[From Captain of the Parish, 1897]


As you ascend the Creg road from the south to cross Arrosey Tops, the farmhouse ofArrosey stands near the road on your right, rather more than half-way up the ascent. The fields of Arrosey farm extend in a broad band over the ridge from Arrosey brook on the west to the timber of Narradale Glen on the east. Mr. Job ii Molroy had "heired" Arrosey from a line of Molroys extending back for a score of generations. He was known in the country simply as "Arrosey," and not uncommonly as "the big man," partly on account of his position, partly on account of his stature and bulk. He was some years on the shady side of sixty, hale and vigorous in air and step, with a fresh and rosy bloom on his cheek, but his head was bald and a fringe of long white hair gracefully undulating flowed from under his top-hat. Besides being a Member of the House of Keys, a body co-optative, conservative, and exclusive, he was Captain of the Parish, an almost sinecure distinction, that in earlier times had implied a military commission. In religion Mr. Molroy was a Methodist-not, however, of the saintly type of the immortal Wesley's old-fashioned and modest people, living in the other world rather than in this: he was of a type of his own. His spirit tenaciously secular, "Arrosey" seldom or never quoted Scripture, though he did not hesitate to make it responsible in the aggregate for his own opinions, whatever they might be. "Even the Bible itself is saying that," was his manner of referring to it for support. He attended neither Methodist class-meeting nor Methodist prayer-meeting. "They were all right for them that went," was his general sanction of these institutions, When a Methodist revival broke out, he barely condoned it, with the qualification that "as for himself he never went near them."

Arrosey Chapel was built in his father's days, by the roadside, on the edge of the ravine of Arrosey brook. " Arrosey's' father had persuaded a neighbour to give the site for the chapel on the corner of his land adjoining Arrosey boundary; so as to have the chapel under his own eye; and " Arrosey' had succeeded to an exclusive prerogative in everything relating to the chapel, He was legal trustee; there were other co-trustees, but he never consulted them, and they submissively acquiesced in everything he did. He was de facto proprietor of the chapel; it was a sort of private chapel of his own. On Sunday mornings there was a Sunday-school, in the chapel, and of this the big man was sole superintendent. There he presided, "raised" the tunes and led the singing,-that is, he hummed the tunes through his nose and the children and teachers sang the hymns. His music was instrumental rather than vocal-a nasal bassoon playing the accompaniment. His range of tunes and metres was limited, and he frequently repeated his favourites. For instance, during the sunny months of spring and summer, when Sunday was the sunniest day of the week, he had one favourite hymn, dealing with the wickedness of men and boys wandering in the fields, when they ought to be at Sunday-school. The hymn made no direct allusion to girls, but for them doubtless, as well as for the boys, this hymn had the effect of crushing out of their dear little hearts any sinful wish to 'wander by the hedges and streams after primroses and violets and buttercups and birds' nests. At the Sunday-afternoon preaching at the chapel, the big man sat by himself in a square box in one corner of which was the pulpit. The big man was the supreme, and the preacher the secondary functionary. I3ere again he "raised" the tunes, and sustained the singing with the accompaniment of his nasal bassoon. He never came out to the Sunday-evening preaching, inasmuch as it involved a prayer-meeting at the end of it. He accepted Methodism in the aggregate: he excepted from it its peculiar institutions. The big man entertained the preachers when they were worth it. Now and again there came an English preacher, now and again a big local from distant parts of the island, and these came invariably to dinner, tea, and supper at Arrosey House.

They were the chief guests that ever came there. Meanwhile the common locals, miners, artisans, labourers, who came four Sundays out of five, got their hospitality elsewhere than at Arrosey House. It was not a house for their stamp.

There was no one to formulate a doubt of "Arrosey's" Methodism, much less to utter it. The big man tolerated no criticism of himself. Besides, he was the natural lawgiver, or more exactly law administrator in the region of the hills.

On one side, to the law-abiding and religious he was headman at the chapel. That was sufficient. On the other side, among the lawless and irreligious, to whom Matt Huntban's inn at the foot of the Creg was " just the same as a chapel to them," his friendly, condescension secured their personal allegiance. The big man, in fact, in passing Matt's occasionally stepped in for a pint of ale. He never condescended to sit down in Matt's, but stood in the middle of the floor with his top-hat good-naturedly pushed back off his forehead. The floor was left clear to himself on these occasions, and the drinkers sat round the room giving him attention as long as he stayed. It was necessary for him to "read the Riot Act" to this company, as he informed them-that is to say, with reckless freedom of utterance he called them to account for any misbehaviours of theirs that had come to his knowledge, and a physical prowess far-famed of old made the men swallow his opinions of their iniquities in passive silence. He had one foot planted in the chapel and the other in the public-house.

The big man freely abused Church parsons, from the Bishop down, but rather to their faces than behind their backs. The Reverend Mr. Ollikins, who was "on" the church at Arrosey Tops, commonly known as Parson Ollikits, came in for his share of the big man's freedom of speech. "Arrosey " regarded him with a kindly contempt mingled with pity. He declared the parson "a touch of a High Churchman," mainly because he occasionally had- service on a week-day, though nobody ever came to it. When the big man heard the bell of Arrosey Church-" Bless my soul, if that fellow hasn't got the church open to-day again ! " If he met the parson, which he made an express point of doing, for he walked over Arrosey Tops for that purpose

"And what's up to-day, man? What's the church open for to-day ? "

"Well, Mr. Molroy, it's a saint's day!"

" Oh, d-n the saint's day! Why, man, every day is a saint's day to me. They're all saints' days tome. I don't make any difference between one day and another. Even the Bible itself is saying that, man ! "

" But it's the Church's order, Mr. Molroy."

" Oh, capers ! tomfoolery ! You're hard up for something to do, man ! Bless my soul ! if I didn't think you had more sense !

Parson Ollikins had one compensation for many an unpleasantness in the dreary intercourse of his environmentone cherished and perpetual consolation: it was the distinction of being a gentleman. Inoffensive, kindly, timid, and poor, he clung tenaciously to this. It involved a double consolation. "Arrosey" was not a gentleman, and he was himself the sole representative of that order in the locality.

"Arrosey" was a widower with an only child, a boy called after his father, and known indifferently as " young John " and " the heir." Young John Molroy had received the elements of his education at Nell Gawn's. There in her kitchen he had read the Testament, and at twelve was the biggest boy and the most advanced scholar. He was the leader of all their games. They played hockey on the long mile reach of highroad over the Tops; but the butcher's open-air slaughter-house was a more sensational attraction. With his coat off, his shirt-sleeves rolled up, butcher-knife in hand, he joined Corkle in shaving a pig or skinning a sheep or " beef," while the school children, girls as well as boys, stood round in wonder, admiration, and envy, their little shoes stained with the ubiquitous blood.

But at twelve a change came over the boy. After half a year at Latin with the parson, he was sent to Whitehaven School. His old associations were severed. The years went by of school in Whitehaven and holidays at Arrosey.

The big man used to say he was bringing his son up to be a gentleman, unconsciously admitting the truth of the parson's unexpressed opinion, that " Arrosey" had not been brought up a gentleman himself. The big man's way of fulfilling this aim was the best he knew. Young John was to have unlimited education anyway; he was exempted from the necessity of doing a hand's turn when at home-to be absolutely master of his own time; and finally, he would have two of the best farms in the country without a penny of mortgage. It was on the strength of this latter substantial fact that " Arrosey" mainly relied. Property was the body, the substance, the fact itself of a man's being a gentleman. "Arrosey's" avowed contempt for Ollikins was as confident as Ollikins' concealed contempt for "Arrosey." "The minute the breath is out of his mouth he hasn't a penny; they'll be in the highroad." Mr. Ollikins had the garb without the substantial body; "Arrosey " had the body, and not without garment, which, if homely, was good against all weathers. Thus his habitual term for the parson was "that scarecrow on the Tops there." But behind his avowed contempt was a secret respect. Parsons were gentlemen "in the face of everything, it didn't matter who they were;" and " Arrosey," who was nothing if not thoroughgoing, had a fairly well fixed idea of making his son a parson. Indeed, everybody in the locality had a notion that this was in the wind, partly because of young John's friendly acquaintance with Parson Ollikins, often going to the parson's to tea when at home for the holidays, and going pretty regularly to Arrosey Church on Sundays; partly because, when he was done with Whitehaven School, and was a strapping youth of eighteen or so, he was sent to college at Cambridge; and partly, or rather mainly, because of certain utterances of the soldier over a pint of ale with a parcel of them at Matt Hunthan's public-house. For the soldier, Churchman as he was, was well known to be a frequent and privileged evening visitor in Arrosey kitchen, where he sat for hours at a stretch on the settle in the big chimney-corner, the confidant of the big man in all his affairs.

The personal relations of father and son were peculiar. The son was conscious of his father's superiority to his neighbours. He believed in a general way in the infallibility of his father's judgment and opinions. But the big man was reserved and distant to the boy; there was no relation at once formal and affectionate. The boy never accompanied his father about the farm, never in his chapel-going. Now and then he drove the big man in his gig to Inchport, to Douglas, or to a country fair. They saw most of each other out of doors over the breaking of a colt, the only work in which young Molroy was asked to give his assistance, and the only work in which he took whole-hearted interest; and they saw little of each other indoors except at meal-times. At Arrosey teatable there was no formality and little conversation ; at the parson's table there was an easy flow of talk, and consequently young Molroy was oftener at tea at the parsonage than at Arrosey.

The comparative value of money within the horizon of Arrosey fields was much greater than beyond it. The big man estimated money, as he did everything else with invincible obstinacy, by standards of his own. On Arrosey farm, money was always coming in, but none was seen to go out. Naturally, therefore, the heir's education had made an unexampled drain on the Arrosey treasury, or rather on one department of it. Besides Arrosey, the big man owned Sartal, nestled under the shadow of Sartal mountain, down Kirk Michael way. This had been the mother's place; and true to creed, the rents of Sartal had always been set apart to accumulate for the son.

Nevertheless, a drain of a hundred, a hundred and fifty, two hundred pounds a year for his son's education, was a sore subject. The big man was rather fond of ventilating it, though secretly as a matter of boast quite as much as professedly a grievance. "The rent of Sartal won't more than half keep him, Curlat ! "

" Aw well, man ! well, man! You can well afford it, man !" said the soldier, as he sat with the big man by the kitchen-fire, the confidant of his affairs.

"Aw, honour bright, Curlat; there has never a penny of the rent of Sartal gone into my own pocket since the day he was born."

Despite grievance he never hesitated to pay. He never asked to see a college bill. He would have nothing but his son's word. If that was not right, nothing else was of any consequence to him. But finally, since the childhood of the boy there had been no mistress of Arrosey ; no divine presence of a wife to the father nor of mother to the son; no gentle mediation of a woman's love, melting and fusing all hardness in the man, and maturing tenderness and filial sweetness in the boy; and in that absence, there was in the atmosphere of Arrosey house only a pathetic vacuum.


Back index next

Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received The Editor
HTML Transcription © F.Coakley , 2006