[from Hall Caine The Deemster]
DAN rose to his feet a sobered man, and went out of the smoky pot-house without a word to any one, and without lifting his bleared and bloodshot eyes to any face. He took the lane to the shore, and behind him, with downcast eyes, like a dog at the heels of his master, Davy Fayle slouched along. When they reached the shore Dan turned towards Orris Head, walking within a yard or two of the water's edge. Striding over the sands, the past of his childhood came back to him with a sense of pain. He saw himself flying along the beach with Ewan and Mona, shouting at the gull, mocking the cormorant, clambering up the rocks to where the long-necked bird laid her spotted eggs, and the sea-pink grew under the fresh grass of the corries. Under the head Dan sat onoa rock and lifted away his cap from his burn- ing forehead ; but not a breath of wind stirred his soft hair.
Dan rose again with a new resolve. He knew now what course he must take. He would go to the Deemster, confess to the outrage of which he had been guilty, and submit to the just punishment of the law. With quick steps he strode back over the beach, and Davy followed him until he turned up to the gates of the new Balla- mona, and then the lad rambled away under the foot of Slieu Dhoo. Dan found the Deemster's house in a tumult. Hommy-beg was rushing here and there, and Dan called to him, but he waved his arm and shouted something in reply, whereof the purport was lost, and then disappeared. Blind Kerry was there, and when Dan spoke to her as she went up the stairs, he could gather nothing from her hurried answer except that some one was morthal bad, as the saying was, and in another moment she too had gone. Dan stood in the hall with a sense of impend- ing disaster. What had happened? A dread idea struck him at that moment like a blow on the brain. The sweat started from his forehead. He could bear the uncertainty no longer, and had set foot on the stairs to follow the blind woman when there was the sound of a light step descending. In another moment he stood face to face with Mona. She coloured deeply, and his head fell before her.
"Is it Ewan ? " he said, and his voice came like a hoarse whisper,
"No, his wife," said Mona.
It turned out that not long after daybreak that morning the young wife of Ewan, who had slept with Mona, had awakened with a start, and the sensation of having received a heavy blow on the forehead. She had roused Mona and told her what seemed to have occurred. They had looked about and seen nothing that could have fallen. They had risen from bed and examined the room, and had found everything as it had been when they lay down. The door was shut and there was no hood above the bed. But Mona had drawn up the window blind, and then she had seen, clearly marked on the white forehead of Ewan's young wife, a little above the temple, on the spot where she had seemed to feel the blow, a streak of pale colour such as might have been made by the scratch of a thorn that had not torn the skin. It had been a perplex- ing difficulty, and the girls had gone back to bed, and talked of it in whispers until they had fallen asleep in each other's arms. When they had awakened again, the Deemster was rapping at their door to say that he had taken an early breakfast, that he was going off to hold his court at Ramsey, and expected to be back at mid-day. Then, half timidly, Mona had told her father of their strange experience, but he had bantered them on their folly, and they had still heard his laughter when he had leapt to the saddle in front of the house, and was cantering away over the gravel. Re- assured by the Deemster's unbelief, the girls had thrown off their vague misgivings, and given way to good spirits. Ewan's young wife had said that all morning she had dreamt of her husband, and that her dreams had been bright and happy. They had gone down to breakfast, but scarcely had they been seated at the table before they had heard the click of the gate from the road.
Then they bad risen together, and Ewan had come up the path with a white bandage about his head, and with a streak of blood above the temple. With a sharp cry, Ewan's young wife had fallen to the ground insensible, and when Ewan himself had come into the house they had carried her back to bed. There she was at that moment, and from a peculiar delicacy of her health at the time, there was aut too much reason to fear that the shock might have serious results.
All this Mona told to Dan from where she stood three steps up the stairs, and he listened with his head held low, one hand gripping the stair-rail, and his foot pawing the mat at the bottom. When she finished, there was a pause, and then there came from, overhead a long, deep moan of pain,
Dan lifted his face; its sudden pallor was startling. "Mona," he said, in a voice that was husky in his throat, "do you know who struck Ewan that blow ? "
There was silence for a moment, and then, half in a whisper, half with a sob, Mona answered that she knew. It had not been from Ewan himself, but by one of the many tongues of scandal that the news had come to Ballamona.
Dan railed at himself in bitter words, and called God to witness that he had been a curse to himself and every one about him. Mona let the torrent of his self-reproach spend itself, and then she said-
"Dan, you must be reconciled to Ewan." " Not yet," he answered.
"Yes, yes, I'm sure he would forgive you," said Mona, and she turned about as if in the act of going back to seek for Ewan.
Dan grasped her hand firmly. " No," he said, "don't heap coals of fire on my head,
Mona ; don't, don't." And after a moment, with a calmer manner, "I must see the Deemster first."
Hardly had this been spoken when they heard a horse's hoofs on the gravel path, and the Deemster's voice calling to Hommy-beg as he threw the reins over the post near the door and entered the house. The Deemster was in unusual spirits, and slapped Dan on the back and laughed as he went into his room. Dan followed him, and Mona crept nervously to the open door. With head held clown, Dan told what had occurred. The Deemster listened and laughed, asked further particulars and laughed again, threw off his riding-boots and leggings, looked knowingly from under his shaggy brows, and then laughed once more.
"And what d'ye say you want me to do for you, Danny veg ? " he asked, with one side of his wrinkled face twisted awry.
"To punish me, sir," said Dan.
At that the Deemster, who was buckling his slippers, threw himself back in his chair, and sent a shrill peal of mocking laughter through the house.
Dan was unmoved. His countenance did not bend as he said slowly, and in a low tone,
" If you don't do it, sir, I shall never look into Ewan's face again."
The Deemster fixed his buckles, rose to his feet, slapped Dan on the back, said "Go home, man veen, go home," and then hurried away to the kitchen, where in another moment his testy voice could be heard directing Hommy- beg to put up the saddle on the "lath."
Mona looked into Dan's face. " Will you be reconciled to Ewan now?" she said, and took both his hands and held them.
"No, " he answered firmly, "I will see the Bishop." His eyes were dilated; his face, that had hitherto been very mournful to see, was alive with a strange fire. Mona held his bands with a passionate grasp.
" Dan," she said, with a great tenderness, "this is very, very noble of you; this is like our Dan, this="
She stopped; she trembled and glowed; her eyes were close to his.
" Don't look at me like that," he said.
She dropped his hands, and at the next instant he was gone from the house.
Dan found the Bishop at Bishop's Court, and told him all. The Bishop had heard the story already, but he said nothing of that. He knew when Dan hid his provocation and painted his offence at its blackest. With a grave face he listened while Dan accused him- self, and his heart heaved within him.
"It is a serious offence," he said; "to strike a minister is a grievous offence, and the Church provides a censure."
Dan held his face very low, and clasped his hands in front of him.
"The censure is that on the next Sabbath morning following, in the presence of the congregation, you shall walk up the aisle of the parish church from the porch to the communion behind the minister, who shall read the 51st Psalm meantime."
The Bishop's deep tones and quiet manner concealed his strong emotion, and Dan went out without another word.
This was Friday, and on the. evening of the same day Ewan heard what had passed between Dan and the Deemster and between Dan and the Bishop, and with a great lump in his throat he went across to Bishop's Court to pray that the censure might betaken off.
" The provocation was mine, and he is peni- tent," said Ewan ; and with heaving breast the Bishop heard him out, and then shook his head.
"The censures of the Church were never meant to pass by the house of the Bishop," he said.
" But he is too deeply abased already," said Ewan.
" The offence was committed in public, and before the eyes of all men the expiation must be made."
"But I, too, am ashamed-think of it, and remove the censure," said Ewan, and his voice trembled and broke.
The Bishop gazed out at the window with blurred eyes that saw nothing. "Ewan," lie said, "it is God's hand on the lad. Let it be; let it be."
Next day the Bishop sent his sumner round the parish, asking that every house might send one at least to the parish church next morning.
On Sunday Ewan's young wife kept her bed; but when Ewan left her for the church the shock to her nerves seemed in a measure to have passed away. There was still, how. ever, one great disaster to fear, and Mona remained at the bedside.
The meaning of the sumner's summons had eked out, and long before the hour of service the parish church was crowded. The riff-raff that never came to church from year's end to year's end, except to celebrate the Oiel Verree, were there with eager eyes. While Will-as-Thorn tolled the bell from the rope suspendedin the porch there was a low buzz of gossip, but when the bell ceased its hoarse clangour, and Will-as-Thorn appeared with his pitch- pipe in the front of the gallery, there could be heard in the silence that followed over the crowded church the loud tick of the old wooden clock in front of him.
Presently from the porch there came a low tremulous voice reading the Psalm that begins, "Have mercy upon me, O God, after Thy great goodness: according to the multitude of Thy mercies do away mine offences."
Then the people who sat in front turned about, and those who sat at the side strained across, and those who sat above craned forward.
Ewan was walking slowly up the aisle in his surplice, with his pale face and scarred forehead bent low over the book in his hand, and close behind him, towering above him in his great stature, with head held down, but with a steadfast gaze, his hat in his hands, his step firm and resolute, Dan Mylrea strode along.
There was a dead hush over the congre- gation.
"Wash me tbroughly from my wickedness and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknow- ledge my faults; and my sin is ever before me."
The tremulous voice rose and fell, and nothing else broke the silence except the un- certain step of the reader, and the strong tread of the penitent behind him.
"Against Thee only have I sinned, and done this evil in Thy sight-"
At this the tremulous voice deepened, and stopped, and went on and stopped again, and when the words came once more they came in a deep, low sob, and the reader's head fell into his breast.
Not until the Psalm came to an end, and Ewan and Dan had reached the communion, and the vicar had begun the morning prayer, and Will-as-Thorn had sent out a blast from his pitch-pipe, was the hard tension, of that moment broken.
When the morning service ended, the Deem- ster rose from his pew and hurried down the aisle. As usual, he was the first to leave the church. The ghostly smile with which he had witnessed the penance that had brought tears to the eyes of others was still on the Deemster's lip, and a chuckle was in his throat when at the gate of the churchyard he met Hommy-beg, whose face was livid from a long run, and who stood for an instant panting for breath.
"Well, well, well?" said the Deemster, sending the words like small shot into Hommy- beg's deaf ear.
"Terrible, terrible, terrible," said Hommy- beg, and he lifted his hands.
" What is it ? What? What?"
"The young woman-body is dead in child-bed."
Then the ghostly smile fled from the Deemster's face.