[from Hall Caine The Deemster]

CHAPTER V

THE MANXMAN'S BISHOP

GILCRIST MYLREA had been confirmed Bishop and consecrated in England, but he had to be installed in his cathedral church at Peeltown with all the honours of the insular decrees. The ceremony was not an imposing one. Few of the native population witnessed it. The Manxman did not love the Church with a love too fervent. " Pazon, pazon," he would say, "what can you expect from the like o' that? Never no duck wasn't hatched by a drake."

It was no merit in the eyes of the people that the new Bishop was himself a Manxman. "Aw, man," they would say, "I knew his father," and knowledge of the father implied a limitation of the respect due to the son. "What's his family?" would be asked again and again across the hearth that scarcely knew its own family more intimately. " Maybe some of the first that's going," would be the answer, and then there would be a laugh.

The Bishop was enthroned by Archdeacon Teare, who filled his function with what grace his chagrin would allow. Thorkell watched his father-in-law keenly during the ceremony, and more than once his little eyes twinkled, and his lips were sucked inwards as if he rolled a delectable morsel on his tongue. Archdeacon Teare was conscious of the close fire of his son-in-law's gaze, and after the installation was done, and the clergy that constituted priests and congregation were breaking up, he approached the Deemster with a benevolent smile, and said, "Well, Thorkell, we've had some disagreements, but we'll all meet for peace and harmony in heaven."

The Deemster tittered audibly, and said, "I'm not so sure of that, though."

"No?" said the Archdeacon, with elevated eyebrows. " W hy, why ? "

"Because we read in the good Book that there will be no more tears, Archdeacon," said Thorkell, with a laugh like the whinny of a colt.

The Bishop and his brother, the Deemster, got on their horses, and turned their heads towards the episcopal palace. It was late when they drove under the tall elms of Bishop's Court. The old house was lit up for their reception. Half-blind Kerry Quayle had come over from Ballamona to nurse the Bishop's child, and to put him to bed in his new home. Och, as sweet a baby-boy as any on the island, I'll go bail, as the old body said," said Kerry, and the Bishop patted her arm with a gentle familiarity. He went up to the little room where the child lay asleep, and stooped over the cot and touched with his lips the soft lips that breathed gently. The dignity of the Bishop as he stood four hours before under the roof of St. German's had sat less well on this silent man than the tenderness of the father by the side of his motherless child.

Thorkell was in great spirits that night. Twenty times he drank to the health of the new Bishop; twenty times he reminded him of his own gracious offices towards securing the bishopric to one of his own family. Gilcrist smiled and responded in few words. He did not deceive himself ; his eyes were open. He knew that Thorkell had not been so anxious to make him a Bishop as to prevent a place of honour and emolument from going to any one less near to himself than his own brother. "Near is my, shirt," as Thorkell had told- the Archdeacon,' "but nearer is my skin."

Next day the Bishop lost no time in settling to his work. His people watched him closely. He found his palace in a forlorn and dilapidated state, and the episcopal demesne, which was about a square mile of glebe, as fallow as the rough top of the mountains. The money value of this bishopric was rather less than 500 a year, but out of this income he set to work to fence and drain his lands, plant trees, and restore his house to comfort if not to stateliness. "I find my Patmos in ruins," he said, "and that will oblige me to interrupt my charity to the poor in some measure."

He assumed none of the social dignity of a Bishop. He had no carriage and no horse for riding. When he made his pastoral visitations he went afoot. The journey to Douglas he called crossing the Pyrenees, and he likened his toilsome tramp across the heavy Curraghs from Bishop's Court to Kirk Andreas to the passing of a pilgrim across a desert. "To speak truth," he would say, "I have a title too large for my scant fortune to maintain."

His first acts of episcopal authority did not conciliate either the populace or their superiors in station. He set his face against the contraband trade, and refused communion to those who followed it. " Och, terrible, wonderful hard on the poor man he is, with his laws agen honest trading, and his bye-laws and his customs and his canons and the like o' that messing."

It was soon made clear that the Bishop did not court popularity. He started a school in each of the parishes by the help of a lady, who settled a bounty, payable at the Bishop's pleasure, for the support of the teachers. The teachers were appointed by his vicars-general. One day a number of the men of his own parish, with Jabez Gawne, the sleek little tailor, and Matthias Taubman, the buirdly maltster, at their head, came up to Bishop's Court to complain of the schoolmaster appointed to Kirk Michael. According to the malcontents, the schoolmaster was unable to divide his syllables, and his home, which was the schoolhouse also, was too remote for the convenience of the children. " So we beseech your Lordship," said little Jabez, who was spokesman, "to allow us a fit person to discharge the office, and with submission we will recommend one." The Bishop took in the situation at a glance; Jabez's last words had let the cat out of the bag, and it could not be said to be a Manx cat, for it had a most prodigious tail. Next day the Bishop went to the school, examined master and scholars, then called the petitioners together and said, "I find that James Quirk is qualified to teach an English school, and I cannot remove him ; but I am of your opinion that his house is in a remote part of the parish, and I shall expect the parishioners to build a new schoolhouse in a convenient place, near the church, within a reasonable time, otherwise the bounty cannot be continued to them." The answer staggered the petitioners, but they were men with the saving grace of humour, and through the mouth of little Jabez, which twisted into curious lines, they forthwith signified to his Lordship their earnest desire to meet his wish by building their schoolhouse within the churchyard.

Though a zealous upholder of Church authority, the Bishop was known to temper justice with mercy. He had not been a month in the diocese when his sumner told him a painful story of hard penance. A young girl from near Peeltown had been presented for incontinence, and with the partner of her crime she had been ordered to stand six Sundays at the door of six churches. The man, who was rich, had compounded with the Archdeacon, paying six pounds for exemption, and being thenceforward no more mentioned; but the woman, being penniless and appalled at the disgrace before her, had fled from the island. The Archdeacon had learned her whereabouts in England, and had written to the minister of the place to acquaint him that she was under the Church's censure. The minister, on his part, had laid before her the terror of her position if she died out of communion with God's people. She resisted all appeals until her time came, and then, in her travail, the force of the idea had worked upon her, and she could resist it no more. When she rose from bed she returned voluntarily to the island, with the sign of her shame at her breast, to undergo the penance of her crime. She. had stood three Sundays at the doors of three churches, but her health was feeble, and she could scarcely carry her child, so weak was she, and so long the distances from her lodging in Peeltown. "Let her be pardoned the rest of her penance," said the Bishop. "The Church's censure was not passed on her to afflict her with overmuch shame or sorrow."

It was not until years afterwards that the Bishop learned the full facts of the woman's case, and comprehended the terrible significance of her punishment. She was Mally Kerruish.

The island was in the province of York, and bound by the English canons, but the Bishop made his own canons, and none were heard to demur. Some of his judgments were strange, but all leaned towards the weaker side. A man named Quayle the Gyke, a blusterous fellow, a thorn in the side of every official within a radius of miles, died after a long illness, leaving nothing to a legitimate son who had nursed him affectionately. This seemed to the Bishop to be; contrary to natural piety, and in the exercise of his authority he appointed the son an executor with the others. Quayle the younger lived, as we shall see, to return evil for the Bishop's good. A rich man of bad repute, Thormod Mylechreest, died intestate, leaving an illegitimate son. The Bishop directed the ordinary to put aside a sum of money out of the estate for the maintenance and education of the child. But Thorkell came down in the name of the civil power, reversed the spiritual judgment, ordered that the whole belongings of the deceased should be confiscated to the Lord of the Isle, and left the base-begotten to charity. We shall also see that the bastard returned good for Tborkell's evil.

The canons and customs of Bishop Mylrea not only leaned-sometimes with too great indulgence-to the weaker side, but they supposed faith in the people by allowing a voluntary oath as evidence, and this made false swearing a terror. Except in the degree of superstition, he encouraged belief in all its forms. He trusted an oath implicitly, but no man ever heard him gainsay his yea or nay.

A hoary old dog known as Billy the Gawk, who bad never worked within living memory, who lived as they said " on the houses," and frequented the pot-house with more than the regularity of religious observance, was not long in finding out that Bishop's Court had awakened from its protracted sleep. The Bishop was abroad for his morning's ramble, and while leaning against the sunny side of a high turf hedge, looking vacantly out to sea, he heard footsteps on the road behind him, and then a dialogue, of which this is a brief summary

"Going up to the Coort, eh? Ah, well, it's plenty that's there to take the edge off your stomach ; plenty, plenty, and a rael welcome too."

"Ah, it's not the stomach that's bothering me. It's the narves, boy, the narves, and a drop of the rael stuff is worth a Jew's eye for studdying a man after a night of it, as the saying is."

" Aw, Billy, Billy, aw well, well, well."

The conversation died off on the Bishop's ear in a loud roystering laugh and a low gurgle as undertone.

Half-an-hour later Billy the Gawk stood before the Bishop inside the gates of Bishop's Court. The old dog's head hung low, his battered hat was over his eyes, and both his trembling hands leaned heavily on his thick blackthorn stick.

"And how do you live, my man? " asked the Bishop.

"I'm getting a bite here, and a sup there, and I've had terrible little but a bit o' barley bread since yesterday morning," said the Gawk.

"Poor man, that's hard fare," said the Bishop; "but mind you call here every day for the future."

Billy got a measure of corn worth sixpence, and went straightway to the village, where he sold it at the pot-house for as much liquor ascould have been bought for three-halfpence. And as Billy the Gawk drank his drop of the real stuff he laughed very loud, and boasted that he could outwit the Bishop. But the liquor got into his head, and from laughing he went on to swearing, and thence to fighting, until the innkeeper turned him out into the road, where, under the weight of his measure of corn taken in solution, Billy sank into a dead slumber. The Bishop chanced to take an evening walk that day, and he found his poor pensioner, who fared hard, lodged on a harder bed, and he had him picked up and carried into the house. Next morning, when Billy awoke and found where he was, and remembered what had occurred, an unaccustomed sensation took possession of him, and he stole away unobserved. The hoary old dog was never seen again at Bishop's Court.

But if Billy never came again, his kith and kin came frequently. It became a jest that the Bishop kept the beggars from every house but his own, and that no one else could get a beggar.

He had a book, which he called his "Matri- cula Pauperum," in which he entered the names of his pensioners, with notes of their circumstances. He knew all the bits of family history -when Jemmy Corkell's wife was down with lumbago, and when Robbie Quirk was to kill his little pig.

Billy the Gawk was not alone in thinking that he could outwit the Bishop. When the Bishop wanted a new pair of boots or a new coat, the tailor or shoemaker came to Bishop's Court, and was kept there until his job of work was finished. The first winter after his arrival in his Patmos, he wanted a cloak, and sent for Jabez Gawne, the sleek little fox who had been spokesman for the conspirators against James Quirk, the schoolmaster. Jabez had cut out the cloak, and was preparing it for a truly gorgeous adornment when the Bishop ordered him to put merely a button and a loop on it to keep it together. Jabez thereupon dropped his cloth and held up his hands where he sat cross-legged on the kitchen dresser, and exclaimed with every accent of aggrieved surprise-

"My Lord, what would become of the poor button-makers and their families if every one ordered his tailor in that way?"

"How so, Jabez ? "

" Why, they would be starved outright." " Do you say so, Jabez ? "

"Yes, my Lord, I do."

"Then button it all over, Jabez," said the Bishop.

The Deemster was present at that interview, and went away from it tittering audibly. "Give to the raven and he'll come again," he muttered.

" I forgot that poor Jabez would have his buttons in his breeches pocket," said the Bishop.

The Manxman had not yet made up his mind concerning the composite character of Bishop Mylrea-his dignity and his humility, his reserve and his simplicity-when a great event settled for the Manxman's heart the problem that had been too much for his head. This was no less a catastrophe than a general famine. It came upon the island in the second year of the Bishop's residence, and was the cause of many changes. One of the changes was that the Bishop came to be regarded by his people with the reverence of Israel for Samuel, and by his brother, the Deemster, with the distrust, envy, and, at length, mingled fear and hatred, of Saul for Israel's prophet.

The land of the island had been held under a tenure of straw, known as the three lives tenure; the third life was everywhere running out, and the farms were reverting to the Lord of the Isle. This disheartened the farmers, who lost all interest in agriculture, let their lands lie fallow, and turned to the only other industry in which they had an interest, the herring fishing. The herrings failed this season, and without fish, with empty barns, and a scant potato crop, caused by a long summer of drought, the people were reduced to poverty.

Then the Bishop opened wider the gates of Bishop's Court, which since his coming had never been closed. Heaven seemed to have given him a special blessing. The drought had parched up the grass even of the damp Curragh, and left bleached on the whitening mould the poor, thin, dwarfed corn, that could never be reaped. But the glebe of Bishop's Court gave fair crops, and when the people cried in the grip of their necessity the Bishop sent round a pastoral letter to his clergy, saying that he had eight hundred bushels of wheat, barley, and oats more than his household required. Then there came from the north and the south, the east and the west, long straggling troops of buyers with little or no money to buy, and Bishop's Court was turned into a public market. The Bishop sold to those who had money at the price that corn fetched before the famine, and in his barn behind the house he kept a chest for those who came in at the back with nothing but sacks in their hands. Once a day he inspected the chest, and when it was low, which was frequently, he replenished it, and when it was high, which was rarely, he smiled, and said that God was turning away His displeasure from His people.

The eight hundred bushels were at an ends in a month, and still the famine continued. Then the Bishop bought eight hundred other bushels : wheat at ten shillings, barley at six shillings, and oats at four shillings, and sold them at half these prices. He gave orders that. the bushel of the poor man was not to be stroked, but left in heaped-up measure.

A second month went by; the second eight hundred bushels were consumed, and the famine showed no abatement. The Bishop waited for vessels from Liverpool, but no vessels came. He was a poor priest, with a great title, and he had little money; but he wrote to England, asking for a thousand bushels of grain and five hundred kitchen of potatoes, and promised to pay at six days after the next annual revenue. A week of weary waiting ensued, and every day the Bishop cheered the haggard folk that came to Bishop's Court with accounts of the provisions that were coming; and every day they went up on to the head of the hill, and strained their bleared eyes seaward for the sails of an English ship. When patience was worn to despair, the old King Orry brought the Bishop a letter saying that the drought had been general, that the famine was felt throughout the kingdom, and that an embargo had been put on all food to forbid traders to send it from English shores. Then the voice of the hungry multi tudes went up in one deep cry of pain. "The hunger is on us," they moaned. "Poor once, poor for ever," they muttered; and the voice of the Bishop was silent.

Just at that moment a further disaster threatened the people. Their cattle, which they could not sell, they had grazed on the mountains, and the milk of the cows had been the chief food of the children, and the wool of the sheep the only clothing of the old men. With parched meadows and Curraghs, where the turf was so dry that it would take fire from the sun, the broad tops of the furze-covered hills were the sole resource of the poor. At daybreak the shepherd with his six ewe lambs and one goat, and the day-labourer with his cow, would troop up to where the grass looked greenest, and at dusk they would come down to shelter, with weary limbs and heavy hearts. "What's it sayin'," they would mutter, "a green hill when far from me; bare, bare, when it is near."

At this crisis it began to be whispered that the Deemster had made an offer to the Lord to rent the whole stretch of mountain land from Ramsey to Peeltown. The rumour created consternation, and was not at first believed. But one day the Deemster, with the Governor of the Grand Enquest, drove to the glen at Sulby and went up the hill-side. Not long after, a light cart was seen to follow the high road to the glen beyond Ballaugh and then turn up towards the mountains by the cart track. The people who were grazing their cattle on the hills came down and gathered with the people of the valleys at the foot, and there were dark faces. and firm-set lips among them, and hot words and deep oaths were heard. "Let's off to the Bishop," said one, and they went to Bishop's Court. Half-an- hour later the Bishop came from Bishop's Court at the head of a draggled company of men, and his face was white and hard. They overtook the cart halfway up the side of the mountain, and the Bishop called on the driver to stop, and asked what he carried, and where he was going. The man answered that he had provisions for the Governor, the Deemster, and the Grand Enquest, who were surveying the tops of the mountains.

The Bishop looked round, and his lip was set, and his nostrils quivered. "Can any man lend me a knife?" he asked with a strained quietness.

A huge knife was handed to him, such shepherds carried in the long legs of their roots. He stepped to the cart and ripped up the harness, which was rope harness ; the hafts fell and the horse was free. Then the Bishop turned to the driver and said very quietly-

`Where do you live, my man?"

"At Sulby, my Lord," said the man, trembling with fear.

"You shall have leather harness to-morrow." Then the Bishop went on, his soiled and raggled company following him, the cart lying helpless in the cart track behind them.

When they got to the top of the mountain ;hey could see the Governor and the Deemster and their associates stretching the chain in the purple distance. The Bishop made in their direction, and when he came up with them no said-

" Gentlemen, no food will reach you on the mountains to-day; the harness of your cart has been cut, and cart and provisions are lying on the hill-side."

At this Thorkell turned white with wrath, and clenched his fists and stamped his foot on the turf, and looked piercingly into the faces of the Bishop's followers.

"As sure as I'm Deemster," he said with an oath, "the man who has done this shall suffer. Don't let him deceive himself-no one, not even the Bishop himself, shall step in between that man and the punishment of the law."

The Bishop listened with calmness, and then said, "Thorkell, the Bishop will not intercede for him. Punish him if you can."

"And so by God I will," cried the Deemster, and his eye traversed the men behind his brother.

The Bishop then took a step forward. "I am that man," he said, and then there was a great silence.

Thorkell's face flinched, his head fell between his shoulders, his manner grew dogged, he said not a word, his braggadocio was gone.

The Bishop approached the Governor. "You have no more right to rent these mountains than to rent yonder sea," he said, and he stretched his arm towards the broad blue line to the west. "They belong to God and to the poor. Let me warn you, sir, that as sure as you set up one stone to enclose these true God's acres, I shall be the first to pull that stone down."

The Grand Enquest broke up in confusion, and the mountains were saved to the people.

It blew hard on the hill-top that day, and the next morning the news' spread through the island that a ship laden with barley had put in from bad weather at Douglas Harbour. " And a terrible wonderful sight of corn, plenty for all, plenty, plenty," was the word that went round. In three hours' time hundreds of men and women trooped down to the quay with money to buy. To all comers the master shook his head, and refused to sell.

"Sell, man-sell, sell," they cried.

"I can't sell. The cargo is not mine. I'm a poor man myself," said the master..

"Well, and what's that it's sayin', `When one poor man helps another poor man, God laughs."' 

The Bishop came to the ship's side, and tried to treat for the cargo.

"I've given bond to land it all at Whitehaven," said the master.

Then the people's faces grew black, and deep oaths rose to their lips, and they turned and looked into each other's eyes in their impotent rage. " The hunger is on us-we can't starve-let every herring hang by its own gill-let's board her," they muttered among themselves.

And the Bishop heard their threats. "My people," he said, " what will become of this poor island unless God averts His awful judg-ments, only God Himself can know; but this good man has given his bond, and let us not bring on our heads God's further displeasure."

There was a murmur of discontent, and then one long sigh of patient endurance, and then the Bishop lifted his hands, and down on their knees on the quay the people with famished faces fell around the tall, drooping figure of the man of God, and from parched throats, and hearts well-nigh as dry, sent up a great cry to Heaven to grant them succour lest they should die.

About a week afterwards, another ship put in by contrary winds at Castletown. It had a cargo of Welsh oats bound to Dumfries, on the order of the Provost. The contrary winds continued, and the corn began to heat and spoil. The hungry populace, enraged by famine, called on the master to sell. He was powerless. Then the Bishop walked over his "Pyrenees," and saw that the food for which his people hungered was perishing before their eyes. When the master said "No" to hirn, as to others, he remembered how in old time David, being an hungered, did that which was not lawful in eating of the shewbread ; and straightway he went up to Castle Rushen, got a company of musketeers, returned with them to the ship's side, boarded the ship, put the master and crew in irons, and took pos- session of the corn.

What wild joy among the people l What shouts were heard ; what tears rolled down the stony cheeks of stern men !

"Patience!" cried the Bishop. "Bring the market weights and scales."

The scales and weights were brought down to the quay, and every bushel of the cargo was exactly weighed, and paid for at the prime price according to the master's report. Then the master and crew were liberated, and the Bishop paid the ship's freight out of his own purse. When he passed through the market- place on his way back to the Bishop's Court the people followed with eyes that were almost too dim to see, and they blessed him in cheers that were sobs.

And then God remembered His people, and their troubles passed away. With the opening spring the mackerel nets came back to the boats in shining silver masses, and peace and plenty came again to the hearth of the poorest.

The Manxman knew his Bishop now; he knew him for the strongest soul in the dark hour, the serenest saint in the hour of light and peace. That hoary old dog, Billy the Gawk, took his knife and scratched "B.M." and the year of the Lord on the inside of his cupboard door, to record the advent of Bishop Mylrea.

A mason from Ireland, a Catholic named Patrick Looney, was that day at work building the square tower of the church of the market-place, and when he saw the Bishop pass under him he went down on his knees on the scaffold and dropped his head for the good man's blessing.

A little girl of seven with sunny eyes and yellow hair stood by at that moment, and for love of the child's happy face the Bishop touched her head and said, "God bless you, my sweet child."

The little one lifted her innocent eyes to his eyes, and answered with a curtsey, "And God bless you, too, sir."

"Thank you, child, thank you," said the Bishop. "I do not doubt that your blessing will be as good as mine."

Such was Gilcrist Mylrea, Bishop of Man. He needed all his strength and all his tenderness for the trials that were to come.


 

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