[from Hall Caine The Deemster]
ALL that autumn I followed the herrings, choosing my ground mainly by guess, but sometimes seeing the blue lights of the herring fleet rise close under my quarter, and at other times, when the air was still, hearing voices of men or the sound of laughter rumoured over the quiet waters. But ever fanciful to me, as a dream of a friend dead when it is past, was that sound on the sea, and as often as I heard it I took in my nets and hauled my sails, and stood out for the sound. Putting no light on my mitch-board, I would ofttimes pass the fleet within a cable's length and yet not be known, but once and again I knew by the hush of voices and the dying away of laughter on the boats about me that my dark craft was seen scudding like a black bird of evil omen through the night.
In my cabin I was used to burn a tallow dip made of the fat of the birds I had shot and rushes from the soft places of the moor, and while my boat drifted under the mizzen between take and take of herrings I would go below and sit with my dog. He grew sleek with the fare I found him, and I in these days recovered in a measure my sense of sight and hearing, for the sea's breath of brine is good to man. Millish veg-veen I called him, and, though a man of small cheer, I smiled to think what a sorry mis-name that name would seem, in our harder English tongue. For my poor mongrel cur had his little sorry vices, such as did oft set me wondering what the chances of his life had been, and whether, like his new messmate, he had not somewhere been driven out. Nevertheless he had his good parts, too, and was a creature of infinite spirits. I think we were company each to the other, and if he had found me a cheerier mate-fellow, I doubt not we should have had some cheerful hours together.
But in truth, though my fishing did much to tear me away from the burden of myself, it yet left me many lonesome hours wherein my anguish was sore and deep, and, looking to the years that might be before me, put me to the bitter question whether, being a man outside God's grace, I could hold out on so toilsome a course. Also, when I fell to sleep in the daytime, after my work of the night was done, I was much wrought upon by troublous dreams, which sometimes brought back the very breath and odour of my boyish days with the dear souls that filled them with joy, and sometimes plagued me with awful questions which in vain I tried to answer, knowing that my soul's welfare lay therein. And being much followed by the thought that the spirit of the beast of the field lay in wait to fall on the spirit of the man within me, I was also put to great terror in my watchfulness and the visions that came to me in hours of idleness and sleep. But suddenly this sentence fell on my mind : "Thou art free to go whithersoever thou wilt, though it be the uttermost reaches of the earth. Go, then, where men are, and so hold thy soul as a man."
Long did this sentence trouble me, not being able to make a judgment upon it, but at length it fastened on me that I must follow it, and that all the dread I had felt hitherto of the face of man was no more than a think-so. Thereupon I concluded that I would go into Castletown at high fair on the next market-day, which I should know from other days by the carts I could descry from the top of the Mull! going the way of Rushen Church and Kentraugh. This resolve I never brought to bear, for the same day whereon I made it a great stroke fell upon my spirit and robbed me of the little wherewith I had tried to comfort me.
Going out of the sound that night by the Spanish Head, for the season was far worn and the herrings lay to the eastward of the island, I marked in the dusk that a smack that bore the Peel brand on its canvas was rounding the Chicken Rocks of the Calf. So I stood out well to sea, and did not turn my head to the wind, and cast my nets, until I was full two leagues from shore. 'Then it was black dark, for the night was heavy, and a mist lay between sea and sky. But soon thereafter I saw a blue light to my starboard bow, and guessed that the smack from Peel had borne down in my wake. How long I lay on that ground I know not, for the takings were good, and I noted not the passage of time. But at short whiles I looked towards the blue light, and marked that as my boat drifted so did the smack drift, and that we were yet within bail. The moon came out with white streamers from behind a rack of cloud, and knowing then that the fishing was over for that night-for the herring does not run his gills into mischief when he has light to see by-I straightway fell to hauling my nets. And then it was that I found the smell of smoke in my nostrils, and heard loud voices from the Peeltown smack. Lifting my eyes, I could at first see nothing, for though the moon's light was in the sky, the mist was still on the sea, and through it there seemed to roll slowly, for the wind was low, a tunnel of smoke like fog. Well I knew that something was amiss, and soon the mist lifted like a dark veil into the air, and the smoke veered, and a flash of red flame rose from the smack of the Peelmen. Then I saw that the boat was afire, and in two minutes more the silence of the sea was lost in the fire's loud hiss and the men's yet louder shouts. It was as if a serpent in the bowels of the boat struggled to make its way out, and long tongues of fire shot out of the scuttle, the hold, the combings, and the flue of the stove. Little thought had I then of these things, though now by the eye of memory I see them, and also the sinuous trail of red water that seemed to crawl over the dark sea from the boat afire to the boat I sailed in. I had stepped my mast and hoisted sail before yet I knew what impulse possessed me, but with my hand on the tiller to go to the relief of the men in peril. On a sudden I was seized with a mighty fear, and it was as though a ghostly hand were laid on me from behind, and a voice above the tumult of that moment seemed to cry in my ears, "Not for you, not for you." Then in great terror I turned my boat's head away from the burning smack, and as I did so the ghostly hand did relax, and the voice did cease to peal in mine ears.
"They will drop into their dingey," I said with myself. "Yes," I said, as the sweat started cold from my forehead, "they will drop into the dingey and be saved;" and turning my head I saw, by the flame of the fire, that over the bulwark at the stern two men were tumbling down into the small boat that they hauled behind. And I sped away in agony, for now I knew how deep was the wrath upon me, that it was not for me so much as to stretch my accursed hand to perishing men to save them. Scarce had I gone a cable's length when a great shout, mingled with oaths, made me to turn my head, thinking the crew of the boat were crying curses down on me, not knowing me, for deserting them in their peril, but I was then in the tunnel of smoke wherein I might not be seen, and, lo, I saw that the dingey with the two men was sheering off, and that other two of their mates were left on the burning boat.
" Haul the wind and run the waistrels down, d- them," shouted one of the two men on the smack, and amid the leaping flames the mainsail shot up and filled, and a man stood to the tiller, and with an oath he shouted to the two in the small boat that for their treachery they should go down to hell straightway.
In the glare of that fierce light and the turmoil of that moment my eyes grew dim, as they had been on the day of my cutting off, and I squeezed their lids together to relieve them of water. Then I saw how fearful a thing was going on within my cable's length. Two men of a crew of four in the burning smack had got themselves into the small boat and cleared off without thought of their comrades who were struggling to save their craft, and now the two abandoned men, doomed to near death in fire or water, were with their last power of life, and in life's last moments-for aught they could tell-thirsting for deadly vengeance. On the smack went, with its canvas bellied, and the flames shooting through and hissing over it, but just as it came by the small boat the men therein pulled to the windward and it shot past.
Ere this was done, and while the smack's bow was dead on for the dingey, I too had sheered round and was beating up after the burning boat, and when the men thereon saw me come up out of the smoke they ceased to curse their false comrades and made a great cry of thanks to God. At a distance of six fathoms I laid to, thinking the men would plunge into the sea and come to me, but, apprehending my thoughts, one shouted me to come closer, for that he could not swim. Closer to the burning smack I would not go from fear of firing my own boat, and I dared not to risk that fate wherein we might all have been swallowed up together. For despair, that fortifies some men, did make of me a coward, and I stood in constant terror of the coming of death. So I stripped me of my jacket and leapt into the water and swam to the boat, and climbed its open combings as best I could through the flame and heat. On the deck the two men stood, enveloped in swirling clouds of smoke, but I saw them where they were, and pulling one into the water after me, the other followed us, and we reached my boat in safety.
Then, as I rubbed my face, for the fire had burnt one cheek, the men fell to thanking me in a shamefaced way-as is the manner of their kind, fearing to show feeling-when on a sudden they stopped short, for they had lifted their eyes, and in the flame of their boat had seen me, and at the same moment I had looked upon them and known them. They were Illiam Quilleash and Edward Teare, and they fell back from me and made for the bow, and stood there in silence together.
Taking the tiller, I bore in by tacks for Port-le-Mary, and there I landed the men, who looked not my way nor ever spoke word or made sign to me, but went off with their heads down. And when I stood out again through the Poolvash to round the Spanish Head and make for my moorings in the sound, and saw the burning smack swallowed up by the sea with a groan that came over the still waters, its small boat passed me going into harbour, and the men who rowed it were Crennell and Corkell, and when they saw me they knew me, and made a broad sweep out of my course. Now all this time the ghostly hand had been on my shoulder, and the strange voice had pealed in mine ears, and though I wanted not to speak with any man, nor that any man should speak with me, yet I will not say but that it went to my heart that I should be like as a leper from whose uncleanness all u4en should shrink away.
For many days hereafter this lay with a great trouble upon me, so that I let go my strong intent of walking into Castletown at high fair, and put this question with myself; whether it was written that I should carry me through this world down to death's right ending. Not as before did I now so deeply abhor myself ; but felt for myself a secret compassion. In truth I had no bitterness left in my heart for my fellow-men, but, tossed with the fear that if I lived alone much longer I must surely lose my reason, and hence my manhood, sinking down to the brute, this consideration fell with weight upon me: What thou hast suffered is from men who know thy crime, and stand in terror of the curse upon thee, wherein thou art so blotted out of the book of the living that without sin none may look thy way : Go therefore where no man knows thee, and the so heavy burden thou bearest will straightway fall from thee. Now, at this thought my heart was full of comfort, and I went back to my former design of leaving this place for ever. But before I had well begun what I was minded to do a strange accident befell me, and the relation thereof is as followeth.
By balf-flood of an evening late in autumn -for though the watch showed short of six the sun was already down-I left my old moorings inside the rocks of Kitterland, thinking to slip anchor there no more. The breeze was fresh in the sound, and outside it was stiff from the nor'-east, and so I ran out with a fair wind for Ireland, for I had considered with myself that to that country I would go, because the people there are tender of heart and not favoured by God. For a short while I had enough to think of in managing my cordage, but when I was well away to son'. west of the Calf suddenly the wind slackened. Then for an hour full I stood by the tiller with little to do, and looked back over the green waters to the purple mountains vanishing in the dusk, and around to the western sky, where over the line of sea the crimson streamers were still trailing where the sun had been, like as the radiance of a goodly life
remains a while after the man has gone. And with that eye that sees double, the thing that is without and that which is within, I saw myself then in my little craft on the lonely sea like an uncompanionable bird in the wide sky, and my heart began to fail me, and for the first time since my cutting off I must have wept. For I thought I was leaving for ever the fair island of my home, with all that had made it dear in dearer days. Though it bad turned its back on me since, and knew me no more, but had blotted out my name from its remembrance, yet it was mine, and the only spot of earth on all this planet-go whither I would-tbat I could call my own. How long this mood lasted I hardly can say, but over the boat two gulls hovered or circled and cried, and I looked up at their white transparent wings, for lack of better employr4ent, until the light was gone and another
day bad swooned to another night. The wind came up with the darkness, and, more in heart than before, I stood out for the south of Ireland, and reached my old fishing port of Kinsale by the dawn of the next day.
Then in the gentle sun of that autumn morning I walked up from the harbour to the market-place, and there found a strange company assembled about the inn, and in the midst were six or seven poor ship-broken men, shoeless, half naked, and lean of cheek from the long peril and privation that eats the flesh and makes the eyes hollow. In the middle of the night they had come ashore on a raft, having lost their ship by foundering twelve days before. This I learned from the gossip of the people about them, and also that they had eaten supper at the inn and slept there. While I stood and looked on there came out in the midst of the group two other men, and one of them was their captain and the other the innkeeper. And I noted well that the master of the inn was suave to his tattered customers, and spoke of breakfast as being made ready.
"But first go to the Mayor," said he, addressing the captain, "and make your protest, and he will lend whatever moneys you want."
The captain, nothing loath, set out with a cheerful countenance for the Mayor of the town, a servant of the inn going with him to guide him. The ship-broken crew stayed behind, and I, who was curious to learn if their necessities would be relieved, remained standing in the crowd around them. And while we waited, and the men sat on the bench in front of the inn, there came down on them from every side the harpies that find sea-going men with clothes. There was one with coats and one with guernseys, and one with boots of leather and one of neat'uskin, and with these things they made every man to fit himself. And if one asked the price, and protested that he had got no money, the Samaritans laughed and bade them not to think of price or money until their captain should return from the treasury of the Mayor. The seamen took all with good cheer, and every man picked out what he wanted, and put it on, throwing his rags aside laughing.
But presently the master of the crew returned, and his face% was heavy; and when his men asked how he had fared, and if the Mayor had advanced him anything, he told them No, and that the Mayor bad said be was no usurer to lend money. At that there were groans and oaths from the crew, and looks of bewilderment among those who had fetched the clothes; but the innkeeper said all would be well, and that they had but to send for a merchant in the next street who made it his trade to advance money to ship-broken men. This news brought back the light to the dark face of the captain, and he sent the servant of the inn to fetch the merchant.
When this man came my mind misgave, for I saw the stamp of uncharity in his face. But the captain told his story, whereof the sum was this:-That they were the English crew of the brig Betsey, and were seven days out from Bristol, bound for Buenos Ayres, when they foundered on a rock, and had made their way thither on a raft, suffering much from hunger and the cold of the nights, and that they wanted three pounds advance on their owners to carry them to Dublin, whence they could sail for their own port. But the merchant curled his hard lip and said he had just before been deceived by strangers, and could not lend money except to men of whom he knew something; that they, were strangers, and, moreover, by their own words entitled to no more than six days' pay apiece. And so he went his way.
Hardly had he gone when the harpies of the coats and boots and guernseys called on the men to strip off these good garments, which straightway they rolled in their several bundles, and then elbowed themselves out of the crowd. The poor seamen, resuming their rags, were now in sad case, scarce knowing whether most to curse their misfortunes or to laugh at the grim turn that they were taking, when the captain, in a chafe, called on the innkeeper to give breakfast to his men, for that he meant to push on to the next town, where people might be found who had more humanity. But the innkeeper, losing his by-respects, shook his head, and asked where was his pay to come from for what he had already done.
Now, when I heard this, and saw the men rise up to go on their toilsome way with naked, bleeding feet, suddenly I bethought me that, though I had little money, I had what would bring money, and before I had taken time to consider I had whipped my watch from my fob to thrust it into the captain's hands. But when I would have parted the crowd to do so, on a sudden that same ghostly hand that I have before mentioned seemed to seize me from behind. Then on the instant I faced about to hasten away, for now the struggle within me was more than I could bear, and I stopped and went on, and stopped again, and again went on, and all the time the watch was in my palm, and the ghostly hand on my shoulder. At last, thinking sure that the memory of the seven sea-going men, hungry and ill-clad, would follow me, and rise up to torment me on land and sea, I wheeled around and ran back hot-foot and did as I was minded. Then I walked rapidly away from the market-place, and passing down to the harbour, I saw a Peeltown fisherman, and knew that he saw me also.
Now, -I should have been exceeding glad if this thing had never befallen, for though it made my feeling less ungentle towards the two men, my old shipmates, who had, turned from me as from a leper when I took them from the burning boat, yet it brought me to a sense that was full of terror to my oppressed
spirit, namely, that though I might fly to lands where men knew nothing of my great crime, yet that the curse thereof was mostly within mine own afflicted soul, from which I could never flee away.
All that day I stayed in my boat, and the sun shone and the sky was blue, but my heart was filled with darkness. And when night fell in I had found no comfort, for then I knew that from my outcast state there was no escape. This being so, whether to go back to mine own island was now my question. Oh, it is a goodly thing to lie down in the peace of a mind at ease and rise up from the refreshment of the gentle sleep. But not for me was that blessed condition. The quaking of my spirit was more than I could well stand under without losing my reason, and in the fear of that mischance lay half the pain of life to me. Long were the dark hours, and when the soft daylight came again I did resolve that go back to my own island I would. For what was it to me though the world was wide if the little place I lived in was but my own narrow soul ?
That night in the boat for lack of the tick of my watch there seemed to be a void in the air of my cabin. But when the tide was about the bottom of the ebb I heard the plash of an oar alongside, and presently the sound of something that fell overhead. Next morning I found my watch lying on the deck by the side of the batches.
At the top of the flood I lifted anchor and dropped down the harbour, having spoken no word to any man since I sailed into it.