[from Hall Caine The Deemster]
Now Danny was a great favourite with the Deemster, and nothing that he could do was amiss. The spice of mischief in the lad made him the darling of the Deemster's heart. His own son disappointed the Deemster. He seemed to have no joy in him. Ewan was quiet, and his father thought him a milksop. There was more than one sense in which the Deemster was an indifferent judge of his species, but he found no difficulty in com- prehending the idiosyncrasy of his brother's son. Over the pathetic story of Danny's maddest prank or the last mournful account of his daring devilry, the Deemster would chuckle and shake, and roll his head between his shoulders, then give the boy a slap on his hindmost part, accompanied by a lusty name, and finally rummage for something in his pocket, and smuggle that something into the young rascal's palm.
Danny would be about fifteen years of age -a lump of a lad, and therefore out of the leading-strings of his nurse, Kerry Quayle- when he concocted a most audacious scheme, whereof Kerry was the chief subject and victim. This had nothing less for its aim and object than to get Kerry married to Hommy-beg-the blind woman to the deaf man. Now Hommy was a gaunt, raw-boned man, dressed in a rough blue jacket and a short grey petticoat. His full and proper name was now quite lost. He was known as Hommy-beg, sometimes as Hommy-beg-Bill, a name which at once embodied a playful allu- sion to his great physique, and a certain genealogical record in showing that he was little Tom, the son of Bill. Though scarcely short of stone-deaf, be was musical. He played two instruments, the fiddle and the voice. The former squeaked like a rasp, and the latter thundered like a fog-horn. Away to Ballamona Master Danny went, and found Hommy-beg thinning a bed of peonies.
"Aw, man, the terrible fond she is of the like o' that swate flower," said the young rogue, who spoke the homespun to the life. "Aw, dear, the way she smells at them when you bring them up for the Bishop 1 "
"What, ould Kerry? Smelling, is it? And never a whiff of a smell at the breed o' them 1 " 110th no, it's not the flowers, it's the man, the man, Hommy."
" That'll do, that'll do. And blind, too Well, well."
"But the swate temper that's at her, Hommy And the coaxing and coaxing of her ! And, man alive, the fond she is of you !A fine sort of a man anyways, and A rael good voice at him. Aw, extraordinary, extraordinary."
"D'ye raely mane it? "
" Mane it ? Aw, well, well, and who but you doesn't know it, Hommy ? "
"Astonishing, astonishing 1 "
" Come up to the Coort and take a cup o' tap with her."
Hommy-beg scratched his head. "Is it raely true, Danny veg ? "
" I'll lave it with you, Hommy," said Danny, and straightway the young rascal went back to Bishop's Court, lighted upon blind Kerry, and entered upon a glowing description of the personal charms of Hommy-beg.
" Aw, the good-looking he is, astonishing My gough ! You should see him in his Sunday hat, or maybe with a frill on his shirt, and smiling, and all to that ! Terrible dacent sort is Honmy-beg!"
" What, the loblolly-boy in the petticoat ? " "Aw, but the tender-hearted he is for all, and, bless me, Kerry, woman, the swate he is on you ! "
" What, the ould red-head that comes singing, as the saying is? "
"Aw, no, woman, but as black as the raven, and the way he looks sorrowful-like when he comes beside of vou. You wouldn't believe it ! And, bless me, the rael bad he is to come up to the Coort and take a cup of tay with you, and the like o' that."
" Do you raely mane it, Danny, my three ? " The very next day Hommy-beg arrived at the kitchen door of Bishop's Court in his Sunday hat, in the shirt with the frill to it, and with a peony as big as a March cabbage in his fist. The end of it all was that Kerry and Hommy-beg were forthwith asked in church. Wild as the freak was that made the deaf man and the blind woman man and wife, their marriage was none the less happy for their infirmities.
The Deemster heard of the plot on his way to church on Sunday morning, and he laughed in his throat all through the service, and when the first of the askings was solemnly proclaimed from the reading-desk, he tittered audibly in his pew. "Danny was tired of the woman's second sight-found it inconvenient, very-wanted to be rid of her=good " he chuckled. But not long afterwards he enjoyed a jest that was yet more to his taste; for his own prime butt of ridicule, the Church itself, was then the victim.
It was an old Manx custom that on Christmas Eve the church should be given up to the people for the singing of their native carols or carvals. The curious service was known as Oiel Verree (the eve of Mary), and at every such service for the last twenty years Hommy-beg, the gardener, and Mr. James Quirk, the schoolmaster, had officiated as singers in the strange Manx ritual. Great had hitherto been the rivalry between these musical celebrities, but word had gone round the town that at length their efforts were to be combined in a carol which they were to sing together. Dan had effected this extraordinary combination of talent by a plot which was expected to add largely to the amusement of the listeners.
Hommy-beg could not read a syllable, yet he never would sing his carol without having the printed copy of it in his hand. Of course, Mr. Quirk, the schoolmaster, could read, but, as we have seen, he resembled Hommy-beg in being almost stone-deaf. Each could hear himself sing, but neither could hear another.
And now for the plot. Master Dan called on the gardener at his cottage on the Brew on the morning of the day before Christmas day, and "Hommy," said he, "it's morthal strange the way a man of your common sense can't see that you'd wallop that squeaking ould Jemmy Quirk in a jiffy if you'd only consent to sing a ballad along of him. Bless me, man alive, it's then they'd be seeing what a weak, ould cracked pot of a voice is at him."
Hommy-beg's face began to wear a smile of benevolent condescension. Observing his advantage, the young rascal continued, "Do it at the Oiel Verree to-night, Hommy. He'll sing his treble, and you'll sing seconds to him."
It was an unlucky remark. The gardener frowned austerely. "Me sing seconds to the craythur ? No ; never !"
Dan explained to Hommy-beg, with a world of abject apologies, that there was a sense in which seconds meant firsts, and at length the gardener was mollified, and consented to the proposal; but one idea was firmly rooted in his mind-namely, that if he was to sing a carol with the schoolmaster, he must take the best of care to sing his loudest, in order to drown at once the voice of his rival, and the bare notion that it was he who was singing seconds to such a poor creature as that.
Then Master Danny trotted off to the school- house, where he was now no longer a scholar, and consequently enjoyed an old boy's privilege of approaching the master on equal terms, and "Jemmy," he said, "it's morthal strange the way a man of your common sense can't see that you'd wallop that squeaking old Hommy- beg in a jiffy if you'd only consent to sing a ballad along of him. Do it at the Oiel Verree to-night, Jemmy, and bless me 1 that's the time they'll be seeing what a weak, ould crackpot of a voice is at the craythur."
The schoolmaster fell even an easier prey to the plot than the gardener had been. A carol was selected ; it was to be the ancient Manx carol on the bad women mentioned in the Bible as having (from Eve downward) brought evil on mankind.
Now, Hommy-beg kept his carols pinned against the walls of his cottage. The "Bad Women" was the carol which was pinned above the mantelpiece just under the pendulum of the clock with the facetious face. It resembled the other prints in being worn, crumpled, and dirty; but Hommy-beg knew it by its position, and he could distinguish every other carol by its place on his walls,
Danny had somehow got a "skute" into this literary. mystery, and after arranging with the schoolmaster the carol that was to be sung, he watched Hommy-beg out of his cottage, and then went into it under pretence of a friendly call upon blind Kerry. Before he left the cottage he had taken down the carol that had been pinned above the mantelpiece and fixed up another in place of it from the opposite side of the room. The substituted carol happened, oddly enough, to be a second copy of the carol on "Bad Women," with this radical difference: the copy taken from under the clock was the version of the carol in English, and the copy put up was the version in Manx. Towards ten o'clock that night the church bells began to ring, and Hommy-beg looked at the clock, took the carol from under the pendulum, put on his best petticoat, and went off to church.
Now, there were to be seasonable rejoicings at the Court on the morrow, and Kerry had gone over to help at the Christmas preparations. Ewan and Mona had always spent their Christmas at Bishop's Court since the day when they left it as children. That night they had arrived as usual, and after they had spent some hours with Danny in dressing the house in a green and red garment of hibbin and hollin, the Bishop had turned them off to bed. Danny's bedroom was the little crib over the library, and Ewan's was the room over that. All three bade the Bishop good night and went into their rooms. But Danny did not go to bed; he listened until he heard the Bishop in the library twisting his chair and stirring the peats, and then he whipped off his boots and crept upstairs to Ewan's room. There in bated breath he told of the great sport that was to come off at the Oiel Verree, announced his intention of going, and urged Ewan to go with him. They could just jump through the little window of his room and light on the soft grass by the library wall, and get in again by the same easy means. No one would know that they had been out, and what high jinks they must have ! But no, Ewan was not to be persuaded, and Danny set off alone.
Hommy-beg did not reach the church until the parson's sermon was almost over. Prayers had been said in a thin congregation, but no sooner were they done than crowds of young men and maidens trooped down the aisles. The young women went up into the gallery, and from that elevation they shot down at their bachelor friends large handfuls of peas. To what ancient spirit of usage, beyond the ancient spirit of mischief, the strange practice was due, we must be content to leave, as a solemn problem, to the learned and curious antiquaries. Nearly everybody carried a candle, and the candles of the young women were adorned with a red ribbon or rosette.
In passing out of the church the parson came face to face with Hommy-beg, who was pushing his way up the aisle. The expression on his face was not at the moment one of peculiar grace, and he stopped the gardener and said sharply in his ear, "Mind you see that all is done in decency and order, and that you close my church before midnight."
"Aw, but the church is the people's, I'm thinkin'," said Hommy-beg, with a shake of his tousled head.
"The people are as ignorant as goats," said the parson angrily.
" Aw, well, and you're their shepherd, so just make sheeps of them," said Hommy-beg, and he pushed on.
Danny was there by this time, and, with a face of mighty solemnity, he sat on the right of Hommy-beg, and held a candle in his left hand. When everything was understood to be ready, and Will-as-Thorn, the clerk, had taken his station inside the communion-rail, the business of the Oiel Verree began. First one man got up and sang a carol in English; then another sang a Manx carol. But the great event of the night was to be the carol sung by the sworn enemies and rivals, Hommy-beg and Mr. James Quirk.
At last the time came for these worthies. They rose from opposite sides of the church, eyed each other with severe looks, stepped out of their pews and walked down the aisle to the door of the porch. Then they turned about in silence, and, standing side by side, faced the communion.
The tittering in the gallery and whispering in the body were audible to all except the per- sons who were the cause of both. " Hush, hush, man alive, that's him, that's him." °` Bless me, look at Hommy-beg and the petticut, and the handkercher pinnin' round his throat."
" Aw, dear, it's what he's used of." " A regular Punch and Judy."
Danny was exerting himself at that moment to keep order and silence. "Hush, man, let them make a start for all."
The carol the rivals were about to sing con- tained some thirty verses. It was an ancient usage that after each verse the carol-singers should take a long stride towards the com- munion. By the time the carol of "Bad Women " came to an end the carol-singers must, therefore, be at the opposite end of the church.
There was now a sublime scorn printed on the features of Mr. Quirk. As for Hommy-beg, he looked, at this last instant, like a man who was rather sorry than otherwise for his rash adversary.
" The rermantic they're looking," whispered a girl in the gallery to the giggling companion beside her.
Expectation was at its highest when Hommy- beg thrust his hand into his pocket and brought out the printed copy of the carol. Hommy unfolded it, glanced at it with the air of a conductor taking a final look at his score, nodded his head at it as if in approval, and then, with a magnanimous gesture, held it between himself and Mr. Quirk. The school- master in turn glanced at it, glanced again, glanced a third time at the paper, and up into the face of Hommy-beg.
Anxiety was now on tiptoe. "Hush, d'ye hear, hush," whispered Danny from his pew; " hush, man, or it's spoiling it all you'll be, for sure."
At the moment when Mr. Quirk glanced into the face of Hommy-beg there was a smile on that countenance. Mr. Quirk mistook that smile. He imagined he saw a trick. The schoolmaster could read, and he perceived that the carol which the gardener held out to him was not the carol for which he had been told by Master Danny to prepare. They were, by arrangement, to have sung the English version of "Bad Women." This was the Manx version, and though the metre was the same, it was always sung to a different tune. Ah I Mr. Quirk understood it all ! The monster wanted to show that he, James Quirk, schoolmaster, could only sing one carol; but, as sure as his name was Jemmy, he would be equal with him l He could sing this Manx version, and he would. It was now Mr. Quirk's turn to smile.
" Aw, look at them-the two of them- grinnin' together like a pair of old gurgoils on the steeple !"
At a motion of the gardener's hand, in- tended to beat the time, the singers began. Hommy-beg sang the carol agreed upon-the English version of " Bad Women." Mr. Quirk sang the carol they held in their hands-the Manx version of "Bad Women." Neither heard the other, and to dispel the bare notion that either was singing seconds, each bawled at the utmost reach of his lung power. To one tune Hommy-beg sang-
" Thus from the days of Adam Her mischief you may trace." And to another Mr. Quirk sang- "She ish va'n voir ain ooilley Son v'ee da Adam hen."
Such laughter ! How the young women in the gallery lay back in their seats with hysterical shrieks ! How the young fellows in the body made the sacred edifice ring with guffaws ! But the singers, with eyes steadfastly fixed on the paper, heard nothing but each his own voice.
Three verses had been sung, and three strides made towards the communion, when suddenly the laughter and shouting of the people ceased. All eyes had turned towards the porch. There the Bishop stood, with blank amazement printed on his face, his head bare, and one hand on the half-opened door.
If a spectre had appeared the consternation had scarcely been greater. Danny bad been rolling in his pew with unconstrained laughter, but at the sight of the Bishop his candle fell from his hand and sputtered on the book-rail. The Bishop turned about, and before the people had recovered from their surprise he was gone. At the next moment everybody got up without a word and left the church. In two minutes more not a soul remained except Hommy-beg and Mr. Jemmy Quirk, who, with eyes riveted on the printed carol in their hands, still sang lustily, oblivious of the fact that they had no audience.
When Danny left the church that night it was through the lancet window of the vestry. Dropping on the turf at the north-east of the church, he leapt the wall that divided the churchyard from the meadow on the north, and struck upon a path that went round to Bishop's Court by way of the cliff head. The path was a long one, but it was lonesome, and its lonesomeness was no small merit in Danny's view that night. The Bishop must return to the Court by the highway through the village, and the Bishop must be in front of him.
The night was dark and dumb, and, laden with salt scent, the dank vapour floated up from the sea. Danny walked quickly. The deep boom of the waters rolling on the sand below came up to him through the dense air. Late as was the hour, he could hear the little sand-piper screaming at Orris Head. The sea-swallow shot over him too, with its low mournful cry. Save for these sounds, and the quick beat of his own feet, all was still around him.
Beneath his stubborn bit of scepticism Danny was superstitious. He was full to the throat of fairy lore and stories of witchcraft. He had learned both from old Billy Quilleash and his mates as they sat barking their nets on the shore. And that night the ghostly memories would arise, do what he might to keep them down. To banish them Danny began to whistle, and, failing to enliven him- self much by that exercise, he began to sing. His selection of a song was not the happiest under the circumstances. It was the doleful ballad of "Myle Charaine." Danny sang it in Manx, but here is a stave of it in English-
"Oh, Myle Charaine, where got you your gold? Lone, lone, you have left me here;
Oh, not in the Curragh, deep under the mould- Lone, lone, and void of cheer."
He had come up to Bishop's Court on the sea front, and there the Bishop's library stood out from the body of the old house, between the chapel porch and the kitchen offices. A light was in the library, and passing over the soft grass with the soft flight of a lapwing, Danny peered in at the curtainless window. The familiar room was empty. On the hearth a turf fire burned without flame, and bathed the book-encased walls in a rosy red. The Bishop's easy-chair, in its white covering, stood at one side of the ingle, his slippers in front of it; and beside it, on the little three-legged mahogany table, were the ink- horn and the long quill, and the Bishop's four- cornered library cap. The door stood ajar, and the two candles in the two brass brackets at each side of the fireplace were tipped by their extinguishers.
The Bishop had not returned; but the faint smile of triumph which at that thought rested like a ray of pale sunshine on Danny's face suddenly vanished. In a lad's vague way Danny now realised that it had not been merely because the night was dark and the road lonely that he had whistled and sung. He hung his head where he stood in the night, and as if by an involuntary movement he lifted his cap and fumbled it. ,
At the next instant Danny was clambering up the angle of the wall to the lead flat that covered the projecting part of the library. From this lead flat there opened the window of his own bedroom, and in a moment he was striding through it. All was darkness within, but he needed no light to see his way in that room. He knew every crib and corner; the place where he kept his fishing lines, the nail from which his moth net hung, the bottle on the drawers in which he had his minnows, and the can with the lid well down that con. tained the newts that were the terror of all the women in the house. If Danny had been as blind as old Kerry he could have found everything his room had in it, except, perhaps, his breeches, or his shirt, or his other coat, or that cap that was always getting itself lost, and of course no sight and no light would help a lad to find things like these.
Hardly had Danny taken a step into his room before he realised that some one had been there since he left it. Derry, his white- eyed collie, who had been lying on the bed, dropped on the floor, and frisked about him. "Down, Derry, down!" he whispered, and for a moment he thought it might have been Derry that had pushed open the door. But the dog's snout could not have turned down the counterpane of the bed, or opened the top drawer that held the fishing flies, or rum- maged among the long rods in the corner. The counterpane lay double, the drawer stood open, the rods were scattered-same one had been there to look for him, and, not finding him, had tried to find a reason for his absence, and that some one had either come into the room in the dark, or-been blind.
"Aw, it's always Kerry that's in it," Danny told himself, and with an unpleasant remembrance of Kerry's strange faculty, whereof he was the peculiar victim, he reflected that his race home had been vain. Then on the instant Danny found himself concocting a trick to defeat appearances. He had a foot on the stairs to carry out his design when he heard the door at the front of the house open and close, and a familiar step pass through the hall. The Bishop bad returned. Danny waited and listened. Now there was talking in the library. Danny's quick ear could scarcely dis- tinguish the words, but the voices he could not mistake-they were the voices of the Bishop and blind Kerry. With a stealthy stride Danny went up to Ewan's room. Ewan was sleeping. Feeling hot and cold together, Danny undressed and turned into bed. Before he had time to bury his head under the clothes he heard the Bishop on the stairs. The foot- steps passed into the room below, and then after an interval they were again on the stairs. In another moment Danny knew, though of course his eyes were fast shut, and he was sleeping most profoundly, that the Bishop with a lighted candle in his hand was leaning over him.
It would wrong the truth to say that Master Danny's slumber was disturbed that night; but next morning when the boys awoke to- gether, and Ewan rose on his elbow with a puzzled gaze at his unexpected bedfellow, Danny sidled out of the bed on to the floor, and, without looking too much into Ewan's face, he began his toilet, as was his wont, by putting on his cap. He had got this length, and was standing in cap and shirt, when he blurted out the mischief of last night's adven- ture, the singing, the sudden appearance of the Bishop, the race home along the cliff, and the coming up to bed. "But you won't let on, Ewan, will you?" he said. Ewan looked at that moment as if the fate of the universe hung on his answer, but he gave the promise that was required of him. Then the boys went downstairs and found Mona, and imparted the dread secret to her. Presently the Bishop came in to breakfast with a face that was paler than usual, and more than ordinarily solemn.
"Danny," he said, "why did you not sleep in your own bed last night, my boy? "
" I slept with Ewan, father," Danny an- swered promptly.
The Bishop said no more then, and they all sat down at the table.
"And so you two boys went to bed together -together?" he said, and, with a dig of em- phasis on his last word, repeated, he looked at Ewan.
Ewan's face crimsoned, and his tongue faltered, " Yes, uncle."
The Bishop's eyes fell. I' Boys," he said in another tone, "would you think it? I have done you a great wrong."
The boys were just then most intent on the table-cloth.
"You must know," the Bishop went on, "that there was a most unseemly riot at the Oiel Verree, and all night long I have been sore troubled by the bad thought that Danny was in the midst of it."
The boys held their heads very low over their plates, and Mona's big eyes filled visibly. Danny's impulse was to blurt out the whole mischief there and then, but he reflected that to do so would be to charge Ewan with false- hood. Ewan, on his part, would have confessed to the deception, but he knew that this would mean that Danny must be punished. The boys' wise heads could see no way out of a tangle like that. The breakfast was the quietest ever eaten on a Christmas morning at Bishop's Court, and, little as the talking was, the Bishop, strangely enough, did it all. But when they rose from the table, and the boys slunk out of the room with most portentous gravity, Mona went up to the Bishop with a face full of liquid grief, and turning the whole depths of her great troubled eyes upon him, the little maiden said, "Ewan didn't mean to tell you what wasn't true-and cousin Danny didn't intend to deceive-but he was -that is, Danny-I mean-dear uncle, you won't-"
"You mean that Danny was at the Oiel Verree last night-I know it, child, I know it," said the Bishop, and he patted her head and smiled.
But the Bishop knew also that Danny had that day made one more step down the steep of life, and left a little ghost of his child-self behind him, and in his secret heart the Bishop saw that shadowy form, and wept over it.