[from Hall Caine The Deemster]



WHEN Dan got down to the creek the little shed was full of the fisher-fellows. There were Quilleash, Teare, Crennell, and the lad Davy. The men wore their oilskins, as if they had just stepped out of the dingey on the beach, and on the floor were three baskets of cod and ray, as if they had just set them down. The fire of gorse was crackling on the hearth, and Davy sat beside it, looking pale and ill. He had watched Dan away from the shed, and then, trembling with fear, but girding up his young heart to conquer it, he had crept back and kept guard by the body.

"I couldn't give myself liberty to lave it," he said, half fearfully, lifting his eyes to Dan's as Dan entered. Then the men, who in the first moment of horror had asked Davy fifty questions, and got never an answer to any of them, seemed to understand everything at once. They made way for Dan, and he strode through them, and looked down at the body, for it was still lying where he had left it. He said not a word,

When the men had time to comprehend in its awful fulness what had occurred, they stood together and whispered, cast, side looks at Dan, and then long searching looks at the body. The certainty that Ewan was dead did not at first take hold of them. There was no mark of violence on the body except the wound above the wrist, and suddenly, while the men stood and looked down, the wound bled afresh. Then old Quilleash,,who was reputed to possess a charm to stop blood, knelt beside Ewan, and, while all looked on and none spoke, he whispered his spell in the deaf ear.

"A few good words can do no harm," said Crennell, the cook, who was a Quaker.

Old Quilleash whispered again in the dead ear, and then he made a wild command to the blood to cease flowing in the name of the three godly men who came to Rome-Christ, Peter, and Paul.

There was a minute of silence, and the blood seemed to stop. The men trembled; Davy , the lad, grew more pale than before, and Dan stood as if in stupor, looking down and seeing all, yet seeing nothing.

Then the old man lifted his tawny face. "Cha marroo as dagh," he said in another hoarse whisper. "He is dead as a stone."

There was a deep groan from the throats of the men; they dropped aside, and awe fell upon them. None of them spoke to Dan, and none questioned the lad again; but' all seemed to understand everything in some vague way. Billy Quilleash (sat on a block of a tree trunk that stood at one side, and there was silence for a space. Then the old man turned his face to his mates and said, ' I'm for a man stickin' up for a frien', I am."

At that there was an uneasy movement among the others.

"Aw yes, though, a man should stick to his; frien', he should, alow or aloft, up or. down," continued Billy; and after some twisting and muttering among the other fisher-fellows he went on, "You have to summer and winter a man before you know him, and lave it to us to know Mastha Dan. We've shared meat, shared work with him, and, d- me sowl1 nothing will hould me, but I'll stand up for him now, sink or swim."

Then one of the fellows said, "Ay," and another said, "Ay," and a third-it was Crennell -said, "A friend in need was more preciouser nor goold ; " and then old Billy half twisted his head towards Dan, but never once lifted his eyes to Dan's face, and speaking at him but not to him, said they were rough chaps maybe, and couldn't put out no talk at all, never being used of it, but if there was somethin' wrong, as was plain to see, and keepin' 'a quiet tongue in your head was the way it was goin', and buckin' up for them as was afther buckin' up,for his chums, why, a frien' was a frien', and they meant to stand by it.

At that, these rough sea-dogs with the big hearts in their broad breasts took hold of each other's hard hands in a circle about the body of Ewan, whose white face looked up at them in its stony stare, and there in the little lonely shed by the sea they made their mutual pledge.

All that time Dan had stood and looked on in silence, and Davy, sitting by the spluttering fire, sobbed audibly while Uncle Billy spoke.

"We must put it away," said old Billy in a low tone, with his eyes on the body.

"Ay," said Ned There. "What's o'clock ?"

" A piece, past twelve."

"Half-flood. It will be near the turn of the ebb at three," said Quilleash.

Not another word of explanation was needed, all understanding that they must take the body of Ewan out to sea, and bury it there after three o'clock next morning, so that, if it stirred after it was sent down to its long home, it must be swept away over the Channel,

"Heise," said one, and he put his band down to lift the body.

"Shoo !"

Dan himself stepped aside to let them pass out. He had watched their movements with wide eyes. They went by him without a word. When they were gone he followed them mecha nically, scarcely knowing what he did. Davy went after him.

The fishermen stepped out into the night. In silence they carried the body of Ewan to the dingey that lay on the beach. All, got into the boat and pushed off. It was very dark now, but soon they came athwart the hawse of the Ben-my-Chree, which was lying at :anchor below low-water. They pulled up, lifted the body over the gunwale, and followed it into the fishing-boat.

"There's a good taste of a breeze," said old Quilleash.

In five minutes more they were standing out to sea, with their dread freight of horror and crime. They had put the body to lie by the hatcbways, and again and again they turned their heads towards it in the darkness. It was as though it might even yet stand up in their midst, and any man at any moment might find it face to face with him, eye to eye.

The wind was fresh outside. It was on their larboard quarter as they made in long tacks for the north. When they were well away the men gathered about the cockpit and began to mourn over Ewan, and to recount their memories concerning him.

"Well, the young pazon's cruise is up, and a rael good man anyway."

"Aw yes; there's odds of pazons, but the like of him isn't in."

"Poor Pazon Ewan," said Quilleash, "I remember him since be was a wee skute in his mother's arms-and a fine lady too. And him that quiet, but thinkin' a dale maybe, with his head a piece to starboard and his eyes fixed like a figurehead, but more natheral, and tender uncommon. And game too. Aw, dear, you should 'a seen him buck up to young Dan at whiles."

"Game ! A hot temper at him for all, and I wouldn't trust but it's been the death of him."

"Well, man, lave it at that; lave it, man. Which of us doesn't lie over in a bit of a breeze aither to port or starboard? God won't be hard on him for the temper. No, no, God'll never be hard on a warm heart because it keeps company with a hot head."

"Aw, but the tender he was !" said Crennell, the Quaker. "And the voice like an urgan when it's like a flute, soft and low, and all a-tremblin' l D'ye mind the day ould Betty Kelly lost her little gel by the faver, the one with the slander little stalk of a body, and the head like a flower, and the eyes like a pair of bumbees playing in it ? You mind her, the millish ? Well, young Pazon Ewan up and went to Balligbeg immadiently, and ould Betty scraming and crying mortbal, and she'd die! so she would, and what for should you live? but och, boy, the way the pazon put out the talk at him, and the bit of a spell at the prayin'-aw, man alive, he caulked the seams of the ould body wonderful."

"The man was free, as free as free," said old Quilleash. "When he grew up it was, `How are you, Billy Quilleash ?' And when he came straight from the college at Bishop's Court, and all the larning at him, and the fine English tongue, and all to that, it was, 'And how are you to-day, Billy?' ' I'm middlin' today, Mastha Ewan.' Aw yes, yes, though, a tender heart at him anyway, and no pride at all at all."

The old man's memories were not thrilling to relate, but they brought the tears to his eyes, and he wiped them away with his sleeve.

"Still a quick temper for all, and when his blood was up it was batten down your hatches, my boys-a storm's coming," said Ned Teare.

All at once they turned their faces in the darkness to where Dan sat on the battened hatches, his elbows on his knees, his head on his [hands, and a sort of shame took hold of them at all this praise of Ewan. It was as if every word must enter into Dan's soul like iron. Then, hardly knowing what they did, they began to beat about to undo the mischief.

They talked of the Deemster in his relation to his son.

"Deed on Ewan-there was not much truck atween them - the Deemster and him. It wasn't natheral. It was like as if a sarpent crawled in his ould Bowl, the craythur, and spat out at the young pazon."

Then they talked of Jarvis Kerruish.

110th, schemin' and plannin' reg'lar, and stirrin' and stirrin' and stirrin' at the divil's own gruel."

" Aw, the Deemster's made many a man toe the mark, but I'm thinkin' he'll have to stand to it when the big day comes. I'll go bail the ould polecat's got summat to answer for in this consarn."

Dan said nothing. Alone, and giving no sign, he still sat onl the hatches near where the body lay, and, a little to aft of him, Davy Fayle was stretched out on the deck. The ]ad's head rested on one hand, and his eyes were fixed with a dog's yearning look on the dark outlines of Dan's figure.

They were doubling the Point of Ayr when suddenly the wind fell to a dead calm. The darkness seemed to grow almost palpable.

"More snow comin'-let the boat driff," said old Billy Quilleash ; and the men turned into the cabin, only Dan and the body, with Davy, the lad, remaining on deck.

Then, through the silence and the blank darkness, there was the sound of large drops of rain falling on the (leek. Presently there came a torrent which lasted about ten minutes. When the rain ceased the darkness lifted away, and the stars came out. This was towards two o'clock, and soon afterwards the moon rose, but before long it was concealed again by a dense black turret cloud that reared itself upwards from the horizon.

When Dan stepped aboard, a dull, dense aching at his heart was all the consciousness he had. The world was dead to him. He had then no clear purpose of concealing his crime, and none of carrying out the atonement that Mona had urged him to attempt. He was stunned. His spirit seemed to be dead. It was as though it could awake to life again only in another world. He had watched old Billy when he whispered into Ewan's deaf ear the words of the mystic charm. Without will or intention he had followed the men when they came to the boat. Later on a fluttering within him preceded the return of the agonising sense. Had he not damned his own soul for ever? That he had taken a warm human life; that Ewan, who had been alive, lay dead a few feet away from him-this was nothing to the horrible thought that he himself was going, hot and unprepared, to an everlasting hell. "0h, can this thing have happened?" his bewildered mind asked itself a thousand times as it awoke as often from the half-dream of a paralysed consciousness. Yes, it was true that such a thing had occurred. No, it was not a nightmare. He would never awake in the morning sunlight, and smile to know that it was not true. No, no; true, true, true it was, even until the Day of Judgment, and he and Ewan stood once more face to face, and the awful voice would cry, aloud, "Go, get thee hence."

Then Dan thought of Mona, and his heart was nigh to breaking. With a dumb longing in his eyes turned through the darkness towards the land, and while the boat was sailing before the wind it seemed to be carrying him away from Mona for ever. The water that lay between them was as the river that for all eternity would divide the blessed and the damned.

And while behind him the men talked, and their voices fell on his ear like a dull buzz, the last ray of his hope was flying away. When Mona had prompted him to the idea of atonement, it had come to him like a gleam of sunlight that, though he might never, never clasp her hands on earth, in heaven she would yet be his, to love for ever and ever. But no, no, no; between them now the great gulf was fixed.

Much of this time Dan lay on the deck with only the dead and the lad Davy for company, and the fishing-boat lay motionless with only the lap of the waters about her. The stars died off, the darkness came again, and then, deep in the night, the first grey streaks stretching along the east foretold the dawn. Over the confines of another night the soft daylight was about to break, but more utterly lonely, more void to Dan, was the great waste of waters now that the striding light was chasing the curling mists than when the darkness lay dead upon it. On one side no object was visible on the waters until sky and ocean met in that great half-circle far away. On the other side yeas the land that was once called home.

When the grey light came, and the darkness ebbed away, Dan still sat on the hatches, haggard and pale. Davy lay on the deck a pace or two aside. A gentle breeze was rising in the south-west. The boat had drifted many miles, and was now almost due west off Peel town, and some five miles out to sea. The men came up from below. The cold white face by the hatchway looked up at them, and at heaven.

"We must put it away now," said Billy Quilleash.

"Ay, it's past the turn of the ebb," said Crennell.

Not another word was spoken. A man went below and brought up an old sail ; and two heavy iron weights, used for holding down the nets, were also fetched from the hold. There was no singing out, no talking. Silently they took up what lay there cold and stiff, and wrapped it in the canvas, putting one of the weights at the head and another at the feet. Then one of the men-it was old Billy himself, because he had been a rigger in his young days-sat down with a sailmaker's needle and string, and began to stitch up the body in the sail.

"Will the string hold?" asked one,

"It will last him this voyage out-it's a short one," said old Billy.

Awe and silence sat on the crew. When all was made ready, the men brought from below a bank-board used for shooting the nets. They lifted the body on to it, and then with the scudding-pole they raised one end of the board on to the gunwale. It was a solemn and awful sight. Overbead the heavy clouds of night were still rolling before the dawn.

Dan sat on the hatches with his head in his hands and his haggard face towards the deck. None spoke to him. A kind of awe had fallen on the men in their dealings with him. They left him alone. Davy Fayle had got up, and was leaning against the mitch-board. All hands else gathered round the bank-board and lifted their caps. Then old Quilleash went down on one knee and laid his right hand on the body, while two men raised the other end of the board. "Dg bishee jeeah shin-God prosper you," murmured the old fisherman.

"God prosper you," echoed the others, and the body of Ewan slid down into the wide waste of waters.

And then there occurred one of those awful incidents which mariners say have been known only thrice in all the strange history of the sea. Scarcely had the water covered up the body when there was a low rumble under the wave circles in which it had disappeared. It was the noise of the iron weights slipping from their places at the foot and at the head. The stitching was giving way, and the weights were tearing open the canvas in which the body was wrapped. In another minute these weights had rolled out of the canvas and sunk into the sea. Then a terrible thing happened. The body, free of the weights that were to sink it, rose to the surface. The torn canvas, not yet thoroughly saturated, opened out, and spread like a sail in the breeze that had risen again. The tide was not yet strong, for the ebb bad only just begun, and the body, floating on the top of the water like a boat, began to drive athwart the hawse of the fishing-boat straight for the land. Nor was the marvel ended yet. Almost instantly a great luminous line arose and stretched from the boat's quarter towards the island, white as a moon's water-ray, but with no moon to make it. Flashing along the sea's surface for several seconds, it seemed to be the finger of God marking the body's path on the waters. Old mariners, who can interpret aright the signs of sea and sky, will understand this phenomenon if they have marked closely, what has been said of the varying weather of this fearful night.

To the crew of the Ben-my-Chree all that had happened bore but one awful explanation. The men stood and stared into each other's faces in speechless dismay. They strained their eyes to watch the body until-the strange light being gone-it became a speck in the twilight of the dawn and could be seen uo more. It was as though an avenging angel had torn the murdered man from their grasp. But the worst thought was behind, and it was this: the body of Ewan Mylrea would wash ashore, the murder would become known, and they themselves, who had thought only to hide the crime of Dan Mylrea would now in the eyes of the law become participators in that crime or accessories to it.

Dan saw it all, and in a moment he was another man. He read that incident by another light. ' It was God's sign to the guilty man, saying, "Blood will have blood." The body would not be buried; the crime would not be hidden. The penalty must be paid. Then in an instant Dan thrust behind him all his vague fears and all his paralysing terrors, Atonement ! atonement ! atonement ! God Himself demanded it. Dan leapt to his feet and cried, "Come, my lads, we must go back; heave hearty and away."

It was the first time Dan had spoken that night, and his voice was awful in the men's ears.


back index next


any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received The Editor
HTML Transcription © F.Coakley , 2003