[From Captain of the Parish, 1897]
PARSON OLLIKINS heard all the gossip of the country; for Miss Gawn was a privileged evening visitor at the Parsonage, even as the soldier was at Arrosey House. Miss Gawn's version was communicated to Mrs. Ollikins, and thence to the parson himself. He might be said to know and not to know. He was discreet, and repeated nothing; but he was timorous. and instinctively fought shy of an aspersed person.
Little things made him shrink into his shell. An unintelligible character paralysed him almost as much as an aspersed one. Lizzie was aspersed; Ellen was unintelligible. She had repulsed the revivalist, whereas, when the revivalist came to the Parsonage, Mr. Ollikins himself had backed and backed, and gone with him half-way on the subject of entire sanctification. The scene in his study he had not forgotten. The scene at the baking at Creg Awin had been pictured to him, magnified out of its literal incidents, and the breaking of the mistress's thread had become the smashing of her spinning-wheel, over which the revivalist was said to have jumped or fallen in his flight from Creg Awin, with Lizzie's pail on his head. The good Mr. Ollikins was afraid of Ellen, in terror of Lizzie. Lizzie's very presence in church on Sunday made him nervous. Nevertheless, sore on the subject of the revivalist, and glad to find so stout a Churchwoman, he resolved to pay a polite pastoral visit to Creg Awin, and to approach the subject of communion.
He heard the notes of a piano as he passed the parlour window, and knocked at the door with the greater confidence. The mistress showed him into the parlour. Ellen rose to receive him with grace and gravity, and frankness. Was this a wild madcap? He was still more reassured. He sat down in the arm-chair, and the mistress sat at the end of the piano, rather awkward, no doubt, but, in spite of her poor opinion of parsons' visits as things in themselves, pleased and proud notwithstanding. He was not an adept at the adroit introduction of religious conversation. He beat about the bush, and actually spoke of the weather and the crops, and, as the piano was open, of music. The mistress looked to Ellen to bear the burden of the conversation. It ended, as most of his visits ended, in his proposing to engage in prayer before departing, and, in deference to the proclivities of the inistress, taking a middle course between the Prayer-Book and an extemporaneous effusion, he repeated his favourite collects. When he was about to go, Ellen addressed him.
"Mr. Ollikins, I wish to ask you a question." He was instant attention.
"In what way should a gentleman recognise a lady when he meets her-in the highroad, for example? Should he take off his hat?"
" Oh, certainly, Miss Molvurra-that is the usual formcertainly. I am very happy, Miss Molvurra, to answer any question of that sort as to the established usage in any such matter. Certainly that is the rule of politeness-certainlythat is to say, of course ! "
You mean if she is a lady, Mr. Ollikins ? "
" Precisely, Miss Molvurra," he answered, somewhat arrested.. by her tone.
"Then Mr. Ollikins, I shall expect you to recognise me in that way in future."
" Certainly, Miss Molvurra," he stammered.
"I have been obliged to mention this, Mr. Ollikins, as you have omitted to do so heretofore. Mother, you have not offered Mr. Ollikins a cup of tea," she said placidly.
Mr. Ollikins was acutely chagrined. He submitted in confusion, and while he drank his tea was desperately hoping that nothing further of an unpleasant nature was in store for him. He had been wounded in the most delicate of his susceptibilities. Miss Molvurra had imposed on him a perpetual penance. He was for evermore hors de combat for her. As he went up the Creg, He winced and grimaced with vexation. He had gone to Creg Awin to speak of the communion, and had failed to make an opening; but she had walked straight to her point.
That Easter Day the church at Arrosey Tops was crowded as usual for the communion. Even people who commonly went to chapel went to church on that day for the sacrament. When the congregation dispersed and the communicants remained for the sacrament, Ellen and Lizzie were among those who remained. There were many who cast furtive glances at Creg Awin pew. Some boldly stared. There were none who were not surprised. Meanwhile Mr. Ollikins took note of them. His mind was depressed with melancholy thoughts, and he cogitated as to their motives in the midst of his prayers. Charitably disposed as he was in the main, he thought it was in Lizzie unquestionable presumption; and, wounded in his pride, he had almost as serious doubt whether Ellen ought to be there. Nevertheless, he spoke the words of benediction, " Preserve thy soul and body unto everlasting life," with all the charity of his kindly disposition, and thought, for good reasons of his own, that they were not the only hard hearts in the assembly.
As they came away from church together, their steps were no less buoyant, nor their mien a whit less gay than usual to the critical eye of Nell Gawn. Nor was she mistaken. Ellen thought it was a duty to be undertaken and a purpose to be accomplished. Lizzie shared in it only as she shared in all Ellen's inspirations. With Ellen she could not be wrong. It was better than anything she could have done by herself, and she bore it lightly, as she bore everything else. Otherwise it would have been accepting, and even seeking, a chain on the untrammelled liberty of her happiness, to do which was far from Lizzie's thoughts.