[From Captain of the Parish, 1897]

CHAPTER IX - THE THRASHING-MILL

THE thrashing-mill of Creg Awin is in the ravine of Arrosey brook, the ridge of its roof just visible from Creg Awin garden. The brook in its deep channel goes tortuously dropping from pool to pool past the mill, the greater part of its water having turned aside into the mill-lade at the dam-head higher up the ravine. Between the mill and the brook is a grassy space over-topped by the slender and lofty red wheel rising against the mill wall and sinking into a deep wheel-pit. Towards the north gable this space is shut in by a rocky scarp bulging out to the brook, over which the wooden trough, clutched on poles of tarred fir, passes to the top of the wheel. Towards the south the space is open. That Sunday it was known at Arrosey that Milvartin was at Creg Awin, and Molroy, dismal and silent, bethought him of the mill, where he might wait and hear the hoofs of Milvartin's horse go down the Creg. He came down in the afternoon. He sat on the block of stonework that supports the axle of the mill-wheel, and watched the water monotonously trickling and pattering from the leaky lade into the fern-grown wheel-pit. Being Sunday, there was no traffic on the highroad, no sound of human occupation, no human voice. The first fruits of harvest had already been thrashed at the mill, and the street was littered with straw and chaff. An odour of oats and barley, and damp straw in the first sweetness of decay, scented the calm and soft autumn air. Through the vista of the dark timbered ravine, down which the Creg road and Arrosey brook descend side by side to the bank of Narradale river, he could see the Cairnmore meadow, and the band of heathery mountain beyond. The larches on the steeps were bright yellow, and already had shed one half of their spines to carpet the slopes on which they stood.

Molroy purposed for Ellen's sake to carry his quarrel with Milvartin no further. It was nearly time for the little Rock of chapel folk to come down the Creg on their way home from the afternoon preaching when he heard the click of horse's hoofs. It was undoubtedly Milvartin leaving Creg Awin. The horse came down the hill softly but audibly, so that Molroy knew exactly at what pace Milvartin was riding. It seemed to convey to him the mood of mind of the horseman. Till the horse's steps died away in the distance down the Creg,

Molroy sat by the axle-bush of the big wheel. A little later he heard the slow footsteps of a man and the iron ferrule of a walking-stick on the hard road. The man stopped at the mill-gate, came down on the straw-littered cart-track to the mill, and without pausing came round to the wheel-side. It was old Charley Milvartin. He started when he discovered Molroy, but approached and took a seat beside him on the low pediment of masonry. The old man looked about him with wandering gaze. Molroy lit a cigar, then mechanically old Charley felt for his pipe. Molroy lit a match for him. He accepted it, and sucked at the black clay, and as the smoke curled in the cool evening air the old man became more settled.

"He's away. He's gone for good," he said.

"He was saying good-bye to-day, then, Mr. Milvartin ?" "Aw, aye. It's herself is the worst. She was a good mother to him, anyway. Was she too kind to him? God knows !"

"You'll both be all right, though, Mr. Milvartin. Things won't be so bad with you. Keep up your heart," said Molroy, very diffident in the matter of expressing sympathy.

" Herself is feeling it the worst," said the old man laconically. "You're going to church yourself, and maybe there's good in it, for Lizzie is regular enough there, but the less

them sort comes my way the best. The night he came home," resumed the old man after a pause, "herself didn't sleep with crying for joy. 'Chalse,' she was saying, 'the mortgage is paid off,' she was saying. 'It's paid,' she was saying; and brushing his coat and cleaning his shoes herself, and Lizzie taking them from her and cleaning them. Aye, and that girl up at all hours, and the work done, and the house like a new pin, and breakfast ready, and every rag I had in the world brushed, and always a white shirt ironed ready for me, and must put it on; and neither of them asking him a penny for the house. The two of them never tasting butter nor a spoonful of cream in their tea., but him the best of everything. She picked to pieces the black silk she had, and made it up for mother; and ironing caps and ribbons, and starching and ironing the muslin and things, to have the mother right. The very day he had his d-d love-feast, her doing everything with her own hands for the trouss he brought to the place, and then him ordering you off the ground that you had more right to tel' himself."

"I wouldn't think of it, Mr. Milvartin ; it's over," said Molroy. "Couldn't we talk about what's ahead? What do you say about your taking charge of the mill here ?"

" I've been taking a sup, maybe," continued old Charley, unable to disconnect himself from his subject, "and that girl has took hold of my arm over the plank many a score of nights ; and now it's this ! "

The dark, fixed face of the old man portended that still bitterer words were forming themselves for utterance.

" What do you say to managing the mill here, Mr. Milvartin ? " said Molroy, to tear the old man from his bitter ruminations; "it's a thing you spoke of before."

The old man stared at the wheel and the mill-wall. A slowly pervading expression of a new order of thoughts came over his face.

"Me?"

Yes. And I can tell you right off that the job is as good as settled if you agree to take it. Come along, Mr. Milvartin.

I'm going up to Creg Awin. Let's go."

The curse, over which old Charley had been brooding, and was on the point of uttering, was averted. It was thrust aside by the suggestion-at which, in his dark hour, the old man clutched with feeble but persistent instinct that still survived in him, of a new start in life.


 

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