[from Hall Caine The Deemster]
WHAT had happened was a strange series of coincidences. Early that day the crew of the Ben-my-Ohree, in the mountain solitude where they found freezing and starving safety, had sent one of their number back to Sulbv village to buy a quarter of meal. Teare was the man chosen for the errand, and, having compassed it, he was stealing his way back to the mountains when he noticed that great companies of people were coming from the direction of Ramsey. Lagging behind the larger groups on the road was a woman whom he recognised as his wife. He attracted her attention without revealing himself to the people in front. She was returning from the Deemster's inquest, and told what had occurred there; that Dan, the Bishop's son, had surrendered, and that the indictment to the Court of General Gaol Delivery had been made out not only in his name, but in the names of the four men and the boy of the Ben-my-Chree.
Teare carried back to the mountains a heavier burden than the quarter of meal. His mates had watched for him as he plodded up the bank of the Sulby river, with the bag on his back. When he came up his face was ominous.
" Send the lad away for a spell," he muttered to old Billy Quilleasb, and Davy Fayle was sent to cut gorse for a fire.
Then the men gathered around Teare and heard what had happened. The disaster had fallen which they foresaw. What was to be done? Crennell, with a line from a psalm, was for trusting in the Lord, and old Quilleash, with an oath, was for trusting in his heels. After a pause Teare propounded his scheme. It centred in Dan. Dan with his confession was their sole danger. Once rid of Dan they were as free men. Before his confession of guilt their innocence was beyond his power to prove or their power to establish. On his way up from the valley Teare had hit on a daring adventure. They were to break into the castle at Peel, take Dan by force, bring him up to the mountains, and there give him the choice of life or death : life if he promised to plead Not Guilty to the indictment, death if he adhered to the resolution by which he had surrendered.
The men gathered closer about Teare, and with yet whiter faces. Teare gave his plan ; his scheme was complete ; that night they were to carry it out. Paton Gorry was the gaoler at Peel Castle. The lad Davy was the old sumner's godchild. Davy was to go forth and smuggle Gorry's keys out of the guardroom. If that were found impossible-well, Paton was an old man; he might be put quietly out of harm's way-no violence-och 1 no, not a hap'orth. Then Corkell was sonin-law of the watch at Peeltown, and hence the watch must take the harbour-master to the "Jolly Herrings" in Castle Street, while they themselves, Teare, Quilleash, Crennell, and Corkell, took the Ben-my-Chree from her moorings at the mouth of the harbour. On the west coast of St. Patrick's Isle they must bear down and run the dingey ashore. Then Dan must be seized in his cell, bound hand and foot, and brought aboard. With a fair wind-it was blowing east-sou'-east-they must set sail for Ramsey Bay, put about at Lague, anchor there, and go ashore. "That'll lave it," said Teare, "to raisonable inf'rence that Mastha Dan had whipped off to England by the Whitehaven packet that sails at midnight from the quay."
This done, they were to find a horse, strap the fettered man to its back, fetch him into the mountains in the dark hours of the night, and at daybreak try him solemnly and justly on the issue they had hit upon of life or death. No violence ! Acv, no, all just and straight ! If so be that the man was hanging them, they'd do him justice man to man as fair as the backbone lies down the middle of a herring. Deemster's justice couldn't be cleaner; no, nor as clean. Aw, yes, no violence!
It was an intricate plan, involving many risks, presupposing many favourable chances. Perhaps it was not a logical computation of probabilities. But, good or bad, logical or illogical, probable or improbable, easy of accomplishment or full of risk and peril, it was the only alternative to trusting in the Lord, as Crennell had suggested, or in their heels, as Quilleash had preferred. In the end they took it, and made ready to act on it.
As the men arrived at their conclusion Davy Fayle was returning with an armful of withered gorse for a fire. The first move in that night's adventure was to be made by him. "Lave the lad to me," whispered Quilleash, and straightway he tackled Davy. Veracity was not conspicuous in the explanation that the old salt made. Poor Mastha Dan had been nabbed, bad sess to it, and jiggered up in Peel Castle. He would be hanged sarten sure. Aw, safe for it, if some chaps didn't make an effort immadient. They meant to do it, too. Ay, that very everin 1 Wouldn't they let him help? Well, pozzible, pozzible. They wasn't no objection to that. Thus Davy fell an eager victim to a plan that was not propounded to him. If saving Mastha Dan from the dirts that had nabbed him was the skame that was goin', why nothin' would hould him but he would be in it. "Be aisy with the loblollyboy and you have him," whispered old Billy behind the back of his band, as he spat a long jet from his quid.
Relieved of doubt as to their course of action, they built a fire and warmed themselves, and with water from the river below they made cold porridge of the meal, and ate and drank, and waited for the night. The darkness came early, it was closing in at four o'clock. Then the men smothered their fire with turf and earth and set out for Peeltown. Their course was over Colden, and between Greeba and Beary, to the breast of Slieu Whallin, and then down to St. Patrick's Isle by the foot of Corrin's hill. It was twelve miles over hill and dale, through the darkness and the muggy air of the winter's night. They had to avoid the few houses and to break their pace when footsteps came their way. But they covered the distance in less than four hours. At eight o'clock they were standing together on the south of the bridge that crosses the Neb river at the top of Peel harbour. There they separated. Corkell went off to the market-place by a crooked alley from the quay to find the watch, and dispose of him. When the harbour-master had been removed, Corkell was to go. to the Ben-my-Chree, which was moored in deep water at the end of the wooden pier, open the scuttle on the south, and put the lamp to it as a signal of safety to Quilleash, Teare, and Crennell above the bridge on the headland opposite. They were then to come aboard. Davy Fayle took the south quay to St. Patrick's Isle. It was now the bottom of the ebb tide, and Davy was to wade the narrow neck that divided the isle from the mainland. Perhaps he might light on a boat; perhaps cross dry-shod. In half-an-hour he was to be on the west of the castle, just under a spot known as the Giant's Grave, and there the four men were to come ashore to him in the dingey. Meantime he was to see old Paton Gerry and generally take the soundings. Thus they parted.
Davy found the water low and the ford dry. He crossed it as noiselessly as he could, and reached the rocks of the isle. It was not so dark but he could descry the dim outlines of the ruined castle. A flight of steps ascended from the water's edge to the portcullis. Davy crept up. He had prepared to knock at the old notched door under the arch, but he found it standing open. He stood and listened. At one moment he thought he heard a movement behind him. It was darkest of all under these thick walls. He went on; he passed the doorway that is terrible with the tradition of the Moddey Dhoo. As he went by the door he turned his head to it in the darkness, and once again he thought he heard something stir. This time the sound came from before him. He gasped, and had almost screamed. He stretched his arms towards the sound. There was nothing. All was still once more.
Davy stepped forward into the courtyard. His feet fell softly on the grass that grew there. At length he reached the guard-room. Once more he had lifted his hand to knock, and once more he found the door open. He looked into the room. It was empty; a fire burned on the hearth, a form was drawn up in front of it ; a pipe lay on a bare deal table. "He has gone down to the cell," Davy told himself, and he made his way to the steps that led to the dungeon. But he stopped again and his heart seemed to stand still. There could now be no doubt but some one was approaching. There was the faint jingle as of keys. "Paton ! Paton !" Davy called fearfully. There was no answer, but the footsteps came on. "Who is there?" he cried again in a tremulous whisper. At the next instant a man passed in the darkness, and Davy saw and knew him. It was the Bishop.
Davy dropped to his knees. A moment afterwards the Bishop was gone through the outer gate and down the steps. His footsteps ceased, and then there were voices, followed by the plash of an oar, and then all was silence once more, save for the thick boom of the sea that came up from the rocks.
Davy rose to his feet and turned towards the steps that led down to the door of the dungeon. A light came from below. The door was open also, and stretching himself full length on to the ground Davy could see into the cell. On the floor there was a lantern, and beside it a bundle lay. Dan was there; he was lying on the stone couch; he was alone.
Breathless and trembling Davy rose again and fled out of the old castle and along the rocky causeway to a gullet under the Giant's Grave. There the men were waiting for him.
"The place is bewitched," he said with quick-coming breath; and he told how every door was open, and not a soul was in the castle except Dan. The men heard him with evident terror. Corkell had just told them a similar story. The watch and the harbourmaster had both been removed before he had gone in search of them. Everything seemed to be done to their hands. Nothing was left to them to do but simply to walk into the castle and carry out their design. This terrified them. "It's a fate," Corkell whispered; and Crennell, in white awe of the unseen hand that was helping them, was still for trusting in the Lord. Thus they put their heads together. Quilleash was first to recover from superstitious fears. "Come, lay down, and no blather," he said, and stalked resolutely forward, carrying a sack and a coil of rope. The other men followed him in silence. Davy was ordered to stay behind with the small boat.
They found everything as the lad had left it; the notched door of the portcullis was open, the door of the guard-room was open, and when they came to the steps of the dungeon the door there was also open. A moment they stood and listened, and heard no sound from below but a light, regular breathing, as of one man only. Then they went quietly down the steps and into the cell. Dan was asleep. At sight of him, lying alone and unconscious, their courage wavered a moment. The unseen hand seemed to be on them still. "I tell thee it's a fate," Corkell whispered again over Quilleash's shoulder. In half-a-minute the sleeping man was bound hand and foot, and the sack was thrown over his head. At the first touch he awoke and tried to rise, but four men were over his prostrate body, and they overpowered him. He cried lustily, but there was none to hear. In less time than it takes to tell it the men were carrying Dan out of the cell. The lantern they left on the floor, and in their excitement they did not heed the parcel that lay by it.
Over the courtyard, through the gate, along the ledge under the crumbling walls they stumbled and plunged in the darkness. They reached the boat and pushed off. Ten minutes afterwards they were aboard the Ben-my-Chree, and were beating down the bay.
Dan recognised the voices of the men, and realised the situation. lie did not shout again. The sack over his head was of coarse fibre, admitting the air, and he could breathe through it without difficulty. He had been put to lie on one of the bunks in the cabin, and he could see the tossing light of the horn lantern that hung from the deck planks. When the boat rolled in the strong sea that was running he could sometimes see the lights on the land through the open scuttle.
With a fair wind for the Point of Ayre, full sail was stretched. Corkell stood to the tiller, and, when all went smoothly, the three men turned in below, and lit a fire in the stove, and smoked. Then Davy Fale came down with eyes dull and sick. He had begun to doubt, and to ask questions that the men could not answer. What for was Mastha Dan tied up like a haythen ? And what for the sack? But the men were in no humour for cross-exami nation. No cross-crossing ! The imperent young idiot wastrel, let him keep his breath to cool his porridge. To quiet the lad the men plied him with liquor, and at the second draught he was reeling drunk. Then he laughed a wild laugh, and sang a mad song, and finally stood up to dance. It was a grim sight, but it was soon ended, and Davy was put to sleep in another of the bunks. Then two hours passed, and there was some growling- and quarrelling.
Crennell and Teare went up on deck. Quilleash remained below, sitting before the stove cleaning with oil and a rag a fowling-piece that Dan had brought aboard at the beginning of the herring season. Sometimes he crooned a Manx carval, and sometimes whistled it, as - he worked, chewing his quid meantime, and glancing at intervals at Dan's motionless figure on the bunk:
"With pain we record The year of our Lord,
Sixteen hundred and sixty and sayven, When it so come to pass
A good fishing there wass
Off Dooglas, and a wonderful sayson."
There was no other sound in the cabin, except Davy's heavy breathing, and the monotonous beat of the water at the boat's bow.
Dan lay as quiet as the dead. Never once had he spoken or been spoken to.
The boat was flying before the wind. The sky had cleared, and the stars were out, and the lights on the shore could be plainly seen. Orrisdale, Jurby, and the Rue went by, and when Bishop's Court was passed the light in the library window burned clear and strong over the sea. Towards ten o'clock the lighthouse on the Point of Ayre was rounded, and then the boat had to bear down the Ramsey Bay in tacks. Before eleven they were passing the town, and could see the lights of the Cumberland packet as she lay by the quay. It was then three-quarter tide. In half-an-hour more the lugger was put about at Port Lague, and there Dan was taken ashore by Teare and Crennell. Quilleash went with them, carrying the fowling-piece.
Corkell and Davy Fayle, who had recovered from his stupor, were to take the Ben-my-Chree back into Ramsey Bay, to drop anchor under Ballure, and then to rejoin their companions at Lague before twelve o'clock. This was to divert suspicion, and to provoke the inference, when the fishing-boat would be found next morning, that Dan had escaped to England by the Whitehaven packet.
The Ben-my-Chree sailed off with Corkell and Davy. Teare went in search of a horse, Quilleash and Crennell remained on the shore at Lague with Dan. It was a bleak and desolate place, with nothing to the south but the grim rocks of the Tableland Head, and with never a house to the north nearer than Folieu, which was half a mile away. The night was now bitterly cold. The stars were gone, the darkness was heavy, and a nipping frost was in the dense atmosphere. But the wind had dropped, and every sound sent a dull echo through the air. The two men waited and listened. Thus far all had gone well with them, but what remained to do was perilous enough. If Corkell and the lad happened to be seen when coming from the boat, if Teare were caught in the act of borrowing a horse without leave, then all would be over with them. Their suspense was keen.
Presently there came up to them from the bay, over the dull rumble of the waves on the shore, a quick creaking sound, followed by a splash and then a dead roll. They knew it was the anchor being slipped to its berth. Soon afterwards there came from the land to the south the sharp yap of dogs, followed at a short interval by the heavy beat of a horse's hoofs on the road. Was it Teare with the horse? Was he pursued? The men listened, but could hear no other noise. Then there came through the dense air the muffled sound of a bell ringing at the quay. It was the first of three bells that were rung on the Cumberland packet immediately before it set sail.
The horse behind drew nearer, the bell in front rang again. Then Teare came up leading a big draught mare by the bridle. He had been forced to take it from the stable at Lague, and in getting it away he had aroused the dogs; but he had not been followed, and all was safe. The bell rang a third time, and immediately a red light crept out from the quay towards the sea, which lay black as a raven below. The Cumberland packet had gone.
At that moment Corkell and Davy Fayle returned, Corkell holding Davy by the neck of his guernsey. The lad had begun to give signs of a mutinous spirit, which the man had suppressed by force. Davy's eyes flashed, but he was otherwise quiet and calm.
"What for is all this, you young devil?" said Quilleash. "What d'ye mean? Out with it, quickl what tricks now? Dhis fool's face, what for does he look at me like that ? "
"Dowse that, Billy, and bear a hand and be quiet," said Crennell.
"The young pauper's got the imperence of sin," said Quilleash.
Then the men lifted Dan on to the back of the big mare, and strapped him with his covered face to the sky. Never a word was spoken to him, and never a word did he speak.
"Let's make a slant for it," said Teare, and he took the bridle. Corkell and Crennell walked on either side of the horse. Quilleash walked behind, carrying the fowling-piece over his left shoulder. Davy was at his right hand.
The journey thereafter was long and heavy. They took the path that is to the north by Barrule and Clag Ouyre, and runs above Glen Auldyn and winds round to the south of Snaefell. Ten miles they plodded on in the thick darkness and the cold, with only the rumbling rivers for company, and with the hidden mountains making unseen ghosts about them. On they went, with the horse between them taking its steady stride that never varied and never failed, even when the rivers crossed the path and their own feet stumbled into ruts. On and on, hour after hour, until their weary limbs dragged after them, and their gossip ceased, and even their growling and quarrelling was no more beard. Then on and still on in the gruesome silence.
Under the breast of Snaefell they came into the snow of two days ago, which had disappeared in the valleys but still lay on the mountains, and was now crisp under their feet. It seemed, as they looked down in the darkness, to pass beneath them like short smoky vapour that dazed the eyes and made the head giddy. Still higher the sound of running waters suddenly stopped, for the rivers were frozen and their voices silenced. But the wind blew more strongly as they ascended the chill heights.
Sometimes at the top of a long raise they stopped to breathe the horse, and then, with no sound above or around except the shrill sough of the wind in the gorse, their courage began to fail. Ghostly imaginings would not be kept down.
"Did you ever hear the Lockman ? " sai Crennell beneath his breath.
" I never come agen him," said Quilleash "When I see anything at night on the moun tains I allis lave it alone."
The other men shuddered, and forthwith began to whistle right lustily.
Sometimes they passed a mountain sheep pen, and the sheep being disturbed would bleat. Sometimes a dog at a distant house would hear them and bark; and even that though it was a signal of danger, was also a sort of human companionship on the grim mountain-side.
It was a dreary walk, and to Dan, bound hand and foot on the horse, it was a painful ride-a cold one it could not be, for the awkward motion brought warmth. The night wore on, and the air grew keener; the men's beards became crisp with the frost.
At length the silent company rounded Snaefell to the north of Cronk-y-Vane and Beinny-Phott. Then Teare at the horse's head twisted about.
"Do we take the ould mine shed for it?" he asked.
"Ay," said Quilleash.
Their journey was almost ended. The sky over the sea behind them was then dabbled with grey, and a smell of dawn was coming down from the mountains.