[From Captain of the Parish, 1897]
WHEN Molroy returned to Arrosey, he found his father in the gloom of the kitchen with Juan Paddy like a weird spectre on the settle by the door, his version of the news already told. Molroy sat down by the fire. He was thinking of Ellen and what she had passed through that day, and of the " difference " between his father and her father, now at an end.
The big man spoke in a sharp, harsh, but measured tone. "Well, it's a bad job, boy !"
"Cosnahan is an old hound," said Molroy. "A miracle has saved him ! "
" From my whip, and in the market-place of Inchport. I should have been there and taken him on his way to church this evening, but for this ! "
"Come, boy! no more talk of that sort. I don't want you in Castle Rushen ; d'you hear? But if you were going that far with him, maybe you know the reason he had for what he did to-day? He had a reason for doing a thing like that, you would think."
The big man spoke in slow, steady tones, self-controlled, and with a concentrated sarcasm underneath.
"I don't understand you, father." " No, boy ! maybe not."
"No! I don't understand."
"Then what was the reason, do you think, boy?"
"They were too well dressed for the taste of that old hound ! "
"Indeed! Then it's time you were told there's another reason," said the big man slowly, in a continued strain of sarcasm.
"Aw, 'deed aye, master! If you're going walking with Ellen Molvurra all day long in Narradale woods, with a sheaf of blue flowers at her, and the two of you sitting by the hour on the top of the waterfall, there's some that has seen you, very likely," struck in Juan.
" Aye, Juan ? "
"Aw, there's plenty that knows it, master." "Aye, Juan ? "
" Aw, 'deed aye, master ! And if you're going rambling along the green road by the mountain-hedge as late as midnight itself with the young one at the Cairnmore, and the arm round her waist."
"Aye, Juan ? Have they seen that?"
" Aw, 'deed aye. There's plenty that knows that too, master." " Go on! what else, Juan?"
"Aw, that's not half. That's nothing." " Out with it then."
"If the talk has gone that far, it has gone far enough," said Arrosey fiercely.
"Aw, 'deed but that's not the half yet," said Juan.
"Go on!" said Molroy. "Let's have the other half. Out with it ! "
" Aw, well," said Juan, and he shifted his hat and stick. "What they're telling now is, that the young one at the Cairnmore ought to be your wife, master! aw, 'deed aye." Molroy sprang to his feet.
" He made her dress the pretext? and Ellen with her? Is that it?" he said, with the energy of fury.
"Aw, 'deed aye ! Cosna'an knows. Isn't he always going on the houses for newses ? " said Juan, infected and excited in the atmosphere of passion, and losing control of himself as if intoxicated.
Is that it?" said Molroy to his father.
" The people's talk hasn't gone so far for nothing," said the big man grimly.
"And worse tel' that! worse tel' that! " struck in Juan. "Shut up, you cursed idiot-! Father! do you believe a word of it?"
The big man rose and paced the floor. He was agitated; he could scarce trust himself to speak.
"Then I will speak," said Molroy ; "and you, you old sleech ! " he said, turning to Juan, " carry this on your rounds. It's a lie ! The sacrament is for such as they are ! Now for the man that has said it! " and he clenched his hands.
" Easy, boy ! easy! " said the big man.
No! I'll whip the skin off the villain. There was never a breath of dishonour on their lips. Who said it, you beastly old sleech ?" and in one stride he had seized Juan's collar.
"Stop, boy!" said the big man. " Leave him alone!" he said, in a tone of simple authority Molroy had never heard before, and Molroy cast Juan loose, turned, and waited.
" There's not a word of truth in it ? " said the big man. "That I have walked with them?-Yes. Walked on the green road with Lizzie Milvartin ?-Yes. With my arm round her waist?-Never. That there has ever passed one word that my own mother in heaven would have blushed to hearNever ! "
"Sit down, John! sit down!" said the big man, going to his own chair.
"No, father! the coward! the cur! I will make him answer for it. If there was fault or shadow of fault, why not visit it on me? No! but on them!"
" Aw, well, boy! you can't do it yet, anyway. It's above board I believe you'll be. But to-night I'm a bit upset. There's been nothing wrong in these 'goings on'?"
"Why ask? why think of such a thing? No! it's impossible."
The big man looked at the fire. He seemed no longer to see that Juan was still there.
"I'm a bit upset with his death, boy," he continued. "It's a parcel of years since I've had such a heavy blow."
A sigh escaped from him, then he blew his nose violently. Molroy's passion subsided at the sight of his father's suppressed emotion. Then abstractedly the big man resumed
"I was thinking maybe Curlat would have taken a turn down the road to-night. Is church over?" he said, looking at the clock. "Aw, well, it's too late maybe." And, as if unable to proceed or to trust himself further, he rose and went out of the kitchen to his own room. -
Molroy sat down by the fire, Juan still there on the settle by the door, swinging his head like a pendulum, watching him in fear and trembling.
"Aw, 'deed, master, it's myself that knew you would stick up for that one ! Aw, she's the one, right enough. Few knows more tel' me. The two women was models; that's what they were calling them-models. She had a family though, had Charley's wife, and there was only yourself at this one."
Molroy had thrown himself on the fireside settle as on a couch, and took no heed of Juan. Then Juan began again.
"'Deed they were saying it was Charley's first wife himself wanted to marry."
Molroy started, sat up, and looked at the mendicant. "There hasn't anything took place in this quarter, no, not for fifty years mostly, but I don't know it. And haven't I a right to be going on the houses, master?"
"What was that you said about Mrs. Molvurra, Juan?" "Aw, it was her Arrosey was for once of a day. Some was saying she was for him too. They said she was pleased enough he married the one he did though. They were like two sisters, anyway. They couldn't be beat."
"Now, Juan," said Molroy, rising and crossing the floor. There was something in his voice that brought back the old man's trepidation, and Juan slipped from his seat on the settle to a posture of supplication on the floor. On one side lay his hat and stick. The old man's voice trembled, and a sob of distress heaved in his breast.
"God's truth ! God's truth, master! "
"If I hear, Juan, that you are carrying that story-" "Aw, no, I'm not! Easy, master! fairplay ! Never a word but to yourself! "
"If ever, Juan, you speak of that-"
" I won't. Arrosey will trust me. His bread is feeding me. His clothes is on my back. His shoes is on my feet.
God's truth! Never a word! never, but to yourself, master!" The big man had returned, and was standing at the door, a red nightcap on his head, and in his shirt-sleeves: Juan was paralysed with terror.
"Juan, boy!" said the big man reassuringly, "what are you doing there, Juan, crying like a calf ?"
His son looked at him in astonishment at the changed and softened tone of his voice.
"John!" he said, "Juan has a right to the house, and when he can't come to get his meat here, the meat must go to him. Get up, Juan, boy."
Juan gathered up his hat and stick and sat on the settle. "Thou must have a mouthful of rum, Juan! Thou're not up to the mark. Go to Jane in the back-kitchen," he added, dismissing him with a peremptory nod. Then he turned to his son.
"Would you go to the Bishop, boy?"
Molroy did not comprehend the full purport of the question, and stood expectant.
" She didn't ask you to go, it's like, then ? " the big man continued.
" No !"
" I thought maybe you had been talking to her about it." Then it flashed upon Molroy how he must vindicate her, and not only her but Lizzie also.
"Yes, and I am going," he said promptly.
"The sooner you go the better. Go in the morning, boy ! " and the big man retired again.
Molroy sat by the fire. In the morning he would go to Bishop Eden, and as he ruminated there came, mingled with the purpose of vindicating her, the story of Juan-fragments of the past, sherds from the broken vases of human lives, drawn forth from the mendicant's treasury.
That week Charley Molvurra was laid in Arrosey churchyard, and Bishop Eden read the service at the funeral. Once, years ago, caught in a snowstorm in the impassable Creg, be had spent a night at Creg Awin, and the old man had become one of his many intimate friends. Arrosey and his son were at the funeral, and the big man trembled as he looked into the grave where, nigh twenty years before, bad been laid a heart with unuttered secrets of love whose current had been turned awry. When the will was read, the big man was found to be the executor. Whatever had parted them in life, it was no distrust of integrity and honour, for to Arrosey had been given the protection of the interests of the daughter who had been to Charley Molvurra dearer than life itself.