The Master of Man
I wish to acknowledge my indebtedness to conversations, many years ago, with the late Karl Emil Franzos for important incidents in Chapter Forty-Four, which, founded on fact, were in part incorporated by the Russo-Jewish writer in his noble book, “The Chief Justice.”
Also I ‘wish to say that Tolstoy told me, through his daughter, that similar incidents occurring in Russia (although he altered them materially) had suggested the theme of his great novel, ” Resurrection. ”
For as much knowledge as I may have been able to acquire of Manx law and legal procedure, I am indebted to Mr. Ramsey B. Moore, the Attorney-General in the Isle of Man, the scene of my story.
Isle of Man.
The First Book: The Sin
THE BREED OF THE BALLAMOAR
WE were in full school after breakfast, when the Principal came from his private room with his high, quick, birdlike step and almost leapt up to his desk to speak to us. He was a rather small, slight man, of middle age, with pale face and nervous gestures, liable to alternate bouts of a somewhat ineffectual playfulness and gusts of ungovernable temper. It was easy to see that he was hi his angry mood that morning. He looked round the school for a moment over the silver rims of his spectacles, and then said,
“Boys, before you go to your classes for the day I have something to tell you. One of you has brought disgrace upon King William’s, and I must know which of you it is.”
Then followed the “degrading story.” The facts of it had just been brought to his notice by the Inspector of Police for Castletown. He had no intention of entering into details. They were too shameful. Briefly, one of our boys, a senior boy apparently, had lately made a practice of escaping from his house after hours, and had so far forfeited his self-respect as to go walking in the dark roads with a young girl a servant girl, he was ashamed to say, from the home of the High Bailiff. He had been seen repeatedly, and although not identified, he had been recognised by his cap as belonging to the College. Last night two young townsmen had set out to waylay him. There had been a fight, in which our boy had apparently used a weapon, probably a stick. The result was that one of the young townsmen was now in hospital, still insensible, the other was seriously injured about the face. Probably a pair of young blackguards who bad intervened from base motives of their own and therefore deserved no pity. But none the less the conduct of the King William’s boy had been disgraceful. It must be punished, no matter who he was, or how high he might stand in the school .
“I tell you plainly, boys, I don’t know who he is. Neither do the police the townsmen never having heard his name and the girl refusing to speak.”
But he had a suspicion a very strong suspicion, based upon an unmistakeable fact. He might have called the boy he suspected to his room and dealt with him privately. But a matter like this, known to the public authorities and affecting the honour and welfare of the college, was not to be hushed up. In fact the police had made it a condition of their foregoing proceedings in the Courts that an open inquiry should be made here. He had undertaken to make it, and he must make it now.
“Therefore, I give the boy who has been guilty of this degrading conduct the opportunity of voluntary confession of revealing himself to the whole school, and asking pardon of his Principal, his masters and his fellow-pupils for the disgrace he has brought on them. Who is it?”
None of us stirred, spoke or made sign. The Principal was rapidly losing his temper.
“Boys,” he said, “there is something I have not told you. According to the police the disgraceful incident occurred between nine and nine-thirty last night, and it is known to the house-master of one of your houses that one boy, and one only, who had been out without permission, came in after that hour. I now give that boy another chance. Who is he?”
Still no one spoke or stirred. The Principal bit his lip, and again
looked down the line of our desks over the upper rims of his spectacles.
“Does nobody speak? Must I call a name? Is it possible that any King William’s boy can ask for the double shame of being guilty and being found out?”
Even yet there was no sign from the boys, and no sound except their audible breathing through the nose.
“Very well. So be it. I’ve given that boy his chance. Now he must take the consequences.”
With that the Principal stepped down from his desk, turned his blazing eyes towards the desks of the fifth form and said,
“Stowell, step forward.”
We gasped. Stowell was the head boy of the school and an immense and universal favourite. Through the mists of years some of us can see him still, as he heaved up from his seat that morning and walked slowly across the open floor in front to where the Principal was standing. A big, well-grown boy, narrowly bordering on eighteen, dark-haired, with broad forehead, large dark eyes, fine features, and, even in those boyish days, a singular air of distinction. There was no surprise in his face, and not a particle of shame, but there was a look of defiance which raised to boiling point the Principal’s simmering anger.
“Stowell,” he said, “you will not deny that you were out after hours last night?”
“Then it was you who were guilty of this disgraceful conduct?”
Stowell seemed to be about to speak, and then with a proud look to check himself, and to close his mouth as with a snap.
“It was you, wasn’t it?”
Stowell straightened himself up and answered, “So you say, Sir.”
“I say? Speak for yourself. You’ve a tongue in your head,
“Perhaps I have, Sir.”
“Then it was you?”
Stowell made no answer.
“Why don’t you answer me? Answer, Sir! It was you,” said the Principal.
And then Stowell, with a little toss of the head and a slight curl of the lip, replied,
“If you say it was, what is the use of my saying anything, Sir?”
The last remnant of the Principal’s patience left him. His eyes flamed and his nostrils quivered. A cane, seldom used, was lying along the ledge of his desk. He turned to it, snatched it up, and brought it down in two or three rapid sweeps on Stowell ‘s back, and (as afterwards appeared) his bare neck also.
It was all over in a flash. We gasped again. There was a moment of breathless silence. All eyes were on Stowell. He was face to face with the Principal, standing, in his larger proportions, a good two inches above him, ghastly white and trembling with passion. For a moment we thought anything might happen. Then Stowell appeared to recover his self-control. He made another little toss of the head, another curl of the lip and a shrug of the shoulders.
“Now go back to your study, Sir,” said the Principal, between gusts of breath, ” and stay there until you are told to leave it.”
Stowell was in no hurry, but he turned after a moment and walked out. with a strong step, almost a haughty one.
“Boys, go to your classes,” said the Principal, in a hoarse voice, and then he went out, too, but more hurriedly.
Some tiling had gone wrong, wretchedly wrong, we scarcely knew what that was our confused impression as we trooped off to the class-rooms, a dejected lot of lads, half furious, half afraid.
At seven o’clock that night Stowell was still confined to his study, a little, bare room, containing an iron bedstead, a deal washstand, a table, one chair, a trunk, some books on a hanging bookshelf, and a small rug before an iron fender. It was November and the day had been cold. Jamieson (the Principal’s valet) had smuggled up some coal and lit a little fire for him. Mrs. Gale (the Principal’s housekeeper), bringing his curtailed luncheon, had seen the long red wheal which the cane had left across the back of his neck, and insisted on cooling it with some lotion and bandaging it with linen. He was sitting alone in the half -darkness of his little room, crouching over the fire, gloomy, morose, fierce and with a burning sense of outraged justice. The door opened and another boy came into the room. It was Alick Gell, his special churn, a lad of his own age, but fair-haired, blue-eyed, and with rather feminine features. In a thick voice that was like a sob half-choked in his throat he said,
“Vic, I can’t stand this any longer.”
“Oh, it’s you, is it? I thought you’d come.”
“Of course you didn’t do that disgraceful thing, as they call it, but you’ve got to know who did. It was I.”
Stowell did not answer. He had neither turned nor looked up, and Gell, standing behind him, tugged at his shoulders and said again,
“Don’t you hear me? It was I.”
“You know? How do you know? When did you know? Did you know this morning?”
“I knew last night.”
Going into town he had seen Gell on the opposite side of the road. Yes, it was true enough he was out after hours. The Principal himself had sent him! Early in the day he had told him that after “prep” he was to go to the station for something.
“Good Lord! Then he must have forgotten all about it!”
“He had no business to forget.”
“Why didn’t you tell him?”
“Not not likelv!”
“But being out after hours wasn’t everything. It wasn’t knocking those blackguards about. Why didn’t you deny that anyway?”
“Oh, shut up, Alick.”
Again Gell tugged at his shoulders and said,
“But why didn’t you?”
“If you must know, I’ll tell you because they would have had you for it next.”
Mrs. Gale had found the big window of the lavatory open at a quarter-past nine, and when she sent Jamieson down he saw Gell closing it.
“Do you mean that. . . . that to save me, you allowed yourself to. …”
“Shut up, I tell you!”
There was silence for a moment and then Gel! began to cry openly, and to pour out a torrent of self-reproaches. He was a coward; a wretched, miserable, contemptible coward that’s what he was and he had always known it. He would never forgive himself never! But perhaps he had not been thinking of saving his own skin only.
“That was little Bessie Collister.”
If he had stood up to the confounded thing and confessed, and given her away, after she had been plucky and refused to speak, and his father had heard of it. … Tier father also. . . . her step-father. . . .
“Dan Baldromma, you know what he is, Vic?”
“Oh, yes, there would have been the devil to pay all round.”
“The College, too! Dan would have had something to say to old Peacock (nickname for the Principal) on that subject also.”
Yes, that was what Gell had thought, and it was the reason (one of the reasons) why he had stood silent when the Principal challenged them. Nobody knew anything except the girl. The Police didn’t know; the Principal didn’t know. If he kept quiet the inquiry would end in nothing and there would be no harm done to anybody except the town ruffians, and they deserved all they got. How was he to guess that somebody else was out after hours, and that to save him from being exposed, perhaps expelled, his own chum, like the brick he was and always had been ….
“Hold your tongue, you fool!”
Gell made for the door. ” Look here,” he said, ” I’m going to tell the Principal that if you were out last night it was on an errand for him that can’t hurt anybody.”
“No, you’re not.”
“Yes, I am certainly I am.”
“If you do, I’ll never speak to you again on my soul, never.”
“But he’s certain to remember it sooner or later.”
“And when he does, what’s he to think of himself?”
“That’s his affair, isn’t it? Leave him alone.”
Gell’s voice rose to a cry. “No, I will not leave him alone. And since you won’t let me say that about you, I’ll tell him about myself. Yes, I will, and nobody shall prevent me! I don’t care what happens about father, or anybody else, now. I can’t stand this any longer. I can’t and I won’t.”
“Alick! Alick Gell! Old fellow
But the door had been slammed to and Gell was gone.
The Principal was in his Library, a well-carpeted room, warmed by a large fire and lighted by a red-shaded lamp. His half-yearly examination had just finished and his desk was piled high with examination papers, but he could not settle himself to his work on them. He was harking back to the event of the morning, and was not too pleased with himself. He had lost his temper again; he had inflicted a degrading punishment on a senior boy, and to protect the good name of the school he had allowed himself to be intimidated by the police into a foolish and ineffectual public inquiry.
“Wretched! Wretched! Wretched!” he thought, rising for the twentieth time from his chair before the fire and pacing the room in a disorder. He thought of Stowell with a riot of mingled anger and affection. He had always liked that boy a fine lad, with good heart and brain in spite of obvious limitations. He had shown the boy some indulgence, too, and this was how he had repaid him! Defying
him in the face of the whole school! Provoking him with his
prevarication, the proud curl of his lip and his damnable iteration:
” If you say so, Sir . . . .” It had been maddening. Any master
in the world might have lost his temper.
Of course the boy was guilty! But then he was no sneak or coward. Good gracious, no, that was the last thing anybody would say about him. Quite the contrary! Only too apt to take the blame of bad things on himself when he might make others equally responsible. That was one reason the under-masters liked him and the boys worshipped him. Then why, in the name of goodness, hadn’t he spoken out, made some defence, given some explanation? After all the first offence was nothing worse than being out after hours for a little foolish sweethearting. The Principal saw Stowell making a clean breast of everything, and himself administering a severe admonition and then fighting it all out with the police for school and scholar. But that was impossible now quite impossible!
“Wretched! Wretched! Wretched!”
He thought of the boy’s father the senior judge or Deemster of the island, and easily the first man in it. One of the trustees of the college also, to whom serious matters were always mentioned. This had become a serious matter. Even if nothing worse happened to that young blackguard in the hospital the police might insist on expulsion. If so, what would be the absolute evidence against the boy? Only that he had been out of school when the disgraceful incident had happened! The Deemster, who was cool and clear-headed, might say the boy could have been out on some other errand. Or perhaps that some other boy might have been out at the same time.
But that couldn’t be I Good heavens, no! Stowell wasn’t a fool. If he had been innocent, why on earth should he have taken his degrading punishment lying down? No, no, he had been guilty enough. He had admitted that he was out after hours, and, having nothing else to say even about that (why or by whose permission), he had tried to carry the whole thing off with a sort of silent braggadocio.
“Wretched! Wretched! Wretched!”
The Principal had at length settled himself at his desk, and was taking up some of the examination papers, when he uncovered a small white packet. Obviously a chemist’s packet, sealed with red wax and tied with blue string. Not having seen it before he picked it up, and looked at it. It was addressed to himself, and was marked “By Passenger Train to be called for.”
The Principal felt his thin hair rising from his scalp. Something he had forgotten had come back upon him with the force and suddenness of a blow. Off and on for a week he had suffered from nervous headaches. Somebody had recommended an American patent medicine and he had written to Douglas for it. The Douglas chemist had replied that it was coming by the afternoon steamer, and he would send it on to Castletown by the last train. The letter had arrived when he was in class, and Jamieson the valet, being out of reach, he had asked Stowell, who was at hand, to go to the Station for the parcel after preparation and leave it on his Library table. And then the headache had passed off, and in the pressure of the examination he had forgotten the whole matter!
The Principal got up again. His limbs felt rigid, and he had the sickening sensation of his body shrinking into insignificance. At that moment there came a knocking at his door. He could net answer at first and the knocking was repeated.
“Come in then,” he said, and Gell entered, his face flooded with tears.
He knew the boy as one who was nearly always in trouble, and his first impulse was to drive him out.
“Why do you come here? Go to your house -master, or to your head, or . …”
“It’s about Stowell himself, Sir. He’s innocent,” said Gell.
“Yes, Sir it was I,” said Gell. And then came a flood of words, blurted out like water from an inverted bottle. It was true that he was with the girl last night, but it was a lie that he had made a practice of walking out with her. She came from the north of the island, a farm near his home, and he hadn’t known she was living in Castletown until he met her in the town yesterday afternoon. They were on the Darby Haven Road, just beyond the college cricket ground, about nine o’clock, when the blackguards dropped
out on them from the Hango Hill ruins and started to rag him. It was true he smashed them and he would do it again, and worse next time, but it was another lie that he had done it with a stick. They had the stick, and it was just when he was knocking out one of them that the other aimed a blow at him which fell on his chum instead and tumbled him over insensible. The girl had gone off screaming before that, and seeing the police coming up he had leapt into the cricket ground and got back into school by the lavatory window. ,
“But why, boy …. why …. why didn’t you say all this in school this morning?”
“I was afraid, Sir,” said Gell, and then came the explanation he had given to Stowell. He had been afraid his father would get to know, and the girl’s father too that was to say her step-father. Her step-father was a tenant of his own father’s; they were always at cross purposes, and he had thought if the girl got into any trouble at the High Bailiff’s and it came out that he had been the cause of it, her step-father ….
“Who is he? What’s his name?”
“Dan Collister but they call him Baldrornrna after the farm,
“That wind-bag and agitator who is always in the newspapers?”
“But, good heavens, boy, don’t you see what you’ve done for me? allowed me to punish an innocent person?”
“Yes, I know,” said Gell, and then, through another gust of sobs, came further explanations. It had all been over before he bad had time to think. The Principal had said that nobody knew, and he had thought he had only to hold his tongue and nothing would be found out. But if he had known that Stowell knew, and that he had been out himself ….
“And did he know’?”
“Yes, Sir. He saw me with Bessie Collister as he was going to the station and he thought he couldn’t get out of this himself without letting me in for it.”
“Do you mean to tell me that he took that punishment to …. to save you from being discovered?”
Gell hesitated for a moment, then choked down his sobs, and said with a defiant cry:
“Yes, he did to save me, and the school, and …. and you, too, Sir.”
The Principal staggered back a step, and then said: “Leave me, boy, leave me.”
He did not go to bed that night, or to school next day, or the day after, or the day after that. On the fourth day he wrote a long letter to the Deemster, telling him with absolute truthfulness what had happened, and concluding:
“That is all, your Honour, but to me it is everything. I have not only punished an innocent boy, but one who, in taking his punishment, was doing an act of divine unselfishness. I am humiliated in my own eyes. I feel like a little man in the presence of your son. I can never look into his face again.
“My first impulse was to resign my post, but on second thoughts I have determined to leave the issue to your decision. If I am to remain as head of your school you must take your boy away. If he is to stay I must go. Which is it to be?”
THE BOYHOOD OF VICTOR STOWELL
DEEMSTER STOWELL was the only surviving member of an old Manx family. They had lived for years beyond memory at Ballamoar, (the Great Place) an estate of nearly a thousand acres on the sea-ward angle of the Curragh lands which lie along the north-west of the island. The fishermen say the great gulf-stream which sweeps across the Atlantic strikes the Manx coast at that elbow. Hence the tropical plants which grow in the open at Ballamoar, and also the clouds of snow-white mist which too often hang over it, hiding the house and the lands around, and making the tower of Jurby Church on the edge of the cliff look like a lighthouse far out at sea. The mansion house, in the Deemster’s day, was a ramshackle old place which bore signs of having been altered and added to by many generations of his family. It stood back to the sea and facing a broad and undulating lawn, which was bordered by lofty elms that were inhabited by undisturbed colonies of rooks. From a terrace behind, opening out of the dining-room, there was a far view on clear days of the Mull of Galloway to the north, and of the Morne Mountains to the west. People used to say
“The Stowells have caught a snatch of the Irish and the Scotch in their Manx blood.”
The Deemster was sixty years of age at that time. A large, spare man with an almost Jovian white head, clean-shaven face, powerful yet melancholy eyes, bold yet sensitive features and long yet delicate hands a strong, silent, dignified, rather solemn personality.
He was a man of the highest integrity. Occupying an office too often associated, in his time, with various forms of corruption, the breath of scandal never touched him. He was a legislator, as well as a Judge, being ex officio a member of the little Manx Parliament, but in his double capacity (so liable to abuse) nobody with a doubtful scheme would have dared to approach him.
“What does the old Deemster say?” the answer to that question often settled a dispute, for nobody thought of appealing against his judgment.
“Justice is the strongest and most sacred thing on earth” that was his motto, and he lived up to it.
His private life had been saddened by a great sorrow. He married, rather late in life, a young Englishwoman, out of Cumberland a gentle creature with a kind of moonlight beauty. She died four or five years afterwards and the Manx people knew little about her. To the last they called her the “Stranger.”
The Deemster bore his loss in characteristic silence. Nobody intruded on his sorrow, or even entered his house, but on the day Of the funeral half “the north” lined the long grass-grown road from the back gates of Ballamoar to the little wind-swept churchyard over against the sea. He thanked none of them and saluted none, but his head was low as his coach passed through.
Next day he took his Court as usual, and from that day onward nobody saw any difference in him. But long afterwards, Janet Curphey, the lady housekeeper at Ballamoar, was heard to say in the village post-office, which was also the grocer’s shop, that every morning after breakfast the Deemster had put a vase of fresh-cut flowers on the writing-desk in his library under his young wife’s portrait, until it was now a white-haired man who was making his daily offering to the picture of a young woman.
“Aw, yes, Mrs. Clucas, yes I And what did it matter to the woman to be a stranger when she was loved like that?”
The “Stranger.” had left a child, and this had been at once the tragedy and the triumph of her existence. Although an ancient family of exceptional longevity the Stowells had carried on their race by a very thin line. One child, rarely two, never three, and only one son at any time that had been all that had stood from generation to generation between the family name and extinction. After three years of childlessness the Deemster’s wife had realised the peril, and, for her husband’s sake, begun to pray for a son. With all her soul she prayed for him. The fervour of her prayers made her a devoutly religious woman. When her hope looked like a certainty her joy was that of an angel rejoicing in the goodness and greatness and glory of God. But by that time the sword had almost worn out its scabbard. She had fought a great fight and under the fire of her spirit her body had begun to fail.
The Deemster had sent for famous physicians and some of them had shaken their heads.
“She may get through it; but we must take care, your Honour, we must take care.”
Beneath his calm exterior the Deemster had been torn by the red strife of conflicting hopes, but his wife had only had one desire. When her dread hour came she met it with a shining face. Her son was born and he was to live, but she was dying. At the last moment she asked for her husband, and drew his head down to her.
“Call him Victor,” she said she had conquered.
It was then that the lady housekeeper took service at Ballamoar. Janet Curphey was the last relic of a decayed Manx family that had fallen on evil times, and having lost all she had come for life. She quickly developed an almost slave-like devotion to the Deemster (during her first twenty years she would never allow anybody else to wait on him at table) as well as a motherly love for his motherless little one. The child called her his mother, nobody corrected him, and for years he knew nothing to the contrary.
He grew to be a braw and bright little man, and was idolized by everybody. Having no relations of his own, except “mother,” and the Deemster, he annexed everybody else’s. Bobbie, the young son of the Ballamoar farmer (there was a farm between the mansion-house and the sea) called his father ” Dad,” so Robbie Creer was “Dad” to Victor too. The old widow in the village who kept the post-office-grocer’s shop was ” Auntie Kitty ” to her orphan niece, Alice, so she was ” Auntie Kitty ” to Victor also.
“Everybody loves that child,” said Janet. It was true. As far back as that, under God knows what guidance, he was laying his anchor deep for the days of storm and tempest.
During his earlier years he saw little of his father, but every evening after his bath he was taken into the Library to bid Good-night to him, and then the Deemster would lift him up to the picture to bid Good-night to his mother also.
“You must love and worship her all your life, darling. I’ll tell you why, some day.”
He was a born gipsy, often being lost in the broad plantations about the house, and then turning up with astonishing stories of the distances he had travelled.
“I didn’t went no farther nor Ramsey to-day, mother ” seven miles as the crow flies.
He was born a poet too, and after the Deemster had made a “Limerick” on his Christian name, he learnt to rhyme to the same measure, making quatrains almost as rapidly as he could speak, though often with strange words of his own compounding. Thus he celebrated his pet lamb, his kid, his rabbits, the rooks on the lawn, and particularly a naughty young pony his father had given him, who “lived in the fiel'” and whom he “wanted to go to Peel,” but whenever he went out to fetch her she “always kicked up her heel.” Janet thought this marvellous, miraculous. It was a gift! The little prophet Samuel might have been more saintly but he couldn’t have been more wonderful.
Janet was not the only one to be impressed. It is known now that day by day the Deemster copied the boy’s rhymes, with much similar matter, into a leather-bound book which he had labelled strangely enough, “Isobells Diary.” He kept this secret volume under lock and key, and it was never seen by anyone else until years afterwards, when, in a tragic hour, the childish jingles hi the Judge’s sober handwriting, under the eyes that looked at them, burnt like flame and cut like a knife.
It was remarked by Janet that the Deemster’s affection for the child grew greater, while the expression of it became less as the years went on. “Is the boy up yet?” would be the first word he would say when she took his early tea to him in the morning; and if a long day in the Courts kept him from home until after the child had been put to bed, he would never sit down until he had gone upstairs to look at the little one in his cot.
In common with other imaginative children brought up alone the boy invented a playmate, but contrary to custom his invisible comrade was of the opposite sex, not that of the little dreamer. He called her ” Sadie,” nobody knew why, or how he had come by the name, for it was quite unknown ha the island. “Sadie” lived with her mother, “Mrs. Corlett,” in the lodge of Ballamoar, which had been empty and shut up since “the stranger” died, when the coachman, who had occupied it, was no longer needed. On returning from some of his runaway jaunts the boy accounted for his absence by saying he had been down to the gate to see ” Sadie.” He filled the empty house with an entire scheme of domestic economy, and could tell you all that happened there.
“Sadie was peeling the potatoes this morning and Mrs. Corlett was washing up, mamma.”
His pony’s name was Molly and by six years of age he had learnt to ride her with such ease and confidence that to see them cantering up the drive was to think that boy and pony must be a single creature. Molly developed a foal, called Derry, which always wanted to be trotting after its mother. That suited the boy perfectly. Derry had to carry “Sadie” a rare device which enabled his invisible comrade to be nearly always with him.
But at length came a dire event which destroyed “Sadie.” The master of Ballamoar was rising seven when a distant relative of the Derby family (formerly the Lords of Man) was appointed Lieutenant-Governor of the island. This was Sir John Stanley, an ex-Indian officer a man in middle life, not brilliant, but the incarnation of commonsense, essentially a product of his time, firm of will, conservative in opinions, impatient of all forms of romantic sentiment, but kindly, genial and capable of constant friendship.
The Deemster and the new Governor, though their qualities had points of difference, became good friends instantly. They met first at the swearing-in at Castle Rushen where, as senior Judge of the island, the Deemster administered the oath. But then friendship was sealed by an experience in common the Governor having also lost a beloved wife, who had died in childbirth, leaving him with an only child. This was a girl called Fenella, a year and a half younger than Victor, a beautiful little fairy, but a little woman, too, with a will of her own also.
The children came together at Ballamoar, the Governor having brought his little daughter, with her French governess, on his first call. There was the usual ceremonious meeting of the little people, the usual eyeing of each other from afar, the usual shy aloofness. Then came swift comradeship, gurgling laughter, a frantic romping round the rooms, and out on to the lawn, and then a wild quarrel, with shrill voices in fierce dispute. The two fathers rose from their seats in the Library and looked out of the windows. The girl was running towards the house with screams of terror, and the boy was stoning her off the premises.
“You mustn’t think as this is your house, ’cause it isn’t.”
Janet made peace between them, and the children kissed at parting, but going home in the carriage Fenella confided to the French governess her fixed resolve to “marry to a girl,” not a boy, when her time came to take a husband.
The effect on Victor was of another kind but no less serious. It was remarked that the visit of little Fenella Stanley had in some mysterious way banished his invisible playmate. Sadie was dead stone dead and buried. No more was ever heard of her, and Mrs. Corlett’s cottage returned to its former condition as a closed-up gate – lodge. When Derry trotted by Molly’s side there was apparently somebody else astride of her now. But strange whispering of sex whoever she was the boy never helped her to mount, and when she dismounted he always looked another way.
Four years passed, and boy and girl met again. This time it was at Government House and the boot was on the other leg. Fenella, a tall girl for her age, well-grown, spirited, a little spoiled, was playing tennis with the three young Gell girls daughters of a Manx family of some* pretensions. When Victor, in his straw hat and Eton jacket, appeared in the tennis court (having driven over with his father and been sent out to the girls by the Governor) the French governess told Fenella to let him join in the game. ‘ She did so, taking a racquet from one of the Gell girls and giving it to the boy. But though Victor, who was now at the Ramsey Grammar School, could play cricket and football with any boy of his age on the island, he knew nothing about tennis, and again and again, in spite of repeated protests, sent the balls flying out of the court.
The Cells tittered and sniffed, and at length Fenella, calling him a booby, snatched the racquet out of his hand and gave it back to the girl. At this humiliation his eyes flashed and his cheeks coloured, and after a moment he marched moodily back to the open window of the drawing-room. There the Governor and the Deemster were sitting, and the Governor said,
“Helloa! What’s amiss? Why aren’t you playing with the girls?”
“Because I’m not,” said the boy.
“Victor!” said the Deemster, but the boy’s eyes had begun to fill, so the matter ended.
There was a show of peace when the girls came into tea, but on returning to Ballamoar the boy communicated to Janet in “open Court” his settled conviction that “girls were no good anyway.”
Boy and girl did not meet again for yet another four years and then the boot had changed its leg once more. By that time Victor had made his first boy-friendship. It was with Alick Gell, brother of the three Gell girls and only son of Archibald Gell, a big man in Manxland, Speaker of the House of Keys, the representative branch of the little Manx Parliament. Archibald Gell’s lands, which were considerable, made boundary with the Deemster’s, and his mansion house was the next on the Ramsey Road, but his principal activities were those of a speculative builder. In this capacity he had put up vast numbers of boarding-houses all over the island to meet the needs of the visiting industry, borrowing from English Insurance Companies enormous sums on mortgage, which could only be repaid by the thrift and forethought of a second generation.
Alick knew what was expected of him, but down to date he had shown no promise of capacity to fulfil his destiny. He had less of his father’s fiery energy than of the comfortable contentment of his mother, who came of a line of Manx parsons, always shockingly ill-paid, generally thriftless and sometimes threadbare. Yet he was a lovable boy, not too bright of brain but with a heart of gold and a genuine gift of friendship.
At the Ramsey Grammar School he had attached himself to Victor, fetching and carrying for him, and looking up to him with worshipful devotion. Now they were together at King William’s College, the public school of the island, fine lads both, but neither of them doing much good there.
It was the morning of the annual prize day at the end of the summer term. The Governor had come to present the prizes, and he was surrounded by all the officials of Man, except the Deemster, who rarely attended such functions. The boys were on platforms on either side of the hall, and the parents were in the body of it, with the wives and sisters of the big people in the front row, and Fenella, the Governor’s daughter, now a tall girl in white, with her French governess, in the midst of them.
At this ceremony Gell played no part, and even Stowell did not shine. One boy after another went down to a tumult of hand-clap-ping and climbed back with books piled up to his chin. When Stowell’s turn came, the Principal, who had been calling out the names of the prize-winners, and making little speeches in their praise, tried to improve the occasion with a moral homily.
“Now here,” he said, making one of his bird-like steps forward, “is a boy of extraordinary talents quite extraordinary. Yet he has only one prize to receive. Why? Want of application! If boys of such great natural gifts …. yes, I might almost say genius, would only apply themselves, there is nothing whatever, at school or in after life. …”
P’shew! During this astonishing speech Stowell was already on the platform, only a pace back from the Principal, in full view of everybody, with face aflame and a burning sense of injustice. And, although, when the interlude was over, and he stepped forward to receive his Horace (he had won the prize for Classics) the Governor rose and shook hands with him and said he was sure the son of his old friend, the Deemster, would justify himself yet, and make his father proud of him, he was perfectly certain that Fenella Stanley’s eyes were on him and she was thinking him a “booby.”
But his revenge came later. In the afternoon he captained in
the cricket match, with fifteen of the junior house against the school eleven. Things went badly for the big fellows from the moment he took his place at the wicket, so they put on their best and fastest bowlers. But he scored all round the wicket for ( nearly an hour, driving the ball three times over the roof of the school chapel and twice into the ruins beyond the Darby-Haven road, and carrying his bat for more than sixty runs. Then, as he came ha, the little fellows who had been frantic, and Gell, who had been turning cart-wheels in delirious excitement, and the big fellows, who had been beaten, stood up together and cheered him lustily.
But at that moment he wasn’t thinking about any of them. He knew although, of course, he did not look that in the middle of the people in the pavilion, who were all on their feet and waving their handkerchiefs, there was Fenella Stanley, with glistening eyes and cheeks aglow. Perhaps she thought he would salute her now, or even stop and speak. But no, not likely! He doffed his cap to the Governor as he ran past, but took no more notice of the Governor’s winsome daughter than if she had been a crow.
After that nothing! Neither of the boys distinguished himself at college. This was a matter of no surprise to the masters in Gells case, but in Stowell’s it was a perpetual problem. Their favourite solution was that the Da vid-and- Jonathan friendship between two boys of widely differing capacity was at the root of the trouble Gell being slow and Stowell unwilling to shame him.
As year followed year without tangible results the rumour came home to Ballamoar tha.t the son of the Deemster was not fulfilling expectations. ” Traa de liooar ” (time enough) said Robbie Creer of the farm; but Dan Baldromma, of the mill-farm in the glen, who prided himself on being no respecter of persons, and made speeches in the market-place denouncing the ” aristocraks ” of the island, and predicting the downfall of the old order, was heard to say he wasn’t sorry.
“If these young cubs of the Spaker and the Dempster,” said Dan, “hadn’t been born with the silver spoon in their mouths we should be hearing another story. When the young birds get their wings push them out of the nest, I say. It’s what I done with my own daughter my wife’s, I mane. Immajetly she was fifteen I packed her off to sarvice at the High Bailiff’s at Castletown, and now she may shift for herself for me.”
The effect on the two fathers was hardly less conflicting. The Speaker stormed at his son, cabled him a “poop” (Anglo- Manx for numskull), wondered why he had troubled to bring a lad into the world who would only scatter his substance, and talked about making a new will to protect his daughters and to save the real estate which the law gave his son by heirship.
The Deemster was silent. Term by term he read, without comment, the Principal’s unfavourable reports, with the “ifs” and “buts” and “althoughs,” which were intended to soften the hard facts with indications of what might have been. And he said not a word of remonstrance or reproach when the boy came home without prizes, though he wrote in his leather-bound book that he felt sometimes as if he could have given its weight in gold for the least of them.
At seventeen and a half Stowell became head of the school, not so much by scholastic attainment as by seniority, by proficiency in games and by influence over the boys. But even in this capacity he had serious shortcomings. Gell had by this time developed a supernatural gift of getting into scrapes, and Stowell, as head boy, partly responsible for his conduct, often allowed himself to become his scapegoat.
Then the rumour came home that Victor was not only a waster but a wastrel. Janet wouldn’t believe a word, of it, ‘deed she wouldn’t, and ” Auntie Kitty ” said the boy was the son of the Deemster, and she had never yet seen a good cow with a bad calf. But Dan Baldromma was of another opinion.
“The Dempster may be a grand man,” said Dan, ” but sarve him right, I say. Spare the rod, spoil the child! Show me the man on this island will say I ever done that with my own child my wife’s, I mane.”
Finally came a report of the incident on the Darby-Haven road.
John Caesar, a “lump” of a lad, son of Qualtrough, the butcher
(a respectable man and a member of the Keys), had been brutally assaulted while doing his best to protect a young nurse-girl from the unworthy attentions of a college boy. The culprit was Victor Stowell, and the father of the victim had demanded his prosecution with the utmost rigour of the law. But out of respect for the Deemster, and regard for the school, he was not to be arrested on condition that he was to be expelled.
For three days this circumstantial story was on every body’s lips, yet the Deemster never heard it. But he was one of those who learn ill tidings without being told, and see disasters before they happen, so when the Principal’s letter came he showed no surprise.
Janet saw him coming downstairs dressed for dinner (he had dressed for dinner during his married days and kept up the habit ever afterwards, though he nearly always dined alone) just as old Willie Killip, the postman, with his red lantern at his belt, came through the open porch to the vestibule door. Taking his letter and going into the Library, he had stood by the writing desk under the “Stranger’s” picture, while he opened the envelope and looked at the contents of it. His face had fallen after he read the first page, and it was the same as if the sun was setting on the man, but when he turned the second it had lightened, and it was just as if the day was dawning on him.
Then, without a moment’s hesitation, he sat at the desk and wrote a telegram for old Willie to take back. It was to the Principal at King William’s, and there was only one line in it
“Send him home Stowell.”
After that Janet was ready to swear on the Holy Book to it he rose and looked up into the ” Stranger’s ” face and said, in a low voice that was like that of a prayer:
“It’s all right, Isobel it is well.”
FATHERS AND SONS
NEXT day the Deemster drove to Douglas to meet his son coming back. The weather was cold, he had to leave home in the grey of morning, and he was driving in an open dog-cart, but the Deemster knew what he was doing. Ten minutes before the train came in from Castletown he had drawn up hi the station yard. The passengers came through ‘from the platform and saw him there, and he saluted some of them. Caesar Qualtrough was among them, a gross-bodied and dark-faced man, darker than ever that day with a look of animosity and scorn.
When, at the tail of the crowd, Victor came, in the sour silence of the disgraced, no longer wearing his college cap, and with his discoloured college trunk being trundled behind him, the Deemster said nothing, but he indicated the seat by his side, and the boy climbed up to it. Then with his white head erect and his strong eyes shining he drove out of the station yard.
It was still early morning and he was in no hurry to return home. For half an hour he passed slowly through the principal thoroughfares of the town, bowing to everybody he knew and speaking to many. It was market day and he made for the open space about the old church on the quay, where the farmers’ wives were standing in rows with their baskets of butter and eggs, the farmers’ sons with their tipped-up carts of vegetables, and the smaller of the farmers themselves, from all parts of the island, with their carcases of sheep and oxen. Without leaving his seat the Deemster bought of several of them and had his purchases packed about the college trunk behind him.
It was office hours by this time and he began to call on his friends, leaving Victor outside to take care of the horse and dog-cart. His first call was on the Attorney-General, Donald Wattleworth, who had been an old school-fellow of his own at King William’s, where forty odd years ago he had saved him from many troubles.
The Attorney was now a small, dapper, very correct and rather religious old gentleman (he had all his life worn a white tie and elastic-side boots), with the round and wrinkled face that is oftenest seen in a good old woman. For a quarter of an hour the Deemster talked with him on general subjects, his Courts and forthcoming cases, without saying a word about the business which had brought him to Douglas. But the Attorney divined it. From his chair at his desk on the upper storey he could see Victor, with his pale face, in the dog-cart below, twiddling the slack of the reins in his nervous fingers, and when the Deemster rose to go he followed him down-stairs to the street, and whispered to the boy from behind, as his father was taking his seat in front,
“Cheer up, my lad! Many a good case has a bad start, you know.”
The Deemster’s last call was at Government House, and again Victor, to his relief, was left outside. But when, ten minutes later, the Governor, with his briar-root pipe hi his hand, came into the porch to see the Deemster off, and found Victor in the dog-cart, looking cold and miserable, with his overcoat buttoned up to his throat, he stepped out bareheaded, with the wind in his grey hair, and shook hands with him, and said,
“Glad to see you again, my boy. You remember my girl, Fenella? Yes? Well, she’s at college now, but she’ll be home for her holiday one of these days and then I must bring her over to see you. Good-bye!”
The Deemster was satisfied. Not a syllable had he said from first to last about the bad story that had come from Castletown, but before he left Douglas that day, it was dead and done for.
“Now we’ll go home,” he said, and for two hours thereafter, father and son, sitting side by side, and never speaking except on indifferent subjects, followed the high mountain road, with its far view of Ireland and Scotland, like vanishing ghosts across a broken sea, the deep declivity of the glen, with Dan Baldromma’s flour mill at the foot of it, and the turfy lanes of the Curraghs, where the curlews were crying, until they came to the big gates of Ballamoar, with the tall elms and the great silence inside of them, broken only by the loud cawing of the startled rooks, and then to Janet, in her lace cap, at the open door of the house, waiting for her boy and scarcely knowing whether to laugh or cry over him.
Meantime there had been another and very different home-coming. In a corner of an open third-class carriage of the train that brought Victor Stowell from Castletown there was a little servant girl with a servant’s tin box, tied about with a cord, on the seat beside her. This was Bessie Collister, dismissed from the High Bailiff’s service and being sent home to her people. She was very young, scarcely more than fifteen, with coal-black eyes and eyebrows and bright complexion a bud of a girl just breaking into womanhood.
Dan Baldromma had no need to say she was not his daughter. Her fatherhood was doubtful. Rumour attributed it to a dashing young Irish Captain, who sixteen years before had put into Ramsey for repairs after his ship, a coasting schooner, had run on the Carrick rock. Half the girls of ” the north ” had gone crazy over this intoxicating person, and in the wild conflict as to who should win him Liza Corteen had both won and lost, for as soon as his ship was ready for sea he had disappeared, and never afterwards been heard of.
Liza’s baby had been born in the following spring, and two years later Dan Collister, a miller from ” the south ” who had not much cause to be proud of his own pedigree, had made a great virtue of marrying her, child and all, being, as he said, on “conjergal” subjects a man of liberal views and strong opinions.
In the fourteen years that followed Liza had learned the liberality of Dan’s views on marriage and Bessie the strength of his hand a
well as opinions. But while the mother’s nerves had been broken by the reproaches about her ” by -child,” which had usually preceded her husband’s night-long nasal slumbers, the spirits of the girl had not suffered much, except from fear of a certain strap which he had hung in the ingle.
“The world will never grow cold on that child,” people used to say in her earliest days, and it seemed as if it was still true, even in the depth of her present trouble.
The open railway carriage was full of farming people going up to market, and among them were two buxom widows with their baskets of butter and eggs on their broad knees and their faces resplendent from much soap. Facing these was a tough and rough old sinner who bantered them, in language more proper to the stud and the farmyard, on their late married lives and the necessity of beginning on fresh ones. The unvarnished gibes provoked loud laughter from the other passengers, and Bessie’s laugh was loudest of all. This led to the widows looking round in her direction, and presently, in the recovered consciousness of her situation, she heard whispers of “Johnny Qualtrough” and the “Dempster’s son” and then turned back to her window and cried.
There was no one to help her with her luggage when she had to change at Douglas, so she carried her tin box across the platform to the Ramsey train. The north-going traffic was light at that hour, and sitting in an empty compartment she had time to think of home and what might happen when she got there. This was a vision of Dan Baldromma threatening, her mother pleading, herself screaming and all the hurly-burly she had heard so often.
But even that did not altogether frighten her now, for she had one source of solace which she had never had before. She was wearing a big hat w r ith large red roses, a straw-coloured frock and openwork stockings, with shoes that were much too thin for the on-coming winter. And looking down at these last and remembering she had bought them out of her wages, expressly for that walk with Alick Gell, she thought of something that was immeasurably more important in her mind than the incident which had led to all the trouble Alick had kissed her!
She was still thinking of this, and tingling with the memory of it, and telling herself how good she had been not to say who her boy was when the ” big ones ” questioned her, and how she would never tell that, ‘deed no, never, no matter what might happen to other people, when the train drew up suddenly at the station that was her destination and she saw her mother, a weak-eyed woman, with a miserable face, standing alone on the shingly platform.
“Sakes alive, girl, what have thou been doing now?” said Mrs. Collister, as soon as the train had gone on. “Hadn’t I trouble enough with thy father without this?”
But Bessie was in tears again by that time, so mother and daughter lifted the tin box into a tailless market cart that stood waiting in the road, climbed over the wheel to the plank seat across it, and turned their horse’s head towards home.
Dan Baldromma’s mill stood face to the high road and back to the glen and the mountains a substantial structure with a thatched and whitewashed dwelling-house attached, a few farm buildings and a patch of garden, which, though warm and bright in summer under its mantle of gillie-flower and fuchsia, looked bleak enough now with its rows of decapitated cabbage stalks and the straw roofs of its unprotected beehives.
As mother and daughter came up in their springless cart they heard the plash of the mill-wheel and the groan of the mill-stone, and by that they knew that their lord and master was at work within. So they stabled their horse for themselves, tipped up their cart and went into the kitchen a bare yet clean and cosy place, with earthen floor, open ingle and a hearth fire, over which a kettle hung by a sooty chain.
But hardly had Bessie taken off her coat and hat and sat down to the cup of tea her mother had made her when the throb of the mill-wheel ceased, and Dan Baldromma’s heavy step came over the cobbled ” street ” outside to the kitchen door.
He was a stoutly-built man, short and gross, with heavy black eyebrows, thick and threatening lips, a lowering expression, and a loud and growling voice. Seeing the girl at her meal he went over
to the ingle and stood with his- back to the fire, and his big hands
behind him, while he fell on her with scorching sarcasm.
“Well! Well! ” he said. “Back again, I see! And you such a grand woman grown since you were sitting and eating on that seat before. Only sixteen years for Spring, yet sooreying (sweethearting) already, I hear! With no wooden-spoon man neither, like your father your stepfather, I mane! The son and heir of one of the big ones of the island, they’re telling me! And yet you’re not thinking mane of coming back to the house of a common man like me! Wonderful! Wonderful I ”
Bessie felt as if her bread-and-butter were choking her, but Dan, whose impure mind was not satisfied with the effect of his sarcasm, began to lay out at her with a bludgeon.
“You fool!” he said. “You’ve been mixing yourself up with bad doings on the road, and now a dacent lad is lying at death’s door through you, and the High Bailiff is after flinging you out of his house as unfit for his family that’s it, isn’t it?”
Bessie had dropped her head on the table, but Mrs. Collister’s frightened face was gathering a look of courage.
“Aisy, man veen, aisy,” said the mother. “Take care of thy tongue, Dan.”
“My tongue?” said Dan. “It’s my character I have to take care of, woman. When a girl is carrying a man’s name that has no legal claim to it, he has a right to do that, I’m thinking.”
“But the girl’s only a child only a child itself, man.”
“Maybe so, but I’ve known girls before now, not much older than she is, to bring disgrace into a dacent house and lave others to live under it. ‘What’s bred in the bone comes out in the flesh,’ they’re saying.”
The woman flinched as if the lash of a whip had fallen on her face, and Dan turned back to the girl.
“So you’re a fine lady that belaves in the aristocracks, are you? Well, I’m a plain man that doesn’t, and nobody living in my house can have any truck with them.”
“But goodness me, Dan, the boy is not a dale older than herself,” said Mrs. Collister. “Nineteen years at the most, and a fine boy at that.”
“Chut! Nineteen or ninety, it’s all as one to me,” said Dan, “and this island will be knowing what sort of boy he is before he has done with it.”
The young cubs of the “big ones” began early. They treated the daughters of decent men as their fathers treated everybody using them, abusing them, and then treading on them like dirt.
“But Manx girls are hot young huzzies,” said Dan, “and the half of them ought to be ducked in the mill pond. . . . What did you expect this one would do for you, girl, after you had been colloquing and cooshing and kissing with him in the dark roads? Marry you? Make you the mistress of Ballamoar? Bessie Corteen, the by-child of Liza Collister? You toot! You booby!
You boght! You damned idiot!”
Just then there was the sound of wheels on the road, and Dan walked to the door to look out. It was the Deemster’s dog-cart, coming down the glen, with father and son sitting side by side. The women heard the Deemster’s steady voice saluting the miller as he went by.
“Fine day, Mr. Collister!”
“Middlin’, Dempster, middlin,'” said Dan, in a voice that was like a growl. And then, the dog-cart being gone, he faced back to the girl and said, with a bitter snort:
“So that’s your man, is it driving with the Dempster?”
“No, no,” said the girl, lifting her face from the table.
“No? Hasn’t he been flung out of his college for it for what came of it, I mane? And isn’t the Dempster taking him home in disgrace?”
“It was a mistake it wasn’t the Dempster’s son,” said Bessie.
“Then who was it?”
There was no reply.
“Who was it?”
“I can’t tell you.”
“You mean you won’t. We’ll see about that, though,” said Dan, and returning to the fireplace, he took a short, thick leather strap from a nail inside the ingle.
At sight of this the girl got up and began to scream. “Father! Father! Father!”
“Don’t father me! Who was it?” said Dan.
The blood was rising in the mother’s pallid face. “Collister,” she cried, “if thou touch the girl again, I’ll walk straight out of thy house.”
“Walk, woman! Do as you plaze! But I must know who brought disgrace on my name. Who was it?”
“Don’t! Don’t I Don’t!” cried the girl.
The mother stepped to the door. “Collister,” she repeated, “for fourteen years thou’s done as thou liked with me, and I’ve been giving thee lave to do it, but lay another hand on my child . . ”
“No, no, don’t go, mother. I’ll tell him,” cried the girl. “It was …. it was Alick Gell.”
“You mean the son of the Spaker?”
“That’s good enough for me,” said Dan, and then, with another snort, half bitter and half triumphant, he tossed the strap on to the table, went out of the house and into the stable.
An hour afterwards, in his billycock hat and blue suit of Manx homespun, he was driving his market-cart up the long, straight, shaded lane to the Speaker’s ivy-covered mansion-house, with the gravelled court-yard’ in front of it, in which two or three peacocks strutted and screamed.
The Speaker had only just returned from Douglas. There had been a sitting of the Keys that day and he had hurried home to tell his wife an exciting story. It was about the Deemster. The big man was down going down anyway!
Archibald Gell was a burly, full-bearded man of a high complexion. Although he belonged to what we called the “aristocracy” of the island, the plebeian lay close under his skin. Rumour said he was subject to paralysing brain-storms, and that he could be a foul-mouthed man in his drink. But he was generally calm and nearly always sober.
His ruling passion was a passion for power, and his fiercest lust was a lust of popularity. The Deemster was his only serious rival in either, and therefore the object of his deep and secret jealousy. He was jealous of the Deemster’s dignity and influence, but above all (though he had hitherto hidden it even from himself) of his son.
Stooping over the fire in the drawing-room to warm his hands after his long journey, he was talking, with a certain note of self-congratulation, of what he had heard in Douglas. That ugly incident at King William’s had come to a head! The Stowell boy had been expelled, and the Deemster had had to drive into town to fetch him home. He, the Speaker, had not seen him there, but Caesar Qualtrough had. Caesar was a nasty customer to cross (he had had experience of the man himself), and in the smoking-room at the Keys he had bragged of what he could have done. He could have put the Deemster’s son in jail! Yes, ma’am, in jail! If he had had a mind for it young Stowell might have slept at Castle Rushen instead of Ballamoar to-night. And if he hadn’t, why hadn’t he? Csesar wouldn’t say, but everybody knew he had a case coming on in the Courts presently!
“Think of it,” said the Speaker, “the first Judge in the island in the pocket of a man like that!”
Mrs. Gell, who was a fat, easy-going, good-natured soul, with the gentle eyes of a sheep (her hair was a little disordered at the moment, for she had only just awakened from her afternoon sleep, and was still wearing her morning slippers), began to make excuses.
“But mercy me, Archie,” she said, ” what does it amount to after all only a schoolboy squabble?”
“Don’t talk nonsense, Bella,” said the Speaker. “It may have been a little thing to begin with, but the biggest river that ever plunged into the sea could have been put into a tea-cup somewhere.”
This ugly business would go on, until heaven knew what it would come to. The Deemster, who had bought his son’s safety from a blackguard without bowels, would never be able to hold up his head again he, the Speaker never would, he knew that much anyway. As for the boy himself, he was done for. Being expelled from King William’s no school or university across the water would want him, and if he ever wished to be admitted to the Manx Bar it would be the duty of his own father to refuse him.
“So that’s the end of the big man, Bella the beginning of the end anyway.”
Just then the peacocks screamed in the courtyard they always screamed when visitors were approaching. Mrs. Gell looked up and the Speaker walked to the window and looked out without seeing anybody. But at the next moment the drawing-room door was thrust open and their eldest daughter, Isabella, with wide eyes and a blank expression was saying breathlessly,
“It’s Alick. He has run away from school.”
Alick came behind her, a pitiful sight, his college cap in his hand, his face pale, drawn and smudged with sweat, his hah- disordered, his clothes covered with dust, and his boots thick with soil.
“What’s this she says that you’ve run away?” said the Speaker.
“Yes, I have I told her so myself,” said Alick, who was half crying.
“Did you though? And now perhaps you will tell me something why?”
“Because Stowell had been expelled, and I couldn’t stay when he was gone.”
“Couldn’t you now? And why couldn’t you?”
“He was innocent.”
“Innocent, was he? Who says he was innocent?”
“I do, Sir, because …. because it was I.”
It was a sickening moment for the Speaker. He gasped as if something had smitten him in the mouth, and his burly figure almost staggered.
“You did it …. what Stowell was expelled for?” he stammered.
“Yes, Sir,” said Alick, and then, still with the tremor of a sob in his voice, he told his story. It was the same that he had told twice before, but with a sequel added. Although he had confessed to the Principal, they had expelled Stowell. Not publicly perhaps, but it had been expelling him all the same. Four days they had kept him in his study, without saying what they meant to do with him. Then this morning, while the boys were at prayers they had heard carriage wheels come up to the door of the Principal’s house, and when they came out of Chapel the study was empty and Stowell was gone.
“And then,” said the Speaker (with a certain pomp of contempt now), “without more ado you ran away?”
“Yes, Sir,” answered the boy, “by the lavatory window when we were breaking up after breakfast.”
“Where did you get the money to travel with?”
“I had no money, Sir. I walked.”
“Walked from Castletown? What have you eaten since breakfast?”
“Only what I got on the road, Sir.”
“You mean …. begged?”
“I asked at a farm by Foxdale for a glass of milk and the farmer’s wife gave me some bread as well, Sir.”
“Did she know who you were?”
“She asked me I had to answer her.”
“You told her you were my son?”
“And perhaps feeling yourself such a fine fellow, what you were doing there, and why you were running away from school?”
“You fool! You infernal fool!”
The Speaker had talked himself out of breath and for a moment his wife intervened.
“Alick,” she said, “if it was you, as you say, who walked out with the girl, who was she?”
“She was …. a servant girl, mother.”
“Tut!” said the Speaker, ” what does it matter who? . . . . You say you confessed to the Principal?”
“Then if he chose to disregard your confession, and to act on his own judgment, what did it matter to you?”
“It was wrong to expel Stowell for what I had done and I couldn’t stand it,” said the boy.
“You couldn’t stand it! You dunce! If you were younger I should take the whip to you.”
The Speaker was feeling the superiority of his son’s position, but that only made him the more furious.
“I suppose you know what this running away will mean when people come to hear of it?”
Alick made no answer.
“You’ve given the story a fine start, it seems, and it won’t take long to travel.”
Still Alick made no answer.
“Stowell will be the martyr and you’ll be the culprit, and that ugly incident of the boy with the broken skull will wear another complexion.”
“I don’t care about that,” cried Alick.
“You don’t care!”
“I had to do my duty to my chum, Sir.”
“And what about your duty to me, and to your mother and to your sisters? Was it your ‘ duty ‘ to bring disgrace on all of us?”
Alick dropped his head.
“You shan’t do that, though, if I can help it. Go away and wash your dirty face and get something on your stomach. You’re going back to Castletown in the morning.”
“I won’t go back to school, Sir,” said Alick.
“Won’t you, though? We’ll see about that. I’ll take you back.”
“Then I’ll run away again, Sir.”
“Where to, you jackass? Not to this house, I promise you.”
“I’ll get a ship and go to sea, Sir.”
“Then get a ship and go to sea, and to hell, too, if you want to. You fool! You damned blockhead!”
After the Speaker had swept the boy from the room, his mother was crying. “Only eighteen years for harvest,” she was saying, as if trying to excuse him. And then, as if seeking to fix the blame elsewhere, she added,
“Who was the girl, I wonder?”
“God’s sake, woman,” cried the Speaker, “what does it matter who she was? Some Castletown huzzy, I suppose.”
The peacocks were screaming again; they had been screaming for some time, and the front-door bell had been ringing, but in the hubbub nobody had heard them. But now the parlour-maid came to tell the Speaker that Mr. Daniel Collister of Baldromma was in the porch and asking to see him.
Dan came into the room with his rolling walk, his eyes wild and dark, his billy-cock hat in his hand and his black hair ‘ strooked ‘ flat across his forehead, where a wet brush had left it.
“Good evening, Mr. Spaker! You too, Mistress Gell! It’s the twelfth to-morrow, but I thought I would bring my Hollantide rent to-day.”
“Sit down,” said the Speaker, who had given him meagre welcome.
Dan drew a chair up to a table, took from the breast pocket of his monkey-jacket a bulging parcel in a red print handkerchief (looking like a roadman’s dinner), untied the knots of it, and disclosed a quantity of gold and silver coins, and a number of Manx bank notes creased and soiled. These he counted out with much deliberation amid a silence like that which comes between thunderclaps the Speaker, standing by the fireplace, coughing to compose himself, his wife blowing her nose to get rid of her tears, and no other sounds being audible except the nasal breathing of Dan Baldromma, who had hair about his nostrils.
“Count it for yourself; I belave you’ll find it right, Sir.”
“Quite right. I suppose you’ll want a receipt?”
“If you plaze.”
The Speaker sat at a small desk, and, as well as he could (for his hand was trembling), he wrote the receipt and handed it across the table.
“And now about my lease,” said Dan.
“What about it?” said the Speaker.
“It runs out a year to-day, Sir, and Willie Kerruish, the advocate, was telling me at the Michaelmas mart you were not for renewing it. Do you still hould to that, Mr. Spaker?”
“Certainly I do,” said the Speaker. ” I don’t want to enter into discussions, but I think you’ll be the better for another landlord and I for another tenant.”
There was another moment of silence, broken only by Dan’s nasal breathing, and then he said:
“Mr. Spaker, the Dempster’s son has come home in disgrace, they’re saying.”
“What’s that got to do with it?” said the Speaker.
“My daughter has come home in disgrace, too my wife’s daughter, I mane.”
Mrs. Gell raised herself in her easy chair. “Was it your girl, then . . . . ” she began.
“It was, ma’am. Bessie Corteen Collister, they’re calling her.”
“What’s all this to me?” said the Speaker.
“She’s telling me it’s a mistake about the Dempster’s son, Sir. It was somebody else’s lad did the mischief.”
“I see you are well informed,” said the Speaker. “Well, what of it?”
“Caesar Qua trough might have prosecuted but he didn’t, out of respect for the Dempster,” said Dan.
“So they say,” said the Speaker.
“But if somebody gave him a scute into the truth he mightn’t be so lenient with another man one other anyway.”
The Speaker was silent.
“There have been bits of breezes in the Kays, they’re telling me.”
Still the Speaker was silent.
“Caesar and me were middling well acquaint when I was milling at Ballabeg and he was butching at Port St. Mary in fact we were same as brothers.”
“I see what you mean to do, Mr. Collister,” said the Speaker,
“but you can save yourself the trouble. My lad is in this house
now if you want to know, but’ I’m sending him to sea, and before
you can get to Castletown he will have left the island.”
“And what will the island say to that, Sir?” said Dan. “That Archibald Gell, Spaker of the Kays, chairman of everything, and the biggest man going, barring the Dempster, has had to send his son away to save him from the lock-up.”
The Speaker took two threatening strides forward, and Dan rose to his feet. There was silence again as the two men stood face to face, but this time it was broken by the Speaker’s breathing also. Then he turned aside and said,- with a shamefaced look:
“I’ll hear what Kerruish has to say. I have to see him in the morning.”
“I lave it with you, Sir; I lave it with you,” said Dan.
“Good-day, Mr. Collister.”
“Good-day to you, Mr. Spaker! And you too, Mistress Gell!” said Dan. But having reached the door of the room he stopped and added:
“There’s one thing more, though. If my girl is to live with me she must work for her meat, and there must be no more sooreying.”
“That will be all right I know my son,” said the Speaker.
“And I know my step-daughter,” said Dan. “These things go on. A rolling snowball doesn’t get much smaller. Maybe that Captain out of Ireland isn’t gone from the island yet his spirit, I mane. Keep your lad away from Baldromma. It will be best, I promise you.”
Then the peacocks in the courtyard screamed again and the jolting of a springless cart was heard going over the gravel. The two in the drawing-room listened until the sound of the wheels had died away in the lane to the high road, and then the Speaker said:
“That’s what comes of having children! We thought it bad for the Deemster to be in the pocket of a man like Caesar Qualtrough, but to be under the harrow of Dan Baldromma!”
“Aw, dear! Aw, dear!” said Mrs. Gell.
“He was right about Alick going to sea, though,” said the Speaker, and, touching the bell for the parlour-maid, he told her to tell his son to come back to him.
Alick was in the dining-room by this time, washed and brushed and doing his best to ‘drink a pot of tea and eat a plate of bread-and-butter, amid the remonstrances of his three sisters, who, seeing events from their own point of view, were rating him roundly on associating with a servant.
“I wonder you hadn’t more respect for your sisters?” said Isabella.
“What are people to think of us Fenella Stanley, for instance?” said Adelaide.
“I declare I shall be ashamed to show my face in Government House again,” said Verbena.
“Oh, shut up and let a fellow eat,” said Alick, and then something about ” first-class flunkeys.”
But at that moment the parlour-maid came with his father’s message and he had to return to the drawing-room.
“On second thoughts,” said the Speaker, “we have decided that you are not to go to sea. We have only one son, and I suppose we must do our best with him. You haven’t brains enough for building, so, if you are not to go back to school, you must stay on the land and learn to look after these farms in Andreas.”
“I’ll do my best to please you, Sir,” said Alick.
“But listen to this,” said the Speaker,” Dan Baldromma has been here, and we know who the girl was. There is to be no more mischief in that quarter. You must never see her or hear from her again as long as you live is it a promise?”
“Yes, Sir,” said Alick, and he meant to keep it.
ENTER FENELLA STANLEY
The winter passed, the spring came and nothing was done for Victor. His father made no effort to provide for his future, whether at another school, at college, or in a profession.
“I wonder at the Dempster, I really do,” said Auntie Kitty.
“Leave him alone,” said Janet it would all come right some day.
Left to himself, Victor became the great practical joker of the countryside. Every prank for which no other author could be found was attributed to him. If any pretentious person fell into a ridiculous mare’s nest people would say,
“But where was young Stowell while that was going on?”
In this dubious occupation of “putting the fun” on folks he soon found the powerful assistance of Alick Gell. That young gentleman, for his training on the land, had been handed over to the charge of old Tom Kermode, the Speaker’s, steward. But Tom, good man, foresaw the possibility of being supplanted in his position if the Speaker’s son acquired sufficient knowledge to take it, and therefore he put no unnecessary obstacles in the way of the boy’s industrious efforts not to do so. On the contrary he encouraged them, with the result that Alick and Victor foregathered again, and having nothing better to do than to make mischief, they proceeded to make it.
How much the Deemster heard of his son’s doings nobody knew. Twice a day he sat at meat with him without speaking a word of reproof. But Janet saw that when report was loudest he wrote longer than usual in his leather-bound book before going to bed and that his head was lower than ever in the morning.
At length Janet entered into a secret scheme with herself for lifting it up again. This consisted in prompting her dear boy to do something, to make an effort, to justify himself. So making excuse of the Deemster’s business she would take Victor’s breakfast to his bedroom before he had time to get up to it.
It was a bright room to the north-east, flooded with sunshine at that season after she had drawn the blind, and fresh, after she had thrown up the sash, with morning air that smacked of the blue sea (which came humming down from the dim ghost of Galloway), and relished of the sandy soil of Man, with its yellowing crops of rustling oats, over which the larks and the linnets tumbled and sang.
Victor was always asleep when she went in at eight o’clock, for he slept like a top, and after she had scolded him for lying late, he would sit up in bed, with his sleepy eyes and tousled hair, to eat his breakfast, while she turned his stockings, shook out his shirt, gathered up his clothes (they were usually distributed all over the room) and talked.
Victor noticed that whatever she began upon she always ended with the same subject. It was Fenella Stanley. That girl was splendid, and she was getting on marvellously. Still at college “across”? Yes, Newnham they were calling it, and she was carrying everything before her prizes, scholarships, honours goodness knows what.
The island was ringing with her praise but Janet was hearing everything direct from Miss Green, the Governor’s housekeeper, with whom she kept up a constant correspondence. That woman worshipped the girl you never saw the like, never! As for the Governor, it was enough to bring tears into a woman’s eyes to see how proud he was of his daughter. When he had news that she had taken a new honour it was like new life to the old man. You would think the sun was shining all over the house, and that was saying something there the Keys being so troublesome. Of course he was ” longing ” for his daughter to come home to him, and that was only natural, but knowing how hard she was working now six in the morning until six hi the evening, Catherine Green was saying he was waiting patiently.
“Aw, yes, yes, that’s the way with fathers,” said Janet. “Big men as they may be themselves, they are prouder of their children’s successes than of their own far prouder.”
The effect of Janet’s scheme was the reverse of what she had expected. By a law of the heart of a boy, which the good soul knew nothing of, Victor resented the industry, success and reputation of Fenella Stanley. It was a kind of rebuke to his own idleness. The girl was a bookworm and would develop into a blue-stocking! He had not seen her for years and did not want to see her, but in his mind’s eye he pictured her as she must be now a pale-faced young person La a short blue skirt and big boots, with cropped hair and perhaps spectacles!
Describing this vision to Alick Gell, as they were drying themselves on the shore after a swim, Victor said with emphasis that if there was one thing he hated it was a woman who was half a man.
“Same here,” said Alick, who had had liberal doses of the same medicine at home, less delicately administered by his sister Isabella.
But where Janet failed, a greater advocate, nature itself, was soon to succeed. The boys were then in their nineteenth year, a pair of full-grown, healthy, handsome lads as ever trod the heather, or stripped to the sea, but there was a great world which had not yet been revealed to either of them the world of woman. That world was to be revealed to one of them now.
It was a late afternoon early in September. The day had been wonderful. Over the bald crown above Druidsdale the sun came slanting across the Irish Sea from a crimsoning sky beyond the purple crests of the Morne mountains. Stowell and Gell had been camping out for two days in the Manx hills, and, parting at a junction of paths, Gell had gone down towards Douglas while Stowell had dropped into the cool dark depths of the glen that led homewards.
Victor was as brown as a berry. He was wearing long, thick-soled yellow boots almost up to his knees, with his trousers tucked into them, a loose yellow shirt, rolled up to the elbows of his strong round arms, no waistcoat, his Norfolk jacket thrown over his left shoulder, and a knapsack strapped on his back.
With long, plunging strides he was coming down the glen, singing sometimes in a voice that was partly drowned by the louder water where it dipped into a dub, when, towards the Curragh end of it, on the “brough” side of the river, he came upon a startling vision.
It was a girl. She was about seventeen years of age, bare-headed and bare-footed, and standing ankle-deep in the water. Her lips, and a little of the mouth at either side, were stained blue with blackberries she had clearly been picking them and had taken off shoes and stockings to get at a laden bush.
She was splendidly tall, and had bronze brown hair, with a glint of gold when the sun shone on it. The sun was shining on it now, through a gap in the thinning trees that overhung the glen, and with the leaves pattering over her head, and the river running at her feet, it was almost as if she herself were singing.
With her spare hand she was holding up her dress, which was partly of lace light and loose and semi-transparent and when a breeze, which was blowing from the sea, lapped it about her body there was a hint of the white, round, beautiful form beneath. Her eyes were dark and brilliantly full, and her face was magnificently intellectual, so clear-cut and clean. And yet she was so feminine, so womanly, such a girl!
She must have heard Stowell’s footsteps, and perhaps his singing as he approached, for she turned to look up at him calmly, rather seriously, a little anxiously but without the slightest confusion. And he looked at her, pausing to do so, without being quite aware of it, and feeling for one brief moment as if wind and water had suddenly stopped and the world stood still.
There was a moment of silence, in which he felt a certain chill, and she a certain warmth, and both a certain dryness at the throat. The girl was the first to recover self-control. Her face sweetened to a smile, and then, in a voice that was a little husky, and yet sounded to him like music, she said, as if she had asked and answered an earlier question for herself:
“But of course you don’t know whoI am, do you?”
He did. Although she was so utterly unlike what he had expected (what he had told himself he expected) he knew she was Fenella Stanley.
As often as he thought of it afterwards he could never be quite sure what be had said to her in those first moments. He could only guess at what it must have been by his vivid memory of what she had said in reply.
She watched him, womanlike, for a moment longer, to see what impression she had made upon him, now that she knew what impression he had made upon her. Then she glanced down at her bare feet, that looked yellow on the pebbles in the running water, and then at her shoes and stockings, which, with her parasol, lay on the bank, and said:
“I suppose you ought to go away while I get out of this?”
He never knew what made him say that, but she glanced up at him again, with the answering sunshine of another smile, and said:
“Well, you needn’t, if you don’t want to.”
After that she stepped out of the river, and sat on the grass to dry her feet and pull on her stockings. As she did so, and he stood watching, forgetting (such was the spell of things) to turn his eyes away, she shot another look up at him., and said:
“I remember that the last time I was in these parts you ordered me off, Sir.”
“And the last time I was at Government House you turned me out of the tennis court,” he answered.
She laughed. He laughed. They both laughed together. Also they both trembled. But by the time she had put on her shoes he was feeling braver, so he went down on his knees to tie her laces.
It was a frightening ordeal, but he got through at last, and to cover their embarrassment, while the lacing was going on, they came to certain explanations.
Yesterday the Governor had telegraphed to the Deemster that he would like to fulfil his promise to visit Ballamoar and stay the night if convenient. So they had driven over in the carriage and arrived about two hours ago, and were going back to-morrow morning.
“Of course you were not there when we came,” she said, “being, it seems, a gentleman of gipsy habits, so when Janet (I mean Miss Curphey) mentioned at tea that you were likely to come down the glen about sunset . . . . ”
“Then you were coming to meet me?” he said.
She laughed again, having said more than she had intended and finding no way of escape from it.
When all was done and he had helped her up (how his fingers tingled!) and they stood side by side for the first time (she was less than half a head shorter than himself and her eyes seemed almost on the level of his own) and they were ready to go, he suddenly remembered that they were on the wrong side for the road. So if she hadn’t to take off her boots and stockings and wade through the water again, or else walk half a mile down the glen to the bridge, he would have to carry her across the river.
Without more ado she let him do it picking her up in his quivering arms and striding through the water in his long boots.
Then being dropped to her feet she laughed again; and he laughed, and they went on laughing, all the way down the glen road, and through the watery lanes of the Curragh, where the sally bushes were singing loud in the breeze from the sea but not so loud as the hearts of this pair of children.
That night, after dinner, leaving the Deemster and the Governor at the table, discussing insular subjects (a constitutional change which was then being mooted), Victor took Fenella out on to the piazza (his mother had called it so), the uncovered wooden terrace which overlooked the coast.
He was in a dark blue jacket suit, not yet having possessed evening wear, but she was in a gauzy light dress with satin slippers, and her bronze-brown hair was curled about her face in bewitching ringlets.
The evening was very quiet, almost breathless, with hardly a leaf stirring. The revolving light in the lighthouse on the Point of Ayre (seven miles away on its neck of land covered by a wilderness of white stones) was answering to the far-off gleam of the light on the Mull of Galloway, while the sky to the west was a slumberous red, as if the night were dreaming of the departed day.
They had not yet recovered from their experience in the glen, and, sitting out there in the moonlight (for the moon had just sailed through a rack of cloud), they were still speaking involuntarily, and then laughing nervously at nothing nothing but that tingling sense of sex which made them afraid of each other, that mysterious call of man to maid which, when it first comes, is as pure as an angel’s whisper.
“What a wonderful day it has been!” she said.
“The most wonderful day I have ever known,” he answered.
“And what a wonderful home you have here,” she said.
“Haven’t we?” he replied. And then he told her that over there in the dark lay Ireland, and over there Scotland, and over there England, and straight ahead was Norway and the North Pole.
That caught them up into the zone of great things, the eternities, the vast darkness out of which the generations come and towards which they go; and, having found his voice at last, he began to tell her how the island came to be peopled by its present race.
This was the very scene of the Norse invasion the Vikings from Iceland having landed on this spot a thousand years ago. When the old sea king (his name was Orry) came ashore at the Lhen (it was on a starlight night like this) the native inhabitants of Man had gone down to challenge him. “Where do you come from?” they had cried, and then, pointing to the milky way, he had answered, “That’s the road to my country.” But the native people had fought him to throw him back into the sea yes, men and women, too, they say. This very ground between them and the coast had been the battlefield, and it must still be full of the dead who had died that day.
“What a wonderful story!” she said.
“The women fought too, you say?”
“Thousands of them, side by side with their men, and they were the mothers of the Manxmen of to-day.”
“How glorious! How perfectly glorious!”
And then, clasping her hands about her knee, and looking steadfastly into the dark of the night, she, on her part, told him something. It was about a great new movement which was beginning in England for a change in the condition of women. Oh, it was wonderful! Miss Clough, the Principal, and all the girls at Newnham were ablaze with it, and it was going to sweep through the world. In the past the attitude towards women of literature, law, even religion, had been so unfair, so cruel. She could cry to think of it the long martyrdom of woman through all the ages.
“Do you know,” she said, “I think a good deal of the Bible itself is very wicked towards women …. That’s shocking, isn’t it?”
“Oh, no, no,” said Victor he was struggling to follow her, and not finding it easy.
“But all that will be changed some day,” said Fenella.
It might require some terrible world-trouble to change it, some cataclysm, some war, perhaps (she didn’t know what), but it would be changed she was sure it would. And then, when woman took her rightful place beside man, as his equal, his comrade, his other self, they would see what would happen.
All the old laws, so far as they concerned the sexes (and which of them didn’t?) would have to be made afresh, and all the old tales about men and women (and which of them were not?) would have to be re-told.
“The laws made afresh, you say?”
“Yes, and some of the judges too, perhaps.”
“And all the old tales re-told?”
“Every one of them, and then they will be new ones, because woman will have a new and far worthier place in them.”
They had left the stained-glass door to the dining-room ajar, and at a pause in Fenella’s story they heard the voice of the Governor, in conversation with the Deemster on the constitutional question, saying,
“Well, well, old friend, I don’t suppose either the millennium will dawn or the deluge come whether the Keys are reformed or not.”
That led Victor to ask Fenella what her father thought of her opinions.
“Oh well,” she said, “he doesn’t agree. But then …. (her voice was coming with a laugh from her throat now) I don’t quite approve of father.”
This broke the spell of their serious talk, and he asked if she would like to go down to an ancient church on the seaward boundary of the old battlefield it was a ruin and looked wonderful in the moonlight.
She said she would love to, and, slipping indoors to make ready, she came back in a moment with a silk handkerchief about her head, which made her face intoxicating to the boy who was waiting for it, and feeling for the first time that thrilling, quivering call of body and soul that is the secret of the continued race. So off they went together with a rhythmic stride, down the sandy road to the shore he bareheaded, and she in her white dress and the satin slippers in which her footsteps made no noise.
The ruined church was on a lonesome spot on the edge of the sea, with the sea’s moan always over it, and the waves thundering in the dark through the cavernous rocks beneath.
Fenella bore herself bravely until they reached the roofless chancel, where an elm tree grew, and the moonlight, now coming and going among the moving clouds, was playing upon the tomb of. some old churchman whose unearthed bones the antiquaries had lately covered with a stone and surrounded by an iron railing, and then she clutched at Victor’s arm, held on tightly and trembled like a child.
That restored the balance of things a little, and going home (it was his turn to hold on now) he could not help chaffing her on her feminine fear. Was that one of the old stories that would have to be re-told …. when the great world-change came, the great cataclysm?
“Oh, that? Well, of course …. (he believed she was blushing, though in the darkness he could not see) women may not have the strength and courage of men the physical courage, I mean . . . .”
“Only physical?” he asked.
She stammered again, and said that naturally men would always be men and women women.
“You don’t want thai altered, do you?” she said.
“Oh no, not I, not a bit,” said Victor, and then there was more laughter (rather tremulous laughter now) and less talking for the next five minutes.
They had got back to the piazza by this time, and knowing that her face was hi the shaft of light that came through the glass door from the dining-room, Fenella turned quickly and shot away upstairs.
For the first time in his life Victor did not sleep until after three o’clock next morning. He saw the moonlight creep across the cocoa-nut matting on his bedroom floor and heard the clock on the staircase landing strike every hour from eleven to three.
Now that he was alone he was feeling degraded and ashamed. Here was this splendid girl touching life at its core, dealing with the great things, the everlasting things, attuning her heart to the future and the big eternal problems …. while he!
But under all the self-reproach there was something joyous too, something delicious, something that made him hot and dizzy and would not let him sleep, because a blessed hymn of praise was singing within, and it was so wonderful to be alive.
He could have kicked himself next morning when he awoke late, and found the broad sunshine in his bedroom, and heard from Janet that Fenella had been up two hours and all over the stables and the plantation.
After breakfast (downstairs for him this time) the Governor’s big blue landau, with two fine Irish bays, driven by an English coachman, came sweeping round to the front and he went out in the morning sunshine, with the Deemster and Janet, to see their guests away.
The Governor shook hands with him warmly, but Fenella (who was wearing a coat and some kind of transparent green scarf about her neck, and thanked the Deemster and kissed Janet as she was stepping into the carriage) looked another way when she was saying good-bye to him.
He slammed the door to, and stepped back, and the carriage started, and (while the other two went indoors) he stood and looked after it as it went winding down the drive, amid the awakened clamour of the rooks, until it came to the turn where the trees were to hide it, and then Fenella faced round and waved a hand to him. At the next moment the carriage had gone and then the sun went out, and the world was dead.
That night after dinner Victor told his father that he would like to go into the Attorney-General’s office, as a first step towards taking up the profession of the law.
“Good very good,” said the Deemster.
FENELLA STANLEY had not awakened early, as Janet had supposed she had never been to sleep. Her bedroom had been to the north-east, and she, too, had seen the moonlight creep across her floor; and when it was gone, and all else was dark, she had felt the revolving light from the stony neck of the Point of Ayre passing every other minute over her closed eyelids.
She was too much of a woman not to know what was happening to her, but none the less she was confused and startled. Do what she would to compose herself she could not lie quiet for more than a moment. Her blood was alternately flowing through her veins like soft milk and bounding to her heart like a geyser.
As soon as the daylight came and the rooks began to caw she got up and dressed, and went through the sleeping house, with its drawn bunds, and let herself out by the glass door to the piazza.
Of course she turned towards the shore. It was glorious to be down there alone, on the ribbed sand, with the salt air on her lips and the odour of the seaweed in her nostrils and the rising sun glistening in her eyes over the shimmering and murmuring sea. But it was still sweeter to return by the sandy road, past the chancel of the old church (how silly to have been afraid of it I) and to see footsteps here and there his and hers.
The world was astir by this tune, with the sun riding high and the earth smoking from its night-long draughts of dew, the sheep munching the wet grass in the fields on either side, and the cattle lowing in the closed-up byres, waiting to be milked. But the white blind of Victor’s room (she was sure it was Victor’s) was still down,
like a closed eyelid, and she had half a mind to throw a handful of gravel at it and then dart indoors.
Back in the house there were some embarrassing moments. Breakfast was rather a trying time after Victor came down, looking a little sheepish, and that last moment on the path was difficult when he was holding the carriage door open and saying good-bye to her; but she could not deny herself that wave of the hand as they turned the corner of the drive she was perfectly sure he must be looking after them.
After that misery! Every day at Government House seemed to bring her an increasing heartache, and when she returned to College a fortnight later, and fell back into the swing of her former life there (the glowing and thrilling life she had described to Victor) a bitter struggle with herself began.
It was a struggle between the mysterious new-born desires of her awakening womanhood and the task she had supposed to be her duty to consecrate her whole life to the liberation of her sex, giving up, like a nun if need be, all the joys that were for ever whispering in the ears of women, that she might devote herself body and soul to the salvation of her suffering sisters.
Three months passed in which Fenella believed herself to be the unhappiest girl in the world. Moments of guilty joy and defiance mingled with hours of self-reproach. And then dear, good people were sometimes so cruel! Miss Green, her father’s housekeeper, never wrote without saying something about Victor Stowell. He was a student-at-law now, and was getting along wonderfully.
Once Miss Green enclosed a letter from Janet asking Fenella for her photograph. For nearly a week that was a frightful ordeal, but in the end the woman triumphed over the nun and she sent the picture.
“Dear Janet,” she wrote, “it was very sweet of you to wish for my photograph to remind you of that dear and charming day I spent at Ballamoar, so I have been into Cambridge and had one specially taken for you, in the dress I wore on that lovely August afternoon which I shall never forget. …”
It had been a tingling delight to write that letter, but the moment she had posted it, with the new Cambridge photograph, she could have died of vexation and shame it must be so utterly obvious whom she had sent them to.
As the Christmas vacation approached she began to be afraid of herself. If she returned to the island she would be sure to see Victor Stowell (he must be in Douglas now) and that would be the end of everything.
After a tragic struggle, and many secret tears, she wrote to her father to say what numbers of the Newnham girls were going to Italy for the holidays and how she would love to see the pictures at Florence. To her consternation the Governor answered immediately, saying,
“Excellent idea! It will do you good, and I shall be happy to get away from ‘ the Kays ‘ for a month or two, so. I am writing at once to engage rooms at the Washington.”
She could have cried aloud after reading this letter, but there was no help for it now.
Truly, the heart of a girl is a deep riddle and only He Who made can read it.
In the Attorney- General’s office Victor Stowell was going from strength to strength. There was a vast deal of ordinary drudgery in Ms probationary stage, but he was bearing it with amazing patience. His natural talents were recognised as astonishing and he was being promoted by rapid degrees. After a few months the Attorney wrote to the Deemster:
“Unless I am mistaken your boy is going to be a great lawyer the root of the matter seems to be in him.”
Not content with the routine work of his office he took up (by help of some scheme of University extension) the higher education which had been cut short by his dismissal from King William’s, and in due course obtained degrees. One day, after talking with Victor, the Bishop of the island was heard to say:
“If that young fellow had been sent up to Oxford, as he ought to have been, he might have taken a first-class in Literae Humaniores and became the most brilliant man of his year.”
The Attorney-General’s office was a large one, and it contained several other students-at-law. Among them now was Alick Gell, who had prevailed upon his mother to prevail upon his father to permit him to follow ‘Stowell.
“God’s sake, woman,” the Speaker had said, “let him go then, and make one more rascally Manx lawyer.”
But neither Alick’s industrious idleness, nor the distractions of a little holiday town in its season, could tempt Stowell from his studies. His successes seemed lightly won, but Alick, who lodged with him in Athol Street, knew that he was a hard worker. He worked early and late, as if inspired by a great hope, a great ideal.
His only recreation was to spend his week-ends at home. When he arrived on the Saturday afternoons he usually found his father, who was looking younger every day, humming to himself as he worked in an old coat among the flowers ha the conservatory. At night they dined together, and after dinner, if the evenings were cool, the Deemster would call on him to stir the peats and draw up to the fire, and then the old man would talk.
It was wonderful talking, but nearly always on the same subject the great Manx trials, the great crimes (often led up to by great temptations), the great advocates and the great Deemsters. Victor noticed that whatever the Deemster began with he usually came round to the same conclusion the power and sanctity of Justice.
After an hour, or more, he would rise in his stately way, to go to the blue law-papers for his next Court which his clerk, old Joshua Scarf, had laid out under the lamp on the library table, saying:
“That’s how it is, you see. Justice is the strongest and most sacred thing in the world, and in the end it must prevail.”
But Victor’s greatest joy in his weekly visits to Ballamoar was to light his candle at ten o’clock on the mahogany table on the landing under the clock and fly off to his bedroom, for Janet would be there at that hour, blowing up his fire, turning down his bed, opening his bag to take out his night-gear and ready to talk on a still greater subject.
With the clairvoyance of the heart of a woman who had never had a lover of her own (” not exactly a real lover,” she used to say) she had penetrated the mystery of the change in Victor. She loved to dream about the glories of his future career (even her devotion to the Deemster was in danger of being eclipsed by that) but above everything else, about the woman who was to be his wife.
In some deep womanlike way, unknown to man, she identified herself with Fenella Stanley and courted Victor for her in her absence. She had visions of their marriage day, and particularly of the day after it, when they would come home, that lovely and beloved pair, to this very house, this very room, this very bed, and she would spread the sheets for them.
“Is that you, dear?” she would say, down on her knees at the fire, as he came in with his candle.
And then he, too, would play his little part, asking about the servants, the tenants, Robbie Creer, and his son Robin (now a big fellow and the Deemster’s coachman) and Alice and ” Aunty Kitty,” and even the Manx cat with her six tail-less kittens, and then, as if casually, about Fenella.
“Any news from Miss Green lately, Janet?”
One night Janet had something better than news a letter and a photograph.
“There! What do you think of that, now?”
Victor read the letter in its bold, clear, unaffected handwriting, and then holding the photograph under the lamp in his trembling fingers (Janet was sure they were trembling) he said, in a voice that was also trembling:
“Don’t you think she’s like my mother just a little like?”
“‘Deed she is, dear,” said Janet. “You’ve put the very name to it. And that’s to say she’s like the loveliest woman that ever walked the world in this island anyway.”
Victor could never trust his voice too soon after Janet said things like that (she was often saying them), but after a while he laughed and answered:
“I notice she doesn’t walk the island too often, though. She hasn’t come here for ages.”
“Oh, but she will, boy, she will,” said Janet, and then she left him, for he was almost undressed by this time, to get into bed and dream.
At length, Victor StowelPs term as a student-at-law came to an end and he was examined for the Manx bar. The examiner was the junior Deemster of the island Deemster Taubman, an elderly man with a yellow and wrinkled face which put you in mind of sour cream. He was a bachelor, notoriously hard on the offences of women, having been jilted, so rumour said, by one of them (a well-to-do widow), on whose person or fortune he had set his heart or expectations.
Stowell and Gell went up together, being students of the same year, and Deemster Taubman received them at his home, two mornings running, in his dressing-gown and slippers. Stowell ‘s fame had gone before him, so he got off lightly; but Gell came in for a double dose of the examiner’s severity.
“Mr. Gell,” said Deemster Taubman,” if somebody consulted you in the circumstance that he had lent five hundred pounds on a promissory note, payable upon demand, but without security, to a rascal (say a widow woman) who refused to pay and declared her intention of leaving the island to-morrow and living abroad, what would you advise your client to do for the recovery of his money?”
Alick had not the ghost of an idea, but knowing Deemster Taubman was vain, and thinking to flatter him, he said,
“I should advise my client, your Honour, to lay the facts, in an ex parte petition before your Honour at your Honour’s next Court” (it was to be held a fortnight later) “and be perfectly satisfied with your Honour’s judgment.”
“Dunce!” said Deemster Taubman, and sitting down to his desk, he advised the Governor to admit Mr. Stowell but remand Mr. Gell for three months’ further study.
Victor telegraphed the good news to his father, packed up his belongings in his lodging at Athol Street, and took the next train back to Ballamoar. Young Robbie Creer met him at the station with the dog-cart, and took up his luggage, but Victor was too excited to ride further, so he walked home by a short cut across the Curragh.
His spirits were high, for after many a sickening heartache from hope deferred (the harder to bear because it had had to be concealed) he had done something to justify himself. It wasn’t much, it was only a beginning, but he saw himself going to Government House one day soon on a thrilling errand that would bring somebody back to the island who had been too long away from it.
Of course he must speak to his own father first, and naturally he must tell Janet. But seeing no difficulties in these quarters he went swinging along the Curragh lane, with the bees humming in the gold of the gorse on either side of him and the sea singing under a silver haze beyond, until he came to the wicket gate on the west of the tall elms and passed through to the silence inside of them.
He found the Deemster in the conservatory, re-potting geraniums, and when he came up behind with a merry shout, his father turned with glad eyes, a little moist, wiped his soiled fingers on his old coat and shook hands with him (for the first time in his life) saying, in a thick voice.
“Good very good!”
They dined together, as usual, and when they had drawn up at opposite cheeks of the hearth, with the peat fire between them, the Deemster talked as Victor thought he had never heard him talk before.
It was the proper aspiration of every young advocate to become a Judge, and there was no position of more dignity and authority. Diplomatists, statesmen, prime ministers and even presidents might be influenced hi their conduct by fears or hopes, or questions of policy, but the Judge alone of all men was free to do the right, as God gave him to see the right, no matter if the sky should fall.
“But if the position of the Judge is high,” said the Deemster, “still higher is his responsibility. Woe to the Judge who permits personal interests to pervert his judgment and thrice woe to him who commits a crime against Justice.”
Victor found it impossible to break in on that high theme with mention of his personal matter, so, as soon as the clock on the landing began to warn for ten he leapt up, snatched his candle, and flew off to his bedroom hi the hope of talk of quite another kind with Janet.
But Janet was not there, and neither was his bed turned down as usual, nor his night-gear laid out, nor his lamp lighted. He had asked for her soon after his arrival and been told that she had gone to her room early in the afternoon, and had not since been heard of.
“Headache,” thought Victor, remembering that she was subject to this malady, and without more thought of the matter, he tumbled into bed and fell asleep.
But the first sight that met his eyes when he opened them in the morning was Janet, with a face dissolved in tears, and the tray in her hand, asking him in a muffled voice to sit up to his breakfast.
“Lord alive, Janet, what’s amiss?” he asked, but she only shook her head and called on him to eat.
“Tell me what’s happened,” he said, but not a word would she say until he had taken his breakfast.
He gulped down some of the food, under protest, Janet standing over him, and then came a tide of lamentation.
“God comfort you, my boy I God strengthen and comfort you!” said Janet.
In the whirl of his stunned senses, Victor caught at the first subject of his thoughts.
“Is it about Fenella?” he asked, and Janet nodded and wiped her eyes.
“Is she dead?”
Janet threw up her hands. “Thank the Lord, no. not that, anyway.”
“Is she ill?”
“Not that either.”
“Then why make all this fuss? What does it matter to me?”
“It matters more to you than to anybody else in the world, dear,” said Janet.
Victor took her by the shoulders as she stood by his bed. “In the name of goodness, Janet, what is it?” he said.
It came at last, a broken story, through many gusts of breath, all pretences down between them now and their hearts naked before each other.
Fenella Stanley, who, since she left Newnham, had been working (as he knew) as a voluntary assistant at some Women’s (Settlement in London, had just been offered and had accepted the position of its resident Lady Warden, and signed on for seven years.
“Seven years, you say?”
“Seven years, dear.”
The Governor had prayed and protested, saying he had only one daughter, and asking if she meant that he was to live the rest of his life alone, but Fenella, who had written heart-breaking letters, had held to her purpose. It was like taking the veil, like going into a nunnery; the girl was lost to them, they had seen the last of her.
“I had it all from Catherine Green,” said Janet.
Willie Killip, the postman, had given her the letter just when she was standing at the porch, looking down the Curragh lane for Victor, and seeing him coming along with his high step and the sunset behind him, swishing the heads off the cushags with his cane.
“I couldn’t find it in my heart to tell you last night, and you looking so happy, so I ran away to my room, and it’s a sorrowful woman I am to tell you this morning.”
She knew it would be bitter hard to him as hard as it must have been to Jacob to serve seven years for Rachel and then lose her, and that was the saddest story in the old Book, she thought.
“But we must bear it as well as we can, dear, and who knows? it may all be for the best some day.”
Victor, resting on his elbow, had listened with mouth agape. The flaming light which had crimsoned his sky for five long years, sustaining him, inspiring him, had died out in an instant. For some moments he did not speak, and in the intervals of Janet’s lamentations nothing was audible but the cry of some sea-gulls who had come up from the sea, where a storm was rising. Then he began to laugh. It was wild, unnatural laughter, beginning thick in his throat and ending with a scream.
“Lord, what a joke!” he cried. “What a damned funny joke!” But at the next moment he broke into a stifling sob, and fell face down on to the pillow and soaked it with his tears.
Janet hung over him like a mother-bird over a broken nest, her wrinkled face working hard with many emotions sorrow for her boy and even anger with Fenella.
“Aw, dear! aw, dear!” she moaned, “many a time I’ve wished I had been your real mother, dear; but never so much as now that I might have a right to comfort you.”
At that word, though sadly spoken, Victor raised himself from his pillow, brushed his eyes fiercely and said, in a firm, decided voice.
“That’s all right, mother. I’ve been a fool. But it shall never happen again never!”
THE WORLD OF WOMAN
VICTOR STOWELL spent his first two hours after Janet left him in destroying everything which might remind him of Fenella. Her picture, which Janet had framed and hung over his mantelpiece, he put face-down in a drawer. The flowers she had placed in front of it he flung out of the window. A box full of newspaper cuttings and extracts from books dealing with the hardships of the laws relating to women (the collection of five laborious years) he stuffed into the grate and set fire to.
But having done all this he found he had done nothing. Only once, since her childhood, had Fenella been to Ballamoar, yet she had left her ghost all over it. He could not sit on the piazza, or walk down the sandy road to the sea, without being ripped and raked by the thought of her. And sight of the turn of the drive at which she had waved her hand, and turned the glory of her face on him, was enough to make the bluest sky a blank.
For a long month he went about with a look too dark for so young a face and a step too heavy for so light a foot, blackening his fate and his future. He never doubted that he had lost something that could never be regained. Without blaming Fenella for so much as a moment he felt humiliated and ashamed, and like a fool who had built his house upon the sand. God, how hollow living seemed! Life had lost its savour; effort was useless and there was nothing left in the world but dead-sea fruit.
How much the Deemster had learnt of his trouble he never knew, but one night, as they drew up to the cheeks of the hearth after dinner, he said:
“Victor, how would you like to go round the world? Travel is good for a young man. It helps him to get things into proportion.”
Victor leapt at the prospect of escaping from Ballamoar, but thought it seemly to say something about the expense.
“That needn’t trouble you,” said the Deemster, “and you wouldn’t be beholden to me either, for there is something I have never told you.”
His mother had had a fortune of her own, and the last act of her sweet life had been to make it over to her new-born son, at the discretion of his father, signing her dear will a few minutes before she died, against every prayer and protest, in the tragic and un-recognizable handwriting of the dying.
“It was five hundred a year then,” said the Deemster, “but I’ve not touched it for twenty-four years, so it’s nine hundred now.”
“That’s water enough to his wheel, I’m thinking,” said Dan Baldromma, when he heard of it, and aesar Qualtrough was known to say:
“It’s a horse that’ll drive him to glory or the devil, and I belave in my heart I’m knowing which.”
Two months later Victor Stowell was ready for his journey. Alick Gell was to go with him that gentleman having scrambled through his examination and prevailed on his mother to prevail on his father to permit him to follow Stowell.
“God’s sake, woman,” the Speaker had said again, “let him go, and give him the allowance he asks for, and bother me no more about him.”
Turning westward the young travellers crossed the Atlantic; stood in awe on the ship’s deck at their first sight of the new world, with its great statue of Liberty to guard its portals; passed over the breathless American continent, where life scours and roars through Time like a Neap tide on a shingly coast, casting up its pebbles like spray; then through Japan, where it flows silent and deep, like a mill race under adumbrous overgrowth; and so on through China, India and Egypt and back through Europe.
It was a wonderful tour to Gell like sitting in the bow of a boat where the tumult of life was for ever smiting his face in freshening waves; to StoweJl (for the first months at least) like sitting miserably in the stern, with only the backwash visible that was carrying him away, with every heave of the sea, from something he had left and lost.
But before long Stowell’s heavy spirit regained its wings. Although he could not have admitted it even to himself without a sense of self- betrayal, Fenella Stanley’s face, in the throng of other and nearer faces, became fainter day by day. There are no more infallible physicians for the heart-wounds inflicted by women than women themselves, and when a man is young, and in the first short period of virginal manhood, the world is full of them.
So it came to pass that whatever else the young men saw that was wonderful and marvellous in the countries they passed through, they were always seeing women’s eyes to light and warm them. And being handsome and winsome themselves their interest was rewarded according to the conditions sometimes with a look, sometimes with a smile, and sometimes in the freer communities, with a handful of confetti or a bunch of spring flowers flung in their faces, or perhaps the tap of a light hand on their shoulders.
Thus the thought of Fenella Stanley, steadily worn down in Victor’s mind, became more and more remote as time and distance separated them, until at length there were moments when it seemed like a shadowy memory.
Stowell and Gell were two years away, and when they returned home the old island seemed to them to have dwarfed and dwindled, the very mountains looking small and squat, and the insular affairs, which had once loomed large, to have become little, mean and almost foolish.
“Now they’ll get to work; you’ll see they will,” said Janet, and for the first weeks it looked as if they would.
For the better prosecution of then- profession, as well as to remove the sense of rivalry, they took chambers in different towns, Stowell in Old Post Office Place in Ramsey, and Gell in Preaching House Lane in Douglas two outer rooms each for offices and two inner ones for residential apartments.
But having ordered their furniture and desks, inscribed their names in brass on their door-posts, (“VICTOR STOWELL, Advocate”), engaged junior assistants to sit on high stools and take the names of the clients who might call, and arranged for sleeping-out housekeepers to attend to their domestic necessities (Victor’s was a comfortable elderly body, Mrs. Quayle, once a servant of his mother’s at Ballamoar, afterwards married to a fisherman, and then left a widow, like so many of her class, when our hungry sea had claimed her man), they made no attempt to practise, being too well off to take the cases of petty larceny and minor misdemeanour which usually fall to the High Bailiff’s Court, and nobody offering them the cases proper to the Deemster’s.
Those were the days of Bar dinners (social functions much in favour with our unbriefed advocates), and one such function was held in honour of the returned travellers. At this dinner Stowell, being the principal speaker, gave a racy account of the worlds they iad wandered through, not forgetting the world of women the sleepy daintiness of the Japanese, the warm comeliness of the Italian, the vivacious loveliness of the French, and above all, the frank splendour of the American women, with their free step, their upturned faces and their conquering eyes.
That was felt by various young Manxmen to be a feast that could be partaken of more than once, so a club was straightway founded for the furtherance of such studies. It met once a week at Mount Murray, an old house a few miles out of Douglas, in the middle of a forest of oak and pine trees, now an inn, but formerly the home of a branch of the Athols, when they were the Lords of Man, and kept a swashbuckler court of half-pay officers who had come to end their days on the island because the living and liquor were cheap.
One room of this house, the dining-room, still remained as it used to be when the old bloods routed and shouted there, though its coat-of-arms was now discoloured by damp and its table was as worm-eaten as their coffins must have been. And here it was that the young bloods of the ” Elian Vannin ” (the Isle of Man) held their weekly revel riding out in the early evening on then- hired horses, twenty or thirty together, sitting late over their cups and pipes, and (the last toast drunk and the last story told) breaking up in the dark of the morning, stumbling out to the front, where a line of lanterns would be lining the path, the horses champing the gravel and the sleepy stable-boys chewing their quids to keep themselves awake, and then leaping into their saddles, singing their last song at the full bellows of their lungs in the wide clearing of the firs to the wondering sky, and galloping home, like so many Gilpins (as many of them as were sober enough to get there at the same time as their mounts) and clattering up the steep and stony streets of Douglas to the scandal of its awakened inhabitants.
Victor Stowell was president of the ” Elian Vannin,” and in that character he made one contribution to its dare-devil jollity, which terminated its existence and led to other consequences more material to this story.
In his heavy days at Ballamoar, before he went abroad, his father’s house had been like a dam to which the troubled waters of the island flowed the little jealousies and envies of the island community, the bickerings of church and chapel, of town and country, of town and town, not to speak of the darker maelstrom of more unworthy quarrels. While the Deemster had moved through all this with his calm dignity as the great mediator, the great pacifier, Victor with his quick brain and wounded heart had stood by, seeing all and saying nothing, But now, making a call upon his memory, for the amusement of his fellow clubmen, out of sheer high spirits and with no thought of evil, he composed a number of four-line ” Limericks ” on the big- wigs of the island.
Such scorching irony and biting satire had never been heard in the island before. If any pompous or hypocritical person (by preference a parson, a local preacher, a High Bailiff or a Key) had a dark secret, which he would have given his soul’s salvation not to have disclosed, it was held up, under some thin disguise, to withering ridicule.
A long series of these reckless lampoons Victor fired off weekly over the worm-eaten table at Mount Murray, to the delirious delight of the clubmen, who, learning them by heart, carried them to their little world outside, with the result that they ran over the island like a fiery cross and set the Manx people aroar with laughter.
The good, and the unco’ good were scandalized, but the victims were scarified. And to put an end to their enemy, and terminate his hostilities, these latter, laying their heads together to tar him with his own brush, found a hopeful agency to their hand in the person of a good-looking young woman of doubtful reputation called Fanny, who kept a house of questionable fame in the unlit reaches of the harbour south of the bridge.
One early morning word went through the town like a searching wind that Fanny’s house had been raided by the police, in the middle of the night, about the hour when the Clubmen usually clattered back to Douglas. The raid had been intended to capture Stowell, but had failed in its chief object that young gentleman having gone on, when some of his comrades had stopped, put up his horse at his job-master’s and proceeded to Cell’s chambers where he slept on his nights in town. Others of his company had also escaped by means of a free fight, in which they had used the hunting crops and the police their truncheons. But Alick Gell, with his supernatural capacity for getting into a scrape, had been arrested and carried off, with Fanny herself, to the Douglas lock-up.
Next day these two were brought up in the Magistrate’s Court, which was presided over by his Worship the Colonel of the “Nunnery,” a worthy and dignified man, to whom the turn of recent events was shocking. The old Court-house was crowded with the excited townspeople, and as many of the Clubmen were present as dare show their bandaged heads out of their bedrooms.
When the case was called, and the two defendants entered the dock, they made a grotesque and rather pitiful contrast Gell in his tall, slim, fair-haired gentlernanliness, and Fanny in her warm fat comeliness, decked out in some gaudy finery which she had sent home for, having been carried off in the night with streaming locks and naked bosom.
In the place of the Attorney- General, the prosecutor was a full-bodied, elderly advocate named Hudgeon, who had been the subject of one of the most withering of the lampoons. He opened with bitter severity, spoke of the case as the worst of the kind the island had known; referred to the ” most unholy hour of the morning ” which had lately been selected for scenes of unseemly riot; said his “righteous indignation” was roused at such disgraceful doings, and finally hoped the Court would, for the credit of lawyers ” hereafter ” make an example, “without respect of persons,” of the representative of a group of young roysterers, who were a disgrace to the law, and had nothing better to do (so rumour and report were saying) than to traduce the good names of their elders and betters.
When he had examined the constables and closed his case it looked as if Gell were in danger of Castle Rushen, and the consequent wrecking of his career at the Bar, and that nothing was before Fanny but banishment from the island, with such solace as the bribe of her employers might bring her.
But then, to a rustle of whispering, Stowell, who was in wig and gown for the first time, got up for the defence. It had been expected that he would do so, and many old advocates who had heard much of him, had left their offices, and filled the advocates’ box, to see for themselves what mettle he was made of.
They had not long to wait. In five minutes he had made such play with his ” learned friend’s ” ” unholy hour of the morning,” ” his righteous indignation ” and his ” hereafter ” for lawyers (not without reference to a traditional personage with horns and a fork) that the merriment of the people in Court rose from a titter to a roar, which the ushers were powerless to suppress. Again and again the writhing prosecutor, with flaming face and foaming and spluttering mouth, appealed in vain to the Bench, until at length, getting no protection, and being lashed by a wit more cutting than a whip, he gathered up his papers and, leaving the case to his clerk, fled from the Court like an infuriated bat, saying he would never again set foot in it.
Then Stowell, calling back the constables, confused them, made them contradict themselves, and each other, and step down at last like men whose brains had fallen into their boots. After that he called Gell and caused him to look like a harmless innocent who had strayed out of a sheepfold into a shambles. And finally he called Fanny, and getting quickly on the woman’s side of her, he so coaxed and cajoled and flattered and then frightened her, that she seemed to be on the point of blurting out the whole plot, and giving away the names of half the big men in the island.
His Worship of the Nunnery closed up the case quickly, saying “young men will be young men,” but regretting that the eminent talents exhibited in the defence were not being employed in the service of the island.
The Court-house emptied to a babel of talking and a burst of irrepressible laughter, and that was the end of the “Elian Vannin.” But the one ineffaceable effect of the incident, most material to this story, was that Alick Gell, who was still as innocent as the baby of a girl, had acquired a reputation for dark misdoings (especially with women) whereof anything might be expected in the future.
After the insular newspapers had dwelt with becoming severity on this aspect of the ” distressing proceedings,” the Speaker walked over in full-bearded dignity to remonstrate with the Deemster.
“Your son is dragging my lad down to the dirt,” he said, “and before long I shall not be able to show my face anywhere.”
“What do you wish me to do, Mr. Speaker?” asked the Deemster. “Do? Do? I don’t know what I want you to do,” said the Speaker.
“I thought you didn’t,” said the Deemster, and then the full-bearded dignity disappeared.
Concerning Victor, although he had made the island laugh (the
shortest cut to popularity), opinions were widely divided.
“There’s only the breadth of a hair between that young man and a scoundrel,” said Hudgeon, the advocate.
“Lave him rope and he’ll hang himself,” said Caesar Qualtrough, from behind his pipe in the smoking-room of the Keys.
“Clever! Clever uncommon! But you’ll see, you’ll see,” said the Speaker.
“I’ve not lost faith in that young fellow yet,” said the Governor.
“Some great fact will awaken a sense of responsibility and make a man of him.”
The great fact was not long in coming, but few could have foreseen the source from which it came.
With the first breath of the first summer after their return to the island Stowell and Gell went up into the glen to camp. They had no tent; two hammocks swung from neighbouring trees served them for beds and the horizontal boughs of other trees for wardrobes. There, for a long month, amidst the scent of the honeysuckle, the gorse and the heather, and the smell of the bracken and the pine, they fished, they shot, they smoked, they talked. Late in the evening, after they had rolled themselves into their hammocks, they heard the murmuring of the trees down the length of the glen, like near and distant sea-waves, and saw, above the soaring pine-trunks, the gleaming of the sky with its stars. As they shouted their last “Good-night” to each other from the depths of their swaying beds the dogs would be barking at Dan Baldromma’s mill at the bottom of the glen and the water would be plashing in the topmost fall of it. And then night would come, perfect night, and the silence of unbroken sleep.
Awaking with the dawn they would see the last stars pale out and hear the first birds begin to call; then the cock would crow at old Will Skillicorne’s croft on the “brough,” the sheep would bleat in the fields beyond, the squirrels would squeak in the branches over their heads and the fish would leap in the river below. And then, as the sun came striding down on them from the hill-tops to the east, they would tumble out of their hammocks, strip and plunge into the glen stream the deep, round, blue dubs of it, in which the glistening water would lash their bodies like a living element. And then they would run up to the headland (still in the state of nature) and race over the heather like wild horses in the fresh and nipping air.
They were doing this one midsummer morning when they had an embarrassing experience, which, in the devious ways of destiny, was not to be without its results. Flying headlong down the naked side of the glen (for sake of the faster run) they suddenly became aware of somebody coming up. It was a young woman in a sun-bonnet. She was driving four or five heifers to the mountain. Swishing a twig in her hand and calling to her cattle, she was making straight for their camping-place.
The young men looked around, but there was no escape on any side, so down they went full length on their faces in the long grass (how short!) and buried their noses in the earth.
In that position of blind helplessness, there was nothing to do but wait until the girl and her cattle had passed, and hope to be unobserved. They could hear the many feet of the heifers, the napping of their tails (the flies must be pestering them) and the frequent calls of the girl. On she came, with a most deliberate slowness, and her voice, which had been clear and sharp when she was lower down the glen, seemed to them to have a gurgling note in it as she came nearer to where they lay.
“Come out of that, you gawk, and get along, will you?” she cried, and Victor could not be quite sure that it was only the cattle she was calling to.
At one moment, when they thought the girl and the cattle must be very close, there was a sickening silence, and then the young men remembered their breeches which were hanging open over a bough and their shirts which were dangling at the end of it.
“Get up, stupid! What are you lying there for?” cried the girl, and then came another swish of the twig and a further thudding of the feet of the heifers.
“The devil must be in that girl,” thought Victor, and he would have given something to look up, but dare not, so he lay still and listened, telling himself that never before had two poor men been in such an unfair and ridiculous predicament.
At length the feet of the cattle sounded faint over the rippling of the river, and the girl’s voice thin through the pattering of the leaves. And then the two sons of Adam rose cautiously from the grass, slithered down the glen-side and slipped into the essential part of their garments.
Half-an-hour later, the lark being loud in the sky, and the world astir and decent, they were cooking their breakfast, Gell holding a frying-pan over a crackling gorse fire, and Stowell, in his Wellington boots, striding about with a tea-pot) when they heard the girl coming back. And being now encased in the close armour of their clothes they felt that the offensive had changed its front and stepped boldly forward to face her.
She was a strapping girl of three or four and twenty, full-blooded and full-bosomed, with coal-black hair and gleaming black eyes under her sun-bonnet, which was turned back from her forehead, showing a comely face of a fresh complexion, with eager mouth and warm red lips. Her sleeves were rolled back above her elbows, leaving her round arms bare and sun-brovn; her woollen petticoat was tucked up, at one side, into her waist, and as she came swinging down the glen with a jaunty step, her hips moved, with her whole body, to a rhythm of health and happiness.
“Attractive young person, eh?” said Victor.
But Gell, after a first glance, went back without a word to his frying-pan, leaving his comrade, who was still carrying his tea-pot, to meet the girl, who came on with an unconcerned and unconscious air, humming to herself at intervals, as if totally unaware of the presence of either of them.
“Nice morning, miss,” said Victor, stepping out into the path.
The girl made a start of surprise, looked him over from head to foot, glanced at his companion, whose face was to the fire, recognised both, smiled and answered:
“Yes, Sir, nice, very nice.”
Then followed a little fencing, which was intended by Victor to find out if the girl had seen them.
Came up this way a while ago, didn’t she? Aw, yes, she did, to take last year’s heifers to graze on the mountains. Seen anything hereabouts that is to say on the tops? Aw, no, nothing at all had he? Well, yes, he thought he’d seen something running on the ridge just over the waterfall.
The girl gave him a deliberate glance from her dark eyes, then dropped them demurely and said, with an innocent air,
“Must have been some of the young colts broken out of the top field, I suppose.”
“That’s all right,” thought Victor, not knowing the ways of women though he thought himself so wise in them.
After that, feeling braver, he began to make play with the girl, asking her how far she had come, and if she wouldn’t be lonesome going back without company.
She looked at him quizzically for a moment, and then said, with her eyes full of merriment,
“What sort of company, sir?”
“Well, mine for instance,” he answered.
She laughed, a fresh and merry laugh from her throat, and said,
“You daren’t come home with me, Sir.”
“Why daren’t I?”
“You’d be afraid of father. He’s not used of young men coming about the place, and he’d frighten the life out of you.”
Victor put down his tea-pot and made a stride forward. “Come on where is he?”
But the girl swung away, with another laugh, crying over her shoulder,
“Aw, no, no, plaze, plaze!”
“Ah, then it’s you that are afraid, eh?” said Victor.
“It’s not that,” replied the girl.
“What is it?” said Victor.
She gave him another deliberate glance from her dark eyes he thought he could feel the warm glow of her body across the distance dividing them and said,
“The old man might be sending somebody else up with the heifers next time, and then . . . .”
She laughed again with eyes full of mischief, and seemed to prepare to fly.
“Then maybe I’d be missing seeing something,” she said, and shot away at a bound.
Victor stood for a moment looking down the glen.
“God, what a girl!” he said. “I’ve a good mind to go after her.”
“I shouldn’t if I were you,” said Gell. “You know who she is?”
“The little thing who was in Castletown.”
“Then I suppose she belongs to you?”
“Not a bit. I haven’t spoken to her from that day to this,” said Gell, and then he told of the promise he had made to his father.
“But Lord alive, that was when you were a lad.”
“Maybe so, but ‘as long as you live’ that was the word, and I mean to keep it. Besides, there’s Dan Baldromma.”
“That blatherskite?” said Victor.
“He’d be an ugly customer if anything went wrong, you know.”
“But, good Lord, man, what is going to go wrong?”
When they had finished breakfast and Gell was washing up at the water’s edge, Victor was on a boulder, looking down the glen again, and saying, as if to himself,
“My God, what a girl, though! Such lips, such flesh, such . . . .”
“I say, old fellow!” cried Gell.
Victor leapt down and laughed to cover his confusion.
“Well, why not? We’re all creatures of earth, aren’t we?”
THE DAY OF TEMPTATION
FENELLA STANLEY had been two and a half years at the head of the Women’s Settlement. Her work as Lady Warden had been successful. It had been a great, human, palpitating experience. There were days, and even weeks, when she felt that it had brought her a little nearer to the soul of the universe and helped her to touch hands across the ages with the great women who had walked through Gethsemane for the poor, despoiled and despairing victims of their own sex.
But nevertheless it had left her with a certain restlessness which at first she found it hard to understand. Only little by little did she come to realise that nature, with its almighty voice, was calling to her, and that under all the thrill of self -sacrifice she was suffering from the gnawing hunger of an underfed heart.
The seven years that had passed since her last visit to the island had produced their physical effects. From a slim and beautiful school-girl she had developed into a full and splendid woman. When the ladies of her Committee (matrons chiefly) saw the swing of her free step and the untamed glance of her eye they would say,
“She’s a fine worker, but we shall never be able to keep her you’ll see we shall not.”
And as often as the men of the Committee (clergymen generally, but manly persons, for the most part, not too remote from the facts of life) came within range of the glow and flame of her womanhood, they would think,
“That splendid girl ought to become the mother of children.”
During the first year of her wardenship her chief touch with home (her father being estranged) had been through correspondence with his housekeeper. Miss Green’s letters were principally about the Governor, but they contained a good deal about Victor Stowell also. Victor had been called to the Bar, but for some reason which nobody could fathom he seemed to have lost heart and hope and the Deemster had sent him round the world.
Fenella found herself tingling with a kind of secret joy at this news. She was utterly ashamed of the impulse to smile at the thought of Victor’s sufferings, yet do what she would she could not conquer it.
Her tours abroad with her father had ceased by this tune, but in her second year at the Settlement she took holiday with a girl friend, going through Switzerland and Italy and as far afield as Egypt. During that journey fate played some tantalizing pranks with her.
The first of them was at Cairo, where, going into Cook’s, to enter her name for a passage to Italy, her breath was almost smitten out of her body by the sight of Victor’s name, in his own bold hand-writing, in the book above her own he had that day sailed for Naples.
The second was at Naples itself (she would have died rather than admit to herself that she was following him), where she saw his name again, with Alick Gell’s, in the Visitors’ List, and being a young woman of independent character, marched up to his hotel to ask for him he had gone on to Home.
The third, and most trying, was in the railway station at Zurich, where stepping out of the train from Florence she collided on the crowded platform with the Attorney- General and his comfortable old wife from the Isle of Man, and was told that young Stowell and young Gell had that moment left by train for Paris.
But back in London she found her correspondence with Bliss Green even more intoxicating than before, and every new letter seemed like a hawser drawing her home. Victor Stowell had returned to the island, but he was not showing much sign of settling to work. He seemed to have no aim, no object, no ambition. In fact it was the common opinion that the young man was going steadily to the dogs.
“So if you ever had any thoughts in that direction, dear,” said Miss Green, “what a lucky escape you had (though we didn’t think so at the time) when you signed on at the Settlement!”
But the conquering pull of the hawser that was dragging her home came hi the letters of Isabella Gell, with whom she had always kept up a desultory correspondence.
The Deemster was failing fast (“and no wonder!”); and Janet Curphey, who had been such a bustling body, was always falling asleep over her needles; and the Speaker (after a violent altercation in the Keys) had had a profuse bleeding at the nose, which Dr. Clucas said was to be taken as a warning.
But the only exciting news in the island just now was about Victor Stowell. Really, he was becoming impossible! Not content with making her brother Alick the scapegoat of his own misdoings in a disgraceful affair of some sort (her father had forbidden Alick the house ever since, and her mother was always moping with her feet inside the fender), he was behaving scandalously. A good-looking woman couldn’t pass him on the road without his eyes following her! Any common thing out of a thatched cottage, if she only had a pretty face, was good enough for him now! The simpletons!! Perhaps they expected him to marry them, and give them his name and position? But not he!! Indeed no!! And heaven pity the poor girl of a better class who ever took him for a husband!!!
Fenella laughed seeing through the feminine spitefulness of these letters as the sun sees through glass. So mistress Isabella herself had been casting eyes in that direction! What fun! She had visions of the Gell girls having differences among themselves about Victor Stowell. The idea of his marrying any of them, and keeping step for the rest of his life with the conventions of the Gell family, was too funny for anything.
But those Manx country girls, with their black eyes and eager mouths, were quite a different proposition. Fenella had visions of them also, fresh as milk and warm as young heifers, watching for Victor at their dairy doors or from the shade of the apple trees in the orchards, and before she was aware of what was happening to her she was aflame with jealousy.
That Isabella Gell was a dunce! It was nonsense to say that the Manx country girls out of the thatched cottages expected Victor to marry them. Of course they didn’t, and neither did they want his name or his position. What they really wanted was Victor himself, to flirt with and flatter them and make love to them, perhaps. But good gracious, what a shocking thing! That should never happen never while she was about!
Of course this meant that she must go back to save Victor. Naturally she could not expect to do so over a blind distance of three hundred miles, while those Manx country girls in their new Whitsuntide hats were shooting glances at him every Sunday in Church, or perhaps hanging about for him on week-evenings, in their wicked sun-bonnets, and even putting up their chins to be kissed in those shady lanes at the back of Ballamoar, when the sun would be softening, and the wood-pigeons would be cooing, and things would be coming together for the night.
That settled matters! Her womanhood was awake by this time. Seven years of self-sacrifice had not been sufficient to quell it. After a certain struggle, and perhaps a certain shame, she put in her resignation.
Her Committee did not express as much surprise as she had expected. The ladies hoped her native island would provide a little world, a little microcosm, in which she could still carry on her work for women, (she had given that as one of her excuses), and the gentlemen had no doubt her father, ” and others,” would receive her back ” with open arms.”
She was to leave the Settlement at the close of the half year, that is to say at the end of July, but she decided to say nothing, either to her father or to Miss Green, about her return to the island until the time came for it at the beginning of August.
She was thinking of Victor again, and cherishing a secret hope of taking him unawares somewhere of giving him another surprise, such as she gave him that day in the glen, when he came down bareheaded, with the sea wind in his dark hair, and then stopped suddenly at the sight of her, with that entrancing look of surprise and wonder.
And if any of those Manx country girls were about him when that happened …. Well, they would disappear like a shot. Of course they would I
Meantime, another woman was hearing black stories about Victor, and that was Janet. She believed them, she disbelieved them, she
dreaded them as possibilities and resented them as slanders. But finally she concluded that, whether they were true or false, she must tell Victor all about them.
Yet how was she to do so? How put a name to the evil things that were being said of him she who bad been the same as a mother to him all the way up since he was a child, and held him in her arms for his christening?
For weeks her soft heart fought with her maidenly modesty, but at length her heart prevailed. She could not see her dear boy walk blindfold into danger. Whatever the consequences she must speak to him, warn him, stop him if necessary.
But where and when and how was she to do so? To write was impossible (nobody knew what might become of a letter) and Victor had long discontinued his week-end visits to Ballamoar.
One day the Deemster told her to prepare a room for the Governor who was coming to visit him, and seizing her opportunity she said,
“And wouldn’t it be nice to ask Victor to meet him, your Honour?”
The Deemster paused for a moment, then bowed his head and answered,
“Do as you please, Miss Curphey.”
Five minutes afterwards Janet was writing in hot haste to Ramsey.
“He is to come on Saturday, dear, but mind you come on Friday, so that I may have you all to myself for a while before the great men take you from me.”
Victor came on Friday evening and found Janet alone, the Deemster being away for an important Court and likely to sleep the night in Douglas. She was in her own little sitting-room a soft, cushiony chamber full of embroidered screens and pictures of himself as a child worked out in coloured silk. A tea-tray, ready laid, was on a table by her side, and she rose with a trembling cry as he bounded in and kissed her.
Tea was a long but .tremulous joy to her, and by the time it was over the darkness was gathering. The maid removed the tray and was about to bring in a lamp, but Janet, being artful, said:
“No, Jane, not yet. It would be a pity to shut out this lovely twilight. Don’t you think so, dear?”
Victor agreed, not knowing what was coming, and for an hour longer they sat at opposite sides of the table, with their faces to the lawn, while the rooks cawed out their last congress, and the thrush sang its last song, and Janet talked on indifferent matters whether Mrs. Quayle (his sleeping-out housekeeper) was making him comfortable at Ramsey, and if Bobbie Creer should not be told to leave butter and fresh eggs for him on market-day.
But when, the darkness having deepened, there was no longer any danger that Victor could see her face, Janet (trembling with fear of her nursling now that he had grown to be a man) plunged into her tragic subject.
People were talking and talking. The Manx ones were terrible for talking. Really, it ought to be possible to put the law on people who talked and talked.
“Who are they talking about now, Janet? Is it about me?” said Victor.
“Well, yes …. yes, it’s about you, dear.”
Oh, nothing serious, not to say serious! Just a few flighty girls boasting about the attentions he was paying them. And then older people, who ought to know better, gibble-gabbling about the dangers to young women as if the dangers to young men were not greater, sometimes far greater.
“Not that I don’t sympathise with the girls,” said Janet, “living here, poor things, on this sandy headland, while the best of the Manx boys are going away to America, year after year, and never a man creature younger than their fathers and grandfathers about to pass the time of day with, except the heavy-footed omathauns that are left.”
What wonder that when a young man of another sort came about, and showed them the courtesy a man always shows to a woman, whatever she is, when he is a gentleman born just a smile, or a nod, or a kind word on the road, or the lifting of his hat, or a hand over a stile perhaps what wonder if the poor foolish young things began to dream dreams and see visions.
“But that’s just where the danger comes in, dear,” said Janet. “Oh, I’m a woman myself, and I was young once, you know, and perhaps I remember how the heavens seem to open for a girl when she thinks two eyes look at her with love, and she feels as if she could give herself away, with everything she is or will be, and care nothing for the future. But only think what a terrible thing it would be if some simple girl of that sort got into trouble on your account.”
“Don’t be afraid of that, Janet,” said Victor in a low voice. “No girl in the island, or in the world either, has ever come to any harm through me or ever will do.”
There came the sound of a faint gasp in the darkness, and then Janet cried: .
“God bless you for saying that, dear! I knew you would! And don’t think your silly old Janet believed the lying stories they told of you. ‘Deed no, that she didn’t and never will do, never! But all the same a young man can’t be too careful!”
There were bad girls about also real scheming, designing huzzies! Some of them were good-looking young vixens too, for it wasn’t the good ones only that God made beautiful. And when a man was young and handsome and clever and charming and well-off and had all the world before him, they threw themselves in his way, and didn’t mind what disgrace they got into if they could only compel him to marry them.
“But think of a slut like that coming to live as mistress here here in the house of Isobel Stowell!”
Then the men folk of such women were as bad as they were. There was a wicked, lying, evil spirit abroad these days that Jack was as good as his master, and if you were up you had to be pulled down, and if you were big you had to be made little.
“Only think what a cry these people would make if anything happened,” said Janet, ” wrecking your career perhaps, and making promotion impossible.”
“Don’t be afraid of that either, Janet. I can take care of myself, you know.”
” So you can, dear,” said Janet, ” but then think of your father. Forty years a judge, and not a breath of scandal has ever touched him! But that’s just why some of these dirts would like to destroy him, calling to him in the Courts themselves, perhaps, with all the dirty tongues at them, to come down from the judgment-seat and set his own house in order.”
“My father can take care of himself, too, Janet,” said Victor.
“I know, dear, I know,” said Janet. ” But think what he’ll suffer if any sort of trouble falls on his son! More, far more, than if it fell on himself. That’s the way with fathers, isn’t it? Always has been, I suppose, since the days of David. Do you remember his lamentation over his son Absalom? I declare I feel fit enough to cry in Church itself whenever the Vicar reads it: ‘ O my son, Absalom! Would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son.”
There was silence for a moment, for Victor found it difficult to speak, and then Janet began to plead with him in the name of his family also.
“The Deemster is seventy years old now,” she said, ” and he has four hundred years of the Ballamoars behind him, and there has never been a stain on the name of any of them. That’s always been a kind of religion in your family, hasn’t it that if a man belongs to the breed of the Ballamoars he will do the right he can be trusted? That’s something to be born to, isn’t it? It seems to me it is more worth having than all the jewels and gold and titles and honours the world has in it. Oh, my dear, my dear, you know what your father is; he’ll say nothing, and you haven’t a mother to speak to you; so don’t be vexed with your old Janet who loves you, and would die for you, if she could save you from trouble and disgrace; but think what a terrible, fearful, shocking thing it would be for you, and for your father, and for your family, and …. yes, for the island itself if anything should happen now.”
“Nothing shall happen I give you my word for that, Janet,” said Victor.
“God bless you!” said Janet, and rising and reaching over in the darkness she kissed him her face was wet.
After that she laughed, in a nervous way, and said she wasn’t a Puritan either, like some of the people in those parts whom she saw on Sunday mornings, walking from chapel in their chapel hats, after preaching and praying against “carnal transgression” and “bodily indulgence” and “giving way to the temptations of the flesh” as if they hadn’t as many children at home as there were chickens in a good-sized hen-roost.
“Young men are young men and girls are girls,” said Janet, ” and some of these Manx girls are that pretty and smart that they are enough to tempt a saint. And if David was tempted by the beauty of Bathsheba and we’re told he was a man after God’s own heart what better can the Lord expect of poor lads these days who are making no such pretensions?”
She was only an old maid herself, but she supposed it was natural for a young man to be tempted by the beauty of a young woman, or the Lord wouldn’t have allowed it to go on so long. But the moral of that was that it was better for a man to marry.
“So find a good woman and marry her, dear. The Deemster will be delighted, having only yourself to follow him yet. And asforyou,” she added (her voice was breaking again), ” you may not think it now, being so young and strong, but when you are as old as I am …. and feeling feebler every year …. and the world is growing cold and lonely …. and you are looking to the dark day that is coming …. and no one of your own to close your eyes for you . . . only hired servants, or strangers, perhaps . . . .”
It was Victor’s turn to rise now, and to stop her speaking by taking her in his arms. After a moment, not without a tremor in his own voice also, he said,
“I shall never marry, and you know why, Janet. But neither will I bring shame on my father, or stain my name, as God is my help and witness.”
The rooks were silent hi the elms by this time, but the gong was sounding in the hall, so, laughing and crying together, and with all her trouble gone like chased clouds, Janet ran off to her room to wipe her eyes and fix her cap before showing her face at supper.
Next morning the Deemster returned from Douglas, and in the afternoon, the Governor arrived. They took tea on the piazza, the days being long and the evenings warm.
The Deemster was uneasy about the case they had tried the day before, and talked much about it. A farmer had killed a girl on his farm after every appearance of gross ill-usage. The crime and the motive had been clear and therefore the law could show no clemency. But there had been external circumstances which might have affected the man’s conduct. Down to ten years before he had been a right-living man, clean and sober and honest and even religious. Then he had been thrown by a young horse and kicked on the head and had had to undergo an operation. After he came -out of the hospital his whole character was found to have changed. He had become drunken, dishonest, a sensualist and a foul-mouthed blasphemer, and finally he had committed the crime for which he now stood condemned.
“It makes me tremble to think of it,” said the Deemster, ” that a mere physical accident, a mere chance, or a mere spasm of animal instinct, may cause any of us at any time to act in a way that is utterly contrary to our moral character and most sincere resolutions.” “It’s true, though,” said the Governor, “and it doesn’t require the kick of a horse to make a man act in opposition to his character. The loudest voice a man hears is the call of his physical nature, and law and religion have just got to make up their minds to it.”
Next morning, Sunday morning, they went to church. Janet drove in the carriage by way of the high road, but the three men walked down the grassy lane at the back, which, with its gorse hedges on either side, looked like a long green picture in a golden frame. The Deemster, who walked between the Governor and Victor, was more than usually bent and solemn. He had had an anonymous letter about his son that morning he had lately had shoals of them.
The morning was warm and quiet; the clover fields were sleeping in the sunlight to the lullaby of the bees; the slumberous mountains behind were hidden in a palpitating haze, and against the broad stretch of the empty sea in front stood the gaunt square tower from which the far-off sound of the church bells was coming.
Nowhere in the island could they have found a more tragic illustration of the law of life they had talked about the evening before than in the person of the Vicar of the Church they were going to.
His name was Cowley, and down to middle life he had been all that a clergyman should be. But then he had lost a son under circumstances of tragic sorrow. The boy had been threatened with a consumption, so the father had sent him to sea, and going to town to meet him on his return to the island, he had met his body instead, as it was being brought ashore from his ship, which was lying at anchor in the bay.
The sailors had said that at sight of them and their burthen, Parson Cowley had fallen to the stones of Ramsey harbour like a dead man, and it was long before they could bring him to, or staunch the wound on his forehead. What is certain is that after his recovery he began to drink, and that for fifteen years he had been an inveterate drunkard.
This had long been a cause of grief and perhaps of shame to his parishioners; but it had never lessened their love of him, for they knew that in all else he was still a true Christian. If any lone ‘; widow man ” lay dying in his mud cabin on the Curragh, Parson Cowley would be there to sit up all the night through with him; and if any barefooted children were going to bed hungry in the one-roomed hovel that was their living-room, sleeping-room, birth-room and death-room combined, Parson Cowley would be seen carrying them the supper from his own larder.
But his weakness had become woeful, and after a shocking moment in which he had staggered and fallen before the altar, a new Bishop, who knew nothing of the origin of his infirmity, and was only conscious of the scandal of it, had threatened that if the like scene ever occurred again he would not only forbid him to exercise his office, but call upon the Governor (in whose gift it was) to remove him from his living.
The bells were loud when the three men reached the whitewashed church on the cliff, with the sea singing on the beach below it, and Illiam Christian, the shoemaker and parish clerk, standing bare-headed at the bottom of the outside steps to the tower to give warning to the bell-ringers that the Governor had arrived.
In expectation of his visit the church was crowded, and with Victor going first to show the way, the Governor next, and the Deemster last, with his white head down, the company from Ballamoar walked up the aisle to the family pew, in which Janet, in her black silk mantle, was already seated.
The Deemster’s pew was close to the communion rails, and hori-zontal to the church with the reading-desk and pulpit in the open space in front of it, and a marble tablet on the wall behind, containing the names of a long line of the Ballamoars, going as far back as the sixteenth century.
The vestry was at the western end of the church, under the tower, and as soon as the bells stopped and the clergy came out, it was seen that the Vicar was far from sober. Nevertheless he kept himself erect while coming through the church behind his choir and curate, and tottered into the carved chair within the rail of the communion .
The curate took the prayers, and might have taken the rest of the service also, but the Vicar, thinking his duty compelled him to take his part in the presence of the Governor, rose to read the lessons. With difficulty he reached the reading-desk, which was close to the Deemster’s pew, and opened the book and gave out the place. But hardly had he begun, in a husky and indistinct voice, with ” Here beginneth the first chapter of the Second Book of Samuel ” (for it was the sixth Sunday after Trinity) when he stopped as if unable to go farther.
For a moment he fumbled with his spectacles, taking them off and wiping them on the sleeve of his surplice, and then he began afresh. But scarcely had he said, in a still thicker voice, ” Now it came to pass ” . . . . when he stopped again, as if the words of the Book before him had run into each other and become an unreadable jumble.
After that he looked helplessly about him for an instant, as if wondering what to do. Then he grasped the reading-desk with his two trembling hands, and the perspiration was seen to be breaking in beads from his forehead.
A breathless silence passed over the church. The congregation saw what was happening, and dropped their heads, as if knowing that for their beloved old Vicar this (before the eyes of the Governor) was the end of everything.
But suddenly they became aware that something was happening. Quietly, noiselessly, almost before they were conscious of what he was doing, Victor Stowell, who had been sitting at the end of the Deemster’s pew, had risen, stepped across to the reading-desk, put a soft hand on the Vicar’s arm, and was reading the lesson for him.
“Saul and Jonathan were lovely and pleasant in their lives, and in their death they were not divided . . . . I am distressed for thee, my brother Jonathan; thy love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women.”
People who were there that morning said afterwards that never before had the sublime lament of the great King, the great warrior and the great poet, for his dead friend and dead enemy been read as it was read that day by the young voice, so rich and resonant, that was ringing through the old church.
But it was not that alone that was welling through every bosom. It was the thrilling certainty that out of the greatness of his heart the son of the Deemster (of whom too many of them had been talking ill) had covered the nakedness of the poor stricken sinner who had sunk back in his surplice to a seat behind him.
When the service was over, and the clergy had returned to the vestry, the congregation remained standing until the Governor had left the church. But nobody looked at him now, for all eyes were on the two who followed him the Deemster and Victor.
The Deemster had taken his son’s arm as he stepped out of his pew, and as he walked down the aisle, through the lines of his people, his head was up and his eyes were shining.
“Did thou see that, Mistress?” said Robbie Creer, in triumphant tones to Janet Curphey, as she was stepping back, with a beaming face, into her carriage at the gate.
“Thou need have no fear of thy lad, I tell thee. The Ballamoar will out I ”
But the day of temptation was coming, and too soon it came.
THE CALL OF BESSIE COLLISTER
IT was the first Saturday in August, when the throbbing and thunging of the vast machinery of the mills and factories of the English industrial counties comes to a temporary stop, and for three days at least, tens of thousands of its servers, male and female, pour into the island for health and holiday.
Stowell and Gell had never yet seen the inrushing of the liberated ones, so with no other thought, and little thinking what fierce game fate was playing with them, they had come into Douglas that day, in flannels and straw hats, in eager spirits and with high steps, to look on its sights and scenes.
It was late afternoon, and they made first for the pier, where a crowd of people had already assembled to witness the arrival of an incoming steamer.
She was densely crowded. Every inch of her deck seemed to be packed with passengers, chiefly young girls, as the young men thought, some of them handsome, many of them pretty, all of them comely. With sparkling eyes and laughing mouths they shouted their salutations to their friends on the pier, while they untied the handkerchiefs which they had bound about their heads to keep down their hair in the breeze on the sea, and phoned on their hats before landing.
The young men found the scene delightful. A little crude,
perhaps a little common, even a little coarse, but still delightful.
Then they walked along the promenade, and that, too, was crowded. From the water’s edge to the round hill-tops at the back of the town, every thoroughfare seemed to be thrilling with joyous activity. Hackney carriages, piled high with luggage and higher still with passengers, were sweeping round the curve of the bay; windows and doors were open and filled with faces, and the whole sea-front, from end to end, seemed to be as full of women’s eyes as a midnight sky of stars.
For tea they went up to Castle Mona a grave-looking mansion in the middle of the bay, built for a royal residence by one of the Earls of Derby when they were lords of Man before the Athols, but now declined to the condition of an hotel for English visitors, with its wooded slopes to the sea (wherein more than one of our old Manx Kings may have pondered the problems of his island kingdom), transformed into a public tea-garden, on which pretty women were sitting under coloured sunshades and a string band from London was playing the latest airs from Paris.
The young men took a table at the seaward end of the lawn, with the rowing boats skimming the fringe of the water in front, the white yachts scudding across the breast of the bay, the brown-sailed luggers dropping out of the harbour with the first flood of the flowing tide; and then the human tide of joyous life running fast on the promenade below girls chiefly, as they thought, usually in white frocks, white stockings and white shoes, skipping along like human daisy-chains with their arms entwined about each other’s waists, and sometimes turning their heads over their shoulders to look up at them and laugh.
The sun went down behind the hills at the back of the town, the string band stopped, the coloured sunshades disappeared, the gong was sounded from the hall of the hotel and they went indoors for dinner.
They sat by an open window of the stately dining-room (wherein our old Earls and their Countesses once kept court), and being in higher spirits than ever by this time, they ate of every dish that was put before them, drank a bottle of champagne, toasted each other and every pretty woman they could remember of the many they had seen that day (.” Here’s to that fine girl with the black eyes who was standing by the funnel “), and looked at intervals at the scenes outside until the light failed and the darkness claimed them.
At one moment they saw the dark hull of another steamer, lit up in every port-hole, gliding towards the pier, and at the next (or what seemed like the next), shooting across the white sheet of light from the uncovered windows of their dining-room, a large blue landau, drawn by a pair of Irish bays, driven by a liveried coachman. Gell leapt up to look at it.
“Vic,” he cried, “I think that must be the Governor’s carriage.”
“It is,” said Stowell.
“And that’s the Governor himself inside of it.”
“And the lady sitting beside him is …. yes, no …. yes …. upon my soul I believe it was his daughter.”
“Impossible,” said Stowell, and, remembering what Janet had told him, he thought no more of the matter.
They returned to the lawn to smoke after dinner, and then the sky was dark and the stars had begun to appear; the tide was up but the sea was silent; the rowing-boats were lying on the shingle of the beach; the yachts were at anchor in the bay; the last of the fishing-boats, each with a lamp in its binnacle, were doubling the black brow of the head, and from the farthest rock of it the revolving light in the light-house was sweeping the darkness from the face of the town as with an illuminated fan. The young men were enraptured. It was wonderful! It was enchanting!
It was like walking on the terrace at Monte Carlo!
Then suddenly, as at the striking of a clock, the town itself began to flame. One by one the facades of the theatres and dancing palaces that lined the front were lit up by electricity. It raced along like ignited gunpowder and in a few minutes the broad curve of the bay from headland to headland, was sparkling and blazing under ten thousand lights.
It was now the beginning of night in the little gay town. The young men could hear the creak of the iron turn-stile to one of the dancing-halls near at hand, and the shuffling of the feet of the multitudes who were passing through it, and then, a few minutes later, the muffled music of the orchestra and the deadened drumming of the dancing within.
That was more than they could bear, in their present state of excitement, without taking part in the scene of it, so within five minutes more, they were passing through the turn-stile themselves and hurrying down a tunnel of trees, lit up by coloured lamps, to the open door of the dancing-hall deep in a dark garden which seemed to sleep in shadow on either side of them.
The vast place, decorated in gold and domed with glass, was crowded, but going up into the gallery the young men secured seats by the front rail and were able to look down. What a spectacle! Never before, they thought, though they had travelled round the world, had they seen anything to compare with it. To the clash of the brass instruments and the boom of the big drums, five thousand young men and young women were dancing on the floor below. Most of the men wore flannels and coloured waist-scarves, and most of the girls were in muslin and straw hats. They were only the workers from the mills and factories of Lancashire and Yorkshire, but the flush of the sun and the sea was in their faces and the joy and health of young life was in their blood.
Stowell felt himself becoming giddy. Waves of perfume were floating up to him, with the warmth of women’s bright eyes, red lips and joyous laughter. His nerves were quivering; his pulses were beating with a pounding rush. He was beginning to feel afraid of himself and he had an almost irresistible impulse to get up and go.
One other person important to this story had come to Douglas that day Bessie Collister. During the first three years after her return home from Castletown she had lived in physical fear of Dan Baldroma; but during the next three years, having grown big and strong and become useful on the farm, she had been more than able to hold her own with him, and he had even been compelled to pay her wages.
“I don’t know in the world what’s coming over the girls,” he would say, “In my young days they were content with priddhas and herrings three times a day, and welcome, but nothing will do now, if it’s your own daughter itself, but ten pounds a year per annum, and as much loaf bread and butcher’s mate as would fill the inside of a lime kiln.”
“Aw, but the girl’s smart though,” Mrs. Collister would answer.
“I’m saying nothing against her,” Dan would reply. “A middling good girl enough, and handy with the bases, but imperent grown imperent uncommon and bad with the tongue.”
There was scarcely a farmer on the island who would not have given Bessie twice the wages Dan paid her, but she remained at home, partly for reasons of her own and partly to protect her mother from Dan’s brutalities by holding over his head the threat of leaving him.
Mrs. Collister, who had been stricken with sciatica and was hobbling about on a stick, had by this time taken refuge from her life-long martyrdom in religion, having joined the ” Primitives,” whose chapel (a whitewashed barn) stood at the opposite angle of the glen and the high road. She had tried to induce her daughter to follow her there, but Bessie had refused, having come to the conclusion that the ” locals ” on the ” plan-beg,” whose favourite subject was the crucifixion of the flesh, were always preaching at her mother, or pointing at her.
So on Sunday mornings when the church bells were ringing across the Curragh, and the chapel-going women of the parish were going by with their hymn-books in their handkerchiefs, and old Will Skillicorne, who was a class-leader, was coming down from his thatched cottage in his tall beaver, black frock coat and black kid gloves, Bessie, in her sunbonnet and a pair of Dan’s old boots, and with her skirt tucked up over her linsey-wolsey petticoat, would be seen feeding the pigs or washing out a bowl of potatoes at the pump.
And on Sunday evenings, while the Primitives were singing a hymn outside their chapel before going in for service, she would be tripping past, lightly shod, and wearing a hat with an ostrich feather, on her way to town, where a German band played sacred music on the promenade, and young people, walking arm-in-arm, laughed and ” glimed ” at each other under the gas-light.
” I wonder at herself though, bringing up her daughter like a haythen in a Christian land,” old Will would say. ” But then what can you expect from a child of sin and a son of Belial ” the latter being a dig at Dan, whose lusty voice could always be heard over the singing, reading aloud to himself in the kitchen the ” Rights of Man ” or ” The Mistakes of Moses.”
Bessie was a full-developed and warm-blooded woman by this time, living all day and every day in the natural world of the farmyard, ready to break loose at the first touch of the hand of a live man if only he were the right one, and having no better relief for the fever of her womanhood than an occasional dance in the big barn at Kirk Michael Fair.
But then came her adventure with Stowell and Cell in the glen and it altered everything. Running down in her excitement she told her mother what had happened, and her mother, in a moment of tenderness, told Dan, and Dan, in the impurity of his heart, drew his own conclusions.
“It’s the Spaker’s son again,” he said, making a noise in his nostrils.
The young men had camped out there expressly to meet Bessie, and it wasn’t the first time the girl had gone up to them.
“Goodness sakes, man veen, how do thou know that? And what’s the harm done anyway?.” said Mrs. Collister.
“Wait and see what’s the harm, woman. Girls is not to trust when a wastrel like that is about. We’ve known it before now, haven’t we?”
To one other person Bessie told the story of the glen, and that was her chief friend, Susie Stephen, the English barmaid at the Ginger Hall Inn a girl of fair complexion and some good looks who had shocked the young wives of the parish by wearing short frocks, transparent stockings and a blouse cut low over the bosom.
It was at closing-time a few nights after the event, and as the girls stood whispering together by the half-open door, with the lights put out in the bar behind them, they squealed with laughter, laid hold of each other and shuddered.
The young men had gone from the glen by that time, but the August holidays were coming, so they decided to go up to Douglas on the Saturday following to dance off their excitement.
At five o’clock that day, having milked her cows, and given a drink of meal and water to her calves, Bessie was in her bedroom making ready for her journey.
It was a stuffy little one-eyed chamber over the dairy, entered from the first landing of the stairs, open to the whitewashed scraas (which gave it a turfy odour), having a skylight in the thatch, a truckle bed, a deal table for wash-stand and a few dried sheepskins on the floor for rugs.
Bessie threw off the big unlaced boots and the other garments of the cow-house, kicking the one into a corner and throwing the others in a disorderly mass on to the bed over her pink-and- white sun bonnet, washed to the waist and then folded her arms over each other in their warmth and roundness and laughed to herself in sheer joy of bounding health and conscious beauty.
While doing so she heard her step-father’s voice in the kitchen below, loud as usual and as full of protest, but she had a matter of more moment to think of now what to wear out of her scanty wardrobe.
The question was easily decided. After putting on white rubber shoes and white stockings, she drew aside a sheet on the wall that ran on a string and took down a white woollen skirt and a new cream-coloured blouse cut low at the neck like Susie’s.
But the anchor of her hope was her hat, which she was to wear for the first time, having bought it the day before in Ramsey. It was shaped like a shell, with a round lip in front, and to find the proper angle for it on her head was a perplexing problem. So she stood long and twisted about before an unframed sheet of silvered glass which hung by a nail on the wall, with a lash comb in her hand and a number of hat-pins across her mouth, while the floor creaked under her, and the conversation went on below.
She got it right at last, just tilted a little aside, to look pert and saucy, with her black hair, which was long and wavy, creeping up to it like a cushion. And then, standing oft’ from her glass to look at it again over her shoulder, with eyes that danced with delight, she turned to the door and walked with a buoyant step downstairs.
Dan Baldromma also had made an engagement for that day, handbills having been distributed in Ramsey during the morning saying that “Mr. Daniel Collister of Baldromma” would deliver an address in the market-place at seven o’clock in the evening.
At five Dan had strapped down the lever which stopped the flow of water on to his overshot wheel and stepped into the dwelling-house, where Liza, his wife, had laid tea for two and was blowing up a fire of dry gorse to boil the kettle.
“Tell your girl to put a lil rub on my Sunday boots,” he said.
“But she’s upstairs dressing for Douglas,” said Mrs. Collister.
“You don’t say?” said Dan. “So that’s the way she’s earning her living?”
“Chut, man,” said Mrs. Collister. “If a girl’s in life she wants aisement sometimes, doesn’t she? And her ragging and tearing to keep the farm going, and a big wash coming on next week, too.”
“Well, that’s good! That’s rich! I thought it was myself that was keeping the farm going. Douglas, you say? Well, well! I wonder at you, encouraging your girl to go to such places, and you a bound Methodist. Tell her to put a rub on my boots, ma’am.”
“I’ll do it myself, Dan,” said Mrs. Collister. “It’s little enough time the girl will have to catch the train, and her fixing on her new hat, too.”
“New hat, eh?”
“Aw, yes, man, the one she bought at Miss Corkul’s yesterday.”
“What a woman! And you telling me, when you got five goolden sovereigns out of me on Monday that she was for wearing it at the Sulby Anniversary. I wonder you are not afraid for your quarterly ticket.”
“But it was only the girl’s half year’s wages, and the labourer is worthy of his hire. Thou art always saying so at the Cross anyway.”
“Hould thy tongue, woman, and don’t be milking that ould cow any more it’s dry, I tell thee.”
It was at this moment that Bessie came downstairs, and Dan who was on the three-legged stool before the fire, making wry faces as he dragged off his mill-boots with a boot-jack, fell on her at first with his favourite weapon, irony.
“Aw, the smart you are in your new hat, girl smart tremenjous!”
“I didn’t think you’d have the taste to like it,” said Bessie, sitting at the table.
“Taste, is it?” said Dan. ” Aw, the grand we are! The pride that’s in some ones is extraordinary though. There’ll be no holding you! You’ll be going up and up! Your mother has always been used of a poor man’s house and the wind above the thatch. But you’ll be wanting feather beds and marble halls, I’m thinking.”
“They won’t be yours to find then, so you needn’t worry,” said Bessie.
“You think not? I’m not so sure of that. Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upwards …. So you’re for Douglas, are you?”
“Yes, I am, if you’ll let me take my tea in time for the train.”
“Aisy, bogh, aisy!” said Mrs. Collister.
“Well, you’re your own woman now, so I suppose you’ve got lave to go,” said Dan.
And then rising to his stockinged feet, his face hard and all his irony gone, he added, ” But I’m my own man, too, and this is my own house, I’m thinking, and if you’re not home for eleven o’clock to-night, my door will be shut on you.”
Bessie leapt up from the table.
“Shut your door if you like. There’ll be lots of ones to open theirs,” she cried, and swept out of the house.
“There you are, woman!” said Dan. ” What did I say? Imperent uncommon and dirty with the tongue! She’ll have to clane it tills time though. If she’s not back for eleven she’ll take the road and no more two words about it.”
Mrs. Collister struggled to her feet and followed Bessie, pretending she had forgotten something.
Bessie stopped at the end of the ” street ” and her mother hobbled up to her.
“Be home for eleven, bogh,” she whispered. “It’s freckened mortal I am that himself has some bad schame on.”
“What schame?” asked Bessie.
“I don’t know what, but something, so give him no chance.”
“What do I care about his chance?”
“Aw, bolla veen, bolla veen, haven’t I enough to bear with thy father and thee? Catch the ten train back promise me, promise me.”
“Very well, I promise,” said Bessie, and at the next moment she was gone.
Five minutes later, arm-in-arm with Susie, she was swinging down the road to the railway station for Douglas.
The little gay town, when they reached it, was at full tide,
with pianos banging in the open-windowed houses, guitars twanging in the streets, and lines of young men marching along the pavements and singing in chorus. The girls, fresh from their twinkling village by the lonely hills, with the river burrowing under the darkness of the bridge, were almost dizzy with the sights and sounds.
When they came skipping down the steep streets to the front, and plunged into the electric light which illuminated the bay, they could scarcely restrain themselves from running. And when, bubbling with the animal life which had been suppressed, famished and starved in them, they passed through the turn-stile to the dancing-palace and hurried down the tunnel of trees, lit by coloured lamps, and saw the stream of white light which came from the open door, and heard the crash of the band and the drumming of the dancers within, their feet were scarcely touching the ground and they felt as if they wanted to fly. And when at last, having entered the hall, the whole blazing scene burst on them in a blinding flash, they drew up with a breathless gasp.
One moment they stood by the door with blinking and sparkling eyes, their linked arms quivering in close grip. Then Bessie, who was the first to recover from the intoxicating shock, looked up and around, and saw Stowell and Gell sitting in the gallery.
“Good sakes alive,” she whispered, ” they’re there!”
“Who? The gentlemen?”
“Yes, in the front row. Be quiet, girl. They see us. Don’t look up. They might come down.”
And then the girls laughed with glee at their conscious make-believe, and their arms quivered again to the rush of their warm blood.
“Alick, isn’t that our young friend of the glen?”
“Bessie Collister? Where?”
“Down there, standing with the fair girl, just inside the door.”
“Well, yes, upon my word, I think it is!”
“I’ve a great mind to go down to them. Let us go.”
“No? Really? In a place like this?”
“Why not, man?”
“Well, if you don’t mind, I don’t.”
A few minutes later, in an interval between the dances, Victor, coming behind Bessie, touched her on the shoulder.
“How are those sweet -smelling heifers still grazing on the mountains?”
Bessie, who had watched the young men coming downstairs, and felt them at her back, turned with a look of surprise, then laughed merrily and introduced Susie. For a few nervous moments there were the light nothings which at such times are the only wisdom.
Then the violins began to flourish for another dance, and the two couples paired off Victor with Bessie and Susie with Gell.
Victor took Bessie’s hand with a certain delicacy to which she was quite unaccustomed and which flattered her greatly. The dance was a waltz, and she had never waltzed before, so they had to go carefully at first, but when the dance was coming to an end she was swinging to the rhythm of the orchestra as if she had waltzed a hundred times.
In the interval the two couples came together again, and there was much general chatter and laughter. Gell joined freely hi both, and if at first he had had any backward thoughts of the promise he had given to his father they were gone by this time.
Another dance began and without changing partners they set off afresh, Stowell taking Bessie’s hand with a firmer grasp and Bessie holding to his shoulder with a stronger sense of possession. His nerves were tingling. Turning round and round among women’s smiling faces, and with Bessie’s smiling face by his side, he had the sense of sweeping his partner along with an energy of physical power he had never felt before.
When the orchestra stopped the second time and they went in search of their companions, they discovered Susie on a seat, panting and perspiring, and Gell fanning her with the brim of his straw hat.
Victor’s excitement was becoming feverish. He wanted Bessie to himself, and during the third dance he felt himself dragging her to the opposite side of the hall. She knew what he was doing, and found it enchanting to be carried off by sheer force.
When the dance came to an end Victor put Bessie’s moist hand through his arm and walked up and down with her. Her throat was throbbing and her breast rising and falling under her low-cut blouse. They spoke little, but sometimes he turned his head to look at her, and then she turned her eyes to his. He thought her black eyes were looking blacker than ever.
The evening was now at its zenith, and the orchestra was tuning up for the ” shadow-dance.” The white lights on the walls went out, and over the arc lamps in the glass roof a number of coloured disks were passed, to throw shadows over the dancers, as of the sunrise, the sunset, the moon and the night with its stars. The dance itself was of a nondescript kind in which at intervals, the man, with a whoop, lifted his partner off her feet and swung her round him in his arms a sort of symbol of marriage by capture.
When the shadow-dance ended there was much hand-clapping among the dancers. It had to be repeated, this tune with a more rapid movement and to the accompaniment of a song, which, being sung by the men in chorus, made the hall throb like the inside of a drum. Many of the dancers fell out exhausted, but Victor and Bessie kept up to the last.
Then the big side doors were thrown open, and amid a babel of noise, cries and laughter, nearly all the dancers trooped out of the hall into the garden to cool. Victor gave his arm to Bessie and they went out also.
Lights gleamed here and there in the darkness of the trees, throwing shadows full of mystery and charm. After a while the orchestra within was heard beginning again, and most of the dancers hastened back to the hall but Victor said,
“Let us stay out a little longer.”
Bessie agreed and foe some minutes more they wandered through the garden, in and out of the electric light, with the low murmur of the sea coming to them from the shore and the muffled music from the hall.
She was breathing deeply, and he was feeling a little dizzy. They found themselves talking in whispers, both in the Anglo -Manx, and then laughing nervously.
“Did you raelly, raelly see the young colts racing on the tops, though?”
“‘Deed no, not I, woman. But I belave in my heart I know who did.”
At that word, and the touch of his hand about her waist, she made a nervous laugh, and turned to him, her eyes closed, her lips parted and her white teeth showing, and they drew together in a long kiss.
At the next moment a clock struck coldly through the still air from the tower of a neighbouring church and Bessie broke away.
“Gracious me, that must be ten o’clock. I have to catch the ten train home.”
“You can’t now. It’s impossible,” he said, and he tried to hold her.
“I must I promised,” she cried, and she bounded off. He called and followed a few steps, but she was gone.
Feeling like a torn wound he returned to the dancing-hall. The scene was the same as before but it seemed crude and tame and even dead to him now. Where was Gell? He must have gone to see the fair girl off by the ten train. He would come back presently.
Victor returned to the hotel. To compose his nerves while he waited he called for another half bottle of wine, and drank it, iced. The music was still murmuring in his ears. After a while it stopped; there were a few bars of the National Anthem, and then the pattering like rain of innumerable feet on the paved way from the dancing-hall to the promenade. It was now a few minutes to eleven, and remembering that that was the hour of the last train to the north he walked up to the station.
A noisy throng was on the platform, chiefly young Manx farming people of both sexes, returning to their homes in the country. The open third-class carriages were full of them, all talking and. laughing together.
Victor walked down the line of the train and looked into each of the dim-lit carriages for Bessie, thinking it impossible that she could have caught the earlier one. Not finding her, he inquired if the ten train had left promptly and was told it had been half-an-hour late. She must have gone.
He got into an empty first-class compartment, folded his arms and closed his eyes and the train started. While it ran into the dark country*the farming people, being unable to talk with comfort, sang. Over the rolling of the wheels their singing came in a dull roar, and when the train stopped at the wayside stations it went up in the sudden silence in a wild discord of male and female voices.
Victor was beginning to feel cold. He put up the window. His brain which had been blurred was becoming lucid. He recalled the scenes he had taken part in and some of them seemed to him now to have been crude and common and even a little vulgar. He thought of Bessie and felt ashamed.
When the train drew up at the station for the glen he turned his face from the direction of the mill, and to defeat a desire to look at it he opened the window at the other side of the carriage and put out his head.
The free air was refreshing to body and brain, but when his eyes had become accustomed to the darkness he saw the broad belt of the trees of Ballamoar. That brought a stabbing memory of Janet and the promise he bad given her, and then of the Deemster and his conversation with the Governor.
He began to shiver, and to feel as if he were awakening from a fit of moral intoxication. To-morrow he would go home, and since he could not trust himself any longer, he would put himself out of the reach of temptation by living at Ballamoar in future.
When the tram drew up at Ramsey it was half-past twelve. As he walked out of the quiet station into the echoing streets of the sleeping town he was drawing a deep breath and. saying to himself:
It was all over.
THE MASTER OF MAN
DAN BALDROMMA’S meeting in the market-place had not been the success he had expected. Standing on the steps of the town lamp, between the Saddle Inn and the Ship Store, he had discoursed on the rights of the labourer to the land he cultivated.
The Earth was the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof. Therefore it could not belong to the big ones who were adding field to field least of all to their wastrels of sons who were doing nothing but hang about the roads and the glens to ruin the daughters of decent men. The moral of this was that the land belonged to the people and the time was coming when they would pay no rent for it.
Dan’s audience of Manx farmers had listened to this new gospel with Manx stolidity, but a group of young English visitors, clerks from the cotton factories, looking down from the balcony of the Saddle Inn, had received it with open derision.
Dan had ignored their opposition as long as possible, merely saying, when his audience laughed at their sallies,
“We must make allowance for some ones, comrades children still, they’ve not been rocked enough.”
But when at length they had called him Bradlaugh Junior and Ingersoll the Second and told him to keep his tongue off better men, Dan had looked up at- the balcony and cried,
“If you’re calling me by them honoured names I’m taking my hat off to you ” (suiting the action to the word), ” but if you’re saying you are better men we’ll be going into a back coort some-wheres and taking off our jackets and westcots.”
To preserve the peace the police had had to put an end to the meeting, whereupon Dan, spitting contemptuously and snorting about “The Cottonies” and “the Cotton balls,” had harnessed his horse at the Plough Inn and driven home in a dull rage.
It had been ten o’clock when he got back to Baldromma, and after unharnessing his horse in his undrained stable, and wiping his best boots with a wisp of straw, he had stepped round to the kitchen.
His wife was there, beating time on the hearthstone to a long-drawn Methodist hymn while she stirred the porridge in a pot that hung over a slow peat fire.
“Tell me the old, old story of Jesus and His love.”
“Your daughter isn’t back then?” said Dan with a growl.
“Be raisonable, man,” said Mrs. Collister. ” Eleven o’clock thou said, and it’s only a piece after ten yet.”
She poured out the porridge and hobbled to the dairy for a basin of milk, and then Dan, after a sour silence, sat down to his supper.
“They were telling me in Ramsey,” he said, making noises with his spoon, ” that the Spaker’s son went up to Douglas to-day.”
“Like enough!” salt-Mrs. Collister.
“I’ll go bail your girl went up to meet him.”
“Sakes alive, man veen, what for should thou be Baying that?”
“She’s fit enough for it anyway.”
“But what has the girl done? Twenty-four years for Spring and not a man at her yet.”
“Chut! Once they cut the cables that sort is the worst that’s going. She’d be an angel itself though to stand up against a waistrel like yander.”
“Bessie will be home for eleven,” said Mrs. Collister.
“She’d better, or she’ll find Dan Baldromma a man of his word, ma’am.”
After that there was another sour silence in which both watched the open-faced clock whose pendulum swung by the wall. Tick, tick tick, said the clock. To the man it was going slowly, to the woman it seemed to fly. But hardly had the fingers pointed to eleven, or the chain begun to shake for the first stroke of the hour, when Dan was at the door, bolting and locking it.
“Will thou not give the girl a few minutes’ grace, even?”
“Not half a minute.”
“But the ten train hasn’t whistled at the bridge yet.”
“I’ve nothing to do with trains, Misthress Collister. Eleven o’clock, I said, and now it’s eleven and better.”
“But surely thou’ll never shut thy door on a poor girl in the middle of the night?”
“There’s others that’s open to her she said so herself, remember. She’s not for coming home to-night, so take your candle and get to bed, woman.”
“But the train must be late I’ll wait up myself for her.”
“You might burn your candle to the snuff she’s not for coming, I tell you.”
“But she promised me faithfully promised me . . . .”
“Get to bed, ma’am. I wonder you’re not thinking shame, making excuses for the bad doings of your by-child, and you a Methodist.”
The woman was on the verge of tears.
“Shame enough it is, Dan Collister, when a mother has to shut her heart to her own child if she’s not to show disrespect to her husband.”
In the intimacy of the bedroom Dan threw off all disguise. Winding his silver-lever watch and hanging it with its Albert on a hook in the bed-post, and then sitting on the side of the bed to undress he almost crowed over his prospects. That son of the Speaker would have to pay for his whistle this time! Baldromma would be his by heirship, and a father had a right to damages for the loss of the services of his daughter.
” There’ll be no more rent going paying by me, I’m thinking,” said Dan.
So that was his scheme! Mrs. Collister stood long in her cotton nightdress, fumbling with the strings of her night-cap, and wondering if she could ever lie down with the man again.
“Are you never for putting out that candle and coming to bed, woman?”
Half-an-hour passed and the mother lay still and listened. Dan was asleep by this time and breathing audibly, but there was no sound outside save the slipping of the water from the fixed wheel ind the stamping of the horse in the stable. At last came the whistling of the train, and a few minutes later, Bessie’s step on the ” street ” and then the rattling of the latch of the kitchen door.
Mrs. Collister tried to slip out of bed without awakening Dan, but her sciatica had made her limbs stiff and she knocked over the candlestick that stood on a chair beside her. This awakened her husband, and hearing the noise downstairs, he rolled out of bed, saying, in a threatening voice,
“Lie thou there I’ll settle her.”
He went out to the stairhead, slamming the bedroom door behind him, threw up the sash of a window on the landing, and shouted into the darkness:
“Me, of course,” cried Bessie.
A fierce altercation followed, in which Dap’s voice was harsh and coarse, and Bessie’s shrill with anger.
“Then find your bed where you’ve found your company,” shouted Dan. And shutting down the window with a crash he returned to the bedroom.
The mother heard Bessie going off, and the fading sound of the girl’s footsteps tore her terribly. But after a few minutes more Dan was making noise in his nostrils again and she got up and crept downstairs to the kitchen (where the dull red of the dying turf left just enough light to see by), slid the bolts back noiselessly, opened the door and called in a whisper:
No answer came back to her, so she stepped out to the end of the cobbled way, barefooted and in her nightdress and nightcap, and called again:
Still there was no reply; so she returned to the kitchen, leaving the door on the latch, and sat for a long hour hi a rocking chair by the hearth (souvenir of the days when Bessie was a child, and she had rocked her to sleep in it), fighting, in the misery of her heart, with the black thought which Dan had put there.
At length she remembered Susie and persuaded herself that Bessie must have gone to the Ginger Hall to sleep.
“Yes, Bessie must have gone to Susie.”
Being comforted by this thought, and feeling cold, for the fire had gone out, she crept upstairs. It was hard to go by Bessie’s room on the landing. Every night for years she had stopped there on her way to bed. And in the winter, when the wind in the trees in the glen made a roar like the sea, she had called through the closed door: ” Art thou warm enough, Bessie, or will I bring thee my flannel petticoat?” And now the door was open and the room was empty!
Dan was still asleep when she got back to the bedroom and her approach did not awaken him, so she fumbled her way to the bed (knowing where she was when her feet touched the warm sheepskin that lay by the side of it) and then opened the clothes and crept in.
The cold air she brought with her awakened Dan, and he turned on the pillow and said,
“You’ve not been letting in that girl of yours, have you?”
Dan made a grunt of satisfaction, and then said, with his face to the wall,
“Remember, you’ll have to be up early to milk for yourself in the morning.”
Then came a yawn, and then a snore, and then silence fell on the little house.
Bessie had run all the way to the station and then found that the train had nearly half-an-hour to wait for the passengers by the last of the day’s steamers. The carriages were full of English visitors, but there were very few Manx people and she could not see Susie anywhere. This vexed her with the thought of having to tear herself away a good hour earlier than anybody else. It was all her mother’s fault getting her to make that ridiculous promise.
From such thoughts, as the train ran into the country, her mind swung back to the memory of Stowell. She recalled his looks, his smile, his whole person and every word he had said to her down to the moment of that burning kiss.
What pleased her most was the certainty that he had never kissed a girl before. The trembling of his lips, when they were lip to lip, told her that. And in spite of all that had been said of him she was sure he had never had a woman in his arms until to-night never!
And she? Well, she had never before been kissed by a man. Alick. Gell? She was only a child then. Kiss-in-the-ring at Michael Fair? Chut! A girl felt that no more than the wind blowing over her bare cheek.
By the clocks at the wayside stations she saw she was going to be late getting home, but she didn’t care. Dan Baldromma wasn’t fool enough to shut her out. But let him if he liked to! Where would he go to get another girl to work for her wages summer and winter, as if the creatures had been her own, up all hours calving, and out before the dawn in the lambing season, when the hoar-frost was on the fields?
It was twenty minutes past eleven when she got down at the glen station, and there was Susie getting down also! Susie was in the sulks. Not only had Bessie deliberately lost her in the dancing-hall, but after she had hurried away to catch the ten train, knowing Bessie had promised to return by it, she had had to come back alone!
This added to Bessie’s vexation, and when she reached the house, and found the door locked on her, it expressed itself in her hand when she rattled the kitchen latch.
Then came the scene with Dan Baldromma who shouted down at her from the upper window as if she had been a thief it was suffocating! And when he said, ” Find your bed where you’ve found your company,” and banged down the sash on her, she flung away, crying, as well as she could for the anger that was choking her,
“So I will, and you’ll be sorry for it some day.”
At that moment she meant to sleep with Susie at the Ginger Hall Inn, and offer herself next day to one or other of the farmers who had so often asked for her. But she had not gone many steps before she reflected that all the farmers’ houses would be full now and nobody could take her in until Michaelmas.
No matter! She might have been no better off. Those old farmers were all the same. If it wasn’t the bullying of brutes like Dan Baldromma it was the meanness of old hypocrites like Teare of Lezayre, who laid foundation stones, and put purses of money on top of them, and then went home and gave his girls cold potatoes and salt herrings for supper!
That made her think of young Willie Teare. She had met him in Ramsey the day before, when he had said he was tired of slaving for his father, and meant to set up in a farm for himself as soon as he could find the right wife. But no thank you, no marrying with a farmer for her! After a woman had worn herself to the bone, keeping things together and gathering the stock, and she was doubled up with sciatica, and ought to be in bed, with somebody to wait on her, the husband was nagging and ragging her from morning to night. That was marriage! Hadn’t she seen enough of it?
Bessie had reached the Ginger Hall by this time, and, seeing a light in Susie’s window, she was about to call up when (with Dan’s insult ‘ Find your bed, etc.’ still rankling in her mind) a startling thought seized her and made her heart leap and the hot blood to rush through and through her. There was one way to escape from Dan Baldromma and his tyrannies – Mr. Stowell!
Mr. Stowell would return by the last train to Ramsey, having bachelor rooms there, in which he lived alone so people were saying. If she were to meet him on his arrival and tell him what had happened he would find some way out for her. Of course he would! She was sure he would!
Ashamed? Why should she be? People had said all they could say about a girl like her while she was a baby in arms, and who was there to say anything now?
And then Mr. Stowell wouldn’t care either. He was rich, therefore he had no need to be afraid of anybody. And if he were fond of a girl he would stand up for her and defy the whole island that was the sort of young man he was!
The last train could not reach Ramsey before midnight, and it might be later. It was only half -past eleven yet. There was still time. Why shouldn’t she?
“‘Find your bed,’ indeed! We’ll see! We’ll see!”
Three-quarters of an hour later she was approaching Ramsey.
The stars had gone out; the night was becoming gloomy; she was tired and her spirit of defiance was breaking down under a chilling thought. What if Mr. Stowell did not want her? It was one thing for a young man to amuse himself with a girl in the glen or in a dancing-hall, but to become responsible for her ….
“If he felt like that and found me in Ramsey what would he think?”
Afraid and ashamed she was slowing down with the thought of returning to the Ginger Hall when she heard the train whistle behind her, and looking back, saw its fiery head forging through the darkness. That sent the hot blood bounding to her heart again, and within a few minutes she was walking slowly down the main street of the town, which was all shut up and silent.
She knew where Mr. Stowell’s rooms were in Old Post Office Place and that he would have to come this way to get to them. She heard the train drawing up in the station, the passengers trooping out, parting in the square and shouting their good-nights as they went off by the streets to the north and south. One group was coming behind, on the other side of the way, laughing over something they had seen at a place of entertainment. They passed and turned down a side street and the echo of their voices died away at the back of the houses.
Then came a few moments of sickening silence. Bessie, as she walked on, could hear nothing more, and another chilling thought came to her. What if Mr. Stowell had not returned by the train and were sleeping the night in Douglas?
All her courage and defiance ebbed away, and she saw herself for the first time as she was a miserable girl, cast out of her step-father’s house, in which she had worked so hard but in which nothing belonged to her, homeless, penniless (for she had spent her half -year’s wages on her clothes) without a shelter, in the middle of the night, alone!
It was beginning to rain and Bessie was crying. All at once she heard a firm step behind her. It was he! She was sure of it! Her heart again beat high and all her nerves began to tingle. He was overtaking her. She turned her head aside and wiped her eyes. He was walking beside her. She could hear his breathing.
“Good gracious, girl, what are you doing here?” And then she told him.
“The brute! The beast! Did you tell him your train was late?”
“No. He ought to have known that for himself.”
“So he ought. You are quite right there, Bessie. But didn’t
your mother . . . .”
“Mother is afraid of her life of the man. She daren’t say anything.”
“Was there any other house he might have thought you would go to any neighbour’s, any relation’s?”
“I have no relations, Sir.”
“Ah! . . . Then he deliberately shut you out of his house in the middle of the night, knowing you had nowhere else to go to?”
“The damned scoundrel!”
Bessie, who had been crying again, was looking up at him with wet but shining eyes.
“Well, what are you going to do now? Do you know anybody
in town who can take you in for to-night?”
“Then I must knock up one of the Inns for you. Here’s the old Plough what do you say to the Plough?”
“Dan Baldromma goes there Mrs. Beatty would get into trouble.”
“The Saddle then?”
“I go there myself, every market-day, with butter and eggs people would be talking.”
There was only the Mitre Hotel left, and Stowell himself shrank from that. To go to the Mitre with a girl at this time of night would be like shouting into the mouth of a megaphone. Within twenty-four hours the whole town would hear the story, with every explanation except the right one.
“But, good heavens, girl, I can’t go home and go to bed and leave you to walk about in the streets. ”
“I’ll do whatever you think best, Sir,” said Bessie, crying again and stammering.
They were at the corner of Old Post Office Place by this time, and, after a moment’s hesitation, he took the girl’s hand and drew it through his arm and then turned quickly in the opposite direction, saying:
“Come, then, let us think.”
It was still raining but Stowell was scarcely aware of that. With the girl walking close by his side he was only conscious of a return of the faint dizziness he had felt in the garden at Douglas. To conquer this and to keep up his indignation about Dan Baldromma, while they walked round the square of streets, he asked what the man had said when he finally shut down the window.
“He said I was to find my bed where I had found my company,” said Bessie, stammering again and with her head down.
“Meaning that you had been in bad company?”
“The foul-minded ruffian!”
His nerves were quivering, and he knew that the hot tide of his indignation was ebbing rapidly. Suddenly an idea came to him and he felt an immense relief Mrs. Quayle! She was a good, religious woman, who had seen sorrow herself, and that was the best kind to go to in a time of trouble. She would take Bessie in for to-night, and to- morrow they would all three go back together to Baldromma, and then then he would tell that old blackguard what he thought of him.
“That’s it, Bessie! I wonder why in the world I didn’t think of it before?”
Bessie was answering ” Yes ” and ” Yes,” but her beaming eyes were looking sideways up at him, and the blood was pounding through his body with a rush.
They had got back to the corner of Old Post Office Place when Stowell stopped and said:
“Wait! Mrs. Quayle’s house is rather a long way off one of the little fishermen’s cottages on the south beach, you know. I’m not quite sure that she has a second bed. And then she might be alarmed if two of us turned up at this time of night. What if I run over first and make sure?”
Again Bessie answered “Yes” and “Yes.”
“But it’s raining heavily now, and, of course, you can’t stay out in the streets any longer. Here are my rooms just here. Why shouldn’t you step in and wait? I shall have to go upstairs for an overcoat anyway.”
Bessie showed no embarrassment, and Victor felt at first that what he was doing was something a little courageous and rather noble. But as soon as they reached the door, and he began to fumble with his key to open it, he became nervous and a voice within him seemed to say, “Take care!”
“Come in,” he said bravely, but when Bessie brushed him on entering the house he trembled, and from that moment onwards he was conscious of a struggle between his blood and his brain.
As he was closing the door on the inside he saw that there was a letter in the letter-box at the back of it, but he left it there, and held out his hand to Bessie to guide her up the stairs, saying:
“It’s dark here. Give me your hand. Now come this way. Don’t be afraid. You shan’t fall. I’ll take care of you.”
There were two short flights and then a landing, from which a door opened on either side on the right to Victor’s offices, on the left to his living-rooms. He opened the door on the left, leaving Bessie to stand on the landing until he had found matches and lit the gas.
He was long in finding them, and while rummaging in the dark room he heard the girl’s quick breathing behind him.
“Ah, here they are at last!” he cried in a tremulous voice, and then he lit up a branch under a white globe on one side of the mantelpiece.
“Now you can come in,” he said, and turning to the window he loosened the cord of the Venetian blind and it came clattering down.
Bessie stepped into the room. It was a warm and cosy chamber, with a thick Persian carpet, two easy chairs, an open book-case full of law books, a desk-table with ink-stand, writing-pad and reading-lamp (looking so orderly as to suggest that no work was done there) and a large pier-glass with a small bust of a pretty Neapolitan girl and a little silver-cased clock ha front of it. The clock was striking one.
“One o’clock! It was stupid to stay out in the streets so long, wasn’t it?”
“Your hat is dripping. Hadn’t you better take it off for the few minutes you’ll have to stay?”
“Do; and I’ll light the gas-fire a bachelor has to have gas-fires,
While he was down on his knees lighting the fire, and regulating its burning from blue to red, Bessie, with trembling fingers, was drawing the pins out of her hat the wonderful new hat of a few hours ago, now wet and bedraggled. In doing so she pulled down her hair and made a faint cry,
“Don’t mind that at this time of night,” said Victor. But at sight of the girl’s face, now framed in its shower of waving black hair, his nervousness increased. He had always thought her a good-looking girl, but he had never known before that she was beautiful.
“My coat is wet, too. I must change it,” he said, getting up and going towards his bedroom door. ” It would be foolish to put an overcoat over a wet jacket, wouldn’t it?”
“But your blouse seems to be soaking. Why shouldn’t you take it off and dry it at the fire while I’m away at Mrs. Quayle’s?”
While he was in the inner room, opening and closing his wardrobe, and changing his wet coat for a dry one, he kept on talking. Mrs. Quayle was a good creature who had lost her husband in that January gale a few years ago. She would take Bessie in he was sure she would. But this was only to drown the clamour of two voices within himself, one of which was saying, ” Must you go?” and the other ” Certainly you must! Be a man and play the game, for God’s sake.”
When he returned to the sitting-room the breath was almost smitten out of his body by what he saw. Bessie had taken off her blouse, and was kneeling by the fire to dry it. She did not raise her eyes to Ms, and after a first glance he did not look at her. Opening the outer door to the landing, where the hat-rail stood, he pulled on a cap and dragged on an ulster, saying, in a nervous voice,
“It’s only a hop-skip-and-a-jump to Mrs. Quayle’s. I shall be back presently.”
Suddenly there came a flash of lightning which lit up the dark bedroom, and then a clap of thunder, loud and long, which rattled the window frames.
“It would be foolish to go out in a storm like that, wouldn’t it?” he said.
“‘Deed it would,” said Bessie. She had risen with a start, but now she knelt again and held her steaming blouse before the fire.
Stowell took off his cap and ulster and dropped them on to a chair. Then he walked about the room, trying to keep his eyes from the girl, and to fill the difficult silence by talking on indifferent subjects other storms he had seen in other countries.
After a while the thunder went off in the direction of Ireland, its echo becoming fainter and fainter in the sonority of the sea.
“It’s gone now I can go,” he said.
But hardly had he taken up his cap again when the rain, which had ceased for a moment, came in a sudden torrent.
“Only a thunder shower it will soon be over,” he said.
But the rain went on and on. Good Lord, were the very forces of nature conspiring to keep him there all night?
It was half-past one by the clock on the mantelpiece, and the rain was still pelting on the pavement of the street outside with a sound like that of an army in retreat. Stowell was feeling alternately hot and cold, and the voice within him was saying, ” Must you go? You would be drenched through before you got back from Mrs. Quayle’s, and the girl would be as wet in getting there as if you had dropped her into the sea.” After a few minutes more he said,
“Bessie, I’m afraid we shall have to give up the idea of going to Mrs. Quayle’s.”
“But you can stay here, and I can go over to the Mitre.”
“It’s nothing only two yards away.”
Johnny Kelly, the boots, slept on the ground floor he could get him up without ringing the bell. Of course he would have to tell the old man some cock-and-bull story that he had lost his key or something.
“But it’s the very thing. I wonder I didn’t think of it before.”
He half hoped and half feared she might make some further protest. But she did not, so he picked up his cap and ulster and was making for the door when he thought of the gas. Would Bessie, who had been brought up in a thatched cottage, know how to put it out?
“Well, no, no,” she stammered.
“It’s quite simple. You turn the tap, so . …”
He had to kneel by her side to show her, and he was feeling the
warm glow he had felt in the glen.
“But not being used of it . …”
“Then I know the reading-lamp!”
He leapt up to light it, and having done so, he turned out the branch under the white globe, saying, with a laugh, it was lucky he had thought of the lamp, for if old Johnny had seen the light in the window the story of the key would have sounded thin, wouldn’t it?
Then she laughed too, and they laughed together, but their laughter broke into a sharp and breathless silence.
He carried the lamp into the bedroom, put it on the table by the bedside and then pulled down the white window-blind, breaking the cord by the tug of his trembling fingers. He was feeling as if another storm, a storm of emotions, were now thundering within him. ” Must you go?” ” You must! You shall! Good Lord, could a man of any conscience …. Never! Never!”
When he returned to the sitting-room Bessie had risen to her feet.
She was standing at the opposite side of the mantelpiece and the intoxicating red light of the fire was over her. Stowell thought he had never seen anything so beautiful. But he could not trust himself to look twice.
” You’ll be all right here, Bessie,” he said, in a loud voice, snatching up his coat and cap and making for the door. ” You can let yourself out of the house as early as you like in the morning; and if you decide to go back to that damned old devil at Baldromma you can tell him from me where you passed the night, and I’ll stand up for you why shouldn’t I?”
Then he heard a breathless cry behind him, and then the words,
” Must you go?”
He stopped and turned. Was it Bessie who had spoken? She had taken a step towards him, was breathing irregularly and looking at him with gleaming eyes.
He felt as if the floor were rocking under his feet, as if the walls were reeling round him, as if he were seeing the face of woman for the first time.
At the next moment they were clasped in each other’s arms.
THE CALL OF THE BALLAMOARS
“WHAT a mistake! What a hideous blunder!”
Stowell, who had slept little, was awakening as from a bad dream. A dull lead-coloured light was filtering through the white window-blind.
He could not help seeing it Bessie was not as pretty as he had thought. There was something common about her beauty when she was asleep which had been effaced by her eyes while she was awake.
Ashamed to look any longer he stepped into the sitting-room. A close odour hung in the air. The gas fire was still burning, and Bessie’s blouse was lying, where she had flung it, on the floor. With a sense of moral and physical suffocation, he went downstairs and out into the streets.
The morning was fine and the dawn was breaking, but the town was still asleep. So great was the upheaval within himself that in some vague way he expected everything to look changed. But no, everything was the same the shops, the signs, the lamps, which had not yet been put out. There was no sound except that of his own footsteps on the pavement, and to deaden this he walked in the middle of the streets.
He wanted to be alone, to leave the town behind him. Turning northward he crossed the harbour bridge and made for the red pier which stood out into the bay with a light-house at the end of it.
The tide hummed far off on the shore. It was the bottom of the ebb. Trading schooners were lying half on their sides in the mud. Seagulls were calling over it. Sand, slime, sea-wrack and the broken refuse of the town lay uncovered at the harbour’s mouth, and the last draught of the ebbing water was playing about them with a guttural sound.
When he came to the light-house he saw that some fragments of stone and glass were lying about, but his mind was too confused to ask itself what had happened. He sat down on the light-house steps, looked down, into the harbour-basin and tried to think.
Good Lord, what a fool he had been! To ask the girl into his rooms, being who and what she was, alone, in the middle of the night, just after he had formed the resolution to go home and put himself out of the reach of temptation …. what a fool!
He thought of the stories people had told of him and how he had justified the very ugliest and worst of them …. what a fool I
He remembered what he had said to Janet, that no girl on the island or in the world had ever come to any harm through him, or ever should. That was only a little while ago and now …. what a fool!
He recalled the white heat of his indignation against Dan Baldromma for what he had done to his step-daughter. That was only last night, and now he himself …. what a fool I What a fool!
Then the sense of his folly gave way to a sense of shame. Down to yesterday he had lived a decent life. Reckless, heedless, careless, stupid perhaps, but decent anyway. And now …. what shame!
The light was then clearing, and raising his eyes he raw on the south beach a one-story fisherman’s cottage from which the smoke was rising. It was Mrs. Quayle’s cottage. She was making her early breakfast, and presently she would go to his room to make his. He shuddered at a vision of what she would find there the close air, the gas fire, the girl’s blouse on the floor, the girl herself …. how degrading it all was!
He saw Dan Baldromma ferreting out the facts (as of course he would, having to find excuses for his own barbarity), and then blazoning them abroad to his own disgrace and the discredit of his class. Or worse a hundredfold worse holding them as a threat over his father. What a disgusting bog he had strayed into!
He saw the truth leaking out one way or other and putting an end to his career at the bar. It was not the same here as in the greater communities, where a man might commit a fault and then submerge it in the fathomless tide of life. In this little island, where everybody knew everybody, it was the man himself who was submerged.
If the story of last night became known to anyone it would become known to everyone, from the Governor himself to the meanest beggar on the roads. No position of honour or authority would ever be possible to him after that. The black fact would be a clanking chain which he would have to drag after him as long as he lived.
When he thought of this that the event of one night might alter the whole course of his life, and bring scandal upon the Deemster, and that it was due to a miserable accident in the first instance the accident of meeting Bessie on the streets after midnight he was filled with a fierce and consuming rage, and for one bad moment he had an almost uncontrollable desire to return to his rooms and drive her out of them.
That horrified him. He hated himself for it, and after a while his self-pity gave place to pity for the girl.
“Good heavens, what are my risks compared to hers?” he asked himself.
The poor girl had so many excuses. Back in the past, before she was born even, she had been condemned and branded, and the damned hypocritical world had been deepening the injury every day since. If he had found her in the streets it was only because her brutal step-father had turned her from his door. And if she had come into his rooms it was because she had no other shelter.
She had been a good girl too. No other man had been allowed to lead her astray. He could hear her voice still, repeating his own words after him: “You will stand up for me, won’t you?” and he had promised that he would. He could not cast her off now without being a scoundrel. Could the son of Deemster Stowell be a scoundrel?
“No, by God!”
A few minutes later he saw himself going back to Bessie and saying, ” Look here, my dear girl. It was neither your fault nor mine, but take this, and this, and remember if you ever find it is not enough, there’ll be more where that comes from.”
But no, he could not do that either. If he made the girl take money he would put her in the position of a harlot; and once a woman accepted that position there was no bottom to the unguessed depths to which she might descend.
Bessie’s future stood up before him like a spectre. Other men, each more brutal than the last, quarrels, violence, all the miseries of such a life until some day, perhaps, some hideous fact with which he had had nothing to do, would look at him with accusing eyes and say,
“You are responsible for this, because you were the first.”
Down to that moment he had been thinking of the event of last night as a blunder, but now he saw it as a crime. To prevent the possible consequences of that crime he must keep the girl with him, take care of her, protect her as the saying was.
But no, that was impossible also. Justification for such a relation there might be no doubt was where law or custom or other impediment were keeping apart a man and woman who belonged together. But to put a girl into the position of a mistress, because she was unworthy to be a wife, and to hide her away behind a curtain of duplicity and lies, was to destroy her body and soul.
Again Bessie’s future stood up before him as a spectre that high-spirited girl who, but for him, might have married a decent man of her own class, and held her head proud, declining, after a few vain months of fine clothes and idleness, to the condition of a slattern, and going down to the dirt and degeneration of drink.
And then he saw that what had happened last night was not merely a crime it was a sin.
But what was he to do? What? What?
Just at that moment the sun had come up out of the sea in crimsoning clouds, and the white mist that is the shroud of night had risen above the houses of the town, the steeples of the churches, the hills and the mountain tops, and was vanishing away in that new birth of morning light that is the world’s daily resurrection.
“I know! I know!” he thought, and he leapt to his feet.
He had remembered something that Janet had said about the men of his family that it had always been a kind of religion with them to do the right. Four hundred years of the Ballamoars and not a stain on the name of any of them! That was something to be born to, wasn’t it? It was worth all the titles and honours the world had in it.
And then, in that moment of strange and solemn splendour, when the things of the other world appear to be as real as the things of this one, it seemed as if the Ballamoars were calling to him! Four hundred years of the dead Ballamoars were calling to the last of their sons “Do the right!”
“I must marry that girl,” he told himself.
But at the next moment there came, with the shock of a blow, the memory of his mother.
Marriage had always been associated in his mind with such different conditions. Such a different woman; somebody who would be your equal, perhaps your superior; somebody who would sustain and inspire you; somebody who would help you to feel the throbbing pulse of life, and listen to all the suffering hearts that beat; somebody who, if she had to go before you, would leave behind her, for as long as your life should last, the fragrance of flowers and the halo of a holy saint.
That was marriage as he had always thought of it. And now this girl illiterate, inadequate, with that mother, that father …. in the presence of the Deemster …. the home of Isobel Stanley …. Oh God!
Then a mocking voice seemed to say,
“Good Lord, what a joke! If every man who ever made a tragic blunder (there have been hundreds of thousands of you) had acted on your exaggerated sense of responsibility, what a mess the old world would be in by this time! Why, there is scarcely a man alive who would not laugh at you and call you a fool.”
“Let them,” he thought, for louder at that moment than any other voice was the voice that cried,
“Do the right!”
The marriage need not take place immediately. Bessie could be educated. She was bright; there was no saying how quickly she might develop. That would soften the blow to his father. And anyhow the Deemster would see that he was trying to be true to his blood, his race.
“Yes, yes, I must do the right; whatever it may cost me.”
But then came another chilling thought. Love! There could be no love in such a marriage. This brought, with the pain of a bleeding wound, the memory of Fenella.
In spite of all he had said to himself through so many years he had never really been reconciled to the loss of her. Down in some dark and secret chamber of his consciousness there had always been a phantom hope that notwithstanding her devotion to her work for women, and the dedication to celibacy (as stern as the consecration of the veil) which she believed to be demanded by it, Fenella would return to the island, and his great love would be rewarded.
That had been the real cause of his idleness. He had been waiting, waiting, waiting for Fenella to come back and make it worth while …. and now …. by his own act …. the consequences of it …. Oh God! Oh God!
For the first time, save once since he was a child, he felt tears in his eyes, but he brushed them away impatiently.
“It’s too late to think of that now,” he thought.
A duty claimed him. He must put such dreams away. Besides where was the merit of doing the right if you had not to sacrifice something? Love might be the light of life, but men and women all the world over had for one reason or other to marry without it. Millions of hearts in all ages were like old battlefields, with dead things, which nobody knew of, lying about in the dark places. And yet the world went on.
He might have struggles, heart-aches, heart-hunger, and more than he could do to keep the pot boiling, with the fire out and the hearth cold, but nobody need know anything about that. This girl need never know. Penella need never know. Nobody need know. It was a matter for himself only.
“Yes, yes, I must do the right,” he kept on saying, “whatever it may cost me.”
Having arrived at this decision he felt an immense relief and got up to go back.
The windows of the town were reflecting the morning sun and the smoke was rising from the chimneys. He saw an elderly woman, with a little shawl pinned over her head and under her chin, trudging along past the storm-cone station on the other side of the harbour. It was Mrs. Quayle, on her way to his rooms. But he shuddered no longer at the thought of her. She was a good creature and when she heard what he meant to do she would help him with the care of Bessie.
As he walked towards the town he told himself he had another reason now for setting to work ha earnest he had to justify what he was going to do in the eyes of the island and of the Deemster. Therefore the event of last night might be a good thing after all, little as he had thought so.
At the mouth of the bridge he met the harbour-master, whose face wore a look of dismay.
“This is a ter’ble shocking thing that has happened in the night, Mr. Stowell.”
Stowell caught his breath and asked “What?”
“Why, the light-house. Struck by lightning in the storm. Didn’t you see it, Sir?”
“Oh yes, of course, certainly.”
“I’m just after telegraphing to the Governor and the Receiver-General. The old light has gone out with the tide, Sir, and it will be middlin’ bad for the boats coming in at night until we get a new one.”
“It will, Captain, it will. Good-morning!”
His eyes were positively shining with joy as he walked sharply through the town, and as he opened his door he was saying to himself again,
“I must do the right, whatever it may cost me.”
He was closing the door on the inside when he saw in the letter-box the letter which had caught his eye last night. Now he could open it.
It was marked “Immediate.” Recognising the Ballamoar crest and Janet’s hand-writing, he trembled and turned pale.
“A line in frantic haste, dear, to say I have just heard from Miss Green that Fenella is crossing by the steamer due to arrive at eight o’clock this evening. She has left her Settlement and is coming back to stay in the island for good. I thought you might like to go up to Douglas to meet her. Trust me, dear, she will be simply delighted.
“Robbie Creer is taking this into town by hand, so that you may receive it at the earliest possible moment. I am frightfully excited, and oh, so glad and happy.”
Stowell reeled and laid hold of the hand-rail. And when at length he went upstairs he staggered as if he were carrying a crushing load.
END OF FIRST BOOK