[from Hall Caine The Deemster]
BACK at my old moorings inside the racks of Kitterland, I knew full well that the Almighty Majesty was on this side of me and on that, and I had nothing to look for now or hereafter. But I think the extremity of my condition gave me some false courage, and my good genius seemed to say, What have you to lament? You have health, and food, and freedom, and you live under no taskmaster's eye. Let the morning see you rise in content, and let the night look on you lying down in thankfulness. And turn not your face to the future to the unsettling of your spirit, so that when your time comes you may not die with a pale face. Then did I laugh at my old yearning for fellowship, and asked wherefore I should be lonely since I lived in the same planet with other men, and had the same moon and stars above my sleep as hung over the busy world of men. In such wise did I comfort my torn heart, and shut it up from troubling me, but well
I knew that I was like to one who cries peace where there is no peace, and that in' all my empty sophistry concerning the moon and the stars there was no blood of poor human neighbourliness.
Nevertheless, I daily went about my business, in pursuance whereof I walked up to the place over the Black Head where I had planted my corn and potatoes. These in their course I reaped and delved, cutting the barley and rye with my clasp-knife for sickle, and digging a burrow in the earth for my potatoes. Little of either I had, but enough for my frugal needs until more might grow.
When my work was done, and I bad no longer any employment to take me ashore, the autumn had sunk to winter, for in this island of Man the cold and the mist come at a stride. Then sitting alone in my boat, with no task save such as I could make for myself, and no companion but little Veg-veen, the strength of the sophistry wherewith I had appeased myself broke down pitifully. The nights were long and dark, and the sun shone but rarely for many days together. Few were the ships that passed the mouth of the sound, either to east or west of it, and since my coming to moorage there no boat had crossed its water. Cold and bleak and sullen it lay around my boat, reflecting no more the forehead of the Calf, and lying now under the sunless sky like a dead man's face that is moved neither to smiles nor tears. And an awful weariness of the sea came to me then, such as the loneliest land never brought to the spirit of a Christian man, for sitting on the deck of my little swaying craft, with the beat of the sea on its timbers, and the sea-fowl jabbering on Kitterland, and perhaps a wild colt racing the wind on the Calf, it came into my mind to think that as far as eye could see or ear could bear there was nothing around me but the hand of God. Then all was darkness within me, and I did oft put the question to myself if it was possible for man to be with God alone and live.
Now it chanced upon a day that I wanted potatoes out of my burrow over the Black Head, and that returning therefrom towards nightfall I made a circuit of the stone circle above the Chasms, and at the northernmost side of it, midway to Cregneesh, came on a sight that arrested my breath. This was a but built against a steepness of rugged land from which stones bad sometimes been quarried. The walls were of turf ; the roof was of gorse and sticks, with a hole in it for chimney. Window there was none, and the doorway was half closed by a broken gate, whereof the bars were intertwined with old straw.
Mean it was, and desolate it looked on the wild moorland, but it was a mark of the band of man, and I who had dwelt so long with God's hand everywhere about me was touched with a sense of human friendliness. Hearing no voice within, I crept up and
looked into the little place. A bed of straw was in one corner, and facing it was a lump of freestone hollowed out for the bed of a fire. A broken pipe lay near this rude hearth, and the floor was of mountain turf worn bare and hard. Two sacks, a kettle, a saucepan, and some potato-parings were the only other things in the hut, and poor as it all was, it touched me so that in looking upon it I think my eyes were wet, because it was a man's habitation. I remember that as I turned to go away the rain began to fall, and the pattering drops on the roof seemed to my eye and ear to make the place more human.
In going back to my boat that day I came nearer to Cregneesh than was my wont in the daytime, and though the darkness was coming down from the mountains, I could yet see into the streets from the knoll I passed over. And there in the unpaved way before a group of houses I saw a witless man in coat and breeches, but no vest or shirt, and with a rope about his waist, dancing and singing to a little noisy crowd gathered about him.
After that I had come upon the but my mind ran much on the thought of it, and in three days or thereabouts I went back to look at it again, and coming near to it from behind saw sundry beehives of a rude fashioning made of straw and sticks. Veg-veen was with me, for he was now my constant company, and in a moment he had bounced in at the doorway and out again at yet more speed, with three of his kind close at his tail. Before I could turn me about to go away a man followed the dogs out of the hut, and he was the same witless being that I bad seen at his dancing in the streets of Cregneesh. His lip lagged low and his eyes were dull as a rabbit's ; on his head was a crownless hat through which his hair was seen, and I saw that his breast, where his shirt should be, was blackened as with soot. I would have gone about my own employments, but he spoke, telling me not to fear him, for it was false that he was possessed, as hardspoken people said, with the spirit of delusion. I answered nothing to this, but stood and listened with eyes turned aside, while the broken brain of the poor creature rambled on.
" They call me Billy the Bees," he said, "because I catch them and rear them-look," and he pointed to his hives. He talked of his three dogs and named them, saying that they slept in a sack together, and that in the same sack he slept with them. Something he said of the cold that had been coming latterly, and pointed to the soot on his breast,
saying that it kept him warm. He told how he made a circuit of the farmhouses once a week, dancing and singing at all of them, and how the people gave him barley-meal and eggs. Much more he said, but because the method of it-where method there was any-has gone from my memory I pass it. That the world was nigh about its end he knew of a surety, because he saw that if a
man had money and great store of gear, i mattered not what else he wanted. Thes with other such words he spoke ramblingly and I stood aside and answered him nothing neither did I look up into his face. At las he said timidly, " I know I have always been weak in my intellects," and hearing that could bear to hear no more, but went about my business with a great weight of trouble upon me. And " O God," I cried that night in my agony, " I am an ignorant sot, without the grace of human tenderness or the gift of understanding. I am guilty before Thee, and no man careth for my soul, but from this affliction, O Almighty Master, save me; ; save me from this degradation, for it threatens me, and when death comes that stands at the foot of life's awful account
will pay its price with thankfulness."
Now after this meeting with the witless man the weariness that I had felt of my home on the sea lay the heavier on my spirits, and I concluded with myself that I should forsake my boat and build me a home on the land within sight of man's habitation. So I walked the cliffs from the Mull Hills to the Noggin Head, and at last I lit on the place I looked for. Near to the land where I had lately broken the (allows and grown me a crop of corn and potatoes there were four roofless walls. Sometime a house had stood there, but being built on the brink of the great clefts in the earth that we call the Chasms, it had shrunken in some settlement of the ground. This had affrighted the poor souls who inhabited it, and they had left it to fall into ruins. Such was the tale I heard long afterwards, but none came near it then, and none have come near to it since. Save the four bare walls, and a wall that crossed it midway, nothing was left. Where the floor had been the grass was growing; wormwood was in the settle nook, and whinberries had ripened and rotted on the hearth. The door lintel was gone, and the sill of the window was fallen off. There was a round patch of long grass where the well had been, and near to where the porch once stood the trammon-tree still grew, and thus, though the good people who had lived and died there, been born and buried, were gone from it for ever, the sign of their faith, or their superstition, lived after them.
Better for me than this forsaken place it was hard for any place to be. On a dangerous spot it stood, and therefore none would come anigh it. Near to Cregneesh it was, and from the rising ground above it I could look down on the homes of men. Truly it looked out on the sea, and had a great steepness of shelving rocks going down to an awesome depth, where, on the narrow beach of shingle, the tide beat with a woeful moan ; but though the sea was so near, and the sea-fowl screamed of an evening from the great rock like a cone that lifted its gaunt finger a cable's length away, yet to me it was within the very pulse of human life.
t So I set to work, and roofed it with drift e wood and turf and gorse; and then with lime from a cliff at the Tubdale Creek in the Calf I whitened it within and without, walls and
t roof. A door I made in somewise, and for n a window I had a piece of transparent skin, I having no glass. And when all was made ready I moved my goods from the boat to my house, taking all that seemed necessaryflour, flour, and meat, and salt, and my implements, as well as my bed and the spare clothes I had, which were not many.
e I had been in no haste; with this work, being well content with such employment, but it e came to an end at last, and the day that I finished my task was a day late in the first year after my cutting off. This I knew I because the nights were long, and I had been trying with my watch to cast on the shortest day, and thereby recover my lost count of
e time. On the night of my first sleeping in my new home there came a fierce storm of wind and rain from the east. Four hours the gale lasted, and often the gulls were dashed screaming at the walls wherein I sat by the first fire I had yet kindled on my hearth. Towards midnight the wind fell suddenly to a dead calm, and, looking out, I saw that the moon was coming very bright in its rising
from behind a heavy cloud over the sea. So, wondering what chance had befallen my boat -"or though I had left it I had a tenderness for it and meant perchance to use it again-I
set out for the sound. When I got to the head of the cliff I could plainly see the rocks of Kitterland, and the whole length of the Doon Creek, but where my boat had been moored no boat could I see, nor any trace of one from Fistard Head on the east to Half-Walk Rock on the west. Next morning, under a bright winter's sun, I continued the search for my boat, and with the rising tide at noon I saw her thrown up on to the beach of the Doon, dismasted, without spar or boom, bilged below her water-line, and altogether a hopeless hulk. I made some scabbling shift to pull her above high-water mark, and then went my ways.
Now this loss, for so I considered it, did at first much depress me, thinking, with a bitter envy of my late past, that my future showed me a far more unblessed condition, seeing that I was now for ever imprisoned on this island, and could never leave it again whatsoever evil might befall. But when I had thought twice upon it my mind came to that point that I was filled with gratitude : first, because the wrecking of my boat on the very day of my leaving it seemed to give assurance that, in making my home on the land, I had done that which was written for me to do; and next, because I must inevitably have been swallowed up in the' storm if I had stayed on the sea a single night longer. And my terror of death was such that to have escaped the peril of it seemed a greater blessing than releasement from this island could ever be.
Every day thereafter, and oftenest at day. break, I walked up to the crest of the rising
ground at the back of my house, and stood awhile looking down on Cregneesh, and watching for the white smoke that lay like a low cloud over the hollow place wherein Port Erin lay. After that I bad done this I felt strangely refreshed as by a sense of companionship, and went about my work, such as it was, with
content. But on a bitter morning, some time in December, as I thought, I came upon a sight that well-nigh froze my heart within me, for, outstretched on the bare moorland, under the bleak sky and in the lee of a thick gorse bush tipped with yellow, I found the witless man,
Billy the Bees, lying cold and dead. His bare chest was blue, as with starvation, under the soot wherewith in his simpleness he had blackened it, and his pinched face told of privation and of pain. And now that he lay stretched out dead I saw that be had been a man of my own stature. In his hut, which was farther away than my own house from the place where he lay, there was neither bite nor sup, and his dogs seemed to have deserted him in his poverty, for they were gone. The air had softened perceptibly for some minutes while I went thither, and as I returned to the poor body, wondering what to do with it, the snow
began to fall in big flakes. "It will cover it,"
I said with myself. " The snow will bury it," I thought ; and casting a look back over my shoulder, I went home with a great burthen of trouble upon me.
All that day, and other two days, the snow continued to fall, until the walls of my house were blocked up to the level of my window, and I had to cut a deep trench to the gable where I piled my wood. And for more than a week following, shut in from my accustomed walk, I sat ?lone in the great silence, and tried to keep my mind away from the one fearful thought that now followed it. Remembering those long hours and the sorry employments I found for them-scrabbling on all-fours in play with Millish-veg-veen, laughing loud, and barking back at the dog's shrill bark, I could almost weep while here I write to think of the tragic business that was at the same time lying heavy on my spirit. Christmas Day fell while thus I was imprisoned, for near to midnight I heard the church bells ring for Oiel Verree.
When the snow began to melt I saw that the dog put his muzzle to the bottom of the door constantly, and as often as I drove him away he returned to the same place. I will not say what awful thing came then to my mind, knowing a dog's nature, and how near to my door lay the body of the witless man; only that I shuddered with a fear that was new to me when I remembered that, by the curse I lived under, the time would come when my unburied bones would lie on the bare face of the moor.
As soon as the snow had melted down to within a foot's depth of the earth, I went out of my house and turned towards where my poor neighbour lay; but before I bad come close to him I saw that two men were coming over the hill-side by way of Port-le-Mary, and,
wishing not to be seen by them, I crept back and lay by the hinder wall of my house to watch what they did. Then I saw that they came up to the body of the witless man and saw it, and stood over it some minutes talking earnestly, and then passed along on their way. And as they walked they turned aside and came close up by the front of my house, and looked in at the window, pushing the skin away. Standing by the wall, holding Veg-veen by the throat lest he should betray me, I heard some words the men said each to the other before they went on again.
"Well, man, he's dead at last, poor craythui," said one, "and good luck too."
And the other answered, " Aw, dear, to think, to think ! No man alive could stand up agen it. Aw, ter'ble, ter'ble ! "
" I was at the Tynwald myself yander day," said the first, "and I'll give it a year, I was saying, to finish him, and behould ye, he's lying dead in half the time."
Then both together said, "God bless me !" and passed on.
At that moment my eyes became dim, and a sound as of running water went through my ears. I staggered into my house, and sat down by the cold hearth, for in my eagerness to go forth on my errand at first awakening no fire had I kindled. I recalled the words that the men had spoken, and repeated them aloud one by one, and very slowly, that I might be sure I took their meaning rightly. This done, I said with myself, " This error will go far, until the wide island will say that he who was cut off, he who is nameless among men, is dead." Dead? What then ? I had heard that when death came and took away a bad man, its twin-angel, the angel of mercy, bent over those who were left behind on the earth, and drew out of their softened hearts all evil report and all uncharity.
And a great awe slid over me at that thought, and the gracious dew of a strange peace fell upon me. But close behind it came the other thought, that this error would reach my father also-God preserve him!-and Mona-God's holy grace be with her!-and bring them pain. And then it came to me to think that when men said in their hearing, "He whom you wot of is newly dead," they would take heart and answer, "No, he died long ago; it was only his misery and God's wrath that died yesterday."
With this thought I rose up and went out, and put some shovels of earth over the body of my poor neighbour, that his face might be hidden from the sky.