[from Hall Caine The Deemster]



IT is essential to the progress of this history that we should leave Dan where he now is, in the peace of a great soul newly awakened, and go back to the beginning of this Christmas Day on shore.

The parish of Michael began that day with all its old observances. While the dawn of Christmas morning was struggling but feebly with the night of Christmas Eve, a gang of the baser sort went out with lanterns and long sticks into the lanes, there to whoop and beat the bushes. It was their annual hunting of the wren. Before the parish had sat down to its Christmas breakfast two of these lusty enemies of the tiny bird were standing in the street of the village, with a long pole from shoulder to shoulder, and a wee wren suspended from the middle of it. Their brave companions gathered round, and plucked a feather from the wren's breast now and again. At one side of the company, surrounded by a throng of children, was Hominy-beg, singing a carol, and playing his own accompaniment on his fiddle. The carol told a tragic story of an evil spirit in the shape' of a woman who pestered the island in the old days, of how the people rose up against her to drive her into the sea, and of how she turned herself into a wren, and all on the holy day of the blessed St. Stephen. A boy, whose black eyes danced with a mischievous twinkle, held a crumpled paper upside down before the gardener, and from this inverted text and score the unlettered coxcomb pretended to play and sing. The women came to their doors to listen, and the men with their two hands in their breeches pockets leaned against the ends of their houses and smoked and looked on sleepily.

When the noisy crowd had passed, the street sank back to its customary repose, broken only by the voice of a child-a little auburn-haired lassie, in a white apron tucked up in fishwife fashion-crying, "Shrimps, fine shrimps, fresh shrimps !" and then by a lustier voice that drowned the little lassie's tones, and cried, "Conger-conger eel-fine, ladies -fresh, ladies-and bellies as big as bishops ! Conger eel-con-ger !"


It was not a brilliant morning, but the sun was shining drowsily through a white haze like a dew fog that hid the mountains. The snow of the night before was not quite washed away by the sharp rain of the morning ; it still lay at the eaves of the thatched houses, and among the cobbles of the paved pathway. The blue smoke was coiling up through the thick air from every chimney when the bells at Bishop's Court began to ring for Christmas service. An old woman here and there came out of her cabin in her long blue cape and her mutch, and hobbled along on a stick to church. Two or three men in sea-boots, with shrimping nets over their shoulders and pipes in their mouths, sauntered down the lane that led by the shambles to the sbore.

Half-an-hour later, while the bells were still ringing, and the people were trooping into the chapel, the Bishop came out of his house and walked down the path towards the vestry. He had a worn and jaded look that morning, as if the night had gone heavily with him, but he smiled when the women curtsied as they passed, and waved his hand when the men fumbled their caps.

"Good morning, and a merry Christmas to you," he said as he went by the open porch to Will-as-Thorn, the parish clerk, who was tugging at the bell-rope there, bareheaded, stripped to his sheepskin waistcoat with its grey flannel sleeves, and sweating.

He hailed Billy the Gawk, too, the hoary old dog turned penitent in his latter days.

"A merry Christmas, Billy, and may you live to see many of them yet, please God 1 "

Billy was leaning against the porch buttress and taking alms if any offered them.

"Then it's not living it will be, my lord; it's lingering," said this old Bartimeus.

And Jabez Gawne, the sleek little tailor, had the Bishop's salutation as he passed on in the ancient cloak with many buttons.

"A merry Christmas to you, Jabez, and a good New Year."

"Aw, 'deed, my lord," said Jabez, with a face as long as a fiddle, "if the New Year's no better than the ould one, what with quiet times and high rents and the children's schooling, it's going on the houses I'll be, middlin' safe."

"Nay, nay, remember our old saying, Jabez the greater the calm the nearer the south wind."

As the Bishop was turning in at the vestry door, blind Kerry and her husband Hommy passed him, and he hailed them as he had hailed the others.

"I'm taking joy to see you so hearty, my lord," said the blind woman.

"Yes, I'm well, on the whole, thank God I " said the Bishop; "and how are you, Kerry 7 "

"I'm in, my lord, I'm in; but distracted mortal with the sights. Och, sir, it's allis the sights, and the sights, and the sights; and it's Mastba Dan that's in them still.

This morning, bless ye, when I woke, what should it be, behould ye, but a company of great ones from the big house itself, going down to the churchyard with lanterns. Aw, 'deed it was, sir, my lord, begging your pardon, though it's like enough you'll think it's wake and a kind of silly, as the sayin' is."

The Bishop listened to the blind woman'$ garrulous tongue with a downcast head and a look of pain, and said in a subdued voice as he put his hand on the wooden latch of the vestry door

"It is not for me to laugh at you, Kerry, woman. All night long I have myself been tortured by an uneasy feeling, which would not be explained or yet be put away. But let us say no more of such mysteries. There are dark places that we may never hope to penetrate. Let it content us if, in God's mercy and His wisdom, we can see the step that is at our feet."

So saying, the Bishop turned about and passed in at the door. Kerry and her husband went into the chapel at the west porch.

"It's just an ould angel he is," whispered Kerry, reaching up to Hommy's ear, as they went by Will-as-Thorn.

"Aw, yes, yes," said Hommy-beg, "a rael ould archangel, so he is."

And still the bells rang for the service of Christmas morning.

Inside the chapel the congregation was larger than common. There was so much hand-shaking and "taking of joy" to be gone through in the aisles and the pews that Christmas morning that it was not at first observed -except by malcontents like Billy the Gawk and Jabez Gawne, to whom the wine of life was mostly vinegar-when the hour for beginning the service had come and gone. The choir in the west gallery had taken their places on either side of Will-as-Thorn's empty seat over the clock, with the pitch-pipe resting on the rail above it, and, opening their books, they faced about for gossip. Then the bell stopped, having rung some minutes longer than was its wont; - the whispering was hushed from pew to choir, and only the sound of the turning of the leaves of many books disturbed the silence a moment afterwards.

The Bishop entered the chancel, and, while he knelt to pray, down like corn before a south wind went a hundred heads on to the book-rail before the wind of custom. When the Bishop rose there was the sound of shuffling and settling in the pews, followed by some craning of necks in his direction and some subdued whispering.

"Where is Pazon Ewan ?"

"What's come of the young pazon 2"

The Bishop sat alone in the chancel, and gave no sign of any intention to commence the service. In the gallery, the choir, books in hand, waited for Will-as-Thorn to take his seat over the clock; but his place remained empty. Then, to the universal surprise, the bell began to ring again. Steadily at first and timidly, and after that with lusty voice, the bell rang out over the heads of the astonished people. Forthwith the people laid those same heads together and whispered.

What was agate of Pazon Ewan ? Had he forgotten that he had to preach that morning ? Blind Kerry wanted to know if some of the men craythurs shouldn't just take slieu round to ould Ballamona and wake him up, as the saying is; but Mr. Quirk, in more "gintale" phraseology, as became his scholastic calling, gave it out as probable that the young pazon had only been making a "little deetower" after breakfast, and gone a little too far.

Still the bell rang, and the uneasy shuffling in the pews grew more noticeable. Presently, in the middle of an abridged movement of the iron tongue in the loft, the head and shoulders of Will-as-Thorn appeared in the opening of the green curtain that divided the porch from the body of the chapel, and the parish clerk beckoned to Hommy-beg. Shambling to his feet and down the aisle, Hommy obeyed the summons, and then, amid yet more vigorous bobbing together of many heads in the pews, the schoolmaster, not to be eclipsed at a moment of public excitement, got up also and followed the gardener into the porch. The whispering had risen to a sibilant hiss that deadened even the bell's loud clangour when little Jabez Gawne himself felt a call to rise and go out after the others.

All this time the Bishop sat motionless in the chancel, his head down, his face rather paler than usual, his whole figure somewhat weak and languid, as if continued suffering in silence and in secret had at length taken the power of life out of him. Presently the bell stopped suddenly, and almost instantly little Jabez, with a face as sharp as a pen, came back to his pew, and Mr. Quirk also returned to his place, shaking his head meantime with portentous gravity. A moment later Will-asThorn appeared inside the communion-rail, having put on his coat and whipped the lash comb through his hair, which now hung like a dozen of wet dip candles down his forehead straight for his eyes.

The dull buzz of gossip ceased, all was dead silence in the chapel, and many necks were craned forward as Will-as-Thorn was seen to go up to the Bishop and speak to him. Listening without much apparent concern, the Bishop nodded his head once or twice, then rose immediately and walked to the reading-desk. Almost at the same moment Will-as-Thorn took his seat over the clock in the little west gallery, and straightway the service began.

The choir sang the psalm which they bad practised at the parish church the evening before-" It is good for me that I have been in trouble, that I may learn Thy statutes." Instead of the lesson appointed in the Calendar, the Bishop read the story of Eli and of Samuel, and of the taking by the Philistines of the ark of the covenant of God. His voice was deep and measured, and when he e came to read of the death of Eli's sons, and of how the bad news was brought to Eli, his voice softened and all but broke.

"And there ran a man of Benjamin out of e the army, and came to Shiloh the same day a with his clothes rent, and with earth upon his head.

e "And when he came, lo, Eli eat upon a seat by the wayside watching; for his heart trembled for the ark of God. And when the man came into the city, and told it, all the city cried out.

"And when Eli heard the noise of the crying, he said, 'What meaneth the noise of this tumult ?' And the man came in hastily and told Eli.

"Now Eli was ninety and eight years old, and his eyes were dim that he could not see.

" And the man said unto Eli, 'I am be that came out of the army, and I fled to-day out of the army.' And he said, 'What is there done, my son ? , "

The Bishop preached but rarely now, and partly for the reverence they always owed the good man, and partly for the reason that they did not often hear him, the people composed themselves to a mood of sympathy as be ascended the pulpit that Christmas morning. It was a beautiful sermon that he gave them, and it was spoken without premeditation, and was loose enough in its structure. But it was full of thought that seemed to be too simple to be deep, and of emotion that was too deep to be anything but simple. It touched on the life of Christ, from His birth in Bethlehem to His coming as a boy to the Temple where the doctors sat, and so on to the agony in the garden. And then it glanced aside, as touchingly as irrelevantly, at the story of Eli and his sons, and the judgment of God on Israel's prophet. In that beautiful digression the Bishop warned all parents that it was their duty before God to bring up their children in God's fear, or theirs would be the sorrow, and their children's the suffering and the shame everlasting. And then in a voice that could barely support itself he made an allusion that none could mistake.

"Strange it is, and very pitiful," he said, "that what we think in our weakness to be the holiest of our human affections may be a snare and a stumbling-block. Strange enough, surely, and very sad, that even as the hardest of soul among us all may be free from blame where his children stand for judgment, so the tenderest of heart may, like Eli of old, be swept from the face of the living God for the iniquity of his children, which he has not restrained. But the best of our earthly passions, or what seem to be the best, the love of the mother for the babe at her breast, the pride of the father in the son that is flesh of his flesh, must be indulged with sin if it is not accepted with grace. True, too true, that there are those of us who may cast no stone, who should offer no counsel. Like Eli we know that the word of God has gone out against us, and we can but bend our foreheads and say, 'It is the Lord, let Him do what seemeth Him good."'

When the sermon ended there was much needless industry in searching for books under the book-rail, much furtive wiping of the eyes, much demonstrative blowing of the nose, and in the midst of the benediction a good deal of subdued whispering.

"Aw, 'deed, the ould Bishop bates the young pazon himself at putting out the talk-studdier like, and not so fiery maybe; but, man alive, the tender he is !"

"And d'ye mind that taste about Eli and them two idiot waistrels Hoffnee and Fin-eass ? "

"And did ye observe the ould man thrembling mortal? "

"0th, yes, and I'll go bail it wasn't them two blackyards he was thinking of, at all at all."

When the service came to an end, and the congregation was breaking up, and Billy the Gawk was hobbling down the aisle on a pair of sticks, that hoary old sinner, turned saint because fallen sick, was muttering something about "a rael good ould father," and "dirts like that Dan," and "a thund'rin' rascal with all."

A strange scene came next. The last of the congregation had not yet reached the porch, when all at once there was an uneasy move among them like the ground swell among the shoalings before the storm comes to shore. Those who were in front fell back or turned about and nodded as if they wished to say something; and those who were behind seemed to think and wonder. Then, sudden as the sharp crack of the first breaker on a reef, the faces of the people fell to a great heaviness of horror, and the air was full of mournful exclamations, surprise and terror.

" Lord ha' massy ! " "Dead, you say?"

" Aw, dead enough."

"Washed ashore by the Mooragh?" " So they're sayin', so they're sayin'."

" Hiain Jean myghin orrin-Lord have mercy upon us l"

Half a minute later the whole congregation were gathered outside the west porch. There, in the recess between the chapel and the house, two men, fisher-fellows of Michael, stood sur rounded by a throng of people. Something lay at their feet, and the crowd made a circle about it, looked down at it and drew long breaths. And when one after another came up, reached over the heads of others, and saw what lay within, he turned away with uplifted hands and a face that was white with fear.

"Lord ha' massy! Lord ha' massy l " cried the people on every side, and their senses were confused and overpowered.

What the dread thing was that lay at the

feet of the two fishermen does not need to be said.

"At the Mooragh, d'ye say?--came ashore at the Mooragh ? "

"Ay, at the top of the flood." " God bless me !"

"I saw it an hour before it drifted in," said one of the two grave fellows. " I was down longshore shrimping, and it was a good piece out to sea, and a heavy tide running. `Lord

ha' massy, what's that ?' I says. ` It's a gig with a sail,' I was thinking, but no, it was looking too small. `It's a diver, or maybe a solan goose with its wings stretched out;' but no, it was looking too big."

" Bless me ! Lord bless me !"

"And when it came a piece nearer it was into the sea I was going, breast high and more, and I came anigh it, and saw what it was-and frightened mortal, you go bail-and away to the street for Jemmy here, and back middlin' sharp, and it driffin' and driffin' on the beach by that time, and the water flopping on it, and the two of us up with it on to our shoulders, and straight away for the Coort." a

And sure enough the fisherman's clothes were drenched above his middle, and the shoulders of both men were wet.

"Bless me! bless me 1 Lord ha' massy!" echoed one and then another, and once again they craned their necks forward and looked down.

The loose canvas that had been ripped open by the weights was lying where the seams were stretched, and none uncovered the face, for the sense of human death was strong on all. But word had gone about whose body it was, and blind Kerry, wringing her hands and muttering something about the sights, pushed her way to the side of the two men, and asked why they had brought their burden to Bishop's Court instead of taking it to Ballamona.

" Aw, well;" they answered, "we were thinking the Bishop was his true father, and Bishop's Coort his true home for all."

"And that's true, too," said Kerry, "for his own father has been worse than a haythen naygro to him, and lave it to me to know, for didn't I bring the millish into the world? "

Then there came a rush of people down the road from the village. A rumour that something horrible had washed ashore had passed quickly from mouth to mouth, after the fisherman had run up to the village for help. And now in low, eager tones, questions and answers came and went among the crowd. "Who is it?" "Is it the captain?" "What, Mastba Dan?" "That's what they're sayin' up the street anyway." "Wrapped in a hammock -good Lord preserve us I " "Came up in the tide-way at the Mooragh-gracious me l and I saw him myself only yesterday."

The Bishop was seen to come out of the vestry door, and at the sight of him the crowd seemed to awake out of its first stupor,


"God help the Bishop 1 " "Here he's coming." "Bless me, he'll have to pass it by, going into the house." "The shock will kill the ould man." "Poor thingl poor thingl" "Some one must up and break the bad newses to him." "Aw, yes, for sure."

And then came the question of who was to tell the Bishop. First, the people asked one Corlett Ballafayle. Corlett farmed a hundred acres, and was a churchwarden, and a member of the Keys. But the big man said no, and edged away. Then they asked one of the Tubmans, but the brewer shook his head. He could not look into the Bishop's face and tell him a tale like that. At length they thought of blind Kerry. She at least would not see the face of the stricken man when she took him the fearful news.

"Aw, yes, Kerry, woman, it's yourself for it, and a rael stout heart at you, and blind for all, thank the Lord."

"I'll try, please God," said Kerry, and with that she moved slowly towards the vestry door,' where the Bishop had stopped to stroke the yellow curls of a little shy boy, and to ask him his age neat birthday, and to wish him a merry Christmas and eighty more of them, and all merry ones. It was observed that the good man's face was brighter now than it had been when he went into the chapel.

The people watched Kerry as she moved up to the Bishop. Could she be telling him? He was smiling 1 Was it not his laugh that they heard ? Kerry was standing before him in an irresolute way, and now with a wave of the hand he was leaving her. He was coming forward. No, he had stopped again to speak to old Auntie Nan from the Curragh, and Kerry had passed him in returning to the crowd.

I couldn't do it; he spoke me so cheerful, poor thing," said Kerry; "and when I was goin' to speak he looked the spitten picture of my ould father."

The Bishop parted from the old woman of the Curragh, and then on raising his eyes he became conscious of the throng by the porch.

" Lave it to me," said a rough voice, and Billy the Gawk stepped out. The crowd fell aside, and the fishermen placed themselves in front of the dread thing on the ground. Smiling and bowing on the right and left the Bishop was passing on towards the door that led to the house when the old beggar of the highways hobbled in front of him.

"We're right sorry, sir, my lord, to bring ye bad newses," the old man stammered, lifting the torn cap from his head.

The Bishop's face fell to a sudden gravity: What is it? " he said, and his voice sank. "We're rael sorry, but we know your heart

was gripe to him with grapplins." "Ay, ay," said some in the crowd.

" What is it, man ? Speak," said the Bishop, and all around was silence and awe.

The old man stood irresolute for a moment. Then, just as he was lifting his head to speak,

and every eye was on the two who stood in the midst, the Bishop and the old beggar, there came a loud noise from near at hand, and voices that sounded hoarse and jarring were in the air.

" Where is it ? When did they bring it up E Why is it not taken into the house ? "

It was fhe Deemster, and he came on with great flashing eyes, and behind him was Jarvis Kerruish. In an' instant the crowd had fallen aside for him, and he had pushed through and come to a stand in front of the Bishop.

"We know what has happened. We have heard it in the village," he said. "I knew what it must come to sooner or later. I told you a hundred times, and you have only yourself to thank for it."

The Bishop said not a word. He saw what lay behind the feet of the fishermen, and stepped up to it.

"It's of your own doing," shouted the Deemster in a voice of no ruth or pity. "You would not heed my warning. It was easy to see that the devil's own dues were in him. He hadn't an ounce of grace in his carcass. He put his foot on your neck, and threatened to do as much for me some day. And see where he is now 1 Look at him 1 This is how your son comes home to you 1"

As he spoke, the Deemster pointed contemptuously with the handle of his walking-cane to the thing that lay between them.

Then the hard tension of the people's silence was broken; they began to mutter among themselves and to propose and demur to something. They saw the Deemster's awful error, and that he thought the dead man was Dan.

The Bishop still stood immovable, with not the sign of a tear on his white face, but over it the skin was drawn hard.

"Andlet me tell you one thing more," said the Deemster. "Whoever he may be that brought matters to this pass, he shall not suffer. I will not lift a finger against him. The man who brings about his own death shall have the burden of it on his own head. The law will uphold me."

Then a hoarse murmur ran from lip to lip among the people who stood around, and one man, a burly fellow, nerved by the Deemster's error, pushed forward and said

"Deemster, be merciful, as you hope for mercy; you don't know what you're saying."

At that the Deemster turned about hotly and brought down his walking-cane with a heavy blow on the man's breast.

The stalwart fellow took the blow without lifting a hand.

"God help you, Deemster 1 " he said in a thick voice, "God help you 1 you don't know what you're doing. Go and look at it, Deem ster. Go and look, if you've the heart for it. Look at it, man, and may the Lord have mercy on you, and on us all in our day of trouble, and may God forgive you the cruel words you've spoken to your own brother this day !"

There was then a great silence for a moment. The Deemster gazed in a sort of stupor into the man's face, and his stick dropped out oo his hand. With a look of majesty 'and of suffering the Bishop stood at one side of the body, quiet, silent, giving no sign, seeing nothing but the thing at his 'feet, and hardly bearing the reproaches that were being hurled at him in the face of his people. The beating of his heart fell low.

There was a moment of suspense, and then, breathing rapid audible breath, the Deemster stooped beside the body, stretched out a halfpalsied hand and drew aside the loose canvas, and saw the face of his own son Ewan.

One long exclamation of surprise and consternation broke from the Deemster, and after that there came another fearful pause, wherein the Bishop went down on his knees beside the body.

In an instant the Deemster fell back to his savage mood. He rose to his full height; his face became suddenly and awfully discoloured and stern, and, tottering almost to falling, he lifted his clenched fist to the sky in silent imprecation of Heaven.

The people dropped aside in horror, and their flesh crawled over them. " Lord ha' massy! " they cried again, and Kerry, who was blind and could not see the Deemster, covered her ears that she might not hear him.

And from where he knelt the Bishop, who had not spoken until now, said, with an awful emphasis, "Brother, the Lord of heaven looks down on us."

But the Deemster, recovering himself, laughed in scorn of his own weakness, no less than of the Bishop's reproof. He picked up the walking-cane that he had dropped, slapped his leg with it, ordered the two fishermen to shoulder their burden again and take it to Ballamona, and sent straightway for the coroner and the joiner: "For," said he, "my son having come out of the sea, must be buried this same day.",


back index next


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