[From Captain of the Parish, 1897]
ELLEN was strolling in the homefield one evening in September. An iron railing separated the fields of Creg Awin from the woods below. A rabbit started from Ellen's feet, and the old sheep-dog Jess flew in pursuit-a hopeless chase, for the rabbit must finally escape into the woods; but it suddenly turned up the slope. Some one was getting over the railings from within the woods. It was Lizzie, her skirts trussed up, just as she had passed through the underwoods. She bounded into the field as she caught sight of Ellen, looked down at herself, and said with a laugh, "What a sight! " She shook out her skirts, and proceeded to loop up some loosened locks of her hair. They strolled through the homefield with many a turn to and fro. While the sunshine lay on the billside they were in its golden glow. When the shadows of the Vaish Hills crept over Creg Awin, they went towards the house and down into the garden. They idled in and out among the flower-beds, Ellen plucking here and there a bloom and making up a bouquet for the house. Among the bushes at the bottom of the garden, in the line of ash trees, they stood to look down into the highroad. On Lizzie's hat were ribbons with the brightest hues of autumn-tinted leaves, in fair contrast with her brown hair. On Ellen's hat a broad band, scarlet and white and black, with a fluttering knot. The gush of the water falling through an open sluice down by the thrashing-mill wheel filled the quiet evening with a sense of the absence of human life.
" Oh, Ellen ! " said Lizzie, " h'st ! here's young Arrosey.
I want to see him. Let's stand."
" Stand, Lizzie ? Of course; what else should we do? Run away? I'm going to throw him a flower ! " And she twisted and knotted their stems together while he came up the Creg. He saw them high above on the bushy bank in the line of silvery ash-boles. He lifted his hat, with a glance at Lizzie, but a look of recognition for Ellen only. She smiled and nodded, and with a tinge of blush held up the little bunch of flowers and tossed them into the air. With a stride, Molroy extended his arm and caught the fluttering little bouquet. "Thanks!" he said, and lifted his hat again and strode on. The flush was still on Ellen's face as they turned up the garden path.
"'He's only home for a week. I thought he was away again," she said indifferently.
"They say he's going to be a parson-is he ?" said Lizzie. "They say so. I suppose he is," said Ellen.
" Him a parson ?-never ! " said Lizzie gravely. "What do you mean, Lizzie?" said Ellen.
Lizzie laughed, and turned her head in the direction where Molroy was still visible beyond Creg Awin road gate going up to Arrosey.
"I'm glad I wasn't such a fright as I sometimes am," she said gravely, "or I wouldn't have been seen for anything. You have nothing to do, you know, Ellen, but dress yourself. What a look he gave you! Did you see his eyes? Yes, you did; of course you did. What's he like to speak to, Ellen? Is he awfully nice? "
"Miss Molvurra, if you please, down to the ground sometimes," she said, with mock gravity, arranging the bouquet again. "No, Lizzie, not exactly that," she said, in a different tone; "he always calls me Ellen, and I call him John."
"I wish I knew him," said Lizzie. " Why didn't you ask him to come up? You could have given him the flower, and pinned it on his coat with your own fingers."
"Oh, I never see anything of him-that is, not now; he's never at home," said Ellen.
Lizzie was silent as they went from the garden to the house. They went to Ellen's room, redolent of Florida water and faint lavender and flowers, gauzy with lace curtains unsubstantially dim, with glints of bright brass, impalpable yellow of walls and carpet, and a shadowy canopy over a snowy bed opposite the window. Lizzie sat down in silence and looked about while Ellen placed the flowers in water on her dressing table, and sat down by the gable window with a sigh as of weariness, and looked out across the homefield at the ash trees around the fountain.
Lizzie looked at the broad dressing-table with its great oval glass shutting out the light of the front window, its tiers of brass-handled drawers rising on each side of the glass, with candlesticks, and a multitude of toilet things arranged with orderly preciseness.
"Your room is awfully nice," said Lizzie. "How did you get it like this? The furniture is lovely."
"It was here before my mother's time. My mother had this room when she was a girl," said Ellen. "I'll light the lamp."
Lizzie rose and approached the dressing-table.
" What a lovely glass!" she said, after looking at herself in its impassive.oval. "How I should like to have a glass like this! May I do my hair, Ellen ? " "Yes, of course, Lizzie."
With a tumult of, joy she took off her hat. The loosened tresses fell in undulating waves of brown and tumbled over her shoulders.
" Oh, Lizzie, what hair you have! " and Ellen stood beside her.
Lizzie turned away from the glass and with both hands tossed her hair back. Dark brown and light brown, in light and in shadow, in crisp and laughing ripples it flowed from her head as she shook it with passionate joy and glanced sidewise to see how fair a picture was in the oval frame.
" Let me see your hair, Ellen," said Lizzie, turning gravely to her friend.
" What nonsense! it's no use; it's not like yours." But she put up her hands and loosened the imprisoned glory, and the liberated folds sprang loose and rolled down. A smile danced in her dark eyes and played around her lips. They laughed like children, but in low rich tones, half laughter, half sigh. They turned back to back and looked sidewise into the glass, and saw their heads and shoulders and mingling hair.
"Well?" said Ellen.
" Ah, you, Ellen; it is fuller, and even longer than mine." "A very little, I think. Yes, my hair is rather good," said Ellen.
"And you are not taller than me either," said Lizzie. "I don't think you are. But don't you look taller?" " I am slighter perhaps."
" No," said Lizzie ; " slighter, are you ? it's your dress." There was a step on the stairs. Lizzie started.
"It's all right," said Ellen; "it's only mother; she never comes in here," and, there was a curl on Ellen's lip. They turned to the glass and did up their hair, silent for joy as they changed places again and again, or glanced over each other's shoulders in the glass, now on one side now on the other. Again they sat down, and Lizzie sighed as she looked at the beautiful room, thinking of her own poor nest at the Cairnmore.
When they parted in the shadowy dusk at the plank across the Narradale river, they were talking again of John Molroy. " Mother says Arrosey himself was wild enough once, and it's only natural for the heir to be too," said Lizzie.
" It's nonsense, Lizzie ; I don't believe it. I don't believe it in the least degree," said Ellen. "Who says he is wild? Juan Paddy, very likely. Very well; perhaps Nell Gawn told him. We know what that means."
" But haven't you heard yourself ? " said Lizzie.
" Oh, I never pay any attention to what I hear in our house. I know where it comes from," said Ellen.
" But what if he is? what worse is he? I-don't like people who are shocked ! shocked ! shocked ! " and Lizzie twisted her face into successive degrees of mock disgust. . "I hope he isn't one of that sort, at any rate."
" I don't pretend to know what wild means," said Ellen. " But what is said by that lot, Lizzie, will never change my opinion of him."
Lizzie passed her hand through Ellen's arm and placed her cheek close to Ellen's.
"You are-his-sweetheart ! " she said, in a low, deep, passionate tone.
Ellen blushed a blush visible in the dim light. Her heart throbbed with a confused emotion.
" You are mistaken, Lizzie ; I am nobody's sweetheart. I am nothing-but his friend."