[from Hall Caine The Deemster]

CHAPTER XX

BLIND PASSION AND PAIN

DAN moved uneasily, and presently awoke, opened his eyes, and saw Ewan, and betrayed no surprise at his presence there.

" Ah I is it you, Ewan ? " he said, speaking quietly, partly in a shamefaced way, and with some confusion. "Do you know, I've been dreaming of you-you and Mona ? "

Ewan gave no answer. Because sleep is a holy thing, and the brother of death, whose shadow also it is, therefore Ewan's hideous purpose had left him while Dan lay asleep at his feet; but now that Dan was awake the evil passion came again.

"I was dreaming of that Mother Carey's chicken-you remember it-when we were lumps of lads, you know? Why, you can't have forgotten it-the old thing I caught in its nest just under the Head?"

Still Ewan gave no sign, but looked down at Dan resting on his elbows. Dan's eyes fell from Ewan's face, but he went on in a confused way

" Mona couldn't bear to see it caged, and would have me put it back. Don't you remember I clambered up to the nest and put the bird in again? You were down on the shore, thinking sure I would tumble over the Head, and Mona-Mona--"

Dan glanced afresh into Ewan's face, and its look of terror seemed to stupefy him ; still he made shift to go on with his dream in an abashed sort of way.

"My gough ! if I didn't dream it all as fresh as fresh, and the fight in the air, and the screams when I put the old bird in the nestthe young ones had forgotten it clean, and they tumbled it out, and set on it terrible, and drove it away-and then the poor old thing on the rocks sitting by itself as lonesome as lonesome-and little Mona crying and crying down below, and her long hair rip-rip-rippling in the wind, and-and-"

Dan had got to his feet, and then seated himself on a stool as he rambled on with the story of his dream. But once again his shifty eyes came back to Ewan's face, and he stopped short.

"My God, what is it?" he cried.

Now Ewan, standing there with a thousand vague forms floating in his brain, had heard little of what Dan had said, but he had noted his confused manner, and had taken this story of the dream as a feeble device to hide the momentary discomfiture.

" What does it mean?" he said. "It means that this island is not large enough to hold both you and me."

" What ? "

It means that you must go away." " Away !"

"Yes-and at once."

In the pause that followed after his first cry of amazement, Dan thought only of the had business of the killing of the oxen at the ploughing match that morning, and so in a tone of utter abasement, with his face to the ground, he went on in a blundering, humble way, to allow that Ewan had reason for his anger.

"I'm a blind headstrong fool, I know that, and my temper is-well, it's damnable, that's the fact ; but no one suffers from it more than I do, and if I could have felled myself after I had felled the oxen, why down . . Ewan, for the sake of the dear old times when we were good chums, you and I and little Mona, with her quiet eyes, God bless her!

" Go away, and never come back to either of us," cried Ewan, stamping his foot.

Dan paused, and there was a painful silence. "Why should I go away? " he said, with an effort at quietness.

"Because you are a scoundrel-the basest scoundrel on God's earth-the foulest traitor the blackest-hearted monster-"

Dan's sunburnt face whitened under his tawny skin.

"Easy, easy, man veen, easy," he said, struggling visibly for self-command, while he interrupted Ewan's torrent of reproaches.

"You are a disgrace and a by-word. Only the riff-raff of the island are your friends and associates."

"That's true enough, Ewan," said Dan, and his bead fell between his hands, his elbows resting on his knees.

"What are you doing? Drinking, gambling, roystering, cheating-yes='

Dan got to his feet uneasily and took a step to and fro about the little place ; then sat again, and buried his head in his hands as before.

" I've been a reckless, self-willed, mad fool, Ewan, but no worse than that. And if you could see me as God sees me, and know how I suffer for my follies and curse them, for all I seem to make so light of them, and how I am driven to them one on the head of another, perhaps-perhaps-perhaps you would have pityay, pity."

Pity? Pity for you? You who have brought your father to shame ? He is the ruin of the man he was. You have impoverished him; you have spent his substance and wasted it. Ay, and you have made his grey head a mark for reproach. ' Set your own house in order' -that's what the world says to the man of God whose son is a child of the-"

" Stop ! " cried Dan.

He had leapt to his feet, his fist clenched, his knuckles showing like nuts of steel.

But Ewan went on, standing there with a face that was ashy white above his black coat. " Your heart is as dead as your honour. And that is not all, but you must_ outrage the honour of another."

Now, when Ewan said this, Dan thought of his forged signature, and of the censure and suspension to which Ewan was thereby made liable.

"Go away," Ewan cried again, motioning Dan off with his trembling hand.

Dan lifted his eyes. "And what if I refuse?" he said in a resolute way.

"Then take the consequences."

" You mean the consequences of that-that -that forgery ? "

At this Ewan realised the thought in Dan's mind, and perceived that Dan conceived him capable of playing upon his fears by holding over his head the penalty of an offence which he had already taken upon himself. "God in heaven ! " he thought, " and this is the pitiful creature whom I have all these years taken to my heart."

" Is that what your loyalty comes to ? " said Dan, and his lip curled.

"Loyalty," cried Ewan in white wrath. "Loyalty, and you talk to me of loyalty, you who have outraged the Honour of my sister-"

"Mona !"

" I have said it at last, though the word blisters my tongue. Go away from the island for ever, and let me never see your face again."

Dan rose to his feet with rigid limbs. He looked about him for a moment in a dazed silence, and put his hand to his forehead as if he had lost himself.

"Do you believe that?" he said, in a slow whisper.

"Don't deny it-don't let me know you for a liar as well," Ewan said eagerly; and then added in another tone, " I have had her own confession."

" Her confession ? "

"Yes; and the witness of another." "The witness of another! "

Dan echoed Ewan's words in a vague, halfconscious way. Then, in a torrent of hot words that seemed to blister and sting the man who spoke them no less than the man who heard them, Ewan told all, and Dan listened like one in a stupor.

There was silence, and then Ewan spoke again in a tone of agony. Dan, there was a time when in spite of yourself I loved you -yes, though I'm ashamed to say it, for it was against God's own leading; still I loved you, Dan. But let us part for ever now and each go his own way, and perhaps, though we can never forget the wrong that you have done us, we may yet think more kindly of you; and time may help us to forgive='

But Dan had awakened from his stupor, and he flung aside.

"Damn your forgiveness l" he said hotly, and then, with teeth set, and lips drawn hard, and eyes aflame, he turned upon Ewan and strode up to him, and they stood together face to face.

"You said just now that there was not room enough in the island for you and me," he said in a hushed whisper. You were right, but I shall mend your words : if you believe what you have said-by Heaven I'll not deny it for you 1-there is not room enough for both of us in the world."

"It was my own thought," said Ewan, and then for an instant each looked into the other's eyes and read the other's purpose.

The horror of that moment of silence was broken by the lifting of the latch. Davy Fayle came shambling into the tent on some pretended errand. He took off his militia belt with the dagger in the sheath attached to it, and hung it on a long rusty nail driven into an upright timber at one corner. Then he picked up from among some ling on the floor a waterproof coat and put it on. He was going out, with furtive glances at Dan and Ewan, who said not a word in his presence, and were bearing themselves towards each other with a painful constraint, when his glance fell on the hatchet which lay a few feet from the door. Davy picked it up and carried it out, muttering to himself, "Strange, strange uncommon ! "

Hardly had the boy dropped the latch of the door from without than Ewan took the militia belt from the nail and buckled it about his waist. Dan understood his thought; he was still wearing his own militia belt and dagger. There was now not an instant's paltering between them-not a word of explanation.

" We must get rid of the lad," said Dan. Ewan bowed his head. It had come to him to reflect that when all was over Mona might hear of what had been done. What they had to do was to be clone Yor her honour, or for what seemed to be her honour in that blind tangle of passion and circumstance. But none the less, though she loved both of them now, would she loathe that one who returned to her with the blood of the other upon him.

"She must never know," he said. "Send the boy away. Then we must go to where this work can be done between you and me alone."

Dan had followed his thought in silence, and was stepping towards the door to call to Davy, when the lad came back, carrying a log of driftwood for the fire. There were some small flakes of snow on his waterproof coat.

"Go up to the shambles, Davy," said Dan, speaking with an effort at composure, "and tell Jemmy Curghey to keep me the oxhorns."

Davy looked up in a vacant way, and his lip lagged low. "Aw, and didn't you tell Jemmy yourself, and terrible partic'lar, too ? " "Do you say so, Davy?" " Sarten sure."

"Then just slip away and fetch them."

Davy fixed the log on the fire, tapped it into the flame, glanced anxiously at Dan and Ewan, and then in a lingering way went out. His simple face looked sad under its vacant expression.

The men listened while the lad's footsteps could be heard on the shingle, above the deep murmur of the sea. Then Dan stepped to the door and threw it open.

"Now," he said.

It was rapidly growing dark. The wind blew strongly into the shed. Dan stepped out, and Ewan followed him.

They walked in silence through the gully that led from the creek to the cliff head. The snow that bad begun to fall was swirled about in the wind that came from over the sea, and, spinning in the air, it sometimes beat against their faces.

Ewan went along like a man condemned to death. He had begun to doubt, though lie did not know it, and would have shut his mind to the idea if it had occurred to him. But once when Dan seemed to stop as if only half resolved, and partly turn his face towards him, Ewan mistook his intention. "He is going to tell me that there is some hideous error," he thought. He was burning for that word. But no, Dan went plodding on again, and never after shifted his steadfast gaze, never spoke, and gave no sign. At length he stopped, and Ewan stopped with him. They were standing on the summit of Orris Head.

It was a sad, a lonesome, and a desolate place, in sight of a wide waste of common land, without a house, and with never a tree rising above the purple gorse and tussocks of long grass. The sky hung very low over it; the steep red cliffs, with their patches of green in ledges, swept down from it to the shingle and the sharp shelves of slate covered with sea-weed. The ground swell came up from below with a very mournful noise, but the air seemed to be empty, and every beat of the foot on the soft turf sounded near and large. Above their heads the sea-fowl kept up a wild clamour, and far out, where sea and sky seemed to meet in the gathering darkness, the sea's steady blow on the bare rocks of the naze sent up a deep, hoarse boom.

Dan unbuckled his belt, and threw off his coat and vest. Ewan did the same, and they stood there face to face in the thin flakes of snow, Dan in his red shirt, Ewan in his white shirt open at the neck, these two men whose souls had been knit together as the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and each ready to lift his hand against his heart's best brother. Then all at once a startled cry came from near at hand.

It was Davy Fayle's voice. The lad had not gone to the shambles. Realising in some vague way that the errand was a subterfuge and that mischief was about, he had hidden himself at a little distance, and had seen when Dan and Ewan came out of the tent together. Creeping through the ling, and partly hidden by the dust, he had followed the men until they had stopped on the Head. Then Davy had dropped to his knees. His ideas were obscure, he scarcely knew what was going on before his eyes, but he held his breath and watched and listened. At length, when the men threw off their clothes, the truth dawned on Davy, and though he tried to smother an exclamation, a cry of terror burst from his husky throat.

Dan and Ewan exchanged glances, and each seemed in one moment to read the other's thoughts. In another instant, at three quick strides, Dan had taken Davy by the shoulders.

"Promise," he said, "that you will never tell what you have seen."

Davy struggled to free himself, but his frantic efforts were useless. In Dan's grip he was held as in a vice."

"Let me go, Mastha Dan," the lad cried. "Promise to hold your tongue," said Dan ; "promise it, promise it."

"Let me go, will you? let me go," the lad shouted sullenly.

"Be quiet," said Dan.

" I won't be quiet," was the stubborn answer. " Help ! help ! help !" and the lad screamed lustily.

"Hold your tongue, or by G-"

Dan held Davy by one of his great hands hitched into the lad's guernsey, and he lifted the other hand threateningly.

"Help ! help ! help !" Davy screamed still louder, and struggled yet more fiercely, until his strength was spent, and his breath was gone, and then there was a moment's silence.

The desolate place was still as desolate as before. Not a sign of life around; not an answering cry.

"There's nobody to help you," said Dan. "You have got to promise never to tell what you have seen to man, woman, or child."

" I won't promise, and I won't hould my tongue," said the lad stoutly. " You are goin' to fight, you and Mastha Ewan, and='

Dan stopped him. "Hearken here. If you are to live another hour, you will promise-" But Davy had regained both strength and voice.

" I don't care - help ! help ! help ! " he shouted.

Dan put his hand over the lad's mouth, and dragged him to the cliff bead. Below was the brant steep, dark and jagged and quivering in the deepening gloom, and the sea-birds were darting through the mid-air like bats in the dark.

"Look," said Dan, "you've got to swear never to tell what you have seen to-night, so help you God."

The lad, held tightly by the breast and throat, and gripping the arms that held him with fingers that clung like claws, took one horrified glance clown into the darkness. He struggled no longer. His face was very pitiful to see.

"I cannot promise," he said in a voice like a cry.

At that answer Dan drew Davy back from the cliff edge, and loosed his hold of him. He was abashed and ashamed. He felt himself a little man by the side of this balf-daft fisher-lad.

All this time Ewan had stood aside looking on while Dan demanded the promise, and saying nothing. Now he went up to Davy, and said in a quiet voice

' Davy, if you should ever tell any one what you have seen, Dan will be a lost roan all his life hereafter."

"Then let him pitch me over the cliff," said Davy in a smothered cry.

"Listen to me, Davy," Ewan went on; "You're a brave lad, and I know what's in your head, but-"

"Then what for do you want to fight him?

Davy broke out.

The lad's throat was dry and husky, and his eyes were growing dim.

Ewan paused. Half his passion was spent. Davy's poor dense head had found him a question that he could not answer.

"Davy, if you don't promise, you will ruin Dan-yes, it will be you who will ruin him-you, remember that. He will be a lost man, and my sister, my good sister Mona, she will be a broken-hearted woman."

Then Davy broke down utterly, and big tears filled his eyes and ran down his cheeks.

"I promise," he sobbed. "Good lad !-now go."

Davy turned about and went away, at first running, and then dragging slowly, then running again, and then again lingering.

What followed was a very pitiful conflict of emotion. Nature, who looks down pitilessly on man and his big little passions, that clamour so loud but never touch her at


 

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