[from Hall Caine The Deemster]

CHAPTER XXXV

THE COURT OF GENERAL GAOL DELIVERY

FROM Christmas-tide onward through the dark months, until a "dream of spring" came once again on the slumbering face of winter,

   

the six men lay in Castle Rushen. Rumours from within the grey walls of the gaol told that some of them were restive under their punishment, and that the spirits of others sank under it, but that Dan bore up with the fortitude of resignation, and, though prone to much sadness, with even the cheerfulness of content. It was the duty of each man to take his turn at cleaning the cell, and it was said that Dan's turn seemed by his own counting to come frequently. Reproaches he bore with humility, and on one occasion he took a blow from Crennell, who was small of stature and had a slight limp in one leg. Constant bickerings were rife among them, and Dan was often their subject of quarrel, and still oftener their victim ; but they had cheerful hours too, and sometimes a laugh together.

Such were some of the reports that made gossip outside, where public curiosity, and excitement grew keener as the half -yearly sitting of the Court of General Gaol Delivery drew nearer. Copper riots and felonies of all descriptions, disputes as to tithe, and arbitrations as to the modes of counting the herrings, sank out of sight in prospect of the trial of Dan and his crew. From Point of Ayre to the Calf of Man ot was the engrossing topic, and none living could remember a time when public feeling ran so high. The son of the Bishop was to be tried for the murder of the son of the Deemster, and a bigger issue could no man conceive. Variable enough was the popular sympathy-sometimes with Dan, sometimes against him, always influenced by what way the wave of feeling flowed with regard to the Deemster and the Bishop. And closely were these two watched at every turn.

The Deemster showed uncommon animation, and even some sprightliness. He was more abroad than at any time for fifteen years before, and was usually accompanied by Jarvis Kerruish. His short laugh answered oftener to his own wise witticisms than at any time since the coming to the island of his brother, the Bishop; but people whispered that his good spirits did not keep him constant company within the walls of his own house. There his daughter, Mona, still soft as the morning dew and all but as silent, sat much alone. She had grown "wae" as folk said, rarely being seen outside the gates of Ballamona, never being heard to laugh, and showing little interest in life beyond the crib of her foster-child, Ewan's orphaned daughter. And people remembered her mother, how silent she had been, and how patient, and how like to what Mona was, and they said now, as they had said long ago, "She's going down the steep places."

The Bishop had kept close to Bishop's Court. Turning night into day, and day into night, or knowing no times and seasons, he had been seen to wander at all hours up and down the glen. If any passed him as he crossed the road from the glen back to the house, he had seemed not to see. His grey hair had grown snowy white, his tall figure drooped heavily from his shoulders, and his gait had lost all its spring. Stricken suddenly into great age, he had wandered about mum. bling to himself, or else quite silent.

The chapel on his episcopal demesne he had closed from the time of the death of Ewan, his chaplain. Thus had he borne himself, shut out from the world, until the primrose had come and gone, and the cuckoo had begun to call. Then as suddenly he underwent a change. Opening the chapel at Bishop's Court, he conducted service there every Sunday afternoon. The good souls of the parish declared that never before had he preached with such strength and fervour, though the face over the pulpit looked ten long years older than on the Christmas morning when the long-shore men brought up their dread burden from the Mooragh. Convocation was kept on Whit Tuesday as before, and the Bishop spoke with calm and grave power. His clergy said he had gathered strength from solitude, and fortitude from many days spent alone, as in the wilderness, with his Maker. Here and there a wise one among his people said it might look better of him to take the beam out of his own eye than to be so very zealous in pointing out the motes in the eyes of others. The world did not stand still, though public interest was in suspense, and now and again some girl was presented for incontinence or some man for drunkenness. Then it was noticed that the censures of the Church had begun to fall on the evildoer with a great tenderness, and this set the wise ones whispering afresh that some one was busy at sweeping the path to his own door, and also that the black ox never trod on his own hoof.

The day of the trial came in May. It was to be a day of doom, but the sun shone with its own indifference to the big little affairs of men. The spring had been a dry one, and over the drought came heat. From every corner of the island the people trooped off under the broiling sun to Castletown. The Court of General Gaol Delivery was held in Castle Rushen, in the open square that formed the gateway to the prison chapel, under the clear sky, without shelter from any weather. There the narrow space allotted to spectators was thronged with hot faces under beavers, mutches, and sun-bonnets. The passages from the castle gate on the quay were also thronged by crowds who could not see but tried to hear. From the lancet windows of the castle that overlooked the gateway eager faces peered out, and on the;lead flat above the iron staircase and over the great clock tower were companies of people of both sexes, who looked down and even listened when they could. The windows of the houses around the castle gate were thrown up for spectators who sat on the sills. In the rigging of the brigs and luggers that lay in the harbour close under the castle walls sailors had perched themselves to look on, and crack jokes and smoke. Nearly the whole floor of the market-place was thronged, but under the cross, where none could see or hear, an old woman had set up ninepins, tipped with huge balls of toffee, and a score of tipsy fellows were busy with them amid much laughter and noise. A line of older men, with their hands in their pockets, were propped against the castle wall ; and a young woman from Ballasalla, reputed to be a prophetess, was standing on the steps of the cress, and calling on the careless to take note that, while they cursed and swore and forgot their Maker, six men not twenty yards away were on the brink of their graves.

The judges were the Governor of the island (who was robed), the Clerk of the Rolls, the two Deemsters (who wore wigs and gowns), the Water Bailiff, the Bishop, the Archdeacon, the Vicars-General, and the twenty-four Keys. All these sat on a raised platform of planks. The senior and presiding Deemster (Thorkell Mylrea), who was the mouthpiece of the court, was elevated on a central dais.

Thorkell was warm, eager, and even agitated. When the Bishop took his seat, amid a low murmur of the spectators, his manner was calm, and his quiet eyes seemed not to look into the faces about him.

The prisoners were brought in from the cell that opened to the left of the gateway. They looked haggard and worn, but were not wanting in composure. Dan, towering above the rest in his great stature, held his head low; his cheeks were ashy, but his lips were firm. By his side, half clinging to his garments, was the lad Davy, and at the other end of the line was old Quilleash, with resolution on his weather-beaten face. Crennell and Corkell were less at ease, but Teare's firm-set figure and hard-drawn mouth showed the dogged determination of a man who meant that day to sell his life dear. Sixty-eight men were present, summoned from the seventeen parishes of the island to compose a jury of twelve to be selected by the prisoners. Over all was the burning sun of a hot day in May.

When the officer of the court had made the presentment, and was going on to ask the prisoners to plead, the proceedings were suddenly interrupted. The steward of the spiritual barony of the Bishop, now sole baron of the island, rose to a point of law. One of the six prisoners who were indicted for felony was a tenant of the Bishop's barony, and as such was entitled to trial, not by the civil powers of the island, but by a jury of his barony, presided over by the proper president of his barony. The prisoner in question was Daniel Mylrea, and for him the steward claimed the? privilege of a remand until he could be brought up for trial before the court of the lord of the barony under which he lived.

This claim created a profound sensation in the court. Dan himself raised his eyes, and his face bad a look of pain. When asked by the Deemster if the claim was put forward by his wish or sanction, he simply shook his head. The steward paid no attention to this repudiation. "This court," he said, "holds no jurisdiction over a tenant of the Bishop's barony;" and forthwith he put in a document showing that Daniel Mylrea was tenant of a farm on the episcopal demesne, situate partly in Kirk Ballaugh and partly in Kirk Michael.

The Deemster knew full well that he was powerless. Nevertheless he made a rigid examination of the prisoner's lease, and, finding the document flawless, be put the point of law to the twenty-four Keys with every hampering difficulty. But the court was satisfied as to the claim, and allowed it. "The prisoner, Daniel Mylrea, stands remanded for trial at the court of his barony," said the Deemster, in a tone of vexation; "and at that trial," he added, with evident relish, "the president of the barony shall be, as by law appointed, assisted by a Deemster."

Dan was removed, his name was struck out of the indictment, and the trial of the five fishermen was proceeded with. They pleaded "Not guilty."

The Attorney-General prosecuted, stating the facts so far as they concerned the remaining prisoners, and reflecting at the evidence against the prisoner who was remanded. He touched on the evidence of the sailcloth, and then on the mystery attaching to a certain bundle oo clothes, belts, and daggers that had been found in the prison at Peel Castle. At this reference the steward of the barony objected, as also against the depositions that inculpated Dan. The witnesses were fewer than at the Deemster's inquest, and they had nothing to say that directly criminated the fishermen. Brief and uninteresting the trial turned out to be with the chief prisoner withdrawn, and throughout the proceedings the Deemster's vexation was betrayed by his thin, sharp, testy voice. Some efforts were made to prove that Dan's disappearance from Peel Castle had been brought about by the Bishop; but the steward of the barony guarded so zealously the privileges of the ecclesiastical courts, that nothing less than an open and unseemly rupture between the powers of Church and State seemed imminent when the Deemster, losing composure, was for pressing the irrelevant inquiry. Moreover, the Keys, who sat as arbiters of points of law and to ` pass " the verdict of the jury, were clearly against the Deemster.

The trial did not last an hour. When the jury was ready to return a verdict, the Deemster asked in Manx, as by ancient usage, ' Vod y fer-carree soie ? " (May the Man of the Chancel [the Bishop] sit ?) And the foreman answered, "Fod" (He may) ; the ecclesiastics remained in their seats; a verdict of "Not guilty" was returned, and straightway the five fishermen were acquitted.

Later the same day the Deemster vacated his seat on the dais, and then the Bishop rose and took it with great solemnity. That the Bishop himself should sit to try his own son, as he must have tried any other felon who was a tenant of his barony, made a profound impression among the spectators. The Archdeacon, who had hoped to preside, looked appalled. The Deemster sat below, and o either side were the ecclesiastics, who had claimed their right to sit as judges in the civi court.

Another jury, a jury of the barony, was empannelled. The sergeant of the barony brought Dan to the bar. The prisoner was still very calm, and his lips were as firm, though his face was as white and his head held as low as before. When a presentment was read over to him, charging him with causing the death of Ewan Mylrea, deacon in holy orders, and he was asked to plead, he lifted his eyes slowly, and answered in a clear, quiet, sonorous voice, that echoed from the high walls of the gateway, and was heard by the people on the clock tower, "Guilty."

As evidence had been taken at the Deemster's inquest, no witnesses were now heard. The steward of the barony presented. He dwelt on the prisoner's special and awful criminality, in so far as he was the son of the Bishop, taught from his youth up to think of human life as a holy thing, and bound by that honoured alliance to a righteous way in life. Then he touched on the peculiar duty of right living in one who held the office of captain of his parish, sworn to preserve order and to protect life.

When the steward had appended to his statement certain commonplaces of extenuation based on the plea of guilty, the Deemster, amid a dead hush among the spectators, put questions to the prisoner which were intended to elicit an explanation of his motive in the crime, and of the circumstances attending it. To these questions Dan made no answer.

"Answer me, sir," the Deemster demanded; but Dan was still silent. Then the Deemster's wrath mastered him.

-It ill becomes a man in your position to refuse the only amends that you can make to justice for the pains to which you have put this court and another."

It was an idle outburst. Dan's firm lip was immovable. He looked steadily into the Deemster's face, and said not a word.

The steward stepped in.

"The prisoner," he said, "has elected to make the gravest of all amends to justice," and at that there was a deep murmur among the people. "Nevertheless, I could wish," said the steward, "that he would also make answer to the Deemster's question."

But the prisoner made no sign.

"There is some reason for thinking that, if all were known, where so much is now hidden, the crime to which the prisoner pleads guilty would wear a less grievous aspect."

Still the prisoner gave no answer.

"Come, let us have done," said the Deemster, twisting impatiently in his seat. "Pronounce the sentence, and let your sergeant carry it into effect."

The murmur among the people grew to a great commotion, but in the midst of it the Bishop was seen to rise, and then a deep hush fell on all.

The Bishop's white head was held erect, n his seamed face was firm as it was pale, and his voice, when he spoke, was clear and full.

" Daniel Mylrea," he said, ' you have pleaded guilty to the great crime of murder. The sergeant of your barony will now remove you, and on the morning of this day of next week he will take you in his safe custody to the Tynwald Hill, in the centre of the island, there, in the eye of light, and before the faces of all men, to receive the dreadful son. tence of this court, and to endure its punishment."


 

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