[From Captain of the Parish, 1897]
FROM that evening when he left Lizzie, Molroy was from home. Day after day went by, but he did not return to Arrosey ; he did not call at Creg Awin, nor did he come to Cairnmore. One Sunday evening at the end of August, as the last stragglers from church and chapel were lingering along the highroad in the evening light, he came riding from the north over Arrosey Tops. Everybody had a confidential account of where he bad been and what he had been doing, and observed and discussed him as he rode past. Lizzie knew of his absence, but not of his return. She came up the Creg on Monday morning carrying a basket with her lunch, the school-keys, and her cloak folded across it. As she approached Arrosey, she glanced towards the house and mentally hesitated.
" Yes, I will go in. They can say what they like," she said to herself, and turned up through the gate.
" Is the young master at home ?" she said to the servant. "Yes, miss; come in."
Lizzie's heart leapt for gladness. The girl ushered her into the parlour, a large room, hard and cheerless, but without a speck of dust. As she passed in she had caught a glimpse of the kitchen, bright, and flashing, and cheerful, with an enormous fire.
The girl affected to dust a chair with her apron. She had heard talk whispered about Miss Milvartin, "the kind of talk that stays," and Miss Milvartin, when she saw her so near, rather frightened her.
Molroy's foot was in the lobby, and just as usual came in. " Ah 1 Lizzie, you?"
"You are coming with me?" she said, leaving her hand in his, and glad to look into his face again. The girl closed the parlour-door as she withdrew.
"You are rather early. I'm glad you came in," he said, as he took up her basket.
The domestics at Arrosey went to the windows to look at her going off the street with him.
At the new schoolhouse the children were assembled, and were peeping through the windows when the new mistress arrived. It was a cottage renovated internally to be a school room. The room was bare and white with fresh whitewash. There were forms and desks of white deal, a box-desk and a cane-chair for the mistress, a few maps and a black-board ; the kitchen fireplace, a cupboard; the parlour fireplace unchanged, with its tiny rusty grate, ready against winter. The children's playground was the highroad, on which the door and windows looked forth.
She sat down on a chair and he on a desk. " It looks rather bare, John, doesn't it ?"
"it does," he said reflectively, thinking it absolutely hideous and dismal.
"I shall make myself comfortable enough if I get into the work all right," she said, taking off her gloves, veil, and hat, and stowing them with her lunch in the box-desk. Molroy overhauled the equipment of the school stored in the big cupboard, and as he planned out the routine of her morning's work, she listened half-laughing, half-anxious, her hair parted over a brow busy with innocent anxieties and misgivings about her own insufficiency, ere being coiled into the pile which Arrosey had likened to a load of hay.
" You must open with prayers, I find, Lizzie," he said, in an offhand way.
" Me, John ? " " Yes."
" And you here ? "
"Of course, if that's all your difficulty." " But-"
" Don't hesitate," he said firmly ; " you've got to do it. Give out a morning hymn and sing it, and say the Lord's Prayer."
It was nine o'clock. She could not linger and keep him there for ever.
He opened the door. Girls and boys came in, hung up their hats and bonnets, and took their seats, staring at Miss Milvartin. She gave out the hymn, glancing round to see that they had found the place, and sang it.
Her voice was deep and rich, and woke with its tunefulness an emotion of happiness in their hearts, and they sang aloud with her, solemnly staring, and with a wish that her eye might look upon each of them. Then the brown head was bowed over the box-desk, and Miss Milvartin said the Lord's Prayer in a voice tremulous for one moment, and then steady and audible. When they had risen, her eyes 'sought Molroy's face. He bent down and whispered, and her eyes opened as with the vision of a new and undreamt of happiness as he told her that she had done well.
" Be very severe, Lizzie."
" I shall be dreadfully savage," she said. "They are afraid of you."
" I don't feel just everything I look," she said, with a last whisper.
The morning passed, and she found herself, in the freshness of her energies, absorbed in her task. When Molroy returned at noon, she was putting on her veil, with the preoccupied satisfaction of an endeavour accomplished well.
" No looking-glass ! " she said instantly. " How did you get on ? "
"Well, there will be no difficulty," she said gravely.
They went up the mountain-road to Arrosey ridge. She climbed on the broad grassy roadside bank, and sat down to eat her lunch, with Molroy beside her. They could see the church westwards, and Narradale was behind them. After lunch she produced a book, and turned it over, looking at the headings.
"Listen, and correct me as I read," she said, and began to read aloud. She repeated his corrections distinctly and with emphasis.
" Now I'm all right," she said, and closed the book. " Geography is my next business." And she glanced at the winding coast and rosy sands far away northwards. "You ought to come and help me every day. Will you?" "You need no help, now."
" That's nonsense! Come along ! "
She rose and took up her basket; looked down towards the church and the little schoolhouse, and sighed and laughed in one breath. From the high banks of the lane, passing through the bare and niggard pastures and fields of oats on the windswept ridge, there was a prospect of exceptional beauty and magnitude. She stood a moment subdued and strengthened, looking on the vista of coast and the descending hills.
"You thought hard of the opening this morning," he said. "And now it seems nothing," she said, taking his hand and stepping down into the lane.
" You'll find everything turn out like that, Lizzie." "Aye! with somebody's else's help, perhaps."
They parted at the school-door. That afternoon Molroy left Arrosey and obscured himself, moving about from place to place, from inn to inn, drowning his chagrin and selfreproach, endeavouring to stifle his regrets and his present compunctions; swept from one pang of feeling to another, in vain giving things a false colour and a false bitterness; vowing, indeed, never to look on Ellen Molvurra again, and within an hour endeavouring to recall her image, to paint it on the white foam of a torrent or on the darkness of his closed eyes.