[From Captain of the Parish, 1897]
THE opinions of mankind are like the weather-vane. One while a current blows from the bleak east, and the sullen arrow shows its obdurate steel; but in the night the wind veers round to the west, and we wake to see, not the barbed steel, but the gentle feather. There was a change of opinion in the region round Arrosey Tops with regard to Lizzie. The children of the school loved Miss Milvartin. They carried their reports of her into every house. The mothers, in whose hearts love is perennially present amid the drudgery of every day, would over and over again ask their little girls and boys to tell them about Miss Milvartin and the school. The girls cried if they were kept at home for one day. The boys lifted their caps to her in a fashion of their own, imitated from "young Arrosey." The sight of Miss Milvartin irresistibly gladdened every eye, and at Arrosey Church on Sunday her voice gave unsuspected charm to the dreariest tune and sentiment to the dullest hymn. Eyes were still open to see and notice, to peep and peer, and tongues must still wag even as heretofore, but malevolence no longer waged loquacious against her as of old.
Charlotte's eye, as it were, never slept. Living under the same roof at Creg Awin, she sought to divine, if it had been possible, the very thoughts in Miss Milvartin's breast.
"What position she's in with them I can't tell. What do you think yourself, Miss Gawn ? " she said to her confidant.
" She's as deep as ever Ellen was," said Miss Gawn. " But, bless me ! Curlat ? There was never a man of less use in this world tel' Curlat. In the house and out of the house he never knows nothing," said the ex-schoolmistress.
"But I'll warrant they'll know at the public-house," said Charlotte.
" Well, and where's Wade with you, Charlotte ? " said Miss Gawn.
" Aw, no ! If he was a professor once, he's a backslider now. I've got my own soul to save, Miss Gawn, and if people is not in a state of grace, I'm not thinking worth to be too civil with such! " said Mrs. Molvurra.
"Aw, well, she has took a leaf out of Ellen's book in other ways as well," said the ex-schoolmistress. "If I was a servant girl it might do, but I'm not, and never was. Never asking in the choir what I would like and what I wouldn't like, but choosing everything herself ; and 'You'll like this, Miss Gawn,' she says. If she was mistress of Arrosey, Charlotte, I might stand it, but she ought to wait till she is, anyway." Meanwhile at Matt's also the prevalent tone of feeling found expression.
"It's a pity if she's not going to teach the school much longer. There is a little girl of mine going to her, and Miss Milvartin is only an angel, she's saying," said the smith.
"'Deed the children won't believe anything else mostly," said the road-overseer.
"Are thou believing there's angels in still, Wade? Thou were for them grand when Enos was on the Island; but Juan Paddy says thou're backsliding shocking this while," said the shoemaker.
"Aw, well, I never had a vision anyway, Dan; I never heard voices at all, Creer," retorted Wade.
The singing at church is nice this while, James," said Mr. Curlat, who was having a sup with the rest.
"Aw, aye, Mr. Curlat. Some of these ones is talking of Heaven. If the singing in Heaven is much sweeter tel' what it is at Arrosey Church, it's middling sweet," said the smith.
"Aw, aye, they've got middling sweet singing," said Creer. '° Thee, Creer ? thou're never at church?" said Wade, startled and stung, but still incredulous.
"No, John; but Daniel has been listening outside, for all," said the smith, with a laugh.
"Thou'll be going inside next, Creer," said Wade.
"It's to the church I would go, if any place," said Dan. "The chapel for the likes of thee, Wade. Do thou think I'm going to listen to chaps no better tel' myself picking out the very worst chapters, and hunting for hell-fire all through the Bible? And, bless you, find it they will-if it's in," said Dan, with emphasis.
" Aw, well, by the talk thou were on thy knees that time, praying with life, Dan. What were thou saying, Dan?" retorted Wade.
" Thou had a touch of the higher gift thyself that time, Wade," interposed the smith.
"'Deed aye; and backsliding scandalous since that, though," said the shoemaker.
" Aw, John can stand a lot of backsliding, Daniel," said the smith.
"Aye can he, and thinking it's not showing on him," said Creer.
" I seen thee talking to the heir to-day, Wade," said the smith, changing the subject.
"Me, James? Him and me is great enough this while," said the roadman, glad to take a new lead. "'Deed if you've got a pipe he'll out with a cigar and have a smoke with you.
What d'you think he says to me to-day itself? 'What tobacco are you smoking, Wade?' says he, quite friendly. 'Aw, twist,' says I, 'common twist,' says I. 'You must have a strong head, Wade,' says he. ' Cigars is weak,' says he, 'compared with twist,' says he."
"Thy head is not strong at all, anyway, Wade," said the irrepressible Creer.
"Aw, well, it could easy stand the best blow thou'll ever hit with thy fist, Creer. But look out for thy own gizzard at the same time, my hearty," said the roadman.
"The heir is fonder tel' ever of Miss Milvartin; only quieter tel' he was awhile back," said the smith.
"Aye, James; tremendous fond of her," said the roadman. "If there's a drop of rain and her coming from school, he's nothing but up with the gig and cloak and shawl and rug on her knees. You would think he's afraid the beauty would wash off her mostly."
"Aw, the beauty won't wash off that one, Wade, boy. It's not silver-plated on her at all. It's the solid metal she's made of," said Creer.
"Well, amn't I saying so? Bless my heart, Creer ! I'm telling thee the way he's putting her in the gig, and me working on the roads and seeing them," said Wade.
"Aw, well, he'll never marry another woman," said the smith. - "I'm of the same opinion," said Dan Creer.
"And bless me, why should he?" said Wade. "Why! Miss Milvartin is nicer tel' anybody that's ever gone along this highroad, north or south either way. I've my doubts if the Queen of England is nicer."
" Aw, Wade, the Queen of England is middling nice, I'm thinking," said Creer, with a sceptical shrug.
" Allowing, Dan," said the smith. " What John is saying is, is she nicer? I'm agreeing with Wade. What do thou think, Mr. Curlat? What on earth would a woman be for that was nicer tel' Miss Milvartin ? "
"It's the Governor's wife thou're meaning, Wade," said the loyal soldier. " It's the wife of the Governor of the Isle of Man. They're saying there's beauty uncommon there, men."
"Well, Mr. Curlat, I wouldn't trust but it's the Governor's wife I had in my mind," said Wade doubtfully. "But Miss Milvartin is like her; she's very straight, like her."
"But thou never seen the Governor's wife, Wade?" said Creer.
"And have thou ever seen her, Daniel?" retorted Wade. "Me! aw, no. I'm not saying I have," said Creer.
"Well, bless my soul! What's doing on thee ? What are thou talking for?" said Wade.
"Aw, well, the parson will be getting a job one of these days," said the smith.
" What'll they be giving him ?-ones like them now?" said Creer.
"'Deed a five-pound note, Dan," said the smith.
" More like ten, more likely," said Wade. " What's Arrosey worth now, Mr. Curlat, sir?" continued the roadman. "Don't thou ask me questions like that, John," began the soldier.
"Aw, aye, Mr. Curlat. You've heard, and mustn't be saying, being a friend of the family. It's few that knows what you know, Mr. Curlat," said Wade cheerfully.
"I'll tell you what he's worth," said Evan Gelling, the wheelwright, standing on the floor and assertively striking his fist into the palm of his band. " He's worth ten thousand pounds clean money in land. I know them. Bless you, I know them; and me born and bred in the neighbourhood. Well I remember the old man, that's the heir's grandfather, you may say."
" We knew him as well as thyself," said Creer.
"No, Creer, no! thou never set eyes on the same man, and I'll thee why. I remember him just the same as yesterday at Midsummer Fair. He would be about ninety, very likely."
"Had thou a sup that day, Gelling?" said Creer provokingly.
" Sup ! Why not? Well, behold you, he was standing at the door of the old church, and up comes the Deemster, that's old Callister, and says he, 'How are you, Mr. Molroy ?' says he; and the old man says, 'I'm well; well, thank God!' he says. Aye, that's the very words, 'thank God,' he says."
" Not swearing at all? " said Creer.
" Swearing! What swearing? That's what the old man said, 'I'm well; well, thank God !' he said."
" Still, they were tremendous for swearing, of a rule, the old ones," said Dan.
" Well, he didn't swear that day, anyway, Creer, boy," said the wheelwright, far from sober.
" Still, before the Deemster, for all you would think," said Dan.
" Dan, there's too much cussedness about thee to-night," said the smith.
"Aye, James," said the soldier. "Now if Evan will put another ten thousand to it."
"I'm willing to put three, Mr. Curlat, sir, if this b-y waxend will allow me to finish, sir," said the wheelwright.
" It won't put any of it in thy pocket, anyway, Gelling," said the shoemaker, unruffled.
"Money and land together, very likely?" said Wade insinuatingly.
" Land and mortgages, John," said the soldier. " There's heaps of money as well."
"It's my turn to stand glasses round," said Wade. "What'll you have, Mr. Curlat ? James? Daniel, for once? Give it a name, men ! "
When a fresh round of liquor had come in, the smith began
" Have young Arrosey given Miss Milvartin that bay mare, Mr. Curlat ? I'm seeing her going past on it a chance time.
He's never using only the brown himself. It's like the bay is her own by this time."
" Well, James, he'll groom the bay himself if Miss Milvartin is going out, and orders that nobody but her is to use the mare on the road."
" Aw, 'deed, Mr. Curlat, you know a deal," said Wade.
" Aw, 'deed he does," said Creer ; " and it's my belief there'll be open house at Arrosey when Miss Milvartin is the mistress. Eh, Bell? "
"'Deed aye, Daniel. Mr. Curlat could tell us, very likely," said the smith.
" Aw, well, James, I'll stand pints round myself," began Mr. Curlat, and they all rose to their feet with a cheer of satisfaction to greet this. But the soldier qualified it with a motion of his mighty hand-" the day," said he, "anybody but Miss Milvartin is seen on this highroad on that mare."