[from Hall Caine The Deemster]



WHAT passed at the new Ballamona on that morning of Dan's penance was very pitiful. There in the death-chamber, already darkened, lay Ewan's young wife, her eyes lightly closed, her girlish features composed, and a faint tinge of colour in her cheeks. Her breast was half open, and her beautiful head lay in a pillow of her soft brown hair. One round arm was stretched over the counterpane, and the delicate fingers were curved inwards until the thumb-nail, like an acorn, rested on the inner rim of a ring. Quiet, peaceful, very sweet and tender, she lay there like one who slept. After a short, sharp pang she had died gently, without a struggle, almost with- out a sigh, merely closing her eyes as one who was weary, and drawing a long, deep breath. In dying she had given premature birth to a child, a girl, and the infant was alive, and was taken from the mother at the moment of death.

When the Deemster entered the room with a face of great pallor and eyes of fear, Mona was standing by the bed-head gazing down, but seeing nothing. The Deemster felt the pulse of the arm over the counterpane with fingers that trembled visibly. Then he shot away from the room, and was no more seen that day. The vicar, the child-wife's father, came with panting breath and stood by the bedside for a moment, and then turned aside in silence. Ewan came, too, and behind him Dan walked to the door and there stopped, and let Ewan enter the chamber of his great sorrow alone. Not a word was said until Ewan went down on his knees by the side of his wife, and put his arms about her, and kissed her lips, still warm, with his own far colder lips, and called to her softly by her name, as though she slept gently, and must not be awakened too harshly, and drew her to his breast, and called again in a tenderer tone that brushed the upturned face like a caress-

" Aileen ! Aileen ! Aileen ! "

Mona covered her eyes in her hands, and Dan, where he stood at the door, turned his head away.

"Aileen ! Ailee ! Ailee ! My Ailee ! "

The voice went like a whisper and a kiss into the deaf ear, and only one other sound was heard, and that was the faint cry of an infant from a room below.

Ewan raised his head and seemed to listen; he paused and looked at the faint colour in the quiet cheeks; he put his band lightly on the heart, and looked long at the breast that did not heave. Then he drew his arms very slowly away, and rose to his feet.

For a moment he stood as one dazed, likea man whose brain is benumbed, and with the vacant light still in his eyes he touched Mon on the arm and drew her hand from her eyes and he said, as one who tells you something that you could not think, " She is dead !"

Mona looked up into his face, and at sight of it the tears rained down her own. Dan had stepped into the room noiselessly, and came behind Ewan, and when Ewan felt his presence, he turned to Dan with the same vacant look, and repeated in the same empty tone, "She is dead! "

And never a tear came into Ewan's eyes to soften their look of dull torpor; never again did he stretch out his arms to the silent form beneath him; only with dazed, dry eyes, he looked down, and said once more, " She is dead I "

Dan could bear up no longer; his heart was choking, and he went out without a word.

It was the dread silence of feeling that was frozen, but the thaw came in its time. They laid out the body of the young wife in the- darkened room, and Ewan went away and rambled over the house all day long, and when night fell in, and the lighted candles were set in the death-chamber, and all in Ballamona were going off to bed, Ewan was still rambling aimlessly from room to room. He was very quiet, and he spoke little, and did not weep at all. In the middle of that night the Deemster opened his bed room door and listened, and Ewan's step was still passing from room to room, and Mona heard the same restless footfall in every break of her fitful sleep. But later on, in the dark hour that comes before day, the Deemster opened his door and listened again, and then all was quiet in the house. "He has gone to bed at last," thought the Deem ster ; but in the early morning as he passed by Ewan's room he found the door open, and saw that the bed had not been slept in.

The second day went by like the first, and the next night like the former one, and again in the dead of night the Deemster opened his door and heard Ewan's step. Once more in the dark hour that goes before the day he opened his door and listened again, and all was quiet as before. "Surely he is in bed now," thought the Deemster. He was turning back into his own room when he felt a sudden impulse to go to Ewan's room first and see if it was as he supposed. He went, and the door was open and Ewan was not there, and again the bed had not been slept in.

The Deemster crept back on tiptoe, and a gruesome feeling took hold of him. He could not lie, and no sleep had come near his wake ful eyes, so he waited and listened for that unquiet beat of restless feet, but the sound did not come. Then, as the day was break ing over the top of Shen Dhoo, and all the Curraghs around lay veiled in mist, and far away to the west a deep line stretched across where the dark sea lay with the lightening sky above it, the Deemster opened his door yet again, and went along the corridor steadily a until he came to the door of the room where the body was. "Perhaps he is sitting with her," he thought with awe, and he turned the handle. But when the door swung open the Deemster paused; a faint sound broke the n silence ; it was a soft and measured breathing from within. Quivering with dread, the Deemster stepped into the death-chamber, and his head turned rigidly towards the bed. There, in the gloom of the dawn that came over the light of the last candle that flickered in its socket, Ewan lay outstretched by the side of the white, upturned face of his dead wife, and his hand lay on her hand, and he was in a deep sleep.

To the Deemster it was as if a spirit had passed before his face, and the hair of his flesh stood up.

They buried Ewan's young wife side by side with his mother under the elder-tree (now thick with clusters of the green berry) by the wall of the churchyard that stood over by the sea. The morning was fine, but the sun shone dimly through a crust of hot air that gathered and slumbered and caked above. Ewan passed through all without a word, or a sigh, or a tear. But when the company returned to the Deemster's house, and Mona spoke to Ewan and he answered her without any show of feeling, and Dan told him of his own remorse and accused himself of every disaster, and still Ewan gave no sign, but went in and out among them all with the vacant light in his eyes, then the Bishop whispered to Mona, and she went out and presently came again, and in her arms was the infant in its white linen clothes.

The sun was now hidden by the heavy cloud overhead, and against the window panes at that moment there was a light pattering of raindrops. Ewan bad watched with his vacant gaze when Mona went out, but when she came again a new light seemed to come into his eyes, and he stepped up to her and looked down at the little face that was sleeping softly against her breast. Then he put out his arms to take the child, and Mona passed it to him, and he held it, and sat clown with it, and all at once the tears came into his dry eyes and he wept aloud.


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HTML Transcription © F.Coakley , 2003