[from Hall Caine The Deemster]



WHAT happened next was one of those tragedies of bewildering motive, so common and so fatal, in which it is impossible to decide whether evil passion or evil circumstance plays the chief malicious part.

Dan walked straight to the new Ballamona, and pushed through the house without ceremony, as it had been his habit to do in other days, to the room where Mona was to be found. She was there, and she looked startled at his coming.

"Is it you, Dan?" she said in a tremulous whisper.

He answered sullenly

"It is I. I have come to speak with youI have something to say-but no matter-" He stopped and threw himself into a chair. His head ached, his eyes were hot, and his mind seemed to him to be in darkness and confusion.

"Mona, I think I must be going mad," he stammered after a moment.

"Why talk like that?" she said. Her bosom heaved and her face was troubled.

He did not answer, but after a pause turned towards her, and said in a quick, harsh tone, 11 You did not expect to see me here, and you have been forbidden to receive me. Is it not so ? "

She coloured deeply, and did not answer at once, and then she began with hesitation

" My father-it is true, my father-"

"It is so," he said sharply. He got on to his feet and tramped about the room. After a moment he sat down again, and leaned his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands.

"But what of Ewan ? " he asked.

"Ewan loves you, Dan, and you have been at fault," said Mona in broken accents.

" At fault ? "

There was a sudden change in his manner. He spoke brusquely, even mockingly, and laughed a short grating laugh.

"They are taking the wrong way with me, Mona-that's the fact," he said, and now his breast heaved and the words came with difficulty.

Mona was gazing absently out at the window, her head aslant, her fingers interlaced before her. "Oh, Dan, Dan," she murmured in a low tone, "there is your dear, dear father, and Ewan and-and myself="

Dan had leapt to his feet again. "Don't turn my eyes into my head, Mona," he said. He tramped to and fro in the room for a moment, and then broke out nervously, "Ail last night I dreamt such an ugly dream. I dreamt it three times, and O God ! what an ugly dream it was ! It was a bad night, and I was walking in the dark, and stumbling first into bogs and then in cart ruts, when all of a sudden a man's hand seized me unawares. I could not see the man, and we struggled long in the darkness, and it seemed as if he would master me. Ire gripped me by the waist, and I held him by the shoulders. We reeled and fell together, and when I would have risen, his knee was on my chest. But a great flood of strength seemed to come to me, and I threw him off, and rose to my feet and closed with him again, and at last I was over him. covering him, with his back across my thigh and my hand set hard in his throat. And all this time I heard his loud breathing in the darkness, but never once the sound of his voice. Then instantly, as if by a flash of lightning, I saw the face that was close to mine, and-God Almighty! it was my own face-my own-and it was black already from the pressure of my stiff fingers at the throat."

He trembled as he spoke, and sat again and shivered, and a cold chill ran down his back.

"Mona," he said, half in a sob, "do you believe in omens ? "

She did not reply. Her breast heaved visibly, and she could not speak.

" Tush ! " he said, in another voice, " omens 1 " and he laughed bitterly, and rose again and picked up his hat, and then said in a quieter way, "Only, as I say, they're taking the wrong way with me, Mona."

He had opened the door, and she had turned her swimming eyes towards him.

" It was bad enough to make himself a stranger to me, but why did he want to make you a stranger, too ? Stranger ! Stranger ! " He echoed the word in a mocking accent, and threw back his head.

"Dan," said Mona, in a low, passionate tone, and the blinding tears rained down her cheeks, "nothing and nobody can make us strangers, you and me-not my father, or your dear father, or Ewan, or"-she dropped her voice to a deep whisper-" or any misfortune or any disgrace."

" Mona ! " he cried, and took a step towards her, and stretched out one arm with a yearning gesture.

But at the next moment be had swung about, and was going out at the door. At sight of all that tenderness and loyalty on Mona's face his conscience smote him as it had never smitten him before.

"Ewan was right, Mona. Ile is the noblest man on God's earth, and I am the foulest beast on it."

He was pulling the door behind him, when he encountered Jarvis Kerruish in the hall. That gentleman had just come into the house, and was passing through the hall in hat and cloak. He looked appalled at seeing Dan there, and stepped aside to let him go by; but Dan did not so much as recognise his presence by lifting his head as he strode out at the porch.

With head still bent, Dan had reached the gate to the road and pushed through it, and sent it back with a swing and a click, when the Deemster walked up to it, and half halted, and would have stopped. But Dan went moodily on, and the frown on the Deemster's wizened face was lost on him. He did not take the lane towards the old Ballamona, but followed the turnpike that led past Bishop's Court, and as he went by the large house behind the trees Ewan came through the smaller gate, and turned towards the new Ballamona. They did not speak, or even glance at each other's faces.

Dan went on until he came to the parish church. There was singing within, and he stopped. He remembered that this was Christ mas Eve. The choir was practising the psalms for the morrow's services.

"Before I was troubled, I went wrong; but now have I kept Thy word."

Dan went up to the church porch, and stood there and listened.

"It is good for me that I have been in trouble, that I may learn Thy statutes."

The wooden door, clamped and barred and worm-eaten and cut by knives, was ajar, and from where he stood Dan could see into the church. There were the empty pews, the gaunt, square, green-clad boxes on which he had sat on many a Christmas Eve at Oiel Verree. He could picture the old place as it used to be in those days of his boyhood, the sea of faces, some solemn and some bubbling over with mischief, the candles with their ribbons, the old clerk, Will-asThorn, standing up behind the communionrail with his pitch-pipe in his hand, and Hommy-beg, in his linsey-wolsey petticoat, singing lustily from a paper held upside down. The singing stopped. Behind were' the hills Slien Dhoo and Slieu Volley, hidden now under a thick veil of mist, and from across the flat Curragh there came in the silence the low moan of the sea. "" Once more," said a voice within the church, and then the psalm was sung again. Dan began to breathe easier, he scarce knew why, and a great weight seemed to be lifted off his breast.

As he turned away from the porch a heavy web of cloud was sweeping on and sweeping on from over the sea. He looked up and saw that a snowstorm was coming, and that the snow-cloud would break when it reached the mountains.

The clock in the grey tower was striking -one-two-three-so it was now three o'clock. Dan went down towards the creek known as the Lockjaw, under Orris Head. There he expected to see old Billy Quilleash and his mates, who had liberty to use the Ben-my-Chree during the winter months for fishing with the lines. When he got to the creek it was an hour after high water, and the lugger, with Quilleash and Teare, had gone out for cod. Davy Fayle, who, like Dan himself, was still wearing his militia belt and dagger, had been doing something among scraps of nets and bits of old rope, which lay in a shed that the men had thrown together for the storing of their odds and ends.

Davy was looking out to sea. Down there a stiff breeze was blowing, and the white curves of the breakers outside could just be seen through the thick atmosphere.

"The storm is coming, Mastha Dan," said Davy. " See the diver on the top of the white wave out there D'ye hear her wild note? "

Davy shaded his eyes from the wind, which was blowing from the sea, and looked up at the stormy petrel that was careering over the head of the cliff above them and uttering its dismal cry. "Ay, and d'ye see Mother Carey's chickens up yonder?" said Davy again. "The storm's coming, and wonderful quick too."

Truly, a storm was coming, and it was a storm more terrible than wind and snow.


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HTML Transcription © F.Coakley , 2003