[From Captain of the Parish, 1897]
IT was August when Mr. Molroy and Miss Milvartin returned to the Island. She expected to hear from Sylvester Molvurra by October. But October came, and November, and December, and still no letter. She dreaded its coming. Her suspense was almost without a trace of hope. She merely expected it and waited, but did not long for it to arrive. If there had been hope, she would have heard already from John Molroy himself. The argument was conclusive. The night before Christmas Eve, it being a Wednesday, the weather bitterly cold, with a hard dry frost that winter, a parcel of them were assembled at Matt's.
"It was a pity, for all-a mortal pity-for the heir to get lost at sea like that," said Wade, in the course of their talk. "Arrosey has took a bit of a stoop this while back," said the wheelwright. " He's not so straight a man as I've seen him in my day."
"He'll be leaving everything to Miss Milvartin, it's like," said Creer. "Thou could tell us what she'll be worth, Evan."
The company received a diversion by the arrival of Juan Paddy. The mendicant dragged himself to a seat, and silently uncovered his head with habitual submissiveness. Juan was blue with cold, numbed and stiff, but silent, and his eyes wandered to the men's pint cups and glasses on the drinking tables.
"Well, men, I'm going to stand Juan a glass," said the smith. "It's Christmas times," he added apologetically.
"Sit to the fire, Juan, boy," said the soldier; and the old man obeyed in silence.
"Aw, well, as it's Christmas times, thou might as well stand us glasses round, Bell," said the shoemaker. "It's not often," he continued.
"No, Daniel, and it's seldomer still with thyself," said the smith. " But I've had a big job frosting Arrosey's horses, and we'll get thy mouth stopped for once, Dan. Matthias, thou had best give Juan his ale hot. It's Christmas times, Juan," he said apologetically again.
" Talking of Miss Milvartin, Mr. Curlat," began Wade, "Parson Cush'lan has been up, I'm told." ' "Aye, John, he's been up," said the soldier reservedly. The mendicant, sitting by the fire, had been sipping his hot ale and warming his fingers around the pint cup on his knee. "Aw, aye, and didn't get off cheap at all," said Juan suddenly.
" What was he after, Juan ? " said the smith.
"Wasn't he asking forgiveness? what else?" said Juan. "But how do thou know, Juan, boy?" said the soldier.
"I seen the man's face; the devil is in her still," said Juan, solemnly drinking another draught of the ale on his knee. "New rig out !" continued Juan, changing the subject, and getting up to show his clothes. " Stockings and flannels ! " said Juan, staring round the company for sympathetic admiration.
"Tasty out of Mercy, this suit!" said Juan. " Aw, but she's high ! Arrosey was right; the devil is in her," he said solemnly, and went back to his ale.
Meanwhile in Arrosey parlour a snowy table glittered readylaid for supper; a huge fire glowed with steady whispering blaze. the big man lay deep sunk in his arm-chair, a black skull-cap on his head, and his eyes on the fire; and Miss Milvartin sat with her feet on a footstool, her fingers working on a minute trifle of needlework. In contrast with her black dress and the brown masses of her hair, her complexion was ivory white; but when she looked up from time to time the hue of health was visible, and her eyes flashed with the vigour of robust life. All the beauty of her face took animation and quality with the lifting of her eyelids.
" It's getting near Christmas again, Lizzie, girl," began the big man, "and a middling hard winter it is, I'm afraid. You've been putting a sight on some of the old people these days past, Lizzie ? "
" Yes," she said, in the subdued tone that betokened the serene and perfect confidence existing between them. "They must have something for their fires again before the New Year."
"Aw, well, get a few extra tons! Aren't we nearly out ourselves? Was Ollikins at you ? "
"Yes; I told him he is not to be held for money."
"And what meat will you need? Don't send all the geese and turkeys away, girl."
" I don't intend to send any of them to the market when-"
"Still, it's not many we'll need in this house," he said, with a sigh. "Aw, bless you, no, girl." The big man steadied himself, and, gazing into the fire, resumed. "He was fond of a roast goose-aw, very, very-and always must have a cold turkey in the house all through Christmas, cut and come again, never less tel' half-a-dozen between Christmas and the New Year-aw, aye," he said reflectively.
There was a foot on the street.
" That's Juan," she said, without lifting her eyes. " What does he want to-night, I wonder?"
" Aw, what but his bellyful, Juan? " said the big man.
The mendicant had come into the flagged passage, and his voice was unusually loud, and beyond experience peremptory, in altercation with the martinet Jane.
"No ! it's into the parlour I'm going-to-night, anyway." "Juan has been getting a sup from them at Matt's," said the big man, without turning his head.
The parlour-door opened, and Juan showed himself. He paused and looked, advanced hat in hand a few steps farther. From his bald and bowed head thin and long locks straggled on his shoulders ; his bleared eyes were wild with excitement, and he swung his head from side to side breathless and panting. Miss Milvartin did not turn nor look up. She passed her needle slowly and carefully through the snowy work in her hand.
"Well, Juan?" she said.
" Aw, 'deed it's him ; it's him right enough! " said Juan. The big man turned and looked at Juan, but Miss Milvartin did not move. The words had affected them both with indescribable emotion, akin to terror, with a conscious intense anxiety not to manifest it. "I was just sitting in Matt's with a parcel of them," Juan went on.
" I thought so, Juan," she said, speaking mechanically, as if the instinct to conceal her suspense was supreme.
" Aye ! and in he comes and stands on the floor."
" Who, Juan? who is it? " she said, but still in the same tone.
" ' Hello, Mr. Curlat !' says he. The Steel-fist had been-" " But who is it, Juan ? " said Miss Milvartin, turning and leaning her elbow on the chair-back.
"And looks at me-'What, Juan! you here, Juan?' he says."
" You haven't told us who it is, Juan," said Miss Milvartin, trembling now with suppressed agitation, for Juan's excitement had to-night some momentous significance, gasping between importance and exhaustion.
There was a step on the street. Miss Milvartin rose. "Arrosey" stared at her in alarmed silence. They saw in each other's eyes the same agony of hope, fear, suspense. The step passed with a steady stride through the open front door into the flagged lobby, and paused an instant at the parlour door. Then the door, that had stood slightly ajar, sprang open, and John Molroy was there. He came into the parlour straight to his father, who had risen with quivering face as if to meet an apparition.
"John ! John ! You've got home, boy?" said the big man, with rough brevity, as be gave his hand to his son.
" Yes, father," said Molroy briefly, in words as when he had returned from college; but the tone was no longer the same. It was deeper, firmer, more frank, with the abandon of conscious strength, and the unconscious strength of unalterable resolution stamped in his character.
Then Arrosey recollected himself, and released his son to drink in the abstraction of a joy he feigned to conceal, his son's face, and form, and manner. John Molroy had turned to Lizzie. She held out her hand, and he grasped it, and looked on the fair face and calm luminous eyes in amazed and subdued silence.
"John!" she said, her hand in his. Her voice was trembling with vibrations of profound joy.
"Lizzie !" and he drew near and put his arm round her, and she yielded herself to be so enfolded, and raised her lips and received his kiss. Her bosom heaved, and again with a sigh of ineffable happiness she breathed his name.
Juan Paddy, too full of the scene almost to breathe, stood swaying his head softly, his eyes absolutely fixed. Juan was transfixed with admiration. Then there awoke again the laughter in her voice. She released herself.
"Away to the kitchen, Juan," she said gaily, and she withdrew from the parlour, sweeping Juan out before her, leaving the father and son alone. There was a hurrying to and fro, a passing up and down stairs, and the unmistakable activities of supper in preparation ere she returned to the parlour.
As she entered the room she met the glance of Molroy's eyes calm and sincere. He had taken off his surtout, and was leaning against the mantelpiece. But almost at the same instant she saw an unintelligible change in the face of Arrosey. As if to answer the question that was in her thoughts as she looked at Arrosey's face, Molroy spoke.
" Lizzie, there is good news."
She looked at him, at Arrosey, and again fixed her eyes on Molroy.
" Ellen is not dead," he said.
Not dead ?" A confused joy, a tumult of emotions agitated her. " Not dead? " she repeated. " Where is she? " and her overwhelming joy tinged her cheeks and suffused her eyes with a momentary glow of new loveliness. Molroy paused. She glanced at Arrosey again. The gravity of her look returned, but with no shade of anxiety. Arrosey had risen, and was standing near her.
"John, tell me all. Where is she ? " "She is on her way home," he said.
With a flash of anguish she lifted her eyes to Arrosey's face. She put out one hand to the back of a chair, and raised the other to her brow. Her chest heaved and fell, her lips opened and closed as she drew her breath with an inaudible gasp.
" Dear Lizzie, what is the matter? " said Molroy. But her eyes closed, and she swayed and tottered. Her arms blindly reaching out were folded round Arrosey's neck and his arm was around her.
" Lizzie, what's the matter, Lizzie ? " he said soothingly.
A sigh of suppressed agony broke from her. She lifted her head and looked at Molroy.
" And what has become of Enos ? " she said almost inaudibly. " He is well," he said, in gently reassuring tone. " He was doubtful in his conscience about a promise he had given to another lady who was devoted to him, and Ellen advised him to keep that promise. Ellen was not married to him."
Lizzie made no answer. She remained as if dazed and be numbed. There was a sound on the street, a heavy step was in the lobby, the parlour door opened, and the soldier, flustered more than his wont, unceremoniously strode into the room. Lizzie's head had drooped and lay on Arrosey's breast.
"Aw, bless me ! bless me ! this is news," said the soldier, but instantly stopped.
The fair head, the profuse and radiant brown hair glinting and sparkling, was folded to Arrosey's heart, and her arms clung to him as to the rock of her strength.
"Aye, Curlat, aye," said the big man bluntly.
Then Lizzie turned to Molroy. She seemed to hesitate. "John," she said, in a tone in the utterance of which hesitations and doubts were dissolved, and he received her into his arms. There she remained folded, abandoning herself as to a happiness that assuredly would not be misinterpreted.
"I am living here at Arrosey now, John," she said, with the delight and wonder of realising his presence, and drinking in his words and looks with serene joy.
"Oh, yes, Lizzie, here of all places, for it is your own."
She had firmly closed her lips. She looked into his face uncertain with a new flash of scrutiny and perplexity.
" My own ? What is my own, John?" "Am not I your own, Lizzie ? "
The big man and the soldier had withdrawn farther away, and were talking. What they said was at first in undertones, but in their excitement it became audible.
" Are they on the road, Curlat ? "
" In at Creg Awin looking at the house," said the soldier, his hand to his mouth in a flustered whisper.
Instantly, Molroy's question unanswered, she released herself.
"It is Ellen," she said. Yes, it was Ellen. She read the truth of her surmise in Molroy's look, and she was away. She donned her hat and cloak, and with light step and bound she was out into the night, over the frozen ground. It was starlight, and there at the gate just turning in from the highroad they met again. They were in each other's arms, the unutterable emotions stifled or uttered and precipitated in scarce audible whispers, Meanwhile in the parlour the big man and Curlat had scarce observed her flight.
" Which of you knew him first, Curlat ? I'll bet a sovereign it was Juan. Stop! we'll go down the road. Lizzie ! where are you, my girl? Where's my bat? D-n it, Curlat, my hat, man!" And Arrosey clutched his hat and stick and led the way with a step ten years younger, exclaiming as he went out of the porch
"John! wait for Lizzie. Mind your eye, Curlat ! It's a kind of a dangerous job walking on frost, Curlat."
He had started away some yards ahead. But half-way to the gate, some few score paces from the door, in the starry gloom, were Ellen and Lizzie, and with them a tall dark stranger. It was Ellen unmistakably, her voice and Lizzie's alternating in low tones of passionate gentleness. In a moment Ellen was in Arrosey's arms.
There was nothing said but "Ellen!" And when that salutation was over, Arrosey gave his hand to the stranger with rough warmth.
" Well, Sylvester, you've got home, boy!" The stranger was Sylvester Molvurra.
"Yes, Mr. Molroy," he said, dropping behind his sister and Miss Milvartin.
"Now inside! into the house, girls ! Curlat, where are you, man? Come, Sylvester, in with you," said Arrosey impetuously, In the glow of lamp and blazing fire and the brightness of the big parlour they saw each other's faces again. Ellen's eyes were as bright and as dark, her lips as red, her hair as glossy, with all the beauty and bounding life as of old. Supper came in, and when they sat down the soldier was with them, while Juan by the kitchen-fire, under the chimney arch, his supper on his knees, watched the parlour-door for every glimpse revealed as the door opened.
"Dear me, man! dear me! Aw, bless me! bless me!" were the soldier's comments, repeated a hundred times. "Curlat, man, you're not eating," was the big man's encouragement, repeated a score of times.
Afterwards they sat round the fire. Arrosey's skull-cap was pushed back off his bald brow, his hands were clasped with fingers intertwined, and his eyes were fixed half-turn to the left on the fire.
"Curlat, man! sit up to the fire, Curlat !" he interposed at intervals; but Curlat kept to the sofa in the background and listened, and interjected, and looked on.