[from Hall Caine The Deemster]
DURING the week that followed the trial of Daniel Mylrea at the court of his barony, the excitement throughout the island passed all experience of public feeling. What was to be the sentence of the barony? This was the one question everywhere-at the inn, the mill, the smithy, the market cross, the street, in the court-house; and if two shepherds hailed each other on the mountains they asked for the last news from Peel.
With a silent acceptance of the idea that death alone could be the penalty of the crime that had been committed, there passed through the people the burden, first of a great awe and then of a great dread that any Christian man should die the death of hanging. Not for nearly two score years had the island seen that horror, and old men shuddered at the memory of it.
Then it came to be understood in a vague way that something unlocked for was to occur. Whispers went from mouth to mouth that old Quilleash had sailed down to the Calf Sound with the Ben-my-Chree well stored with provisions. In a few days the old salt returned, walking overland, preserving an air of vast mystery, and shaking his head when his gossips questioned him. Then poor human nature, that could not bear to see Daniel Mylrea die, could not bear to see him saved either, and men who had sworn in their impotent white terror that never again should a gallows be built in the island, lusty fellows who had shown ruth for the first time, began to show gall for the hundredth, to nudge, to snigger, and to mutter that blood was thicker than water, and there was much between saying and doing, as the sayin' was.
The compassion that bad been growing in secret began to struggle with the ungentle impulses that came of superstitious fear. It seemed to be true, as old folk were whispering, that Daniel Mylrea was the Jonah of the island. What had happened in the first year of his life ? A prolonged drought and a terrible famine. What was happening now ?. Another drought that threatened another famine. And people tried to persuade themselves that the sword of the Lord was over them, and that it would only rest and be quiet when they had executed God's judgment on the guilty man.
The day of Tynwald came, and the week before it had passed like a year. There was no sun, but the heat was stifling, the clouds hung low and dark and hot as the roof of an open oven, the air was sluggish, and the earth looked blue. Far across the sea to the northwest there was a thin streak of fiery cloud, and at some moments there was the smell of a thunderstorm in the heavy atmosphere. From north and south, from east and west the people trooped to Tynwald Hill. Never before within the memory of living man had so vast a concourse been witnessed on that ancient ground of assembly. Throughout the island the mill-wheel was stopped, the smithy fire was raked over with ashes, the plough lay in the furrow, the sheep were turned out on to the mountains, and men and women, old men, old women, and young children, ten thousand in all, with tanned faces and white, in sunbonnets, mutches, and capes, and some with cloaks in preparation for the storm that was coming, drove in their little springless carts, or rode on their small Manx ponies, or trudged on foot through the dusty roads, and over the bleached hill-sides and the parched Curraghs.
At ten o'clock the open green that surrounds the hill of Tynwald was densely thronged. Carts were tipped up in corners, and their stores of food and drink were guarded by a boy or a woman, who sat on the sternboard. Horses were tethered to the wheels, or turned loose to browse on a common near at hand. Men lounged on the green and talked, their hands in their pockets, their pipes in their mouths, or stood round the Tynwald Inn, lifting pannikins to their lips, and laughingfor there was merriment among them, though the work for which they had come together was not a merry one.
The mount itself was still empty, and twelve constables were stationed about the low wall that surrounded it, keeping the crowd back. And though, as the people met and mingled, the men talked of the crops and of the prospect for the fishing, and women of the wool and yarn, and boys tossed somersaults, and young girls betook themselves to girlish games, and girls of older growth in bright ribbons to ogling and giggling, and though there was some coarse banter and coarser singing, the excitement of the crowd beneath all was deep and strong. At intervals there was a movement of the people towards a church, St. John's Church, that stood a little to the east of Tynwald, and sometimes a general rush towards the gate that looked westward towards Peeltown and the sea. Earlier in the day some one had climbed the mountain called Greeba, beyond the chapel, and put a light to the dry gorse at the top, and now the fire smouldered in the dense air, and set up a long sinuous trail of blue smoke to the empty vault of the sky.
Towards half-past ten old Paton Gorry, the sumner, went down the narrow, tortuous steps that led to the dungeon of Peel Castle. He carried fetters for the hands and legs of his prisoner, and fixed them in their places with nervous and fumbling fingers. His prisoner helped him as far as might be, and spoke cheerily in answer to his mumbled adieu.
"I'm not going to St. John's, sir. I couldn't give myself lave for it," the sumner muttered in a breaking voice. With a choking sensation in his throat Daniel Mylrea said, "God bless you, Paton," and laid hold of the old man's hand. Twenty times during the week the sumner had tried in vain to prevail on the prisoner to explain the circumstances attending his crime, and so earn the mitigation of punishment which had been partly promised. The prisoner had only shaken his head in silence.
A few minutes afterwards Daniel Mylrea was handed over in the guard-room to the sergeant of the barony, and Paton Gorry's duties-the hardest that the world had yet given him to do-were done.
The sergeant and the prisoner went out of the castle and crossed the narrow harbour in a boat. On the wooden jetty, near the steps by which they landed, a small open cart was drawn up, and there was a crowd of gaping faces about it. The two men got into the cart, and were driven down the quay towards the path by the river that led to Tynwald under the foot of Slieu Whallin. As they passed through the town the prisoner was dimly conscious that white faces looked out of windows, and that small knots of people were gathered at the corners of the alleys. But all this was soon blotted out, and when he came to himself he was driving under the trees and by the side of the rumbling water.
All the day preceding the prisoner had told himself that when his time came, his great hour of suffering and expiation, he must bear himself with fortitude, abating nothing of the whole bitterness of the atonement he was to make, asking no quarter, enduring all contumely, though men jeered as he passed or spat in his face. He thought he had counted the cost of that trial. Seven sleepless nights and seven days of torment had he given to try his spirit for that furnace, and he thought he could go through it and not shrink. In his solitary hours he had arranged his plans. While he drove from Peel to St. John's he was to think of nothing that would sap his resolution, and his mind was to be a blank. Then, as he approached the place, he was to lift his eyes without fear, and not let them drop though their gaze fell on the dread thing that must have been built there. And so, very calmly, silently, and firmly, he was to meet the end of all.
But now that he was no longer in the dungeon of the prison, where despair might breed bravery in a timid soul, but under the open sky where hope and memory grow strong together, he knew, though he tried to shut his heart to it, that his courage was oozing away. He recognised this house and that gate, he knew every turn of the river-where the trout lurked and where the eels sportedand when he looked up at the dun sky he knew how long it might take for the, lightning to break through the luminous dulness of the thunder-cloud that hung over the head of Slieu Whallin. Do what he would to keep his mind a blank, or to busy it with trifles of the way, he could not help reflecting that he was seeing these things for the last time.
Then there came a long interval, in which the cart wherein he sat seemed to go wearily on, on, on, and nothing awakened his slumbering senses. When he recovered consciousness with a start, he knew that his mind had been busy with many thoughts such as sap a man's resolution and bring his brave schemes to foolishness. Ile had been asking himself where his father was that clay, where Mona would be then, and how deep their shame must be at the thought of the death he was to die. To him his death was his expiation, and little had he thought of the manner of it; but to them it was disgrace and horror. And so he shrunk within himself. He knew now that his great purpose was drifting away like a foolish voice that is emptied in the air. Groaning audibly, praying in broken snatches for strength of spirit, looking up and around with fearful eves, he rode on and on, until at length, before he was yet near the end of his awful ride, the deep sound came floating to him through the air of the voices of the people gathered at the foot of Tynwald. It was like the sound the sea makes as its white breakers fall on some sharp reef a mile away : a deep, multitudinous hum of many tongues. When he lifted his head and heard it, his pallid face became ashy, his whitening lips trembled, his head dropped back to his breast, his fettered arms fell between his fettered legs, river and sky were blotted out of his eyes, and he knew that before the face of his death he was no better than a poor broken coward.
At eleven o'clock the crowd at Tynwald had grown to a vast concourse that covered every foot of the green with a dense mass of moving heads. In an enclosed pathway that connected the chapel with the mount three car. riages were drawn up. The Deemster sat in one of them, and his wizened face was full of uncharity. By his side was Jarvis Kerruish. On an outskirt of the crowd two men stood with a small knot of people around them ; they were Quilleash and Teare. The Ballasalla prophetess, with glittering eyes and hair in ringlets, was preaching by the door of the inn, and near her were Corkell and Crennell, and they sang when she sang, and while she prayed they knelt. Suddenly the great clamorous human billow was moved by a ruffle of silence that spread from side to side, and in the midst of a deep hush the door of the chapel opened, and a line of ecclesiastics came out and walked towards the mount. At the end of the line was the Bishop, bareheaded, much bent, his face white and seamed, his step heavy and uncertain, his whole figure and carriage telling of the sword that is too keen for its scabbard. When the procession reached the mount the Bishop ascended to the topmost round of it, and on the four green ledges below him his clergy ranged themselves. Almost at the same moment there was a subdued murmur among the people, and at one side of the green, the gate to the west, the crowd opened and parted, and the space widened and the line lengthened until it reached the foot of the Tynwald. Then the cart that brought the sergeant and his prisoner from the castle entered it slowly, and drew up, and then with head and eyes down, like a beast that is struck to its death, Daniel Mylrea dropped to his feet on the ground. He was clad in the blue cloth of a fisherman, with a brown knitted guernsey under his coat, and sea-boots over his stockings. He stood in his great stature above the shoulders of the tallest of the men around him ; and women who were as far away as the door of the inn could see the seaman's cap he wore. The sergeant drew him up to the foot of the mount, but his bowed head was never raised to where the Bishop stood above him. An all-consuming shame sat upon him, and around him was the deep breathing of the people.
Presently a full, clear voice was heard over the low murmur of the crowd, and instantly the mass of moving heads was lifted to the mount, and the sea of faces flashed white under the heaviness of the sky.
"Daniel Mylrea," said the Bishop, "it is not for us to know if any hidden circumstance lessens the hideousness of your crime. Against all question concerning your motive your lips have been sealed, and we who are your earthly judges are compelled to take you at the worst. But if, in the fulness of your remorse, your silence conceals what would soften your great offence, be sure that your Heavenly Judge, who reads your heart, sees all. You have taken a precious life; you have spilled the blood of one who bore himself so meekly and lovingly, and with such charity before the world, that the hearts of all men were drawn to him. And you, who slew him in heat or malice, you he ever loved with a great tenderness. Your guilt is con. fessed, your crime is black, and now your punishment is sure."
The crowd held its breath while the Bishop spoke, but the guilty man moaned feebly and his bowed head swayed to and fro.
"Daniel Mylrea, there is an everlasting sacredness in -human life, and God who gave it guards it jealously. When man violates it God calls for vengeance, and if we who are His law-givers on earth shut our ears to that cry of the voice of God, His fierce anger goes forth as a whirlwind and His word as a fire upon all men. Woe unto us if now we sin against the Lord by falling short of the punishment that He has ordered. Righteously and without qualm of human mercy, even as God has commanded, we, His servants, must execute judgment on the evildoer, lest His wrath be poured out upon this island itself, upon man and upon beast, and upon the fruit of the ground."
At that word the deep murmur broke out afresh over the people, and under the low sky their upturned faces were turned to a grim paleness. And now a strange light came into the eyes of the Bishop, and his deep voice quavered.
"Daniel Mylrea," he continued, "it is not the way of God's worse chastisement to take an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, and to spill blood for blood that has been spilled. When the sword of the Lord goes forth it is sometimes to destroy the guilty man, and sometimes to cut him off from the land of the living, to banish him to the parched places of the wilderness, to end the days wherein his sleep shall be sweet to him, to blot out his name from the names of men, and to give him no burial at the last when the darkness of death shall cover him."
The Bishop paused. There was a dreadful silence, and the distant sea sent up into the still air, under the low clouds that reverberated like a vault, a hoarse threatening murmur
"Daniel Mylrea, you are not to die for your crime."
At that ill-omened word the prisoner staggered like a drunken man, and lifted his right hand mechanically above his head, as one who would avert a blow. And now it was easy to see in the wild light in the eyes of the Bishop, and to hear in his hollow, tense voice, that the heart of the father was wrestling with the soul of the priest, and that every word that condemned the guilty man made its sore wound on the spirit of him that uttered it.
"You have chosen death rather than life, but on this side of death's darkness you have yet, by God's awful will, to become a terror to yourself; you have water of gall to drink; toilfully you have to live in a waste land alone, where the sweet light of morning shall bring you pain, and the darkness of night have eyes to peer into your soul; and so on and on, from year to weary year, until your step shall fail and there shall be never another to help you up; hopeless, accursed, finding death in life, looking only for life in death, and crying in the bitterness of your desolation, 'Cursed be the day wherein I was born; let not the day wherein my mother bare me be blessed 1 Cursed be the man that brought tidings to my father, saying, "A man child is born unto thee," making his heart glad."'
One hoarse cry as of physical pain burst from the prisoner before these awful words were yet fully uttered. The guilty man gripped his head between his hands, and like a beast that is smitten in the shambles he stood in a stupor, his body swaying slightly, a film upon his eyes, and his mind sullen and stunned. There was silence for a moment, and when the Bishop spoke again, his tempestbeaten head, white with the flowers of the grave, trembled visibly. The terrified people were grasping each other's hands, and their hard-drawn breath went through the air like the biss of the sea at its ebb. As they looked up at the Bishop they understood that an awful struggle of human love and spiritual duty was going on before them, and over all their terror they were moved to a deep compassion.
"Daniel Mylrea," said the Bishop again, and, notwithstanding his efforts to uphold it, his voice softened and all but broke, ''vengeance belongs to God, but we who are men and prone to fall are not to deny mercy. When your fetters are removed, and you leave this place, you will go to the Calf Sound that flows at the extreme south of the island. There you will find your fishingboat, stored with such as may meet your immediate wants. With that offering we part from you while life shalt last. Use it well, but henceforward look for no succour whence it has come. Though you loathe your life, be zealous to preserve it, and hasten not, I warn you, by one hour the great day of God's final reckoning. Most of all be mindful of the things of an eternal concernment, that we who part from you now may not part for ever as from a soul given over to everlasting darkness."
The prisoner gave no further sign. Then the Bishop turned with a wild gesture to the right and to the left and lifted both his hands.
"Men and women of Man," he said in a voice that rose to the shrillness of a cry, " the sentence of the court of the barony of the island is, that this man shall be cut off from his people. Henceforth let him have no name among us, nor family, nor kin. From now for ever let no flesh touch his flesh. Let no tongue speak to him. Let no eye look on him. If he should be an-hungered, let none give him meat. When he shall be sick, let none minister to him. When his death shall come, let no man bury him. Alone let him Eve, alone let him die, and among the beasts of the field let him hide his unburied bones."
A great hoarse groan arose from the people, such as comes from the bosom of a sullen sea. The pathos of the awful struggle which they bad looked upon was swallowed up in the horror of its tragedy. What they had come to see was as nothing to the awful ness of the thing they bad witnessed. Death was terrible, but this was beyond death's terror. Somewhere in the dark chambers of the memory of their old men the like of it
lived as a grim gorgon from old time. They looked up at the mount, and the gaunt figure standing there above the vast multitude of moving heads seemed to be something beyond nature. The trembling upraised hands, the eyes of fire, the white quivering lips, the fever in the face which consumed the grosser senses, appeared to transcend the natural man. And below was the prisoner, dazed, stunned, a beast smitten mortally and staggering to its fall.
The sergeant removed the fetters from the prisoner's hands and feet, and turned him about with his face towards the south. Not at first did the man seem to realise that he was no longer a prisoner but an outcast, and free to go whither he would save where other men might be. Then, recovering some partial consciousness, he moved a pace or two forward, and instantly the crowd opened for him and a long wide way was made through the dense mass, and he walked through it, slow yet strong of step, with head bent and eyes that looked into the eyes of no man. Thus he passed away from the Tynwald towards the foot of Slieu Whallin and the valley of Foxdale that runs southward. And the people looked after him, and the Bishop on the mount and the clergy below followed him with their eyes. A great wave of compassion swept over the crowd as the solitary figure crossed the river and began to ascend the mountain path. The man was accursed, and none might look upon him with pity; but there were eyes that grew dim at that sight.
The smoke still rose in a long blue column from the side of Greeba, and the heavy cloud that had hung at poise over the head of Slieu Whallin had changed its shape to the outlines of a mighty bird, luminous as a sea-gull, but of a sickly saffron. Over the long line of sea and sky to the west the streak of red that had burned duskily had also changed to a dull phosphoric light, that sent eastward over the sky's low roof a misty glow. And while the people watched the lonely man who moved away from them across the breast of the hill, a pale sheet of lightning, without noise of thunder, flashed twice or thrice be fore their faces. So still was the crowd, and so reverberant the air, that they could hear the man's footsteps on the stony hill-side. When he reached the topmost xoint of the path, and was about to descend to the valley, he was seen to stop, and presently to turr, his face, gazing backwards for a moment. Against the dun sky his figure could be seen from head to foot. While he stood the people held their breath. When he was gone and the mountain had hidden him the crowd breathed audibly.
At the next moment all eyes were turned back to the mount. There the Bishop, a priest of God no longer, but only a poor human father now, had fallen to his knees and lifted his two trembling arms. Then the pent-up anguish of the wretched heart that had steeled itself to a mighty sacri. fice of duty burst forth in a prayer of great agony.
"O Father in ;heaven, it is not for him who draws the sword of the Lord's vengeance among men to cry for mercy, but rather to smite and spare not, yea, though his own flesh be smitten; but, O Thou that fillest heaven and earth, from whom none can hide himself in any secret place that Thou shalt not see him, look with pity on the secret place of the heart of Thy servant and hear his cry. O Lord on high, whose anger goes forth as a whirlwind, and whose word is like as a fire, what am I but a feeble, broken, desolate old man? Thou knowest my weakness, and how my familiars watched for my halting, and how for a period my soul failed me, and how my earthly affections conquered my heavenly office, and how God's rule among this people was most in danger from the servant of God, who should be valiant for the Lord on the earth. And if through the trial of this day Thou hast been strength of my strength, woe is me now, aged and full of days, feeble of body and weak of faith, that Thou hast brought this heavy judgment upon me. God of goodness and righteous Judge of all the earth, have mercy and forgive if we weep for him who goeth away and shall return no more, nor see his home and kindred. Follow him with Thy Spirit, touch him with Thy finger of fire, pour upon him the healing of Thy grace, so that after death's great asundering, when all shall stand for one judgment, it may not be said of Thy servant, "Write ye this old man childless."'
It was the cry of a great shattered soul, and the terrified people dropped to their knees while the voice pealed over their heads. When the Bishop was silent the clergy lifted him to his feet, and helped him down the pathway to the chapel. There was then a dull murmur of distant thunder from across the sea. The people fell apart in confusion. Before the last of them had left the green the cloud of pale saffron (over the head of Shen Whallin had broken into lightning, and the rain was falling heavily.