Hearing himself talked of, the dog had come from under the table. The child gurgled down at it, then made purring noises at its own feet, and wriggled in Nancy's lap.
"Dear heart alive, if it's not like nursing an eel," said Nancy. "Be quiet, will you?" and the little one was shaken back to her seat.
"Aisy all, woman," said Pete. "She's just wanting her lil shoes and stockings off, that's it." Then talking to the child. "Um—am-im—lum—la—loo? Just so! I don't know what that means myself, but she does, you see. Aw, the child is taiching me heaps, sir. Listening to the lil one I'm remembering things. Well, we're only big children, the best of us. That's the way the world's keeping young, and God help it when we're getting so clever there's no child left in us at all."
"Time for young women to be in bed, though," said Nancy, getting up to give the baby her bath.
"Let me have a hould of the rogue first," said Pete, and as Nancy took the child out of the room, he dragged at it and smothered its open mouth with kisses.
"Poor sport for you, sir, watching a foolish ould father playing games with his lil one," said Pete.
Philip's answer was broken and confused. His eyes had begun to fill, and to hide them he turned his head aside. Thinking he was looking at the empty places about the walls, Pete began to enlarge on his prosperity, and to talk as if he were driving all the trade of the island before him.
"Wonderful fishing now, Phil. I'm exporting a power of cod. Gretting postal orders and stamps, and I don't know what. Seven-and-sixpence in a single post from Liverpool—that's nothing, sir, nothing at all."
Nancy brought back the child, whose silvery curls were now damp.
"What! a young lady coming in her night-dress!" cried Pete.
"Work enough! had to get it over her head, too," said Nancy. "She wouldn't, no, she wouldn't. Here, take and dry her hair by the fire while I warm up her supper."
Pete rolled the sleeves of his jersey above his elbows, took the child on his knee, and rubbed her hair between his hands, singing—
"Come, Bridget, Saint Bridget, come in at my door."
Nancy clattered about in her clogs, filled a saucepan with bread and milk, and brought it to the fire.
"Give it to me, Nancy," said Philip, and he leaned over and held the saucepan above the bar. The child watched him intently.
"Well, did you ever?" said Pete. "The strange she's making of you, Philip? Don't you know the gentleman, darling? Aw, but he's knowing you, though."
The saucepan boiled, and Philip handed it back to Nancy.
"Go to him then—away with you," said Pete. "Gro to your godfather. He'd have been your name-father too if it had been a boy you'd been. Off you go!" and he stretched out his hairy arms until the child touched the floor.
Philip stooped to take the little one, who first pranced and beat the rushes with its feet as with two drumsticks, then trod on its own legs, swirled about to Pete's arms, dropped its lower lip, and set up a terrified outcry.
"Ah! she knows her own father, bless her," cried Pete, plucking the child back to his breast.
Philip dropped his head and laughed. A sort of creeping fear had taken possession of him, as if he felt remotely that the child was to be the channel of his retribution.
"Will you feed her yourself, Pete?" said Nancy. She was coming up with a saucer, of which she was tasting the contents. "He's that handy with a child, sir, you wouldn't think 'Deed you wouldn't." Then, stooping to the baby as it ate its supper, "But I'm saying, young woman, is there no sleep in your eyes to-night?"
"No, but nodding away here like a wood-thrush in a tree," said Pete. He was ladling the pobs into the child's mouth, and scooping the overflow from her chin. "Sleep's a terrible enemy of this one, sir. She's having a battle with it every night of life, anyway. God help her, she'll have luck better than some of us, or she'll be fighting it the other way about one of these days."
"She's us'ally going off with the spoon in her mouth, sir, for all the world like a lil cherub," said Nancy.
"Too busy looking at her godfather to-night, though," said Pete. "Well, look at him. You owe him your life, you lil sandpiper. And, my sakes, the straight like him you are, too!"
"Isn't she?" said Nancy. "If I wasn't thinking the same myself! Couldn't look straighter like him if she'd been his born child; now, could she? And the curls, too, and the eyes! Well, well!"
"If she'd been a boy, now——" began Pete.
But Philip had risen to return to the Court-house, and Pete said in another tone, "Hould hard a minute, sir—I've something to show you. Here, take the lil one, Nancy."
Pete lit a candle and led the way into the parlour. The room was empty of furniture; but at one end there was a stool, a stone mason's mallet, a few chisels, and a large stone.
The stone was a gravestone.
Pete approached it solemnly, held up the candle in front of it, and said in a low voice, "It's for her. I've been doing it myself, sir, and it's lasted me all winter, dark nights and bad days. I'll be finishing it to-night, though, God willing, and to-morrow, maybe, I'll be taking it to Douglas."
"Is it——" began Philip, but he could not finish.
The stone was a plain slab, rounded at the top, bevelled about the edge, smoothed on the face, and chiselled over the back; but there was no sign or symbol on it, and no lettering or inscription.
"Is there to be no name?" asked Philip at last.
"No," said Pete.
"Tell you the truth, sir, I've been reading what it's saying in the ould Book about the Recording Angel calling the dead out of their graves."
"And I've been thinking the way he'll be doing it will be going to the graveyards and seeing the names on the gravestones, and calling them out loud to rise up to judgment; some, as it's saying, to life eternal, and some to everlasting punishment."
"Well, sir, I've been thinking if he comes to this one and sees no name on it"—Pete's voice sank to a whisper—"maybe he'll pass it by and let the poor sinner sleep on."
Stumbling back to the Court-house through the dark lane Philip thought, "It was a lie then, but it's true now. It must be true. She must be dead." There was a sort of relief in this certainty. It was an end, at all events; a pitiful end, a cowardly end, a kind of sneaking out of Fate's fingers; it was not what he had looked for and intended, but he struggled to reconcile himself to it.
Then he remembered the child and thought, "Why should I disturb it? Why should I disturb Pete? I will watch over it all its life. I will protect it and find a way to provide for it. I will do my duty by it. The child shall never want."
He was offering the key to the lock of the prisoners' yard when some one passed him in the lane, peered into his face, then turned about and spoke.
"Oh, it's you, Deemster Christian?"
"Yes, doctor. Good-night!"
"Have you heard the news from Ballawhaine? The old gentleman had another stroke this morning."
"No, I had not heard it. Another? Dear me, dear me!"
Back in his room, Philip resumed his wig and gown and returned to the Court-house. The place was now lit up by candlelight and densely crowded. Everybody rose to his feet as the Deemster stepped to the dais.
"Come, Bridget, Saint Bridget, come in at my door, The crock's on the bink and the rush——"
"She's fast," said Nancy. "Rocking this one to sleep is like waiting for the kettle to boil. You may try and try, and blow and blow, but never a sound. And no sooner have you forgotten all about her, but she's singing away as steady as a top."
Nancy put the child into the cradle, tucked her about, twisted the head of the little nest so that the warmth of the fire should enter it, and hung a shawl over the hood to protect the little eyelids from the light. "Will you keep the house till I'm home from Sulby, Pete?"
"I've my work, woman," said Pete from the parlour.
"I'll put a junk on the fire and be off then," said Nancy.
She pulled the door on to the catch behind her and went crunching the gravel to the gate. There was no sound in the house now but the gentle breathing of the sleeping child, soft as an angel's prayer, the chirruping of the mended fire like a cage of birds, the ticking of the clock, and, through the parlour wall, the dull pat-put, pat-put of the wooden mallet and the scrape of the chisel on the stone.
Pete worked steadily for half an hour, and then came back to the hall-kitchen with his tools in his hands. The cob of coal had kindled to a lively flame, which flashed and went out, and the quick black shadows of the chairs and the table and the jugs on the dresser were leaping about the room like elves. With parted lips, just breaking into a smile, Pete went down on one knee by the cradle, put the mallet under his arm, and gently raised the shawl curtain. "God bless my motherless girl," he said, in a voice no louder than a breath. Suddenly, while he knelt there, he was smitten as by an electric shock. His face straightened and he drew back, still holding the shawl at the tips of his fingers.
The child was sleeping peacefully, with one of its little arms over the counterpane. On its face the flickering light of the fire was coming and going, making lines about the baby eyes and throwing up the baby features. It is in such lights that we are startled by resemblances in a child's face. Pete was startled by a resemblance. He had seen it before, but not as he saw it now.
A moment afterwards he was reaching across the cradle again, his arms spread over it, and his face close down at the child's face, scanning every line of it as one scans a map. "'Deed, but she is, though," he murmured. "She's like him enough, anyway."
An awful idea had taken possession of his mind. He rose stiffly to his feet, and the shawl flapped back. The room seemed to be darkening round him. He broke the coal, though it was burning brightly, stepped to the other side of the cradle, and looked at the child again. It was the same from there. The resemblance was ghostly.
He felt something growing hard inside of him, and he returned to his work in the parlour. But the chisel slipped, the mallet fell too heavily, and he stopped. His mind fluctuated among distant things. He could not help thinking of Port Mooar, of the Carasdhoo men, of the day when he and Philip were brought home in the early, morning.
Putting his tools down, he returned to the room. He was holding his breath and walking softly, as if in the presence of an invisible thing. The room was perfectly quiet—he could hear the breath in his nostrils. In a state of stupor he stood for some time with bis back to the fire and watched his shadow on the opposite wall and on the ceiling. The cradle was at his feet. He could not keep his eyes off it. From time to time he looked down across one of his shoulders.
With head thrown back and lips apart, the child was breathing calmly and sleeping the innocent sleep. This angel innocence reproached him.
"My heart must be going bad," he muttered. "Your bad thoughts are blackening the dead. For shame, Pete Quilliam, for shame!"
He was feeling like a man who is in a storm of thunder and lightning at night. Familiar things about him looked strange and awful.
Stooping to the cradle again, he turned back the shawl on to the cradle-head as a girl turns back the shade of her sun-bonnet Then the firelight was full on the child's face, and it moved in its sleep. It moved yet more under his steadfast gaze, and cried a little, as if the terrible thought that was in his mind had penetrated to its own.
He was stooping so when the door was opened and Caesar entered violently, making asthmatic noises in his throat. Pete looked up at him with a stupefied air. "Peter," he said, "will you sell that mortgage?"
Pete answered with a growl.
"Will you transfer it to me?" said Caesar.
"The time's not come," said Pete.
"The time foretold by the prophet, when the lion can lie down with the lamb."
Pete laughed bitterly. Caesar was quivering, his mouth was twitching, and his eyes were wild. "Will you come over to the 'Mitre,' then?"
"What for to the 'Mitre'?"
"Ross Christian is there."
Pete made an impatient gesture. "That stormy petrel again! He's always about when there's bad weather going."
"Will you come and hear what the man's saying?"
"What's he saying?"
"Will you hear for yourself?"
Pete looked hard at Caesar, looked again, then caught up his cap and went out at the door.
With two of his cronies the man had spent the day in a room overlooking the harbour, drinking hard and playing billiards. Early in the afternoon a messenger had come from Ballawhaine, saying, "Your father is ill—come home immediately." "By-and-bye," he had said, and gone on with the game.
Later in the afternoon the messenger had come again, saying, "Your father has had a stroke of paralysis, and he is calling for you." "Let me finish the break first," he had replied.
In the evening the messenger had come a third time, saying, "Your father is unconscious." "Where's the hurry, then?" he had answered, and he sang a stave of the "Miller's Daughter"—
"They married me against my will, When I was daughter at the mill."
Finally, Caesar, who had been remonstrating with the Ballawhaine at the moment of his attack, came to remonstrate with Ross, and to pay off a score of his own as well.
"Honour thy father and thy mother, that thy days——" cried Caesar, with uplifted arm and the high pitch of the preacher. "But your days will not be long, anyway, and, if you are the death of that foolish ould man, it won't be the first death you're answerable for."
"So you believe it, too?" said Ross, cue in hand. "You believe your daughter is dead, do you, old Jephthah Jeremiah? Would you be surprised to hear, now——" (the cronies giggled) "that she isn't dead at all?——Good shotr-cannon off the cushion. Halloa! Jephthah Jeremiah has seen a ghost seemingly. Saw her myself, man, when I was up in town a month ago. Want to know where she is? Shall I tell you? Oh, you're a beauty! You're a pattern! You know how to train up a child in the way——Pocket off the red——It's you to preach at my father, isn't it? She's on the streets of London—ah, Jeremiah's gone——
'They married me against my will '—
There you are, then—good shot—love—twenty-five and nothing left."
Pete pushed through to the billiard-room. Fearing there might be violence, hoping there would be, yet thinking it scarcely proper to lend the scene of it the light of his countenance, Caesar had stayed outside.
"Halloa! here's Uriah!" cried Ross. "Talk of the devil—just thought as much. Ever read the story of David and Uriah? Should, though. Do you good, mister. David was a great man. Aw" (with a mock imitation of Pete's Manx), "a ter'ble, wonderful, shocking great man. Uriah was his henchman. Ter'ble clavar, too, but that green for all, the ould cow might have ate him. And Uriah had a nice lil wife. The nice now, you wouldn't think. But when Uriah was away David took her, and then—and then" (dropping the Manx) "it doesn't just run on Bible lines neither, but David told Uriah that his wife was dead—ha! ha! ha!——
'Who saw her diet I said the fly, I saw her——'
Stop that—let go—help——You'll choke me—help! help!"
At two strides Pete had come face to face with Ross, put one of his hands at the man's throat and his leg behind him, doubled him back on his knee, and was holding him there in a grip like that of a vice.
"Help!—help!—oo—ugh!" The fellow gasped, and his face grew dark.
"You're not worth it," said Pete. "I meant to choke the life out of your dirty body for lying about the living and blackening the dead, but you're not worth hanging for. You've got the same blood in you, too, and I'm ashamed for you. There! get up."
With a gesture of indescribable loathing, Pete flung the man to the ground, and he fell over his cue and broke it.
The people of the house came thronging into the room, and met Pete going out of it. His face was hard and ugly. At first sight they mistook him for Ross, so disfigured was he by bad passions.
Caesar was tramping the pavement outside. "Will you let me do it now?" he said in a hot whisper.
"Do as you like," said Pete savagely.
"The wicked is snared in the work of his own hand. Higgaion. Selah," said Caesar, and they parted by the entrance to the Court-house.
Pete went home, muttering to himself, "The man was lying—she's dead, she's dead!"
At the gate of Elm Cottage the dog came up to him, barking with glee. Then it darted back to the house door, which stood open. "Some one has come," thought Pete. "She's dead. The man lied. She's dead," he muttered, and he stumbled down the path.
While the Deemster was stepping up to the dais, and the people in the court were rising to receive him, a poor bedraggled wayfarer was toiling through the country towards the town. It was a woman. She must have walked far, her step was so slow and so heavy. From time to time she rested, not sitting, but standing by the gates of the fields as she came to them, and holding by the topmost bar.
When she emerged from the dark lanes into the lamplit streets her pace quickened for a moment; then it slackened, and then it quickened again. She walked close to the houses, as if trying to escape observation. Where there was a short cut through an ill-lighted thoroughfare, she took it. Any one following her would have seen that she was familiar with every corner of the town.
It would be hard to imagine a woman of more miserable appearance. Not that her clothes were so mean, though they were poor and worn, but that an air of humiliation sat upon her, such as a dog has when it is lost and the children are chasing it. Her dress was that of an old woman—the long Manx cloak of blue homespun, fastened by a great hook close under the chin, and having a hood which is drawn over the head. But in spite of this old-fashioned garment, and the uncertainty of her step, she gave the impression of a young woman. Where the white frill of the old countrywoman's cap should have shown itself under the flange of the hood, there was a veil, which seemed to be suspended from a hat.
The oddity and incongruity of her attire attracted attention. Women came out of their houses and crossed to the doors of neighbours to look after her. Even the boys playing at the corners looked up as she went by.
She was not greatly observed for all that. An unusual interest agitated the town. A wave of commotion flowed down the streets. The traffic went in one direction. That direction was the Court-house.
The Court-house square was thronged on three of its sides by people who were gathered both on the pavement and on the green inside the railings. Its fourth side was the dark lane at the back going by the door to the prisoners' yard and the Deemster's entrance. The windows were lit up and partly open. Some of the people had edged to the walls as if to listen, and a few had clambered to the sills as if to see. Around the wide doorway there was a close crowd that seemed to cling to it like a burr.
The woman had reached the first angle of the square when the upper half of the Court-house door broke into light over the heads of the crowd. A man had come out. He surged through the crowd and "came down to the gate with a tail of people trailing after him and asking questions.
"Wonderful!" he was saying. "The Dempster's spaking. Aw, a Daniel come to judgment, sir. Pity for Tom, though—the man'll get time. I'm sorry for an ould friend—but the Lord's will be done! Let not the ties of affection be a snare to our feet—it'll be five years if it's a day, and (D.V.) he'll never live to see the end of it."
It was Caesar. He crossed the street to the "Mitre." The woman trembled and turned towards the lane at the back. She walked quicker than ever now. But, stumbling over the irregular cobbles of the paved way, she stopped suddenly at the sound of a voice. By this time she was at the door to the prisoners' yard, and it was standing open. The door of the corridor leading by the Deemster's chamber to the Court-house was also ajar, as if it had been opened to relieve the heat of the crowded room within.
"Be just and fear not," said the voice. "Remember, whatever unconscious misrepresentations have been made this day, whatever deliberate false-swearing (and God and the consciences of the guilty ones know well there have been both), truth is mighty, and in the end it will prevail."
The poor bedraggled wayfarer stood in the darkness and trembled. Her hands clutched at the breast of the cloak, her head dropped into her breast, and a half-smothered moan escaped from her. She knew the voice; it had once been very sweet and dear to her; she had heard it at her ear in tones of love. It was the voice of the Deemster. He was speaking from the judge's seat; the people were hanging on his lips.
And he was standing in the shadow of the dark lane under the prisoners' wall.
The woman was Kate. It was true that she had been to London; it was false that she had lived a life of shame there. In six months she had descended to the depths of poverty and privations. One day she had encountered Ross. He was fresh from the Isle of Man, and he told her of the child's illness. The same night she turned her face towards home. It was three weeks since she had returned to the island, and she was then low in health, in heart, and in pocket. The snow was falling. It was a bitter night. Growing dizzy with the drifting whiteness and numb with the piercing cold, she had crept up to a lonely house and asked shelter until the storm should cease.
The house was the home of three old people, two old brothers and an old sister, who had always lived together. In this household Kate had spent three weeks of sickness, and the Manx cloak on her back was a parting gift which the old woman had hung over her thinly-clad shoulders.
Back in the roads Kate had time to tell herself how foolish was her journey. She was like a sailor who has alarming news of home in some foreign port and hears nothing afterwards until he comes to harbour. A month had passed. So many things might have happened. The child might be better; it might be dead and buried. Nevertheless she pushed on.
When she left London she had been full of bitterness towards Philip. It was his fault that she had ever been parted from her baby. She would go back. If she brought shame upon him, let him bear it. On coming near to home this feeling of vengeance died. Nothing was left but a great longing to be with her little one and a sense of her own degradation. Every face she recognised seemed to remind her of the change that had been wrought in herself since she had looked on it last. She dare not ask; she dare not speak; she dare not reveal herself.
While she stood in the shadow of the prisoners' yard listening to Philip's voice, and held by it as by a spell, there was a low hiss and then a sort of white silence, as when a rocket breaks in the air. The Deemster had finished; the people in the court were breathing audibly and moving in their seats.
A minute later she was standing by her old home, hers no longer, and haunted in her mind by many bitter memories. It was dark and cheerless. A candle had been burning in the parlour, but it was now spluttering in the fat at the socket. As she looked into the room, it blinked and went out.
During the last mile of her journey she had made up her mind what she would do. She would creep up to the house and listen for the sound of a child's voice. If she heard it, and the voice was that of a child that was well, she would be content, she would go away. And if she did not hear it, if the child was gone, if there was no longer any child there, if it was in heaven, she would go away just the same—only God knew how, God knew where.
The road was quiet. With trembling fingers she raised the latch of the gate, and stepped two paces into the garden. There was no sound from within. She took two steps more and listened intently. Nothing was audible. Her heart fell yet lower. She told herself that when a child lived in a house the very air breathed of its presence, and its little voice was everywhere. Then she remembered that it was late, that it was night, that even if the child were well it would now be bathed and in bed. "How foolish!" she thought, and she took a few steps more.
She had meant to reach the hall window and look in, butt before she could do so, something came scudding along the path in her direction. It was the dog, and he was barking furiously. All at once he stopped and began to caper about her. Then he broke into barking again, this time with a note of recognition and delight, shot into the house and came back, still barking, and making a circle of joyful salutation in the darkness round her.
Quaking with fear of instant discovery, she crept under the old tree and waited. Nobody came from the house. "There's no one at home," she told herself, and at that thought the certainty that the child was gone fell on her as an oppression of distress.
Nevertheless she stepped up to the porch and listened again. There was no sound within except the ticking of the clock. Making a call on her courage, she pushed the door open with the tips of her fingers. It made a rustle as the bottom brushed over the rushes. At that she uttered a faint cry and crept back trembling. But all was silence again in an instant. The fire gave out a strong red glow which spread over the walls and the ceiling. Her mind took in the impression that the place was almost empty, but she had no time for such observations. With slow and stiff motions she slid into the house.
Then she heard a sleepy whimper and it thrilled her. In an instant she had seen the thing she looked for—the cradle, with its hood towards the door and its foot to the fire. At the next moment she was on her knees beside it, doubled over it and crying softly to the baby, looking so different, smelling of milk and of sleep, "My darling! my darling!"
That was the moment when Pete was coming up the path. The dog was frisking and barking about him. "She's dead," he was saying. "The man lied. She's dead." With that word on his lips he heaved heavily into the house. As he did so he became aware that some one was there already. Before his eye had carried the news to his brain, his ear had told him. He heard a voice which he knew well, though it seemed to be a memory of no waking moment, but to come out of the darkness and the hours of sleep. It was a soft and mellow voice, saying, "My beautiful darling! My beautiful, rosy darling I My darling! My darling!"
He saw a woman kneeling by the cradle, with both arms buried in it as though they encircled the sleeping child. Her hood was thrown back, and her head was bare. The firelight fell on her face, and he knew it. He passed his hand across his eyes as if trying to wipe out the apparition, but it remained. He tried to speak, but his tongue was stiff. He stood motionless and stared. He could not remove his eyes.
Kate heard the door thrown open, and she lifted her head in terror. Pete was before her, with a violent expression on his face. The expression changed, and he looked at her as if she had been a spirit. Then, in a voice of awe, he said, "Who art thou?"
"Don't you know me?" she answered timidly.
It seemed as if he did not hear. "Then it's true," he muttered to himself; "the man did not lie."
She felt her knees trembling under her. "I haven't come to stay," she faltered. "They told me the child was ill, and I couldn't help coming."
Still he did not speak to her. As he looked, his face grew awful. The dew of fear broke out on her forehead.
"Don't you know me, Pete?" she said in a helpless way.
Still he stood looking down at her, fixedly, almost threateningly.
"I am Katherine," she said, with a downcast look.
"Katherine is dead," he answered vacantly.
"She is in her grave," he said again.
"Oh, that she were in her grave indeed!" said Kate, and she covered her face with her hands.
"She is dead and buried, and gone from this house for ever," said Pete.
He did not intend to cast her off; he was only muttering vague words in the first spasm of his pain; but she mistook them for commands to her to go.
There was a moment's silence, and then she uncovered her face and said, "I understand—yes, I will go away. I oughtn't to have come back at all—I know that. But I will go now. I won't trouble you any more. I will never come again."
She kissed the child passionately. It rubbed its little face with the back of its hand, but it did not awake. She pulled the hood on to her head, and drew the veil over her face. Then she lifted herself feebly to her feet, stood a moment looking about her, made a faint pathetic cry and slid out at the door.
When she was gone, Pete, without uttering a word or a sound, stumbled into a chair before the fire, put one hand on the cradle, and fell to rocking it. After some time he looked over his shoulder, like a man who was coming out of unconsciousness, and said, "Eh?"
The soul has room for only one great emotion at once, and he had begun to say to himself, "She's alive! She's here!" The air of the house seemed to be soft with her presence. Hush!
He got on to his feet. "Kate!" he called softly, very softly, as if she were near and had only just crossed the threshold.
"Kate!" he called again more loudly.
Then he went out at the porch and floundered along the path, crying again and again, in a voice of boundless emotion, "Kate! Kate! Kate!"
But Kate did not hear him. He was tugging at the gate to open it, when something seemed to give way inside his head, and a hoarse groan came from his throat.
"She's better dead," he thought, and then reeled back to the house like a drunken man.
The fire looked black, as if it had gone out. He sat down in the darkness, and put his hand into his teeth to keep himself from crying out.
The Deemster in the half-lit Court-house was passing sentence.
"Prisoner," he said, "you have been found guilty by a jury of your countrymen of one of the cruellest of the crimes of imposture. You have deceived the ignorant, betrayed the unwary, lied to the simple, and robbed the poor. You have built your life upon a lie, and in your old age it brings you to confusion. In ruder times than ours your offence would have worn another complexion; it would have been called witchcraft, not imposture, and your doom would have been death. The sentence of the court is that you be committed to the Castle Rushen for the term of one year."
Black Tom, who had stood during the Deemster's sentence with his bald head bent, wiping his eyes on his sleeve and leaving marks on his face, recovered his self-conceit as he was being hustled out of court.
"You're right, Dempster," he cried. "Witchcraft isn't worth nothing now. Religion's the only roguery that's going these days. Your friend Caesar was wise, sir. Bes' re-spec's to him, Dempster, and may you live up to your own tex' yourself, too."
"If my industry and integrity," said a solemn voice at the door—"and what's it saying in Scripture?—'If any provide not for his own house he is worse than an infidel.' But the Lord is my shield. What for should I defend myself? I am a worm and no man, saith the Psalms."
"The Psalms is about right then, Caesar," shouted Black Tom from between two constables.
In the commotion that followed on the prisoner's noisy removal, the Clerk of the Court was heard to speak to the Deemster. There was another case just come in—attempted suicide—woman tried to fling herself into the harbour—been prevented—would his Honour take it now, or let it stand over for the High Bailiff's court.
"We'll take it now," said the Deemster. "We may dismiss her in a moment, poor creature."
The woman was brought in. She was less like a human creature than like a heap of half-drenched clothes. A cloak which looked black with the water that soaked it at the hood covered her body and head. Her face seemed to be black also, for a veil which she wore was wet, and clung to her features like a glove. Some of the people in court recognised her figure even in the uncertain candlelight. She was the woman who had been seen to come into the town during the hour of the court's adjournment.
Half helped, half dragged by constables, she entered the prisoner's dock. There she clutched the bar before her as if to keep herself from falling. Her head was bent down between her shrinking shoulders as if she were going through the agony of shame and degradation.
"The woman shouldn't have been brought here like this—quick, be quick," said the Deemster.
The evidence was brief. One of the constables being on duty in the market-place had heard screams from the quay. On reaching the place, he had found the harbour-master carrying a woman up the quay steps. Mr. Quarry, coming out of the harbour office, had seen a woman go by like the wind. A moment afterwards he had heard a cry, and had run to the second steps. The woman had been caught by a boathook in attempting to get into the water. She was struggling to drown herself.
The Deemster watched the prisoner intently. "Is anything known about her?" he asked.
The clerk answered that she appeared to be a stranger, but she would give no information. Then the sergeant of police stepped up to the dock. In emphatic tones the big little person asked the woman various questions. What was her name? No answer. Where did she come from? No answer. What was she doing in Ramsey? Still no answer.
"Your Honour," said the sergeant, "doubtless this is one of the human wrecks that come drifting to our shores in the summer season. The poorest of them are often unable to get away when the season is over, and so wander over the island, a pest and a burden to every place they set foot in."
Then, turning back to the figure crouching in the dock, he said, "Woman, are you a street-walker?"
The woman gave a piteous cry, let go her hold of the bar, sank back to the seat behind her, brushed up the wet black veil, and covered her face with her hands.
"Sit down this instant, Mr. Gawne," said the Deemster hotly, and there was a murmur of approval from behind. "We must not keep this woman a moment longer."
He rose, leaned across to the rail in front, clasped his hands before him, looked down at the woman in the dock, and said in a low tone, that would have been barely loud enough to reach her ears but for the silence, as of a tomb, in the court, "My poor woman, is there anybody who can answer for you?"
The prisoner stooped her head lower and began to cry.
"When a woman is so unhappy as to try to take her life, it sometimes occurs, only too sadly, that another is partly to blame for the condition that tempts her to the crime."
The Deemster's voice was as soft as a caress.
"If there is such a one in this case, we ought to learn it. He ought to stand by your side. It is only right; it is only just. Is there anybody here who knows you?"
The prisoner was now crying piteously.
"Ah! we mean no harm to any one. It is in the nature of woman, however low she may sink, however deep her misfortunes, to shield her dearest enemy. That is the brave impulse of the weakest among women, and all good men respect it. But the law has its duty, and in this instance it is one of mercy."
The woman moaned audibly.
"Don't be afraid, my poor girl. Nobody shall harm you here. Take courage and look around. Is there anybody in court who can speak for you—who can tell us how you came to the place where you are now standing?"
The woman let fall her hands, raised her head, and looked up at the Deemster, face to face and eye to eye.
"Yes," she said, "there is one."
The Deemster's countenance became pale, his eyes glistened, his look wandered, his lips trembled—he was biting them, they were bleeding.
"Remove her in custody," he muttered; "let her be well cared for."
There was a tumult in a moment. Everybody had recognised the prisoner as she was being taken out, though shame and privation had so altered her. "Peter Quilliam's wife!"—"Caesar Cregeen's daughter—where's the man himself?"—"Then it's truth they're telling—it's not dead she is at all, but worse."—"Lor-a-massy!"—"What a trouble for the Dempster!"
When Kate was gone, the court ought to have adjourned instantly, yet the Deemster remained in his seat. There was a mist before his eyes which dazzled him. He had a look at once wild and timid. His limbs pained although they were swelling to enormous size. He felt as if a heavy, invisible hand had been laid on the top of his head.
The clerk caught his eye, and then he rose with an apologetic air, took hold of the rail, and made an effort to cross the dais. At the next moment his servant, Jem-y-Lord, had leapt up to his side, but he made an impatient gesture as if declining help.
There are three steps going down to the floor of the court, and a handrail on one side of them. Coming to these steps, he stumbled, muttered some confused words, and fell forward on to his face. The people were on their feet by this time, and there was a rush to the place.
"Stand back! He has only fainted," cried Jem-y-Lord.
"Worse than that," said the sergeant. "Get him to bed, and send for Dr. Mylechreest instantly."
"Where can we take him?" said somebody.
"They keep a room for him at Elm Cottage," said somebody else.
"No, not there," said Jem-y-Lord.
"It's nearest, and there's no time to lose," said the sergeant.
Then they lifted Philip, and carried him as he lay, in his wig and gown as Deemster, to the house of Pete.
There is a kind of mental shock which, like an earthquake under a prison, bursts open every cell and lets the inmates escape. After a time, Pete remembered that he was sitting in the dark, and he got up to light a candle. Looking for candlestick and matches, he went from table to dresser, from dresser to table, and from table back to dresser, doing the same thing over and over again, and not perceiving that he was going round and round. When at length the candle was lighted, he took it in his hand and went into the parlour like a sleepwalker. He set it on the mantelpiece, and sat down on the stool. In his blurred vision confused forms floated about him. "Ah! my tools," he thought, and picked up the mallet and two of the chisels. He was sitting with these in his hands when his eyes fell on the other candlestick, the one in which the candle had gone out "I meant to light a candle," he thought, and he got up and took the empty candlestick into the hall. When he came back with another lighted candle, he perceived that there were two. "I'm going stupid," he thought, and he blew out the first one. A moment afterwards he forgot that he had done so, and seeing the second still burning, he blew that out also.
So dull were his senses that he did not realise that anything was amiss. His eyes were seeing objects everywhere about—they were growing to awful size and threatening him. His ears were hearing noises—they were making a fearful tumult inside his head.
The room was not entirely dark. A shaft of bleared moonlight came and went at intervals. The moon was scudding through an angry sky, sometimes appearing, sometimes disappearing. Pete returned to the stool, and then he was in the light, but the nameless stone, leaning against the wall, was in the shade. He took up the mallet and chisels again, intending to work. "Hush!" he said as he began. The clamour in his brain was so loud that he thought some one was making a noise in the house. This task was sacred. He always worked at it in silence.
Pat-put! pat-put! How long he worked he never knew. There are moments which are not to be measured as time. In the uncertain handling of the chisel and the irregular beat of the mallet something gave way. There was a harsh sound like a groan. A crack like a flash of forked lightning had shot across the face of the stone. He had split it in half. Its great pieces fell to the floor on either side of him. Then he remembered that the stone had been useless. "It doesn't matter now," he thought. Nothing mattered.
With the mallet hanging from his hand he continued to sit in the drifting moonlight, feeling as if everything in the world had been shivered to atoms. His two idols had been scattered at one blow—his wife and his friend. The golden threads that had bound him to life were broken. When poverty had come, he had met it without repining; when death had seemed to come, he had borne up against it bravely. But wifeless, friendless, deceived where he had loved, betrayed where he had worshipped, he was bankrupt, he was broken, and a boundless despair took hold of him.
When hope is entirely gone, anguish will sometimes turn a man into a monster. There was a fretful cry from the cradle, and, still in the stupor of his despair, he went out to rock it. The fire, which had only slid and smouldered, was now struggling into flame, and the child looked up at him with Philip's eyes. A knife seemed to enter his heart at that moment. He was more desolate than he had thought. "Hush, my child, hush!" he said, without thinking. His child? He had none. That solace was gone.
Anger came to save his reason. Not to have felt anger, he must have been less than a man or more. He remembered what the child had been to him. He remembered what it was when it came, and again when he thought its mother was dead; he remembered what it was when death frowned on it, and what it had been since death passed it by. Flesh of his flesh, blood of his blood, bone of his bone, heart of his heart. Not his merely, but himself.
A lie, a mockery, a delusion, a deception! She has practised it. Oh, she had hidden her secret. She had thought it was safe. But the child itself had betrayed it. The secret had spoken from the child's own face.
"Yet I've seen her kneel by the cot and pray, 'God bless my baby, and its father and its mother'——-"
Why had he not killed her? A wild vision rose before him of killing Kate, and then going to the Deemster and saying, "Take me; I have murdered her because you have dishonoured her. Condemn me to death; yet remember God lives, and He will condemn you to damnation."
But the pity of it—the pity of it! By a quick revolt of tenderness he recalled Kate as he had just seen her, crouching at the back of the cradle, like a hunted hare with uplifted paws uttering its last pitiful cry. He remembered her altered face, so pale even in the firelight, so thin, so worn, and his anger began to smoke against Philip. The flower that he would have been proud to wear on his breast Philip had buried in the dark. Curse him! Curse him!
She had given up all for that man—husband, child, father, mother, her friends, her good name, the very light of heaven. How she must have loved him! Yet he had been ashamed of her, had hidden her away, had been in fear lest the very air should whisper of her whereabouts. Curse him! Curse him! Curse him!
In the heat of his great anger Pete thought of himself also. Jealousy was far beneath him, but, like all great souls, this simple man had known something of the grandeur of friendship. Two streams running into them and taking heaven into their bosom. But Philip had kept him apart, had banked him off, and yet drained him to the dregs. He had uncovered his nakedness—the nakedness of his soul itself.
Bit by bit Pete pieced together the history of the past months. He remembered the night of Kate's disappearance, when he had gone to Ballure and shouted up at the lighted window, "I've sent her to England," thinking to hide her fault. At that moment Philip had known all—where she was (for it was where he had sent her), why she was gone, and that she was gone for ever. Curse him! Curse him!
Pete recalled the letters—the first one that he had put into Philip's hand, the second that he had read to him, the third that Philip had written to his dictation. The little forgeries' to keep her poor name sweet, the little inventions to make his story plausible, the little lies of love, the little jests of a breaking heart! And then the messages! The presents to the child! The reference to the Deemster himself! And the Deemster had sat there and seen through it all as the sun sees through glass, yet he had given no sign, he had never spoken; he had held a quivering, naked heart in his hand, while his own lay within as cold as a stone. Curse him, O God! Curse him!
Pete remembered the night when Philip came to tell him that Kate was dead, and how he had comforted himself with the thought that he was not altogether alone in his great trouble, because his friend was with him. He remembered the journey to the grave, the grave itself—another's grave-how he knelt at the foot of it, and prayed aloud in Philip's hearing, "Forgive me, my poor girl!"
"How shall I kill him?" thought Pete. Deemster too! First Deemster now, and held high in honour! Worshipped for his justice! Beloved for his mercy! O God! O God!
There are passions so overmastering that they stifle speech, and man sinks back to the animal. With an inarticulate shout Pete went to the parlour and caught up the mallet. A frantic thought had flashed on him of killing Philip as he sat on the bench which he had disgraced, administering the law which he had outraged. The wild justice of this idea made the blood to bubble in his ears. He saw himself holding the Deemster by the throat, and crying aloud to the people, "You think this man is a just judge—he is a whited sepulchre. You think he is as true as the sun—he is as false as the sea. He has robbed me of wife and child; at the very gates of heaven he has lied to me like hell. The hour of justice has struck, and thus I pay him—and thus—and thus."
But the power of words was lost in the drunkenness of his rage. With a dismal roar he flung the mallet away, and it rolled on the ground in narrowing circles. "My hands, my hands," he thought. He would strangle Philip, and then he would kill everybody in his way, merely for the lust of killing. Why not? The fatal line was past. Nothing sacred remained. The world was a howling wilderness of boundless license. With the savage growl of a caged beast this wild man flung himself on the door, tore it open, and bounded on to the path.
Then he stopped suddenly. There was a thunderous noise outside, such as the waves make in a cave. A company of people were coming in at the gate. Some were walking with the heavy step of men who carry a corpse. Others were bearing lanterns, and a few held high over their heads the torches which fishermen use when they are hauling the white nets at night.
"Who's there?" cried Pete, in a voice that was like a howl.
"Your friend," said somebody.
"My friend? I have no friend," cried Pete, in a broken roar.
"'Deed he's gone, seemingly," said a voice out of the dark.
Pete did not hear. Seeing the crowd and the lights, but only as darkness veined with fire, he thought Philip was coming again, as he had so often seen him come in his glory, in his greatness, in his triumph.
"Where is he?" he roared. "He's here," they answered.
And then Philip was brought up the path in the arms of four bearers, his head hanging aside and shaking at every step, his face white as the wig above it, and his gown trailing along the earth.
There was a sudden calm, and Pete dropped back in awe and horror. A bolt out of heaven seemed to have fallen at his feet, and he trembled as if lightning had blinded him.
His anger had ebbed, his fury had dashed itself against a rock. His towering rage had shrunk to nothing in the face of this awful presence. The Dark Spirit had gone before him and snatched his victim out of his hands. He had come out to kill this man, and here he met him being brought home dead.
Dead? Then his sin was dead also. God forgive him!
God forgive him, where he was gone! Presumptuous man, stand back.
Oh, mighty and merciful Death! Death the liberator, the deliverer, the pardoner, the peace-maker! Even the shadow of thy face can quench the fires of revenge; even the gathering of thy wings can deaden the clamour of madness, and turn hatred into love and curses into prayers.
In that stripped and naked house there was one room still untouched. It was the room that had been kept for the Deemster. Philip lay on the bed, motionless and apparently lifeless. Jem-y-Lord stood beating his hands at the foot. Pete sat on a low stool at the side with his face doubled on to his knees. Nancy, now back from Sulby, was blowing into the bars of the grate to kindle a fire. A little group of men stood huddled like sheep near the door.
Some one said the Deemster's heart was beating. They brought from another room a little ivory hand-glass and held it over the mouth. When they raised it the face of the mirror was faintly blurred.
That little cloud on the glass seemed more bright than the shining tread of an angel on the sea. Jem-y-Lord took a sponge and began to moisten the cold forehead. One by one the people behind produced their old wife's wisdom. Somebody remembered that his grandmother always put salts to the nostrils of a person seemingly dead; somebody else remembered that when, on the very day of old Iron Christian's death, his father had been thrown by a colt and lay twelve hours unconscious, the farrier had bled him and he had opened his eyes instantly.
The doctor had been half an hour gone to Ballaugh, and a man had been put on a horse and sent after him. But it was a twelve-miles' journey; the night was dark; it would be a good hour before he could be back.
They touched Pete on the shoulder and suggested something.
"Eh?" he answered vacantly.
"Dazed," they told themselves. The poor man could not give a wise-like answer. He had had a shock, and there was worse before him. They talked in low voices of Kate and of Ross Christian; they were sorry for Pete; they were still more sorry for the Deemster.
The Deemster's wig had been taken off and tossed on to the dressing-table. It lay mouth upwards like any old woman's night-cap. His hair had dragged after it on the pillow. The black gown had not been removed, but it was torn open at the neck so that the throat might be free. One of Philip's arms had dropped over the side of the bed, and the long, thin hand was cold and green and ethereal as marble.
Pete was crouching on his low stool beside this hand. He needed no softening to touch it now. The chill fingers were in his palm, and his hot tears were falling on them. Remembering the crime that he had so nearly committed, he was holding himself in horror. His friend! His life-long friend! His only friend! The Deemster no longer, but only the man. Not the man either, but the child. The cruel years had rolled back with all their burden of trouble. Forgotten days were come again—days long buried under the debris of memory. They were boys together again. A little, sunny fellow in velvet, and a bigger lad in a stocking-cap; the little one talking, always talking; the big one listening, always listening; the little one proposing, the big one agreeing; the little one leading, the big one following; the little one looking up and yet a little down, the big one looking down and yet a little up. Oh, the happy, happy times, before anger and jealousy and rage and the mad impulse of murder had darkened their sun shine!
The memories that brought the tenderest throb to Pete as he sat there fingering the lifeless hand were of the great deeds that he had done for Philip—how he had fought for him, and been licked for him, and taken bloody noses for him, and got thrashed for it by Black Tom. But there were others only less tender. Philip was leaving home for King William's, and Pete was cudgelling his dull head what to give him for a parting gift. Decision was the more difficult because he had nothing to give. At length he had hit on making a whistle—the only thing his clumsy fingers had ever been deft at. With his clasp-knife he had cut a wondrous big one from the bough of a willow; he had pared it; he had turned it; it blew a blast like a fog-horn. The morning was frosty, and his feet were bare, but he didn't mind the cold; he didn't feel it—no, not a ha'p'orth. He was behind the hedge by the gate at Ballure, waiting for the coach that was to take up Philip, and passing the time by polishing the whistle on the leg of his shining breeches, and testing its tone with just one more blow. Then up came Crow, and out came Philip in his new peaked cap and leggings. Whoop! Gee-up! Away! Off they went without ever seeing him, without once looking back, and he was left in the prickly hedge with his blue feet on the frost, a look of dejection about his mouth, and the top of the foolish whistle peeping out of his jacket-pocket.
The thick sob that came of these memories was interrupted by a faint sound from the bed. It was a murmur of delirium, as soft as the hum of bees, yet Pete heard it.
"Cover me up, Pete, cover me up!" said Philip, dreaming aloud.
Philip was a living man! Thank God! Thank God!
A whisper goes farther than a shout. The people behind whispered the news to the passage, the passage to the stairs, the stairs to the hall, and the hall to the garden, where a crowd had gathered in the darkness to look up at the house over which the angel of death was hovering.
In a moment the room was croaking like a frog-pond. "Praise the Lord!" cried one. "His mercy endureth for ever," cried another. "What's he saying?" said a third. "Rambling in his head, poor thing," said a fourth.
Pete turned them out—all except Jem-y-Lord, who was still moistening the Deemster's face and opening his hands, which were now twitching and tightening.
"Out of this! Out you go!" cried Pete hoarsely.
"No use taking the anger with him—the man's tried," they muttered, and away they went.
Jemmy was loth to see them go. He was afraid to be left alone with Pete—afraid that the Deemster should be at the mercy of this wild creature with the flaming eyes.
And now that Philip was a living man Pete began to feel afraid of himself. At sight of life in Philip's face, his gnawing misery returned. He thought his hatred had been overcome, but he was wrestling in the throes of forgiveness again. Here was the man who had robbed him of wife and child and home! In another moment he might have held him in the grip of his just wrath.
It is an inscrutable and awful fact, that just at that moment when a man's good angel has conquered, but is spent, his evil angel is sure to get the advantage of chance. Philip's delirium set in strong, and the brute beast in Pete, going through its final struggle, stood over the bed and watched him. In his violence Philip tore at his breast, and dragged something from beneath his shirt. A moment later it fell from his graspless fingers to the floor. It was a lock of dark hair. Pete knew whose hair it was, and he put his foot on it, and that instant the mad impulse came again to take Philip by the throat and choke him. Again and again it came. He had to tread it down even amid his sobs and his tears.
But love cannot be killed in an instant. It does not drop down dead. There was a sort of tenderness in the thought that this was the man for whom Kate had given up all the world. Pete began to feel gently towards Philip because Kate loved him; he began to see something of Kate in Philip's face. This strange softening increased as he caught the words of Philip's delirium. He thought he ought to leave the room, but he could not tear himself away. Crouching down on the stool, he clasped his hands behind his head, and tightened his arms over his ears. It was useless. He could not help but listen. Only disjointed sentences, odd pages torn from the book of life, some of them blurred with tears; but they were like a cool hand on a fevered brow to him that heard him.
"I was a child, Philip——didn't know what love was then——coming home by Ramsey steamer——tell the simple truth, Philip——say we tried to be faithful and loyal and could not, because we loved each other, and there was no help for——tell Kirry——yes, Auntie, I have read father's letters——that picture is cracked——"
This in the voice of one who speaks in his sleep, and then in a hushed, hot whisper, "Haven't I a right to you?——yes, I have a right——take your topcoat, then, the storm is coming——I'll never let you go——don't you remember?——can you ever forget——my husband!——my husband!"
Pete lifted his head as he listened. He had been thinking that Philip had robbed him of Kate. Was it he who had robbed Kate of Philip?
"I can't live any longer in this house, Philip——the walls are crushing me; the ceiling is falling on me; the air is stifling me——three o'clock, Pete——yes, three to-morrow, in the Council Chamber at Douglas——I'm not a bad woman, Philip Christian——there is something you have never guessed and I have never told you——is it the child, Kate?——did you say the child?——you are sure——you are not deceiving yourself?"
All this in a tone of deep entreaty, and then, with quick-coming breath, "Jemmy, get the carriage at Shimmin's and drive it yourself——if there is any attempt at Ramsey to take the horse out——drive to the lane between the chapel and the cottage——the moment the lady joins you——you are right, Kate——you cannot live here any longer——this life of deception must end——that's the churring of the night-jar going up to Ballure Glen."
Jem-y-Lord, who was beating out the pillow, dropped it, in his fumbling, half over the Deemster's face, and looked at Pete in terror. Would this cruel delirium never break? Where was the doctor? Would he not come at all?
Pete had risen to his feet, and was gazing down with a look of stupor. He had been thinking that Philip had robbed him of the child. Was it he who had robbed Philip?
"Yes, Pete is telling the same story. He is writing letters to himself——such simple things!——poor old Pete——he means no harm——he never dreams that every word is burning——Jemmy, leave out more brandy to-night, the decanter is empty——"
Pete leaned over the pillow. All at once he started back. Philip's eyes were open and shining up at him. It was hard to believe that Philip was not speaking to him eye to eye. But there was a veil between them, the veil of the hand of God.
"I know, Philip, I know," said the unconscious man in a quick whisper; he was breathing fast and loud. "Tell him I'm dead——yes, yes, that's it, that's it——cruel?——no, but kind——'Poor girl,' he'll say, 'I loved her once, but she's gone'——I'll do it, I'll do it." Then, in tones of fear, "It's madness——to paint faces on the darkness, to hear voices in the air is madness." And then, solemnly, with a chill, thick utterance, "There——there——that one by the wall——"
Big drops of sweat broke out on Pete's forehead. Had he been thinking that Philip had tortured him? It was he who had been torturing Philip. The letters, the messages, the presents, these had been the whips and scorpions in his hand. Every innocent word, every look, every sign, had been as thongs in the instrument of torture. Pete began to feel a great pity for Philip. "He had suffered plenty," thought Pete. "He has carried this cross about far enough."
"Good-night, boatman!——I went too far——yes, I am back again, thank God——"
These words brightly, cheerily, hopefully; then, in the deepest tones, "Good-bye, Philip——it's all my fault——I've broken the heart of one man, and I'm destroying the soul of another——I'm leaving this lock of hair—it is all I have to leave——good-bye!——I ought to have gone long ago——you will not hate me now——"
The last words frayed off, broke in the throat, and stopped. Then quickly, with panting breath, came, "Kate! Kate! Kate!" again and again repeated, beginning in a loud beseeching cry and dying down to a long wail, as if shouted over a gloomy waste wherein the voice was lost.
Jem-y-Lord had been beating round towards the door, wringing his white hands like a woman, and praying to God that the Deemster might never come out of his unconsciousness. "He has told him everything," thought Jem. "The man will take his life."
"I came between them," thought Pete. "She was not for me. She was not mine. She was Philip's. It was God's doings."
The bitterness of Pete's heart had passed away. "But I wish——what's the good of wishing, though? God help us all," he muttered, in a breaking voice, and then he crouched down on the stool as before and covered his face with his hands..
Philip had lifted his head and risen on one elbow. He was looking out on the empty air with his glassy eyes, as if a picture stood up before them.
"Yes, no, yes——don't tell me——that Kate?——it's a mistake——that's not Kate——that white face!——those hollow eyes!——that miserable woman!——besides, Kate is dead——she must be dead——what's to do with the lamps?——they are going out——in the dock, too, and before me——she there and I here!——she the prisoner, I the judge!"
All this with violent emotion, and with one arm outstretched over Pete's crouching head.
"If I could hear her voice, though——perhaps her voice now——I'm going to fall——it's Kate, it's Kate! Oh! oh!"
Philip had paused for several seconds, as if trying to listen, and then, with a loud cry of agony, he had closed his eyes and rolled back on to the pillow.
"God has meant me to hear all this," thought Pete. God had intended that for this, the peace of his soul, he should follow the phases of this drama of a naked heart. He was sobbing, but his sobs were like growls.
"What's he doing now?" thought Jem-y-Lord, craning his neck at the door. "Shall I call for somebody?"
Pete had picked up from the floor the lock of hair that had been lying under his foot, and he was putting it back into Philip's breast.
"Nothing but me between them," he thought, "nothing but me."
"Sit down, sir," cried the unconscious man. It was only the last outbreak of Philip's delirium, but Pete trembled and shrank back.
Then Philip groaned and his blue lips quivered. He opened his eyes. They wandered about the room for a moment, and afterwards fixed themselves on Pete in a long and haggard gaze. Pete's own eyes were too full of tears to be full of sight, but he could see that the change had come. He panted with expectation, and looked down at Philip with doglike delight.
There was a moment's silence, and then, in a voice as faint as a breath, Philip murmured. "What's——where's——is it Pete?"
At that Pete uttered a shout of joy. "He's himself! He's himself! Thank God!"
"Eh?" said Philip helplessly.
"Don't you be bothering yourself now," cried Pete. "Lie quiet, boy; you're in your own room, and as nice as nice."
"But," said Philip, "will you not kindly——"
"Not another word, Phil. It's nothing. You're all serene, and about as right as ninepence."
"Your Honour has been delirious," said Jem-y-Lord.
"Chut!" said Pete behind his hand, and then, with another joyful shout, "Is it a beefsteak you'll be having, Phil, or a dish of tay and a herring?"
Philip looked perplexed. "But could you not help me——" he faltered.
"You fainted in the Court-house, sir," said Jem-y-Lord.
"Ah!" It had all come back.
"Hould your whisht, you gawbie," whispered Pete, and he made a furtive kick at Jemmy's shins.
Pete was laughing and crying in one breath. In the joyful reflux from evil passions the great fellow was like a boy. He poked the fire into a blaze, snuffed the candle with his fingers, sang out "My gough!" when he burnt them, and then hopped about the floor and cut as many capers as a swallow after a shower of rain.
Philip looked at him and relapsed into silence. It seemed as if he had been on a journey and something had happened in his absence. The secret which he had struggled so long to confess had somehow been revealed.
Jem-y-Lord was beating out his pillows. "Does he know?" said Philip.— "Yes," whispered Jemmy.
"Everything. You have been delirious."
"Delirious!" said Philip, with alarm.
Then he struggled to rise. "Help me up. Let me go away. Why did you bring me here?"
"I couldn't help it, sir. I tried to prevent——"
"I cannot face him," said Philip. "I am afraid. Help me, help me."
"You are too weak, sir. Lie still. No one shall harm you. The doctor is coming."
Philip sank back with a look of fear. "Water," he cried feebly.
"Here it is," said Jem-y-Lord, lifting from the dressing-table the jug out of which he had moistened the sponge.
"Tut!" cried Pete, and he tipped the jug so that half the water spilled. "Brandy for a man when he's in bed, you goosey gander. Hould, hard, boy; I've a taste of the rael stuff in the cupboard. Half a minute, mate. A drop will be doing no harm at all," and away he went down the stairs like a flood, almost sweeping over Nancy, who had come creeping up in her stockings at the sound of voices.
The child had awakened in its cradle, and, with one dumpy leg over its little quilt, it was holding quiet converse with its toes.
"Hollo, young cockalorum, is it there you are!" shouted Pete.
At the next moment, with a noggin bottle of brandy in his fist, he was leaping upstairs, three steps at a time.
Meanwhile Jem-y-Lord had edged up to the Deemster and whispered, with looks of fear and mystery, "Don't take it, sir."
"What?" said Philip vacantly.—"The brandy," said Jem.
"It will be——" began Jem, but Pete's step was thundering up the stairs, and with a big opening of the mouth, rather than an audible utterance of the tongue, he added, "poisoned."
Philip could not comprehend, and Pete came shouting—
"Where's your water, now, ould Snuff-the-Wind?"
While Pete was pouring the brandy into a glass and adding the water, Jemmy caught up a scrap of newspaper that was lying about, rummaged for a pencil, wrote some words on the margin, tore the piece off, and smuggled it into the Deemster's hand.
"Afraid of Pete!" thought Philip. "It is monstrous! monstrous!"
At that moment there was the sound of a horse's hoofs on the road.
"The doctor," cried Jem-y-Lord. "The doctor at last. Wait, sir, wait," and he ran downstairs.
"Here you are," cried Pete, coming to the bedside, glass in hand. "Drink it up, boy. It'll stiffen you. My faith, but it's a oner. Aw, God is good, though. He's all that. He's good tremenjous."
Pete was laughing; he was crying; he was tasting a new sweetness—the sweetness of being a good man again.
Philip was holding Jem-y-Lord's paper before his eyes, and trying to read it.
"What's this that Jemmy has given me?" he said. "Read it, Pete. My eyes are dazed."
Pete took the paper in his left hand, still holding the glass in his right. To get the light on to the writing he went down on his knees by the bed-head and leaned over towards the fire. Then, like a school-boy repeating his task, he read in a singsong voice the words that Jem-y-Lord had written:—"Don't drink the brandy. Pete is trying to kill you."
Pete made a grating laugh. "That's a pretty thing now," he began, but he could not finish. His laughter ceased, his eyes opened wide, his tongue seemed to hang out of his mouth, and he turned his head and looked back with an agony of doubt into Philip's face.
Philip struggled up. "Give me the brandy, Pete." He took the glass out of Pete's hand, and without a second thought, with only a smile of faith and confidence, he raised it to his lips and drank. When the doctor entered the room a moment afterwards, Pete was sobbing into the bed-clothes, and Philip's hand was resting on his head.
Early the next morning Pete visited Kate in prison. He had something to say to her, something to ask; but he intended to keep back his own feelings, to bear himself bravely, to sustain the poor girl's courage. The light was cold and ashen within the prison walls, and as he followed the sergeant into the cell, he could not help but think of Kate as he had first known her, so bright, so merry, so full of life and gaiety. He found her now doubled up on a settle by a newly-kindled fire in the sergeant's own apartment. She lifted her head, with a terrified look, as he entered, and she saw his hollow cheeks and deep eyes and ragged beard.
"I'm not coming to trouble you," he said. "I've forgiven him, and I'm forgiving you, too."
"You are very good," she answered nervously.
"Good?" He gave a crack of bitter laughter. "I meant to kill him—that's how good I am. And it's the same as if all the devils out of hell had been at me the night through to do it still. Maybe I hadn't much to forgive. I'm like a bat in the light—I'm not knowing where I am ezactly. Daresay the people will laugh at me when they're getting to know. Wouldn't trust, but they'll think me a poor-spirited cur, anyway. Let them—there's never much pity for the dog that's licked."
His voice shook, although so hard and so husky. "That's not what I came to say, though. You'll be laving this place soon, and I'm wanting to ask—I'm wanting to know——"
She had covered her face, and now she said through her hands, "Do as you like with me, Pete. You are my husband, and I must obey."
He looked down at her for a moment. "But you cannot love me?"
"I have deceived you, and whatever you tell me to do I will do it."
"But you cannot love me?"
"I'll be a good wife for the future* Pete—I will, indeed, indeed I will."
"But you cannot love me?"
She began to cry. "That's enough," he said. "I'll not force you."
"You are very good," she said again.
He laughed more bitterly than before. "Dou yo think I'm wanting your body while another man has your heart? That's a game I've played about long enough, I'm thinking. Good? Not me, missis."
His eyes, which had been fixed on the fire, wandered to his wife, and then his lips quivered and his manner changed.
"I'm hard—I'll cut it short. Fact is, I've detarmined to do something, but I've a question to ask first. You've suffered since you left me, Kate. He has dragged you down a dale—but tell me, do you love him still?"
She shuddered and crept closer to the wall.
"Don't be freckened. It's a woman's way to love the man that's done wrong by her. Being good to her is nothing—sarvice is nothing—kindness is nothing. Maybe there's some ones that cry shame on her for that—but not me. Giving herself, body and soul, and thinking nothing what she gets for it—that's the glory of a woman when she cares for anybody. Spake up, Kate—do you love him in spite of all?"
The answer came in a whisper that was like a breath—"Yes."
"That'll do," said Pete.
He pressed his hand against the place of his old wound. "I might have known you could never care for me—I might have known that," he said with difficulty. "But don't think I can't stand my rackups, as the saying is. I know my course now—I know my job."
She was sobbing into her hands, and he was breathing fast and loud.
"One word more—only one—about the child."
"Have I a right to her?"
She gasped audibly, but did not answer, and he tried a second time.
"Does she belong to me, Kate?"
Her confusion increased. He tried a third time, speaking more gently than before.
"If I should lave the island, Kate, could I—must I—may I take the child along with me?"
At that her fear got the better of her shame, and she cried, "Don't take her away. Oh, don't, don't!"
He pressed his hand hard at his side again.
"But maybe that's only mother's love, and what mother——"
He broke off and then began once more, in a voice so low that it was scarcely to be heard. "Tell me, when the time comes—and it will come, Kate, have no fear about that——"
He was breaking down, he was struggling hard. "When the time comes for himself and you to be together, will you be afraid to have the little one with you—will it seem wrong, Kate—you two and little Katherine—one household—one family—no?—n—o?"
The words seemed to come out of the depths of his throat. "I've nothing more to think about. He must think of all the rest."
"And you, Pete?"
"What matter about me? D'ye think there's anything worse coming? D'ye think I'm caring what I ate, and what I drink, and what becomes of me?"
He was laughing again, and her sobs broke out afresh.
"God is good," he said more quietly. "He'll take care of the likes of me."
His motionless eyes were on the crackling fire, and he stood in the light that flashed from it with a face like stone. "I've no child now," he muttered, as though speaking to himself.
She slid to her knees at his feet, took the hand that hung by his side and began to cover it with kisses. "Forgive me," she said; "I have been very weak and very guilty."
"What's the use of talking like that?" he answered. "What's past is past," and he drew his hand away. "No child now, no child now," he muttered again, as though his dispair cried out to God.
He was feeling like a man wrecked in mid-ocean. A spar came floating towards him. It was all he could lay hold of from the foundering ship, in which he had sailed, and sung, and laughed, and slept. He had thought to save his life by it, but another man was clinging to it, and he had to drop it and go down.
She could not look into his face again; she could not touch his hand; she could not ask for his forgiveness. He stood over her for a moment without speaking, and then, with his hollow cheeks, and deep eyes, and ragged heard, he went away in the morning sunlight.
Phillip fell into a deep sleep. When he awoke, he saw, as in a mirror, a solution to the tumultuous drama of his life. It was a glorious solution, a liberating and redeeming end, an end bringing freedom from the bonds which had beset him. What matter if it was hard; if it was difficult; if it was bitter as Marah and steep as Calvary? He was ready, he was eager. Oh, blessed sleep! Oh, wise and soothing sleep I It had rent the dark cloud of his past and given the flash of light that illumined the path before him.
He opened his eyes and saw Auntie Nan seated by his side, reading a volume of sermons. At the change in his breathing the old dove looked round, dropped the book, and began to flutter about. "Hush, dearest, hush!" she whispered.
There was a heavy, monotonous sound, like the beating of a distant drum or the throb of an engine under the earth.
"What day is it?"
"Sunday. Oh, you've had a long, long sleep, Philip. You slept all day yesterday."
"Is that the church-bell ringing?"
"Yes, dear, and a fine morning, too—so soft and springlike. I'll open the window."
"Then my hearing must be injured."
"Ah! they muffled the bell—that's it. 'The church is so near,' they said, 'it might trouble him.'"
A carriage was coming down the road. It rattled on the paved way; then the rattling ceased, and there was a dull rumble as of a cart sliding on to a wooden bridge. "That horse has fallen," said Philip, trying to rise.
"It's only the straw on the street," said Auntie Nan. "The people brought it from all parts. 'We must deaden the traffic by the house,' they said. Oh, you couldn't think how good they've been. Yesterday was market-day, but there was no business done. Couldn't have been; they were coming and going the whole day long. 'And how's the Deemster now?' 'And how's he now?' It was fit to make you cry. I believe in my heart, Philip, nobody in Ramsey went to bed the first night at all. Everybody waiting and waiting to see if there wasn't something to fetch, and the kettle kept boiling in every kitchen round about. But hush, dearest, hush! Not so much talking all at once. Hush, now!"
"Where is Pete?" asked Philip, his face to the wall.
"Oiling the hinges of the door, dearest. He was laying carpets on the stairs all day yesterday. But never the sound of a hammer. The man's wonderful. He must have hands like iron. His heart's soft enough, though. But then everybody is so kind—everybody, everybody! The doctor, and the vicar, and the newspapers—oh, it's beautiful! It's just as Pete was saying."
"What was Pete saying, Auntie?"
"He was saying the angels must think there's somebody sick in every house in the island."
A sound of singing came through the open window, above the whisper of young leaves and the twitter of birds. It was the psalm that was being sung in church—
"Blessed is the man that considereth the poor and needy; The Lord shall deliver him in time of trouble."
"Listen, Philip. That must be a special psalm. I'm sure they're singing it for you. How sweet of them! But we are talking too much, dear. The doctor will scold. I must leave you now, Philip. Only for a little, though, while I go back to Bal lure, and I'll send up Cottier."
"Yes, send up Cottier," said Philip.
"My darling," said the old soul, looking down as she tied her bonnet strings. "You'll lie quiet now? You're sure you'll lie quiet? Well, good bye! good-bye!"
As Philip lay alone the soar and swell of the psalm filled the room. Oh, the irony of it all! The frantic, hideous, awful irony! He was lying there, he, the guilty one, with the whole island watching at his bedside, pitying him, sorrowing for him, holding its breath until he should breathe, and she, his partner, his victim, his innocent victim, was in jail, in disgrace, in a degradation more deep than death. Still the psalm soared and swelled. He tried to bury his head in the pillows that he might not hear.
Jem-y-Lord came in hurriedly and Philip beckoned him close. "Where is she?" he whispered.
"They removed her to Castle Rushen late last night, your Honour," said Jemmy softly.
"Write immediately to the Clerk of the Bolls," said Philip. "Say she must be lodged on the debtors' side and have patients' diet and every comfort. My Kate! my Kate!" he kept saying, "it shall not be for long, not for long, my love, not for long!"
The convalescence was slow and Philip was impatient. "I feel better to-day, doctor," he would say, "don't you think I may get out of bed?"
"Traa dy liooar (time enough), Deemster," the doctor would answer. "Let us see what a few more days will do."
"I have a great task before me, doctor," he would say again. "I must begin immediately."
"You have a life's work before you, Deemster, and you must begin soon, but not just yet."
"I have something particular to do, doctor," he said at last. "I must lose no time."
"You must lose no time indeed, that's why you must stay where you are a little longer."
One morning his impatience overcame him, and he got out of bed. But, being on his feet, his head reeled, his limbs trembled, he clutched at the bed-post, and had to clamber back. "Oh God, bear me witness, this delay is not my fault," he murmured.
Throughout the day he longed for the night, that he might close his eyes in the darkness and think of Kate. He tried to think of her as she used to be—bright, happy, winsome, full of joy, of love, of passion, dangling her feet from the apple-tree, or tripping along the tree-trunk in the glen, teasing him? tempting him. It was impossible. He could only think of her in, the gloom of the prison. That filled his mind with terrors. Sometimes in the dark hours his enfeebled body beset his brain with fantastic hallucinations. Calling for paper and pens, he would make show of writing a letter, producing no words or intelligible signs, but only a mass of scrawls and blotches. This he would fold and refold with great elaboration, and give to Jem y-Lord with an air of gravity and mystery, saying in a whisper, "For her!" Thus night brought no solace, and the dawn found him waiting for the day, that he might open his eyes in the sunlight and think, "She is better where she is; God will comfort her."
A fortnight went by and he saw nothing of Pete. At length he made a call on his courage and said, "Auntie, why does Pete never come?"
"He does, dearest. Only when you're asleep, though. He stands there in the doorway in his stockings. I nod to him and he comes in and looks down at you. Then he goes away without a word."
"What is he doing now?"
"Going to Douglas a good deal seemingly. Indeed, they're saying—but then people are so fond of talking."
"What are people saying, Auntie?"
"It's about a divorce, dearest!"
Philip groaned and turned away his face.
He opened his eyes one day from a doze, and saw the plain face of Nancy Joe, framed in a red print handkerchief. The simple creature was talking with Auntie Nan, holding council, and making common cause with the dainty old lady as unmarried women and old maids both of them.
"'Why don't you keep your word true?' says I. 'Wasn't you saying you'd take her back,' says I, 'whatever she'd done and whatever she was, so help you God?' says I. 'Isn't she shamed enough already, poor thing, without you going shaming her more? Have you no bowels at all? Are you only another of the gutted herrings on a stick?' says I. 'Why don't you keep your word true?' 'Because,' says he, 'I want to be even with the other one,' says he, and then away he went wandering down by the tide."
"It's unchristian, Nancy," said Auntie Nan, "but it's human; for although he forgives the woman, he can hardly be expected to forgive the man, and he can't punish one without punishing both."
"Much good it'll do to punish either, say I. What for should he put up his fins now the hook's in his gizzard? But that's the way with the men still. Talking and talking of love and love; but when trouble is coming, no better than a churn of sour cream on a thundery day. We're best off that never had no truck with them—I don't know what you think, Miss Christian, ma'am. They may talk about having no chances—I don't mind if they do—do you? I had chance enough once, though—I don't know what you've had, ma'am. I had one sweetheart, anyway—a sort of a sweetheart, as you might say; but he was sweeter on the money than on me. Always asking how much I had got saved in the stocking. And when he heard I had three new dresses done, 'Nancy,' says he, 'we had better be putting a sight up on the parzon now, before they're all wore out at you.'"
The Governor, who was still in London, wrote a letter full of tender solicitude and graceful compliment. The Clerk of the Rolls had arranged from the first that two telegrams should be sent to him daily, giving accounts of Philip's condition. At last the Clerk came in person, and threw Auntie Nan into tremors of nervousness by his noise and robustious-ness. He roared as he came along the path, roared himself through the hall, up the stairs, and into the bedroom, roared again as he set eyes on Philip, protesting that the sick man was worth five hundred dead men yet, and vowing with an oath (and a tear trickling down his nose) that he would like to give "time" to the fools who frightened good people with bad reports. Then he cleared the room for a private consultation. "Out you go, Cottier. Look slippy, man!"
Auntie Nan fled in terror. When she had summoned resolution to invade afresh the place of the bear that had possession of her lamb, the Clerk of the Rolls was rising from the foot of the bed and saying—
"We'll leave it at that then, Christian. These d——— things will happen; but don't you bother your head about it. I'll make it all serene. Besides, it's nothing—nothing in a lifetime. I'll have to send you the summons, though. You needn't trouble about that; just toss it into the fire."
Philip's head was down, his eyes were on the counterpane, and a faint tinge of colour overspread his wasted face.