[From Captain of the Parish, 1897]
THE light of the evening sky lay low in the west, with red bars on the horizon of the sea. A breeze blew over the fields of green oats and the pastures and sedgy wastes on Arrosey Tops. Through the panes of Mrs. Curlat-the-soldier's and Nell Gawn's windows their fires flickered. Mr. Curlat was on the street of the row, and Corkle, the butcher, in shirtsleeves, his hands in his trousers pockets and a pipe in his mouth, was in the highroad, in front of Curlat's midden, pacing to and fro, now and again shrugging his shoulders in the evening's chill, and intermittently interchanging with the soldier scraps of news about prices, crops, and the doings of the Dippers.
Ellen Molvurra, having occasion to go to Miss Gawn's shop, came up the slope of white highroad, and nodded to both as she lifted her skirts to pick her steps across the gory channel. The soldier gave her good evening in reply, but the butcher, having his pipe in his mouth, was too much preoccupied to speak.
Her hand was on the latch of Miss Gawn's door. She turned her face to the evening light across the desolate waste seawards, and stood at a pause under the moss-grown spouting of the low and sordid eaves, then withdrew her band from the door and stepped out a pace or two.
"How is Mrs. Curlat ? " she said, with the manner of making good an omission.
"Aw, thank you, she's bravely, bravely. Aren't you coming in to put a sight on her?" said the soldier.
An impulse to call at Mrs. Curlat's had made her turn, but now a compunction of mere sensitiveness made her hesitate.
Mrs. Curlat would tell her the truth about Lizzie and Molroy. She suppressed the impulse as an unworthy curiosity.
"I think not, Mr. Curlat. Say I inquired after her." "Thank you kindly. Aw, 'deed I'll tell her," said the soldier.
Then Ellen lifted the latch of Nell Gawn's door. Her reception there was ever profusely polite. A chair was placed for her in the middle of the floor, as if nothing less was adequate. When Miss Gawn had brought what she required from the shop, she sat a little longer, as was obligatory to express a neighbourly spirit.
" It's like you heard ? " said Miss Gawn, almost in a whisper. " What, Miss Gawn ?"
"Aw, well, the talk."
Nell looked cautiously at her visitor by the dim light through the little window.
"Bless you, Miss Molvurra," she continued, "the things they're saying! But if the half of what's going about the Milvartins is true-"
"Probably less than half, Miss Gawn," said Ellen carelessly.
"Aw, well, maybe-that's not what I'm meaning; but some of it is true, anyway," said Nell doggedly.
"If you knew that part only, Miss Gawn?"
"Aw, well, there's things that's known for certain; and there's more. What's known is not all, at all, Miss Molvurra. There's a middling heavy mortgage on the Cairnmore, and that's what the talk is about."
" But what have I to do with the mortgage?"
"Laws, bless me, Miss Molvurra ! If there's a mortgage, there's interest to pay. It's been paid or it hasn't; but it's a pity if it has been paid to see the way things is going."
" Was the interest paid, then ?" said Ellen sharply. Nell gazed on the fire.
"Aw, child, don't ask," she said mysteriously. "Who had the mortgage, Miss Gawn ? "
"Bless my soul and body ! ybu don't know that ? Arrosey!"
"Yes, I've heard that. But are you sure?" said Ellen. "Aye! and the place and the people under his thumb!
Blood is thicker tel' water. There's money been freely spent on the heir before. He has had nothing but his own way from beginning to end. He has money of his own, and he'll be having his own way still, And love is love too."
" I don't understand you, Miss Gawn. What has young Mr. Molroy to do with it?"
"Aw, well, there's some knots got into the skein now, Miss Molvurra. There's something between him and the father; and there's been a row with Charley, and not the first either."
" He has nothing to do with his father's affairs," said Ellen firmly.
"Aw, aye, this time he has. Enos asked him to speak to the big man, and he spoke. Aw, fire in tow ! He's bent on helping them, and help he will. Between you and me it's for Lizzie !"
"I don't understand you," said Ellen bluntly, and rose from her seat.
" It's got that meaning, Miss Molvurra. Arrosey hates the very sight of her. He's dead against her, and ever has been. The woman that makes bad blood between father and son isn't going to get happiness that way. But if he has spoken for her he'll have her. There's that good in him, anyway, Miss Molvurra."
"Oh, yes, Miss Gawn, no doubt," said Ellen, and she left Miss Gawn by her fire.
Things had reached a crisis at the Cairnmore. Lizzie had been the cause of some complication. It was impossible to say what was the truth, but it was impossible also to doubt the general story. Ellen went out into the grey evening feeling a bitterness she did not fully realise, inasmuch as it was her temperament to repress it. That was not all. Ellen had felt an interest in Enos from the first, and unconsciously to herself that interest was now intensified, She paused on the street and scanned the gory channel. She gathered her skirts into her hand, and picked her steps over the channel into the white highroad glistening against the western light. As she gave good-night to the soldier and the butcher, the latter was charging his pipe again.
Things had reached a crisis at the Cairnmore. Veiled under the words of the schoolmistress, whatever Enos might do in the matter of the mortgage, Lizzie was the cause of complica tions. Ellen with these thoughts, and with step ever graceful, scarce audible beneath her softly swaying garments, came down past Arrosey. A tumult of emotions and a pang of disappointment and disillusionment were in her breast as she bravely faced the possibility of the big man, or even John Molroy himself, being at the gate that evening. But there was no one. Below Arrosey Chapel she met Enos Milvartin. For a moment, it being so near Arrosey, she thought in the evening gloom that it was John Molroy. But the step was more leisurely, the figure less solid, the broad hat unmistakable. Enos paused as if he had come to meet her, turned, and accompanied her as far as Creg Awin gate, and there left her, expressing his intention of continuing his walk as far as Arrosey Tops.
He had talked to her frankly of his Mormon faith without reserve or distrust, only gravely deferential. She would fain have spoken to him about Lizzie, but she thought once or twice that he was himself going to speak ; so she waited, and nothing was spoken. Ellen yearned for some frank truth about that, and yet on reflection called it unworthy. She had undergone a strong and complete change of mind. She bad reached a settled conviction. Molroy did not love her. That was all over. She was alone. Without knowing it she had loved Molroy. There had been no questioning thought of her own love, but only the surmise as to whether Molroy loved her-a thought, a question, never expressed to herself, but ever present. But now, through her recent experiences, there had silently descended upon her an absolute conviction. Molroy did not love her. She was nothing but a friend. She knew it. It was a critical situation. In her heart the fountain of love had been long welling up, and her heart was full. It was near flowing over, but by what outflow? It would not subside again; while near at hand was a new and unexpected way of which she knew not as yet. In her it had not been passion, but love-her very soul itself. She did not think of Enos as she had thought of Molroy. She felt wholly and desolately alone. Enos Milvartin's reserve, his deference, his sincerity, his self-control, his power, made him seem the only person whom now she could meet without embarrassment. That he had not spoken of Lizzie that evening had made him more certainly near to her.
In consequence of all this, Ellen had conceived a new resolution. She would go to America. She would go to Sylvester. It was rather an old longing she once had to go to America now revived again. It had come with fresh force; and because she loved Lizzie she all the more longed to be gone. That evening she sat down by herself in her room and projected her departure. The affairs of her father's will were settled.
The image of Sylvester arose clearer and clearer. She looked at his picture, feeling that ere long she would see him, and it increased her wish to be away. She could stay at Creg Awin no longer. The place was not as it had been, and as she looked out on the dark wall of the Vaish Hills against the pale sky it was with the reflection that ere long she would have looked upon them for the last time.