[From Captain of the Parish, 1897]

CHAPTER X THE HARBINGER

JUAN PADDY arrived at Creg Awin farm one morning in April. His hobbling tramp on the farm street was heard through the open door by Ellen as she stood making up butter in the dairy. The old man came into the kitchen and looked round, swinging his head from side to side, till he heard Ellen's voice from the dairy : " Take a seat, Juan." He sat on the settle by the door, his. hat at his feet, and with a big red handkerchief which he kept in the crown of his bat, he mopped his face and bald head, coughed, and stared about the room. He did not feel the lapse of time. Waiting indefinitely made no difference to Juan. The whirr and boom of the thrashing mill were faintly audible from the ravine below. Within the house the clock ticked drowsily. A peat fire smouldered on the hearth; and on the flags at the old man's feet lay a square of sunshine.

At last Ellen appeared.

" Well, Juan, what news to-day ? " she said, as with buoyant foot she glided into the kitchen, slung the kettle on the slourie hook, and roused the fire.

"I don't know, indeed! " said Juan.

"Will you have a cup of tea, Juan ? " and without waiting for an answer she placed food at the end of the window table, and the old man moved from the settle to the chair, and instantly began to eat. Ellen made tea for the mendicant and placed it on the table beside him. "Help yourself, Juan ! I'm busy." And she glided away to her dairy again.

Half-an-hour went by, the old man eating slowly, deliberately, voraciously, staring round the kitchen and eyeing every object mechanically for the fiftieth time. When Ellen returned again, he was wiping his mouth with his big red handkerchief.

"There's queer doings down at Matt Hunthan's, yonder," he began.

~, Aye, Juan ?" "There's bloodshed." "Aye, Juan ? "

"Aye ! a parcel of them on the spree these days past."

"Aye, Juan?"

"They're bleeding like beeves, fighting and blackguarding out of mercy." .

Aye, Juan? "

"They're saying it'll need Arrosey himself to come down among them," said Juan.

"You had better go up and tell him, Juan. You'd better hurry, Juan," said Ellen, with a cheerful indifference to the mendicant's budget.

" I don't know, indeed," said Juan, and remained. A hint to depart was ever lost on Juan.

"But some of them may be killed, Juan," she said, with a smile. " Hadn't you better hurry, Juan?" Still he sat persistent and patient, as if waiting till he could recollect.

"The heir is on his way home again, they're saying," he said at last.

Ellen started. Yes ! that was news indeed. Her heart beat.

" What's that, Juan ? " she said sharply.

"Arrosey is mighty big about him, they're saying."

"And what is he like at all, Juan?" said Ellen, in country style.

"Aw, nothing but pride. High, and a bit wild, they're saying. Hot blood, they're saying. But some is saying it's a parson he's for."

"Aye, Juan?" said Ellen, to whom the old man's news was a passionate joy.

"But from what they're telling, he'll get through Arrosey and Sartal and all, before he's done. It's like you know him to speak to?"

" I've not seen him for a long time, Juan. How long is it since he went to England, Juan?"

" Maybe a parcel of years," said Juan, with apparent candour. It was an equivocation, merely mechanical. She smiled and went on.

"And where has he been to, Juan! "

" Aw, Arrosey has been telling it's a place called the Continent of Europe."

"And where's that, Juan?"

" I don't know, indeed," said Juan.

"And who was Arrosey telling that to, Juan?"

" Aw, heaps-heaps. Telling the whole public-house." "And when is the heir coming, Juan?"

The old man did not answer, but after a pause ruminatingly broke silence again.

"Arrosey gave the Bishop a dressing, though." "Did he, Juan? "

"Aw, told him his holidays fine. The coachman's life was in danger hitting Flo with the whip. Arrosey's things mustn't be touched. Bishop, indeed? Arrosey don't regard -aw, him? No ! "

The old mendicant got up and slowly withdrew into the lobby. Still he lingered undecided and at a loss, as if not knowing if he had anything further to communicate. At last he broke silence again.

"Some is saying young Arrosey'll never be a parson." "Why, Juan?"

"Aw, notions-notions of his own; he don't believe in most things. That's what a man was telling, anyway."

"And who was telling that, Juan ? "

"Aw, 'deed, a man that was saying he'll have a nice neighbour when he comes home, mistress."

"And who's the nice neighbour, Juan? "

" Aw, 'deed, mistress, it's easy to know where that one is! " And where, Juan?"

"Aw, 'deed, not far from Arrosey, mistress."

Ellen's back was turned to Juan, busy with her housework. She looked round with a smile.

"And where, Juan?"

"Aw, mistress, and who would it be but yourself ?" "Me, Juan ?"

"Aw, 'deed there's some that's saying there's not the like of you in the country. Aw, you're nice, mistress-you're nice enough. There's none denying that. You're nicer tel' any of them. That's what I'm saying myself. You're nice enough,

I'm saying. Still the young one at the Cairnmore is tasty out of mercy too. Aw, 'deed she is."

Ellen turned her head and resumed her occupation.

"She's got the style of the highest, even in England itself, the man was telling me. I wouldn't trust but he's got some thing of the big man in him. He was wild in his young days; middling wild, mistress-middling wild."

" But is the heir wild, then, Juan? "

" He's got a mortal eye, anyway. There's some that don't like to meet him even; aw, there is-there is. Aw, he'd be a fine man for you, mistress. There's a middling eye at yourself. I wouldn't trust but he'd meet his match; 'deed he would."

The mendicant dragged his heavy feet out of the lobby and down the farm road, while the joyous whirr and boom of the thrashing-mill, thrashing the last stacks of last year's corn, filled the air of returning summer, and cast a shadow on his aimless and wandering life. Ellen's work over, she went to her room and began to dress. She stood long and thoughtfully before her glass. There was in her eye a warm and softly glowing light. The news had changed her patiently borne monotony into a, tumult of delightful anticipations. She

went out into the sunshine. The air was all warmth and softness; the birds Nvere carolling; the brooks flowed with music through pool and shallow; the flowers were blooming and breathing of beauty; and her heart was bounding with joy.


 

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