[From Captain of the Parish, 1897]
IT is not strange that Molroy rode into Douglas on Saturday afternoons, nor that he was at the Saddle Inn when Miss Molvurra and Miss Milvartin arrived in the evening, to drive home in Ellen's gig, nor that he should be alongside on Diamond all the way home. Their Saturdays had long included more than their marketing and shopping. They went to old Signor Byffe, the Italian, an odd alien who bad found his way to the Island in search of a field of employment, and had settled down as a teacher of singing and music, and the like accomplishments.
The old square piano in the parlour at Creg Awin had not for a long while tinkled with the hymn-tunes, which in the Arrosey neighbourhood used to pass as music. The piano had, in fact, become odious to the mistress by reason of its unintelligible and suspicious utterances. On Sunday evenings Charley Molvurra lay in an easy-chair by the parlour fire and listened to Ellen playing, the mistress being meanwhile at chapel. He passed his hand across his forehead, but never allowed himself to speak his thoughts. When Lizzie came over on Sunday evenings she sang, and the old man smoothed his brow as if to erase the wrinkles that had settled there these long years past.
One evening Molroy called at Creg Awin, and found Ellen at her music.
" Oh, John! you?" was her greeting as he came into the parlour.
He stood at the end of the piano to listen while she played, but she remained thoughtful and grave. She looked at his whip and boots and spurs, and glancing through the window, saw Diamond standing with his bridle booked on the garden gate.
"Where have you been to-day?" she said quietly.
"Just a turn round the mountains," he answered, and she paused again.
" What's the matter, Ellen ?" he added.
"I want to talk to you," she said, looking earnestly in his face.
He stood with one hand on the piano prepared to listen. What could this gravity mean?
" It's about the sacrament. Do you never go ? "
Molroy was dumb. It was as if a thunderbolt had fallen at his feet.
His eyes were opened suddenly to find a new relation existing between them-that he and Ellen were two distinct persons standing apart. He had felt as if he had had a power over her, her life in his keeping and a part of his own. But now that was gone. He looked at her averted head, for a moment turned away as she gazed. through the gable window at his horse by the garden gate. Not one hair was astray, and a courage there to crack a whip in the face of any man in the parish.
"No, Ellen, I don't," he murmured. There was another pause.
" Why do you ask, Ellen ? In friendship I am sure."
" Wholly so, John. I go myself, you know, though I'm not more than a mere Churchwoman, as Mr. Ollikins says not in the least degree 'converted,' you know." Molroy stood regarding her.
"You might come, John, don't you think?" she said almost gaily, yet with a tone of seriousness; and she rose from the piano, and going to the mantelpiece, took up a little book she had evidently been reading and gave it to Molroy. He turned to the title-page and smiled.
"Plain Thoughts on Religion, by Enos Milvartin," he read aloud, and turned the leaves over slowly, looking at the headings of the chapters.
" Lizzie gave it me just to look at. It was sent from America," said Ellen.
"I see," said Molroy, closing the book and replacing it on the mantelpiece.
She came to the fire and stood near him.
" I've read it. I can't say I like it. Only really converted people are good for much, and should not even be baptized till they're 'changed."'
" Is he a Baptist, or what ? " said Molroy.
"Something of the sort seemingly. But you see, I'm obstinate. I don't think infants should be converted before being baptized, nor we grown-up folk before going to communion. Will you come with us on Sunday?"
"It's not that, Ellen."
" Well, do come," she said, looking in his eyes trustfully.
"I'd rather you didn't press me. I won't forget what you've said, though. But, Ellen, you are too reflective, you think too much. Come into the garden; I want a flower; " and he drew her, nothing loth, out to the garden, and she gathered a bloom of lily with a green leaf, and pinned it on his coat.
"I hear Enos Milvartin is coming home," he said. "Yes! Do you remember him?"
" Just indistinctly. He used to go to chapel, and was a local preacher : the only one of the Milvartins that was of that sort."
"Judging by his book, I don't think we shall care for him much," said Ellen, with unaffected indifference.
The big man, passing up the Creg in his gig, saw them in the garden. They saw whose gig it was. Ellen smiled. "You're in great favour now! "
" It has hardly made any difference," he said. " Oh, but, it has," she said decisively.
The succeeding Sunday, Ellen and Lizzie, coming from church together, parted as usual at Creg Awin gate.
"He was not at church to-day," said Ellen. "No," said Lizzie, with a sigh.
They had been to the sacrament together.
That same afternoon, when the mid-day meal was over at the Cairnmore, Lizzie strolled off by herself. In the afternoon light the Cairn rose against the sky, and some one was visible on its summit. She thought it was Molroy. She crossed the meadow, passed through the fields above, and entered the moor. She strolled along the grassy margin by the ling, fresh with green and purple buds, and followed a sheep-path to the Cairn. It was Molroy. Her heart bounded and she quickened her steps.
" Lizzie ! " he said, with an exclamation of welcome.
"I was sure it was you. Who else would it be up here enjoying the view?" she said, with a glow of joy.
They sat down on a ledge of rock. It was warm and cloudy.
The smoke rose lazily from the farms. The green woods in the valley had a blurr of blue. The sea, was colourless and the horizon blotted out. Birds flew across the landscape. Sheep came grazing almost to their feet, started up and stared, walked on a few paces, and resumed their grazing.
"Isn't Ellen different, more serious, I mean, than she used to be?" said Lizzie. Molroy was astonished, and thought a moment for a fitting answer.
"Not so much changed as you are yourself."
"How? In what way?" and with sweet gravity, hiding a blush, she looked at the grass at her feet.
"In several ways." "Tell me one."
"You sing much better."
"That is changing for the better of course," she said, half disappointed. "What else?"
said. seem to have grown older; that is all I mean," he .
"Ellen, being perfect, couldn't change for the better?" she said, with a smile.
"Well, she's certainly very near it," he said, observing her smile.
"Yes; but you're in love with her," and she looked at him, unembarrassed and unaffected, but with a softness of voice betraying an emotion as if of playful regret.
"You might as well say with yourself," he said jestingly. "Just a little bit, perhaps, sometimes-aren't you?" she said in the same tone; then she changed her mood. "No !
I'm only her friend; she's everything and I'm nothing. Isn't that it?"
" Not a bit of it," he answered abruptly. She blushed
"You are nőt angry with me, are you?" He turned, and their eyes met.
"Don't be angry!" and she coaxingly laid her hand on his. A thrill passed through him, and her hand remained there. "No! of course not. Why think so?"
" But you frightened me."
The waves of hair on her brow had drooped lower in loosened curves. Her eyes were transparent wells of sweetness as she leant towards him, her hand on his, as though to see the image of herself reflected in his eyes.
" Lizzie, we are good friends? " Yes--"
He took her hand in his, and it remained passive and still. "I am not my own master. I will never bring any one into ill-will with my father," said Molroy.
Musingly, as if satisfied, she recovered her mood of careless gaiety. She withdrew her hand, and putting up both hands pressed back her hair.
" Let's go to the pillar," she said, turning round to look at it, and rose to her feet.
They stood looking over the landscape in a wide circle round them. The spontaneous emotions and words of Lizzie, and her beauty also, were swaying him like a tide. He felt his weakness, and struggled as the stronger to support the weaker. Was it caution, prudence, honour? He knew that an anchor held the strands that were straining. The smoke of Matt's rose out of the glen, though its chimneys were invisible.
"I hate that place," she said, looking at the smoke. As they came down the hill, she playfully put her hand through his arm. "I might have-oh, I must have a little bit of falling in love with me just being good friends! " she said.
" If you put it that way, as much as you like," said Molroy.
She clasped his arm with both hers and leaned her head on his shoulder, with her laughing face turned away.
" Ah ! then, as much as I like would be-let me see how much ! You don't see me often-not what I call often, do you? Nor for long-not what I call long, do you? You wouldn't have seen me to-day if I hadn't seen you. See! here's a hedge, and I can't get over."
"Not there, Lizzie."
" Yes, though, to tease you. I must tease you. I'll go by myself, and then you'll have to come."
"May I come to tea at the Cairnmore ? Is that to your mind?"
" May you ? Yes, indeed ! I'll be good; I'll tease you no more." As they approached the house she said more gravely,
" We've another letter from Enos. He'll be here this summer. You'll make friends with him? "
" I shall be glad to know him, of course, Lizzie."
" And then you'll come here oftener," she said, in a whisper. As they came into the house, " Here's young Arrosey," she said carelessly to her father and mother.
The old people's talk was of Enos.
" He's coming home, and on the way home by this time," said old Charley.
" Aye, Enos ! " said Mrs. Milvartin.
" He has made his fortune?" said Molroy.
" He has done bravely, anyway," said the old man.
After tea old Charley withdrew to his chair at the end of the window-table, and the old lady to the fireside. Charley Milvartin's hair was grey, his face marked with deep lines, his expression the fixed stillness of a statue. It was the dark face of a man of intense passions redeemed by a kindliness of nature. Mrs. Milvartin was bowed with years and toil, but her grey eyes betrayed something of a beauty the forty years of her married life had not wholly obliterated.
"In what part has Enos been?" said Molroy.
"There's the names of lots of places in his letters, but I've got a map. Get the map, Lizzie, girl."
"Aye, get the map, Lizzie," said her mother.
It was a sheet map of the United States, backed with linen and folded bookwise. Lizzie spread it on the table, and leaned over it with Molroy, shoulder to shoulder, her head bent down touching his.
" Now, Illinois! Can you find Illinois? " said the old man. Her finger was on the place in an instant, and she pushed the map to her father.
"To think of it being there," said old Mrs. Milvartin with interest.
Can you find Jackson County, master?" said the old man. '° It's a little place that," he said, when, after referring to a reference list where the sections of the state were given corresponding to numbers on the map, Molroy had pointed out Jackson County. It seemed to give the old man infinite satisfaction.
"Now, he has been to California, too," he continued. Lizzie's hair touched Molroy's cheek, infecting him with a drowsy sensation, a deliciousness as of sleep, as her brow came near his own.
" It's a big place," said the old man, as he examined it.
The westering sun fell through the little window, lighting up the face of the old man, still lingering over the map, when Molroy took his departure.
" I'll be seeing him when he arrives," said Molroy. " Aw, aye; come up, come up! " said the old lady.
"'Deed you must be 'putting' a sight on us when he comes," said the old man.
It was the hour for milking. Lizzie had brought her pails from the dairy.
" Come with me for company," she said to Molroy.
He leaned against the door-post of the cowhouse. The rasp of the milk streaming into the pails lulled him. He watched the sun topping the heights beyond the glen, and shooting its rays athwart the range of timber below the farm. The glow reddened the dark walls and thatched roofs of the farmstead, and threw long shadows from the trunks and arms and scant foliage of the gnarled ash trees. The sordid surroundings, the low dark walls and thatched roofs, the twisted and writhen ash trees, and the mysterious landscape, half glowing in light, half in blue cold shadows, wrapped Molroy in dreams, and made him for the moment a visionary.
"John," said Lizzie from her milking-stool within, "will you go for a walk with me this evening-a long, long walk?" "But I should be away."
"No, don't go," she said coaxingly. "I want you this evening to stay with me. I want you all to myself."
"As you please, then, Lizzie."
He wondered how much the outward surroundings of the Milvartins' lives might be like their interior life of feeling and thought. And thus, watching the sunset and the gathering shadows, he waited for Lizzie till her work in the dairy was finished.