[From Captain of the Parish, 1897]
DEPARTURES for America were at that period a matter of everyday occurrence, and the going out of Molroy in spite of his father's wealth would have evoked slight comment merely for its suddenness, had it not been for his relations of friendship with the fair mistress of the school at Arrosey Tops. On this account there was the sensation of mystery about it. At Matt's all attempts to elicit anything from the discreet Mr. Curlat wholly failed. Widow Molvurra was more at fault than ever before.
"He has run away, Miss Gawn : there's nothing surer tel' that. I ever knew he would come to it. But what is it for? If it wasn't for one thing, I would know what to say. But she has got in with Arrosey himself, and no mistake. As the saying is, she has blinded his eyes and darkened his understanding."
" But still, Charlotte, what else can it be? what else could he runaway for?" said the ex-schoolmistress.
" Aw, Miss Gawn, if there was a post-office at the Tops and you had it! I have often wished it. Why hasn't Arrosey got us a post-office long ago ? "
In the absence of a post-office all that could be done was to wait.
Wednesday was Christmas Eve, and just as usual there was a chapel tea-party in Creg Awin barn. Widow Molvurra had a tray, and on Creg Awin street there was all the bustle and going to and fro, all the courtesies and merriment of Christmas times. But in all this festive activity Lizzie took no share. Miss Milvartin was "far too proud," of course. She had but one interest-the mid-week mail from Liverpool. In the morning of that day old Mrs. Milvartin had gently rallied her about observing the Christmas season.
"You'll be putting up a bit of greens, Lizzie ? " and Lizzie had decorated the house, rather thoughtful and absent in her manner, but "cheerful enough," as Charlotte expressed it to Miss Gawn at the tea-party.
"I wouldn't like to say there's any real grief with her at all, Miss Gawn. Anyway, if there is, she isn't giving way under it."
In the evening Arrosey's gig arrived at Creg Awin to drive her down to meet the mail; and the tea-party goers arriving at the barn, or passing the compliments of the season in groups on the farm street, stared at her and conjectured.
Miss Milvartin was "tremendous high," "in" with Arrosey now, and " proud as proud." At the post-office her heart beat as she watched the letters being sorted. There were in all four,-two for herself and two for Arrosey. Molroy had written from Liverpool, and again on board the ship. She read her letters over and over. She kept them in her bosom by day, and at night under her pillow. She kissed them. She pressed them to the beatings of her heart. They were an amulet that kept intelligence with him she loved so unutterably.
Christmas passed, the new year went by; the weeks and months dragged on; winter gave place to spring. For Lizzie there was nothing now but the routine of filial duty at home and work at school, sweetened by the sentiment of longing, and by the kindly welcome that began to associate itself with Arrosey House.
The big man would walk towards the Tops in the afternoon, and always just by accident meet her coming from school, and stop and talk; and as he was not going anywhere in particular, turn and walk back with her; and on one pretence or another would have her come into the house, "just for a minute-just to see," till in fact she seldom passed Arrosey gate without calling.
Her opinion asked about everything, and him thinking nothing right but what she says," was Juan Paddy's account of it, gathered from the domestics at Arrosey.
It was early in March when the anxiously expected letters came from America-one for Lizzie and one for John Molroy, both in Ellen's writing, and the post-mark "New Orleans." Juan Paddy had brought the letters from the post-office; he left one at Arrosey, and brought the other to the school. By the fire in the little school-house after the children were dismissed she read it:
LEVEE HOTEL, NEW ORLEANS, December 24, 185-.
" MY DEAR LIZZIE,-We have at last reached port, and I am very ill. The voyage has been long and stormy, and here I feel the heat very much. Things are not as pleasant for me as I could wish, but the people have been kind and thoughtful in spite of their own troubles. Nearly all the passengers were poor common people. Mrs. Cannon, whom you will remember, died on the voyage, and was buried at sea. I was lying ill in my berth at the time, but I heard the hymn they sang at the funeral. You know, dear Lizzie, everything that I need tell you, for I love you more than ever I did. Tell mother, and your own father and mother, and all the people who ask for me, that you have heard from me, and nothing more. I shall never see any of them again, nor you, dear Lizzie. Direct letters to Sylvester Molvurra, Centre Street, St. Louis. They will be sent to me. Tell me how they are at Arrosey and all about yourself.-Your own ELLEN."
She sat and cried softly with the open letter in her lap, gazing into the dying embers of the school-fire, and when she came away Arrosey was pacing the highroad. With a sigh of relief, but dryly and roughly as if there was nothing unusual, he greeted her.
" Ah, Lizzie ! it's you at last," he said.
Almost in silence they came over the Tops together, and in Arrosey kitchen she gave him her letter to read. He put on his spectacles, took them off and wiped them again and again. It was of no use, his eyes were moist.
" Lizzie, girl, read it for me," he said. And when she had read it he asked her to read it again.
" Aw, well, not very good news ! It's short, and 'deed I'm thinking it's not very good. Do you think it is, Lizzie ? " Lizzie felt only too bitterly that it was not good news.
" Well, now," he began again, taking up the other letter that lay on the table, " there's this one. It's fuller tel' yours. Aye, there's more in this one, but we won't open it, I think?" he said, looking at her for counsel.
"I think not, Mr. Molroy," she said firmly.
" It's like we know as much as we'd get to know. Still I would like to hear more, for all," he said reflectively.
"I don't think we should get to know anything more," she said, in the same firm tone.
The big man looked at her. He saw what was in her mind. The letter must not be opened.
"I think we'll put it away somewhere, Lizzie. Take the lamp, girl, and go up to his room with it," he said, indicating the room over the kitchen.
She took the lamp and the letter, and went up to Molroy's room. It was half bedroom, half sitting-room, bare and cheerless, papered with a pattern of blue flowers on a white ground. A low, wooden bedstead, with legs crossed, was in one corner, at the head of the bed a table with a lamp, and above the table, within reach of the sleeper, a wall bookcase. Over the mantelpiece were small silhouettes and miniature portraits, in deep mahogany frames, around a water-colour of larger size, which Lizzie recognised instantly with a flutter of joy. It was a portrait of Ellen and herself, painted at Creg Awin by Mr. Kewin, the Inchport artist. She recollected the summer evenings when Mr. Kewin used to come-a little, polite gentleman, with a beautiful moustache and large, sad eyes, and wearing a long, thin, loose coat-and John Molroy sitting behind him watching the picture being painted. There were riding-wbips, walking-sticks, and an old sword above the. pictures, and a shot-gun across underneath, with some pairs of spurs at the sides. In one corner of the room was a fishing-rod and basket, on either side the window bookcases with glass doors, in the window a writing-table, on the door side a huge dark-painted wardrobe, and behind the door hung Molroy's saddle and bridle, the girths and bridle-reins dangling to the floor. Everything was just as he had left it; the room seemed haunted by his invisible presence. She looked at the writing-table in the window, with sloping desk covered with brown leather and stained with ink.
"I think here," she said to herself.
The desk was unlocked and full of papers. She closed the desk again; drew a chair and sat down with her elbows on the desk, and rested her forehead on her fingers, looking at the letter laid on the desk. She thought of Ellen and of Molroy. Ten thousand times she had wondered what their feelings had been for one another. She knew that in the letter before her eyes on the desk the secret was written at large, but for this very reason the letter was sacred and inviolable, and she left the letter lying on the slope of the brown leather desk.
The months of spring passed. The warmer sunshine blinked in and fell on the letter, the darkness of night obscured it in gloom, the moonbeams stole in and made it visible. Still it lay-Ellen's handwriting, John Molroy's name.
Lizzie, coming often to Arrosey House, now and again would go up to this room. She found a temporary consolation to her restlessness of heart in being there, where everything, from the saddle and bridle hanging behind the door, making the door heavy to open and shut, reminded her of him and fed her thoughts. She took down his books and looked into them-Greek and Latin school and college books, and note-books written and scribbled and figured full. There was not much that she could understand, but she loved to turn them over. There were many books also besides, which she forthwith began to read. She took a pleasure in keeping the room dusted and aired and redolent of fresh flowers. It became to her a place of inviolate retirement, sacred to love and recollection.
Meanwhile old Charley Milvartin, transplanted from his native Cairnmore, his life tendrils rudely snapped asunder, had begun to fail. Almost daily he found his way to Arrosey, and aimlessly wandered up on the farm street. He looked round, as if calculating the value of the place, and withdrew again. He knew that Lizzie was to be mistress of Arrosey, and he was contented. After one of these walks he took to his bed, and in a few days passed away unconsciously from the shadow of mortgages to the sunshine where there is no interest to pay. He was laid in Arrosey churchyard beside his forefathers, and on his grave a slab of mountain slate with the inscription-" Charles Milvartin, of Cairnmore, in this Parish."
One afternoon in April, Juan Paddy brought up from the post-office a letter addressed to "J. Molroy, Esquire, junr., Arrosey." The big man came over the Tops that afternoon to meet Lizzie on her way from school.
" There's a letter," he said.
"From John ? " she asked eagerly.
" No, girl ! for him. There's something wrong with somebody. There's black on it."
Lizzie accompanied him to the house. She looked at the writing and the post-mark-St. Louis, U.S.A.
"Is it from Sylvester Molvurra ? " she asked suggestively. " It's a man's writing."
Lizzie wore the garb of mourning. She had an air of serene gravity. Arrosey watched her face. He knew how near her anxieties and hopes were to his own.
"It's a man ? Well, there's nobody but Sylvester we know of there. I think we'll open it, Lizzie, girl. What do you think? There's no harm-not with this letter, at all."
"Yes, Mr. Molroy, I think we may," she said unhesitatingl See who's it from, anyway," he said.
"Yes, Sylvester Molvurra," she said, when she had opened it. She read the letter aloud, pausing at intervals to control the emotion that surged up as she read :
"CENTRE STREET, ST. LOUIS, U.S.A., February 6, 185-.
"DEAR FRIEND,-It is with sorrow I write to inform you and all inquiring friends of the death of my dear sister, Ellen, which took place at a landing on the Mississipi River while on the passage from New Orleans to this city. The cause of death was fever, which she contracted after a bad voyage at sea, before she had fully recovered strength for this climate. She spoke of you to her friends during her illness, especially when her mind wandered, and there are a few keepsakes that she left for you, now in my possession. They were left in my charge by Mr. Milvartin, to whom she was married at New Orleans. I had made arrangements for her marriage on her arrival in this city, but in consequence of the inconveniences of travelling, and the death of a lady friend who had been her companion, she altered her plans and was married at New Orleans. Having been thirteen years in this country, I had not seen my sister since her childhood; but having had many letters from her, extending over a number of years, I looked forward to meeting her as one of the greatest pleasures of my life, expecting to hear from her much about the old country, where there are many changes since I left it as a lad of seventeen. I knew of your friendship from her letters, and have no doubt you will be sorry to hear this sad news. Trusting this letter may duly reach you, I am, respected friend, yours truly, SYLVESTER MOLVURRA. "Address to Centre Street, St. Louis, U.S.A."
Lizzie sat with the letter on her knees.
" Read it again, Lizzie, girl; read it distinct. I can't hear all the words. I've got a cold in my head, girl," said the big man pathetically; and Lizzie, distinctly as her sobs permitted, read it through again. He sat with his elbow on the table, his hand behind his ear to catch every word, and his eyes fixed on her face as she read.
" When was that written, now? when is it dated? " he said after a pause.
"February 6, 185-."
"And when did she write from New Orleans? You baven't got the letter, it's like ? "
She opened her bosom and took out a packet, and from the packet the New Orleans letter. " On Christmas Eve," she said.
"Then, I'm thinking, it would be soon after the New Year. What do you think? She would be ill then, Lizzie, with the voyage. Not married, not caring to say much. Aw, well and going up the Mississippi River! Aw, well! maybe it's for the best. There's a Providence in," he said reflectively.
Lizzie was paralysed with grief and astonishment. She sat gazing at the fire with tears welling from her eyes and flowing down unchecked.
" Aw, well," he' said, with a sigh, "Ellen is gone. You'll be sorry for Ellen, Lizzie, girl," and his utterance quivered a little. "I'll be putting a sight on Curlat," he said, unable to
rest. " Curlat took a pride in Ellen above everything," he said, rising and taking up his hat.
She replaced the New Orleans letter in its packet. She folded the St. Louis letter and put it in its envelope.
"Shall I put it with the other?" she said.
" Aw, bless you, girl, keep it; it'll be safe where you're for putting it. Keep them all in the one place. It's safe enough there," he said, and they came out together, the big man to go to the Tops and Lizzie to Creg Awin.
"You'll be in to-morrow, it's like?"
"Yes, Mr. Molroy," for this was now his daily request. "'Deed your mother will be sorry too, Lizzie, she's often talking about Ellen," he said, as they parted.
It was a lovely April evening, silent and balmy with the odours of gorse and primroses on the banks along the highroad. The white farmhouse of Creg Awin was in the fresh beauty of budding trees. Miss Milvartin came slowly, her heart bursting with pity and sorrow, her thoughts far away. Diamond and the bay mare were in Creg Awin home-field, and the horses neighed as Miss Milvartin came up the farm street. Mrs. Molvurra was at the door.
"'Deed your mother is only weak this evening, three," said Mrs. Molvurra kindly.
"Yes, Mrs. Molvurra. There's bad news to-day," she said, pausing.
"Bad news ! I hope not." "Ellen is dead."
"Laws bless me, Ellen? Ellen dead? and when? When did you hear ? Never! Who got the letter!" "Arrosey has a letter from Sylvester Molvurra."
" Arrosey ? And what's he writing to Arrosey for and not to me? Is there no letter for me to say she's dead or alive? The people is taking leave of their senses! Aw, they are, they are! "
Lizzie passed into the house to where her mother sat by the kitchen-fire. The old lady was very pale and weak. She looked at Lizzie, and Lizzie bent down and smoothed her hair. Care, partings, sorrowings, a life of drudgery, had left only traces of that expression that forty years ago had been perhaps as beautiful as her daughter's was now.
" Aw, aye, girl, I hear-I hear-she's gone, is she? and him losing her like that? Aw, it's a pity-a pity ! " she murmured.
A few weeks later old Mrs. Milvartin was laid in the grave with her husband in Arrosey churchyard, She knew that Lizzie was to be mistress of Arrosey. This had been her supreme consolation. It had soothed her and cheered her, and in some degree lightened the gloom of more recent sorrows.
"He won't disappoint you at all, Lizzie," the old woman used to say. "Aw no, girl. Some is saying they're queer; but they never broke their word at all. You're not doubting him at all, are you, girl?"
" Doubt him, mother ! " Lizzie would answer cheerfully. No, indeed."
"Aw no, girl, no; the father's the same."