[From Captain of the Parish, 1897]
IT was late when the soldier rose to go. Molroy and Molvurra also rose.
" We'll go for a stroll over the Tops, Mr. Curlat," said Molroy to his father's old friend.
The highroad was dry and hard as iron. The upland plateau stretched low and dark to the horizon under the sky's dome spangled with throbbing stars. When they parted with the soldier at the row, Arrosey Church and bell-turret loomed black against the northern sky.
"A stroll along this road the night of coming home must be an inherited instinct with me," said Molroy.
"I'd rather that I had come to-night too," said Molvurra. "Not for the same reason, though. If it weren't for Ellen and this Creg Awin business, to-night would have been enough for me here." And he threw away his half-smoked cigar as they approached the church.
The grass was crisp with rime as they crossed the churchyard to stand beside the graves. Then Molroy withdrew, leaving his friend alone in the presence of the dead. Molroy was waiting by the school when Molvurra joined him.
"This is the school," said Molroy; and they went up to its windows and peered in into black darkness.
"I wish things had been different for Ellen's sake," said Molvurra.
Later, as they passed the row, with the soldier's cart tilted shafts in air on the street, and the butcher's killing-stool on its blood-stained plot
"Does the old lady have tea-parties still?" said Molvurra. "She is more confirmed in it. She shall have a royal one before you go. Miss Gawn will expect civilities. You can't go off so soon, Molvurra. I really must pension our own special correspondent Juan for his service to-night," he added, as they passed the dreary but of the mendicant.
Meanwhile Ellen and Lizzie had gone to their room. A big fire blazed in the grate, and they sat down rather to think than to talk. The house became silent. They beard Molroy and Molvurra return and go to their rooms. The winter's night rested on the hills, and the sparkling stars looked down on upland and glen. In this long communion Ellen and Lizzie looked often in each other's eyes to meet again, as of old, response to their own yearnings, and never had their confidence of old been as now.
"I wish to say something, Lizzie," Ellen began. "I shall have to say it some time."
Lizzie's heart throbbed with the trepidation of joy that welcomed even the pain of a deeper confidence.
"John has come back-to you," said Ellen. "To me?" she said, with hesitation.
"Yes, to you. I know all."
Again and again utterance rose to Lizzie's lips, but when she tried to speak her word dissatisfied her and she remained silent.
" Yes, Lizzie ! " said Ellen abstractedly. Then after another pause of silence Ellen rose, turned away, and loosened her hair at the dressing-table, and Lizzie also rose and mechanically moving, lay down in silence. Old-fashioned four-posters, with canopies and curtains of blue and white chintz, were in opposite corners of the wide irregular room. They lay each in her curtained rest, the blazing fire lighting up the room, and in its brighter flashings revealing within the half-drawn drapery their fair heads lying on their pillows and mantled with half-loosened hair. They lay awake, and heard each other's sleepless sighs.
" Are you asleep, Ellen ? " "No, Lizzie !"
Then there was a long silence. At length Lizzie rose, wrapped herself in a dressing-gown and shawl, and came to Ellen's pillow. She knelt down and looked at the closed eyes. " You cannot sleep, Lizzie ? " said Ellen.
" No," she said, in a deep voice; " I have waked you. I only came to look at you again, Ellen."
"You haven't waked me. I was only thinking."
Lizzie paused. It was to find a fit form in which to express her struggling thought, for inexorably now a great impulse moved her to speak it.
" Ellen ! " she said, " if in his absence, when I thought he was dead, I had found on looking back that he had never loved me, except as a sister I mean, and that when I understood it better I found I was devoted to him really as if he was my brother."
Ellen, looking at her as she knelt beside her bed, saw through her loosened hair the light of the fire softly luminous and gold-like in its colour.
" It has been more than a sister's love," she said.
"Yes, it was. It was once. But afterwards, when I came to consider, I was sure that he had always been only a brother to me, and I thought of him in a different way."
Ellen rose, and, leaning her elbow on her pillow, rested her cheek in the palm of her hand. Her eyes were fixedly gazing as on vacancy. She had moved a little, and the fire glowed on her face.
"But he has come home to you," she said musingly.
"Ellen, I do not think so. I have thought a thousand times of everything that happened. It was you, not me. I knew Enos was not what you believed him to be. He was proud of you, maybe; but John loved you. Didn't he, Ellen ? "
Ellen turned her eyes from the fire on which she had gazed as she listened to these words that seemed to come from a heart whose warmth she had known, but whose depths and intensity she had never before sounded.
"Yes, Lizzie. He loved me; he has always loved me very much. When he found I was going to America he was disappointed and unhappy."
Lizzie's voice had grown firmer. "And does he not love you still?"
"There is no secret that I will not tell you," said Ellen. "But love is not what I thought it once. When our affairs are settled I am going back to America with Sylvester. He is very rich, and we are going to travel for a year before returning. He will never marry any one; for he once loved one of your sisters-it was Pauline-who is dead in America.
She was very beautiful and very good too. I would not have come home at all, Lizzie, if he had not wished to visit the Island again."
They had involuntarily clasped each other's hands, and they remained silent. Then the tide of thought flowed again.
" No secret, Ellen 1 there shall be no secret. Does he not love you still?' said Lizzie calmly and firmly.
Ellen pressed the hand that was clasped in her own.
" There could be no misunderstanding between him and myself."
Then it concerns me alone, and I shall be at your wedding, Ellen; for I am to him only what I am to you." She rose and withdrew to the fire. She warmed her fingers a few moments and then lay down.
Ellen gazed on the fire in a reverie of rapt wonder. The flashes of the fire and the reflections of its light kept vigil, and ere long gleamed on their faces and closed eyes, calm in the oblivion of sleep.