[From Captain of the Parish, 1897]
" It's clad in purple mist, my land ;
In regal robe it is apparellėd ;
A crown is set upon its head,
And on its breast a golden band.
Land, ho! land."-T. E. B.
THE quays and docksides of Liverpool blazed with glare and heat and were powdered with dust and litter. At the gates of graving-docks and the gables of warehouses were crowds of mechanics and labourers, lounging and smoking after dinner. Barefooted women and children, squalid and bleared, sunned themselves on the ground by the walls, their misery mitigated in the comfort of basking in warmth. In curious contrast to all these were other crowds with the freshness and air of the country and the sea, of farms, and mines, and mills on their faces and hair. They were emigrants. It was the days of the gold fever, and California was the magic name, the mirage in their eyes. The great river lay yellow and foul, oily smooth, with streaks and streams of froth curving away where the tug-boats had passed, leading seaward ships, barques, and even brigantines crowded with emigrants. The air was still and dead, and seemed to give back an echo out of itself in the mid-day silence. The blue peter hung motionless on ships at anchor, and men and women were at the bulwarks gazing at the quays and warehouses and steeples of the city. The King Orry was leaving dock on her return passage to the Isle of Man. As she swept out into the river, passing the emigrant ships at anchor or in tow of tugs going seawards, many a hat and handkerchief was passionately and continuously waved from among the emigrants-the farewells of Manxmen going abroad, to whom the Manx boat returning to the island was the last glimpse of home. Outside, beyond the Mersey banks, the muddy and oily waters had given place to the transparent green of the open sea, furred by a ripple, and the broiling heat was tempered by a cool breeze.
Ladies with bright parasols coquettishly paced the deck, or dreamed to the music of a harp and violin beside the paddle-box. They were the harbingers of the summer visitors, the " arrivals at Easter," who were crossing to the island, tempted by the warmest and most delightful of weather, that gentle spring seen once only in seven years. There were Manx passengers also, and that day among them was John Molroy of Arrosey. He was in the deckhouse under the bridge, and was stretched on the captain's sofa smoking a cigar. The captain at a table was figuring in his account-book, a pipe in his mouth, his peaked cap well back off his forehead. From time to time he took his pipe out of his mouth, looked up at Molroy, and without speaking resumed his pipe and his figuring. Molroy was dark, his hair black with a tinge of brown; his face large, firm, but not ruddy; his eyes grey, with a preoccupied look; the expression of his face of unvarying gravity, selfcontained, unassuming, and firm. When he spoke, the pupils of his eyes expanded, and his eyes darkened and caught gleams of light, that made visible his emotions and thoughts. He was broad-shouldered and of heavy mould, and consequently looked less than his true height; but being dark, he looked older than his actual years. Finally, he wore a suit of smallpatterned shepherd's plaid and a straw hat. The captain of the King Orry, Mr. Crowe, Molroy's senior by a dozen years, at first glance looked the younger of the two. He was a thick-set, red-faced, red-whiskered seaman, with light blue eyes, offhand, laconic, genial in manner. Belonging to the north of the island, and being some sort of a connection of the Molroys, he now and again put in a night at Arrosey on his way home to his friends at the north. John Molroy, when crossing on the boat, naturally spent the best part of the passage with Mr. Crowe in his deckhouse or on the bridge.
The captain had closed his account-book and was refilling his pipe.
"I'm afraid there's something up with you, John. Anything the matter, John? No row with the old skipper, I hope? I can see it, man," said the captain.
"I've had a touch of the 'foreign' fever, Mr. Crowe," said Molroy.
The captain whistled and lit his pipe.
"Aye!" he said, and took a turn or two across the room, jerking out at intervals with grunts as punctuations. "You, eh? California? 'Pon my word! " Then he looked up.
"Are you 'total still ? Will you take anything?" "No, thanks."
" What do you say to a turn on the bridge?"
They left the deckhouse and went up into the splendour of the sea and sky.
" And the old skipper dead against it, I suppose?" said the captain.
" I haven't asked him."
Molroy leaned against the bridge rail, and the captain took short turns to and fro within speaking distance.
" Us Manx chaps know a thing of that sort well enough without asking. That's the way with us. Where you are is your post for all. It's the right thing you're doing. I thought it was all burnt out of myself. Still and for all, with these Manx chaps going out, I've had a touch of it. If I hadn't this job safe, I could get a fine ship to California to-morrow," said the captain.
" Oh, I've given it up entirely," said Molroy. "It's like you're feeling it a bit, for all, man."
More than one fair strange face, parasol on shoulder, glanced up again and again at the stalwart figure on the bridge beside the captain, none the less that Molroy saw none of them. The conversation on the bridge was thoroughly Manx, most of it long intervals of silence.
"Talking of America, d'you see that chap with the long face on deck for'ad there? Can you give him a name?" said the captain. " What is he? " said Molroy.
"It's my belief that chap's a Mormon. There's a few of them been coming to the island these months past. He's got sails of the same cut, anyway. Religion! by George! coming from America for that! "
"What are they preaching, Mr. Crowe ? "
"Dipping," said the captain laconically, "and never going to die, they make out. The old skipper had a notion of your going for a parson, John. You'd make a d-d good parson.
Are you as tall as himself? Hardly. You'll be five foot ten easy, What's your weight?"
"No, thanks, Mr. Crowe. No parson for me, thank you."
" No, man ? And what were you learning at college ? Aren't they all 'learning for parsons'? "
"Oh, no ! Riding, rowing, boxing, fencing-that sort of thing; and to hold their own among themselves, you know." "Aye, man! , But you're learning Latin and Greek and things too, man, aren't you?"
" Oh, yes."
"But the old skipper was telling me you were going to be a Master of Arts or something."
" Oh, yes; I'm something of that sort; I had to do that." "Are you, though? 'Deed he'll be proud; he's that way." The island had come into view, a faint purple undulating line above the horizon of the sea.
"Any girls to the fore ?" said the captain. "You're wanting a young mistress at Arrosey House yonder. Got anything in your eye, John ? "
" No," said Molroy indifferently.
"Damn it ! there's a nice berth for one there, though," said the captain reflectively.
The low undulating line was rising higher. It was indeed the island-its hills and capes, its purple ridges, its green slopes, its grey and silvery cliffs-his home, his mother, his fate ! Why had he not followed the voices in his heart to wander far from it into the new and golden lands? Tumults of regret and repugnance rolled and heaved within him as he smoked on the bridge, his eyes fixed on the ridge of Greeba, beyond which lay the fields of Arrosey farm. The loveliness of sky, sunlight, and sea oppressed him. His repugnance increased, and he leaned forward, his elbows on the bar of the bridge rail. The head, the lighthouse, the tower, the town were visible in gross reality, and the crowd thronging the pier. "Why?" he thought, "why?" The answer came, as it had come many a time before in like hours of questioning. There was one authority about which he could discover no uncertainty-mute, imperative, absolute-his duty to his father.
The steamer passed the lighthouse and came to the pier. All was hurry and bustle. He shook hands with the captain and left the bridge.
" Well, so long, John ! My respects to the old skipper.
Sure there's no girl in your eye, now ? I'll be up at the wedding, you know. I'll be telling you. So long! "
He sent his luggage to the coach, engaged his seat, and walked on out of the town. The breath of the island air was sweet to breathe. He saw again the familiar Manx carts on the country road, and the faces so characteristic of the island. Mile after mile he walked in the evening glow with the westering sun over Greeba. An angler was in the meadow by the Quarter Bridge. At Braddan Church, all shadowy under its woods, there were strangers loitering among the grass, reading the inscriptions on the green and mossy stones. Cattle were lying down in the fields. In the line of timber along the river birds were warbling in the silence and peace of eventide. An old beggar-woman met him, stopped, and looked in mute appeal, and he gave her a sixpence. The coach rumbled up. He saw his boxes on the top, and climbed up beside the driver, who accepted a cigar and handed him the reins. This was his time-out-of-mind privilege, and the horses instantly improved their pace at the touch of his hand. At St. Olaf's he alighted, left his boxes at the inn, and set out to walk to Arrosey.
He took the old road along the ridge of the Vaish Hills. The sun was setting over Ireland. The sea was dotted with fishingboats far as the horizon, and the high land lay dense and blue beyond. The mingling of rose and of fire illuminated the west in mysterious silence, and he lingered leaning on a gate gazing on the little town of Inchport and its dark castle by the sea.
The evening red was fading. His reflections were but fancies, dreams, roseate and unsubstantial. He had one thought fixed as the dark castle on the rock-his duty to his father. He turned from the sunset into the rutted and rain-grooved road between high banks of yellow and balmy gorse; and when hehad walked on a mile farther, struck across the fields. He paused again on the ridge to look once again at the fading west and the glassy sea. On the opposite slope, eastwards beyond the ravine, were visible the whitewashed buildings and chimneys of Arrosey, bright against the clay's dying light. Below on his right was Charley Molvurra's thrashing-mill, and over against him on its hillside terrace the farm of Creg Awin. A thin spiral of smoke rose over it. Not a breath of air deflected the smoke-wreath ; and be thought of Ellen Molvurra. Here he was home again. He was fain to cross by the thrashing-mill and call at Charley Molvurra's-just to see Ellen. But what was she to him? Nothing. What could he be to her? Nothing. He watched the smoke-wreath and wondered where she was just then. His recollection of her form, her step, her face, the flower she had once thrown him, awoke into strange vividness. He had left the excitement of a larger world behind, and her sleeping image awoke within him. But he crossed the ravine higher up, by the chapel path. The summer stars were twinkling in the pearly sky when he entered Arrosey House. The house was silent.
The peat fire was blazing on the hearthstone. The big man was not at home. For more than twenty years it had been a dull and gloomy house. There was no mother to greet the son; no smile, no kiss; nothing but silence and emptiness. He did not so much as sit down in the place that was so much his own and yet so little his own. Many a time he had wished that he might have had a sister, a younger sister, perhaps-like Ellen Molvurra even. With some such feeling of blank loneliness he went out of the house to meet his father, who had walked to Arrosey Tops after tea.
He met the big man half-a-mile on towards the Tops. " Well, John, you've got back?"
The big man gave his band to his son, half averting his face with habitual restraint, and they came back to Arrosey. "You're late. When did the coach get to St. Olaf's ?" "About seven, father."
" Have you just got home? " " Yes."
"It's taken you more than two hours. How's that? Did you stay anywhere? "
"I came by the old road and across the Vaish." "That's a queer way to come."
"Oh, I came for the walk."
"You weren't in a hurry to get home, I see." Molroy made no answer.
"Anything new?" began the big man again.
" Nothing but the emigration rush. Liverpool was busy with people sailing."
When they entered the kitchen at Arrosey, it was still in darkness.
"Here, Jane, light the lamp; get supper," said the big man. " Well, you've finished at Cambridge?"
" Yes." " H-m ! " The domestic placed a round table before the fire for the son, and laid also a cloth at the window-table for the big man.
"Jane, take that small ham. Cut into it-thin-d'you hear?"
When the table was laid, there were spoons on the round table of common metal in everyday use. The big man rose, picked them up, and threw them across the kitchen-floor. Young Molroy, accustomed to his father's ways, did not so much as turn his head. The domestic picked them up, came to the big man for his keys, and laid the table with silver, without a word spoken.
"The crops are looking well this summer," said the big man. Molroy answered with a murmur to indicate he had heard. "I wish you could take a little interest in the farm. You don't seem to care about anything about the place," said the big man.
His tone, from sheer habit, was fault-finding and querulous. Still no answer. When supper was on the table, the big man said grace, and they ate in silence. By-and-by he spoke in a more cheerful tone.
"I had some words with the Bishop the other day." Molroy looked up. He merely said " Yes."
"At the gate there. I told him I was glad to see him walking up the Creg, and it would do him good a little more of it."
Molroy was looking at the fire; he merely said"Yes; and what did the Bishop say?"
"Well, Flo worried a dog he had, and he tells me to call Flo off. 'Let your dog take his own part,' says I. 'He's like yourself, man; he's too well fed.' The coachman was for taking the whip to Flo. I took the whip from the fellow. Only for you, my boy, I'd have taken some of the fat out of the Bishop himself."
The big man went on with his ham and eggs, and after an interval resumed
"There wasn't much more than that said. He was getting in the carriage. Only for you, I'd have taken some of the port-wine out of him."
"Yes, I see," said the heir.
"Aw, yes, I restrained myself. I didn't go far with him. And what do you think of being a parson yourself?"
"I have no idea of it, father." "And why not?"
"Well, I haven't."
"I'd advise you to think of it. There you are, getting into one of these parishes. You've got enough, maybe, as it is thank God, boy !-but still, look at them ! They haven't to do a hand's turn."
"I don't think that's all, father. I'm not suited fur it. I mean the question of religion."
The big man started and stopped with his knife on his knee.
"Religion! And what about religion? Damn the religion Why, boy, there's no more religion in them chaps than there's in an old shoe ! "
"Well, then, father, I'm not hypocrite enough for it. At any rate, I intend to stay out."
"Aye, boy ? You've made up your mind?" "Yes, I have."
"H-m! And where are you going on a Sunday? Are you going to the church ? "
"Yes, I expect so."
"You're hypocrite enough for that, then?"
"No, father, I hope not. I am no hypocrite, whatever else I may be."
" And you're finding fault with me for not being one ! " " Not that I know of, father."
"Aye, boy, you are that. I'm not going to Arrosey Church. with that scarecrow at the Tops there with his mummery." "I've not found fault that I know of, father."
"You haven't? No, boy, you haven't said it, but you've thought it. Why, boy, I can tell your thoughts as plain as you know them yourself-every bit."
The big man said grace and rose.
"You won't be going out again to-night, I suppose?" he said.
" I thought of a walk," said Molroy carelessly.
"And haven't you had walk enough already? But please yourself, please yourself, you know;" and he settled to read a newspaper that Molroy, fresh from England, had brought with him.
Father and son seemed two antagonistic forces, the one impatient of rėsistance, the other tenaciously immovable, and to his father's capriciousness Molroy seemed to be permanently, if passively, in instinctive resistance. This evening Molroy sat with his father, or rather under the chimney arch he lay on a broad settle out of sight. The first interview was over, and that was a relief; but especially the oft-mooted proposal that he should be a parson had been brought upon the kitchen-flags, and, much more quietly than he had ex pected, was finally laid on the shelf. He was absolutely free, without project, and master of an income of his own, free to idle, to loaf, to amuse himself, to work or to rust, at home in Arrosey.