[from Hall Caine The Deemster]
So far as concerned the Deemster, this death of Ewan's wife was the beginning of the end. Had she not died under the roof of the new Ballamona? Was it not by the strangest of accidents that she had died there, and not in her own home ? Had she not died in child bed ? Did not everything attending her death suggest the force of an irresistible fate? More than twenty years ago the woman Kerruish, the mother of Mally Kerruish, had cursed this house, and said that no life would come to it but death would come with it.
And for more than twenty years the Deem ster had done his best to laugh at the pre diction and to forget it. Who was he that he should be the victim of fear at the sneezing of an old woman? What was he that he should not be master of his fate? But what had occurred ? For more than twenty years one disturbing and distinct idea had engrossed him. In all his waking hours it exasperated him, and even in his hours of sleep it lay heavy at the back of his brain as a dull feeling of dread. On the bench, in the saddle, at table, alone by the winter's fire, alone in summer walks, the obstinate idea was always there. And nothing but death seemed likely to shake it off.
Often he laughed at it, in his long, linger ing, nervous laugh; but it was a chain that was slowly tightening about him. Everything was being fulfilled. First came the death of his wife at the birth of Mona, and now, after an interval of twenty years, the death of his son's wife at the birth of her child. In that stretch of time he had become in his own view a childless man; his hopes had been thwarted in the son on whom alone his hopes had been built; the house he had founded was but an echoing vault; the fortune he had reared, an empty bubble. He was accursed; God had heard the woman's voice; he looked too steadily at the facts to mistake them, and let the incredulous fools laugh if they liked.
When, twenty years before, the Deemster realised that he was the slave of one tyrannical idea, he tried to break the fate that hung over him. He bought up the cottage on the Brew, and turned the woman Kerruish into the roads. Then he put his foot on every sign of superstitious belief that came in his way as j udge.
But not with such brave shows of unbelief could he conquer his one disturbing idea. His nature bad never been kindly, but now there grew upon him an obstinate hatred of every body. This was in the days when his children, Ewan and Mona, lived in the cosy nest at Bishop's Court. If in these days any man mentioned the Kerruishes in the Deemster's presence, he showed irritation, but he kept his ears open for every syllable said about them. He knew all their history; he knew when the girl Mally fled away from the island on the day of Ewan's christening; he knew by what boat she sailed; he knew where she settled herself in England; he knew when her child was born, and when, in terror at the unfulfilled censure of the Church that hung over her (separating her from all communion with God's people in life or hope of redemp tion in death), she came back to the island, drawn by an irresistible idea, her child at her breast, to work out her penance on the scene of her shame.
Thereafter he watched her daily, and knew her life. She had been taken back to work at the net-looms of Kinvig, the Peeltown net. maker, and she lived with her mother at the cottage over the Head, and there in poverty she brought up her child, her boy, Jarvis Kerruish, as she had called him. If any pointed at her and laughed with cruelty ; if any pretended to sympathise with her and said, with a snigger, "The first error is always forgiven, Mally woman;" if any mentioned the Deemster himself, and said, with a wink, "I'm thinking it terrible strange, Mally, that you don't take a slue round and put a sight on him;" if any said to her when she bought a new garment out of her scant earnings, a gown or even a scarf or bit of bright ribbon such as she loved in the old days, "Dearee dear ! I thought you wouldn't take rest, but be up and put a sight on the ould crooky "-the Deemster knew it all. He saw the ruddy; audacious girl of twenty sink into the pallid slattern of thirty, without hope, without joy in life, and with only a single tie.
And the Deemster found that there grew upon him daily his old malicious feeling; but, so far as concerned his outer bearing, matters took a turn on the day he came upon the boys, Dan Mylrea and Jarvis Kerruish, fighting in the road. It was the first time he had seen the boy Jarvis. "Who is he?" he had asked, and the old woman Kerruish had made answer, "Don't you know him, Deem ster 7 Do you never see a face like that? Not when you look in the glass ?"
There was no need to look twice into a mirror like the face of that lad to know whose son he was.
The Deemster went home to Ballamona, and thought over the fierce encounter. He could tolerate no longer the living reproach of this boy's--presence within a few miles of his own house, and, by an impulse no better than humbled pride, he went back to the cottage of the Kerruishes at night, alone and afoot. The cottage was a lone place on the top of a bare heath, with the bleak sea in front and the purple hills behind, and with a fence less cart-track leading up to it. A lead-mine, known as the Cross Vein, had been worked there forty years before. The shaft was still open, and now full of dark, foul water almost to the surface. One roofless wall showed where the gear had stood, and under the shelter of this wall there crouched a low thatched tool-shed, having a door and a small window. This was the cottage; and until old Mrs. Kerruish had brought there her few rickety sticks when, by the Deemster's orders, they had been thrown into the road, none had ever occupied the tool-shed as a house.
The door was open, and the Deemster stepped in. One of the women, old Mrs. Kerruish, was sitting on a stool by the fire-it was a fire of sputtering hazel sticks-shredding some scraps of green vegetables into a pot of broth that swung from the iron hook of the chimney. The other woman, Mally, was doing something in the dark crib of a sleeping-room, shut off from the living-room by a wooden partition like the stanchion board of a stable. The boy was asleep; his soft breathing came from the dark crib.
"Mrs. Kerruish," said the Deemster, " I am willing to take the lad, and rear him, and when the time comes to set him to business, and give him a start in life."
Mrs. Kerruish had risen stiffly from her stool, and her face was set hard.
" Think of it, woman, think of it, and don't answer in haste," said the Deemster.
" We'd have to be despard hard put to for a bite and a sup before we'd take anything from you, Deemster," said the old woman.
The Deemster's quick eyes, under the shaggy grey brows, glanced about the room. It was a place of poverty, descending to squalor. The floor was of the bare earth trodden hard, the roof was of the bare thatch, with here and there a lath pushed between the unhewn spars to keep it up, and here and there a broken patch dropping hay-seed.
"You are desperate hard put to, woman," said the Deemster, and at that Mally herself came out of the sleeping-crib. Her face was thin and pale, and her bleared eyes had lost' their sharp light; it was a countenance with out one ray of hope.
"Stop, mother," she said; "let us hear what the Deemster has to offer."
"Offer? Offer?" the old woman rapped out. "You've had enough of the Deemster's offers, I'm thinking."
"Be quiet, mother," said Mally; and then she turned to the Deemster and said, "Well, sir, and what is it? "
"Aw, very Pate and amazing civil to dirks like that-go on, girl, go on," said the old woman, tossing her head and hand in anger Sowards Mally.
"Mother, this is my concern, I'm thinking what is it, sir? "
But the old woman's wrath at her daughter's patience was not to be kept down. "Behold ye !" she said, "it's my own girl that's after telling me before strangers that I've not a farthing at me, and me good for nothing at working, and only fit to hobble about on a stick, and fix the house tidy maybe, and to have no say in nothing-go on, och, go on, girl."
The Deemster explained his proposal. It Was that the boy Jarvis should be given entirely into his control, and be no more known by his mother and his mother's mother, and perhaps no more seen or claimed or acknowledged by them, and that the Deemster should provide for him and see him started in life.
Mrs. Kerruish's impatience knew no bounds. "My gough ! " she cried, "my gough, my gough ! " But Mally listened and reflected. Her spirit was broken, and she was thinking of her poverty. Her mother was now laid aside by rheumatism, and could earn nothing, and she herself worked piecework at the net making-so much for a piece of net a hundred yards long by two hundred meshes deep toiling without heart from eight to eight, and earning four, five, and six shillings a week. And if there was a want, her boy felt it. She did not answer at once, and after a moment the Deemster turned to the door. "Think of it," he said; "think of it."
" Hurroo ! hurroo ! " cried the old woman derisively from her stool, her untamable soul aflame with indignation.
"Be quiet, mother," said Mally, and the hopelesness that had spoken from her eyes seemed then to find a way into her voice.
The end of it was that Jarvis Kerruish was sent to a school at Liverpool, and remained there three years, and then became a clerk in the counting-house of Benas Brothers, of the Goree Piazza, ostensibly African merchants, really English money-lenders. Jarvis did not fret at the loss of his mother, and of course he never wrote to her; but he addressed a careful letter to the Deemster twice a year, beginning " Honoured sir," and ending" Yours, with much respect, most obediently."
Mally had miscalculated her self-command. If she had thought of her poverty, it had been because she had thought of her boy as well. He would be lifted above it all if she could but bring herself to part with him. She wrought up her feelings to the sacrifice, and gave away her son, and sat down as a broken-spirited and childless woman. Then she realised the price she had to pay. The boy had been the cause of her shame, but he had been the centre of her pride as well. If she had been a hopeless woman before, she was now a heartless one. Little by little she fell into habits of idleness and intemperance. Before young Jarvis sat in his frilled shirt on the stool in the Goree Piazza, and before the down had begun to show on his lean cheeks, his mother was a lost and abandoned woman.
But not yet had the Deemster broken his fate. When Ewan disappointed his hopes and went into the Church and married with out his sanction or knowledge, it seemed to him that the chain was gradually tightening about him. Then the Deemster went over once more to the cottage at the Cross Vein alone, and in the night.
"Mrs. Kerruish," he said, "I am willing to allow you six pounds a year pension, and I will pay it in three pound-notes on Lady Day and Martinmas," and putting his first payment on the table, he turned about, and was gone before the rheumatic old body could twist in her chair.
The Deemster had just made his third visit to the cottage at the Cross Vein, and left his second payment, when the death of Ewan's young wife came as a thunderbolt and startled him to the soul. For days and nights there. after be went about like a beaten horse, trem bling to the very bone. He had resisted the truth for twenty years; he had laughed at it in his long lingering laugh at going to bed at night and at rising in the morning ; he had ridiculed superstition in others, and punished it when he could ; he was the judge of the island, and she through whose mouth his fate fell upon him was a miserable ruin cast aside on life's highway ; but the truth would be resisted no longer: the house over his head was accursed - accursed to him, and to his children, and to his children's children.
The Deemster's engrossing idea became a dominating terror. Was there no way left to him to break the fate that hung over him? None ? The Deemster revolved the problem night and day, and meantime lived the life of the damned. At length he hit on a plan, and then peace seemed to come to him, a poor paltering show of peace, and he went about no longer like a beaten and broken horse. His project was a strange one; it was the last that prudence would have sug gested, but the first that the evil spirit of his destiny could have hoped for-it was to send to Liverpool for Jarvis Kerruish, and establish him in Ballamona as his son.
In that project the hand of his fate was strongly upon him; he could not resist it; he seemed to yield himself to its power; he made himself its willing victim; he was even as Saul, when the Spirit of the Lord had gone from him and an evil spirit troubled him, sending for the anointed son of Jesse to play on the harp to him and to supplant him on the throne.