[From Captain of the Parish, 1897]


THAT evening after nightfall Molroy left Arrosey again and rode toward the mountains, restless and aimless. When he had passed Sartal, he turned and rode southwards. An ancient bridle-road, channelled by rains and frosts, lies over the moors, and devious sheep-tracks cross it in every direction. Around the margin of the heathery waste is a green road, a band of sward that follows the windings of the mountainhedge like a military way within the line of rampart. He left the bridle-road and descended to the mountain-hedge and followed its windings. On the grassy way the mare's foot fell noiselessly. Here and there road and wall together dip into a sedgy hollow, the fountainhead of a stream gathering its waters to join the Narradale river; here and there road and wall rise over a hump of weather-worn rock; and again, unbroken miles of velvet turf. At length in the fields below the homestead of Cairnmore was visible, dark and silent - under its hood of ash trees, and in the gable the two tiny windows showed that there was a light in Lizzie's room.

He reined up with his face towards Arrosey and Creg Awin. The fields beyond Narradale were looming dimly distinguishable in the clouded moonlight. In farm and cottage the people were already asleep, and Lizzie's light was perhaps the last on all the country-side. He had not come there with a formed purpose, but unconsciously a purpose had been shaping itself within him, and was struggling into visible consciousness-to see Ellen again-to see her face even at a distance. The chasm between them seemed impassable and hopeless. He did not contemplate speaking to her. And at this moment he had a minor purpose-to go to Lizzie and ask her where and when he could accomplish this object.

Still the lights at Cairnmore looked up across the fields; but his resolution faltered. When he thought of Lizzie, her fair head, the smile, the softly curled lips, the movements of her eyelids, he knew that he could not ask her, nor speak to her of Ellen at all.

He thought of Lizzie's romance about a Miss Molroy of Arrosey. If there had been such a being he would not have been there, but at home, and his sister would have known what he was suffering. He thought of the grave in Arrosey churchyard; but that had always been a thing vague and almost unreal. There was no one but Lizzie, and he could not speak to her. Suddenly the light at Cairnmore went out. A moment more and he turned his horse. Where would he go? Perhaps home again. But there he could only throw himself on his bed with an intenser loneliness than elsewhere. His unrest found relief, for the time being, in the saddle, along lanes, through brooks, across moors, but chiefly on the high ridges that looked westward towards Creg Awin. The cheerless inn at Baldwin had been in these past weeks a poor haven or creek in which his stormtossed self took shelter. The landlord, with neither wife nor daughter, nor living companion except his dog, and a heart embittered or hardened, was to Molroy a fellow-creature with whom he had sympathy. He would go there once again. As he crossed a hummock he glanced back. The moon, breaking through the clouds, shone on Creg Awin, illuminating for a moment its snow-white gable, and then, trailing onwards, the light swept across the fields and descended into the glen.

Baldwin is cradled between lofty hills in the heart of the Island. As the crow flies westward over Baldwin, he crosses a mighty ridge, the backbone of mountains, and resting on its western side the moors and the summit of the Cairn Hill.

It was past midnight when Molroy roused the landlord to admit him. The kitchen was dirty and comfortless, no fire on the hearth, and on the floor a spinning-wheel with a basket of carded wool beside it. He sat down in the arm-chair weary in limb and brain and heart.

" There's no woman in the house, and things get through others that way, maybe; I don't know, indeed," said the landlord, putting away the wheel and moving the furniture into some sort of order. Then he lit a fire and brought out brandy for his guest.

"I'm not sure if I ever asked you before, but, if it's a civil question, you'll be one of these English ones transported over to the Island, master?" said the landlord, with no intended incivility.

Molroy made no response except to invite the landlord to have a glass with him and asked about the shooting. He would not take a bed, but sat by the fire.

" Lizzie ! " he said to himself when he was left alone. " Marry Lizzie ? Yes, it will be that one of these days, because Ellen is lost, and my being here will mend nothing."

He leaned his head on his arms on the round table beside him and muttered to himself. Hour after hour went by. The valley was wrapped in gloom. There was not a sound from the sleeping world outside but the torrent before the door, the river rushing under the bridge, and the open sluice of the mill-lade beside the road. Then came a pattering of raindrops, a shower falling in the night. Afterwards the moon broke forth again, and its pale light stole in from the south-west through the inn window. The fire burnt low ; the clock ticked. From the room overhead the heavy breathing of the landlord was heard, and a grunt as he turned in his sleep. Molroy was awake or half awake all through the night, struggling confusedly with his purpose of seeing Ellen. Towards dawn slumber overcame him, and he slept as he had lain, ruminating, with his head resting on his arms on the round table. He dreamed that he heard the anchor hauled, and that Ellen was on the ship going away. He tried to get near her to say farewell. Her eyes had the same look that he had seen in the meadow at Cairnmore. Suddenly he was standing with her hand in his. " We can never be anything but friends, can we, John? " she said; and with this Enos was beside him with a weal on his face, and Molroy awoke.

It was the landlord hooking the kettle on the slourie hook over the fire.

"Bless me ! you're a heavy sleeper, master," said the old man.

Sunshine was flooding the room. The brandy and glass stood on the table, the kitchen was comfortless, and Molroy got up and went outside. It was Saturday morning. Early carts were already going to Douglas market. While the landlord cooked breakfast, Molroy groomed his horse and had a wash out of doors. In remorse of a sort, but stoical as to mental and physical discomfort, drowning reflections that were not to his purpose, he had resolved to ride to Douglas, where, in the market-place, he might that very day see Ellen and Lizzie together in their accustomed place; and accordingly, in the forenoon, he left Baldwin for Douglas.


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