[From Captain of the Parish, 1897]
"Ah, mates, it's well for flesh and blood
To stick to a lass that's sweet and good;
Leastways if she sticks to you, ye know."-T. E. B.
THE wish to see Ellen had become a constant and consuming longing, and when the purpose formed itself of seeing her again, he bethought him of Douglas market on market-day. The market-place is a square beside the harbour. On one side rises the bell-turret of the old whitewashed town church, on the other are masts. The market-day is Saturday, and there being only one market-day in the week, the square is thronged from morning till night. Butchers' stalls are in the centre; fish on the quayside; but eggs, and poultry are lined out along the most sheltered and sunniest side, and huddled into nooks and angles where the narrow streets lead into the town. There stand the farmers' wives and daughters selling and the townspeople buying. The country-women, plain and weather-stained of face, young and blooming, coarse and garrulous, grave, refined, and silent, stand with their baskets on trestle frames, their poultry at their feet. But on this day, where Ellen and Lizzie had been wont to stand side by side conspicuous and bright, the cynosure of the market-day,
Molroy looked for them in vain. He reflected; he recollected that all their marketings were over, and that they would not be seen there again. He concluded that they were not in the town.
Meanwhile on that day Ellen, preparatory to her going abroad, had come to the market-town on other business.
Lizzie was with her. In the afternoon, their shopping being done, they were about to return.
" Let us go down to the sea, Lizzie," said Ellen; and Lizzie looked at her weary face and thought of Enos. They left the inn, and went through the narrow streets to the shore of the bay. On the shingle of the beach whole fields of linen were drying in the sunshine; children were at play on the level sands; so they went farther on to a part of the shore beyond the town, where green terraces of grass and lines of wood extended onwards, broken here and there by cosy villas. They sat down on a spar, a broken mast from some wreck drawn up on the beach beyond the reach of the tide. The town lay sunny and picturesque against a background of heights diapered with cornfields and pastures. The tide was out, and the sea had receded and sunk between the headlands. The sands swept round like the blade of a sickle of bronze, and the silver sea flashed in the afternoon sun. Vessels were at anchor by the white tower of the lighthouse at the far end of the bay, and on the horizon was the smoke of the steamer coming from Liverpool.
"Is there any unpleasantness between you and Enos ? " said Lizzie, taking Ellen's band in her own.
" He wants me to join his Church. It is impossible."
"His religion has brought us nothing but unhappiness. I hate it," said Lizzie.
" I do not hate it. He is most conscientious. But he is urging baptism rather too persistently."
"Asking you to be dipped, Ellen?" said Lizzie. "He won't ask me."
"He does not insist any longer, but he feels it. That is not pleasant, Lizzie."
" It is all his own fault, then. But nothing he does is wrong."
"He is in earnest, Lizzie. He thinks that as Christ was baptized in the river Jordan, we should follow His example."
"And be dipped in Narradale ? " said Lizzie. " Oh, dear, no! "
"Right or wrong, I have had no hesitation about refusing. But he does not see why I need hesitate. Who is that, Lizzie ? "
As they sat and talked a horseman coming from the town rode down to the shore and broke into a gallop along the sands. They instantly recognised John Molroy. His head was sunk on his breast, and he rode heavily, seemingly absorbed in his own thoughts. They watched him in silence.
"Ah, well! I am sorry for him. Let us go back, Lizzie," said Ellen, with a sigh and in a weary tone.
She took Lizzie's arm, and they walked off the beach and came back to the town.
"I thought that he and Enos would have been friends," said Ellen.
"But Enos believes everything they say."
"What they say is not true, anyway," said Lizzie. "And people who profess to know the 'truth,' like Enos, shouldn't be so ready to accept lies," she added.
" I think it is only his anxiety about what is right," said Ellen.
"But why should he be anxious? What is John to him ? " "Not to him. But, is he nothing to you, Lizzie?" said Ellen. Their eyes met with a look of mutual questioning.
"Yes, I am anxious enough, Ellen. It may matter to me and to you, but not to Enos."
Again their eyes met, and in Ellen's there was a shade of perplexity.
" But on your account, I mean," she said gently.
"Oh," said Lizzie, with a softly pervading blush, "that may be a long way off."
The tone, the sincerity, the meaning passed into Ellen's heart. There was nothing between Molroy and Lizzie as yet; and Ellen had believed otherwise.
They had reached the entrance of the narrow street leading into the town. The click of a horse's hoofs behind them made them turn instinctively. It was Molroy. Distracted and restless, he had returned from the sands, and was coming back at a gallop, and had overtaken them before he recognised them. He reined up his mare suddenly almost beside them, and they were face to face with him. It was a moment of anguish for all three. He lifted his hat and held it a moment with bowed head in the old manner of deference in the presence of Ellen. They both looked up with the confidence of unchanged friendship, and he alighted. With the bridle over his arm he came and took the hand that Ellen held out to him, and then gave his hand to Lizzie without speaking.
"I am so glad to see you, John," said Ellen. "Lizzie has told me that you have not been well. I have not been well
"No," he said, "I have not been very well."
" I would have come to Arrosey, but your father told me you were from home. I wanted your advice. I used to ask it sometimes," said Ellen.
"If my advice could be of any use," said Molroy confusedly. They had turned and were walking together along the street. " You have given Lizzie good advice about the school, John," said Ellen.
"I thought it would be good for Lizzie," he said, in the same confused way.
" We are just going to have tea before going home. Come with us," said Ellen.
Old and sweet relations of confidence and loving-kindness were in every tone of her voice, and imperceptibly stole into Molroy's heart as they walked. He felt a stubborn impulse to say no, and he hesitated. Lizzie did not speak a word, but she hung on the insisting persuasiveness of Ellen's tone. "Don't say no. Come! Don't you know how much we should like it?" said Ellen.
" Yes, Ellen," he said, " it will be a great happiness to me." His lips were trembling with emotion as he spoke, but Ellen was of all three the calmest and most self-possessed, and she had no hesitations. The table was laid in the inn parlour and Ellen poured out tea.
"We are driving in my gig," said Ellen. "Will you ride along with us?"
He felt no longer any stubborn impulse to say no, and did not hesitate to say yes.
The hour they passed at the tea-table was a returning tide of happiness to all three. Lizzie's joy beamed like sunshine. Ellen spoke neither of Enos nor of America-of nothing but the present. They were together as if they had not been parted-as if no gulf was ready to yawn between and part them again. The gig came to the door. Molroy helped them to their seats, and wrapped their rugs about them, unembarrassed in speaking to Lizzie, but crushed in heart by every glance of Ellen's that met his own. He had exiled himself from her sight, and he called himself in his heart a fool and a madman.
" I'll soon overtake you," he said, as he placed the reins in Ellen's hands.
"No, John; we'll wait," she said. "Joey shall not move till you are ready. We will not be parted again just at present."
When he rode out of the inn-yard on his bay mare, she flipped Joey, and he bowled off with Molroy's mare alongside the gig. The mare's skin was like satin, her neck like a bent bow. Ellen looked at the mare with admiration and spoke about Diamond. Up the rises and down the descents he was beside the gig.
They passed the soldier's cart, with Mr. Curlat himself and Dan Creer. The cart had a new stock of leather for the shoemaker and iron bars for the smith. Curlat's horse crept on more slowly than a man on foot. Among the carts and shandries on the road was here and there one from Arrosey ' side. Everybody about the Tops would know that night of Molroy's being in their company just as usual.
It was necessary for Ellen to drive to the Cairnmore to set Lizzie down. When she returned, she found Molroy walking his horse up and down the woodland road waiting for her, and he came with her to Creg Awin. This was a surprise to Mrs. Molvurra.
"Laws bless me!" she said, finding him waiting on the farm street when Ellen had gone indoors; " the sight of you is good for sore eyes. The things people have been saying about you! "
"Neither you nor I care for what they say, Mrs. Molvurra," said Molroy.
"Me! 'Deed they've got nothing to say about meat all." " Still they'll find something," said Molroy.
"Aw, 'deed they can't-not about me at all," said the mistress.
" They're welcome to talk about me, Mrs. Molvurra."
"Aw, 'deed they have been talking, my gentleman; and if there's smoke, of a rule there's fire."
"Chapel people! " said Molroy.
"And dear me! do you reckon, Mr. Molroy?-only chapel people, indeed?"
" Juan, very likely ! " said Molroy, with a smile.
- "Aw, well, he's on the church books, him," said the mistress.
" I thought he went to chapel."
"Allowing! a chance time, but not to Class at all."
"I wonder he's not a local preacher with you," said Molroy.
"Juan? Even Juan could do a power of good. It would be a good thing if he was preaching."
"The less fit the man is, the more delighted you are to see him preaching," said Molroy.
"Aw, trying to do good! it's better tel' spreeing and drinking, anyway," said the mistress.
"Setting up to teach when they ought to be learning to read," said Molroy.
"Aw, aye! if learning was doing the same good it's doing to some in this quarter, the less of it the better. And if some locals isn't much, my gentleman, still they're doing their best. And they must be `in' to go on the `plan."'
"The 'plan'! Yes; it's a temptation they can't resist," said Molroy.
"Aw, well, it's in, anyway," said the mistress imperturbably. When Ellen appeared Mrs. Molvurra unceremoniously left him.
"Now you're at home, Ellen, I'm going my ways," she said. " Where, mother? "
" Aw, just to the Tops, girl, to put a sight on Nell Gawn ; " and she withdrew to put on her bonnet. Ellen and Molroy went down to the garden. The flowers were gone, and the garden beds were bare and black. Leaves strewed the paths, and hung brown and tattered on the branches of the ash trees. Only the chrysanthemums and Michaelmas daisies were in flower. Ellen gathered here and there a bloom, arranging them carefully together, moving from place to place with Molroy still beside her. Mrs. Molvurra's departure was indicated by the snapping of the gate, and they saw her going up the Creg.
Again and again as Ellen looked up she met Molroy's look. Their eyes were filled with uncertainty and questionings. "These are for you," she said, as she knelt down to gather yet another bloom. She rose to her feet, and placing it in the bouquet, continued: " These are the last," and she glanced over the garden along the flower-beds. Then she stood looking at the flowers in her hand. " We shall not be here together many times more, John," she said.
Tears had gathered in his eyes and his lips trembled. Ellen looked up, and he turned his face away.
"When I am in America," she continued, "I shall think of this garden-more than of any other spot at home;" and at the word " at home " her self-control suddenly and completely failed her.
"It won't be home any more then," she sobbed out; and as he turned to her, in pathetic astonishment, she came one step towards him, and laid her hand on his arm. He stood motionless. She looked into his eyes through her tears.
"Why did you not come to see me, John? Why did you stay away? What have I done to you that you stayed away, and never came for so long? I have no friend but you."
" But, Ellen, I thought you were quite happy," he stammered.
" Oh, no! I'm not; not at all," she said.
She spoke in a low tone with an abruptness and positiveness, as if she would remove such a thought utterly out of his mind. "I'm miserable, utterly miserable. It's a mistake, John," she said, in a deeper tone. " It's all wrong, but I must bear it now."
She turned her face and looked up at the house. Her eyes were filled with tears. She was choking with a sob that filled her throat and her lips trembled.
"Not a soul to speak one word to, not even you-not even you
" But, Ellen! how could I know that? " he stammered.
" I was ill, and you did not come to ask for me. All day and all night I longed to hear a horse's foot, but it never came. You never came down the Creg. You never came past in the highroad even! " she said, looking in his eyes.
" No, Ellen, I didn't," he said helplessly.
" Yes, I know what it was. You were avoiding the very sight of me."
"But, Ellen-" interposed Molroy deprecatingly.
"Yes," she said, with a sob between each word, "you didn't know-I was so unhappy-but you-let me go."
" But, Ellen-" he again interposed.
"Couldn't you have come-just to see me ?-to get some flowers?-or drink a cup of tea?-or be at church ?-or anything-oh, anything, John-anything?-just to have seen me and spoken to me! I was alone-alone-alone ! You knew I was here, and you didn't come! Oh, forgive me, forgive me, that I have thought of you so!" she said, her paroxysm subsiding into a lull as of despair. She lifted her handkerchief and wiped her eyes.
For the moment his inarticulate slowness, his astonishment, his mystified uncertainty of mind, had made him seem obdurate and unyielding. Ellen felt an impulse to return to the house, but Molroy gently took her arm. She yielded it to him, and he led her to the garden-seat. It was arched over with honey suckles. Brown and crisp leaves lay on the floor of the arbour. Convolvulus and sweet-pea had climbed over the frame, and their faded tendrils still clung to it. Molroy and Ellen sat down. He saw that her happiness, like a crystal goblet, had fallen and broken. So had his own: and the fragments of both lay at their feet.
" Ellen," he said, speaking with a passion that overcame his inarticulate slowness of speech, " is it your engagement to Enos Milvartin that makes you unhappy?"
" Oh, miserable ! wretched ! " she said calmly.
" But why? how?" he said. "He loves you still?" "Yes, oh, yes! " she said.
" You do not love him ?-do you mean that ? "
She remained mute, benumbed with the consciousness of despair and of duty.
He rose and staggered forward, and stood in the door of the arbour, and looked mechanically at the bare hillsides up Arrosey brook.
" Either," he said slowly and turning round, " you do not love him or it is something else."
She sat like a statue, her eyes fixed on him. He read in them an admission, an assurance of the truth. He made a gesture as if to tear off a chain that bound him too.
" Then break it off," he said, " for I love you, Ellen. Oh, Ellen, I love you, and have loved you unutterably through all this! "
As she looked into his face, her eyes filled with impassioned sweetness and love. There was no uncertainty now.
"It is all over, John," she said.
"All over! what is all over?" he said. "Your love and mine."
"No," be said, with an energy like the crash of thunder. "No, it is not, Ellen, it never can be."
"It is too late," she said faintly.
" What is the matter, Ellen?" he said, in a changed tone. She was sitting unsteadily and swaying as if falling asleep. Then she recovered and sat perfectly still.
" I am engaged to him.. I cannot alter that. I have given my word. See ! "
She extended her hand with the back turned upwards. On her finger there was a ring holding a single pearl. It was the only one she wore.
" I have accepted that," she continued, holding her hand out and looking up.
" But, Ellen"said Molroy.
" We were misdirected," she answered. " How? by whom ?" he exclaimed.
" I do not know. We are parted."
"We are not parted ! No! Ellen. Come with me."
He took her band in his, and with his arm round her he lifted her to her feet as if she had been a child.
" Come with me, Ellen," he said, in a low voice, full of impetuous persuasion.
" Where ?" she said, without discomposure, in a voice gentle as a whisper, her great dark eyes fixed on him as he supported her.
"To Arrosey-to my father," he said.
She leaned back, setting her feet firmly, as if not to leave the arbour.
"No, John, no!"
"You shall, Ellen, you must."
" No ! " she repeated sweetly and quietly, and a smile broke like a beam of pale sunshine, a sad smile playing in the deeps of her dark eyes like winter sun-gleams on the river.
She placed her left arm on his shoulder. Her bouquet gathered for him had fallen, and the flowers were scattered over the bower.
"No, John!" she repeated, with a sigh.
"Ellen, you must. You are to be mine. You are mine. No power on earth shall take you from me."
He stood the embodiment of resolution and strength. She was leaning back on his arm, her feet firmly set on the ground, without strength, but only with determination that one foot should not pass the other to leave the arbour.
"Ellen, you must come to my father. I will tell him that you are mine. He has told me I ought to have spoken to you long ago."
A new expression instantly came over her face. It had been pale, but now it was pallid as death. Her eyelids were drooping.
"What?" she said, hardly audible. "What did you say ? " The smile had gone, and had given place to a look of pain, almost of horror, and she fell helpless with closed eyes. "No! You did not say that," she gasped hysterically.
" He did not say that? Oh, John, John! what have I done ? "
She had fainted. He supported her on the broad gardenseat, and hurried to the house for water. When he came back she was still insensible. He lifted her head and put the water to her lips. Slowly she recovered consciousness and drank a mouthful of water. A tinge of colour came back, but she lay still, nerveless and cold, on her face a look of thought, as if incapable of the effort of recollection. She was patiently recalling something to mind.
He held her hand and chafed it, and smoothed the hair back from her brows. Her bosom heaved and fell with a deep sigh; she opened her eyes, and turned her face towards him.
"When did your father say that?" she said, almost inaudibly.
"A day or two after that meeting at Cairnmore, Ellen." She lay still a little longer, and then he lifted her up to sit on the seat.
" Ellen, I must take you to the house. You are ill," he said.
" Thanks ! Yes, I must not sit here; I am ill-a little, I think," she said, as he lifted her up. He supported her up the path. At the gate she paused and looked back at the garden.
"I shall soon be far away from it. I shall think of it every day of my life."
"No, Ellen, you are not going there," he said gently.
" Ob, yes, I am. Do you not know me, John?" she said, with a look of sadness. "I thought you knew that I could not break my word."
It was not a time to speak ; manifestly she could not bear it. With a whispered thanks, she left him and ascended the narrow stairs to her room. He sat down in the deepening gloom of the kitchen waiting for the return of the mistress. At last the snap of the gate announced that some one was coming to the house, but the light foot in the porch told that it was Lizzie. Scarce had Lizzie reached Ellen's room when the mistress also returned.
" Nothing but trouble for poor me. Always the same. No sooner one thing over till another comes," she said, half to Molroy, half to herself, untying the strings of her bonnet.
" Have you spirits of any kind in the house, Mrs. Molvurra ? " said Molroy.
"Aw, you're not going to be at that here. No, no! my gentleman," she said vigorously.
" It's for Ellen," he said.
"Aw, begging your pardon, I thought it was for yourself. Aw, aye! there's that in," she said.
"I thought you had no objection to a glass of spirits yourself," said Lizzie, who had come down to the kitchen and stood beside her.
"Me! What? Me taking it? Aw, no; it's not me that's taking it. They knows best themselves who they are that's taking it, and taking it heavy," said the mistress, going to the parlour.
Presently, with a decanter and glass, she accompanied Lizzie to Ellen's room.
"No wonder he's recommending it. 'Deed, Miss Milvartin, it's you that knows," she said, filling the glass. " Still and for all, if required, it has its uses, as the English preacher himself allowed. 'No doubt, if required, it has its uses,' he said."
" Quite right, too," said Lizzie, smiling.
"It's not often I'm in this room, Miss Milvartin. You'd be surprised. I've known you now, Miss Milvartin, coming and going this parcel of years, and you in and out of this room; and, would you believe it? me never cross the threshold of it." She looked at Ellen lying with closed eyes. "Aw, she has much to answer for in that respect," continued the mistress in a whisper. "Still the room is nice. Aw, it's a nice room-aw, aye," and she sipped the glass, "just to see is it all right," she explained. Then refilling it for Ellen, she went to the bed on tiptoe. " She's asleep," she said.
"No, mother! I think you must have waked me," said Ellen, opening her eyes.
"Aw, I'm sorry for that. But I'm always putting my foot in it. Never doing nothing that's right. Me? Aw, bless you, no ! Come, three, come, take a mouthful of this." "No, thanks, mother."
" Aw, well, leave it; don't take it for me; but young Arrosey down yonder was praising it uncommon. No doubt, if required, it has its uses, he said."
" I've heard of others who said that too, mother," said Ellen gravely.
" No doubt you have, Ellen. You've a better memory tel' me. My memory is middling poor. I'm not much, anyway. But if you won't take it, you know it's here for you, and no grudging. There's enough in for the both of us as long as we're in, Ellen, chree."
Lizzie saw that the mistress was not likely to be a help to her, and told her she could get on alone.
"I know well enough I'm not wanted, Miss Milvartin," said the mistress, and she went off with her decanter and glass. "But you know, Lizzie, my three, it's in if it's wanted. Aw, aye; as you were saying yourself a minute ago, 'No doubt, if required, it has its uses.' They'll not have it to say when I'm dead and gone that I didn't do my duty to them to the last. No, not as long as there was one of them in to do my duty to, you may say. Aw, no, no!" she said, as she withdrew.
Molroy still lingered. When Lizzie joined him, it was to say good-night.
"I could not restrain myself from coming over to see Ellen again this evening. How fortunate I came! " she said.
" Most fortunate ! most fortunate ! " he said abstractedly. " You are friends again, John ? "
" Oh, yes, Lizzie-quite."
" I am so glad," she said, and caressingly affecting the schoolmistress way of Nell Gawn. "You are provoking."
" How, Lizzie ? "
" You won't talk. You haven't asked me about my precious little sinners at school."
"And how are you getting on with them, Lizzie?"
"They are terribly afraid of me; but I thought you were going to help me."
" Yes, I am to blame."
"Yes, just yes to everything," she said playfully. "Well, I forgive you."
All her efforts could not avail. He was preoccupied and confused, and she said good-night and returned to Ellen. Lizzie was not without many secret surmises, conjectures, and even suspicions, but she did not suspect the truth. She was certain of one thing, which was that the religion of Enos was to blame for Ellen's unhappiness.