[From Captain of the Parish, 1897]

CHAPTER IV - CAIRNMORE

OVER against Arrosey and Creg Awin, beyond Narradale Glen eastwards, is the Cairn Hill, a ridge of heathery moors with a central eminence. Between the lines of heather above and timber below is the Cairnmore farm. At its northern end the outfields, the forest glen, and the moor meet together.

It is mainly a tract of pasture fields for sheep and cattle, but in the homefields there are crops of hay, and oats, and potatoes. One feature of the farm is charming-a rich stretch of greenest meadow sloping from the homestead southwards towards a woody ravine, beyond which lies the farm of Cairn Beg.

The house at Cairnmore is long and low, with the upper story nothing more than an attic under the heavy hood of thatch; the walls of dark slate, tinged with the rusty brown of iron, and inexpressibly sombre in hue. The street before the door and the whole farmyard is sloping and uneven, around which is a collection of thatched stables, cowsheds, cartsheds, and low barns-the whole shaded within a ring clump of gnarled and twisted ash trees, all leaning away from

the west wind, that has blighted their growth. In the Cairn

more lived old Charley Milvartin. He had inherited the farm from father and grandfather many times told; but it was, in fact, deeply mortgaged, and the Milvartins were understood to be in poor circumstances altogether. The old man was a constant frequenter of Matt Hunthan's, and there he used to say that Enos-his eldest son Enos, who was abroad in America-sent home the interest on the mortgage. This version of their circumstances was pretty well accepted in the country, but the fact of the mortgage remained. How old Charley Milvartin contrived to get home after an evening at Matt's was a mystery, for his way lay over a plank below the cart-and-horse ford across the Narradale river. But whenever he was not absolutely obliged to be doing something on the farm, be was down at Matt's hobnobbing with old soakers, some of them even worse than himself. Old Charley bad seen better days, but he had all along let things go their own way. Old Mrs. Milvartin managed to keep things in some sort going on. She too had seen better days, and she clung to the memory of the past without wholly losing hope of the future. Besides the old people there was no one else but Lizzie, the youngest of a family of boys and girls who had grown up, and had all floated away on the stream of emigration that flowed in the "thirties" and "forties" to new homes in America. What fortune had befallen them all was hardly known. They had been a wildish lot, except Enos, the eldest, the only one of whom the old people ever spoke freely. He was their pride. He had absorbed the love of his mother's heart, and he was the life of her hope, the star of the better day to come. Lizzie alone remained to the

father and mother. She was tall and graceful; had a fair complexion, unsullied by stain of freckle or sunburn; hair of light coppery brown, that from a well-marked parting in the middle rose in crisp firm ripples, veiled her temples, and flowed over her ears into larger undulations on her shoulders; large, steady, grey eyes; and altogether a beautiful, audacious, but unfriendly face.

The reputation of the Milvartins was clouded with undefined suspicion. As to their having gone back in the world, the old man's tippling made it a matter of fault, not of misfortune. Seldom or never did neighbour or stranger seek the Cairnmore on a friendlier errand than that of getting from old Charley a payment of some sort or other. No one said anything adverse, of old Mrs. Milvartin; but there was a feeling against the Milvartin children. The boys who had gone abroad bad been wildish characters, and the girls now in America had been flauntingly frivolous. They had been dangerously good-looking, which had made their reputation worse. And in this way, before Lizzie Milvartin was old enough to give solid ground for any definite opinion as to what kind of girl she was, already she had shared the ill repute of the rest. There was an inveterate prejudice that the Cairnmore children had a bad bringing up. But whoever went to the Cairnmore could see, if they saw anything, that Lizzie, a mere girl in her teens, was a hard-working slave and drudge. The sight of her, with her great tresses of brown hair carelessly looped up or tumbling in a torrent over her shoulders from underneath a sun-bonnet that hid her face, her coarse frock, her apron of sacking, her strong shoes, engaged interminably in feeding poultry, pigs, or cattle, or with their work-people in the fields shearing corn with a sickle, herself binding the sheaves, or turning and tossing and ricking the hay, was altogether made a matter of jest rather than of sympathy.

Her coming down through the timber on the darkest of nights, and waiting alone about the ford to watch for her father and help him over the plank and home along the unfenced turns of the Cairnmore road, was for the most part unknown. It needed some courage none the less. Nevertheless, every eye that saw Lizzie was irresistibly attracted by the grace of her movements. For all her drudgery, she was as straight as a pine. In a coarse dress and apron of sacking, and in her strong shoes, her step was graceful and easy; her

mean disguise could not conceal the unmistakable presence of no ordinary beauty. There she was, endowed with superabundant grace of form, and wholly unconcerned, as if it were nothing, working and toiling with muscles of steel to save her mother and to get the work done. She fixed her eyes on the people she met with a smile of secret amusement; she laughed a little audible crow of laughter; she tossed and turned her head. She could look fierce, contemptuous, With a mere turn or half turn on her heel she could perplex, confuse, and repel. Thus, without ever a word being spoken, she was as ' impudent as sin."

But Lizzie Milvartin at home and Lizzie from home were the greatest possible contrasts. She had a passion for fine clothes.

,1 Aw, she's a pigeon. She don't care how the nest is if she has clean feathers when she's on the wing," the people said. As for feathers of that sort, Lizzie bad too few not to take care of them. Old Mrs. Milvartin had indulged her children too much perhaps, but none the less she continued to indulge Lizzie. The indulgence in money to spend was truly no great thing; but every coin that came to Lizzie's fingers was spent on superfine " dress," fine stockings, fine shoes, the gayest of flowered and figured muslins, hats, ribbons, gloves, and "figaries of all sorts." Moreover, at Cairnmore it was

not all drudgery unbroken. Lizzie could throw off her coarse frock, and bounce and flutter' white-armed into the meadow, to bleach, on its velvet turf, linen dainty and fine and daz zling like snow. And when Lizzie came abroad, her shapely shoes, her wonderful needle-worked white skirts and frills, her figured muslins, all flounced and stylish and jauntily graceful, her gloves, her audacious hats, and bright parasol, were the secret despair and the rancorous censure of all the girls in the locality pacing the highroads on Sundays on their way to church and to chapel.

" Ob, she's shameful, shameful ! the way she shows off them skirts. Just a little whip of her hand and the glove and the skirt. Aw, she hasn't any regard nor decency. She's no better tel' an actress-aye, an actress she's like."

Actress was permissible to ears polite, and in country speech conveyed all that was absolutely and unconditionally bad. Lizzie was not a gregarious creature. She was a pigeon

without a mate. The country girls had not the courage or lacked the ambition to test Lizzie's mettle, and make trial of

her acquaintance. They feared repulse and confusion. They were daunted by the grace of limb, the glancing eyes that instantly stared cool grey, the fire, the audacity, the mischief. When " going from home " she strode down to the plank across the Narradale river, a dancing puff of lambswool, and frills and muslin floating down the green vista, her step a quivering strut, her shoe scarce leaving a footprint on the river sands, and her eyes breaking into flashes of repelling and mocking smiles, and breaking her strut with the pretty falcade of changing step.

When Lizzie was old enough, the duty devolved on her of going to market in place of her mother; and this proved an epoch in her experiences from the first Saturday of her new responsibility-a day marked by the discovery of a friendship.

Ellen Molvurra and Lizzie had been little girls together at Nell Gawn's. They had stood side by side, their little shoes stained with blood, watching John Molroy shaving pigs with the butcher, or pressing the skin off a sheep, cloth in hand and his knife in his teeth. They had trotted home from school beside him, and together had played back the hockey ball he kept driving ahead. But all that was years ago and almost forgotten. Ellen had gone to a fine school for young ladies in Inchport, and they had been quite parted ever so long. Ellen had gained the sobriquet of " my lady," and the reputation of being " as proud as proud." She had walked over all their heads because she thought nothing about them and kept to herself. Lizzie knew all this, secretly admired her, envied her distinction, scorned in comparison all others, with unwonted decorum responded to her nod, and wondered what Ellen was like. On Lizzie's first day at market, -by chance the Creg Awin gig and the Cairnmore shandry arrived at the Saddle Inn together. To Lizzie's passionate delight, Ellen Molvurra not only spoke to her, but asked her to stand side by side with her at the market. For the first time Lizzie found herself with some one who could laugb. She had never been happier in her life; she was never so surprised as to find that Ellen was " the jolliest girl, mother, you could possibly have imagined," as she expressed it that evening by the fireside at Cairnmore. There was-another thing that day, though Lizzie said nothing about it to her mother; and that was the nice wav Ellen had behaved to Lizzie's father.

Old Charley Milvartin spent Saturday lounging about the market talking to the butchers, and taking intervals at neigh-

bouring public-houses. The first sales of the day went to supply the old man with ready money, and by evening he was far from thoroughly sober. Lizzie had to harness the spotted grey cob to the shandry, and, with the old man stupidly nodding beside her, drive the shandry home. She was too accustomed to this sort of thing to take it otherwise than thoughtlessly; only she wondered that Ellen neither smiled nor frowned, nor altered her manner one whit for all she saw of the old man's ways.

It had been seldom Lizzie had hitherto gone to Arrosey Church. Her eldest brother, Enos, the only one of the lot with a bit of religion attached to him, had been a local preacher, and Lizzie had gone, if anywhere, to chapel. But that Sunday morning she arrived at church very late, and looking

as if she had come in late on purpose. As she passed up the aisle in a dainty delaine with a flower figure, Ellen Molvurra

pushed open the door of her pew. A blush of joy mantled on Lizzie's face, and her heart swelled with happiness as she knelt and stood and sat beside Ellen, recognised and exalted as

Ellen's friend. They walked home together after church, and then it was discovered that they were always together.

"She's that wicked, I'm wondering that 'my lady' is going with her," said Wade, the roadman, one evening at Matt's. " Aw, she's a devil ; it's an actress she's cut out for; she'll come to it yet, it's my belief."

"Aye, and nice she can act too, Wade, boy," said Dan Creer.

"Thee, Creer? and what do thou know? What would acting, as thou calls it, be like, Creer?" said the roadman. "Know ? me know? Aw, Wade, thou would go down on thy knees far faster tel' at chapel if thou had seen as much

of her stocking as I've seen. I've had her foot in my hand,

Wade. Haven't I been measuring her?" said the shoemaker.

"Are thou getting paid for them, Creer? Is the Cairnmore paying thee?" said the roadman.

"Paid, my boy? My work and thine is in different stuff. It's payment enough to be getting the doing of some of my work," said the shoemaker.

"Aye, shoeing is a nice trade, Dan," said the smith, "when there's a pastern like that chestnut one. Thou knows, Wade, that me and Dan has a bit of blood to shoe a chance time. What do thou say, Dan? It's teaching a man his trade, isn't it, Dan? What's roads, Wade? Did thou ever take

notice of the bit of steel in them shoes on 'my lady's' little horse ? I've put a bit of elbow-grease into the shine of them shoes."

"Aw, that one is too stuck up altogether, Bell," said the shoemaker with a shrug.

"Who? my lady? No fears! She's coming to the smiddy herself with the little horse; aye, and blowing the bellows for me and leaning her elbow on it, standing watching the shoes

going a-making; aye, and laughing and fun. But no rough

shoeing there, boy; she's too fine for thy work, Dan. D-n it, Creer, thou'll never see thy hand on her fetlock," said the smith.

" Aw, I'm not in it with thee, James; I'm nothing to thee and Wade. Were thou ever getting tea with her, Wade? Wade is that good on Sundays; maybe she's pouring out the tea for him, Bell, and the white shirt to the fore."

"Aw, no," said the smith, "thou mustn't let that on, Wade, my boy. Juan Paddy is telling that she's putting thyself and the preacher in the kitchen with the mistress, and them having a little prayer at tea, and my lady and the old gentleman in the parlour. What do thou say, Wade?"..

"Dan Creer, only I'm a surveyor of highways-" began the roadman, already roused. The company were interrupted by the arrival of the soldier, who had no sooner taken his seat than the smith resumed

" Are thou equal to him, Creer ? Take the floor, Creer ! "

"Men, men! Come, come ! What's up with you?" said the soldier.

"Aw, Wade's blood is up;" said the smith. 11 The young one at the Cairnmore was taking him off coming down the

Creg on Sunday. Jogging her quarters, and turning in her toes with a screw of her little fetlocks, and her thumbs stuck under her arms as if she had an acre of white shirt. Aw,

she had thee to the life, Wade. That's what's doing on him, Mr. Curlat, sir."

"And what was my lady doing, James?" said the soldier, drawing his arm across his mouth after his first draught.

" Aw, they're a pair of bloods. The chestnut making a stop and a half-stop, and changing step a bit; but the black one going easy, a free step and a tight rein-that's the black one, Mr. Curlat, sir. But I wouldn't trust; she had the wickedest eye of the pair."

"James, do thou reckon," said the roadman, with a new incensement, " was she setting Lizzie on ? My G-d ! if I thought that!"

'1 Aw, boy, veen ! " said the soldier; " that one don't want any setting on."

"Aye, Mr. Curlat, sir; but in the public highroad," said the overseer.

" And d-n it, Wade, what odds if she was ? " said the smith. "Stand us glasses round on the strength of it." "'Deed he won't," said the shoemaker, with a shrug.

"Dan Creer, thou can go to h-11," said the roadman. "Thou're not too fond of standing a glass thyself, Dan," said the smith.

"Aye, James," said the roadman, "but Creer is not far off if there's anybody else to the fore with a glass."

"Now, Dan, buck up. Show thy mettle, Dan. Show him what thou're made of, Dan," said the smith encouragingly. "'Deed I'm to the fore with a glass as ready as ever thou are, Wade ! Matthias, glasses for the company. But thou'll

serve no man that won't drink to the young one. Will thou drink with me, Wade, boy? "

" Aw, John will swallow the actress fine enough, Daniel. What odds, Wade? She's taking off better men than thee, John. She had Arrosey himself under his very nose, and my lady just smiling. That one could see the fun fine. She's putting Lizzie up to it, it's my belief," said the smith.

"Well, Mr. Creer," said the surveyor of highways, taking his glass from Matt, "I'm never a man to keep spite. I'm agreeable in a fair way to anything. Still, when men is mocked to their faces on the public highroads, and the people laughing coming from chapel on a Sunday-"

"Chut, man ! Chut, man !" said the soldier. "But Mr. Curlat, sir---" insisted the surveyor.

"Chut, Wade, man! Nobody thinks any the worse of thee. Thou're known, man ! And was she jogging her rump

that way, James?" And the soldier rose and stood glass in hand before the fire and looked at the winking liquor.

"I'll tell you what, man," he continued. "There'll be blood enough up over that one yet, and hotter blood tel' Wade's, before she's done."

"I'll tell thee what, Creer," said the smith. "Thou had better give us the pair of them. Give us the black and the chestnut together, Dan."

The soldier's hand shook as he held his glass.

"No, Bell," he said, in a tone that made the company start. "None of that here. She's not in it. I think we'll leave them girls alone, James."

"All right, Mr. Curlat, sir! All right, sir!" said the smith, and he tossed off his glass and drew his sleeve across his mouth.

" I'd as soon have my mouth wiped with me own fist as with yours, Mr. Curlat, sir, any day," said the smith complacently. But when the soldier had gone his ways, none of the company thought it well to venture on any reference to the fact of Bell's having quietly submitted to the law laid down by Mr. Curlat.


 

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