[From Captain of the Parish, 1897]
" All right, my lads ! I shipped that sea ;
I couldn't help it! Let be! let be !
Aw, them courtin' times! "-T. E. B.
ON Monday mornings Juan Paddy went down to the post-office on the chance of bringing up any letters there might be for Arrosey side. On the mid-August Monday, as Lizzie Milvartin was in the meadow spreading out the clothes in the sunshine of a cloudless sky, Juan emerged from the woods and came up the meadow.
" Well, Juan, what news to-day ?" she said, as the old man drew near and stopped.
"Aw, mistress, you knows yourself?"
"And what, Juan?" she said chaffingly, with feigned astonishment.
"'Deed there's news, mistress; and I wouldn't trust but there's more in this letter." He took off his top-hat, withdrew the big red-and-yellow handkerchief, and taking out of the crown a small bundle, handed the whole to her, and waited. Juan himself could not read.
She glanced carelessly over the addresses. There were some for John Molroy, and others for " Arrosey." Over one of John Molroy's letters she paused. She left her linen basket and turned up the meadow, still looking at the bundle of letters.
" Come along, Juan," she said carelessly, and the old man followed behind.
The letter was scented, the paper exquisitely white, the envelope small, the writing a fine pointed female hand. It was unmistakably from a lady.
"How many for Arrosey, Juan ?" she said carelessly, turning her head.
" I'm thinking it's all the rest," said the old man.
She put Molroy's letter with the letter for her father. Turning to Juan, with one hand she gave back the bundle of letters, and with the other hand put Molroy's letter in the pocket of her skirt.
Old Charley Milvartin was on the stone bench under the window.
" Here's a letter, father; shall I read it ? " she said.
"Bring me my glasses, girl; I'll manage," he said, examining the envelope carefully. The glasses, large of lens and with broad silver rims, had been his father's. He put them on with trembling hands. He read the letter again and again, replaced it in its envelope, thrust it in his breast-pocket, compressing his lips in silence. The letter had told him when the sale of Cairnmore would take place.
"Bad news, father?" she said.
"Aw, you can ask Enos," he said, and rose and slowly made his way up the road to the moor.
Juan had stood and looked on, his mind exercised with one mighty conjecture as to the contents of the letter. At the name of Enos he started.
"Is he at home, mistress? " said Juan. "Yes; in the house. Go in, Juan," she said.
" It's a fine day," said Juan vaguely, taking off his hat and looking at the letters in the crown. "I'll be going my ways-to get done with them."
Her finger was on her lip considering, and she glanced at the sky's unclouded dome. Enos came out of the house and went towards the stable.
"Is the heir at home, Juan?" she said. "Aw, aye! I believe he is."
"Tell him to come over. Don't leave a message." " Only to himself ? "
She nodded. The old man paused, comprehended, and went off. His next place of call was Arrosey, and he would arrive in the nick of time just after dinner.
Lizzie spread out her linen briskly. Enos was on the farm street in his shirt-sleeves grooming his horse.
" Enos, indeed!" she said to herself. " No! We have nothing, and we are nothing. You? Yes, you would have made me brush the horse for you. No! never ! I shall never lift my finger again to be your servant."
Enos was going off that afternoon with Ellen Molvurra. They were riding together to Inchport. Lizzie with her basket returned to the house, and went past him without speaking. Enos straightened himself up, smoothed his moustache, smiled contemplatively with half-closed eyes as in a pleasant reverie.
"Are my shirts washed, Lizzie?" he said, with a suave manner, as if suddenly made aware of her presence.
"If mother is going to do them, they'll be done; if not, take them somewhere else, Enos. Ask Charlotte ! " and she turned her head and looked across the glen with a contemptuous nod in the direction of Creg Awin.
"Isn't she fond of dirty linen, Enos?"
"She's been a very good friend of yours, Lizzie," he said gravely.
When Enos rode away, Lizzie also prepared to go out, and she sauntered down to the woods to wait for Molroy's coming. "Going out, Lizzie?" said Molroy, as she met him at the glen gate, where she had paced to and fro a weary hour. " I thought if you came we might walk to the Cairn; " and they went up towards the hill. Her annoyance and reckless ness had given place to gravity, but not to preoccupation. A rabbit started from their feet and ran along the mountain hedge, and she clapped her hands. A whistling plover rose from the moor, and she paused in the narrow sheep-track through the heather to watch its flight. When they reached the top of the hill, they sat down on the ledge looking across Narradale towards Arrosey.
"It's a stiff climb after all," she said carelessly as she sat down, and then gazed on the panorama of the valley. In the direction of Inchport fishing-boats were becalmed outside the castle island, the van of the fleet already going to their ground
" See the boats off Inchport ! " she said. Then reflectively,
" Do you know, John, I've never been off the Island. I can hardly know anything. Can I ? "
He was watching the cluster of boats, but turned to listen. "I wish I knew more. I wish I was educated, at least better educated. Do you think I ever could be? Is it too late yet?"
"It's rather hard, I'm afraid," he said, "because you've got other work that prevents it."
"That's not much encouragement," she said smiling. "But I mean, supposing I had time and could go somewhere?" "Is it any use thinking of that! ". he said kindly; and there was a long pause of rumination. When she resumed it was with a new subject.
" You have not seen much of Ellen lately, have you? " "Have I ? No, Lizzie."
" I used to think you were very fond of each other, but I didn't think right."
He sat in silence, without sign of anything but watching the landscape and listening to her talk.
"You are very quiet, John."
"I am listening as usual," he said offhandedly.
" Well, I've something to tell you. Ellen and Enos are engaged to be married."
He started. She saw his surprise, and continued
"They are gone off together somewhere to-day. He has been going to Creg Awin very often of late, and yesterday she told me."
A tide of unrest was heaving within him. "She told you?"
He had turned his face away. His face was twitching with emotion, his lips trembled, and he gasped for breath. Lizzie bent forward a little and looked at him in attentive curiosity. He rose to his feet and turned towards the Cairn on the rocky summit. Lizzie also rose and stood beside him, looking at his face, and when he stepped up towards the Cairn she came with him. He leaned his elbow on the pillar, resting his forehead in the palm of his hand. She thõught he was going to speak. But when he remained silent, and minute after minute went by, she came nearer and softly put her arms on the pillar, clasped her fingers, and watched his face. Her broad hat slid back, and on her temples her hair trembled in the breeze.
"John!" she said, speaking low, scarce above her breath. "John!" she repeated. But there was no answer. Neither by movement nor look did he show impatience of her speaking.
"And won't you say what it is?" she said, in the same low tone, calmly and quietly. Still he made no answer.
The minutes went by. A sweet drowsiness pervaded his senses like the lull of summer slumber. A delicious happiness was stealing over him. It was Lizzie's patient silence and sympathy, being there, saying nothing, no longer the same as she had been, delicate and bitter-sweet like the little herb called St. John's wort. He was conscious that his will was failing him. He tried to rouse himself. Her touch was slight and unreal, scarce seeming to be material clay, soft, as if it were impalpable air, as he put up his hands and gently withdrew her arms, and with her arm within his, scarce touching her, he drew her with him to the ledge where they had been sitting before, and taking her hand in his, they sat down. She looked at him with one emotion, of trust and expectancy.
"Lizzie," he said, and the effort of speaking, the sound of his own voice, seemed to recall him to himself and make his purpose clear to him, " I cannot say I'm glad-not now-not to-day," he said gently.
She placed her right hand on his left, and there it lay passive.
"Don't let us talk of this any more now. I cannot answer or say anything," he said more firmly.
" But, John, I want to say this, though you may think I ought not to tell you. I don't care what anybody in the world thinks of me ; I'm not afraid. I'm not fond of Enos."
At the sound of that name, as if Enos himself had appeardd before him, Molroy withdrew his hand and rose to his feet. Lizzie too stood up.
"No, don't go," she said. "Though he is my brother, I wish he had never come home to the Island." There was a flush on her face and in her eyes a startled flash, and Molroy looked at her collectedly and gravely.
"No; I'm not going," he said to reassure her.
" I know you are fond of her, and I could not bear to let any one tell it you but myself. See ! " and she drew the letter from the pocket of her dress, and looked at him as he read the address on it, tore it open, and glanced through it. This letter had made her jealous against the whole world. The letter was of no consequence. It was from Mrs. Orson Pratt to say she was coming to Cairnmore on the following day, and expressing a hope that he would be there.
"See, Lizzie; some one else you don't like," he said soothingly, and gave her the open letter to read.
The letter set in motion an undercurrent in his thoughts. He did not ask, nor even think, how the letter had come to Lizzie's bands. The undercurrent of bitter reflections was imperceptibly in motion. Meanwhile he looked at Lizzie reading. Her silence melted him ; her singleness of heart entreated him ; a doubtful and mingled affection for her besought sanction to love her in his soul. He struggled to repress it all; to cling to a conviction of rectitude that was contrariwise; and in his struggle the weight of a new despair made him inarticulate and dumb; but it was like the deadweight that at once hampers and steadies a vessel labouring in a storm.
He picked up her hat and placed it on her head with brotherly tenderness, and as she gave him the letter back, she saw the resolution in his face.
"You don't like this either?" she said. "No, Lizzie. Certainly not."
"You are not angry with me for telling you to-day?" "No, Lizzie, I am not; do not think of that."
"No, John, you are not. I know you are not," she said, as she pressed back her hair, smiling trustfully through her tears, and with trembling lips continued
"You will not be different to me because of Enos?" "I could not be, and there is no reason."
He took her arm in his, and as they came slowly down the path he continued
"Nothing that you have ever done, not a word that you have ever spoken, has ever annoyed me at all, Lizzie. Every thing you say or do is always your true self. If you were my sister I shouldn't wish you to be different."
"I know people think I'm not good enough to be even acquainted with you," she said.
"Well, then, Lizzie, I sought your acquaintance; soon I shall have only it, I suppose."
"And that will be the same?" she said. " Yes, indeed, Lizzie," he said.
She came down with him to the edge of the woods. She remained standing by the railings till he was out of sight, and as she returned up the meadow
"Yes," she said to herself, "he is always the same. He may tell me he is fond of me yet, for he is fond of me. Yes! and in spite of you, too, Charlotte!"