[From Captain of the Parish, 1897]
ON Sunday morning, on his way to church, Molroy came up with the Waterloo veteran and Nell Gawn. They were full , of cordial greetings.
"Dear me, man ! dear me ! Got through college and home for good?" said the soldier.
" You'll be preaching for us in the church here, one of these days, maybe?" said Nell.
" Oh, no, Miss Gawn ; nothing of that kind for me," said Molroy.
"Then you're not going to be a clergyman Oh, I hope you are," said Nell, with an ingenuous air.
The soldier went to open the church and ring the bell, and Miss Gawn and Molroy went round the churchyard walks. His civility was a special delight, but her insatiable curiosity was on the alert all the same. He had never forgotten that he had been her pupil. He parried her questions and listened to her gossip. Meanwhile she was pleased to be walking with the heir of Arrosey, and all the people seeing them, and she was in no haste to go into church till the last moment. The five minutes' bell was sounding, and they were pacing the path for the last time, when a gush of subdued laughter, two voices, the voices of girls, a gush light and low-pitched, suppressed, restrained, the laughter of voices inexpressibly sweet, thrilling, potent, awakening the imagination like music, fell on Molroy's ear. He looked up, and saw passing along outside the churchyard wall in the highroad towards the gate, Ellen Molvurra and Lizzie Milvartin, with the music of their laughter still hanging about them. Their prompt gravity and the solemn pose of their heads overwhelmed him with the irresistible magic of humour. The atmosphere of the holy day became redolent of secular joy, the grace of a spring-time holiday. They turned out of the highroad through the churchyard gate. It was but three or four paces to the porch. They turned their heads, and Ellen smiled and nodded to him. He lifted his hat; without pausing they passed into the porch. He had seen her smile, the flash of her eyes, and they had passed across the space like an arrow into his heart.
He sat in Arrosey pew, and they were together in Creg Awin pew, half-way up the aisle, in the broken rainbow of the painted window. Their voices, their animation, their step, the glance, the smile had affected him, and were occupying his thoughts. When they passed out of church, he turned the moment they were beside him to meet their eyes, bright with elation, and they came away together.
"You do not know Miss Milvartin ? " said Ellen, and he gave Lizzie his hand for the first time. Radiant with a sudden and great happiness, with smiles, bright glances, parted lips, and the laughter of joy, they accompanied him, the sunlight on their faces and hair. Molroy, absent so long, had hardly thought what Ellen would be like when he should meet her again. There was a sweet sincerity in her speech, a music in her voice, a beauty beyond his expectation. She was the same person, only abundantly more charming than ever. And Lizzie ? what a lovely creature! what hair, complexion, grace, vivacity! what a voice, what witchery Nell Gawn had stayed at the church gate to talk a moment to the parson. She saw Molroy departing with Ellen and Lizzie. A sadness oppressed her, and she felt no longer the spring sunshine as when she had walked with Molroy on the churchyard path. It was their day: her's was past. A dimness came into her eyes, and through the mist of memory she saw a time long past, thirty years ago, when she too had been young and-may she be forgiven if she thought also that she had been fair to look upon, and her step buoyant and graceful. She forgot, perhaps, the longings and lookings forward of youth, and that their aspirations and her regrets were not all so different.
Molroy did not go beyond Arrosey gate. The look in Ellen's eyes was, as of old, meeting his with confident and trustful wonder. He stood a moment and watched them. Within the gate his father was standing.
" Well," he began, " you had company. They're a pair of birds with nice feathers, anyway."
"It does not matter to me what they are, father."
"No, but it does to me. Are they fit company for you, do you think?"
" I don't see that it matters what they are. They are respectable enough to speak to on the road, father."
" What do you want speaking to them at all? "
"I don't want to speak to them. Do you wish me to pass people without seeing them ? "
"Yes; young girls like that. I do. You've no business with them."
" Oh, very well ! "
"A pair of high-flying, dressy, gallivanting, impudent-" He paused for a word, but continued
"Better for them to be at home than walking the roads. Going to church, indeed ? It's well known what there is in going to church. But catch them at chapel. No, aw no! but church for my ladies."
"I met them by accident," said Molroy.
"Aye ! do you think they met you by accident? No, I'll warrant; it wasn't an accident with them. What's more, it wasn't by accident they were at church either. They'll be regular at church now, I can tell you; mark my words. They'll be there every Sunday."
"I might go to chapel to avoid them, father."
"What? I'll guarantee, if you did, them pair would be at chapel the very next Sunday. But no, my boy, you'll not go to chapel; that's beneath you. But there's a thing that ought to be more beneath you still tel' that; to come along the highroads with young girls-that's the talk of the country ! "
" Perhaps you want me to stay away from church, father? " " For all the good it'll ever do you, you might as well stay as go. They'll be at the communion next, mark my words; they'll be at the communion. That girl Ellen would crack a whip in the face of any man in this parish. I've never heard in my life half the coolness I've heard from that girl. And the other one is just dancing to her tune, and imitating her in every blessed thing she's doing. Do you hear, boy?" " Yes, father, I hear."
By this time they had, with many pauses on the part of the big man to give emphasis to his harangue, arrived at the house, and dinner being ready, they were soon seated. The big man said grace for both tables :
" Be pleased, O Lord, to bless this food to our use, and us to Thy service, for the Redeemer's sake. Amen."
"Yes, nothing but dress and riding on horseback ! yes, riding on horseback. You don't know, maybe, that my ladies have trains? Trains ! aye, dangling more tel' a yard of it."
The son made no answer. " And polite! bless you ; English is no name for it; it's French they've got: yam-yas-yar. Oh, we've been to see the Queen, right enough. But where's the money coming from? Aye, where ? I'd like to have that question answered."
" But the Molvurras have money enough, father."
" Enough ! What d'you call enough? Creg Awin three times over, and a thrashing-mill thrown in, wouldn't keep my lady in gloves. No, they haven't got money enough-not for the manners." And the big man rose from his seat and stood bowing in all directions : " How d'you do ? How d'you do ? " And he sat down and had another interval of eating.
" But I thought Ellen very plain-spoken," said the son carelessly.
" Did you ? did you, eh ? You don't know much, with all your college ! Damn it, John, what do you mean ? That's a funny thing. But you're the first that ever thought it before."
There was a pause, the big man wiped his lips, and looking towards his son, who was waiting, said grace again :
"For what we have received may the Lord make us truly thankful. Amen."
" No, we don't know anything-we're ignorant. But that other one-maybe she's coming up to your mark?-maybe she's the fine one ? Maybe she's the lady, and Ellen the plain one? and money enough and to spare in that quarter, maybe ? "
Molroy merely winced. To speak was to add fuel to the flame. Nothing was new to-day but the subject, otherwise the same style as of old. And yet, for Molroy, his father had no faults, and was not judged by any standard applicable to others. The big man composed himself in his chair for his regulation sleep, and Molroy went out to the high fields of the farm overlooking Narradale.
Mr. Curlat came down to Arrosey " pretty reg'lar" on Sunday afternoons, and stayed to tea if he liked the company present. On this afternoon Arrosey was returning from chapel alone, the preacher being gone to Creg Awin. The two sat down at the ends of the window-table, which was laid with a white cloth, elaborate tea-things, and the never-absent dish of cold meat.
"Aw, well, they're to the fore to-day, Curlat; coming home from church with him ! I'm losing my temper, man, at the very sight of that bit of a devil with the white face, and hair on her head fit to load a cart of hay."
"Well, man, but she's not the girl Ellen is. Ellen can allow her odds and laugh at her."
"Aye, for me and thee. But that dandy, what about him If thou had seen her with them at the gate there, and the teeth of her! Why, man, her eyes itself was enough ! Thou'd have taken thy Bible oath she was just innocence; standing still with her toes, d-n it, Curlat, turning out just right, man, and the minute she moved, the spring. She's a witch, a d-d witch."
" Aw, well, man! Ellen'll be all right. Look at Ellen in the saddle, master."
"Saddle or on foot it's no odds, for it's this way. The devil himself is in some of them, and this one has got it in her to the tips of her toes. Thou can see it in her hair half a mile away. It's what she is, man, the way she's made, the very motion of her; and motion or not, she's every bit as bad when she's standing still."
"Well, man, well, man ! and I hope Ellen has got a bit of the same thing in her."
"D-n it, Curlat, no! It's different stuff, that, my man.
It's the very thing I'm afraid of. One wrong word and her foot is on his neck, and he's done."
"But Ellen and him is friends, man. Aren't you believing me, master? Always has been friends."
"If it was only himself, aye, maybe; but do thou think she'll give him leave? do thou think she'll leave him alone? " "Aw, no, man ! Lizzie as she is, she's not that bad."
" Bad or good, it's no odds. It's what she is, and she can't help it. And thou see, Curlat, there's that in him-and maybe thou don't know as well as I know; but if he gets wrong with her, it's marry her he will."
" And was words passed between you, master? "
" Words? It's very little I said to him. I don't know in my senses what tack to take with him. He'll go his own way.
I know that already; and I believe the best tack is to go against him if you want him to move."
" I don't know about that, either, master. It's my belief
Ellen will be all right yet, some way. And bless my heart, master," said the soldier warmly; " I'm thinking your mistaken in him, if not in Lizzie as well; though my own hopes is for nothing but Ellen."
" Aw, well, we'll see, we'll see," said Arrosey, obstinately and conclusively.