[from Hall Caine The Deemster]
THE prison for felons awaiting trial in the civil courts was in Castle Rushen at Castletown, but Dan Mylrea was not taken to it. There had been a general rising in the south of the island on the introduction of a coinage of copper money, and so many of the rioters had been arrested and committed for trial, without bail, at the Court of General Gaol Delivery, that the prison at Castle Rushen was full to overflowing. Twenty men had guarded the place day and night, being relieved every twenty-four hours by as many more from each parish in rotation, some of them the kith and kin of the men imprisoned, and all summoned to Castletown in the morning by the ancient mode of fixing a wooden cross over their doors at night.
Owing to this circumstance the Deemster made the extraordinary blunder of ordering his coroner to remove Dan to the prison beneath the ruined castle at Peeltown. Now, the prison on St. Patrick's Islet had for centuries been under the control of the Spiritual Courts, and was still available for use in the execution of the ecclesiastical censures. The gaoler was the parish sumner, and the sole governor and director was the Bishop him. self. All this the Deemster knew full well, and partly in defiance of his brother's authority, partly in contempt of it, but mainly in bitter disdain of his utter helplessness, where his son's guilt was manifest and confessed, he arrogated the right, without sanction from the spiritual powers, of committing Dan to the Church prison, the civil prison being full.
It was a foul and loathsome dungeon, and never but once had Bishop Mylrea been known to use it. Dark, small, damp, entered by a score of narrow steps, down under the vaults on the floor of the chapel, over the long runnels made in the rock by the sea, it was as vile a hole as the tyranny of the Church ever turned into a gaol for the punishment of those who resisted its authority.
The sumner in charge was old Paton Gorry, of Kirk Patrick a feeble soul with a vast respect for authority, and no powers of nice distinction between those who were placed above him. When he received the Deemster's warrant for Dan's committal he did not doubt its validity; and when Quayle, the coroner, for his own share, ordered that the prisoner should be kept in the close confinement of the dungeon, he acquiesced without question.
If Dan's humiliation down to this moment bad not been gall and wormwood to his proud and stubborn spirit, the fault did not lie at the door of Quayle the Gyke. Every indignity that an unwilling prisoner could have been subjected to, Dan underwent. From the moment of leaving the court-house at Ramsey, Dan was pushed and huddled and imperiously commanded with such an abundant lack of need and reason that at length the people who crowded the streets or looked from their windows-the same people, many of them, who had shrunk from Dan as he entered the town-shouted at the coroner and groaned at him. But Dan himself, who had never before accepted a blow from any man without returning it, was seen to walk tamely by the coroner's side, towering above him in great stature, but taking his rough handling like a child at his knees.
At the door of the prison where Quayle's function ended that of the sumner began, and old Gorry was a man of another mould. Twenty times he had taken charge of persons imprisoned sixty days for incontinence, and once he had held the governor's wife twelve hours for slander, and once again a fighting clergyman seven days for heresies in looking towards Rome, but never before had he put man, woman, or child into the pestilential hole under the floor of the old chapel. Dan he remembered since the Bishop's son was a boy in corduroys, and when the rusty key of the dungeon turned on him with a growl in its wards, and old Gorry went shivering to the guard-room above and kindled himself a fire there and sat and smoked, the good man under his rough surtout got the better of the bad gaoler. Then down he went again, and with a certain shamefacedness, some half-comic, half-pathetic efforts of professional reserve, he said he wouldn't object, not he, if Dan had a mind to come up and warm himself. But Dan declined with words of cold thanks.
"No, Gorry," he said, "I don't know that I feel the cold."
"Oh, all right, all right; sit ye there, sit ye there," said Gorry. He whipped about with as much of largeness as he could simulate, rattled his keys as he went back, and even hummed a tune as he climbed the narrow stairs. But, warming itself at the fire, the poor human nature in the old man's breast began to tear him pitilessly. He could get no peace for memories that would arise of the days when Dan plagued him sorely, the sad little happy dog. Then up he rose again, and down he went to the dungeon once more.
"I respects the ould Bishop," he said, just by way of preliminary apology and to help him to carry off his intention, "and if it be so that a man has done wrong, I don't see-I don't see," he stammered, "it isn't natheral that he should be starved alive anyway, and a cold winter's night too."
"It's no more than I deserve," Dan mumbled; and at that word old Gorry whipped about as before, repeating loftily, " Sit ye there, sit ye there."
It was not for him to cringe and sue to a prisoner to come up out of that foul hole, och ! no; and the Bishop's sumner inflated his choking chest and went back for another pipe. But half-an-hour later the night had closed in, and old Gorry, with a lantern in his hand, was at the door of Dan's prison again.
"To tell the truth, sir," he muttered, " I ca'n't get lave for a wink of sleep up yonder, and if you don't come up to the fire I wouldn't trust but I'll be forced to stay down here in the cold myself."
Before Dan could make answer there came a loud knocking from overhead. In another moment the key of the door had turned in its lock from without, and Gorry's uncertain foot. fall was retreating on the steps.
When Dan had first been left alone in his dark cell, he had cast himself down on the broad slab cut from the rock which was his only seat and bed. His suspense was over; the weight of uncertainty was lifted from his brain, and he tried to tell himself that he had done well. He thought of Ewan now with other feelings than before-of his uprightness, his tenderness, his brotherly affection, his frequent intercession and no less frequent self-sacrifice. Then he thought of his own headlong folly, his blank insensitiveness, his cold ingratitude, and, last of all, of his blundering passion and mad wrath. All else on both sides was blotted from his memory in that hour of dark searching. Alone with his crime-tortured no more by blind hopes of escaping its penalty, or dread misgivings as to the measure of his guilt-his heart went out to the true friend whose life he had taken with a great dumb yearning and a bitter remorse. No cruel voice whispered now in palliation of his offence that it had not been murder, but the accident of self-defence. He had proposed the fight that ended with Ewan's death, and, when Ewan would have abandoned it, he, on his part, would hear of no truce. Murder it was; and, bad as murder is at the best, this murder had been, of all murders, most base and foul. Yes, he had done well. Here alone could he know one hour of respite from terrible thoughts. This dark vault was his only resting-place until he came to lie in the last resting-place of all. There could be no going back. Life was for ever closed against him. He had spilled the blood of the man who had loved him with more than a brother's love, and to whom his own soul had been grappled with hooks of steel. It was enough,and the sick certainty of the doom before him was easiest to bear.
It was with thoughts like these that Dan had spent his first hours in prison, and when old Gorry had interrupted them time after time with poor little troubles about the freezing cold of the pestilential place, he hardly saw through the old man's simulation into the tender bit of human nature that lay behind it.
A few minutes after Gorry had left the cell, in answer to the loud knocking that had echoed through the empty chambers overhead, Dan could hear that he was returning to it, halting slowly down the steps with many a pause, and mumbling remarks meantime, as if lighting some one who came after him.
`Yes, my lord, it's dark, very dark. I'll set the lantern here, my lord, and turn the key."
In another moment old Gorry was at Dan's side, saying, in a fearful undertone, "Lord a massy ! it's the Bishop hisself, I lied to him mortal, so I did-but no use. I said you were sleeping, but no good at all at all. He wouldn't take rest without putting a sight on you. Here he is-Come in, my lord." Almost before Dan's mind, distraught by other troubles, had time to grasp what Gorry said, the old gaoler had clapped his lantern on the floor of the cell, and'had gone from it, and Dan was alone with his father.
" Dan, are you awake ? " the Bishop asked, in a low, eager tone. His eyes were not yet familiar with the half-light of the dark place, and he could not see his son. But Dan saw his father only too plainly, and one glance at him in that first instant of recovered consciousness went far to banish as an empty sophism the soothing assurance he had lately nursed at his heart that in what he had done he had done well.
The Bishop was a changed and shattered man. His very stature seemed to have shrunk, and his Jovian white head was dipped into his breast. His great calm front was gone, and in the feeble light of the lantern on the floor his eyes were altered and his face seemed to be cut deep with lines of fear, and even of cunning. His irresolute mouth was halfopen, as if it had only just emitted a startled cry. In one of his hands he held a small parcel bound tightly with a broad strap, and the other hand wandered nervously in the air before him.
Dan saw everything in an instant. This, then, was the first-fruits of that day's work. He rose from his seat.
"Father ! " he cried in a faint tremulous voice.
"My son l" the Bishop answered, and for some swift moments thereafter the past that had been very bitter to both was remembered no more by either.
But the sweet oblivion was cruelly brief. " Wait," the Bishop whispered, "are we alone?" And with that the once stately man of God crept on tiptoe like a cat to the door of the cell, and put his head to it and listened.
"Art thou there, Paton Gorry?" he asked, feebly simulating his accustomed tone of quiet authority.
Old Gorry answered from the other side of the door that he was there, that he was sitting on the steps, that he was not sleeping, but waiting my lord's return.
The Bishop crept back to Dan's side with the same cat-like step as before.
"You are safe, my son," he whispered in his low eager tone. "You shall leave this place. It is my prison, and you shall go free."
Dan had watched his father's movements with a sickening sense.
" Then you do not know.that I surrendered ? " he said faintly.
"Yes, yes, oh yes, I know it, But that was when your arrest was certain. But now - listen."
Dan felt as if his father had struck him across the face. "That was what the Deemster said," he begun; "but it is wrong."
" Listen-they have nothing against you. I know all. They cannot convict you save on your own confession. And why should you confess ? "
" Why ?"
" Don't speak-don't explain-I must not hear you-listen ! " and the old man put one arm on his son's shoulder and his mouth to his ear. "There is only one bit of tangible evidence against you, and it is here; look ! " and he lifted before Dan's face the parcel he carried in his other trembling hand. Then down he went on one knee, put the parcel on the floor, and unclasped the strap. The parcel fell open. It contained a coat, a hat, two militia daggers, and a large heavy stone.
"Look!" the Bishop whispered again, in a note of triumph, and as he spoke a grin of delight was struck out of his saintly old face.
Dan shuddered at the sight.
" Where did you get them ? " he asked. The Bishop gave a little grating laugh.
" They were brought me by some of my good people," he answered. "Oh yes, good people all of them ; and they will not tell. Oh no, they have promised me to be silent."
" Promised you ? "
"Yes-listen again. Last night-it was dark, I think it must have been past midnight-I went to all their houses. They were in bed, but I knocked, and they came down to me. Yes, they gave me their word-on the Book they gave it. Good people allJabez the tailor, Stean the cobbler, Juan of Ballacry, and Thormod in the Street. I remember every man of them."
"Father, do you say you went to these people-these, the very riff-raff of the island -you went to them-you, and at midnight and begged them -'
"Hush, it is nothing. Why not? But this is important."
The Bishop, who was still on his knee, was buckling up the parcel again. " You can sink it in the sea. Did you mark the stone ? That will carry it to the bottom. And when you are in the boat it will be easy to drop everything overboard."
" The boat ? "
" Ah ! have I not told you ? Thormod Myle chreest-you remember him ? A good man, Thormod, a tender heart, too, and wronged by his father, poor misguided man. Well, Mylechreest has promised-I have just left him-to come down to the harbour at nine to-night, and take the fishing-smack, the Ben-my-Chree, and bring her round to the west coast of St. Patrick's Islet, and cast anchor there, and then come ashore in the boat, and wait for you."
" Wait for me, father? "
"Yes; for this prison is mine, and I shall open its doors to whomsoever it pleases me to liberate. Look! "
The Bishop rose to his full height, threw back his head, and with a feeble show of his wonted dignity strode to the door of the cell and cried, in a poor stifled echo of his accustomed strong tone, "Paton Gorry, open thou this door."
Old Gorry answered from without, and presently the door was opened.
The door was thrown wide.
"Now, give me the keys, Paton Gorry," said the Bishop, with the same assumption of authority.
Old Gorry handed his keys to the Bishop. " And get thee home, and stay there."
Old Gorry touched his cap and went up the steps.
Then, with a bankrupt smile of sorry triumph, the Bishop turned to his son.
"You see," he said, "you are free. Let me look-what is the hour?" He fumbled for his watch. "Ah l I had forgotten. I paid my watch away to poor Patrick Looney. No matter. At nine by the clock Mylechreest will come for you, and you will go to your boat and set sail for Scotland, or England, or Ireland, or-or="
Dan could bear up no longer. His heart was
choking. " Father father, my father, what are you saying?" he cried.
" I am saying that you are free to leave this place."
"I will not go-I cannot go."
The Bishop fetched a long breath and paused for a moment. He put one trembling hand to his forehead, as if to steady his reeling and heated brain.
"You cannot stay," he said. "Hark ! do you hear the wind how it moans ? Or is it the sea that beats on the rock outside? And over our heads are the dead of ten generations."
But Dan was suffocating with shame; the desolation around, the death that was lying silent above, and the mother of sorrows that was wailing beneath, had no terrors left for him.
" Father, my father," he cried again, "think what you ask me to do. Only think of it. u You ask me to allow you to buy the silence of the meanest hinds alive. And at what a price ? At the price of the influence, the esteem, the love, and the reverence that you have won by the labour of twenty years. And to what end? To the end that I-I=" "To the end that you may live, my son. Remember what your father's love has been to you. No, not that-but think what it must have been to him. Your father would know you were alive. It is true he would never, never see you. Yes, we should always be apart-you there, and I here-and I should take your band and see your face no more. But you would be alive ?"
"Father, do you call it living? Think if I could bear it. Suppose I escaped-suppose I were safe in some place far away-the Indies, America, anywhere out of the reach of shame and death-suppose I were well, ay, and prosperous as the world goes-what then ? "
"Then I should be content, my son. Yes, content, and thanking God."
"And I should be the most wretched of men. Only think of it, and picture me there. I should know, though there were none to tell me, I should remember it as often as the sun rose above me, that at home, thousands of miles away, my poor father, the righteous Bishop that once was, the leader of his people and their good father, was the slave of the lowest offal of them all, powerless to raise his hand for the hands that were held over him, dumb to reprove for the evil tongues that threatened to speak ill. And, as often as night came and I tried to sleep, I should see him there growing old, very old, and maybe very feeble, and wanting an arm to lean on, and good people to honour him and to make him forget-yes, forget the mad shipwreck of his son's life, but with eyes that could not lift themselves from the earth for secret shame, tortured by fears of dishonour, self-tormented and degraded before the face of his God. No, no, no, I cannot take such sacrifice."
The Bishop had drawn nearer to Dan and tried to take his hand. When Dan was silent he did not speak at once, and when Dan sat on his stone seat he sat beside him, gentle as a child, and very meek and quiet, and felt for his hand again, and held it, though Dan would have drawn it away. Then, as they sat together, nearer the old Bishop crept, nearer and yet nearer, until one of his trembling arms encircled Dan's neck, and the dear head was drawn down to his swelling, throbbing breast, as if it were a child's head still, and it was a father's part to comfort it and to soothe away its sorrows.
"Then we will go together," he said, after a time, in a faint forlornness of voice, "to the
utmost reaches of the earth, leaving all behind us, and thinking no more of the past. Yes, we will go together," he said very quietly, and he rose to his feet, still holding Dan's hand.
Dan was suffocating with shame.
"Father," he said, " I see all now; you think me innocent, and so you would leave everything for my sake. But I am a guilty man."
" Hush ! you shall not say that. Don't tell me that. No one shall tell me that. I will not hear it."
The hot eagerness of the Bishop's refusal to hear with his ears the story of his son's guilt told Dan but too surely that he had already heard it with his heart.
"Father, no one would need to tell you. You would find it out for yourself. And think of that awful undeceiving ! You would take your son's part against the world, believing in him, but you would read his secret bit by bit, day by day. His crime would steal in between you like a spectre, it would separate you hour by hour, until at length you would be for ever apart. And that end would be the worst end of all. No, it cannot be. Justice is against it; love is against it. And God, I think, God must be against it, too." "God!"
Dan did not hear.
"Yes, I am guilty," he went on. "I have killed the man who loved me as his own soul. He would have given his life for my life, even as he gave his honour for my honour. And I slew him. Ewan ! Ewan ! my brother, my brother !" he cried, and where he sat he buried his face in his hands.
The Bishop stood over his son with the same gentle calm that had come upon him in the cell, and with not one breath of the restless fever with which he entered it. Once again he tried to take Dan's hand and to hold it, and to meet with his own full orbs Dan's swimming eyes.
"Yes, father, it is right that I should die, and it is necessary. Perhaps God will take my death as an atonement-"
" Atonement! "
Or, if there is no atonement, there is only hell for my crime, and before God I am guilty."
" Before God !"
The Bishop echoed Dan's words in a dull, mechanical under-breath, and stood a long time silent while Dan poured forth his bitter remorse. Then he said, speaking with something of his own courageous calm of voice, from something like his own pure face, and with some of the upright wrinkles of his high forehead smoothed away, "Dan, I will go home and think. I seem to be awakening from a dreadful nightmare in a world where no God is, and no light reigns, but all is dark. To tell you the truth, Dan, I fear my faith is not what it was or should be. I thought I knew God's ways with His people, and then it seemed as if, after all these years, I had not known Him. But I am only a poor priest, and a very weak old man. Good-night, my son; I will go home and think. I am like one who runs to save a child from a great peril and finds a man stronger than himself and braver one who looks on death face to face and quails not. Good-night, Dan; I will go home and pray."
And so he went his way, the man of God in his weakness. He left his son on the stone seat, with covered face, the lantern and the parcel on the floor, and the door of the cell wide open. The keys he carried half-consciously in his hand. He stumbled along in the darkness down the winding steps hewn from the rock to the boat at the little wooden jetty, where a boatman sat awaiting him. The night was very dark, and the sea's loud moan and its dank salt breath were in the air. He did not see, he did not hear, he did not feel. But there was one in that lonesome place who saw his dark figure as he passed. "Who is there?" said an eager voice, as he went through the deep portcullis and out at the old notched and barred door ajar. But the Bishop neither answered nor heard.
At the house in Castle Street, near to the Quay, he stopped and knocked. The door was opened by the old sumner.
"I've brought you the keys, Paton Gorry, Go back to your charge."
"Did you lock the doors, my lord?" "Yes-no, no-I must have forgotten. I fear my mind-but it is of no moment. Go back, Paton-it will be enough."
" I'll go, my lord," said the sumner.
He went back, but others had been there before him.