[From Captain of the Parish, 1897]
HIGH up in the glen of Narradale is the waterfall. The river has hewed out mighty steps down a rocky ledge between the uplands and the lower valley, each step worn into a cauldron, round and polished and fathoms deep-dark walls overhung with leaning pines and fringed with luxuriant ferns, moist in the sunless gorge. The water swirls and chafes and rushes through narrow doorways over threshold ledges to fall into the cauldron below. The last is the great fall, where the river leaps into the open valley, and there the Narradale river is joined by its gentler sister stream, the coy Arderry. The downward path of the Arderry is an interminable succession of modest waterbreaks, pools, and shallows. Its glen is more secluded, below banks overhung with firwoods, opening to the afternoon sun weltering over Arrosey heights. Goats feed among the crags above, their bearded faces starting up like wild inhabitants of the solitude. You seem to be hearing the voices of men among the trees, but it is only the cooings of the wood-pigeons. It is a wilderness without a path, the undergrowth a tangle of briers, blaeberry bushes, and thickets of hazel.
It was the afternoon of Midsummer Day, when everybody in the country had gone to the fair. The highroads were dusty, the sun blazing hot, when early in the afternoon Ellen Molvurra arrived at Cairnmore. The farm was silent, her foot and its faint echo the only sound. The house-door stood open, and she passed into the coolness and stillness of the kitchen, glad to escape from the blazing sun. She spoke, " Lizzie ! Lizzie ! " but no one answered. She came out again and crossed the farm street to the meadow edge. A hundred paces down the meadow, Lizzie, in light deshabille, was bleaching a dazzling patch of linen, herself as snowy under her crisply ironed sun-bonnet, sprinkling with her fingers drops of sparkling rain from a tin pail that flashed like silver. Ellen came down the meadow.
" Ah ! you, Ellen?" said Lizzie, with a smile of passionate joy, and she went on swaying from right to left and left to right, scattering the shower of dewdrops on the linen on either side. " I'm tired of going over this again and again. I was just thinking of you, and longing for you. What made me think of you? I'm alone to-day; father and mother are at the fair," and she set down her empty pail. They looked at each other with an irresistible smile, seeing mirrored in each other their own joyous selves.
"I'm not going to do another hand's turn to-day, and I'm not going to stay in the house. What shall we do?" said Lizzie.
Ellen's dark eyes looked up to the purple slope of the Cairn Hill sleeping in the haze of the afternoon sun.
"No," said Lizzie, "not there; it's too hot, far too hot. Let's go to the waterfall."
It was a place of mystery for ever booming in its deep woods. " Ob, yes, certainly. We will bathe, Lizzie. Fly, get towels, and something to bathe in. Do let's have a bathe." And they tripped up the meadow. They laughed with delight, and the silent farm echoed with their merriment.
" Bathe ! bathe! bathe ! Ob, I think I'm in already," said Lizzie, and she went into the house.
Ellen threw herself on the stone bench by the kitchen window, and looked down the vista of the valley to the hills around St. Olaf's, where was the Tynwald. What was its confusion, its crowd, its thousands of country people to her? Nothing! It had no attraction. She was positively happy in not being there. She was alone with Lizzie, a thousand times more delightful. But that was not why she gazed down the vista of the glen. It was the direction of the highway along which, some day, John Molroy would be returning to Arrosey, and to, perhaps, herself.
They went away across the fields, with cows and sheep lying down along the line of the timber or beside the broken fences. They penetrated into the woods, evading briers, winding round hazel copses, holding on by tree-trunks, laughing, slipping, sliding, with the boom of the waterfall sounding with mysterious fascination. They were startled by the flapping of wood-pigeons in the larch foliage overhead. They heard the scream of a hawk. They almost shrieked when a solemn bearded goat stared from a thicket. Then through blaeberry bushes they emerged on bare rocks by the Arderry shallows opposite the waterfall, and stood to breathe and to gaze on the snowy torrent bursting into view from the face of grey cliffs and thundering into the pool.
There was a fallen larch that lay across the stream, its green fronds swaying on the shallow. They waded the stream beside it, and landed on the grass close by the Fairy Stone. They crept out on -the rocks under the fall and watched the tumbling sheet of white water and the rainbow over the pool. In the turbulent transparency of its green and circling deeps was delicious coolness, and they gazed with happy fascination. High above rose the silvery lichened crags. They left the waterfall, passed the Fairy Stone, climbed by zigzag paths till they came out into the light of the open sky on the bare and sunlit summit of the promontory that divides the glens of Narradale and Arderry. They crept to the edge and peered down into the green cauldrons. A pine loosened from its roots had fallen into the gorge, and lay with its top down in the narrow doorway from one of the cauldrons to that below.
"How dreadful to fall in! " said Lizzie.
" I wish I could swim," said Ellen, " like that big trout. See ! "
" Ah ! Ellen, no one could swim down there."
" Oh, yes, Lizzie, I can swim. Some day I will jump into that pool and climb out along that big fir tree," said Ellen, with mock gravity.
" Then I'll jump in with you," said Lizzie, with the same tone, "if you'll go first, you know."
They turned away, and crossed the promontory in search of a bathing pool in Arderry glen. They struggled up its tortuous windings on the Cairnmore side, among larches and birches, watching the pools in the river, till at last they could descend to the fair solitude of their search. In an elbow of the glen there is, at the foot of ivied crags, the wall of the opposing promontory, a level space shut off by the river, whereon grows a queenly grove of silver firs, their dark foliage encrusted with frosting of silver sheen, and their summits soaring to the level of the promontory. By a narrow shoot the river slides into a deep pool in the angle beside this grove, and laps a beach of sand on its margin. Within the grove the earth is covered with a carpet of fallen and withered spines. From year to year no foot wades the shallow where the river leaves the pool, to press the elastic pile of the brown carpet. They saw the grove of silver firs and the pool beside it, and there they came down to the river. They waded the shallow, with the sun full in the narrow strip of sky between the lines of tree-tops, and felt a carpet soft and warm within the grove and patterned with sunshine stealing through the branches overhead. Half in shade and half in sunglow, with flickering reflections dancing on their faces, they peered into the depths of the pool and scanned its bed of rock and sand and shingle. They looked at each other with beaming eyes.
"What a spot! what a delightful place! " said Ellen. " It is the very place. There can be no other like this."
They hung their clothes on the stumps of branches that had decayed and fallen, studding the trunks of the trees as though intended for this use. They walked out into the sunshine, laughing with gasps of laughter as the sun's blaze fell on their arms and loosened hair.
The stillness was profound, and the warmth in the deeps of the glen oppressive but for the murmuring and coolness of the river beside them. With arms extended, they waded shoulderdeep into its cool and softly swaying waters, touching the ledges which overhung, clasping the projections of rock with their fingers, and making the circuit of it all round the deeper parts. In every niche and fissure above them ferns grew, green and wavy and moist with water trickling down the crevices. There was but a strip of blue above the wavy tops of the woods, and the sun blazing in mid-heaven. They sank underneath the water, their hair floating and swaying on the surface. They climbed the watershoot, and let the rushing water slide them, tumbling and splashing, and rose, gasping for breath, to part their disordered and streaming hair. A smooth-worn ledge projected beside the watershoot, and there they clambered. Its surface was warm as a hearthstone with the suns blaze. The wet prints of their feet instantly dried, they wrung the water out of their hair, and basked with satiation of delight. Then, holding their arms aloft, they dived headlong to disappear and emerge again standing shoulderdeep with hair spread all over face and shoulders, calling, and laughing, and gasping, and swaying, and clambering back to the ledge again.
It was late in the afternoon ere they left the river to the mystery of its woods, the splashings and eddyings of its waters, and the voices of birds in the branches overhead. Through the fields, where the cows and sheep were still lying down, they passed homewards, drying their hair as they went.
" Are you his friend still, Ellen ? " said Lizzie.
" Yes, Lizzie ; there is no difference-there can be none," said Ellen carelessly.
"And don't you think he likes you a little? Now, don't you, Ellen?"
" Why, Lizzie, how can I possibly know his thoughts? "
" Ah ! but I'm sure he thinks a lot of you, Ellen. He's always looking at you."
"Nonsense!" said Ellen, with unaffected cheerfulness. "Always? And does he never look at you?"
"Me? Oh, dear, no; never," said Lizzie. "Never."
" No, never? Now, Lizzie ! "
"If he looks at me, you know, Ellen, he just looks away again. That isn't looking at me. That isn't the way he looks at you; and then he walks with you."
" Lizzie, of course you mean he's my sweetheart. Well, he isn't, not the very least bit. My sweetheart ? Young Arrosey ? Yes, if you mean that he's the only sweetheart I have."
" I shouldn't wonder if you're all the sweetheart he has too," said Lizzie convincedly.
" You know far more than I do, of course, Lizzie," said Ellen. And never a word of talk with him, of course?" said Lizzie teasingly.
"Yes-his talk-London-places he has been to-the college at Cambridge-fishing-horses," said Ellen.
" That's nice talk ! " said Lizzie. " Why shouldn't it be
you, Ellen ? He must care for somebody; I know he must. I won't believe he doesn't. Look at his eyes."
" Oh, yes; the loveliest eyes in the world. But what do people say? Proud, they say. Proud? Yes; I wouldn't give much for him if he wasn't. I hope he is."
" Yes," said Lizzie, " and something else. They say he's wild."
" No," said Ellen, " if I know what is meant. But tame? Certainly Dot. It's somebody far away, Lizzie, beyond this neighbourhood, outside the island, if it's anybody."
There was a look of sudden anguish in Lizzie's eyes. She made as if to speak again and again, but the purpose seemed to fail her. At last she said gravely
" Outside the island? far away, Ellen? Then, Ellen, there isn't anything? You are only his friend?"
" Between young Arrosey and myself ? Oh, no; nothing." And she too had a look, not of anguish, indeed, but of smiling fortitude and of dauntless hope.