[From Captain of the Parish, 1897]
THERE is a footpath from Curlat's row through the fields over Arrosey heights to the Narradale river, and across the river above the falls, where its torrent is bridged by a slab of slate, and there the path enters the woods. It is an ancient church path, a byway of older date than the highway up the Creg. By this path Molroy had hundreds of times gone over the ridge to fish in Narradale river; and by this path on Monday afternoon, with his trout-rod and basket, he went over the ridge, less with the thought of fishing than with an impulse to be alone in his distraction and restlessness. The big man, in like restlessness, aimlessly wandered about the farmyard. Neither father nor son knew of Milvartin's arrival at Creg Awin. But there was a Dippers' meeting to be held that evening in Upper Narradale, a locality with a dozen mountain farms and a little Methodist preaching-house, already abandoned by some of its congregation, who were going to be "gathered to Zion " under Apostle Milvartin, and of this meeting father and son had spoken as a possible rendezvous of Enos that night.
As Molroy fished, his mind was harried by bitterest imaginations, till it became a torture to him. He laid his rod and basket on the river-bank in the glen.. below, and ascended the promontory below the falls. There he lay on the rocks in the afternoon sunlight, looking down on the meeting of the streams and following the windings of the river. Around the falls the superstitions of old times had drawn a veil of mystery: it was the haunt of the fairies. No mountaineer on the business of stealing a sheep hesitated to avail himself of the seclusion of the dark glen, even at midnight's hour. But at one point there was a fairy stone, the focus of superstition and mystery. Belated countrymen had seen uncouth pigmy figures seated on the stone, and, passing in haste, had heard behind them a crash as of a thousand plates and dishes smashed together on the flags of a kitchen-floor; or a pigmy man had jumped from the fairy seat and flung himself with unearthly and blood-curdling shriek into the waterfall pool. The stone was at the foot of the promontory between the streams and within the shade of the pines. Molroy sat on the promontory till the light began to fade, his basket and rod by the river bank in the glen below. It was a still, unclouded evening at the end of September. The last sunglow had faded from the tree-tops on the sides of the glen when he rose and came down towards the fairy stone. The path was carpeted with fallen spines from the fir trees. The Arderry river rushed beside him. Involuntarily in the gloom of the dense woods he glanced at the stone and saw that some one was sitting on it. His presence rather than his step awoke the occupant of the stone from a seeming reverie. Instantly they recognised each other. It was Enos Milvartin.
The sight of Enos roused Molroy like a hunter who has suddenly come upon unexpected game. He stopped and Enos rose to his feet.
"Mr. Molroy," he said, "I wanted to meet you."
"I wanted to meet you too, Mr. Dipper," said Molroy, abruptly and contemptuously.
" I wish to speak about a matter of some importance. May I propose that we sit down?" said Enos.
"No, thank you. I'll stand, Mr. Dipper."
"Perhaps, like the rest of them, you think the seat is unlucky?" said Enos.
"A hole like this may suit you, Mr. Dipper. Come into the light if you wish to speak to me; " and he strode a dozen paces out on the flat, and faced round on Enos, who had followed. They stood in the western light that came up the glen and fell on Milvartin's face.
" Well, what is this affair of yours, Mr. Dipper? We'll have it first," said Molroy, in a tone meant to be contemptuous and offensive.
"I want to ask you a question," said Milvartin, deliberately lighting a cigar as if to exhibit nonchalance and unconcern as to Molroy's manner. " What are your intentions with regard to my sister, Mr. Molroy ? " he said, when he had blown a cloud of smoke from his closed lips and watching it curl in the cool air as he spoke.
"That is, supposing I have any," said Molroy.
"Then I ask you, Mr. Molroy, if you mean to marry her?" Enos paused.
"Perhaps you'll forbid me her company if I don't, Mr. Dipper," said Molroy. '
" That is not answering the question," said Milvartin.
"Has she commissioned you to be her champion? What the devil have you got to do with her affairs, Mr. Dipper? " "John Molroy, you're a mighty smart young man, and you've carried your head pretty high. But we're not such entire strangers as you try to make out. When I first came home you weren't too good to be acquainted with me. You've behaved d-d badly throughout, but you've tried your game on with the wrong man;" and Milvartin broke away the ash of his cigar.
" How do you propose to settle that grievance, Mr. Dipper? " said Molroy.
"You've kept company with my sister, and she has been fool enough to think you meant to marry her. Her reputation is damaged. What I want to know is, are you an honest man ? Are you going to marry her, or turn round and throw her over?"
" Mr. Dipper! I don't mean to tell you what I'm going to do," said Molroy.
"And this is your honesty, to make a fool of a girl who trusted you, and leave her and her child to go to the devil? Is that it? "
" What child, Mr. Dipper?" said Molroy sharply.
"Her present condition needs no explanation. Your child ! " said Milvartin.
For a moment a wild doubt of Lizzie swept across Molroy's mind-a doubt vague and unsubstantial, a feeling of fear, of horror, that made him dumb. Was Milvartin speaking with a knowledge of something that had never before entered Molroy's thoughts in association with the audacious and beautiful Lizzie? It was the doubt of a moment only, but Mil vartin saw his perplexity. A look of triumph came over his sallow, sun-browned face as if he had the game in his hands. Then Molroy roused himself.
"If your words are true, Mr. Dipper, I can give you your answer. If your sister's reputation is damaged in that way, I will not marry her. No! nor speak to her, nor of her, as long as my name is Molroy. Do you hear now, Mr. Dipper?
You have your answer. What do you say?"
It was the turn of Enos to be staggered. His arrow had not penetrated. He stood apparently deliberate as before, recollecting his presence of mind, but sallower with suppressed passion. What was Milvartin's motive-his object? He believed with a conviction admitting of no doubt that Molroy's association with Lizzie had involved dishonourable familiarities. He believed it on the knowledge that their acquaintance had been most intimate; on his base idea of human nature as he believed it to be; on his estimate of their dispositions and temperaments; and on the fact which she bad herself divulged, that she loved Molroy. Enos had achieved his own objects; he wished to achieve more. His family was not to stand in his way; but could Lizzie marry Molroy his family would be aggrandised. He wished well to that scheme. But he believed that no man would, for honour's sake alone, marry a portionless and friendless woman whom he had seduced from ' virtue. Milvartin's feelings with regard to Molroy were to be for the present secondary-revenge, jealousy, hate lay there quiescent. If Lizzie was to become mistress of Arrosey he would sink them all. The account would be squared. He would be satisfied with such a triumph-aggrandisement of his own family, a coine-down for the Molroys. To bring it about was the first object. But if not, if she was to be thrown over, jealousy, hate, and revenge must have their turn.
"I have settled your matter, Mr. Dipper; now for mine," said Molroy.
"And what is that?" said Mil vartin, with an air of indifference, moving a step or two backwards.
"Do you think to pass off that beastly lie on me? Oh no, Mr. Dipper, her reputation was all right till lately; and that's the business I have with you. You have been damaging it yourself. There is no stain on her! Stain ? You hound ! you mongrel! It's a cursed invention of your own. Here," he exclaimed, his passion bursting all control. "I challenge you. Tell me who has told you, and I'll strip the beast and whip his d-d skin off, or own the lie yourself."
There was no truce possible now. Enos changed his position but did not speak, and Molroy strode upon him. Milvartin sprang back, and against the dark background of gloom Molroy saw a glint of light, fine as a hair, as Milvartin drew his hand from his hip.
"Hello ! Knife, eh?" said Molroy, and stood with one foot advanced.
They faced each other and Milvartin smiled.
"Nothing but a small trump I hold in reserve when it is necessary to secure the trick," said Enos, with a grin. "You've shown it too soon," said Molroy. "Pitch the dirty knife in the pool, Mr. Dipper."
"Young man, you're so d-d smart," said Milvartin, and he held the knife without concealment. " Why don't you come on, eh ? "
"Throw your knife away. This is not America," said Milroy.
" The place is all right, young man," said Milvartin; and divesting himself of his coat, he threw it on the grass and his hat beside it. A knife-sheath was visible on his hip. Deliberate and business-like as a butcher going to kill a sheep, he rolled up his shirt-sleeves over his elbows.
"You can't run away, I think," he said.
A woman might have envied him his arms, full and shapely and white, his hands from the wrists dark with sunbrown. "Do that at your leisure," said Molroy.
" If you'll alter your tone and answer my question, this affair need go no further. I give you one chance," said Enos, taking up a position of menace.
" Come on," said Molroy, with a short sneer of contempt and a short jerk of impatient scorn.
The apostle advanced to within three paces, and suddenly striding forward, made a lunge at Molroy's chest. As his arm flew out he stumbled forward on his hands and knees. In an instant he was on his feet. They had changed places.
"How did that happen, Mr. Dipper?" said Molroy.
The apostle's face was livid. His eyes glared with ferocious fixedness. He set his teeth with grim ferocity. In physique, at first glance there was apparently little to choose between them; but Molroy, younger by a dozen years, was already equally robust, and had the advantages not apparent at first glance.
" Can you box, Mr. Dipper? If not, this affair had better be considered over. You will regret it," he said nonchalantly. But the apostle's purpose was manifest.
"Mr. Dipper, put that up. You'll injure yourself," said Molroy.
Enos made no answer. He advanced by inches in a crouching attitude, his left foot in advance, his left arm extended to grip, while his right hand by his side nervously clutched the knife. Molroy advanced suddenly with a feint, withdrew, and then his left fist was planted on Milvartin's shoulder. The apostle staggered, and thrice in succession Molroy struck him. The third blow was on the face, and the apostle fell in a heap on the grass. Molroy wrenched the knife from his grasp and threw it into the waterfall pool, and stepping back, stood waiting with the consciousness of an easy task before him. The apostle, however, lay as if stunned. When he rose to his feet, there was a purple bruise on his cheek, the flesh crushed and swollen. Blood from his loosened teeth was oozing from his lips, and there was a broad flush of redness over his face. The fight was over. Milvartin rolled down his sleeves and fastened the gold links of his cuffs, put on his coat and hat ; and brushed the stains from his trousers with a snowy handkerchief perfumed with scent.
" The thing is over, anyway," said Molroy. " Look behind you! "
Enos Milvartin turned, and at that instant Lizzie emerged from the path by the Fairy Stone. A soft rustle as of wings, a sway and sweep of a pink and grey skirt, three or four bounding, gliding steps, and she was out on the grass.
" Enos ! " she said. " John ! You? " and she stopped be side Molroy. " What's the matter?" she said, with a glance at both. " What's the matter?" she repeated, in a tone almost peremptory.
"A wager," said Molroy.
" Oh ! " she said half-doubtfully. " What about ? "
Enos without apparent haste was already lighting a cigar with a grave air. He stood sideways to them. He moved a pace or two farther away.
" You'll hear some not unpleasant news at home, Lizzie. I've just been there. You're moving to Creg Awin. I hope you'll like it."
Enos glanced at Lizzie and Molroy standing together.
"I guessed it," she said carelessly, and she put her hand on Molroy's arm with a puzzled, doubting, inquiring look. "Which way are you going?" she said.
Molroy nodded down the glen. Her hand still on Molroy's arm, she turned to Enos.
" What was the amount of the wager, Enos?" she said, complacently curious.
Enos did not turn, but, with a disguise of unruffled complacency
" Ask Mr. Molroy."
" What's of more importance, how were you going to cross? " said Molroy abruptly to her.
"Going to cross? Hop, skip, jump! just there ! But now-" She looked at his fishing-boots.
"Very well," he said; "I'll see you over. We'll settle the matter again," he added to the apostle.
"I thought religious people like you wouldn't do such a wicked thing as make a bet, Enos," said Lizzie, as she cautiously stepped down to the water's edge, gathering her skirt is her left hand, watching the rushing stream, and extending her right hand to Molroy: He had remained behind. Her hand extended, as if expecting the touch of his hand, she continued
" Bother your wagers! Here, John! I'm waiting. Good night, Enos ! "
Enos stood. He had turned to the waterfall.
"You'll find it in that pool," said Molroy. "A knife !" he added, with a grunt of contempt, and turned down the bank, leaving Enos on the green.
Molroy and Lizzie came down the glen together.
"How did you happen to be coming home this way?" he said to her.
"Juan told me you were fishing in the glen. Then, of course, I came this way."
There was one effect of Milvartin's words on which he had not calculated. If his aspersion of Lizzie had raised a momentary ruffling doubt in Molroy's breast, it brought after it a deep and high-heaving wave of trust, of vindication, of passionate exultation in her stainless purity. Molroy walked by her side; perceiving her gladness, her joy, her happiness in meeting him and being with him again; and the power of her loveliness and of this stainlessness sacred to himself moved him with pangs of yearning towards her. Only the existence of a more deeply sanctioned love disallowed and forbad any place to Lizzie.
" Do you think I didn't notice ? " she said. " Did you meet by accident ? "
" Certainly," said Molroy
" What was your quarrel about? "
"Quarrel ? Well, merely a few words about my cutting his acquaintance of late."
" And the Cairnmore being sold?"
"No, Lizzie. He is responsible for doing nothing to prevent that."
" I know it," she said bitterly.