[from Hall Caine The Deemster]
HOWEVER bleak the night, however dark the mood of the world might be, there was a room in Ballamona that was bright with one beauti- ful human flower in bloom. Mona was there- Mona of the quiet eyes- and the silent ways and the little elfish head. It was Christmas Eve with her as with other people, and she was dressing the house in hibbin and hollin from a great mountain of both,that Hommy-beg had piled up in the hall. She was looking very smart and happy that night in her short body of homespun turned in from neck to waist, showing a white habit-shirt and a white handkerchief crossed upon it ; a quilted over- skirt and linen apron that did not fall so low as to hide the open-work stockings and the sandal-shoes. Her room, too, was bright and sweet, with its glowing fire of peat and logs on the wide hearth, its lamp on the square oak table, and the oak settle drawn up between them. In one corner of the settle, bubbling and babbling and sputtering and cooing amid a very crater of red baize cushions, was Mona's foster-child, Ewan's motherless daughter, lying on her back and fighting the air with clenched fists.
While Mona picked out the hibbin from the hollin, dissected both, made arches and crosses and crowns and rosettes, and then sprinkled flour to resemble snow on the red berries and the green leaves, she sang an old Manx ballad in snatches, or prattled to the little one in that half-articulate tongue that comes with the instinct of motherhood to every good woman that God ever makes :-
rede ye beware of the Carrasdoo men As ye come up the wold ;
rede ye beware of the haunted glen='
But a fretful whimper would interrupt the singer.
"Hush, hush, Ailee darling, hush."
The whimper would be hushed, and again there would be a snatch of the ballad "In Jorby Curragh they dwell alone
By dark peat bogs, where the willows moan, Down in a gloomy and lonely glen-"
Once again the whimper would stop the song.
"Hush, darling; papa is coming to Ailee, yes; and Ailee will see papa, yes, and papa will see Ailee, yes, and Ailee-"
Then a long, low gurgle, a lovely head lean- ing over the back of the settle and dropping to the middle of the pillow like a lark to its nest in the grass, a iong liquid kiss on the soft round baby legs, and then a perfect fit of baby laughter.
It was as pretty a picture as the world bad in it on that bleak Christmas Eve. Whatever tumult might reign without, there within was a nest of peace.
Mona was expecting Ewan at Ballamona that night, and now she was waiting for his coming. It was true that when he was there three hours ago it was in something like anger that they had parted, but Mona reeked nothing of that. She knew Ewan's impetuous temper no better than his conciliatory spirit. He would come to-night as he had promised yesterday, and if there had been anger be. tween them it would then be gone.
Twenty times she glanced at the little clock with the lion face and the pendulum like a dog's head that swung above the ingle. Many a time, with head aslant, with parted lips, and eyes alight, she cried "Hark !" to the little one when a footstep would sound in the hall. But Ewan did not come, and mean- time the child grew more and more fretful as her bed-time approached. At length Mona undressed her and carried her off to her crib in the room adjoining, and sang softly to her while she struggled hard with sleep under the oak hood with the ugly beasts carved on it, until sleep had conquered and all was silence and peace. Then, leaving a tallow dip burning on the table between the crib and the bed, lest perchance the little one should awake and cry from fear of the darkness, Mona went back to her sitting-room to finish off the last bunch of the hibbin and bollin.
The last bunch was a bit of prickly green, with a cluster of the reddest berries, and Mona hung it over a portrait of her brother, which was painted by a great artist from England when Ewan was a child. The Deem- ster had turned the portrait out of the dining- room after the painful interview at Bishop's Court about the loan and surety, and Mona had found it, face to the wall,` in a lumberroom. She looked at it now with a new interest. When she hung the hollin over it she recognised for the first time a resemblance to the little Aileen whom she had just put to bed. How strange it seemed that Ewan had once been a child like Ailee !
Then she began to feel that Ewan was late in coming, and to make conjectures as to the cause of his delay. Her father's house was fast becoming a cheerless place to her. More than ever the Deemster was lost to her. Jarvis Kerruish, her stranger brother, was her father's companion; and this seemed to draw her closer to Ewan for solace and cheer.
Then she sat on the settle to thread some loose berries that had fallen, and to think of Dan-the high-spirited, reckless, rollicking, headstrong, tender-hearted, thoughtless, brave, stubborn, daring, dear, dear Dan-Dan, who was very, very much to her in her great loneliness. Let other people rail at Dan if they would; he was wrapped up with too many of her fondest memories to allow of disloyalty like that. Dan would yet justify her belief in him. Oh yes, he would yet be a great man, all the world would say it was so, and she would be very proud that he was her cousin -yes, her cousin, or perhaps, -perhapsAnd then, without quite daring to follow up that delicious train of thought, even in her secret heart, though none might look there and say if it was unmaidenly, Mona came back to the old Manx ballad, and sang to herself another verse of it "Who has not heard of Adair, the youth?
Who does not know that his soul was truth? Woe is me! how smoothly they speak,
And Adair was brave, and a man, but weak."
All at once her hand went up to her forehead, and the words of the old song seemed to have a new significance. Hardly had her voice stopped and her last soft note ceased to ring in the quiet room, when she thought she heard her own name called twice-" Mona ! Mona l"
The voice was Ewan's voice, and it seemed to come from her bedroom. She rose from the settle, and went into her room. There was no one there save the child. The little one was disturbed in her sleep at the moment,, and was twisting restlessly, making a faint cry. It was very strange. The voice had been Ewan's voice, and it had been deep and tremulous as the voice of one in trouble.
Presently the child settled itself to sleep, all was silent as before, and Mona went back to the sitting-room. Scarcely was she seated afresh when she heard the voice again, and it again called her twice by name, °`Mona ! Mona ! " in the same tremulous tone, but very clear and distinct.
Then tremblingly Mona rose once more and went into her room, for thence the -voice seemed to come. No one was there. The candle burned fitfully, and suddenly the child oried in its sleep-that strange night cry that freezes the blood of one who is awake to hear it. It was very, very strange.
Feeling faint, hardly able to keep on her feet, Mona went back to the sitting-room and opened the door that led into the hall. No one seemed to be stirring. The door of her father's study opposite was closed, and there was talking-the animated talking of two persons-within:
Mona turned back, closed her door quietly, and then, summoning all her courage, she `walked to the window and drew the heavy curtains aside. The hoops from which they hung rattled noisily over the pole. Putting her face close to the glass, and shading her eyes from the light of the lamp behind her, she looked out. She saw that the snow had fallen since the lamp had been lit at dusk. There was snow on the ground, and thin snow on the leafless boughs of the trees. She could see nothing else. She even pushed up the sash and called
"Who is there ?"
But there came no answer. The wind moaned about the house and the sea rumbled in the distance. She pulled the sash down again.
Then, leaving the curtain drawn back, she turned again into the room, and, partly to divert her mind from the mysterious apprehensions that had seized it, she sat down at the little harpsichord that stood on the farther side of the ingle against the wall that ran at right angles from the window.
At first her fingers ran nervously over the keys, but they gained force as she went on, and the volume of sound seemed to dissipate her fears.
"It is nothing," she thought. "I have been troubled about what Ewan said to-day, and I'm nervous-that is all."
And as she played her eyes looked not at the finger-board, but across her shoulder towards the bare window. Then suddenly there came to her a sensation that made her flesh creep. :.: It was as if from the darkness outside there were eyes which she could not see looking steadily in upon her where she sat.
Her blood rushed to her head, she felt dizzy, the playing ceased, and she clung by one hand to the candle-rest of the harpsichord. Then once more she distinctly heard the same deep, tremulous voice call her by her name"Mona 1 Mona ! "
Faint and all but reeling she rose again, and again made her way to the bedroom. As before, the child was restless in her sleep.
It seemed as if all the air were charged. Mona had almost fallen from fright, when all at once she heard a sound that she could not mistake, and instantly she recovered some self possession.
It was the sound of the window of her ::sitting-room being thrown open from without. ! She ran back, and saw Dan Mylrea climbing, 'Into the room.
" Dan! " she cried. "Mona."
" Did you call ?"
" When? "
" Now-a little while ago? " " No."
A great trembling shook Dan's whole frame. Mona perceived it, and a sensation of disaster not vet attained to the clearness of an idea took hold of her.
" Where is Ewan ? " she said.
He tried to avoid her gaze. "Why do you ask for him? " said Dan in a faltering voice.
" Where is he? " she asked again.
He grew dizzy, and laid hold of the settle for support. The question she asked was that which he had come to answer, but his tongue clave to his mouth.
Very pale and almost rigid from the heaviness of a great fear which she felt but could not understand, she watched him when he reeled like a drunken man.
" He has called me three times. Where is he ? He was to be here to-night," she said.
" Ewan will not come to-night," he answered, scarcely audibly; "not to-night, Mona, or tomorrow-or ever-no, he will never come again."
The horrible apprehension that had taken hold of her leapt to the significance of his words, and, almost before he had spoken, a cry burst from her.
"Ewan is dead-he is dead; Mona, our Ewan, he is dead," he faltered.
She dropped to the settle, and cried, in the excess of her first despair, "Ewan, Ewan, to think that I shall see him no more 1 " and then she wept. All the time Dan stood over her, leaning heavily to bear himself up, trembling visibly, and with a look of great agony fixed upon her, as if he had not the strength to turn his eyes away.
"Yes, yes, our Ewan is dead," he repeated in a murmur that came up from his heart. "The truest friend, the fondest brother, the whitest soul, the dearest, bravest, purest, noblest-0 God 1 0 God! dead, dead I Worse, a hundredfold worse-Mona, he is murdered."
At that she raised herself up, and a bewildered look was in her eyes.
"Murdered? No, that is not possible. He was beloved by all. There is no one who would kill him-there is no one alive with a heart so black."
"Yes, Mona, but there is," be said ; "there is one man with a heart so black."
"Who is he?"
"Who? He is the foulest creature on God's earth. Oh, God in heaven ! why was he born? "
"Who is he?"
He bowed his head where he stood before her, and beads of sweat started from his brow.
"Cursed be the hour when that man was born !" he said in an awful whisper.
Then Mona's despair came upon her like a torrent, and she wept long. In the bitterness of her heart she cried
" Cursed indeed, cursed for ever ! Dan, Dan, you must kill him-you must kill that man."
But at the sound of that word from her own lips the spirit of revenge left her on the instant, and she cried, "No, no, not that." Then she went down on her knees and made a short and piteous prayer for forgiveness for her thought. " 0 Father," she prayed, "forgive me. I did not know what I said. But Ewan is dead ! O Father, our dear Ewan is murdered. Some black-hearted man has killed him. Vengeance is Thine. Yes, I know that. O Father, forgive me. But to think that Ewan is gone for ever, and that base soul lives on. Vengeance is Thine ; but, O Father, let Thy vengeance fall upon him. If it is Thy will, let Thy hand be on him. Follow him, Father; follow him with Thy vengeance="
She had flung herself on her knees by the settle, her upturned eyes wide open, and her two trembling hands held above her head. Dan stood beside her, and as she prayed a deep groan came up from his heart, his breast swelled, and his throat seemed to choke. At last he clutched her by the shoulders and interrupted her prayer, and cried, "Mona, Mona, what are you saying-what are you saying? Stop, stop !"
She rose to her feet. "I have done wrong," she said more quietly. "He is in God's hands. Yes, it is for God to punish him."
Then Dan said in a heartrending voice"Mona, he did not mean to kill Ewan-they fought-it was all in the heat of blood."
Once more he tried to avoid her gaze, and once more, pale and immovable, she watched his face.
"Who is he?" she asked with an awful calmness.
"Mona, turn your face away from me, and I will tell you," he said.
Then everything swam about her, and her pale lips grew ashy.
" Don't you know?" he asked in a whisper. She did not turn her face, and he was compelled to look at her now. His glaring eyes were fixed upon her.
"Don't you know?" he whispered again; and then in a scarcely audible voice he said, It was I, Mona."
At that she grew cold with horror. Her features became changed beyond recognition. She recoiled from him, stretched her trembling hands before her as if to keep him off.
" Oh, horror! Do not touch me 1 " she cried faintly through the breath that came so hard.
"Do not spare me, Mona," he said in a great sob. "Do not spare me. You do right not to spare me. I have stained my hands with your blood."
Then she sank to the settle and held her head, while he stood by her and told her allall the bitter blundering truth-and bit by bit she grasped the tangled tale, and realised the blind passion and pain that had brought them to such a pass, and saw her own unwitting share in it.
And he on his part saw the product of his headstrong wrath, and the pitiful grounds for it, so small and so absurd as such grounds oftenest are. And together these shipwrecked voyagers on the waters of life sat and wept, and wondered what evil could be in hell itself if man in his blindness could find the world so full of it.
And Dan cursed himself and said
"Oh, the madness of thinking that if either were gone the other could ever again know one hour's happiness with you, Mona. Ay, though the crime lay hidden, yet would it wither and blast every hour. And now, behold, at the first moment, I am bringing my burden of sin, too heavy for myself, to you. I am a coward-yes, I am a coward. You will turn your back upon me, Mona, and then I shall be alone."
She looked at him with infinite compassion, and her heart surged within her as she listened to his voice of great agony.
"Ah me ! and I asked God to curse you," she said. "Oh, how wicked that prayer was ! Will God hear it ? Merciful Father, do not hear it. I did not know what I said. I am a blind, ignorant creature, but Thou seest and knowest best. Pity him, and forgive him. Oh no, God will not hear my wicked prayer."
Thus in fitful outbursts she talked and prayed. It was as if a tempest had torn up every tie of her soul. Dan listened, and he looked at her with swimming eyes.
"And do you pray for me, Mona," he said.
" Who will pray for you if I do not? In all the world there will not be one left to speak kindly of you if I speak ill. Oh, Dan, it will become known, and every one will be against you."
"And can you think well of him who killed your brother?"
"But you are in such sorrow; you are so miserable."
Then Dan's great frame shook woefully, and he cried in his pain-"Mercy, mercy, have mercy ! What have I lost? What love have I lost?"
At that Mona's weeping ceased; she looked at Dan through her lashes, still wet, and said in another tone
"Dan, do not think me unmaidenly. If you had done well, if you had realised my hopes of you, if you had grown to be fl,c good and great man I longed to see you, then, though I might have yearned for you, I would rather have died with my secret than speak of it. But now, now that all this is not so, now that it is a lost faith, now that by God's will you are to be abased before the whole world-oh, do not think me unmaidenly now I tell you, Dan, that I love you, and have always loved you."
"Mona ! " he cried in a low, passionate tone, and took one step towards her and held out his hands. There was an unspeakable language in her face.
"Yes; and, that where you go I must go also, though it were to disgrace and shame-"
She had turned towards him lovingly, yearningly, with heaving breast. With a great cry he flung his arms about her, and the world of pain and sorrow was for that instant blotted out.
But all the bitter flood came rushing back upon them. He put her from him with a strong shudder.
"We are clasping hands over a tomb, Mona. Our love is known too late. We are mariners cast on a rock within a cable's length of harbour, but cut off from it by a cruel sea that may never be passed. We are hopeless within sight of hope. Our love is known in vain. It is a vision of what might have been in the days that are lost for ever. We can never clasp hands, for, 0 God! a cold hand is between us and lies in the hand of both."
Then again she fell to weeping, but suddenly she arose as if struck by a sudden idea.
"You will be taken," she said; "how can I have forgotten it so long? You must fly from the island. You must get away to-night. To-morrow all will be discovered."
" I will not leave the island," said Dan firmly. "Can you drive me from you?" he said with a suppliant look. "Yes, you do well to drive me away."
"My love, I do not drive you from me. I would have you here for ever. But you will be taken. Quick, the world is wide."
" There is no world for me save here, Mona. To go from you now is to go for ever, and I would rather die by my own band than face such banishment."
"No, no, not that ; never, never that. That would imperil your soul, and then we should be divided for ever."
" It is so already, Mona," said Dan with solemnity. "We are divided for ever-as the blessed are divided from the damned."
"Don't say that-don't say that 1 "
"Yes, Mona," he said, with a fearful calmness, " we have thought of my crime as against Ewan, as against you, myself, the world, and its law. But it is a crime against God also, and surely it is the unpardonable sin."
"Don't say that, Dan. There is one great anchor of hope."
" What is that, Mona ? "
" Ewan is with God. At this moment, while we stand here together, Ewan sees God."
Dan dropped to his knees with awe at that thought, and drew off the cap which he had worn until then, and bent his head.
"Yes, he died in anger and in strife," said Mona ; "but God is merciful. He knows the feebleness of His creatures, and has pity. Yes, our dear Ewan is with God; now he knows what you suffer, my poor Dan; and he is taking blame to himself and pleading for you."
"No, no; I did it all, Mona. He would not have fought. He would have made peace
at the last, but I drove him -on. _ ° I cannot fight Dan,' he said. I can see him saying it, and the sun was setting. ` No, it was not fight, it was murder. And God will punish me, my poor girl. Death is my just punishment-everlasting death." `
"Wait. I know what is to be done."
"What, Mona ? " '
"You must make atonement." ' "How?"
"You- must give yourself up to justice and take the punishment of the law. And so you will' be 'redeemed, and God will fdrgiive you."
He listened, and then said
"And such is to be the end of our love, Mona, born in the hour of its death. You, even you, give me up to justice."
Don't say that. You will be redeemed by atonement. ' ' When Ewan 'was killed it was woe " enough,' but' that ' you -are under God's wrath- is worse' than if we were all, all slain."
"Then we must bid farewell. The penalty oo my crime is death."
"No, no ; not that."
"I must die, Mona. This, then,, is to be our last parting."
"And even if s6; it is best. You must make your peace with God."
"And you, my' last refuge, even yon send me to my death. Well, it is right'' 'if is dust,
it is well. Farewell, my poor girl; this is 'a sad parting."
" Farewell." . "You will remember me, Mona?
"Remember you I When the tears `I shed for Ewan are dry I shall still weep for you." There was a faint cry at that moment.
" Hush !" said Mona, and she lifted one hand.
" It is the child," she added. "Come,'look at it."
She turned, and walked towards the bedroom. Dan followed her with drooping' head. The little one had again been restless in her sleep, but now, with a long breath, she settled herself in sweet repose.
At sight of the child the great trembling shook Dan's frame again. " "Mona, Mona;' why did you bring me here? " he said.
The sense of his crime came with a yet keener agony when he looked down at' the child's unconscious face. The thought flashed upon him that he had made this innocent babe fatherless, and that all the unprotected years were before her wherein she must realise her loss.
He fell to his knees beside the cot, and his tears rained down upon it.
Mona had lifted' the candle from the table;' and `she' held' it above the kneeling man a.nd the sleeping child:'
It was the blind woman's vision realised. When Dan rose to his feet he was a stronger man.
"Mona," he said resolutely, you are right. This sin must be wiped out"
She had put down the candle, and was now trying to take his hand. 1 11
"Don't touch me," he said, "don't touch me."
He returned to the other room, and threw open the window.' " His face was turned towards the distant sea, whose low moan came up through the dark night.
"Dan," she murmured, "do you think we shall meet again 2 "
"Perhaps we are speaking for the last time, Mona "he answered'
"Oh, my 'heart will break!" she said. "Dan,"' she murmured again,, and tried to grasp his hand.
"'Don't touch'me. Not until later-not until -until then."
Their eyes met. The longing,, yearning look in hers answered to the wild light in his. She felt as if this were the last she was ever to see of Dan in' this weary world. He loved her with all his great, broken, bleeding heart. 'He' had' sinned for her sake. She caught both his hands with a passionate grasp. Her lips `quivered, and the' brave, fearless, stainless girl put her quivering lips to his.
To Dan that touch was as fire. With a passionate cry he flung his arms about her. For an'instant her head lay on his breast.
' "Now go," she whispered,.and broke from his embrace. Dan tore himself away, with heart and brain aflame. Were they ever to meet again'? Yes. At one great moment they were yet to stand face to face.
The night was, dark, but Dan felt the darkness not at all, for the night was heavier within him. He went down towards the creek. Tomorrow he would give himself up to the Deemster: but to-night was for himself-himself and it.
He went by the church. -A noisy company were just then trooping out of the porch into the churchyard. There they gathered in little knots, lit lantorns, laughed, and drank healths from bottles that were brought out of their Pockets.
It was the breaking up of the Oiel Verree '