[From Captain of the Parish, 1897]
"I SEE John Molroy has got home," said old Charley Molvurra as he sat down to tea on the evening of the day after Molroy's arrival. There was a great throb of joy in Ellen's breast.
"Have you seen him, father?"
"Aw, yes, in the Creg with a trouting rod; for Narradale, it's like. He didn't stop for a word, but he looks uncommon well."
"But he always stops for a word with you, father?"
"Aw, there was a parcel of men with me, but he nodded to me very civil. I've never found him but the one thing, stiff as he is to some of them."
"Aw, he'll be holding his head too high for our sort," said Mrs. Molvurra.
"Will he, do you think, mother?" said Ellen, in a tone that made the mistress wince.
"Aw, he's got a nice way with him, whatever he is," said old Charley.
"There'll be no going with any girls there, very likely," said the mistress; " but it won't be for want of their giving him a chance-the way they are in this quarter."
"And what girls are you talking of, Charlotte?"
" Some that would be as well to keep out of his way, Chalse, by all accounts. There'll be burnt fingers maybe one of these days if they get playing with the fire."
Ellen poured out a cup of tea for her father, rose, and stood a moment before leaving the kitchen.
"For goodness' sake, mother, give them some of your religion."
"Aw, girl, veen ! that's not good enough."
"'Deed the religion and the burnt fingers have been going together, of a rule, in this quarter, anyway, Charlotte," said old Charley. Ellen turned and went out of the kitchen, followed by the mistress's eye, and there was a pause.
"There's been very little talk at my lady these days past," the mistress resumed. "I thought there was something in the wind; my eyes is not shut at all; with the white muslins on the field, aye, and a lot more tel' white muslins. It's not for me to say; but she's got young Arrosey in her mind, or I'm much mistaken."
"And what better could she have than him, Charlotte?" "Him! is it worse you mean, Chalse? They're all agreed he's not what he ought to be. Isn't it known what he is? and isn't it natural?-and Arrosey himself only a brand plucked from the burning."
"But we're all of us that, Charlotte, woman."
"Aw, no, we're not. But if Ellen had known the great change, it would be different. But I've done my best, and it's not me that'll have to answer for it-aw no, Chalse, no."
" Clint, Charlotte! The heir is not that way at all, woman. What's doing on you? What notions there's in your head."
"Aw, well, Chalse, if it's to be God's will, let's hope and pray it'll not be Ellen that'll fall in his way. The young one at the Cairnmore, that Lizzie, deserves it more tel' Ellen. And if such things is in store, I hope that it's Lizzie Milvartin that'll rue the day, for she's fit for anything, she is."
"And bless me, Charlotte, what's amiss with Lizzie, for all? I never heard a wrong word on the same girl's head but woman's talk."
"Aw, maybe not, maybe not; it's well known you're not going near them at the public-house. You'd hear about her there, though; for she's the talk they've got, Chalse, and talk that's not fit to be repeated. A girl of her age to be the men's talk that way!-aye, Chalse, to the buckles she got on her garters! As sure as there is a soul in my body and a nose on my face, she'll come to no good,-not in this world, nor in the world to come!"
" But the heir isn't that way, woman. I never saw him but the one thing. He's got a bit of the mother in him, has John ; it's there right enough, Charlotte."
"Aw, maybe, maybe; very likely he's deep enough. But he's not what he ought to be, for that; and it's this going to college that's done it. It's a den of wickedness, Chalse, drinking and playing cards,-and worse, worse tel' that even." "And dear me, Charlotte, what nonsense you've got ! What's the good of believing that?"
" Believing it? The same man wouldn't have told a lie to save his soul, and him a revival preacher, telling me in this house as solemn as gospel truth."
"And what did he know about college, Charlotte, and him only of a low class himself? That fellow was never at college, woman."
"Him! aw no, no, aw no,-he wasn't-and thanking God for it he is."
"'Deed if he had been at college, he would have had more to be thankful for, Charlotte."
"Maybe not, maybe not, Chalse ; maybe it would have been less. But howsomever, I'm praying I may never see the day." There was a light foot in the passage, a rustle and sway as of the air breathing in the aspen grove, and Lizzie Milvartin bounced into the kitchen.
" God bless me ! what's up ? " said the mistress.
"Ellen! where's Ellen? Upstairs? Thanks!" And Lizzie wheeled and was out of the room flying upstairs with '~ Ellen ! Ellen ! " on her lips.
There now, Chalse ! didn't I tell you ? See for yourself.
That's what she's come for. She's heard. Aw, I would like to hear the words that witch is whispering to Ellen this very minute."
" Chut, Charlotte ! what's the use of talking of the girl that way? It's no use, neither you nor me talking about things like that. They'll have their own way, Ellen and all. But bless me ! Ellen is as proud as the heir of Arrosey any day. And what's more, he's got blood running in his veins that'll never mix that way! Where's my pipe, Charlotte, girl? Did you see that pipe of mine? "
For Ellen the monotony and restless longing were over; in their place was joy, hope, anticipation, scarce visible on the surface, but passionate and intense. It was the next morning. The birds' first pipings had ceased. The flush of the dawn had passed from the streams. The eastern sky was bright with pearly light. It was the hour before sunrise. She rose and went to her little gable window, looking over the homefield to the line of tree-tops and the purple hills for her first glance at the day. It was calm and delicious. Distant Barule was touched with a blaze of gold. . Wood-pigeons were on the wing in mid-air over the glen, soaring aloft and descending headlong in wild play. They were not wilder in flight than Ellen's thoughts, albeit the pulses of her blood were calm and even, and her eye serene and smiling. Along the lower side of the homefield were scented thorns in milk-white blossom, lines of yellow gorse, and clumps of wild roses, pink and white. Everywhere the birds were pouring their full morning-song; blackbirds, robins, hedge-sparrows, fluttering on the field-path, perched on the highest sprays, hopping from twig to twig, darting in silent flight, as if this paradise was primeval, and man's foot had never broken its peace. With her bare feet in slippers, a long red cloak about her, and her long black hair loosened, she came downstairs, and passed along the back-garden path to the stream that came down by the side of the homefield close under her window. The stream gathers its waters in the unreclaimed waste on the height of Arrosey-a score of tiny rivulets flowing along field-sides, under brambles and gorse, join the rill ere it enters the grove of ash trees above Creg Awin House. Out of the ash-grove the stream falls over a ledge of slate strata, and circles unsullied in a cistern of rock, ere it escapes to slide and tumble down to the ravine of Arrosey brook.
Ellen laid her cloak on a low descending bough, drew her feet out of her slippers, and stood beside the rocky pool. The stone was blue and waterworn, the water knee-deep, and she stepped in looking at her snowy feet under the water. She smiled as she felt the sharp thrill of its coldness, and lay down and extended herself underneath, alternately gasping for breath and smiling with delight, as she lay in the icy freshness of the fountain. The bursting buds of the ash trees, and the white gable of the house with the roses round her window, glowed in the first flash of golden sunlight, and when she rose again and stood knee-deep, the visible sun shone level over the homefield glittering with dew. About her were the sweeps of green sward, lines of yellow gorse and milk-white hawthorn. She looked at the level sun, and with white arms aloft threw back the masses of her dripping hair; stepped on the broad flagstone; stamped and shook the water from her limbs ; dried her face, turning round and round to feel the warmth of the sun on her skin; threw a towel on the flag, and stood on it; bent down and wrung the water from her hair. Still in her icy bath-dress shivering, she put on her slippers, and, with her red cloak about her, glided with swift step back to her room.
Hours passed in the silent activity of the early morning in the farmhouse and the farmyard, with the blue smoke curling skywards, ere the mistress made her first appearance, and Ellen's morning work was over. She had saddled her horse without fixed determination as to where she would ride; and when, in dark close-fitting dress and trailing skirt, she left the house, the mistress watched her with curious eyes. She turned up the Creg.
The big man was in the chapel enclosure. When he caught sight of her coming slowly up the hill, he came out into the road.
She reined up to receive his salute. " Well?" he said.
"Good morning, Mr. Molroy." He did not answer, but eyed her all over.
"And what road are you taking to-day, Ellen? Where's your company, girl ?
"No company to-day, Mr. Molroy."
"She'll be in the turnips to-day, very likely? And the right place for her, Ellen 1 "
"She certainly works hard enough, Mr. Molroy." "And what would she do but work, her?"
"Oh, she does."
" Has she gloves on in the turnips, Ellen ?" "You don't seem to like Lizzie, Mr. Molroy ? "
"Aw, she's nothing to me, Ellen-nothing. But your making too much of her. She's not your equal, you know, Ellen. 'Deed, you've a nice rose on your cheek this morning."
" Thank you, Mr. Molroy, but- "
"You could do with a little more, for all. I'm glad to see a nice rose on your cheek, girl; it's suiting you."
"Thank you, Mr. Molroy. I think you're too hard on Lizzie, though."
" Who? me? Aw, she's nothing to me, Ellen."
She smiled at his unwonted amiability and watched his face.
" We heard John is home again, Mr.Molroy."
"Aw, aye, aye, he's got home." There was a pause. " Maybe you'll be meeting him along the road there. He's gone to the Tops to see that scarecrow-that fellow you're going to hear of a Sunday."
" Oh, Mr. Ollikins ? " and she smiled again. Joey was pawing the ground and champing his bit impatient of delay. She sat like a statue, upright, graceful, and at ease. The dog Flo was watching the horse, and sprang with a snap at his muzzle. Instantly she wheeled Joey, and flinging loose the looped lash of her riding-whip, made a cut at the dog. Flo yelped with the sting of the whip.
"Give him a slash, the brute! Come behind here, Flo," said the big man.
"I'm a privileged person, Mr. Molroy."
"And how's that, Ellen? Aw, the dog? 'Deed, the little horse is lively with you. But you can stick to the saddle with life. You're fond of the saddle, Ellen?"
And the big man came up and patted Joey's neck.
" How's your father and the mistress, Ellen?" and without waiting to hear her answer he turned. "I'm going up the hill," he said.
She walked Joey at a foot-pace, watching him with curiosity and amusement. He was silent, and turned his head from time to time to look at her as he marched beside the horse from the chapel to Arrosey gate.
" A scarecrow-a scarecrow ! " he muttered. At Arrosey - gate he stood. "Well, you'll be going on, then. Well, well! Good morning, Ellen. You'll maybe be meeting him along the Tops."
She nodded and smiled, and gave Joey the rein and went off at a canter, and he watched her out of sight. She rode on hardly knowing where she would go, eagerly scanning the road ahead. The breeze blew softly over the Tops. She flew past the thatched hut- of Juan Paddy and the row where lived the Steel-fist. Inside poor Nell Gawn was teaching her scholars in the little sunless room. The butcher in his shirt-sleeves was shaving a pig on the trestle-frame by the roadside, with streams of blood flowing into the channel. He straightened himself up and looked after her. No one was visible on the vista of the highroad, but when she passed the church, Parson Ollikins and Molroy were smoking and strolling together in the lane that entered the fields around the parson's house. They looked up, and she knew that Molroy had caught a glimpse of her.
The blue sea, the mountains, and the yellow winding shores, fringed with lines of creamy surf, were opening to view. White seagulls were high up aloft, indistinguishable till she heard their faint melancholy cries, and looked up and wondered why they were there. She raced her horse down the northward slope in pure exuberance of energy and gladness, drawing with increasing and newly stimulated strength draughts deeper and deeper than heretofore from the bosom of the mother of life.