[From Captain of the Parish, 1897]
FROM this time Ellen and Molroy instinctively caught from each other's eyes a consciousness of a new relation being opened to them. The earliest snowdrops in all the countryside made their appearance in the sheltered and sun-exposed garden of Creg Awin, and when their opportunity arrived to speak to each other, they strolled instinctively and naturally to that spot hallowed to them by so sacred a memory. It was a mild spring morning, suggestive of the flowers that appear long before winter departs, and the first feeling of spring is already in the air.
There was a great certainty, a great happiness in Ellen's heart. She knelt down to cull such snowdrops as she found straggling in the familiar nooks, while he followed and watched her, thinking of the autumn morning when last they had been there together.
"I have had a conversation with Lizzie; would you mind my speaking of it, Ellen?" he began.
She answered with a look of expectation. She was prepared for that hour, but not prepared to find that on his part it was a moment of supreme constraint. In her singleness of heart, her sincerity of soul, and in the indomitable resolution of her spirit she had understood, had accepted, had rejoiced in Lizzie's noble renunciation. She had accepted it as unerring goodness. It was what she herself had already done, what she had done in the renunciation of an even more inalienable love. Out in America she had spoken to Molroy, and had advised him of her resolution and confirmed him in his own. She believed that Lizzie was even as she herself was. It was a high. recognition, but it was the true recognition. For Ellen had renounced because she loved honour; Lizzie had renounced because she loved-because she loved truth, because she loved Ellen, and because she venerated more than any love of her own the love of those she loved. Ellen had scarce understood the unseen struggle and agony of Lizzie, inasmuch as she saw before all else the trueness of heart, the virtue of spirit that made such an action inevitable, necessary, natural.
And now she scarce expected in Molroy a sadness, a struggle, a violence, a rending asunder of a part of himself. But how long, how fond, how true had been his association with Lizzie, with all its loyalty and stainlessness and brightness, with all its uncertainties ever seeming to tend to one end, that Lizzie woiild be his wife at last! Now, and not till now, had it come to an end for ever. Could it be without a struggle? There was in him an obstinate recoil and revulsion. There seemed as if within him a distinct spirit, another individual self had started up with claims of its own to be reckoned with, demanding consideration and hearing, that would not suffer to be parted from her.
"Ellen," he said, "forgive me." "Why, John?"
"Because I am not wholly yours."
" Yes, I know," she said gently. "Don't mind." "But I am not; I know I am not."
She rose from the grassy bank where she was kneeling and came to him. She put her hands in his.
"I think you are; but don't mind all these thoughts." "Now, when she has set me free, I cannot be parted from her."
"She has spoken to me too."
" Well, Ellen, I cannot conceal it from you."
"Never mind. Don't mind for me. But it's only a paroxysm of feeling. I believe you do love me wholly. You don't doubt about me?"
" She gave me this too. She has kept it for me," and he gave Ellen the New Orleans letter.
"Nevertheless," she said, putting the letter away, "don't think that I question what you question yourself. I believe with perfect trust, with perfect knowledge, that you love me.
I believe it is only a present and right doubt. But the days will go by, and certainty will come. Let's go back, and let's not say anything more just now. Besides," she continued, as she took his arm and they went up out of the garden, "I have something to tell you, and I'm not afraid to tell you, for you will judge your own heart more certainly when you think of it and consider how it affects you. I know you will never do anything but what is right, and I have no anxiety whatever-none ! "
"Listen," she resumed. "Sylvester spoke to me yesterday. He knows all, and there is but one thing he henceforth lives for, and that is for her sake only. If we should go away, he will stay here and follow her footsteps. He will wait. Years will make no difference, but he will not be separated from her in his heart. We can remain as we are if you have any doubts still. We shall not be different to each other, that I know, and when we know we can speak again."
" He is rich," said Molroy musingly.
" Yes; and why has that occurred to you? With me love in a cottage and in obscurity would be all right, but you wouldn't like to think of letting her have nothing but that. You gladly think of her being what she would be with him, and I think some such thought is in your father's mind too. She is his favourite," she added, with a smile.
" Ellen," he said, " your thoughts are right."
" Well, now, unless you like, let's not talk about it any more for a long while."
" It won't be a long while, Ellen, because I see already the way it affects me. I ought to have been jealous of him, and I'm not."
" That's just it, John, and you won't be either, because she'll be-aren't we taking for granted something, though?" she said archly.
" Yes, of course-that Lizzie will consider-"
" Well, let's consider the probabilities," said Ellen. " I think that as he's my brother-"
" That ought to settle it, Ellen," said Molroy, smiling.
" I've known Lizzie longer than you have," she said playfully. " But I won't go into the rest of the probabilities. Here we're at home. Let's not talk of it for quite a long time."