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Title: The Romance of a Station
Author: Rosa Praed
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0607241.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: September 2006
Date most recently updated: September 2006

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The Romance of a Station
Rosa Praed



PREFATORY NOTE.

"THE Romance of a Station" begins on the solid earth of experience,
and wanders across the border-line into the misty cloud-region of
Fancy and Fiction.

The opening chapters picture faithfully enough the scene of one of
my own early homes, and describe life on an island which may be found
marked on any map of Australia. Almost all the incidents are real, and
even the most romantic of the episodes have their foundation in fact.

R. M. PRAED.



Chapter I. Across the Narrows.



"THERE'S a fire at the South End, Mrs. Ansdell. Your husband is
signalling for Rame's boat. You'll see him this evening."

I ran out to the verandah of the Police Magistrate's house. Yes,
there was the beacon light shining like a big red star, low down in
the heavens, far off across Gundabine Bay. I heard one of the pilots
shouting at the verandah of the wooden public-house opposite:

"Rame, I say! Hurry up with your nobbler. There's Ansdell on the
Island signalling to be brought over." Then I saw Rame slouch out of
the bar, wiping his mouth on the sleeve of his Crimean shirt, and trot
down to the wharf; and I knew that in two or three hours' time my
husband would be with me, and I was glad, for I was a bride, and this
had been our first week of separation.

"I shall go back with my husband to-morrow," I declared resolutely.

Mrs. Jarvis, the Police Magistrate's wife, shook her head
remonstrantly.

"It will be much wiser to wait a little longer. The house isn't
ready for you: I fancy the carpenters are at work still."

"I'll help the carpenters," I replied.

"There are no servants, and you aren't used to roughing it in the
bush."

"Oh, yes, I am. Why, I have lived all my life in the bush, and I
love it. If you had ever seen dear old Bungroopim, Mrs. Jarvis, you
wouldn't wonder that I am glad to have married a squatter instead of a
townsman."

We both laughed, for we both knew that that wouldn't have made any
difference; and Captain Jarvis put in--

"Oh, yes; I know what your 'bush' was like--cool verandahs covered
with roses and Cape jasmine and grape-vines, mountains in the
distance, good buggy roads, and plenty of neighbours--lots of girls
and young men, and races and picnics, and good times all round. That
was kid-glove roughing it, Mrs. Ansdell, and you'll find life on the
Island a different sort of thing."

"The roses and the Cape jasmine will cover the verandah in time," I
answered; "and as for the girls and the young men and the good times,
I don't care about all that now."

"But the mosquitoes, Mrs. Ansdell?" said his wife. "You can't
imagine how bad they are on the Island at this time of the year. Don't
you think it would be wiser to wait till the plague has lessened?"

"The mosquitoes could not be worse than they are here," I returned;
for as we sat in the verandah the air was full of the buzzing of
insects, and we flourished whisks of horsehair while we talked.

"I am sorry to disturb your calm resignation," said Captain Jarvis,
"but I am afraid they will if I do not. The Island mosquito is a
peculiarly ferocious beast. Let me give you a bit of advice, Mrs.
Ansdell. Buy up all the gauze netting and all the Persian insect-
powder in Gundabine before you go over. It's a fact that Lambert and
his hands always went out mustering with their heads in bags."

Lambert was the former owner of the Island, from whom my husband had
a few months before bought the station and the cattle which ran upon
it.

In spite of Captain Jarvis's warnings, and Mrs. Jarvis's gentle
dissuasion--in spite also of a certain sinister suggestiveness in the
compassionate interest which was shown in me by every inhabitant of
Gundabine, from the postmistress to the storekeeper's assistant, my
resolution, fixed some days before, had not wavered. I was determined
to brave all discomfort--to brave even my husband's opposition, and to
insist upon returning with him.

I had been married only a month. I was longing to start on my new
life, and to settle into my new home, the blue shores of which were
tantalisingly visible across the bay; and here I was, imprisoned in
this dreary coast township in sight of the Promised Land, and
forbidden to pass the strip of water that separated me from it. I
liked the idea of living on an island. This stretch of country, forty
miles long by fourteen broad, was to be our kingdom--my husband's and
mine. There was no one to dispute possession except a little colony of
pilots who lived at the lighthouse and telegraph station quite at the
north end, and with whom I determined to make friends--they had
already sent me wedding presents of coral and mother-of-pearl from the
nautilus shell.

The undulating outlines of our Island gave promise of picturesque
scenery. It was all interesting and romantic. There was something
fascinating in the thought that only at full or new moon, when the
tide was lowest, could man or beast swim across the Narrows to the
mainland. I liked the idea of being separated from the world by that
long, lonely, man-grove-fringed strait which, no broader than a river
at its neck, widened out some twenty miles lower into the beautiful
Gundabine harbour that had filled me with admiration as we had entered
it in the coasting steamer. In calm weather the bay was blue and
smiling; but when a south-east gale blew, and the waves dashed on the
little islets that stood like a row of sentinels between the great
island and the mainland, and the sea-horses chased each other, it was
no pleasant passage to make on a dark night in Rame's skiff or the
Island boat. But I did not let myself foresee possible storms and
terrors, and I would not dwell upon practical difficulties and
inconveniencies such as the carriage of household goods and stores,
and having to send to Gundabine for our mail. Neither Alec nor I had
realized these as yet.

I broached my daring project to Alec that night, but it was a long
time before I could win his consent. The mosquitoes were awful, he
said; then the carpenters had only just finished their work; and there
was no one to clean the place except the stockman's wife, whom Alec
described as "an ill-tempered shrew." Nothing was ready for me. The
place had a bad name, and all Alec's efforts to get a servant in
Gundabine had been unavailing. We must wait for the next emigrant
ship, and then he would go to Stonehampton and bring back a tidy girl.
In the meantime I had better stay where I was. He did not think I
should ever like the Island. He had not dreamed that mosquitoes could
be so bad; he had bought the station in the winter--had he inspected
it in the summer he would have known that it was not a fit place for a
lady to live in. He was anxious and disheartened, in short; and this
made me only the more determined to go at once and share the
discomforts of which I thought but lightly. He gave in when he saw I
was resolute, but it was not till the last moment, and not till I had
drawn a doleful picture of my suffering and loneliness at Gundabine.
It could only be a question of number and degree between mosquitoes
and sandflies here and mosquitoes and sandflies there. I had two
hands, I urged, and no discomfort could be more unendurable than the
stuffy squalor of Sykes's hotel, with the noise of the bar always
going on beneath my room.

We were sitting in the balcony of this, the only decent inn in
Gundabine, and overlooked the one long straggling street of the
township. Opposite was the square-verandahed red-brick building where
the Police Magistrate lived, and which contained all the Government
Offices. A little lower stood a large weather-boarded shanty placarded
in big letters, "A. Bell & Sons, Agents for the A. S. N. Co.," which
twice a week was the scene of brief activity when the passenger
steamboats put in from north and south. A wooden pier extended some
fifty yards into the muddy inlet upon which Gundabine was built. Here
a pair of Chinamen were gesticulating over the unpacking of a boatload
of vegetables, and three or four half-naked gins, with their
piccaninnies slung on their tattooed backs, whined piteous entreaties
for tobacco to an angler perched on one of the log bulwarks of the
pier. Further back lay a mud flat fringed with mangroves, and inland
upon the crest of a rise stood a public-house, a wooden chapel, and a
general store, outside which a variety of heterogeneous wares lay
exposed, from a side-saddle to a sausage machine. There was an air of
utter stagnation about the place, and it was quite a relief to the
monotony when a bushman in his Crimean shirt and cabbage-tree hat,
with the pannikin rattling at his saddle-bow, and his valise strapped
before him, cantered down the road and dismounted at Sykes's,
exchanging a greeting with Captain Jarvis as he passed: "Who's down?
Come over and have a nip"--the common salutation in Gundabine; and I
used sometimes to wonder how many "nips" it was possible for a
Gundabinian to swallow in the twenty-four hours without getting
seriously drunk.

Sykes's itself was a wooden two-storeyed building with verandahs
above and below, the lower one screened from the road by several
flowering oleanders, and the bar opening upon it, while its edge
formed a convenient lounge for the tipplers who frequented it. Two or
three gaunt Papaw apple-trees, with their tall bare stems, feathery
tips, and clusters of yellow fruit growing out from beneath the leafy
crown, overshadowed our balcony and gave a sort of Oriental look to
the place; a creeping passion-fruit twined round the wooden pilasters;
already, though it was hardly dusk, the hum of millions of insects had
begun. The air was hot and clammy, with that curious sense of teeming
life which a tropical evening brings. But for the light breeze which
swept up from the sea it would have been unbearably oppressive. Our
boat lay at anchor beside the pier, and just then a short, squat man--
he whom I had watched the previous night, with his flannel shirt open
at the breast, and a bowie knife stuck at his belt, staggered out of
the bar, though he had kept his senses sufficiently to touch his hat
to us in the balcony.

"Rame is half seas over already," said Alec. "We must be off to-
night. He will be too far gone to manage the boat to-morrow."

Rame, otherwise a fairly useful member of Gundabine society--for he
was always ready for an odd job--shared the local weakness for a
"nip," only he called it a "nobbler."

"How is the wind, Rame?" shouted Alec.

"S.S.E., and be damned to it," replied Rame.

"You idiot!" returned Alec. "Can't you answer a civil question
without swearing? Go and sober yourself, and bail out the boat. The
tide serves at midnight; and, mind you, if I find a dram in the
locker, overboard it goes."

Rame lurched along to the pier, and Alec went out to satisfy himself
as to the condition of the two black boys.

We embarked a little after midnight. It was still very warm, and
perfectly clear, and the steady breeze from the south did not deserve
Rame's anathema, for it was bearing us swiftly towards our
destination. A bright moon shone in the cloudless heavens, which were
of that deep unfathomable blue that suggests infinity. There were
myriads of stars--"God's candles," as we children used to call them--
all the glittering Southern constellations, the Cross and its pointers
high above us, and Aldebaran and Orion and the flaming tail of the
Scorpion.

Alec steered, and Rame and the two black boys managed the sails. The
currents were dangerous here and there, and we were obliged to tack
often. I sat at the stern wrapped in my cloak, with my face bared to
the wind, and my pulses stirred by the beauty of the night and the
loneliness and immensity of the scene. All was silent; even the men
seemed awed, and I did not hear Rame swear once during the trip. We
soon got away from the noises of the shore and the humming of insects,
and there was no sound except that which the waves made against the
bow of the boat as she glided through the phosphorescent water. As we
got out into the Bay, however, we could hear the roar of the ocean
beyond, and Rame remarked that it was "blowing pretty stiff out
there." The islets seemed to sleep peacefully in the moonlight, all
but one, from which curled up the smoke of a watch fire. The lights of
Gundabine faded gradually as we sailed up the now narrowing strait. On
our right the undulating contour of the Island; on our left the low
bank of mangroves which marked the line of mainland. The tide was low,
and the snake-like withes of the mangrove roots looked uncanny in the
moonlight. Occasionally we passed a white beacon, which rose up like a
grotesque ghost, its long arms casting flickering shadows on the
water, or a red buoy wabbling above a sunken reef. Now we rounded a
rocky point where stood a deserted cluster of Chinamen's huts, the
remains of a bche-de-mer fishing station; now we tacked across the
Narrows to a little sandy bay which the waves lapped with a monotonous
swash.

The passage of seventeen miles occupied us about four hours. The dawn
broke, and a grey tender light crept softly over sea and land; then it
flushed to delicate pink, and the sun rose round and red behind the
straggling gum-trees on the Island. We had entered a tiny inlet
bordered on each side with mangroves, of which the waxen green
branches were level with the rising water. Rame unshipped the oars and
rowed us to a pier of slabs built out into the creek, on one side of
which was a rude boat-house made of saplings laid transversely. Alec
let go the tiller and sprang on shore.



Chapter II. My Kingdom.



ALEC held out his hands to me, and I stepped with a feeling of
elation on to my new territory. Here, I am bound to confess, it
disappointed me. The shore was barren-looking and stony, and the grass
rank and withered. Lanky unhealthy gum-trees, with whiteybrown bark
peeling off like scales, as if they were afflicted with some nasty
disease, reared their lean heads above stunted wattles and spiked
dried-up grass trees. As I looked inland I could see nothing but
vistas of these melancholy white gums--a genuine red ironbark dropping
stalactites of gum would have been a refreshment to the eyes.
Presently I became aware that the air was alive with mosquitoes--grey,
long-legged, ferocious monsters of the breed which infests the sea-
shore. No, Captain Jarvis had not exaggerated their voracity! They
offered a palpable resistance to one's hand, and their noise was as
the roar of distant machinery, while at the same time I was conscious
of severe prickings in every part of my body that was not guarded by
double and treble layers of clothing. Alec watched me with anxiety.

"There, I told you," he said. "I ought not to have let you come. But
they are not as bad as this at the house, and they are always worst in
the early morning."

"Where is the house, Alec?" I said. "Let us go there at once."

"It is five miles off," he replied; "and the mosquitoes would eat
you alive going through the swamp. Here, Charlie," he called to one of
the black boys, "yan along a head station; murra, make haste.* Tell
Tillidge to put Smiler in the cart and come for missus. You won't mind
the cart," he added; "the new buggy isn't put together yet."

Charlie ran off as fast as his legs would carry him. Rame calmly lit
his pipe and began to bail out the boat. Island Billy, the other black
boy, took his tomahawk and cut off slabs from a neighbouring
grasstree, while Alec collected twigs and sticks. Together they made a
fire, Billy remarking compassionately to me: "Mine think it, missus,
make em corbon big fellow smoke. That make mosquito plenty sleep."

I felt grateful to Billy. If the smoke did not make the mosquitoes
"plenty sleep," it kept them away a little. I sat down on a stone
beside the fire, tucked my feet under my gown, and with watering eyes
bent my head forward, while with a wisp of blady grass I switched at
the mosquitoes behind. Meanwhile Rame joined the group, smoking like a
philosopher; and Alec and the black boy lit their pipes too, and kept
up a desultory conversation in blacks' vernacular about a certain
"poley" cow which was missing from one of the camps. By-and-by there
was a crack of a stockwhip behind us, and Tillidge, the stockman,
appeared on horseback, the black boy behind him driving a rough dray
on two huge wheels, with iron chains and girders, and a board placed
crosswise doing duty for a seat. Tillidge was the stockman, and a
head-stockman never, if he can avoid it, drives or walks.

Tillidge was the typical Australian stockman--long, loosely-made,
lean and disjointed-looking, sitting his horse magnificently as far as
the saddle, but with his legs dangling anyhow in his stirrups, and a
shortnecked spur on one foot. His face was red and burntup in
appearance--a queer jumble of features, none of which seemed to belong
to the other, and with an expression as stolid as that of a dummy. He
was dressed in tight moleskin trousers turned up at the ends, and
elastic-sided boots--a stockman always turns up his trousers at the
ends; and he doesn't, as a rule, and unless he is inclined to be
"flash," wear breeches and gaiters. These he leaves to his master. He
wore a grey flannel shirt, the sleeves rolled up to the elbow, a silk
handkerchief tied diagonally across his chest, a cabbage-tree hat
ornamented with a strap round the crown, and a bit of greasy string,
held by his front teeth, keeping the hat in a tilted position on the
back of his head. He had a broader strap round his waist, to which was
slung a small leather watch--pocket and a large pouch containing his
clasp-knife, tobacco, a bit of old silk for crackers, and such-like
etcaeteras. His stockwhip was coiled round like a snake, and hung on
his left shoulder, with the handle dangling in front. He jogged along
in an unconcerned way, his pipe in his mouth, till he got close to us;
then he pulled up, nodding to Alec's "Good-day, Tillidge," and
replying in a short, morose manner, running his words one into the
other, as a bushman does, "G'd-day, sir."

Alec had already explained to me that Tillidge's wife--our only
woman-servant on the Island at present--was a shrew. Tillidge bore her
ratings in philosophical silence; and the habit had so grown upon him
that he rarely opened his lips, except when it was actually necessary.
But he was an admirable stockman, and, to use an Australian
expression, could "put his legs over the worst buck-jumper that ever
was foaled." His knowledge of the run was so valuable just now, while
a mob of store cattle was being collected, that Alec begged me as a
favour to interfere with the sweet will of Mrs. Tillidge as little as
possible, and to put up with her bad temper, lest she should insist
upon her husband throwing up his place at a day's notice. As I had
come over on my own responsibility and in face of Alec's disapproval,
I was quite prepared to be meek and submissive in my behaviour to the
Tillidges.

"All been going on well at the station, Tillidge?" Alec asked.

"Four heifers square-tailed yesterday, sir; and the strawberry cow's
calf died last night," replied Tillidge, and relapsed into
monosyllables, till Alec said cheerfully, "You see, I have brought
Mrs. Ansdell over, Tillidge. I hope your wife will be equal to the
extra cooking and all that," when the stockman maintained a silence
which I felt to be ominous.

Our portmanteaus were put into the back of the dray; Tillidge rode on
ahead. Rame and the black boys set off walking by a short cut across
the bush. Alec helped me up to the board and then mounted himself, and
shook the whip over Smiler's back, thus dispersing a cloud of
mosquitoes which the poor animal had been vainly trying to whisk off
with its tail. As a parting attention, Island Billy had handed me a
branch of wattle, and while we jogged along in the springless vehicle
over stones and stumps and fallen logs, the iron chains and staples
clattering as we went, I waved the wattle-branch among the mosquitoes
at my back with one hand, while with the other I held tight to the
girders to prevent myself from being shaken out. But when we came to a
hill, the wattle-branch had to be thrown away, and I bent backwards to
clutch the portmanteaus, which were in danger of slipping between the
girders on to the road; and then the mosquitoes settled in a dense
black swarm about our heads, and but for something comic about the
whole situation, and for Alec's distress, I could have cried with
fatigue and irritation.

The sun was high in the heavens now, and brooded with a moist, clammy
heat. There was no sea-breeze among the thick gum-trees, and the she-
oaks in the swampy ground were strangely still. I used to like the
faint quivering sound which the she-oaks on the Ubi made, and it would
have been home-like to hear it now. The birds had wakened, and there
were little inarticulate twitterings in the boughs overhead, and the
parrots called shrilly to each other, but I missed the crack of the
whip-bird, and the soft cooing note of the Wonga-Wonga pigeon, and the
sweet familiar chirp of my old friend the willy-wagtail. Suddenly I
was startled by a demoniacal "Ha-ha-ha," caught up and echoed by a
chorus of invisible imps. They were only laughing jackasses, and I had
heard their harsh merriment often enough, but it sounded drear and
uncanny on this bridal home-coming.

By-and-by we reached a sliprail and entered the station paddock,
where the milkers were browsing peacefully, and the horses whinnied as
we drove by. They looked lean and harassed, poor things; and I did not
wonder at it, if they had to pass their days and nights in waging war
with their tails against the mosquitoes. One or two of them were cobs,
and had no tails; and I raged then and afterwards against the
inhumanity of former owners, who had deprived these poor beasts of
their only weapon of defence.

We could see the house high above us, on a steep hill too precipitous
to be ascended at this point any way but on foot. Deep gullies
furrowed the hill, and it was covered with thick tussocks of long-
bladed grass and gum saplings, with here and there a big ironbark gum.
There was a cleared space on the top, where the house was built. It
was bare except for the grey gaunt skeletons of some dozen or so of
white gums which had been "rung," and had bleached and withered. Alas,
for my visions of the pretty cottage with its verandah and garden and
its creeping roses and bouganvillea! The sun beat pitilessly upon a
commonplace, new-looking wooden building, with a verandah, it is true,
but a verandah unsheltered by trellis or drooping eaves. The house
stood upon log piles, through which daylight shone conspicuously, and
which were high enough almost for a grown-up person to stand upright
beneath them; and, as I prophetically foresaw, to give shelter to a
flock of goats that bleated by the stockyard fence. I could make out
no garden, no greenery of any kind--all was bleak, glaring and
desolate, beyond description.

We drove round by a waterhole pleasant to look upon, with the she--
oaks round it, and the blue and yellow lilies on its surface. The
stockyard lay close by at the foot of the hill. Alec was proud of the
stockyard, and pointed out to me the height and impregnability of the
great grey corner posts and rails, and the superior construction of
the "crush," or branding lane, and the bailing-up pen. I was quite
bushwoman enough to appreciate these advantages, and rejoiced
accordingly; but my eye wandered to a wilderness of a garden beside
the milking-yard, where two or three tall papaw apples towered above a
mass of promiscuous vegetation; and I sighed when I saw that the
greenstuff was mostly fat--hen--though I consoled myself a moment
later by remembering that on the Ubi I had seen the free selectors use
the fat-hen for spinach, and that we should not, therefore, die of
scurvy; but I could not help exclaiming, at the discovery that there
seemed nothing else eatable. "Oh, Alec, I thought pumpkins grew
everywhere!" and Alec answered remorsefully, "Well, you see, Rachel,
they don't grow wild; and I suppose when we were busy taking delivery
of the cattle nobody thought of planting them. But never mind; as soon
as I have cleared off this mob of store cattle, I'll set all hands to
work, and we'll grow vegetables as fast as a Chinaman."

Alec was collecting a mob of bullocks for which a purchaser had
offered, and a sale of which was absolutely necessary to pay off the
mortgage on the station, and free us from the bank that had advanced
us money for our start in life. We both had a horror of debt, and a
dread of being sold up, like many an Australian station-buyer, who can
only pay down a third of his purchase money, and who, in bad times of
drought or pleura-pneumonia, is obliged to hand over his home to the
obliging bank which has backed him. We weren't afraid of drought on
the Island, and from our isolated position we had little cause to
dread pleuro-pneumonia, and our debt was not a very large one; still,
we wanted "to start fair." So Alec and I were of one mind about
leaving everything else to take care of itself till the store cattle
had been safely crossed over the Narrows; and I quite agreed with him
that it would be advisable to make any sacrifice of pride to keep
Tillidge, who knew every nook and corner of the Island, and would
bring cattle into the mustering-yard whose existence we could not have
suspected.

Mrs. Tillidge did not belie her reputation. She looked a shrew; and
as she came out into the yard when the dray drove up, and gave me a
surly sort of greeting, I quite decided that I had better make no
attempt to assert my authority as mistress of the place, for I saw
that it would certainly be disputed. I did not feel disposed to resent
her want of cordiality then. I was so hot, so tired, so cramped by my
uncomfortable drive, so glad to have reached "home," so glad to be no
longer enveloped in that buzzing, pricking cloud. It felt fresh and
comparatively cool up here on the brow of the hill. The wind blew
straight up from the ocean; and I began to understand why the late
proprietor of the Island had perched his dwelling-place so high, and
why green things wouldn't grow, and why the dead trees and even the
grass tussocks curved in one particular direction.

The yard, into which we had driven, was enclosed on one side by the
house, on the opposite one by the kitchen, and some rude slab
buildings in line with it--the meat-store, and carpenter's shop, and
such-like; and on the other two by a rough fence of perpendicular
palings. There was a covered pathway across the yard, connecting the
house and kitchen. A pair of ancient gins with skinny arms and hideous
wealed faces sat there smoking short clay pipes. They were clad in red
blankets slung over one shoulder and under the other. Several naked
piccaninnies sprawled at their feet, uttering funny inarticulate
sounds, and playing with the dogs, of which a tribe lay round--
kangaroo hounds, mongrels from the camp, and some of a nobler breed,
who kept a little apart on the sunny boards, as if they resented the
proximity of the blacks. A flight of log steps led to the causeway;
and out of the crevices lizards nimbly darted, their bright eyes and
copper scales glittering in the sunlight. Two corrugated zinc tanks,
one at each end of the front building, caught the sun also, and seemed
to radiate heat. A low waterbutt close by one of them was evidently
used for the washing of horses' backs when they came in hot from the
run, to judge by the hoof-marks on the damp gravel, the dinted quart-
pots, and the saddles and bridles and straps hurled promiscuously on
the verandah, at one end of which the tub stood. On the low verandah--
roof of one of the outbuildings two or three bullock-skins were
stretched out, and hung conveniently over the eaves, so that a strip
of green-hide could always be cut when wanted, and the spiked palings
of the fence supported junks of salted beef set forth to dry. A little
covey of hawks swooped and swirled in the air above, but did not dare
to pounce down upon prey so well guarded; for whenever the carrion
birds came a little nearer, the gins removed their pipes and began a
loud crooning yell, "Wirra-wurra!" winding up with a fierce discordant
"Wa-ah!" and I now understood why they sat there, and how they earned
their tobacco.

All these little things imprinted themselves on my mind in a
curious, vivid way. I suppose this is because it was my first home,
and I was very young then and a bride. Girlhood is like a voyage on
some soft hazy sea, where there are beautiful sunrises and sunsets,
and balmy breezes which waft one onward, and storms too that never
bring shipwreck, and islets where one may linger and dream of the Land
of Possibilities at the end.

And then the land is reached, the possibilities become living
experience, and there is a glamour over the first sights and sounds
that greet one in that land which never grows dim or is forgotten. I
can see the whole scene as distinctly now as though it were before me
in actual reality--the untidy yard, and the blear-eyed gins, and the
swart, shiny piccaninnies tumbling off the causeway, and the dogs
lazily lifting their heads to bark in a perfunctory fashion. Beaufort
the big stately buckhound, who, though he was selfish and indolent,
and too much of a fine gentleman to be of any use, was a credit to the
establishment, and too well-bred to do a mean action; then the goggle-
eyed bull-pup, who was so hideous that it was a distinction to be his
owner, though he was a dog whose education had been neglected, and who
never acquired the manners of good society; and there was Rose, the
pointer, who put me in mind somehow of Mrs. Micawber--she was always
surrounded by a brood of puppies, either in the infantine or the
gambolling stage; and she had a worn, draggled appearance, and a pair
of melancholy brown eyes, and at the same time an air of gentle,
ladylike protest, as if to say that hard circumstances had placed her
in a position of life for which by birth she was not fitted, but that
she meant to do her duty all the same. Poor Rose! she had a way of
beating a tattoo on the floor with her tail, and looking at one with
her sympathetic bleared eyes; and that was the mode in which her
emotions expressed themselves. When I was without servants, and had to
cook the salt junk and make bread for the men, and wash up the plates
and dishes in the kitchen, Rose, in the intervals of licking her
puppies, would thus dumbly show her appreciation of the state of
affairs, and I am sure that she wished to convey a sense of similarity
between my position and her own.

Then Alec called out, "Monte! Christo!" and there bounced from the
house a big black retriever, which jumped on to his master, and an
Angora goat, with matted fleece that touched the ground, and a funny
little knowing head and tiny horns like those of a child's toy lamb.
Monte was a retriever which Alec had got out from England at a great
expense, with a view to duck shooting on the Island, but who could
never be brought to adjust his instincts to sport in Australia, and
who was otherwise a bad dog, addicted to lying on the beds and to
misbehaving himself generally. As for Christo, Alec had imported him
also, with the idea of starting an Angora goat farm, and selling the
hair for the manufacture of shawls at a fabulous price; but it fell
through somehow, and by-and-by Christo became an inconvenient pet, for
he took up his quarters in the pantry by day, and made his couch in
the bath by night, and he had to be banished at last Perhaps I had
better mention here that the bath-room, which sounds an unwonted
luxury for the bush, was a bit of the back verandah next the tank
partitioned off, and in which a zinc--lined bath had been built. There
was always a bucket near the tank, so that we could fill the bath for
ourselves; and its great advantage was that it had a hole in the
bottom stopped up with a wooden bung, and that the water could be let
off through the floor, and would meander under the house among the log
piles and down the hill into one of the gullies--you had only to look
through one of the wide cracks in the boards to see its course.
Nevertheless, the bath-room had a great deal to do with the sale of
the station, and had caught more than one intending purchaser. It was
noticeable that the Island often changed hands, and that such
transfers usually took place in the winter, when the mosquito larvae
had their existence hidden in the grass tussocks and under the leaves
of the lilies in the water-hole. There was as yet no record of a deed
of purchase having been signed between the months of November and
April, when the mosquitoes were in full force.

Alec had certainly been right when he described the house as dirty.
It was very dirty. I don't think the bare wooden floors had been
washed for months; and the carpenters had left plentiful debris, both
in the rooms and the verandah. On the whole, however, it was rather a
pretentious sort of house for the bush. It was built of sawn wood, and
lined with well--planed boards; it was shingled, and it had not only a
bath-room, but a pantry as well. There were three good-sized rooms in
a line looking on to the verandah, which went round three sides, and
was a long way from the ground and fenced with a light railing; then
there were four smaller ones behind; and there was a tiny excrescence
built out into the yard, called the office. It was in the office that
all important interviews were held, agreements signed, brands entered,
and the mustering roll of cattle made. There was a fireproof safe in
which the station ledgers were kept, and a copying press, though to
the best of my knowledge it was never once used; and the great Island
seal, and the firearms and ammunition, and the big map of the station
and the library, consisting of a dozen or so yellow--backed novels,
"Spooner on Sheep," and "The Diseases of Cattle," "The Art of Horse-
breaking," and "The Family Physician." Here also the medicine-chest
was kept, and the supply of diachylon plaster, and in "pleuro time"
the virus for inoculation. It would have been a cosy room if it had
not been so dirty, and if the rafters had not been infested by bloated
tarantulas, and an uncanny species of lizard of a sickly spotted
white, which had the curious habit of unfastening its tail when
pursued, and of making off on its stump. These lizards inspired me
with a superstitious terror. I have never solved the mystery of that
movable tail--whether the reptile came back in the dead of night and
recovered its property, or whether it had the power of growing a new
tail whenever it pleased.

On the office side, which was the most sheltered, there was a wee
enclosed patch--an abortive attempt at a flower garden. It was
overgrown with rank grass, and there was an aloe in the middle, and
one stunted poinsettia shrub, which threw out a branch or two of
crimson leaves when winter came on. I had high hopes of this bit of
garden, and planted verbenas, and Indian shot, and other hardy plants;
but nothing would ever grow in the dreary, sun-scorched, stony plat.
All round about the other end of the house was perfectly bare and
wind-swept. The easterly side of the verandah was the only spot where
on summer evenings there was a chance of being free from mosquitoes;
and for that reason I chose for ourselves the bedroom and dressing-
room which looked upon it. No hill rose between this exposed plateau
and the open ocean seven miles distant. The south-east gales raged
furiously round it, making the skeleton gum-trees quake and shiver
bursting open the French windows, and sometimes blowing down the
canvas ceiling. On such nights, above the wind, we could distinctly
hear the roar of the Pacific.

The view from the verandah was extensive and pleasant to look upon.
There was nothing to break it except the tall gum-trees which grew on
the hump of the hill behind. In every other direction we looked out
upon grey-green undulating slopes. We could not see the ocean or the
Narrows, but across the strait on the mainland a blue-peaked mountain
cut the horizon line. The mountain was called Mount Akobaora, which is
the native name for the laughing jackass.

This was my home. Within, it was crude and rough; but that could be
remedied. Captain Jarvis had promised to bring over our furniture in
the pilot schooner, which would carry it all at once. The Island boat
had gone on a special trip for the piano. The instrument stood
forlornly in the bachelor parlour, its silk facings and crewel-worked
back sadly out of keeping with walls painted the crudest and most
offensive blue, and with the coloured prints from the Illustrated News
which adorned them. Grosvenor Gallery art canons did not prevail in
the Australian wilds. I felt very despondent at the sight of those
walls, and the cheap mahogany chiffonier and horsehair covered sofa
and armchair. Mrs. Tillidge came sulkily in and laid the table for
lunch while I was pondering the possibility of softening down that
terrible aniline blue. The sun poured through the uncurtained windows,
and I discovered to my horror that I was doomed to a western aspect.
Mrs. Tillidge placed a piece of dry salt beef on the table, and
flanked it with an equally impenetrable-looking three-cornered junk of
bread--evidently the section of a camp-oven loaf--and a tin teapot and
three iron cups. I wondered who was going to use the third cup.
Presently Alec came in, followed by a short, weather--beaten, bearded
man, whom he introduced as Mr. Kempsey, the second pilot at the North
End. There wasn't much to be seen of Mr. Kempsey's features, he was so
covered with shaggy hair; but his eyes gleamed benevolently, and I
took a fancy to him at once. He was very shy at meeting a lady, but
when he saw our meagre fare and our untidy condition, and glanced up
at the white canvas ceiling, which was speckled with mosquitoes
waiting for dusk to come down and settle on their victims, his
compassion got the better of his shyness.

"You'll have to fetch in a good load of grass-tree, Mr. Ansdell,"
said he. "Lambert kept it burning day and night, all along the
verandah." Then he produced a dilly-bag carefully lined with
newspapers, and emptied from it a dozen rosy-cheeked apples. "Polly--
my girl--sent these," he went on. "If she'd ha' known that you were
over, Mrs. Ansdell--and her mother would have worked the telegraph for
a day or two--she'd ha' come over to help you put things straight."
Polly, I learned, was Mr. Kempsey's daughter, who was also telegraph-
mistress at the Pilot Station. When we had admired the apples, Mr.
Kempsey took from the capacious pocket of his blue blouse a pot of
strawberry jam, explaining that when a Tasmanian brig came by he
always did a bit of smuggling, for it didn't harm any one, and they'd
be badly off at the Pilot Station if it wasn't for these bits of
relishes. "I didn't suppose your store was rigged up yet," he said;
"and anyway you wouldn't have thought of fetching apples from
Gundabine, Mr. Ansdell," and then he regretted that he hadn't known
that I was "along from Gundabine" too, for the missus had been saving
some pots of apricot jam to send me; and if "I'd ha' thought, now," he
added, looking at the uninviting piece of beef, "those Tasmanian
walnuts that Polly puts in pickle--they are a relish you couldn't get
in Gundabine--and there was a whole sack of fresh onions." But he
brightened up, and exclaimed, as Alec came in with a bottle of grog he
had just opened, "It'll be of no consequence, though, Mr. Ansdell, for
there's the horse you'll be sending for your brother; and Billy can
put the onions in his pack."

Alec's brother, who was a lieutenent on board H.M.S. Alecto, just
arrived on the Sydney Naval Station! I wondered what Mr. Kempsey
meant. Alec gave me a comical look, and laid a blue telegraph paper
beside my plate. The salt beef choked me as I read--

"From LOFTUS ANSDELL, H.M.S. Alecto, Sydney.

"To ALEC ANSDELL, Pilot Station, Moonbago Island.

"Got leave. Coming to see you. Charlotte Corday will drop me at the
Pilot Station."

I had not met my husband's brother. I had an impression that he would
be fine and superior and English, and accustomed to seeing life from
the "Government House" point of view (all naval officers who came to
Leichardstown were asked to stay at Government House), and that his
idea of bush hospitality would mean riding parties, and kangaroo
hunts, and dances, and fare which, if homely, would be of its kind
sumptuous. My heart sank within me as I thought of the salt beef, and
of the limited supply of mosquito curtains, and of Mrs. Tillidge's
sour face, and of the dirt everywhere.

"Never mind," said Alec. "We can't put him off now, seeing that the
Charlotte Corday is due the day after to-morrow. We must make the best
of it. Loftus won't mind. He has been cruising about the South Sea
Islands, and he is used to roughing it."

This did not console me, for roughing it on a man-of-war is a
different thing from roughing it on an island and being devoured by
still, as Alec said, we had to make the best of it; and as soon as Mr.
Kempsey had gone, I went into the spare room and inspected the
mosquito curtains, which I found sadly the worse for wear. Mending
them gave me occupation for some hours. The room certainly did not
look comfortable. The floor, like all the other floors in the house,
was bare, except for the accumulation of dirt which had been brought
in by the muddy boots of its late occupant. There was a bed, and there
was a washing-basin on a chair, and a looking-glass against the wall,
and that was all. To be sure, our own room--which for a moment I
magnanimously thought of resigning to the dreaded brother-in-law--was
not much better. The floor was quite as dirty, and the washing
apparatus stood on a board placed across two chairs; but then it had a
magnificent mahogany looking-glass, and the mosquito curtains were in
slightly better condition. On reflection, however, I decided that the
looking-glass would be thrown away on Loftus, who, Alec informed me,
did not shave. I wondered if it would be possible to set the black
gins to work with a scrubbing brush; but when I went out late in the
afternoon to try and put this bright idea into execution, I found that
the gins and their lords, beguiled by certain information which Mr.
Kempsey had unthinkingly imparted, concerning the whereabouts of
another camp of blacks near the Pilot Station, had dismantled their
gunyas, packed their dilly-bags, shouldered their piccaninnies, and
were already on their way to the North End. Mr. Kempsey had taken away
the junks of beef for the consumption of the pilots; the hawks were on
the search for prey elsewhere; and the gins' occupation was gone. It
was a bitter disappointment. I did not dare to appeal to Mrs.
Tillidge. Alec had ridden out to look for the poley cow; and so I
employed the remaining hours of light in unpacking my portmanteaus,
and ruefully contemplating my pretty frilled petticoats and trousseau
oddments, and in wondering how long the supply would last, and who
would starch and iron my frills when it had come to an end.

*"Go to the head station; make great haste."

"I think, missus, we will make a great smoke."



Chapter III. The Coming of Loftus.



THE sun set over Mount Akobaora, and I sat on the steps of the
verandah watching it go down across the Narrows. The air was very
still and warm, and there were bush-fires about; a smoky haze shrouded
the forest wolds, turning them to a soft bluish-grey, which, while the
sun lingered, had the faintest flush of rose. Then that died out. The
night insects came out of their hiding-places, and curious indistinct
chirps and noises mingled with the hoarse croak of the frogs in the
water-hole at the bottom of the hill. Above it all there was a low
definite and continuous roar. At first I thought the wind had risen,
only the heads of the grass--tussocks did not bend. Then I realized
that the air was thick and black, and angry buzzings sounded close to
my ear, and sharp pricks on my bare hands and neck made me wince. It
was the sudden rush and onslaught which the mosquitoes, in hiding
during the glare and stir of the day, always made at nightfall, when
there was not sufficient wind to blow them back into sheltered
corners. I wrapped myself round as best I could. When Alec came in
from the run, he and the black boys, following Mr. Kempsey's advice,
set buckets filled with burning grass-tree all about the verandah and
sitting-room. We ate with such appetite as we had from the same beef
and bread which Mrs. Tillidge had furnished forth for our luncheon,
and munched Mr. Kempsey's apples, and mournfully reflected that this
was only early December, and that mosquitoes might reasonably be
supposed to rage till March. It was not a cheerful prospect, but we
were determined not to take the dark view of things, and Alec
impressed upon me that this was really the first evening he had known
upon the Island when there was no breeze.

"It is generally enough to knock a fellow down, let alone the
mosquitoes," said Alec; and we planned how we would dispose of our
knick-knacks and wedding presents, and how we would curtain in a
corner of the verandah, and how we would cultivate the arid patch of
garden, and, after a little time, revel in roses; and how, as soon as
the cattle were across the Narrows, we would get rid of the Tillidges,
and have a hard-working, cheerful "married couple," who would rear
poultry, and curry the salt junk, and accommodate themselves to
circumstances generally; and how at the end of all things we would
sell the Island when the cattle had multiplied--and they multiplied in
our imaginations after the fashion of the ring-straked and speckled
cattle in the herds of Laban, the son of Nahor, which Jacob tended--
"You know that's one advantage in an island," said Alec, persuasively,
"there's no one to brand our calves, and the cattle can't stray away,
and so the stock are bound to increase more quickly than they could on
a mainland station"--and how then we would invest our rapidly-made
fortune, and set sail for England. That was how we talked; and Rose
beat her sympathetic tattoo on the floor all the while; and we were
not at all cast down, considering how our skins smarted with the
mosquito bites, and how the smoke from the burning grass-tree got into
our eyes and up our noses, and made us cough with its pungent aromatic
odour.

"As soon as we get settled down a bit, we must have Lina Sabine
over," said Alec; "she will be a nice companion for you; and she must
be dull too, for Sabine has to be a good deal away at his reef now
that he has gone in for gold-mining."

I knew all about the Sabines, though I had only seen Mrs. Sabine once
when she had come into Gundabine for the day with her husband. She was
very pretty, and she was very young, and she had only been married a
few months. I wondered why she had married Mr. Sabine, who was loutish
and stupid, and had the reputation of taking more brandy than was good
for him. But then so many people in the Gundabine district did that,
and Mr. Sabine, who was a squatter, over from Mount Akobaora, had
struck on a rich reef, and was going to be a millionaire, it was said.
Mrs. Sabine had been one of the northern belles, and Alec told me that
she had had more offers than she could count, and before she married
she had been considered a flirt. I wondered sometimes if she had
flirted with Alec, and if that was the secret of his interest in her;
but he never would tell me anything about that, and only said that he
and Lina had always been first-rate friends, and that Sabine wasn't
half a bad fellow; and that she was a clever girl and a lady, which
was more than he could say for all the Gundabine young women. On the
whole I was disposed to like Mrs. Sabine, and I was disposed not to be
jealous; and I didn't press Alec as to whether he had ever had any
tender passages with Lina. I think that young wives who question their
husbands closely on these points have a very undeveloped sentiment of
honour as regards other women. In fact, though I do not like to say
hard things of my own sex, I cannot help feeling that the
unsatisfactory condition of social machinery is in a great measure due
to this want of loyalty between woman and woman. Sitting over our
conjugal tete--tete in the verandah, we could hear Mr. and Mrs.
Tillidge indulging in a conjugal wrangle in the kitchen over their pan
of burning grass-tree. That is to say, we could hear Mrs. Tillidge;
for Tillidge seemed to keep true to his philosophic principle of
silence. Mrs. Tillidge wasn't going to wait on people that ought to
have been brought up to wait on themselves, and that were no better
than she was herself, and that should have the sense to stop over in
Gundabine till they could persuade a servant, as was a servant, and
used to muck, to come and let herself be eaten alive by insects. If
Tillidge thought that Mrs. Tillidge meant to stand it he was very much
mistaken, and if he thought that soda scones and milk puddings and
starched muslin skirts were necessary for people that chose to settle
themselves in an island that--let alone women--wasn't fit for beasts
to live in, why he might make them, and starch them, and iron them,
and--viciously--gauffre them, too, if he pleased; but she wasn't going
to, that was all. Mrs. Tillidge had been hired to cook for a master,
but she hadn't been hired to cook for a mistress; and she wasn't going
to set two lunches in the day for anybody; and if people were hungry,
they might wait till the gentlemen came in from the run, or else help
themselves. Then the wrathful monologue became inarticulate, and
seemed to have moved to a little distance, being diversified with
sundry clattering and snapping noises. Mrs. Tillidge was evidently
settling the fire for the night. After a bit, Tillidge's voice sounded
for the first time, slow and rasping, but with a quaver in it which we
felt boded ill. "Now, look here, Louisa, I ain't going to be bossed
into doing a nasty trick; and I tell you I mean to see those store
cattle across the Narrows; and you may jaw as much as you please, but
I won't go off till the whole lot are mustered; then I'll clear out as
fast as you please, for I don't like being eaten alive any more than
you do." And we heard the back kitchen door bang, and concluded that
the discussion was closed for the present. Alec and I drew a deep
breath, and looked at each other and laughed uneasily. The situation
was critical. Mrs. Tillidge might succeed in "bossing" Tillidge, to
our serious inconvenience, perhaps to the loss of our great sale; and
it would be all my fault.

"We must get through the muster as quickly as possible," said Alec
mournfully; "and you must do the best you can with Loftus, and keep
out of that vixen's way. I believe she is right, Rachel, and the
Island isn't fit for beasts to live in, let alone human beings. Look
at those poor wretches of horses."

Indeed, I had been pitying the horses for some time, though I hadn't
called Alec's attention to their misery. A dozen or more had gathered
round the verandah railings, and were poking their heads into the
smoke and whinnying piteously. They couldn't get under the curtains,
poor brutes! and their garment of hair was small protection against
the savage assaults of the Island breed. "Oh, Alec," I cried, "you
must send away those miserable things without any tails. How could any
one have been so barbarous!"

I wanted him to put out the buckets of smouldering grass-tree, so
that the horses might gather round the smoke; but he was afraid to do
that, lest the buckets should be kicked over, and the grass round the
house, and perhaps the fence, set alight; so we went to bed and lay in
comparative peace within the netting, listening to the whirr of the
insects, which was like that of machinery in motion, and the
melancholy snorts outside. I stayed awake a long time, suffering as
Abraham might have suffered had he known of the tortures of Dives.
Those horses got on my nerves, and kept me awake many a night
afterwards.

I did the best I could the next day to make ready for the English
brother-in-law, but that best did not amount to much. The poley cow,
which was a valuable beast, still absorbed Alec's attention, and he
went out on the run with Tillidge and the black boys, so that I was
left to my own devices. Mrs. Tillidge kept to the kitchen, or passed
stolidly to and fro in the yard as she fetched water from the tanks,
true to her determination to ignore my presence in the establishment;
and I was too shy and too proud to disturb her by asking questions or
favours. I made my bed and put things as tidy as I could in the
sitting-room and the chamber destined for our coming guest, and
rummaged about till I found a broom and a duster; but the floor was
too ingrained with dirt for the broom to be of much use. It was very
hot--a still brooding heat, with smoke on the horizon telling of bush
fires across the Narrows, and a cloud hanging over Mount Akobaora. I
hoped there might be a thunderstorm by-and-by, and gave a few minutes
to memories of the delicious freshness, the damp fragrance of earth
and flowers, the louder gurgle of running river, the sense of renewed
life in man and beast and bird and insect, which have been wont to
follow a summer storm among my dear Ubi mountains. But, alas! there
was the mournful reflection that here dampness and drip would mean an
increased activity in the mosquito world.

There was a great deal else to be thought of, however. As I took
stock of our accommodation, I wished with all my heart that Captain
Jarvis and the pilot schooner, with our furniture and crockery and
groceries, were now on their way up the Narrows. But this was not to
be yet, and in the meantime we must all--English brother-in-law
included--submit to rough it, with the best grace in our power.

I thought it possible, in spite of the meagre fare set before us on
the previous evening, that there might be resources in the
commissariat with which Mrs. Tillidge had not chosen to make herself
acquainted. After some search I found the store keys hanging on a nail
in the office, and went resolutely across the back yard, under the
eyes of Mrs. Tillidge, to explore the slab outbuilding with its
earthen-floored verandah, and the hides drooping over its bark roof.
One of the doors had a great rusty padlock, into which my largest key
fitted, and I found myself in a dim cobweb-hung room, with gaping
apertures in the slab walls, and bloated tarantulas enjoying
themselves in the dusty corners, and the traces of my dreaded white
lizard visible in the rafters above. There was a stack of flour bales
reaching nearly to the wall-plate, and a smaller one of sticky mats of
ration sugar; beside it there was a chest of coarse tea, and under the
window a sort of counter with scales and weights and tin scoops upon
it that sorely needed scouring. I found a tub of caked tobacco, and
clay pipes in plenty, and kegs of rum, a case of whisky, and soap and
soda, and turpentine, and bluestone for horses' backs, and tar, and
such-like necessaries of existence on a cattle station; but I found no
tinned delicacies, nor any of the small luxuries with which a bush
store is usually so liberally furnished. It was evident that no
comfort was to be gained here.

Then I went to the meat-store, which was unsavoury and distinctly
suggestive of bachelor housekeeping, and where there were only cakes
of pickled beef and piles of corned junk and heaps of large-grained
salt. I left the place sadly, and wandered about. It occurred to me
that I had heard the crowing of a cock, and that where there were
cocks there must be hens, and that a dilapidated fowl-house at the
back of the kitchen, which I had certainly observed when driving up,
might furnish forth fresh eggs; but the hens, if there were any,
seemed, like other inhabitants of the Island, untrained in the ways of
civilization, and preferred apparently to make their nests among the
grass tussocks. Anyhow, there were no traces of occupation in the
fowl-house, which I decided would, when lime-washed and provided with
straw and boxes, make a very comfortable domicile for respectably
brought-up hens. Clearly the Island poultry, for want of improving
companionship, had fallen into nomadic habits, and a condition of
barbarism which it would take an importation of barn-door missionaries
to improve.

I walked back towards the house in a depressed frame of mind, making
a little detour to the front, through rank blady grass and over the
fallen bodies of dead gum-trees, rather than go across the yard and
allow Mrs. Tillidge to triumph over my discomfiture. As I approached
the verandah I heard a queer defiant cackle, and a lean, leggy,
ferocious-looking hen walked out from under the house, and at sight of
me flew in a scared manner down the hill. She was not a prepossessing
hen. There was nothing comfortable or clucking or domestic or hen-like
about her. She seemed rather to resemble a tamed eagle. But still she
had evidently laid an egg, and I felt pleasantly disposed to that hen,
and anxious to encourage her to be sociable. So I called "Chuck,
chuck, chuck!" in a persuasive crescendo, and threw out a handful of
weevily rice which I had brought from the store; and presently I had
the satisfaction of seeing her return in company with two other hens,
gaunter and more savage than herself, but with a certain air of birth,
for these were of a hybrid Spanish breed, and had black feathers and
red eyes; whereas my hen had come of lowly speckled parents. With them
was a cock which had lost its comb and most of its tail feathers. They
were good enough to gobble up the rice, however, and then with shrill
screeches darted into the gully again. Presently I made my way among
the log piles under the house, and sure enough I found a nest--just
such an uncomfortable nest as that hen would have made, a hole
scratched in the damp soil at the edge of the channel which the bath
water had worked for itself. There were half--a-dozen eggs in the
nest, and one of them was pink and thin-shelled, and evidently new-
laid. I was as pleased at the sight of those eggs as if I had
discovered a treasure, and grubbed about till I got right under the
bung--hole of the bath, but without coming upon any more. Determined
to pursue my investigations, I crept into the garden patch, and, duly
mindful of snakes, poked carefully in the dry grass and round about
the aloe and poinsettia shrub, where I was rewarded by finding two
more nests, each with several eggs in it. I strewed some rice close to
the nest, so that the hens might see that they were to be rewarded for
doing their duty. By this time it was long past the luncheon hour; and
I began to see that Mrs. Tillidge meant to be as good as her word, and
did not intend to set two luncheons in the day. I felt that I hated
Mrs. Tillidge. I should have liked to go boldly to the kitchen and
demand that a meal should be served. I should have delighted to order
fresh scones and fried junk. I would even have sent her to the
stockyard to gather fat-hen, to do duty as cabbage for bubble-and-
squeak. But I thought of Alec's perplexities, and of those store
cattle, and of Tillidge and the debt, so I relinqished the idea of
"bossing" Mrs. Tillidge, and meekly searched in the pantry for a piece
of the three-cornered loaf, and breaking one of my fresh eggs into a
tumbler with a spoonful of Alec's brandy, lunched with grim
satisfaction in the thought that at any rate I was not going to be
starved out by the enemy. I lunched in the same way--with the addition
of a slice of salt beef which I would secrete at breakfast when Alec
was not looking--all the time Mrs. Tillidge was with us. She never
would serve anything till the sound of cracking stockwhips and lowing
cattle was heard, about four o'clock, when the men came in from the
run, and Alec was in too great a hurry to get to the yards again to
ask any questions. I had every reason to be grateful to those hens for
providing me with a relish to my meagre repasts.

There was no thunderstorm that day, and the mosquitoes were not quite
so bad in the evening. The next day Alec went up himself with the
spare horse, and brought back his brother from the pilot station. I
felt very nervous when I heard Loftus's decidedly British voice in the
yard; and my Australian shyness of the travelled English visitor--who
is hold in very different estimation from the ordinary "new chum"
about to serve his Colonial apprenticeship--prevented me from going
out to welcome him as I might otherwise have done. The voice was very
hearty and good-humoured, but it had a round, imperious ring in it, I
thought; and the polite but formal way in which he requested Mrs.
Tillidge to give him a glass of water made my soul shrink.

"You haven't got any beer, have you?" he asked.

"No," said Alec. "You don't often get beer in the bush. It's an
expensive luxury--the carriage and all that, you know. But there's
plenty of grog inside."

Loftus did not seem to care about the grog. "By Jove!" I heard him
cry, "what's that? I declare it's a mosquito; and I never saw such a
big 'un, even at the Solomons." And then I heard him tell how, when
they were cruising along the South Sea Islands, where mosquitoes were
troublesome, they always put to sea when dusk fell, so as to get away
from them.

"We haven't got a man-of-war here to put out to sea in," rejoined
Alec; "and I may as well tell you straight off, old fellow, the
mosquitoes are a caution on this Island."

"I suppose I can stand them if Rachel can," replied Loftus; and by
this time he had got into the sitting-room and we had made
acquaintance. I began to think that I need not be so much in awe,
after all, of my English brother-in-law, though he was of quite a
different type from the ordinary colonial young man, and even from
Alec, who had rubbed off a little of his polish, and took rather a
pride sometimes in being more bushman than the bushmen. Loftus was
very good-looking, bright, cheery, and gracious, with a sailor's ease
of manner and a sailor's compact figure and somewhat rolling walk. He
was clear and fresh-complexioned, and I thought with a sigh how the
mosquitoes would love him. He had not been in the house ten minutes
before he had made himself quite at home. First of all, he made us
tell him all about our marriage, and what we had paid for the station,
and whether "the governor had come down handsomely," and then what
sort of a wedding present I would like best, and what was the pedigree
of the bull pup; and what yield of wool we hoped to get from the
Angora goat, Christo; and where our supplies came from, and how much
it would cost to start a steam-launch between the Island and
Gundabine. He insisted on being taken into every room, declared the
office to be as cozy a den as any one could desire, if only it were
cleaned up a bit; inspected the station ledgers, took down "Spooner on
Sheep," resolved to glean all the information possible about
Australian rural life, and was much disappointed at learning that
there were no sheep on the Island.

He was most anxious to investigate the peculiar customs of the white
lizard, and would have tried then and there to hunt one out and get
hold of a tail if the tarantulas had not set him off on a new tack. It
seemed to me that there never was any one with such an inquiring mind
as Loftus. He did not object at all to the accommodation we offered
him, and seemed to regard the chair washstand and the dirty floor as
part of the business. He grasped the situation at once, entering into
our difficulties about Captain Jarvis and the pilot schooner, and soon
it became a joke of his to demand truffles, caviare, a spring
mattress, or a Turkish bath with the most lordly assurance, and then
to exclaim, "Oh, of course; it's in the pilot schooner!"

He was wont to declare that the pilot schooner must be as big as
Noah's ark to contain all the things we said were in it.



Chapter IV. The Battle of the Shirt.



WE did not let Loftus into all the secrets of our establishment. We
did not tell him about the trouble with Mr. and Mrs. Tillidge, lest he
should feel strained in his relations with her; and we were certain
that she would not allow herself to be embarrassed by them.
Fortunately Loftus seemed to share Mr. Micawber's views as to dramatic
fitness in regard to emigration. He quite revelled in the iron cups,
and preferred his clasp knife to the horn-handled one laid for him, as
being more appropriate to a settler's condition. He did, however,
think it a little hard that a young woman who had been brought up to a
milder form of bush life, and presumably was not sustained by any idea
of the dramatic, should be condemned to salt junk as hard as nails and
camp-oven bread. As for himself, it was of no consequence; he was
accustomed to junk. But, having already learned from the blacks that
there was wild duck to be had for the shooting, he announced his
intention of going out the next day with his gun, and giving us a
treat at to-morrow's dinner. We got on very well, on the whole, at the
first meal. We had it early, before the mosquito onslaught had fairly
begun, and our pans of grass-tree were set alight at sundown in the
verandah. Loftus bore the attacks of the foe with equanimity, only
every now and then ejaculating, "By Jingo! this does beat the flies in
Honolulu!" Mr. Kempsey had sent us the apricot jam and pickles, and I
had boiled some eggs in my etna, disdaining to apply to Mrs. Tillidge,
who eyed the addition to our party with sullen resentment; and I
related my adventures in search of the eggs, and my plan for
Christianizing the poultry.

But as we sat on the verandah afterwards among our smoking pans, the
men with their pipes, I waving about a palmetto-leaf fan, and the
brothers, who had not met for many years, comparing notes and talking
over reminiscences of their youth, Loftus grew gradually more and more
uneasy under the attacks of the mosquitoes.

He slapped himself and wriggled about, and then got up and tied his
trousers tight round his ankles with handkerchiefs, wondering where in
the name of fortune they all came from, and lurched up and down the
verandah as if it were the deck of a man-of-war, haranguing and
slapping all the time; while Alec kept on asseverating that it was all
because of the muggy weather, and that when a breeze sprang up our
enemies would vanish, and tried to divert Loftus's thoughts by
tempting suggestions of pig-sticking. There were some pigs on the
Island which had gone wild, and with regard to which my housewifely
imagination was already working and picturing rashers of streaky bacon
and nice brown hams. Loftus took very kindly to the idea of pig-
sticking, and also to that of stock-riding, though he stipulated that
he should not be sent out on a run on a buck-jumper, and that he
should be allowed to carry his gun with him. The mosquitoes roared
that night like Pacific breakers on the Great Barrier Reef, and it was
with some trepidation that I prepared to meet Loftus in the morning. I
wondered if I could have left any holes unmended in the mosquito
curtains. Apparently I had left a good many, or he had not tucked them
in properly. Poor Loftus was a shocking spectacle. I found him wrapped
in dismal contemplation of a black velvety patch at one of the corners
of the canvas coiling, where myriads of mosquitoes, stupefied by their
debauch, had huddled one upon another, to sleep off the effects of
their orgie. "If one could run a needle here and there through them,
what would be the colour of the ceiling?" darkly suggested Loftus. He
told me that he had spent the night in waging war against his
tormenters with a towel, and in pondering how he might best make
himself an object of repulsion to them. "I think kerosene might do
it," he said. "You see, after living for so long on horses and
natives--for you and Alec are a little stale, you know--my blood is a
variety to them, and they like it." Accordingly he anointed himself
with paraffin oil, and for a while was quite jubilant over the success
of his experiment. He went out early with Island Billy and shot some
ducks, which he took round to the kitchen and delivered to Mrs.
Tillidge, with polite instructions as to how they ought to be dressed.
I heard his remarks from the sitting-room, and knew that Mrs. Tillidge
had received them in grim silence.

After that Loftus betook himself to the stockyard, where square-
tailing was going on. I had to explain to him first that "square-
tailing" meant chopping the ends off the tails of those animals which
were drafted through the crush into the mob destined for sale. Loftus
was very much interested in the process, and we walked down together
in the full heat of the day to the stockyard, where a small herd was
being manipulated by Alec and Tillidge and the black boys.

There was a cloud of dust over the yards; and below it a confusion of
heaving red and yellow backs and tossing horns. Through the dust Alec
appeared, seated on the thick top rail of one of the inner fences,
while Tillidge jumped hither and thither, poking up the animals with a
long pole, and every now and then making a rush for the rails as a
pair of horns came dangerously near. Above the bellowing of the cattle
rose the shouts of the men--now Alec calling out, as he waved his
stick towards one or other of the yards, "Milker over here," or "Store
mob!" or "That one to the Fats"; and then Tillidge would wrathfully
adjure the black boys stationed in the corners to open and shut the
gates upon the beasts which were drafted through. "Now then, Billy, be
smart with that gate"; or "Look out for that baldy bullock,"--or, to
the dogs, "S'ool him, Bleuey!" "Heel him up, Spider!" It was quite
surprising to see the taciturn Tillidge so energetic and ejaculatory.

The scene was really rather exciting, and, though I had often beheld
such an one, I could not help taking up my stand for a little while at
the outer rails, well away from man or beast, and watching it with my
head craned round the corner post. Loftus sprang up to the cap of the
fence, and from thence commanded the situation. I observed him every
now and then make a lurch down the other side into an empty yard, when
the horns came close under him; and he soon saw that it would not do
to keep his legs dangling, but drew them up to the top rail, so that
his knees and his chin were on a level, and it was a wonder how he
contrived to maintain his balance.

Luncheon--if any special name can be given to meals which were all
exactly the same--was over, and Loftus smoking his pipe in the
verandah, when Alec drew me aside with consternation and amusement on
his face.

"I'm in a fix," he said. "Loftus hasn't got any clean shirts. He
wants a shirt washed at once. I didn't like to tell him that Mrs.
Tillidge would see him to Jericho before she washed a shirt for him;
and that anyhow I couldn't ask her, for fear that she should boss
Tillidge to the extent of making him pack his swag and go off. What
are we to do?"

"Lend him one of yours," I suggested.

"No use at all," said Alec. "His shoulders are six inches broader
across than mine. He'd split any one of my Crimeans. It's showing up
the nakedness of the land," he went on; "and Loftus is such a good
fellow, but he is a bit sensitive about things, and it would make him
downright uncomfortable to think he was putting us to inconvenience.
He would rather wear his shirt grimy than that."

"It wouldn't want starching, would it?" I asked.

"Oh! dear, no," replied Alec. "It's one of those silk and wool
affairs--no trouble at all if Mrs. Tillidge wasn't such a wretch."

"Well," I said, "if it will save the credit of the establishment, I
don't see why I shouldn't wash the shirt. Only you must never let him
know."

So it was arranged. Loftus's shirt was smuggled into my bedroom, and
as soon as he and Alec had gone back again to their square-tailing I
set myself to my task, which was less easy of accomplishment without
sacrifice of dignity than I had imagined. In the first place, there
was nothing to wash it in but my basin; for though I had seen zinc
tubs and a bluebag, and irons, and sundry washing apparatus on a shelf
at the back of the kitchen, I had gleaned that all this was Mrs.
Tillidge's private and personal property, and I could not, of course,
demean myself by borrowing from her. Then, too, I had to fetch the
water I wanted in a bucket from the tank right under Mrs. Tillidge's
eyes. I hoped, however, that she might account for my two or three
journeys on the supposition that I had taken it into my head to water
the aloe and the poinsettia shrub. I found that the piece of soap in
my bedroom was quite insufficient for the undertaking, and had to make
an excursion to the store, thus further provoking Mrs. Tillidge's
curiosity. Thence I conveyed across the yard, and partially concealed
in the folds of my dress, a half bar of yellow soap, and some blue,
and a flat iron, which treasure I rummaged out of a box of odds and
ends hidden away under the flour bin. I am a little ashamed to write
of my shifts and contrivances to save my dignity, but perhaps if I had
not been a bride, and shorn of all the glories of bridehood through
Mrs. Tillidge's evil disposition, I might not have felt so anxious to
preserve in her sight the little remnant of superior circumstance that
was left to me. I made a blue-bag out of a sock of Alec's and lighted
a fire against a stump outside for my iron to heat at, and at last set
to work on the shirt. The water in the basin had to be changed a great
many times before it was rinsed clean. I dried it on the grass, ironed
it on a shawl which I spread upon the ground, and when all was done,
laid it neatly folded upon Loftus's bed.

I was changing my dress for dinner, and Mrs. Tillidge in the next
room was laying the table, when through the wooden partition I heard
Loftus say in a gracious manner--

"I'm so much obliged to you, Mrs. Tillidge, for getting up my shirt
so nicely. I shall have another for you to-morrow."

"I didn't wash your shirt!" rejoined Mrs. Tillidge, defiantly.

"Didn't you? Then I've got to thank somebody else, it seems," said
Loftus, pleasantly; "but I made sure it was you, Mrs. Tillidge."

"I wasn't engaged to do washing," said Mrs. Tillidge, loftily. "I
don't undertake service. It was Mrs. Ansdell that washed your shirt, I
suppose."

Alec told the tale. I could hear the brothers laughing. When I came
into the sitting-room, Loftus cried--

"Now, look here, Rachel, I'm going to set-up a laundry for myself, at
my own end of the verandah, and I don't want to be interfered with."

We explained the position of affairs, and Loftus agreed that any
sacrifice of pride must be made rather than that Mrs. Tillidge should
"boss" Tillidge into spoiling the sale. It was hard, however, for
Loftus to repress his indignation when Mrs. Tillidge set down the
inevitable lump of gutta-percha-like beef and the three-cornered loaf.
"I say," he ejaculated; "what about my ducks?"

"Mrs. Tillidge," said Alec, in a tone of gentle insinuation, "I
thought Mr. Loftus had shot some wild duck?"

Mrs. Tillidge was stolidly indifferent.

"I believe so," she observed, without a smile.

"Two brace, and as fine birds as you ever set eyes on," put in
Loftus.

"Mrs. Tillidge," said Alec, "it's too late to-night, but might we not
have those ducks for dinner tomorrow?"

"Well, they're there," assented Mrs. Tillidge, sulkily--"if anybody
likes to pluck them. And I am sure I don't know who will like to pluck
them. The black boys are camping out, and there ain't a odd-job man on
this station."

"Mrs. Tillidge," said Loftus, "if you will permit me, I will pluck
the ducks." Loftus was deeply moved by this miscarriage of his attempt
to improve our bill of fare. "I will be odd-job man to-morrow," he
declared; "I will put off my first experience of mustering. To-morrow,
Rachel, I will wash my shirts; and then I will pluck the four ducks--
and then--I will scrub out the office."

We ate a peripatetic meal that evening, and came to the conclusion
that perhaps after all it was as well that our enjoyment of the ducks
was postponed, since Alec still insisted that there must be a wind to-
morrow which would settle the mosquitoes. Loftus found that the
paraffin oil was of little avail when night closed in. "Nothing does
it but smoke," he exclaimed dejectedly, "and it must be green smoke, I
see."

He went outside and cut some long wisps of the grass-tree heads. He
bound the withes round till they stiffened, and when lighted smoked
like smouldering torches; then taking one himself, he gave one each to
Alec and me. A stranger would have laughed to see us as we walked
rapidly round the table, holding what seemed like green tapers, the
smoke of which, as we moved, kept our persecutors at bay; and every
now and then pausing to eat a mouthful, or cracking some dismal joke
at the comical appearance we presented, Loftus haranguing all the
time, and poor Alec looking as miserable as though he were personally
responsible for our discomfort.

But the next night a storm of wind did rise, and such a storm! It
began with thunder and hail, and ended in what Alec called a real
south-easterly burster. The canvas ceilings bulged like a stage sea,
hailstones rattled on the roof, and rain beat in torrents under the
ill-fitting French windows. The next day all was clear, only a
heavenly coolness followed the hail, and for several days the south-
east gale blew strong and clear, bringing us respite from our petty
warfare, and filling us with renewed vigour and cheerfulness. The
horses, poor beasts, welcomed the change as joyfully as we did
ourselves. They, too, enjoyed life once more. They no longer
congregated at evening round the verandah, but kept down in the rich
pasture of the flat, whence, above the soughing of the wind and the
eerie cries of the curlews and howls of native dogs, we could
sometimes hear them whinnying to each other, as if in mutual
congratulation. Loftus set up his laundry, as he had announced he
would, and openly washed his shirts at one end of the verandah, and
dried them on the railings. He also plucked the ducks, and brought me
the feathers to stuff a cushion with, for he said he was determined
Mrs. Tillidge shouldn't score on those birds. He took them round to
the kitchen when they were all prepared, and politely insisted that
they should be cooked for dinner. In very shame she was obliged to
agree; and I may as well mention here that for the rest of Loftus's
stay we feasted upon ducks, hot and cold, which he shot and always
plucked himself. He talked a good deal about fishing excursions to the
Narrows, and worked himself into an enthusiasm over the preparation of
tackle; but an hour's experience of the mosquitoes and sand-flies down
among the mangroves at the landing quenched his ardour, and we did not
hear anything more about fried bream and dressed crab. The mosquitoes
were the only things that seriously affected Loftus's energy.

After he had plucked the first lot of ducks and had announced to me
the truce with Mrs. Tillidge, Loftus went off again, and presently I
heard a considerable commotion in the yard--a sound of much drawing of
water and loud requests for scrubbing-brushes, to which Mrs. Tillidge
responded not over promptly. When I went out I found that the office
had been cleared of all its furniture, and that a raid had been made
on Mrs. Tillidge's tubs, which, filled with water, stood in a row on
the back verandah. Loftus was surveying them with the air of Nelson on
the deck of the Victory.

"I mean to scrub it out, Rachel," he declared, in a tone of fierce
determination; "I shall get rid of those beasts of spiders and
lizards, and make a cosy smoking den out of it; and then it strikes me
that if we could manage a curtain of mosquito netting to fit down over
the doorway, we might have peace in the evenings. This wind won't last
for ever. But, look here, don't you come round and open the door, for
I shall probably take off my clothes to this job."

I left him to his undertaking, in which he was still engaged when
Alec and the men came home from their day's muster. As I sat in the
verandah, at work on a piece of cheese-cloth which I had unearthed in
the saddle--room, and which I thought might serve the purpose of a
curtain better than mosquito netting, I could see rivulets straining
down from under the house, which testified to the thoroughness of
Loftus's cleansing operations. By-and-by he came out, very red and
very hot, and looking as if he had only just got into his garments,
but extremely triumphant. He showed me the mangled corpses of three
large tarantulas and a centipede. But, to his infinite regret, he had
not solved the mystery of the white lizard and its movable tail, for
he had not been able to investigate the rafters satisfactorily.

"You could eat your dinner off every single square inch of the
place," he exclaimed, and there was no doubt about the advantages we
reaped from that scrubbing bout of Loftus's. Instead of the bare
glaring, blindless, western sitting-room, with its horrible blue walls
and aggressive oilcloth, in which there was certainly not one square
inch on which the eye could rest without being affronted, we now had a
sweet--smelling, cosy little parlour, the walls of their soft native
brown, shaded from the sun, and into which penetrated every cool
south-eastern breath that blew. Loftus's plan of the cheese-cloth
curtain answered admirably by dint of a little contrivance. We tied it
round the lintel and kept it dropped all day, and at night, when the
mosquitoes were roaring and buzzing outside, we sat in comparative
immunity from their assaults behind our protecting barrier; and, but
for the small drawback of directly facing the kitchen window, and the
painful consciousness that we might at any moment hear some home-
truths from the lips of Mrs. Tillidge, our evening chats and Loftus's
and Alec's family reminiscences would have been very enjoyable.

Loftus after this abandoned housekeeping operations, and took to
going out on the run. He particularly requested that the quietest
horse on the station might be given him, and at Tillidge's suggestion
King Cole was brought saddled into the yard. King Cole was long-legged
and scraggy, with a huge head and resigned expression which reminded
me of Rose, the pointer. His tail was lopped, he had suffered much
from the mosquitoes, and he was covered with bald spots where the
girth had chafed him, or a crack from a stockwhip had caught him, or
some other mishap had caused the hair to fall away. Loftus forthwith
changed his name to Lazarus, and it certainly seemed to suit him
better than the somewhat ironical appellation of King Cole. Loftus and
Lazarus had sundry adventures together; but though they were not
always of the same mind, they seemed to understand each other, and
while he was on the Island Loftus would not mount any other animal.
Upon one occasion, when Loftus was duck-stalking, Lazarus broke his
bridle, which was fastened to the bough of a ti-tree, and refused to
be caught, marching on serenely in front of his master, deaf to
blandishments and objurgations, and stopping to gaze back in amiable
derision at a distance of twenty yards, then trotting forward again.
Loftus had a ten-mile walk with his gun, in the full heat of the day,
and had to go back to the head station for Tillidge's assistance that
the saddle might be saved, as Lazarus showed every intention of
bolting to the bush. Another time a native dog, suddenly surprised,
snapped at Lazarus's heels, and Lazarus perpetrated a mild buck-jump,
and landed Loftus on the ground. He did not, however, run away this
time, and Loftus, nothing daunted, mounted again and chased the native
dog, which he shot and skinned, bringing the tan hide to me as a
trophy. Then there was a very terrible encounter with a wild pig, in
which Lazarus distinguished himself by bolting into a morass and
getting bogged, and when Loftus was for some moments in a perilous
position, but managed to escape up a gum-tree with only the loss of
his shoes in the swamp.

While Alec was short-handed during the muster, Loftus undertook to
carry rations to the pilot station, and accordingly set off on
Lazarus, with his swag of salt beef in front of the saddle, and armed
with full directions and a pocket compass. But though he carefully
followed the track of the line of trees which had been blazed, Loftus
lost his way. He told us that a kangaroo had got up just under
Lazarus's nose and set them both wrong. The two wandered about all day
along gullies and hills and scrubs, and then night fell, and Loftus in
despair determined to put his trust in Lazarus, and giving the horse
his bridle, let him go whither he would. Lazarus was a horse of cool
judgment. He stopped and browsed reflectively, while Loftus, not to be
outdone in philosophy, lighted his pipe and waited. Presently Lazarus,
having reviewed the situation, and having decided upon the best course
to pursue, pricked up his ears, turned his head in a sideward
direction and jogged on cheerfully, in the end proving himself worthy
of complete confidence. Loftus, however, owned that he did not
altogether feel comfortable, as Lazarus, forsaking the faintest
vestige of track, forced his way through reak-neck gullies, at the
imminent risk of dislodging both the swag of meat and Loftus himself,
who had not been trained to bush-riding.

Alec and I were sitting in the office behind our mosquito screen when
a chorus, composed of Monte's aggressive bark, the bull-pup's
cantankerous whine, Rose's deprecatory yap and tail-tattoo, and
Beaufort's big contemptuous growl, told us that Loftus had come back.
It was a feature of Island life that, except at new and full moon,
when the Narrows were crossable, we need never be under any alarm and
uncertainty as to late visitors, for we knew that the only possible
arrivals must be from the pilot station. Loftus was just a little
crestfallen, but determined not to be beaten. There never was anybody
so energetic as Loftus. He at once declared his intention of setting
forth again the first thing next morning, and of delivering that meat
or dying in the attempt. He begged the unwonted treat of a supper of
corn for Lazarus, and went down himself with a tin colander to the bin
where our crushed Indian corn was kept, and measured out a substantial
feed.



Chapter V. A Message of Deliverance.



IT was the 23rd of December. Loftus had bidden me good-bye. His
good-bye was mournful and compassionate--like the farewell of one who
is seeing the last of a doomed comrade. Loftus said that he should be
surprised to find that the mosquitoes had left anything of me when he
came back from his two years' cruise in the South Seas. It was quite
certain that the mosquitoes had eaten a good deal of Loftus. He made
us observe his shrunken proportions, and declared that he should now
find no difficulty in getting into one of Alec's shirts. His bones
stood out. He was pale, except where his skin showed red inflamed
patches. His sufferings were acute. He said they reminded him of a
certain mode of torture prevalent among the Red Indians, in which the
victim is left by an ant-bed and gradually bitten to death. He said
that though I was native--born and uninviting on that account, and
though Alec was well-hardened, he had a presentiment that he was
leaving us both to be slowly devoured. He implored that we would take
immediate steps to sell the Island. On the last night of his stay,
after deep consultation with Alec, during which he learned all about
the mortgage to the bank, and how much depended upon our muster and
sale of cattle, he wrote a telegram to Alec's father in England,
couched somewhat after the terms in which a beleaguered garrison might
supplicate immediate relief from the commander of the army. This
desperate idea had, indeed, occurred to us before. We had spoken of it
with bated breath, and had shuddered in awesome prevision of the
outburst of paternal wrath which such an audacious step would
certainly call forth. But Loftus's intrepid spirit knew no fears. He
said that the Island mosquitoes were the only things in the world that
had ever made him quail. So he wrote out the telegram--I had a notion
then that he meant to send a pathethic message on his own account,
telling of the mosquito plague--and Alec rode with him to the North
End to see him put off in the pilot boat to the mail steamer, which
was due to pass on the 24th, and also to make quite sure that the
telegram was sent safely. There seemed something sacrilegious in the
idea of entrusting that telegram, like an ordinary message, into the
hands of Polly Kempsey, who, however, though she was only sixteen, was
a dear little girl and an excellent operator--that telegram which, in
wild moments of elated hope, we ventured to fancy might bring about
the reduction of our debt and lift us above anxiety over the number of
cattle we could muster for sale, and the propitiation of Mr. and Mrs.
Tillidge's temper.

The lonely little pilot station jutting out into the Pacific was our
closest connecting link with the great world. Its lighthouse marked on
one side the entrance to Stonehampton Harbour, as may be seen in any
map of the Australian coast, for, like the ostrich burying its head in
the sand, my localities hide themselves under thin disguises. Every
steamer that passed within the Great Barrier Reef northwards to the
Equator, or southwards towards the Antarctic zone, was sighted from
the Cape. Sometimes, when they were signalled, the steamers would
slacken speed and wait for the pilot boat, and except when we had
business at Gundabine which obliged us to cross the Narrows, we always
chose to be dropped off the Island in this way, so that at a few
minutes' notice we might have found ourselves bound for the Loochoo
Islands, or the Persian Gulf, or any other place in either hemisphere.
It seemed so strange that we were able to flash our little message
from this desolate headland right into the very heart of Suffolk, and
to get an answer back in a few hours--that we could, by spreading our
wings, as it were, fly from our rock in the Pacific to any quarter of
the globe. There was a thrill of freedom in the mere thought.

Our muster was at a standstill; the men were to have their Christmas
holidays, and they were all going that day to the South End to meet
Rame's boat, which was to take them across to Gundabine for a "spree."
Rame brought our mail over from Gundabine once a week, or thereabouts,
as weather, inclination, and his condition of ebriety dictated, and
left it in an old boathouse at the South End, whence Black Charlie or
Island Billy fetched it, also as circumstances allowed. Sometimes,
when the hands were busy, or it was blowing a south-easter, we would
be for several weeks together without any mail; but that was not of
much consequence, since we could always telegraph from the pilot
station.

I went out to the yard to give Island Billy directions about this
same mail--which, by the way, owing to the festive occasion, Rame
forgot to bring--and, to my surprise, saw Mrs. Tillidge dressed in a
riding habit, with a bandbox slung on to the pommel of her saddle, in
the act of mounting Tillidge's own "lady's horse."

"Why, Mrs. Tillidge," I said, faintly, "I didn't know that you were
going to Gundabine, too?"

"I am going to spend my Christmas with my papa and mamma on their
selection, Mrs. Ansdell," replied Mrs. Tillidge, with an air of sour
patronage; then she added, with more asperity, "As I hadn't undertaken
a general utility situation, I didn't suppose that I was to stand on
ceremony and ask permission."

"Oh, certainly!" I answered, vaguely. I was a little awed by the
intelligence that Mrs. Tillidge was the daughter of a Free Selector. I
wondered if he were an agricultural Selector or a bucolic Selector,
which last, as everybody knows, ranks next in the Australian social
system to the aristocratic squatter. I was relieved when Mrs.
Tillidge, with an ungracious inclination of her head, rode out of the
yard and waited outside while Tillidge fastened the straps of his swag
in a somewhat shamefaced manner. In truth, after the first shock, a
sense of wild exultation seized me. To have the Island all to myself
for three days without Mrs. Tillidge! To be able to scour, sweep, and
poke about the premises undeterred by the consciousness that Mrs.
Tillidge was gloating triumphantly over my humiliations! The prospect
seemed at the moment little short of perfect bliss. If only Island
Billy were left me--Black Charlie had departed to join his tribe--or
if by the fortune of Heaven there should be a blackgin anywhere close
handy, why I might revolutionise the island before Mrs. Tillidge came
back.

"Island Billy," I called out, detaining him as the rest rode down
towards the stockyard, "suppose it budgery (good) blackgin sit down
close up humpey?" I said insinuatingly, in the queer vernacular which
intercourse with the Ubi blacks had made familiar to me.

"Baal (no) mine think it, missus," returned Island Billy, stolidly.

"Island Billy," I went on persuasively, "what for you go spree to
Gundabine? What for you no stop and spree along a Island? Plenty mine
give you grog, tobacco, plum-pudding, dried apples, pickles,
sardines"; and with a reckless disregard of all moral responsibility I
piled up the list of delicacies tempting to the aboriginal palate, and
of which, alas! I well knew the store was barren. Probably Island
Billy knew it too. Anyhow, he shook his head, uttering a gruff "Baal,
missus," at each pause that I made. At last, evidently visited by some
faint qualms of remorse at leaving me alone to my fate, he
remonstrated with me upon not having brought a "white Mary" across
from Gundabine to cook. "I believe, baal, that fellow come back," he
announced darkly, waving his arm in the direction of Mrs. Tillidge;
and then he went on to explain that he himself was under solemn
obligations to go over to the mainland. "You see, missus," he said,
his bright black eyes growing bigger and more glassy, and the tattoo
weals standing out on his ebony face as he pulled down his lower jaw
after the manner of a black when he alludes to "Debil-debil"--"My word
that fellow brother belonging to me corbon coolla (very angry).
Altogether black fellow coolla. Suppose me baal go corroboree close-up
Gundabine where black fellow camp, I believe that fellow pialla
(entreat) Debil-debil and make me bong (dead)," which, being
interpreted, means that Island Billy would incur the wrath of his
tribe if he did not join their war-dance, and that they would probably
pray to the Debil-debil to kill him.

There was no standing out against Debil-debil, and I desisted from
my arguments. Island Billy stuck his heels into his horse's sides,
and, with the odd guttural "J-ch-k," which the black makes when he is
starting off, began to gallop down the hill. But an inspiration seemed
to strike him, and he pulled up and wheeled round, saying, in a
consolatory manner, "I believe old St. Helena"--pronounced Sentilena--
"sit down along a Narrows. Budgery gin Sentilena. Plenty that fetch
crab. Mine look out Sentilena"; and uttering another hoarse cry, he
darted away again, and disappeared over the crest of the hill.

Alec was not coming home until the next day. Thus there was not a
soul on the head station but myself, and I own that my first anxiety
was to ascertain that I could make fast the doors of my bedroom when
night came. Not that I was really frightened. I had been brought up in
the bush, and was accustomed to its loneliness; and, besides, I knew
that in settled districts, where bushrangers do not prowl, there is
nothing to be alarmed at. Still it was a relief to find that the
carpenters had put inside bolts to the French windows.

There is no need to describe all the mighty works that I did that
day--how, emulating Loftus's energy, I carried buckets of water into
my bedroom, and scoured and mopped the floor; how I disinterred a
piece of chintz from the depths of one of my trunks and manufactured a
draped dressing-table out of it and this same trunk; how I tidied the
pantry, and rummaged about the kitchen, and began my mission among the
poultry, and did a little laundry work on my own account; and finally
went to bed, to sleep the sound, sweet sleep of fatigue. But not for
long. I awoke with a start, and sat up in bed, feeling a sensation of
alarm. The ground seemed to tremble beneath me. Something was knocking
violently against the wooden floor of my room. Above the roar of the
mosquitoes there was a tinkling of cracked bells, and a sound of
melancholy bleating. What had happened? I got up and looked out, for
as long a time as the dense buzzing, pricking crowd in which I was
enveloped would allow. It was bright starlight. The Southern Cross was
sinking. I saw the vast dark forest stretched out before me, with the
few gaunt, skeleton gum trees standing like sentinels on the bald
patch close to the house. There were two or three white unshapen forms
lying beneath the gums; and then I remembered the flock of goats, and
that it was Island Billy's duty to drive them each night into their
fold. They had taken refuge under the house to-night, and it was their
horns beating up against the boards and the bells they wore round
their necks which had aroused me from my dreamless slumber. I did not
sleep any more that night, but drew aside the blinds and waited and
watched the dawn creep slowly up over the Narrows. Gradually the
darkness lightened. The blackness of the forest became a soft smoky-
grey, and Mount Akobaora in the distance defined itself more and more
clearly against the sky. Then there stole along the eastern horizon a
wonderful pink glow, which grew and deepened till it reached the
mountain. It tinged the folds of vapour rolling back from the Narrows,
and came gliding on over the blue-grey tops of the gum trees, till
they too melted into the exquisite rosy flush. It was very beautiful.
Many a time afterwards that view helped to console me for the
discomforts of Island life.

The animals and feathered creatures in my kingdom greeted me that
morning as if in sympathetic endeavour to atone for Mrs. Tillidge's
desertion. The crows and parrots seemed to caw and chatter louder than
usual. The lean, scared-looking Spanish hens came with evidently
friendly intention and pecked the corn I threw them; the goats browsed
sociably close to the kitchen--ill-kempt, scraggy quadrupeds, with
running eyes and sores on their bodies, where the mosquitoes and
marsh--flies had bitten them. They bleated plaintively when I called
to them, and scampered a little way, then looked back as if in doubt
whether to accept my overtures. All the dogs were on the causeway.
Rose brought her puppies in, one by one, and laid them down upon the
kitchen floor, gazing at me with her great pathetic eyes, and drumming
with her tail while I raked out the open fireplace and set the kettle
on to boil. I was eating a meagre breakfast at the kitchen table, and
ruefully contemplating the remains of Mrs. Tillidge's last three-
cornered loaf, when a shrill whining voice called outside--

"White Mary, missus!"--and then there was a strange discordant,
monotonous shriek--"Ya-ah woo--ra! Corbon, me sick. Corbon, me old.
Ba--al husband belonging to me. Budgery eli. Yah! Ya--ah! Sentile-na!"

There was a clatter, and five or six great slimy crabs, or "eli," as
Sentilena called them, crawled out of a dilly-bag, which had been
thrown in at the door, and which was immediately followed by Sentilena
herself.

Sentilena was very old; she looked as if she might be a hundred. She
was shrivelled and emaciated; her hair was snow-white, and her
complexion was two or three shades lighter in ground tint than that of
the generality of blacks, for she was a half-caste. She had the most
hideous face possible to conceive, covered with a lattice-pattern of
blue weals and tattoo marks. She was blind of one eye, and had lost
half an arm. A ragged red blanket was slung over one shoulder. She
stretched out her remaining arm, bony and corrugated like her face and
breast, while she went on howling, "Woo-ra! Woo-ra! Baal, me catch
possum. Poor fellow me! Missus, gib ole Sentilena breakfast. Corbon,
Sentilena hungry."

I handed her a piece of bread, and poured some tea for her into a
pint pot. When she had eaten and refreshed herself, she chased the
crabs, which were crawling about the kitchen, greatly to the
discomfort of Rose and her puppies, penned them into a corner, and
offered to make a fire outside and boil them if I would give her some
"chimbacco." Sentilena's services were not to be despised. She put the
crabs down to boil; then I made her clean the frying-pan. Afterwards
we chopped some wood between us; and then, while I baked a batch of
soda bread, which I am bound to confess turned out a failure,
Sentilena squatted in the doorway and enlivened my labours by the
recital of her friendly relations with various former owners of the
Island. Her reminiscences were somewhat of the nature of chroniques
scandaleuses, for Sentilena's career, as I learned, had had its
romantic, not to say tragic episodes.

Sentilena had once been young and beautiful. In the days of the first
settlers on the Island she had reigned a dusky Helen at the head
station. She had lost her eye from the cut of a tomahawk inflicted by
her third husband, King Tommy, from whom the white man had beguiled
her. Then she broke with her tribe, and now she lived alone in fallen
majesty. She had the reputation of an Atalanta-like fleetness, and
when her charms failed her, and she ceased to find favour in the sight
of master or stockman, she took a contract to run the mail to the
mainland, swimming the Narrows, and never once failing in her
engagement. But a shark bit off her hand, and she swam the Narrows no
more. Now all her powers of running had gone from her.

"No good, Sentilena!" she whined, rocking herself to and fro, and
striking her scarred old breast with a gesture of desolation. "Plenty
soon bong Sentilena!"

Alec's "Coo--ee" sounded cheerfully at dusk as he came within sight
of the station. He was very wrath when he heard of Mrs. Tillidge's
departure.

"Let her rip!" he cried, flourishing a blue telegraph form before my
eyes. "Here's good news for Christmas. The governor has turned up
trumps. Loftus is a brick! Mrs. Tillidge may boss Tillidge into doing
what she pleases, but she shan't boss us any longer. It won't matter
now if we do muster a hundred head short of the mob we counted on.
I'll get all the beasts we have collected over the Narrows next moon;
so cheer up, old girl, and don't knuckle under any more to Mrs.
Tillidge. Just you read that."

Sure enough, on that stiff blue paper was inscribed what seemed to me
the fairy legend that a certain solid sum would shortly be lodged to
Alec's credit in our Sydney bank. By what telegraphic magic had Loftus
worked this miracle? We felt certain that it was his doing, but how?
We could not conjecture then. Afterwards we learned that Loftus had,
as I suspected, enriched the treasury of the North End telegraph
station to the extent of some seven pounds, and had wired that it was
a case of ruin and death, and that if the paternal coffers were kept
closed, he himself would advance us the necessary sum.

Alec and I dined joyfully on cold crab, and did not have bad dreams
or indigestion. It blew a hurricane that Christmas Eve--one of Rame's
south-easterly bursters; but it was a glad and welcome hurricane, for
Christmas morning rose cool and clear, and the mosquitoes, driven by
the wind, settled in a thick black velvety patch in the remotest
westerly corner of the most sheltered verandah room. It was our first
married Christmas, and how Alec and I laughed as he went out to drive
in the milkers, and I accompanied him as far as the wood heap to
gather sticks for the fire, greatly exercised in my mind as to our
Christmas fare! Our commissariat was low. Pending the slaughter of a
bullock on the men's return, there was only one tiny piece of beef as
hard as a bullet in the meat cask. The bread, too, had run out; and
though I could make fairly good scones with thick milk and carbonate
of soda--what the Americans call saleratus bread--the baking of them
in a camp oven was for me no easy matter. I began to understand why
Mrs. Tillidge's bread was so heavy, and why it was always burnt black
at the bottom, while it remained dough on the top. The camp oven was a
round pan with a lid, standing on three legs, heated by a fire on the
ground underneath, and another fire on the lid, and as the lid had to
be lifted very often in order that one might ascertain how the baking
was getting on, and as, in so doing, the top fire always tumbled off--
to say nothing of the risk of letting it fall in upon the dough--it
will be seen that our daily bread was a luxury not to be had without
some trouble.

Our Christmas dinner was not exactly a sumptuous repast. I tried to
make rissoles out of the salt junk, but the fat in the frying-pan
caught fire, and the result was not appetizing. It ended in our dining
off cold crab again, supplemented by a couple of eggs which the lean
Spanish hens had been so obliging as to lay in the aloe. I never knew
such uncomfortable hens. They obstinately refused to enter the downy
nest made for them and baited every day with Indian corn, but
persisted in laying under the bunghole of the bath or in the aloe.
Each morning Sentilena brought a fresh dillyful of live crabs, and
always emptied it at the kitchen door, so that we had an exciting
chase after the crabs, some of which got away altogether, and came to
a lingering end among the grass tussocks. In fact, we lived mostly
upon crabs during that Christmas week when Alec and Sentilena and I
kept house together.



Chapter VI. The Island Mail.



CONTRARY to Island Billy's predictions, Mrs. Tillidge did come back;
but before she had been many days upon the Island the long-sealed
phials of Alec's wrath burst upon her, and one morning he came in,
looking very pale and determined, to tell me that he had given Mrs.
Tillidge her choice of moving into the empty hut near the stockyard or
of going to Gundabine that very day. In any case, it was settled that
she was to clear out of the kitchen. Alec told me that she had tried
to "boss" Tillidge into throwing up the situation, but that Tillidge,
with more firmness than might have been expected of him, had declined
to be "bossed," and had assured Alec that he meant to see the cattle
across the Narrows. Alec insisted that under this condition of affairs
I must go back to Sykes's and wait there until he had got the capable
"married couple," of whose curries and creams, vegetables, poultry,
punctuality, and civility we dreamed in our sanguine moments. The tide
would serve about mid-day. Weare--a bush carpenter who had come over
from Gundabine to finish a new calf-pen in the stockyard--knew how to
handle the boat which, with Alec himself and Brown, the second
stockman, would be sufficiently manned; and, though it was blowing a
head wind now, and Weare shook his head and prophesied a regular
south-easter before nightfall, Alec was convinced that we could get to
Gundabine in one tide, and that, as a south-easter always blew for
forty--eight hours, we had better try and get across before it was at
its worst. So after an early lunch, for which we foraged resolutely
ourselves, Alec and I rode down to the landing, Weare and Brown having
gone on ahead to bail out the boat and make her ready for the start.
At the last moment Mrs. Tillidge gave us to understand that she
considered the discomforts of the hut preferable to even so short a
voyage in my company, and I had the ignominious feeling that I had
been forced to beat a retreat. Could Alec have been induced to
consent, I would gladly have taken possession of the kitchen, with
Island Billy and Sentilena as subordinates.

Nevertheless, as we glided out of the little creek into the middle
of the Narrows, there was comfort in the thought that mosquitoes and
sandflies were for the time left behind. The tide, now at its full,
lapped the waxen branches of the mangroves, which lay like tiny green
islands a little distance from the shore. The strait was gently
heaving and rippling, its waters a clear and intense blue. The sky was
blue, and the sun shone brightly, but the southern horizon had a
lowering look, and there were smoke-like clouds scudding fast to the
north-west. It would have been overpoweringly hot but for the flying
clouds that every now and then veiled the sun, and the breeze which
blew up freshly from Gundabine Bay--nothing much now, but swelling
with every mile we made.

The wind was too far ahead for sailing, and we had before us the
prospect of a twenty miles' row. The men chatted cheerily at first,
but after awhile, when pulling became harder work, relapsed into
meditative silence. As the afternoon waned and the Narrows widened,
the wind freshened steadily. The sea became almost indigo-blue. Great
ridges of waves faintly whitened came rolling towards us, angrily
buffeting the boat, which raised herself laboriously over them. Every
now and then a fierce surge would spit out foam and send its spray
sharply upon our faces, and upon the backs of the men rowing. We were
keeping under the lee of the Island. Currents and mudbanks did not
allow a boat to cross high up the Narrows, as would have seemed the
natural proceeding, for thus we should have skirted the mainland, and
would have avoided the rough and often dangerous passage across
Gundabine Bay, which was in reality the open sea at the mouth of the
harbour. By-and-by we could see it stretching out close before us, a
dark, turbulent waste seething and tossing with white moony patches
leaping up in points of milky light and melting into leaden greyness,
where they touched the vaporous sky, when the horizon closed in, and
the sea was merged in gathering dusk. The mainland on our right was
getting farther and farther. One felt something of consternation in
watching its receding outlines grow greyer and more indistinct. The
sun had set. Great brassy-red streaks splashed the swelling body of
dun cloud, and shed a savage lurid glow on the black weltering waters.
The tide had turned. We had passed the bche--de-mer fishery and the
deserted Chinamen's huts. It seemed hours while we rounded a point of
low-lying treacherous rocks over which the breakers swirled and
hissed. The boat seemed to struggle sullenly against the seas which
struck her bows, and lifted them dripping out of the water, causing a
sort of recoil in her, and making her start like a live thing, so that
a frightened sort of tremor went all through her frame.

I love that shock and thrill with which a ship in a storm meets the
giant force of the sea, leaping up as if in frenzy, and lunging
through the great green mountains, then swooping down into the valley,
closed in by glassy precipices, and plunging headlong forward, to
mount triumphantly once more.

But in an open boat, on a dark night, upon a rough sea, one feels
nothing of this excitement and exultation. There is only the sense of
powerlessness, loneliness, and desolation. It makes one think of a
soul let loose in space. I have a vivid remembrance of that scene--the
deepening night, starless, with a thin, wet moon and rushing murky
clouds, from out which at intervals the pallid light would stream
forth, and as suddenly go in again, as if the orb were diving in an
upper ocean. I can see the dark outline of the boat slant-wise, as she
heaved and bounded, the black fork now swept by misty spray, while the
steely white-topped waves and the inky hollows went rushing by. It
seemed as though sea and sky were racing. I can see the men in their
wet clinging shirts, Weare, broad and brawny, the muscles of his arms
and shoulders showing; Brown, sinewy and lanky--the stockrider's
build--both straining doggedly over the oars; and Alec squarely
gripping the tiller, keeping it straight and rigid, while our bows met
full the blow of each advancing surge that hurled itself upon us, and
for the moment hid sea and sky. As it came one saw nothing but the
curved crystalline ebon wall, luminous here and there with
phosphorescent gleams, and the coiling wreath of foam which, cut by
our stem, would part asunder with a crash, slinging the spume-like
shot against us, and scattering opalescent whiteness upon the gloom
around. Then, as we heaved upward, the lamps of Gundabine far off on
our starboard side would quiver like spectral candles for a second,
and go out as we sank again into the trough.

As the boat fell off from the sea, the tops of the waves washed on
board her, drenching us through.

"We can't do it, sir," said Weare. "We must get her bows round, and
put into the South End bight."

Watching his time, when the next black hill had come and dissolved
beneath us, Alec wrenched the tiller hard over. "Pull," he shouted.
The men were bent double. The boat groaned and trembled. As she swung
round a wave dashed up and caught us on our beam, half filling her,
and making its cold stickiness felt to our skins. Before another wave
could strike us we had turned. The dark configuration of the Island
spread an indefinite mass in front of us. Instead of wrestling with
the sea the boat now seemed to fly before it, darting up on the crest
of a surge and leaping down as if in a wild effort to escape from the
oncoming wave behind. This only lasted for a minute or so. We had no
sooner got under the lee of the South End Cape than, apparently by a
miracle, we were in smooth water. Presently our keel grated upon
shingle. Weare and Brown jumped out and hauled up the boat through the
surf, and Alec lifted me out on to the Island again.

We were very like shipwrecked people, soaked hrough, hungry, and
forlorn. The shore seemed bleak and inhospitable--a curving strip of
stony beach with black rocks, against which the breakers roared,
jutting out at each end, and a few thin scant-leaved mangroves,
unhappy out of their native mud, sheltering a rough log boat-shed that
ran down almost to the water's edge. Behind rose the grey-brown dunes
of the Island, and close to the shore was a ragged brigalow scrub. In
the faint moonlight we could see the black shadows of the trees upon
the rank grass, and we could hear the howl of the native dogs blending
with the rumble of the surf and the peal of the wind.

We took shelter in the boat-shed, and Alec and the men collected
sticks and dead branches, and made a fire on the gravelled floor. We
tried to toast a few wet sandwiches we had brought with us, and
bemoaned our want of forethought in not providing ourselves ourselves
with tea, and a billy in which to boil some water. The night wore on,
and I fell into an uneasy sleep, with my head upon a log. It must have
been near morning when I was awakened by a gruff "Coo-ee," the swash
of oars, and the crunching of a boat on the beach. Then came a volley
of oaths, and a leather mail-bag was pitched unceremoniously into the
shed, and fell, scattering the embers of our fire.

"Is that you, Rame?" called Alec, still half asleep.

"Yes, it is, and a d----d rough time of it I've had," shouted Rame;
"and a hell of a row there'll be when I get back, for the steamer's
signalled and I'm wanted at Bell's wharf." As he bailed his boat, Rame
poured forth a torrent of half-tipsy profanity, directed at the folks
that lived on an island and expected to have a mail contract kept with
a south--easter blowing. He cursed the wind, he cursed the sea; it was
a sort of reversed song of the Three Children, for he seemed to curse
all things in heaven and earth, and never ceased, notwithstanding
Weare's stern injunction to hold his jaw if he couldn't sweeten it,
for ladies were present. Rame made off at last, delivering a Parthian-
like charge and a general notice that he wasn't going to risk his life
in Gundabine Bay, and the loss of his job ashore for the sake of any
more anathematised Island mail-bags. Weare observed apologetically
that Gundabine was a place that got most chaps into a way of liquoring
up and cussin', and that it wanted a deal of character in a man to
stand agin it. Alec cut open the mail-bag, which was heavy with the
delayed Christmas literature, and then Weare brought in some dry
sticks and made a blaze, by the sputtering light of which we read our
letters and looked at our Christmas cards. One of Alec's letters--he
explained that it was from a Stonehampton pal--seemed to rouse in him
no little interest. "By Jove!" he cried, "Lyndon is cleared all right.
Well, I am glad of that." He looked at me alertly, as if he were eager
to communicate some pleasing piece of intelligence, and had begun,
"You remember my telling you about Tom Lyndon, Rachel," then stopped,
checked by the presence of Weare and Brown. He waited till the men had
gone out. "What do you think?" he said; "those vouchers have been
found, and the missing money has been accounted for. It was a case of
sheer muddle and negligence on the part of one of the subordinates. I
always said that the Government jumped at conclusions without taking
any pains to have the matter investigated, and that it would come
straight when they went out of office. Anyhow, Tom Lyndon is cleared,
and the new Minister has put him back on to the Stonehampton and
Balloo Railway."

I was as much pleased as Alec, though I had never seen Tom Lyndon,
and did not know all the ins and outs of the affair. It had never been
actually made public, and little scandals and peculations in
Government offices up North were, alas! not of such infrequent
occurrence as to occasion a violent stir when they did happen. Tom
Lyndon was a handsome, clever young Government official, whom the
Ministry of Progress had put in charge of a branch railway that was
being constructed between Stonehampton and a township up country. The
progressive Ministry went out, however, before the works were well
under weigh, and the new Ministry, whose rallying cry was
retrenchment, put a sudden stop to the railway, wound up accounts in a
casual manner, and dismissed young Lyndon with a small compensation.
Ministries in Leichartsland are rather apt to do things in a casual
way, and official responsibilities are perhaps not quite so clearly
defined by departmental limits as in the commonwealths of older
civilizations. Tom Lyndon left Stonehampton and went on private
business to Singapore. It was not till after he had gone that
vouchers, representing certain moneys for which he was responsible,
were discovered to be missing. It was at once assumed than Lyndon,
instead of paying out these sums, had himself made use of them, and
this assumption was strengthened by the fact that he had taken upon
himself the payment of his father's debts. He was the eldest son of a
spendthrift superannuated Government official, who, after living for a
good many years on his sons' earnings, had lately died, leaving them a
legacy of liabilities. Possibly the filial motive weighed with the
Minister for Works. Possibly he knew himself guilty of a scarcely
official haste in settling up the financial affairs of the unlucky
railway. At any rate the Government did not prosecute young Lyndon. He
stayed away from the colony--his name there, at least, under a cloud.
His friends affirmed his innocence, though they blamed him for his
proud apathy in not insisting upon having the charge disproved. His
enemies declared him guilty, and outsiders showed but a anguid
interest in the whole matter, which was gradually being forgotten,
when, in accordance with the usual vicissitudes of Leichardtstonian
politics, the parsimonious Government ended a brief and inglorious
reign, the progressive one came back, and in the general rout which
followed, the Lyndon mystery was cleared up, the missing money
accounted for, and now Alec read out to me that Mr. Lyndon had
received a handsome apology, and was triumphantly reinstated in his
old appointment.

Alec had known Mr. Lyndon in Stonehampton, and had told me the first
part of the story more than a year ago, in the early days of our
engagement. I had wondered much concerning it, and lamented the blight
which had fallen upon a promising career, though then I had no
expectation of living near Stonehampton, or of being brought into any
sort of association with Mr. Lyndon. The story was connected somehow
with my own little drama, and it seemed strange to hear its sequel
now, under these adventurous conditions, in the lonely boat-shed on
this wild night. It seemed stranger still when Alec said
thoughtfully--

"I wonder whether Lina Sabine has heard this, and if she is sorry now
that she didn't trust him and wait?"

"Why?" I asked eagerly, scenting a romance. "Were they in love with
each other?"

"He was in love with her," answered Alec; "and I think she was as
much in love with him as any one so shallow and emotional could be.
Yes, I believe she cared for him, but I'm afraid it wasn't in her to
be staunch."

If Alec knew any more, he did not seem inclined to betray confidence.
He said he didn't think it fair to rake up people's ashes, and that
Lina was one of those impressionable, many-sided, dramatic people who
can imagine themselves into any part they please, and that when she
married she had probably imagined herself into love with Mr. Sabine
and complete forgetfulness of former romantic episodes.

I was intensely interested in Lina Sabine--I always called her to
myself by her Christian name--though I had only seen her for a few
minutes one evening in the dim light of Mrs. Jarvis's verandah at
Gundabine. My interest was partly owing to a vague fancy that Alec had
once been in love with her, but principally because all that I knew
and heard of her wrought on me in a curious manner like a spell. There
are people who affect one in that way, even on the slightest
acquaintance, or, indeed, on none at all. And then I have a kind of
theory that the social system is kept working by certain magnetic
currents which drive the human atoms into combination, according to
subtle laws of attraction. Possibly in future enlightened ages these
laws may regulate our social relationships. I could not help fancying
that Lina Sabine and Mr. Lyndon and I had just got into one of these
currents, and that we were bound to be drawn together very shortly.
Perhaps it has something to do with what they call odic force. No
doubt occultists would give some sort of ready explanation of this and
other mysteries. I don't know how otherwise to account for many
strange coincidences such as have certainly come within the experience
of most persons. One hears a name mentioned casually which one has
never heard before, and, lo, it is as though a psychological chain had
been forged, for all manner of trivial incidents lead to a relation
with that unknown person till one becomes enmeshed in the very web of
his or her personality. Why should it be that person and no other? Why
should it be that particular incident and no other? Why should one
choose to go to the loft fork of the Y and not the right?

But as we sat watching the dawn spread over the sea and pale our fire
of dried leaves and twigs, I made Alec tell me all that he could or
would about Lina Sabine and her marriage. Everybody had been in love
with Lina Trass, Alec said, Lyndon among the rest. She had been the
show beauty of the North ever since she was sixteen. She had spent her
winters mostly in Stonehampton, though her people didn't belong
exactly to Stonehampton society. Her father kept a store on the road
to the diggings, and her mother had served in a shop; but Lina had
been educated at a boarding-school in Sydney, and, moreover, she was
one of Nature's ladies, "and just as pretty as you can make 'em," said
Alec, enthusiastically. It was not surprising that when she came to
stay with a married school-fellow at Stonehampton all the best people
should take her up, and should forget about her father the store-
keeper, and the mother the milliner's assistant. But, of course, it
was an understood thing that she must marry well, and Lina fulfilled
her mission by marrying Mr. Sabine some six months after the Lyndon
episode. Mr. Sabine, according to Alec, was a lout. He was bad-
tempered and boastful, he was unpopular with men. In every respect,
except in birth and money, he was Lina's inferior. When he first came
to Gundabine several years ago, everyone had laughed at him. He could
not get a woman to marry him. It was a joke in the district that he
had proposed to every good-looking barmaid and free selector's
daughter, and that all had refused him. But he went home to England
for a year or two and got polished up. He came out again with money,
made a splash, and finally struck gold close to Mount Akobaora, and
then the matrons and maids, instead of spurning, looked kindly on
him--for, as Alec said, human nature is much the same in Gundabine as
it is in Belgravia--and the end of it was, that he fell in love with
Lina Trass, and married her after a few weeks' engagement.

"I'd like you to be nice to Mrs. Sabine, Rachel, when you come
across her," Alec said. "We might get her over to the Island when the
mosquitoes have gone off a bit. Poor Lina! There are some people one
always associates the idea of tragedy with, somehow. Lina Sabine is
one, and old Daniel Liss is another.

"Who is old Daniel Liss?" I asked.

"Oh, you haven't come across him?--a queer miserly old misanthrope--
quite a character. He has stations along the coast, and he was after
the Island, but I bought it over his head. I almost wish Liss had it
now, Rachel," Alec added ruefully. "It's not the place a married man
should have gone in for."

I asked Alec if Mr. Liss had been in love with Mrs. Sabine too.

"Good gracious, no," said Alec, laughing; "he never was in love with
any one, or if he was, he has managed to keep it dark. All the same,
Lina Trass had better have married Dan Liss, who never in his life
bounced man, woman, or child, than an ill-conditioned braggart like
Sabine."

Weare came to tell us that the boat was ready, and that we had
better be putting off. The wind had lulled, as it does in the early
hours, and Weare said that we should nip across in no time. The sea
was swelling and troublous still, and had a leaden, treacherous look.
The sun had not yet risen. The breeze when we got out blew keen and
fresh, and seemed to put new energy into our tired and aching bodies.
Weare set the sail, and we raced before the waves. There was something
deliciously exhilarating in the speed and the bounding motion of the
boat. A big steamer had just moored at Bell's wharf. It was the boat
from Leichardtstown. All was bustle. Goods were being landed. The
narrow pier was crowded with busy people and loafers. Newspapers were
being handed about. The police-magistrate was there, and the
telegraph-master and store-keepers, to say nothing of Sykes's crew. In
fact, all Gundabine seemed to have turned out, and I felt rather shy
of encountering the gaze of the township in my draggled and battered
condition. A row of faces peered down over the parapet of the pier as
Weare made the boat fast, and Captain Jarvis held out his hand to help
me up, saying, with a laugh, "Thought we should soon see you back
again, Mrs. Ansdell. Ain't the mosquitoes cannibals now?"

A great slouching giant of a man, with a heavy jaw, loose lips, big
dark eyes, and cantankerous expression, dressed in a well-made tweed
suit, that contrasted with the careless get-up of the bushmen round,
accosted Alec crossly: "I say, Ansdell, it is too bad of you people to
let yourselves be put upon. I want you to stand in with me, and make a
row with the A.S.N. Co. I'm not going to let these captains cheek me.
Here am I getting tons of stuff up by them every week, and they can't
put in at Cooranga to oblige me. The fact is, they are so accustomed
to roughs, they don't know how to treat a gentleman. What do I care
about that fellow Lyndon, or whether he catches the Colonial Secretary
at Stonehampton? Why should my business give way to his? I shall bring
an action against the Company, and force them to pay me my expenses
for going back overland to Cooranga from Stonehampton."

"You don't mean to say that Lyndon is on board?" cried Alec. "By
George, I must see him--only got my mail an hour or two ago. Tell you
what, Sabine, I'll join in bringing an action against Sykes, for
letting Rame get drunk and forgetting my mail. Good-day to you,
Sabine. Look here, Rachel, I'll just settle you in at Sykes's, and
then come back to the steamer"; and he hurried me off.

"That was Sabine," he said, as we turned in between the papaw trees
at the hotel. "I wonder if his wife's here. He is always wanting to
make a row about something."

I felt quite a thrill of excitement. There were dramatic
possibilities even in Gundabine. Wasn't this just one of the
coincidences that give ground for my theory of magnetic currents and
attractions? But I was too tired and hungry and sticky with salt water
to indulge in philosophical reflections just then. Alec ordered me
some hot coffee, and saw me with my damp portmanteau into a bedroom
that opened on to the upstairs parlour. I was sitting there a little
later, refreshed by my toilet, once more presentable, and enjoying the
unwonted luxury of a moderately civilized breakfast, when the door
opened and Mrs. Sabine came in. She said, "How do you do?" to me, in a
nervous, hurried manner. "I heard of your coming over this morning,"
she said. "There's only this one sitting-room. You don't mind my being
here too? My husband has to go on to Cooranga, and I--I couldn't stop
by myself--I had to come along here."

Of course I told her how glad I was of her company, and how pleased
at the opportunity of seeing something of her. "The steamer is in,"
she said suddenly. "I suppose you don't know. .... It isn't gone yet?
There's always a great fuss here when the steamer comes in. It's the
only excitement they've got here, except sampling. Do you know what
sampling means?"

I confessed my ignorance. "Stonehampton is a better place to 'sample'
in than Gundabine," she said. "The street is longer and there are more
public-houses. Sampling means starting at one end of the street and
taking a nip at each inn or handy private house all the way down. They
seem to sample a good deal here, beginning at the Captain's at the top
of the hill," and she laughed a little hysterically, and went
restlessly to the window and back again. All the time that we talked
generalities I could see that her attention was straying. I could not
turn my eyes from her, she was so pretty. I had not seen Miss Ellen
Terry in those days, but I have since often thought that Lina Sabine
as she was then bore a great resemblance to her. Lina had something of
the same sweet sensitiveness and grace of gesture. Her face seemed all
exquisite shadows melting into each other. There was a touch of
emotion in everything she said or did. She had a little tremulous way
of clasping and unclasping her hands as she talked, and an appealing,
surprised expression in her large eyes, which were as blue as lobelia
flowers. She was much more than pretty. She had what the French mean
by charm.

There was a great deal of noise in the bar below, where "sampling"
must have been going on pretty freely. Distant tones floated up too
from the pier. I thought I could recognise Mr. Sabine's rasping voice,
which at its best must have been disagreeable to hear. In my mind I
pitied the woman who had to live with that voice. We stood in the
balcony and looked out. We could see the tops of the steamer's
funnels, and a trail of smoke rising from them. The verandah of the
post-office opposite was almost as crowded as the verandah of Sykes's
beneath us. I noticed that Mrs. Sabine sheltered herself behind the
screen of passion creepers, and that her delicate flush deepened into
two vivid red patches as she gazed intently outward. Suddenly her face
became quite pale, and, following the direction of her eyes, I saw
that they rested upon a group of gentlemen walking up from Bell's
shanty--my husband, Captain Jarvis, Mr. Sabine, and one or two others.
among whom I noticed a tall, dark, good-looking man with whom Alec was
talking, and whom I guessed at once to be Mr. Lyndon. They were making
straight for Sykes's. I heard Alec say as they stepped on to the
verandah, "No, I can't stand that rowdy place. Come up to the sitting-
room, Lyndon, and have a parting drink for good luck--coffee, if you
like, with a 'stick' in it. I want to introduce you to my wife."

Lina Sabine turned abruptly and gazed at me with the wild look of a
creature that finds itself entrapped. She put out her hand impulsively
and clutched my wrist, drawing me back to the parlour. The footsteps
and voices sounded distinctly in the passage below. Her grasp
tightened. She was trembling like a frightened child. As our eyes met
straightly, I knew that there were to be no flimsy conventionalities
between us. Her eyes said that she meant to trust me, and that she was
appealing to me for sympathy and help, and my heart went out to her as
woman's heart will go out to woman.

"Oh, what shall I do? They mustn't see me. You don't know. I
couldn't see him like this. Mrs. Ansdell, what can I do? My room is
ever so far away; and I can't see them."

"My dear," I exclaimed, "it is very easy. Come into my room." I led
her within and locked the door. I had hardly done so when the men came
into the parlour. The partition was of wood, and we could hear every
sound. Lina and I stood close together, not speaking. Her hand still
clasped my wrist. When I moved it tightened as if to enforce silence;
and when Alec tapped softly at the door and called "Rachel," she
turned on me in a fierce, scared way, and made an imperative gesture
forbidding me to answer.

We heard Alec apologise for my absence, and tell the tale of our
adventures, adding that I was probably sleeping after my wakeful and
exciting night. "Better luck in Stonehampton, Lyndon," he said. "I am
going to bring Mrs. Ansdell up, and I suppose you'll be there, off and
on, till the railway is finished."

"I hope that I may make Mrs. Ansdell's acquaintance somehow, but I
shall be camping at the Works all the time, and Stonehampton won't see
much of me," answered a very pleasant voice with, I thought, something
of bitterness and melancholy in its cadence.

I felt a shiver run through Lina's frame as she heard the voice of
the man she loved--oh, I was sure that she loved him. She stood very
still, bending a little forward, as if every nerve were straining. Her
grasp upon me may have caused some electric thrill of sympathy to pass
from one to the other. I seemed to know that every word Lyndon uttered
was like a knife-stab to her. The grating of her husband's tones must
have been even keener torture. Mr. Sabine still harped wrathfully upon
his grievances against the A. S. N. Company, but in rather a more
conciliatory manner, as if he had discovered that Mr. Lyndon was a
person of some importance, and not to be ridden over roughshod. I was
certain that Mr. Sabine was a bully. Mr. Lyndon's answers dropped as
politely and coldly as ice-water. Did Mr. Sabine realize the position
of affairs? Had he the least idea that his wife and Lyndon had once
loved each other? Apparently not. He said something about fetching
Mrs. Sabine and having his valise taken down to the steamer, and went
out of the parlour. We could hear Alec and Mr. Lyndon talking to each
other. Alec congratulated him on his reappointment, and Mr. Lyndon
answered drearily--

"The Government thought they were bound to do something for me,
though they need not have bothered themselves. I wish they had put me
anywhere else but in Stonehampton. I hate the place, and the whole
thing. It's rather like the triumphant return of the persecuted hero
in the melodrama, isn't it?--only there's no villain in this piece. In
the melodrama the wronged hero always comes back to marry his true and
faithful love, the also persecuted and virtuous heroine, and that's
not in this play either. I suppose," he added with an abrupt laugh, "a
good many nasty reasons were found for my keeping out of the colony?"

"Well, I almost wonder you didn't come back and fight it out," said
Alec.

"Perhaps I should if I had been guilty. The truth is, that I didn't
care. What satisfaction would there have been in throwing up a good
billet at Singapore to come back here and defend myself against the
braying of contemptible asses? There was one person who I thought
would have believed in me; whose faith I wouldn't have insulted by
writing a line of denial. When that person doubted--well, one didn't
trouble oneself about the rest."

Lina made no movement while he was speaking, only a deep, long
indrawing of her breath, as a woman does when in great pain. Then she
seemed to become suddenly nerveless; her hand dropped from my arm. She
sank noiselessly upon the bed, and sat limp and huddled up, her face
only tense and strained, the eyebrows drawn together, the lips parted,
the blue eyes wide. There was something very dramatic in the whole
situation--the unconsciousness of the man, the agony of the woman--
nothing but that thin wooden wall, and the tragedy of a ruined faith
between them--the commonplace sounds and incidents as the waiter
brought in coffee and cognac, and Alec joked about the "stick"--which
is Australian for a petit verre--at that early hour in the morning.
Mr. Sabine, who had come back, did not see that it was a joke, and
resentfully maintained the benefit to be derived from a dose of rum
and milk before breakfast. Mr. Sabine's fractiousness was allayed
somewhat by the mention of races which were to be held at a bush-place
near Stonehampton, and for which he wanted to get up a Corinthian with
gentleman riders. He had a racer about whose speed he bragged loudly.
Then the warning bell rang on the steamer, and Mr. Sabine began to
fuss and to grumble that he could find his wife nowhere. All the time
Lina sat perfectly motionless and indifferent to what he was saying,
as though she had got past the stage of caring for that.

"I hope you'll keep your wife in better order than I can mine, when
you've got a wife, Lyndon," said Mr. Sabine, with noisy familiarity.
"I don't know where Mrs. Sabine has got to--gadding up to the Judge's,
or gossiping over with Mrs. Jarvis, I suppose. Anyhow, I can't hunt
for her. The steamer will be off presently. Are you fellows coming?
Get your wife to teach mine her duty. Ansdell." And he went out. We
heard him down below in the bar calling out something to Captain
Jarvis, and bidding Sykes look after Mrs. Sabine till he came back.
Then the steamer bell rang again loudly. Alec and Mr. Lyndon hurried
off, too, and Lina and I were alone. Chapter VII. Lina's Story.

I WAITED a little while for Lina to speak, but she sat still on the
foot of the bed, her eyes fixed on vacancy, her hands loosely clasping
her knees, never looking at me nor saying a word. I went up to her and
kissed her silently. "My dear," I said. I was not much older than Lina
in reality, but I felt then as if I had been her mother. She took no
notice of me for a minute or two, then said, in a harsh, quavering
voice, "Well--you heard, Mrs. Ansdell."

"Call me Rachel, Lina."

"Well, Rachel, you heard. I was the woman he counted on to believe
in him. I was the woman whose faith he wouldn't insult by writing to
tell her he wasn't a thief. Oh, why didn't he write? Why didn't he
write? Why did he believe in me?

"You didn't doubt him, Lina?"

"Yes, I did. I loved him, and yet I thought it might be true--true
that he was a thief. I'm not a lady, you know. I didn't understand the
way gentlemen take these things. I was set on marrying a gentleman,
Rachel, you see--and I have married a gentleman! You mightn't think,
perhaps, that Mr. Sabine was an English gentleman; but it's true. It's
printed in the Baronetage of Great Britain. I heard it before he
proposed to me; and Milly Robinson, whom I stayed with in
Stonehampton, she read it too. And we talked over everything
together--it never was my way not to talk over things; and we settled
that a man who was falsely accused would have written at once to tell
the girl he loved that he was innocent. That was the way we argued. We
didn't know, either of us, that sometimes a gentleman is too proud to
deny a base charge--to the woman he loves."

"Lina," I said, "I don't quite understand; for if you were engaged
to Mr. Lyndon, surely he would have written."

Lina altered her position a little. She looked at me questioningly
for a moment, then away again.

"No? You don't know? Your husband didn't tell you about me?"

"Alec never told me any of your secrets, Mrs. Sabine."

"I like Alec Ansdell for that. I always liked him. I think it was
because he didn't make love to me." Oh, Alec!--my heart gave a little
bound. "But he must have known," Lina went on. "I wanted a letter
taken to--to Mr. Lyndon at the very last." Her voice lowered and
quavered again. "I was a little beside myself. I couldn't let him go,
and not make him understand that I--that there was a bond between us,
and that I meant to be true to it--I did mean to be true, then. I
wrote, and there was nobody I could trust with the letter but Alec
Ansdell--I trusted him."

I felt a glow at the thought that Alec had been true to poor Lina's
trust. That seemed to bring us two women very near together. I sat
down on the bed beside her, and stroked her hand, and told her all I
felt; and I asked her to try and look upon me as her sister, and
confide in me.

Lina turned on me the dreariest and most heart-rending look, and then
in her odd flighty way she laughed a harsh little laugh, and made a
sudden tragicomic gesture.

"'I'd rather be a toad and bay the moon, than keep a corner in the
thing I love for daws to peck at,'" she cried. "That's how Mr. Sandy
Macbean quoted Shakespeare when in a very tragic mood he proposed to
me. Did you ever meet Sandy Macbean--the man whose 'forte is tragedy'?
My forte is tragedy; but I will confide in you, Rachel, for all that,
and here's my heart to peck at."

Presently, in a broken, simple way, she told me her story. It was a
very common story--only that of a girl who had been educated above her
surroundings--a susceptible, artistic girl with a natural dramatic
capacity for making situations, and with a certain depth of feeling
below an outward shallowness and impressionability. "You wouldn't
believe how sensitive I am," the poor thing said, "though I have got
no 'born call' to be sensitive, as they say about here. It is
horrible. Everything always jarred upon me. My father and mother and
brothers and sisters jar upon me. My husband jars upon me--though he
is a gentleman--my whole life is a jar. And it has always seemed to me
so wrong and so unjust. I have always felt that I was meant to be
happy. I was determined that I would make myself happy, and do what I
wanted. That was my undoing. I wanted to make Mr. Lyndon fall in love
with me; at first just because I saw that he didn't want to fall in
love, and had put his whole mind on other things. I did all I could to
make him fond of me, and I succeeded. But I was punished for it,
Rachel. I fell in love with him myself. And do you know what being in
love with a man is? It's giving him the right to torture you. He
doesn't mean to do it; but he does it all the same. Oh, I did love
him! I have never in my whole life loved any one like that. And yet"--
again she laughed in that miserable fashion--"I didn't love him well
enough to believe he could be honest." She was silent for a few
moments, her gaze fixed drearily on the wooden wall. "I'd give a great
deal to take that year out of my life," she exclaimed passionately.
"Why aren't we allowed the power of rubbing a sponge over bits of our
slates? There's no good in remembering. It doesn't make one better; it
makes one worse. I haven't even the poor satisfaction of thinking that
he treated me badly," she went on. "When his appointment was done away
with, he would have gone without saying a word--without telling me
that he cared for me, or getting any promise from me--he was very
strong. But one night, the very last, I made him tell me. He wouldn't
take any promise. He wouldn't let me speak, lest, he said, I should
say something that it might be better for me were left unsaid. He told
me that he had made a vow to himself not to think of love or marriage
till his father's debts were paid, and his mother and sisters provided
for. He said that even if there were no pressing duty he would not
involve a girl in a long, unsatisfactory engagement, or drag her into
a poor marriage--he had seen enough of that. And so he wouldn't even
let me say that I cared for him. He said that he had given himself two
years for his task, and that then if I was unmarried he would come to
me. I saw that he was struggling against himself. I saw that he didn't
believe in me. ..." Lina stopped and put her hands to her face for an
instant, as if she were shutting in something. "It was the very last
night," she resumed, almost in a whisper, "and we were alone in Milly
Robinson's verandah--oh, I can see it all now!--the little thin moon,
and the paddock with the holes where we went craw fishing, and the
shrubs in the garden. I can smell the stephanotis--it was all in bloom
at the end of the verandah--and the verbena that I was crumpling in my
hands while he talked, and I looked up at his side face, all stern and
rigid. He wouldn't look at me, not even when he said that he loved me.
Oh, I loathe and I love the scent of verbena--we've got a bush of it
at Akobaora." Her voice flamed out and sank once more. "He wouldn't
let me speak. He only took the bit of verbena from my hand and put it
in his breast, and he was gone, and I've never seen him since, till
to-day. I saw him, but he didn't see me." The despair in her tone was
poignant.

"But you wrote to him?" I urged.

"Yes, I wrote to him. I couldn't let him go like that. I wrote to
him. I said that I loved him, and that I would wait. I don't know what
I said. I grow hot sometimes when I think of it. I gave the letter to
Alec Ansdell, and he gave it to him just as the steamer was going.
This was his answer."

She held out her right hand. On the third finger was a guard ring,
with an Eastern arabesque pattern upon it. "He took that off his
little finger," she said, "and sent it to me. He told Alec to tell me
that it was his pledge. There was no time to write then; but I got a
little letter from him from Cape York, the only letter he ever wrote
to me. He said in it that though the ring pledged him, I was
completely free. He said he had learned my dear letter"--she dwelt
pathetically on the phrase--"by heart, and had kissed it and burned
it, and that I must not let him be a clog on my life, or turn away
because of him from anyone I thought I could love better--anyone who
would make me happier. Well, Rachel, that's all. In a month after he
had gone it came out about the defalcations. Everybody was against
him, and he didn't write. I know I am a weak, easily--persuaded girl.
I must always fly before the wind. The wind drove me from him. I
wasn't strong enough to stand still and face it. I'm not strong like
him, in that kind of way. I am strong in some ways, and I won't let
myself be crushed now. I've got the sort of nature, Rachel, that makes
people commit suicide to be out of a trouble. My love was a trouble to
me, and I tried to kill it by marrying Mr. Sabine."

There was a little silence between us. I did not know what to say.

"I suppose you couldn't have done that," Lina said suddenly. "You
can't understand it. But you would if you'd been me. If you'd had to
live at Coolibah Flat, you'd have hated it just as I did. And you'd
have got tired of waiting and wondering and lying awake at night,
crying and aching here." She pressed her hand tragically upon her
bosom. "It's such a real pain that I often fancy there's something the
matter with my heart. No; you'd have said to yourself, 'I won't let my
life be spoiled. I'll get away from it all and forget.' It doesn't
take me long to forget. That's part of my disposition. I had almost
forgotten. And then, when I heard that he was in the steamer, and--
and--to see him and hear him speak like that--oh, it hurts. I can't
bear it. And they laugh; they're laughing outside and drinking! and
that's life--and we've got to bear it; and to laugh, too."

She had broken into sobs. She flung herself forward on the bed, and
lay, her head buried, her body shaking. I could only look on. There
was no use in trying to comfort her; and I felt that it was better the
storm should spend itself. After a few minutes it passed over. She
lifted herself like a lily that rises when it has been beaten down by
wind and rain. She pushed her pretty fair hair away from her face, and
wiped the wet from her drowned eyes, laughing hysterically.

"I have made a nice exhibition of myself, haven't I? Don't you
despise me? But you shall see that I have got some pride, though I am
not a lady. No, I know what you are going to say." She stopped me as I
began to protest against her estimate of herself. "It's quite true.
I'm not genuine mahogany. I'm only iron-bark grown at Coolibah, and
veneered at a Sydney manufactory of manners, don't you see? You
needn't think, though, that I'm going to make a fool of myself. I'm
too proud for that. I mean to forget. I mean to be happy. I mean to
get my money's worth out of life. We are going home, you know, as soon
as Mr. Sabine has settled his affairs. Then it will be easy to forget.
So few girls have the chance of marrying a rich man, and of being
taken to England--into a baronet's family."

She had got up, and was standing before the looking-glass, smoothing
her ruffled hair, and then dabbing her eyes with a wet handkerchief.
Presently she turned to me, making one of her pretty quick gestures,
and saying, with a kind of half-mournful, half-playful vivacity--

"Will you unlock the door for me and let me out now? I think we have
had enough of tragedy for one morning. I'm going to be gay, for a
change. I abolish the past--grim, grisly spectre, it may go and make
other people miserable. I'll not have it near me. Good-bye. You shall
rest, and I will go up to the Judge's and eat grapes."

I unlocked the door for her. I could not help kissing her as she went
out. She warmly returned the kiss.

"Now we have made a compact of friendship," she said; "and you won't
tell tales on me. I wish you'd soon ask me over to the Island. I don't
mind the mosquitoes, and I know how to efface myself when you and Alec
want to honeymoon."

She was an odd creature. Her moods puzzled me. Sometimes I wondered
what had been the meaning of this wild ebullition of feeling. It was
almost impossible to believe that it had been quite real when I heard
her talking brightly with Alec, laughingly recalling episodes of her
Stonehampton visits, and even composedly asking a question or two
about Mr. Lyndon. Alec said that she was a born actress, and had begun
to imagine herself into a new part. I suspected, however, that it
might mean something more than this, and gave her credit for repenting
of her hysterical outburst, and for an effort to prove herself capable
of self--control.

During the week we were together at Sykes's, she did not again speak
of her poor little love-story. Her mind seemed feverishly set upon
leaving Australia, and breaking all the links with her old life. She
was always talking of how they would sail immediately Mr. Sabine had
settled the affairs of his reef, and how she meant to enjoy herself in
England. She had evidently determined, as she phrased it, to get her
money's worth out of life. I admired her for her spirit. I pitied her
as one might pity a brave child, struggling against tears, and
determined not to show it had been beaten. I was touched inexpressibly
to see how the poor thing withered up when Mr. Sabine came back, and
how all her vivacity was quenched, under the influence of her
husband's quarrelsome, braggart manner. She had a certain
sensitiveness, physical as well as moral, which made her shrink away
when he snubbed her, as was a way of his less from unkindness than
from desire to show his importance. He was a bully, and never lost an
opportunity of asserting himself over his weaker brethren. Perhaps the
Gundabinian tendency to "sample," which was exemplified to a
remarkable degree in Mr. Sabine, contributed to intensify his
fractiousness. He had his good points, however; he was liberal with
his money, and he very often did good-natured things. I have known him
in the midst of a cantankerous disputation, in which he was doing his
best to offend everybody, go out and give three or four sovereigns to
some man who came to him with a pitiful tale about a sick wife; then
he would come back, snap at his own wife, and snarl at us all in his
resentive, choleric fashion. He liked to be king of his company, and
would curry favour with the selectors and storekeepers by introducing
Lina to them. He was very proud of her, and would trot her out for the
admiration of his friends as if she had been the chief attraction of a
travelling show of which he was the master. He would bid her wear this
dress or that; would decorate her with jewellery; would tell her to be
amusing, and then, if his mood changed, would contemptuously snuff out
her small sallies by advising her not to make a fool of herself.
Certainly, but for the incontrovertible testimony of Burke, no one
would have imagined Mr. Sabine to be a man of patrician descent. He
took Lina back to Akobaora before Alec would allow me to return to the
Island. My exile, however, was not a very long one. By good luck, a
well-recommended "married couple" in want of a situation turned up at
Gundabine, and we engaged them forthwith. Mrs. McGilray was a huge,
ungainly Scotchwoman, so tough and dry that when conscientiously
putting before her the inconveniences she might have to suffer on the
Island, we did not think it necessary to lay great stress upon the
onslaughts of the mosquitoes. Mrs. McGilray courageously expressed it
as her opinion that all the talk against the Island was nothing but a
pack of havers, and what she told us of her capabilities in the matter
of pickled rounds of cream cheeses, "singit head," and oatmeal cakes
made our mouths water. I felt that we should be safe with Mrs.
McGilray; perhaps I had better say here that, on the whole, she
justified my confidence, and that McGilray, a short, dapper man, with
a perky, encouraging way of saying after everything, "And why not,
sir?" who had been a ship's carpenter, and knew how to sail a boat as
well as understanding the culture of vegetables, would wipe from the
Island the stigma of having no "odd-job man."

Altogether things looked brighter. At full moon the big mob was
crossed to the mainland, and though Alec's graphic description of the
scene at the Narrows--of the heaving, tossing, roaring mass of cattle
urged into the sea by the cracking of stock-whips, the breaks away and
furious gallops into the bush, the excited horses with dripping sides
and reddened nostrils, spurred by their riders in and out the water,
plunging this way and that, and swimming up and down stream in pursuit
of some fugitive beast--made me sorry that I had not been there to
see; still I was rejoiced at the thought of finding the Island cleared
of "extra hands," free from the bustle of the muster, and, above all,
quit of Mrs. Tillidge.

The pilot schooner, freighted with our long-delayed furniture, all
the goods and chattels over which Loftus had made merry, took us and
our married couple up the Narrows; and, though when we reached the
landing the mosquitoes were as ferocious as ever, the new buggy was
waiting, and my second entry into my kingdom seemed far less
ignominious than the first.



Chapter VIII. The Great Fire.



DOMESTIC affairs at the Island, which in the beginning were chaos,
resolved themselves before long into order, under the light and
leading of Mr. and Mrs. McGilray. Undoubtedly, Providence had had a
finger in the selection of this peerless "married couple." The
McGilrays seemed to combine all the virtues and to exhibit none of the
vices which had distinguished one or other of each "married couple" of
my previous experience. I could write an essay on Bush married
couples--but I forbear. Let the Tillidges suffice for one example; the
McGilrays for another. McGilray was the perfect type of a handy odd-
job man; and, as for Mrs. McGilray, I only wished that Loftus could
make her acquaintance. I felt sure that if anything could reconcile
Loftus to the thought of our fate on the Island, it would be Mrs.
McGilray's way of stewing salt junk. To her Brunton Stephens, the
Australian poet, might have addressed his panegyric upon his Chinee
cook:--

"There was nothing in creation that he didn't put to use.
And the less he got to cook with, all the more he did produce;
All nature was his kitchen range, likewise his cookery book--
Neither Soyer nor Meg Dod could teach that knowing Chinee cook."

Alec and I sometimes consulted together in alarmed foreboding as to
whether there might not be some dark secret of the law behind Mrs.
McGilray's tragic contentment and incomparable ragots, and whether
Alec, too, in his character of Justice of the Peace, might not find
himself moaning in the words of the narrator of the poem:--

"Oh, art, and taste, and piquancy, my happy board forsook.
When I came the J.P. over my lamented Chinee cook."

After our return from Gundabine, our first aim was to put things to
rights at the head station, and to make ourselves comfortable. Now
that the big mob of cattle had crossed the Narrows, there was no need
to take much trouble about stockkeeping. Brown, the lanky Australian
youth, was kept on as being equal to all present emergencies, while
Alec wrote letters to agencies and cast about the district for a
worthy successor to Tillidge. The horses--most of them having sore
backs and girth-galls after the muster--were turned out to "spell" in
the bush. Island Billy was set to break in new milkers--so far, cream
and butter had been unknown luxuries, and the supply of milk not to be
depended upon. Weare, the carpenter, who had come back with us in the
pilot schooner, was taken off the stockyard job, and turned into the
kitchen, where he fixed up an open range, and built in a Colonial
oven, welcome indeed after our previous difficulties in the matter of
baking. Alec and McGilray began operations in the garden, cleaned out
and remodelled the meat--store and dairy, and whitewashed the fowl-
house--certain barn-door missionaries, comfortable clucking domestic
speckled hens, which we had bought in Gundabine, being turned out to
preach morals and manners among the lawless Spanish brood--while Mrs.
McGilray and Black Charlie mopped, swept, and scrubbed within doors.
Mrs. McGilray put me in mind of Loftus in her untiring energy, only
she set to work in a much more solemn and portentous manner than had
been Loftus's wont. She stalked about like a grim, gaunt destiny,
five-foot-ten high, in bird's--eye cotton, wearing a mushroom hat, to
the brim of which a frill of mosquito-netting was fastened and
gathered in round her neck. This was the only sign she gave of being
troubled by the mosquitoes. Perhaps they found her too tough a morsel
to be pleasant eating, and left her alone. At any rate, she made no
complaint, and listened in sublime contempt to McGilray's half-
jocular, half-pathetic grumblings, which floated across the yard to us
in the office.

"I'm just put beside my understanding, Janet, for I'm thinking that
these beasties are the Lord's way of telling us that the blacks are no
more than the lost tribes of Israel turned up in Australia, and that
we are not treating them as we ought. I wouldn't mind so much if
they'd got the length of making bricks for the forge chimney," pursued
McGilray, ruminatively; "but if we're to be afflicted with the seven
plagues of Egypt, I'd rather they went on in the Bible order. I'd be
glad, for the sake of variety, to take a spell at frogs and darkness."

Mrs. McGilray was a woman of heroic nature as well as of heroic size.
She had a genius for organization, and in a very short time had
accomplished wonders, apportioning to each of us the task best suited
to his or her strength and capacity. She even utilised old Sentilena,
who still hung about the place, brought up crabs, scared away hawks,
and looked, it seemed to me, a grotesque ghost of my courtship days,
for she had discarded the tattered red blanket for an old pink gown,
which I had worn when Alec proposed to me. It is true that, for
sentimental reasons, I had cherished this gown even though it was no
longer wearable; but as I was unpacking my trunks at the edge of the
verandah and shaking out the cockroaches from my clothes--they had got
in at Bell's warehouse--Sentilena sidled up insinuatingly to inspect
the finery, her one eye gleaming, her toothless jaws expanding in
aboriginal ejaculations of wonder and delight.

"Tsch! Tsch! My word! Budgery that, missus!" Then, some ancient
instinct of coquetry reviving, she snatched up the pink dress, slipped
it over her head, and holding it against her waist, executed a
corroboree "pas seul" on the grass. Finally, she declared that if I
would give her the gown, and a whole fig of tobacco, she would "sit
down one moon along a humpey, make altogether tin pot plenty clean,
and fetch up eli* every morning"; whereas if I refused, she would
immediately yan (go away) and--awful threat!--take Black Charlie with
her. I thought Sentilena's "eli" were worth buying--to say nothing of
Charlie, and the cleaning of the tin-pots, into which Mrs. McGilray
had as yet vainly tried to persuade her, so I threw sentiment to the
wind, and presented her with the sacred gown, which, I may remark,
was, after contact with Sentilena's person, redolent of other
associations than those of a hallowed past. It gave Alec quite a start
and qualm, when he came up from the yard, to see Sentilena, her
hideous wealed face and bony extremities protruding from this garment
of romance, as she squatted on the kitchen doorstep, her pipe in her
mouth, filled as per contract, surrounded by an array of greasy tin--
dishes, soot-caked frying-pans, and dirty saucepans, which Mrs.
McGilray had collected from various parts of the establishment, and
had bidden her scrape clean with a broken-bladed knife.

Before many days had passed we had greatly changed our mode of living
and the aspect of the house. The floors were spotless; canvas lounges
stood invitingly in the breezy south-east end of the verandah; glass
and china were ranged on the pantry shelves; snowy mosquito curtains
draped all the beds, and old boxes had been turned into dressing--
tables with muslin flounces. The terrible blue of the sitting-room
walls had been softened by engravings and wooden brackets; the
aggressive oilcloth was partly covered with rugs; flowered chintz
veiled the horse--hair sofa, and the pickings of Loftus's ducks had
stuffed cushions for the wooden arm-chairs. Our wedding presents were
set about on small tables of McGilray's manufacture, and dark blinds
at the French windows subdued the awful glare of the western sun.
Christo, the Angora goat, was banished from his quarters in the bath
and penned in the fold with the plebeian goats, and we found that, by
extemporising a screen and leaving open the bath-room door, we could
let in the south-east breeze without bad result to ourselves, and make
a draught that was decidedly unpleasant for the mosquitoes.

But now a wonderful event happened, which was as memorable in the
annals of the Island as the Hegira in those of the Caliphate. It was
scorching weather, even for February. There had not been a
thunderstorm for weeks. A burning sun had withered up every blade of
grass; the leaves of the gum-trees gave forth a peculiar dry rustle as
a faint wind stirred them. All day a terrible heat brooded and stilled
every sound of bird or insect life except the metallic whirring of the
cicadoe which reached the house from the wattle thicket on the ridge.
As one looked over the country to the ocean on one side, and to the
Narrows on the other, the low, wooded ridges showed a dull grey-brown
instead of the usual blue-green of the eucalyptus foliage. There were
fires on the mainland, and the outlines of Mount Akobaora loomed dimly
through the smoke. Every breath was as if it came from a furnace, and
the beasts on the near camps lolled with protruding tongues, and could
hardly be got away from the water-holes.

Alec was a little anxious, and watched the clouds eagerly for a sign
of rain. Island Billy was sent to scout, and to warn away any blacks
who might be camping near the fences, and whose fires might spread and
set light to the grass, which, in such weather as this, would burn
like tinder. Island Billy reported that, if there were any blacks,
they must be camped on the coast, and, unless a south-easterly gale
sprang up, there was not much fear of their doing damage. Alec
congratulated himself once more upon being the possessor of an island
run, where there were no boundaries to guard, and, having some
important business in Gundabine, set off one afternoon with Brown for
the South End, intending to cross that night in a skiff which we now
kept in the boathouse, and which made us independent of Rame and of
head-winds in the Narrows.

When I went to bed that night, the heat was still intense, the air
close and muggy, the horizon to the westward smoke-obscured, and the
mosquitoes swarming in myriads. Buckets of burning grass-tree were set
along the verandah, and in the sitting-room and my bed-room I had
lighted pans of Persian insect powder, the smoke of which had a
soporific effect on the mosquitoes, and though we ourselves suffered
from it as if we had been narcotised, this was preferable to the
attacks of our tormentors. About the small hours I was awakened from a
heavy sleep by the banging of the French windows as they crashed
backwards and forwards, the roaring of a gale round the exposed corner
of the house, and a strange flapping above my head, which I soon
discovered was caused by the canvas ceiling having been torn from its
fastenings by the wind penetrating beneath the caves, and having
partially fallen, so that it was blown to and fro in the most uncanny
manner. I got up, made fast the window as best I could, struck a
light, and looked at my watch. My heart stood still at the thought
that at about this time the tide would serve for Alec, and that unless
deterred by the gale--which I felt to be unlikely, for he was in a
hurry to get back--he would now be crossing that dangerous Gundabine
Bay. I went back to bed, and lay awake for a long time listening to
the wind, and haunted by the remembrance of that black, tossing sea,
and the thought of the little boat racing before the blast and pursued
by those great hungry, foam-tipped waves, that seemed to my excited
memory like awful monsters springing greedily towards their prey. I
dozed off, but woke again, shivering with dread and with fateful
conviction, from a dream vivid as reality, in which I saw a strip of
shingly beach standing out distinct in the gloom of night, with black
rocks jutting out into a milky sea, and breakers dashing over them;
and Alec himself, his face white and his hair streaming with wet,
borne up on the curve of a glassy wave, flinging out his arms and
clinging to a rock as the wave roared on.

I looked again at my watch; it was four o'clock. I did not need to
reason with myself. I knew as well as though I had been at Alec's side
that his boat had been capsized near the Chinaman's Island, half-way
across Gundabine Bay, I knew, too, that Alec was safe. After the first
shuddering terror there came to me indeed a sensation of relief. Alec
was not drowned; nothing more could happen that night. I knew that he
was safe. He would remain on the Chinaman's deserted island till
daybreak, and then he would signal, and Rame would take him off.

I can't account for this "ghostly" experience of mine. The psychical
scientists would say that it was an instance of telepathic
communication. Perhaps centuries hence an enlightened generation will
have acquired the art of communicating telepathically at will. It is
quite clear to me that my soul was with Alec that night. It has been
equally clear to me several times in my life, that while I lay asleep
my soul flew over miles of intervening space, and made itself known to
one dear to me. Sometimes the soul of that other one has visited me,
and long afterwards we two, in the flesh, have compared times and
conditions and feelings, and have told each other that this thing
certainly was.

I did not stay in bed any longer, but got up, a new fear striking me.
The wind shrieked and wailed, making the wooden building shake on its
piles, and hurling the canvas seats against the palisading of the
verandah. The ceiling flapped like some giant bat; and the goats,
which had a way of escaping from their fold on stormy nights and
collecting under the house, made strange noises with their scraping
horns and tinkling bells and melancholy bleating, which heightened the
uproar of the wild night. When I had put on my clothes I went out into
the verandah and stood at the corner which jutted out upon the bald
brow of the hill. It was like being on the deck of a ship. I saw a
curious sight. To the right and to the left of me, as I faced south,
the horizon was lurid. On the mainland, Mount Akobaora was like a
volcano belching flame. The fire was blazing on its summit, and spread
down the deep gullies along its sides in zigzag rifts, giving the
appearance of streams of molten lava. Right down to the shore were
vivid patches and wavy lines of light. There was nothing to be alarmed
at in this. The Narrows lay between us, and I only wondered vaguely if
Lina Sabine was at home to enjoy the sight. But to my left, oceanward,
there climbed swiftly over the rocky ridge what seemed like an array
of strange fiery forms advancing in scattered ranks, extending to the
width, perhaps, of half a mile. I remembered having noticed a thin
curl of smoke against the sky late that afternoon; but it had given me
no anxiety, for the air was so still, and what wind there was came
from the north-west. But now the gale was blowing straight in my face.
The bush was on fire. Alec was away; and what was to save the
stockyard--the pride of the island--and our paddock fences? On the top
of that distant ridge, which for a space was arid and stony, I could
see the tall gum-trees standing out at the edge of the bush, and the
fire twisting up their limbs like red-hot serpents. Even as I watched,
the flames--blown over the intervening rocky patch--caught the tops of
the gum-trees, and spread down the ridge till it seemed a sheet of
fire. Dawn broke and paled the illumination. I knew that below the
ridge lay a morass some miles in extent, green with she-oak, and
probably retaining moisture enough to offer a check to the fire. In
this morass dwelt a number of wild pigs, those which had afforded
sport to Loftus and Lazarus. After the inconsequent fashion of such
fancies, I thought of Elia's essay, and the possible gastronomical
discovery of an aboriginal Bo-bo, and I wondered whether the origin of
bush fires might not be traced, like the Chinese epidemic of
conflagration, to roast pig.

But it was not a time for airy speculation. I roused up the
McGilrays, who, in their turn, called the black boys. At daybreak we
were all standing on the highest part of the hill, gazing in
consternation at the fire, which, apparently having met with a barrier
at the morass, had divided, but was creeping round to south and north,
and would ere long meet again in the dry gum forest on the other side.

I asked McGilray helplessly whether it was not possible to do
something by which the fences and the stockyard might be secured. The
stockyard lay at the foot of the hill, and had no barrier between it
and the oncoming fire except a range of broken, unconnected water-
holes.

"And what for no, mem?" replied McGilray, perking up his chin after
the usual formula; but he collapsed immediately, and remarked weakly
that he and the two black boys, and all the green wattle boughs they
could carry would be very little use in beating out such a fire as
that; while Island Billy could only suggest darkly, "Mine think it
Bunyip sit down alongee swamp," as though that fabulous monster of
aboriginal legend must be in some way responsible for the whole
business, and McGilray added that he judged it might be a good thing
to collect our valuables and the station ledgers and make for the
boat.

Mrs. McGilray had said nothing as yet, but now she turned upon
McGilray with a scorn that is indescribable, and uttered the one
syllable--"Man!" "I'm thinking," she said to me, after a moment's
pause, "that if we could burn the grass all along the waterholes
before the fire gets near, we might save the stockyard; but there's no
time to lose."

Mrs. McGilray mustered the available hands, six of us, counting
Sentilena and the black boys. She despatched McGilray and the boys to
cut wattle boughs and commence operations; then, directing me to put
on a stuff kirt and veil and my thickest boots, she dressed herself in
like manner, and before sunrise we two were tearing down the hill
towards the spot, a little way from the stockyard, where McGilray had
already started a thickly-spreading patch of smoke. The big water-hole
lay quite close to the stockyard; the little ones, some distance apart
from each other, describing a broken backward curve. Our object was to
burn the grass for a good many yards between them, so that when the
fire reached this point it would have nothing to feed upon.

The wind had gone down a little, and here it was much more sheltered
than on our exposed hill; nevertheless, the fires we kindled spread
rapidly, and in a few minutes had gained the line where we were placed
at intervals prepared with green branches to beat out the flames. It
was hard work, but to me by no means new. I had helped before now to
beat down a bush fire. The dead leaves and dry grass crackled and
spluttered; we were enveloped in a cloud of thick smoke, and the wind
blew a shower of fine ashes against our breasts and faces.
Fortunately, here the timber was scant, and there was less danger of
the fire getting the better of us. We were too excited to think of
reptiles lurking in the long grass and undergrowth. Once a black snake
glided past my feet, and another time, Island Billy, shouting "death
adder," flung away his bough, snatched up a stick, and began to
belabour what at first sight seemed a short, stumpy bit of log lying
on an ant track. Now and then, a startled opossum would leap up,
uttering its queer guttural "gr-r-r"; or a jew lizard, routed off a
fallen tree, would elevate its extraordinary ruff, stand still and
hiss for a minute, and then move on; or an iguana would scurry ahead
of the smoke and make for the handiest gum tree. We fancied that we
could hear the roar of the more distant fire above the screeching of
the parrots and cockatoos which, disturbed by the commotion, circled
in noisy flights overhead. By nine o'clock a broad black belt
stretched away on each side from the big water-hole, and we felt that
the stockyard was safe.

Grimy and weary, we were turning back to the house, when Island Billy
cried, "Look, look, missus. Plenty fire; sit down along hill, close-up
humpy!"

The smouldering portion first set alight had broken out again,
unnoticed by us in the ardour of our task, and the fire was fast
climbing the hill on the Narrows side, where the long-bladed grass
grew rank in the steep gullies, and the ascent was too difficult to be
made except in cases of haste or emergency. I glanced with dismay at
the dead skeleton gums close to the house, and thought how readily
they would burn in this wind-swept spot, and how easily a spark might
be carried to the shingled roof, and destroy our dwelling. There was
nothing for it but to try and beat out the flames as they mounted the
brow of the hill.

Not in our success, but in our failure, lay the great achievement
which must for ever stand out in Island history. Nearly all the
vegetation on the plateau was burnt to tinder. I could almost have
cried at the blackness of the desolation. With difficulty we saved the
aloe and the poinsettia. Nothing but charred stubble remained of the
fat, tall grass tussocks, heaped up with the withered refuse of many a
summer, and the larvae of countless myriads of mosquitoes. There was
the secret. I began to realize it dimly when dusk came unaccompanied
by the low roar and the dense, brown, pricking swarm to which we had
grown accustomed. In burning those ancient grass tussocks, we had
burned the mosquitoes. It was indeed a blessed fact. Each succeeding
night proved its reality.

The fire raged nearly all that day. We watched it creep up to our
black barrier and slowly draw off sideways like a baffled foe, till
its course was hidden by the hills to the north of the head station.
But we could tell by the volumes of smoke and the look of the sky that
it was spreading; and, though the gale had fallen, I began to tremble
for the cattle and the winter supply of grass. At four o'clock the sky
darkened. Lightning flashed from the black masses of cloud on the
western horizon, which banked up till the gloom was of night. Thunder
pealed angrily. The stillness was like the holding of a world's
breath. Then the heavens burst, and rain and hail fell for the space
of half an hour. When the storm ceased, there was no more smoke. A
delicious coolness revived man and beast; the naked gullies gurgled
with running water, and birds and reptiles rejoiced.

*"Eli," crabs.



Chapter IX. Lina's Fancies.



IT was a great surprise when, the next morning, at the time of high
tide, Brown came up on foot from the Narrows, appearing by the short
cut up the charred hill-side, whence he shouted to me that he had
orders to put Smiler in the buggy at once, and go down to the landing
for Alec and Mrs. Sabine. I was sorry that Lina's arrival had not been
delayed till the green grass had had time to spring up, but glad that,
at least after she left the landing, she would not be devoured by
mosquitoes. I wondered within myself whether Mr. Sabine was of the
party, and devoutly hoped that he had remained at Gundabine. All was
explained when the buggy drove up. Lina, looking fragile, nervous, and
lovely, told me that Mr. Sabine had gone up to the north on business,
leaving her in Gundabine, and that she and Alec had made a plan
between them, and he had brought her over in Rame's boat, and that she
was going to keep me company while Alec was in Sydney. For Alec had
received letters in Gundabine referring to the clearing off in part of
our mortgage, and the remittance which his father had sent out from
England, and was obliged to start for Sydney with the least possible
delay. He explained all this to me as soon as we were alone. There was
something more than the emotion of an ordinary greeting and imminent
leave-taking in his manner. I knew what it meant, and I knew that he
would try to keep from me the danger he had run in crossing the bay,
so as to save me anxiety in the future.

"Oh! Alec," I cried, breaking down, "I might as well be a sailor's
wife at once. I shall never know a moment's peace when you are away,
and there is a south-easter blowing. Let us sell this place as soon as
we can, and go and live on the mainland."

Alec reasoned with me gently, assuring me that since the Island had
been inhabited by white men, there had hardly been one serious boating
accident. But when I said to him, gravely, "Alec, I want to know what
was happening to you about four o'clock in the early morning of
yesterday," he looked at me in a startled manner; and I told him the
story of my dream. It was all quite true. The gale had caught them as
they were sailing across the bay, and had upset the boat, fortunately
close to the Chinaman's Island. Alec and Brown had managed to swim
ashore, and in the morning they had signalled for Rame to take them
off. But the boat was lost for ever.

Alec went to Sydney by way of the pilot station, and Lina Sabine and
I were left alone. During Alec's last hours we two were selfishly
occupied with ourselves and with station business. Alec had a great
many directions to give--how I was to write up the station log
regularly; how Brown was to report to me each day's operations on the
run; near what particular camps the tailing mob was to be pastured,
and so on. Mrs. Sabine showed, too, that she had the faculty of
effacing herself, so that I did not notice at first how pale and
delicate she had become, what a depressed, frightened way she had, and
how nervously she started at the sudden sound of a footstep or the
slamming of a door.

It was Mr. Kempsey, the pilot, who seriously called my attention to
the change in Lina, since once he had travelled with her, in the
steamer from the Cape to Stonehampton, when she was bright, beautiful
Lina Trass. Mr. Kempsey rode down from the pilot station to buy meat,
the day after Alec went, bringing back the pack-horse laden with more
Tasmanian apples and smuggled jam. Mr. Kempsey, in his rough sailor
blouse, with his weather-beaten face and kindly eyes, was always a
welcome sight. He took the deepest interest in our affairs, and, as
most of our important business was transacted by telegraph, he and
Polly were in nearly all our secrets. His delight in the extirpation
of the mosquitoes was almost more than he could express. It would find
vent in spasmodic congratulations jerked into every pause in the
conversation. But I could see that his eyes were constantly wandering
to Lina, and just before he left, when I was weighing out the meat for
him in the store, he said anxiously and confidentially--

"Mrs. Ansdell, you'll have your hands full presently, I'm afraid,
with that pretty piece of white and gold chaney in there. She ain't
fitted for being left to herself in the bush with a husband like that
Mr. Sabine, who is never happy unless he is making a row. She is one
of the laughing--crying sort, all nerves and fancies, that as like as
not will go melancholy if they ain't always cottered. She's that
'unked' now, that I shouldn't wonder if she did go melancholy; and if
she does, you just take my advice and bring her up to the pilot
station, and I'll ship you to Stonehampton to the doctor."

There was a good deal of truth in what Mr. Kempsey said. He had some
odd phrases, and his "unked," which meant sick, sorry, and something
of what the Scotch call "fey," somehow expressed Lina's condition. She
was certainly very much altered. I was able to observe the dreary
expression of her face when it was in repose; she had grown terribly
thin. Her pretty, vivacious manner of gesticulation seemed to have
become a travesty of itself. Her large, bright, blue eyes had a
pathetic, startled, at times frightened, look. She alternated between
a hysterical kind of gaiety and listless depression. Though she would
sit silent for ever so long at a time, she could not bear to be alone,
and would follow me about the house, among the chickens, and into the
kitchen, apologising with her joyless little laugh, and saying that
she had been almost entirely by herself at Akobaora of late, and that
it had got upon her nerves.

Something had undoubtedly got upon her nerves. I wondered whether it
was Mr. Lyndon's return, and regret for her want of faith in him; or
whether, as I suspected, her marriage had turned out a miserable
mistake. I felt certain that she was most unhappy; but I did not know
how to approach her with sympathy. Since that wild burst of confidence
at Gundabine, she had drawn in within herself; and now, except for an
occasional bitter speech, she made no allusion to her own private
sorrows and disappointments.

One night, after I had gone to bed, she came to my room, wrapped in
her dressing-gown, and looking very pale and wild.

"Rachel," she said, "would you mind my staying here with you? I
don't know what has come to me. I can't bear to be by myself. My
nerves have gone all to pieces." And then she added, hesitatingly, and
almost in a whisper, "I have such horrible fancies."

I made her lie down on the bed, and took her hands in mine. Though
the night was quite hot, they were as cold as stones, and she was
shivering. I covered her with blankets and brought her some hot brandy
and water to drink, and gradually she got warm again.

"Lina," I asked, "what sort of fancies?"

She did not answer at once, and then she said abruptly, in a
resentful tone--

"It is a great mistake to suppose that people are not punished in
this world for having given others pain. The pain comes back on
oneself. A girl who behaves heartlessly is always paid out. That's
justice, but it is hard upon her when judgment comes."

"Lina," I said, "you are thinking of Mr. Lyndon, and there's no good
in that."

"No, I'm not," she replied. "I'm thinking about myself." She was
silent for awhile, then said, in a very low voice, "Rachel, do you
think one could ever get to hate a man so much that one would really
want him to die? Do you remember Gwendolen--in Daniel Deronda, you
know--and the dagger she locked away in her dressing-case? I feel like
Gwendolen. I'm frightened--frightened of myself."

She turned away from me, shuddering. I could not get her to tell me
anything more that night. By-and-by she seemed to sleep. It was not
till two or three nights afterwards, when the poor thing had another
nervous crisis, and woke up cold and trembling, and clinging to me,
beseeching me to save her from her bad thoughts, that I drew from her
what her trouble was.

Once she had begun, her confidence poured forth unchecked; and it
seemed a relief to her to open her heart. The trouble was what I had
guessed all along, intensified by ill-health, want of companionship,
and a naturally morbid tendency. She was very wretched. She had been
trying to make a brave fight, but Mr. Sabine frightened and cowed her
by his masterful, quarrelsome ways, his jeers, and his violent temper.
He did not mean to be cruel, she put in pathetically. He was only like
a schoolboy who pulls off flies' legs to show his superiority. It was
his nature. She described her lonely life at Akobaora: Mr. Sabine was
often at the mine; and when he was at home she wished, for peace sake,
that he would go away. She had no one to talk to. She was obliged to
bottle up her thoughts and all her gloomy imaginings. Mr. Sabine was
very angry with her if she seemed unhappy. Sometimes, when she felt
that she must cry, she would go out into the bush and hide herself
among the gum-trees and sob till her misery had for the time spent
itself. It was only the hope of soon leaving Australia that helped her
to endure. She felt that she had sold herself and had not yet been
paid the price. It was terrible; she hated herself, and she hated him
worse than she hated herself. If she lived that life much longer, she
knew that she must die or go mad. Now he said that he could not settle
up the affairs of his reef, and that they would not be able to go to
England, and then what could she do? How could she bear it? Did I
believe in people being under the influence of evil spirits? Sometimes
she fancied that it was an evil spirit which put wicked thoughts into
her mind--thoughts about her husband. The confession halted, and her
words came brokenly and with difficulty; it was because she was ill
and nervous. Oh, she knew that, she was always telling herself that;
and she would see a doctor when she went to Stonehampton. But knowing
that, didn't make the thoughts less dreadful; they frightened her.
What kind of thoughts? She did not like to tell me. I would think she
was mad. One kind was about a little pistol which Mr. Sabine kept
loaded in her bed-room. She was always seeing herself pulling the
trigger of that pistol. And another was about a Malay knife he had
brought from Singapore. She had locked away that knife, because she
was afraid of it. She was afraid of other things too. But all this was
less terrible than an awful feeling of dread--of spiritual
desolation--dread, she didn't know of what; she couldn't explain or
describe. It seized her suddenly at times--mostly when she was alone,
but very often when she was laughing and talking. It would come all in
a moment; it was like nothing I could imagine.

There was another fit of nervous trembling. I dosed her with sal
volatile, and playfully scolded her, making light of her revelations.
I told her that she needed rousing up, and cheering and tonicking;
that her blood didn't nourish her brain properly; that her nerves had
run down; that she had been reading too many sensational novels, and
had allowed her imagination to become morbid, and to get the better of
her good sense; and that a trip to town and a few bottles of steel
wine would set her all right again.

I felt more strongly, however, than I would let Lina see, and in my
heart shrank from the responsibility of keeping her for a fortnight in
the bush in her present shaky and nervous condition. I felt sure that
she ought to have medical advice and a change of scene from the
eternal gum-trees, and I determined that I would act on Mr. Kempsey's
suggestion, and take her to Stonehampton, where I had been told that
there was a clever and sympathetic doctor. Accordingly I summoned
Brown and McGilray, and after a consultation with them, decided upon
trusting to the pilots to put us on to a passing steamer. I felt that
I could not brave the Narrows again in a south-east wind, and without
Alec; and, besides, we should have to wait nearly a week for the
steamer, as so few called in at Gundabine. Brown was told to get in
the quietest horse in the paddock which would carry a lady. Lazarus
was chosen for me, and my own hack given to Mrs. Sabine. McGilray was
put in charge at the head--station during my absence, and it was
arranged that we should start that afternoon.

Lina took very kindly to the project. She got quite gay over the
packing of our saddle-bags; but I had no reason to regret my
resolution, for she relapsed again mentally and physically before we
had come to the end of our twenty miles ride.

I never saw a place so lonely as the pilot station. Except the faint
blue outline of the coast, on the other side of the Stonehampton
Harbour, there was nothing to be seen from it but sky and ocean. It
was a humped, treeless, swelling promontory covered with short grass,
that made it look as if it had been shorn, which stretched out from
the dense forest of the Island into the vast Pacific. There was a red
lighthouse at the point, with brown rocks sticking out like teeth
below it, and a little cluster of wooden houses seemed to grow like
mushrooms on the cliff. A few goats browsed on the green humps, and
the tall, bare telegraph poles stood out against the sky.

The chief pilot was away with his family on leave at this time. None
of the other men but Mr. Kempsey were married, and when we got down to
Mr. Kempsey's house--easily distinguished as the terminus of the
telegraph wires--Polly Kempsey appeared to be the only representative
of feminine humanity on the station. Polly was a shy, odd little woman
of sixteen, reminding one somehow of a scrub kangaroo or a native
bear, brought in and tamed, with her short, shaggy, brown mane, her
bright, black eyes, and her startled way. She looked as if the wind
had interfered with her growth, and perhaps it had, for she had never
been away from the Island in her life, and had bent before the gales.
Polly's knowledge of the world was chiefly derived from the
telegraphic messages which were incessantly clicking through the
house, and which practice from infancy enabled her to read by sound as
they ran. In this way Polly must have acquired a mass of miscellaneous
information, for the Cape was a through station, and all messages,
political, departmental, European, and otherwise, flashed along the
line. Polly got twenty pounds a year as telegraph mistress, and I
believe it would have been impossible to find a more expert operator.
The needle clicked all the time, as we sat in the little parlour
making friends over the cup of tea Polly prepared for us. It was very
hard to get Polly to talk, though when set going on her own subject,
her sentences were jerked out with an extraordinary rapidity. She had
got into the way of making long and short pauses on her words, as if
she were keeping time to the telegraph needle; and her face wore, when
she was silent, an abstracted listening look, such as I have seen on
the faces of mediums who were supposed to be carrying on communication
with an unseen world. Once, when the needle stopped for a minute,
Polly announced in her abrupt manner: "Mr. Gladstone has announced to
the House of Commons that, in consequence of the vote on the Irish
University Bill, Her Majesty's Ministers have tendered their
resignations."

"Why, Polly!" I exclaimed, "how do you know that?"

"It's just gone through," answered Polly; "and there"--she waited as
the needle recommenced--"The attitude of the Sultan of Zanzibar is
unconciliatory; and Sir Bartle Frere's mission is a failure."

Lina went off into a fit of hysterical laughter, and Polly looked
surprised, but supposed that it must seem queer to a person not
accustomed to it. She told us that I was to have her bed, which was in
the operating room, and said she hoped the instrument wouldn't keep me
awake. "You won't understand it," Polly continued, warming to her
theme; "so I dare say it will seem like any other noise. But it do go
on so at nights, when I'm half asleep and half awake, with its mort of
news" (Polly had picked up some of her father's expressions, which I
learned long afterwards were old Northamptonshire), "its Fenian plots,
and earthquakes, and poisonings, and treaties, and folks worrying at
each other over things with long queer names; that when I get up in
the morning, it's like as if I'd been dreaming the world had turned
crazy."

Mr. Kempsey, who had been out with the pilots in the boat, came in
by-and-by, and, saying that he would relieve Polly at the instrument,
told her to take us to the beach and show us about, to look in at the
lighthouse at the same time, and see that the lamp was all right, and
to fetch up the goats, so that we might have some fresh milk for
supper. Polly's duties seemed multifarious. Mr. Kempsey gazed
compassionately at Lina, observing that she didn't "look deadly well,"
and that there was bound to be a steamer next day, or the day after,
and he'd keep on the look-out for smoke. We sent telegrams to Alec and
to Mr. Sabine, up north, also to a hotel at Stonehampton, and then we
went down to the beach, where Polly waded about among the rocks and
broke off oysters for us. The fresh sea air and new surroundings did
Lina good, and she slept soundly that night. I lay awake for a long
time in Polly's bed--a wooden crib with a mattress exhaling the
peculiar odour of dried seaweed--the roar of the sea almost drowning
the tick of the telegraph instrument, while every now and then the
warning bell would jingle, and Polly or Mr. Kempsey would come in and
take down a message, reading off the tape as if to reassure me lest I
should imagine some awful European disaster had taken place. "Only the
Mary Ann barque, Twofold Bay, sighted off Beacon Point"; or "Taralpa,
A. S. N. Co., signalled Cooktown. No good for you"; or--one of the
last--"Big floods coming down Stoney River I doubt if the Stonehampton
steamer will get up" and so the night wore away.



Chapter X. The House of Memories.



STONEHAMPTON is some forty miles up from the harbour, and the
telegraphic report of big floods was curiously corroborated on the
morrow by the washing ashore of the carcases of several drowned sheep
and cattle. Such floods are frequent enough without any previous
warning. A river will often "come down" in this way, there having been
tremendous rain high up in the ranges, and none at all in the country
near its mouth.

Contrary to Mr. Kempsey's prognostications, however, we did get up
the river. In the grey of our second morning at the pilot station,
smoke was sighted to seaward, and Lina and I were hurried, half-
dressed, down to the beach, carried through the surf on Mr. Kempsey's
back to the boat, and finally received on board a mail steamer bound
north, which was putting into Stonehampton.

Oddly enough, the first person who stretched out his hand to help us
on board was Mr. Robinson, the husband of Lina's schoolfellow, and
also a friend of Alec's, though as yet I had never met him. He was a
good--looking, quiet, middle-aged squatter, who had a house in
Stonehampton, where his wife was now staying--the house of poignant
memories to Lina. When he heard our plans, he insisted, in the genial
bush fashion, upon our giving up all idea of going to a hotel. There
wasn't a decent one in Stonehampton, he said. They were all rowdy
places, only fit for Never-never new chums down on a spree. We must go
with him to his house. Milly would never forgive him if he didn't
bring us along; and so on.

I fancied that Lina, shrinking from the revival of painful
associations, would refuse his invitation; but, to my surprise, she
seemed to wish to accept it, and when I agreed, grew quite excited at
the prospect, her brilliant colour coming and going, and giving her an
even more fragile appearance than when she was pale and listless, her
soft laugh tinkling, and all her pretty little play of gesture
starting anew. Lina was a great puzzle. I really think that, in a sort
of way, she enjoyed being harrowed. At any rate, she thoroughly
enjoyed being the heroine of a situation. We were a long time getting
up the river. The flood was coming down--a turbid, yellow torrent,
which, as it reached the bar, seemed to make a distinct path of its
own, like that of the Rhone where it falls into Lake Leman. Great
quantities of driftwood floated with the current, and many bodies of
dead beasts. There were living ones, too, their heads above water,
still swimming, and being fast carried out to sea. It was a melancholy
and curious sight. We passed a little island in mid-stream, a low
mangrove-covered mud-bank, which was packed with animals that had
taken refuge there--cattle, sheep, horses, as well as kangaroos,
opossums, emus, and many wild creatures, all crowded together in a
dense mass, half drowned, and completely tamed with fright.

It was quite late in the day when we got to Stonehampton, among the
low wharves and wooden warehouses, which stood along the flat banks,
jumbled up with streets and ferries, queer one-storied shops and
verandahed dwelling-houses, closed in with yellow alamandas, passion
fruit, and orange begonias. The banana plantations, the feathery
bamboos, the gorgeous creepers, the different sorts of cactus, and the
hibiscus trees, with their pink and red flowers, gave the place a
tropical look; but otherwise it was crude, unpicturesque, and steamy,
and we were glad to drive off in Mr. Robinson's buggy to the higher
ground, a little way from the river, where lived most of the
Government officials and the better-class residents.

Lina gave an odd involuntary sigh, casting back a pathetic, meaning
look at me, which seemed to say, "Do you remember?" as we stepped on
to the verandah--the scene of her parting with Mr. Lyndon. There was
the stephanotis drooping its waxen trails, and the scented verbena
clambering up the wooden pilasters, and stretching out in the dusk,
the paddock with its cida-retusa shrubs and little water-holes, "where
they used to go craw-fishing"--all the background of poor Lina's
romance. Milly Robinson was a gay, affected little woman, who said
smart, silly things, and was, perhaps, the worst guide and monitor
which could have been found for Lina Trass. She was very kind to us,
however, making us effusively welcome, setting to work immediately to
plan all manner of diversions, and refusing to believe that there was
anything the matter with Lina, till the poor girl herself settled the
question by going off into one of her hysterical shivering fits, and
finally subsiding into a dead faint.

Lina was very ill for several days. The doctor said that she had
narrowly escaped a severe nervous malady, and commended my wisdom in
bringing her away from the bush, which undoubtedly had had the worst
effect upon her sensitive organization. As soon as she got better, he
said that she must have plenty of cheerful society, gentle exercise,
and all the distractions that could be devised, a prescription that
fitted admirably with Mrs. Robinson's views and suggestions. The
Stonehamptonites all called upon us, and we assisted at a series of
mild after-dinner festivities, at which Lina and I wore our trousseau
gowns, and the men mostly dressed in white duck or thin alpaca suits.
We lounged in the verandah, flourishing mosquito-whisks and fans, or
strolled about the garden in pairs, while somebody made music in the
drawing-room; then all came in at ten or thereabouts to eat cake and
melons and strawberry-guavas, and imbibe iced drinks. It was arranged
that we were to remain with the Robinsons till our husbands joined
us--Alec from Sydney and Mr. Sabine from the north. Mr. Sabine wrote
fussy letters to the doctor and to his wife, which last were a jumble
of bad spelling, scolding, exhortations to spend as much money as she
liked, and not to let Mrs. Robinson "boss the show"; but on no account
to wear her smartest dresses till he came down--bluster, conceit, and
general anxiety. Alec wrote that he was delighted I was having a
pleasant change, and making acquaintance with Stonehampton, that I was
to be sure and not worry about the Island, and that he would come to
me as soon as he could, and, if possible, arrange to stay for some up-
country races which were to be held shortly near Mr. Robinson's
station, and at which he proposed to run one of the Island horses.
These were the races in which Mr. Sabine had so greatly interested
himself. He had succeeded in getting up a Corinthian for gentleman
riders, and meant to ride himself a horse about which he had bragged
considerably when we were staying at Sykes's in Gundabine.

The uneasiness which I felt at first on the score of a meeting
between Lina and Mr. Lyndon gradually subsided, for I heard of him as
being very hard at work on his railway, and not at all likely to visit
Stonehampton while Lina was there. But my theory of magnetic currents
comes into play again. Destiny seemed to have ordained that they were
to be brought together. This was how it happened.

Mrs. Robinson had organized a visit to the bachelor manager of a
great meat-preserving establishment, who had very pretty and roomy
quarters some distance up the river. It was settled that we were to go
there one afternoon, in the company's steamer, dine, dance, and stay
the night, returning the next day to Stonehampton.

Lina was in unusually high spirits. The manager of the meat-
preserving place was an old admirer of hers--not in any serious or
melodramatic fashion, but sufficiently so to impart piquancy to the
excursion.

"I feel like a prisoner in the Conciergerie, or one of those places
during the French Revolution, Rachel," she said, laughing. "Any night
now I may hear my name in the list of the condemned. Mr. Sabine is on
his way down, and I'm expecting to see his steamer signalled; and I'm
going to dance and make merry before my execution."

I never saw Lina look prettier than she did that day, in a soft
falling black dress, with her yellow hair escaping from under her
little hat. We took down fichus and evening shoes, as the way is at
these primitive entertainments, and gave a festive appearance to our
toilettes generally by decking ourselves before dinner with such
flowers as the garden offered. The verandah was, like many others at
this time, festooned with stephanotis in full bloom, and Lina gathered
great withes of the waxen green leaves and snowy flowers, and hung
them about her bodice, her waist, and in her hair, in a manner that
would have seemed utterly fantastic in anyone else, but which suited
her to perfection.

We were in the middle of dinner, which was served in a somewhat
impromptu fashion, with a good deal of laughter over the shifts and
contrivances of a bachelor mnage, when a tall good-looking man, whom
I felt sure at a glance was Mr. Lyndon, appeared from the verandah,
stopping at the end of the table where our host was seated, with Lina
at his right hand and me at his left. Lina was placed with her back to
the window as Mr. Lyndon came in, and I don't think for the moment he
knew who she was. Certainly his manner was quite unembarrassed, as he
said, "How do you do, Kelmarsh? I'm awfully sorry to come in so late;
but when I heard that you had a party, I stopped at the foreman's
quarters to make myself respectable. I found that I was obliged to be
in Stonehampton to-morrow, and I thought my easiest way of getting
there was to ride over here from the Works and trust to your sending
me down the river in your steamer. No, don't trouble to make room.
I'll find myself a seat somewhere," as Mr. Kelmarsh, with a noisy
welcome, was rising to fetch another chair.

"There's plenty of room here," said Mr. Kelmarsh, "if Mrs. Sabine
doesn't mind moving a little nearer me and letting you sit next her.
You know Mrs. Sabine, Lyndon?" And thus the two met.

It was an anxious moment, and I think Mrs. Robinson felt uneasy, for
she bent markedly across the table and drew everyone's attention to
herself by attacking Mr. Lyndon with some flippant banter about the
dusky daughter of a Malayan Maharajah with whom rumour had connected
his stay in Singapore.

Mr. Lyndon gave one look at Lina, as he held out his hand, saying
quietly, "How do you do, Mrs. Sabine?" then turned to Milly Robinson
and jestingly parried her thrusts. I don't think that anyone not
noticing him very closely would have observed the momentary spasm
which came over his face, the tight setting of his lips, and the
stiffening of his features, as if he were nerving himself to bear some
sharp pain.

As for Lina, she said not a word. She only looked fixedly at her
plate for a moment or two after the greeting, and presently went on
talking to Mr. Kelmarsh as if nothing had happened. She was a little
more subdued, that was all. I saw that she flushed up suddenly once
when she became aware that Mr. Lyndon's eyes glanced down at her right
hand and rested upon the little curiously wrought ring of which she
had told me the history, and which she still wore. But, on the whole,
she showed more dignity than I had expected from her. It is quite true
that the weakest and most emotional women can, upon occasions, be the
bravest and most self-controlled.

"Don't get into a funk about me, Rachel," she whispered a little
later, when we were together in the verandah. "It's all right. I'm
strung up to it now. I shan't make a fool of myself, as I did that day
in Gundabine. Only promise that you won't go far away from me. If you
see me on the edge of a precipice--I like playing on the edge of
precipices--don't try to pull me back, but keep near and just prevent
me from toppling over."

The music struck up, and Mr. Kelmarsh came to ask her to dance before
she could say any more. I watched her as she whirled round. I had
never seen her dance before. She was like a sylph, or like some
laughing Undine, and for the moment seemed soulless and light-hearted.
Mr. Lyndon disappeared. She danced now with one and now with another;
and I too, allowed myself to be led off, and so had less opportunity
of observing her. The dancing, however, was somewhat desultory and
spiritless. The floor was bad, and it was too hot for much exertion.
Very soon the little company broke up into knots and couples. By way
of rallying it, Mr. Kelmarsh asked Lina to sing. I forget whether I
have ever mentioned Lina's singing. She had a voice of no great power
or compass; but its tones were like those of a bird--they were so
sweet and true; and she had a plaintive, totally unconventional way of
singing negro melodies and wild little bush songs, that was like
nothing else I have ever heard. Lina's singing was as distinctly a
part of her own self as her yellow hair and blue eyes, and the strange
thing about it was its mournfulness. Her voice seemed to come from a
long way off, and at times there was a tremble in it that somehow
always brought tears near to my eyes.

Milly Robinson sat down to the piano to play the accompaniment. Lina
never made a fuss about her singing. She stood up now without any
preliminary flutter, her hands folded simply before her, looking, as
she stood, in her soft black dress and all the stephanotis flowers,
and with her hair a little tossed and her eyes gazing over everybody
away beyond the room, like a figure in a child's fairy story. She sang
from memory a little nigger song of which she was very fond. I didn't
know then where it came from--it has become popular and hackneyed
since that time; but I never can hear it now without wanting to go
away and cry. I used to feel a little like that even then, Lina made
it so pathetic. I find myself always using that word in relation to
Lina, but it comes more naturally than any other. She was not very
heroic, nor very true, nor very good, but she was pathetic.

I went out into the verandah when Lina began, and took possession of
a squatter's chair in the darkest corner, at the end where there were
no windows shedding light from the drawing-room. It was a little
bowery place, closed in with ferns and an ancient grape-vine, that
cast odd shadows on the bit of grassy bank leading up to the boards. A
clump of bamboos rustled and quivered close by, making strange human
noises. Outside, the garden was all dark and shadowy, with here and
there a cluster of great white datura bells, showing like ghostly
patches. Lina was singing--

"So it's good-bye, children, I'm gwine to go
Where de rain doan fall and de win doan blow.
And your ulster coats you will not need
When we ride up in the chariot in de morn.
But your golden slippers must be nice and clean.
An' your age must just be sweet sixteen.
An' your white kid gloves you will hab to wear.
When we ride up in de chariot in de morn."

We all know the chorus to each verse!--

"Ah, dem golden slippers! Ah, dem golden slippers!
Golden slippers I'm gwine to wear bekase dey look so neat!
Ah, dem golden slippers! Ah, dem golden slippers!
Golden slippers I'm gwine to wear, to walk in de golden street."

But when Lina had finished singing this last verse, and paused for
several moments, no one took up the chorus, as some had done with the
other verses. Then Mr. Kelmarsh called, "Chorus, chorus," and asked
loudly, "Where's Lyndon? He hasn't joined. Come on, Lyndon."

There was no answer, and the chorus died away. Lina did not wait,
but stepped out in the verandah, and came round towards where I was
sitting. I was going to get up to show myself, when suddenly a figure
rose quite close to me from the edge of the verandah, where it had
been all the time, its back towards me, indistinguishable in the
shadow of the grape-vine.

"Lina!" the man said, then added, "Mrs. Sabine," in a hesitating,
half--bitter way, and advanced to meet her. It was Mr. Lyndon.

Lina gave a little cry, and came forward too. She stood leaning
against the verandah pillar, and he stood facing her.

"Will you let me speak to you for a few minutes?" he said. "I should
like to congratulate you on your marriage. I should like to ask if you
are happy."

Lina did not answer. I sat quite still; there was no use in getting
up now, and making them feel uncomfortable. I hated the idea of
playing the caves-dropper, even involuntarily; but after what Lina had
said a few moments ago, there was less need for me to feel
compunction. I felt that it might be better for her if I were near,
and that at any rate this was what she herself wished.

Mr. Lyndon waited for her to speak. She was still silent, her head
drooped, and he said abruptly, "If you would tell me that you were
happy I should mind less."

Lina looked up at him, clasping her hands before her impulsively
after a way she had.

"I never told you anything that wasn't true," she said simply, "and I
can't tell you that."

"You never told me anything that wasn't true?" he said in a quiet
tone, as if he expected the other part of her answer. "Are you quite
sure of that? When you wrote to me on the steamer, and told me that
you loved me, was that true?"

"Yes," she said very low, but very distinctly, and there was silence
for a minute.

"Why did you do it?" he broke out. "Not because of me. I never asked
you to give me your promise. I wouldn't take it from you--but for your
own sake? Why didn't you wait a little and let the old fancy die? It
couldn't have been more than a fancy, Lina. If you had loved me you
would have believed in me."

"And you?" she exclaimed passionately. "Oh, you shouldn't be hard on
me. You were hard then. If you had only sent one line--one word! If
you'd said to me before you went away even--'Lina, be true to me,'
that would have been something to hold by."

"Did you want that? Didn't you know that it was because I loved you
so?" he said with an infinite tenderness, and a keen reproach in his
voice. "I wanted to give you a chance, dear; I knew how frail and how
impulsive you were. I wanted you to be sure of yourself. I knew that
at the best it must be a long time before I could come to you, and
that then I couldn't give you money and position and all that. I
couldn't look forward then and see that by now I should have finished
the work I had set myself--and for what? I did write to you--it was a
relief to pour out my love for you in that way; but I never sent the
letters. I said to myself that it wouldn't be fair on you, and so I
burned them all."

"Ah!" Lina shuddered as if he had been telling her the fate of a live
thing. She half stretched out her hand to him and let it fall again.
"I wanted you to tell me. I wanted to know that you loved me. I always
wanted a great deal of telling for me to feel sure that anyone really
loved me; I couldn't believe that people could go on caring for a girl
like me who had nothing but her prettiness, and not so much of that.
And then it was all so terrible and bewildering."

"You mean," he said sternly, "that you wanted me to tell you that I
wasn't a thief."

Lina uttered a sort of groan.

"Don't be too hard on me," she said again; "I wasn't made to stand
out against things."

"My dear," he said very gently, "I'm not hard on you, I've no right
to be hard. You were not my promised wife; I'd left you to yourself,
and you couldn't stand alone. My poor little Lina!"

Neither of them spoke for a little while. Presently Lina said--

"Why did I do it? I don't know. Why did I try to make you care for
me at first? Why did I send you that letter--on the steamer? It's all
the same thing; I've no stability or proper pride; I threw myself at
you, and Alec Ansdell knew it; and then I began to feel doubtful and
ashamed."

"I gave you my pledge," he interrupted quickly.

She held up her hand and looked sadly at the ring on her finger.

"Ah! It ended there."

"What makes you wear that?" he asked almost roughly. "There's no
meaning in it now--there was then. Take it off and give it back to
me."

She put up her other hand as if to obey him; then seemed to change
her mind, and held out the hand with the ring on it suddenly to him.

"Will you take it off," she said, "if you think it's wrong for me to
wear it? Nobody knows except--except Rachel Ansdell. It can't matter
now; and it has a meaning still--for me."

He took both her hands in his and kissed them.

"Be it so!" he said; "in memory of the might have been. It was a
near miss, Lina;" and he gave a harsh, short laugh. "It only meant a
little faith and a year's waiting."

"Oh, why am I turned this way and that--like a reed shaken by the
wind?" Lina cried impetuously. "That's how it is; I am a reed. It's my
nature; all I am fit for is to laugh and sing, and look pretty, and be
gay when the sun is shining and people are kind; but when the clouds
gather over and a storm comes, and there are harsh words, I can't
stand up against them."

He drew closer to her, and bending over her, said in a deep moved
voice--

"There's a different look in your eyes--like the look of a child
that has been beaten. Lina, do you mean that he is unkind to you? By
God! if I thought that, I'd say to you now--this very night--'Lina, my
darling, come.'"

The passion with which he said these words thrilled me to the very
heart as I listened--guiltily. It seemed a sort of sacrilege--a wrong
to him to remain there hearing such an entreaty. My impulse was to
start forward and throw my arms round Lina and hold her back from that
precipice. I had the dread lest in a gust of feeling she should be
borne off her feet. But Lina was not so weak as for a moment I feared.
I bent myself anxiously, straining my eyes to watch her every gesture,
and to try and read her thoughts on her face. In the dim light I could
see her look change; she seemed to look back a little, and her eyes
turned upon him in a questioning, startled manner. Her agitation
subsided; her voice was more collected and had a rebuking ring.

"You mustn't talk like that," she said. "I oughtn't to have said
what I did; everything is different now, and the past is past--only a
'might have been.' But I wanted to tell you the truth; I wanted you to
know that I did care for you, and that I wasn't quite so bad as I
seemed. Now you know; and you must not make it harder for me; you must
never say words like that again.

"Then," he said doggedly, "I must never see you any more."

"Good-bye," she said firmly; "it's better like that. Don't come
anywhere that I am going to be; don't come to the races at Balloo. Mr.
Sabine will be there--and I couldn't bear it. We are going to England
soon, I hope, and that will make things easier. There's nothing for me
but to live the life I've made for myself. I've got to pull my nerves
and my spirits together, and get the best out of the world that I
can--that's what I've been telling myself the last week or two. I've
been running down and getting morbid. You know I never was one of the
plucky ones; I had a feeling that I shouldn't do much till you and I
had met once again. Now it's over, and you understand; and Mr. Sabine
is coming to-morrow. Tell me that you forgive me; and then do what you
did before--go away and leave me to myself."

Her appeal seemed completely to take the passion out of the man. He
spoke very gently and sadly:

"It is you who have to forgive me," he said. "There's nothing in my
heart, Lina, but love and pity and respect for you. I'll do what you
want; I'll not say one more word that can distress you--only, good-
bye."

He gave one long look at her; then, without taking her hand, he
stepped down into the garden, and was lost in the darkness.



Chapter XI. Lina's Presentiment.



I DID not make my presence known to Lina then. I felt that the time
to tell her of it would come later. She stood quite still. For a
moment I thought she must be in pain, for suddenly she gave a little
cry and staggered against the verandah post, where she leaned with
hands tightly pressing her bosom, and her eyes closed.

"Lina!" I called, but she took no notice. I sprang to her side, and
put my arms round her, and my hand on hers, which were deadly cold.
Presently she looked at me in a bewildered way, and heaved a sigh of
relief, straightening herself once more.

"Is that you, Rachel? Something came over me--a pain like a knife in
my heart--just for a minute It's all right now."

I questioned her anxiously; but she made light of the attack.

"Oh, it's nothing! I've felt the same sort of thing before, only not
so bad; it was a kind of spasm. Well, that isn't wonderful. I have
been having a scene--a bad scene. I used to fancy I liked scenes. I
don't think now that I shall want a scene ever--ever again in my
life." She paused, and added after a long silence, "I'll tell you
about it some day, Rachel. When one sees the precipice, one doesn't
want after all to fall over it. I didn't need you to hold me back.
It's all nonsense saying that the heart isn't the seat of the
emotions," she went on, looking at me with her wide--open eyes, and
speaking with tragi-comic earnestness. "Why, I could disprove that
theory from my own experience. My heart has ached--ached, when I have
been unhappy; and I stabbed my heart to-night, Rachel, just as surely
as if I had driven a dagger into it. Come along, let us go in."

We none of us saw anything more of Mr. Lyndon. The next morning he
had gone. Mr. Kelmarsh told us at breakfast of his disappearance in
the night, and how they supposed he had taken it into his head to kill
his "Government screw," by riding it straight to Stonehampton, instead
of waiting for the steam launch.

I suppose Milly Robinson guessed the reason; but she had the
discretion to say nothing, which I felt to be a little surprising.

We went back to Stonehampton in the steam launch, and, when we
reached the Robinsons' house, to our surprise found Mr. Sabine lying
in a long chair in the verandah, calmly drinking a brandy and soda.
His steamer had come in some hours before it was expected. After the
first greetings, during which he discovered that Mrs. Sabine was
looking uncommonly well, and that the doctor had been trying to take
advantage of a man who owned a paying gold-reef, Mr. Sabine relapsed
into his normal condition of argumentativeness, falling foul of
certain bland statements of Mr. Robinson's about the forthcoming
Corinthian at Balloo. It soon became very evident that Mr. Sabine's
trip had not improved his temper. Perhaps he had been "sampling"
extensively up North. Certainly he was even more fractious and
unreasonable than he had shown himself at Gundabine; he snapped and
bickered about everything, and with a want of logic in his
contradictoriness that was intensely aggravating. I have a conviction,
strengthened by little things I have heard since, that his brain was
partly turned. Lina sat all the evening in a state of apathy,
answering him submissively when he spoke to her, but taking no notice
of his ill-humour. Her flickering vivacity seemed quenched as
effectually as if his captious snarls had been patent fire extinctors.
He insisted upon knowing what gowns she had been wearing, taking
exception to this one and that, and giving orders that a magnificent
pink silk was to be reserved for a rowdy dance at the Balloo public-
house, which, Mr. Robinson said warmly, was not fit for a lady to go
to, but to which Mr. Sabine declared that he meant to take his wife.
He didn't know but that, instead of going to England, he might stand
for the district, and so he would make himself popular, and give a
treat to the free selectors, who he'd be bound would appreciate Lina's
condescension. Milly Robinson was annoyed, because she wanted Lina to
wear the famous pink silk first at a bush ball she herself was going
to give at their station on the first night of the races, and there
was a good deal of cantankerous discussion upon the whole subject.

There was not room at the Robinsons' for us all, and the next day Mr.
Sabine carried Lina off to the hotel, where, at an enormous expense,
he had engaged all the available accommodation. Alec made his
appearance a few days later, and took me to stay with some friends of
his own. The Robinsons went up to Balloo to prepare for the reception
of their guests at the races. So it happened that we were all more or
less engrossed with our own affairs, and Lina and I did not see much
of each other in the short time that we remained at Stonehampton
before the bush festivities, inwhich everybody was to take part.

Alec just now was deeply exercised in his mind over the engagement of
a stockman for the Island. He had already interviewed several
specimens of the brisk, spry, second-rate stockman--for the Island as
a place of abode was not in favour with the first-rate ones--but none
had taken his fancy so much as a man called Balfour, an ex-gentleman
who had been ruined in squatting, but was otherwise, according to all
accounts, "a thundering smart chap," and an embodiment of all the
virtues connected with the bucolic profession. He was a splendid
rider; would save his wages in breaking in buck-jumpers; a thoroughly
knowing hand among stock, accustomed to managing a coast station, with
his head well screwed on his shoulders, and presumably with class
proclivities which would ensure his siding with the master against the
man in the case of collision, which would, in fact, make him see
things generally from the master's point of view. So Alec reasoned.
Flash, perhaps! What stockman was worth his grub who wasn't a bit
flash? Of course there are always a few shady stories about a fellow
who has been sold up; and, by the way, it wasn't a square and orthodox
selling up by a respectable bank, but a case of mortgage to a rascally
Melbourne firm of Jew money-lenders. Tried to make a fraudulent
settlement on his wife, and to sneak some cattle off the run on the
sly while his wife was singing to the men who were taking delivery at
the head station! Well, Watts of Tarrabilla--and there couldn't be a
more honest old fellow between this and the Gulf of Carpentaria--said
the stories were all lies, that Balfour's wife was a lady, and that it
was a moral impossibility for a Balfour of Kilcummin to run otherwise
than straight.

Odd, importing the noblesse oblige principle into the stockmen's
huts; but Alec admitted that he had a lurking belief in "noblesse
oblige," and in the efficacy of the chivalric code even under the
trying conditions of a square-tail muster; by which, in
contradistinction to a "book-muster," is understood the selling of a
station at the rate of so much for every beast actually brought into
the yard, and in such case the temptation on the part of the seller to
pass the same beast twice is obvious.

I felt a little shy of Mrs. Balfour, "the lady" domiciled in the
mud--floored slab hut half-way between the house and the stock-yard. I
foresaw certain difficulties of etiquette which might arise from such
delicate relationship between the hut and the head-station, but Alec
pooh-poohed all trivial considerations; and the end of it was that,
after a good deal of consultation, Balfour of Kilcummin was engaged as
stockman at seventy pounds a year and the usual rations.

Balloo is about forty miles from Stonehampton, and is the township to
which Mr. Lyndon's railway was then in process of being run. We
stopped our buggy at the works, and Mr. Lyndon came to us looking, I
thought, very worn and haggard. He chatted for a little with Alec,
bringing him out a drink, and made me go into his tent and have some
biscuits and tea. He said that he was not going to the races, though
he had given some of his men a holiday that they might attend. Alec
and I knew his reasons for staying away, and we did not ask any
questions or mention the Sabines. When Alec said something jokingly
about a pleasure-trip to Sydney as soon as the railway was finished,
Mr. Lyndon shook his head and looked at us both rather sadly. "No, I'm
going to work hard, and scrunch all the nonsense out of me," he
answered. "I mean to cut the district directly I have done here; and
if I can get the Government to give me a job that will keep me a long
time away up north, right out of the track of civilization, I shall
accept it gladly. I think they owe me something, and I shall ask that
favour."

Why Balloo should have been chosen as the terminus of a railway,
puzzled me immensely when we passed through it that evening on our way
to Balloo Vale--the Robinson's station--which was five miles farther
on. There was a racecourse, to be sure--just now the scene of tipsy
preparations for the morrow's merry-making. We had a view of it as we
drove by--a treeless flat, with some dreary-looking prospectors'
holes, old claims, and mounds of earth in the middle, the visible sign
of an abortive attempt to find gold. It was surrounded by a dense gum
forest, and facing a sort of Tattenham Corner and straight run in was
a rickety wooden stand roofed with boughs and flanked by a seedy
refreshment bar, on which was profanely inscribed in large letters,
"Ho, every one that thirsteth! Come and try Thackwaite's reviving Rum
Relish," and by a booth where a stuffed alligator was advertised as an
attraction to sightseers. The course was marked by poles and little
flags. Several of the rough grass-fed horses were being exercised on
it, and Mr. Thackwaite was evidently already doing a thriving
business. Most of the population of Balloo appeared to have migrated
to the racecourse. A bullock dray loaded with wool bales was drawn up
at one side of the refreshment bar, and a cluster of blacks' gunyahs
close by sent up smoke through the gum-trees and added some elements
of excitement to the scene in the shape of a few naked piccaninnies
and frolicsome gins.

As for Balloo itself, three or four low bush public-houses, each with
a small mob of shepherds and stock-hands on the spree, sprawling in
the verandah, a miserable bark-roofed store in which diggers' tools,
tin billies, zinc buckets, saddle-straps, coloured blankets, and a
variety of such miscellaneous merchandise was exposed for sale, half-
a-dozen tents and a tribe of barking mongrels, and the township's
claims to commercial distinction are fully enumerated. Alec told me
that one of the members of the progressive ministry had a vast sheep-
station a little distance from Balloo, and that it was to facilitate
the carriage of his wool to port that the "railway dodge" had been
accomplished.

It was almost dark when we passed through the sliprails at Balloo
Vale. We did not need to inquire if the Sabines had arrived, for we
could distinctly hear Mr. Sabine's rasping voice in the yard abusing
his men for not taking proper care of the famous racer, which, it
appeared, was "dicky on its legs," but which Mr. Sabine was vowing to
ride all the same, and to win the race with, unless it dropped beneath
him.

We found Lina in the parlour with Mrs. Robinson. She looked pale and
nervous, and was very subdued all the evening. She would not play
cards, and declined to sing when Mr. Sabine came in from the verandah,
where he had been having a noisy discussion with some of the other
gentlemen over the merits of their respective horses, and ordered her
to the piano. Mr. Sabine had a way of making his wife show off before
his friends which Lina resented. She looked at him with a gleam of
spirit when he scolded her, and said in a low tone, "It's a mistake to
throttle a bird if you want it to sing prettily."

He went away crossly, but by-and-by came to me and questioned me
anxiously as to what I thought of Lina. Did I find her looking ill?
Did I know what made her so queer? Was there anything he could buy for
her which would cheer her up? Had I noticed the opal bracelet she was
wearing and which he had ordered for her from Sydney? Certainly Mr.
Sabine was a very odd man.

Later on, when I went to my room, Lina followed me.

"I've had a bad time, Rachel," she said. "Ask Milly Robinson how she
likes Mr. Sabine on closer acquaintance. When Milly comes to marry her
own daughter, I don't think she will pin her faith so entirely on
Debrett as she used. I am sure that Milly begins to doubt the prudence
of investing all one's capital in a gold-reef and an English
gentleman."

Lina's laugh was very pitiful. But she wouldn't let me pity her.

"Oh, it doesn't matter, Rachel. Now I am preaching to you not to be
morbid. And let me tell you, dear, that I'm not afraid of myself any
longer. I was ill and nervous, and now I am better again. You know
I've got such a light nature that trouble doesn't weigh upon me after
I've got used to it. You needn't think that I shall give way under Mr.
Sabine's system of breaking the bruised reed and quenching the smoking
flax. It's his way to have tantrums; he isn't really bad at heart. I
always fancy he would be quite different if he were away from all
these dreadful Australian surroundings. I shall get some good out of
my investment. I always said that I would. I was always determined,
somehow or other, that I would be happy. Besides, I know that this
isn't going to last. Rachel, did you ever have a strong presentiment?
Do you believe in such things?"

She looked at me quite gravely and earnestly. I told her that I did
believe in such things, and asked her what she meant.

"Only that I have a presentiment which all the reasoning in the world
wouldn't shake. It isn't a miserable one at all--quite the contrary.
I've had it the last week or two. I know that some great change is
coming in my life--a good change. I feel like a child that has been in
punishment, don't you know--locked up in a dark closet, and who has
been told that it will be forgiven to-morrow, and taken away to some
new beautiful place where it is to begin all afresh. That's my
presentiment. It means, I think, that we are going away--to England, I
suppose, and that I shall begin a new life there."

We talked on for a while. Lina was in a softened mood. She said no
more bitter things, and when I told her of Mr. Sabine's conversation
with me she seemed touched, and repeated, "He isn't really bad at
heart. You know, Rachel, one reason why I want so to get away is
because I think the heat here--and everything--has a bad effect upon
him. He told me the other day that he had a sunstroke once, and that
his head often feels queer still. And he drinks too much brandy. It
will all be different in England."

Presently Lina said good-night to me. She had not been gone many
minutes when Alec came in. There was an excited look on his face, and
he held an open telegram in his hand.

"They have just brought this over from Balloo," he said; "it has been
passed through from the pilot station. Rachel, what do you think? The
people through whom I bought the Island have telegraphed that there's
a chance of selling it well. I'll be bound that it's old Daniel Liss
who is after the place again. Read."

I took the telegram and read:

"From BURNETT AND NEAME, Stock and Station Agents, Sydney.

"To ALEC ANSDELL, Moonbago Island.

"Wire if still disposed to sell. Have got good offer for the Island
of four pounds ten per head by yard muster. Cattle will not rise
higher at present. We advise you to entertain the offer."

"Well, Rachel," said Alec, "when I was in Sydney I told Burnett and
Neame to be on the look-out for a good purchaser; but I didn't say
anything to you lest nothing should come of it and you might be
disappointed. Now, however, we must make up our minds."

We consulted together late into the night. Alec put before me that,
even under the most advantageous conditions of sale, he would not have
sufficient capital to reinvest in a large station in civilized
regions, and that, though we should probably make our fortune in a
very few years if he took up a run as he would propose in the
unsettled district out west, we might there have to encounter
discomforts greater than any we had as yet faced on the Island. But it
was the thought of Gundabine Bay and the south-easters which decided
me. Before we went to bed Alec wrote out two telegrams which were to
be sent from Balloo on the morrow, on our way to the races.

First--

"From ALEC ANSDELL. "To BURNETT AND NEAME, Sydney.

"Am prepared to entertain offer." Second--

"From ALEC ANSDELL. "To COLIN BALFOUR, Gundabine.

"Arrange to begin work at Island in ten days' time. Important that
you should learn the run as soon as possible."



Chapter XII. The Tragedy of the Races.



THE next day rose cool and clear--an unusually favourable day for
bush races. From early dawn Balloo Vale was in a flutter of
excitement. Stockwhips were cracking, blackboys scurrying to and fro,
and shouting to each other in their own language; horses being run
into the yard, and racers being sent off so as to get over the five
miles' journey between the station and the course before the sun was
risen. All we in the house were up betimes too, for the verandah had
to be closed in for the dance in the evening, great heaps of ferns and
creepers from the scrub were lying about, and must be put up for
decorations, and there were the supper and ever so many other domestic
details to be seen to.

Alec went off early, with the sober old Island horse he meant to
ride in the hurdle race, and with the telegrams, one of which was to
decide our fate. Mr. Sabine fussed and grumbled over his own champion
racer, which every one said was in anything but fit condition to run,
and which we all tried to dissuade him from riding that day. But he
was in a state of curious and quite unreasonable excitement, and our
expostulations only made him more obstinate and more rampant still. It
had been settled that he was to drive his wife and me to the course in
his own buggy, and with a pair of horses he had lately bought from a
squatter near. Milly Robinson and her husband started off just before
us in the station waggonette, taking their other guests; and I must
own I felt some keen pangs of regret that Lina and I were not of that
party, when I noticed how restive our horses were and in what an
ungovernable mood Mr. Sabine appeared to be. Nothing happened during
the drive, however, for which the mercy of Providence has to be
thanked, and certainly not Mr. Sabine's coachmanship.

Lina took the front seat beside him and made me go behind, where,
she said, I should feel more comfortable. Her face looked white and a
little agitated as she turned round to me and said, in a low tone,
"Don't be nervous, Rachel. The horses are quite quiet. I want to try
and get Mr. Sabine to promise me that he will not ride in the hurdle-
race, for I am sure it would be better not."

I could hear her pleading, "I wish you wouldn't, Richard. Give it
up, just to please me; I am so afraid of an accident."

He answered her roughly, bidding her hold her tongue and not be a
fool; and he whipped the horses, swearing at them for being "lazy
brutes," though we were jolting over the uneven bush road at a pace
that was extremely alarming. Lina desisted from her entreaties, and
sat very still until we reached the racecourse, when Mr. Sabine pulled
up beside the Robinsons' waggonette, and, after seeing the horses
unharnessed, prepared to leave us for more congenial company.

Lina bent forward. "You will be careful?" she said.

"Look here, Lina," he answered, turning angrily back upon her,
"remember I won't have any scene here. I can take care of myself. You
are to behave like a well-bred woman. If I am thrown I am thrown, and
there's an end to it."

"Did you learn your manners in England or in Australia, Mr. Sabine?"
cried little Mrs. Robinson, flaring up. "If you expect us to behave
like wellbred people, you should set us the example."

I find it quite impossible to write of the humours of those races.
There were some odd people present--types of the life and the country,
and several comic little incidents occurred; but somebody else must be
their chronicler, not I. All the time a feeling of gloom and
foreboding oppressed me. I had no mind for laughter, no appetite for
farce. It seemed strange that Lina should rally me upon my low
spirits. As the day wore on, she herself recovered her elasticity. Mr.
Sabine did not come round again, and there were plenty of people to
distract her thoughts. She had much of the careless irresponsibility
of a child Given sunshine, amusing companions, and gay surroundings--
it must be added also, the absence of her husband--and all her pretty
little gestures and light-hearted sallies came out like opening buds.

"Did you ever see such an odd girl as Lina?" said Milly Robinson
aside to me. "I've been perfectly miserable about her, thinking her
heart was broken, and abusing myself for having helped on that
marriage; and now you wouldn't imagine she had been crying in my room
for an hour yesterday, and telling me that she wished that she was
dead."

The great hurdle-race with gentleman riders took place immediately
after luncheon was over. After all the fuss, it was a very poor
affair. Most of the horses, being raw and untrained, balked or
bolted--Alec's among them--and it ended, contrary to all
anticipations, in Mr. Sabine winning the Corinthian Cup. He was
noisily jubilant, and brought his prize to the buggy, making us all
drink his health out of it. Then the cup was filled again and again
with champagne and passed round among the jockeys and the people on
the course. It seemed to me that Mr. Sabine was entering into lively
competition with Thackwaite, and that he made up for the custom his
champagne drew away from the bar by patronizing the rum relishes
largely himself. He was to ride again in the last race but one of the
day, and after that we were to put to and hurry back to Balloo Vale,
so that there might be a little time for resting before the dance.
When the horses came out for the race, Milly Robinson had already
gone, Alec driving the waggonette; and, at a private request of mine,
Mr. Robinson engaged to take the reins in our buggy, and to depose Mr.
Sabine to a back seat.

There was nothing much to interest us in this race, for it soon
became evident that Mr. Sabine had not the remotest chance of coming
in among the first. He did not even seem to be trying, for when the
other horses rushed past the winning-post, he was cantering quietly at
the farther side of the course. We were watching the winner being led
round, and collecting our belongings, in preparation for the start
home, when a confused murmur sounded in front of the refreshment bar,
and in a minute or two a small crowd had gathered some little distance
below it. None of our party paid attention to the crowd, which might
very naturally have been attracted by the spectacle of a black fellow
belabouring his gin, or of two chiefs practising with their
boomerangs.

Mr. Robinson and the men buckled the traces. We were all ready.
Somebody called out, "Where's Sabine?" and it was not till Mr.
Robinson's overseer came galloping across towards the buggy that any
of us suspected an accident might have happened to him.

Lina seemed to guess at once. "Mr. Sabine has been thrown!" she
exclaimed, and was hastily moving, when the overseer stopped her.

"No; don't be frightened. Mr. Sabine has come a nasty cropper, but
there doesn't seem to be much amiss. That horse wasn't fit to run
again. He dropped clean down and rolled over, and the cantle of the
saddle has caught your husband and hurt him. He is cut about the face
and shaken, but there are no bones broken."

Mr. Sabine, half carried, half supported, came presently upon the
scene. He was bleeding from a cut on the forehead, and his great
loose--limbed form looked strangely helpless and tottery, but he
appeared to be in as full possession of his senses as could be
expected in a man who had been largely imbibing Balloo champagne and
Thackwaite's rum relish, and who, moreover, had come a nasty cropper.

"D----the brute!" was all the explanation he gave, as he sank heavily
on the ground, still supported by the men on either side of him, and
then added gruffly to his wife, who bent over him, "I won't have any
scene, mind, Lina; just keep quiet, will you?" and went off into a
dead faint.

The overseer said there was a "sort of doctor" somewhere on the
course, and went to find him, returning after a minute or two with a
cheerful redfaced person, who was, in fact, a retired auctioneer, but
who, having had some training as a veterinary surgeon, and keeping a
supply of various drugs always on stock, physicked impartially the
inhabitants of the township and their horses. The wits of this
gentleman, also, were perhaps not quite so fully collected just now as
they might have been without Thackwaite's agency. Mr. Sabine was soon
brought-to again, though he seemed weak and dazed. It was decided in
consultation with "the sort of doctor" that we ought not to risk the
rough ride back to Balloo Vale till it was quite certain that Mr.
Sabine had received no internal injury, and that it would be better to
take him, for the night at all events, to the nearest house that would
afford accommodation. This proved to be the house of the telegraph
master of Balloo--a swan-wood cottage with two rooms and a skillion.
Thither Mr. Sabine was carried, Lina and I, the doctor, as for
convenience he may be called--his name was Todd--Mr. Robinson and the
overseer following. The telegraph master's wife was away, so he gave
us possession of the bed-room and sitting-room, and took up his
quarters in the skillion.

Mr. Sabine was put to bed, and on examination was pronounced by Mr.
Todd to have nothing the matter with him except a severe shaking. Mr.
Todd had more confidence in himself than we felt in him. He wanted us
to leave his patient entirely in his charge, and was emphatic in his
assurance that it was the simplest case in the world; that there
wasn't the least occasion for us to concern ourselves. If Mrs. Sabine
liked to stay, he wasn't the one for going against a wife's duty, but
as for Mr. Robinson and me, it would be nonsense for us to give up the
dance. He'd bring round embrocations and a cooling draught, and fix up
Mr. Sabine comfortably for the night; and would give his word that
he'd be all right, so to speak, in the morning.

I determined that I would keep Lina company, and bade Mr. Robinson
explain things to Alec, and not let him be uneasy or think of coming
to me that night. I was very anxious that Alec, who thoroughly enjoyed
a dance, should not be deprived of his fun by the untoward occurrence.
Mr. Todd seemed to know what he was about, and we had none of us the
slightest suspicion of there being anything seriously wrong.

Mr. Robinson was reluctant to leave, but the thought of his duties
as host weighed upon him; and he knew that his wife would be vexed if
he did not turn up. So he had a little talk to the telegraph master,
got us what comforts he could for the night, and, giving the overseer
directions to remain within hail, drove off.

Mr. Todd brought his embrocations, bound up the sufferer's hurts,
administered the draught, and departed, serenely declaring that all
was well. Mr. Sabine by now seemed very much himself again. He would
not let Lina out of his sight, and was a little more ill-tempered than
usual; which, however, I thought, on the whole, an encouraging sign.

The night was strange and dreary. A drizzling rain fell. The wind
got up and blew in melancholy gusts round the rickety cottage, making
the ill-fitting windows rattle, and tossing the boughs of the gum-
trees outside. A public-house was not very far off, and with the rain
and the wind came the sound of the men singing and shouting over their
liquor. Lina stayed mostly in the inner room with her husband, who
tossed about restlessly, and who seemed still in a queer, excited
frame of mind, now abusing this person and now that one, and now the
horse which had thrown him, vowing that as soon as he could get up he
would go out and put a bullet through the animal. The partition was
only of wood, and when he spoke loudly I could not help hearing what
he said. The parlour in which I sat was a bare, comfortless sort of
apartment, with a stretcher--like couch, cushioned in red blanketing,
a square table covered with a terrible flowered oilcloth, a rocking-
chair, and a few horse-hair seats, some flaring prints, and a
guttering kerosene lamp. There were no books or anything to distract
one's thoughts. Lina came in several times and sat on the rocking-
chair; but every time she did so Mr. Sabine called her back with
querulous imperativeness, or perhaps an oath. About ten o'clock the
telegraph master brought us in some tea and a coarse loaf, and laid a
roll of red blanketing on the stretcher, saying that he would not come
in again to disturb us, but would settle himself in the skillion, and
that if we wanted anything we were to call him. He was a long, gaunt--
looking man, with hollow cheeks, a scrubby iron-grey beard, and a
sepulchral way of speaking. He did not seem able to grasp the
situation, or the fact that Lina was the wife of the man who had been
thrown from his horse. He evidently found it impossible to believe
that she was a married woman at all, for he kept calling her "Missy,"
and addressing me when there was a question of Mr. Sabine's wants.

By-and-by I lay down on the stretcher, and covered myself with a red
blanket. I did not mean to go to sleep, but I suppose I must have
dropped off. Even then the echo of Mr. Sabine's imprecations mingled
with my dreams. Then there came an odd fancy that Lina and Mr. Lyndon
and I were sailing down some wonderful Eastern river, through towns
where the houses were of ivory glittering with precious stones, and
the trees dropped golden fruit, and Lina was singing--

"Ah, dem golden slippers!--golden slippers!
I'se gwine to wear to walk in de golden street."

Yes, Lina was singing. I sat up and listened, wide awake, and there
came over me that feeling of exquisite melancholy which her voice
always brought. When she had finished the song, I knocked at the door,
and she came out, her yellow hair loosened about her face, and her
blue eyes heavy and dim.

"I'm afraid I awoke you, Rachel; but I can't help going off myself, I
am so tired, and Mr. Sabine gets cross if I don't answer him. I
thought that if I sang it might send him to sleep."

He called her in while she was speaking, telling her crossly to go
on, and adding that it wasn't often he asked her to keep awake, and
that she might for once do something to oblige him. So she went back
and sang on--negro melodies, and "Wallabi Jo," and "The Stockman's
Whistle," and all her quaint, simple things, till at dawn he dropped
asleep, and she came and laid down on the stretcher and slumbered out
of utter weariness.

The telegraph master brought in our breakfast. Then the overseer came
and went in to see Mr. Sabine, talking with him several minutes.
Presently he returned to Lina and me, as we stood by the window,
watching for any sign of the buggy from Balloo Vale or of Alec riding
down, and said to her, "Mr. Sabine thinks he would like to get up and
dress himself a bit. I'll call in the old man, and we'll see to him.
Mrs. Sabine, you just go and take a little turn outside; it'll do you
good after your wakeful night."

Lina and I went out and wandered up the Balloo road a little way. We
were not many minutes absent. When we came back to the parlour, the
door into the bedroom was shut, and we could hear the overseer and the
telegraph master talking in a low tone. Lina observed carelessly that
Mr. Sabine must certainly be shaving, he was so quiet; and seating
herself in the rocking-chair began to swing to and fro, while she
softly hummed a waltz tune.

"I wonder how the dance went off last night," she said. "I'm sorry we
missed it. Perhaps I shall never have the chance of being at a bush
dance again. Rachel, I was quite right about my presentiment. Mr.
Sabine's mood has entirely changed. He is as eager now to get away as
I am. He's like that, you know. He had a freak for staying, and now
that's passed suddenly, and he says that he will not stop a day longer
in the country than he need, and that he is going straight down from
here to put the superintendent in charge at Akobaora, and will take
our passages for the next mail boat. He talks of stopping in Japan,
America, Italy--all kinds of places. I thought of my presentiment last
night when he was talking and I was singing, and the rain was
pattering down on the roof. It is really--

"Good-bye, children, I'm gwine to go

Where the rain doan fall and the win doan blow."

She caught up the refrain with her little light laugh. "But that's a
long way farther than the other side of the world, Rachel. I don't
mind how much it rains and blows so that I am on that side and not on
this one."

Just then, while she was still rocking herself to and fro, the door
of the inner room opened, and the telegraph master came forward
carefully and slowly, closing the door again behind him. He stood
looking at us silently for a minute, a grim herald of evil tidings,
gaunt, solemn, and with a shocked, hesitating expression, as if he
were under a painful responsibility which he knew not how to
discharge.

His face frightened us both. Lina stopped short in her swaying
motion, and rose from the chair.

"What is it?" she said. "Why don't you speak?"

The man turned blundering and helpless from Lina to me, and then
back to Lina again. "Mrs. Sabine," he began--"Missey. Which of you is
Mrs. Sabine? The overseer said I must break it to you. They're in
there, the overseer and Mr. Todd. Todd came just as you were gone. He
is awfully cut up. He thinks you'll blame him for being so cock-sure.
But it's a dispensation from the Lord, Mrs. Sabine, and that's what I
told Todd."

Lina waved the man impatiently aside. "Mr. Sabine is worse," she
said, quietly. "You needn't beat about the bush. Let me go in to him."

She was moving to the door; but the telegraph master stretched out
his arms and barred her passage. "They said I mustn't let you go in,
Mrs. Sabine. You can't do any good. He's dead--your husband's dead.
He'll never speak to you again. He was more hurt yesterday than Todd
knew. There's been a bleeding inside. When he tried to get up, it
broke out afresh; and all of a sudden, while we were dressing him, he
dropped back and died."

As, with unconscious brutality, the man jerked out his blunt
statement, Lina seemed to stiffen to the rigidity of stone. It was as
if she had been petrified, or suddenly frozen with horror. She uttered
no word, but only gazed at him with eyes that were wide and glassy. I
sprang to her and called her name. Suddenly she gave a sharp, piercing
cry. A spasm of extreme pain distorted her face, her hands clutched
wildly at her bosom as on that night in the verandah at Mr.
Kelmarsh's, when I in my foolish thoughtlessness did not suspect that
she might be suffering the agony of mortal disease. She staggered
forward away from my supporting arms, and fell in a heap to the
ground. My scream called Mr. Todd and the overseer from the bedroom,
where the cowards had been waiting for this bungling idiot to break
the news they did not dare to tell. We lifted Lina up and laid her on
the sofa. We tried in vain to restore her to consciousness. She
neither stirred nor breathed. Her heart was quite pulseless.

I could not believe for a long time that Lina was dead. I kneeled by
her and chafed her hands, and put my lips to her lips, which were cold
already. Her blue eyes gazed back into mine, soulless and unknowing.
Her yellow hair lay like a web of gold on the coarse red blanket. The
look of pain had gone as if by a miracle from her face. There was
nothing but those unanswering eyes to tell me that her spirit had
fled.

Horses' hoofs and the clattering of the buggy sounded outside. Alec
came in and drew me away. Mr. Robinson and Milly followed. It was
Milly's frantic sobs and questions that made me realise the truth.

Yes, Lina was dead. The husband and wife had gone upon their
journey. She who in life had withered in his harsh presence was bidden
to follow him in death. But they had gone to that furthermost country
in which jibes and bickering cease, and where there is no marrying nor
giving in marriage.

I wish that I were not telling a true story. If I were writing a
romance, there should be no inappropriate double tragedy, there should
be no loose threads, no irrelevant episode, no anticlimax to this
rambling tale of our Island days. The order of Lina's release from her
irksome bonds should not be her death signal. She should live and be
happy as Tom Lyndon's wife, and I would drop the curtain upon this
Island play to the sound of wedding bells. ... But I am only telling
the things that happened. I am not writing a romance--and Lina is
dead.



Chapter XIII. Balfour of Kilcummin.



I will not dwell any more on the sad story of Lina Sabine. It was a
shadow which came upon us and made us very melancholy; but, after a
little while, the blackness of the shadow passed, and we began to live
our own life again, and were happy in each other, and deeply
interested in the new turn of fortune and the prospects for the
future. The Island looked very home-like when we saw it once more, and
I confess that for the moment I forgot the terrors of Gundabine Bay
and the mosquitoes, and that I felt a queer little pang at the thought
of leaving our first married home when we had as yet barely taken root
in the soil. I think it was a long letter from Loftus which we got at
Stonehampton that almost confirmed our wavering decision.

Brown was waiting for us with horses at the pilot station, so we did
not stop there, but rode down home at once; besides, Alec wanted to
look about him, and to get things in order for Colin Balfour, the
gentleman stockman. Alec intended to make a proviso that the new
purchaser should keep him on if he proved satisfactory. The grass was
all green and high where the fire had laid the country waste; the old
charred tussocks round the house had sprouted afresh, and the scorched
gum-trees had put forth new suckers. Everybody and everything seemed
glad to see us; Christo, the Angora goat, ran up bleating from the
herd; Monte and Beaufort and the bull-pup came out leaping and
barking, and Rose, surrounded by puppies, now in advanced stage of
gambolling, beat her tattoo of welcome on the boards of the causeway;
gaunt Mrs. McGilray stood by a brand-new hen-coop placed conspicuously
under the kitchen window, and pointed with a grim smile to the first
brood of Christianized chickens which the Island had in our time
produced, while dapper little Mr. McGilray, when questioned by Alec as
to whether "things had gone all right," replied with his perky
formula, "And what for no, sir?"

There were letters awaiting us from Burnett and Neame, the stock and
station agents, to whom Alec had in the meantime written fully. As he
had suspected, Mr. Daniel Liss was the would-be buyer. He was willing
to agree in the main to Alec's terms, and even to a "yard muster," and
the agents suggested that he should pay Alec a visit, in which the
sale might be definitely arranged.

We talked it all over that night as we sat in the verandah. Alec
explained to me the pros and cons of the situation. There was the
certainty of his being able to clear out of the Island at a
considerable profit, for he had bought when prices were much lower,
and moreover he had bought by book muster, and was sure that there
were many more cattle on the station than the nominal number of the
herd. Then there was the superiority of an inland run over a coast
one--coast country being proverbially bad for fattening beasts, and
the probability of squatting property falling in the market, and many
other considerations, all of which had been weighed by us over and
over again since the arrival of Messrs. Burnett and Neame's proposal;
but we always came to the same conclusion, and so Alec wrote a
telegram inviting Mr. Liss to come over when he pleased, and sent
Brown off with it on the following morning.

Alec himself went to the South End to meet the new stockman, and I
watched with some anxiety for his return with the descendant of the
Balfours of Kilcummin, the embodiment of the noblesse oblige
principle.

He was undoubtedly a very handsome man, this Colin Balfour; but I did
not think that he showed any distinct traces of ancient lineage, or of
high civilization, being rather the splendid animal type than that of
the Bayard--firm-knit, athletic frame, deep-set bold black eyes, large
rather coarse features, curling whiskers, and a general look of
devilry and self--assurance--altogether more suggestive of backwoods
adventure than feats of chivalry. He took off his hat to me with a
flourish, and when Alec said to him, "You must make yourself as
comfortable as you can at the hut, Balfour, and I advise you to get
your feed from the kitchen till you've settled down a bit," the kind
of military salute he gave, and the proud but cheerful humility of his
"All right, sir," were both effective and touching.

"A dash of the swell about him; but I think he's going to do,
Rachel," said Alec. "He has a magnificent hand on a horse--I put him
on that half-broken chestnut colt--and there's no doubt that he knows
what he is about with stock. I gave him a hint that there was a chance
of my selling the station, but he did not seem at all dissatisfied; in
fact, rather took to the idea of a muster--I gave him to understand,
of course, that I would make it worth his while to scour the gullies
for stray calves. He is keen as mustard about learning the run at
once. I shall start him on Monday, and I think, Rachel, that to-morrow
you might just go down to the hut, and see if anything can be done to
make it a little more comfortable for his wife. Rame is going to bring
her over as soon as the wind changes."

The next day, which was Sunday, Alec and I went down to the hut.
Before knocking we stood a minute or two, and looked at Mrs. Balfour's
future abode. It was a rough slab building, with chinks between the
slabs wide enough to let in a good deal of daylight--two rooms and a
lean-to, and a verandah, with a mud floor supported by gum-saplings
which had the bark still upon them. At the back there was a bark shed
and a primitive fireplace, with a boiler and a camp oven standing in
it, each raised upon two stones.

Balfour opened the door for us. He looked handsomer than ever in his
loose crimson Crimean shirt and riding breeches. He had evidently been
preparing his Sunday dinner, for there was a piece of smoking salt
beef in a tin dish on the table, and a damper baking in the ashes of
the wide wooden fireplace. Alec talked to him in a friendly
unceremonious way, as if he had been any ordinary stockman; but I
found it impossible to be unconstrained with him. I could not find any
fault with the man--he was respectful, good-tempered, and apparently
most anxious to accommodate himself to circumstances; but,
nevertheless, from the first I took a dislike to him, and I felt that
his wife was to be compassionated.

The hut looked quite as uninviting within as it did externally. A
rude bunk was fixed underneath the unglazed window; there was a table
of iron-bark wood standing upon two stumps in the centre of the room,
two or three fixtures of slab, a bench, some tools, a squatter's chair
of crude design, some tin and iron cooking utensils, and some other
necessaries completed the visible furniture of the place. We ventured
to hope that Mrs. Balfour would bring a few small comforts over with
her from Gundabine, and that she would not be disheartened at the
sight of the hut.

"It is a very good hut, as huts go," said Mr. Balfour, in an off-hand
way, "and, if a man has come down to be a stockman, he must take
stockman's fare. My wife has got used to roughing it, Mrs. Ansdell,
and knows what to expect; she lived in a tent on the diggings for six
months. What matters most to her is the being with me. You wouldn't
think it, perhaps, but though I've brought her nothing but misfortune,
I honestly believe that if she had it all to do over again, she'd
choose me before any man in the world."

I pitied Mrs. Balfour more than ever.

Alec offered to let McGilray take a day or two at the hut, to put up
some canvas lining and knock together a cupboard for Mrs. Balfour's
convenience, and we went away, after a little talk on station matters,
in which Balfour delighted Alec still more by his readiness,
understanding, and regard for his master's interest.

"That's the man I've been wanting for years," said Alec,
enthusiastically, and he poured forth an eulogium on Balfour's virtues
and qualifications, which I silently hoped that experience would
justify.

After this I did not see much of Balfour, though I heard a great deal
about his various excellences. He went off exploring the run, camping
out and making acquaintance with the cattle under the guidance of Alec
and Brown. We at the head station turned our attention to Mrs.
Balfour's comfort, which did not appear to weigh heavily upon the mind
of her husband, and I warmed Mrs. McGilray to a grim enthusiasm, and
got her to consent to the removal of some small pieces of furniture,
and of some pots and pans and so forth, and to help in cleaning up the
place and making it habitable. Altogether, the hut presented a much
more pleasant appearance than might have been expected when the day
came for Mrs. Balfour's arrival.

She was a worn, thin woman, who had once had a second-rate
prettiness--clear, grey eyes, a sharp nose, a full-lipped slightly
coarse mouth, high cheek-bones, and a sallow brown skin. Probably she
had once been fair and plump, but that was all gone now. When she
dressed in the afternoon she had a look of faded smartness, and her
manner to me was portentously formal and fine, and so aggressively
resentful of patronage that after a while I dropped my well-meant
attentions, which I found were ungraciously received. Mrs. Balfour was
a disappointment, and Alec was obliged to own that, however admirable
Balfour might be as a stockman, socially speaking I should not derive
much benefit from his wife. We began to have doubts as to Mrs.
Balfour's claims to gentility; indeed, it must be owned a vague
distrust had crept up in our minds about the Balfours of Kilcummin
generally; but we reflected that perhaps Mr. Balfour had left home
when he was a boy, and had married beneath him. At any rate, we did
not openly give vent to our suspicions.

One thing was quite clear: Mrs. Balfour, sulky, morose, and third-
rate as she was, cherished a genuine, almost slavish devotion for her
handsome husband. I am sure that he was not kind to her. There was a
look in her eye when he was by which made me fancy that she was afraid
of him; but for all that, I believe that she would have gone through
fire and water to do his bidding.

There was another inmate of the hut who from the first roused my
interest. On the morning after Mrs. Balfour's arrival, I was skimming
my milk-pans in the dairy, when an indistinct sound caused me to look
round at the slit in the slabs, over which a loose cheese-cloth blind
usually hung, and which had been cut in the wall of the dairy for the
purposes of ventilation. There I saw poked forward under the cheese-
cloth a queer little brown face with two bright melancholy eyes, a
fringe of wiry black curls, a pinched little mouth, and a look at once
anxious, alert, wobegone, and monkeyish. The face was tiny enough to
have been that of a baby, but it was old enough for the face of an
old, old woman.

I asked the apparition who it was, and what it wanted, and bade it
come round to the door. The cheese-cloth waved over the aperture
again, and in a minute there stood in front of me, with two tin
billies in her hand, a wee old-woman-child, who, from her height and
make, I might have guessed to be six years old, but whose demure and
experienced air gave me the impression that she must be quite grown
up. She was dressed in a coarse linsey frock, very much mended, her
hair was brushed as neatly as its fuzzy nature would permit, and her
face was clean, but her little hands were horny and rough with hard
work, her boots were going to pieces, and her spindle legs were bare.

The child held out her billies.

"Please, I'm come for milk. I'm Wunkie Blake, Balfour's kid."

I filled the billies, and then I asked the child how, if Mr. and Mrs.
Balfour were her father and mother, she came to be called Blake.

"They ain't my father and mother," she cried fiercely; "I haven't got
no father nor mother, and I wouldn't have Bully Balfour for my dad,
not if you was to whop me all day and night." She set her little teeth
savagely together, and tossed her black mane.

"And so you don't like Mr. Balfour?" I asked. The child gave her head
a queer little solemn shake.

"My word! I believe you," she said. "It's this way, you see. Mrs.
Balfour was married to my dad afore he died, and afore she married
Balfour. She ain't nothing to me, and I ain't nothing to her. He jes
gev me up to her, did my dad, and she's got to keep me till I can go
out to service, 'less somebody 'ud 'dopt me."

A few questions elicited further particulars of Wunkie's history.

"Her 'born' name was 'Lizabeth. Didn't know how she came by Wunkie.
'Spected she got it at the diggings and it stuck. Lived at the
diggings when she was a little kid, and till Duffey cracked up. Duffey
took charge of her while Mom went out governessing. Mom had never
taught her nothing. Duffey taught her to cook and clean and make pie--
melon jam--was there any pie-melons on the Island? No. That was a bad
job. Pie-melons kept Balfour pretty sweet--for him. When Duffey
cracked up she was took to Balfour's, and, my word, weren't they fine!
A deal too fine for her; she liked the blacks' camp better. Then
Balfour cracked up too." In poor Wunkie's experience it seemed a law
of nature that her protectors must "crack up." Since that epoch it
appeared that she had been acting as a sort of drudge to Mr. and Mrs.
Balfour. "'Twas she that cooked the meat and bread. Lor, she could
make splendid bread. Duffey had done the baking for the diggings, and
she scrubbed Bully Balfour's moleskins and made and mended her own
poor little garments--when they gev her any stuff. She 'spected she
was thirteen--wasn't anyway fixed on it. She wished somebody 'ud 'dopt
her and get her learned something. There was a man on the diggings as
said he'd 'dopt her and send her to school whenever he hit on a
nugget; but he cracked up too, and then he went off in a rush to the
new diggings. And now she must go down with the milk, or Bully Balfour
would whop her. No; she wasn't whopped such a great lot--only when the
devil got inside her and she cheeked Mr. Balfour. She 'spected the
devil got inside most folks when they was kids, and whopping once in a
way wasn't much odds to anybody"; and, with this philosophica
sentiment, Wunkie departed.

There was a good deal of the philosopher about Wunkie. She took life
as she found it. When it was her fate to be whopped, she accepted it
with stoical fortitude, and, I am afraid, whopping was not
unfrequently her portion. The ruder responsibilities of the household
appeared to rest upon Wunkie's tiny shoulders. As far as I could make
out, Mrs. Balfour put her hand to none of the rough work, but confined
herself to the concoction of tasty dishes for her husband's dinner,
and general attendance upon him, which, as Balfour was often camping
out and at all times never home till the evening, did not amount to
much. It was Wunkie who scoured and swept, scrubbed, baked, and
boiled. My indignation was roused one day by seeing her at the wood
heap outside the hut trying to wield an axe which her utmost effort
could scarcely lift to the level of her tiny head, and I went within
and remonstrated with her guardian upon the tasks which were laid upon
one so feeble. Mrs. Balfour, who was lounging in the squatter's chair
reading a Family Herald, received my expostulation with frigid
dignity. She was obliged to me for troubling about Wunkie; and if I
could make Wunkie obey her she would be still more obliged. Wunkie
knew perfectly well that she wasn't asked to chop wood or to do
anything that was beyond her strength; but, out of sheer perverseness,
Wunkie always wanted to meddle with what she was told to let alone;
and she'd rather chop up a tree than sit down quietly and do her
sewing. Wunkie had been bred up to defy her by some people called
Duffey, who were relations of Wunkie's mother, and who she had
expected would provide for the child. Mrs. Balfour proceeded to tell
me how Mr. Blake, her first husband, had been employed in a Government
office, and how an unjust ministry had denied his widow's claim to a
pension, and how Wunkie, who was not even of her blood, had been left
on her hands without a sixpence. I suggested that this was not poor
Wunkie's fault, and delicately deplored her forlorn condition and want
of education, to which Mrs. Balfour replied that Wunkie was a child of
low tastes, and that when, in the day of their prosperity, they had
treated her like a lady, she had run off into the bush and had
actually been found in the blacks' camp. I did not dare to allude to
the whoppings, for Wunkie had bound me over to silence; but when I
diplomatically hinted at Mr. Balfour's sentiments towards the child,
Mrs. Balfour flushed, and exclaimed in energetic defence of her
husband that it could not be supposed a man would feel affection for a
cross-grained creature who was no kin to him and repaid all his
kindness with insolence. So there was nothing to be done for poor
Wunkie but to encourage her to come up to the house when she could,
and to try and civilize her by dint of precept and example. The child
had instincts of tidiness, and her gratitude was intense when I
presented her with a pair of boots and some stockings, and when
between us we manufactured a substitute for the dirty, torn linsey
frock. She would steal up over the brow of the hill when she had done
the work required of her at the hut, and would sit on the edge of the
verandah, silently watching me as I sewed, and every now and then
uttering a solemn ejaculation on the subject nearest her heart, "Lor,
I wish I could get holt of somebody as 'ud 'dopt me."

The Balfours had been with us several weeks before anything was
settled as to the sale of the station. Balfour learned the run with
extraordinary quickness, and nothing could have been more satisfactory
than his zeal as a stockman. Alec declared that he knew already to
which particular camp a stray beast belonged, and was on quite
intimate terms with a mob of "scrubbers" which had resisted all
Tillidge's attempts to bring them into the yard. Extensive operations
were being carried on among the stock in view of the impending "yard
muster." Our mail was now fetched regularly across, for who could tell
what it might not contain? and the pilot station did a brisk business
in telegrams between Alec, Mr. Liss, and Burnett and Neame. Mr. Liss
was a long time in making his appearance at the Island, and seemed to
prefer letting the agents write reams of stipulations to settling
matters by an interview. Alec was certain that his objection to
visiting the Island arose from his horror of meeting me. Mr. Liss's
aversion to women was a stock joke in the district. He had been heard
to assert solemnly that he had never tasted wine or spirits, had never
smoked tobacco, and had never kissed a woman. Alec had several stories
of Mr. Liss and his queer ways. He had come out a boy emigrant, had
worked his way from nothing, and money--making was his passion. Little
by little he had bought stations everywhere. They returned him good
interest, and he was always on the look-out for paying investments. He
never spent an unnecessary halfpenny upon himself, and though he had
been known, unsolicited, to subscribe liberally in charity, he
invariably refused when pressed to do so, on the plea that women and
babies and folks that hadn't the gumption to save or earn, were nought
to a hard-working, honest fellow like himself. He was the terror of
his various superintendents, for he had an inconvenient way of
sneaking up and down between his different stations as a steerage
passenger in the steamer, and of pouncing upon his managers unawares.
It was related how, upon one occasion, when he came up north to take
delivery of a station for which he had paid a large sum in cash, the
agents, anxious to do honour to so wealthy a client, went to the
steamer to receive him; and how, after vainly searching among the
cabin passengers, they found him at last in the steerage, very
shabbily clad, and disputing with the steward over some trifling
overcharge.

He turned up at last on the Island, giving us no previous warning. It
was full moon, and he swam the Narrows by himself on horseback. Early
one morning I was churning, and Alec had come himself with the milk to
see how I was getting on, when McGilray looked in to say that Mr. Liss
was in the yard and wanted to speak to the master. Alec went out, and
I heard him welcoming the new-comer and pressing hospitality upon him,
which, however, Mr. Liss stolidly declined.

"Well, sir," he said, in a dogmatic, nasal voice, "I'm willing to go
over the station-books and to look about the run with you, and I'll
come up by--and-by and have a talk over business. But I'm not going
inside parlouring. I don't care about going in among women. I don't
care about 'if you please' and 'thankye' and company manners and
rubbish. Conduct your business on commercial principles and let the
women alone, that's been my rewle through life."

I could not help taking a peep through the cheese-cloth at the master
of our fate. I saw a short, square, stumpy man in drab moleskins and
tan gaiters, with a loose "jumper" coat buttoned over a collarless
Crimean shirt. He might have been sixty years of age, but was hale and
well preserved. His face was large for his frame, shrewd, slightly
humorous, with small ferret-like eyes closely set together, a coarse
iron-grey beard standing out like a fringe, a long, smooth, upper-lip,
and a narrow-lipped mouth turned down at the corners. Alec still urged
him to enter, rallying him good-naturedly on his misogynist
tendencies, and promising him that if he would stay with us, he should
have his meals served separately in the office, and should not be
required to do any "parlouring." But Mr. Liss shook his head doggedly.

"Well, sir!" He put out his hand, and, as if to emphasize his words,
tapped Alec three times on the shoulder with his short, thick fingers.
"It ain't my fault if you and your missus don't know old Dan'l Liss's
some folk call 'em cranks--I don't. Many's the time I've camped
outside a cultivation paddock fence and made my dinner off roasted
corn because I wouldn't go 'parlouring.' If you say any more I'll just
swim over the Narrows again, and we're off the sale. I'm going to camp
down by the stockyard, and I've just come up to buy a bit of meat and
a pound or two of flour, and now good-day for the present."

Mr. Liss had his way and walked off, having first seen the flour and
meat weighed, and having paid for them on the spot. Alec came back
laughing and half annoyed, but there was nothing to be done. Mr. Liss
camped out and baked his own damper and boiled his own beef. He came
up later in the day, and I retired into the background lest his
sensibilities should be jarred by the presence of a woman. He had his
talk with Alec in the office, and after some haggling they came to
terms, and he virtually bought the Island. Very soon the muster began.
Extra hands were got over from the mainland, and the place became a
scene of bustle and excitement. Every day about four o'clock there
sounded in the distance a confused roar like that of the sea, which,
as it came nearer, resolved itself into the bellowing of beasts, the
shouting of men, and the cracking of stockwhips. Every day when the
noise began I saw Mr. Liss mount on the brow of the hill and gaze
eagerly towards the moving wave of heaving backs and tossing horns;
then he would scurry down to the stockyard, take up his position on
the top rail, calculate the number of cattle, and note the sum of
money it represented. It was an anxious time--those first few days of
the muster. If there were fewer cattle on the Island than we supposed,
we might have good reason to repent our bargain. Every hundred calves
meant the addition of 450 to our modest capital. No wonder that I
listened excitedly to the distant murmur of the incoming mob, and felt
my heart rise and sink in proportion to the volume of sound. Wunkie
Blake, who happened to be seated on the edge of the verandah on the
first of these critical occasions, readily divined the situation.
"Lor, I know all about it. It's like fishing for craws, you don't know
how many are coming up. Haven't I heard Bully Balfour talk! He says
you'll have a big sale. I heard him say that there was such a lot of
dry gullies and queer corners in this 'ere run that you could plant a
mob of beasts and nobody be none the wiser. Look here," pursued
Wunkie, solemnly, "you look out for Bully Balfour, or he'll be up to
one of his tricks. You bet he will."

Wunkie would not explain her warning, which I duly reported to Alec.
But Alec was highly elated, and Balfour's capacity and energy even
surpassed his hopes. He seemed to have a perfect instinct as to the
whereabouts of "cleanskins," or unbranded calves, so Alec said. All
was going well. Each day Wunkie, who was on the look-out, would rush
up with the intelligence that there was a "whacking mob" coming. "Old
Liss is beginning to look a little blue," Alec said. "He'll have to
fork out more than he expected, and it goes against the grain with him
to pay 4 10s. for a calf toddling by its mother. He's sorry now that
he didn't insist on a book muster. By Jove, I'd no idea the Island was
such a good breeding run."



Chapter XIV. The Adoption of Wunkie.



THE mustering had been going on for a fortnight, when there came two
or three days of heavy rain, and the damp brought on Mr. Liss a severe
attack of lumbago. He refused even still, however, to leave his tent,
and would have no one to attend on him, though he allowed us now to
send him down cooked food and an occasional delicacy in the shape of
pudding or an egg, grimly observing that we were taking it out of him
in the price of calves.

One day all the men and blackboys were out, Mrs. McGilray was busy
with her week's wash, and there was no one but myself to take the
little custard pudding and fresh loaf which had been prepared for Mr.
Liss. I started down the hill in fear and trembling, not knowing how I
should summon courage to approach the lion in his lair. Half-way down,
however, an idea struck me, and seeing Wunkie alone in the verandah of
the hut, I called to her and bade her come with me.

Wunkie looked very much more prepossessing now than she had done on
her arrival. The milk and abundance of food had filled out her pinched
cheeks and made her seem more child-like. Her new frock and tidy boots
added considerably to her appearance, and though she had lost none of
her quaintness, her frequent visits to the house and Mrs. McGilray's
and my exhortations had tended somewhat to civilize her. As we walked
along, I could not help thinking of a little conversation between Alec
and Mr. Liss which had taken place a short time before they had
compared their respective tallies of the day's square-tailing. Alec
had duly repeated the conversation, and it was somewhat after this
fashion:--

"And how are you getting on with your stations generally, Liss?"
Alec asked.

"Well, sir; just keeping my head above water in these bad times,"
said Mr. Liss.

"I only wish that I could keep my head as well above water," said
Alec. "But now tell me, Mr. Liss, don't you find life very lonely? I
often wonder how it was you never got married."

"Well, sir"--and Mr. Liss's three fingers tapped Alec's shoulder--
"the mistake of my life. sir."

"But you're a fine man yet," said Alec, "and you've got lots of
money. You don't give yourself a chance. There are plenty of nice
girls would be only to ready to say yes to you."

"Too late, sir; too late," replied Mr. Liss, mournfully. "When I was
a youngster I hadn't got the education or opportunity or the
inclination for parlouring, and now I haven't got the courage to
tackle women. Never was used to 'em, sir. Never had any of my own to
speak of. I started out here on an outside sheep station at ten
shillings a week, and didn't speak to a white woman for twenty-five
years. Too late to begin now."

"Try it, Liss," said Alec. "I'll lay the Island that I could find
you a wife."

"Well, sir, I dessay. Marry me for my money and for what they could
get out of me. That's about it."

"But what the deuce are you going to do with your money?" said Alec.
"Even you can't last for ever, you know."

"Well, sir; I've not made up my mind, sir. There's a little girl I
once met when I was knocking about. I wanted to buy a lot of bulls--no
one at home when I asked for the boss--all away at the races, not
expected back till to-morrow. I didn't want to go inside parlouring,
and I was wishing little missy good-day; but, bless you, no, sir; she
wouldn't hear of that. She was no more than twelve or thirteen--such a
sweet, pretty little maid. She made me come inside, and nothing would
do but she must show me her garden and her cats, and I must have a
game at bzique with her--so nice and fetching. I wished I had a dozen
like her. You see I was used to big rough ones in my young days. And I
stayed with the little maid and spent such an evening as I've dreamed
of, but never had the like before nor since. I've often thought of
little Jane. She's married now, with a squad of youngsters--married to
a flash chap that chucks away his money, and would chuck away mine,
too, if he had the chance. I go to see her sometimes--always pleasant
she is, no humbug; she never asked me to lend or to hand over. Some
day, perhaps, she'll find a nice little balance at the banker's, all
tied up on herself--not too much, for the flash husband to pitch
about, but enough to make her remember old Dan'l Liss. If I could come
across a child like that one--a little thing, mind you--Janie's size--
and one that I could keep from marrying a flash chap, why, there's no
saying--there's no saying, sir."

And then I thought of Wunkie.

I sent Wunkie into the tent and strolled along to the garden, where
I occupied myself in gathering rosellas for the morrow's tart. It was
quite a long time before Wunkie came back; and I waited in some
anxiety to hear her report of the interview.

"I gev him the pudding," Wunkie said, solemnly, "and he eat it all.
He arst me if I made it, and I said no, 'twur you that made it; but I
were pretty good at making puddings myself. And while I was washing
the dish, he got a crink in his back, and, my word! he did screw
himself up. And I arst him if he'd got any pain-killer, and he said
yes; and I rubbed him like I used Sam Duffey when he had the crinks
with lumbager. Then he arst me 'bout Sam Duffey, and I told him how
Duffey cracked up and what a bad job it were for me, cos I never had
nobody since, that were as kind to me as them Duffeys and the other
chap that didn't strike a nugget, as was going to 'dopt me. And I said
I'd come and rub him every day if he liked, and he arst me how much I
'spected to be paid for rubbing him; and when he said that I up and
bolted."

"And is that all, Wunkie?"

"No; he hollered for me and I went back, cos I'd forgotten to put the
cork in the pain-killer, and then he made me stop, and he arst me a
lot of things, and what I'd like best in the world if I was gev a
choice; and I said nothing would be no good to me as long as I stopped
with Bully Balfour and Mom"--this was Wunkie's compromise for the more
tender appellation, "Mother"--" 'less somebody ud 'dopt me; then I'd
like to be learned to talk like other folks and to behave. 'Spect it
ud be pretty hard work to learn me anything."

"Teach, Wunkie," I corrected. I may mention that I frequently
corrected Wunkie's errors of pronunciation; but habit was strong, and
she made no great advance towards the acquirement of polished English.

"'Taint no use," said Wunkie, despairingly. "It's schooling that I
want to get holt of. Bothered, now, if I didn't hammer my nail with
the tommyhawk a purpose to fix that in my head, and there it's gone
again."

I tried to glean indirectly from Wunkie how Mr. Liss had received her
innocent suggestion in regard to 'doption, but all I could get out of
her was that the old man was a "rum 'un," and had "arst" her a lot of
things; and then Wunkie's demure little face rippled over in an odd
way, and she laughed, a rare occurrence with her. It appeared that Mr.
Liss had endeavoured to repair Wunkie's educational deficiencies, and
that, taking an old Bible from under his pillow, he had instructed her
in reading aloud a chapter of Genesis. But though Wunkie's literary
attainments were decidedly elementary, she had frankly informed Mr.
Liss of her opinion that he would be the better, too, for schooling,
and had puzzled him by the theological difficulties she propounded.
With a practical scepticism worthy of Colonel Ingersoll, Wunkie had
expressed her doubts as to the carrying capabilities of the Ark, and
had put Mr. Liss through a catechism which brought him at last to the
humiliating confession that he had never been to school; whereupon
Wunkie gravely informed him that he wasn't the sort of chap she wanted
to get hold of to 'dopt her.

After this I made a point of sending Wunkie down every day during Mr.
Liss's sickness. She carried his pudding to him, arranged his tent,
made his tea, rubbed him with the pain-killer, and one afternoon Alec
came in, highly amused, to tell me that he had found Mr. Liss and
Wunkie absorbed in a game of knuckle-bones, otherwise "fives," Mr.
Liss laboriously driving his pigs to market between his first four
fingers, making cubby-house with his horny hand, and, while he
adroitly tossed up the knuckle-bones, repeating after Wunkie--

"Jack be nimble, Jack be quick.
Jack jump over the candlestick."

Mr. Liss's lumbago got better very soon, thanks to Wunkie and the
pain-killer, and, perhaps, to such innocent recreations, and he was
able to mount on to the top rail of the stockyard again, to watch the
square--tailing, and to moan over the swelling total and the
increasing herd of bleating calves, which last was a sore trial to his
parsimonious mind. The muster ended at last. Luck had gone with us.
The number of cattle which Alec and Balfour brought into the yard
nearly doubled that of the book valuation, by which he had bought. It
was evident that no previous owner had possessed such an energetic
stockman as Balfour of Kilcummin, and Alec was exultant over the
working of the noblesse oblige principle. The sale ws a grand stroke
for us. Prices had gone up since Alec's purchase, and in one short
year he had trebled his capital.

One evening I was in the sitting-room, writing all this good news to
Loftus, while Alec and Mr. Liss were having their business talk in the
office. I never went near them when they were so engaged. Indeed, I
strove to spare Mr. Liss's feelings, though I made a point of always
greeting him when we met by chance about the place, and day by day
warily increased my advances as if he had been a wild animal I was
trying to tame. I am bound to say that Mr. Liss took much more kindly
to the taming process than I expected, especially after he had made
friends with Wunkie. I think he softened when he found that
"parlouring" was not expected of him, and we really had quite a
confidential talk one day in the henhouse over the mangled body of a
respectable barn-door missionary pullet which the savage Spanish cock
had pecked to death.

It was very dark that night. There was a new moon, and I remember a
south-easter was blowing which made the ceilings shake and the French
windows rattle, and deadened the sound of a footstep on the verandah
and a little tap against the glass. I heard the tap, but did not say
"Come in," for I thought it was only the blind knocking the pane.
Presently, however, the door opened, and Wunkie appeared on the
threshold.

She was quite breathless. Her little face was white, except for an
angry red weal across the cheek, and there was another red mark upon
the small brown hand.

I made her come nearer to me, and asked her what had happened. I
could not at once believe that Balfour had been beating her. She had
talked so casually of her "whoppings" that without direct evidence I
had not been ready to attach importance to the statement; and then I
knew that this very morning he had asked for leave to go to the pilot
station, and stay the night, on the plea that he wanted to send a
telegram on some private business, and wait for an answer. But
Wunkie's first words settled the doubt.

"He's whopped me," she panted; "but I don't care about that. I've run
up as hard as I could to tell you that Bully Balfour was up to his
tricks. Didn't I say you'd got to look out? I want you to tell master.
Give me your sacred word and honour that you'll never let Balfour know
as 'twas I that peached. He'll whop me dead if you do."

I assured Wunkie that no harm should befall her. Then I slipped out
into the office where Alec and Mr. Liss were in friendly confabulation
over station matters. Alec was saying--

"He is a first-rate man with stock; hard working, and plenty of
gumption. I don't think you can do better than keep him on. I never
knew a fellow pick up a run so quickly."

"Alec," I said, "I want you and Mr. Liss to come at once into the
sitting-room. Wunkie is there. Balfour has done something wrong, and
she has come to tell you."

They followed me into the parlour. Wunkie was standing by the table.
She was trembling all over, and shaking her little fist at an
imaginary foe, so agitated that she did not seem to notice the two
men, who hung back at the door.

"I don't care!" she cried defiantly. "He may whop me dead if he
likes. I'd sooner be dead than let him cheat you that have tried to
learn me how to behave. You may just tell the master. I ain't going to
let you be thieved, nor that old rum 'un that I rubbed with the crinks
in the lumbager. I like him, that I do; and I ain't going to see his
cattle took away, nor yours either."

"Wunkie," said Alec, coming forward, "just speak out and say what's
up. Don't you be afraid that we shall let anything happen to you. Only
take care and not tell me any lies."

Wunkie looked up at him out of her big black eyes, and tossed her
mane back from her little resolute face.

"I never tell no lies--'cept to Bully Balfour, and I wouldn't tell
him none only for his whoppings. There's a big mob of unbranded calves
planted down in the yard by the Narrows. I heard him telling all about
it. They're going to sneak 'em across to-night. Balfour, he never went
to the pilot station. He's got two of his pals on the other side. He
just sneaked up hisself on foot to have a talk with Mom and get some
grub; and I hadn't got a bit of beef boiled, and so he swore at me,
and then I cheeked him, and he up with his stockwhip and caught me a
crack, and I just bolted, and here I be."

"And here you shall stay," said Alec, in deep, wrathful tones. "He
shall not strike you again. You're a brave, honest little girl. Look
after her, Rachel, and keep her to-night. I'm going quietly down with
Brown to the Narrows, Liss. We'll be beforehand with the rogues."

Alec went off. Mr. Liss said nothing, but lingered awkwardly while I
tried to soothe and console Wunkie. Now that the fervour of her effort
had subsided she flung herself on the floor, and went into a fit of
crying and sobbing, ejaculating brokenly, "I wish I was dead, that I
do. I hate Bully Balfour and Mom; and they wished I was dead. I heard
'em say it. What's the good o' living? Nobody wants Wunkie."

Suddenly Mr. Liss, who, as the child sobbed, had been standing still
looking at her with a strange expression on his face, stepped close to
us, and said abruptly, "Wunkie, I want you."

Wunkie raised her face, all wet and stained with tears, the red mark
upon it showing cruelly, and stared at him wide-eyed. The idea was new
to her. She evidently did not grasp it.

"You!" she said. "I can do nothing for you. You're all right now.
You ain't got no crinks."

"But I shall have 'em agen," replied Mr. Liss--"always get the
lumbago in the rainy season. Look here. I've got something to say----"
He paused awkwardly. "Do ye like old man Dan'l Liss, Wunkie?"

"You bet I do," returned Wunkie, promptly. "You ain't the sort like
Duffey and the chap as was going to strike a nugget and 'dopt me, and
cracked up i'stead--not so slap-up sharp and free with the tin; but,
my word! you and I get on first-rate together; don't we, now? I knows
your ways."

A smile of genuine pleasure came over Mr. Liss's face at this
statement of Wunkie's. But the gleam in the child's eyes went out, and
she burst into sobs once more. "What's the good? I've gone and
peached, 'cos I wouldn't see you thieved; and now I'll have to go off
to Bully Balfour and be whopped again."

"No; I'm not going to stand that," exclaimed Mr. Liss, with fierce
energy. "I'm d----d if I do. Wunkie--Well----" He hesitated, and
tapped her tiny shoulder with his three stumpy fingers, as his way was
when he meant a thing. "You said that you wanted to get hold of
somebody that 'ud adopt you and send you to school. I'll adopt you,
Wunkie. I'll give you your grub and schooling; and then, after you've
grown a big girl and I'm a crawler, you shall come and stop with me
and rub me when I've got the crinks."

The child jumped to her feet. She turned to me in a bewildered way,
and then to him. I said not a word. I think Mr. Liss had forgotten
that I was there; he was looking so earnestly at the child.

All of a sudden she flung up her arms round his neck and kissed him.

"I will," she cried. "I'll be a good girl. You shan't never have to
whop me. I'll keep the devil outside. I'll make your puddings and mend
your clothes, and I'll rub you in the lumbager, and I'll never tell
you no lies, nor cheek you, and I'll learn you all the things I learn
myself, and when you're a crawler I'll take care of you."

There was something at once comic and pathetic in the manner in which
Mr. Liss accepted the child's ombrace. He gave a little start as if he
were frightened, but she only clung to him the more, holding back her
head, her tiny face glowing as she panted forth again, "I'll be good,
I'll be good. I'll do everything for you. I'll never belong to no one
but you."

Then he put up his hand timidly and stroked her rough hair. "Very
well, my dear," he said simply. "It's a bargain between us; and missus
there is witness of it. From this night you're my 'dopted daughter;
and old man Dan'l Liss 'ull deal fair by you--so help him God!" And he
stooped down and solemnly kissed her.

I went away and left them together. The horses were already saddled
out in the yard, and Alec, Brown, and one of the spare hands mounted
noiselessly and rode off in the direction of the Narrows. When I went
back to the parlour, after having prepared a bed for Wunkie in one of
the verandah rooms, Mr. Liss was sitting on a low chair, and Wunkie,
on the floor beside him, had fallen asleep, with her head against his
knees. The sight of these two touched me curiously. I felt a lump rise
in my throat, and my heart thrilled. "You have done a good deed, and
God will make her a blessing to you," I said to him.

"Amen!" Mr. Liss answered reverently.

And that was how Wunkie got 'dopted.

When Alec and the men reached the Narrows, they found, as Wunkie had
predicted, a mob of steers in the yard by the crossing, all ready to
be swum over when the tide should be out. Balfour's horse, saddled and
bridled, was there too; but he himself never appeared. Probably he
skulked down in the dark, and seeing that the game was up, returned to
his hut, determined to brave the matter. Alec let the cattle loose and
drove them back a little way, then leaving the men to watch, rode
home. He waited till the next morning, knowing that the approaches to
the crossing were guarded, and that Balfour would not dare to swim
without his horse, on account of the sharks. Anyhow, it would be
impossible for his wife to leave the Island without applying to us.

But Balfour did not make any attempt to bolt. In obedience to Alec's
and Mr. Liss's command, he appeared defiantly at the office
accompanied by Mrs. Balfour. He was discharged, and, Alec told me,
received as severe a moral drubbing as could have been administered by
any judge on the bench. "You should have heard Liss," said Alec. "I
couldn't have believed the old fellow had so much fire in him. By
Jove! he did pitch into Balfour for flogging Wunkie. We threatened to
prosecute the rogue for cattle-stealing, but I thought to myself that,
after all, I owed him a good deal of the success of the sale; though I
see now why he was so uncommon sharp at learning the run. Mrs. Balfour
flung herself on her knees and implored us to spare her husband; and
the end of it is, that McGilray is to take them in the boat to
Gundabine this afternoon's tide; and they signed a paper, drawn up in
proper magistrate's form, giving up all claim to Wunkie. She is Liss's
adopted daughter now, and who knows but what in years to come the
Island may be part of her marriage portion? Well, I wish she may do as
well with it as we have done."

Wunkie and her guardian were standing hand-in-hand on the little slab
landing-place when we rowed down the creek and out into the Narrows.
It was a beautiful May day, with a touch of winter chill in the
westerly breeze. Sky and sea were of a soft dreamy blue. Tiny wavelets
leapt up and kissed the green waxen mangroves. All nature was smiling
and wishing us God-speed.

We put the boat broadside to the creek when we reached its mouth, and
waited, taking a last look at the figures on the shore. We all in the
boat, Alec leading, gave forth a long-drawn plaintive "Coo-ee." It was
our farewell to the Island. There came an answering good-bye from
those we had left, and little Wunkie ran forward to the end of the
pier, and stretched out her tiny arms to us across the sun-tipped
water.



Chapter XV. A New Departure.



WE did not buy another station for a good many months after our sale
of the Island. In the meantime my little baby-girl came, and Alec
travelled over many miles out West before he took up new country.

Gunyan was almost at the end of civilization. There was a very
primitive township some ninety miles distant from it, to which Mr.
Lyndon had extended the Balloo and Stonehampton Railway. Neighbours
were few and far between. The climate in summer was atrocious, and in
the Never-Never land drought is the squatter's bogie. But Gunyan
possessed the best water supply in the district, which made it
exceptionally valuable as a property, and Alec had a plan by which all
its residential disadvantages were to be overcome.

A little way from Stonehampton, branching off from the Balloo
Railway, was a pretty seaside resort much patronized by rich free
selectors and Western squatters, whose wives wished to be within reach
of their husbands, and yet avoid the worst hardships of the bush. Alec
decided that Wombo should be our summer abode, and that during the
winter months only, when heat, sandflies, and blight had no existence,
should baby and I live at Gunyan. The scheme involved certain weeks,
if not months, of separation; but then, as Alec explained, we could
rough it up there together from April to November, and there was
always the prospect, barring drought, of making a fortune in a few
years, and settling down in Melbourne or Sydney--or, better still,
taking that much-talked-of trip to England.

The sea was a soft poetic lavender, and the outlines of the islands
were blurred by the heat-mist on that February afternoon when we took
possession of our cottage at Wombo. The bay had sheltered cliffs and a
sandy beach, strewn with sea-eggs and stranded jelly-fish and dbris
of shells; and along its margin grew a sort of fat-leaved
mesembryanthemum, and clumps of bread-fruit trees, looking battered
and odd with their reedy, ragged blades of leaf, their great yellow
cones, and queer roots spreading out from half-way up the stem,
something like the spikes of a huge umbrella turned inside out. At one
end of the bay stretched out a high wooded promontory, and within its
shelter lay a little rocky knoll overgrown with creepers, pink
hibiscus, and tropical-looking vegetation--a vestige of the old scrub,
which had been almost cleared away. The other horn was formed by a
line of bold bare rocks, riddled with fissures and beaten by wind and
waves into strange fantastic shapes, beneath which the sea made a
sudden narrow sweep inland, so that at high tide the village was cut
off on one side as by a river.

It was low tide now. Alec, nurse, baby and I got out of the coach
with our clocks, birdcages, and portable valuables, and while the
vehicle went on its regular way round by road, we prepared to take the
shorter cut and wade across the inlet to our homestead exactly
opposite. As we took off our shoes, and I kilted up my skirts, we
could look across and see in the curve of the bay the cluster of
wooden houses with their plots of banana and pineapple, a family
hotel, the ultimate destination of the coach, a public-house or two,
and, further back, scattered selections with gardens and paddocks,
forming a foreground to the rising wolds of grey-green bush that
touched the horizon line.

The most imposing of these dwellings was built on a hill at the head
of the inlet--a big, rambling, verandahed house, with a great many
outbuildings and a very large, luxuriant-looking garden, in which were
some fine clumps of bamboo. This was Barradean, Mr. Wilson's
selection, and the show-place of the settlement. Mr. Wilson owned
several stations up north, and was a person of importance, but he was
not nearly so much talked about as his daughter Weeta, generally known
by the fancy title of "The Veiled Princess."

It was rather pleasant stepping over the wet, soft sand, feeling it
close over one's naked feet, and hearing the swish and gurgle the
water made when, out of idle sport, we displaced a shiny wet rock
lying in our path, and set the young crabs scuttling away in terror.
We had reached the opposite bank, and were preparing to climb the
slope on which our new cottage was built, when a woman's voice,
shrill, energetic, and yet kindly, stopped us.

"My word! if it isn't Mr. and Mrs. Ansdell! Oh, I must just see the
baby."

The lady, one of a party of three leisurely descending the hill,
rushed forward and seized Alec's and my hand at the same time.

"Why, Mrs. Wilson!" said Alec.

"Yes," said she, out of breath; "I've been to the cottage. I hope
you'll find things pretty straight. It came across me that perhaps
there wouldn't be curtains ready for baby's cot; for though there
arn't any mosquitoes to speak of, Mrs. Ansdell, still we know what one
buzzing round will do for a baby. Sweet little darling, how old?" etc.

Here came certain unveilings and some parenthetical baby-talk, at the
close of which Mrs. Wilson remarked with emphasis, "Now, Mrs. Ansdell,
they call me the manager of the district, and if you want to know your
way about, you come to me. They all do--young men and young women, as
you'll find, and I just say to them, 'My dear, tell me all about it,'
and I take them in hand and turn them round, and set them right face
foremost. Don't I, Mr. Thurston?"

She appealed to a handsome, English-looking young man, who, with a
slim, veiled girl, had come towards us.

"Uncommonly obliged we ought to feel, Mrs. Wilson," replied the young
man. "You're a mother to us loafers about Stonehampton, and
Barradean's a regular home for incurables, and a refuge for the
impecunious and unemployed."

"No, no," protested Mrs. Wilson. "I know what I'm about, and I don't
give loafers the run of my house. My young men must be gentlemen, and
have money to invest. That's my mission--to keep you young fellows of
good family out of the way of sharks. There are plenty of sharks in
Stonehampton--with their 'sampling' and their unlimited loo, and their
bogus companies and their salted gold-mines. My daughter, Mrs.
Ansdell, and Mr. Thurston. Perhaps your husband knows Lord Belmont,
Mr. Thurston's father?"

"I should think I did," said Alec, shaking the young man warmly by
the hand. "My people are in the same county. Archie, old boy, the last
I heard of you was that you were going up for the army."

"So I did, but I got plucked--always got plucked. Science and facts
ain't my strong point. They tried the Church, but it was no go.
Squatting is about my form--when I've got Mrs. Wilson to give me good
advice."

"Well, you might have let me have a chance of earning a hundred a
year by teaching you colonial experience," said Alec.

"Well, you see, old chap, Loftus wrote home such stories about your
island and the mosquitoes, that I thought I'd rather go somewhere else
for my colonial experience."

"And how are all the Suffolk folk?" asked Alec.

"First-rate. I haven't seen anything of your people since the last
Bury ball. Your sisters were there, and--and----" The young man
stopped short and got rather red.

"Isabel Cave! Oh, I heard all about it," put in Alec. Mr. Thurston
laughed rather consciously, and turned away from Mrs. Wilson's sharp
glance. I felt certain that he was afraid of Mrs. Wilson, and that he
had not told her anything about Isabel Cave. Mrs. Wilson looked quite
a person to inspire awe in the breast of a weak young man, and, for
all his physical manliness and his undeniable good looks, I suspected
Mr. Thurston of lacking force of character.

The lady of Barradean was large and angular. She had quite a majestic
presence. Her dress was of rich stuff and fashionable make. Her face
was well preserved. A fringe of iron-grey hair, carefully curled,
showed beneath her feathered hat. Her false teeth were perfect, and
she wore a massive chtelaine, with an armoury of silver weapons that
rattled with every gesture.

The introduction to Miss Wilson had not been altogether a success. A
sweet muffled voice said, "How do you do?" in answer to my salutation,
and I could only imagine the smile with which presumably my further
remarks were greeted, for she spoke absolutely nothing, but stood as
still as a statue, and as graceful. The Veiled Princess gave a good
deal of play to the imagination. She was very tall and beautifully
proportioned. I never saw finer sweep of shoulder and set of neck. Her
face, closely covered with several folds of grey gauze, remained a
mystery, but through the gauze there shot a gleam of deep, dark eyes,
and where it was gathered up behind I saw a coil of the most wonderful
red-gold hair, which gave promise of gratifying possibilities.

Presently baby began to cry, but not even the fretful wail and the
little commotion which ensued disturbed Miss Weeta's serenity. Mrs.
Wilson bade us good-bye. She said they had left the buggy up at the
township, and were going round by the rocks to get some oysters which
were to be scalloped for Mr. Wilson's dinner. Mr. Thurston was
carrying a basket and Miss Weeta dangled a black's dilly-bag. I
wondered if she would unvcil in the ardour of the occupation. Mrs.
Wilson gave us a good many parting injunctions as to the method of
dealing with Wombo tradesmen, and extracted a promise on our part that
we would dine at Barradean the following evening. Alec and Mr.
Thurston arranged to have "a real old Suffolk yarn." The veiled girl
said nothing, but atoned for the omission by a farewell bow of
statuesque grace. We walked up along the prickly--pear hedge which
bordered our garden.

"She is like the Venus of Milo," said Alec, reverting to Miss Weeta;
"if you could fancy the Louvre Venus on an Australian cattle
selection. I'm sure that not all Jupiter's magic could make that Venus
talk."

"Doesn't Miss Wilson ever talk?" I asked.

"No; but she looks and she smiles, and that's quite good enough. I
can't make out," pursued Alec reflectively, "whether she is very
stupid or very clever."

"Is she never seen unveiled?"

"Oh, yes, after dusk and in a darkened room. It's her complexion. But
you will soon find out all her peculiarities, and in the meantime here
we are."

We stepped into the enclosure, scantily stocked with some hibiscus
shrubs, a native tree covered with brilliant pink flowers, two or
three baby bamboos, and a few creepers and annuals. The cottage had a
wide verandah built in at the back and sides, thus forming several
small rooms in addition to the four main ones. It all looked
remarkably homelike and we allowed, as the Americans say, that if Mrs.
Wilson's passion for managing her friends' affairs always led to such
happy results, she must have added considerably to the comfort of the
neighbourhood.

"By Jove!" said Alec, "the table ready laid--cold chicken and trifle,
and the celebrated Barradean cream junket! She is not a bad sort,
after all." But he went on to express an ungrateful hope that she
didn't mean to go on "bossing our show," because he shouldn't be able
to stand it for a permanency.

"I'll tell you, Rachel, whose show she is doing her best to boss,"
Alec continued later on, as we sat in the verandah, and he smoked his
pipe and I watched the moon shining over the sea, and enjoyed the soft
breeze and the faint mingled odours of gum-trees and brine. "She has
got the Honourable Archie in her clutches; he is a soft chap, and will
do anything she tells him, down to buying a partnership or marrying
her daughter."

"Why shouldn't he marry her daughter?" I said.

"Because I suspect very shrewdly that he is as good as engaged to
Isabel Cave. I know from what my sisters have told me that he proposed
to her and that she was not unwilling, but her guardian refused his
consent, and she doesn't come into her money for some months yet."

Isabel Cave, hitherto only a name which had occurred several times in
Alec's letters from his sisters, now acquired a new and living
interest. I made Alec instruct me upon the situation, which, briefly,
was this. The Belmonts were the great people in Alec's part of
Suffolk. Miss Cave was the only daughter of a successful Manchester
man who had bought a place in the neighbourhood, and Isabel had grown
upon intimate terms with Alec's sisters. Archie Thurston was, as Alec
put it, "since his time," having been still at college when Alec left
England--a younger son, and, so far, somewhat of a disappointment to
his relatives. Old Mr. Cave died, confiding Isabel to the guardianship
of a brother, who, like the uncles in the melodramas, wanted to make
up a match between the heiress and his own son, and who looked with
great disfavour upon the boy-and-girl lovemaking between Isabel and
Archie. So, in a milder degree, did the Belmonts themselves, and the
result seemed to be Archie's exile to Australia.

It was not long before we heard further particulars about Mr.
Thurston's romance. The next morning his handsome head appeared above
the prickly pear bushes, and his voice was heard calling, "I say,
where can a fellow hitch up his horse out of the way of these
confounded thorns?" Alec went to his aid, and presently the two came
to the verandah, and settled themselves in long canvas chairs, with
tumblers of what Mr. Thurston called the "Barradean swizzle" on the
wooden arms of their lounges. "Ginger-beer, ration sugar, a drop of
bitters, and a decent dash of rum. It's the old lady's compromise with
Wilson," explained M. Thurston. "The old chap likes his glass, and if
the cellaret was left open, he would be pegging all day. But the
Major, as we call Mrs. Wilson, keeps the keys, and humours him by
standing a large jug of this stuff on the sideboard, so that he can't
complain of thirst."

There was an English mail in, and, like ourselves, Mr. Thurston had
received letters. He was dying to know what Etta Ansdell had told us
concerning Isabel Cave. "The fact is, Mrs. Ansdell, we're engaged," he
said, sheepishly, "but it is to be kept a secret till we're out of our
difficulties."

"Have you taken the Major into your confidence?" asked Alec.

"Why, no! But Weeta--Miss Wilson knows all about it. She is an
awfully sympathetic girl, though people do laugh at her about her
complexion. I know that if I had a skin like hers--it's beautiful,
Mrs. Ansdell--and if I freckled all over with a ray of sunshine, I'd
wear a veil too, and so would you. Isabel used to freckle," he added
reflectively.

I agreed as to the veil, and praised the colour of Miss Weeta's
hair.

"It's glorious!" he rejoined with enthusiasm--"like a Tintoretto,
you know. It puts me in mind of Miss Cave; her hair is just that
golden-red, and she has the same kind of eyes. Don't you think there's
a likeness, Ansdell?"

Alec promised to make his observations that evening. "And how about
Miss Cave? When are you going to be married?"

"As soon as she is her own mistress. What do you think? She has made
up her mind to come out to me. She is delicate, you know--lungs, and
all that--and the doctors have recommended a long sea-voyage of two or
three years in a warm climate. We've settled it between ourselves. She
comes of age this year. I have had a letter this morning, and I'm
rather excited--naturally," he added, with a boyish frankness that was
very taking.

"Oh, it has gone as far as that?" said Alec. "So she writes to you,
does she?"

"Only now and then. You see, she is a very honourable girl and
wouldn't do anything underhand; but we think that when there's a
crisis it is right of us to let each other know, and so she has
written to tell me that she has made up her mind."

"Well, look out for squalls with the Major," said Alec. "My
impression is, young fellow, that Mrs. Wilson would like to see Miss
Weeta the Honourable Mrs. Thurston."

"Come, that's all bosh," replied Archie, getting suddenly red.
"Besides, it's a sort of insult to Miss Wilson. We are splendid
friends, and she often asks me about Isabel. She is awfully
sympathetic," he repeated.

"Expresses her sympathy by gesture, I suppose?" said Alec.

"Don't chaff, Alec. She talks when we are by ourselves and the Major
is out of the way. And you should hear her play the violin! She was
educated in Melbourne, you know. I can tell you her playing is first--
class. That puts me in mind of Isabel, too. I suppose you don't
remember how she used to play The Kreutzer to your sister's
accompaniment?"

"No," said Alec. "She wasn't so far advanced when I knew her."

"Well, Miss Wilson plays The Kreutzer, too, and I accompany her. I
told her, the other day, that I could almost fancy I was accompanying
Isabel."

"And what did Miss Weeta say to that?"

"Oh, she--" young Thurston stammered, confusedly, "she--why, she
said--nothing."



Chapter XVI. The Veiled Princess.



Mr. Wilson came himself and drove us over to Barradean with his
tandem. He was a large, red, burly man, with a fat voice and a casual
laugh. "Yep, yep!" he shouted to the horses at the pitch of his strong
lungs. The buggy flew along, and a pack of kangaroo-hounds, with red
tongues hanging out, barking as they ran, seemed to have some
difficulty in keeping up to our speed. The tails of Mr. Wilson's white
coat bulged out in the wind, and he held the string of his cabbage-
tree hat between his teeth to prevent its being blown off.

Evidently Mr. Wilson was popular among the Wombo selectors. He had a
nod and a word for everyone who passed, from the Chinaman, with his
load of vegetables, to a party of footsore fencers coming in from the
bush, and from a German woman stumping by her cart to a "flash"
squatter driving his four-in-hand. His running fire of greeting was
diversified by parenthetical remarks to me. "Billy Barlow--the biggest
blower in the district. How are you, Billy? Turn up at Barradean to--
morrow and do a swizzle. Put him on the wrong side of the brandy--
bottle, and he'll beat even my stories into fits, and that's saying a
good deal. ... Good-day, Wiggins," to a clerical-looking person; "the
grinders working better, eh? Stonehampton parson come down here to get
accustomed to a new set of false teeth. ... I say, Humphreys, you're
wanted at Barradean to-night. Janie Stern says you're a stunner at the
polka. Turn round and come along. Humphreys, of the Union Bank,
awfully gone on my girl; but 200 a year and a shanty in a bush
township isn't her style. She's mighty hard to please, is Weeta, she
and her mother together: nothing short of an English swell will
satisfy them. Shouldn't wonder if they got the crooked stick after
all," pursued Mr. Wilson. "I tell Weeta she reads too much poetry.
Lord, the amount of trash that girl does get through is astonishing!"

By this time we had swung into the gates of Barradean. There was a
bachelors' quarters at the back, and I saw several men in white coats
lounging about, who, I presume, were Mrs. Wilson's protgs. The place
was a queer mixture of roughness and luxury. The stockyard, which lay
a little beyond the cultivated enclosure, was surrounded by a small
plantation of castor-oil plants, and two huge boiling-down pots had
attracted a covey of very noisy crows. I soon discovered Mr. Wilson
had a genius for disorder, and that outside Mrs. Wilson's
jurisdiction, Barradean did not sustain the reputation which her
housekeeping had earned indoors. The garden was lovely. There were
trellises of vines and passion-fruit, and one arcade covered with the
granadilla creeper: the fruit hanging inside like great golden blobs
filled me with admiration. The bamboos made a melancholy soughing
noise, and the air was laden with perfume. It was the kind of garden
in which to dream away summer evenings of languorous delight. The
thought flashed across me that it would not be difficult for Mr.
Thurston to forget Isabel Cave if a beautiful Veiled Princess wove
mysterious spells that chained him to her side in such a bower as
this.

At one end of the house grew a poinciana-tree, now a canopy of
gorgeous flame-coloured blossom. Young Thurston was gathering sprays
of the flowers and giving them to a most curious and attractive-
looking woman, who stood in a statuesque attitude against a background
of orange and green. She herself was a harmony of green and orange. I
suppose her sense of colouring was intuitive, for none of us there had
studied the modern mysteries of "tone." Perhaps Mr. Thurston had
instructed her; he was a sort of dilettante in art. In any case, she
must have found it a difficult matter to achieve the soft, clinging,
"Liberty--looking" dress which was draped from her shoulders, and
seemed to be caught at her waist by a girdle of poinciana flowers. She
had a wreath of the same flowers on her head, and they were just two
tones more vivid than her hair. I never beheld such hair. It hung to
her waist in a natural ripple, and each strand seemed to fall by
itself. In colour it was simply magnificent. She wore it parted in the
middle and standing out from her forehead as it does in some Venetian
portraits.

Her face was one of the most peculiar I have ever seen. It was very
long. The forehead was too high, the mouth heavy, the eyes blue, full
lidded, and with pupils that dilated readily. Certainly her complexion
was worth taking care of. The petals of a white rose could hardly have
been more smooth, and were scarcely more pale. One could only feel
grateful to the veil that had preserved it in such immaculate purity.

"What a pity it is that Rossetti couldn't have painted your
daughter," Alec remarked bluntly.

"Who?" asked Mrs. Wilson, in an innocent manner; then added, "Oh, of
course. That's what Mr. Thurston says. He says the London painters
would go wild about her, and he ought to know. He is a very cultivated
young man, Mr. Thurston."

"I don't think it needs much cultivation to appreciate Miss Wilson's
beauty," I said.

"Well, now," observed Mr. Wilson, who had joined us, "you'd be
surprised to hear that till she was fifteen we thought her downright
plain, and called her 'Carrots.' Red hair seems to have come into
fashion since my young days. Lucky, ain't it, that we don't all want
to be in the fashion?" and he turned with a guffaw to one of the men
near him.

He was followed by quite a small army from the bachelors' quarters,
Mr. Humphreys, the hopeless adorer, among them--a lean, shy,
straggling creature, who gave a general impression of having run up
quickly in a moist soil. The others I took to be squatters and sugar--
planters, and there were two or three fresh-faced new chums, whose
clothes had an English cut, and of whom one wore evening dress, and
was being mercilessly chaffed by the younger Wilson fry.

We were outside the drawing-room, to which there were so many windows
that it hardly seemed separated from the verandah. Within were more
young ladies, whose type was the eternal commonplace, and their
mission--to giggle. Nobody made any attempt to go down to the pair
under the flame-coloured tree, nor did they come forward and greet us.
Apparently it was the custom to regard Miss Weeta as a goddess to be
worshipped, or a picture to be admired, but from whom neither
conversation nor social conventions were to be expected. I am bound to
say that there did not seem to be many social conventions of any kind
at Barradean, and probably that was why everybody liked the place so
much. Just now Mr. Thurston seemed to be doing all the talking; Weeta
stood in her quiescent manner, only stretching out her arm every now
and then to take the flowers he offered her, and which she held in a
loose bunch against her skirts.

"Pa doesn't know anything about it," said Mrs. Wilson, after a
minute's contemplation of her daughter, and then reverting to Mr.
Wilson's statement. "We should none of us have known, if the Prince
hadn't spotted her in church with Miss Bellhayes's girls, and been
struck all of a heap with her hair and her complexion."

"That settled me," said Mr. Wilson; "I saw what a fool I'd been. If
anybody can take his pick of the best of everything it's a prince, and
his opinion is not to be argued against."

By dint of a few questions I elicited the fact that Miss Weeta had
been looked upon as an ugly duckling till a certain royal personage,
touring in Australia, convinced the world of Melbourne that a rare
swan had been hatched in a hen's nest. If Miss Weeta had been a few
years older, there is no knowing whether she might not have been then
and there translated to a higher sphere, for the Prince had been
accompanied by a fashionable painter and a peer of literary and
artistic proclivities, both of whom did their best to immortalise her.
The peer had put her into his journal, which was afterwards published,
and of which a copy, bound in vellum, was kept under glass in the
Barradean drawing-room.

The painter had painted her portrait for his royal patron. "And I
have no doubt it hangs in one of the royal palaces now," added Mr.
Wilson, with a heave of satisfaction; "and that it frequently makes
the Princess jealous."

"At any rate," said Mrs. Wilson, waiving the question of the
Princess's jealousy, "it was a mercy we made the discovery before she
went on freckling. There were two big spots on the left side of her
nose. It took years to get rid of them."

"But now we know her value, and we take care of her accordingly,"
said Mr. Wilson. "I had a room built, with windows fixed expressly for
her complexion."

"Really! The windows----"

"Raised close up to the eaves, and on the north side where there
ain't much sun."

"It must be a great responsibility," I suggested.

"Buttermilk and glycerine carry us through," answered Mrs. Wilson,
quite seriously; "and fortunately Weeta don't mind staying indoors
during the heat of the day. She's fond of reading and playing--the
hours she practises her violin would astonish you--and then she
designs dresses. She'll take a leaf or a flower and mix up her
Judson's dyes till she has got a colour that nobody would ever dream
of putting on their backs, but that seems somehow to fit her to a T.
She dyed that dress she has got on to the shade of a withered
granadilla leaf."

I was very much interested in the particulars the Major gave me of
Miss Weeta's accomplishments, and in Mrs. Wilson's views as to the
paragon's ultimate destiny. The upper stratum of English society
appeared to be the final goal of both mother and daughter's ambition.
They had hoped that "Pa" might have sold out of his stations before
now, and that they might have gone to London and cut a dash, and that
Miss Weeta might have been re-introduced to the Prince, and that she
might at least have had the chance of marrying an earl or a duke. And
if it hadn't been for drought and for Pa's good-nature in taking
shares in salt-mines that went smash, to oblige a friend, all these
desirable objects might have been attained. "Weeta was born to be
among the aristocracy," concluded Mrs. Wilson, emphatically, "and into
the aristocracy she shall go."

"Tell you what it is, Ma, I was born to drink when I felt thirsty,
and as the swizzle is clean done, and if you have your keys handy,"
insinuated Mr. Wilson, "Ansdell would eat his dinner all the better
for a peg of rum."

Mrs. Wilson frowned on the hint, and fortunately just then the bell
rang, and Mr. Wilson offered me his arm. Mr. Thurston and Weeta were
already in the dining-room, and he was laying the sprays of poinciana
on the table. She gave me her hand with a dreamy smile. When I
complimented her upon her taste in the arrangement of the dinner-
table, she said, "Yes," merely, and smiled again. There was something
inscrutable in that smile.

I asked her what she had been doing all day.

"Oh, reading and practising," she answered.

I told her that I had heard a great deal about her playing from Mr.
Thurston.

"Oh, yes," she said again, and paused. Her eyes rested on my face in
a slow, questioning way, and she opened her lips as if she were going
to ask me something. I felt expectant, but she turned away as Mrs.
Wilson came up and settled me in the place of honour, and I noticed
that with quite unconscious magnetism Weeta seemed to draw Mr.
Thurston with her, and that he placed himself beside her at the other
end of the table.

We were a large party. There were the four commonplace young ladies
in muslin frocks and gay ribbons, and there were twice as many
gentlemen. Then, after we had begun dinner, a buggy drove up in front
of the windows, and a neighbouring squatter and his sister--the Janie
Stern already mentioned--got down, and, giving the buggy and horses
into a blackboy's charge, joined us at table without further ceremony.
Miss Janie Stern, who was short and sharp of speech and eyes, and
rather pretty, hoped there was going to be some dancing that evening,
and said that she and "Artie" had come to stay over the muster, and
that she meant to wake up Barradean before she went home again. The
dinner was very well cooked, and gave testimony to the excellence of
Mrs. Wilson's housekeeping, but the service was of a most casual kind,
and people got up and helped themselves and each other without
reference to the sequence of courses. It was all very free-and-easy
and unpremeditated, and the life and bustle seemed to me strange after
our quiet, unsocial Island life. Outside, in the shadow of the
creepers, several dusky beings lounged and watched the repast. One
white-haired veteran perched himself on the edge of the verandah and
poured forth a sort of chant, of which "Wombeen" was the burden.

Mr. Wilson threw him a bone, whereat the tribe of piccaninnies
gathered like a flock of hungry crows. Mrs. Wilson complained that Mr.
Wilson encouraged the blacks about the house, so that there was no
holding them within bounds, but no further notice was taken till I
became unpleasantly conscious of the effluvium of the gunya, and the
veteran's gaunt tattooed frame, scantily clad in an old white shirt,
with a big mother-of-pearl medallion in its wealed breast, leaned over
the host's chair. "Come along, Wilson," it said, "I been wait plenty
long time."

"Go away, Billy," answered Mr. Wilson, laughing. "Me come directly."

"Ba'al," stolidly declared Billy, "me want him tobacco for that
fellow wombeen."

"He has been catching 'wombeen'--that's what they call crabs
hereabouts," explained Mr. Wilson--"and he's bothering to be paid. All
right, Billy," and Mr. Wilson got up, fetched a fig of tobacco, and
pacified Billy, who retired again to the verandah.

It was quite evening when we left the dining-room, but there was the
most beautiful moon rising out at sea. As it mounted behind the clumps
of bamboos and cast flickering shadows on the gravel walks, the garden
seemed more than ever a place of enchantment. Here in the open lay a
patch of brightness, and there, where some dense foliage hung, were
indefinite vistas and strange alleys of impenetrable gloom. The
magnolias and trumpet-flowers gleamed like white stars, and night had
robbed the great orange begonias of their gold. Miss Janie Stern
suggested that it would be "jolly" to go out and gather cheremoyas,
and ran down the grassy slope with a kind of "who loves me, follows
me" air.

Several of the young men did follow her, though Mrs. Wilson called
out, "Look out for snakes"; but cheremoyas, flavoured with flirtation,
appeared an irresistible bait to all but Weeta and Mr. Thurston.

"Nothing short of a rousing dance tune will bring back Janie Stern
and that young Humphreys," observed the Major, and she got up and went
to the piano in the drawing-room, leaving me in a deep canvas chair
not far from the young people.

"Won't you come out?" pleaded Mr. Thurston.

"No," she answered.

"Why wouldn't you let me ride with you this afternoon?" he went on.

"When are you going back north?" she counter-questioned, and there
was a note of eagerness in her voice.

"Why, you know," he said, hesitatingly, "I'm going to help with the
muster. Mrs. Wilson says your father wants me."

"Wants you!" she repeated. "Goodness! what do you know about stock-
keeping?"

"Well," he answered, "you said yourself I'd better learn, so that I
might be able to take charge of a station of my own."

"I think you had much better go and get your station," she said. "I
can't think why you keep hanging about here."

"I like talking to you."

"About Miss Cave, and playing on the piano and accompanying my
violin, as you accompanied her, and, because we have both got red
hair, making me into a sort of peg to hang your raptures on."

"I don't call your hair red," he said, with a laugh.

"Don't you? What do you call it, then?"

"The colour of the rising sun and the symbol of worship," replied he,
promptly.

"Did you tell Miss Cave that?" she asked. He did not answer, and she
said, "It is prettier hair than hers, isn't it?"

"Yes, it is," he said.

"You got English letters to-day--didn't you, now?"

"Yes."

"And you were dying to tell me all about them, and that's why you
tried so hard to ride with me?"

"Well?"

"Well, why don't you go and make a confidant of someone else--Mrs.
Ansdell?"

"Please forgive my interrupting you," I interposed, "but you put me
under the necessity of changing my seat."

"No, don't go," exclaimed Mr. Thurston. "Mrs. Ansdell knows all about
it," he added, and moved away. Weeta drew her chair closer to mine.
She looked at me seriously for a minute, and unfastened a poinciana
spray at her waist, then drew it reflectively along her dress, as if
she were trying an effect before she spoke. "You will make a better
confidant than I shall," she said.

"Perhaps I shall make a safer one," I answered, and was sorry a
moment after the words had escaped me, for I saw even in the dim light
that she flushed deeply.

"Why did you say that?" she asked presently.

I took my courage in both hands and rushed head-long at the fence
which I had built up for myself.

"If you were engaged to be married to a man on the other side of the
world, should you not think there was a danger in his making a
confidant of beautiful young woman?"

"Oh, well," she began, "I must say you do speak what you mean."

I felt convicted of an impertinence, and told her so.

"Oh, I like it," she replied. "I could get on with you if you would
always say what you mean. Do you mean----" she added impulsively, and
paused. "Am I really beautiful?"

"The Prince seems to have settled that question," I said.

"The Prince!" She laughed--a ghostly sort of laugh which had no real
merriment. "It's funny, isn't it--like being canonized for a practical
joke? Perhaps all the time the Prince was only trying to get a rise
out of the Melbourne people. I dare say it might be an amusing
experience to create a new standard of beauty among a set of savages.
But, anyhow, it was a very fortunate thing for me."

"In what way?"

"Don't you see? Now, I am a person of consideration. There are two
things about my childhood which always stand out in my mind," she went
on rather sadly. "One was a saying, half in chaff, half in earnest,
among the people about me, that 'Weeta had a shingle loose,' and I was
pitied and laughed at in consequence. The other was my mother's
vehement lamentation that I was so ugly. I used to feel very sorry for
my mother, and often I have cried myself to sleep because she found me
so unpleasant to look at. It was out of sheer sorrow and not spite,
for I don't think I resented my elder sister being always brought
forward and shown off. She is married now. She is like my mother, and
had black ringlets that hung like corkscrews round her head."

"Well?" I said, for she had stopped.

"Well, then the Prince came and made them believe that instead of a
worthless pebble they had got a precious stone. They accepted the idea
on his authority. I don't know whether I am the pebble or the jewel;
but I have often thought what a beautiful and satisfying thing it
would have been if the mother's love had proved a true touchstone--if
she had loved me for myself, and not for what the Prince thought of my
complexion and my hair. That sort of love would be a diamond worth
having, and after all, you see, it is I who have to make the best of a
sham. But it is pleasant to be admired and flattered, and allowed to
be as lazy as I please--I always had a horror of glare and heat and
active exertion--and so I say nothing, and am thankful."

The girl's unconscious cynicism touched me to the heart. Was this,
then, the clue to her odd demeanour, and were there concealed fires
beneath the outward snow?

"It is funny!" she repeated.

I could not help saying that to me there was far more pathos than
comedy in the situation.

All this time the Major was within, strumming the Corricolo Galop.
She had not played in vain: Janie Stern and Mr. Humphreys were
whirling round the empty part of the verandah. Some of the others
followed their example in a more languid fashion, but it was, in
truth, too hot for dancing. Nobody pressed Weeta to galop. She seemed
outside all that boisterous commonplace life. Archie Thurston was
smoking with Mr. Wilson and Alec. I felt instinctively that his poetic
speech about Weeta's hair had brought about a reactionary mood, which
found vent in cattle and horse talk. Every now and then conversational
scraps floated towards us. "Have a nip, Thurston," in Mr. Wilson's
deep fat tones; and then, "As fine a lot of horses as ever ran into
yard." Allusions to a certain "slashing chestnut" followed, and later
an animated discussion on the advantage of sending "fats" to the
southern market, over the simpler business of supplying the
Stonehampton Meat Preserving establishment.

Weeta had relapsed into one of her long silences. After a while she
said abruptly, "If I had loved Mr. Thurston, I would not have acted as
Miss Cave did. I would have married him straight away."

"She was not her own mistress. She could not act in defiance of her
guardian."

"Couldn't she! I don't suspect her guardian would have taken ship
after her if she had run away to Australia."

"Well, at any rate," I said, "Miss Cave will be her own mistress in a
few months, and then she is coming out to Australia."

"Coming out to Australia!" Weeta gave a violent start, and leaned
eagerly forward. "Coming out to be married?"

"Of course."

"Did he hear that this morning?"

I told her of his call at the cottage and all that I had learned.

"Coming out to be married!" she repeated, and sank back in the chair
with an indescribable resignation and drooping of limb and voice. It
will be all over then--for him."

"Not all over," I said. "It will be the beginning."

"Yes," she said, in the same stifled way; "it will be the beginning.
I wonder of what!"

"Of happiness, it is to be hoped," I said lightly.

She did not answer. Mr. Thurston himself came to her a minute or two
later, and asked if she would play. "I want Mrs. Ansdell to hear you,"
he said.

She got up. "Mrs. Ansdell and I have been making friends," she said.
"I think I shall get on with her."

"That is satisfactory, at all events," he replied, and they went
together into the drawing-room, where, though "Il Corricolo" had come
to an end, the Major was still fluttering over the piano. She put the
music for Mr. Thurston on the desk, and got out Weeta's violin. The
girl put herself into one of her attitudes. The sitting-room wall was
of cedar, and its rich brown made an effective background for her red-
gold and green, and her odd mediaeval style of beauty. She seemed
absorbed in the tuning of her violin, and young Thurston, striking a
few chords for keynote, with his head turned sideways towards her,
became absorbed in the contemplation of the picture. Mrs. Wilson, like
a showman, watched his eyes.

She was not admiring Weeta: she was admiring the impression Weeta
produced, and her look at Mr. Thurston had in it something shrewd and
calculating, as if she were reflecting upon the possibilities of his
accession to the family honours. Mr. Thurston was also in his way a
study. I don't think I have done full justice to his good looks and a
charm of frankness, sympathy, and intelligence which he possessed. He
may have been plucked for the army, but he was nevertheless a very
agreeable talker, had an extensive acquaintance with light literature,
and had various artistic gifts. More than this, he had that hall-mark
of birth and breeding and old civilization which is so high a
recommendation to the aspiring Australian.

The young man and the young girl seemed strangely out of keeping
with their unaesthetic surroundings--she perhaps the more so of the
two. It was all odd and inconsistent, but intensely interesting. The
violin in itself was an incongruous feature. Who could expect to see a
young woman handling a fiddle-bow in a bush-parlour? Certainly, no one
could expect that such music would be the result. Weeta played with
great delicacy and execution, and with that rarer thing, soul. There
was a wail of indescribable woe in the adagio of the Kreutzer Sonata
with which they led off. It gave one that exquisite ache of the
senses, that yearning after the impossible, which is the peculiar
effect of some kinds of music. When they came to the presto movement,
the notes were like moonbeams zigzagging on the waves--like the
shadows of leaves dancing on a sunlit verandah.

It was not difficult to imagine that the common passion for music
might create a very strong bond between the two. Is there any more
perfect mode of expressing the harmony of souls? Mr. Thurston's soul
was evidently just then very much in harmony with that of Miss Wilson.
His handsome face was quite poeticized by artistic emotion, as with
his head tilted a little backward he turned his glowing eyes towards
her and claimed her sympathy.

She had come nearer the piano. Her violin seemed to have taken life
from her, and to be a part of her own being. I don't know how to
express the abandonment which her play of feature and arm suggested.
The curve of her elbow was full of unconscious grace. One dreaded the
closing chords. They came at last. She shrivelled in an instant into
stiffness and apathy. With an abrupt gesture she put down the
instrument, and gave a curt refusal to all ontreaties that she would
play once more.

It was time to say good-night, and I drove away with the feeling
that I had been witnessing the opening scene of a promising piece; but
whether it was to be comedy or tragedy, I could not determine.



Chapter XVII. The Major's Little Game.



MY diaries of that time, which are sufficiently copious--for when
Alec was away or baby asleep, I had little to do but diarise--confirm
my impression that, dramatically speaking, life at Wombo resolved
itself into Weeta Wilson.

Certainly, we saw a good deal of Mr. Thurston, but that young man,
in spite of his undeniable attractions, in spite also of his expansive
confidences concerning his feelings and experiences generally,
resembled the lover in a certain class of novel in that he was more or
less of a lay figure. Now, Weeta could not be called an expansive
young lady; but even in her taciturn moods she gave food for
conjecture. After her little outburst on the verandah that night, I
got nothing for a long time but "Yes" and "No." It was true that I
only saw her in the evenings--she was shut up in her own rooms till
five o'clock--and then Mr. Thurston was always hanging round. I
noticed, however, that her manner with him was quite incalculable; at
some times she scarcely answered his remarks, and at others she
appeared conversational and even brilliant.

I asked him once what she talked to him about on these latter
occasions.

"Oh, she chaffs me in a kind of fashion," he answered vaguely. "Not
in the regular rough Australian way--you know what that is--but much
more cleverly."

"Thank you," I said.

"Oh, I didn't mean----" he began, disconcerted. "You know you are
only one quarter colonial, Mrs. Ansdell. You've got light and shade.
That's the Antipodean deficiency--want of shading. It's in
everything--scenery, sky, manners, morals, women especially. They are
all--how shall I say it?--provincial. They want tone--atmosphere. Now,
she has plenty of atmosphere. It's a puzzle to me where she gets it."

"She" meaning Miss Wilson, I suppose. "But her manners!" I
suggested; "aren't they a little wanting in tone too?"

"Good gracious, no. She's so beautifully natural. Her manners would
be perfection if she were a duchess. It's her indifference that's so
sublime. But I'm convinced that's only a crust. I believe she is
capable of feeling intensely. In fact, I have a theory that she has an
immensely passionate and romantic nature, and that she knows it, and
is afraid of it, and has put an extinguisher upon herself."

I advised him not to try and remove the extinguisher.

"Whoever succeeds in doing that will run a chance of being scorched,"
he said seriously. "But I shall not be that man. You see, Mrs.
Ansdell, Isabel is to me like the mask which chemists put on when they
are pursuing dangerous investigations into the nature of drugs."

I remarked that his metaphors were a little mixed, and that I had
heard of occasional accidents, in spite of extinguisher and mask; he
laughed, however, and turned the conversation.

It was Alec who took upon himself to inform the Major of Mr.
Thurston's engagement. He drove me over to Barradean a few days before
his departure for Gunyan, with the intention of making his farewell,
and, as he expressed it, "of putting things on the square."

Mrs. Wilson was seated in the shady end of the verandah, working her
sewing-machine, with the youngest of the Wilson family playing at her
feet. She stopped the treadle, greeted us with effusion, and sent the
child for a cool drink for me, and some of the famous swizzle for
Alec. Weeta was out riding, she told us, and Barradean was almost
deserted. Janie Stern was gone home for a few days, and the two other
young ladies, whose names were respectively Maggie and Clara--I never
rightly got at their surnames--were in Stonehampton for a ball, and
had taken all the young men--the beaux, Mrs. Wilson called them--in
attendance.

"Weeta declared it was much too hot for dancing, and, besides, she
would have had to start this morning, and run the risk of the glare,"
Mrs. Wilson explained. "As for Mr. Thurston," she added, "he didn't
want to go, but those girls chaffed him into it. He doesn't seem to
care about bush larks."

"I suppose that, naturally, an engaged young man is not so keen after
larks as an unattached new chum," said Alec gravely, "especially when
the thermometer is over ninety."

Mrs. Wilson looked at Alec keenly. "I was not aware that Mr. Thurston
was engaged," she said in a serious tone.

"It's a sufficiently old affair to be taken for granted," said Alec.
"I believe the young lady is coming out to be married."

"If this is true," said Mrs. Wilson, with dignity, "I think Mr.
Thurston ought to have informed us before the partnership was decided
upon."

It should be mentioned that, acting on the Major's advice, Mr.
Thurston had joined his capital to Mr. Wilson's experience, and had
become a partner in one of the latter's northern stations.

"Why, Mrs. Wilson," said Alec, "a deed of partnership is not
invalidated by marriage, like a last will and testament."

"But a working partner who spends his time dangling after a fine-lady
English wife is not likely to increase the profits of the firm,"
rejoined the Major with asperity.

"Oh, come, Mrs. Wilson," said Alec; "everyone knows that you are the
kindest woman in the world, and surely you would never be hard on two
lovers who have had to bear up against a lot of worry."

"Oh! so there has been some opposition to the match--on Lord
Belmont's part, may I ask?"

"Well, not altogether; you see, Miss Cave--the young lady--is an
heiress, and her guardian had other views. Miss Cave is a friend of my
sister's, and that's how I come to know what has been going on."

"Oh, indeed," drily observed Mrs. Wilson.

"It's all over now, though," Alec went on. "Miss Cave will be of age
this very month, and her own mistress. The first use she makes of her
liberty will be to come out to Australia."

"Most indelicate," snapped Mrs. Wilson.

"Yes, she is delicate," said Alec, serenely--"weak lungs. The doctors
have ordered her a sea voyage."

"Mr. Ansdell," began the Major, majestically, "by your own admissions
I gather that this has been a clandestine engagement. I have a horror
of anything underhand, and I should certainly not encourage a young
man for whom I felt partially responsible to keep a promise made no
doubt under pressure, and against the wishes of his relatives."

"I assure you that you are mistaken," exclaimed Alec, warmly.

"Perhaps, but if Mr. Thurston was not ashamed of his conduct, if he
did not regret this entanglement, why--why did he not confide in me,
his best friend?" Mrs. Wilson broke her thread viciously, and laid the
garment she had been sewing back on the sewing machine, which she
pushed away from her as she half rose in her excitement. "I consider
that the position has been a most unfair one," she went on angrily--
"unfair to me, unfair to himself, unfair to----" She stopped suddenly.
Somebody had appeared in the doorway behind where we sat, and, before
we had time to look round, another voice had taken up her unfinished
sentence. "Unfair to whom, mamma?" The clear, peremptory tone,
thrilling with suppressed feeling, was quite unlike Weeta's usual
unemotional utterance. "Unfair to whom?" she repeated, coming forward,
and recognising our presence only by a sweeping glance, at once frank,
indignant, and appealing. She was in her riding-habit, and had taken
off her hat with its cloud of veils. There was something of a noble
scorn in her air and attitude as she stood balancing herself against
the verandah post.

"Weeta!" cried her mother. "Where have you left Mr. Thurston?"

"Up at the bachelors' quarters," she answered, her voice hardening;
"so you needn't mind speaking out, mamma. I don't suppose it matters
about me if I'm only a doll, as you seem to think, with no brains and
no pride, except pride in my complexion," and she gave an odd, harsh
little laugh.

"Weeta!" again cried Mrs. Wilson, with a scandalized gesture. "Well;
I do think you must be going crazy."

"Not faster than usual," replied Miss Weeta, laughing again. "I know
what you meant to say, mamma--that it wasn't fair on me, Mr. Thurston
keeping back his engagement; but you are doing him an injustice. He
told me he was engaged."

"Oh! He told you!" ejaculated Mrs. Wilson.

"I dare say it was a measure of precaution," Weeta went on. She had
relapsed now into her ordinary manner. "I dare say he saw, as
everybody else does, that you wanted to catch him as a husband for
me."

"Well! How can you!" ineffectually exclaimed the Major. "And before
Mr. and Mrs. Ansdell!"

"Oh, that doesn't matter. They must be very dull not to have seen
through us. It's so stupid pretending when everybody knows it's all
pretence. If I wanted to play any game, I'd play it square. There's
some merit in that. I don't mind at all your knowing my game." She
turned to us with a candour that was mystifying. Mrs. Wilson applied
herself to her buttonholes, and appeared to resign herself to the
inevitable. "It's only the way that I mind. You see, Mrs. Ansdell,
mother and all of us think a great deal of family because we haven't
got it. My grandfather was a shepherd who died knocking down his
cheque in a bush public-house."

"Weeta! be silent!"

"I want to explain to Mrs. Ansdell why we feel it a duty to raise
ourselves, mamma." She began to walk along the verandah.

"My dear Miss Wilson," said Alec, "I assure you that we don't want
any explanation."

"Well, I want you to have it. You can tell Mr. Thurston, if you
like."

"Certainly not," I interrupted.

"Well, it doesn't matter," said Weeta, stopping and gathering some
blossoms from an allamada which festooned the verandah post. "You see,
I'm quite as ambitious as mamma. I'd like to marry into an English
family of lords, or that sort of thing. But we've got no opportunities
here. Pa can't leave his station."

"No, that's it," interjected Mrs. Wilson. "If it hadn't been for
those salt mines!"

"Well, we can't help it," continued Weeta; "and, anyhow, when a lord
comes along in Sydney or Melbourne he's always snapped up by the
Government House set. It was quite natural of mamma to catch on to Mr.
Thurston, who is quite our best opportunity. Only her mistake is that
she makes me too cheap."

"Well, I'm sure it's you who are making yourself cheap now," said
Mrs. Wilson.

Weeta did not at once reply. I was watching her, and saw a change
pass over her face. She blenched and coloured as if she were hurt and
ashamed. But she recovered herself directly.

"No," she answered slowly, "it is when girls are foolish enough to
care for a man that they make themselves cheap. How do you know that I
am not laughing at you all in my sleeve? Suppose it's only a matter of
business, and that I'm bent on making the best bargain that offers?"

She paused and looked at us steadily after she had made this curious
statement.

"In that case," said Alec, "I can only beg you to respect Miss Cave's
right of possession."

"Why?" she asked coolly. "Distance should imply a statute of
limitations, I think. If Miss Cave was not prepared to run the risk,
she shouldn't have let him go. Besides, Miss Cave's right, as you call
it, is a question between Mr. Thurston and herself. I have nothing to
do with it. I take things as they come to me, and I don't see that
it's my duty to be bound by other people's first causes. That's what I
call playing a square game."

"It might be suggested that crooked results are an occasional
consequence of your theories, and perhaps one might also venture the
question, Is such a game worth playing?"

"Only under certain conditions," she answered. "I admit that. I think
that Mr. Thurston's elder brother is unmarried, is he not?"

"My dear Miss Wilson, Thurston's elder brother has the constitution
of an elephant. For goodness sake don't sacrifice Miss Cave's
happiness upon a chance like that."

"I see, you are Miss Cave's knight," she said. "Well, at any rate, if
it comes to battle we shall be fighting in the open. But," she laughed
again, "I should want to be sure that I had something worth fighting
for. Now we all understand each other, don't we?"

"I don't understand you in the least," said Alec.

"Do you?" She turned to me, asking the question with a slight tremor
in her softened voice, and a wistful look in her eyes.

I shook my head.

"Well, you may some day." She left us, passing abruptly into the
drawing-room, and we saw her no more that day.

Mrs. Wilson got up from her chair with an embarrassed laugh. We rose
too.

"Well, they always used to say that Weeta had a shingle loose,"
remarked the poor lady, feebly. "Now, does she strike you as being
very eccentric?"

"On the contrary," replied Alec, "I admire her worldly wisdom."

"Oh! but she didn't mean what she said," Mrs. Wilson went on in a
puzzled way. "I am sure she doesn't feel like that about Mr. Thurston.
Just think if her affections had been trifled with! There was the
danger."

"It is a danger against which Miss Wilson seems quite able to guard
herself," said Alec. "I confess that I think more of the danger to
Miss Cave. It was in her interests that I asked your good offices."

"Ah, well, she is not married to Mr. Thurston yet. There'll be time
enough to think of her when she comes out," replied Mrs. Wilson,
oracularly, and drew away from the subject. She pressed Alec for
information as to the cattle-carrying capabilities of Gunyan, and then
she commiserated my loneliness, and urged me to take up my abode at
Barradean while Alec was away. "There'll be some fun going on during
the muster," she said. "I suppose you know that Mr. Wilson has made a
sale of twelve hundred store cattle, and a lot of the young men round
are going to help get them in. An excuse for riding parties and
dancing in the evening, I say; but, bless you, I don't mind. It keeps
the place alive."

I promised to spend a week at Barradean while the muster was in
swing, and then we took our leave declining Mrs. Wilson's invitation
to stay for dinner.

On the way home, Alec and I discussed the scene in the verandah. "It
was perfectly shamefaced," said Alec. "By George! talk of a new
civilization. That girl might have gone through a dozen London
seasons--unless, as her mother suggested, her extraordinary honesty
was sheer silliness," and once more he fell to wondering whether Miss
Weeta was very stupid or very clever.

"If she really cares for Mr. Thurston, and took that way of sparing
her pride, she is certainly very clever," I said.

"Ah, there's the problem," Alec answered.

Yes, there was the problem. Did she care for Mr. Thurston? On that
supposition only could one forgive her cynical effrontery. It was
impossible to forget that wistful expression of her eyes when she had
asked me if I understood her. I remembered, too, several other small
indications of depths beneath the glassy surface. Was there going to
be a battle between these two women? In this case I had an instinctive
feeling that Isabel Cave would get worsted, and yet I was almost
ashamed to own to myself another instinctive feeling, that were Fate
to decree in favour of her just claim, my sympathies would certainly
go with Weeta. Why? I don't know, unless it is that we are always
attracted by the mysterious, and Weeta was certainly mysterious. There
seemed a kind of analogy between the gauzy folds with which she
wrapped her face and the curious reserve in which she hid her real
self.

Alec had an idea that he ought to warn Mr. Thurston. I was much more
certain that it would be utterly dishonourable to repeat what he had
heard in Mrs. Wilson's verandah. Finally, Alec was brought to agree
with me, but he could not help saying, chaffingly, to Mr. Thurston the
next day, "Look here, old fellow, you'll have to be careful about
compromising yourself with Miss Wilson. The Major means business. She
declines to accept the fact that you are already appropriated."

Young Thurston looked discomposed. "Hang the Major!" he said
gloomily; "I wish you wouldn't talk like that. And you are quite
mistaken. Why, she congratulated me only this morning, and asked me
whether I wished my engagement to be made public."

"And what did you answer?"

"Why, no, of course. I said that I had no right as yet to speak of it
as an engagement."

"Ah!" said Alec, profoundly, and murmured as he passed me on his way
to the back verandah to interview one of the hands, "I think I guess
the Major's little game."

Mr. Thurston looked still more uncomfortable when Alec had gone. He
gave me the impression of a man wanting to say something and being
unable to say it. At last he burst out--

"Mrs. Ansdell, I don't want you to think me a cad."

"What is it?" I asked.

"Oh, nothing," he said vaguely; "only----" He got up and stood by the
fireplace, which just now was a stack of pineapples, his handsome
profile turned towards me. "I wish I knew if--if Miss Cave's coming
out has anything to do with--if it's the cause of her--of Weeta's
anger against me."

"Is she angry with you?" I asked. It struck me as odd that he should
speak of "Miss Cave" and call Weeta by her Christian name.

"I don't know. We had a scene last night. She was so distant and
cold--like a piece of marble. She seemed offended with me about
something. I was hurt; and I--in short, Mrs. Ansdell, I suppose I had
better confess that I made a fool of myself."

"Do you mean----" I began, and stopped, uncertain how to frame the
darting suspicion.

"No, no," he interrupted eagerly. "You don't suppose there was any
actual disloyalty to--why, all my heart belongs to Miss Cave; but I
suppose a fellow can be honestly in love with one woman and yet have a
great regard for another."

"I don't know. Tell me what happened."

"It was her manner. She flared round on me--it was after something I
said about Isabel. I didn't think she had it in her. She asked me what
claim I had upon her sympathy, why I should expect her to hold out her
arms to my future wife. I didn't expect it. I don't know what I
expected. The fact is," he concluded, lamely, "I suppose I'm a fool. I
think I had better go away altogether."

I could not help saying that I agreed with him, at which he seemed
annoyed. "That's nonsense, of course. It would be assuming what is
unwarrantable. You have every right to think me a cad," he exclaimed,
with a sudden burst of self-accusation. "I think myself one while I
speak. Besides," he went on, in a different tone, "I should be
neglecting my business if I were to go. I am her father's partner now,
and there's this muster. We have got to collect cattle for the
northern station as well. I must stay for that."

I was puzzled, and began to be sorrier than ever for Weeta.

"I wish she would take you into her confidence," he said impulsively.
"I wish you would tell me if there's anything I could do."

"Or leave undone," I could not help saying. "Perhaps you have done
too much already."

"She was flirting with that young man from the bank all the evening
afterwards," Mr. Thurston went on dejectedly.

"I thought she never flirted?"

"Oh, in her way."

"And I thought he was devoted to Janie Stern?"

"Oh, that's only a pis aller. Everybody knows she refused him."

He fidgeted about for a minute or two, then looked uneasily at his
watch. "I ought to go. I promised to ride with them. They are going to
the beach to get oysters."

He went away, and I saw nothing of him for several days. Alec started
to Gunyan next morning and I was left alone with baby. For the first
week I repulsed Mrs. Wilson's offers of companionship, and continued
to evade her invitations to Barradean. Late one afternoon Weeta
herself called. I was struck anew with the marvellous beauty of her
complexion when she put up her veils, but her face looked, I thought,
a little pale and anxious, and she talked a great deal more than was
usual with her, though I had already observed that it was when her
mother was present that she was most silent.

"It's the heat," she said, in reply to my comment upon her
appearance, "and I am rather tired. They are such a noisy set. The men
are out all day; but there are the girls and mother and the children.
As for the men, being out all day doesn't tire them. At any rate, they
always want to dance in the evenings."

"Who are with you?"

"Oh, the usual set--young Stern and some of the people round. And Mr.
Humphreys--though he has other things than the muster to think of--
comes down about sundown. You don't know how I hate them all."

"But you did not always hate them?"

"No. The old thing is that once I rather liked one of them. I was
half--inclined to marry him--I dare say should have married him if his
luck had come to him when he first asked me."

"Whom do you mean, and what is his luck?"

"I mean Mr. Humphreys. Haven't you heard of Mount Jessop? They are
all terribly excited about it at home."

"I have heard nothing," I replied.

"Well, there was a great gold craze up in Stonehampton a few years
ago; nobody was happy unless they were in some mine--or in half-a--
dozen--there were mines being taken up everywhere. Scarcely one of
them turned out any good, and I should think that unfortunate Mr.
Sabine, who was killed at the races, was the only person who made
money out of them. So much was lost that people got disgusted, and
dropped the whole thing. Good gracious! I'm telling you quite a
history; but now I've got to Mr. Humphreys. He and some of the
Stonehampton people bought up Mount Jessop, and have been working it
in a languid fashion, losing steadily till just lately, when they
struck a wonderful yield; and now it is said that the mine promises to
be one of the richest in the world."

"Then Mr. Humphreys may blossom into a millionaire! Isn't Miss Janie
Stern very happy?"

"He will not marry Janie Stern," said Weeta, shortly. "He has given
her the cold shoulder this week, and she is very unhappy."

"That means, I suppose, that he hopes now he is rich to marry you?"

"I suppose so," she answered. "What do you think, Mrs. Ansdell? Which
pays best, rank or riches? You know I told you the other day that I
was bent on making the best bargain that I could."

"You said a great many foolish things which you didn't mean in the
least, and which I have forgotten."

"No, you have not forgotten, nor have I. I meant every word of them.
However, Mr. Humphreys' riches are not quite a reliable quantity yet.
I think I had better wait a little while and see how Mount Jessop
turns out, and in the meantime Miss Cave may have arrived. There would
be some excitement in that." She rose and stood irresolutely. "Oh, I
hate them all!" she cried.

She looked as if she were struggling with some emotion which
threatened to break forth, and put out her hand involuntarily towards
me. It seemed an appeal for sympathy. Then she recovered herself, and
half drew it back. "Good-bye," she said.

I kept her hand. "I wish I could help you."

"Yes, you can. I almost think that I could talk to you, if you would
not be horrified at all my mercenary and base ideas. Come and stay at
Barradean. Mother sent me over to ask you to come to-morrow. Father
will bring the buggy for you. There's a crib all ready for the baby.
Say you will come. I want you. You may not think it possible, but I
do."

"Then I will come," and the matter was arranged.



Chapter XVIII. Mr. Thurston's Accident.



BUT when I got to Barradean, Weeta was in one of her strangest and
most taciturn moods, and showed no particular pleasure at seeing me.
She spent the greater part of the day in her own room, except meal
times and late in the afternoon, when the horses were brought round
and she came out veiled and dressed for her ride. Afterwards she
changed her habit for one of her fantastic evening costumes, and
allowed herself to be adored till bedtime. Weeta's room was large,
cool, and dark, and was situated on the most shady side of the house.
The windows were so high and so well blinded, that it would have been
difficult for the glare to penetrate, and the venetians of the door
opening on the verandah were always kept closed. The walls were of
cedar, and were curiously ornamented with the stuffed skins of parrots
and the harp-like plumage of the lyre-bird--her trophies, she called
them. She had once had a mania for such collections, and they had been
supplied, presumably, by her various suitors. The room was furnished
partly as a parlour, with a sofa, a large bookcase, a writing-table,
and even a piano, but she played most often on the violin, to which
she devoted several hours of the day. It was the custom in the drowsy
part of the afternoon for those who liked music to gather at that end
of the verandah and listen to her practising. She took no notice of
our presence, often going over the same passage a dozen times as
conscientiously as though she were a pupil in a musical academy. I
noticed that when Mr. Humphreys came over from Saturday till Monday,
he would in a furtive way make for this corner and sit ruminatively
smoking until Janie Stern routed him out to help her gather pineapples
or melons. Mr. Thurston, too, was frequently to be found at that
corner, but never at the same time as Mr. Humphreys. He always looked
guilty when I came upon him on these occasions, and very speedily made
some excuse for leaving his position. Then it sometimes happened that
Weeta would call me into her room and ask me if I would like to look
over her books, or she would beg me to listen to some particular air
and would make me lie on the sofa while she played to me, but she
never spoke of Mr. Thurston or made any allusion to her burst of
confidence--if, indeed, as I sometimes suspected, she had not been all
the while playing a part.

She was certainly a curious girl. Her room showed traces of a
variety of employments. Had she been brought up amid artistic
surroundings, she would probably have been a painter or sculptor. As
it was, she was fond of modelling little figures in the soft clay from
the creek, and had them arranged on a shelf over her writing-table, in
constantly varying combinations and groups, which suggested the idea
that she was carrying out some drama of her own imagining, and these
were the marionette performers. Her sense of colour, which was
extraordinary, seemed to find its satisfaction by means of Judson's
dyes. She spent a good deal of time in copying tints of flowers and
leaves, and in adapting them to those wonderful evening costumes,
which she wore with an entire absence of self-consciousness, and of
the girlish vanity so evident, for example, in Janie Stern's
arrangements of starched muslin and fluttering ribbons.

There was something tempestuous in the Barradean atmosphere which was
not a consequence of the stir and bustle of the muster. That was easy
to be seen. The Major was more than usually fussy, and, it must be
owned, extremely ill-tempered. Her ostentatious benevolence to her
guests had even a flavour of vinegar. Her bangles and the ornaments of
her chtelaine clinked in an aggressive manner. Her black eyes and her
artificial teeth seemed to vie with each other in lustre. She scolded
the servants, was sharp to the children, and treated Thurston with a
far less maternal solicitude, and snubbed Mr. Wilson in wrathful
majesty when he ventured to complain that she had put a smaller
quantity of rum in the swizzle. I don't know whether he contrived to
gain private access to the cellaret, or whether the sun was to blame,
but certainly as the day advanced his face grew more and more fiery,
his manners more free and jovial, and his domestic revelations more
indiscreet. He told me that Mr. Thurston's engagement had been a blow
to the "Missus," but that for his own part, if Mount Jessop turned out
all that was expected, he should consider it a providential
arrangement. "For, I tell you what it is, Mrs. Ansdell," he said, "the
Missus is just cracked on the aristocracy; but, to my thinking, it's
better any day to be the wife of a millionaire than the daughter-in-
law of an earl. Not that Humphreys is a millionaire," he added, "but
there is no knowing when he may be."

As for Mr. Humphreys, there could be no doubt as to his sentiments
about Weeta. He was not a clever young man, nor was he particularly
fascinating. He was of the Australian type--tall, lean, angular,
good--looking, but distinctly crude. He was probably a much finer
fellow in essentials than Archie Thurston, but he sadly lacked the
graces of an old--world civilization. His musical attainments were
limited to a comic song, and a solo on the concertina which made Weeta
shudder. He read a great deal, and, like most persons who have learned
life from books, referred often to his favourite authors. Yet all his
cultivation was elementary, and the shores of the Pacific bounded his
horizon. He had no background, whereas that seemed the most important
ingredient in Archie Thurston's personality. He was frank, simple, and
sincere, boyishly elated at his prospect of fortune, and evidently a
little embarrassed by his relations with Miss Janie Stern, which his
manner seemed to convey were entirely unpremeditated and merely the
result of disappointed affection. He was doing his best to draw out of
them in a manly way, and to make it clear to all that he had no
intention of serious entanglement in that direction. Probably Janie
was piqued, and wanted to show him that she did not care, for she
helped him a good deal by starting a flirtation with one of the
"mustering" young men. It was certain that something had occurred
lately to revive Mr. Humphreys' hopes in regard to Weeta. He hung upon
her words and looks. It was almost touching to see his eager delight
when she singled him out to ride with her--Weeta had a royal way of
indicating her preferences. This often happened, though Mr. Thurston
generally contrived to come home early from the run, and make one of
the party. When Mr. Humphreys was there he fell with a bad grace to
me; but on the afternoons when Mr. Humphreys remained at Stonehampton
he rode beside Weeta, though as far as I could see they interchanged
scarcely a word. Our rides were usually along the sandy shore. We
would gallop over the crisp wet beach, the salt wind blowing in our
faces; and then a mad spirit would sometimes seize Weeta, and, all
veiled as she was, she would turn her horse straight into the sea, and
ride out breasting the waves till they wetted her habit, and dashed
spray as high as her head. One day a memorable thing happened. It was
Saturday. We were a large party, which, however, did not include Mr.
Humphreys. Mr. Thurston was with us, Mr. Wilson also, and most of the
young men staying at the bachelors' quarters. Mr. Thurston was riding
a young horse, and later Weeta gave this as a reason for forbidding
him to come near her. I fancy they had had a quarrel, for when we
started they rode behind together. We had not got far when both
galloped up. He was savagely tearing at the bit, and the horse had its
head down, as if it were inclined to buck.

"Take care, Thurston," called out Mr. Wilson, "you'll have an
accident."

"We have had one already," said Weeta, composedly. "I don't want Mr.
Thurston to come within six yards of me. Our horses don't like each
other."

Mr. Thurston pulled back beside me.

"You're not afraid, Mrs. Ansdell? The brute is all right. It was only
that I dug my spurs into him, and he lashed out. She made me angry."

"How?"

"You don't know what galling things she can say in that soft,
indifferent voice," he exclaimed. "She goads me into forgetting
myself, and making speeches that I'd rather bite my tongue out than
utter."

"What sort of things?" I asked.

"Things that are unwomanly and abominable. She talks as if she were
ready to sell herself to the highest bidder, Humphreys or any one
else. And yet--you know," he added excitedly, "she has the face of an
angel. I don't believe--I will not believe that she is so hard and
mercenary."

"Why should it matter to you? If all that Alec tells me is true you
have, at any rate, managed to secure an angel for yourself."

He drew a deep breath and gave a little start. "Yes, that is true--I
have managed to get hold of an angel, little as I deserve it. It ought
not to matter to me whether that girl is one or not. I am the happiest
man in the world. Do you know that she sails this month?"

"You have heard?"

"Yes. She has an opportunity of coming out with some friends who are
going round the world--Australia, China, Japan, America, and the rest
of it. I don't think she will go round the world--just yet. I am to
meet them at Stonehampton. Only think of it, Mrs. Ansdell--never to
have changed--it is four years since we parted--and now to meet
again!"

But there was nothing rapturous in his tone; and while he spoke his
eyes were following Weeta as she rode ahead, her graceful form swaying
to the motion of her horse, her right hand holding a great bough of
wild hibiscus against her veiled cheek. She had a knack of
attitudinizing picturesquely with her bits of blossom and greenery.
This served her instead of a whip.

"She is like Isabel," he said, as if pursuing a train of thought. "I
suppose that is why it jars upon me when she says such things. Yes,
she does remind me of Isabel, though there's no real resemblance. It
is quite tantalizing at times, when she has her face covered and I see
only the turn of her head and the coils of her hair. I keep fancying
that Isabel is under the veil. Of course, it's nonsense; but one can't
help fancies, or the way in which fancies influence us. If she were
not like Isabel, I suppose I shouldn't care."

Was it only the influence of fancy? I wondered. He became silent, and
his horse, which was very restive and uncomfortable, gave excuse for
the breaking of conversation.

We rode to the end of the rocky point which closed one side of Wombo
Bay. It was low tide, and from the cliff a long, narrow strip of
shingle and rock stretched a long way into the sea. Many of the party
dismounted, and began to knock off oysters from the cliff, and there
was some suggestion of a fire and of tea. Weeta declined to assist in
the entertainment. "You know that I hate gathering oysters," she
replied, rather peevishly, to Janie Stern's invitation. "I shall stay
on my horse."

I was one of those who dismounted; but I left the shade of the cliff
and walked along the line of rocks, jagged, wet, and slippery, with
periwinkles and sea-weed clinging to their black surface, till I had
got too far out to be quite comfortable. I turned back a little, and
stood looking out to sea, ready to lose myself in a dream. The day was
still, and the waves only lapped the rocks. It was sundown, and the
ocean took a faint pink tinge as it spread out in unbroken loneliness
to the horizon. There was something melancholy in the vastness and
loneliness of the Pacific. I thought of Isabel Cave speeding across
its bosom to the arms of her lover. Was he, in very truth and heart,
her lover? There was a sound of horses' feet on the shingle. Weeta,
after her fashion, was riding out to sea. She had her veils up, and
her face was like that of a spirit in its paleness. She looked down at
me for a moment as she passed. The beach was so narrow that her habit
brushed my shoulder. "I think this is the end of the world," she said,
"and that is the beginning of another one. I've always longed, ever
since I was a little child, to ride to another world." She struck her
horse with the hibiscus branch till it broke into a canter. I called
after her to be careful, but she only laughed. Then there was a rush
of other horses' feet past me, and I saw that Mr. Thurston was
following her. He rode right into the sea by her side.

"For God's sake," he said, "don't be so foolhardy."

She stopped and looked round at him quite quietly. I could hear
distinctly what was said.

"What is there foolhardy about this? There's not wind enough to blow
me away."

"No, but there are currents, and suppose your horse were to take
fright and to throw you on to those rocks?"

"You had far better take care of your own horse; it is much more
likely to do something desperate. Mine is quiet enough. I advise you
to go back." His horse was indeed plunging and shying and dashing up
the spray. He succeeded, however, in quieting it for the moment.

"And give up the only chance I've had to-day of being near you. No,
if you choose to run into danger, I'll stop there with you."

"That is nonsense. Why don't you go back? I told you to keep away
from me."

"You've been telling me that every day for the last fortnight," he
said sullenly.

"Then why don't you obey me?"

"Because you don't mean what you say."

"Oh! You think I want you to stay beside me. Again, why?"

"Because," he answered slowly, "you don't hate me as much as you try
to make me believe."

She turned upon him this time with a kind of suppressed fury in her
look and voice. "Ah! you play a manly part, truly--a part that is
likely to confirm me in my admiration for English gentlemen. Your
vanity won't allow you to let yourself be dropped. You don't like to
think I was only amusing myself, experimentalizing, or, if you like to
put it that way, judging of my value in the English market. I think I
prefer the Australian one, and that galls you. You have been trying
all these days to entrap me into a confession that I am piqued, that I
care for you. Should I be likely to make that confession to the
promised husband of another woman, even if it were true? You are quite
right: I don't hate you. I don't care for you enough to hate you. I
only despise you. Now, will you leave me?"

"No."

"Then I must go where you cannot follow me." She urged her horse on
to the very point of the spur till its feet slipped on the wet rocks
and the waves washed up against its forelegs. I was frightened, and
cried out, entreating them to turn. But he stuck spurs into his horse,
and pursued her, it seemed into the ocean. The two horses, with their
riders, were outlined against the reddened sea and sky. His snorted
and reared. It was a dramatic scene. He laid his hand upon her bridle.
"You shall come with me," he said, with an almost brutal
determination. His words and action appeared to incense her. I saw her
lift the hibiscus bough and strike at his horse as she wrenched
herself free.

"You go too far," she exclaimed. "What right have you over me?"

There was wild confusion for a moment. It was a struggle in the sea.
He gave a reproachful cry.

"What right? None. But, if you will have it--I love you." The words
broke from him as though he were incapable of holding them in any
longer. As she struck his horse it swerved, kicked, and, putting its
head down, bucked furiously. The spray which it raised obscured them
both. I shrieked to those under the cliff. It was all over in a
moment. I saw that Mr. Thurston had been thrown. The horse's hoofs
seemed to trample on his head, as the maddened animal freed itself
from the saddle, and, with a frantic dash, made for the cliff. A
second or two later Weeta's horse followed, riderless also.

There was a rush of people behind me along the strip of shingle.
When I reached the place where Mr. Thurston had been thrown, I saw
that Weeta was unhurt. She was slowly lifting herself up from the
rocks. Her hat had fallen into the sea; her hair was loose. I shall
never forget the agony of her face. "Look!" she said, pointing to her
habit. It was streaked and spotted with blood, and with something more
horrible than blood. "I have killed him," she said, with unnatural
calm. "It is I who have done it--and he loved me!"

He lay perfectly still. There was a frightful gash on his head; his
face and hair were bathed in blood. It spattered the rocks, and a pool
had gathered and was trickling into the sea. The sight was too
sickening. I could not look. But Weeta's eyes were fixed with a
terrible fascination on all that remained of the man she loved. Yes, I
felt sure in that awful moment she loved him. "I have killed him," she
repeated, still in that quiet voice.

"For God's sake, Mrs. Ansdell, take her away," whispered Mr. Wilson,
who had reached the spot. "This comes of that damned fooling with
young horses. The poor fellow's brains are dashed out. Go, all of
you," he shouted to the others who were crowding and pressing
forward--"all except some of the men. And let someone ride to the
station for a stretcher and linen bandages, and another to Wombo--
quick!--for the doctor."

I don't know how we reached home. Some of us forded the inlet, and
clambered up by my cottage to Wombo, and I ran in and collected linen
and such restoratives as occurred to me, and gave them to the blackboy
who was with us, bidding him hasten back to the scene of the accident;
while others galloped on to the house of Mr. Gill, the doctor. He was
at home, fortunately. We met him riding down as for his life, with his
case of instruments strapped before him, as Weeta and I turned out of
the cottage gate. She had helped me to tear a sheet into strips, but
had never spoken a word. Her face was like that of one petrified in an
act of horror.

"They will take him to Barradean by the lower road," I said. "It is
smoother than this. Courage, Weeta, there may be hope yet."

"There is none," she said. "I have killed him. Don't speak to me. Let
me go home and hide myself."

I obeyed. We cantered back in silence. The others had already reached
Barradean. Janie Stern was crying in the verandah. Mr. Humphreys had
arrived from Stonehampton on his usual visit from Saturday till
Monday. He was evidently watching for us, and looked pale and shocked.
He went immediately to Weeta and held out his arms to lift her from
her horse; but she shuddered and motioned him off. "No, go away. Let
me be," she said, in a stifled voice, and walked straight through to
her own room.

Mr. Humphreys caught my hand eagerly.

"Oh, Mrs. Ansdell, have pity on me. Does she care?"

"Is that all you think of?" I cried indignantly--"only if she cares?
You don't mind whether he is living or dead."

"Forgive me," he answered humbly. "I would bring him back to life at
the risk of my own if I could. But she is all the world to me, and
what she feels is the only thing I can think of now."

"And he is all the world to her," I said, "and that is all she can
think of now."

I did not mean to be cruel. The words broke from me involuntarily,
and I was sorry when I saw how they had hurt him. He left me without
speaking, and just then Mrs. Wilson came out, deeply agitated.

She drew me along the verandah towards Weeta's room.

"Oh, Mrs. Ansdell, this is awful!" she cried. "We have sent to
Stonehampton for another doctor and for a nurse. Have you heard? Young
Stern has just come to tell us what Gill said. They are carrying him
on a stretcher. He is alive, but there is very little hope. He must be
nursed day and night, and Gill has ordered us to get ready the coolest
room in the house."

"Then he must be put into mine," said Weeta. She had come out while
her mother was speaking. "Let us get it ready at once; don't waste
time."

The news that he was alive seemed to have roused her. She lost her
stony look, and with feverish energy dragged things from the wardrobes
and drawers, and helped to prepare the chamber for his occupation. It
was all ready when the measured tread of the bearers sounded on the
verandah. Then Weeta slunk away, as if she dreaded the sight, to the
room next mine which she had taken.

We could hear the sound of his being carried in, and the voices of
Mrs. Wilson and the doctor, as things were got ready and orders given.
Then there was silence. They were waiting for the Stonehampton doctor.
Darkness fell. It was long past the hour for dinner. All the life and
movement of the house seemed stopped. Weeta stood motionless at the
foot of the bed, still in her disordered habit. At last she became
conscious of the stains upon it, and gave a moan of horror. "Take it
away," she said hoarsely. "Give me something to put on."

I undressed and re-clothed her as if she had been a child, and
brushed and coiled up her beautiful hair. There was relief in the
occupation.

When it was done, baby awoke and cried, and I took her in my arms to
soothe her, and we three waited for the verdict.

It came at length. There was the faintest shadow of hope that he
might live; but there was the awful probability that his brain would
be permanently injured.



Chapter XIX. Dreams.



MR. THURSTON lay unconscious for many days, and the doctors could
not tell if he would live or die. The house party at Barradean was
broken up, and the muster carried on as quietly as could be, from the
bachelors' quarters. The Sterns went back to their own station, and
Mr. Humphreys ceased to come over from Stonehampton. I would have gone
home also, but that Mrs. Wilson pressed me so urgently to remain, and
I thought that perhaps I might be of use to Weeta.

I was disappointed in that hope, however; her reserve was
unconquerable. She never alluded to that wild avowal which I had
overheard. Perhaps in the agitation of after events she had forgotten
that I had been a listener. Then I had felt sure that she loved Archie
Thurston. Now, again, I was doubtful. If she loved him, would it not
be natural that she should speak? Yet that she suffered deeply, I was
certain. Night after night I heard her walking up and down her room,
unable to sleep. Her face was pale and worn, and had a tortured
expression. I could not help thinking how more than ever Archie would
pronounce it like that of an afflicted mediaeval angel. She seemed
even to have lost care of her complexion, and would sit for hours
unveiled and unoccupied in the granadilla-covered arcade. I think she
may have missed the outlet of music. In these days her violin was
silent, and indeed all sound in the house was kept as much as possible
hushed.

Mr. Gill stayed in the house, and the Stonehampton doctor rode out
once a day. The weather got cooler, out of consideration, one might
fancy, to the sick man, and there came at last a day when he woke out
of his stupor. He was still dazed and very weak, but in a dim kind of
way he recognised the people round him. It was a marvellous recovery,
they all said. "When one thinks," Mrs. Wilson observed, "that part of
his brain was actually scattered on the ground!" But I have noticed
that recoveries in the Australian bush are often marvellous. Perhaps
it is the pure air; perhaps it is--in most cases--the temperate way of
living; perhaps it is the absence of skilled surgeons and the
necessity for leaving much to Nature--anyhow, Nature does what science
in other countries seems totally unable to accomplish.

Once Mr. Thurston began to mend, he got well, physically speaking,
with amazing rapidity. At the end of six weeks he could be moved into
a lounging-chair in the verandah outside his room. The first two days
he lay without speaking, content, it seemed, to watch the shadows of
the vine leaves flicker on the verandah, and the darting lizards as
they played about the wooden steps. He looked very gaunt and thin, and
there was a curious dazed expression in his eyes. His beard had grown
while he had been lying ill, and the baldness of his head where that
great seam crossed it was covered by a skull-cap. It was uncertain
still how much he realized of what had happened, and of what was going
on around him.

When I first went near him he only smiled, but did not pronounce my
name, though later I saw that he knew who I was. Mrs. Wilson he
recognised always, but then she had been constantly in and out of his
room. Weeta refused to see him. I don't know whether this was from
nervous shrinking, or whether she was really afraid that he would
upbraid her. There is no doubt that his brain was in a confused and
cloudy state, and by-and-by it became clear that a veil had fallen, as
it were, between the accident and all that had gone before, and that
the further back he forced his memory, the more distant became the
images. I wondered if he knew that Isabel Cave was actually on her way
out. A letter from Alec's sisters had mentioned the time of her
approaching departure, and had begged me to take her under my
protection, as it was not probable that her friends would care to
remain at Stonehampton, though she might, if she wished, join them
later in Sydney or Melbourne. I speculated within myself as to whether
she would or would not complete her tour of the world with them. By my
calculations, her steamer would be due just six weeks from now.

At this time a strange and unexpected event happened, which
completely changed the aspect of Mr. Thurston's affairs. One morning
Mrs. Wilson came into the darkened drawing-room where Weeta and I were
sitting, in a state of perturbation in which there was an odd mingling
of exultancy and disappointment. She had a newly-arrived newspaper in
one hand, and a bundle of letters surmounted by the blue envelope of a
telegraphic message in the other.

"Mrs. Ansdell, what ought I to do? Here are all Mr. Thurston's
letters, and a telegram has just come for him from England. I know it
is bad news. Should it be given to him?"

Weeta rose agitatedly. "What bad news? Of course he should not be
told. Do you want to drive away his reason?"

Mrs. Wilson turned to her with an expression of deep dejection. "Ah!
if things had been different--if only you had played your cards as you
might, this would have meant great news for you."

"What in the name of goodness do you mean, mamma? The news? I know
what other thought is in your mind. You mean if I had been engaged to
Mr. Thurston."

"If you had been engaged to Mr. Thurston, you would have had the
certainly of becoming Countess of Belmont. Mr. Thurston's brother is
dead. It is in the telegraphic summary." She held out the newspaper
and pointed to a paragraph, which we both read, and which told of the
death, by an accident in the hunting-field, of Lord Colworth, eldest
son of the Earl of Belmont.

I could not help exclaiming at the strange coincidence by which,
almost at the same time, one of the two brothers had been killed, and
the other nearly so, in an accident on horseback. Weeta stood very
thoughtful and silent.

"Then there are these letters," continued Mrs. Wilson. "Some are by
the last English mail. I have kept them back. It is impossible to say,
in the present state of Mr. Thurston's mind, how much he remembers,
and what the effect of a shock might be on his brain."

"Give me the letters," said Weeta, suddenly. "I want to look at
them."

She took the packet from her mother and carefully examined each
envelope.

"Are they all here?" she asked, fixing her penetrating eyes upon Mrs.
Wilson.

I fancied that Mrs. Wilson hesitated. "All! Yes. Why--why do you
ask?"

"I wanted to be sure whether there was a letter from Miss Cave."

"Ah!" said Mrs. Wilson, "that would agitate him. Is there one among
them?"

"You know as well as I do that there is not," answered Weeta. "Both
these English letters have the Belmont stamp on the envelope. Are you
sure that you have not kept one back?"

"Weeta! Well, I declare, this is abominable--that my own child should
doubt my word!" cried Mrs. Wilson indignantly.

I suspected then, however--a fact of which I became certain later--
that Isabel Cave had written, and that Mrs. Wilson, for purposes of
her own, had purloined the letter.

"I know that you like to manage other people's affairs, mamma," said
Weeta, coolly, "and I thought you might want to manage Mr. Thurston's.
Never mind, there are the letters. I think you had better keep them
and the telegram till you have got Dr. Hayllar's authority."

"Well," said Mrs. Wilson, "that seems reasonable, and it takes the
responsibility from my shoulders. Mrs. Ansdell, will you come out and
see Mr. Thurston? I can't think why you don't come, Weeta."

"I will come when he asks for me," she said, and sat down again with
her book.

Mrs. Wilson locked up the letters in her writing-table, and then drew
me out to the verandah. But she paused at the door, and went back to
draw one of the venetians closer. Then she crossed to her daughter,
and looked at her anxiously.

"I declare," she said, "that freckle is coming back again. I don't
know how you are to get on if you lose your complexion." She spoke in
an aggrieved tone, as if she were not altogether satisfied with some
work of art of which she had become the possessor. "I think you might
do something to help me," she continued, in a low, angry voice, "when
I am working for your good, instead of sitting like a stock or stone."

I waited for her no longer, but made my way to the end of the
verandah where Mr. Thurston was sitting. He looked stronger and a
little more alert to-day, but his face had a puzzled expression as if
he were trying to find the clue to a problem which baffled him.

In reply to my questions he said that he was better--much better. "I
have walked to the end of the verandah," he added. "I should be quite
well if I did not feel so confoundedly dazed and stupid."

"You must remember that you had a very bad blow on your head."

"Yes, that's it, I suppose. There seems a sort of mist over a mist
like the spray of the sea. It hides one face that I want to remember,
and I can't see it--I can't see it."

"Perhaps," I suggested, "it is because the person you are thinking of
is very far away, and you have not seen her for a long time--four
years it may be?"

I watched him in some anxiety as to how the shot would tell, but he
only looked at me helplessly. "Is that it? You may be right. I don't
know. I can't think, I can't even recollect her name. If I could but
see her face, everything would become clear."

I did not dare to venture further then. Presently he asked abruptly,
"What room did they put me into? I never was there before."

"The doctor said that you were to have the coolest room in the house,
and Miss Wilson gave you up hers."

The name did not seem to convey any definite personal idea to his
mind. "Miss Wilson," he repeated vaguely. "Yes, I know, the Veiled
Princess. They told me about her. Do you know," he went on, "what has
been haunting me all this time? It is the adagio movement in the
Krcutzer Sonata. She used to play it long ago on her violin."

"Miss Wilson plays it," I said; "but she has not touched her violin
since you have been ill."

"But I am not ill any longer," he said eagerly. "I wish she would
play it to me. I think it would make me remember her."

"Would you like Miss Wilson to come and play to you?" I said. "Are
you quite sure that you are strong enough?"

"Yes, yes," he answered, impatiently. "Ask her to come."

I went back to the drawing-room to find Weeta. As I approached it, I
heard the sound of Mrs. Wilson's voice raised angrily, and then the
slamming of a door. Weeta was alone when I entered. She was leaning
back in her chair, with two hands pressed against her forehead, and I
saw that her frame was convulsed with sobs.

"Weeta," I said.

She took away her hands. Her face had a nervous, frightened
expression: it was evident that she was quite unstrung. I had already
guessed that, in spite of her composure and extreme reserve, she was
of a sensitive, impressionable temperament, with a physical terror of
anything like rough speech or action. This was the secret of Mrs.
Wilson's influence over her.

"You see," said Weeta, as if interpreting my thoughts, "I am shaken
to pieces and ready to do or promise anything. Mamma can turn me as
she chooses so long as she scolds hard enough. Well, never mind."

I told her that I did mind, and tried to make her open her heart.

But she was obstinate and hard. "What does it matter? Mamma is
disappointed that I am never to be Lady--what is it?"

"Colworth," I suggested.

"So he is Lord Colworth now. How strange it seems! Who would have
been Lord Colworth, I wonder, if I had really killed him?" She
shuddered. "You think I did not feel it much. I have been down into
hell since that day."

"I know it," I said.

"But not for the reason that you think," she exclaimed fiercely. "Or
was it in heaven? I am not sure. I think that for one little moment I
was in heaven." She got up and walked to the fireplace, and looked at
herself in the glass above it. "Mamma does not know that I have it in
my power even still," she murmured, then pulled herself together with
a hysterical laugh. "I'm talking great nonsense. I want a safety-
valve. I shall take my violin away into the bush and worry it all out
with myself and it there."

"You need not do that," I answered. "I came in to tell you Mr.
Thurston is very anxious that you should play to him--The Krcutzer
Sonata."

She made an eager movement. "He has asked for me, then?"

"He has asked for music. It is an experiment. I am half afraid of it.
He wants to hear the adagio because he thinks that it may bring to him
a face that he wants to remember--a woman's face; and he does not
connect it with you, for he spoke of you composedly as Miss Wilson and
the Veiled Princess."

She flushed. "I will play to him," she said, "and at first he shall
not see my face."

She took her violin from its case, and followed me along the
verandah; but, instead of going round to the side, she went into a
room, the French windows of which looked out on the place where he was
sitting.

She opened the venetians and gazed out at him unseen. He was lying
back wearily, but the weariness seemed more of mind than of body. He
looked very handsome and very helpless. It was a sight that might well
have touched the heart of a woman who loved him. Weeta's breast
heaved, and a wave of tenderness swept her face--a mingling of remorse
and affection--the look that one might fancy on the face of a mother
as she gazed at a child whom she herself had maimed. She placed
herself behind the half-open venetian and began to string her violin.
He stirred at the sound, and turned inquiringly to Mrs. Wilson, who
was sewing near him. She seemed surprised, but an expression of
triumphant exultation softened her hard features.

"She is going to play," Mr. Thurston said. "Ah, now I shall know."

"Know what?" Mrs. Wilson asked vaguely; but, before he answered,
Weeta played the opening bars. Everyone knows the melody. I have
always thought it exquisitely pathetic, but now the player's very soul
seemed to have gone into the strain. It was full of melancholy
passion, of regret, of yearning. This was the language which she and
Archie Thurston understood. He raised himself in his chair and sat
listening intently, his face rapt, and a bright, clear light in his
eyes, such as had not visited them since his accident.

The movement came to an end, and the last notes of the violin died
away. Mr. Thurston rose to his feet and put his arms out with an
excited gesture. "I know it all now," he said. "Where is she? Why does
she not come? Why will she not let me see her face?"

"Weeta," said Mrs. Wilson, rising too. "Weeta, come."

"Weeta!" he repeated again, with that slightly puzzled look and
intonation, as if he did not clearly connect the name with what was in
his own mind. "Will she not come? I want to tell her all I feel. I
have no doubt now. That is what has been tormenting me all this time.
I could not make it clear to my mind. And now I know. The music has
brought it all back. Oh, tell her that I must see her face--that I
must say to her what is in my heart!"

Mrs. Wilson crossed rapidly to the door of the room within which we
stood. She pushed back the venetians, and drew her daughter forth into
the verandah. "You hear," she said. "It is for you that he cares."

The whole scene seems like one in a play. Weeta stood with her violin
still held against her neck, her wonderful red hair framing her face,
which was all alive and tremulous with emotion, her lips parted
slightly, her eyes shining, and a faint pink flush suffusing her
transparent cheek. Archie Thurston gazed at her as though she had been
an angel visitant long-expected and desired. She made a step towards
him, and he took her hand in his.

"At last," he said, "after so long! I knew when I should see your
sweet face, and hear the old music that we used to play together, it
would all come back clear, and tender, and beautiful. And now I know.
I know that you are the woman I love--the woman I want to be my wife."

Weeta gave a little stifled cry. It was like a moan of pain. She
shrank back, and turned imploringly to her mother, who was standing in
the open doorway.

"Mamma, oh, go away! There is a mistake. He thinks I am----"

"There can be no mistake," said Mrs. Wilson, firmly. "It is a
mother's place to stand by and guard her child at such a time as
this."

"Oh, go away!" again cried Weeta.

"It is no matter," said Thurston. "Why should we mind now?"

"Mr. Thurston is right," said Mrs. Wilson. "Of course I shall remain
here, and so will Mrs. Ansdell." She put out her hand, and held my arm
tightly. "There must be a clear understanding. Mr. Thurston feels with
me. It is my duty to insist that things shall be placed upon a proper
footing. Mr. Thurston, is it true that you love my daughter, and that
you ask her to be your wife?"

He did not reply to Mrs. Wilson, but stood holding Weeta's hand, and
gazing at her with the utmost tenderness. "You know that is true," he
said, addressing her only. "It was settled long ago. Did I not tell
you that I loved you?"

She glanced at him wildly. "Yes--you did tell me--that you loved
me." Her voice faltered and dropped. "Are you sure," she cried--"sure
that it is I--I, Weeta Wilson, whom you love?"

"You, and you only. I love your face, I love your eyes, I love your
beautiful hair. You are the one woman in the world for me."

"Is that all you love in me?" she asked, with eager wistfulness.

"No," he said. "I love your voice, I love your music, I love your
soul!"

A struggle seemed to be passing in Weeta's bosom. She did not answer
for a minute. I knew by the quick gasps she gave, and by the trembling
of her limbs, that she was deeply agitated. Mrs. Wilson watched her
with intense anxiety. "Weeta," she cried, "don't belie yourself for
some foolish fancy; you know that you love him. You know what you have
been brought up for--what has been always your ambition. Think of your
pride, of what people will say of us--of what they are saying already,
if he leaves you."

Still Weeta stood irresolute.

"Speak to me," he urged.

Their eyes met. That look decided her.

"Why should I hesitate?" she said defiantly, for the first time
turning to me. "Other people's happiness is no concern of mine. Why
should I not take what is offered me? It has been a fair fight."

"No, no," I exclaimed.

"Yes," she rejoined quickly. "He told me that he loved me, that day
by the sea. You heard him say it. It was the truth then; it is the
truth now." Her breathing was stilled, and she held herself erect, and
faced him, with her hand in his. "Since you are sure, Archie, it shall
be as you say. You have been ill; you have suffered. It was I who hurt
you. I will make up for it to you. I will nurse you, care for you, be
everything to you. We will stand together, you and I, and none shall
separate us."

I was thrilled by the subdued passion in her voice and manner, and
yet I had the strange feeling that I had been helping at a murder.

Not so Mrs. Wilson. "Now, at last, I have gained my purpose in life,"
she murmured. "Let us leave them, Mrs. Ansdell."

It seemed a fitting moment for the curtain to drop on the scene.



Chapter XX. "Do You Love Her Best?"



I COULD not stay at Barradean now. The murder had been committed--
the murder of Isabel Cave's happiness. She was Alec's friend; she was
to be my guest. How should I break this news to her? I could not
divest myself of a sense of treachery. At times my heart revolted
against Weeta, when I thought of that poor girl coming across the sea
to find a faithless lover; at others it had a curious and unreasoning
sympathy for Weeta's case. I assured myself at such moments that it
was love, and not ambition, which had tempted her. As a matter of fact
it was not Weeta, but Mrs. Wilson who drove me from Barradean. I could
not stand the Major's triumphant delight at her daughter's brilliant
match. The engagement was duly announced the following day; it was all
over the country before the week was out. Mrs. Wilson would not now
hear a suggestion of any injury to Mr. Thurston's brain. In truth, as
far as his engagement was concerned, it appeared healthy enough. He
accepted the position with radiant satisfaction, appeared devoted to
Weeta, whom he contemplated adoringly, and enacted his part of invalid
lover in the most becoming fashion. Weeta was now installed by right
as attendant-in--chief, and Mr. Thurston would walk about the garden
on her arm, and even accompany her, as of old, when she played the
violin. Except for that dazed look which was still noticeable, and for
the fact that, to him, life before the accident seemed blotted out, he
was much as he always had been.

All this I saw only as an outsider during my occasional visits to
Barradean, for I had now no intimate companionship with Weeta. She
avoided me, and took up the attitude of having done something of which
I must necessarily disapprove, and which it was impossible to discuss.
Yet so great was the fascination she exercised over me that I could
not make up my mind to stay away altogether, and usually yielded when
Mrs. Wilson sent one of her pressing invitations to luncheon or to
dinner. Mr. Wilson himself would often come over to fetch me, and
would take no denial. He also was very happy about the engagement,
never, I fancied, having been fully enlightened as to the state of
affairs, and not being troubled with any nice scruples as to Isabel's
Cave's rights. It was quite enough for him that Thurston was in love
with and had proposed for his girl. "The other one" was not any affair
of his. "The missus was always in a good temper now," he told me; and
as they had the misfortune to have a beauty for a daughter--why, it
was a comfort to think she was taking her place in tip-top society.
"She'll be Lady Colworth, you know," he added, "and my grandchildren
will be little lords and ladies! Think of that! By Jove! if only her
old grandfather could have known that when he was knocking down his
cheque at the 'Coffin Lid' public-house, it might have kept him from
his coffin a bit longer. Lord! it's enough to make the old chap turn
in his grave to think of the disgrace he has put on the British
aristocracy."

The odd thing was that, though everyone knew of Mr. Thurston's
accession to rank, he himself was unconscious of the fact till several
weeks had elapsed. Dr. Hayllar forbade any abrupt disclosure, and
advised that matters relating to his English life should not at
present be referred to. Mrs. Wilson, I could see, was greatly relieved
at this decision. She would have liked to hurry on the marriage, and
have it over before Miss Cave's appearance, but Mr. Wilson would not
listen to this suggestion, which he called taking a mean advantage. I
believe it was made to him only, and he, in a burst of confidence,
informed me of it. I felt deeply troubled. About three weeks hence
Miss Cave's steamer would be due at Stonehampton. In my perplexity I
took Dr. Hayllar into counsel, though he was a wiry, unromantic little
man, wrapped up in his profession, from whom I could expect but little
sympathy. In this case I got none.

"Surely," I said, "Mr. Thurston ought to be made to understand that
the young lady he was engaged--is engaged to, as far as she knows--is
actually on her way out."

The doctor shrugged his shoulders. "What good will that do? He has
changed his mind, and is now engaged to Miss Wilson, and there is not
the smallest doubt that he is very much in love with her. The other
young lady must go to the wall."

"But, doctor," I urged, "think of the dishonour of it!"

"Now, look here," he said, "if you go bothering my patient with
questions of honour I won't answer for the consequences. His brain is
in a ticklish state still. It will come all right if he is left alone,
and allowed to be happy. These lapses of memory generally do come
right when the brain gets properly nourished again."

"But when he remembers everything, and knows too late what he has
done?"

"And what has he done? Only made certain of marrying the woman he
loves. He was madly in love with her before the accident--that was as
plain as a pikestaff; but a sense of honour, I suppose, obliged him to
hold his tongue about it. I tell you what it is, Mrs. Ansdell, honour
goes a long way in peopling lunatic asylums, and if you go wakening
Mr. Thurston's sense of honour just now, you may find that you have
helped to put him in one."

"Don't you think it possible," I said, "that all this time he may, in
his cloudy brain, be confusing Weeta Wilson with the girl he was
engaged to? He always thought them alike--he used to tell me so. They
have both the same kind of hair, and both play the violin. At first, I
think that was what attracted him to her."

The doctor fairly laughed. "That is a funny idea of yours, Mrs.
Ansdell. I am afraid it's a question of the lips which are nearest,
for it is clear which personality is uppermost in his mind now. He is
about as far gone in love with Weeta Wilson as a man can be. I don't
admire his taste. It beats me what the fellows can see to rave about
in that girl, who is half--cracked, has red hair, never speaks, and
keeps her face covered. But that's not my business; she's curing my
patient, which is all that I have got to think about. Take my advice,
Mrs. Ansdell--let things alone, and do you meet the young lady in
Stonehampton Harbour, and break the news to her as kindly as you can.
If she is a sensible young woman, she will feel that she has had a
lucky escape, and will go quietly on round the world with her
friends."

It seemed the only course to pursue. There was no possibility of
hearing from Alec, and I imagined that on the whole this was what he
would wish me to do. I wrote to the agents of the steamer, asking them
to telegraph to me when she was signalled a day from Stonehampton, and
resolved to take upon myself the unpleasant duty of meeting Isabel
Cave. I had a faint hope that in the meantime the fog might clear from
Mr. Thurston's memory, and allow him to face the position as a man
should.

To a certain extent this was brought about. Now that Mr. Thurston was
going about much as usual, it became difficult for Mrs. Wilson to
superintend the delivery of his letters. Although, except at English
mail times, she had no serious cause for anxiety, still there was
always the probability of his people telegraphing, and of the message
reaching him in the ordinary course. This, in fact, did happen. I was
present on the occasion. We were sitting in the verandah shortly
before dinner--Mrs. Wilson, Weeta, and I, and Mr. Thurston had just
strolled up to the bachelors' quarters. He and Weeta had been
practising in the drawing--room, and it was only a few minutes before
that she joined us. I was struck by the improvement in her. If Mr.
Thurston appeared quite content, she looked no less happy. Her face
had gained in softness and womanly charm, and her watchfulness of him
and care for his comfort were to me--in spite of my revolt from the
whole business--curiously interesting and pathetic. She was not at all
demonstrative, taking the whole situation in a perfectly matter-of-
fact way, and I was not yet certain whether this arose from the fear
of agitating him, or because she was, in truth, indifferent to his
love. There was a feverish light in her eyes, and sometimes a look of
uneasiness on her face, which showed that she, too, had her moments of
apprehension. She turned deadly pale now, as Mr. Thurston was seen
approaching with the ominous blue paper in his hand. He had stopped
the messenger on his way to the house, and had taken it from him. He
looked pale and bewildered, and staggered a little, as though some
sudden news had shaken him.

"Good Heavens!" Mrs. Wilson ejaculated. "They have telegraphed to him
again."

Weeta ran down the steps to meet him.

"What is it, Archie?" she said.

He put the paper in her hand without a word, and she read it aloud:
"Received no reply to message. Colworth killed. Accident in hunting--
field. Come home. Reply at once."

There was a pause, in which we all waited, our eyes fixed on him.

"Archie," Weeta cried, "you understand? It has not done you harm? Oh,
Archie, do you understand?"

"Yes, I understand," he answered, in a groping sort of way; "I know
what has happened. Colworth is my brother. He is dead; they want me at
home. What message do they mean?" he asked suddenly, turning to Mrs.
Wilson. "You have kept something from me."

"Archie," she answered--she, too, called him Archie now--"it was done
by Dr. Hayllar's commands. We saw about the--the accident in the
telegraphic news from England, and of course we guessed what was in
the telegram. We should not have ventured to keep back your letters
except on the doctor's authority, and it was not as if you could have
done anything. You were helpless, you were very ill, you had forgotten
many things. The shock of this terrible news might have been fatal to
you."

He did not seem to pay any heed to her explanations. A troubled light
broke over his face, a look of terrified comprehension, as though some
chord in his brain had been touched which for a moment startled him
into horror. "My God!" he said, "I had forgotten!" Then the horror
partly died away, and the baffled expression came back. He took the
telegraph paper from Weeta's hand and read it slowly to himself.
"Colworth dead! My poor mother! I am the only one now," he murmured
brokenly. The full realization of this present trouble seemed to come
upon him. "Colworth dead!" he repeated, and sank upon the edge of the
verandah and buried his head in his hands.

Weeta went up to him and put her hands upon his shoulders in a
gentle, protective way. "Archie, you must try not to grieve too much.
You must remember that you have others."

"Others!" he cried, and looked up at her wildly: the look of horror
had again come into his face. "Yes, there are others. God forgive me,
I have not thought of them. I have only looked forward, I have never
looked back."

He got up, and her loosened arms dropped from him. She, too,
straightened herself.

Involuntarily we glanced at each other, Mrs. Wilson and I--Weeta's
eyes were fixed upon her lover. The same thrill of expectation moved
us both. Had the moment of revelation come?

"Archie," Weeta said, almost with an agony of pleading, "there is no
need for you to make yourself wretched by looking back. You are
thinking of--of that other woman."

"Of that saint on earth whose shoestring I am not worthy to so much
as touch. It has all come back to me now."

"It had to come," she answered. "Since you are strong enough, it is
best for you to face it. I am ready to give you up--if you wish it."

"Weeta!" cried Mrs. Wilson. "What are you saying? It was no
engagement. I have Mr. Thurston's own authority for that. He said it
was not an engagement."

"It was what--what he chooses," said Weeta. "Be silent, mamma; you
have no part in this."

"No part in the ruin of my own child's happiness?" melodramatically
interjected Mrs. Wilson.

"It is between him and me," Weeta went on calmly. "Archie, you have
to say what you wish--what is most for your happiness."

"My happiness!" he cried. "Will that atone to her for the insult--
the--oh, it is horrible!"

"To her or to me? Your happiness should be dearer than her own to a
woman who loves you. It is for you to decide."

"Ay," he said bitterly, "I know. I must decide between honour and
dishonour; no, that is done already. There must be dishonour, always.
It is too late."

"It is not too late," she said. "Listen! I'm a proud woman; I will
not marry you unless you love me best. If you had not told me that you
loved me before--before your illness, I would not have let you bind
yourself to me. You are free as air. Say that you love her best, and
all is over between us, and there shall be no blame to you; but tell
me that I am dearest to you, and then I will cleave to you--no one
shall take you from me. Look at me, Archie. Say, do you love her
best?"

He did look at her, devouring her, it seemed, with his eyes. She
looked perfectly beautiful as she stood facing him, her head a little
thrown back, her eyes glowing upon his, the odd fascination she
possessed intensified tenfold. I think there must have been something
magnetic about her which made him powerless to resist her.

"Speak," she said imperiously; "I tell you that you are free. You
have only to let your own heart decide. Choose between us. Take the
one who is dearest to you. Say that you love her best."

He caught her hands. "I cannot say it; it is not true. You have
bewitched me. You are my heart--my life. If it is to be dishonour, it
shall be dishonour with you."

Mrs. Wilson drew a deep breath of relief. I had been sorry for her in
a grotesque, contemptuous way; but I could not keep silence any
longer.

"Mr. Thurston," I said, "you must face the position fairly. Do you
not know that Isabel Cave, who believes herself your promised wife, is
on board the Urania, and will be at Stonehampton in a very few days?
Do you not know that she has come out expecting to be married to you?
How are you goin to meet her?"

"I cannot meet her; I dare not meet her," he said, helplessly.

"You will meet her," said Weeta, facing me. "You will tell her what
you have heard from his own lips."

"You give me a pleasant task," I said; "though truly Mr. Thurston's
way of facing this difficulty should make it easy for a woman to
despise him."

"I am a coward and a traitor," he broke in. "Yes, I know it. You
can't think too hardly of me; but I--I am not myself. I haven't the
power to face things like a man."

"Do you not see," Weeta flamed round fiercely at me, "you are doing
him harm? He is ill. He is not fit for this."

"And yet," I replied, "you have put on him the strain of a life's
choice between honour and dishonour."

"Oh, honour! That is false reasoning--all conventional cant! Isn't it
the worst dishonour to marry one woman, caring more for another? He
has only to act as his heart orders. That is what I take my stand
upon--his love. If he had said that he loved her best, you might have
taken him with you to Stonehampton. I would have stood aside. But as
it is, Archie, I will be strong for you and for myself. Come, you want
rest."

She put her arm within his, and led him away to a little verandah
room, which the lovers had appropriated as a sitting-room. They did
not again appear. It was a very uncomfortable evening. Mrs. Wilson was
resentful of what she called my interference, and made no scruple in
telling me what she thought of my conduct. I felt hurt and wretched,
and begged Mr. Wilson, who was to drive me home to order the buggy
round as soon as dinner was over.

He had drunk just enough to make him ramble on confidentially.
"You'll have to knock under to the Missus, Mrs. Ansdell, like the rest
of us; and though I feel for you--upon my word, now, I do feel for
you--the other young woman being a friend of your husband's, makes it
deucedly unpleasant for you--I wouldn't be in your shoes, going to
meet her, for something; still, I mean to stand by the Missus and her
opinions; and you couldn't expect me to throw over the chance of
making my girl 'My Lady.' The other young woman ought to be able to
look after herself. She had first go in at him, and why didn't she
stick to him and keep him from making a fool of himself and other
people? Let the best man win, say I, or the best woman; it comes to
the same thing. Queer, isn't it, to see two women quarrelling over one
man--three, if you throw the Missus in? To my thinking, Thurston ain't
worth it. I like a fellow that knows his own mind. Although he's a
lord, I'd just as soon it had been Humphreys. Poor Humphreys! he's
awfully cut up. He thought he had a chance. If Thurston chucks her up,
he's ready to marry Weeta any day, and say, thank you, on his knees.
And Mount Jessop is turning up trumps. He's safe to be a millionaire,
is Humphreys, and he has offered to put me in for a good spec. I tell
you what it is, Mrs. Ansdell, if you bring the other young woman up
here, and help her to fight it out, and she gets the best of it--why,
I'm not so sure that you'll make an enemy of me. Remember that."

When, two days later, I got a telegram from the agents to the effect
that the Urania was expected in Stonehampton Bay two days later, I
wrote at once to Weeta the following note:--

"MY DEAR WEETA,--I think it right to tell you that I am going to
Stonehampton to-morrow, to meet Miss Cave. I think, too, that Mr.
Thurston ought to be made aware of this, and that you should both
understand that I mean to tell Miss Cave everything that I know of the
circumstances of your engagement to him. Of course, it is impossible
for me to say what she will do; but, if she should choose to stay
here, she will be my guest. Please don't think I have no sympathy with
you. Though I can't approve of what you are doing, I wish sincerely
that I could help you.

"Yours affectionately.

"RACHEL ANSDELL."

Late that afternoon Weeta answered the note in person. She came alone
into the sitting-room, having ridden over with one of the younger
children.

"Do you know what has brought me?" she asked, as she threw up her
veil and sat down. "It was the last sentence in your letter. The first
part only made me harder, but the last showed that you had some kindly
feeling for me."

"Indeed, that is true, Weeta," I said. I was deeply touched by the
manner and expression of the girl. She looked intensely wretched. "I
wish I could understand you," I added impulsively.

"It is not likely that you could do that. I don't understand myself.
But perhaps if you knew exactly how I have been brought up and all
that I have felt and suffered, you would not be hard on me now."

"I am not hard on you."

"Yes, you are. You have said that you disapproved of my conduct. It
seems to you shameless and unwomanly. Your letter is, in fact, a
declaration of war. You have gone over to the enemy--I suppose I am
justified in calling Miss Cave my enemy," she went on, with a harsh
little laugh. "She has everything that I have not got. She has been
brought up among the surroundings which I covet. She is rich, and her
own mistress. The only point in which we are equal is that we both
want intensely the same valuable property--Archie Thurston."

"How do you know that she will want him when she hears the truth? She
will probably have too much pride to go on caring about a man who no
longer cares for her."

"I don't know in the least," answered Weeta, calmly. "If you ask my
candid opinion, I should say that it would be very easy for her to
regain her influence over Archie Thurston. His love for me is only a
passing madness."

"And yet you can hold him to you?"

"It is a very real madness when I am with him, and if I were to marry
him, it would most likely always last; but I am quite sure that if I
were out of his way, he would discover that he had never really cared
for me. You are surprised that I can talk about it so coolly. I think
you have been under the impression that it was I who was madly in love
with him. I assure you I never encouraged him. He made advances to
me."

"You meant to try and win him," I said. "You admitted as much to Alec
and me, and the excuse I made for you then was that you cared for
him."

"Ah," she said, "some day, perhaps, you will know whether you were
right in your conjecture."

"No," I said angrily. "I can't even give you that claim to respect."

She gave me one of her long, curious looks. "Ah!" she said again,
with a little deep-drawn sigh. "Well, I didn't expect you would
respect me. I don't respect myself. But I have judged Archie
correctly," she went on. "I have had to think the matter out in order
to calculate my chances--if you take that view of it, and I can't
blame you, seeing that out of my own mouth I have condemned myself.
His temperament was the important factor in the business. He is not a
man whom you can admire all round, and I must say that just now he
cuts a rather unheroic figure."

I think she took a sort of perverse pleasure in puzzling and annoying
me.

"I don't know why you should have come over to tell me this," I said.

"I did not," she answered. "I came over to tell you that Archie has
written to Miss Cave. I haven't seen the letter. I didn't dictate it.
At any rate, it relieves you from a disagreeable responsibility. He
has sent it to the care of the pilot, so that she will probably
receive it before you see her."

"Thank you," I replied. "That, at least, was considerate of Mr.
Thurston."

"I came over to tell you something else," she went on. "It is that I
value your good wishes, and that I am sorry you have turned against
me. I want to try and make you see a little from my point of view,
even though it be ever so dimly. Think how lonely I have been all my
life--a sensitive child; nobody guessed how sensitive--the butt of the
family, because of my odd ways, and because they thought I was ugly. I
had no love of any kind. My mother never cared for me. She was always
punishing me for some trivial fault. I used to yearn for love, even
that I might feel it for my mother; but I could feel nothing but fear.
You can't imagine how imperious she is, and how her will carries
everything before it. Even now, when I pretend to be mos indifferent,
I am in reality cowed by her. Then my father's manners and habits
jarred upon me. He used to laugh at me, and call me 'Carrots,' and it
was his joke, I told you, that I had a shingle 'loose.' None of them
understood me, none of them cared for me. They treat me differently
now because they have been told that I am good-looking, though they
cannot understand that either. And they see that men fall in love with
me, and they have set their hearts on my making a fine marriage. That
was always my mother's craze. It is a kind of mania. I dare say I have
inherited it. I have never allowed myself to be in love with any of
those Australian men who have wanted to marry me. I knew that was not
my destiny. I have always fancied that I had a destiny. I am horribly
romantic, though I seem stupid. I delight in imagining myself into
dramatic positions. When I am sitting silent I am thinking them out. I
should talk if there was anything worth talking about. I have an idea
that if I were among clever, cultivated people, I should be clever
too, and talk brilliantly. I suppose all this seems to you very
conceited and ridiculous, but it's how I feel. I long, at times, with
the longing of an imprisoned soul, to escape from this mean, narrow
life, from the talk about cattle, and the rough, commonplace bush
people. I am very ambitious--I want power. Now, do you see? Mr.
Thurston can give me all this. He can put me into the position for
which I fancy that I am fitted. He is the only person that I have ever
known who has shown me what life might really be. He represents a
different order of things. He can make me a great lady, one of those
of whom one reads in books. And he loves me. You heard him say so. You
heard him say it when he had his full senses, and knew as well as you
and I that he was bound to Miss Cave. He threw her off that day. He
was false to her when he told me by the shore that he loved me. Is it
in human nature that I should not take advantage of such an
opportunity? I told you I meant it to be a fair fight. I have left it
to himself. You heard me offer to free him. He has chosen me
deliberately. Well, why should I concern myself about that other girl?
Why should I give him up out of Quixotic generosity to a woman who is
less than nothing to me?"

She poured all this out with rapid, low-toned utterance.

"You have not pleaded the one thing which would make me give you my
heart's sympathy," I said.

"What is that?"

"You have never said that you love him. Everything you have put forth
would only lead one to believe that your motives were selfish and
worldly."

"If you are not clever enough to find out for yourself whether or not
I love him, I shall not tell you," she answered slowly. "You must
think what you please." She got up. "I have said all that I had to
say, and now I will go."

I stopped her. "Stay. Is there no way of escaping from this life
which you dislike, and gaining the things you want, without marrying
Mr. Thurston?"

"Yes," she said; "I might marry Mr. Humphreys. He will be far richer
than Archie Thurston, though he cannot give me rank. He would take me
to England or anywhere that I liked, and they say that money will do
anything in society. I am not sure that this would not be the best way
out of the fix."

"Then why don't you take it? If some one is to be sacrificed, by all
means let it be Mr. Humphreys."

"Now, you are not fair to him. As far as solid, manly goodness goes,
he is worth a dozen of Archie. Why should he be sacrificed? It is not
his fault that outwardly he is not attractive."

"I have nothing more to say," I exclaimed, exas perated.

"Well!--nor I. Good-bye, Mrs. Ansdell. Heaven save you in your
mission!" And she went away.



Chapter XXI. Isabel Cave.



IT was with a sinking heart that I went down the river in the steam-
tug which was to bring off the passengers and mails from the Urania. I
comforted myself, however, with the reflection that the time of trial
would not last long, for that of a certainty, on receiving Mr.
Thurston's letter, Miss Cave would decide to go on to Sydney with her
travelling companions.

But I was mistaken. When I got on board the Urania, a very pretty
little lady, dressed in a smart white serge yachting dress and
coquettish sailor hat, came straight to me.

"Mrs. Ansdell, I feel sure it's you; Isabel asked me to look out for
you. I'm Mrs. Bingham, her friend, and I want to speak to you before
you see her. She has had a letter by the pilot this morning, and I
feel certain that it is from Mr. Thurston, and that it has bad news."

I saw at once that Miss Cave had not communicated the fact of Mr.
Thurston's faithlessness to her friend, and that I must be guarded in
what I said.

"She is in her cabin," pursued Mrs. Bingham; "I've hardly seen her
since she got Mr. Thurston's letter--I suppose I ought to say Lord
Colworth. They telegraphed the news to us at Singapore. What is the
matter? Why isn't he here?"

"Mr. Thurston has had a bad accident; he was thrown from his horse,
and for a time his mind was affected," I answered.

"Is that all? I was afraid it was something much more serious. For,
of course, he is all right now, or he could not have written."

"He is much better; he is able to walk about."

"But not up to meeting his lady-love. I must say I thought him an
odd sort of lover when she told me she was not expecting him. I can't
help thinking it's something more than that, Mrs. Ansdell. Isabel
looked as if she had had a great shock."

"I suppose that she will tell you if there is anything more," I
replied, constrainedly.

Mrs. Bingham did not look quite satisfied; but clearly she was not a
person who worried herself about troubles that did not concern her. I
turned the subject by explaining Alec's absence, and his sister's
request that I would receive Isabel Cave.

"Yes," said Mrs. Bingham. "Frankly, it was a great relief to me when
Mima Ansdell--of course you know that we live close to your husband's
people--when Mima promised in your name that you would act matron to
Isabel. For, you see, my husband's time is limited, and we don't want
to waste it at Stonehampton, where they tell me there is absolutely
nothing to see this time of year but mosquitoes. Since you will take
charge of Isabel, we propose to go on to Sydney, where she can join us
after a bit if she likes; but I don't suppose the young man will agree
to that."

"Then she means to come back with me?" I exclaimed in some surprise;
but, perceiving Mrs. Bingham's questioning look, hastened to add, "Of
course I am only too delighted, and have come here to get her to stay
with me; but I did not know if Mr. Thurston's letter----" and I
stopped uneasily.

"Well, I don't imagine he has thrown her over," laughed Mrs. Bingham;
"and, short of that, she is bound to go to him. Dear old Isabel! She
is just the sweetest girl in the world, and, though I am dreadfully
sorry to lose her, of course her heart is with Mr. Thurston, and I do
so want her to be happy. She asked me to take you down to her cabin
when you came. My husband is seeing after her boxes and things."

We went together to the saloon, and Mrs. Bingham knocked at the door
of one of the staterooms. A voice said, "Come in."

"It's Mrs. Ansdell," said Mrs. Bingham, "and I shall leave you to
make acquaintance, and go and find out when the steam-tug starts
back." She motioned me to enter, and with a little nod ran away again.

A very tall, slender girl, with hair something the colour of Weeta's,
was standing before me. She took my two hands in hers. "It was kind of
you to come," she said agitatedly. "I wanted to see you first alone.
Will you sit here?" She put me beside her on the cushioned berth
beneath the porthole, and I was able to look at her.

Yes, she was a little like Weeta. The colouring and the "Rossetti"
look were the same, only that Miss Cave's skin was much less clear,
being freckled here and there, as the complexion which goes with such
hair is apt to be; and she was, in truth, far less beautiful than
Weeta. She lacked Weeta's distinctive originality and perplexing
charm. Perhaps her dress had something to do with this, and gave her
the conventional air, of which the total absence was Weeta's
peculiarity. She wore a tight-fitting tailor-made gown, very neat, but
not the least "aesthetic," as it is phrased; her hair was parted in
the middle, and braided as smoothly as its natural ripple would allow.
She was just like many a charming and well--bred girl from an English
country-house; with all this, she was extremely pretty, and most
refined and delicate-looking. She gave me the impression of being
deeply moved. The tears welled in her eyes when she put aside, as it
were, some poor little commonplaces of greeting with which I tried to
cover my own sense of embarrassment.

"Mrs. Ansdell," she said, "I am not going to treat you as a stranger,
for I have read what Alec has written about you to his sisters, and I
know that you will be kind and true to me. I want you to be true above
all things--nothing else matters."

I begged her to believe that she might trust me, and that I would act
towards her as if she were Alec's sister.

"That's good of you," she answered. "I know Alec Ansdell, and what he
has been to his sisters, and I know he would be a brother to me if he
were here now. You know all about that letter--yes, for he told me
that you understood everything."

"I don't understand it," I exclaimed; "but at least I have seen most
of what has happened."

"Will you tell me it all, then, exactly? This has been a blow to me,
for I----" her voice faltered, "I have loved Archie Thurston dearly.
But his letter is unlike him, so strange, and wild, and incoherent. He
speaks of an accident. I feel that there must be some explanation he
has not given me. Will you tell me about--about this girl for whom he
has forsaken me? Is she a good girl? Is she a lady? Forgive me; but I
don't understand much about Australian people. Does she love him? How
is it that she has taken my place? Will you tell me the whole truth,
the very truth? Don't be afraid of hurting me."

I did tell her the whole truth, as far as I knew it. I felt that it
was my duty to gloss over nothing, and yet, as I described the scenes
I had witnessed, it was with a sense of shame and compunction, and of
treachery towards Weeta, as I had before felt a sense of treachery to
Isabel Cave. She asked me many questions about Weeta, among them that
one which I could not answer, whether Weeta loved Archie Thurston.

"I think I understand better now," she said, when I had finished,
"Oh, my poor Archie, my poor Archie!" She put her hands over her face
for a minute; then went on hurriedly, at first without any show of
emotion: "It was too hard a trial for any man, and Archie is weak; I
always knew that, but it made no difference in my feeling for him.
Weakness sometimes only makes the person one loves dearer. She is very
beautiful, and her playing--he is so fond of music, it rouses all that
is emotional in him. Yes, I understand, I understand. I don't blame
him, and his brain was confused, and he was not able in his mental and
bodily weakness to cope with a feeling of that kind. That is what
troubles me so. Suppose he were under the influence of a sort of
delusion."

"I don't know," I said helplessly; "I'm afraid he cared for her
before."

"Yes, yes," she interrupted; "you told me. I am glad you did not
spare me that. If she were a good girl and loved him for himself, and
he really loved her--if I were sure of that, I would go on now, and he
should not be troubled with me any more. But if she is heartless and
worldly, and it is only ambition--his position is changed, you know,
and you yourself say that she has been brought up badly, and her
mother is a designing woman--oh, he should be saved from that. His
mother and father should be saved that trial; it would hurt them
grievously. You know once they objected to me because I am not so well
born; but that is all passed now, and I should have come to Archie
with his mother's blessing. How sad it is now--now when it is too
late!" Again she nearly broke down. "Think what it would be to Lady
Belmont to have a daughter-in-law who was unworthy! And poor Archie!
when the glamour was past! Mrs. Ansdell," she said appealingly, and
looking at me with her frank, sincere eyes, "tell me if you think me
wanting in dignity and self-respect--tell me frankly. But I feel that
I must see Archie and judge for myself. I feel that it would be a
false kind of pride that would turn me away and let me be carried for
ever out of his life. If I could save him! It is worth a sacrifice.
Not for myself, but for his mother's sake--for his own sake and for
the sake of the love we had for each other. Something is owing surely
to a love which was strong enough to bring me here--strong enough to
live through opposition and absence and long silence for nearly five
years. Tell me that you do not think me contemptible and unwomanly."

"Oh, I don't," I interposed abruptly, for I began to find myself
quite carried away by the girl's frank impetuosity. "I don't think it
unwomanly of any woman not to give up her love and her happiness and
her life, and perhaps the happiness and the life of the man she loves,
without making a fair fight for it."

Her eyes sparkled. "You, too, think I ought to see him? You, too,
think I have a right?"

"Oh, yes; I am sure you have," I answered. Something of hope within
me began for the first time to tremble and respond to her appeal.

"Listen," she said, and there seemed a positive passion of conviction
in her look and her tone; "you said yourself that you couldn't
understand this thing. Well, I can't understand it, either; but we may
believe without understanding, and this I do believe--that, however
all this horrible confusion has come about, Archie is true to me, and
that the sight of my face, and the sound of my voice, and the touch of
my hand will bring my lover back to me."

She smiled a fearless, flashing smile, like that of one determined to
go in for a last ordeal. All the same, there were tears in her eyes,
and, indeed, there were tears in my eyes as well. Odd memories came up
in my mind of stories I had read about sorceries and bewitched young
men, and redemptions by the pure, courageous faith of pure and
conquering love.

"Go to him," I said. "God show the right."

So I told Mrs. Bingham that I would take charge of Miss Cave, and
that she might go her way to Sydney without further sense of
responsibility.

I wish I could have said to myself that I had no further sense of
responsibility, but I did not feel by any means so well assured as to
the wisdom of the step I was allowing poor Miss Cave to take. If it
should prove a disappointment, what a humiliating disappointment it
would be! The poor, forlorn girl would only have published her love
and her desertion in vain; and I was by no means sure that Miss Weeta
would not be quite capable of openly exulting in her rival's defeat
and humiliation--it is not only women who are capable of doing such
things--they have learned the way to do them from at least as far back
as the days when the god-like heroes of the Iliad jibed over and
exulted over and insulted their wounded and dying enemies. It would be
hardly fair to expect more magnanimity from Miss Weeta than from one
of Homer's heroes. After all, Weeta was certainly not a sorceress, and
Archie appeared to know what he was talking about when he allowed us
all to believe that he loved Weeta best of all girls in the world.
Still, it was idle to think of all that now. I had given my word to
Isabel that she should have her chance of redeeming her spell-bound
lover--if he were spell-bound--and so far as I was concerned she
should have her chance. But I could not help wondering what people
would say of me; perhaps especially what Alec would say of me when he
came to know all about it. That married woman must indeed be a very
heroine of self-assurance whose spirit never sinks at the thought that
something she has done, which at the time she thought highly
magnanimous, may cause her husband to think her, and perhaps even to
call her, a fool.

We spent that night at one of the hotels in Stonehampton, and went
on our journey next day. I had certainly great reason to admire the
self--control and strength of mind displayed by my poor Isabel. I
could read between the lines of her talk without the least trouble.
She had made up her mind evidently that she was not to display her
anxiety all over the place; that she would not impose any of her
burden unnecessarily upon others, upon any other. She asked me all
sorts of questions about Australia and its ways, and about the local
society, of which she was about to have a passing glimpse; and she
said never a word about the people or the subject which, as I knew
full well, must be eating into her heart. Sometimes I asked myself to
what use this heroic suppression, this almost suicidal trampling down
of the feelings? Why not trust me, woman to woman, and let herself go,
and let me share her anguish of anxiety in open words, as she must
well know that I already share it in feeling and in sympathy? Why
should heroism play the part of hypocrisy and hide its real features
behind a mask? All the same I respected her resolve and her proud
patience.

As we were getting near the end of our journey. I thought it well to
bring her back in open speech to its very anxious and, to my mind,
dismal purpose, and I took her hand in mine. It is, I suppose, a law
of our being that compassion must touch with its living hand the
object of its sympathy. I said, "My dear Miss Cave, suppose this
fails; shall you be able to go through with it?"

"What can I do?" she asked simply, opening her eyes and then letting
fall the curtain of her lids again. "It is no more than happens to
many girls who deserve a better fate than I do. And then, Mrs.
Ansdell, I don't believe that any harm will come, for I believe in
him."

"Oh, my dear child," I exclaimed, almost losing all self-control,
"the other girl believes in him, too; one or other of you must
suffer."

"If she loves him really, truly, for himself, as I do; and if she has
to give him up--oh, I shall be so sorry for her that I shall take her
to my very heart, and cry tears of sympathy over her. I shan't exult,
I promise you. Mrs. Ansdell, if she really loves him fondly--in that
true sort of way, you know; and if she has won him really--well, I
shall say good--bye, and go my way without one word of reproach, and I
shall feel some better hope for his happiness than I did when first I
heard of this strange thing. But then--then--then--I shall feel
sorry--for her!"

"For her?" I asked.

"Oh, yes, for her! What hold could any woman have on a heart that
could be given and taken away, and given away again like that? He did
love me, as surely as I loved him; and, if he has changed so soon for
any cause--why, then, so much the worse for the girl he takes, and not
for the girl he leaves."

There was a resolute toss of her prettily-set head as she spoke these
words, but I could see that her lips trembled all the while.

"I am glad you are so brave, my dear," I said.

"Brave!" she answered, and she now let her tears have their way. "I
don't believe I am a bit brave. I am only confident. I know he loves
me."



Chapter XXII. The Old Love and the New.



ISABEL preserved her heroic attitude, even when we had reached
Wombo, and she found herself in the very scenes and surroundings amid
which the tragedy of Archie Thurston's desertion had been played. She
bade me show her the spur of shingle where he had been thrown from his
horse, and shuddered as she looked out to sea, and saw the waves
breaking over the bristling rocks. She asked me if Barradean were
visible from the knoll where we were standing, and gazed for several
minutes with melancholy interest on the pretty low house with its wide
verandahs, its romantic garden, and clustering outbuildings, all
embowered in bamboos. The place had great natural beauty, and showed
to advantage from this point.

"I did not think it was like that," she said, with a little catching
of her breath. "It is something like a villa that I know in Italy."

I could see that this association of her rival with picturesqueness
and luxuriance of vegetation, and, indeed, an almost tropical charm,
produced an uneasy feeling in her mind, and made her more distrustful
of her own influence.

As upon the occasion of my own home-coming, we left the coach to
proceed by the longer road, and waded across the inlet, it being, on
the whole, the most private way in which Isabel could make her entry
into the township. I had, for her sake, a nervous dread of the gossip
which would certainly fly round the district, if it got to be known
who she was, and why she had come. I hated the idea of the false
position in which she might find herself, and wished, more than ever,
for Alec's strong support. I began even to doubt the wisdom of the
course we had pursued. In any case, the only hope was to keep her
arrival as quiet as possible, and when the momentous interview was
over, to take her back to Stonehampton, and consign her to the
Binghams' care in Sydney.

I was a little afraid that we might meet some of the Barradean party
on the beach or riding down the hill on which our cottage stood. I
felt sure that the Major was quite capable of bearing down on Isabel,
and trying to intimidate her into retreat from the field. But this
time none of the Wilsons appeared, and Isabel reached the shelter of
our cottage undetected. Once in her own room, I thought she would have
given way, but she was brave still, and when she came out to dinner
seemed interested in the new life to which she had been introduced,
asked many questions about Alec and our personal concerns, found a
likeness to her grandmother in baby, and told me a great deal about
Alec's people, and their ways and doings. She was determined,
apparently--for the moment, at any rate--to put aside her own griefs
and anxieties.

The next morning I had my pony harnessed, and set out for Barradean.
I had hope that I might get speech of Weeta or Mr. Thurston without
Mr. Wilson's intervention, and so, instead of driving up to the usual
entrance, I gave the cart in charge of a blackboy who was lounging
about the slip--rails, and made my way to the granadilla trellis,
where the lovers often spont their early morning hours. Weeta had
grown so careless of her complexion during these days of her
engagement that I wondered sometimes whether that care had not also
been affectation, or whether she was going through such exciting
phases of emotion that her former vanities had ceased to have any hold
over her.

Her face was unveiled now, though it was shaded by a broad straw hat,
curiously trimmed with the grey-green moss which hangs from the gum
trees, and of which a long trail fell over the brim and mingled with
her red-gold locks. She wore her hair brushed back, and tied with a
piece of yellow ribbon, so that it hung in a rippling mass far below
her shoulders, and she had on a simple white gown of the clinging
stuff she liked, falling straight to her feet, and gathered in at the
waist with a broad yellow sash. I thought I had never seen a more
striking figure, as she stood leaning against the wall of greenery,
her eyes bent down upon her lover, who half lay in a squatter's chair
looking up ardently at her. Yet in the faces of both there was a
troubled expression, a sort of restless, dissatisfied passion, as
though elements in the natures of both were warring, and only held in
check by the fascination that bound each to the other. This was my
fancy. They were not doing anything, though a book lay on the ground
beside them; but there was nothing in their attitude which suggested
the idle repose of a lovers' tete--tete. Weeta was the first to
perceive my approach. She knew that I had been to Stonehampton since
our last meeting, and what had been my errand there, yet she greeted
me as unconcernedly as though I had driven over merely to while away a
dull morning. Her moods certainly were quite incalculable.

"Here is Mrs. Ansdell, Archie," she said.

I saw instantly that a change came over his face. He rose and said,
"How do you do?" to me with as much awkwardness as was possible in one
so habitually at his ease.

I, too, felt awkward enough. "I have come to tell you," I began
bluntly, "that I have brought Miss Cave home with me to Wombo."

The announcement startled Weeta. "Ah!" she exclaimed nervously; then
seemed to make a resolute effort to force down her agitation. She
moved a little farther off, folded her hands before her, and waited
perfectly silent. The news affected Mr. Thurston deeply. He turned
very pale, and for a moment or two did not speak. I felt, though I was
not looking at her, that Weeta's eyes were fixed steadily upon him.

"She has come?" he said at last, in a shocked, groping way.

"She has come to see you," I answered, boldly.

"Oh!" he exclaimed passionately; "this is worse than everything. I
can bear to know myself a cur; I can't bear that she should upbraid me
for my baseness."

"She will not upbraid you," I said; "she has no thought of reproach.
She----"

"Stay!" interrupted Weeta, imperiously. "I will go away if you wish
it. Do you want to speak to Mr. Thurston alone?"

"No!" he exclaimed; "that can make no difference."

"There is no need," I said. "I have not much to say, and perhaps you
had better hear it."

"Very well." She sat down on a bench, her hands lying still in her
lap, maintaining an air of armed neutrality.

"Miss Cave only wished to hear the truth from your own lips," I went
on. "She thinks this is due to you and to herself, and to the love you
once had for one another. She thinks it due also to your parents."

"Oh, my parents!" he burst out impetuously. "What have they to do
with it? If they had sided with me at the beginning, and had welcomed
Isabel, and fought with me against her guardian, it would all have
been different. I might never have----" He stopped himself with a
sudden eager look at Weeta. "What am I saying? It is the wrong to her
that hurts me, and that I would undo almost with my life, if I could.
It would be a wrong to her, even if----How could I pretend? When once
a thing is done, it is done for ever. We were talking of that now--
before you came. We were reading Browning, you know," and he quoted--

"As earth lies bare to heaven above;

How is it under our control

To love or not to love?"

"That's the way with me. But it is not for my people to interfere--
now. They have learned to appreciate Isabel too late."

"No, Archie," Weeta said calmly; "I have told you it is not too late.
Miss Cave herself thinks it is not too late, or she would not come she
would not have asked you to go to her. It is to be a struggle between
us two women for you, my poor Archie; and in good truth I don't know
which of the three is the most humiliated by the struggle. You see,"
she added, looking towards me, "it was scarcely fair of you to blame
me, and to hint that I was indelicate for taking up the line I did. If
I was indelicate in refusing to give him up unless he himself told me
that he did not love me, then how would you describe Miss Cave's
conduct? I am not saying anything against it, mind. It's what I would
have done myself, and I admire her and respect her for being above
your petty standard of conventionality."

It jarred upon me inexpressibly to hear her thus applauding poor
Isabel. I wondered how he could bear it, and that the bad taste of her
speech did not annoy him; but apparently he had not noticed it.

"Mr. Thurston," I said, not answering her, "will you come with me now
to see Miss Cave?"

He seemed to reflect for a moment. "Yes," he answered slowly, and
with a greater show of manliness than he had as yet appeared capable
of; "since she asks it of me. God knows I have done her harm enough,
and the least I can do now is to obey her wishes."

"You must understand that it is with no thought of influencing you
that Miss Cave is here," I said, anxious to guard Isabel against any
imputation of want of self-respect. "She has come in the noblest,
frankest way, putting all care for herself aside. You must not think
that she could stoop----"

"I could think nothing of her but what is highest and most
honourable. You need not tell me what Isabel Cave's motives are," he
said, with fervid impressiveness. "Don't I know that she is the
proudest woman--proud in the noblest sense--as well as the truest and
sweetest? Whatever she does must be right, and no one would ever dare
to misinterpret it. I will come, Mrs. Ansdell."

Weeta moved when he did, and walked before us to the end of the
trellis. "You have a place to spare in your pony cart," she said. "I
should like to come, too."

"You are coming!" I exclaimed.

"Yes; why not? You won't be so inhospitable as to forbid me your
house, Mrs. Ansdell? It's like waiting for my death-warrant, you know.
Think of my suspense while those two decide upon my sentence."

"Weeta, you pain me!" he exclaimed, with indignant reproach.

"I'm only putting facts in a straight way, Archie; and it seems to me
that we have got down to the bed-rock, as they say. Why should we be
afraid of standing face to face--you and she and I? I shall not
wrangle and scratch and try to tear out her eyes. I am not quite
indelicate enough for that. In heaven's name, let us be honest, all of
us, and say what we feel; let us fight in the open, now that it has
come to a battle." She laughed in her odd, soft way. "Besides, it is
really a dramatic situation, and that's what I've always longed for.
And besides, again, how do you know that I may not have something to
say--some decision of my own to announce which will change the whole
state of affairs?"

I did not try to dissuade her from her plan. Indeed, I had a faint
hope that she might, as she said, say or do something which would
entirely alter the position. We drove almost in silence to the
cottage.

I took them into the dining-room, which was separated from the
parlour by folding-doors and a heavy curtain. I knew that Isabel would
be either in the parlour or the front verandah.

"Will you stay here while I tell Miss Cave?" I said, and left them.

I was not long absent. When I came back, I saw a strange sight--a
sight that set all my sympathies vibrating again for Weeta, and gave
me the feeling of being torn in two. Archie was seated at the table,
his elbows resting upon it, his hand supporting his head, and he was
looking down at Weeta with something of agony in his eyes. She was
kneeling beside him, her hand clutching his arm, her face upturned to
his, transfigured in its passion of yearning.

"Archie," I heard her say, and no words can convey the tender cadence
of her voice. Oh, she loved him! I was certain of that now. "Archie,
my darling, if you leave me you will take my heart's blood with you.
Archie, listen. It would kill me if you were sorry afterwards and made
me feel so--if you were ashamed of me, or of my people; if I lost my
hold on you, and you looked back to this day with hatred of me. Oh,
Archie, let me suffer now, rather than that. Go, my darling, if you
have one shadow of regret, if you have one heart-throb that is for
her, and not for me."

He caught her to him and kissed her wildly. "I can't give you up. No
one can ask that--she least of all. Oh, my love! my love!"

He kissed her again. Weeta broke from him, and pointed to where I
stood.

"They have come for you," she cried, hysterically. "It is the
executioner. Go, Archie, and remember."

"Miss Cave would like to see you alone," I said, coming forward to
him. "She is in the sitting-room."

"Go, Archie," Weeta repeated. Her glamour seemed upon him at that
moment more irresistibly than ever before. His eyes were scarcely able
to tear themselves away from her face as he left the room, and while
she bade him go her whole look and attitude gave the impression of
some uncanny syren who was exercising all her power of fascination to
keep him her slave. I wondered then that these two women, who were
both so strong, should care so much for one so weak.

When the door had closed behind him Weeta sank into the chair from
which he had risen, and leaning her arms on the table, buried her face
in her hands. She had taken off her hat, and her beautiful hair
covered her form, which was shaken with sobs. I went to her and tried
to show her that I felt for her sorrow.

"Go away, Rachel Ansdell," she exclaimed hoarsely. "It's you who have
done this--you who have brought that girl here. What right had you?
What business was it of yours? Why could you not let things be?"

"Ah, you are afraid then?" I said, uttering the thought which was
uppermost.

She lifted her head and looked at me, her eyes shining brightly
through her tears, such force and vitality in her bearing that I could
not but compare her with the woman I had left and tell myself that it
would go hard with Isabel. It was too much to expect that any man
would give Weeta up willingly.

"Afraid!" she repeated angrily. "No, I am not afraid--not of what you
think. Do you suppose I don't know my power over him? Do you think I
don't know that by looking at him I can make it impossible for him to
throw me over? I won't give you the satisfaction of thinking that I do
it out of love." She seemed to take a perverse pride in upsetting my
theories. "You haven't any idea what a good actress I am. I tell you
he shall belong to me, though he doesn't love me--not in his heart of
heart. Oh, I know that. He is only bewitched, mesmerised, anything you
like to call it. But he is mine for all that, and no one shall take
him from me."

She had got up from her chair, and was pacing the room like a mad
creature. I did not try to reason with her, but stood waiting. The low
murmur of voices from the drawing-room reached me, and must have
reached Weeta also. It seemed to still her rage. She paused in her
walk, which resembled that of a beast in its cage, and, putting
herself into the motionless attitude she could assume even when
feeling threatened to overmaster her, waited, as I did, till the
interview between Archie and Isabel was over. I don't think either of
us could have told afterwards how long we stood in our suspense. It
might have been minutes; it might almost have been hours. In reality I
believe it was only a very little while. Suddenly the tension was
broken. The handle of the door turned. There was a moment's pause, and
then, to my great surprise, Isabel entered, followed by Mr. Thurston.

She stood for a moment uncertainly, her eyes fixed upon her rival.
She was very pale; but, in her appearance and demeanour, there was a
certain simple and delicate propriety which contrasted with Weeta's
fantastic dress and disordered hair, and with the evident signs of
that storm of passion which had gone over her. Isabel seemed, in her
brief glance, to be weighing the nature and claims of her antagonist.
She gazed at her searchingly, with wistful wonder and admiration.
Weeta stood erect, resentful but defiant; but, above all, surprisingly
beautiful. At last Isabel crossed to her, and said simply, "I wanted
to see you; I wanted to tell you that I hope you may be happy."

Weeta gave her a full glance, bright and unrelenting. "Why do you
wish that?" And then she added, as if no longer able to bear the
strain, "Tell me what it is to be. If I am to be happy, it must be at
your cost."

"Yes," Isabel answered, still in that simple way; "but I am glad that
I have seen you. I shall always be glad. Will you not shake hands with
me?"

She put out her hand, and Weeta took it, and thus the two girls
stood. At that moment Weeta seemed the most moved. "It was for him to
decide," she said brokenly. "I don't know what you have said to each
other."

"We have said good-bye," Isabel answered. "Good-bye without
bitterness or reproach. He has chosen you. He loves you. I do not
wonder that he should love you best. You are very beautiful--not what
I expected. His people will admire you, and you will win their
affection. And you must pray that he may never change to you," she
added, with a touch of irony that I think must surely have been
unconscious.

"Oh," cried Weeta, taking away her hand, and shrinking back. "You do
well to say that."

"I did not mean to hurt you," said Isabel, gently. "I cannot doubt
he loves you, but he loved me only a few short months ago; or, at
least, he told me so." For the first time in the scene her voice
shook. "It's all over," she said hurriedly, turning to Mr. Thurston,
who stood crushed and shamed against the fireplace. "When we meet
again, Archie--for I suppose we shall meet some time in England--you
will be married, and we shall have lived down this trouble. Good-bye."

She held out her hand to him with a little queenly movement. He took
it in his, and reverently kissed it. Isabel shuddered, as though the
touch had hurt her. She did not look at him again, but turned and put
her hand in mine. "Come, Rachel," she said, and I took her away.

I did not see her again until the day was nearly over. The door of
her room was fastened, and no answer was given when I knocked. I could
hear her stified sobs within, and I longed to force an entrance and
take her in my arms and weep over her, as a mother might weep over her
child; but I knew that I could bring her no comfort now, and so I went
away sorrowfully, and left her to fight out her battle alone.

When she came out her face had a worn, pinched look, and her eyes
were red and swollen, but she was quite calm.

"I wanted to be alone," she said. "I wanted to look my fate in the
face. When a great shock like this comes and changes all one's life,
it is hard at first to accustom oneself to it. Ever since I got his
letter I have had to tell myself, over and over again, that this thing
is true; that it is real. It seems impossible sometimes to believe
that Archie--my Archie, as he used to be--loves another woman."

"Oh, are you certain that he really loves her?" I exclaimed. "Isn't
it all glamour?"

She shook her head mournfully. "I suppose all love is glamour--more
or less," she said. "Perhaps he will wake up by-and-by from his dream,
and then it will be bad for him and for her. Perhaps the dream will
last as long as they both shall live. For their sakes I hope it may.
My dream is over. It was a strange thing," she went on, "for him to
tell me of his wild passion for her--those were the words he used.
They were like a knife in one's heart. But the truth was what I had
come here to learn, and, that being the truth, there is nothing for me
now but to go my way and live it down as best I can."

That very night she sent a telegram to Mrs. Bingham, which she showed
me. "My engagement is broken off. I shall join you in Sydney. Will
wire the date."

It was settled that we should leave Wombo on the morrow, and wait in
Stonehampton for the next steamer. It seemed too dreary to let her go
alone.

A happy project occurred to me, and I decided to accompany her part
of her way south; to get off the steamer at Brisbane, and pay a short
visit to my own people on the Ubi. Thus I came to be Isabel's
companion in the darkest hours of her life; and, while my heart ached
with pity for her, I felt an occasional pang for Archie Thurston, as I
grew to realize what a treasure this was which, in his folly and
blindness, he had thrown away.

I had written a little note to Weeta Wilson, telling her of my plans.
She sent no answer then, and I never saw her again. A month later, to
my intense astonishment, I received from her the following telegram,
which was dated from Stonehampton:--

"Try to respect me. I was married privately to Mr. Humphreys this

morning. We leave for Europe to-night.  "WEETA."

Why did she do it? Nobody knew. Her marriage, like everything else
about her, was an enigma. I have never been able to answer to myself
the question, "Did she, or did she not, love Archie Thurston?"

I never saw him again either. He, too, had started for England before
my return to Wombo, where, shortly afterwards, Alec joined me. The
Barradean people were not disposed to be friendly any longer. The
Major blamed me for the catastrophe of her daughter's marriage, as she
persisted in regarding it, though she must certainly have found some
consolation in the reflection that Mr. Humphreys was one of the
richest men in Australia.

A year later, I heard of the marriage of Isabel Cave to Archie
Thurston--Lord Colworth, as I suppose I ought to call him. I wonder if
the glamour of Weeta had quite faded!



THE END



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