[from Hall Caine The Deemster]

CHAPTER XXVII

HOW THE NEWS CAME TO THE BISHOP

THE Deemster swung aside and went off, followed by Jarvis Kerruish. Then the two fishermen took up their dread burden and set their faces towards Ballamona. In a blind agony of uncertainty the Bishop went into his house. His mind was confused; he ,sat and did his best to compose himself. The thing that had happened perplexed him cruelly. He tried to think it out, but found it impossible to analyse his unlinked ideas,

His faculties were benumbed, and not even pain, the pain of Ewan's loss, could yet penetrate the dead blank that lay between him and a full' consciousness of the awful event. He shed no tears, and not a sigh broke from him.'' Silent he sat, with an expression of 'suffering that might have been frozen in his stony eyes and on his whitening lips, so rigid was it, and as if the power of life had ebbed away like the last ebb of an exhausted tide:

Then the people from without began to crowd in upon him where he sat in his library. They were in a state of great excitement, and all reserve' and ceremony were broken down, Each had his tale to tell, each his conjec. ture to offer. One told what the longshore shrimper had said of finding the body near the fishing-ground known as the Mooragh. Another had his opinion as to how the body bad sailed ashore instead of sinking. A third fumbled his cap and said, "I take sorrow to see you in such trouble, my lord, and wouldn't bring bad newses if I could give myself lave to bring good newses instead, but I'll go basil there's been bad work goin', and foul play; as they're sayin', and I wouldn't trust but , Mastha Dan-I'm sayin' I wouldn't trust but Mastha Dan could tell us something-"

The Bishop cut short the man's garrulity with a slight gesture, and one by one the people went out. He had listened to them in silence and with a face of saintly suf= fering, scarcely hearing what they had said. "I will await events," he thought, "and trust in God." But a great fear was laying hold of him, and he had to gird up his heart to conquer it. "I will trust in God," he told himself a score of times, and in his faith in the goodness of his God he tried to be calm and brave. But one after another' his people came back and back and back with.new and still newer facts. At every fresh blow from damning circumstances his thin lips trembled, his nervous fingers ran through his flowing white hair, and his deep eyes filled without moving.

And after the first tempest of his own sorrow for the loss of Ewan, he thought of Dan, and of Dan's sure grief. He remembered the love of Ewan for Dan, and the love of Dan for Ewan. He recalled many instances of that beautiful affection, and in the quickening flow of the light of that love half the follies of his wayward son sank out of sight. Dan must be told what had occurred, and if nono had told him already, it was best that it should be broken to him from lips that loved him.

Thus it was that this brave and long. harassed man, trying to think ill of his own harshness, that looked so impotent and so childish now, remembering no longer his vow never to set eyes on the face of his son or hold speech with him again, sent a messenger, to old Ballamona to ask for Dan, and to bring him to Bishop's Court without delay.

   

Half-an-hour later, at the sound of a knock at his door, the Bishop, thinking it was Dan himself, stood up to his stately height, and tried to hide his agitation, and answered in an unsteady voice, that not all the resolution of his brave heart could subdue to calmness But it was the messenger, and not Dan, and he had returned to say that Mastha Dan had not been home since yesterday, and that when Mastha Ewan was last seen at home he had asked for Mastha Dan, and, not finding him, had gone down to the Lockjaw Creek to seek him.

"When was that?" the Bishop asked.

"The ould body at the house said it might be a piece after three o'clock yesterday eveninn," said the man.

Beneath the cold quietness of the regard with which the Bishop dismissed his messenger, a keener eye than his might have noted a fearful tumult. The Bishop's hand grew cold and trembled. At the next instant he had become conscious of his agitation, and begun to reproach himself for his want of faith. " I will trust in God and await events," he told himself again. "No, I will not speak;

I will maintain silence. Yes, I will await the turn of events, and trust in the good Father of all."

Then there came another knock at his door. "Surely it is Dan at length; his old housekeeper has sent bim on," he thought. "Come in," he called in a voice that shook.

It was Hommy-beg. The Deemster had sent him across with a message.

"And what is it?" the Bishop asked, speaking at the deaf man's ear.

Hommy-beg scratched his tousled head and made no answer at first, and the Bishop repeated the question.

"We're all taking sorrow for you, my lord," said Hammy, and then he stopped.

" What is it ? " the Bishop repeated.

"And right sorry I am to bring his message."

The Bishop's pale face took an ashy grey, but his manner was still calm.

"What did the Deemster send you to say, Hommy ? "

" The Dempster-had sess to him, and no disrespec'-he sent me to tell you that they're after stripping the canvas off, and, behould ye, it's an ould sail, and they're knowing it by its number, and what fishing-boat it came out of, and all to that."

" Where did the sailcloth come from ? " asked the Bishop, and his deep eyes were fixed on Hommy.

" It's an ould-well, the fact is-to tell you not a word of a lie-aw, my lord, what matter -what if it is-"

"Where?" said the Bishop calmly, though his lips whitened and quivered.

" It's an old drift yawlsail of the Ben-my-Chree. Aw, yes, yes, sarten sure, and sorry I am to bring bad newses."

Hommy-bez went out, and the Bishop stood for some minutes in the thraldom of fear.

He had been smitten hard by other facts, but this latest fact seemed for the moment d to overthrow his great calm faith in God's power to bring out all things for the best. n He wrestled with it long and hard. He tried to persuade himself that it meant d nothing. That Ewan was dead was certain. That he came by his death through foul n play seemed no less sure and terrible. But d that his body had been wrapped in sailcloth once belonging to Dan's fishing-boat was no sufficient ground for the terrible accusation that was taking shape in other minds. Could he accept the idea? Ah ! no, no, no. To do so would be to fly in the face of all sound reason, all fatherly love, and all trust in the good Father above. Though the sailcloth came from the Ben-my-Chree, the fact said nothing of where the body came from. And even though it were certain that the body must have been dropped into the sea from the fishing-boat that belonged to Dan, it would still require proof that Dan himself was aboard of her.

With such poor shifts the Bishop bore down the cruel facts as one after one they beat upon his brain. He tried to feel shame of his own shame, and to think hard of his own hard thoughts. ' Yes, I will trust in God," he told himself afresh ; " I will await events, and trust in the good Father of all mercies." But where was Dan? The Bishop had made up his mind to send messengers to skirr the island round in search of his son, when suddenly there came a great noise as of many persons talking eagerly, and drawing hurriedly near and nearer.

A minute afterwards his library door was opened again without reserve or ceremony, and there came trooping into the room a mixed throng of the village folk. Little Jabez Gawne was at their head with a coat and a hat held in his hands before him.

Cold as the day was, the people looked hot and full of puzzled eagerness, and their smoking breath came in long jets into the quiet room.

"My lord, look what we've found on the top of Orrisdel," said Jabez, and he stretched out the coat, while one of the men behind him relieved him of the beaver.

The coat was a long black-cloth coat, with lappets and tails and wristbands turned over. The Bishop saw at a glance that it was the coat of a clergyman.

"Leave it to me to know this coat, my lord, for it was myself that made it," said Jabez. The Bishop's brain turned giddy, and the perspiration started from his temples, but his dignity and his largeness did not desert him.

" Is it my poor Ewan's coat ? " he asked, as be held out his hand to take it, but his tone was one of almost hopeless misery and not of inquiry.

"That's true, my lord," said Jabez, and thereupon the little tailor started an elabo. rate series of identifipativus, based chiefly on points of superior cut and workmanship. But the Bishop cut the tailor short with a wave of the hand.

"You found it on Orrisdale Head? " asked the Bishop.

And one of the men behind pushed his head between the shoulders of those who were before him and said

" Aw, yes, my lord, not twenty yards from the cliff, and I found something else beside of it."

Just then there was a further noise in the passage outside the library, and a voice saying

" Gerr out of the way, you old loblolly-boys, bringing bad newses still, and glad of them, too."

It was Hommy-beg returned to Bishop's Court with yet another message, but it was a message of his own, and not of the Deemster's. He pushed his way through the throng until he came face to face with the Bishop, and then he said

"The Dempster is afther having the doctor down from Ramsey, and the big man is sayin' the neck was broken, and it was a fall that killed the young pazon, and nothing worse, at all at all."

The large sad eyes of the Bishop seemed to shine without moving as Hommy spoke, but in an instant the man who had spoken before thrust his word in again, and then the Bishop's face grew darker than ever with settled gloom.

"It was myself that found the coat and hat, my lord ; and a piece nearer the cliff I found this, and this; and then, down the brew itself-maybe a matter of ten feet down -I saw this other one sticking in a green corry of grass and ling, and over I went, hand-underhand, and brought it up."

While be spoke the man struggled to the front, and held out in one hand a belt, or what seemed to be two belts buckled together and cut across as with a knife, and in the other band two daggers.

A great awe fell upon every one at sight of the weapons. The Bishop's face still showed a quiet grandeur, but his breathing was laboured and harassed.

"Give them to me," he said, with an impressive calmness, and the man put the belts and daggers into the Bishop's hands. He looked at them attentively, and saw that one of the buckles was of silver, while the other was of steel.

" Has any one recognised them? " he asked. A dozen voices answered at once that they were the belts of the newly-banded militia.

At the same instant the Bishop's eye was arrested by some scratches on the back of the silver buckle. He fixed his spectacles to examine the marks more closely. When he had done so he breathed with gasps of agony, and all the cheer of life seemed in one instant to die out of his face. His nerveless fingers dropped the belts and daggers on to the table, and the silver and the steel e clinked as they fell.

There had been a dead silence in the room for some moments, and then with a laboured tranquillity the Bishop said, 'I That will do; " and stood mute and motionless while the people shambled out, leaving their dread treasures behind them.

m To his heart's core the Bishop was struck with an icy chill. He tried to link together the terrible ideas that had smitten his brain, but his mind wandered and slipped away. Ewan was last seen going towards the creek; he was dead; he had been killed by a fall his body had come ashore in an old sail of the Ben-my-Chree; his coat and hat had been picked up on the top of Orrisdale Head, and beside them lay two weapons and two belts, whereof one had belonged to Dan, whose name was scratched upon it.

In the cruel coil of circumstance that was every moment tightening about him the Bishop's great calm faith in the goodness of his Maker seemed to be benumbed.

" Oh, my son, my son !" he cried when he was left alone. "Would to God I had died before I saw this day ! Oh, my son, my son !"

But after a time he regained his selfcontrol, and said to himself again, "I will trust in God; He will make the dark places plain."

Then he broke into short, fitful prayers, as if to drive away by the warmth of the spirit the chill that was waiting in readiness to freeze his faith-"Make haste unto me, O God ! Hide not Thy face from Thy servant, for I am in trouble."

The short winter's day had dragged on heavily, but the arms of darkness were now closing round it. The Bishop put on his cloak and hat and set off for Ballamona. In length of days he was but little past his prime, but the dark sorrow of many years had drained his best strength, and he tottered on the way. Only his strong faith that God would remember His servant in the hour of trouble gave power to his trembling limbs.

And as he walked he began to reproach himself for the mistrust whereby he had been so sorely shaken. This comforted him somewhat, and he stepped out more boldly. He was telling himself that, perplexing though the facts might be, they were yet so inconclusive as to prove nothing except that Ewan was dead, when all at once he became conscious that in the road ahead of him, grouped about the gate of Ballamona, were a company of women and children, all agitated and some weeping, with the coroner in their midst, questioning them.

The coroner was Quayle the Gyke, the same who would have been left penniless by his father but for the Bishop's intervention.

"And when did your husband go out to sea ?" the coroner asked.

   

"At floodtide,yesterday," answered one of the 'women; "and my man, he' said to me ' Liza,' he said, 'get me a bite of priddhas and' salt herrin's for supper,' he said; ' we'l be back for twelve,' be said; but never sight of him yet, and me up all night till daylight,"

"But they've been in and gone out to sea again," said another of the women.

"How, do you know that, Mother Quilleash?' asked the coroner.

"Because I've been taking a slieu round to the creek, and there's a basket of skate an cod in the shed," the woman answered.

At that the Bishop drew up at the gate, and the coroner explained to him the trouble of the women and children.

"Is it you, Mrs. Corkell?"the Bishop asked of a woman near him.

"Aw, yes, my lord."

"And you, too, Mrs. Teare T."

The woman curtsied; the Bishop named them one by one, and stroked the bare head of the little girl who was clinging to her mother's cloak and weeping.

"Then it's the Ben-my-Chree that has been missing since yesterday at high-water?" the Bishop said, in a sort of hushed whisper.

"Yes, sore, my lord."

At that the Bishop turned suddenly aside, without a word more, opened the gate, and walked up the path.

"Oh, my son, my son," he cried in' his bleeding heart, "how have you shortened my days! How have you clothed me with shame 1 Ob, my son, my son !"

Before Ballamona an open cart was standing, with the tailboard down, and the horse was pawing the gravel which had once-on a far different occasion-been strewn with the "blithe-bread." The door of the house stood ajar, and a jet of light from within fell on the restless horse without, The Bishop entered the house, and found all in readiness for the hurried night burial. On chairs that were ranged back to back a rough oak coffin, like an oblong box, was resting, and from the rafter of the ceiling immediately over it a small oil lamp was suspended. On either side of the hall were three or four men holding brands and leathern lanterns, ready for lighting. The Deemster was coming and going from his own room beyond, attended in bustling eagerness by Jarvis Kerruish. Near the coffin stood the vicar of the parish, father of the dead man's dead wife, and in the opening of a door that went out from the hall Mona' stood weeping with the dead man's child in her arms.

And even as it is only in the night that the brightest stars may truly be seen, so in the night of all this calamity the star of the Bishop's- faith shone out clearly again, and his vague misgivings fell away. He stepped up to Mona, whose dim eyes were now fixed on his face in sadness of sympathy, and with his dry lips he touched her forehead.

Then, in the depth of his own sorrow and the breadth of shadow that lay upon him, he looked down at the little one in Mona's arms, where it leapt and cooed and beat its a arms on the air in a strange wild joy at this gay spectacle of its father's funeral, and his eyes filled for what the course of its life would be.

Almost as soon as the Deemster was conscious of the Bishop's presence in the house he called on the mourners to make ready, and then six men stepped to the side of the coffin.

"Thorkell," said the Bishop calmly, and the bearers paused while he spoke, "this haste to put away the body of our dear Ewan is unseemly, because it is unnecessary."

The Deemster made no other answer than a spluttered expression of contempt, and the Bishop spoke again.

"You are aware that there is no canon of the Church requiring it, and no law of State demanding it. That a body from the sea shall be buried within the day it has washed ashore is no more than a custom."

"Then custom shall be indulged with custom," said Thorkell decisively.

"Not for fifty years has it been observed," continued the Bishop; "and here it is an outrage on reason and on the respect we owe to our dead."

At this the Deemster said: "The body is mine, and I will do as I please with it."

Even the six carriers, with their hands on the coffin, caught their breath at these words; but the Bishop answered without anger:

"And the graveyard is mine, in charge for the Church and God's people, and if I do not forbid the burial, it is because I would have no wrangling over the grave of my dear boy."

The Deemster spat on the floor and called on the carriers to take up their burden. Then the six men lifted the coffin from the chairs and put it into the cart at the door. The other mourners went out on to the gravel, and such of them as carried torches and lanterns lighted them there. The Old Hundredth was then sung, and when its last notes had died on the night air the springless cart went jolting down the path. Behind it the mourners ranged themselves two abreast, with the Deemster walking alone after the cart, and the Bishop last of all.

Mona stood a moment at the open door in the hall that was now empty and desolate and silent, save for the babblings of the child in her arms. She saw the procession pass through the gate into the road. After that she went into the house, drew aside the curtain of her window, and watched the moving lights until they stopped, and then she knew that they were gathered about an open grave, and that half of all that had been very dear to her in this weary world was gone from it forever.


 

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