[From Captain of the Parish, 1897]

CHAPTER V - LIZZIE'S ROOM

THAT Saturday, the old people being off in the shandry to In chport, and Lizzie being gone to market in Ellen's gig, Enos, on his return to Cairnmore in the evening, found no one at home. Facing the front door, across three paces of flagged lobby, is the stairs, at the top a landing with wooden partitions, a door to an attic on the left, another to the right. Enos went upstairs. The room on the left was his own, but he turned to that on the right-the room over the kitchen. Hanging on the door on the inside was a saddle, and the weight of it startled him momentarily by its resistance to his pressure. He pushed the door open and entered. The saddle was Lizzie's. There was a wooden bolt, and, with the caution perhaps of " out West," he slid the bolt into its place. He was in a dark little anteroom formed by a curtain hung from a cross-bar that joined the rafters. He drew it aside, and found himself in the low dim attic that was Lizzie's bedroom. It was a poor nest for such a bird. Except under the line of the ridgepole he could not stand upright. The roof rested on brown rafters of unbarked boughs dressed with rudest carpentry,-a roof of turf pared from the fallow pastures in strips like staircarpet, and over the turf a heavy hood of many years' successive thatchings. At the sides the roof sloped to the floor, the -gable wall was plastered and whitewashed, the kitchen chimney-stack projected into the room, and on either side of this buttress was a tiny deep-set window shoulder-high, the casement of each a single pane, and the outlook up the steep fields to the mountain gate and the heathery mantle of the Cairn Hill. Silent, swift in scrutiny, Enos looked about him. Against the chimney-stack was a glass, a long, low, pier-glass to extend lengthwise on the mantelpiece of a country parlour; but here hung up and down, its foot corbelled on nails, its upper end leaning forward suspended by a cord from a staple. The gilding of its frame had peeled off in patches, and what remained was blackened with age. Under this glass was a chest-of-drawers dressing-table, by one of the windows a washstand, and by the other, but somewhat withdrawn under the roof, a stretcher-bed with a coloured patchwork quilt. Where the rafters descended to the floor were chests and boxes of brown and blue painted deal, and thin trunks papered with wall-paper. It was her wardrobe. From pegs and nails in the rafters hung bodices and skirts, but these unmistakably for wear in everyday work about the farm. The floor of the room was of bare. deal boards, that age and smoke had coloured brown as walnut. Only before the dressing-table and beside the bed were rugs of rag-carpet. The dim low room was redolent of lavender and flowers, mingled with an all-pervading acrid odour of the peat fire in the kitchen underneath. One of the tiny casements was open, and in its deep embrasure a jug of wallflowers stood in the cool breath of a breeze already laden with the scent of the heather on the hill and the clover and thyme and gorse in the fields. Enos had come there on business, to find either letters or like clue to the affairs of his sister. The absolute silence of the house made audible the kitchen-clock downstairs. It was his opportunity. He examined each article on the dressing-table, each pin and brooch that might have been given her. He looked at her shoes and slippers. He examined the contents of the boxes, lifting out and opening even the books, and examining the pockets of every dress. In the drawers of the dressing-table there was nothing but linen. That escaped scrutiny. He turned down the pillows of the bed, and lifted the squares of rag-carpet on the floor. He replaced everything so exactly as to leave no trace of his having been there. He worked with a silent consuming energy till he had gone through the whole. Nothing rewarded his search, but still he lingered as if there might still be some stone unturned.

As he drew aside the curtain of faded damask to go away, he saw in the outer part of the room a pile of herring-nets. They had lain there for many a year, once or twice in each summer taken out and spread on the meadow in the sun, then rolled up and brought back. It was his own portion of a fishing-train when he had been the young skipper of an Inch port lugger years ago. He paused a moment at the sight of the nets, and sniffed the familiar odour of the tan. Then he came downstairs and sat smoking in the dim recess under the chimney-arch, ruminating and projecting-Ellen Molvurra the hinge around which his thoughts revolved. Charlotte was not the only person from whom he had elicited information ; her account was only confirmatory of others, and it was conclusive.

"Clothes!" he said to himself. " He hasn't given them to her! Otherwise she's mighty smart. The situation isn't bad, however; and she's a strong card."

Lizzie found him there when she came home from market. " Hallo ! Alone, Enos ?" she said cheerily.

"Are my boots cleaned?" he said, with an affectation of weariness.

"Inchport again, I suppose?" she said, bringing his boots to the hearth. "Couldn't you stay at home a chance evening and keep father from Matt's."

" I'm obliged to go; I've business. My spurs! " he said, pulling on his boots.

She took them down from a nail and laid them on the bench beside him, and made preparations for tea.

" How do you get on with Arrosey ? Is he civil ? Does he speak to you?" he asked, as he buckled on his spurs.

" I'm afraid he's no great friend of mine," she said carelessly. "You'll have to reckon with him someday, you know. My advice to you, Lizzie, is to find a way up his sleeve."

"Much obliged to you, Enos," she said laughingly. "But tell me how."

Enos was meanwhile watching her, and considering how to go on. She was a mere girl, but not so easy to advise; preoccupied, nonchalant, and with a will of her own.

"Mind your P's and Q's, and don't rile him, for one thing," he said, and took a turn or two on the floor before coming to a stand before the glass on the wall by the window. ' If he's right, everything is right," he said, as he looked at himself.

"You seem to know all about it, Enos."

" Fetch my coat, Lizzie," he said, as if he had not heard her answer.

She came with his overcoat, and with an air of patience held it while he put it on. Then he took a spill from the mantelpiece, lit it at the hearth, and, standing upright, lit his cigar. He blew a few whiffs of smoke from his closed lips.

"Look here, Lizzie ! You're my sister, and I think a lot of you. Here's young Molroy. He's fond of you. Well, I'm glad of it. From what I hear, he's the sort to suit you, and you him."

He looked at her fixedly, watching every emotion that betrayed itself on her face.

"Aren't you making a great fuss about it?" she said.

He tried to look her through and through, but she scanned his face with a smiling scrutiny. He saw in her a disposition perversely disinclined to his being in her confidence. She was not the mere girl to passively take her cue from him. He believed she was acting a part, affecting to conceal her inti macy with Molroy. Enos had no compunctions about acting a part himself. He concealed a momentary incensement. "Ah ! well, Lizzie, as he's fond of you-"

She tossed her head impatiently.

"Not of Miss Molvurra, anyway, nor she of him; though, perhaps, she is of some one else," said Enos.

"And who's that?" she said instantly and peremptorily. He saw his advantage. He intensified his deliberateness of manner, and in a gentle, earnest tone went on

"As you set any value on my happiness, Lizzie, not a breath of this to any one ! "

There was a frown of concentration on her face as she waited.

" Don't think you're nothing to me, Lizzie. Don't be above taking my advice."

" Who is Ellen in love with? " she said, with an incredulous look.

" I said ' perhaps."'

"Yes! Well, ' perhaps' with whom ? " " I mean myself."

"Never!" she said, scarcely above her breath. It was an exclamation neither of doubt, nor of joy, but of astonishment.

She was dumb. She stared at him. That "perhaps" opened the door of a new situation altogether.

"Now if Molroy," resumed Enos, "has taken a notion of you, which is, I believe, true?"

He looked at her. She was thinking of the altered aspect of her possible fortune, her lips compressed with thought. She lifted her eyes, but did not answer.

" You think he's attached to Miss Molvurra. There's nothing in that. Do you hear? Nothing! It's the big man you've got to keep your eye on. And after all, why shouldn't you find a way up his sleeve?"

"No, indeed, Enos," she said curtly. "You said that before." He came and put his hands on her shoulders.

"Your interests and mine are the same."

" Interests ! " she said, and her honest eyes looked into his. "Well, happiness, Lizzie."

"Yes ; but can't we leave that alone, if it's true ? "

" You don't seem to quite understand me, Lizzie. I know something better than you. Nothing ever comes of itself. Anyway, you needn't be afraid of giving young Molroy every chance to make love to you."

" He shall certainly have that, Enos," she said, with a short laugh. " If he makes love to me, it will be a short courtship." He paused in astonishment, not at her words, but at her un embarrassed sincerity. He believed, not his own eyes, but his own suspicion that she was playing a part, and one way or , other was dissembling.

" Perhaps you understand well enough already ? " he said, with a hard laugh of familiarity.

Instantly she withdrew her foot, and releasing herself from his hands, stood with swift anger on her lip.

"Don't you talk to me in that kind of way, Enos ! " she said curtly.

He stood unmoved and did not blanch. He threw away the cold cigar that he had held between his fingers while his hands rested on her shoulders. He took up his whip, pulled on his gloves, and lit another cigar, speaking to her the while.

"Yes, if it were anybody but Molroy ; but, if you will think of it, seeing that it is Molroy," he said, with sarcastic preciseness, "it makes all the difference, and therefore don't misunderstand me."

"Seeing that it is Molroy? Aye, Enos ! and how many times have you met him in all? For goodness' sake leave talking of him till you know him better. I have asked them to come over to-morrow," she said, turning about to her household work. " Take care to come back ! "

"I had no thought of annoying you," he said, watching her movements.

"Then I'm not annoyed. Don't be late to-morrow," she said conclusively.

There was a flush on her face and anger burning in her eyes, nevertheless, as she went about her housework. The old people returned to find Enos was to be from home over-night. Old Charley lit his pipe and smoked in depressed silence, and old Mrs. Milvartin could not hide a sigh of disappointment.

When Lizzie retired to her room, she shot the bolt of the door, as if to be more alone. She placed a single candle on the dressing-table, and loosened her hair before the big long looking-glass. As she combed out the brown waves that fell over her shoulders, with a tender pride in its loosened beauty, her eyes flashed from the glass and seemed to watch her.

" If I had Arrosey and he was a beggar, he should have it all," she said to herself; and a softness came into her burning eyes.

" You think you're master here, Enos," she continued, " but I'm not going to let you. No, indeed; and I'm not going to be your fool, though I'm not religious, and I won't be religious. No, I won't!" and she stamped her foot, "except the way I am," she said, as she reflected. Then she thought of Ellen. "Well, I am surprised ! Ellen? Yes, she has met him, and she likes him. I see it very well. I'm nothing, in spite of his talk. Ellen is going to be everything. That's it,

Enos, isn't it? If it were anybody but Ellen, I should simply hate her, and him too."

She folded her hair, extinguished her candle, and for a moment, ere she lay down, glanced through the casement at the moonrise behind the hill. Then she said her prayers. The prayer of a woman is like the prayer of a child. Children learn their prayers from their mother's lips. They formulate few new petitions; only at the end they add thoughts unbreathed. Lizzie's prayer ended thus, in a pause and a thought of John Molroy. The moonlight fell in two bright squares on the damask curtain. The squares of light moved with the moving moon, grew narrower and disappeared, while she lay in dreamless sleep close under the thatch, the rafters within reach of her arm.

The night passed away, and the grey morning was in the dim attic. The rising sun burst with golden glow through the little casements, and inundated with light her grey eyes as she looked out to the dewy green of the field and the purple of the hill. Her thought was of being at church, and of perchance meeting Molroy ; but especially of the evening, when he would be at Cairnmore. Her eyes and lips opened with involuntary joy at the silence and sunshine of an unclouded day.


 

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