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Some Everyday Folk and Dawn
Miles Franklin


[The Table of Contents is not part of the original book.]




_TO THE

ENGLISH MEN WHO BELIEVE IN VOTES FOR WOMEN

THIS STORY IS AFFECTIONATELY INSCRIBED,
BECAUSE THE WOMEN HEREIN CHARACTERISED WERE
NEVER FORCED TO BE

"SUFFRAGETTES,"

THEIR COUNTRYMEN
HAVING GRANTED THEM THEIR RIGHTS AS

SUFFRAGISTS

IN THE YEAR OF OUR LORD 1902.

M. F._

       *       *       *       *       *




CONTENTS

CHAPTER

ONE.            CLAY'S.
TWO.            AT CLAY'S.
THREE.          BECOMING ACQUAINTED WITH GRANDMA CLAY.
FOUR.           DAWN'S AMBITION.
FIVE.           MISS FLIPP'S UNCLE.
SIX.            GRANDMA CLAY'S LOVE-STORY.
SEVEN.          THE LITTLE TOWN OF NOONOON.
EIGHT.          GRANDMA TURNS NURSE.
NINE.           THE KNIGHT HAS A STOLEN VIEW OF THE LADY.
TEN.            PROVINCIAL POLITICS AND SEMI-SUBURBAN DENTISTS.
ELEVEN.         ANDREW DISGRACES HIS "RARIN'."
TWELVE.         SOME SIDE-PLAY.
THIRTEEN.       VARIOUS EVENTS.
FOURTEEN.       THE PASSING OF THE TRAINS.
FIFTEEN.        ALAS! MISS FLIPP!
SIXTEEN.        ADVANCE, AUSTRALIA!
SEVENTEEN.      MRS BRAY AND CARRY COME TO ISSUES.
EIGHTEEN.       THE FOUNDATION OF THE POULTRY INDUSTRY.
NINETEEN.       AN OPPORTUNELY INOPPORTUNE DOUCHE.
TWENTY.         "ALAS! HOW EASILY THINGS GO WRONG!"
TWENTY-ONE.     THINGS GO MORE WRONG.
TWENTY-TWO.     "O SPIRIT, AND THE NINE ANGELS WHO WATCH US ..."
TWENTY-THREE.   UNIVERSAL ADULT SUFFRAGE.
TWENTY-FOUR.    LITTLE ODDS AND ENDS OF LIFE.
TWENTY-FIVE.    "LOVE'S YOUNG DREAM."
TWENTY-SIX.     "OFF WITH THE OLD."
TWENTY-SEVEN.   "ONE MIGHT THINK BETTER OF MARRIAGE IF ONE'S MARRIED FRIENDS..."
TWENTY-EIGHT.   LET THERE BE LOVE.
TWENTY-NINE.    "THE SAVAGE SELLS OR EXCHANGES HIS DAUGHTER, BUT IN ..."
THIRTY.         FOR FURTHER PARTICULARS CONSULT 'THE NOONOON ADVERTISER' OF THAT DATE.
                L'ENVOI.

       *       *       *       *       *



GLOSSARY OF COLLOQUIALISMS AND SLANG TERMS.


AUSTRALIAN.         AMERICAN EQUIVALENTS.    ENGLISH INTERPRETATION.

Billy               A tin pail               A camp-kettle.
Blokes              Guys                     Chaps--fellows.
Bosker              Dandy or "dandy          Something meeting with
                     fine"                     unqualified approval.
Galoot              A rube                   A yokel--a heavy country
                                                 fellow.
Larrikin                                     A hoodlum.
Moke                                         A common knockabout horse.
Narked              Sore                     Vexed--to have lost the
                                                 temper.
Gin                 Squaw                    An aboriginal woman.
Quod                                         Jail.
Sollicker           Somewhat equivalent      Something excessive.
                      to "corker"
Toff                A "sport" or "swell      A well-dressed
                      guy"                     individual--sometimes of
                                               the upper ten.
Two "bob"           Fifty cents              Two shillings.
To graft            To "dig in"              To work hard and steadily.
To scoot            To vamoose or skidoo     To leave hastily and
                                                 unceremoniously.
To smoodge          To be a "sucker"         To curry favour at the expense
                                                 of independence.
"Gives me the pip"  "Makes me tired"         Bores.
"On a string"    }                           Trifling with him.
"Pulling his leg"}
Kookaburra          A giant kingfisher with grey plumage and a
                     merry, mocking, inconceivably human laugh--a
                     killer of snakes, and a great favourite with
                     Australians.

       *       *       *       *       *




Some Everyday Folk and Dawn.

ONE.

CLAY'S.


The summer sun streamed meltingly down on the asphalted siding of the
country railway station and occasioned the usual grumbling from the
passengers alighting from the afternoon express.

There were only three who effect this narrative--a huge, red-faced,
barrel-like figure that might have served to erect as a monument to
the over-feeding in vogue in this era; a tall, spare, old fellow with
a grizzled beard, who looked as though he had never known a succession
of square feeds; and myself, whose physique does not concern this
narrative.

Having surrendered our tickets and come through a down-hill passage to
the dusty, dirty, stony, open space where vehicles awaited travellers,
the usual corner "pub."--in this instance a particularly dilapidated
one--and three tin kangaroos fixed as weather-cocks on a dwelling
over the way, and turning hither and thither in the hot gusts of wind,
were the first objects to arrest my attention in the town of Noonoon,
near the river Noonoon, whereaway it does not particularly matter. The
next were the men competing for our favour in the matter of vehicular
conveyance.

The big man, by reason of his high complexion, abnormal waist
measurement, expensive clothes, and domineering manner, which
proclaimed him really a lord of creation, naturally commanded the
first and most obsequious attention, and giving his address as
"Clay's," engaged the nearest man, who then turned to me.

"Where might you be going?"

"To Jimmeny's Hotel."

"Right O! I can just drop you on the way to Clay's," said he; and the
big swell grunted up to a box seat, while I took a position in the
body of the vehicle commanding a clear view of the grossness of the
highly coloured neck rolling over his collar.

The journey through the town unearthed the fact that it resembled many
of its compeers. The oven-hot iron roofs were coated with red dust; a
few lackadaisical larrikins upheld occasional corner posts; dogs
conducted municipal meetings here and there; the ugliness of the
horses tied to the street posts, where they baked in the sun while
their riders guzzled in the prolific "pubs.," bespoke a farming rather
than a grazing district; and the streets had the distinction of being
the most deplorably dirty and untended I have seen.

The same could be said of a cook, or some such individual of whom I
caught a glimpse when landed at a corner hotel, where I sat inside the
door of a parlour awaiting the appearance of the landlady or the
publican, while for diversion I watched the third arrival wending his
way from the station on foot and shouting something concerning melons
to a man in a dray in the middle of the roadway.

Evidently it was the land of melons and other fruits and vegetables.

Over at the railway, loaded waggons, drays, and carts were backed
against a line of trucks drawn up to convey such produce to the city
and other parts of the country, while strings of vehicles similarly
burdened were thundering up the street. Some carts were piled with
cases of peaches, grapes, tomatoes, and rock-melons--the rich aromatic
scent of the last mentioned strongly asserting their presence as they
passed. On some waggons the water-melons were packed in straw and had
the grower's initials chipped in the rind, others were not so
distinguished, and at intervals the roughness of the thoroughfare
bumped one off. If the fall did not break it quite in two, a stray
loafer pulled it so and tore out a little of the sweet and luscious
heart, leaving the remainder to the ants and fowls. The latter were
running about on friendly terms with the dogs, which they equalled in
variety and number. Droves of small boys haunted the railway premises
at that time of the year and eagerly assisted the farmers to truck
their melons in return for one, and came away with their spoils under
their arms. Never before had I seen so many melons or so large. Some
weighed sixty and eighty pounds or more, while those from sixteen to
twenty-five pounds, in all varieties,--Cuban Queens, Dixies, Halbert's
Honey, and Cannon Balls,--were procurable at one shilling the dozen,
and nearly as much produce as sent away wasted in the fields for want
of a market.

An hour after arrival, having refused the offer of refreshments, which
in such places are not always refreshing, I betook myself to a
comparatively cool back verandah to further investigate my temporary
surroundings.

A yellow-haired girl with rings on her fingers sprawled in a hammock
reading a much-thumbed circulating-library novel and eating peaches.
This was the landlord's daughter, and a very superior young lady
indeed from her own point of view.

I learnt that at present there would only be one other boarder besides
myself. He came up for the week-end, and had just gone down to Clay's
to see some one there. If he could get a berth at Clay's he would not
come back; but the only hope of being taken in there during the summer
weather was to bespeak room a long way ahead, as there was a great run
on the place. It was built right beside the river, and they kept boats
for hire, which attracted a number of desirable young men from the
city to engage in week-end fishing, picnicing, swimming, &c.; and the
young gentlemen attracted young ladies, who found it difficult to be
taken in at all, because old Mrs Clay allowed her granddaughter, Dawn,
to boss the place, and _she_ favoured men-boarders.

The tone of Yellow-hair suggested that perhaps the men-boarders
favoured Dawn; at all events, it was an attractive name and aroused
interested inquiry from me.

"Oh yes, some thought her a beauty! There were great arguments as to
whether she or Dora Cowper--another great big fat thing in a hay and
corn store over the way--was the belle of Noonoon;" but for her part,
Yellow-hair thought her too coarse and vulgar and high-coloured (Miss
Jimmeny was sallow and thin), and she was always making herself seen
and known everywhere. One would think she owned Noonoon!

"There she is now," exclaimed the girl, pointing out another who was
driving a fat pony in a yellow sulky. "Talk of the devil."

"Perhaps it is an angel in this case," I responded, for though she was
thickly veiled she suggested youth and a style that pleased the eye.

Whether she and the boats were sufficient to make Clay's an attractive
place of residence I did not know, but already was painfully aware of
conditions that would make Jimmeny's Hotel an uncomfortable location.
I retired to my room to escape some of them--the foul language of the
tipplers under the front verandah, and the winds from two streets that
also met there in a whirlwind of dust and refuse.

There was nothing for me to do but kill time, and no way of killing it
but by simple endurance. I had been ordered to some country resort for
the good of my health. But do not fear, reader; this is not to be a
compilation of ills and pulses, for no one more than the unfortunate
victim of such is so painfully aware of their lack of interest to the
community at large. There are, I admit, some invalids who find a
certain amount of entertainment in inflicting a list of their aches
upon people, blissfully unconscious of how wearisome they can be, but
my temperament is of the sensitive order, knowing its length too well
to similarly transgress.

How I had struck upon Noonoon I don't know or care, except that it was
within easy access of the metropolis, and I have no predilection for
being isolated from the crowded haunts of my fellows. I had descended
upon Jimmeny's Hotel because in an advertisement sheet it was put
down as the leading house of accommodation in Noonoon. Now I had come
to hear of Clay's and Dawn, and determined to shift myself there as
soon as possible. This did not seem imminent, for presently the
"bloated aristocrat" came back to Jimmeny's pub. for the evening meal,
as he had been unable to get so much as a shake-down at Clay's. This
so aroused my desire to be a boarder at Clay's that I straightway
wrote a letter to its châtelaine inquiring what style of accommodation
she provided, and could she accommodate me; and strolling up the
broken street, while a few larrikins at corners, by way of
entertaining themselves and me, made remarks upon my appearance, I
dropped it in the post-office, but had to endure a week's inattention
at Jimmeny's, and no end of yarns from outside folk I encountered as
to how Mrs Jimmeny robbed the "swipes" who took their poison at her
bar, before I was honoured by a reply from Mrs Clay.

     "The accommodation provided by me for people is clean and
     wholesome and the best as suits me. If it don't suit them
     there are other places near that makes more efforts to
     gather custom than I do. I can't take you in at present as
     I'm too full for my taste as it is.--Yours respectfully,

"Martha Clay."

This interesting rebuff inspired me to further effort, and sitting on
the back verandah, under a giant fig-tree shedding its delicious and
wholesome fruit also to the fowls and ants, I wrote:--

     "Dear Madam,--Would you kindly apprise me when it would be
     convenient to accommodate me, as I'm anxious to be near the
     river, where I could indulge in boating?"

To this I received reply:--

     "There isn't any chance of me accommodating you till the
     cool weather, and then I don't take boarders at all. I like
     to have them all in the summer, and then have a little peace
     to ourselves in the winter without strangers, for the best
     of them have their noses poked everywhere they are not
     wanted. If you want to go near the river there are heaps of
     houses where there isn't no such rush of people as at my
     place."

This firmly determined me to reside at Mrs Clay's, a desired member of
the household, or perish in the attempt. Alack! I had plenty time to
spend in such a trifle, for I was but a derelict, broken in fierce
struggle and hopelessly cast aside into smooth waters, safe from the
stormy currents now too strong for my timbers. That I had means to lie
at anchor in some genial boarding-house, instead of being dependent
upon charity, was undoubtedly food for thankfulness, and when one has
burned their coal-heap to ashes they are grateful for an occasional
charcoal among the cinders.

No other place near the river but Clay's would do me, though the
valley had much to recommend it at that season, when grapes, peaches,
and other fruits were literally being thrown away on every hand. So I
repacked my trunk, and the 'busman who had brought me took me once
more along the execrable streets, past the corner pub., near the
railway station, and, it being late afternoon, the railway employés,
as they came off duty, were streaming towards it for the purpose of
"wetting their whistle" after their eight-houred day's work.

Leaving the misguided fellows thus worse than ignorantly refreshing
themselves, and the tin kangaroos showing that the breeze was from the
east, I travelled farther west to a summer resort in the cool
altitude, there to await from Mrs Martha Clay a recall to the vale of
melons. That I would get one I was sure, and so little was there in my
life that even this prospect lent a zest to the mail each day.

I had neither relatives nor friends. Fate had apportioned me none of
the former, and fierce, absorbing endeavour had left little time for
cultivating the latter, while pride made me hide from all
acquaintances who had known me standing amid the plaudits of the
crowd--strong and successful; and fiercely desiring to be left to
myself, I shrank with sensitive horror from the sympathy that is only
careless pity.




TWO.

AT CLAY'S.


The long hot days gave place to cooler and shorter, and there was none
left of the beautiful fruit--peaches, apricots, figs, plums,
nectarines, grapes, and melons--which, for want of a market, had
rotted ankle-deep in some parts of the fertile old valley of Noonoon
ere I received a communication from Mrs. Clay.

     "If you think it worth your while you can investigate my
     place now. All the summer weather folk has gone. I would
     only take one or two nice people now that would live with us
     in our own plain way and who would be company for the
     family, so I could not undertake to give you a separate
     parlour and table and carry on that way, but if you like to
     call and see me, please yourself."

Accordingly, I lost no time in once more patronising the town 'busman,
and being his only patron that day, he rattled me past the tin
kangaroo weather-cocks, the battered corner pub. and its colleague a
few doors on, and entering the principal street where Jimmeny's Hotel
filled the view, turned to the right across fertile flats held in
tenure by patient Chinese gardeners.

Being a region of quick growth, it was of correspondingly rapid decay,
and the season of summer fruits had been entirely superseded by autumn
flowers. The vale of melons was now a valley of chrysanthemums, and
with a little specialisation in this branch of horticulture could
easily have out-chrysanthemumed Japan. Without any care or cultivation
they filled the little gardens on every side; children of all sizes
were to be seen with bunches of them; while discarded blossoms lay in
the streets, after the fashion of the superabundant melons and orchard
fruits during their season.

About a mile from the station we halted before a ramshackle old
two-storey house that was covered by roses and hidden among orange and
fig trees. The approach led through an irregular plantation of cedar
and pepper trees, pomegranates and other shrubs, and masses of
chrysanthemums and cosmos that flourished in every available space.

The friendly 'busman directed me to a gable sheltered by a yellow
jasmine-tree, where I tapped on the door with my knuckle. Footsteps
approached on the inside, and after some thumping and kicking on its
panels it was burst open by a nimble old lady in immaculate gown, with
carefully adjusted collar, and wavy hair combed back in a tidy knot
and with still a dark shade in it.

"Them blessed white ants!" she exclaimed. "They've very near got the
place eat down, so that you have to make a fool of yourself opening
the door, and that blessed feller I sent for hasn't come to do 'em up
yet; but some people!" She finished so exasperatedly that I felt
impelled to state my name and business without delay, and with a prim
"Indeed," she led the way across a narrow linoleumed hall, so
beeswaxed that one had to stump along carefully erect.

She invited me to a chair in a stiff room and began--

"I've only got another young lady in the place now, and if you come
you'll have to eat with the family."

I considered this an attraction.

"And there'll be no fussing over you and pampering you, for I'm not
reduced to keeping boarders out of necessity. They ain't all I've got
to depend on," she said with a fiery glance from her choleric
blue-grey eyes.

"Certainly not; I'm sure of that by your style, Mrs. Clay."

"But of course I like to make a little; this Federal Tariff has rose
the price of living considerable," she said, softening somewhat as we
now sat down on the formidable and well-dusted seats.

"But I believe you are somethink of a invalid."

"Unfortunately, yes."

"Well, this isn't no private hospital, and never pretended to be. Sick
people is a lot of trouble potterin' and fussin' around with. I
couldn't, for the sake of my granddaughter, give her a lot of extra
work that wouldn't mean nothink."

This might have sounded hard, but with some people their very
austerity bespeaks a tenderness of heart. They affect it as a shield
or guard against a softness that leaves them the too easy prey of a
self-seeking community, and such I adjudged Mrs. Clay. Her stiffness,
like that of the echidna, was a spiky covering protecting the most
gentle and estimable of dispositions.

"My ill-health is the sort to worry no one but myself. I need no
dieting or waiting upon. It is merely a heart trouble, and should it
happen to finish me in your house, I will leave ample compensation,
and will pay my board and lodging weekly in advance."

"I ain't a money-grubber," she hastened to assure me; "I was only
explaining to you."

"I'm only explaining too," I said with a smile; and having arrived at
this understanding of mutual straight-going, she intimated that I
could inspect a room I might have.

In addition to a couple of detached buildings composed of rooms which
during the summer were given to boarders, there were a few apartments
in the main residence which were also delivered to this business, and
I was conducted to where three in an uneven gable faced west and
fronted the river.

"This is my granddaughter Dawn's, and this one is empty, and this one
is took by a young party for the winter," said the old dame.

I selected the middle room, as it gave promise of being companionable
with those on either hand occupied, and its window commanded an
attractive view. A tangled old garden opened on a steep descent to the
quiet river, edged with willows and garnished by a great row of red
and blue boats rocking almost imperceptibly in the even flow, while a
huge placard advertised their business--

     BEST BOATS ON THE RIVER TO BE HIRED HERE.

                            MRS. MARTHA CLAY.

To the right was an imposing bridge, and on the other side of the
water, right at the foot of the great range which in the early days
had remained so long impassable, lay the quiet old settlement of
Kangaroo.

"If you think that room will do, you are welcome to it," continued
Mrs. Clay. "Seventeen-and-six a-week without washing--a pound with."

I agreed to the "with washing" terms, so the affable jehu hauled in
what luggage I had brought, and at last I was installed at Clay's.

The only thing wanting to complete the incident was the advent of
Dawn, but she was nowhere to be seen. As it was only eleven in the
morning I sat in my room and waited for her and a cup of tea, but
neither were forthcoming. In her own words, Mrs. Clay "was never give
to running after people an' lickin' their boots." Eventually, having
grown weary of waiting for Dawn and luncheon and other things, I went
out on a tour of inspection. First find was a tall dashing girl of
twenty-four or thereabouts, dusting the big heavily encumbered
"parler" into which my room opened.

"Good morning!" heartily said she.

"Good morning! Are you Dawn?" inquired I.

"Dawn! No. But you might well ask, for it's nothing but Dawn and her
doings and sayings and good looks here! You'd think there was no other
girl in Noonoon. She won't take it as any compliment to be taken for
me."

"Well, she must be something superlative if it would not be a
compliment to be taken for you."

"Oh me! I'm only Carry the lady-help--general slavey like, earning my
living, only that I eat with the family and not in the kitchen. In the
summer they hire a cook and others, but in the winter there are only
me and Dawn and the old woman," said this frank and communicative
individual in the frank and communicative manner characteristic of the
Clay household.

Proceeding from this encounter, I went out the back way past more
gardens and irregular enclosures, where under widespreading
cedar-trees I found a boy at the hobbledehoy age chopping wood in a
desultory fashion, as though to get rid of time, rather than to
enlarge the stack of short sticks, were the most imperative object.
Driving his axe in tight and holding on to it as a sort of balance, he
leant back, effected a passage in his nostrils, and after having
regarded me with a leisurely and straightforward squint, observed--

"I reckon you're the new boarder?"

"I reckon so. I reckon you belong to this place."

"Yes, Mrs. Clay, she's my grandma."

"Is that your grandfather?" I inquired, pointing to the old man who
had travelled with me on the day of my first visit to the town, and
now supporting an outhouse door-post, while a young man with whom he
talked leant against the tailboard of a cart advertising that he was
the first-class butcher of Kangaroo, and had several other
unsurpassable virtues in the meat trade.

"No, he ain't me grandfather, thank goodness he's only me uncle;
that's plenty for me."

"Aren't you fond of him?"

"I ain't _dying_ of love for him, I promise you. Old Crawler! He
reckons he's the boss, but sometimes I get home on him in a way that a
sort of illustrates to his intelligence that he ain't. Ask Dawn. She's
the one'll give you the straight tip regarding him."

"Where is Dawn?"

"Oh, Dawn's in the kitchen. She an' Carry does the cookin' week about
w'en the house ain't full. Grandma makes 'em do that; it saves rows
about it not bein' fair. You won't ketch sight of Dawn till dinner.
She'll want to get herself up a bit, you bein' new; she always does
for a fresh person, but she soon gets tired of it."

"And you, are you going to get yourself up because I'm new?"

"Not much; boys ain't that way so much as the wimmin," he said, and
the grin we exchanged was the germ of a friendship that ripened as our
acquaintance progressed. I intended to settle down to the enjoyment
afforded by my sense of humour. I had preserved it intact as a private
personal accomplishment. On the stage, having steered clear of comedy
and confined myself to tragedy, it had never been cheapened and made
nauseous by sham and machine representations indigenous to the hated
footlights, and was an untapped preserve to be drawn upon now.

So I was not to see Dawn till the midday dinner; she was to appear
last, like the star at a concert.

A star she verily was when eventually she came before me carrying a
well-baked roast on an old-fashioned dish. Her lovely face was scarlet
from hurry and the fire, her bright hair gleamed in coquettish rolls,
and a loose sleeve displayed a round and dimpled forearm--a fitting
continuance of the taper fingers grasping the chief dish of the
wholesome and liberal menu she had prepared.

Old Uncle Jake took the carver's place, but Grandma Clay sat at his
left elbow and instructed him what to do. He handed the helpings to
her, and she supplemented each with some of all the vegetables,
irrespective of the wishes of the consumers, to whom they were handed
in a business-like method. The puddings were distributed on the same
principle, grandma even putting milk and sugar on the plates as for
children; and further, she talked in a choleric way, as though the
children were in bad grace owing to some misdemeanour, but that was
merely one of her mannerisms, as that of others is to smile and be
sweet while they inwardly fume.

Excepting this, the unimpressive old smudges hung above the mantel,
and probably standing for some family progenitors, gazed out of their
caricatured eyes on an uneventful meal. Conversation was choppy and of
the personal order, not interesting to a stranger to those mentioned.
I made a few duty remarks to Uncle Jake, which he received with
suspicion, so I left him in peace to suck his teeth and look like a
sleepy lizard, while I counted the queer and inartistic old vases
crowded in plumb and corresponding pairs on the shelf over the
fireplace.

Miss Flipp, the other boarder, was in every respect a contrast to me,
being small, young, and dressed with elaboration in a flimsy style
which, off the stage, I have always scorned. Her wrists were laden
with bangles, her fingers with rings, and her golden hair piled high
in the most exaggerated of the exaggerated pompadour styles in vogue.
Her appetite was indifferent; the expression of her eyes bespoke
either ill-health or dissipation, and she was very abstracted, or as
Mrs Clay put it--

"She acts like she had somethink on her mind. Maybe she's love-sick
for some one she can't ketch, and she's been sent up here to forget."

This was after Miss Flipp had retreated to her room, and Carry
continued the subject as she cleared the table.

"She _says_ she's an orphan reared by a rich uncle; she's always
blowing about him and how fond he is of her. She's just recovered from
an operation and has come up here to get strong. That's why she does
nothing, so she _says_, only poke about and read novels and make
herself new hats and blouses; but _I_ think she'd be lazy without any
operation. She'd want another to put some go in her."

"She'd require inoculating with a little of yours," said I, watching
with what enviable vigour the girl's work sped before her as though
afraid. I also retired to my room for a rest, intending to come out
and pave the way for friendship with Dawn by-and-by, for I quickly
perceived she was not the character to go out of her way to make the
first overture.

Some time after, when strolling around in an unwonted fashion, I was
pleased to again encounter my friend Andrew. Evidently he had been set
to clean out the fowl-houses, for a wheelbarrow half full of manure
stood at the door of a wire-netted shed, and in the middle of this
task he had sought diversion by shooting rats from among the straw in
a big old barn, where a great heap of unused hay made them a harbour.
In this warm valley, carpeted in the irrepressible couch-grass, there
was no lack of fodder that season, and even the lanes and byways would
have served as fattening paddocks. Andrew leant upon his gun, and
having delivered himself of certain statistics in rat mortality, and
exhibiting some specimens by the tail, he began a conversation.

"Say, what did you think of Miss Thing-amebob, Miss Flipp I mean?"

"I didn't bother thinking anything at all about her."

Andrew looked interrogatively at me and broke into a grin.

"Well, I reckon she's the silliest goat I ever came across. She came
out to me and asked did I think she looked pretty, as her uncle is
coming up to-night, and if she looks nice he'll give her a present or
something. I reckon she'd have to look not such a mad-headed rabbit
before I'd give her anything but some advice to bag her head. And he
must be a different uncle to Uncle Jake; I reckon he wouldn't give you
nothing if you had on two heads at once. Here's Larry Witcom coming
back from his rounds, and he promised me a bit of meat for Whiskey!
Here, Whiskey! Whiskey!" he roared, and a small canine pet that had
been hunting rats desisted from the fray and ran with his master. I
also walked with him--this without exception, even in slum scenes on
the stage, being the dirtiest escort I ever had had. His face was
grimed, his shirt like an engine-rag, and his trousers dusty, while
from a hole in the seat thereof fluttered a flag of garment--such an
ingratiatingly wholesome blunderbuss of a boy!

"Here, you Larry," he yelled, "you promised me! Come on, Whiskey! Why,
ain't he a bosker!" he enthusiastically exclaimed, as the hideously
unprepossessing little mongrel stood on his hind legs and yelped in
excited begging.

"Hullo, Andrew! Don't bust! Who's that you had with you?--(I had
turned a corner)--a new boarder, I suppose? Rather an old piece!"

"Yes," said Andrew. "Her hair is a little white, but she ain't sour
and stuck up."

"A chance for you to hang your hat up, Jake," said Larry.

"No, thanks! I'm cautious of them old maids. If you say a pleasant
word to 'em they can't be shook off, and might have you up for breach
of promise like with Tom Dunstan."

"I suppose there is a danger, you being so fascinating," chuckled the
butcher as I went inside, with a premonition that should it come to
taking sides in the Clay household, if avoidable I would not be on
Uncle Jake's.

"Who is Uncle Jake?" said Carry in response to my inquiry, as she
prepared four o'clock tea; "he's Uncle Jake, that's what he is, and
enough for me too, that he is. The old swab wants hanging up by the
beard."

"Yes, but what place does he hold in the house?"

"Place! that of walking round poking his nose in everywhere and
growling about things that don't concern him. Mrs Clay keeps
him--gives him fifteen shillings a-week--because he's her brother, and
you'd think he owned everything. If you want to know what he is, he's
a terribly bad example to Andrew. _He's_ the greatest clumsy,
lumbering, dirty lump (oh, you should see his clothes, what they are
like to wash, and the only way to keep him clean would be to stuff him
in a glass case!), but for all that he's a very fair kid. You can't
expect much of boys, you know, and have to be thankful for any good
points at all. O Lord!" she here exclaimed, looking out a window,
where along a path through the orchard she descried approaching a fine
buxom dame in a fashionably cut dress, "here's Mrs Bray in full sail.
I suppose she saw the 'busman leaving you here to-day, and her
curiosity couldn't stand any longer without coming on a tour of
inspection."

"Who is Mrs Bray?"

"She won't let you overlook who she is, and what she owns, and what
she '_done_,' you'll soon hear it. She's the most inquisitive
blow-hard I ever came across."

Dawn now appeared and invited me to afternoon tea, which was a
friendly and hospitable meal spread on a big table on a back verandah,
so enclosed by creepers and pot-plants and little awnings leading in
various directions as to be in reality more of a vestibule. Mrs Bray
hove into near view and took up a seat beside a bank of lovely
maiden-hair fern.

"How are you living?" she asked Grandma Clay as she complacently shook
hands. "Nice cool weather now and not so many beastly mosquitoes."

"By Jove! Did you know about the 'skeeters' here?" inquired Andrew of
me. "They're big enough to ride bikes and weigh a pound. You wait till
you hear 'em singing Sankey's hymns to-night."

"If I were you I'd hold my tongue and not draw attention to my
dirtiness," said Dawn. "It's a wonder a garden doesn't sprout upon
you."

I was then introduced to Mrs Bray, who acknowledged me genially, and
seemed so flourishing, and was so complacent regarding the fact, that
it did one good to look at her.

After addressing a few remarks to me she had to move, for the trimming
of her hat caught in the cage of a parakeet, and she took another seat
in the shelter of a tree-fern near Uncle Jake.

"You have some lovely pet birds," I remarked by way of making myself
agreeable to Grandma Clay.

"The infernal old nuisances!" she said irascibly, "I wish they'd die.
Andrew calls them his, but they'd starve only for me. I'm always
saying I'll have no more pets, and still they're brought here. Some
day when he has a home of his own and people plague him, he'll know
what it is."

On the other side of the verandah above Uncle Jake stretched a passion
vine, where a thick row of belated fruit hung like pretty pale-green
eggs, and evil entering Andrew's mind, he remarked to me--

"Wouldn't it be just bosker if one of them fell on his old nut," and
going out he returned with a pair of orange clippers.

"Where's Carry got to?" asked grandma.

"I saw her out there doing a mash with Larry Witcom," said Andrew.

"Now, do you think there'll be anything in that?" interestedly asked
Mrs Bray. "I suppose she'd be glad to ketch anything for a home of her
own."

"Well, it's to be hoped the home she'd catch with him would be better
than some of the meat we've caught from him lately--it was as tough as
old boots," put in Dawn.

At this point Andrew succeeded in disturbing Uncle Jake--succeeded
beyond expectation. Uncle Jake had just sucked his fuzzy 'possum-grey
moustache in the noisy manner peculiar to him, and was raising his tea
again, when he was struck by the passion fruit, causing him to let
fall the cup.

"Just like you! On the clean boards! Carry will be pleased. I'm glad
it's not my week in the house," said Dawn. What Uncle Jake said is
unfit for insertion in a record so respectable as this is intended to
be, and grandma seemed to grow too agitated for verbal utterance, but
her facial expression was very fiery indeed as Andrew and Uncle Jake
withdrew and settled their little score in a manner unknown to the
company.

"Well, it's an ill wind that don't blow nobody no good, and though
there's a cup broke, it's got us rid of the men, and there's never no
talking in comfort where they are," remarked Mrs Bray, who had a
facility for constructing sentences containing several negatives. Two,
we learn in syntax, have the effect of an affirmative, but there being
no reference to a repletion, only that her utterances were
unmistakably plain, Mrs Bray might have reduced one to wondering the
purport of her remarks.

"Did you hear the latest?" she said, laughing boisterously. "You don't
know the people yet," she continued, turning to me, "half of 'em want
scalding."

Here she burst into a full flood of gossip regarding the misconduct of
the leading residents; but honest and straightforward though her
communications were, I cannot include them here, for this is a story
for respectable folk, and a transcript of the straight talk of the
most respectable folk would be altogether out of the question. I must
confine myself to the statement that Mrs Bray had found few beyond
reproach, and "the latest," as she termed it, concerned one Dr Tinker,
whose wife--known colloquially as the old Tinkeress--had recently
administered a public horsewhipping to a young lady whom the doctor
had too ardently admired. Mrs Bray had only just unearthed the facts
that day, and was overwhelmingly interested in them.

"I tell you what ought to be done with some people," said grandma when
Mrs Bray halted for breath. "There's no respectability like there used
to be in my young days. In Gool-gool--that's where I was rared--the
people used to take up anythink that wasn't straight. There was a
woman there. She and her husband lived happy and respectable, with no
notion of anythink wrong, till a feller--a blessed feller," grandma
waxed fierce, "that was only sellin' things and making a living out of
honest folk, come to town an' turned her head. I won't say but he was
a fine-lookin' man, had a grand flowin' beard," grandma spread her
hands out on her chest.

"Must have been lovely with a _beard_, especially if it was like Uncle
Jake's!" interposed Dawn.

"How dare you, miss! Beards is a natural adornment gave to man by God,
and it's a unnatural notion to carve them off--"

"Some of them do want adorning, I'll admit," said Dawn.

"He was a good-lookin' man," persisted grandma.

"Must have been with a _beard_!" scornfully contended the
irrepressible Dawn.

"She must be smitten on some of these clean-faced articles," said Mrs
Bray with a laugh, which effected the collapse of Dawn.

"Hold your tongue, miss! surely I can speak in me own house!"
continued grandma. "And he could sing and play, and that sort of
thing. At any rate, this woman was terribly gone on him, and her
husband was heart-broke, and they always lived so happy till then that
the people of the town took it up. They went to the sergeant and told
him what they was goin' to do, and he was in such sympathy with 'em
that he got business that took him to the other end of the town for
that night."

"That'll tell you now!" exclaimed Mrs Bray with interest.

"And they went and collared him," proceeded the narrator.

"That'll tell you now, the faggot!" exclaimed Mrs Bray again.

"So they took him and put him on a horse, naked except his trousers,
about twenty of 'em did it, and rode on either side with tar-pots; and
every time he'd turn his head any way to jaw about what he'd do,
they'd swab him in the mouth with it; and they had bags of feathers,
and nearly smothered him with 'em, till with the black tar stickin'
on every way, and all in his great beard, he would be mistook for
Nebuchadnezzar. When they got him out of the town he was let go, an'
they said if he showed hisself in it again worse than that would
happen him. That's what the men of my day did with a bad egg,"
concluded the old lady, firm in the belief of the superior virtue of
her generation.

"What price beards in a case like that?" came from Dawn.

"That clean-faced feller of yours would have the advantage then," said
Mrs Bray. "And now I'll tell you the point of that story. It was just
the men stickin' up for themselves. If that had been a woman harmed by
her husband going away with some barmaid, or other of them hussies men
are so fond of, there wouldn't have been nothing done to avenge _her_.
_Her_ heart could have broke, and if she said anything about it people
would have sat on her, but when one of the poor darling men is hurt
it's a different thing."

Mrs Bray had yet more to tell, and after another hearty laugh divulged
a secret that should have pleased a Government lately reduced to
appointing a commission to inquire into a falling birth-rate.

"This," said grandma in explanation, "is a girl who used to be
milliner in Trashe's store in Noonoon--one of them give-herself-airs
things, like all these county-jumpin' fools! W'en you go to buy a
thing off of them they look as if you wasn't fit to tie their
shoe-laces, and they ain't got a stitch to their back, only a few
pence a-week from eternal standin' on their feet, till they're all
give way, and only fit for the hospital. I won't say but this one was
a sprightly enough young body and carried her head high. And there
was a feller came to town, was stayin' there at Jimmeny's pub. for a
time, an' walkin' round as if Noonoon wasn't a big enough place for
the likes of him to own. He talked mighty big about meat export trade,
an' that was the end of his glory. He married this girl that was
trimmin' hats, an' she thought she was doin' a stroke to ketch such a
bug, an' now she lives in that little place built bang on the road as
you go into town. Larry says he often takes her some meat, he's afraid
she'll starve; an' you know, though he'll take you down in some ways,
he's terrible good-natured in others, and that is the way with most of
us; we have our good an' bad points. But the poor thing! is that what
she has come to? I ain't had a family of me own not to be able to
sympathise with her."

"Well, she don't deserve no sympathy, she upholds him in his pride,"
said Mrs Bray.

"Pride! His pride," snorted grandma, "it's of the skunk order. He'd
make use of every one because he thinks he's an English swell, and
then wouldn't speak to them if he met them out no more than they were
dogs. I don't think there's a single thing he could do to save his
life. If there's a bit of wood to be chopped, she's got to do it, an'
yet he'd think a decent honest workin' man, who was able to keep his
wife and family comfortable, wasn't made of as good flesh and blood as
him. That ain't what I call pride."

"There's one thing, if I ever fell in love with a man he'd have to be
a man and not a crawler," said Dawn. "Some girls think if they get a
bit of a swell he's something; but I wouldn't care if a man were the
Prince of Wales and Lord Muck in one, if he couldn't do things without
muddling, I'd throw water on him."

"What about young Eweword, are you goin' to throw water on _him_?"
laughed Mrs Bray.

"Ask Carry, she knows more about him than I do."

"Dawn finds it handy to put her lovers on to me," said Carry, who was
washing away the spilt tea and airing some uncomplimentary opinions of
Andrew and Uncle Jake between whiles.

"Why don't you come and see me, Carry?" continued Mrs Bray.

"I can't be bothered, I've got my living to earn and have no time for
visiting," said that uncompromising young woman.

"Anything new on here, Dawn?" asked Mrs Bray, turning to her.

"No, only Miss Flipp's uncle is coming up by this afternoon's train
and we're dying to see him, there's been so much blow about him.
Andrew is going to get out a tub to hold the tips."

"Well, I'll be going now to get Bray his tea or there'll be a jawin'
and sulkin' match between us. That's the way with men,--if you're not
always buckin' around gammoning you think 'em somebody, they get like
a bear with a scalded head. Well, come over and see me some day," she
said hospitably to me. "Walk along a bit with me now and see the way."

To this I agreed, and going to get a parasol heard the incautious
woman remark behind me--

"Seems to be an old maid--a gaunt-lookin' old party--ain't got no
complexion. I wonder was she ever going to be married. Don't look as
if many would be breakin' their necks after her, does she?"

Mrs Bray posed as a champion of her sex, but could not open her mouth
without belittling them. However, I was too well seasoned in human
nature to be disconcerted, and walked by her side enjoying her
immensely, she was so delightfully, transparently patronising. There
are many grades of patronage: that from people who ought to know
better, and which is always bitterly resented by any one of spirit;
while that of the big splodging ignoramus who doesn't know any better,
to any one possessed of a sense of humour, is indescribably amusing.
Mrs Bray's was of this order, and would have been galling only to the
snob whose chief characteristic is a lack of common-sense--lack of
common-sense being synonymous with snobbery.

"You'll get on very well with old grandma," she remarked, "she ain't
such a bad old sort when you know her; she must have a bit of property
too. Of course, I find her a bit narrer-minded, but that's to be
expected, seeing I've lived a lot in the city before I come here, and
she's only been up the country; but that Carry's the caution. The
hussy! I only asked her over out of kindness, being a woman with a
good home as I have, and did you hear her? Them hussies without homes
ain't got no call to give themselves airs,--bits of things workin' for
their livin'."

"I'm afraid I'm in the same category, as I have no home," I said by
way of turning her wrath.

"Oh, well, yes, but you're different; you don't have to _work_ for
your livin'."

"Have you any daughters?" I asked.

"I had one, but she soon married. Like me, she was snapped up soon as
she was old enough." Mrs Bray laughed delightedly.

Here was a broad-minded democrat who considered a woman lowered in
becoming a useful working member of society, instead of remaining a
toy or luxury kept by her father or some other man, and who, while
loudly bawling for the emancipation of women from the yoke of men,
nevertheless considered the only distinction a woman could achieve was
through their favourable notice--an attitude of mind produced by moral
and social codes so effectively calculated to foster immoral and
untenable inconsistency!




THREE.

BECOMING ACQUAINTED WITH GRANDMA CLAY.


When I returned the 'busman was driving away after having brought Miss
Flipp's uncle, and Andrew was assisting to fill a spring-cart with
pumpkins. This vehicle had arrived under guidance of a tall, fair
young man with perfect teeth and a pleasant smile, which kept them
well before the public, seeing they were not concealed by any hirsute
ambuscade, regarding the adorning qualities of which Dawn and her
grandmother were divided. The former came out to inform Andrew that
the pony had to be harnessed, as Mrs Clay had promised Miss Flipp she
could drive her uncle back to catch the train.

"I hope the old thing won't smash up the sulky," said Andrew. "He's
the old bloke that come down here in the summer in a check suit, an' I
told him you was all out an' we was full up."

"A few of him would soon fill up. He! he! ha! ha!" laughed the fair
young man. "He looks as if he were always full up! He! he! ha! ha!
ha!"

"Well, he's the purplest plum I ever saw," said Dawn. "He's a complete
hog. He has one of these old noses, all blue, like the big plums that
grew down near the pig-sty. I think he was grown near the pig-sty,
too, by the style of him. It must have taken a good many cases of the
best wine to get a nose just to that colour. Like a meerschaum pipe,
it takes a power of colouring to get 'em to the right tinge. And his
eyes hang out like this," said the girl, audaciously stretching her
pretty long-lashed lids in a way that would have been horrible on a
less beautiful or less successfully saucy girl, but which in this case
was irresistibly amusing. The fair young man was convulsed.

"His figure is like as if he had swallowed our great washing-copper
whole and then padded round it with hay bags, and he has a great
vulgar stand with one foot here and the other over there by the
wheelbarrow."

"He must be a acrobat or be made of wonderful elastic, if he could
stretch that far!" remarked Andrew.

"Yes, and he gets up a gold-rimmed eyeglass and sticks it on his old
eye like this, and so I up with my finger and thumb this way in a ring
and looked at him," said Dawn, with a moue and the protrusion of a
healthy pink tongue which for dare-devil impertinence beat anything I
had seen off the stage, and I succumbed to laughter in chorus with the
young man.

By some intangible indications Andrew and I felt impelled to leave, he
proceeding to harness the horse and I accompanying him.

"Just look here, 'Giddy-giddy Gout with his shirt-tail out,'"
exclaimed the lad, breaking into one of the poetic quotations of which
he was rarely guilty. "Now, I didn't know me pants was tore. I must
have looked a goat!"

I offered to put a stitch in the breach, so he brought needle and
thread.

"Now don't you sew me on to me pants. Dawn done that once, thought it
was a great lark, an' I jolly well couldn't get out; so I busted up
the whole show, and grandma joined in the huspy-puspy, and there's
been no more larks like that. Thanks, I must do a get and put the pony
in. Did you notice that bloke fillin' up the cart with pumpkins? He's
gone on Dawn!"

"He shows good taste."

"Do you reckon Dawn's fit to knock 'em in the eye?"

"Rather!"

"That's bein' a stranger! When you are used to a person every day an'
they belong to you, you don't think so much of 'em, and at the same
time think more, if you can understand. What I mean is this. When I'm
busy fightin' with Dawn, and she's blowing me up for not doing things
and tellin' grandma on me, I can't see what the blokes can see in her;
but then if I caught any one saying she wasn't good for anything, if
he was a bloke I felt fit to wallop, I'd give him a nice sollicker
under the ear, an' I wouldn't bother about any other girl. Do you
see?"

"Yes; I'll hold up the shafts for you."

"Thanks. Well, that's 'Dora' Eweword that's doin' a kill with Dawn
now."

"Dora is a funny name for a man."

"It ain't his name. He's called it for a lark because he was after a
girl up in town named Dora Cowper. She serves in a hay and corn store
at the corner. Things were gettin' on pretty strong, and he used to be
taking her out all hours of the night and day. Some reckon she's
better-lookin' than Dawn, and her mother put it around that Eweword
would make a brilliant match for her, and that shooed him off at once.
I reckon if I was a girl and wanted to ketch a man I'd hold me mag
about it, as I know two or three now has been turned off the same
way."

"Perhaps Dora Cowper didn't lose much."

"Well, he has a bosker farm, you see. He keeps a power of pigs and
fattens 'em. Then he went after one or two more girls, and now he
comes here. Buying these pumpkins is only a dodge to get a chip in
with Dawn. He has plenty lucerne for his pigs, but we have so many
pumpkins rotting we are glad to get rid of them at two bob a load, and
I suppose that is cheap to get a yarn with Dawn. He ain't preposed to
Dawn yet, but I'm sure he's goin' to, because I asked him if he was
goin' to marry Dora Cowper, an' he said no. Dawn is only pullin' his
leg for him--she's got all the blokes on a string. You should see her
with those that comes up in the summer. It's worth bein' alive in the
summer. We had melons here in millions. We used to open a big Dixie or
Cuban Queen and just only claw out the middle. We used to fill the
water-cask with 'em to cool, an' every time Dawn came out to dive in
her dipper, wouldn't she rouse! Me an' Uncle Jake used to race to see
who could eat the most, but he beat. He's a sollicker to stuff when he
gets anything he likes. It's a wonder we didn't bust. The oranges will
soon be ripe, that's good luck: I can eat eighty a-day easy. Here
comes old Bolliver!"

A huge figure as described by Dawn came out of the house in company
with Miss Flipp, and I recognised Mr Pornsch, the heavy swell who had
travelled in the 'bus with me on the day of my first arrival in
Noonoon.

With repulsive clumsiness he climbed into the vehicle, and then said
roughly, almost brutally, to his niece--

"Get in! get in!" and scarcely gave her time to be seated ere he hit
the pony and nearly screwed its jaw off getting out of the yard.

"Cock-a-doodle-do! Ain't it nice to have a sweet temper," loudly
remarked Andrew, as he stood aside. "He just is a purple plum. He's
the kind of old cove I'd like to get real narked and then scoot.
Wouldn't he splutter and think himself Lord Muck, and that every one
oughter be licking his boots!"

Dawn and "Dora" Eweword were still hanging over a garden fence as
Andrew went after his cows and I betook myself to the house. Uncle
Jake was in conference with his sister, and gave evidence of fearing I
should pursue him, so I mercifully betook myself to my own apartment.
Miss Flipp presently returned, and saying she had had tea up town with
her uncle and would not want any more, shut herself in her room, from
whence I soon detected the sound of impassioned sobbing. My first
impulse was to ask her what was the matter, but my second, born of a
wide experience of grief, led me to hold my tongue and tell no one
what I had heard; but to escape from the sound of that pitiable
weeping I went out in the garden, where I was joined by Mrs Clay.

"Did you see that young feller out there this afternoon? Fine stamp of
a young man, don't you think?" remarked she.

"He should be able for a good day's work."

"Yes; he's none of your tobacco-spitting, wizened-up little runts like
you'll see hangin' on to the corner-posts in Noonoon."

"Seems to admire your granddaughter?"

"An' he's not the first by a long way that has done that, though she
was only nineteen this month."

"I can quite believe it. She is a lovely girl."

"An' more than that, a good one. I've never had one moment's
uneasiness with Dawn; she took after me that way. I could let her go
out in the world anywhere with no fear of her goin' astray. She's got
a fine way with men, friendly and full of life, but let 'em attempt to
come an inch farther than she wants, and then see! Sometimes I'm
inclined to wish she's be a little more genteeler; but then I look
around an' see some of them sleek things, an' it's always them as are
no good, an' I'm glad then she's what she is. There's some girls here
in town,"--the old lady grew choleric,--"you'd think butter wouldn't
melt in their mouths, an' they try to sit on Dawn. It's because
they're jealous of her, that's what it is. I wouldn't own 'em! They'd
run a man into debt and be a curse to him; but there's Dawn, the man
that gets her, he'll have a woman that will be of use to him and not
just a ornament."

"He'll have an ornament too."

"Perhaps so. I've spent a lot of money on her education. She's been
taught painting and dancing. I had her down at the Ladies' College in
Sydney for two years finishing, an' she's had more chances of being a
lady than most. Some of these things in town here turn up their noses
at her an' say, 'She's only old Mrs Clay's granddaughter, who keeps a
accommodation house,' but I pay me bills and ain't ashamed to walk up
town an' look 'em all in the face."

"But it's generally those who owe the most who have the most lordly
mien."

"You're right. I could point you out some of them up town as hasn't a
shirt to their back, an' they look as they owned everythink--the
brazenest things!" The old dame's indignation waxed startling in its
intensity.

"But I was going to tell you about young Eweword. I've set me heart on
him for Dawn. He's somethink worth lookin' at an' worth havin' too. He
knows how to farm and make it pay, an' owns one of the best pieces of
land about Noonoon--all his own. Dawn don't seem to take to him as
she ought. He was after a girl here in town, a Dora Cowper, an' so she
says she ain't goin' to take any leavin's; but he ain't any leavin's,
she can be sure of that, for if he'd wanted Dora Cowper they'd have
snapped him up, an' I think as long as a young feller don't go making
too much of a fool of a girl, a little flirtation's only natural. This
has been the mischief with Dawn. There's a lot of people here in the
summer from the city, and they're all taken with her, and for
everlasting telling her she's wasting her talents here, that she ought
to be on the stage. It's a wonder people can't mind their own
concerns!" (The old dame grew choleric again.) "It makes her think
what I can give her ain't good enough. It's all very fine in a good
comfortable home of her own, with love and protection around her, to
think people mean that sort of thing, an' that w'en she walked out in
the world they would be anxious to worship her. Just let her go out
an' try, an' she'd find it all moonshine; but w'en I tell her, she
only thinks I'm a old pig, an' only she's that stubborn I know she'd
never come back. (I would be the same myself w'en young, so can't
blame her.) I'd let her have a taste of hardship to bring her to her
bearin's. But while I'm alive she'll never have my consent to be a
actress. W'en I was young they was looked upon as the lowest hussies.
I'd like to hear what my mother would say if I had wanted to be
one--paintin' meself up an' kickin' up me heels and showin' meself
before men in the loudest manner!"

I concluded not to divulge my profession while at Clay's, and to boot,
I held much the same point of view.

"She thinks she'd like to marry some fine feller and be a toff; an'
she's got this danger that's always the drawback of a girl bein'
pretty, so many fellers come after them at the start they get finnicky
an' think they can marry any one, an' leave it too late, an' in the
end they marry some rubbishing feller an' don't came out half so well
as the plain ones that was content with a fair thing w'en they had the
chance of it. Just the same with a boy; it's a bad thing for them to
be able to do everythink, they are so terribly smart they end up by
doin' nothink, an' the ploddin' feller they grinned at for bein' a
booby, because he stuck to the one thing, comes out on top."

"Just so; want of concentration plucks one every time."

"That's wot I want to save Dawn from. It's all right while I live, an'
I don't want her to be chuckin' herself at the head of any Tom or
Dick, but I won't live for ever, an' marriage is like everythink else,
you want to have your eye on a good thing an' not humbug too much.
W'en I'm gone"--the austere old face softened--"I wouldn't like to
think of her I've spent so much money on, an' rared with me own hand,
as I did her an' her mother before her, growin' old an' sour an'
lonely, or bein' a slave to some worthless crawler." The old voice
grew perilously soft, and saved itself from a break by a swift
crescendo.

"As I say, I suppose she's waitin' for some great impossible feller to
come along, like we do w'en we're young; but these upper ten is the
worst matches a girl can make, an' besides there's too many trying to
ketch them in their own rank. I've had lots of 'em here, an' to see
these swell girls the way they try to ketch some one would make you
ill. Don't you think so?"

"Well, my sympathies are always with the swell girl in the matrimonial
market," I replied. "She has a far harder time than those of the
working classes. You see, so many of the well-to-do eligibles prefer
working girls--actresses, chorus-singers, and barmaids, which, in
addition to marriage in their own class, gives these girls a chance of
stepping up; whereas the swell girls cannot marry grooms and footmen
and raise them to their rank as their brothers can their housemaids
and ballet-girls. To be a success the society girl must marry a man of
sufficient means to keep her as an expensive toy, and this description
of bachelor being scarce in any case, little wonder she has to hunt
hard and tries to protect her preserves from poachers. Think of it
that way."

"There is a lot in that, and that's why I like to see Dawn have young
Eweword, who's a man I'd be happy to leave her to; but I daren't say a
word, she's mighty touchy an' would flash up that she'd leave if I
want to get rid of her. But while I've got breath in me body there's
one thing I will set me foot on, an' that's these good-for-nothing
skunks like bankers' sons an' them sort of high an' mighty pauper
nobodies; they're fearful matches for any one. I know too much about
the swells an' the old families of the colony, I'm thankful I ain't
one of them. My father came out here a long time ago, an' I was born
out here. He was a sergeant in the police. I am near seventy-six, an'
can remember plain for seventy years back in the days w'en there was
plenty convicts, an' me father, seein' his position, was put to see
the floggin' of them. Me and another little girl that's dead now used
to climb up a tree an' look over the wall like children would. We was
stationed in Goulburn then, an' I'll never forget the scenes to me
dyin' day. The men used to be stripped to the waist and tied on a
triangle and walloped till they was cut to pieces, till they screamed
like little children for mercy, and poor old wretches that had roamed
the world for sixty years used to screech Mother! Mother! like little
children. It was heart-renderin'! An' what used they be flogged for,
do you think?--for the piggishness of the swells mostly. I'll tell
you. There was a old feller lived out at Kaligiwa--that's more than
twenty miles the other side of Goulburn, an' there's Parry's Lagoon
there called after him till this day. He was a old Lord Muck if ever
there was one, an' by reason of that got a land grant an' men
assigned, an' he ought to have been give to them to kick--would have
been the right thing; an' then he had a lot of skunks of sons,--took
after their father, of course, an' hadn't much chance of bein'
anythink else,--an' w'en they used to ride to town they used to have a
man tied to the stirrup just to hold it."

"What was that for?"

"What was it for?" she raged. "It was because they was those skunks of
swells that think other people is only made as floor wipes for 'em!
An' this feller used to have to run all the way to town, and if he
hadn't strength to run all the way he'd be dragged, an' if he give any
lip the Parrys 'u'd report 'em; an' me father says he's often seen 'em
flogged till their backs were like ploughed, an' then have to run the
twenty miles home. Me father used to come in every day and fling
hisself down an' cry and sob as if his heart would break, an' say he'd
rather starve than stay in the police. Now, the Parrys got up an' one
of them had a 'Sir' sent out to his name, and you'll see 'em writ
about as one of the few _old_ families; and I hold that Dawn come from
better stock than them, and has more to be proud of in her
grandfather--he had some heart in him. An' Lord! there's Miss Flipp's
uncle, one look at him ought to be sufficient warnin' to any girl.
The likes of him is common among the swells--too much stuffin' an'
drinkin' an' debochary. Nice thing if Dawn married a swell an' he
developed into a old pig like that. I can tell you another great
family of swells, the Goburnes--entertained the Royalties w'en they
was out here, an' are such bugs one of 'em married the Governor's
daughter. They got up about the same way. In the old days w'en things
were carelesser an' land wasn't much, the old cock of all had the
surveyor that was gone on his daughter measurin' the land, an' got him
to slice in great pieces by false measurement, an' worked the lives
out of convicts--as big a brute as the Parrys. That's the breed of the
swells, an' I have a horror of them. The people as I consider ought to
be the swells in this country is them that came out first, the free
emigrants, and honestly worked up the colony with their own hands, an'
their children done the same for four or five generations--them's the
only proper Australian aristocracy we've got. That's why I have sich a
contempt for this Rooney-Molyneux, Mrs Bray was tellin' of; only times
is different he'd be the same, he's got the sort of pride that thinks
his wife is a black gin because she was only a milliner."

Out past the placard advertising Mrs Clay's boats gleamed the
highroad, and from where we walked could be seen a now unused old
stone milepeg, carved in Roman lettering, its legend differing
somewhat from that in modern figures painted on the miniature wooden
post by which it had been deposed. It was one of many relics of the
dead and gone convicts who had done giant pioneer labour in this broad
bright land in the days when Grandma Clay's mother had been young.
Fine old grandma, daughter of a fine old dad who had wept for the
cruelty endured by the men who had worked in chain-gangs and were
flogged under his superintendence, and thinking thus I turned to the
old dame who had ceased talking and said--

"And what of your father, did he get away from seeing the convicts
flogged?"

"Yes; me mother thought he was goin' mad. He used to sob in his sleep
an' call out and squirm that he couldn't bear to see them flogged, an'
leap up in bed in a sweat. So he gave up the police an' we went a long
way farther back to Gool-Gool on the Yarrangung, a tributary of the
Murrumbidgee. The train in them days was only a little way out of
Sydney, an' me father got a job of drivin' Cobb & Co.'s coaches from
Gool-Gool to Yarrandogi, an' me an' me mother an' sisters an' Jake
there used to live in a little tent at the first stage out of
Gool-Gool, an' take care of the horses. I was fond of them horses, and
used to sneak out to harness them on to the swingle-bar w'en I was no
higher than the table. It's a wonder I didn't get me brains knocked
out. I was lots smarter than Jake there with the horses, though it
ain't supposed to be girl's work. But it came nacheral to me, an' I
think in that case it's right. That's why I never was one to narrer
girls down an' say you mustn't do this and that because you're a girl.
I've always found, in spite of their talk, the best and gamest mothers
is the ones that grew out of the tomboy girls. Well, it come that me
father, being a steady man an' very kind and well liked, he got on
surprisin', an' soon the tent give place to a bark hut. That's the way
people worked up in my days, an' what they had was their own. They
didn't want to start in mansions an' eat off of silver at the expense
of others like in these times! After that we moved a long way down an'
took up a position on the Murra-Murra run beside the Sydney road,
where the coaches passed in the night; an' me mother made hot coffee
for the passengers, an' we drove a roarin' trade, had to git girls in
to help, an' put up a large accommodation house, and respectable
people always made to us" (the old head went high and the eyes
flashed) "because we was clean, temperance people, there never was no
D.T.'s or sly grog where we had the rule. An' that's why I always like
to have a few people in the house to this day. I'm used to their
company like, an' feel there's nothing goin' on or doing without them.
Well, I grew up in time. I can't say it meself, but them as knew me
then could tell you I wasn't disfigured in any way or a cripple, an'
had no lack of admirers. Me an' me two sisters had 'em by the score
waitin' till we grew old enough to be married. I can tell you there
was some smart fellers among 'em. Those were the times! Me sisters
made what is called swell matches, an' not bein' used to bein' cooped
up, their lives was failures. I was the only one married in me own
circle, and my life was a pattern to the others. I was the oldest an'
waited last, an' me mother was that disappointed in me that I had to
run away, an' I have me reasons for fearin' Dawn is on for a swell. I
seen me sisters' lives. I call them unwholesome marriages when girls
marries these fellers, an' their narrer-minded people sits on her an'
is that depraved they turn him agen her!" Mrs Clay was vehement.

"When Dawn's mother grew up she was Dawn's image, an' we was keepin' a
accommodation house too, that is Jim Clay an' me, and Dawn's mother
was reckoned the prettiest and best girl in them parts, an' had lovers
from far and near; but there came a feller up from Sydney to stay,
nothin' to blow about neither, but he was dreadfully gone on me
daughter. He seemed all right, but I was agen him--being a
swell,--till me daughter threatened she'd run away with him if I
didn't let her have him peaceful, an' rememberin' me own youth, I let
her have him in spite of me misgivin's. She went home with him, an' it
appears he was like these crawlin' fellers--couldn't do nothink, only
what their parents give them; an' w'en they found he'd married a fine,
good, wholesome girl, instead of one of their own style--one of the
Parrys for instance--they cut him off with a shilling, an' poor thing
she nearly starved, an' took to work to keep him, an' he always
growlin' at her like the coward he was, that only for her he'd have
been well off. A mess-alliance his people called it, but the mess
wasn't from poor Mary's side. Well, w'en it come that she was to be a
mother, his people took her in and told her, if you please, that if it
was a boy they'd take it theirselves and educate it fit for their
family, but if it was a girl they wouldn't. The poor thing, not bein'
able for anythink an' too proud to come home, stood their insults as
long as she could, an' at last she sneaked out at night and set off to
walk to me. It is pitiable to think of."

The poor old voice trembled.

"She had more'n a hundred miles to travel an' it took her days, but
some folk was good, an' one cold night about three hours before
daylight she startled me by comin' into my room. I remember it like
yesterday. 'Mother,' she says, 'I'm ill; I'm goin' to die; you won't
let them take my child, will you?' I thought her wanderin', an' she
was so gentle it frightened me; for we was always saucy ladies, I can
tell you--every one of us, an' you can see Dawn is the same now. But
that's only a way; w'en I'm ill she's as tender as anythink. It's
grandma wouldn't this do you good, and that do you good? An' her
little hands is very clever an' nice about my old bones w'en they
ache. Well, her mother was took bad an' me an' her father done our
best, an' her baby came into the world--a poor miserable little
winjin' thing, an' its mother turnin' over said, 'What's that light,
mother, comin' in, is it the Dawn?' an' lookin' up I see it was the
Dawn; an' she never spoke again, but went off simple an' sudden just
then, an' that's how Dawn come to get her name. I never thought she'd
live to be called by it though. Little winjin' thing! I had to feed
her on the bottle an' everythink disagreed with her. We had to keep a
old cow especial. I remember her as clear as yesterday--a big old cow
with a dew-lap an' a crumpled horn; we called her Ladybird because she
was spots all over. As for _them_ getting Dawn! They had the cheek to
write an' say if it was a boy they'd take it. They had the cheek after
what happened--that's swells for you again! I writ them one letter in
return that I reckon ought to last them to their dying day. I told
them it wasn't any matter to them what _my_ child was; that they had
_murdered_ one already, let that be sufficient for them; that they'd
get no more unless over my dead body; an' that all I regretted was
that the child had any of their cowardly blood in it, that it almost
discouraged me about its rarin'. An' Dawn don't know her name, an'
won't unless she's married. Her father married again, an' I'm glad to
say never had another child, an' I believe hankers for Dawn, an' he
will hanker for my part; an' I've got Dawn tootered up agen him too.
Now you can see the blow it would be to me if she took up with a
swell--there's no happiness marryin' out of yer own religion or class.
Mine was what I'd call a love match now. Jim Clay _was_ a lover! I've
seen him come in with a team of five all buckin', an' it snowin' an'
never anythink but a laugh out of him. He'd ride miles an' miles to
see me. The crawlers about these parts nowadays toddle about on bikes
or sit like great-grandfathers in sulkies, an' if it was to sprinkle
they'd think half a mile too far to go to see their sweetheart. I
think the heart of the world must be dyin' out."

"You'll tell me about Jim Clay, won't you?" I said; "for I am an
Australian--one of those you consider entitled to be termed a real
aristocrat. My people for several generations have practically worked
in the building of the State, though I must admit they belonged to the
leisured class at home."

"Well, that ain't nothink agen 'em when they don't make it nothink
agen 'em, if you understand. If a swell can prove hisself as good an'
useful a man as another, he deserves the credit, an' comes out ahead
too, because he has the education, an' sometimes that is useful. I'll
tell you about me young days. Lately me mind seems to be goin' back
more an' more to old times."

"Grandma! Grandma!" called Dawn's rich young voice, "come to tea.
Andrew and Carry want to go up town after."

As I turned and looked at this glowing vision I laughed to think of
her as a "little winjin' thing," and was grateful to the good offices
of old Ladybird with the dew-lap and a crumpled horn.

"You needn't be in such a hurry all of a suddent," said grandma
crossly. "It's a different tune w'en _you're_ hangin' over the fence
talkin' somewhere. There's no hurry roundin' me in to tea _then_!"

We lingered awhile watching the afterglow above the great range
dividing the coast land from the vast stretches of the interior, and
which was no longer an impassable barrier to the people of the State.
Now the train toiled over a stile-like way connecting east and west,
and Noonoon and Kangaroo, divided by a mile and the river, nestled
immediately at the foot of the zigzag climb.

They lay asleep against the ranges in a slow-going world of their own,
their little houses gleaming white in the fading light.

There was a flush on the old woman's face as she turned
houseward--also an afterglow. 'Twas a fitting nook for her present
days, the decline of those splendidly vigorous years behind! What
satisfaction to look back on strenuous, fruitful years, and be able to
afford rest during the last stages!

I, too, had rest; but it was only the ignominious idleness of a young
boat with a broken propeller yarded among honourably worn-out craft to
await a foundering.




FOUR.

DAWN'S AMBITION.


After tea grandma took to reading the 'Noonoon Advertiser'--a
four-sheet weekly publication containing local advertisements, weather
remarks, and a little kindly gossip about townspeople. This was her
usual Saturday night entertainment. Carry and Andrew went to town to
participate in the unfailing diversion of a large percentage of the
population. This was tramping up and down the main street in a stream
till the business places closed, from which exercise they apparently
derived an enjoyment not visible to my naked eye. Uncle Jake and Miss
Flipp not being in evidence, Dawn and I were the only two unoccupied,
and noticing that she was prettily dressed, I resorted to a point of
common interest in promoting friendliness between members of our sex
and invited her to look at a kimono I had bought for a dressing-gown.

This had the desired effect. A look of pleasure passed over the face
that charmed me so, and she arose willingly.

"I'm glad it is my week to stay in and make the bedtime coffee," she
said as we examined the gorgeous kimono, a garment of dark-flowered
silk; and Dawn, having all the fetichly and long-engendered feminine
love of self-decoration, was delighted with it.

"Put it on," I suggested, and the girl complied with alacrity. She did
not make a very natural Jap, being more on the robust than _petite_
scale, but she was a very beautiful girl. With my impassioned love of
beauty I could not help exclaiming about hers, and the foolish
platitude, "You ought to be on the stage," inadvertently escaped me,
seeing this is the highest market for beauty in these days when even
personal emotions can be made to have commercial value.

"Do you think so too?" she said eagerly, betraying what lay near her
heart. "Do you know anything about the stage? You don't think all
actresses bad women like grandma does, do you?"

"Scarcely! Some of the most sweet and lovable women I've ever seen are
earning their living on the boards. I'm intimately acquainted with
several actresses, and will show you their photographs some day."

"Oh, I'd love to be on the stage!" exclaimed the girl.

"Tell me why and how you first came to have such a wish."

"Well, it's this way," said Dawn, pulling my kimono close about her
beautifully rounded throat and curling her pink feet on a wallaby-skin
at the bedside as she sat down upon them. "I heard grandma telling you
something about me this afternoon, and I suppose you think I'm a
terrible girl."

"A beautiful one," I said, revelling in the curling lips and rounded
cheek and chin.

"Don't make fun of me," said Dawn huffily, blushing like noon.

"Good gracious, now _you_ are making fun of me. I'm only stating a
patent fact. Mirrors and men must have told you a thousand times that
you are pretty."

"Oh, them! They say it to every one. Look here--there's the ugliest
little runts of girls in Noonoon, and they're always telling their
conquests and that this man and that man say they're pretty, when a
blind cat could see that they are ugly, and the men must be just
stringing them to try and take them down. So when they say it to me I
always make up my mind I'd have more gumption than to take notice, for
I can't see any beauty in myself. I'm too fat and strong-looking; all
the beauties are thin and delicate-looking in the face--not a bit like
me. I know I'm not cross-eyed or got one ear off, but that's about
all."

I had been wont to think the only place unconscious beauties abounded
was in high-flown, unreal novels; but here was one in real life, and
that the exceedingly unvarnished existence of Noonoon. Not that I
would have thought any the less of her had she been conscious of her
physical loveliness, for beauty is such a glorious, powerful,
intoxicating gift that had I been blessed with it I'm sure I would
have admired myself all day, and the wonder to me regarding beautiful
men and women is not that they are so conceited, but, on the contrary,
that they are so little vain.

"I want to tell you why I want to be on the stage. I couldn't tell how
I hate Noonoon. It's all very well for grandma to settle down now and
want me to be the same, but when she was young (you get her to tell
you some of the yarns, they're tip-top) she wasn't as quiet as I am by
a long way. Just fancy marrying some galoot about here and settling
down to wash pots and pack tomatoes and live in the dust among the
mosquitoes, _always_! I'd rather die. I'll tell you the whole thing
while I'm about it. You won't mind, as I'm sure you have had trouble
too, as your white hair doesn't look to be age."

Comparison of her midget irritation with those that had put broad
white streaks in my hair was amusing, but the rosy heart of a girl
magnifies that which it doesn't contract.

"Grandma wants me to marry. Did you see that fellow who was after
pumpkins?--he ought to make one of his head, the great thing! Grandma
has a fancy for me having him, but I wouldn't marry him if he were the
only man in Noonoon. Do you know, they actually call him Dora because
he was breaking his neck after a girl of that name. He used to be
making red-hot love to her. Young Andrew there saw him up the lane by
Bray's with his arm round her waist, mugging her for dear life, and
then he'd come over here and want to kiss me! If he had seen me up a
lane hugging the baker, I wonder would he want me then!" Dawn's tone
approached tears, for thus are sensitive maiden hearts outraged by an
inconsistent double standard of propriety and its consequences, great
and small.

"Grandma says that's nothing if it's not worse, for that's the way of
men, but I'd rather have some one who hadn't done it so plainly right
under my nose; people wouldn't be able to poke it at me then. I've got
him warded off proposing, and while I guard against that it's all
right. Now, this is why I'd like to be on the stage. I'd love to have
been born rich and have lovely dresses, and I'm sure I could hold
receptions and go to balls, and the stage would be next best to
reality."

"But why not marry some one who could give you these things?"

"Where would I find him? You may bet that's the sort of man I'd like
to marry if I did marry at all," and the dullest observer could have
seen she was heart-whole and fancy free. Certainly there would be a
difficulty in procuring that brand of eligible. There was but a
limited supply of him on the market, and that was generally
confiscated to the use of imported actresses, and, could society
journals be relied upon, it was the same in England; so Dawn showed
good instinct in wanting to bring herself into more equal competition
with the winners.

"Can you sing?"

"I've never been trained," she said, but at my request went to the
piano in the next room and gave vent to a strong, clear mezzo. It was
a good voice--undoubtedly so. There are many such to be heard all over
Australia--girls singing at country concerts without instruction, or
the ignorant instruction more injurious than helpful. These voices are
marred to the practised ear by the style of production, which in a
year or two leaves them cracked and awful. This widespread lack of
voice preservation is the result of a want of public musical training.
With all the training in Paris, Dawn would never have been a Dolores
or Calvé, but with other ability she had sufficient voice to make a
success in comic opera or in concerts as second fiddle to a star
soprano.

"You must sing again for me," I said, "and I'll discover whether you
have any ability." For the way to wean any one from a desire is not by
condemnation of it.

"Don't you say anything to grandma about me and the stage or she'd
very nearly turn you out of the house. You just ask her what she
thinks of it some time, and it will give you an idea; but I hate
Noonoon, and would run away, only grandma goes on so terribly about
hussies that go to the bad, and she's very old, and you know how you
feel that a curse might follow you when people go on that way," said
the girl in bidding me good night.

Dawn had many characteristics that made one love her, and a few in
spite of which one bore her affection. Her method of dealing with her
native tongue came among the latter. It was reprehensible of her too,
seeing the money her grandmother had spent in giving her a chance to
be a lady--that is, the type of lady who affects a blindness
concerning the stern, plain facts of existence, and who considers that
to speak so that she cannot be heard distinctly is an outward sign of
innate refinement. She had made poor use of her opportunities in this
respect, but if to be honest, healthy, and wholesome is lady-like,
then Dawn was one of the most vigorous and thoroughly lady-like folk I
have known, and what really constitutes a lady is a mootable point
based largely upon the point of view.




FIVE.

MISS FLIPP'S UNCLE.


I did not sleep that night. Dawn and her grandma had given me too much
food for cogitation. I felt I had incurred a responsibility in regard
to the former, upon which I chewed tough cud at the expense of sleep.

While there was hard common-sense in the old grandmother's point of
view, it was also easy to be at one with the girl's desire for
something brighter and more stirring than old Noonoon afforded. The
fertile valley was beautiful in all truth, but with the beauty that
appeals only to the storm-wrecked mariner, worn with a glut of human
strife and glad to be at anchor for a time rebuilding a jaded
constitution.

Upon a first impression this girl did not seem abnormally anxious for
the mere plaudits or the notoriety part of the stage-struck's fever,
nor was she alight with that fire called genius which will burn a hole
through all obstacles till it reaches its goal; she appeared rather to
regard the stage as a means to an end--a pleasant easy way, in the
notion of the inexperienced, of obtaining the fine linen and silver
spoon she desired. Had she been a boy, doubtless she would have set
out to work for her ambition, but being a girl she sought to climb by
the most approved and usual ladder within reach--the stage; for
actresses all married the lovely, rich (often titled) young gentlemen
who sat in rows in the front seats and admired the high-class "stars"
and worshipped the ballerinas and chorus girls, or so at least a great
many people believed, being led astray by certain columns in gossip
newspapers, which doubtless have a colouring of truth inasmuch that
the women of the stage are idealised creatures--idealised by
limelight, and advertised by a pushing management for the benefit of
the box-office.

Now Dawn had ample ability and appearance for success on the stage if
her parents had been there before her, so that she could have grown up
in touch with it, but whether she had sufficient iron and salt to push
her way against the barriers in her pathway I doubted. Only sheer
genius can get to the front in any line of art with which it is not in
touch, and even giant talent is often so mangled in the struggle that
when it wrests recognition it is too spent to maintain the altitude it
has attained at the expense of heart-sweat and blood.

The girl worried me, and it worried me more to think that after all my
experience I was so foolish and sentimental that I could be worried
regarding her. She had a comfortable home, a loving guardian, youth,
health, good appearance, and, to a certain extent, fitted her
surroundings. There was nothing of the ethereally æsthetic about her,
and no stretch of sickly imagination could picture her as pining to be
understood. Notwithstanding this, there was I longing to help her so
much that, in spite of my health and an acquaintance that was only
twelve hours old, I was contemplating entering society for her sweet
sake. The fact was, this little orphan girl who had taken up the life
her mother had laid down at dawn of day nineteen years ago, had
collected my scalp, and was at leave to string it on her belt as that
of an ardent faithful lover who never entertained one unworthy thought
of her, or wavered in affection from the hour she first flashed upon
her.

I desired to save her from such savage disappointment as had blighted
my life, not that she would ever have the capacity to feel my frenzy
of griefs, but remembering my own experience, I was ever anxious to
save other youngsters from the possibilities of a similar fate.

The best disposal to be made of Dawn was to settle her in marriage
with some decent and well-to-do man on the sunny side of thirty; but
where was such an one?

Thus I lay awake, and heard the hours chime and the trains go roaring
by, till all the household but Miss Flipp had returned. She entered
from the outside, did not come in till after midnight, and was not
alone. Her uncle accompanied her. My room had French lights opening
into the garden in the same way as Miss Flipp's, and as my ailment was
a heart affection it was sometimes necessary for me to go outside to
get sufficient air, and in this instance I had the door-windows wide
open and the bed pulled almost to the opening. Miss Flipp apparently
had her window open too, for despite the conversation in her room
being in subdued tones, I heard it where I lay.

It contained startling disclosures anent these two persons' relations
and characters, and when Mr Pornsch went his way with the uneven
footsteps of the overfed and of accumulating years, he left me in a
painful state of perturbation.

What course should I pursue?

Casting on a pair of slippers and a heavy cloak, I took a little path
leading from my window through the garden to the pier where the boats
were moored, and here I sat down to consider. Experience had taught me
to be chary of entering matters that did not concern me, but it had
not made me sufficiently callous to preserve my equanimity in face of
a discovery so serious as this.

Miss Flipp had sinned the sin which, if discovered, put a great gulf
'twixt her and Grandma Clay, Dawn, Carry, and myself, but which would
not prevent her fellow-sinner from associating with us on more than
terms of equality. Should Grandma Clay become aware of what I knew,
she certainly would bundle the girl out neck and crop, as she would be
justified in doing. But the girl was in a ghastly predicament, and
more sinned against than sinning, when one heard her grief and
remembered the age of her betrayer, which should have made him the
protector instead of the seducer of young women.

Times out of number the dramatic critics have termed me an artist of
the first rank, and it is this temperament which furnishes the faculty
of regarding all shades and consequences of life's issues unabashed,
and with the power to distil knowledge from good and bad and use it
experimentally, rather than, as a judge, condemnatory.

I determined to keep the girl's secret, and show myself
sympathetically friendly otherwise, hoping she would extend me her
confidence, so that in a humble way I might be privileged to stand
between her and perdition.

It was a beautiful night, one of those when the moon relinquishes her
court to the little stars. Vehicular traffic had ceased, and the only
sound breaking the stillness of the great frostless, silver-spangled
darkness was the panting of the steam-engines and the murmur of the
river where half a mile down it took a slight fall over boulders. The
electric lights of the town twinkled in the near distance, and farther
east was a faint glow beyond the horizon, rightly or wrongly
attributed to the lights of the metropolis. After a time it grew
chilly, and I was glad to return to my bed. Dawn was separated from me
by a thin wooden partition, and her strong healthy breathing was
plainly discernible as she lay like an opening rose in maiden slumber,
but there was now no sound from the room of the other poor girl--a
rose devoured by the worm in its core.

Next morning, however, she appeared at breakfast, for Clay's was not a
house wherein one felt encouraged to coddle themselves without
exceptional reason, and to all but a suspicious or hypercritical
observer she seemed as usual.

Carry was going to church.

"I haven't been able to go this three weeks because my dress wasn't
finished, and next Sunday will be my week in the kitchen, so if I
don't go now I won't be able to show it for a fortnight," she
announced.

"Well, I ain't going," said grandma. "Gimme back your porridge, I
forgot to dose it"--this to Andrew, on whose oatmeal she had omitted
to put sugar and milk. "I've always found church is a good deal of
bother when you have any important work. I contribute to the stipend;
that ought to be enough for 'em. If one spent all their time running
to church they would have no money to give to it, an' I never yet see
praying make a living for any one but the parsons."

Thus, Dawn being engaged in the kitchen, and her Uncle Jake keeping
her company there while he perused the 'Noonoon Advertiser,' which
descended to him on Sunday morning, Andrew having gone away with Jack
Bray, and Miss Flipp being invisible, grandma and I were left together
to enjoy a small fire in the dining-room, so I took this opportunity
of inquiring how Jim Clay had managed to capture her. This sort of
thing interested me; I liked life in the actuality where there was no
counterfeit or make-believe to offend the sense of just proportions.
Not that I do not love books and pictures, but they have to be so very
very good before they can in any way appease one, while the meanest
life is absorbingly interesting, invested as it must ever be with the
dignity of reality.




SIX.

GRANDMA CLAY'S LOVE-STORY.


"Oh, you don't want to hear it now," she said in response to my
request, but she gave a pleased laugh, betraying her willingness to
tell it. "Sometimes I get running on about old times an' don't know
where to stop, an' Dawn says people only pretend to be interested in
me out of politeness. I think I hinted to you that mine was a love
match--the only sort of marriage there ought to be; any other sort, in
my mind, is only fit for pigs."

"But sometimes love matches would be utterly absurd," I remarked.

"Well, then, people that are utterly absurd ought to be locked up in a
asylum. Anybody that's _fit_ to love wouldn't love a fool, because
there must be reason in everything. _Some_ people I know would love a
monkey, but they ain't fit to be counted with the people that keeps
the world going. Well, I got as far as we kep' a accommodation house
on the Sydney road,--fine road it was too, level and strong, and in
many places flagged by the convicts, an' it stands good to this day.
It ain't like these God-forsaken roads about here,"--grandma showed
symptoms of convulsions,--"but _some_ people is only good for to be
stuffed in a--a--asylum, and that's where the Noonoon Municipal
Council ought to be, an' I say it though Jake there, me own brother,
is one of them."

"Did Jim Clay--" I said, by way of keeping to the subject.

"I told you how I used to sneak out to buckle the horses on; an' w'en
Jack Clay, a great chum of me father's, used to be driving the 'Up'
coach, me father, w'en he'd be slack of passengers,--which wasn't
often, there being more life and people moving in the colony
then,--an' w'en I'd be good, would put me up on the box an' take me on
to the next stage, an' I'd come back with Jack Clay--that was me
husband's father.

"As it used to be in the night, it usedn't to take from me time, an' I'd
be up again next day as if I'd slep' forty hours. I wasn't like the
girls these days, if they go to a blessed ball an' are up a few hours
they nearly have to stay in bed a week after it. In that way I come to
be a great hand with the reins, an' me father took a deal of pride in me
because all the young men up that way began to talk about me. Me father
had the best team of horses on the road. He used to always drive them
hisself. He was always a kind man to every one and everythink about him.
He drove three blood coachers abreast and two lighter ones, Butterfly
and Fairy, in the lead. Weren't them days! That great coach swingin'
round the curves and sidlings in the dark, I fancy I can feel the reins
between me fingers now! And there was always a lot of jolly fellows, and
usedn't they to cheer me w'en the horses 'u'd play up a bit. It was
considered wonderful for me to manage such a team. I was only a slight
slip of a girl, not near so fat as Dawn; she takes more after her
grandfather. Me and me sisters had no lack of sweethearts, and we didn't
run after them neither. Some people make me that mad the way they run
after people and lick their boots. W'en I'd be drivin' with me father,
Jim Clay used to be with his, but he was some years older than me. He
wanted to enter the drivin' business soon as opportunity came, an' him
an' me were sort of rivals like. Many of the young swells used to bring
me necklaces and brooches, but somehow when Jim Clay only brought me a
pocket-handkerchief or a lump of ribbon I liked it better an' kep' it
away in a little scented box an' I was supposed to be in love with a
good many in them days. _Some people_ always knows other's business
better than they do theirselves. Me two sisters got married soon as they
were eighteen--one to a thrivin' young squatter, an' the other to a rich
old banker. Seein' how she got on is what makes me agen old men marryin'
young girls. It ain't natural. A man might marry a girl a few years
younger than hisself, but there must be reason in everythink. I was
older than me sisters, an' people began to twit me an' say I'd be left
on the shelf, but before this, w'en I was sixteen an' Jim Clay twenty,
me father broke his leg and was put by. All his trouble was his horses;
he fretted an' fretted that they'd be spoilt by a careless driver, an'
he had 'em trained so they knew nothing but kindness. I was only too
willin', and I up an' undertook to drive the coach right through. Old
Jack Clay said he'd come with me a turn or two an' leave Jim to take his
team, but just then he had some terrible new horses that no one could
handle but hisself,--he was a wonderful hand with horses was Jim's
father,--so Jim was sent with me. My, wasn't there a cheer when I first
brought the mail in all on me own!" The old face flashed forth a
radiance as she told her tale.

"Some of the old gents in the town of Gool-Gool come out an' shook
hands with me, an' the ladies kissed me w'en I got down off of the
box. There was a lawyer feller considered a great lady-killer in them
days. He had a long beard shaved in the Dundreary,--Dawn always says
he must have been a howler with a beard of that description; but times
change, an' these clean-faced women-lookin' fellers the girls think is
very smart now will look just as strange by-an'-by. However, he was
runnin' strong with me, an' me mother considered him favourable,--him
bein' a swell an' makin' his way. Soon as ever I started runnin' the
coach he was took with a lot of business down the road, an' used to be
nearly always a passenger."

"It appears that sweetheart tactics have not changed if the style in
beards has," I remarked with a smile.

"No, an' they'll never change, seein' a man is a man an' a girl a
girl, no matter what fashions come an' go. I never can see why they
make such a fuss and get so frightened because wimmen does a thing or
two now they usedn't to. Nothing short of a earthquake can make them
not men an' wimmen, an' that's the main thing. Well, to go back to me
yarn, lots of other passengers got took the same way, an' there was
great bidding for the box seat: that was a perquisite belongin' to the
driver, an' me father used to get a sovereign for it often. I used to
dispose of it by a sort of tender, an' £5 was nothink for it; an' once
in the gold-rush times, w'en money was laying around like water, a big
miner, just to show off, gave me two tenners for it. They used to be
wantin' to drive, but I took me father's advice an' never let go the
reins. Well, among all these fine chaps Jim Clay wasn't noticed. He
was always a terrible quiet feller. _I_ did all the jorin'. He'd
always say, 'Come now, Martha, there's reason in everythink,' just
w'en I'd be mad because I couldn't see no reason in nothink. He was
sittin' in the back of the coach, an' it was one wet night, an' only a
few passengers for a wonder, who was glad to take refuge inside. Only
the lawyer feller was out on the box with me, an' makin' love heavier
than it was rainin'. I staved him off all I could, an' with him an'
the horses me hands was full. You never see the like of the roads in
them days. It was only in later years the Sydney road, I was
remarkin', was made good. In them times there was no made roads, and
you can imagine the bogs! Why, sometimes you'd think the whole coach
was going out of sight in 'em, and chargin' round the stumps up to the
axle was considered nothink. We had more pluck in them days! Well,
that night the roads was that slippery the brake gave me all I could
do, an' a new horse in the back had no more notion of hangin' in the
breechin' than a cow; so I took no notice to the lawyer, only told him
to hold his mag once or twice an' not be such a blitherer, but it was
no use, he took a mean advantage off of me. You can imagine it was
easy w'en I had five horses in a coach goin' round slippery sidlin's
pitch dark an' rainin'. He put his arms 'round me waist an' that
raised me blood, an' I tell you things hummed a little. You'll see
Dawn in a tantrum one of these days, but she ain't a patch on me w'en
me dander was up in me young days." Looking at the fine old flashing
eyes and the steel in her still, it was easy to see the truth of this.

"I jored him to take his hands off me or I'd pull up the coach an'
call the inside passengers out to knock him off. He gamed me to do it,
an' laughed an' squeezed me harder, an' the cowardly crawler actually
made to kiss me; but I bit him on the nose and spat at him, an took
the horses over a bad gutter round a fallen tree at the same time--an'
some people is afraid to let their blessed daughters out in a doll's
sulky with a tiddy little pony no bigger than a dog. If I had children
like that I'd give 'em all the chances goin' of breaking their neck,
as they wouldn't be worth savin' for anythink but sausage meat. Well,
this cur still kep' on at his larks, so soon as I got the team on the
level,--it was at Sapling Sidin', runnin' into Ti-tree creek; I could
hear the creek gurgling above the sound of the rain, and the white
froth on the water I can see it plain now,--I pulled sudden and said
'Woa!' an' it was beautiful the way they'd stop dead. The passengers
all suspected there must be a accident, or the bushrangers must have
bailed us up, for they was around in full blast in them days. Well,
w'en I pulled up I got nervous an' ashamed, an' bust out crying, an'
the passengers didn't know what to make of it; but Jim Clay, it
appears, had his eye an' ear cocked all the time, an' before any one
knew what had happened he had the lawyer feller welted off of the
coach an' was goin' into him right an' left. That's what give me a
feelin' to Jim Clay all of a sudden, like I never had to no one else
before or since. He was always such a terrible quiet feller that no
one seemed to notice, an' he'd never made love to me before, but he
got besides hisself then and shouts, 'If ever you touch my girl again
I'll hammer you to smithereens.' Then he got back on the box an' wiped
me eyes on his handkerchief an' protected me. The men inside--mostly
diggers makin' through to Victoria--w'en they got the hang of things
bust out roarin' an' cheerin', an' said, 'Leave the dawg on the road
an' giv him a stummick ache.' He tried to get up, but they pushed him
off. He made great threats about the law, but miners is the gamest men
alive an' loves fair play. It ain't any use in talking law to them if
it ain't fair play, an' they give him to understand if he said
anythink to me about it, or told any one an' didn't take his lickin'
like a man, they'd break every bone in his body, an' they meant it
too. Then they lerruped up the team and left him in the rain an' pitch
dark miles from anywhere. That was the only time I give up the reins.
I couldn't see for tears, so Jim drove; an' the men took me inside so
he could attend to his work, they said, an' they cheered an' joked an'
asked w'en the weddin' was comin' off, an' said they'd all come an'
give us a rattlin' spree if we'd let 'em know. I didn't know what come
over me; I never was much for whimperin', but I cried an' cried as if
me heart was broke; an' it wasn't, because every time I thought of the
way Jim Clay stuck up for me it give me the best feelin' I ever knew,
an' the men was all on my side, an' there was no harm done, an' I
ought to have been smilin', but I could do nothink but sob, an' I
always think now w'en I see girls cryin' on similar occasions to let
'em alone. Girls can't tell what's up with them, and a cry is good,
because they ain't got the outlets that men has w'en they're worked
up. We came to the end stage, an' w'en we got off the men all shook
hands, an' one or two kissed me, an' pulled me curls, an' slapped Jim
Clay on the back, an' called him my sweetheart. W'en we delivered the
mail Jim drove me to where I stayed, an' it was terrible embarrassin'
w'en we was left alone with no extra people to take the down off of
the affair. Jim was painful shy, but he faced it manful; an' he said
it didn't matter what they said about us bein' lovers, if it was
disagreeable to me he'd never mention it nor think nothink about it,
an' it would be forgot in a day or two, as he was a feller of no
importance. That was the way he put it; he never was for puttin'
hisself up half enough. So crying again I just snuggled up to him an'
said I didn't want to forget it, I wanted to remember it more an'
more, an' with that he took the hint an' kissed me; an' that's how we
got engaged without no proposing or nothink. I didn't tell me mother,
or there would have been a uproar, an' just then Jim Clay got a coach
on the Cooma line, an' went right away. I told him I'd wait for him.
He was away two years, an' w'en he came home we found it was still the
same with us. I was eighteen then, an' him twenty-two.

He went away to Queensland for two years more, an' in that time the
sister next me was married, an' Jake there was comin' on; but he was
never no good on the box--he pottered round and grew forage. Me mother
began to suggest I ought to marry this one an' that one, but I waited
for Jim Clay, an' w'en I was gettin' on for twenty-one, old Jack Clay
reckoned he was gettin' too old for drivin' in all weathers, an' Jim
come home an' took his place. A fine great feller he was, all tanned
and brown, with his white teeth showin' among his black beard. He said
he'd seen no girl that wasn't as tame as ditch water after me, an' as
for me, no one else could ever give me the feelin' he could, so we
reckoned to be publicly engaged. It raised the most terrible bobberie,
and me mother nearly took a fit. She had me laid out for a swell like
me sisters, an' she said I must be mad to throw myself away like that.
Me brother-in-laws got ashamed of their wives' parents bein' in such a
trade, an' as they had made a comfortable bit, they was goin' to give
it best and rare a few sheep an' cattle, an' me sisters came down on
me an' said I would disgrace them now they had rose theirselves up in
the stirrups. Mother said she'd never give her consent, an' I told her
very saucy I'd do without it. That's why I know it don't do to press
Dawn over far; she must have the same fight in her, an' if drove in a
corner there'd be no doing anythink with her. Things was very strained
at home then; they thought to wean me of him, an' Jim Clay he hung
back some, sayin' I'd better think twice before I threw myself away on
him. That made me all the determinder. Jim was the only man for me. I
never did have patience with them as can't make up their mind. So I
waited, an' the day I was twenty-one--me two sisters was twins and
married, one at nineteen and the other at eighteen--I gathered up a
few things, and I had two hundred in the bank, and I went to a point
of the road, Fern-tree Gully it was named, an' w'en Jim come down the
hill with his horses I waved--we had it all made up--an' he stopped
till I clambered aboard, an' the box seat was reserved for me that day
for nothink, and at the end of the stage we was married. I stayed with
Jim's mother for a week or two till we seen a opening, an' I kep' a
accommodation while Jim drove a coach. Jim was always steady, an' we
was both very popular, though I never pandered to no one, or put up
with nothink that didn't please me. Our story was a sort of romance in
them days, an' money was changin' hands freely, an' we was all right.
The old folk died by-and-by; they didn't live very long, and Jake
there come to me. He wasn't good enough for his sisters, an' somehow
that's made us always cling together. I ain't blind, I can see he's no
miracle; he has his faults. Who hasn't?" the old lady fiercely
demanded. I assured her I knew none, and somewhat appeased by this she
proceeded.

"Well, as I say, Jake there ain't a wonder of smartness, but he's the
only one belonging to the old days left to me, an' you couldn't
understand what that means till you get to be my age. If I went to any
one of your age, or old enough to be your mother, an' said, 'Do you
remember this or that,' how far back could they go with me, do you
think?"

"And then did you and Jim Clay--"

"Me an' Jim Clay was the happiest pair I think ever lived under a
weddin' ring, an' it was a love match. He was quiet an' easy-goin'
like, an' I was the one to bustle, consequently there would be times
w'en there would be a little controversy in the house; but Jim, he'd
always put his arm round me an' kiss me, an' that's the sort of thing
a woman likes. She doesn't like all the love-makin' to be over in the
courtin' days, as if it was only a bit of fishin' to ketch her. Tho'
of course I'd tell him to leave me alone, that I couldn't bear him
maulin' me; but women has to be that way, it bein' rared into them to
pretend they don't like what they do. An' you see Jim always
remembered how I had stuck to him straight, an' flung up swell matches
for him, which must have showed I loved him. That's what gets over a
man, he never forgets that in a girl, an' always thinks more of her
than the one with prawperty who marries a poor girl and is always
suspicioning she took him for what he has. Of course, there are some
crawlers of men ain't to be pleased anyhow, but they can be left out
of it. In givin' advice to young wives, I always tell 'em w'en they
get sick of their husbands, which they all do at times, especially at
the start before you get seasoned to endure them, never to let him
suspect it, for men, in spite of all their wonderful smartness, has a
lot of the child in 'em after all, an' can take a terrible lot of
love. (When it comes to givin' any in return, of course that's a horse
of another colour.) But of course this is only dealin' with a man
that's worth anythink; as I said, there are some crawlers you could
make a door-mat of yourself for, an' they'd dance on you an' think
nothink of it; but as I said before, there must be reason in
everythink to begin with. After Jim died I didn't care for livin' in
the old place, an' thought I'd like to get somewhere near the city.
Old people ought to have sense. They don't want to crawl round like
Methuselah at forty, but they know w'en they git up to seventy they
ain't goin' to live for ever, nor get any suppler in the joints, an'
ought to make some provision to get nearer churches an' doctors an'
all that's necessary to old people; so I sold out an' bought this
place down here."

"What family have you?"

"Only Dawn's mother and Andrew's, and two sons away in America. I was
misfortunate with me daughters; they both died young, one as I told
you, an' the other of typhoid; and so after bein' done with me own
family I started with others. I used to think once I'd be content to
live till I see me little ones grown up an' settled, an' then I wanted
to live till I see Dawn able to take care of herself, an' now I
suppose, if I didn't take care, I'd want to be waitin' to see Dawn's
children around me. That's the way; w'en we get along one step we want
to go another, an' it's good some matters ain't left for us to decide.
But it's all for Dawn and Andrew I bother now, only for them me work
would be done; but it's good to have them, they keep me from feelin'
like a old wore-out dress just hangin' up waitin' to be eat by the
moths."

"Grandma!" said the voice of Dawn in the doorway, "I can't get this
beastly old stove to draw, and I'm blest if I can cook the dinner. I
never saw such a place, one has to work under such terrible
difficulties. It's something fearful." Her voice was cross, and her
facial expression bore further testimony to a state of extreme
irritation.

Grandma rose to combat, she never meekly sat down under any
circumstances, great or small.

"Terrible place, indeed; see if _you_ had to provide a home what you'd
have in it. You was never done squarkin' for that stove; some one else
had one like it, an' you was goin' to do strokes w'en you got it. It's
always easy to complain about things w'en you are not the one
responsible!"

Grandma and I decided to go to the kitchen and prescribe for the
stove.

From an idle onlooker's point of view it seemed an excellent domestic
implement in good health; but the beautiful cook averred it would
produce no heat.

"It must be like Bray's," said grandma, "they thought it was no good,
and it was only because of some damper that had to be fixed."

"Yes; and they had a man there to fix it for them; that's the terrible
want about this place, there being no _man_ about it to do anything,"
Dawn said pointedly, looking at Uncle Jake, who was calmly sitting in
his big chair in the corner. He was not disconcerted. A man who could
live for years on a widowed sister without making himself worth his
salt is not of the calibre to be upset by a few hints.

"I've busted up me pants again," cheerfully announced Andrew from the
doorway--misfortunes never come singly. "Dawn, just get a needle and
cotton and stitch 'em together."

"I never knew you when they weren't 'busted up,' and you can get
another pair or hold a towel round you till Carry comes home; she's
got to do the mending, it's her week in the house. I've got enough to
worry me, goodness knows!"

"Dear me!" said grandma, walking away as I once more volunteered to be
a friend in need to Andrew, "w'en people is young, an' a little thing
goes wrong, they think they have the troubles of a empire upon them,
but the real troubles of life teaches 'em different. You are a
good-for-nothink lump anyhow, Andrew. Where have you been on a Sunday
morning tearing round the country?"

Andrew threw no light on the question, and his grandma repeated it.

"Where have you been, I say--answer me at once?"

"Oh, where haven't I been!" returned Andrew a trifle roughly, "I
couldn't be tellin' you where I've been. A feller might as well be in
a bloomin' glass case as carry a pocket-book around an' make a map of
where he's been."

The old lady's eyes flashed.

"None of yer cheek to me, young man! You're getting too big for yer
boots since you left school. If in five minutes you don't tell me
where you've been an' who you was with, I'll screw the neck off of
you. Nice thing while you're a child an' looking to me for everythink
that goes into your stummick an' is put on your back, an' I'm
responsible for you, that you can't answer me civil. Your actions
can't bear lookin' into, it seems. I'll go over an' see Mr Bray about
it this afternoon if you don't tell me at once."

"I ain't been anywhere, only pokin' up an' down the lanes with Jack
Bray."

"Well, why couldn't you say so at once without raisin' this rumpus.
Them as has rared any boys don't know what it is to die of idleness
an' want of vexation."

"It wasn't _me_ rose the rumpus. Some people always blames others for
what they do themselves: it 'u'd give a bloke th' pip," grumbled
Andrew, as I put the last stitch in his trousers and his grandma
departed. Her black Sunday dress rustled aggressively, and her plain
bibless holland apron, which she never took off except when her bonnet
went on for street appearance or when she went to bed, and her little
Quaker collars and cuffs of muslin edged with lace, were even more
immaculate than on week-days. She scorned a cap, and her features were
so well cut that she looked well with the grey hair--wonderfully
plentiful and wavy for one of her years,--simply parted and tidily
coiled at the back. This costume or toilet, always fresh and never
shabby, was invariably completed by a style of light house-boots,
introduced to me as "lastings"; and there was an unimpaired vigour of
intellect in their wearer good to contemplate in a woman of the people
aged seventy-five.

It came on to rain after dinner and confined us all to the house.

Dawn borrowed an exciting love-story from Miss Flipp; grandma read a
"good" book; Uncle Jake still pored over the 'Noonoon Advertiser,'
while Andrew repaired a large amount of fishing-tackle, with which
during the time I knew him I never knew him to catch a fish, and Carry
grumbled about the rain.

"Poor Carry!" sympathised Andrew, "she can't git out to do a spoon
with Larry, an' the poor bloke can't come in--he's so sweet, you know,
a drop of rain would melt him."

"It would take something to melt you," retorted Carry. "The only thing
I can see good in the rain is that it will keep Mrs Bray away."

And thus passed my first full day at Clay's.




SEVEN.

THE LITTLE TOWN OF NOONOON.


The little town, situated whereaway it does not particularly matter,
and whose name is a palindrome, is one of the oldest and most
old-fashioned in Australia. Less than three dozen miles per road, and
not many more minutes by train from the greatest city in the Southern
hemisphere, yet many of its native population are more unpolished in
appearance than the bush-whackers from beyond Bourke, the Cooper, and
the far Paroo. It is an agricultural region, and this in some measure
accounts for the slouching appearance of its people. Men cannot wrest
a first-hand living from the soil and at the same time cultivate a
Piccadilly club-land style and air.

It is a valley of small holdings, being divided into farms and
orchards, varying in size from several to two or three hundred acres.
Many grants were apportioned there in the early days. Representatives
of the original families in some instances still hold portions of
them, and the stationary population has drifted into a tiny world of
their own, and for want of new blood have ideas caked down like most
of the ground, and evinced in many little characteristics distinct
from the general run of the people of the State.

Though they were, when I knew them, possessed of the usual human
failings in an average degree, they were for the most part a splendid
class of population--honest, industrious producers, who, in Grandma
Clay's words, "Keep the world going." There was only a small
percentage of idlers and parasites among them, but they did duty with
a very small-minded unprogressive set of ideas.

There is a place in New South Wales named Grabben-Gullen, where the
best potatoes in the world are grown. Great, solid, flowery beauties,
weighing two pounds avoirdupois, are but ordinary specimens in this
locality, and the allegorical bush statement for illustrating their
uncommon size has it that they grow under the fences and trip the
horses as they travel the lanes between the paddocks. Similarly, to
explain the wonderful growth of vegetation in the fertile valley of
Tumut, its inhabitants assure travellers that pumpkin and melon vines
grow so rapidly there that the pumpkins and melons are worn out in
being dragged after them.

Now, as I strolled around the lanes of Noonoon, I felt the old slow
ways, like Grabben-Gullen potatoes, protruding to stifle one's mental
flights; but there was nothing representative of the Tumut pumpkin and
melon vines to wear one out in a rush of progress. The land was rich
and beautiful and in as genial and salubrious a climate as the heart
of the most exacting could desire; but the residents had drifted into
unenterprising methods of existence, and progress had stopped dead at
the foot of the Great Dividing Range. The great road winding over it
bore the mark of the convicts, and other traces of their solid
workmanship were to be found in occasional buildings within a radius
of twenty miles; but their day had passed as that of the bullock-dray
and mail-coach, superseded by the haughty "passenger-mail" and giant
two-engined "goods" trains,--while for quicker communication with the
city than these afforded, the West depended upon the telegraph wires.

In days gone by the swells had patronised Noonoon as a week-end resort,
and some of their homes were now used as boarding-houses,--while their
one-time occupants had other tenement, and their successors patronised
the cooler altitudes farther up the Blue Mountains, or had followed the
governor to Moss Vale.

Once upon a time Noonoon had rushed into an elaborate, unbalanced
water scheme, and had lighted itself with electricity. To do this it
had been forced to borrow heavily, so that now all the rates went to
the usurer, and no means were available for current affairs. The
sanitation was condemned, and the streets and roads for miles, as far
as the municipality extended, were a disgrace to it.

Exceedingly level, they possessed characteristics of some of the best
thoroughfares; but the wheel-ways were formed of round river stones
which neither powdered nor set, and to drive along them was cruel to
horses, ruinous to vehicles, and as trying on the nerves of travellers
as crossing a stony stream-bed. There seemed to be nothing possible in
the matter but to abuse the municipal council as numskulls and
crawlers, and this was done on every hand with unfailing enthusiasm.

Though so near the metropolis, Noonoon was less in touch with it than
many western towns,--in most respects was a veritable great-grandmother
for stagnation and bucolic rusticity, and in individuality suggested
one of the little quiet eddies near the emptying of a stream, and which,
being called into existence by a back-flow, contains no current. But
while thus falling to the rear in the ranks of some departments of
progress, the little town retained a certain degree of importance as one
of the busiest railway centres in the state, and its engine-sheds were
the home of many locomotives. Here they were coaled, cleaned, and oiled
ere taking their stiff two-engine haul over the mountains to the wide,
straight, pastoral and wheat-growing West, and their calling and
rumbling made cheery music all the year round, excepting a short space
on Sundays; while at night, as they climbed the crests of the
mountain-spurs, every time they fired, the red light belching from their
engine doors could be seen for miles down the valley. Thus Noonoon's
train service was excellent, and a great percentage of the town
population consisted of railway employés.

What is the typical Australian girl, is a subject frequently
discussed. To find her it is necessary to study those reared in the
unbroken bush,--those who are strangers to town life and its
influences. City girls are more cosmopolitan. Sydney girls are
frequently mistaken for New Yorkers, while Bostonian ladies are as
often claimed to be Englishwomen; and it is only the bush-reared
girl--at home with horse, gun, and stock-whip, able to bake the family
bread, make her own dresses, take her brother's or father's place out
of doors in an emergency, while at the same time competent to grace a
drawing-room and show herself conversant with the poets--who can
rightfully lay claim to be more typically Australia's than any other
country's daughter. Of course the city Australians are Australians
too. Australia is the land they put down as theirs on the census
paper. She is their native land; but ah! their country has never
opened her treasure-troves to them as to those with sympathetic and
appreciative understanding of her characteristics, and many of them
are as hazy as a foreigner as to whether it is the kooka-burra that
laughs and the moke-poke that calls, or the other way about. They are
incapable of completely enjoying the full heat of noonday summer sun
on the plains, and the evening haze stealing across the gullies does
not mean all it should. The exquisite rapturous enjoyment of the odour
of the endless bush-land when dimly lit by the blazing Southern stars,
or the companionship of a sure-footed nag taking the lead round stony
sidlings, or the music of his hoof-beats echoing across the ridges as
he carries a dear one home at close of day, are all in a magic
storehouse which may never be entered by the Goths who attempt to
measure this unique and wonderful land by any standard save its
own,--a standard made by those whose love of it, engendered by
heredity or close companionship, has fired their blood.

These observations lead up to the fact that Noonoon folk boasted their
own individuality, smacking somewhat of town and country and yet of
neither. Some of the older ones patronised the flowing beards and
sartorial styles "all the go way up in Ironbark," yet if put Out-Back
would have been as much new chums as city people, and were wont to
regard honest unvarnished statements of bush happenings as "snake
yarns"; while the youths of these parts combined the appearance of the
far bush yokel and the city larrikin, and were to be seen following
the plough with cigarettes in their mouths.

The small holdings were cut into smaller paddocks, the style of fence
mostly patronised being two or three strands of savage barbed wire
stretched from post to post. This insufficient separation of stock was
made adequate by the cattle themselves carrying the remainder of the
white man's burden of fencing around their necks, in the form of a
hampering yoke made of a forked tree-limb with a piece of plain
fencing-wire to close the open ends. This prevented them pushing
between the wires, and it was a pathetically ludicrous sight to see
the calves at a very tender age turned out an exact replica of their
elders. All the places opened on to the roads like streets; and to go
across country was a sore ordeal, as one had to uncomfortably cross
roughly upturned crop-land, and every few hundred yards roll under a
line of barbed wire about a foot from the ground, at the risk of
reefing one's clothes and the certainty of dishevelment. To walk out
on the main roads and stumble over the loose stones ankle-deep in the
dust was torture. Some averred they had known no repairs for ten
years, and that they were as good as they were, because to have been
worse was impossible. Walking in this case being no pleasure, I
bethought me of riding for gentle exercise, and inquired of Grandma
Clay the possibilities in that respect.

"Ride! there ain't nothink to ride in this district, only great
elephant draughts or little tiddy ponies the size of dogs," she said
with unlimited scorn; "I never see such crawlers, they go about in
them pokin' little sulkies, and even the men can't ride. In my young
days if a feller couldn't ride a buck-jumper the girls wouldn't look
at him, an' yet down here at one of the shows last year in the prize
for the hunters, the horses had to be all rode by one man; there
wasn't another young feller in the district fit to take a blessed moke
over a fence. I felt like goin' out an' tacklin' it meself, I was that
disgusted. I never was a advocate for this _great_ ridin' that racks
people's insides out an' cripples them, there ain't a bit of necessity
for it, but there is reason in everythink, an' they're goin' to the
other extreme, and will have to be carried about on feather-beds in a
ambulance soon if they keep on as they are. There's nothink as good as
it was in the old days. As for a woman ridin' here, all the town would
go out to gape like as she was somethink in the travellin' show
business. I used to ride w'en I come down here first,--that was
sixteen year ago,--but every one asked me such questions, an' looked
at me like a Punch an' Judy show, that I got sick of it. I rode into
Trashe's at the store there one day, an' w'en I was comin' out he
says, 'Will you have a chair to get on?' an' as he didn't seem to be
man enough to sling me on, I said I supposed so. He goes for one of
them tallest chairs--it would be as easy to get on the horse as
it--an' I sez, 'Thanks, I'm not ridin' a elephant, one of them little
chairs would do.' But even that didn't seem to content him; he put it
high on the pavement an' put the horse in the gutter. Then, instead of
puttin' the reins over the horse's head proper, he left them on the
hook, an' with both hands an' all his might holds the beast short by
them in front of its jaw, like as it was the wildest bull from the
Bogongs. The idiot! Supposin' the beast was flash an' pulled away from
him, where would I be without the reins? That about finished me, I was
sick of it, as I could not have believed any man, even out of a
asylum, could be so simple about puttin' a person on a horse."

For this kind of exercise there seemed no promising outlet, and I was
put to it to think of some other. As grandma said, with few
exceptions, the only horses in the district were draughts and ponies.
Every effect has a cause, and the reason of this was that these big
horses were the only ones properly adapted to agriculture, and the
smallness of the holdings did not admit of hacks being kept for mere
pleasure, so the cheapest knockabout horse to maintain was a pony, as
not only did it take less fodder and serve for the little saddle use
of this place, but tethered to a sulky, took the wives and children
abroad. It was the land of sulkies,--made in all sizes to fit the pony
that had to draw them, and of quality in accordance with the purse
that paid for them,--and a pair of horses and a buggy was a rare
sight.

Andrew suggested that I should go rowing, and glowingly recommended a
little two-man craft named the _Alice_, and as I could row well in my
young days, I determined to test her capacity by going up stream very
gently, as my time was unlimited and my strength painfully the
reverse. It was a crisp day towards the end of April, so I was feeling
brisker than usual, and the _Alice_ was deserving of her good
reputation. The Noonoon was one of the noblest and most beautiful
streams in the State, and above the substantial and unique old bridge
its deep, calm waters stretched for about two miles as straight as a
ribbon, in a reach made historic because it has been the racecourse of
some of the greatest sculling matches the world has known. Orange and
willow-trees were reflected in the clear depths of the rippleless
flow, and lured by its beauty, the responsiveness of my craft, and an
unusual cheerfulness, I foolishly overdid my strength. I was thinking
of Dawn. Her girlish confidence regarding the desire of her hot young
heart had so appealed to me that I was exercised to discover a
suitable knight, for this and not a career I felt was the needful
element to complete her life and anchor her restless girlish energy.
To tell her so, however, would ruin all. Time must be held till the
appearance of the hero of the romance I intended to shape. With this
end in view I thought of recommending her grandma to let her voice be
trained. Two years at the very least would thus be gained, and if
properly floated and advertised in the matrimonial field, what may not
be accomplished in that time by a beautiful and vivacious girl of
eighteen or nineteen? I was recalled from such speculations by finding
that it was beyond me to row another stroke, and I was in a fix. A
slight wind turned the boat, and she drifted on to a fallen tree a
little below the surface, and, though not upsetting, stuck there, and
was too much for me to get off.

At that time of the year, except very occasionally, the river was free
from boaters and the fishers who told of the fish that used to be got
there in other times, so there was nothing to do but wait until my
absence caused anxiety, when some one would surely come after me. Not
a very alarming plight if one were well, but I felt one of my old
cruel attacks was at hand, which was not encouraging. No one was
within sight, but in case there should be a ploughman over a rise
within hearing, I coo-eed long and well. My voice had been trained. I
coo-eed three times, allowing an interval to elapse, and then settled
into the bottom of the boat to await developments. Soon I was
disturbed by the plunk! plunk! of a swimmer, and saw a young man
approaching by strong rapid strokes. It is strange how hard it is to
recognise any one when only their face is above water and one meets
them in an unexpected place, and though this face seemed familiar
there was nothing unusual in that, as I knew so many theatre patrons'
faces in a half fashion. My rescuer having ascertained the simple
nature of my dilemma, and easily gaining the boat by reason of the
log, exclaimed--

"Why, it's never you! What on earth are you doing here?" and I
responded--

"Ernest Breslaw! It's never you! What are _you_ doing here? _I'm_
stuck on this log."

"And I've come to get you off it," he laughed.

"Yes, but otherwise? This may be a suitable cove for a damaged hull,
but what can a newly-launched cruiser like you be doing here?"

"I'm in training, and was just taking a plunge; it's first-class!" he
said enthusiastically, and looking at his splendid muscles, enough to
delight the eye of even such a connoisseur in physique as myself, and
well displayed by a neat bathing-suit, there was no need to inquire
for what he was in training. 'Twas no drivelling pen-and-ink
examination such as I could have passed myself, but something needing
a Greek statue's strength of thew.

"Are you feeling ill?" he considerately inquired, and as I assured him
to the contrary, though I was feeling far from normal, he put me out
on the bank while he rowed up stream for his clothes and returned to
take me home. Having encased himself in some serviceable tweeds and a
blue guernsey, he rolled me in his coat ere beginning to demolish the
homeward mile--an infinitesimal bagatelle to such a magnificent pair
of arms. I enjoyed the play of the broad shoulders and ruddy cheeks,
and did not talk, neither did he. He was an athlete, not a
conversationalist, while I was a conversationalist lacking sufficient
athletic strength to keep up my reputation just then.

"It was very silly of you to come out alone or attempt to row in your
state of health! It might have been your death," he presently remarked
in a grandfatherly style. "Where are you putting up?"

"At Clay's."

"I know; the old place with the boats," he replied as the _Alice_
whizzed along.

"I was aching for diversion," I said, in excuse for the rashness of my
act.

"Well, I can take you for a pull now. I'll be here for a few weeks.
Will you come to-morrow afternoon? Would three o'clock suit you?" he
inquired as he moored. "The scenery is magnificent farther up the
river."

"Yes, if I'm not here at three o'clock you'll know that I'm not able
to come. You are very good, Ernest, to waste time with me."

"I'm only too proud to be able to row you about and expend a little
despised brute force in returning all the entertainment with brains in
it you have given me in the past."

"Yes, at the cost of anything under 7s. 6d. an evening,--am I to pay
you that for rowing me?"

"Put it in the hospital-box," he said with a laugh that displayed his
strong white teeth between his firm bold lips. He was altogether a
sight that was more than good in my eyes.

I found I was not strong enough to spring ashore, but young Breslaw
managed that and my transit up the steep bank to the house with an
ease and gentleness so dear to woman's heart, that the strength to
accomplish it is the secret of an athlete being in ninety per cent of
cases a woman's ideal.

"Oh, I say," as he was leaving me at the gate, "if you mention me,
speak of me as R. Ernest, as I've dropped the Breslaw where I'm
staying. I don't want wind of my being here to get into the papers.
I'm practising in the dark, as I'd like to give some of the cracks a
surprise licking."

"Very well, I'm under an alias too, so please don't forget. To all
except a few theatre patrons I'm as dead as ditch-water; but some one
might recognise the old name, and it would be very unpleasant."

"Right O! To-morrow at three, then, I'll give you a pull," he said,
doffing his cap from his heavy ruddy locks, now drying into waves and
gleaming a rival hue in the setting sun, as he bounded down the bank
and made his way along the river-edge to the bridge, as his place of
sojourn was farther up than Clay's and on the other side.

The excitement of thus meeting him had somewhat revived me, for here
at once, as though in response to my wish, was a fitting knight to
play a leading _rôle_ with my young lady, the desire for whose
wellbeing had taken grip of me. For her sweet sake, and the sake of
the fragrant manliness of the stalwart and deserving knight, I
straightway resolved to enter the thankless and precarious business of
matchmaking, one in which I had not had one iota of experience; but as
women have to ace marriage, domesticity, and mostly all the issues of
life assigned them, without training, I did not give up heart. As a
first effort I determined that Dawn should chaperon me when I went for
my row on the morrow. As I looked at the sun sinking behind the blue
hills and shedding a wonderfully mellow light over the broad valley, I
thought of my own life, in which there had been none to pull a
heart-easing string, and the bitterness of those to whom that for
which they had fought has been won so late as to be Dead Sea fruit,
took possession of me.

The doctors had several long and fee-inspiring terms for my malady,
but I knew it to be an old-fashioned ailment known as heart-break--the
result of disappointment, want of affection, and over-work. The old
bitterness gripped the organ of life then; it brought me to my knees.
I tried to call out, but it was unavailing. Sharp, fiendish pain, and
then oblivion.




EIGHT.

GRANDMA TURNS NURSE.


When I came to it was dark enough for lights, Dawn's well-moulded
hands were supporting my head, Grandma Clay's voice was sternly
engineering affairs, and Andrew was blubbering at the foot of the bed
on which I was resting.

I tried to tell them there was no cause for alarm, and to beg
grandma's pardon for turning her house into a "sick hospital," but
though not quite unconscious, I appeared entirely so.

"I wish you had sense to have gone for Dr Tinker when Dr Smalley
wasn't in," said the old lady, with nothing but solicitude in her
voice.

The sternness in evidence when I had been trying to gain entrance to
her house was entirely absent.

"I'm afraid she's dead," said Dawn.

"Oh, she ain't; is she, Dawn?" sobbed Andrew. "She was a decent sort
of person. A pity some of those other old scotty-boots that was here
in the summer didn't die instead." And that cemented a firm friendship
between the lad and myself. An individual utterly alone in the world
prizes above all things a little real affection.

Presently there was a clearance in the room, effected by the doctor,
who, after a short examination, pronounced my malady a complication of
heart troubles, gave a few instructions, and further remarked, "Send
up for the mixture. She isn't dead, but she may snuff out before
morning. She's bound to go at a moment's notice, sometime. Give her
plenty of air. If she has any friends she ought to be sent to them if
she pulls through this."

Grandma gave the meagre details she knew concerning me, and as the
practitioner, whom I took to be a veterinary surgeon called in for the
emergency, went out, he said--

"If she dies to-night you can send me word in the morning; that will
be soon enough; and if I don't hear from you I'll call again
to-morrow."

"She ain't goin' to die if I can stop her," said grandma when he had
departed. "I'll bring her to with a powltice. I ain't given to be
cumflummixed by what a doctor says; many a one they give up is walking
about as strong as bull-beef to-day. I never see them do no good in a
serious case. They are right enough to set a bone or sew up a cut, but
when you come to think of it, what could be expected of them? They
know a little more than us because they've hacked up a few bodies an'
know how the pieces fit together, but as for knowin' what's goin' on,
they ain't the Almighty, and ain't to be took notice of. The way they
know about the body is the same as you and Carry know the kitchen, an'
could go in the dark an' feel for anythink while all was well, but if
anythink strange was there you couldn't make it out," and setting to
work, brewing potions and applying remedies of her own, the practical
old lady soon brought me around so that I was able to make my
apologies.

"Good Heavens! What do you take us for?" she exclaimed. "It would be a
fine kind of a world if we wasn't a little considerate to each other.
It does the young people good to learn 'em a little kindness. I
couldn't be askin' people like Carry there to wait on people, but it's
Dawn's week in the house an' she'll look after you, an' you needn't be
wantin' to clear out to the hospital. You won't be no better looked
after there than here."

Never was more tactful kindness on shorter acquaintance.

Little Miss Flipp undertook to sit by my bed during the early watches
of the night, for they could not be persuaded to leave me alone. Her
eyes bore evidence of many more sleepless watches, but the poor little
thing did not unburden her heart to me. Dawn appeared to relieve her
at 2 A.M., and the engaging child manfully struggled against the sleep
that leadened the pretty blue eyes till morning, when grandma, brisk
as a cricket, took her turn.

At eleven I was interested by the doctor's entrance. He came on
tiptoe, but like a great proportion of male tiptoeing it defeated its
intention and made more noise than walking. Bearing down upon grandma,
he inquired in a huge whisper, "How is she?"

At this juncture I opened my eyes, so he cheerfully remarked, in a
strong twang known by some supercilious English as the "beastly
colonial accent"--

"So you didn't peg out after all!"

This being the language applied to stock, confirmed me in the notion
that he was a veterinary. I had once before heard it applied to a
human being in a far bush place, where a man who lived unhappily with
his wife one morning remarked to a neighbour that "The missus nearly
pegged out last night," and it was considered a fitting remark for
such a monster as this man was supposed to have been, but this doctor
said it quite naturally.

I found him a friendly and communicative fellow, and as he gave in an
hour's gossip with grandma and me for one fee, I was willing to take
it to pass away a dull morning.

"What on earth did you go rowing for?" he asked me.

"The roads are too bad to go walking."

"That's only within range of the municipality. The council wants
bursting up. They can't do anything with everything mortgaged to old
Dr Tinker. He holds the whole thing. It's a pity he wouldn't peg out
one of these nights, and we might get something done. But it's not him
who has the money--it's the old woman."

"That's her Mrs Bray was tellin' us walloped the girl for bein'
admired by the old doctor," explained grandma.

"Money, that's what he married her for," continued the doctor. "I
don't know where he could have picked her up. Some say she is a
publican's widow, but Jackson, the solicitor here, has a different
hypothesis. He says he's seen her running along carrying five cups and
saucers of tea at once, and no one but a ship's waitress could do
that. At any rate she's a great man of a woman; can swear like a
trooper if things don't go right. She's got the old man completely
cowed."

"Am I to infer that cowing her spouse and swearing outrageously makes
her _man_-like?" I laconically inquired. But the doctor's
understanding didn't seem to go in for small satirical detail, he
conversed on a more wholesale fashion, rattling on for a good
half-hour to a patient for whom quietude was necessary, lest she
should "peg out."

"Ain't he a bosker?" enthusiastically commented Andrew, coming in to
see what I had thought of this doctor, who was the idol of Noonoon.

"Has he a large practice?" I cautiously inquired, seeking to discover
was he really a doctor.

"My word! Nearly all the people go to him, he's so friendly and don't
stick on the jam--speaks to you everywhere, and has jokes about
everything."

"He's a fine man!" corroborated grandma.

"Yes; must be more than six feet high," I responded.

"An' such a gentleman, he's never above having a yarn with you about
anythink and everythink."

"Oh, well," I said, "any time I take these turns just send for him."

One doctor was as harmless as another to me. I knew it would relieve
the household to have a medico, and he could not injure me, seeing I
accorded his medicine and advice about as much deference as the hum of
a mosquito.

"Is he a family man?" I asked.

"Yes; so there are all your chances gone in one slap," said Carry,
appearing to inquire my state.

I did not tell her there was the most insuperable of all barriers in
the way of my marrying any one, and that I had no desire if I could.
The first I did not want known, and the second would not be believed
if it were, because, though woman is somewhat escaping from her
shackles, the skin of old crawl subjection still clings sufficiently
tight for it to be beyond ordinary belief that one could be other than
constantly on the look-out to secure a berth by appending herself to
some man, and more especially does this suspicion hang over a spinster
with her hair as grey as mine, and who takes up a position at a
boarding-house which is supposed to be the common hunting-ground of
women forced on to the matrimonial war-path.

"He has seven little children, and one's a baby, an' his wife is a
poor broken-down little thing near always in the hospital. You'd
wonder how he married her, _he's_ such a fine-looking man," vouchsafed
Andrew.

"Such a fine man that you'd wonder concerning several other patent
facts about him," I responded.

There was quite a chorus in favour of him now. He was evidently a true
gentleman in his patients' eyes, because he was not above stopping to
talk to them in their own vernacular about local gossip, and had the
reputation of great good nature in regard to the bills of the poor,
and they loved his jokes. They were of the class within grasp of the
elementary sense of humour of his audience. This type of gentleman he
undoubtedly was, but to that possessed of graceful tact and expressing
itself in good diction--by some considered necessary attributes of a
gentleman--he could lay no claim. Neither could he to that ideal
enshrined in my heart, who would not have had seven little
children--one of them a baby--and a poor little broken-down wife at
the same time; but as to what is really a gentleman depends on the
attitude of mind.




NINE.

THE KNIGHT HAS A STOLEN VIEW OF THE LADY.


Grandma Clay kept me in bed that day, so I forgot all about my
appointment on the river until some time after three, when Andrew
announced from the doorway--

"A man wants to know can he see you?"

"Who can he be?"

"He's a puddin'-faced, red-headed bloke, wearin' a blue sweater under
his coat like the bike riders," was Andrew's very unknightly
description of the knight whom I had chosen to play lead in the drama
of the beautiful young lady at Clay's.

"That's a particular friend of mine, you may show him in," I said.

"Oughtn't Dawn to be woke up first and told to scoot out of that?"
said he.

Dawn was one of those young beings so thoroughly inured to easy living
that the few hours' sleep she had lost the night before had made her
so dozy when she had come to keep me company now, that I had persuaded
her to rest beside me on the broad bed, where, much against Andrew's
sense of propriety, she was fast asleep.

"I'll hide her thus," I said, covering her with the counterpane, for
it would not be good stage management to allow the lady to escape
when a fitting knight was on the threshold. This satisfied Andrew, who
withdrew to usher in the "puddin'-faced, red-headed bloke," who sat in
the doctor's chair, and made a few ordinary remarks about the weather
and some equally kind about my state of health.

When in the company of ladies the only brilliance in evidence about my
young friend was the colour of his hair, so there was little danger of
his waking Dawn with his chatter, as he sat inwardly consumed with a
desire to escape. As I lay with my hand where I could feel the girl's
healthy breathing, I wondered would she too dismiss my chosen knight
as pudding-faced and red-headed, or would she see him with my eyes!
His locks certainly were of that most attractive shade hair can be,
and his good looks were further enhanced by a clear tanned skin and
dark eyes. His large clean-shaven features had the fulness and
roundness of unspent youth in full bloom, and he was far from the
small bullet-headed type, which accounted for Andrew's designation of
"puddin'-faced." I had always found him one of the most virile and
upright young creatures I had ever seen, and he had endeared himself
to me by his simple, untainted manliness, and the fragrant evidence of
health his presence distilled. Dawn, too, was so robust that there was
a likelihood of her being attracted by her opposite, and inclined to
favour a carpet knight before one of the open field.

Some men have brain and muscle, but this is a combination as rare as
beauty and high intellect in women, and almost as startling in its
power for good or evil; but apart from the combination the wholesome
athlete is generally the more lovable. When his brawn is coupled with
a good disposition, he sees in woman a fragile flower that he longs
to protect, and measuring her weakness by his beautiful strength, is
easily imposed upon. His muscle is an engine a woman can unfailingly
command for her own purposes, whereas brilliance of intellect, though
it may command a great public position in the reflected glory of which
some women love to bask, nevertheless, under pressure in the domestic
arena, is liable to be too sharply turned against wives, mothers, and
daughters to be a comfortable piece of household furniture. On the
other hand, the athlete may have the muscles of a Samson, and yet,
being slow of thought and speech, be utterly defenceless in a woman's
hands. No matter how aggravatingly wrong she may be, he cannot bring
brute force to bear to vanquish a creature so delicate, and being
possessed of no other weapon, he is compelled to cultivate patience
and good temper. Also, health and strength are conducive to equability
of temper, and hence the domestic popularity of the man of brawn above
the one of brain, who is not infrequently exacting and crossly
egotistical in his family relations where the other would be lenient
and go-easy.

The silence of my guest and myself was presently broken by Dawn
turning about under the counterpane.

"Good gracious! what have you got there?" inquired Ernest. "Is it that
old terrier you used to have?"

"Terrier, indeed! I have here a far more beautiful pet. Because you
are such a good child I will allow you just one glance. Come now, be
careful."

The girl's dress was unbuttoned at the throat, displaying a perfect
curve of round white neck; her tumbled brown curls strayed over the
dimpled oval face; the long jetty lashes resting on the flushed cheeks
fringed some eyelid curves that would have delighted an artist; the
curling lips were slightly parted showing the tips of her pretty
teeth, and the lifted coverlet disclosed to view as lovely a sleeping
beauty as any of the armoured knights of old ever fought and died for.
The latter-day one, politely curious regarding my pet, bent over to
accord a casual glance, but the vision meeting his eyes sent the blood
in a crimson wave over his tanned cheeks and caused him to draw back
with a start. It was inconsistent that he should have been so
completely abashed at sight of a fully-dressed sleeping girl who was
placidly unconscious of his gaze, when it was his custom to regularly
occupy the stalls and enjoy the choruses and ballets composed of young
ladies very wide awake, and wearing only as much covering as compelled
by the law; but where is consistency?

"I had no idea it would--er--be a young lady," he stammered, keeping
his eyes religiously lowered, and fidgeting in a palsy of shyness such
as used to be an indispensable accomplishment of young ladies in past
generations.

"Just take a good look, she'll bear inspection," I said.

"I'd rather not, the young lady might not like it."

"But I'm giving you permission, she's mine, and then run before she
discovers you have pirated a glance. I will keep the secret."

He lifted his eyes, but so swiftly and hesitatingly that I could not
be sure that he had discerned the beauty that was blushing half
unseen, instead of being displayed under limelight and drawn attention
to by brass trumpets in accordance with the style of this advertisemal
age.

As Ernest went out Andrew came in and awakened Dawn with a request to
make him some dough-nuts for tea, but she ordered him to go to Carry
as it was her week in the kitchen.

"Bust this week in the kitchen! A feller can hear nothing else, it's
enough to give him the pip; it ought to be put up like a notice so it
could be known," he grumbled as he departed.

That evening Mrs Bray made one of her calls, which were always more
good-natured regarding the length of time she gave us than the tone of
her remarks about people.

The famous Mrs Tinker, it appeared, from the latest account of her
vagaries, had enlivened the lives of Noonoon inhabitants by swearing
in a hair-lifting manner at one of the local shows because her horses
had not been awarded first prize, &c., &c.

Whether, as Carry averred, it was this conversation that did the
mischief or not, the fact remains that I became too faint to speak,
and the girls would not leave me all night. I lay that way all the
next day too, so that when Ernest called to make inquiries and
discovered my state he took a turn at making himself useful,
prevailing upon Grandma Clay to allow him to do so by explaining that
he was a very firm friend of mine, and had had some experience of
invalids owing to his mother having been one for some years before her
death, both of which statements were perfectly true.

As I improved, I was anxious to discover what impression he had made
on the household, and cautiously sounded them.

"He seems to be a chap with some heart in him," said grandma. "He'd
put some of these fine lah-de-dahs to shame. I always like a man that
ain't above attending on a sick person. Like Jim Clay, he could put a
powltice on an' lift up a sick person better'n all the women I ever
see."

"It's always Jim Clay," said Dawn in an irreverent aside; "I never
heard of a man yet, whether he was tall or short, or squat or lean, or
young or old, but he was like Jim Clay, if he did any good. I'm about
dead sick of him."

"You don't seem to remember Jim Clay was your grandfather," I said, as
his relict left the room, "and that he is very dear in your
grandmother's memory. It is pleasing how she recalls him. Wait till
your hair is grey, my dear, and if you have some one as dearly
enshrined in your heart it will be a good sign that your life has not
been without savour."

"Yes, of course, I do forget to think of him as my grandfather, never
hearing of him only as this everlasting Jim Clay, and if he was like
that red-headed fellow it would take a lot of him to be remembered as
anything but a big pug-looking creature that I'd be ashamed to be seen
with."

This was not a propitious first impression, and as she was inclined to
be censorious I considered it diplomatic to point out his detractions,
knowing that the combative propensity of the young lady would then
seek for recommendations.

"Yes, he is a great, unattractive, red-headed-looking lump, isn't he?"

"Oh, I wouldn't say that. He looks fine and healthy at all events, and
I do like to see a man that doesn't make one afraid he'll drop to
pieces if you look at him."

"But he's hopelessly red-headed," I opined.

"But it isn't that sandy, insipid sort of red. It's very dark and
thick, and his skin is clear and brown, not that mangy-looking sample
that usually goes with red hair," contended Dawn; and being willing
that she should retain this opinion, I let the point go.

There is one advantage in a heart trouble, that it often departs as
suddenly as it attacks, and ere it was again Carry's week in the
house, I was once more able to stroll round and depend upon Andrew for
entertainment.

He invited me to the dairy to see him turn the hand cream-separator,
and I remained to dry the discs out of its bowl while he washed them.
He had a conversational turn, and in his choice of subjects was a
patriot. He never went out of his realm for imported themes, but
entirely confined his patronage to those at hand. This day his
discourse was of blow-flies; I cared not though it had been of manure.
I had knocked around the sharp corners of life sufficiently to have
got a sensible adjustment of weights and measures, refinements and
vulgarities. Besides, I gratefully remembered the tears Andrew had
shed during my illness, and bore in mind that many a dandy who could
please me by his phraseology of choice anecdotes could not be more
than "bored" though I might die in torture at his feet.

"My word! I'm thankful for the winter for one thing," he began, "and
that's because there ain't any blow-flies. They'd give you the pip in
the summer. They used to be here blowin' everything they come across.
They'd blow the cream if we left it a day. They'd blow you if you
didn't look sharp. I had Whiskey taught to ketch 'em. Here, Whiskey!
Whiskey!" and as that mongrel appeared, his master tossed him pellets
of curds dipped in cream, and grinned delightedly as they were
fiercely snapped. "He thinks it's blow-flies. Great little Whiskey!
good little Whiskey, catch 'em blow-flies. By Jove! I've had enough
of farming," continued he, "it's the God-forsakenest game, but me
grandma won't let me chuck it. I notice no one with any sense stays
farmin'. They all get a job on the railway, or take to auctioneering,
or something with money in it. You're always scratchin' on a farm. You
should have been here in the summer when the tomatoes was ripe.
Couldn't get rid of 'em for a song--couldn't get cases enough. They
rotted in the field till the stink of them was worse than a chow's
camp, an' what didn't rot was just cooked in the sun. Peaches the
same, an' great big melons for a shilling a dozen. That's farming for
you! The only time you could sell things would be when you haven't got
'em. Whiskey can eat melon like a good 'un, and grapes too." Andrew
now threw out the wash-up water, pitching it on to Whiskey, who went
away whimpering aggrievedly, much to the delight of his master, and
illustrating that even the favourite pet of a youth has something to
put up with in this imperfect life.




TEN.

PROVINCIAL POLITICS AND SEMI-SUBURBAN DENTISTS.


May dawned over the world, and throughout New South Wales awoke a
stir, reaching even to the sleepy heart of Noonoon. This was owing to
the fact that the State Parliament was near the end of its term, and
political candidates for the ensuing election were already in the
field.

Though not many decades settled, the country had progressed to
nationhood, England allowing the precocious youngster this freedom of
self-government, and sending her Crown Prince to open her first
Commonwealth Parliament. Then the fledgling nation, bravely in the van
of progress, had invested its women with the tangible hall-mark of
full being or citizenship, by giving them a right to a voice in the
laws by which they were governed; and now, watched by the older
countries whose women were still in bondage, the women of this
Australian State were about to take part in a political election. Not
for the first time either,--let them curtsey to the liberality of
their countrymen!

The Federal elections, for which women were entitled to stand as
senatorial candidates, had come previously, and though old prejudice
had been too strong to the extent of many votes to grasp that a woman
might really be a senatrix, and that a vote cast for her would not be
wasted, still one woman candidate had polled 51,497 votes where the
winning candidate had gone in on 85,387, and this had been no
"shrieking sister" such as the clever woman is depicted by those who
fear progress, but a beautiful, refined, educated, and particularly
womanly young lady in the heyday of youth. The cowardly old sneer that
disappointment had driven her to this had no footing here, as she had
every qualification, except empty-headedness, to have ensured success
as a belle in the social world, had she been disposed to pad her own
life by means of a wealthy marriage instead of endeavouring to benefit
her generation in becoming a legislator. She was a fitting daughter of
the land of the Southern Sun, whose sons were among the first to admit
their sisters to equal citizenship with themselves, and she
brilliantly proved her fitness for her right by her wonderful ability
on the hustings, which had been free from any vocal shortcoming and
unacquainted with hesitation in replying to the knottiest question
regarding the most intricate bill.

The Federal election, however, in a sense had been farther
away--fought at long-range, while that of the State was brought right
to one's back door.

The Federal campaign had been freer from the provincial bickering
which was a prominent feature of the State election, and made it more
a hand-to-hand contest, where every elector was worthy of
consideration; and though women were debarred from entering the State
Parliament, yet they were now beings worth fawning upon for a vote,
and their addition to the ranks of the electors gave matters a decided
fillip.

The first intimation that the campaign had actually started reached me
one afternoon when Dawn drove me into town to see a dentist. The whole
Clay household had risen up against me patronising a local dentist.

"They're only blacksmiths," said Andrew. "I could tinker up a tooth as
good as they can with a bit of sealing-wax."

However, I could get no doctor to give me a longer lease of life than
twelve months, and as it was not a very important tooth, I considered
the local practitioners were sufficient to the evil.

The afternoon before, when Ernest had dropped in to see _me_, I had
_casually_ mentioned that Dawn and I were going up town next day, so
therefore, what more natural than, as we entered the main street, to
see him very busily inspecting wares in a saddler's shop--articles for
which he could have no use, and which if he had, a man of his means
could obtain of superior quality from Sydney. I diplomatically, and
Dawn ostentatiously, failed to notice him as we drove past to where
was displayed the legend--S. Messre, Chemist and Dentist, late C. C.
Rock-Snake, and where Dawn halted, saying, at the eleventh hour, "You
ought to go to Sydney, Charlie Rock-Snake was all right, but I don't
care for the look of this fellow."

Going to Sydney, however, would not serve my ends nearly so well as
consulting S. Messre; for while I was with him Dawn would remain
outside, and what more certain than that Mr R. Ernest Breslaw, walking
up the street and quite unexpectedly espying her, and being such a
friend of mine, should dawdle with her awaiting my reappearance, while
growing inwardly wishful that it might be long delayed.

I knocked on the counter of the dusty, dirty shop, and after a time
an extraordinary person appeared behind it.

"Are you Mr Messre?"

"I believe so. Hold hard a bit."

Probably he went to ascertain who he really was, for I was left
sitting alone until a splendidly muscular figure in a fashionable
pattern of tweeds halted opposite the vehicle holding my driver. I was
quite satisfied with Mr S. Messre's methods, though his initial, as
Andrew averred, might very well have stood for silly.

The golfing cap came off the heavy red locks, while the bright brown
ones under the smart felt hat with the pom-poms, bobbed in response,
and Mr S. Messre came upon me again, wiping his fingers on a soiled
towel, and tugging each one separately after the manner of childhood.

"Did you want a tooth pulled?"

"Well, I wished to consult you dentally, but not in public," I said,
as two urchins came in and listened with all their features.

"Well, hold hard a bit and I'll take you inside."

I held or rather sat hard on the tall hard chair, and heard Ernest
explaining to Dawn that he had been swimming in the sun, which made
his face as red as his hair, for he gave her to understand that such
was not his usual complexion. His red locks, very dark and handsome,
which lent him a distinction and endeared him to me, were such a
sensitive point with him that his mind was continually reverting to
them, and that audacious Dawn unkindly replied--

"It wouldn't do to be all red. If my hair were red I'd dye it green or
blue, but red I would not have."

"But it's a good serviceable colour for a _man_," meekly protested the
knight.

"Perhaps for a _fighting_ man," retorted the young minx with no
contradictory twinkle in her eye; "but I could never trust a
red-headed person: all that I know are deceitful."

I was dismayed. How would a gentle young athlete weather this? To a
perky little man of more wits than muscle, or to a gay old Lothario,
it would have been an incentive to the chase, but I feared Dawn was
too horribly, uncompromisingly given to speaking what she felt,
irrespective of grace, to expand this young Romeo to love; but much
merciless fire will be stood from beauty, and he made a valiant
defence.

"There are exceptions to every rule, Miss Dawn. I never was known as
deceitful; ask any one who knows me."

"I don't know any one who knows you."

"Ask your friend inside, I think she'll give me a good character."

"Quite the reverse. If you heard what she says about you, you'd never
be seen in Noonoon again;" but this assertion was made with such a
roguish smile on eye and lip that Ernest took up a closer position by
stepping into the gutter and placing one foot on the step of the sulky
and a corresponding hand on the dashboard railing; and in that
position I left them, with yellow-haired Miss Jimmeny from the corner
pub. walking by on the broken asphalt under the verandahs, and casting
a contemptuous and condemnatory glance at the forward Dawn who
favoured the men.

Mr S. Messre led the way to a place at the back of the shop which was
layered with dust and strewn with cotton-wool and dental appliances,
some of them smeared from the preceding victims, evidently. He did not
seem to know how to dispose of me, so I placed myself in the
professional chair and invited him to examine the broken molar.

"The light is bad here," he remarked, fumbling with my head, and
making towards my face with one of the soiled instruments.

"That is not my fault," I replied.

"This is him!" he further remarked, tapping my cheek with a finger.

"Yes."

"He wants patching."

"So _he_ leads me to imagine."

"The nerve would want killing."

"Quite so, and to attend to its wants I'm here."

"I'd take eight shillings to kill the nerve."

"Would you use them as an apparatus to execute it?"

"Then I'd take twelve or thirteen shillings to fill it," he continued.

I was interested in the uniqueness of his methods.

"Would you purpose to powder the shillings or use them whole--I would
have thought an alligator's or shark's tooth would scarcely require
that quantity of material?"

Mr Messre stared at me in a dazed manner.

"I wouldn't touch the tooth under that," he continued.

"Is there another tooth under it? then extract this one and give the
other a fair chance."

"It would be a lot of trouble," he kept on, without specially replying
to my remark.

"Perhaps so; when one comes to think of it, teeth, I suppose, are not
filled without some exercise on the part of the dentist."

"I wouldn't think of touching that tooth for less than a guinea; why
it would take at least an hour to do it."

"This is the first intimation I've had that dentists calculated to
mend teeth without spending any time on them," I said.

Mr Messre didn't seem to grasp the drift of my remarks, and as I felt
unequal to maintaining the conversation for a more extended period, I
announced my intention of thinking about what he had said. He said it
would be as well, and I emerged to find Ernest had so far progressed
as to be seated in the sulky holding my parasol over Dawn.

Youth and beauty is privileged to command an athlete to hold its
sunshade, while old age has difficulty in finding so much as a small
boy to carry its basket across the street. Mayhap this is why it is
largely the elderly and frequently the unattractive people who fight
for honest rights for their class and sex, while it is from pretty
young women's lips issues most of the silly rubbish anent it being
entirely women's fault that men will not conform to their "influence"
in all matters. Only a very small percentage can regard conditions
from any but a selfish point of view or conceive of any but their own
shoe-pinch.

"I happened to see Miss Dawn here and waited to ask you how you are,"
said Ernest.

"Just what you should have done," I replied; "and now if you can wait
till I investigate another dentist I want your opinion on a purchase I
am making."

"Oh, certainly," he hastened to reply; "I'm doing a loaf this
afternoon. I thought I heard my oar crack this morning, so came for
some leather to tack round it."

This in elaborate explanation of his presence there.

The second dentist proved the antithesis of his contemporary, being
short, pleasant, and bright.

"I'll tell you what," he said, laughing engagingly, "the best thing to
be done with that tooth is to dress it with carbolic acid. Now this is
a secret."

"One of those that only a few don't know, I suppose."

"Perhaps so," he said, laughing still more pleasantly.

"You can do this tooth just as well as I can. Get three penno'worth of
acid and put some in once or twice a-day and the nerve will be dead in
two or three days, and I'll do the rest."

As he proved such an amiable individual, though probably an
exceedingly suburban dentist, I got rid of half an hour in desultory
chat, as I could see from the window that the knight and the lady, if
not progressing like a house on fire, were at least enjoying
themselves in a casual way.

"Did you have only one tooth to be attended to?" inquired Dawn when I
appeared.

"Yes; and I fear that it will be one too many for Noonoon dentists," I
replied. I could think of nothing upon which to ask Ernest's advice,
so I feigned that I was not feeling well enough for any further worry
that afternoon, but would command his services at a future date.

I now held the pony while Dawn disappeared into a shop and reappeared
with an acquaintance who invited us to attend a political meeting that
night. The electors, alarmed at the prodigal propensities of the
sitting government, were forming an Opposition League to remedy
matters, and the first step was to choose one of the two candidates
offering themselves as representatives of this party for Noonoon. The
first one was to speak that night in the Citizens' Hall, and by paying
a shilling one could become a member of the League, and vote for this
candidate or the other.

"Oh, if I only had a vote!" regretfully exclaimed Dawn.

"He's a young chap named Walker, from Sydney,--very rich, I believe.
Do you know him?" Mrs Pollaticks inquired of me.

"I've heard of him," I said, exchanging glances with Ernest, "and
should like to hear him, if convenient."

"I'll drive you in," volunteered Dawn.

"If you're around you might act as groom," I suggested to Ernest, and
he gladly responding, it was agreed that we should begin
electioneering that night.

"I knew Ernest would be delighted to be with us, he takes great
pleasure in my company," I remarked with assumed complacence as we
drove home; and I watched Dawn smile at my conceit in imagining any
one took pleasure in my company while she was present, and that any
normal male under ninety should do so would have been so phenomenal
that she had reason for that derisive little smile.

"You said he was hopelessly red-headed," she remarked; "why, I think
he has a handsome kind of red hair. I never thought red hair could be
nice, but Mr Ernest's is different."

I smiled to myself.

"I never thought much of men, but this one is different," has been
said by more than one bride; and, "I never could suffer infants, but
this kid is different to all I've seen," is an expression often heard
from proud young fathers.

"His young lady thinks so at all events," I innocently remarked, and
we fell into silence complete.




ELEVEN.

ANDREW DISGRACES HIS "RARIN'."


The silence that fell upon Dawn and myself was unbroken when we went
to tea and seemed to have affected the whole company, or else it was
the conversational powers of Andrew, who was absent, which were
wanting to enliven us.

"He ought to be home," said grandma. "He's got no business away, and
the place can't be kep' in a uproar for him when the girls want to go
out."

The old lady had determined to take a vigorous interest in politics,
and spoke of going to hear the meetings later on herself.

It presently transpired that Andrew had not been looking to his
grandma for all that went into his "stummick" so religiously as he
should have been. Just as he was under discussion he made a dramatic
entry, and fell breathlessly in his grandma's arm-chair near the
fireplace. The usual occupant glared at him in astonishment and
demanded "a explanation," which came immediately, but not from Andrew.
Instead there was a loud and imperative knocking at a side door, and
when Carry, after cursing the white ants which had made the door hard
to open by throwing it out of plumb with their ravages, at last got
it open, there appeared an irate old man carrying a stout stick. It
was plain that he too had been running,--in short, was in pursuit of
Andrew, who had quite collapsed in the chair.

"I've come, missus, to warn you to keep your boy out of my orange
orchard," he gulped. "Six or seven times I've nearly caught him an'
young Bray in it, but to-night I run 'em down, an' only they escaped
me I'd have give 'em the father of a skelpin'. If I ketch them there
again I'll bring 'em before the court an' give 'em three months; but
you being a neebur, I'd like to give you a show of keepin' him out
first."

The old dame, _à la_ herself, had been in the act of pouring milk and
sprinkling sugar on some boiled rice which frequently appeared on the
menu during Carry's week in the kitchen, previous to handing it to
Miss Flipp, but she waved her hand, thereby indicating that in so dire
an extremity we were to be trusted with the sugar-basin ourselves,--in
fact, that any laxity in this item would have to be let slide for
once.

After the manner of finely-strung temperaments with the steel in them,
which wear so well, and to the last remain as sensitive as a youth or
maiden, Mrs Martha Clay then rose from her seat, visibly trembling,
but with a flashing battle-light in her eyes.

"What have you got to say to this?" she demanded, turning on her
grandson.

"I never touched none of his bloomin' old oranges. It was Jack Bray,
it wasn't me."

"Yes," said she; "and if you was listening to Jack Bray it would be
you done it all, an' he who never done nothink. What's the charge, and
what damages have you laid on it?" she demanded of the accuser,
fixing him with a fiery glance.

"I ain't goin' to lay any damages this time, I only thought you'd
rather me warn you than not; I know I would with a youngster. I
suppose after all he ain't done no more than you an' me done in our
young days, an' my oranges bein' ripe so extra early was a great
temptation," familiarly said the man.

"Well, I don't know what _you_ done in your young days, but I know I
never took a pin that didn't belong to me, none of me children or
people neither; and as for Jim Clay, he wouldn't think of touchin' a
thing--he was too much the other way to get on in the world. An' it
ain't any fault of my rarin' that me grandson is hounded down a
vagabond," said the old lady in a tragic manner.

Seeing her fierce agitation, the lad's pursuer was alarmed and sought
to pacify her by further remarking--

"He ain't done nothink out of the way, an' I admit the oranges was a
great temptation."

The old lady snorted, and the colour of her face heralded something
verging on an apoplectic seizure.

"Temptation! If people was only honest and decent by keepin' from the
things that ain't any temptation, we'd be all fit for jail or a
asylum. Pretty thing, if he's only to leave alone that which ain't any
temptation to him! You could put other people's things before me, I
wouldn't take 'em, not if me tongue was hanging out a yard for 'em.
That's the kind of honesty that I've always practised to me neighbours
and rared into any one under me, and that's the only kind of honesty
that is honesty at all," she splendidly finished. "An' I'm very
thankful to you for informin' me. I wish you had caught him an'
skelped the hide off of him. It's what I'll do meself soon as I sift
the matter."

The old man bade good-night and departed with his stick.

"He's always sneakin' about the lanes, an' only poked his tongue out
at me w'en I wanted to know where he was," maliciously said Uncle Jake
in reference to his grand-nephew.

"Mean old hide, always likes to sit on any one when they're down,"
whispered Dawn and Carry to each other. "A pity Andrew hadn't two
tongues to stick out at him."

Miss Flipp was too dull to be aroused by even this disturbance. The
only time she showed any feeling was when her "uncle" paid her
clandestine visits. Her life seemed to be in a terrible tangle--more
than that, in a syrtis,--but I did not take a hand in further crushing
her. She had been kind to me during my indisposition, and except in
extreme cases, "live and let live" was an axiom I had learned to
carefully regard. Knowledge of the slight chance of circumstances or
opportunity--which too frequently is the only difference between a
good person and a bad one, success and failure--reminds one to be very
lenient regarding human frailty.

"Now, me young shaver! I'll deal with you," said grandma, turning to
Andrew, in whom there appeared to be left no defence. Never have I
seen so old a woman in such a towering rage, and rarely have I seen
one of seventy-five with vigour sufficiently unimpaired to feel so
extremely as she gave evidence of doing.

"This is the first time anythink like this ever happened in my family,
and if I thought it wouldn't be the last I believe I'd kill you where
you are."

Andrew emitted no sound, he had given himself up with that calmness
one evinces when the worst is upon them--when there is nothing further
beyond.

"Go off to bed as you are without a bit to eat," she continued,
plucking at her little collar as though to get air. "To-morrow I'll
see the Brays about this, and I'll skelp the skin off of you. I'd do
it now, only there's no knowing where I'd end, I feel that terrible
upset. What would Jim Clay think now, I wonder? You God-forsaken young
vagabond, bringin' disgrace upon me at this time of me life. I'd be
ashamed to walk up town and give me vote as I was lookin' forward to,
and me grandson nearly in jail for stealing. _Stealing_! It's a nice
sounding word in connection with one of your own that you've rared
strict, ain't it? You snuffed up mighty smart when I asked you your
doings, now it comes out why you couldn't account for 'em. 'Might as
well be in a bloomin' glass case as have to carry a pocket-book round
an' make a map of where he's been,' sez he. It appears a map of your
doin's wouldn't pass examination by the police. How would you have
been makin' a honest way in the world if I wasn't here to be
responsible for you?"

"Oh, grandma!" said Dawn, seeking to calm her, lest the excitement
would be too much. "After all it mightn't be so bad. Lots of boys take
a few paltry oranges out of the gardens and no one makes such a fuss
but that old creature. He just wants to be officious." This was an
injudicious attempt at peace.

"Is that you speakin', Dawn? '_Lots of boys do it._' Perhaps you will
also say, 'Lots of girls come home with a baby in their arms.' Once
you get the idea in your head that there's no harm because lots do it,
you're on a express train to the devil. Lots of people do things and
some don't, and that's the only difference between the vagabonds I've
never been, and the decent folk I'd cut me throat if I wasn't among.
An' you're the last person I ever would have thought would have upheld
a _thief_!"

"Well, grandma!" protested Dawn, "I don't uphold him. I'm ashamed to
be related to him, but don't make yourself ill now. Sleep on it, and
to-morrow give him rats."

"Remember this," continued grandma, "an' carry the knowledge through
life with you, that I can't make your character for you. Each one has
to make their own, but seeing the foundation you've been give, makes
you a disgrace to it. It takes you all your time for years an' years
puttin' in good bricks to make a good character, but you can get rid
of it for ever in one act, don't forget that; an' remember that
belongin' to a respectable family won't stop you from bein' a thief.
You are very quick to talk about some of these poor rag-tag about
town, an' I suppose you an' Jack Bray thought you couldn't be the
same, but you've found out your mistake! Go to bed now, and I'll
leather you well to-morrer," she concluded encouragingly; and Andrew
lost no time in taking this remand, looking, to use his own
expression, as though he had the "pip."

"Dear me!" sighed the old lady, "them as has rared any boys don't know
what it is to die of idleness an' want of vexation. If it ain't
somethink beyond belief, one might be that respectable theirself they
could be put in a glass case, an' yet here would be a young vagabond
bringin' them to shame before the whole district."

"But I don't see that he has done anything very terrible," hazily
interposed Miss Flipp.

"Good gracious! If he had been cheekin' some one or playin' a
far-fetched joke, I might be able to forgive him, but there must be
reason in everythink, an' to go an' meddle with other's property is
carryin' things too far. 'Heed the spark or you may dread the fire,'
is a piece of wisdom I've always took to heart in rarin' _my_ family,
and I notice them as are inclined to look leniently on evil, no matter
how small, never come out the clean potato in the finish," trenchantly
concluded the old woman; and Miss Flipp was so disconcerted that she
immediately retired to her room, but noticed by no one but me.
Probably the poor girl, if gifted with any capacity for retrospection,
wished that she had heeded the spark that she might not now be in
danger of being consumed by the fire.




TWELVE.

SOME SIDE-PLAY.


As Andrew was banished, and grandma determined to retire to ponder
upon his sin, she waived it being Carry's week in the kitchen and
consequently her duty to prepare supper coffee, and suggested that we
younger women should all go to the meeting, but Miss Flipp refused on
the score of a headache.

"Poor creature!" observed grandma, "I think she's afraid of a attack
of her old complaint, she looks that terrible bad, and don't take
interest in anythink. She wants rousin' out of herself more. She ain't
a girl that will confide anythink to one, but her uncle is comin' up
again to-morrer, an' I think I'll speak to him."

When Carry, Dawn, and I arrived at the Citizens' Hall, Ernest was
already waiting to act groom, while Larry Witcom also accidentally
hovered near. He quite as casually took possession of Carry, so there
was nothing for a common individual like myself but to become
extremely self-absorbed, so that my keen observation might not be an
interception of any interest likely to circulate between the knight
and the lady. The latter seemed to be in one of her contrary moods, so
attached herself to me like a barnacle, settled me in a seat one from
the wall, and peremptorily indicating to Ernest that he was to take
the one against it, put herself carefully away from him on the
outside. A wag would have arranged the party to suit himself, but that
was beyond Ernest. He meekly sat down beside me, with a helplessness
possible only to the sturdiest athlete in the room when in the hands
of a fair and wilful maid. I could have come to his rescue, but deemed
it wiser not to thrust him upon Dawn for the present. We had arrived
very early, so there was time for conversation. Encouraged by me,
Ernest leant forward and addressed a few remarks to Dawn, which she
received so coolly that he distraitly talked to me instead, and as
people began to gather, above the majority towered the fair head and
striking profile of him I had first seen dealing in pumpkins, and who
was colloquially known as "Dora" Eweword. Dawn beckoned him to the
seat beside her, which he took with alacrity, a rollicking laugh and a
crimsoning face, which, in conjunction with a double chin, bespoke the
further partnership of a large and well-satisfied appetite.

"I haven't seen you for an age," said Dawn with unusual graciousness.

"Are you sure you wanted to see me?" he inquired, with an amorous
look.

Dawn used her bewitching eyes of blue in a laughing glance.

"You know you only have to give me the wink and you'll see me as often
as you want," straightforwardly confessed "Dora"; but Dawn having
encouraged him to a certain distance, had a mind to bring him no
nearer.

"I don't care if I never saw you again," she said bluntly, "but
grandma likes yarning with you, that's why I inquired."

"Dora" looked very red in the face indeed.

"How's Miss Cowper?" mercilessly pursued Dawn, going to the point
about which she was curious, as is characteristic of swains and maids
of her degree. "I hope she's well."

"So do I," said Eweword.

"You used to ask after her health about twice a-day. I thought you
would be taking her to Lucerne Farm to relieve your anxiety;" and in
response to this "Dora" sealed his fate, as far as my feeling any
compunction whether he singed his wings or not in the light of Dawn's
bright candle, for he said with a touch of bravado--

"Oh, I was only pulling her leg."

To do the man justice he did not seem down to the full unmanliness of
this statement; it appeared more one of those nasty and idle remarks
to which all are prone when in a tight corner, and speaking on the
spur of the moment.

"Oh, was that all!" said Dawn mockingly. "It was very nice of you. Are
you always so kind and thoughtful?"

"I'm thinking of clearing out to Sydney in a day or two, I've spent
enough time loafing. The only thing that has kept me here so long is
that I wanted to hear how Les. got on in his maiden speech. We're not
much to each other, but when a fellow has no one belonging to him he
feels a claim on the most distant connection," said Ernest on the
other side of me. His interest in Leslie Walker's maiden speech had
been developed as suddenly as his opinion that he had spent enough
time in a boat on the river Noonoon.

The connection he mentioned between himself and the candidate about to
speak was that old Walker, whose only son the latter was, had married
a widow with one son, by name Ernest Breslaw. Both these parents were
now dead, leaving the step-brothers as their only offspring. The lads
had been reared together, and though of utterly different tastes and
callings, a mutual regard existed between them. Walker had passed his
examinations at the bar, and Breslaw had been trained to electrical
engineering, but both being wealthy, neither followed their
professions except in a nominal way. Walker had put in his time in
society, motoring, flirting, travelling, dabbling in the arts, and
building a fine town mansion, while Ernest had spent all his time in
athletic training, with the result that Walker had fallen a prize in
the marriage arena, while Ernest was yet in full possession of his
bachelorhood.

Any further conversation was out of the question, as the candidate--a
smart, clean-shaven man with clearly cut features--now appeared, and
announced himself by removing his new straw "decker," and calling
out--

"Ladies and gentlemen, before we begin I would like to follow the
democratic principle of asking you to choose a chairman from among
yourselves."

"We propose Mr Oscar Lawyer!" called several voices, naming a popular
townsman, and this being seconded, the candidate and the people's
chairman, two very gentlemanly-looking men for the hustings, ascended
to the stage side by side.

The chairman took up a position behind a little red table supporting a
water-bottle and smudgy tumbler, while Leslie Walker sat on another
chair at the end of it.

Many members of parliament, having risen to their position from
coal-heaving or hotel-keeping, when going on the war-path a second
time, take great pains to get themselves _up_ in accordance with
their idea of the dignity of their office. Many old fellows, roaring
"Gimme your votes, I'm the only bloke to save the country and see you
git yer rights," dress this modest _rôle_ in a long-tailed satin-faced
frock-coat, a good thing in the trouser line, and a stylish
button-hole; but Leslie Walker, one of the champagne set, had made
equally palpable efforts to dress himself _down_ to his present
_début_.

For sure! his suit, which comprised an alpaca coat with a crumpled
tail, must have been the shabbiest he had, while the glistening new
white sailor hat had probably been procured at the last moment in the
vain imagination that, dress as he would, it was not evident at a
first glance that he had had the bread-and-butter problem solved for
him by a provident parent before his birth, and that he had lived what
is designated the cultured life, far and autocratically above sympathy
with the vulgar and despised herds, upon whose sweat his class build
the pretty villas fronting the harbour, charge haughtily along the
roads in automobiles, and sail the graceful yachts on the idyllic
waters of Port Jackson.

"By Jove! Les. has different ambitions from mine," said Ernest. "I'd
rather have to stand up to a mill with the champion pug. than face
what he's on for to-night. Doesn't he look a case in that get up?
Supposing he gets in, what the devil good will it do then, and it
takes such crawling to get into parliament nowadays. There are too
many at the game. I could never face the way one has to flatter some
of these old creatures for their vote. I'd rather plug them under the
jaw."

Mr Oscar Lawyer having introduced the speaker, he came forward, and
after explaining it was his first appearance in politics, charmingly
proceeded, "I hope I shall not bore you with my remarks as I
endeavour to outline the various planks in the platform of the party
to which I have the honour to belong."

Quite superfluous for him to explain that he was a new chum in
politics. Only a fledgling from a Brussels or Axminster carpeted
reception-room would stand on the hustings and publish a fear that he
might be boring his audience. One familiar with the trade of
electioneering, as it has always been conducted by men, would strut
and shout and brag, never for a moment worrying whether or not he came
anywhere near the truth or feeling the slightest qualm, though he
deafened his hearers with his trumpeting or bored them to complete
extinction, and would refuse to be silenced even by "eggs of great
antiquity."

"Les. ought to stick to society," observed his step-brother; "flipping
around a drawing-room and making all the girls think they were equally
in the running was more in his line."

"He's a nice, clean, good-looking young fellow at any rate, and
doesn't look as if he gorged himself--hasn't that red-faced, stuffed
look," said Dawn. "If I had a vote I'd give it to him just for that,
as I'm sick of these red-nosed old members of parliament with
corporations."

"He's the real lah-de-dah Johnny, isn't he?" laughed "Dora" Eweword.

"Don't you say he's any relation of mine," said Ernest. "It would give
me away, and he thinks I'm in Melbourne. I told every one that's where
I was bound. I hope he won't catch sight of me."

There was little fear of this; one has to be accustomed to facing a
crowd before they can distinguish faces.

After the meeting, which dispersed early, Ernest and I hurried out
into the galvanised iron-walled yard, in which those coming from a
distance put their horses and vehicles.

Having noted the disconsolate manner in which a pair of dark eyes
below a thatch of generous hue surreptitiously glanced towards a
tormentatious maiden with ribbons of blue matching her eyes and
fluttering on her bosom, I thought it time to come to his rescue.

"If you would care to talk to your friend, he can drive you home while
I walk with 'Dora'; he says he has something to say to me," said Dawn
in an aside.

"Are you sure you want to hear it?" I asked.

"How could I tell until I hear it?"

"That is not a fair answer, Dawn."

"Well, it wasn't a fair question," she pouted.

"Very well, I will not press you more, but you'll tell me of it after,
will you not?"

"Well, what would you like me to do?" she asked.

"Oh, I'd like you to be naughty. Mr _Dora's_ complacence inspires me
to inveigle him into having to drive me home while you walk with some
one else."

"Very well, anything for fun," she responded with dancing eyes; and as
Ernest had the horse in I got into the sulky and said--

"There is room for three here, Mr Eweword, and we would be glad of you
to put the horse out when we get home."

He took the reins and a seat, and moved aside to make room for the
loitering Dawn, but she said--

"No, I'll walk; I must keep Carry company, and she doesn't want to
come just yet."

"Drive on," I commanded, and there was nothing for the entrapped
"Dora" to do but obey.

I saw Carry go on with another escort. "Will you permit me to see you
to your gate?" I heard Ernest saying as we went, and Dawn asserting
that it was unnecessary.

It was a beautiful starry night, with a prospect of a slight frost, as
we turned down the tree-lined streets of the friendly old town, whose
folk on their homeward way dawdled in knots to discuss the
interposition of the women's vote.

"Now the women will do strokes," said one.

"The men have things in such a jolly muddle it will take a long time
to improve them," another retorted.

"The women will make bloomin' fools of themselves!"

"Couldn't be worse than the men!"

"The women'll all go for this chap because he's good-looking."

"Just as good a reason as going for another because he shouted grog
for you," and similar remarks, drifted to my ears, but "Dora's" mind
did not seem to be running on politics.

"Who was that red-headed fellow sitting the other side of you?" he
inquired.

"Which one?"

"A short block of a fellow with a clean face."

"Oh, he's a man I know."

"Pretty cool of us leaving Dawn. The old dame won't like it."

"She won't mind, considering Dawn has about the most reliable escort
procurable."

"I suppose it's all right if you know him, but to me he looked like a
bagman or bike-rider or something in the spieler line."

"Oh no," and pulling my boa about me I smiled to think of the chagrin
of Dora. He was so beautifully transparent too, but to do him justice
did not seem to resent the scurvy trick I had played him, as soon his
equanimity was restored, and we laboured cheerfully but unavailingly
to promote a conversation.

"Do you really like farming--take a pleasure in it?" I inquired.

"When I'm knocking a decent amount of money out of it I do. There's
not much fun in anything when it doesn't pay."

"Quite true."

"There might be a frost to-night, but they're nothing here--always
disappear as soon as the sun is up. Great Scott! aren't these roads?
The council want stuffing in the Noonoon. It would be an all right
place only for the roads."

This brought us to Clay's gate, and no further conversational effort
was necessary. I lingered outside till Eweword had disposed of the
pony and trap, and by that time Ernest and Dawn, bearing evidence of
quick walking, appeared, and we went into grandma and Uncle Jake in a
body.

"The women are going to form a committee to work for Mr Walker if he's
selected," announced Dawn, "and I want to join it, grandma. I am not
old enough to vote, but I'd like to work for Mr Walker. He looks worth
a vote. He's nice and thin, and speaks beautifully without shouting
and roaring,--not like these old beer-swipers who buy their votes with
drink."

"He is a decent-looking fellow," said Eweword.

"Oh, well, he'll go in then; that's all the women will care about,"
said Uncle Jake in one of his half-audible sneers.

"Well," contended Dawn, "men always sneer at women for doing in a
small degree what men do fifty times worse. If a pretty barmaid comes
to town all the men are after her like bees, and if a pretty woman
stood for parliament the men would go off their heads about her, and
yet they get their hair off terribly if a woman happens to prefer a
nice gentlemanly man to a big, old, fat beer-barrel, with his teeth
black from tobacco and his neck gouging over his collar from eating
too much. Can I join the committee, grandma?"

"If it's proper, and he's my man, you can, an' work instead of me, but
I must hear them both first."

"If Walker could get you to make a speech for him, we'd all vote for
him in a body," laughed Eweword; but Dawn replied--

"Oh, you, I suppose you say that to every girl."

Eweword sizzled in his blushes, while Ernest's face slightly cleared
at this rebuff dealt out to another.

Grandma brought in the coffee and grumbled to Dawn about Carry's
absence.

"That Larry Witcom ain't no monk, and while a girl is in my house I
feel I ought to look after her. I believe in every one having liberty,
but there's reason in everythink."

The girl did not appear till after the young men had gone and Dawn and
I had withdrawn, but we heard grandma's remonstrance.

"That feller, I told you straight, was took up about a affair in a
divorce case, an' it would be as well not to make yourself too cheap
to him. I don't say as most men ain't as bad, only they're not caught
and bowled out; but w'en they are made a public example of, we have to
take notice of it. Marry him if you want--use your own judgment; he'll
be the sort of feller who'll always have a good home, and in after
years these things is always forgot, and it would be better to be
married to a man that had that against him (seein' they're all the
same, only they ain't found out) and could keep you comfortable, than
one who was _supposed_ to be different an' couldn't keep you. But if
you ain't goin' to marry him, don't fool about with him. An' unless he
gets to business an' wants marriage at once, don't take too much
notice to his soft soap, as you ain't the only girl he's got on the
string by a long way."

"He acknowledges about the fault he did in his young days, and he says
it's terribly hard that it's always coming against him now," said
Carry.

"Well, if a woman does a fault she has to pay for it, hasn't
she?--that's the order of things," said grandma.

"But this was when he was young and foolish," continued Carry.

"Yes, the poor child, he was terribly innocent, wasn't he? an' was got
hold of by some fierce designing hussy--they always are--and it was
all her fault. It always is a woman's fault--only for the women the
men would be all angels and flew away long ago," said grandma
sarcastically. "They'll give you plenty of that kind of yarn if you
listen to 'em; an' if you are built so you can believe it, well an'
good, but the facts was always too much of a eye-opener for me," and
with that the contention ended.

"Yes, Carry's the terriblest silly about that Larry Witcom," said
Dawn; "she swallows all he says. She said to me yesterday, 'He seems
to be terribly gone on me.' 'Yes,' I said. 'You keep cool about his
goneness. Wait till he gets down on his knees and bellows and roars
about his love, and take my tip for it he could forget you then in
less than a week.' I've seen men pretending to be mad with love, and
the next month married to some one else. Men's love is a thing you
want to take with more discount than everything you know. You might be
conceited enough to believe them if you went by your own lovers, but
you want to look on at other people's love affairs, and see how much
is to be depended on there, and measure your own by them, and it will
keep your head cool," said this girl, who had the most sensible head I
ever saw in conjunction with her degree of beauty.

She had contracted the habit of slipping into my room for a talk
before going to bed, and as her bright presence there was a delight to
me, I encouraged her in it. The gorgeous kimono was a great
attraction; she loved it so that I had given it her after the first
night, but did not tell her so, or she would have carried it away to
her own room, where I would have been deprived of the pleasure of
seeing it nightly enhance the loveliness of her firm white throat and
arms.

"How did you and Dora get on together?" she presently inquired.

"Well, you see we didn't elope; how did you and Ernest manage?"

"Well, you see we didn't elope," she laughed.

"No, but you might have arranged such a thing."

"Arranged for such a thing!" she said scornfully. "I'm not in the
habit of trucking with other people's belongings."

"What do you mean?"

"It was you who said something about his young lady this afternoon--as
far as I can see he doesn't behave much as if he had one."

So it was my chance remark that had run her wheel out of groove during
the last few hours!

"Does he not?" I replied. "I think he appears more as though he has a
young lady now than he did during my previous knowledge of him."

"Well, I don't know how you see it," she said, as she tore down her
pretty hair.

"What!" I ejaculated in feigned consternation. "He has not been making
love to you, has he, Dawn? I always had such faith in his manliness."

"Well, he doesn't _say_ anything," said Dawn, with a blush. "But he
glares at me in the way men do, and when I mention anything I like or
want, he wants to get it for me, and all that sort of business."

"Perhaps he's falling in love unawares. Young men are often stupid,
and do not recognise their distemper till it is very ripe. He ought to
be removed from danger."

"Well, if I ever had a lover, and he liked another girl better, I'd be
pretty sure he hadn't cared for me, and would not want him any more,"
she said off-handedly.

"But would it not be better to let him go away and be happy with the
maid who loves him than to spoil his life by wasting his affection on
you, when you only think him a great pug-looking creature that you'd
be ashamed to be seen with?"

"Yes, I don't care for him," she said still more off-handedly; "but he
doesn't look so queer now I've got used to him. I suppose any one who
liked him wouldn't think him such a horror."

"No; I for one think him handsome."

"Handsome?"

"Yes, _handsome_."

"Well, I'll go to bed after that and think how some people's tastes
differ."

"Well, take care you don't think about Ernest."

"Thank you; I don't want the nightmare," she retorted, tossing her
head.




THIRTEEN.

VARIOUS EVENTS.


The following day was eventful. To begin with, after Andrew had
discharged his early morning duties, he was to appear before his
grandma for the execution of the sentence she had passed upon him the
night before. I was assisting him to dry the parts of the
cream-separator, a task which had become chronic with me, when Carry
shouted from the kitchen, where she was putting in her week--

"Your grandma says not to be long; she's waiting for you."

Andrew unburdened his soul to me.

"Lord, ain't I just in for it! I'll hear how me grandma rared me since
I was born! I'm dead sick of this born and rared business. It would
give a bloke the pip. I didn't make meself born, nor want any one else
to do it; there ain't much in bein' alive," he said with that
pessimism which, like measles and whooping-cough, is indigenous to
extreme youth.

"How could I help being rared? I didn't ask 'em to rare me. I didn't
make meself a little baby that couldn't help itself, and they needn't
have rared me unless they liked. Goodness knows, I'd have rather died
like a little pup before his eyes were opened," he continued so
tragically that I took the opportunity of smiling behind his back as
he threw out the dish-water.

"Hurry up! your grannie is waiting!" called Carry once more.

"Blow you! you'll have to wait till I'm done," retorted the boy in a
tone the reverse of genial.

"People is always chuckin' at their kids how much they owe them. I'm
blowed if ever I can see it. I didn't want 'em to have me, and don't
see why it should be everlasting threw at me."

It is a wise provision that youth cannot see what it owes the previous
generation. This is a chicken that comes back to roost in heavier
years.

"I wish I had a grandma like Jack Bray's ma. He nicked over to me w'en
I was after the cows, an' Mrs Bray ain't goin' to kick up any row
about the oranges. She says she never knew of a boy that didn't go
into orchards in their young days, and that his dad did, and people
don't think no more of a boy pickin' up a little fruit than they do of
pickin' up a stick. Yet grandma will tan the hide off of me. She done
it once before, and I was stiff for a week."

"Take a tip from me, Andrew! March into your grandma bravely; she's
the best woman I've seen; you ought to be proud to have such a
grandma! She's in the right and Mrs Bray's in the wrong. Let her
hammer you for all she's worth, and every whack you get feel proud
that she's able to give it at her time of life, and I bet when you're
a man you'll be telling every one that you had a grandma who was worth
owning. When she leaves off tell her that this is the last time she'll
ever have to do it for anything like that, and see if you don't feel
more a man than you ever did before. Promise me that's what you'll
do."

"Is that what _you'd_ do if you was me?" he inquired with surprise.

"That's what you'd do if you were me," I replied with a smile. "Just
try that. Never mind if your grandma does go for you hot and strong."

Andrew wiped the table, wrung out his dishcloth in the back-handed
manner peculiar to his sex, hung it on a nail behind the door, dried
his hands on his trousers, which for once were not "busted up," and
with a less rueful expression than he had exhibited for several hours,
went forth to meet his grandma.

About ten minutes later he returned blubbering, but it was a sunshiny
shower, and I did not despise the lad for his tears, for he had a soft
nature, and was quite a child despite his big stature and sixteen
years.

"Well?" I inquired, recognising that he was anxious to relate his
experience.

"She banged away with the strap of the breechin' till she was winded,
and then I said I hoped she'd never have to beat me again for acting
the goat in other people's gardens that didn't concern me, an' she
didn't beat me no more then, but I had plenty as it was," he said,
rubbing his seat and the calves of his legs.

"Well done, stick to that, and be thankful for such a grandma!"

"She ain't a bad old sort when you come to consider," he said with
that patronage, also an attribute of extreme youth or unsubdued
snobbishness, and when compared, snobbishness and youth have some
similar characteristics.

Next item on the programme was Mr Pornsch, whom grandma invited to
remain to midday dinner, and the old lady being sufficiently human to
denounce a swell far more fiercely behind his back than to his face,
in consideration of this one's presence, once more entrusted us to
sugar our own puddings, regardless of consequences.

After luncheon she interviewed him about his niece's health. Mr
Pornsch seemed really concerned, and said perhaps she needed to be
diverted, and that he would see about a further change, which might
prove beneficial. He then put up his eyeglass to inspect Dawn's
beauty, and ogling her, attempted to engage her in conversation; but
the girl didn't seem at all attracted by him or thankful for the
favours he brought her in the form of an exquisite box of bonbons and
the latest song.

"I don't accept presents, thank you," she said uncompromisingly.

"Do you never make exceptions?"

"Only from people I like _very_ much."

"Well, I trust I may some day be among the exceptions," he said, in a
gruesome attempt to be ingratiating; but the girl replied--

"Then you hope for impossibilities."

Somewhat disconcerted though not the least abashed, Mr Pornsch
persevered by asking if she ever went to Sydney, and stated the
pleasure it would be to him to provide her with tickets for any of the
plays; but even this could not overcome her unconquerable horror of
the various intemperances suggested by his person, so he had to
retreat.

Dawn's grandmother remonstrated with her afterwards.

"You ought to be a little more genteeler, Dawn, and you could refuse
presents just as well. Even if he isn't the takin'est old chap, that
is not any reason for you to be ungenteel."

"Well, I don't care," replied Dawn, whose exquisitely moulded chin,
despite an irresistible dimple, was expressive of determination. "If I
was a great old podge and had a blue nose from swilling and gorging,
and was fifty if I was a day, and then went goggling after a young
fellow of eighteen, he wouldn't be very civil to me, or be lectured if
he spoke to me the way I deserved, and I think these old creatures of
men ought to be discouraged by all the girls. What's sauce for the
goose is the same for the gander."

Mr Pornsch had not long departed when Mrs Bray favoured us with a
call, so grandma was spared a pilgrimage to her house. She and Carry
exchanged a stiffly formal greeting, but the visitor beamed upon the
remainder of us and seated herself in our midst.

"Oh, I say, ain't it a blessed nark to the men us going to have a
vote? He! he! Ha! ha! It fairly maddens 'em to see us getting a bit of
freedom--makes 'em that wild they don't know how to be sneerin' an'
nasty enough. Every one of us will just roll up an' use our power now
we've got it,--they've kep' our necks under their heel long enough."

"I wasn't thinkin' of the vote at present," said Grandma Clay. "I was
just off to see you about what our noble nibbs have been doin' in that
old Gawling's orchard; but I beat Andrew already in case. What did you
think of 'em?"

Mrs Bray put back her handsome head, decorated by an extremely
fashionable hat, and laughed boisterously.

"Fancy the old toad runnin' 'em down,--gave 'em a bit of a scare,
didn't it? Old mongrel, to kick up a fuss over a few paltry oranges!
As if we don't all know what boys is; why, there'd be no chance of
rarin' them without touchin' nothing, unless you carted them off to
the back-blocks where there wasn't no one within reach. I told him
what I thought of him. 'How dare you!' says I. 'Bring witnesses of
this,' said I."

Grandma Clay arose.

"Well, if that's your idea of rarin' a family, it ain't mine. Why,
can't you hear the parson's everlastin' preaching and giving examples
how taking a pin has been the start of a feller coming to the gallows;
and this is a much worse beginning than a pin! If the only way of
rarin' them not to steal was to put 'em where there was no possibility
of stealing nothink, a pretty sort of honesty that would be; you might
as well say the only way to rare a girl modest was to let her never
have a chance of being nothink else. Some people, of course, has
different views, but I believe in holding to mine; they've brought me
up to this time very well."

"Oh, you are terrible strict; you wouldn't have no peace of your life
rarin' boys if you cut things so fine as that. Now w'en women gets the
rule it might become the fashion for men to be more proper. Look here,
the men are that mad--"

Uncle Jake here interrupted her by appearing for four o'clock tea.

"Well, Mr Sorrel, now the women has come to show you how to do things,
there might be something done in the country."

"Nice fools they'll make of themselves," he sneeringly replied.

"They couldn't make no greater fools of themselves than the men has
always done,--lying in the gutter an' breakin' their faces," said Mrs
Bray.

"Wait till the women go at it, they'll fight like cats," continued
Uncle Jake, whose power to annoy depended not so much upon what he
said as his way of saying it.

Dawn chipped into the rescue at this point.

"I'm dead sick of that yarn about women fighting. It's a mean lie.
They never fight half as much as men; and girls always love each other
more, and are more friendly together than men. The only women who
fight with their own sex and call them cats are a few nasty things who
are trying to please men by helping them to keep women down and make
little of them; and the fools! that sort of meanness never pleases any
men, only those that are not worth pleasing."

"Well, now that women has the vote they ought to plough, an' drive the
trains, and let the men sit down inside," continued Jake. But Mrs Bray
descended upon him.

"Yes; an' the men ought to come inside an' sweep, an' sew, and have
their health ruined for a man's selfishness, an' be tied to a baby and
four or five toddlers from six in the mornin' till ten at night, day
in and day out, like the women do. What do you think, Mr Eweword?" she
inquired of this individual, who had joined the company and awaited
the conclusion of her remarks ere he greeted us.

"I think the women ought to vote if they want to. There's nothing to
stop 'em voting and doing their housework as well; and the Lord knows
it doesn't matter who they vote for, as all the members are only a
pack of 'skytes,' after a good billet for themselves. Think I'll have
a go for it to see if it would pay better than farmin'," he said, with
his mouth extended in a laugh that redeemed the weakness of this
feature by exhibiting the beauty of a perfect set of teeth.

"What about women havin' to keep theirselves in subjection?" persisted
Uncle Jake. This subject apparently lay near his heart.

"I always think that means for them to take care of themselves, and
not bust over the hard dragging work that men were meant for," said
Mrs Bray; "for I've always noticed that any man who puts his wife to
man's work never comes to no good in the finish. If a man can't float
his own boat, and thinks a woman can keep his and her own end up at
the same time, she might as well fold her hands from the start, as the
little she can do will never keep things goin' and only pave the way
for doctors' bills."

"You might try to argue it, but if you believe the Bible you can see
there in every page that women ain't meant only to be under men," said
the gallant Jake.

"It ain't a case of not believin' the Bible, it's only that we ain't
fools enough to believe all the ways people twists it to suit
theirselves; men as talks that way is always the sort would be in a
benevolent asylum only for some woman keepin' 'em from it," said
grandma, coming to the rescue. "Cowards always drag in the Bible to
back theirselves up far more than proper people does; and there's
always one thing as strikes me in the Bible, an' that is w'en God was
going to send His son down in human form. He considered a woman fit to
be His mother, but there wasn't a man livin' fit to be His father. I
reckon that's a slap in the face from the Almighty hisself that ought
to make men more carefuller when they try to make little of women."

Even Uncle Jake collapsed before this, and Mrs Bray ceased contention
and veered her talk to gossip.

"Young Walker has been chose by the Opposition League in Noonoon, an'
we're goin' to form a committee at once and work for him. Ada
Grosvenor is goin' to form a society for educating women how to vote."

"Ada Grosvenor!" exclaimed grandma. "I thought she would be too much a
upholder of the men to be the start of anythink like that."

"I don't see how educating one's self how to vote would be making them
a putter down of the men," said Dawn.

"Well, it's much the same thing," said Mrs Bray. "For if a woman
educates herself on anything it will show her that a lot of the men
want puttin' down--a long way down too. You'll see the men will think
it's against 'em, and try to squash her and her society, for they're
always frightened if you begin to learn the least thing you will find
out how you're bein' imposed upon; but they don't care how much you
learn in the direction of wearin' yourself out an' slavin' to save
money for them to spend on themselves."

"Oh, come now," laughed "Dora"; "we're not all so bad as that!"

"Not at your time of life w'en you're after the girls and pretendin'
you're angels to catch 'em; it's after you've got 'em in your power
that things change," said Mrs Bray.

The company was now further enlarged by the arrival of Ernest, soon
followed by a young lady I had not previously met--a tall brown-eyed
girl, with pleasant determination in every line of her well-cut face,
and who proved to be the young lady under discussion--Miss Ada
Grosvenor, daughter of the owner of the farm adjoining Bray's and
Clay's.

Her errand was to invite Dawn to join the society she was promoting.

She explained it was not for the support of a party, but for the
exchange and search of knowledge that should direct electresses to
exercise their long-withheld right in a worthy manner. I listened with
pleasure to the thoughtful and earnest ideals to be discerned
underlying the girl's practically expressed ideas, and delighted in
the humorous intelligence flashing from her clear eyes, and was
altogether favourably impressed with her as a type of womanhood--one
of the best extant.

She conversed with the elder members of the party and Ernest, and this
left "Dora" Eweword in charge of Carry and Dawn. His giggle was much
in evidence. Between blasts of it he could be heard inviting the girls
to a pull on the river, and they presently set off round the corner of
Miss Flipp's bedroom leading to the flights of wooden steps down to
the boats under the naked willows. The nature of the one swift glance
that travelled after them from Ernest's eyes did not escape my
observation, so I suggested that he, Miss Grosvenor, and myself should
follow a good example, and we did. I knew it would be a relief to him
to overtake Eweword, pull past him with ease, and leave him a speck in
the distance, as he did. I felt a satisfaction in noting Dawn watch
his splendid strokes, and Miss Grosvenor's animated conversation with
him and enthusiastically expressed admiration of his rowing. She was
not so exacting in the matter of detail as Dawn, and red hair did not
prevent her from enjoying the company of a splendid specimen of the
opposite sex when she had the rare good fortune of encountering him.

"That's a fine stamp of a girl," he cordially remarked as, having at
her request pulled the boat to the edge of the stream, she landed and
sprang up the bank for ferns; but not by any inveiglement could I
induce him to give an opinion of Dawn, which was propitious of her
being his real lady. When we pulled down stream again between the
fertile farm-lands spread with occasional orange and lemon groves,
beautiful with their great crops of yellowing fruit, we found that the
other party were already deserting their craft.

"We had to give it best. Mr Eweword soon got winded. I never saw any
one pull a boat so splendidly as you do, Mr Ernest," called the
outspoken Carry, who had not acquired the art of paying a compliment
to one member of a party without running _amok_ of the feelings of
another. Eweword, despite his shapely and imposing bulk, had not
developed his athletic possibilities so much as those of the gourmand,
and, reddening to the roots of his stubbed hair, he looked the reverse
of pleased with the tactless young woman,--an expression usually to be
found on the countenance of one or more members of a company following
the publication of her opinions.

Miss Grosvenor and Ernest continued to chat with such apparent
enjoyment that Dawn said pointedly--

"Pooh! there's no art in pulling a boat; any galoot with a little
brute force can do that,"--a remark having the desired effect, for the
young Breslaw feigned not to hear, his face rivalled the colour of
"Dora's," and his remarks grew absent.

"Oh, I don't know," persisted Carry, "I know plenty of
galoots,--they're the only sort of men there are in the Noonoon
district, and they can't row for sour apples."

Dawn singled out "Dora" Eweword, and went up the bank with him,
leaving the remainder of us together. Miss Grosvenor favoured us with
a cordial invitation to partake of the hospitality of her home during
the following evening; and delighted with the intelligence and go of
the girl, I was pleased to accept. Ernest said he would be delighted
to escort me, but Carry said she had her work to do, and had no time
to run about to people's places. Miss Grosvenor received this with a
merry twinkle in her eye, and said to me--

"Well, Dawn will come to show you the way. It is an uncomfortable path
if you don't know it;" and with this she bade good afternoon and ran
around the orchard among the square weed and wild quince, across an
area abounding in lines of barbed-wire.

Ernest too departed in a triangular direction leading to the curious
old bridge spanning the stream.

"What makes him hang about here so long?" asked Carry. "Has he a girl
in the district? Do you think he seems gone on Dawn?"

"Perhaps it's Carry?"

"No such luck. I wish he were. I suppose he has money. They say over
where he boards he has a set of rooms to himself, and is very liberal.
What would he be doing up here so long?"

"He doesn't publish his business. Perhaps he's staying in this nice
quiet nook to write a book or something," I said idly, by way of
accounting for his idleness, or the curious might have set to work to
discover more of his doings than he wished to get abroad just then.

"He doesn't look much like the fools that write books, but every one
is writing one these days. I know of five or six about Noonoon even;
it seems to be a craze."

"Perhaps a cycle!"

"I often wonder who is going to read 'em all and do the work."

This brought us to Clay's, Carry supporting me on her arm, and thus
ended her discourse.

Dora stayed for tea, but it was a dull meal, as Dawn now appeared
desirous of repelling him.

Andrew, who on account of his drubbing had been very subdued during
dinner, had regained his usual form, and when Uncle Jake, to whom the
freeing of women seemed an unabating irritation, remarked--

"Who's this young Walker? All the women will be mad for him because
he's good-looking and got a soft tongue. They ought to stick to the
present member who is known, this other fellow hasn't been heard of;"
his grand-nephew replied--

"Like Uncle Jake; he's been in the municipal council fifteen years and
never got heard of; he ought to put up an' see would the women go for
him, because he's never been heard of an' is a bit good-lookin'."

"Well, there's one thing to his credit, an' that is, he's lived over
sixty years an' never been heard of stealing fruit out of people's
gardens, an' as for looks--'Han'some is who han'some does,'" said
grandma, which effected the collapse of Andrew. In the Clay household
there were ever current reminders of the truth of the old proverb,
warning people in glass-houses to abstain from stone-throwing.

Dawn did not appear before me that night until I opened my door and
called--

"Lady Fair, the kimono awaits thy perfumed presence!"

"I don't want to come to-night; I feel as scotty as a bear with a sore
head."

"But I want you--youth must ever give way to grey hairs."

With that she appeared, and throwing herself backward on my bed,
thrust her arms crossly above her head amid a tumble of soft bright
hair.

"Youth, health, beauty, and lovers not lacking, what excuse have you
for being out of tune? I want you to pilot me to tea at Grosvenor's
to-morrow evening. Miss Grosvenor has invited you, Ernest, and
myself."

"She just wants Ernest--she's terribly fond of the men."

"Well, did you ever see a normal girl who wasn't, and Mr Ernest is a
man worth being fond of--I dearly love him myself."

"Pooh! I don't see anything nice about him," said Dawn aggressively.

"But you'll come to tea, won't you?"

"No, I can't. I never go to Grosvenors. Grandma doesn't care for them.
She says he was only a pig buyer, and settled down there about the
time she came here, and now they try to ape the swells and put on
airs. They only come here to try to get on terms with some of the
swell men. I wouldn't take him over there to please her if I were
you."

"That's where you and I differ. I would just like to please them, and
I'm sure it will do Ernest good to be in the company of such a
pleasant and sensible girl as Ada Grosvenor."

"Yes, he'd want something to do him good, if I'm any judge."

Dawn's pretty mouth and chin were so querulous that I had to turn away
to smile.

"So you won't come to tea?"

"I can't; I'd like to please you," she said somewhat softening, "but
I've promised 'Dora' Eweword I'll go out rowing with him again
to-morrow. He says he has something to say to me."

"He's been going to say this something a long time."

"Yes, but I stave him off. I know what it is right enough, and I don't
want to hear it; but I suppose I had better please grandma."

"So you like him?"

"No, I detest him, and feel like smacking him on the mouth just where
his underlip sticks out farther than the top one, every time he
speaks; but what am I to do? I'd never be let go on the stage, and I
might as well marry him as any one."

"Why marry any one? At nineteen, or ninety for that matter, there is
no imperative hurry. To marry a man you dislike because you cannot
attain your ambition is surely very silly indeed. Would you not love
'Dora' if you could go on the stage?"

"I wouldn't be seen in a forty-acred paddock with him. I'd like some
man who had travelled, not an old Australian thing just living about
here. I'd like an Englishman who'd take me home to England."

"You mustn't disparage your countrymen while I'm listening, as you'll
find no better in any country or clime. Always remember they were
among the first to enfranchise their women, and thus raise them above
the status of chatteldom and merchandise."

"They only gave us the vote because they had to. Women have had to
crawl to them for it, and pretend it was a great privilege the sweet
darling almighties were allowing us, when all the time it has been our
right, and they were selfish cowards who deserve no thanks for
withholding it so long. And they gave it that grudgingly and are that
narked about it, it makes me sick."

"Of course, when the matter is stripped to bare facts, the truth of
your remarks is irrefutable, but we must gauge things comparatively,
and remember how many other nations won't even grudgingly free their
women. If you don't like Eweword I can't see any pressing necessity to
think of marriage at all."

"Oh, well, I'd have it done then and wouldn't be everlasting plagued
on the subject," she said with the unreasonableness of irritability.

"Would it not be better though to wait a little while in hopes of a
better choice?"

"But I suppose it will always be the same. Any man at all worth
consideration is sure to be married or at any rate is engaged."

Here was the clue to her irritation. It was that imaginary young lady
of Ernest Breslaw's. Had she been a man, ere this she would have
plunged into vigorous attempt to dislodge that or any other rival, no
matter how assured his position, but being a woman and compelled to
await "The idiot Chance her imperial Fate," the effect of such
suppression on so robust and strenuous a nature was this form of
hysteria.

"Well, what about a struggle for the desire of your heart? Undoubtedly
you have, if well trained, sufficient voice to be a great asset on the
stage, but it would take at the very least two years' hard work under
a good master before it would be in the least fit for public use."

"I'd be twenty-one then."

"You are just at a good age to stand vigorous training."

"But what's the use of talking," she said hopelessly, "you don't know
how mad grandma is against the stage. She says she'd rather see me in
my grave, and I feel I'd never prosper if I went against her."

"Very likely her point of view is founded on hard facts, but training
your voice isn't going on the stage, and in two years, if you are able
to sing decently, perhaps no one will be so anxious as your grandma
that you should be heard,--I've heard of such a case before;" and I
didn't add that two years was a long way ahead for an old woman of
seventy-six, and also for a girl to whom study was not quite a fetich,
and ample time for the or some knight to have come to the rescue.
These thoughts were not for publication, as they might have made me
appear a traitor to the prejudices of one party and the desire of the
other, whereas I was loyal to them both.

"It would be lovely if you could get on the soft side of grandma, but
I'm afraid it's impossible. Fancy being able to sing and please
people, and travel about in nice cities away from dusty, dreary, slow
old Noonoon," said the girl, the crossness melting from her pretty
face and giving place to radiance.

She toyed with some silk scarves of mine, and between whiles said--

"Isn't it funny some people think one thing good and others don't. No
one around here wants to be on the stage but me, or seems to
understand that actresses are made out of ordinary people like you and
me. 'Dora' doesn't know anything about the stage, but Mr Ernest does.
He doesn't think them terrible women, and says that his best woman
friend was an actress once. If you thought grandma could be brought
round at all I wouldn't go out with Dora to-morrow, I'd go with you to
get out of it. Mr Ernest seemed to be very pleased with Ada
Grosvenor; is she the same style as his young lady?"

This question wasn't asked because Dawn was transparent, but because I
had led her to believe I was dense.

"No, not at all," I replied.

"What is she like?"

"She's about five feet five, and has a plump, dimpling figure. Her
hair is bright brown, and her nose is an exquisitely cut little
straight one. (Here I observed Dawn casting surreptitious glances in
the mirror opposite.) Her eyes are bright blue with long dark lashes,
and she has a mouth too pretty to describe, fitted up with a set of
the loveliest natural teeth one could see in these days of the
dentist; it is so perfect that it seems unnatural and a sad pity that
it should sometimes be the outlet of censorious remarks about less
beautiful sisters, but its owner is very young and not surrounded by
the best of influences at present, and no doubt will have better sense
as she grows older."

"What's her name?"

"Now you want to know too much, but I never knew another girl with
such a beautiful one."

"She must be a beauty altogether," said Dawn rather satirically.

"She would be if she would only guard against being cross at times,
but you must not breathe this to a soul as I'm only going on
supposition. Young Ernest isn't engaged to her, but I've seen him with
her once or twice, and he looked so pleased that I suspected him of
kind regards, as no man could help admiring her."

"Is that all?" she said in a tone of relief; "he mightn't care for
her at all. Just walking about with her and looking happy isn't any
criterion. Men are always doing that with every girl."

"Dora didn't look happy with me to-night then--how do you account for
that?"

She accounted for it with a merry laugh, as curled in the silk kimono
she remained in possession of my nightly couch.

I was espousing this girl's cause because I could not bear to see her
honest, wholesome youth and beauty making fuel for disappointment and
bitterness as mine had done. There had been no one to help me attain
the desire--the innocent, just, and normal desire of my girlhood's
heart,--no one to lend a hand, till my heart had broken with slavery
and disappointment, and at less than thirty-five all that remained for
me was a little barren waiting for its feeble fluctuating pumping to
cease.

The girl presently fell asleep, so I covered her, kimono and all, and
extinguishing the light, lay down beside what had once been a tiny
baby, whose feeble life opening with the day had been nurtured on the
milk of old Ladybird, the spotted cow with a dew-lap and a crumpled
horn. She was now, I trusted, enjoying the reward of her earthly
labours in that best of heavens we love to picture for the dear
animals that have served us well, and but for whose presence the world
would be dreary indeed, while the sleep of her beautiful
foster-daughter had advanced to hold dreams of jewelled gowns,
thrilling solos, travel, and splendid young husbands who could do no
wrong, but she knew no room for thought of "Dora," who on the morrow
was to row her on the Noonoon. He might as well have relinquished the
chase, for his chances here had grown as faint as those of pretty Dora
Cowper--whose leg he classically stated he had pulled--had grown with
him.

Ah, well, there is a law of retribution in all things, direct or
indirect, visible or invisible.

I lay awake a long time contemplating the best way of approaching
Grandma Clay in regard to Dawn's singing lessons. One by one the
passenger trains streamed into Noonoon, halted a panting five minutes
at the station, then rumbled over the strange old iron-walled bridge,
slowed down again to the little siding of Kangaroo on the other side,
from whence up, up, the mountain-sides above the fertile valley,
leaving the peaceful agriculturists soundly asleep after their toil.
The heavy "goods" lumbered by unceasingly, the throbbing of their
great engines, their signalling, shunting, and tooting proving a
perennial delight to me, comforting me with the knowledge that I still
could feel a pulsation from the great population centres where my
fellows congregate.

It had lulled me to doziness, when I was aroused by the electric alarm
bell, the purpose of which was to warn folk when a train neared the
bridge. A very necessary device, as there was but one bridge for all
traffic, it being cut into two departments by three high iron walls
that shut out an exquisite view of the river, and confined and
intensified the rumble of trains in a manner well calculated to
inspire the least imaginative of horses with the fear that the powers
of evil had broken loose about them. The alarm-bell was humanly
contrary in the discharge of its duty, and rang long and loudly when
there was no train, and was not to be heard at all when they were
rushing by in numbers. On this occasion, there being no train to drown
its blatant voice, it so disturbed me that I was keenly alive to a
dialogue that was proceeding in Miss Flipp's room.

"You must go away, I tell you," said Mr Pornsch. "A nice thing it
would be if a man in _my_ position were implicated."

"I didn't think a man of _your_ class would be so cruel," sobbed the
girl.

In rejoinder the man admitted one of the truths by which our
civilisation is besmirched.

"There's only one class of men in dealing with women like you."

Then fell a silence, during which Dawn turned in her sleep, and I
placed her head more comfortably lest she should awake and hear what
was proceeding.

Not that it would in any way have sullied her, for her virtue, by
sound heredity and hardy training, was no hothouse plant, liable to
shrivel and die if not kept in a certain temperature, but was a sturdy
tree, like the tall white-trunked young gums of her native forests, on
which the winds of knowledge could blow and the rains of experience
fall without in any way mutilating or impairing its reliability and
beauty. It was for the sake of our poor sister wayfarer who was on a
terrible thoroughfare, amid robbers and murderers, but who did not
want her plight to be known, that I did not wish Dawn to awake.




FOURTEEN.

THE PASSING OF THE TRAINS.


Next morning, when Andrew and I had finished the separator, grandma
came over to inspect the work. She sniffed round the dishes and cans,
which barely passed muster, and then descended upon the table by
running her slender old forefinger along the eaves, with the result
that it came up soiled with the greasy slush that careless wiping had
left there.

"Look at that, you dirty good-for-nothink young shaver; if the
inspector came round we'd most likely lose our licence for it, an'
it's no fault of mine. If a great lump your age can't be depended on
for nothink, I don't know what the world is coming to. I have to be
responsible for everythink that goes on your back and into your
stummick, and yet you can't do a single thing. You think I'm
everlastin' joring, but I have to be. Some day, if ever you have a
house of your own, you'll know how hard it is."

"I'm goin' to take jolly fine care I never have no house of me own.
The game ain't worth the candle," responded Andrew; "I reckon them as
comes and lives in the place, like some of them summer-boarders, and
orders us about as if they was Lord Muck an' we wasn't anybody, has
the best of it."

"That ain't the point. I'm ashamed of that table. W'en I was young no
one ever had to speak to me about things once, before I knew. Once I
left drips round the end of my table, and me mother come along and
'Martha,' says she--"

"It's a wonder the wonderful Jim Clay didn't say it," muttered the
irreverent representative of the degenerate rising generation _sotto
voce_.

"'If that's the way you wash a table,' says she, 'no blind man would
choose you for his wife,' for that was the way they told if their
sweetheart was a good housekeeper, by feelin' along the table w'en
they was done washin' up."

"An' what did you say?" interestedly inquired Andrew.

"I didn't say nothink. In them days young people didn't be gabbing
back to their elders w'en they was spoke to, but held their mag an'
done their work proper," she crushingly replied.

"But I was thinkin'," said Andrew quite unabashed, "that you was a
terrible fool to be took in with that yarn. For who'd want to be
married by a blind man, an' I reckon that blind men oughtn't be let to
marry at all, and I think anyhow he ought to have been glad to get any
woman, without sneakin' around an' putting on airs about being
particular," he earnestly contended.

"But that ain't the point, anyhow," said she.

"Well, what did you tell it to me for, grandma?"

"Hold your tongue," said the old lady irately; "sometimes you might
argue with me, but there's reason in everythink, an' if you don't
have that table scrubbed and cleaned proper by the next time I come
round you'll hear about it."

With this she walked farther on towards the pig-sty and cow-bails, and
considering this a good opportunity for private conversation I went
with her, remarking in a casual manner--

"Your granddaughter has a very good voice."

"Yes; a good deal better than _some people_ that think they can sing
like Patti, and set theirselves up about it."

"Yes; but she badly needs training."

"She sings twice as well as some that has been trained and fussed
with."

"Probably; but she requires training to preserve the voice. She
produces it unnaturally, and in a few years the voice will be cracked
and spoilt."

"All the better, an' then she'll give up wanting to go on the stage
with it."

"Is there anything frightful in that?" I said gently. "A great many
mothers would give all they possessed to get their daughters on the
stage. It is an exploded idea to think the stage a bad place."

"A lot is always tellin' me that, an' I believed them till I went to
see for meself, and the facts was too much of a eye-opener for me.
I'll keep to me own opinions for the future. It will be three years
ago this month, Dawn prevailed upon me to go to a play there was a lot
of blow about, an' I was never so ashamed in me life. I didn't expect
much considerin' the way I was rared regardin' theayters, but it beat
all I ever see."

"What was it?"

"I don't know the name, but it was a character of a play. There was
women in it must have been forty by the figure of them, and they had
all their bosoms bare, and showed their knees in little short skirts.
They stood in rows and grinned--the hussies! They ought to have set
down an' hid theirselves for shame! I thought we must have made a
mistake and got into a fast show, but we read in the paper after that
among the audience was all the big bugs, an' they seemed to be
enjoyin' theirselves an' laughing as if it was a intellectual,
respectable entertainment. I wanted to get up an' leave, but Dawn
coaxed me an' I give in, an' thought the next might be better, but it
was worse. I give you my word for it, there was hussies there on that
stage, before respectable people's eyes, trying all they knew to make
men be bad. They was fast pure and simple, just the same as some Jim
Clay told me about once when he went to Sydney on his own. The way he
described their carryin's on was just like them actresses on the
stage, an' me a respectable married woman who's rared a family, havin'
paid to look at them! I was ashamed to hold me head up after it for a
long time. 'It's only actin', grandma,' says Dawn, but to think that
people would act things like that; no good modest woman would ever do
it, an' the Bible strictly warns us to abstain from the appearance of
evil. An' even that wasn't all; they come out an' kissed one
another--married women supposed to be kissing other men. What sort of
a example was that to be setting other men an' women? It was the
lowerin'est thing I ever see. I told Dawn she was not to breathe where
we had been, an' from that day to this I never would have a actor or a
actress in my house. I'd just as soon have a _real_ loud woman as one
who gets out on a stage where every one is lookin' at her and
pretends to be one. She'd have no shame to stand between her and the
bad. Oh no! there must be reason in everythink. I was prepared for a
terrible lot of fools and rot, but that I should be so lowered was a
eye-opener."

"I feel exactly the same in regard to the stage, Mrs Clay, but I like
concerts, when the singers just come out and sing--do you not?"

"That ain't so bad, I admit."

"You would not object to Dawn singing on a platform, would you?"

"No; doesn't she often sing on the platform in Noonoon? They're always
after her for some concert or another. It's a bad plan to sing too
much for them. They don't thank you for it. They'd only say we're
tired of him or her, and the one who'd be sour an' wouldn't sing often
would be considered great."

"Well, let her have lessons, so she could sing with greater ease at
these concerts."

"She can sing well enough for that. It would be throwing away money
for nothink."

"But if trained she could sometimes command a fee."

"I've got plenty to keep her without that," said the old lady,
bridling, "and it might give her stronger notions for the stage."

I was thankful that I had never published my calling.

"I had me own ideas of them before--walkin' about, and everythink they
do or say they're wonderin' what people is thinkin' of them, and if
they're observin' what great bein's they are. An' I've seen 'em
here--goin' in fer drink an' all bad practices, and w'en I remonstrate
with 'em, 'It's me temperament,' says they, an' led me to believe by
the airs of them that this temperament makes 'em superior to the likes
of ordinary human bein's like me an' you; an' this temperament that
makes 'em not fit to do honest common work, but is makin' 'em low
crawlers, is the thing that at the same time makes 'em superior. I
don't see meself how the two things can be reconciled. There must be
reason in everythink."

"If you want to turn your granddaughter from the stage, let her start
vocal training. You'll see that before twelve months she'll have
enough of it. It would keep her content for the present, and in the
meantime she might marry," I contended.

"If I could be sure she wouldn't come in contact with them actin' and
writin' fools; if she was to marry one of them it would be all up with
her. Do you know anythink about teachers?"

"Yes; I would be only too pleased to see to that part of it. Your
granddaughter is a great pleasure to me. She gives me some interest in
life which, having no relations and being unfit for permanent
occupation, I would otherwise lack."

"Well, I'm sure Dawn would interest anybody, and I think you're a good
companion for her. She seems to have took up with you, and you've
evidently been a person that's seen somethink, an' can tell her this,
that, an' the other, but as for that she don't want no tellin' to be
better than most. _Some people!_--" Grandma always worked herself up
to a pitch of congested choler when these unworthy individuals were
mentioned.

"I'll think about the singin' lessons if they ain't beyond reason.
She's been terrible good lately, and deserves somethink. Here's Larry
Witcom arrove, an' there's Carry gone out to him. I want to see him
meself; he's been a little too strong with his prices lately, but he's
the obliginest feller in many ways. I don't hear anythink about it not
bein' Carry's week in the kitchen w'en Larry comes. She's always ready
to give Dawn a hand then. But we was all young once; I can remember
w'en I worked a point, whether it was me turn or not, to get near Jim
Clay."

"Dawn, I think the battle for the singing lessons is half won," I said
to that individual when I met her privately a few minutes later.

"Really, it can't be true!" said the girl with an intonation of
delight, as she drew a tea-towel she had been washing through her
shapely hands and wrung it dry.

Uncle Jake then entered, and cut short further private discussion.

"There, Dawn!" he said, tossing a pair of trousers on the
kitchen-table, "the seat of them is out, an' I want to put 'em on to
do a little blacksmithin'--they're dirty."

"That's easy to be seen and known too, as some people's things are
always dirty," said she. "When do you want them?"

"At once."

"At once! You'd come in the middle of cooking some pastry and want a
woman to put patches on a dirty old pair of trousers, and then want to
know why the dinner wasn't up to tick; and besides, it's Carry's week
in the house."

For Dawn's sake I would have offered to do the patching, but feared
Uncle Jake might suspect me of matrimonial designs upon him, such
being the conceit of old men.

"I never go to Carry," he snapped, "an' it's a pity your mother
wasn't alive instead of you, she could put a patch on in five minutes
any time you asked her, but she never spent her time in roarin' and
bellerin' round after a vote;" and so saying Uncle Jake disappeared,
leaving his grandniece with her pretty pink cheeks deepened to
scarlet, and a spark in her blue eyes.

"The old dog! if he wasn't grandma's brother I'd hate him. It's always
these crawling old things who can do nothing themselves, and have to
be kept by a woman, who are always the worst at trying to make women's
position lower, and talk about them as inferior. He's always after a
woman to do this and to do that, and comparing her--I'd like to see
the woman, mother or father--who could put a patch on those pants in
five minutes."

"There's one way it could be done in the time," I said, calling to
mind a prank related by a gay little friend--"clap it on with
cobbler's wax."

Dawn's eyes danced, and the irritation receded from the corners of the
pretty mouth as, procuring a piece of cloth and a lump of cobbler's
wax, she did the deed in less than five minutes, and Uncle Jake
contentedly received his trousers, while I departed to put in some
more time with my friend Andrew, without telling her there might be a
sequel to patching trousers with cobbler's wax.

"Well, Andrew, how goes the scrubbing?"

"Oh, great! Look at that!" said he, drawing back to exhibit a really
clean table; and as it would not have conduced to our friendship had I
pointed out that it had been arrived at at the expense of slushing the
lime-washed wall and the stand of the separator, I wisely kept
silent.

"There! I reckon me grandma nor Jim Clay neither never done a table
better," he said with enviable self-appreciation. "You know I reckon
them old yarns about the people bein' so good w'en they was young is a
little too thin to stand washin'--don't you? You've only got to take
the things the wonderful Jim Clay and me grandma done w'en they was
courtin',--you get her on a string to tell you,--an' if Dawn done the
same with any of the blokes now, she'd jolly soon hear about it; an'
as for old Jake there, I reckon I'd be able to put him through meself
at his own age--don't you? Anyhow, I'm full of farmin'. It's only
fools an' horses sweat themselves, all the others go in for
auctioneering, or parliament, or something, and have a fine screw
comin' in for nothing."

"But think of those water-melons," I said; for as a subject of
conversation he most frequently and most lovingly referred to these.

"But I could buy a waggon-load of 'em for one day's pay, an' not have
any tuggin' and scratchin' with 'em. Melons ain't too stinkin', but
lor', tomatoes is a stunner! They rotted till you couldn't stand the
smell of them, and it would give a billy-goat the pip to hear them
mentioned. There was no sale, and the blow-flies took to 'em. One man
down here had thirty acres. I'm goin' to be somethink, so I can make a
bit of money. No one thinks anythink of you if you ain't got plenty
money. You know how you feel if a person has plenty money, you think
twice as much of him as if he hasn't any. There's nothink to be made
at farmin', delvin' and scrapin' your eyeballs out for no return,"
said this youngster, who did barely enough to keep him in exercise,
who had been fed to repletion, and comfortably clothed and bedded all
his sixteen years.

Luncheon or dinner was enlivened by an altercation between Dawn and
her uncle.

The blacksmithing to which he had referred was the act of sitting down
beside the forge, where he had grown so warm that the sequel to
mending trousers with cobbler's wax had eventuated. The melted wax had
attached the garment to the old man's person, and he had sat--his
sitting capacity was incalculable--until it had cooled again, and on
rising suffered an amount of discomfort it would be graceful to leave
to the imagination. Uncle Jake however was not so considerate, and
aired his grievance in a manner too brutally real for imagination.

To do her justice Dawn did not think of the joke going thus far, so I
attempted to take the blame, but she would not have this.

"I want him to think I knew how it would turn out. I'd do it to him
every day if I could."

Grandma fortunately took her part, and the mirth of Andrew and Carry
was very genuine.

"I reckon I was as smart as my mother that time," giggled Dawn, as she
carried in the dinner.

"It would have been a funny joke if you played it on some
good-humoured young feller," said grandma, "but Jake there is entitled
to some kind of consideration, because he is old and crotchety."

"I'd play it on 'Dora' Eweword," said Dawn, "only that he might stick
here so that he'd never move at all if I didn't take care."

The first moment we had in private she took opportunity of saying--

"I think I'll go over to Grosvenor's with you this evening, but not
to tea. I'll go over to bring you home, if you'll help me make some
excuse to get out of going rowing with 'Dora.'"

"Why not come to tea? that would be sufficient excuse."

"Oh, but they try to ape the swells, and grandma doesn't like them;
but I'll be sure to go for you after it, and that will save Mr Ernest
coming round with you."

I thanked her, though her escort was not at all necessary, seeing that
instead of saving Ernest it would only make his presence surer. There
being nothing else to do during the afternoon, I awaited the time of
setting out for the Grosvenor's, who tried to ape the swells--the
swells of Noonoon! These being, as far as I could gather, the doctors,
the lawyer, a couple of bank managers on a salary somewhere about £250
per annum, the Stip. Magistrate, and one or two others--surely an
ordinarily harmless and averagely respectable section of the
community, in aping whom one would be in little danger of being called
upon to act up to an etiquette as intricate and tyrannous as that in
use at court.

In the old days the town had been the terminus of the train, and it
had squatted at the foot of the mountains, while strings of teams
carried the goods up the great western road out to Bathurst and
beyond, to Mudgee, Dubbo, and Orange. Nearly all the old
houses--grandma's and Grosvenor's among them--had been hotels in those
days, when the miles had been ticked off by the square stones with the
Roman lettering, erected by our poor old convict pioneers, who blazed
many a first track. Every house had found sufficient trade in giving
D.T.'s to the burly, roystering teamsters who lived on the roads,
dealt in no small quantities, and who did not see their wives and
sweethearts every week in the year.

As the afternoon advanced, true to appointment, "Dora" Eweword arrived
to take Dawn for a row. His chin was red from the razor, and he looked
well in a navy-blue guernsey brightened by a scarlet tie knotted at
the open collar, displaying a columnar throat which, if strength were
measured by size, announced him capable of supporting not only a Dawn,
but a Sunset. He sat on an Austrian chair, for which he was some sizes
too large and too substantial, and reddened as he laughed and talked
with Carry, till I appeared and spent some time in talking and
admiring his appearance until Dawn came upon the scene.

"Well, Dawn," he said, "I'm waiting for this row; are you ready?"

Dawn glanced at me.

"Dawn has promised to chaperon me to-night," I said. Dawn decamped.

"Miss Grosvenor has invited Mr Ernest and me to tea, and to go without
a representative of Mrs Grundy, I believe, is not correct in the
social life of Noonoon."

Eweword laughed; but his face fell, and his reply showed him less
obtuse than he appeared on the surface, seeing he was the first and
only person to see through my matchmaking tactics.

"Touting for the red-haired bagman," he said, as Ernest could be seen
swinging up the path.

"Supposing I am, what then?" I asked, regarding him with a level
glance, and feeling more respect for his intelligence than I had
heretofore experienced.

"Oh, well, I suppose all is fair in some things."

He would not say _love_, as that would have admitted too much, and a
lover admitting his passion and a drunkard confessing his disease are
exceptions that prove the rule.

His remark was uttered with a broad good nature that would lead him to
do and leave undone great things. In a desire to please the present
girl he was not above saying he had been "pulling the leg" of the one
absent, but he would also be capable of standing aside when he felt
deeply--as deeply as he could feel--to allow a better man sea-room;
and he was further capable of sufficient humility to think there could
be a better man than himself, or so I adjudged him, and being the only
narrator of this, the only history in which he is likely to receive
mention, this delineation of his character will have to remain
unchallenged.

Ernest had a geranium in his button-hole, and looked more immaculately
spruce than ever, and even his red hair could not obliterate the fact
of his being a goodly sight, and as such grandma recognised him.

"That's a fine sturdy chap," she afterwards observed. "It's a pity he
ain't got somethink to do to keep him out of mischief. Is he a
unemployed? He don't look like one of these Johnnies that has nothink
to do but hang around a street corner and smoke a cigarette."

The two young men measured glances every whit as critically as girls
do under similar conditions, and then equally as casually made
reference to the weather. Ernest was somewhat overshadowed by Eweword,
as the latter was superior in size and cast of features, being fully
six feet, while Ernest was not more than five feet nine inches; but as
a girl very rarely, if she has a choice, cares most for the handsomest
of her admirers, I was not in the least cast down about this.

When it was time for me to depart, Ernest rose too, but not Dawn.
Ernest's face went down, Eweword's brightened.

"Miss Dawn is not coming over now, but later on," I said.

The men's glances reversed once more. As the former and I
departed--Ernest carrying a wrap for me--I heard Eweword say--

"Well, come on, Dawn, you're not going to Grosvenor's after all. It
seems that old party was only pulling my leg."

Ernest good-naturedly struggled to talk with me, but I spared him the
ordeal, and, arrived at Grosvenor's, interestedly studied them to
discover what manner of procedure "trying to ape the swells" might
be--the swells of Noonoon--the doctor who thought I might "peg out"
any minute, and the bank managers and the parsons.

The only difference to be observed between the tea-table at Clay's and
Grosvenor's was that at the latter the equivalents of Uncle Jake and
Andrew did not appear in a coatless condition, were treated to the
luxury of table-napkins, and Mrs Grosvenor, who served, attended to
people according to their rank instead of their position at the table,
and entrusted them with the sugar-basin and milk-jug themselves.
Farther than this there was no distinction, and this was not an
alarming one. Certainly Miss Grosvenor, who had not enjoyed half
Dawn's educational advantages, did not as glaringly flout syntax, and
slang was not so conspicuous in her vocabulary. She and Ernest got on
so well that none but my practised eyes could detect that as the
evening advanced his brown ones occasionally wandered towards the
entrance door, which showed that much as Miss Grosvenor had got him
out of his shell, she had not obliterated Dawn.

That young lady arrived at about a quarter to ten, and we started
homewards, determining to go a long way round, first by way of the
Grosvenor's vehicle road to town, by this gaining the public highway,
along which we would walk to the entrance to grandma's demesne. This
was preferable to a short-cut and rolling under the barbed-wire
fencing in the long grass sopping with dew, which at midnight or
thereabouts would stiffen with the soft frosts of this region that
would flee before the sun next morning.

Dawn's cheeks were scarlet from rowing on the river with "Dora"
Eweword, and she spoke of her jaunt as soon as we got outside,
apparently pregnant with the knowledge innate in the dullest of her
sex, that the most efficacious way of giving impetus to the love of
one lover is to have another.

This, however, is another art which, like good cooking, must be "done
to the turn," and in this instance there was danger of it being done
too soon, as Ernest's amour had not taken firm root yet; and a man,
unless he be either of gigantic pluck or no honour at all, will not
hurry to interfere with the secured property of another man.

They chatted in a desultory fashion while I manoeuvred to relieve
them of my presence. The night was lit by a million stars, paling
towards the east, where behind the hills a waning moon was putting in
an appearance. The electric lights of the town scintillated like
artificial stars, and away down the long valley could be seen here and
there the twinkle of a farmhouse light, showing where some held mild
wassail or a convivial evening; for there were not many of the
agriculturalists, tired from their heavy toil, who were otherwise out
of bed at this ungodly hour of the night.

The crisp winter air agreed with me, and I felt unusually well.

"Let me walk behind, this night is too glorious to waste in talking
politics, so you young people get out of my hearing and thresh out
your candidate's merit and demerit and leave me to think," I said, for
politics were in the air and they were touching upon them. They obeyed
me, and soon were lost to view in the dark of the osage and quince
hedges grown as breakwinds on the west of Grosvenor's orangery. Soon I
could not hear their footfalls, for I stood still to watch the trains
pass by. 'Twas the hour of the last division of the Western passenger
mail, bearing its daily cargo of news and people to the great plains
beyond the hills that loomed faintly in the light of the half moon.
Haughtily its huge first-class engine roared along, and its carriage
windows, like so many warm red mouths, permitted a glimpse of the folk
inside comfortably ensconced for the night. It slowed across the long
viaduct approaching the bridge, and crossed the bridge itself with a
roar like thunder, then it swerved round a curve to Kangaroo till the
window-lights gave place to its two red eyes at the rear. As it
climbed the first spur of the great range, and all that could be seen
was a belch of flame from the engine-door as it coaled, something of
the old longing awoke within me for things that must always be far
away. The throbbing engines spoke to my heart, and forgetting its
brokenness, it stirred again to their measure--the rushing, eager
measure of ambition, strife, struggle! I was young again, with youth's
hot desire to love and be loved, and as its old bitter-sweet
clamourings rushed over me I rebelled that my hair was grey and my
propeller disabled. The young folks ahead had put me out of their life
as young folks do, and, measuring the hearts of their seniors by the
white in their hair and the lines around their eyes, would have been
incredulous that I still had capacity for their own phase. Only the
royalty of youth is tendered love in full measure; those who fail to
attain or grasp it then find this door, from which comes enticing
perfume and sound of luring music, shut against them for all time, and
no matter how appealingly they may lean against its portals, it will
rarely open again, for they have been laid by to be sold as remnants
like the draper's goods which have failed to attract a buyer during
the brief season they were displayed. I stood under the whispering
osage and listened to the now distant train puffing its way over the
wild mountains, also to be crossed by the great road first cut by
those whose now long dead limbs had carried chains--members of a
bygone brigade as I was one of a passing company. But probably they
each had had their chance of love, and the old bitterness upsprung
that mine had not fallen athwart my pathway. Fierce struggle had
always shut me away from similar opportunity to that enjoyed by the
young people ahead.

"Put back your cruel wheel, O Time!" I cried in my heart, "and give me
but one hour's youth again--sweet, ecstatic youth with the bounding
pulse, led by the purple mirage of Hope, whose sirens whisper that the
world's sweets are sweet and its crowns worth winning. Let me for a
space be free from this dastard age creeping through the veins,
dulling the perspective of life and leadening the brain, whose carping
companions draw attention to the bitters in the cups of Youth's
Delights, and mutter that the golden crowns we struggle for shall
tarnish as soon as they are placed on our tired brows!" Suddenly my
bitter reverie was broken by the knight and the lady calling in
startled tones. I replied, and presently they were upon me, Dawn very
much out of breath.

"Oh, goodness, we thought you were ill again. You have given us such a
shock. You should not have been left behind. I was a terrible brute
that I didn't harness the pony and drive over for you;" and Ernest
came in a slow second with--

"You should have taken my arm," and he wrapped my cloak about me with
the high quality of gentleness peculiar to the best type of strong
man.

Despite my assurance that I never had felt better, they insisted upon
supporting me on either side; so slipping a hand through each of the
young elbows conveniently bent, I playfully put the large hand on the
right of me over the dimpling one on the left.

"There!" I said, taking advantage of the liberties extended a probable
invalid, "I've made a breastwork of the hands of the two dearest young
friends I have, so now I cannot fall;" and seeing I put it at that, at
that they were content to let it remain, and the big hand very
carefully retained the little one, so passive and warm, in its shy
grasp. At the gate I dismissed Ernest, and Dawn condescended to remark
that he wasn't _quite_ such a fool as usual, which interpreted meant
that he had not been so guardedly stand-off to her as he sometimes
was.

The trains once more entertained my waking hours that night. Under
Andrew's tutorage I had learned to distinguish the rumble of a "goods"
from the rush of a "passenger," a two-engine haul from a single, and
even the heavy voice of the big old "shunter" that lived about the
Noonoon station had grown familiar; but the haughtiest of all was a
travelling engine attended only by its tender, and speeding by with
lightsome action, like a governor thankfully free from officialdom
and hampered only by a valet.

Musing on what a little time had elapsed since the work of the
passenger trains had been done by the coaches with their grey and bay
teams of five, swinging through the town at a gallop, and with their
occupants armed to the teeth against bushrangers, I dozed and dreamt.
I dreamt that I was in one of the sleeping-cars which had superseded
Cobb & Co.'s accommodation for travellers, and that from it I could
see in a bird's-eye view not only the magnificent belt of mountains,
the bluest in the world, but whirling down their westward slopes with
a velocity outstripping the scented winds from sandal ridges and myall
plains, I slid across that great western stretch of country where a
portion of the railway line runs for a hundred and thirty-six miles
without rise or fall or curve in the longest straight ribbon of steel
that is known. But ere I reached its end I wakened with a start
through something falling in Miss Flipp's room.

Surely I had not slept for more than half an hour, because the light
which had shone in the adjoining room as we returned from Grosvenor's
was still burning. Presently Miss Flipp put it out, and closing her
door after her, stealthily made her way from the house. She trod
cautiously and noiselessly, but her gown caught on the lower sprouts
of the ragged old rose-bushes beside the walks, and though she took a
long time to open the little gate opening towards the wharves and the
narrow pathway running along the river-bank to the bridge, it creaked
a little on its rusty hinges, so that I heard it and fell to awaiting
the girl's return.

I waited and waited, and beguiled the time by counting the trains that
passed with the quarter hours. There were so many that I soon lost
count. This line carried goods to the great wheat and wool-growing
west and brought its produce to the city. Many of the noisy trains
were laden with "fifteen hundred" and "two thousand" lots of "fats,"
and the yearly statistics dealing with the sales at Homebush
chronicled their total numbers as millions. From beyond Forbes,
Bourke, and Brewarrina they came in trucks to cross the bridge
spanning the noble stream at the mountain's base, but they never went
back again to the great plains where they had basked in plenty or
staggered through droughts as the fickle seasons rose and fell. The
voracious, insatiable maw of the city was a grave for them all, and
the commercial greed which falls so heavily on the poor dumb beasts in
which it traffics, caged them so tightly for their last journey that
by the time they reached Noonoon they were bruised and cramped and not
a few trodden under foot. The empty trucks going west again made the
longest trains, as they could be laden with nothing but a little
wire-netting for settlers who were fighting the rabbits, and were
easily distinguishable from other "goods," as when they clumsily and
jerkily halted the clanking of their couplings and the bumping of
their buffers could be heard for a mile or more down the valley. The
splendid atmosphere intensified all sounds and carried them an unusual
distance, and many a time at first I was wont to be aroused from sleep
in the night with a notion that the thundering trains were going to
run right over the house.

On the night in question I had not heard Miss Flipp return from her
midnight tryst, though all the luggage trains had passed and it neared
the time of the first division of the up or citywards mail from the
west, which was the earliest train to arrive in town from the country
daily. It passed Noonoon in the vicinity of 4 A.M.--a radiant hour in
the summer dawn, but then in winter, the time when bed is most
alluring, when the passengers' breath congeals on the window-panes,
they complain that the foot-warmers have got cold, and give yet one
more twist to their comforters and another tug at their 'possum or
wallaby rugs. This train passed with its shaking thunder, drew into
Noonoon for refreshments, then on and on with noisy energy, but still
Miss Flipp did not return.

I concluded that she must have decided to leave us in this fashion, or
that I had missed her entry during the rumble of a passing train, or
mayhap I had snoozed for a moment, or perhaps an hour, as the
unsympathetic heavy sleepers aver the insomnists must do; and ceasing
to be on the alert any longer, I really slept.




FIFTEEN.

ALAS! MISS FLIPP!


I hastened to appear at the half-past seven breakfast, as no excuse
for non-appearance was taken, and the only concession made to Miss
Flipp, who had not been present at it for some time, was that she
could make herself a cup of cocoa when she chose to rise. For this
meal grandma ladled out the porridge and flavoured it with milk and
sugar in the usual way.

"I say, Dawn, which of them blokes, Ernest or Dora, is the best
boat-puller?" inquired Andrew as he received his portion. "You were
mighty stingy with the sugar, grandma!"

"Dora isn't in it," responded Carry. "Mr Ernest could get ahead of him
every time."

"So he ought!" said Dawn. "His ears are the size of a pair of sails,
and would pull him along."

Thus was published another defect in my knight, till I feared that it
must be only my partial gaze that discerned a knight at all.

"Dear me," interposed grandma, "a man can't look or speak or walk but he's
this, that, and the other. Things weren't so in my day. Of course there
were some things that were took exception to, but there must be reason in
everythink, an' I don't see what difference a man's ears being a little big
makes. My father's ears--your great-grandfather's--was none too small, an'
he was always a good kind man."

"I don't care if my own ears were big, it wouldn't make me like them,"
said the irrepressible Dawn; and grandma had just finished what she
termed "dosing" the last plate of porridge, when we were interrupted
by the appearance of policeman Danby at the French Lights. There was
nothing strange in this appearance of the embodiment of the law, even
at that early hour of the morning; for the huge young man with the
rollicking face and curly hair, though a good officer in attending to
his work, was a better in admiring a girl, which, after all, taking
matters at the base, is the chief and most vital business of life, as,
were it neglected, there would be no police or populace.

Well, as I said, policeman Danby knew a pretty girl when he saw one,
and there being two at Clay's, that household, in the way of the law,
was very well looked after indeed; and for the purpose of escaping the
annual registration fee, Andrew's little dog, "Whiskey," had remained
a puppy as long as some young ladies tarry under thirty.

Carry on rising to admit the caller had the usual tussle with the
door, while grandma reiterated uncomplimentary remarks about the
"blessed feller" who should some time since have effected repairs, and
Danby upon entering wore an extremely grave face, looked neither at
Dawn nor Carry, but addressed himself straight to Mrs Martha Clay.

"I have to trouble you about a very unpleasant matter," he said, and
cruelly all eyes went to poor Andrew, as it was but recently he had
to be chased home for breaking the law.

"Yes," said grandma, rising actively, and though a flurried colour
came to the old withered cheek, the spark of battle flashed in the
stern blue-grey eye.

"Could I see you privately?" said Danby.

"Certainly," said Mrs Clay: "but I'm not fond of secrecy; things is
better open, and this is the first time in my life I've had to be seen
secret by the police. Come this way."

We said nothing, but dropped our feeding tools and waited in suspense,
till in less than a minute grandma thrust her head in the dining-room
door.

"For mercy's sake, Dawn, look in Miss Flipp's room and see is she
there."

Dawn rose in a hurry and boxed Andrew's ears as she passed, because he
too rose and tumbled over his chair in her way.

"Some people ought to tie themselves up to be out of the way," she
ejaculated.

"Miss Flipp is not in her room," she presently called, "and her bed is
smooth and made up."

"God save us, then! Mr Danby says she's drownded in the river,"
exclaimed her grandma. "What's to be done?"

"We'll spare you all the trouble possible, Mrs Clay," said the man,
with the respect always tendered the old dame; "but I'm afraid it's a
suicide. Some men going to work on the new viaduct just noticed her
clothes sticking up as they crossed the bridge at daylight and
reported it, and I was sent down. We've taken the body to Jimmeny's
pub., and sent for the coroner, at all events."

Dawn and Andrew howled together in a frightened manner, while the
sensible Carry, who never lost her head, admonished them--

"Don't be jackdaws. That won't mend matters. Perhaps it isn't half as
bad as some make out. Things never are when you get the right hang of
them."

"Things are bad enough anyhow, but the way to mend 'em ain't to be
snivelling," rapped out grandma, giving Dawn and Andrew a shaking that
braced them up.

Things were indeed bad enough, and nothing could mend them. They had
gone beyond repair. It transpired that my senses had been correct, and
poor Miss Flipp had _not_ returned that moonlit night as I lay
listening to the passing trains. She had ended her ruined life by
weighting her feet and dropping into the pretty stretch of water under
the bridge, where the locomotives rushed by like thunder, and from
where could be seen the twinkling electric lights of one of the oldest
towns in Australia.

The inquest, at which we all had to appear, elicited information that
fairly stood poor grandma's hair on end. It was a great blow to find
that she had been harbouring a woman who was not as Cæsar's wife, and
that it was fear of the penalty of her divergence from what is
accepted as virtue, had driven her to take her life ere she had
transmitted the tribulation of being to a nameless child.

Nothing was cleared up regarding her antecedents. The person by whom
she was supposed to be recommended to Mrs Clay knew of no such
individual, and no one came to claim her.

Her uncle, it was discovered, had a day or two previously sailed for
America on urgent business, and after the girl's death an affectionate
letter for her arrived from him. She had left nothing to fix the blame
where it belonged, but with a misdirected loyalty so common in her
sex had paid all the debt her frail self.

The post on the day of her death brought me a pathetic little note, in
which she stated that she wished to bear the whole blame; a woman
always had to in any case, and as she could not face it she had
decided upon death. She had written this to me because she felt I had
had an inkling of how matters had been with her, and she thanked me
that I had kept silent, in conjunction with the observation that it
was not usual for such as she to meet with forbearance from those who
had had sense to preserve their respectability. Ah, the regret that
consumed me that I had not risked the unpopularity of interference and
sought her confidence. I might have been able to have saved her from
such an end!

I kept my knowledge to myself. It would scarcely have hurt Mr Pornsch.
Under the British Constitution property is far more sacred than women.
But having a fatality in belief that there is a law of retribution in
all things, I hoped to be able to sheet this crime home to its
perpetrator in a way that should put him to confusion when he least
expected it.

There was ample money for burial among the girl's belongings, which
were taken in charge by the police, and there let the cruelly common
incident rest for the present.

The affair so upset Dawn that she refused to occupy her usual room any
longer, and at her suggestion she and I determined to occupy a big
upstairs room, up till that time filled with rubbish. This being
agreed upon we forsook the apartments opening into the river garden,
and betook ourselves to an altitude from which we had even a better
view of the valley, river, and trains.

Dawn so perceptibly went "off colour" that I persuaded her
grandmother to let the singing lessons begin by way of diverting her
mind.

The old lady would not contemplate paying more than two guineas per
quarter, so I saw a six guinea teacher, arranged with him to take the
pupil at four, two of which I privately paid myself, and Dawn at last
set out for the city for her first lesson in the arduous and
unattractive boo-ing and ah-ing that lie at the foundation of a
singer's art.




SIXTEEN.

ADVANCE, AUSTRALIA!


In the career of a prodigy there invariably comes a time when it is
compelled to relinquish being very clever for a child, and has to
enter the business of life in competition with adults.

This crisis had arrived in the career of the prodigy Australia.

It is at the time of electing new or re-electing old representatives
of the people to the legislature that the state of a country's affairs
is more prominently before the public than at any other, and preceding
the State election in which Grandma Clay was to exercise the rights of
full citizenship for the first time, it was a lugubrious statement.

That the country had gone to the dogs was averred by each candidate
for the three hundred a-year given ordinary State members, and each
described himself as the instrument by which it could be restored to a
state of paradisaical prosperity.

This is an old bogey, unfailingly revived at elections. The
Ministerialists invariably roar how they have improved the public
finances, while the Opposition as blatantly tries to drown them by
bellowing that the retiring government has damned the country, and
that the Opposition has the only recipe of satisfactory
reconstruction, but in spite of this threadbare election scare the
Commonwealth remained the freest and one of the wealthiest
abiding-places in the world.

Just then its business affairs were undoubtedly badly managed, and
mismanagement, if continued, inevitably leads to bankruptcy. Undeniably
there was an unwholesome percentage of unemployed--inexcusable when there
abounded vast areas of fertile territory quite unpeopled, mines as rich as
any known to history all untouched; the sugar, grape, timber, and other
industries crying aloud for further development, and countless resources on
every hand requiring nothing but that these and men should meet on healthy
and enterprising business terms. The population, instead of gaining in
numbers, was foolishly leaving the country, like over-indulged, spoiled
children, imagining themselves ill-treated, while others hesitated to come
in because the Australian trumpet was not blown loudly enough nor in the
right key.

The administration, like a young housewife tossed into an overflowing
storehouse, had spent lavishly, but the bank of a multi-millionaire
will come to an end in time, and so with the play-days of Australia.

The hour had arrived for her to be up and doing, to marshal her
forces, advertise her wares, and take her place as a worker among the
nations.

There are always old bush lawyers and city know-alls beside whom
Chamberlain and Roberts are but small tomahawks as empire-builders,
and these now were predicting that to make a nation of her Australia
needed war and many other disasters to harden her people from the
amusement-loving, sunny-eyed folk they were; but this was an
extremist's outlook. She was in greater need of a land law that would
sensibly and practically put the right people on the soil, and entice
population of desirable class--independent producers--so that the
development of the industries would follow in natural sequence. In
short, Australia was languishing for a few patriotic sons with strong,
clear, business heads to apply the science of statecraft, as
distinguished from the self-seeking artifices of the mere job
politician at present sapping her vitals, and all the elements for
success were within her gates.

I had long had an eye open for the discernment of such an embryo
statesman, and looked forward with interest to the study of the
present crop of political candidates.

As soon as Leslie Walker--Ernest Breslaw's step-brother--had been
elected as the Opposition candidate for Noonoon, canvassing,
"spouting," war-whooping, and all manner of "barracking" began with
such intense enthusiasm that fortunately Miss Flipp's sad fate was
speedily driven out of our thoughts.

Dawn and Mrs Bray were on Walker's committee, and nearly every night
there was an advocate of one party or the other gasconading in
Citizens' Hall.

To Noonoon residents it became what the theatre is to city patrons of
the drama, and more, for this was invested with the dignity of a
certain amount of reality. To women being in the fray many attributed
the unusual interest distinguishing this campaign, but the real cause
was that public affairs had come to such a deadlock that legislature,
as the medium through which they might be moved, had become a vital
question to the veriest numskull, and all were mustering to ascertain
who put forth the most favourable policy.

With politics and her newly started singing lessons, Dawn was too
thoroughly engrossed for thought of any knight to pierce her armour of
indifference, which was the outcome of full mental occupation. I
invested in a nice little piano, that was carried upstairs to our big
room, and had undertaken to superintend her practising, but she was a
more enthusiastic politician than a vocal student, as I pointed out to
her grandmother's satisfaction. These happenings had eventuated during
the first fortnight of May, and in the third week of this month Leslie
Walker imported a couple of experienced ranters to renew the attack
and denounce the villainy of the present government in loud and
blustering vote-catching war-whoops.

In the town itself, nearly every third person was employed on the
railway, and their only care in casting their vote was to secure a
representative who would not in any way reduce the expenditure of the
railways. Thus a parliamentary candidate in Noonoon had to trim his
sails to catch this large vote or be defeated. It was the same with
other factions: any man with a common-sense platform, impartially for
the good of the State at large, might as well have sat down at home
and have saved himself the labour of stumping an electorate and
bellowing himself hoarse for all the chance he had of being returned.

We turned out _en masse_ from Clay's to hear the second speech of
young Walker, assisted by two M.P.'s belonging to his party. Grandma
and I drove in the sulky, while the girls and Andrew walked ahead, the
latter under strict orders to behave with reason, and not make "a fool
of hisself with the larrakins."

It was well we arrived early, as there was not sitting room for half
the audience, though more than half the hall being reserved for the
ladies, we got a front seat, and long before the time for the speakers
to appear every corner was packed, and women as well as men were
standing in rows fronting the stage. A great buzz of conversation at
the front, and stampeding and cat-calling among the youths at the
back, was terminated by the arrival of the three speakers of the
evening, who were received amid deafening cock-a-doodling, cheering,
stamping, and clapping. An old warrior of the class dressed _up_ to
the position of M.P. sat to one side, and next him was the barrister
type so prolific in parliament, who had himself dressed _down_ to the
vulgar crowd, while third sat Leslie Walker.

Surely not the first Leslie Walker who had appeared a week or two
previously! His bright, restless eye, though too sensitive for that of
an old campaigner, now took in the crowd with complete assurance, and
there was no hint of hesitation discernible. Having once smelt powder
he was ready for the fray.

"By Jove! hasn't Les. bucked up!" whispered Ernest, who sat on one
side of me, where he had landed after an ineffectual attempt to sit
beside Dawn.

"Yes; if he can only roar and blow and wave his arms sufficiently he
may have a chance."

"But he's still nervous," said the observant Andrew from the rear.
"You watch him go for that flea in the leg of his pants!"

Sitting in full view of a "chyacking" audience is a severe ordeal to
an inexperienced campaigner with a sensitive temperament, and this
action, indeed peculiarly like an attempt to detain an annoying insect
in a fold of his lower garment, was one of those little mannerisms
adopted to give an appearance of ease.

Behind the speakers came, as chairman, one of the swell class almost
extinct in this region, and he, too, had rather an effete attitude and
physique, as he took up his position behind the spindley table
weighted by the smeared tumblers and water-bottle. He rose with the
intention of flattering the speakers and audience in the orthodox way,
but the electors, among whom a spirit of overflowing hilarity was at
large, took his duties out of his mouth.

"Don't smoodge, old cockroach, let the other blokes blaze away, as we
(the taxpayers) are paying dear for this spouting."

The barrister man M.P. burst upon them first with the latest trumpet
blare with which speeches were being opened. Having been primed as to
the magnitude of the railway vote in Noonoon, first move was to throw
a bone to it, and, metaphorically speaking, he got down on his knees
to this section of the electors, and howled and squealed that all
civil servants' wages would be left as they were.

He took another canter to flatter the ladies regarding the remarkably
intelligent vote they had cast in the Federal elections, and asserted
his belief that they would do likewise in the present crisis, and
introduce a nobler element into political life.

Creatures, a few months previously ranked lower than an almost
imbecile man, and with no more voice in the laws they lived under than
had lunatics or horses--it was miraculous what a power they had
suddenly grown! The man at the back saw the point--

"Blow it all, don't smoodge so. It ain't long since you was all rared
up on yer hind legs showin' how things would go to fury if wimmen had
the vote."

Having got past this prelude, he proceeded with a vigorous volley of
abuse against the sitting government, and showed how Walker, the
Opposition candidate, was the only man to vote for. He shook his
fists, stamped and raved, and illustrated how much a voice could
endure without cracking, the back people carefully waiting till he had
to pull up to take a drink out of one of the glasses on the spindley
table, when they got in with--

"You're mad! Keep cool! You'll bust a blood-vessel! When are you going
to give Tomato Jimmy a show to blow his horn?" This being a reference
to the calling of the other speaker, who was a middleman in the
vegetable and fruit-market. The first speaker, however, was not nearly
exhausted yet--he had to thump his fists on the unfortunate spindley
table, and work off several other oratorical poses and a deal of
elocutionary voice-play, ere he was finished. I fairly rolled with
enjoyment of the wonderful wit and humour of the crowd at the back,
which, unless it be put down as the critical faculty, is an
inexplicable phenomenon. Not one of the interrupters, if drafted on to
the hustings, could have given a lucid or intelligent statement of his
views, or indication that he was furnished with any, and yet not one
slip on the part of a candidate, one inconsistent point, personal
mannerism or peccadillo, but was remarked in an astonishingly humorous
and satirical style.

The barrister man having finished "spouting," the common-sense
individual, who always sits half-way down the hall, and who, when he
asks a question, has to face the double ordeal of the crowd and the
candidate, said--

"The speaker has shown us all the things the other fellows _can't do_,
we'd like another speech now stating what _he can_ do." The chairman
rose to say this was out of order, but his voice was lost in the din.

"You sit down, old chap, we can manage this meetin' ourselves."

"But out of respect to the ladies present!"

"We'll look after the ladies too," was the good-humoured rejoinder.
"Why, they're enjoyin' it as much as we are. They've got a vote now,
you know, and are going to use it in an intelligent manner."

"Did you know Queen Anne was dead?" said another.

"The ladies won't be harmed. Any one that disrespects the ladies will
be chucked out."

The ladies had to laugh at this, and the meeting went right merrily,
and more merrily in that half the "blowing" from the stage was drowned
by the interjectory din from the rear of the building, where lads and
men stood chock-a-block, the former, and the latter too, making right
royal use of their licence to be rowdy; but such a good-natured crowd
could not often be seen. There were no altercations, only laughter and
the crude repartee of such a gathering.

The first speaker having returned to his seat and sanity, the second
took his place.

"Hullo, Tomatoes! What's the price of onions and spuds?"

"Now begin and tell the ladies how intelligent they are, so you'll get
their vote."

"Tomatoes" did butter the ladies, next yelled that the civil servants
would not be retrenched, and then upheld the virulent attack on the
government. Keeping in time with the utterances of "Tomato Jimmy," the
boys at the back grew so boisterous that at one time it appeared
inevitable that the meeting must break up in disorder. The chairman,
the candidates, the ladies, the whole house rose, and one man towards
the front made himself heard amid the babel to the effect that the
ladies ought to walk out to show their resentment of the insults that
had been offered their presence by this disorderly behaviour.

"Ladies, don't go. _Dear_ ladies, don't go," called some wags. "We're
only educatin' you in politics,--learning you how to be like your
superiors--men."

This evoked a round of laughter, and order was restored.

"That's right, ladies, don't go; if you was to turn dawg on us now,
we'd be so crestfallen we couldn't think about politics and save the
country at all."

Once more "Tomatoes" belched forth the infamy of the government, and
louder and louder he yelled, till one marvelled at his endurance.
Rougher and hotter grew his repartee till, by sheer abuse, he gained
the ascendancy; but there was no sane statement of what he would
propose as a remedy. Grandma Clay happened to rise as he neared the
finish to see about a reticule she had dropped, and proved a target
for those at the rear.

"Hello, grandma! are you going to contradict him? Give us a straight
tip about women's rights while you're up;" and poor grandma sat down
very precipitately with an exceedingly deep blush.

"If I could only get the chance," she gasped, "I'd give 'em a piece of
me mind."

Third on the list came Leslie Walker, whose improvement was beyond
belief. No notes or hesitation this time. Each sentence was crisp and
clear, and in every detail he evinced the facility for enacting his
_rôle_ which is supposedly a feminine accomplishment.

The chairman, in closing the meeting, rose to say--

"In reference to the interjector who said the speaker was mad--"

"Oh, that's what every one said about _you_ when you were in the
council, and so you were too, and so are they all. Look at the roads
we've got in the municipality," said a voice.

So the chairman had to let the meeting terminate with the candidates
thanking the electors for the extraordinarily good hearing they had
been accorded; it being part of the humour of politics that the worse
a candidate is boo-hooed the more stress he lays upon the _good
hearing_ given him, and the more scurrilous he is regarding his
opponent the more frantically he assures one that he is a bosom
_personal_ friend.

Andrew and I had the distinction of going home under grandma's
tutelage, while Carry and Dawn stayed behind to go to the ladies'
committee rooms, and Ernest lingered to escort them.

"I say, grandma, are you goin' to vote for that bloke?" inquired
Andrew.

"I'm goin' to hear the other side first, and give me opinion after.
There wasn't one of the swells there, was there?"

"Dr Smalley and Dr Tinker both was."

"Yes; but I mean the wimmen: an' how on earth did old Tinker ever get
away from Mrs Tinker for that length of time? You'll never see one of
them kind of wimmen at anythink that makes for progress. That's the
way they make theirselves superior to the likes of you an' me--by
never doin' nothink only for theirselves. 'Oh, we've got all we want
as it is, an' don't want the vote; a woman's place is home,' they say
if you ask 'em. It's all very fine for them as has a man to keep them
like in a band-box; they would have found it different if they had to
act on their own like me. I'm sick of this intelligence in women they
make a fuss about all of a sudden. I've rared a family and managed me
business better than a man could; and what's there been all along to
prevent a woman from stroking out a name on a paper I never could see.
And it never seems to me much difference which name was struck out,
for they're mostly a lot of impostors that only think of featherin'
their own nests. You'll always hear of wimmen not bein' intelligent
enough to do this and that, and these things is only what men like
doin' best theirselves, and the things they make out God intended
women to do is them the men don't like doin'. You don't ever hear of
them thinkin' women ain't intelligent enough to do seven things at
once." Grandma was in great form that night, and not only led but
maintained the conversation.

"I rather like this young feller, but he ain't no sense much either.
All he thinks of is buttoning for the railway people, and it's the
people on the land that ought to be legislated for first. They are the
foundation of everythink; other things would work right after. Every
one can't live in Sydney, an' that's what they're all makin' for now.
Every one is getting some little agency--parasite business. They've
got sense to see the people on the land is the most despised and sat
upon. You don't hear no squallin' about they'll protect the farmer.
No, he's a despised old party that them scuts of fellers on the
railway would grin at and think theirselves above, and scarcely give
him a civil answer if he asked a question about his business what he's
payin' them fellers there to do for him, and which only for the
prodoocers wouldn't be there at all. Things is gettin' pretty tight on
farms now. It means about sixteen hours hard graft a-day to make not
half what a railwayman makes in eight hours. If you happen to have
grapes or oranges, if they manage to escape the frost, an' hail, an'
caterpillar, then the blight ketches 'em, or there's a drewth, and
there ain't none; an' if there's any, there's so much that there ain't
no sale for 'em; and the farmer's life I reckon ought to be stopped as
gamblin', for a gambler's life ain't one bit more precarious."

"Then why the jooce do you want me to go on the land?" said Andrew.

"That ain't the point."

"It's the most sticking out point to me," protested the lad. "I reckon
bein' on the land is a mug's game; scrapin' like a fool when a feller
could be sittin' in an office an' gettin' all they want twice as
easy."

"Here, you don't know what's good. It's more respectabler bein' on the
land. You get the pony out, an' make the coffee, an' hold your
tongue."

Andrew and I had undertaken to make the coffee for supper, and thus
give Carry, whose week in the kitchen it was, a chance to go to the
meeting.

They all arrived from it after a time--Dawn and the knight together,
Carry and Larry Witcom following. Oh, where was "Dora"?

"Who's that with you, Carry?" asked Andrew. "There was a young lady
named Carry, who had a sweetheart named Larry; at the gate they often
would tarry, to talk about when they would marry."

But this remark of Andrew's to parry, Dawn good-naturedly plunged into
an account of the meeting.

"What did they do?" asked grandma.

"Do?--they only blabbed. Mr Walker was there to-night. We asked that
Jimmeny girl from the pub. to join, and she delivered a great parable
at us, looking round all the time to see if the boot-licking tone of
it was pleasing the men. She said that women ought to bring up their
children to respect them--"

"The most commonest idea some people has of bringin' up their children
to respect them," grandma chipped in, "is to let youngsters make
toe-rags of their mother; and boys only as high as the table think
they can cheek their mother because she's only a woman an' hasn't as
much right to be livin' in the world as them, and when they are
twenty-one the law confirms this beautiful sentiment. Leastways, until
just lately," she concluded.

"And this Jimmeny piece," continued Dawn, "said women ought to treat
their husbands decently, and she thinks a woman disgraces her sex by
getting up on a platform to speak. I asked her if she thought they did
not disgrace themselves and the other sex too by standing behind a bar
and serving out drinks and grinning at a lot of goods that ought to be
at home with their families,--and that was a bit of a facer. Then she
said it was only the ugly old women who wanted to shriek round and get
rights,--that men would give the young pretty ones all they wanted
without asking! Of all the old black gin ideas, I always think that
the terriblest. A nice state of affairs, if people couldn't get honest
civilised rights without being young and pretty; and _the fools_!"
said the girl heatedly, "can't they look round and see how long the
beauty and youth business will work! 'Men,' she says, 'ought to rule;
they're the stronger vessel.'" And Dawn gave inimitable mimicry of
Miss Jimmeny of the pub. "If you take my tip for it, those girls that
sing out that men are the stronger vessel are the sort that have a
dishcloth of a husband, and never let him off a string."

This attitude of mind was one of Dawn's distinctive characteristics.
Having that beauty, which in the enslaved condition of women has
always been an unfair asset to the possessor, to the exclusion of
worthier traits, she was not like most beauties, content to sit down
and trade upon it, but had wholesomer, honester, workaday ideals in
regard to the position of her sex.

She was going to Sydney in the morning for her second singing lesson,
and as Ernest, by a strange coincidence, happened to have business
that would take him on the same journey by the same train, I
accompanied him to the gate to warn him against inadvertently
divulging that I had been an actress by trade.

"I want to take you into my confidence," I said, as we passed several
naked cedar-trees, and halted in the shelter of some fine peppers that
grew to perfection in this valley, where I related the trouble I had
had to bring the old lady round to the idea of Dawn's singing lessons,
and mentioned the girl's ambition regarding the stage.

"Now," I continued, "if the old dame were to discover I had been on
the stage, she would think I was leading Dawn to the devil, and would
not credit that no one is more anxious than I am to save her from the
footlights, or that the best way to stave her off is this training.
My secret ambition regarding her," I said, critically observing the
strong knobby profile, "is that within the next five years she should
marry some nice youngster with means to place her in a setting
befitting her intelligence and beauty."

"Have you got any one in your eye now?" he irrelevantly inquired. And,
considering he stood where he filled my entire vision, as he rose
between me and the light shed by the last division of the western
passenger mail as it self-importantly crossed the viaduct, I
answered--

"Yes; I think I know a man who would just fill the bill."

He did not ask for further particulars, but remarked warningly--

"Decent fellows with cash are scarce. They are inclined to get into
mischief if they have too much time and money on their hands."

"That's it; and I would not like to make a mess of things now that
I've taken up matchmaking. You'll have to advise me when matters get
out of hand; a little practice may come in handy some day when you
have half a dozen daughters."

"It would come in still handier now."

"Pshaw, now! You'd only have to ask to receive, at your time of life
and with your qualifications."

"I'm not so sure. You're the only one who has such an opinion of me,"
he said disconsolately. "Others look upon me as a red-headed fool with
big ears, &c.;" and thus I knew Dawn's idle words had returned to his
ears, as these things invariably do, and had stung.

"Silly-billy! I'll take you in hand when I've settled Dawn. I'm the
one to advertise your wares, for could I turn back the wheel of time
eight or nine years and make us of an age, I'd make it leap-year and
propose to you myself."

"I'd like to propose to you without altering the time," he gallantly
responded, apparently not in such deadly fear of a breach of promise
action as was Uncle Jake.

"If I don't move in the matter Dawn will be marrying that Eweword, and
though he's a most handsome and worthy--"

"Soft as a turnip," contemptuously interposed Ernest; "eats too much.
It would take twelve months hard training to make any sort of a man of
him."

"It would be a pity to see Dawn just settling down into the dull,
drudging life of a farmer's wife, going to an occasional show or
tea-meeting in a home-made dress, with two or three children dragging
at her skirts and looking a perfect wreck, as most of the mothers do."

"By Jove, yes!"

"She has a right to be on the lawn on Cup Day or in the front circle
on first nights. She'd surprise some of the grandees, and with her
vivacity and courage she'd make a furore for a time."

"She'd make a good sport if she were a man," assented Ernest. "No
running stiff or jamming a jock on the post or anything like that from
her--she'd always hit straight out from the shoulder and above the
belt."

"Yes; she has particularly infatuated me, and I'd like to save her
from Eweword."

"Marry him to the girl Grosvenor while you're about it and that will
dispose of him and suit her, for she strikes me as anxious for
matrimony."

"She hasn't been--" I began.

"Oh, no, I think she's a splendid woman in every way, but--"

"_But_, even the finest and most chivalrous man, while he thinks the
only sphere for women is matrimony, yet is shocked if a woman betrays
in the least way that her ambitions lie in the domestic line--strange
inconsistency. However, you will not let Dawn know my ideas of
disposing of her;" and with the want of perspicacity of his sex, or
else with a wonderful power of covering his thoughts excelling that of
women, and of which women never suspect men, Ernest promised without
sensing what I had in view.




SEVENTEEN.

MRS BRAY AND CARRY COME TO ISSUES.


Contention arose in the Clay household next day, Dawn's singing
lessons being at the root of the trouble. It was her week in the
kitchen, and that she should be two days absent from the cooking,
displeased Carry.

"Well, if you don't think the place fair, you can go!" said grandma.
"But I think you're a fool, an' you're giving me a lot of worry. It's
all very fine in other people's places, but some day w'en you have a
home of your own you'll know the worry of it. Next time I make a
arrangement with a girl she'll have to take a extra day in the kitchen
without humbuggin'."

"I'll vote for me grandma on that bill," said Andrew, "for I've often
been give the pip by who is in the kitchen an' who is out of it.
Grandma, did you hear the latest? Young Jack Bray's been in another
orange orchard and didn't do a get quick enough, and has got took up,
and his father will have to pay money to keep him out of quod."

The old lady bristled.

"Didn't I tell you! Who knows how to receive these things best now?
I've always believed in rarin' me family me own way, an' Mrs Bray is a
fine woman, moral and decent, but she's got too many stones to throw
at others and doesn't see to it sharp enough that less stones can't be
threw at her. I thought she didn't take it serious enough. You'd have
been in this too only for me dreadin' the spark. What are they goin'
to do?"

"Pay the money, of course; an' Mr Bray is goin' to tan the hide off
Jack."

"Some people don't get frightened of dishonesty unless it costs 'em
something," said the old lady.

"Well, I'll vote for me grandma every time," said Andrew, "and Jim
Clay every second time," as he went out the door, "and meself the most
times of all," he concluded in the back yard.

Mrs Bray dropped in that afternoon for a chat, and grandma mentioned
that we were without afternoon tea because Carry had "jacked up" about
getting it, for reasons before mentioned.

"Just like her!" said Mrs Bray; "she gives herself as much side as if
she was one of us. She's the sort of girl who wouldn't think twice of
telling you to do a thing yourself, and you've made an awful fool of
her by making so much of her. Them things of girls _earnin' their own
livin'_ ought to be kept in their place more," was the utterance of a
woman who believed herself a staunch advocate for the freedom of her
sex; but when Mrs Bray spoke of sex she meant self.

"That ain't the point," said grandma; "I never think it anythink but a
credit to a girl to be earnin' her living, an' would never be narrer
enough to make them feel it. I always make a practice of treatin' the
girls as near equal as within reason, for Carry's every bit as
fine-lookin' an' good a girl as me own, an' if I wasn't here, wouldn't
Dawn have to be foragin' for herself too? but there's reason in
everythink, and Carry might be a bit obligin'."

"Of course she ought to be; but what could you expect of her, took up
with that Larry Witcom, an' does the ass think he really wants her?
He's only got her on a string for his own amusement? He goes to see
that Dora Cowper at the same time; Jack seen him there. I wonder will
_he_ be scared off by being thought a ketch before the pot's boiled,
so to speak. Good ketches, eh? I don't see nothing in none of them.
They're only thought something because men is scarce here; they've all
cleared out to the far out places, and West Australia. It's like a
year the pumpkins is scarce, you can sell little things you'd hardly
throw to the pigs another time, and that's the way it is with the few
paltry fellers round here. It makes me mad to see the girls after
them--_the fools!_ and the men grinnin' behind their backs. There's
that Ada Grosvenor, if Eweword just calls up and talks to her she
tells you about it as if it was something, and inviting him down
there, an' then the blessed fellers gets to think they're gods. It
makes me sick!"

"Yes," said grandma; "I see the girls after fellers now,--there's that
Danby for instance, he's a fine lump of a man, but w'en I was a girl I
wouldn't have made toe-rags of a policeman."

"Yes, a blessed feller strollin' up and down the street lookin' at his
toes or runnin' in a drunk. I say, did you hear the latest about old
Rooney-Molyneux? He didn't believe in women having the vote, didn't
consider they had intellect to vote, so _he_ says (not as much brain
as he has, don't you see, to marry a woman, and a baby to be coming
and nothing to put on its back, while he strolls round and gets
drunk), but now they've got the vote, he says (the great Lord Muck
Rooney-Molyneux says it, remember) that it is their _duty_ to use it,
and he intends to _make_ (mind you, _make_; I'd like to hear a man say
he'd _make_ me do anything; I'd scald him, see if I wouldn't, and
that's what wants doing with half the men anyhow, for the way they
carry on to women), and he's going to _make_ his wife go round
canvassing, _Now_! Men make me sick; w'en they're boys they're that
troublesome they ought to be kep' under a tub, and we'n they get older
they're that cantankerous and self-important they all want killin'
off."

"I'll bet Mrs Rooney won't be workin' for a different man to him. If
her convictions led her that way, you'd see he'd have a flute about
her not bein' fit to be out of her home," said grandma astutely.

"Yes, that's the way with 'em; first they thought the world would
tumble to pieces if women stirred out of the house for a minute to
vote, and now that we've got the vote in spite of them, they'd make
their wives walk round after votes for their side whether they was
able or not."

"They kicked agen us having the vote, and now we've got it they think
we ought to vote with them like as if we was a appendage of theirs;
men will be learnt different to that by-and-by, but it's best to go
gradual; they've had as much as they can swaller for a time."

"Ain't it just the very devil to them to think women is considered as
important as themselves now, instead of something they could just do
as they like with? Old Hollis there says he won't vote this year
because the women have one. Did you ever hear of an insult like that?
He says the monkeys will have a vote next, and that shows you what men
think of women,--like as if they was some sort of animals."

"Well, if you ask me," said grandma, "the monkeys have been havin' a
vote all along in the case of old Hollis."

Any further discussion in this line was terminated by the entrance of
Carry, with her good-looking face flushed and hard set, as, rolling
down her sleeve and buttoning it aggressively as the finishing touch
to her toilet after completing her afternoon's work, she confronted
Mrs Bray, on battle bent.

"Well, Mrs Bray, I'd like to have given my opinion of you to your teeth
long ago, but I held my tongue as it wasn't my house, and some people have
different tastes and have folk around that I'd be a long time having
anything to do with. Now, I think things do concern me, and I'm going to
have my say; I couldn't have it sooner because I'm a _thing_ earning my
living and had to finish my work. I haven't got a home of my own, and like
some people, if I had, I'd be in it teaching my dirty rude brats not to be
thieves. I wouldn't for everlasting be at other people's places
scandalising people twice as good as myself. I didn't think Mrs Clay was
the sort of person to go tittle-tattling--she can please herself; but it
doesn't concern you if I do put on airs. I want to know what you mean by
that I should be kept in my place. I'll swear I know how to carry my day as
well as you do, and to keep in my place too well to be going round meddling
with other people's business."

"I didn't say nothing but was correct, an' what right have you to come
bullying me? It's like your impudence--you a hussy out to work for
your living at a few shillings a-week, and calling yourself a _lady_
help when you're a servant, that's what you are; to bully _me_, a
woman with a good home, and the mother of a family."

Carry snorted contemptuously.

"That old 'mother of a family' racket needn't be brought forward. It
doesn't hold as much water as it used to. Women are thought just as
much of now who are good useful workers in the world, and not tied up
to some man and the mother of a few weedy kids that aren't any credit
to king or country."

"Mercy!" exclaimed grandma. "What am I to?"

"Let 'em fight it out," I laconically advised in an aside, and she
seemed disposed to take my advice.

"You dare," blustered Mrs Bray. "And what else have you got to say?"

"I want an explanation of the aspersion on my character when you said
I had taken up with Larry Witcom. I'm not going to stand anything on
my character in that line if I _am_ earning my living, and you _are_
the mother of one or fourteen families, all as great a credit to you
as the one Jack represents. And as for me earning my living, what are
_you_ doing? If a man wasn't keeping you to suit himself, how would
you be earning your living? I could earn my living the same way as you
are doing to-morrow if I liked; but of the two, I think my present
occupation is the decentest and less dependent. Apart from your
bullying selfishness, a nice sensible way you have of talking! If you
killed off the men, who would you have to keep you? And that's a nice
civilised way to speak about your fellow creatures anyhow; whether
they be men or black gins, they've just as much place in the scheme of
creation as you have. We would have been a long time getting the vote
or any other decent right if the men were like you. It's because you
are the same stamp as so many of the men that we've been kept down so
long as we have; and now, what about me taking up with Larry Witcom?"

"Well, it's well known what Larry is."

"Well, what is he?"

"You ask him about Mrs Park's divorce case."

"I hope you don't think your old man is a saint, do you? As big a fool
as you are, you're surely not fool enough for that, are you? Perhaps
he isn't as clean a potato as Larry if it was all brought out."

"But he's a married man this many a year, with a married daughter, and
his young days are lived down long ago."

"Well, so would Larry be married many a year and have things lived
down in time, and not as many to live down either as your husband has
at present, if things are true; for all your everlasting shepherding
he gets off the chain sometimes."

Hoity-toity! this was putting a fuse to gunpowder.

"You hussy! What have you got to say about my husband? Prove it, and
I'd make short work of him; and if it's lies, I'll bring you into
court for it."

"I'll leave it for you to prove; you're one of those who thinks every
yarn entertaining till they touch yourself."

"Two to one on Carry every time when me grandma's the umpire," grinned
Andrew round the corner.

"Carry, you've had enough to say. I forbid any more in my house," said
grandma, rising to order.

"I declare this a drawn fight," said Andrew.

"You can have it out with Mrs Bray in her own house if you want, but
no more of it here," continued grandma.

"Don't you dare come to my house," said Mrs Bray.

"_Your_ house! no fear; I never associate with scandal-mongers,"
contemptuously retorted Carry, as Mrs Bray made a precipitate
departure, emitting something about a hussy who didn't know her place
as she went.

"I'm surprised at you!" said grandma. "Her tongue does run on a little
sometimes, but you ought to remember she's old enough to be your
mother, and girls do owe somethink to women with families."

"And women with families and homes ought to remember they owe
something to girls that aren't settled, because they haven't got a man
caught yet to keep them."

"Well, this ain't my quarrel, an' don't you bring it up to me again. A
woman that's rared a family, and two of them like I have done, has
enough with her own dissensions."

It was rather a sullen party at tea that evening, so Dawn's return
from Sydney immediately after, with her cheeks radiant from travel in
the quick evening express, and herself brimming over with her day's
adventures, formed a welcome relief.

"I had a great time coming home," said she. "Mr Ernest and Dora
Eweword both went to Sydney this morning, and Mr Ernest and I raced
into a carriage to escape Dora, and we did; and he must have asked the
guard, for he found our carriage, but he had only a second-class
ticket, and wouldn't be let in."

"And how came you to be in a first-class carriage?" inquired grandma.
"I can't stand that; there's expense enough as it is, and your betters
travel second."

"It wasn't my fault. Mr Ernest bought the tickets like a gentleman
should (it says in the etiquette book), and I couldn't fight with him
there and then,--you're always telling me to be more genteel."

"But I don't want strangers paying anything for my granddaughter."

"You needn't mind in this instance," I interposed.

"Mr Ernest probably wished to be gentlemanly to Dawn because she has
been so good to me." Once more I saw the little derisive smile flit
across the exquisite face, but she said--

"Yes; he said that you're looking so well it must be our nursing, and
that he will try and get grandma to take him in if he falls ill."

"I wonder if he's going to get took bad--love-sick--like the other
blokes," said Andrew.

Dawn cast a murderous glance at him, and covered the remark by making
a bustle in sitting to her tea, and in retailing minute details of her
singing lesson.

We retired early, and she produced from the basket in which she
carried her music a most pretentious box of sweets and various society
newspapers.

"Mr Ernest said you might like some of these, and I was to have a
share because I carried them home, though he got the 'bus and brought
me to the door, so I hadn't to walk a step."

"Good boy! What did he talk about to-day?"

"I asked him about all the actresses he has seen. He's going to give
me the autographed photos he has of them. You wouldn't think he'd like
to part with them, but he says he's tired of them all now--they're
nearly all married, and are back numbers. Actresses are only thought
of for a little while, he says."

"That is the natural order of things, and applies to others as well as
actresses. Pretty young girls are not pretty for long. They should see
to it that they are plucked by the right fingers while their bloom is
attractive. The old order falls ill-fittingly on some, but is fair in
the main,--we each have our fleeting hour."

"Yes; but where is there a desirable plucker?" said the practical
girl. "There are scarcely any good matches and the few there are have
so many running after them that I wouldn't give 'em the satisfaction
of thinking I wanted them too."

True, good matches are few. In these luxurious times the generality of
girls' ideas of a good match being very advanced--in short, a man of
sufficient wealth to keep them in petted idleness. There can be no
shade of reproach on women for this ambition, it is but one outcome of
the evolution of civilisation, and is merely a species of common-sense
on their part; for the ordinary routine of marriage, as instanced by
the testimony of thousands of women ranked among the comfortably and
happily married, is so trying that girls do well to try for the most
comfortable berths ere putting their heads in the noose.

"And Dora, where was he all this time?" I asked.

"Oh, he brought Ada Grosvenor home; thought that would spite me. She
was in town too, and you should just hear her after this. The silly
rabbit can't open her mouth but she tells you what this man did and
that one said to her, when all the time it's nothing but some ordinary
courtesy they ought to extend to even black gins."




EIGHTEEN.

THE FOUNDATION OF THE POULTRY INDUSTRY.


Peace was restored in the Clay household through my interviewing Carry
and offering to teach her music and allow her the use of my piano if
she would do some of Dawn's work for two days during every second
week. The next irritation arose from the male portion of the family.

Now, we had all been so vigorously on political entertainment bent,
that no one had given a thought to Uncle Jake and his doings or
political opinions, or whether he had any, but it transpired, though a
"mere man," he had been pursuing his course with as much attention to
electioneering technique as the most emancipated woman among us.

On the afternoon following Carry's little difference with Mrs Bray,
Ada Grosvenor called to invite us to accompany her to hear Olliver
Henderson, the ministerial candidate, who was to address the women at
the hall first, and the men at Jimmeny's pub. afterwards, and we all
went. Next morning at breakfast, when we had set to work upon the
"dosed" porridge, Andrew again catechised his grandma concerning the
casting of her vote.

"I'm goin' for young Walker of course; as for that other feller!"
said she cholericly, "I was that sick of his stuttering and muttering,
an' holdin' his meetin's at Jimmeny's (we all know that that means
free drinks), an' after waitin' all my life fer it I'm not goin' to
cast the only vote that maybe I'll live to have, for a feller that
buys his votes with grog. There's precious little to choose between
them. They only want the glory of bein' in parliament for theirselves,
and for the time bein' have rose a flute about the country goin' to
the dogs and them bein' the people to save it; but once the election's
over that's all we'll hear of 'em, and though they'd lick our boots
now, they're so glad to know us, they'd forget all about us then. The
one who can blow the loudest will get in, and as it must be one it
might as well be this feller that can talk, an' could keep up his end
of the stick in parliament, as there's no doubt this talkin' an' blow
has become such a great trade one has to go to the wall without it."

"Well, I'm going for Walker too, because he's something to look at,"
said Carry.

"The women was goin' to put in _clean_ men an' do strokes," sneered
Uncle Jake, "an' it turns out they'd vote for the best-lookin'
man,--nice state of affairs that is."

"Ah! it's all very fine for a man to buck w'en a thing treads on his
own toes; it would be thought a terrible thing for a woman to vote for
a good-lookin' man an' pass over merit, but that's what's been done to
women all the time. The good-lookin' ones got all the honours, whether
they deserved 'em or not, and those complainin' agen this was jeered
at an' called 'Shrieking sisters,' but it's a different tune now."

"Uncle, _darling_, who are you going to vote for?" inquired Andrew.

"For Henderson, of course, an' I reckon all the women here with votes
ought, too."

"And why, pray?" asked grandma, her eyes flashing a challenge, while
her faithful guardswomen, Carry and Dawn, suspended work to see how
the argument ended.

"For the look of the thing to start with. It don't look well to see
the wimmen of the family goin' agen the men."

"No, it don't look like Nature as men make believe it ought to be, for
once to see a woman have a opinion of her own, and not the man just
telling that his opinion wuz hers too, without knowing anythink about
it, an' women having to hold their tongue for peace' sake because they
wasn't in a position to help theirselves. An' if it seems so dreadful
that way, you better come over to our side, as there's more of us than
you, an' majority ought to rule."

"What did you do at _your_ meeting last night, uncle?" inquired Dawn.

"Old Hollis is head of the committee, an' he says the first thing for
all the committee men to do was to see the women of the men goin' for
Henderson was the same way," he replied.

"Oh, an' so you thought you could come the Czar on us, did you? an'
the Government, accordin' to Hollis's make out, is a fool to give
women a vote; like in your case instead of giving me an' Carry a vote
each, it ought to have give you three."

"Oh, Mr Sorrel!" said I, "what a joke! Was he really so ignorant as
that; surely he was joking too?"

Uncle Jake had sufficient wit to take this opportunity of changing his
tactics.

"No," he said, "some people is terrible narrer; for my part I always
believe in wimmen holdin' their own opinion."

"So long as they didn't run contrary to yours," said grandma with a
sniff. "There's heaps more like you. Women can always think as much as
they like, an' they could get up on a platform an' talk till they
bust, as long as they didn't want the world to be made no better, an'
they wouldn't be thought unwomanly. It's soon as a woman wants any
practical good done that she is considered a unwomanly creature."

Uncle Jake was outdone and relapsed into silence.

"An' that's just what I would have expected of old Hollis," continued
grandma, who seemed to have a knowledge of people's doings rivalling
that necessary to an efficient police officer. "I'll tell you what he
is," and the old dame directed her remarks to me. "He is the old chap
Mrs Bray was sayin' ain't goin' to vote this time because the women
has got one and the monkeys will be havin' one next. Just what the
likes of him would say! He's a old crawler whose wife does all the
work while he walks around an' tells how he killed the bear, an'
that's the sort of man who's always to be heard sayin' woman is a
inferior animal that ought to be kep' on a chain as he thinks fit.
You'll never hear the kind of man like Bray (who is a man an' keeps
his wife like a princess) sayin' that sort of thing--it's only the old
Hollises and such. I'll tell you what old Hollis is. He got out of
work here a few years back, w'en things was terrible dull, an' so his
wife had to keep him, and with a child for every year they had been
married. She rared chickens an' plucked 'em and sold 'em around the
town, an' went without necessaries w'en she was nursin' to keep him in
tobacco. That's the kind of man _he_ is, if you want to know. Of
course, bein' a animal twice her superior, he had to go about suckin'
a pipe, and of course he couldn't deny hisself anythink. What do you
think of that?"

"That its pathos lies in its commonness."

"I reckon you didn't hear of him goin' out an' pluckin' the fowls then
an' sayin', 'Wife, a woman's place w'en she has a young family is in
the house.' No fear! She worked at this poultry business, an' it was
surprisin' how she got on--worked it up to a big poultry farm, till he
took a hand in doin' a little of the work an' takin' _all_ the credit.
Now they live by it altogether; an' he was interviewed by the papers a
little while ago, and it was blew about the reward of enterprise,--how
he had started from nothink, an' it never said a word how she started
an' rared his babies an' done it all, an' does most now, while he
walks about to illustrate what a superior bein' he is. That's the way
with all the poultry industry. Women was the pioneers in it, an' now
it's worked up to be payin', men has took it over and think they have
done a stroke. Not so far back a man would consider hisself disgraced
that knew one kind of fowls from another,--he would be thought a old
molly-coddle. The women tried to keep a few hens an' the men always
tried to kill them, an' said they'd ruin the place, an' at the same
time they hunt them was always cryin' out an' gruntin' that there
wasn't enough eggs to eat, an' why didn't the hens lay the same as
they used w'en they was boys. They expected the women to rare them on
nothink, or at odd moments, the same way as they expect them to do
everythink else. Now, even the swells is gone hen mad, an' the papers
are full of poultry bein' a great industry, but it was women started
it."

Upon strolling abroad that morning we found a huge placard bearing the
advice--"Vote for Olliver Henderson, M.L.A., the Local Candidate,"
decorating the post of the gateway through which we gained the
highroad.

Uncle Jake was credited with this erection, so Andrew made himself
absent at a time when there was need of his presence, and thereby
caused a deal of friction in the vicinity of grandma, but with the
result that by midday Uncle Jake's placard was covered by another,
reading: "Vote for Leslie Walker, the Opposition Candidate, and Save
the Country!"

At three o'clock this was obscured by a reappearance of Henderson's
advertisement, which was the cause of Uncle Jake being too late to
catch that evening's train with a load of oranges he had been set to
pack. At the risk of leaving the milking late, Andrew was setting out
to once more eclipse this by Walker's poster, only that grandma
adjudicated regarding the matter.

"Jake, you have one side of the gate, an' Andrew you take the other.
Put up your papers side by side and that will be a good advertisement
of liberty of opinion; an' Jake, if you haven't got sense to stick to
this at your time of life, I'm sorry for you; and if you haven't
Andrew at yours, I'll have to knock it into you with a strap,--now
_mind_! An' if you don't get your work done you'll go to no more
meetin's."

"Right O! I'll vote for me grandma every time," responded Andrew.

This proved an effective threat, for political meetings had become the
joy of life to the electors of Noonoon. As a tallow candle if placed
near can obscure the light of the moon, so the approaching election
lying at the door shut out all other worldly doings. The
Russo-Japanese war became a movement of no moment; the season, the
price of lemons and oranges, the doings of Mrs Tinker, the inability
of the municipal council to make the roads good, and all other
happenings, became tame by comparison with politics. They were
discussed with unabating interest all day and every day, and by
everyone upon all occasions. Even the children battled out differences
regarding their respective candidates on the way home from school,
rival committees worked with unflagging energy, and all buildings and
fences were plastered with opposing placards. This pitch of enthusiasm
was reached long before the sitting parliament had dissolved or a
polling day had been fixed; for this State election was contested with
unprecedented energy all over the country, but in no electorate was it
more vigorously and, to its credit, more good-humouredly fought than
in the fertile old valley of Noonoon.

It was the only chance the unfortunate electors had of bullying the
lordly M.P.'s and would-be M.P.'s, who, once elected, would fatten on
the parliamentary screw and pickings without showing any return, and
right eagerly the electors took their present opportunity.

Zest was added to the contest by both the contestants being wealthy
men, and with youth as well as means to carry it out on expensive
lines. They were equally independent of parliament as a means of
living, and being men of leisure were merely anxious for office to
raise them from the rank and file of nonentityism. Independent means
are a great advantage to a member of parliament. The penniless man
elected on sheer merit, to whom the country could look for good
things, becomes dependent upon politics for a living, is often
handicapped by a family who are loth to leave the society and comfort
to which their bread-winner's official position has raised them, and
he, held by his affection, is ready to sacrifice all convictions and
principle to remain in power. To this man politics becomes a desperate
gamble, and the country's interests can go to the dogs so long as he
can ensure re-election.

Another advantage in the Noonoon candidates which should have silenced
the pessimists, who averred there were no good clean men to enter
parliament, was that these men were both such exemplary citizens,
morally, physically, and socially, that it seemed a sheer waste of
goodness that only one could be elected.

The newspapers went politically mad, and those not any hysterical
country rags, but the big metropolitan dailies, and there was one
thing to be noted in regard to their statements that seriously needed
rectifying. What is the purpose of the great dailies but to keep the
people correctly informed as to the progress of public affairs and
events of the community at large? Most of the people are too hard at
work to forage information for themselves, or even to be thoroughly
cognisant of that collected in the newspapers, and therefore
parliamentary candidates, if not correct in their figures and
statements, should be publicly arraigned for perjury. The
Ministerialists gave one set of figures dealing with national
financial statistics and the Oppositionists gave widely different. How
was an elector to act when the platform of the former contained
nothing but a few false statements and glowing promises, and the
policy of the latter was only a few counter-acting war-whoops, and
there was no honesty, common-sense, or matter-of-fact business in the
campaign from end to end?

In this connection that remote rag, 'The Noonoon Advertiser,' shone as
a reproach to its great contemporaries. Not by their grandeur and
acclamations shall they be judged, but by the quality of their
fruits.

No bias or spleen seemed to sway the mind of this journal to one side
or the other. It recognised itself as a newspaper, not as a political
tout for this party or that, and so kept its head cool and its honour
bright and shining.

Three days after Leslie Walker's second speech he sent up a woman
advocate to address _the ladies_ and start the business of
house-to-house canvassing. This plenipotentiary, a person of rather
plethoric appearance, made herself extremely popular by assuring every
second _vote-lady_ she met that she was sure she (the vote-lady) was
intended by nature for a public speaker. This worked without a hitch
until the votresses began to tell each other what the great speaker
had said, when it naturally followed that Mrs Dash, though she thought
that Mrs Speaker had been discerning to discover this latent
oratorical talent in herself, immediately had the effervescence taken
out of her self-complacence on finding that that stupid Mrs Blank had
been assured of equal ability.

Then the Ministerialists discovered Mrs Speaker's place of abode in
Sydney, and averred her children ran about so untended as to be
undistinguishable from aboriginals, and that her housekeeping was
sending her husband to perdition; and such is the texture of human
nature unearthed at political crises, that some even went so far as to
suggest that she was a weakness of Walker's, and sneered at the
_ladies'_ candidate who had to be "wet-nursed" in his campaign by
women speakers. Henderson, they averred, had not to do this, but
fought his own battle.

"Yes," said Grandma Clay; "he mightn't be wet-nursed, but he is
bottled, _brandy_-bottled, by the men." And this could not be denied.

The women rallied round Walker because he was a temperance candidate,
whereas the tag-rag rolled up _en masse_ for Henderson, who shouted
free drinks and carried the publican's flag.

Each candidate, while praising his opponent, wound up with _but_--and
after that conjunction spoke most damningly of his policy.

Underneath the ostensible war-whoops many private and personal
cross-fires were at work to intensify the contest. The people on the
land quite naturally had a grudge against the railway folk, who only
had to work eight hours per day for more than a farmer could make in
sixteen; further, the perquisites of the railway employés were
inconceivable. By an unwritten but nevertheless imperative etiquette,
farmers had to render them tribute in the form of a portion of
whatever fruit or vegetables were consigned at Noonoon, and the
townspeople also had little to say in favour of them, averring they
were a floating population who had no interest in the welfare of the
town in which they resided, were bad customers--patronising the
publicans more than the storekeepers, and by means of their connection
with the railway were able to buy their meat and other necessaries
where they listed--where it was cheapest, and frequently this was
otherwhere than Noonoon, and yet they were in such numbers that they
could rule the political market.

Then the men on the Ministerial side were nearly gangrene with
disgust, because, as one put it, "nearly all Walker's men were women,"
and rallied round him thick and strong, and with a thoroughness and
energy worthy of their recent emancipation.

Dawn's next day for Sydney fell on another night when Leslie Walker
was speaking, but she and I did not attend this meeting, the family
being represented on this occasion by Andrew, and we went to bed and
discussed the Sydney trip while waiting for his return.

Ernest Breslaw, it appeared, had again had urgent business in Sydney
that day.

"Dawn," I said, "this is somewhat suspicious. Are you sure you are not
flirting with Ernest? I can't have his wings singed; I think too much
of him, and shall have to warn him that you are booked for 'Dora'
Eweword." This was said experimentally, for to do Dawn justice, though
she had every temptation, she had nothing of the flirt in her
composition.

"I can't go and say to him, 'Don't you fall in love with me,'" said
Dawn contentiously.

"Are you sure he has never in any way attempted to pay you a lover's
attentions?"

"Well, it's this way," she said confidentially--"you won't think me
conceited if I tell you everything straight? There have been two or
three men in love with me, and I was always able to see it straight
away, long before _they_ knew; but with Ernest, sometimes he seems to
be like they were, and then I'm afraid he's not,--at least not
_afraid_--I don't care a hang, only I wonder does he think he can
flirt with me, when he is so nice and just waltzes round the subject
without coming up to it?"

Ah! ha! In that _afraid_, which she sought to recover, the young lady
betrayed that her affections were in danger of leaving her and
betaking themselves to a new ruler, and this sudden inability to see
through another's state of mind towards her was a further sign that
they were not secure.

We are very clear of vision as to the affection tendered us, so long
as we remain unmoved, but once our feelings are stirred, their
palpitating fears so smear our sight that it becomes unreliable.

"Oh, well, it does not matter to you," I said; "you are not likely to
think of him, he's so unattractive, but I must take care that he does
not grow fond of you. If I see any danger of it, I'll tell him
something about you that will nip his affections in the bud. You won't
mind me doing that--just some little thing that won't hurt you, but
will save him unnecessary pain?" And to this she replied with seeming
indifference--

"I wish you'd tell Dora Eweword something that would shoo him off that
he'd never come back, and then I would have seen the last of him,
which would be a treat."

After this we were silent, and I thought she had gone to sleep, for
there was no sound until Andrew came tumbling up the stairs leading
from his room.

"I say!" he called, "have you got any more of that toothache stuff
from the dentist?"

"Come along," I answered, "I'll put some in for you."

"I think it's the oranges that's doin' it, I eat nearly eight dozen
to-day."

"Enough to give you the pip; you ought to slack off a little," I said,
extending him the courtesy of his own vernacular.

"I bet I'd vote for Henderson after all if I could," he continued, in
referring to the meeting, "only I'll gammon I wouldn't just to nark
Uncle Jake. Henderson is the men's man, that other bloke belongs to
wimmen. You should have heard 'em to-night! The fellers behind was
tip-top, and made such a noise at last that Walker could only talk to
the wimmen in the front. We gave him slops because he gets wimmen up
to speak for him, an' we can't give _them_ gyp. One man asked him was
he in favour of ring-barkin' thistles, and another wanted to know was
he in favour of puttin' a tax on caterpillars. He thinks no end of
himself, because he's one of these Johnnies the wimmen always runs
after," gravely explained Andrew, aged sixteen.

"We cock-a-doodled and pip-pipped till you couldn't hear your ears.
Half couldn't get in, they was climbed up an' hangin' in the
windows--little girls too along with the boys. I suppose now that
they're as near got a vote as we have, they'll be poked everywhere
just the same as if they had as good a right as us," said the boy with
the despondence of one to whom all is lost.

"It's a terrible thing they can't be made stay at home out of all the
fun like boys think they ought to be. No mistake the woman having a
vote is a terrible nark to the men--almost too much for 'em to bear,"
said Dawn, whom I had thought asleep.

"I reckon I'm goin' to every meetin', they're all right fun,"
continued Andrew. "At the both committee room they're givin' out
tickets with the men's names on, an' whoever likes can get them an'
wear 'em in their hats. Me an' Jack Bray went to this Johnny Walker's
rooms and gammoned we was for him, an' got a dozen tickets, an' when
we got outside tore 'em to smithereens; that's what we'll do all the
time."

After this Andrew disappeared down the stairs, spilling grease, and
being admonished by Dawn as he went as the clumsiest creature she had
ever seen.

Silence reigned between us for some time, and in listening to the
trains I had forgotten the girl till her voice came across the room.

"I say, don't tell that Ernest anything not nice about me, will you?
I'll take care not to flirt with him, and I wouldn't like him to think
me not nice. I wouldn't care about any one else a scrap, but he's such
a great friend of yours, and as I hope to be with you a lot, it would
be awkward; and you know he has _said_ nothing, it might only be my
conceit to think he's going the way of other men. He took me to
afternoon tea to-day at such a lovely place,--he said he wanted to be
good to your friends, that's why he is nice to me. I don't suppose he
ever thinks of me at all any other way," she said with the despondence
of love.

So this had been chasing sleep from Beauty's eyes, as such trifles
have a knack of doing!

"Very likely," I said complacently, and smiled to myself. The only
thing to be discovered now was if the young athlete's emotions were at
the same ebb, and then what was there against plain sailing to the
happy port where honeymoons are spent?

Fortune favours the persevering, and next afternoon an opportunity
occurred for procuring the desired knowledge.

Ernest and Ada Grosvenor came in together, and to the casual observer
seemed much engrossed with each other, but I noticed that Dawn could
not speak or move, but a pair of quick dark eyes caught every detail.
So far so good, but it was necessary for Dawn to think the prize just
a little farther out of reach than it was to make it attractive to her
disposition, so I set about attaining this end by a very simple
method.

Miss Grosvenor had called to invite us to a meeting she had convened,
to listen to a public address by a lady who was going to head a
deputation to Walker afterwards, and we had decided to go. Mrs Bray's
husband also dropped in, and to my surprise proved not the hen-pecked
nonentity one would expect after hearing his wife's aggressive
diatribes, but a stalwart man of six feet, with a comely face
bespeaking solid determination in every line. And when one comes to
think of it, it is not the big blustering man or woman that rules, but
the quiet, apparently inane specimens that look so meek that they are
held up as models of propriety and gentleness. Miss Grosvenor
immediately nailed him for her meeting, and politics being the only
subject discussed, he aired his particular bug. This was his disgust
at the top-heaviness of the Labour party's demands, and the railway
people's easy times as compared with that of the farmer.

"I believe," said he, "in every man, if he can, working only eight
hours a-day--though I have to work sixteen myself for precious little
return, but these fellows are running the country to blazes. The rules
of supply and demand must sway the labour or any other market all the
world over, and they'll have to see that and haul in their sails."

"Who are you going to vote for?" inquired Andrew.

"I'm goin' for Henderson, and the missus for Walker."

"It's a wonder you don't compel Mrs Bray to vote for your man."

"No fear; I'm pleased she's taken the opposite chap, just to
illustrate my opinion on what liberty of opinion should be; but I
won't deny," he concluded, with a humorous smile, "that I mightn't be
so pleased with her going against me if I was set on either of them,
but as it is neither are worth a vote, so that I'm pretty well
sitting on a rail myself."

"I thought your first announcement almost too liberal to be true,"
laughed Miss Grosvenor.

"No, I will say that Mr Bray is a man does treat his women proper, and
give 'em liberty," said grandma.

"An' a nice way they use it," sniffed Carry _sotto voce_.

As we set out to the meeting Miss Grosvenor mentioned to me that she
was endeavouring to find suitable speakers to address her association,
and asked did I know of any one. Here was an opening for a thrust in
the game of parry I was setting on foot between Dawn and Ernest
Breslaw.

"Ask my friend Mr Ernest to deliver an address: 'Women in Politics,'"
I said, "that is his particular subject. He is a most fluent speaker,
and loves speaking in public, nothing will delight him more."

"I'll ask him at once," said she.

This was as foundationless a fairy-tale as was ever spun, for Ernest
could not say two words in public upon any occasion. That he was
usually tendered a dinner and was called upon to make a speech, he
considered the drawback of wresting any athletic honours. Whether
women were in politics or the wash-house was a sociological abstrusity
beyond his line of thought, and not though it cost him all his fortune
to refuse could he have decently addressed any association even on
beloved sporting matters. Hence his consternation when Miss Grosvenor
approached him. At first he was nonplussed, and next thing, taking it
as a joke on my part, was highly amused. Miss Grosvenor, on her side,
thought he was joking, with the result that there was the liveliest
and most laughable conversation between them.

Dawn did not know the reason of it. She could only see that Ernest and
Miss Grosvenor were engrossed, and at first curious, a little later
she was annoyed with the former.

"I think," she whispered to me, "it's Mr Ernest you'll have to see
doesn't flirt with every girl he comes across."

"Perhaps he isn't flirting," I coolly replied.

"Not _now_, perhaps," she said pointedly; "perhaps he's in earnest
with one and practises with others."

Arrived at the hall, we found the women swarming around Walker like
bees.

"Good Lord! Look what Les. has let himself in for," laughed Ernest; "I
wouldn't stand in his shoes for a tenner."

"Go on! Surely you too are partial to ladies?"

"Yes; but--"

"But there must be reason in everythink," I quoted. He laughed.

"Yes; and reason in this sort of thing to suit my taste would be a
small medium. But what a fine old sport the old dame Clay would have
made--no danger of her not standing up to a mauling or baulking at any
of her fences, eh?"

Dawn would not look at Ernest after the meeting and deputation came to
an end, but walked home with "Dora" Eweword, laughing and talking in
ostentatious enjoyment; while Ernest and the Grosvenor girl were none
the less entertained.

"'Pon my soul, I couldn't make a speech to save my life," he
reiterated. "My friend only laid you on for a lark, did you not?" he
said, turning to me, whom he gallantly insisted upon supporting on his
arm--that splendid arm in which the muscles could expand till they
were like iron bands.

"Don't you believe him, Miss Grosvenor," I replied; "he's a born
orator, but is unaccountably lazy and vain, and only wants to be
pressed; insist upon his speaking, he's longing to do so." And then
his merry protesting laugh, and the girl's equally happy, rang out on
the crisp starlight air, as they went over and over the same ground.

As we neared Clay's I suggested that he should see Miss Grosvenor
home, while I attached myself to Dawn and "Dora"; and I invited him to
come and sing some songs with us afterwards, for the night was yet
young.

To this he agreed, and supposed to be with the other young couple, I
slipped behind, and could hear their conversation as they progressed.

"You're not struck on that red-headed mug, are you?" said Eweword, for
general though political talk had become, there was still another
branch of politics more vitally interesting to some of the electors.

"I'm not the style to be struck on a fellow that doesn't care for me."

"But he does!"

"Looks like it, doesn't it?" she said sarcastically.

"Yes, it does, or what would he be hanging around here so long for?"

"Perhaps to see Ada Grosvenor; I suppose she'd have him, red hair and
all."

"Pooh! he never goes there; but he comes to your place though, too
deuced often for my pleasure."

"He comes to see the boarder--he's a great friend of hers."

"Humph! that's all in my eye. He'd be a long time coming to see her
if you weren't there, if she was twice as great a friend. What sort of
an old party is she? Must have some means."

"Oh, lovely!"

"I suppose the red-headed mug thinks so too, as she is touting for
him."

"For him and Ada Grosvenor."

"Have it that way if you like it, but you know what I mean all right."

"I don't."

"Oh, don't you! I say, Dawn, just stop out here a moment will you? I
want to tell you something else, I mean."

"Oh, tell it to me some other time," said she, "it's too beastly cold
to stay out another minute. Come and tell it to me while we are having
supper round the fire."

"I'd have a pretty show of telling it there. I don't want it put in
the 'Noonoon Advertiser,' but that's what I'll have to do if you won't
give me a chance. If you keep pretending you don't get my letters,
I'll write all that I put in them to your grandma, and tell her to
tell you," he said jokingly; but the girl took him up shortly.

"If you dare do that," said she, aroused from her indifference, "I'd
never speak to you again the longest day I live, so you needn't think
you'll get over me that way. You'd better tell Uncle Jake and Andrew
too while you're about it, and Dora Cowper might be vexed if you don't
tell her."

"Well, I bet you'd listen to what the red-headed mug said quick
enough," replied "Dora" Eweword in an injured tone.

"The red-headed mug, as you call him--and his hair isn't much redder
than yours, and is twice as nice," she retaliated, "he would be a
gentleman anyhow, and not a bear with a scalded head."

By this time they had reached the gate, and Dawn was carelessly
inviting him to enter, but he declined in rather a crestfallen tone.

"Better invite red-head, not me, if you won't listen to what I say,
and pretend you never received my letters."

"Thank you for the good advice. I hope he'll accept my invitation,
because he is always pleasant and agreeable," she retorted.




NINETEEN.

AN OPPORTUNELY INOPPORTUNE DOUCHE.


It was just as well that "Dora" Eweword had been too chopfallen to
come in, for we found the place in what grandma termed "a uproar."

As we had gone out Mrs Bray had arrived to relate her speculations in
regard to Mrs Rooney-Molyneux. Mrs Bray did not live a great distance
from the latter's cottage, and as she had not seen her about during
the day, wondered had she come to her travail.

Andrew decided the matter when he came home by relating what he had
heard when passing the cottage; and he supplemented the statement by
the deplorable information that "the old bloke is up at Jimmeny's
tryin' if he can get a free drink."

"I must go to her," said grandma, rising in haste.

"I wouldn't if I was you," said Mrs Bray. "You don't never get no
thanks for nothing like that, and might get yourself into a mess; I
believe in leaving people to manage their own affairs."

Carry sniffed in the background.

"I'll risk all that," said grandma. "For shame's sake an' the sake of
me daughters, an' every other woman, I couldn't leave one of me sex in
that predicament."

"Oh, well, some people is wonderful strong in the nerve that way,"
said Mrs Bray, and Carry interjected in an aside--

"And others are mighty strong in the nerve of selfishness."

"Of course nothing would give me greater pleasure than to go,"
continued Mrs Bray, "but I would be of no use. I'm so pitiful,
sensitive, and nervous that way."

"It's a grand thing, then, that some are hard and not so sensitive, or
people could die and no one would help 'em," said Carry, no longer
able to contain her measure of Mrs Bray.

Uncle Jake had the sulky in readiness, and grandma with a collection
of requisites appeared with a great old shawl about her, Irish
fashion.

"Come you, Dawn, I might want your help, I'm not as strong as I was
once; and Andrew, you come too, you'll do to send for the doctor; an'
who'll take care of the pony?"

I volunteered, and though a rotten stick to depend on, was accepted,
and we three women rode in the sulky while Andrew ran behind. Having
arrived at the little cottage half-way between Clay's and town, we
found it was too sadly true that the poor little woman was alone in
her trouble, and worse, she had not had the means to prepare for it,
while most ghastly of all, there was no trace of her having had any
nourishment that day.

These are the sad cases of poverty, when the helpless victim is not of
the calibre which can beg, and suffers an empty larder in silence and
behind an appearance of respectability.

The capable old grandmother had prepared herself for this possibility,
and from under her capacious shawl produced a bottle of broth which
she set about warming. She may not have been at first-hand acquainted
with the few silk-wrapped lives run according to the methods scheduled
in first-class etiquette books, but she had a very resourceful and
far-seeing grip of that style of existence into which, regardless of
inclination or capability, the great majority are forced by
domineering circumstance; and being competent to grapple with its
emergencies, she took hold of this case without humbug and with the
fortitude and skill of a Japanese general.

As though the main trouble were not enough, the poor little wife was
further smitten with the two-edged mental anguish which is the
experience of sensitive women whose husbands neglect them at this
crisis of the maternal gethsemane. Doctor Smalley, who soon appeared
after receiving Andrew's message, was not sufficiently finely strung
to fully estimate the evil effect of Rooney-Molyneux's behaviour at
this juncture; but not so the fine old woman of the ranks, with her
quick perceptions and high and sensitive sentiment regarding the
bed-rock relations of life. Calling the doctor out during an interval
she discussed the matter within my hearing.

"Poor little thing, she's just heart-broke with the way her husband's
carryin' on. I wish I could deliver him up to Mrs Bray to scald; he's
one of 'em deserves it, pure an' simple! If Jim Clay had forsook me
an' demeaned me like this I would have died, but he was always
tenderer than a mother. Somethink will have to be done. I'll send
Andrew to Jimmeny's with the sulky to get him; he can get Danby to
help him if he can't manage him hisself, and take the old varmint down
to my place and keep him there secure. Tell Jake there it's got to be
done, an' I'll make up a yarn to pacify the poor thing;" and
returning to her patient, to the old dame's credit, truthful though
she was, I heard her say--

"Your husband's been fidgeting me, an' I never can stand any one but
the doctor about at these times, so I bundled him off down to stay
with Jake, and gave him strict instructions not to poke his nose back
here till he's sent for."

What diplomat could have made it more kindly tactful than that?

"Quite right too," said the doctor, upholding her. "When I see it's
going to be a good case like this, I always banish the man too."

"But I could have seen him, and the poor fellow I'm sure is
overwhelmed with anxiety," said the hapless little martyr in the brave
make-believe that is a compulsory science with most women.

"Well, _we_ ain't so anxious about him as we are about you," said the
valiant old woman. "You're the chief person now. He ain't no
consideration at all, an' can go an' bag his head for all we care,
while we get you out of this fix."

I sat upon the verandah until Andrew passed, taking home with him the
noble Rooney-Molyneux, lordly scion of an ancient and doubtless effete
house, and then the doctor banished Dawn from the house, giving her
into my charge, with instructions to take her home and calm her down.

Had she been the heroine of a romance she would have been a born
nurse. Without any training or experience she could have surpassed
Florence Nightingale, but, alas! she was merely an everyday girl in
real life, and this being her first actual experience of the tragedy
of birth, and the terror of it being intensified and aggravated by the
pitiable surrounding circumstances, she was beside herself. She clung
to me, choked with a flood of tears, and palpitating in an unbearable
tumult of emotion.

This case, so pathetically ordinary that most of us are debased by
acquaintance with similar, to this girl was fresh, and striking her in
all its inexcusable barbarity without any extenuating gloze, made her
furious with pained and righteous indignation.

I led her about by devious ways that her heart might cool ere we
reached Clay's.

The cloudless, breezeless night, though not yet severely cold, was
crisp with the purity of frost and sweet with the exquisite scent of
flowering loquats. The only sounds breaking its stillness were the
trains passing across the long viaduct approaching the bridge, and the
rumble of the vehicles as they ground their homeward way along the
stony road, their lights flashing as they passed, and snatches of the
occupants' conversation reaching us where we walked on a path beside
the main thoroughfare. The heavens were a spangled glory, and the dark
sleeping lands gave forth a fresh, pleasant odour. Man provided the
only discordant note; but for the jarring of his misdoings there would
have been perfect peace.

Oh, the hot young heart that raged by my side! I too had forded the
cruel torrent of facts that was torturing her mind; I knew; I
understood. By-and-by she would arrive at my phase and have somewhat
of my calmness, but to tell her so would merely have been the
preaching so deservedly and naturally abhorred by the young, and
except for holding her hand in a tight clasp, I was apparently
unresponsive.

As she grew quieter I steered for home, and eventually we arrived at
the door of the kitchen and found there Jake, Andrew, and the
Rooney-Molyneux--a small man with a large beard and the type of
aristocratic face furnished with a long protruding nose and a narrow
retreating forehead. Carry, up aloft like the angels, could be heard
practising on my piano, and the soiled utensils scattered on the table
illustrated that the gentlemen had had refreshments.

It being Dawn's week in the kitchen, she set about collecting the cups
in the wash-up dish, and presently some maudlin expression of
sentiment on the part of the Rooney-Molyneux reopened the vials of her
indignation.

"I'm naturally anxious that it may be a son," he drivelled, "as there
are so few male representatives of the old name now."

"And the sooner there's none the better. There is no excuse for the
likes of you being alive. I'd like to assist in the extermination of
your family by putting you in the boiling copper on washing day. That
would give you a taste of your deserts," raged the girl.

She was speaking without restraint in the light of the high demands of
crude, impetuous, merciless youth. I had once felt as she did, but now
I could see the cruel train of conditions behind certain characters
forcing them into different positions, and in place of Dawn's
wholesome, justifiable, hot-headed rage against the likes of
Rooney-hyphen, I felt for him a contempt so immeasurable that it
almost toppled over and became pity.

Seeing the little sense of responsibility that is inculcated regarding
the laws of being, instead of being shocked at the familiarity of the
Rooney-Molyneux type of husband and father, I gave myself up to
agreeable surprise owing to the large number of noble and worthy
parents I had discovered.

    "The world does soil our minds and we soil it--
    Time brings the tolerance that hides the truth,"

but Dawn had not yet sunk to the apathy engendered by experience and
familiarity. She adjudged the case on its merits, as it would be
handled by an administrator of the law--the common law we all must
keep. She did not imagine a network of exculpatory conditions or go
squinting round corners to draw it into line as an act for which
circumstances rather than the culprit were responsible; she gazed
straight and honestly and saw a crime.

"Dawn, you shameless hussy, you ought to be ashamed of yourself," said
her uncle.

"Oh yes, I'm well aware that any girl who says the straight truth
about the things that concern them most in life, _ought_ to be ashamed
of herself. They should hold their tongues except to flatter the men
who trample them in the dust,--that's the proper and _womanly_
attitude for a girl, I know," she said desperately.

"I'm sure this is uncalled for," simpered the hero of the act, rising
and showing signs of looking for his hat.

"You'd better run and tell your wife you've been insulted, poor little
dear!" said Dawn.

"Look!" said Andrew to me uneasily, "tell Dawn to dry up, will you;
she'll take no notice of me, an' if that feller goes home actin' the
goat I'll get the blame, an' he ain't drunk enough to be shut up. Blow
him, I say!"

"I'm sure," said Mr Rooney-Molyneux, who apparently had various things
mixed with politics, "that some men, though the women have taken the
votes and their manhood, still have some rights; bless me, it _must_
be acknowledged they have some rights in creation!"

Here he made an ineffectual grab for his hat and a sprawling plunge
in the direction of the door, saying, "I've never been so insulted!"

"Blow you! Sit down, Mr Mooney-Rollyno, or whatever you are," said
Andrew, "you've got to stay here; and Dawn, hold your mag! You'd give
any one the pip with your infernal gab."

"I'm sure it must be conceded that men have some rights?" Mr
Rooney-Molyneux appealed to me. I was the most responsible person
present, Uncle Jake did not count, the other three were children, and
so it behoved me to take a grip of the situation.

"Rights in creation! I should rather think so! In creation men have
the rights, or perhaps duties, of gods--to protect, to nurture, to
guard and to love, and when as a majority men rise to them we shall be
a great people, but for the present the only rights many of them wrest
and assert by mere superior brute force are those of bullies and
selfish cowards. Sit down immediately!"

He sat without delay.

"All that Dawn says of you is deserved. The least you can do now to
repair matters is to swallow your pill noiselessly and give no further
trouble until you are called upon to obstruct the way again in
semblance of discharging responsibilities of which a cat would be
twice as capable."

"Yes," said Dawn, "if you dare to talk of going home to worry your
wife I'll throw this dish of water right on you, and when I come to
think of things, I feel like throwing a hot one on every man."

As she said this she swirled her dishcloth to clean the bowl, and
turning to toss the water into the drain outside the door, confronted
Ernest Breslaw.

Quite two hours had elapsed since he had parted from us to conduct
Miss Grosvenor to her home, where he had been long delayed in argument
concerning whether he could or could not address a public meeting. I
discovered later that an opportunity to gracefully take his leave from
Grosvenor's had not occurred earlier, and that he had quite
relinquished hope of calling at Clay's that night, but to his
surprise, seeing the place lighted as he was passing, he came towards
the kitchen door.

Dawn was doubtless piqued that he should have spent so much time with
Miss Grosvenor, which, considering his previous attentions to her, and
the rules of the game as observed in this stratum of society, gave him
the semblance of flirting--perfidious action, worthy of the miscreant
man in the beginning of a career which at a maturer stage should cover
cruelty and cowardice equalling that of Rooney-Molyneux! Dawn lacked
restraint in her emotional outbursts; the poor girl's state of
nervousness bordered on hysteria; the water was nearly out of her hand
in any case, and with a smack of that irritated divergence from lawful
and decorous conduct of which the sanest of us are at times the
victim, she pitched the dish of greasy, warm water fairly on the
immaculate young athlete, accompanying the action with the
ejaculation--

"That's what you deserve, too!"

"I demand--" he exclaimed, but further utterance was drowned by a
hearty guffaw from Andrew which fully confirmed the outrageous insult.

"Just what I should expect of you," sneered Uncle Jake, while Mr
Rooney-Molyneux, his attention thus diverted from his own affairs,
gazed in watery-eyed surprise at a second victim of the retributive
Dawn.

"Well, that's about what you'd expect from a _thing earning her
living_, but never of a young lady in a _good_ home of her own and
living with _the mother of a family_," said Carry, appearing in time
to witness the accident.

I said nothing to the white-faced girl, for there was more urgent work
to be done in repairing the damage. Hurrying through the house, and
reefing my skirts on the naked rose-bushes under Miss Flipp's window,
where the dead girl's skirts had caught as she went out to die, I
gained a point intercepting Ernest as he strode along the path leading
to the bridge.

"Ernest!"

"You must excuse me to-night," he said, showing that my intervention
was most unwelcome.

"Ernest, if you have any friendship for me, stop. I must speak to you,
and I'm not feeling able for much more to-night."

Thus did I make a lever of my invalidism, and in the gentleness of his
strength he submitted to be detained.

Some men would have covered their annoyance with humorous satire, but
Ernest was not furnished with this weapon. He only had physical
strength, and that could not avail him in such an instance. I placed
my hand on his arm, ostensibly for support, but in reality to be sure
of his detention, and found that he was saturated. Not a pleasant
experience on a frosty night, but there was no danger of it proving
deleterious to one in his present state of excitement. Being one of
those natures whose emotions, though not subtle, make up for this
deficiency in wholesome thoroughness, he was furious with the rage of
heated youth not given to spending itself on every adventitious excuse
for annoyance, and debarred by conditions from any sort of
retaliation. In addition to being bitterly wounded, his sporting
instinct was bruised, and he chafed under the unfairness of the blow.

The beauty of the cloudless, breezeless night had been supplemented by
a lop-sided moon, risen sufficiently to show the exquisite mists
hanging like great swathes of white gossamer in the hollows, and to
cast the shadows of the buildings and trees in the silent river, at
this time of the year looking so cold and treacherous in its
rippleless flow. The wet grass was stiffening with frost, and the only
sounds disturbing the chillier purity of advancing night were the
erratic bell at the bridge and the far-off rumble of a train on the
mountain-side. Man still afforded the discordant note, and the only
heat in the surroundings was that in the burning young heart that
raged by my side.

Oh, youth! youth! You must each look back and see for yourselves, in
the aft-light cast by later experience, the mountains and fiery
ordeals you made for yourselves out of mole-hills in the matter of
heart-break. We, whose hair is white, cannot help you, though we have
gone before and know so well the cruel stretches on the road you
travel.

Ernest waited for me to take the initiative, and as everything that
rose to my lips seemed banal, we stood awkwardly silent till he was
forced into saying--

"I'm afraid you are overdoing yourself. Can I not help you to your
room? You will be ill."

"The only thing that would overdo me is that you should be upset about
this. It must not make any difference."

"Difference between you and me?--nothing short of an earthquake could
do that," he replied.

"I mean with Dawn. It must not make any difference with her. It was
only a freak."

"Certainly; I would be a long time retaliating upon a _lady_, no
matter what she did to me; but when--when--" (he could not bring
himself to name it, it struck him as so disgraceful)--"she intimates
to me, as plainly as was done to-night, that she disapproves of my
presence in her house, well, a fellow would want pole-axing if he
hadn't pride to take a hint like that."

"She did not mean anything. She will be more hurt than you are."

"Mean anything! Had it been a joke I could have managed to endure it,
or an accident about which she would have worried, I would have been
amused, but it was deliberate; and if it had been _clean_ water--but
ugh! it was greasy slop-water, to make it as bad as it could be; and
if a man had done it--"

The muscles of his arm expanded under my interested touch as he made a
fist of the strong brown hand.

"But being a girl I can only put up with it," he said with the
helplessness of the athlete in dealing with such a delinquent.

"Did you hear what she said too? Great Scott! it is not as though I
had done her any harm! I merely came here to see a friend, and made
myself agreeable because you said she was good to you; and, dear me!"
His voice broke with the fervour of his perturbation. He had been
wounded to the core of his manly _amour propre_; and to state that he
was not more than twenty-five, gives a better idea of his state of
mind than could any amount of laborious diagnosis.

"What can I have done?" he further ejaculated. "Can some one have told
her falsely that I'm a cad in any way? She might have waited until
she proved it. _I_ would not have believed bad any one spoken badly of
_her_." (Here an inadvertent confession of the growing affection he
felt for her.) "Even if I were deserving of such ignominy, it was none
of her business. I only came to see you,--she had nothing to do with
me."

Then I took hold of this splendidly muscular young creature wounded to
the quick. I determinedly usurped a mother's privilege in regard to
the situation, and glancing back over my barren life I would that I
had been mother of just such a son. What a kingdom 'twould have been;
and, in the order of things, being forced to surrender him to
another's keeping, I could not have chosen a better or more suitable
than Dawn. Entering his principality to reign as queen, while his
manhood was yet an unsacked stronghold, she was of the character and
determination to steer him in the way of uprightness to the end.

Wistfulness upsprung as I reviewed my empty life, but rude reality
suddenly uprose and obliterated ideality. It put on the scroll a
picture of motherhood, and mother-love wantonly squandered, trodden in
the mire, and, instead of being recognised as a kingdom, treated only
as a weakness, and traded upon to enslave women. I turned with a sigh,
and we walked round a corner of the garden where, in one recent
instance, appallingly common, a poor frail woman had crept out in the
dead of night to pay alone the penalty of a crime incurred by two--one
foolish and weak, the other murderously selfishly a coward.

I addressed Ernest Breslaw regarding the painful effect this tragedy
had produced on the mind of Dawn, and how it had been further
overstrung by the later one, and concluded--

"Had I expressed my inward feelings in outward actions at Dawn's age,
and being armed with a dish of water, to have thrown it on the nearest
individual would have been a very mild ebullition; but I set my teeth
against outward expression and let it fester in my heart, while the
beauty of Dawn's disposition is that her feelings all come out. She
has disgraced herself by making outward demonstration of what many
inwardly feel; but understanding what I have put before you, you must
not hold the girl responsible for her action."

With masculine simplicity he was unable to comprehend the complexity
of feminine emotions engendered by the exigencies of the more
artificial and suppressed conditions of life as forced upon women.

"I understand about old Rooney; I feel as disgusted with him as any
one does, but _I_ am not going to emulate him. I'd jolly well cut my
throat first; and if I could lay my hand on the snake at the root of
the drowning case, I'd make one to roast him alive! What made Miss
Dawn confound me with that sort?"

"She doesn't for an instant do so. On the contrary, she would be the
first to repudiate such a suggestion."

"Good Lord! then why did she throw that stuff on me? It was only fit
for a criminal."

"Can you not grasp that she was irritated beyond endurance with the
unwholesomeness of the whole system of life in relation to women, and
that for the moment you appeared as one of the army of oppressors?"

"But that isn't fair! _I_ know enough of women--some women--to make
one shudder with repulsion; but there would be no sense or justice in
venting my disgust on you or the other good ones," he contended.

"Quite so; but our moral laws are such that some issues are more
repulsive to a woman than a man, and you must admit there are heavy
arguments could be brought in extenuation of Dawn's attitude of mind
when the water slipped out of her hand."

"There's no doubt women do have to swallow a lot," he said.

"You don't feel so angry on account of the impetuous Dawn's act now,
do you?"

"It doesn't look so bad in the teeth of your argument, and if she
would only say something to explain, I won't mind; but otherwise I'll
have sense to make myself scarce in this neighbourhood."

"I'm afraid her vanity will be too wounded for her to give in."

"I'll make it as easy for her as I can; but, good Lord! I can't go to
her and apologise because she threw dirty water on me."

"Well, I'll bid you good-night. I must run in to Dawn. I expect she is
sobbing her heart out by this, and biting her pretty curled lips to
relieve her feelings,--her lips that were meant for kisses, not cruel
usage."

"Good heavens! Do you really think she'll feel like that?" he asked in
astonishment.

"I'm certain."

"But I can't see why--she might have had reason had I been the
aggressor."

"If you had hurt her she would not feel half so bad. You would be a
hopeless booby if you could not understand that."

"Really, now, if I thought she would take it that way, it would make
all the difference in the world. But had she desired to despatch me,
half that energy of insult would do," he said, drawing up, while
hardness crept into his voice, but it softened again as he concluded--

"I wouldn't like her to be upset about it, though, if she didn't quite
mean it."

"Well, you can be sure that in regard to you she was very far from
meaning it, and that she will be dreadfully upset about it; so think
of what I've said, and come and see me in the morning."

Now that he had grown calm, he was shivering with the cold, so I bade
him run home.

On returning to the house I found Andrew the solitary watcher of his
charge, who, covered by an old cloak, was snoring on the kitchen sofa.

"Dear me, where are they all?"

"In bed; and look at his nibbs there. I reckon I took a wrinkle from
Dawn as how to manage him. Soon as every one's back was turned he
began actin' the goat again an' makin' for home, an' I thought here
goes, I don't care a hang if all the others roused on me like blazes,
so long as grandma don't,--she's the only one makes me sit up,--so I
flung water on him, not warm water but real cold. It took seven years'
growth out of him, an' then I gave him a drink of hot coffee, an'
undressed him, an' he was jolly glad to lay down there."

"Why, you'll give the man a cold!"

"No jolly fear. I took his clothes off. I've got 'em dryin' here. I
couldn't find any of my gear, an' wasn't game to ask Uncle Jake, so I
clapped him into a night-dress of grandma's. Look! he's got his hand
out. I reckon the frill looks all so gay, don't you? I bet grandma
will rouse, but I'll have a little peace with him now an' chance the
ducks," said the resourceful warder, whose charge really looked so
absurd that I was provoked to laughter.

"How did you manage him? Was he tractable?"

"He soon dropped that there was no good in bein' nothing else. He
spluttered something about me disgracin' him, because something on his
crest said he was brave or something; but I told him I didn't care a
hang if he had a crest the size of a cockatoo or was as bald as Uncle
Jake, that I was full of him actin' the goat, an' that finished him."

"Enough too," I laughed, as I bade the Australian lad, with the very
Australian estimate of the unimportance of some things sacred to
English minds, the Australian parting salute--

"So long!"




TWENTY.

"ALAS! HOW EASILY THINGS GO WRONG!"


On ascending to my room I did not, as expected, find Dawn sobbing, but
she had her face so determinedly turned away that I refrained from
remark. I was none the worse for the diverting incidents of the
evening, because the excitement of them had come from without instead
of within. The rush of the trains soon became a far-away sound, and
the light that flashed from their engine-doors as they climbed the
first zig of the mountain, and which could be seen from my bed, had
been shut from my sight by the fogs of approaching sleep, when I was
aroused by heart-broken sobbing from the bed by the opposite wall.

After a while I got out of bed, bent on an attempt to comfort.

"Dawn, what is it?"

"I'm sorry I waked you, I thought you were sound asleep," she said,
pulling in with a violent effort but speedily breaking into renewed
sobs.

"I was thinking of poor little Mrs Rooney-Molyneux, and how my mother
died," said the girl, rolling over and burying her lovely head in her
tear-drenched pillow. "I can't help thinking about the sadness and
cruelty of life to women."

I felt certain that a matter less deep and lying farther from the core
of being was perturbing her more, but as she chose to ignore it, I did
likewise.

"Well, we must not dwell too sadly on that for which we are not
responsible, and women are privileged in being able to repay the cost
of their being."

"Yes, I always remember that, and often shudder to think I might have
been a man, with their greater possibilities of cowardliness and
selfish cruelty, as illustrated by old Rooney and Miss Flipp's
destroyer."

Not a word concerning her action to Ernest. Thought of it stung too
much for mention, so there was nothing to do but comfort her till she
fell asleep and await from Ernest the next turn of events bearing on
the situation.

The next turn of events in the Clay household bore down upon us next
morning after breakfast when grandma came home, having left the
first-born of Rooney-Molyneux comfortably asleep in the swaddling
clothes which had contained Dawn at the date when she had been "a
little winjin' thing," with whom everything had disagreed, and which
garments were lent to the new-born babe until grandma could provide
him with others. The hale old dame was not too fatigued to be in a
state of lively ire, and opened fire upon her circle with--

"I met old Hollis on the way home, an' do you believe, he says to me,
'Well, Mrs Clay, so I believe you've took to rabbit ketchin' in your
old days.' It was like his cheek, the same as w'en he said the monkeys
would be havin' a vote next. _Rabbit ketchin'_ indeed! No wonder women
has got sense at last to make the birth-rate decline, when you see
cases like that, and even the people that go to help them out of the
fix--an' that out of kindness, not for no reward nor pleasure--is
demeaned to their face an' called _rabbit ketchers_, if you please! I
reckon all women ought to be compelled to be _rabbit ketchers_ for a
time, an' it would be such a eye-opener to them that if there wasn't
some alterations made in the tone of the whole business they would all
strike so there'd be no need of _rabbit ketchin'_, as some call it, to
make things more disagreeabler; and that's what has been goin' on
lately in a underhand way, but _some people_," concluded the
intelligent old lady with her customary choler, coming to a full stop
ere recapitulating the misdoings of these unmentionable members of
society.

"Rabbit ketching," as midwifery is contemptuously termed in the
vernacular, does require a status, and those who have need of it merit
some consideration. Civilisation, stretching up to recognise that
every child is a portion of State wealth, may presently make some
movement to recognise maternity as a business or office needing time
and strength, not as a mere passing detail thrown in among mountains
of other slavery.

During the whole forenoon I busied myself with the construction of
garments for the new arrival in this vale of woe, and at the same time
was on the alert for the commanded appearance of Ernest Breslaw.
Instead of himself he sent as messenger a well-spoken lad, who
presented Mr Ernest's compliments, and hoped that I was not feeling
any ill effects from my unusual exertion during the previous evening.

I sent a request, per return, that he should call upon me during the
afternoon, but he did not regard it. The next being Dawn's day for
Sydney, I waited for this event to hatch some progress in the case,
but upon her return she had no favours to share with me or merry tale
to tell of being taken to afternoon tea by Ernest.

Eweword figured in this account, and so prominently as to suggest that
her talk of the fun she had had with him was a little forced, so on
the following morning I took it upon myself to call upon the backward
knight in his own castle. Unmooring one of the boats, I rowed with
great caution obliquely across the stream till, reaching the desired
pier, I tethered my craft and ascended among an orange-grove laden
with its golden fruit, and between the rattling canes of the vineyard
dismantled by winter, till I reached the house where at present my
young friend sojourned, and I was thankful that bleached as well as
unfaded locks having their own peculiar privileges, I was able to make
this call with propriety.

The young gentleman was in, and without delay appeared to the
beautiful lady's self-directed and appointed ambassadress.

"I suppose I may pay you a visit," I said with a smile as he seated me
in the drawing-room which we had to ourselves. "As you didn't seem to
care whether I were dead or alive I have come over to practically
illustrate that I'm still above ground. Why did you not come to see
me?"

Ernest reddened and fidgeted, and said haltingly--

"You know if you had been ill I would have been the first to go to
you, but I knew you were quite well, and I've been so busy," he
finished lamely.

"Now, you know that I know that you have been idle--quite unendurably
idle," I retorted, a remark he received in embarrassed silence, which
endured till I broke it with--

"Well, I suppose you are waiting for me to divulge the real object of
my pilgrimage, and that is to know why you haven't kept your agreement
about making that little mistake as easy as you could for Miss Dawn.
She's fretting herself pale about it."

Ernest stood up, his colour flaming into his tanned cheeks till they
were as bright as his locks, while he made as though to speak once or
twice, but hesitated, and at length exclaimed--

"This is not fair--you must, you have no reason to bother--you," and
there he foundered. Ernest could neither lie, snub, nor evade. He was
totally devoid of all the attributes of a smart politician.

"Have you not sufficient faith in my regard for you to trust my motive
in thus apparently seeking to pry into your private life?" I asked.

"You know I think more of you than any one, and I'll tell you the
whole thing," he replied, taking a seat beside me.

"You have made a mistake in assuming that Miss Clay, or whatever her
real name might be (his indifference was well assumed), did not fully
mean her action, and I was a fool to believe you when I had more than
sufficient proof to the contrary. Yesterday morning I happened to go
to Sydney in the same train as she did, and as I happened--entirely by
chance and quite unexpectedly--to meet her on the platform, I lifted
my hat as usual to make it easy for her, and a nice fool I made of
myself. She didn't merely pretend not to see me, but hurried by me in
contempt and came back with that Eweword, who glared at me as though I
were a tramp who had attempted to molest her. I am sure you could not
expect me to go any farther than that, and I only did that because you
call her a friend of yours. Perhaps Eweword doesn't do things that
necessitate the throwing of dirty water on him. It was rather an
uncalled-for thing to do to any one. Perhaps the old dame doesn't
allow her boarders to have visitors, and that is the polite way they
have of informing one to the contrary."

The sky looked rather murky. I said nothing, having nothing ready to
say.

"Oh, by the way, I'm leaving here to-morrow for Adelaide, where I am
to play in some inter-colonial football matches against the New
Zealanders. Is there anything I could do for you over there?" he said,
as though having dismissed the other unworthy trifle from his mind.

"Going to run away because a girl, half accidentally and half out of
nervous irritation, threw a little water on you!"

There I had said what I really thought, and half expected the snub
which, according to the rules of tact, I deserved for my divergence
therefrom, but it did not come; he was a man of the field, and in this
type of encounter had not a chance against one of my perceptions.

He laughed forcedly. "That would be something to turn tail for,
wouldn't it?"

"But are you not doing so? If a beautiful girl did such a thing to me
it would only make me the more set to woo her to graciousness," I
said.

"Perhaps so, if she were some girl you specially considered, but in
the case of a passing stranger that I may never meet again, it would
not be worth wasting time, especially as her action was so uncalled
for and unwomanly."

"But you are sure to meet her again if you continue our friendship, as
I hope to have her with me, and that is why I'm taking the trouble to
thus interfere in what does not apparently concern either you or me
very much. _I_ don't consider Dawn as a passing stranger. I think her
especially honest and especially beautiful, and it worries me to think
she has thus erred. Her action was _unwomanly_, if you like, but
peculiarly feminine, with the unavoidable hysterical femininity
engendered in women by their subjected environment. Are you quite sure
you consider Dawn merely a passing stranger not worth consideration?"
I asked, looking him fair in the eyes; and the quick lowering of them
and the tightening of his mouth satisfied me that he could not
truthfully answer in the affirmative.

"It is a matter of what she considers me," he said.

"Oh, well," I said indifferently, now that I had gained my point, "it
doesn't matter to me, but I'll be sorry to lose your company, and I
thought you were taking an interest in Leslie's candidature, and we
could have enjoyed it together."

"So I do."

"Well, come back as soon as you get these matches played, and we'll
have some good times together again, and I'll keep the reprehensible
Dawn out of the way; and anyhow, remember she didn't throw _cold_
water on you, and that's something."

"Very well, I'll be back in about three weeks' time to see how Les.
gets on. Polling-day hasn't been fixed yet. I'd like to see it through
now I've started."

"Of course," said I, considering it a good move that he should
disappear for a short time, and after this he rowed me on the Noonoon
till Clay's dinner-bell sounded and I went up to eat.

That evening "Dora" Eweword came in to tea and remained afterwards.
He informed us that the red-headed chap who had been loafing around
Kelman's had gone to Europe.

"Has he? Did he tell you?" interestedly inquired Andrew.

"He mentioned that he would leave for South Australia by the express
this evening," I replied, but did not add that his going to Europe was
a little stretched.

Dawn was quiet. Her merry impudence did not enliven the company that
night, and after tea, when Eweword caught her alone for a few moments
as I was leaving the room, he said--

"So you cleared the red-headed mug out after all. Andrew says it was
alright. You won't listen to me, but you haven't chucked the wash-up
water on me yet, that's one thing." His complacence was very
pronounced. To his surprise Dawn made no reply, but biting her lip to
keep back her tears, walked out of the room, and in the dark of the
passage smote her dimpled palms together, exclaiming--

"Would to heaven I had thrown the water over this galoot instead of
_him_," and the thermometer of "Dora's" self-satisfaction fell
considerably when she did not appear again that evening.

That night, when the waning moon got far enough on her westward way to
surmount the old house on the knoll beside the Noonoon and cast its
shadow in the deep clear water, the silver beams strayed through a
little window facing the great ranges, and found the features of a
beautiful sleeper disfigured by weeping; but youth's rest was sound
despite the tear-stains, and the old moon smiled at such ephemeral
sorrow. The night wind coming down the gorges with the river sighed
along the valley as the moon remembered all the faces which, though
tearless under her nocturnal inspection, yet were pale from the inward
sobs, only giving outward evidence in bleaching locks and shadowy
eyes. Even within sound of the engines roaring down the spur, many of
the little night-wrapped houses, hard set upon the plain, had inmates
kept from sleep by deeper sorrows than Dawn had ever known.

The first fortnight of Ernest's absence, believed by his doubting
young lady to be final, was a stirring time in Noonoon, and
particularly full at Clay's. Jam-making was the star item on the
latter's domestic bill. Baskets and baskets of golden oranges and
paler lemons and shaddocks were converted into jam and marmalade, and
ranged on the shelves of the already replete storehouse, in readiness
to tempt the summer palate of the week-end boarders which should
appear when the days stretched out again. We were occupied in this
business to such an extent that the sight of oranges became a
weariness, and Andrew averred that the very name of marmalade gave him
the pip.

At night we enjoyed the diversion of the meetings, and talk and gossip
of them made conversation for the days. The previously mentioned
political addresses were but mild fanfares by comparison with the
flamboyance of the gasconading now in progress, and in its reports of
these bursts of oratory the 'Noonoon Advertiser' gave further evidence
of its broad-minded liberality.

"Mrs Gas Ranter," it reported, "addressed a packed meeting in the
Citizens' Hall last night, and proved herself the best public speaker
who has been heard in Noonoon during the present campaign," &c. It
recognised worth, and gamely gave the palm to the deserving,
irrespective of party or sex,--did not so much as insert the narrow
quibble that she was the best for a woman.

Among other incidents, the lady canvassers called at Clay's and
received a piece of grandma's mind.

"Thanks; I don't want no one to tell me how to vote. I've rared two or
three families and gave a hand with more, and have intelligence the
same as others, and at my time of my life don't want no one to tell me
my business. I reckon I could tell a good many others how to vote."

The pity of it was that it was immaterial how any electors cast their
vote. Neither party had a sensible grip of affairs, and besides, love
of country in a patriotic way is not a trait engendered in
Australians. In politics, as in private life, all is selfishness. The
city people thought only of building a greater Sydney, the residents
of Noonoon and other little towns had mind for nothing but their own
small centre,--all seeing no farther than their noses, or that what
directly benefited their little want might not be good for the country
at large, and that legislature must, to be successful, better the
living conditions of the masses, not merely of one class or section.
Then city men, unacquainted with the practical working of the land,
could not possibly handle the land question effectively, and,
moreover, a man might understand how to manage the coastal district
and remain at sea regarding the great areas west of the watershed.

Another big mistake lay in over representation of the city and the
under representation of the man on the land. The producer should be
the first care, and while he is woefully disregarded and
ill-considered a country cannot thrive. The reason of this state of
affairs was the division of electorates on a population basis. This
meant that a city electorate covered a very small area, and that
practically all its wants were attended by the municipality, so that
the city member had leisure to ply the trade of merchant, doctor, or
barrister within a few minutes of the house of parliament; whereas the
country member, to become acquainted with the vast area he represented
and the requirements of its inhabitants and attend parliamentary
sittings, had no time left to be anything but a member of parliament,
precariously depending upon re-election for a livelihood.

Dawn threw herself into the contest with great enthusiasm, and also
industriously pursued her vocal studies, but for her was exceptionally
subdued and inclined to be cross on the smallest provocation. She had
become so engrossed in political meetings that "Dora" Eweword, who was
continually at Clay's since the retreat of Ernest, one day
remonstrated with her. She had made a political meeting the excuse for
declining to go rowing with him, whereupon he remarked--

"Oh, leave 'em to the old maids, Dawn. You'll grow into a scarecrow
that would frighten any man away if you hang on to politics much
more."

"Well, if it would frighten _some_ men away, I'd go in for them twice
as much," snapped the girl. "I suppose you admire the style of girls
who are going around now saying, after some straightforward women have
said what we all feel and got the vote, 'Oh, I don't care for the
vote. Let men rule; they are the stronger vessel. Politics don't
belong to women,' and so on. You'd think me a sweet little womanly
dear if I croaked like that; but you keep your brightest eye on that
sort of a squarker, and for all her noise about being content with her
rights, you'll see that she takes more than her share of the good of
the reforms that other women have worked for."

"Oh Lord!" good-temperedly giggled "Dora," for home truths that would
be considered sheer spleen from a plain girl are taken as fine fun
when uttered by a girl as physically attractive as Dawn.

During the second week of the footballer's absence, who should appear
to lend a hand on the side of Leslie Walker but Mr Pornsch, _uncle_ of
the late Miss Flipp. He arrived with the callousness worthy of a
certain department of man's character, and addressed a meeting with as
much pomp and self-confidence and talk of bettering the morals of the
people, as though he had been an Ellice Hopkins. He had the further
effrontery to visit Clay's and feign crocodile grief for the
deplorable fate of his niece. He protested his shame and horror,
together with a desire for revenge, so loudly that I resolved that he
should not be disappointed, that the dead girl should be in a slight
measure avenged, and he should not only know but feel it.

"I ain't got me voting paper. Me an' Carry will go up for 'em
to-morrer," said grandma one evening from her arm-chair near the
fireplace.

There had been the usual meeting, and Ada Grosvenor and others had
called in to discuss it.

"Why, didn't the police deliver yours?" inquired Miss Grosvenor.

"No, we was missed somehow."

"Easy to see Danby wasn't on the racket of deliverin' electors'
rights, or you would have had two or three apiece," Andrew chipped in.

"I'm going for Walker straight," announced grandma. "He's temperance
at all events, and that is somethink w'en there ain't any
common-sense in any of them."

"If I had twenty votes I wouldn't give one to that Walker," said
Andrew. "All the women are after him because they think he's
good-lookin', an' he's got bandy legs. They clap him like fury, and
look round like as they'd eat any one that goes to ask him a question.
They seem to reckon he's an angel that oughtn't to be asked nothink he
can't answer. I believe they'd all kiss him an' marry him if they
could. I hate him. Vote for Henderson, he wouldn't give the women a
vote, and only men are workin' on his committee."

"Oh my, what's this!" exclaimed Dawn.

"Well, you know, the women _are_ making fools of themselves about this
Walker," said Ada Grosvenor, with her intelligently humorous laugh. "I
don't think much of him myself. In spite of his choice phrasing of the
usual hustings' bellowing, if women had not already the franchise he
would be slow to admit them on a footing of equality with men as
regards being. There are two extremes of men, you know. One thinks
that woman's position in life is to act squaw to her lord and master.
The other regards her as a toy--an article to be handed in and out of
carriages like choice china--a drawing-room ornament, to be decked in
wonderful gowns, and whose whole philosophy of existence should be to
add to the material delight of men. Walker is a representative of the
latter type, and old Hollis, who thinks that monkeys have as good a
right to vote as women, belongs to the other. At a surface glance
their views regarding women seem to be diametrically opposed, but to
me it has always appeared that they equally serve the purpose of
degrading the position of women. You should have seen how cruel
Walker looked to-night when an old man asked if he approved of women
entering the senate. He said _no_ like a clap of thunder."

It was probably this perspicacity on the part of Ada Grosvenor,
coupled with a sense of humour, that earned for her the reputation of
"trying to ape the swells."

"Well, good-night everybody, and, Mrs Clay, don't forget to apply for
your right in time, or you won't be able to vote," she said in
parting.

"No fear," responded grandma. "I've not been counted among mad people
an' criminals, an' done out of me simple rights till this time of life
without appreciatin' 'em w'en I've got 'em at last."

Next day, true to intention, the old dame and Carry went up town for
their "voting papers," and to repeat the former's words, "was
downright insulted, so to speak."

The civil servant whose duty it was to give rights to those electors
who were not already in possession of such, was carrying affairs with
a high hand, and had the brazen effrontery to tell Grandma Clay that
it was a disgrace to see a woman of her years "running after a vote,"
as he elegantly expressed it; and he also suggested to Carry that it
would suit her better to be at home doing her housework, and to put
the cap on his gross misconduct, he persuaded them that they had left
it too late to obtain the coveted document, the first outward and
visible proof that men considered their women complete rational
beings.

Carry had retorted that it would suit him better to do the work he was
paid for than to exhibit his ignorance in meddling with the private
affairs of others, and that if he could discharge his duties as well
as she did her housework, he wouldn't make an ass of himself by
showing his fangs about women having the vote in the way he did.

The two electresses thus bluffed came down the street and told their
grievance to Mr Oscar Lawyer, for the nonce head of the Opposition
League, and at ordinary seasons a father of his people, to whom all
the town made in times of necessity,--whether it was an old beldame
requiring assistance from the Benevolent Society or a lad seeking a
situation and requiring a testimonial of character.

With Mr Oscar Lawyer they also ran upon Mr Pornsch; and it was
discovered that the churlish clerk's statement was utterly false, and
made because he was on the side of Henderson and these two women were
not. There was more talk than there is space for here, but the upshot
of it was the clerk was routed, and grandma and Carry came home
triumphantly, each in possession of one of the magic sheets of blue
paper, which they spread out on the table for us all to see.

"Well, well!" said grandma, "I seen the convicts flogged in days w'en
this was nothink but a colony to ship them to, and I drove coaches
w'en the line was only as far out of Sydney as here; and to think I
should have lived to see the last of the convicts gone, coaches nearly
become a novelty of the past, us callin' ourselves a nation, an' here
a paper in me hand to show I can vote a man into this parliament and
the other that the king's son hisself come out to open. I'm glad to
see us lived that we can have our say in the laws now same as the men,
and not have to swaller anythink they liked to put upon us to soot
theirselves," and the old dame, with a splendid light in her eye,
rubbed the creases out of the paper and spread it out again.

"Pooh, it's the same as we've had all along. You didn't think a
elector's right was anythink to be grinnin' at w'en the men had it. I
never seen you gapin' at mine; you'd think it was somethink wonderful
now when you've got one of your own," said Uncle Jake, coming in.

"Well, I never! Jake Sorrel! Of course we don't think much of other
people's things! What is the good of another woman's baby or husband
or _frying-pan_, that is, if it was equally a thing you couldn't
borrer? And if you was blind, what pleasure would you get out of some
one else seein' the blue sky, or warnin' that there was a snake there
to be trod on, an' that's what it's been like with the elector's
rights."

"Well, but what difference does that bit of paper make to you now? You
won't live no longer nor find your appetite no better, an' it won't
pay the taxes for you," contended uncle.

"Then if it is of so little account, why does it gruel you so much to
see me with it? An' little as it is, there ain't that paper's reason
why we shouldn't have always voted; and little though it is, that's
all the difference has stood all these years between men voting and
women not; and little as you think it is for a woman to have done
without, it's what men would shed their blood for if _they_ was done
out of it. It ain't what things actually are, it's all they stand
for," and grandma gathered up her _right_ and went to take off her
bonnet and change the bristling black dress which she donned for
public appearance.

I sat musing while she was away. "It ain't what things actually are,
it's all they stand for," as the old dame had said; and her delight in
being a freed citizen, no longer ranked with criminals and lunatics,
had touched my higher self more profoundly than anything had had
power to do for years.

Though taking a vivid interest in the electioneering, owing to the
large distillation of the essence of human nature it afforded, as
neither of the candidates had a practical grip of public business, I
cared not which should poll highest; but now I resolved to procure my
right and go to the ballot, and, if nothing more, make an informal
vote _for the sake of all that it stood for_.

At back of the simple paper were arrayed the spirits of countless
noble and fearless men and women who had so loved justice and their
fellows that they had spent their lives in working for this betterment
of the conditions of living, and the little paper further stood for an
improvement in the position of women, and consequently of all
humanity, inconceivable to cursory observation.

As for a woman going to the poll and voting for Jones or Smith, that
was harmless in either case, and would not help her live or die or pay
her debts, as Uncle Jake expressed it; but excepting the female vote
for the House of Keys in the Isle of Man, the enfranchisement of
women, spreading from one to the other of the Australian States,
represented the first time that woman, even in our vauntedly great and
highly civilised British Empire, was constitutionally, statutably
recognised as a human being,--equal with her brothers. That women
shall compete equally with men in the utilitarian industrialism of
every walk of life is not the ultimate ideal of universal adult
franchise. Such emancipation is sought as the most condensed and
direct method of abolishing the female sex disability which in time
shall bring the human intelligence, regardless of sex, to an
understanding of the superiority of the mother sex as it concerns the
race--as it is the race, the whole race, and consequently worthy of a
status in life where it shall neither have to battle at the polls for
its rights nor be sold in the market-place for bread.

The empty-headed cannot be expected to perceive the magnitude of this
upward step in the evolution of man, and its machinery may not run
smoothly for a span; we nor our children's children may not know much
benefit from what it symbolises, but shall we who are comfortable in
rights wrested from ignorance and prejudice but never enjoyed by past
generations, be too selfish and small to rejoice in the possibility of
bettered conditions those ahead may live under as the fruits of the
self-sacrificing labour of those now fighting for their ideals?

NO!




TWENTY-ONE.

THINGS GO MORE WRONG.


Grandma could think of nothing but the clerk's insult when she had
gone for her electoral right.

"Him! that thing! What's he employed for but to do this work, and if
he ain't prepared to do it decent, why don't he give up an' let a
better man in his place? They're easy to be got. 'Runnin' after a
vote,' indeed! But that's where I made me big mistake. I should have
stayed at home and writ to him, an' he'd have been compelled to send
the police with it. That's what I ought to have done, an' let me
servants that I'm taxed to keep do the work they're dying for want of,
instead of doin' it meself; but at any rate I got me right safe an'
sure," she said with satisfaction. "A long time we'd be getting them
if all men was like him, which, thank God, they ain't. But that's the
way with all these fellers in a Government job; they think they're
Lord Muck, and too good to speak to the folk that's keeping them
there, and only for which they wouldn't be there at all. Only for
Oscar Lawyer and Mr Pornsch--and Dawn, where are you? Mr Pornsch was
very nice to me, an' I asked him to tea, an' to come down for some of
them little things belongin' to his niece. He's very cut up about
her."

"Yes, about as cut up about her as Uncle Jake would be over me."

"Now, Dawn, how do you know?" severely inquired the old dame.

"I know very well that old men with his delightful slenderness of
figure, and men who have drunk all the champagne and other poison it
must have taken to colour his nose that way, haven't got much true
feeling left, except for a bottle of wine, and a feed of something
high and well seasoned."

However, Mr Pornsch presently arrived, and illustrated by his
smickering at Dawn that notwithstanding his grief for a dead girl he
yet retained an eye for the charms of a living one. It also transpired
that he would not have waited for an invitation to call upon us.

This sweet bachelor champion of Women's Protection Bills, who had so
long deprived some woman of the felicity of being his wife, had
apparently determined to hastily repair the omission, and it soon
became evident that he meant to honour no less a person than Dawn in
this connection--Dawn! a princess in her own right, by reason of her
health, her beauty, her youth, and her honest maidenhood!

He took Ernest's place in going to Sydney with her, thrust costly
trifles upon her; he was fifty-five if he were a day, and a repulsive
debauchee at that. Dawn, so healthy and wholesome, loathed him. She
sat on her bed at night with her dainty toes on the floor, and raved
while she combed her fine-spun brown hair. I let her rave, believing
this a good antidote for the worry of that dish of water that was
rarely out of her thoughts. I knew that she never omitted to scan the
football news in hopes of seeing the doings of a certain red-headed
player recorded there, and I also knew that she was doomed to
disappointment, unless she could connect R. E. Breslaw with R. Ernest
of the wash-up water incident.

A man of Pornsch's calibre is hard to abash, or Dawn would have
abashed him, but failing to do so, at last she came to me requesting
that I should assist her to get rid of him.

"I don't want to complain to grandma," said she. "It might get abroad
if she took it in hand, so I'd like to choke him off myself if I
could. I have enough to suffer already;" and I knew she was again
thinking of that fatal dish of water, and how "Dora" Eweword twitted
her concerning it.

Then I took Dawn on my knee as it were, and told her a story. It was
such a painful story that I first extracted from her a solemn promise
that she would not make a fuss of any sort, for this young woman
lacked restraint--that command over her emotions which, if carefully
adjusted and gauged, will make the work of a talented artist pass for
genius, and that of a genius pass for the work of a god.

When his connection with the ill-fated young girl, who had slipped out
in the dead of night to throw herself in the gently gliding Noonoon,
became known to Dawn, I was afraid her horror would so betray her that
any subsequent plans for the punishment of the miscreant might fall
through.

"I'll knock him down with the poker next time he comes. I'll throw a
kettle of boiling water on him as sure as eggs are eggs. Fancy the
reptile leering around me: I felt nearly poisoned as it was, but I
didn't know he was a murderer as well! Oh, the hide of him to come
here! I really will throw boiling water on him!"

Dawn continued in this strain for some time, but as she quieted down
became possessed of a notion to tar and feather him in the manner
mentioned by her grandmother in one of her anecdotes. Carry and I were
to be called upon to assist in this ceremony, which was to take place
upon the return of Mr Pornsch. For the present he had disappeared to
attend to some business.

In the interim, the meetings continued without a break, and Dawn
unremittingly looked for the football news, now with the war crowded
into a far corner, by the special complexion that each daily chose to
put on political affairs.

"Just look up the football news," I said one day, "and see how my
friend Ernest is doing."

"He made a lot of goals as 'forward' in the last match. See!" she
coolly replied, putting her tapering forefinger on the name of R. E.
Breslaw, as she handed me the paper.

"Did he tell you he wanted to disguise his identity while here?"

"Yes; he told me all about it one day when we went to Sydney," she
replied, leaving me wondering what else they might have confided
during these jaunts.

Now that we required his presence Mr Pornsch was not in evidence, and
neither was anything to be heard of the red-headed footballer's
reappearance, though he had been absent four weeks, and this brought
us towards the end of June. At this date there appeared a paragraph
stating that Breslaw and several other amateur sportsmen were
contemplating a tour of America, to include the St Louis Exposition.

That night some one besides myself heard the roar of the passing
locomotives, but she did not confess the cause of her sleeplessness.
It was one of those irritations one cannot tell, so she let off her
irritation in other channels.

Matters did not brighten as the days went on. Two nights after
Ernest's reported departure for the States, "Dora" Eweword brought
Dawn home from Walker's committee meeting, and remained talking to her
in the otherwise deserted dining-room till a late hour. As soon as he
left Dawn came upstairs, and throwing herself face downwards on her
bed burst into violent weeping.

"What has come to you lately, Dawn?" I inquired. "Tell me what sort of
a twist you have put in your affairs so that I may be able to help
you."

"No one can help me," she crossly replied.

"Don't you think that I was once young, and have suffered all these
worries too? It is not so long since I was your age that I have
forgotten what may torment a girl's heart."

Thus abjured she presently made me her father-confessor.

Eweword it appeared had grown very pressing, and her grandma had urged
her to accept him as the best of her admirers. The old dame had not
observed the trend of matters with Ernest. In a house where week-end
boarders came and went, and the landlady had a pretty granddaughter,
there were strings of ardent admirers who came and went like the
weeks, and in all probability transferred their week-end affections as
frequently and with as great pleasure as they did their person, and
the old lady was too sensible to place any reliance in their
earnestness, while Dawn too was very level-headed in the matter. Thus
Ernest, if considered anything more than my friend, would have merely
been placed in the week-end category. The old lady, not feeling so
vigorous as usual, was anxious to have Dawn settled, and had tried to
put a spoke in "Dora" Eweword's wheel by threatening Dawn with
deprivation of her coveted singing lessons did she not receive him
favourably. Dawn in a fit of the blues, probably brought on by seeing
the announcement of Ernest's departure, had accepted Eweword
conditionally. The conditions were that he should wait two years and
keep the engagement entirely secret, and she had promised her grandma
that she would think of marriage with him at the end of that time,
provided her vocal studies should be continued till then.

"That's the way I'll keep grandma agreeable to pay for the lessons,
and in that time, do you think, I'll be able to go on the stage and do
what I like and be somebody?" asked the girl from out the depths of
her inexperience.

"And what of '_Dora_'?"

"He can go back to Dora Cowper then. I'll tell him I was only 'pulling
his leg,' like he said about her. It will do him good."

"You might break his heart," I said with mock compassion.

"Break his heart! _His_ heart! He's got the sort of heart to be
compensated by a good plate of roast-beef and plum-pudding--like a
good many more!"

"Will he consent to this?"

"He'll have to or do the other thing; he can please himself which. I
don't care a hang. He said that if I would marry him soon he would let
me continue the singing lessons and get me a lovely piano,--all the
soft-soap men always give a girl beforehand. I wonder did he think me
one of the folks who would swallow it? Couldn't I see as soon as I was
married all the privileges I would get would be to settle down and
drudge all the time till I was broken down and telling the same
hair-lifting tales against marriage as aired by every other married
woman one meets;" and Dawn, her cheeks flushed and her white teeth
gleaming between her pretty lips, looked the personification of
furious irritation.

"All I care for now is to get the singing lessons, as long as I don't
have to do anything too bad to get them."

I suddenly turned on her and asked--

"Honestly, why did you throw that dish of water on Ernest Breslaw?"
Thus unexpectedly attacked, her answer slipped out before she had time
to prevaricate.

"Because I was a mad-headed silly fool--the biggest idiot that ever
walked. That's why I did it!"

"Do you know that it hurt him very, very keenly?"

No answer.

"Do you know that he cared more for you than he understood himself?"

No answer.

"Dawn, do _you_ care?"

"Not in that way; but oh, I care terribly that I made such a fool of
myself. Had it been any one else it wouldn't have mattered, but he
will think I did it because I was an ignorant commoner who knew no
better. That's what stings; but I'm not going to think any more of it.
I'm going to give my life up to singing, and it doesn't matter. I
suppose I'll never see him again, and he'll never know but that I did
it out of ignorance."

I smiled at the despondence in her tone as I extinguished the kerosene
lamp-light.

There is a stage in the course of most love affairs when the knight is
despised and rejected by the lady, when the sun and the salt of life
depart, and he finds no more pleasure in it; when he is seized with an
irresistible desire to go forth in the world and by his prowess dazzle
all mankind for the purpose of attracting one pair of eyes. The same
occurs to the lady, and she determines to make all men fall at her
feet by way of illustrating to one adamantine heart that he was a
dullard to have passed over her charms. And this young lady of the
rose and lily complexion, and knight of the bright-hued locks and
herculean muscles, being young--sufficiently young to be downcast by
imaginary stumbling-blocks--had reached it. Goosey-gander knight!
Gander-goosey lady!

I smiled again, for in my pocket was a letter that morning received
from the former himself, stating that he had been booked for a trip to
the St Louis Exposition, but had flung it up at the last moment in
favour of seeing how Les. got on at the election, and that he would be
back in Noonoon before polling-day. Considering he could have seen how
the election progressed equally as well in Sydney as Noonoon, and that
to see how his step-brother polled, when he took little interest in
politics, had grown preferable to a trip to America, quite contented
me regarding the probable termination of affairs.

However, I did not show this letter, as in matchmaking, like in good
cooking, things have to be done to the turn, and this was not the
opportune turn.

"Oh, well," I said, "so long as you don't let your little arrangement
get abroad, I don't expect it will harm Eweword."

"No fear of it getting abroad. I've threatened him if it does that a
contradiction that will be true will also get abroad by being put in
the 'Noonoon Advertiser.'"

Next night, however, I found Dawn stamping on something glittering
that spread about the floor, and by inquiry elicited--

"That infernal 'Dora' Eweword has had the cheek to give me a ring, and
that's what I've done with it, and that's all the hope he has of ever
marrying me," she exclaimed, bringing the heel of her high-arched foot
another thump on the fragments.

"He's a bit too quick with his signs and badges of slavery. He's so
complacent with himself, and thinks he's ousted the 'red-headed mug'
as he calls him, that I hate him."

"He has a right to be complacent. You have given him reason to be. He
has won you, so you have told him, and he believes you."

"Yes, I know, and it makes me all the madder to think of it."

I suppressed a chuckle; even before attaining my teens I had never
been so splendidly, autocratically _young_ as this beautiful
high-spirited creature!

"Let things settle awhile, and then we'll pour them off the dregs," I
advised.




TWENTY-TWO.

    "O Spirit, and the Nine Angels who watch us,
    And Thy Son, and Mary Virgin,
    Heal us of the wrong of man."


Outside politics the next item of interest on the Clay programme was
the reappearance of Mr Pornsch, who came for afternoon tea, during
which he invited himself to evening tea later on, and before it took
Dawn's time in the drawing-room trying some late songs. Dawn averred
that it was with difficulty she had restrained from setting fire to
him or attacking him with the piano-stool.

He got so far with his "love-making" on this occasion that he had
asked Dawn to take a little walk with him, which she had readily
consented to do, as it would enable her to entrap him for the
tarring-and-feathering upon which she had determined.

"He is going to meet me over among the grapes in the shade of the
osage breakwind. Do you think we will be able to manage him? Let us be
sure to have everything well arranged," whispered Dawn to me as we
came to evening tea.

Near the appointed time of tryst, when the first division of the
Western mail was roaring by--the warm red lights from its windows
shedding a glow by the viaduct--she and I betook ourselves to the far
end of Grandma Clay's vineyard, where we were securely screened by the
osage orange hedge on one side and the grape-canes and their stakes on
the other. Dawn carried a two-pound treacle-tin filled with tar, and
which had been sitting on the end of the stove during the afternoon to
melt into working order. Carry, who had entered into the affair with
vim, had her share of the arrangements in readiness, and was secreted
nearer the house to act as sentinel, and to run to our assistance if
summoned by a prearranged whistle.

Dawn placed me and the superannuated hair broom, with which she had
armed me, behind a grape-vine, and herself took up a position before
it and beside a hole about eighteen inches deep and two feet square
which she had excavated.

Mr Pornsch was soon to be heard tripping and blundering along, while
the starlight, to which our eyes had grown accustomed, showed the
river where the dead girl whom we were there to avenge had ended her
miserable existence.

"Dawn, my pet, where are you? Curse the grape-vines," he gasped.

"I'm here, _uncle darling_," she responded, the two last words under
her breath.

Directed by her voice, he neared till we could discern his bulk.

"My little queen," he exclaimed, the tone of his voice betraying that
which defiled the crisp glory of the night for as far as it carried.

"Just wait a minute till I see where we are," said Dawn, "or we will
be getting all tangled up in these canes."

With this she started back, causing him to do likewise, and drawing a
swab on a stick from the pot in her hand, she brought a consignment of
the black sticky tar a resounding smack on his face, and following it
with others thick and fast, exclaimed--

"There! There! That's all for you!"

Mr Pornsch naturally stepped backwards into the excavation, as
designed, and sat down as completely and largely helplessly as one of
his figure could be counted upon to do, and coming to Dawn's
assistance I planted the broom on his chest, and bore with my feeble
strength upon him. It was quite sufficient to detain him, seeing he
was now stretched on the broad of his back with his amidship
departments foundered in two feet of indentation.

Dawn thoroughly plastered his face and head, and in spitting to keep
his mouth clear he lost his false teeth. He attempted to bellow, but
jabbing his mouth full Dawn soon cowed him into quietude.

"Shut up, you old fool; if you make a noise we have six more girls
waiting in a boat to fling you in the river and drag you up and down
for a while tied on to a rope like a porpoise. Do you think you'll
float?"

This had the desired effect, though he spluttered a little.

"What is the meaning of this? Have you all gone mad? I met you here at
your own request to speak about helping you with your singing, and
you've evidently put a wicked construction on my action. I demand a
full explanation and an abject apology."

"Well," said Dawn, punctuating her remarks with little dabs of the
tar, "the explanation is that we're doing this to show what we think
of a murderer. Even if Miss Flipp had not drowned herself, but had
lived to be an outcast, you would be still a murderer of her soul."

"What's this?" he blustered.

"We have several witnesses ready to give evidence regarding all that
passed between you and the unfortunate girl supposed to be your niece
during your midnight calls upon her," I interposed, speaking for the
first time, "so bluff or pretence of any kind on your part is
unavailing. Remain silent and hear what we intend to say."

"We're dealing with this case privately," continued Dawn, "because the
laws are not fixed up yet to deal with it publicly. Old
alligators--one couldn't call you men, and it's enough to make decent
men squirm that you should be at large and be called by the same
name--can act like you and yet be considered respectable, but this is
to show you what _decent_ women think of your likes, and their spirits
are with us in armies to-night in what we are doing. They'd all like
to be giving your sort a wipe from the tar-pot, and then if you were
set alight it would not be half sufficient punishment for your crimes.
We haven't a law to squash you yet, but soon as we can we'll make one
that the likes of you shall be publicly tarred and feathered by those
made outcasts by the system of morality you patronise," vehemently
said this ardent and practical young social reformer, who was more
rabid than a veteran temperance advocate in fighting for her ideal of
social purity.

There was silence a moment while we listened to ascertain was there
any likelihood of our being disturbed, but the only man-made sounds
breaking the noisy crickets' chorus were the rumble of vehicles along
the highroad and the shunting of the engines at the station, so I
chimed in with promised support.

"Yes, good women have to continually suffer the degradation of your
type in all life's most sacred relations. They have to endure you at
their board and in their homes, and leering at their sweet young
daughters; and, alack! many in shame and humiliation own your stamp as
their father or the father of their sons and daughters. They have had
to endure it with a smile and hear it bolstered up as right, but those
whose moral illumination has taken place would be with us in armies
to-night if they could."

"I'm dying to give him a piece of my mind," said Carry, coming up.

"How do you like our little illustration of what we think of you?
We've done it out of a long smouldering resentment against your reign,
and this is a species of jubilation to find that the majority of
Australian men are with us, because in the vote they have furnished us
with a means of redress," and Carry finished her previously prepared
speech by throwing a clod of dirt on him.

"My grey hairs should have protected me," he muttered.

"You mean they should have protected Miss Flipp," said Dawn, "and when
a man with grey hairs carries on like this the crime is twice as
deadly. There was nothing about grey hairs when you used a lead comb
and got yourself up to kill. I thought you didn't want to make an
especial feature of them, and that's why I'm dyeing them this
beautiful treacley black. They'll look bosker when I'm done."

"Get up out of that, lest I'm tempted to do you a permanent injury," I
said, taking the broom off him.

"You can go to the stable," said Dawn, "and I hope you won't
contaminate it. Carry has a lantern and some grease and hot water, so
you can clean yourself there and put on your overcoat. Never let us
hear of you on a platform spouting about moral bills again unless you
say it is on account of the practical experience you've had of the
need of them to save weak and foolish young women from the clutches of
such as you."

Mr Pornsch arose with difficulty while Dawn struck matches to see what
he was like, and a more deplorably ludicrous spectacle never could be
seen in a pantomime. The only pity of it was that it was not a
punishment more frequently meted out to the sinners of his degree. He
raved and stuttered how he would move in the matter, but Dawn, who had
a commendable fearlessness in carrying out her undertakings, only
laughed merry little peals, and told him the best way for him to move
in the tar was towards the stable, and the best way to move out of it
was by the aid of grease, soap, hot water, and soda. The expression of
his eyes rolling and glaring amid the black was quite eerie, but
eventually we reached the stable, where Carry instructed him how to
clean himself, while Dawn jeered at him during the operation.

Having cleaned his face somewhat, he hid his neck and clothes in his
overcoat which Carry handed, put on his hat, muffled his face in his
handkerchief, and went away, Dawn administering a parting shot.

"Now, Uncle Pornsch, dear, next time you go ogling and leering round a
_decent_ girl, remember, though she may be so situated that she has to
endure you, yet she feels just as we do, that is, if she is a decent
girl, whose eyes have been opened to the facts of life."

"I feel better than I have done for a long time," she concluded, as
bearing the implements used in the adventure we three, who had agreed
upon secrecy, made towards the house.

"So do I," said Carry. "If we could only do it to all who deserve the
like, it would be grand!"




TWENTY-THREE.

UNIVERSAL ADULT SUFFRAGE.


I.

Electioneering matters ripened, and so did Carry's love affair with
Larry Witcom. In fact it got so far that she gave grandma notice, and
announced her intention of going to a married sister's home for that
process known as "getting her things ready," while Larry, in keeping
up his end of the stick, bought a neat cottage and began furnishing it
in the style approved by his circle, with bright linoleum on the
floors, plush chairs in the "parler," and china ornaments on the
overmantels.

Mrs Bray, one of those very everyday folk whose god was mammon, and
who naturally hung on every word issuing from a person of means while
she would ignore the most inimitable witticism from an impecunious
individual, began to regard the lady-help from a new point of view.

"She mightn't have done so bad for herself after all. Some of these
girls knockin' about the world not havin' nothink to their name, don't
baulk at things the same as you an' me would who's been used to plenty
and like to pick our goods, so to speak. The way things is, Larry is
as likely as most to be in a good position yet," was a sample of the
modified sentiments falling from her full red lips.

Carry was to remain at Clay's until after the election day, so that
she could cast her vote for Leslie Walker.

The political candidate thus favoured scarcely allowed three days to
pass without personally or by proxy stumping the Noonoon end of the
electorate. His last meeting in the Citizens' Hall was jam-pack an
hour before the advertised time of speaking.

The candidate on this occasion made no fresh utterances to entertain,
he merely repeated the catch cries of his party; but the air was
heavily charged with human electricity, and the questions and
"barracking" of the crowd were supremely diverting.

"Are you in favour of the Chows going to South Africa?" bawled one
elector.

"My dear fellow, we are going to govern New South Wales--not South
Africa."

"Yes; but when we sent contingents out to fight for the Empire in the
Transvaal, do you think it fair that white men should be passed over
in favour of Chows in the South African labour market?"

This question being ignored another was interjected.

"Are you in favour of the newspapers running New South Wales?"

"Certainly not!"

This being a satisfactory answer, the old favourite question, "Are you
in favour of black gins wearing white stockings?" was put; and the
candidate having assured us that, provided they could manage the
laundry bill, he certainly was in favour of these ladies wearing any
hosiery they preferred; and the loud guffaw which greeted this
information having subsided, he continued--

"Now, don't vote for _me_ or for _Henderson_,--vote for the best
measures for the country. (Henderson was driving the personal ticket
of having lived among them,--hence this warning.) I think it an
unparalleled impertinence for a man to ask an intelligent body of
electors to vote for _him_--"

"When there's a swell bloke like you in the field."

"Pip! pip! Hooray! Cock-a-doodle-do!" came the chorus. The "Pip! pip!"
was a new sound to them, having been introduced to represent the noise
made by the propulsion of a motor-car, in which set the candidate
shone.

"Are you in favour of gas and water running up the one pipe?" inquired
another, when the din had once more fallen to comparative silence.

"Don't you think that ladies ought to wear big boots now that they've
got the vote?"

All such important questions having been put, the chairman called for
three cheers for Mr Walker.

"Three cheers for Henderson," yelled the rabble at the back, which
were given deafeningly, and the candidate, with the lively tact which
bade fair to develop into his most prominent characteristic, joined in
the cheers for his opponent, till some one had the grace to call
"Three cheers for Mr Walker now"; and in the most delightfully
uproarious, holiday-spirited clamour thus ended the last meeting but
one before the election.

This was fixed for the 6th of August, and, notwithstanding there being
several other towns in the electorate equally as important as Noonoon,
on polling eve both candidates were to make their final speech there
at the same hour.

During the week intervening, Leslie Walker's "Ladies' Committee" were
very busy in the construction of dainty rosettes of pink and blue
ribbon to be worn by his followers; and not to be outdone, Henderson's
committee of "mere men" armed themselves with little squares of
hatband ribbon of red, white, and blue--the Ministerial colours.

These were not such dainty badges as the rosettes, but they served the
purpose equally well; and the sterner sex, in our present stage of
evolution ever to be trusted to make up in downright usefulness what
they lack in mere prettiness, had attached a safety-pin to each piece
of ribbon for its masculinely substantial affixing.


II.

Polling eve arrived, and the Ministerialists having secured the hall,
the Oppositionists had perforce to hold an open-air meeting. We
attended the hall first, intending to move on to the street
entertainment later, and Dawn was attacked by an old dame in the
opposing camp because she was displaying Walker's colours.

"If I liked him I'd go an' stand in the street an' listen to him, not
take up the room of them as has a hall hired for 'em by the _best_
man, who has lived among us, and not some city lah-de-dah married to a
hussy off the stage, an' who had women who might be any character
goin' round speakin' for him," she tiraded, and turning to me
aggressively demanded--

"Where are _your_ colours?"

"Could you supply me with some?" I replied; and only too pleased, she
squalled to an urchin who was distributing the squares plus a
safety-pin. I was such a well-poised "rail-sitter" that I was entitled
to wear both colours; and as this one was being ostentatiously
fastened to the lapel of my over-jacket, I remembered the injunction
to live at peace with all.

A brass band played the people in, and a trio of youngsters unfurled
red, white, and blue parachutes,--alias gamps, alias ginghams, alias
umberellers,--which were a popular feature of the "turn."

The committee appeared on the platform one by one, each received with
noisy approval, and one facetiously wearing a rosette the size of a
large cabbage was tendered a particularly deafening ovation.

After these crept Henderson, who, though not a particularly inspiring
individual, was wildly and vociferously cheered for everything and
nothing, and after listening awhile to his catch cries,--which
differed from those of Walker only in the irritatingly halting and
unimpressive way they were delivered,--we rose and scrambled our way
out, jeered by the old dame as we went, and our departure was further
commented upon from the platform by the speaker himself, in the
words--

"Getting too hot for some of the ladies," which, if correct, could not
by any means have been attributed to the winter air or the dull and
weakly maudlin speech he was trying to deliver.

Walker spoke from a balcony crowded by devotees--mostly women--to an
audience in the street, which was further enlivened by the fighting of
the numerous dogs I have previously mentioned as addicted to holding
municipal meetings. Their loud differences of opinion occasionally
drowned the speakers, and the main street being also the public
thoroughfare,--in fact, no less a place than the great Western
Road,--there was no by-law or political etiquette to prevent the
Ministerial band from strolling that way at intervals; so, much to the
delight of all who were out for fun and the annoyance of those who
were sensibly interested in the practical welfare of their country,
and who imagined that the policy of this party would materially better
matters, the cut-and-dried denouncement of the Ministry was at times
drowned by the strains of "Molly Riley," "He's a Jolly Good Fellow,"
and "See the Conquering Hero Comes!"

The followers of Walker contended that Henderson was the worst of
scorpions to thus come to Noonoon on the last night; but considering
that he had only addressed Noonoon once to Walker's thrice, as an
impartial wiggle-waggle I could not help seeing that the
Ministerialists had most cause for complaint.

Dawn pinned the badge I had acquired to the coat-tail of a local bank
manager who, though on her side, had lately distinguished himself by a
public denouncement of "Women's Rights," so savagely virulent and
idiotically tyrannous in principle as to suggest that his household
contained representatives of the "shrieking sisterhood," who had been
one too many for him. The boys who saw the joke enjoyed it very much
indeed, as he strolled along with the self-importance befitting so
prominent a citizen.

The beautiful voice of the candidate rose and fell, occasionally
halting till the usual cheers or guffaws died away, and the meeting
ended in the customary way. What good to the country was likely to
accrue from it? On the other hand--what harm?

To be abroad in the open air with comfort at that time of the year,
and at that hour of the night, illustrated the beautiful climate of
that latitude if nothing more, and every one was harmlessly
entertained, for good-humour characterised the whole affair.

Tea, coffee, and cheese abounded for all comers at the committee rooms of
Leslie Walker--the candidate supported by the temperance societies; and on
behalf of Olliver Henderson there was an "open night" at Jimmeny's "pub.,"
with the result--as published by the Oppositionists--that boys of fourteen
and sixteen were lying drunk in the gutters.

The next day, however, was the culmination of the whole thing.

Dawn almost wept that she was not of age to vote, and as I was so
comfortably indifferent as to which man won, I offered to cast my vote
for the one she favoured, but she declined.

"That would only be the same as men having the vote and thinking they
know how to represent us," she said.

But though she couldn't vote she worked hard for her side, and with a
big rosette of pink and blue decorating her dimpling bosom, and
streamers of the same flying from her whip and her pony's headstall,
she was out all day driving voters to the booth, where for the first
time in that town women produced an electoral right. The Federal
election had been conducted without them.

In the forenoon Larry Witcom drove Carry to vote in state--otherwise a
brand-new sulky he had recently purchased; and such is human nature
that we were all sufficiently malicious to be secretly pleased that
poor old Uncle Jake could not vote at all, because he had only an
obsolete red elector's right, and he should have procured an
up-to-date blue one.

It was a genial sunshiny day, and the lucerne and rape fields and the
Chinese gardens on either hand were beautifully green, as grandma
noticed when during the afternoon she and I drove in the old sulky to
cast our vote.

"Poor Jake! I'm sorry he can't vote, though he ain't goin' for my
man," she remarked. "But don't it seem like a judgment on him for
bein' so narked about the women bein' set free? That's always the way
in life. If you are spiteful about anythink it always comes back on
yourself."

The street opposite the court-house--for the time converted into a
polling-booth--was thronged like a show-day with an orderly crowd of
citizens of both sexes. The voting had become so congested that
vehicle loads of voters were being conveyed over to Kangaroo, and each
contingent set out amid the cheers of small boys, who were most ardent
politicians.

Laughing and banter were exchanged between people of all ages and
classes, one as important as the other for the time being.

As we crowded round the door, a jovial-looking man with a twinkle in
his eyes, as he was unceremoniously shoved against a pillar, announced
that women should not have been allowed the vote, for its disastrous
results were already evident in this crush; while the equally
pleasant-faced policeman, who, as soon as intimation came from within
that there was a vacancy, wheeled us in like so many bales of wool,
replied--

"Women jolly well have as much right to vote as men, and more, because
they can do it without getting drunk or breaking their heads."

Many displayed colours and some did not. There was the truculent woman
who voted as she thought fit, and who loudly advertised this fact; the
man who voted for Henderson because he lived in the district; and the
woman who supported Leslie Walker because he was rich and would be
able to subscribe liberally to all local institutions. A shallow-pated
Miss favoured Walker because his colours were the prettier; and an
addle-pated old man balanced this by voting for Henderson because he
"shouted,"[1] and Walker was temperance. There was a silly little
flaxen-haired woman who also supported the Opposition to spite her
husband,--a Henderson man, and the prototype of Mr Pornsch,--because,
being over-grogful, he had made tracks for the polling-booth alone,
leaving his wife to go as best she could. Alas! there was a poor
little woman at home who could not vote at all because she had
succumbed to the gentlemanliness of Leslie Walker, and her husband
being against him had tyrannously taken her right from her; and there
was also the woman who _would_ not vote at all, because she considered
men were superior to women, and boisterously proclaimed this to all
who would listen, in hopes of currying favour with the men; but
fortunately this, in the case of the best men, is becoming an obsolete
bid for popularity. There was the woman who voted for the man her
father named, and those electors of each sex who voted to the best of
their discernment great or small. Quite a crop of Uncle Jakes were
disfranchised through their rights being back numbers, and the
nobodies who imagined themselves something altogether too lofty to
consider anything so mundane as law-making at all, were also rather
numerous. Ada Grosvenor's bright happy face shone like a star amid her
companions, and she discharged this duty honestly and thoughtfully as
she did all others, recognising it as the practical way of working for
the brave, bright ideals guiding her life.

[Footnote 1: To treat to free drinks.]

Among the electresses were all the same types of vote as cast by men,
except that those sold for a glass of beer were not so frequent; and
as civilisation climbs higher, universal suffrage, and the better
methods of administration to which it will give birth, will be
exercised for the adjustment of the great human question now so
trivially divided into squabbles of sex and class.

The bright Australian sun shone with genial approval on all, and in
the air was a hint of the scent of the jonquils and violets, so early
in that temperate region. Grandma Clay must not be forgotten, for in
her immaculate silk-cloth dress and cape, her bonnet of the best
material, and her "lastings," with her spectacles in one hand and her
properly-prized electoral right in the other, and her irreproachable
respectability oozing from her every action, she could not be
overlooked. As she neared the door the gentlemen and younger ladies
crowding there politely stood back and cancelled their turn in her
favour; and Mrs Martha Clay, a flush on her cheeks, a flash in her
eyes, and with her splendidly active, upright figure carried
valiantly, at the age of seventy-five, disappeared within the
polling-booth to cast her first vote for the State Parliament.

What a girl she must have been in those far-off teens when she had
handled a team of five in Cobb & Co.'s lumbering coaches, when her
curls, blowing in the rain and wind, had been bronze, when with a
feather-weight bound she could spring from the high box-seat to the
ground! Lucky Jim Clay, to have held such vigorous love and splendid
personality all his own. All his own to this late day, for the old
dame returning said to me, "This is a great day to me, and I only wish
that Jim Clay had lived to see me vote;" and there was a pathetic
quiver in the old voice inexpressibly sweet to the ear of one
believing in true love.

After Grandma Clay there was myself--a widely different type of voter.
In one way it did not matter whether I voted or not. Neither candidate
had a clear-cut policy to rescue public affairs from their chaotic
state. The electors themselves had no definite idea what they
required, but this was in no way alarming--all the materials for
national prosperity were at hand, presently matters would evolve, and
the demand for able statesmen would be filled when the demand grew
clearly defined.

Which man would do most for women and children was also immaterial;
the mere fact of women no longer being redressless creatures, but
invested with rights of full citizenship, was even at that early stage
having its effect. Politicians were trimming their sails to catch the
great female vote by announcing their readiness to make issues of
questions relative to the peculiar welfare of the big bulk of the
human race represented by women and children. Inspired by women's
newly-granted power of electing a real representative of their
demands, would-be M.P.'s were hastening in one session to insert in
their platform planks which much-vaunted "womanly influence" had been
unable to get there during generations of masculine chivalry and
feminine disenfranchisement.

Let the women vote!

As Grandma Clay expressed it, "It ain't what things actually are, it's
all they stand for." For this reason I meant to exercise my right.

A sovereign in itself may not be much, but to a starving man within
reach of shops see what it means in twenty shillings' worth of food.
Similarly the right to vote in a self-governed country meant many a
mile in the upward evolution of mankind.

Countless brave women and good men had sacrificed all that for which
the human heart hankers, that women should be raised to this estate,
and what a coward and insolent ignoramus would I be to lightly
consider what had been so dearly bought and hard fought! And so
thinking I presented my right, received my ballot-paper, and though
not bothering to meddle with either candidate's name, I folded it
correctly, and for the sake of all that stood behind and ahead of the
right to perform this simple action, dropped it in the ballot-box.

It closed at six o'clock, and then came a lull till the first returns
should have time to come in. The candidates were not in Noonoon but
Townend, where the head polling-booth was situated, though nothing
could have exceeded the excitement in Noonoon.

Grandma said she would wait quietly at home till next day to hear the
result, but at nine o'clock the strains of a band, the glow of the
town-lights like a red jewel through the night, and the sound of
distant cheering proved too enticing to us two left alone in the
house, so we locked it up, put the pony in the sulky, and sallied
forth into the winter night, which in this genial climate was pleasant
in an over-jacket added to one's ordinary indoor attire.

We had the road to ourselves, for the strings of vehicles from which
it was seldom free were all ahead of us.

The candidates had tiny globes of electric light representing their
colours hung across the street from their respective committee rooms,
and the proprietor of 'The Noonoon Advertiser' had a splendid placard
erected on his office balcony and well lighted by electricity, on
which the names of members were pasted as they were elected, and in
view of this had gathered one of the most good-humoured crowds
imaginable. Irrespective of party, the hoisting of each name was
wildly cheered by the embryo electors who, being at that time of life
when to yell is a joy, took the opportunity of doing so in full.

Leaving grandma in charge of the vehicle I got out to reconnoitre, and
slipped in among the crowd desiring to be unobserved, but that was
impossible; a good-tempered man invariably discovered me behind him,
and insisted upon putting me forward where there was a better view of
the numbers and names.

"Let the women have a show. This is their first election and it ought
to be their night," and similarly good-natured remarks in conjunction
with a little "chyacking" from either party as the numbers fluctuated,
were to be heard on all sides.

Where were all the insults and ignominy that opponents of women
franchise had been fearfully anticipating for women if they should
consent to lower themselves by going to the polling-booth? If one
excepted the discomfort that non-smokers have to suffer in any crowd
owing to the indulgence of this selfish, disgusting, and absolutely
idiotic vice, it was one of the best-mannered crowds I have been
among.

I espied Larry and Carry carefully among the shades of the trees on
the outskirts of the gathering, and even in the teeth of a political
crisis not so thoroughly "up-to-date" that they could forego a
revival of the old, old story that will outlive voting and many other
customs of many other times.

Among the crowd of mercurial and lustily cheering boys was my friend
Andrew, and a little farther on, lo! the knight himself. A motor cap
was jammed on his warm curls, and a football guernsey displayed the
proportions of his broad chest as his Chesterfield fell open, while
with a gaiety and freedom he lacked when addressing girls he exchanged
comments with some other young fellows, evidently fellow-motorists.

My feeble pulse quickened out of sympathy with Dawn as I caught sight
of him. It was easy to understand the hastened throb of her heart upon
first becoming aware of his presence. Who has not known what it is to
unexpectedly recognise the turn of a certain profile or the
characteristic carriage of a pair of shoulders, meaning more to the
inner heart than had a meteor flashed across the sky? Most of us have
known some one whose smile could make heaven or whose indifference
could spell hell to us, and those who by some fortuitous circumstances
have spent their life without encountering either one or both these
experiences, are still sufficiently human to regret having missed
them, and to understand how much it could have meant.

Had Dawn's blue eyes yet discovered the goodly sight?

When I presently found her the light in them betrayed that they had.

Her face shone with the inward gladness of a princess when she has
come into view of a desired kingdom--whether it shall endure or be
destroyed and replaced by the greyness of disappointment, depends upon
the prince reciprocating and making her queen of his heart.

"Dora" Eweword was in attendance, so I despatched him to ascertain if
grandma were all right, and took advantage of his absence to say--

"I see Ernest has returned to see the result of Leslie Walker's
candidature."

"Then it's a wonder he didn't stay in Townend. They'll know the
results there sooner," she replied with studied indifference.

Our pony fell sound asleep where she stood and in spite of the
cheering, as though she were well acquainted with women taking a live
interest in an election. We let her sleep till twelve, when to
grandma's disappointment Leslie Walker was more than a hundred votes
behind. There were yet other returns to come in, but these were not
large enough to alter present results.

When we left the street was still crowded and the cheering unabatedly
vigorous.

On our way home grandma remarked with satisfaction that Dawn seemed to
be regarding Eweword sensibly at last, and I seized the opening to
inquire if she were really anxious that the girl should marry him.

"I am if she couldn't get no one better," replied the old lady, and I
considered that this condition saved the situation.


III.

The poll had been taken on a Saturday, and on Monday both the elected
and defeated candidates appeared in Noonoon to return thanks.

The former came into town at the head of a long cortége of vehicles,
and with the red, white, and blue parasols very prominently in
evidence. The streets were hung with bunting, and at night the newly
elected M.P. was lifted into a buggy in which he was drawn through the
streets by youths, at the head of a glorified procession led by a
brass band; and there were not only little boys covered with
electioneering tickets from top to toe and yelling as they marched and
waved flags, but also little girls, now equally with their brothers,
electors to be. More power to them and their emancipation!

It came on to rain, so black umbrellas, big and business-like, went up
by dozens around the three special ones, and became an amusing feature
of the train of miscellaneous people who came to a halt within earshot
of a balcony in the main street. Henderson was carried upstairs on
some enthusiasts' shoulders, and when landed there followed the usual
"gassating" and flattery--the re-elected member being presented with a
gorgeous bouquet of red, white, and blue flowers.

A little farther up the street the Walkerites also held a
"corroboree," where graceful thanks were returned by the Opposition
candidate, who was overloaded with offerings of blue and white violets
and narcissi, and amid great enthusiasm dragged in a buggy to the
railway station.

As they came down the street, though they had the intention of giving
three cheers for the victors as they passed, the rabble could not be
expected to anticipate such nicety of feeling, and some young
irresponsibles attempted to form a barricade across the route.

"Charge!" was then called out by some braw young Walkerites in the
lead, and mild confusion followed.

I was knocked on to the wheel of Leslie Walker's buggy, from whence I
was rescued by an old gentleman, himself minus his pipe and cap, but
good-humouredly laughing--

"My word! aren't the other side dying hard?"

"Take care you and I do not also die hard," I replied, stepping out of
the way of an idiot lad, who, dressed as a jester in Walker's colours,
was sitting on a horse whose progress was blocked by the crowd, which
began jibing at the rider.

Dawn, indignant at this, dashed forward like a beauteous and
infuriated Queen Boadicea, her cheeks red from excitement and the
winter air, and with her grandmother's flash in her eyes, exclaimed as
she took the bridle rein--

"Cowards, to torment a poor fellow!"

She attempted to lead the animal through, but the torches of the band
were put before it and the indispensable red, white, and blue parasols
swirled in its face, till it reared and plunged frantically, catching
the excited girl a blow on the shoulder with its chest. She must
inevitably have been knocked down in the street and been trampled upon
but for the intervention of a hand so timely that it seemed it must
have been on guard.

Noonoon was by no means an architectural town, and the ugliness of its
always dirty, uneven streets was now accentuated by the mud and rain,
but the picture under the dripping flags shown up by the torches of
the band was very pretty.

The sturdy young athlete thus triumphantly in the right place at a
necessitous moment, held his precious burden with ease and delight,
and though she was not in any way hurt she did not seem in a hurry to
relinquish the arm so willingly and proudly protecting her. The
expression on the young man's face as he bent over the beautiful girl
was a revelation to some interested observers but not to me.

Oh, lucky young lady! to be thus opportunely and romantically saved
from a painful and humiliating if not serious accident!

Oh, happy knight! to be thus at hand at the psychologic moment!

And where was "Dora" Eweword then?

And where was _my_ rescuer? Apparently he had forgotten that he had
rescued me, or that to have done so was of moment.

Ah, neither of us were in the heyday of youth, and 'tis only during
that roseate period that we extract the full enchantment of being
alive, and only by looking back from paler days that we understand how
intense were the joys gone by.




TWENTY-FOUR.

LITTLE ODDS AND ENDS OF LIFE.


The electioneering over, the town fell to a dulness inconceivable, and
from which it seemed nothing short of an earthquake could resuscitate
it. So great was the lack of entertainment that the doings of the
famous Mrs Dr Tinker regained prominence, and the old complaints
against the inability of the council to better the roads awoke and
cried again.

Two days following Dawn's rescue from the accident, Ernest called upon
me, and occupying one of the stiff chairs before the fireplace under
the Gorgonean representations of Jim Clay, looked hopelessly
self-conscious and inclined to blush like a schoolboy every time the
door opened, but Dawn did not make her appearance. I knew he had come
hoping that in averting the accident he had been able to illustrate
his friendliness towards her, and that she would now meet him as of
old, so that the little incident of the wash-up water could be
explained and buried. At last, taking pity on the very natural young
hope that was being deferred, I excused myself and went in quest of
Dawn, and found her in her room sewing with ostentatious industry.

"Dawn, won't you come down and speak to Ernest, he has called to see
how you are after your adventure," I said with perfect truth, though
as a matter of fact he had studiously refrained from mentioning her.

"Oh, please don't ask me to go down," she implored excitedly; "you
seem to have forgotten!"

"Forgotten what?"

"That dish of water," she faltered with changing colour, "and then he
saved me so cleverly from being trampled on! If he had ridden over me
I wouldn't have cared, as it would have made things square; but as it
is, can't you understand that I'd rather _die_ than see him?" said she
in the exaggerated language of the day, and burying her face in her
hands.

"I can better understand that you are _dying_ to see him," I returned,
pulling her head on to my shoulder; "but never mind, you'll see him
some other day, and it will all come straight in time."

I forbore to press her farther, but that Ernest might not be too
discouraged I gave him some splendid oranges Andrew had picked for me,
and said--

"Miss Dawn kept these for you, but as she is not visible this
afternoon I am going to make the presentation."

His face perceptibly brightened, and also noticeable was the brisk way
he terminated his call upon learning that there was no prospect of
seeing Dawn that day. I watched him bounding along the path to the
bridge carrying the oranges in his handkerchief, and watched also by
another pair of eyes from an upstairs window.

Carry left us during that week, and as she had now fixed her
wedding-day the tax of wedding presents had to be met. Grandma, in
bidding her good-bye, presented her with a generous cheque, and paid
her a fine compliment.

"I wish you well wherever you go, for I never saw another young
woman--unless it was meself when I was young--who could lick you at
anythink."

Carry's departure put the cap on our quietude at Clay's, but soon a
movement transpired to stir the stagnation.

The out-voted electors of Noonoon were so galled by their defeat that
they ignored the British law under which it was their boast to live,
and refused to acknowledge that the man who had been voted in by the
majority was constitutionally their representative in parliament. They
also failed to see that he would serve the purpose quite as well as
the other man, and to publish their sentiments more fully, determined
to tender Leslie Walker a complimentary entertainment of some kind,
and present him with a piece of plate, not as the other side had it,
in token of his defeat, but owing to the fact that he was actually the
representative of Noonoon town, having in that place polled higher
than his opponent. The presentation took the shape of a silver
epergne. This to a man who probably did not know what to do with those
he already possessed, a wealthy stranger who had contested the
electorate for his own glory! Had he been a struggling townsman, who,
at a loss to his business, had put up in hopes of benefiting his
country, to have paid his expenses might have shown a commendable
spirit, but this was such a pure and simple example of greasing the
fatted sow, that even those who had supported him openly rebelled,
Grandma Clay among them.

"Well, that's the way women crawl to a man because he's got a smooth
tongue and a little polish," sneered Uncle Jake.

"And some of the men hadn't gumption to get the proper right to vote
for their man who flew the publican's flag and truckled to the
tag-rag," chuckled grandma, who was delighted to prove that this
illustration of crawl had originated with the men.

Nevertheless it was decided to present the epergne at a select concert
or musical evening, with Mr and Mrs Leslie Walker sitting on the
platform, where the audience could gloat upon them. Dawn was asked to
contribute to the programme, and relieved her feelings to me
forthwith.

"The silly, crawling, ignorant fools!" she exclaimed. "The first item
on the programme is a solo by Miss Clay!!!" says the chairman, "and
I'll come forward and squark. 'Next item, a recitation by Mrs
Thing-amebob.' Can't you just imagine it?" she said in inimitable and
exasperated caricature from the folds of her silk kimono. "Good
heavens! to give a man like that an amateur concert like ours! Do you
know, they say he is the best amateur tenor in Australia, and his wife
was a comic opera singer before she married--so a girl was telling me
where I get my singing lessons. You'd think even the galoots of
Noonoon wouldn't be so leather-headed but they'd know their length
well enough not to make fools of themselves in this way! _I_ know; why
can't they know too? They like these things themselves, and think
others ought to like them too. What do they want to be licking
Walker's boots at all for? We all voted and worked for him; that was
enough! It will just show you the way people will crawl to a bit of
money! Oh dear, how Walker must be grinning in his sleeve! I _won't_
sing for them!"

But she was not to escape so easily. A member of the committee asked
grandma "Would she allow her granddaughter to contribute a solo?"

"Of course!" said the old lady. "Ain't I getting her singing lessons
to that end?" and down went the girl's name on the programme, and
there was war in the Clay household on that account.

"I can't sing yet," protested Dawn. "I can't sing in the old style,
and can't manage the new style yet."

"Rubbish!" said grandma, who could not be got to grasp the intricacies
of voice production. "What am I payin' good money away for? It's near
three months now, and nothing to show for it yet. If you can't sing
now, you ought to give it best at once; and if you can't sing a song
for Mr Walker, and show him you've got a better voice than some, I
think it common-sense to stop your lessons at the end of the quarter."

"My teacher wouldn't let me sing."

"And who's the most to do with you, your teacher or me, pray? Who's
_he_ to say when you shan't sing or the other thing?" and thus she
decided the point; but Dawn each night dwelt upon the trouble, while I
sought to comfort her.

"It is best to sing to the people who know all about singing. They
will see you have a good voice and appreciate it far more than could
the ignorant."

A fortnight had to elapse before the date of the concert, and during
that time Carry's successor arrived in the form of a stout "general,"
as Dawn averred she had sufficient companion in me, and that a kitchen
woman was preferable to a lady help.

The pruning of a portion of the vineyard, which had been delayed by
electioneering matters till now, also took place during this time, and
Andrew and Uncle Jake, when working in the far corner, made the
extraordinary discovery of an odontologic gold plate of the best
quality and in perfect order. The find created quite a sensation.

As grandma said, it bore evidence that some one had been stealing
grapes during the season, for any person legitimately in the vineyard
would have instituted a search for such a valuable piece of property,
and for a person who could afford such a first-class gold plate to
steal grapes, showed what _some people_ were. It did indeed, for this
person had been wont to clandestinely enter her premises to perpetrate
a far lower grade of crime than pilfering her grapes or destroying her
vineyard. The incident trickled into the columns of 'The Noonoon
Advertiser,' in conjunction with the facetious remark that the invader
would have had to take a lot of grapes to compensate him for what he
had lost; and it was further stated that the article being useless
except to him--its size bespoke it a man's--for whom it had been
modelled, he could have it upon giving satisfactory proof that he was
the owner.

Needless to say, Mr Pornsch did not claim his property, and this
souvenir was the last we heard of him. Andrew took it to Mr S. Messre,
dentist, the man who had seemed to consider it unprofessional that to
fill my teeth should take time, and with him the lad bargained that in
return for the plate he was to tinker up those teeth whose aching I
had allayed with the carbolic acid prescribed for me by the other
dentist.

Dawn and I chuckled in secret, sent a copy of 'The Noonoon Advertiser'
to Carry, and remarked that it was an ill wind that blew no one any
good.

During the fortnight preceding the concert, Ernest Breslaw called at
Clay's several times to see me, and saw me unattended by any extras in
the form of a beautiful young girl, for Dawn blushingly avoided him.
He had to fall back on such outside skirmishing as rowing me on the
river, and though there was no longer an impending election to furnish
him with excuse for loitering in Noonoon, he did not speak of
deserting it in a hurry. He had reached that degree of amorous
collapse when he could manage to shadow the haunts of his desired
young lady regardless of circumstances, and grandma began to suspect
that his attentions had a little more staying power than those of the
week-end admirer.

Seeing that the "red-headed mug" had reappeared, in the hope of
permanently extirpating him "Dora" Eweword was anxious to announce his
engagement, but with threats of immediate extermination if he should
so much as give a hint of it, Dawn kept him in abeyance, and
altogether behaved so erratically that Andrew candidly published his
belief that she had gone "ratty."

Ernest proffered himself as our escort to the Walker presentation, but
Eweword having previously secured Dawn, Breslaw had to be satisfied
with my company. I had already presented Andrew with a ticket, and as
I could not now discard him, I resolved to ignore the injunctions to
be found in etiquette books, and accept attentions from two gentlemen
at once. Thus it happened that I, at the despised grey-haired stage,
sat in state with a most attentive cavalier on either hand, while
handsome young ladies sat all alone.

We had entered September, and the early flowers had lifted their heads
on every hand in this valley, where they grew in profusion, and that
evening were in evidence at women's throats, in men's coats, and in
young girls' hair. The stage was a bower of heavenly scented bloom,
and many among the audience held bouquets the size of a broccoli in
readiness for presentation to the guests of the evening.

Ernest was holding the pony, which was restive, while Andrew buckled
her to the sulky, when Dawn came upon the scene after the concert and
presented me with a huge bunch of flowers, and Eweword also got his
nag ready for home-going. Dawn had not met Ernest since the night in
the street, and even now affected not to notice him, so thinking it
time to take the situation by the horns, I said--

"Here is Mr Ernest; you didn't see him because he was standing in the
shade."

Thus encouraged, he came forward and sturdily put out his hand, and
Dawn could not very well fail to observe that, as it was of
substantial build and held where the light shone full on it, so she
was constrained to meet it with her own, and received, as she
afterwards confessed, a lingering and affectionate pressure.

It was not of Ernest, however, but of Mrs Walker that she talked that
night as we prepared for rest, with our washhand basins full of
violets that had been crowded out of the quantity given to the
defeated candidate's wife.

"Fancy being lovely like she is! After looking at her I've given up
all hope. I suppose all I'm fit for is Mrs Eweword--Mrs 'Dora'
Eweword; do my housework in the morning and take one of these sulkies
full of youngsters for a drive in the afternoon like all the other
humdrum, tame-hen, _respectable_ married women! It's a sweet prospect,
isn't it?" she said vexedly, throwing herself on the bed.

"Don't be absolutely absurd! Look in the glass and you will see a far
more beautiful face, and one possessed of other qualities that make
for success."

"Oh, nonsense, you only say that to put me in a good humour. But how
do women find such good matches as Leslie Walker?--that's what I want
to know," she continued.

"Either by being beautiful or using strategic ability in the great
lottery. Mrs Walker probably used both these accomplishments. You can
achieve similar results by means of the first without the necessity of
developing the second. Silly girl, marry Leslie Walker's step-brother,
Ernest Breslaw, and if you do not live happily ever after it will not
be because you have not been furnished with a better opportunity than
most people."

She did not remark the relationship I thus divulged, showing that
Ernest's confidences must have included it.

"A girl can't _make_ a man marry her," was all she said. "I don't know
how to use strategy, and wouldn't crawl to do such a thing if I
could."

"Neither would I, but if I loved a man and saw that he loved me, I'd
secretly hoist a little flag of encouragement in some place where he
could see it," I made reply.




TWENTY-FIVE.

"LOVE'S YOUNG DREAM."


Next morning was gloriously spring-like; the violets raised their
heads in thick mats of blue and white in every available cranny of the
garden and other enclosures where they were allowed to assert
themselves, while other plants were opening their garlands to replace
them, and the air breathed such a note of balminess that Ernest came
to invite me to a boat-ride.

To the practised eye there were certain indications that he hoped for
Dawn's company too, but this was out of the question, as under
ordinary circumstances it is rarely that girls in Dawn's walk of life
can go pleasuring in the forenoon without previous warning, or what
would become of the half-cooked midday dinner? So we set out by
ourselves, and as the boat shot out to the middle of the stream
between the peach orchards, just giving a hint of their coming glory,
and past the erstwhile naked grape-canes, not cut away and replaced by
a vivid green, the rower made a studiedly casual remark, "Your friend
Miss Dawn spoke to me again at last. I wonder why on earth she threw
that dish of water on me; did she ever say that she had anything
against me?"

"No. If you could be a girl for half an hour you'd know that the man
to whom she shows most favour is frequently the one she most despises,
while he whom she ignores or ill-treats is the one she most warmly
regards."

"How on earth is that?"

"Oh, a species of shyness like your own, which makes you talk freely
of Dawn and Ada Grosvenor, because you have no particular interest in
them, whereas there is some name you guard jealously from me," I
cunningly replied.

"Is it true that Miss Dawn is engaged to Eweword? If she is let me
know in time to send her a wedding present. I'd like to, because she's
your friend," he said with such elaborate unconcern that I had
difficulty in suppressing a smile. His step-brother, the dilettante,
would never have been so clumsily transparent in a similar case.

"Nonsense; she's as much engaged to you as to him," I said
reassuringly, and that was all that passed between us on that subject.
He energetically confined our conversation to the lovely odour from
the lucerne fields we were passing on the river-bank, but I was not
surprised that the afternoon's post brought Dawn a letter that
smothered her in blushes, and plunged her in a gay abstraction too
complete for either Uncle Jake or Andrew to penetrate.

When we were once more in our big room, commanding a view of the
Western mail with its cosy lights twinkling across the valley, she
extended me the privilege of perusing one of the simplest and most
straightforward avowals of love from a young man to a maiden it has
been my delight to encounter.

     "DEAR MISS DAWN,--You will be very surprised at receiving
     such a letter from me, but I hope you will not be offended.
     I have loved you since the first day I saw you, but have
     kept it so well to myself that no one has suspected it,
     perhaps not even yourself. Will you be my wife? I love you
     better than life, and am willing to wait any number of years
     up to ten, if you can only give me hope of eventually
     winning you. I do not expect you to care for me at once, but
     if you can give me hope that you do not dislike me I shall
     be content to wait. You are so beautiful and good, I am
     afraid to ask you to marry me, but I would try hard to make
     you happy, and being in a position to live comfortably, you
     could continue any studies you like." Here followed a most
     business-like and lucid statement of his affairs, and the
     ending--"Please do not keep me waiting long for a reply, and
     let me know if I am to interview your grandmother. I am sure
     I can satisfy her in regard to my position and
     antecedents.--Yours devotedly,

     "R. ERNEST BRESLAW."

He was honest. Not fearing that his income might tempt a girl of
Dawn's or indeed any other's station, he had in no way attempted to
test her affection ere mentioning it. After the manner of his
type--one of the best--he would place complete reliance where he
loved, and feel sure of the same in return.

"Good heavens! has he really all that money?" she exclaimed.

"So I believe."

"I'd be able to live the life I want, then. Learn to sing, have lovely
dresses, and travel about. I'm not thinking only of his money, but
don't you think people who marry on nothing are fools and selfish? A
woman who marries a man who is only able to keep her and her children
in starvation is a fool, and a man who wants a woman to suffer what
wives have to, and drudge in poverty, is a selfish brute--that's what
I've always thought. As for gassing about love when there's no comfort
to keep it alive, that's about as foundationless as we, always being
supposed to think men our superiors, even the ones a blind idiot could
see are inferior."

"Are you going to marry him?"

"I want to, but what on earth am I to do with 'Dora' Eweword?"

"Break his heart to keep Ernest's together?"

"Break _his_ heart! It's the style to break, isn't it? He can have
Dora Cowper or Ada Grosvenor, they both want him. If grandma got wind
of the situation though, she'd put my pot on properly. She'd carry on
like fury, and let me have neither of them--that would be the end of
it. I can't make out why I fooled with that 'Dora' at all. I'll write
and ask Ernest to give me a week;" and with her characteristic
promptitude she sat down, and favoured a style as unadorned as that of
the knight himself.

     "DEAR MR ERNEST,--Your letter received. I care for you, but
     cannot give you a definite answer at once. There may be
     obstacles in the way of accepting your kind offer; if you
     will give me a week to consider matters, I will answer you
     definitely then.--Yours with love,

     DAWN."

As she got into bed she said with a happy giggle, "He says he loved
me from the first day he saw me, and you thought he only came to see
you!"

"Well, my dear, you can't expect people whose hearts are broken from
over-work, and whose hair is grey from want of love, to be as quick as
beautiful young ladies whose affairs have come to a happy head with a
splendid young knight;" and what I inwardly thought was, that at all
events I had discovered the knight's symptoms long before he had done
so.

"Would you like Mr Ernest and me to marry?" she asked.

"Oh, I don't object," I laconically replied.

"Well, I'll marry him as soon as ever he likes if I can get rid of
'Dora.' I'll see 'Dora' and see if I can do it without a rumpus first,
but if he hasn't got sense to be quiet, well, I won't give in without
a fight. Ernest mightn't like it if he knew, but I bet he will have to
keep dark about worse things on his part if I only knew,--he's
different to ninety-nine per cent of men if he hasn't," she said as
she opened the French lights wider to the crisp breath of scented
night and blew out the lamp.

"You don't mind his hair being red now, do you?" I maliciously
inquired in the darkness, and though she feigned sleep I knew that
owing to a delightful wakefulness another beside myself heard the
splendid music of the trains that night. The style of her breathing
told that she was still awake some hours later when the old moon
climbed high and came shining, shining down the valley, divided in two
by its noble river, and laid out in orchard and agricultural squares.
The great silver light outlined the glorious hills that walled the
west away from the little towns and villages, and here and there a
gleaming white cluster of tombstones bespoke the graveyards where
slept the early pioneers and the folk who had followed them, and which
one by one, as opening buds or withered stalks, were settling their
last earthly score. The little homesteads lay royally, peacefully free
from danger of molestation amid their wealth of trees and vines.
Cottages raised on piles, and vain in the distinction of small
protruding gables, pretentiously called bay windows, and with keys
rusting for want of use in the cheap patent door-locks, were quickly
superseding the earlier dwellings. These squat old cots generally had
thresholds higher than the floors; their home-made slab doors knew no
fastening but a latch with a string unfailingly on the outside day and
night, and with their beetling verandahs and tiny box skillions, were
crouchingly hard set upon the genial plain.




TWENTY-SIX.

"OFF WITH THE OLD."


Dawn was not a procrastinator, so she lost no time in sending Eweword
a message to meet her next night at eight at the corner of the
Gulagong Road for the purpose of a private talk.

She was going to take something to Mrs Rooney-Molyneux and the baby as
an excuse to be abroad at that hour of the night, and requested me to
accompany her, so that she would not be saddled with Andrew as
protector. We set out immediately after tea, and had time for a chat
with Mrs Rooney-Molyneux about her son. Both were enjoying good
health, thanks to the opportune arrival of a well-to-do sister, and
the fact that, in honour of an heir to his name, the father had lately
abstained from alcoholic drinks, and made an occasional pound by
writing letters for people.

We had some trouble to dissuade him from escorting us home, but
emerged at last without him, and within a few minutes of eight
o'clock.

The cloudless, breezeless night, though a little chilly, was heavy
with the odours of spring and free from the asperity of frost. The
only sounds breaking its stillness were the trains passing across the
long viaduct approaching the bridge. The vehicles which met from the
two roads--the Great Western, leading in from Kangaroo, and the
Gulagong, coming from the thickly-populated valley down the
river-banks--had gone into town earlier for the Saturday night
promenade, and we practically had to ourselves the broad highway,
showing white in the soft starlight.

I walked behind Dawn, and she, having found Eweword, who had been
first at the tryst, they came back towards the river a few hundred
yards and stopped behind some shrubbery, while I took up a place on
the other side of it, as directed beforehand by this very
business-like young person, to act as witness in case of future
trouble.

"Well, Dawn, what has turned up?" said the young man after a pause.

"There's something that might explain the situation better than a lot
of talk."

Claude, alias "Dora" Eweword, struck a match, and upon discovering the
fragments of his engagement-ring in the piece of paper she had handed
him, was silent for a minute or two, and then said--

"Dawn, so you want it to be all off. I knew that this long while, and
have been mustering pluck to say so, but it seems you have got in
before me."

"Perhaps you were going to say you were pulling my leg like you did
with Dora Cowper?"

"No, I was not," and his tone was exceedingly manly. "I was going to
say that, much as I care, I'd rather let you go free than hold you to
your agreement when I saw you didn't care for me."

"You were mighty smart!"

"No, I'm only a dunce, but even a dunce can liven up sufficiently when
he's in love to see whether his sweetheart cares for him or not, and
you didn't take much pains to hide the state of affairs," he said with
a rueful laugh. "I know enough about girls to know when they really
care."

"Practice, like," said Dawn.

"You can say that if you like," he gravely replied.

"Well, things were rather mixed, but now I know what I want."

"And that you don't want me?" he interposed.

"Well, you can marry Ada Grosvenor or Dora Cowper."

"We can leave that to the future; it doesn't enter into this question
at all," he said with a dignity that made the girl ashamed of herself.
"There will be no difficulty about my marrying, the main thing is
whether you are all right. It's easier for a man than a girl if he
does make a hash of it."

"Oh, Claude, don't be so good and generous, or you'll make me mad
because I'm not going to have you after all."

"Good and generous! Nonsense! I'm only doing what any decent fellow
would do; you'd do as much and more for me if things were reversed,"
he said, taking her hand. "Great Scott, what sort of a crawler did you
take me for? Did you think I'd cut up nasty about it? Surely you knew
I'd wish you well even if you were not for me; but won't you tell me
who it is that has put my light out?"

"Can't you guess?"

"Well, I suppose it's--"

"The red-headed mug," put in Dawn.

"Yes, I saw it all along, but that night in the street finished
matters. I knew my chances were as dead as a door-nail after that. You
only took me because something went out of gear between you, and
that's why you made me keep it dark."

"Oh, I don't want to say that, Claude."

"No, but I'm saying it; and now, is there anything else I can do for
you except wish you luck?"

"Only promise not to let grandma or any one know."

"Did you think it necessary to tell me that. I'd not be likely to howl
about my set-back. You needn't fear. I'll act with common-sense, and
pull through. I won't drown myself and haunt you, or any of that sort
of business," he said cheerfully.

"Oh, thank you more than I can say," she exclaimed enthusiastically;
"I hope you'll soon find some one better than I--some one as good as
yourself. Good-bye!"

"Well, Dawn, I wish you joy anyhow, and good luck to the fellow who
has got the best of me. He seems an alright sort from what I can make
out, and will be able to give you everything you want. Good-bye!" He
drew her to him, and as she did not resist, kissed her warmly on the
cheek, and let her go. He wanted to see her to her gate, but she
dismissed him, and he walked away through the spring night whistling a
cheery air. When he was safely gone I came out from hiding, and taking
Dawn's arm moved homewards.

The girl was weeping, but so softly that I was not aware of it till
her warm tears fell on my hand.

Oh, the never-ending fret and fume of being! When it is not discarded
love or jealousy that is agitating the human bosom, it is unsatisfied
ambition, the worry of parental responsibility, or loneliness and
regret that one has never tasted them. The past--what has it been? The
future--what will it be? The present--what does it matter? but a
thousand curses on its pin-pricks, wounding like sword-thrusts, and
which all must endure!

"Oh dear, I wish he hadn't been so nice," sobbed the girl. "He has
made me feel so ashamed that I don't think I'm fit to marry Ernest! I
wish he had been nasty to me, and then I wouldn't have cared. But you
don't think he cares, do you? Listen to him whistling so merrily!"

"It is not those who whine loudest who feel most."

"But men don't really have any feelings in this sort of thing, do
they?"

"Feeling is not peculiar to any section or sex of the community, but
to a percentage of all humanity. This is my belief, but I cannot
attempt to judge which feel and which do not."

"Who would have dreamt of him being so sweet-natured about it?"

"Nobility of character and unselfishness are also traits we cannot
find in any set place."

"I wish I hadn't been such a cat. I can't forgive myself."

I smiled happily as Eweword's action bespoke a character more in
keeping with his imposing physique than that betrayed when he had
vulgarly spoken of pulling a girl's leg. That had been like seeing a
beautiful house occupied by nothing but poachers, and I loved
humanity, so that it always hurt to see even the meanest individual do
less than their best.

"Well, cheer up," I said. "Take care not to similarly transgress
again. We all are constantly committing regrettable actions, but so
long as we are careful not to repeat them we may hope to make some
headway."

So the knight received a favourable reply, and the man supplanted by
him went another way.




TWENTY-SEVEN.

     "One might think better of marriage if one's married friends
     would not confide in one so much."--_Reflections of a
     Bachelor Girl._


Mrs Martha Clay proved a little obstreperous in regard to Ernest
Breslaw filling the position of grandson-in-law.

"You always get what you don't want," said she; "an' that's why one of
the same class as treated me daughter so shocking is now to be
pesterin' me for me grandchild in the same way. A girl of the decent
class wants to look a long time before she leaps with one of them
swells. They just take to a girl out of their own click out of the
contrariness of human nature, and then by-and-by give 'em a dog's
life. I know there's bad in all classes, but them upstarts have so
much more licence to be up to bad capers,--that's where it comes in.
And anyhow I ain't breakin' me neck to have Dawn married. None of my
people ever had any trouble to get married, an' she can wait a bit an'
look round an' see if this feller can stand the test of waitin',"
concluded the old dame, with the light of conflict in her steel-blue
eye.

Fortunately I was able to bring forward a seductive statement of the
case. Walker--the man who had made the money for Breslaw and his
step-brother--had been a grand level-headed old labourer, and though
his sons had been educated in the great English schools, they were
not far removed from honest utilitarian folk, and owing to this, and
in conjunction with Dawn, when her real name was divulged,--being a
daughter of one of the "old families," to wit, the Mudeheepes of
Menangle, the old dame consented to be reconciled.

Now that the oppression of Carry had been removed, Mrs Bray came over
and beamed upon us in her usual inspiriting way.

The electioneering gossip having died out, she reopened the old budget
concerning the misdoings of the Noonoon aristocracy, and once more the
name of Mrs Tinker figured so largely on the bill that I deeply
regretted my inability to encounter this much-discussed individual.

However, when Dawn flung into the quiet pool the bomb of her
approaching wedding with one of the best "catches" of New South Wales,
all other topics faded into insignificance, and every woman who had
the slightest acquaintance with the bride-elect called on her to warn
her against the horrors to be discovered after she had irrevocably
taken the contemplated step in the dark.

As Dawn was going to take it speedily, they were very enthusiastic and
unanimous in their evidence against the married state under present
conditions, and the thoughtful student of life on listening to the
testimony of these women of the respectable useful class, supposed to
be comfortably and happily married, will know that notwithstanding the
great epoch of female enfranchisement the workers for the cause of
women have yet no time for rest.

Dawn was so visibly worried by the revelations made to her in the most
natural way, that grandma grew concerned and published her mind on
the subject.

"Women ought to hold their tongues and let young girls come to things
gradual. To have it thrust upon them sudden is too much of a
eye-opener for them. The way women tell how their husbands treat them
nowadays is surprisin'. We all know that with the best of men marriage
ain't a path of roses, but in my day women kep' it to theirselves.
They suffered it in silence and thought it was the right thing, but
they're getting too much sense now; and perhaps all this cryin' out
against it will be a means to an end, for a grievance can't be
remedied till it's aired, that's for certain," said she.

Mrs Bray was in great form during those days, and though her
assertions frequently lacked logic, and betrayed in her the very
shortcomings which she railed against in men, nevertheless I liked
her, for she blurted out that with which the little quiet woman rules
by keeping it in the background, well hidden under seeming humility.

"Look here, Dawn," said she on one of these occasions, "when you get a
home of your own, take my advice and don't never let no other woman in
it. You can't, seein' what men are. There's no trustin' none of them,
and if you think you can you'll find yourself sold. And try soon as
ever you're married to get something into your own hands, as a married
woman is helpless to earn her livin'; and once you have any children
you're right at the mercy of a man, and if he ain't pleased with you
in every way you're in a pretty fix, because the law upholds men in
every way. If you don't feel inclined to be their abject slave they
can even take your children from you, and what do you think of that?
It shows we ain't got the vote none too soon, I reckon! I'm not sayin'
that you'll get that kind of a crawler; some of them is good,--a jolly
sight better than some of the women,--but the most, when you come to
live with them, is as hard as nails. They don't know how to be nothing
else. They never know what it is to be quite helpless and dependent,
so what do they care. They just glory and triumph over women bein'
under them, because they know there's nothing to bring them down, and
you want to set your wits to get some hold on a man,--he has plenty on
you by law and everything else,--get some property or something in
your name so that he can't make a dishcloth of you altogether. Bein'
rich you'll have a somewhat easier time, but it's when you've got
mountains of work, when you ain't feelin' as strong as Sandow for it,
an' have one child at your skirts an' another in your arms, an' your
husband to think women ain't intended for nothink better,--that this
is God's design for 'em, like most men do,--it's then that married
life ain't the heaven some young girls think it's goin' to be. This
ain't a description of no uncommon case but among them all around you,
and supposed to be the fortunate ones. I think girls want warnin', so
they ain't goin' into it with their eyes shut."

The picture painted by this lady was duplicated by sadder pictures of
the small worn type, and some weeks of this brought us to advanced
spring and a bride-to-be so worried and unhappy that she had lost her
appetite and the roses from her cheeks, and grew visibly thinner.

Ernest, who managed to snatch a little time from worshipping his
bride-elect wherein to superintend the furnishing of his house, was
exceedingly sensitive that his affianced should look so perceptibly
miserable.

"Do you think she doesn't care for me, and would like to be released?
I'd rather die than marry her if she doesn't want me," he would say,
sometimes with haughtiness and more often with anger. "Good gracious!
I don't know why she thinks I'm going to belong to the criminal class.
Goodness knows, if I were to judge her the same way there are plenty
wives would scare even a Hottentot from matrimony, and if I were to
express to Dawn any fears of her being similar, I bet you'd hear of
our engagement coming to a sudden death. You seem to understand her
better than I do, so say a good word for me if you can."

My opinion of him being so high, saying a word in his favour gave me
delight, and I took the first opportunity of saying a good many. At
the end of one day, after Dawn had been subjected to a particularly
gruesome account of what she might expect, I found her face downwards
on her bed, weeping bitterly, and elicited--

"I'm going to tell Ernest to-morrow that I won't marry him. It's too
terrible--they all tell you the same. I'd rather earn my living in
some other way while I'm able. I'd rather throw up the thing now when
most of my trousseau is ready than go on if one quarter of what they
say is true. I'm not one of those fools who think life is going to
turn out something special for me. Before these women were married I
suppose they thought their husbands were going to be kings, but see
how they have panned out, and why should I expect any better?"

Time had arrived to take the subject in both hands, so I gripped it
firmly.

"You must be thankful to gain one point at a time," I said, beginning
with the lightest end of my argument. "A little while since you feared
you were fated for the life of those around--household drudgery, with
an occasional sulky drive in the afternoon; now that you have escaped
that prospect you are haunted by worse possibilities. No doubt you
hear some saddening and deplorable stories, for some of the laws
relating to marriage are degrading, and the lot of the married woman
in the working class where she is wife, mother, cook, laundress,
needlewoman, charwoman, and often many other things combined, is the
most heartbreakingly cruel and tortured slavery; but you are escaping
the probability of such a purgatorial existence. Take comfort in
knowing that a great percentage of men are infinitely superior to the
laws under which they live, because law is determined by public
opinion, and though it restrains and modifies public behaviour it will
not mould private character. Law is shaped for the masses, but there
is a small percentage of individuals in either sex who are superior to
any workable law, and I think Ernest Breslaw is one of these."

"Do you?" she said, sitting up eagerly. "Would you marry him without
any fear if you were me?"

"I would--right at once. In spite of all its shortcomings I have a
profound belief that not woman, as the poet has it, but all humanity--

    'Holds something sacred, something undefiled,
    Some quenchless gleam of the celestial light.'"

The rain that was temporarily washing the perfume from the flowers
pattered against the window-panes and accentuated the silence, till I
added--

"I will tell you my history some day, so that you may see that when I
have belief in my fellows how little reason you have to fear. I have
been an actress, you know."

"Yes; Ernest told me."

"Well, I'll tell you about it one day." I did not mention that I had
expressly requested Ernest to keep my past a secret. However, I was
not displeased that he had been unable to do so. If a man of his
inexperience, and in the zenith of his first overwhelming passion, had
been able to keep such a secret in the teeth of his love's wheedling,
he would have proved himself of the stuff to make an ambassadorial
diplomat, but not of the calibre to be the affectionate, domesticated
husband, having no interests of which his wife might not be
cognisant--the only character to whom I could without misgiving
entrust the hot-headed Dawn.




TWENTY-EIGHT.

LET THERE BE LOVE.


I so nearly "pegged out" with an attack that fell to my lot a little
time after the election, that Dr Smalley considered it advisable to
summon Dr Tinker to a consultation, but sad to say I was too comatose
to have become acquainted with the husband of the famous Mrs Tinker,
whose individuality afforded considerable interest, because it was
very conspicuous when surrounded by the neutrality of life in Noonoon.
However, with the aid of some "powltices" constructed by Grandma Clay
and energetically applied by Mrs Bray, and because my hour had not yet
come, against the time when we slid into a splendid October I was
tottering about once more.

During my time of confinement the old valley had put on its finishing
touches of spring glory. Only a few golden oranges now remained on the
trees, and amid the bright green leaves were thick clusters of waxy
bloom. The perfume from them was heavenly, and sometimes almost too
powerful after the sun had toppled behind the great level-browed range
which, viewed from the plain, guarded the west of the valley of
Noonoon like a mighty wall. Some of the land had been cultivated for a
century without attention to artificial renewal of its fertility, but
still it gave forth a wondrous variety and wealth of vegetation. The
widespreading cedars hung out their scented bloom like heliotrope
flags amid surrounding greenery of pine, plane, poplar, and loquat,
and the peach and apricot orchards contributed banks of their delicate
flowers, which in the glory of their massed bloom could have
out-Japanned Japan. Along the lanes, where their stones had been
thrown, they sprang up and bloomed and bore liberally; roses of many
kinds and colours clambered up verandah posts and peeped over fences;
the garden plots were like compressed bouquets; the brilliant,
graceful, and exquisitely perfumed pink oleanders grew wild in the
fields; and altogether the vale of melons had graduated to a valley of
flowers.

The days had stretched out so that the mail from the far West trundled
down the mountains in time to cross the queer old bridge across the
Noonoon at daybreak, and the first beams of morning turned its windows
to gold as the waking flowers were lifting their dew-drenched heads
and the soft white mists were dispersing themselves betimes from the
plains dotted with ramshackle little homes and cut into squares by
barbed-wire fences. The weather had warmed, so that the fashionables'
week-end exit to the cool Blue Mountains had begun; and the youngsters
near the railway line sometimes left their play and stood agape in the
soft twilight to watch the governor's car, painted in a strikingly
different colour to all the others and emblazoned with the British
coat of arms, go by.

Uncle Jake, a hired man, and Andrew were very busy on the farm, and we
none the less engaged in the house, where every article of furniture
was made a receptacle for drapery and haberdashery, and where the
wedding was the only subject. It so often gave Andrew the "pip" that
his constitution must have been seriously impaired by such frequent
attacks of this complaint.

In those days Dawn was too engrossed to take me for drives, and Ernest
too occupied to pull me on the historic stretch of water running like
the moats of old beside his lady's castle, so that Ada Grosvenor, in
her office of doing good to all with whom she came in contact, stepped
into the breach, and sought to aid my recovery by taking me for gentle
exercise.

It was one day when we had driven east from Noonoon that she
remarked--

"It's a wonder that Mr Breslaw would care for Dawn's style when he
moves in such a smart set. She is a handsome girl, which covers a
multitude of sins in that respect, but still she is very downright,
and--and, well, doesn't quite conform to the rules of refinement."

I only smiled, and waited till the pony's head was turned for home,
when I covered the necessity for reply by admiring the incomparable
panorama before us. From the altitude we had reached on the Sydney
road, we could see above the unbroken line of the horizon west from
Noonoon town, and the Blue Australian Mountains stretched across the
view in an endless succession of round-topped peaks painted in their
matchless cerulean tints, which, near the end of day, were royal in
their splendour. For a hundred miles they reigned supreme before the
fringe of the endless plains was reached--peak after peak, gorge on
gorge, tier upon tier of beetling walls of rock, disclosing dim
shadowy gullies clothed with greenery and ferns where abounded
cascades of water and dewy springs in romantic and unrivalled
solitude. The sun, surrounded by a gorgeous pageant of flame and
gold, rested his chin on one of the peaks as though well pleased with
the glowing snowless scene that his offices had in part created, and
lingered a moment ere giving it up to the eager night. She sent her
forerunners,--twilight, which paled the wondrous blues, and dusk, that
left the mountains shadowy and indistinct, when the lady of darkness
herself rubbed them right out of the great canvas, and left it no
coloured beauty but the gleam of the far stars overhead and the tiny
man-made lights below, which, showing from the windows of the little
homesteads creeping up the mountain-sides, twinkled like points
between earth and sky.

Miss Grosvenor made no further comment regarding Dawn's probable
inability to rise to the demands of smart society. Only inexperience
had caused her to make any. Ernest fluttered in the smart set; he and
I were familiar with it; Miss Grosvenor was not, therefore we were
disillusioned and she was not.

We knew that the acme of refinement and culture might possibly be
found in the smart set, but that it was a very small island,
surrounded by a very large sea of other styles which spoke nothing so
much as squandered opportunities. We knew girls too superior to dress
themselves without a maid, yet who rolled tipsy to bed after every
champagne orgy; supercilious and much-paragraphed misses educated in
England, finished in Paris, and presented at Court, but who used more
slang than grooms; while an expensive education did not raise their
brothers above ribaldry and other vulgar excesses. Ernest and I knew a
beautiful, honest, intelligent girl when we had the good fortune to
meet her, and had no fears that she could not hold her own in good
sets, let alone in the smarter ones of colonial or any other
fashionable society, where the majority were animated by nothing
higher than an insane and inane pursuit of something to kill time.

Besides, it was wonderful how Dawn suddenly eschewed slang and
conspicuous violation of syntax, as she could easily do, for she had
been somewhat educated in a school patronised by the Australian _beau
monde_. Had not her grandma told me of the magnitude of her education
when I had first arrived? and did she not constantly repeat the story
now? For having survived the fear of Ernest being too aristocratic,
she took pride in his worldly possessions and position, and
characterised him as "more likely than most, if he only turns out true
to name, which in the case of husbands is as rare as bought seed
potatoes turnin' out what they're supposed to be; but there ain't any
good of meeting troubles half-way."

As the wedding preparations made so much bother, grandma got in a
woman to clean and another to sew, and determined to admit no summer
boarders until after Christmas.

"I can do without 'em, only I like to see money changin' hands quicker
than happens with a farm," said she; while also, in consideration of
the wedding, the doors, whose opening and shutting had been obstructed
by the ravages of the white ants, were at last satisfactorily
repaired.

Dawn, after the manner of most youthful brides, was desirous of the
full torture of "keeping up" her wedding, while Ernest, as usual with
bridegrooms, so shrunk from display that he would have paid half a
year's income to escape it; but it was only to me he made this
confession, to Dawn he was manfully unselfish, allowing her full rein
and agreeably falling in with her requirements.

I did not think much of fussy weddings, but these were such a
splendid pair of young things that I was pleased to endure the
preparations with a smile instead of a sigh, and contribute some old
silks and laces towards the trousseau; while a few dainty and
expensive trifles, sent to me from a traveller over the sea, found a
place in the furnishing of the bride's boudoir.

Like all strictly reared girls, a certain prudishness at first caused
Dawn to shrink from her love as something that should be resisted, but
as her wedding-day drew near her heart grew more at peace regarding
her contemplated change of life, and unfolded to the enchanting
influence of youth's master passion. The roseate mists it weaves
before the vision of its happy and willing victims, blunted even this
girl's exceptional and matter-of-fact perspicacity, and with her ears
grown suddenly deaf to those who had at first alarmed her by the
recapitulation of their unfortunate practical and disillusioning
experiences, looked out towards a future beautified with as many
shades of blue as the mountain ramparts beyond the river flowing by
her door. There was no hitch to speak of. Grandma, being one of a
bygone brigade, enforced the almost obsolete rule of a chaperon, and
the two evils in this case being represented by Andrew and me, Dawn
considered me the lesser, and installed me in the office known by the
irreverent as "gooseberrying."

Mostly it is a thankless and objectionable undertaking, but in this
instance it was delightful, and we three spent a kind of antenuptial
honeymoon that was an experience to be appreciated with a warm glow by
one whom the world has all gone by.

I suddenly developed a latent artistic ambition, and no subject would
do for my brush but the exquisite scenes far up the quiet river, where
its deep clear pools lay like basins under the overhanging cliffs,
and numerous species of beautiful flowering creepers clambered over
the cool brown rocks shaded by the turpentine and gum-trees, ti-tree,
wild cotton-bush, native hibiscus, and an endless variety of trees and
shrubs getting a foothold in the crevices. These nooks, owing to the
rugged and precipitous country, could only be reached by water, so
Ernest rowed me up by boat and Dawn went with me for company, for thus
do we live the best of our lives under pretence of trivial outside
actions. The river was dotted with other boaters on these summer
afternoons, and Grandma Clay's "Best Boats on the River" were seldom
idle, while Uncle Jake was also occupied in collecting the tariff from
those who hired them, and in seeing that the boats themselves were
safely moored again after their jaunts.

I fear that I may have been a better chaperon from Dawn's point of
view than from grandma's, but even chaperons, however great their
diplomacy, cannot well serve two mistresses. While I sketched, the
young couple made horticultural expeditions up the river-banks where
the cliffs were not too precipitous, and though they went beyond my
sight and hearing, and after a couple of hours' absence returned with
no better specimens of ferns and flowers than were to be plucked
within a stone's-throw of the boat, I failed to remark it. They were
equally lenient in the matter of my feeble sketches, which never
progressed beyond a certain stage, and which could have been equally
well perpetrated at home from memory, for all the justice they did the
exquisite little gems of the picturesque river scenery. Grandma Clay,
however, thought them fine, and as the demand for them was not likely
to be greater than the supply, I generously presented her with one,
unfinished and all though it was, and which she "hung on the line"
with Jim Clay; and no doubt it was not so great a caricature of the
beauty of the Noonoon as the "enlargements" were of the comeliness of
their dead original in the days when he had told life's sweetest story
to the dashing damsel who could handle her coaching team of five with
as much complacence as her granddaughter drove her small fat pony in
the little yellow sulky about the execrably rough but level roads of
Noonoon municipality.

This month of real orange blossoms was a time of moonlight, and
regardless of the fact that the river scenes were at their best for
reproduction on canvas, when the sun was high enough above the gorges
to send great quivering shafts of sunlight between the tree-trunks
deep into the heart of the pools, and to cast the shadow of the gum
leaves in lace-like patterns on their surface, we sometimes delayed
our setting out till close upon sundown, and took a billy[2] and
provisions, intent upon having our tea on the rocks under the trees by
Noonoon's banks.

[Footnote 2: A tin pail.]

Ah! glorious summer hours on the happy Noonoon, amid-stream, bright in
the hot afternoon sun, cool by the edges where the lilies and reeds
abounded, and the beetling cliffs and the limitless eucalypti flung
their shade.

There was a joy in going abroad when the sun was nearly on the blue
wall of mountain, and its oblique beams poured a golden mist over the
blossoming orangeries, the milk-white spiræa in Clay's drive, and
intensified the gorgeous red of the regal pomegranate blooms showing
against the heliotrope on the lower limbs of the umbrageous cedars.
Coming down the little pathway gained by the creaking garden gate, we
shot out from among the drooping willows, the steerswoman turning her
face up-stream where, in a southerly direction, the ranges were cut in
a great V-shaped rift that let the waters through. Anxious to escape
from the company and critical observation of the garden species of the
local boater, we went a long way up-stream. Seven or eight miles were
but a bagatelle to the amateur sculling champion of the State that
held the world's championship, and he pulled his freight past the
evidence of husbandmen, past the straight historic stretch where the
Canadian champion had lost his laurels to New South Wales; on, on the
strong arms took the craft till a wall of mountain loomed straight
across our way, and the river had every appearance of coming to a
sudden end, but round a sudden surprising elbow we went till a similar
prospect confronted the navigator, and the river came round another of
its many angles. On, on we steered till the warm rich scent from the
flowering vineyards was left behind and the sound of the trains could
not be heard. Far up the ravines beyond the pasture lands and men's
habitations, we found the desired privacy, and the solitude was broken
only by the dip of the oars, the flash of an occasional water-fowl,
the cry of some night-bird, or the "plopping" of the fishes that
Andrew could never catch as they fell back after rising to snatch some
unwary insect. The gentle breezes sighing down the gullies, dim and
lone in the eerie moonlight, were laden with the scent of wattle and
other native flowers, and otherwise fresh and sweet with the
inexpressible purity of summer night on the great unbroken bush-land.
In such dryad-like resorts we were tempted to dawdle so long that the
big hours of the evening frequently found us still on the breast of
the river. I was wont to recline on an impromptu couch of rugs in the
bottom of the well-built craft identified with our excursions, where I
could feign to be asleep. At first Dawn suspected me of only
pretending, but I was so emphatic in declaring that the fresh air and
motion of the boat induced the sleep I could not woo in bed, that they
grew to believe me, and carefully covering me from mosquitoes, it
became invariable that at a certain distance on our homeward way the
rower relinquished rowing, the steerer stopped steering, and the boat
drifted down-stream with the gentle flow, while two-thirds of its
occupants tasted of the elixir--

    "That burns beneath the beauty of the rose,
    And in the hearts of youth and maiden glows,
    And fills and thrills the world with life and light,
    And is the soul of all that breathes and grows."

And what did the old moon see in that peaceful valley ere she sank
behind the great primeval gum-tree forests on the mountain crests,
across which zigzagged the noisy trains? There were heavy crops above
ground, vineyards abloom, orchards forming fruit, hundreds of
comfortable homes, and no doubt many pairs of lovers abroad, for
lovers love their friend the gentle moon; but none were more fitted
for love's consummation than the two drifting on the old river whose
limpid waters never again "shall blacken below, spear and the shadow
of spear, bow and the shadow of bow," and which, after rushing a
tortuous way between its wild gorges, steadies by the old settlement
on the plain, and saunters smooth and straight and deep a space
between fertile banks gardened with lucerne fields, orchards of peach
and apricot, and delightful orange groves. The air was intoxicatingly
heavy with the exquisite perfume of these bridal blooms, and the
soft-scented breezes laughed as they too kissed the close-pressed lips
of the fair young pair who--

    "Gathered the blossom that rebloom'd, and drank
    The magic cup that filled itself anew."

Ah! Love's idyllic hours on the breast of a grandly gliding river,
when the dews were on the flowers, and all was enchantingly sweet and
fair under the sleep-time silver of a southern summer moon!




TWENTY-NINE.

    "The savage sells or exchanges his daughter, but in
     civilisation the man gives his away, and is thankful for the
     opportunity."--_Reflections of a Bachelor Girl._


Dawn took a great deal of her own way, Ernest and I were privileged to
make suggestions so long as we were careful to remember our
insignificance, and grandma saw to it that her lawful rights were not
altogether usurped.

Occasionally it fell to my lot to act in a slightly mediatorial
capacity, owing to the divergence of the swell wishes of the
bridegroom-elect, and the plebeian determination of his
grandmother-in-law to be, regarding the wedding celebrations, but
Ernest was exceptionally unselfish and therefore very long-suffering.

Dawn being under age, her grandmother came forward with a project that
her father should be apprised of what was transpiring, requested to
give his daughter away, and to bring some of his side of the house to
the wedding. Dawn raised vigorous opposition.

"It would be like my father's presumption to interfere in any way,
considering his career with my mother. I hate him for a mean coward.
He's the very style of man I'd be ashamed to acknowledge as an
acquaintance yet alone own as a _father_! I'd like to see him dare to
give me away,--he'd have to own me first!"

"Well, Jake, there, will have to give you away then," said grandma.

"I'd give _him_ away with pleasure," replied Dawn. "If I _must_ be
_given_ away like a slave or animal, you'll give me away grandma, or
I'll stay where I am. 'Who giveth this woman to be married to this
man?' the old parson will ask; why won't he also ask, 'Who giveth this
man?' as if he too were only a chattel belonging to some one?"

That she would be disposed of by no one but her grandmother rather
pleased the old lady than otherwise; so she invested in yet another
black silk gown, over which she was to wear a seldom seen cape of
point lace worked by Dawn's mother; and she also purchased a wonderful
bonnet, and armed herself with a new pair of "lastings." Thus Dawn was
to have her way in this particular, but the old dame adhered to her
original intention in the matter of the Mudeheepes.

"I've kep' 'em at bay long enough now. I'll just acknowledge 'em this
once, or it will seem as if you was a 'illegitimate,'" said she in the
plenitude of her worldly wisdom, and thereupon "writ" a stiff though
not discourteous letter to Dawn's father, inviting any number of the
bride's relatives up to six, to come and spend a week before the
wedding in her home, for the purpose of making Dawn's acquaintance.

"There, I have done me duty, and they can suit theirselves whether
they come or go to Halifax," she remarked as she despatched the
communication.

They came. Dawn's father, his second wife, and his youngest sister,
Miss Mudeheepe, arrived three days before the wedding and remained to
grace the ceremony.

Dawn, being a mere girl, perhaps it was Ernest's wealth and position
induced them to meet Mrs Martha Clay's overture, for they were
thorough snobs, but if they had come prepared to patronise, their
intention was killed ere it bore fruit.

The hostess hired the town 'bus to convey them from the station, and
despatched Andrew, with many injunctions to "conduct hisself with
reason," to meet them there, while she and Dawn waited to receive them
on one of the old porches. It was a bower of roses and pot-plants, and
further shaded by a graceful pepper-tree, and made a beautiful frame
for the grandmother and the maiden,--the old dame so straight and
vigorous, the girl as roseate and fresh as her name, but each equally
haughty and bent upon maintaining their iron independence of the
people who had discarded the girl and her mother ere the former had
been born.

Personal appearance was much in their favour, and no practised belle
of thirty could have held her own better than the inexperienced girl
of nineteen, whose native wit and downright honesty of purpose were
more than equal to all the diplomacy of thrust and parry to be gained
by living in society. Her stepmother, who was apparently as
good-natured as she seemed brainless, was prepared to be gushing, but
that was nipped in the bud by the way Dawn extended her pretty, firm
hand with the dimpling wrist and knuckles and exquisitely tapering
fingers.

Her father and aunt, who were tall and angular, with thin faces of
dull expression, met a similar reception, and she presented them to me
herself, explaining that I was a very dear friend with her for the
wedding.

I had long since risen from a boarder to be a guest and friend of the
house, and it had devolved upon me to exhibit the presents and
interview the endless callers at this time of nine days' wonder.

It being hot, the ladies retired to doff their hats ere partaking of
afternoon tea, and Dawn took her father's hat while he trumpeted in
his handkerchief and attempted a few commonplace platitudes from the
biggest and stiffest arm-chair in the "parler," into which he had
subsided. I left the room, but could hear him from where I stood
awaiting the ladies' reappearance, one from the room that had been
Miss Flipp's and the other from the one I had at first occupied, and
Mr George Mudeheepe was to occupy the third one of these apartments,
which had been empty since the tragedy.

"Dawn, my dear, you are your mother once again," he said with a sigh;
"I have never seen you, and now you are sufficiently grown to be
married."

"Yes," said the girl.

"Will you give me a kiss?"

"I'd rather not. You see you are only a stranger to me. I have never
heard of you only as the man who was a monster to my mother. I never
saw her, but I remember to love her for what she did for me, whereas
you, what did you do for her and me? I would like you to understand
how I feel on this subject, so that there can be no mistake," said the
girl honestly.

"Oh, well, I didn't come here to be told that, but to give consent to
your marriage."

"Oh!" said the girl, rearing the pretty head with its wealth of bright
hair, "as for that, I'm going to marry. If you like to exercise your
authority I'll run away and you can't unmarry me. It is at grandma's
wish you are here; she said to let old bitterness sleep for the time
you are here, and so I will now that I have explained that I utterly
refuse to recognise that a father is anything but a stranger unless he
discharges the responsibilities of the office. For the sake of the
race I maintain this ground," she concluded in words that had been put
into her mouth by one of the speakers at Ada Grosvenor's election
league, and the appearance of the ladies put an end to further
contention.

Dawn's judgments were remorseless, as becoming clean-souled, fearless
youth as yet unacquainted with the great gulf 'twixt the ideal and
real, and untainted by that charity and complaisance which, like
senility, come with advancing years.

The aunt was elderly and unprepossessing, and the stepmother of the
type bespeaking champagne and too much eating for the exercise taken,
for her head was partly sunk in a huge mass of adipose substance that
had once been bosom, and the other proportions of her figure were in
keeping.

The cups were spread in the dining-room, so thither we repaired to eat
and drink while representations of Jim Clay and Jake Sorrel, senior,
who had wept for the sufferings of the convicts, glowered down upon
the gathering of plebeians who were half swells and the swells who
were wholly plebeian.

Presently grandma and I excused ourselves and left Dawn with her
relations.

"What do you think of 'em? Are they any better than Dawn an' me?" said
the old dame as we got out of hearing. "How do I compare with that old
sack of charcoal?"

Ay, how did she compare? As a slight, active, handsome woman, still
vigorous at seventy-six, with one who, though thirty years her junior, was
already almost helpless from obesity and natural clumsiness,--that's how
she compared!

"Them's some of the swells for you--one of the 'old families,' who
think they're made of different stuff to you an' me. What do you think
of Dawn, Jim Clay's granddaughter, who drove the coach, when placed
beside her aunt, the granddaughter of an admiral in the army?"

"She looks as though Jim Clay had been a general in the navy and she
had done justice to her heredity," I gravely replied.

"Andrew, come here an' tell me how you managed 'em, an' what you think
of the great bugs now you've seen 'em," commanded the old lady of that
individual, as he emerged from the kitchen with both hands full of
cake.

"Did you walk up to 'em an' say, 'Are you Mr and Mrs Mudeheepe, I'm
Mrs Clay's grandson?' like I told you."

"No; I seen it on their luggage without arskin' them, an' one look at
'em was enough for me. I didn't bother tellin' 'em who I was. I didn't
care if they had fell down an' broke their necks--the bloomin'
long-nosed old goats! I just took hold of their things an' flung 'em
in the 'bus, and the old fat one she says, 'Are you Mrs Clay's groom?'
an' I says, 'Mrs Clay is my grandma,' an' she says, 'Oh'!"

"Well, you might have introduced yourself a bit better to make things
more agreeabler, but they really are the untakin'est people I've seen
for a long time. Ain't I delighted that Dawn took after my side! An'
now, though she's me own, do you think I'm over conceited to think her
fit for the king's son?"

"Certainly not," I replied; for it would have taken a very estimable
son of a king to be meet for this Princess of the Break-of-Day,
appropriately christened Dawn!




THIRTY.

FOR FURTHER PARTICULARS CONSULT 'THE NOONOON ADVERTISER' OF THAT DATE.


That was a grand wedding celebrated in Noonoon ere the orange blossoms
had turned into oranges, but for details it would be better to refer
to that most reliable little journal, 'The Noonoon Advertiser.' Only a
few particulars remain in my mind, but the paper published a full
account, including a minute description of the bride's gown and a
careful list of the presents. It was much to the horror of Ernest that
the latter was inserted, but it would have been much more horrible to
Grandma Clay had the mention of so much as a jam-spoon been omitted,
so he consoled himself with the reflection that it was only in 'The
Noonoon Advertiser,' and took care to keep the list out of the account
which appeared in the Sydney dailies. The curious, by consulting a
back number of the little country sheet, may learn that Mrs L. Witcom
(_née_ Carry, the ex-lady help) gave the bride one of many pairs of
shadow-work pillow shams, and that Miss Grosvenor contributed one of
the equally numerous drawn-thread table centres. Mrs Bray presented a
ribbon-work cushion; Dr Smalley, some of the jam-spoons; Andrew, a
bread-fork; and Mr J. Sorrel, great-uncle of the bride, a silver
cream-jug; while Mr Claude (alias "Dora") Eweword kept himself in mind
by an afternoon tea-set. The complete list took a column, and included
dozens of magnificent articles from sporting associations and chums of
the bridegroom.

The bride--a glorious vision in Duchesse satin and accessories in
keeping, and with real orange blossoms in hair, corsage, and train;
the proud shyness of the gentle and stalwart groom standing beside
her, and the brave old grandmother drawn up a little in the rear,
formed a picture I shall never forget. The old lady performed her
office with flashing eyes, a steady voice, and an individuality which
none could despise or overlook.

Excepting her grandmother, Dawn was unattended, and as the young
couple came down the aisle, by previous request of the bride, I had
the honour of accompanying the old lady from the church, and she said,
as we drove away over the scattered rose petals to be in readiness to
receive the guests--

"I've done it--give me little girl away, an' without misgivin's, for
if she's as happy as I was she'll do. When the time was here there was
some patches of me life wasn't too soft, but lookin' back, I would
marry Jim Clay over again if I could."

The caterpillars that had been eating the grape-vines and giving
Andrew exercise as destroyer, had turned into millions of white
butterflies that flecked the golden sunlight like a vast flotilla of
miniature aerial yachts, and enhanced the splendour of that balmy
wedding-day. It was the month of roses, and, intertwined with jasmine
and mignonette, they formed the chief decorations in the roomy marquee
erected for the breakfast under the big old cedars overlooking the
river. All Noonoonites of any importance sat down to the repast, and
their names, from that of Mrs Bray to Mrs Dr Tinker, are recorded in
'The Noonoon Advertiser.' The last-mentioned lady did not exhibit any
of her famous characteristics at the function further than to use a
gorgeous fan she carried in rapping her husband over the knuckles
every time his attention wandered from her remarks. The toasts were
many and long, and it fell to "Dora" Eweword to respond to that of the
"ladies." Since the announcement of Dawn's engagement to Ernest,
"Dora" had been frequently seen out driving with Ada Grosvenor, and he
paid her marked attention at the wedding; but this was private, not
public, information.

After I had helped Dawn into her travelling dress I had a few words
apart with Ernest while Grandma Clay bade a private good-bye to his
wife.

"Well," he said, with self-contained and pardonable triumph, "I've won
her in spite of that dish of water."

"Yes, we three have accomplished our desire."

"What three?"

"Mr and Mrs R. E. Breslaw and myself!"

"Oh, was it your desire too?" he said with a happy laugh.

The bride now appeared, and wringing my hand as he said--

"You'll come to us when we return," he stepped forward to place her in
the carriage that took them to the railway.

The paper had better be again consulted for accurate account of the
confetti pelting and other customary happenings that took place at the
station. These details, and the real greatness of Dawn's match, and
her aristocratic relatives, who, as often suspected, had not proved to
be only a myth, were the chief theme of conversation for many days.

All the engines in the sheds at the time, and whose music had lulled
me to sleep o' nights, blew the bride a royal fanfare as she entered
her first, _engaged_, and further cock-a-doodled "good luck" as the
train steamed out.

Most keenly of all I remember that it was piteously lonely, and as
dreary as though the sun had lost its power, when the panting engine
had climbed the hill from the sleepy little town, and dropped out of
hearing on the down grade from the old valley of ripening peach and
apricot, bearing the girl for ever away from the slow, meandering
grooves of life of which her vigorous young soul was weary.

A meeting of the municipal council claimed Uncle Jake that night,
Andrew went over to discuss the situation with Jack Bray, and the
loneliness of the old dining-room was insupportable to grandma and me.
Joy and beauty seemed to have fled from the scented nights beside the
river,--even the whistle and rush of the trains breathed a forlorn
note to my bereaved fancy, and there was a tear in grandma's eye as
she said--

"Well, she's really gone for altogether--she that I helped into the
world and rared with my own hand, and named after the Dawn in which
she came. That's the order of life. It's always the same--you can't
keep any one for always. I couldn't abear it here now--it seems as if
everything in life was done, and there's no need for me to stay if
Ernest puts Andrew in the way of this electrical engineerin' he's so
mad for. Jake can board somewhere. He don't care about things so much.
I'll go to Dawn: thank God she wants me, an' I've got plenty to take
me away if she gets tired of me, as young folks often do of the old,
and which is only natural after all. I can let or sell the place, an'
w'en I'm gone it will be enough for Dawn if ever she's threw on the
world like I was. Everythink seems fair with her now, but this is a
life of ups an' downs, and there's no tellin' what may happen."




L'ENVOI.


What interest can there be in the play after the knight has settled
affairs with the lady, or in the story-book when the heroine and hero
have gone on a honeymoon preparatory to living happily ever
after?--and that is what befell my tale in Noonoon.

I listen no more to the splendid music of the locomotives as they roar
across the queer old bridge, nor watch the red light flashing from
their coaling doors as they climb the Blue Mountain ascent and fire as
they go. Their far-carrying rumble has been succeeded by the more
thunderous voice of the sea on the rock-walled coast of my native
land.

Four months have elapsed since the wedding in Noonoon, yet Ernest is
still content to let his athletic ambitions remain in abeyance while
he squanders his time in the sweet dalliance of love. Squander, I say;
but on reviewing the expired years, how sanely sweet the youthful
hours we dallied shine from amid the years we toiled, fumed, cursed,
sweated, and strove to step past our brother in the bootless race for
pleasure, opulence, or popularity!

Being able to indulge in the insignia of wealth, even without being
the good fellow he is, Ernest finds it is of little significance that
his hair is "what fond mothers term auburn," while Dawn's triumphs
were assured from the outset. As mistress of a fine town mansion,
with good looks, with smart ideas of dress, and smarter ability to
verbally hold her own in any set, it goes without saying that her
grandmother having "kep' a accommodation" is not remembered against
her to any harmful extent in everyday life, where a large percentage
of folks in all cliques have to survive the knowledge of their
progenitors having been worse things than irreproachable proprietors
and conductors of most exemplary accommodation houses for those who
travel.

As Ada Grosvenor is not a girl in a book but in everyday life, I
cannot record that she has married a man worthy of her. Such an one
would have to be a leader of men--a prime minister, reformer, or other
prominent worker in the cause of humanity--and as these do not abound
in the quiet whirlpools of existence, I can only hope that she does
not drop in for a too impossible noodle, as is frequently the fate of
noble women. "Dora" Eweword would have done very well to discharge the
clodhopping work of her earthly journey--could have made her
bread-and-butter and carried her parcels, but if I can depend on
Andrew's letters, which breathe more heavily of generosity than of
grammar and gracefulness, this eligible and strapping young member of
Noonoon society has been rejected a second time, so that Mrs Bray's
fears that he would be made over conceited by adulation from
marriageable girls seems to have been unnecessary.

Noonoon is enshrined in my heart as one of the pleasantest valleys on
earth, so during enforcedly idle hours it has given me delight to
paint its beauty, however feebly, and to put some of the doings of
some of its folk in a story, that others might possibly enjoy them
too. But I put the MSS. aside till, as the good country doctor so
much esteemed in his circle expresses it, I shall have "pegged out,"
and the heroine and hero of the plot shall then judge whether it is
fit or not for publication. It has interested me to write, but

    "My life has crept so long on a broken wing
    . . . . . . . .
    That I come to be grateful at last for a little thing,"

and those whose lives are strong, fruitful, and successful may have no
patience with the sentimental meanderings of an old woman who has
outlived joy and usefulness.

       *       *       *       *       *

And now, may the Lady of my tale, as her life progresses from dawn to
noon, high noon to afternoon, dusk, evening, and night, have the
Knight of her choice and peace always beside her, till new dawns break
in other worlds beyond this place of fears and phantoms.


THE END.




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