[From Captain of the Parish, 1897]
NEXT day the breakfast-hour was late. When Lizzie and Molroy met on the parlour hearth-rug, he kissed her, and she smiled and stood with his arm on her shoulder. Molroy and Molvurra walked over the frozen Vaish Hills to Inchport.
Molvurra's business was peremptory. He wished to settle the Creg Awin affairs, and was going to see a lawyer. He had intimated to Arrosey his intention of leaving the Island again in a few days. Arrosey was indignant and unconvinced.
" Chut !" he said contemptuously. " Stay over Christmas. Wait till the New Year is over."
"The Captain would like me to stay a longer while," said Molvurra to Molroy, as they crossed the heights to Inchport, glancing back as he spoke to the beloved Creg Awin, desolate and cold among leafless trees and frosty fields. "I'll consider it," he added.
The Christmas at Arrosey was such as had not been for many and many a long year. On Christmas Eve Molroy and Molvurra were in Narradale glen like two schoolboys cutting evergreens-ivy, and holly, and silver fir. The domestics in Arrosey kitchen made a kissing-bush after the pattern of the country, in circle large as a cartwheel, inwoven with evergreens, the holly berries scarlet, the ivy berries powdered white, decorated with ribbons and rosettes of coloured tissue, studded inside and outside with oranges and the rosiest of apples, and finally suspended from a beam in the middle of the kitchen-unmistakable symbol and pledge of " some life about the place" and of open house. The news of the return and of the new ways and manners went round the country-side. As the spring brings the inevitable bird, so the new order and atmosphere brought the neighbours to Arrosey, already with some knowledge of Miss Milvartin's rule, but still solemn and shy to the "ones from America," consenting, however, as it was "Christmas times," to be regaled with whatever was going.
On Christmas Day, in the afternoon, they all four went up to Arrosey heights. In the brow field they stood and looked across to the Cairnmore, its thatched roofs glistening in the frosty sunlight, and the white spiral of smoke on its chimney soaring high as the ridges of the Cairn Hill.
"I thought the old place was empty, Miss Milvartin; what's the smoke? " said Molvurra.
"There's a tenant in it," she said.
"I'd like to go over and see the old place again," he said. "One of the farthest things I can remember is a Christmas Day over there."
" They were all at home then," she said.
"Yes. I remember your sisters, Miss Milvartin. There was a kissing bush, and I remember there was a baby. Enos and I had a fight about an apple. He threw my hat, I remember, on the roof of the barn. That part comes back rather fresh."
"How did you get the hat down?" said Lizzie, smiling nonchalantly.
"I really forget. I see the barn there all right. For all I know, the hat's on it still."
"And the baby, Sylvester?" said Ellen.
"I think that must have been you, Miss Milvartin," said Molvurra.
On St. Stephen's Day, being the day after Christmas, in accordance with time immemorial custom, there was a shooting-match in the glen, in the field between road and river at Matt's. The competitions were to put the greatest number of pellets into a square of paper tacked on a board, and to hit a potato tossed in the air. But every rash pigeon that left its barn roof, and every distracted blackbird that left its covert, and flew within the most outrageous range, were instantly blazed at by every gun that chanced to be loaded. The "Steel-fist" in red sleeved-waistcoat and top-hat was judge. The blacksmith directed the shooting. Among threescore men and lads there were a score of guns. Drinkers were in the public-house, idlers loafed in the road, and from the house to the field and vice versd there was a straggling line of comers and goers. That day the affair was something special. The prizes were, as usual, in "kind," a turkey, a goose, a leg of mutton, a pair of shoes, powder-flask, pipe, pouch, and tobacco, the familiar list; but Arrosey had added a sheep and a pig. Moreover, in the afternoon Arrosey, with the heir and the "Yankee," had walked down to be neighbourly, and have a look at the shooting. The valley echoed and rang with reports. The shouts were heard as far off. as the farms on the heights. The rivalry on the field included not only the skill of the marksman but also the excellence of his gun.
" Bless my soul and body! " exclaimed Wade, in the middle of it. " See who's coming ! "
" D-n it all! stop shooting," yelled the smith, striding about with gun on one arm and the other raised in air to impose command.
Ellen and Lizzie were coming over the saddle steps in front of Matt's. While they came down the field there was an interval, and all guns were reloaded. Creer and Wade had no guns. Wade was in Sunday coat and top-hat, but with a common waistcoat. Creer with his hands in his trouserspockets shrugged and double-shrugged himself in the keen frosty air.
" We'll have to remind Curlat ; it's him that'll have to do it," said Dan to the smith.
"Mr. Curlat," said the smith, turning to his supporters for backing up. "There's ladies on the ground!"
"Aw, well, James?"
" Aw, well ! and who pays their footing? "said Creer.
"Aw, aye, Mr. Curlat! It'll mean, according to my best calculation, a half-barrel. The best is liable to mistakes, but I'm not far out, of a rule," said the roadman.
"Leave it to me, James," said the soldier.
Doubtfully for a moment they stood, with winks and nods and dumb-show of mysterious import to the soldier; then, satisfied, withdrew with increased alacrity to show off their shooting in the presence and sight of the company. When the shooting was over the "Arrosey ones" left the field.
"Them girls is tremendous nice," said the wheelwright; "aw, they're beauties, regarded as women. Still a touch slim in the waist ! "
"Thou would like a waist the size of a cart-wheel, very likely," said Creer. "But thy taste won't be consulted, my hearty. Thy opinion won't be asked, Evan, my boy."
" If Curlat hasn't got it squared, it'll be only fair, as he's a friend of the family, to let him stand the 'lowance himself," said Wade.
" Chut, Wade! Curlat's hand was in his pocket the minute after the heir shook hands with him," said the shoemaker.
" Thou're very quiet, Mr. Curlat," said Dan, a little later, drawing alongside the soldier as they were leaving the field. " Will it be a quarter-cask or a balf-barrel, Mr. Curlat. Wade is reckoning the half."
" It'll be the half, Daniel," said the soldier gravely.
"Aw, it's all right, Mr. Curlat; only we didn't think thou would have done so well. If thou have, it's all right."
"Aw, aye, Daniel, it's right enough," said the soldier.
"A pity thou didn't get the Yankee to stand treat as well, and him shaking hands with thee that friendly," said the persistent Creer.
"There's going to be a supper in Arrosey barn on New Year's Eve, Daniel," said the soldier; "it's a wonder thou didn't smell that too ! "
"A supper ! " said Dan, in amazement. " Not a teaparty? "
"No, Daniel, no, boy."
"Aw, that'll do fine,-if it's up to the mark," he said, recovering himself sufficiently to make a qualifying reservation. "Aw, aye, it'll be up to the mark, Dan. The chance is if thou're going to be there. It'll maybe depend on the way thou behave thyself," said Mr. Curlat, with an authoritative hint.
"'Deed I would be middling down in the mouth the day I would be separated from being in thy company, Mr. Curlat," said Dan adroitly; and marched beside the soldier half a step in the rear in good comradeship as they adjourned to Matt's kitchen, where the half-barrel was promptly on tap with all the decency and good feeling of " Christmas times."
That evening, as the Arrosey people went up the Creg, the big man and Molvurra had gradually dropped behind. Arrosey, with a pretence of being shorter of breath than of yore, was also speaking in undertones. This was significant. Those who knew his undertone knew that it implied a topic of deepest interest, and a determination on his part to have a solution already predetermined. They were speaking of Molvurra's projected departure.
"I'll tell you what I've got in my mind, Sylvester, boy. I'm retiring. John is Captain of the Parish already, for that matter. But I'm retiring from the Keys as well. If you'll come and settle down at home, I'll wait, and I'll get you elected to fill the vacancy, boy. They'll be glad to have you. Chut ! wait till spring.