie Teare, who had wanted to marry Bessie, and he saw her behind the constables. At the next moment a throng of girls gathered outside her window, but the constables pulled down the blinds.
“Take your seats! Take your seats!”
The train went on. There was no more laughter from the passengers in the compartment in front. Bessie understood they were whispering about her.
Her heart was becoming hard. Sitting in the darkened carriage, with spears of sunlight flashing from the flapping blinds, she heard the constables talking about Mr. Stowell. It was reported that he had been made Deemster. He would make a good Deemster, too.
“A taste young, maybe, but clever clever uncommon.”
On reaching Douglas, where they had to change into the train for Castletown, Bessie was being hustled across the platform, between the constables, when she became aware of a crowd of women and girls who were crushing up to stare at her. There was a whispering and muttering.
“There she is!” “Serve her right, I say!”
Half-an-hour later she was in Castle Rushen. The darkness within was blinding after the sunshine without. A woman with short and difficult breathing was moving about her. It was Mrs. Mylrea, the female warder. She took off Bessie’s cloak and hat, and, leaving her a brown blanket and a hard pillow, went away without speaking a word.
But then came Vondy, the head jailer, with words enough for both of them. Bessie did not know she was crying until the old man, in his blundering way, began to comfort her.
“Tut, tut, gel! They’re not for hanging you yet at all. While there’s life there’s hope!”
Left alone at last, and her eyes accustomed to the darkness, she saw where she was in a stone vault that had a small grill in the door (behind which a candle was burning) and a barred and deeply-recessed window, near the ceiling, through which a dull ray of borrowed light was coming, for the castle overlooked the harbour on the west of the Castle.
By this time her tears were turned to gall. A frightful revulsion had come over her soul. What had she done to deserve all this? The injustice of it, the cruelty, the barbarity, the hypocrisy!
Men were all alike. Go on, she knew what men were! A man only wanted one thing of a girl, and when he got that he forgot all about her. Alick Cell was the best of them, yet even he had forsaken her now that she was in trouble.
She had never intended to do harm to anybody, and yet there she was, and would remain, until they came to take her to the Court-house on the other side of the Castle-yard. Then hundreds of eyes would be on her (women’s eyes too) and when she raised her own she would see Mr. Stowell on the bench.
What a mockery! Mr. Stowell her judge! What would he do? His “duty” of course. All right, let’ him do it! Only she, too, would do something. After he had tried her and sentenced her and finished with her, she would tell him something. Why shouldn’t she? And what did she care what happened to anybody else? Fenella Stanley was nothing to her.
Suddenly she thought again about Alick Gell. If she did what she intended to do (tell everything) Alick also would be disgraced – The shame of her misfortune would follow him to the last day of his life. Even his own father would cast it up to him. Hadn’t she done enough harm to Alick already? If he had deserted her, she had deceived him. And yet she had deceived him only because she loved him.
“Alick! Alick! Alick!”
Her heart was crying. She was wishing she were dead.
She had flung herself down on her plank bed, with her face to the blank wall, when she heard the dead beating of footsteps in the corridor outside. At the next moment the door of her cell was opened and Tommy Vondy, the jailer, was saying,
“Mr. Alexander Gell, the advocate, to see you alone.”
The jailer had gone. Alick was breathing quickly in the darkness by the door, and Bessie was huddled up on the bed, with the dull ray of reflected light upon her from the wall above.
His voice was low and full of tears. At first she did not answer.
“It’s Alick. Won’t you speak to me?”
He could hear that she was crying.
“You won’t send me away, Bessie. I have been looking for you all over the island. It was only to-day I heard where you were and what had happened. I have come to help you to save you.”
He saw the dark form rising on the bed.
“Do you know what they say I did?”
“Yes, I know everything.”
“And you don’t believe it?”
“Not one word of it.”
“You think I am innocent?”
“I am sure you are.”
With a great sob that shook her whole body she rose to her feet and flung herself upon him. For a long time they stood clasped in each other’s arms, and crying like children. Then they sat down side by side on the plank bed. His arm was about her, and her head was on his shoulder.
He was trying to make his voice cheerful, though it cracked sorely, while he reproved her for her tears. She would soon be free to leave that place. There was really nothing against her. Never had there been such a trumped-up case. The police must be crazy.
She clung to him with a frightened tenderness while he told her of the letter from Fenella Stanley asking him to take up the defence on behalf of the Society.
“Of course I should have taken it up in any case, you know. And now you must authorise me to defend you.”
She was startled. In the half darkness he saw her pale face (so pale and so thin) raised to his with a frightened look.
“Why not, dear? I’m an advocate. You don’t suppose I’m going to leave your defence to anybody else, do you?”
“No, no! You must not!”
“But why? Can’t you trust me, Bess?”
“It isn’t that.”
Bessie did not answer him, and he went on talking, though his voice was breaking again. He knew he was not a born lawyer and a great speaker like Stowell, but the facts were so clear that he had only to state them and they would speak for themselves.
A fierce struggle was going on in Bessie’s soul. He whom she had wronged (never having wronged anybody else), he for whom she had committed her crime, wanted her to authorise him to stand up in Court and say she had not committed it. She had deceived him once could she deceive him again?
“No, no, no! I cannot!”
Alick was puzzled. “What do you mean, Bessie? Why shouldn’t I be your advocate?”
“I don’t want any advocate.”
“But you must have one. It isn’t enough to be not guilty we must prove you’re not. Why shouldn’t I do so?”
At length she was forced to make some explanation. The police were determined to have her condemned; therefore he would lose his case and that would go against him.
“Good gracious, girl, what nonsense! Anybody may lose a case. The greatest lawyers have lost cases. But it’s impossible that I should lose this one. And even if I lose it do you know what I shall do?”
“Wait outside the prison door until you come out and marry you the same day to show that I believe in you still.”
At that Bessie was in floods of tears again. And again they cried in each other’s arms like children.
Then Alick, after drying his eyes in the darkness, put on a brave air, and told her what she had to do.
“Listen to me now. This is a low conspiracy, but if we are to defeat it, you must stick to your story. I shall have to put you in the box, for you must leave the Court without a stain on your character. First of all you must say …”
And then sitting by Bessie’s side in the dark cell, with only the candle looking in on them from the outside ledge of the grill, he rehearsed the facts as they were to be given in Court how by the cruelty of her step-father she had been shut out of the house late at night and had had to go elsewhere; how she had returned, being unwell , and wishing her mother to nurse her, and how she had been put to bed and had never left it until the constables came to take her away.
Bessie listened in silence, gazing before her like a captured sheep, and answering only by a nodding of her head.
“If the Attorney asks you anything else no matter what you must say you know nothing about it do you understand?”
“Say it after me then ‘I know nothing about it.'”
Bessie repeated the words like a woman talking in her sleep – “‘I know nothing about it.'”
“That’s all right. Leave the rest to me.”
“You think I shall get off?”
“I’m sure of it. If the General Gaol is held next week, we’ll be married the week after.”
“Your father and sisters, will they not always cast it up at you that your wife has been tried for …”
“Let them! If they do the Isle of Man will be dead to me for ever. We’ll go abroad to America perhaps and leave everything and everybody behind us.”
Bessie was crying once more, and Alick, to conceal his own tears, was going off with great bustle.
“Good-bye! I’ll be here again to-morrow. And oh, what do you think, Bess? Great news! Stowell has been made Deemster. So if the good Lord in Heaven will only keep that damned old Taubman in bed a little longer with his rheumatism, Stowell will be on the bench and you’ll have a fair trial at all events. Good-bye!”
For the next half-hour Bessie sobbed with joy. Tell the truth and destroy Alick’s faith in her? Never! Never in this world!
THE DEEMSTER’S OATH
IT was the morning of the day of the swearing-in of the new Deemster at Castle Rushen. The Bishop had asked permission to solemnise the ceremony with a religious service a custom long unobserved.
The service was held in a groined chamber of moderate size within walls thirty feet thick, once the banqueting-hall of the Kings of Man, now the jail chapel, with an atmosphere that seemed to be compounded equally of the intoxicated laughter of the old revellers and the moans of the condemned prisoners.
For the event of the day the chill place had been suitably decorated. Flags hung on the tarred walls, red cushions from the neighbouring church had been laid on the bare benches; a carpet had been stretched down the aisle of the flagged floor; a white embroidered altar-cloth covered the plain communion table, from which the light of four candles in silver candlesticks flickered on the faces of the small congregation chiefly officials, with their wives and daughters.
Shortly before eleven, the hour fixed for the service, Stowell entered, wearing for the first time the wig and gown of a judge, and he was led to one of three arm-chairs at the front. A little later there came through the thick walls the sound of soldiery clashing arms outside the Castle, and at the next moment the Governor arrived in General’s uniform of red and gold, with Fenella behind him in a large spring hat (her face glowing with animation), and they took the two remaining chairs. Then the Bishop in his scarlet robes came in, preceded by his crozier, and the service began.
It was short but solemn. First a psalm of David (“He shall judge thy people with righteousness and thy poor with judgment “); then an epistle to the Romans (“Owe no man anything”); and then an improvised prayer by the Bishop, asking the Almighty to grant His strength and wisdom to His servant who was shortly to take the solemn oath of his great office, that he might deliver the poor and needy, deal faithfully with all men, and show mercy to such as had erred and sinned. Then came the hymn “Thou Judge of quick and dead,” and finally the Benediction.
Stowell was strongly affected. He knelt at the prayer, and when the service was at an end and it was time to go, Fenella had to touch his shoulder.
The sun was bright outside, and they blinked their eyes as they crossed the courtyard to the Court-house.
The stately little chamber was full, save for the seats that had been reserved for the officials. There was a flash of faces, a waft of perfume, a flutter of handkerchiefs and a hum of whispering as the Governor stepped up to the scarlet dais, with Stowell following him and taking for the first time the seat of the Judge.
People who had been talking of the youth of the new Deemster were heard to say that in his judge’s wig he seemed older than they had expected and so like the portrait on the wall that one could almost fancy that his father was looking through the windows of his eyes.
The proceedings began with the Governor calling upon Stowell for his Warrant, and then reading it aloud “Our trusty and well-beloved Victor Stowell to be Deemster of our isle.”
After that everybody stood while the new Judge took the oath of fealty to the King. Then the Deemster’s clerk, Joshua Scarff, in his coloured spectacles, handed up a quarto copy of the Bible and a deep hush fell on the assembly, for the time had come for the Deemster’s oath.
The Governor and Stowell rose again, but all others remained seated. Each laid one hand on the open Book, and the Governor read the oath, clause by clause in loud, strong tones that seemed to smite the walls as with blows. And, clause by clause, Stowell repeated it after him in a lower voice that was sometimes barely audible:
“By this Book and the holy contents thereof . . .”
“By this Book and the holy contents thereof . . .”
“And by all the wonderful works which God hath miraculously wrought in heaven and on the earth beneath in six days and seven nights, I, Victor Christian Stowell –”
“I Victor Christian Stowell, do swear that I will, without respect or fear or friendship, love or gain, consanguinity or affinity, envy or malice, execute the laws of this isle justly betwixt our Sovereign Lord the King and his subjects within the isle, and betwixt party and party, man and man, man and woman …”
“… man and woman . . .”
” . . . as indifferently as the herring bone doth lie dou-n the middle of the fish.”
There was a deep silence until the oath was ended and then a general drawing of breath.
The Governor and the new Deemster sat and the Clerk of the Rolls handed up the Liber Juramentorum, the Book of Oaths, a large volume in faded leather with leaves of discoloured parchment.
It was observed, and afterwards remarked upon, that when Stowell took up the pen to sign he hesitated for a moment, and then wrote his name rapidly and nervously, and that, in the silence, a diamond ring which he wore on his right hand (it was a present from Fenella) clashed with a discordant sound against the glass tray as he threw the pen back.
The business being over, the Bishop gave out the hymn that is sung at the close of nearly all Manx festivals, “O God, our help,” and all rose and sang.
Stowell rose with the rest, but he did not sing. He was no longer conscious of the eyes that were on him. The emotion which he had been struggling to repress had at length conquered his self-control. While the Court-house throbbed with the singing he was thinking of the Judges who had stood in the same place and taken that oath before him. There had been a thousand years of them.
He turned to the eastern wall and his father’s melancholy eyes seemed to look at him. “Yes, you too,” they seemed to say, “must now do the right, whatever it may cost you. You are no longer yourself only. The souls of all your predecessors have this day entered into your soul. You must consider yourself no more. You must be just or perish.”
The hymn came to an end and there was a shuffling of feet like the pattering of water in the harbour at the top of the tide. The next thing Stowell knew was that he was unrobed and going down the Deemster’s private staircase to the Courtyard of the Castle.
A large company was there waiting to congratulate him. Janet (he had ordered that a front seat should be reserved for her) was holding a little court of elderly ladies, to whom she was relating wonderful stories of his childhood. She broke away from them to kiss him. And then she kissed Fenella also and whispered,
“Don’t forget to send him home in time, dear.”
“I’ll not forget,” said Fenella.
And then she, on her part, with a face aflame, whispered something to the Governor, who, shaking hands all round, was making ready to go.
“What? You want to return in the automobile? Very well, off you go! The Attorney will take pity on your forsaken father.”
Outside the gate there was a great crowd, behind a regiment of red-coated soldiers, and when the Governor and the Attorney-General drove off they broke into a cheer which drowned the clash of steel and the first bars of the National Anthem.
But that was as nothing compared with the demonstration when Stowell went off in his car, sitting at the wheel, with Fenella beside him.
“Long live the new Deemster hip, hip hip!”
The great shout, the mighty roar of voices, brought a surging to Stowell’s throat and a tightening to his breast. It followed his car, going off in the sunshine, until it shot over the bridge that crossed the harbour, and there Fenella turned back her glistening wet eyes and bowed.
* * * * * *
Others heard it. The prisoners in their dark cells, rising from their plank beds and hunching their shoulders in the chill air, listened to the joyous sounds from without, which broke the usual silence of their gloomy walls, and said to themselves,
“What are they doing now, I wonder?”
There were seven prisoners in the Castle that day. One of them was Bessie Collister.
“Addio! See you at supper!”
Fenella was waving to the Governor and the Attorney, and laughing at their slow speed, as she and Stowell shot past them before they had left the town.
The morning was beautiful, the sky blue, the sea glistening under a fresh breeze. They were running, bounding, leaping along the roads, and talking loudly above the hum of the car. Stowell had caught the contagion of Fenella’ s high spirits and awakened from his long trance.
“Well, what did you think of it?”
“The ceremony? Lovely!”
“But you were crying all the time!”
“It must have been through looking at you, then. There was everybody doing you honour, and you looked like a man going to execution.”
He laughed; she laughed; they laughed together, but they had their serious moments for all that. One of them came when she spoke of the Oath, saying how quaint and amusing it was.
“A little frightening, though,” said Stowell.
“Well, yes, I thought so. Made one feel as if old Job had had something to say for himself. Who was I to judge others, having done wrong myself?”
“Really! You wicked fellow! I wasn’t aware you had so many sins to answer for. But I know!”
And then, in flash after flash, each sparkling like a diamond, came pictures of his predecessors. The solemn judge; the jesting judge; the judge who suspected all men of lying; the judge who believed everybody told the truth; the sour, dour, swearing and hanging judge, who served Justice as if she had been a Juggernaut, and the gay Judge who bought and sold her as he did his mistresses.
“What a procession! And the question was, which kind were you going to belong to eh?”
Again he laughed; they both laughed; and the car flew on. Another serious moment came. He mentioned the Book of Oaths, saying that while turning over its leaves with their faded ink he had been seized with a sudden fear of writing his name, whereupon Fenella, with a mischievous look of gravity, cried again,
“I know! You thought you were signing your death-warrant.”
Yet another serious moment came when she asked him if lie had not been proud of the send-off his countrymen had given him at the Castle gate. He replied that he would have been so but for the wretched thought that if anything happened to him their love would as suddenly turn to hate, and they would howl as loudly as they had cheered.
“But what nonsense!” cried Fenella. “Love what I call love is not like that. It never dies and never changes.”
“Never! If I loved anybody and anything happened, I should fight the world for him.”
“Even if he were in the wrong?”
“Goodness yes! Where would be the merit of fighting for him if he were in the right?”
“Darling!” cried Stowell, and, the road being clear, and nobody in sight, he had to slow down the car to kiss her.
After that he threw off the solemnity of the ceremony and gave himself up to the intoxication of love. With Fenella by his side, looking up at him with her beaming eyes, and laughing with her gay raillery, what else could he think about? A few miles out of Castletown he said,
“Let us take the old road back it’s longer.”
“Yes, it’s longer.”
Every fresh mile was a fresh delight. How the Spring was coming on! Look at the gorse, already in its glory! And the lambs just born and still trembling on their doddering limbs! And the tragic old hens with their fluffy yellow broods! And then the cottages, half buried in their big fuchsias! And the farmers white-washing their farmhouses to wipe out the stains of winter!
“What a jolly old world it is, isn’t it?” he cried.
“Isn’t it?” she answered, and without looking to see if the way was clear, he had to slow down the car and kiss her again.
A few miles south of Douglas they turned into a road that ran like a shelf along the edge of the cliffs, with the sea surging on the grey rocks below, and nothing but its round rim against the sky. The breeze was stronger out there, but every gust was a joy. Stowell took off his hat and threw it to the bottom of the car. Fenella unpinned hers and held it on her knee. His black hair tumbled over his forehead, and her bronze-brown hair, loosened from its knot, flew about her head like a flag.
More than ever now they had the sense of flying. The sun danced on the breakers; the foam floated in trembling flakes into the blue sky; the sea-fowl screamed about them. With the taste of the brine on their lips, and the sting of it in their blood, they shouted at every sight and sound.
“Look at that white horse down there! See how he rears his head and plunges forward. Ah, he has had enough! No, he’s coming on again with a roar!”
“But look at the sea-holly and the wild thyme! And the rabbits scuttling into their holes! And the goats on the peaks of the cliffs!”
“Lord! What a jolly old world it is, though!”
“Didn’t you say that before, Victor?”
“Did I? Well, I’m going to say it every blessed day of my life to come.”
“No, no! Take care! We’re on the edge of the cliff. We’ll be over!”
“No matter another kiss!”
The wind was from the south, and the sea, breaking along the broken line of the coast, was making a sound like that of the ringing of bells. It was the phenomenon of nature which gave rise to the tradition that a town lies buried under the sea at that point, so that Manx fishermen, coming back from their fishing-ground at sunrise, will sometimes say, “The wedding bells are ringing!”
Stowell heard them now, over the roar of the waves in their mad welter, and he cried,
“Listen to the bells!”
“Our bells!” he cried.
And then at the full power of their lungs, over the hum of the engine and the boom of the breakers, they sang a verse of the song of the submerged city:
“Here where the ocean is whitened with foam,
Here stood a city, an altar, a home.
Hark to the bells that ring under the sea,
Salve Regina! Salve Regina!
Love is the Queen for you and for me,
Salve, Salve Regina!”
After that they laughed again, and in sheer gaiety of heart, sang every nonsensical thing they could think about, until, being breathless and hoarse and compelled to stop, Fenella said,
“I wonder what those people in the Court-house would think if they could see their great man now! But I suppose there has never been a great man since the beginning of the world but some woman has known him for what he really is just a big boy!”
At three o’clock in the afternoon luncheon was over at Government House; the Governor and the Attorney-General had gone off to smoke; Miss Green, like a wise woman, had betaken herself to her room, and Fenella and Stowell were alone.
“Now you must get away to Ballamoar. I promised Janet to send you back in time. Some kind of welcome home, you know.”
But Stowell stood over her (she was at the piano) and whispered,
She pretended not to understand him, and again, and in a more emphatic voice, he demanded,
She was compelled to comprehend at last, and said that if all went well, and he behaved himself, and her father approved, a month that day, perhaps . . . no, two months. . . .
A few minutes later they were in the porch for their last parting. He was holding her in a long embrace. He felt like Jacob who had waited so long for Rachel. He would never be entirely happy until she was wholly his.
She laughed a nervous and palpitating laugh.
“Rachel indeed? Take care it isn’t Leah in the morning, Sir.”
But seeing the cloud that crossed his face at that word, she kissed him of herself, saying they belonged to each other already and nothing could ever separate them.
And then a long tremulous kiss and he was gone.
He had reached the top of the mountain road, and the setting sun was striking him full in the face. To right and left, before and behind, across the broad waters, stood the dim ghosts of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. But what did he care for these greater scenes? Down yonder was Ballamoar, and to him, as to his father, it was enough to be Deemster of Man and Judge of his own people.
News of his home-coming had been telegraphed from Douglas, and when his car shot out of the glen the church bells were ringing all over the Curragh. People working in the fields climbed the hedges to wave as he went by, and feeble old men came to the doors of the cottages to lift up the hooked handles of their sticks to him.
On reaching the entrance to Ballamoar he found a crowd waiting at the gate, and a streamer from post to post, saying
HIS FATHER’S SON.
The hum of the automobile awakened the colony of rooks in the tall trees, and, swirling above the lawn, they raised a deafening clamour. This brought from the porch Janet (back from Castletown) with a nutter of black frocks and white aprons behind her.
A great company of the people of the parish were at tea in the hall, chiefly women, but of all classes, from the nervous wife of the Vicar to the widow of the cowman.
“Don’t get up,” cried Stowell.
He had entered with a shout, tossing his hat on to the settle and saluting everybody by name, just as he used to do when he was a boy and annexed them all for relations.
“Sit here, Auntie Kitty. This is your seat, Alice. Parson, won’t you take the bottom of the table? And, Dad” (this to Robbie Creer in his Sunday homespun), “take my place by Mrs. Creer while I help Jane with the teacups.”
“Did thou hear that, mistress?” said Robbie behind his hand to Janet, who was turning the tap of the tea urn. “They may make him Dempster, but he doesn’t forget his old friends for all.”
In a moment everybody was talking and laughing. It was just as if a fresh breeze had come down from the mountains on a hot day in harvest.
During tea Joshua Scarff arrived with a green portfolio under his arm.
“I’ve brought some documents you’ll wish to look at before the Court sits, your Honour.”
“Good! Put them on the desk in the library and then come back and have some tea.”
The twilight deepened and the company prepared to go. Stowell stood at the door, with Janet beside him, while the young girls of the choir of the Methodist chapel ranged themselves in front of the house and sang in their sweet young voices, which floated through the gathering gloom, “God be with you till we meet again.”
“Good-night, your Honour!”
Night! The great day had dropped asleep; the clock on the landing was striking nine; dinner was over; Janet (she had ” a head “) had gone to her room, and Stowell was stepping on to the piazza.
The wind had fallen and the night was silent, almost breathless. The revolving light on the Point of Ayre was answering to the gleam on Galloway; and the moon, which was almost at the full, was glistening on the waters that rolled between.
How beautiful, how limpid! It was just such a night as that on which Fenella and he had sat out there together. He could still see her as she was then the slim young girl in a white dress and satin slippers, with her intoxicating face in the frame of the silk handkerchief which she had bound about her head. And now she was to become his wife!
A great new vista was opening out to him. Life was about to begin in earnest. With that splendid woman by his side he was going to rise (if God would be so good to him) out of the muddy imperfections of his lower nature. His breast swelled; his throat tightened; his heart sang; he was entirely happy.
Suddenly he remembered Alick Gell. He had not seen him at Castletown that day, or at all since he returned from London. Why was that? Could it be possible that the matter they had spoken about on the steamer . . .
No, no! Still he must fulfil his promise. He would step into the library and write a line saying he was ready to go down to Derby Haven if necessary.
As he passed through the dining-room he framed the words of his letter: “Where were you, you old scoundrel, that you were not at the Swearing-in? I suppose the matter you mentioned has righted itself since I went away , but if not and you still want me …”
The house was very quiet. He felt an unaccountable chill coming over him. On the threshold of the library he paused. He had the sense of a mysterious presence in the room. The log fire had burnt low; the lamp on the desk, under his mother’s portrait, had been turned down; deep shadows lay around.
Making an effort he entered, stepping softly, yet hardly knowing why he did so. On reaching the desk he turned up the light and then his eye fell on the green portfolio which he had last seen under Joshua Scarff’s arm. It bore a label on which was written:
“Calendar of Cases to be tried at the Spring Session of the Court of General Gaol Delivery. Presiding Deemster DEEMSTER VICTOR STOWELL.”
Then came a moral thunderclap. Opening the Calendar he read these words on the first page of it:
REX v. CORTEEN
That Elizabeth Corteen, commonly called Bessie Collister, on or about the fifth day of April in the parish of Ballaugh, in the Isle of Man, feloniously, wilfully, and of her malice aforethought, did kill and murder a certain male child, contrary to the form of the Statute in such cases made and provided, and against the peace of our Sovereign Lord the King, his Crown and dignity.
A mist rose before Stowell’s eyes. He could not read any more, but stood for a moment looking down at the writing. Life seemed to run out of him in a pounding rush. The walls of the room, and particularly the picture of his mother, began to reel about in a rapidly increasing vertigo. He put his hand on a chair but felt nothing. At the next moment darkness came and he knew no more.
END OF THIRD BOOK