[From Captain of the Parish, 1897]
MILVARTIN'S friends were staying at Callister's, an inn on the Shore Road of Inchport Bay. As far as the limit of the town, the road has a sea-wall of rusty-red sandstone, where fishermen bait their lines and display for sale their fish, and where idlers and wiseacres congregate. Adjoining the town are green slopes, and beyond these the red cliffs of a headland. The neap tides rasp the roaring shingle on the beach and rise no farther, but the spring tides splash against the wall, leap skywards, and toss pebbles and wrack into the road; lap the green turf, and leave a tidal line of flotsam and jetsam on the grass; and chafe helplessly against the cliffs of the headland.
The dismal, boisterous, busy, romantic sea-front of the fishing town looks out against an island that guards its bay from western gales, and conceals a little harbour under a hill whose sward the plough has never broken, and where sheep crop the virgin herbage, and lambs gambol about the fishermen's mooring-posts.
On this island is the castle of Inchport, from which, looking back to the town, one sees Callister's inn, plastered and whitewashed, gleaming in the sunlight, amid the dull red sandstone of which the town is built.
Molroy drove in his gig to Inchport, the very dust and paving-stones familiar as the street of Arrosey farm. Milvartin and his friends were strolling along the margin of the bay. Molroy joined them on the shore, and found with Milvartin a gentleman and lady, their designation Mr. and Mrs. Orson Pratt.
Mr. Orson Pratt was a big man, solid and full-bodied, cast in the same mould as Arrosey, with an immense head, prominent cheek-bones, mouth broad and decisive, beard long and straggling-a face of passions dominated by a mastering will. He wore a silk hat, black frock-coat, a richly flowered satin waistcoat, spacious glossy shirt front, dark grey striped trousers bulged at the knees, and short enough to betray that he wore top-boots. He carried an ebony walking-stick with gold head, and a bunch of seals hung from his watch-guard, pendant from underneath his waistcoat at the right side. He had the air of plainness and mediocrity of distinction of a Methodist preacher of the old school. His movements were brusque and heavy, lacking the energetic swing and light step of Arrosey. His shoulders had already a suggestion of a stoop. His eye was alternately preoccupied and frowningly observant-steady, penetrating, occasionally flashing with magnetic force, or with a gleam of repelling sternness.
The lady was quite different: she suggested a contrast, an incongruity. She was slight in figure and graceful in movement, with lovely smooth hair flowing over her temples, sparkling dark eyes, and a tinge of rosy colour suffused through her delicate cheeks. There was a charm about Mrs. Orson Pratt, more precisely about her clean-cut perfectly-formed mouth, full, mobile, smiling, and showing large, even, and very white teeth. She was vivacious, talking incessantly in measured, business-like, leisurely manner, her eyes meanwhile shifty, restless, and averted.
"Mr. and Mrs. Pratt are Americans," said Enos. "Mr. Pratt and I are old acquaintance," and they all four strolled on along the shore. Subsequently Orson Pratt and Milvartin were walking in front, and Mrs. Pratt and Molroy, talking together, gradually dropped behind.
"Delightful little country this of yours, Mr. Molroy," she said. "I've often heard of the Island, of course, but never imagined it anything like what I find it. You're not English, but Manx, isn't that it?"
"Yes. Mr. Milvartin, of course, you know, is one of us."
"Oh, no! he's an American. You aren't unlike an American yourself, Mr. Molroy. I wish you were. Perhaps you will be."
The sunshine, the sea, the shore, the red cliffs and the green steeps, the old town, irregular and picturesque, half whitewashed, half red sandstone, the grave and pensive castle on its seaward islet, were all charming. They were walking by the water's edge, and the luggers going to sea stood up seemingly near and magnified out of due proportion against the light. "We've just crossed from Liverpool for a few days," she resumed. " For a few days ?-weeks perhaps it will be. We drove over across the Island to this curious zizgag old place, and have decided to stay a while. It seems just as if all the people live the whole of their lives in this little town, nobody ever leaving it, no one ever coming to it. Would they allow an entire stranger to settle here, Mr. Molroy?"
"Its appearance is quite deceptive, then," said Molroy; " there isn't a house in the town but has some one in America. The women go abroad as well as the men. What part of the United States do you live in, Mrs. Pratt? I'm certain there's an Inchport man or an Inchport woman in your own neighbourhood."
She looked up.
"Our present headquarters are in Liverpool. We have been exiles in England since we came over, but we go out to the States this Fall-at least I do. To what part?-to Missouri, Mr. Molroy. Make up your mind and come out with us. Can't you be tempted? "
" You live in a ' city,' I suppose? " he said.
"Yes. Now let's go back to the inn. They are old friends," she said, nodding towards Orson Pratt and Enos. "I daresay they have enough to say to each other. You and Mr. Milvartin are old friends too, I believe," she resumed, as they turned back along the pebbly shore, just clear of the transparent washes of the tide, "or knew one another long ago-though, of course, you are-let me see," and she glanced at Molroy with a smile of good-humour, " ten years younger? "
"I hardly remember him before he went abroad. I know his family."
" Otherwise, that is to say, you are acquainted only through them."
" And neighbourhood counts for something."
" But he counts for something himself too, does he not ? He is a man with a great future. He will take a prominent
position in America some day. Don't you admire him ?" "Admire him ! " said Molroy, and paused.
"I mean, are you attracted by him ? "
" Oh, I'm too apathetic for that," he said.
"You take some interest in religion, Mr. Molroy?" " I ? Well, no, hardly any. Does he, Mrs. Pratt? "
She looked at him with a keen, restless look, with an amiable smile, her lips parted, her mouth charming.
" I see," she said. " Mr. Milvartin is fortunate." She seemed to reflect, and continued, " Yes, he is absorbed in ideas of that sort. Yes, very much so. And you, Mr. Molroy, have just come along with him out of friendliness, with no interest in his interests! And what does interest you? Politics? or possibly love? "
They walked off the beach among the fishermen and loafers on the Shore Road by the jetties. She sat down on a seat before the inn windows near an old gun from the castle, grimly pointing seawards as if to guard the bay.
"According to Mr. Pratt," she began, "religious ideas in this country are like that old gun. It is out of date. It has a kind of show, but it won't take part in a fight again."
"And what religious ideas has Mr. Pratt, then ? " said Molroy.
Orson Pratt and Milvartin had turned on the shore and were coming towards the town. She smiled.
"Listen! " she said, looking along the sands. "1 take hardly any interest in religion either. I listen, and I amuse myself. Mr. Pratt is serious, sombre, argumentative. Mr. Milvartin is neither argumentative nor sombre; he is serious though, I can tell you."
" He strikes me as being a touch sombre too," said Molroy offhandedly. She sighed. A slight frown gathered over her eyes, her lips closed. He stood near her, his foot on the old gun. "So long as you are here, I shall not be quite alone. Any one who takes 'hardly any' interest in religion is my 'brother."' She pronounced the word brother with a nasal twang in the manner of the religious, and sat with halfclosed eyes looking towards Orson Pratt and Milvartin in the distance.
" Sit down, Mr. Molroy," she said, in a changed tone. "I'll stand, thanks," he said.
" Nonsense ! sit down. Mr. Pratt is not prone to jealousy; he does not think me frivolous."
"You do not imagine yourself so either, do you?" said Molroy.
" Well, that is candid. You are not a talker, but you convey your ideas straight when you do say anything." When Orson Pratt and Enos were coming up the jetty from the shore-
"Well," she sighed, "they're here. At least we have arrived at an understanding on one point perhaps-' hardly any' interest, you know. I feel that we are friends already. Do keep me in countenance by listening patiently to Mr. Pratt," she said to Molroy in a half whisper, looking straight before her, and as they came within earshot.