[from 'The Manxman' 1894]
OLD Deemster Christian of Ballawhaine was a hard man-hard on the outside, at all events. They called him Iron Christian, and people said, " Don't turn that iron hand against you." Yet his character was stamped with nobleness as well as strength. He was not a man of icy nature, but he loved to gather icicles about him. There was fire enough underneath, at which he warmed his old heart when alone, but he liked the air to be congealed about his face. He was a man of a closed soul. One had to wrench open the dark chamber where he kept his feelings; but the man who had done that had uncovered his nakedness, and he cut him off for ever. That was how it happened with his son, the father of Philip.
He had two sons; the elder was an impetuous creature, a fiery spirit, one of the masterful souls who want the restraint of the curb if they are not to hurry headlong into the abyss. Old Deemster Christian had called this boy Thomas Wilson, after the serene saint who had once been Bishop of Man. He was intended, however, for the law, not for the Church. The office of Deemster never has been and never can be hereditary; yet the Christians of Ballawhaine had been Deemsters through six generations, and old Iron Christian expected that Thomas Wilson Christian would succeed him. But there was enough uncertainty about the succession to make merit of more value than precedent in the selection, and so the old man - had brought up his son to the English bar, and afterwards called him to practise in the Manx one. The young fellow had not altogether rewarded his father's endeavours. During his residence in England, he had acquired certain modern doctrines which were highly obnoxious to the old Deemster. New views on property, new ideas about woman and marriage, new theories concerning religion (always re-christened superstition), the usual barnacles of young vessels fresh from unknown waters; but the old man was no shipwright in harbour who has learnt the art of removing them without injury to the hull. The Deemster knew these notions when he met with them in the English newspapers. There was something awesome in their effect on his stay-at-home imagination, as of vices confusing and difficult to true men that walk steadily; but, above all, very far off, over the mountains and across the sea, like distant cities of Sodom, only waiting for Sodom's doom. And yet, lo ! here they were in a twinkling, shunted and shot into his own house and his own stackyard.
" I suppose now," he said, with a knowing look, " you think Jack as good as his master?"
"No, sir," said his son gravely; " generally much better."
Iron Christian altered his will. To his elder son he left only a life-interest in Ballawhaine. " That boy will be doing something," he said, and thus he guarded against consequences. He could not help it; he was ashamed, but he could not conquer his shame-the fiery old man began to nurse a grievance against his son.
The two sons of the Deemster were like the inside and outside of a bowl, and that bowl was the Deemster himself. If Thomas Wilson the elder had his father's inside fire and softness, Peter, the younger, had his father's outside ice and iron. Peter was little and almost misshapen, with a pair of shoulders that seemed to be trying to meet over a hollow chest and limbs that splayed away into vacancy. And if Nature had been grudging with him, his father was not more kind. He bad been brought up to no profession, and his expectations were limited to a yearly charge out of his brother's property. His talk was bitter, his voice cold, he laughed little, and had never been known to cry. He had many things against him.
Besides these sons, Deemster Christian had a girl in his household, but to his own consciousness the fact was only a kind of per-adventure. She was his niece, the child of his only brother, who had died in early manhood. Her name was Ann Charlotte de la Tremouille, called after the lady of Rushen, for the family of Christian had their share of the heroic that is in all men. She had fine eyes, a weak mouth, and great timidity. Gentle airs floated always about her, and a sort of nervous brightness twinkled over her, as of a glen with the sun flickering through. Her mother died when she was a child of twelve, and in the house of her uncle and her cousins she had been brought up among men and boys.
One day Peter drew the Deemster aside and told him (with expressions of shame, interlarded with praises of his own acuteness) a story of his brother. It was about a girl. Her name was Mona Crellin ; she lived on the hill at Ballure House, half a mile south of Ramsey, and was daughter of a man called Billy Ballure, a retired. sea-captain, and hail-fellow-well-met with all the jovial spirits of the town.
There was much noise and outcry, and old Iron sent for his son. " What's this I hear ? " he cried, looking him down. " A woman ? So that's what your fine learning comes to, eh? Take care, sir ! take care ! No son of mine shall disgrace himself. The day he does that he will be put to the door."
Thomas held himself in with a great effort.
"Disgrace?" he said. "What disgrace, sir, if you please?"
" What disgrace, sir?" repeated the Deemster, mocking his son in a mincing treble. Then he roared, " Behaving dishonourably to a poor girl-that's what's disgrace, sir! Isn't it enough ? eh ? eh,? "
" More than enough," said the young man. " But who is doing it? I'm not."
" Then you're doing worse. Id I say worse? Of course I said worse. Worse, sir, worse ! Do you hear me ? Worse ! You are
trapsing around Ballure, and letting that poor girl take notions.
I'll have no more of it. Is this what I sent you to England for?
Aren't you ashamed of yourself ? Keep your place, sir; keep your place. A poor girl's a poor girl, and a Deemster's a Deemster."
" Yes, sir," said Thomas, suddenly firing up, " and a man's a man. As for the shame, I need be ashamed of nothing that is not shame- ful; and the best proof I can give you that I mean no dishonour by the girl is that I intend to marry her."
"What? You intend to-what? Did I hear-"
The old Deemster turned his good ear towards his son's face, and the young man repeated his threat. Never fear ! No poor girl should be misled by him. He was above all foolish conventions.
Old Iron Christian was. dumbfounded. He gasped, be stared, he stammered, and then fell on his son with hot reproaches.
"What? Your wife? Wife? That trollop!-that minx! that -and daughter of that sot, too, that old rip, that rowdy blather-skite-that And my own son is to lift his hand to cut his throat! Yes, sir, cut his throat ! And I am to stand by ! No, no! I say no, sir, no ! "
The young man made some further protest, but it was lost in his father's clamour:
"You will, though ? You will ? Then your hat is your house, sir. Take to it-take to it! "
" No need to tell me twice, father."
" Away then-away to your woman-your jade I God, keep my hands off him ! "
The old man lifted his clenched fist, but his son had flung out of the room. It was not the Deemster only who feared he might lay hands on his own flesh and blood.
"Stop! come back, you dog ! Listen ! I've not done yet. Stop! you hotheaded rascal, stop! Can't you hear a man out then? Come back! Thomas Wilson, come back, sir. Thomas ! Thomas! Tom! Where is he ? Where's the boy ? "
Old Iron Christian had made after his son bareheaded down to the road, shouting his name in a broken roar, but the young man was gone. Then he went back slowly, his grey hair playing in the wind. He was all iron outside, but all father within.
That day the Deemster altered his will a second time, and his elder son was disinherited.
Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received
HTML Transcription © F.Coakley , 2008