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This is the story of how a woman's love triumphed over neglect and wrong, and of how the unrequited passion in the great heart of a boy trod its devious paths in the way to death, until it stood alone with its burden of sin before God and the pitiless deep.
In the middle of the Irish Sea there is, as every one knows, an island which for many ages has had its own people, with their own language and laws, their own judges and governor, their own lords and kings, their own customs and superstitions, their own proverbs and saws, their own ballads and songs. On the west coast of the Isle of Man stands the town of Peel. Though clean and sweet, it is not even yet much of a place to look at with its nooks and corners, its blind lanes and dark alleys, its narrow, crooked, crabbed streets. Thirty-five years ago it was a poor little hungry fishing port, chill and cheerless enough, staring straight out over miles and miles of bleak sea. To the north of Peel stretches a broad shore; to the south lies the harbor with a rocky headland and bare mountain beyond. In front—divided from the mainland by a narrow strait—is a rugged island rock, on which stand the ruins of a castle. At the back rises a gentle slope dotted over with gray houses.
This is the scene of the following history of the love that was won and the love that was lost, of death that had no sting and the grave that had no victory. Wild and eery as the coast on which I learned it is this story of love and death; but it is true as Truth and what it owes to him who writes it now with feelings deeper than he can say is less than it asks of all by whom it is read in sympathy and simple faith.
The season was early summer; the year 1850. The morning had been bright and calm, but a mist had crept up from the sea as the day wore on, and the night, when it came, was close, dark, and dumb. Laden with its salt scent, the dank vapor had enveloped an old house on the "brew" behind the town. It was a curious place—ugly, long, loose, and straggling. One might say it was a featureless and irresolute old fabric. Over the porch was printed, "Prepare to meet thy God." It was called Balladhoo, and, with its lands, it had been for ages the holding of the Mylreas, an ancient Manx family, once rich and consequently revered, now notoriously less wealthy and proportionately more fallible.
In this house there was a parlor that faced the bay and looked out towards the old castle and the pier at the mouth of the harbor. Over the mantel-piece was carved "God's Providence is Mine Inheritance." One might add that it was a melancholy old mansion.
A gentleman was busy at a table in the bay window sorting and arranging papers by the last glimmering daylight. He was a man of sixty-five, stout, yet flaccid, and slack, and wearing a suit of coarse blue homespun that lay loosely upon him. His white hair hung about a face that bespoke an unusual combination of traits. The eyes and forehead were full of benevolence, but the mouth was alternately strong and weak, harsh and tender, uncertain whether the proper function of its mobile corners was to turn up in laughter or down in disdain.
This was Evan Mylrea, member of the House of Keys, Harbor Commissioner, and boat-owner, philanthropist and magistrate, coroner, constable and "local" for the Wesleyan body, and commonly known by his surname coupled with the name of his estate—Mylrea Balladhoo. Mylrea Balladhoo did not belie his face. He was the sort of man who gives his dog one blow for snapping at his hand, and then two more for not coming back to be caressed. Rightly understood, the theory of morals that an act like this implies tells the whole story of Mylrea's life and character, so far as either of these concerns the present history. It was the rule on which this man, now grown old, had lived with the young, reckless, light-hearted, thoughtless, beautiful, and darling wife whom he had brought from England thirty years ago, and buried at home five years afterwards. It was the principle on which he had brought up her only son.
Just now there came from some remote part of the house the most doleful wails that ever arrested mortal ears. At times they resembled the scream of the cormorant as he wheels over a rock at sea. At other times they recalled more precisely the plaintive appeal of the tailless tabby when she is pressed hard for time and space. Mylrea Balladhoo was conscious of these noises. Glancing once at his face, you might have thought it had dropped to a stern frown. Glancing twice, you must have seen that it had risen to a broad grin. One might certainly say that this was a gruesome dwelling.