[From Captain of the Parish, 1897]
IN the afternoon of the following day Ellen's gig drew up at Callister's, Ellen driving and Lizzie on a lower cushion beside her. Idlers, lined out along the worn sandstone coping of the shore wall, filled up many a vacant hour in watching the goings out and comings in of the people staying at Callister's, and in speculating as to who and what they were. Shore-men and a sauntering crowd of fishermen in jerseys and top-boots were there to take "stock" of the occupants of the gig..
Ellen and Lizzie found Mrs. Pratt something new. They had not met any one like her before. She was smiling and acquiescent, with her subdued slightly nasal twang, and there was struck out of their intercourse a fire of unconscious vivacity in all three.
The evening was balmy silent, and the very clouds added light and beauty to the sky. Orson Pratt and Milvartin had an unexpected visit from some one who desired to have a conversation with both gentlemen together ; consequently Molroy and the ladies went forth by themselves. They sat on the grassy brows of Creg Malin, looking down on the waters that whispered at the doors of caves and by the walls of the red cliffs underneath. The sun went down at the far end of an infinite vista, a long trailing path of molten gold from the horizon inwards, till near the base of the cliffs the golden pavement was dislocated and its plates of gold sank tremulously in the wave. Beyond the bay the Inch and its castle rose from the sea an intangible isle and fabric of blue shadow, and beyond the castle the west glowed, a vast fan of flame. Slowly, and with the paling of a thousand blushes it faded, and the twilight came, till the Inch and its castle grew solid and black against the yellow west. The lamp of the harbour light-house within the gloom of the bay shone with its lowly beauty, and trembled on the undulations of the rising tide. Each wash of the waters on the shingle of the beach sounded crisper and more resonant. Voices, shouts, laughter, were audible faraway, and the strains of an accordion came along the shore, mellowed by the water and plaintively sweet. For Ellen and Lizzie it was an unusual sensation to be beside the sea at night, free to linger without thought of the journey inland to the hills. Their talk ceased, and they sat listening in the serene and soothing presence of the summer night. Molroy stood on a crag just out of earshot, smoking a cigar and watching the darkened sea.
" Ah ! well, come, Miss Molvurra," said Mrs. Pratt at last. " We will return and leave these lovers to each other. Don't be late, you two ! " she said, with affectation of playfulness.
Conflicting emotions and impulses leapt up indignantly in Ellen's breast.
"Lovers! And how did this stranger know that?"
She blushed in the gloom; her heart ached; she trembled. Speech was on her lips and died away again. What could she say ? Her feeling, her dignity forbad it. They had risen to their feet. There was a pause, and then it was Lizzie who spoke.
"And since when, Mrs. Pratt "-and she passed to Ellen's side and took her arm-"have you got your knowledge of my affairs?" and she laughed a low laugh of contempt just audible in the darkness. "No, Ellen! if you're going back now, so am L"
" My dear Miss Milvartin, you are too serious. Did you not understand that it was a mere pleasantry?" said Mrs. Pratt.
"By all means let us go back, Mrs. Pratt. It has grown chilly. Help us along this dangerous place, John ! Lead the way for us," said Ellen.
The tone in which she spoke was to conceal her own emotions.
" I don't know what you intended," said Lizzie to Mrs. Pratt carelessly.
"Where are you leading us, John Molroy ? You are going the wrong way," she called aloud to Molroy, who was piloting them along the cliffs.
" You are too casual, Miss Milvartin," said Mrs. Pratt. "There's a steep bit here ! You're a preacher's wife, and you began it," said Lizzie. " I'm used to speaking plain. Once past this quarry-"
"You are really most good-tempered, Miss Milvartin; but you hurt me exceedingly by speaking in that abrupt, violent way. And yet you meant nothing," said Mrs. Pratt in a lower tone as they emerged on the slope of grass towards the shore.
"I don't quite say that, Mrs. Pratt. I meant what I said at the time. I don't say a thing and then edge out."
" See! " said Mrs. Pratt, taking her arm, " it's only difference of manner."
" Lizzie," said Ellen, waiting till they came up, " will you sing for us when we get indoors? There's a concertina somewhere along the shore that has made me think of music."
When they entered the parlour at Callister's their faces were lighted with the flush of emotions, as if some angel of the night had swept his wing over them and troubled the fountains of their souls.
Lizzie went to the piano and took up a song, and turning to Mrs. Pratt, she said in a tone of uncompromising indifference and good-humour
" You'll accompany me? Miss Molvurra always does; but perhaps you-"
" My dear Miss Milvartin, with pleasure! I am intensely pained and grieved to have caused you annoyance. Forgive me," she said, smiling and showing her teeth. And she sat down and tried a few bars of the song. She paused, and Lizzie sang
Parted to wander our fated ways,
Shall we not meet again, as in those days?
Her voice had a power, not of pathos, but of conscious sentiment, and of something sensuously emotional. Molroy had rolled an easy-chair in front of the fire. It was summer; the evenings of the sea were merely chilly, but Ellen seemed to tremble with cold. She sat down and Molroy near her.
" Who are they?" said Ellen, looking at the fire and speaking in an undertone.
" Americans. I know nothing more."
" I detest her familiarities. I don't like her: she insinuates herself. Does she annoy Lizzie in the same way, I wonder?"
" Evidently," he said. " I'm curiously uncertain about them myself."
"How well she sings to-night," said Ellen, in changed tone, looking at Molroy with a pathetic directness, and with a tear forcing itself into her dark eyes.
Meanwhile on the low sea-wall outside the shore idlers bad gathered, and were listening to the song that came from the open window of the upstairs parlour of the inn. Lizzie sang as if her whole soul were filled with some sentiment, of which the song was but an indifferent and secondary medium of utterance.
" How fine the sunset was on the sea ! " said Molroy to Ellen.
" Ob, delightful! perfectly delightful ! " she said.
" I hope you'll enjoy the dance at the Castle Hotel tomorrow evening," said Molroy.
Again she raised her eyes with ineffable tenderness and pathos. Crystal tears were welling forth and flowing over. "I don't think I shall enjoy it much," she said calmly, dropping her eyes, and, looking at the crape on her dress, added
" I shall not dance, of course."
"No; I quite forgot," he said confusedly. Lizzie had reached the last stanza
Ah, though the wave rolleth wide weltering cold, I shall yet greet you again as of old.
Molroy was conscious of being confused within himself and every faculty benumbed. He was perplexed by the manner in which Ellen spoke to him and looked at him. Was it the song ? No; he had scarce listened to it.
" You seem rather tired this evening, John," Ellen resumed. He was dumb. He could only answer
"Yes, I am rather tired."
Lizzie had joined them and stood by Ellen's chair. Ellen rose and gave him her hand, and they said good-night to him, and went away together to sit down by the window of their room and look out on the sea.
" We are all guests equally, or I should have done the honours of the house," Mrs. Pratt had said, as she bade them good-night. Then she had returned and sat down in Ellen's chair.
" Well! " she began, "a penny for your thoughts."
" My present thoughts will cost more than a penny. I am thinking of a cigar," he said.
" She sings well," said Mrs. Pratt. " Her voice would be worth something 'out West,' Mr. Molroy ; that is what Mr. Pratt would have said."
Downstairs there was drinking and free laughter, that seemed to intensify the quiet and restraint in the parlour.
" Is it possible to love two persons, Mr. Molroy ? " Mrs. Pratt resumed, looking straight before her at the fire.
"No," he said curtly, " I shouldn't think so."
" I know you don't think so, and you're not the kind of man to do so. But if we had all been brought up to believe differently, that it was right, would it be possible then, do you think ? "
" I haven't been brought up to believe one thing or the other, as far as I know," he said.
"Then if you find yourself actually in love with two persons-"
"That's an hypothesis-that's improbable-impossible more like."
"I know what you'll say-that you don't find yourself in love with even one. But, Mr. Molroy, Mr. Pratt is sombre, Mr. Mil vartin is sombre, and this evening you are sombre, too. Perhaps the cigar will restore you. Good-night," she said, and rose and stood smiling to herself a moment, and then withdrew.