[from Hall Caine The Deemster]
Now when Jarvis Kerruish encountered Dan in the act of coming out of Mona's room, his surprise was due to something more than the knowledge that Dan had been forbidden the house. On leaving the meadow after the ploughing match, and the slaughter of the oxen that followed it, Jarvis had made a long circuit of the Curragh, and returned to Ballamona by the road. He had been pondering on Mona's deportment during the exciting part of the contest between Dan and the stranger, and had just arrived at obvious conclusions of his own by way of explaining the emotion that she could not conceal, when he recognised that he was approaching the cottage occupied by Hommy-beg and his wife Kerry. A droning voice came from within, accompanied by some of the most doleful wails that ever arrested mortal ears.
Jarvis was prompted to stop and enter. He did so, and found both the deaf husband and the blind wife at home. Hommy was squatting on a low three-legged stool, with his fiddle at his shoulder, playing vigorously, and singing as he played. It was Christmas Eve to Hommybeg also, and he was practising the carol that he meant to sing at the Oiel Verree that night. Blind Kerry was sitting by the fire knitting with grey yarn. The deaf man's eyes and the blind woman's ears simultaneously announced the visit of Jarvis, and as Hommy-beg dropped his fiddle from his shoulder, Kerry let fall the needles on her lap, and held up her hand with an expression of concern.
"" Och, and didn't I say that something was happening at Ballamona ?" said Kerry.
"And so she did," said Hommy.
" I knew it," said Kerry. " I knew it, as the sayin' is."
All this in return for Jarvis's casual visit and mere salutation surprised him.
"The sight! The sight ! It's as true as the ould Book itself. Aw, yes; aw, yes," continued Kerry, and she began to wring her hands.
Jarvis felt uneasy. "Do you know, my good people," he said largely, "I'm at a loss to understand what you mean. What is it that has happened at Ballamona ? "
At that the face of the blind wife looked puzzled.
"Have ye not come from Ballamona straight?" she asked.
"No ; it's four hours since I left there," said Jarvis.
"Aw dear, aw dearee dear I" said Kerry. " The sight ! the sight !"
Jarvis's uneasiness developed into curiosity, and in answer to many questions he learned that blind Kerry had that day been visited by another of those visions of Dan which never came to her except when her nursling was in some disgrace or danger, and never failed to come to her then. On this occasion the vision had been one of great sorrow, and Kerrv trembled as she recounted it.
'If saw him as plain as plain, and he was standing in Mistress Mona's room, atween the bed and the wee craythur's cot, and he went down on his knees aside of it, and cried, and cried, and cried morthal, and Mistress Mona herself was there sobbing her heart out, as the sayin' is, and the wee craythur was sleeping soft and quiet, and it was dark night outside and the candle was in the mistress's hand. Aw yes, I saw it, sir, I saw it, and I tould my man here, and, behould ye, he said,
' Drop it, woman, drop it,' says he. ' It's only drames, it's only drames. "
Jarvis did not find the story a tragic one, but he listened with an interest that was all his own.
" You saw Mr. Dan in Miss Mona's room-do you mean her chamber ? "
"Sure, and he climbed in at the window, and white as a haddock, and all amuck with sweat."
" Climbed in at the window-tire window of her chamber-her bedroom-you're sure it was her bedroom?"
" Sarten sure. Don't I know it same as my own bit of a place ? The bed, with the curtains all white and dimity, as they're sayin', and the wee thing's cot carved over with the lions and the tigers and the beasties, and the goat's rug, and the sheepskin-aw, yes; aw, yes."
The reality of the vision had taken such hold of Kerry that she bad looked upon it as a certain presage of disaster, and when Jarvis had opened the door she had leapt to the conclusion that he came to announce the catastrophe that she foresaw, and to summon her to Ballamona.
Jarvis smiled grimly. He had heard in the old days of Kerry's second sight, and now he laughed at it. But the blind woman's stupid dreams bad given him an idea, and he rose suddenly and hurried away.
Jarvis knew the Deemster's weakness, for he knew why he found himself where he was. Stern man as the Deemster might be, keen of wit and strong of soul, Jarvis knew that there was one side of his mind on which he was feebler than a child. On that side of the Deemster Jarvis now meant to play to his own end and profit.
He was full to the throat of the story which he had to pour into credulous ears that never listened to a superstitious tale without laughing at it, and mocking at it, and believing it, when he stepped into the hall at Ballamona, and came suddenly face to face with Dan, and saw the door of Mona's sitting-room open be. fore and close behind him.
Jarvis was bewildered. Could it be possible that there was something in the blind woman's second sight ? He had scarcely recovered from his surprise when the Deemster walked into the porch, looking as black as a thundercloud.
"That man has been here again," he said. "Why didn't you turn him out of the house ? "
"I have something to tell you," said Jarvis. They went into the Deemster's study. It was a little place to the left of the hall, half under the stairs, and with the fireplace built across one corner. Over the mantelshelf a number of curious things were hung from hooks and nails-a huge silver watch with a small face and great seals, a mask, a blunderbuss, a monastic lamp and a crucifix, a piece of silvered glass, and a pistol.
"What now?" asked the Deemster.
Jarvis told the blind woman's story with variations, and the Deemster listened intently and with a look of deadly rage.
"And you saw him come out of her room -you yourself saw him ? " said the Deemster.
"With my own eyes, dear sir," said Jarvis. The Deemster's lip quivered. "My God ! it must be true," he said.
At that moment they heard a foot in the hall, and going to the door in his restless tramping to and fro, the Deemster saw that Ewan had come into the house. He called to him, and Ewan went into the study, and on Ewan going in Jarvis went out.
There was a look of such affright on the Deemster's face that before a word was spoken Ewan had caught the contagion of his father's terror. Then, grasping his son by the wrist in the intensity of his passion, the Deemster poured his tale into Ewan's ear. But it was not the tale that blind Kerry had told to Jarvis, it was not the tale that Jarvis had told to him; it was a tale compounded of superstition and of hate. Blind Kerry had said of her certain knowledge that Dan was accustomed to visit Mona in her chamber at night alone, entering in at the window. Jarvis
Kerruish himself bad seen him there-and that very day, not at night, but in the broad daylight, Jarvis had seen Dan come from Mona's room. What? Had Ewan no bowels, that he could submit to the dishonour of his own sister?
Ewan listened to the hot words that came from his father in a rapid and ceaseless whirl. The story was all so fatally circumstantial as the Deemster told it; no visions, no sights, no sneezings of an old woman ; all was clear, hard, deadly, damning circumstance, or seemed to be so to Ewan's heated brain and poisoned heart.
"Father," he said, very quietly, but with visible emotion, "you are my father, but there are only two persons alive from whose lips I would take a story like this, and you are not one of them."
At that word the Deemster's passion overcame him. "My God," he cried, "what have I done that I should not be believed by my own son? Would I slander my own daughter?"
But Ewan did not hear him. He had turned away, and was going towards the door of Mona's room. He moved slowly; there was an awful silence. Full half a minute his hand rested on the door handle, and only then did his nervous fingers turn it.
He stepped into the room. The room was empty. It was Mona's sitting-room, her work room, her parlour, her nursery. Out of it there opened another room by a door at the farther end of the wall on the left. The door of that other room was ajar, and Ewan could hear, from where he now stood quivering in every limb, the soft cooing of the child-his child, his dead wife's child-and the inarticulate nothings that Mona, the foster-mother, babbled over it.
"Boo-loo-la-la-pa-pa," "Dearee-dearee-dear," and then the tender cooing died off into a murmur, and an almost noiseless long kiss on the full round baby-neck.
Ewan stood irresolute for a moment, and the sweat started from his forehead. He felt like one who has been kneeling at a shrine when a foul hand besmudges it. He had half swung about to go back, when his ear caught the sound of the Deemster's restless foot outside. Ile could not go back; the poison had gone to his heart.
He stepped into the bedroom that led out of the sitting-room. Mona raised her eyes as her brother entered. She was leaning over the cot, her beautiful face alive with the light of a tender love-a very vision of pure and delicious womanhood. Almost she had lifted the child from the cot to Ewan's arms when at a second glance she recognised the solemn expression of his face, and then she let the little one slide back to its pillow.
" What has happened? "
" Is it true," he began very slowly, " that Dan has been here? "
Then Mona blushed deeply, and there was a pause.
"Is it true?" he said again, and now with a hurried and startled look, "is it true that Dan has been here-here ?"
Mona misunderstood his emphasis. Ewan was standing in her chamber, and when he asked if Dan had been there, he was inquiring if Dan had been with her in that very room. She did not comprehend the evil thought that had been put in his heart. But she remembered the prohibition placed upon her, both by Ewan and her father, never to receive Dan again, and her confusion at the moment of Ewan's question came of the knowledge that, contrary to that prohibition, she had received him.
"Is it true?" he asked yet again, and he trembled with the passion he suppressed. After a pause he answered himself with an awful composure, "It is true."
The child lifted itself and babbled at Mona with its innocent face all smiles, and Mona turned to bide her confusion by leaning over the cot.
Then a great wave of passion seemed to come to Ewan, and be stepped to his sister and took her by both hands. He was like a strong man in a dream, who feels sure that he can only be dreaming-struggling in vain to awake from a terrible nightmare, and knowing that a nightmare it must be that sits on him and crushes him.
"No, no, there must be a mistake; there must, there must," he said, and his hot breathing beat on her face. "He has never been here-here-never."
Mona raised herself. She loosed her hands from his grasp. Her woman's pride had been stung. It seemed to her that her brother was taking more than a brother's part.
"There is no mistake," she said with some anger. " Dan has been here."
"You confess it?"
She looked him straight in the eyes and answered, "Yes, if you call it so-I confess it. It is of no use to deceive you."
Then there was an ominous silence. Ewan's features became deathlike in their rigidity. A sickening sense came over him. He was struggling to ask a question that his tongue would not utter.
"Mona-do you mean-do you mean that Dan has-has-outrage-Great God! what am I to say? How am I to say it ? "
Mona drew herself up.
"I mean that I can hide my feelings no longer," she said. " Do with me as you may; I am not a child, and no brother shall govern me. Dan has been bere-outrage or none-call it what you will-yes, and-" she dropped her head over the cot, " I love him."
Ewan was not himself ; his heart was poisoned, or then and there he would have unravelled the devilish tangle of circumstance. He tried again with another and yet another question. But every question he asked, and every answer Mona gave, made the tangle thicker. His strained jaw seemed to start from his skin.
"I passed him on the road," be said to himself in a hushed whisper. " Oh, that I had but known 1 "
Then with a look of reproach at Mona h( turned aside and went out of the room.
He stepped back to the study, and there theDeemster was still tramping to and fro. "Simpleton, simpleton ! to expect a woman to acknowledge her own dishonour," the Deemster cried.
Ewan did not answer at once; but in silence he reached up to where the pistol hung over the mantelshelf and took it down.
"What are you doing ? " cried the Deemster. "She has acknowledged it," said Ewan, still in a suppressed whisper.
For a moment the Deemster was made speechless and powerless by that answer. Then he laid hold of his son's hand and wrenched the pistol away.
"No violence," he cried.
He was now terrified at the wrath that his own evil passions had aroused; he locked the pistol in a cabinet.
" It is better so," said Ewan, and in another moment he was going out at the porch.
The Deemster followed him, and laid a hand on his arm.
"Remember-no violence," he said; "for the love of God, see there is no violence." But Ewan, without a word more, without relaxing a muscle of his hard, white face, without a glance or a sign, but with bloodshot eyes and quivering nostrils, with teeth compressed and the great veins on his forehead large and dark over the scar that Dan had left there, drew himself away, and went out of the house.