[from Hall Caine The Deemster]
THE children of the Deemster and Bishop spent the first five years as one little brood in the cosy nest at Bishop's Court. The arrangement was agreeable to both brothers while it lasted. It left Ballamona a silent place, but the master reeked little of that. The Deemster kept no company, or next to none. He dismissed all his domestics except one, and Hommy-beg, who had been gardener hitherto, became groom as well. The new Ballamona began to gather a musty odour, and the old Ballamona took the moss on its wall and the lichen on its roof. The Deemster rose early and went late to bed. Much of the day was spent in the saddle passing from town to town of his northern circuit; for he held a court twice weekly at Ramsey and Peeltown. Towards nightfall he was usually back at his house, sitting alone by the fireplace, whether, as in the long nights of winter, a peat fire burned there, or, as in the summer evenings, the hearth was empty. Hardly a sound broke the dead quiet of the solitary place, save when some litigious farmer, who had caught his neighbour in the act of trespass, brought him there and then for judgment to the Deemster's house by the most summary kind of summons-the force of superior muscles. On such occasions the plaintiff and defendant, with their noisy witnesses, would troop into the hall with the yaps and snaps of a pack of dogs, and Thorkell would twist in his chair and fine one of them, or perhaps both, and pocket their money, and then drive them all away dissatisfied, to settle their dispute by other means in the darkness of the road outside.
Meantime Bishop's Court was musical with children's voices, and with the patter of tiny feet that ferreted out every nook and cranny of the old place. There was Ewan, the Deemster's son, a slight, sensitive boy, who listened to you with his head aslant, and with absent looks. There was wee Mona, Ewan's meek sister, with the big eyes and the quiet ways, who liked to be fondled, and would cry sometimes when no one knew why. And then there was Daniel-Danny-Dan, the Bishop's boy, a brave little rogue, with a slice of the man in him, as broad as he was long, with tousled fair head and face usually smudged, laughing a good deal and not crying overmuch, loving a good tug or a delightful bit of a fight, and always feeling high disdain at being kissed. And the Bishop, God bless him ! was father and mother both to the motherless brood, though Kerry Quayle was kept as nurse. He would tell a story, or perhaps sing one, while Mona sat on his knee with her pretty head resting on his breast, and Ewan held on to his chair with his shy head hanging on his own shoulder, and his eyes looking out at the window, listening intently in his queer little absent way. And when Dan, in lordly con- tempt of such doings, would break in on song or story, and tear his way up the back of the chair to the pack of the Bishop, Mona would be set on her feet, and the biggest baby of the four there present would slide down on to his hands and knees and creep along the floor with the great little man astride him, and whinny like a horse, or perhaps bark like a dog, and pretend to leap the four-bar gate of the baby's chair tumbled down on its side. And when Dan would slide from his saddle, and the restless horseman would turn coach- man and tug the mane of his steed, and all the Bishop's long hair would tumble over his face, what shrieks of laughter, what rolling on the ground and tossing up of bare legs And then when supper-time came, and the porridge would be brought in, and little Mona would begin to whimper, because she had to eat it, and Ewan to fret because it was barley porridge and not oaten cake, and Dan to devour his share with silent industry, and then bellow for more than was good for him, what schemes the good Bishop resorted to, what promises he made, what crafty tricks he learned, what an artful old pate his simple head suddenly became l And, then, when Kerry came with the tub and the towels, and three little naked bodies had to be bathed, and the Bishop stole away to his unfinished sermon, and little Mona's wet hands clung to Kerry's dress, and Ewan, standing bolt upright in the three inches of water, blubbered while he rubbed the sponge over an inch and a half of one cheek, and Dan sat on his haunches in the bottom of the tub splashing the water on every side and shrieking at every splash ; then the fearful commotion would bring the Bishop back from the dusky room upstairs, where the shaded lamp burned on a table that was littered with papers. And at last, when the day's big battle was done and night's bigger battle began, and three night-dresses were popped over three wary heads that dodged them when they could, the Bishop would carry three sleepless, squealing piggies to bed-Mona at his breast because she was little, Ewan on his back because he was big, and Dan across his shoulders because he could not get to any loftier perch. Presently there would be three little pairs of knees by the crib side, and then three little flaxen polls on the pillow, tumbling and tossing, and with the great dark head of the Bishop shaking gravely at them from over the counterpane, and then a hush broken by a question lisped drowsily, or a baby rhyme that ran a line or two and stopped, and at length the long, deep quiet and the silence of sleep, and the Bishop going off on tiptoe to the dusky room with the shaded lamp, and to-morrow's sermon lying half-written beneath it.
And so five tearing, romping years went by, and though they were the years of the famine and the pestilence, and of many another dark cloud that hung blackest over Bishop's Court, a world of happiness was crowded into them. Then when Ewan was six years old, and Danny and Mona were five, and the boys were button- ing their own corduroys, the Deemster came over from Ballamona and broke up the little nest of humming-birds.
"Gilcrist," said Thorkell, "you are ruining the children, and I must take my own away from you."
The Bishop's grave face grew suddenly white, and when after a pause he said, "No, no, Thorkell, you don't mean that," there was a tremor in his deep voice.
"1 do mean it," said the Deemster. "Let a father treat his children as the world will treat them when they have nothing but the world for their father-that's my maxim, and I'll act up to it with my own."
" That's hard treatment, Thorkell," said the Bishop, and his eyes began to fill.
"Spare the rod, spoil the child," said Thorkell.
" Maybe you're right," said the Bishop in a quavering voice, and he could say no more. But the Deemster was as good as his word. Ewan and Mona were removed to Ballamona. There they had no nurse, and shifted a good deal for themselves. They ate oaten cake and barley porridge three times a day, and that was to build up their bone and brain; they were bathed in cold water summer and winter, and that was to make them hardy; they wore frocks with low necks, and that was to strengthen their lungs; they went to bed without a light and fell asleep while trembling in each other's arms, and that was to make them brave and prevent them from becoming superstitious.
If the spirit and health of the little ones did not sink under their Spartan training, it was because Nature was stronger than custom, and because God is very good to the bruised hearts of children. They did not laugh too loud when the Deemster was near, and they were never seen to pull his vest, or to tug him by his hair, or to ride across his back, which was never known to stoop low for their little legs to mount. The house was not much noisier, or dirtier, or less orderly for their pre- sence; they did not fill it with their voices, or tumble it out of its propriety with their busy fingers, as with Cousin Danny's power- ful assistance they bad filled and tumbled Bishop's Court, until every room in the com- fortable old place seemed to say to you with a wink and a nod, "A child lives here; this is his own home, and he is master of the whole house." But when they stole a4ay to their own little room at the back, where no fire burned lest they should grow "nesh," not all the masks that were ever made to make life look like a sorry tragedy could have hidden the joy that was always waiting to break out on their little faces. There they would romp and laugh and crow and sing, and Ewan would play at preaching with the back of a chair for a pulpit, and his pinafore for surplice, and Mona of the big eyes sitting on the floor below for choir and congregation. And if in the middle of their play it happened that all at once they remembered Danny, then Ewan's bead would fall aside, and his look in an instant be far away, and Mona's lower lip would hang suddenly, and the sunshine would straightway die out of her laughing face.
When the Bishop lost the Deemster's children he found a great void in his heart ; but little Danny troubled his big head not at all about the change that had taken place. He laughed just as loud, and never cried at all, and when he awoke in the morning and his cousins were not there, their place forthwith knew them no more. In a vague way he missed his playmates, but that only meant that the Bishop had to be his playmate even more than before, and the Bishop was nothing loath. Away they ran through the copse together, these 'boon companions, and if the Bishop hid behind a tree, of course Danny found him; and if it was Danny that hid, of course the Bishop searched high and low, and never once heard the merry titter that came from behind the gorse bush that was arm's length away, until, with a burst of laughter, Danny leapt out on him like an avalanche. They talked one jargon, too, for Danny's industrious tongue could not say its w, and it made an s of its f. "How many heels has your cart got, Carter?" "Sour." IIVery srosty to-day, master." " Well, then, come in to the airo."
In a strange and unconscious way the Bishop developed a sort of physical affinity with this sworn ally. When no sound seemed to break the silence he could hear the little man's cry through three stout stone walls and up two flights of stairs. If the child fell and hurt himself half-a-mile from the house, the Bishop at home felt as if he had himself dropped on a sharp stone and cut his knee, If he clambered to the top of a high wall that was out of sight, the Bishop in his study felt dizzy.
But extraordinary as was this affinity of the Bishop and his boy, the intercourse that subsisted between Danny and his nurse was yet more marvellous. The Bishop had merely a prescience of disaster threatening his darling; but Kerry seemed, by an exercise of some nameless faculty, to know the child's where- abouts at any moment of day or night. Half. blind at the time of the birth of little Ewan, Kerry Quayle had grown stone-blind since, and this extraordinary power was in truth her second sight. It was confined to Danny, her nursling, but over his movements it was an absolute gift.
"Och," she cried, leaping up from the spinning-wheel, "the wee craythur's into the chapel, as the sayin' is."
" Impossible !" the Bishop answered; " I've only this moment locked the door."
But Kerry and the Bishop went to the chapel to search for him, and found the fugitive, who had clambered in through an open window, lighting the candle at the reading desk, after washing his black hands in the font.
"Aw, now," said Kerry, lifting up her hands and her blind face in horror, "what's that it's sayin', ' The little hemlock is sister to the big hemlock;"' which was as much as to say that the small sin was akin to the great sin, and that little Danny, who had been caught in an act of sacrilege, would one day be guilty of worse.
"Nonsense, woman, nonsense; a child is but a child," said the Bishop, leading the delinquent away.
That day-it was Thursday of Whitsun week-Convocation was to be held at Bishop's Court, and the clergy had already begun to gather in the library that looked west towards the sea. To keep Danny out of further mis- chief the Bishop led him to his own room, and there he poured water into a bowl and pro- ceeded to bathe his eyes, which had latterly shown signs of weakness. To do this he had need to remove his spectacles, and he set them down on the table by his hand. Danny watched these proceedings with a roguish look, and when the Bishop's face was in the bowl he whipped up the spectacles and pushed them down his neck between his frock and his breast. With a whirr and a puff the Bishop shook the water from his face and dried it, and when the lash comb had tossed back his long hair he stretched his hand out for his spectacles. He could not feel them, and when he looked he could not see them, and then he called on Danny to search for them, and straightway the rogue was on hands and knees hunting in every possible and impossible place. But Danny could not find them, not he. Convocation was waiting for its chief, but the spectacles could not be found, and the Bishop, for all bookish services, was blinder than a bat without them. High and low, up and down, on every table, under every paper, into every pocket, and still no spectacles. At length the Bishop paused and looked steadily into the eyes of the little man sitting on his haunches and tittering audibly.
" Where are the glasses ? " Danny laughed very loud.
"Where are my glasses, Danny veg?" Danny veg laughed still louder.
There was nothing to be made of an answer like that, so down on his knees went the Bishop again to see if the rogue had hidden the spectacles beneath the hearthrug, or under the seat of the settle, or inside the shaving- pot on the hearth. And all the time Danny, with his hands clasped under his haunches, hopped about the room like a frog with great starry eyes, and crowed and laughed till his face grew scarlet and the tears trickled down his cheeks.
Blind Kerry came to say that the gentlemen wanted to know when the Bishop would be with them, as the saying was; and two minutes afterwards the Bishop strode into the library through a line of his clergy, who rose as he entered, and bowed to him in silence when his tall figure bent slightly to each of them in turn.
"Your pardon, gentlemen, for this delay," he said gravely and then he settled himself at the head of the table.
Hardly had the clergy taken their seats when the door of the room was dashed open with a lordly bang, and into the muggy room, made darker still by twenty long black coats, there shot a gleam of laughing sunshine-Danny himself, at a hop, skip, and a jump, with a pair of spectacles perched insecurely on the sliding bridge of his diminutive nose.
The Archdeacon was there that day, and when the intruder had been evicted by blind Kerry, who came in hot pursuit of him, he shook his head and looked as solemn and as wise as his little russet face would admit, and said-
" Ah, my Lord, you'll kill that child with kindness. May you never heap up for yourself a bad harvest! "
The Bishop made no answer, but breathed on the restored spectacles, and rubbed them with his red silk handkerchief.
"I hold with the maxim of my son-in-law the Deemster," the Archdeacon continued "Let a child be dealt with in his father's house as the world hereafter will deal with him."
"Nay, nay, but more gently," said the Bishop. " If he is a good man, ten to one the world will whip him-let him remember his father's house as a place of love."
"Ah, my Lord," said the Archdeacon, "but what of the injunction against the neglect of the rod?"
The Bishop bent his head and did not answer.
Once in a way during these early years the Bishop took Danny across to Ballamona, and then the two little exiles in their father's house, banished from the place of love, would rush into the Bishop's arms, Mona at his chin, Ewan with hands clasped about his leg and flaxen head against the great seals that hung from his fob-pocket. But as for Danny and his cousins, and the cousins and Danny, they usually stood awhile and inspected each other with that solemnity and aloofness which is one of the phenomena of child manners, and then, when the reserve of the three hard little faces had been softened by a smile, they would forthwith rush at each other with mighty clenched fists and pitch into one another for five minutes together, amid a chorus of squeals. In this form of salutation Danny was never known to fail, and as he was too much of a man to limit his greeting to Ewan, he always pitched into Mona with the same masculine impartiality.
But the time came again when the salutation was unnecessary, for they were sent to school together, and they saw each other daily. There was only one school to which they could be sent, and that was the parish school, the same that was taught by James Quirk, who " could not divide his syllables," according to the account of Jabez Gawne, the tailor.
The parishioners had built their new school-house near the church, and it lay about midway between Bishop's Court and Ballamona. It was also about halfway down the road that led to the sea, and that was a proximity of never-ending delight. After school on the long summer evenings, the scholars would troop down to the shore in one tumultuous company, the son of the Bishop with the son of the cobbler, the Deemster's little girl with the big girl of Jabez, who sent his child on charity. Ragged and well clad, clean and dirty, and the biggest lad "rigging" the smallest, and not caring a ba'porth if his name was the name of the Deemster or the name of Billy the Gawk. Hand in hand, Danny and Ewan, with Mona between, would skip and caper along the sands down to where the red rocks of the Head jutted out into the sea and bounded the universe; Mona prattling and singing, shaking out her wavy hair to the wind, dragging Danny aside to look at a seaweed, and pulling Ewan to look at a shell, tripping down to the water's edge, until the big bearded waves touched her boots, and then back once more with a half-frightened, half-affected, laughter-loaded scream. Then the boys would strip and bathe, and Mona, being only a woman, would mind the men's clothes, or tbey,would sbout all together at the gulls, and Danny would mock Mother Carey's chickens and catch the doleful cry of the cormorant, and pelt with pebble: the long-necked bird as it sat on the rocks or he would clamber up over the slippery sea. 'weed, across the sharp slate ribs to where the sea pinks grew in the corries and the sea duck laid her eggs, and sing out from some dizzy height to where Ewan held his breath below and Mona stood crying and trembling on the sands.
What times for Danny! how the lad seemed to swell and grow every day of life 1 Before he was ten he had outgrown Ewan by half an inch, and gone through a stand-up fight with every ruffian under twelve. Then down among the fishermen on the beach, what sport ! Knocking about among the boats, pulling at the oars like mad, or tugging at the sheets, baling out and pushing off, and riding away over the white breakers and shouting for pure devilment above the plash of the water.
"Aw, man, it's all for the happy the lad feels inside," said Billy Quilleash.
Danny and Billy Quilleash were sworn chums, and the little sand-boy learned all the old salt's racy sayings, and went home to Bishop's Court and fired them off at his father.
There's a storm coming," the Bishop said one day, looking iup at the scudding clouds. " Ay, ay," said Danny, with his small eye askew, "the long cat's tail was going off at a slant awhile ago, and now the round thick skate yonder is hanging mortal low." "The wind is rising," the Bishop said on another occasion. "Ay, Davy's putting on the coppers for the parson," said the young heretic.
School, too, was only another playground to Danny, a little less tumultuous but no less delightful than the shore. The schoolmaster had grown very deaf since the days when the Bishop pronounced him qualified to teach an English school. This deafness he did his best to conceal, for he had a lively recollection of the dissatisfaction of the parishioners, and he had a natural unwillingness to lose his bread and butter. But his scholars were not easily hoodwinked, and Danny, the daring young dog, would play on the master's infirmity. "Spell me the word arithmetic," the schoolmaster might ask when the boys were ranged about his desk in class. And Danny would answer with a face of tragic solemnity, "Twice one are two, twice two are four." " Very good," the schoolmaster would reply. "And now, sir, repeat me your multiplication table-twice times." And then, while the master held his head aside, as if in the act of intent listening, and the other boys twisted their faces to hide their grins or sniggered openly, Danny, still with the face of a judge, would repeat a para- phrase of the familiar little hymn, "Jemmy was a Welshman, Jemmy was a thief, Jemmy-" "Don't speak so fast, sir; say your figures more plainly," the schoolmaster would interrupt. And Danny would begin again with a more explicit enunciation, "Jemmy Quirk was a Welshman, Jemmy-" Then the sniggers and the snorts would rise to a tumult. And down would come the master's cane on the desk. "Silence, boys, and let the boy say his table. Some of you big lads might take example by him, and be none the worse. Go on, Daniel-you are quite right so far-twice five are ten, twice six-"
There was one lad in the school who could not see the humour of the situation, a slim, quiet boy, only a little older than Danny, but a long way ahead of him in learning, and one evening this solemn youngster hung behind when school was breaking up, and blurted out the mischief to the schoolmaster. He did not get the reception he expected, for in dire wrath at the imputation that he was deaf, Mr. Quirk birthed the informant soundly. Nor did the reward of his treachery end with birthing. It did not take half-an-hour for the report of both birthing and treachery to travel by that swiftest of telephones, the schoolboy tongue, through that widest of kingdoms, the world of school, and the same evening, while Mona, on her way home, was gathering the blue-bells that grew on the lea of the yellow-tipped gorse, and Ewan was chasing the humming-bee through the hot air that was thick with midges, Danny, with a face as white as a haddock, was striding alone by a long circuit across the moor, to where a cottage stood by the path across the Head. There he bounded in at the porch, caught a boy by the coat, dragged him into the road, pummelled him with silent vigour, while the lad bellowed and struggled to escape.
In another instant an old woman hobbled out of the cottage on a stick, and with that weapon she made for Danny, and gave him sundry hard raps on the back and head.
"Och, the craythur," she cried, "get off with ye-the damon-extraordinary-would the Lord think it now-it's in the breed of ye-get off, or I'll break every bone in your skin."
Danny paid as little heed to the old woman's blows as to her threats, and was up with his fist for the twentieth time to come down on the craven traitor who bellowed in his grip, when all at once a horse's feet were tramping about their limbs where they struggled in the road, and a stern voice from over their heads shouted, "Stop, stop, or must I bring the whip across your flanks ? "
It was the Deemster. Danny fell aside on the right of the horse, and the old woman and the boy on the left.
"What does this mean?" asked the Deemster, turning to his nephew; but Danny stood there panting, his eyes like fire, his fists clenched, his knuckles standing out like ribs of steel, and he made no answer.
"Who is this blubbering coward?" asked the Deemster, pointing with a contemptuous gesture to the boy half hidden by the old woman's dress.
"Coward, is it?" said the woman. "Coward, you say?"
"Who is the brat, Mrs. Kerruish?" said the Deemster sharply.
At that Mrs. Kerruish, for it was she, pulled the boy from behind her, plucked off his hat, ran her wrinkled hand over his forehead to his hair, and held up his face and said-
" Look at him, Deemster ; look at him. You don't come this way often, but look at him while you're here. Did you ever see his picture before? Never? Never see a face like that ? No ? Not when you look in the glass, Deemster ? "
" Get into the house, woman," said the Deemster, in a low, thick tone, and, so saying, he put the spurs to his horse.
"As for this young demon here," said the old woman, pushing the boy back and pointing with her stick at Danny, "he'll have his heel on your neck yet, Deemster-and remember the word I'm saying."