[from Hall Caine The Deemster]
WHEN the sweating sickness first appeared in the island, it carried off the lone body known as Auntie Nan, who had lived on the Curragh. "Death never came without an excuse -the woman was old," the people said, and went their way. But presently a bright young girl, who had taken herbs and broths and odd comforts to Auntie Nan while she lay helpless, was stricken down. Then the people began to hold their heads together. Four days after the girl was laid to rest her mother died suddenly, and two or three days after the mother's death the father was smitten. Then three other children died in quick succession, and in less than three weeks not a soul of that household was left alive. This was on the south-west of the Curragh, and on the north of it, near to the church at Andreas, a similar outbreak occurred about the same time. Two old people named Creer were the first to be taken; and a child at Cregan's farm and a servant at the rectory of the archdeacon followed quickly.
The truth had now dawned upon the people, and they went about with white faces. It was the time of the hay harvest, and during the two hours' rest for the midday meal the haymakers gathered together in the fields for prayer. At night, when work was done, they met again in the streets of the villages to call on God to avert His threatened judgment. On Sundays they thronged the churches at morning and afternoon services, and in the evening they congregated on the shore to hear the Quaker preachers, who went about, under the shadow of the terror, without hindrance or prosecution. One such preacher, a town-watch at Castletown, known as Billy-byNite, threw up his calling, and travelled the country in the cart of a carrier, prophesying a visitation of God's wrath, wherein the houses should be laid waste and the land be left utterly desolate.
The sickness spread rapidly, and passed from the Curraghs to the country south and east of them. Not by ones but tens were the dead now counted day after day, and the terror spread yet faster than the malady. The herring season had run a month only, and it was brought to a swift close. Men who came in from the boats after no more than a night's absence were afraid to go up to their homes lest the sickness had gone up before them. Then they went out to sea no longer, but rambled for herbs in the rank places where herbs grew, and, finding them, good and bad, fit and unfit, they boiled and ate them.
Still the sickness spread, and the dead were now counted in hundreds. Of doctors there were but two in the island, and these two were closely engaged sitting by the bedsides of the richer folk, feeling the pulse with one hand and holding the watch with the other. Better service they did not do, for rich and poor alike fell before the sickness.
The people turned to the clergy, and got "beautiful texes," but no cure. They went to the old Bishop, and prayed for the same help that he had given them in the old days of their great need. He tried to save themand failed. A preparation of laudanum, which had served him in good stead for the flux, produced no effect on the sweating sickness. With other and other medicines he tried and tried again. His old head was held very low. "My poor people," he said, with a look of shame, "I fear that by reason of the sins of me and mine the Spirit of the Lord is gone from me."
Then the people sent up a cry as bitter as that which was wrung from them long before when they were in the grip of their hunger. "The Sweat is on us," they groaned; and the old Bishop, that he might not hear their voice of reproach, shut himself up from them like a servant whom the Lord had forsaken.
Then terror spread like a fire, but terror in some minds begets a kind of courage, and soon there were those who would no longer join the prayer-meetings in the hay-fields or listen to the preaching on the shore. One of those was a woman of middle life, an idle slattern, who had for six or seven years lived a wandering life. While others prayed she laughed mockingly, and protested that for the Sweat, as well as for every other scare of life, there was no better preventive than to think nothing about it. She carried out her precept by spending her days in the inns and her nights on the roads, being supported in her dissolute existence by secret means, whereof gossip spoke frequently. The terrified world about her, busy with its loud prayers, took small heed of her blasphemies until the numbers of the slain had risen from hundreds to thousands. Then in their frenzy the people were carried away by superstition, and heard in the woman's laughter the ring of the devil's own ridicule. Somebody chanced to see her early one morning drawing water to bathe her hot forehead, and before night of that day the evil word had passed from mouth to mouth that it was she who had brought the sweating sickness by poisoning the wells.
Thereupon half a hundred lusty fellows, with fear in their wild eyes, gathered in the Street, and set out to search for the woman. In her accustomed haunt, the "Three Legs of Man," they found her, and„she was heavy with drink.
They hounded her out of the inn into the road, and there, amid oaths and curses, they tossed her from hand to hand until her dress was in rags, her face and arms were bleeding, and she was screaming in the great fright that had sobered her.
It was Tuesday night, and the Deemster, who had been holding court at Peeltown late that day, was riding home in the darkness when he heard this tumult in the road in front of him. Putting spurs to his horse, he came upon the scene of it. Before he had gathered the meaning of what was proceeding in the dark road, the woman had broken from her tormentors and thrown herself before him, crawling on the ground and gripping his foot in the stirrup.
" Deemster, save me ! save me, Deemster ! " she cried in her frantic terror.
The men gathered round and told their story. The woman had poisoned the wells, and the bad water had brought the Sweat. She was a charmer by common report, and should be driven out of the island.
"What pedlar's French is this?" said the Deemster, turning hotly on the crowd about him. "Men, men, what forgotten age have you stepped out of that you come to me with such drivelling, doddering, blank idiocy? "
But the woman, carried away by her terror, and not grasping the Deemster's meaning, cried that if he would but save her she would confess. Yes, she had poisoned the wells. It was true she was a charmer. She acknowledged to the evil eye. But save her, save her, save her, and she would tell all.
The Deemster listened with a feverish impatience. "The woman lies," he said under his breath, and then lifting his voice he asked if any one had a torch. "Who is the woman?" he asked; " I seem to know her voice."
" D- her, she's a witch," said one of the men, thrusting his hot face forward in the darkness over the woman's cowering body. "Ay, and so was her mother before her," he said again.
" Tell me, woman, what's your name? " said the Deemster stoutly; but his question seemed to break down as he asked it.
There was a moment's pause.
" Mally Kerruish," the woman answered him, slobbering at his stirrup in the dark road before him.
"Let her go," said the Deemster in a thick underbreath. In another moment he had disengaged his foot from the woman's grasp and was riding away.
That night Mally Kerruish died miserably of her fright in the little tool-shed of a cottage by the Cross Vein, where six years before her mother had dropped to a lingering death alone.
News of her end was taken straightway to Ballamona by one of the many tongues of evil rumour. With Jarvis Kerruish, who was in lace collar and silver-buckled shoes, the Deemster had sat down to supper. He rose, left his meat untouched, and Jarvis supped alone. Late that night he said uneasily-
"I intend to send in my resignation to Castletown the burden of my office as Deemster is too much for my strength."
"Good," said Jarvis; "and if, sir, you should ever think of resigning the management of your estate also, you know with how much willingness I would undertake it, solely in order that you might spend your days in rest and comfort."
" I have often thought of it latterly," said the Deemster
Half-an-hour thereafter he spent in an uneasy perambulation of the dining-room, while Jarvis picked his teeth and cleaned his nails.
"I think I must surely be growing old," he said then, and, drawing a long breath, he took up his bedroom candle.
The sickness increased, the deaths were many in the houses about Ballamona, and in less than a week after the night of Mally Kerruish's death, Thorkell Mylrea, a Deemster no longer, had made over to Jarvis Kerruish all absolute interest in his estates. "I shall spend my last days in the cause of religion," he said. He had paid up his tithe in poundnotes five years' tithe in arrears, with interest added at the rate of six per cent. Blankets he had ordered for the poor of his own parish, a double blanket for each family, with cloaks for some of the old women.
This done, he relinquished his worldly possessions, and shut himself from the sickness in a back-room of Ballamona, admitting none, and never stirring abroad except to go to church.
The Bishop had newly opened the chapel at Bishop's Court for daily prayers, and of all constant worshippers there Thorkell was now the most constant. Every morning his little shrivelled figure knelt at the form before the Communion, and from his blanched lips the prayers were mumbled audibly. Much he sought the Bishop's society, and in every foolish trifle he tried to imitate his brother. A new canon of the Church had lately ordered that every Bishop should wear an episcopal wig, and over his flowing white hair the Bishop of Man had perforce to put the grotesque head-covering. Seeing this, Thorkell sent to England for a periwig, and perched the powdered curls on his own bald crown.
The sickness was at its worst, the terror was at its height, and men were flying from their sick families to caves in the mountains, when one day the Bishop announced in church, that across in Ireland, as he had heard, there was a good man who had been blessed under God with miraculous powers of curing this awful malady.
" Send for him ! send for him !" the people shouted with one voice, little heeding the place they sat in.
"But," said the Bishop, with a failing voice, the good man is a Romish Catholic indeed, a Romish priest."
At that word a groan came from the people, for they were Protestants of Protestants.
" Let us not think that no good can come out of Nazareth," the Bishop continued. "And who shall say, though we love the Papacy not at all, but that holy men adhere to it ?"
There was a murmur of disapproval.
"My good people," the Bishop went on falteringly, "we are in God's hands, and His anger burns among us."
The people broke up abruptly, and talking of what the Bishop had said, they shook their heads. But their terror continued, and before its awful power their qualms of faith went down as before a flood. Then they cried, "Send for the priest !" and the Bishop sent for him.
Seven weary days passed, and at length, with a brightening countenance, the Bishop announced that the priest had answered that he would come. Other three days went by, and the news passed from north to south that in the brig Bridget of Cork, bound for Whitehaven, with liberty to call at Peeltown, the Romish priest, Father Dalby, had sailed for the Isle of Man.
Then day after day the men went up to the hill-tops to catch sight of the sail of an Irish brig. At last they sighted one from the Mull Hills, and she was five leagues south of the Calf. But the wind was high, and the brig laboured hard in a heavy sea. For hours the people watched her, and saw her bearing down into the most dangerous currents about their coast. Night closed in, and the wind rose to the strength of a gale. Next morning at early dawn the people climbed the headlands again, but no brig could they now see, and none had yet made their ports.
" She must be gone down," they told themselves, and so saying they went home with heavy hearts.
But two days afterwards there went through the island a thrilling cry, "He is here!-he has come !-the priest !" And at that word a wave of rosy health swept over a thousand haggard faces.
In the dark sleeping-room of a little ivy-covered cottage that stood end-on to the highroad through Michael a blind woman lay dying of the sickness. It was old Kerry; and on a three-legged stool before her bed her husband Hommy sat. Pitiful enough was Hommy's poor ugly face. His thick lubber lips were drawn heavily downwards, and under his besom brows his little eyes were red and his eyelids swollen. In his hands he held a shovel, and he was using it as a fan to puff air into Kerry's face.
"It's all as one, man," the sick woman moaned. "Ye're only keeping the breath in me. I'm bound to lave ye."
And thereupon Hommy groaned lustily and redoubled his efforts with the shovel. There was a knock at the door, and a lady entered. It was Mona, pale of face, but very beautiful in her pallor, and with an air of restful sadness.
" And how are you now, dear Kerry ? " she asked, leaning over the bed.
" Middling badly, mom," Kerry answered feebly. " I'll be took, sarten sure, as the saying is."
"Don't lose heart, Kerry. Have you not heard that the priest is coming?"
" Chut, mom ! I'll be gone, plaze God, where none of the like will follow me."
"Hush, Kerry ! He was in Patrick yester. day; he will be in German to-morrow, and the next day he will be here in Michael. He is a good man, and is doing wonders with the sick." Kerry turned face to the wall, and Hommy talked with Mona. What was to become of him when Kerry was gone? Who would be left to give him a bit of a tidy funeral? The Deemster ? Bad sess to the like of him. What could be expected from a master who had turned his own daughter out of doors ?'
" I am better where I am," Mona whispered, and that was her sole answer to the deaf man's too audible questions. And Hommy, after a pause, assented to the statement with his familiar comment, " The Bishop's a rael ould archangel, so he is."
Thereupon Kerry turned her gaze from the wall and said, "Didn't I tell ye, mom, that he wasn't dead?"
" Why-him-him that we mayn't namehim."
"Hush, dear Kerry, he died long ago.",
" I tell ye, mom, he's a living man,' and coming back-I know it-he's coming back immadient-I saw him."
"Drop it, woman; it's drames," said Hommy.
"I saw him last night as plain as plainwearing a long grey sack and curranes on his feet, and a queer sort of hat."
"It must have been the priest that you saw in your dream, dear Kerry."
The sick woman raised herself on one elbow, and answered eagerly, "I tell you no, mom, but him-him"
"Lie still, Kerry; you will be worse if you uncover yourself to the cool air."
There was a moment's quiet, and then the blind woman said finally
"I'm going where I'll have my eyes same as another body."
At that Hommy's rugged face broadened to a look of gruesome sorrow, and he renewed his exertions with the shovel.
At seven o'clock that day the darkness had closed in. A bright turf fire burned in a room in Bishop's Court, and the Bishop sat before it with his slippered feet on a sheepskin rug. His face was mellower than of old, and showed less of strength and more of sadness. Mona stood at a tea-table by his side, cutting slices of bread and butter.
A white face, with eyes of fear, looked in at the dark window. It was Davy Fayle. He was but little older to look upon for the seven years that had gone heavily over his troubled head. His simple look was as vacant and his lagging lip hung as low; but his sluggish intellect had that night become suddenly charged with a ready man's swiftness.
Mona went to the door. "Come in," she said; but Davy would not come. He must speak with her outside, and she went out to him.
He was trembling visibly. " What is it?" she said.
"Mistress Mona," said Davy, in a voice of great emotion, "it's as true as the living God." " What? " she said.
"He's alive-ould Kerry said true-he's alive, and coming back."
Mona glanced into his face by the dull light that came through the window. His eyes, usually dull and vacant, were aflame with a strange fire. She laid one hand on the doorjamb, and said, catching her breath, "Davy, remember what the men said long ago-that they saw him lying in the snow."
"He's alive, I'm telling you-I've seen him with my own eyes."
" Where? "
"I went down to Patrick this morning to meet the priest coming up-but it's no priest at all-it's-it's-it's him."
Again Mona drew her breath audibly. "Think what you are saying, Davy. If it should not be true ! Oh, if you should be mistaken ! "
"It's Bible truth, Mistress Mona-I'll go bail on it afore God A'mighty."
" The priest, you say? "
"Aw, lave it to me to know Mastha-I mean -him."
"I must go in, Davy. Good night to you, and thank you- Good night, and=' the plaintive tenderness of her voice broke down to a sob. " Oh, what can it all mean?" she exclaimed more vehemently.
Davy turned away. The low moan of the sea came up through the dark night.
It happened that after service the next morning the Bishop and Thorkell walked out of the chapel side by side.
"We are old men now, Gilcrist," said Thorkell, "and should be good friends together."
"That is so," the Bishop answered.
"We've both lost a son, and can feel for each other."
The Bishop made no reply. "We're childless men, in fact."
" There's Mona, God bless her ! " the Bishop said very softly.
"True, true," said Thorkell, and there was silence for a moment.
" It was partly her fault when she left me partly, I say -,-don't you think so, Gilcrist ? " said Thorkell nervously.
" She's a dear sweet soul," the Bishop said. " It's true."
They stepped on a few paces, and passed by the spot whereon the two fishermen laid down their dread burden from the Mooragh seven years before. Then Thorkell spoke again ar.d in a feverish voice.
"D'ye know, Gilcrist, I sometimes awake in the night crying ' Ewan ! Ewan ! "'
The Bishop did not answer, and Thorkell, in another tone, asked when the Irish priest was to reach Michael.
" He may be here to-morrow," the Bishop said.
"It must be that God is revenging Himself upon us with this fearful scourge."
"It dishonours God to say so," the Bishop replied. "He is calling upon us to repent." There was another pause, and then Thorkell asked what a man should do to set things right in this world if perchance he had taken a little more in usury than was fair and honest.
"Give back whatever was more than justice," said the Bishop promptly.
" But that is often impossible, Gilcrist."
" If he has robbed the widow, and she is dead, let him repay the fatherless."
"It is impossible-I tell you, Gilcrist, it is impossible-impossible."
As they were entering the house, Thorkell asked if there was truth in the rumour that the wells had been charmed.
"To believe such stories is to be drawn off from a trust in God and a dependence on His good providence," said the Bishop.
`° But I must say, brother, that strange things are known to happen. Now I myself have witnessed extraordinary fulfilments."
"Superstition is a forsaking of God, whom we have most need to fly to in trouble and distress," the Bishop answered.
" True-very true-I loathe it ; but still it's a sort of religion, isn't it, Gilcrist ? "
" So the wise man says-as the ape is a sort of a man."
Three days later the word went round that he who had been looked for was come to Michael, and many went out to meet him. He was a stalwart man, straight and tall, bony and muscular. His dress was poverty's own livery: a grey shapeless sack-coat, reaching below his knees, curranes on his feet of untanned skin with open clocks, and a cap of cloth, half helmet and half hood, drawn closely down over his head. His cheeks were shaven and deeply bronzed. The expression of his face was of a strange commingling of strength and tenderness. His gestures were few, slow, and gentle. His measured step was a rhythmic stride-the stride of a man who has learned in the long endurance of solitude to walk alone in the ways of the world. He spoke little, and scarcely answered the questions which were put to him. " Aw, but I seem to have seen the good man in my drames," said one; and some said "Ay" to that, and some laughed at it.
Within six hours of his coming he had set the whole parish to work. Half of the men he sent up into the mountains to cut gorse and drag it down to the Curraghs in piles of ten feet high, tied about with long sheep lankets of twisted straw. The other half he set to dig trenches in the marshy places. He made the women to kindle a turf fire in every room with a chimney-flue, and when night came he had great fires of gorse, peat, withered vegetation, and dried sea-wrack built on the open spaces about the houses in which the sickness had broken out. He seemed neither to rest nor eat. From sick house to sick house, from trench to trench, and fire to fire, he moved on with his strong step. And behind him at all times, having never a word from him and never a look, but trudging along at his heels like a dog, was the man-lad Davy Fayle.
Many of the affrighted people who had taken refuge in the mountains returned to their homes at his coming; but others, husbands and fathers chiefly, remained on the hills, leaving their wives and families to fend for themselves. Seeing this, he went up and found some of them in their hiding-places, and, shaming them out of their cowardice, brought them back behind him, more docile than sheep behind a shepherd. When the extown-watch, Billy-by-Nite, next appeared on the Curraghs in the round of his prophetic itineration, the strange man said not a word, but he cut short the vehement jeremiad by taking the Quaker prophet by legs and neck, and throwing him headlong into one of the draintroughs newly dug in the dampest places.
But the strength of this silent man was no more conspicuous than his tenderness. When in the frenzy of their fever the sufferers would cast off their clothes, and try to rise from their beds and rush into the cooler air from the heat by which he had surrounded them, his big horny hands would restrain them with a great gentleness.
Before he had been five days in Michael and on the Curraghs the sickness began to abate. The deaths were fewer, and some of the sick rose from their beds. Then the people plied him with many questions, and would have overwhelmed him with their rude gratitude. To their questions be gave few answers, and when they thanked him he turned and left them.
They said that their Bishop, who was grown feeble, the good ould angel, thought it strange that he had not yet visited him. To this he answered briefly that before leaving the parish he would go to Bishop's Court.
They told him that Mistress Mona, daughter of the Dempster that was, had sess to him, had been seeking him high and low. At this his lip trembled, and he bent his head.
"The good man's face plagues me mortal," said old Billy-the-Gawk. " Whiles I know it, and other whiles I don't."
Only another day did the stranger remain in Michael, but the brief time was full of strange events. The night closed in before seven o'clock. It was then very dark across the mountains, and the sea lay black beyond the cliffs, but the Curraghs were dotted over with the many fires which had been kindled about the infected houses.
Within one of these houses, the home of Jabez Gawne, the stranger stood beside the bed of a sick woman, the tailor's wife. Behind him there were anxious faces. Davy Fayle, always near him, leaned against the door-jamb by the porch.
And while the stranger wrapped the sweltering sufferer in hot blankets, other sufferers sent to him to pray oo him to come to them. First there came an old man to tell of his grandchild, who had been smitten down that day, and she was the last of his kin whom the Sweat had left alive. Then a woman, to say that her husband, who had started again with the boats but yesterday, bad been brought home to her that nig.:t with the sickness. He listened to all who came, and answered quietly, "I will go."
At length a young man ran in and said, " The Dempster's down. He's shouting for you, sir. He sent me hot-foot to fetch you.''
The stranger listened as before, and seemed to think rapidly for a moment, for his under lip trembled, and was drawn painfully inward. Then he answered as briefly as ever, and with as calm a voice, "I will go."
The man ran back with his answer, but presently returned, saying, with panting breath, "He's rambling, sir; raving mad, sir; and shouting that he must be coming after you if you're not for coming to him."
"We will go together," the stranger said, and they went out immediately. Davy Fayle followed them at a few paces.
Through the darkness of that night a woman, young and beautiful, in cloak and hood like a nun's, walked from house to house of the Curraghs, where the fires showed that the sickness was still raging. It was Mona. These three days past she had gone hither and thither, partly to tend the sick people, partly in hope of meeting the strange man who had come to cure them. Again and again she had missed him, being sometimes only a few minutes before or after him.
Still she passed on from house to house, looking for him as she went in at every fresh door, yet half dreading the chance that might bring them face to face.
She entered the house where he had received her father's message almost on the instant when he left it. The three men had gone by her in the darkness.
Jabez, the tailor, who sat whimpering in the ingle, told her that the priest had that moment gone off to Ballamona, where the Dempster that was-hadn't she heard the newses Y-was new down with the Sweat.
Her delicate face whitened at that, and after a pause she turned to follow. But going back to the hearth, she asked if the stranger had been told that the Bishop wanted to see him. Jabez told her yes, and that he had said he would go up to Bishop's Court before leaving the parish.
Then another question trembled on her tongue, but she could not utter it. At last she asked what manner of man the stranger was to look upon.
"Aw, big and sthraight and tall," said Jabez.
And Billy-the-Gawk, who sat at the opposite side of the ingle, being kin to Jabez's sick wife, said, "Ay, and quiet like, and solemn extraordinary."
"A wonderful man, wonderful, wonderful," said Jabez, still whimpering. "And wherever he comes the Sweat goes down before him with a flood."
"As I say," said Billy-the-Gawk, "the good man's face plagues me mortal. I can't bethink me where I've seen the like of it afore."
Mona's lips quivered at that word, and she seemed to be about to speak; but she said nothing.
And the strong he is ! " said Jabez : " I never knew but one man in the island with half the strength of arm at him."
Mona's pale face twitched visibly, and she listened as with every faculty.
" Who d'ye mane? " asked Billy-the-Gawk. At that question there was a moment's silence between the men. Then each drew a long breath, dislodged a heavy burden from his throat, glanced significantly up at Mona, and looked into the other's face.
"Him," said Jabez, in a faint under-breath, speaking behind his hand.
as Him? eo
Billy - the - Gawk straightened his crooked back, opened wide his rheumy eyes, pursed up his wizened cheeks, and emitted a low, long whistle.
"Lord A'mighty !"
For an instant Jabez looked steadily into the old mendicant's face, and then drew himself up in his seat
" Lord a-massy !"
Mona's heart leapt to her mouth. She was almost beside herself with suspense, and felt an impulse to scream.
Within a week after old Thorkell had conversed with the Bishop about the rumour that the wells had been charmed, his terror of the sickness had grown nigh to madness. He went to church no longer, but shut himself up in his house. Night and day his restless footstep could be heard to pass from room to room and floor to floor. He ate little, and such was his dread of the water from his well that for three days together he drank nothing. At length, burning from thirst, he went up the Dhoon Glen and drank at a pool, going down on hands and knees to lap the water like a dog. Always he seemed to be mumbling prayers, and When the bell of the church rang, no matter for,what occasion, he dropped to his knees and prayed audibly. He forbade the servants of the house to bring him news of deaths, but waited and watched and listened at open doors for their conversation among themselves. At night he went to the front windows to look at the fires that were kindled about the infected houses on the Curragbs. He never failed to turn from that sight with bitter words. Such work was but the devil's play: it was making a mock at God, who had sent the sickness to revenge
Himself on the island's guilty people. Thorkell told Jarvis Kerruish as much time after time. Jarvis answered contemptuously, and Thorkell retorted angrily. At length they got to high words, and Jarvis flung away.
One morning Thorkell called for Hommybeg. They told him that Hommy had been nursing his wife. The blind woman was now dead, and Hommy was burying her. At this Thorkell's terror was appalling to look upon. All night long he had been telling himself that he despised the belief in second sight, but that he would see if Kerry pretended to know whether he himself was to outlive the scourge. No matter, the woman was dead. So much the better!
Later the same day Thorkell remembered that somewhere on the mountains there lived an old farmer who was a seer and bard. He would go to see the old charlatan. Yes, he would amuse himself - with the superstition that aped religion. Thorkell set out, and found the bard's lonely house far up above the Sherragh Vane. In a corner of the big fireplace the old man sat, with a black shawl bound about his head and tied under his chin. He was past eighty years of age, and his face was as old a face as Thorkell had ever looked upon. On his knee a young child was sitting, and two or three small boys were playing about his feet. A brisk middle-aged woman was stirring the peats and settling the kettle on the chimney-hook. She was the old man's wife, and the young brood were the old man's children. Thorkell began to talk of carvals, and said he had come to hear some of them. The old bard's eyes brightened. He had written a carol about the sickness. From the "lath" he took a parchment pan, full of papers that were worn, thumb-marked, and greasy. From one of these papers he began to read, and Thorkell tried to listen. The poem was an account of a dream. The dreamer had dreamt that he had gone into a church. There was a congregation gathered, and a preacher was in the pulpit. But when the preacher prayed the dreamer heard nothing of God. At`length he discovered that it was a congregation of the dead in the region of the damned. They had all died of the Sweat. Every man of them had been warned by wise men and women in this world. The congregation sang a joyless psalm, and when their service was done they began to break up. Then the dreamer recognised some whom he had known in the flesh. Among them was one who had killed his own son, and he was afflicted with a burning thirst. To this unhappy man the dreamer offered a basin of milk-and-water, but the damned soul could not get the basin to his parched lips, struggle as he might to lift it in his stiff arms.
At first Thorkell listened with the restless mind of a man who had come on better business, and then with a feverish interest. The sky had darkened since he entered the house, and while the old bard chanted in his singsong voice, and the children made their clatter around his feet, a storm of heavy rain pelted against the window-pane.
The ballad ended in the grim doggerel of a harrowing appeal to the sinner to shun his evil courses :
" O sinner, see your dangerous state, And think of hell ere 'tis too late;
When worldly cares would drown each thought, Pray call to mind that hell is hot.
Still to increase your godly fears Let this be sounding in your ears, Still bear in mind that hell is hot, Remember and forget it not."
Thus, with a swinging motion of the body, the old bard of the mountain chanted his rude song on the dangers of damnation. Thorkell leapt up from the settle and sputtered out an expression of contempt. What madness was this? If he had his way he would clap all superstitious people into the Castle.
The next morning, when sitting down to breakfast, Thorkell told Jarvis Kerruish that he had three nights running dreamt the same dream, and it was a terrible one. Jarvis laughed in his face, and said he was a foolish old man. Thorkell answered with heat, and they parted on the instant, neither touching food. Towards noon Thorkell imagined he felt feverish, and asked for Jarvis Kerruish ; but Jarvis was at his toilet and would not be disturbed. At five o'clock the same day Thor. kell was sweating from every pore, and crying lustily that he had taken the sickness. Towards seven he ordered the servant-a young man named Juan Caine, who had come to fill Hommy's place-to go in search of the Romish priest, Father Dalby.
When the stranger came, the young man opened the door to him, and whispered that the old master's wits were gone. "He's not been wise these two hours," the young man said, and then led the way to Thorkell's bedroom. He missed the corridor, and the stranger pointed to the proper door.
Thorkell was sitting tip in his bed. His clothes had not been taken off, but his coata blue coat, laced-and also his long yellow vest were unbuttoned. His wig was perched on the top of a high-backed chair, and over his bald head hung a torn piece of red flannel. His long hairy hands, with the prominent blue veins, crawled like a crab over the counterpane. His eyes were open very wide. When he saw the stranger he was for getting out of bed.
"I am not ill," he said; "it's folly to think that I've taken the sickness. I sent for you to tell you something that you should know." Then he called to the young man to bring him water.
"Juan, water!" he cried; "Juan, I say, more water."
He turned to the stranger.
"It's true I'm always athirst, but is that any proof that I have taken the sickness? Juan, be quick-water !"
The young man brought a pewter pot of cold water, and Thorkell clutched at it, but as he was stretching his neck to drink, his hot lips working visibly, and his white tongue protruding, he drew suddenly back. "Is it from the well?" he asked.
The stranger took the pewter out of his hands, unlocking his stiff fingers with his own great bony ones. "Make the water hot," he said to the servant.
Thorkell fell back to his pillow, and the rag of red blanket dropped from his bald crown. Then he lifted himself on one elbow and began again to talk of the sickness. "You have made a mistake," he said. "It is not to be cured. It is God's revenge on the people of this sinful island. Shall I tell you for what offence ? For superstition. Superstition is the ape of religion. It is the reproach of God. Juan ! Juan, I say, help me off with this coat.
And these bedclothes also. Why are there so many ? It's true, sir-Father, is it ?-it's true,
Father, I'm hot, but what of that? Water ! Juan, more water-Glen water, Juan !"
The stranger pushed Thorkell gently back, and covered him closely from the air.
"As I say, it is superstition, sir," said Thorkell again. "I would have it put down by law. It is the curse of this island. What are those twenty-four Keys doing that they don't stamp it out ? And the clergy-what are they wrangling about now, that they don't see to it ? I'll tell you how it is, sir. It is this way. A man does something, and some old woman sneezes. Straightway he thinks himself accursed, and that what is predicted must certainly come about. And it does come about. Why? Because the man himself, with his blundering, doddering fears, brings it about. He brings it about himself-that's how it is ! And then every old woman in the island sneezes again."
Saying this, Thorkell began to laugh, loudly, frantically, atrociously. Jarvis Kerruish had entered while he was running on with his tirade. The stranger did not lift his eyes to Jarvis, but Jarvis looked at him attentively.
When Thorkell had finished his hideous laugh he turned to Jarvis and asked if superstition was not the plague of the island, and if it ought not to be put down by law. Jarvis curled his lips for answer, but this form of contempt was lost on old Thorkell's dim eyes.
"Have we not often agreed that it is so?" said Thorkell.
" And that you," said Jarvis, speaking slowly and bitterly, "are the most superstitious man alive."
" What ? what ? " Thorkell cried.
The stranger lifted his face, and looked steadily into Jarvis's eyes. "You," he said calmly, " have some reason to say so."
Jarvis reddened, turned about, stepped to the door, glanced back at the stranger, and went out of the room.
Thorkell was now moaning on the pillow. " I am all alone," he said, and he fell to a bout of weeping.
The stranger waited until the hysterical fit was over, and then said, "Where is your daughter?"
" Ah ! " said Tborkell, dropping his red eyes. "Send for her."
" I will. Juan, go to Bishop's Court. Juan,
I says run fast and fetch Mistress Mona. Tell her that her father is ill."
As Thorkell gave this order Jarvis Kerruish returned to the room.
"No !" said Jarvis, lifting his hand against the young man.
" No ? " cried Thorkell.
" If this is my house, I will be master in it," said Jarvis.
"Master! your house ! yours !" Thorkell cried; and then he fell to a fiercer bout of hysterical curses. "Bastard, I gave you all! But for me you would be on the roads-ay, the dunghill ! "
"This violence will avail you nothing," said Jarvis, with hard constraint. "Mistress Mona shall not enter this house."
Jarvis placed himself with his back to the door. The stranger stepped up to him, laid one powerful hand on his arm, and drew him aside. "Go for Mistress Mona," he said to the young man. " Knock at the door on your return. I will open it."
The young man obeyed the stranger. Jarvis stood a moment looking blankly into the stranger's face. Then he went out of the room again.
Thorkell was whimpering on the pillow. It is true," he said, with labouring breath, "though I hate superstition and loathe it, I was once its victim-once only. My son Ewan was killed by my brother's son Dan. They loved each other like David and Jonathan, but I told Ewan a lie, and they fought, and Ewan was brought home dead. Yes, I told a lie, but I believed it then. I made myself believe it. I listened to some old wife's balderdash, and thought it true. And Dan was cut off-that is to say, banished, excommunicated; worse, worse. But he's dead now. He was found dead in the snow." Again Thorkell tried to laugh, a poor despairing laugh that was half a cry. "Dead ! They threatened me that he would push me from my place. And he is dead before me ! So much for divination 1 But tell me-you are a priest -tell me if that sin will drag me down to to- But then, remember, I believed it was true-yes, I="
The stranger's face twitched, and his breathing became quick.
"And it was you who led the way to all that followed? " he said in a subdued voice.
" It was; it was-"
The stranger had suddenly reached over the bed and taken Thorkell by the shoulders. At the neat instant he had relinquished his hard grasp, and was standing upright as before, and with as calm a face. And Thorkell went jabbering on
"These three nights I have dreamt a fearful dream. Shall I tell you what it was? Shall I ? I thought Dan, my brother's son, arose out of his grave, and came to my bed side, and peered into my face. Then I thought I shrieked and died; and the first thing I saw in the other world was my own son Ewan, and he peered into my face also, and told me that I was damned eternally. But, tell me,don't you think it was only a dream? Father !
Father ! I say tell me-"
Thorkell was clambering up by hold of the stranger's coat.
The stranger pushed him gently back.
"Lie still ! lie still-you too have suffered much," he said. "Lie quiet-God is merciful." Just then Jarvis Kerruish entered in wild excitement. "Now I know who this man is," he said, pointing to the stranger.
"Father Dalby," said Thorkell. " Pshaw !-it is DAN MYLREA,"
Thorkell lifted himself stiffly on his elbow, and rigidly drew his face closely up to the stranger's face, and peered into the stranger's eyes. Then he took a convulsive hold of the stranger's coat, shrieked, and fell back on to the pillow.
At that moment there was a loud knocking at the door below. The stranger left the room. In the hall a candle was burning. He put it out. Then he opened the door. A woman entered. She was alone. She passed him in the darkness without speaking. He went out of the house and pulled the door after him.
An hour later than this terrible interview, wherein his identity (never hidden by any sorry masquerade) was suddenly revealed. Daniel Mylrea, followed closely at his heels by Davy Fayle, walked amid the fires of the valley to Bishop's Court. He approached the old house by the sea front, and went into its grounds by a gate that opened on a footpath to the library through a clump of elms. Sluggish as was Davy's intellect, he reflected that this was a path that no stranger could know.
The sky of the night had lightened, and here and there a star gleamed through the thinning branches overhead. In a faint breeze the withering leaves of the dying summer rustled slightly. On the meadow before the house a silvery haze of night-dew lay in its silence. Sometimes the croak of a frog came from the glen ; and from the sea beyond (though seemingly from the mountains opposite) there rose into the air the rumble of the waves on the shore.
Daniel Mylrea passed on with a slow, strong step, but a secret pain oppressed him. He was walking on ground that was dear with a thousand memories of happy childhood. He was going back for some brief moments that must be painful and joyful, awful and delicious, to the house which he had looked to see no more. Already he was very near to those who were very dear to him, and to whom he, too-yes, it must be so-to whom he, too, in spite of all, must still be dear. "Father, father," he whispered to himself. " And Mona, my Mona, my love, my love." Only the idle chatter of the sapless leaves answered to the yearning cry of his broken spirit.
He had passed out of the shade of the elms into the open green of the meadow with the stars above it, when another voice came to him. It was the voice of a child singing. Clear and sweet, and with a burden of tenderness such as a child's voice rarely carries, it floated through the quiet air.
Daniel Mylrea passed on until he came by the library window, which was alight with a rosy glow. There he stood for a moment and looked into the room. His father, the Bishop, was seated in the oak chair that was clamped with iron clamps. Older he seemed to be, and with the lines a thought deeper on his massive brow. On a stool at his feet, with one elbow resting on the apron in front of him, a little maiden sat, and she was singing. A fire burned red on the hearth before them. Presently the Bishop rose from his chair and went out of the room, walking feebly, and with drooping head.
Then Daniel Mylrea walked round to the front of the house and knocked. The door was opened by a servant whose face was strange to him. Everything that he saw was strange, and yet everything was familiar. The hall was the same but smaller, and when it echoed to his foot a thrill passed through him.
He asked for the Bishop, and was led like a stranger through his father's house to the door of the library. The little maiden was now alone in the room. She rose from her stool as he entered, and, without the least reserve, stepped up to him and held out her hand. He took her tender little palm in his great fingers, and held it for a moment while he looked into her face. It was a beautiful child-face, soft and fair and oval, with a faint tinge of olive in the pale cheeks, and with yellow hair-almost white in the glow of the red fire-falling in thin tresses over a full, smooth forehead.
He sat and drew her closer to him, still looking steadily into her face. Then in a tremulous voice he asked her what her name was, and the little maiden, who had shown no fear at all, nor any bashfulness, answered that her name was Aileen.
"But they call me Ailee," she added promptly; "everybody calls me Ailee."
" Oh, everybody," she answered, with a true child's emphasis. ' " Your mother?"
She shook her head.
" Your-your-perhaps-your=' She shook her head more vigorously,
"I know what you're going to say, but I've got none," she said.
" Got none? " he repeated.
The little maiden's face took suddenly a wondrous solemnity, and she said, "My father died a long, long, long time ago-when I was only a little baby."
His lips quivered and his eyes fell from her face.
"Such a long, long while ago-you wouldn't think. And auntie says I can't even remember him."
" Auntie? "
But shall I tell you what Kerry said it was that made him die?-shall I?-only I must whisper-and you won't tell auntie, will you ?because auntie doesn't know-shall I tell you?" His quivering lips whitened, and with trembling bands he drew aside the little maiden's head that her innocent eyes might not gaze into his face.
" How old are you, Ailee ven ? " he asked in a brave voice.
" Oh, I'm seven-and auntie, she's seven too; auntie and I are twins."
"And you can sing, can you not? Will you sing for me? "
" What shall I sing? "
"Anything, sweetheart-what you sang a . little while since."
" For grandpa ? " " Grandpa?,"
" Kerry says no, it's uncle, not grandpa. But that's wrong," with a look of outraged honour; "and besides, how should Kerry know? It's not her grandpa, is it? Do you know Kerry?" Then the little face saddened all at once. " Oh, I forgot poor Kerry."
" Poor Kerry? "
"I used to go and see her. You go up the road, and then on and on and on until you come to some children, and then on and on and on until you get to a little boy-and then you're there."
"Won't you sing, sweetheart?"
"I'll sing grandpa's song." " Grandpa's? "
"Yes, the one he likes."
Then the little maiden's dimpled face smoothened out, and her simple eyes turned gravely upwards as she began to sing :
" O Myle Charaine, where got you your gold? Lone, lone, you have left me here.
O not in the Curragh, deep under the mould, Lone, lone, and void of cheer.'
It was the favourite song of his own boyish days; and while the little maiden :sang, it seemed to the crime-stained man who gazed through a dim haze into her cherub face that the voice of her dead father had gone into her voice. He listened while he could, and when the tears welled up to his eyes, with his horny hands he drew her fair head down to his heaving breast, and sobbed beneath his breath, " Ailee ven, Ailee ven."
The little maiden stopped in her song to look up in bewilderment at the bony, wet face that was stooping over her.
At that moment the door of the room opened, and the Bishop entered noiselessly. A moment he stood on the threshold, with a look of perplexity. Then he made a few halting steps, and said
"My eyes are not what they were, sir, and I see there is no light but the firelight ; but I presume you are the good Father Dalby ? "
Daniel Mylrea had risen to his feet. " I come from him," he answered. " Is he not coming himself ? "
"He cannot come. He charged me with a message to you."
"You are very welcome. My niece will be home presently. Be seated, sir."
Daniel Mylrea did not sit, but continued to stand before his father, with head held down. After a moment he spoke again.
"Father Dalby," he said, "is dead."
The Bishop sank to his chair. "When? when ? "
"He died the better part of a month ago." The Bishop rose to his feet.
"He was in this island but yesterday."
"He bade me tell you that he had fulfilled his pledge to you and come to the island, but died by the visitation of God the same night whereon he landed here."
The Bishop put one hand to his forehead. "Sir," he said, "my hearing is also failing me, for, as you see, I am an old man now, and besides I have had trouble in my time. Perhaps, sir, I did not hear you aright."
Then Daniel Mylrea told in few words the story of the priest's accident and death, and bow the man at whose house he died had made bold to take the good priest's mission upon himself.
The Bishop listened with visible pain, and for a while said nothing. Then, speaking in a faltering voice, with breath that came quickly, he asked who the other man had been. "For the good man has been a blessing to us," he added nervously.
To this question there was no reply, and be asked again, " Who?"
The Bishop lifted with trembling fingers his horn-bridged spectacles to his eyes.
"Your voice is strangely familiar," he said. " What is your name ? "
Again there was no answer.
" Give me your name, sir-that I may pray of God to bless you."
Still there was no answer.
" Let me remember it in my prayers."
Then in a breaking voice Daniel Mylrea replied, " In your prayers my poor name has never been forgotten."
At that the Bishop tottered a pace backward.
"Light," he said faintly. "More light."
He touched a bell on the table, and sank quietly into his chair. Daniel Mylrea fell to his knees at the Bishop's feet.
" Father," he said in a fervent whisper, and put his lips to the Bishop's hand.
The door was opened, and a servant entered with candles. At the same moment Daniel Mylrea stepped quickly out of the room.
Then the little maiden leaped from the floor to the Bishop's side.
" Grandpa, grandpa ! Oh, what has happened to grandpa?" she cried.
The Bishop's head had dropped into his breast and he had fainted. When he opened his eyes in consciousness Mona was bathing his forehead and damping his lips.
"My child," he said nervously, "one has come back to us from the dead."
And Mona answered him with the thought that was now uppermost in her mind.
"Dear uncle," she said, "my poor father died half-an-hour ago."