[from Hall Caine The Deemster]
EWAN went along like a man whose reason is clogged. All his faculties were deadened. He could not see properly. He could not hear.
He could not think. Try as he might to keep his faculties from wandering, his mind would not be kept steady.
Time after time he went back to the passage', of Scripture which he had fixed on that morning for his next lesson and sermon. It was the story how Esau, when robbed of the birthright blessing, said in his heart, "I will slay my brother Jacob;" how Jacob fled from his brother's anger to the home of Laban ; how after many years Esau married the daughter of Ishmael, and Jacob came to the country of Edom ; how in exceeding fear of Esau's wrath Jacob sent before him a present for Esau out of the plenty with which God had blessed him; and how Jacob lifted up his eyes and beheld Esau, and ran to meet him and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept.
Ewan would see the goats and the ewes, and the rams, and the milch-camels toiling along through the hot lush grass by the waters of the Jordan; then all at once these would vanish, and he would find himself standing alone in the drear winter day, with the rumble of the bleak sea far in front, and close overhead the dark snow-clouds sweeping on and on.
His strong emotion paralysed, all his faculties. He could neither fix his mind on the mission on which he had set out, nor banish the thought of it. Mission 1 What was it? At one moment he thought he knew, and then his eyes seemed to jump from their sockets. "Am I going mad?" he asked himself, and his head turned giddy.
He went on; a blind force impelled him. At length he reached the old Ballamona. His own especial room in the house was the little book-encased closet, looking over the Curraghs towards the sea-the same that had been the study of Gilcrist Mylrea, before he went away and came back as Bishop.
But Ewan turned mechanically towards another part of the house, and entered a room hung about with muskets and the horns of deer, fishing-rods and baskets, a watchman's truncheon lettered in red, loose pieces of net, and even some horse harness. A dog, a brown collie, lay asleep before the fire, and over the rannel-tree shelf a huge watch was ticking.
But Dan was not in his room. Then Ewan remembered in a dazed way-how had the memory escaped him so long?-that when Dan passed him on the road he was not going homewards, but towards the village. No doubt the man was on his way to the low pot-house he frequented.
Ewan left Ballamona and went on towards the "Three Legs of Man." He crossed the fields which the Bishop had cut off from the episcopal demesne for his son's occupation as a farm. As he walked, his wandering, aimless thoughts were arrested by the neglected state of the land and the stock upon it. In one croft the withered stalks of the last crop of cabbage lay rotten on the ground; in a meadow a sheep was lying dead of the rot, and six or seven of the rest of the flock were dragging their falling wool along the thin grass.
Ewan came out of the fields to the turnpike by the footpath that goes by Bishop's Court, and as he passed through the stile he heard the Bishop in conversation with some one on the road within.
"What is the balance that I owe you, Mr. Looney, for building those barns on my son's farm ? " the Bishop was saying.
"Seven pounds five shillings, my lord," the man answered; "and rael bad I'm wanting the money, too, my, lord, and three months I'm afther waiting for it."
"So you are, Mr. Looney. You would have been paid before this if I'd had wherewith to pay you.'
Then there was silence between the two, and Ewan was going on, when the Bishop added" Here-here-take this." There was a sound as of the rattle of keys and seals and a watchchain. "It was my old father's last gift to me, all he had to give to me-God bless his memory !-and I little thought to part with it -but there, take it and sell it, and pay yourself, Mr. Looney."
The man seemed to draw back.
"Your watch !" he said. " Aw, no, no, no ! Och, if I'm never paid, never, it's not Patrick Looney that is the man to take the watch out of your pocket."
"Take it-take it ! Why, my good man the Bishop's voice was all but breaking-" you should not refuse to take the time of day from your Bishop." Then there was a jaunty laugh, with a great sob at the back of it. "Besides, I've found the old thing a sore tax on my failing memory this many day to wind it and wear it. Come, it will wipe out my debt to you."
Ewan went on; his teeth were set hard. Why had he overheard that conversation? Was it to whet his purpose? It seemed as if there might be some supernatural influence over him. But this was not the only conversation he over heard that day. When he got to the "Three Legs of Man" a carrier's cart stood outside. Ewan stepped into the lobby of the house. The old cat was counting up the chalk marks, vertical and horizontal, at the back of the cupboard door, and the carrier was sitting on a round table recounting certain mad doings at Castletown.
" 'Let's down with the watch and take their lanterns,' says the captain, says he, laughing morthal and- a bit sprung, maybe; and down they went, one atop o' the other, Jemmy the Red, and Johnny-by-Nite, and all the rest of them, bellowing strong, and the captain and his pals whipping up their lanterns and their truncheons, and away at a slant. Aw, it was right fine."
The carrier laughed loud at his story.
"Was that when Mastha Dan was down at Castletown fixing the business for the Fencibles ? "
"Aw, yes, woman, and middlin' stiff it cost him. Next morning Jemmy the Iced and Johnny-by-Nite were off for the Castle, but the captain met them, and 'I'm not for denying it,' says he, and ' a bit of a spree,' he says, and 'Take this, Jemmy,' says he, 'and say no more.'"
" And what did he give the watch to sweeten them? "
"Three pound, they're saying. Aw, yes, woman, woman-liberal, very. None o' yer close-fisted about the captain."
The blood rushed to Ewan's heart. In a moment he found himself asking for Dan, and hearing from the old woman with the whiskers, who spoke with a curtsey after every syllable, that Waster Dan had been seen to go down towards the creek, the Lockjaw, under Orris Head.
Ewan went out of the pot-house and turned the lane towards the creek. What was the mysterious influence on his destiny that he of all men must needs overhear two such conger. sations, and hear them now of all times? The neglected lands, the impoverished old Bishop, the reckless spendthrift all rose before Ewan's mind in a bewildering haze.
The lane to the Lockjaw led past the shambles that stood a little out of the village. Ewan had often noticed the butcher's low waggon on the road, with sheep penned in by a rope across the stern-board, or with a calf in a net. All at once he now realised that he was walking behind this waggon, and that a dead ox lay in it, and that the driver at the horse's head was talking to a man who plodded along beside him. Ewan's faculties were now more clouded than before, but he could hear, with gaps in which his sense of hearing seemed to leave him, the conversation between the two men.
"Well, well, just to think-killing the poor beast for stopping when the dinner-bell rang at the Coort ! And them used of it for fifteen years! Aw, well, well."
"He's no Christian, anyway, and no disrespec'."
" Christian ? Christian, is it? Brute beast as I'm sayin'. The ould Bishop's son? Well, well."
Bit by bit, scarcely listening, losing the words sometimes, as one loses at intervals the tick of a clock when lying awake at night with a brain distraught, Ewan gathered up the story of the bad business at the ploughing match after he had left the meadow.
" Christian ? Och, Christian ? " one of the men repeated, with a bitter laugh of mockery. " I'm thinkin' it would be a middlin' little crime to treat a Christian like that same as he treated the poor dumb craythurs."
Ewan's temples beat furiously, and a fearful tumult was rife in his brain. One wild thought expelled all other thoughts. Why had he overheard three such conversations ? There could be but one answer-he was designed by supernatural powers to be the instrument of a fixed purpose. It was irrevocably decided-he was impelled to the terrible business that was in his mind by an irresistible force to which he was blind and powerless. It was so-it was so.
Ewan pushed on past the waggon, and heard the men's voices die off to an indistinct mumble behind him. How hideous were the meditations of the next few minutes ! The beating of his temple drew the skin hard about the scar above it. He thought of his young wife in her grave, and of the shock that sent her there. He felt afresh the abject degradation of tLat bitter moment in the library at Bishop's Court, when, to save the honour of a forger, he had lied before God and man. Then he thought of the grey head of the august old man, serenest of saints, fondest of fathers, the Bishop, bowed down to the dust with shame and a ruined hope. And after his mind had oscillated among these agonising thoughts there came to him over all else, and more hideous than all else, the memory of what his own father, the Deemster, had told him an hour ago.
Ewan began to run, and as he ran all his blood seemed to rush to his head, and a thousand confused and vague forms danced before his eyes. All at once he recognised that he was at the mouth of the creek, going down the steep gate to the sea that ended in the Lockjaw. Before he was aware, he was talk ing with Davy Fayle and asking for Dan. He noticed that his voice would scarcely obey him. "He's in the crib on the shore, sir," said Davy, and the lad turned back to his work. He was hammering an old bent nail out of a pitch-pine plank that had washed ashore with the last tide. After a moment Davy stopped and looked after the young parson, and shook his head and muttered something to himself. Then he threw down his hammer and followed slowly.
Ewan went on. His impatience was now feverish. He was picturing Dan as he would find him-drinking, smoking, laughing, one leg thrown over the end of a table, his cap awry, his face red, his eyes bleared, and his lips hot.
It was growing dark, the snow-cloud was very low overhead, the sea-birds were screaming down at the water's edge, and the sea's deep rumble came up from the shingle below and the rocks beyond.
Ewan saw the tent and made for it. As he came near to it he slipped and fell. Regaining his feet, he perceived that in the dusk he had tripped over some chips that lay about a block. Davy bad been chopping firewood of the driftwood that the sea had sent up. Ewan saw the hatchet lying among the loose chips. In an instant he had caught it up. Recognising in every event of that awful hour the mysterious influence of supernatural powers, he read this incident as he had read all the others. Until then he had thought of nothing but the deed he was to do; never for one instant of how he was to do it. But now the hatchet was thrust into his hand. Thus was everything irrevocably decided.
And now Ewan was in front of the tent, panting audibly, the hatchet in his hand, his eyes starting from their sockets, the great veins on his forehead hard and black. Now, O God! for a moment's strength, one little moment's strength, now, now !
The smoke was rising from the gorse-covered roof ; the little black door was shut. Inside was Dan, Dan, Dan; and while Ewan's young wife lay in her grave, and Ewan's sister was worse than in her grave, and the good Bishop was brought low, Dan was there, there, and he was drinking and laughing, and his heart was cold and dead.
Ewan lifted the latch and pushed the door open, and stepped into the tent.
Lord of grace and mercy, what was there? g On the floor of earth in one corner of the small place a fire of gorse, turf, and logs burned slowly, and near this fire Dan lay outstretched on a bed of straw, his head pillowed on a coil of old rope, one hand twisted under his head, the other resting lightly on his breast, and he slept peacefully like a child.
Ewan stood for a moment shuddering and dismayed. The sight of Dan, helpless and at his mercy, unnerved his arm and drove the fever from his blood; there was an awful power in that sleeping man, and sleep had wrapped him in its own divinity.
The hatchet dropped from Ewan's graspless fingers, and he covered his face. As a drowning man is said to see all his life pass before him at the moment of death, so Ewan saw all the past, the happy past-the past of love and of innocence, whereof Dan was a part-rise up before him.
" It is true I am going mad," he thought, and he fell back on to a bench that stood by the wall. Then there came an instant of un. consciousness, and in that instant he was again by the waters of the Jordan, and the ewes and the rams and the milch-camels were toiling through the long grass, and Esau was falling on the neck of Jacob, and they were weeping together.