Project Gutenberg Australia
a treasure-trove of literature
treasure found hidden with no evidence of ownership

 


Title: Back to Bool Bool
Author: Brent of Bin Bin (a pseudonym of Miles Franklin)
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0801271h.html
Language: English
Date first posted: November 2008
Date most recently updated: November 2008

Project Gutenberg Australia eBooks are created from printed editions
which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice
is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular
paper edition.

Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the
copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this
file.

This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions
whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms
of the Project Gutenberg Australia License which may be viewed online at
http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html

GO TO Project Gutenberg Australia HOME PAGE


Back to Bool Bool

A ramiparous novel with several prominent characters and a hantle of others disposed as the atolls of Oceania's Archipelagoes

by

Brent of Bin Bin (pseudonym of Miles Franklin)


ANGUS AND ROBERTSON
SYDNEY LONDON MELBOURNE WELLINGTON
First Published 1956


PUBLISHER'S NOTE

Under the imprint of Blackwood, of Edinburgh, Brent of Bin Bin had published three novels--Up the Country (1928), Ten Creeks Run (1930) and Back to Bool Bool (1931)--before he wrote to this firm saying that there were still three novels of the series on the Australian squattocracy in manuscript; and that if we were prepared to undertake the publication of all six (the three named being out of print) in their order he would be happy to be published by us and would undertake to divulge his identity when the last of the series had appeared.

This book is the last of the Brent novels, published by Angus and Robertson Ltd in the order indicated by the author, as follows:

Prelude to Waking (1950);
Up the Country (1951);
Ten Creeks Run (1952);
Cockatoos (1955);
Gentlemen at Gyang Gyang (1956);
Back to Bool Bool (1956).

Brent, however, dealt with the firm through an "agent": and the agent was Miles Franklin. In September 1954 Miles Franklin died, without having divulged the identity of Brent, and without leaving any clue as to where, if he existed, he was to be found. The presumption, of course, is that Miles Franklin was Brent of Bin Bin. When the papers of Miles Franklin--to be held unopened in the Mitchell Library until 1964--are examined, it is possible that the identity of Brent will be proved.


To MF., but for whose loyalty and support this effort could not have thriven.

To rare MSS., who nourished its inception.

To DC., who can keep a secret.

To Others to be mentioned later, or excused as they stay or betray the course.


CHAPTER I

I

The Major-General was rather a pompous little man; not so small when it came to weight, as he was naturally broad in the shoulder and beam and was acquiring a copious middle-aged spread. He swaggered up the mail-boat gangway followed by an obsequious steward, his honours obtrusive upon his labels for all tip- and tuft-hunters to read:

Maj.-Gen. Sir Oswald Mazere-Poole, K.C.M.G., M.P. Saloon Promenade Deck Cabin A.

He gave an order about his larger baggage. The steward acknowledged with a sharp salute. He too ha4 been in the army, and the Major-General was a prize. The Major-General returned the salute with satisfaction. Nothing to equal army discipline for straightening up young men!

"Anybody interesting this trip, steward?"

The steward halted in the doorway. "We have a prima-donna next cabin to you, sir."

"Who? Madame Melba?"

"No. That new one, Madame Austra, that there's a lot of fuss about now: makes pots of money: one of our own, sir, too."

"Good!"

"Theatrical troupe aboard too, sir. Seen the posters in San Francisco."

"That's good, too. Very good! Lunch directly we sail?"

"Yes, sir." With a second smart salute the steward went after other prey, leaving his passenger gratified as to the havoc a military K.C.M.G., etc., foot-free from his wife, might work among actresses and prima-donnas. Content with what the mirror said, he went and hung over the rail to watch the late passengers coming on with the final pantry stores.

The soldier had allowed himself half an hour from the hour of departure. The prima-donna and the actress were in a race to be last aboard. The Major-General observed them with lively interest.

A graceful figure swathed in veils, carrying bouquets and more bouquets, surrounded by many women and a few men, stood at the foot of the gang plank. She was languid and dreamy, with large dark eyes, and the technique of graciousness firmly clamped upon her. She might be any age under fifty or over twenty-nine, dependent upon her beauty specialist, thought the soldier. A man, even a member of the Australian squattocracy, had not undergone intimate contact with the hub of the universe without attaining to certain knowledge.

This must be the actress. "Not heavy enough in the brisket for the caterwauler," was his summing-up, redolent of early environment. This was confirmed by the arrival of an automobile which disgorged three women, one of splendid height, with pale-blue eyes and florid skin, who walked with swinging gait, taking all glances auspiciously without affectation. She was followed up the plank by maid and secretary, and stewards with parcels and parcels and parcels, and so many bouquets of such expensiveness that the previous arrival was obscured.

The Major-General grinned engagingly. There was something indelibly Australian about that grin, which contact with the world's soi-disant elect, or even the House of Commons, had not extirpated.

This was the Australian, if he knew anything. Her size and features and the hair protruding from beneath the fashionable skull-cap proclaimed one of the Brennans of Bool Bool, into which tribe Madame Austra had been born. This was inevitably Molly, descendant of Timothy and Maria of The Gap, one of the old pioneering families. Mollye--she now spelt it--had gone far since she had seen the light where the Wamgambril comes down singing the G Minor Ballade to join the peerless Yarrabongo and thence to old Mother of Waters and the Murray, far-flowing to the Bight. She now signed herself AUSTRA, like a royal personage, and the most critical musical journals conceded that she was the greatest living Brünnhilde, and one of the six great voices of the world. There was glory for you--from little old Australia so far away: and little old Bool Bool farther away up the country amid the Bogongs! The Major-General thrilled and was proud. He was glad of his ribbons on his breast and his alphabet after his name.

They were going home, away, away down there together. My, but it would be good to see and smell a bush fire again at night in the ranges, to dive in the cool clear swimming holes about Coolooluk and Bool Bool, and feel the breezes lilting down from Cootapatamba across old Monaro.

The orchestra was playing a haunting tune, the fair breeze fanned his cheek, an appetizing odour came from the galley, the summer sea undulated in a haze of heat, rocking a city of shipping.

"By Gad, if the old Brennans could see their great-grand-daughter Mollye and where she has reigned: or if the old Pooles and Mazeres could see me, how astonished they would be!"

The last rush aboard; the gang plank was clattering down. After the great ships between England and New York, it seemed an imposition to be crowding aboard a vessel of under eight thousand tons, whose main deck was hardly above the wharf used for full-grown liners, but she swung into the stream with maritime hardihood and out past Fisherman's Wharf, past Yerba Buena Island, away from the city so magnificently set on hills, past the fortified Government prison, away from Tamalpais guarding the skies, through the Golden Gates to the open endless deep, to meander for weeks adown the vast Pacific. Past Oceania. Past New Zealand. Still on across a final sea to reach that farthest land, beyond which there was no habitable globe, and whence all the lone waterways return again to the world. The tonnage of the R.M.S. Papeete illustrated that his homeland was a far countree of few people, an Ultima Thule indeed. That recognition had not been his for years after going north; at length perforce he had come to the European and American point of view.

II

None of the women celebrities had appeared at lunch. The Major-General expected something better from dinner. He entered with an appetite for eventualities as well as food. The Golden Gates were far abaft. A luscious, relaxed three or I our weeks lay ahead. Immaculate in white with the millinery on his left breast, he sat in state with the Captain in a saloon hilt half-filled with people and heavy with hothouse blooms.

"The ladies not appearing?"

"Having a little rest."

It developed into a rest cure. Judith Laurillard kept her cabin for days, and Austra was not going to allow her the more telling entrance. Instead of racing for it, they camped. Austra won. Her retirement was the less neurotic, the better to be endured. She took scalp and face treatment and wrote letters and read trashy novels and musical biographies to fill the time.

"Any millionaires aboard to float my Australian opera scheme?"

"They seem to be more like commercial travellers," said her secretary. "A doctor and a Major-General Sir Oswald Mazere-Poole seem to be the biggest panjandrums."

"I remember the Major-General as a goggle-eyed kid."

"Yes, madame. He hasn't changed."

"Don't you girls slip up on it. As soon as Judith appears and is well-set, then I come out."

"Yes, madame."

Judith Laurillard came out that very night seeking relief from her own thoughts. An affair with a splendid unspoiled youth had possessed her. Skilled in taking the psychological temperature, she had seen that youth would call to youth any day. Any pincushiony girl might lure him to the domestic yard and fatherhood. With rare art and fortitude she sought a tour of Australia, playing in the West en route. To her, Australia was utter exile which she sought as an effectual antidote. But she had been all-out, and fortitude could only temper her ordeal. Hour in, hour out she lay, slightly incapacitated by mal de mer, reliving hours drugged with amour, wearing and tormenting. For years now it had seemed that each lover must be the last flicker of sunlight, leaving existence a twilit desert where it would be toilsome to plant another garden to replace the passion flowers. No pulse to stir at her approach, no...

"Elsie," she said to her confidential maid, "you get me up tonight, even if I'm green with sea-sickness."

The ingénue had reported: "The awfullest, dull, fifth-rate crowd! I think we'll be homesick for even Americans before we are finished."

"I don't care if they're all Pullman porters. Anything will be better than any more of my own society."

She entered the dining saloon gracefully as a sylph, dark as night, and alone. Her gown, a fabulously expensive handful of filmy stuff, had gowpens of seed pearls on it, and ropes of pearls fit for a queen was most of the covering of her slender body above the table. Her perfectly arranged shingle was held with a fillet of pearls, and she carried a monster black feather fan set on mother-of-pearl sticks. She was pathetic and willowy and shrinking, with her great eyes and twisty sensitive mouth. She looked a cauldron of society emotions and the composite heroine of smart novels of Mayfair life. Everybody arose and did obeisance, and the Captain inquired profoundly about her health.

"I'm really the most frightful sailor alive," she murmured in her fluty, husky voice, and acknowledged the introductions. And that was all she said.

"Good old Judith!" murmured the ingénue at her side table. "She's always a wow wherever she appears."

"No one can touch her at the game," agreed the leading man. They did not know that at that moment Austra awaited her cue to illuminate the saloon. Every object was thrown into darkness as when the Aurora Australis plays its rose and green lightning around the night horizon. Majestic described her passage. The Captain rose to usher her to her seat of equal glory opposite Judith. Austra stretched out a large, capable, bejewelled hand like an empress.

"I prefer seclusion tonight. I still feel like a poisoned dingo and not fit company for normal people."

She moved transcendently on her way like a papal legate, all red gold and yellows to tone with skin and hair. A train of gold tissue that called for a page streamed behind her. Her flaming hair was reinforced by golden leaves dusted with diamonds. A diamond or two (dozen) in careless magnificence sparkled from other promontories of her person. She flirted a tiny bejewelled fan. Seemingly astonished to recognize the Major-General, though she had watched him critically through her port, and but for which she would not have known him from a pie melon, she exclaimed in those scientifically placed stentorian speaking notes of hers: "Why, I'm enraptured if it isn't our very own Major-General, little Ossy-Possy Poole that crept together on the floor with me! I'm proud of you. All these medals on your breast"--she tapped them with the miniature fan--"I feel as if I had won every one of them myself." She turned to the table. "We Australians are like that. There are still so few of us, and we're so isolated or provincial or something, we're one clan, and when one of us does something that the big world honours we each feel as if we had a share in it."

"By Gad, Mollye!" responded the soldier, embarrassed but glowing, gallantly rising to his full height and the top of the occasion, "the boot is on the other foot. If I could have a share in your triumphs!...You'll sing for us, I hope."

"I've been freezing and starving with homesickness for years, and years, and years, and years, and am just so dithering glad to be going back at last that I couldn't resist anything you'd ask me." Here she caught sight of Judith, apparently for the first time, and went around the table to do her honour. She obliterated Judith, though not of malice.

"Judith Laurillard! Excuse me not waiting for a formal introduction, but only a bandicoot would not recognize you from your posters. I admire you right out of sight, and in Australia I'll have a chance to know you at last."

The surpassed Judith was as nearly at a loss as so sophisticated a social machine could be. Austra rolled by like the midday sun.

"Good old Mollye!" said the highly elated Major-General, seeking to confirm and expand his limelight. "Her great-grandparents and mine were very close friends."

"What a woman! Beats all I ever had on this ship, and I've carried some stunners in my time."

"Marvellous! Such devastating animal magnetism! She has left me limp simply by passing by."

Limp and colourless Judith appeared by comparison. She was grace, she was subtlety, a voluptuary refined to the nth degree. She might be the grande cocotte idealized by postwar novelists, she might be a modern Thais, or an anaemic Cleopatra, or the Green Hat. Austra was Ceres, Brünnhilde, wholesome resplendent vitality--Boadicea. She was a first principle, Judith a deduction.

Austra dazzled like an arc light. Those facing her gazed openly. Others made excuses for looking behind them. Energy and hearty camaraderie radiated from her to the very stewards, who brazenly beamed in her face.

"When do we pick up the darling old Cross?" she boomed across to the Captain, sure as royalty of her words commanding attention.

"You might be able to pick it up tonight--from the bridge." Judith, deafened, retired early to sensitive seclusion.

She later wrote a postscript to an intimate letter to be posted at Papeete:

I'm shivering about my Australian tour. I fear the wrong plays have been chosen, though I am assured they swallow anything that has been boomed at home.

The people on board are friendly enough but aesthetically nonexistent, like the very worst provincials, only that this new-world democratic idea of each Dick and Sarah being better than any other Jim and Julia makes them more blatant. To discuss any of the advanced artistic or philosophic ideas with them would be trying to commune with arrested mental development.

Austra is on board--a mountain of a woman. I should judge her to be very popular in Australia. She can't appear without playing to the gallery about as softly as a fire engine in full blast. There is a total absence of subtlety and delicacy about her which suits her to her environment. Ah, well, we must all be what we are.

Ju.

CHAPTER II

I

While this was happening in the Pacific, in the Southern Atlantic Dick Mazere leant over the taffrail deep in meditation. He had come aboard no mail-boat with ingratiating stewards shepherding him with news of celebrated women as fellow passengers. The T.S.S. Ballyphule had crept down the Channel in June rain and fog weeks before with a cargo of steel and migrants--assisted passengers--people pushed off their densely populated native island because no longer necessary to feed either manufactories or battlefields. The Australian taxpayers might reasonably have preferred to leave a percentage of these to adorn their native slums. Even the stewards referred to some of them as cattle. The more pretentious people--there are pretentious people even in jails and on steerage ships--described them as the scum of the earth. Great newspapers before elections and during wars extolled them as the bone and sinew of the greatest race upon the globe. There were also those paying their own frugal way, but no distinguished folk--most decidedly not.

Dick had found his cabin and his mate: the first a two-berth tubby, the second a decent-looking young man with all his hair and a Belfast brogue. The space was not enough for both to be out of their bunks at the same time, the bunks were so near together that a person could not sit up in the lower one.

"Surely to God they must take us for sardines!" observed the Irishman.

"You can't expect much for what you pay," said the steward. "Lots of these people are only paying three or four pounds."

"Go to hell!" said the Belfast voice. "You can't go the length of stuffing that down my throat: that a steamship company the like of these old pirates are philanthropists."

"Well, you see what I mean, sir," said the man in more conciliatory tone. "You don't pay much more than 'alf wot you do on some of the mail-boats, so wot can you expect? On a boat like this they mostly puts up wiv anything because they don't know no better."

Dick was investigating. The shoddy blanket smelt of urine, but only faintly. There had been a laundering, but in too much of its own extracts. The pillows were hard enough to induce growths in the ears, and smelt of castor-oil; but Dick had known pillows smelling equally stale in expensive New York or Continental hotels. Daintiness is almost more than millionaires can command in this age.

He found a nook out of the rain on the deck aft and fell into reverie. Was the ship moving? No: merely swinging in the incoming tide...By and by the softly purring engines increased their power. Throughout the ship was a lifting motion of life. She was indisputably moving. Small craft, churches, trees, buildings were receding. He was slipping clown the grey old river between its flat banks lined with ancient history; leaving the Plain of Tilbury where Elizabeth had reviewed her troops before the Armada; going back at last to his native land of singing rivers between gorges lined with stately trees, twice as high as any in this little island.

He recalled his eagerness to escape from the cockatoo farm into the world of adventure where there would be something doing and to be done. He had gone undismayed, nay unconscious that he was equipped with nothing but youth, and handicapped with a hypersensitive soul and body. After all the vicissitudes he was returning practically as he went. If equipped, it was merely with experience, and of what commercial account is mind-searching experience?

Could old scenes survive the test of return? Had imagination enshrined a beauty which reality must shatter, leaving adolescent memories bankrupt of treasure? Hardly possible with Coolooluk! At Coolooluk the river leant on the hills, the hills leant on that blue called sky, which is eternity. Coolooluk! The very name had magic--Coolooluk, via Bool Bool! He was dreaming of Coolooluk. The siren silver song of its waters had been with him ever and always, exquisitely Daunting. Coolooluk! Coolooluk!

The bugle announced midday dinner. He went below to discover his luck. None so bad. Beside him a young woman of lively countenance named Timson, and a pale young man in blue serge, good linen, and Manchester accents. Ranged opposite, a pretty mother and two children, a delicious Scottish grandmother and a man of pugilistic shape and mild gaze. Others.

The saloon compared with the second class of fifth-rate liners. No table napkins, but cutlery and cloths clean to begin. An attempt at gentility in a couple of aspidistras on each table. The usual ship's food--an attenuated menu. It began with soup. A robust cockroach squashed under the large dirty thumb of the steward decorated the rim of Dick's plate.

"Shure ye'll take no harrum from that!" observed the pugilist, who was a lap ahead and shovelling tinned peas into his mouth with his knife.

Complaint might ensure the steward being more observant in flicking insects out of sight before arriving at the table. Dick did the best he could. His cabin luggage was mostly prescribed biscuits to displace the proscribed white bread.

Armstrong, his cabin mate, was good-natured about space. Dick was in luck except that it was refined torture for him to be so closely yoked to any being. He had found proximity insupportable in his unsuccessful marriage. Armstrong snored loudly in his berth in the middle of the afternoon. Dick stepped softly, but his mate was one to sleep through slapping doors and the morning bugle, crying babies, boys thumping the wall of the cabin, anything. He had a maddening habit. He spat. He spat promiscuously. Every now and again he hawked and spat in a corner of the cabin. He was pale and never stated his business, but inquired earnestly about the climate of Sydney. He was of the class which dresses first and performs ablutions afterwards. There is discomfort in this school and that of the bathers being herded together.

Dick's mother had been one of the Labosseer girls of Coolooluk (where the river leans on the hills), whose excellences were a byword in the Southern Districts. His father and mother had been cousins, thus on both sides he had been reared in unusual refinement. These qualities may have contributed to his being invalided out of the war in 1917. He had been restored to normal activity by insulin and other regimes. Later he was adopted by a Christian Scientist, who captured his affection and belief, but as she often said, baffled, "You just don't quite trust God."

"It is up to God to reveal Himself to me, I admit."

"You must prove yourself to God."

"Your text-book postulates that man really is his own God."

"No, it contends that there is but one mind."

"And states that if one understands the principle set forth it precludes the need to believe; but it seems that it is better to be simple and believe without understanding--though God made the complex soul, too. It is up to Him to do something with him."

In any case, this particular theory of the supremacy of mind over materialism had come to him as a considerable revelation. Upon this long voyage he was to give himself up to study it. His early environment made him a little ashamed of his capitulation, but this was the place for it, hidden among simple strangers on an inconspicuous stratum of life. When Armstrong, reading his modest and ill-scrawled label, called him Meyers, he tied that label on his deck-chair and became Meyers for the voyage.

II

Ere three days had passed in the dining saloon many of the passengers were rebellious. The stewards were mostly labourers working their passage. At Dick's table was a young man from that class of parents which spawns without prevision and lets its offspring take its chance. He was fired with the ambition of getting to Australia, the refuge of the surplus and misfits now that the U.S.A. has grown selective. He served salt water in the carafe. He dropped plates of porridge or soup on his passengers, free from malicious intent. He scraped the plates loudly in the ears of the women, dropping bacon anywhere. He laid all the used cutlery on the cloth. When anyone asked for an extra spoon or knife he wiped one of this collection on his towel and handed it, unconscious of offence. He thought it unnecessary to wash a tumbler that had been used. He was always last. Long after every other table was served he would appear with cold inferior portions, as often as not on plates that had been used before.

The pale young man near Dick, who read Shaw and Aldous Huxley and discussed the merits of Noel Coward and Pirandello with Dick and Miss Timson, was nauseated. He had come from one of those provincial suburban homes that are the very substance of England. His had been a small detached villa with currant bushes and vegetables at the back and Dorothy Perkins roses over the front gate, where everything was dainty, where a pink-cheeked widowed mother and a blue-eyed sister as sweet as forget-me-nots had regarded him as the big event of the day. Cups and saucers patterned with the dribbles of previous users spoiled his appetite. The waiter seeing him wash the vessels in tea observed, "Ain't they clean enough for you?"

"They decidedly are not. I think this ship putrid and the service rotten."

"'Aven't you been at the wor? Wot we gotter all do is make the best of things."

"I don't see that being in or out of the war touches the present issue."

"Well, a man that's all the time grousin'--"

"Aw, shut up about the war," interposed a man on the other side of Manchester, who had really been in the fray. "What the blazes has the war got to do with you not bein' able to give a man a clean cup when he's damn' well paid enough for it? If it comes to the war an' all, I thought you b--fools who rushed into it were after conductin' a war to end war, not to maintain durrty tay-cups where clean ones ought to be."

This was at breakfast. At dinner Miss Timson grimaced. "Ugh, waiter, this water tastes like a decayed rat!"

A boisterous Welshman at the next table rose and spat the water from his mouth. He bawled for the decanters and tumblers to be stacked at one end, and demanded the head steward. His table was with him, and investigation was promised. Various explanations circulated. In selecting a fresh tank a slop-water current had been turned on by mistake. The dirt was stirred up by the heavy swell. "She always stinks like that at the bottom," maintained the permanent stewards. "You can't do nothink about it."

There was rumbling talk of deputations. Threats that the ship should be boycotted, the Company exposed. Those on their first voyage anticipated revolution. It went in and out of the ears of experienced travellers, till there was Las Palmas to create diversion. The weather was growing warmer, the sea smoother, as they tubbed along towards the Equator. Those who had not been out of the cold lands looked forward to the tropics as to a battle engagement.

Dick was not satisfied with himself. Sleep was scanty in the surroundings and induced irritation fatal to harmony. Everybody else could sleep but himself. He felt as if the Lord were discriminating against him. He was compelled to concentrate on this defect, to the exclusion of higher spiritual exploration. It even left him behind the normal line of starting. He conned his text-book. The revelation held theoretically, but he could not 'demonstrate'.

He was much alone on the boat deck save for a few amorously afflicted, and away to the south one evening saw the Southern Cross again after long years, shining as it had shone above his childhood. Time and distance had preserved its dear loveliness. His heart swelled. Spiritual ease softened him.

It was good to be alive and going home to his own land. A dear, dear land, his very own. The Cross was set as a benediction in the heavens. His senses, his sentiment could not draw deeply enough on the feast spread in the sky.

The tall thin silent man, generally so aloof, felt a desire to share this, even with these transient shipboard fellows. They were gentle worthy people. His heart warmed to them that they had uprooted themselves from old grooves, taken their all in their work-marred hands and were off to his wonderful country.

"Come and I'll show you the Southern Cross."

A dozen bored people responded with alacrity, but it was difficult to make them see the Cross. They were polite, as demanded by the attitude of the Australians and South Africans aboard, but it was plain they were disappointed. Northerners always are. They expect a constellation of planets like Venus. Dick understood, though to him that night the sky was an empress in the state jewels who has added an order of Koh-i-noors. He sought the poop deck again to be alone with his treasure. He could see it as it swung above the ranges, and hear the song of the rivers, the cry of plover, curlew, or koala. On inland frosty nights it had blazed like a cluster of planets, dimmer on other nights at the full of the moon, when he had gone possuming. Each tree had held a dozen dark objects. But old Jerry Riddall, who taught him to set snares, used to boast that in his young days there had been twenty possums to every tree, and in some favourites at least a hundred. He had not appreciated old Jerry and his blowing about old days. If only he was still alive and had his wits, he'd be glad to talk with the old chap. Hadn't thought of him in years till the Southern Cross brought him back.

The precious constellation had altered existence. It guaranteed that Coolooluk was real. Intolerable conditions were of small consequence with such a promise in the sky. Beef but half-boiled, jam of several sorts mixed! What trifles. Even his cabin mate's habits became less trying.

III

He sought Miss Timson, his table mate, though hitherto he had kept covered from her. She seemed unusually penetrating, and Dick Mazere, going home to his family after half a lifetime abroad, was desirous of arriving almost surreptitiously till he could re-orientate himself.

Yes. She had seen the Cross. "To an Australian it is always wonderful to see it again."

"Must one be an Australian?"

"I'm not quite sure, but I am sure that you are an Australian."

"Have I the twang?"

"No. It's your hands. They are coarsened around the thumb and look probably twenty years older than they should, but beautifully kept--the hands of a sensitive gentleman who has worked like a navvy in his young days. You are perhaps a member of one of the old squatting families up the country. The dear old bush idioms now and again confirm that impression."

"Are you of the same breed, that you detect the symptoms?" He had had a brother-in-law named Timson, but would not risk disclosing himself by inquiring if she were of that family.

"I know most of the English-speaking world."

An interesting man, she was thinking. His story might relieve a long dull voyage. He placed his chair beside hers and she remarked: "I hope you will not be too disillusioned after long absence. The simple old pioneers with their neighbourly ways are replaced by a thrusting commercial gang without idealism."

With that promise in the heavens his expectations were otherwise. "I've noticed you reading the text-book sometimes. Are you an advanced student?"

"No. I have to abrogate while in the Australian atmosphere."

He took it that she was Australian, but refrained from comment. "If the principle is right, it should be of greater service where there is greater need."

"Exactly. But I cannot demonstrate." She turned the subject. "What do you think of this lot going out to swell the population?"

"Australia needs population."

"That is a fetish. You would probably regard my views as bolshevistic. This quantity notion...the human race should think of quality. The more pretentious migrants say they can't carry on in the old country any longer and money is to be made in Australia, so they have no choice. Those down in the Sections--the 'loose boxes', as my steward calls them, 'the scum of the earth', as the Pretentious Man says--are poor white trash, by religious or clinical ignorance the victims of incontinent fecundity."

"The most presentable groups seem to be getting off at South Africa."

"They want to go to Rhodesia or Kenya Colony, where they will have coloured labour to keep their hands clean. They prefer China or India to Australia for the same reason. The imperialist, with his penchant for annexing territory and his conceit of transcendent ability to govern, thinks his mission is to introduce stable government to lesser breeds who shall do the distasteful toil. He won't go to Australia if he can afford to go elsewhere. Only foundlings and poor white trash tackle Australia because it is Hobson's choice."

"But there, I believe, is Australia's strong point. She is willing to do her own work in the sweat of her Anglo-Saxon brow, free from dependence on underworld workers, black or white. She's game to roughen her own hands." He glanced at his in the electric light, and noted what she meant by the enlarged knuckles and wrinkles around the thumb.

"Sounds heroic, but no matter how well filled the stomachs, a whole nation of labourers is a headless thing. Progress of any sort--spiritual, artistic, scientific or commercial--depends on the outstanding brains and characters, and if they are all occupied and preoccupied with making a henhouse or in clearing, the higher effort must wait. It tends to a terrific levelling down." She sighed out of experience of two years marooned on the resultant lower levels.

"Here's a case in which I cannot make the C.S. principle work. Am I to have a heart full of love for all these riff-raff, and leave things to God; or as a patriotic Australian should I take a hand in national housekeeping? Take the bilge about the sacredness of human life. The race would be better if most children and their parents were dropped overboard. It would be a greater thing if the last far continent could be preserved till man has some plan of regulating numbers. He is on the plane of deer or kangaroos, a nuisance when he becomes, too prolific. The motor car has superseded horses and camels. On some of the out-stations they are shooting hundreds of horses, as well as camels that were once £60 per head, to save grass for more profitable sheep. The world can only healthily use so many men...a man has to secure a licence to keep a dog, but any moron can have half a dozen children as his right though society has no opening for them. This fuss about the virtue of hordes to devour products so that a few manipulators can make vast profits selling to them is an antediluvian notion and works like a snake swallowing its tail. Neither Big Business efficiency nor combines nor war can much longer retard the evolution of a better system, so I don't want Australia filled with a repetition of Europe or Asia. There are very few people for whom I'd displace the gentle kangaroo and the regal gum-tree."

"I feel that there are all kinds of spiritual adventures awaiting us, not by mortifying the flesh in the medieval way, but in transcending it."

"How are we to get away from the sodden mass of husks, the people unable to think, who take what is given them? The whole apparatus of education and publicity is held by a soulless, ruthless set of masters whose philosophy is still material might pursued through manipulating the herds for profit--for fortunes which they don't know how to spend when acquired. When sectarianism and alcoholism are the paramount issues with a people--"

"We must not try in ourselves to usurp the whole duty of God," said Dick softly. He was a little ashamed to speak of God, as are all Englishmen of any social standing, homeland or outland. It seemed unmodern and a mental weakening, but the night was soft and dark, the Southern Cross hung not far away, and he had the freedom of anonymity with a stimulating companion far out on the ocean in shipboard intimacy, which is like none other on earth. He might never see Miss Timson again. He was in fact careful against after acquaintance with her.

"'Let those who lack wisdom, ask of God.' I shall look around and get into the skin of things." He could not confess that he was going home to write a poem as his contribution to the preservation of the last, the loveliest of vacant lands and a few of its bewitching fauna, till man should by the abolition of poverty and war be worthy to inhabit it. A poem seemed fantastically trivial to set beside migration and immigration, discrimination against backward peoples, and all those involved and staggering problems in which man has the importance and authority of a bee or an ant, or perhaps only of a louse. But with the Cross shining before him and harmony suffusing him he felt it was the truth.

"I am tremendously hopeful that we shall produce a great literary prophet or a statesman."

"Disillusionment is waiting for you if you think he is discernible yet. There is a junker clique growing very sure of itself. They have a few sheep, but little culture or idealism. The men ape English sport and tailoring, the women are slaves to Paris dressmakers and cosmetic experts. There is infinitesimal criticism of drama or literature except dishwash echoes of London. Local newspapers, with rare exceptions, are modelled on London conservative dailies. The Australian writer or other artist goes where the contacts develop him into a Gilbert Murray. If he came back to Australia, or more particularly if it was a she, she would be given a job of charing."

"Yes, but I have a feeling in my bones that there will be a great blossoming of native drama and literature and statesmanship just any time now."

"When the first truth-tellers arrive there'll be pillaloo!"

"It may not need to come through the channels of destructive criticism. It could come by a shining way of imagination."

"You deserve to be right. How grand it would be! I should like to meet you again in a year to see how your dreams bear up under reality."

He did not make any provision for insuring meeting. Neither did she. Australia had few people. If Meyers was of any importance he could easily be found.

IV

The south-east trades came to meet the voyagers three days in advance of scheduled time and robbed them of the caressing equatorial warmth, and there was an increasing roll. The faithful aspidistras had been parked when a little south of the Line. Amenities dwindled and died. South Africans thanked I heir stars that their incarceration was almost run. Discomfort engendered discontent. It accumulated with the cold and rolling. There was no place of refuge for any but men who went to be shaved and sat in the barber's padded seats. There was a small space like a tram waiting-shed forward with garden seats and tables and a piano. Above the door ran the legend, LADIES' ROOM. Inadequate to seat one-fourth of the mothers with infants if reserved for their use, it was full of adolescents.

As the days grew cold and the Cape sheep came up to meet them, Miss Timson examined it as a place to sit till the sacred inspection should be past and she could curl in her berth and read. Space was made for her by a woman with no teeth, a litter of brats, and the accents of the disinherited, which would be no acquisition to the already unclassic Australian intonations. Taking an infant on her knees, she cuffed two toddlers savagely on to the floor. "Get aht of the wye, can't yer, an' mike room for the lydy. You don't want the whole plice to yerselves." The poor are usually generous in sharing what is already insufficient, while the rich are exclusive where there is more than they need. The poor therefore live in hutches in slums and are transported in slums to overrun other spots of God's good earth. The exclusive have a flat or suite unoccupied in London and travel de luxe to a waiting villa at Nice or Cannes.

Miss Timson took the place so readily offered, and talked to the woman. They were off aht to Austrilyer because of mar's 'ealth. Mar 'ad asthma something crool. Wot were they goin' to do? They 'ad sold a little grocery business, an' were goin' to do the sime in Melbourne. They 'ad a brother aht there in one of the new suburbs.

Miss Timson knew those little groceries kept by "pommies" in the new suburbs. She did not feel at all open-hearted towards that class of migrant. They would re-create old-world slums on easy streets wrought by the hard slogging of the pioneers. The fetid air and the discomfort of sitting bolt upright on a hard seat in a lively roll may have de-Christianized her view. The immediate stink was of babies' napkins, the general that of the unwashed bodies of the poor. In addition to the din of squalling children, three hefty boys above the age of fourteen were thrashing the piano with the evident intention of breaking it. The woman did not remonstrate. Stewards passed in and out without remarking the performance. Two of the boys, falling out over the battering, resorted to fists. A table was overturned in the savage contest, endangering the bones of a three-year-old, who howled like a native bear. A lady of seventy-six climbed on to a seat. Several mothers escaped through a door into a passage that was shipping heavy seas.

"They 'adn't oughter be let fight in 'ere where there's bibies," mildly protested the woman with the rancid offspring, but there was general admiration.

"They oughter to be able to look after theirselves all right w'en they're a little older, seein' the way they git to business now," said another woman with equally rancid offspring.

"They'll be orl right fer Austrilyer!"

"I never remember seein' lads of their age get down to it In such manful fashion," observed the steward of the section.

Miss Timson went to her bunk. Her steward protested that Inspection was not over. "You leave me to deal with that. I'm not one of the 'cattle'," she snapped, irascible with nausea and the lack of common decency in the ladies' room.

The following forenoon she was interested to see the Pretentious Man driven there. He had commanded his wife to keep the children from the rabble on deck. Whenever they passed, women muttered that their children were just as clean us his. He sat down with his dainty little girls. Near him was a worn middle-aged woman with her inseparable woman friend and a man. Suddenly the man called the woman a "Woody bitch", and struck her a blow which laid her on the floor. Another man and the steward intervened. Some lifted the woman. Others held the man. He was protesting that he was not drunk. "A nice thing in a free country if a man can't do wot he likes wiv his own b--- wife! Wait till I catch her at it next time! I'll beat the b--- lights outer her."

The woman promenaded not long afterwards, a little suggillated but apparently untouched by humiliation. She belonged o that layer of London society. The smarting effect was on the Pretentious Man.

"If I had known that the O. & O. ran a boat like this, where my family and myself would be compelled to associate with the scum of the earth! Ought to be exposed in the public Press so that decent people will never come this way again. It will surely kill all business on this line."

"Ah," laughed an Irishman from Dick's table, who had had twenty years' experience of ocean liners. "Shure there's always this fuss on every boat, whether it's millionaires on the Aquitania or an immigrant tub like the old Ballyphule."

"I don't propose to let the matter drop."

"Ah, now, shure whin ye get off the boat yell be boasting what a grand life ye've had, and yell recommend others to cme by the O. & O., an' they'll be runnin' a hundred years hence, as they were seventy years back, and raising big dividends all the time."

"That's quite true," added Miss Timson. "I've heard worse threats from first-classers about the mail-boats via Suez, and far worse scandals."

The days were dragged through. Miss Timson had supplied herself with much reading. Dick was tortured by lack of sleep. Work at his text-book as he would, he could not sleep in noises. Parties organized to bring relief to the young took place just above him till 11 p.m. It took the roysterers till midnight to settle down. At 4 a.m. the stewards began hitting the walls of his cabin with scrubbing brushes. Undisturbing to others. Hell to him.

He found pleasure in Miss Timson. She knew England and America, had read much that he had read, and her spirited disquisitions showed she had traversed many similar ruts of thought. Whether she was married or single he could not determine, nor her age, because she, was free from feminine urge to attract, indifferent to what impression she made. With her there was peace and safety from amorous pursuit to which a good-looking unattached man is vigorously subjected on ship-board. Most of the passengers thought Miss Timson was "making up" to Mr Meyers. Their laughter and continual talking together looked like it to the large percentage of persons unfurnished with any other basis of interest in conversation between the opposing sexes.

V

The grand silhouette of Cape Town was before them one dusk, the Table and the lion couchant called the Devil's Peak, and the grand peak called the Lion's Head, just as pictured. Dick stood forward on the poop once more, his heart uplifted by the grandeur. A good Scot was at his elbow maintaining that it was nothing to Bonnie Scotland--nothing at all! But it was glorious to Dick, who, given a little beauty, in the way of poets, became a millionaire of the soul.

He and Miss Timson went ashore and bought ostrich feathers, and strolled in the gardens right under that incomparable Peak. They rhapsodized in harmonious keys. They were children when finding the winter-blooming flowers that had decked the old gardens up the country. They went out to Camp Bay and back by the Kloof, and to the Museum and saw the casts of the strange people about which they had read, and the great beasts and birds, and the lovely deer in which South Africa is rich. They rejoiced in the sun, warm as English summer, and brighter, but at four o'clock insisting with asperity that it was winter under the Southern Cross. So they went to the Market and obtained as much fruit as they could carry. They had a good meal, bought the papers, and saw a picture-show. A day to remember as tilth of life.

The ship got away next morning as the sun was coming up in a vasty glory of blue and gold over mountains that rolled away into infinity. Dick stood aft filling his reservoir. That outline and the Southern Cross would be a bank to draw on all the way to Australia--to Coolooluk!

Out past the Twelve Apostles, past Cape Agulhas, the last land for five thousand miles. They sat on the decks comfortably all day in spite of the increasing roll, and missed the South Africans who had gone their ways in that tremendous land, to Durban, Rhodesia, elsewhere.

Content reigned following the break. They settled down to another three weeks' tubbing along in the old Ballyphule in a tumultuous ocean all to themselves and the Cape sheep. People retired quietly and early after the port racket. All was well.

Dick felt it a little rough. The rocking was pleasant. He was having a rare night of several hours' sleep. He was wakened by a loud crashing and the rush of water.

Had they struck? No. Merely the result of incompetently screwed ports and all available glasses breaking in a sudden lurch. His and Armstrong's trunks ran about the floor like mice and fought together. Dick got out, but was bashed on o the wash-basin and back to the bunk-rails, so desisted. He reached breakfast by holding on to rails. All implements were off the tables, on which wet blankets were laid. Wet blankets were also laid for the stewards to walk on, but no rope or rails had been provided near the serving window, and once started, there was nothing to break gravitation to the ship's outside wall, where their plates crashed in a grand mélange of porridge, fish, and stew. The children were tied in their Fairs. Plates, if not tightly held, jumped the divisions of the fiddles like goats. Pieces of bread hopped like grasshoppers. A sense of adventure was abroad.

Heavy seas were being shipped from the high green waves. Part of the taffrail went, and the boatswain within an inch of going with it. Ropes were tied everywhere to help the stewards against the water which boiled around the decks in whirlpools. They were off the Cape of Storms. Poets and other writers record that two great oceans for ever battle there for supremacy. "A heavy swell," the old deck steward, a survival from sailing-ships, called it. The swell increased and continued for days. The Ballyphule seemed to have the great south waters to herself. Away she went, down and down, below forty-five degrees for the easier currents. Away through the Aleutian Deep towards Kerguelen, plunking along at the pace of a wheelbarrow, with clouds of albatrosses and big black petrels for convoy. The wind lifted spume from the waves that darkened the heavens. A white squall. The ship sometimes rolled to an angle of nearly forty degrees. When the rough weather routine settled, Dick felt it inspiring to watch the waves tower up like cathedrals forward and flatten out aft as if the ship had trampled them to foaming suds.

There was no place of retreat with comfort except the garden seats in the bar. The ladies' room was vile with the stench of babies and fightings and bleatings of youths as they thumped the piano. It was a relief when the increasing roll caused the seats to be roped in a stack and the piano locked.

A convoluted corrugated effluvium reigned in Miss Timson's corridor. One of those women furnished with a plant to give birth, but lacking the capability to keep the consequences clean on shipboard, was the cause. The chief steward wondered helplessly what it could be. "The man's a fool or incompetent, to travel on a migrant ship and not recognize infants' diapers," said Miss Timson.

The housewifery went on with hardship on the workers. The passengers spent their days skidding about, the men finding entertainment in helping the women with children. The food grew worse, or, in face of the difficulties, the preparation and cooking deteriorated. A few of the valiant and optimistic, headed by the Pretentious Man, waited upon the Purser and Captain. Improvement was promised. By day the children howled, the male adolescents, lacking other outlet for their motor endowment, racketed. At night there were rows and raids.

"Didn't I tell you?" said an old steward. "It's always worse after the Cape. These immigrants begin to find their feet, and there's no puttin' up wiv 'em."

Armstrong snored and snored, filling and staling the cabin, making all rest impossible for Dick. If only he had struck one of those cabin mates who sat in the bar and played cards from after breakfast till 11 p.m., it would have given him a chance. To the sensitive, robbed of sleep, they were brutalized and lost days out of life, so inadequately short.

"Such months at sea could be made more fruitful if instruction was provided for the migrants," observed Dick.

"The cheapness of the 'cattle' doesn't call for it under the present system of economics," said Miss Timson. "Cheap labour at present is less expensive if left cheap. Competition will shortly compel the masters to grab their workers out of the public-house gutters and grade them, and will not admit of their rolling here idle for six or eight weeks."


CHAPTER III

I

First class on the R.M.S. Papeete (oil-burner) there was saloon space and various snug nooks where the brilliant examples of success she carried could lounge and talk in comfort as she threaded her way through tropic isles. It was a world of warm loveliness where coconut palms like feather dusters marked atolls hull down to port or larboard, where tropic vegetation green as emeralds and perfumed with frangipani or Maori flower wafted its soul on velvet zephyrs, and the rollers broke with musical boom on the encircling coral. Children shouted with glee as flying fish fell on deck or porpoises played leap-frog abeam. Austra, reclining in a chair, watching the dimpling seas through half-closed lids, was a splendid figure, white from crown to sole, her ruddy thatch gleaming like spun metal through a lace hat.

Also white from head to foot, and as splendid as masculine conventions permitted, was the attendant Major-General. Austra had his undivided attention for the moment. Judith. was not in evidence. She said to her leading man that it was enervating to compete with a typhoon. She was husbanding her resources and avoiding sun wrinkles, and the company modelled themselves on their exclusive star. Exclusiveness was more congenial to Judith's temperament. Reports were against there being anyone of intellectual kinship in Australia, but she must go through with the exile. It was unfortunate that Austra had clashed with her. Otherwise she could hold her own star-ship no matter what happened, excepting a General Election or an epidemic of flu. She regarded Austra on the level of the latter.

Sir Oswald gave Judith every attention when opportunity offered. His conventional mind felt that she should have a siren effect on him. He was nervous that he did not feel altogether bowled over. Surely he was not yet so old...

Austra (it was long since Mollye and Ossy) was on the basis of sisterly family friend free from amorous taint. Sir Oswald wondered how a man would approach her. It would be safer, he speculated, to allow Mollye to make the advances. By Gad! He would like to see that!

"Ossy-Possy," she beamed, "another day nearer good old Australia! I'm so excited that I have to hold my breath when I think of Bool Bool, and Brennan's Gap, and Coolooluk and Mungee, and all the places there, aren't you?"

"Yes. I've laid out my time so I can be at the Back to Bool Bool celebrations."

Lying on Mollye's chest was a slim volume. She read a few extracts. "Who says Australia has no real poets after that, and that all we can produce is wool and rabbits and prickly pear!"

"I'm glad I didn't have many like him in my company, or I couldn't have carried on. That sort of slosh is all right when there's no war on, but as soon as it breaks loose again you'll till run to the poor little soldier man." The Major-General swelled.

Austra lifted another volume. "He must have written when a boy. Listen to this about She-oak Ridge."

"Who is this fellow?"

"Richard Labosseer Mazere! Ossy-Possy. Who would have thought of a little tin soldier having a whole poet cousin."

"Nice to have one poet in the family. But there's no money in poetry that I ever heard. Look at Lawson and a few of those fellows--died paupers."

"Not so much money as in drapery or wool." The Major-General's fortune had been laid in wool, carried forward socially by law, and ripened to opulence by drapery and cheap labour. His father had had enterprise to invest in what its day was the greatest cheapjack business in Sydney. Social workers had condemned it as a feminine sweat shop, kit royal fortunes have been built by sweating women. The Grilling Bros.' strategy had been to employ girls under sixteen for half a crown a week, keeping a few harried permanent seniors to train them. As soon as the girls were of an age to command higher wages, they were dismissed and a fresh crop took their place. Poole père (it was the Major-General's own idea to be Mazere-Poole) had not advertized his investment. It would have been infra dig, in his old cliques, so quaint and old-fashioned they were. But the big shop in Peterstown, where people spawned as lust dictated, and lived in warrens, and bought "bargains", prospered and yielded higher dividends than did wool previous to the war boom. Grilling Bros. had long since gone up in the world. Labour legislation had done the decent thing for their employees. The establishment, now rebuilt, had nothing to prevent bishops from being associated with it. It was one of the mammoth emporiums of the top-heavy metropolis. The Major-General was proud of his connection with it. Mollye therefore made the reference with a smile.

"And it's not as profitable as singing in grand opera," he replied with a salute.

"Not if one had wool to back her at the start," said the practical and unconceited prima-donna. "I wish we could have an Australian opera. It would put Australia on the map as she has never been yet, no matter how wonderful our wool and rabbits. An opera to hold world attention and have a distinctive Australian character--ah, Ossy-Possy, I'd rather create the soprano role in that than be queen of any Continental country. Here's this cousin of yours; why shouldn't he do the book of an opera?"

"Ask him. If he's my cousin he must be a clever, obliging fellow."

"Madame, are you going to take me on at quoits today?"

"I should like to, doctor, but I'm immersed in an Australian poet."

"We generate them by the dozen. It's a kind of neurasthenia with us.",

She read a few verses. "Fancy the Major-General with a cousin like that."

"If I had felt like that about war I'd never have pulled through to...to..."

"To K.C.M.G.," said Austra with a twinkle. "But fellows like Dick might pull the world away from that sort of thing.

"You'll never pull the world away from war. If you do you'll have a worse state. A man who isn't game to fight for his home and family--"

"I don't mind the man who does his own fighting. It is the fellow who drives out the younger or poorer to the slaughter--"

"My old playmate has been associating with bolshevists," said the Major-General indulgently.

"Anyone who can sing like Madame can pretend she is a communist or a member of the basher gangs without fear of unpopularity," said the doctor. "But when it comes to real poetry you want to go to Sir Walter Scott or Kipling."

"I must get Judith to recite some of this at that mouldy old concert you are organizing."

With concerts and dances, the sea growing colder and rougher as New Zealand and winter hove above the southern rim, the voyage on the Pacific dwindled.

II

Even the T.S.S. Ballyphule rolling along in the direction of the Antarctic, and in spite of prolonged dirty weather, drew within endurable distance of Adelaide.

The five thousand miles of tumbling waste all to themselves, as though they had the copyright on the dreary route, was done at last. The sense of discomfort slackened as they came to the Outer Harbour.

A tank advertising one Noonan's hotel was the most conspicuous object as the foreshore came to view, flat, treeless and uninspiring, and that day swept by wild Australian rain. It was the coldest winter within memory, but it was mild to the northerners, who rushed ashore where the most inviting object was a notice-board to the post and telegraph office.

"Oh, daddy! All white men! No black men like Cape Town," exclaimed a child hanging over the rail.

"The Australian climate plays hell with the Nordic hide," remarked Miss Timson of the weather-beaten visages uplifted from the wharf. She appeared an hour later in coat and hat and bade good-bye to Dick. "I hope I shall see you again," she said, but gave no address to facilitate reunion.

Dick felt childishly desolate after he had helped her into the train. If he could have been rid of Armstrong and kept this pleasant companion! Wild driving rains beat upon them daily, spoiling the forlorn and featureless foreshore as a playground for the children and delaying the unloading of the steel. Day after day dragged by without the Blue Peter at the masthead.

"Now we've got to Australia where the working man is king," said the Pretentious Man, looking down on the wharf. "He won't work in the rain, and he won't work more than his eight hours, no matter what he is paid."

"I don't blame him," said a young man from north of the Tweed. "If you want to work long hours for no pay, you can stay in Britain. More power to the Australian working man if he can get along with something better!" Later in the day this young man returned to the ship with less of goodwill in his heart. He had gone to a dance where a native whacked him in the jaw, complaining that he was a bloody pommy coming out to lower wages when Australia already had more unemployed than could be handled.

Rumours of the fabulous wages of the wharfies and their independent attitude ran along the rail, where the migrants roosted like pigeons. It was convincingly asserted that £10 and £12 was gained for a forty-four hour week.

"It'll be like the yarns of nuggets at the gold-fields," said an old stager.

A more interesting rumour to Dick was that the ship was to sail each day. But they sat over a week beside the dreary mud-flats. He would have gone overland had he known at the beginning, but he was sticking to the ship as he wished to return through the majestic Sydney Heads. A poet's or a pauper's reason, and Dick was something of both.

They skipped through Melbourne in twenty-four hours and on up the coast where the blue inland horizon and the molten clear-cut sunset took him back to youth.

He stood by himself on the upper deck in a sharp cloudless dawn as the Ballyphule approached the Heads. There were the stones of Waverley, but no trees. He was repelled by the bare foreshore. Its nakedness hurt him. He was sick with the approaching ordeal of reunion after half a lifetime of separation. This was error. He worked against it, but it would scarcely yield. The Ballyphule entered the royal gateway. Where he remembered a few red roofs in bowers of trees many red roofs were now encrusting the points like vermin and trees were a rarity. Suddenly the sun turned all to blue Beauty released him from disharmony. Nearer and nearer...

Now they were right in. The plank would thunder down in a minute. A knot of those privileged to come on board immediately were inside the barrier.

"Newspaper men. But we haven't any celebrities, have we?" remarked Dick to an officer.

"This migrant business is being whooped up from, both ends. There'll be pictures of the arrivals."

The young men sped up the gangway with the élan of their calling. "Mr Mazere! Mr Mazere!" They scampered along the deck.

Had something happened the home folks? "My name is Mazere, can I help you?" Dick asked, turning towards them.

Cordial hands were thrust into his. "Welcome home, Mr Mazere.."

"Your sister sent us word you'd be here."

He had so wished to remain out of sight! He suppressed annoyance as unethical. Blanche was entitled to any little kudos accruing from his early efforts. He smiled gently at II ye young men.

"We want to hear about your work for soldiers in London, and what are your literary plans?"

"I haven't any plans but to see my people." Poised pencils were busy. Embarrassing to the retiring Dick.

"A family visit...but don't you think that you'll feel inspired by your return to give us another volume of poems?" Dick was bewildered. His native land must be a desert of Mediocrity and provincialism if five well-set-up young men had no better news than himself.

"There's nothing whatever to say about me."

"Mr Mazere, you mustn't be so modest. Anything you like to tell us will be an interesting story."

"Any story about me would have to be made out of your hats. Say anything appropriate," he murmured; and then suppressing his stage fright, "By jove, it's good of you to come and give me such a kind welcome. I'm not important enough to deserve it, but I thank you very much."

"Can you give us any kind of a message?"

"That would be bumptious on my part. I feel there are glorious things just about to break through. We are ripe now o produce full-sized genius that will lead us out of the bush and take its place not only in native regard, but among the world's best."

"Fine!" they exclaimed. Then, "We are buzzing off to the Papeete. She's just behind you, and there's a whole zoo of lions there. Your cousin the Major-General is one of them."

Dick discerned his father on the wharf, and Blanche...and such tall portly forms must be his uncles Labosseer...His heart grew large, as the French have it...a mist before his eyes.


CHAPTER IV

I

Preparations raged at Nanda, Ashville, one of Sydney's inland suburbs, where Dick Mazere was awaited. He was the only member of the family who had left Australia, and his homecoming after so long was a big event. The step-family, Laleen and Moffat, had never even seen him. He had said good-bye to Blanche, Sylvia, Allan, Philippa, and Aubrey. Sylvia and Allan had died young, and to Philippa and Aubrey he was a distant memory.

It was the faithful Blanche who never allowed contact with him to break, and whose due it now was to take the lead and enjoy attention as the poet's sister--his adored sister to whom he wrote regularly, though rarely to other members of the family. Blanche wore that like a crown. In her twenties, following the death of her mother (née Isabel Labosseer of Coolooluk), she had refused to evacuate for the stepmother. This had worked, because Mrs Mazere was tolerant, and could: fill her days with other concerns while Blanche ran the house.

Only the first family would have met Dick at the ship if Blanche could have had her way, but Mrs Mazere never allowed herself to be effaced. Laleen also contested Blanche's propriety in Dick. Blanche might paw around him, but she, Laleen, would understand him, and he would champion her. She had decided upon a literary career, which she considered gave her rights in congeniality, but which Blanche suspected as an excuse to evade house duty. Any relegation of domestic concerns to second place in favour of meditation or study was to Blanche a shunting of one's share. If housework ran out more had to be manufactured to feed her ideal of unselfishness, womanliness, industry, and virtue. Dick's case would be different, with two printed books to his credit, and, as Laleen said, he was a man.

Preparations were complete at last. Even Dad had climbed from a bath into a perfect shirt and new suit with but little protest, a matter for relief. Richard Mazere was approaching that senility wherein old men frowsily resist such offices, but he was unusually stimulated by the prospect of seeing Dick again.

It was the most pregnant day Laleen had so far known. She was bubbling with excitement when they set out at dawn to meet the Ballyphule. They hurried to Walsh's Bay to learn that arrival was delayed from 8 till 10 a.m. They toiled up the formidable steps and looked at the convict staples and food-holes in Argyle Cut, and returned to find the hour put forward to eleven because of gun practice outside the Heads. They were joined by Uncles Erik and Sylvester Labosseer, and all went up town and had morning tea and tried to think of things to do. Inquiry at the shipping office elicited that the ship would be at the wharf any minute. They hurried down again and stood till they ached in the brilliant morning watching wharf labourers playing cards on the kerb. Garrulous exchanges of confidences with others waiting. Grumblings.

At long last the hull could be seen nosing into the wharf. Hopes were coming down from it, rat collars being put on the ropes. Nothing had ever been so romantic to Laleen as that big black hull. This was her first personal contact with a ship, though it was her abiding dream to sail and sail away beyond the Leeuwin to fame and glory. She made up her mind to go back with Dick.

The latticed gates were withdrawing again. This time the people were not held back to make way for a lorry! The Mazeres pressed forward in the throng, friction evaporated, weariness forgotten.

They picked Dick out among the crowd of migrants on the taffrail. He was recognizing them with a sinking around the heart. His father was so snowy white. Blanche, so good, so self-sacrificing, was old. And could that small, handsome, ageing woman be Philippa? He had been thinking of her as a chubby little girl in a wealth of long ringlets, but alas, she must be almost forty! Mrs Mazere, placid and with dignity in her bulk, had changed least. As she welcomed him, he was astonished to recall his youthful intransigence towards her--partly conventional prejudice imbibed from the air, plus the revulsion of the younger generation if fastidious, when elders, who should be embalmed in the decency of middle-age, are seized anew with sex distempers.

"Welcome home, Dick, old man!"

"Glad to see you again. I expect Sydney looks a big place after the little villages scattered about the world." Drawling humorous greetings from his uncles.

And there was Laleen...as though Sylvia had remained young to welcome him!

He had to turn away for the Customs. A repellent old tout was shepherding him for a tip. Restricted hours of labour and high wages in a new country had not eliminated this nuisance. Dick had nothing dutiable, but the parasite was hardy. To be rid of him Dick handed half a crown. Evidently not enough. The man dropped his cordiality and offensively tested the coin between his teeth.

They were free from the wharf at last and on the way to the station. The uncles went to a show organized to bring money to Sydney, and would reappear later.

Hyde Park! Could that dump be Hyde Park? It resembled the Western Front. The trees! Oh, where were the trees!

"That's for the Underground Railway," explained Blanche.

"Couldn't they have made their beastly burrows without ruining everything?"

"We're going to have a better park than ever."

"But the trees," mourned Dick. "It will take a generation to grow trees for this climate--the great Port Jackson and Moreton Bay figs with their marvellous roots, that made Sydney different."

"We couldn't allow a few old trees to get in the way of progress," said Blanche.

Spiritual progress must be endangered where a great heritage of trees was slaughtered and a dump tolerated in its place, thought Dick.

"A marvellous development in Sydney," observed Mr. Mazere.

They were in the suburban train now.

"We have a train service better than any in the world," said Dad. Best this and biggest that, the delusion of the untravelled everywhere, frequently remains undisturbed by travel.

"Haven't you any trees?" inquired Dick like a hurt child as they traversed the wilderness of suburbs that cling to the railway lines radiating from Central like half a wheel.

The August sunshine blazed upon miles of bungalows like rabbit hutches separated by wide dusty roads. As the outer suburbs were reached each hutch had a royal plot of ground. The desirability of space had been impressed upon even potato brains by old-world over-crowding. The open channels showed the long Australian ridges in noble terraces stretching to a wide horizon. What splendid vistas to line with trees, and with shrubs and flowers on the sidewalks! Dust swept past in clouds. What would the dust and glare be at the height of summer!

Not a tree! Not an open space reserved for a park! Where were the tea-tree, the blackthorn, the banksias, grevilleas, angophora, and a hundred other species wondrous and unmatched, which had covered all this land, the certificate of original glory remaining in the name Botany Bay?

Everywhere the evidence of the herd cutting from a whole continent of new cloth the same coat in which it stank, shivered, and starved in older lands. It all depended, Dick was musing, on the herd being moulded and led by an extraordinary mind or two. God Himself was dependent on the superordinary.

"Even since we came to town," said Philippa, "Sydney has progressed so that you would scarcely recognize it. All the people will be in Sydney soon."

They were so infernally proud of the mess.

Ashville, covered with blossoming shrubs when Dick had gone away, was now a populous and execrably ugly city of well-to-do working people, retired or active. If only they would all fester in Sydney in heaps and leave the country unspoiled, Dick was irrationally thinking, it would at least preserve Coolooluk.

The family had retired to Ashville during the war. The death of grandparents in conjunction with the war boom in wool being the enabling causes.

"Which do you think you'll like best, London or Sydney?" chirruped Philippa.

"There is no reasonableness of comparison."

"You must give Dick time to readjust himself," observed Mrs Mazere.

"Perhaps Dick has a headache," suggested Blanche solicitously, "and would rather not talk."

"I don't believe in the reality of such a thing," Dick smiled gently. "I like being silent."

"An aspirin is a wonderful thing for a headache. Often when you are feeling a bit off, and as if you didn't want to speak, it's a good thing to force yourself to talk about something. It makes you forget your troubles."

"I haven't any troubles, thank you, Philippa, only delight in seeing you all again."

"When I feel terrible, if I rouse myself to take an interest in something I can throw it off."

"But I don't intend to feel terrible," laughed Dick.

"I'll be able to feed you up and give you a nice rest," said Blanche. "There's no place like home. However nice strangers may be, there are none to compare with your very own."

Blanche thought of all she had so unselfishly done for Dick, and all she was going to do to make him strong. Laleen thought he looked most distinguished, and dreamed of their adventurous companionship. Philippa summoned her smile, thought of her new hat, and of deliciously chatty little things to promote amiability, from which Dick was saved by his absent air and the rattle of the train. Mrs Mazere thought Dick alarmingly frail, and wondered what he thought of them all, herself included. Dad thought it was a damned cold da and wriggled for an excuse for a forbidden nip at the pub He thought of asking Dick to celebrate, but no. He and Dick had dissented on this point long ago, and it was to be see that Dick had continued against "nipping". Old Dad sighed. Other men had less ascetic sons, robust fellows who could cavort with their fathers without shame.

Dick could not wrest his gaze from the beehive-like erections without the escape of an upper storey, the glare of the sun unobstructed by so much as a hoopoe. He wanted to creep under something for shelter from that glare, as when machine-gun patter used to fill him with the desire to crawl under a bag or umbrella.

He was willing to overlook failure to evolve an architectural style adapted to the climate, with verandas and windows to catch sun in winter or sea breeze in summer, if only, only there had been trees! Houses could go up in a matter of weeks. Trees took a lifetime.

This was error. He must scotch it. Laleen was smiling at him with radiance and beauty. Dear lovely child! And "Nanda", so named from the grandparent home up the country, had a tree. Snapshots had testified.

They were in the home street now, where sidewalks, that would have admitted of lawn verges, were rank with Parramatta grass or rough weeds. The older cottages were of weatherboard of bull-run design, but with verandas. The newer erections, mostly of brick, had this amenity curtailed. Blanche suddenly turned in at a gate where there stood a dead tree.

"Oh, the tree! Did the poor thing die?" gasped Dick.

"I had it destroyed. A tree is an untidy thing. So many leaves always to be swept up. Welcome to Nanda!"

She led to a room that was to be the haven where for the first time in his life he could be at peace and write or think. The appointments represented generous manipulation of household funds, and Blanche's affection. The place was choked with runners and curtains and photographs dear to two generations past. It was impossible to move without knocking against a superfluous article or catching in some frilly thing. There was no provision for books nor any screen on the window. Flies were in evidence though it was winter.

"You'll have plenty of room there," said Dad with satisfaction. "Things have changed since my day." Good old Dad had lived alone for years in a hut on a selection on the back of the run bare of such luxuries.

Dick suddenly realized that while he had been abroad using the world's up-to-date appliances and absorbing its current fashions in ideas, his family were almost where he had left them, spiritually and intellectually. The person whose support he craved in that hour was Miss Timson, the young woman who had companioned him on the ship, and he did not know where to find her. He turned from material considerations to the affection of which this clutter was a symbol. The symbol of Australian neighbourliness supplemented it in the arrival of numerous bouquets, bottles of jam, and other dainties.

II

Dick went out on the veranda, where his father was smoking and awaiting him. He was only seventy-four, but he looked so desperately old, and was slightly deaf, which made private communion with him impossible in a wooden cottage.

The poor dead tree! Dick recalled that his mother had hated a thicket. Gardens had to be tidy. He was inclined to confuse Blanche, now nearing fifty, with his mother. Whimsical, nervous, affectionate little Allan had not reached maturity. Sylvia, beautiful as a fairy and kind as an angel, upon the advent of her first baby one glorious spring day when all the birds were singing and the world was a sea of wattle gold, had left a fair prospect of life and a devoted young husband. It was a melancholy hour to Dick. His absence had been too long. He had now little in common with his family but blood, and that rarely ensures congeniality.

He found his stepmother rather a personage. Laleen was fair and tallish, with the Mazere cast of features. She had Sylvia's youth and loveliness and qualities in addition which promised companionship. At the earliest moment she confided her great adventure. With Dick's sympathetic eyes to hold her, she ran on and on.

"The Bulletin takes lots of paragraphs about the bush, and I've had three articles in the Sydney Mail."

"That's the way to keep on."

"But I've had heaps sent back, and I have always to be worrying to think of something. I want to write a whole book like Ignez Milford did."

"Ignez Milford," he repeated dreamily.

"There's a wonderful chance. The Bulletin is going to give prizes for real Australian novels. Oh, Dick, do you think I'd be foolish to try?"

"Certainly not, child. I think it an adventure."

"Oh, Dick! I knew you would! Will you help me?"

"If I can. This is great."

"Blanche doesn't think so."

"Blanche helped me with her all to get away long ago."

"You, but not me. She wants me to be a nurse or a beastly teacher. I'd almost rather get married than teach a lot of filthy kids, or mess about with disgusting sick people. Blanche thinks writing an excuse to get out of work."

"There surely can't be much work in a little place like this with three women besides your mother, and a charwoman to come in."

"If I didn't want time to write I could do the whole bally lot, but if I did everything twice over Blanche would still rage around. She can't bear anyone to be at peace. Dad says it's her time of life. Mother had the same time of life a few years ago, but she wasn't like that."

Blanche here opened the door. She never conceded to any family member the right to a knock before entering. "Don't let Laleen tire you, Dick, or monopolize you. Young people nowadays have no consideration for others."

"We'll be out by and by, sis. I have something to say t Laleen, if you will excuse us for a while." Blanche had to retire. Laleen looked at Dick with a smile.

"Love is the way out," he said gently, "and understanding. Before you were born, in a terrible drought, when no one had the money you have today, Blanche sold the butcher her pet sheep--the one fat animal on the place--and put the money in my hand. It was a miracle to me. For the first time in my life I bought books of poems. That's how I knew what to do with my own. In a way, they are the result of Blanche's self-sacrifice...Laleen, you and I must read together every day. We'll start now. Dear Blanche will be a mother to that book you want to write."

Laleen was all attention and response for some time, then remarked, "I wish you'd make it act on Blanche and Philippa."

"You help me to help them, to help each other."

"Is it the same as being religious? Because Blanche and Philippa are both religious, and it makes me want to be a damn' atheist." She was puzzled that Dick should talk like a Salvationist. It was disappointing. If serious, he would lose caste.

"I expect it is different from what you mean by being religious."

Blanche came again. "Come, Dick, Laleen cannot be allowed to take all your first evening with us. See what the papers have to say!"

The family crowded around with exclamations. "Both papers Dave his picture. One has a whole column." Dad seized the papers, and Dick said he would see them later. They were naively delighted with their vicarious jet of limelight, and Dick was pleased for their sakes. He had no medals nor titles t bring them.

"Major-General Sir Oswald Mazere-Poole has come home too. He's our cousin, isn't he?" said Laleen, peeping over Dad's shoulder.

"Yes--Dad's and my mother's first cousin. He used to write to me, but I suppose he's got too big now."

"But they haven't given him as much of a yarn as Dick!" Dick felt more puffed down than up about it. Sydney, despite its metropolitan pretensions, must be disconcertingly provincial if he could be news.

A strange sound, familiar though unexpected, had the momentary effect of dreaming upon him. Merry, loud, sustained, enrapturingly real, peal after peal. Dick laughed too, the papers forgotten. "That is worth travelling all the way to hear."

"That's old Jock that Les Olliver brought Laleen from Oswald's Ridges, and a couple of visitors."

"One of our own! Let's go and join them."

The gathering was on the dead tree, the birds clear against the sunset. Jock fell silent when his friends flew away. Dick was resuffused with poetic delight in his native land. Again he felt receptive of the music of mind as that evening on shipboard when he saw the Cross again as a promise in the heavens. Coolooluk was not a day's journey distant, and there the waters sang and the birds called all day long. Ashville and its like might be a blunder, but the Cross was twinkling southwards, and away to the west, where a glorious glow lingered in air brittle with drought and winter, was Australia still unlimited.

III

He was waked at dawn by that magic laughter again and by his brother Aubrey dumping his gear on the back veranda. Aubrey, and the half-brother Moffat, had bought the old place at Oswald's Ridges, Goulburn. To pay for it, Aubrey, during the wool season, was an employee of the Australian Stations and Mortgaging Company. He came now from the Paroo, where he had been in charge of the shearing of all that could stand up of ninety thousand sheep. Greetings past, Aubrey talked of his immediate experiences as they awaited Philippa's early tea.

"The old folks have a lovely little home here, haven't they! By Jove, Sydney is a paradise after what the poor devils where I came from have to put up with. Enough to break a man's heart...But they have a mighty clever policy out there. They stock-up on old ewes and sell all the young stuff as soon as it is dropped, and in a drought they get as much of the wool off as they can and let 'em die...Gosh, I've had a time...the men striking...We all went down with flu for a start...in tents...and talk about dust! It's not sand, it's the whole earth moving. Can't see your hand in front of you. All the shearing done out on the runs...it's picking up the jumbucks all the way to the machines, and as soon as they're shorn they die and the earth covers them up. It was only the warmth of the bit of wool kept them alive. It would take six inches of rain to do any good out there...even the roots are eaten out of the ground. It beats me how a sheep can live so long. Some of 'em couldn't get up, we had to lift them, and then they staggered thirty-two miles to the shearing camp."

Dick shivered to envisage the peerless blankets in which he had lain, the Botany socks so soft to his feet, his guernsey, reefed from the little beasties dying of cold and starvation. "Was it cold?" he managed to murmur.

"Cold at night. I nearly froze there last week. If this drought keeps up, the city will soon suffer too. There's going to be unemployment everywhere. Can't help it when all the money goes out of the country to pay for moving pictures and motor cars."

More fumes. Dick felt that he should be expiating in some way if only with a hair shirt like an antiquated saint. And lie had contemplated withdrawal to dream dreams and write a poem! He was half-convicted of defection as he saw Aubrey's Bands, tanned like leather, his face cruelly wrinkled. Everything about him bespoke a rigorous physical life completely removed from the arts. And he, Dick, had been discontented because of graces lacking in this parasitic coastal paradise!

"It must be heartbreaking to see the sheep suffer."

"They're a smart firm that! That's a dashed good policy, to buy up old ewes and breed, and then let 'em die. If you begin feeding it runs into a pound or thirty shillings a head before you know where you are, and then have to let them die in the end. They're feeding them on rice where I'm going next."

Dick could see only those shivering little beasts with their eyeballs picked out by the crows lingering in agony after providing for mediocrities and worse, the dividends to find sunshine and luxury on the Riviera, or culture in London, or revelry in Melbourne and Sydney.

"There is one of those horrid Darling dust storms," exclaimed Philippa, "when we had the place so clean yesterday."

"Oh ho! Thank your luck that you don't know what it's like here!" The dawn was murky. Particles of the red heart of Australia had reached the pampered city, staining the arum lilies and irritating the housewives, drifting a thousand miles out to sea in the moistureless atmosphere.

Blanche brought in the morning papers. "Madame Austra had a civic reception yesterday afternoon, and she is to give her first concert on Saturday night."

"Oh, I do wish we could go!" exclaimed Laleen.

"All these things cost too much, and I have spent so much on getting the house ready for Dick." This was true. Laleen sighed, and determined to pursue her career in order to be able to go to everything and have people struggling to meet her.

"You're quite a geebung tool" said Aubrey.

"There's more about him than anyone, in the papers."

"He's in time for the election. Another month's wind-bagging, and these fellows feathering their nests. They ought to be given two or three years straight off beyond Bourke and Broken Hill. I don't know how the women and kids stick it."

Blanche put all the papers before Dick. Notwithstanding the notables on the Papeete, the papers had given him considerable attention. "Return of a good Australian." "An Australian Poet of Distinction." A charming editorial welcomed him as a native son who had been too long absent. Despite drought and political malfeasance which, as ever, were wrecking the country, the papers had the heart and grace to welcome him. He was personally revived. Who dare say in face of this that his native land had no mind above wool, or lionized only the athlete and the millionaire?

To feel that the making of a poem was shirking while there were people and beasts in the north-west suffering unspeakable hardship, was not to help them but to fail them.


CHAPTER V

I

Blanche celebrated the second evening of Dick's return by one of the family rallies around a bumper meal, in which she revelled. The Mazeres were one of numerous old clans who had forsaken the bush for the suburbs. Such folks, when of small means, were late in life exiled from the spacious routine of the squattocracy without assimilating urban avocations, a situation specially trying to old men, who were like beached whalers. Neither was it wholesome for women still active physically but untrained to intellectual or public interests. Contracted activities had a corresponding mental reaction. Wanting outlet in any channel, they formed pockets in society, with social intercourse restricted to Blanche visiting Dot or Aunt Jane, and Cousin Isabel intervisiting those to retail family gossip, resulting in internecine jealousies with the backbiting and quarrels common among those afflicted by blood relationship.

The family proper on this occasion was supplemented, among others, by Larry Healey and his wife (née Dot Saunders), who had retired to the city upon the death of old Tom Saunders of Saunders Plains. Dot, through the intermarrying of the pioneer families up the country, was cousin to some of the Mazeres.

"Everything is ready," said Philippa. "We only wait for the Healeys and Mr James." The parents of James had been original Bool Boolians in the early days of the Mazere dynasty.

Laleen drew Dick aside. "I want Bob James to be your brother-in-law."

"Dear me! What are the signs?"

"He's a twin soul of Blanche. They would be a complete pair."

"How has he developed?"

"He has a roving eye and a stationary one, and an appetite like a kangaroo dog."

"I meant mentally."

"People who believe you can't change human nature, and that women's place is the home, don't develop mentally." Diversion came with the arrival of the Healeys. Mrs Healey had an air of triumph. "You are not the only distinguished traveller from abroad, Dick," she exclaimed. "Do you and Freda remember each other?" Freda Healey, who had arrived that morning on the Southern Mail, had seen the papers, and was prepared for Dick being the Mr Meyers, her table vis-à-vis of the Ballyphule, but as Miss Timson of that voyage Freda was a delightful surprise to Dick. He had rarely been more glad to see anyone. They laughed heartily.

"I was on the Ballyphule as far as Adelaide," said Freda in explanation.

"You never told us, Dick!" said Blanche reproachfully.

"He did not think it important, perhaps," interposed Freda. Dick was swept away from explanation by the arrival of the Labosseer uncles, and the reason of the omission congealed between him and Freda.

Dick found Larry frail for his mere sixty-five years, but Dot was quite recognizable from his boyhood days. She had survived the temperamental uncongeniality of the marriage better than Larry, and, now complete boss of the union, wag an example of resourceless and restless elderliness that was a scourge to Larry and also to Freda, sole survivor of a family of five.

When they were about to be seated, another arrival, in Sydney for the business exhibition, was Leslie Olliver. "Just ran out to say 'How are you?' to Dick, after all the years. Saw his photo in one of the papers."

Olliver was a sturdy fellow from Oswald's Ridges, near Goulburn, where the Mazeres and Healeys had lived at the time of Dick's departure. A man of action with fence and flock, self-dependent, good-natured, Olliver's large swarthy features crowned by coarse curls were no obstacle to popularity with young women. Girls came and went with him without mishap to either person, but Laleen had been the reigning favourite since the age of six, when she appeared at the little school in the scrub the year that Les, at the age of fourteen, had been due to retire, his school education finished. Laleen had arrested his adolescent attention by wild bellows consequent upon the sting of a bull-dog ant. She had been too untamed to be ashamed of her yells, which were so disintegrating to Les that he gave her his choicest marbles, and offered to carry her home on his back. He had since carried her in his heart and stood for ever ready to surrender the equivalent of his choicest marbles. She was the embodiment of romance, a treasure-trove of thrilling surprises.

Since his last visit she was going in for some blooming writing stunt, and in advance by letter had refused invitations to the theatre, or to go to the Zoo. She even scorned chocolates as muggy brain food. Numerous girls make ineffectual feints against chocs for fear of pimples or fat, but only Laleen could be such a trick as to rule them out as brain-soddening. Enough to make a fellow laugh all around his dial!

Aubrey found amusement in Leslie's pursuit and in teasing him and Laleen. He seated Bob James beside Laleen, as Leslie was suspicious of the nearest insect, no matter what its disqualifications.

Leslie glowered at Bob. Why was that old wind-bag hanging around? Laleen tried to palm him off on Blanche, but Leslie suspected James of being as madly in love with Blanche AS he, Leslie, was with the long-nosed parson who had lately taken charge of Oswald's Ridges. He'd need to be careful, though, to take this writing seriously, or he would earn a Hack mark from Laleen. She had taken the notion because Dick was something new to her, and written-up in the papers. For the first time in his life Leslie that morning had gone to the booksellers and bought a copy of Dick's poems. There were one or two nice little bits that he could copy into letters to Laleen, but the most of it must have been written when Dick had a pain in the wind. However, while Laleen was occupied with him, it would shut out the rapacious hordes which Leslie visioned as lying in wait for her.

Blanche did not allow Laleen to sit beside Bob James. She placed Freda Healey there. James was a tall lean man with a consequential bellow, an uneven stare, and a name for large eating and much talking. He enjoyed a reputation for business acumen in the Nanda household, where they had none themselves. Blanche had impressed it upon Dick, who immediately forgot whether James was in rice or artificial silk, but he was a York Street farmer of some sort. He was confidently trying to impress Freda, but she had outgrown his type of arrested mental development years since. She preferred Olliver's, as it was free from pomposity.

The seating and serving was an incessant turmoil as managed by Blanche and Philippa, assisted by Mrs Gambol in the kitchen. When they were set to work upon their plates, comment fell upon Dick, picking a way amid a plateful of over-rich food.

"A person who can't eat what I provide--for it's always the best; I never think it a saving to buy cheap food and have it wasted because no one likes it--should go to Dr Cardigan in Macquarie Street," said Blanche. "I'll make an appointment for you, Dick."

"But Dick doesn't believe in doctors. He's a Christian Scientist," said Philippa.

"Only a very humble student," corrected Dick.

"There may be a great deal in that new thought stuff for some things, as long as you're not really ill," cheerfully conceded Bob James.

"I think it would be wonderful if I could bring my mind to believe in it," chimed Philippa with large-eyed amiability.

"That, of course, presupposes the possession of a mind," observed Freda.

"It's all bosh," said Blanche. "It's not Christian or human not to be able to sympathize with those who are ill."

"That's what I think, too," said Philippa. "I do like to be sympathetic."

"Supposing it was a form of selfishness to be sympathetic as you understand it, why not restrain yourself?" posed Freda.

"I'm sure it could never be Christian to be unsympathetic."

"If Blanche or Philippa can convict anyone of cancer or tuberculosis, they achieve the zenith in sympathy as they understand it," murmured Mrs Mazere so placidly that it went unchallenged.

"Some people always think anything they cannot believe themselves is no good," said Laleen, championing Dick.

"Laleen has gone in for it," announced Aubrey to Leslie. "She is not going to have a body much longer, only a mind."

"I don't quite get the strength of it myself," admitted Les, which was convulsing to Aubrey.

"What on earth is the matter with Aubrey?" inquired Uncle Erik, laughing heartily with him. He was likewise of invincible sense of humour.

"You explain, Laleen," chortled Aubrey. "All I know is that you don't feel pain or love or anything, only with your mind--no body."

This was startling to Les. Love without a body--only in the mind. That's what a fellow had to do when some other chap ran off with his girl. Philippa's solicitous attentions in refilling his plate were an immense relief.

"Will you find the quiet you need in Ashville?" Freda asked Dick, to change the subject.

"If he couldn't get all the quiet he wants in his own home, where could he expect to?" demanded Blanche.

"He really doesn't need quiet," added Philippa. "He wouldn't enjoy it at all. I often think I'd like a quiet day myself, but when I'm left I don't know what to do. I think it's better to keep up. It keeps you from growing depressed."

"You're right there!" agreed Uncle Erik. "I think you want to keep going every minute you're awake. It leaves no time for thinking. I reckon thinking is a disease. It's one of the worst signs. As soon as a man begins to think, he gets a set on something and it spoils him as a worker, either for someone else, or in getting on himself. If these red-raggers and labour fellows didn't get any time to think, you'd have none of their loony ideas ruining the country."

"Have a little more bread sauce," urged Philippa.

"Another thing I can't stand is a person who always has his nose in a book. I'm as fond of reading as anyone, but I could no more think of sitting down with a book while here was work to be done," said Blanche.

"You are really not fond of books, then, sis," said Dick, with his gentle smile, "or you couldn't resist opening a new one for just one peep."

"And let my house get dirty! I hope I have a conscience!"

"The point was love of books," said Laleen. "You love housework better than mental work; why not be honest?"

"I have too much sense of duty to get out of my share of work by reading a book," snapped Blanche. Laleen shut her eyes contemptuously and shrugged. Incompatibility between her and Blanche was so active that high state occasions could scarcely suppress it.

"I agree with Blanche," said Uncle Sylvester. "Reading is as bad as drink or drugs if a man takes to it properly. I took care to thrash it out of my own boys."

"I should think so," commended Blanche.

"Have a little of the seasoning," suggested Philippa. "There is no use in talking such tommyrot about thinking," said Larry Healey, getting his oar in at last. "It's only reason, the power to think, that distinguishes us from the beasts. Why, God bless my soul, everything we have depends on mind--thought."

"It is only by using his mental faculties that man can continue, but is he worthy to continue?" said Freda.

"Yes. Is humanity progressing or going back?" said Mrs Mazere.

"Neither. He's stationary except for a few gadgets. You can't change human nature. That's fundamental," said Bob James rousingly, to reach the deafest ears.

"Let me give you a little more poultry," said Blanche. She always said poultry as being more refined than fowl.

Laleen flicked a glance at Freda, who demurely observed, "You will have many to agree with you, Mr James."

"That stands against all reasoning," he responded, astride a hobby-horse of obsolete opinions charging at the waves of mental speculation with a leaky dipper.

Les could not make head or tail of it. They never talked like that in his home, but he had a regard for this as unbelievably intellectual conversation characteristic of the Mazeres, who had been of the first families, educated people who started in a stringy-bark humpy in their great-grandparents' day, whereas Olliver's mother and father could scarcely read the newspaper and had started in a tent within living memory.

Uncle Erik, however, considered Bob James a bore. He turned and shouted at Dad Mazere. "Prime cattle are going up. If this drought keeps on, they'll go out of sight. At Flemington on Saturday, young bullocks..."

Philippa interposed concerning food.

Bob James was not desisting. He lurched on to a louder note. "That's what I say about human nature. You can't pretend all people are born equal. They're not, and while human nature is what it is..."

Uncle Erik was not giving in either. He looked at Bob and thought him like old grandfather Mazere of Three Rivers. If anyone crossed Uncle Erik he always thought he resembled the old Mazere. "The grasshoppers ate up a twelve-acre paddock of lucerne on Turrill Turrill, I hear," he bawled at Dad Mazere, but Larry Healey had just overheard something Les was saying and demanded the length of the table what it was.

"He says old Mick Finnegan at Oswald's Ridges has a new car--a Buick," said Freda.

"Gosh, I'd like to see old Mick driving it," cackled Larry till he choked.

"When are you coming to town to live, Uncle Erik?" inquired Freda, while her father recovered. He was uncle by courtesy to her.

"A week or two in the blinded hole now and again is all can bear. These little places, there's not space to turn round--there isn't even room to spit! And I have to sit around and wait for a train if I want to go to any place. Give me the good old saddle-horse! You can throw your leg across him and set out when you want."

"What beats me here is that if you ask the distance they say it's ten minutes here, and five minutes there, and that doesn't give you any idea at all." This from Dad Mazere.

"Yes, nonsense," agreed Larry. "They call it ten minutes to the station from my house, but I can do it in five easy, or on a hot day string it out to a quarter of an hour. I stepped it to really know, and it's just thirty chain."

"Like dingoes in a cage," chuckled Aubrey. "The real old way-backs. You can't change 'em." He turned to Dick. "What do you consider yourself now--a Yank or an Englishman? You won't be much better than a pommy after being so long away from a country of real men."

"I've found real countries and real men in several places," Dick replied, answering the twinkle in Aubrey's eyes.

"If you don't find something better than our present Labour Government is making of this part of the world, the people are to be pitied," said Bob, and had even Uncle Erik with him.

"Have a little more ham?" said Blanche.

"The working men have everything their own way now. You just have to put up with them," conceded Uncle Erik. "Have some more vegetables," said Philippa.

"We're living in a world of entirely false values," said Uncle Sylvester. "Any man can make £12 or £15 a week rabbiting or shearing, and he's not going to settle down to hard work."

Aubrey was chuckling to himself again, at the idea of these sums being earned without the vilest labour. He had tried these jobs. But no one took any notice of him. In a family several of whose members were without a sense of humour, Aubrey had a lot of Jimmy Woodser laughs.

"The people won't save, that's the trouble," pursued Uncle Sylvester. "Any young man that liked could save enough in four or five years to start on his own, but he spends it on a motor car and taking girls to the jazz dances. A box of chocolates costs him ten shillings. Other things in proportion. He couldn't take a girl out for Saturday night under thirty shillings, I reckon."

"And the girls nowadays are not like they used to be. I still have all the little treasures that were given me. I value them for the sake of the givers. But unless you give girls something expensive now they turn up their noses at it." This from Blanche.

"Would you like your tea now or later?" demanded Philippa.

"Ah, it depends upon the givers! I see Laleen treasuring some things like a dog with a bone, and others she strews around." Aubrey again was convulsed, as the expression o Leslie's brow reflected a jealous desire to know which thin Laleen treasured.

"Thirty shillings on recreation out of £12 or £15 a week would not be such arrant thriftlessness for a virile young ma at the girl-fancying stage, would it?" inquired Freda, reverting to the former point, but Blanche interrupted again about second helpings. She and Philippa would have interrupt Bacon and Shakespeare clearing up the great controversy press second helpings.

"But that is only one item," said Sylvester Labosseer. "Everything else is in proportion."

"Do let me give you a little more trifle," said Philippa.

"Shearing and rabbiting are only seasonal trades and have the chronic disadvantages of such," said Dick sociologically.

"But people don't appreciate their opportunities," contended Uncle Sylvester. "They could put themselves in a solid position if they wished, but they have never known anything but this fictitious prosperity since the war. They think it is going to last, and it can't."

"Perhaps it will this time, though," offered Philippa. Her amiabilities were incessantly directed to amelioration of disharmony, existing or anticipated.

"I have never thought it out," observed Mrs Mazere, ignoring Philippa. "But if everyone took his opportunity to save and settle down to substance, what would happen then? It seems that it is only because some are improvident and incapable that others can accumulate."

"You mustn't think like that," said Larry Healey, "or you might arrive at the truth, and that might be something unrespectable and dangerous like soviets or red-raggism, and all the churches would have to preach against it and the police put it down."

"It's all very well to rave against the law and the churches," said his wife with asperity, "but we must have law and order, or we'd all belong to the basher gangs. I don't see that those who don't go to church are any better than those who do."

"Let me give you a little more jelly," said Philippa.

"No, indeed," agreed Blanche. "Those who have nothing would like to see everyone the same as themselves. Have a little more of this pie."

"And that applies, Blanche, to those who have no brains, even more than to those who have no money. It looks as if the potato-brained are going to have a great innings at levelling down, and that the people of intellect are in greater jeopardy than those who have only money."

Blanche would not ask what Freda meant. It might be worse than what she had already said.

"The country is bled white by the Yanks," said Uncle Erik. "The working man has mortgaged his home for a car and the flickers, and all the money is going out of the country."

"You're right," said Dad. "They used to make a living rearing horses and growing maize for them. Now they buy the iron motor horse, and his maize is Yankee oil. We can't go on as we are."

"All the yokels will be driven back to the bush where they belong presently," chuckled Aubrey. "All the houses in these streets--parasite work--not one primary producer."

"But to get back to the point," said Bob James, with a big mouthful of hen, the point being his mind to hold the floor, "what Mr Sylvester Labosseer was saying bears out what I am always saying myself. With all their wages and rich conditions, what I say is that the working men are no better off today than they were in the old days. They get more wages, but the price of living has gone up, and the need for spending has grown out of all proportion, and in the end they don't have as much money as they used to on twenty bob or two pounds a week."

"You're right," agreed Uncle Sylvester. "When men used to get a pound a week and their tucker they used to save--"

"Golly! And such tucker!" interposed Aubrey. "Sodden damper and flyblown salt junk. A man would want to be pretty rich to compensate him, and have an inside of cast iron, or he'd spend all he saved trying to get cured."

"But he was just as well off then as today," persisted Bob.

"Aw, bosh!" exclaimed Dad Mazere, who was usually silent, but he and Larry had sneaked out and had a couple "spots" in honour of the homecomers, which had loosened their tongues. "The working man just as well off in the old days, be hanged! The old pioneers that got on by scraping till they got a few pounds lived like dogs. Look at this old hide over the fence here, with his gramophone, and with a brick house with an iron roof on it, and linoleum on the floor! And electric light! The pioneers didn't have a light, if the old woman was too lazy to make candles--"

"Or a slush lamp," interposed Larry excitedly.

"Yes, and if they let the fire go out they had to ride to a neighbour for a fire-stick, or put some greasy rag in the old muzzle-loader and fire it off, and they didn't know the time except by the sun. By gosh, and this old frogabollow is going to the Jenolan Caves for Christmas! And he a hod carrier. The Jenolan Caves for Christmas!"

"The highest swells in the old days didn't have what he has today," supplemented Larry.

"Yes. He's on the level of old Mick Muldoon, and in the old days Mick's only holiday was to get drunk and lie in fireplace with the dogs till he came to. A trip to the Caves--for the Muldoons! Huh! And those old pioneers' clothes, why bless my soul, you couldn't live long enough to count the patches on their trousers, and often they did not have a coat at all."

"What about the wife who had to sew the patches on?" inquired Blanche.

"Oh, no one would ever think or care about her," remarked Dot.

"Will you have some more cream?" from Philippa.

"At any rate she wouldn't be leathering about in a motor car with a bit of a silk dress to her knees; and the swells of the old days would have thought her house a palace, with water laid on and a gas stove, and silk stockings. What's the good of saying the working man was as well off as now, in face of the facts?"

"I think the skirts are really a bit too short," said Dot. "Yes, give me just a bite more, thank you, Philippa."

"The knee is not a beautiful part of the body, and should not be shown," seconded Blanche. "It's vulgarity and unwomanliness. Don't you think so?" she appealed to Freda. "I'm not as old as some, but I can remember when there was as much hysteria about women showing their ankles."

"People pretend to like long skirts when they have bandy legs," said Laleen in an aside which convulsed Les.

"It's just the desire to attract the men," said Blanche.

"Attract the men!" Aubrey exploded. "I'm thankful they warn us off. A man was in danger of falling in love with knock-knees in the old days."

"He'll have to do it now, too, or go without," said Uncle Erik. "Wait till you get the spasm, and nothing will stop you short of a monster with a glass eye and two heads."

"I think women giving up their womanliness and trying to ape the men has a lot to do with the terrible things that are happening," said Blanche.

"Do let me give you a little more plum pudding," said Philippa.

"What is this womanliness that women have given up?" demanded Larry Healey.

"Frowsy old birds' nests of hair, and skirts flopping up the dirt, and a steel rat-trap around the middle," said Laleen. "I'm always trying to teach Laleen the value of understatement," said her mother composedly.

"But she finds overstatement more hilarious," said Freda. "Laleen thinks it funny to make mock of higher things," said Blanche. "It makes the men laugh, but she'll find some day that men don't really respect that sort of thing, though it makes for a little passing notoriety."

"They propose to it, though, don't they, Laleen?" said Aubrey slyly, noting that Bob James guffawed at Laleen's sally, though he was always lauding sweet old-fashioned womanliness.

Women, in Bob's knowledge, always had this irritating way of getting off the subject. It was inherent in femininity, fact like the immutability of human nature.

"All you have been saying brings it back to the same thing, that you can't change human nature. Might as well try to stop war. It stands to reason there's always got to be war. The lower races are always swarming ready to grasp what the others build up, and what are you going to do about it but protect yourself by fighting as much as you can?"

"But the last fight wasn't with lower races," said Uncle Erik.

"You'll never do away with war, now listen to me," commanded Larry, "till one thing happens, and that is till a nation's riches cannot be taken away by brute force. When you have a nation, and mind you it needn't be a big nation--I'm not sure that little nations wouldn't be better for development--when you have a nation that has found out its mind and lives for happiness and goodness without so many banks full of money, and manufactories full of clothes that no one can wear till they have paid; and fruit tipped in the harbour not because people have no appetite for it, but just because they haven't the money that the York Street farmers have decided it will pay them to sell for: then you will have peace. Then there will be no war, because no men, either of superiors or the backward people, can take away contentment and peace and health by gunnery. They will only be able to copy it, and the more they take the more will the givers have.

"And you'll never have that till the millennium," said Bob. The Uncles Labosseer thought it too silly for any response. Larry hadn't a ha'penny to his pocket unless it was put there by his wife, who had a little tied up from old Tom Saunders who had left a decent property for his day by hard-headedness and hard-fistedness undiluted by any idiocy of mental speculation.

"No fear, if man would only open his eyes to his spiritual possibilities he could have it in our lifetime."

"But you'd have to change human nature."

"You'd only have to use that kind of human nature, instead of the sharks' sort as they struggle around a dead whale which is all we have at present. And the inferior races--that I'm not so sure are inferior--would be just as anxious to copy that as they are to copy the guns and battleships today.

"You have a good thought there," said Dick. He recalled that, when a boy, Larry had lent him books of poems, and had seemed to understand his adolescent demand for finer things from life than Oswald's Ridges furnished. In those days it had never occurred to him that Larry, too, might have had his frustrations.

Freda looked at her father with tenderness. "You are right dear," she said. He never had a soul with whom to exchange an idea, yet the atrophying isolation had not robbed him of spiritual sweetness, whereas two or three days in that atmosphere of mental drought already had made inroads on her own harmony.

Philippa whispered to Blanche, "Sounds like whisky talking."

Blanche agreed. "Get them away from the table without any more blab. They encourage each other." Larry and Dad Mazere had partly earned this attitude by their weakness with alcohol in earlier days, also Philippa and Blanche feared unfamiliar ideas as the plague. To them they were indistinguishable from raving. They took their politics from the Herald, which was polite and respectable, and a family institution since the first Mazere's day.

II

"You have brains. What do you keep them for?" inquired Freda, going with Aubrey to the sitting-room. "Going to let them waste in the fashion of the Mazeres and Stantons and Saunders?"

"Brains are a handicap unless you can take the other fellow down and make plenty of money. I do that whenever I can, but the business is overcrowded."

"And what are you going to do with the money?"

"Just keep it around. Handy thing to have. I could do what I like if I had plenty of money."

"The catch in that," said Freda, lighting a cigarette, "is that you mightn't know enough to like what you could do."

"Plenty of catches in everything...What do you think of us after all this time? Lot of dashed old back numbers?"

"The real old pioneer folk are unspeakably precious."

"They used to be old bush-whacker cockatoos, but they're becoming on to be the old pioneers now."

"Why don't I find you married?"

"Lots of reasons," chuckled Aubrey. "Most of 'em not fit for the Church News. Always to be jawed by some woman doesn't appeal to me. A wife is either the mad-housekeeper kind driving herself and everyone to distraction over the mats and cakes like poor old Blanche or Philippa, or she is out chasing another man."

"They try to mitigate the monotony of monogamy."

"Hang it all, you don't believe in polygamy, do you?" he cackled.

"Polygamy seems to be a thing we hanker after for ourselves but deny the other fellow. Being for ever hermetically sealed in knowledge of only one man--or woman--makes marriage seem stifling to me. The whole sex arrangements of the middle class and respectable are gruesome when you consider them: the physical excesses of marriage--and it is impossible to have a decent conversation with a married man. Unless he is reckless he is as timid as a mid-Victorian old maid; if you asked him how he was he'd run and tell his wife that you were seducing him. Take note of the sheer asininity--leaving the vulgarity aside--of the badinage among married people, if a wife or husband even speaks to a lame old baker or a fat old charwoman."

"Well, by gum, you couldn't trust even an old woman with one eye or an old man with no legs out of your sight."

"That's a point of view that makes life intolerable to me."

"Well, you can't change it. It always has been the same and always will be, and what's the good of worrying about it.

"That's where I disagree. Human mentality can be moulded and directed to anything."

"You can't prove it."

"The changes that take place all the time prove it."

"Huh! Freda! You must be a bolshevist. And how did you begin smoking?" Aubrey had mental possibilities totally unexercised. He had never associated with an intellectual woman. He was puzzled to estimate if the little girl with whom he had run about the bush was talking through her hat or really "fast", and something to be shunned as dangerous and expensive, like racehorses or gambling. Her ideas and cigarette-smoking appealed to him as a cocktail does to a youth, on first going among men.

"Smoking is part of my business façade, erected so that my opponents shan't discover my old bush simplicity."

"Freda, please don't say anything interesting till I get the washing-up done," pleaded Laleen from the doorway and the grand turmoil of clearing the table. Mrs Gambol did no stay to wash up.

"I'll come and wipe, and we'll have a nice opportunity for a talk. Aubrey can help too if he's good."

"Good-o! Bonzer!"

"We couldn't let a visitor wash up," said Philippa.

"Blanche is such a great housekeeper no one can do anything to satisfy her," said Mrs Mazere, comfortably subsiding into a chair in the front room. She liked to escape from the "womanly" piffle.

"Those kind of soft words," said Blanche, "are just to run me on to work my life to the bone while others sit down and talk."

"They all rush to the little bit of work because it is more pleasurable than the kind of talk which is the alternative, and as there is such competition for the pleasure, let them have it, while you and I have a little talk," said Freda, drawing Laleen's arm through hers and going into the back garden.

"It doesn't take much persuading for Laleen to leave work to others." Blanche's voice followed, infuriating Laleen.

"I'd easily do the work if you'd get out of the way."

"While I'm the one in the position of responsibility I must see that things go right." Blanche's housekeeping was never done under a bushel. Certain of her indispensability, she was everywhere, bustling, and fault-finding if possible.

A furious jazz record screeched from the adjoining house hack. Any time from 7 a.m. till 10 p.m. or later some awful sound could be heard as of performances in lunatic asylums recorded for the entertainment of illiterate morons outside the walls.

"Good heavens, poor Dick!" exclaimed Freda.

"I ought to go back and help. Blanche will be in a state."

"If you took the work away from Blanche she would be derelict. These women of stupendous energy or restlessness and no interest but the petty mechanics of existence, and not enough of them to occupy them, are a problem, and I do think it's time that as a nation we put more of our women to something else. We want others besides charwomen, so I'm glad to hear you are turning to writing."

"I want to do a long book."

"Fine! Stick to it. You'll need courage and industry. It means work as you have never known it."

"I have Ignez Milford's book all about Oswald's Ridges where we all used to live. She must have had time to write."

"Ah," said Freda softly. "She was wonderful, for she had no one to help her. But she went away and never came hack--and she never wrote another book."

"I wonder why."

"She once told me that she could not afford to. She had to earn her living, and she mistakenly took up causes that devoured her."

"Tell me about her."

"Some day when we are to ourselves. Let's talk about your intentions tonight. Writing books is a full-life job, only people are too ignorant to realize it. If you haven't it in you, you are still young enough to start something else; and there is always marriage."

"Any dud can get married. I want to do something worth while and get away from here."

"Time is on your side--go to! Will Dick get the quiet that will save him?"

"Oh, Dick is Blanche's pet, and men aren't supposed to scratch all day on housework, whether it needs doing or not."

"Laleen, you're monopolizing Freda, and keeping her out in the cold." It was Blanche's voice.

"I have been monopolizing Laleen."

The girl glowed. Freda always filled her with inspiration and could even point out the funny angle of Blanche. Freda had that effect on various friends scattered around the globe, from Chicago via London to Beograd, and back by Cawnpore to Rotaru and Queanbeyan and Bool Bool.

"Oh, I am glad you have come home again, Freda--and Dick too, just in the nick of time."

"I hope Laleen won't pick up smoking from Freda," said Blanche to the "front" room.

"She might pick up something worse from someone else," said Laleen's mother, and turned again to the men, who were discussing the villainy of the State Labour Government.

"I know for a positive fact," said Bob James, "of one publican who gave the Premier £8000 as a bribe against prohibition. There's not any job you can go into now that doesn't demand that sort of thing. If you are not ready to put your hand in your pocket, you'll never get a position of any sort, and after you get it you'd stay at the foot of the tree for ever if you didn't bribe your way up."

"It's the only way to success," agreed Aubrey. "Look at all these fellows, H--- and C--- and L---. They all have grand places, which they couldn't have bought out of their screw while in Parliament."

The commotion of clearing away had taken the women to the back of the house. Freda, coming in, saw the danger of being marooned in the trivial clack of cake recipes and primitive fancy-work, such as bead necklaces or covers to keep the flies out of the milk, which led with gusto to cases of diabetes or nervous troubles--even corns, if no major disablement was available, and the more shot with scandal the better. They had not progressed in cultural interests since years before she had repudiated the hated round as filling her mind with fat hen and nettles.

Freda preferred the men. When they talked wool, it was a subject on which Australia had commanded world respect. Their politics, though of the Bumble school, were less dispiriting than the women's gloatings on illnesses.

Les Olliver manoeuvred Laleen to the front veranda to woo her with chocolates. Young people's amours were as exciting to Dot as news of a dramatic masterpiece to her daughter.

"Anything in that?" she asked Blanche, her eyes glistening.

"He'd at least steady her and provide the common sense and unselfishness."

"Is Laleen selfish?" asked Freda quizzically, her mind on some move to escape from the women to the front room.

"She wants to write now, and she doesn't care how the work gets done."

"But you care only how the housework gets done--that is, you care only for your concerns too."

"But Laleen's young and ought to take her share. I've borne the heat and burden all my life."

"If she is to succeed in writing it will take all her time."

"Why doesn't she go in for teaching or nursing or something substantial?"

"I'm relieved to see one of our old tribe attempting to be something but a charwoman."

"I'm sure I've always tried to be a lady," said Philippa, with gentle injury.

"What I mean is that if there was a budding Madame Curie, or a female Pasteur or Einstein, or a Charlotte Brontë, in Australia, she'd still be compelled to be a charwoman; it's the supreme preoccupation of my countrywomen."

"That's not true," said Blanche. "Several of the Bool Bool Saunders are nurses."

"That's only a glorified and certificated charwoman. Twenty years ago when a respectable girl wanted to escape from the home or domestic service or marriage, her only bent was hospital nursing, because it was what she and every female since Australia was founded was driven to in the home. It is depressing still to find it the chief outlet. Other countries are beginning to use women's capabilities in ever so many ways. Here you are still all charwomen--that expresses it."

"I'm sure, to be a nurse is a wonderful thing. If you were ill you'd be very glad to have one," said Philippa. "They would be hurt to hear you disparage them, and there are not nearly enough."

"It doesn't speak well for transplantation to a whole new continent if the hospitals and asylums cannot keep up with the needs of the population. No good in displacing the gentle kangaroo for such people as that. As an experiment it would be nice to give Laleen opportunity."

"She can write as much as she likes if she only does h share of the work first."

"But writing is her first work. You want her to do your work and leave her own to odd moments."

"She'll never be a writer. She's too selfish. You mentioned Charlotte Brontë. In that little book of mine it tells that she took the eyes out of the potatoes. You don't become a great writer by selfishness and imposing on others. All the famous geniuses struggled up at great self-sacrifice, that is what made them great."

"I think many more are lost to the world through lack of their own selfishness than through too much of it."

"If it's only selfishness that's needed, Laleen will be well equipped."

"I made no such claims for selfishness per se," said Freda vowing never to discuss anything above tea-cosies in this circle.

"The selfish always attract the unselfish," Blanche charged on like a faucet. It was her custom to bludgeon remarks to death with barnacled platitudes. "Leslie thinks of Laleen all the time, and she is totally indifferent."

"If he pursues Laleen it is, I suppose, for his own satisfaction, not out of philanthropy for Laleen."

"I see she has you on her side, no matter what she does."

"I hope the child will get her talent out of the napkin of household mechanics that has buried so much talent in the other female members of the old pioneer families. If, with the smaller families, and all the conveniences of town cottages, you can't liberate one of your sex, I think you are thunderingly inefficient housekeepers."

"Talent is no excuse for riding roughshod over others that have borne the heat and burden of the day without sparing themselves. You may say I am only an old dud without any brains, but you can put that to all the great people that you think so much of, and they'll agree with me. If Laleen thought of others, she'd find all this genius that you talk about would take care of itself. I've had to sacrifice my life. I've never had a moment to think of myself in all my life."

"Leslie is like Old Dog Tray," interposed Philippa, in an attempt to soften matters. "Laleen thinks she doesn't like him, but girls generally dislike the man they marry at first. It's funny, too, how people who are direct opposites are always attracted before marriage, and then don't have anything in common afterwards. Now, Freda, how do you account for that?"

"Oh well, one doesn't need to be an iconoclast to realize that marriage will have to be drastically reformed or superseded."

"Of course, I know you smoke, but surely you don't hold Iii such loose views as that," said Blanche in horror. "I think this easy divorce is ruining the country. Do away with marriage, and what would the women do when they get old? The men would be only too glad to get rid of them and get new ones."

"I hope I'll never fall so low as to live on or with a man when I have become obnoxious to him, and he kept me only because compelled."

"If there wasn't marriage to protect women--Here's Freda giving the most immoral views, what do you say to her?" demanded Blanche of Mrs Healey.

"I cannot be responsible for her. I've learnt to hold my tongue and take a back seat."

"Freda doesn't mean what she says," said Philippa. "But now we must change the subject or the men might hear, and I suppose I'm old-fashioned, but I don't like talking all sorts of subjects before men."

"You must be glad to have Dick back again," said Freda, scorning herself for attempting discussion. "Would you have known him?"

"I was so shocked that I nearly fainted. He looks as if he had one foot in the grave already. Poor Dick! He'll go the way of Allan and Sylvia. I must take him to a doctor as soon as I can persuade him."

"But he doesn't believe in medicine or doctors."

"That silly Christian Science rubbish! I think it's awful not to be able to get good medical advice and do something for those we love. I should have to change my whole nature before I could be callous when anyone is suffering. You don believe in this all-is-mind bosh, do you? We can't deny the facts of pain."

"You and I may not be able to, but think how marvellous for those who can."

"The beans were so beautifully fine tonight: do you have a special cutter?" inquired Dot.

"No," said Philippa. "I use a sharp knife."

"It's waste of time to cut them so fine," said Blanche. "Oh no, I do like to have things nice, and they taste ever so much better."

Supposing they did, thought Freda, what difference would it make in that circle, or any other? Blanche and her mother were not long to be diverted from their most absorbing interest.

"Poor Aunt Jane doesn't recover very fast from her operation."

"How could she expect to. She showed me the wound. They had ripped her open from..." Blanche illustrated, lingering on the details. Dot outdid her with another case. They were engrossed in what Aubrey termed an organ recital--of the organs lost to the scalpel. Freda escaped to the veranda and the glory of the jewelled sky, which she now had to herself. Laleen had gone inside lest Leslie should accompany chocs with ardour.

The white trumpets of arum lilies showed in the shadow and the crisp dry night was sanctified with freesia, narcissus and violet. Such beds of violets, big blossoms among a wealth of leaves, she never saw elsewhere except at Cape Town. Everywhere, from Chicago to Paris, violets were vended in tight bundles, mostly guiltless of perfume, but these had the old English scent.

"Thank God for the violets, at least for the violets," she breathed. She could have weathered the absence of mental pabulum for a year or two, but accompanied by a nagging antagonism it produced a stifling spiritual aridity. What injury had been wrought the souls of her mother and Blanche, which nothing could appease? Blanche, Philippa, and her mother had all the virtues, observed all the respectable conventions, while in her there was a wild desire to play with temptations as well as with philosophical flights in the upper air. They could never be initiated into her contacts, had no urge that way, consequently no sympathy. They were too set, too circumscribed by environment to change. The onus was upon her to adjust herself while with them.

A crisp tang of frost was refreshing after the hot midday sun. "Give me a reservoir of tolerance and patience," she prayed, and remained out on the veranda alone.

III

The treeless road and the coarse dry grass of the sidewalks were suddenly illuminated by the arrogant headlights of a limousine as it passed in its own darkness and stopped in front of the house beyond. The driver inquired for the Mazeres.

"Someone from the auto show coming to sell you a car," Freda remarked to the room behind her, but it did not penetrate Bob James's stentorian pronouncement that it is against nature for women to think they could take men's places, and Laleen's aside that women had never been such cuckoo billy-goats as to want to, when their own place was so much nicer. A man stepped to the door without discerning Freda, and knocked. Blanche came and switched on the veranda light. "A friend of Mr Mazere," said the caller. "I'll bring her in." He turned back towards the car, but not before he had flashed a smile at Laleen, who had come to the door behind Blanche. Laleen's quick glance captured the elegance of a tall young man with fur on his coat collar, and fur gloves, as if it were Canada--and white spats twinkling in the murk. Where the light fell full she saw the brown of his eyes matched by his tie as he removed his hat and kept it off with bravura. Excitement shot her pulses. Surely this was no chauffeur or mere married man! Disappointing if he had a young wife and a baby!

Nothing mattered in all the universe, not the Yankee time-payment seduction that was bleeding the country white, or the terrible drought that was excoriating the West, or the Labour Government that was sinking the State in bribery and corruption, or the intransigence of her family towards her genius. Instantaneous illiquation removed all pestiferations till she should know who was the young man, and if he were free from the shackles of matrimony. There surely could be nothing so dull connected with this shining radiance.

Leslie Olliver, who stood behind Laleen, saw a girlified dude who took off his hat and "grinned like a goanna eating fat".

"He looks like one of the aides from Government House whispered Laleen ecstatically.

"Looks like a dolled-up pup, and he must have rheumatism in the ankles--all bound up in white rag. Some Yank or pommy trying to sell wireless sets or hair oil to dodge work and bleed us a little whiter," muttered Leslie.

Laleen ignored this disparagement, her cool young heart accelerated, her ears strained for news from the front. The young man was holding the gate open for a figure, larger, more effulgent than any Laleen had known. Her coat was of fabulous fur like those in the books of modes that Dick had sometimes sent from London or Paris. Jewels gleamed in amazing curls and at the opening at her throat. Who on earth--surely not the young man's wife!

"Madame Austra," said the gorgeous young man, with flourish proper to a prima donna.

"Not Austra, here?" said a marvellously placed voice. "It's only Mollye Brennan from Bool Bool, looking for her old playmate Dicky Mazere. Are you Blanche?"

"Yes. Is it really Mollye! So grand, you take my breath away!"

"It takes mine away, Blanche darling, to see you again and hear you call me by name."

Blanche was enveloped in such a perfumed smothering hug as she had never previously known. "See who's here!" she said, still in affectionate embrace, as she towed her prize before the company. Introductions. There was not room for all the guests in the front room, cluttered as it was with tables, pictures, photographs. A stir went through the gathering. A miracle was happening. Something outside the realm of ordinary routine as when a queen appears. This one dropped, too, as a beneficent surprise without the travail of preparation.

"You can't remember me," said Mrs Healey, animated and good-tempered as was her wont until people became familiar.

"I remember every one of the dear old Bool Bool folks, if you'll only start me off...Of course, the champion lady rider, you used to be. Do you ever ride now?"

"Marriage soon took that and everything else out of me!" Larry looked as though marriage had been no more enriching to him, but the point flattened unnoticed as Mollye renewed connections.

"It is heaven to see you all again! I must pay respects to Dick as a fellow artist. I had your poems with me, Dick, all the way from London. I hope you are not going to be as unamiable as you were last time I asked you for something." Eager inquiries.

"Oh, it was at old Mrs Mazere's funeral at Three Rivers, and I wanted Dick to kiss me, and he pinched me instead, when no one was looking."

"The ungentlemanly brute!" exclaimed Aubrey.

"That was Freda who wanted to kiss him, and then howled when he did," said Blanche, the family chronicler, with a phonographic memory for incidents and dates. Freda said nothing. She had worked in circles which reveal that as history ripens the plums in anecdotes are often transferred from the lesser to the greater stars.

"I expect it was both of them," said Uncle Erik in his hearty way. "The boot is on the other foot now, and I bet Dick could howl like a dingo without awakening your pity. How about it, Freda?"

"To find he was a Mormon freezes my interest."

"Au contraire, I'm intrigued to find he was so all-conquering," said Mollye, giving Dick the honours in her glances. "No woman appreciates her inamorato being a chimpanzee t hat other ladies would flee from." She caught sight of Laleen. "Come here, you lovely thing, and tell me who you are. A Mazere I can see, and the image of Sylvia."

Laleen stepped out of prosaic life into a fairy-tale to this resplendent being in the golden slippers and jewels and famous furs, and with a train of gleaming tissue slipping on the carpet under her coat. Her joyous confidence, the celebrity, the magnificence of her career were an embodiment of glory.

Blanche explained the relationship, adding, "She is supposed to be the image of great-aunt Emily, who was drowned."

"She is like a wind-flower. Tell me, do you sing?"

"Not much. I write, at least I try to."

"As long as you do something! What I deplore in Australia is the wasted talent for want of opportunity and contact. Are you a second Dick? Why don't you write the libretto of the Australian opera, and Mr Horan will compose it. Nathaniel, where are you keeping yourself?"

Nathaniel came forward. "Miss Mazere. Everybody. Mr I loran!" Bows, murmurs, and some handshakes. "Mr Horan is by way of being a composer."

So, he was a real celebrity! Mr Horan was quite a composer. His face had some years earlier illustrated native journals. He had had the enthusiastic initial Australian appreciation and support. He had been well received in London. Fortunes in his line are not, however, so furiously made, and he was delighted to come out to meet Austra and go on tour with her.

"I'll take a chair into the hall," said Laleen.

"Allow me," said the prodigy. Leslie was a good soldier and followed. "Are you a musician or a poet?"

"Neither. I'm a sheep man with a little dairying," said Leslie bravely.

"At the foundation of things," said Horan charmingly.

"I reckon I'm pulling my weight. Butter and wool are staple industries." Leslie was willing to be discursive. Horan was prepared to assist him. He had social charm, resting on the phenomenon that for a celebrity he was not for ever boosting himself, but Laleen was not going to permit the intrusion of the bear in her first fairy story.

"It must be divine to travel all round the world," she breathed.

"I suppose you'll be at the concert," he replied.

Laleen was ashamed that they were too poor to go. "All the tickets are gone," she said lamely.

"Why didn't you tell me in time?" said Leslie.

"Shall you play any of your own compositions?"

"Yes. Madame is very good. I am to play two of my own and she wants to sing two of your brother's songs to my settings. That is what she has come for."

"How heavenly!"

"There is nothing to prevent a great Australian opera. We have all the ingredients," Austra was saying. "We need something like that to put us on the map of art as wool has put us on the commercial map."

Dick agreed, more talkative than he had been since his arrival. "When people in England say that we have wool in our brains and can produce rank-and-file soldiers, but only tenth-rate politicians and writers that are insignificant echoes of the parent stock, I have always maintained that a people who can do those other things well could also produce some of the most sincere and characteristic drama if they were seized with the idea."

"Oh, Dick! I'm so glad you feel like that too."

"I'm glad you are a good patriot," said Blanche. "So Australians do nothing but criticize their own country."

"Yes, if we'd only praise it," Philippa hastened into the opening. "Others will think the same. It's just what people say that makes other people think the same."

Mollye said, "Well, I'm on the way to a ball. Her Excellency got hold of me, and I mustn't intrude too long on your joyous reunion. Though I am nearest after the family proper."

"Your great-grandmother and ours were as dear as sisters," said Blanche.

"That is history...Dick, can you come tomorrow and hear which versions you like best? I'll send the car for you and Blanche, and you must stay for lunch. I'll see you all at the concert, if not before."

Murmurs about all the tickets being sold.

"It would break my heart right in two if one of you was absent. Nat, tell Miss Gay. The whole family must hear Dick's songs." Laleen could not believe her ears. It was intoxicating to see a miracle bearing fruit. Mollye rose in all her splendour, exchanged jocular remarks with the Labosseer uncles, and accepted an invitation to stay at Coolooluk. She moved towards the door and Laleen. "Bring this pretty thing with you tomorrow."

It could not be true. It was like floating on air. Only Leslie was not so elated. Mollye chucked Laleen on the chin and stooped forward and kissed her, leaving the girl entranced and worshipful.

They all went out to see the visitors into the peripatetic boudoir. Horan spoke to Oliver about the best road back to town, and the latter offered to point out the way. He was mesmerized into examining this glittering rival at close quarters. He stepped into the car and called "Ta-ta!" Mollye left them all aglow with interest and enjoyment, such was the vitality, the good-nature of her big personality, such the power of a spark of greatness to leaven the ordinary.

IV

Much reminiscence ensued.

"Her grandfather, old Tim Brennan of The Gap, was madly in love with our great-aunt Emily," said Blanche.

"Didn't she care for him?"

"No. She was madly in love with old Bert Poole of Curradoobidgee. You remember them all, don't you, Uncle Erik?"

"I'd be very gone in the upper storey if I didn't. Ghost! She's a real Brennan in every way."

"Yes, isn't she?" said Dad. "Old Mother Brennan of The Gap was just such another, only she hadn't this style and polish. By Jove, this men be a big woman in another ten years."

"She's supposed to be the image of the one who became a nun because she couldn't marry Bert Poole," added Blanche. "Tell me more," said Laleen, till that moment contemptuous of amorous romances.

"I thought love stories were quite out of date," said Freda.

"If Laleen wants to write a story, I reckon she couldn't do better than take the history of the old days of the Mazeres and Brennans at the time of the drowning of Emily,"* said, Uncle Erik. "All the young fellows, Mollye's granddad and your uncle, and Dad too, Larry, and all the old Saunderses and Stantons, were mad after Emily: and all the girls, Emily included, were mad after old Bert Poole of Curradoobidgee, who married Milly Saunders in the end."

[* See Up the Country.]

"Didn't any of the pairs love the right ones?"

"They all got sorted out in the end," said Larry.

"It was as well one way as another. They probably found that whoever they married it was the wrong one," said his wife.

"They didn't all sort themselves," said Uncle Erik. "Emily was drowned and Mary Brennan became a nun, and Jack Stanton and Bert Poole hung on the hooks till they made fools of themselves marrying children."

"My sister Aileen had to marry old Jack Stanton Skinny Guts because of his money bags," contributed Larry. "It was supposed to break her heart at the time, but she got fat on it, so there's no sense in dragging old dogs from their kennels at this date." He fell absent concerning one dog that had remained in its kennel--the facts of his receiving the deep scar on his temple and the crushed thorax which tortured and prematurely bent his tall willowy form. It had been through loving a girl too much--not his wife. It had been Milly Saunders.

An old wound pricked ever so slightly when Dick remarked, "At any rate Milly Saunders was as happy as heaven with Bert Poole. When Ignez Milford lived with us she was never done telling us about them."

"That was Ignez," Blanche disparaged.

"I never knew anyone to tell a thing as true as Ignez," said Freda.

"She and Milly Saunders were equally good at pretending and imagining things that never happened," said Mrs Healey contemptuously, but Laleen had much more respect for the possibilities of love in the last half-hour than ever previously.

"You'll have to cut love out as I have done, Laleen, or you might find yourself in the wrong pair," said Freda.

"How can she cut love out with poor old Les looking at her like a--"

"Billy-goat! He's cuckoo," interposed Laleen impatiently. "That's how it looks exactly, when it's unwelcome, so beware," added Aubrey.

V

Uncles Erik and Sylvester left about ten-thirty and Bob James went with them. Aubrey, Dick, Blanche, and Laleen escorted them to the train. The Healeys went the same way, as they lived about a mile distant.

"Bring Miss Healey in some evening and we'll have dinner and go to the theatre," said Bob, as the train was drawing in.

"I'll tell Blanche," said Laleen. "I haven't a minute to spare."

"Blanche is such a home bird," he murmured.

"Yes, she is, but I think she'll go if you ask her prettily."

Freda put her parents into the bus, and Dick singled her out and called out to Blanche that he would take a walk. Blanche said she would go too. "You'll go with me, then," whispered Aubrey, chuckling. "Freda doesn't want you."

"I don't want her either."

"But Dick doesn't want us, and he does want Freda."

"You don't mean--" began Blanche, like a dog on the scent of a rabbit.

"I thought that would get a bite," said Aubrey with renewed chuckling, against which Blanche knew it was useless to struggle. Freda and Dick proceeded under the railway bridge hand in hand like children. "Fancy my not knowing you on the Ballyphule. You robbed me of all those weeks."

"I feel the same. I was taken for Meyers by bad writing and I let it go, but why were you Miss Timson?"

"I am known under my own name, and used another to see things as they really are on a migrant ship. I thought my name was Timson till I was quite an age."

Dick hazily recalled something irregular about Freda's infancy.* Blanche could inform him, but he would never allow her to mention the subject. "I met you as a stranger and have missed you every day since."

[* See Ten Creeks Run.]

"It's nice to hear that," she said unaffectedly, "because it was the most delightful surprise to see Mr Meyers turn into Dick Mazere. By the way, you were married, weren't you?"

"Yes. It wasn't a success. I did not suit my wife, so the marriage was dissolved. It is a relief to hear that I did not hold her up too long to make a fresh start."

"Any children?"

"One girl. She wasn't six when I left New York for the war in 1915. Her mother wanted her, and I could not dispute that.

"And now you are free to write--I envy you."

"How about yourself and love or marriage?"

"Never was in a position to give way to it. My first love," she continued lightly, "was a young poet named Dick Mazere. Do you remember when Ignez Milford used to take us to She-oak Ridge to write in the old cockatoo days of Oswald's Ridges? I used to adore you with all my childish affection."

"I used to worship Ignez in the same way, I guess."

"How long did you remember her? You were nearer maturity."

"Faded in the stress of events. I remember her more clearly now, when you recall her. She was a brave, vivid creature."

"Not coarse enough to battle from an environment so removed from art. My own case has been similar. Let's hope Laleen escapes."

"Allan and Sylvia died so young. I miss them."

"Allan was my second love after you and Ignez deserted and left me all alone--that was a tussle for me."

"Poor little kid. How did you escape eventually?"

"Sort of ran away, and poor old Dad said I must be 1et go. I cannot imagine anything more sad than coming back after long absence and finding so many gaps among the young, and the old so very old, and so sad and sour. The mental possibilities are undeveloped, and they are without resources. They are a scourge to anyone responsible for them who wishes to lead a life of anything but animal restlessness. Laleen is the only hope, and they hamper and worry child instead of helping her to her bent."

"I wish I could feel that youth again. Life used to be tough sometimes, but right across our track was a fairyland to be realized in the immediate future. Nevertheless there is only the ever-present and glorious here and now. 'What you see, hear, feel, is a mode of consciousness, and can have no other reality than the sense you entertain of it."

"Yes, it is dangerous to rest upon the evidence of the senses." She smiled at him in the light of the street lamp before her door, where stately camellia bushes held guard.

"I can't keep my eyes off the Southern Cross."

"If you can keep your eyes on the stars and your ears deaf to disharmony, you will...well...God will be with you."

"You will let me have as much of your companionship as you can spare."

"That will be following my inclination."

He stood a few minutes holding her hand, breathing the fragrance distilled by the cream plush blossoms of the loquots, which appeared uninvited in every plot, and were allowed to remain for their pretty manners.

VI

He took a detour of meditation and reached home at midnight. Blanche was waiting up for him with a rich supper. "Blanche, dearest, I never eat anything after my evening meal.

"But I'm going to feed you up in your own home and make you put on weight."

"I don't need to put on weight."

"What is the good of all my cooking if you won't eat it?"

"There are so many things to read and think that are better than superfluous cooking."

"I read when I have time."

"The point is that you must have time."

"You don't understand a woman's work and how constant it is."

"Well, at least, no cake-making for me."

"But with cake-making I have to keep in practice."

"If it is necessary for you to keep in training, that is another matter, but I never eat cake."

"Well, I am disappointed."

"Sorry, sis."

"Isn't Mollye wonderful, yet as friendly as she was as a little girl, and Dick, I believe she is in love with you."

"Oh, sis, none of those provincial ideas of love--please! She has done me a vast honour to choose my little songs. There's a great deal of that sort of exchange among artists and writers."

"A great deal of the other thing, too! You can't fool me!"

"Not in this case. You shouldn't have waited up," said Dick firmly, departing for the night.

"Don't get up. I'll take your breakfast in."

"I'd rather see you resting."

"I don't expect any rest unless in my grave." Blanche retired to the room she was sharing with Philippa, and waked her to discuss apparel for the morrow. Philippa chased this hare with unpunctured amiability till Blanche complained. "If you don't stop chattering, I'll get no sleep and look a washed-out wreck tomorrow."

"There's no need for you to get up in the morning, Blanche. You know I always do."

VII

For Laleen life was enmeshed in a rainbow at the end of which was--is there anything that man has dreamed since dreams were his, not to be found at the end of youth's rainbow? Sleep was banished for hours. Horan was not married. The name sounded Roman Catholic, but what is a mere difference of label in the early glamour of young love, with beauty and romantic setting to generate enchantment? And tomorrow, tomorrow! The sheer adventure of tomorrows!

Not so glorious to Les Olliver. He attributed his wakefulness to the racket of the trams while his mind ran on that blooming dude with the rags around his ankles like a racing colt, and hands as white as a girl's...that pompadour in his hair! No real man's hair grew like that. It was like those permanent kinks the girls had cooked into their shingles at the paint and powder shops. And his collar, with a hem-stitched edge, fit for a girl, only girls didn't wear collars within a mile of their necks.

Of course the fellow was entertaining and polite, and could drive a car like hell. Just the sort of stinker Laleen would fall for, blow him! Leslie set his mind on the farm at Oswald's Ridges, via Goulburn, to the end that the dairying and ploughing might admit of a day's run down again for the Austra concert. It was scarcely feasible. By George, if he could get Dick up to write at his place, for the quiet! That would be the peg to hang things upon!

Then Leslie slept, with the bellow of the steamers in the Harbour as lullaby.


CHAPTER VI

I

Next morning was frosty, even in Sydney, the sky fleckless with white sunshine and devoid of moisture that might go inland to break the drought and relieve the travail of the grim north-west. Dick awakened to the memory of sheep being tortured for commerce. He could see the light and dusty clip falling away from the combs, and the miserable little bodies, robbed of their last comfort in their warm coats, staggering out into the sirocco to perish of hunger and cold, the rapacious wind sifting the dust over them in natural burial.

Larry Healey, Freda's father, had been wont to declaim, as he ploughed in the dust nearly thirty years before, that it was an ignorant and inefficient people who were too improvident to store from the years of plenty. This was now voiced with increasing authority. The droughts were not as set as the six months of iron weather which every year gripped a great part of the continent of North America, and surplus fodder grew in Australia by the thousand square acres with old Nature herself sowing the seed and irrigating it. "But the books show," said the big syndicates, "that it is cheaper to let the sheep die and breed up again in a few years, than to spend perhaps more than their value in labour and fodder sustaining them in lean years." This course was pursued in the interests of dividends regardless of consequences to the face of the earth, and free of control excepting such as the trade unions could impose. The torture to frail dumb animals, in their failing strength left by crows with bloody vacant eyeballs for the last agony, did not show on the big land syndicates' ledgers--yet. It showed in the register of man's stupidity, which in cycles leaves thousands of himself mutilated on some field, no more considered commercially than the sheep and cattle fallen in the droughts.

It was glorious weather in Sydney, however pettifogging housewives might whine about the dust. The sun sparkled all day without a cloud. The waters of the Harbour reflected the deep blue of the skies. The spray rose and fell, rose and fell, as it does for ever, even on the calmest Pacific days, about the feet of the majestic gateway to the sea and all the other magnificent ramparts of rock which are the splendour of that coast.

"I hate to have struck a drought for my return," said Austra to Nat Horan next morning, when, fresh and efficient, she began practice. "It puts a shade on everything and will be bad for business."

"Oh, there's always a drought! I don't see why they don't build public silos or something--general fodder conservation like water conservation." Nat's roots were in the city, Mollye was of the squattocracy. The season had always been a vital issue to her and hers.

She welcomed her guests effusively when they arrived. Horan was in the background as far as the elders noted, but to Laleen he towered like the expensive flat building called the Rockefeller where Mollye was established.

"Business first, Blanche darling. You can go on the roof with a book, or perhaps you would prefer to stay here."

"I'll stay in this nice chair. It's not often I get a chance to have a little rest."

"No. I expect you are full of mother tricks and self-sacrifice. Laleen can get points for this opera she has to write, and Dick is to hear what we do with his songs."

Nat opened a manuscript score and played a little prelude, sweet and sibilant, and as original as seems possible to musical composition in this century. Mollye sat beside him and sang in half voice:

"The she-oaks sigh, and sigh, all down the slope,
And life, my Own, sinks with the molten sun:
The wild ducks circling, cry the day is done,
And I'm alone, darkly withdrawn from hope.
The she-oaks sigh, their mourning voices grey,
Matching the aching dusk, where all is still,
Save campwards sheep upon the middle hill
Lament with me that you are far away.
The she-oaks mourn, yet wait again the sun,
The wild ducks nestle on the water's breast:
For me alone there is nor peace nor rest,
From gnawing void of parting here begun.
My love has gone, has gone, the she-oaks sigh.
The cold high stars refuse their peace.--Good-bye!"

Laleen was absorbed in the accompanist. Blanche noted details. Mollye was in a dead-black gown, and she had green jade pins in her hair, green slippers on black-stockinged feet. This was a sensation to Blanche, capped by discerning a green garter on the prima-donna's ample but shapely leg.

Dick's mind* was in the past on She-oak Ridge in the back paddock of his boyhood where that song (his first) had come to birth in a school exercise-book. Mollye was regal, glowing, all her heart calling out to him, but imagination, greater than reality, had engulfed him. He could more poignantly visualize Ignez Milford sitting against a little scrub oak writing a book about Nita, the girl who had broken the bonds of fate. In the way of make-believe, Ignez had probably created the creature she herself wished to be. Ignez! She had sat among the scrub oaks and written a book which after a generation was not forgotten! Freda, too, had been a little black-haired elf writing under her she-oak in imitation of Ignez. Blanche had been in it, too, but only to disrupt the literary society by suspicions as repugnant to Dick as those she would attribute to him and Mollye now.

[* See Cockatoos.]

It was all so long ago. He had forgotten Ignez and her imaginative inspiration to his adolescence, but her influence had been indelible. Wonderful Ignez, to have set out to write in the teeth of everyone, till routed by Blanche. Here, over twenty years later, Laleen had the same old struggle to break free. And yet Blanche was a self-sacrificing saint! A mother to them all. Poor old Blanche! Sweet little Laleen!

Blanche's eyes were popping as she inventoried the rugs and divans, the autographed photographs of the mighty. It was the most luxurious establishment she had entered on terms of such intimacy. Thus to be hob-nobbing with the celebrity of the hour put her on a ledge above any of her circle. She wove a romance for Mollye and Dick. She was to be in its reflected glory through her precious Dick. That American marriage, now dissolved, had never seemed actual. Mollye was an B.C., and Blanche's Protestantism was as staunch as her anti-labour politics, but neither the Mazeres nor Brennans had ever been so bigoted as many. When the Brennans declaimed against Protestants, they excepted the Mazeres, and vice versa. Close association between the families had illustrated that persons of both creeds could be equally desirable.

"Do you like it?" Mollye inquired. Dick was caught with absent gaze. "I'll sing it again."

"Please do."

"The she-oaks sigh..."

Dick was back again on the Ridge with Ignez, that girl so full of spiritual fire and tears, a prisoner in unknown wastes artistically, trying to beat her way unguided out of the scrubs of inexperience and uncongeniality. What haven had she reached? People wondered that her brilliant promise had never ripened. That, Dick understood. His own case had been parallel. Not till now was he to have time and peace. Freda, too, though successful in other fields, complained that there was no time nor peace to develop her deeps.

Mollye had succeeded in toto, though she had had to force her way from a similar environment. But her grandmother and mother before her had both sung beautifully at concerts and church bazaars--stepping-stones for Mollye. Ignez had had no one about her with a shred of her own talent, nor the culture to appraise it. And singing was a readily appreciated art, Mollye a better weight for crashing through the scrub. Once in the grief of parting Ignez had put her arms around Dick's neck and he had gripped her wildly in his innocent adolescent arms--an experience never duplicated in that she had seemed to wilt like some fine silken thing. Dick had attributed this to the delicacy of womanhood, but no later woman had ever felt like that. He had been surprised to find them of substance and hardness.

Thus Ignez had stayed in his memory as a wraith to dissolve in the grasp of ruthless reality. Out of her wraith-like memory she had bequeathed Freda--and Laleen. Laleen must have her chance while courage was unbroken and impossibility unknown.

Mollye let her great organ out a little. No wraith she, but a splendid hippopotamus to crash through anything. Dick's contacts with women, though respectable, told him she was scientifically girthed and braced. Give her another ten years or so, and she would be enormous. She wouldn't melt in his arms. By Jove, he wouldn't like to carry her far, and her great firm hands--she could lay a man out with a blow if she disapproved of him. Ignez's little hand had been so frail that she winced when hearty souls squeezed it too firmly. She had complained that her fingers were so stiff with rough work that it hurt her to play the piano. Mollye's hands had never been roughened by charing...By Jove, how did they find tenors to look anything but a midget beside her?

"Do you want me to sing it once again?" Mollye smiled with hearty good-nature based on thrilling health and strength, and flowering affections.

"I don't think it is good enough to be sung in public--the words, I mean. I could make a better job of it now."

He fell to reflection again. He might make a better attempt at craftsmanship, but the emotional spring from which it had spread as perfume from a flower--could he ever feel the same again! The red sun behind She-oak Ridge had filled him with exquisite melancholy, a melancholy that thrilled. He must go hack there and poke around. He could find his way in the dark to the pipeclay hole made by an uprooted gum-tree and sheltered by tussocks from which the kangaroo rats hopped forth. The gold of the wattle, the purple of the indigo and woodbine in spring. He recalled his grief when the wattles were stripped and left to die by wattle-bark invaders. The blood, in the form of exquisite edible gum, had hung in sheets. The button birds chimed overhead, with the soldier birds. Fields of blue orchids grew below. Shafts of sunlight fell on a sea of hop scrub all golden brown with bloom. The little koalas ran across the track with their babies on their backs. Geebung trees. Ground berries. Wild cherries. Sour currants. The scrub oaks with their carpets of dry needles, their quaint acorns full of seeds, their mournful sighing which had set him dreaming of romance and adventure, or fame, or of beltane tourneys long ago. The whole gamut of adolescent dreams had its keynote in that sighing. He had travelled far emotionally since then, but the world had never yielded what he had heard in the voice of the drab casuarinas in the back paddock at Oswald's Ridges. No releasing love adventure had been his, no excitement of unqualified success. Was there in experience anything more poignantly valuable than the memory of the soughing scrub?

The past re-emerged vividly real. Mollye at hand did not yet seem to exist, nor did Sydney and the sacked park and his family. Imagination as the matrix of all reality must be greater than its products.

He wrenched himself from She-oak Ridge to the domicile of one of the most famous living women. There she was, comely, superb, glowing with an affection that generously included the whole family. It was jolly lucky to be able to give good old Blanche such a pleasure, and Laleen looked like a choice flower in an appropriate vase in such appointments. She was like Sylvia come back from the past, and only a year or so older than his own daughter. (Emotions were a messy mixed grill if one rested in human affection, which was error, illusion.) He had let Elsa have her without protest. A decent man could not snatch a child from her mother when he had failed that mother.

How he had slaved, with failing strength like walking in quicksand, to pay alimony and educate the child! Well, he had investments ripening to cover her university career, and his wife had freed him from alimony by announcing that she would re-marry...He had a whole year to express himself in poetry companioned by his very own, who cared for him.

He thanked Mollye whole-heartedly as she turned towards him, radiant. He rose to meet her, a smile of happiness in his eyes. "Mollye, I thank God and you--and Mr Horan--for this."

She clasped his hands effusively. Blanche saw a blossom as big as a magnolia on the romance.

"Yes. Isn't it wonderful! Now do something on the heroic scale, and yet equally Australian, something that will make us live for that little hour we call for ever. Your work will last when mine will only be an echo."

"You forget the appliances of today."

"Ah well, for Australia then!" Mollye was an ardent patriot of decent complex. "Now, Nat, you play for Laleen, and I'll sing something for Blanche."

Neither Laleen nor Blanche was educated to their offerings, but to be entertained by such artists was delightful.

"Now we'll have a look at the Harbour from the roof, and lunch will be ready."

The Gardens were like a stage setting beneath them, and touched by the grim breath of drought even in this sheltered blood-sucking city. It was a blue day, the waters indescribably beautiful with lines like cattle tracks across them. The oceangoing ships lay intimately in the heart of the city. The little ferries ran back and forth. Tenders dodged about the grey navy. The majestic Heads guarded the opening with the white spray at their base. Beyond flashed the white caps where all the world ways went north. Laleen thrilled with a familiar dream which the last forty-eight hours had brought into the realm of possibility. Great ships and cities and fame and love floated in it--all the shimmering magic of youth's tomorrow, when today is ecstasy.

She was at a far corner of the roof with young Horan of the musical gifts, the social charm, the unexceptionable person. She was too self-conscious to look at him, but hoped he was looking at her.

"Not bad for a flapper," he was thinking condescendingly from his experience. Sister (only half-sister) of the poetaster, who was Madame's latest swan. He was thankful it wasn't the old girl (Blanche) that he had to look after. Madame had a prolific crop of friends with the biddy-biddies in their stockings or whiskers. Madame herself had sprung from the bushwhackers. They had as much inner understanding of the arts as a cow had of caviare, but were ready on the ground of entertainment to shell out for the expensive seats, and therefore to be propitiated. Solid people to fall back upon.

Mollye devoted herself to Blanche and made a rabid partisan. Dick was allowed to moon around. Mollye was used to poets and painters.

Dick gazed towards the Heads hardly conscious of the thread of his reverie. Was he thinking of his previous acquaintance with the Harbour as he had sailed away, with the sinking sun behind and the rising moon ahead, taking a mighty cargo of dreams? What had he brought home in their displacement? Any bigger or better dreams than those unshipped? Rather a realization of the priceless value of the old dreams. To reef himself from the syrtis of the past and catch the ever-present here and now must be his first, his fundamental demonstration.

II

Luncheon was an unqualified success. Madame did not pester Dick with dishes. Blanche wallowed in the appointments and the butler. She had never before been waited on by a private butler. Laleen revelled in the hour, the day, the company--in the very fact of being. It was cruel that such joy should end. She was like a child trying to fend off the sandman's hour, but when the end came there was the joyous anticipation of the next chapter.

"Won't it be joy to be singing something of Dick's?" said Mollye at leave-taking. "Now, don't let the idea of an opera out of your heads, either of you. You must keep them up to it, Blanche. Two geniuses--a considerable handful; but if anyone could manage it, I'm sure it's you, Blanche darling. I only wish I had you to look after me."

Nat smiled at Laleen. "You'd like some of the programmes with your brother's name on them, wouldn't you, and it has a bonzer picture of Madame."

"Oh, lovely! Has it a photograph of you, too?"

"That would be an anticlimax. Would you like one of me?" he inquired, his eyes dancing. He had been pretty boy in a London season, with no lack of ladies and flappers ready to be complaisant if complacency did not arrive, but Laleen was disarmingly fresh and ingenuous; besides, when did a man ever have enough adulation!

"I'd adore one," said Laleen; then blushed and added, "I'd like a photograph of Madame because she is singing Dick's poetry, and one of you because you made the music."

"Not just a little because of myself?" He inserted a seductive note in his voice, and there was a tantalizing lift in his brilliant eyes.

"Of course. I didn't mean to be rude. I beg your pardon."

"You couldn't be rude, though you might break a man's heart."

"Oh no, that would be terrible, I couldn't."

"You couldn't help it."

Long eyelashes drooped on daintily rounded cheeks. Not the first lady to whom he had said that. He could estimate the response to statements of that character as accurately as he could gauge the effect of certain compositions.

"I say, won't you come to my digs where I practise, and I'll play for you?"

"I should love that."

"We must make a definite appointment." He took out a gilt-edged diary, and among the dates pinked out with Madame, practice, swimming, Odette, Dolly, pupils and Tom, wrote Laleen. "I'm making it soon. What about..." Laleen's heart waited for "this afternoon", but he said, "Day after tomorrow, at four o'clock. I'll play anything you like, all for yourself."

Laleen's eyes expressed rapture.

"I'm at home on Sunday afternoon," said Mollye. "I'll have some of the poets and painters. It will be good for Laleen to meet everyone she can...I've put in a real photo for you, dearie, with the programme," Mollye whispered to Laleen, well paid by her delight. Mollye was dashed that Dick had not asked for a programme, but calculated that Laleen would display the photograph where he could not miss it.

She wanted to send them home in her car, but Dick decided to go to the Gardens. Blanche spoke of inspecting the progress of Farmer's new building. They walked across Macquarie Street, Dick longing for solitude, the enchanted Laleen eager for any mention of Horan.

"That Horan fellow is a real flirt by the style of him," remarked Blanche, as a check on Laleen, and then to weightier matters. "Only two pictures on the dining-room wall, and just one vase of flowers, and that dull kind of rugs with no pattern. Didn't you think the place looked rather bare, Dick?"

"I didn't notice particularly."

"Did you notice that quilt, Laleen? Satin on one side and silk on the other."

"It was the books took my eye. I wish I had them."

"The books we have now are too many for the cases, and a nuisance to drag out and dust. You don't read them as it is."

"Oh, those old things! I mean new books by clever people for clever people. Mollye had your poems beside her bed, Dick, and the loveliest reading-lamp I ever saw. Wouldn't it be heaven to curl up in bed, with a lamp like that, and read, and read!"

"I think reading in bed an untidy, slatternly habit. It would worry me. I believe Mollye likes Dick's poems best of all."

"My bits of doggerel may have a place in her collection. Mollye is a good practising Australian."

"Did you like the music to your words?"

"It is so difficult to translate. We can only work in one dimension or two. That is the torment of art."

"Yes, Dick, but also I can't write as quickly as I think. I nearly explode trying to keep up."

"You need self-discipline and composure."

"That is youth." Dick smiled indulgently. "The tumult of surplus vitality. Plenty time to be finicky when the pressure eases."

"What do you think was in that second course--the entree?"

"I didn't taste it."

"The spoons were real silver. They had B on them; they must have been Mollye's. Didn't she take that flat furnished?"

"I never thought about it, sis. You must ask her."

"I wonder if it's going to be the fashion to wear coloured shoes with black stockings?"

Good old Blanche! He was glad she was so entertained.

Laleen was desirous of bringing in Nat's name, but her elders were singularly indifferent.

"Mollye hasn't bobbed her hair, and she's up-to-date."

Blanche clung to the idea that long hair was still a glory in women. Laleen contended that it was now a frowsiness on the plane of the possum beards of bygone bushmen.

"I expect she keeps it as a useful 'property' in some of her roles. You had better go to the shops, sis. It's getting late."

"I don't like leaving you alone."

"I like to be alone."

"But I can't think it's good for you. Are you coming, Laleen?"

"I'm going to see the hothouses," said she, walking resolutely in their direction.

Blanche looked back on her way up the slope and could see Dick sitting in the sunlight, his face, with Captain Phillip's, turned towards the wide southern seas. She suspected Laleen of feinting about the hothouses. Outside the entrance she stood a few minutes, then returned, and sure enough Laleen was returning too. Moreover, Dick had risen to meet her. They rejoined each other eagerly. Oh yes! Blanche knew. There was no trusting people. They were all deceitful. Dick didn't really like this solitude. He only thought he did.

Blanche herself could not endure being alone for half an hour.

Here was a fleck on the dazzling visit to Mollye, but Blanche braced with the determination to prevent Laleen being a tax on Dick. She was only his half-sister and had never before seen him. She was so selfish and eager for notoriety, she did not consider Dick at all. It was a mercy he had come home to herself in time.

The prices of furnishing brocades that she did not require, and picture dresses that she could never wear, took her attention. Then she hurried home before the working crowds. She considered the peak-hour rush dangerous, and resented travellers' tales of those of New York and London being infinitely greater.

Laleen and Dick did not return for the evening meal. Dick found the grand Moreton Bay figs amid the beautiful rocks of the Outer Domain around Mrs Macquarie's Chair. The ocean-going steamers fascinated Laleen. She had never had anyone belonging to her so congenial and interesting as Dick. He had been all around the world and could speak German, and must know so much of life. Now that love had ceased to be foolish or repulsive, he could be questioned under the screen of art.

"In writing one has to know all about life and love. I used to think love foolish, but the poets don't; even you in your poems, Dick?"

"My dear, age cannot speak to youth. We can only love it This world no longer belongs to the old. It belongs to you, Laleen. What do you think of love?"

"I don't know what to think. You've been in love, I haven't."

"The kind of love you suggest is a delusion. One wakes from it as from dreams in the night. Sometimes we wish we could hold them. Other times we are relieved to find it was only a dream. You will probably have to go through with it."

"Isn't there any real and lasting love--not ever?"

"One kind of love is only a delusion of animal magnetism, a fata Morgana. Sometimes when its glow has dimmed, two people miraculously find themselves enjoying a sweet friendship and continue in companionship--they are blessed. Yet again...but it is endlessly controversial. Is there anyone who 'makes the ball so fine' for my little sister?"

"But, Dick, your marriage wasn't happy, was it?"

"No," he answered simply. "When the false glow faded I bored and disappointed my wife."

"I suppose she didn't care for poetry and other things you love."

"She didn't care for poetry...There were bigger reasons."

"Couldn't you tell me?"

"Yes. She would have liked a man more robust in--"

"You mean a sheik, or cave man, like in the movies?"

"I believe that was it, child. She needs to be rich. She is unhappy without a certain kind of social activity, which is purgatory to me. And when the war broke out--her parents were both German, and her sympathies were naturally with the Fatherland--she resented my being British, even though I was against the war altogether, and thought both sides equally mad. Most people did for a long time in the United States till they were worked up by propaganda for the Allies. It was very hard for Elsa in all ways."

"Poor Dicky! What a terrible tragedy for you."

"Not for me so much as for her. I have inner resources. But here I am free at last, home in my own country and family."

"What became of your little girl?"

"Her mother wanted her. She is growing up among all the rich opportunities of the United States; and her mother is shortly to marry again--a suitable and congenial union as far as I can hear. A commercial man who can afford to give his wife all the social activity to be had."

"Thank you for telling me all this. And you are not lonely?"

"How could I be with Blanche and Philippa to care for me, and my new little sister?" He took her hand, and they walked all around the broad path till glances suspecting them as lovers drove them apart.

"I have confided in you, but you still leave me on the outside."

"I haven't anything to confide yet. It was only that I was just thinking." And that Dick quite understood. It was beautiful under the great trees amid the rocks. If only there would be rain in those mighty stretches on which this activity fed! The Mazeres had the country--the bush in their blood. No matter how comfortable the city, they could not be easy while drought was devastating the inland.

"I thought you wanted to be alone, Dick," was Blanche's greeting when they returned to Nanda.

"Laleen and I had so much to say," he replied quite inconsistently.

Laleen went to her room and sat thinking by the open window in spite of the winter nip in the air. Philippa brought a parcel--a box of chocolates. The card read, "From Les." Laleen gave the box for family consumption. Bother Les!


CHAPTER VII

Each day following Dick's arrival had enchantment approaching the miraculous, but Madame Austra's opening concert was to be the time of times to Laleen. She was ready early, in a really truly evening-dress, that could not be adapted for other occasions, and it seemed as if the family would never start. She hoped Dad wouldn't have too many "spots" and do something awful. She wished Mum wasn't so fat, but she was used to her, and adults were mostly peculiar in some way.

Blanche had hired the Ashville car to take them in, and at length they were on the move. In the fullness of time they were at the Town Hall, Laleen seated beside Dick, also in full evening uniform, in which he looked frail and distinguished. They were in the front row, in spite of all tickets being sold so long ago. They were conspicuous with bouquets--Australian bouquets, with wattle and tea-tree and gum tips and boronia and the Nanda violets.

They were ridiculously early. Blanche could not change her bush ways, but it was lovely to see everyone come in. Bob James was heartily welcome when he came and stood in front of them boasting of how he procured a ticket, and pointing out the would-be grandees. Laleen was "just thrilled to bits", and the cold draughts of the civic barn could not chill her lovely young flesh. They were all there at last, all the critics, professional and amateur, all the somebodies who were nobody, and otherwise, all the particularities and generalities--relatives, friends, countrymen, even both sets of vice-regalities. This return to her native hemisphere of the greatest living Brünnhilde was a state affair.

Extra seats were crowded everywhere. The mighty hall, as it appeared to little Laleen, was packed. It buzzed with electric expectation. Every eye looked to the platform, glowing like a mixed flower-bed. Any minute SHE must come! Laleen had never had such a moment. It was like being in Elijah's chariot waiting to start to heaven, only Elijah's chariot was merely glory and release for the old, weary, and ready for heaven, while this was normal ecstasy of youth on the verge of love and fame--oh, everything!

And then SHE came--with NAT. HE was settling himself at the piano with almost supercilious collectedness! Laleen felt like swooning to see him there and to remember that she, Laleen, had been in his private digs only yesterday, and he had played for her alone--and she had told no one but her mother.

Nat swam away in a mist before the effulgence of Mollye: a queen, an empress in her own right, God-given and wholesomely and bravely wrought. She was magnificently gowned and bejewelled. Her deportment was majestic. Her confidence, her good humour completed a personality unequalled. She stood there at HOME, half-smiling, there in her own metropolis graciously awaiting the acclaim that was hers. Such a woman! A sight for the gods even if she never opened her mouth.

Nothing in all human experience can be so intoxicating as the welcome to a great prima-donna returning to lay her wreaths before her own people of her own far land after triumphs in the centres of art. Not that of a prince of a reigning house politically engineered; not that of the warrior over a road of the dead between an avenue of the bereaved; not even a sports idol can be so inebriating. It is for the ecstasy the singer gives and takes, and withal a disarming fame free from legitimate opposition.

To be part of this! To have people pointing to them! Blanche's cup was as full as Laleen's, and ran over again and again.

The house rose and thundered and waved handkerchiefs, and coo-eed, and laughed and wept with Austra. The great artiste was all woman in that moment. There were her father, her brothers, her old-time teachers, other relatives, friends. She looked around the hall. It was as provincial as a parish pump compared with the tiaras and orders, the names great in history and art, of an old-world gala occasion; draughty, uncomfortable, shabby, antiquated after the financial luxury of America, but it contained that which no other triumph in no other land could ever have for her, and which could never he repeated on this earth. Never again a first homecoming after such an absence abroad! Here was her heart. Emotion nearly defeated her.

In the crowd she picked out Dick, slender, frail, retiring in deportment. He was the focal point, more so than her father, whose broad, rubicund face shone from the front row of the gallery. She bowed specially to the old gentleman, blowing his nose like a trumpet.

Austra's triumphs as a prima-donna would take a tetralogy themselves, and can wait, while as Mollye Brennan, a daughter of the old bush pioneers, she chiefly appears in this chronicle.

She was allowed to begin at last. The bell-like golden notes were tremulous with emotion, which she mastered as the grand Wagnerian aria floated out true and touching in the historic hall which has echoed with the world's singers from Albani to Galli-Curci. Her heart as well as her brain was in her voice that night, and she prodigally broke artistic canons, giving encores as the audience willed--almost, from "Home Sweet Home" to "Robin Adair" and "The Dear Little Shamrock". As his own little song dropped in muted tones, Dick looked straight into her eyes, all misty and glowing. He thrilled to hear Austra in her fame, who nevertheless was Mollye diffusing affection and goodwill as though she had never gone away to be great and rich. He thought of all that lay between the days when she was an infant and he a little boy at Bool Bool, and could have gone up on the platform to lay his head upon her heart and pay thanks and homage to her demonstration of strength and glory and godliness of person and song. But people rarely act on their inmost stresses, he sat as still as a mouse, gentlemanly, sensitive, good-looking.

When a recall that should have been the last was not accepted, and she returned and repeated Dick's song, there was a demonstration for the composer and poet as well as the singer. Mollye demanded that Dick should appear. He would only rise swiftly and bow hurriedly, and tried to escape. But Mollye Brennan was a greater force than he could elude. Like a queen she descended from her throne, jewels, orders and all, and yards of train behind her. She took Dick's hand and mounted with him. The house demanded a speech.

Dick murmured about the generosity of this great, this glorious fellow county woman of ours (wild cheers), whom he was privileged to know--as a fly on the wheel. Mollye took the speech away from him then, laughing, radiant, splendid. "What he would like to say is that the mountain came to the mouse, but it would not be polite to call me a mountain to my face at my own heavenly glorious homecoming, though that is what I am afraid of being"--(laughter and cheers, and cries, "There could never be too much of you, Mollye")--"and it would be presumptuous of a mere singer of other people's works to talk of one of our own Australian poets as a mouse." Applause, coo-ees, and laughter wiped out the speech, and Dick and Mollye and Nat could only bow, and how, and bow, and bow, and place their hands on their hearts and thank the home folks for such a truly Australian welcome. They went down the ramp back stage at last, but the audience, still unsatisfied, demanded them again. Mollye sang "God Save", the audience joining in. Afterwards all the Nanda folk as well as those of Brennan's Gap went behind the scenes, as did the Governor-General and his lady, and the State ditto. A night of nights. To Laleen it was even more.

The older ones thought of those that were gone. Mollye mourned her mother and brothers. Dick wished Allan and Sylvia could have been in vacant places, but on Laleen's level none were yet missing, and Nat was added like a young god. In spite of his godship and more concrete responsibilities, he managed to whisper, "No hope of a private word...When do you want me to play for you again?"

That was ample to carry young love forward. Laleen felt genius welling within her. Ambition rode her wildly to bring it to the birth so that she might stand before such an audience with her hand in Nat's.

"Thank you, Dicky, for the triumph you have given me," Mollye whispered under cover of the crush. "Think what it will be the night of the Australian opera! You mustn't keep me waiting too long for it."

"I should thank you for allowing me to intrude upon your triumph, but Mollye, I cannot. It has meant too much...the joy it has given the home folk. God bless you, Mollye! You're a pure Brennan."

She longed for something more personal, though her heart was big enough to take in every Mazere, if such an omnibus gave joy to Dick. When her emotions were stirred, she had been known to strip off her furs and wrap them about the least of her attendants, so she put her car at the disposal of the Mazeres and sent for a taxi for herself and her father. The State Governor's lady, overhearing, said she would drop Madame and Mr Brennan at the Rockefeller.

Sleep would not indulge Dick that night. Limelight was an ordeal to him. In this instance he felt it made him ridiculous. Just this once could pass, seeing what it meant to his sisters. It must not happen again, Blanche and Philippa, on the other hand, dreamt of fresh occasions of greater prominence for Dick with themselves basking in the reflection.

Mollye was so healthy minded and physically sound that after concerts she generally slept like a footballer, but that night she, too, was restless. A sensitive, finely etched profile was disturbing the spring of her emotions.

Laleen studied herself carefully in her mirror, satisfied that she was much younger and prettier than Miss Gay, Mollye's private secretary, whose work brought her into constant contact with Nat. She dismissed sleep in this instance as a waster of the jewels which the magic night had tossed in her lap.


CHAPTER VIII

I

Freda and Dick were surprised to find Uncle Sylvester Labosseer organizing a studio gathering to bring delirious joy to Laleen and adventure to Blanche. It was hardly to be expected of Uncle Sylvester, proud of succeeding financially--largely by his own efforts--and of having thrashed out of his sons any love of books, but during the last year or two he had a private personal door to the Bohemian aquarium.

He had been one of Mollye's guests on Saturday night, for which purpose he had remained in Sydney, though drought was in charge on Jindilliwah, west of the Bogan, and shearing thereby postponed and imminent. As a return gesture he wished to bring together his prodigy goddaughter, Bernice Gaylord, and Mollye. Mollye was off on Monday for a concert in Brisbane, but Uncle Sylvester, nothing daunted by that nor suspecting that the concert in the Town Hall had been at all arduous, proposed to take Mollye to his goddaughter's studio on Sunday afternoon.

Bernice Gaylord the artist, otherwise Mrs Peter Poole, was the sensation of the year before. Her exhibition of paintings of life and landscape on the jumbuck pads around Uncle Sylvester's summer run, and known as the Gyang Gyang Exhibition, had placed her soundly on the ladder of fame. Her father was her alert Press agent. He consequently took up the idea of the "At Home" with enthusiasm. Uncle Sylvester, in the way of his clan, invited all the family members within hail, and he invited them per family. Mollye had been expecting family members, the Major-General and Judith, at her own apartment, so the studio tea was announced as to meet the two celebrities as well as herself.

Early on Sunday morning Dick found himself in a wrangle as to who should accompany him. He had lost some of the bush perspective and considered the whole family a flood.

"What's the use of Blanche going among those people," Laleen confided. "She thinks all artists freaks or immoral. And Philippa never listens, only keeps on yap-yapping herself, What Blanche really likes is to gloat on the diseases that have attacked everyone: and Dad will ask their ages."

"It will be nice for them to have a change of mind, and as these affairs are a trial to me, I'll stay at home."

Blanche would not surrender her lion, but Philippa was taking some potion to cure rheumatism and remained at home to swallow it every four hours. The others were to meet Uncle Sylvester at the Tadpole, a nickname given a worthy hostel by George Stanton, home from the U.S.A., and crushing in his comparisons.

"I wonder what on earth sort of a turn-out we'll find among those creatures?" speculated Blanche when they were in the train.

"What kind of person do you expect?" inquired Dick, with gentle amusement.

"Bernice Gaylord painted her own picture naked and must be a strange freak that no one could make a friend of."

"I wish she would make a friend of me," said Laleen vehemently.

"Quite likely she will." The kindness of Dick's eyes soothed his younger sister. He looked at her slim young loveliness, like that of a tulip--the tulips that burgeon in Holland and run over to England, even to the sooty squares of Bloomsbury and St Paul's Churchyard. Surely an artist, as a poet or a brother, would treasure a creature so fair, rampant for sympathy with her intellectual and artistic potentialities.

"Oh, Dick," she exclaimed, with an excited snuggle, "it's heavenly to be going to see a real live famous artist with you. Do you suppose Mollye will sing?" Laleen's mind was full of the imminence of Nat.

"I expect Mollye is coming principally because Dick will be there," Blanche crashed into the remarks. Dick wished Blanche would not say such things.

Bob James and Freda Healey and her father were with Uncle Sylvester at the Tadpole. Dick claimed Freda at once, feeling with relief, which he tried to banish as error, that Bob could pair with Blanche, and Larry and Dad get together.

It was a glorious afternoon, warm as English June, but there was no promise of rain to slake the fearsome west and great north-west and Queensland, where the sheep were dying in millions. It was a delightful walk to the Quay in the sparkling sunshine with the scents of English spring in the air. The blue of the Southern Pacific played white in its fountains around the Heads, and turned green under the Lane Cove jetty, with its jellyfish and barnacles and wrack of seaweed, where the Tank Stream, long since dead of suffocation, once had emptied. Soon they were steaming across the Harbour deifically fashioned in beauty, where man was garishly illustrating his incapacity to preserve a new continent's loveliest natural features.

From the ferry they walked up a long road that was balm to the souls of Dick and Freda. Here--perhaps it was the royal rocks that saved them--some of the eucalyptus, and fig-trees, umbrageous as English oaks, lingered in unique splendour. The residents were industriously exterminating native drapery and substituting tamer imported plants, but along the foreshore were still thickets of the giant honeysuckle (Banksia longifolia serrata), with its brushes resembling fat candles of silver grey and a perfume suggestive of an appetizing vegetable salad.

The others regarded the residential side of the street. "Marvellous development here," observed Bob James. "I can remember when this side of the road was all scrub like the other."

"They'll soon have the other civilized, too," said Blanche.

Uncle Sylvester reserved his opinion. He was a man to think and deduce, and though over sixty was still open to a new idea. Association with an artist goddaughter had opened doors upon fascinating new prospects. He liked Bernice Gaylord's pictures better than any he had seen, and they were full of native trees and shrubs. He liked them because of this, and if all the native timber had been killed there would be none to put in pictures. He had been reared as a relentless warrior against native forests, but in the west country knew of forests killed, each tree of which would now be worth twenty pounds to a sheep man. Undirected, Laleen might have been seduced by the terraces bedded with English flowers, by privet and aspidistra, but through fundamental uncongeniality with Blanche, the tea-tree and banksia suddenly became of unsurpassable beauty.

The studio, set amid native scrub in the middle of several allotments, was of the order of soldiers' huts, with a minimum of domestic accommodation and some of the services missing. Bernice's sojourn abroad, however, had largely been in Paris, so she could bear up under primitive conditions better than could George Stanton, demoralized for residence in lesser worlds by the fabulous facilities for comfort and cleanliness enjoyed by even unskilled labourers in the greater Republic.

For this occasion a refreshment tent had been erected. Mollye had contributed her maid, secretary, and butler to assist.

Uncle Sylvester showed old Mr Brennan and Dick the allotment before entering the studio. Dick remembered Uncle Sylvester pleasantly. He had not been contemptuous of Dick's youthful ambition to be a journalist. Had merely said, "Seems to me rather a patchy way of making a living." Dick could not disagree with such perspicacity even today. What would Uncle Sylvester think of his projected narrative poem? All right if he could make sane and easy rhymed couplets that did not harry the mind pay as well as wool or wheat, or rabbit skins, or a billet in the Civil Service, but his dreams that were reefing for expression were of doubtful worth.

Mollye, as the main guest-hostess, had already arrived, and with her Sir Oswald Mazere-Poole. He had not been in Sydney for the concert, so had lunched with Mollye today instead. The studio was comfortably full when Uncle Sylvester's party entered. They lacked Judith Laurillard's artistry make it spectacular. Dads Mazere and Healey and Freda stayed out to enjoy the scrub. Blanche looked uninterestingly respectable in her longish skirts, unbobbed hair, and Ashville hat. Dick kept out of focus behind his stepmother's ungainly bulk and Bob James's assertiveness. Laleen's youth and beauty blazed like a flower on such a background and caught the eye of Sir Oswald, leaning in a well-dined mood on the piano beside young Horan.

"The Mazeres," Nat murmured. "Some relation of yours, aren't they, Sir Oswald?"

"There are scores of Mazeres I'd just as soon were not related to me."

"Same here. The modern wheeze of a small family will cut out a lot of useless relations."

"Not one like this, I hope," added Sir Oswald of Laleen. Then Mollye's exuberance made him chuckle.

She was a tawny creature today, in yellows and brown. Her jewels gleamed in gold settings. Her coat was opulent with fox skins, carefully selected by her father from pelts of shot animals from the snow country upstairs beyond Bool Bool. In her arms was a sheaf of wattle, fluffing, frothing, smelling like a paradise of its own. It was Blanche's moment as Mollye swept forward and embraced her. Turning, Mollye commanded the Major-General. "Ossy-Possy, come and greet your distinguished relatives! Dicky-bird, this is our own little Ossy-Possy. A national monument now. Has slaughtered millions like Goliath or David."

Sir Oswald chortled. He enjoyed Mollye's friendliness and her playful application of the childish name. It was limelight. Sir Oswald throve in limelight, however applied.

"Do you remember Blanche?"

"Blanche is one of my cousins I certainly do remember. Why haven't you written me one of your nice newsy letters?"

"I wrote last," said Blanche, the moment splendid for her. Dick was happy to contemplate her.

"I suppose I'm in the wrong, but so long as you remember me," said the Major-General genially.

"Remember you!" She remembered every one of her tribe even if only to deplore his existence as unworthy of the breed.

"Sir Oswald, Mr Richard Mazere, the distinguished poet." Dick wished Mollye would not trumpet so. He wilted like Jonah's vine in limelight.

"Well, Dick, it's a long time since you and I met, if ever we met at all," Sir Oswald said affably. Dick did not mention that he had often heard the Major-General on the hustings in London. Blanche plunged into family reminiscence, Sir Oswald exclaiming, "How good of you to remember!" It was the high-water mark of family career to Blanche, who had endured so much low water--"Ossy-Possy, come and greet your distinguished relatives!" before all those nobby people! A pity they were strangers! There was one Goulburnite, however, Mrs Gilmour from Blungudgery, who in Oswald's Ridges clays had moved above Blanche financially, but who was disposed to forget that today in view of Blanche's limelight. She embraced her in imitation of Mollye.

"This is a cousin, too. I know by the resemblance," said Sir Oswald to Laleen. "You remind me of my mother." She found herself seated beside the great man. "I kiss my cousins when they are pretty and young," he was saying. "Do you object?"

"My uncles kiss me." Uncles was tactless of Laleen.

"I shan't insist upon privileges if you'll tell me who you'd sooner kiss than me."

"Dick," said Laleen promptly. Sir Oswald laughed so robustly that people wanted to have the joke. Uncle Sylvester took opportunity to tidy up the situation by certain introductions.

"This is my goddaughter Miss Gaylord," he remarked. Bernice was followed by a little man fluttering with happiness, of whom she murmured, "My father...Peter is here, he will be in presently," she added to her godfather, favouring him with her eyes, a full glance in which there was a satisfaction which Freda Healey, entering at that moment, classed as happiness for the time. Bernice shared the romance of winning her husband with her godfather: they had a feeling of partnership concerning it. It had enriched the life of Mr Labosseer and salvaged Bernice.*

[* See Gentlemen at Gyang Gyang.]

Laleen inspected Bernice with breathless interest. She saw a tall, very straight, unfat young woman, with withdrawn glances and indifferent manner. She looked quite young, and was wearing an old Venetian dress of green, with stockings and bracelets and beads to match, that staggered Blanche. Laleen had never seen anyone so wonderfully arrayed nor so aloof, almost chilling. She hardly noticed her guests at all.

Mollye was declaiming joyously: "This is one of the grandest days of my life! This wonderful Australian artist, and we already have a composer and a poet, and I can sing a little when I try." Laleen pursued observations. An easel across one corner with a splendid picture. Pictures on the walls. Pictures piled along one end: a vase or two. A carved chest and chair of Australian designs. Freda fell upon these with unaffected enthusiasm.

"Look, Dick! Real Australian! Something like a cross between Grinling Gibbons and Ruth Bannister, as well as a character all its own."

Bernice looked up quickly and smiled at this. She crossed to Freda. "All the carving is the work of my husband, a genius who has never had tuition."

This brought Mollye forward. She wanted to purchase all the carved pieces in evidence. Bernice shook her head. "They are my husband's wedding gifts." Uncle Sylvester said that Peter could carve another set.

"Then I'll have a replica of everything."

"He never makes two sets alike--they work out differently."

"Even more delightful!" exclaimed Austra. Newspaper ears took note.

Mr Gaylord never allowed his daughter's genius to take second place to her husband's talent--thus he tabulated them. His motive-spring for years had been his daughter's career. A monument to parenthood in the best sense--after birth--where so many parents lapse into obstruction. He turned attention to the picture on the easel. Laleen looked on, her eyes wide with joy. Here was that artistic, free life among intellectuals who were famous, who knew the world, who had tremendous love affairs, and she was here a part of it because of Dick!

Blanche was equally dazzled. Here was Bernice Gaylord, who was regularly married to Peter Poole, and yet even Uncle Sylvester introduced her as Miss Gaylord! Artistic people were certainly queer. A divan took her attention, worthily, being covered by a striking drape and heaped with cushions in suede covers, stunningly designed, even Blanche suspected that. It occurred to her that this must be used as a bed. She waited till Mr Gaylord had them deep in the pictures, and found blankets and sheets under the Arabian Nights rug!

Peter Poole appeared, a splendid specimen, with black hair, dazzling teeth, and eyes bluer than the Harbour on its best days. To the discerning he had the air of one who walks unbelievingly, as though the world about him might be a delightful dream. Laleen gazed at him wonderingly. An unorthodox celebrity. A bushman of the bush, one of Uncle Sylvester's overseers engaged in station life, yet pictures of his carving were often in the Sydney Mail and other papers; and Bernice, a great artist, who had been to Paris among all sorts of extraordinary people, had married him! His face was in all the pictures that had been at Bernice Gaylord's show. Till this moment Laleen had not understood the renown of that. Her heart bounded to envisage her own possibilities in such association. She too would be one of these when her book was finished. All because of Dick coming home!

Revelation enlarged her. This was genius. Genius was a royal mantle bestowed by God Himself, not something manufactured like a king's regalia. Major-General Sir Oswald Mazere-Poole was great in another way, and very rich, yet he lacked the glamour of Mollye and Bernice and Dick! She sensed that, despite Sir Oswald's title, and it her first contact with such a thing. It was intoxicating to be kin with these people. Ambition again bestrode her. She made her way to Mr Gaylord and poured forth her worship of his daughter. Dad Gaylord assessed his daughter as royalty indeed. His exposition of her genius and its rights confirmed Laleen's flashing vision.

The glory of this something was that it had to be born in people. It couldn't be attained by any thruster. It was what geniuses were, and what the common rich or common anything could never be. It was uncommon. Inherently superior. Laleen's daydreams expanded like genii as she noted the atmosphere surrounding these people. They made everyone agog. People hung about them curious and elated, while people like Blanche and Bob James and old Mrs Gilmour, no matter how hardy their airs of being of the first old pioneers and aristocrats to boot, were only common--yes, common in a sense supplementary to plebeian--lacking this magic interest for their fellows. Laleen felt that from such a height she could better endure Blanche and Philippa. Poor old things, how dull that they could never, never in this world be of the charmed circle! She would be patient in future, no matter how tiresome they were.

Any slight alleviation, and youth thinks that the embattled opposing forces have surrendered and it has only to step into the englamoured middle distance.

Her enthusiasm for Bernice so captured Mr Gaylord that he extracted her ambitions and then led her to Bernice as the niece of Mr Labosseer. The Labosseers, genius or no, were a sacred breed to the little man. Bernice rose to the occasion and murmured, "If you win the Bulletin prize, I'll do the illustrations for you."

Mr Gaylord was explaining the full triumph of this while there entered a man about forty, with a square jaw, a mop of curls, a slightly cocked nose, an intensely cocksure and lively manner. He bowed energetically to Austra. "You cannot remember me, but I'm George Stanton, one of the Mungee litter."

"I'm delighted to see you."

"I heard there was a tribal party and came to pay my respects at the first moment. I heard you in Chicago--awfully proud of you. You're a tremendous advertisement for Australia!"

"You sent me some lovely flowers with a darling kangaroo in the centre."

"To think of you remembering! The least I could do seeing all you have done for Australians abroad." George kow-towed till deposed by a fresh courtier, and then drifted around. Laleen smiled at him. She adored his animadversions because they excoriated an environment against which she was in open rebellion.

"Well, George, are you in a better humour than last time we met?" inquired Blanche.

"Did you notice that singer who has just left said we lack training and are as antiquated in every way as Noah's Ark?", inquired Laleen.

"She had the courage of her opinions and was plumb on the nail," responded George, without compromise.

Blanche rose at once to the bait. "You should always stick up for your country. You've been abroad as much as George, Freda. You think there's no place like it, don't you?"

"No place like it, but we shall be more like adults when we can examine such statements without jumping off our onion."

"Mr Stanton's mental home must be in New York," said Nat, a little superciliously, as he buzzed about.

"I took it out of the hollow log where it was hatched as soon as I could," retorted George, with gusto. "Anyone with no mental home but Australia would be a moron."

Laleen sat down beside Blanche on the divan. It was a busy hour for Nat, but he too dropped on to the divan for a moment. Laleen sat still. He had given no sign of being aware of her. She was wondering if he were careless of her presence, but as casually as he sat, his hand stole over hers where it was placed as support. That fleeting manual caress was enough to fill every interstice of the day with bubbling radiance. It was too deliciously funny--right under the nose of everyone! She would not again fear that he was indifferent.

Bob James, who had not enjoyed the sound of his own voice since entering the studio, took up George Stanton's argument as an opening to run one of his own parallel. "Wonderful progress here the last few years. Nearly all the scrub got rid of and houses gone up like mushrooms."

"Pity they know so little about domestic engineering." George lowered his voice. "No sewerage in these suburbs! Imagine such a thing in the U.S.A. in a suburb of a town over a million! I miss central heating, and there's not a complete attempt to keep flies and mosquitoes out. Gee whizz! I'm glad I didn't bring my wife across. God knows what she would have thought of it.

"You must give us time," said Bob, abashed. "We have no money since America took it all in the war."

"Poppycock! Watch 'em at the races and picture-houses, and swilling in the saloons, and you'll see if they have money."

The effect of George's argumentativeness upon his compatriots was a source of unchristian glee to Freda.

Peter and Bernice, Uncle Sylvester and Mollye stood to receive other arrivals. There were now many motor cars at the foot of the allotment and too many people to move properly in the studio.

Laleen remained crushed against the wall on the divan. Two grand young ladies, if judged by their patent estimation of themselves, were packed in front of her. They were full of their own concerns, and as often happens when cliques are intermingled, felt a false security. Blanche, on the other side, was dismissed as one of those chair-warmers that appear only at omnifarious gatherings.

"Nat Horan is here, isn't he?"

"Yes. That silly Elaine is just crazy about him!"

"She might as well be crazy about the Prince of Wales."

Laleen hoped that Blanche did not hear. The girls proceeded. "He's taken her for a pupil, though."

"But I heard he is charging her five times his usual fee." The second gave a little whistle. They put their heads together, making it difficult for Blanche to hear and impossible for Laleen not to.

"That shows that he can't care for her."

"Isn't it terrible, and she will never be able to play. I wish I had a little of her rotten old money."

"He might marry her too! He has his head screwed on the right way, they say."

"He gave me a whole extra quarter of an hour, and he's taking me for a drive all alone next week."

"Is he really?"

Laleen's heart was bursting. Who could this girl be? The crush eddied the girls towards Nat, by the piano. Peter Poole dropped into the vacancy. He was at home with Blanche, who represented the world in which he had been congealed till a couple of years since. His wings were still stiff in that new strange world of artists and thinkers, and women uncircumscribed by domesticity alone, into which his marriage had liberated him. He preferred to watch the flights of others as vet. He had run down expressly at the invitation of Uncle Sylvester; that it was when shearing was imminent on Jindilliwah showed that Uncle was furnished to understand the foreign world of artists.

Blanche was a clearing-house of news in the clans. Her idea of news outside of the high peaks of weddings, deaths, or births being disasters. If she had no illness to report she said she had no news. Peter retailed a list of family happenings, diverting Blanche from George Stanton's criticisms of Australian life. The social deadweights were coagulating. The gathering was sagging. Mollye beckoned to Horan near the piano, gossiping animatedly with the girls who had talked beside the divan. Blanche was thinking, "It's to be hoped Laleen will have the sense to see that that fellow takes no notice of her when there are more interesting girls. She may be glad of Leslie yet. He is at least Church of England."

"Mollye, do you feel like just one song?" implored Sir Oswald.

"Oh, I am having a holiday. When I have so many old-time friends together, I want to hear their dear voices." She was aching to sing to Dick, but he did not glance her way. He was seated beside Freda Healey, who looked like a trim red bird, and was tossing the conversational ball between George Stanton and Bob James. Nat took his cue, to stir the meeting as with a spoon.

One of the talking young women was introduced to the piano to "play skilfully with a loud noise". She was hopeful of being a concert pianiste. Not hers to refuse to play when Austra was present. Austra sat down near Dick. Gaylord père arranged that daughter should talk to the Major-General. Uncle Sylvester slipped out to see that the refreshments were in train.

Austra, being a musician, set the fashion of listening. At the conclusion she was saved from anything but "Thank you, my dear", by the entry of Judith Laurillard, with a cavalier in her wake. There were always cavaliers in Judith's wake. Her manager had to officiate if the supply failed. She was that essence of femininity of masculine conception before the war, always in soft clinging gowns. Since the war, God knows how they are conceived. They are allegedly of devouring charm in the ultra sets, but upon the sole evidence of having committed sexual promiscuity with polish and expedition. Judith, true to type, had a glamour about her as though she must be ardently desired by other huntresses' men. She floated in, wrapped in pedigreed furs with a glittering buckle here and there, no colour on her white face but her carmined lips--a dark lily of exotic genre. In her arms she had a sheaf of brown boronia, and from her person exuded its enchanted perfume, which is violet--violets as they used to be in their heyday, violets glorified, violets purged of le mort, which ever hangs over violets, claiming them as they wilt; but boronia is of the ethereal, non-tropical Australian perfumes that vanish like spirits as the blossom fades.

"Was there ever, ever anything so glorious as this?" she languished. "All my previous existence seems wasted not to have known this bewitching loveliness. Why don't some of those stupid people who come to Europe and waste the money made from their little ba-baas in aping the banalities of the Riviera have instead a hot-house full of this? If only an Australian had had imagination for that, I might have found the great love of my life."

"And there's a chance for him to be the great love of my life by backing a native opera," said Austra, and the ensuing laugh killed Judith's effective entrance.

The two women had become friends. Judith had assessed Austra's strength both as artist and woman. A struggle to eclipse her would mean elimination. The alternative was to pair with her, making a striking contrast. Besides, Judith was great in her own way. She generously paid tribute to this amazon, this Boadicea in her native principality. Mollye was honestly herself. She could be no other, and moreover by her intelligence and business ability would grow for years yet. Judith wrote of the situation: "I am not playing second fiddle to Boadicea as you suggest. I am very much playing my own fiddle, though it is not of the violence of hers. She is more a monument than a woman, and when a public monument takes human form and voice, what is there to do but to acknowledge the phenomenon?"

They were an interesting contrast as they met, one all tawny and glowing with the wattle, the other slim and delicate with the dark boronia.

"The Aurora Australis and the Aurora Borealis," said Sir Oswald bowing, every eye concentrated upon them.

"That is hardly fair to our Northern Lights," protested Judith in her nervous, sensitive way, which always made the guardian at hand long to save her from mundane blasts, made him oblivious that a woman over thirty cannot attain the top of the theatrical tree by depicting scarlet women more truly than reality without being a hardy plant of exceptionally toughening experience.

When the stir subsided, the Major-General, indisputably premier chanticleer in that fowl-yard, still enjoyed the sound of his own voice. "Miss Gaylord must do portraits of such a gallery of stars--the Aurora Borealis and...

"No, Sir Oswald, the Northern Star, all glorious midnight blue, with a face like a white flower."

"Thank you," said Judith, casting a gracious glance at Freda.

Bernice, a little more cordial than usual, said, "Lady of the Boronia", and she was the arbiter. The Aurora Australis with the blaze of perfumed wattle was incontestable.

"And what about my lovely young cousin here? You must paint her too," pursued Sir Oswald, himself hoping to be a subject.

"Yes, catch her while she looks young," said Freda. "Before her native sun fries her."

"You are most unpatriotic to talk like that about our glorious sun," said Blanche. "A man from the United States the other day said our girls are the most beautiful in the world."

Travelled members of the party laughed as if touched by a common spring. Blanche, destitute of humour, suspected the goodwill of those otherwise endowed.

"Must have been some fellow drumming for a face-wash," interposed George Stanton.

"If you don't behave, Georgy-Porgy, I'll have Mr Poole make a grotesque of you to go on my automobile," said Austra. Blanche could laugh at this. Harmony was restored. Laleen's blushes subsided. She was free to observe again that Nat's nut-brown suit was not too daring as it toned with his hair and skin and eyes, and that he had the most marvellous tie and socks with glints of gold in them, and a sprig of wattle in his buttonhole. She wished he would notice her again, yet trembled lest he should, in light of what the gossips had said. Blanche found herself near Judith and her boronia.

"And which do you like best, England or Australia?"

"I love this darling boronia," replied Judith, burying her face in it.

"And which do you like best now?" Blanche continued to Austra.

"That's like asking a bigamist which wife he prefers," she returned with infectious joviality.

"You must have found Sydney progressed out of recognition," persisted Blanche. "When the Harbour Bridge is finished it will be the largest in the world."

"Shucks!" from George Stanton.

"What do you think of Hyde Park? Looks like a public rape," remarked Freda.

Austra became eloquent. "When I saw all the Moreton Bay figs gone I could have howled. I had dreamt of them as the most wonderful trees in the world...that make Sydney different, and had described them to American shipmates. And then nothing but a pile of mullock and a few measly palms which always look shabby here! 'What has happened?' I gasped."

"But we are going to make a better park," said Blanche. Her wounded expression touched Austra, so she hastened to disperse it.

"But the trams did the Americans just as well! The maddest things in the world! I never dreamt they would still be here, and the big trees be cut down! But still, I just adore them for old sake's sake, with the men climbing along like monkeys and the sliding doors like a kitchen dresser. But oh for the old trees! Poor little darlings so far away out here--they don't know how to live yet, or how to appreciate native differences and lovelinesses. One has to travel to learn that."

"How can we be anything when all our best go from us?" said Blanche.

"Yes," agreed Freda, "and nothing but timid mediocrities imported in their stead."

The companion to the girl pianist, one of the budding songsters ever in the wake of a prima-donna, now took her stand by the piano and Horan sat to the accompaniment. It was a group of songs taking ten minutes, during which Austra conned the meeting. If not vocally endowed, she could have run a drapery mart or a restaurant or have run for Parliament. She was able, in the full sense. This took her to the top of the ladder and freed her from anxiety about maintaining her eminence. If one port closed she could enter elsewhere. She had no worry about withdrawing from Manhattan or Berlin or Covent Garden for a year to satisfy her craving for her own land and her own kin. She could return refreshed. Her pet project at present was opera of Australian character. Bernice Gaylord had bearing on the matter, as all material and chances have to the able when inspired with a project. Bernice's co-painters were heralding her as a giant, and her current venture had been sponsored by a member of the squattocracy--one of the artistic philistines. What had happened in one instance could happen in others. Let art become the fashion among the squattocracy, a homogeneous, well-fed, sunlit, quick-witted community, with money, leisure, and superabundant energy. If there could be a rising of the squattocracy in favour of art it would be one of the freshest, most different schools on earth, and why not? All that was needed was the idea.

Why not, and again, why not?

She herself had come from the wilds of the Bogongs where her great-grandparents before her had had their being. From thence she had taken her way to the dizzy heights of La Scala, Leipzig, Manhattan, and Covent Garden. But the gum tree and the wattle were in her heart and soul, a nostalgia which fame, hard work, distance, had only heightened. Now she wanted to sing these intangible, infrangible ecstasies to the world.

She looked at the pictures, at the tall withdrawn sea-green maiden with the aloof glances; at the spectacular man with surely the bluest eyes in all the world; at the carving of bizarrely aboriginal execution. Here was a sure arrival in the halls of fame. Knowing the toilsome, bruising way thereto, Austra subpoenaed Freda as soon as the singer was thanked. She put her hand under Freda's elbow and stepped out on the allotment. "Tell me how this success was attained." Freda's friends always demanded this service of her. She articulated ideas with facility.

"Her father. The fussy bird-like little chap taught her to take herself seriously from the start. He never allowed her mind to be dissipated upon charwoman mundanities."

"That ditch yawns for all women in this land of pioneering sans coloured labour. So it was the father effected the rescue."

"The mother died young, and that enabled the little man to snatch his female child from the charwoman mentality and develop her."

"Generally it is a woman who makes the springboard for male artistic careers. I wonder what would happen if things were reversed."

"In this native instance you see a Bernice Gaylord."

"No matter how plangent our national complex may be, it is only bigotry if it doesn't blossom into fresh accretions of art or philosophy. I came home to take stock of myself intellectually in relation to my own land. It is so hauntingly, eerily different. If that difference could only be transmuted into music!" She laid her hand on Freda's arm again: "Let me entice you to do my publicity next year? You'd find me as interesting as migration."

They were wafted apart by the movement towards refreshments.

II

The party turned over in its sleep and settled down comfortably again. Sir Oswald took stock of what he was getting out of it. He was a canny business man who always summed up the probable cost or profit to himself of any circumstance whether it was a world call to arms or a personal call to amour. There were few present likely to be useful to him. The official and political world was what he wanted. This must be charged up as a day off. He did not feel sufficiently carried away by any of the sirens present to lay it to recreation--the king of indoor sports. Laleen was a pretty thing, but a member of the family. Mollye was almost the same, and...a tender affair with Mollye!...It would be funny to have her in his arms. He wondered for a moment if Mollye had affairs. Her name was conspicuously unbesmirched. She, even as himself, had emanated from an old bush family as matter-of-fact as the split rail fences, which after seventy years still stood about Bool Bool. Among such women virtue and honesty and bourgeoise common sense prevailed. They still looked upon smoking a cigarette as dangerously near immorality and damn as hard swearing. No neurasthenia or lightness there. Judith...um! He would have liked a little brush, platonic as far as technicalities, but with the fire and revivification possible to the sophisticated within the danger line; but Judith was too high-flown and clever for real comfort. No old clothes and slippers about her...dressed up all the time! She aroused his suspicions as ragging everything Australian, even his successful self. His wife's intimates had taught him to be alert for this attitude. He wasn't, however, disappointed. He was addicted to stretches of complete monogamy, and had made promises to his wife before leaving England.

Lady Mazere-Poole was of up-to-date social standing. He had met her V-A-D-ing in the war. The boodle about suntanned heroes and supermen from overseas had dazzled her into marriage with him. She had had one trip to Australia when war temperature had cooled, and threatened Oswald with divorce should he compel her to live with him in a camp so exiled from all the arts of life. The surfing was the only thing she had considered first-class, and a woman cannot live long by surfing alone without becoming as fearsomely weather-beaten as the Australians themselves, and though there was honest kick in Manly or Bondi rollers, there were no Lido loungers to promote intrigue. Lady Mazere-Poole moved in sets where they are afflicted with preciosity and cannot be shocked, and drooped in the parochial atmosphere of Australia. Sir Oswald, honestly a snob, and ambitious on that plane, had his perplexities. He was too irretrievable an Australian to be happy as a total Englishman; besides, it was as a practising Australian--solidarity of Empire, extension of preferential trade, monopoly of raw materials, etc., etc.--that he was valuable in London, and had a certain status, even to being elected in a safe Conservative seat to the Mother of Parliaments.

He was conventional, and would have been stricken to nervous prostration if his wife sought divorce because he or his Commonwealth was too vulgar for endurance. This, not so much as love or lust, held him firmly to the marriage rails. He had been flattered to marry the daughter of a viscount--albeit it was only a war one, but through his wealth and activities a man of real standing. He had at that date made excavations in his own lineage, the longing for heredity being a curious complex. Instead of being satisfied with his strides into rank in the war at an early age, Oswald, like dictators, immediately felt it necessary to have a family tree to account for his ability. He snooped on his grandmother Poole's trail first, as there was a general belief that she had been of high family. She was the niece of an ancient viscounty, but research uncovered that his own great-uncle had been an unsavoury criminal. He could not claim descent from the viscounty without unburying a putrescent dog. He left the Pooles in obscurity. Old Grandfather Poole, of the one eye and magnificent proportions, had done well that his being "sent out" was merely pioneering rumour instead of historical record.

There remained the Mazeres. The original Mazere of Three Rivers had taken second place to none socially. The legend was that he came of a County family, with a bishop or even an archbishop in it; but here again was small satisfaction. The scattered and deteriorated Mazeres had preserved scant records. All the old man's original papers had been lost in a fire in the early days, and the, years had been so sly that death found him without having written for copies of his family tree or coat of arms.

Sir Oswald was disgusted by the plebeian apathy of the Mazeres as to their antecedents. There were today dozens of them right off the ladder socially--drunkards, casual labourers, marrying their like, and spawning a lot of brats that would never rise above drovers or the most miserable "cockies". As with many of the old pioneering families, they seemed to have lost the outstanding pluck and energy which had established them. This failure in family ambition and ability was all part of the crude mediocrity which made Australian life insupportable to Lady Mazere-Poole.

Yes, this must be taken as a family day. Sir Oswald was thankful it was among the picked members safe from those trying hordes who claimed the original Mazere as ancestor, and who sneered at Sir Oswald's efforts to lift the family while ungallantly trading on his achievements behind his back.

Returning to his original thought, he considered Bernice Gaylord. She looked full of dangerous possibilities, but she was evidently satisfied with his cousin, the young Poole who had had the sense and good luck to make such a marriage. His glance fell on Blanche, and he chuckled anew. Had anyone even been tempted to philander there? She at least had family pride. He was an affectionate man, and his heart was warm for those relatives who did him any credit. Yes, a poor assemblage for fire. Different from London. All the better for safety and attention to business, though business went with dash if there was inspiration. Then he noted the jimp dainty figure in red--one of the Monaro tribe of Healeys, but also of the Bool Bool Saunders. She looked a little person who knew the ropes and had been everywhere and...

He took her a cup of tea and sat beside her, murmuring, "What do you think of it all?"

"It would be more exciting to know how you have adjusted yourself."

"That's a long story. What brings you back?"

"Domestic reasons. My father is frail and my mother grows--"

"Ah, your mother...If my dear old mother were only alive!"

A lusty mother complex saved Freda from explanation. She soon had Sir Oswald telling that he had leave of absence to go thoroughly over the ground of immigration as one cognizant of both Australian and English needs. Freda uncovered an earnest imperialist of the London Foreign Office school, too much in leading-strings to his English superiors to have the desires of Dick, Mollye, and herself, but not at all a bad chap. Freda confessed that she had been commissioned to report on migrants, but for less official circles.

"Tell me what you really think of the state of affairs," he demanded eagerly. "Let's step out and get a little air."

"Do you want to know what I really think or what I consider is all that is possible to the administrator?"

"What you really think," he said gamely, offering a cigarette.

"You won't have me arrested as a red-ragger?" She smiled winningly. "As a beginning, I'm for the White Australia policy."

"Never develop our territory without cheap labour--can't attract the capital."

"Is it the cheapness or the docility that appeals to employers? I like the White Australia policy because it is at least restrictive of population."

"But, my dear Miss Healey, we want population--commerce--"

"That's what we need to make another Europe or Asia. I am for preserving the last and least manifested of the continents till we are fit to handle it--an agreement among all nations to keep Australia clear till we know how to abolish poverty for one thing, and war for another, and the rabbit birth-rate for a third: and in relation to the third, limitation of population by self-control and not by contraceptives."

Sir Oswald laughed gleefully. "What a rag! But what are you going to do with human nature?"

"Everything is possible to human nature. It only needs the control of certain elements and the release of potentialities--substitution of one idea for another."

"But I've got to do something practical now. What about the population in England?"

"Something pathetic--if you want to be sentimental--in the old lady's chicks not being welcome where her pioneers have left their bones in taming the bush, while other nationals of the parasite fish and fruit shop variety get in ahead of them. I'm not a bit Christian about such people. I've observed them escape from the warrens of Europe to America, and still cling to their superstitious and unbridled fecundity. The men used to obtain citizenship and immediately oppose the franchise for good pioneer American women. There are all sorts of complications. England's way out is decentralization, but she cannot forgo the flesh-pots of imperialism. Australia cannot develop intellectually or spiritually for fear of the hordes in relation to her spare lands. Armaments are her ideal at present; and her masters must be those who supply them."

Sir Oswald wanted more. He went a good deal in Liberal-Labour circles in London, and therefore could dismiss an idea as extreme, or enjoy it as amusing--if from such lips as Freda's--without hysteria. Though intellectually stuffy he had a flair for phrases, and Freda's brains appealed to him as worth picking. He might cull from her ideas to keep him afloat in London circles. One never knew where communism was to be found these days when a Conservative Prime Minister's son could be a Fabian or worse, and the sons of aristocratic Cabinet Ministers were comrades to practising and imprisoned communists, and where daughters of cast-iron plutocracy went Labour. This condition of England was salutary for what restricted Sir Oswald, while he was merely an accretion to homeland imperialism.

"There is something in the most extreme thought," he remarked.

But Freda said, "Let's go inside again."

Uncle Sylvester sat down for a moment beside Laleen. "How is the book getting on?" He had great charm of manner.

"Not very swiftly since Dick came home. I've been having such a lovely time."

"You'll have to come to Gyang Gyang in the summer. See what Bernice did when she was with me." Laleen's eyes sparkled. It was unbelievable to be in a flood of the great so suddenly. She could put marvellous things in her book now, for which previously she would have lacked confidence.

Uncle Sylvester moved off in the direction of Sir Oswald because he heard Dick hard by talking to old Mrs Gilmour about the merino rams recently purchased by South Africa.

"We are such fools to let our stud rams go. There ought to be a law against it."

"That wouldn't work," said Dick gently. "They would get our breed, as we got Spanish merinos in far more difficult days of transportation."

"But if we lose our supremacy in wool, we're done. And they are so much nearer the market and have cheap labour. The Labour Party here with their strikes and red-ragging don't give us a chance."

"We must guard our supremacy of quality by brains if possible, but it all goes so much deeper. It is the world system of economics that needs to be changed." Uncle Sylvester asked for explanation. "This war for what markets there are will never settle the wool or wheat question, nor preserve our supremacy. The system of profits with a division of spoils among the strongest will have to be replaced by one having the welfare of humankind as its object. The object should not be to corner the wool market but to distribute the woollen cloth to all who need it."

This was beyond Mrs Gilmour, but Dick was so mild that she was not alarmed, and repeated her trouble to Sir Oswald. "We'd keep our market all right if Australians would only clear themselves of this Russian red-rag element and these labour hold-ups. I think we'll be able to turn the Labour crowd out of the State this time. I mean to lend a hand."

Mrs Gilmour tapped approval with her stick.

"I don't consider the red-raggers Australia's most insidious danger," said Freda. This was startling.

"I know for a certainty," bawled Mrs Gilmour, "that the Premier received £3000 from one brewer and £2000 from another to wreck prohibition. You surely don't approve of Russian bolshevists running your country?"

"I don't know anything about the Russians," said Freda coolly, "but I am naturally interested in labour, having worked hard for my living since ever I could wield a broom or tea-towel. What I find depressing is the restricted mentality and knowledge of the anti-red-raggers I meet. An immense amount of work is done somehow by someone, if we look only at the buildings and the astonishing railway and road mileage per bead."

This uncorked phials of bias. The old squatteress thumped her stick and shouted one crime after another against every member of the sitting Labour Cabinet.

"At any rate your accusations are a tribute to free speech," said Freda in an interval.

Mrs Gilmour suspected even this statement. "If you want to know what they are like, I'll tell you. They'd do away with marriage. They'd take our houses from us and pitch us out on our heads" (etc., etc., etc.). "You ought to be made go back to Oswald's Ridges and work a farm there--that would teach you what the working men are like!"

Sir Oswald had heard more revolutionary theories discussed at Lambeth Palace. He tried to stem the tirade. "I don't think there is any danger of Miss Healey turning bolshevist. She looks a lady of too much sense."

"Mrs Gilmour misrepresents me. I state again that I hear nothing but the would-be junkers' point of view that the workers are lazy, idle thugs and bribe-takers. I should like to hear what these people have to say for themselves through a responsible spokesman." She moved away beside George Stanton. "Poor old shellback! It becomes terribly wearing never to express an idea above the level of a not-too-intelligent charwoman without being vituperated for bolshevism--pouf!"

"I should say so," murmured George in hearty agreement. "What I had to learn when I got away from 'em! All the things I could tell about what ails 'em now, and where they had better get a move on, but all they want is to sit on borrowed money with their mouths open like a lot of young magpies waiting for grubs while people who want to sell them something, or make use of them as fighting men, or to get hold of their raw materials, tell them they are the most wonderful and advanced bunch in the world."

The party rolled on in spite of a ruffled feather or two. "This terrible drought," said Austra, wherein all could agree. "But there's always a terrible drought. Why don't they guard against it?" demanded George.

"We are getting some big irrigation schemes and we need fodder conservation," said the equable voice of Uncle Sylvester. "But what rumtefoozles us is the uncertainty. If we saved a season's superfluous fodder, it would most likely not be needed till it rotted."

"The only thing that would ever make Australia worth while would be to construct a range of mountains from Cape York to Adelaide about fifty or a hundred miles wide and from ten to fifteen thousand feet high in places. There's a decent little scheme to get on with, not your pottering dams and harbour bridges and underground railways, only copying the older countries in their worst features of all huddling in the cities. What Australia needs is a breed of people that can turn its minusses into plusses--it has no hope of competing on the old lines."

"Oh yes I see," said Austra. "You've said something there."

"You bet I have. And they don't even know yet in the old style how to keep their feet warm in winter or the flies out of their food in summer. What do you think, Miss Laurillard?"

"I find the appreciation of drama measures up very well with the provinces in the United States and England. I am disappointed there is no native drama. Of course the sunshine is divine, better than the Riviera, and people are so delightfully hospitable."

"One thing Australia has produced is the best fighting men in the world," said the Major-General, preening himself a little. This contention always brought ready applause on the hustings.

"No wonder," said George. "The conditions they live under would fit them for life in the trenches--no sewerage in this suburb! You'll never be anything to reckon with except for a few fighting men and a little wool till you get busy with your brains, and keep your brains here instead of exporting them. It's considered rather old stuff among the high-brows now to be nothing but soldiers--the best mad gorillas in the dog-fight. It will be the most scientific devils who will count next time."

"Oh, the high-brows! Sort of respectable red-raggers," said Bob James.

"It's generally known that the high-brows are right about ten years after. Why don't you beat the game here by acting on them right away."

"Why don't you devote your brains to Australia if they are so wonderful?" posed Blanche, and raised a general laugh. "Give Australia time," said Sir Oswald good-humouredly. "I think the Australians are just as good as anyone else," said Blanche aggressively. "Look at our fliers!"

"Yes, and the soldier is mighty indispensable when he's wanted," said the military man from his popular vantage. "But there is nothing so useless when he is dispensable, and if he isn't made dispensable before long it's a poor hope for the world."

"Of course if you want to preach red-raggism."

"That's what I say. You can't change human nature," said Bob James, which so convulsed Laleen that he thought he was witty.

"No one could hate war worse than I do," Blanche plunged in, confidently within her conversational territory. "But we must defend ourselves."

Freda raised her eyebrows humorously to George, who muttered, "Damn' musty old platitudes of the hollow-log date, and if you point anything out to them they get snake-headed at once."

"At any rate the Germans would have liked to have Australia," continued Blanche.

"Yes, and they might have made a country of it," said George pugnaciously.

"Of course, if you want to talk nonsense..."

"We'd see him sprinting for his gun, wouldn't we, Blanche?" cackled the Major-General.

Blanche felt her effort so successful that she opened the second movement of her conversational piece. "You don't look very strong," she said aside to Judith in her heavily sympathetic voice, which Laleen, whom it infuriated, called "mewing". Judith merely stared sensitively and politely. She belonged to the new suburbs of thought concerning the law of supply and the efficacy of thinking health as against disease or failure. Blanche proceeded. "Your face is so white and drawn," This was equivalent to telling her she was an old-looking rag. She smiled fixedly and looked beyond Blanche, contemplating possible avenues of escape. This person doubtless was used to the Australian complexion, like tanned leather. "You ought to take care of yourself. I have had so much death and sorrow in my own family, I have to struggle so myself--I suffer from a weak heart. Perhaps, though, you are wiry. With some of us it is our indomitable spirit that keeps us going."

"I may not be of the elephantine species"--Judith thought the flamboyant physique of Austra was probably a local standard--"but I have sufficient strength of the quality I need."

"Yes, I suppose you don't need the strength and energy of someone with the cares and anxieties of a whole home and family on her hands."

Judith stared. This person with her hollow-log variety of cares and anxieties! Judith's mind flashed over a few of the cares and anxieties encountered in working to the top via repertory on tour in small parts in the company of a passé star in unsuccessful plays. Ah! it was arduous sometimes to obviate a rent in the technique of unalloyed graciousness imposed upon popular actresses. She looked past Blanche, smiling graciously at George. "So you feel rather critical of your native land!"

"Don't you think I should?"

"Not just when I have found this heavenly stuff, and I think the material progress in the time staggering." She buried her face in the boronia.

"That's right," commended Blanche. "We want some outsiders to teach us the beauties of our own land. All that's the matter with it is the red-raggers. If we could only send those back where they came from. If we were as old as America or England and had grabbed all the gold in the world while others were pouring out their life's blood..."

Another young lady was called upon to perform, and Uncle Sylvester changed the air by a chat with Miss Laurillard. She cultivated him as a patron of the arts. She expressed a fervent wish to see bush life, dismissing that of the cities as "depressingly the same everywhere".

Uncle Sylvester invited her to Jindilliwah in the west country. "Could I get there and back on Sunday?"

"Hardly, even with flying. I suppose you are tied up. I never realized till Miss Gaylord came to my place to paint what hard work it is to be an artist."

"Hard work, Mr Labosseer--it's slavery," she said pathetically. "But tell me about a shearing-shed." Uncle Sylvester thought her a most interesting and fascinating woman. She thought him equally charming. She urged him to take a trip to London: "And be sure to come to me. My friends would enjoy you," she assured him sincerely. So he felt. The practical man is usually charmed and charming in the artistic circle.

The party rolled on to its end with enough chatter to have filled ten volumes. Mr Gaylord had made sure of the sale of a picture or two and no end of Press puffs for his daughter and Peter. Judith Laurillard and her manager left early with an offer to drop Uncle Sylvester at his hotel, which he accepted with alacrity. Laleen was wishing that something would give her the society of Nat. Sir Oswald and Austra, with experience behind them, were manoeuvring unflinchingly. Left to chance, life's fleeting moment is spent mostly with bores whom one would pay highly to escape. Austra could have generalled a brigade of Major-Generals. It was her suggestion that they should escort her father and Peter Poole to the train. Sir Oswald, who was driving himself, took the parent Mazeres and Larry Healey in his car and dropped them near the platform, advising the latter not to wait for his daughter. He then returned to Peter Poole's platform, from which he drew Freda with a few words about migration, and drifted to his car.

Old Mr Brennan's train pulled out ahead of Poole's, and Mollye then said to Dick, "You and I shall get Mr Poole something to read." They withdrew, attended by Nat Horan, whom Mollye dismissed with a whispered order.

"Where are Mollye and Dick?" demanded Blanche a few minutes later.

"Somewhere about...the car is outside," murmured Nat. He then whispered to Laleen, who sped away regardless of what Blanche might think. Blanche was, however, concerned with the disappearance of Mollye and Dick.

"They've got themselves lost and will have to put up with the consequences," she said, with a significance that would have disturbed Dick.

Bob James accepted an invitation to supper at Nanda, and Nat informed Blanche that Madame wished him to drive them home.


CHAPTER IX

I

Mollye drew Dick's arm through hers. "I've had enough of that for today, dear and delightful though every minute of it was. Let's escape."

Dick, embarrassed by the stares at such a spectacular creature in the slatternly foyer of the railway station, succumbed to her greater vitality. Ten minutes later they were ascending to Mollye's apartment, where she switched on a big electric heater.

Dick sank into a bed-like chair, and fell into a reverie induced by the twinkling lights of the Harbour. It was restfully devoid of context and continued till Mollye reappeared. She had arrayed herself in the way of a woman desirous of a man's interest, but Dick was unconscious of details. He was somewhat aware that around her tempestuous locks was a broad band of gems, that she wore an indoor gown showing her arms, and that more gems glittered on her slippers--or they could have been coloured glass, for all he knew or cared to the contrary. She had a glorious wrap half about her, and some of the wattle still in her arms.

"You and I shall have a picnic all to our little selves, and let the world go hang."

They were alone in the apartment, the city wrapped in Sunday quiet. A delectable supper awaited, to which, by a skilled movement or two, Mollye added a hot dish and beverages; even Australian prima-donnas and wives of premiers not being divorced from that manual-labour phase of existence which Freda lumped as the preoccupations of charwomen.

Dick hardly noticed what he ate, only that it was delicious, and that the appointments were in good taste and first aid to peace and comfort. When they had finished, Mollye closed the doors without housewifely fussing and returned to the other room amid the fragrance of wattle. Dick sank again into the seductive cushions, with his feet deep in the long white hair of some skin. The rosy warmth of the radiator was just sufficient.

"Would you like me to play or sing for you, or only to talk?"

"I may never again have the world's greatest diva to sing lullabies specially for me." He felt impelled to remove her somewhat. She was disappointed that he did not express preference for the woman rather than the cantatrice. Nevertheless she complied with joy.

"Suppose I strum for a while for both of us?"

"That will be divine."

Her strumming was such as an archangel might indulge in on a Saturday morning in some private celestial cabby while St Peter was superintending the spring-cleaning of the public music-room. Dick surrendered to a rare and rarely delicious moment. He could not remember when he had had such another, though he strove to pattern his life on the injunction to rejoice always. The melodies softly coaxed from the keys expanded the soul through the senses. Bliss.

If he could have such a retreat with seclusion from everyone, including Mollye! He had been under strain all his life, culminating in the irritations of that migrant voyage, and never a half-hour since he landed away from the voices, the footsteps, the atmosphere of those he carried on his heart. Rest! He could sleep and sleep if alone in some such place. Rested, he could begin on that poem which had dogged him for years, years that never yielded surplus time and strength for parturition and the effort of precise craftmanship.

Mollye sang ever so softly, but her sotto voce held as a primal motive. Then she gave Dick's own little song:

"The she-oaks sigh, and sigh..."

Inevitably his thoughts hovered about Ignez Milford, the girl who had gone away. Mollye was singing of the she-oaks, but their sigh carried that other touching voice:

"Only this once, only this once,
Dance with me, love, tonight,
Let us forget all our regret,
Let us be gay and bright...

After tonight, after tonight,
What will tomorrow be?
You in the light, I in the night,
Out on the rolling sea.

What is there left me, O my love?"

Ignez had been indubitably an artist, could make them all weep when she sang pathetically, or laugh when she was merry. There had been something in her voice which Mollye's lacked. Had his heart contracted with the years, or was Mollye's organ supertrained to be too big and dramatic, Mollye herself too heroic in build and personality? People still talked of Ignez's voice and book after twenty years, and wondered why she had not fulfilled her promise. Freda Healey reminded him of her, probably because she had been Freda's infantile adoration and Freda had patterned herself on Ignez's mannerisms. Freda was intractable because she felt herself thwarted, and Laleen was rebellious. He too craved unworried leisure so that the Muse could use him; and this admission was error. They had only to detach their minds from unpropitious surroundings to be in the kingdom of harmony, all hypersensitiveness and weariness banished as the phantasy of mortal mind. He had the recipe, he believed it, but he could not demonstrate.

"Those lines show precocious intuition for a little boy in the bush, Dick mio." Mollye swung around. "Were they an imitation of the older bush balladists, or did you have an inspiration?"

"Those lines really belong to Ignez Milford."

"The girl who went away--the author of Nita. I wasn't allowed to read that book, but of course I did. Afterwards, when I was studying in Paris, one of the coaches, a girl who had failed to make the grand opera grade, told us she went without a blouse to buy that book in her day. I remember thinking how wonderful to be thought so much of as that; but Ignez came to nothing, I understand...I am stupid again. If she inspired that one song, she did enough. I wonder does anyone go without food or clothes to hear me sing? Tell me about her."

"You must ask Freda Healey; she is better at formulating what she thinks. Looking back, I think Ignez never had a chance to study, no one to help her. She had to work hard--well, what Freda calls the preoccupations of charwomen engulfed her. I remember her as brave and sweet in her soul. She never made things seem unclean, and she made ordinary things an adventure." He mused dreamily of the school for writing on She-oak Ridge. No project today could have the glamour of that.

"Oh, Dick, what a lucky girl, that you should speak so of her!" Mollye sat on the fat arm of the great chair beside him. Her person was near and glowing. She looked at him in a way for which "he-men" are alert, and against which those not oversexed are on guard. It is wearing and unrestful, and confessions of notorious feminine sex varietists record many rebuffs, by no weaklings either, but by men of strenuous physical as well as intellectual attainments.

Mollye, however, was no courtesan by any nomenclature. She was a mighty vital woman, gifted and honest above all others. Dick was startled out of his blissful dreaminess by an obumbrant danger as devouring as motherhood, and more destructive of peace.

"I must be going."

"Oh, Dick, what bush hours! It's only ten o'clock."

"I don't know how late the trains run to the suburbs on Sunday night."

"Why fash yourself to go home at all? That couch makes an admirable bed, and my pyjamas would fit you horizontally at all events." Dick laughed at her high spirits. "Do stay! Rest! and I'll play some more."

He was shy as a lyre-bird. She must stay on the art stratum. She played something interminable, so that he might settle down, but she could sense that he was still eager for flight. Why should he not stay all night in her flat? Was he a puritan? Even so, her reputation was sound as a bell. His wife had divorced him for desertion. Blanche had told her that. Had he a lover to consider?

"I really must be going," he said, standing up in the first break. "Blanche will be waiting up for me."

"You must come some other night when Blanche will not be expecting you home. I am serious about the Australian opera. A great narrative poem encrusted with lyrics would be divine for music."

Dick felt a caged sensation in his spine. All his life he had struggled for others--causes or persons. Now he must be free or the Muse would not speak through him. It would speak in no prescribed pattern, but only as the wind of God listed. He must be an aeolian harp awaiting its melodies. "You need someone young and vigorous to express the spirit of today. Australian life calls for a paean. My chords are set for a threnody."

"We want our tales of yesterday too. Art embalms eras retrospectively. Think of it."

"Thank you, Austra, for giving me so much of your time. It was extravagant of you--and a perfectly glorious evening."

"Then why do you chop it off so short? And Austra! I am never that to you, only Mollye."

"I am so proud of knowing Austra," he said lamely. He would rather she were Austra to him than too specially Mollye. He was out the door and down the stairs without awaiting the lift. Then on Macquarie Street with the lights below and the stars above, with the Harbour at the end and the palms in silhouette fringing the Gardens. He walked away counting his blessings. Mollye was kind--so kind! She radiated love. Though she was the great Austra, she was as friendly as she had been as a toddler when he remembered her attempts to sing "'ay down upon the on-ee wibba'" before she could say the words. He was grateful for the delight association with her brought Blanche. Good old Blanche! Dear little Laleen! Bernice Gaylord's pictures. A man felt like whooping to see a little bit of the artistic soul of his country coming of age. Bernice herself was marvellous. She must have mastered conditions and attained harmony, otherwise she could not work so richly.

He walked to Central across the sacked park, and so to Ashville.

Mollye was left alone just after ten o'clock, defeated and restless. Why had her bird flown so early? What must she do another time? In a position to order many situations imperially, nevertheless she was innately mother-woman, and knew that some things cannot be commanded, things so dear that they are life. Such was Dick. How to woo him! He might retain the old bush notions and be scandalized to be alone with a lady of the theatre. Surely he couldn't be so ridiculously wowser as that! Mollye laughed merrily to find the indigenous argot returning.

Perhaps he would be easier with others about. She could ask him to bring Laleen, and Nat could dispose of her. Blanche was a person to be carried with one. She would look on with gimlet application and interpret according to her own inhibitions.

There were dozens of poets who would jump at Austra's suggestion of the libretto. Only Dick was elusive. A sign that here might be the writer with the essential touch, the power to put in a story the blood and tears, the laughter--the delicious laughter of comedy--that draw laughter and tears from a whole people. Men who could write to order were clever, many times successful, but those with that something else were always wayward. They must be allured. The sensitive shades that ran across Dick's features quickened the core of her.

II

Sir Oswald drove to his hotel feeling it a good bag to have captured Freda. He liked to be with well-dressed ladies, especially if they could say smart things to make him laugh, and give him importance in the eyes of other diners. He chuckled about the way she had plucked the feathers out of old mother Gilmour. Darned old reactionary!

"By Gad! It was good of you to come," he said, squeezing her shapely arm as he hurried her to the dining-room. He was a good doer and took time over his meals. They talked desultorily of old Bool Boolians without his losing sight of what there might be in this in addition to pleasant companionship. When they repaired to a corner of the lounge he began on migration. He found that Freda had experience of the war, the United States and England and Australia, that would have eliminated him in an examination.

"Why don't you join forces with me? Be my secretary, or I could get you appointed as an adviser to the Committee that will report here and in England."

Freda, used to working with men in London, suspected a project for her to do much work on infinitesimal pay while the Major-General knight took the credit and glory with "expenses" more than any salary the Commission would offer a woman.

"I am sick of the question. There is no good in tinkering under the present financial organization of society. We want comprehensive world systems to fit population to territory and to distribute necessities of decent life to everyone instead of using them as counters in a gambling game. We know enough to begin on the abolition of poverty and war, but there are too many stupids or cowards to do it."

"Radical ideas entertain me like a cocktail, but it's impossible to put them into practice. We must move along with practical things."

"Exactly. You have an irrefutable case there and a big career in it, but I have sickened of it. When reform no longer is fruit to the soul of the reformer, the reformer cannot serve reform. He is only a wage-plug, as they call it here, and I want be a different kind of wage-plug.

"You never know what the next political tide may bring in. Things that they yell against today are supported furiously in the next muster."

"That is true. Take a small thing like women's clothes. Twenty years ago the women who rebelled against long skirts were looked upon as immoral, or condemned as bloodless frumps soured because they were not sirens. Then, all of a sudden, better than the most advanced dreamed of swept upon us. Something similar may come in the abolition of poverty or war. This insurance or 'dole' is the thin end of the wedge in providing incomes for everyone."

"But that is a deep policy subversive of economic laws, upsetting supply and demand. Women's clothes are merely a whim of fashion."

"Supply and demand be grannied! Economic laws are only a man-made superstition like the frowsy sentimentality about women, and could be ventilated just the same. What I wanted to illustrate was that if women's apparel, despite the ingrained prejudice and with the Church thundering in opposition, could be revolutionized in the twinkling of an eye, why not be seized with the notion to abolish poverty?"

Perhaps only one person in a thousand can keep to the point at issue. Therefore Sir Oswald, in a taxi escorting Freda to the station, began: "About women's clothes, you know! I don't approve of them being too short. Showing the knee is altogether too much of a good thing. Now you know the knees should be covered. They are not a beautiful part of the body."

"If it is in the interests of physical freedom to show them, they'll have to be endured, like bald heads, or bow-window fronts, or flap ears."

Sir Oswald laughed resoundingly, ensnared by Freda's whimsical manner. "Yes, but come now, there are other reasons. You are a woman of the world. All this crime, rapings, sex crimes generally, can be traced to women's clothes."

"I'd rather credit them to the purifying and ennobling licence of war."

"Well, at any rate, I think it's dangerous to inflame men by showing the knee, just that little hollow at the back of the knee...men suffer. There is a sex problem, you know...you, a woman of the world, must know, for every man."

"Men were just as loony when women showed their bosoms and ankles, as they are now when they cover their bosoms and expose their armpits and knees. I don't see why women should bear the burden of men's insanity. There should be surgeons, hospitals, asylums, and jails to deal with that."

"Ha, ha! He, ha! It's funny for you because you're a woman. If you were a man...I know myself."

Freda bent her eyes on him mockingly. "Oh, Sir Oswald! If I were a man and had to give myself away like that! Oh, Sir Oswald!"

"What would you do?" he chortled, putting his arm around her, but more as if around the cab, tentatively. He knew enough not to be rash in this instance.

"I'd take first to vegetarianism."

"Vegetarianism can be as rich as a meat diet."

"If it is as bad as that, I should consult a surgeon--but I would not be a slave, a weak puling slave, to be undone and befooled by such a simple weakness of the flesh, such an ignoble one!"

Ignoring his arm as an embrace, she sprang out of the taxi, her skirts flirting and showing her symmetrical knees as she landed. Sir Oswald walked with her towards the platform but was barred at the grille. She turned and whispered laughingly over her shoulder: "If women's clothes make it burdensome to be men, old styles of armour could be revived--for the men. Poor, poor, poor afflicted dears!" She looked at him with a tantalizing light in her eyes and blew the daintiest, almost imperceptible kiss.

"Saucy! I'll be damned! The damned saucy little--" chuckled Sir Oswald, regaining his taxi. So deliciously feminine in spite of her quick wits...to place a fashion in clothes as an illustration against upsetting world economics! Why, women would go stark naked in the frost, or in furs in the tropics, if it was the fashion.

He found a cable from his wife demanding more money. He was not pinched for money. Grilling Bros. (Drapers) were paying solid dividends in spite of the talk of trade depression, and he had other opulent resources in station syndicates. But what was Joyce doing with all the money he had apportioned her? Opportunities for the king of indoor sports were unlimited in his wife's circle--for women as 'well as men. Though Sir Oswald had taken on enough London veneer to be sneered at as a pommy in certain Australian circles, he had never acquired the high-class Englishman's apparent equanimity or indifference before the prospect of cuckolding.

He must compose a cable to Joyce and another to her father. The old man might at least see that Joyce did not step off the rails while he was away struggling to keep the Empire together. God knew where England would be without Australia for raw materials and a market for manufactured goods! Without the Dominions, England would be on the level of Norway or Denmark, and without England the Dominions would be swarmed over like an ant-heap by all the surplus scum of Asia or Southern Europe--must hang together! Other letters made him yawn. There was one from a Mazere, some unspeakable second cousin claiming help on the strength of the relationship and at the same time sneering at the Major-General's "flashness" as a titled pommy. He thought of dropping the Mazere, at least in Australia. It was a relief to be in England safe from unsatisfactory relatives. It tempted him to go English permanently. The trouble was that his only claim to prominence in England was his being a serang in Australia, and his exploitation thereupon by the imperialists. He mixed a whisky and soda to make him feel more at ease with life. What the deuce was he getting out of life? He had money, a wife, and an establishment, but the pep, the colour, the thrill! By Gad! Freda Healey had a pretty knee! No wonder she wanted to show it. As he sipped his life-saver he scribbled a note asking her to luncheon...He would like to see the report she would write on immigration...The place to look for peppy ideas was among the extremists. A man could gain kudos among the gleg-wits with the diluted article. Sir Oswald had facility in garnering other people's ideas. Much less wearing and less unpopular than himself generating them.

III

George Stanton went with the Nanda folks for an evening meal. George was amicable with Mrs Mazere. She was fat and ugly, but had a soothing manner, and listened well. She was interested in what George told her of the United States, and did not wax "snake-headed" when his comparisons were hard on Australia. She was president of a branch of the Bush-women's Association and interested in all public, and even world, events. She had long ago secured her right to life on her own lines, and did not mind that she held it at the expense of being mistakenly considered "no good in the house".

Blanche was exercised to know what had become of Freda.

"Sir Oswald drove her to the station," offered Horan.

"She's gone on the razzle with him," said George.

"What would she be doing with him at this time of night?"

"She mightn't have known what time it was," said Philippa.

Nat left immediately after supper. He did not enjoy the Mazere piano or conversation, and made no effort to conciliate the elder sisters as did the politic Mollye. Blanche had no gout for him either. She suspected him of being a Roman Catholic. Laleen was relieved that he went before Dad inquired his age. She was at an age to feel disgraced every time Dad insisted upon a visitor divulging his years, one point upon which she and Blanche were in agreement. Blanche had reached middle life when she did not enjoy family age reckonings, Dad that stage of senility when to verify everyone's years was a vital matter to him, and he was difficult to divert.

George and Bob James left, too, to have the motor car back to town.

"I don't like his looks," said Blanche of Nat. "His eyes are too near his nose."

"Pooh! Eyes don't need to be plattered all over the face like a cow's!"

"At any rate I heard those girls talking about his pranks," persisted Blanche.

When the ballyhoo of clearing away had subsided, Blanche observed portentously, "I'm sure that Mollye is very much in love with Dick."

"It might be so. I often think what a strange thing love is," said Philippa.

"Blanche is such an old simpleton that that is all she can think of between people. Mollye cannot be waiting till now just to fall in love with Dick," said Laleen a little later.

"Oh well, child--if it amuses Blanche! You had better go to bed and be ready for tomorrow."

Laleen was sitting on the side of her mother's bed with a possum rug around her. Mrs Mazere's children always sat on her bed to con the events of the day. It is one good test of a parent. Dad, though already asleep, at intervals shouted, "Get to bed! Get to bed!" He said it during his afternoon naps and created a laugh at his expense.

"Judith Laurillard looks so dreamy and mysterious. Almost as if she wouldn't need to eat like ordinary people."

"Yes, she looks exotic. I found her most interesting. She promised to come to the Club."

"Oh, did she, Mum! How thrilling! And Mollye, fancy being able to call her Mollye! I do think she is wonderful and magnificent. She just thrills me to bits, and yet she is so kind and friendly."

"Mollye is big in every sense. I wonder why Blanche thinks that about Dick and her?"

"Because she is an idiot. When she thinks a thing, it always makes me think the opposite."

"Has Blanche found out yet whether that young man who plays is a Papist?" Mrs Mazere watched Laleen closely.

"I don't care if he is," she said, and retrieved it with, "I mean it is no business of Blanche's or mine. I am only interested in his playing."

"Is that all?" thought her mother, but did not speak. Not by such brusqueries did she hold her children's confidence.

"Get to bed! Get to bed!" snorted Dad.

Laleen acted upon his injunction. She lay thinking of Nat. The girls on the divan had made her uneasy. He travelled with Austra as an aide-de-camp in the entourage of a queen; in addition he was a prince in his own right, receiving the adulation of bevies of lovely girls all around the world. Even in Sydney there were those with motor cars of their own, and money to pay him exorbitant fees for lessons. How could she be in the running?

Despair!

But there was Bernice Gaylord. She was almost as famous as Nat, yet had gone up to Uncle Sylvester in the scrub and married Peter Poole, only an overseer and the cousin of a cousin of her own.

Hope!

Blanche retailed to Philippa the news of the party.

"I got the idea that it was used as a bed; you can't deceive me; so when I was picking up my handkerchief I looked. It had sheets and blankets under the cover. I believe in a real bed in a room to itself, with everything white about it and frilled pillow-cases--"

"Yes, I do like frilled pillow-cases. I may be old-fashioned."

"And nice white curtains. I think it's not very decent having a bed right out that way where everyone can see it. I shouldn't like my bed where a lot of dirty old men could sit on it and smoke. But that kind of people don't have my feelings, I suppose."

"If you were married you'd have a dirty old man sleeping right in your bed."

"But he would be my husband, not some strange man. The studio is right out in the scrub like Oswald's Ridges. I've had enough of that kind of dingo scenery."

"It wouldn't do for all of us to think the same. I often think what a difference there is in people's ideas."

"There were some queer-looking creatures there. That Judith Laurillard, the actress, is a sickly looking thing."

"Did you think to ask her what they are going to wear in London or Paris--a great chance!"

"You don't need to know what they are wearing in Paris or London. You can see in Farmer's or Davy Jones's what they are wearing here, much better. I shouldn't be surprised if she develops cancer or diabetes. She looks like poor Aunt Lucy Saunders before she was taken. She didn't seem to hear what I said to her. She might take drugs. That would account for it. Those actresses are dissipated objects--can't help it with that sort of life."

"I often think what a strange thing life is, the different kinds of people that are in it--"

"You should have heard George Stanton; he began on his unpatriotic red-rag business."

"I think perhaps he doesn't mean what he says. If people wouldn't argue with him--"

"He must be exactly like old Great-grandfather Mazere for rudeness and pugnacity, judging by all I've heard of our distinguished progenitor. He's the dead image of his pictures, too."

"Isn't it a pity when people are like that. It is so much pleasanter to see the good in people and shut your eyes to the rest; and often if you think people are good and make them think--"

"He was blowing about the wonders of America as usual, and I said we were not Americans but Australians, and he said that to be an Australian was only a poor imitation of the English. What do you think of that for patriotism?"

"I suppose we'd have to be like someone, if we are human."

IV

Judith wrote a home letter:

I have discovered the most entrancing shrub called boronia--not spectacular, but oh, the heavenly perfume. It compensates me for the dreadful people with their provincial ways. The simple bush people, as they are called, might be possible--rough and ready, but eager to do anything for one. I met an old squatter today, a big wool grower, who was charming. (A cousin of that Mazere-Poole, the Australian M.P. in the House of Commons. Heaps of money--wool and a shop like Swan and Edgar.) But oh, my dear, if you could know the pretentious ones--the so-called society horrors, who ape London and can't quite bring it off!!! Their mentality--or want of it! Not an idea in their heads but some charity tea or jazz dance. They are all either on the move to England or have just returned, and their minds are bemused by what they have seen or expect to see. The town is in a commotion with grizzly parties for those returning or going away, with bouquets, and their names in the paper and lists of their miserable dresses, as if it were a Court at the Palace. It is like a hill camp in India, no settled indigenous society--no society at all in the intellectual sense as far as I can hear.

And the papers!!!--advertisements of drapery stores like those in Fulham or Camden Town interspersed with the tripiest tripe. Some woman dishes up a col. from dear old G.B.S., and I give you my word it seems unbelievably daring in the surroundings--nothing else but dreary piffle that must emanate from superannuated eunuchs. They put in the engagements of shop assistants, and such news as that Mrs Nincompoop wore a posy of real flowers at Mrs Woolman's ball. Lots about dress--things we wore two seasons past, even the same skull-cap hats, with the sun glaring like the Sahara!!!!

God forgive me if ever I am supercilious again about the poor old Observer and Sunday Times, or even the Express.

I've just had a cable from Raoul Howard. My dear, he wants me to create the star part of his new comedy next September in New York!!!!

It will be dreadful acting here--great barns of theatres fit only for spectacles, and one has to shout like a Dervish. All finish and finesse is flattened. Old Horibunk suggested that the comedy parts should be broadened, as for the woollier provinces at Home. I just looked at him...Yet the Australians must be the most wonderful theatre-goers in the world, seeing the small percentage in any population that has the brain or wit to appreciate fine acting and intellectual drama. In London, even, thoughtful plays don't run long except in tiny theatres, yet here, in spite of the meagre population, they have these barns to fill. And singers that have one concert during a season in London give half a dozen here, packed to the usual prices, and the Town Hall holds 4000.

Of course they only see London and American successes. There is no vestige of a native drama. They haven't an idea--fifth-rate provincial England with a spice of raw Americanism.

For pity's sake post me some theatrical and book reviews. To think I shall have only one or two replies from you before I leave! It is the distance that is so disintegrating. One feels quite off the globe.

V

"Pouf!" breathed Freda Healey, as her train pulled out. "Pouf!" That was the sort of fellow at the top of things, with war medals on his chest, and a title, and in the Mother of Parliaments. His opinion on defence and migration would reverberate as practical wisdom from Whitehall and Fleet Street. Lord deliver us! The female form could put him off the rails! He even thought he could fiddle with her! Was life a funny or tragic farce, she pondered, even as Philippa Mazere was prattling. The difference between an acknowledged Einstein and a certified moron was so infinitesimal that the grades in between had no call to be egotistical about any cerebral contribution they could make to unravelling the mystery of why men were born or what might happen them after death.

Sir Oswald! She was familiar with the approach of married men. They bridled. They blundered, evidently unaware that subtlety in approach was necessary. Pedestrian, barnyard fowls, stupidly thinking they understood women because in possession of one ordinary specimen, in most cases more inexperienced sexually either through practice or imagination than the husbands. Some day she would let a married man prance and whinny head-on, and, having him alone and unprotected, would pursue laboratory investigations as to why he was as he was. How surprised that man would be just when he began to strut! She must make the most of her time now if she was to be thoroughly informed; soon wrinkles and grey hairs would lessen her catch of specimens.

She resented Sir Oswald's attempts to pick her brains even more than his attempts to squeeze her waist. She hardly thought she would dissect him. She was too busy; besides, that sort of thing went better in London or New York. Sir Oswald had no physical attraction for her, though he should stand on his ear to impress her. Did he think he could achieve her with crayfish bait! She snorted, safe behind the rattle of the train.

She reached home with a no-rest-for-the-foot-of-her-soul feeling, after years of freedom, finding it wearing beyond endurance to live in a small cottage with others, and especially famishing to be exiled from her friends of mental quality. Her father when with her had a liveliness he never exhibited in the company of her mother, so she had decided to take her parents to affairs one at a time; also it was too heavy to tow two social deadweights. Today had been Dad's turn. Mrs Healey was consequently in her raspy mood.

"Why are you so late?"

"We took Peter Poole to the train, and then I had to see someone."

Funny thing he should marry an artist. We'll soon hear of a scandal and a divorce. Why do such people want to get married at all? Was Blanche there, and is her father's rheumatism better?"

"I didn't know he had rheumatism."

"There's not much sympathy for the old when they suffer. I know by myself."

"You're a long way from being old yet."

"People say that to old people so they won't have to be sympathetic. How is Blanche's heart?"

"Flourishing, as far as I could judge."

"You woudn't be sympathetic, though. Not like Blanche. She is wonderfully thoughtful, one of the most thoughtful I know. Very different from the girls of today." Mrs Healey's admiration of one person was generally applied as a stick to beat another. Freda went towards her room. Her mother's voice followed. "You go out all day enjoying yourself among interesting people while others have to do the best they can, suffering and lonely. You might at least tell me something you see or hear."

"Mollye Brennan was there, and looked gorgeous in fox skins, and George Stanton was arguing as usual."

"George is most unpatriotic. He ought to be ashamed to talk against Australia. Everyone who comes here says what a magnificent country we have, and that we are ahead of the the Americans--"

The Major-General was there too, and Judith Laurillard, the great actress."

"Was he with her? It's a wonder Lady Poole would let her husband come away so far. He might be running away with some other woman. If a woman marries a man she ought to look after him. If people don't want to fulfil the obligations of marriage why do they marry at all? But no one in the world thinks of right or wrong. They only think of selfishness and rushing about in motor cars."

"Dick and Laleen were there, too. Laleen looked lovely."

"She wants to write, too. What would she know of life to write about? The young people nowadays all want some excuse to get away from the home and leave the work to others. Blanche at her time of life now ought to be resting, but she has to keep on and on. She's one of the unselfish ones, but they never get any praise or thanks in this world. I know by myself."

"Has Dad gone to bed?"

"He's snoring long ago."

"Lucky man, blessed of God!"

"He's another who thinks only of himself. He never thinks of making himself agreeable to me. You'd think a man would sometimes be a companion to the woman he took as a girl, and took all the life out of her, and tell her some of what he reads or sees."

When Larry tried to tell something of what he read or thought, Dot promptly contradicted him. She was a fluent monologist. Freda had fallen silent.

"Is that all you did at the party? It must have been a dull affair."

"We had tea and looked at the pictures. Mr Gaylord seems to be very happy and proud of his daughter's success."

"It must be nice for a parent to have a daughter like that."

"Equally happy for a daughter to have such a wonderful parent. They say he brought her genius out."

"If a person has genius it will come out of itself. It can't be kept down."

"Even genius wants training and a little understanding."

"You can't keep genius down. It always rises from nothing. What dress did Blanche have on?"

"I didn't notice. She looked all right, though."

"She always looks all right. I know that. Wonderful how she can manage all she has to do and look so nice. It's her unselfish spirit."

"Do you want the gramophone on, mother? I'm very tired and should so appreciate quiet."

"Of course you're tired from running about and enjoying yourself. Then you come home and deny me what pleasure I can get in the best way I can. I'd hate to be as selfish as that. What would I do? Go to bed and ache all over with rheumatism? It's a wonder I don't go dotty with no one to care about me or entertain me."

Dot could lie in her chair and sleep soundly for hours as though the gramophone or wireless were a soporific, and always stoutly denied having more than an hour or two of sleep out of the twenty-four. She did not engage in fancywork or read, and the days were endlessly long to her.

"I must write some letters," remarked Freda.

"I don't know why you should be so selfish to your poor old mother to deny me the simple pleasures I can get. I don't go about among interesting people as you can. Here I sit for hours alone. I suppose you'd like my mind to go."

"That's nonsense. God knows I'm always wanting people to exercise their mental faculties. I only asked if the gramophone--"

"You'd like to prevent me having anything if you could..." Freda escaped to her room, her mother's voice following: "If anyone tells you the truth, you're a coward. You won't stay to meet it."

Freda shut her teeth and flung herself on her bed, every nerve quivering. A state of altercation was almost unavoidable with her mother in private. When Freda could be tormented into response it resulted in entertainment and satisfaction to Dot, but a loss of self-respect to Freda that was spiritually debilitating and reacted conspicuously on her work. There was no possibility of quiet in a wooden structure, not even with cotton wool in her ears. She wished she had remained with Sir Oswald; his interest, though spurious, would be luxury compared with Dot's manifestations of mother love.

Mrs Healey was soon dozing in her chair. There would be no sure quiet for another hour. Freda knew that she should be able to shut out this disharmony. It was an illusion that she was fatigued and nervous: life itself was only an illusion, but it was as trying as a nightmare while it endured. Maladjustment at the centre of being must account for her mother's contentiousness; there were thousands approximating her. Blanche for another. Part of it was spiritual starvation. They never admitted any shortcomings, perhaps were unaware of having any. Some of their accursed restlessness--a torment to themselves and their associates--was the result of an early life of ceaseless mechanical activity precluding intellectual interests; now when no longer compelled to fill the day with mechanics, they were resourceless. Wireless or other devices were to them as a rattle to an infant. But oh for some garret where sound of voices and banging doors and other noises could be shut out! There were no garrets, unfortunately, in these pestiferous hutches of one storey, blinking at each other in standardized rows.

She was too weary to work. Her mind roved wastefully. How would Dick surmount his difficulties? Blanche and her mother had been made in similar moulds. Mollye--one satisfactory example of gifts and character in harmonious operation. Mollye had had a doting and well-to-do family, and music is a pleasing art and manifests itself early. What did Mollye want now--this opera or Dick? The quicksand of sex for ever confronted the unwary. She wanted her, Freda. She would resist being gobbled by this centrifugal force. Oh, God, why couldn't she have peace and a chance to use her own ideas in her own way?

Sir Oswald, another success in his way--and what was the matter with his way? He was made for the world, the world made by and for such as he. He could not miss comfort, perhaps happiness. It was egotism for her to feel she had superior light.

Judith Laurillard--a more delicate instrument, sensitive as Dick in some ways, but had taken a different spiritual turning. Seeking happiness through an artistic draft on the senses, where others drew crudely. It was a race with time for Judith now, and time must win. Not a few of the kind had sought sympathy from Freda when the sea of amour had left them stranded, resentful that it should allow men a more extended season. They envied Freda her immunity, but she worked for it, and even so was always casting glances along Lot's way, wondering how much she was missing by excluding the sporting phases of amour. Otherwise she had attained neither matrimony nor any other material security, nor mental harmony. An impoverished outlook for the middle thirties.

Mr Gaylord seemed fatuously happy. Some people could compass happiness in parenthood. There were others who found it only a source of grievance and made the children miserable. If people could be grouped according to congeniality, would life still be nothing but this flash of discomfort in the darkness? What the tophet was life anyhow? If that infernal noise would only cease!

Was life worth the continual struggle? It would be good to go to that promised land where there was no marrying or giving in marriage. A great relief to the sexual; after all, people were somewhat responsible for their matrimonial messes, had some choice and could abstain, whereas children--she looked forward to this marriageless heaven for its freedom from family life.

That infernal noise! Something would have to be done to rescue those with a thinking apparatus from noise!

Mrs Healey arose, banged doors loudly, thrust chairs about, and retired.

Quiet! Relief equalling the cessation of toothache!


CHAPTER X

I

A Mazere family party was in progress on Saturday afternoon to take part in the opening of a small park. On the previous Sunday, in the Gaylord studio, Blanche had issued invitations. The Mazere and Healey families were complete, augmented by George Stanton and Mrs Gambol. The latter lady "obliged" the Mazeres by coming in. There was really not sufficient in the Nanda cottage to occupy Philippa and Blanche, but their squatter status demanded some kind of retainer.

They were awaiting a bus where Ashville Road rests on the crest of the long ridge. Spread beneath were half a dozen suburbs, ranging from scattered red roofs amid the trees of the nearer ranges to agglomerations such as Erskineville and Newtown. Botany Bay in the distance was the old Madonna blue; Cronulla's sands gold-tinted snow; the white fountains that are never still on the quietest Southern Pacific day played about the feet of Cape Banks and Bare Island. The dark and unique native scrub was still to be seen in that direction. Nearer around were miles of bungalows as if designed with cake-cutters, six or eight to the acre, bespeaking open air, sunlight and private garden space such as can hardly be matched in proletarian areas in other continents. Down the far vistas of wide streets rising or falling with the stateliness of terraces, not a tree to be seen. Older houses here and there were still graced by pittosporums or camellias, but even since Dick's return he noticed some of these were being cut clown. A newer slum-minded invasion had no appreciation of trees, and lacked initiative to preserve and adapt native flora, excepting the stag and moose horns. The novelty of these had attracted the unoriginal mentality, and torn from their bosky natural glades, shabby and parched, they baked on the brick walls of the unshaded cottages.

"Land's sake! There's a nit-wit layout. Not a tree or park to dignify the streets or give shade, in this climate!"

"Give us time!" said Phillipa.

"Time to make a worse layout, you mean, and then have to tear it up, like the old places that are always croaking that it is the dead hand of the past that is choking them."

"The people are poor. We had to give all our money to Uncle Sam in the war," said Blanche.

"Shucks! This blurb about the money you gave away! The Australian working man is the richest wage-plug on God's earth, and the most leisured. It's poverty of brain he's suffering from, not poverty of pocket."

"Our working men would be all right only for the redraggers that are leading them astray, and telling them to do as little work as they can," continued Philippa valiantly.

"The sooner they find out what ails them the better. They have everything their own way, and behold: row after row of dog-kennels blinking at each other, and no zoning or planning."

Freda drew attention to the flowers and fruit, the linoleum on the floors, the gas or electric appliances, the rose-bowered garages, the piano players or gramophones blaring in "front" rooms, contrasted with a rack-rented room or two in old-world slums, from which these people had migrated. "But they'll never hold it and go forward without leaders of vision. The herd cannot hold what has been won for it."

"They'll be pulled up with a thud soon. They are living high without earning it, as far as I can see. The blurb of the swillers in the saloons is that there was plenty of money to blow men to pieces in the war, and it can be found for other things as well."

"The working men nowadays will not live as they used to do, while other fellows, no better, splash about in luxury," said Dad Mazere.

"It is an irrefutable fact," interposed Larry Healey. "that they have the right to it, one man as well as another, but under the present system of economics it can't last. Borrowed money comes to an end. Then see what will happen with the bills coming in from the oversea pawnbrokers.'

"You must look on the bright side of things and pretend you don't see the others," said Philippa.

"Yes. I'd like to see a little cheerfulness." said Blanche.

"Everything would be all right if only there were trees," said Dick.

"If I had my life over again I should not have a tree near the place. You are always clearing up after trees."

"It would be better sweeping up after a tree than making those rags with lace on them for a man to lose his studs in, or gossiping about bunions or indigestion."

"Now, you like things to be nice. You would be the first to complain if they weren't, and if you had them bare like a jail, it wouldn't be nice."

George ignored Philippa. He always did. She considered him very rude. She was sure he was the image of Great-grandpa Mazere.

"I often think if there was a line of trees to bloom in succession down these streets--wattle, tea-tree, jacaranda--how lovely it would be," contributed Larry.

"Who'd pay for a lot of useless trees?" demanded Dot his wife, the ratepayer of the family. "Who'd take care of them? We can't grow a decent flower in our front gardens but the boys tear it out."

"I know many cities where there are flowers and shrubs all along the sidewalks, and the boys don't tear them out. I'm glad I'm going to give up my Australian citizenship; it's no credit to belong to a country of savages!"

It was Dick who said gently, "A splendid lot of boys play at the corner of our street. I've never seen brighter or friendlier. It only wants putting to them, and they'd plant trees and have sidewalk flower-beds."

"The common man is only so much clay in the hands of the uncommon man. The struggle is, who shall fashion the herd, the militant and predatory groups, or the idealists."

"You're nothing but bolshevists. I believe in letting things alone. They'll come right in the end."

"It's not what you or I believe," said Larry. "It is, what is the truth?"

"I wish you wouldn't talk like that before Mrs Gambol," said Philippa in an urgent aside to George. "She is very touchy about working men and strikes, and it is so hard to find anyone to come in and do a little work. It was to palliate and entertain her that we brought her to the picnic."

"Gee whilligans! My brain is musty bringing it low enough to talk about Uncle Saunders' ingrowing toe-nails and lemon juice for Aunt Jane's rheumatism."

"Never mind," said Mrs Mazere placidly. "We are at least going now to see a beginning of open spaces, and here comes the bus."

The elders, Blanche, Philippa, and Mrs Gambol, were accommodated, the others proceeded on foot. Freda chid George for being so drastic.

"They are so clamed self-satisfied, awl being so far away they have nothing to counteract the poppycock pumped into them by interested overlords. They need jarring a bit."

Freda further stated that he was intoxicated with the fabulous mechanical standards of the United States. Australia. she contended, was already too far on the same route without being able to afford it, and to the detriment of spiritual or artistic progress. She instanced the palatial picture-houses furnished like a Sultan's throne-room. Better the beginnings of native drama in the shearing-sheds and mechanics' institutes than standardized trash in sumptuous surroundings. She pointed to the electric railway coaches racketing past every few minutes so that charwomen and wives of corner grocers and bricklayers should be saved delay in rushing to the centre of the metropolis for bargains.

George admitted that Australia was an astonishing concern. "She's just 'rarin' to go'. With her furious energy, if she only knew which way to go, she'd lick creation."

Peace fell upon the pedestrian group. It was an off-day for romance for Laleen, as Mollye had regretted that she couldn't be back from Brisbane, but it was second only to romance to be with an intimate relative like Dick, a source of pride and adoration.

A State electioneering campaign had just begun, and capital was being made out of the opening of the park. Major-General Sir Oswald Mazere-Poole, who was addressing a number of the more important meetings on behalf of the Nationalist candidate, was to say a few words. In the evening there was to be a debate in Ashville between the Major-General and the Labour candidate. The first-named was to go home with the Mazeres for high tea and give Blanche and Philippa an outlet for their hospitality.

Blanche's party, augmented by Bob James, mustered in time to inspect the park, an acre and a half of vacant allotments laid out in lawns and flower-beds with a sandpile and swings in one corner for the children. Already the big boys, lacking outlet for their motor endowment, had broken the infants' swings. George instantly noted the weak spot in the provisions.

"No sanitary accommodation for the children," he trumpeted, to Blanche's chagrin. "That's what you get from the common man after a full generation of women's votes and eight-hour days, and high wages. That's what he does for himself when he can show his true form unhindered by the wicked capitalist--not one blooming closet for the kids."

Laleen laughed naughtily at Blanche's discomfiture. "That's certainly a score for you," said Mrs Mazere equably.

"But none of the parks in the country towns have such accommodation," pleaded Philippa.

"The human race has been cast in its present form long enough for even common people to make provision for its needs. No trees! No sanitary accommodation!"

"I wish to goodness George would soon return to his wonderful United States and stay there," grumbled Blanche. "He's no loss to Australia, with his red-ragging."

The arrival of the Mayor and the band diverted George, who was always where the limelight might fall. Next came Sir Oswald, driving himself. There were cheers, as, glittering in the crisp September sunlight, he came across the new lawns, a manifestation of worldly robustness and enjoyment of the occasion that was infectious. His eyes widened as they noted Freda. The band of gleaming silver instruments played patriotic airs right merrily. The Mayor welcomed the Major-General; the Major-General, in great practice, did his part acceptably to all.

The opening platitudes threw a lassitude over Dick. He looked over the ground and grieved that civic taste had not been equal to preserving a grove of the lovely swamp tea-tree with its ecstasy of honied bloom, or a good old turpentine or two for shade from the pitiless sun. His eyes roved to the panorama of sky and the far line of blue bay. Up a naked road undulating grandly with the long ridges he descried an automobile. He pointed it out to Laleen. Her pulses danced. It was Nat and Mollye. The sitting local Member was speaking, and the Mayor and Sir Oswald were free to rush to the great personage and bring her on the platform. It was exciting to Blanche, proving that Mollye was completely infatuated with Dick, and that for all her world greatness she still cared for home and Australia, and thus could be held up to George.

It gave Sir Oswald and Freda to ponder. Dick had a sense of retreat invaded. To Laleen it was of that glamorous fibre of life into which Dick had led her--Nat, Dick, Austra, herself. There was nothing out of perspective to her in one of the world's greatest voices being at a billy-tea-and-sandwich picnic with people who could no more talk on her level than board school children to a duchess--a duchess with brains.

She had flown back from Brisbane, "just on purpose to have tea with my dear friends the Mazeres and Healeys, and all the dear neighbours of Ashville". Thus her explanation in the few words upon which the good-natured little Mayor insisted, and which turned the meeting into an ovation for the singer.

Blanche and Philippa, accustomed all their lives to supplying hospitality without notice, convened with other people. Little shops in the neighbourhood could be called upon. A pound-note each from George, Dick, and Bob James. The housewives produced tea boiled on their stoves, and cups, and bouquets of violets and camellias fresh plucked for the prima-donna.

Freda watched her, deeply interested and moved. What a presence! What a personality! How sweetly triumphant to return while still in youthful maturity to the simple pleasures of home and family! But it was the other side of the shield while exercise of talent was still obstructed. Oh, a very different thing to be a slave though gifted as a princess, than to be that princess panoplied in laurels of world achievement dazzling the cottars to whom she was bound by affection, but from whose limitations she had transcendently escaped.

At any rate, there was Mollye chucking the Major-General under the chin, without scandal, and he delighted thereby. The Mayor, seeing the company he was suddenly hurled into, forwent other engagements and accepted Blanche's invitation to tea. He devoted himself to Austra, paralysed as servile souls before royalty. Sir Oswald drafted Freda to the outskirts.

"Are you never going to dine with me again? Aren't you thinking favourably of my proposition about the Report? If we blended your point of view and mine neither camp could sneer then."

Mollye managed to shake off the Mayor and attach Dick to inspect the flower-beds a little removed from the crowd.

"Dicky," her voice was a coo, "I'm going away."

"I am sorry I can do nothing to repay the pleasure you have given Blanche--us all." He felt pressed, thinking she was referring to that plaguy opera.

"You must not talk of repaying me. It is I who cannot repay." He made no comment on her going away. "I am going to Bool Bool to the dear old Gap and Dad for three weeks_ I shall see the tea-tree and wattle and all the old flowers."

"I wonder if it is as beautiful as I expect?"

"Why don't you come with me and see?"

"Laleen wants me for the present with her work."

"My flat will be empty till after Christmas. I was thinking it would be a nice writing den for you--quiet."

"I couldn't think of intruding upon you to that extent."

"It would be nice for Laleen. Freda Healey too would be glad of it for an office, I am sure."

She noticed that the inclusion of others was a fruitful policy. "For Laleen's sake," he murmured. "She and Freda help each other considerably, I know."

"That's lovely. I'll see about the keys and the caretaker." They strolled to the farthest corner, and Mollye said she loved the buffalo grass so much that she must sit on it. Blanche sent Laleen, and Laleen invited Nat to go with her to bring Dick and Mollye to tea.

"I think it such fun to hear George Stanton sizzling us up. Are we all as bad as he says?"

"Things are much better here for the common man than anywhere in the world. It's only the unusual ones that can't put up with it once they've escaped. The joy of Mr Stanton is that he sails in. When we appear in public we have to flatter the box office or we might get counted out...Talking of things better, there's one here better than anywhere else."

"What's that?" inquired Laleen, speculatively arch, but her gaze dropped before the facile admiration in his, and he found himself thrilling as the rose travelled upwards across her cheek and brow. Laleen was in no haste. Neither was Nat. Laleen was fresh as a rose and flatteringly receptive.

Blanche impatiently dispatched Philippa after the dawdling couples. She and Philippa were anxious about the evening meal now that Mollye and Nat were added.

The Major-General secured Freda for his front seat, and invited her to cut across by Tom Ugly's Point and back for 6.30 tea. Dick gravitated to Freda, and Mollye to Dick, so this party whizzed away to inspect the progress of the George's River bridge. Laleen had the felicity of sitting beside Nat, with the family crowd in the tonneau of the other car.

The first party returned ecstatic about the little brown ground orchids and other old friends they had found, and in time to eat before the meeting. Dick sneezed loudly during the meal, and alarmed Blanche and Philippa.

"I do hope you haven't caught cold on that damp grass. It must have been watered this morning."

"Colds are only a false belief, sis."

"If you take precautions you are safe, belief or no belief,"

"The ground is so treacherous at this time of year, and when there is so much flu about, you should be careful for the sake of others," added Phillipa.

Ensued a detailed report of the colds in vogue among relatives and neighbours.

"Well, none of us has a cold," observed Freda. "What a wonderful thing it would be if we could think health thoughts."

"Yes," said Larry. "Supposing the human mind set out to live for a hundred or three hundred years instead of always looking for death, how wonderful that would be. It might be done, too, if people believed in God."

"You're a nice one to talk like that, and you never go to church," said Dot, his wife.

"But everyone believes in God in their heart, I'm sure," said Philippa.

"No such thing! You all believe much more in a dose of castor-oil or a cough-drop."

"Is your tea to your liking, Mollye?" inquired Philippa. "Well, I'm sure I don't want to live two hundred years or even one hundred; life isn't so easy or happy for me," said Dot. "Have a little more chicken," urged Blanche.

"I was just thinking how wonderful it would be if all the old women could be stopped by law from talking about death and illness for even three months. Ghost! There'd not be a word of conversation among them from Circular Quay to Broken Hill."

"Talk about something so that he can't be heard," whispered Philippa to Blanche, thankful that Mollye and Sir Oswald were taking to Mrs Mazere and the Mayor. Philippa always embroidered the simplest utterances with vapidities lest their purport should be inharmonious or revolutionary. "If this Christian Science is as good as you claim," she raised her voice, "it will cure in spite of taking a little wholesome medicine, and then you would be safe in any case. I don't think anyone could object to that."

"You have to think of colds if you get them," persisted Blanche. "I have felt a cold threatening me these three days. I wish it would come on so that I could be done with it."

Better if it went off, sis, and you could be equally done with it."

"Do give Cousin Oswald a little more aspic," said Philippa.

"You must have to think about colds," said Blanche to Mollye. "You must be very anxious when you feel one coming on."

"Surmounting colds was one of the first and easiest lessons on my way. To catch cold is largely slackness of body."

"It's very well if you are unnaturally strong, but if you were frail and suffered from hereditary catarrh as I do." "We had no such thing, sis."

"George, will you have a little jelly?"

"Oh yes, we did. Mother often had a cold."

"You must clear your mind of cobwebs, sis."

"A little new thought is the cure for most things. Gee whizz! When I got away and found out what I didn't know..."

"Ask Mrs Gambol for hot water," said Philippa to Laleen.

"Most of this new thought that I have seen," persisted Blanche, "takes the form of being very unfeeling to those who suffer and then wanting more sympathy themselves than others if they have a little ache or pain."

"My word, yes," said Bob James. "You'll never change things. They'll never do away with disease. As fast as they find a cure for one, another crops up. People have to die even if they live to a thousand."

"Dot, have a little more chicken. I gave you such a little bit."

At this moment there was commotion under the table. Philippa, to preserve propriety, turned Sir Oswald's attention to second helpings. Larry was the disturber. Laleen eventually produced what he sought--a pill. It was somewhat battered, but Laleen treated it seriously. She had been reared in contempt of Larry, but the attitude of Freda and Dick towards him had recently reversed hers.

"You're a nice one to say that people believe more in a cough-drop than in God, and be a slave to a pill," said Dot.

"That's how I know my idea is right."

"I have as many ideas as anyone else, but I find it best not to say what I think," said Philippa. "Mr James, let me give you another cup of tea. That looks cold."

"That's all very well if you haven't a thinking apparatus, but if a man has to listen to all sorts of wash and never open his head--"

"I think you are very rude. You are like Great-grandfather Mazere," complained Philippa.

"The truth is always rude. No one can stand it," said Larry.

Blanche stopped further discussion by mobilizing them for the meeting. "George doesn't want to be British at all," she complained to Dick.

"There's no crime in that. When an American joins us we are delighted with his preference. Why shouldn't George have the right to go the other way?"

"I'm bored to the marrow of my spine hearing about the United States. I wish Columbus had never discovered the silly old place."

"I'm sure he only praises it to tease us," said Philippa. "Look at the difference between George and Cousin Oswald, and George is a mere nobody beside him."

"Aren't the stars lovely tonight?" said Dick. "Only I wish they looked a little more like rain."

"All the old hands say that never has a drought broken so late in the spring. It is impossible to have much rain now till the autumn, so we are in for a terrible year with unemployment."

"Nothing is impossible to God," murmured Dick. half to himself, stopping to get a better view of the Cross in the south.

II

The political debate exposed the absence of statesmen, the limitations of local politics--all politicians. The Labour speaker put up a programme of protective legislation and education. When asked where the money was to be found the reply was: "Plenty money could be found to blow people to pieces. It won't take one-fiftieth of the money spent on destruction to do what we want." No one had anything in rebuttal but the parrot-cry about human nature and the notion about the law of supply and demand. Closer questioning about funds brought no immediately practical plan.

Sir Oswald's argument was criticism of the Labour programme, and when pressed, he could only promise that his party, at that date called Nationalists, would not interfere with humanitarian measures already put on the statute-books by their political opponents. Labour supporters made it almost impossible for the Major-General to be heard.

"The only trouble with the common man," pursued George gaily, while the racket interrupted platform pronouncements, "is his commonness. The poor boob hasn't the sense to respect free speech when it has been won for him. He is filled with the notion that it is his commonness that is important. That tomfoolery of old Abe Lincoln about the Lord being fond of the common people because He made so many of them has been worked overtime. The common man will have to tie himself in knots and reduce his commonness by birth limitation, or he'll be in a pretty mess. He'll have no room in his own countries if he keeps on, and all other places have too many of their own. You don't find any country making a fuss about the geniuses coming from other countries. No one would object to Einstein or Bernard Shaw or Thomas Edison coming to his country to take out citizenship; it's only the crowds of wops that come to keep fish and old-clo' shops that are resisted."

Sir Oswald was enjoying himself with Mollye on the platform. She had consented to sit there as it was a two-party meeting, and had Blanche beside her. It was a well-earned honour for Blanche. Laleen sat between Nat and Dick, the former managing without compromising himself to slip his hand over hers. The other family members were also well to the fore. Several anti-militarists so resented the Major-General as a pommy that at one time the debate was suspended. A stentorian voice above the din called, "Come on, madame, you sing us a song. It will be a jolly sight better than all this windy jaw about nothing."

Mollye promptly rose, emollient, disarming, warming. The rowdies subsided, raptly awaiting something of interest. "I'll sing you one little ditty if there is time, and if these gentlemen give their permission. We must not get counted-out for bad manners."

Cries of "Too right! Good-o!" and "We'll show them who'll get counted out!"

There was a little chyacking, entirely jovial, while Nat went down to the orchestra and settled at the piano.

"Which side are you on, madame?"

"She's Labour!"

"No damn fear! She only wants our money."

"On the contrary," said Mollye, with emicant good temper, you will be getting my manager's money if I sing, because I've contracted not to sing outside of my concerts till a certain date, but perhaps he can make you a present of just one song."

"Give us a speech, missus. Never mind the songs. Which side are you on?"

"I'm non-party!" Laughter and loud applause. "My advice to you is to listen carefully to all these people and then vote for the best man, the best for our dear Australia according to the brain power the Lord has given you. Pick a man who knows the value of aviation. Everybody should fly in Australia, because it partly overcomes the great distances, and because it would save on road expenditure while the population is so scattered. It is one way of turning our minusses into plusses." The audience stormed its enjoyment. She was a rare luxury at a meeting in a campaign so dull, so below mediocrity that even its animosities lacked bouquet to enliven. "Now I'll sing a little ditty if you will be quiet afterwards, like a lot of dears, so that I can hear what is said by both sides."

"Good-o! Square dinkum! The first squeaker is flung out."

"Words and music are both by good Aussies. The poet is Mr Mazere of this suburb."

"Stand up, Mr Mazere, and let's take a squint at you!" Dick waved his hand and bowed hurriedly, feeling as if he would sink through the floor. Why would Mollye persist in exposing him! Then he caught sight of the expression of Blanche and Philippa. It was an unmusical meeting in a picture-house, the piano was not in good tune, but the prima-donna was singing to the poet and composer of her song, always an inspiring audience. A thin dark face hauntingly sensitive above a pair of arms folded high also inspired the woman.

"The she-oaks sigh..."

Freda was moved by Molly's power to hold a crowd and to suffer fools gladly. There were here and there persons who from the cradle walked through obstacles to healthy greatness, were favourites of the gods, and lesser mortals would rather suffer themselves than see these great ones reversed. Their capacity enabled them to outride circumstance as a whale can override more than a minnow, but a whale even as a minnow can receive its death-blow somewhere, somehow. It wasn't Mollye's voice alone that made her so outstanding. Take the voice away and she could be perhaps the first woman prime minister of her country--a hundred careers were open to such a personality.

"If she approaches me again, she can have me," thought Freda.

At the end of the song Dick had to go up, and the trio bowed amid tremendous applause. They bowed and bowed again against demands for another song and shouts of "Austra! Austra for ever! You come and stand for Ashville, and we'll make it a walk-over!"

"It was only to be one song."

"You could sing the same song twice," cried a resourceful usurer, and Austra gaily complied. Then she walked off the stage with Dick and Nat and came in to the back seats among the interjectors. A little later she bade Nat extract Laleen quietly. Mollye was explaining to Dick that she had flown back specially for Judith's first night, "And here I'm seduced by the family of Mazere! We could still be in time to see the last of it, and help the cheering."

Mollye had decided upon this early in the afternoon, so it wasn't long before she had slipped out, aided by the back benchers, whose hands she squeezed in passing.

A glorious night to Mollye, with the Southern Cross sparkling above, as she gathered Dick beside her in the back seat to surround him with her wraps, for it was crisply cold. Her blood tingled in keeping with the rush of the splendid machine driven by the handsome young man with the lovely girl beside him in the front seat.

Laleen had instructions to grab some of her story as they passed Nanda. An enchanted day, a night of enchantment to Laleen, speeding along beside Nat to Judith Laurillard's opening night. She had only read of such nights hitherto, and now to see one, and in such company, such circumstances! Adventure plus romance!

The manager put chairs where the regulations do not usually permit them. The house acclaimed the great English actress, the great singer saluted her, the house acclaimed both.

Austra's arrival at the last half-hour heightened a memorable occasion. It was like a dream to Laleen.

At last Judith was out of the picture, and Dick hurried per Mollye's car to Central, Mollye whispering to him, "Come tomorrow by yourself, about lunch-time, and we'll talk about the story."

The night was still gemmed for Laleen, again in the big limousine beside Nat speeding through the quiet streets, to stay all night with Mollye in the intimacy of her flat! When was a night of nights ever too long for a neophyte like Laleen! As they turned into Macquarie Street she hugged this night as hers, loth to let it go, yet glad to let it slip now, as not till it was past would Nat come again in the morning. And Mollye was to hear some of the story which, as Aladdin's ring, was to retain for her this magic world she had entered grace a Dick. Her heart trembled. Would the story he good enough?

Nat called good night casually and disappeared in the purring monster as they entered the lift.

"Why don't you curl up in my bed--plenty room, and then I shan't have to make you a couch." Mollye's maid had a room elsewhere. Laleen was young enough to enjoy this, and Mollye so healthy that she could sleep anywhere except after superhuman strain and excitement.

Laleen in the houri bed with the silk appurtenances, the wonderful lamp, and Dick's poems, threw her arms around Mollye's neck. "Oh, Mollye, you are the most wonderful woman in the whole world, and I love you so much I cannot breathe!"

III

Sir Oswald drove the Healeys home. He graciously accepted an offer of supper, which Mrs Healey, hospitable as the Mazere sisters, was happy in supplying. After a chat with Larry, Sir Oswald brought out some papers saying he would like Freda's opinion. Larry took the opportunity of retiring, while Dot went to the wireless in the dining-room.

Sir Oswald noted the ordinary suburban cottage in the working-class suburb, and the middle-class arrangement of the room. Mrs Healey had not progressed culturally or spiritually since Freda had gone away. Freda felt misrepresented by this room. It was an ordeal to be captured there by Sir Oswald, used to judging people by material symbols. The room and the suburb acted on Sir Oswald. He assumed more familiarity than he would have dared in a differently arranged drawing-room. Freda sensed it, and a film of hostility coated her attitude. He chatted about Mollye before reopening the matter of immigration. After paying enthusiastic tribute to Mollye's genuine greatness he drawled, "My poet cousin doesn't seem to be socially, sensually, or financially a matrimonial prize big enough for her." Freda affected to misunderstand. "Don't you think she's giving him excessive attention on the strength of a little book of doggerel? And I don't think the family are as fascinating as she makes out."

He was as bad as Blanche, and Freda was loth to concede anything to Blanche, who had the knack of soiling innocent situations. But she could not deny that the Nanda household was unmusical. It might be that Mollye, who queened it on the stage, by contrast craved the frail and dreamy Dick. It would be a luxurious stable for him, and the exigencies of Mollye's career would provide bouts of release.

"She's no more friendly to Dick than to me or you. She has as much thought of him as Bob James has of me."

"Well, I shouldn't trust that roving eye of Bob's if you were mine. If you rule Dick out, who supplies her amorous life? There must be someone," persisted the man of Mars.

"Must there?"

"Of course. You know that. Mollye is...what age is she now?"

"She's younger than I am."

"Just in the top of her form. Must be someone."

"Really!"

"You know there must--a woman of her temperament."

"She may be otherwise preoccupied--as I am."

"That's all my eye and Betty Martin, and you know it. You wouldn't be so attractive otherwise." Freda was silent. He repeated his statement.

Freda yawned. "I have never noticed it, Sir Oswald. Too busy earning my living. Can't mix my methods--started on the old-fashioned paths...Mother, Sir Oswald is going."

Mrs Healey came forward and said good night. Sir Oswald felt that he should have been annoyed, but he was amused. Why could this kind of woman supply the tingle, while those all soft and complaisant...they had the tingle too, but it had an aftermath of slackness, while the Freda school toned up the system to concert pitch. He said good-bye to Mrs Healey as became them both. She was one of the Bool Bool Saunders, old pioneers as high as any ancestor he could raise and proclaim, except the original Mazere.

"Just come and show me the turn," he asked of Freda. He was a man of stratagems. She had the up-country sense of hospitality and consented to point out the crossroads. Sir Oswald whisked off to a dark spot and pulled up.

"You got rid of me very neatly," he chuckled. "But it's my move now. I'm going to finish my conversation." Freda laughed. She enjoyed and respected his good temper. "You are contradicting me to be provoking. Tell me why you are not married."

She opened the door of his car and stood on the footboard. "Many reasons. Some fantastic. Others fatal. Foremost, the disclosures of married women--the incontinence of married men."

Sir Oswald was not prepared for anything so daunting. "But God bless my soul--"

"It engenders incurable disgust for marriage. Bachelors and widowers are not nearly so troublesome." She dropped off into the darkness.

"No, no. Stop! I'm lost in the wilderness--honestly." Freda stood in the glare of the lights and pointed the way again. "But come here, that's not fair. We're not all alike. Why let the outsiders spoil the most wonderful thing in the world?"

"If it is so wonderful and satisfying, why do you hunt outside it? We can't discuss this subject here. We might be overheard. I couldn't think of any more terrible incarceration than marriage would be to me. And when I recall the delightful affairs I have had outside it...Oh, well, good night!"

"Oh, I say! This is too devilish promising to be borne. When can I see you again?"

"You must await opportunity."

"Hi! Stop! Show me just a little way farther." Freda returned. She was not above playing ball, in this case, half cynically. Sir Oswald shot off and pulled up beside the railway. "No one will hear us here, and it's so devilish hard ever to get a word with an interesting woman, though the duds swarm everywhere."

This aroused sufficient fellow feeling in her to settle for a few moments. Sir Oswald was not without points. "Do I understand you to be quite modern?"

"In theory, yes. I have been wondering if practice wouldn't add to my entertainment. The trouble is to find a partner for the experiment." She watched him naughtily sideways. That bait always took. Some were guarded. Not so the soldier. His manner was eager.

"Tell me, what sort of a man is your ideal?"

"One who could make a poem of experience rather than a pogrom." She was really gone this time into the darkness.

"Might have known she would say something unexpected. Now does that mean, a poet...what the devil women see in these whining poets beats me..."

He drove on feeling he had not advanced. Neither had he been rebuffed.

Freda chuckled as she pictured him puzzling over her remarks, not wholly persiflage. She would not marry while her parents lived, and they would last till her nubile years were past. The trouble with the pudding she coveted was that the eating could not be undone if odious and subversive of self-respect. Rather hard never to have satisfied one's curiosities, but all experiences were mutually exclusive. After years, would it be better to have eaten the pudding and know its effect and flavour, or to have that inner pride that no man alive could crow at her expense?

At any rate no cavalier made it an urgent question. A man of the Major-General's girth could never furnish the tingle, no matter what his soul. Sir Oswald's soul was not of the right consistency either.

If he thought her amenable to furnish brains for his Report in return for a little guff, he was deceived. If only she were financially free to be herself! She looked up at the stars in the high winter dome full of small cold winds, and sighed.


CHAPTER XI

I

Mollye had had a tremendous week, ending in a double day both physically and emotionally. She did not wake till nine next morning, to find Laleen lying like a rose-leaf so as not to disturb her. Laleen had never before been acquainted with anyone of distinction. Her eighteen years had been spent in the bush and in restricted circumstances in a proletarian wilderness, where, though there was a pandemonium of motor cars, mechanized music, and Pomeranian poodles, it would have been rare to find a book or picture above the taste of a charwoman. Thus to be curled in the nest of a world-famous woman, to be petted and courted by her, to have nurture for her talent, to be beautiful and of inexperience to take all these things at their face value, was an intoxicating fairytale.

They turned on electric heaters, regardless of cost. They bathed in the sunken bath of oriental magnificence of the chocolate manufacturer who owned the flat and was then splurging in the booby brigades in European playgrounds. They dressed in a leisurely way, and the caretaker had breakfast ready about ten. Laleen felt positively lacquered in savoir-faire. Nat came in time to have a cup of coffee with them, summoned in view of Mollye's departure next morning by car.

They had an hour on the story, Laleen at first feeling as if she would suffocate, but their understanding and detachment eased her self-consciousness. Mollye was excited by the high pulse of youth in the attempt, and by its native atmosphere. That dear atmosphere she was so soon to breathe at The Gap, with the morning mists clearing from Wamgambril flats as the sunrise gilded Brennan's Hill, leaving little puffs of white about its shoulder as though a god had fired a gun. The old Wamgambril's silvery song! If only the atmosphere of her birthplace could be orchestrated as a tone poem! This beautiful child might help her to her double heart's desire.

"What does Dick say?"

"Oh, Mollye, I was to have shown it to him first. I've gone and shown it to you!"

"That is all right, my scrumptious precious, Dick will be the first person of discernment to see it."

Dick took the story as seriously as did Mollye. The detachment of all three brought to Laleen the idea of art as something apart from herself. There was in this revelation no suspicion that Nat's interest was assumed to humour his chief, nor that Mollye's was propagated by the instinct of winning Dick.

Laleen's talent had been nebulous hitherto, though in that state grandly real to her youthful imagination. Here it was taking concrete form. She snuggled against Dick going home that evening. "We mustn't let Blanche know about the flat or she would want to go there and spoil everything."

This distressed Dick, though he felt it would take the Lord's special intervention to put Blanche en rapport with artists engaged in creative work. Freda's shipboard statement that she abrogated spiritual philosophies while at home continually recurred to him. A philosophy that would not operate where there was need, failed; but if Freda felt that way there was fellowship in knowing it.

II

During Mollye's family visit Nat was free, and he took Laleen's breath away by saying that instead of going home he would remain in Sydney to be near her. His people had not progressed from behind the grocery store in Prahran. They were musical enough to play in bands, but it was an ordeal for him to follow the family routine, and other reasons kept him from it. He was nearing thirty, and in spite of his princely air had gnawing inner cares. Only the workers, no matter what their talent, achieved his prominence, but long hours of practice were fatal to him. His right arm had a startling tendency to go lame. He had consulted numerous surgeons, and thereby knew how little is known on any subject by some of its successful exponents. Of late years he accepted the verdict of a slight rotary curvature of the spine between the shoulders, having the effect on the arm as of a belt slipping while driving a wheel. If the evil had been discovered in childhood remedial exercises might have been effective, the last great man had said. He had to say something. He advised swimming with the breast stroke, and Nat looked forward to his plentiful native beaches.

A teaching career would remain to him, but that was tame drudgery after the platform. He was driven by his arm's delinquency towards composition and conducting. He was therefore interested in Austra's demand for an Australian opera, and young enough to feel all is possible to youth. With beauty and maidenhood attached, it disposed him to explore the possibilities, and, considering everything, to consolidate his position with Madame. She was one of the least rampageous artists to deal with he had encountered, and unmistakably great. To stand in with her was a career in itself. He was rather cynical about her predilection for Dick. Would it last? He supposed she liked someone who would not get in her limelight, though never was there a person of Madame's magnitude more careless of limelight, unless le grand Caruso; never a woman less jealous of other stars. This was due to her disposition plus her unassailable position. Women with her gifts and organizing ability weren't born every generation.

"Madame is my best bet," mused he, and settled down to swim in Sydney with Laleen for company. She was neither so exacting nor exciting as more sophisticated misses, but his glamour to her was so much brighter than to others that she was a comfort during his present anxieties. This story, too, lent her an extending interest. He had not expected it of her, but talent was like that, rising from resources unaided by association.

III

A packet awaited Freda on going home that Monday night after a stiff afternoon among the "damned dull Pariamentary reports". She opened it to find three late works. The Major-General's card was pencilled: "From a fellow who also likes it better as a poem than a pogrom. Come to dinner tonight if you can."

"Who would have thought Ossy-Possy could choose such books! Must have picked it up by ear," she cogitated. "Shows what contact will do." She wrote:


The books fill a famishing vacuum. You seem a fellow of understanding, and I shall enjoy accepting your kind invitation at the earliest possible moment--probably towards the end of the week.


There! A barricade to self-respect. She wasn't available on the dot when he felt like it. But suffering lack of recreation and companionship, she was tempted to let him play about on the line a little. Should he become importunate she had only to refer him to his obligations to Lady Mazere-Poole, thus adapting the subterfuge used by many married men, who, in circles where men were in a minority, used their matrimonial shackles to take advantage of the affections of defenceless and lonely women.

She was truthful in confessing temptation towards consummation, but she had found the Anglo-Saxon, whether British or American, remiss on the follow-up. He would pursue eagerly, drop guards endearingly, but when he was assured of reciprocity was content to rest on his oars. She might before now have capitulated to curiosity if one or two men--fine sensitive fellows too, of warmth and ardour--had not let the fire they had lighted subside so that when they returned to the siege there was nothing but ashes to be rekindled from the beginning. Did she make pursuit too exhausting that they should take this vacation on the zenith and let her escape to second thoughts? Sir Oswald was not inflicting the irritating slump permitted by more original and sensitive men. The books must have been dispatched immediately after the shops opened following their play of badinage. Perhaps it was not so much a matter of warmth as of coarser vigour that did not become over-tempered in the nerve-racking ordeal of pursuit. Practical experience would be absorbing psychologically had one fewer restraining inhibitions or niceties. She awaited the Major-General's next move with lively interest. It came on Wednesday morning, simply stating his regrets that he was leaving Sydney for probably a fortnight, and therefore the pleasure was indefinitely postponed.

"Hum! The result of my tendency to make pursuit too arduous, seeing the plenitude of game. Better so. I must get on with my work." But the evening papers reported Sir Oswald's genuine departure to inspect Italians at work on grape and cotton farms in Queensland, and she revised her earlier thought. "We'll wait and see! Work is the thing for me! Tarnation dull, all the same."

IV

Her enthusiasm about Mollye's flat won Laleen's heart, though Freda was mostly at the libraries consulting reports on unemployment, defence, and other recondite subjects. They all spent nourishing clays with the Mitchell Australiana. It was thus that Laleen would say to Blanche that she was off to the library, and later took her way to the flat.

Freda, too, was surprised by the promise in Laleen's effort. Dick gave himself up to Laleen for the present, with understanding, encouragement, protection, and lessons in composition. He turned some of her incidents into verse. He was able to work in the quiet of the flat. This endured most of the day, as Nat had been inspired by Dick's lyrics to begin the first movement of an overture with which to surprise Madame. His plan of work was to take Laleen to swim with him, after which he often gave her a run in the newly acquired two-seater, which he assured her he had bought expressly for that purpose. He would also take her to his digs while he engaged in composition. He needed the encouragement of her fresh sincerity, and she was elated thus to work in company. There were no frayed edges to her young nerves demanding solitude, and her intellectual endowment released from the asperities of sisterly bickering blossomed in youth and love.

She was turning out a fair quantity of work, and Dick knew she must find for herself the best way of doing that. The flat was a heavenly retreat now that Mollye was safely up the country. Respite to escape from family affection and pother, and, in the solitary way of the unattached in big cities, to have a snack in some restaurant unsolicited to eat more, then to curl up on a couch with Mollye's rugs over him. Not a few times he slept as he had not slept in months. Freda finding him there one day crept out again noiselessly and adjured Laleen to give him all the peace possible. Laleen, with alternate accommodation, was glad to obey.

Mollye's return began to hang over Dick. She had not Dick's need for solitude, and was rather a whale in the Bool Bool waters. She was too big to enjoy riding, and was soon writing to know if Dick wasn't coming up, and if Laleen had not better be up there too.

The situation was further endangered by Blanche. She grew curious concerning the disappearance of Laleen and Dick day after day. Where were the results? Writing should be done in odd ends of time, as she wrote her voluminous letters. In her understanding it was a gift, either you had it or not, and the gifted took no more time to a poem than would be consumed in copying it out. When more time was claimed for writing she suspected an excuse either to evade work or to cover other operations.

Things came to a head one day when a telegram arrived for Dick. Blanche supposed him to be at one of the libraries which he and Laleen so constantly attended, and faithfully set out to find him. He was in neither, had not been there for days, so far as the attendants knew. Incidentally Laleen was not there either.

Coming out on Macquarie Street she saw her beloved brother at some distance. She followed, at first with the sole intention of delivering the telegram. She was unable to hail him till he turned into Mollye's apartment building. Was Mollye in town without letting them know!! Blanche glowed in light of the romance she was incubating. Dick, catching the lift, had disappeared before Blanche arrived at the entrance. The machinery was beyond her, so she walked up, which in the strange Australian fixation against stairs was a heroic task. She sat down on each landing to rest her hereditarily smitten heart. This gave Dick time to settle with Freda, whom he found spread out on the big divan, smoking.

"This is a glad sight, and you look so restful."

"Yes. Blessings on Mollye!"

Dick flung himself on the rug beside the low couch and laid his head on Freda's lap, a rare familiarity, which surprized them both. Freda puffed peacefully, careful not to put him in flight by word or touch. It was the satisfying silence of congenials.

Dick was so absent-minded about keys that he had several times locked himself out of the flat and there had been a great to-do to get in, so now in the morning he put the lock back for safety--safety to entrance. Thus as Blanche felt about for a bell the door opened before her. She walked in without announcement and saw Freda in wanton attitude coiling smoke, and Dick in sloppy capitulating posture.

Such attitudes were not usual to Blanche, nor did she believe they could be innocent. The bent of her mind and lack of experience had furnished her with suspicions. Freda was convulsed with impish glee by what she read on her face. Dick's face was the other way. Freda put her hand among his hair to help things along. Considering her own validity and Dick's asceticism and delicacy, she was amused.

Blanche felt it a tremendous situation. She thought of standing grandly till discovered. Freda was inspired to leave her apparently undiscovered. It was outrageously funny. Blanche at length was reduced to ahemming. Dick started perceptibly because of the unexpected proximity.

"How did you get in, sis?"

Ah, ha! This is what Blanche had expected in all furthering of the arts, and what Laleen was heading for when she wanted to escape honest womanly work and idle through the days in the pretence of writing.

"Is Mollye here?" she inquired.

Dick rolled away from Freda a little. Freda blew smoke through her nose abandonedly to heighten matters. "No. Mollye was up at Bool Bool the last I heard."

"How do you happen to be here, then?"

"We have the entry," Freda replied. "Must have some place for work, free from the excessive chafing and radios and gramophones. No use in trying to do literary work in those dog-kennel cottages unless one has the detachment of a crocodile."

"You were very busy when I came in," said Blanche with sarcasm. This was the kind of busy-ness she had expected. Useless to explain to Blanche: never in this world could she understand the needs and processes of mental gestation. "I hunted for you everywhere to bring you this telegram."

"Thank you, sis. You shouldn't have bothered." He put the envelope in his pocket unopened.

Feeling no necessity, they made no explanation. Blanche was confirmed in her opinion that Freda was brazen.

"Well, I must sit down before I fall down--climbing all those stairs with my heart."

"There was no necessity to climb the stairs," said Dick gently.

"Nor to have the discommoding heart," said Freda the imp.

"Is Laleen here?" demanded Blanche.

"She rarely comes here lately."

"She wasn't in the libraries," said Blanche accusingly.

"Laleen doesn't need the libraries," said Freda provokingly; "hers is a work of inspiration, not of research."

The situation came to a dead end again. Blanche was angered by her impotence. They were so callous. Their unconvicted bearing was evidence of wantonness. She had always suspected Freda because of her smoking, and her loose views about marriage and religion. It was no use, people must have something to keep them straight. When they hadn't, they weren't straight, that was all. Blanche knew. You couldn't deceive her. Men, of course, were all unmoral if women let them be. Unable to resist even a black gin.

Mountainous evidence of all times and places has established this. The Josephs have never boasted of their conquests over self. The Don Juans have embroidered their surrenders to Venus, and are popular. A peculiar situation. Blanche had justification.

"I'll do some shopping while I'm in," she said helplessly.

Dick went politely with her to the door, to the lift, and took her down to the street level. "Thank you for bringing this telegram, but it could have waited." It was probably from Mollye announcing, as she did quotidianly, the finding of the violets or soldier buttons, little bee orchids or other old flowers of her childhood, now somewhat rare owing to the commercial sheep.

Freda made no remark upon the intrusion. Neither did Dick. It was not in his code to crystallize disharmonies in words, but Freda saw that his creative mood was dispersed and might be gone indefinitely if they were no longer safe. Such a pity, when Dick was so frail. Blanche's disruptive spirit had intruded as it had done upon She-oak Ridge long ago with Ignez, the girl who went away.

V

Blanche retreated in a jealous, baffled mood. For a moment she thought of Mollye as a loose woman, like all these theatricals, conniving at such an establishment, but inclination towards Mollye and against Freda decided her otherwise. No. Mollye really loved Dick and here was Freda making mischief. She would be capable of leaving the door open purposely, expecting Mollye, and wanting her to see Dick in a compromising position. How sly they all had been, not mentioning where they went each day!

Ah yes, Blanche knew! You could never trust anyone, not even Dick! He was only a man, and had been demoralized in America, by easy divorce and all sorts of wild ideas. Still, he might have confided in her about the flat. She would have been made only too happy by such a windfall for him. She could have helped him, too, by going in and cooking him nice little meals, and dusting. She had noted dust on the woodwork. And she too would like a place to be quiet. How selfish all the world was! She had, God knows, given her all to her family, to none more than to Dick, and this was her reward! People did not appreciate self-sacrifice. They preferred the selfish, like Freda and Laleen, and the sensual. That was it. If one were sensual, everyone, especially men, thought one a wonder. That was all men cared about. They were all alike. Ravening dogs! Well, at any rate she had not been made that way, thank God, and could not change her nature. Mollye ought to be enlightened about Freda. Mollye was not lending her flat as a resting-place for Dick to have it invaded by Freda, if Blanche knew anything.

And where was Laleen, whom neither flat nor libraries had disclosed?

The fates favoured Blanche that day. As she turned into the station yard there were Nat and Laleen ahead of her in a two-seater. She did not know that Nat had a two-seater, nor that he was in Sydney. Mollye had said he was going to Melbourne. More deceit and double-dealing! Blanche felt there was no more good old-fashioned morality.

"Oh, ho! She knew! You can't change human nature! They can pretend to be modern and to have such wonderful, sensitive, artistic souls that they leave the common work to others just as clever as themselves, but that's what it had always amounted to, and always would. Dick and Freda could look after themselves and would resent interference, but Laleen was not, while Blanche had a breath of morality and decency left in her body, going to the dogs pleasantly and without interruption."

Blanche endangered her hereditary heart once more as guardian of virtue by hurrying into the station. Laleen was running for the train; Aubrey was to be in town for a day between his bouts of station work, and she had promised to be home early to go with him to dine in town and hear a concert. Blanche pursued.

When they reached Ashville she still kept behind Laleen till she turned in at the garden gate, where the doves were apparently mourning the death of the tree. "Ooh-boo-hoo!" went one. "Boo-boo-boo!" responded his mate. Laleen went around the back way, Blanche still following. When Laleen went inside, Blanche found a damp bathing-suit hung in a secluded corner.

Swimming at this time of the year, when only a few of the hardiest were known to dip! Away on lonely beaches with a young man in a skimpy bathing-suit! If it had been hot weather, but it was still frosty at nights. The whole lot of them must be mad. That's what followed when people flouted church-going and thought one religion as good as another.

She went inside to hear Laleen asking Philippa if Aubrey were home. "Yes," said Philippa. "Do you want any tea?"

"Yes, please, I'm as hungry as a shark." She was in high spirits. The day had gone well. She had cooked a little dinner for Nat while he played after the bath. Then an hour or two of work, and here she was ready for Aubrey, who always gave her a pound or two to play with.

"I came up to the station just after you," said Blanche ominously, not knowing which end of her missile to project.

"You should have hailed us, and we could have given you a lift." Laleen carried it off.

Blanche commanded Philippa to come to her room, and disgorged her secrets.

Laleen called to Aubrey, who was shaving, that she would pour him some tea. Blanche as usual would crash in and spoil everything.

Philippa was voluble in response, as to everyone who called upon her about science, religion, financial troubles, or rheumatism. "And were they doing any harm?"

"I wish you wouldn't babble so, Philippa. Why don't you sometimes listen? I'm telling you what I saw."

"Well, then, I think the best thing is not to take any notice."

"Have a little common sense. If you take no notice of a disaster till it is upon you, when you've had warning, it is your own fault."

"But if they are following this mind-over-matter business, there may be no harm in it."

"I'm sure when Mollye lent Dick her flat she never intended it to be used by Freda for lasciviousness."

"Of course, I know that sort of thing is merely a pretence of something else, but you must let others have their way. You have to pretend--"

"You might have to pretend, but I don't. Someone must keep things straight in this world, or there would be a pretty mess."

"You ought to tell her mother."

"That would be a lot of good! Who clothed and took care of her ever since she was a baby, while her mother sat down and looked on like a porpoise?"

"Excuse me just a moment, I left some cookies in the oven," said Philippa, ineradicably ladylike.

Dick arrived while they were drinking tea. His peace had been shattered. He was glad of the presence of Aubrey. Blanche was not, however, allowing Aubrey to deflect her. It was he who brought matters to a head.

"Well, Laleen, what about poor old Les? I shall be passing Goulburn and could get him to come in in the dead of night and wait for a message."

"I haven't any message for Les."

"She might have to send him word some day that she would give her life to have a fine honest fellow still ready to take her."

"Laleen! What have you been up to?" chuckled Aubrey, amused by Laleen's confusion. Dick tried to change the subject by asking about the drought in the north-west. Aubrey said that could wait till he found out what Laleen had been doing, and if he could lend a hand. "How's the book?"

"Laleen writes the book out swimming these days."

"Whew! The temperature must be rising. Hot stuff, Laleen! That's the sort to make the money." Laleen, usually able to riposte, was silent, and Aubrey, an inveterate tease, and never dreaming where he trod, trod on. "You must give me a chapter as a present to Leslie. It will take a rise out of him."

Blanche seethed. Chagrined by her impotence with Dick and Freda, she was more determined against Laleen and Nat. The uninitiate is prone to imagine that among the initiates orgies of sex consummation happen as routinely as buying drinks, but among the sensitive and intellectual, flying free in the tree-tops, the adjustment is so delicate that, as a poet has put it, "never the time and the place and the loved one all together". He might further have noted how rarely are loved ones equally keyed for the ecstatic duet.

"Laleen goes swimming and riding in two-seaters. The writing was not enough to fill in her time: and Freda smokes and thinks. She has such a superior brain! Laleen is her pupil, so we shall expect to see Laleen smoking a cigarette, and other things before long."

"Who's smoking a cigarette?" inquired Dad.

"Blanche," said Laleen clearly.

"Has that been recommended for your heart?" inquired Dad. He was a kindly soul. No one could be ill without awakening his sympathy or eliciting medical advice. "Is it for her heart?" he demanded of Philippa.

"I have heard nothing about it," said Philippa judicially.

"God bless my soul, someone said Blanche was going to smoke, and I thought it was for her heart; can't anyone answer a civil question?"

"It's for her catarrh," said Laleen, major rebellion in her, "Laleen swims at the beaches for hers," snapped Blanche. "You wouldn't catch me swimming at Bondi even in summer, to make sharks' meat. Those who go out there are fools. They deserve all they get!"

"You're right, Dad," said Aubrey, nearly prostrated by his sense of humour.

"Of course I'm right. If a man goes out making shark bait, it is not fair to blame the shark. He is only doing what nature intended him for."

"You're dead right, Dad," agreed Aubrey, and then in lower voice: "What's the matter, Laleen, that you have to swim at Bondi in this weather to keep cool?"

"If I like to swim at Bondi or Botany, it is none of Blanche's business," said Laleen in a bonnet-in-the-dam mood.

"Oh no! It's never my business, not at all, till I have all the responsibility and burden of you when you get sick." Laleen had been a croupy infant, and later had fallen victim to all sorts of epidemics through which Blanche had nursed her with gusto, and the history of which she detailed to this day. "You'll get sick with pneumonia or something, and then it will be a different tale, and if you come home with your character lost..."

Now, Laleen had innocence on her side. Nat was a decently reared boy in a strict workaday family, where there had been no opportunity for licentiousness. His way had been lined with scholarships involving unflagging industry and providing strict supervision. He had not arrived where he stood without being as abstemious as an athlete. Of late years had come some dalliance, but only strictly limited indulgence. Laleen was no modern maiden in the sense that promiscuity was open to her, and Nat was no fool. At present his mind was disturbed by the trouble in his arm and the ticklish crossroads confronting him. His head was screwed on much too decently and sanely to imperil his position with Madame and her pet friends. Besides, there was Laleen to consider.

There is a time in the budding of young love when the facetiousness of meddlers is sheerly indecent, and Blanche's handling of the situation as a policeman discovering a misdemeanour outraged Laleen's every fibre. Such insinuations when her own feelings and Nat's were in the indeterminate stage, when she was more often than not racked by doubt whether Nat meant more than friendship and artistic association, were enraging as well as revolting. She arose a blazing young fury.

"I went out to swim with Mr Horan. I don't care who knows it. We then had a run in his car after our morning's work, and here I am, and what has anyone got to say about it?"

"Work!" snorted Blanche contemptuously. "Like Freda's work! Smoking and lying around lasciviously! If you are so innocent, why do you fly into such a violent temper?"

Dick was aghast at Blanche. She was rather startled at herself, but her self-righteousness once started seemed to function automatically.

"I must get into partnership with Freda if that's her kind of work. A bit easier than my last months' dredging around in the dust."

"All you need is to get into Blanche's evil imagination, and the thing will be done."

"We shan't say any more for the moment, Lal," said Mrs Mazere, hoping to quieten her and have a confidential talk later.

"It's all right to say nothing till the mischief is done, but then don't blame me, and come crying to me to get you out of it."

"That's what I've been saying all along," said Dad. "If you go out there and the sharks get you, it is quite your own fault."

"I wish a shark would eat Blanche."

"Now Laleen doesn't mean that," chirruped Philippa. "She is just saying that because it is the fashion to talk like that now."

"I mean it. Blanche makes everything horrid. What does she mean about Freda, too? I never saw anyone work as hard as Freda. When I left her she was working all by herself. There couldn't have been anyone for her to be lascivious with but Dick, and yet to hear Blanche--"

"We had better talk about something else. Doesn't anyone want some more of my cookies? I'll tell my troubles. That confounded old oven--"

"No, I shan't talk about anything else. I am not going to put up with Blanche's poisonous insinuations. What are you going to say about Mr Horan and me?"

"You pretended to be working in the libraries."

"I work at the libraries when I need to, and if I go to Bondi I don't think it necessary to send you a telegram and ask the police to protect me. I was with a gentleman perfectly able to do that."

"He's a Roman Catholic, and you can be sure he wishes you no good."

"Mollye is one too. Does she wish you no good?"

"Mollye is a woman."

"A nice argument that is."

"Well, I want to know if your father and mother want you to be a Roman Catholic?"

"What has that got to do with it? I never said I was going to change my religion. One thing I know is, I don't want it to be the same as yours."

"Oh, Laleen," said Dick gently.

"I don't care. She makes life one long persecution. She's raving mad on this bit of housework. If three old women are not able to do it without wanting everyone else to be as mad as they are, and then never a spot to live in comfort, so that Dad and Mother and I have to have a place in the backyard."

"What's that you're saying?" inquired Dad, bewildered by the excitement.

"They are cracked about the bit of housework. They are madly jealous because Freda and I want to do something else. If they did anything else to fill their idiotic old minds they wouldn't always be barking about the house."

"I hope I'm always a lady," said Philippa. "I do like to behave like one."

"There's no doubt of that. Laleen, dear, suppose you and I go and have a talk about this and say no more for the present."

"And have Blanche think she has won, and always be nagging me!"

"Let her keep on. It will show what she is," said Blanche, with grim satisfaction. "A pretty little temper. Looks like a strain of lunacy to me."

"I've always said," pursued Dad, "that the only way to keep the house the way the good housekeepers want it kept is to shut the house and go and live in a tent so as not to disturb it. That is why my wife and I have our quarters outside."

"Laleen, you had better come with me," said her mother. Through long experience she would never be involved in Blanche's bickerings.

"Of course if you want Laleen to model herself on a person like Freda, and don't care if she is a Roman Catholic--"

"I have many beautiful Roman Catholic friends," said Dick, who was distressed to the last gasp.

"Yes, but you can't trust them!" exclaimed Philippa.

"Oh yes, I can, while human life endures, and I shall look for them with joy in the next world."

"Yes, of course, I know there are good and bad in all religions," pursued Philippa, having managed to start. "It depends on the individual, not on the religion. I often wonder why people make this fuss about different religions--"

"I do wish, Philippa, you would hold your tongue. Always babble, babbling. Even a fool is counted wise if he holds his peace," said Blanche.

"Why should I hold my tongue?"

"No. Why should you? You keep on too and enjoy yourself as well as anyone," chuckled Aubrey.

"Oh, you. You like to show me all the disrespect you can, always." Aubrey's sense of humour made him suspect with Blanche.

"I don't see why I haven't as good a right as anyone else to talk," persisted Philippa. "I don't like these people who always want me to listen to their ideas, and don't think I should have a chance. I do like to reason things out. I have a right to my ideas as well as anyone else."

"Isn't that what I said?" chuckled Aubrey.

"If you had ideas instead of silly yapping that doesn't fit in anywhere," said Laleen.

"Your trouble, Laleen, is that you don't believe anyone should express ideas but yourself. Why not everyone have an opportunity to tell their ideas equally? I don't believe in bigotry about ideas."

"Quite right. Now, Philippa, the floor is yours. What are these ideas of yours?"

"Well, I say there are good and bad in all religions. Of course there are some good among every religion, even the Christian Scientists or the Jews, or the Roman Catholics. There are always two sides to a question."

"Now, that's a fine new idea. Who wants the floor next?"

"Oh, you can sneer!" said Blanche.

"What's this about Roman Catholics?" inquired Dad.

"Would you like to see Laleen one?" demanded Blanche.

"It won't matter much what she is, Catholic or Jew. Science will wipe the whole stupid mess out presently. If it doesn't, it will be going the wrong way, and mankind is doomed. Of all the noxious weeds--briars, rabbits, foxes, Mediterranean fly--the worst imported blight is Ireland's sectarian quarrel, fomented partly by alien overlords. All the churches are anti-Christ, one as bad as the other. Anyone who has no more mind than to let a lot of old parrots stand between him and God is a fool, and deserves all he gets."

"Of course, if you have no moral perception," said Blanche.

"It's you that has no moral perception, only bigotry. If you had been reared a Roman Catholic, you would be as bigoted as old Finnegan at Oswald's Ridges, and that's as bigoted as a bull." Dad said this without animosity and left the meeting.

"It's all very fine for people who walk about at their ease and take no responsibility, to talk like that," commented Blanche.

"Some egotisms lacking the qualities to be the centre of attraction substitute by becoming a centre of distraction," murmured Mrs Mazere academically, and followed Dad.

"That's Dad's idea. Now anyone else want the floor? Here's George coming. I told him to meet me here. Let's get the Yankee wisdom going. It will be sure to straighten things out."

It was not, however, the upstarting nose of George which appeared, but the delicately aquiline organ of Freda, who had also been invited by Aubrey to dine with him and go to the concert.

She greeted Aubrey and Philippa, remarking, "Everyone else I have seen before today." She intended to ignore anything Blanche might infer about Dick and herself. "Don't let me kill the conversation."

"It was perfect," said Aubrey.

"What was it about?"

"About the right to ideas of our own," said Philippa. Laleen looked unutterable contempt at her, determined then and there to assert her independence.

"It was about me going to Bondi with Mr Horan. You and Dick knew I was going, didn't you?"

"Yes, of course," said Freda, trying to get her bearing. "Wasn't it rather cold?"

"Do you think it nice for Laleen to go out there alone with a young man swimming? If Laleen will air family matters with strangers, it is her own fault."

"I hardly consider myself a stranger to Laleen."

"No. Laleen seems to have got her ideas from you."

"I don't know the point at issue, but ideas have rather changed now, you know. Young people have discarded a lot of old rubbish, and I trust them to make their own way."

"I think it is terrible to influence them the wrong way by bad example."

"Give me a specific case?" Freda was calm and crisp--brazen, Blanche thought it.

"I don't think it's very high principle to pretend to be working at libraries all day, and instead to be out swimming with a young man who, from the nature of things, would have no respect for her."

"Hum! Depends on who was the young man."

"Nat Horan," said Laleen defiantly, ready to go to the stake with him if necessary.

"Nat is a young man whom I should think, from the nature of things, would have every respect for Laleen. He knows her intellect, he sees her beauty and the respectability of her family, and is an abstemious, self-reliant fellow who knows what's what in address and morals."

Laleen could have flung her arms around Freda's neck. "You and I have different ideas."

"That's inevitable."

"That's what I say. He might be all right," Philippa rushed in.

"I should think there was no doubt of it. Let's ask Mollye what she thinks of him personally. You have found him all right, haven't you, Laleen?"

"Oh, Laleen! She's infatuated. She couldn't tell if he was one of the basher gang or a...and well, I don't care," said Blanche firmly, stepping on to another ledge, feeling that the matter was slipping from her hands. "So long as Laleen is in my house and in my care, I won't have her running around the beaches that way--it is not to be contemplated with the name of Mazere. I have had to sacrifice myself for every member of the family. I prepared for Dick's coming home, and have taken care of everything all my life, and it is now time that I should be considered. And if that's all you learnt abroad, Freda, where you think your brains became so much better than anyone else's, to come home and lead Laleen astray--"

"Freda has had nothing to do with this," said Dick, sorely distressed. Freda noted with a pang the weariness of death on his features. She had seen cures by Christian Science overturned by the enemy, one or two diabetics too, who had been as miraculously saved as Dick. She knew just the impasse he was in. His only hope of peace in that milieu would be to plead frailty--error in his philosophy. Then he would have the whole pack upon him with unction with their false ideas of sympathy, relieved to have something to occupy them, but death to him. If he made no complaint, bravely trying to demonstrate, there were burdens beyond endurance piled on him.

"I knew that Laleen went out to swim," continued Dick. "I think Mr Horan and Laleen had a delightful day. I hope they will have many more, but we must make arrangements to save distress to Blanche. I'll go to Bondi, too."

Freda's mind went back to She-oak Ridge where Ignez, the girl who went away, had established her school of arts when they were children. All that Freda remembered was that Blanche had "told on them". She could imagine Blanche as a girl what she still was as a middle-aged woman. Only exceptional persons grow out of recognition. Others remain in a contracting shell.

"I don't see that a violent temper is any sign of genius. Any old bog-trotter can get in a towering rage." This was aimed at Freda through Laleen, as Freda, surprised on reaching America to find that her Irish name was an asset, had become proud of her Irish strain, always deprecated in the Bool Bool clans. "Anyone who can't stand what I say without flaring up must have a very weak mind or an evil conscience. I'm the last person in the world to hear false witness. I leave that to those who can't control their tempers."

Laleen was incensed, Dick weary to death, Aubrey cynically amused, Blanche and Philippa pleasantly stimulated. Nothing ever silenced either of them. The more the victim writhed the greater Blanche's satisfaction in her own composure, and Philippa's amiably propitiatory inconsequence. Many women relieve neurosis by a bout of hysteria; Blanche's outlet seemed to be in exasperating others beyond endurance.

Freda wondered if some blighted and stifled dramatic instinct found thus a spurious vent. It was all such a mess. She gave it up. She wished the fuss would subside. It was had enough to be marooned by relationship among people who had no post-war ideas, nor indeed post-Ark ideas, and who did not take even the shortest spiritual flights, but these additional manifestations of their limitations were insupportable.

"Well now, Blanche," Freda was making an effort, "if Laleen had hung her clothes on a hickory limb in the old style and not gone near the water, you might have had cause for complaint, but in the fine modern way, she was honestly swimming, getting up physical tone."

Blanche suspected Freda of making a joke at her expense. "If Laleen doesn't go to the libraries to do her work, she can stay home for a fortnight and clear up the house."

"I can easily do all the work myself," interposed Philippa. "While I have a little change from the dreary round of thinking up meals day after day, and no thanks for it."

"I can help with the housework--good exercise," said Dick.

"No, you couldn't," chuckled Aubrey. "Not if you crawled all day under all the beds and all around the house scraping and scratching. I've tried it. Once this disease of being a good housekeeper takes root, there is no cure but to let 'em rage."

"Yes," chanted Laleen,

"They growl if you do,
They growl if you don't,
They growl if you will,
They growl if you won't!"

"You to talk like that!" said Blanche to Aubrey, "when I've jeopardized my health working for you. Sitting up at nights mending your old socks and shirts--"

"My girl," said Aubrey gravely, all jocularity squelched, "nothing would stop you mending those socks and shirts, and the more I would say to leave them alone...oh, well..."

George here inserted his cheerful nose into the party.

"Hullo, George, how are you popping up?"

"Fine! You look as solemn as a meeting of wowsers."

"You tell us something to cheer us up," said Philippa.

"I'll join you and Aubrey," said Dick to Laleen. "We'll cheer each other up." Instead of Laleen being discredited, everyone had now rallied to her.

"Everyone will flatter you while you're young and selfish. Wear yourself out in generous hospitality without return or thanks, spend your life for others, and they only despise you. Other people as well as Laleen would like a little recreation in the evening. But someone must remain at home and do the housework, and I consider anyone who makes a happy home is doing a good work. It is more necessary, when all is said and done, than writing a book."

"And much rarer," added Freda. Aubrey laughed outright and brought her under suspicion.

"People who could make a happy home would be wonderful, but I have never seen them," said Laleen, who was far from giving in.

"It's all very well to talk, but someone would have to do this work," said Philippa. "Even you, Laleen, must acknowledge that someone has to do the work. Any honest work is deserving of being considered." No one took any notice of Philippa. "Didn't you hear me?" She had the influence of a pet magpie when no one is interested in him. "Didn't you hear me, Laleen? I say that someone has to do even housework?"

"You're cuckoo!" said Laleen, feverish with exasperation. "As if the most drivelling fool in the world wouldn't know that."

"Then why do you talk as if there was something wrong in doing housework and being interested in it? I think when you do work it is right to be interested in it." No one took any notice. "Don't you hear what I say? Isn't it true?"

"Housework is a fundamental profession," said Freda at last. "What some people complain of is an attitude very prevalent in Australia, that it is abnormal for women to be interested in anything else. It may be a noble expiation on behalf of democracy that people here do their own work without a slave race or submerged class, but it is hell to women with any sort of brain power, and obstructive of either culture or intellectual life in the community."

"I hate coarse language," said Blanche. "I think bad language shows what a person is, especially a woman."

"But still no one can deny that housework has to be done," persisted Philippa. Again no one took any notice. "Oh, well," in a saintful tone, "I'll hold my tongue. I'll have to learn to hold my tongue altogether soon."

"People might think you were almost sensible if you did."

"Oh, Laleen! My pretty Laleen!" Dick's voice was so distressed that Laleen was shamed to the core.

"Oh, I'm used to it. That is what manners nowadays are." Laleen went away outside. Dick made her ashamed of her furious exasperation, though he never reproved her. "I don't know what a girl with such a terrible temper is going to do. I'm sure old Great-grandfather Mazere was never as bad as she is. She won't find people putting up with her as I do."

"She won't be so provoked. She won't be called lascivious and selfish," said Freda.

"Who called her that?"

"You make it pretty plain."

"Well, I'm blest! A person who'd say that would have no scruples in swearing one's life away. Bad as the bashers."

"You were a little hard on her," said Dick gently.

"If a person can't stand the truth they'll never come to much. And you too, to belie me! I shan't be able to say a word in my own house soon! Dear, dear!" Blanche always thus repudiated what she had said. She was never wrong, others invariably so, and such a position is hazardous to truth. It was infuriating to Laleen. Blanche was animated but unruffled. Such barneys were cocktails to her and Philippa. Freda blamed herself for ever opening her mouth except in agreement with Blanche's platitudes however belligerently uttered, for she could see it was killing to Dick.

"Why don't we all go off to the concert?" she offered as a way out, knowing that Blanche would be placated by an outing--any outing.

After much pother about imaginary obstacles this was arranged.

VI

Dick found Laleen sobbing under the camellia-trees at the back. He put his hand on her arm in the dusk, and felt she was trembling. "It's no use, Dick, I can't help it. They goad me as if they were sticking hatpins in me. I clench my teeth together and try to stand them, but I hate them because they make me so hateful. Blanche must be the living image of old Great-grandpa Mazere. I wish Bob James would hurry up and marry her and leave us in peace."

"It is difficult sometimes..." He stopped because he, too, was trembling and sick. "We must pray for patience...They are set in their ways...They lack spiritual interests."

"Why must I put up with them always because they are old and disagreeable and stupid and are against anything that takes brains? The only way to stop them would be to turn the hose on them--I'll do it one of these days!"

"Think what they have done for you. When you were little, Blanche used to fill her letters about you."

"I don't care if she found me an orphan in the gutter and reared me on a yeast bottle. Mother would have looked after me if Blanche hadn't been so officious. Why shouldn't they have to put up with me? They have never done anything. They can't even make their rotten little old house a place where anyone can study in peace. I don't think the young should waste their few precious years on the old. They should do their work before they are old and silly too."

"But they are so good. They mean so well. We must think of that."

"I have suffered so from old horrors who mean well, that I'm going to have it put on my tombstone that I never meant well. I hope I never shall mean well, if I make everyone's life a misery by it."

"Dear souls! So unselfish and self-sacrificing! Philippa is a saint--always so gentle, no matter what anyone says."

"What is the good of her being a saint if she makes others feel like devils?"

Dick put his arm about the overwrought child and led her to the front gate. "We'll look at the stars and thank God for the violets and roses, and count our blessings till we get strength to pick ourselves up and do better. It must be hard for them to put up with us, too. If they had someone of their own interests..."

"Why don't the right sorts of people live together? If they could have a noodle who would be interested in lazy-daisy work, or talk for hours about how fine to cut the beans, and fall in love with a fellow like Les Olliver, they'd be happy."

"We must try to be happy with all sorts of people. Love should teach us that."

"I don't see why we should have to struggle with our teeth shut to love some people when there are others who could be happy together without all that tussle. It would release strength for other things."

"Our Saviour's way on earth was not easy."

"I think God is very silly when He's omnipotent to make it so hard. I could be happy with Freda. She makes me feel good and clever, and as if the lovely things you tell me are practicable. Blanche and Philippa must be pretty wrong to make me feel as I do, when others don't. Why don't you change them?"

"All things are possible to God," he thought. It was his inability to make the necessary contact with God that hipped him.

Aubrey and Freda smoked on the back veranda. Aubrey shrugged his shoulders and chuckled. "You asked me before why I never married; the answer is women. They're all the same: either such good housekeepers that they'd damn' well sweep you off the veranda if you sat down a moment to think or swear...and the other sort are dirty, smelly, lying creatures that would waste everything you have. I've had both sorts. After this"--he nodded his head towards the dining-room, where Blanche and Philippa were setting out a rich repast--"I found any old hag I could hire and get rid of at Oswald's Ridges a relief. Then Moffat and I had everything stolen and were bogged in the dirt, and we found it best to batch for ourselves. I still would rather have one of the old roadsters, hired, that one could give in charge to the police and get rid of, than one of the good sort married to me and always tied round my neck till I was driven mad."

"They're not all like that."

"Yes, they are. They were better in the old days without all this freedom. Look what they used to do! A dairy and fowls, and a dozen kids, and no town conveniences. With all the conveniences now they're never done growling. Haven't got enough to do, I reckon."

"Women's emancipation went down a blind alley--too big a question to settle over a cigarette."

"I have a new pipe here."

"That would be a little too pungent for my façade."

"You'll never change things with these unnatural ideas of yours. A woman doctor is an impossibility, if you ask me. What is to be, will be."

"Women doctors come in that category," said Freda, reflecting that while she had escaped from this environment, Aubrey never had, and in mental malnutrition had grown fatalistic and cynical. He made pronouncements with the assurance of a typical Mazere. What he did not see he did not know, consequently it did not exist. The still more typical Mazere resented anyone knowing anything beyond the familiar horizon, was in truth a typical Australian, and that was typical of ingrown Britishness. Freda was silent.

"Is there anything in Blanche's notion of Mollye and Dick?"

"No use in asking me."

"I wish she'd pitch on me."

"What on earth would you do with her, if you are not game to tackle the ordinary woman?"

"Think what she'd do with me--set me up with a station to get rid of me...This Horan fellow looks too much of a bird of paradise for little Lal. She'd better stick to poor old Les."

Mrs Mazere singled out Freda going to town. Freda made no pretence of desiring the company of Philippa or Blanche. She had not Mollye's flowing surplus of strength and harmony from which to scatter largesse, nor was she wooing Dick.

"Ignez Milford was wounded; Dick is still pulling against an adverse tide, so am I. It is time that one of us achieved."

"You think Laleen has talent and should be freed?"

"Certainly, and she fights so fiercely. It is useless to try and reconcile her and the step-sisters. This infernal ballyhoo that is mistaken for good housekeeping is an outlet for restlessness which cannot be controlled for the comfort of others. Laleen should not be sacrificed to it."

"If only she weren't so thin-skinned. If I let it distract me, I'd be as tiresome as Philippa. Laleen resents that they won't give her credit for intelligence. If they simply said that she refused to work in the house instead of that she is no good in it, Laleen would be satisfied. All the old people once upon a time used to grizzle like Blanche. 'Tigrinizing', Mollye's great-grandmother used to call it. It was a Victorian way of vindicating virtue. To let anyone be at peace smacked of laziness or worse. Blanche would have been well placed in the Parramatta 'Factory' stirring up the inmates. It makes her happy to proclaim that I am no good in the house. I could do the paltry tubby with one hand and something else with the other. This delusion that they are martyrs is a hang-over from the propaganda used in winning the franchise for women. I've noticed through my club work that a lot of released energy is running to waste among women who are fit only for the common round. Commerce has dumped jazz and radio and moving pictures into the vacuum, but spiritual and mental furniture is what is really needed."

Freda looked at Mrs Mazere thoughtfully. In the old days the fact that she married an elderly widower with a heard and a grown family was attributed to her lack of comeliness. She had power, Freda recognized, and must have a saving streak of coarseness to be comfortable in marriage with a frowsy old man and uncongenial and assertive step-daughters nearly as old as herself.

"For a sensitive soul to be constantly antagonized by one whose self-satisfaction a harpoon would not penetrate has a coarsening effect--Laleen is driven to vehemence. In such an atmosphere she will express nothing but rebellion, and that gave place to exposure long ago, and is now turning to selection. She doesn't want to be too many laps behind mental fashions in America and London."

"Laleen is always hoping that Blanche will marry Bob James--a sort of prenatal influence." Mrs Mazere sighed. "I counted on marriage to free me from Blanche long ago."

"Bob James and Blanche, what a lark! Fun for a matchmaker there."

"And what about this young Horan? Any danger there?"

"Not as Blanche insinuates. Laleen has the family continence, and Horan has stiff self-control. The engagement of Laleen's imagination is another issue."

"I must say a word to Mollye," said Mrs Mazere calmly.

"Laleen is lucky to have such a tactful ally. So many mothers are antagonists." It was Freda's turn to sigh.


CHAPTER XII

I

Dick and Laleen set out for the flat together on the morning following the hubbub. Laleen was defiant under Dick's protection, and Dick impeded by an atmosphere which robbed him of the harmony imperative, to one so sensitive, for either recuperation or work. He understood that association with Nat was yielding experience and inspiration to Laleen, but that never in this world could Blanche concede it as anything but what it appeared to her obvallate mentality.

Was Blanche entirely wrong? Unable to demonstrate his own philosophy, he felt in no position to discredit others. He was increasingly tortured by noises and the inability to sleep. There was at Nanda no large volume of sound such as street traffic to blur the sharp torments of jazz gramophone records, radio sets, and the fretful yapping of dogs. Sometimes he only fell asleep for an hour near daybreak, and that hour was wrenched from him by a carter next door who cranked up his lorry so reverberatingly that Dick was shaken in his bed. The Nanda cottage being of wood and lifted on piles, every sound in it registered like a drum, and the voices and footsteps disturbed him night and day. He had found it necessary to seek help and had met a severe practitioner, who upon his confession accused him of 'sloppy thinking'. He accepted this as just, but it did not solve his problem.

Freda was the only person with whom he could talk unreservedly. They stayed in the flat till a late hour on the day following the concert maugre the attitude of Blanche, but Laleen was sent home for the evening meal.

"It's no use, Dick; I found myself where you are. After all, Christian Science ought to stand for common sense in its application. This impounding of people in groups because of blood relationship not uncommonly means utter uncongeniality. I cannot delegate my filial responsibilities, but there is nothing to tie you to your family. There are plenty of them to companion each other. Also about noise, if you could demonstrate, you would be at peace in a boiler factory, but as it takes all your attention to conquer your sensitiveness to noise, it would be sanity to seek quieter surroundings among people less lively and positive."

"I'm too conscious of their never-ceasing kindness. But if I remove from error instead of correcting it I shall still be slave to it."

"But can you correct it?"

"If we had faith we could move mountains."

"Yes, but no one ever has had the faith, never since the world began, to our knowledge. When I can't attain, I find it best to cease my little squirmings. You never let go in your life, I'm sure...Leave Blanche to God. After all, she is His problem: He created her."

"Oh, Freda, how comforting you are." He stretched out on the divan and put his head in her lap. "I could go to sleep here. I wish you'd marry me and then we could be together as much as we wish without scandal."

Freda remained still, and Dick, to whom a room-mate was purgatory and a bed-mate active hell, actually dozed. Freda noticed the transparence of the features, with the lines which laughter and his native sun had early criss-crossed about his eyes, supplemented by deeper grooves which age and wear were guttering from nose to mouth and around the chin. She could protect him were she disposed to the responsibility, but who in all the world could comfort her? Past the fleeting enchantment of youth, what was there but a little loneliness and more discomfort, an unsatisfied craving for peace and rest? Then all to be counted out, one by one, while even the greatest revelators had only a fraction of truth to light a perplexing way. "Oh well, I give it up!" She found this phrase constantly on her lips of late.

In about twenty minutes Dick wakened. He exclaimed as joyfully as a boy with a present from Aladdin's ring. "Oh, the bliss of sleep! Why should I have to put all my weight into seeking it when every cabbage can lie down anywhere and sleep through all sorts of noises, even in the same room with a snorer? After sleep I feel so strong. I can work without trouble and live near God, but without sleep I am a man wearing a spiked shirt walking in Black Soil mud all day on an empty stomach."

"Other poor devils who can sleep like dormice find a hell in something that tempts you so little that you hardly know it exists. There seems to be a catch of some sort for everyone."

"What is your catch?"

"Some of them hurt so much that I couldn't confess them, even to you." He stretched up his arms and put them around her. "A joy shared is a joy doubled, but it is not right to expand the opposite things in the same way, or to give them existence at all in other consciousnesses."

"Yes, you are right. Only what is good is real. Freda, I...life would be much happier if I could see a lot of you."

"You'll be proposing to me soon, if I don't take care. Blanche's suspicions have grounds."

"Dear old Blanche, so unselfish, so self-sacrificing. I'd jolly well propose to you if it was any use, but you'd turn me down, wouldn't you?"

"It's not you that I'd turn down so much as marriage, Dicky. Certain circumstances forbid that I shall ever marry." He did not press for her confidence.

"Then couldn't it be understood that you and I had one of those meandering engagements...a peaceful way of having each other's society. Engaged couples nowadays have all sorts of privileges. They even go away for week-ends unchaperoned...and you might be persecuted by an unwelcome suitor. How handy it would be for you to say I had pre-emptive rights."

Freda pondered. Did he seek his own protection, or, like all dreamers, had he keen perception and was aware of the Major-General? "If I were cornered it might be handy; if you didn't forget."

"No fear of my doing that. Would you forget in my case?"

So! He had a definite case for himself in mind. It would be handy for her, but Dick with the same charter might make it embarrassing. "Certain complications might make it necessary for me to deny you, and it wouldn't be fair for me to have refuge without returning the accommodation."

"I'd be happy to have it working one way. Something must be conceded ladies even in this emancipated age."

"That's very gentlemanly of you, both in ancient and modern codes."

II

Before leaving the flat the following afternoon Dick had a telegram from Mollye announcing that she was to be back in Sydney next morning, and what a joy it would he to find him there to breakfast at six! After accepting the flat he must at least meet her at the train. If only he could announce that he and Freda were engaged!

He went home in a state of apprehension usual to one desiring solitude, who is the victim of unbridled hospitality. His fears were verified. Forms of strangers could be seen through the front window. Philippa was rushing hither and yon. One of the countless second or third cousins and her four daughters were in Sydney and were out spending the day. Blanche, with the hospitality of the bush in her being, felt it necessary to put up everyone who came. Those who came, used to similar hospitality, mostly acceded to her importunities. If the house happened to be free of visitors invited or unexpected, Dick always shivered lest a ring at the door meant some old neighbour or relative complacently arrived to spend a day or a week.

Laleen returned on the heels of Dick. "What loathsome, vile pack has arrived now?" she demanded of Philippa, and was furious when she heard they were quartered for the night. "Blanche makes a fuss if I look for peace to work out of the house, yet it is always like a damned dog-kennel so full that you can hear each mongrel every move he makes."

"I don't think it's nice to swear. We must make the best of things. That's what I always do."

"You are not trying to do anything that needs time and quiet."

"I don't see that it matters to you," said Blanche. "You don't do the work, and you should think of others besides yourself. You go out to enjoyment all the time, but those of us who have to lead a quiet life at home find it a pleasure to meet people now and again."

Dispensing hospitality was the flower of Blanche's and Philippa's career, and at that date the obstruction of Laleen's and Dick's enterprises, but the household could not grasp this. By everyone but Mrs Mazere, Dick and Laleen were considered selfish to object to such a system, or eccentric to find it discommoding.

"Now and again! The place is always crowded. It's a free boarding-house, that's all."

"You exaggerate. People who exaggerate are very dangerous to live with. The kind that develop into the basher gangs. When have these people ever come to see me before?"

"They mightn't have, but a stream of others is always here."

"They're only going to stay one night. I'm sure it wouldn't hurt anyone, even if he was as clever as Dickens or Thackeray, to give up one night to being friendly and civilized."

Discussion with Blanche invariably foundered in dissension. Laleen took refuge with Dick. He made no complaint, but his physical and spiritual strain had been such that he craved recess from even congenial people, and the saintliness of a St Francis could not disguise the trying result of unbridled hospitality which yarded him unceasingly with good souls whom he had long outgrown. He crept to his room, but there was no escape within wooden walls. He heard the visitor's voice, "Where is Dick? I thought I saw him come in."

"He went to his room."

"Is he ill?"

"No. He says he is very busy."

"He can't be so busy that he couldn't spare one afternoon when we haven't seen him for ages."

"I wish they'd all explode or drop dead before they come here," said Laleen.

"We must overcome all obstacles. If we let them overcome us, we are weaklings. We must entertain these good souls...I wonder if you'd come with me early tomorrow morning to meet Mollye at the train?"

"Oh, yes! Don't say a word, but just creep out about five o'clock," said Laleen, with shining face, as she went to entertain the guests and help with meals and beds in a way that Blanche could not disapprove. Dick, too, did his share, and Blanche was pacified. She could not understand a poet's needs, but was hospitable beyond reason, and it always eased her to have others mechanically occupied under her direction.

In the morning they crept quietly around the back way, but found Philippa beating mats and acting like Mrs MacStinger in the throes of a spring cleaning.

"Why are you so busy when I helped you thrash those very mats yesterday?" inquired Dick.

"Oh, but I must keep them clean. If you don't let things get dirty they aren't half the trouble to clean. I don't know where all the dust can come from, or where the spiders get all the material to make their webs. You'd think they would run out some day." Philippa could maintain an endless monologue. It made her feel amiable and small-talky. It distracted Dick.

"But if you always have to be cleaning mats so that they shan't get dirty, I don't see much gain." Dick tried to puzzle it out.

"But I do love things to be nice. I can't help it. I am made that way. It worries me if things are not nice. I've always been used to them being spotless. I know some people don't care, and they are thought just as much of as I am, but I just can't help it. I must be as I am, I suppose.

"But if you attack things so violently to keep them clean so that they can't get dirty, isn't that as hard as if you let them get a little dirty now and again and then cleaned up?"

"Oh no. If you keep a thing clean, it is not so hard. The art is in keeping things clean."

"It's no use in trying to argue with her," Laleen whispered. "It's terrible to be with people that won't reason. I do like to reason things out. Laleen never can be reasonable. I just made a remark about it being easier to keep things clean than to let them get dirty. Everyone who knows anything about work will agree with me. Laleen may think me a fool, but I know that much."

"I expect you are quite right."

"She's not. She's cuckoo," muttered Laleen aside. "Where are you going without breakfast?"

"We're going to breakfast at the station, thank you, Philippa."

"Come on, we'll miss the train," urged Laleen, edging towards the gate as Jock waked the morn with shouts of glee. "Having things nice is as bad as meaning well. I'd rather put up with flue under the beds and have the knives cleaned only once a week than that sort of 'niceness'. I'd like a little niceness of brains."

Dick was glad to see Laleen's joy at the prospect of Mollye's return, but that again was bought with contacts exhausting to him. He thought of Freda's exordium to leave things to the Lord. Laleen as well as Blanche might be left to that inscrutable Administrator...At any rate, with incredible swiftness it seemed to him, but quite an aching age to Laleen, they were upon the platform awaiting the Southern Mail for Mollye, Laleen with an eye for Nat.

They each had their slight disappointment. Mollye was glad to see Dick though accompanied by Laleen. She wished she had summoned Nat for breakfast instead of for immediately after. But that was too small a fleck to affect her sun.

There she was, and life became a wonderful thing. No despairs or defeats were there. Here was a force to meet any crisis, to mould any circumstances but the knock-out blow of Death. She patted Dick on the shoulder, laughing gladly à propos--à propos of what? Thrilling exuberance of being.

"You are alone?"

"Yes. They were too busy to get away now." Mollye had left in a hurry of purpose to be alone. "Well, Laleen, honey sweet, how are you?"

Laleen beamed joyfully in a great hug, returning the pressure enthusiastically. Dick and two porters followed with luggage and parcels, including anything from a dressed turkey and a dozen turkey eggs to a tin of cream and a bunch of tea-tree, and a squashed hat and two books, a tennis racquet, a cushion, a rug, a stockwhip, and various other bush treasures.

"Isn't this grand!" said Mollye, when she had them in a taxi and turned out of Station Yard. "We'll have turkey eggs and toast for breakfast. Only a few days till I have to go on tour and leave you all again. Wouldn't it be heaven if you were all coming with me?"

"OOOOh!" gurgled Laleen.

"An opera would do it!" continued Mollye, wondering how she could have a little of Dick's society without his family, dear though each member was.

III

Mollye's return was reported in one paragraph of the Sydney Morning Herald and that of Sir Oswald in the following. Freda, noting this, waited.

He did not slacken in the follow-up. As soon as the post could operate she had a little note holding her to her promise to dine with him. Freda accepted without quibble.

She put on her red gown of soft warm velvet, cut to show a good deal of back, one of those slim well-covered backs with a delicious river all the way from the nape to the waist to tempt a man's forefinger. So much attention had Sir Oswald earned. When all the world from Paris to Sydney went gloveless, Freda wore long black gloves to the middle of her slim but shapely upper arm. Her glistening hair was pasted back from her narrow forehead and she wore no cosmetics. She had instead an air of impertinent indifference to exotic siren aids. Not one word or glance would she concede to lure a man. She was dressed smartly merely because of what she owed Sir of Oswald's hospitality, her own career, and the game of life in general.

Sir Oswald, very preciously smart to the last razor-scrape and button, was waiting for her near at hand and led her to a private sitting-room and sat her down before the fire, which caused her to remove her cloak. He was glad he had reserved a table in the open. Freda's appearance abundantly justified it. That dress would take the women's eyes and give him ton as a cavalier, while her back and generally smart carriage would not be missed by the men.

Freda caught the priapic gleam in his eyes, not otherwise expressive. A pity he had not the presence to inspire amorous thrills. Strange, the delicate adjustments that amorous thrills hung upon! However, he was a Major-General, a K.C.M.G. and M.P. That was something to have attained, whether more by good luck than brilliance. He was giving the best he had. Freda was growing to understand how difficult it is to achieve and maintain any kind of prominence among the millions of humanity as inconspicuous and uninspiring as sheep, and to be more tolerant of that kind of achievement which the spiritual giants never attempt.

"I have engaged a table at the Ambassadors."

"How nice!" she responded, showing her white teeth, but not bothering to look at him. She knew he was looking at her and that she could bear it with equanimity. She permitted him to place her cloak. A taxi was at their disposal.

"Let's whizz around the block to get up an appetite. I've been stewing all the afternoon over some of the dullest reports in the world."

"Reports are ferociously dull."

"Can't escape 'em in your line."

"I could forsake my line."

"What would you take up in place?"

"I could go mad, or go immoral, I might even go married--anything for a change."

Sir Oswald chuckled. Freda looked at the lights. "Well, here we are," he remarked.

"It is very nice to be here."

"Are you warm enough?"

"I'm not got up for driving."

"You must have my muffler." It was snatched from his neck and placed around her for the embrace it involved. One end fluttered, for which she reached. Sir Oswald reached for the slim fingers in their black gloves. He pressed them to his lips in a gallant gesture, worthy of Slav or Latin, she reflected. He followed it by passionate pressure of mustachioed lips on her bare upper arm. The lights around the bend of the street fell full on them and for the moment policed her against the necessity of protest or acquiescence. They crawled along in a traffic jam with another couple wheel to wheel. Freda sank back and observed her companion's state. The racing pulse was evident in his silhouette. He was quite overtaken. In pre-war days there was a code. One could nip this like frost, or trade on it to a certain extent and tactfully withdraw without footing the bill. But now, Freda wondered. There was a great deal said about self-control and ideals and asceticism and all such, but despite all, a woman of imagination and emotionally high-powered though honestly virgin may know ten times more than her pedestrianly married sister. There was no sense in decrying such an offering. That fire in the veins, a gift as inexplicable, as spontaneous, as laughter. It was something which others strove to kindle and could not. Judith Laurillard, for instance, was ready to be gracious to the Major-General, but he, in that case, remained unmoved. She must therefore be grateful that the electricity had been generated by her--throbbing evidence that she was still a going concern on the underside of life's meridian. It was now acknowledged in learned treatises that this was not disloyal to a wife: one cannot rob persons of that which will not descend on them, whether it be passion, or sun, or peace. It was cruel to be superior in these cases.

She left her slim fingers in Sir Oswald's clasp. She even patted his hand with her free one. "I really am grateful to you for those books."

"I thought they would be about your mark." He was happy to have his taste approved.

"You might have sent me chocolates like any of the noodles. Tell me how far you got in your dull old reports, though I think the great masculine brain revels in such things--they are not a feminine invention."

She watched him recover as easily as an electrician accomplishes a change with his battery of stage lights. Insert one word of intelligence on a normal subject, and this thing dispersed like menthol. Must it then always depend upon abrogation of intellectual control? Emotional inebriation?

With a woman who thus analyses, a man is as safe from himself as if he were in charge of a revered grandmother. So the man of Mars found for the evening. Freda exerted herself to be interested in his work and to get him to talk about it. He was not, however, very opinionated, nor did he talk much about himself. He listened sympathetically. It was this unusual accomplishment that made him popular in a certain way in his wife's sets.

Freda entertained him so that he laughed right out. Men with flat damsels or boring wives envied him. Sir Oswald saw it and was proud of himself. Freda's attention was for him alone--rare with a woman past the adoring flapper stage, and immensely gratifying. But it was too clever. She never bothered to look around the room with those under-the-eyelashes glances that women give when hunting to see what prey other women may have. She was careless of the assembled company in the way of a quite great person. They might be interested in her. She did not seem aware of their existence. It stamped her as a woman of the world who would set a fashion rather than follow one, a woman who had known New York and Paris, London, any old city from Chicago to Bagdad; Sydney might not impress her, and she was indifferent to the giving of one glance whether she impressed it. Sir Oswald discovered that another approach was needed, and wondered what he should send on the morrow to improve upon his good start. He was getting no farther, but he had not been repulsed by the slightest gesture. This was not the type of woman who would surrender to toe-treading and arm-squeezing and a pappy compliment or two about her beautiful eyes.

He suggested the theatre. Freda selected a comedy. They had delightful little talks between the acts and were the envied of the somnolent diners round about. Freda was in her prime, as a woman in the middle thirties should be, and her escort was proud of her unwithered maturity. He could not be mistaken for papa, nor for one who needed to light fires in waning vigour by abnormal fuel snatched from the schoolroom. Not to him, with Freda as the source of his entertainment, could be applied those obscenities about senescence which men of the cave-man school bandy among each other concerning the amours of their elders. He wished to take her to supper. She refused unaffectedly. "No, thank you. You have given me a delightful evening, and I escape late hours whenever possible."

"Then may I see you home?"

"To the station. A step farther would be silly. I have travelled all around the world alone, starting in my unsophisticated teens."

"But things have changed. Look at all these razor-slashing and assault cases. I couldn't think of letting you go home alone."

"It is only the nincompoop women that are not safe."

"That's all very fine, but the rapings have been facts--some of them. The undiscovered murderers are far too many, the basher gangs are no joke."

"'Tis better that I should die than be afraid. I have never had one tremor of that kind of fear in the whole of my parti-coloured career."

"You'll get a clout on the jaw or your throat cut before you know where you are. I want you to promise for my sake not to go about alone at night--not any more. I couldn't rest, being afraid for you." This with an attempt at tenderness.

"Well then, don't be afraid any more," she said with a gleeful chuckle. "Be sorry for the poor devil that would foolishly tackle me. I'm not one of those backboneless rabbits who takes a panic if a man says 'Good-night, Molly,' to her. I'd make a crack basher myself if put to it."

Sir Oswald was following her to the platform. "You can't stop me accompanying you." He was exhilarated by her unusualness. There was no assumption of timidity, but considering the size and look of her it had more allure than the conventional pretences of women. "I know you are brave. But I should not be if I did not insist upon escorting you."

"But what shall I do all the other nights? I can't expect to have Major-General Sir Oswald." She was enjoying his persistence.

"You could have me a jolly lot of nights if you wished." They had an empty coach in the train. She sat opposite him, wilful and spirited. "If I cannot go about in my own dear country where I list without being murdered, raped or robbed by my own countrymen, it makes me so depressed that I had as soon be dead. I'll risk it. I'm not sixteen nor Helen of Troy that the men must rush upon me at sight. 'Tis better that I should have no fear." She said it regally. No rabbit, as she expressed it, but a haughty patriot. Her mien put sloshy amour back into its jesses grandly, but lighted a higher desire in this man--of battles and barrages and sorties in No Man's Land.

"Think of it from my side of the fence. I should not like any accident to occur after you had been spending the evening in my company, and giving me such a ripping time, by Gad!"

He held her dimpled elbow to help her down the steps from the station. She accepted his arm to walk on the newly paved sidewalks. The drunkenly laid bricks were hard on small heels, and evidence that high wages and high workmanship were not wedded. She had to ask him in at her door. He had the artistry to refuse. He carried her fingers to his lips ceremonially, then stood off and saluted gallantly and was gone sharply into the night.

Freda switched on her electric rose and sat beside it for some time, musing and recalling Sir Owald's bristling lip on her arm. She would sooner have it there on neutral territory than on her lips. When a woman thinks thus a man is in small danger of being seduced by her.

That fire in the veins. It could not be left out of the calculations of even the celestially minded, else none at all, gross or saintly, could exist. Why should it be taboo? Where draw the line? What code apply? Codes had to be readjusted, in some cases deliberately broken for progress. What of the big love experiences of history, standing out as obelisks of inspiration? It would be a narrow preacher who would decry these for lack of spirituality. They were not mere sex. The perplexing point was that they were not divorced from it. How direct a force that was not a matter of wish or will? It could be suppressed or denied, but that was neither truth nor beauty. "Oh, give it up!" she murmured, then pulled up. "I'm sinking into parvanimity. My spiritual lamp needs oil. There are as many kinds of love as of whisky, and Ossy-Possy is not offering me one of the great affairs that adorn history. No. To be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. I must forswear the fire to forestall the after depression."

Sir Oswald sat late over reports. Later those fevers were his that are known to lovers who wake in the night alone. He thought of diet and discipline--army discipline, hanging on to it loyally; and discipline, even army discipline, may be one of the ways to heaven, so manifold, so merciful, so understanding of His children is the God of Heaven.

But more acutely the Major-General thought of that little river down Freda's back, and of Lady Mazere-Poole. What the deuce is a man's wife for, if not to save him from this? From this--fire of Freda, not from Freda herself, for after that evening he had his doubts if she would slake a man's desire or only arouse it. A member of the basher gang--with her little hands and feet! He would like to bash her himself--with kisses, and bite her pretty knees. Little devil! Did she mean it? What the devil did she mean?

IV

That evening also Mollye had her desire by having Dick alone to dine. During the afternoon she had inveigled him to a reception to meet other writers and artists. Among those present was Mr Cunninge of Cunninge & Skynnot, Printers and Booksellers. Mr Cunninge was excessively affable to Dick and offered him and Freda a lift in his grand new Daimler. This Dick refused, but Freda stepped in with laughter in her eyes and said to Dick, "Someone must support these gentlemen in a style befitting their business. Thank you for the ride in this lovely machine."

"There was plenty of room for you both," Mr Cunninge hastened to add, misunderstanding a little the purport of the remark. A lack of sensitiveness made him obtuse to the finest in letters, but aided him in securing all the profits from those he could appreciate.

Dick, utterly innocent, had thought it wonderful long ago to have ten whole pounds for a little school quair only half full of his own writing, but now since he had returned, and Mollye had sung one of the songs from this collection, his first book was selling like Christmas-cards, had paid for itself years ago, and was piling up handsome sums for Messrs Cunninge & Skynnot.

Mollye had found out how things were through the song. If printed, half the profits of this would go to Messrs C. & S., not to Dick. Mollye had thought to right matters, but Mr Cunninge had quickly dropped suavity. "Let them go and publish their damn' books themselves if they are not satisfied," he had said. Not a nice way to talk to a lady! The second volume, of which Dick had surrendered the copyright for ten per cent, was kept in the background. There was only a small edition in print, and labour was too expensive to reprint. However, Mollye went ahead selling the little volume with her programmes everywhere, hoping it would help Dick with his succeeding books. But the added reputation was a burden to Dick financially, and the limelight such torture that brotherly love for Mr Cunninge was difficult.

But here he was in Mollye's apartment, honouring her with full evening uniform, his face velvet from the razor, his hair sleek and dark, shining with dainty cleanliness. Mollye noted with pleasure every exquisite detail of his person and clothing. She had done her best to obtain effects which in different ways were natural to Judith and Freda. She was intent upon simplicity. Her head was undecorated, and she wore no jewels but a string of pearls. She was all ends and petals as far as Dick could make out, but the simplicity showed off her tremendous physique. She was big enough for two, overflowing with generosity, health, strength, and kindness, but overpowering. They sat to a perfect meal expertly served. Dick was riot urged to eat, so much peace was his, but he looked at the clock and wished it was the end of the evening instead of the beginning. He wondered what Freda was doing just as she was entering the Ambassadors with Sir Oswald.

"Dicky, you should have been there with me. I wanted someone who feels as I do about it, someone who had been away and come back to it."

"It stood the test?"

"A thousand times over!" Dick donned the talaria of dreams and sped on the song of the rivers for ever enchantingly in his imagination.

"Laleen and Nat have been working. What do you think of the result?" He had been summoned to discuss their progress.

"Wonderfully promising. Nat has the beginning of a movement there, different, typical. I shall have a better idea when he has orchestrated it. The story opens with the swing and flame of youth...and your lyrics! Wouldn't it be wonderful? I should have my heart's desire."

"That is a very big thing. Laleen would have hers too...and what about the young man?"

Mollye watched him--her heart's desire. "And you, Dick. wouldn't it be your heart's desire too?"

"It would mean a great deal to us all." He was thinking of his magnum opus struggling for deliverance.

"Tell me, what is your heart's desire?" They were free from the butler now, before a beautiful wood fire. He sat in the deep bed-like chair, his feet in the skin, a silken cushion behind his head.

"A man could not ask for more beauty than this, and comfort, and a dear friend," he said. As the firelight flickered on his face she noted it was even thinner than when he had arrived, and suggested unendurable weariness. Mollye was filled with tenderness. She longed to care for him. It would be such a joy to her in her surplus strength, but she must not frighten him away.

"I suppose you had the grand old wood fires up the country?"

"Oh, yes, Dicky. Great logs of flooded gum and stringy-bark in the big white hearths so that everyone's face was roasted. We hated to leave them to go to bed. What glorious things they had in the old bush days! Kings, aesthetes, can't have them today. That glorious wood, the smell of it, the look of it, the crackle of it, and its great glowing coals! Every one of those old jossers with two or three rivers of his own--and such rivers! Oh, Dicky, how is one to get all the beauty and grandeur out of life in the time?"

"Yes, such glories all around us, and yet the woof of existence is of sheer trivialities."

"We are afraid to let out the grand stops of our nature--but you and I should not be. Now that we have a whole glorious evening to ourselves we shall give it to those greater things...You have not told me your heart's desire."

"It is so simple. Just sleep, peace, and the strength to work."

"We all want that as a basis. You need someone to look after you. Poets do. Someone to free you to your dreams."

"Not anyone to look after me, only peace. It worries me to have people sacrificing themselves for me. I need to be freed from attention."

"I know. Those dear, lovely, darling, unselfish sisters of yours...they just love you to death. They haven't enough to occupy them, and so concentrate on you. I've been petted too, Dicky, by my own dear people. You want someone to leave you as free as air. Dicky, do you know that you are very lovable? Remember how all we little girls howled for your kisses when we were toddling, and you wouldn't gratify us?"

"That was a long time ago," he said uneasily.

"But I don't believe you have changed."

"But the girls have grown up to refuse me now." He thought of Freda.

Life was so uncertain. One had only flickering moments with those of the heart's desire, and all the other time with outsiders. Mollye was a major dynamic. Urgency propelled her. "Dick, I wish you would let me free you to a big work of art--for Australia's sake, for your own sake. I have enough from my grandfather's estate so that I shall never starve, no matter how extravagant I am; and I made fifteen thousand pounds clear on my last concert tour in America. I'll make anything from ten to twenty thousand from this tour, which is only a holiday. I'm not one of the orthodox prima-donnas who wants to be hung with jewels like an Oriental, or to have castles to entertain royalties. My heart's desire is work and music and something grandly Australian. Think if we could manage that! I am ready to take care of Nat and Laleen while they are working, and won't you take a year or two of freedom too?"

Dick did not know how to take this. "I have enough for a few years' freedom in a humble way--if I could only conquer the bugbear of sleeplessness; but as it is I am a slave in chains."

She was too kind to say that peace was impossible in those one-storeyed hutches full of sounds and fussy relatives. "Creative work needs an environment of some extent and a certain amount of understanding, even to be let alone--and that is the most difficult to obtain, for the kinder people try to be the more conscious one is of their presence, and that is fatal to concentration." Such understanding thawed Dick. He nodded. Mollye continued: "You just want to be turned loose in a place like this, the cleaning to be done by some impersonal creature--have it like St Kevin's Cave, and come out when you need music or companionship." Dick sighed, visioning the perfection of the unattainable. "You could have that with me, Dicky?"

"There would be so much pother, Mollye. You could hardly do things like that if you were a nonentity of seventy, but when you are one of the world's queens...no, royalty cannot do a thing like that; but I wish you had been born my sister." Then, fearing this was disloyal to his own sisters, he qualified: "If I had been born in the shade of so grand a sister I could have hidden in it."

"Why don't you let me repair the mistake? Why can't I have you, dear? I should be so good to you. You could be so free...I should only want to see you sometimes. My life is full of terrible struggles really, at the full tide. This is only a wonderful holiday...and Dicky, I love you..." She had thrown herself down on the great white skin before the fire and rested her head on his knees. Such a queenly head, such a great woman, who commanded the world around, and vet here she was humble before him, Dick Mazere. How was a man to extricate himself without hurting the giver of so great a gift, proffered with such unselfishness and abandon? Panic crept under his waistcoat. He wanted to flee like Joseph, but he must not wound Mollye, nor tear the fine fabric of hereditary friendship as she impinged upon it with those dear to him. The situation demanded distinguished handling, and he had no power for it. If only he could sleep, so that his brain would work!

At any rate he must not wound Mollye, and her beautiful head was on his knee, her hair gleaming like spun flame in the firelight. He put his hand on it lightly, not to spurn her, but, oh God, to be far away, this ordeal past! If Freda would only pop in! She could handle any situation gallantly. She didn't even seem aware of Sir Oswald's state. Why couldn't Blanche walk in now? And what was Mollye offering--marriage, or a modern affair, or sisterly patronage? He wished he had not mentioned that his decree nisi had been made absolute.

Molly took his hand, finding it as cold as a frog.

"I have nothing to give you, Mollye mine. When the princess picks a pauper he is a prince in disguise, but there is no disguise about me. I am a shop-worn pauper--second-hand." There! If she were not proposing to make an honest man of him, she would recant now.

"I would rather be your wife, Dicky, than that of a reigning king."

Now he knew where he stood.

"You could not subject me to such indignity. I should be a squaw man, as they say in the United States. How could I support you in the style to which you have been accustomed? You are quite able to support yourself, I know, you grand splendid queen, but I should not even be able to support myself sufficiently to appear beside you."

"What does it all matter? Why should I be given these gifts that shut me out from love? I have to use my gifts. God gave them to me."

"Bountiful gifts that make you the joy of the world and the pride of Australia! You are worshipped, Mollye, as no other person is ever worshipped."

"What's the good of all that public worship, Dicky, if I can't have my own private love?"

"But, Mollye, all around the world, princes and the nobility would be glad to worship you if you would let them, fellow-artists who could play a fitting duet with you."

"But I don't want fellow-artists--not in the way I want you, Dicky. I want someone who knew me when I was little, who loves all that glory where we were born. The strangers and foreigners don't know that as we know it. Just to smell the tea-tree and hear the song of the Wamgambril--no one in all the world cares about it as you and I do. It is ours to tell the world. The members of the nobility who would marry me would only want to batten on me, and I couldn't put up with them. I'm as simple as the old pioneers from whom I sprung. I hate snobbery."

"But Mollye, think! It would be imputed to me that I was battening on you. You are feeling pity for me now because I look like a stray Tom that you want to give a saucer of milk to, but you would soon tire of me."

No decent man but is jarred to refuse a woman. It wounds something finest in a fine man to repudiate even the drabs that lurk in street doorways to offer soiled wares. Painful to ordeal, then, was Dick's position with Mollye's head on his knees, such a brave head as it was too, crowned with royal gifts of song, comeliness, youthful maturity, and topping one of the cleanest, warmest hearts that ever throbbed. Moreover, she was not even a stranger, but Mollye Brennan of The Gap, whose little face at two had been held up for his kisses: Mollye, whose first lullaby, even as his own, had been the G Minor Ballade of the rivers of Bool Bool as they gush cool and clear from the blue old Bogongs to meet the Murrumbidgee.

"Dicky, if you don't love me a little my heart will break, and I shall not be able to sing any more. Life will be all dark and lonely. All that joy in the loveliness of Australia as we share it would go cold in me, Dicky; it wouldn't matter. No one knows that early part of me but you. I have no one to share it who understands. All those fellow-artists and nobility that you imagine...oh, Dicky, don't fail me..."

Their earliest influences had been identical and fitted them with a comfortable familiarity. Here was a predicament for Dick. His sense of humour helped him a little. He realized though not undersized, that she could pick him up and administer physical comfort to him more easily than he could to her.

"My dear girl," he ejaculated, quite flustered, "it is not convenable that you, so glorious and strong, should take on about a miserable shrimp like I am. Love must do better by you than that."

"No, but Dicky...you just talk like that out of politeness. If I were half as important as you make out, I'd have the right to marry anyone, and if I want you..."

This was embarrassing to Dick, about whom puritan inhibitions and ancient conventions still clung. He summoned later credos. Men, he knew, importuned women without losing caste: why should not the same liberty be the right of women--and his the same right to refuse? Nevertheless it was confounding.

"It's all very fine to say I'm so wonderful; it may be so, but it makes me the prey of poor trash--impecunious nobility--foreign or otherwise, and the fellow-artists. Underneath the grand opera regalia I am only Mollye Brennan of The Gap, the same as you are Dick Mazere of Coolooluk, good old commonsense Australians without any airs, and I'm shut off from all my own kind; they're not game to tackle me; that's why I had to screw up my courage to propose to you, and you won't..."

She was sobbing, her courage dissolved in honest scalding tears. Dick felt the justice of her statement. It had been an ordeal for her too. He was receiving one of the greatest matrimonial offers of the world at that moment.

"Mollye! Dear, dear Mollye! Let us get this straight," he murmured. "You have me so fussed up that I don't know which way to look for Sunday. I have nothing to offer you, not a sixpence. It would be said I was a rotter, a fortune-hunter. Worse than that, from your point of view, I am unsuited to married life. I don't have to make the same mistake twice. My wife was a fine big active woman, and I failed her. Marriage is for the heroic, and I'm a only a poor shy dingo craving to crawl into some secluded hollow log and be at peace."

Marriage could be unresting purgatory. Someone always waiting to devour in the name of love. Maligning love, of course. Brewing satiety and boredom. Whew! A man gasped for air in the recollection. Though Mollye was not like that. She was genuinely affectionate, but nevertheless possessive. If only he could be safely separated from her by consanguinity, what a radiant joy she would be!

"But, Dicky, if your opera came out you would be more distinguished than I am. An opera goes on, while the poor singer has only a short day and fades...And, Dicky, you could have your hollow log. You need never come near the crowd unless it pleased you. My life is strenuous, in the musical seasons. There is travel and study and practice and the crowds pursuing me. You could escape all that if only I could have you sometimes to rest my heart. I am the very one to understand a poet's need for seclusion. All I ask is for you to care just a little, Dicky, and then I could sing better and meet all the rivalries and intrigues..." With love's eagerness she advanced her suitability. "I can't help it, Dicky, that my gift brings money. That should not shut me away from love."

"No, Mollye, you should be loved greatly. You are worthy. You must understand my position and forgive my pride. I could not entertain the thought of living on your bounty. That would kill your love for me eventually and stifle mine for you." In his confusion he was omitting to state that he did not love her in the way she craved. He believed he had sublimated romantic love, but the heart can greatly deceive itself.

Mollye understood the barrier to be her wealth and fame. Ears full of passion's tumult can be deaf to other voices. Her mind was immediately set to adjust the hiatus in finances. She threw her arms around him, laying her head against his heart. The issue was further confused by the failure of that heart as a physical as well as an emotional organ.

"I think the fire is too hot. May I have a glass of water?"

Before Mollye could obtain it, Dick was limp in the great chair. Mollye knew nothing of physical ills, not even fainting. A wild fear transpierced her. What if her love were dead! She opened his collar and the window and bathed his brow. Presently his eyelids flickered and he looked at her helplessly.

"Did something fall on me from the ceiling?"

"No. Let me help you to the couch."

He permitted himself to be laid down. His look of weariness touched Mollye as deeply as it startled her. "I'll just rest," he said. "I feel sleepy."

"Yes, sleep. There is no one to disturb us."

She sought a medical man along the street and told him what Blanche had said of Dick being saved from diabetes by insulin. She did not mention Christian Science. The doctor said there was no immediate danger. The best thing was to let him sleep. No doubt he had been overdoing it. He would be glad if Mr Mazere would call on him in the morning.

The thick rugs enabled Mollye to return without a sound. Was she to lose Dick? She fell on her knees and prayed passionately and then wrapped herself in a rug and waited, too anxious to read or sleep.

An hour later Dick wakened and sat up. Mollye was swiftly beside him. "You gave me a little scare, Dicky. I thought I had killed you."

"Very stupid of me! Have I been sleeping long? If I could have slept like that last night I should not have been so silly." He threw off the rug and stood up, but reeled and quickly went back to a recumbent position.

"Dicky, may I have a doctor?"

"No...Would you mind ringing up Miss Newsack? You'll see the number, and ask her to come to me. Or is it too late?" This was a Christian Scientist practitioner. Mollye found her ready to come straight to the apartment. She was with her patient half an hour, and when she came out said to his hostess, "I think you had better let Mr Mazere rest where he is for the night." Miss Newsack had had a salvaged diabetic just lie down and fall asleep only a week since. "I shall telephone his family that he is staying in town for the night, as he says his sister will be waiting up for him."

Dick was in a deep sleep when Mollye returned to the lounge. Free from near and particular noises, soothed by the roar of full traffic in the distance, he slept till nearly six o'clock, and then, realizing he had no violently good housekeepers to raise a ballyhoo, he turned over for an extra hour. Bliss!

He was up to breakfast with Mollye, quite himself and refusing the doctor. In due course he was restored to the conventions by Laleen bringing him a suit of day clothes, but the subject of last evening was not to be reopened with a man who fainted. Mollye felt, however, that she was the one appointed to keep his soul and body together. She must wait and make opportunity.

As they were parting, Dick murmured, "I'm sorry to have acted so, Mollye. It will illustrate what a poor thing I am, and how totally unworthy of your generous thought. You must never think of me except as a friend who esteems you beyond all."


CHAPTER XIII

I

Mollye and Nat departed next day. Every town of any size had sent a request for a concert, and the popular native diva had generously responded. She was to sing in Bathurst, Dubbo, Orange, Goulburn, Yass, Cootamundra, Wagga, Albury, and then on to Victoria. She exhorted Laleen to work hard and look after Dick. She was alarmed by his delicacy, but was happy in that she did not consider herself refused. The conditions of Nanda were killing to him. Let him have rest. Restored to vigour, the idea of a union between them would wear a different aspect. With happy generosity she went about winning her heart's desire.

The departure of Nat changed the complexion of the days to Laleen. The competition story had been laid aside while she worked on the opera. When she returned to it, it seemed stale and flat. She was learning how much easier to conceive a vivid romance than to transfer that vividness to paper. Lucky girl, she had Freda and Dick to companion her, tactfully insisting upon mathesis and work.

Dick left the flat to the girls during the day. He took to the bush. There was still plenty of native scrub beyond the wilderness of bungalows and their desert streets. He found the domain of the Griffins at Castle Crag, and blessed those practical idealists valiantly saving from the common stupidity a little of the indigenous glory of rock and shrub for that future when the potato-minded shall have been tutored to appreciation. Here he found nests of the little brown ground orchids and also the blue; pink boronia, crowia, grevilleas, bottle-brushes and the candleflower (Epacris microphylla); even the little old Tetratheca thymifolia, Hibbertia linearis and Pimelea linifolia of Oswald's Ridges; and dozens of others, with their faery native grace attainable with garden flowers only by wiring. Here was every friend of Bogong days, with other elfs peculiar to the locality, so numerous as to corroborate the claim of botanical cockalorums that Middle Harbour has a greater variety of flora than any other area of similar extent in the world.

He sat for hours entranced by the shimmering beauty peculiar to the gullies in the sunlight, or worshipping the flannel-flowers and waratahs. And then against all prognostication, regardless of sixty years' precedent, the drought broke. One day a wilder wind than usual so ruffled the Pacific that the great jets in the white suds beating about Botany Heads could be seen eight or ten miles distant from the crest of the long ridge in Ashville at the top of the Mazeres' street. Fierce gusts tore through the endless channels laden with dust and debris, assailing the forming fruit and flowers with every sign of continuing drought. But suddenly they turned down upon the earth like the breath of a bellows and roared autumnally in the chimneys till the clouds mobilized in battle array, tinting the hills enfolding the bay a rich purple, while the bay itself became an inset of chalcedony. The sunset was weird with glory, the west a sea of molten fire bounded by vast stage curtains of flame and rose deepening to incarnadined chocolate and murky night: and the following morning there was rain.

The old hands still did their best. "Only a coastal scud," they said. "Couldn't be anything else at this time of the year."

But the lullaby sound on the roofs continued and spread in just proportion. The rain extended. Tank-filling, dam-bursting, creek-banking, up-the-country rain. The bare-as-the-palmof-your-hand desert was transformed to a cattle-feed-on-thesheep-routes season that sent the price of live stock soaring, and spread cheer from the coast to the Bogan and beyond. The graziers were faced with too much grass and the danger of fires later, and the plague of grass seeds that can persist in the wool right to Piccadilly's pantaloons.

Sydney's thirst was slaked. The buffalo grass on vacant spaces grew so lush and tall that it was conceivable it might somewhere be the diet of bison bulls or even of Jersey cows. Syringa and azalea mingled their beauty around weatherboard cottages. Arum lilies grew breast-high on vacant allotments. There were thickets of hydrangea and roses. Dick could not remember half the names of the roses all fit for Chelsea's floral exhibition. He wearied connoting the variety of shrubs and flowers to be seen in garden plots. Even the shabby palms and ragged stag and moose horns grew green and personable.

In such conditions Dick became reconciled to the inland suburbs. The common man, he mused, was incapable of appraising unfamiliar indigenous loveliness. The impressions possible to his limited mental equipment resulted in a desire for the possessions of his financial superiors. Here he had many of them, even to peaches and nectarines in his own plot, sheaves of Madonna lilies as tall as himself, oleanders, gardenias, and the white wistaria. It was idle to expect him to reach outside experience; to do that he must have at least a tendril or two of the superman, but Dick wished that his imitative acquisitiveness had included a longing for trees as well as for motor cars and pedigreed toy dogs.

Dick was pursued by a feeling that in such blissful days he was shirking a real man's job, while Aubrey, to take an immediate example, struggled with a sheepman's trials from the Paroo to Monaro and Gippsland. Election talk was all of unemployment and financial slumps and materialism. Dick took comfort that the drought had broken despite sixty years' precedents and the meteorologists, whether in official observatories or on unaffiliated back-yard fences. He accepted this as demonstration that God could mind His own business without his (Dick's) anxieties. So he held to his purpose. To waylay the Muse he must be free to a hermit's life. For the moment he could not desert Laleen. She must have her chance, as Freda said. He combined his own freedom and chaperonage of Laleen by setting out with her in the mornings and returning to the flat to send her home for the evening meal. He would then lock the doors and, pleasantly exercised from his jaunts, sleep well. He acquired the habit of sleeping for hours and going home on a coal or goods train to be found at Central about 3 or 4 a.m. Ostensibly to be farther from the radio across the street, he asked Mrs Mazere to give him a bed on her veranda at the back. There he could arrive without his hours being reported, or noted beyond an automatic "Get to bed! Get to bed!" from Dad if a boot fell. Three weeks of this so cleared his brain that he was seeking Freda to listen to his stanzas. He confessed by what routine he had achieved the form to work.

"If athletes attain their form by bashing a ball or eating raw steak, you must take your way through association with the flowers and by wooing sleep," she said, with one of her short-cuts to understanding.

Thus upheld he went along blissfully, but not without arousing curiosity. Laleen was working, Blanche had Dick's word for that, and did not interfere there again beyond a protesting air. Nat was not presently available for suspicion, but what was Dick doing? Where could he be each day, getting home at such ridiculous hours? Blanche once or twice sat up till after midnight, and he was still absent. She consulted Aubrey. "Poor devil. I shiver to see how weak he is. After that diabetes they are never the same. They drag along for a while and then go pop. I expect he knows that, and just goes about somewhere and sits in the sun. Let him alone if this notion of Christian Science pleases him. Nothing can be done for him anyhow, the way he looks."

"It would be a good thing if he did marry Mollye. She would be able to pay for doctors and nurses," agreed Blanche, voicing a lively interest.

"Might as well marry the Harbour Bridge! A great overpowering woman like that. He'd be dead in three months."

"She's desperately fond of him."

"Rats! It's just a bit of the flub-dub of that sort of people, and besides, Dick isn't fond of her."

"A man often grows fond of a woman if she persists."

"Not when he's dead-nuts on someone else."

"Who?"

"Freda, of course. They're all dead-nuts on her--our cousin, Sir Oswald..." This was a much more likely explanation of Dick's balmy hours, and consonant with Blanche's suspicions. "Freda's always making mischief. If Mollye wants to love Dick and take care of him--"

"Freda can't help how she's made. Freda--"

"You are silly about her too!" Blanche was contemptuous.

"That's all I'll be, then. Freda would take no more notice of any of us than of that old Tom howling out there."

Blanche was now sure that Dick's erratic movements were attributable to Freda. How to catch Freda in the act? Questioning Laleen brought nothing but scorn. Blanche decided to drop in to Mollye's flat some evening.

What she saw was a taxi drawing up and Freda stepping across the pavement to it. Ah ha! Blanche stood deliberately in the way to see its contents. With Freda was Sir Oswald. He recognized Blanche, and, coming to a halt nearly half a block away, returned to ask his cousin would she have a lift anywhere. No, she was only going to Mollye's apartment to see if Dick was there.

"Oh, don't disturb him, he'll want to sleep," exclaimed Freda, immediately regretting her indiscretion.

"Sleep! At this hour! I want to see him," snorted Blanche. "He can sleep all he wants at home." She turned resolutely away.

II

Sir Oswald had skipped quite nifty social engagements in favour of dinner with Freda, this time definitely to talk Report. Freda was in a chic little hat which proclaimed her in business mood. She brought from her handbag notebooks right on to the table, which they had to themselves at the good old Tadpole, specially chosen. No suggestion of coquetry warmed her manner, and Sir Oswald knew enough to play opposite her. Besides, if his manner were quite other than suggested at the last meeting, it would pique curiosity. Also, he was no philanderer to the exclusion of business, and this woman had more knowledge than he and more wit on the subject on which he strove to be an authority.

"Well now," he said, as the evening advanced, "will you sign as co-secretary? Let us hammer out a form that will reconcile our divergent points of view--not so damned divergent either, only when a man is an administrator he has to be practical."

"Exactly, and the acceptable practical ideas on this question are so hen-scratching, so pifflingly like every other reform, that I am thinking of drawing out."

"Well, you are evidently not going mad. There were two other states you mentioned, going married or immoral. If the last is your portfolio I'm a candidate."

"That's certainly indulgent of you. But I have ruled that out in favour of the other."

"Marriage!" She nodded, noting the change in his face. "I have never had the privilege of seeing you with eligible--oh, to be eligible!--men."

"Would you like me in the family?"

"You would be an ornament in any family, but who is sufficiently eligible in mine?"

"You overlook your cousin Dick."

"Good God! You women have a queer taste. A doggerel poet."

"But even warriors are not allowed to be bigamists, so what are we to do?"

He laughed, somewhat appeased. "Well, I'll he damned, I'm damned if I won't. But he had a wife, hadn't he? What became of her?"

"Discarded him, or he discarded her."

Sir Oswald went back to the Report with a jerk, all business now and none so soft. The officer, not usually conspicuous in this man, was now discernible. "Well, I want that Report one way or the other."

"I wouldn't do it for five hundred pounds."

"I'll give you three," he said shortly.

"I'll think about it."

"Would you care to drop into the Tivoli for an hour?"

"No, thank you. I want to go straight home."

"Wait till I come with my car."

She did not protest, and soon they were spinning along the bay route where remnants of once delectable scrub showed dark on the white sands. She noted his profile set and cold, and the imp in her tempted her to change it all by a little laugh. Just that, and his arm would be around her. But there was no fresh experience possible to her this side of consummation, and Sir Oswald did not intoxicate her. She had wasted too much time in the past in this way. It led to nothing even with unshackled men, and she was no home-breaker. Money was what she wanted, honestly earned by her brains.

The Major-General pulled up at her door. "Do you mean that about my cousin? Is it a secret?"

"We are not publishing it yet, so be careful to whom you mention it."

He got out of the car and held the gate open for her. "Goodnight!" he said, pretending to miss her extended hand in the dark, but giving a sharp military salute and walking away without looking back.

He drove wildly to town. Infernal little devil! Who was she? Who did she think he was? Trying to make a fool of him! Three hundred pounds for her Report! Whew! She was only the great-granddaughter of old Larry Healey of Little River, none so clean a potato, if rumour was correct. But then he himself was grandson--one throw nearer--of old black gorilla one-eyed Poole of Curradoobidgee, and there was much worse than he on his mother's side. No good in disparaging Freda's lineage.

Nevertheless he would show her! The Hon. Joyce Biggung had married him, with a dozen of the nobility and a minor royalty signing the register. Ah yes, married him, that was a different pot. Poor little Freda! If she did want money for her brains, other jades had wanted immensely more for less. There was that dancer and the diamond sun-burst! He had been foolish to think Freda should give both brains and beauty for, well, for...The Major-General laughed. It had been a bit over the odds. Was there anything in this guff about Dick?

In a softening mood he surrendered his car. Strategic methods were called for. He would call on Judith after the play and take her a cart-wheel of flowers and have it in the morning papers. It would be good to put the clipping in a letter to Joyce too. A hint that she hadn't it all her own way. Feeling that the game was still good he hurried into his evening apparel.

Freda stayed in the dark of the great camellia bushes shading her doorway to watch him swing away. "Not so bad, Ossy-Possy. In fact, mighty good!" She wondered would he pay full American prices for her work? If so, it would be an immense lift.

"Resist temptation," she murmured to the Cross, misty tonight in an atmosphere heavy with pittosporum perfume and the ecstasy of wistaria. "Oh, if I could only believe solidly in something! It is belief that saves. Even belief in hell must have driven countless herds to heaven, else the work of the ranting evangelists is all lost. Is anything lost or saved? Give it up!"

III

Blanche did not carry out her threat of calling on Dick because of Freda coolly marching into a taxi with Sir Oswald, and Sir Oswald, friendly and unconvicted of sin, offering to give herself a lift. She did not put it past Freda wantonly to be carrying on with any man within reach, but surely both Dick and the Major-General wouldn't...Dick was a poet creature with his head in the clouds. He wouldn't see anything wrong right under his nose, and Sir Oswald was caught up in this high English society debauchery and would be brazen enough for anything. One had only to read the divorce cases and the modern hooks. She stood at the entrance feeling as if all doors were shut in her face by those for whom she had sacrificed her' life. Dick ought to know that Freda was capering off with Sir Oswald, but probably he did.

She felt lonely and impotent, but only for a moment. She went home. She did not give up. Her invincible self-righteousness precluded realization of her mistakes. She could not be wrong. She brooded for several days. Then in answer to one of Mollye's affectionate scrawls, just twenty words to the page in a hand that matched herself, wrote a confidential volume. There was much about Dick's delicacy and his need for rest away from all disturbing factors. A pity Freda was in Sydney, as she was very wearing on Dick. She was setting her cap at him deliberately, that was as plain as the nose on her face...A good deal more in similar strain.

Mollye returned a telegraphic invitation saying how glorious it would be to have Blanche tripping around with her. Delighted by the prospect of freedom from Blanche's indispensability, the whole family insisted upon acceptance.

Peace settled on the Nanda circle. Dad Mazere consorted without restraint with Dad Healey, and both had more nips than were good for them. Hilarity was followed by irascibility, and contumely from Dot. Laleen and Freda worked like beavers in the flat. Dick roamed around the Harbour and as far afield as Lake Como and Richmond, learning his city, and slept deliciously in Macquarie Street when opportunity and mood coalesced. Mrs Mazere was busy and important in Conferences of the Bushwomen's Association and such affairs. Philippa literally battened on the housework, Dad exclaiming, "Sool him!" when chivied from one place to another. She shredded the beans to tatters, polished and unpolished the floors whether they were trodden on or not, immolating herself on the altar of restlessness with an unselfishness to try the nerves of a hippopotamus. Repose was impossible in the cottage, but she was gentle at the core and separation from her relieved irritation, whereas Blanche's power to exasperate followed Dick and Laleen from her presence, disrupting harmony for the whole day or longer.

Sir Oswald wrote Freda a crisp note about migration before setting out to Western Australia to study the homestead settlement area. Freda was businesslike in reply and took credit for shooing him, not without hankering glances along Lot's Way, for her mother was unfailingly antagonistic, her circle uncongenial, her work hard. It would have lightened her day to have someone in the evening, though actuated only by the spurious affection of amour, to admire her when dressed and to take her to dine in pleasant caravanseries and to the theatre. But better not. She could never lose herself sufficiently to indulge in preternuptial escapades. She had never been in a position to let go, or even to believe in passion as the magic proclaimed. While others palpitated with emotion's delirium she mostly felt interest in the symptoms in the way of a laboratory student. She was entertained to feel others feel, though that way lay a cul-de-sac in which she had too often found herself. The thrills within the line of technical honesty she had known over and over again. What were they? A little fire in the veins, unslaked thirst of lips for lips, and if one were not careful, a heart running over with pain, the backward way out of that blind alley accompanied by depression and a lowered working vitality--wasted time. The stage and its play were strictly limited and execrably monotonous. There was nothing except a few kisses and thrills this side of consummation; with consummation, what then? Consummation was but one step over the borderline and could do little to extend the limits of the stage; after curiosity had been satisfied, perhaps nothing but enlarge monotony. She wondered. In any case nothing was permanent but discomfort. It was delightful to have Mollye's flat and the fillip of Laleen's fresh belief and enthusiastic affection. If one's friends would only stay a moment without death or departure to another hemisphere; if ugly things like financial worry could be lifted for only a year, she felt she had a masterpiece in heart and brain. What vigorous brain temperamentally endowed does not?

She hoped poor old Blanche was enjoying herself in the train of a singer. She was angered with herself to be so exasperated by her mother and Blanche, always so unctuous about disease and disaster. After all, they did not manufacture the disease and disaster, they simply chronicled it. One trod a way bristling with deadly arrows to puncture happiness or health, and if one escaped them there was nothing but to silt through a long senility to the grave. Freda sighed. This copos overcame her only in the Nanda circle. In New York or Paris or London she could escape this grinding in the cogs of cogitation by companionship in pursuit of intellectual or spiritual speculation, and though still insignificant, nevertheless could feel herself a particle in a living and continuous whole. Why should the Ashville circle be so deadly? Its units were honest, industrious, generous, worthy souls. But not one of them was gifted; they were ordinary minds maimed by isolation and hegemony, and therefore stagnant, retrogressive as stagnation is; they lacked the leaven of the super-ordinary mind which can be felt transmuting the common man to superman, the superman to a god.

"That theory will do as well as any other to fill the vacuum," she laughed at herself, "and now back to the dull damned Parliamentary reports."

IV

Blanche was having the spree of her life, a grand puppet-show, and thereafter would be able to confound anyone who patronized her about moving in society. Mollye rejoiced in this enjoyment, and hoped through it to please Dick. She arranged for Blanche to accompany her to vice-regal affairs, and attend exclusive At Homes (where she was introduced as Sir Oswald's cousin), and theatres and other entertainments. Spare moments were furiously occupied writing home about the glory of it all, and her letters were free from her usual daunting selection of news.

At first she saw a great deal of Mollye, but in time Mollye found it hard to talk to Blanche. They had drifted worlds apart, and Blanche lacked a sense of humour or any understanding to pick up the thread of Mollye's life. She had not even an ear for music, and despised the most interesting raconteurs as story-tellers, using the word as children do to impeach veracity. Therefore when they were alone Mollye perforce listened while Blanche talked. Blanche, if let talk on, told everything and added her own interpretation. It was one of the sources of irritation between her and Laleen. She accused Laleen of lying, Laleen looked upon Blanche as a "rotten old yapper, who always lets out the wrong things".

Mollye was a tolerant, broad-minded woman, but amour renders objects more than life-size. "Dick and Freda have a great many things in common, but I don't think Freda has any inclinations that way whatever," she said. "She's just one of those dainty little women that men like, they look so easy to handle."

"If a man thought Freda easy to handle, he'd have a pretty handful."

"It would certainly be such a pretty handful that he wouldn't mind its occasional recalcitrance. But tell me what signs she has made--that might be amusing."

"You'll always notice if they're at a party they drift away together."

Mollye had noticed this herself. "Does he ever speak of his first wife?"

"Never mentions her. It wasn't much of an affair...with an American. When they know from the beginning they can get a divorce, it can't be much of a marriage."

Mollye discerned Blanche's inability to imagine things out of sight. Her silence seemed to impel Blanche to continue. She did not understand congenial silence.

"I surprised Freda and Dick one day at your flat, and they looked very much like lovers to me. Freda was spread out on that big couch smoking--how I do hate to see a woman smoking! It may be old-fashioned on my part, I don't care if I am old-fashioned, I have the courage of my convictions, and I don't see that it does a woman--or a man either--any good to smoke. What does a sane person always want to be puff-puffing for? It's foolish. How can the children have good nerves if the mothers poison themselves with that foul tobacco, and in these days when life is more and more of a rush? Don't you agree with me?"

Mollye never smoked because of her early principles and her voice. "Some say tobacco soothes the nerves," she murmured.

"Freda's always smoking like one of those larrikins in the tight coats that I used to see in Sydney in the old days. I remember them when I came down to the Show as a girl; they were one of the sights to me."

"Was Freda teaching Dick to smoke?" jocularly inquired Mollye, to put this interesting gossip on the rails again. "No. Oh yes, I was telling you. She was spread out there all alone in the flat; that is enough to make a scandal."

"Hardly, with Dick and Freda--not to those who know them."

"Lots of people don't know them."

"But times have changed. People are not so sticky-beak nowadays about people's morals. They don't have to be watched so closely now that they are not damageable."

"They can say what they like! I believe things go on just the same, only they know too much for the consequences these days; you can't tell me that men and women have changed. It's only the customs that have changed."

"'Well then! Freda had Dick's head on her lap--a pretty picture if anyone else had found it."

Mollye largely discounted Blanche's reports after a week in her company. Not that Blanche was always untruthful, simply that her observation was faulty, her interpretations therefore erroneous. Nevertheless in this case Mollye's interest was so keenly engaged that she thought there might be fire under the smoke.

"That was funny. What did they say?"

"What could they say? There they were, and I saw them."

"What did you say?"

"I didn't deign to say anything. I just looked at them, and Dick had the decency to look sheepish, but Freda was as bold as brass."

Smitten with amour none is normal, no matter how magnanimous. Mollye changed the subject, but the communication stayed with her, deepening its fangs as she was being dressed for the grand operatic concert. She saw Freda with Dick's head in her lap. She did not doubt that concrete fact. There might be nothing in it at all, but Dick never put his head in her lap like a tired child. He always edged away from her. Terror of terrors, he had actually fainted in her arms, and fled practically as Joseph, though her love was not as that of Potiphar's wife. She had no letters from him. Thus she pondered in the star's room while Nat played a concerto.

No one but Nat knew with what dismay he played, with an arm that threatened to go asleep before the performance was past. His own preoccupations were so serious that he did not notice the increased dramatic power of the diva's song that evening. He hardly noted the warmth of his own reception. He was tormented by his trouble. Neither he nor Mollye discovered Sir Oswald in the audience. In the interval he went behind the stage and had a warm welcome. Sir Oswald, too, had annoying thoughts which came back fresh in the presence of Mollye, one of the clan crowd.

What was in the minds of both came also to their tongues. "You haven't been back to Bool Bool yet, have you, Ossy-Possy?"

"No. I long to go, but at the same time I expect it will be more annoying than pleasurable. They haven't moved with the times in those poking old places. I suppose we'll all be there for the Back to Bool Bool week. Dick, the poet boy"--this with a disparaging inflection, seeing the poet had succeeded where the warrior failed--"is twiddling rhymes that are being set to music, and, oh Lord, I suppose we'll have to hear 'em squawked--unless you are going to sing 'em, Mollye."

"That's interesting; how do you get this news?"

"I'm the prize sticky-beak these days."

"I'm so dull, you might share the loot."

"Dick is coming out strong. He ought to have his wedding as part of the ceremony of Back to Bool Bool."

Mollye felt herself flush as she said, "I don't believe you know more than I do."

"Did you hear about that?" he asked naïvely, apprehensive of confirmation where he had hoped for pooh-poohing.

"Do you mean Dick and Freda Healey?" He nodded, "I heard a little bird. But do you think there's anything in it?"

"Had it direct from the lady."

Mollye felt the blow through all her frame and knew the flush was ebbing from her face. She felt as if life were ebbing from her heart. "Ossy-Possy, tell me straight, is this a fact?"

"Good Lord, Mollye, you don't mean it's anything to you!" He was startled by her appearance.

"It's a business matter. I wanted Freda to do my publicity, I don't mind telling you, and if this is true, it's a nuisance." She took command of herself again with this announcement.

"It mightn't make any difference in that case. I don't suppose he has one half-crown to rub against the other."

"I don't know his financial standing," said Mollye indifferently. "I am concerned with Freda."

"Freda told me herself."

"She wasn't just stringing you?"

"She said not to broadcast it; so Mollye, don't you give me away now, will you?"

"Trust me...It's so devastatingly good to see you, that that's to go on with." She gave him a kiss. "You must come home to the hotel with me after the concert. I must preen my feathers again now."

She passed out like an empress to execution in her fabulous gown and glittering tiara. She was so big and able that she could toss off Brünnhilde's battle-cry as a recall number, as an average singer dispenses "Comin' thro' the Rye", but that evening she made it such a magnificently breath-taking yell that her audience was astounded by her dramatic ability, and stormed the house.

Sir Oswald sat biting his thumb-nail. "Put my tootie right in a rabbit-hole! What the hell they can see in a withered shrimp with one leg in the grave already...such a fine female of a woman as Mollye too..." He chuckled with an obscene thought. But there was also Freda, and Freda...well, damn Freda! The thought of her took some banishing in spite of Byron's wheeze about love being for man a thing apart. That was all rot! How could it be a thing apart while at the same time all the scientific Johnnies were bleating that it was the whole works of existence? As far as he could feel, it was a man's motive power. Women could manage much better without it. If a man had a case he was scorched; if he hadn't, he was as dull as mutton.

Mollye had an astute idea why the Major-General should be so early in Freda's confidence. She had the calculating power of a statesman. She sent Freda a letter, a command rather, to render herself to Melbourne without delay to talk business. Generous expenses were enclosed. There! She would clear up the matter. Mollye had a man's mind that way. She was not defeated yet. Should it be true--and here she chuckled humorously--she could at least shunt Blanche, as it would be Freda's responsibility to act loving sister to that irreproachable soul.

V

Freda, suffering the nadir of boredom, packed her bag and departed expeditiously. She would accept if Mollye would pay well enough, and Mollye had the reputation of paying like an American. She would then be in a position to demand her price of Sir Oswald, and to be indifferent whether he paid or refused.

As the train sped she was adventurously sustained. If she must defer yet again and perhaps for ever the hope of peace and financial freedom for belles-lettres, at least she would have action and interest. And life was as good that way as another; the bell would ring for the count-out any day, and all the glorious things had already been said so gloriously that it was presumption on her part to feel she must express herself.

Sir Oswald was so uneasy about his divulgences that he volunteered to meet Freda. Mollye was coming back to town that evening only in time to dine in state, so she accepted thankfully, leaving word that she would see Freda at 10.45 p.m.

"You don't mean that I'm being met by a whole live Major-General, K.C.M.G., M.P.," she gaily ragged as she stepped out of the train. "It makes me feel burstatiously important."

"You little wretch!" He grinned as engagingly and ruefully as a boy, as the suit-cases were being disposed around them in a taxi. "You make me feel like a damp squib...Oh I say, I better get it off my chest first thing, as that's what I came to meet you for..."

"Not disinterested friendship?" she mocked.

"Well, the fact is I was talking to Mollye, and she being almost a member of the family, I just remarked to her what you told me about yourself and Dick."

"Oh, Sir Oswald! Did you divulge army secrets like that?"

"You told me it wasn't a secret so long as I was careful to whom I told it."

"And Mollye was the one person in the universe that you should not have told."

"That's what I sensed as soon as the words were out. The best I could do was to warn you straight off the reel. Gee, if it's a fight between you and Mollye, I shouldn't mind betting most fur would fly from the giantess."

"Silly-Billy! A giantess would have more fur to fly than a dwarf. Your remarks border on the--er--inappropriate."

"I beg your pardon, Freda; but hang it all, one of the things that makes you such a relief is that a man doesn't have to put on special side for you."

"I must insist upon my right to womanly treatment."

"All right, I apologize." He grinned, estimating the laugh in her eyes. "But say, have I put things on the blink for you? If Mollye wants my shrimp cousin, why the dooce don't you let her have him? She can afford him better than you can."

"How do you know what I can afford?"

"That's so. I apologize again, but if you look like that I'll kiss you in full view of the whole population of Spencer Street Station, and regardless of your blinking engagement."

"I guess I could survive the incident much more pleasantly than you could."

"In spite of being engaged to Dick?"

"I'd have that to comfort me...What did you see in the west?" Once again she watched the instantaneous effect of calling on a man's mental powers to disperse the rigours of amour. Could amour and sobriety never act in unison? "Melbourne in summer! St Kilda Road and Alexandra Drive--take me for a run along them, and I'll forgive you anything."

"The little minx!" he was thinking. Would she really like a kiss? She was always unexpected--and knew all the ropes, if he was any judge.

Mollye had arranged for Blanche to be taken to the theatre that evening. She herself was with Freda at a few moments before eleven. This business was more vital to her than the mediocrity she had met in high places. She was tremendous in a grand brocade, her curling locks loose about her shoulders. Freda was trim and small in a little black evening-dress. She liked an inconspicuous effect to do battle or meet an ordeal, and the coming encounter called for alert handling.

She was Mollye's guest at Menzies. She sat alert and straight on a stiff chair. Mollye took the armchair, enviously noting Freda's size. Men liked these little women. They were more appealing. Mollye with a trifle of depression felt like a dugong. She could have a deathly rent in her side; yet no one would pity a dugong, while they would all slop over sentimentally about a pert little trout. She was too big a woman, too great an actress to betray any of this.

"Well, Freda! It's mighty good to have you."

"It is a delightful adventure for me to be here."

"Before we start business I must congratulate you. I believe--"

"Sir Oswald tells me he has been indiscreet."

"I was the best receptacle for his indiscretions. If he is reliable I am thankful for Dick's sake. I'd give my life to make him happy."

"You leave me out," said Freda with a smile.

"You are not so defenceless against the world as Dick."

"Women always feel that way about the man they love." She was watching Mollye closely, realizing that Dick, in suggesting an engagement of convenience, was not so much in love with her, Freda, as seeking refuge from the overpowering Mollye. Freda's heart was touched as she looked at Mollye, so brave and generous and human. Should she imperil her business chances to go on refuging Dick? At any rate she would let things drift for the moment and see how Mollye acted with her back against the wall. Freda worshipped courage and true greatness, and had a mind to test the metal of this woman ere she entered her service.

"We can leave personal matters to the last," she said crisply. "What I am delighted about is your offer."

"Will you accept?"

"If you think I can do the work, and I am rather expensive--have to be, in view of the necessity to return to Australia at frequent intervals."

"So long as the main fact is settled, we could go over terms tomorrow. I am a little tired. When could I count on your services, and for what time--excuse me mentioning your private affairs--but your...marriage would not interfere?"

Mollye had stood the test like a gladiator. True magnanimity is not often met on the highway. "I was simply stuffing Sir Oswald," Freda laughed. "Oh, well, haven't you ever been in a tight corner? Married people fall back on their spouses in similar crises, and I knew Dick wouldn't mind the accommodation, seeing we crept together in diapers, so to speak."

"Oh, I see," murmured Mollye limply. She looked at Freda rather dimly, that maiden felt, and then put her head on the bed-rail and rocked with sobs. She had been under heavy emotional strain and felt deeply in spite of her Boadicean appearance. Under the armour she was Mollye Brennan, the simple bush girl of The Gap.

Freda forwent remark till Mollye was quieter, when she said frankly: "I'm so sorry, Mollye. I hadn't realized that Dick was so much to you, or I should have been careful. I merely wanted a barricade against Ossy-Possy, and I should never have said a word, but he has brought it on himself, now. Regard it as confidence--and poor old Dick doesn't know he has been engaged to me, even as a convenience." She was envying Mollye her ability to be thus unjessed in love. It must be wonderful while it lasted, and there was always a rainbow chance that it might be the perfect union, legends of which obtain throughout human history.

"I am anxious about Dick. He is so frail."

"Is he so very dear to you?"

"Yes. If he would be happy with you, Freda, well...Don't think of that again, please. Dick feels safe with me. He knows I'm platonic, that's all it is. This is wonderful for Dick to be loved by the queen of the fairy story! All your courtiers, and still you come back to Dicky Mazere." Had she missed love through being too hard at work as a girl, too strenuously fighting for position as a prima-donna? Why seek to explain the vagaries of amour, knowing them beyond all logic?

"Courtiers, that's exactly what they are, and a very poor kind. You can't know how difficult it is to be big and strong. I am passed by all the time. No one thinks I want love or help. They think I'm an invulnerable mountain. I've never had a real chance in love, though I've had dozens of would-be lovers. I suppose Dick, like everyone else worth while, will turn away from me because I can make a lot of money and have a big sort of position in the world. Freda, can't you tell me what to do so that I can make him happy?"

Here was true love, ready to humble itself for love's sake. Would she, Freda Healey, ever ask anyone how she could make a man or anyone else love her? Not she! She was too self-contained and inhibited. Her heart might break with love and longing, but she would dissemble it to the death, never confess her love unless it was sought; thus with many lovers, and she supremely desirable, love passed her by. She wanted too perfect an adjustment of circumstances and personalities and eligibility. Love was a blossom to bloom for love more than to be plucked by the lover. Only thus could love be shriven, only thus deserve love's fulfilment. A protective tenderness for Mollye swept over her. Part of this woman's greatness was her simplicity.

"Men want you because you are small and saucy," Mollye continued. "Yet you have ever so much more brain than I at picking them to pieces; and you don't seem to have any respect for them. Yet they all crowd after you and fly from me, all except the rotters who only want the moneyed side of me."

"There is a secret there, I think, Mollye. I may be clever enough, and so quick-witted that I run over myself and others, but they don't mind me because I haven't the statesman qualities to lead or be outstanding. Men can pick my brains and make more use of them than I can myself. But you are grandly able, and men are very jealous of ability in women. Then, as you say, the rotters want your money, but that would be the very thing to scare off a proud old-fashioned prewar man like Dick. You know the conventional, strait-laced old bush chastity, in which you and I and Dick were all reared. You might arrive at Dick's attitude from that. He couldn't bear to be dragged in your train, Mollye, no matter how much he might love you.'

"I couldn't exactly give up my career as a singer--"

"Good Lord, no! Even Bool Bool, I should hope, would be above that. And Dick is too frail for amorous love now. He never mentions his lack of strength, as that is against his principle, but I have watched him. He is being killed with family-itis. One can't say these things, but one can see and know from experience."

"I could take on the whole family if it would save Dick and free him."

"And if you were a man your name would ring around the world for generosity, but the world is hardly so far advanced yet as to accept it from a woman, except the sponging world, which would rob a baby of its milk-bottle rather than support itself. So, voilà!"

"Freda, you are devilish clever...What shall I do?"

"I can tell you how to do it, though I can't do it myself. Just set your mind harmoniously and wait, and the problem will resolve itself. If you accept certain hypotheses that human mind is but a reflection of the one great mind, the effect is the same. It is all you have to work through. Don't worry Dick. We are all making for the grand roll-up at Bool Bool. That will be our chance."


CHAPTER XIV

I

Christmas ardours were past. Numerous problems were solved or dissolved. Mollye was working off a month of up-country concerts. Philippa and Mrs Mazere were holidaying in Tasmania. Laleen with good grace, on her part and Blanche's, was sticking to home and father. After thirty or forty sound sleeps Dick was buttressed in poetical purpose as his first duty to God and to his votive worship of Australia.

He and George Stanton were in the train on the way to Monaro, Dick as thrilled as a boy with a pet animal under his coat. He was circuitously nearing Coolooluk, where all the waters sang and where the Mungee river leant on the hills, the hills leant on the sky, the sky leant on eternity. George was lustily snoring. Dick wondered why he alone should be deprived of this mercy, not that he begrudged this night's vigil of adoration. He looked out on the stunted trees of Goulburn's plains, pallid in the moonlight. Early transplanted there from Bool Bool, he had never been reconciled to the austere country, with its absence of fern-draped creeks.

It was faintly dawn at Queanbeyan, and he moved continually from one window to the other, hungry for the whole landscape, watching the light widen across the cool high wolds of old Monaro. The purple hills when the sun runs up! A horseman like an insect on the plains came at a swift pace for the mail-bag left at a siding. The Bredbo with its weeping willows. The sheep and cattle wide on the breezy pasturage. The dead standing timber never seen in other lands. Magnificent firewood raised its arms ghostlike and endearingly familiar in the early light. Beauty in this clean hard dead timber! Pad-clocks of lucerne. Laughter of kookaburras. The warble of Monaro's white-backed magpies. Croaking crows. Cockatoos like white handkerchiefs floating down from the tree-tops in beauty and predatory daring. All the dear particular things! and the trees! The glory of the trees! The gun-barrel rectitude of their perpendicular, never to be seen except wide-rooted in the hard firm ground of their native forests.

The station. Cooma! Automobiles today instead of the old shandrydans took them to the township. It had not extended according to Dick's memory. George went to a hotel while Dick poked about. He saw the office of the Mercury, established in 1860. A memorial before the post-office reminded that the world had been rent since pre-motor car days.

There was nothing inspiring or even beautiful in the ragged township and the haggard hills of strewn granite, Dick, often the enthusiast, rarely the bigot, could admit that a stranger might be justified in uncomplimentary comment and wonder why, when there had been more succulent areas, the old pioneers had so early established Cooma. But Dick, as a man in the company of a satisfying mistress, was filled with exquisite delight just to be there. He breakfasted on prescribed biscuits in the municipal park, a drab place of alien pines, scattered with papers and melon rind, and lacking, as Philippa had maintained of country parks, any sanitary conveniences.

They went by service car to Braminderra across rolling plains to the other edge of Monaro to Uncle Sylvester's summer run. In the old days they started early by coach and reached Braminderra about four o'clock. Today they would purr through in ninety minutes and have hours to hang about Braminderra before going on to Goonara.

"Gee whilligans!" muttered George in his cousin's ear. "You missed nothing by skipping that punk breakfast--3s. 6d. for a bit of leathery old sow fried with flies. I got two on my plate. The town is as dead as mutton that the dingoes killed a year ago."

They started on a route like the Great Stone Mason's dump for broken pieces since the world began.

"Even if wool soared to a hold-up that country could never be any use," exclaimed George, who sat with the driver. One of his supplementary lines was to investigate tourist possibilities for an American travel bureau which sponsored steamer trips to far places. "What would there be for a tourist? The main things Australia has are her different animals and flowers and trees, yet the silly coots cut down every native tree and sow something from Europe or America, and kill off the animals. They deserve all that's coming to them." George's cocked nose turned from side to side with questions, practical, irrefutable, commercial--a whole hellful of them. Dick, deep in a heaven of reverie in the back seat, doted on the dainty native pines, the uniquely graceful and handsome "old man" and the blackthorn's January gown of perfumed lace.

They left the scraggy ridges covered with broken stone, and reaching the fingerboards pointing towards Jindabyne and Kosciusko, lurched away to the right past old Eueurunda, where Dick's mother had been born. Through Labosseer's Creek, so named for his maternal grandfather. Peeping above a ridge were the tops of poplar-trees--all that remained of the garden planted by his grandfather circa 1850. Long white roads like ribbons intersected the horizon. Farther away to right and left, all that was standing of the old pioneer homes that had rung with hospitality and decked such lovely names as Gowandale or Little River, were a few chimney mounds or a gooseberry bush or hawthorn-tree. Far to the left, Curradoobidgee, Sir Oswald's Poole's ancestral squattage, and the only remaining pioneer house built before 1890, still sheltered one of the name. The pioneer houses like the nests of birds rarely lasted beyond one or two generations.

To Dick it was soul-freeingly beautiful. The mighty width of skyline in the clear atmosphere, those long uninterrupted lines to eyes trained to distance, homesick for it, were as refreshing as fresh air. His glances had their fill of distance, yet of such distance never could have enough. Bliss of visual reverie.

They reached the downs, fenced of old with miles of stones patiently gathered, now demolished, being harbours for rabbits. They crossed the plains of bleakest old Monaro with here and there a homestead indicated by its lucerne patch and grove of alien trees, and the roofs of Braminderra scintillated in the sunshine. The only change visible was the prevalence of the motor car, the deterioration of the horse. Twenty-five years before it had been a two-pub township with all the houses tenanted. Only one hostel remained. Several houses showed vacant windows. Others were falling to pieces, their rafters like ribs of a beast naked to the sun. Many of the old pioneer families had given way to the banks. Their holdings were syndicated and worked by a manager with telephones and motor cars from one headquarters where once there had been several. Dick was witnessing the result of that exodus from the bush to the cities which had begun when he as a boy had forsaken Oswald's Ridges.

The hotel was as fly-blown as twenty-five years earlier, the veranda still unboarded. There was the same back-yard, the same offensive sanitary accommodation, a similar woodheap, and turkeys. On the bedroom table upstairs was the familiar candle, its drippings profusely spread around by the intrusive winds of the plateau.

The business man went around the township calling on the storekeeper, talking to anyone he could see. The poet strolled abroad and meditated. He heard the kookaburras laughing again gaily in the sparse timber back of the township. He walked up a hill and gazed on the far sweep of plains lined with tracks and bounded by the blue peaks of the Muniongs. Back of him was the red road leading upward to the timbered country that lay between Braminderra and Goonara, and he had a lover's impatience to be upon it. Ere the sun had set he would be with the thrilling delight of running streams.

The hotel kept two tables. George as a commercial man insisted upon the upper. He and Dick sat amid the drone of blowflies, something like the distant hum of pipes. Cabbage had attracted them in spite of the darkened room; drawn blinds and a few separate covers over milk and meat were the only attempt to cope with the plague.

"Gee whizz, when I see the tack I get here, and served not fit for a black, and compare it with the glorious dinner I got on the wayside in New Mexico, it makes me sick to think of eating such stuff; but you daren't tell 'em a thing."

When they were served with the first course, the landlady, a hard-bitten woman, entertained them with remarks directed to the discomfiture of pommy and yank, for which, by their luggage, she mistook these two pure merino dyed-in-the-wool descendants of original pioneers. She evidenced considerable prejudice against yanks, that universal post-war jealousy of ordinary minds, and was little better inclined towards pommies, a case of internecine jealousy, equally unworthy.

Dick was guarding harmonious equilibrium. George was alert.

"We see lots of pommies and yanks about now. They think they know everything, but there's no brains like the Australians! Look wot our men done in the war! They had it won before them others come in, after grabbing all the money." Someone called Mrs Landlady away.

"Never heard that it wasn't the yanks started the dog-fight," observed George. "And seems to be narked that the Diggers weren't left to mop up the Germans all on their own."

The landlady returned to the point of the Diggers' martial prowess. "If they were trained here," muttered George, "the trenches would be their element. Nothing in the grub would feaze 'em."

"Yes, that's what I say; you'll see a lot of wonderful people, but when you get down to it, there's none to equal the good old Aussies. It would take a smart man to take them down."

George let this pass with a wink at Dick, but the ardent patriot persisted. "Don't you think the Aussies have the best brains?"

George hawked to retrieve a fly from his gullet, and rapped out: "Well, at any rate, madam, they keep 'em brand new. They're never used, not even on keeping the flies out of your food in summer or your feet warm in winter."

George's nose was so upstarting, his manner so bellicose with disgust, that Mrs Landlady retreated to answer the telephone. She returned genuinely puzzled. "You are not Mr Labosseer's nephew from London, are you?"

"I am," said Dick, and was directed to the telephone.

"Mr Labosseer belongs to one of the oldest Monaro families. I didn't know he had an English nephew," said the puzzled woman.

"Neither did I."

Feeling she had made a gross mistake, she said hospitably: "I'll only charge you half price, as you did not eat much."

The bar trade kept such shanties going, and the kind of bar trade in such shanties is not finicky about flies, and is inured to cold feet in winter.

"Gee whilligans!" ejaculated George, as they awaited the car for Goonara. "You daren't tell 'em a thing about America, but if they just had one good look at it they'd explode with surprise."

II

The afternoon was a poem to Dick, a bore to George. They passed wild country openly timbered with great trees and decked with big yellow daisies (Podolepis acuminata). Some of the tea-tree still shrouded the lilting creeks, and the forest was a-bloom. Honey, honey all the way! Here and there the tang of burning bushland delighted the nostrils, and smoke veiled a distant peak or gorge. They had the road to themselves for forty miles; only a rest-hut for snow times and a sawyer's camp, where they still used working bullocks, were to be seen.

About four o'clock they saw the roofs of Goonara. It was a township burdened with stagnant days, bleak and bare on a high moor of dour Highland aspect, with miles of auriferous workings played out before George and Dick had been born. They splashed across the swift stream for the third or fourth time, and passed the graveyard with its tenants under a coverlet of everlasting daisies. They scattered some of the sheep which swarmed there for the summer, and bumped up the street, which in wet weather was a water-course and villainous on tires.

"Nearly everyone has gone away," said the driver. "Old Bellingham--Bluestone, they call him--still keeps the Crow's Nest, he and his old woman."

"They must be getting old," said Dick.

"Yes, they don't grow any younger, nor any sweeter since both their granddaughters left them. The youngest one was buried last year. We had to keep the coffin till the snow melted to dig the grave. The other sister--she was a tough one. Don't know what became of her."

Old Bellingham,* long of beard and fierce of mien, came out to threaten two drover boys with a broom as they were riding on to the veranda to vindicate the flashness of their cowboy attire, copied from the moving pictures.

[* See Gentlemen at Gyang Gyang.]

Sylvester Labosseer came later, and they went bumping off with him by Herringbone and Black Plain to Gyang Gyang, where he came each summer with the sheep. Monaro bred, he could not endure the infernal heat of the fat western country from November to March.

As they reached the camp, the sun was sinking in clear-cut molten pomp behind Gyang Gyang Hill, casting long golden reflections down the wide vista of valley and plain, and shimmering on the nest of peaks in Half Moon Gap far away towards Wild Horse Plain and the Bimberies. Full orchestras of kookaburras laughed in mad glee all around the near circle of the horse paddock. The snow gums were in new white bark with blue nether twigs all powdered cream--colossal fairies in veils of bridal lace perfumed as Araby never dreamed, so aromatic, so evanescent their honied soul, and softly around each tree fluttered a million big grey moths of beauty.

Protesting yelps and the rattle of chains. The dogs were being tethered for the night. Dick left his uncle and George to the routine of welcome and walked abroad enthralled by the magic of bush and bird and mellifluous atmosphere. A carpet of daisies, ivory and gold, spread away on every side, and many old favourites without names were amid the high tussocks. The soldier buttons and trigger plants were still blooming, and the little blue flax flower of the plains that he had not seen since infancy. The magpies were warbling a curtain lecture against the gurgle of running water where the creek gushed straight out of the hill and wound its way between perfumed shrubs down the valley. The blue smoke curled above the chimney, and a pleasant odour of roast mutton betokened the evening meal.

"There were very few sheep up last summer, and that gave the flowers a chance," observed Uncle Sylvester. "There are dozens of kinds blooming this year that I thought were eaten out." His enjoyment of such things had been made articulate by Bernice Gaylord living with him there and putting them on canvas.

Dick became enriched in the way of poets. The dusk rising freshly cold from the basaltic boulders to the music of birds, the star-decked night above the mists in the valley, were to him more than ten per cent bonds in usurious enterprises.

George found himself correspondingly poor. Old Beardy Tom, who had never been to Sydney, did not interest him, and there were few others. He went shooting, but found the black ducks rare. The trout in the creeks were shy. Three days exhausted the resources of the neighbouring runs. On the fourth day the business man fled.

Dick relished each minute, watching his limited hours pay out with regret. He must not linger if he was to see old Coolooluk while summer was still high. One day towards the end of January therefore found him in another service car making the stiff descent that lies between the roof of Australia at the edge of Monaro proper and the lower valleys of Coolooluk and Mungee, where Dick had first seen the light under the aegis of his grandmother Labosseer.

III

It was a day of blue and green and gold on the mountain side amid the pillared aisles of tall timber with the unarable magnificence of the ranges for a hundred miles like an ocean, with here and there a feather of smoke as from the funnel of a steamer.

"We'll be getting down to stringy-bark about the next turn now," remarked the driver, stirring long dormant memories in Dick. Stringy-bark! Stringy-bark as a covering, as a canoe, as a bedstead, as whitewash brushes, to light the fire. What could not be done with stringy-bark?

They went around a bend and were on top of the range ready for descent by the one-in-fifteen grade, with dizzying echoing ravines far below. Parrots sped past with spasmodic flight, black magpies called. A lyre-bird with his mate fluttered across the road into the underbrush.

Dick was a little gravelled by the denuding of the hills, but contours emerged. From the height could be seen the home station to which his grandmother had descended from Monaro towards the end of the sixties. He regretted the leisurely days of horses so that he might have reined in to look his fill, yet never his fill was possible of that enchantment.

The broad one-storeyed iron roofs of the old homestead, showing white among orchards and ornamental trees, were set in the fork of the Mungee River and Coolooluk Creek. The river could be seen emerging from a great gap in the Bogongs, and circling wide for ten or fifteen miles around flatter lands under another range where the white gums showed the veining of countless springs. A fair demesne now, that ten or fifteen thousand acres in the valley cleared of timber, fenced into dog- and rabbit-proof paddocks and cleaned of briars, burrs, and other noxious weeds. Childish memories clung about it for Dick, who had spent many sessions of his youth with his grandmother and uncles.

The mailman sounded his horn, and Dick could see someone with the mail-bag walking down to the entrance gates. Now he was coming to the bottom of the mountain. There were some of the great trees remaining; among them the stringy-bark, where as a boy he had snared possums, and earlier still had procured the empty grub cases for whistles. He remembered the tree vividly, but it had taken exile from melligenous forests to teach him the unique loveliness of stringy-bark. This tree, matured to splendid proportions, had long streamers of wiry delicacy. He longed to caress its trunk, feel with lips and finger-tips the brown-red-grey bark, friendly and warm as some homespun coat.

He was nearing the gate now, grieved to see only a stump where he remembered a great elm-tree. His aunt, unchanged almost but for greying hair, and always a favourite with Dick, was there smiling her gentle welcome. Thank God!

"I don't think I should have known you if I met you unexpectedly," she was saying, as he stooped for her kiss. "Your uncle said to apologize because they are so busy on account of the flies that he could not stay in to meet you--Here come the girls."

They seized his bags in spite of protest, gave cordial welcome, and swiftly inventoried their practically stranger relative. They led him to the house, not that of his grandmother's clay--that, an old wooden structure had been razed when the old lady passed. The verandas were cool under the enclosing trees, mulberry, loquat, willow and pine, and bowered in roses and grapes. Food was pressed upon him. They inquired about his trip. He was eager to be out looking at the trees and streams, and old landmarks. Relief soon came. In that establishment work was still of the heroic order. Cooks were scarce and did not stay long. Extras such as ironing and jam-making had to be done partly by members of the family.

"Father thought you might like to ride over to him for afternoon tea at the stockyards," said Daphne.

"I saw the dust as we came down the hill," interposed Dick. On the maps it is known as Coolooluk Mountain. To the neighbourhood it is simply Labosseer's Hill or the Hill.

"You won't get lost? We thought you might have turned into a pommy, being so long in London," laughed Iris. New-chums had become pommies since his day.

He was in riding gear. Iris handed him the tucker, Daphne and his aunt went with him to the stables, as of old passing through hantles of fat fowls shabby by reason of the rich milk they had flipped upon their plumage. Ah, to be going into a stable again! The horse hoo-hooed questioningly, ears pricked and eyes wide, as he approached in the soft dust in the cool apartment and let down the rails at the foot of the stall. A tiny terrier, as if out of the past, came whimpering to his feet. "She wants to show you her puppies," said Daphne. "She only had them two days ago, and is too proud for anything. She is one of the most useful people on the place. She can go right down into the rabbit burrows."

The baying of about twenty nondescript rabbiting dogs came from the kennels farther afield.

Dick lifted the puppies out of a nest under the manger. Two of them could lie on his palm. "Aren't they bonzer!" he said, recalling a boy's delight.

"Father said to apologize for the horse he left you, that he wouldn't have been used for baits in your time, but the motor car has driven the good saddle-horse off the roads, and poking about after sheep would ruin any horse."

Dick was looking in the salt and saddle rooms.

"We haven't any decent saddles now either," continued Daphne. But Dick counted nine, including one side-saddle high up on the beam. There was still a sulky in the vehicle department, though a new garage had gone up two years since.

Dick led out the horse. Leading out a beast of his own again! A real honest working station horse! No old prad led out at so much per hour to noodles to toddle around an artificial walk! He had not been on a horse, when he came to think of it, since in France in 1917.

"Oh, there is a letter from Irma Mazere. She and Brenda Brennan of The Gap are having a musical festival for the Back to Bool Bool week, and they want you to write a poem about Bool Bool for Brenda to set to music. Sydney Jephcott sent a beauty, but Irma wanted the name of Mazere."

"Such a blood call must be answered, but it is so unbelievable to be here, I can think of nothing else at present."

Dick measured his stirrups in the old way and mounted. He pulled back the latch on the cowyard gate and rode out towards the run amid fat milking cows gathered under a big willow-tree awaiting the calf-penning hour.

His relatives returned to the kitchen, where old-time milk-pans of figs were being prepared for preserving by Mrs Labosseer and the cook, while the daughters ironed on a table on a cool back veranda decorated around the edges with such grapes as a man might dream but not procure under five or ten shillings the pound in the northern capitals of Europe. The difficulty was to save them from a lovely feathered army. Did these make a hole, the industrious bees were upon the muscatels immediately. A pea rifle lay beside the ironing board, and every now and again Daphne brought down a silver-eye or fire-tail.

"Oh dear, oh dear, how wretched he looks!" commented Aunt Mary. "Death is written all over his face. If they patch him up after that diabetes, it is only for a time."

"He is like Allan and Sylvia, and they died young too. He is very gentle and nice, something like a pommy," said Iris. Dick rode along the old tracks in the blazing sunlight finding nothing amiss with the maligned horse. He was no longer a boy to go lickety-smash regardless of cakes and milk bottle. That first afternoon he was glad to be alone and could scarcely have ridden slowly enough to con each precious detail of the way. He dipped into the hollow of First Creek in the cow paddock where the water ran to the Coolooluk. Coolooluk! Could it be true that this was actually Coolooluk! Could reality be real, or playing him some trick, have left him in the thrall of imagination! He held his breath in the rapture of reunion.

The paddocks were waving high with grasses. In some places the native kangaroo grass heads were to the horse's withers. All about were other grasses introduced by his grandmother Labosseer. She used to ride abroad with packets of seed in her saddle-bag and sow where paddymelon or bandicoot had ploughed.

If one could only see again for an hour the dear dead forerunners who had given so fully and garnered so sparsely in taming this wilderness!

From an eminence in the second paddock the Mungee could be seen in horseshoe bends with its drapery of shrubs and the Coolooluk leaping to meet it. Ah, the scent and song that would be his as the sun lowered!

He topped Sheep Camp Ridge and had the panorama of mountains on one hand, the home paddocks sloping to the rivers on the other. At last! At last! The object of his idolatry was before him. It stood the test of the idealization of years of absence. Just to be there, was ecstasy almost too poignant for harvesting. He rode up to a great stringy-bark and paid his respects. A little thorn-brake! A little thorn-brake! Could it be true, or was he dreaming or in some heaven? Decked in fluffy balls and full of the birds' nests dear to boyhood, the little pins-and-needles bushes always and for ever recalled childhood's springs to him, when the birds warbled madly and the earth seethed. More endearing than any shrub of his travels were those little dark thorny bushes. He dreamed of a domain where they could have pride of place. Hardly to be had on this earth, but in some heaven of imagination could be little thorn-brakes full of tom-tits' nests and glades of tea-tree, and the fairy blackthorn, and these creeks.

He gazed at the road winding up the mountain side to the roof of the continent, and down across the Coolooluk and Mungee, where the highway led to Bool Bool and thence to Gundagai and Sydney and Melbourne. Over the road and over the river, seeming near in the foreshortening baldness which had smitten it since his young days, was old Mungee where Great-aunt Isabel and Uncle George had been the first white settlers.

A couple of miles from the house were the pumpkin and potato paddock, the corn patch, the hayfields. Dick smiled, This glorious pioneer space all about him was a form of heaven. In the old days patches had been chosen for agriculture if less fiercely timbered and if the soil were rich, unregardful if they were one mile or five from the house. The old ways still held here.

Down into Second Creek, and Dick was in sight of the yards where operations were in process among the sheep, and his uncle could be seen mounting his horse with a billy in hand. The yards were on a well-drained knoll, and Erik Labosseer was coming for the double purpose of welcoming Dick and getting water. Dick had yet to cross another creek, variously known as Uncle Philip's or the Mill Creek. It was on this that Philip Mazere the Second and Charlotte Poole his wife had come, and to replace the hand-grinding of their clay set up a mill on the limpid stream. The high outer banks of the creek still remained, one could hide an army in that water-course, but the lovely foliage had gone. The greedy sheep kept it cropped. But the water sparkled along swift and clear, and up in the ranges outside the dog- and rabbit-proof fences, in "unimproved" country sacred to wombats and wild things, the creek still ran under a canopy of ferns and tilted down the mountain gorges in falls that were famous as a picnic place for the hardier tourist.

Even in these tamed days that little laughing creek could not be crossed at will. Dick had to find a place for his steed in precipitous banks, and he waited there for his uncle, musing on the glory of having private creeks watering the home paddocks. How many generations would it be ere they, as streams not half so lovely elsewhere, were poetized as famous rivers lined with a nation's history?

"Well, Dick, glad you got here," said his uncle jovially, flinging off his horse with the activity of youth. "I could just see you moving like that old Chinaman down at Mungee who used to have to pull up and hang on to the pommel when anyone passed him. I supose you have forgotten how to ride."

"I still dimly remember the lessons you gave me," said Dick, with a twinkle. "I was poking along taking it all in."

Uncle grinned. He was a man of outsize humour. He tilted back his old felt hat where the dusty sweat was streaking his broad forehead, and throwing himself on his stomach, drank from the stream.

"My goodness, it's a long time since I drank like that!"

"Don't drink this water--too many sheep in this paddock, but I'm so blamed thirsty." He mounted again and made a fierce cut with his whip at a slut, who went away yelping so pitifully that Dick winced. He had forgotten the rigours of life for animals in his native habitat. "Flaming mongrel, I told you to stay behind!" The little kelpie followed, keeping behind logs and bracken, to return to her work. "Suppose you would hardly know your way about?"

"I haven't forgotten an inch of it. The timber being killed made it a bit unfamiliar."

"Yes, I've got it killed at last. When I first came here a dog couldn't bark in the scrub. All white gum saplings and stringy-bark where the house and stables and orchards are today. I couldn't find my horse in a three-acre yard; couldn't find the cows or bullocks unless I had the old heeler to scare 'em up."

"And now there are not quite enough trees left," said Dick, looking around a near landscape dotted with the rich green of occasional ornamental kurrajongs and a few mighty swamp gums, box or stringy-bark, with hickory and weeping willows marking the water-courses divulged or underground.

"If the sheep weren't in these paddocks there would be a scrub of young gums as thick as ever. There is never a moment's rest with this flaming wallaby country. Out west, the men reared on these gorges don't know what to do with their time, it seems like a holiday, such light timber. Oh, hang it all, to think where you've travelled, and here I am still stuck among the wombats, a flaming ignorant old wombat myself who's never been out of his hole."

"I have remembered always the hundred things in which you are a craftsman," said Dick meditatively, "and you can travel the world and find few except the landed nobility who are lord of all they survey as you are here. No one I met had two or three rivers like these of his very own. What I have learnt by poking about the world is the unsurpassed beauty of this place I left long ago. It's grand to be here again!"

"It's certainly nice to have you." Uncle Erik was cheered by Dick's words and flowing over with hospitality. He never was happier than with a stream of guests in house or following him about the run. A pound per head banked for the hospitality he had dispensed would have made him a rich man in his old days.

The billy boiled, the jackeroos and other men returned to the job of fly-infested sheep. Flocks had been yarded, though it was better for the sheep to dress them in the open. "But my best dog got kicked yesterday," explained Uncle Erik.

Dick was permitted to hold the bottle of dressing. "I'll give you some old pants tomorrow if you still feel game." Uncle Erik was the smartest man in the field despite that two of the others were under twenty-five and one under forty. "I'll leave you to finish and count 'em into the paddock," he roared presently.

What a man he was! A block of granite of a man, well over seventy, weighing sixteen stone. With his gear he rode at eighteen on a black charger as near to eighteen hands as a horse is ever seen. The granite simile, however, ended with his physique. He was as genial as sunshine, as mellow as a musk-melon--those unsurpassed beauties which still as of yore appear each year at the Bool Bool Agricultural Show. He had a dimpling moon of a face, with the inevitable sun wrinkles raying out from the twinkling blue eyes and jovial mouth, but no drawn hollows. The neck, round and strong on the broad flat shoulders, was sun-furrowed in diamonds, but the cheeks were full as apples.

He swung up on his big beast and set off at a dead run.

"Flaming crawlers!" he commented when out of hearing. "I don't know what to make of the young people today. They're born dead. Terrible thing to be born dead--no life in them. A few clutches of eggs ought to be set under them, that's all they are fit for." He was racing down a stiff slope. Dick laughed in sheer joy as he followed. It was difficult to keep up with Uncle Erik around those tracks.

"I remember this old split-rail fence."

"I put that up myself over fifty years ago, and most of it is still as sound as a bell."

They climbed a high stringy-bark ridge a mile or two beyond the yards and looked out on Ringers' Paddock. Through Brumby Gap the Mungee could he seen dashing on its way. Dick reined in. He could not be hurried here.

"You might like to poke about a hit, and I can meet you at Uncle Philip's. I think I see a flaming mongrel of a tourist over the ridge there. Blasted swine! I don't know what they are born for. A man's life is not safe with them. You never know what moment they'll shoot your wife and daughters, firing off at something or other. The only good horse I had left on the place had his leg broken with a bullet last year, so I had to shoot it."

Uncle Erik was off, dogs at heel, at a sweat-inducing pace. Dick gazed enthralled, almost bruised with realization of beauty. Here again he saw the river leaning on the hills, the hills leaning on the sky, the sky leaning on eternity. He was still dreaming of that scene as he had carried it with him all his life, and dream and reality now were merged. The song of the waters came as a sigh at that distance, and the wide spaces were sweet as heaven under the sunlight. He gazed and gazed his fill, yet never could have his fill of that enchantment.

That far sweet sigh of sound!

Wrenching himself away he rode to Uncle Sylvester's first homestead beside the river, from which he had migrated to Jindilliwah in the west country. The house, used as salt and shearing-shed, stood in a riot of pomegranate, magnolia, wistaria, and other foliage, amid a heavily laden orchard where birds feasted. This impermanence haunted Dick after the stability of the old world. Here desertion seemed to brood almost a tangibly protesting presence above the work of man. He rode farther along the river to fig and elderberry and fleur-de-lis, which still marked where Great-uncle Philip Mazere had made his home when he came back from the Victorian diggings to settle down seventy years ago. A long time in the life of a man. A moment in the lives of men. In Europe one could walk where men had builded six or more centuries ago, and with restorations and additions people still lived there. Here after the unresting struggle of a lifetime all that a man achieved was a habitation as transitory as a bird's nest to house him and his young for ten years or a lifetime. Coming again, the wanderer found nought of that effort but mayhap a few alien trees among the stately scrub, a post, a mound that once had been a hearth, and the great wilderness still unconquered, still undefiled. There was something dismaying about it. Man was reduced to the level of an insect. It would take more and more of him till, as the vermin destroying the orchards and crops, by weight of numbers he thoroughly infested the land.

All that was permanent here was the river and its song to the brooding ranges. The unutterable, immutable beauty of that swiftly flowing river! The breath of it rose at the approach of sunset, celestially cool and inviting, its song a sigh from paradise. The horse cropped a mouthful or two while his rider sat in rapturous reverie. The greedy shags on an eyot amidstream awaited the fish. The water goannas ran along the bank and away. The waterflies darted, and, yes, there was a kingfisher in iridescent loveliness. There Dick had seen the platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus) sport in his boyhood, but as many other lovely creatures, he was rarely if ever seen now.

A man would need eternity to contemplate that mercilessly, immortally beautiful crystal flow with its voice that teased for expression. It was lonely and far and uniquely soothing. It had followed him always, everywhere. Now he was here again at last, and it was better than his dreams. He so loved this beauty because of its impress on his forming soul when his love of beauty had had no sustenance such as man has created through centuries in old lands.

Yes, a man needed eternity in which to ripen in understanding of beauty, whereas he was permitted in this consciousness such a fleeting, ill-adjusted moment that it hardly seemed worth settling in.

Uncle Erik returned, emphatic in his opinion of the creature invading his premises as rabbiter or fisher, and they rode home in the dusk, which reverberated with kookaburras around Coolooluk.

"No possums coming out as I go home now," remarked Uncle Erik. Gone too, cut up for firewood, were the pipey trees they used to inhabit. Once there had been scores with the peculiar aperture cut by old Diamond, an aboriginal identity of pioneer days on Coolooluk, and an adept at tracing the little marsupials. Only one of the old trees remained standing. Uncle Erik showed it to Dick in the horse paddock. A big storm of wind when the drought broke had brought down another, and a tourist with tourist wantonness had burned the second last and set fire to the neighbourhood.

Dick, to his delight, had a bed on the veranda. The polished stars watched him all night long, and he slept in the cool sweet air to the lullaby of the Coolooluk. He waked at intervals. Was it rain? No, the Coolooluk racing down for ever to the Mungee, the Mungee for ever speeding onward to the Murrumbidgee. Again he wakened. Was it the wind? No, all was still. The roses framed the veranda, soft and motionless. Only a willy-wagtail tweetered or some insect chirped, and through the sweet-scented silence poured the fresh voice of the Coolooluk like a sigh from paradise.

"Good Lord!" Uncle Erik whispered to Aunt Mary as they put out the candle. "Looks like a shadow, and so weak, he frightens me. He goes off into a trance--sort of absent-minded.

"He always was a dreamy, thoughtful boy--we must expect that of a poet, I suppose."

"He likes to poke about the old possum trees and posts; he won't be hard to entertain."

"It will do him good. Let him rest," said peaceful, kindly Aunt Mary.

"If he likes to sit on a log and go vacant, he can please himself. I'm only telling you."

IV

In the morning Uncle Erik conducted Dick to his office and presented him with a mammoth writing-pad, a quart bottle of ink, and half a pound of pen-nibs. "And there's a chair for you, Dick, you can do your writing here. It will be company for me if I'm in for the day; and I'll leave you one of the pea rifles, and you can crack at those flaming cows of birds or they will have all the grapes devoured before the spree in Bool Bool."

Dick was awake every morning ahead of the birds, in that black silent hour ere the sun comes up or the horses and cattle stir among the dew-sopped grasses. He often rode with the men through the orchard, eating of figs or nectarines to the accompaniment of the Coolooluk's silvery song, just as the sun was gilding the rim of Labosseer's Hill, leaving little white puffs of mist about its shoulder as though a god had fired a gun.

Seeking stray sheep they rode the hills, in places so steep that the horses could not carry them, but it had to be as the side of a house before Erik Labosseer dismounted. "I breed horses to carry me, not to be led about by the bridle."

Dick's horse went down under him one morning, but despite the fearful declivity and the rubble, the skilful beast recovered himself like a goat.

"He's got four legs. If two of 'em give way he's still furnished as well as we are," said Uncle, laconically looking on. At this moment the big black jerked off a stone that gave way and went thundering down the precipice. "Fall down and break my neck, would you! Infernal mongrel! That's what I'd expect you to do. I'll cut you up for dog's meat if you don't watch yourself."

Inquiry elicited that the big black was fifteen, and Dick's nag seventeen. "And still as sure-footed as goats on these hills. You are most ungrateful to talk about them like that."

Uncle Erik chuckled. "I have to ride 'em old. I'll have to put 'em in brine soon and only take them out occasionally. These damned scrapers they're breeding now can't lift their legs for this country. Got no chest, got no action, got no brains, like the rubbish that breeds them. The good saddle-horse with the action and a wither you could sit behind like a man, instead of on top like a flaming monkey, has gone."

Days of glory to Dick. He received no letters from anyone to fret him. He slept a few hours each night and had long days on horseback. He thrilled once more to feel his knees grip the saddle as a horse propped and wheeled and galloped in rough country, to hear the crack of stockwhips like rifles, to ride deep in the old swamp and cutty grass where the bullfrogs broadly croaked; best of all, to slip away by himself stilly to drink of the silence.

No silence ever was like this to him in the world. It was clamorous in his soul and had a presence of its own. The voice of that silence had followed him to far lands till the roar of great cities or the thunder of Krupp guns had been drowned by its haunting insistence. In the sunlight it palpitated, the song of the river but accentuating its spell. And always that voiceless echo as if a violin though dumb yet spoke. Was it thus to him alone whose soul had been shaped there? Could he capture the magic so that others far removed physically but akin spiritually might understand? Must it elude him always, suggesting deep glad things, or anon threnodic wistfulnesses, echoes of dead songs that ere time began have lost their singers?

Days of enchantment and re-enchantment. Sometimes he stayed at home to write Irma Mazere's poem. He would sit upon the veranda sun-splashed in the pattern of muscatel grapes where the little birds played in the long seeding grasses higher than the horses' backs, where there were tangled bowers of roses and where the amaryllis high about the water taps had perfume of rock melon and apricot mingled. He made friends with the tiny stub-tailed lizard with her family of infinitesimal torpedoes darting from the shadows and extending lightning tongues for flies.

He could not bring himself to shoot the birds. How could he, as a boy, have thrilled at possessing a gun and going out to kill!

As he rode out to the Ten Mile he had met a splendid black snake lying in the path in a position to be despatched with one flip of his whip. He turned aside and left it in peace. That, he kept a secret. A man who refused to kill a snake was considered as the lowest of crawlers. His aunt, one of the most timid of women, had a snake-stick to meet those visitors approaching by way of the long grasses outside the flower garden.

From the veranda he could enjoy the panorama of Coolooluk Hill. Occasional drovers leathered along at a good goat gallop on ringboned old screws. A rabbiter with traps on his out-of-date sulky sought a haven. A goshawk sat in a great white gum by the river, fawn, like a piece of loosened candle bark in the wind on the end of a dead twig. She or her antecedents had long inhabited that tree, and brought forth young unmolested by the station guns, and she had a contempt for the tourists equalling Uncle Erik's. She lived on carrion, and the hens knew her and saw her unafraid, though the chicken hawk sent them into hysterics, which brought Aunt Mary's gun to their rescue immediately. There was nearly always a mob of sheep spilling down the hillside like grain from a sack, sometimes distinguishable from the earth only by motion or an attendant cloud of dust. The change in the season had put money in stock, and this traffic resulted.

Dick found the bush life, as he had lived it, vanishing never to return. It called for embalming in the cultural records of a people's history. Fugitive lines that could be set as corner-posts in the edifice of an epic poem came to him--all he needed was time and peace.

To Uncle Erik it was the unchanged scene, the demnition daily grind. "Beastly hole!" he exclaimed. "All my life I have slaved like thunder here, and what have I got? If I fell down and died in the middle of it, the scrub would rush up and have me covered and my tracks lost inside a week. Whatever brought the old folks here to hide in the scrubs at the start, I can't conceive. Can you imagine any more useless, beastly rubbish of country than that!" He would point to the side of Little Coolooluk rising out of the cow paddock, and Big Coolooluk rising from the Ten Mile gate in bold black precipices.

Dick looked at the wild grandeur and his heart sang. Its unarable magnificence would preserve it as a retreat yet a while from invading human vermin.

To sleep to that river song, like wind, if wind could be motionless; to sleep with its lullaby running through his dreams, his dreams to be dreams of peace; to wake and know it was the river, was heaven to him. If he had a want it was for Freda's presence. She could nourish him with companionship free from the poison of animal magnetism. Marriage, he imagined, in its highest, most delicate manifestation might be like that, purged of waste and strain.


CHAPTER XV

I

The mailman sounded his klaxon as he topped Mailman's Ridge, from which point at Coolooluk they had for three generations descried the mail's approach. The car dipped into the hollow and crossed the Coolooluk bridge while Iris ran down to the gates. Uncle Erik was busily potting silver-eyes and fire-tails from the back veranda. Dick was watching a mob of polled angus passing down the grey mountain side with the precision of a chain of black railway cars. The crack of the drovers' whips clashed with another klaxon in that direction, and a car disentangled itself from the beeves and arrived at the homestead gate just as Iris had received the mail and a soojee bag of bread. The driver, Uncle Sylvester's overseer from Gyang Gyang, pulled up to deliver a letter and remained a quarter of an hour telling the news.

The family mobilized for tea on one of the verandas and eagerly awaited while Uncle Erik unlocked the canvas, which these days bulged with letters of interest.

"Uncle Sylvester is having a gorgeous time," observed Iris. "That Miss Judith Laurillard is at Gyang Gyang staying with him!"

"Rats!" ejaculated her father, wrestling with the lock. "How could she be staying there! They've only got enamel mugs and plates, and her picture was up all over Sydney when I was down to meet Dick."

"She's there," persisted Iris. "Harvey Liddle just told me. Bernice Gaylord or Mrs Peter Poole, or whoever she is, is there as chaperon, and Judith is delighted with everything. They have her in a tent, and she was never in a tent before, and goes into ecstasies. They were all scratching and whitewashing for days before she arrived. The cook even washed the tea-towels, and doesn't blow his nose on them while she's looking--so Harvey says. And they've mustered the wombats for her to pet, and are crutching the magpies, and sidelining the trout, and nursing a snake..."

"Haven't they drafted the bull-dog ants?...Bad scran to this flaming lock!"

"The dogs were all dipped for fear of fleas, and Uncle Sylvester put one of his collars on the cat, and was trying to iron the others with a cold iron."

"The next thing we shall hear is that you have a new auntie, and that the wedding breakfast is being served by old Bluestone at the Crow's Nest."

"Uncle Sylvester wouldn't be such a fool as that," said Daphne.

"How could a poor simple old widower help himself if he got in the clutches of one of these six-cylinder sirens?"

"Uncle Sylvester turning into a sheikh is too funny for anything," laughed Iris. "I had to laugh at Harvey Liddle's account."

"Listen to what Sylvester the Sheikh says for himself...Mollye Brennan and Laleen and Freda Healey are on their way up to Bool Bool, and Uncle Sylvester is going to bring Judas Iscariotess, or whatever her name is, and Bernice through here to meet them. They are going to get up a pagant or pageant--what the devil is that?--representing the old days for the Back to Bool Bool week. We've all got to be acting in it. Gosh! That'll be rummy! Ha, ha! Dick is supposed to be kept under lock and key writing ta-ra-ra-ra-boom-de-ays. Dick, I must leg-rope you."

"Too much entertainment. I'm tempted all the time from work."

"Another sheikh gone wrong in his infancy! I don't see any entertainment but the flaming blowflies...I must lock you in the gardener's hut, and give you food through a crack, and when you come out for exercise you can carry a little red flag to warn off the entertainment--and those infernal tourists...What the deuce is that fellow doing now?" A man's head appeared above the garden gate. He wanted to buy grapes. He was set to wait on the veranda while Uncle Erik, out of hearing, condemned him to the most terrible fate, at the same time cutting a meat-dish of muscatels for which he would accept nothing, only warning the man as to where he went with his blanky gun.

"He's been shooting the poor gyang gyangs," said Dick, as a flock of these pretty-pretties flew over with their plaintive cry.

"Gyang gyangs deserve all they get to allow themselves to be shot by such cows. They sit on the tree till the damn' tourists pot every one of them, one after the other."

The tourist departed to his family under the big eurabbi where the gyang gyangs used to roost, and now their feathers were scattered as from a plucking. The smoke of a camp fire arose on the bank of the Coolooluk, and a scratchy gramophone ground out "The Soldiers of the Queen".

"They could have left that pretty little tune at home for a spell," remarked Uncle Erik.

"They come from those suburbs with desert streets to the most exquisite natural beauty," said Dick dreamily, "and they have to bring a noise like that to fill the vacuum caused by the absence of a spiritual ear."

"But I don't know where tourists are bred, or with what animals they are crossed to get the peculiar effect. I reckon they should be only let out in chain gangs with police to guard them."

"Listen! I'm thrilled to bits," exclaimed Daphne.

"But I didn't finish...Sylvester is bringing his harem down and wants to know if we can put them up for a meal, or they can go to the hotel." The Mungee Crossing Hotel erected in digging days had lately been rebuilt.

"We couldn't have Sylvester running about at the Mungee Hotel with a lady like that while his relations were near by," said Aunt Mary. "It would look like a scandal we didn't approve."

"If it is a scandal you do approve of, we can ring through before six o'clock. Now, Daphne, what's making you shiver or quiver?"

She had a budget. Irma Mazere and Brenda Brennan were determined to make the Bool Bool week outdo any up-country celebrations to date. Mollye, Freda, Laleen, and others were arriving, and the Woolpack, the Commercial, and the old hotel still known as M'Haffety's, were to cater for the most distinguished guests since the Governor-General had visited the district.

Arrangements were in charge of a Citizens' Committee, headed by the President of the Shire Council, but the visiting sons and daughters were to help with the historical aspect. Mollye had promised all the forces at her command, and Judith accepted her invitation to help with enthusiasm. The novelty of the circumstances in which the actress found herself at a camp on the roof of Australia amid the black-butts and daisies and jumbucks gave a fillip to existence.

"I can't get away from the sheep to give them a hand now, not with these flaming flies," said Uncle Erik, when the letters had all been read, "and I wouldn't like any of the old Brennan crew to go to the pub while I had a shake-down or the roof kept out the rain."

"We could stow them somewhere, it would be nice and jolly," remarked Aunt Mary. "They could buckle to and give a hand. We'll never live to see another such celebration, so should make the best of it."

Among the rabid Marthas of the clans Aunt Mary was not considered a good housekeeper. They pointed out that she would sit and talk quietly while her mattresses needed patching, or when she could have been repapering the spare room, or cleaning the silver; but Uncle Erik thought her the best housekeeper in the world. Dick found her the most peaceful in Australia. With her a man could take his ease, There was always plenty to eat and a comfortable bed. There were no grizzlings about some people being martyrs and others slackers. A spirit of comfort permeated the establishment and gave hospitality a blessed quality. Lapped in it, Dick cast spiritual anchor for a space.

II

Erik Labosseer was acknowledged as one of the ablest all-round men in the district, but be can only enter the hundredth-birthday celebrations of the little town of Bool Bool with a suggestion of the human factors that hung around them and him, while the epic of Erik Labosseer, uncle-in-chief of his clan, and most impatient of men, must wait.

He didn't wait a minute after swallowing his tea, but set out for stores and work-sheds, where he had everything to make Coolooluk a self-contained establishment, he being a prize graduate of the old schools of squattocracy. Bawling for one or other of his understudies, setting a pace to make the young men gasp, apostrophizing them as born dead, he resuscitated a gardener's hut. Before dusk he was inviting the girls to supply "any flaming frills" they thought indispensable, and announcing to Dick, "You can roost there and mind your own blasted business, and we shall not let more than one charmer at a time invade your door. You can fix one of the old muzzle-loaders with a string on the trigger to get rid of the tourists."

A day or two later there wasn't a spare bed in the house, nor on the verandas. Uncle Erik, in his leisure and with robust facetiousness about tourists, sheikhs, poets, love-sick maidens and pommies, put a knee-pad on a reserve saddle and repaired the results of the inroads made upon it by matronly mice during its retirement. Two or three old nags, also superannuated, but allowed to live in a flush season to keep down surplus grass, were run in and had their tails pulled, a hit of the mud scraped off them, shoes put on their front hoofs, and were given a turn after the cows to prove that virtuous reputations still endured. Among them was Britomarte, whom Dick himself had named as a filly. He stood a long time gazing at the old mare as if doubting her existence.

Coolooluk was none of your millionaire syndicate stations with every modern convenience from an aeroplane to its own electric plant, where the anciently conceded imperial visiting aristocracy resorted with native plutocracy, but in the days of horse power, when touring vice-regality could not be whisked from Cooma to Bool Bool in an easy day, they never omitted to have luncheon with old Mrs Rachel Labosseer, or sometimes to remain several days under her roof revelling in the country fare and the hills and streams. The Labosseers hereditarily, and because of their own rectitude, ranked with the very first and most stainless families in Australia. Its hospitality endeared the old place to everyone who knew it, a hospitality upheld now by Erik and Aunt Mary, who was just as peaceful with not a spare bed as with her own family about her.

It was a ramshackle old place, almost all the work of the Labosseers themselves, and with every facility for enjoyment free from too many inimical flunkeys. There was an overgrown golf-course, with the race and cowyards for bunkers. There were swimming and fishholes in the Mungee for the most intrepid, and little ones of several depths in the Coolooluk where children could bathe by themselves without drowning, or fish for slipperies, and often caught a sacred trout with a worm and hook on a piece of string tied to a stick. There were broad verandas boarded with stringy-bark--most elegant polished hardwood--where people could flirt and dance among the thickets of roses and grapes, or sit down and dream and listen to the song of the streams and the laughter of the kookaburras. There were half a dozen orchards laden with fruit, besides many trees growing at their own sweet will all about the home enclosures--mulberries, quinces, plums, loquats, nectarines, or damsons.

Uncle Erik, two days after Judith's arrival, was chaffed by all and sundry as the chief sheikh, vice Uncle Sylvester, because of Judith's popularity as a pupil. "She's a real woman under the flummery," he maintained. "I do like a woman who has something to say for herself and is game to do anything."

This à propos of her interest in milking. She had never even seen a cow milked, and was to experience a fresh thrill. Milking became a social entertainment forthwith.

"Father does love to have at least a dozen crowing and yapping around him while he's doing everything. He wouldn't mind if they watched him shave, I do believe," observed Iris. He was greatly gifted as a teacher of handicrafts, and in his element surrounded by a throng of pupils.

One morning as the mists lifted from Coolooluk Hill, a string of ladies might have been seen picking a way amid the long wet grass to the cowyard, all armed with buckets and dressed in any trousers available. Judith's slim elegance was hidden in a garment of Uncle Erik's. Some were so thin, some so fat, some so small that laughter and ribaldries flew back and forth.

Mollye had provided herself with a smart pair of trousers, but still was a mighty figure, one of those ponderous women with legs like bolsters, who make a mock of Gilda in breeches on the stage.

"God, what a woman!" said Uncle Erik, behind her back. "Fancy any man tackling her!"

Mollye swore she had milked at The Gap, so her host hacked her against Judith. Freda was an amusing mite in another pair of Uncle Erik's own, wrinkled like elephant's legs. In her young days she had milked as part of the day's work at Oswald's Ridges, and was to see if she had forgotten her stroke.

The goodly cows had been so long in that their calves were steers and heifers knowing their routine as well as any circus performer. They brought the milk "down" with a few long sucks, leaving the teats distended and slimy, whence they went back into the noose from the beam and were free to investigate the invaders by slobbering on their backs. What is more endearing than a well-bred yearling in well-nourished, clean-skinned health? Dick leant over a pretty roan, rejoicing in the contact as he watched Freda's operations, and remembered days as a boy when he too had milked for a living at Oswald's Ridges, and with chilblains on his heels and cracks in his fingers had snuggled against the warm odorous flank of a Speckle or Reddy for comfort. The soft-eyed heifer was all gentle friendliness and dumb appeal. How could man rear these creatures to such trustfulness and then slaughter them! As a youth he had been eager to attain manhood by killing a beast unassisted. Now he sickened at the thought; but this question of vegetarianism was almost insoluble. Life was full of heart wounds and perplexities.

He confronted one of his perplexities in Mollye's eyes. What was he to do about Mollye? She robbed him of even his scant sleep. He was ready to tender her homage as a queen of song, splendid on the platform, thrilling the world, thrilling him. He was proud of her as a compatriot, as a fellow Bool Boolian--one woman in a generation from every angle. He could have felt such a satisfying affection for her free of this other demoralizing element. He wanted to hide behind Freda's skirts, and that amused him: Freda's skirts were so small; had he contemplated hiding behind Mollye, there might have been some sense in it.

"Freda, I had such a funny dream last night," he said in a low voice where they were in the far bail, while attention centred in the performance of Mollye and Judith. "I dreamt I was engaged to you. I wish it was true, or that you would pretend, as we suggested..."

Freda noted the weariness of his expression, and wished the subterfuge possible. She didn't tell him it had been a rumour. "It wouldn't help, Dick, or I should be glad to oblige you. We all have those problems till we are past youth, and then by the look of things people regret the problems more than they appreciate the peace of their absence."

He coloured, knowing she read his thoughts on the problem of that moment.

"You are right. You always are," he said, and walked away.

III

After breakfast there was turmoil in the stable-yard, where several laying hens were lamed for curiosity and had to be sent to the pot. Dogs were skelped to the formula, "Come behind! Sit down! You flaming mongrel, I'll warm you!" A row of horses were being saddled, mostly by theirs riders. Each saddle had a quart pot or something else on the dees, and tucker and oilcoats on the pommel, for it was a rolling season when rain in that region spilled sharply any moment with or without warning thunder.

It looked like a hunt, with Uncle Erik leading the way through the cow-paddock with jackeroos and guests on nags ranging from seventeen hands to twelve, to dress sheep in Ringers' Paddock next the Ten Mile.

Freda was on Daphne's pet riding horse. Judith had Britomarte, Dick's old friend, rather stiff, and kept for Aunt Mary, who rode occasionally on the side-saddle. Britomarte could canter on a threepenny bit, and no company ever tempted her to pull. She neither shied nor stumbled, was a good walker, and if her guests fell off she waited courteously till they got on again. She was twenty-four off, but even so, would have been worth a couple of ten-pound notes in a riding school. Mollye was on a capable beast who packed salt and drew wood and had even descended to the plough, though she had clean fetlocks. She was also warranted not to bolt, not having the speed, and she was not touchy, having graduated with many strange packs and loads. If urged out of a jog she charged the hillside at a hippopotamus gallop, as if in her own person a cavalry squad. Nat Horan was on one of the jackeroo's nags likely to pig-jump and to pull, but Nat with a townie's ignorance was happy, so were the station men, who could never see how a man could fall off a horse. "Ride with your stirrups long, and lean back and keep your hands down and stretch out your feet, and you can't possibly fall off," Uncle Erik contended.

They dipped into the hollow of First Creek in the cow paddock where the water ran to the Coolooluk. Joyously they rode, topping Sheep Camp Ridge, with the panorama of mountains ahead and the detimbered enclosed home paddocks sloping to the river behind. Down into Second Creek, then through Uncle Philip's, and climbing a high stringy-bark ridge by the sheep pads around dizzy sidelings, they looked out upon Ringers' Paddock, so named because there was in it a mound of stones where thirty years before the ringers' hut had stood in the dense scrub. Through Brumby Gap in the wild peaks the Mungee came clashing from the Bogongs, here and there foaming over rocks.

Uncle Erik descried the sheep on a far hillside like charging infantry in screen pictures, dashing wethers which should have been entered for the goat races in the opinion of their shepherds. Uncle Erik dropped down the side of the hill, ordering the women to keep to the tracks for safety.

Everyone was called upon to help in the work and felt useful, which made holidaying at Coolooluk so delightful. The plan was to ring the sheep against the logs and dress them in the open, but these flocks were wild and strong, more like cross-breds than merinos, and many of the helpers were a hindrance. Mollye could not control her wooden-mouthed charger and thundered right past the nose of Uncle Erik's mighty black to ribald comments, while Laleen's opinionated pony dashed on to his tail, and both of them right through the flock just as the jackeroos had it rounded up. The mystified dogs followed suit and could not be subdued. Their master's comments were sizzling, but his "warmings" with the whip were curtailed in front of the women, and "the flaming infernal ill-bred mongrels, not even fit to manure a pumpkin bed" scattered the jumbucks like marbles.

Now Erik Labosseer took more pride in his sheep than any man in the district. Those summering on his runs returned to Riverina or the west in such fettle that managers wrote him special letters of commendation. An artist in every department of station work was he, and this morning saw that the only way to manage both a school for equestriennes and the fly dressings was to yard the sheep. They were so blown owing to frequent rain that thorough overhauling was necessary in any case. So they were again collected, and the women stationed at intervals and warned against moving till Uncle Erik whistled on his fingers, when they were to advance through bracken and rabbit warrens keeping the sheep from breaking back.

Freda had forgotten the pace of sheep till she found herself racing through the bracken and tea-tree, but her horse knew the game, and though she disappeared to the shoulder in rabbit holes once or twice, she returned to her stride without dislodging her rider. Lively work eventually put the sheep into the yards which served that paddock. Nat was deputed to tether the horses and tie the dogs out of mischief with whips. Laleen was addressed to stirring up from the back. Judith was put in the open gateway between the big yard and the smaller, where two or three hundred came out at a time for inspection and dressing. She was so inexperienced that the gallant sheep knocked her down in the mud under them. She arose startled and covered with dirt but unhurt, and was provided with a bushy sapling to keep the sheep from stampeding again. Uncle Erik made splintering comments upon the way the yards had been renovated by one of the pommy jackeroos. He, a young man of spirit, and tired of being "roared on", snorted that he had not prepared for bullocks, which he pronounced to rhyme with bullocks, much to the delight of the natives.

"Never saw a pommy with any more brain than a jew lizard, yet as soon as they are six weeks in the country they think they know more than I do," muttered Uncle.

"Poor dears have such a lot to learn, it's hard on them," murmured Mollye, with generous appeasement.

The men cut away the affected wool with shears and applied the lotion which they carried in bottles. Mollye held Uncle Erik's bottle while he caught his sheep. Dick was set to gather up the cut wool. Nat gravitated to Laleen. Irma Mazere reinforced Judith. Brenda Brennan amused herself catching sheep.

The sky was wide and the views far and lone and lovely on the high ridge commanding two valleys ringed with the river and ranges. The song of the river came up to them when the hubbub subsided. A company of black magpies occupied a grove of stringy-bark shading the yards and suspended their chiming to hiss the invaders. Gyang gyangs and cockatoos circled and screeched. Kookaburras laughed at intervals, a sign of more rain, said the bushmen, when they laughed between nine in the morning and three in the afternoon.

The work went with zest and management till Uncle Erik, glancing at the shadows, announced it was time to boil the billy, and sent the women to an accessible spot in the river bank about a mile distant to make a fire.

"Isn't it divine to be riding away through all this glorious strangeness to have our meal in the open? And I'm as hungry as one of your sharks," exclaimed Judith.

"Imperial," agreed Freda, who was finding pleasure in Judith's understanding and enjoyment of native conditions.

"Bonzer!" said Laleen.

"Stupendous, divine!" said Mollye. "It's worth all my European triumphs to have a day of it." Similar exclamations as they descended the sheep tracks amid bracken and thorn, dipped into swamps where frogs croaked amid smart weed and cutty grass, and reached a clear flat where pennyroyal arose like incense under the hoofs. Freda and Judith made the fire, while the others unbuckled the tucker valises. One of the most delicious fires known to man sent up clear blue smoke in the quivering sunlight, while Mollye and Laleen dawdled by the Mungee's limpid pools amid big grey rocks. Here the stream swirled in a narrow current. On the opposite bank was primeval bush where the ringers had never been. From that direction the hunters could still bring home a wallaroo, or find the lyre-bird's nest, now almost as legendary as the pelican's. In the spring that valley was a sea of wattle gold and tea-tree white, and even the disappearing fields of senna blue still remained in rare patches. In the gap, through which the brumbies used to come of old from the Snowy Mountains in severe winters, were scrubs of honeysuckle (banksia) with its brushes, the wonder of Judith, and hailed with joy by the returned wanderers as the "chookies" of childhood.

"No wonder Madame Austra wants the essence of this strange country put into art," Judith was saying to Freda. "I too am inspired. If a native drama were forthcoming I'd keep it in my repertoire."

"Dick says all that sort of thing is just about to burst upon us."

"Anything should be possible. Such marvellous circumstances take one out of old ruts."

"Is that how it feels, coming from the old ruts? Going from new to old and returning, I feel we are too much in thrall to the old ruts mentally."

"Mentally, yes. There you are putting stale, mediocre wine into new bottles, but it is the new bottle that has bewitched me."

"Mollye and Laleen must have fallen into a trance to the song of the Mungee. I always do. Coo-ee! Coo-ee!"

Answering coo-ees accompanied the water-carriers emerging from the tea-tree. Half-way to the fires Mollye tripped and emptied her quart-pot.

"Amateur!" called Freda, but by this time Nat had ridden down, and Mollye was given the full quart pot while the young people disappeared into the bowers of tea-tree with empty vessels.

To have Nat in easy companionship, with Mollye in favour of it, enchantment never ceased for Laleen. When they returned, one of the pots was boiling to appease Uncle Erik who had ridden up with the jackeroos and, with pannikins of sugared tea, they opened their packets and sat on a log. There was a general scatter when Mollye discovered a snake skin under her feet.

"The snake came out at the beginning of the summer," said Freda.

"Snakes never travel far. If you see one near a shelter you'll find him there all season if he's not killed," said Uncle Erik.

Everyone moved away from the big log on to rocks sticking up among the pennyroyal. "It's all so wonderful," exclaimed Judith--"the river and the throngs of great trees and having our dinner like this; one could hardly believe in London that such an existence could be seriously followed by people."

"That's the way I feel about the blinded city. When I go to a theatre and we all sit up there like birds in the dark, and when it is one of those mopy plays, and we are paying money to be made miserable!...I nearly laughed right out one night."

Mollye was thinking how unsurpassed the occasion if only Dick had come, but the shadows were already stretching eastward. Soon the sun's departing pomp would end the day in the open, and they would descend on the old house in the delicious cool, providing she could endure the ride. Mollye's skin was painfully sensitive to the blazing sun, and abrasions and stiffness aggravated by the paces of the packhorse were making riding a trial.

"Here comes Dick," announced Laken, "and someone else." Mollye's heart lifted.

"He's riding Truelove," said Uncle Erik, "and he's got his toes stuck out like some fellow coming to plough down the saplings--a pommy perhaps."

"I don't care, Uncle," maintained Laleen, who had been admonished for putting her toes too far out. "I saw a picture of the King in the Sydney Mail, and he had his toes just like that."

"That's who this must be, then, and that's why Iris has let him ride her sacred mare."

IV

Begrudging the time, because they were so busy, the household were just about to have a mouthful when a grand automobile had turned in at the gate. "Someone mistaking us for the hotel," observed Daphne, but Dick, who had forsaken his hut to hear his aunt talk of the early days, said it was Sir Oswald Poole.

"Not a thing but scraps for lunch! Wonder if he's only just calling and we could get rid of him with morning tea?" These days of the motor car mitigated such comprehensive hospitality as that family had dispensed in the previous century. The Major-General had been on Monaro at Curradoobidgee with his Poole relatives, whither he had gone from Sydney by road via Canberra and Cooma, and thence down the mountain side.

Dick brought him to his aunt. "I remember you well," said she, "since you were a boy."

"I've dreamed of staying here again--all through the war; you can't imagine how I used to hear the river and the creek and wonder if I'd pull through to be here again."

"We're very glad to see you," said gentle Aunt Mary, thinking there wasn't a spare bed of any sort unless Dick would take him to the gardener's hut. Suddenly she remembered a tent in the saddle-room and breathed comfortably. "We are very glad to see you, though we have only a tent to offer you to sleep in."

"Oh, I hoped you wouldn't mind if I put up at the hotel at night, and that you'd let me pop in and out here for a day or two."

It was Dick's suggestion that they should surprise the party in Ringers' Paddock. "The old Ringers' Paddock! that would be bonzer!"

His relieved hostesses cut two more lunches, and Iris volunteered her horse to further matters.

Thus Dick found the days go. Solitude was no more possible in the country than in the suburbs. Personal freedom was to be had only in great cities where a man could hide in some top storey and think and work undisturbed. Besides, his heart was full of the earth and sky and the folk that fitted here. He must reabsorb these elements, and later, safely removed, distil them through the alembic of memory. He could not forgo the glorious day in the open lunching beside the Mungee: what orchestra at the Princes Restaurants of the world could equal the song of the waters and birds of Coolooluk?

With unabating delight he led through the gate behind the stables to the domain of the milch cows and thence to the sheep and cattle runs. He had the devotion of a lover for the big old stringy-bark and flooded gum-trees. The little thorn-brakes gave him rapture. Only a woman could have understood what these things meant to him, and that woman by right of nativity and experience of retreat and return was Freda--or Mollye--but Mollye...Mollye would indulge him boundlessly, and Dick was sufficiently sensitive to distinguish between understanding and indulgence from a woman, and so rare as to prefer understanding.

He certainly did not expose his passion for the landscape to his cousin, who would have thought him "ga-ga", though the soldier business man enjoyed himself immensely on his own plane. Sir Oswald felt it tremendous again to be riding over the springy earth, down into bogs, up across stony ridges, topping passes with ever that wide surrounding view, that long lovely view refreshing to the eyes as a deep draught of pure cool air to cramped lungs. He too had the long-distance glance, having spent all his adolescent holidays on one or other of the family holdings, but accentuating his pleasure was the thought that he would soon be skirmishing with Freda, and that he was dropping on her unaware. He had taken his Monaro holiday unannounced, and had learnt at Gyang Gyang who was at Coolooluk.

Why had the little devil told him she was engaged to Dick? He looked Dick over, wondering whether it was a compliment to Dick or the reverse. Dick didn't look very red-blooded, but he had a daughter, Sir Oswald seemed to remember, while he himself was still without issue; and Joyce was getting on to thirty-five. Perhaps Dick's daughter wasn't his own--there had been a divorce. Humph! Joyce might put him in that position too. He never felt safe with her. This freedom for women was all very fine in many ways, but there ought to be some way a man could be sure and safe till he had a family...Now, if Freda was really modern...

Poet and soldier discussed the season as they topped Sheep Camp Ridge, with the panorama of mountains ahead, and the detimbered enclosed station paddocks sloping away to the river behind. Dick turned in his saddle, as always, so that he might not miss either view. They rose from Uncle Philip's Creek, talking of the coarse red grass like an inferior wheat, a recent importation that put sunburnt patches on the slopes; and of the roods of pennyroyal making a perfumed carpet for their horses, and whose modern luxuriance might add another noxious weed to the labours of the man on the land. Wild melon and other migrants marked the sojourn of sheep from the west which came from far and farther out for agistment now that trains and motor lorries shortened their trek, and wool was booming.

They reached the crest where Dick liked to betake himself alone so that he might rein in and look and look his fill at that view of which he could never have his fill in this world. From that distance the river seemed to lean against the mountains, and the flowing song came faint and cool like a far sweet wind from paradise.

"There's the fire," said Sir Oswald, thinking of Freda, as a dainty column of smoke rose away around a ridge. Dick's eyes, too, roved to find Freda as he approached, and it was to her he drifted, while Sir Oswald made his salutations and ended by sitting between Mollye and his cousin Erik Labosseer.

"Nat, you go and listen to the river song every moment you can," advised Mollye, "and get that in your score."

"I want to get right into the river and swim," said Nat. "You mightn't feel like that if you had been in it as often as I have when it was cold enough to kill a man--treacherous hole! Many a time it has nearly got me. I sometimes think it will get me yet, like it did Emily Mazere."

"We must make Emily the star in the tableaux of the old days. Her romance lives all these years," said Mollye. "I was brought up on it. Laleen will fit the part."

"Aunt Fannie says she's Emily's living image, but they have said that of every girl member of the family since Emily was drowned."

Sir Oswald was edging towards Freda, and as Mollye was stepping into her place with Dick, that gentleman escaped with Nat and Laleen to the river. When screened by the tea-tree Dick moved along to muse by himself, leaving the young pair free. Sir Oswald attained Freda. She caught his glance, priapic, adulterated with amused admiration.

"My time is almost at an end now. After this fine dust up in Bool Bool, it is London for me again."

"How delightful to be going back with the spring!"

"You are staying here?"

"I don't know."

"Your engagement is broken off, I hear."

"That's hardly news."

"Well, what about the Report?" He was so pleased to find her free that he had almost decided to give her five hundred for it. A jewel or a few gowns or a set of furs here and there might easily cost him double that, with another sort of woman, Why not pay in a decent way for a top-notch thrill--and he craved that Report.

"I sent off an immense amount of data to my old Society--and human interest matter that I collected for myself. That fulfils my contract. I should like to publish the unprintable truth in pamphlet form like Carlyle, but I don't know that the world is worth saving. It makes me shudder to think of this"--she waved her arm where the Mungee flowed and sang and the Coolooluk ranges disappeared into the Muniongs on one side, and the blue old Bogongs raised feathery peaks on the other--"and the fat north and west all filled up with human lice such as infest Asia and Europe. Even during my life the dear little porcupines (echidnas) and wallabies and koalas and lyre-birds have gone. I never hear the curlews now, and there are hardly any plovers. They have taken to roosting on the stones in the middle of the river to escape the foxes...What are a few things like that compared with proletaneous human beings? But the last war and the next one, that you are all so set on, have disgusted me with ordinary humanity. If we could only hold back till man has learnt to control his incontinent fecundity and to abolish poverty and war and a good deal of disease--till he is competent to apply the science of ethics and economics to the end of happiness! If we could preserve this dear continent till its queer different characteristics could be utilized as assets instead of drawbacks! All we are doing is eating the face off the west with sheep, and killing the timber off the east to make dividends for a few ignoramuses to spend in the rawest, most conventional way in the fleshpots of Europe; we are making no fresh contribution to human progress. My views are not to overstock the last of the continents with the offspring of those that come out here and run fish and fruit shops and work on Sunday and in the evenings for money, only money, pulling down conditions. But why should I fash myself? The offspring of the fish and fruit shops may be happier than I have ever been, though they never see an echidna nor hear the skirl of the curlews, and only come to these streams when they are stripped of their divine drapery. If I could plan things my own way, would I be any happier? I give it up."

She had led Sir Oswald down amid the tea-tree and sat on a warm grey rock where the crystal Mungee rushed past in siren song. The jackeroos doused the fire and were returning to work. Uncle Erik was talking to such of his guests as had not paired off.

"Listen to the river! I never can bear to talk, but only to listen to it. That's the only permanent thing."

"That Report," said the man of affairs. "We can't do much, I admit; what is to be will be. But you ought to take more pleasure, you'd feel different. This being a nun is enough to give you the blues--against nature...We must do something to hold back the hoi polloi while we are in the saddle. That's why I am for defence--couldn't hold Australia without it...You write that pamphlet as if you were Mussolini, so that I may incorporate some of it in my report and have the rest up my sleeve for private committees. Things may come your way more than you expect in the next ten years. There's got to be some change one way or the other at the rate things are going and the face they have on them. They can't all live like ploots as they are trying to do now."

Sir Oswald had set his heart on that Report. He half knew that the intelligentsia in his wife's sets discredited him as the usual fifth-rate reactionary Colonial. Neither was he a star among the epigrammatists in the Mayfair school of amour. He was carefully storing up Freda's crack about the poem and the pogrom against need. Her Report would be full of plums with which he could surprise the labour johnnies and aristocratic communists behind the scenes, while it was sure to contain matter of live human interest fit for broadcasting to all schools.

Five hundred pounds--would he give it! A little fortune! It would procure the treatment necessary for her father's malady, and a nurse to free her to work with Mollye. Freda regarded Sir Oswald with tenderness. If he came through he was a good off-handed fellow countryman, and she then could listen to the Mungee with a sense of release.

V

It was singing no less a siren's song to Nat and Laleen. Nat, these clays, was quiet and much by himself, supposed to be in the toils of composition. The piano had been given over to him in the superseded school-house in a thicket of plum-trees in the oldest orchard, and there he could be heard in new combinations of diatonics.

"The river does sing," said Laleen. "I wonder is it any easier to put in music than in words?"

"There is a rut for river songs. The difficulty is to do anything new." Nat fell silent again. Uncle Erik could be seen at the head of his school, including Dick and Mollye, riding off through the shrubbery of the outer bank, with Freda and the Major-General making a detour from the rear.

Nat felt the need of Laleen's adoring presence. "Laleen, you do care for me a little?" he asked, free from the flirtatiousness of the odd hand-pressure or glance of early occasions when he had been in high feather.

Laleen's answer was in her eyes, so it didn't matter that speech failed her. Her heart quickened deliciously, pumping a rosy flood over lovely cheeks and brow. She had awaited this moment, had been sure of it, it seemed to her now, ever since Nat had first come in the crisp August evening among the violets and freesias. "Do you care for me, too?" she demanded, after an interval, when his arm was around her as they sat upon the grey rocks warmed by the sun, sheltered in the wild grace of tea-tree, and bewitched by the river rushing past for ever in wordless song like an untamed wind of triumphant, unearthly beauty.

There was no life in his cheek when Laleen nestled against it, no fiery ardour in his embrace. It was as though he snuggled against her for warmth. Laleen was braced for something more of the sheikh school. "Would you still care for me, Laleen, supposing...if I gave up the piano?"

"You mean you would rather take to some business?" Laleen was willing to accept him as a tram guard.

"No. Supposing I simply should not play the piano any more in public..."

"Don't you like playing in public?"

"Not that. Supposing my arm gave out."

"Oh, poor darling, what's the matter?" She was overflowing, warm, reviving to a man freezing with depression. Nat poured out the trouble which had been debilitating him for weeks, and so far confessed only to physicians and physical trainers. He sobbed like a boy.

To see a man cry, that man her desired, she, who still thought men were beings apart in strength, carried Lateen out of herself. It was an earthquake to see a man weep, her first big experience of emotion, and stirred her to illness. Nothing could have deflected her from Nat after that. She was willing to follow him into poverty, or disgrace, should need arise.

"But it might get better," she said after a while.

"So many people care only for one's music. Artists are like millionaires or royalty, perhaps they are never loved for themselves. You will find that out if you succeed as a writer." Nat was being a little specious. Had he been as destitute of music as a wheelbarrow his personal and physical endowment was sufficient to win him more amorous affection than he could absorb in a somewhat monogamous society, but Laleen in a generation of flappers with all modern knowledge, was so patently innocent and fresh that he could not but play a little on her motherliness. "You'd care for me still the same?"

"Oh, I'd care for you more and more," came the old, old answer of the woman.

Nat was comforted, mesmerized by the wild song of the river. He did not tell Laleen how much he loved her; he was more concerned with how deeply she loved him; as she, too, was concerned with that, neither noted the omission.

Uncle Erik spoke to Mollye about them. "What does that mean?"

"Something as pretty as the birds in spring."

"But, hang it all, I don't know what you think about mixed marriages, but I don't think there can be any happiness in them; and I don't think you'd ever get a Mazere to believe in that rot, at least I hope not--they must be degenerating if you could."

"I shouldn't let religion stand in the way of true love."

"There's a lot of love isn't true: and what would they live on? Is there anything in playing the piano?"

"Oh dear me, yes, for an artist of Nat's standing. That side of it is all right."

"What are his family, what is his breed?"

"Just the ordinary people in business, grocery, I believe; but genius ranks where it will. In London society, writers and musicians have no difficulty in marrying into the aristocracy, even though they may start as navvies or chorus-girls."

"What will the old folks say--how about Blanche?"

"I have the young people under my protection, and Blanche and I are like sisters. I think it is lovely."

"I thought you would be above such weak sentimentality."

"I think love and a husband of one's own the greatest thing in life."

"Greater than all this fame and fuss you enjoy?"

"Yes, sweeter. And the thing to make fame worth while."

"Blind it all, then, I needn't be so disgusted that I have only stuck here like a flaming old wombat in his hole while all the rest of you have been around the world, because I have had the greatest thing all the time, at that rate."

"You certainly have, in a happy marriage."

"There never could have been a woman better suited to me than my wife. Never once has she failed me in anything,"

"You certainly are a very lucky man, then, and should not stand in the way of similar happiness."

"The thing is, how can you tell? Look at Dick, came a cropper, didn't he?" Uncle Erik's sharp eyes had noted, and he was quizzing Mollye a little.

"Yes," said Mollye. "But he is free for a second chance now."

"Looks to me more as if he wants a nurse. He should marry a rich woman. He hasn't a stiver, he says."

"Plenty rich women would marry Dick if he'd let them--there it is again as I was telling you, he's a poet."

"Why don't you marry him yourself?"

"He doesn't seem to be thinking of marriage."

"You would be a funny woman, where you've been and all, if you couldn't make him think of it."

"I've never had any practice, been wedded to my art and working for it like a galley-slave. Suppose you give me a few hints. Do you think a woman could win a man?"

"Hang me, if I know. Some objects to scare the crows seem able to, and others who are attractive seem to try everything in thunder without success: but you can count on me if you want any help," he said with a twinkle in his eyes.

"I'm a Roman too, you know."

"But you're not bigoted, and the Brennans are almost Mazeres, the way they have been friends since the beginning. But you don't mean you have waited till now to fall in love?"

"Perhaps I've never had time till now."

"Satan-finds-some-mischief sort of business. You'll get over it as soon as you get hack into harness. That happened me once or twice, too."

Nat and Laleen did not reappear while the remainder of the party were with the sheep on the summit of the ridge. They led their horses in the shelter of the tea-tree, and escaped the other way through a boundary gate to the unfenced hinterland where Uncle Philip's Creek still wears a canopy of tree-ferns, and cascades from fastnesses where bronze-wing pigeons nest and eagles soar and wombats boldly burrow. Laleen led along a track outside the rabbit boundary till they returned to the cleared hillsides, and came hand in hand that sweet ride down to the homestead under its sheltering peaks in the bend of its two rivers. They reached the horse paddock where the rouseabout was chopping stringy-bark for fire-lighting, and where Uncle Erik used, till twenty years before, to set his possum snares. Rarely a possum was seen of late years, while sly reynard, the supplanter, leered behind him as he loped away across the ridges to the sunset with his powerful aroma and red brush behind him.

They reached home while the sun was still high above the ranges, and, letting their nags out, did not go down to the house, but lay upon the sweet new-mown hay in the shed and ate grapes and talked--they did not even need to talk. Laleen was deliriously happy in an intense nebula of emotion, while Nat was more comforted than he had been in months. He had a confidante for worry, which was on the way to conquering it, and the comforter was very sweet. Oh yes, if a man could have but one at a time, or one all the time, Nat was relieved to surrender to Laleen. She was young enough for the fatal day to be deferred a year or more perhaps--it was more the comfort of an engagement than the responsibility of a marriage that attracted him.

VI

Uncle Erik left the last fifty or sixty dressings and the count-out to the men and rode westward to see what rabbiters or tourists might be doing, and to count the cattle on the other side of the river. Down the hillsides where the mountain ash grew tall and stately and the black magpies chimed, kiskswisk into spring-heads where bull-frogs croaked, Uncle Erik led on his celebrated black, a horse that still was a horse despite his master's apostrophes. Reaching the river, he went down the bank nearly doubled into the swift stream, his colleagues behind him. Some of the riders were apprehensive of the angle, others breathless with the delight of being there again. Uncle Erik stopped amidstream and scooped up water in his folded hat to drink, more from pleasure than necessity. He always offered it thus to guests, and they frequently got it down the outside of the throat, but no one had ever tasted such water as glides around Coolooluk, singing the G Minor Ballade to the trees and hills.

Crack-crash, iron-shod hoofs on the boulders rang with a noise that would carry a mile on frosty nights, and had been a watch-dog to the watch-dogs up and down the river when the empty homes had been peopled. Practised beasts these, taking the racing current with high-lifted forelegs, picking a surefooted way over a perilous course, their long tails carried so swiftly from them as to seem they might be lost. The dogs went in at the horses' heels, battled gamely, and emerged far out of sight shaking themselves amid the bushes. No one noticed them but Freda and Dick, who contrasted their straining exertion with the idleness of the obese, torpid, pampered monstrosities whose trail disfigures London pavements.

Amateurs had been known to turn giddy in that racing current and fall off and need rescuing, but these had been ordered to keep their eyes straight ahead on the shrubberied wall of the bank. Uncle Erik had seen Judith pale at the first crossing, so he took her reins and ordered her to shut her eyes and hold the pommel.

Gleaming and dripping, the beasts gained the inner bank of soft dark riverside earth. Then up and out of the tea-brush where alien ornamental trees and the remnants of an orchard, with feasting grey magpies and parrots, marked another homestead of a generation ago. Great quince-trees hung out thousands of golden lanterns, long since safe from the sharp teeth of the bright-eyed possums that of old were wont to come o' nights for all good things, creeping in between roof and rafter, and when losing their way at daylight, to curl behind the big meat dishes on home-made dressers. Roses still bloomed amid the re-encroaching tea-tree, and a superseded poison cart lay rusting under magnificent weeping willow-trees. When Dick had last been there people were struggling to buy poison carts as they were motor cars today. Sulkies, also the pride of his boyhood years, now lay rusting as fowl-roosts. Superseded. Everything was superseded--only half-way through his forties, yet he too felt of an age only vestiges of which remained.

The cattle were taking their afternoon nap in the kangaroo grass under a couple of kurrajong-trees. "You go and count those cattle yourselves, and then I'll tot up and see what sort or jinneroos you make," commanded Erik Labosseer.

Judith, Irma, and Brenda rode off attended by Sir Oswald. Dick clung tenaciously to Freda. Uncle Erik took Mollye with him to turpentine a trough of salt on a farther ridge. Mollye discerned in him an ally.

"I expect Dick thinks you are too grand for him." He pursued an interesting subject. It would be fine to have Mollye in the family. Not only was she a wonder of the world, but she must have bags of money, and Uncle Erik liked her, he was hanged if he didn't, though his unplumbed sense of humour made him chuckle as he contemplated her in relation to the slender Dick. He was blamed if he himself could dandle her on his knee, but that would be Dick's problem.

"Nobody loves a big woman."

"There's no help in being too big. I know by myself. I have to pay more for a suit, and then the flaming tailors never can be got to make the extra size in the right spots, and I have my trousers about a foot below my waist, and my coat as if it was made for a camel with a hump; and I have always to give a tenner more for a horse to carry me, and soon won't be able to get one at all, with these blasted scrapin' gallopers they're breeding."

"And it's a double burden to a woman. Men at least command the admiration of women by being big, but a big woman is only an object of ridicule. I doubt if she is ever loved at all. She has to do all the loving herself."

"Well, I reckon there is as much pleasure in that as the other way about."

"Oh yes, I'm ready to do more than half the loving with all my friends," said the generous and warm-hearted Mollye, but one must have a little encouragement."

"Well, if you haven't learnt to take what you want, you're behind the times. The women do the proposing now, as far as I can make out."

"Do they really?" said Mollye, pondering as Uncle Erik rode back to approve the cattle count.

Under cover of the chatter and jokes surrounding this, Sir Oswald seized Freda's bit ring and led her away. "Give poor old Mollye a chance," he grinned. "Think of me; I do nothing else but think of you. I'm girth galled running after you. Why did you tell me you were engaged to Dick, when we were enjoying ourselves that night at dinner?"

"Perhaps we were enjoying ourselves too much."

"We are entitled to all the joy we can get. There is plenty of the other thing."

"Some things are forbidden."

"Good things are never forbidden. I thought you were more modern."

"Perhaps you are not discriminating between a modern and a wanton." She reached up for the leaves of the broad mountain apple. "This has not such a nice taste as the peppermint and stringy-bark, if my ancient memory holds," she remarked.

"I have not that point of view, believe me." They topped a ridge and saw Uncle Erik and his string of horsewomen entering the river lower down. Mollye was riding at the rear with Dick. Freda watched them make the passage, saw them climb the farther bank on gleaming dripping beasts with their tails compact with water and set off towards Uncle Philip's old homestead. Sir Oswald watched them go with satisfaction,

Dick separated from the party and went skimming up towards Ringers' Paddock. On the excuse of crows above what might be a disabled sheep, he had escaped for one last look from the crest where as a boy on frosty mornings he had hugged his horse for warmth. At nightfall he used to rein in and listen to the exciting skirl of the curlews always there, or look for the shape of the possums against the moon. Sometimes he had ridden home with a baby bear under his coat. They had all gone before the foxes--filthy importation. Only the wraiths of the little porcupines, native bears, and spotted cats came there now. At any rate he was glad he had known all these endearing little friends. Perhaps that was snobbery. He had met many cultured people who, when placed in woods, were blind and bored. Were they any less good citizens or farther from God than himself? Freda's idea of keeping this lovely elusive land unspoiled as the ward of the idealists of all nations till humanity was fit to inhabit it without war, poverty, and pestilence was a beautiful dream, but where was the faith to act on it? Man was so verminously fecund. The more advanced were curtailing the fecundity artificially, but there was no spiritual control over the motive power responsible. When would they come to that?

A man needed eternity to muse on infinity and had but a few moments chock-a-block with trivialities. That was his trouble. A transient could not achieve.

The song of the river, a sigh in the distance, filled his heart with peace. One last long look! Any day now might be the actual last. Then perhaps never again with earthly eyes and ears would this kingdom be his! Another last long lingering look, then perhaps never more could he have his fill of gazing there. Not that magnificent woman riding towards the homestead, wistful because of his absence, nor any other woman under the sun, but this beauty was the soul of him, his love, his first, his most exalted rapture.

VII

Sir Oswald and Freda had the world to themselves except for the baa-ing sheep that were drifting campwards with the lengthening shadows, and the cattle that were coming down to the swamp for the evening browse. They could see for miles down the singing river, winding between its shrubs. The rabbits popped up here and there, and through his aroma a fox published his passing away down the hollow.

"Why they need hounds to follow the scent of a fox in England I can never make out," observed Freda. "I could follow him myself at a hand gallop."

"No, believe me," continued Sir Oswald, not to be diverted, "I do not consider a woman a wanton who knows how to enjoy life."

"Humph!" thought Freda coolly. "Wonder what you would think after the deed, old boy? Better not risk finding out." She turned her horse towards the river.

"Don't hurry home yet. This is my only chance of a talk with you. The whole world, except in the highest ranks of society, is designed so that a man never has a talk alone with an interesting woman. Don't cold-shoulder me. Don't you like me?"

"Better than I ever expected to like--your sort of man." Sir Oswald grinned again. She was a real pippin. Her patronizing air of his not being of the intelligentsia was sauce piquante after the sirens who sidled up with dishes of flattery of the strong-man-soldier. "Little wretch! I'm not one inch farther with you than the first night I took you to dinner--I'm hanged if I'm as far."

"Just how far did you expect to be?"

"If my expectations were up to my desire, and if you are as modern as you seem--well, that's enough, for fear the rabbits might overhear and go and tell the bush telegraphs." Not only his words but his eyes and manner completely dropped guard. She stretched out a hand to him in its loose gauntlet. He slipped the glove off and raised her fingers to his lips.

"Even that is risky among people who can see for miles and notice every leaf that turns on the run."

They rode along the bank where a rabbiter had camped last year and had eaten water-melons whose progeny this season lay ripe in a little enclosure. Sir Oswald descended, and breaking one across a log, handed some of the pink centre to his companion.

"I'm in such a mess," she said, after some minutes, "that I'll have to wash." Sir Oswald half lifted her from the horse, and in the animal's shelter, kissed her. He paused as a man does for the invitation, often intangible, to proceed. Freda did not give it. But neither did she rebuff him. She said, with a touch of merriment, "It was a melon we ate, not an apple, Sir Oswald." He laughed heartily. "I love you for your sense of humour," she said, washing in the river and wiping on her handkerchief.

Sir Oswald placed himself between her and the stirrup. "Surely, Freda, you are too modern to be afraid of me--of anything."

She pulled the horse round a little. He put his arms tightly about her--the man of Mars unbuckled before Venus, passion in every fibre. Freda could have laughed ringingly so far was she from fear, so surely was the situation hers, but she was too much the artist to hurt him.

"Frightened!" Her voice was a caress that relieved the suffocating tension of his state. "Frightened of one of my own countrymen, who was reared in all this just as I was! Frightened! It is lovely of you to feel for me as you do." She was unstringing him as one woman in a thousand can unstring a man at Sir Oswald's temperature, without jar and leave him mellow.

She did not seek to escape his embrace. At her will it had eased. "Ossy-Possy, as Mollye calls you, it's not one of those desperate cases when the world is thrown away for love--is it?"

"By Gad, I'm not so sure. You are growing upon me till I don't like to think of being without you, and wives these days, at least the upper-class English ones, well, hang it all, they don't make the fuss of the one-man-one-woman variety of the back blocks."

"But I am not a wife," she reminded him with a touch of hauteur, eluding his relaxed grasp. Gaining her horse she turned her into the singing river, where the cormorants were sitting in the shade awaiting the fishes rising for the water-flies. A water goanna scuttled from them and disappeared; a blue kingfisher flashed his iridescence in a beam of the sinking sun.

"I beg your pardon."

"No need," she said sunnily. "But just let us consider it with our heads--instead of our feet," she flashed a smile at him. "Those upper-class English antics--only in certain sets--are not for me. They are not for you either, though I shall not be a bit squiffy if you imagine yourself socially and financially enormously above me, and imagine that being a man gives you a different footing; but we can't escape how we were reared."

He took the current in her wake. Gaining the opposite bank they were bowered in odorous tea-tree where an eyewitness would have been defeated at a yard, but the horses were snatching and stamping, so they followed where the tracks of the big black and the others lay fresh across the flats to the fruit-trees which Philip Mazere and Charlotte Poole his wife (aunt of Sir Oswald) had planted seventy years before, and where the furrows still lay evenly in an early wheat paddock. They ate of the delicious biblical fruit from a matted old tree beside the mill race, and talked of things that smoulder beneath the surface but rarely come to the lips. Sir Oswald adored clever women if they had wit in addition; he had a knack of listening to them and plucking a little mental plumage to wear in those sets where he would that he had been fitted to scintillate, instead of merely to work and pay.

They raced across the springy undulating paddocks, fetching up on Sheep Camp Ridge. "Ah, wait a bit," she cried, pressing every drop of delight from earth and air and sky and companionship of horse and man. "We shall never, never in this world have better horses, never a more wonderful course, and perhaps never again may we ride like this when the sun is setting down the Mungee and its song is a silver lullaby." The homestead lay below, the river a mile to the rear, its song at that distance become a sigh under the fleckless sunset horizon. They walked their horses slowly from the stringy-bark-trees and old Diamond's possum tree silhouetted on the nacreous glow, paling from turquoise to chrysoprase, and the kookaburras tossing their laughter from point to point as kookaburras do at Coolooluk.

Freda was in ecstatic, the Major-General in exalted, mood. "You are quite wrong about loss of respect," he said, persistent with what she had put out of court. "You would feel respect growing..."

"That's what I'd like to discover, only I can't have my cake and eat it."

"Oh yes, you can, that's the wonder of it. The cruse of oil is a better metaphore...and you are not game to find out."

"Oh yes I am, when opportunity offers." She broke into a canter. Sir Oswald followed. In his experience opportunity was largely the result of stratagems.

The party ahead had unsaddled, and were leading the horses to the race to wash their backs as Freda and Sir Oswald arrived. Everyone was busy, even Judith and Mollye, scooping up water with a tin can or anything handy. Such chores gave a visit to Coolooluk zestful novelty. Then two led all the horses to the paddock beyond the tennis-court between a lane of orchards, while some put up saddles, and some went with their host to see that the rabbiting-dogs had been fed and to train a sheep-dog against fear of the whip.

Then they straggled down to the house to dress. Never unless in case of distress or worse had the family omitted to dress for the evening meal at Coolooluk, though not in the uniforms of swallow-tails and décolleté. Uncle Erik donned dark dittos, where in Dick's young days he would have been in white duck or cream silk, but since then all adaptation to climate seemed to have been swept away in standardization, decreed in Europe and clamped on to the farthest end of the empire by centralizing propaganda.

The women were all orthodox, arid Dick compromised by an American tuxedo suit. Uncle Erik had satisfaction in his guests as they gathered on the veranda to await Sir Oswald's return from the hotel.


CHAPTER XVI

I

Mollye was unable to ride next morning. In local phrase, she was "eating her meals off a shelf", and Judith found herself so browned in spite of veils and creams that she decided to stay at home till sunset. Mollye noted with a pang that Dick went out this morning that she had to stay in. Nat shut himself in the school-house with some clean scores. All the women decided to stay in and go over the programme for the old-time celebrations.

Irma and Brenda were soon involved in telephone calls about properties which that afternoon were to take them all to Bool Bool in Mollye's big car. Judith, being at leisure, took writing materials down beside the Mungee to attend to neglected correspondence.

Sir Oswald appeared later. With the aid of binoculars he ascertained that the men had gone out on the run and that Freda was not with them. Stratagem as a synonym for opportunity was engaging him as he drove up with his big car well-primed in every respect. He had, he informed the family, to take a sudden run up to Monaro, and would like a mate. All were too busy or otherwise engaged to volunteer. "I'll skip around and show the Caves as a bribe. Come, I must have a mate of some sort."

Only Freda had not seen the Caves. Everyone urged her to go.

"You make her come, Aunt Mary, and I can kill two birds. We can talk immigration."

"If you can manage, do come back by Gyang Gyang and bring Bernice; things are ripe for her help now," said Brenda Brennan.

Half an hour later Freda was beside Sir Oswald skimming down towards Bookaledgeree, at which junction they would turn and take the road for the Caves. "Well, my lady! Did that rather neatly, didn't I? You talked of opportunity. Here it is!"

"Yes. I am very glad to see the Caves."

Sir Oswald laughed aloud. She could feel the life in him as in one of the colts of her childhood that only the skilled could back. He took a curve on a mountain cutting on two wheels. "I feel like a kid of twenty! That about Bernice puts the cap on. I found out last night everyone had been at the Caves but you."

It dawned on Freda that he had no business on Monaro but adventure with her. A recklessness to match his enlivened her. She was a born horsewoman and had found that men were like horses. There might be accidents in backing them, but if one were locked in a glass case a brick might fall on it. There was the chance of an outlawed brute, but the skilled equestrian was usually safe. Feminist though she never ceased to be, nevertheless ten years after the war and in her middle thirties she could afford to acknowledge that women deserved what they got--pluckable fowls!

She surreptitiously noted Sir Oswald's elation. How could men be such slaves to this thing! The other kind who were amply charged with virility yet controlled it, who were cold as well as hot, had the elements of fiends. Well, she had always meant to satisfy curiosity before too late, and Sir Oswald was a good sample as men go. The daughter of a viscount (only a war viscount, but enormously wealthy and able) had married him in spite of old-world snobbery. Women with wealth, youth, title, and position were not cold to him, she knew. Women, if they wanted a man, had to take what was available, what was salvaged from the war middens of Europe. Impractical to wait for an impeccable Adonis. Who was she, a wage-plug, to be so critical? Sir Oswald might do. She laughed as she looked at him sideways, and he saw her and hugged her joyously and chanted as they flew along.

Physically there must be a certain coarseness, she reflected, perhaps merely robustness. Was fastidiousness merely a form of preciosity? Did the lack of that broader streak indicate partial atrophy, seeing that birth and death themselves were ruthlessly wide of fastidiousness, and the act but for which birth could not be, necessarily lacking in urbanity? Fastidiousness in amour inclined to irritability, if not downright cruelty. Fastidiousness was no asset in life or death, and whether it was to become a desirable quality or be sloughed off as a neurotic tendency, no one would live long enough to ascertain. Avaunt fastidiousness!

II

While they flew along in the glorious summer day, Judith wrote to a friend:

Something thrillingly new has happened me. Yes, I am in love again, always a delectable and frugiferous state. I am completely enamoured of the Australian streams and shrubs and hospitality--everything in general. You will think this is camouflage for the announcement that I am about to "go bush" and become chatelaine of a big wool station. Last week I was up at a camp called Gyang Gyang, Monaro, which is the cold part of Australia, where, by the way, they have as much snow in some seasons as in the whole of England and Scotland together--surprise No. 1.

Surprise No. 2. Bernice Gaylord an artist was there. (My dear, you must look out for her things--she is going to have a show in the Leicester Galleries this year. She is doing my portrait--really wonderful.) The camp was just a hut among men with everything most primitive, something like boy scouts, but glorious for all that. I slept in a tent and rode about all day, even in the rain, in a great oilskin coat that covered me and saddle like a tent. I have never tasted such rainbow trout for breakfast nor such legs of mutton--a great fresh one on the table every night. You will never guess what we were doing. Dressing sheep for blowflies!!!! That sounds disgusting, I know, my dear--but other places, other circumstances, and it is just as natural to have gentlemen discussing blowflies here as it is to hear them talk horses or hounds in the Shires. My host was afraid the maggots would make me sick, but I reminded him of what I went through as a V.A.D. in Belgium, so he let me help him.

I couldn't describe the air of Gyang Gyang, or the little creeks--and the great wide plains all strewn with daisies. You can't imagine the sheep--jumbucks they call them, such a delightful new name. They crowd upon these wonderful places like the shingle on the shore at Budleigh-Salterton, and to see them pass on the march like a grey flood without a sound is something to remember always.

My host at Gyang Gyang was the Mr Labosseer I told you of. His father was a Dutch pioneer of good family, and they are not rich and vulgar at all--very simple people like squires or gentleman farmers at home--hospitable and friendly and charming. I loathed the would-be society people in Sydney and Melbourne. Oh, my dear, their grizzly teas and At Homes and their attempts to ape the English aristocracy, and not an idea in their heads but to get away to Europe. The mundivagant are always the roost obnoxious out of every nation. But the bush squattocracy are the real Australians who have never been out of the country and are unaffected and worth while. Of course one does not expect them to know anything of our interests; and their ideas are very old-fashioned, as is to be expected in these distant pioneer surroundings. I have to be careful not to shock them, but on their own level they are such interesting dears and so different from anyone else in the world.

This week I am with Mr and Mrs Erik Labosseer at the old family homestead called Coolooluk. Erik is a brother of the one at Gyang Gyang. This is a most unpretentious homestead, and Mr Labosseer is not rich at all, in fact quite poor. Everything is and ready. We even have to give a hand with the work, but the novelty of that adds to the fun. It is like being children again at a picnic. Everything is here in great profusion such as it takes hothouses and much money and organization and professional gardeners to procure at home, yet it is all done in an odd day now and again by some rouseabout, or by the gentlemen themselves. There is a stable full of horses and a saddle-room full of saddles, but no grooms. We unsaddle our horses ourselves and wash their backs in a race, really a river as big as the Hiz. I have even milked a cow. I am also learning to shoot, but it seems wanton to kill the lovely tits and wrens and honey-eaters of many varieties, though we must save some fruit for ourselves. 'Flaming cows,' my host calls them, and they are about the size of canaries. `Cow' is a fearsome epithet here, though I don't know what it denotes exactly, but they apply it most unexpectedly.

I wish you could have some of the nectarines and figs, and hear the turkeys gobble! We have great jugs (like small water-jugs) of cream on the table every meal--Devonshire cream, and they don't even know it is Devonshire cream! And the water-melons and rock-melons!! Never knew what they really could be like till we rode over to the melon patch here. (All got on horses and rode over!!! Picture to yourself getting on a horse to ride to an orchard, or garden, or to pen the calves! Isn't that playing at life?) You don't have a measly wilted slice such as we bought in London. Each one has a melon (larger than I can lift) and takes only the core. If one melon is not quite ripe we break up several till one is found of the correct exquisiteness. You will think I have reverted to the simple life with a vengeance, but it is refreshingly unusual.

You can see trout swim past while you ride through the creeks, and foxes are plentiful. Mr Labosseer's nephew the other day galloped after one and killed it with his stirrup-iron, and Mr Labosseer killed a snake with a surcingle. One comes to understand why the practical Australians are contemptuous of people dressing up as for a comic opera and having rules and regulations and flummery costing a fortune per week to hunt a miserable fox or two.

I met the Labosseers through Austra. She is simply Mollye Brennan here. I can better understand her in her own bailiwick. I withdraw what I said of her playing to the gallery. She is merely her hearty Australian self, and a mighty good self it is when one understands its background and makes allowances. I will describe the house party at Coolooluk. I wish I could take Mr L. home with me and set him down to talk as he does to me and to tell his quaint yarns with their salty-smoky tang. He would be a riot. His wife is just the motherly mid-Victorian middle-class housewife. The daughters are quite pretty and very kind and can do everything that a charwoman does, and cook and ride and sew and shoot and play tennis and golf--really it must be most arduous, but they are used to it.

Dick Mazere, a nephew, is by way of being a poet, has spent most of his life in U.S.A. and London--quite cosmopolitan. Poor old Austra is pursuing him, is as gaucho as a pantry-maid about him. I don't suppose people ever outgrow their early environment. Then there is Sir Oswald Mazere-Poole, the Australian M.P. in the H. of C., whose mother and Mr Labosseer's were sisters. His wife is a daughter of Lord Biggung. He is quite a gentleman in his way, but Australian. I told you he was too attentive to me on the Papeete coming across, but I was in no mood for a man of his style. He has consoled himself with a Miss Healey, another sort of cousin of the house. He has gone off with her today in a car. What the extent of his depredations I cannot judge, but the lady is able to take care of herself--quite a woman of the world, a publicist (as American free-lance journalists style themselves). Austra has engaged her. I should like her myself.

We are all working for the centenary of the funny little township of the district called Bool Bool. I am to be producer of the pageantry. A marvellous chance to see the "dinkum Aussies", as they term it, the genuine, unaffected people who stay in Australia. It appears that generations ago Emily Mazere, a beautiful daughter of the house, was drowned on the eve of her wedding in this very stream beside which I write. The circumstances of the incident have made a deep impression, perhaps because life here cannot be exciting in the grand way.

I wish I could find an Australian play that would picture all this to London. Something should emerge from the records we are collating. The old family stories are most fascinating to me, and would be to others if brought to their attention. I half make up my mind that instead of committing suicide when I ant old and ugly as I sometimes plan to do, I shall come here and start a native theatre. It could be an adventure. Such energy, such enthusiasm for doing things, such a wealth of properties, are forthcoming.

But there is always a drawback. The air here burns like fire and "plays hell with the Nordic hide", as the inimitable Miss Healey expresses it. I look no more than twenty-five among the Australian girls and am tempted to take a spin among these wonderful young squatters, only that I really am taking a holiday from amour. They make me wish I was young and rash enough to run away with one of them. At twenty the girls here look like our women of thirty, and at forty they are terrific. The necks are horrific, cut in deep diamond wrinkles--"like fried goanna", to quote Miss Healey again. All the faces have a cooked, weather-beaten look, and they are very alert and sharp-witted, so the combination makes a crowd of them look like a gathering of hard-faced punters. Lots of quite decent men have never worn gloves, and their hands look as if they are so cooked that they must hurt. I was puzzled to see infants in the arms of so many old women--thought them all grandmothers, but I now subtract ten or fifteen years compared with English girls. Some have wrinkles in their teens. Here they are all the same, but it must be detrimental to those exported. I am worried lest I shall be so dried-up that I shall look my real age. The younger Mr L. thinks I am not half that, I am sure, and he is as shy and engaging as a boy. We never grow beyond the pulse of amour, though we grow beyond attracting it, and what are we to do with the dreary end of our lives? The anti-feminists would say that we should have been mothers, but motherhood doesn't last long, and grown-up families are merely an advanced complication. Only a matter of weeks till I see you,

Jo.

III

Sir Oswald reached the Cave House in time for a snack and to join the afternoon inspection, during which Freda talked with the guide and never looked in her companion's direction. At sunset Sir Oswald intimated that he was ready for Gyang Gyang.

They roared up the hill from the wonderful spot amid the tall timber, up and up, and on and on, till they were on the open plains with a light twinkling miles ahead. That was Goonara. Rocks, culverts, and stunted snow gums flew past, the lights drew nearer, and the car was before the Crow's Nest, Bluestone Bellingham's ancient establishment. Sir Oswald had no qualms about ordering the old man about, and Bluestone, facing a man used to command, suppressed his subursine manner.

Sir Oswald's story was that he was on the way to Gyang Gyang with Mr Labosseer's niece, but was not sure of the track across the tussocks in the dark and would wait till morning. He ordered two bedrooms, food, and plenty of hot water. The rooms were waiting, clean and tidy--old Bluestone, with all his faults, had the reputation of cleanliness--and he brought refreshments while the water was heating.

At length the travellers were alone in a funny little sitting-room ornamented with everlasting daisies and out-of-date calendars, and with bedrooms opening therefrom in a wing of the old rookery, with all the other accommodation between them and the family quarters. Freda went for a stroll along the road while Sir Oswald talked to Bluestone. When she returned it was time to retire. On going to her room she found the dark automobile rug over the window and that the key taken from the door.

Whew! So he meant it! He had not been playing!

Here was a predicament, for she was too proud and fastidious, after all. It would be intolerable personal shame, and she did not want another woman's property, she who had kept many a husband on the rails.

What a vulgar situation! She did not want to surrender. She did not know how! She was as reluctant as a girl of eighteen, but at her time of life, and supposedly veneered in sophistication, she could not assume vestal airs.

She did not desire Sir Oswald, with his prominent eyes and teeth and fat neck and middle-aged spread. And the ugly little old pub! Ugh! Is this what was prized as the greatest adventure in life? It wasn't Sir Oswald's fault. Shy: had played the game as it is skirmished, and so had he, and this is what it came to, and now she was in a humiliating position. Not that she was afraid of Sir Oswald. She knew enough and to spare of the game outside the last ditch to be certain that she could return to Coolooluk as she had left it, as the Australian man of the right genre is compelled to take his sexual lickings with less noise and rancour than possibly any other man in the universe; but oh, Sir Oswald's absolute scorn of her! He could be contemptuous with justice.

Why, when Laleen's age, could she not have had sheer young love for some Nat; or now, at Mollye's, why could she not be lost in Dick; or why, like Judith in all probability, could she not accept Sir Oswald with satisfaction, or as a game of bridge, and be done with it? Why be fastidious and withholding? Why demand Arcadia and Pan, and be revolted by a fat husband in old Bluestone's sordid little inn? Fastidiousness must be a form of self-love, whereas only by utter forgetfulness of self could one find shrift in love, or even in amour.

She stood there vexed and foolish. Oh dear, would he be nasty! Perhaps he would be scorchingly obscene. He didn't look like a saint. She put on her hat and coat and collected her belongings. She would go to Sir Oswald and demand that he go on to Gyang Gyang. She would deserve everything he said or did, and accept it with apologies and fortitude.

She opened her door into the sitting-room. The other bedroom door was wide open and the lamp out. Sir Oswald was evidently in bed. She withdrew hurriedly. No, she couldn't make a noise for old Bluestone to report all around Monaro. She must wait till Sir Oswald came to her, or he would be in a position to ask her what she meant. Whew! How nearly she had doubled her foolishness!

She waited and waited. There was no sound anywhere outside the building or in. He wasn't coming at all, had merely been ragging her! She disrobed and got into bed.

She was puzzled. Now thoroughly relieved, she was inconsistently also a little annoyed--could it be disappointed?

She wondered, with a chuckle, how Judith would handle the situation, or had she ever known a similar? Were such experiences common? Quite probably. Tomorrow morning she would carry the jaunt off imperturbably.

She sat up the better to listen. The knob was being softly turned. He was there!

"Well, my pet!" Without further preliminary he took possession of the bed. Freda had slipped out as he came. "Where the deuce have you got to?" He pawed around good-naturedly, then lit the lamp and saw her crouched against the wall, appealing and dainty in her diaphanous night lingerie.

He put his hands on her shoulders and stooped to kiss her, found she was trembling, and saw terror and appeal in eyes accustomed to dance with fire of intelligence and humorous mischief. "Good God, Freda!" he whispered. "Weren't you expecting me? You don't mean to say--"

"Oh yes, of course I was expecting you, at first, and then I wasn't, and I didn't want...and I hoped you didn't mean...and--I, at least...oh!" she had her small fists in her mouth and her eyes wide like a child dreading a draught.

Sir Oswald had a robust sense of humour. Freda had always ranked this quality high, but after that night she considered no man or woman could be greatly human without it.

"As sure as I live, I believe you're a real old-fashioned good little girl, and were just playing possum with me, and are scared blue because I called your bluff." She merely nodded her head. He saw that she was too near tears for polemics. She would have given anything to break down in a good old cry, but was ashamed of her unsophistication. "Is that a fact? You know nothing about it! Tell me, little one, there's nothing to be afraid of in me."

"I'm not frightened," she quavered, which was true. In that knowledge her flirtatious experiments had confirmed her. It was her own foolishness that mortified her.

"And you don't want to find out?"

"I thought I did, but..."

"Now you don't...and why did you pick on me? Did you like me?"

"Must have," she admitted.

"Ten minutes, and you need not be frightened any more. You'd know as much as the high-fliers."

"Oh, please, Sir Oswald...

"Well! well! well!" he laughed under his breath so that walls should not hear. "This is the best I ever encountered, I give you my word."

Relief spread over her. "You are not angry?"

"Angry! I'm charmed. I never had anything like this. What other surprises are you prepared to spring, little Freda? To look at you, you'd think you could put it over Judith Laurillard, and yet you're an innocent little bush girl like I played with as a kid. That surely is nice to know. You thought you'd try it out with old Ossy-Possy, and then lost your nerve. By Gad, we must talk this over tomorrow. Get into bed now, and I'll tuck you up for safety." Freda slid into bed. She was not comfortable under his gaze in the transparent silk. It was a divinely warm night even on old Monaro. He put a sheet over her tenderly. "I feel as if I should give you a finger to hold till you go to sleep. Well, well! this is the greatest lark I ever knew."

No word of reproach that she had enjoyed the tune and dismissed the piper without pay. "Sir Oswald," she apologized, "...well, er...if I haven't been as demure as I should have been...well that is because our own dear Australian men--I suppose every woman in the world thinks her own man the best--let the female of their species tread about on them and they never whimper..."

"By Gad, I've enjoyed the trampling. Keep on stepping about as much as you like."

He went out shutting the door noiselessly, leaving Freda drenched in conflicting emotions. She despised the clinging vine woman as a hypocritical parasite, and felt declassed by the exposure of her own innocence and timidity. At the same time, such a rush of generosity towards Sir Oswald overcame her that she wanted to throw her arms about his neck and hug him with kisses and thanks of affection.

Not a gesture or intonation to jar, much though the dénouement had surprised him; and his good temper! No wonder he had risen in the army, and that his men acclaimed him. People's appearance did not reflect them truthfully. It gave, too, a sidelight on marriage. Perhaps it was not so objectionable as she had pictured on the divulgences of wives, and those women who throve in it as a way of livelihood had much on their side. To match Sir Oswald's gesture she would give him the Report. She was no bargain-driver.

Sir Oswald chuckled and hung on to army discipline. He had adhered to the spirit of Kitchener's circular rather than to Roberts's dispatches with reference to women, and any discipline, even military, if honestly applied, will take a man to heaven, or make a gentleman of him. He had a sense of full triumph which made him glow with delight and gratitude. He must see that plums fell into Freda's lap. By Gad, she had picked him--and then lost her nerve. Ha, ha! He must work up her courage another time...If Joyce ever made a fool of him...She couldn't make a fool of him if Freda was there. And to think that no man could look at her and know her his. To have her would be a sort of V.C. She could pluck the feathers out of Joyce's set when they got cocky...Ha, ha!...looking more "modern" than they and at the same time was no--to let a man down.

IV

He met her at breakfast with such a laugh in his eyes that she lowered hers and was shy as any old-time school miss. He attended to a flat tyre while she telephoned to Gyang Gyang, which made it all right with the eavesdropping Bluestone, and soon they were bumping off by Herringbone and Black Plain. The sun sparkled across the wide distances, the sheep ran before them, the magpies carolled on every side, and the cool Monaro winds were elixir.

Sir Oswald looked at Freda now and again and laughed. Good Lord! Who'd have thought it! He wondered too if Judith might pan out the same--hardly! Freda had a front which held its own with the most worldly, yet behind it was a little innocent girl! He would write out that cheque for five hundred as soon as he got to his cheque-book. No affair had ever made him feel such a conqueror, though several had cost him treble five hundred pounds.

"When you are ready for that last hurdle, I want you to promise to come to me."

"Such doubtful exploits are not for us. I should be ashamed if any gentleman with whom I had a friendship should ever be less a gentleman because of friendship with me. Drugged hours grow stale and poisonous. I shall keep the memory of you when I am old and my heart is cold, when even pleasures of the mind may flee from me."

"But I shall see you...you will feel differently..."

It was wonderful among many experiences that enervated to have one that would grow sweeter with memory and which need never end--had in fact hardly begun.


CHAPTER XVII

I

Preparations for the celebration were ready to burst, and the most lethargic recognized Bool Bool's centennial as a prize flower in its class. For days people had been arriving and would continue to arrive all through the festival. There were few homes without a guest, the hotels were swarming. Mollye had a suite at the Woolpack, Sir Oswald was at the Commercial, and Judith at M'Haffety's. All three held open house, and thus returned, and took their part in, the lavishly flowing hospitality.

The Sydney and other papers were professionally represented. What other town of a thousand or fifteen hundred inhabitants had produced a titled Major-General to lead the Allies to Versailles, and to sit in the Mother of Parliaments? How many other towns in all the world, whether modern metropolises or ancient boroughs, had produced one of the six great living voices of the world? Had Cooma, or Gundagai, or Tumut, or Queanbeyan, or Yass, or Cootamundra, or Wagga, or Tumbarumbah a poet to outdo Dick, who had also been prominent as a Secretary in the returned soldiers' leagues in London? Or a George Stanton who represented a big business firm in San Francisco? Where was there a place with a beauty like Laleen, with a celebrity, who was also an Adonis, like Nat Horan, to round-out the picture? It was news even in London and New York that Miss Judith Laurillard, one of the greatest English-speaking actresses of her class, was helping with the pageant and tableaux. She was revealing herself to every Australian mother or father who met her as the loveliest, most unselfish dear. She took up the role of producer in a manner worthy of the unaffected homage she was receiving. This was Mollye's beylic: it was a proud thing for a little bush town to mother one of the most famous of world citizens. Judith felt the drama in that, and was too generous, too much the artist, to intrude out of focus.

There were clouds of lesser celebrities. Richard Mazere (father of Dick the poet and of Laleen the beauty), son of Richard and his wife nee Amelia Stanton--originally of Nanda, about twenty miles from Bool Bool--was the oldest living grandson bearing the name, and thereby given prominence. He came up some days ahead accompanied by Freda's father. They were consulted because of their flair for pioneer lore, and much enjoyed the recess from desuetude. Erik Labosseer described them as "rooting all the old possums out of hollow logs, where they have been hidden from the foxes, and setting them to blink in the sunlight".

The old possum set in the centre of the limelight was Mrs Arthur Rankin (née Fannie Mazere), maternal aunt of Sir Oswald, the only member known to be living of the family which the original Mazeres of Three Rivers had borne in their day. Her brother Joseph had forsaken Bool Bool a generation ago. Advertisements inviting his presence at the centennial so far had had no response. Two other old possums were Jerry Riddall and Bill Parsons, who remembered the flood of 'fifty-two and the drowning of Emily Mazere a few years later.

Bill had been four at the time, and swore he remembered sitting on the roof of his parental hut till taken off by Melac-melac and Yan Yan, king and heir-apparent of the vanished Mungee aborigines. Jerry was a relic even more precious than Bill, being eighty-six and in possession of his wits. The hoary old destrier had done almost everything a man can to destroy himself, but had failed.

"What on earth do you want with an old object like that! He's never been any credit to the town. Nearly always drunk, and he's sure to get drunk now. What he wants is a good bath and the barnacles scraped off him," was Blanche's comment.

But Dick hovered about him with tender interest, and Mollye, accepting anything that linked her to Dick, petted the dirty old man and exalted him in the revels.

Laleen's beauty had no sooner showed on the dusty main street--Stanton Street--one Saturday afternoon, than a new interest fluttered the verandas of five pubs where some of the shearer-drovers and farmers--and squatters too--had regular stands against post or wall like bullocks against a scratching-tree. The veranda dawdlers, the swillers breasting the bars, discussing the season in the mountain country, declaring that the big tallies of blade days were made on old ewes with bare bellies and tufts which no man could afford to keep today heard that beauty had come among them. All male humanity tipped its glass more zestfully and stepped out to watch till Laleen passed by its pub again.

Tongues wagged. Who was she? One of the Mazeres! That was to be seen. She was the dead ring of Sylvia Mazere, who had married young Timson more than twenty years ago--a very brilliant match--and had died with her first baby. Old men took out their pipes as Laleen passed, hoping she would not die with her first baby, come the time. She was half-sister to Sylvia--that accounted for the resemblance; half-sister also of the poet Dick, looking, poor chap, as if he had one leg in the grave already--but a nice bloke all the same.

One of the most popular items on the programme was the selection of a Queen of the revels. Different factions nominated candidates, and each voter paid a shilling per vote, the proceeds to go to the hospital, which was in financial distress. The candidates had long been named, but the fickle male population plumped for the new beauty as soon as they saw her. Dad Mazere put his foot down. No family had more liberty than his. He would seem unaware of their goings-on, yet suddenly would jib on some moral principle. "There's never anything but ill-feeling out of these contests: and they do not decide which is the most popular girl, but only who has the most shillings spent on her." That it was for the good of the hospital moved him not at all. "Laleen does not want to come back here and make strife amongst her relatives," he said, and anchored.

This was attributed to Mazere pig-headedness and circumvented by the candidates themselves. The two prettiest girls in the district were Iris and Daphne Labosseer of Coolooluk. Not only was Iris at thirty-five still one of the prettiest, but without exception the most unselfish, with jealousy as far from her as hydrophobia. So many had enjoyed her tireless hospitality that in these voting affrays she always polled tremendously, while Daphne by her daring as horsewoman and chauffeuse was a true chip of the old block.

"Such a pity to miss all the shillings that would be voted for Laleen because she is new," said Brenda and Irma, who were both on the Hospital Committee.

It was Iris, with Dick's terror of limelight, and afraid that the lot might fall on her, who suggested making Laleen queen by acclamation at the last moment, while all the other candidates became her maids of honour. Dad Mazere could not object to that, and half a guinea or more could be charged for a dance with the queen.

Nat Horan came into prominence through the local band. He was enthusiastic about the talent in it, and remembered that he had begun in a band around Prahran. He collected promising pupils of the Brenda Brennan and Irma Mazereizerne Academy and formed an orchestra. He scored a study for the overture to his opera, on which they practised assiduously in secret. He speedily became popular, and was as interesting to the women as Laleen to the men. There was rivalry to attract his attention and triumph in securing him as a dancing partner or to play tennis or go motoring.

Dick wrote "The Little Town of Bool Bool", and Brenda Brennan set it to music. Prizes were offered by Mollye, Judith, and Sir Oswald for the best recitation of Dick's poem about the old clays, for best reproductions of old-time characters, and for sports events.

Mrs Healey (Dot) was a gifted amateur dressmaker, and was recruited with rapture by those preparing the costumes for the tableaux. Judith was enthusiastic about her. "Oh dear, to think how she is wasted! She could have been chief executant for Poiret or Réville!" she exclaimed. "What distresses me is the talent wasting here for want of standards by which to measure itself, and for lack of outlet."

Freda saw her mother appreciated as she had never been, and correspondingly good-tempered, and thought that here was the diagnosis of her savage self-centredness--rust--waste.

Blanche was equally well occupied in collecting all information of a defamatory character regarding the clans, in criticizing the actors, but as her hectoring was spread over so many, it became amusing. She created so many laughs that she believed herself a wit and considered Freda and Laken mendaciously jealous to accuse her of lacking a sense of humour. Philippa eagerly and unnecessarily ran herself to exhaustion for one and all.

Laleen walked as one who wears the fairies' talisman, waiting till her mother arrived so that Nat could speak to both parents at once. Her cheeks bloomed, her eyes shone, she was grace and beauty and youth, old-fashioned patents of royalty that never fail. It was also conceded that she was clever, and that meant she was modern too.

To Mollye it was blossom-time for the affections. On gala nights as queen of song she had received the bouquets of sophisticated cities, but the bouquet that she culled for herself now was native, sweet as mignonette and tea-tree and eucalyptus honey, sweet as dreams, and could be had nowhere else though the earth be girdled both ways. Bight in the centre of this bouquet was the blossom of love. It was a delicate flower for which she had hitherto lacked time, and now in the crest of her maturity she was as eager as any climber in pursuit of the edelweiss.

Dick walked as one with his eyes on a far horizon but delighting in every moment of old associations. As soon as this week was past he would retreat craftily and give his poem outlet. He must guard it as a secret, or to be thus occupied would be taken as evidence of muliebrity. It might take two or three years of devotion, what his family circle would call idleness, and attribute to ill-health. Then he must return to business to support it, poetry being an occupation for gentlemen--that kind of gentleman who puts and is ready to put more into life than he takes out of it. Only thus could his artistic soul be shriven. He had the peace of a spiritual problem solved, plus the relief of long-frustrated creative powers at last upon an open road. He had done his duty to Laleen, he had not neglected family affection, and now must be free; best of all, he was free from his marital blunder.

Freda was full of purpose and energy in collating data, and the presence of Sir Oswald with mulierosity in his eyes and laughter in his sound white teeth lent comradeship and fun. Mollye came often to her, anxious about Dick and how to win him. "Ah yes," Freda would muse, "to give all, breaking down all pride, all defence, to be humble, only thus can the soul find shrift in love or art."

Sir Oswald stepped about, really enjoying himself. There was Freda--who'd have thought it of Freda?--ha, ha! Also there was Judith to squire, who could make squiring such an entertainment, and left him with the feeling that he was quite a killer. Judith, as expressed in her letter, was having a novel holiday from amour. The good Bool Boolians were so rushed as hosts, organizers, and actors, that they were glad to snatch a few hours' sleep between midnight and dawn, and whether they had intrigues or amours or thrills did not openly transpire. They were not in the way of such experiences, and got on with their work, whether it was marriage or agriculture or hospitality, prosaically, as became them.

II

All was set. The great day dawned. Desecration of the Sabbath had ensured three ornamental arches. The Welcome Home one was set over the bridge, all snow-white in its new paint, and where a banner waved welcoming words to all. The arch was composed of sheaves of wheat and other cereals, with pumpkins, melons, maize, and such things as grew on the flats thereabouts in rich profusion. The second arch was in the middle of the main street, near the banks and chief public-houses and the general store still known as the Royal Drapery Mart, which had been rebuilt and the original Isaacs and Mazere replaced by other names. This was composed of wool and blue ribbon, and studded with the cups and medals won in the district. The third arch was set where Stanton Street becomes the main road to Coolooluk, and which was the bridle track upon which George Stanton and Isabel Mazere his wife, grandparents of George of polemical esprit, set out in the forties to reach their new homestead of slabs and stringy-bark. This was the pioneer arch, and was supported by stringy-bark posts covered with their friendly homespun. Here spread a canopy of tree ferns with fronds fourteen feet long which came from the creek that turned Philip Mazere's mill long ago.

Set about were pioneer properties, including a dray recovered from the indignity of a hen-roost. Here was a bark bumpy. In this, on behalf of the hospital, a number of ladies in bygone fashions of different decades served tea and cakes. Here also Dick's little book of poems went faster than the cakes--a thousand copies in one day. The publisher graciously gave a penny per copy to the Hospital, and the town folks thought they were also putting money in Dick's pocket, but the notoriety without anything to support it was merely an increased burden and an irritant.

The day was gloriously fine and warm, for which everyone thanked God seeing the number of aged starred in the operations. A cavalcade of citizens, in this community where horses are still indispensable, escorted the distinguished visitors to the centre of the town, to sit in affectionate reunion on an open platform, symbolically decorated. Here were the president of the shire and as many councillors as could be spared from their double roles. Right in the centre was Mrs Arthur Rankin (née Fannie Mazere). Beside her none of the sisters, brothers, lovers, nor husband of her youth, but only poor old Jerry Riddall, the drover, and bleary-eyed Bill Parsons, who away back in the flood of 'fifty-two had sat on the roof of the parental hut while little Fannie had been asleep in her crib at Three Rivers. This had been the big house of the neighbourhood whose denizens were far above Jerry and Bill, who when they appeared there had been fed in the kitchen. But Time, the great Democrat, makes rubbish of most human pretensions, and here the three old people sat blinking together in the sunlight, given equal honour for their age. Very sweet was the old lady, according Jerry first place because he was the elder.

Sir Oswald had left Bool Bool on Friday to fetch congratulations to the town from the vice-regalities and the Prime Minister and the Premier. He was to arrive by aeroplane with one of the members of the Federal Cabinet, whose mother had been born in Bool Bool. In the midst of the presentation of illuminated addresses and bouquets to old hands and distinguished visitors, the mechanical bird appeared above the range where Brennan's Gap lets the Wamgambril through to the Yarrabongo, and where never anything bigger than an eagle had till that day winged its way. It had an escort of three, and loud were the cheers when some expert averred that in one was the hero who had recently set up a record from London to Sydney.

The planes sought a landing in an open field beyond the railway station, whence motor cars brought them to the platform.

After this came the pioneer procession. In the forefront was Mrs Mazere of Three Rivers--Great-grandma of the district, who had gone to her rest in the middle of the nineties. She had travelled with Timothy Brennan and his good Maria of The Gap, great-grandparents of Austra, in drays, all the way from Parramatta, and as in days of old these new arrivals were to be welcomed by Mr and Mrs Saunders and Mr and Mrs Stanton, the two families who had preceded them, and by a number of aborigines.

The actors awaited their cue in a lane across the river, and came punctually upon the bridge. Sylvester Labosseer had gone to no end of trouble for this. There were a pair of two-wheeled drays tilted, each drawn by eighteen bullocks which had travelled from Monaro for the event, bullocks being almost a thing of the past. These belonged to some old-fashioned natives up where the Eucumbene dashes down to meet the Snowy. They and their owners were friends of Sylvester Labosseer, having rescued fifteen thousand head of his sheep from the snow on Wild Horse Plain not more than two years since. One of the drivers was dressed as a convict and his mate as Timothy Brennan. Cheers and laughter and some tears, among the ageing, for their era passed away greeted the procession as it toiled up the main street. In the drays were children; a great-aunt of Mollye had been born on the road. Iris Mazere of Coolooluk impersonated her great-grandmother, she being small and pretty and curly-headed like her progenitress. One of Mollye's nieces, tall and splendid, acted Maria, or Mother Brennan of The Gap, as she had been affectionately known in her old days.

To the click of cameras the drays, packhorses, and other units of the show wound through the town to the Common, where awaiting the new arrivals were the pioneers and aborigines previously named. The latter were the remnants of the Mungee and Upper Murrumbidgee tribes released from the Bulgoa camp for this event. All the actors had been coached by Judith, Freda, Nat, or Mollye on information collected from the old hands, and the aborigines walked up and felt the curls of the newcomers and compared them with the white ladies already in their midst.

Here were stringy-bark gunyahs, and Mr and Mrs Saunders and Mr and Mrs Stanton, supported by the present-day members of the families, invited the assembled multitude to an old-time picnic. This was the midday meal of the first day of the celebrations.

The teamsters were the men of the hour, and with their teams cut figure-eights between trees. There were speeches here too and informal tales of old days; heart-breaking talcs of bullocks' hardships in pioneering were swapped by the real old hands--"the few remaining bushwhackers fished out of hollow logs after lying dormant for a generation," as Uncle Erik put it. In the march of time the bushwhackers had become esteemed old pioneers--what was left of them--and Australians were Aussies, and Tasmanians were Tassies, and Kosciusko Kossy, and Maneroo had become Monaro, and Wagga had dropped its repetition, and countless other mutations and curtailments were established.

The reunion had melancholy for the old and ageing, but for the young it bristled with opportunities for words and glances and riper manifestations of the electric current which bears life along.

While the teamsters had been performing, the Committee on Queens counted the votes, and Iris was overwhelmingly first and Daphne second, and thus in a firm position in making Laleen Queen.

Judith, by reason of her resources and knowledge, had supplied splendid costumes for the whole court, and they appeared on the platform outside the Town Hall. There was a thé dansant in Brennan's Hall--a gift from Mollye's father to the town in memory of his sons killed at Gallipoli--lasting till ten, where everyone could dance with the Queen for a pound, and with the ladies-in-waiting for five shillings, the proceeds to go to the Hospital. A young people's ramp. The old hands gave their patronage only as far as the entry of the Queen.

As Laleen passed to her throne, old Jerry Riddall, sitting near the steps, stood up trembling with excitement and cried, "Miss Emily!" and fell a-weeping, he was so old. Great-aunt Fannie, weeping too, said Laleen was the image of her beautiful grown-up sister whose drowning in the singing Mungee she remembered. Aunt Fannie had been ten at the time, whereas old Jerry had been fifteen, and in his wild, lonely adolescence had worshipped Emily Mazere as the scullion may worship the princess, and every lineament had been indelibly impressed upon his memory for ever. His word went.

As the day had been so full, and those coming were to be equally so, the young folks were persuaded to discontinue their revels early and give time for walking and talking about the streets and in the hotels, where the distinguished guests held open house.

It was known to all that old Jerry had wept, he was so startled by Laleen's likeness to Emily, whose romance and tragedy still gave dignity to the town. "I'd hate to be thought so like Emily," said Daphne, who was superstitious. "I'd be afraid something would happen me too. Emily never got her lover."

"Perhaps Laleen will never have hers," said Iris.

What the dashing Daphne said, others thought, and it reached the ears of Laleen. It was clouding her as she walked with Nat, down by the bridge to examine the Welcoming Arch, that courtier appropriately carrying her robe of office while she managed her train.

"They're all talking about me being like Emily Mazere and Sylvia, and hoping nothing will happen me. I must be careful not to drop off the bridge--poor Emily! They wanted me to wear her dress for the ball, but I wasn't game for that, so Mollye got me another like it. It is to be a surprise."

"We had better keep our engagement secret, or that would make them talk more. Let's not tell anyone till all this is over."

"Would you like it better that way?" said Laleen a little wistfully. She had hoped to wear that announcement like the crown she had taken from her head and was carrying on her arm.

"It will cut out a lot of this superstitious talk," said Nat, relieved to have a few more days of freedom.

III

Next day the annual races took place. There were few entries, so the day was also marked by the schools display and a reception to old Mrs Rankin. Bevies of the clan supported her, and when the callers became a throng she sat on the veranda like royalty on the wall of Delhi, and the reception walked past saluting and cheering till she broke into sobs and was taken inside to rest.

The evening was filled with a theatrical presentation. The title Of the piece was all that was autochthonous, Australian mentality not yet being seized with the idea that precedes artistic flowering. But the modern motor car mobilized people from far corners, where in pioneer days they remained in lifelong isolation, and one of the commodious tent theatres used up the country--holding more than a thousand--was a fine place to eat chocolates and hold hands, and laughter was loud at jokes in circulation long before the flood of 'fifty-two. They had a chestnut flavour to obscure more obscene content, and were therefore appropriate at an old-timers' gathering: what jokes are not, from the point of mouldiness at least?

Wednesday and Thursday the Agricultural Show was held, the first day being shared with a continuation of school and scout displays, and that evening being free from public events so that old hands could visit informally. In many a nook could be heard the story of who married Olive or Ida or Rose or Flora or Ronald or James, and which had the better grain for splitting, stringy-bark or yellow-box, and other subjects fitted to the district and occasion. Bernice (the artist wife of Peter Poole) and Judith were busy with their corps of workers on dresses and decorations, and Uncle Sylvester roamed thereabout resourceful and entertained. All committees were busy arranging remaining entertainments, and Nat was having a full rehearsal away down at the Agricultural Hall. This left Laleen available for Les Olliver, who had that afternoon arrived with Aubrey and Mrs Mazere, whom he was delighted to have as passengers from Goulburn onward.

Dick attached himself firmly to Sir Oswald, and as they both prowled in search of Freda, and as she wished to escape them, she kept a good deal to her bedroom adjacent to Mollye's. Mollye roamed in there to express her uppermost thoughts.

"Dick never in this world will care for me," she said, half in despondence, more in hope of contradiction. "Tell me the truth, Freda. You are so clever, you always have everything summed up."

"Yes, and all my summings-up are as dependable as the weather reports," said Freda, sparring against what was descending upon her.

"Freda, tell me how to win him. What does a little woman say or do? How do you act that men are prone before you whether you want them or not? I've noticed Ossy-Possy--poor dear! you could do what you like with him."

"I think men are perverse brutes--almost abnormal in craving what is barred. Had I been a post-war woman who could give herself with the same shamelessness or inconsequence as men have always been privileged to do, Sir Oswald would by now be ready for fresh pursuits. I never start that sort of thing nor expect it, and I think men are piqued by my indifference and begin out of curiosity."

"Yet indifference would never bring Dick to me."

"If he felt safe with you."

"Tell me, Freda!"

"Well, be careful not to steam-roller him, even with your great loving-kindness. He is a shy rare plant, like our own native darlings that resist luxury and any sort of meddling; but let them alone, and they come and live with us hardily."

"But then he would just not notice me at all," said Mollye, the tears welling up from her kind, emotional heart and running down her cheeks.

"Well, dear," said Freda, much touched, and thinking that the rigours of her own mother's attitude had at least given her fortitude in doing without affection and in dissimulating any longing for it, "let him know that he would be quite free, that you would not be possessive and devouring. The dear creature is so frail, I tremble to look at him..."

Mollye broke into alarmed sobs. "I see that, and I'd give my very life to cherish him and keep him in cottonwool."

"Remember my parable of our native flora. That is all the help I can give you."

"They are all buzzing that Laleen is Emily Mazere come back, and trembling lest some tragedy will overtake her; and they look at me and say 'Mary Brennan', my great-aunt who took the veil because she was disappointed in love. I feel as if I could take the veil too, if Dick will never look at me."

"Oh, Mollye! It must be wonderful to be submerged in love like that...like rain after a long drought." She mused on the paradox that the only love folks can have is what they give; what is bestowed belongs to the donor for ever. Love received may be an asset or liability, but by the giving of love is the soul fertilized. And her own (Freda's) love, if temperament and circumstances precluded its giving to an individual, must be given to the nurture of her intellectual and spiritual endowments--immolatingly. All the jazz bands and radios and modern laxity, though they may change manners and fashions, leave that spiritual truth undisturbed.

Sir Oswald caught her as she ran between hotels on an errand. "Hi!" he whispered, bending so close to her ear that it was a kiss. "When shall we have another night! I'm willing for it be just the same!" His complete absorption could not be mistaken, and Daphne thoughtlessly reported in the Wool-pack workroom.

"I believe Cousin Oswald is just as squashed on Freda as if he wasn't married at all."

"The silly old married ones are far the worst!"

"Did you see Laleen with her new beau?"

"It's no new beau," said Dot Healey rather tartly. "Les Oliver is a most worthy young man, and Laleen may be glad of him yet."

"Oh, but the difference in looks! No one would think twice between Mr Horan and him."

"Looks soon fade," said Blanche.

"Everything else fades just the same, and one might as well marry for looks as for lack of them."

Later Mrs Mazere awaited Laleen's confidences. They contained no word of Nat, though she chattered so gaily that Dad exclaimed, "Get to bed! Get to bed!" at regular intervals. Her mother decided to say a word to Nat.

IV

It was the second day of the Bool Bool Show.

These Shows were not what they used to be, but one had a fitting place in pioneer celebrations where Philip Mazere the first and the second had begun them in the barns at Three Rivers. The affair was still a rally, and there were many fresh arrivals in readiness for the second day.

In the heyday of herself and the Shows, Freda's mother, as Dot Saunders, had been wont to carry off all prizes for best lady rider, best ladies' hunter, best-dressed lady rider, and so on. She had not attended a Bool Bool Show since the nineties, and she sat with Uncle Erik and looked at the miserable little ring and wondered bitterly why it had seemed so wonderful of old. Her daughter might have formulated it for her. Life, like a work of art, is a collaboration: when one's collaborators are scattered, old, or gone, one is stranded. Life has lost its interest.

"This is foolish," she remarked. "The Shows depended on the ring events, and the chief of those were the horses. Now that horses are gone they should do away with the Shows--do away with all us old fogies that nobody cares about, too."

"Yes. We ought to be ashamed to let the visitors see such a turn-out," agreed Uncle Erik, but his voice had a humorous inflection, while Mrs Healey's was carping. "Two old bulls--the same two which have been here for ten years, and which ought to have been brought in on a lorry, to save the poor old chaps exertion. One old mare, whose mane ought to have been transplanted to her throat, she is so ewe-necked; four mangy sheep, some moth-eaten chooks, and one rather decent pig--that's the Bool Bool Show as I see it in the Centennial year. Enough to break any real man's heart!"

"The last year I was here, old Great-grandma Mazere was still winning prizes for her honey and scones; and Diamond the Black-fellow and Teddy O'Mara got drunk--all the old hands are slaughtered. It's a terrible thing to come back," said Larry Healey wistfully, and thinking that the year in question he and Dot had each ridden many horses. He had been young, and his hunter, the bold Abracadabra, whom only a champion rider could handle. The terrible scar on his thin temple had been left by Abracadabra's shoe in circumstances which he had never fully confessed. Only one other still living actually knew. She (not Dot) had been a jolly girl the year in question, racing her pony at the full jumps. Larry later had wanted her madly, but she had turned from him to Bert Poole, though Bert had been nearly sixty. Poole had been a great hero in his young days, and wore well to the end, but the end had come. Poole was only a legend now; someone rigged-up to look like him would dance at the ball, but that wouldn't matter much. Well he, Larry, was still alive sitting at the Show and thinking of Milly Saunders, Poole's young wife. She would be over fifty now, and it did not matter. He did not seem to remember her very clearly. She was scarcely mentioned. She was away in Melbourne attending her daughter through some operation, Larry had heard them say. He did not care to ask. The women were always having operations. They seemed to enjoy them. He was faintly relieved that his old love was not to be present. His story, never entirely public, was forgotten long ago. There was no one at all to be interested in it now. He was no longer interested himself. Life was no great crack when a man had to shrivel into an old monkey before his time with ill-health. Yet he had been decidedly handsomer, much more of a man, than any of these young pups spreading themselves about with such consequence. Well, they would come to it too!

"That was the year they put their hats on full of milk," Erik Labosseer was continuing of Diamond and Teddy O'Mara, "and the other two old fellows had a fight about their wheat. By George, there was some fun then! I don't know what the world is coming to now. The young people ought to have a few clutches of eggs set under 'em."

"It would take a little dynamite to limber them up," said Dot. "People still come here to meet each other, I suppose.

"That reminds me, Dot, Aileen Stanton has been looking for you everywhere."

"I saw her just now," said Larry, her half-brother, who felt like a stranger. "Dear me, old Jack Stanton brought her to the Show after his honeymoon, the year you are speaking about, and everyone was agog about her being a beauty, and she looks so awful I wouldn't know her now--no more a beauty than old Mrs M'Haffety who used to be at the pub."

"The short skirts make her look funny," contributed Uncle Erik. "Women comflummoxed us with all the rag they used to hang round them."

"Aileen always was as bandy as a duck," said her relentless sister-in-law. Both women when young had desired the same man. Neither had had her desire. It did not matter now.

Larry Healey fell to musing again of the young beauty of those days, not his wife, and on the fleeting futility of life that was quickly effacing the mistakes as well as the glories, the beauties as well as the duds. Dot, his wife, also thought of another man of those days, not Larry, and her thoughts lent asperity to her tongue. "Just look at those women coming in now astride! Look at the hats! No pretence of being riding hats; and that creature with the old knitted jumper hanging around her, as if she were going to the milking yard! I used to have a real habit that fitted, and a tall hat."

"And no brassiere underneath," whispered Blanche, aside. "Shocking! If they don't wear stays any more they might at least be decent. There's no modesty or any thought for others or anything like that left these days."

Iris and Daphne Labosseer, neatly dressed in breeches, white shirts, top boots, and small hats, were now entering on the two mares on which Freda and Sir Oswald had had their delightful farewell ride together. "I wouldn't have made dingo baits of their horses thirty years ago," remarked the riders' father, "but they'll take every prize today--must! There is nothing else in the ring."

The onlookers were that moment to be relieved of witnessing the awful decline in horse-flesh by a tremendous thunder-shower such as could spill upon Bool Bool in half an hour, leaving roaring torrents where a foot of dust had lately lain. Everyone took refuge in the refreshment tents, the Hall, or elsewhere. When the rain ceased people came out for the trotting and buck-jumping contests, which again excited the derision of the old hands.

The trotters were sorry little weeds that flew around in the swamp, which the ring had become, churning it to liquid mud and covering their riders and themselves like water buffaloes. The buck-jumpers were dejected nags that had to be goaded. One fell fiat on his side and was nearly covered, rider and all, exciting howls of glee. Another horse made a few leaps, and the mud giving way, he fell wallowing. The pluck of the riders to try in such circumstances indicated they had some of the spirit of the old pioneer onlookers. Then the rain took a hand again and people were driven to shelter. Some were happily placed. Judith Laurillard was sitting in her big covered car with Uncle Sylvester and Bernice Gaylord and Peter Poole, and they talked graciously of art and wool. Mollye Brennan was in her car, with her father beside her in front, and Dick and Freda in the back. Old Mr Brennan went sound asleep as soon as the rain started, and Mollye put a cushion behind his head and a rug around him while Freda gracefully departed. She climbed in beside Sir Oswald, who had just reached his own car and buttoned his curtains.

"Are the men of Bool Bool such mutton that you are seeking shelter at this late hour...giving Mollye a chance, eh?"

"A pity that sort of thing so rarely comes right. Nat and Laleen, I suppose, are the most blissful."

"It won't last."

"Then why such gulosity for a temporary appetite?"

"You've got to seize everything as it comes along in this world, especially with love. Never mind if it's not complete or perfect, it's got to be eaten fresh. No good in hoarding it--it goes stale."'

"I expect you're right," she said, and meant it. The warmth of the hearty and materially minded was a comfort in an illusive world.

Mollye stretched out a generous hand to Dick in the back seat. "Ah, Dick, isn't it wonderful to be here again? The last time many of us were in Bool Bool together was at old Mrs Mazere's funeral, when dear old Granddaddy nursed me on his knee, and I was already a prima-donna and insisted upon everyone kissing me. Look at clear old Dad. He's frail for his years. All the dear old people break my heart. They remind me of a last little bit of snow up about Goonara in the summer just waiting for the sun to melt it."

"Yes. We must think of the next phase. This is so fleeting." Old Mr Brennan let out the daddy of a snore. "You have achieved a lot since then."

"I haven't changed inside a bit, Dicky. I may seem like a mountain, but I'm still the little red-headed girl crying for kisses I can't have."

Dick was uneasy. There were six inches of water surging under the car, and the trees were spraying great drops. "Don't you think we should move the car out of this?" he suggested.

"So long as we stay still we'll be quite dry."

Where was someone to interrupt them? Why had Freda deserted him? If ever he had Freda to himself for a moment someone surely intruded. Why couldn't someone interrupt now?

"Dick, what are you going to do with your life? Won't you help me?"

Oh Lord, have mercy! thought Dick. Mollye was so good, so noble, so generous in every way, but...He stood up under pretence of seeing if there was any break in the clouds, and knocked off his hat so that it fell on Mr Brennan, who opened his eyes with a jerk. "I'm so sorry," said Dick in a loud tone. "I've spoiled your nice little nap."

"I wasn't asleep," insisted the old man. "I only had my eyes closed. We'll have the flood of 'fifty-two if this keeps on."

Nat and Laleen had fled to the sheep pens. The stock sheds were most popular, and many a couple there did not mind how long the downpour continued. The young people's bliss was invaded by Brenda Brennan from the adjacent fowl-houses. She fell into earnest confabulation with Nat about an original musical number on the big concert programme. So far music had always come before love with Nat. He dropped down beside Miss Brennan from the top rail, immediately absorbed. Needing a pencil, they set off under Brenda's umbrella to the Hall, with a perfunctory "Excuse me" to Laleen.

She looked wistfully after the retreating couple while Bob James stepped up from the pig pens and took a place beside her. Les Olliver and Aubrey Mazere were marooned in the grandstand at the other side of the grounds with Iris and Daphne. Les was doing his best to substitute Daphne for Laken, which would not have been impossible if Daphne had not had so many other admirers.

"Well, little Queen, have you got any dances for me tomorrow night?" said Bob, so effusively that Laleen was suspicious. He did not smell of alcohol, and Laleen had keen and experienced nostrils. The intoxication affecting Bob was the result of youth and beauty on middle-age when featured as Queen of the revels. Bob did not believe that Nat was serious. Laleen was merely the girl of the hour with him. Bob had been concerned with his own emotions to the exclusion of symptoms betrayed by the other person involved. Laleen was astonished by what followed, as she had always designed him for Blanche, though of late had to confess that he was seeling in Freda's direction. He got up on the rail where Laleen was alone, other men having decamped in Nat's favour.

"Well, my pretty, got anything to say to me?"

"Very wet, isn't it? Where is Blanche?"

"Forget whether I saw her today." He nearly toppled backwards. Laleen saved him. He kept her hand. He squeezed it and kissed it. "I'd like to keep that little hand for my own, always." Laleen was puzzled, and looked it. "Don't you like me a little, Laleen?"

"Yes, of course. I've been looking forward to you as a brother-in-law this long time."

"A brother-in-law!!!"

"You'd make quite a good one. I'll be bridesmaid any time." Bob's turn to be surprised. "What do you mean?"

"Oh, I just mean...I thought..."

"Well, what I thought this last year, is what a lovely little wife you'd make, and I want to know have I any chance?"

"Any chance of what?"

"With you?"

"You are just poking fun at me. I'll tell you a secret; I'm engaged to Mr Horan."

"To that piano-playing theatrical chap!"

"He's a celebrated man. You ask all the reporters. Mollye thinks a lot of him."

"She thinks a lot more of Dick. Laleen, I've been waiting for you to grow up this last year. You don't mean it's too late?"

"Why should you wait for me to grow up, when there have been dozens and dozens who grew up at the same time as yourself?"

"None as nice as you. You don't really think a theatrical chap could be serious? That sort get married one day and there is a scandal and a divorce the next! Anyone with half an eye can see he doesn't care as much as I do, and you are meant to be a nice little wife and settle clown in a home of your own, not to be dragged around the world in a circus. All your people have been wonderful home women since the start of the country, and real good Aussies. You couldn't stand that hand-to-mouth existence in some foreign hole."

"That shows you don't know the singlest thing about me. I don't want to be a dear little wife at all. I want to be a writer. I am sick to death of good housekeeping. It is nearly time the Mazere family produced something but a charwoman. Other families, not nearly so pioneer and conceited and aristocratic as we are, have writers and dancers and actresses in them. The Brennans have lived at The Gap since the Mazeres were at Three Rivers, but they have Mollye, and there's Freda for the Healeys."

"They will never be as happy as you could be if you settled down. There is no good in talking, you can't change human nature. Women never will be the same as men, no matter how much they try or how many votes they have; they all want a husband and to settle down."

"Well, I'm going to have a husband, and I don't want to settle down. I'm sick to death of being settled down, that's why Mr Horan is the man of my dreams. He is going to take me all around the world. I'd rather be drowned in the Mungee now, like Emily Mazere, than settle down to housekeeping and become like Blanche and Philippa," said Laleen, with the passionate emphasis of her nineteenth year.

"You are just trying to be funny. If you married and had a nice little home of your own with everything in it--"

"I know--one of those that Freda despises. Full of doilies and expensive hats, and a drawing-room suite, and jazz records, and a lot of glass and silver, and not a picture or book above the taste of a scullery-maid. Sydney is putrid with that kind of home. Of course I'd like pretty things and lovely rooms, but if that is all I could have, and if I had to put up with a hen of a man who thinks it is womanly always to be Christmas cleaning, I shouldn't wait for a divorce; I'd poison the man and myself, and chance the consequences."

"Freda doesn't talk like that when she is with me. She agrees with me that women never can be the same as men."

"What woman in her senses would want to be like a silly old man, with whiskers all over his face that have to be scraped off every minute, and who has to be dressed up in clothes that would kill a policeman! Neither can men be like women, no matter how much they try. They couldn't have a baby in a thousand years, no matter how many brains they have; not even Shakespeare could have done that, with all the masculine boasting about him not being a woman."

Bob flushed at this modern mention of babies, but being charged with virility and pugnacity, was now committed to the argument, no matter how footling. "Well, if you want to talk about babies, it is no place to have babies tearing around the world."

"Didn't Mollye's great-grandmother have a baby under a dray! And you ought to read the papers. I saw where a woman the other day had a baby in a cab, and they have them on steamers, and I might start the fashion to have one in an aeroplane if the notion took me." That will shock him, thought Laleen vengefully, having given up hope of Nat's return. Then mischief entered her. "Of course Freda wouldn't talk like that because she is in love with you, and pretends to agree with you."

"Freda! I wish you meant it."

"Well, Dick likes her, and Cousin Oswald is just dippy about her, yet she never pretends to agree with them, so why should she with you, unless she wants you to like her?"

This was pleasant to Bob. For the last six months he had simmered between Laleen and Freda. All his life he had fastened his affections on a succession of girls, but put off the ordeal of proposing, to find in the end they were appropriated by others. When Laleen had been in half-socks and ringlets, he had been interested to call on Blanche and Philippa, knowing the old family connections. That interest had evaporated, though his visits continued, and lie was accredited to Blanche. Laleen had prayed furiously sometimes that he might marry Blanche. She now knew that men will marry the most unlikely specimens, but that there is one virtuous, capable, often aristocratic, kind of woman from whom they shy, and of this kind was Blanche. What is it that makes men pass by on the other side, though they speak highly of this kind of woman's character, and usually she is quite good-looking?

"Freda would like to settle down because she is tired of roaming the world," proceeded Laleen naughtily, watching Bob closely. "I might be tired after I have seen the world, but I shall never be contented till I do."

The rain had lifted, but all the hollows were lagoons, and mud abounded. None of the tents had been quite rainproof, and food and entertainments were a sorry spectacle. The Hall was as muddy as a road. Any further ring events were literally a wash-out. People were speeding home, thankful for rest and time to prepare for the evening. Duckboards were inadequate to make safe passage for women in summer slippers. The men had fun lifting the girls across some of the rough places. Les Olliver carried Daphne, and Aubrey carried Iris.

Mollye wistfully watched the men toss up their feminine burdens. She could never he extended that form of caress unless by some giant. Certainly Dick could not lift her though he was within half an inch of six feet tall. She would willingly have carried him, but some things are by convention rendered absurd.


CHAPTER XVIII

I

The old-timers' ball was considered by many the most charming because the most touching event of the festival. Irma Mazere and Brenda Brennan had been collecting data and properties for years, and the Committee for weeks before the great week had been an entertainment in itself. Towards the end it was under the chairmanship of Mollye, with Uncle Erik as vice; George and Freda as secretaries; Dick as editor; and Judith, Nat, and Bernice combining their talents as producers, and supported by a whole town of resourceful opulent citizens who had the energy of beavers and worked for pride of their town and joy of the game--where could there have been another centenary to equal Bool Boas?

Uncle Erik, at first, voicing not his uncovered heart, but provincial and practical conventions, observed, "I reckon all this fuss about old things is loony. I'm near enough to those flaming hard old days--slogging like a bullock--not to see anything in them. Why old Grandad Mazere came and sat here in the rocks passes my understanding! There's been a lot of talk about this part of the country coming on, but as far as I can see, it is going back. Bad scrap to all this old stuff! We ought, I reckon, to forget it. They have made a big picture now about the convict days. That is a thing that ought to be done with as soon as possible, not dug up again. It is nothing to be proud of."

"But the best way to shed those things," said Freda, "is to acknowledge them. Pay our respects to them, and they become history instead of complexes, and then we can pass on to other things."

Blanche, arriving later, had said something similar to Uncle Erik: "Why do we want to be acting that sad old story of Emily? Why couldn't we have something lively?"

Dick spoke in reply to this. "Emily's story lives through three generations as the most poignant of the time and place. It was at the date a tragedy, but those who were with her in life are all gone now except Aunt Fannie and Jerry and Bill, and it has softened to an idyll. Emily never grew old or disappointed. The memory of her innocent young love remains. It should be fittingly chronicled so that Bool Bool can have its history, its romance. Viewed at this distance, it was Emily's to go ahead of her companions, that was all. Her story is our privileged private possession now. Hereafter it will be available to all those who have the feeling for its beauty."

Judith Laurillard had added a few words in her rich fluty voice, with its London West-end stage mannerisms, which gave complete joy to the natives of Bool Bool. A dozen divergent and mostly libellous imitations are still in circulation, but do not in the least mean that Judith isn't held in affection that amounts to worship for the way she became of Bool Bool for the time. "I do feel that dear Mr Dick has put it so beautifully that little can be added. Among the dresses, photographs, and other properties of the time, those precious diaries, and above all the letters of the young girls between each other, are highlights in a moving drama. The tragic element in the story of Emily Mazere makes it the more beautiful. Any story that has no tear hidden in its laughter is sad, because it is merely an attempt to make us forget we are living instead of to realize that life's real beauty and fullness is for the courageous and intelligent. Life that demands all sun without shade is on the level of mere farce. I am not a speech-maker, but you are all so swift in the uptake that you will understand what I want to convey is, that the stories of Emily Mazere and Mary Brennan will be like raindrops glistening on a flower in the sunlight. If only a moving-picture company could be with us, a drama could be recorded in the actual--these epic lives...A chronicle should be compiled that will stand for ever...If there were only a drama of these scenes and characters in their wonderful settings, I feel I could act as never before. The daily routine in this place is still heroic. Mr Erik is epic...simply epic..."

"I'm not sure what that is," grinned Uncle Erik, "but what I jolly well do know is that to get things going, and with the flies in the sheep, and crutching, we'll have to be so thundering busy from now till the hullabaloo is over that no one will be able to act as if he's keeping a clutch of eggs warm."

"You have the root of the matter," smiled Judith. "The epic and heroic cease to be so as soon as they become self-conscious." She explained the element of composition in pictures and plays, and that actors in the memorial were free to telescope incidents of any old-time balls including those of Monaro (in the fifties when it was Maneroo and young folks had gone a-horse over the passes for their pleasure), down to the Bool Bool ball in the nineties, where Mrs Larry Healey (née Dot Saunders of Saunders Plains) had appeared in the grand dress she had worn at Government House, and had shared the belle-ship with Aileen (half-sister of her husband), now become a shapeless and stupid nonentity.

The ball was to be held in Brennan's Hall. The upper storey as well as the lower had been prepared, and the roomy allotment in which the Hall stood set in order with awnings and lights. And now the zestful preparations were complete, costumes were being donned and wigs adjusted, and certain hearts fluttering with hopes or disappointments similar to those which long ago had charged those they represented.

All the real old hands that could be induced to appear were seated on a platform in the lower hall, with Mrs Rankin (née Fannie Mazere) and Jerry and Billy in the centre, to receive the costumed. The procession of ghosts, it was called informally.

"A pity Jerry should be the only king left to share the throne with Aunt Fannie," remarked Iris. "But the poor old fellow will enjoy it, I hope."

"I don't think they ought to have old Jerry up beside Aunt Fannie," protested Blanche.

"Nonsense!" said Larry Healey. "Not a hundred years; and do you think if you dug up the old pioneers you'd find any difference between the bones of the convicts and old Grandpa Mazere? And divvil a bit of difference was there before they were dead, if you ask me."

Miss Laurillard carne to the front of the platform, the pride of the assemblage. She was in private character, and had had the right spirit about her gown. No anything-will-do-for-thebush-or-provinces subdued her splendour. She was the very last shred in gowns, a leading, leading lady, hardly at all curtailed for private circulation. She was dripping with jewels. She had a bandeau that was practically a tiara in her fashionable dark hair, a giant fan, and a miraculous wrap. She had no fear that anything untoward would befall her or her jewels in this delectable community where pounds weight of silver and gold trophies were left with most casual guard in the wool which had won them.

"Nothing is too good, nothing could ever he good enough for Bool Bool," she exclaimed to her maid when choosing her gown, and the exclamation had been circulated, and the citizens were hers, one and all. Then, too, she was as magnificently naked as the women they saw only on the movies, and that was accepted in the spirit in which it was tendered, as tribute to Bool Boors social ton.

"Much more stylish than the Duchess of York," said Philippa.

"Sylvester, I've sent Beardy Tom for some bushes for you to keep the skeets from eating her." Uncle Erik's facetiousness brought a blush to his brother's face.

When the applause subsided, Miss Laurillard handed her fan to Betsy, who washed for the town, and her wrap to Peg-leg M'Haffety the drover, a wild fellow who had been to the war, and who was gazing at Judith lasciviously; but Judith was stimulated by such glances, aristocratic or plebeian. Betsy and Peg-leg received their charges with a pleased sense of importance and guarded them as Casabianca the deck, while the lovely lady right out of flicker land read old-time stories which had been arranged in tabloid form by Dick and Freda. Strangers were introduced to the romance of Emily Mazere of Three Rivers, the beautiful girl who had been drowned in the Mungee just after the announcement of her engagement to Bert Poole, the hero of two districts, and uncle of Sir Oswald. He had distinguished himself by taking Great-grandma Mazere across the flooded Yarrabonga to help a humble neighbour in distress, and by clearing out a gang of bushrangers who had harried the district, and by other deeds. Associated with him had been Tim Brennan, "the beloved grandfather of your own dear lovely Mollye Brennan--the whole world's magnificent Austra" (thunderous applause that held up the reading). "And now that these hearts are dust it is seemly for all to recall, because it brings them to us near and dear again, that lovely Mary Brennan took the veil for love of glorious Bert Poole, and Jessie M'Eachern, the delightful daughter of old Gowandale, Monaro, also remained single for his sake, though for a time she was engaged to a son of the house of Mazere." All those representing bushrangers or aborigines or the lovers of Emily Mazere or Mary Brennan or Bert Poole were called upon to act in character as nearly as possible, and thus add to the romance "of this perfectly miraculous occasion", said Judith, finishing her script. "I cannot convey to you what it means to me to be here, participating as a member of the family, in this, one of the most wonderful events I have known. My only regret is that I am not a relative. I should be inordinately proud to be a blood relation of the delightful and exceedingly clever little town of Bool Bool."

"Plenty of time to correct that yet," called out Uncle Erik, and Uncle Sylvester again blushed. One never knew what Erik would say. But he proceeded innocuously, "If I were single I'd propose to you this minute, or if polygamy was the law I'd get permission from my wife." Aunt Mary laughed heartily,

"He is a dear, isn't he?" remarked Judith. "I expect he was a delightful lover."

"He has always been the same," said Aunt Mary gallantly.

Judith stepped to one side of the platform, and the procession, which according to Uncle Erik had been "standing like a yoked team", came down the hall and up the steps, and its members were named by Judith, and then made their bows to the distinguished old pioneers, and particularly to Aunt Fannie, and old Jerry the drover, and Bill Parsons of no nameable occupation.

The dress worn by Emily at her twenty-first birthday party, a lock of her hair, her shawl and fan, kept by her sorrowing mother, in due time passed to Aunt Fannie, the last of her tribe. Bernice Gaylord, the artist, had made sketches, the town tailor had supplied measurements--and Mollye had sent to a theatrical wardrobe for gown and wigs and other costumes for men and women. She had spared nothing for this festival of her heart.

First came Emily Mazere and Bert Poole, as represented by Laleen and Peter Poole, the great-nephew of the pioneer hero, and said to be his image, with the exception of the colour of his eyes. Aunt Fannie and Jerry Riddall found him so. Jerry stood up and trembled at sight of the pair. He had been from various points a Peeping Tom on the night of the famous ball at Three Rivers, when he had been fifteen, and kind Mrs Mazere, seeing him, had brought him in for a real look and given him a feast. He told the story tonight with tears before he was taken to bed.

"It seems like as Judgment Day was come," the old man quavered. "You must be Bert Poole hissel' come again as he was in them days with Miss Emily." Aunt Fannie wept and kissed them both, and Laleen, a picture of loveliness in her floating flounces, passed on. Her place was taken by Mary Brennan with Tim her brother, who had so dearly loved Emily till happily consoled by Mollye's grandmother. All the old people pronounced Mollye to be the image of her great-aunt, even to her loving-kindness, the legend of which remains even as Emily's beauty. Les Olliver, in a red wig and high stock, etc., was cast as Tim, appropriate now as he so loved Laleen that he was a better man for her young sake.

As Mollye approached, old Jerry again rose up mumbling, "I must be a-heaven already, where I expected to see, fust thing, you an' Miss Emily, for yous allus seemed angels to me without awaiting to die."

"You dear old darling, God bless you!" said Mollye simply. Pressing the old man to her, her great hoops billowing wide in the dainty organdie, she kissed him heartily despite barnacles or frowsiness.

"Just like Mollye!" said her contemporaries. "She couldn't do anything except in a grand warm-hearted style."

"Just like Mary Brennan and old Mother Brennan before her," said the old hands. "Never anyone in the world could have been so kind as the Brennans!"

Dick was representing his great-uncle, Jack Stanton, who had been refused by Mary Brennan at that other ball, and with him was Iris Labosseer as her own grandmother, who had been born Rachel Mazere. Freda was Jessie M'Eachern, beautiful Jessie of Gowandale, Monaro, who had remained unwed for love of Bert Poole, and who had managed her station like a man. "It seems to me," Freda had said, in making her choice, "that Jessie was the first feminist up the country, and she went unwed to her grave, as I expect to do."

"Well, then," said Aubrey Mazere, "I am going to be Uncle Hugh, for he was engaged to Jessie till turned down with a thump that we can still hear--as I'd be, if I was fool enough to come up to the scratch with you."

Sylvester was Simon Labosseer, his own father. Blanche, Philippa, Bob James, Daphne and Irma Mazere, Brenda Brennan, dozens and dozens of Bool Boolians of pioneer heredity found rich characters to impersonate in the old galleries. Those of sentimental interest went first, followed by the humorous. Of the latter was Uncle Erik. When it became clear to him that representing old days did not mean funereal reproduction of dead griefs and hardships, he riotously enjoyed the outlet for drama for which he had had extensive early training as a practical joker, one of the forms which amusement took in his youth.

"I'm going to be Great-grandpa Mazere," he had announced. "I could shine as that, I reckon, as he was an ugly, cranky old bull, as pig-headed as a load of rocksalt." The founder of the township was not lovingly remembered by his grandsons. His granddaughters had always fared better with him. Aunt Fannie, though constantly humiliated by her father's intransigence during his life, had idealized him as the years dropped past, and was so hurt by her nephew's announcement of portraying him in the rough that Erik had to choose instead Barney Logan the bushranger, routed by Bert Poole, and who had finished his career as a lifer in Berrima Jail.

Sir Oswald, who received a special prize by acclamation, was his own grandmother, Harriet Mayborn, who came out to Australia as governess to the wild bush, and had created a sensation by marrying old Boko Poole, despite her aristocratic lineage. Sir Oswald and Dot Healey had collaborated. As a result Sir Oswald was wearing a stupendous crinoline of grey calico elaborately flounced and festooned. The job had utilized Dot's ability, and Sir Oswald's warmly expressed admiration had put her in good humour. In making up, Sir Oswald had not bilked the knowledge that his grandmother had been exceedingly plain. He was said to resemble her. The bulk of his middle, his chignon and elastic-sided boots, his mittens and red turkey twill drawers suggested why he was so popular with his men in the field, and increased Freda's respect for him. He had even sacrificed his moustache.

Mrs Mazere, Laleen's mother, with similar abandon was representing Mrs Terence M'Haffety, old-time hostess of M'Haffety's, where Judith was quartered. Mrs M'Haffety had been enormously shapeless in her old days, and her impersonator and Sir Oswald came around arm in arm, riotous figures of fun.

When they had all passed, Judith stepped down from the platform, and Betsy and Peg-leg ran forward with her articles. She smiled at them in turn and said with that understanding which made her great in her line, "I should be so happy if you would accept it as a souvenir of my meeting you, which I have so much enjoyed." These souvenirs are wrapped away today in Bool Bool, and doubtless will remain till Judith herself is only a memory in Bool Bool even as Emily of whom she spoke so charmingly the night she surrendered her expensive fal-lals, delighting two supers on the stage of life.

The assembled multitude filed through the upper room, where were displayed for that evening Emily's dress and shawl and the other treasures, as well as a long gallery of old-time daguerreotypes and photographs on glass, and other heirlooms. They had ceremonial quadrilles, and then ranged in a guard of honour for the old old folks who, lovingly cheered, went to rest and left the ball open to the actors' own life stories.

II

Those engrossed in the amorous phase of life looked about. Laleen's eyes eagerly sought Nat. It had been delightful to represent Emily and be firmly established as the inheritor of all the fair beauty of that now legendary maiden, and walk beside Peter Poole, whom everybody liked and acclaimed as magnificently like his famous uncle, but the thrill would have been prouder had that part been played by Nat.

"If I was Laleen," remarked Blanche, "I'd be careful in acting Emily for fear some tragedy would overtake me too."

"Hush, sis! I never thought you would he superstitious," Dick said gently as he was claimed by an old hand.

"Dear, oh dear, poor Dick!" Irma murmured to her cousin. "It must grieve you to see him looking so frail and tired."

"Yes, and he won't let me do anything for him or feed him up. I suppose I'll have to wait till he's too ill to get out of bed before I can take care of him."

"Poor old Blanche, you've had a lot of trouble," said Irma, and went on a musical errand, leaving Blanche dreaming of the day when Dick would die, and she, his devoted sister, be left the centre of the mourners. Perhaps the only member of the old guard to hold a hopeful health thought for Dick was Larry Healey, and he was discredited as a financial dud, admitting, too, his own dependence on pills and potions rather than on God.

Les Olliver, as Tim Brennan, seized his chance with Laleen. "Oh, Lal, I haven't had a chance yet to wish you happiness, but I do really. Of course I never thought you would actually care for a fellow like me. I'm like a rough old cart-horse beside a shiny racer with that Mr Horan. I want to say I think he's a perfectly belting bloke. I hope you'll let me be your friend no matter how great you become, and as I'm Tim Brennan, and as he was turned over by Emily Mazere, I'm sure she was so kind that she kissed him, and I'd like history to be repeated."

Laleen was touched by the generosity of these remarks coming untutored from her old school-fellow, and ashamed of past impatience with him now in this glorious pageant, when her cup of happiness only awaited Nat's announcement to overflow.

"Les, you are such a double-dyed dear, I'll kiss you myself," she said, whole-heartedly suiting the action to the word as they walked to the bottom of the allotment sheltered by tall hawthorns. "Nat and I haven't said anything to anybody yet."

"But a blind cart-horse could see...If ever you want a friend, you know, I'm there."

"Thank you, Les, and so am I. And you know Tim Brennan married a dear little wife, and Mollye is his granddaughter, and I hope you'll repeat history there too."

"You needn't worry about me. I'm not going to jump over The Gap or put my head in a gas oven or any of those stunts, but there never can be anyone just like you to me, and that's a fact."

The older comedians were lining up for the bushranger episode, without which no representation of blue shirt and damper days could be complete. Uncle Erik was in fine feather as old Logan, the leader, and had a rush of volunteers desirous of putting on masks and holding up the girls for kisses, as had happened at the historical ball when Mary Brennan and Emily and Jessie and others had been embraced.

"This is where I'm going to shine," grinned Aubrey, a whale in practical experience of many kinds, who flitted around with a half-cynical smile on his thin sunbrowned features. He hovered much around Iris, but when Freda taxed him, replied, "Hopeless! I'm the son of cousins, and she's a cousin, and you wouldn't have me, so I'm doubly the ill-fated lover. But you're going to get a double dose, my lady; for the bushrangers nearly kissed Jessie Mac to death, and while she was engaged to Uncle Hugh he was sure to have mugged her to the limit, too. He was a fool if he didn't."

"I wager I can stand it better than you."

"Score to you, Freda!"

"It appears that all the men had a chance as sham bushrangers at the old kick-up," beamed Sir Oswald, overhearing, "and it's to be understood that from now till further notice I'm a bushranger, in spite of my skirts, and I begin hang here." He plumped a smacking kiss on Mrs Mazere (alias Mother M'Haffety) and let loose the fun.

"Old Grandfather Mazere would turn over in his grave and take a refresher," said Uncle Erik to Sir Oswald, "to know he had a grandson as noble as you. I'm relieved myself that one of the tribe escaped from a hollow log in the hush."

Bernice Gaylord was dressed to represent herself in a distinctive gown of green, all drapings and puffs in which she looked mermaidy and graceful as the weeping willows for which Bool Bool is famous.

Nat Horan, in charge of the orchestra, glistened in plain evening uniform. His duties kept him till nearly eleven without a dance with Laleen. The Broadcasting Company was to supply dance music from eleven till midnight, but Nat's team found themselves, through his enthusiasm, dedicated to just one more practice in the Committee Rooms at the Hotel. "Such a gorgeous chance when we are all together with our instruments, and free."

He had, however, to permit just one dance to his colleagues. This he was to have with Laleen, but as he was making his way to her he was captured by his future mother-in-law, who plucked at his sleeve and spoke in character, "Shure, me bhoy, 'tis the father of a flirt ye are. 'Tis meself has oies on ye, and Oi think 'tis toime ye were put in your place and not to be turrrnin' poor little Emily Mazere's head."

Nat was not an actor. "Oh, Mrs Mazere," he stammered. "You mean Laleen. I'm not turning her head. The boot is on the other foot."

"An' that hein' so, shure we can take a sthroll and listen to the song of the river, and you can put the thing right side up by layin' out the proofs, for shure this grand party will soon be past, and all the young folks will have to foind out where they are." She walked him out to the main street and down past the stores on the pavements now all comfortably clean from dust, and dry under the cloudless night.

"Hasn't Laleen told you?"

"Would wan be takin' anny notice of a young gurrl in her innocence? She moight be imagining things."

"No, Mrs Mazere. I've been going to talk to you as soon as all this rush of celebration is past...I have asked Laleen to marry me. Do you object?"

"She is very young."

"I'd be ready to wait a year or two."

"There is the question of religion..."

"I should never interfere with Laleen in that way."

"They all say that--before marriage, but I have heard of so many making life miserable afterwards."

"That is in narrow old bigoted circles where they have nothing better than religion to occupy their minds," said Nat, unconscious of paganism.

"What better than religion could occupy the mind?"

"My art is my religion really; at any rate I have no difficulty in deciding which comes first."

"I should have thought one would help the other."

"That's what I meant, really. Laleen will have her art too. I should never think of interfering with either that or her religion."

Mrs Mazere pondered. Perhaps it would be better for young people like these to have an artistic world in common than merely to subscribe to the same creed. "We must talk about it seriously at the first opportunity." She released him at the door of the Hall. There was the difference in religion, Laleen's youth, her going away from home and country--many serious points, but on the whole Mrs Mazere was relieved that Nat was in earnest. Mollye stood on guard, as it were, making the proposition substantial and as satisfactory as such gambles can be.

III

Under cover of the jolly capers of the settled, those who were hunting slipped away to keep or invite a rendezvous. Freda, who was the victim of conflicting emotions, roamed about the allotment and found Mollye standing at the far end in her gorgeous crinoline, such a figure as no prowling lover could miss. Perhaps she was too conspicuous, and it worked the other way, thought Freda with sympathy as she slipped her arm through Mollye's. "I feel as if I had really turned into Jessie M'Eachern in this dress. Rather curious that the three belles of those days, when no woman remained unmarried if she could possibly help it, never married. Emily was the lucky one, but I love Jessie and Mary Brennan that they were both true to true love."

"You do believe in true love, then?"

"Tonight I do."

"Oh, Freda, why? Have you something to tell me?"

"Only that like Jessie I shall never achieve it; unlike her, I fear I shall never even feel it in its entirety."

"Poor Freda, what do you mean?"

"I have been Lot's-wifing after the fleshpots of amour lately, and now suffer the reaction. When I return to a progressive mental milieu I shall be quite comfortable, and to observe the wrecks all around will save me from flagelliferous regrets."

She drifted away to find Dick in a remote nook talking to old-timers. He did not care so much for the up-to-date men of the district: he did not find them at all up-to-date spiritually. He liked the exemplars of the days of which he had been a part, and which he already found far past on the river of change. After a few minutes he dawdled with Freda down the main street, where went all the couples who skipped a dance. It was the cleanest place to promenade and the correctest for those who wished merely to laugh and talk. Freda attributed her mood to fatigue. The lid of self-control was not clamped down as usual, and she emitted what came into her head regardless. She marvelled that she was not snubbed, but folks really do not mind what is said to them so long as not said unkindly or in the hearing of others.

"Well, Uncle Jack Stanton," she said to Dick. "Fancy you being got up as my old uncle, called Skinny Guts. Isn't Aunt Aileen terrific, like a potato sack--and so stupid? It doesn't seem possible that men could have been squabbling over her not so long ago. I wonder does she care now that Uncle Jack's money-bags bought her, and is she still sentimental about true love? Let's go and ask her."

"Oh, you couldn't do that!"

"Couldn't!" thought Freda, but let it go for the moment. She led Dick down a street where the river could be heard through the night above the wireless music, as it fell around the bend beyond the town in its immortal song like a far sweet wind from paradise. "I suppose the river sang like that to the dancers long ago, such a little while since really, and yet they are all gone. We shall be gone too before we can accomplish anything. There is time for nothing, only to be kind--scarcely time for that, so we foolishly think till convicted by an occasion like this with an Aunt Fannie or poor old Jerry the drover as all that remain..." She was silent a moment, listening to the river, and then said, "Dicky darling, are you going to be kind to Mollye?"

"Oh, Freda, it doesn't rest with me, that sort of thing!"

"Nat and Laleen are too sweet, aren't they?" she continued, with apparent irrelevance.

"Yes, the dear little girl is quite overwhelmed."

"What do you think of Nat?"

"He seems to be coming through all right. He will be able to make Laleen happier if he is not quite so infatuated."

"I agree. And that's how it is with Mollye. She loves like Laleen. You can see it in Nat's case. It is the same in your own. You have had your scorching that should give you experience to put safe architecture into another union. As you are free you owe it to one who loves as Mollye does. Don't hurt her. It is harder for her than for Laleen, as she is a mature woman."

"You startle me. See the awful predicament I'd be in! Mollye is a mighty woman in every way. I'm a nonentity."

"Be brave. Think of Albert the Good. He must have had great pluck with Victoria. Think of these people we impersonate tonight--just five years ago, or in some instances longer, and we should have had them here. Now they are shadows and live only a little to us who have imagination. All of us here will soon be gone the same way. Life is such a fleeting thing. We can do so little to help each other. Why don't you help Mollye? She has immense gifts, but they bring great burdens, great loneliness; you could sweeten those for her. Hang it all, I think you ought to."

"If only I had fortune or fame to put beside hers!"

"You are going to have fame presently, and she doesn't need the fortune. While she is on tour you could isolate yourself; really a fine spouse for a poet. And what she wants is someone faithful and sympathetic, someone who cares when her crown and train of lace are off and all-but-she-departed sort of business. Let someone have happiness. If I meant as much to anyone as you do to Mollye, he could jolly well have me: he'd deserve to, if there is anything at all in this love," said Freda, and was gone.

At the entrance to the Hall she was seized by Sir Oswald. He and Uncle Erik were still enjoying spirited back-chat with other characters. "Here's one that's been missed. Now, my bonnie lassie, as the fond stepma of Bert, with whom you were so dead in love, you would have made up to me and kissed me." Sir Oswald in his grandmother's rig kissing Freda was so funny that it called forth demands for repetition. Sir Oswald cackled and swung her into a smart two-step, and that the old "Blue Danube" was roaring from the amplifier only made it the funnier. Holding her hand so tightly that she could not escape, he drew her out on parade on Stanton Street. She was a pretty thing in her crinoline and black ringlets, black velvet bracelets and all details in keeping.

"I'm not a block of wood, I tell you, and you're a pretty morsel as Jessie of Gowandale."

"But there are heaps of others just as pretty, and younger, and more amenable."

"None so innocent, though," he whispered in her ear.

Dear, oh dear, she was tired of that! She must re-establish her façade with him. "You have had your great affair and lost it; or you wouldn't be hunting extraneously. Only supreme affairs should have right of way. I am out of a theory about the spurious affairs tonight."

"In the end is there much difference?"

"It is from the point of view of its beginning that I hold a brief tonight. It is with us. Two prominent examples, Mollye for Dick and Laleen for Nat."

"I shouldn't give way an inch in what I feel to either of those."

"It's not what you feel, but to what you have the right because of what you feel. When one is ready for the immolation to be seen in the bearing of those two girls, well, I think the man, if he is free and feels any affection at all, should oblige them. What's more, when a man thinks his necessity is such that a hired fille de joie or any dusky woman can supply it, I never can see why he should baulk at any desirable lady who may need him..."

"Hang it all, he doesn't want to be tied for life to some incompatible woman."

"But they all seem incompatible after a year or two according to the waulings of married men, while at the beginning even the other two classes of ladies are not incompatible; so again I don't see that you have any logic."

"But you're a woman, you don't understand. Let me explain," he began; but subtler casuists when confronted by the contempt of continent women have found it impossible to clothe with convincing decency the impersonal quality of male sexual passion.

"It cannot be explained to satisfy an intelligent woman's intelligence nor a decent woman's cleanliness. The point of view will have to be altered. In any case a grand passion is so rare...still I can understand why in spite of it being a mere fetch-light anyone would let go a kingdom for it, no matter what conscience or intellect said...to have had the great moment! All great things are only moments--birth, death, fame, passion--only a crestful moment is ecstasy full."

"You are inconsistent!"

"Why not? I am always looking back on the Cities of the Plain; I know that amour is like alcohol, the victim must come to despair when the drug is no longer procurable."

"Why not wait till that happens, to seek a cure?"

"I dunno, and I don't care, at present. I'm neaped entirely."

"But you don't know anything at all--"

She gave his hand a little pat. "Ha, ha! don't I? One can pretend to be innocent just as well as sophisticated." She left him distinctly puzzled as he went to claim a dance with Judith, the contrast in costumes making great fun for the spectators. As he danced he looked complacently at Judith's half-uncovered, sensitive, perfumed body. Now, he could have had a bright little affair with her, had he wished. He had not wished. All the same, it was stimulating to feel it possible. It was as Freda said, like alcohol--like champagne. But what the deuce had Freda meant a moment ago? Was she deceiving him? He must find out.

Judith was thinking her partner was there for the plucking, but she didn't want him. Rather a common man whom any woman could seduce if she put her mind to it. Still, he had succeeded in London; he was far from negligible. But for her part, the untravelled Australians in their friendly deference were infinitely preferable to those who had been abroad and were smattered with Europeanism.

IV

Dick had been one of the onlookers, immensely amused, while Freda and the Major-General danced. As he watched he thought of what Freda had said of Mollye, and when Freda and Sir Oswald disappeared he sought Mollye. He found her on a seat at the far-side of the allotment. "Why, Mollye, aren't there mosquitoes?"

"I was listening to the river," she said softly. "It comes like a sigh when the music is not so blaring."

"Well, Mary Brennan, I'm a terrible dancer, but I should like a turn with you as I'm supposed to be Jack Stanton, though you took the Veil in preference to marrying me long ago."

"Dicky, you know I should never refuse you--never refuse you anything long ago or today, in this world or the next."

"You are wiping out your great-aunt's score to old Jack very handsomely," he said rather helplessly, offering his arm. It was a thin support for this resplendent figure, mighty in the draperies of another generation.

"Oh, Dicky, must history repeat itself? Have I to be brokenhearted like the other Mollye Brennan? They say I am so like her."

"The memory of her loving heart is still here--all the old folks talk about her."

"I suppose they say she was an elephant like me, too big for anyone to love."

"We shall have a dance, and then a little promenade," said Dick, leading her inside.

"Well, Jack Stanton and Mary Brennan," said Uncle Erik. "Have you sent him about his business yet, Mollye? I don't blame you. He must have been a dismal old lover."

Mollye flushed a fiery red. Dick saw her near tears, as she bravely said, "I think history is repeating itself, and I'll have to follow my great-aunt and take the veil of a broken heart."

A pang smote Dick, that tenderness beneath the high transports of amour, a gentler, more fragrant thing, which in fine natures often ends in lasting love. It had not occurred to him that Mollye, so transcendent, could be in need of his protection. "Mollye will have to be kind to the shade of Uncle Jack to reverse her great-aunt's dismissal," he said gently.

After dancing a couple of turns he drew Mollye out an open doorway. Other couples looked at them with interest in the light of the strings of electric bulbs with which Bool Bool had decked itself for these nights. It was proud of its water system and its electric-light plant, the latter hurried to completion to be ready for the centenary. Mollye and Dick walked down Stanton Street and turned where Church Street led along the ridge above the river. Here its sigh had strengthened to a song, cool and fresh in the night. It had been singing thus since the flood of 'fifty-two which they commemorated, a sweet symbol of continuity against which man's emotional problems flashed and went out as sparks above a chimney on a moonless night.

"I am afraid for your dress, the earth is damp."

"It doesn't matter about the dress, Dick, not a scrap."

"But I mustn't have you looking bedraggled...You see, Mollye, you are very precious to me."

"Oh, Dicky, am I, just a little bit? If I thought that, I could die happy." She was struggling to keep back sobs, and he was infinitely touched.

"The trouble is that I am nothing--"

"Nothing, Dick! You are heaven..."

"Yes, but Mollye, you see I failed my first wife; I failed marriage as she understood it...that suffocating proximity and familiarity of marriage, that merging of personality...I am something of a separate, I suppose. And then, Mollye, I think some idea has taken you like summer madness which smites the young clerk when he goes on holiday, and you will return to sanity."

"That would be the right way for a gentleman to talk to a young girl who had not seen the world, but I have seen everything that could be in it in the way of love for me, and yet I want you."

"Why not test it? You are leaving next month, and I want to stay here another year or two, just poking about on my part. Wait and see if you don't feel differently."

"You can put me to any test, only don't make it too long. I'm nearly thirty-five, my love life is going."

"Well, try and dismiss the thought of me for a time."

"And someone else will grab you up."

"That shall not be. You can be sure of that."

"Then I can begin this minute to think of you as mine."

"Now I must take you back to the light and your shawl, I see a great skeet taking his chance on your back." He killed the insect and wiped the blood on his handkerchief, and they went up Stanton Street under its beautiful kurrajongs, where all the world was parading preparatory to midnight supper.

V

Freda, when leaving Sir Oswald, ran towards Bob James. "Hullo, Mr James, why all alone? For consolation, come till I propose to you."

"Better call me Bob for a start--more sociable." He felt himself blushing all over. Laleen had not been ragging him. "Thundering nice of you. I was wanting to do the same by you."

"Then, let's seek privacy on the public highway." They too promenaded under the kurrajongs, heavy with beautiful seed-pods, and the leaners against the posts put another notch in Freda's tally. She was top of the running with the unofficial scrutineers. In their deductions her façade was all that she could have demanded.

"You should do something suitable in honour of the centenary of your hereditary town and make a woman supremely happy."

"I'm always for the happiness of the greatest number."

"You are no true Aussie till you are settled down with a native-born family of finest stock. Can't let these foreigners come in and overrun us, you know; the splendid British stock must do something to fill up Australia; a big country empty like this isn't safe. We can't expect human nature..."

Bob changed from embarrassment to bewilderment. It was enough to confuse any conventional man who doesn't believe in the new woman to have one begin thus to express herself. Bob was got up as a subsidiary old-timer. His grandfather, the town doctor at the time of the flood of 'fifty-two, had been so drunk that old Mrs Mazere, at the risk of her life, had crossed the flood to fulfil his offices, so Bob was not proud of him. He had no more joy in tales of his grandfather than had Sir Oswald in the relationship of the inferior second and third cousins of his house.

"Say, Freda, are you pulling my leg, or what does this mean?" he inquired, stopping in the middle of the pavement opposite the shop where one of the Stantons trades in hide and tallow. It did not smell sweetly. Blanche contended that this business was no credit to the clan, and if it was all Joseph Stanton could do, he should at least have gone away from Bool Bool, but he was due to be president of the shire next year while his brothers, with the exception of George, were of no prominence whatever.

"No, Bob, I wish you to get married."

"Who to--you?"

"Me, no! I never thought you as silly as that. You want a nice domestic woman who would settle down in the home. If a man tried to coop me in one of those suburban homes--Good Lord! I've had my brain in a hobble skirt ever since I left London. I'd kill a man if he tried to tie me down." She watched him sideways, hoping to shock him.

"I shouldn't blame you," agreed he. "I reckon a man who doesn't understand human nature and women oughtn't to get married."

"That's why it is such a pity to see you wasting while every other sort of fellow--"

"Who were you thinking of, then?"

"Blanche. Why don't you and she come to a head? You've been hanging around long enough."

"Blanche!" said Bob in chapfallen tone. This was a terrible come-down. Something uncomplimentary to Blanche trembled on his lips, but he dared not utter it to Freda. "I never thought of Blanche. What age is she?"

"Not quite as old as yourself, I should think. That's what I said, that you never thought of Blanche, that it is Philippa; but everyone says you've been hanging around Blanche for ten years, and can't win her. I don't see why she should refuse you. You are a very nice man, and she would make a gorgeous home for any man, never a speck in it, and Blanche has the true mother spirit of self-sacrifice. She refused a good man when I was a kid. I remember them all talking about it. She was a pretty girl then. She and her sister Sylvia were the rage of the district. Never an evening but some horse, and often half a dozen, were tied to their palings. Dear old Blanche gave up everything to look after the young ones, but they are all dead or reared years ago, and now she is free."

"What became of the man?"

"Oh, he got tired of waiting, and married. I never thought that you couldn't make her forget."

"I never tried to make her. Really, Freda, what put such a notion in your head?"

"Oh, one who comes home has everything told to her. It's in the air. People laugh at you for not being able to pull it off. They say you are too much of an old maid, that it needs a widower to do the nobbling."

"But, God bless my soul, a man always knows the ropes. Why the damn' fools should gossip like that--"

"You know what human nature is. Can't change it, you know, and you are a regular visitor at Nanda, so if it is not Philippa it must be Blanche. There's no one else, only Laleen, and it's only poor moth-eaten old chaps who go dippy on the flappers."

Bob was in a confused state of mind. He had had a "spot" or two during the evening. "I wish you'd tell me just one person who thinks this...Is it the old people?"

"No. They are too used to you. The public in general."

"Has Blanche ever said anything?"

"Never. I don't suppose you ever enter her head except as something to be hospitable to. All she asks is a chance to be hospitable. People say it is silly for you both to be wasting your lives. But I wouldn't say anything to Blanche. I'd rather talk to you, as you understand human nature...Blanche has never been out in the world of business...I say, I feel a bit queer; come and get me a glass of wine."

"Good-o! Don't feel too clever myself."

He took her to the Ladies' Parlour at the Commercial and ordered wine and whisky. Freda, who despised alcohol, poured some of hers into Bob's, and he being fussed did not notice till he swallowed his potion. When he complained that there was something wrong with the whisky, Freda said he had better have something else to take the taste away. This advice he followed, Freda watching him and thinking, "Men are always upsetting women's apple-carts. It is time their own duckhouses were toppled for a diversion."

Sir Oswald, entering for a fresh handkerchief--"this damned crinoline is so heavy"--was so astonished to find Bob and Freda together imbibing and smoking, that he exclaimed, "What on earth are you up to?"

"Nailing up my façade again," twinkled Freda, blowing a smoke ring.

She and Bob re-emerged under the kurrajongs, Freda squeezing his arm. "If you succeed, let me be the first to wish you luck. I don't see why you shouldn't. You're a nice tall figure of a man, as men go. You are good at conversation...No more, someone might overhear."

Before he could collect himself for protest against the absurdity of the whole thing, Freda was nowhere to be seen. She had gone to George Stanton at the entrance door. He was dressed as Great-grandpa Mazere and took the part without levity in a way most pleasing to Aunt Fannie. Freda tucked her hand in his arm with real affection. George had proved efficient, industrious, and intelligent, a good scout in every way, always ready to shoulder more than his share of the work during the fortnight of their joint secretaryship of the Old-times Information Committee, and to everyone's astonishment not once uttering crushing comparisons with the United States. He had been too busy, and his American experience had educated him to appreciate Bool Bool's pioneers, tamers of the wilderness, battling against primitive conditions, rearing immense families without conveniences. Portraits of the women in their spindle waists and stylish crinolines showed they had been no squaws or peasants inured to rough usage. Midnight or any other time George could have been heard tap-tapping on his portable typewriter. Freda had been an adequate partner. The centennial volume, under Dick and Freda's editorship, might have been said to be in collaboration with all the old hands up the country. It had general appeal, so that it is now procurable at the booksellers throughout the Commonwealth.

[* See Up the Country.]

"In the old days I was your intended daughter-in-law," she said, "and so we must give each other a little attention. I want to say that you have been a tower of refuge, and if ever you want me to go tiger-hunting, I'm ready."

"Strange," responded George. "That's just what I was thinking about you, too. If ever you want a job I could leave you in charge out here, if you must look after the old people."

"Thank you. I am going on tour with Mollye, but later I hope there still may be openings. Hasn't this been great?"

"Yes. If they had any imaginative enterprise above a beetle, a company would be floated to make pictures while all this life is still in the air. Gee, if I had the time, I'd tackle it myself, I'm hornswoggled if I wouldn't. They want to give up being hicks and line up with the U.S.A. That's the natural alignment geographically. The other is artificial and so cumbersome that it must bust in the competition."

"I agree about the glories of the U.S.A., but there is also an appalling mass of undigested humanity there which I wish we could skip in Australia's development. You want to give up hanging on to Britain's skirts and clutch Uncle Sam's. I want a soul of our own, and I'm willing to wait instead of making merely a duplicate American melting-pot, that doesn't melt sufficiently."

"But you've got to fill up the country."

Freda was feeling too mellow to argue, and George might be as right or as wrong as anyone. She simply went on dreaming her own dream of a world-wide agreement not to infest the last, the rarest of the continents till man was worthier. The control of population and improvement of the stocks was adumbrated even by deans of the Established Church. There was movement unless senseless competition and the exaltation of mediocrity brought on Armageddon to fling humanity hack to utter darkness. God alone knew what was in the future. Did God know? What was God? Was not God humanity--humanity God?

She let George rattle on as they strolled up Stanton Street where once had been old Mazere's salt-shed. As far as she could judge, George was refreshingly continent compared with her experience of many married men. As they got away from the electric lights the moon was seen to have a mighty ring, the largest Freda had ever noted. "Like a great grindstone," said the old hands, in the way of those acquainted with nature, seeing every sign in the sky.

VI

The ball, though prolonged by the young, was over. Some of the dancers sought their beds as dawn was putting out the stars, and without a nap others rushed away in motor cars for thirty or fifty miles to meet the day's work.

Laleen's pulses still throbbed in the intoxicating dance airs of the greatest social affair she had so far known. Nat's personality filled her being, transformed it, enlarged it. And tomorrow, and tomorrow, still days of joy, and then the festivities would be spent and that quiet time come safe from the superstition of tragedy when Nat would speak to her father and mother: and tomorrow--and tomorrow!

Nat was too full of experience to be equally ecstatic. He was under great strain and uncertainty. His career was again as doubtful as it had been after his first big scholarship, when he had been unaware of the struggle and hazard of his way. Laleen was a comfort; he was satisfied with his choice now that he saw her beauty in this setting among the solid old squattocracy to which she belonged.

Mollye, noting the starry eyes of the girl, whispered as she kissed her goodnight, "It's glorious beyond dreams being here in this old town that belongs to us, isn't it, dearie? I am very happy."

Freda slipped into Mollye's room on the way to her own. Dick must have capitulated to some extent, she gauged by Mollye's elation. "I'm so glad, Freda, that you are going to be with me. Hasn't this been a glorious festival!"

Despite elation, Mollye soon fell asleep, while Freda lay awake ramfeezled, pondering the scandals, criticisms and jealousies, the disappointments, the gallant effort and strain, endured by the Bool Boolians responsible for the revels. She knew all, stripped of the dressing put on for Mollye, the Major-General and Judith, knew it as it was withheld in part from the dreamy Dick, and without the glow which Mollye's personality put upon it. She could appraise its rough-andreadiness, the vulgarity of its refinements, the refinement of its honest simplicity compared with the vulgarity of the affected sensitiveness and sentimentalized lubricities of precious sets in great metropolises.

Earthly emotions were past for the old pioneers. Their memory had attained dignity in perspective and remained precious. Proportion. Life, as a work of art, was a collaboration. With collaborators, or preferably one supreme collaborator...ah...well. She envied Laleen and Mollye their abandon, Sir Oswald his appetite for stop-gap dishes. "Well, at all events, I've had a grand night on the roofs like a dashing Tom...Poor old Bob James!"

Aunt Fannie, old Jerry Riddall, and Bill Parsons were excited and fretful, like children craving for their little comforts.

Judith struggled with a mosquito under her net. Certainly those dreadful flies and insects were a drawback. It needed the Americans to manage that sort of thing. She was regretful to be leaving it all, nearly certainly for ever. Here was unaffected drama, sweetly perfumed, with blood and tears in it, which should be garnered artistically--an unexploited field. But managers had only a few ideas and worked them to death--could rarely be made to see when they had died till the public fled the corpse. This new play by Raoul Howard awaiting her was sure to be the same old cocotte with sauce of cheaply smart epigrams. How tawdry when measured by the pioneer eisteddfod! She was so far from sleep that she reached for a tablet.

Bob James was embrangled and irritated. What the deuce did Freda mean? And Erik Labosseer, too, had clapped him on the shoulder and whispered nephew in his ear. A nice thing if a man...He would just skip on to the train tomorrow and be missing...then they would see.

Sir Oswald grinned at himself in his long red drawers and thought what fun he would have in this fancy dress in London. Soon he would be on the churning wastes of water, sailing, sailing--steaming rather, where all the world ways go north. Back to Joyce--just a little uncertain, almost nervous, as a man is likely to be upon return to a high-stepping wife after absence. Back to the House of Commons, and the Clubs and Piccadilly. Good old London! He had that Report from Freda...Ah, ha! That would hold 'em, even the intelligentsia, smart-alec, communist blighters. Freda...what did she mean? He must make sure. Pity a woman like that should he wasted!

Off he drifted to Nod.

Dick was nervously exhausted, his mind running on a review that banished sleep...The re-suffocation of marriage!...Freda on Mollye's side...Even Freda did not understand the importance of freedom to his poetic effort...Oh well, a man in the middle forties who had not established himself as a poet must not chafe at being an oblation to Mollye's robust success. If not sufficiently bull-purposed or physically rhinoceros to crash to success, he must proceed deviously. Already he looked ahead, when Mollye would be absent three, six, or even a blessed twelve months on tours. Unfortunately wireless was ruining even sailing ships as retreats. But marrying Mollye would remove her somewhat...This amorous fever did not last--thank God! But appetite grew, and was worse...colder, crueller, more selfish...a sudatory contemplation to a widower by grace of divorce. Ugh, no! He was sinking to obscenity. Mollye had her art--hard work, plenty to engage her energies. She was not one of those terrible half-occupied married women who gobble their spouses in semblance of a certain genus of spiders. Had he but a miserable threepence per copy on his books sold, it would be nearly £900. With such a sum he could have provided the car which Blanche craved, and many little luxuries which it would have been such joy to give his family. He recalled Freda stepping into his publisher's big new car, with a saucy twinkle: "Someone must support these gentlemen in a style befitting the dignity of publishing, while poets travel steerage or on foot." Resentment against Cunninge & Skynnot must be banished as sand in his alembic. The old pioneers who spat on their hands, and grunted from morning till night from effort had had little more than shelter and food, and graves lost in seeding grasses. Newer generations reaped the benefit and amenities of their toil, and frequently strangers overseas drew the dividends...He must pay his debt to poets since Virgil...If he could produce nought but a bruised fragment, nevertheless he must lay that on the creative altar or remain unshriven...What would Uncle Erik have in the end but one of those graves amid the re-encroaching scrub?...These printer fellows, with his thousand pounds that would have released him, were paving the way for publishers of better ethics; or the Commonwealth democracy might some day awake to the necessity of protecting its geniuses as well as its printers, hod-carriers, and casual labourers...Harmony...sleep...Mollye. Sleep were heaven enough...sleep for ever.

The town was quiet for a tiny hour. The cocks had it with the song of the river as accompaniment.


CHAPTER XIX

I

On the last day of the official celebrations was a pilgrimage to old places. The party had lunch at The Gap, where the Brennans still reigned. Since the days of old Tim and his dear Maria, a quite grand house had been built. Some of the young Mesdames Brennan, reared at Toorak or Potts Point, and further demoralized by smattering trips to Europe, had considered Brennan's Gap plebeian, and changed the name to Carmel Hall. That did not last long when Mollye heard of it. Her contacts abroad had been sufficiently deep to give her new values. Who nowadays, demanded she, had five or ten miles on either bank of a matchless river for their very own, and a natural and historical name for their estate? Brennan's Gap was geographic and romantic, a name in a thousand. To change to such names as Riverside or Hillview showed impoverished understanding. Mollye had the pioneer name embossed on the stationery, and lesser minds soon found it a source of pride.

The pilgrims purred along the new road which followed the tracks made when cattle had been the only engineers in those parts, engineers for ever unexcelled in their gradients. They came to the old spot and laid wreaths on the grave of Sister Mary. When the blundering asked Mollye if she too intended to die unwed, she laughed, "With luck and the wind behind me, I hope not." Her happy eyes sought Dick's, and he felt the weight of another duty settling upon his spirit.

Old Jerry had been persuaded to enter a motor car by Mollye, who put her arm around him at the bumps. They returned to town past where his father's little humpy once stood. The spot was marked by a glorious mulberry-tree, from which the company ate, while Jerry told how it had been rooted from a layer from old Mr Mazere's first mulberry-tree by his famous English gardener, old Grubb.

Farther down the Bool Bool Flats was the site of old Billy Parsons's home, still marked by a few twisted quince-trees. The farm was now a No Man's Land, where flooded gums were maturing in a dense scrub and the river boulders were uncovered, because a fence of weeping-willow rails had germinated into trees which deflected the course of the Yarrabongo.

"It don't seem as if none of them imported things is nothing but a curse," observed Jerry. "There's them sparrers...ate all my wheat one year as fast as I put it in. An' them foxes always takin' the lambs, and eatin' out all the possums and curlews and everything natural in the bush. And lor', them rabbits! Me brother and me started out in the back county in the eighties, an' was eaten clean out in the nineties with 'em; an' now it's them pommies. They come an' take a man's job away from him. I reckon we ought to be kep' safe somehow from all them imported curses. The Government oughter do something."

There was talk of the flood of 'fifty-two. Never since had a similar area been submerged there.

"An aeroplane would have been the dickens of a convenience then," observed Erik Labosseer.

Jerry turned his bird-like old head. "It couldn't have landed in the water. I'm thinkin' old Melacmelac an' his stringy-bark canoe was a sight more convenient."

"There are places where the horse will never be outdone by either air machines or cars," said Larry Healey.

"For all except a few places the horse is useless, and they'll soon invent something better. There is no limit to what science can do," said George Stanton.

"Slops!" said Larry. "Science can do nothing when it comes to life and death. As soon as you get a belly-ache you quake and lose faith in science keeping you alive, if it's your time to die. If man doesn't use his science to stop war instead of to make it more deadly, he might as well have been drowned in Noah's flood."

"Must have been taking a nip," whispered Philippa. "Change the subject before Dad joins in, or Judith will hear." But Judith was interested in both old men, and thought Philippa a bore only outdone by Blanche.

The automobiles went on across the plains where some of the trees planted by old Mazere still stood. Others had fallen to white ants or to some peanut-brained axeman. There was but little maize upon the flats now. Automobiles did not consume it. Tobacco, also introduced by the famous Mazere, was no longer a paying crop. Paddocks of it were wasting. Only a few of the clouds of white cockatoos that of old had raided the grain were to be seen drifting about the horizon like sheets of paper in the wind, and a dead one spread upon the fence of a dairy-farm grain patch was a warning to his fellows.

The party returned across the river and turned down Vicarage Ridge to St Matthew's to see its windows to Philip and Rachel Mazere, and several of the old Stantons and Saunders. Then to the new Roman Catholic church with its windows commemorating the old Brennans and M'Haffetys, and out to the Old Cemetery to lay wreaths on pioneer graves. The headstones and little footstones erected long ago were all intact. The cemeteries of Bool Bool are beautifully kept.

The girls had armfuls of flowers which they placed on the grave of Emily Mazere. Flowers were laid by those smiling and happy and young, and by some old and frail. The pilgrimage was melancholy only to the ageing. So long as Youth's immediate collaborator is safe, nothing is saddening, but rather adds tang to emotion.

"Dear, oh dear! What a purty girl she was. Like an angel, never another the same," said old Jerry, his reminiscence lit by the indelible flare of adolescence, "unless it be this young lady here...Whose darter be you, miss? I forget things now...I well remember Miss Emily. It was in the same year after the big flood when we took them cattle all the way to the diggings in Victoria--I was only ten--all the way from here to there, and nary the sign of a fence or a gate. Different today, eh?"

"It hardly seems possible," said someone, as someone always did when Jerry told that yarn.

"Tell us some more, please, Mr Riddall," said Laleen, prettily slipping her hand under the old man's arm. Aunt Fannie and Bill Parsons were made to sit on the kerbing of the Mazere graves while Jerry stood near by. Laleen had a precocious appreciation of the beauty of this story. It distilled life's inevitable pathos to have the old man repeating it beside the grave that was dug for youth just over seventy years ago. Emily had been twenty-one. The legend was there for all to read, "who met her death by drowning in the Mungee, October 1857".

"The year of the wreck of the Dunbar," said someone. Someone always did.

"Yes, I remember that too," said Jerry. "An' never a fence nor paddick or gate all the way, an' no police or squatters to say us nay. We topped-up the mob on the way--no one to shove us through the runs then--yes."

"You started right out this way, didn't you?"

"That we did, right over this a-way...for I don't remember it bein' fenced then. The curlews and plovers used to kick up a terrible row here in them days. My, them curlews! I used to put me head under the blanket when I was a little nipper for fear they'd git me. It was all big trees then. Some of 'em left on the Common still. What a tale they could tell if they could talk--yes. They've seen the blackfellows' corroborees. Have seen 'em meself, here, an' seen a fight too, out by Wamgambril. Yes, we come right past here with them cattle. They're a lovely sight, miss...a lot o' cattle. I'd like to see 'em again afore I die, but I don't see so fine now as then."

"You can see better than many now," said Laleen.

"Yes, you'll see a lot of us young ones out yet, I expect," said Nat.

"Tell us who was there, Jerry?"

"We was all there. For the start everyone come out with us, even Mr Mazere, the old gentleman of Three Rivers, and old Mr Brennan of The Gap...even they wasn't so old then. An' Terry M'Haffety the butcher, an' afterwards built the pub, he come with us all the way...All the young fellers. Bert Poole, him that was engaged to you, miss, I mean was engaged to Miss Emily that is so like you that to my old head it seems as if she was back."

Laleen pressed his hand gently. She sat him on the coping of a grave near by, that of Charlotte, wife of Philip Mazere, sister of Bert Poole, who long ago in the discomfort of imminent motherhood had ridden over the wintry hills from Monaro.

"It was a great morning that. Spring...an' the bush was all untouched and flowers everywhere--everywhere, hardly a track out here...and the birds, you couldn't hear your ears for Jackies and Maggies and Willy-waggies. Dozens of other birds too...my, they made it like heaven them days...with a great big choir singin'. Pheasants used to mock the axe or whip..." He waved his hand back of the graveyard where the Mungee and Coolooluk road stretched brick-red over the hill and lost itself in ranges still clothed with the silver-grey of mountain apple, white or yellow-box, mess-mate, stringy-bark, and here and there the darker cherry.

"All the young fellers...them today can't ride the same. Ain't got the horses. Horses ain't got the action. No chests. Their legs is set too near together like a sheep...Bert Poole was on a terrible good beast...you's heard all about him, the way the bushrangers done one of theirs to look the same...the talk of the district in them days. I remember as a little boy layin' on me belly in the scrub an' seein' the bushrangers pass right out there near Back Creek." The old man pointed where the road wound red and cream over Melac-melac Hill and branched away to The Gap and Ten Creeks Run and Jinninjinninbong and Canberra.

"I never told no one, not even my ma, I was that scared the bushrangers might know it an' come back an' shoot me. But Bert Poole, he was never scared, an' he loved that young lady, an' so did all the other young fellers. They was all ridin' round the gate of Three Rivers that mornin' for a last word with her. Ah, it was terrible sad, when we heard she was drownded. We couldn't make it seem true. We all went up to the Fish Hole, yes...That was terrible sad. But it was all so long ago, it doesn't seem to matter so much now. We must all die some time, an' the time is gettin' terrible short for some of us...Miss Emily was like an angel afore she was dead, seems to me she would be at home in heaven. An' you too, miss...Is that young feller goin' to marry you?"

"Yes," said Nat, stepping forward and taking Laleen's hand. "You must come to the wedding, Mr Riddall."

Laleen's blushes, the appeal in her eyes, had impelled Nat to this demonstration, this and the sad story of the young girl who had so dearly loved Bert Poole, while Bert through unnecessary delays had never had her for his bride. What if life should repeat itself? One could have a thing one moment--like his own artistry--and be robbed of it another. Laleen in the sunlight, beside the mound of the girl she was said to resemble, suddenly became too precious to leave unclaimed another moment.

"I reckon I'm too old for weddin's now, but you marry that young lady quick afore nothing happens like it did to Miss Emily long ago, an' afore she is snapped up by some other young feller."

The wistful mood induced by the graveyard was dispersed by Jerry's jocularity and the dramatic style of Nat's announcement. The whole party pressed around the young pair with kisses and congratulations. Aunt Fannie took off the carrick-bend of gold that had been given to Emily seventy years before by Mollye's great-grandmother, and with tears and trembling hands pinned it in Laleen's dress.

They retreated from the headstones glistening in the vivid sunlight, down towards the site of the old Mazere homestead of Three Rivers. Not a stone, not a tree of it remained. Aunt Fannie had had the doorpost of the dining-room, in which the initials of Bert, Emily, and others had been cut during the flood-bound days of 'fifty-two, set up in her garden, but exposure was having its way with it.

"Just as well," remarked Uncle Erik. "What's the sense in saving useless old things and being sad over them? I reckon every old thing ought to be swept away."

"But it's only savages or riff-raff who keep no records and raise no monuments," remarked Laleen's mother.

A wide dusty street went right through the site of the old homestead. Hard new cottages stood where its gardens had been, but the name was preserved in Three Rivers Park, where were Mazere's Lagoons, washed out in old Great-grandpa Mazere's orchards in the flood. Dick grieved. Surely the beautiful, mature trees could have been spared. Brains with a little taste could have planned the new suburb around them. He could smell and see in his dreams the masses of cream blossoms on the giant acacia trees that had dotted that slope.

"Another seventy years and there won't be many of us left, unless Laleen and Nat and a few of the young ones," observed Larry.

"Emily would be ninety-two if she were here now," said Aunt Fannie.

"It is beautiful to think of her for ever young," said Judith, in her vibrant husky voice.

"That might be all very pretty now to look back, but it must have made a great upheaval and a shock for all at the time," said Blanche.

"Yes," said Mollye, clasping Laleen's hand. "We don't want to be loved of the gods to the extent of following Emily, do we?"

"We can only realize the past and how they felt by making the case our own," observed Uncle Sylvester. "Supposing the news came today that one of the young people was drowned--how terrible it would be."

"You've no idea," murmured Aunt Fannie. "The grown-ups of those days would never even speak of it for fear Mamma might overhear."

"The river looks so little, just like a silver thread away down there; it doesn't seem possible that it could have been so big and dangerous a flood in those days," observed Mollye.

Glances turned north-east across the peaceful flats dotted with roofs and orchard patches, which were never inundated now. The Bulgoa could be seen joining the Yarrabongo, and the wedded waters glinting like glass in the sunlight where the old coach road climbed the hill above Back Creek beyond Saunders Plains and was lost in the Nanda Ranges.

"Don't you suppose that flood has kept on growing in the old people's minds?" said Philippa. "Old people gradually exaggerate every time they tell a story. Very likely it wasn't such a flood at all. The same about Emily. If she could swim like the girls today I don't believe she need have been drowned."

"I'm so seized with her story that I'd like to see the Fish Hole," said Judith.

II

In the evening Bool Bool was to have its grand concert. The population for fifty miles and farther was coming. Not only was Mollye to sing, but Nat was to do something extraordinary with the Bool Bool orchestra. Secrecy had been imposed upon these adventurous artists, but still it had leaked out that they were to play something wonderfully Australian, for which there had been entertaining experiments with bullock bells, concertinas, jews' harps, and even combs under tissue paper, out of which many a bushman had made good music between the thirties and seventies. Nat had grown upon Bool Boolians. At first they had been indifferent towards a full-grown man who merely played the piano for a living like a girl, and attributed it to his "towniness", but his unassuming ways, the pleasure and pride he gave through the band--now blossoming as an orchestra--his kindness to every performer, his enthusiasm about their talent, had resulted in his being proclaimed a real good scout.

Even Mollye's splendid strength might have been shaken by the list of old favourites she was asked to sing, but Irma Mazere, who was a fine mezzo-soprano and popular, took some of the weight off the diva's throat. So that Bool Bool should not be ridiculed by the cognoscenti, Mollye threw in two great Wagnerian numbers, which she was supposed to have made her own for her generation, but no Valkyrie yell that night. "Believe me if all" was her mood. (For detailed information consult the programmes turned out by the printing establishment of the Bool Bool Courier and Mungee Times, which are preserved as souvenirs, and signed by Mollye, Nat, Judith, Dick, Irma, and others.)

It flashed like electricity that Nat, commonly regarded during the week as Laleen's "young man", was really now her affianced husband. As he stood up before his orchestra, tall and slim and shapely, that knowledge added fervour to the applause. Romance was in that reception, as it was in the fit of Nat's perfect linen and evening-suit, in the sleek shining lines of his hair, his lean, athletic Australian grace. Yes, they liked this young man, so silent, so unassuming, who scarcely spoke except with his fingers on the piano, or his baton. There he stood amid the racket, saluted for his orchestra, his local orchestra, the town's own. He bowed, and bowed, and bowed, and blushed, and blushed, and paled, and laid down his baton, which was a little stick cut from the tea-tree of Coolooluk. He folded his arms, and smiled and waited. Hush! He was to begin his own music--music which might be the overture of the great Australian opera.

They were all nervous and excited, orchestra, master, and audience. Laleen felt as though she had ceased to live on earth, but might be in one of those strange midway heavens that one heard of. The young were excited by the presence of romance and adventure which might similarly invest themselves any day; even the old for a moment forgot that life was so futilely fleeting.

To see the local band awake under Nat's stick like an orchestra in the moving pictures, to hear kookaburras laugh out of it, to hear old bullock bells and concertinas embroidering familiar airs--there was something which had never hap! pened before in Bool Bool, or elsewhere! Nat, wise in his surroundings, did not try his audience too long with new movements, but inserted a pot-pourri of old favourites--"Home Sweet Home", "The Puir Auld Folk", "Robin Adair", "The Dear Little Shamrock", "Oft in the Stilly Night". The spirit of the occasion was high above criticism of any roughness in conception or execution.

Dick watched Laleen. The dear child was having a marvellous hour. Why should ecstasy be so fleeting, quiet harmony so difficult to attain? He had no means of arriving at Nat's attitude. Nat never expounded himself. Matrimony was as difficult as art to some temperaments. Its power to suffocate a man in a dungeon of association with but one woman was one of its chief terrors, which only the respectably married, if intellectual and sensitive, could fully realize. The relationship which marriage stabilized could be revolting in the licence which marriage ensured. Men married for other considerations, such as to secure a housekeeper, or companion, a partner who would make her material interests his--Dick well knew that such contracts could be a tyranny outweighing all benefits and comforts. The things of the flesh. He lived so little in the flesh that he craved neither wife nor mistress. Since the termination of his marital incarceration, he had deeply enjoyed intellectual association with the delightful women who had been too wild, too fastidious or something, to submit to such matrimonial opportunities as had been theirs; or those who had escaped from marriage. This had been a revelation, and he hated to jeopardize such delights through re-marriage. Marriage undoubtedly had its good side. It protected a man from the hunting women, either those of abnormal sex appetites for "affairs", or those who sought a berth with meals and board, giving as little in exchange as possible. Better if men could be as the higher animals, confined to seasons, between which there could be intellectual association permitted by even dragon wives because it would not endanger their berths or their other peculiar and particular rights under monogamy.

Nat's ovation subsided and Irma was singing "Robin Adair". Next there was Mollye decked as for New York or London, among her very own people, singing like an archangel, her heart in her eyes, her song for him, Dick, also among his own people. Not so many moments may a man have thus for his own; not so often in this world or the next be loved by the queen in the story, from the time he was two...with love carnal or...ah! it was a sin and a shame to think of Mollye's loving-kindness as carnal. As Mary Brennan's long ago, it was the love of an angel of unselfishness, whose very memory would persist through generations, a lamp lit with love. And there she was singing...singing...the great song was closing.

Her audience went literally wild. Only a poisonous cynic or pretentious prig could have criticized Mollye's song or her love to that audience. Dick was much moved, and she looked towards him every time she smiled, his sensitive smile, his mobile face stirring the core of her.

Later, she sang and sang again, pouring forth her golden notes till it seemed the singer was wholly song. "The Dear Little Shamrock", "Home Sweet Home"--anything and everything was demanded. Then she sang "The She-oaks sigh..." As soon as the audience heard the first bar, they thundered for minutes. The song had been sung often during the festivities, with "The Little Town of Bool Bool", and they all could join in. Calls for Dick brought him up on the platform to bow with Mollye and Nat.

"The Little Town" was sung and resung, and Irma and Brenda and Dick had another ovation. No ovation was greater than Irma's and Brenda's. The town did not forget its home birds amid the more brilliant visitors. The crowd demanded the Major-General. His speech about not being able to sing, but only to be ready again when Australia should have another "bust up", and his jokes and reminiscences, had a context as popular as the songs. They had Freda and George Stanton, and insisted upon speeches from both. They had the old hands--those that had stayed the course, and these had to be protected from the loving crush.

They called for the "Queen", and hailed her as a bride and suggested circulating a hat there and then for the wedding present. Nat and Laleen, blushing like roses, and standing hand in hand, endeared themselves as only youth can. Nat for a moment forgot the hazards of his way. Laleen was certain as sunshine that hers henceforth could be nothing but glory. She had always known that all she needed was release from domestic prosaics to shine before the world. Looking down at poor old Blanche, so old, with no prince to love her, while she herself was going into dazzling renown, Laleen felt how unworthy of her waiting kingdom she had been, how unsympathetic to Blanche and Philippa, and wished she could recall her impatience and exasperation.

Blanche was wondering what she could give the bride. She wouldn't want silver or linen or furniture, capering about the world with a papist, like a mountebank. A trousseau might be the best...It looked very fine now, but that fellow might not turn out so wonderfully.

Philippa wondered if they would be married before Nat sailed, and what she herself would wear.

The audience was calling for the English lady. They showed her that "pommy" could he a term of affection and admiration. Welcome to a visitor, thanks to a worker, pride in her, in her jewels and another of her marvellous gowns, were all in the ovation that thundered round and round Judith like a bombardment, till, hardened artiste though she was, the tears ran down her cheeks, and the call for a speech found her tones so unsteady that, tactful ever, she took refuge in reciting one of Dick's poems, and at its conclusion, with her hands clasped and looking unbelievably appealing, she told them how her heart was Bool Bool's for ever, and meant it.

Oh, a night of nights for the populace, such a night as is rarely experienced by the common man; but by the great artist, Freda was thinking, so frequently that it loses its delight and becomes but a standard involving strain to surpass, or depression and jealousy if it measures less. To Laleen it was fathomless. Emotion enlarged her till she was in key with the universe. Her story, rounding out the festivities with youthful romance, had touched all hearts. It seemed as if Emily Mazere had been given a second chance, had come back for the joyous cup that long ago she left unquaffed.

III

The little town had never known so high a temperature. The good citizens on whom the burden of arrangements rested were proud and happy in their success. They congratulated and thanked each other, as engines cranked and baulked, and one snorting monster after the other carried its tired burdens away from the Agricultural Hall.

"Isn't it lovely to think of Laleen and her young man winding it up that way?" remarked Aunt Mary.

"Yes. I hope he's the clean potato, and that she pulls it off before anything can happen to her." Uncle Erik was going home to Coolooluk despite the hour. "The Lord knows, those flaming tourists may have set a light to the hay or shot the milkers in mistake for bison or kangaroos, and that last jackeroo has as much sense as a leatherhead."

Dick was with the family, as he wished to have every moment possible in the old places. "There's a letter for you, Dick. I was so flaming busy I forgot it," said Uncle when the town was left behind. It was American. Dick put it in his pocket till safely in his hut. He read, his heart pounding:

DEAREST DADDY,

If this reaches you I hope you will reply at once by cable, Dear Daddy, I don't like this fat dago Mum is going to marry. He is the pawing sort, you would think he was going to marry me too. So I want to go to Australia and live with your people and take care of you. Mum does not want me any longer.

I remember you quite well. I think of Australia as my country too, and I want to see all the strange animals you used to tell me about when I was little. I don't believe any of the mean things Mum says about you. I love you and want you. I think maybe this he-man wow is overdone, and it is time some of it went on file.

I am your loving daughter,

ELSA.

He had thought of her as safely settled and happy, right out of his life. Here she was, right in it. This was a trumpet-call that he could not disregard. He must not let the girl come to Australia. She would not be at home in the environment. He must go to her as quickly as sailings and funds permitted.

Mollye! He had practically committed himself! This put the tin hat on that! He was faced with the need to tell Mollye immediately. He felt no relief now that this way out had come. Relinquishment filled him with regret. Thus he wakened to the depth of his affection for Mollye, and knew that her loss would impoverish life beyond computation. If a man could be married and free too! If he had Freda to advise him! If a man could have two wives...no...not exactly...one had been too much. What he really wished was that marriage need not be an incarceration in which a respectable man was for ever cut off from association with other women. Why should life be so complicated when he desired only harmony and solitude to put the silence, and the voice of that silence, the song of the rivers, their aroma, into words...like strings of gems?

He had no hope of so much as a smear of sleep, so he lay where he could look on Night's fairies flinging starbeams down the gullies while the Coolooluk and Mungee, rushing from their fastnesses, sang their cool and endless song to the stately trees. He went with the water by dewy flats rich with produce, through gorge and swamp. On and on to old Murrumbidgee, by Gundagai and Wagga, the wild sweet song silenced as the water wandered sluggishly in the wilderness, as Moses had done, as he himself was doing, but at length to reach the salty Bight and meet the endless swell that rolls there in the unchecked winds that patrol the empty south.

Then he roamed over the crest of the ridge, and the beauty of the Harbour met him on every side. Bays and inlets of celestial loveliness in enfolding, soothing warmth. There was a tiny maid of three, her locks on end in the embracing zephyr. A little sapling at the same stage of growth as the maid--the same incomparable grace and winsomeness, her locks too flowing in the breeze. A frolicking foal with its frizzy tail...How could he express these beauties?...There were two grand old people, probably great-grandparents of the maid of three; they knew the importance of his commission. Their understanding was as grateful as the melting breeze and the celestial blues of the water. There was nothing to delay his effort. The responsibility was to do these ecstasies justice...

He awakened as softly as the dawn. He had been dreaming. He valued dreams as a certificate of at least a few minutes' sleep. This dream had left him the beauty of those three young things, the blues of that enlarged harbour and the comforting understanding of those mellow old people...A trumpet! It was daybreak...the neigh of horses waking in the camp on the Stock Route on Labosseer's hill.

That little foal...It was long since he had had that delight. He was homesick for foals. As a boy, his springtimes had been full of foals...They had gone. He must preserve these things that were gone.

The horses were whinnying in the fresh dawn.

The silvery neigh of the horse camp waking, like trumpets clear and cool.

There was a line to encourage a man...He lay garnering the beauty of his dream--a poet's dream. Would the line go better:

The horse camp wakes, like silver trumpets, high upon the hill.

The horses! A vanishing race--no more foals--no more horses...

No more to ride tantivy with the wind!


CHAPTER XX

I

Sir Oswald's touring car climbed the considerable rise out of Bool Bool and halted on the crest at the beginning of the Mungee-Coolooluk road, where the Shire has started its avenue of sugar gums and the rose-red chocolate soil gives place to grey. It was blue today, the latest storm having washed away the blinding and left the metal naked. Sir Oswald had Freda beside him. Every now and again he looked at her with a schoolboy, disarming grin.

"I did that rather neatly, didn't I? Must do something to get half an hour's pleasant company amid the mob of splintering bores. So here we are at ten twenty-five of the clock, and what have you to say for yourself?"

"That it is a lovely, lovely, heavenly morning! Just a crispness at daylight and dusk, but blazing hot for a couple of weeks yet in the middle of the day."

They looked back at the little town lying on its hillside sloping to the river. Away to one corner above Saunders Plains the Nanda peaks were blue with distance. Right in front a road gashed Melacmelac Hill, which took its name from the bygone aboriginal king, who had been a protective friend of the early pioneers. Past The Gap lay the Coolgarbilli River, and Mount Corroboree inaccessible to vehicles, where the corroboree rings still held in a wild solitude with sentinel peaks of sheer black ironstone rearing their heads to the blue skies like colossal disfeatured gods. The Bogongs, cleft by Brennan's Gap, streamed south in wave upon wave via Neangen and Jenningningahama to the limestone country of Monaro. Straight ahead, already discernible, were Big Coolooluk and Little Coolooluk under which, thirty miles distant, nestled the old Labosseer homestead.

A busy session on the telephone had resulted in this private picnic to Mungee Fish Hole on Saturday, so that Judith Laurillard could see the scene of Emily's drowning.

"Yes, the weather is cracker-jack--better than the Riviera, though that is so cracked up, but I didn't employ stratagem to have you tell me about the weather."

"What did you want me to tell you?" She looked at him provocatively.

"Something that I could remember to make the London fogs seem as delightful as this sunlight."

"Well, you are a Mazere and a Poole, and that--anything honestly Australian--means a sound middle-classness. Experiments in promiscuity may be serving a purpose in transition from prudery to sanity for the modern girl. They--certain cliques only--can indulge without feeling they are lowered, and the young man can accept without feeling that the girl is wanton. That is impossible in your case and mine, seeing those early inhibitions. I am old-fashioned, if you like to put it that way."

"I only found that out by accident. To see and hear you--"

"That is my façade that I have erected for business. Supposing people knew what you know (what you think you know), why, I'd be at the mercy of every man. Now, your title is part of your façade, or surely no decent Australian would plaster himself with such a servile thing; and what else?"

He slapped himself with robust good humour. "Only my bay-window front, and that is just what it seems to be; not like your innocence, which even now has got me guessing."

"You were going to show me the photographs..." He knew he was being put off, but brought out a portfolio. There were Press photographs and snapshots of every phase of the celebrations. There was the Major-General landing from the plane, and in groups with his relatives and Judith and other guests. There were studies of Laleen, so lovely that he would have no difficulty in having them inserted in the Tatter or Country Life or other society papers. They would go very well in London with the tale of these celebrations. They could be given an airing now and again--when the opera opened with Austra, when Judith acted in a new play, and always tagged on to himself and his native town--very creditable indeed. He hoped Dick would marry Austra soon and bring out some poems; so long as he didn't have to read them himself, poems were all to the good socially in London...Laleen must remain single for a time. Horan was not good enough--a grocery store in Prahran! In London with Mollye back of her, and himself and his wife pulling strings, a beauty like that should be able to pick and choose. It would be top-hole to exhibit such an ornamental member of his own clan. Something might be done to fillip Horan out of the picture. Some rich woman might become enamoured of him...the game was only just beginning. Yes, Laleen and Dick...he liked all that family. Good old Blanche had certainly done her best for them, and deserved credit. He hadn't done anything for her, and she had been so hospitable to him. He must have a farewell dinner for her at the Australia, her and Philippa, of course, and a few others picked on purpose, and a show after. He made a note of it. And Freda...he must be sure about her. There were pictures of her in her finery, and of himself with Mrs Mazere in their burlesque. Even Mrs Mazere, though she looked like a brewery lorry, was a woman of sense and family...

Mollye's car was coming now with Nat, Laleen, and Mrs Healey in the front seat, and Mollye, Larry, and Brenda Brennan in the tonneau. Sir Oswald had asked Nat to bring the Healey parents thus far. He descended to receive them into his car. Judith's car was also nearing, smart uniformed chauffeur (a pommy) and all. Numerous other cars were packed with people, for whom space in this narrative forbids leading or even speaking parts, though they were of importance in Bool Bool; and members of the Mazere and Stanton and Saunders clans.

Coolooluk and the Mungee Stantons, of which latter family George was the travelled member, were combining for this picnic. The wet season having played havoc with the road on the Mungee side of the river, the Bool Bool travellers were going up on the Coolooluk side, to be taken over the stream by the Stantons. As the cars spun down the long road from Bool Bool, Uncle Erik's Dodge was descried coming to meet them; and yes, there, too, was Aunt Mary in the sulky. Its silver appointments gleamed in the sun; as everything of Uncle Erik's, it was kept in a first-class manner. The old mare, Britomarte, twenty-four years off, looked better than many a beast taking a prize in up-country show rings in degenerate days. Aunt Mary had started early with Dick. He delighted to go slowly and look at the trees, as a lover at his mistress. The permanent residents chipped Dick about the trees on every possible and impossible occasion.

"Should have been in the old-timers' procession," they called out today. Dick and Aunt Mary had had a beautiful drive. Now they were all arrived at the rushing, foaming, pellucid, treacherous, immortal, singing Mungee, that had drowned Emily Mazere so long ago, and since that date, when the impulse moved it for human sacrifice, had never failed of its prize.

Dick waved his whip. "Must keep going, as we're the its tortoise and you're the hare--see you later!" Aunt Mary smiled happily, and they went down into the crossing.

This old-time one had been used before automobiles. The river was swift and strong here, and a crossing no light thing. Sudden storms frequently washed holes in a good one or piled it with boulders. Here was plenty of space, the river flowing straight for half a mile above and without rapids below, so that horses had room to be swept down some distance when the river was high. The bank had been cut away to make an entrance on either side, and the water on the rich dark soil looked deep as a well.

"Oh, Mrs Labosseer, you are never going into that in a little spindle-wheeled vehicle--the way the river is rushing beyond is too terrible!" called Judith in startled tones.

"It's where you can't see it rushing that it's dangerous," said Uncle Erik. "Old Britomarte has been doing that job for twenty years. She ought to know something about it. You watch her."

The old mare could have taken that stream with a lame shoulder and her eyes blindfolded. She neither halted nor hurried, but with efficient lady-like mien tackled the passage. The river was higher than expected. It ran into the sulky. Aunt Mary tucked her feet up and Dick put his on the splash-board, and on they went, thump, thump through the boulders. First one wheel and then the other would be high, the old mare's shoes cracking as if something must split, but soon she was taking the opposite bank at an acute angle, her body wet and gleaming.

"I'd like to do that," exclaimed Judith.

Uncle Erik coo-eed for Dick to return. Dick was triumphantly waving his whip.

"Oh, but the poor old mare, she'll be so tired!"

Guffaws greeted this. "She could do that all day not so long ago and never bother. You'd get tired long before she would."

Aunt Mary got out and sat on a log while the mare took the stream again. Judith's nerve shook going down into the great dark well, but she remembered that Aunt Mary had just gone on ahead. Again in the stream she felt giddy. It seemed as if they were being swept down, and down, and down. The river was thirty yards wide here with higher ground and terrible boulders in the middle.

Dick seeing her seasick look said, "Put your arm in mine and shut your eyes. Even horses turn giddy in these streams."

This was effective, and soon they were climbing the opposite bank, Judith with very wet feet. Aunt Mary got up, and Dick drove on without any more jaunts. A couple of Stanton boys were nearing to effect the crossing in a high tip-dray with a mighty flea-bitten grey, a beast of yesterday, unexcelled, one of the old hands, as well known in her circle as Jerry Riddall. She was of nondescript breed, immensely tall, with a wither that towered like a hill, and a magnificent chest bespeaking wind and action. She had kilted fetlocks, but also a dash of the coaching breed which gave her activity. Her intelligence and character, as those of other old hands, were a gift of God. She was coming at a swift pace for such a beast, the dray rattling and thumping like a crushing machine. Down into the river with a sneeze of goodwill, an artist and soldier she, who never made trouble. When first taken in as a filly she had neither turned giddy nor jibbed, and had since kept her feet in that stream with the water washing over her back, on one memorable occasion fighting for foothold, keeping it, too, though she came out nearly a mile from where she went in.

The guests were welcomed by a couple of the young Stan-tons, typical of their breed, tall and athletic, quietly genial. They wanted to know why this one and that one wasn't there.

"Haven't you enough here?" said Blanche.

"Might as well have a lot while we're about it. Isn't Mr James coming?"

"He disappeared without saying good-bye to anyone but Aunt Fannie. Ask Blanche why," said Uncle Erik.

Blanche averred that she knew nothing of Bob James nor why he should have disappeared so quietly, but it seemed to be firmly established that he had left the party because Blanche refused to make him a cousin of the clan.

"I thought he was very nice, and a suitable age," said Irma. "I'm disappointed you wouldn't have him, Blanche."

"Oh, he'll propose again, and perhaps Blanche will think better of it," said Freda. "He knows too much about human nature to take one refusal seriously."

Blanche denied having received a proposal, but she laughed quite genially. She enjoyed being the focal point of any kind of talk.

One Stanton held the old grey--she was always eager to be about her work--others helped some guests off a petrol box, while the young swarmed over wheels and tailboard. Adrian Stanton regulated the numbers. "Give the old grey a bit of a show. She's a bonny old girl, but not quite an elephant."

Some sat flat, some stood and clung to Adrian, who had the reins to balance him. Down into the well the old mare went, with a sneeze of goodwill; crack, thump across the stream, then with a mighty setting of her shoulders into the collar, with rattle of hames and chains as if she must break out of the harness, she climbed the other bank. How many times she had crossed that river toting loads of laughing, joking guests, no one could compute, for the pioneer stations gave hospitality with no counting of heads or costs, and Mungee and Coolooluk were two of the rare old strongholds where open house still reigned.

They were all across in three or four loads, and repaired with quip and laughter to the scene of Emily's drowning, blurring Time having transformed a place of tragedy to a resort of pleasure.

"So this is the Fish Hole," said Judith, looking around. "What a beautiful spot! Has it changed much since 'fifty-seven?"

"A good deal," said Dick. "When I was here last, nearly twenty years ago, you couldn't see more than a yard or two in any direction, but the hole itself is still the same. I'll show you where I used to sit and fish, and watch the Ornithorhynchus anatimus plopping up."

A mighty river gum, spared for its majesty, still sentinelled the scene as it had done in the drowned girl's day, when no sign of a habitation but that of her sister Isabel was to be seen within miles and miles. A goshawk perched in a dead twig like a piece of candle-bark, and watched as of yore. There were plenty of kookaburras, magpies, soldier-birds, and other fruit-eaters in their season. Only the plovers and curlews, lyre-birds and marsupials were rare now, having been exterminated by foxes and rabbits.

The later loads began to appear on foot or in the car from Mungee homestead with viands and billies and fruit and all sorts of gear. They were well used to these picnics. Dick awaited Freda and Mollye. He would have preferred to speak to Freda first, but that did not seem right. That was the trouble with matrimony, even in the antechamber of mere engagement; every natural impulse of friendship had usually to be suppressed as "not right". Monogamy, if carried out in its entirety, was almost as immolating as monkhood. Freda called out to him as she came, "Isn't this heavenly?" She would feel about it as he did. A flood of peace was theirs on beholding the trees. There were plenty Marthas of both sexes to fuss about the hot water and food, so they slipped away from the exchange of inquiries concerning ailments inevitable in a society where the children play at hospitals and doctors, and no one talks health if he can possibly dote on disease.

Dick and Freda traversed the great rocks amid the tea-tree and wallaby apple and unnamed shrubs, stepping over little rills, some as dainty as though poured from a teapot, with ferns and mimulus complete on either bank.

"No child with its first toy-shop ever could feel more glee than I do with running water and these shrubs."

"Yes, I'm sure they'll be in my heaven...I must tell you about a letter I got last night." Dick seated himself on a rock while Freda halted where she could watch the flowing water. She could never have enough of its loveliness. Dick told what his daughter had said, suppressing the tone of the letter. "And the deuce of it is that on Thursday night after I left you, I as good as asked Mollye to make me a happy man. Now I shall have to recant."

She noted his excessive frailty, the weariness of face and bodily pose. "I think it is just lovely. Mollye will be delighted to have Elsa, especially as she is musical."

"Oh, I couldn't!"

"Now, don't settle down hard and fast. Tell Mollye, but leave it an open question. See what she will say."

"Perhaps you are right." He was ready, she could see, to grasp at any straw of peace.

"Wouldn't it be glorious if we could sit here all day and listen to the song of the river? I'd give anything for one whole year free from all that presses upon me."

"If we could only be freed from the tension of those who are on our hearts, it would be heaven," he confessed. "Overburdened by the mere animal struggle to live, we cannot exploit our higher potentialities. If we could make Cod a very present help in trouble we might manage something."

"This is like our childhood days of Ignez Milford's school for writers on She-oak Ridge."

"Yes. It must have just burst out of her like the springs from the rocks around here, as she never had any contacts nor saw anything to imitate." They fell to a duet of silence soothed by the song of the Mungee, like a sigh from paradise.

To Dick in these last precious hours, it seemed as though the earth had etherealized and he walked on air. His ears were full of a glamorous music as of a string and wood-wind orchestra just beyond concrete hearing...perhaps the river and the overtones of its sighing silence, if he could but wholly capture it, but it slipped past as the water of the Mungee. Freda's mention of Ignez brought a melody from memory to accompany the soothing, exhausting borderland clamour. A young voice, fresh and pure as the water, but as though its heritage of suffering were as old as the song of the river, rose again in its melting question:

>"What is there left me, O my love?
Only a wraith of yore,
A rose that is dead, a word that is said,
And a dream that comes no more."

Wraiths, dreams, and wraiths of dreams--all would glide past as that mesmerizing flow that had drowned Emily. No, that could not have drowned her. Where was that water that had flowed past seventy years ago--the same, yet not the same? It was symbolic of life. All that he could hold fast was the deep love of beauty, the recognition of it as truth. This was real--a grain of gold in the slipping sands of matter.

Blanche's suspicions of Ignez had spoilt the old-time retreat. Blanche's messenger, more than a quarter of a century later, was approaching in the person of Laleen accompanied by Nat.

"For goodness' sake go and find Freda and Dick," Blanche had instructed Laleen. "She ought to be ashamed of herself trying to come between him and Mollye at this hour." Laleen combated this, but with Nat as escort was willing to go seeking. They espied the absconders on a big flat rock, each obviously wrapped in his own thoughts. It was patent to Laleen that Freda was not exercising the tricks of coquetry. Her hair was untidy, her face without powder, and she leant against a rock, her eyes closed, while Dick sprawled at a distance, intent upon the tree-tops. Laleen was too young and passionate to understand that here might be the essence of communion. She simply thought that poor old Blanche was all wrong as usual.

"Our peace is invaded," murmured Freda.

"How I wish 'normal' people could understand my ambition to be the champion dud of a party so long as no one takes any notice of me! That's why it is bliss to be with you, Freda. You never introduce me, or tell anyone I'm the poet."

"Blanche sent me to find you, Dick. She says you mustn't sit on these rocks for fear of rheumatism."

Laleen walked on farther with Nat, the rhythm of the universe booming in her ears and intensifying the sparkle of the crisp March sunlight and the flowing song of the water. "Oh, isn't the river lovely, Nat? How it could have drowned my great-aunt Emily when she was young as I am, and with her lover just engaged as we are--how could anything so lovely be so cruel?"

"Perhaps it wasn't cruel. It gave Emily an immortality which she otherwise could never have had. You are giving me an idea for a movement in my work--the maiden as a sacrifice to the river, a gift to eternal youth and beauty. Let's sit down here as long as we can, away from the others...I wish I could poke about Bool Bool for a solid month and have my orchestra to try things...Gee, it's been a bonzer try-out..."

II

Mollye was clearly waiting for Dick as he and Freda returned. He went away with her directly, as the tins of water were not yet boiling, and the others were still busy setting out the eatables on a tarpaulin, and trying to protect them from the flies and ants.

As Freda had known it would be, Mollye saw in his news an additional property of happiness for all concerned. "Oh, Dick!" she exclaimed in her generous glowing way, "you leave her to me. I'm sure I can make her like me." The friend of princes, presidents, and prime ministers foresaw no difficulty in wooing a girl of seventeen or so.

"She would like you: it's not that."

"Well, I am sure I shall like her. Wait till I tell you what was decided after you left last night. Mrs Mazere thinks Laleen may be a little dazzled by Nat, and there is the question of religion (for young things like that--with older people it is a different matter); and so to safeguard Laleen we decided that she is to have a year abroad with me. She and Freda will both be in my suite constantly. It will he heaven for me, and will give Laleen a chance to see other young men as beautiful and gifted as Nat. And Ossy-Possy has been scrumptious. He says he would like to do something for Laleen in London. It would just fit in to have Elsa too. It is providential--just so much more happiness for us all."

"But I must have quiet..." He would not say rest.

Mollye's heart yearned over his frailty, but she knew enough not to remark it. So long as she had him, life was englamoured anew, as ambition and success had coloured it in her twenties. Her love was a resistless flood. "You shall have all the quiet you need. I shall not be possessive or devouring. Only come over and introduce me to Elsa, and then you can be as wild and shy as our own darling native shrubs and flowers. I shan't mind when we are a sedate married couple."

They returned arm-in-arm, causing interested whispers. The picnic progressed with chaffing about the present day and anecdotes of the past, as there never could be enough of the latter to satisfy Freda, Dick, and Mollye, and above all, Judith Laurillard. After the repast they inspected the exact spot of the tragedy, as it had been pointed out to those still living by those who had been present when the body was recovered.

The men estimated the height of the river gum that towered like a marble column above the tea-tree as men had been estimating it for generations, and wondering how long before Emily's day it had stood there. The Mungee was here little more than fifty feet. It ran between square pink rocks, power and depth evident in the swirling bubbles. Above the neck it flowed without a scar on its crystal surface, seemingly motionless, at the lower end of the reach falling away for ever in a divine song that filled all the glorious afternoon like a sigh from paradise.

"The river looks so small here. No one could be drowned in it today!" said Les Olliver.

"Don't be such a flaming fool as to think that," said Uncle Erik. "I've been too often nearly drowned in that river to trust it. It's as cold as the devil and as treacherous. I was riding a colt one morning only three years ago, and he got giddy as soon as the water got above his knees. Over he went--a fine large frosty morning it was--nearly did for me."

"You never told me!" cried Aunt Mary.

"I'm tellin' everyone now. Anyone who takes that river lightly is a fool, that's all. He's a pommy who doesn't know its character."

Adrian and Douglas, brothers of George, related similar experiences of half a dozen narrow escapes.

"It's so beautiful!" said Judith. "Such marvellous scenery!"

"You can't eat scenery, and a good view doesn't grow wool to make you a blanket." Uncle Erik's discontent broke out. "What the devil the old hands meant by settling in such a hole, God knows. We've been waiting for it to become valuable for a hundred years, and since motor cars have killed the price of maize, it's only going back every way."

"In years to come it will be the chief part of Australia," said Larry Healey. "Such a beautiful climate! What are our lives compared with that of a nation's? So many changes, I could not get the hang of the place at first, but the river is exactly the same--sounds the same, the only thing that doesn't change."

"If you live twenty or perhaps only ten years longer, you won't find even that," said Uncle Erik. "They are going to take up old Uncle Joseph Mazere's scheme at last. He made a fool of himself and wasted a fortune on it, and went away without seeing it come to anything, and no one knows what was the end of him. The Irrigation Commission is going to throw a darn across the neck above Grandmother Mazere's crossing, and we'll all be wiped out in a bottomless lake. The water will back up to the stables at Coolooluk, according to the surveyors' levels, and we'll be left hanging on to the ledges of the ranges by our eyebrows, and only get to Bool Bool by boat."

"Will Bool Bool be wiped out?" inquired Aubrey Mazere.

"A good thing if it was. All our ring-barking and scratching and fencing till our lives were a misery for a bare crust, and then the whole thing to be wiped out, and that's where even the rivers will go too."

The young people were all for a swim. "We must go in and chase away its bad reputation for killing Emily," said Laleen. Uncle Erik forbade, and had a chorus of support.

"Laleen must not go in! She's too like Emily to think of such a thing." He observed aside to Aunt Mary, "It's rather uncanny her resemblance to Emily, and though I'm not superstitious, I'll be jolly glad when these celebrations are over and she is safe back at home."

Being forbidden to swim near the Fish Hole, the women did not swim at all, but the men could not disguise their contempt of the little stream sparkling and singing in the sunlight. Nat and Les Olliver were both excellent swimmers, and Les was desirous of showing he could do something as well as this fellow who could play the piano.

"I'll show you," said Uncle Erik. "This stream is not to be despised. Look where it seems so still!" He threw a stout stick which was swept past at great speed, while one thrown between the rocks was swept around as in a whirlpool. "There were two young fellows drowned there only last Boxing Day."

"Couldn't they swim?"

"One was the winner of the three-hundred-yards championship, but he didn't know that pretty little river."

"All the same, I believe I could manage it," said Les. He had his coat off, and doffing hat and waistcoat, dropped in as he was, and disported himself even right in the eddy where the Fish Hole ran under the rocks. "Come on in, Horan, the water's fine!" he challenged.

As Nat could swim without fear of injuring his knuckles, and as he happened to be in splendid training, he dropped in. The two of them performed buffoon feats till everyone shrieked with laughter. Treading water, they asked where the girls had gone in. Uncle Erik pointed out, as it had been pointed out to him long ago, the spot where Emily Mazere and her friend Louisa Poole had gone in, and the point farther down where Louisa alone had come out on the pebbled bank and shrieked for her brother Bert and her affianced Hugh Mazere.

"Come on, I'll race you," called Les to Nat. Both disappeared deeply under tensely interested eyes. Laleen, with pounding heart, watched the course where seventy years before all the young men in love with Emily had dived, and dived, and dived again without avail...There were the two heads, a long way down, safe and gleaming! What relief! No one noticed who had won, only that both were safe.

"Let that be enough!" commanded Uncle Erik, seconded by Uncle Sylvester.

"Yes," agreed Judith. "The malignant spirit of the river has been exorcised. We shall hope that never again will it drown anyone."

Brenda Brennan, who was sentimental, had brought a wreath to throw into the current to the memory of beautiful Emily. It fell with a light swish where the mountain waters flowed smooth and serene as of yore. All watched as it floated and sank and was whirled into the lower reach where the waters fell in immortal lullaby.

"It's a dismal old spot. I'm glad to get away from it," said Blanche, as the party turned towards Mungee homestead to be entertained by George's family.

Those who had been absent from the district pottered around noting the changes. Not a stick nor stone of the original homestead now remained, not even that fine new house of slabs with the splendidly shingled roof which had succeeded the early bark humpy, and which had been added to and added to till it was like a little township. The sprawling garden, too, had disappeared. Even the magnificent willow arid mulberry-trees planted by the first Mazere had come down in their prime owing to white ants.

There was a new house with modern improvements, in-chiding a telephone, a radio, and a lighting plant, and water laid on where once the young fry had had to drag it up from Mungee Creek in tar drums or billy-cans on a yoke. They had buffalo lawns clipped--occasionally--where had been rye-grass plots on which old Great-aunt Isabel, a prodigious housekeeper, had bleached her linen. There was a tennis-court where once had been her duck and turkey houses; and the turkeys and ducks were extinct because of difficulties with foxes. There was a garage with two cars, and the hens roosted near the cowyard on an old dray and a poison-cart, which had cost so much money and were once such prides.

Larry Healey and Dad Mazere walked about together and exchanged reminiscences and advice about cathartics. When their women uprooted them and thrust them like sticks into a resourceless suburbia, they had been sick of loneliness and always hankering for the old places, but they had been absent too long to enjoy return. "Gosh, it's a terrible thing to come back!" said Larry.

"By damn, you're right! Not only the old ones of our own age have gone, but those of fifty and forty--there's been a terrible clearing out; and ghost! you'd think they had deliberately rooted out every old thing out of spite."

The game of life grows melancholy sans contemporary collaborators, but to the new players it is ever matchlessly absorbing.

The young played tennis frantically and organized dancing for the evening, to stop sharp at midnight. The old Three Rivers moral training still held in patches throughout the clans. Cards and dancing were taboo on the Sabbath.

Chatter and merry shouts drifted over the beds of giant zinnia, gladioli, and dahlias, where, as a boy, Dick remembered peonies and freesias being new flowers. All was gaiety' and expectancy of the evening with its possibilities, old-fashioned as the brooding blue hills and singing crystal river.

III

It had been a perspiring day in the sun, but soon the shadows lengthened. The sun slipped behind a low hill down the river valley, its reflected rays lingering on the bold peaks up the stream. The young men and women of the house went to discharge various chores. Rachel Stanton advised the girls to grab the bathroom betimes, as there was such a crowd.

"I can never, never get enough of this," said Freda, gazing down the river. "The river is like a faint wind."

Dick stood with her. They were holding, holding this scene, lest nothing in it should be quite so lovely again. Another visit might never come in the chances and obstructions of life, or if it did, gaps in the ranks of collaborators might have added to wistful inevitabilities. Judith and Sir Oswald came too, and then George. Some of them went away to dress.

"We don't know when we shall see it again," said Freda.

"I wish to God I need never see it again." Uncle Erik was fatigued after the week's work and celebration duties combined, as well lie might be at his age.

"You would be as homesick for it as any of us if once you got away."

"My trouble is that I never shall get away unless I am drowned in the river like Emily, and then I'd be fished out and buried near the blinded old hole."

"Laleen should be here to say farewell to the sunset on Coolooluk and the Mungee," said Dick. "She may not see it for many a day again." The Nanda and other visitors were to leave Bool Bool next day by car. Dick gazed upstream where Little Coolooluk and Big Coolooluk were gilded by the sinking sun. In the purple hollow the river leant on the hills, the hills leant on the sky, the sky leant on eternity. He could still see the scene, but tomorrow he would be borne away by space and time--twin rivers of unfathomable mystery.

"Laleen is pressing Nat's clothes in the laundry," volunteered someone.

"Getting ready for her duties as a married woman betimes," said Uncle Erik.

"Who's taking care of Les Olliver's clothes? Being an also-ran like myself, I suppose it doesn't matter," said Aubrey. But Les was well catered for, as laughter and clatter from the laundry testified.

Laleen appeared at Dick's call and was rapturous about the sunset, but also in her heart was impatience for the morrow--youth's haste, haste into that immediate future where something beckoned which was to deepen the glory of today. As she gazed on the golden reflection, the blue of Coolooluk, the silver river, the rich flats dotted with well-bred shorthorns, she could see and feel even more intensely herself and Nat side by side whizzing past Canberra and Goulburn, on and on...

The prospect grew more and more exciting. At the end of the long grand road to Sydney were the big steamers. She would walk up the gangway, and in slow and stately measure glide down the Harbour past Mrs Macquarie's Chair, past Government House, and Pinch Gut and Clarke Island and Taronga Park, out through the great Heads, at last. She would say good-bye to the white fountains that play even on the calmest day about that gateway to the blue Pacific, flecked white by the zephyrs of the mightily empty south whence all the great world ways turn north. Thus to step into real life to claim fame and love and all that she had dreamed--the adventure, the romance of it was almost too exciting to be borne. She was exhausted by the radiance of her dreams.

Provident girls were seizing the bath and the dressing-tables. The young men, snatching towels, made for the river.

"Where are they off to?" asked the parent Stanton, but no one replied, and he turned back to Larry and Dad Mazere. The young men were in too much haste to be halted by old chaps so far gone in senility that they could discuss faulty egestion with feminine youth and beauty. The loaded car went to the river near the crossing, but it was shallow there and full of rocks. Night was threatening, crisp and cold from bank and boulder, and the Australian is not so fond of icy water as is his English brother.

"Let's belt up to the Fish Hole and take one good duck and be done with it," suggested Les Olliver. Off they dashed with shout and laughter at the risks they took with stump and fallen log, scaring the sheep and cattle from their camps, and making the kookaburras laugh anew.

"I'm glad we came here again," exclaimed Nat, who was increasingly at home with these hospitable unaffected families. "This river is one of my leading motifs, and it has just come. Does this sound like it?" He whistled a new melody, sweet, sibilant and wild, high and rhythmical, while the last ray of sunset waned down the valley and the odorous shrubs made the spot divine. Several of his audience enjoyed the performance and asked for a repetition. Nat sang it this time. Les Olliver, not so musical, suggested it was growing cold and that he was hungry.

"I must dot that down immediately I get to the house," said Nat.

"I haven't any duds," observed Les. "I'm going in in my natural."

"We'll make a pair," laughed Nat. "Come on, Olliver, let's show off our beauty."

They stood together on the big flat rocks, cooling now that the sun had set, one slender and of golden beauty, with clean skin, matching hair and eyes; the other stocky and hairy, though not uncomely in the dignity of youth and strength.

"Gee, you'd do for a girl, and I come nowhere!" cried Les, plunging in. Nat stood a minute longer above where the water swirled between the narrow banks and pooled out in a smooth deep reach that fell away farther down in its song, that mercilessly detached, that immortally beautiful lullaby, which he had captured. Graceful and gleaming he stood in the twilight, chanting the song, his and the river's. Chanting that song he went to the river, and the river sly and serene as of old, desiring him as it had desired Emily Mazere, opened its depths and took him in.

IV

The house was gallantly lighted. Every reading-lamp had been placed for dressing, and lanterns had been hung along the verandas.

Mrs Mazere had taken opportunity to slip out to the joys of the rich orchards. Dick accompanied her and left her under a quince-tree with its pale gold lanterns outlined in the twilight. He took the road towards town, savouring each moment, prolonging it, knowing that no others ever could excel the present. Thus life goes past the meridian, whereas under it, no matter how wondrous the moment in hand, the supreme glory is ever to be attained in another. When he came again, how many more gaps would there be in the ranks, and maturity understands the value of the humblest collaborators in the drama of life. That air and sky, those dear familiar birds flying to roost, and the song of the river. Always its quality was with him wherever he travelled. When there was silence and solitude it made music in his soul. He could spend one life with its song, and he had but a moment, and that was paying out...He ached with the realization that he had perhaps looked his last on Coolooluk reflecting the setting sun.

Lively commotion, laughter and exchange of pins and powder progressed among the dressers. Judith was to emerge fashionable and beautiful, Mollye gorgeous and radiant. Freda circulated helpfully or chatted with Sir Oswald. They were in the garden with Aubrey Mazere and George Stanton when the old station motor car approached at a violent pace. It drew up outside the gate with but three occupants, one of whom leapt out and rushed to the telephone, while the others seized Aubrey and away with him at lunatic speed whence they had come.

With opportunity, Aubrey would have been a physician of distinction. He had made himself a crack veterinary, and was often called upon in emergency to transfer his skill to humans. He also knew how to resuscitate the drowned. For this he had been fetched in violent haste.

Uncle Erik and Sir Oswald were in the first car to get away, and Freda tucked herself in too. "Don't alarm the women yet. For God's sake keep Laleen out of the way!" But the telephonist's message to the doctor had pierced the laughter and clatter, and shot like electricity to every heart. Someone went to tell Dads Mazere, Healey, and Stanton, yarning in the dusk of old days, that Nat Horan was in the Fish Hole, and that Les Olliver, the young man from Goulburn, and others were diving for him.

"God Almighty!" exclaimed Larry. "Poor boy! There you have it! All your motor cars and radio and fine inventions, and you'll be able to do nothing for him now. A fine young man, and think of the father and mother!"

"Anyone who knows that river like we do..." said Dad Mazere. "But you can't teach young people anything. The river looks so pretty and harmless, but it hasn't changed since the old days."

"No, and young people haven't changed either. It takes only the same time and the same amount of water to drown them. All their science and progress hasn't altered that."

"But they have learnt new ways of resuscitation," said Stanton père.

"Ach, and about one case in twenty that it does any good!"

No one noticed the old men. They went on foot. Quelle indignité! for those who of old never walked a yard while there were steeds, blood steeds in plenty, to carry them, and who had ever been the earliest called upon in stiff emergencies. They hastened along the river in the shadows knowing it would have mattered little had one of them been drowned, while, avaricious of life, they slyly exulted that it was this young fellow instead of themselves. Only in youth are men spendthrifts of years.

The news came last to Daphne and Laleen in the laundry, ironing the young men's clothes. Blanche went there, brave in imparting ill tidings.

She might have said, "Where is your fine young man now!" so clearly Laleen felt enjoyment was in the announcement. Swift hatred of Blanche and her news transfixed the girl. Her senses resisted what she heard. She fled to Mollye--only Mollye would understand and speak the truth--and was received deep into that kind bosom. "Aubrey will save him, precious. He is so clever. I understand he brought two back to life at a Harbour picnic."

The women hurried to the Fish Hole on Shanks's pony. George, announcing that the doctor was racing on his way, went with them. Arrived at the Hole they learnt that Olliver, performing prodigies, had brought Nat up, and that Aubrey, skilled and splendidly cool, was working desperately.

Nat had not been long under water...How long?...Ten...twenty...forty minutes?

What was the limit after which resuscitation was impossible? Some said five minutes--or ten...Others knew someone to recover after twenty minutes. Another insisted that it was on record that a man had been brought back after an hour. No one knew, it was found: perhaps not even Aubrey who was too hardily engaged to answer profitless questions. Sweat dripped off him as he deftly handled the beautiful white form, unclad save for the towel which the quick-witted Freda had knotted about it.

The doctor was met by a Stanton where the road swerved, and taken across the river by old Britomarte--twenty-four years off, who had been waiting with her out-moded vehicle.

Aubrey relinquished effort when he knew it was useless.

"Oh God, I'll have to tell his family," wailed Mollye, "and I don't know how to word it."

"There's never any use in trying to wrap these things up," said Blanche. "It only makes them worse."

"Now comes the advance in science that we hear so much about," murmured Larry Healey to Dad Mazere. "They'll be able to flash word to Melbourne in three minutes, where it took a day griping a good horse to get the news of Emily's drowning to Monaro, but they can't do a damn' thing more to bring him to life than was done for Emily."

Mazere nodded. "They wouldn't believe us that that river could drown anyone."

The slim young form was wrapped in a rug and laid in one of the vehicles. Aubrey went with it, Adrian Stanton driving.

Laleen stood immobile and tearless. Her father quietly sat down beside her on a log. Futile to tell the young that this love business passes as a vapour leaving no wrack, that in ten or twenty years sorrows soften and fade, in a twelvemonth are often endurable; and it is difficult for the hard-of-hearing to give or receive sympathy.

Larry Healey stood sympathetically at a little distance indulging the melancholy reflection that soon young Horan's drowning, even as Emily's, would acid romantic interest to the spot for future recreationists or tourists, if indeed the spot remained much longer unsubmerged by the long-derided scheme of old Joseph Mazere, who had gone away, no one knew where.

"You better run up to the house and put on your clothes, boy," someone thought to say to Les Olliver. It was Blanche. "No use in running risks of catching pneumonia when you are exhausted."

Les, shivering in someone's macintosh, hung about dumbly. He wanted to speak to Laleen, but had no words. He feared humbly that she might curse that he instead of Nat had not been drowned. Some of the men who had witnessed his brave and daring feat in recovering the body took him away to the house.

Mrs Mazere reached the Fish Hole after all the others. She had heard belatedly when returning from the orchards, and being a notoriously inferior walker, put her foot in a hole, and suffered a hard fall.

"Laleen, my darling wee one!" she said, clasping the girl. "Don't grieve, my baby! We all must come to this!"

How could that comfort the young! It was all very well for silly old things, who had only a few more years in any case, to croak about us all coming to it! It was unthinkable, unfair that the young should be thus bereft!

"I don't want to go up to the house and the lights," murmured Laleen, resisting her mother's embrace.

"Freda and I will bring her presently," said Mollye, her silks and chiffons floating from her tall person and catching on the snags which abounded by the river. Mrs Mazere was wise enough to accept this, and her ankle was so painful that she had to be taken in a car in any case.

"Dick went down the river road," said Mollye to Rachel Stanton. "Will you please find him and ask him to come to us?"

The last car went away to the house, leaving the three by the tea-tree-shrouded river. A growing moon cast its light full on the Fish Hole gleaming sly and serene as of old. All around were deep shadows and enamoured silence where lately laughter and song had echoed, and in the silence, enlarging it, the Mungee sang its immortal, its mercilessly beautiful lullaby to the boulders and trees, to the shrubs and ferns, to the rust-red road around the sidelings of the rugged hills, to the young lovers' moon and the stars. Oh, a sweet wild song that filled the fragrant night like a sigh from paradise: an untamed triumphant song as the Mungee rushed onward to the Murrumbidgee, to the Murray and the Great Bight, to trade its magic tale for that of the winds that roam for five thousand miles with nought to say them nay, freighted with mermaids' laughter or Leviathans' loves, odysseys of incredible feats of fortitude of men and dogs on the ice in the vast emptiness of the South--all the sagas of Antarctica's adventures, weird or heroic--from beyond Kerguelen, from beyond the Horn, from beyond the Bay of Wales, from beyond the Ice Pack Circle, from beyond the high dead mountains that guard the Pole, straight from eternity.


THE END

This site is full of FREE ebooks - Project Gutenberg Australia