"May it please your Excellency," he began, faltering and stammering, in a husky voice, "it will be within your Excellency's knowledge, and the knowledge of every one on the island, that his Honour has only just risen from a long and serious illness, brought on by overwork, by too zealous attention to his duties, and that—in fact, that—well, not to blink the plain truth, that——"
A sigh of immense relief had passed over the court, and the Governor, grown very pale, was nodding in assent. But Philip only smiled sadly and shook his head.
"I have been ill indeed," he said, "but not from the cause you speak of. The just judgment of God has overtaken me."
The Clerk of the Rolls sank back into his seat.
"The moment came when I had to sit in judgment on my own sin, the moment when she who had lost her honour in trusting to mine stood in the dock before me. I, who had been the first cause of her misfortunes, sat on the bench as her judge. She is now in prison and I am here. The same law which has punished her failing with infamy has advanced me to power."
There was an icy quiet in the court, such as comes with the first gleam of the dawn. By that quick instinct which takes possession of a crowd at great moments, the people understood everything—the impurity of the character that had seemed so pure, the nullity of the life that had seemed so noble.
"When I asked myself what there was left to me to do, I could see but one thing. It was impossible to go on administering justice, being myself unjust, and remembering that higher bar before which I too was yet to stand. I must cease to be Deemster. But that was only my protection against the future, not my punishment for the past. I could not surrender myself to any earthly court, because I was guilty of no crime against earthly law. The law cannot take a man into the court of the conscience. He must take himself there."
He stopped again, and then said quietly, "My sentence is this open confession of my sin, and renunciation of the worldly advantages which have been bought by the suffering of others."
It was no longer possible to doubt him. He had sinned, and he had reaped the reward of his sin. Those rewards were great and splendid, but he had come to renounce them all. The dreams of ambition were fulfilled, the miracle of life was realised, the world was conquered and at his feet, yet he was there to give up all. The quiet of the court had warmed to a hush of awe. He turned to the bench, but every face was down. Then his own eyes fell.
"Gentlemen of the Council, you who have served the island so long and so honourably, perhaps you blame me for permitting you to come together for the hearing of this confession. But if you knew the temptation I was under to fly away without making it, to turn my back on my past, to shuffle, my fault on to Fate, to lay the blame on Life, to persuade myself that I could not have acted differently, you would believe it was not lightly, and God knows, not vainly, that I suffered you to come here to see me mount my scaffold."
He turned back to the body of the court.
"My countrymen and countrywomen, you who have been so much more kind to me than my character justified or my conduct merited. I say good-bye; but not as one who is going away. In conquering the impulse to go without confessing, I conquered the desire to go at all. Here, where my old life has fallen to ruin, my new life must be built up. That is the only security. It is also the only justice. On this island, where my fall is known, my uprising may come—as is most right—only with bitter struggle and sorrow and tears. But when it comes, it will come securely. It may be in years, in many years, but I am willing to wait—I am ready to labour. And, meantime, she who was worthy of my highest honour will share my lowest degradation. That is the way of all women—God love and keep them!"
The exaltation of his tones infected everybody.
"It may be that you think I am to be pitied. There have been hours of my life when I have been deserving of pity. But they have been the hours, the dark hours, when, in the prodigality of your gratitude, you have loaded me with distinctions, and a shadow has haunted me, saying, 'Philip Christian, they think you a just judge—you are not a just judge; they think you an upright man—you are not an upright man.' Do not pity me now, when the dark hours are passed, when the new life has begun, when I am listening at length to the voice of my heart, which has all along been the voice of God."
His eyes shone, his mouth was smiling.
"If you think how narrowly I escaped the danger of letting things go on as they were going, of covering up my fault, of concealing my true character, of living as a sham and dying as a hypocrite, you will consider me worthy of envy instead. Good-bye! good-bye! God bless you!"
Before any one appeared to be aware that his voice had ceased he was gone from the bench, and the Deemster's chair stood empty. Then the people turned and looked into each other's stricken faces. They were still standing, for nobody had thought of sitting down.
There was no further speaking that day. Without a word or a sign the Governor descended from his seat and the proceedings came to an end. Every one moved towards the door. "A great price to pay for it, though," thought the men. "How he must have loved her, after all," thought the women.
At that moment the big Queen Elizabeth clock of the Castle was striking twelve, and the fishermen on Irish waters were raising a cheer for their friend at home. A loud detonation rang out over the town. It was the report of a gun. There was another, and then a third. The shots were from a steamer that was passing the bay.
Philip remembered—it was Pete's last farewell.
Half an hour later the Keep, the courtyard, and the passage to the portcullis were filled with an immense crowd. Ladies thronged the two flights of external steps to the prisoners' chapel and the council chamber. Men had climbed as high as to the battlements, and were looking down over the beetle-browed walls. All eyes were on the door to the debtors' side of the prison, and a path from it was being kept clear. The door opened and Philip and Kate came out. There was no other exit, and they must have taken it. He was holding her firmly by the hand, and half-leading, half-drawing her along. Under the weight of so many eyes, her head was held down, but those who were near enough to see her face knew that her shame was swallowed up in happiness and her fear in love. Philip was like a man transfigured. The extreme pallor of his cheeks was gone, his step was firm, and his face was radiant. It was the common remark that never before had he looked so strong, so buoyant, so noble. This was the hour of his triumph, not that within the walls; this, when his sin was confessed, when conscience had no power to appal him, when the world and the pride of the world were beneath his feet, and he was going forth from a prison cell, hand in hand with the fallen woman by his side, to face the future with their bankrupt lives.
And she? She was sharing his fiery ordeal. Before her outraged sisters and all the world she was walking with him in the depth of his humiliation, at the height of his conquest, at the climax of his shame and glory.
Once for a moment she halted and stumbled as if under the hot breath that was beating upon her head. But he put his arm about her, and in a moment she was strong. The sun dipped down from the great tower on to his upturned face, and his eyes were glistening through their tears.