[From Captain of the Parish, 1897]
CHARLEY MOLVURRA sat in the still evening light by the window-table, and the mistress at her wheel near the highpiled peat fire, flashing and flickering under the dusky arch of the open chimney. The whirr of the wheel softened the tones of her voice as she gave utterance to her favourite grievance.
" If my lady goes on the way she is, her head will be turned altogether, it's my belief, Chalse."
" Chut ! Charlotte, woman, what are you talking about? Let her have a bit of her own way."
"And what else has she ever had, Chalse ? Aw, no! her own way, and nothing but her own way. But maybe it's nothing to me. She's not my child. Still and for all, I would like to do my duty to her as if she was my own. But it's the spirit that's in her-the spirit, Chalse ! "
"Aw, aye, Charlotte; Ellen's got spirit enough."
Enough? too much and too stiff, Chalse. A fire in her bed room, or if not, a fire in the parlour if she's at home. It's not always she is at home. But there she is, like the finest lady in the land, needlework, needlework, lace, lace, and with shoes on her feet that fine that it's a sin-aye, a sin for a modest girl to see her feet in them ! Aye, and silk stockings, aye, silk, Chalse, that I'm blushing at the thought of her seeing herself when she's putting them on. What's she thinking of, or what's she thinking her body is for, beats me, Chalse ! I'm turning my face away sometimes not to be seeing her vanity."
" Aw, well, she's at the age when she ought to be dressy if ever, Charlotte, woman."
"Well, allowing of that, that's not all. Even when she',: playing the piano itself, never a hymn-tune; no, Chalse ! not even on a Sunday. But it's sometimes more like dancing tunes, it's my belief, though I hope it isn't that bad either; I hope not."
"Aw, well, Charlotte, there's no harm in music-not in playing anyway, Charlotte."
"But the books she's reading : if they're sinful or not I don't know, Chalse. I'm afraid to look inside and see what's in them. The backs of them is enough. But you're not listening to me, Chalse."
"Aw, 'deed I am, Charlotte; I'm hearing every word."
"But if it was only herself ! There's that one up with her now itself-a girl that you'd think ought to be beneath Ellen, in her ways anyway. But it's more like a twin sister she's making of her. I would be thankful if she never darkened this door again. And what's she singing in the parlour when she comes in on a Sunday evening? Songs, aye, songs! till pin trembling, afraid the people will hear on the way home from chapel."
"What nonsense there's at you, Charlotte! I never heard the same girl singing anything but what was right enough. And Ellen never says a cross word from year's end to year's end, neither to you nor to me, Charlotte."
"Aw, maybe not-maybe not; I'm not one to complain if she did. But, Chalse ! if she's too good to sit here by this fire with a bit of sewing or knitting, it's a pity. She could have the lamp here, and be sociable and friendly. But no, no-not that for her. But there's more tel' that, Chalse ! and I'm going to tell you. There's worse talk tel' ever now, Chalse ! And her going to the sacrament at Arrosey Church won't mend it. For he's not what he ought to be, he's not. They're all allowing he's not."
" Chut ! Charlotte; women's talk. Don't listen to them. You're only encouraging them."
"Me encourage them? Aw no, no. But what's young Arrosey about, Chalse ? Tell me that! Is he going to make a match with her ? "
"It's no disgrace to her to have him going about with her at all, Charlotte, aw no!"
"Maybe not-maybe not. It's like she'd take him. It's like he's high enough. It's nothing to me; but what do you make of the goings on between him and the other one? That's another thing, Chalse. Whether Ellen sees it or not, it's there sure enough. Arrosey knows it. He knew it before the heir came home. He's got the big word, we know well enough; and what he said about her is not fit language for a woman to repeat."
"Well, Charlotte, if there's others agate of her, leave the girl alone."
"Aye, but, Chalse, the way the people is talking now is scandalous ! And here she is in this very house. I can hear her laughing. It's going through me like a knife. I'm trembling when she comes in at the door, afraid of what she'll say or do. The men in the public-house-aw, well, she's nearly all what they've got to talk about. Wade thou knows, Chalse, and the same man wouldn't tell a lie. He was saying that they were standing glasses round that this witch will be mistress of Arrosey ! Not Ellen at all, Chalse-no, not Ellen, but Lizzie Milvartin, that hasn't got a penny in the world, and a chance if half the clothes she's got on her body this minute is paid for. Are you asleep, Chalse ? "
The old man roused himself in his chair and sat up. "No, Charlotte; I was listening, woman."
" Goodness gracious, Chalse, do you hear that ? She's singing ! "
The mistress rose and went to the foot of the stairs. From the room above they heard Lizzie's voice
"Have you seen my love, My love, my love? Have you seen my love Looking for me ? "
The mistress listened as the refrain was repeated over and over again, looking at the old man for sympathy with her indignation and disgust. But his face was inscrutable, and she shut the door from the kitchen to the lobby with an abrupt bang. From above there was audible laughter that interrupted the song; but it was instantly repressed, and the song resumed in a tone almost inaudible.
Old Charley betook himself to his room. The mistress was preparing to retire when Ellen and Lizzie came downstairs and into the kitchen.
" We came to look for some supper, mother," said Ellen, and Lizzie sat down in the old man's chair.
"We haven't got no dainties to suit some of you, maybe," said the mistress. Then a heavy foot was heard on the street, and Juan Paddy came into the porch. His lower lip was hanging, his head wagging from side to side with greater violence than usual; he was breathing heavily, and he had forgotten to take off his bat.
" Here's Juan as well for supper, mother ! " said Ellen. "Your rather late, Juan."
" Aye, Ellen, girl, he's like some others are getting to be in this quarter," said the mistress. "You're too fine, girl, to get the meat for him yourself, maybe?"
"Yes, mother ! You get it," said Ellen, with careless sarcasm.
" Mother, indeed ! " muttered the mistress, as she moved to the pantry.
The old man glanced furtively from Ellen to Lizzie, and took off his hat as they moved the round table to Juan's settle. The mistress came back with food, still glancing at Ellen in the wickedness of a new dress.
" Help yourself, Juan," said Ellen, using the country formula. "Sit down, mother. Juan has got news, or he wouldn't be here to-night."
Juan devoured his food noisily, glancing from one to the other. Ellen and Lizzie, sipping milk and eating oat-cakes, waited for Juan to begin.
" There's been fighting down at Matt's," he began at last.
" Aye, Juan ? "
"Aw, aye, bleeding like beeves."
After an interval of eating he began again"Arrosey himself, too."
" Arrosey ? " said the mistress.
"Aye, 'deed was he," said the old man. "Went in for a sup and found a brave lot of them together; takes them to task, and calls them d-d thieves, and he'd have them transported. 'Sheep was missing,' he said."
"Aye, Juan," said Ellen.
"Well and good, when he left the house he stood in the road talking to the Cairnmore, Lizzie's father there."
"Aye, Juan," said Lizzie.
"Well, these ones comes out of Matt's and past the two of them; but if they didn't turn when the Cairnmore was away. He was going to the mill very likely," said Juan, with unconscious irony.
" Well, Juan," said Ellen.
"Aw, well! set on him without a witness; and too many for him; and the knife out sure enough. Anyway they had him in the ditch."
" Out with it, Juan," said Ellen sharply.
"Aw, well, up comes the heir on the brown blood horse he's riding; didn't know who they had, but off he jumps and lets the horse go."
Lizzie rose and stood before the chimney arch, her heart beating madly.
It did not alter the pace of Juan. To him his meal was of more importance than his tale. "And made the shortest work of them that ever was done; not the like in my time anyway," he said with a jerk, buttering a fragment of oatcake.
"There's one of them in the box of a cart gone up the road there, roaring and groaning tremendous," Juan went on.
" Is the heir hurt, Juan ? " said Ellen.
The old man went on eating as if he had not heard the question, but answered at his leisure
"Him? God help the man he takes in hand. Aw, noise? the cursing and damning was pitiful. Aw, there's life in Arrosey. He's tough! One of them kicked him on the leg, but he got the stick and went after him. That chap hooked it."
Ellen, sitting on the form by the window-table, breathed freely again.
"There's a good witness on the heir's side-Wade, mistress ! " said Juan, addressing Mrs. Molvurra. " But he took to headlands when the row began-by the talk."
"Where was the Cairn more, Juan?" said Lizzie.
"The Cairnmore ? Aw, him and Arrosey had words before they began it. Arrosey was in the tantrums about the right way to-day. It's like enough he would be having words with the Cairnmore."
"And what about, Juan?" said Mrs. Molvurra.
"Aw, it's easy to know that. I don't know indeed. Maybe about herself there; maybe about money."
" And what was Wade doing among them, Juan?" said Lizzie.
" Up on the barn steps, cursing and damning with the best, and a pitchfork to stick the first man that came near him."
"Wade swearing?" said Lizzie, for the benefit of the mistress.
"Aye, bless you, he can do that first rate." "And fight, Juan? "
"Aw, Creer and him will be having a bloody war one of these days. Bell is saying he'll have to bring down the two big sledges for them: the hammering there'll be going when they begin will be a sight to see, he's saying," said Juan gravely.
"Where is the heir, Juan? " said Ellen.
" Washing his hands at the spout at Matt's and a cigar in his mouth, was the last place I saw him-and blood enough on his shirt-sleeves, mistress ! "
The anxiety of Ellen and the anxiety of Lizzie, manifested only by compression of their lips and by an infinitesimal change of curvature of the lines of their eyebrows and eyelids, disappeared.like arrows when tight-drawn bows are loosed, and their eyes met a flash of mutual congratulation.
"But dear, my heart! Wade cursing and swearing, and him going to chapel, Juan ?" said the mistress.
"Aw, 'deed they haven't got much to show for the revival at all. It's my belief the people on this island is made of different stuff tel' what revival preachers is made of," said Juan, wiping his mouth and replacing his handkerchief in his hat.
" He's a backslider-a backslider, Juan, if that's true," said the mistress.
"He's all right yet, some way ! " said Juan. " The Steel-fist is saying that Wade can stand a lot of backsliding, and be none the worse for it."
"Perhaps he was only praying, Juan?" said Ellen. The mistress glanced at her suspiciously, but failed to detect profane jesting.
" The Steel-fist ! " said the mistress. " Even if Wade is a backslider, he's as good as them that's never been brought in at all; but we'll see for Sunday," said the mistress conclusively.
There was a law-court case at Incbport over the affair at Matt's, a suit and cross-suits, as in every affair of the kind, since first there was a law-court established on the Island. The " Cairnmore" and Wade and Matthias of the inn were witnesses. With the exception of Arrosey himself, everybody had broken the law. Arrosey's assailants, with sticking plaster on their faces, averred that they had acted in self-defence from the first; but a country bench knows bow to deal with evidence. Kicking the Captain of the Parish, a glorious feat on the Island if the assailant comes off well, in this case ignominiously failed. Matthias was complimented by the bench, the sole point of unanimity in the court being always to bring the "landlord" off clear, and to save the inn.
" What I'm thinking worst of," said Wade, who, according to his own account, had not only distinguished himself as a man of battle, but also as a man of law and order,-" what
I'm sorry for is that Bell wasn't there to lend a hand to the heir and myself."
Fortunately Juan's aspersion of the overseer was explained away to the satisfaction of Mrs. Molvurra, and things reverted to their wonted channel.
But at Arrosey there was a change. The big man had maintained his sway by physical prowess. Overthrown temporarily, and in an evil hour his prerogative endangered, his domination was re-established more indisputably now than ever in the grand viziership of his son. His never to be questioned word had rather gained than lost authority on highroad and in public-house.
His son's physical might failed not to appeal effectually to the old man of prowess, and he recognised that his son was a man like himself in that quality he was most jealous of recognising without proof. His granite bosom could not melt and flow in streams of acknowledgment, and externally the relations of father and son were little changed, but much changed underneath.
" Thou see, Curlat, I couldn't have done much better myself in my best days. He's quick on his feet, man, quicker tel' I was myself, if anything. He's telling me they couldn't touch him. He took lessons in it. Thou were a trained man thyself, Curlat. Thou would have laughed, Curlat ! "
" It wasn't half they got, very likely. Men would stand more in our time," said the soldier, excusably jealous of the honour of older times.
"Chut, aye ! But it's awkward with half-a-dozen to handle at once for all, man. Aw, 'deed it was done quick anyway. I'm calling him a dandy to thyself, Curlat; but he's more tel' a dandy for all, man."