[From Captain of the Parish, 1897]
THE big man was at the chapel with a joiner, who was at work there when Molroy found him in the morning. "Arrosey" was chairman of the school management at Arrosey Tops, Parson Ollikins being secretary. Otherwise questions would have arisen if Arrosey had not been chairman, but with this arrangement there was peace. All business was discussed by him outside and settled beforehand.
"Ellen is going to marry this Dipper, then?" he began bluntly, when he had left the joiner.
"Yes, I hear so."
And what do you think of that? " "It's nothing to me," said Molroy. "Arrosey" looked at his son doubtfully.
"But hadn't you thoughts of speaking to her yourself?" The tone of the big man was too serious to be trifled with. Molroy saw it. He was overwhelmed with confusion and selfreproach, but in the presence of his father there was place only for constraint and self-control. He remained silent. "What do you say?" the big man resumed.
"I say nothing to that," said Molroy.
"Nothing? Aye, I daresay, now when you're spending your time with that fellow's sister. That one will be getting round you one of these days, it's like, if not already, my boy." " No, not as yet," said Molroy sharply.
"It'll not be for want of trying, anyway," said "Arrosey" curtly. " Down at Matt's the whole of their talk was the bargain you made at the Cairnmore with Enos on Tuesday, him to take Ellen and you to take that white-faced witch with the cartload of hair on her neck."
"Yes, at Matt's !" said Molroy. "Why do you speak like that ? "
" She went down with you as sweet as honey, and was the best part of an hour saying good-bye. Perhaps that's not true?"
" Are you going to take their word, father?" said Molroy, amazed by this version of the scene at the love-feast.
" Well, facts is facts. But say what you're going to say."
"The intention she has at present is to be schoolmistress." "What ! her?" and the big man turned in amazement.
" She has asked me to speak for her." " Aye? " he said abstractedly.
" She wants to do something for herself and not be drudging at home."
" And that's all that's in it? There's nothing but that? " he said with emphasis.
"Nothing but that," said Molroy.
"Aye! but has she enough schooling herself?" he said. " Nell Gawn has less, if that was enough."
They had returned to Arrosey House together, and were on the farm street.
"You promised to get her the situation, very likely?" said the big man bluntly. " Well, you can tell her she'll get it. There's one thing that looks very straight like truth about it," he continued. "They won't be long in the place any way, and it's like she knows it. The mortgage is not going to be paid off by Enos, and the place is to be sold over Charley's head."
Molroy looked at his father, recollecting, as he looked, his conversation with Enos at Inchport.
" She wasn't telling you that, boy ? "
" Charley himself told me, and that Enos would do nothing." " ' Would ?'-'could,' you mean. It's my belief he hadn't more than his passage-money and a five-pound note to come home with, if that much itself. But he'll have more going out. Him pay off a mortgage! The d-d rascal was trying to raise more on the place the minute he set foot on the Island. You don't know you're alive, boy. You've been packed up in cotton-wool all your life. Isn't he living on them all round ? and going with a bag with a hundredweight of small change in it to the bank, regular as the week comes round, to get it changed into gold. Dippers' pence, my boy! I can see his game as plain as I can see my hand. And now Creg Awin into the bargain! But he might have the place and welcome for me. Getting herself is the bad job." And he turned away with a hard dry sigh.
"Did the sister think he had money, too?"
" I don't know that she ever concerned herself about him," said Molroy.
" Aw, well, that was the story. Charlotte below here boasting about Enos, and that cursed fool Wade! Even Juan. had got wrong with them. He's got the right end of the stick middling often, has Juan."
The big man talked with averted face, and in a harsh and dry tone, that left the impression on his son, when the big man left him, that there was more annoyance and incensement in reserve than had been expressed in their interview.
That evening Molroy brought the news to Lizzie. As they sat by the fire, he took one of her hands in his and looked at a stain on her fingers.
"You've been writing? Let me see it," he said.
She brought down from her room a heap of note-paper, on which she had copied songs. She sat down beside him with the papers in her lap, and gave them to him one by one.
" Will they do ? I'm rather a bad speller," she said, looking at the heap still in her lap. " What did your father say about me? Tell me exactly," she continued.
"Just the usual style. What are these?" he said, as she gave him the rest.
"Sums! they're dreadful. I haven't properly an idea of rules. They're my market accounts."
He took them up.
" You don't mind my looking at them, Lizzie ? "
jAs he followed her arithmetic, he saw what economy she had practised-a statement of a life of mixed penury and extravagance; and then he laid them down. "I've seen enough to judge," he said.
" Well? " she said, waiting his verdict.
You are all right; don't be afraid. I must come to-morrow and help you."
" Are you going to Arrosey now ? " she said, as he rose to go. " No, Lizzie."
" Where, then?" she said, with confidence. "To Inchport," he said abruptly.
" Could you not go and see Ellen to-morrow, John?" "Why? " he said harshly.
" She has not been well since Tuesday. When I told her to-day about the school, she said nothing. I told her what you said, and all about it."
"She's bound to feel this going away," said Molroy carelessly. " But you go yourself ; you'll do her more good." "But you used to be such friends," she insisted.
"That's all right, Lizzie ; but I'm no use that way," said Molroy.
" Will you go with me and get Ellen to come out with us to-morrow? " she persisted.
" I'll be here, and you can speak of it then," he said, with enforced gentleness, and said good-night.
He rode down the glen, but not to Inchport. He turned aside and rode a dozen miles round the mountains to the obscure inn of Baldwin, where already he had more than once found a resting-place. When the landlord woke him next day, it was noon. He was in the miserable room where he bad thrown himself on a bed in the early hours of the morning. He could scarce recollect where he was or how he had come there.
" Will you have a mouthful of dinner, master ?" said the solitary old man who kept the inn.
"No; I want a drink only, and the mare ready."
" There's enough left in the bottle, very likely," said the landlord, placing last night's bottle on the table, and Molroy stood and drank what was left while his horse was being saddled.
He rode out by the mountain-road. There was a drizzle of rain in the valley, and clouds folded round the mountains. As he ascended higher, the rain swept down the ravine. When he crossed the pass there was a drenching downpour, and he bowed his head to face its violence. He was drenched to the skin and his mare streaming and ruffled as he rode down to Cairnmore.
Old Mrs. Milvartin was spinning and Charley dozing in his arm-chair. Molroy made his way to the chimney-corner. She stopped her wheel for an instant to disentangle the thread, and went on again.
" Dear me ! but the day is wet," she said.
He hung his coat on a drying-hook near the fire, and sat in his shirt-sleeves. He beard Lizzie's foot in the room overhead. " Dear me! get him a drop of spirits, mistress," said the old man.
"'Deed, John, a drop of spirits is good to keep the cold out. It's not often we've got it in, but I believe there's some in to-day."
At that moment Lizzie appeared. Molroy was jaded and spiritless. His clothes were at once dripping and steaming. In the turmoil of his ruminations he was almost unconscious of discomfort. When she entered there was a change, a glow of life'and kindness.
"Get him a drop of spirits, girl," said the old man.
"No, father; he doesn't take spirits. I'll make you some tea, John ? "
"Thanks, Lizzie; I prefer it to anything," he said. While the kettle was boiling she came and sat down.
" Lizzie is thinking of being a schoolmistress," said old Charley.
" Aye ! and what's put the notion in her head, I'm saying?" instantly said old Mrs. Milvartin, the subject being evidently uppermost in her thoughts. " Has it got any meaning in it,
Lizzie? John Molroy is a friend, anyway. We can talk well enough for him being here."
"Yes, mother-fifty pounds a year," said Lizzie.
"But have you any occasion to take it, Lizzie ? Is there nothing else but that for you? She's young, sure enough," she continued, addressing Molroy; "twenty-one or twenty-two is young enough for anything. What age are you, Lizzie?"
"Yes, mother; twenty-two. I'll be young enough in a year or two to change my mind," she said, looking steadfastly at the fire.
"It would be a kind of trade for her," said old Charley. " Still, the way it's looked down on is the objection I have myself."
"I wouldn't mind that," said Molroy brusquely.
"You'll get leave, John. It's looked down on-aw, 'deed it is. You see it's mostly lame ones and the like that keeps the schools that's in. I'm wondering myself that Juan Paddy hasn't took to it. But he's doing better on the houses, very likely."
"Fifty pounds a year, Chalse," said the old lady sharply. "Aw, well, I'll allow it's nice. Still, it's middling lowering for Lizzie. Now I would have thought it would have been middling lowering for her to your own view, John," said the old man.
"Ob, no; not at all," said Molroy.
"She's not going to stay at it all her life, Chalse," interposed the old lady
" No; but working out like that is lowering, though-aw, it is-it is," he persisted.
"It's not that way I'm thinking of it, Chalse. Is it going to lead to anything?-that's what I'm saying."
"I want to try it, mother, whether it leads to anything or not. I'll try it for a year or two," said Lizzie.
"Aw, well, it's go you will, and I'm not going to object," said the mother.
"Aw, I'm thinking it'll be right enough. I don't think I'll go against it at all. She'll have Saturday and Sunday off, and she'll be home every night. I tell you, John, that fifty pounds clear money is middling after all."
"Yes, Mr. Milvartin, and there's nothing lowering about it," said Molroy.
"Unless Enos perhaps may think so," said Lizzie, moving about preparing tea.
" Aw, him ? It's likely it's not much he'll do for you, Lizzie," said the old man.
"Aw, I'm thinking this religion he's got is not a very good sort," said the mother. "The farm is going to be sold, and-" The old lady broke down, and putting her apron to her eyes, wiped her tears.
Lizzie came to her, and, putting her arm over her mother's shoulder, said
"Never mind, mother; we shall be all right. Don't worry about it."
"Aw, it's not for myself, Lizzie, girl-it's not for myself." " He's not often here," said old Charley reflectively to Molroy. "He's mostly away in different parts of the Island."
"Never mind, father," said Lizzie. "We don't know what he has to do and put up with, when he's in it."
"But letting on the things he did, girl! " said the old man. " Well, it's my fault speaking of it to-day." And Lizzie smoothed the mother's hair, and she resumed her wheel. Outside the wind blew, and the rain dripping from the thatch was dashed against the little window. The ash trees swayed and shuddered, and flung their drops around the margin of the farm street. A rushing channel flowed down the moor road and past the door. Sheets of rain trailed across the meadow, and the landscape closed in with the gathering obscurity of a rainstorm.
The matter was settled with the old people that Lizzie was free to become schoolmistress. Meanwhile, they were to be turned out of Cairnmore at latest in November, and knew not where they should make a new home.
"There'll be trouting with this, John. You're fond of trouting yourself," said old Charley, cheerfully oblivious of impending things.
" There'll be some sea-trout hooked in the glen this evening," said Molroy.
" It's yourself that can land them sort fine, they're saying," said the old man.
But this evening the silvery sea-trout might stem the Narradale flood for the quarriers and labourers who cultivated the gentle art in the glen, not for Molroy. This evening he sat in apathy and gloom. They drew round the tea-table as the darkness fell on the wet landscape. After tea Lizzie brought paper and ink, and he taught her arithmetic. Hour after hour he explained, and she worked the sums. The old people left them and went to bed, and then she put her work aside and sat by the fire. Later on the rain ceased, the clouds dispersed, and the moon broke through the drift. Molroy prepared to depart.
" Where are you going ?-home? " she asked. "No, I'm not."
" But don't you think-" "No," he said gently.
" Well, but--" she still pleaded.
"No, I can't. I'm not going to Arrosey to-night." She saw it was no use to plead further.
"But, Lizzie, you could call." " At Arrosey ? "
"No; at Creg Awin. She's not well, you know. You won't forget," he said, with an abrupt manner.
She looked at him as if that were an unnecessary reminder. " I'm not very sure of my movements, Lizzie. I'm not sure if I shall have time to call at Creg Awin."
" Oh, John! what! not at all? "
"I meant to tell you this," he said. "On the Monday you go to school I will come with you, as I said."
"Yes, but that's some time yet."
"Well, you can depend on me for that," and he abruptly said good-night and was away.
Lizzie was only too certain that he was queer about some things, but she thought that of late she had seen more of him, with not even Ellen present; and perhaps she had to find out that he had always been like this. Perhaps for that reason Ellen had never been able to like him with all her heart. But for Lizzie herself it was quite another matter.