[From Captain of the Parish, 1897]
MOLROY came straight home to Arrosey. He saddled and led out the new mare, glossy as yellow silk, to the area of the farm street. Hardly was he in the saddle when the mare reared obstinately again and again. He struck her on the head with his whip, and she dropped to her feet, shook her head, bounded with ferocious snorts, and reared still more furiously. He sat statue-like, striking her on the head with his clubbed whip till she stood still. The big man came out of doors, and again between horse and rider the struggle was renewed. Arrosey looked on, it being of importance that the mare should be mastered.
" She's vicious, boy," he said casually, as he watched with critical eye the movements of the magnificent beast. His son's good horsemanship was a matter of course, and so was his silence. Consequently Arrosey scarcely observed the fact that when the struggle was over and the mare broke away at a gallop, passing through the farm gateway like a flash, that his son had gone off without a word. An hour or so later Molroy rode into Cashen's yard in Inchport, and there left his horse.
Inchport has antiquity for the antiquarian. Old towers and roofless churches crown the Inch that stands against the west between bay and sea. The life of Inchport is a contradiction; its occupations, manners, thoughts, the whole aspect of its outer, and the whole feeling of its inner life, can scarcely have changed at all since the towers and churches were built, perhaps a thousand years ago. The fishermen are the descendants of those fighting men of old time. Yet Inchport pretends to no kindred with the ruins on the Inch. The towers and churches belong to another world. Molroy was on the headland, north of the bay, during the later hours of the afternoon. He walked along the shore towards the town with the air of a tired schoolmaster. He came to the busy part of the shore, where the clumsy round punts belonging to the luggers were kept afloat, each by a crew of bare-legged boys. He turned off the shore, and entered Callister's inn at Munn's corner. It was where he had stayed with Enos Milvartin and his friends.
The inn below-stairs was a resort for fishermen when ashore, upstairs a more genteel place. The bar and kitchen were crowded, and knots of idlers were about the door. Molroy passed upstairs to the parlour overlooking the bay, and found it unoccupied. He sat down by the window. From below came an interminable hubbub of talk and clinking of glasses; from outside the pacing to and fro of sea-boots, drawling talk, laughter, but above everything leisure. Time and tide, contrary to the proverb, here wait, and there is no hurry. The anchored luggers lay motionless oil the oily smooth surface of the bay, masts, sails, ropes, hull, reflected in its green mirror. Seaward in broken lines lessening sails trended away to the horizon. The landlady came up to the parlour, sat down for a chat, and looked out on the bay. Later, when she rose, he asked for a cup of tea, and tea-things on a tray were set on a table at his elbow. He lay back in his arm-chair, lit a cigar, and gazed out on the flames of sunset, that aureole-wise were behind the dark gables and towers of the Inch.
He saw the crews of the luggers go on board with shouts and laughter that came across the glassy distance, with the clinking of anchor-cbains hauled on the windlasses. The sails were hoisted, and the creaking of the pulleys were audible in the dead calm silence of the air. The sails drooped motionless, the sweeps were thrust out, and the luggers moved slowly seawards. He watched the rising and falling of the sweeps, the dripping, the splash, and the broken surface of the bay. He sat motionless, and saw as in a dream the scene magnified and intensified, toil as though without suffering, ambitionless monotony as though it were peace and contentment.
The net-girls who knitted the fishing-nets came along the Shore Road in twos and threes, bareheaded and noisy with laughter and chatter. Their arms were bare; their short skirts showed their shapely ankles as they strutted coquettishly past the men loafing on the shore wall and by the jetties. Their impudence did not jar upon Molroy ; he had been dreaming, and his sensitiveness was dulled. One of the girls, with bright yellow hair, was the centre of a slowly moving knot of beauties. She was conscious of her charms, and smiled with leisurely and sportive glance. A young fisherman with flushed face, coming from the harbour, stopped and stared at her. She laughed to her companions. But he advanced, and throwing his arms round her, kissed her. There was a roar of laughter.
In a moment another fisherman had reached the spot and had struck him on the face. Instantly there was a fight. Glaring at each other, they tore off their jerseys. A crowd came flying like birds of prey to the carcase and encircled the combatants, already locked in a wild struggle. Fury had taken possession of both. It was a chaos, a scuffle, as of two dogs. There was no place for courage; it was fury and terror. One of them staggered and fell.
" Ah ! "said Molroy, "that will improve matters. Now they will be deliberate and fight." But the man rose, and again like two fiends they closed in the canine encounter. Again one of them fell, and again he staggered to his feet and they gripped at each other.
"Ah ! well," said Molroy, "I can 'lick' the whole town ten to the hour, if that's their style." He looked on with a feeling of involuntary amusement. He was no partisan. At one moment he smiled; the next, he reflected more gravely. Then the two combatants were on the ground rolling and struggling at the feet of the crowd, and the crowd swayed and surged to extend the arena this way and that. Again the men were on their feet, staggering, panting, exhausted, regarding each other with drooping heads, and from sheer loss of energy suspending hostilities, their faces swollen and streaming with blood, their hair dripping with sweat and filthy with dust. Cheers and shouts rose from the crowd; but to no great purpose; the men closed again, and staggering fell together; lying on the ground, they gripped each other, and clutched and struck with ineffectual blows. Then one of them, though reeling and blind, got on his knees with his adversary underneath, and pounded his face.
" Oh, no ! " said Molroy ; " not that ! I'll stop that kind of work."
He rose to his feet and leaned forward, and his hands rested on the window-sash. He stood upright and turned, but staggered over the floor and swerved helplessly to the hearth rug. There was over the mantelpiece a pier-glass. He leaned against the mantelpiece and saw his face in the glass. It was pale. His hair was in confusion. His eyes were wild and tear-stained.
"What is this ?" he said to himself ; " what is this?" He turned and looked again. All the evening the grief suppressed had surged up till it had inundated his brain. Again he looked at the glass.
" No," he said, " no, I won't, I won't;" and he came back to the window.
"I'll sit down; I'll sit down here," he said, and he sank into the chair.
The fight was over, and different parties were supporting the combatants in different directions. From time to time the exhausted heroes made frantic efforts to return and renew the combat,-mere spasms of phrensy which instantly subsided, and they submitted again to be led away. The crowd dispersed. The Shore Road became more and more quiet, and at last deserted. The colour had faded out of everything but the red out of the sky, and that too was fading fast. Day had passed away, and it was night. The lighthouse on the quay was lit, the coasters and fishing vessels at anchor in the bay hung out their riding lights, reflected in the black mirror below. Footsteps less and less often broke the silence stealing over the town; but in the bar-room belowstairs there was still laughter and talk, and now and again the tumbling and breaking of a glass or pint cup on the stone floor. Still Molroy looked out seaward from the darkness of the room into the dim light of the summer night. He saw the light of a distant lighthouse like a star on the horizon flashing and fading, and when it flashed, it swung forward and drew back into darkness. A luminous arch of light was in the western sky behind the Inch, and towers and gables rose solemn, solid, and black against it. In the harbour a brigantine was moored by the quay, poles and yards traced on the pale midnight sky. He gazed on these, and thought of the vessel's wanderings, through light and darkness, sunshine and storm, year after year.
These he saw; he saw everything, the Shore Road, the wall, the jetties, in the pauses of the rushing, hurrying fever which through the long hours had surged up into uncontrollable violence, whiles subsiding, whiles returning with masterless fury. It was about Ellen! Arrosey, Creg Awin, Cairnmore came before him with the sum-total of every association of boyhood and youth. No one had ever excited his admiration, but he had known Ellen ever since he could remember. Before the universe he could swear that he had felt as if she was a sister; and since three or four months ago, she had verified every slight and vague feeling into solid reality, only she was not his sister; and, as he knew, there was not in the world any one like Ellen. But she was going to be married to Enos Milvartin ! Ellen married? Yes, to a sort of canting preacher, this Enos from America! No! no! that was a mistake! That was not right! How could that be? Ellen marry Enos ?
A Dipper! A thousand times rather give me a Methodist ! Ellen hadn't known him before he went abroad, and here in six or seven weeks it was settled
Molroy paused, and saw the vast dark sea and the lights far away, unsteady, uncertain. Again he sank into his reverie and addressed himself.
" But you didn't know him yourself before he went abroad. Why were you so mighty friendly with him? D-n it ! why did you ever have anything to do with him? But Lizzie ! " He turned about in his chair, lay reflecting, and resumed the same thread.
"Ah ! yes, Lizzie ! yes, of course, he's Lizzie's brother. Why should I not have been friendly to Lizzie's brother? I was bound to-in honour-decidedly-and Ellen and Lizzie friends. Ah, yes! But-but Ellen to love him-love him !-love? love?
Ah, no! no! How could she spend half-an-bour with a fellow like him ? That is not Ellen, is it ? As certainly as I breathe the breath of life there's a gulf fixed between them that will never be bridged. Enos indeed! Conceited, dry, suspicious, without imagination, without a laugh, without a smile, sanctimonious, without a fault, mean, worldly, self-righteous. Oh, d-n it ! what is it that's wrong? Could she not see for herself ?-feel by instinct what he is?"
Then he saw the sea and the night again, and heard the drinkers downstairs. He returned upon himself.
"Fool! bah! How do you know she's all you've been thinking her. It's all fancy! Her fine qualities are in your own imagination! Fool! she is as common as Enos himself. Her modesty isn't refinement; it's timidity and sanctimoniousness combined. If she bad been what you think, it never could have happened. Let her go ! The chance came a fellow 'making a profession' turned up-the man that answered to her own mind-and then it's settled doublequick ! "
He clenched his fists.
" Very well! let her go! The beastly sanctimoniousness of the canting preacher ! And you pitching your civility in a nice low key and meeting him half-way. And you knew what he was ! You went to meet a Dipper saint ! You were knocking about here in this very house like one of the lot! And why, you fool ?"
Again he paused.
" D-n it ! for Lizzie, and why not?" he said, pushing the table aside. "She's not a snivelling, long-faced prude. She's not afraid."
He lay back in his chair quite still, soothed by a pathetic dreamof Lizzie. At intervals he gradually began to roll from side to side, groaning audibly, dreaming still, thinking, raving. At last he leaned over the table, his forehead on his folded arms.
" No, no, no ! that's not right! that's not true! and is not Ellen!" he said. A great wave of feeling, of sentiment, of conviction, the involuntary verdict of his whole self heaved within him.
"No ! there's a mistake ! It's all wrong! it's a lie ! Oh,
Ellen, Ellen, Ellen! How did it happen? Why have you forgotten me?"
The muscles of his heart contracted in spasms of anguish. He clenched his fists and ground his teeth.
"No, no ! she is not that kind," he said languidly, when the paroxysm had passed.
It was past midnight when the last of the drinkers in the bar-room below staggered forth into the street and the house door was bolted. Then Mrs. Callister, with a lamp in her hand, came up to the parlour where Molroy was. He was lying on the table, with his forehead resting on his folded arms. The room was in darkness. Was he asleep? She touched his shoulder, and he looked up. His face was swollen, his eyes were wet. She looked at his disordered hair and blurred eyes in amazement.
" Wouldn't you go to your room and lie down, Mr. Molroy ? " she said.
" No, Mrs. Callister, but I could take a little brandy."
She went out of the room and presently returned with a decanter and glasses. He was lying, as before, with his fore head on his arms. He looked up when she placed the brandy beside him.
" I might go away early in the morning," he said, and slid a sovereign across the table.
" Good gracious! what nonsense, Mr. Molroy ! "
" Never mind," he said, rising to his feet. " I'll pay you now. I'm an early riser," and he bent over the table and slid the sovereign farther towards her.
"The change, Mr. Molroy," she said a few minutes later. He was standing in the same position, with his hands on the table, unconscious that she had left the room, had gone downstairs, and had come up again with the change. He recollected himself, gathered the money off the table, scarcely knowing what money it was, then, standing bolt upright, with a jerk dropped it into his pocket.
"Thanks!" he said mechanically.
She withdrew towards the door, watching him with curiosity. Forthwith he advanced into the middle of the room. His face was pale and contracted. " If my horse, Mrs. Callister," he said slowly, endeavouring to control his masterless faculties, " were ready, I would go now."
" Oh, nonsense, Mr. Molroy ! "
" You don't know why," he said in the same slow, agonised manner. " You don't know why. If I had my horse I would go now."
" Where, Mr. Molroy ?"
" Right off to her, and I would tell her."
"And who is the lady?" she said soothingly. He made no answer, but staggering to the mantelpiece, rested his elbow on it and his forehead on his band.
"Won't you go to bed, Mr. Molroy ? Do! The room is ready," and she went to the door of the room that Ellen and Lizzie had once occupied together. He stared at the darkness of the doorway, made as if to speak, but paused as if what he had meant to say was forgotten again in the turmoil of his brain.
"You must not think of anything but going to bed. You're not fit."
" I protest. What do you say? Fit ! I am fit," he said, striding forward. He came to the table, poured out half a tumbler of brandy, filled it with water to the brim, gulped it down, and replaced the glass on the table as if invigorated.
"That mare will do the run in an hour; I'll go."
As if by instinct he went straight to his hat and whip, turned to the table, drank another draught with flashing eyes, and, as if renerved and reinvigorated, strode to the door.
"I'm ready, Mrs. Callister."
"Mr. Molroy, don't go." She stood in his way to bar his exit.
" No," he said, pushing her aside gently and passed out of the room; passed down stairs with his hand on the railing, and tried to unfasten the door. The landlady had followed him, and said again
"Don't! don't! Leave it till to-morrow! Where is your horse? I need not open the door. You are not fit to go out. I'll get some one to go to the stables with you."
He did not heed, he did not even hear her appeals, but succeeded in opening the door, and forthwith disappeared into the street without a word. Only a few belated drinkers were in the streets, and they passed him unconscious of his presence. The yard at Cashen's was open, and be staggered in under the archway. There was a light in a loft, and when he dis covered it he called them down. The stableman had heard him, and came down with a lantern, looked at Molroy, and opened the stable-door. The horses stood asleep on their feet except the bay mare, and she turned her head, shifted restlessly, and pawed the pavement of the stall. The man saddled the mare and led her out, and after two or three attempts held her motionless.
"Won't you take a bed at the hotel, sir? " said the stableman.
"No, I forgot," and he felt in his pocket for a shilling. It dropped and bounced and rolled on the worn cobbled pavement of the yard.
"Never mind ! I'll find it, sir," said the man. Then Molroy got into the saddle. She sprang forward, almost tossing him out of his seat. But in an instant he gathered up the reins and passed under the archway, the mare tossing her head and ambling proudly as she entered the street.
The stableman followed to the street corner where Molroy had turned up the steep ascent leading out of the town, and heard the mare going at a gallop. With such horsemen instinct guides when the mind has lost control, or the power of habit works automatically in the otherwise helpless man; but there is also seemingly an instinct in the dumb beast that makes him carry his rider without swerving. The mare galloped mile after mile by cottage gable, farm gate, through hamlets, over rise and through hollow, under dark hill and crag and wood, and still he urged her on. The exercise had steadied the circulation of his blood, but his brain was overclouded with the mighty measure of brandy. Wild thoughts, wild resolves, in conflict with thoughts of anguish and despair, battled within him. He was conscious that he found himself, without remembering exactly how, on the farm street of Creg Awin; he remembered that the mare neighed and turned to the stable, and that he rode past the house-porch into the bome-field, and stared at the gable with its one window dim in the darkness. He remembered coming down the Creg again to the ford, crossing Narradale river, and galloping up the woodland road, guided by the line of sky between the treetops. After that all was distinct in his memory. The Cairnmore was enveloped in darkness, silence, and sleep. He tied up his mare and went round to the upper gable of the house. On the green field looked out the windows of Lizzie's room. With the lash of his whip he flipped again and again on the glass till the other casement opened, and Lizzie's voice asked"Who's there ? Is that you, Enos ? "
He made no answer.
"Is that you, Enos?" she asked sharply and peremptorily. A maddening question was in Molroy's heart. Was he the only one that ever had waked her by sounding on the panes of her windows? Jealousy seized him as with a spasm. Would she call any other name? But the casement closed. The pang of jealousy gave place to loneliness and desolation. His purpose had been to abandon for her sake all thought of Ellen; to disown convictions, though they were his own heart's birth, to give himself to Lizzie. It was not that he had come to give himself to her, but the time, the circumstances, the mind in which he had come. Lizzie Milvartin had no lover, and she would speak to no one who came thus. He felt no remorse, no compunctions. Such emotions were drowned. He mechanically reflected. In their past associations he had stood back from the brink of dishonour, as he had flattered himself, while she stirred the foliage on its surface with her petulant foot, and now he had recklessly plunged too far. He scarcely asked himself if she knew who stood under her window. He was about to return to the stable and ride away, when the touch of a hand was on his arm, a breath on his cheek, and a voice whispered his name. He turned. It was Lizzie. She had a shawl over her head and shoulders, and her hooded face was visible notwithstanding the gloom.
"What's the matter?" she said. The modulation of her voice overpowered him with its sympathy. " Come into the house. There's something, I know. Come in."
He went with her mechanically. She noiselessly closed the door. He staggered to a seat under the chimney-arch. She roused the fire, and it spread a red glow around the hearth. She put on fresh peats, and the blaze illuminated dimly the whole kitchen. Meanwhile, she had glanced at him anxiously again and again. Now she came near, and dropped on one knee at his feet. She had thrown her shawl aside. Her eyes were bright, her look pure as a child waking in the glory of a summer morning. Her brown hair, in the lustre of the firelight, rested on her shoulders-everything was a contrast to his ghastly paleness, his haggard eyes, and his black hair wet and distracted on his brow.
"John, you are ill!" she said, looking into his face with astonishment. "Where have you been? What has made you like this?"
He returned her look fixedly, put his elbow on his knee and rested his chin on his hand, still looking at her face, but made no answer.
"Let me make you some tea," she said. "Yes, Lizzie, if you please," he said.
She glided about in the flickering light, and laid the teathings on the round deal table. He sat motionless, turning his eyes to watch her movements. When she had made tea and had poured out a cup, he took it, and, after tasting that it was not too hot, gulped it down. He drank cup after cup with insatiable thirst, mechanically and silently looking at the fire glowing and blazing on the hearth. She sat in front of the fire watching him. She knew not what was the matter; was not horrified, not shocked, not even distressed; she was at most surprised, even amazed. But the fact was unmistakable that he had come to her, and consequently she had a place in his confidence; she was something to him. To help him was her one thought, and she felt an intense satisfaction that to her the opportunity had been given. There was nothing dreadful in it to Lizzie. She did not divine his feelings of agony. She did not divine what torture was gleaming darkly in his eyes in intermittent spasms. Her own beautiful eyes had a look of pain too, hut only with love with love that would fain know how to love best. When he had set his cup down, she brought a basin and towel and held them.
"Won't you sponge your face a little?" she said, and she stood while he bathed his eyes and forehead. Then she brought a brush and comb, and he brushed his disordered hair.
"You feel better?"
"I feel quite myself again. Thank you, Lizzie."
" You did look so ill," she said, with sweet voice and cheerful tone. But there was no fiction, no affectation of misunder standing the manifest cause. He looked at her forehead, and the evenly parted hair.
"I must go," he said, rising and walking out on the floor. He caught sight of his face in the glass beside the window. His face was less swollen, less haggard and pale than before. She sat still, and he came behind her chair and leaned his folded arms on the high chair-back. A glow came into her face. He did not speak. He did not touch the hair that fell over her shoulders, but looked where she was looking at the flickering flames and red embers on the hearth. Then he stood upright, and half turned away, with one hand clutching the high chair-back. Irresolute, he returned to his seat in the chimney-corner, and looked at Lizzie, still gazing at the fire, grave and calm, her thoughts inscrutable.
"What day is this?" he said. She started.
"Tuesday morning. See, there's the daylight ! " she said, looking at the window, whose greyness showed that the darkness had broken.
He rose from his seat unmistakably to depart.
"We're to have visitors to-day," she said, rising. "Epos and company. He's only a visitor. Would you come over this afternoon?" she said doubtfully. "Ellen is coming over to help me," she added.
"And what is it?"
"Ob, religion, of course. Mr. and Mrs. Pratt. A lovefeast is part of their business. When a convenience can be made of us, then we are something to him, and it's our solemn duty and privilege to lay ourselves down for him to walk over us. You won't come to give your experience, John?" she said, smiling.
"Not just now," he said seriously, with a look of profound admiration for the gentle bright sympathy and the simple resolute integrity that had preserved and restored him.
"They know what to confess and what to keep back, John." " They speak to edify."
"Charlotte's confessions must be fine. They'll edify! " she said, laughing freely.
The dawn was creeping in through the window, and outside the trees were visible against the sky.
"This evening after they are gone perhaps you may come ? " she said.
"I will not fail," he said, and he went to bring out his horse.
She came to the door to see him go off the street. He was going up towards the moor. The silver light was spreading above the dark hill as he went through the gate into the moor, and Lizzie turned to busy herself with preparations for the coming day with a new conviction of a place in his confidence.