[from Hall Caine The Deemster]

CHAPTER XVI

THE PLOUGHING MATCH

WHEN Ewan got back home, Dan was sitting before the fire in the old hall, his legs stretched out before him, his hands thrust deep in his pockets, his head low in his breast, and his whole mien indicative of a crushed and broken spirit. He glanced up furtively as Ewan entered, and then back with a stony stare to the fire. If Ewan bad given him one word of cheer, God knows what tragic consequences would have been spared to both of them. But Ewan had saved Dan from the penalty of his crime at the cost of truth and his self esteem.

"Dan," he said, "you and I must part; we can be friends no longer."

He spoke with a strong effort, and the words seemed to choke him. Dan shambled to his feet; he appeared to collect his thoughts for a moment, like one who had fainted and returns to consciousness.

"Mind, I don't turn you out of the house," said Ewan, "only if we are to share this place together we must be strangers."

A hard smile broke out on Dan's face. He seemed to be trying to speak, but not a word

would come. He twisted slowly on his heel, and lifted the latch of the door that led to the inner part of the house.

"One thing more," said Ewan, speaking quickly and in a tremulous voice; " I will ask you to look upon yourself as a stranger to my sister also."

Dan stopped and turned about. Over the forced smile his hard face told of a great struggle for self-command. He said nothing, and after a moment he went out, drawing his breath audibly.

Then straightway Ewan flung himself in the chair from which Dan had risen, and his slight frame shook with suppressed sobs. After some minutes the sense of his own degradation diminished, and left room for a just idea of Dan's abject humiliation. "I have gone too far," he thought; " I will make amends." He had risen to follow Dan, when another thought trod heavily on the heels of the first. "Leave him alone, it will be best for himself; leave him alone, for his own sake." And so, with the madness of wrath fermenting in his own brain, he left it to ferment in Dan's brain as well.

Now when Dan found himself left alone, he tried to carry off his humiliation by a brave show of unconcern. He stayed on at the old Ballamona, but he never bothered himself not he, forsooth-to talk to folks who passed him on the stairs without a word of greet ing, or met in the hall without a glance of recognition.

It chanced just then that, in view of a threatened invasion, the authorities were get ting up a corps of volunteers, known as the Manx Fencibles, and that they called on the captains of the parishes to establish companies. Dan threw himself into this enterprise with uncommon vigour, took drills himself, acquired a competent knowledge of the rudiments in a twinkling, and forthwith set himself to band together the young fellows of his parish. It was just the sort of activity that Dan wanted at the moment, and in following it up the " Three Legs " saw him something oftener than before, and there the fellows of the baser sort drank and laughed with him, addressing him sometimes as captain, but oftener as Dan, never troubling themselves a ha'p'orth to put a handle to his name.

This was a turn of events which Ewan could not understand. " I have been mistaken in the man," he thought; "there's no heart left in him."

Towards the middle of December Jarvish Kerruish arrived at Ballamona, and forthwith established himself there in a position that would have been proper to the Deemster's heir. He was a young man of medium height and size, closely resembling the Deemster in face and figure. His dress was English: he wore a close-fitting undercoat with tails, and over it a loose cloak mounted with a brass buckle at the throat; he had a beaver hat of the shape of a sugarloaf ; and boots that fitted to his legs like gloves. His manner was expansive, and he betrayed a complete un consciousness of the sinister bar of his birth, and of the false position he had taken up in the Deemster's house. He showed no desire to visit the cottage at the Cross Vein, and he spoke of the poor with condescension. When he met with Ewan he displayed no uneasiness, and Ewan on his part gave no sign of resentment. Mona, on the other hand, betrayed an instinctive repulsion, and in less than a week from his coming their relations had reached an extraordinary crisis, which involved Ewan and Dan and herself in terrible consequences. This is what occurred. On the day before Christmas Day there was to be a ploughing match in a meadow over the Head, and Ewan stood pledged by an old promise to act as judge. The day came, and it was a heavy day, with snow-clouds hanging overhead, and misty vapours floating down from the hills and up from the Curraghs, and biding them. At ten in the morning Mona muffled herself in a great-cloak and went over to the meadow with Ewan. There a crowd had already gathered, strong men in blue pilots, old men in sheepskin coats, women with their short blue camblet gowns tucked over their linen caps, boys and girls on every side, all coming and going like shadows in the mist. At one end of the meadow several pairs of horses stood yoked to ploughs, and a few lads were in charge of them. On Ewan's arrival there was a general movement among a group of men standing together, and a respectful salutation to the parson. The names were called over of the ploughmen who had entered for the prize-a pound note and a cup-and last of all there was a show of hands for the election of six men to form a jury.

Then the stretch was staked out. The prize was to the ploughman who would make the stretch up and down the meadow in the shortest time, cutting the furrows straightest, cleanest, and of the most regular depth.

When all was ready, Ewan took up his station where the first furrow would be cut into the field, with Mona at his side, and the six jurors about him. The first plough man to bring up his plough was a brawny young fellow with a tanned face. The ploughman had brought up his horses in front of the stake, and had laid hands on his plough handles, and was measuring the

stretch with his eye for a landmark to sight by, when Jarvis Kerruish came into the meadow and walked through the crowd and took up a place by Mona's side. There were audible comments, and some racy exclamations as he pushed through the crowd, not lifting an eye to any face; but he showed complete indifference, and began to talk to Mona in a loud, measured tone. 

" Ah ! this is very gratifying," he was saying, " to see the peasantry engaged in manly sports -useful sports-is, I confess, very gratifying to me."

" My gough ! " said a voice from one side. "Hurroo ! " said a voice from the other side.

"Lawk-a-day ! " came from behind in a shrill female treble. " Did ye ever see a grub turn butterfly ? "

Jarvis seemed not to hear. "Now there are sports=' he began; but the ploughman was shouting to his horses, "Steady, steady," the plough was dipping into the succulent grass, the first swish of the upturned soil was in the air, and Jarvis's wise words were lost.

All eyes were on the bent back of the ploughman plodding on in the mist. "He cuts like a razor," said one of the spectators. " He bears his hand too much on," said another. "Do better yourself next spell," said a third.

When the horses reached the far end of the stretch the ploughman whipped them round like the turn of a wheel, and in another moment he was toiling back, steadily, firmly, his hand rigid, and his face set hard. When he got back to where Ewan, with his watch in his hand, stood surrounded by the jurors, he was covered with sweat. "Good, very goodsix minutes ten seconds," said Ewan ; and there were some plaudits from the people looking on, and some banter of the competitors who came up to follow.

Jarvis Kerruish, at Mona's elbow, was beginning again, "I confess that it has always been my personal opinion-" but in the bustle of another pair of horses whipped up to the stake no one seemed to be aware that he was speaking.

Five ploughmen came in succession, but all were behind the first in time, and cut a less regular furrow. So Ewan and the jurors announced that the prize was to the stranger. Then as Ewan twisted]about, his adjudication finished, to where Mona stood with Jarvis by her side, there was a general rush of competitors and spectators to a corner of the meadow, where, from a little square cart, the buirdly stranger who was victor proceeded to serve out glasses of ale from a small barrel.

While this was going on, and there was some laughter and shouting and singing, there came a loud Hello! as of many voices from a little distance, and then the beat of many irregular feet, and one of the lads in the crowd, who had jumped to the top of the

broad turf hedge, shouted, "It's the capt'n-it's Mastha Dan."

In another half-minute Dan and some fifty or sixty of the scum of the parish came tumbling into the meadow on all sides-over the hedge, over the gate, and tearing through the gaps in the gorse. These were the corps that Dan had banded together towards the Manx Fencibles, but the only regimentals they yet wore were a leather belt, and the only implement of war they yet carried was the small dagger that was fitted into the belt. That morning they had been drilling, and after drill they had set off to see the ploughing match, and on the way they had passed the " Three Legs," and, being exceeding dry, they had drawn up in front thereof, and every man had been served with a glass, which had been duly scored off to the captain's account.

Dan saw Mona with Ewan as he vaulted the gate, but he gave no sign of recognition, and in a moment he was in the thick of the throng at the side of the cart, hearing all about the match, and making loud comments upon it in his broadest homespun.

"What 1" he said, "and you've let yourselves be bate by a craythur like that. Hurroo ! " He strode up to the stranger's furrow, cocked his eye along it, and then glanced at the stranger's horses.

" Och, I'll go bail I'll bate it with a yoke of oxen."

At that there was a movement of the crowd around him, and some cheering, just to egg on the rupture that was imminent.

The big stranger heard all, and strode through the people with a face like a thundercloud.

"Who says he'll bate it with a yoke of oxen ? " he asked.

"That's just what I'm afther saying, my fine fellow. Have you anything agen it ? "

In half a minute a wager had been laid of a pound a side that Dan with a pair of oxen would beat the stranger with a pair of horses in two stretches out of three.

" Davy ! Davy ! " shouted Dan, and in a twinkling there was Davy Fayle, looking queer enough in his guernsey, and his long boots, and his sea-cap, and withal his belt and his dagger. Davy was sent for the pair of oxen to where they were leading manure, not far away. He went off like a shot, and in ten minutes he was back in the meadow, driving the oxen before him.

Now these oxen had been a gift of the Bishop to Dan. They were old, and had grown wise with their years. For fifteen years they had worked on the glebe at Bishop's Court, and they knew the dinner-hour as well as if they could have taken the altitude of the sun. When the dinner-bell rang at the Court at twelve o'clock the oxen would stop short, no matter where they were or what they were doing, and not another budge would they make until they had been unyoked and led off for their mid-day mash.

It was now only a few minutes short of twelve, but no one took note of that circumstance, and the oxen were yoked to a plough.

"Same judge and jury," said the stranger; but Ewan excused himself.

"Aw, what matter about a judge?" said Dan from his plough handles. "Let the jury be judge as well."

Ewan and Mona looked on in silence for some moments. Ewan could scarce contain himself. There was Dan, stripped to his red flannel shirt, his face tanned and, glowing, his whole body radiant with fresh life and health, and he was shouting and laughing as if there had never been a shadow to darken his days.

"Look at him," whispered Ewan, with emotion, in Mona's ear. "Look! this goodnature that seems so good to others is almost enough to make me hate him."

Mona was startled, and turned to glance into Ewan's face.

"Come, let us go," said Ewan, with head aside.

"Not yet," said Mona.

Then Jarvis Kerruish, who had stepped aside for a moment, returned and said"Will you take a wager with me, Mona-a pair of gloves ? "

"Very well," she answered. "Who do you bet on?"

" Oh, on the stranger," said Mona, colouring slightly, and laughing a little.

"How lucky," said Jarvis ; " I bet on the captain."

" I can stand it no longer," whispered Ewan. "Will you come?" But Mona's eyes were riveted on the group about the oxen. She did not hear, and Ewan turned away, and walked out of the meadow.

Then there was a shout, and the oxen started with Dan behind them. On they went through the hard, tough ground tranquilly, steadily, with measured pace, tearing through roots of trees that lay in their way as if nothing could stop them in their great strength.

When the oxen got back after the first stretch the time was called-five minutes thirty seconds-and there was a great cheer, and Mora's pale face was triumphant.

The stranger brought up his horses, and set off again, straining every muscle. He did his stretch in six minutes four seconds, and another cheer-but it was a cheer for Danwent up after the figures were called.

Then Dan whipped round his oxen once more, and brought them up to the stake. The excitement among the people was now very great. Mona clutched her cloak convulsively, and held her breath. Jarvis was watching her closely, and she knew that his cold eyes were on her face.

"One would almost imagine that you were anxious to lose your bet," he said. She made no answer. When the oxen started again, her lips closed tightly, as if she was in pain.

On the oxen went, and made the first half of the stretch without a hitch, and, with the blade of the plough lifted, they were wheeling over the furrow end, when a bell rang across the Curragh-it was the bell for the mid-day meal at Bishop's Court-and instantly they came to a dead stand. Dan called to them, but they did not budge; then his whip fell heavily across their snouts, and they snorted, but stirred not an inch. The people were in a tumult, and shouted with fifty voices at once. Dan's passion mastered him. He brought his whip down over the flanks and across the eyes and noses of the oxen ; they winced under the blows that rained down on them, and then shot away across the meadow, tearing up the furrows they had made.

Then there was a cry of vexation and anger from the people, and Dan, who had let go his reins, strode back to the stake. " I've lost," said Dan, with a muttered oath at the oxen.

All this time Jarvis Kerruish had kept his eye steadily fixed on Mona's twitching face. "You've won, Mona," he said, in a cold voice and with an icy smile.

" I must go. Where is Ewan ? " she said tremulously, and, before Jarvis was aware, she had gone over the grass.

Dan had heard when Ewan declined to act as judge, he had seen when Ewan left the meadow, and, though he did not look, he knew when Mona was no longer there. His face was set hard, and it glowed red under his sunburnt skin.

"Davy, bring them up," he said; and Davy Fayle led back the oxen to the front of the stake.

Then Dan unyoked them, took out the long swinging tree that divided them-a heavy wooden bar clamped with iron -and they stood free and began to nibble the grass under their feet.

"Look out!" he shouted, and he swung the bar over his shoulder.

The crowd receded, and left an open space in which Dan stood alone with the oxen, his great limbs holding the ground like their own hoofs, his muscles standing out like bulbs on his bare arms.

" What is he going to do-kill them ? " said one.

" Look out ! " Dan shouted again, and in another moment there was the swish of the bar through the air. Then down the bar came on the forehead of one of the oxen, and it reeled, and its legs gave way, and it fell dead.

The bar was raised again, and again it fell, and the second of the oxen reeled like the first and fell dead beside its old yokefellow.

A cry of horror ran through the crowd, but heeding it not at all, Dan threw on his coat and buckled his belt about him and strode through the people and out at the gate.


 

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