[from Hall Caine The Deemster]
THE great snow lay long on the mountains, and died off in its silence like one who passes away in sleep. And the spring came, the summer and the winter yet again, and to set down in this writing all that befell would be a weariness, for I feel as I write that the pulse of my life is low; and neither am I one who can paint his words with wit. My way of life has now grown straight and even, and at my simple employments I wrought early and late, that by much bodily toil I might keep in check the distempers of my mind.
With my fishing-boat, my gun, which I had left behind me of design, had been carried to the bottom of the sound, and when the hulk of the lugger drifted up with the tide the gun was no longer within her. This I took for a direction to me that I should hunt no more. Nevertheless for some while I went on to fish with a line from my small boat, which, being on the beach, the storm had spared. But soon it was gotten into my head that, if to shoot a hare was an ill deed, to take a cod was but a poor business. Well I knew that there was some touch of insanity in such fancies, and that for man to kill and eat was the law of life, and the rather because it was enjoined of God that so he should do. But being a man like as I was, cut off from the land of the living, never more to have footing there for the great crime committed of spilling blood, I think it was not an ungentle madness that made me fear to take life, whether wantonly or of hunger's
need. This dread lay close to me, and got to extremities whereat one of healthy mind might smile. For being awakened some nights in succession by the nibble of a mouse, I arose from my bed in the dawn, and saw the wee mite, and struck it with an iron rod and killed it, and then suffered many foolish twitches, not from pity for the mouse, for of humanity I had none left, but from the sudden thought that the spirit of its life, which I had driven from its harmless body, was now about me as an invisible thing. Though I had fallen into such a weakness, yet I think that where choice was none for one like me between the weakness of a man and the strength of a beast, I did least injury to my own nature and disposition by yielding with childish indulgence towards the gentler side.
And truly it is a beautiful thing to mark how the creatures of earth and air will answer with confidence to man's tenderness, whether, as with my saintly father, it comes of the love of them, or, as with me, of the love of
myself. The sea - fowl flew in at my door and pecked up the morsels that fell at my feet; the wild duck on the moor would not rise though I walked within a stride of it; a fat hare nested in a hole under my house and came out at dusk to nibble the parings of potatoes that I threw at the door, and, but for Millish-veg-veen and' his sly treacheries, with the rabbits of the Black Head I might have sported as with a kitten.
I could fill this account with the shifts I was put to by want of many things that even a lone man may need for his comfort or his cheer. Thus, I was at pains to devise a substitute for tinder, having lost much of all I had in the wrecking of my boat; and to find leather for the soles of my shoes when they were worn to the welt was long a search.
Yet herein my case was but that of many another man who has told of his privation, and the less painful was my position for that I had much to begin my battle of life with. In this first year of my unblessed condition my senses not only recovered their wonted strength, but grew keener than before my cutting off. Oft did my body seem to act without help of my intelligence, and, with a mind on other matters, I would find my way over the trackless moor back to my home in the pitch of darkness, and never so much as stumble by a stone. When the wind was from the north, or when the air lay still, I could hear the church bells that rang in the market square at Castletown, and thereby I knew what the day of the week was. None came nigh to my dwelling, but if a man passed it by at the space of two furlongs I seemed to feel his tread on the turf.
And now, as I hold the pen for these writings, my hand is loath and my spirit is not fain to tell of the strange humours of these times. So ridiculous and yet so tragic do they look as they come back to me in the grave-clothes of memory, that my imagination, being no longer turned way. ward, shrinks from them as sorry things that none shall see to be of nature save he who has lived in an outcast state. But if the eyes I look for should ever read these lines, the tender soul behind them will bring me no laughter for my pains, and I ask no tears. Only for my weakness let it be remembered that the terror of my life was that the spirit of madness and of the beast of the field waited and watched to fall upon me and to destroy the spirit of the man within me.
It is not to be expressed with what eagerness I strove to live in my solitude as a man should live in the company of his fellows. Down to the pettiest detail of personal manners I tried to do as other men must be doing. Whatsoever seemed to be the habit of a Christian man, that I practised, and (though all alone and having no man's eye to see me) with a 'grim and awesome earnest
ness. Thus before food, I not only washed but dressed afresh, taking off the sea-boots or the curranes I worked in, ~ and putting on my shoes with silver buckles. My seaman's jacket I removed for a long coat of blue, and I was careful that my shirt was spotless. In this wise I also never failed to attire myself in the evening of the day for the short hours of rest between my work and my bed. That my cheeks should be kept clean of hair and that the hair of my head should never outgrow itself was a constant care, for I stood in fear of the creeping consciousness which my face in the glass might bring me that I was other than other men. But I am loath to set down my little foolish formalities on sitting to meat and rising from it, and the silly ceremonies wherewith I indulged myself at going abroad and coming home. Inexpressibly comic and ridiculous some of them would seem to me now, but for the tragic meaning that in my terror underlay them. And remembering how much a defaulter I had been in all such courtesies of life when most they were called for, I could almost laugh to think bow scrupulous I was in their observance when I was quite alone, with never an eye to see me, what I did or how I was clad, or in what sorry fashion I in my solitude acquitted myself like a man.
But though I could be well disposed to laugh at my notions of how to keep my manhood while compelled to live the life of a beast, alone like a wolf and useless for any purposes of man or the world, it is not with laughter that I recall another form of the insanity that in these times possessed me. This was the conviction that I was visited by Ewan, Mona, and my father. Madness I call it, but never did my pulse beat more temperately or my brain seem clearer than when conscious of these visitations. If I had spent the long day delving or gathering limestone on the beach of the sound, and returned to my house at twilight, I would perhaps be suddenly aware as I lifted the latch-having thought only of my work until then -that within my kitchen these three sat together, and that they turned their eyes to me as I entered. Nothing would be more convincing to my intelligence than that I actually saw what, I say, and yet I always seemed to know that it was not with my bodily eyes that I was seeing. These indeed were open, and I was broad awake, with plain power of common sight on common things-my stool, my table, the settle I had made myself, and perhaps the fire of turf that burned red on the hearth. But over this bodily vision there was a spiritual vision more stable than that of a dream, more soft and variable than that of material reality, in which I clearly beheld Ewan and Mona and my father, and saw their eyes turned towards me. Madness it may have been, but I could say it at the foot of the White Throne that what I speak
of I have seen not once or twice, but many times.
And well I remember bow these visitations affected me: first as a terror, for when on a sudden they came to me as I lifted the latch, I would shrink back and go away gain, and return to my house with trembling; and then as a strange comfort, for they were a sort of silent company in my desolation. More than once, in these days of great loneliness, did I verily believe that I had sat me down in the midst of the three to spend a long hour in thinking of the brave good things that might have been for all of us but for my headstrong passion, helped out by the cruel tangle of our fate.
One thing I noted that even yet seems strange in the hours when my imagination is least given to waywardness. Throughout the period wherein I lived in the boat, and for some time after I removed me to my house, the three I have named seemed to visit me together; but after that I had found my witless neighbour lying dead on the moor, and after that I had heard the converse of the men who mistook his poor body for my own, the visitations of Mona and my father ceased altogether, and Ewan alone did I afterwards seem to see. This I pondered long, and at length it fastened on me with a solemn conviction that what I had looked for bad come about, and that the error that I was a dead man had reached the ears of my father and of Mona. With Ewan I sat alone when he came to me, and oft did it appear that we were loving company, for in his eyes were looks of deep pity, and I on my part had ceased to rail at the blind passion that bad parted us flesh from flesh.
These my writings are not for men who will look at such words as I have here set down with a cold indifferency, or my hand would have kept me back from this revelation. But that I saw apparently what I have described is as sure before God as that I was a man cut off from the land of the living.
A more material sequel came of the finding of the body on the moor. I was so closely followed by dread of a time that was coming when I must die, and stretch out my body on the bare ground with no man to give it Christian burial in the earth, that I could take no rest until I had devised a means whereby this terror might not haunt me in my last hours. In front of my house there were, as I have said, the places we call the Chasms, wherein the rock of this hungry coast is honeycombed into a hundred deep gullies by the sea. One of these gullies I descended by means of a cradle of rope swung overthwart a strong log of driftwood, and there I found a long shelf of stone, a deep fissure in the earth, a tomb of shelving rock coated with fungus and mould, whereto no dog could come, and wherein no
bird of prey could lift its wing. To this place I resolved that I would descend when the power of life was on the point of ebbing away. Having lowered myself by my cradle of rope,
I meant to draw the cordage after me, and then, being already near my end, to lie down in this close gully under the earth, that was to serve me for grave and death-bed.
But I was still a strong man, and, ungracious as my condition was, I shrank from the thought of death, and did what I could to put by the fear of it. Never a day did I fail to walk to the crest of the rising ground behind me and look down to where in the valley lay the habitations of men. Life, life, life, was now the constant cry of the voice of my heart, and a right goodly thing it seemed to me to be alive, though I might be said not to live, but only to exist.
Whether from the day whereon I heard the converse of the two men who went by my house I was ever seen of any man for a twelvemonth or more I scarce can tell. Great was my care to keep out of the ways wherein even the shepherds walked, and never a foot seemed to come within two furlongs of these abandoned parts from the bleak Black Head to the margin of the sound. But it happened upon a day towards winter, beginning the second year since my cutting, off, that I turned towards Port-le-Mary, and walking on with absent mind, came nearer than I had purposed to the village over the Sallow Point. There I was suddenly encountered by four or five men who, much in liquor, were playing at leap-frog among the gorse. English seamen they seemed to be, and perhaps from the brig that some time before I had noted when she lay anchored to the lea of the Carrick Rock in the Poolvash below. At sight of them I was for turning quickly aside, but they raised such a cry and shot out such a volley of levities and blasphemies, that try how I would to go on I could not but stop on the instant and turn my face to them.
Then I saw that of me the men took no note whatever, and that all their eyes were on my dog Millish-veg-veen, who was with me, 'and was now creeping between my feet with his stump of a tail under his belly, and his little cunning face full of terror. " Why, here's the dog that killed our monkey," said one, and another shouted, " It's my old cur, sure enough," and a third laughed and said he had kept a rod in pickle for more than a year, and the first cried again, "I'll teach the beast to kill no more Jackeys." Then, before I was yet fully conscious of what was being done, one of the brawny swaggerers made towards us, and kicked at the dog with the fierce lunge of a heavy seaman's boot. The dog yelped and would have made off, but another of the blusterers kicked him back, and then a third kicked him, and whatever way he tried to escape between them one of them lifted his foot and kicked again. While they were doing this I felt myself struggling to cry out to them to stop, but not a syllable could I utter, and, like a man paralysed, I stood stock-still, and did nothing to save my housemate and only companion in life. At length one of the men,
d laughing a great roystering laugh, stooped and seized the dog by the nape of the neck and swung him round in the air. Then I saw the poor cur's piteous look towards me and heard its bitter cry ; but at the next instant it was flying ten feet above our heads, and when it fell to the ground it was killed on the instant.
At that sight I heard an awful groan burst from my mouth, and I saw a cloud of fire flash before my eyes. When next I knew what I was doing I was holding one of the men by a fierce grip about the waist, and was swinging him high above my shoulders.
Now if the good God had not given me back my consciousness at that moment I know full well that at the next he who was then in my power would have drawn no more the breath of a living man. But I felt on a sudden the same ghostly hand upon me that I have written of before, and heard the same ghostly voice in mine ear. So, dropping the man gently to his feet, as gently as a mother might slip her babe to its cot, I lifted up my poor mangled beast by its hinder legs and turned away with it. And as I went the other men fell apart from me with looks of terror, for they saw that God had willed it that, with an awful strength, should I, a man of great pas. sions, go through life in peril.
When I had found coolness to think of this that had happened I mourned for the loss of the only companion that had ever shared with me my desolate state ; but more than my grief for the dog was my fear for myself, remembering with horror that when I would have called on the men to desist I could not utter one word. Truly, it may have been the swift access of anger that then tied my tongue, but I could not question that my sudden speechlessness told me I was losing the faculty of speech. This conclusion fastened upon me with great pain, and I saw that for a twelvemonth or more I had been zealously preserving the minor qualities of humanity, while this its greatest faculty, speech, that distinguishes man from the brute, had been silently slipping from me. Preserve my power of speech also I resolved I would, and though an evil spirit within me seemed to make a mock at me, and to say, "Wherefore this anxiety to keep your speech, seeing that you will never require it, being a man cut off for ever from all intercourse with other men 2 " yet I held to my purpose.
Then I asked myself how I was to preserve my speech save by much and frequent speaking, and how I was to speak having nonenot even my dog now-to speak to. fFor to speak constantly with myself was a practice I shrank from as leading perchance to madness, since I had noted that men of broken wit were much given to mumbling vain words to themselves. At last I concluded that there was but one way for me, and that was to pray. Having lit on this thought, I had still some misgivings, for the evil spirit within me again made a mock at me, asking why
I should speak to God, being a man outside God's grace, and why I should waste myself in the misspent desire of prayer, seeing that the Heavenly Majesty had set His face from me in rejecting the atonement of my life which I had offered for my crime. But after great inward strivings I came back to my old form of selfishness, and was convinced that though when I prayed God would not hear me, yet that the yearning and uplooking of prayer might be a good thing for the spiritual part of my nature as a man-for when was the beast known to pray 7
At this I tried to recall a few good words such as my father used, and at length, after much beating of the wings of my memory, I remembered some that were the words of Bishop Jeremy Taylor, and did betake myself to prayer in this manner :
" O most gracious God, I tremble to come into Thy presence, so polluted and dishonoured as I am by my foul stain of sin which I have 'contracted; but I must come or I perish. I am useless to any purposes of God and man, and, like one that is dead, unconcerned in the changes and necessities of the world, living only to spend my time, and, like a vermin, eat of the fruits of the earth. O my God, I cannot help it now; miserable man that I am, to reduce myself to so sad a state that I neither am worthy to come to Thee nor dare I stay from Thee. The greatness of my crime brings me to my remedy; and now I humbly pray Thee to be merciful to my sin, for it is great."
And this prayer I spoke aloud twice daily thenceforward, at the rising and the setting of the sun, going out of my house and kneeling on the turf on the top of the Black Head. And when I prayed, I sang what I could remember of the psalm that runs
"It is good for me that I have been in trouble, that I may learn Thy statutes."
In my mind's eye I see myself a' solitary man in that lone place, with the sea stretching wide below me, and only the sound of its heavy beat on the rocks rising over me in the quiet air.