[From Captain of the Parish, 1897]

CHAPTER X - THE GREEN ROAD

AT last her busy hour was over and Lizzie came out.

"Let's walk on the green road along the mountain foot," she said.

Within the mountain-hedge all round the mountain a band of green turf winds in curving sweeps, sinking and ascending, a carpet of greensward to the foot-the glens below a panorama to the eye. On this high rampart, her foot pacing in step with his, her hands clasped on his arm, her head against his shoulder, she looked up with eyes full of a darker beauty in the obscurity of starlight and the rising moon.

"You do like me a little bit, don't you? Say yes-just say yes," said Lizzie.

They were interrupted by voices singing a hymn. It seemed to be before them, and they heard in the stillness the words with a not unfamiliar refrain :

" Ye wanderers from God in the broad road of folly ! O say will ye go to the Eden above ?"

Then the hymn ceased, and they met in straggling march numbers of people who passed them in silence.

" Are they all going to the Cairn Beg, then ? " said Molroy.

" Going to live for ever in heaven, or Jerusalem, or America ! It would be pleasant enough to live here too, for ever," said Lizzie.

Neither Molroy nor Lizzie had the least interest in the Dippers, and scarce thought of them further. With her arm resting in his arm, her foot in step with his, they wandered on. The moon rose above the mountain and shone on the western farms, illuminating fields and homesteads, and silvering the roofs on hillsides far away southwards. When they returned to Cairnmore the lights were out and the old people gone to bed.

" Come in," she said at the door. He seemed to hesitate.

"You must, though! Come in ! "

She lifted the latch and they entered. The moonlight lay on the open map lying on the window-table, and on a letter; and the old man's spectacles beside it. Lizzie roused the fire. The night air was chilly; and they sat down, Molroy on the settle under the chimney arch, and Lizzie on a chair before the blazing hearth. She sat silent in a brown study, the light on her face.

"What's religion for?" she said at last, and looked at him. "Tell me."

He smiled at the question, thinking what answer to make. She watched him, as if to see the answer forming itself in his mind. When he did not speak, she went on

" Why are they meeting in a house like that, praying and talking about religion? I don't know." A shadow of perplexity and vexation was on her face.

"I wouldn't go to a revival meeting,-would you?" she continued. " I was at one once years ago at Arrosey Chapel. They were all mad."

"They have no revivals at church; still it's religion too, I suppose," he said.

"Yes, Ellen's religion." " Yours too, isn't it!"

But it's not at all the same kind of thing as theirs. Do you think it's as good?"

"If it's real, I should think it's better."

"But I can't make it real or anything else," she said, in a tone of vexation, and she tossed her head. "And I don't want to. I don't want any religion at all."

" But everybody wants some sort of religion," he said. " Well, have you got any ? Tell me."

" Ah ! well, Lizzie, tell me what you think. Do you think I have or not ? "

A wave of emotion rose in her bosom.

"I wish there wasn't any religion at all. I wish you hadn't got any," she said, and she rose and stood to her full height. She placed one foot on the hearthstone, her hands clasped, her gaze on the blazing fire. Lit by the glow, her beauty shone in charm of feature and grace of form.

" I wish you hadn't got any," she repeated passionately. "Why?"

She came three steps towards him and suddenly seated herself beside him.

"Why? Because then you would be like me. I don't want any religion. I want nothing but the happiness I have. Why can't that be right? Oh, it is right; it is right;" and as with a flash of lightning the tears burst and fell.

" Lizzie ! "

"No," she said obstinately, hiding her face. Lizzie ! "

"I don't want anything but you to talk to. There isn't anything else worth having-not in the whole world. I won't have anything else." She leaned her elbow on the arm of the settle and buried her face.

"Lizzie, you,are not yourself."

"I am, though; I am myself. I love you, and you won't say anything to me," she said, with a sob in her voice, and without lifting her head. Then she turned her head so that she could see the fire.

" But, Lizzie- "

"I know. You don't want to annoy your father. Well, don't tell him. He needn't know that it's only me-not yet, I mean. Don't tell him yet, for a long long time."

"No, Lizzie, that is not it." '

" Well, you don't love Ellen. You must love somebody," and she paused, as if waiting for an answer. "Ah ! perhaps I know," and she raised her bead and softly smoothed her hair, and rose and walked to the place where she had stood before, wiping her eyes the while. "I know what it is. You love somebody else-in England. You get letters; they are from her!"

She came again and knelt down at his knee, and looked appealingly into his eyes.

" Tell me, isn't it - now isn't it somebody away in England? "

Breathless she waited, her lips parted, her eyes searching his very thoughts.

" No, it is not that; there is no one!" he said. " You are not angry with me ? "

" No ! I couldn't be angry with you, Lizzie."

" I am only trying to tell you the truth, and I have been trying to be religious too."

" You are one of the best in the world-that's what I think," he said.

" And we're friends just the same?"

" A little more than the same, perhaps," he said.

She rose with a drooping of her eyelids and a preoccupied look and sat down on her chair. Molroy too was preoccupied; the storm of emotion, if such in violence it was in her, was as nothing to the storm breaking upon himself. He had been sympathetic and self-controlled. But his resolution was tottering. He rose and staggered across the flags to depart. On the broad stone before the door, patterned with rings of pipeclay white in the moonlight, she stood beside him with upturned face hoping vaguely for a fond word ; but he only gave her his hand, and strode away with head bowed as if to meet rain and wind. The night was all silent, luminous, and peaceful under the cloudless moon.

He had hardly passed off the farm street when a light foot and a rustle and movement beside him made bim turn. At that instant she touched his arm with a childish "tip," and was away, but ere she could escape she was a prisoner in his arms. Then indeed his heart throbbed with uncontrollable violence. Her hair had fallen out of its fastenings, and brushed his face and clouded his eyes, and its subtle per fume was in his brain. With head bowed, her hands on his shoulders. her foot withdrawn, she stood.

Clear as a voice in his inmost soul there sounded a " No." "And why not?" rose in a mountain wave surging through his heart.

"No," repeated itself as with a woman's saintly voice. " Lizzie," he said, " good night."

She raised her face and looked up at the moon, bright and steadfast in the blue, her skin brilliant as new ivory, her lips parted, her eyes with great gleams of light in them, and her hair loosened over her shoulders. She was gazing at the beauty of the moon. As its splendour fell on her uplifted face, her eyes distended with a solemn beauty. Still gazing motionless, she spoke as to the heavenly orb.

" Stay ! you need not go yet," she said, in a low deep voice. " We are not less friends than before'?

"

" No, Lizzie."

' More ? "

" Yes; more."

" Yes; it is indeed more."

She turned her look from heaven to earth, and gave him her hand.

" Good night ! " and she was away.

Not without reason had Mrs. Molvurra a few friends to tea on the succeeding Sunday afternoon. " Mrs. Curlatthe-soldier," Miss Gawn, Osborne the local preacher, who had been preaching that afternoon at Arrosey Chapel, and Wade, with red beard and white shirt, were the guests. Old Charley Molvurra had strolled off into the fields with his dog. Ellen also was absent. Creg Awin was left to the mistress in her beloved "peace and quietness."

"And where is my lady gone, do you think?" said Nell Gawn insinuatingly.

" Aw, bless you! maybe to the waterfall, Sunday as it is. They were out there one evening of the week, and that witch singing to them. Aw, it's not right, Miss Gawn, it's not right; and late, just midnight when be came to the door with her. There's no law here---no, aw no; daren't speak-daren't say a word, Miss Gawn."

"But, bless me, isn't himself interfering?" said Wade.

" Himself, Mr. Wade? no, not him. He thinks she can't do no wrong. Don't you know that already, Mr. Wade? "

"But she's not a child either; she's got sense enough not to be foolish, I think," ventured Mrs. Curlat.

"Sense! if you could see the things I'm seeing, you would doubt if you were in your own senses, let alone asking about hers."

"She is not living in a converted state, then? " said the local.

"Aw, bless you! Ellen, no! Her heart has never been changed. No; and grief enough it's cost me. Aw, there's nothing surer tell that. There's no change there."

"But there's worse tell that known now," said Wade.

"Aw, aye; tell it-tell it-tell it to them, Mr. Wade," said the mistress.

"Aw, well," said the roadman, "he was on the mountain hedge-road last Sunday night, walking for hours with the other one, the arm round her waist; seen by sober men that passed them."

"Aw, well, if that's so, she's no good. She's no good after that; aw, that's settled her for me," said Miss Gawn.

"Bless you ! it's what I knew she would come to," said the mistress. " It's not for decent people to be thinking of such things. But it'll be a fine thing for Arrosey one of these days, with all his pride."

"Aw, he's a proud man," said the local; "shocking proud. Maybe it's the Lord's will to lower him in the dust. It's a blessing if it is so."

" Aw, well, we'll see-maybe we'll see," said the mistress. "He's smarting middling already, surely, mistress?" said Wade.

"Born in sin and the children of wrath," said the mistress. "'Deed I'm not agreeing with you that there's anything wrong about that girl Lizzie,-for all," said Mrs. Curlat-thesoldier. " I know the mother middling well now, and I can't believe it."

" Excuse me, Mrs. Curlat, ma'am, but seen is seen, isn't it, ma'am?" said Wade.

"Aw, well, Mr. Wade, I'm not young, and I've heard wrong things put on people now before to-day," rejoined Mrs. Curlat.

"The men were going to as good as a class-meeting," said Wade loftily.

"Aw, no, Mr. Wade; I question that. Are they the same?" said the local.

"So far as religion goes they're as good or better," said Wade.

" Aw, well, they could see with their eyes, anyway," said the mistress. "It wasn't a place to be seen in, and it's for no good they were there; I know her too well. Yes, Miss Gawn," and the mistress dropped her voice and spoke confidentially to the schoolmistress, "I've seen the impudent actress that she is, sitting in that chair and her eyes that wicked that I didn't dare look in her face, and her sitting that way that she sits, laughing and twisting, till I could tell what she was wearing. It's the truth I'm telling, Mrs. Curlat; about a handbreadth and a half of the finest-"

"But bless me, Charlotte, Lizzie has been in our house, and I never saw nothing wrong; proper as proper; it's all I can say. And for looks, it's a smile I'm seeing in her eyes. I can't see nothing but a smile. It's maybe my eyesight," said Mrs. Curlat.

"But what do you see in his eye? Aw, black wickedness," said the mistress.

" He's never at chapel at all," said the local.

"Chapel! aw, where is he going? Where is he to-day itself ? It's not the other one I'm caring about. Let her take it, I'm saying. She's brought it on herself. And it serves her nothing but right if so be it's the case, which I've no more doubt of tel' that I've got a soul in my body or a nose on my face. But for Ellen to be letting herself be with him nobody knows where ! " said the mistress.

"They were on the brow among the trees there by the long hour last night itself," said Wade.

"Aye, and not home till midnight," said the mistress. "And telling himself at breakfast this morning that it was moonlight. Moonlight she was saying. Aw, himself didn't know it was moonlight, very likely. But he'll believe it was the nicest moonlight for years if Ellen tells him. And even then they couldn't part when they came to the porch. But standing in the moonlight, very likely. It's my belief that Ellen would twist her father to believe black wickedness was nothing but right and proper for her. Why isn't young Arrosey living in the house altogether, I'm saying?"

"Aw, well, he must put a sight up to the Cairnmore now and again for all," said Wade, with an air of sarcasm.

"He's a hardened sinner, this young man; a hardened sinner," said the local.

"Bless you! he was gained to it-sent to college, cigars, horses, fishing-rods, guns, dogs, and worse, worse," said the mistress.

"Then he's leading astray the two young ladies, as we may say ? " said the local.

"Leading astray? him ? aw, no, no! they don't want no leading astray; it's themselves that's doing that; it's them that's leading him astray, if any. There's nothing surer tel' that; you know it, Miss Gawn. You know what they were before; you know what I've often said. Bless my heart and body! the very day he came home, there was a change. Ellen knew he was coming, whether it was letters or what, she knew. And the other one knew; she was here that night. Flew into this kitchen, twisted on the floor till you could see her very garters, and upstairs like a shot to tell Ellen, Ellen!

Ellen ! Ellen knew long before she did. But there was a change from that day to this. Ellen doesn't care for nothing but his company. I don't know what it is that's doing on her;.but she doesn't care for nothing in the world but his company. Aw, me! she would no more think of saying a cross word to me, no more tel' if I was one of the geese in the yard; aw, no-civil and sweet,!"

"But she was always a little touch nice to you, mistress," said Wade.

" I'm not one to complain if she wasn't, Mr. Wade. I'm only telling you the way things is. But you see, her mind is above me; it's above the house; it's up in the sky; just the two of them, riding on two horses, in the clouds! "

"But dear me, Mrs. Molvurra, if that's the way Ellen is, and I'm not doubting it that she's a bit high, you're not afraid of anything wrong between him and Ellen, I hope? Her mind is above it," said Mrs. Curlat.

"Aye, Mrs. Curlat! But what's he like? His eye is like a bulldog. You'd think he'd pull her to pieces. You'd think she'd be afraid to be left alone with him. I'm afraid of him. I'm going in off the street, if he's coming on it."

" But that's like Ellen right enough ! " said Mrs. Curlat. That's very like Ellen. She'll be the mistress. Surely you're not afraid of anything wrong between Ellen and him?"

"Aw, well, and what's she going with him night and day for, Mrs. Curlat ? It's of herself she's going, I'll allow, and she's that- headstrong that it's her own way she'll have. But what's the meaning of it, anyway? What's it for? that's what I can't tell."


 

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