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Title: Cockatoos
Author: Miles Franklin
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0900701.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: September 2009
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------------------------------------------------------------------------

Title: Cockatoos
Author: Miles Franklin


Production Note: There is a family tree relating to the characters
                 in this story. Refer to the html version at
                 http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks09/0900701h.html


COCKATOOS
A STORY OF YOUTH AND EXODISTS
BY
BRENT OF BIN BIN

* * *

SALUTATIONS
TO
SYBYLLA MELVYN
the legendary and temerarious!


* * *


NOTE

  The young author wrote this story contemporaneously with the
  happenings involved and in due course showed it to selected
  acquaintances. These, /sans/ literary discernment, were dubious
  about the character of the work. A brave English gentleman,
  believing in it, showed it to one of London's leading publishers,
  but he was disgusted by its frankness and said the author should
  not be encouraged to write. The author, lacking a literary mentor
  either to confirm or combat such a pronunciamento, thrust the MS.
  into a box. It lay undisturbed by anything but silverfish for
  twenty-five years, when I read it.

  Here are people really young. Time stops still around them for a
  moment as for figures seen through a stereoscope. They frolic in
  the spotlight of their own egos in the centre of the floor while
  their elders are relegated to the side seats. They are surrounded
  by the idiom of their day and a background of current events and
  opinions. Caught in the net of adolescence untarnished or
  unfurbished by Time's perspective they struggle in a maze of
  inexperience against defeats, hopes, dreams and despairs, normal
  but so poignant and tragic at their time of life; and, in their
  case, ambiguous national loyalties are intensified by a double
  nostalgia.

  Here was treasure comparable with but superior to a diary.
  Substitution of names and a refocusing of emphases was all that
  was needed to fit the story into my chosen scene.

--BRENT OF BIN BIN.

New South Wales,
December-January, 1927-1928.


* * *



CHAPTER I


Larry Healey was ploughing. His horses were hidebound and weak, and
the earth was caked like cement. Broken, it took the thirsty winds so
that the ploughman moved in a suffocating cloud which filled his ears
and nostrils and at times obscured the beasts from sight. Some of that
virgin dust did not resettle, but floated high into the air to waste
far and wide in the Pacific. For several seasons past the seed had
been decoyed above the ground by occasional showers, only to wither
before reaching the ear, and Healey had pondered for a fortnight
whether it would not be wiser to feed the grain to the starving stock
than again to waste it in the earth. The fall of a penny had decided
him. He was working in the hope of rain next moon.

On reaching the end of the furrow, where briers high as trees upheld a
decrepit brush fence, the horses were given a spell while Healey spat
the dust from his mouth, eased his bandless felt hat from his grimy
head, and, taking a view of the brilliant sky, wished to God it would
rain. Then he jerked the reins--one of rope, one of green hide--and
the horses toiled to the opposite headland, bounded by a gaping drain,
a grove of dusty wattles and a stud fence. Here he again regarded the
relentless arch and wondered where in hell all the rain could be. The
theorists who ranted of the security in an agricultural life ought to
stand in his old blucher boots! It was grand for those who held fat
billets in the Government, with a big screw every month regardless of
droughts, floods, or pestilence, to flute of the joys of being on the
land. They were having a fine loan of the taxpaying numskulls. All the
fat went to the middle-men and officials. Their carpeted offices,
padded chairs, and the pleasures of an exciting life were supported by
the sweat of the men on the land. Let the town parasites take the
plough in the dust, or depend upon livestock for a living in a
grassless season, let the grind of it knock understanding into their
fat bellies, then hear what they would spout about it!

On all the cockatoo farms of Oswald's Ridges and a hundred adjacent
communities were other dusty ploughmen thinking similar thoughts as
they scanned the heavens and hoped against hope for rain next moon.

Oswald's Ridges lay between two lesser roads that branched from the
Great Southern Road as it left Goulburn, and Healey and his neighbours
were members of a community gathered within the radius of attendance
at the little public school, with their homes from twelve to twenty
miles from Goulburn Post Office. Entrenched families of the district,
such as the Oswalds and their cousins the Gilmours, grandsons of abler
or more fortunate pioneers, lorded it analogously to the county in
England, on which society in the region was sedulously and snobbishly
modelled. Their estates, long since mellowed from stations, had been
grants to earlier colonists with capital or influence of some kind
with officialdom. The only land near to town procurable by the poorer
settlers were the gullies and ridges fringing the picked holdings and
thrown open to free selection without survey by the land acts of the
sixties. In its natural state such country would support little more
than a few marsupials or goannas to the acre. Nevertheless, among the
selectors some of the hard-headed and thrifty were in the way of
becoming squireens or gentleman farmers in relation to the big men,
but as yet there were no symptoms of a peasantry firmly rooted in the
earth.

The smaller people on the Ridges scratched like cockatoos to rear
large families respectably; the fathers and grown sons supplemented
meagre farm earnings by shearing or droving or by carting firewood to
town. Wood-carting was a poverty-stricken resource which Mrs Healey
opposed. "We've fallen low enough without coming to that."

The low rough hills southward ranged up with the miles from Healey's
property to a view of Lake George, where all was blue, the water
shading into the hills, the hills into the ether in soothing
loveliness. From Bungonia to Jingera, from the Tidbinbillas and
Coolgarbillies of the Murrumbidgee to the South Coast stretched an
area warm and brilliant from prolonged drought, haunting, unique in
the blue haze of distance, but acre by acre it was a piteous scene.
The droning autumn winds lifted the dust in whorls, the little dam
beds were dry and cracked, many water channels empty, paddocks as bare
as roads, stock without condition to face the winter. Those animals
still able to lift themselves staggered round the waterholes, famished
and moaning.

The tree-tops stilled as the sun beat a retreat through the scrub of
the gully behind the Healey homestead and a little girl in kip boots
splashed with whitewash and with an apron of sacking over her frock
came round the corner and began to ascend the track to look for gum on
the wattle-trees.

"Now, Freda, don't run away to the scrub when you know it's tea-time."

"I'll be back in a minute, mother."

"Girls much younger than you are are twice as helpful to their
mothers."

Rebelling inwardly against this as untrue, the child turned back. She
was glad this was not her real mother. As soon as she was old enough
she would run away.

The sun, irked by imitating a moon all day in the dust, left his world
to the brief twilight as Healey freed his jaded horses. They rolled to
relieve their hides, then made towards the creek in whose deep
waterholes remained their principal sustenance. Their master
straightened himself painfully. He suffered in the chest and shoulder
from an old accident, which had left the scar of a horse's hoof on his
temple and a more crippling scar on his mind. He was unusually
uncomfortable tonight, and hoped this presaged rain. His eyes were
inflamed with grit and he rubbed them with horny fingers and beat some
of the dust from his patched moleskins as he approached the house with
the winkers over his arm.

A family of turkeys settling for the night on the pigsty fence were
wrangling loudly about positions. Mrs Healey said it was too dark to
do any more to the fowlhouses and came inside to see what progress
Lizzie, the servant girl, had made with the evening meal. A family of
six gathered round the table--two children, the parents, Lizzy
Humphreys, and Ignez Milford. The only conversation was Mrs Healey's
altercation with her brood. When he had eaten Healey said he was going
to Mazere's for some bluestone. Mrs Healey resented his escape from
the house.

"Tell Isabel I can't get over to see her because you are using the
horses for ploughing," she complained.

                          *       *       *

The Mazeres lived three miles away near the road that ran from
Goulburn to Kaligda and Gounong. This family, as the Healeys, had come
from up the country. Both had fallen to the rating of cockatoos, or
farmer-selectors, through inability to keep on the higher ledge of
squattocracy. The parents had known each other at Bool Bool, and their
families were intertangled in the large clans thereaway. The Mazeres
had tried to better themselves by shifting from the back regions of
the parental holdings to the neighbourhood of Goulburn, where better
opportunities could be expected for the young people. The Healeys had
their own reasons, definite and private, for desiring to escape from
Bool Bool and their relatives, and, having small capital, had landed
on the poor property adjoining Mazere's.

Mesdames Mazere and Healey felt themselves superior. Their meals were
accompanied by serviettes and they each had a piano. Mrs Healey was
the only woman of her community who kept a girl to help her in the
house. Mazere, for a year following his arrival, had driven a pair in
his buggy instead of the single-shafter usual among the quasi-farmers.
They also gave their houses names whilst most of the other cockatoos
were satisfied with the general address of Oswald's Ridges. The Healey
place had been known as Blackshaw's deep waterhole till Mrs Healey
turned it to Deep Creek. At Mazere's a board on a corner post of a
pisé structure roofed with stringybark announced: RICHARD MAZERE.
REGISTERED DAIRYMAN. LAGOON VALLEY.

Other boards round about proclaimed similar information, largely
legendary; some time had gone by since the smitten region had yielded
dairy produce beyond a restricted ration for the homes.

While Mrs Healey was lime-washing her fowlhouse, Blanche, the eldest
Mazere girl, was doing the same to the Mazere dairy, and her mother
was carrying water from a dam some hundred and fifty yards distant in
the effort to save her pot-plants. Allan, the second boy, was feeding
a miserable poddy on swill thickened with pollard, and allowed the
handle of the bucket to slip over its ears. The calf bolted with a
terrified bellow; Allan doubled with laughter to see it collide with a
fellow sufferer. As it ran blindly in another direction Mulligan the
dog and Billy the pet lamb joined in the chase. Dick, the eldest son,
who was chopping wood, dropped his axe and ran after the trio.

As the calf passed Blanche with boys and beasts in pursuit she seized
its tail and hung on till she brought it to a standstill.

"Poor little thing, it's a shame to run the flesh off it," she said,
as Dick released the shabby trembling creature.

"I assure you it was an accident," minced Allan, who was a budding
wag.

"You'll get a lift under the ear that won't be an accident if you give
any cheek," retorted Dick.

Mazere, like his neighbour, turned loose a pair of skinny horses and
went housewards feeling dirty, uncomfortable, and weary. He had a
withered worried face about which the breeze, heavy with soil,
scattered his scraggy beard. He was met at the door of the kitchen by
his wife's plaints, "Everything is unbearable with dust. My back aches
so that I'm sure it's kidney trouble."

"Blanche, why don't you help your mother more?"

"I do everything I can." The over-anxious girl was beginning to regard
any joy or relaxation from work as sinful. She established her mother
on the sofa, gave her a cup of tea, and then served the family.

Mrs Mazere was difficult to cheer. Her low spirits were attributed to
the turn of life, complicated by a weak heart. She dwelt lugubriously
on a list of victims of the dangerous age.

"What's this turn of life that women are always croaking about?"
inquired Dick.

"Croaking!" wailed his mother.

A glance from his father and a squelching word from Blanche gave the
youth to understand that he was guilty of a breach of decency about a
feminine mystery comparable to the coming of babies. Every fool knew
the facts of that by the time he was ten, but they could be discussed
only as indulgence in secret vulgarity by boys and men. Dick walloped
around on tiptoe and punched Allan to relieve his resentment of such
humbug.

Relief was general when later Healey at the open door announced, "Good
evening! Any hope of rain?" Larry was generally a cheery sight when
away from his wife.

Mrs Mazere revived. "Come and have something to eat. Is Dot well?"

"I just rose from the table, thanks. Dot's complaining of pains in her
back, but I'm afraid they won't bring rain."

The men found comfort in discussing their situation together. Fodder
was unprocurable, even at prohibitive prices, and winter approached.
The winter of the Southern Tablelands was bleak with many weeks of
nipping frost, sleet and wide wild winds that could take the last
ounce of flesh off stock and find their way through the possum rugs on
the beds.

At ten o'clock the visitor procured bluestone, debated quantities per
bushel, and prepared to depart. Mrs Mazere sent an invitation to the
Healey family to stay for tea on Sunday after church. The
neighbourhood was to muster two days later to intercede with the
Almighty for rain. The little wooden church with its toy porch, set in
the scrub beside Mazere's wheat paddock, belonged to the Wesleyans but
was attended by all Protestant denominations every Sunday afternoon.
Mazere accompanied his neighbour as far as the stable and they
lingered outside searching the sky for signs of rain and having a last
masculine word. Healey, though several varieties of fool in his own
estimation and many more in his wife's, nevertheless considered
prayers for rain as too foolish altogether.

"It's not praying we want, it's practice. If all the parsons and
priests prayed for seven years they couldn't so much as raise one
grasshopper one inch from the ground without practical measures."

"Some reckon we're being punished for our sins."

"So we are, the sins of ignorance. We need men to study the natural
geographical and climatic conditions of the country and then follow
methods of fodder and water conservation in the rolling seasons to
tide over the droughts. You can take it from me, there's no use in
mumbling prayers."

"The fat would be in the fire if you said so. It makes a bit of an
outing for the women, and church is a good thing to keep the
youngsters out of mischief."

"It would be more Christian to let the horses spell for the day, but
it'll be all the same in a hundred years."

"Yes," agreed Mazere. "What is to be, will be. See you on Sunday."

                          *       *       *

Oswald's Ridges was indebted to Ignez Milford for adding spice to the
daily round. Her lively and unconventional ideas caused commotion
among tamer fowl. She had taken it into her head to have a musical
career and her parents had weakened to let her come as far as Goulburn
to study. This was feasible because the Milfords also had connections
in the up-country clans, and for safety Ignez had been deposited with
the Mazeres and Healeys. She parcelled her time between the houses to
obviate any jealousy and to divide the wear and tear of her presence.
When Mrs Mazere was given to headaches and the piano annoyed her Ignez
went to Mrs Healey. When Mrs Healey suffered from nerves Ignez
returned to Lagoon Valley.

Mrs Healey was to give Ignez piano lessons. Ignez was confident that
she could study the theory of music herself from textbooks. Mrs Healey
was devoid of musical gifts, but, as prescribed for girls of good
family, she had been taught the piano. She was skilful and efficient
in anything to which she turned her hands, and had learnt to execute
the scales and Czerny and the conventional repertory of drawing-room
"pieces", including a Chopin waltz or two and more popular favourites,
without a wrong note and in unimpeachable time. She sat beside Ignez
for some weeks, but Ignez speedily discovered that her teacher had not
the musical knowledge to see or even the ear to know when her pupil
was playing other works than those placed on the piano rack. As a
beginning, and entirely by her own study, Ignez gained ninety-nine
marks out of a possible hundred in the examination in the theory of
music set by representatives of the London College of Music. Ignez was
hailed as a prodigy and on the strength of it agitated for a more
advanced teacher. Mrs Healey took this as an insult rooted in Ignez's
conceit and became hostile to the girl's ambition. The two foremost
teachers in Goulburn each charged two guineas a quarter. This was
considered waste of money by the Milfords, who were unlettered
musically, but they compromised upon a woman at one and a half
guineas, and Ignez rode to town like the wind once a week with her
music roll strapped to her saddle dees. An escort was unnecessary
because, as Ignez's father pointed out, she could ride like a
horsebreaker, and as long as she rode her own mare nothing on the
roads could overtake her. The Milford brothers of Jinninjinninbong
bred horses for Indian remounts and there was good imported blood in
their walers.

The only dangers to which Ignez was open in her attempted musical
training were artistic. These were so grave that she was foredoomed to
defeat, but she and those around her were all so abysmally innocent of
what any muse demands of those who would follow her that tragedy did
not yet cast its shadow. Now sixteen, the girl had a singing voice of
extraordinary depth and resonance that filled her adolescent head with
dreams. Dick and Allan Mazere and their mates teased her as a
bullfrog, but those of musical pretensions were emphatic that she had
a remarkable organ. There was the opinion of old Salvatore Tartaglio,
a fossicker for gold in a deep wild gully of Jinninjinninbong. When he
had come to the homestead for rations, if it also happened that
someone had treated him to alcohol or that he had procured a bottle or
two of Italian wine, he would demand access to the piano. The vitals
of the instrument would be exposed to view and given such exercise as
they had not known, and sometimes, if not too hoarse, Salvatore would
sing. He would deafen his listeners with operatic arias delivered in
the open-throated Italian bellow with more fortissimo than the piano
or pianissimo now beyond his ruined organ. There was a legend that he
was a stranded opera singer who had contracted the gold fever that had
raged in the early nineties on the western goldfields.

He was lavish in encomiums of Ignez and her voice. /Santa Maria!/ What
a natural voice! If he could have the training of it! The divine
Malibran, Trebelli! All the notes of me, Salvatore, all the notes of
Patti, but the voice is cut in two. He, Salvatore, alone could weld
that division and make the voice into one tremendous organ. When he
was elevated he would rave and weep till the men would calm him by
making him helplessly drunk and then take him away to a bunk in the
men's hut. He was so unkempt, so dirty, so wild in his uncontrolled
emotion, that his bedraggled and depreciated foreign culture could not
become evident to the inexperienced circle of Jinninjinninbong, with
its conventional and limited codes of gentility.

He would rage that he must take Ignez away with him to save her from
the surrounding barbarism, and teach her and bring her out in Paris,
in Vienna and Milan. /Ach, Santissima!/ He would show them that
Salvatore, the great, the incomparable Salvatore, could return in this
new triumph through such a pupil. There would be wild nights.
Salvatore would later be deflated, sick, remorseful, morose,
threatening self-destruction. He would creep away to hide his shame in
the lonely gullies, the cause of his plight, whatever its nature,
locked within his breast. His extravagant eulogies were put down to
drunkenness, his temperamental aberrations partly to madness or simply
to foreignness, peculiarities almost synonymous to untravelled
provincials the world around.

As Ignez excited him unduly it was thought wiser to send her to a
neighbouring run on some errand when Salvatore was due to appear. Old
men often went dotty about young girls, and Salvatore, both drunken
and foreign, might be dangerous.

Ignez secretly hugged Salvatore's pronouncements. His praise was
intoxicating, and as an accompanist he seemed possessed of magic that
could help her with her voice in the middle. He taught her to sing
"/Ombra Mai Fu/" translated to fit her big fledgling divided voice. /O
santissima, Maria!/

Yes, some day she would sing to others--clever, well-dressed, notable
people--whose response would be similar to Salvatore's. For the
present the church service to ask God for rain was at hand, at which
to her own accompaniment on the few live notes of the tiny moth-eaten
organ in the little church in the scrub she was to sing "O Rest in the
Lord".

In addition to musical gifts, Ignez was an avid reader and took a
precocious interest in politics. She despised the usual small talk of
women so that they censured her as unsexed, though they revelled in
her outbursts.

"I hope you're going to vote for woman's suffrage at the next
election," she observed on Sunday evening at tea after church at
Lagoon Valley. She had been reading of the work of Lady Windeyer and
Miss Rose Scott and ardently espoused their platform. "Mr Mazere, Mr
Healey, and Mr Masters, that makes three votes."

Arthur Masters was attributed to Blanche, who hastened to observe, "I
think it would be horrible for women to vote. It would make them like
men."

"That would be horrible indeed!" Arthur grinned, and Blanche laughed,
well pleased.

"Tosh!" exploded Ignez. "Men think women are too weak to study
politics, but even in the most hampering states of maternity they are
not too weak to feed pigs and rear poddies. When it is wet they paddle
knee-deep in cowyards--in silly long skirts, too."

"It would be a grand sight at present to see a few of them in /boggy/
cowyards," chuckled Healey.

"Ghost, yes!" agreed Mazere.

"Ignez, you should not speak so," admonished Mrs Healey.

"But it's quite true. This talk about some things and not others
making women masculine is idiotic."

"It would give you the pip," admitted Arthur Masters. "It would be far
easier for a woman to vote than to barge around a cowyard." The
Masters dairy was a model for the district. A woman never worked in
it. Arthur's pronouncement disappointed Blanche. Her views had been
tempered for his approval, but he was watching the animated face of
Ignez.

"It's like riding," pursued Ignez. "Girls can ride as well as men,
even got up in silly binding skirts and other handicaps that would
drive men dilly. I've a good mind to ride astride."

"It would be much safer," conceded Healey.

"But it would look so unladylike," insisted Blanche, again failing to
win the commendation she craved.

"As to women voting," observed Mazere, "what good would it do when
there's nothing to vote for but a useless lot of old windbags?"

"It's the principle of the thing--being classed with children and
lunatics."

"You can have my vote, Miss Milford," said Masters. "I'll cast it any
way you like if that will satisfy you."

"That wouldn't alter the principle of the thing."

After tea Ignez repeated "O Rest in the Lord". Dick and Masters
listened entranced, more with the singer than the singing, which
Blanche thought too loud and unrefined. Mrs Healey then played hymns.
Ignez found the pitch of these discommoding, and as secular music was
forbidden on Sunday, discussion was resumed with the girl as its
centre. Mrs Mazere tried to retail her ailments but the zest of the
general talk defeated her.

Young Dick was determined to drive Ignez to Goulburn one day soon to
seek information regarding the turn of life and other mysteries. He
felt that Ignez would be free from the nastiness and pretence of the
other girls, which made him feel silly or unclean. He was envious of
Arthur Masters, who would escort Ignez home by way of Deep Creek since
she was on horseback and all the Healey family would be in the buggy
with its rattling tyres and its crying need of a coat of paint. He got
ahead of Masters in tossing Ignez to her saddle, which she reached
with the lightest touch to her toe.



CHAPTER II


March and April passed to May, and a couple of days of light drizzle
laid the dust. The Healeys were taking advantage of the change to
clear up their premises. Ignez wielded a broom of messmate boughs
while Mrs Healey sprayed her fowlhouses with a vermin-killer.

In the hope that the coming moon would bring rain Healey had been
ploughing for barley fodder. Once more he freed the bony horses and
came towards the house, the cold west wind flapping his patched
waistcoat and penetrating his thrummy moles. An agony of irritation
and a sense of helplessness crushed him.

"God!" he muttered. "A failure! Fifty years more to be corked and
bottled in these wallaby gardens!" Old Sool'em ran to meet him, but
his master with a rough boot sent him yelping.

"I can see what's coming," said Mrs Healey to Ignez. "The horses have
been getting pie all day."

"Such a pity, can't you stop him?"

"I have no respect for a man with little children who can't control
himself and think of them and the woman who bore them."

Contempt for the woman who continued to bear in such circumstances
shot through the girl.

"If I had to live here always, I think /I'd/ take to drink," she said.
"It's so ugly. No creeks or ferns, and such scraggy timber. The people
on these places have no more in them than a hen."

"Potterers and muddlers! It's harder for a woman than a man--with
children always coming."

"I don't think a woman is a good mother to let them come if there's
not a chance of success."

"Humph! You don't understand what it is to be married."

"I'd understand enough to keep out of it, if it's so awful."

"We'll see the great strokes you'll do when your time comes!"

In the morning Healey borrowed Ignez's hack and put a halter on one of
the plough-horses, a brave old coacher, and then dressed himself in
his shabby best suit.

"I might as well get a little to pay for the seed. No sense in letting
the horse die for nothing now that the ploughing is done," he
explained.

"When you need a plough-horse you'll have to buy one at a high price.
More debt. You never learn sense. You're the worst. . . ."

Healey rode away without response. He had learnt the value of silence.

The evening drew in cold and still drizzling, but Healey did not
return. At dusk a forbidding-looking Assyrian hawker requested
shelter--a reasonable demand, but the man's countenance made Mrs
Healey fear murder, and she railed to Ignez of her husband's defection
as a protector.

Ignez's music lesson was due on the following day. "I'll start early
so I can get to the hotel and send Mr Healey home before he has all
the money spent."

"I don't know what your father would say."

"It's an emergency. Father and mother never hold back in emergencies.
I remember how they turned out the time the baby was lost on Ten
Creeks Run."

"But a young girl going to a public house among drunken men!"

"Lots of girls marry drunken men. That's going a lot farther than
seeing them at a pub. They won't lead me to drink. I'm not a boy."

She left at daybreak, having decided that the Assyrian was harmless.
She had a poor nag, weak and unshod. She rode him off the metal,
nevertheless he grew tender-footed and halting. The drizzle penetrated
her hat and ran down her neck. Her collar collapsed, her gloves were
soaked, and where the saddle's horns made hollows of her skirt the
water reached her skin. She dismounted and walked to get warm, but the
specially designed skirt could not be held in accordance with modesty
in one hand while she dragged a protesting horse with the other, so
she clambered up again. The narrow pipeclay hollows and stony ridges
covered with stringybarks and underbrush, where a primitive homestead
stood in a clearing every mile or two, seemed to have multiplied, but
at length Goulburn came to view down a long slope, and finally she
turned into the broad main street with a hotel at nearly every corner.
Which one at present was draining the price of the Healeys' bread?

Throwing the reins over the post at Doolan's she went to a side
entrance. On the asphalted floor of the veranda lay a youth but little
her senior. He had been placed there on the previous evening when
helpless, since there was a regulation against serving liquor to men
already drunk. A cotton shirt and tattered coat were all that
protected his upper half from the cold, dungarees encased his legs and
the sockless ankles had a chafed ring above the rough boots. His hands
were seamed and cracked from rough labour in the frost. He was a
wood-carter, a patient bush lad to whom alcohol was something to warm
him and an adventure in budding manliness.

While Ignez debated what she should do to rescue him, a richly dressed
girl appeared in the doorway. Ignez knew her for the publican's petted
only child, a musical prodigy being trained at the Convent.

"Do you know if Mr Lawrence Healey is here?"

"I'm sure I don't know. You'd better ring for the servants."

The reply was condescending, and aroused Ignez, who felt that Petty
Doolan's voice was a mere squeak compared with her own.

"Aren't you going to do something about that poor boy?" she demanded.

"Papa does not wish me to come in contact with any of the people about
the place."

"He might catch pneumonia lying there."

"Those bushwhackers are too hardy for that." Petty's glance at Ignez,
stained and bedraggled, conveyed that she too was a bushwhacker.

"If he died, you'd be a murderer," said Ignez, her colour rising.

"Does he belong to you?"

"No, he belongs to you. You steal his money and then dress in velvet
and put on airs with it while he lies there in danger of pneumonia."

"Papa will have you up if you say vulgar things about stealing."

"I'll tell everyone that you take the last penny from poor boys and
then heave them out on the veranda all night in this weather."

Petty longed for her cab, but it did not come. Ignez pulled the bell
vigorously. It brought the yardman.

"Is that boy alive, or is he poisoned?"

"She's blaming me for him," whimpered Petty, "and you'll have to go
for the cab or I'll be late for my lesson."

"You had better see to the boy first or he might die," said Ignez, her
blood up. "Shall I bring the doctor?"

"Doctor! be blowed! He's only soaked. He oughter been flung in the
stable last night if he was too far gone to get home."

"Disgusting beast!" simpered Petty, recovering her poise as her cab
appeared.

Ignez wandered inside and found the landlord. He informed her that
Healey was there but too /unwell/ to ride home just then. Ignez
consented to her horse being stood in the yard as it was hours too
early for her lesson.

"You're wet," observed Doolan, whose Family Hotel was called "the
Mantrap" by many victimized women. "It's devilish cold. You'd better
go to the fire," he added, and indicated a room at the end of a
corridor.

In this the fire had not yet been laid. After shivering for a while
Ignez sought the warmth of a bar parlour adjoining. Here she found her
quarry, half tumbling from a chair and trying ineffectually to strike
a match on the floor where the spittoons slopped in a sea of their
rightful contents. The room was foul with the fumes of alcohol and
stale tobacco and the evidence of a hard night. Two or three bar
loafers were already playing cards. They were making jokes at Healey's
expense and Ignez itched to correct them with her riding whip. Nothing
could be done with Healey until he recovered, so she waited to dry
herself. The spectacle filled her with sick revulsion. The landlady,
finding her and recognizing that she was out of place, asked, "Why are
you here? What do you want?"

"When will Mr Healey be fit to travel?"

"Some time, I'm afraid. He was very ill last night. If I had known he
was inclined to over-indulge I might have stopped him."

Ignez's lip curled. It was not Mrs Doolan's trade to encourage
sobriety, and she was known as a smart landlady.

"The drought is enough to drive anyone to take a drop," Mrs Doolan
pursued, without arousing any response. She led the way to a room
where her two younger sisters, the Misses Katchem, were making silk
dresses. Ignez, unplacated, barely acknowledged the introduction to
the stylish young women, and sat down. They returned to their chat of
balls and dress and the advisability of wearing the best materials.
Mrs Healey's best dress was quite out of fashion, Ignez reflected.

They gushed of the triumphs of Petty. Ignez learnt that she was to be
sent later to the best teachers in Sydney. When the time came she
departed for her own lesson without so much as a nod to her hostesses.
After lunch, at old Mrs Wilson's select boarding-house near the
cathedral, she returned to the Mantrap. Healey refused to bulge. The
effects of the liquor were still too potent. Ignez composed herself to
await his further recovery and to guard him from renewed poisoning,
unconscious that there was anything unmaidenly in her procedure.

                          *       *       *

Two o'clock, three, four passed. Healey remained too disabled to mount
his horse. The short winter day drew in. Squatters, dealers, drovers,
farmers, auctioneers, butchers, yardmen, cadgers, loafers, touts and
tag-rag representatives of all the classes that traffic in livestock,
and their hangers-on--returned from the weekly sale. The Mantrap's bar
was overflowing in two senses. Not a man but took a drink to warm
himself, remarking that Goulburn was the ---- coldest place in the
world, one shouting for the other and the other returning the
compliment. The saleyards had a bleak position and it was a biting
day. The invitation of the fires was irresistible and many postponed
home-going indefinitely.

The publican passed among his catch. He had the reputation of being a
fleecer, was strong and brisk, and so far had not fallen to his own
snares. He ordered more wood on the fires, threw a pack of cards on a
table, remarked that it was "devilish cold outside", started a
half-fuddled young fellow singing songs about true love, stirred up a
few to serve as butts, and otherwise spread his nest for the sale-day
harvest.

The parlours were full of men with flushed faces, some with bloated
cheeks, all drinking, gabbling and craving diversion. The elaborately
arranged hair, the gay dresses and affectations, which these men would
have roughly condemned in wives or sisters, were attractive in the
hotel women. These opulent people had more to stimulate them to be
flattering entertainers than had the wives at home, harassed by
children's wants and the strain of bringing two far ends together.

Ignez sat enduringly, raging inwardly. Two tap-room habitués came to
issues through one calling the other an opprobrious name. Ignez
wondered why men should be so touchy about being called bastards when
they had no scruples about fathering them. One of these days she would
write a book, and it would be of real doings.

Arthur Masters entered to discover the cause of the rumpus. His
amusement changed to consternation as he caught sight of Ignez. He
took the femininity of the Misses Katchem at a certain valuation--not
a low one--and never felt in a hurry to leave the Mantrap when they
gave themselves to impressing him, but Ignez Milford had struck a
deeper chord in his manhood. She had the power to transform life and
fill it with heroic possibilities. His impulse was to carry her out of
the place at once. Then he halted. He could not point out the enormity
of her presence there, for the enormity was not in her presence but in
the scene itself. To impress upon Ignez any sense of defection in her
behaviour would merely tarnish his own. He sought Doolan.

"The Missus took her in with the girls," he said, "but she poked
herself back there. Hanging about after Healey. A queer sort of a
girl."

"Queer in that sty! Get Healey on to his horse. If he's not able to
ride I'll need your sulky." The tone was short.

Doolan sought to remedy his mistake by speedy action. The horses were
forthcoming. Healey was contrite and always gentle, and set off at a
great pace, but the barefooted horse sidled off the metal and could
not be driven too hard. Masters overtook them as they left town and
greeted them as though he had had no part in getting them started.

"I was thinking of you," he said to Ignez. "I have that book you were
talking about by John Stuart Mill."

"Lovely! Will you lend it to me when you've read it?"

"I might," said Arthur, "seeing that I bought it on purpose. It looks
like tough reading to me. I got a story to counteract it."

"Stories are only pap that never happens. You wait till I write a
yarn. It'll be /real/."

"Golly, that'll be ripping! When are you going to start?"

"Any day."

"I can hardly write a letter, it's such hard work. How you'd fill a
book is past me."

Healey was painfully sick and when they reached the shrubberied
paddocks farther out Arthur gave him a rest. He put him and Ignez on
the comfortable leaves at the foot of a big tree safe from the cutting
blast and soon had a fire. "I often get off and make a fire to warm
myself on a frosty night," he said with cheerful mendacity. Healey was
in pain all through his frame and Masters helped him to the flask that
Doolan had given him at parting.

"I don't know why anyone lives in this district," remarked Ignez.

"It's sounder land than anywhere, when the timber's killed, and very
sweet. You'll get better flavoured meat here than off the heavy soils
in warmer places," defended Arthur.

He was a native of Barralong, seven miles beyond Deep Creek. The
property, which was choice for its area, had been owned by the Masters
family since early days, and Arthur held his own position without
knuckling under to anyone. The old man was dead, the other sons
married and removed, and Arthur ran the place while his mother
directed the house.

Warmed and fed with chocolates and biscuits from Arthur's pockets,
Ignez went more comfortably. Deep Creek was soon reached. Masters
tactfully refused to enter, but said he would reappear soon to hear
what Ignez made of J. S. Mill on /The Subjection of Women/.

"Thank you for being so kind," she whispered, giving his hand a
cordial squeeze as he lifted her from the saddle.

He wanted to tell her that she must never go to that pub again, but
could not. She seemed to have the innocence of a child and the wisdom
of a grandmother combined, so, cheeriness masking intensity, he
contented himself with, "If there's anything you ever want, I'll go
round the world to get it for you, if you'll let me." He held her hand
till she drew it away, which she attributed to sympathy.

"I've done it again," groaned Larry, standing as if petrified in the
cold.

"Never mind. Make a fresh start is all you can do." The girl led the
horses to the stable and began to unsaddle. Healey came to with a
start and followed her.

"If I was to cut my fingers off one by one, the pain would be nothing
to the mental pain I feel."

Ignez flowed with sympathy, but was too young, too instinct with
potential happiness really to understand his misery of despair and
humiliation, his sick paralysing depression. How could one so
potentially gifted, so richly endowed to give and to attract, in her
immaturity understand one long broken by disaster and failure,
scourged for old mistakes with punishment that could never end?
Larry's intemperance in conjunction with continuing fatherhood and Mrs
Healey's bitter condemnation were a sordid affront to the glamorous
day-dreams that were beginning to invest the girl's adolescence.

"I'll be in presently," he said, and stood shivering and sick in the
cold, with shattered nerves and wishing that by a miracle Dot would be
silent.



CHAPTER III


The June day was damp and raw. Afternoon had made an undignified early
retreat, dimming the sun, and the cold had driven the starving cattle
to huddle in sheltered spots, but there was the cold-proof warmth of
joy at Lagoon Valley. Grandma Labosseer of Coolooluk, Bool Bool, had
written that within a few days Sylvia would be home for a long
holiday. Nearly two years before Sylvia had gone to live with Grandma,
who liked the companionship and help of her prettiest granddaughter.
Blanche adored her younger sister and had sorely missed her presence.
The prospect of reunion filled her with delight. The intervening days
were too few for her festival of furbishing and contriving.

"We'd better take to the fowlhouse and give you a clear field,"
protested Dick, for nowhere in the house was there tolerance of dusty
blucher boots.

Upon the glad day Mr and Mrs Mazere took the buggy to meet Sylvia,
while Blanche surged into a day's cooking. At the crest of the
engagement Allan delivered a supply of oven wood and emptied his jaws
of a chunk of quince to announce the approach of Arthur Masters. The
cook left her patties and ran out among the winter-bitten shrubs of
the back garden to inform the dismounting horseman of Sylvia's
arrival.

"Topping!" he laughed down at the girl with the rolling pin. "Have you
room for an offsider?" He dismounted and followed her to the kitchen,
where Allan was weighing ingredients, Philippa, aged eleven, was
beating eggs, and Aubrey was scraping a dish. "Is Sylvia coming home
for good?"

"Oh, no. It's nicer for her at Coolooluk, and I understand taking care
of mother better."

"Bring Sylvia to the football match on Saturday."

"The horses are too skinny to use for pleasure."

"Old Tarpot's as fat as a whale. I'll lend him to you while Sylvia is
here."

"You're very kind, but I don't know if we ought to," murmured Blanche.

Masters could not be prevailed upon to stay. Blanche's commendable
affection for her sister and her housewifely demonstration lacked
allure. An unaccustomed clouding of purpose had made him ride round by
Lagoon Valley and Deep Creek. Blanche passed from his mind as he rode
away and pondered again upon Ignez Milford. What on earth could a
young girl find to interest her in a book about the subjection of
women? He chuckled to think of such dry tack being sprung on the young
men who were attracted by her vivacity. She must never be seen in the
Mantrap's parlours again. He wanted to ask her to call on him when
Healey's affliction overcame him, but was diffident. Ignez had a habit
of asking probing questions, and he could not confess to her the
lewdness of men regarding girls who broke the conventions.

He arrived at Deep Creek in time for tea. His intention of warning
Ignez about the Mantrap's clientele was banished by a new scandal,
which she had created by riding for the mail in Healey's saddle. This
might have passed had she kept to the bridle track in the underbrush
of sour currant and geebungs, or had she maintained a precarious
sideways seat, but she had sat gamely astride and galloped along the
main road for a mile. She had been seen by half a dozen neighbours,
all censorious of this breach of the proprieties. Lizzie Humphreys had
gone for the mail on the present day and lingered for a gossip with
Mrs Harrap, who lived not far from the Healey mail-box. Peter Harrap,
an obscene galoot who worked intermittently for Healey, had been
loafing there, and Lizzie was agog with his pronouncements.

"Pete said he could see the lace on Miss Ignez's pants," giggled
Lizzie to the whole family.

Only Masters noticed the confusion on the girl's face, which she
covered with, "That's one of his flea-brained fibs. I held my skirt
down."

"But you should not have been on the main road on a man's saddle. You
know what a fellow like that would think."

"He hasn't anything to think with, but what I think of him might some
day be a classic," said Ignez with a flash of inspiration beyond her
experience.

"What's a classic?" inquired Lizzie.

"Mine's going to be irrefutable in its own backyard."

"Pete said a lot more," continued Lizzie. "All the men was talking
about you, an' Pete said if it was his sister done it, he'd have her
shut up so she couldn't go astray."

The sharp pain on the girl's face showed Arthur his own wisdom in
reference to the Mantrap situation.

Ignez parried the shaft with "And such as that will be able to vote
for Federation! I'll ride as I please."

"While you're with me," interposed Mrs Healey, "you must not have all
the neighbours talking."

"Fancy having to live in a place where men talk like that! Cockatoos
have much more intelligence. If Pete and his like all fell into Deep
Creek and never came out, they'd be no loss."

"Lizzie will repeat everything you say, with additions," warned Mrs
Healey, as Lizzie took the plates to the kitchen.

Masters summed up judicially. "I think girls ought to use a
cross-saddle, but they need to be dressed properly for it. It does no
good to run in the teeth of talent like Pete."

"Women have little chance of getting out of the way with their legs in
a bag if a horse falls," admitted Healey.

"Someone will have to begin the fashion," said Ignez.

"You had better leave that to the Governor's lady," advised Masters.

His thoughts were on the matter all the way home under the frosty
stars. He meditated with pleasure upon giving summary correction to
Pete Harrap should opportunity occur. He would lend a horse or
anything else to brighten things for Blanche, but the thought of Ignez
spread a brightness along the ringing road all the way to Barralong.

                          *       *       *

Everything was in readiness for Sylvia as the wintry dusk crept across
the hollows, and a Tableland wind hissed along the cleared flats. The
children had shining red faces from the combined forces of soap,
water, and frost. Allan and Philippa lamented the darkness that hid
the bundle handkerchief they had flown on a sapling at the front gate.
The dining table had such profusion and style as marked the visits of
the Member for the district or those of the higher clergy. Mulligan
escorted the buggy for the last furlong with a frenzied lullaloo of
welcome as the children rushed round the verandas and threw open the
flower-garden gate.

"Here I am," cried a laughing girlish voice.

"There'll be a terrible frost tonight," said Mrs Mazere. "I can feel
it in all my bones."

"All signs of rain gone again," added Mazere.

"Dick, you're a man, and Allan so tall I hardly know him! Philippa's
curls below her waist already, and Aubrey--how you all have changed!"
The youthful soprano tones ran on. Blanche came last with a
comprehensive hug to express her satisfaction. Mazere and Dick
unharnessed old Suck-Suck. Mrs Mazere was busy with her parcels. They
clattered into the dining-room where a fire of logs sang in the open
white hearth, and the Reverend Mull, so named for the latest curate,
was making his toilet on the rug.

"We want to see you in the light," said Allan boisterously, as Sylvia
went to the fire, beating her hands together and complaining of the
stinging cold. She was used to admiration and met their delight with
happy laughter. Blanche unbuttoned the coat with its fashionable fur
collar and removed a hat of velvet to disclose a picture that brought
tears of joy and adoration to her eyes. Blanche was tall and inclined
to bend forward from the waist; years might add angularity. Sylvia was
petite and slender with a profusion of golden hair inclining to
chestnut, an oval face with a daintily classical profile, and, over
all, an expression of vivacious sweetness and happiness.

"You'd never think Blanche and Sylvia were sisters," was how Allan
expressed it. "Blanche is so tall--and--and Sylvia is just lovely!"

Dick brought in Sylvia's luggage, half a dozen pieces. "I bet the
porter expected a tip for this."

"The porters didn't get a chance. Some man in the carriage always took
it all."

"It's nice to be a young girl," Mrs Mazere sighed. "When you're old no
one will rush to carry your luggage."

"That was Malcolm Oswald who helped you at Goulburn," remarked Mazere.

"Yes," said Sylvia, and began to talk of the droughty aspect of the
country, which, she said, was much worse than at Bool Bool.

                          *       *       *

At last Blanche was alone with her pet as they toasted themselves and
exchanged confidences before the magnificent coals of the waning
drawing-room fire. Blanche was excited by this elegant young lady. Two
years ago her hands, like Blanche's, had shown the results of rough
usage in sun and frost. Now they were enviably ladylike.

They retired to their bedroom. A kangaroo hide was the only covering
on the boards. There was a much-tinkered bedstead, which had been
procured for half a crown, a little chest of drawers and a tiny
looking glass, all second-hand. The room contained about ten shillings
worth of furniture. Packing cases, papered and painted, did duty in
various capacities. There were a few photographs in home-made frames
as ornaments. Sylvia held the kerosene lamp to one of these.

"Arthur Masters!"

"He came this afternoon and offered to lend us his buggy horse."

"That shows he's dead nuts on you."

"He's just a friend."

"A platonic one--I know them," laughed Sylvia. "Like one of those jam
puffs, squashy inside. Let's get to bed quickly, or I'll freeze. It's
much colder here than at Coolooluk. It's this terrible wind."

When they were cuddled together for warmth Sylvia continued, "Couldn't
we go to the football match on Saturday?"

"The horses are so poor. I don't like to use them for pleasure."

"You said Arthur would lend his."

"Father mightn't let us accept."

"Does he object to Arthur? Is it serious, or have you just got him on
a string for practice?"

"That would be wicked! Poor Arthur!" Blanche's tone betrayed her.

"He only has an Oswald's Ridges farm, hasn't he? How did he start
coming here? We usen't to know the Finnegans or Barralong people
before I went to Grandma."

"Father sold him a couple of heifers and as it was tea-time he was
invited to stay. After that he kept coming. He talks about organizing
a co-operative dairy for the district."

"You mean like that one that used to be near the church, where the
manager got drunk and left the pigs to die in the heat?"

"No!" Blanche's voice was scornful. "Arthur never touches a drop. He'd
start something efficient."

"He'd need to. . . . Dear me, isn't the house terribly poor! It makes
me want to cry."

"I slaved to make it nice for you."

"I can see you did. I mean the things that you can't help."

"There's such a terrible drought."

"It's poor land, that's the trouble. Supposing I got married, then you
could live with me. Things are better up the country. Father just the
same--nothing thriving?"

"No one could thrive in this drought?"

"Yes, but uncle says he's a bad manager. Wouldn't you hate to settle
down to one of these awful little cockatoo farms, rearing a few fowls
and poddy calves, and dragging in a cowyard?"

"A woman is never let into the Masters cowyard or dairy."

"I see I'll have to be nice to my /brother/ Arthur."

"I'm only showing it's not the places, it's the people."

"Poor places make poor people, Grandma says. Poor mother, complaining
day and night as usual, I suppose?"

"Well, you're so pretty you ought to marry a prince, I'm sure. It'd be
a pity to waste yourself on Oswald's Ridges."

"Malcolm Oswald said he might go to the football match."

"Is he in love with you?"

"I only met him on the train, silly! But he seems like all the men.
The football match would be an outing."

"Arthur was just dying for an excuse to come for us."

"Tell me about Ignez Milford."

"She's supposed to be very clever, but no good in the house."

"Isn't she? In a letter to Grandma, Mother said she never saw a girl
so quick, and that she makes her own frocks and riding habits already
and can bake splendid bread if she sets her mind to it."

"Yes, but she thinks her mind's above such tame-hen work. She's not a
bit /womanly/."

"What's she look like?"

"Some think she's wonderful, and others call her quite plain. She has
a different kind of face, but you like to watch it. She says the
terriblest things straight out to men as well as to women, but I don't
think she would go astray with men--she's not fast /that/ way."

"Is she really so clever at the piano?"

"She plays that dull stuff without a tune. Father says he would as
soon have the tune the old cow died of."

"And her name--no one knows how to pronounce it. Where did she get
it?"

"That's a good sign of what she's like. Ignez is merely foreign for
Agnes."

"Agnes is a horrible name. No wonder she wants to change it."

"People call it Ignez, like it's spelt, and that's worse, like a
lizard of some sort. She has always to be telling them to call it
Eenyez, or Eenyeth is the tony Castilian way, she says. I'll ask her
to stay here while you're home. It'll make more fun."

"That'll be topping. Let's go to the football match, but I'm sleepy
now."



CHAPTER IV


In the morning Ignez galloped over to see Sylvia and settled the
matter of a horse for pleasure. Her own hack, Deerfoot, a ladylike
waler, would go in harness. Ignez responded to the Mazeres' social
needs as eagerly as if they were her own. She was spontaneous and
sympathetic, as full of energy as generosity, and always felt that
problems were to be solved by more effort on her part, unaware that
she was recklessly pouring out unusual personal gifts in the process.
She added the Mazeres' preoccupations to her duties at Deep Creek, and
her musical studies and practice were squeezed into any cranny of
time, a procedure fatal to serious voice or piano culture, but no one
there understood this.

Immediately following dinner on Saturday the young people set off to
the football match. The glittering sunshine could not warm the air
driven across the high tableland by the Antarctic's bellows to sting
young cheeks to brighter hue and furrow the long coat of the horse.
Magpies and rosellas rose before them from the arid paddocks dotted
with stumps like grave-stones or ringbarked trees that stood naked and
gibbet-like. The underbrush scraped the wheels as they travelled,
laughing and chattering, undepressed by the bad season. A final set of
sliprails let them into the football ground upon a stock reserve at
Kaligda. Play had already started on a cleared space surrounded by a
dense wall of briers. The boys protected the horse with the rug and
approaching the game, while the girls sought acquaintances in the
sheltered bays among the briers.

Tot and Elsie Norton were stylish girls and warmly welcomed the
Mazeres, who were newcomers to these gatherings because the mesdames
Mazere and Healey were still inclined to be aloof, remembering their
up-country status. The Norton place was in the direction of Arthur
Masters's. Tot and Elsie were saddled with another near neighbour,
Bridgit Finnegan. The Norton horses were too poor for pleasure and one
had been borrowed from old Finnegan, a more thrifty husbandman. He
raged about this waste of horseflesh, but Mick, his son, as well as
Bridgit, was against him so he was defeated.

Wyndham Norton, known as Wynd for short, came to greet the new
arrivals as soon as the game permitted, and looked on Sylvia with a
delight that was marked by Bridgit, whose heart was Wynd's for keeps.
Wynd played cricket and football in a way that made him popular with
the youths, danced and sang equally acceptably to the girls, and was
as cheerful and normal a young man as could be found from Oswald's
Ridges to Crookwell. He looked well in his jersey, and when among the
girls his eyes were as full of admiration as his mouth of compliments.
He did not lack a pleasant word for Bridgit, a roomy clodhopper with
unmanageable hands and feet, though her pleased reception of any word
of his was warning him of danger. A whistle recalled him to the game.
His place with the visitors was taken by Mick Finnegan, Bridgit's
brother, who was on the field as a spare. He knew Blanche, and was
introduced to Sylvia and Ignez. He was a reader of standard works on
agriculture and history, and a natural desire to discuss his knowledge
and a delight in literary language made him seem pedantic among those
who read nothing but the local paper. They took revenge for their own
inferiority by nicknaming him "the Professor". Sylvia's beauty dazzled
him. Under its spell he found himself in conversation with Ignez.
Sylvia had remarked on the dreadful appearance of the country and
Ignez said that people should conserve fodder.

"You're right, Miss Milford," agreed Finnegan. "Australians need to
learn how to farm. The pig-rooting and cockatoo-scratching stage is
past." He waved a commodious hand to indicate the ragged watershed.
"It's time to practise more concentrative and economic methods than
those of the careless days. Once, if the wheat was a failure the
settler put in potatoes. If grubs ate these, he could turn to a few
cows; when drought dried up the dairying there were sheep. Stumps in
the middle of the furrows or acres wasted in headlands and wash-aways
were of no account."

"In the wet seasons they squeak about footrot and fluke; in the dry
ones they squeak about everything dying of drought. My uncle says
there ought to be a great reservoir in the mountains that would let
the water gravitate all over the lower country, but no one listens to
him."

No one listened to Mr Finnegan and Miss Milford except with a mild
sense of ridicule. Mick himself had more hankering for Sylvia's beauty
as an audience than for Ignez's intelligence. The piercing wind was a
penalty to the onlookers. Sylvia suggested a walk as relief and they
ascended Baby Mountain. Appropriately named, it rose up alone from
little ridges. Its crest, easily attained, commanded a fine view. In
the foreground a few steel-grey roofs peeped above jungles of briers
red with berries; a school-house and a church topped a middle ridge;
the horizon was a wide circle of blue hills with Lake George as a
jewel in the centre. The drought was emptying the lake and reviving
anecdotes of early days when it had not existed at all.

"Isn't it lovely! I wish I could paint!" exclaimed Ignez.

"It's so cold it's painting my nose as blue as itself," said Sylvia.
Everyone laughed and watched her with more interest than the scenery
as she snuggled into her fur collar and lifted her skirts from the
snagging logs and sticks of the thickly fallen timber.

As they neared the football field again, Sylvia whispered to Blanche,
"He's come." Her colour heightened and she turned with stressed
attention to Finnegan.

"The aristocracy seems to have descended upon us," he observed with
reference to a man leaning over the split-rail fence watching the game
and smoking an unusual pipe. Not yet dismounted was a younger man on a
flighty racing filly with a heavy rug strapped to the pommel to
protect her clipped body. "The celebrated Malcolm Oswald of Cooee."

"What's he celebrated for?" inquired Ignez.

"He rides half-broken colts over wire fences, and that, Miss Milford,
makes him much more celebrated than if he were the author of an
encyclopaedia on agriculture."

"It's a pity that professors are often so dull while those that kill
time at the races generally /look/ more like real men."

"Oswald has a weakness for pretty faces. You'll always see one of his
horses tied outside a house where there's a pretty girl."

"Is it the same girl or a succession?"

"He likes them in rotation," continued Finnegan, delighted to say this
before Elsie Norton. He watched her face, but her expression was
studiously detached. An Oswald thoroughbred was so often hitched
outside Norton's that the gossips were saying, "Elsie might catch him
yet if she watches herself."

Oswald remained leaning over the fence with one or two men, apparently
engrossed in the play, while Sylvia kept her face in another
direction. When at length she turned towards him with a scarcely
perceptible bow, he pocketed his pipe with an alacrity at variance
with his manner, and approached in the stiff gait of one racked by
rough riding.

"Well, Miss Mazere, you got home safely, I see," he remarked, with a
pleasant twinkle in his eyes.

"You are old acquaintances," said Elsie Norton. "You never mentioned
it, Mr Oswald."

"Hadn't the pleasure of seeing you since."

Sylvia added amiably, "I met Mr Oswald on the train, and found him a
good porter."

"Thank you. I'm hoping for further engagements." Oswald bowed
mockingly. He could make fewer words go farther than any man to whom
he said goodday.

"Doesn't he beat Gallagher, like a moth to a candle to every new
pretty face!" Finnegan did not advance his own cause by this aside to
Elsie. She kept her attention on the Mazere party, startled by the
advent of a new star in Oswald's firmament.

"Hullo! Hullo!" cried Wynd Norton, approaching with a ball under his
arm. "Who did you bring with you?"

"Hullo, Wynd! Gave 'em a good licking," responded Oswald. "I brought
my young cousin from Monaro." The lad drew near with the men with whom
he had been left in the first place. "My cousin, Malcolm Timson."

Ignez greeted him as a Monaro acquaintance, and interest took a fresh
focus as the youth entered the circle. He, too, was in corduroy breeks
and leggings and long spurs; he, too, was a superb horseman, but years
had not yet stiffened his action; he was lithe and quick in his
movements.

Elsie, with attention concentrated on Oswald and Sylvia, noted happily
that Sylvia's glances had sweet wonder for the new arrival. Sylvia was
beholding a young man who stood six feet one in his socks and was
proudly proportioned from his well-cut head to his long sunburnt hands
with the filbert nails. His black hair showed a crisp white parting as
he raised his hat. His brows were level and delicate, his nose
well-formed and of dignified cast. His lips were firm and tranquil and
smudged by a small moustache, hastening to be adult and in the fashion
up the country, where entirely shaven faces were the exception.

The old hands of Monaro and Bool Bool maintained that young Malcolm
Timson was the spit of his great-uncle, Bert Poole of Curradoobidgee,
with an added merriment of manner and a kink in his hair contributed
by his grandfather, Malcolm M'Eachern, son of the old original of
Gowandale.

The locals had beaten their guests by six goals to four. Everyone was
in haste to get away, the afternoon was raw, and some spectators had
twenty miles to go. Masters's men made off to the milking, leaving
Arthur free for the evening.

"Well, you gave 'em a great walloping," said Oswald as Masters came
up, wiping the perspiration from his face.

Arthur and Wynd were the district champions, but Wynd was off his game
because of a sprained wrist earned in a previous contest, and Masters
had been compelled to unusual exertion in his forward play. He looked
towards Ignez for approval of his performance.

"You were a regular hummer," she conceded.

Finnegan asked Sylvia her opinion of the play.

"You mean that little scuffle at the end of the flat while we went for
a walk?"

Wynd met the provocation of her glance with hearty laughter.

"You'd better put on your coat, the wind is like a knife, and you're
so hot," said Blanche to Arthur.

"You're like a mother," he responded, without heeding her advice.
Blanche was not attempting motherliness and felt disappointed as she
invited Wynd and Arthur to tea. Masters accepted readily. "I have
Tarpot with me," he remarked for Blanche alone. That was better.

Wynd said he was with the Finnegans, so Sylvia turned charmingly to
Bridgit. "Won't you come too? I've hardly had a word with you, and I'm
sure your brother hasn't finished his debate with Miss Milford."

Blanche was dubious about the Finnegans. Mazere referred to the old
man as a God-forsaken old bogtrotter as bigoted as a bull, but Miss
Finnegan accepted effusively. By lending the Norton's a horse--about
which Da had made such an unholy fuss--she felt she was to ascend
socially.

Arthur and Wynd then escorted the visiting team to the pub about half
a mile away to treat them to a nip, politely called refreshments,
before their bracing homeward drive while they heard the story of the
Wellington boot left by the Hall gang of bushrangers one day in the
sixties when they shot the township constable and scribbled the first
line of a legend on the little settlement's blank slate. A number of
other young men remained with the girls. They fed the fire and stood
round it chattering and dodging the gusts of smoke.

Sylvia invited Oswald and his namesake for the evening. Ignez was
immediately friendly with Malcolm the younger, so like his famous
uncle, Bert Poole, who had married her dearest friend Milly Saunders.
Ignez further claimed him as almost a cousin because her uncle, Harry
Milford, had married a Miss Labosseer, and that Miss Labosseer's two
uncles each had married a great-aunt of Malcolm. Sylvia insisted that
she had closer connection and began to trace it.

"Here come Wynd and Arthur; now we can go home, and mother and father
can straighten it out. Who married this and who was grandfather of
what is all that old people think about," said Dick.

"In any case we're near enough to know our Christian names," drawled
Oswald. He had not yet been to Lagoon Valley but was sure of a
welcome. The cockies were prouder than stray members of the big
land-holding cliques; they did not risk social slights by getting in
the way of richer men's second-grade hospitality, though the said
stray members accepted the cockies' best complacently.

The Nortons were pleased to go to Lagoon Valley, also for the first
time, though embarrassed by the Finnegans. Oswald suggested that Dick
could try his colt, and Dick decamped at once leaving his seat in the
buggy beside Sylvia. This suggested other changes, but none that were
satisfactory to Bridgit, Elsie, or Blanche.

                          *       *       *

Mrs Mazere, with the aid of Aubrey and Philippa, had the meal ready.
Masters shifted an extra table and chairs; Sylvia took charge of the
women guests. Wynd helped the boys with the horses. To have Arthur
thus active domestically made Blanche happy.

"So you and the Professor had a good time," he teased Ignez.

"He has something in his head at all events," she replied.

"He'll never be happy till he gets Elsie Norton."

"And Elsie makes fun of him," added Blanche.

"That's a common symptom," interposed Mrs Mazere. "I couldn't count
all the girls I've heard ridiculing their future husbands."

"So you reckon it's a good symptom. Do you ever ridicule me?" Arthur
demanded of Ignez, with a broad grin. Blanche felt this question was
really for herself, but addressed to the younger girl as a subterfuge.

Mrs Mazere and Blanche were industrious providers and the table was
well laden in spite of the lean harvest. Mrs Mazere was animated, her
pains forgotten. To disperse hospitality had likewise made a pleasant
change in Mazere's worry about the drought. Aubrey was rewarded for
his home-staying by a seat beside Sylvia to the displacement of an
older admirer and the lively delight of the child. Youthful merriment
was as robust as the appetites sharpened by exercise in the keen wind.

While Blanche held the company up to know if they took milk and sugar
in their tea, Sylvia reopened the matter of Timson's relationship.
Mazere settled it.

"Your grandmother was Ada Poole," he began to Timson. "That makes old
Boko Poole of Curradoobidgee your great-grandfather. Your grandmother
had two sisters, Charlotte and Louisa, who were married to two sons of
the original Mazere of Three Rivers. Those two Mazeres were uncles of
Mrs Mazere and me, as we are cousins."

"It dizzies me," murmured Elsie Norton, who was sitting on Mazere's
right.

"It's not close enough for me to get into young Timson's will,"
guffawed Mazere.

Oswald contended that he came in higher up the tree, being the son of
Flora M'Eachern, but his claims were dismissed with laughter because
his aunt, Jessie M'Eachern, had thrown Great-uncle Hugh Mazere over to
remain an old maid.

"It doesn't bring you very near to the Mazeres," said Oswald's host,
"but it brings you near enough to have another cup of tea and another
slice of beef. It's not very fat, but that can't be helped these
days."

"Thanks, on the strength of the family connection." Oswald's plate and
cup were refilled.

Talk pursued the difficulty of finding a beast fit to kill, until it
was put on the road of politics by Michael Finnegan. The federation of
the colonies into a commonwealth or dominion was the liveliest
question of the hour. Ignez said that the matter should be postponed
until women could vote upon it.

"Are you going to vote for woman suffrage?" she demanded of Finnegan.

"I am not," he promptly replied. "It's a woman's glory to serve. As
soon as women begin to take the places of men a nation is doomed."

"Men don't flute like that when women are labouring in the cowyards."
Bridgit was more at home in a cowyard than in a drawing-room, so Wynd
suppressed his inward bubbling, and Mazere tried to change the
subject.

"It's not in trifling physical labour that the decadence is dangerous,
but in women trying to ape men's /minds/," continued Mr Finnegan, but
Mrs Mazere pressed him to a further helping of pudding, and Blanche
tried to pour him a fourth cup of tea, and while he was defending
himself from them Ignez planted what Wynd called a sollicker.

"You'd think that men were afflicted with whiskers on their brains as
well as on their faces, the way you talk. There's no sex in sheer
intellect."

Arthur winked at Ignez, which comforted her. Elsie Norton laughed in
silvery affectation, and Wynd inquired of Allan the difference between
a dead bee and a sick lion. In the drawing-room later the Professor
and Ignez had to take refuge in each other's intelligence because one
did not sing and the other was ruled out as a pianist in favour of
Tottie Norton and Sylvia, whose repertoires were more popular.

Many an animal was shivering in its final torture in the demolishing
winds over the dry frosty tracts, but their suffering did not
penetrate to the comfort of the piled log fires in drawing-room,
dining-room, and kitchen, where the company was divided for certain
games. Loud were the songs and laughter. "The Deathless Army", "The
Midshipmite", "Sailing", "They All Love Jack", "Anchored", and a dozen
other current ballads were rendered by Oswald, Dick, and Wynd. The
Misses Norton and Mazere contributed "Whispering Hope", "The Valley by
the Sea", and "The Maid of the Mill". Sylvia aroused excessive delight
with "The Miller and the Maid", "Barney O'Hea", "Annie Laurie", and
"Scenes that are Brightest". "Father O'Flynn", "Off to Philadelphia",
"The Rhine Wine", etc. etc. were bawled as choruses. Then Sylvia, Dick
and Masters insisted that Ignez should sing "The Carnival" and "Daddy"
in her big unsteady young contralto, which the unknowing were inclined
to ridicule. She added another song about a last waltz, a rose that
was dead and a love that was fled, which filled the amorous with
yearning, and made her elderly and unmusical hosts wonder why a lively
girl who knew nothing of the troubles of life should choose such
dismal wash.

High spirits bubbled during a lavish supper at eleven o'clock, after
which the visitors turned out in the frost. All were pressed to stay
the night, but refused with effusive thanks and ardent hopes of early
future meetings.

                          *       *       *

Aubrey and Philippa had been asleep for some time. The elders left the
fire to the young people, who held the usual post-mortem on their
guests.

"That great walloping Bridgit never said a word," giggled Allan.

"That silly old Mick grabbed her share of the conversation. He needs a
good sneeze to clear his head. All the same he's going to lend me a
book of poetry," commented Dick.

"I've taken a fancy to Bridgit," announced Sylvia.

"She's not such a twicer as Tottie Norton," conceded Dick. "Tottie
agrees with everyone, and that can't work out right."

"When Wynd is singing Bridgit's lips keep moving with the words."
Ignez's tone was thoughtful.

"She'd just suit him," decided Blanche. "She would paddle in the
cowyard while Wynd ran about and enjoyed himself."

"What did you think of the Malcolms?" inquired Sylvia, coming to her
special interest.

"I wish I had their horses," said Dick.

"Me too," agreed Allan. "That filly's a clinker--too much toe for
anything about here. I hope they get spoony on Sylvia, then we can
ride their mokes."

"I'm ashamed of you, Allan," came from Sylvia in laughing rebuke, free
from sting.

"When I grow up," announced Allan, "I'm dead certain I'll never get
spoony on the girls. The men think the girls are dead shook on them,
and all the time the girls are only poking borak."

"The way that Tottie does her hair makes it look a terrible lot,"
began Blanche.

Mazere /père/ shouted from his room, "Get to bed! Get to bed!" The
boys obeyed, leaving the girls to whisper their final dissections.

"Everyone says Malcolm Oswald is smitten on Elsie Norton," pursued
Blanche.

Sylvia yawned. She was continually meeting men whom rumour credited to
this and to that girl, but they always looked at her as Malcolm Oswald
had done at their first encounter and connived at a second meeting as
soon as possible. In any case she was no longer interested in the
elder Malcolm.

                          *       *       *

"Dear me, I thought it was Bert Poole, when that young Timson came in
tonight," remarked Mrs Mazere, as she and her husband began their
summary of the evening. "What is the old yarn about the Timsons and
Healeys?"

"Old Healey, the original man-eater of Little River, was said to have
bought his wife from old Logan the Bushranger. Nellie Logan, supposed
to be half-sister of Larry Healey's father, married Malcolm M'Eachern.
Larry Healey's father and this young Timson's mother are first
cousins, and Logan the bushranger is this boy's great-grandfather."

"If that's his pedigree he's not worth running after."

"Hoh! If you went into it, where would you find a better? A few out of
any family may be good flowery potatoes. Most of the others have green
frostbite."

"The old M'Eacherns hunted the son when he married Nellie Logan."

"But here's this young fellow riding about with his cousin. Any of the
geebungs will jump at him."

"Old Logan the bushranger!"

"What are the aristocracy of England but the descendants of robbers,
and many of them bastards at that, if you read history?"

"Well, /we/ don't come from people like that." Mrs Mazere's tone was
self-satisfied.

"And where is Dick today compared with young Timson? What good is the
Mazere breed if it can't get ahead of the other fellow? When Timson
comes to settle down you'll see it won't be with any of the cockies'
daughters of Oswald's Ridges. The very name means Oswald's leavings
when the old original squatted on his early holding. That Norton piece
thinks she'll catch Oswald. He finds it a good place to loaf."

"Arthur Masters might be the best of the lot."

"There's not a man among them fit to wipe Masters's boots."

"He has lent Blanche his buggy horse."

"Blanche is the wrong colour. He thinks no more of her than he does of
the old bogtrotter's daughter, and she has her eye on young Norton."

"When he gets this city billet he's after he won't want to be saddled
with a lump like Bridgit."

"More likely when he's had his twopenny-halfpenny job a year or two
he'll be glad to limp home to Bridgit--with a good slice of farm saved
by the old potato, griping to put penny to penny. All these young
fellows'll find that they're only fit for unskilled labour in the
city, the same as in the country, and many a time they'll wish they
were riding about Oswald's Ridges grinning at the girls."

"Mr Oswald seems a pleasant man," was all that Mrs Mazere could oppose
to this.

"Is it likely he wouldn't be when he comes to loaf with the girls and
have a feed? The difference between him and Masters is that Masters
does his share of work like a man, and Oswald pays a man to do his
while he leans over the fences at cricket matches, or sits on old
Norton's sofa while his horse is tied outside."

"I'm sure I wish I had someone to do my work for me."

"Hoh! That's not the point."

"It's a plain point to me," retorted Mrs Mazere.

Her husband retreated by way of a final shout to the young people,
"Get to bed! Get to bed!"

                          *       *       *

Oswald let Wynd escape from Bridgit on the colt while he took the back
seat in the buggy beside Elsie. With three against him Michael was
powerless to prevent this arrangement. Wynd rode with the younger
Malcolm and Masters near enough to the vehicle for chatter. Oswald's
place, named Cooee, was many miles from Norton's, so both Malcolms
were persuaded to turn in with the Nortons. Tomorrow was good old
Sunday, free from major works, so Masters and the Finnegans also
yielded to more tea and talk before going home, and it was very late
or early before the Norton household was in bed and Elsie free to sort
her thoughts.

Tottie had fallen asleep contentedly, sure that Arthur had no thought
of Blanche Mazere. She did not detect a rival in one so young as
Ignez, a girl with outrageous ideas that would ensure the disapproval
of men. Elsie's own senses corroborated the evidence of Masters's,
Wynd's, and Finnegan's frank admiration of the new beauty. It had
seemed as if something already existed between Sylvia and Oswald. Then
straightway Oswald had taken his young cousin to Lagoon Valley; but
now both men were under her own roof and Oswald had reassumed
possession of her in the buggy. Elsie's early panic subsided. She
seated herself before the old mirror which leant against the low slab
wall amid a clutter of toilet mats, pincushions, and other fancy work
that guaranteed the correct femininity of the fingers responsible. The
glass reflected one of the prettiest girls of its acquaintance. The
mouth and chin were softly moulded, the hair nearly golden, the eyes a
golden brown. The thought obtruded that Sylvia Mazere's eyes were
blue, her hair a richer tint and more plentiful, and that in addition
to exquisite lines of brow and nose there was in the poise of Sylvia's
head that indefinable something which makes a more appealing beauty
than even perfect chiselling. Elsie wondered if she too had that
something extra or was she merely pretty. How could one make sure? She
turned the thought over and over, oblivious of the winds from the
unlimited south as they swept the bleak tablelands and racketed round
the little white-washed wooden houses of the settlers.



CHAPTER V


Sylvia animated the routine of Lagoon Valley for Blanche and her
mother. Her visit entailed the baking of cakes and the receiving of
calls, and the returning of calls and the eating of cakes. Matrons
arrived in shabby buggies with their children below school age during
the early afternoon, and took flight in time for the evening milking.
Ignez was disturbed by a feeling of increased obstruction. Not that
she had a clear realization of the birthright of special talent and
its special needs, but the artist has an inner taskmaster constantly
nagging that age is rushing up and nothing done.

Ceaseless activity was the ideal in the homes of the Ridges, where the
unplanned houses lacked comforts, conveniences or labour-saving
devices. "She's never idle. If there wasn't anything to do she'd soon
find something." Thumping on the piano was permissible only when no
household task awaited. Practice in the mornings bordered on
immorality. In the afternoon callers sometimes made anything but
playing a "piece" equally out of order, and there was no one to put a
different value on the girl's aims. Circumstances physically and
mentally were against her developing as an artist. Sylvia's voice and
Tot Norton's facility in dance music and accompaniments to comic songs
were so much more entertaining to all that Blanche was contemptuous of
Ignez's talent. Sylvia had scarcely any more helpful recognition of
Ignez's potentialities. It was beyond her understanding to plan hours
for Ignez's study and take what remained of the girl's energy for the
help of the family. The foremost consideration was that Ignez should
help with the work and entertaining. "You can easily make up for it
before your lessons," was the idea. Blanche insisted upon her presence
at Lagoon Valley partly out of genuine hospitality and also because
Ignez's horse and saddle would be available for Sylvia. Mrs Healey was
relieved to be rid of her thumping for a while and thought Ignez
selfish or foolish with conceit to attempt the impossible in music
instead of helping those about her.

Ignez herself did not yet know that her ambitions were impossible. She
could assimilate theoretical knowledge in any odd moment and her inner
resources were so fertile that she was not easy to frustrate. She
withdrew into day-dreams for her real being. Every paragraph in the
newspapers concerning writers, singers, and other artists was
savoured. Life at Oswald's Ridges was only a sojourn. Soon the fairy
of opportunity would rescue her. Singers and players were
/discovered/, they escaped to London; then their lives began. As it
was, the days were diverting enough to an inexperienced child of
sociable nature.

The drought slackened the men's work. Twenty cows took no longer to
milk now than ten in a lush season, so they turned to odd jobs. Dry
dams were dredged and fences repaired. Hares had become a pest, they
were eating the precious grass, and for some months Saturday
afternoons had been set apart for drives--a combination of work and
recreation. In honour of Sylvia the young men instigated a big picnic
drive. The Mazeres and Healeys were hosts with Wynd Norton and Arthur
Masters in active co-operation. The drive was to be across Lagoon
Valley and Deep Creek. Drives had palled of late because there were
always too many eager for the shooting and too few drivers. To crack a
stockwhip and cooee all day to beat up the game, was much poorer sport
than to pop at the scurrying animals. Even boys as small as Aubrey
Mazere protested that they were "full of just bellerin' along like a
mad bull till our throats are sore." But there was a rush of drivers
now that the girls were to appear.

Oswald came with Malcolm Timson, and contributed horses for Sylvia and
Blanche. He was himself mounted on his stud sire, the Merrie Monarch,
an animal that had not yet carried a lady, but whose beauty so tempted
Ignez that she went out and bestrode him, defiant of scandal.

Oswald went to help her off when she reined in, her house skirts
flying. "You can ride him for the day, and you must come over to Cooee
and try every neck-breaker I have. You're the sort of girl I need for
my own. How about it?"

"About what?"

"About eloping with me."

"We'll do that when we are too old for anything else," said Ignez. Her
natty black hogskin was put on the charger while she retired to don
her habit.

The field was well-mounted, despite the season. Nearly every settler
had a decent horse, the progeny of sires that patrolled the district
each spring, but side-saddles were rare on the Ridges. The girls born
there had to get about in the buggies or the farm vehicles. There were
few girls present other than those of the Mazeres' party, who had
learnt to ride up country. Sylvia in blue enhanced a perfect animal.
Freda, though only seven, rode her Little Dick galloway with a skill
and confidence that delighted Oswald.

Aubrey had to be contented with Suck-Suck. A brumby, reared by hand,
he was full of cunning and tenacious of life. When a shabby and
corpulent poddy he had drunk his allowance three times a day at the
call of "Suck! Suck!", and had thus been christened. A solid
character, he went in buggy, dray, plough, or saddle, and never
jibbed. In good seasons he was a glutton, in droughts he could retain
condition on half the fodder required by other horses.

Bridgit Finnegan appeared late on a bumble-footed half-draft known as
Splodger, whose fetlocks had been trimmed to make him look more of a
saddle-hack. She had a badly shaped skirt and an outmoded two-horned
saddle and Healey was afraid she would fall at every spurt. Bridgit's
heroism was rewarded by her finding Wynd among the drivers, though her
performance was such that all of old Finnegan's savings in her hand
would not have advanced her in his eyes.

"I'm ashamed to have a saddle that it's impossible to fall out of when
Bridgit has that thing," remarked Ignez to Malcolm Timson, who was
riding with her because Wynd had one side of Sylvia and Aubrey the
other. Aubrey was adoring and proud of his beautiful sister, and
mischievously encouraged by her in order to exclude others.

Mazere was elected captain of drivers and Healey captain of shooters.
Allan was among the drivers until Malcolm Timson offered him an
expensive breech-loader and thus freed himself to line up with Sylvia.
Wynd, an inveterate shooter, was on her off flank. He said his wrist
was not yet in trim for shooting.

"A sprained heart is even worse," mumbled Oswald.

"Father has an infallible liniment," said Sylvia with her innocently
merry glance.

"For Wynd's wrist?"

"No, for your heart. Father uses it for tough things like hocks."

The shooters rode away to the crest of a ridge in one of Mazere's
paddocks. The drivers started from the house shouting, whistling,
cracking whips and ringing bullock bells.

A volley of shots rattled among the scrub and many brown wallabies and
grey hares and some rabbits broke through the drivers' line to safety
in the rear. At a shout from Mazere the drivers halted to estimate
results. The hunt then went on again till Sylvia complained that the
shot was falling on her hat like rain. All hands were then ordered to
retreat until the captains decided on the next stand.

This was on saltshed ridge in Healey's back paddock and the hunt had
to jump a boundary fence. The wires were strapped down and a macintosh
spread on them to make a dip for the ladies. A man with a stockwhip
stood on either side to persuade baulkers, but there were none.
Grass-fed animals, some of them pathetically thin, followed the Oswald
flyers without a skelp. Even Bridgit took the jump safely, though
Larry Healey wondered how Splodger caught her, she left him so long
before returning to the saddle. Aubrey was the last. The chaffing
about Suck-Suck made him flush unhappily until rescued by Oswald.
"That horse wasn't bred here. Best girth and hoofs in the drive, and
look at the nick he's in! You stick to me and you can have a shot."
Aubrey followed as happy as heaven as Oswald cantered off to join the
shooters.

The usual complaints were rife.

"That ---- fool of a Mick Finnegan shot my ear off," roared old
Armstrong, one of the district's characters. Sylvia offered first aid
with a handkerchief. "I'll be able to wear earrings. Vermin like
Finnegan should be under the Noxious Weeds Act."

The young men started to elect a queen of the hunt. Wynd Norton called
out, "I nominate Miss Sylvia Mazere."

This was received with enthusiasm by many lads who that day saw Sylvia
for the first time, or who were there because of seeing her at the
football match.

"I'll nominate Miss Norah Alfreda Healey against any man in the
field," said Oswald, smiling at the little girl in a way he had with
children.

"I'll back Miss Milford against this field or any other," said
Masters. "Look at the horse she's on." The Merrie Monarch at that
moment took a dislike to a nag near him and had to be withdrawn, not
without a protesting rear and plunge, which at first was watched with
trepidation and then brought a cheer.

"By George!" bawled Armstrong. "After that you get my vote as queen,
my girl."

Blanche waited in vain for someone to nominate her. Her disappointment
merged into annoyance with Ignez. "She's getting very forward," she
murmured to Sylvia.

At a high moment in the nominations Bridgit lumbered into the company,
a rare sight for the wags as Splodger nearly pulled her over his head.

"Here's the hippopotamus," murmured Archie Monro, a bright youth who
was always top scorer among the shooters.

The spreading titter filled Ignez with indignation. She rode up beside
Bridgit on her unmatched animal and called out, "I nominate Miss
Finnegan instead of myself, because I could not fall out of my saddle
if I tried, but I couldn't sit more than a canter in hers. Miss
Finnegan's a champion."

"Ignez does love to show off," said Blanche, but Ignez in her tendency
to protect the weaker was showing a dangerous lack of egotism of the
quality necessary to success as a prima donna.

Masters was suffused with more than admiration as he watched her, and
proclaimed, "All the ladies are queen of the hunt collectively."

"And so say all of us! Carried by acclamation!" shouted Wynd, waving
his hat.

Lunch was to be served where Deep Creek met Rowe's Lagoon and there
were gathered the non-equestrian women and a few men helpers. Mrs
Mazere was looking bright and well. Dick had early brought the spring
cart with the heavier gear, and his mother and a buggy full of
eatables. Mrs Healey, Lizzie Humphreys, and Teddy had another load of
provender. The boilers were steaming on a big fire. Every kind of food
in season was laid out on tablecloths on a tarpaulin in the lee of a
sheltering rock and clumps of briers. A ham, turkeys, a round of beef,
pickles, pies of quinces and dried apples, cakes and preserves in
plenty. The drivers cleansed themselves in the lagoon, some hundreds
of acres in extent and almost covered with high reeds, where thousands
of waterhens bobbed, and where there was always a pair of grey herons
as decoration, and sometimes visiting swans and pelicans.

Mike Finnegan was earning the gratitude of the hostesses by his help
in fire-making, water-carrying, and spreading the heavy tarpaulins and
weighting them against the wind with boulders. Tot and Elsie Norton
were likewise cultivating the matrons by usefulness and charm. Mick
had contributed his horse and himself as driver for the Norton buggy,
otherwise the girls would have had to forgo the outing.

"Ah," said Mick to Ignez, "this is the field in which true womanliness
shines--care for the inner man."

"Do you think we girls should all have clustered round the tarpaulin,
even if we were on top of each other?" demanded the vigilant rebel.

"If you'll permit me an honest opinion, it's more seemly for a woman
to be a housewife than a horsewoman." This thrust was because Ignez
had ridden the Merrie Monarch, whose full sex no lady would have named
in mixed company.

"Why can't she be both if she has the stuffing in her?" asked Masters.

"Yes," complacently agreed Blanche.

"What about Bridgit? Bridgit, why are you riding about instead of
boiling Mick's billy?" called Wynd hilariously.

"Let Mick bag his head," muttered Bridgit. She had had vehement
passages with him before she mounted Splodger; she also had had to
combat Da, and had not recovered her equanimity.

"Miss Finnegan, you must be on my side," pled Ignez.

"I don't know what your side is, but I'm on it if it's agen some of
them others," responded Bridgit, rather glumly, but Ignez was so
welcoming an ally that Bridgit relaxed to a grin. Her experience at
the football match had determined her to consort with the Lagoon
Valley girls. That way, she estimated, lay the winning of Wynd.

Pete Harrap slouched into sight among the stragglers, limping
spectacularly.

"Old Armstrong shot straight at me, same as if he meant it," he
growled.

"Congratulations on Mr Armstrong's sense," said Masters to Ignez, as
they laughed together, remembering Pete's blither about Ignez's riding
astride.

"Good bag for you, Armstrong!" called Oswald. "You've shot Pete
Harrap."

"The fellow's a damned liar, like his father before him," rapped out
the accused.

"You've put half a dozen grains in the calf of me leg," insisted Pete.

"Your leg's too dirty for anything but a blunderbuss to dint. If I
shot at you it wouldn't be only to put a few grains in your ---- leg."

"I'll pull the old fool," muttered Pete. "He ain't fit to be outer a
horse collar, an' it tied to a water-bag to keep his onion cool."

Peter was advised not to jump off his pannikin. Masters warned him to
expect more than a few grains if he talked dirtily about the girls.
Lizzie Humphreys coaxed him to the Lagoon so that she could minister
to him. Pete, somewhat mollified, went with her.

"You wait till he peppers one of them others and then it'll be my turn
to grin."

"That's what I'd do too," murmured Lizzie soothingly. "I hope they
will get a big shot right where it'll hurt 'em. They hadn't oughter
have laughed at you."

"The ole ---- oughter be tied up with a dog chain!"

"But, Pete, your leg is awful dirty. Don't you reckon you'd better
wash it or it might go bad?"

"/Your/ leg would be dirty if you was in the cowyard in this dust.
I'll have a bogey when I'm going to be married," he added facetiously.

"Say, Pete, are you going to be married?"

"There's no tellin'. I might if I found the right girl." This was
decorated by a leer most encouraging to Lizzie.

At the meal Arthur sat near Ignez, and Freda, her little worshipper,
sat hard by. A crowd of all ages and matrimonial denominations
surrounded Sylvia. Michael Finnegan tried to pair with Elsie, but
Malcolm Oswald was stretched on the tarpaulin near the Mazeres, so
Elsie placed herself there, too. Bridgit kept close to Wynd likewise
by holding to Sylvia. Tottie quietly seated herself beside Arthur, and
Ignez went with Dick to help with the teapots.

Dick suggested that he and Ignez should take a sprint on the Oswald
horses. This was furthered when Healey offered Freda's good
side-saddle to Miss Finnegan for the afternoon while Freda took his.
He said he could use Bridgit's, as he had little to do as captain of
shooters. He was perhaps the greatest horseman present, though he
never asserted his prowess. Freda agreed, upon being assured by Ignez
that riding astride was a fine thing, and Ignez offered to gallop to
Deep Creek for a wider skirt, and return during luncheon.

She took all eyes as Dick tossed her to the black stallion and she
manoeuvred him out of the ruck with verve and skill. Blanche was alert
to Masters's interest in the disappearing figures and remarked, "I
really think Dick is getting spoony on Ignez. Calf-love--too funny,
isn't it?" Masters's face remained grave. "Most girls would think it
bold to ride a--that kind of horse," persevered Blanche.

"Yes, because they couldn't ride well enough to manage him," said
Masters.

The two adolescents were feeling that life at the moment was a
gorgeous prelude to the real adventures imagined in their day-dreams
as they dashed through the open timber.

"These horses make me feel like home!" cried Ignez. "I don't like
being down the country except for my music lessons. These old creeks
only run sometimes. The banks are only gashes in the earth and have no
shrubs and ferns."

"I'll show you the best place. I wonder if you'll like the same places
as I do," called Dick as he galloped in sour currant and hop scrub as
high as his shoulders. The depressing drought was not evident in the
primeval shrubberies of the back paddocks.

They took the fences gaily and crossed a flat strewn with fallen
timber, thence up a ridge, and all the ridges thereabouts were riblets
of the ribs of the Great Dividing Range. Between them were the empty,
ever-widening cracks despised by Ignez--erosions on de-timbered levels
that in wet seasons carried muddied currents of lost soil for a day or
a week or a month. At the foot of one of these was a dam graced by a
few reeds from which flew a pair of wild ducks--treasure number one.

"I'm afraid someone will shoot them." Dick led upward through thick
clumps of black wattle. "It's heavenly when they're in bloom. Even now
I can get some gum." He dismounted and helped her to slide from the
Merrie Monarch. "See!" From the tussocks at the roots of a fallen
manna gum a kangaroo-rat bounded away like a giant flea and
disappeared along a dry watercourse that had first been furrowed by a
bridle track from Healey's. "He's always here. I warm my hands in his
nest in winter, but last summer I found a snake as snug as in a hat in
a kangaroo-rat's nest."

He led farther through tree geebungs to the she-oaks. This was
unfertile country, but as Nature had left it, and dear to the soul of
the boy, so sensitive and hungry for beauty. Few other trees invaded
the domain of the dark casuarinas. Dick invited Ignez to sit on the
carpet of fallen needles, desiccated and comfortably dry. All was
quiet but the sighing of the fronds in the winter winds and the
champing of the horses as Dick held their bridles.

"Isn't it heavenly!" Ignez breathed, her eyes twin pools of response.
"It makes me think of all the glorious sad far-away things like old
castles in England with the beautiful knights and ladies, and the
places where the great live. I long to go, don't you? It would be
terrible to live all one's life here and get old and growly like the
women with horrible things the matter with their insides from having
too many children, or to take to drink like the men. I want to get
away from Australia just as soon as I can."

"Everyone with anything in them clears out full pelt. . . . We must go
like winkie to get back in time." He tossed her on to the rampant
horse and led over a crest that was crowned with mountain ash, bidding
her note the polished blue of the sapling tips.

"Now I know where I am!" she cried. "The black cockatoos come here,
and there are little bears in the hollow."

"In the spring there are armfuls of parrot heads--just like a beak
with a blue frill--and the spotted double-tails."*

[*] Tiny ground orchids.

"Freda and I come here to get tea-tree for brooms, and the long
tussocks make whitewash brushes. And in summer there is ever so much
manna under that old tree. In this creek is the loveliest pipeclay."

"I come here, too, for that. I love to see the sunset creep up the
gully from here."

"It's not as lovely as Jinninjinninbong and Ten Creeks, but I like it.
There are heaps of ground berries here, too."

"I've written poetry about it," confessed Dick, satisfied and elated
by her understanding.

"Will you let me read it?"

"I wrote it for you."

"Oh, Dick, you couldn't have done anything in the world that I'd like
half as much!" Exaltation lifted the boy's eager dreaming mind. Ignez
was wonderful. He longed to forsake the drive and go riding with her,
but Freda would be waiting for her skirt. "I'm so glad you told me
about your poetry because I want to write too. There's so much
hypocrisy in books. I want to write one that'll show up the humbug."

"You need something thrilling to make a story."

"Just for a lark I'll write a skit on the romances in books."

The shod hooves hammered the ground, the nipping afternoon had
abnormal warmth and gaiety, and they were back at the Lagoon before
the drive had finished eating. Their inspiring secret flowered each
time their eyes met and wreathed their faces in smiles until the more
shopworn amorists could not but notice and be ribald.

                          *       *       *

Michael Finnegan lingered at the picnic fire with Elsie, commending
her womanliness in platitudes infuriating while she watched Oswald
taking Sylvia for a spin along the white road that led on to Kaligda
and over the Lake ranges to Gounong and all the wide world of the Yass
and Canberra Plains ringed by her native peaks.

"I feel quite stupid because I cannot ride," she complained. "This
womanliness is all very well, but it's a great bore sometimes."

"The day always comes when the motherly girl comes into her own and
these that tear about--"

"Will settle down like everyone else, and have had more fun,"
interrupted Elsie.

"I'll teach you to ride if you'll permit me that honour."

"On Splodger? I'd prefer a working bullock."

"I was going to surprise Bridgit this Christmas with a new saddle and
lady's hack." This was prized out of Michael by the necessity of
appeasing Elsie.

"I'd like a hack of my own."

"You know how to get one."

"I don't like the bait on the hook," said Elsie, but tempering the
statement by a coquettish glance. She was too canny to eliminate even
unattractive pursuers.

Evening drew in. Many had to hurry long distances to the milking and
to finish it by lantern light in the frost. Skins and scalps were the
perquisites of the drivers. Oswald purchased two kangaroo hides for
Sylvia and Elsie. Dick had already made sure of the pick of the field
for Ignez, and Masters secured her a second. Wynd honoured Blanche
with the amiability that made him a general favourite and sometimes
earned him the name of philanderer. Mick remembered both Elsie and
Tottie.

Shooters and drivers with scalps and pelts at saddle bow, empty
cartridge belts, bloody hands and worn whiplashes disappeared, leaving
only those who hoped to go home with the Mazeres. Among these were the
two Malcolms and Wynd. Mick had brought the Norton girls and intended
to keep Elsie out of harm. He declined Blanche's invitation, to
Elsie's annoyance. Sylvia mischievously invited Bridgit.

"I'd enjoy myself top-hole to come, thank you," she said honestly and
courageously.

"You can't ride all the way home by yourself," said Michael.

Bridgit hoped that Wynd would mention that he went her way, but he was
talking to Blanche and pretended not to hear.

"If your sister won't stay all night with us Mr Norton goes her way,"
said Sylvia to Finnegan, and her heart was touched by the delight in
Bridgit's expressive eyes.

"Then don't blame me," said Mick shortly.

"Ta-ra-ra-boom-de-ay!" replied Bridgit in imitation of Wynd.

Sylvia also invited Archie Monro, who said he would drop in after tea.
Healey and Mazere had retired early. Allan, bribed by Dick, had left
even earlier. Dick and Ignez capped the ridges and dashed into the
hollows at a pace that rattled the bolts of the culverts. Sylvia fell
to Oswald. Blanche lined up with Masters. A sly chuckle escaped Oswald
as he saw Bridgit left to Wynd, who could not withdraw without being
churlish. Young Timson had to consort with Freda and Aubrey and
Philippa.

"I must sprint home to help mother," said Blanche. Arthur agreed in
the hope of overhauling Ignez.

Half-way home Ignez had pulled up in a sheltered gully from which sped
about twenty wallabies.

"That's where those cunning little beggars have been all day," said
Dick.

"They live here. I coaxed Arthur not to let the drive come this way."

"Say, do you think any great guns of Arthur?"

"He's splendid. You can trust him."

"He seems to have changed lately, don't you think--not as nice as he
used to be?"

Talk of Arthur seemed to depress Dick, so Ignez changed to the magic
of literary creation until Blanche and Arthur went by at a smart
canter. The youngsters had a pace that was cruel to Bridgit, and hard
on the lolloping Splodger. Bridgit felt that she was being jellied and
thought with terror of the return journey. She was too breathless to
reply to Wynd's quips and longed to pull-up for a respite but
heroically resisted such defeat.

Ignez understood. She rode out in front of Splodger and said, "Miss
Finnegan, I want you to try my mare. You must be tired of holding
Splodger all day; he's so pig-mouthed."

Dick gave Ignez's mare to Bridgit and took the Oswald charger himself.
Nothing but Splodger would satisfy Ignez. The paces of a real saddle
hack brought tears of gratitude from Bridgit. Ignez compelled the
children to accept Splodger's pace until they dropped Freda at Deep
Creek boundary gate. Dick charged on ahead to help Allan and had to
explain to Masters that the change in horses meant no harm to Ignez.
Masters then dawdled until the company overtook him. No riders would
seem to have been quite happy except Ignez in easing Bridgit, or
Oswald, far in the rear, with Sylvia, who rode like a fairy princess
beside him, and who in spite of the drought was finding it delightful
to be home amid so much fun, and with Malcolm Timson coming to tea.

"The paces of that fellow all right?" inquired Oswald.

"Perfect. Different from poor Bridgit's cart-horse."

"Bridgit is more at home in the cowyard, I reckon."

"She ought to be a wonder with a decent turn-out."

"Too much main strength. She would always sit like a bag of wet fish."

"Too much of the tame-hen womanliness admired by her brother."

"Mick's right about too much riding making a woman hard-faced."

"What about a cowyard?"

"I don't approve of that, either. All beautiful women should be kept
for ornament."

"What would you do with them if they hadn't the qualifications?"

"Shoot 'em."

"How terrible! That's what everyone says about you."

"That I should be shot?"

"No, that you're silly about pretty faces."

"/You/ can have no complaint."

"It doesn't interest me. I like the look of Arthur Masters better than
any man in the drive." Masters was blunt of feature, Oswald singularly
handsome.

"Lucky Arthur to win such praise, but don't you think I'm ugly enough
for consideration, too?"

"What kind of consideration?"

"Only the tenderest will satisfy me."

"You have put me in the wrong classification, Mr Oswald."

"You must explain."

"You'll have to think it out."

"I shall, but I never rush my fences. Too many croppers that way. I
camp till what I want drifts my way."

"Don't blame me if you find your camp lonely." She laughed, and
touched the beautiful horse to a swift pace.

                          *       *       *

Eli Bull, a big unattractive lout was known as Cowpens, a play upon
his name emanating from the Monros. His place bordered Masters's and
he had circled about the flanges of the drive all day on his bicycle,
his dull gaze fastened on Sylvia. He went home with Archie Monro
without awaiting encouragement. This enraged Cherry, Archie's sister
who had expected a better prize from the gathering. She and Archie had
lived together on their tiny selection for several years since the
death of their parents, and Cherry had no outlet for her intense
vitality and good looks but to trifle with men and entertain them by
mimicking the peculiarities of everyone she knew. She was known as a
man's woman and was not soft or generous. There was no suggestion that
she was not technically virtuous though there were rumours about the
lengths she went in torturing her admirers. She had declined to go to
the picnic of the hunt to sit around and hear Sylvia's beauty praised
or to endure the men's interest in Ignez's "antics", which were grist
to her powers of ridicule. She was used to abstracting the most
desirable males from gatherings, but tonight none came her way but
Cowpens!

Elders who had forgotten the ecstasies of sex, or who, like other low
orders of life, had known them only as a blind appetite, commended
Cowpens as a steady fellow who would have a home when the flash
gadabouts would be glad of jobs as rouseabouts. The people of his own
age repudiated him; the boys made him a butt; no girl was so neglected
but she loathed Cowpens. Cherry could have slain both Cowpens and
Archie in sudden fury.

"How often are those brutes at Mazere's?" he asked of Archie as they
sat down to tea. No hints had been availing to send him home. Cherry's
barbed shafts glinted off him like toy arrows off an alligator. "I'll
have a bite to eat with you and then go on to the Mazere's," he said.

Archie assured him that the said brutes practically camped at Lagoon
Valley.

"By gosh! I'll have to give up the chase there. I'm looking round for
a girl. Violet and Daisy are being married this year, and I'll be on
my lonesome."

"You're a sollicker!" gleefully shouted Archie.

"Aren't you engaged to Bridgit Finnegan?" inquired Cherry.

"No dashed fear! There's the religion, besides, she ain't good-looking
enough."

"You certainly need something to redress the balance." Cherry's voice
was undiluted acid.

"I like the looks of that Sylvier. A skinny little thing one time I
sore her, but she's all right now."

"You're beginning at the top."

That /top/ further incensed Cherry.

"Well, Arch, I can easy ask the others afterwards. Blanche is a good
housekeeper, but Arthur's been going there."

"He's an R.C. That gives you a bit of a chance."

"You should plunge in--love at first sight," advised Cherry, who could
scarcely refrain from mimicking Cowpens to his face.

"Sylvier's the hummer for looks--licks even Elsie Norton. Ain't been
another like her ever seen about here. Oswald soon come fooling.
That'll show yer! With girls like them a man needs to git in early."

This was greeted with inward rage by Cherry, silence by Archie.

"What're /you/ always doin' there?" demanded Cowpens of Archie,
suddenly suspicious. "Are you after one of the girls?"

There were grounds for the question. Archie spent much time with the
girls of the neighbourhood. He objected to migrating out back, and
there was no scope for him where he was. With Wyndham Norton he had
his name down for a Government billet in Sydney. The opposite sex was
attractive to him, but as he and the girls were all conventionally
decent his flirtations simmered away harmlessly. When he was not at
Lagoon Valley he would be at Blackshaw's or Tomkin's. He was devoted
to the Mazere girls and Ignez, and, as a crack shot, was the idol of
Dick and Allan. Sylvia's beauty awakened reverence in him. Ignez
puzzled him, but she held his regard and affection in an uplifting way
so that he would have been ready to defend her against all aspersions.
He had something of deference for the Lagoon Valley household. His
father had worked all his life on Blungudgery, with the tiny selection
as a nest for the wife and bairns. He had come from the old country
and had tried to instil a respect for "betters" into his family. Some
of it had rooted in Archie, and, with his fine appearance and
gentlemanly tastes, he would have made an excellent butler had that
profession come his way.

"Fancy the hide of Cowpens!" he was thinking. "The brute's as mad as a
snake."

"What'd you do in my place?" Cowpens asked.

Archie had the impulse to shout, "I'd jolly well jump in the dam to
cool my head before ever I made a fool of myself with those girls!"
But the thought of Cherry's jeers checked him, then the Monro delight
in biting ridicule and a lively sense of humour triumphed.

"A pretty girl inside, Mr Oswald's horse outside. Um!" He affected to
think. "I tell you what, Cowpens me sollicker, try leaving your old
bike outside Mazere's--far enough away not to bolt from the music."

"What'd I do next?"

"Keep jigging. Take your jew's harp. They're terribly struck on
music."

"I thought it was only that young one from up the country. I might get
a frying-pan thrown at me."

"Aw, girls couldn't hit a haystack sitting."

The meal was finished. Cowpens rose unceremoniously.

"Come on, Arch. We'd better be making tracks. Ain't you coming, too,
Cherry?"

"No! Chocolate-box inanity bores me to the back teeth. I've something
better to do than watch it simper."

She was left to her savage discontentment and jealousy. Men's
admiration had become a drug to her, and there was no hope of any on
that evening. It had flocked to the simpering Mazeres. Ugh! what a
hole to be stuck in among a few boors and oafs! Aided by that drug
time had been slipping, but she suddenly realized she was now
twenty-six and that no ridicule would much longer attract men from the
softer younger charms of the Nortons or the elfin girlishness of
Sylvia. The monstrous Cowpens thrusting himself in for a meal, unaware
that she was an attractive woman! Gushing about female nonentities!
She was abruptly confronted with the fact that physical youth was
women's only reliable attraction for men. Losing youth women became
sexually non-existent, and what other lever remained without wealth?

A pile of sewing awaited her. Sewing, always sewing on beautiful
things for dumps of women till one day her sight would give out. She
had taken over this job from her mother, who had been a lady's maid
when she married Monro. Cherry had preferred to continue sewing in her
own home, though it was merely a hut, to being a servant in quarters
however grand. The families of the Ridges did not supply other women's
homes with workers; they stuck bravely to their own. The desire to
escape from Oswald's Ridges shook her, but without special training
what could she do but go as a servant--hated word! None of her
father's attitude towards betters had rooted in her. Her contact with
such animals showed her her own superior ability, and roused her rage
that she was shut off from positions that she could better grace with
her dash and appearance. She suddenly decided not to grow old in her
deserted home like a number of single women who spent their time in
crocheting doilies and minding turkeys.

                          *       *       *

The folks of the Ridges all met as equal, but certain families
associated, and others did not intrude upon them socially. Eli Bull's
family never received an invitation to an evening with the Mazeres,
Healeys, or Nortons, but as Cowpens had the temerity to present
himself his company had to be accepted. His appearance was doubly
astonishing since an accident on the way had left his shirt-tail
extruding through the seat of his trousers, and, quite unabashed, he
asked for a needle and thread and the aid of one of the girls. The
boys, led by Archie, bundled him into the kitchen and stitched the two
garments together, not without sharp pricks of the needle and with
glee in his plight when he should come to undress. Mended, Cowpens
entered the drawing-room with full assurance, produced his jew's harp,
and volunteered to play a tune.

"Old Teddy O'Mara, a cracked horsebreaker up the country, used to play
the jew's harp," observed Mazere.

"He'd need to be off his nut," remarked Masters with a stern eye on
the intruder.

Young Timson knew the Mazeres were poor, which accounted for--for what
will poverty not account?--but Cowpens was more than poverty could
credit. Was he barmy? the young man wondered. Oswald's eyes twinkled
in expectation of a jolt to his apathy. "Might as well be here as
anywhere; no escaping being somewhere, even in hell," was his
philosophy.

"It's wonderful to be able to make so much noise on a little thing
like that," observed Ignez, interrupting the buzzing. "Can you play a
mouth-organ, too?"

"It's not right to make fun of him," said Mrs Mazere aside, which
assured Timson that Cowpens was ratty.

Ignez insisted that she was interested in all kinds of music. Cowpens
produced a mouth-organ and began to snore on it with fervour.

"Did you invite him?" Mazere inquired of Blanche.

"He came with Archie. I bet Cherry sent him for spite," said Allan, as
one by one the family escaped to the kitchen to discuss Cowpens. The
snores on the mouth-organ grew louder.

"We must not leave him to the Oswalds, or I don't know what they'll
think," said Mrs Mazere, and returned to her duty as hostess. "Ignez,
Mr Bull will be tired. You play us that piece we like."

Cowpens removed his instrument. "I could keep on all night without
getting winded. Archie told me you were all soft on music."

Archie's face reddened. Wynd had difficulty in suppressing his
laughter.

"If the Devil lost his tail why would he go to a hotel?" he posed to
cover Archie's embarrassment.

"Because it is a hot 'ell," ventured Allan, but Wynd said no.

"A little of some things goes a long way," remarked Masters. "By the
way, Eli, I have a message for you, so perhaps you'll come outside now
while Miss Milford plays."

"It'll do when we're goin' home."

Masters rose compellingly. "Now's the time." Cowpens left the room
with him.

"There's a fire in the kitchen."

"We're bound for the stables."

"Wot is it?" demanded Cowpens, arrived there.

"You're going home. Letting Archie Monro run you on to make a fool of
yourself before the ladies! You know the Monro tricks."

"Wot are you giving us? I've as good a right to be here, as you."

"You've a better right to be going home."

"Don't be too blooming sure. The boot might be on the other kicker."

"'Nough said! Time's up for you." Masters's good-humoured
determination was convincing.

"Come off it! There ain't any need to get shirty till we see where we
are. Which do you want? Any of 'em will do me, as I ain't set yet."

Arthur recognized that Archie might have a defence. "I should think
any of them /would/ do for you. You might start with Bridgit."

"I might come down to her, though her mouth is like a slit in a pie.
The others might all turn up their noses."

The edge of Masters's ire was turned. He thumped Cowpens on the back.
"See here, old buck, those girls are going to your head in the wrong
way. You stand a better chance where the field is not so crowded. Try
Cherry Monro."

"She pokes too much borak at a fellow. Some can't see it, but I can,"
said Cowpens with a streak of perspicacity occasionally given to the
deficient. "You lay your cards down like me. Which do /you/ want?"

"Dry up on that! None wants me as far as I can see."

"Which does Oswald want? If he's only hanging up his horse like he
done at Armstrong's till Barbara got married, that would leave him
out."

"I don't know his intentions, but you sit quiet, and not another tune
out of you on pain of being booted into the dam."

"Orl right. But yous oughtn't all behave like a dog in the manger."

When they re-entered Ignez was playing a caprice and Wynd was
selecting songs. Cowpens sat by the door till Masters began to talk to
Mazere about the likelihood of the drought breaking and the prospects
of butter trade with Japan. Masters was talking of starting a
co-operative dairy. "It's time we got ahead of the amateur messing
about. Dozens of small men within range could bring their milk. Cheese
and butter could be made to standard. Each person with two or three
pounds of butter wrapped in a bit of rag--the time has gone by for
that."

Masters wasn't musical. In this case it was the musician that
attracted him. He had forgotten Cowpens and embarked on his major
interest. Cowpens's mind, such as it was, began to work. Oswald was
singing. He had a pleasing baritone and Ignez was an uplifting
accompanist. They were engrossed in "If I Were a Knight of the Olden
Time".

Cowpens beckoned to Wynd to come outside. Wynd, curious, followed.

"Wot I want to know is, which of the girls you're after?"

"What ho, she bumps! Is this a riddle or what?"

"Dead earnest. Is it Sylvier, or are you only hanging about like you
and Oswald always are?"

"Go and shove your nut in the dam! Who put you up to this?"

"I got the idear from Arthur."

Wynd saw an opening for fun. "You've asked me straight; I'll reply in
the same tone of voice. The Miss Mazeres wouldn't use me for a slushy,
so I'm hanging round to see someone else."

Cowpens took this to be Bridgit. "Thanks. You and me needn't clash."

"No danger at all. Who is Arthur's fancy?"

"He kep' it dark."

"I'd have him out again. You ought to have them all."

"Then you send out that Malcolm Oswald. Tell him to bring my coat."

"All right! It'd be a pity if you caught cold!"

Oswald had finished his solo. Blanche and Sylvia were playing a duet.
Wynd eased himself to the sofa beside Oswald and whispered that he was
to take Cowpens his overcoat in the backyard.

"Trying to have the loan of me?"

"A rattling chance for you to have the loan of Cowpens and keep him
outside for a while."

Oswald, with a grin, disappeared, not unnoted by Blanche. Archie was
feeling uneasy about Cowpens and to divert attention started a chorus
for which Sylvia played. Blanche slipped away to investigate. She knew
every plant in the garden and was able to creep near without being
discovered.

"There're so many candidates that I'll have to wait for little Freda
or Philippa," Oswald was saying.

"What about that Ignez? She's nearly old enough to put her hair up."

"Masters would be an awkward customer to have against you."

"Has he said anything about her?"

"I keep my eyes open and my mouth shut--good advice; take it."

"You ain't playing fair. Bring Arthur out again."

Oswald fetched Arthur to see what could be done with Cowpens. Blanche
remained petrified behind the veronica bushes, the nipping night
unable to chill her emotion. What had Oswald said? Surely not Arthur
and Ignez? Ignez was too young to be seriously considered. Oswald had
that notion because of the way Ignez thrust herself forward.

They were in the garden again on which the frost was stiffening.
"Broken out in a fresh place?" said Masters. "Remember what I said
about your head and the dam?"

"Blow it all, you're trying to work one against me! I want to know who
I can ask first. What about Ignez?"

Oswald chuckled sardonically. "I don't know about /you/, but /I'd/
about do for /that/ girl's groom."

Blanche could not mistake the change in Masters. "It's sacrilege for
you to mention her name. If I catch you looking at her I'll duck you
in the dam."

"Don't get your rag out. I must start somewhere."

"Start on Blanche then," rapped out Arthur.

Awful words to the listening girl, and the callous tone was more
freezing than the wind. Oswald moved to the stables to make sure that
the rugs were on his horses. Bull and Masters went with him. Blanche,
under the unpitying stars, suffered in one moment all the loneliness
of her land that stretched away unpeopled to join the eternity of the
Antarctic.

According to what Blanche had imbibed, Ignez had all the qualities to
make a girl unattractive to men. Men liked womanly retiring girls.
They despised those who aped men and put themselves forward. Yet
Cherry Monro, who had been a magnet for men for years, was so
unwomanly that the womanly and gentle shrank from her cruel ridicule.
Now Ignez, who wanted to have a public career and parade on the stage,
who argued with men about women's rights, and asserted that she had
the right to exercise her brains, who said that women should ride
astride and had been seen galloping with her undergarments exposed,
was finding special favour. Sacrilege to approach her, huh! Dick
thought her a prodigy. He was a mere younger brother, but Oswald spoke
of her as superior, and how could Arthur be so duped! Blanche
reflected that she was so strictly pure that she would scarcely let
her ankles be contaminated by the gaze of men, yet Arthur could sool
Cowpens on to her while he threatened to throw him in the dam if he
approached Ignez. The inconsistency of men in preferring the
unorthodox girl was as desolating to her as the demonstration of men's
consistency in discarding all but the youthful had been to Cherry.

Blanche felt sick with helplessness before a major force. She had been
patronizing to Ignez, against whose peculiarities she could illustrate
her own womanliness, but now she saw Ignez as something that must be
discredited. She returned to the company, covering her wound with
hardihood. Ignez was playing and Arthur turning the music at her nod.
Blanche turned desperately to Cowpens and asked did he sing. He said
yes, if someone would accompany him. Blanche practically ordered Ignez
to do this and remarked to Arthur, "Ignez can't bear to take a back
seat."

Cowpens sang "The Hen Convention"--the famous hen convention that was
held at Hambourg Green, where Shanghai crowed the loudest. He invited
everyone to join in the chorus, a pleasant surprise to the children,
also to Mr and Mrs Mazere, who had no ear and found the comic a relief
from the sentimental, especially from Ignez's hollow moanings about a
rose that was dead and a wraith of yore.

Pleased with his success and with Ignez helping, Cowpens then started
a game called "The Big Sneeze", and from it progressed to others. He
also saw that Wynd's riddle was solved by his confessing that the
Devil if he lost his tail went to a hotel because bad spirits were
retailed there. The intruding booby ended as a lively success, and
Ignez, as his assistant, had not been made to look foolish.



CHAPTER VI


Some of the excuses for calling on the girls between football matches
and other gatherings would have looked rather drought-stricken on
paper. Thus Sid Blackshaw called for the loan of a dictionary. His
sisters were entering a jumbled word competition in the /Penny Post/,
and the Healeys and Mazeres were the only neighbours with
dictionaries. Mrs Mazere inquired about Mrs Blackshaw's ailments,
which rivalled her own, and then Sid was free to retail the news.

Cherry Monro was leaving the district. Old Mrs Bull had come home
unexpectedly from the Asylum at Gladesville.

"Is she mad?" inquired Ignez. "That would account for Cowpens."

"She got a bit of a stroke once digging potatoes in the sun, but now
she's sent home cured."

"Cowpens must have been digging tons in the sun," said Sylvia.

"He's a bit of a hard case," agreed Sid, and rode away, after a cup of
tea, to be home for the milking.

Arthur Masters arrived for the evening and added to the news about Mrs
Bull. She had seemed as right as rain, but the girls had taken her
place in the house, and as she was not allowed into the cowyard she
sat shelling corn in the hayshed and had caught a bad chill. The
doctor had been summoned.

Following this the neighbours were mobilized to nurse the house of
Bull. Mrs Bull had pleurisy supervening upon influenza. Cowpens,
Violet and Daisy had succumbed. Trained nurses did not operate on the
Ridges. They were luxuries known to such people as the Oswalds and
Gilmours. Old Grandma Blackshaw, as brave a warrior as ever breathed,
officiated in the case of additions to the population. Otherwise the
neighbours succoured each other.

Influenza became epidemic. Mrs Mazere, due to her weak heart, was not
permitted to serve, nor was Blanche. Mrs Healey was on Grandma
Blackshaw's list. As a matter of neighbourliness Sylvia and Ignez
volunteered. Ignez was considered the right person to help, because
she was so healthy, and had nothing to do but thump on the piano. Wynd
escorted Sylvia to have a rest with his sisters following her night so
that she should not infect her mother. Elsie eagerly fostered Wynd's
infatuation for the little beauty.

Cowpens provided excitement for his nurses by going completely "off
his onion", and Mrs Mazere would not allow Sylvia to reappear at the
Bulls' home. There were jolly yarns of Cowpens's attempting to jump
into Masters's dam, about a mile distant. He was a hefty lout and took
energetic restraining. The men acted as if breaking a colt, but Ignez
arrived on the third evening of his fever, and, always as full of
ideas as a rosebush of blossoms, insisted upon other methods.

She entered a room crowded with women and some children. "We're just
keeping Mrs Bull company till the night lot comes."

The sick woman was in the main room because of the fireplace. The air
was foul. The cupboard was still being used for eatables. It was an
outing for those assembled, who swapped scandal and shook the infants
when they whimpered to go home.

"Enough to kill an emu," thought Ignez, but dared not say so. Matrons,
by demonstrating the major mammalian function, were credited with
knowledge on all things beyond that of virgins. The Bull girls, now
convalescent, had been taken home by Bridgit Finnegan. Grandma
Blackshaw was Ignez's partner for the night. Arthur Masters heard of
her coming and appeared after dark. A wave of tenderness engulfed him
to think of Ignez taking a turn with the seasoned married women.

Mrs Bull settled quietly with Grandma Blackshaw, and Ignez was fee to
take the eatables to the kitchen and attack the laundry. Arthur found
her deep in suds in the light of a stale tallow candle, and set about
merry and able assistance. Armstrong arrived with a supply of food;
Healey dropped in, too, feeling that he should chaperon Ignez. With a
good supply of firewood and the pipes drawing well the night promised
fair entertainment.

Masters expounded his great purpose of organizing a butter factory but
Healey contended that Goulburn was a sparse hole.

"Yes, look at the Bellinger," agreed Armstrong.

"It's fine to have scrub so thick that you can't whistle in it, but
it's another sneeze to put up the muscle to clear it," said Arthur.

"I wish I had settled in Warrnambool," persisted Armstrong. "Along the
lanes there the horses stumble on the potatoes growing out under the
fences--that's soil for you!"

"Yes," chuckled Masters, "and on Monaro the sheep eat their way into a
swede turnip one day and out the next."

"Bool Bool still licks all the rich soils; pumpkins and melons are
worn out there being dragged after the vines, they grow so quickly,"
contributed Healey.

Interruption came from Cowpens in the doorway with his hair on end, a
glaring red face, and clad only in his shirt. The men rose for combat.

"I'm going to jump in Arthur's dam," he announced.

Ignez laid her hand on his arm. "My goodness! You'll take a chill.
Back to bed at once. Sssh! We've just got your mother off."

Cowpens obeyed, complaining only of the pain in his head. Ignez
promised to put a compress on his forehead if he was quiet. Masters
tiptoed to the door at intervals. He was disgusted to see the girl
thus wasted on a sordid case. He wanted to sit beside her as guard,
but his presence excited the patient.

"I reckon I'd play up if I could keep such a nurse to myself," he
grunted.

"Loonies and horses are always like lambs with women," commented
Healey. "On Ten Creeks Run I recollect . . ."

They were off on yarns to relieve the tedium. Grandma snored beside
her patient, fearless of infection. Healey departed at dawn to milk.
Ignez was to rest at Barralong and return to Lagoon Valley in the
afternoon.

Arthur took her straight to his mother.

"Well, my dear, I'm glad to see you." Mrs Masters extended a palsied
hand. "Arthur thinks you're a wonderful girl." Ignez deprecated this
in correct manner and the old lady continued, "And what do you think
of Arthur?" The girl had given so little thought to him that she did
not know what to say. "Don't you think he's the nicest man in the
district?"

Then Ignez laughed. "I expect that's what you think, Mrs Masters."

"It is. He's my baby. You must have breakfast and then take a sleep
after your nursing."

The piano attracted Ignez and she requested permission to try it. Mrs
Masters remarked that Arthur had got it recently at a sale. It was an
old pre-fire Broadwood. Ignez said it had the tone of a violin as she
tried it against her deep young notes, and was drawn on to talk of
music and her desire to go to London. When she retired Arthur came
hungering for his mother's opinion.

"She's very young."

"She's as old as any woman of twenty-five when it comes to sense."

"But she doesn't think at all of those things that fill other girls'
heads. She's like a bird with long wings that's trying to find out
where to fly. Her head's full of dreams."

Arthur felt this to be true when separated, but in her presence her
normal attractions overcame him. He thought fondly of her in the spare
room at the end of the veranda as he went about his work. Tired, she
would be rosily asleep in her wealth of silky brown hair, which he
longed to press against his face. She slept until midday.

After dinner he showed her round his place. His cows were in good
condition. "When butter's a high price is the time to produce it," he
observed, exhibiting his ensilage pits. He walked her across a paddock
he was clearing by his own labour, on which advanced methods of
pasturage were to be tried. Then came the site for the new dairy. All
the preliminary laying out had been done. Arthur awaited the services
of an expert in pisé work, at present gone a-shearing down the
Murrumbidgee. The timber for pigsties and other enclosures was being
cut on the hill adjoining old Mick Muldoon's selection. Masters was
outstanding in any group of men, and in his own home was the
embodiment of capability.

He rode Suck-Suck on the way to Lagoon Valley and had the satisfaction
of watching Ignez handle his Wargod mare.

"You shall name her," he said.

"Hasn't she a name already?"

"I call her Sweetheart when no one hears, but she needs a public
name."

"You would like to call her by the name of the sweetheart."

"The sweetheart might object."

"Then she wouldn't be your sweetheart, would she? If you could trust
me with the secret perhaps I could help." Ignez was making an opening
for him to mention Blanche.

Arthur felt chilled. She was as far away as his mother insisted.

"Supposing we leave the sweetheart business out of it for the present
and call her Ignez because you're the first lady to ride her."

"I'd be proud to have the lovely darling called after me if it
wouldn't get in the way of your sweetheart business." He watched her
closely, but she was innocent of coquetry. "Say, Arthur, you really
are my friend, aren't you, that I can trust?"

"I'd walk through hell barefooted to get to you if you wanted me,"
came from him as he stretched out a big hand to cover hers on the
reins. She looked round surprised by his fervour, so that he hedged
with, "The train's coming and Sweetheart is a little free."

"I'd let her gallop till she had enough," confidently Ignez laughed.

"Well, what is it you want me to do for you?"

"Tell me in confidence what you think of Malcolm Oswald."

"He's right enough as men go, but I reckon he misses the bus."

"How?"

"Always fooling after a fresh girl, and nothing in it. He overdid it a
bit last time."

"You don't mean--?"

"I mean Elsie Norton," said Arthur, who was as straightforward as
daylight. "He acted as if he was engaged to her and that's blocked
better men. All the same, he's a favourite. He's too indifferent to
make himself disliked. Why are you so interested?" Surely, he
reflected in panic, Oswald was not taking her fancy.

To show that confidences were at an end, she broke into a canter
across the grassless paddocks where the shivering stock were facing a
frosty night. With faces glowing and ears and fingers tingling, they
burst into the kitchen at Lagoon Valley, Ignez declaring that she
could eat chips. Archie Monro and Wynd Norton had arrived ahead of
them, and the odour of gun-rags, defunct powder, and stale twist
intermingled to greet them.

"You hum a little, don't you?" said Masters.

"Why is a boy who cleans his gun indoors like a slow horse in a race?"
queried Wynd.

"Because he ought to be soundly walloped," retorted Masters.

Shooting, trapping, and skinning were the order of the day. The price
of possum skins and the best way to nail them out were an absorbing
topic. Gear littered forbidden spots, the clack of the cartridge
loader outdid the sound of the sewing-machine. There were wrangles
about misappropriated snares. Tired boys came in through their windows
in the small hours after miles of rough tramping at the full of the
moon. A meat diet of slaughtered marsupials stimulated egg-laying, and
when the market was brisk Mrs Healey, Mrs Mazere, and the other women
of the Ridges thus obtained the price of groceries until the drought
should break.

A furbished company fell upon a smoked round of beef and quince pie,
and honey cakes made by Blanche. There was no peace until everyone
paid tribute to the cook. Ignez had been getting too much kudos as a
horsewoman and nurse. Blanche said that a lot of people rushed off to
nurse others for the pleasure of gossiping. She announced her
intention to take painting lessons from a wonderful teacher lately
come to town. Ignez's horse could take them both to town in the sulky.

There were other things than possum shooting in the light of the moon.
There was a week-night service in the church beyond Mazere's dam. A
Wesleyan missionary suffering from clergyman's throat was combining a
visit of recuperation and the raising of funds by giving a lantern
lecture about his flock in New Guinea. Thatched huts, ferociously
bedecked chiefs, and belles in grass skirts and hibiscus blooms
flickered across the sheet, sometimes in colours. A crowd had been
drawn by this new trick, which also showed the Islanders in motion.
Another novelty was that many of those present had walked in order to
save horseflesh from shivering in the whipping night. Some had done
three miles or more which made them heroines and gave opportunity for
the men's gallantry in chastely helping them at fences.

"We're becoming no end dissipated," remarked Wynd Norton when Tot and
Elsie received an invitation to a social evening at Deep Creek.
Sylvia's presence was the magnet and the reason for continuing
opportunities for social association which the young people were
seizing as the chief business of their years. Ignez had been recalled
to help Mrs Healey, and the two Malcolms were bidden on account of old
family connections.

Freda was claimed by Malcolm Timson as a cousin because the
great-grandpa Healeys and Timsons had been contiguous on Monaro. There
was knowledge of more than courtesy relationship locked away in a few
remaining heads. Aileen, wife of the original Healey, had first been
married by Logan the bushranger, whose daughter Nellie was grandmother
of this young Timson and also aunt of Larry Healey of Deep Creek. An
inscription in a little Bible with pictures and a gilt clasp was, "To
Norah Alfreda Timson from her loving father and mother Alfred and
Norah Timson." Freda had been adopted by her Aunt Dot and Uncle Larry
Healey after her "own mother went away to Sydney to see a great doctor
and never came back". The marriage of Norah and Alfred had been grist
to the wags from Monaro to Gundagai. What on earth could such a funny
old pair--a sleepy-eyed old sawny and a plain old maid--see in each
other? But Norah had adored her "dear kind gentle Alfred" and when she
died he moped for a year and followed her of a broken heart, the
ridiculers had to admit. It was considered happier for little Norah
Alfreda to forget her own parents and grow into the belief that she
was the Healeys' child. The subject became a sleeping dog. Not,
however, with Freda, whose memory was vivid and precocious, and a
child can sometimes guard its own secrets tenaciously.

Freda's first years had been passed in such indulgent affection that
she still looked for demonstrative love and was ready to return it.
Ignez was her idol. Timson and Oswald both wooed the child's attention
and it made her so happy that she raised her face to be kissed by them
when good night came.

"I don't know why she's so set on kissing." Mrs Healey apologized as
Freda left the room. "I'm not given that way myself. I remember
hearing of some boy being whipped because he refused to kiss her."

"That boy couldn't have been old enough," said Masters. "You'll soon
have to whip them away."

"Rather! With that face," added Oswald. "But as soon as a girl's worth
kissing she wouldn't, not to save your life."

"I shouldn't have thought that would have been your experience," said
Ignez, somewhat captiously.

"It shows how we must discredit rumour," said Elsie Norton.

Mrs Mazere had not invited the Norton girls home from the wallaby
drive, but Dot Healey remembered their help gratefully on that
occasion while the others rode about showing off, and included them in
her evening, and also for their singing and playing so that she would
not have to endure so much of Ignez's performance.

"And what does Miss Tottie Norton think?" inquired her host.

"Like Pat's parrot, I think a lot and say little." She smiled, and
chose Masters to leave the room with her in a mind-reading game that
was starting.

Levitation was also in fashion and became the rage of the evening. The
men in turn were raised to the ceiling by four young ladies holding
their breaths and putting an index finger lightly to the knees and
shoulders of the subjects, after which they floated down as lightly as
a feather. Only Sylvia and Ignez of their sex were unladylike enough
to try and their modesty was guarded by Arthur who tied their skirts
firmly about their ankles so that no more than an inch of black
cashmere stocking was exposed.

The Malcolms went home with the Nortons for the night. Oswald said
Wynd could keep the horse he had lent him till further notice. This
amused Oswald as keeping a foot in both camps, and freed the Nortons
from the Finnegans.

                          *       *       *

Following the Healey's party the Ridges awoke to rain, long awaited
and laying the dust with a comfort and promise dear to those at the
mercy of a fickle climate.

"Still in time for the country to recover," said Healey to Mazere, who
had ridden over to jubilate.

"I didn't risk scaring it off with a macintosh," responded Mazere.

Masters arrived from Barralong just to rejoice. There was clack enough
to fill tomes as the downpour continued all night and was supported
next morning by gentle showers without wind or frost, rain to make the
grass sprout, though August was only half off the calendar. Rain!
Rain! Sweet rain--no blinding torrents, with which drought sometimes
broke to wreak a second devastation, but a week of soaking showers.
Men of all ages, protected by leggings and oilskins, rode about from
farm to farm and revelled in the miracle.

"I can get ahead with my dairy now--jolly well settle down to hard
graft and make up for lost time," said Masters.

Fresh heart energized the people. The ground could be felt and heard
under the horses' hoofs, a living sentient element. Forgotten by all
but one or two was the need for public ensilage pits and for dams to
store water on a national scale. Every cockatoo settler took to his
plough on his tilled acres in the scrubs, every cockatoo's wife and
daughter dug and sowed in her flower garden to catch the rising
season.

The last week in August was reached without frosts, and there was
visible spring. Blackshaw brought his wife to call on Mrs Healey, and
settled to a pipe and a yarn, leaning on the sheepyard fence.

"By dad, it looks like a rolling season. Springers is rising outer
sight already. I could git nothing but one cow last Wednesdee."

"Everything is very forward; one late frost would ruin us," said
Healey.

Mrs Blackshaw discussed the merits of sitters and non-sitters as
layers. The women pored over a book of fashions.

"I think blouses will remain in."

"I hope so."

"There's a lot of fuss about the franchise for women now." Ignez kept
the subject before Mrs Healey.

"I don't believe in it. A woman can always find more than enough to do
in the house," said Mrs Blackshaw, conclusively.

Ignez, who was at Deep Creek that week, had to desist from practising
upon the arrival of company. She turned to her book of theory, but the
voices disturbed her, so she escaped to the flower garden. Healey and
Blackshaw had arrived on the veranda.

"We oughter done more ring-barking this winter, though they say a wet
winter is the best."

"Last winter was the time," contended Healey. "The trees were in
blossom like snow. That's the time to kill the messmates. Those that
old Muldoon ringbarked are as dead as chips."

Violets and pansies were already plentiful in Mrs Healey's garden.
Spring changed the air and tinged the flats with green. Ignez longed
for something splendid to happen. The day was pregnant with adventure
if only she could reach it, but all she had was that idiotic old hen
of a Mrs Blackshaw gibbering against women's political
enfranchisement. And what on earth did it matter if blouses remained
in or out? Mrs Blackshaw would be shapeless in anything. . . . Oh,
what was the good of trying to make such people understand what really
mattered!

Suppose by some horrible mischance she should find herself married to
a man of Oswald's Ridges, and clamped down to this for ever! It
frightened her as a bad dream; as a bad dream it fled. These people's
minds had no wings, hers could range far like an albatross.
Day-dreams, sprouting from inwardly stirring potentialities,
counteracted the shortcomings of Oswald's Ridges. Her gaze fondled the
bridle track across the cleared flats till it lost itself in the
ragged ridges beyond to join the main road to Goulburn, and the
railway to Sydney, where there was every joy and delight--theatres,
orchestras, galleries of pictures, libraries, the University, and all
kinds of interesting people. There flourished the rich, the clever,
the distinguished, the beautiful beings, so different from the poor
old neighbours whose souls were satisfied with twaddle about crops and
poultry and the weather. Over the ranges and far away lay Sydney, a
popular place of embarkation on the great ships that meant action,
entertainment, new scenery, on the alluring road to--London. /London/,
city of magic, magic name, London! London draped by tradition and
distance in romance, heavy with enchantment, blazing with urbane
adventures. London was a mart for all outstanding gifts whether in the
field of science, art, learning, female pulchritude, or sport. The big
spider of empire, with tentacles enveloping the globe, sucked in
everything of worth or otherwise desirable. There lorded patrons long
established in privilege, with rough and ruthless upthrusters buying
themselves into the charmed ring with diamonds and gold from South
Africa, won from the deep bowels of the earth by sweating captured
natives. Their reek disappeared in the smelter or in the lapidaries'
workrooms, no awareness of it was permitted to mingle with the
perfumes of the boudoirs of country castle or town palace. There all
was colour and luxury. Droves of lackeys in gaudy liveries reflected
the pomp and circumstance of an imperial court.

          Wider still and wider shall thy bounds be set,
          God, who made thee mighty, make thee mightier yet!

There Queen Victoria sat agelessly on the throne, with Albert Edward
and his beautiful Princess, the unquestioned dictators of glamorous
Society. Victoria, through three generations the personification of
the /status quo/, had impressed the splendour and security of imperial
rule on her far-flung subjects with a comforting illusion of
permanence. So prodigious was her technique as a ruler that her people
were unconscious of her weariness as a tiny frail old woman bearing
fabulous burdens with a matching bravery and a heart ache for a lost
mate.

The unprivileged millions, ill-clad, undernourished, who toiled in the
shadow of this glory, or the thin trickle of misfits or unlucky whose
bones bleached beside their swags in attempts to follow the unknown
tracks to a different kind of wealth to be won from arid lonely
wastes, were seldom in the news, and never in the Court Circulars. Now
and again there was a rumble, or a small eruption, but nothing that
could not be suppressed.

For the present, even to Oswald's Ridges penetrated magazines to
proclaim the prestige of the Court, to reflect the glow of High
Society. To be presented at Court was to enter a heaven and be franked
by a deity worshipped with warmer actuality than God. The heaven of
which old Mrs Plantagenet, lay preacher, in her bonnet with its sash
tied under her chin and her dolman trimmed with chenille, discoursed
in the little wooden church in the scrub near Lagoon Valley, was very
dim and uninviting by comparison.

Ignez had a scrap-book filled with portraits and photographs about the
celebrities who had arrived in the heaven of London or who were on
their way, and her dream was to join such exodists. Singers were the
most glittering of all. Patti, in photographs, was indistinguishable
from Alexandra, with a tiara on her piled hair and her waist
compressed to a similar elegance. Melba's triumphs read like a fairy
tale. She had been decorated by the Czar, was petted by the Queen, was
intimate with Alexandra and Albert Edward, and patronized the ploots
instead of vice versa. At the present moment there was another girl,
not much older than Ignez, packing the Sydney Town Hall to gain funds
for study in Europe, who had been discovered as a budding Melba.
Arthur had bought a photo of her at Foxall's on Auburn Street and
presented it to Ignez and it was set beside her looking-glass like an
icon. Patience and Practice!

Patience was hard to command when yet another afternoon was being
wasted because she must not disturb the maundering about hens and
cows. She climbed the hill to sing to herself among the budding wattle
and hop shrubs in a resonant outdoor theatre. Every sound she uttered
was taking her irretrievably into the morass of error, which
deteriorated her organ like a razor being used to whittle hardwood,
and against which she had no protection and from which early removal
alone could have saved her.

When she returned, Mrs Healey, in the absence of Lizzie, had hurried
forward the tea and Ignez was in disgrace.

"You can't expect old heads on young shoulders," purred Mrs Blackshaw.
"Ignez is dreaming of some young man."

Ignez was revolted by such an interpretation, but could afford to be
merry about it when she was so soon to soar far from anything within
the mental grasp of Mrs Blackshaw. Poor fat old Mrs Blackshaw!

The Blackshaws drove away in time for their milking. Ignez put the
chicks to bed. Poor silly little things, they would only grow up and
lay eggs and then have their necks wrung and be eaten. How ghastly to
be content to scratch on Oswald's Ridges without a gleam of
understanding of all the glory of the universe! How could there be
such a difference in people! After pegging the henhouse door, she
lingered while the kookaburras laughed good night and the bush fell
silent. Strange nebulous yearnings invaded her, an ecstasy of living
that was painful. The stillness seemed to ache this evening and have a
presence and voice of its own. Dick always talked of the voice of the
silence. Dick would understand, and for Saturday afternoons she and
Dick had an inspiring enterprise.

Between day dreams and Saturday afternoon came Cowpens and Oswald's
Ridges reality. Since Ignez had acted as his nurse Cowpens was
bestowing upon her all the ardour he had intended for girl after girl
until one should capitulate. His jealousy condensed upon Oswald
because Cowpens feared him to be irresistible. Cowpens was never
definitely invited to Deep Creek or Lagoon Valley and had run out of
excuses to intrude. He was also hampered because Ignez was sometimes
at one place and sometimes at the other. When the Oswald horses were
hitched outside Mazere's he would patrol the premises all the evening
on his bicycle, round and round the orchard and outbuildings. Mulligan
was driven to hysteria by such suspicious antics. Sometimes the
visiting Sool'em would assist till the garden was wrecked and family
and guests could not hear themselves singing "The Star of Bethlehem",
or playing "Mattie's Grand Valse" or "Home Sweet Home"--with
variations--or "Vent-a-Terre", with loud pedal, or any of their other
masterpieces.

The men went out at intervals to call, "Who's there?" and shouted,
"Sool'em, Mulligan!" or, "Go it, Sool'em, old man!"

Arthur Masters noticed bicycle tracks near the cowyard, and as Cowpens
was one of few young men, not townies, who used a bike, that evening
Masters and Allan took up a position in the orchard. Mulligan's and
Sool'em's loud pleasure in company resulted in their banishment to the
stables. Presently the long stupid face of Cowpens was revealed in a
ray from the drawing-room window.

"Fire straight up," whispered Masters. "That will scare the daylights
out of him." As the shot rang out, he remarked loudly, "It's that old
kangaroo dog of Muldoon's. If that hasn't got him we'll try again."

Arthur's reference to a possum in the apricot-tree accounted for the
shot as he and Allan entered the house.

                          *       *       *

The young people were freed to their own resources on Saturday
afternoons and the plan was for Dick to conquer his work betimes and
subsidize Allan to begin milking when evening came. This freed Dick to
hie to the she-oak ridge in the back paddock adjoining Healey's to
indulge his literary proclivities. Ignez cloaked her love of wandering
by herself by plucking tea-tree for yard brooms. Freda went with her.
Dick found the child's presence a pleasing addition. He was still
unawakened in the Garden of Eden. Ignez was a peg in his
subconsciousness upon which to hang knightly romance rather than an
incarnated being to ripen desire.

They selected a comfortable spot amid the she-oaks where an invading
mountain-ash had fallen and contributed its great clean trunk as a
wall. Its high uptorn roots were wreathed in woodbine and made a
sheltered bower. There was also an intruding stringybark with its bole
of brown homespun against which they could sit in the warmth of the
winter sun. The lorn sibilance of the casuarinas transported Dick to
castles and tourneys far away and long ago.

"Wouldn't they all think us loony if they knew?" he observed on the
inaugural afternoon.

"We must swear secrecy." This was duly done, Freda important with
pencil and paper and inflated by the confidence of her elders.

The urge was spontaneous. They had no contact with anyone who had so
much as written a letter to the /Penny Post/, except Michael Finnegan,
for which eccentricity he was ridiculed.

Verse was Dick's tendency. He was tormented to capture the sighing of
the she-oaks, and the emotion awakened by the shafts of sunlight
between the taller trees where the jays chimed, and the mopokes,
magpies, parrots, and kookaburras nested. His spirit was awakening to
imaginary griefs of partings from lost loves, for which Ignez was
unrealized fuel in view of the real parting which must come as soon as
she spread her wings.

"All down the slopes the she-oaks sigh," he wrote and rewrote.

Freda, surprisingly, began to cry. She did not know what to write.
Ignez was fertile in suggestion. Freda must copy poems into her
exercise book. Dick provided one that he had cut from the
/Australasian/.

             I rode through the bush in the burning noon,
                 Over the hills to my bride,
             The track was rough and the way was long,
             And Bannerman of the Dandenong,
                 He rode along by my side.

In turn they recited poems, preserved in scrap-books. They had a
collection of Boake, Daley, Ogilvie, Quinn, Francis Kenna, Brady,
Bedford, Lawson, "Banjo", and other singers. It was their custom to
treasure ballads that brought perfume to existence--poetry about
people like themselves, and vital with bush revelation. The
intoxication of articulateness in their own milieu was newly theirs.

"That's what my novel's going to be like," said Ignez. "Listen to this
for a start: 'Nita had a smudge across her face, which did not enhance
its beauty, in fact it had no beauty even when it was clean, and she
was now also in a temper. Her mind contained no noble Christian
thoughts about her mother or anyone else.' Isn't that like girls we
know, instead of those sweet prissies in books?"

"Yes, but do you think anyone will read it if the girl isn't pretty
and rich? And not loving her mother . . . girls in books always
worship their mothers."

"I'm just writing for fun. I don't want anyone to read it."

"What was Nita doing? What was she in a rage about?"

"You said no one would be interested to know about her."

"I don't think other people will, but I know you--it's different."

Dick had to gallop away from Nita and her creator to the evening
milking. Ignez and Freda gathered up their tea-tree and broom grass
and clasped hands gleefully as they scampered along the dry creek bed
that was forming from erosion in the back-paddock bridle track.

"Isn't it lovely, having a secret that only you and Dick and I know,"
breathed Freda, ecstatically.

"Just scrumptious! You're sure, Petty, you won't tell anyone, or they
would make fun of us."

"Of course I won't tell. I've got a bigger secret that I never tell a
single soul."

"That's wonderful."

"Aren't you going to ask me what it is?"

"But if it's a secret--you don't ask people to tell you their
secrets."

"But I can tell this one if I want to. I mean, no one ever told me not
to. It's my very own, so I can share it with you if I like, because
you and Dick let me know your secret about writing among the
she-oaks."

"Oh well, some time if you like, but we must hurry now or your mother
will be worrying."

"But she's not my mother!" triumphantly exclaimed Freda.

The sleeping dog had opened an eye.

"Not your mother! What have you been reading--some story about a
wicked fairy and changelings?"

"Oh, no, it's not out of a book, it's real."

"Very well, then, you can tell me tonight when we're in bed."

"Promise! We can whisper so no one can hear, and you must come to bed
early or I might be asleep."

Ignez promised, chafing that here was another interruption to her
practice, which had been postponed till the evening. However, thought
of Nita with a smudge on her nose unaccountably began to divert her
creator's disappointment.

Freda began in heated whispers as soon as they had retired, "Yes,
Ignez, she's not really my mother. My mother and father were Mr and
Mrs Alfred Timson of Billy-go-Billy. I've got a Bible with it written
in--on the front page. Mother--she's not my mother, she only calls
herself that--has locked the Bible away till I'm twenty-one."

So this was the secret. Ignez knew that Alf and Norah had died and
left Freda to her uncle and his wife Dot and that the elders of her
circle loyally supported the foster parents for Freda's sake.

"Yes," said Ignez. "That's a great big secret, but you must forget
it."

"How could I forget?"

"Well, not tell anyone, or think about it. It's very kind of Mr and
Mrs Healey to be your mother and father, and they love you so much
they don't want anyone to know that you're not really theirs."

"/She/ doesn't love me, and I don't love her."

"Oh yes, you do, sometimes. We all have scrimmages with our relations.
Relations are like that, but you love them as soon as you leave them.
And you do love Mr Healey, and he loves you ever so much."

"Yes, he's lovely to me."

"Well then, you and I'll share this big secret like the one about
writing. We won't tell a single soul. Then when you're twenty-one,
think how wonderful it will be!"

"Oh yes! And when it's said out so everyone can hear, you'll be there
to look at me, and we'll tell them that you and I knew all the time.
Oh, won't it be wonderful to be twenty-one, Ignez!"

"Yes," dutifully agreed Ignez, while thinking rebelliously that one
should have achieved something by that time, yet here she was, already
sixteen and doing so little--doing nothing.

The little girl released by the relief of a burden shared, was asleep
instantly. The dog lay down again, his nose between his paws. The
elder girl begrudged her wasted evening but Nita spread comfort. To
brood upon her became a new kind of day-dream, tormenting and
satisfying.

Nita speedily gained a hold upon Dick as well as Ignez, who burned
candles surreptitiously in her fashioning when the household was
asleep. Ignez waited impatiently for Saturday's audience. Dick would
gallop across the pipeclay flat strewn with fallen trees and carpeted
with the dainty fly-catchers, past the dam with its wild ducks, thence
through a sea of wattle and some geebung trees whose tasselled foliage
was also lighted by modest yellow bloom; then came the she-oaks and
their dry fallen needles and the woodbine, now a purple curtain, where
he reined in on the point above the saltshed to dwell on the view. A
bridle track led thence past Muldoon's and Blackshaw's to the crisp
white public road, which in its turn was taken up by the great
Southern Road from Goulburn to Sydney with the steamers in the Harbour
and thus out to the waterways of the world. He could imagine the
gang-plank under his feet.

He was eagerly interested in the progress of Nita and hungry for
Ignez's understanding of his contribution as he tethered his horse and
approached:

               The she-oaks sigh with mourning fronds,
                   Of beltane tourneys long ago. . . .

                          *       *       *

Archie Monro heard of the Saturday afternoons from Ella Blackshaw.
"Young Dick and that Ignez are pretty old-fashioned, if you want to
know what I think, sneaking off to meet each other in the scrub like
Daisy Bull and Pete Harrap's brother. /They/ got into trouble." The
Blackshaw girls had no interest in politics; they never read a book
but had some extra sense for discerning any moral aberration of
everyone within their acquaintance.

Archie reconnoitred without delay. He was one of few young men in the
district who walked, except behind the plough. Working men had not
aspired to riding hacks where Monro senior had been born and he had
carefully trained Archie. He was skilled in stalking game, and Ignez
and Dick did not suspect his presence. He believed in Ignez and to
suspect her was painful. All the same, she had wild notions of singing
on the stage, and those highfliers were not to be trusted. When he had
been working on Blungudgery there was a juicy story about a titled
lady and Lance Gilmour going for a ride and the horses returning
without them, though there had been no accident. But Ignez could never
be so silly. It was nothing but the Blackshaws' scandal-making. He
bound them to secrecy--futile adjuration.

Such depravity showed Blackshaw where talk about girls riding
cross-legged and wanting to vote like men led to. All the same, he had
never felt there was any dirt in Ignez. He thought it his Christian
duty to save her by telling Healey immediately. Healey had a colloquy
with Mazere, which was kept from Mrs Mazere. The men compared notes as
to the absence of Dick and Ignez on Saturday afternoons. Larry
questioned Freda, who wept and said she could not tell because it was
a secret. Mrs Healey overheard and was for whipping Freda, but Larry
had more wisdom. "Let her forget the whole thing as simply as
possible."

Because of Mrs Healey's "condition" investigation fell to Mazere. It
did not occur to them to ask the fearless and truthful Ignez for an
explanation. They measured her by their own velleity.

Mazere clumsily questioned Dick, who grew huffy. He was as shy as
unhardened sin about confessing poetic attempts in a hostile
atmosphere, an attitude that deepened suspicion. Blanche was always
consulted before her mother was worried. Ever since she overheard
Oswald and Masters exalting Ignez she had found confirmation of
Arthur's predilection, which made her unhappy. Now the shameless
creature was corrupting Dick. "Leave it to me for a week and I'll find
out everything."

Mazere had a habit of resting on Blanche. She wrote Masters a
/private/ note asking him to come. Sylvia ensured them the privacy of
the garden; she was uneasy that all the affection should be on
Blanche's side and so gave her every chance. If Blanche missed Arthur
she might not attract another so good.

"I want you to help me find out something without making a fuss. It's
about Ignez." Blanche's manner was confidential and important.

"Has something happened to her?" Arthur's obvious alarm told against
Ignez.

"Mother's not very well; I have to be careful not to worry her, and
people are saying that Ignez takes Dick into the scrub every Saturday
afternoon."

"Where does he take her?"

"She does the taking."

"Put it your own way, but get on with the yarn."

"They go to the back paddock. Satan never lends me any idle hands to
get into mischief."

"That's a blessing."

"But I don't think /I/ would get into mischief."

"What's your accusation?"

"It's not /my/ accusation." Blanche resented the way Arthur seemed to
be taking sides. "You know Ignez's queer talk about riding astride and
votes for women--those Bohemian sort of creatures! I haven't said
anything to Sylvia. I don't want to spoil her stay with us."

"That's something for thanks. Say nothing to anyone. Was that all you
wanted me for?"

"It's strictly in confidence."

"You bet it is. Where did such tommy-rot come from?"

"Pete Harrap and the Blackshaw girls."

"Those advertisers!"

"Archie Monro investigated."

"He'd be a /shying/ hand for that--and Pete Harrap. I'm thunderingly
glad you sent for me."

Blanche was also pleased. Alack! If young women only grasped that
young men do not forgive the bearers of ill news about their beloveds
so many of Blanche's kind of mistakes might not be made. Arthur was
not an analyst. He simply found Ignez different from Blanche. Blanche
had regular features, a glowing complexion, sound teeth and a good
forehead, but her face looked bald, as Arthur expressed it. He was
tempted to banter Ignez to see her quick changes of expression. A tang
in her face stirred his blood and changed the aspect of the day.

"I'll do a little investigating myself."

"But you'll stay for tea?" There was dismay in Blanche's tones.

"No, thanks. I'll come tomorrow to report. I can't live here or the
scandal merchants will make something of that."

Blanche was uncertain whether she had blighted or enhanced Ignez. Men
seemed to go mad about the kind of girl they condemned. Girls were
kept down and warned that men respected only modest violets, yet men
rushed like mad to the other kind of woman. It was said that these
received only the wrong kind of attention, but men married them and
chose them as mothers for their children; they could do no more to
establish any woman.

"Why didn't Arthur stay to tea?" inquired Sylvia.

"He only came on a message."

"You didn't send him away for ever, did you?"

"He's coming tomorrow night."

He stayed late at Healey's. Larry liked him, and they had much to say
of politics and the maturing dairy. Federation was assured but there
seemed to be trouble in the Transvaal. Arthur placed himself where he
could gaze on Ignez's radiant face bent over her books. She blew a
stray lock out of her eyes every time it crept down, and he itched to
pin it securely in its place.

"How's woman franchise coming on?" he inquired, amused that Blanche
had thought it an indelicate subject. Ignez made a saucy moue and went
on with her studies.

As he watched her the young man felt that she could be trusted around
the world. If she was making some mistake, then bless her, it would be
ripping to save her. He was ready to put that jackass song of Oswald's
into force:

             For thee would I battle from clime to clime,
             If I were a knight of the olden time.

"An up-to-date man wouldn't so much as give up pipe-sucking for a
girl," Ignez had once remarked when playing the accompaniment. Arthur
had thought the song sloppy as caterwauled by Oswald, who looked at
Sylvia with the same sheep's eyes that he cast at Elsie Norton, but
now the couplet became a slogan. Wait till Arthur met Pete Harrap in
single combat!

On the following afternoon he set off with a pair of field-glasses.
The Deep Creek back paddocks had been his boyish hunting ground. It
was a simple matter to follow the tracks to the she-oaks, where he was
surprised to find three saddled horses. He dismounted and neared under
cover of a sea of blossoming shrubs. The clamour of nesting birds hid
the breaking of a twig.

He came within sound of laughter and chatter that was free from
depraved tones and in harmony with the comfortable friendly shrubbery.
He was near enough to see Ignez and little Freda and Dick sitting in a
triangle. He nearly cooeed to see Freda, so great was his relief. He
adjusted the binoculars. Ignez was reading to Dick, who was known as a
fellow who could lose himself in a book. Arthur watched for ten
minutes, and it went on and on. He got the idea that Ignez was reading
John S. Mills's /Subjection of Women/, a work respectable enough to
founder a parson.

"She's converting him to woman suffrage." He chortled. "I must be in
that, too."

He regained his horse and rode straight to them. "Hullo, what's this,
a picnic and me not invited?"

"We come here to get a little peace. Now that you've discovered our
retreat, we must force you to be a member of our society, like the
lady who listened to the Masons."

"That suits me to beat the band, I swear, square dinkum, good iron
wingey, spit on my thumbs, and all the rest of it."

"If we wrote at home everyone would think we were loafing to get out
of the milking or the pot-lid polishing, so this is our study."

"Dick's doing poetry, Ignez is making up a story, and I'm writing in
an exercise book," chirped Norah Alfreda.

"Well, I never! Are you putting me in the book, Ignez?"

"Silly-billy, I'm not putting anyone real in--only make-believe
people, but making them real."

"How can they be real if they're make-believe?"

"I can't exactly explain, but that's exactly how it is."

The chief concern even in sophisticated literary circles is to
identify the author's characters with his acquaintances.

"Well, it's the first book I've ever seen being written, and I'd like
to be in it. Barring that, I'll buy a dozen copies to give it a start
when it comes out."

"I haven't thought of printing it," said Ignez. "You'll be sure to
keep it secret."

"Rather! Dick, aren't you going to fire yours at me?"

"Pooh! You'd think it rot."

                With mourning fronds the she-oaks sigh
                    Of beltane tourneys long gone by . . .

"'Long ago' is better, but it doesn't rhyme," said Dick.

"Beltane tourneys sounds good--something about knocking the stuffing
out of the talent, I suppose. I don't know much about poetry,
especially of the droopy kind, but in this case I'm all for the
writers."

His genuine kindness won them. He delicately refrained from soiling an
innocent situation by any mention of gossip. "I wish you'd let me come
next Saturday. I could boil the billy while you wrote." This would
protect another Saturday. There could be a general outing on a third,
and a sound thrashing awaited any talent that should cast aspersions
within his hearing.

Arthur said good-bye to the girls at Deep Creek at dusk and rode to
Lagoon Valley with Dick to report to Blanche. "Nothing whatever the
matter. A groundless yarn. They were after brooms and birds' eggs."

"That was a thin excuse."

"Anyone seeing evil in that direction is finding a reflection of
himself. I knew that as soon as I heard the source."

"But people must abstain from the appearance of evil. All the
neighbourhood is saying things."

"You leave that to me. Anyone who spreads scandal is going to look so
foolish that he'll wish he'd been born dumb. I'm the doctor you called
in; you must take my advice."

"Yes, I chose you. Did you say anything to them?"

"I'd be ashamed to let them know the evil minds of the old cockatoos,
screeching about nothing. They might take me for one of the nosey
crew."

Blanche was dissatisfied and perplexed. That night a sense of failure
kept her awake. Men were tricky beasts. None of them were to be
trusted, not even clergymen, and as for priests! Was Arthur like all
the others, deceiving her in her purity, and screening Ignez in
looseness?



CHAPTER VII


Spring was advancing. The area was niggardly in ferns and foliage but
the dams were decorated with a few reeds and too many weeds, now
strewn with soapsuds soon to spawn into myriads of tadpoles, embryo
frogs whose bizarre orchestras were for ever to tease the composer in
Ignez. Possuming was past. The animals were rumpy, the season closed.
There was no closure for rabbits nor for crayfish, which were caught
with bent pins on a bit of string and left to die. Birds' nests were
everywhere, callously rifled for eggs and pets. Hardly a home but had
a fledgling parrot, cockatoo, or magpie, or a baby possum, koala, or
wallaby. Some of the cockatoos were destined to outlive their foster
parents, but the marsupials would come to early death by strange dogs
or go bush some fine night at the full of the moon.

Arthur Masters took to the appointment on she-oak ridge a supply of
stationery and a big box of chocolates. It was a zestful picnic. Ignez
read about Nita, whose routine was that of the Ridges enlivened by
recalcitrance, as Ignez conceived it. Arthur did not know what to
think of the story but adoration of the writer enabled him to express
himself acceptably.

This state of innocence could not continue. Pete Harrap and Archie
Monro were at Barralong carting materials for the new dairy and Pete
was talkative. Roaming the scrubs alone, as Ignez was known to do, in
his mind was for one ancient purpose, unless it might be a woman like
Bridgit Finnegan after her turkeys or an old crone like Katy Muldoon
in pursuit of her geese, which sometimes sailed down Deep Creek when
it was running. Masters overheard Pete making an obscene suggestion as
to how he would take the nonsense out of Ignez and make her glad to
marry him, and promptly booted the primitive Lothario out of the
kitchen door and ordered him to the office for his pay. Pete was too
astounded for enmity and shut his mouth in the matter of obscenity but
opened a fresh gob about Masters's infatuation for Ignez. Knowledge of
this came to Ignez when she herself was acting in the interests of
propriety.

"I don't like Malcolm Oswald coming here," she said. "His mother
hasn't called on us. To have the men dangling around while their women
ignore us puts us on the level of barmaids. People are talking about
us being fooled, and that he'll presently bring him a wife of his own
class. I wonder what class they think we are!"

"Mrs Oswald lives secluded and his sisters are all married and away,"
contested Blanche.

"They used to talk about his horse being tied up at Norton's, now he's
always here. Does he really want Sylvia?"

"Other things put us on the level of barmaids, too." Blanche spoke
crossly. "Look at the yarns you bring on us."

"Because I despise twaddle about Pa Blackshaw's rheumatism, and
someone's turn of life."

"Much worse than that--about you disappearing every Saturday afternoon
into the scrub like a dingo. People shouted things after Arthur when
he left the cricket match last week."

This jolted Ignez to recall something that she had discounted as a
joke from Archie Monro, who said that the cricketers on Barralong
Reserve turned their coats inside out when Arthur left the game to
ride away to Deep Creek on Saturday afternoons.

"Who said the things you're hinting at?" she demanded with flaming
cheeks.

"It's all over the place. Archie Monro was there. Arthur punched Pete
Harrap too. So now everyone thinks poor Arthur is in it, too, and he
only took a hand because I asked him to."

"/You/ asked him to--to what? How dare you!"

"Terrible things were said about your bad influence on Dick. I
couldn't upset Mother's heart. I didn't want to write to your mother,
if Arthur could clear it up."

"It would kill you all to discover a person doing something outside of
polishing pot-lids and wasting life in--in fewtrils."

The word leapt to Ignez's tongue and pleased her. It irritated
Blanche.

"To run about the bush alone and get a bad name is what Cowpens's
sister could do. I do my painting without any danger of coming to harm
or being unwomanly."

"You'd have to be tame-hen womanly to do your kind of painting at
all," flashed from Ignez because Blanche had cut her to the core.

This stung Blanche to sharp retort with what Pete Harrap had said as
reported by the Blackshaw girls. Ignez was revolted in every fibre,
not alone by Pete, the unspeakable yahoo talking in character, but by
Blanche's repeating him with evident satisfaction. She walked out and
circled the flower garden to the orchard where Dick was dressing the
apple-trees against codlin moth, putting on their teething bandages,
he called it.

"Dick, we can't go writing any more."

"Why not?" He gazed at her blankly. "You're not going home yet, are
you?" The shadow of separation haunted the background of their
association.

"Not that. Ask Blanche. I'm too disgusted to tell you." Never could
she bring herself to put in words the outrageous animal boast. She
buried it deeply to fester inwardly. Tears sprang to her eyes. She
fled. She was not the crying kind, like Sylvia, who wept gracefully
and winningly. Blanche's tears were stiff and rare and came under the
classification of piping the eye. Blanche was now spreading something
on the clothes-line--a subterfuge to watch Ignez.

"What have you been saying to Ignez about Saturday afternoons?" Dick
demanded.

"I haven't been saying anything, but everyone else has."

"Pooh! What could they say?"

"If you and Ignez act like Pete Harrap's brother and the Bull girls, I
can't help what they say."

Words with Blanche always increased exasperation. Prurient minds had
soiled the innocent enjoyment of mixed society. Dick's first impulse
was to fight Pete, but Dick though tall, was only seventeen and not a
bruiser by instinct. To have his nebulous dreams thus crystallized was
desecration. To raise a shindy about it would only advertise the
disaster. What a life! Well, that settled it, he would clear out as
soon as Ignez left. He would put the world between him and creatures
with such slimy thoughts. He would follow the bridle track to the
road, the road to the railway, the railway to the ships--away, away to
the world of adventure where poets and painters were honoured and rich
and free from grubby and malicious imaginings.

Sordid suggestions had similarly besmirched something unformulated but
wonderful to Ignez. She was shattered by revulsion when she should
have been exalted by revelation. She too decided to end as soon as
possible her present incarceration and soar to congenial regions.

"We can't go to the she-oaks again," she said. "Don't let any
blockheads know what we've been doing. I'll put it in my book. I don't
think you could make poetry about it."

Dick was too unfledged to be humorous or satirical. He was all for
moonlight and lost love.

Ignez questioned Arthur at the earliest opportunity. "Did they call
out after you last Saturday when you were coming to us?"

"Some of the talent tried to be funny," he admitted.

"Was it because they found out about our picnics?"

"Because I come to see all of you so often." He had gauged this as a
man-to-man affair where subterfuge would not serve.

"Poor Arthur! Wouldn't it be better not to come?"

"/Poor/ Arthur, my grandmother! It would be better for mutton-heads to
mind their own business."

"I hope you were not too annoyed."

"/They/ were annoyed with jealousy. I was swelled up with pride."

"Did you know that some of them have awful ideas about Dick and me?"

"Let them bury their mutton-heads! I was there to chaperon you."

"Is that why you came?"

"You couldn't have kept me away. When are you going to read me some
more about Nita?" Arthur cackled gleefully. He was helping Ignez with
Sunday tea while Lizzie was out and Mrs Healey resting. Ignez had come
to Deep Creek that week-end because the thought of Blanche angered her
and she was self-conscious with Dick.

"I shall work harder than ever to get away," she confided.

"What do you think of South Africa or New Zealand? I think the
dairying industry is better developed over there."

"Are you going?"

"I might with--with a little encouragement."

"I'm wild to travel, too."

"What'd you think of living in one of those places?" This was a
sensitive feeler. In view of those turned coats to demonstrate his
circle's sectarian disapproval Arthur had been pondering means to
slay, or at least circumvent, this dragon in the path of true love. He
was an assimilated and rooted Australian, but that for which the Bible
enjoins a man to forsake home and parents was forcing him to consider
the exodists, and the only way of life he had mastered was on the
land. And a man need not remain in exile for ever.

"I'd have to live in Paris or London or some musical centre," she said
in reply to his question. He drew in the feeler. His mother was right.
The unawakened Ignez was enamoured of writing books and pounding on
the piano and advocating woman's suffrage, yet the old crows of
Oswald's Ridges could attribute their own love of dirt to her.

                          *       *       *

Other incidents were working up to a slam or two. Cowpens came to
Lagoon Valley one afternoon and asked for Ignez. She was at Deep
Creek, so thither he bumped, with Mulligan rushing in the rear almost
till he was met by the raging Sool'em. The dogs hated his iron horse
with no heels to be nipped. At Deep Creek he was offered a cup of tea,
it being the custom that every caller, whether he appeared as suitor,
mourner, buyer, seller, or beggar, should be offered nourishment.
Cowpens made a few silly jokes, offered to sing or play, and, when Mrs
Healey withdrew to rest, came to his point.

"I suppose you know why I came?"

"Have you torn your clothes again?"

"That was only an excuse."

"Idiotic!"

"Well, when a man is going to see a girl, you know . . . er . . ."

"Lizzie is the only girl here for you to see, and Pete Harrap might
object."

"I'm above Lizzie. I want you."

"/Me/! Whatever for?"

"You know what for."

"If you or anyone else came to see me in the /silly/ way it would be
useless, as I'm going to London to study music. I wouldn't marry even
if a prince asked me."

"If you married one of them blokes you'd soon wish you had married a
good kind man."

"I'd be sorry if I married any man, and as there's nothing else to
marry, that ends that."

"Does that mean that I could never make you like me?"

"It means that I would hate you if you tried to make me like you in
the silly way."

"This is a hard blow. You raised my hopes."

"I raised your hopes--/I/!"

"No other girl ever came and nursed me so tender."

"I hope no other ever will, if you're such a fool. When you were
delirious, would I let you run into the dam?" Ignez wished she had, he
was such a repulsive lout standing there scratching his arm pits and
reeking of stale sweat. Vulgarity personified! Love--ugh--when such a
creature could become amorously afflicted and horrify her by his
seizure! This was added to the festering boast of Pete Harrap. She
craved to fly away to the realms of art, and yet everyone insisted
that a man or a woman must love before deep or moving self-expression
was possible.

"You must never tell anyone this," she fervently adjured. "Go away at
once. I'd nurse a tramp or anyone who needed care. A pretty state of
society if I'm to be misunderstood by everyone!"

She retreated to the piano and began to practise loudly, then
remembered Mrs Healey, and ceased. Cowpens stood "gawping about a
bit", Lizzie reported.

Following this Ignez returned to Lagoon Valley. She felt that the
other girls would be a protection. But on the afternoon of her arrival
Mulligan announced a buggy which turned out to be the bolt-weary
vehicle of the Bulls, drawn by a plough-horse who was dizzied by this
divergence from leaning with her nose on the sliprails awaiting her
daily ration. The elder girls were at home, only Philippa being away
at school in the scrub two miles distant.

Mrs Bull was tall, gaunt, stooped, and with a long horse face like her
son's. She refused to come nearer than the veranda. Mrs Mazere,
conceding her visitor the right to be singular, fetched a chair, but
Mrs Bull refused to sit.

"I've come to ask why you drive my Eli mad?"

Mrs Mazere, though a complaining martinet in her own coop, was not
bellicose to outsiders.

"I don't know what you mean." She was genuinely bewildered.

"That Ignez girl came there and made a fool of him, holding his hand
in the night. Now she treats him with contempt. He's the best son in
the district, and I sha'n't put up with him being treated light. What
son ever kep' his mother and sisters like he done when his father
died? When he places his affections on a girl she's getting the best
man in the district. Eli's not as showy as some that play football or
hang over the fences watching the races on flash horses."

"I'm sure he's a worthy member of society," said Mrs Mazere, who saw
that Mrs Bull's discharge from the asylum had been premature.
"Blanche, bring Mrs Bull a cup of tea. She must be in need of one
after her long drive."

"I don't want no cups of tea nor nothing from you. I've only come to
see what you're going to do about it."

"About what?"

"About Eli being drove out of his head by a girl you keep here."

"I'm sure Miss Milford has done nothing to hurt your son. She went to
nurse you in my stead because I was not well."

"It's no good of pretending you don't know. The whole pack of yous has
treated him shameful."

"Your mother isn't well, I fear." Mrs Mazere attempted an aside to the
daughter, a tall slummocky wench with broken teeth, a snub nose, and
dark freckles.

"I stand by Mar," said Violet shrilly. "What right have you to be so
stuck up? You're only trying to make your living the same as the rest
of us."

"I don't think I'm stuck up."

"Why should dogs be sooled on to Eli when he comes here, and why do
your kind call him Cowpens?"

"I don't believe in those nicknames myself," said Mrs Mazere mildly.
"But you'll have more than you can do if you try to stop people from
calling people what they please."

"The worst is how you shot at him and tried to murder him. Yous could
be had up for that, but the poor boy is that infatterated that he'll
overlook the incident if Ignez consents to have him."

"I must ask my husband to talk to you. These accusations are beyond
reason."

Mazere could not be found. Sylvia disturbed Dick in his work of
planting potatoes.

"Come at once. Old Mrs Bull and her female daughter are accusing you
all of shooting Cowpens, and Ignez of driving him mad."

Dick tried to look a man but felt far from it at core in facing the
two women. "What was it you wanted?"

"You ought to be had up for shooting at Eli, but if--"

"Who shot at him? You must be batty."

"All of yous here. Some one said that if he come back they'd shoot him
like a kangaroo dog."

"This is the first I've heard of such rot."

Allan still treasured this secret with Arthur.

Ignez now appeared. "Good afternoon, Mrs Bull. Are you quite well
again?"

Mrs Bull glared sullenly. "I'm all right, but yous all have a lot to
answer for--driving my Eli mad."

"Driving your ducks to the pond! He couldn't be driven madder, got
there ages ago."

"You could be taken up for defamation of character. The day is coming,
from what I hear, when you'll be crying for my Eli to marry you, but
then it will be too late."

"You had better take your mother home and keep her as calm as
possible," Dick advised Violet.

"You're a nice one to advise other people," snapped Violet, and became
abusive. The case was getting out of hand when Masters arrived, he
having guessed what Mrs Bull was bent on when she passed Barralong.

Good-humoured and capable, he remarked, "Well, Mrs Bull, how are you
today?"

"My business is private," she muttered.

"We'll all have tea," said Mrs Mazere.

"You can't cover it up that way," said Violet. "Our Eli has been
treated in a way so we can't stand it."

"Too bad! Who did it?"

"That Ignez girl is at the bottom of it, but all of yous is in it. Eli
says it was your voice that bellered out to shoot him like a kangaroo
dog."

"I don't want to be harsh with a lady, but if Eli annoys these ladies
here I'll do something about it."

"And what are your relations with that girl, we'd like to know?"

Arthur noted the deathly pallor that overspread Ignez's face. "Miss
Milford is a very attractive young lady, and one penalty of being
attractive is to be pestered by all sorts, including duds."

"What about yourself?" snarled Violet.

Ignez nearly swooned with shame. A joyous grin overspread Arthur's
face. "I'd be proud if Miss Milford would consider me as her
bottle-washer. Now come along, Mrs Bull, you're a good soul. You and
my mother have been neighbours for years. You think this thing over,
and be careful what you say. I'll help you into the buggy and open the
gates for you."

He put her out on the public road and returned to find Mrs Mazere on
the sofa and Blanche dosing her with brandy.

"Terrible family, every blooming one as mad as the beetles when they
begin to buzz," Arthur remarked to Ignez on the veranda.

"It's horrible! I could die of shame."

"Don't you worry. It's funny when you come to think of it. Even that
poor old goat can't resist you, and here am I specially designed to
shield you from that kind of talent. Promise you'll give me the
chance."

Every word could be heard by Blanche inside the window, and dismayed
her. Why should Ignez, who disregarded every rule for modest, motherly
girls, be championed, while she, who sacrificed her life to others,
lost ground all the time? Ignez, pretending that her feelings were
hurt, with Dick and Arthur comforting her, when all the time she was
glorying in the notoriety! That was it. Ignez was /mad/ for notoriety.
Love of notoriety drove her to all these sayings and doings. Ignez
would rather be unpopular than lack notoriety. But the devil of it was
that everything seemed to make Ignez popular. Cowpens's attentions
would have been welcome to Blanche if it meant Arthur would defend
her. She sought consolation in the hope that love of notoriety would
presently lead Ignez to do something really outrageous. Then Arthur
would see. It was axiomatic that men pursued notorious girls only to
their downfall. After the downfall the notorious were envious of the
girls who were unselfish and quiet and did not court /notoriety/!

Sylvia's suspicions that Arthur had no thought of Blanche were
confirmed. Ignez had his affections, but she was still a child and
talked of going to London and having a career, though no one known to
Oswald's Ridges had done such a thing. Careers were undertaken by
strange beings apart, and mostly by those propagated in towns.

                          *       *       *

Blanche's need to discredit and vanquish Ignez had become concrete.

"I think Ignez is getting too much for your strength," she said to her
mother a day later. "Perhaps you can't even put up with her till Mrs
Healey has the baby. After the baby comes they won't want her at Deep
Creek either."

"Dot's glad of the board she pays, and she's a great help in the
house. She brings Larry home from his bouts as boldly as a man. She
brings your father home, too. She never baulks in trouble."

"She loves notoriety. A nice girl couldn't go to the pub after drunken
men. I never find her any good in the house."

"You are so capable. I brought you up like myself."

This incense softened Blanche. "It's the responsibility for you I'm
thinking about."

"We don't want to offend the Milfords."

"Ignez has no finer feelings--all for notoriety."

"She couldn't help that fuss with the Bulls. They /are/ mad."

"It was her love of notoriety that attracted Cowpens. Sylvia and I
don't leave ourselves open to such indignities."

Near the evening meal hour that day Cowpens came wheeling to the front
veranda to lower her self-satisfaction.

"Ignez is not at home," said Sylvia. She admired Ignez immensely and
attributed Blanche's attitude to jealousy, though loyalty to Blanche
made her stifle this, and her amiability drove her to agree with her
sister to maintain harmony.

"I don't want Ignez. I'd just as soon see you or Blanche. Ignez is the
pick of the basket, but you run her dashed close, Sylvier."

"Very kind of you to think so."

"It's this way. It's not going to be easy for me to get anyone to have
me." This was disarming.

"Then why bother? Don't you think you'd be better as a bachelor? Some
of the greatest men in the world have been bachelors."

"But I ain't great. Of course I've got a lot more in me than some of
the duds about the Ridges, but I'm the sort of chap that needs a wife,
so I'm going to try all the girls one after the other."

"I'm proud to be next after Ignez, but please tick me off. Who's going
to be third?"

"It might as well be Blanche while I'm here. I'd even take her if I
could get no one else."

Blanche was inside the window, every word to her as cutting as frost
on a tomato plant. It was all very well to lay the attention Ignez
attracted from Cowpens to her love of vulgar notoriety, but here was
Cowpens putting herself out of consideration except as a last resort.

"You mustn't talk like that," said Sylvia in gentle reproof.

"Well, you can see for yourself that Blanche ain't taking like you and
that Ignez, but she's a good housekeeper, and now that she's lost her
chance with Arthur she might be glad of me."

Sylvia was desperate to turn him from this lest Blanche should hear.
Cowpens was as silly as a bandicoot, but it surprised her to hear him
sum up what she would scarcely admit to herself. Motherliness came to
her aid.

"It's ever so kind of you to put Ignez and Blanche and me at the top,
but we don't want to marry you, thank you very much. So now you'll be
just a friend. You understand, don't you?"

"Yes, too blooming well I do. Shall I come to see you again, or must I
stay away?"

The helplessness of the great gawk weighed on Sylvia. "You can come to
see us sometimes, but it's not etiquette for ages after you propose.
You must never mention any of this to anyone, and if you're good and
don't say 'cripes' or 'gosh', I'll invite you to my farewell party
when it comes." This was royal graciousness.

"All right Sylvier, but I wish I knew what to do next."

"Don't you think it would be nice to give the Blackshaw girls a
chance?" said Sylvia, in whom resided an imp of mischief.

"If you say so, Sylvier, but they have too much gab for my taste."

"You'll be just in time for tea if you sprint. Good-bye and good luck!
I'll send you a wedding present if one of them says yes."

Blanche retreated. She would not let anyone know that she had heard.
She stiffened herself for the shock as Sylvia came to her, but it was
Sylvia's tact as well as her beauty that made all ages and both sexes
love her.

"Cowpens has been here and--"

"Don't say anything that will upset mother."

"He came proposing for you and me next after Ignez, and is now going
to start on the second-raters. I've sent him to the Blackshaws. Serve
them right for being such scandal-mongers!"

"Vile object! He should be in an asylum."

"I refused on your behalf. I'd love to be listening while he lines up
the Blackshaws."

                          *       *       *

On the following afternoon Dick came in from potato sowing to say that
Miss Finnegan was approaching.

"Golly, she's a sight, flopping up and down like a bag of hay on old
Splodger!" Dick returned to the potatoes, keeping his head below the
orchard palings to escape the embarrassment of acting cavalier to
Bridgit.

No one came out to welcome her. She could see no one about. She
dismounted clumsily, tied Splodger to a post and tried to decide which
door to approach. The house, constructed in the shape of a T, had
several probable front doors. Bridgit went towards voices issuing from
the kitchen. Blanche took her to the drawing-room, as she was not a
familiar visitor. The weather was still cool. Blanche suggested
lighting the fire. Bridgit, mopping her brow, said she was running
away in sweat. They talked about the wonderful season after the cruel
drought. Blanche inquired about all the health available and came to a
halt, then she went out and demanded Ignez's support.

"I'll play a piece while you bring tea," said Ignez, going breezily to
the guest. "This is a pleasant surprise. How is your brother? Have you
converted him to woman's suffrage yet?"

Ignez went into the subject of women's intellectual equality with men.
She found Bridgit fruitful soil and her heart warmed. Sylvia appeared
with the tea-tray, and as Bridgit said she had come specially to see
her the others retreated on various pretexts.

"Will you treat me confidential?" Bridgit inquired with hard-breathing
earnestness. "It's this way. You've all been friendly with me and I've
come to see if something can't be done."

"Of course we'll be glad to help you if we can."

"I've been thinking it out. You can't marry more than one of them."

"I'm certainly not a Mormon," laughed Sylvia. "What do you mean?"

"Oh, you know! Malcolm Oswald and Malcolm Timson and Wynd Norton."

"Now, Miss Finnegan," said Sylvia merrily, "you're leaving out Mr Eli
Bull, and he's the only gentleman who has paid me /serious/
attention."

"Well, I never! But you're only pulling my leg, ain't you?"

"Honour bright. I'm telling you facts."

"Cowpens is barmy, but all the others are smitten on you too. If they
haven't proposed yet it's all the better. As I was saying, you can't
marry them all, and--well, do you mind telling me which you would
rather have?"

"Don't you think I had better wait till I'm asked?"

"That young Timson has his heart in his eyes, and his uncle or
whatever he is has threw Elsie Norton over completely since you come."

"Not one of these gentlemen has said a word of marriage to me. They
just come to see us because it's lively with several girls. Miss
Milford's music is a great attraction."

Bridgit shook her head. "That ain't the whole of it. The one in love
with Miss Milford is Arthur, and he ain't musical at all. They like
coming where there's girls all right, but that's what starts 'em on to
marriage, ain't it?"

"They are only good chums, I'm sure. We must pass the time somehow."

"But if it don't lead on to marriage there ain't anywhere else for it
to go, is there? If a girl says her hope she's often made a fool of,
but I thought I'd risk it with you. If you do have one of them three
men, it won't be Wynd, can you tell me that much?"

"I can tell you that he has not given me a chance to refuse or accept
him, but he's very pleasant company."

This was beyond Bridgit. "Well, I don't mind telling you that I'm
pretty gone on Wynd, have been ever since we were little tots
together. He always came to get anything I had, and now he's mad after
you, but he can't get you. He'll come up to the scratch pretty soon
now, and what I want is, will you please tell him at once that he
hasn't any hope? He might be glad to turn to me again like when he
used to be in scrapes and got a belting. You're going to gammon that
you know nothing about it for fear I'll blab, but you're quite safe.
This visit is a secret. I sneaked off without telling Da or Michael."

"I shall never mention it. I hope you and Mr Norton will be very happy
together some day. You must invite me to the wedding."

"I don't mind him fooling about a bit. He'll be more contented when he
settles down. If you say no it will take a little of the puff out of
him. He needs a strong wife to keep his home together. You're out of
the question, but he can't see it. It's wonderful the barminess of
fellows about girls, ain't it? They think they have only to arsk the
Governor's sister to get her. You see I'm an R.C. the same as he is,
and that's another thing."

"A considerable thing, and the main reason why Mr Norton wouldn't
think of being more than a friend to me."

"You should hear Da rage about us being with you, and Michael, too,
but he's jealous because Elsie Norton won't look at him yet. She's
keeping him on a string till she finds out if others are only fooling.
They wouldn't have a Roman, would they?"

"I thought it was /you/ who put /us/ beyond the pale, and worked in
secret to get everything into your own hands."

"Da's very boisterous in his talk, but of course he don't act up to
it. It seems to me that most of religion is something that the men
skite about and make the women carry out. We've escaped from Ireland
and its religious ructions, but all the same I'd feel safer married in
my own colour."

"That's a sensible plan, and I hope you'll be friends with me though
my religion is different."

"Oh, yes, please, I want to be." Tears beautified Bridgit's soft eyes.
"I ain't a bit jealous because Wynd is so wild about you now. I can't
keep my own eyes off you." Bridgit's voice broke. "I must scurry home
or Da and Mick will be hunting all round the boreen for me. I hope no
long tongues have seen me coming."

Ignez and Sylvia went out to settle her on Splodger. "Why don't you
come and see me? I ain't much of a lady, I work terrible hard, but if
you'd send word I'd have something ready for you."

"I'd love to come," said Ignez.

"So should I," added Sylvia. "It's a lovely ride to Barralong."

"I wonder what on earth she came for?" remarked Blanche, who was
feeling irritable against the world.

"Just a friendly call," said Ignez. "Poor old Bridgit is taking us
very seriously."

Sylvia made no comment. She retreated under pretext of writing to
Coolooluk, but sat thinking. What was she to do about Bridgit? Think
of loving a man, and gamely owning up to it, without being courted!
Sylvia longed to help Bridgit make the best of herself, but she could
not confide in Blanche. She felt that Ignez was more trustworthy and
understanding, and this worried her as disloyalty. She and Blanche had
always been all in all to each other. Sylvia dreaded to hurt her by
confession of any of the adulation that was tendered to her while none
of the silly men seemed to appreciate Blanche. Arthur had become a
subject to avoid.

Sylvia had been within the fact in telling Bridgit that Wynd had not
put himself in the position of being refused, but Bridgit was scarcely
out of sight towards Muldoon's selection when the mail brought a
letter, long and beautifully written, which began, "My dearest little
Queen." It was signed, "Your devoted worshipper." Wynd wrote that
Sylvia must have been aware for some time of the state of his feelings
towards her, which he had found no uninterrupted opportunity to
express, and which he was therefore constrained to put on paper. He
set them down in flowery conventional phrases. He stated his
prospects, which lay in his hope of a Government billet which would
enable him to offer her a cosy little home in Sydney.

Wynd worked on his father's farm next door to the Bulls. The holding
was small and Wynd, being unable to procure land of his own, had
determined to enter the Civil Service. His name was listed on several
Government ledgers, for such jobs as tram-guard, railway porter, or
constable, but his departure from Oswald's Ridges was delayed
indefinitely because of the numbers of young men similarly
discontented with the lack of excitement and return for their efforts
on their restricted paternal holding and the impossibility of
procuring desirable land of their own without larger capital or going
too far afield. Meanwhile toil was seldom so discommoding that they
could not appear at the concerts, dances and picnics of their area.

"He's the first to come up to scratch," Sylvia remarked to Ignez and
Blanche as she confessed to the contents of her letter.

"You forget Cowpens," reminded Ignez, "and Sid Blackshaw--both by word
of mouth--and half a dozen others, if you hadn't pretended to
misunderstand."

"The early fruit that falls off without ripening."

"What about the other letter in Malcolm Oswald's writing? Is it a
proposal, too?"

"What will you say to Wynd?" demanded Blanche.

"I haven't thought yet. This other letter is an invitation to the big
concert in Goulburn. Mr Oswald wants to take us all in his
vehicle--the Norton girls, too--if mother and father don't mind us
getting home late."

Ignez was so fervent for acceptance that she forgot it would be
derogatory to be seen about with the Oswald men while unacquainted
with their womenfolk.

The elders talked of the concert in their nightly summary.

"Do you suppose that Mr Oswald means anything with one of the girls?"

"A man often doesn't know himself unless the woman draws in her line
at the right time."

"I rather like him. I wonder if there's any truth in the tales about
him running after every girl, and it coming to nothing."

"Bah! A man can't say good day to a girl without that being said."
Mazere's views on matrimony were such that his daughters were free to
choose.

"I suppose this concert will be all right. Mr Oswald means it as a
return for his visits here."

"So many together, there can be no harm. Let them come back and finish
the remainder of the night here. They'll only be young once. Young
Timson is terribly touched, but it's only calf-love."

"He's twenty-one--a man, really. I think Sylvia likes him."

"It's useless trying to make their lives for them. What is to be, will
be. I met Bridgit Finnegan near here. What was she after?"

"Just calling on the girls, but Cowpens, as the children call him,
came yesterday and proposed for either Sylvia or Blanche."

"The deuce he did! He's getting worse. Tell the girls to be careful.
He's too intelligent in some ways to be harmless. He'll wind up in the
asylum."



CHAPTER VIII


Mrs Claud Oswald of Oswald's Cooee returned a letter to its envelope
and frowned. She was Mrs Flora Oswald correctly, but preferred her
unwidowed title. She took up her fancy work, which with her garden was
her most absorbing interest. She was responsible for the shrubberied
walks and flower-beds that surrounded the squat two-storeyed house
with verandas all round. Her husband had been a son of the Goulburn
Plains Oswalds, one of the earliest and most snobbish families in a
particularly conservative district. Cooee was so named when built
because it was only a cooee or mere twenty miles from the parent roof.
The land was more fertile than the Ridges, and closely settled, as
that term applied in the colony. On one side rolling plains ended in
low blue ranges, on the other the view ran to Lake Lansdowne, in
reality little more than an extensive lagoon. Around were small
farmers who had obtained blocks by selection in the sixties or later.

Mrs Oswald was Flora of Gowandale, younger sister of Miss Jessie
M'Eachern the valiant old squatteress whose "strong-mindedness"
provided interesting folk lore. In the days when young Oswald had gone
a-wooing to Monaro, Goulburn Plains homestead had been a social
centre. Its balconies and croquet lawns, stable yards and shrubberies
had rung with the chatter of city belles and Governors' aides as well
as with that of the neighbouring squatting families. Claud had
repeated this kind of life at Cooee, and it was only after his death
that Flora relapsed into the natural quietude of Cooee, which seemed
to be set at the end of somewhere. She did not care for the effort of
entertaining guests or for the distances to be travelled to make
social visits.

Malcolm found company at the farms around. He went as far afield as
Barralong and the Ridges generally, where he visited with easy
familiarity but did not bring his acquaintances to Cooee. He returned
hospitality by lending horses to the men and giving the girls
chocolates or sheet music and in treating them to public
entertainments. Malcolm had escaped all taint of snobbery. Of refined
and cleanly mind, he was neither bookish nor polemical. Simple
amusements, simple people pleased him. He saw that such girls as the
Nortons were indistinguishable from his sisters' friends, except that
their setting was cheaper. The Mazeres, Healeys, and Ignez came from
antecedents who had been the intimates of his own. They were a bit
down on their luck through Mazere and Healey being messers, but, "Good
gawd," as Oswald drawled, "there isn't a family in the colony with
every member high in the stirrups! Plenty in every tribe glad to get a
job as a drover or boundary rider."

Another reason against too much company at Cooee was the cost. The
property had been heavily mortgaged to meet high living and the shares
of the other members of the family. Oswald lacked the ambition and the
drive to amass wealth. His mother had ceased to fuss about his
lethargy or his likelihood of marriage. He had passed the susceptible
age uncaught by any cocky's pretty daughter and now might jog along
until he was fifty safe in the number of his fancies among girls of
rectitude. He was criticized for riding about on blood horses doing
nothing, but the wool grew while he rode, and he did not spend much
time in Sydney or Melbourne, or in going to London or in any major
dissipations, or in drinking away his inheritance as did so many of
his social peers.

Oswald's family felt secure enough. Besides, what was Aunt Jessie
going to do with all her property? She did not confide in any family
or person in her clan, or favour one more than the other. She lived in
the old home at Gowandale and let it grow decrepit over her head.
Money went into dingo extermination, fencing, hay barns or wool plant:
Aunt Jessie was growing richer and richer.

                          *       *       *

Suddenly there had been a buzz. Aunt Jessie took a fancy to Malcolm
Timson. This youth was the son of Jessie M'Eachern, namesake of Aunt
Jessie. This Jessie was the daughter of Malcolm, Aunt Jessie's
scapegrace brother. In the fifties he had married Nellie Logan,
daughter of the bushranger who had died in Berrima Gaol. That was a
nice thing for the Oswalds and Gilmours to read in the papers. The old
hands of Monaro had it that Malcolm turned to Nellie after he failed
to win the beautiful Emily Mazere, who was drowned in Mungee Fish Hole
when she was twenty-one. All the young men of her day had been dotty
about her.

Old Hugh Mazere, uncle of the senior Mazeres of Lagoon Valley, had
been engaged to Jessie of Gowandale, who eventually flung him over
because she was in love with Bert Poole, Emily's beloved. Hugh had
consoled himself with Louisa, sister of Bert. Another sister, Ada, had
married Charlie Timson and was the grandmother of young Malcolm who
came to Lagoon Valley. The families were so interwoven that only the
old hands remembered where the lines crossed. They could be heard
sorting out the relationships at weddings and funerals. Sufficient for
this history is the fact that when a Mazere girl was at all pretty,
the old hands would aver that she couldn't hold a candle to Emily, the
drowned. If not that, it would be in muted tones, "Isn't she the image
of poor Emily? It's to be hoped she'll have a happier fate." Yet
Emily's may have been the happiest, to have passed in young loveliness
to become a romantic legend.

Similarly, when a young man of the leading families of Monaro grew
up--which he could hardly do without being of the Poole blood--it was
said that he could never be the man of Bert of Curradoobidgee, but as
Bert was still alive and by survival had outgrown idealization, the
young thought this was a quirk of the old.

The M'Eacherns--Flora, Archie, and Bruce--had married into Goulburn's
first families and were bitter against Malcolm for having married
Nellie Logan, though old Logan had had qualities that were worth
inheriting. There had been another bobberie in '77 when Herbert
Timson, son of Charlie of that name and of Ada Poole his wife, had
gone to Eaglehawk Gullies and married one of the banned crowd. Young
Herbert had been unable to resist Jessie M'Eachern, the third
Australian to wear that name, despite her granddad Logan. The
Gowandale ban remained. The children of Archie, Bruce, and Flora all
thronged to Gowandale and for their sakes the cousins of Eaglehawk
were not acknowledged.

Then one day young Malcolm Timson took the notion to call on his
great-aunt. There were such yarns about her that it would be a lark to
tweak her tail. He had a spice of Barney Logan's Irish to leaven the
Poole tractability. In smart riding togs astride a showy horse, he
sizzled away to Gowandale one summer afternoon. His great-aunt might
have been snoozing on the veranda, though it was treason to suggest
that she closed an eye in daylight. When she looked up there stood a
tall youth in the glow of sunset and the dawn of manhood. He was well
up to the six-foot standard and proudly proportioned. His hair showed
a crisp white parting as he raised his hat.

"Did you say I could come in?"

Miss Jessie thought she was dreaming. Here was a young man she had
first seen a long time ago.

"You are Miss M'Eachern, I know. I am your grand-nephew Malcolm
Timson. It seems silly not to know you when I was born quite near. So
I have come to see you. Do you mind?"

Hospitality was as instinctive to Gowandale as self-preservation. "I
am sure you are verra welcome," said Miss Jessie before she thought.
What could she say after that? "You'd better stay and tell me what put
sic a notion as to come intil your head." She wanted to look at this
person through her spectacles to make sure that her sight was not
playing tricks.

The boy of seventeen sat down with the poise of twenty-five. "I
suddenly thought, why shouldn't I know you when you are my great-aunt?
There's a notion that we're not good enough for you because we're
poor, but I'll have money before I'm old; and I mightn't have a chance
to see you again." He had just quarrelled with his father and was
thinking of running away.

"How's that?"

Malcolm explained.

"And what, laddie, do you think of doing?"

"Get with a drover. I know a good deal about stock and station work."

Miss Jessie made no comment. She looked across the ivory plains of
January where the distant dots meant well-bred stock as fat as butter.
The sparkling heat was tempered by a zephyr from Cootapatamba, the
frozen water where the eagles drink, the pool on Kosciusko's flank.
Was there ever such an atmosphere as that, where twenty miles looked
like five, and the burning sunlight was tempered by such crispness?

The roses clung about the veranda posts, hiding the decrepitude. Miss
Jessie recalled how she had plucked roses for someone just like this
youth over forty years ago. All the zest and promise of those years
had long since faded but still the roses bloomed in summer, still the
native flowers laid a carpet each spring among the tussocks on the
plains. One must hold a place in the pageant until one fell out
altogether among the withered leaves.

"Do you mind that I'm not rich, Aunt Jessie?"

"God forbid! Poverty is often a great teacher of the young."

"Is there any other score against me?"

"Hark at the laddie! Is there something I should know against you?"

"Father says I'm flash and foolhardy, and that I'll never come to any
good."

"It's in your ain hands to refute your father's opinion. Maybe you'll
spend the night now that you're here."

"I'd like to. Perhaps there's something you want done. I'm not lazy."

Soon there was a mouthful of gossip on Monaro. Old Jessie had adopted
her brother Malcolm's grandson. The old hands were sure this was
because he was the living image of his great-uncle, for unrequited
love of whom Miss Jessie was an eccentric old maid. It aroused a lot
of jealousy in the clan. Young Malcolm was accounted sly and worthy of
his great-granddad the bushranger Logan. Aunt Jessie was accused of
senility. She was as sentimental as any old bachelor, but if any
thought her weak he had a different thought following a horse or
cattle deal or a day with her after stock or at branding.

Bert Timson forgot his row with Malcolm in view of Aunt Jessie's
interest; the lad did not repeat his threat to run away. He had in
part fulfilled it, with promising possibilities. Aunt Jessie insisted
upon his undergoing a belated course at King's college in Goulburn.
Malcolm took this with good grace, and his social adaptability carried
him through the ordeal of classes with his juniors. He spent his
exeats with his Gilmour and Oswald relatives where his female
contemporaries saw him in more than a cousinly light, and he was so
likely to be an heir that parents ceased to stress the Logan strain.
His mother's cousin Malcolm of Cooee was a favourite with him. There
were affinities in horsemanship and love of a pretty face.

                          *       *       *

The winter that Sylvia was at Lagoon Valley Malcolm had contracted
measles, which left him a cough. Malcolm stripped was a treat for a
sculptor, but Miss Jessie decided that he needed a holiday, and he
chose Cooee. Miss Jessie thought the winds that whipped across the
Southern Tableland to Lake Lansdowne and Gundary and Goulburn as sharp
as the blasts of Monaro proper, but she felt he would have a quiet
routine with Flora. It turned out there was hardly a night that the
Malcolms were in bed before the small hours, but the piercing night
air seemed to agree with a young man born to it and who found his
cousin's circle the most exhilarating he had known. Social intercourse
on the Ridges was gay compared with Eaglehawk's or Gowandale's, and he
also was enjoying the sweet pangs of early love.

When his month had lengthened to two Miss Jessie grew curious. Had the
boy ridden away to make a fresh conquest as easily as he had won her?
She wrote Flora to know what was keeping him so long. Flora heard talk
of football and cricket. Names like Finnegan and Cowpens were embedded
in mild ribaldry.

"Your Aunt Jessie's getting anxious about you, Malcolm Timson," she
said at breakfast.

"There are one or two things I'd like to see and then I'll push off,
Aunt Flora, or you'll be tired of me," he replied.

Next mail brought a more definite letter. Lance Gilmour of the
Blungudgery crowd had been to Gowandale on business. Lance was Malcolm
Oswald's cousin through his mother, Catherine Oswald, sister of
Malcolm's father. The Gilmours and Oswalds were otherwise tangled with
the M'Eacherns, and Lance was a garrulous fellow who revelled in
touching up gossip. From him Miss Jessie heard that young Malcolm was
head over heels in love with some old cow cocky's daughter with a
pretty face out by Oswald's Ridges, and a wedding was predicted. Miss
Jessie took alarm. Her pet must not relapse into the kind of poverty
from which she was lifting him.

Mrs Oswald questioned her son. "Who's this girl that Malcolm is
infatuated with?"

"What girl? What infatuation?"

"The news has reached your Aunt Jessie."

"Sounds like wind in the trees."

"You've used the sociable a lot lately. Jessie blames me for letting
him get into low company."

"Low company, be blowed! They're the same as ourselves."

"Same as Malcolm, perhaps. You must remember that not all of us
dragged our family down."

"Rot! We've been going to the Mazeres', and he and his wife are both
grandchildren of the old cockalorum himself of Three Rivers. They were
the equal of any Oswald or Gilmour. As for the M'Eacherns, they
weren't in it with the old geebung."

"There could be Mazeres /and/ Mazeres. Look at your own uncle and
Nellie Logan!"

"I'm explaining, Mater, that the Mazeres have intermarried with
themselves."

"What are they doing on the Ridges?"

"He's a bit of a cockatoo farmer and dairyman, like the rest of the
people about."

"Why did they get so low down in the world?"

"Old Richard has a poor place, and just potters along."

"I wish Malcolm would go home so that Jessie won't blame me."

"I wish he would go, too. He's in my way."

"How?" Mrs Oswald looked at him with a glint of alarm.

"He blocks up the whole blooming horizon."

"Tell me who and what these people really are?"

"There are two grown-up daughters."

"How grown-up?"

"Blanche is twenty-one; she hangs on to the home for her mother.
Sylvia mostly stays at Coolooluk with old lady Labosseer, whom you
used to know at Eueurunda before you were married." Oswald compressed
his lips under his moustache while his mother watched him narrowly.

"What's Sylvia like?"

"The prettiest girl I've ever seen, bar none, and the sweetest."

"And her mother's a Labosseer. Tell me more about them."

"Dick's a hobbledehoy. Then comes Allan, and there are two little
nippers. They're the smartest little kinds I know. Then there's Ignez
Milford."

"Who's she?"

"The Milford brothers run Jinninjinninbong and Ten Creeks on the upper
Murrumbidgee. A Milford is married to a Labosseer. Ignez is going in
for a musical career."

"Is she fast?"

"She's fast on her feet and brain. She has all the old cockatoos of
the Ridges screeching like Cocky in the yard there now."

"She must be fast."

"I'd like to be listening when any man made that kind of mistake with
her."

"Is she pretty?"

"Not so pretty as others, but taking--different."

"Is Malcolm attached to her?"

"She's only a kid of sixteen!"

"Sylvia?"

"Yes."

"With you both?"

Malcolm nodded, and, as though dismissing the subject, walked out of
the room and out of the house.

Mrs Oswald was perturbed. She turned to housekeeping to relieve her
uneasiness. She inspected her son's bedroom with reference to spring
renovations. On the dressing table was the photograph of a girl. She
was accustomed to pictures of the neighbourhood beauties--girls whose
looks would quickly fade under hard work and the sun, or which would
not meet with sophisticated approval. Here was a different face. The
perfect profile with its delicate chin, exquisite nostrils and
long-lashed eyes arrested and courted attention. There would be small
success in disparaging a girl who looked like that.

Mrs Oswald went to the adjoining room, occupied by young Malcolm, and
picked up a smoking jacket. From it fell another photograph, full
face--the same girl. It showed an oval contour with curls clustered
round the forehead, mouth and eyes so innocently winning that they
disarmed prejudice. A girl as "nice" as this could change the
destinies of men and their mothers with a smile. It could not be
otherwise while beauty remained the most powerful endowment of female
youth, and irresistible to men. Mrs Oswald expected Malcolm to marry,
but now that marriage came within possibility she was disturbed. The
photographs defended their original. Such a girl could be the social
rage, if properly presented, and Mrs Oswald was a snob. She had always
been harried by the weak spots in social sets. This Sylvia was a
Mazere, she was also a Labosseer, supported by two family names of
unimpeachable standing. Nothing was wrong but her poverty. A beautiful
girl's poverty to young men in love--or to old ones, either--was often
an additional attraction. The beauty and family connections of the
girl, as well as that both Malcolms were attracted by her, made a
complication. Mrs Oswald went into the garden to cogitate upon a reply
to Jessie.

                          *       *       *

"You mustn't keep poor old Wynd waiting in anxiety," said Ignez.

"A letter's too much of a tussle. I might get a chance to say a word
when we go to concert," Sylvia responded.

Masters was not included in Oswald's party, but it was a football
social affair and Arthur was /persona grata/ with the officials. When
he spoke of attending Ignez told him that the Mazeres and she had
accepted Oswald's invitation. She suggested that Arthur might relieve
the congestion in transport.

"Jolly good idea as long as I don't have to relieve the wrong part of
the congestion. I don't want to lug any men about."

"The gentlemen won't want to go with you," said Blanche, hoping for an
invitation that did not come.

The world was beautiful in perfect weather the afternoon that the
party assembled at Lagoon Valley. The flower garden was a mass of
blossom, the roses, red and yellow, pink and white, as sweetly
smelling and as swiftly fading as those plucked by Emily the drowned
and her friend Jessie M'Eachern more than forty years before. The
grasses were long and richly seeding in orchard and cow-paddock and
rippled like smiles in the zephyrs on the ridges. The bush was noisy
with nestlings. Young livestock gambolled on every hand. The long
drought and its cruelties and hardships were forgotten, its lessons
disregarded. The evening work was left to Mazere and Allan; the boy
had been secretly bribed to this by Oswald with the offer of horses
and guns.

Wynd Norton and his sisters came with their host to a lavish high tea
at Lagoon Valley. Voices were young and high and excited. Even the
dogs knew it was an occasion, and there was renewed noise when the
company moved for departure. All feminine forms were enveloped in silk
dustcoats, their faces and hats protected by dense veils. Oswald's
sociable held nine with a squeeze. Hitched to it were a rousing pair
of coasters. Masters came in his empty sulky. He did not relegate too
much of his work and had eaten a snack /en route/.

"Sorry I seemed to overlook you," said Oswald, "but you're not exactly
a canary bird for concerts."

"No, but I've got a ripping hoof for a football, and you couldn't keep
me away from this concert by heaving a brick." Arthur's face,
blunt-nosed, hummocky, where astute common sense shared witty good
humour, gave him an air of dauntlessness. He was bent on taking Ignez
plus an inevitable chaperon, Freda or Philippa for choice. There was
room for three in his smart comfortable vehicle and he had trained the
Wargod mare to run in harness. Her coat shone with grooming and
spring.

"Now, who's coming with me?" Arthur called to the girls clustered on
the veranda. "Ignez, will you?"

"I'd love to, only I've promised to sit with Freda and Sylvia."

"Plenty of room for both you and Sylvia in my trap. Whatever lady
comes with me gets the biggest box of chocolates in Goulburn."

"Lovely!" laughed Sylvia. "Come on, Ignez."

"Breach of contract," said Oswald. "Miss Sylvia promised to take the
reins."

"Then Philippa, will you come with me, or have I to bag my head and
skulk alone?" pursued Arthur with undiminishing cheerfulness.

"If only he would invite Blanche," thought Sylvia. To hide her
discomfiture Blanche fled into the house on the pretext of doing
something for her mother, though Mrs Mazere was on the veranda, and
happy about helping with the work of the meal.

"I want to go with Arthur and have chocolates like the big girls,"
chirped Philippa. She was an amiable young soul, already alert to
preserve amenities.

"That's the young lady for me," he responded, helping her to spring up
beside him.

"I'll come, too, or we'll never get started," said Tottie Norton,
quietly following Philippa.

"Let us get on ahead, quick and get away from their dust!" shrilled
Philippa, clattering her feet in excitement, but Arthur lingered,
interested in the seating.

Sylvia shared the front seat with Oswald, with Elsie Norton on the off
side. Blanche, Dick, Malcolm Timson, Wynd, Ignez and Freda were in the
back. Oswald beside Sylvia, and Dick beside Ignez were pleased. Ignez
was content with either vehicle. Amorous disturbances were not yet in
her seething brain. Masters was not worried by Dick's monopoly of her.
The adolescent yearnings of a youth of seventeen are normally as
ephemeral as the roses of summer.

Wynd made himself agreeable by cracking jokes and riddles. Elsie
helped him by transferring Sylvia to the outside where she was close
to him. To upset this Oswald offered the reins to Wynd for a while.
Wynd humped at this in the hope of recapturing Sylvia, but as soon as
Wynd was firmly seated, foot on brake, Oswald stepped into the back
carrying Sylvia with him.

Great giggling greeted this masterful move, which left young Malcolm
and Dick both squiring Ignez.

"I'm sorry we didn't bring Bridgit Finnegan," she said.

"Mick would never have trusted her with me," said Oswald. "I'm sorry I
didn't invite Cowpens for you, Ignez, great oversight."

Masters thumbed his nose at the larger party and dashed away from
their dust. He was such a jovial dear that Ignez regretted that she
was not with him. They could have overhauled everyone on the road. It
was tame to be sitting in the back seats where she and Dick could not
talk of the things most interesting to them.

"Mr Oswald, do let me drive," she pled. "I've driven four over the
Coolgarbilli gap."

"That's a stiff pinch at Run of Water and the brake is a little stiff,
I'd have to sit beside you."

Wynd greeted this with joy, as he could return to Sylvia. The noise of
the wheels on the raw blue metal enabled him to whisper, "You got my
letter?"

"Yes."

"Cruel one, you did not reply."

"You are a naughty flirt, I fear."

"You must have mistaken my letter for all the others you get."

"I've not had any others like that."

"I am dumbfounded that you doubt my sincerity."

She patted his hand in the gathering dusk as they descended the steep
pinch at Run of Water, while Oswald was occupied with the brakes, and
the stench of the slaughter-yards and boiling-down plant militated
against romance.

"You are kind to say such flattering things. Ever since I can
remember, people have said that kind of thing to me."

"Is there someone else?" He indicated both Malcolms. The younger
strove to converse with Blanche.

"There's no one else. It's simply that you must not be serious."

"I'm a fool to think of you at all when I'm only a common scrub of a
fellow, and everywhere you go people are after you like bees to honey.
Will there be someone soon do you think?"

"How can I say?" Sylvia had the right to her silvery laugh. What maid
except Bridgit Finnegan would heroically admit that she was waiting
for someone to toe her mark?

Thinking of the Malcolms, he persisted, "If there's not someone in a
month or two, will you think about me then?"

"I shall always think of you as a dear. I'm proud that you like me,
but please not in /that/ way. Getting married's a dull business--no
more fun, just drudgery and bad health. Talk about something pleasant.
Dick, what was that riddle you were going to ask Mr Norton?"

"What is an old lady in the middle of a deep stream of water like?"

The air was still crisp after sundown and held the smoke of the
domestic fires in a veil above the town, cupped in its basin of low
encircling hills, and the street lights were beginning to twinkle.
Oswald resumed the reins before reaching the humpy of the Queen of the
South, an eccentric squatteress with no social connection with the
squattocracy of which Jessie of Gowandale was a prominent member. The
good-night twitter of sparrows, the rumble of cabs, the clink, clink
from the forges, the snorts of engines shunting at the station, and
other sounds were thrilling to Ignez and Dick as a foretaste of cities
in the great world where their dreams were to have substance.

They put up at the Royal and then strolled to the Oddfellows' Hall, a
commodious place with a stage and gallery in which the town enjoyed
many concerts and where some of the world's greatest singers, when
sufficiently in decline, were occasionally heard, and sometimes a
young Australian destined for fame.

"The Grand Football Concert" reflected credit on the Football Union.
The best local talent had been engaged with a first-rate imported
attraction. The élite sat in the gallery, where they were able to
demonstrate their superiority by paying an extra shilling, and
overcame distance with opera glasses. The élite included the daughters
of the lawyers, doctors, and managers of banks, and one or two others
distinguishable by evening uniforms which bared their chests and arms.
There was nothing else to differentiate them from those on the ground
floor, but they felt themselves above even the two or three drapers'
daughters who were also correctly uniformed, had "been away to
school", and were very pretty. The old bush town in the hollow clung
to its English County recipe as faithfully as circumstances permitted.

Philippa swung on Arthur's arm, an excited little girl with the
biggest box of chocolates she had so far met. Ignez had craved the
front row on the main floor so that she could /see/ the methods of the
singers, and Masters had early bagged seats. There were cries of "Good
old Arthur!" when he appeared, adulation sweet in the presence of his
inspiration. Each girl had a programme which she ostentatiously
proceeded to study. Ignez devoured every word on hers. Malcolm senior
informed Sylvia about the girls in the gallery. There wasn't a girl in
the district whose looks and virtues weren't acutely estimated by him.
Without seeming to his guests appraised every girl within sight to the
last curl or bun of her hair.

The gallery awaited the possible arrival of members of the entrenched
and opulent squattocracy of which several clans in the district kept
up roomy establishments and entertained imported company. They went to
Sydney, Melbourne, and London for much of their major pleasure, but
occasionally lent the town their presence at a public function.
Excitement was stirred this evening by the entry of a lively party led
by Lance Gilmour of Blungudgery. To catch him would have been a
triumph to any of the girls in evening dresses, but they had to meet
the unfair competition of theatricals, native and imported, who had
the advantage of advertisement. One or two of the wealthiest young
squatters had recently fallen to imported actresses of provincial
rating in their own bailiwicks, who knew a stable thing when they saw
it.

Where there was a young theatrical there also Lance would be. With him
tonight was Desdemona Muir, one of the principals of a show
transplanted from the London Gaiety. Every eye was on her in the hope
she would throw off her cloak so her dress could be seen. The male
part of the audience would have become delirious had she executed a
high kick or two, but Desdemona was the demurest girl possible. She
was no mushroom sprung from the slums to luxury and limelight. She
carried letters to high officials, and she was holidaying at
Blungudgery, whither she had been escorted by Gregory Mannheim, the
Governor's aide, whose mamma had secured him a sinecure to save him
from threatened phthisis. Miss Muir and Gregory (later Sir Gregory)
Mannheim had opera glasses for the scrutiny of the primitive specimens
in the wilds of Australia--as the Oswalds and Gilmours would have been
elated to find their enviable properties described.

As the glasses swept the lower floor Arthur stood up to acknowledge
acclaim from the back.

"Some bucolic celebrity, no doubt," remarked the aide, unaware of
condescension.

"Yes, a cockatoo footballer, quite a fellow, too. Plays a grand game,"
Lance Gilmour informed him. "And I'll be danged if the Malcolms aren't
there with him! The prettiest girl in the country, I've heard. Trust
old Malcolm for that! Let's take a squint through your glasses. Didn't
expect anything like this or I'd have brought my binoculars."

The fame of Sylvia's beauty had spread beyond Oswald's Ridges to
Lance's greedy ears. He was of the age of his cousin Cooee, likewise
unmarried, though not for lack of singeing his wings.

Oswald had noted every movement in the gallery.

"I thought so," he chuckled. "Lance can never pick 'em unless they're
advertised. I'm ahead of him this time."

"Pick what? Get ahead of whom?" inquired Sylvia. Her pretty colour
mounted, though her simulated indifference to the interest she stirred
was perfect.

"By gad, they're right! She's a stunner at this distance. No wonder
old Malcolm sticks to the possum ridges and the cockies. Has the field
to himself out there. I'll bring her up in the interval. You take a
look and tell me if I'm right. Ladies have different ideas in these
cases, see more than we clumsy men." Lance guffawed in belated
realization that it might not be ingratiating to be so collared by
other beauties in the presence of his guest, a professional in the
line. But Desdemona was too engrossed with Gregory Mannheim to be
anything but amused by the antics of such a barbarian as Lance. In any
case she was amiable to the core and well-inhibited by the gentility
of the manse in which she had been reared.

She looked where her host indicated. "Which one? I seem to see enough
pretty girls to fill a chorus."

"The one in blue on the right of my cousin Malcolm, the thin man with
the dark moustache."

Miss Muir returned the glasses and Lance took a more comprehensive
glance.

"What are cockies?" Desdemona inquired of Mannheim.

"You're right! Old Malcolm has enough peaches to fill a chorus,"
agreed Lance as he caught sight of Tottie and Elsie. "And right down
to foals," as Philippa and Freda brandished their boxes of chocolates.
"But I think the little filly in blue is the ringer of the crowd."

Miss Muir looked again and discovered Malcolm the younger. Chittering
subsided. Noise was transferred from the audience to the stage. The
festival of favourites began with the local glee club disguised as
darkies in imitation of Yankee jokes that were puerile in the first
place. They were however convulsing to their audience, especially to
"the talent at the back"--Arthur's phrase. They noisily adjured him to
get up and join the darkies, and crack some real jokes. Arthur had to
slip back and request consideration because he was in charge of some
little nippers, which was so funny to them that they subsided
good-naturedly.

After the glee club came another football hero bawling "The Dashing
Militaire", and vociferously recalled for "Off to Philadelphia". There
was a sweet soprano who had supported many visiting divas who in
farewell tours of the wild antipodes halted to sing in worn voices and
to execrate the shortcomings of the Oddfellows' Hall in Goulburn, New
South Wales. Miss Jeannie Holroyd was known and loved all over the
country for herself, her voice and her repertory. Tonight she was in
great form. "Sing, Sweet Bird", "The Swallows", "The Carnival",
"Waiting", and other ballads lilted from her with ease and sweetness.

Eager expectancy awaited the entry of the surprise item of the
evening, two songs by Monica Shaw, engaged by the committee at
considerable expense. Miss Shaw was on a farewell tour of Australia to
earn funds for her studies in Europe, where she had been urged to go
by a famous prima donna then visiting the capitals. The glamour of
departure to London was already tinting her. The social columns
gossiped about her and her picture was in all the papers and on sale
on postcards. She was not being over-puffed, for she was on the way to
become "one of the foremost living contraltos" and take the name of
Madame Junee in honour of her birthplace.

The voice was a true contralto with viol notes of a moving quality,
and the crowded house listened intensely. The singer was at home in a
classical aria and when she had bowed and bowed had to return and sing
"Three Fishers". That did not satisfy her audience and she added
"Douglas Gordon", a song of dying of or for love, which savoured of
lunacy to maturity, but had enchantment for lovers heady with
illusion, and this audience was young and susceptible and aching for
true love, deathless or deadly.

The girl Ignez was there and then deracinated. The contralto tones
struck chords of unfathomable emotion in her. She was instantly aware
that what was "the matter" with her own voice was its unusual quality,
and that that was its glory. She had been teased as a bullfrog, and,
infinitely worse, accused of mannish tones. The volume of her unwieldy
organ sometimes frightened her that she might be a freak, and
abnormalities were horrifying to her. Now she sat rapt, released into
a larger self. It was as if a young swan, displaced in the egg stage
and immured in a barnyard, heard this night in the upper air her own
kind winging wild and free. Instinctively her inner being responded to
their call.

"My voice is like that," she breathed in Arthur's ear, placed near in
the hope that her lips might brush it.

"Yours is better," he whispered in return. He had no music in him, but
he was right, not only because he worshipped Ignez, but because her
voice was in its early youth while Miss Shaw's was nearing thirty, and
had been overdoing it.

"My voice is like that! My voice is like that!" she repeated to
herself, rendered too incoherent by the sudden revelation of where her
kinship lay.

Masters felt the transformation taking place in her, something which
he could not understand but nevertheless could reverence. He could not
go with her where she had gone under the spell of the singer; he
watched her as she watched the contralto, knew he was losing her, yet
was exalted as he had never been.

Every detail of the singer hinted of glory to the innocent Ignez. Her
gown was more daring than Ignez had before seen in actuality, with its
low bodice and long train. It was dazing to behold a young woman so
aristocratically uncovered, especially to Blanche, who clung to the
formulas about men's respect being in ratio to the amount of clothes
in which women swaddled their forms. Sylvia doted on the twenty-four
buttoned gloves, the sparkling bracelets and pendant, the elaborate
coiffure and the jewelled ornament in it. The men appraised the robust
feminine contours that the fashionable gown accentuated.

The singer withdrew, the applause died down. The stage remained empty.
The interval was on. A buzz of talk arose. Ignez turned to Arthur, an
immortal light in her eyes. No one else noticed her. Oswald chuckled
as a tall, clumsy figure, topped by a fiery mop, beat its way through
a pack of people at the side entrance.

"I've come to ask if you'll join your party to mine when this gives
over." There had been no finesse in Lance's withdrawal from Desdemona;
there was none in his approach to Sylvia. He fixed her with greedy
glances.

Oswald was forced to introductions. "Miss Mazere, Miss Sylvia Mazere,
may I present Lance Gilmour. I can't help being his family
connection."

Masters and Gilmour knew each other by sight, and nodded. Malcolm
junior said, "Hello, Lance," and named the other girls.

"Well, what about it?" demanded the intruder.

"I came out to enjoy myself," complained Oswald, "and the colour of
your hair always makes me bilious, but if the ladies would like a
larger party. . . ."

Blanche resented Gilmour's sensual staring at Sylvia. He had never
taken any pains to achieve her own acquaintance, and he was with
"fast" theatricals.

"Thank you," she interposed, "but I don't know you well enough to
intrude upon your party. It would keep us out too late with the
children."

Oswald telegraphed to Blanche his approval. The hardy amorist
persisted.

"I've got Desdemona Muir up there. She'll be disappointed not to see
you." He addressed himself to Sylvia.

"I'm sure Miss Muir must be tired of people, and she doesn't know me."

"She's been admiring you through her glasses."

At that Blanche took firm hold of her dignity. This fellow was
approaching her cavalierly merely because of Sylvia's beauty. He
looked upon her as a mere cocky's daughter, but she was a Mazere and
as good as any red-haired rake of a Gilmour and his brazen
high-kicking actresses.

"We have a long way to go, Mr Gilmour, and I don't know when the
concert will end."

He was rebuffed, but not defeated. He was rescued by Ignez, the most
sturdily vigilant against social condescension, but tonight she was
bewitched. Desdemona Muir was of her fraternity, of that world where
artists became petted members of High Society, which had become actual
to her a quarter of an hour since.

"If there is time I should like to see Miss Muir and ask her for
information."

She had been one of the youngsters with her hair in a plait and her
skirts only to her ankles, and was not of the type to attract Gilmour,
but was suddenly discovered as a devilishly promising little filly
with eyes to bowl a fellow over and a complexion that leaves 'em all
at the post.

"Come along," he said, lest she renegue.

"There isn't time," protested Blanche. "Ignez must make herself
conspicuous blundering about . . ."

"I'll see that there's time," said Masters, tucking Ignez's hand under
his arm. "Lead on, Gilmour McDuff."

Miss Muir responded to the friendliness and genuine admiration of
Ignez and promised her an autographed photograph, which was in her bag
at the hotel.

"There'll be plenty of time to get it," said Masters. He was chatting
with Mannheim, who had a vicarious interest in football. Arthur gave
the signal when the interval was to end by returning with Ignez to her
seat.

The charged moments melted, the concert hall emptied and fell to
darkness. Miss Shaw was awaiting the train to another town and the
Lagoon Valley and Blungudgery parties were together. Blanche's
justifiable resentment of Lance, as well as Oswald's reluctance to
expose Sylvia to Lance's admiration, were overborne by the inclination
of all the others, excepting perhaps Desdemona and Mannheim, who were
at that temperature that they craved to be alone.

Arthur took Ignez for the promised photograph and they all found
themselves in the big private parlour with the genial host of the
Royal. He had a supper there, just in case, because of a messenger
sent by Lance Gilmour in the interval, and the men were seduced to
linger. Ignez had the photograph. Miss Muir was not, however,
interested in Ignez, whose potentialities were beyond the little
professional. She had no ability to estimate talents other than in her
own limited field. Sylvia and Malcolm junior excited her. Never, she
whispered, to Mannheim, had she seen such a pair--dark and fair--a
Greek god and a fairy nymph. "George Edwards would expire at the sight
of the girl. If she has any voice at all, she need not stop at the
lower rungs of the peerage."

Sylvia had a quick ear and at that moment broke into a cadenza of one
of the songs of the concert.

"Sing me a song you know," begged Miss Muir. Adjured by Ignez, Sylvia
sat to the piano and sang, not the trills that came so birdlike from
her throat, but "Scenes That Are Brightest."

"Marvellous! Not a big voice, but it just suits you. Something ought
to be done about it--something in my way. Wouldn't you love to go to
London?"

Young Malcolm looked into her eyes above the piano and Sylvia said
platitudinously, "I don't think that going on the stage would make me
happy. I'm not like Ignez."

"We're not fond of notoriety," said Blanche, sententiously.

"Of course not--but to waste such gifts!" Desdemona was thinking of
her robuster rivals who had achieved the heaven of High Society as
millionairesses, countesses, and there were even a marchioness and a
duchess, neither of whom was as exquisite as this fairy creature, who
also was obviously a lady. How fetching she would be in fluffy skirts
demonstrating the proper kick for a girl, you know, is not too high,
and it's not too low. "To waste such beauty would be wicked," she said
firmly.

"I think it wicked to go on the stage," said Blanche with finality.

Mannheim winked at Miss Muir. Lance said he must see about it. He
imagined himself introducing Sylvia to Howard Vernon's chorus and
basking in a proprietary interest in her. It was another feather in
Sylvia's cap, which was growing like a stage version of the war bonnet
of a brave. To Desdemona Muir it was a passing incident in her own
enchanted hour in a queer land where she was an intoxicating
theatrical success, with love now being added.

Arthur, with the selflessness of unspoiled passion and the temerity of
inexperience, said to Miss Muir, "You must hear Miss Milford, too. I
think her voice better than Monica Shaw's."

Blanche was dumbfounded, defeated. She could not carry her painting of
cactus blooms and swans and reeds on a mirror around with her to show
off. Oswald smiled under his moustache at Arthur, who could not sing a
note in tune, having an opinion about voices, but he, too, liked
Ignez's voice. It could move him more than any voice per se that he
knew, so he added his request.

Ignez sang a verse of "Three Fishers."

"I think that's sweeter than Miss Shaw's," said Oswald.

"Yes, indeed," admitted Desdemona. "It is. I think Miss Shaw's voice
sounds tired. Of course these one-night stands are killing, and she's
older than Miss Milford. I don't know much about contraltos," she
added with a soprano's lack of enthusiasm for deeper voices.

"I can sing soprano, too," said Ignez. "I know, 'Waiting'."

Up she went to high C, and did a shake. She was at ease so long as she
could keep below or above the middle of the clef.

"Wonderful," said Desdemona, "but I don't know what you'd do with two
voices. All the best parts are written for sopranos, and the
unattractive ones for deeper voices."

Desdemona was aching to escape with her Gregory to edge him along the
road to a proposal of marriage. Tottie and Elsie had their thoughts on
manoeuvres to seat themselves beside Oswald on the return journey.
Malcolm junior and Sylvia were eager to be together again in the
sociable under cover of the night. Wynd was keeping in the background,
subdued and quiet. He talked to Mannheim, who despite his frailty and
Etonian accents, had a real interest in empire affairs and especially
in those colonies with warm climates to which his pulmonary weakness
might exile him for life. Blanche was tense with the surety of fresh
neglect being her portion, and it devolved upon her, as usual, to
assume care of the brood and rescue the little girls, who were
beginning to look peaked and weary.

"We must go," she said, "or the children will be ill. Miss Muir must
be tired, too. I'm sure she's trying to have a holiday from
stage-struck people." To Arthur she added aside, "Ignez would stay
here showing-off all night. She forgets she promised to take care of
Freda."

Arthur had made up his mind, and among the men present he was the
quickest-witted and freest to follow his intentions. Ignez, still
intoxicated by the heady draught of self-realization, found herself
being tenderly tucked into his sulky. Sweetheart was so rampant that
she had to be let out till they passed St Peter and St Paul's, but by
the time she had taken the pinch up to the Queen of the South's humpy
they were beyond being overtaken by Oswald, and Sweetheart was
amenable to a pace that would not eat up the miles too soon.

The sociable was not so easily under way. Lance buzzed round the
Mazeres angling for an invitation to call. Wynd's star was dimmed so
he busied himself in general usefulness. Malcolm junior made sure that
Sylvia was beside him. Oswald would not delegate the reins in the
dark, and Elsie and Tottie climbed into the front seat with him.
Timson took a corner back seat so that he would have no obligation to
a lady on his other side. Blanche was rancorous against Ignez,
pursuing notoriety with Arthur while she had to take care of the
little girls. Philippa wanted to be in the sulky again and demanded of
Tottie Norton why Arthur had run away without them. Tottie was
discreetly silent.

"As soon as we catch up we'll change," said Philippa.

"Ignez belongs to me more than to Philippa," declared Freda, "and
Philippa sat with her coming in, and she said it would be my turn
going home. It isn't fair! Ignez forgot her promise."

"It's easy for Ignez to forget anyone but herself," said Blanche. "You
can sit one on each side of me under the rug."

"That mare of Arthur's isn't too steady in harness yet. He thought it
safer to have no one but Ignez," said Oswald placatingly.

Wynd felt in sympathy with the children and, lifting Freda in, said,
"I'll sit beside you and tell you a riddle."

Under cover of hoofs and wheels Timson whispered, "This is my last
shivoo. I have to go home for the shearing."

"You'll be back again soon?"

"It depends on you." Sylvia put out her hand under cover of the rug
and the night. He took off her glove and pocketed it and bent his lips
to the hand. She did not withdraw. He raised the rug and put an arm
around her waist. She snuggled accommodatingly. They coalesced in
ecstasy. "I haven't got any money. Would you wait for me?"

"Yes." The tiny word sounded like a trumpet. It was a glorious night.
The Southern Cross swung high above the hills before them. The big old
trees by the roadside stood in queenly outline against the velvet
darkness.

"Would you wait a long time?"

"How long?"

"If Aunt Jessie acts trumps we might do it quite soon." A thrilling
squeeze of young fingers. "If she doesn't, it would take me some time
to get started."

Philippa and Freda began to mimic the mopokes and wagtails. Wynd
helped them to do it better.

Under cover of the noise Timson continued, "Perhaps you'd rather have
someone older and rich with a big house?" Wealthy fellows, one of whom
was Lance, gazed on Sylvia as greedily as sharks. Timson feared the
old fellows who lay waiting to gobble young loveliness.

"Money's terrible if there isn't love. You know the awful case at Bool
Bool. One of the old Stantons made the half-sister of Mr Healey marry
him. She had to give up the young man she loved. Terrible things
happened. Her little boy was lost. It made me make up my mind to marry
only for love. If you hadn't asked me I couldn't have borne it." An
electrical caress and heated asseverations were exchanged under cover
of the vehicle's rumbling on a culvert.

"I'll find out how I stand with Aunt Jessie. Will it be safe for me to
leave you? Shall we be publicly engaged?"

Maidenly reluctance restrained ardour. "Let's have a lovely secret for
just a little while."

Others had no such delight. Elsie Norton was hoping that Malcolm
junior was really accounting for Sylvia and leaving Cooee free.
Blanche and Tottie both thought of Ignez alone with Masters. Cooee was
occupied with his horses. Wynd was relieved to be able to nurse
undisturbed the sharp wound of love refused. The fresh night full of
stars had its enchantment for Dick. He loved the ever-new adventure of
being absorbed by the darkness, mates with beast and bird. The night's
silence had a voice and that was engrossing to him in a prosaic
community. Ignez had supplied him with words--the plangent clamorous
silence. "It palpitates," she said, "like the echoes and overtones of
music."

Ignez was too excited to hear the silence tonight. Monica Shaw's tones
had spoken in her own tongue. Hitherto she had lived in a barnyard
with the turkeys and cocks and quacking ducks. From far overhead she
still heard the clang of swans flying fast and high and far and knew
she belonged with them in the upper air.

"My voice is like hers," she said over and over to herself. "I can
sing everything she sang tonight and all the high bird songs, too."
She could feel herself in some great hall packed with people awaiting
her first notes.

Masters was triumphant to have her alone with him on the great empty
road, though she hardly thought of him at all during those hours
though she might never again sit beside so chivalrous a lover in so
charged an atmosphere. She tingled to think of the photograph in his
pocket. No other picture of a celebrity could ever have the
significance of this--a first scalp--of the soubrette in her fluffy
skirts in which she sang about that Maisie who was a dear, who when
she took a chap out walkin' he knew 'twas not for talkin', and the
boys cried whoops when they saw her on the pier.

At the beginning the landmarks lack importance; there are no
milestones. Speculative dreamers claim that all that has existed of
the past, and of the future likewise, remains sentient in time, which
flows both from and towards us, and that occasionally the future and
the past are similarly in the sub-consciousness. Thus tonight by some
supra-sense not yet defined by the scientists or detained in the
imagination of the poet, Ignez was aware of the regrets and despairs,
the losses and failures of age, which blended with the zestful
illusions of youth and beauty, joy and desire, and added poignancy to
emotions that swamped her physical being. The wistful ache for things
that would one day be for her long gone, already gave body to
anticipation of things yet to come in an awareness of her own legend
as lost, as unwritten as the myriad of others of no consequence that
filled the silence with those overtones that haunted her and Dick.

In the factual night star-lit the girl star-struck said "There they
are!"

Masters drew off the metal so that they could hear. "That's not the
shandrydan." His ears detected a light trap with one horse.

Ignez, equally quick of hearing, said "Someone's singing."

Desdemona and her Gregory were in Lance's hooded single buggy. A
current sentimental trifle piped in a high soprano carried far on the
clear air:

                  "I am listening for a footfall
                       That I heard long years ago,
                   For a voice whose gentle music
                       Was as sunlight on the snow."

"It's Desdemona Muir going to Blungudgery. Listen! Listen! Don't let
them see us!"

Arthur eased down on to the reserve which here bordered the Great
Southern Road, and stopped where the trunk of an ancient giant
screened the sulky. The sweet notes grew faint in the distance.

"I can sing that as well as like Monica Shaw, only I'm not trained and
go wrong in places. I shall study hard now to get away."

He clasped her hand in response. Desire urged him to press his lips to
hers, but the genius of his sex lent him understanding and the
delicate strength of unspoilt manhood restrained him. He continued to
linger in the shade of the tree.

"Among those people will you think of me sometimes? I shall think of
you for ever." His utterance was charged with renunciation. Ignez was
not so much a girl beside him in the night as a figure in a shrine.

"Of course I shall; there never could be another friend so nice as you
are."

"Do you think there would be a chance of seeing you if I popped up?"

"That would be wonderful!"

"You'll need a heap of money. I've been reading about those people and
their struggles. Let me help float you in the beginning. You know,
don't you, that I would do anything in the wide world for you?"

"You are very kind to want to help me."

How heavenly the night, fresh with dew, and the nocturnal birds noisy
in love calls! What a dear unselfish creature Arthur was! The girl
credited him with being as disinterested as a saint yet human as a
brother, a conception of love known only to rare enchanted hours. Such
an hour was theirs, eternally separated each in his own dream.
Suddenly Ignez shivered as though dismayed by the immensity of the
night and the emptiness of the land, swept by the winds of oblivion
that had been the winding sheet of all who had known the tree above
them. Wet, hardy, profane and perishing the teamsters and their
animals had of yore camped there after struggling through the winter
bogs. Earlier, the convicts, brutalised and in chains, had made the
first road. But long, long before it had been the corroboree ground of
the blacks in a continent whose history was too far past for research
to reconstruct, their only record a few stone axes that had escaped
the road-makers' knapping. The ice of the man's mind restrained the
fire of his blood and charged him with the highest exaltation he could
ever know--passion that could never be fulfilled, but like the
consecrated legends remain as the dreams that lift men above
themselves.

"I'm cold," said Ignez. "Supposing you make a fire like you did once
before to warm me."

The thought of Pete Harrap broke the spell. A camp fire glimmered
farther along. Arthur had noted the horses and van of an itinerant
hawker when coming in. No telling what sharp eyes might see and evil
tongues misconstrue.

"Hold the reins a minute," he said, and taking off his coat wrapped it
around her. "There! Your cape is too thin, and I'm too hot. We'll give
'em a run."

He would deposit her safely at Lagoon Valley and race homeward under
the stars alone, thus to hold as his own for an hour what he must
relinquish as his for always. Only thus could he possess her whom he
never could possess, Ignez in love with a dream, a dream that
circumstances had already defeated.

The coachers settled to a steady gait and Oswald had leisure to review
the situation. Elsie Norton was a soothing sort of girl who did not
distract him by jabber. The others in the back seats had fallen
silent. The little girls were asleep. He was gratified by the effects
of Sylvia's beauty on all, on Miss Muir, herself a professional
beauty, on Lance Gilmour, a glutton for women's charms. Oswald had
been drifting as usual. Plenty of time. The process of falling in love
was exhilarating. He saw how it was with young Malcolm, but that was
mere puppy love, and the youngster hadn't a penny except from the old
lady of Gowandale, who would not bestow her money unless the other
side could match it. Lance Gilmour was a different menace. The brute
would rush his fences and was one of the catches of the district. The
Mazeres, fallen from a higher level, would think seriously of the
Gilmour estate. Lance and himself each had a string of philanderings
to his credit, but Oswald felt that Lance would be as determined as
himself for marriage with Sylvia. His mother must call upon the
Mazeres without delay.

                          *       *       *

Mrs Oswald's new housemaid, Cherry Monro, was from the Ridges so she
encouraged a little talk.

"Do you know some people named Mazere in your direction, Cherry?"

"Yes, Mrs Oswald. Their place joins ours." Cherry thought to herself,
"The old girl has got wind of Cooee's mashing and is going to pump
me."

Cherry considered it waste of time to commend anyone unless by so
doing she was furthering herself. She too had an eye on Cooee. A girl
not nearly so well able to assume the lady as herself had bagged the
son of a Sydney barrister while working as a housemaid at Blungudgery.
Cherry was of such fine carriage and height that Mrs Oswald thought of
promoting her to parlourmaid. For Cherry's purpose it would be better
for young Timson to succeed with Sylvia.

"Mrs Mazere is a daughter of the Labosseers of Eueurunda, but they
seem to have gone down in the world."

"The old man drinks."

"What are the daughters like?"

"One of them's rather pretty, in the trivial chocolate-box style."

"Old enough to marry?"

"Oh, yes. One of them's breaking her neck after a fellow round there
named Masters."

"You don't mean Mr Masters of Barralong House? My son had him here
once to arrange the sports on boxing day. A very nice man. I don't
know when I've been so cheered up." Mrs Oswald's daughters were
married. A man of the Ridges status was not so dangerous as a woman.

Cherry felt that it would have been more furthering to extol the
Mazeres as her intimates. "I hardly know them, of course. My father
was very strict about us keeping to ourselves."

Mrs Oswald held back a little when Malcolm asked her to call at Lagoon
Valley. "I'll invite Mrs Mazere to come and see me. It's such a long
way over there, and I never go out."

Her letter aroused some ire at Lagoon Valley. Mrs Mazere admitted that
she was poor, but this did not compel her to be a social doormat to
Mrs Oswald. Oh, no! On Monaro the Labosseers had been more exclusive
than the M'Eacherns and both she and Richard were grandchildren of the
Mazeres of Three Rivers.

Blanche was more practical. "We're stuck on Oswald's Ridges now where
we never meet anyone worth while. Such advances might help Dick."

"Malcolm Oswald dallies with every girl, and Malcolm Timson is the
great-grandson of old Logan, who got caught sticking up Eueurunda--a
nice situation!"

"At any rate they're above Cowpens and Mick Muldoon. I've had enough
of /their/ society."

Mrs Mazere fell back on her health. "My heart is worse these days. I
cannot career across the country to people who are suddenly curious
about me."

After two or three days wrangling about her claims to social
consideration on the grounds of antecedents superior to the Oswalds',
Mrs Mazere wrote that she was too frail to go all the way to Cooee,
but that it would give her pleasure if Mrs Oswald would come to lunch
at Lagoon Valley.

Mrs Oswald was awake to the implication of its being as far from
Lagoon Valley to Cooee as the other way about. She did not let Malcolm
know that she had laid herself open to a snub. She would have
preferred an afternoon call, but the distance and bush hospitality
warranted nothing less than lunch, to which the midday dinner was
being promoted. Oswald took her in the sulky. He would not embarrass a
household where the women did their own work by letting his mother go
alone in the carriage, which necessitated the presence of a coachman.
The trotter champed and stamped in his plated tackle and when let out
scattered a rain of gravel from his hoofs that struck the road with
the regularity of machinery, his high-stepping seeming as if it would
take him clean out of the harness. Such an equipage could not go by
without attracting attention. The news spread that Oswald was heading
for Lagoon Valley, and had his mother with him this time so must mean
business. "That leaves Elsie Norton out of the running," was the
comment.

Mrs Oswald was agreeably impressed. The Mazere home, though
financially of cockatoo rating, gave evidence of another status. The
"front" room was indisputably a drawing-room. There were books and a
piano. The meal was served with refinement. Sylvia won her completely.
She liked Blanche, too, and thought she must be a great comfort to her
mother, and she also found Ignez most entertaining.

Mrs Oswald left early to drink tea with Mrs Healey at Deep Creek and
thus fulfil her social obligations to another family now demoted from
squatter status, but whose forbears had been in her own circle in her
Monaro girlhood.

Oswald's declaration came by the first post after his mother's visit.
He assured Sylvia of a deep and lasting affection from no mere boy. He
offered her a good home, which he was sure would be a happy one, and
he mentioned the day on which he would come to Lagoon Valley for her
answer and to talk with her parents.

Sylvia took Ignez down the fruiting orchard to confide in her. This
worried her as disloyalty, but her dislike of hurting anyone made it
painful to discuss conquests with Blanche, who had only neglect.

"I wish I could stop him from coming. I don't want him to go to father
and mother."

"You aren't going to accept him?"

"I can't." Sylvia flushed a ravishing pink.

"I know why. You said yes to Malcolm Timson coming home from the
concert."

"Which would you accept if you were me?"

"If I had time for that kind of thing, there couldn't be anyone more
gorgeous than young Malcolm."

"What about Mr Oswald?"

"He's kind and soothing, but lackadaisical. In his place I wouldn't
just poke about among the cockatoos and grasshoppers. But if you did
love him, you could help Blanche and Dick. He's not /very/ old."

"He's thirty-five. Malcolm Timson's only three years older than I am."

"You love him, so that settles it."

"Do you think so? I wish I could be sure what I ought to do."

"I wouldn't marry a man I didn't love even if he were dripping with
diamonds. It would be immoral--and /nasty/."

"It might be just as wicked not to help one's family."

"It would be wicked for one's family to make her marry someone she
didn't love just to help them. They should help themselves if they had
any stuffing in them."

"I don't believe in old men marrying young girls. Look at Mr Healey's
half-sister who had to marry old Stanton because her father forced her
to, to pay off the mortgage."

This was the classic example of indigent young love thwarted by age
with money bags.

"Yes, but look at Milly Saunders, old Stanton's niece. She was as
young as you when she married Bert Poole, who was old enough to be Mr
Oswald's father, and they're /perfectly/ happy. She was always lovely,
and Bert lets her do everything she likes."

"Well, don't say anything. I wish Mr Oswald wouldn't come till Malcolm
has time to write."

Ignez was a comfort. She was not jealous of the successes of others
and entered into their perplexities and enterprises with generous
understanding. She could keep a secret, too.

                          *       *       *

Mrs Oswald wrote to Monaro:

  Upon receipt of your letter I called upon the Mazeres. The girl
  Sylvia, with whom Malcolm is infatuated, is pretty and has an
  engaging manner. [Here followed the Mazeres' pedigree.] They do
  all their own work like the ordinary settlers round about. My
  Malcolm tells me that Mazere is a bad manager, and his wife is
  delicate and there are a lot of them. Young Malcolm will be with
  you ahead of this letter, and out of sight is often out of mind. I
  had a lot of fancies before I settled down with Claud. You did not
  give in at all.

Miss Jessie took off her specs at this point in her reading to think
of love and her own youth. She believed in first love, and real love,
and only love.

Mrs Oswald had to pursue the subject with her son after dinner one
evening when he was not roaming the spring world on one of his blood
horses. She admitted Sylvia's charms, but sighed, "A pity there's such
a tribe of them. A crowd of poor relations is a calamity. I wonder if
young Malcolm's fancy will last."

"He can get over it, if it does," remarked Oswald drily.

"You're not going to leave him the field?"

"You don't think I dragged you over there and have carted the whole
dashed family and extras about for a month because young Malcolm's
smitten with calf-love! He thinks he's got it terribly bad--he has
good reason--but when I was his age I thought my heart was broken by
that girl and this, and now I forget which."

"Supposing the girl should choose him?"

"I'm going to find out at once how the wind blows."

"You're sure of yourself at last?"

"I deserve that one, Mater. I've taken my time and done some
prospecting, but I've made up my mind at last."

"I had better prepare myself for a new daughter-in-law." Mrs Oswald
smiled, not unpleasantly. "I don't think anyone could resist her if
she's as nice as she seemed at a first meeting."

"Thanks, Mater. I've made a hobby of girls, and Sylvia leaves all the
others out of sight on every point."

The day following broke gloriously, blinding sunshine, hot but not
oppressive, air that stimulated while it caressed with a zephyr from
Monaro. Oswald omitted to reprimand the groom when he brought in the
filly Charybdis a trifle over-galloped, though he went out to give
extra attention to the stables.

The highly-priced blood horses he was criticized for riding when a
moke would have served had to pay their way and turn in a profit.
Oswald was an acute judge of horses and an unexcelled trainer of show
hunters. His father had been a celebrated breeder. Cooee had inherited
a descendant, it was held, of Herod and the unmatchable Eclipse,
strains that still lingered in equine aristocrats the world around.
The Cooee colts and fillies were sought as hopes for the turf, but
Oswald himself was not interested in racing. That was one of the
hobbies or dissipations of his cousin Gilmour of Blungudgery. Lance,
too heavy to be a crack horseman, and an uncertain judge of
horseflesh, nevertheless liked the sporting side of the business, and
Cooee found him a profitable connection for buying or renting his
animals, and he often turned them back later at a discount. There were
usually a trainer and a groom from Blungudgery working at Cooee.

Oswald intercepted the man who was taking the mail-bag to the house
and found a letter from Lance, who inquired about a sprinter for the
next Easter's performances at Randwick. The colt he had his hopes upon
seemed a little groggy in the front fetlock. What about the Merrie
Monarch?

"I'll be jiggered! I'll be jolly well jiggered!" ejaculated Oswald and
sat down to smile over this. Then he discovered how in need of a real
mate he was. Young Malcolm was entrenching on his preserves and not up
to this. The only person who would see the joke was Masters. He had
never known a straighter or better man than Arthur. He was riding for
a fall with the little Ignez Milford. In another couple of years that
kid would be a ringeroo. Only for Sylvia he wouldn't mind waiting for
her himself, but he had a subtle idea that Ignez was not to be wooed
into marriage for many a year if at all, and Sylvia would be easier to
handle as a man grew older. He smiled, remembering his tendency to be
captivated by one perfect girl only till another came along, which he
had definitely determined to abandon in favour of Sylvia Mazere. Much
better. Heaven knew what was in Ignez--the kid didn't know herself
yet, but God, how she could ride--stallions, hunters, anything! Still
she wasn't horsey: the truly horsey woman repelled him amorously. And
then her queer voice. He was sometimes uneasy when she started to sing
because she could not always bring off the intended effect; but when
she managed to sing easily she made a man feel gooey and sad and
brave, all mixed up together about things he had never thought of, but
perhaps should have had or known, if only--yes, if only!

     Only this once, only this once, dance with me love tonight,
     Let us forget all our regret, let us be gay and bright.

What had she to regret? She was the happiest glowing creature. Love
had not touched her yet, he'd go bail. Poor old Arthur, what would he
do with such a creature!

And musing thus he came back to Lance and the Merrie Monarch. This
animal was a great favourite with him, for his personality, his sweet
temper and grand paces, his gentle mouth and his beauty, evident even
to amateurs. Oswald put the Blungudgery suggestion down to a ruse to
approach Sylvia and meant to forestall it by testing his own fate
immediately. He ordered the groom to give the Merrie Monarch a good
going-over and saddle him. He considered the animal a better
steeplechaser than flat racer. He had been tried out at Bong Bong and
locally, and was to run at Tiranna again after Christmas, but he was
too gentlemanly, too fond of the ladies to stick to business. If a
mare were running with him and he outdistanced her he would wait for
her, and whip and spur could not make him forsake this policy. Cooee
had other examples of his chivalry, detrimental in a racing stallion.

Oswald and Masters had an idea to present Ignez with a foal from
Arthur's Wargod mare and the Merrie Monarch. Ignez might prefer a foal
from Deerfoot, but they hesitated to ask her. Ignez would be quite
unaffected, but she might mention it to others. She was criticized for
riding the Merrie Monarch, what would the restricted and envious say
if she talked unabashed of the siring of a foal by him and Deerfoot?

Most of the contents of the mail-bag were newspapers. The cables were
humming with portents of another tribal explosion, far flung to the
Cape this time. There were exposures of the financial octopuses of the
world in their rigging of the markets in vital commodities, but these
disasters, epidemic or endemic, did not arrest Oswald's attention. He
tingled with physical well-being as he went to his room and shaved
with care. Dressed, he surveyed himself in a cheval glass. Beginning
at the plated spurs, his glances climbed by way of top boots and
corduroys of smart cut to meet their own reflection.

"You might do with a shove," he meditated. "As long as a man has his
thatch he has a roof over him at least, and I haven't flung a hair
yet." He rubbed a finger over a thick crop cut to stubble. "Keep it
well-mown so it can't show the white feather round the temples. By
jove, I may look an old buffer, but I feel like a two-year-old."

Well pleased with his appearance, he reflected that he had escaped
both whoring and alcoholism, and was reaping the benefit in his sound
health.

The Merrie Monarch, with spring in his energy, took two men to manage
him. Yattendon, Carbine, Reprieve, Dead Level, Express, and the Rake
were a few of the names on his tree. His master swung to the saddle as
the men let go the bit rings and the horse passed down the slope,
rearing and reefing into the blue and green of spring.

"By jingo, the boss is skittish today!"

"My oath! Making a go of it this time, if you ask me."

Followed an exchange of obscenities as to which girl was ahead in the
running, with repetition of odorous morsels from the gleanings and
gloatings of Harrap the foul and the admissions of Cowpens the silly.

"Steady, old man, steady!" laughed Oswald, sympathetic to the
superabundant life in his horse. "You've had too much feed and too
little to do. Try your energy on the fences!"

The public road lay between two paddocks where the Monarch's harem
galloped neighing to greet him. Visiting houris tossed their heads in
saucy challenge as they propped, snorted, wheeled, and curvetted away.

The country rolled in rippling green to the reeds of Lake Lansdowne,
alive with waterfowl. Miles of sweet grazing, green as a wheatfield,
opposed the blue arch where were outlined a hawk, some swans, and a
wedge of pelicans. Lambs were being tailed in the paddocks. The waggon
that had carried the hurdles stood by. Oswald jumped the Merrie
Monarch over a stiff wire fence and made a tour of inspection. The
dams, crinkled aristocrats, had been turned loose for the night and
with deafening self-importance were sorting their offspring. The
clamour followed Oswald for half a mile as he jumped his charger back
into the lane and rode where the birds were nesting in the blossoming
sweet-briers. Independent of gates in fences he took a bee-line into
the eye of the setting sun, singing with verve,

            "If I were a knight of the olden time
             For thee would I battle from clime to clime."



CHAPTER IX


The day was of a different character at Lagoon Valley. England's
declaration of war against the Boers had electrified the lads of the
Ridges, where the crack of small arms was as common as the croaking of
crows. War fever was warming up. Military sports were being organized
by the local band of volunteers, and filled the boys' thoughts. Led by
Archie Monro they went horseback wrestling and tent-pegging. The
wrestling resulted in a sprained wrist for Dick, just when the milking
was heavy, with calves coming in a spate and the paddocks like
wheatfields.

Tent-pegging was the more enthralling, with shear blades nailed to
poles for lances. Suck-Suck and Mazere's mare were "commandeered". The
boys, supposed to be topping the fence of the back paddock, cleared a
space and drove in pegs. Then began such a galloping and missing of
pegs as had never been witnessed by the eucalypts. The Tomkins and
Blackshaw boys joined in with more patient bush nags. Mazere rode that
way to inspect the work and have a yarn with Healey.

"You should have seen the scatteration and dad jawing a hurricane,"
Allan reported to Ignez. "But golly, it was shying fun! Old Sid
Blackshaw came a sollicker just as dad hove in sight."

Ignoring threats, the boys next day attempted just one more practice.
For discipline Mazere seized the firearms for a week. The boys, when
not milking or at school, hung about aimlessly, went bird's-nesting,
or fell back on teasing the girls. Allan came out in a dress that had
taken Blanche an hour to iron. She was rampant. Archie Monro appeared
opportunely. He had been to town that morning and had much gossip.
Everyone was off to South Africa. Archie himself spoke of going. Dick
and Allan hung on his words.

"By Jove! The chance of a lifetime! A fellow will see plenty of life.
Better than delvin' here and dying of pauperism in the drought. The
farms are not big enough to make tucker off." Monro's was only three
hundred and twenty acres.

"You might wish you were a comfortable pauper if you got out there to
die of wounds and thirst," said Mazere mildly, during afternoon tea.
He was taking his views from Larry Healey, who had a contempt for the
war and regarded soldiers as flash jackasses who liked to get out of
real work.

"Not much fear of dyin' out there. The Boers will go pop in the first
round. The fellows from here won't be in time to get into it."

"Then why go--wasting the taxpayers' money?"

"Who'd be hen enough to miss such a spree? A bloke in Goulburn was
saying a chap with any savvy could stay in South Africa when it's over
and make a fortune."

"It's the savvy that's needed anywhere."

"Yes, but this bloke reckoned there will be no end of loot. Some of
those old Boers are real well in--plenty of jewellery, sure to be, in
a mining country. A chap could go to the diamond fields and make a
fortune."

"But it doesn't seem, as Larry Healey says, as if the Boers are after
any more than their rights, and are hard-working pioneers like
ourselves. Larry says what would we think if the Boers came here to
fight us?"

"Aw, blow it all, I can't be a Fenian and go against all the heads! We
must fight for the Queen, you know, and that sort of thing."

"Would you like the Boers to come here and shoot you because of the
Queen?"

"I really don't know anything about the Queen. It's shyingly funny
when you come to think of it. All the same, it's a good excuse for a
fellow to see a bit of life, very likely the only one he'll ever get.
I'm blooming well full up of eating dust and following the plough
here. If I had a decent piece of land it might be different."

"Curse it all, I wish I was old enough to go!" said Dick.

"Me, too," said Allan. "Why don't they take us instead of those
townies, who couldn't hit a wool-bale on wheels?"

"The land would be in a nice mess if there were only townies left to
run it."

This was the afternoon on which Oswald was to come for his answer.
Sylvia stole away to make her toilet. She had the ideas of a lady of
fashion with regard to the importance of the care and decoration of
the person. As the sun drew downwards to the ranges she began to scan
the approaching tracks. Mulligan announced someone beyond the cowyard,
but only Mick Muldoon appeared on a dilapidated saddle on a sad nag
with a dog tethered to his stirrup-iron.

"Look at thim poddies banjin' in the sun. I bet they ain't crying
because the drought is broke. A man with a skerrick of sense could
make money this season by buying stock and feeding thim along the
stock routes."

Muldoon had been a doughty drover and station hand, now retired to a
rough little selection of wallaby scrub on one of the most unarable
spots of the ridges. He hankered still for the life of the stations up
the country where an old hand could settle down in a hut and potter
about the homestead in busy times. But his sister Katy, who wanted to
be near to her old beat, had put her savings with his into the little
home. She had been a cook at Cooee and Blungudgery, but now was beyond
the heavy work and too fond of her drop. Mick dreamed of taking big
droving contracts again, but his plant had gone. He was old. His days
were lonely and futile. He sought relief in alcoholic sprees and in
conversation with the neighbours, which was mostly verbose advice.

"What're ye doing there?" This to Dick who was busy on a whip handle
of yarran brought him from out back by a shearer.

"Cutting the Australian coat of arms--you know, that fakement with the
emu and kangaroo holding up a meat-dish."

"The rale Australian coat of arms on the Ridges would be a man with an
owld bag under his arm and a pair of hobnailed boots with half an inch
of grease on wan and an inch of cowdung on the other."

"You forgot the kerosene tins," said Allan.

Muldoon entered the dining-room without invitation and without
removing his hat. He was as good as anyone, if not better. He greeted
Mrs Mazere and then Ignez, who was putting gum boughs in the fireplace
for coolness.

"This war will be a foine thing for Australia in wan way. It will
advance the price of fodder and horses." Mick was hoping that enough
young men would rush away to give him a renewed chance of droving.

"I'm going," announced Archie.

"Jiniral Buller will have that speck of trouble quinched before ever
wan of ye sets foot in South Africa, but it will be a great
advertisement for the colonies."

Mazere remarked, "Young fellows nowadays have no manly enterprise. If
I were young again I'd take up some of the country out back that's
being thrown open."

"No thanks! A small place is no good unless it's among the rivers and
near a big town. A good slap out of Blungudgery or Cooee would be all
segarnio. They say Cooee's stone broke. If he can't thrive on his
property how the deuce are we little cockies to hang out?" This from
Archie.

"Whoi isn't wan of Oswald's horses hanging to the fince as usual?
Shure 'tis always some little gurrl with a pretty face that takes his
frizzled owld eye."

Ignoring this, Mrs Mazere observed, "Mr Oswald has to live on a
different scale from the cockatoos."

"By dad, I was always a man of me own opeenions, and whoi has Oswald
to live on a more featherbed scale than we do? He's nothing to crack a
whip about. Because his owld granddad collared an early grant his
loikes have no call to be for iver wasting the fertile land whoile
we're druv back wid the wallabies."

Wynd Norton came and was triumphantly conducted inside by the boys. He
had not been to Lagoon Valley since the night of the concert and hoped
to make an impression on Sylvia by announcing that he had joined a
local rifle corps and from that would get into a contingent for South
Africa.

"Thim Boers is all the go now. They seem rayther a curous kind of
people. That's my opeenion."

"Similar to ourselves," said Ignez, who had been unusually silent.

"They're powerfully ignorant, I hear."

"Have another cup of tea, Mr Muldoon," said Blanche.

"Wynd, you're not really going away to murder people, are you?"

"I wouldn't call it that," protested Wynd, not at all happily. He had
hoped for quite a different response from the girls.

"I would. Such a few Boers and everyone to flock against them."

"The Boers be sugared!" exclaimed Archie. "You'll never come out ahead
if you get moony about the other side."

"That's right!" Wynd caught at this saving straw. "The other side will
jolly well take your scalp."

"The old teacher started on us today," contributed Allan. "Made us
squark 'The Soldiers of the Queen' and magged about being loyal."

"That's all the go now. Come on, Archie, let her go. You lead off,
Allan," said Wynd. They could all sing. They stood up straight and
young by the wall and chanted:

            "But when they say that England's master,
                 Remember who has made her so,
             It's the soldiers of the Queen, my boys,
                 The Queen, my boys, the Queen, my boys,
             In the fight for England's glory, boys,
             When we've had to show them what we mean.
                 And when they say we've always won
                 And when they ask us how it's done
                 We'll proudly point to every one
                 Of England's soldiers of the Queen."

"How's that?" they demanded, saluting.

"When the band's kicking up a row and everyone's shouting it's easy to
get into the swim," admitted Archie.

"Jingo!" hissed Ignez.

"We don't care if we're dingoes or jingoes, or if the Royal family all
ran away to Timbuctoo, but loyalty's the moke to ride to the fair now
if you want to be in the swim. A deuced sight more fun than following
the plough in the dust. Even Mick Finnegan's trying to get away from
that by going into the police force. He reckons it'll pay better than
farming in the droughts."

"Everyone'll be in a Government billet soon," observed Mazere. "Who's
going to pay the taxes and grow produce for you?"

"All us fellows will get first show when we come back from the war.
What price our glory! The brave boys who went to the front!"

"Supposing you don't come back to get the best billets?" inquired
Mazere.

"Yes, bedad, it moightn't be all picnicking and stealing the Boers'
trinkets."

"There couldn't be much else with all the might of England against
them."

"'Tis a free country, and if ye're not a family man, and have nothing
better to do than lie out on the kopjes while the vulchures pluck yer
bones, ye can please yerselves." Muldoon spat with efficiency into the
gum boughs, raised his hat to scratch his head, clattered his feet and
whistled snatches of "The Wearin' of the Green". He took a third cup
of tea--which Allan said he consumed like a dry pump--and, spilling
much of it into his ferocious beard, wiped it on the back of his hand.
"There's no sinse in getting in a flustration about things at such a
distance. I can't waste anny more of me day wid ye."

"I'm sure it's very good of you to have stayed so long," said Sylvia
with her pretty laugh that captivated even Muldoon.

"Sure ye'r as pretty a little butterfloi as ever I saw!"

Mazere went out with him. The cows were gathering to be milked.

Ignez was distressed by the war. The attitude taken by the /Bulletin/
and Olive Schreiner had instructed her. "It's dreadful to go to shoot
people in their own country. Mick Muldoon's right."

"I shouldn't ally myself with the Fenian ideas of a dirty old
Irishman," advised Mrs Mazere.

"Ignez will always do what stirs up the most attention," said Blanche.

Archie hurried away to his few cows. Wynd followed Sylvia to the front
veranda, which commanded the approaches. She, as well as Muldoon, was
surprised that by now one of Oswald's horses was not flinching the
flies off himself somewhere about the premises.

"I thought you might sing this sometimes in memory of me."

Sylvia unwrapped the roll which he handed to her and found Tosti's
"Good-bye."

"But this is a dreadfully sad song."

"Life doesn't hold anything for me now. I'm off to South Africa. What
was flirting to you went deep with me."

Mazere returned and interrupted Sylvia's denial of this.

"Are you staying to tea?" he inquired. "Excuse me asking, but if you
aren't I'm riding your way to Healey's."

"Yes, I must be going. I've got a lot of things to attend to, as I
might be called up any day." Wynd ached to remain for the evening, but
Sylvia's disturbed expression made it more dramatic to ride away. He
had not given up hope. The war had come as a deliverance and an
opportunity. The uniform would make a hero of him.

Sylvia's shock gave way to resentment of his accusation. She reflected
that men were frequently an uncomfortable device of Nature's. They
thrust themselves upon girls, who shrank from being unkind, and then
when they were not wanted they turned rusty. It was entirely men's
fault that they made sillies of themselves about her. She had to
endure being plagued, even by creatures like Cowpens. Men had the
advantage with the wooing in their own hands. They need trouble only
about a particular girl. . . . There was no sign of Malcolm Oswald,
nor any letter from Malcolm Timson; perhaps he too was going to the
silly old war, she thought crossly.

There were no guests that evening. Ignez turned to the piano, but the
winged way revealed by the concert was now clouded again. The world
mad about war! It seemed inconsequential, almost unseemly, to think of
music. She was disturbed spiritually and mentally. There was no one to
teach her that art is a jealous mistress to be followed immolatingly
if any roses of achievement are to be reaped from its guard of thorns.
She left the piano and sought the starry night pulsating with growth.
The night was ever a refuge.

                          *       *       *

The short cuts that Oswald took led by the boundary fence of Bull's
and Muldoon's to Healey's back paddock. He had been in haste finally
to reach Lagoon Valley, where he would stay the night, and deferred
his call on Masters till the morrow.

That afternoon Cowpens went out with his rifle, not the person to be
trusted with lethal weapons, and Healey was always saying that after a
few innocent people had been shot with long-distance rifles there
would have to be regulations to protect the public. Cowpens lay in
wait for a big kangaroo, which at sundown led his family to water at
the tiny dam in the corner of Muldoon's horse paddock. Cowpens's weird
affections were at present divided between Ignez and Sylvia, and as he
waited he grizzled over his dissatisfactions. These at present centred
in the higher social and financial situation of Oswald of Cooee. What
was the use of a fellow like himself being straight and hardworking?
He got no credit for it from the girls. Others had all the prizes by
strutting about idly or showing off on flash horses.

The kangaroo came bounding gently down the dry watercourse which after
rain fed the dam, but just as Cowpens got him sighted he veered into
the scrub and crashed away with mighty leaps, his family nowhere to be
seen. Cowpens heard the approach at a swinging trot of the horse that
had scattered the kangaroos. Far up the track against the westering
sun the object of his angry thoughts was recognizable. Cowpens
considered it sheer side to ride such a horse, unless in a show ring.
Oswald was on the way to show off to Sylvia and Ignez. What a lark to
break one of the stallion's legs and take the bounce out of him and
his owner!

The explosion rattled amid the timber and echoed across the gully. It
seemed to Cowpens that something outside of him had pulled the
trigger, when far up the ridge in the golden light he saw the horse
roll over with the rider under him. He trembled so that he could
hardly stand, and craved a hiding-place, but the milking waited. He
must go home or his demented old mother would try to do it all by
herself. He tore off as if imitating the kangaroo.

Oswald heard the shot and felt something strike his leg, but did not
connect the two till the Merrie Monarch with a deep cough began to
stagger. He attempted to roll from under, but his foot crumpled in the
stirrup and the horse foundered gently on top of him. Oswald struggled
but could not drag himself free. The Merrie Monarch, with scarcely a
convulsion, lay still. Oswald had received a thump on the head and was
some time in fully regaining his wits. He felt a little dazed, but was
quite calm. He did not conceive of any enemy sufficiently deadly to
fire with intent to pot him. In case the booby responsible was unaware
of what he had done, Oswald cooeed lustily several times. There was no
reply. He cut the stirrup and, reaching out to a sapling, with the aid
of his free leg levered himself from under the horse. The effort
brought him near to fainting. He lay for a while to recover and then
found that his leg was helpless. There was no dwelling nearer than a
mile. No passer was likely. He took to his pipe and made a fire of
leaves and twigs. At intervals he cooeed. He thought sardonically that
many a fellow in South Africa would by and by be lucky to be out of
the fray in some no more serious situation. He grew uneasy as the
night advanced and no one answered his cooeeing or the smoke of his
fire. The weather was mild and the nocturnal inhabitants of the bush
began to stir. Mopokes hooted companionably, willy-wags tweetered at
intervals, and rustlings and thuddings of marsupials were all round.
The death of the horse was outweighed for the time by his predicament,
which he did not connect with Cowpens. He dozed at intervals, only to
be awakened by pain.

As the morning rose to noon he felt rather knocked out. The flies were
a torment and he was thirsty and in increasing pain. Still no one came
to his call. Nothing passed his way but hares and wallabies and the
family of kangaroos. The little sleek lizards streaked hither and yon
or basked in the sun and regarded him curiously. A jew lizard dug her
nest in a grassless spot and two goannas watched him shrewdly from
overhead. A beetle of green dusted with gold visited him. He crawled
away from the ants that were making a highway to the Merrie Monarch.
Many birds chattered about him, more passed on the wing. He noted all
this automatically out of close familiarity. He started a bigger fire
but it was the wrong season for a little smoke to be alarming. He was
paying the penalty of his freedom to roam without accounting for his
movements. He contemplated crawling to some point where he could be
heard, but the fences and deep gullies made this beyond him and he
settled down to wait.

The sun withdrew from the ridges, casting his spears between the slim
trunks of young mountain ash, and intensifying the brown and gold of
the flowering hop shrubs, geebungs, hibbertias, indigo, the rough rock
iris and all the spring flowers. A horse's hoofs sounded about a
quarter of a mile away. Heavenly relief! Masters must be on the way to
Mazere's. Oswald's cooee of desperation brought him at a smart pace.

"By Jove! Fell on you. How long have you been here?"

"Twenty-four hours."

Masters whistled as he tethered his horse. "What happened?"

"Stray bullet from some ----."

Masters did not comment upon the tragedy of the valuable horse or
anything else but concentrated on rescue. "Bull's is the nearest. I
can commandeer their old trap and trek you to my place. Private taste
of war on our own. There's nothing for it, old man, but to hoist you
onto my mare. We'll get a drop of water pretty soon."

With effort that was painful to the injured man, Masters sat him in
the saddle. It was the privately named Sweetheart, a mannerly beast
since her course in being made safe for a lady and training for
harness. A few extra miles to find sliprails prolonged the discomfort.
Oswald revived appreciably after refreshments from the hands of Mrs
Bull. Cowpens, when called upon for assistance, became flustered, and
the old woman had to act instead. Cowpens's state was laid to his
stupidity. When he collected himself he scorched away on his bicycle
for the doctor.

Muldoon, who was passing homewards from one of his sorties for
conversation about the ignorant Boers, had the felicity of taking the
news to Mrs Oswald and of assuring her that her son was not fatally
hurt, but was safe at Barralong House. Arthur carefully cut the boot
away and bedded his patient with ready kindness and lively
cheerfulness. Exhausted by pain and fatigue, Oswald fell into a
troubled sleep. Masters went back to recover the gear from the dead
horse, and the lantern he took did not disclose any tracks near about.
Oswald told what he could of the catastrophe. They agreed that someone
was either unaware of causing the accident or so scared that he had
run away.

"I wish I could get hold of the murdering brute," grumbled Oswald. "A
pretty go if it was my own rifle that I've lent to Allan Mazere."

Masters said he would fossick about before making a noise, but to
relieve Oswald was his immediate concern.

The doctor diagnosed a clean break, aggravated somewhat by the
twisting and struggling, but anticipated nothing serious. He advised
Oswald to stay where he was to obviate any danger from inflammation,
seeing that he had already been dragged around a good deal. Arthur,
seconded by Mrs Masters, pressed him to remain at Barralong. A trained
nurse and a local girl were added to the household. Mrs Oswald was
speedily on the scene.

Masters ascertained that it was not the Mazere boys, as their guns
were held by their father. "Heaven knows who did it. There'll be more
accidents like that before these brave heroes get away to shoot the
Boers." Arthur had no intention of going to shoot men among whom he
had had a notion to settle as a way of escape from sectarian censure,
should he have realized a dream.

They considered informing the police. The station for the district was
at Kaligda. Constable Priestly was as nice a middle-aged gentleman as
ever sang saccharine ballads to whatever accompanist was available. He
was a social acquisition to the parish, and was welcomed by the
members of his flock on official business such as the distribution of
electoral papers and the registration of dogs.

"A pillow in a perambulator would be as likely as poor old Priestly to
catch the shooter. If we keep our ears to the ground we have a better
chance of fossicking out the puzzle ourselves," said Masters.

Oswald was uneasy lest lameness should result from his accident so his
mother suggested that M'Eachern Gilmour, the successful Macquarie
Streeter, should be fetched. Old Mick Muldoon was sent to Blungudgery,
where he found the surgeon none too pleased to be disturbed on his
holiday, but Lance had been devising schemes to bring him in contact
with Sylvia Mazere and was all for rescuing poor old Malcolm from the
cockatoos of the Ridges. The doctor must not miss a few days shooting
at Cooee, where game was ten times that at Blungudgery, where there
were so many guests. Lance drove the doctor across country himself and
wandered considerably to Lagoon Valley for directions about gates.

They were invited to morning tea, which Lance accepted like one
famished and to which Dr Gilmour was reconciled upon beholding Sylvia.
Lance had the grace to refuse luncheon, but said he would be glad to
stay longer on his return.

Arthur was mirthful about Lance's detours. "A pity he should be such a
thundering bad bushman," he chuckled to Oswald, "when he wants to go
as leader of one of the contingents. He should let me have a shot at
it while he takes charge of my brand-new dairy."

Dr Benedict, the local physician, was interested in the dairy. He had
a farm to which he hoped to retire when he accumulated enough to
support it.

"That was a curious messenger," he observed on his second visit to
Oswald.

"Cowpens is a bit barmy," admitted Masters.

"He acted as if he had shot Oswald and was giving himself up to me in
mistake for the police. I gave him a sedative and told my man to let
him sleep it off."

"He's the sort we ought to get rid of to South Africa instead of the
smarter fellows who'll be fit for nothing when they come back."

"If they do come back."

"The war'll be over before they're ready. Pity it wouldn't last long
enough to clear off a lot of our riff-raff."

"Pity it's the pick who go--must have adventure."

Later Masters voiced suspicions of Cowpens to Oswald.

"Gosh! If it was that bally lunatic--wait till I return the
compliment!"

"He's a pretty little pet to be at large with a rifle, and he has
tried to shoot that kangaroo, I know."

"The blinded cow! If he shot me down and let me lie there!"

"I don't mean that he knew. He guessed when I brought you along;
that's what put him in such a flustration."

"But, damn it all, I cooeed like blazes for hours!"

"The boys are always cooeeing at hare drives of their own, and Cowpens
isn't very quick with his wits."

"Shot my Cowpens in mistake for a rabbit! I don't cut as big a figure
as the war heroes!" Oswald was sardonic.

"It'd be better to keep the author of the trouble dark and lay it to
an act of God."

"A man couldn't get any compensation from that gawk, I suppose."

"That's about the size of the matter."

"Well, you aren't going to the war and haven't been shot, even in
mistake for a goanna, how are you going to get into the running?"

"Solid worth, and my beauty--also my intelligent support of woman
suffrage." Arthur's grin, broad and low-lying, was of impish quality.
Oswald's respect for him was deepening to affection. They laughed
outright.

"All I can say is that your girl's worth it. If a man could have two
at once I'd be in the field for her myself. She's a little clinker."

"If I could get the one girl I want, every other doll in a skirt would
be cold mutton to me for ever, so help me God!"

Levity departed. They sat in silence--mates.

Oswald spoke of his own hopes. The intrusion of Lance held his
attention for the moment more than pursuit of the one who had wrought
him so much mischief. Masters said Lance hadn't a hope. He did not
worry a disabled mate by mention of other rivalries.

"You know the stuff to catch 'em," he said. "You've had plenty of
practice."

They had a night visit from Cowpens, who had torn home from Goulburn
at top speed two days before. He had spent the previous night roaming
about incapable of thought, and had slept all day, but was still
abnormally excited. His coarse hair was on end, his eyes bloodshot, he
exuded an overpowering odour of rank sweat and dust and general
staleness. He had come to confess to Oswald and demanded privacy.
After half an hour of the creature's hysterical erotic blither,
Oswald's desire was to muzzle him in the interests of decency and
comfort. It was nauseating that such a fool should constitute himself
the jealous rival for the ethereal Sylvia, and add to this the outrage
of a broken leg and the loss of a costly stud horse. Oswald had to
summon Masters to deal with Cowpens's threat to give himself up to the
police or to shoot himself. He also shouted that he was going to drown
himself in Masters's big dam.

"You'll all see then what that Sylvier and Ignez have done to a good
decent chap. I'll make yous sorry yous ever poked borak at me."

Masters muttered humorously to Oswald that he would be glad of the dam
solution if the cause of the suicide could be suppressed.

"By thunder yes, if we could keep the girls' names out of it! A nice
stink if it got abroad that Sylvia drove him off his chump."

"Much worse if it was put down to Ignez," said Masters. He took
Cowpens to the new dairy as a guard-room and demanded, "What's this
you've been telling Mr Oswald?"

"I think I oughter give meself up seein' I kind of did it on purpose."

"And why did you do it?"

"Aw, you know, outer what that Sylvier and Ignez done to me, an' me
not having a fair go agen other blokes. You know yourselves what those
girls does to a full-blooded bloke."

"Shut up!" said Arthur fiercely. "If the name of any of those girls
passes your lips, I'll do a bustle with a gun myself."

"When a man is crossed in love. . . ."

"You're right," said Arthur, common sense and his capacity for fun
restoring him. "Your best plan, my fine sollicker, is to take a header
into the dam, at the deep end. I'll go with you to see that you don't
come the crayfish act. Come on!"

"I'm a bit hot. I'm afraid I'll catch cold."

"Put on your overcoat till we get ready, besides, you'll be nice and
warm in purgatory."

"But I ain't an R.C.," Cowpens protested.

"Neither you are, but you're not one of these cissies. Tie a bullock
bow to your boots to sink you." Arthur began to enjoy himself.

"I'd rather give meself up to the proper authorities. Justice oughter
be done."

"One word out of your fly-trap and the whole of your place would be
taken to pay damages. You'd go to quod for the term of your unnatural
life for attempted murder."

"Is that a fact? Go orn, Arthur, you ain't pullin' me leg?"

"You'd soon see who was pulling your leg if the police got a hint of
this."

"There don't seem anything left for me but to jump in the dam. It's
hard when girls don't want the right kind of blokes." Cowpens relapsed
into melancholy.

"Other fellows don't yowl round the scrub like a kicked dog when the
girls don't want them. They go to South Africa."

"I might get shot," said Cowpens dubiously.

"Shot--a fellow who can shoot like you! You'll look a good lump of a
fellow in uniform. Some new girl away from here might take a fancy to
you. When you're crossed in love, take it out in fighting."

"I can't make up me mind."

"Please yourself, but one word from you about the girls to anyone--"

"What could you do about it?" interrupted Cowpens, reviving. "This is
a free country."

"That's what it is," agreed Arthur heartily, "and I'm free to get the
boys to tar and feather you. They'd love an excuse for some fun. You'd
better skedaddle before Oswald gets about again--quod for you, and
your place confiscated for damages."

"You don't think I'm green enough to swaller all you say. You ain't a
lawyer. I only just fired the rifle at the kangaroo."

"But you hit Mr Oswald and killed his valuable horse."

"An' you might have killed me the night you fired at me outer Mazere's
kitchen winder. You could as easy be had up for that."

"What's this?" exclaimed Arthur. "Have you been prowling about the
Mazeres' at night? Nice evidence that will make!"

"I'd like the uniform," said Cowpens suddenly, "but who'd take care of
the place for Mar?"

"I'd rent all the grazing from you for my dairy. Leave your mother the
house and cultivation paddocks. She'd be better off than she is now.
Some of us would stick in a bit of crop for her while you were away,"
said Arthur promptly.

Cowpens finally yielded to this way of escape. Masters was firm that
his connection with Oswald's accident should be kept quiet--this for
Ignez's sake. He pointed out to Oswald that Cowpens was not in a
position to pay commensurate damages, even if the old woman were left
homeless, which was far from the character of Oswald to do. The
exposure of Cowpens would be followed by unsavoury gossip about the
girls, and Oswald himself would cut an unheroic figure as the victim
of Cowpens's asininity. The young men decreed that silence was the
only dignified policy.

"I'm sorry for your financial loss," said Masters, "and what you are
going through with your leg."

"There'll be many worse legs in South Africa. What I'm sorry for was
the sad end of the poor old Merrie Monarch. He did nothing to deserve
such a fate, just when he was enjoying himself. He paid his way in
fees."

Oswald's being laid up at Barralong caused more talk for a while than
the war. Sylvia took much time on a letter. She found in a book on
etiquette a prescription for refusing a proposal of marriage and
followed its lines, but ended in her own style that she was shocked
and sorry for Oswald's mishap and hoped that she might still be his
friend.

Oswald was not too chopfallen. The refusal did not seem final. It was
delivered by Ignez. Regardless of propriety, and though it meant
further neglect of her musical studies, she rode up to see him. Oswald
was uplifted by her glowing earnestness as she questioned him
extensively but not inquisitively concerning the accident. Her
sympathy was so genuine, and her tears for the lost Merrie Monarch
further endeared her to him.

"By jove, Ignez, I'd give something to have you for my sister! Will
you adopt me?"

"I'd love to. What do you want me to do first?"

"Chaperon Sylvia to pay me a visit. If you came too all would be brave
and above board for the Belle of New York to call on the Bishop."

Masters escorted Ignez back to Lagoon Valley, remarking to Oswald,
"Goodness knows what Cowpens might get into his lopsided onion. I say,
it might give you a pull to let Sylvia know secretly that the gawp
nearly did for you out of jealousy."

"I can't work it myself," said Oswald. "What about you giving a mate a
shove?"

"I'll pitch a yarn about your chivalry in swallowing the loss of the
horse to save her name."

The social scene shifted from Lagoon Valley to Barralong. There came a
stream of callers, all mobilized to keep Oswald from getting the
blues. Tottie Norton and Blanche Mazere made visits not directly to
Oswald. Elsie Norton embraced the opportunity to help Mrs Masters.
Wynd did not desert a fallen friend, and his gaiety lightened Oswald's
tedious hours when the days were warm and all the world and the horses
called a man out of doors. Michael Finnegan came to talk politics with
Mr Oswald and keep an eye on Elsie, while Bridgit mopped up piles of
laundry at which lesser souls would have baulked. As his contribution,
Mick Muldoon came and spat around the place and discoursed on the
Boers as exceptionally ignorant people. The Oswalds had seized the
opportunity to help him a little by hiring him as a messenger, but the
suggestion of payment was outrageous to the man.

"Am I to take advantage of a neebur when he's down! Sure, Mr Oswald,
I'd be proud to do more than that for ye if ye'd be needing me."

Masters and Oswald had to think up small droving jobs that Mick could
accept without wound to his dignity, and they saw that the old man had
many a good feed. Masters managed that by bringing in a loaded tray
for him at Oswald's meal-time and telling him to make himself useful
by keeping Mr Oswald company. This worked well for a few times, after
which Mick called only at times as far from meals as possible.
Reproached by Oswald for leaving him lonely at his nosebag the old man
said, "I was never a man to cadge on annywan and be hanging about at
mealtimes whin there's no necessity, like a homeless dog."

"Poor old Mick, he's great stuff," said Arthur.

Lance Gilmour had never before showed so much sympathy for any
relative, and always appeared in company with Sylvia.

"It's almost worth having my leg cracked to find out what a pet I am."

"And I'm beginning to see a case for war against the Boers if it takes
Cowpens off our hands," added Masters.

"Do you think Lance is going to be the conquering hero?" Oswald
inquired.

"Not a hope!" said Arthur with comforting certainty. He refrained from
telling what he had noticed between Malcolm junior and Sylvia while
Oswald was disabled. Besides, one never knew till the final numbers
went up.



CHAPTER X


At Gowandale young Malcolm sat late dwelling on the loveliness of
Sylvia and on his love for her.

"Dear, dear! And she's a Mazere," exclaimed Aunt Jessie.

Malcolm produced photographs that showed an unmistakable Mazere. Aunt
Jessie looked at them so long that it was encouraging, and then so
much longer that it became alarming. Malcolm was puzzled by her
silence. At length she put the photos down and looked right through
him as if seeing ghosts, and truly she was. Ghosts stood behind the
lad in the paddocks of memory forty years back along the track of
life. Miss Jessie felt like a "turn", only that she was not in the
habit of self-indulgence.

"We'll say no more now, laddie. I'll bid you goodnight."

Without another word she went to her room and sat down in the dark.
She needed no artificial lights for what she was seeing. Malcolm was
left in perplexity, but in his room fell back on the idea that Aunt
Jessie, though a queer old bird, was also a thundering good sport. It
was the unimpeachable memory of her own young emotions that made her
so tender to the young people around her now.

Malcolm plunged into the shearing and awaited a further pronouncement.
None came. Malcolm was eaten by uncertainty, but dared not reopen the
question while shearing was on. Then came news of the accident to the
senior Malcolm.

"You must go straight back to your Aunt Flora in this affliction of
your cousin. I might run down with you to show my respects. I haven't
seen my nephew Malcolm for so long that he'll expect some manners from
me now. Gowandale cannot fall into ruin in three or four days. I have
no doubt but there's too much fuss over this shearing. Men are excited
over it like women over-fussy with the blanket-washing. I'll leave
McGeorge in full charge."

"Topping, Aunt Jessie! Er--er--could you see Sylvia too and see how
much you like her?"

"I dinna ken if it's for an old body to say she likes so beautiful a
young lady, but if she happens to be calling on Malcolm, a glimpse of
her might be good for sair een."

Miss Jessie would not desecrate the Sabbath by travel or needlework.
Once she had erred to set out on a Sunday in the interests of young
love, but young love had been too weak to benefit by her support, and
had become that static example of purchase by rich old age recently
quoted by Sylvia to Malcolm. They waited for Monday's mail train from
Cooma and descended at the Lake Lansdowne siding in the dead of night,
where a conveyance from Cooee met them. At the screech of dawn Malcolm
sent a letter to Sylvia by Mick Muldoon imploring her to be at
Barralong that afternoon. "Aunt Jessie is pretending that she has come
down to see Malcolm's broken leg, but it is you. A ripping conquest,
with shearing on. You will not fail, my lovely little darling, will
you?"

Sylvia, all excitement, pondered her attire to impress Miss M'Eachern
the right way. Blanche ruled that she and Sylvia should ride and Ignez
lend her mare. Arthur would surely return some of the way with them to
open the gates.

                          *       *       *

Aunt Jessie talked to her nephew while great-nephew Malcolm kept an
eye on the road. When the horsewomen came Arthur was ready to welcome
them. Blanche exclaimed about the new dairy, which was the talk of the
district, and expressed a longing to see it. Arthur fell into the trap
and was detained to bask in her praise while Malcolm took Sylvia alone
to Aunt Jessie. They walked along the veranda and stood together in
the doorway of Oswald's room. Miss Jessie rose and gazed without a
word at them till Sylvia grew self-conscious and even more appealing
in her girlish beauty and diffidence.

The young pair against the light of a glorious day on the cleared
ridges of Barralong, which ran away to the blue of the ranges,
recalled a similar day away back in high summer in the fifties on
Monaro. Again it was August '57--the month and the year of the wreck
of the /Dunbar/. All the old hands recalled it exactly by that tragic
event. It was the night of Emily Mazere's birthday ball and Emily was
drowned two months later. Miss Jessie recalled Emily's radiance that
night, and her own unhappiness. She had been faced with the ordeal of
telling Emily's brother that she could not fulfill her engagement with
him. It all flashed back to her, the old hurt and the strain of her
moral fortitude.

Malcolm was smart in riding togs. Just so had Bert Poole looked over
forty years ago. Miss Jessie was not one to think the horses and young
men of the present inferior to those of her youth. She noted that this
young man's manner was even more ingratiating than that other's. The
girl was in a riding habit where that other had been in a fairy
crinoline with golden ringlets brushing her cheeks. Sylvia's hair was
compactly plaited across her forehead under a stiff hat, but she was
more beautiful than her great-aunt.

Emily's loveliness had been largely of colouring. Sylvia, too, had all
of the rose and lily with an added perfection of features. Emily's
chin had been a little too heavy; her nose had lacked classical
chiselling. These imperfections were perhaps remembered by Jessie
alone of Emily's contemporaries. Time and the romance and tragedy of
her passing had embalmed her in the memory of others as perfect. But
in days when both girls had craved the regard of the same man Jessie
had been wont to seek her little looking-glass. There she would study
every contour and contrast it with the face of her rival to decide
wherein she was the less attractive. She had been a brunette with
glossy black ringlets and red cheeks, Emily as fair as the
conventional angel. Then Jessie's eyes had been smaller and brown, her
nose, though a better shape was too long, her face narrow where
Emily's had had the winsome roundness of the full moon.

Thus was Miss Jessie competent to pronounce Sylvia to be fairer than
Emily. Here was a repetition of family likenesses so marvellous that
Miss Jessie almost listened for the voice of the Yarrabongo as it fell
from the hills singing the G Minor Ballade. There were no singing
rivers about Goulburn, as Ignez lamented. Miss Jessie's mind was back
in the summery plains where they had been been young, and walked and
danced and rode long distances to do so amid the flowers of a virgin
land. How sweet the roses that once had clung around the posts at
Gowandale! The roses were in full bloom round Masters's veranda and
the cleared paddocks stretching away to the high road had been renewed
by a lush season.

"My bonnie, bonnie bird! The dear wee beauty!" exclaimed Miss Jessie,
wrapping the girl to her heart much as Jessie M'Eachern, her mother,
had once embraced Sylvia's great-aunts.

Sylvia relaxed with relief and joy. Malcolm wanted to go out and whoop
victoriously.

"I knew your grandmother, Mrs Labosseer, when she was about your age,
and the bonniest wee body I ever knew. You are like her, but you have
poor dear Emily's colouring. You are more beautiful than she was, my
dear. It dizzies me to see you."

It was overwhelming to be called more beautiful than Emily the
drowned. There were no portraits of her, and Sylvia had been reared on
the legend that never another could be so beautiful.

"Ah, me, I'm growing an old body, but I must not be a foolish one,"
said Jessie, wiping a tear that had fallen on her weather-beaten
cheek.

"I'm very glad to see you at last, Miss M'Eachern," responded Sylvia
prettily. "We have been taught to think a great deal of you by Grannie
Labosseer." Sylvia then greeted Oswald, and as she seated herself
Malcolm suggested taking his great-aunt to the dairy.

"You like her, Aunt Jessie?" Aunt Jessie, surprisingly, was crying.
Malcolm would as soon have expected a grandfather clock at Gowandale
to weep. He led her out the front gate and behind a clump of
cherry-trees in the orchard, a long way round to the dairy.

"I'm a silly sentimental old body. . . . The bonnie wee birdie has
accepted you? And what do her parents say?"

"They don't know yet. We wanted to tell you first."

"And did you have any plans any more than the birds in spring?"

"They're all going to the war and I could go, too, and get money to
make a start."

"And will the lassie let you go to make a tatybogle on the veldt? Why
wasn't I consulted?"

"I thought perhaps you had no opening for a married man."

"Did you think I was running a monastery because I'm a celibate
mysel'?"

"Some of them don't understand like you do, Aunt Jessie." They went
deeper into the orchard, forgetting the dairy--which was in Blanche's
favour.

"D'ye think that you and I could make the auld place fit for a bonnie
wee thing like that? You must see her parents."

A little later he was held by Mrs Masters and Blanche from returning
to Sylvia, while Miss Jessie went with Arthur to inspect the dairy.
They got on like one o'clock, as Arthur expressed it, and Miss Jessie
invited him to Gowandale to look through her cattle.

Sylvia had some inner confusion on the score of her recent refusal of
Oswald, but he quickly showed her that he had not taken it as final.
This would have been exhilarating earlier, but all coquetry had been
purged from her by the attainment of her girlish ideal in Malcolm.
Here was young love to young love, beauty to beauty, the electrifying
revelation of life. In such happiness Sylvia shrank from wounding
others. She was delaying confession to Oswald merely till she knew the
prospects with Miss Jessie.

Miss Jessie returned with Masters and said, "Well, Malcolm, you'll
need to have your leg ready to dance at the young people's wedding."
She saw their predilection as so inevitable and exclusive that she had
not thought of anyone else in the matter.

The blanching of Oswald's face showed Masters how hard the blow.

"Your leg giving you a twinge, old man? If the visitors would retire
for five minutes I could do wonders with a pillow."

Left together, Masters supplied a nip and a tremendous hand-clasp.
"Condolences, old man, that it struck you like this. My own issue's on
the way, so fellow-feeling, you know."

"You might win yet."

"Not nearly so much hope as you have."

"You can let 'em in now," said Oswald upon regaining his composure.

Hearty congratulations followed, mingled with condolences for Oswald's
paining leg. Blanche kissed Sylvia effusively and Masters joked about
having to kiss the bride now for fear he might miss his chance at the
wedding. His good humour helped cover the situation for Oswald. He
sent Muldoon to open the gates for the young ladies. He would have
gone himself had Ignez come, despite the fact that Ignez could control
her horse and reach to open gates with the skill of a trapeze
performer. Young Malcolm went happily back to Cooee with Aunt Jessie.

"Give me another nip to see if it'll make me sleep," Oswald said that
night when the household had retired. Masters was frequently busy till
a late hour, and 5 a.m. was his time for rising. He was dropping into
the habit of acting as night nurse for Oswald. "My cake turning to wet
stringy dough before my eyes has shaken me up a bit."

"A hard jolt, all right. Hadn't you any idea?"

"Of course, but I didn't take young Malcolm's attack seriously. Mine
weren't at that age."

"You'll find others as nice. There are strings of girls ready to say
yes to you. Besides," added Masters thoughtfully, "you're not a
one-and-only sort of fellow like some of us."

"You don't mean to say this is your first go?"

"My very first, and it'll be the last to reach the core."

"Oh, ho! You haven't got past calf-love yet!"

"Well, you have. You know there are other pebbles on the beach, so I
don't have to watch you for fear you'll be polluting the water in my
best dam."

                          *       *       *

"It would need to be something definite," Mazere said in his goodnight
chat. "The pet of a cranky old maid, who could draw in her horns any
time she was huffed, is no prospect. Sylvia wouldn't been better fixed
with Oswald."

"This boy's so nice and young. Youth is the time for marriage. Seeing
that I may go any minute, it will be a comfort to have one of the
girls settled. Then if Blanche doesn't find anyone better than Arthur
Masters, and if he sticks to this dairy instead of running away to the
war. . . ."

"Don't talk nonsense, woman. Masters has no notion of Blanche. You, a
woman of experience, can surely see that. The Norton girl is trying to
catch him. She's always on hand, and'll win in the end."

"Oswald can tie his horse up at Norton's again now."

"He can tie it to the top of the old manna gum at the cowyard for all
I care," said Mazere with a tone that meant he was ready for sleep.
"What is to be, will be, and there's no good of grizzling either way."



CHAPTER XI


Miss Jessie delayed for young Malcolm to take her to call on the
Mazeres. All were delighted with the visit, including Miss Jessie,
who, by the bait of Scottish songs, was seduced to neglect the
shearing still further and honour the spare bedroom for the night.
There were volumes of Scottish songs in most of the homes of the tribe
of Mazere, a culture begun in early days of visits to Gowandale.
Sylvia's flexible notes, bird-sweet, were well suited in "Will Ye No
Come Back Again?" and "Ye Banks and Braes", and "Loch Lomond"
completed Miss Jessie's enchantment. The intensity of inherited
nostalgia of exiled Scots made the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond even
more beloved than the wide windy plain of Monaro, because the banks
were a sacred memory deeply implanted and romanticised by imagination.

Ignez brought the guest to fresh tears by singing "The Crookit Bawbee"
and "We'd Better Bide a Wee". These ditties, with the range of an
octave, were the refuge of those forced to sing as a genteel
accomplishment despite weak voices. Translated so that many notes were
below the clef to indulge Ignez's mighty young contralto, muted for
the purpose, they were like a flock of downy owls just fledged
blundering about in the summer twilight, or a full-sized angel
adapting herself to croon a fairy to sleep. Miss Jessie had once sung
a verse of "We'd Better Bide a Wee", when pressed to Bert Poole's
bosom and was moved out of herself by this girl, but when she came to
she was more at home with Sylvia, as a singer is in music within her
compass.

Sylvia was Emily over again. Emily and she had both loved the same
man, and loved him only. That man had seemed to stand before Miss
Jessie again in Malcolm Timson, her own kin, also kin of Bert, the
beloved. Jessie had lost in love, lost with agony and humiliation, and
with an added mistake that had taken rare fortitude to rectify. Emily
had not won her love, nor had she known that her lover had really
loved Rachel Mazere, Grandma Labosseer of Coolooluk today. The
re-enactment by this young pair of a scene from the old drama brought
back to Miss Jessie her helplessness against the pains of her own
youth. Surely fate would permit her to be the fairy godmother to save
this new drama from the sad ending of lost or unrequited love.

She had a practical talk alone with Isabel and Richard Mazere, who sat
late in the drawing-room after supper had been served. Her plan was
for Malcolm to continue at Gowandale as a junior partner. Miss Jessie
would keep her own quarters and the young people could do what they
liked with the remainder of the old house. Sylvia had conceived an
immediate affection for Miss Jessie and felt that her presence would
be a comfort in the station home. Malcolm thought it would be fine to
train for full management under his great-aunt. He was not heady to
get business into his own hands. He had some of the Poole
tractability.

The Mazeres made one stipulation--no engagement for a year at least,
and as little talk as possible because of the youth of the candidates;
and something would depend upon Grandma Labosseer, whose moral
influence in her family was potent.

                          *       *       *

Isabel thought it wise to prepare her mother. Sylvia also wrote.
Grandma's response was like a blast from Kosciusko across Gowandale in
winter. The children were ridiculously young. They had no idea what
was sensible. Grandma was surprised at her old friend Jessie M'Eachern
conniving at such a match. She must be wanting to help the Logan
branch of the family to wipe out some of the disgrace originated by
her brother Malcolm, one of the discarded suitors of Emily the
drowned. Grandma wanted to know why Isabel and Richard had no more
sense than to encourage such an undesirable connection. How did young
Timson happen to be roaming around Lagoon Valley? Grandma had heard
rumours of Oswald and thought that was sufficiently objectionable, but
as the man was considered to be a harmless philanderer she had hoped
any evil effects would disappear when Sylvia returned to Coolooluk.
There ensued such a raking-over of pedigrees as startled all the young
people, who had been content to reckon no further than living
grandparents.

Miss Jessie had anticipated this, so her pride was not up in arms. She
had always looked-up to Rachel Labosseer and loved her. She was an
inflexible law of decency on her own axis, who divided black from
white with no murky compromising. Jessie decided to plead with her
personally. She did not ride the long way down over the ranges as she
had done before to intercede for Ronald Dice and Aily Healey. She
returned to Cooee after the shearing to pay another call on her nephew
to see that he was properly recovering from his broken leg. She got
Flora to take her for a state call on the Gilmours of Blungudgery and
from there caught the Melbourne mail in the dead of night and reached
Bool Bool by train and coach and sent a messenger to Coolooluk.

Rachel Labosseer set off for town at dawn in her buggy drawn by a
capable pair of horses driven by her capable son Erik, and before
nightfall Jessie was safe at Coolooluk receiving the attentions paid
to a guest of quality. She inspected the premises before dark and paid
a visit to Erik's new home, going up not far from the old roof. She
was a most congenial guest to Rachel, who had had to manage her
property herself during the first long years of her widowhood. Jessie
was regaled on more Scottish ballads by the family and at length was
left with Rachel in the drawing-room to discuss what she had come for.

She disliked the Logan connection as much as Rachel did, and had
suffered more from it. "But, Rachel, gin you and I are gone there'll
be none to remember old Barney Logan. These children did not know of
him till they were told. Malcolm Timson thought the estrangement was
because they are not so well set up as we are. It was partly because I
hadn't the heart to tell him anything else that I let him take up wi'
me."

"You see, Jessie, you should always tell the truth in the first place.
Apart from that, Sylvia's too young. She doesn't know her own mind."

"Why not? Didn't I know mine? Didn't you know yours?"

"No, I don't think you did," said Rachel patly, "or why did you make a
fool of my brother Hugh and throw him over to the consternation of us
all after being engaged?"

Jessie had made a false premise, but faced it squarely as she had done
the mistake of long ago. "Ah, Rachel, I was trying to put another in
the place of first and only love, and both Hugh and I had to suffer,
but he was better suited in the end."

"And so could Sylvia be," Rachel flung into that opening.

"But you knew your own mind, and Sylvia is your grand-daughter. Did
you not turn to Simon Labosseer and never the thought of another? Look
back, Rachel, and think what it would have been had you been
thwarted."

"As for that," said Rachel prosaically, "marriage is God's will, and
has to be endured, but one can have too much of it."

"Ah, you can talk like that because you won your love."

"I didn't win him," exclaimed Rachel. "I didn't want him, but he just
kept on and on till I got used to him. A girl has to marry someone."

"But he was a grand gentleman. It was an honour to have won him.
Remember the night of the ball that he made every one of us a dear wee
posy!"

"That was the night old Logan stuck us all up--the old scoundrel! You
said when he kissed you that you'd wash your face clean in all the
creeks of Monaro, yet here you're pleading for one of his blood, and
we have all this trouble."

"It wasn't old Logan who kissed us, and there's no trouble, Rachey,
only a beautiful young man fallen in love innocently. Do you remember
poor old Logan in the dock and Bert Poole--ah, wasn't he grand that
day, so manly? And Emily. Sylvia is Emily over again."

"It's a long time since anyone called me Rachey," said Rachel
irrelevantly. "You're about the last one left who used to use that
name."

"Yes, Rachey, and you'd wish Sylvia to be happy? It's not good for a
woman to have to struggle alone."

At that Rachel's hearty laugh broke out. "You should practise what you
preach. You had plenty of chances to marry. Why didn't you take them?"

"Ah, Rachey, but the one I loved truly wouldn't look at me."

"Everyone said you loved Bert Poole."

"And what if I did?"

"Then why on earth didn't you marry him? He told me himself that he
asked you to."

"Ah, but he didn't want me, and I knew it. Rachey, he loved twice, but
you were his first and dearest love, and he carried that like a man
without a hint of it even to himself."

"Then how could you know?"

"It was to be seen in his eyes. Your husband knew."

Some twinge of remembrance of Simon's jealousy caught Rachel at that,
but she brushed it away with, "What nonsense you can talk, Jessie!
Bert hung around single too long. He always said he wouldn't marry one
of those little squeaking girls, but that's what he did in the end."

"Maybe he did, but there may have been circumstances." Jessie
remembered two wild night rides in connection with that romance, when
Bert had come for her aid, and she of course had never talked.

"What a lot of nonsense it seems now!" laughed Mrs Labosseer, who was
as plump and rubicund in her shining satin and lace as Miss M'Eachern
was lean and sunburnt in a dark tartan gown. "I had forgotten all
those little flirtations till you brought them up."

Jessie did not laugh. She had not forgotten. Remembered melodies,
uneaten delicacies are sweetest. The tragedy of unrequited love and
its drama were as clear to her as if preserved in the solidified
spirits of her youthful emotions.

"Poor little Emily, /she/ never got her love after all," Rachel
suddenly remarked in a long silence.

"No, and when you see Sylvia and young Malcolm together--just like
Bert and Emily over again--your heart will melt, Rachey, and you'll
want the old story to have a happy ending this time."

Before Miss Jessie left Coolooluk the two friends compromised. The
young people must wait for two years to see how Timson shaped. Miss
Jessie was satisfied with this. She was sure that when Rachel saw
Malcolm she would be ready to let the memory of old Logan die out.

The young pair accepted this as a two years' engagement and the
flutter subsided. Sylvia was to return to Coolooluk as soon as
Christmas was past. Grandma delighted in young people and Sylvia, for
her amiability and good looks, was a particular favourite. Blanche
determined to make Christmas a grand farewell spectacle.

All this emotional pother deeply involved Ignez, the perfect
confidante, and pushed her musical studies into the scrub. There was
no repose for them. In addition war fever by now had all the males of
her circle in its grip, and Ignez, the thinker, carried a disrupting
ethical problem about with her.

Archie Monro, Wynd Norton, and Eli Bull came out in uniforms of myrtle
green, with bushmen's hats gone military--real men's togs made flash.
Archie and Wynd were a grand-looking pair, but Cowpens was a blot upon
their dash. "The great slommick" spoiled their exclusiveness and drew
chuckles from Masters and Oswald.

"They're rale cocks, all but the doodle," observed Mick Muldoon, who
was so revived by what he had been able to do for a neighbour that he
rode about more than usual making social calls. "There's manny a day
they'll wish they wuz back at the owld farm digging spuds. And sure,
digging spuds is the better thing for anny man to do who wants to
serve his counthry--better than running about like mad dogs shooting
other fellows who would be much better digging potatoes in their own
country. That's my opeenion."

"Aw, but sitting in the dust's too slow for a Chinaman," said Archie.

"Och, ye'll never get into the fray at all. It'll be over before ever
ye set out. That's whoi ye'r so brave. If ye saw a baynit coming at ye
ye'd wish ye were at home cleaning out the pigsty on a wet day."

"No jolly fear. I reckon it won't be much worse than killing a sheep.
As for sniping, the old sergeant was wishing he had all bush boys. He
reckons that a fellow who starts after fifteen can never shoot like
us."

"Beloike thim Boers started before they were fifteen, too."

The clack of the cartridge loader was as familiar as the song of the
kettle. The boys carved their names on trees with bullets. Allan could
extinguish nineteen lighted matches out of twenty with a .22 pea rifle
at forty feet. Both he and Dick could hit a blow fly at twenty feet,
and their Quackenbushes were deadly to the parrots that were flying
flowers in the sunlight. Dick was equally deadly with Oswald's
sixty-guinea rifle in long-distance stalking, but had to indulge this
sport secretly as his father objected to the use of a rifle in a
thickly populated community. Oswald's accident gave weight to this
decree.

Oswald seemed to have lost all round, but took his reverses with a
quiet sportsmanship unnoticed except by Masters and Healey. Arthur's
understanding was aided by his own practice of renunciation, and
Larry's by experience in mistakes which had left him to loneliness of
spirit and expiation. He had never had a sustaining friend.

Ignez seemed as if she had lost one as she sat on the veranda where
Archie found her, as he said, looking as if she would trip on her lip.
She was thinking that Sylvia had infused liveliness into the life of
Oswald's Ridges, and was unconscious of how much she herself had
contributed. Precociously she was realizing that situations were for
ever in flux with the scattering and evaporation of what was gained by
association. The inevitable rethrusting of self back on self to
formulate or to choose its pathway alone was confronting her. She was
feeling that she had been deflected by husks, but her participation in
the life about her was inevitable and normal.

"There'll soon be something else turn up," said Archie.

To be at the mercy of chance aroused resistance in Ignez. This life
seemed to her to be nothing but petty background without purpose or
importance. She, who dreamed of a career that was to outreach the
tame-hen lives of Oswald's Ridges, was the most unachieving of all.
Blanche was indispensable to her mother and also gaining applause for
and filling the house with her pictures. Sylvia had won romance.
Arthur was a mine of enterprise in his dairy, which helped the
district. Wynd, Archie, and even Cowpens were set apart as acolytes of
man's greatest god. Mrs Healey had a lovely new baby whom Ignez
adored. Ignez found that she herself was stranded in mere dreams. She
must act. Measuring her voice by Monica Shaw's she felt she was
endowed. Desdemona Muir and others had fostered this idea. As soon as
the Christmas festivities were past she would seek authorities in
Sydney. For the moment she must fulfil the ordinary routine.

On Boxing Day there were races near Armstrong's Folly, which
overlooked Lake George in haunting isolation. Many family parties took
part. As the vehicles approached pelicans, swans, and smaller
waterfowl retreated in a line like travelling sheep, miles wide and
yards deep, at the pace of the intruders. The men had their guns. The
women paddled and took turns in the Armstrong boat. Billies were
boiled and lunch cloths spread on the bank or edge of the lake--it was
scarcely a shore. Ignez was irked with the whole procedure and when
the picnickers retreated to the racecourse took a ride to a high point
to look at the hills. Dick went with her. In spite of a thick veil the
blazing day had burned her cheeks a deep rose.

"Ignez must make herself conspicuous," said Blanche, as they rode
away.

"You'll have to console me for her absence," said Oswald with a
humorous glint. His leg was still stiff; he had come in a sulky, and
was to stay the night at Barralong.

"/You/ for Ignez's absence!" said Blanche, her curiosity aroused, as
Oswald had intended. "What would Elsie Norton say?"

"What indeed! But think how Mick Finnegan would bless you."

Ignez reined in on a high knob above the waters that were fast
disappearing into the thirsty air and soil. The sole appeal of the day
to Ignez and Dick was in being in the open in the splendid warmth.
Saturated in the atmosphere they silently drank in the long view,
veiled in glittering summer blues. Ignez was panting for escape.

"I must get away. I must! I must! I must find out about my voice for
certain," she was thinking.

Dick as yet had no definite purpose inflaming him. He suffered more
the nebulous melancholy implicit in the finely strung imagination of
poets.

The fine high grasses were fawn and ecru under the December sun. The
blue of the lake melted to the blue of the ranges twenty miles beyond.
The water was receding phantomwise from the plains of Currandooley and
Bungendore. The horizon southwards beyond the Murrumbidgee showed the
Tidbinbillas and Coolgarbillies, and Ignez picked out the peaks where
the Queanbeyan road sought Jinninjinninbong, and Mount Corroboree
guarded Ten Creeks Run.

Inner response to outside influences was drawing them both out and
away, but they were impregnated as with life itself with this soil and
air, they were under its spell, there, in the sunlight where no legend
was, already riding in their own. They could not stay, but it was
grief to go.

"We must go back. Arthur is running his Wargod mare and he'd like us
to see," Ignez said at length.

They returned by a lane through Armstrong's, wild with briers, and at
every post of the wire fence a fat stumpy-tailed lizard blinked
lazily, refusing to move unless the riders flicked at it.

"There must be thousands."

"If we could get them all in a drove what a sight they would be,"
responded Dick.

                          *       *       *

Another week and all the good-bye parties were past. Sylvia was
leaning from a first-class carriage at the Goulburn railway station.
Her chiffon picture hat was stowed on the rack, and her hair gleamed
in the gaslight. All the children were seeing her off. Dick had
brought her luggage in the spring cart, leaving the buggy for the
others. The halt for refreshments in the smallest hour of the morning
was expiring; passengers swallowed black boiling tea frantically and
bolted to their seats with scalded gullets to the sound of the slap-to
of the doors and the warning bawling of the wily old porter, so adept
in receiving the tips prohibited by the Government that employed him.

Blanche's eyes were swollen with weeping. Sylvia was the one creature
whom she could love with self-abandonment and joy, and Sylvia probably
was the one creature who warmly loved Blanche.

"Oh, Sylvia, how can I live now? It's been heavenly with you at home."

"When I'm married you can stay with me altogether."

"Mother couldn't spare me."

"Philippa will soon be a dabster housekeeper." Sylvia beamed upon the
little girl.

"I could do it all now if Blanche would let me."

"It's going to be deadly dull with none of the men who pretended to be
so fond of us to lend us horses and guns any more," lamented Allan. "I
wish I was old enough to go to the war."

Sylvia leant out to snatch a last kiss and then was sucked out of
sight in the chasm of the railway station. Dick persuaded Ignez to
share the spring cart with him on the return journey. Only the rumble
of a couple of cabs made a noise in the town as it lay asleep under a
thin veil of mist in its basin of foothills. The two little towers of
the post office rose like sentry boxes in the long main street, which
ran empty in the moonlight to the south horizon, marked by imported
pine-trees, and miles away to the north were the ranges still clothed
in primeval gums.

"Nothing lovely seems to last," said the girl as they reached the
Great Southern Road and extinguished their lantern. "That night after
the concert everything was wonderful and happy. Now it's as flat as a
pancake."

For the last six months the young people's work had been arranged to
accommodate the social activities inspired by Sylvia's visit. Dick and
Ignez travelled silently. Ignez's being was set to a rhythm of escape
with the Southern Mail, racketing on through the splendid night.
Rushing between embankments draped with sage brush and the fairy
blackthorn, snaking round turns, steadying over culverts and
crossings, disturbing the stock resting in peace and plenty near the
steel tracks that gleamed like long rivulets in the moonlight, shaking
the fettlers comfortably a-snore in their box-like cribs, scaring the
plovers from the cool damp flats--on, on, by gully and spur, through
hop scrub and cherry, she-oak and box, gum and pine, stringybark and
wattle, across the plains and over the ridges in the eternal
enchantment of night.

"Wouldn't it be lovely to be ricocheting in the train, on to
Melbourne, and then to London? I'd like always to be leaving and then
I should not have to suffer the dreadful pangs of being left behind."

"But it must hurt like beggary to leave others behind.

                 "And what is our life but greeting
                     And parting and long regret?"

"You see what living here comes to--just drifting about from day to
day like cockatoos. If we don't work like fury to escape we'll be just
like the people of the Ridges--the women pot-washing and the men
pottering. Have you written any poetry lately?"

"I don't think poetry'll take me very far. Poets all seem to have to
get drunk and be half mad, and everyone but our sort despises them. If
I could get to the war I'd really have something to write about."

"I hate this killing. Hypocrites, going to free the Uitlanders, and
they haven't given their own women votes yet!"

"Yes, but don't you think all the men'll have to be freed first and
then the women?"

"No! England should practise what she preaches and free her own women
first. I despise soldiers. Even that silly old Cowpens can be a
soldier."

"But don't you think a man would be a puling creature if he didn't
take up his gun to defend his women?"

"It might be different if the Boers were coming here, but they're not
even threatening to. At any rate, I'd never marry a man who had been
slaughtering other men. It would make me creepy."

This was some comfort to Dick. "As soon as you leave here I'm going,
too."



CHAPTER XII


The tribe of Mazere had little connection with city life. It had early
pushed into the country and there remained, stagnating as some of its
later members complained. An exception was Rhoda, the youngest
daughter of Three Rivers homestead at Bool Bool. She had married
Raymond, son of old Boko Poole of Curradoobidgee and Harriet Mayborn,
his second wife, and thus Raymond was half-brother of Bert.

When members of the clan needed something to be done in Sydney they
wrote to the Raymond Pooles. This popular couple rarely jibbed. Rhoda
came of a family accustomed to serve its neighbours, even to the risk
of life, and Raymond had a penchant for family concerns. Their net
included Ignez. Having determined to go to Sydney for the secret
purpose of consulting Herr Josef Kretschmann and Madame
Stresemann-Bluette, Ignez obtained the wherewithal and permission for
a holiday and set off.

It was a burning day, registering 103°F. on the back veranda at Lagoon
Valley, and it seemed to be twice that in the dawdling excursion
train, full when it left Goulburn and collecting passengers at every
halt. Women and children were returning to the city after the
holidays. They gorged from parcels and topped off with fruit from
wayside vendors, and to Ignez, excited beyond appetite, seemed to
relish life on the plane of the fat sows at Deep Creek. Volunteers
were turning to camp after leave--final in many cases--and in the
vanity of feathered hats strutted out at every platform to stretch
their legs and drink the adulation of beholders. Bush boys, full as
Ignez of the urge for self-expression, were having their first fling
at "life" and the obscenity of living for adult males when freed from
home, the tingling adventure of soldiering, with the threat of battle.

                "The bullets are flying--huzza! huzza!
                 The bullets are flying--away! away!"

To parade before doting and cheering girls, to taste danger and bloody
thrills with the prospect of return after travel with glory and a
pocketful of loot, to the pick of Government billets--more glamorous
this than steering stripper or plough in the dust, or adding up
accounts in an office. Even the uncomfortable excursion train was
adventure to many, though the children scuffled unceasingly in its
packed compartments, which became ovens where the fierce midday sun
baked them red.

But at long last the carriage emptied at Strathfield and Ignez, left
alone until Redfern, was able to collect her luggage. She had been
instructed to wait until claimed by Aunt Rhoda, or, failing that,
Uncle Raymond would wear a red hibiscus bloom in his lapel so that she
could not fall a prey to any other villain, as he had written.

Ignez was engrossed with the comedy of the terminus until the crowd
thinned and a gentleman in light grey walked up twirling a cane
stylishly and displaying a red flower. She smiled, he raised his hat
and threw away a half-smoked cigar. She looked a child in her
unadulterated bush years and her simple sailor hat and white muslin,
though he noted her jimp waist and rounded bosom with pleasure. Trust
Raymond Poole, LL.B., M.A., for that. Ignez had intelligence far in
advance of her experience and he would have been stumped to know her
physical and spiritual assessment of him. He was ugly, she decided at
a glance. He was stocky and in danger of a corporation. He had large
irregular teeth and light prominent eyes, despite which he was swarthy
like Bert his half-brother--his only debt to the Pooles. He was well
dressed and gentlemanly without being affected and was his unfailingly
hearty and cheerful self.

"What a dot you are!" The exclamation was kind and cordial. "We'll get
a cab. My wife would have brought the carriage, but one of her horses
is lame. You don't mind, I hope."

A cab was equally novel to Ignez. "It was lovely of you to come for me
yourself."

"A real pleasure."

He stowed her in the vehicle with an authority which she admired, and
discarded the hibiscus. "Natty idea, don't you think? Couldn't be
mistaken for any other buttonhole."

The cab backed round to leave the station, but was blocked by a tram
screeching to an emergency halt. Too late. Two men rushed to drag a
female form off the rails. The face lay upwards, unmarred, white and
tranquil. The clothes were undisturbed, only the blood told its deadly
tale. It was Ignez's first sight of so much human gore. It lay in
pools on the asphalt and a stray cur began to lap. A passing cab
horse, whose driver did not slacken his pace, splashed through it. A
few men gathered round. Ignez rose agitatedly. Poole restrained her.

"Keep cool, my dear. It's no one of any consequence."

"It's a woman, and only men near her. Let me out at once, please."

He held her firmly; she was delicious to his grasp, and white and
trembling. The cab swung on its way.

"Gad, I don't like to see you so upset, but the facts of life must be
faced. I'm a sort of uncle. I must teach you the ropes so that you
won't do the wrong thing. Well, I'm sure you've heard of 'fallen
women'--a clever girl like you. That was one of 'em. She was
intoxicated or she wouldn't have been out so early. She accosted me as
I came on to the platform--I remember the tartan skirt--so you see, I
couldn't let you go to her."

"She's a human being like me."

"Once, perhaps, but she came to that. A necessary evil."

"If she's necessary, it's wicked to treat her with contempt." Ignez
was sick with compassion. "How do you mean she's necessary?"

"Well, human nature being what it is. . . ."

"I'm always met by this human-nature croaking. Oh, Uncle Raymond,
you've promised to teach me. You don't mean necessary to all men, not
to the respectable ones?"

"Respectable--respectability . . ." He laughed cynically.

"Well, then--the nice ones, like yourself--you don't mean necessary to
/you/?"

Poole sensed that it was a vital question and was not so amused by it
as he became afterwards when retailing a version of the situation.
There was that in Ignez which impelled the truth. Poole felt it was
better to defend the rights of male lust, in which he believed as
unshakeably as Ignez did in a woman's right to use her intellect.

"Gad, don't you think that's pretty straight for a hot day? It's
useless to kick against human nature. You must understand that men are
not like women in this matter, and it can never be different. I for
one wouldn't wish it to be--it's deucedly pleasantly arranged as it
is."

Necessary evils! That would mean there must always be an army of
outcast women, while their male partners could be rich and successful
like Uncle Raymond. Horrors! he was even a churchwarden. Which women
had the right to escape this sacrifice to men, and why? Didn't they
all start from babies?

Ignez weathered the deadly shaft of this revelation by silence and
outward composure. Mrs Poole attributed her look of exhaustion to the
long hot journey in an excursion train, and kissed her with soft words
of welcome. She was in the drive, a decorative figure with a
background of summer flowers and the long shadows of trees. Her gown
of cream muslin was elaborately made, and a blue parasol went well
with her high colouring and yellow hair. She took care of her
appearance, as behoved a sensible woman nearing fifty with a popular
husband nearly three years her junior.

Raymond had been a nine days' wonder at his birth, and his mother had
rallied her energies and experience to build his career. She lived
till a great age and had the satisfaction of seeing the dedicated
child established in the law. She would rather that her prize had made
a more brilliant match. If he had had his mother's outlook no member
of colonial society would have been above his ambition, but youthful
passion overtook him, and his mother retreated upon the idea that it
would be safer for him to settle down early. The Mazeres were highly
esteemed and it was good for a barrister to have squattocracy support.
Raymond had made the requisite city connections at King's and the
University. He was physically and mentally robust and his mother had
passed to him a wholesale strain of coarseness of fibre--a valuable
quality for success and worldly comfort.

When he and Rhoda came into their respective portions, he had invested
in the stock of a company which traded as Grilling Brothers, in those
days a cheap-hack drapery enterprise, but Raymond's nose for business
was unsurpassed. The big shop in the heart of a slum, on the edge of
the city but well in town, was supported by swarms of housewives. It
throve on the labour of girls who worked for a nominal wage under the
classification of apprentices and were replaced by a new crop at
intervals. Those days were already receding. The young men of the
Grillings family were working their way to Darling Point among the
brewers and other universal providers to join the bunyip aristocracy,
with ambitions of Oxford for their sons, presentation at Court for
wives and daughters, and a splurge on the Riviera for themselves.
Dividends from the "mammoth emporium" as well as the law were the
support of the villa which Ignez entered. A maid carried her
portmanteau to a well-furnished room.

"I hope you'll have everything here that you want. Don't dress for
dinner if you're tired, but I must, so please excuse me. Your
uncle--we're to have you for a niece too, aren't we?--is expecting a
friend who's very fond of music, so I hope you won't be too tired to
sing."

Ignez thought her hostess needed no more of the undressing demanded by
society, for much of her plump person was already discernible through
her transparent drapery. Ignez's own change was to another simple
muslin.

When she went downstairs Poole was already in the drawing-room with
another man, who was introduced as "my partner, Moray Delarue."

He was handsome, tall, and slender, with bold bright eyes, and
accounted the devil of a fellow among the ladies, but not tying
himself up yet--no jolly fear!--though nearly two decades of
débutantes had cut their teeth on him. The men ceased laughing as the
ladies appeared. Poole had been giving old Moray a diverting account
of how Ignez had put him on the mat as to his morals. Gad, for all her
bush innocence, she had been as straight as old Grandma Mazere of
Three Rivers, that was what made it so deuced funny.

"And what did you say to vindicate your virtue?" inquired Moray,
chortling to recall how he and old Raymond had hunted in company.

"Wait till she tackles you, then we can compare notes."

Delarue thought it would be fun to introduce such a girl to the gay
life, but responded to her introduction with disappointment. There was
nothing striking about her. She was insignificant, but as she preceded
him he saw that she was deliciously modelled and could have been
ravishing if dressed to that end. His interest awakened when he met
her eyes across the table. A little later a poet was to describe them
as "such eyes as make a man look into himself to wonder what they
might have found there; eyes to call a man over the seas or up from
hell".

She seemed to have something more disturbing than poise as she sat in
her crumpled, high-necked, long-sleeved frock and refused wine without
gaucherie, and met his gaze sensitively but without
self-consciousness. She was quiet, but with an alert attention that
made all three try to entertain her. Instead of hauling down the flag
she had hoisted to old Raymond she might under fire plant it more
firmly. There was a lot of that kind of resistance to the bit among
girls today--it went with this agitation for the vote by Rose Scott
and Lady Wyndeyer and their crowd. After dinner Delarue spoke of
music.

"You sing, I hear," he said perfunctorily.

"I want to find out if my voice is worth training," said Ignez shyly,
but upon invitation she went readily for her songs. Delarue groaned
inwardly when he saw "For all Eternity", "I Was Dreaming", "Alone on
the Raft", "The Lost Chord", and others, some of them out of date for
years. There was even a piece of execrable mush called "Tatters",
which was now being tattered indeed among amateurs.

"Which would you like?" inquired Ignez in all simplicity.

"Any, it's all the same," he replied, bracing himself to endure what
was coming.

She chose a song thrown away by Sylvia as too low. Songs could never
be too low in pitch or too dramatic for Ignez. She could also trill on
High C. It was the middle notes B, C, D, and E above middle C that
gave her trouble. She struck the opening bars of something unknown to
them all, because it was from her mother's generation, and swept full
voice into:

     "Only this once, only this once, dance with me love tonight,
      Let us forget all our regret, let us be gay and bright."

Delarue raised his eyebrows humorously behind her back at Poole as the
unprecedented tones filled the room. Down she boomed to A:

                  "Love! how the music bears us on . . ."

Delarue ceased to look at anyone or to think of anything but the
girl's voice. What did it matter about the words, or even the music,
so long as they were an outlet for that phenomenon? Nothing is so
moving as the young contralto, and Ignez's notes, though so deep, were
thrillingly feminine. There was no taint of the baritone in them. When
young such a voice can contain the black velvet of night, the perfume
of attar of roses, the colour of dawn and sunset, and stir the heart
to all its desires for glory or passion, touch the memory of all
unhappiness and things lost; and this voice was in its girlish dawn.
The sophisticated man had a greedy craving to gather this blossom for
his alone.

                 "What is there left me, O my love?"

again demanded that melting A, hinting of a passion unutterable,
rising to a turn on the declamation. All that she had been through
during the day added feeling to a voice that could always bend hearers
to its mood. The key changed:

     "The music is fading and dies, while we dreaming stand,
      There are tears in your pitying eyes as I hold your hand.
          O love for the last time . . ."

Delarue longed to sweep her into his arms and dance to the end of the
ball, first, last or any time, and then crush her to him as his own.
She stopped. He was back in reality, hating the small talk that broke
the spell.

"Sing again," he commanded. Ignez demanded his choice. "The most
hackneyed old thing you have, and see if you still can interest us."
He even suffered "Daddy", shading his face with his hand for privacy.
When she finished he said with gay raillery, "Another verse and I
should have piped my eye."

The Pooles liked a good tune. Mr Poole favoured comics, and Mrs Poole
the ditties she knew. What interested them now was the effect of this
singing upon Delarue. When this cynic grew enthusiastic they began to
enjoy themselves. Delarue was a patron of young singers who went
abroad. He was due at a Club function now to form a committee to aid
one, but delayed unduly, making Ignez sing everything she had brought
with her.

"Do you think my voice is worth training?" she asked with endearing
diffidence.

"I tremble lest training might ruin it." He spoke about it to his host
in the grounds as he departed. "The most sympathetic voice I have ever
heard. She has a strange charm. Most singers, I find, are more showy
than deep. I should like to show her around before she's spoiled."

                          *       *       *

Ignez was pale and Mrs Poole suggested bed. She said she remembered
what it was to be a little bush girl excited by her first glimpse of
the city. Raymond told his wife of the gruesome accident they had seen
and Ignez's intransigent attitude. "She'll have to look at life in a
practical light. She'll make a fool of herself with some other man if
she's not primed. You give her a word of warning."

Mrs Poole went to tuck Ignez in, and to sympathize about the shock of
the accident. Ignez expressed her horror and pity for the outcast army
of her sex.

"Poor creatures! I would be the last to condemn them. It's said that
only for them we pure women could not walk abroad in safety."

"That's what is so terrible," said Ignez, sitting up, her eyes blazing
with pain and rebellion. "If that's true, I feel cowardly to accept my
cleanness at such a price. I don't want those women to be martyred to
save me. If they are necessary we ought to take our share."

Mrs Poole hardly knew what to say. "We must thank God that we're among
the fortunate." Her sophistry went lame. All but the wanton or
debauched woman resented double standard of sex morality which was
neither arithmetically nor democratically tenable. Old Mrs Mazere had
never stooped to this doctrine, but Rhoda had been persuaded that city
life was different for men--different in its opportunities only, she
sometimes got as far as thinking. "Well, dearie, try not to think of
it," she advised. "Tomorrow you'll see Oswald. He looks lovely in his
uniform, but I hope this foolish war will end before he can get
there."

Mrs Poole sighed; Ignez put her own shock aside to cheer her, and soon
was left with her inner self, an element much too powerful for
unguided management.

Mr Delarue's pleasure had not gone to her head. She never failed to
move elderly folks, and in this class the partner of her "uncle"
naturally fell. Even the tone-deaf among the mature yielded to her
distinct enunciation and the feeling she put into the words apart from
the music. Folks of her own age were more inclined to ridicule her
voice because it was so queer. She must discover authoritatively if
this difference were an asset or defect. But the sensuous delight of
moving her fellows was lost tonight in more disturbing emotion.

Nothing had prepared her for one of the psychological disasters of her
life. Her rearing among people who were reticent about "the facts of
life" and observed the restraints of honest monogamy in the isolation
of eucalyptus forests, as well as her own propensities, put her on the
side of the angels. Her ideal could have entered only /à la/ Galahad
as the perfect knight and true claiming the maiden undefiled. There
was no one to comfort her in her agony for the age-old stupidities and
sins of humanity. Aunt Rhoda, the pride of the clan was obtuse to the
cowardice of men which made other women outcasts. She thought her
darling son looked lovely in uniform, a short-distance intelligence
that could not visualize his going far away to kill the lovely
darlings of other women. Uncle Raymond hedged about condemning
behaviour that was on the level of the kennel. This was the beautiful
Aunt Rhoda's Prince Charming who had removed her from the bush to the
gay life of Sydney! Then there were all these hysterical soldiers off
to kill and be killed for the mere fun of it, seduced by the sound of
brass bands and jingo songs--"the soldiers of the Queen, my lad".
Disillusion blew corrosively on her opening adventure. She was,
however, too spirited and healthy to be neurotic about something never
to be healed but sternly self-contained. Nor did these inner
disturbances make any inroads on her beauty--/la beauté du Diable/.
Her dream life still supported her amid the wreckage of the real. Her
emotions intensified the hint of power which invested her.

She was up too early for city Sunday breakfast, but caught
Sub-Lieutenant Oswald Raymond Mazere Poole on the way to the private
baths at the foot of the garden, which went in steep terraces to the
bay. Oswald was the pride of his parents, the pride of himself. He had
chosen a military career and this war was particularly opportune.
Ignez was not so interested in him as he was in her, though he
attempted to patronize her as a King's School swell with codes and
affectations modelled upon those of the governing castes of England.
Ignez, creator of Nita, the girl with a smudge on her face, discerned
that under Oswald's uniform were the makings of his father's
figure--the figure of a grandpa rather than of a gallant. More vital
to the beauty-worshipper were the terraced beds with walls covered
with ficus and a wealth of flowering vines, the grand flights of stone
stairs and statues shimmering in the heat haze, the branching trees
and lawns of this mansion with two faces. Beyond the Heads the long
ground swell of the Pacific rolled white-capped in a wide southerly
zephyr. It was a soupy, hazing, relaxing Sydney morning. The Harbour
had its own magic, special to this city, slattern and queen, with her
feet in the ocean.

A world so glorious must contain somewhere that Prince Charming who
invades the dreams of maidens even after the shattering evidence of
indisciplined indulgence has become apparent. This was to be a big day
with soldiers strutting as fatuously as turkey-cocks and with the
destructive madness of bulls, it now seemed to Ignez--an unladylike
thought immediately suppressed.

All the churches were specializing on services for the troops about to
embark. Mr Poole good-naturedly undertook to show Ignez around. They
began with St Mary's, but when their cab reached there the pavements
were thronged, and kneeling forms were packing the aisles and
extending out to the steps and pavement.

"What a boom in prayers! No doubt the Boers are hammering away
nineteen to the dozen, too," remarked Poole.

They tried St Andrew's, where the crowd was even denser. Soldiers were
marching into the cathedral. "Rule Britannia" tooted brazenly from the
band. Poole, with Ignez tightly in his arm, struggled to one of the
overflowing entrances where already men were making a forced exit
burdened by a soldier who had fainted, so they turned away to join the
crowds in the Domain where orators were declaiming for and against the
war. Poole soon wearied of the familiar scene and returned to the cool
peace of his home.

Wednesday was to be the climax, with the embarkation of the bushmen's
Contingent. Mrs Poole again entrusted Ignez to her husband. She had to
be careful of her complexion. The day amid sweltering crowds would
have been trying to Poole, only that Delarue had offered to depute for
him and this had whetted his interest in Ignez. Delarue had seats on a
balcony where they had a clear view as the warriors came from the
barracks. The men of that other land of the Southern Cross were not
being dragooned in a day. The people now knew of the dangers ahead of
their soldiers, and this stimulated the frenzy of the ovation.
Souvenir hucksters at every corner reaped a harvest. Many grey bush
beards had come from selection and farm to celebrate the boys'
departure.

The Government had proclaimed a holiday; hours before the contingent
was to pass the way was packed. Old folks hardly able to toddle and
querulous women overweighted with infants ached on the footwalks.
Small boys made trapezes of lamp posts, hung from windows, saw all
that was to be seen, hailed the notables, and added to the exhaustive
knowledge of street affairs typical of man in the grub stage. Tramways
were blocked; busmen were bribed to loiter until the troops came. The
brilliance of the sun was softened by the city's smoke. The hot day
spread a visible breath over the palpitant crowd.

"Gad, it's chock-a-block," observed Poole. "Nothing so dense since the
departure of Governor Carrington."

"What a fuss over a few fellows going on the spree because they're
bored with their wives, or find it healthy to be absent for a while."

"Here they come!" bawled the small boys. It was the Governor in a
carriage. He was wearing the dark green of Cowpens's corps, a fancy
dress that enhanced the feminine refinement of the high-bred English
face. With him was the Chief Justice raising his beaver to the crowd,
while Earl Beauchamp put his fingers to the brim of his feathers in
dainty salute. They acted as a stopgap till the full parade appeared.

"Here they come!" Military millinery, war pageantry, the blare of
brass bands in patriotic airs and drums--the crowd had come out to
cheer, right lustily it raised its voice.

Members of the Cabinet, more carriages with the war nurses off to the
battlefields--women's avocation diverted to clearing up a little of
the mess accruing from periodical bellicosity. The principals in the
spree were the khaki-clad men on foot. Their horses were already
aboard the transports. The crowd so pressed upon them that they had
difficulty in moving. Their rifles were decked with flowers and
handkerchiefs; bottles of grog were proffered; they were loaded with
keepsakes and charms, deafened by cheers.

Ignez leant from the balcony to point out those not bushmen. "Some of
them aren't tanned; they're only sunburnt." They were, however, as
fine an offering of muscularity as ever fixed bayonets. From the
burning north they came, where the kogie trees flung out their scarlet
banners, from the west and the cool clear south, from Canberra and the
Bogong gullies, from the Coolgarbillies and Goulburn.

"In spite of all the bleating by agitators, this war will be a good
thing for Australia--help to make us known," observed Poole.

"Yes, and get rid of a lot of fellows that are no credit to us. South
Africa is welcome to them."

They talked of a legal case and left the puppet show to Ignez. Perhaps
it was the spirit of all those unshed tears that Delarue could hear in
her voice that took her behind the mob hysteria. The waves of heat lay
in waves like watered silk over the city, but she shivered. Far from
this bravado were the bush homes with lonely women wearily
ageing--women like old Mrs Bull and honest Bridgit Finnegan. They
would watch for the return of their men when the sun was setting
behind the rises and the cattle dawdling campwards. There would be
months of waiting for the uncertain mails, then the news that Bills or
Jims would never more clatter the saddle off a sweating horse at the
back gate and enter the kitchen announcing an appetite that could eat
old boots.

The girl's depression showed on her face. Delarue suspected that some
fellow favoured with her affection was among the departing, but her
sadness was more universal.

"It's dreadful for men to be in a fever of joy about getting away to
kill other men."

"It's all in the game. If these fellows return they'll be gods. For
such a chance, who wouldn't risk elimination? I think of taking a
commission myself if the racket continues. Don't worry about the girl
who's left behind either. She turns her goo-goo eyes to the man who's
left with her."

"You don't understand," she murmured.

"You must teach me," he whispered with flattering inflexion.

They made their way across the Domain to a point overlooking the
transports. The s.s. /Moravian/ and her companion awaited only the
soldiers, and at wearisome last they were on board. They climbed high
in the rigging or perched like birds along the bulwarks and broke into
cooees. The minute guns rolled and crackled across the opalescent
waters. The ships drew away from the crowds ashore to be escorted by
others afloat on a large assortment of craft as far as the Heads, and
then stood out on that, for many, returnless way across the vast and
lonely waters. The outing was ended, the long, hot holiday wrapped in
the shadows of late afternoon. Droves of snapping mothers and peevish
children straggled homewards. Poole murmured something about work, and
that Moray could bring Ignez home later, and decamped.

"Well, my little possum from the bush," said Delarue caressingly.
"Let's have tea before we go to Potts Point."

The city was clear-cut against a molten sunset that turned the Harbour
to rose and gold as they came down by the hill by the point, waited in
line to pass through the turnstile, and went up the steps by
Woolloomooloo Bay to a cab rank.

Delarue was a sensitive man and delighted in the arts. His personality
made him a successful as well as a busy bee in the garden of sex and
society, and there were few emotional thrills left to him. A tonic for
satiety is to awaken some unspoiled subject, and Delarue perceived in
Ignez a rare young creature dowered with intelligence and keen
sensibilities. Her preoccupation with public affairs and social issues
was precocious. The possibility of deep passion informed every tone of
her voice. He hankered to turn such a power of emotion towards
himself, though not without compunction. The girl was utterly without
guard, but he would know where to stop. If she did not begin
experience with him, it might be with someone destitute of honour or
mercy.

The cab entered somewhere in back city streets, quiet as Sunday.
Delarue entered a building and Ignez followed up many stairs into a
room full of interesting things, among them books for which she had
long hungered. She ran to these at once.

"I've a kitchenette here. I'll make a cup of tea."

"Oh, let me do that!" He accepted her help and they drank the result
in restfulness.

"So you like my little lair?"

"I'd love to read all the books."

"Why don't you pitch your camp here?"

Ignez did not know what to reply. She suddenly became aware that she
was in error to be there alone with a strange gentleman.

"I'll go home to Mrs Poole now," she said timidly. "She'll be
wondering where I am."

He must induce the bird to settle down again. "I don't want to toil
out to Mayborn House this evening. Suppose we go to some restaurant.
What sort do you like?"

"Those lovely ones with looking-glasses and music," she said like a
child.

Delarue regarded her with indulgence. "I'll ring up Mrs Poole."

Mrs Poole was delighted to leave the child to him. She and Raymond
were dining out, but Ignez and Delarue could come home and rest later.
Mrs Poole would say a word to Ignez--her first telephone conversation.
There was the kind voice right in the room commending her to Mr
Delarue. Aunt Rhoda did not think of the proprieties with such a
child. Her surprise was that Delarue was giving so much of his time.
He was one of the most popular bachelors in society for his wit and
war against boredom, not for modest acts of unselfishness such as
entertaining garrulous aunts or inane girls from the bush.

Her unease removed, Ignez was free to be herself and to find Mr
Delarue delightful. He enchanted her with talk of things from which
she lived in exile. She told him of the photo of Desdemona Muir. He
knew Desdemona and reported that her romance was now clinched by
engagement to the Governor's aide. He produced autographed photos of
reigning favourites and gave them to Ignez inconsequentially.

"I wish Dick was here, too," slipped from her and brought displeasure
to her host. Of course there would be some oaf; she could not be the
unbroached creature that had stirred his imagination.

"Is Dick your brother?"

"No. A friend."

"Are you so fond of him?"

"Yes, he's a dear. He writes poetry, and would like all these things
as much as I do."

"Do you like him better than anyone?"

"What a funny question! You don't think /how/ much you like your
friends. You just like them /very/ much."

It was not Dick. Was there another?

"I wish I had a piano and you could sing to me."

"Do you think I could sing to appeal to strangers?"

"Of course I'm only a dilettante, but I never waste my time in trying
to save the vanity of duds. Your voice has haunted me ever since I
first heard it. We must get Stresemann-Bluette on the job. If you can
appeal like that without having felt anything, what won't you be when
you've gone through it all? Perhaps you have loved though, young as
you are?"

"Perhaps love has a future as well as a past and present," she
ventured. "How one /could/ love might be in a voice as well as how one
/had/ loved or /was/ loving."

"Wise young person," he said with such a devouring gaze that it was
disconcerting. "Tell me more of your ideas of love."

"I'm never going to love at all, not in the way you mean--never."

"What has gone wrong with love?" He suppressed a smile.

How could she analyse an offence to her fastidiousness that was to
afflict her throughout her life? She said unaffectedly, "I don't
believe that the kind of love that the poets rave about is decent. How
could it be?"

This was diverting, but his understanding warned him that sympathy and
subtlety were needed to gain her confidence.

"Tell me, little one." Delighting in the virgin material and its
evident power to feel, he took her hand gently. He had personal charm,
attractive appearance. Experienced, practised, curious, warmed to
sympathy by mounting passion, his voice was a caress. "You can tell me
surely?"

The girl was obviously deeply distressed by some obstruction in the
astonishing experience of puppy love. The pain in her eyes was
reflected by her expressive features and thrilled the sadist that is
strong in practising amorists. He surrendered himself to the delicious
sport.

"Tell me, little one."

The girl, unpractised, inexperienced, in deadly earnest, still
hesitated. She looked at him, the distress in her eyes making her so
appealing that for the moment he, too, was in earnest.

"Well, when /love/--" she emphasized the word with distaste--"can
result in something cowardly and degrading, so unclean and unfair that
every sense of decency and logic is revolted . . ."

She halted. So did he. His emotions made the change, electrically
swift with males, from amour to the exercise of intellect. The girl
put him on the defensive, for he sensed that he was in her laboratory,
not she in his. She was unpractised, but had more of latent
penetration, so that she was not overmatched.

Had Delarue any defence of the indefensible? Could he offer some
explanation that would ease her burning wound or would he merely align
himself with Uncle Raymond? Instinctively she hoped for little from
this man, but, serious in investigation, she must put him to the test.

It was not the fatality itself at Redfern that had seared to the roots
her adolescent sensibilities, but Poole's attitude towards the woman
killed as an inconsequent victim of lust, his casual dismissal of her
unhallowed trade as a necessary evil. Such a trade fouled passion. His
easy acceptance of women being socially outcast because of their
services in this field, which he condoned, his inability or
unwillingness to dissociate himself from acts that would augment and
maintain such an army--therein lay the abhorrent revelation.

Delarue had expected her to confess the effects of some casualty in
romance that she imagined to be sullying to her physical chastity.
This passionate indictment again was merely abstract, so he treated
the question lightly, thereby exposing clay feet. He was rather
patronizing of her girlish inexperience.

"Take your fences quietly. No one has yet solved the riddle of life.
Reformers leave everything the same, when they won't worsen matters.
Take it from me that being a man's not all it's cracked up to be. What
a lot of things are waiting round the corner to hurt you! I know what
I suffered myself."

"And now, have you got over the hurts?"

"Good Lord, yes! What you imbibe from poetry won't take you far on the
trams of real life. I once swarmed with questionings like yours, but a
man soon gives up worrying about the riff-raff or dreaming about the
stars and gets down to blowing up the flunkey who brings back the
wrong laundry. Life forces you to make twenty shillings in the
pound--twenty-one if you meet a fool."

He was off the point. Ignez brought him back to it.

"And you believe in /that/ kind of love, with all that uncleanness on
it?" she asked out of a disgust that was scorching the theory of
fulfilment in human mating.

Believe in /that/ kind of love! He regarded her peach-bloom youth, her
pristine virginity and her complex power of emotion--this power
herself to feel and make a man feel too. The desire to crush her to
him was on him again, but the artist in him warned that a slip would
ruin the moment and the future. He sat as if petrified as he looked
over the city's roofs, a last sunbeam reflecting its gold in the tiger
yellow of his eyes.

Did he believe in /that/ kind of love! Many a beauty, married and
single, had contributed to his delight, carried away by a storming
technique, but a love-at-first-sight attack now would violate vestal
notions. He had to content himself with the presence of a creature so
unexpected, surrender to her voice, vibrant with potential passion.

"I say, what an actress you'd make!" he remarked. "You're cut out for
an artist of some sort, perhaps literary. That's the field to get rid
of ideas, no matter how over the odds. Write it all down, just like
yourself, before you're spoiled. Quaint copy-book wisdom about love,
politics, and religion, that you know nothing about--Gad, that could
be funny! It could be the rage."

Yes, he was in the same camp as Uncle Raymond, but not so goggle-eyed,
bulging, and prosaic. There were many facets to her mind, and though
Delarue had feet as a Galahad she was arrested by his exhortation to
write. Her tendencies that way had brought her censure as unwomanly
and odd, though loyalty brought the memory of Arthur's generosity to
the school of writers on she-oak ridge--but Arthur, she felt, was more
kind than understanding.

"Yes, you write," repeated Delarue. "Begin at once."

                 "All the saddest songs of sorrow
                      Are the Dirges of Delay
                  And our hearts may lose tomorrow
                      What our hands may hold today!"

She nearly told him she had already written a book, but his
condescension halted her. Five days in town had made her aware of her
callow bumpkinism to people like Delarue. Into her unplumbed inner
life went any confession of literary aspirations. She was relieved
that the story of Nita, the recalcitrant, had apparently been lost.
The last she had heard of it was that the Editor of the Goulburn
/Herald/, to whom Mr Harris, the teacher of Philippa and Allan in the
little bush school, had shown it, had promised to "get an opinion".
Old Mr Harris occasionally got drunk; she hoped he had lost the story
completely so that it could never bring her to ridicule. She shrank
from any opinion, feeling sure that it would hurt. Delarue sat still
and silent, enjoying her presence, curbing any demonstration of the
passion stirring in him.

"It's a wonder you never tried to write," he persisted. "You've got
ever so much more in you than the general run of singers and chorus
girls. Have you really never written anything?"

"I wrote something once, but I don't want to write."

"Will you show it to me?" he said eagerly.

"I haven't got it. It was lost long ago. You'd have thought it too
silly for words, and so do I, now. Shan't we be late for dinner?" she
inquired, simple country cousin again, eager for city lights and
activity.

"Oh, yes, that lovely blatant restaurant!" He laughed, getting his
hat. He chose a place where there was little danger of meeting
acquaintances, and watched Ignez while she watched everyone else. She
took him back to his own adolescence when experience had given him
such sorry falls. How wonderful it would be to keep her as she was!
But passion never lasted, no, though the illusion each time was that
it could. With familiarity every phenomenon of exaltation became mere
roast beef and plum pudding. Rapture could not last, but while it did
it was the greatest intoxication known to men.

Later they returned to Mayborn House. From the terraces was a view of
the Harbour tumbling in a breeze under the risen moon that touched it
into shimmering silver. The girl could have stood an hour with it, but
Delarue complained about the mosquitoes, and young singers never can
resist an opportunity to sing. Song poured from Ignez's health and
energy without effort and Delarue's invitation to the piano was eager
and genuine now that he had her alone.

She left her hat in the hall and went to the drawing-room. At the
piano she dashed into the "Gallants of England" with enough voice to
fill the Town Hall.

"What shall I sing?" she asked after this prelude.

"It doesn't matter, only sing."

"What would you like?"

"Sing what /you/ like."

He retreated to the veranda. The breeze with its odour of brine
fluttered Mrs Poole's expensive curtains and bore the perfume of
gardenias and buddleia. Of late victory after victory had been his
without any wearing finesse, but this child was so unaware. He was
tempted to startle her awake, but possibly to horrify her in the
process was a humiliation he would not risk.

      "After tonight, after tonight what will tomorrow be,
       You in the light, I in the night out on the rolling sea."

What did it matter that the words were lovesick, the music
sentimental? All of passion and lost love vibrated in the sweet deep
notes. How could an unfledged creature who had never been out of the
wilds be what she promised, be what she was? How excite others and how
convey such feeling unless capable of it? She must be a reincarnation,
or a prodigy, yet here she was, his alone, unspoiled by the cockatoos
who until now had been her only associates.

The Pooles returned from dining near by. Raymond was mellow. Judge
Oswald, the host and grandfather of the sub-lieutenant, prided himself
on his cellar. He and Rhoda stood in the drive arrested by Ignez's
voice pouring out in "/Ombra Mai Fu/". They stood until the stately
harmonies dropped to silence.

"Wait," said Rhoda. "If she'd sing that 'Daddy' thing she'd make me
cry," but there was no more singing, and they entered the house.

"Gad /and/ Asher! If old Moray isn't still here!" exclaimed Poole.
"And there was Lurline looking more of a venus than was good for a
married man to behold. I didn't know what to tell her about you."

Delarue pointedly changed the subject. "Madame Stresemann-Bluette must
hear Miss Milford when she returns to town."

Mrs Poole requested him to make an appointment as he was /au fait/ in
musical matters.

Delarue, over the music, murmured in the girl's ear, "Don't mention my
private den. We'll surprise Aunt Rhoda with it some day." He said in
parting, "If you're not wanting Ignez tomorrow afternoon, old
Ruckstein is a great judge of a voice."

"That would be a fine opportunity. Could you come home with Raymond
for a drop of lunch?"

Mrs Poole went upstairs. Ignez lingered at the piano until Poole
returned from accompanying his friend to the gate. "Ah, Auntie gone
upstairs? Well, what did old Moray find to say to you all day?"

"He showed me some of his books."

"Where? Went to the office, I suppose. The beauteous Lurline had
better look to her laurels if old Moray is so nobbled with your
voice."

"Lurline--what a pretty name! Is she a singer too?"

"She sings nicely. She's a great belle and a considerable heiress. Old
Bennett was in tin. She's dead on to collar old Moray; as he's always
on the rocks financially, she'd be a good spec for him. Moray likes to
play around with the débutantes, but she'll hook him if she doesn't
weaken. Well . . . bedtime. It was jolly sweet of you to wait up to
kiss me good night."

This interpretation of her delay offended her taste. She suddenly
distrusted Uncle Raymond when he backed her against the piano in a
comprehensive and heavy embrace. She despised fat men, and she loathed
the wine on his breath, and his goggle eyes. Such fervid avuncularity
was obnoxious. Her blood uncles kissed her in a perfunctory fashion
and were done with it. And what did the old toad mean by, "Ha! Ha! Old
Moray's not going to have it all his own way!"

She prepared for bed, thinking of Delarue and the rich and beautiful
Miss Bennett, who loved him. Delarue's symptoms had been similar to
those of Wynd Norton, Malcolm Oswald, and other men whose fibre turned
to pulp before girls, but she dismissed this in the light of Miss
Bennett. She was glad that Delarue's interest in herself could only be
platonic, for this showed that her voice must really have qualities to
arouse enthusiasm. She was a believer in platonic affection, having
measured male corn with her own young virgin's bushel.

                          *       *       *

In the morning she occupied herself with songs for "Old Ruckstein".
The courts were not sitting and Delarue would have been in New
Zealand, only that the Melbourne Cup had increased his overdraft. As
it was, he was supposed to be departing for Moss Vale to play polo. He
appeared for lunch with a blasé expression, wearing his cane
lethargically.

He took Ignez back to town in a cab. She was no longer uneasy. That
Aunt Rhoda was to come presently had satisfied her. When Delarue,
after a simulated telephone call, told her that Ruckstein was out of
town, she was disappointed.

"I must go back to Mayborn House at once." She rose and collected her
things.

"I'll take you to see something--the Art Gallery."

"Thank you, but I must not waste your time any more than necessary."

"I can do what I like. Aunt Rhoda said there was no hurry. She wants
you to stay a long time. If you'll forgive me for muddling the thing,
you can have anything in the room you like, including me." The last
was tentative.

"Thank you very much, but I must not become a bore with my voice."

"Ah, little one, to get to the top in the artistic scrum you'll need
to toughen your skin." She was almost in tears. He played carefully to
get her to settle down again. "Amuse yourself till I write a few
notes. Then we'll talk business. You need to be boomed. I've had a
hand in sending lots of voices Home. It's opportune I'm on holiday. I
mightn't have time later to go into it." His matter-of-fact tone
reassured her. He watched her obliquely until she had regained command
of herself. "Now," he began, "it costs thousands to train and float a
voice. Have your people plenty of money?"

"Oh, no."

"How many hundreds a year could they put up?"

"They don't want me to go on the stage. I'd have to work for myself."

"Poor little kiddy!" he said with genuine sympathy. "A singer needs
the stamina of a pugilist. You'll find training all the work you could
do."

"I'm never sick like other girls."

"You need a patron to see that you get a chance. What about me?"

"You're very kind," she murmured, feeling her way upon unknown ground.
"It might be a terrific time before I could pay you back."

Tenderness invaded him. What a lamb to be let loose among the wolves
that ravened around girls of such charms--and she was patently
unprotected. She would inevitably fall a victim to some gallant who
would flatter her, or, as an alternative, some bushwhacker would have
the first fruits of that starry splendour of emotion that shone in her
eyes and vibrated in the extraordinary voice--some bushwhacker to have
this gem, when a glass bead would be more satisfactory to him! This
thought took Delarue from his chair to stride restlessly about his
apartment.

He, Delarue, had to put up with women who had been sophisticated in
their cradles. With such the art was in picking a skilled antagonist
to make the duel exciting--a duel with a sting at the core that could
be minimized only by adroitness in withdrawal and retreat. But, ah, to
step through the door of desire with this child! He looked on the ugly
view of roofs and regretted that he was wayworn and shop-soiled.
Sophistry whispered that he could appreciate such delights better than
a blundering tyro, that he had the skill to evade mistakes that an oaf
would perpetrate, no matter how complete a Galahad. Damn it all, why
couldn't he have a fortune? Damn dabbling on the turf, which had put
him on the rocks despite considerable earnings! What the deuce did
Lurline want with a fortune? Why couldn't this child have had it? But
were she the child of well-to-do city people she would by now be an
exploited bore instead of a jewel of unpredictable carat hidden until
this hour in some cave of her native region. He knew those lesser
up-country stations and the old-fashioned codes that had moulded her.
She was exceptionally intelligent, but totally inexperienced--a
difficult combination for his handling.

"Pay me back?" He chuckled, feeling his way, she was so cautiously in
her shell. "I'd be the lion of the hour to have picked a winner."

He was at the window, half turned from her. A breeze from the Harbour
began to stir the curtains and temper the relaxing heat of afternoon.
The sunbeams made golden patterns in the room and caught the girl's
hair in a pool, turning its masses to spun bronze. She was wholesome,
from the young neck rising out of its simple collar to the shapely
ankles in lace stockings visible below a froth of hand-made lace on
the petticoat under the flounce of her muslin dress. Determination to
possess her ripened in him--to possess her, but on what terms? He
decided on certain moves that in any case would be basic.

"I could make this place into a studio for you. That's the first job
of a patron."

Ignez had a cast-iron idea that no virtuous girl could accept favours
from a gentleman unless engaged to him, and Mr Delarue wasn't
proposing to her as far as she could judge. Sensitively she said
nothing, but regarded him with a questioning glance, which inflamed
him as she waited for his purpose to become clear. Passion was
swamping common sense, and for safety he said, "I've just thought of
something I've got to do at once, so I'll put you in a cab and send
you home. We can get down to real business tomorrow."

Ignez rose with a blush, shamed to the core that she was being told to
go. "I beg your pardon for having stayed so long."

How sensitive she was! The prospect of so much feeling being released
in first love for his excitation was overpowering. He took her to a
cab and from there hurried to Paling's and to the telegraph office.

                          *       *       *

Ignez was dissatisfied because she was making no progress with her
purpose, but she was still trusting to Delarue on the morrow.
Sub-Lieutenant Oswald Poole was home and eager to entertain her. Mrs
Poole was thankful for this. She was desirous of using the slack
social weeks on personal repairs through scalp and facial treatments,
interspersed with golf for slimming. There was a concert in the Town
Hall, something to do with soldiers' comforts, at which many local
artists could be heard and which was a safe disposal of the young
people.

Oswald had to coax Ignez to sing for him. She felt that he was too
like his father to have understanding. When she sang him "Carnival"
and one or two other ballads he was stumped--her voice was so
overpoweringly ungirlish. Association with lawyers taught him to
regard evidence, and Delarue was irrefutable. Young Oswald was wary of
unpopular minorities. They were dressed a long while before dinner, so
he persuaded her to "nick round to old Frogabollow at choir practice
and get the straight tip".

Soon the importunate subaltern stood before a gentle choirmaster--
English--who had heard hundreds of voices. He agreed to hear Ignez
then and there. In deference to the church she sang "O Rest in the
Lord", feeling it heaven to loose her voice into a large edifice.

The old gentleman was slow to speak. Ignez waited in trepidation till
he murmured. "Gifted creature!" Then he asked her to sing a scale.
Ignez made her request, "Downward from middle C and up, please." Down,
down she went to A, and G, E, C. Then she ascended--difficulty with B,
C, D, and E, and the old man stopped, but Ignez soared easily thence
to high C.

Oswald hurtled from the back. "She knocks spots off that woman who
sang on Christmas day."

"It depends on so many other things--those middle notes, the most
important, have to be made--depends perhaps on breath control and
placing. You'd need a very experienced teacher."

"If it wasn't for those four notes would my voice be any good?"

Dear, dear, the power of emotion of the girl, and hypersensitive, that
was evident. Could she stand the long hard grind, the gruelling
strain? Had she a musical family to back her? He hardly thought so by
her illiteracies in the simple classic aria.

"With those four notes to make an even scale--I cannot make a snap
judgment, but you have abundant power and unusual range and quality.
Come again when we can take more time."

Oswald was exuberant. "You're as good as a prima donna already. Mr
Delarue knows his p's and q's."

Another enchanted night. If these at the Town Hall were important
singers Ignez felt that she could some day thrill a packed house.

                          *       *       *

Delarue telephoned betimes that he had someone to hear Ignez if Mrs
Poole would send her to him. This was Thea Tagel, who was creating a
furore by singing behind the scenes to simulate a prima donna
portrayed by an actress who had no singing voice. Delarue had been on
the committee to raise funds to send Thea abroad and she was desirous
of pleasing him. "The Lost Chord" was the test piece this morning, and
Thea generously acknowledged that Ignez's voice outdid her own in
volume and depth. This was self-evident, and the sympathetic quality
extolled in Thea's organ was pale compared with Ignez's.

"If his crowd's pleased with you, it opens the road," Thea whispered
to Ignez when she was leaving the studio. "It'd be lovely if we could
study together." No sense of rivalry made Thea captious; she was a
placid, generous girl awaiting a ripening proposal of marriage to
rescue her from the arduous professional struggle. "But do you really
want to?" she asked.

"Want to! Don't you?"

"You've no idea of the hard grind and all the things you have to be
careful about. You mustn't do this and that."

"Nothing would be too hard," breathed Ignez, "I'd work day and night
if I really could sing in grand halls."

"Oh, well! That's wonderful," laughed Thea. "Herr Ruckstein says I'm
born lazy. He'd love you."

Ignez gleefully accompanied Delarue back to his den for a promised
surprise. This was a Steinway piano.

"Try it!" said he, feasting upon her delight. "Now you can sing to me
without interruption. Old Ruckstein won't be in town for a fortnight."
Ignez was at ease with him today, thanks to Thea's hurried
confidences.

She seemed genuinely to lack the arts of concealment native to her
sex. It was exciting to Delarue, who had concluded that there was no
such animal as an unsophisticated woman, though many had talent in
feigning innocence. He surrendered to the tears and passion of her
tones, singing of love she had not yet known--surely there was not
another such girl-woman. "Do, re, me, fa" in her voice was more moving
than "/Agnus Dei/" in others. The sunbeams stole around the wall. The
muted traffic came as a lullaby. A being who could stir him so could
not be unresponsive, however uninitiated. He must test her. He was a
philanderer in action rather than words, a method of more thrill and
less wear. Passion whispered that women liked to be swept off their
feet, to be stormed rather than to take the responsibility of
surrender. They were happy if they could retain their subterfuge of
unwillingness.

He swept her to him, kissing her fervently, stopping her mouth so that
he almost stopped her breath. She did not struggle. So fragrant, so
young, he was gourmet plus gourmand with this dish combining elements
not of everyday life. She was strangely passive. A prick of tenderness
halted the Tarquin in him. He released his grasp. She would have
fallen had he not caught her. Here was a new experience, but an
alarming one. She was white and stricken-looking. That could have been
due to the physical ardour of his embrace--but no, he too had once
been as chaste as Ignez--long ago now, but he was sensitive enough to
recall it vividly. He did not misread the tragedy in her eyes. He had
raped her spiritually, and she was proud and sensitive. And she did
not utter a syllable. She stood motionless, congealed. He had
underestimated her inexperience, and now he had no idea of the extent
of his outrage. He had never been so puzzled though in countless
affairs, some that were discreditable, he had negotiated many tight
corners. Any gesture might increase the clumsy rent he had made. Her
every sensibility was obviously violated. He had been as inept as any
yokel. What on earth to do? She was suffering as he had not seen a
woman suffer. And at that she was enduring double what he credited,
for she was sure that she had been ravished and that death alone could
wipe out the dishonour.

She looked at him as at Lucifer, without spoken reproach. She had
brought this upon herself by her sinful disregard of the rules laid
down for the safety and good repute of girls. She had been warned
definitely of men's rapacity. Her experience of the decency and
restraint of men in the bush had made her careless of this; now she
saw that there was knowledge behind the offensive warnings of elders.

She suddenly burst into a flood of tears. The old may weep till their
hearts burst and look only ridiculous or repulsive, but unsullied
innocence, first tears of a girl of chastity and charm--what man would
not be sentimental? Delarue was touched to the marrow by such sobs
from a form so cuddlesome. He felt himself a thorough cad. If he could
be sure why she suffered he might be able to repair the damage. He
longed to crush her to him, to caress her with soft words. He did not
dare insist that he had not harmed her. The innuendo in /honi soit qui
mal y pense/ made excuse of any kind dangerous.

She ceased sobbing suddenly, put on her hat, collected her music, and
went to the door. Delarue had turned the key for her sake so as not to
be discovered by callers; his set would have slavered about her
presence in his secret lair. She gave him a look of terror. It was
clear she saw him as Don Juan plus an orangoutang. She was unfit to go
on the street alone, but how detain her without further alarming her?

"Would you bathe your face? Then I'll put you in a cab."

He saw that her appearance did not occur to her. Her one idea was to
escape. Damn it all, what did the little fool imagine? She was so
silent. He ached to hear her voice even in reproach or anger.

"Look," he said caressingly, "I wouldn't hurt a hair of your lovely
head." He went down on one knee to bring himself on a level with her,
and put his arm round her. "Let me take you home."

She shook her head.

"Then I'll put you in a cab and you can go by yourself."

Again the head-shake. Any offer of attendance renewed her alarm. The
wisest course was to let her go freely. He followed her into Pitt
Street and along to King Street to the cable tram. He overtook her as
if accidentally and once more urged her to take a cab.

"No, thank you, I know the way." He could hear the cadence of "After
tonight, after tonight" in her voice. As the tram bore her away he was
struck by the thought, what if he should never hear that voice again?
Under its spell he could run to a clergyman and bind himself
irrevocably. Would such a suggestion have repaired the injury, he
wondered.

                  And our hearts may lose tomorrow
                      What our hands may hold today!

He returned to his retreat thoughtfully. As he cooled, experience
whispered caution. The most glamorous illusion could disappear under
familiarity. He telephoned to Mayborn House. Mrs Poole was out, so he
told the parlourmaid that Miss Milford was safely on the tram and
would be home in a few minutes.

He flung himself into the chair where Ignez had lately sat. Never in
his later life had he felt such humiliation. Then again his being
tingled with remembered passion. If only he had exercised more
subtlety in approach so as to have startled and thrilled her without
horrifying her! What to do now? Experience and a sense of humour
directed him. He smiled to imagine what his circle would think could
they have seen him keeping his distance while Ignez escaped to a tram.
Experience leant upon time as a curative. He would disappear, then her
curiosity would operate. He would go for a long week-end of fishing
down the South Coast.

                          *       *       *

Ignez proceeded like an automaton towards Mayborn House, descended
from the tram and halted on the high promontory that led to the Point,
where she noted unseeingly the outlines of Darlinghurst against a
gaudy sky. She entered the drive and went round to the front of the
house. The lights were beginning to twinkle over the misty silver
waters, and their cool breath was fragrant with brine and flowers. But
beauty could not reach her through her present trouble. In the
gathering dusk she was admitted to the empty house. In her room she
sat before the writing desk and leant her head on her arms.

So it was all true--all those horrible revelations of men's lust,
which had come to her in fragments, ever and again. Men would pursue
and flatter to that one terrible end she had seen overtaking the woman
at Redfern. Mr Poole, fat and comfortable, owner of this beautiful
home, had said callously that it was no one of any consequence. He,
and others as respectable coarsely upheld it as a necessity. No doubt
both Poole and Delarue had started women towards such an end, had felt
no responsibility, seeing that they were amused at the idea of virtue
for men.

She was sick with failure and humiliation. Those who had dismissed her
voice as queer were probably right. Mr Delarue's flatteries were those
of a betrayer. There was no one to whom she could tell her trouble.
Not to Dot Healey, who looked upon her demand for a career as
selfishness. Nor to her mother--she felt older than her over-indulgent
mother. She could not discuss such a disgraceful happening with Mrs
Poole. The thought of Blanche's superiority was suicidal. Girls must
take their punishment. They were judged by the slips alone. No
ameliorating circumstances were ever admitted.

Aunt Rhoda had been to a smart affair for charity and was a picture as
she came to her little guest's room and kissed her.

"So you didn't see Herr Ruckstein after all. Mr Delarue should have
rung him up earlier. He was at the musicale this afternoon at Miss
Bennett's with a wonderful new pupil." Aunt Rhoda mercifully answered
her own questions.

"Is Miss Bennett related to Mr Delarue?" Ignez managed to inquire lest
her silence should betray her state.

"No, but they are almost engaged. Moray likes being a bachelor, but he
needs money. Lurline will be just the one to steady him."

That was a trying dinner to Ignez. Uncle Raymond listened to Aunt
Rhoda's prattle with interest. He was a congenial spouse in that way,
and his comments were good-natured.

"Aha, my possum niece, great feather in your cap keeping old Moray
showing you the Art Gallery. What did he say to you all that time?"

"He didn't say anything," murmured Ignez faintly. Everything seemed to
be going black. "At least not much," she added, struggling to be
truthful and to guard her terrible secret.

"You aren't eating any dinner. The excitement of Sydney is too much
for you."

Ignez was thinking of Delarue as such a monster that he could destroy
a girl while engaged to Lurline Bennett. There was an uglier thought,
that he would commend Lurline as sophisticated and able to condone his
actions, to agree that the Redfern woman's sisterhood was a necessity
as long as he did not offer her anything but "honourable" addresses.
Delarue had lied about Ruckstein being out of town. Aunt Rhoda
attributed Ignez's wilted state to a bilious attack, an idea that
Ignez encouraged, though she had never been bilious in her life. Her
hosts were to take her to the pantomime, but she accepted with relief
the suggestion that she had better go to bed. Oswald had left for a
holiday at Bool Bool and Curradoobidgee. While his parents laughed at
the pantomime Ignez tossed all night sleeplessly, distraught with
panic.

Morning brought a thread of reason with the thought of one friend and
confidante, her adored Milly Poole, wife of Raymond's elder
half-brother Bert. Milly had been the girl a little older than Ignez
at Ten Creeks Run, whom Ignez had idolized as Norah Alfreda at Deep
Creek now idolized her. Purpose revived her. Milly had adopted her as
a sister; they had sworn eternal fealty as children, promised to share
secrets and to help each other to the death if ever in trouble. Milly,
so happily and romantically married, would know everything.

During breakfast she was so quiet that the Pooles suggested the
doctor, but Ignez resisted this and announced her intention of going
home to Jinninjinninbong, and of making the detour to Cooma to see
Milly and Bert. The Pooles were relieved by this.

"She might be sickening for something," said Raymond. "A full-blooded
girl like that among city germs--we don't want a mess on our hands."

"I think it's over-excitement," ventured Rhoda with some perspicacity.
"She's only a child, and sure to be highly strung if she's musical,
and Moray's been flattering her, and all the fuss of the troops going
away. I remember my first visit to Sydney."

"Come back in a month and see old Ruckstein then, if you're all
right," said Uncle Raymond. "I'll put up the price of it as a birthday
present--mine, if not yours--if you'll give me an extra good-bye
kiss."

To reach Milly was all that she craved. Uncle and Aunt took her to the
station when the time arrived and put her in a first-class
compartment--ladies only.

                          *       *       *

Delarue returned on Wednesday and rang up Mayborn House. He was
complacent about the time he had been absent. The girl would by now be
curious, recovered from her fright like a filly when first roped. He
was astonished to find that his bird had fluttered away. He had made
appointments he said mendaciously, feeling his way.

"How kind!" said Rhoda, and chattered on. "Poor little pet had too
much excitement, and that horrid shock at the railway station--that
accident--ghastly to an imaginative child like Ignez."

"Was she ill?"

"Not exactly, but she ate nothing and looked like a ghost."

"I /am/ sorry." He recovered his ease. "She's different from all other
singers I've promoted--more intelligent, extraordinarily gifted. I
shall be looked upon as seeing the bunyip but unable to produce it."

"Raymond and I have set our hearts on having her again."

"There was nothing really wrong?"

"A little temperamental attack, perhaps. Though she seems so sensible
for her age."

"Very likely suppresses a lot. You'll have to back my word that I
really had a prodigy."

Delarue was thoroughly relieved and his interest in Ignez was
stimulated. Strange wild little thing, as shy as a lyre-bird. He must
get hold of her again. Evidently she had not mentioned his amorous
attack; she was of great stuff for his purpose. He could only
conjecture why she had been so tragically upset. Vanity plus success
in dalliance insisted that her curiosity would now be operating in his
favour. He set about composing a verse, a derivative of current
balladry:

                            MY LITTLE LADY

           My heart is broken by your flight.
           My precious one, canst tell why this should be?
           Where'er I go by land or sea,
           In lonely night or morning bright,
           I care not if thou hatest me,
           Or this should be or wrong or right,
               I only know thou needest me,
               I only know I am thy knight,
                   My little lady.

  Come back and try again.                M.D.

He sealed this heavily, wrote the address as extracted from Mrs Poole,
and posted the missive as he went to call on Lurline Bennett.



CHAPTER XIII


Ignez arrived to a blazing morning in Cooma to be met by Milly and
Bert and the important news that the baby had been left in charge of
the kind girl at the hotel. Milly demanded Ignez's news but swamped it
with her own happy outpourings.

Soon they were off by mountain cutting and timbered ridge to
Curradoobidgee with its singing waters hurrying in crystal beauty to
the urgent Snowy and away to the lone and mighty south. The magpies
were conversing musically on the fence-posts. Old-man sage bent its
gray aromatic bloom from the cuttings with the fairy blackthorn; the
dainty native pines were green among the granite of the slopes. Away
clattered the swift-heeled trotters that were Poole's pride. Selected
by vigilant eugenics from the dynasties of the day, starting with
Black Belle and the Waterfall, they were of the best-wearing blood.

The way opened out to a view of treeless downs marked by stone fences,
patiently gathered. Ignez breathed deeply of that air so clear and
exhilarating, and courage and hope revived. She abandoned the thought
of suicide in favour of exile across the seas where she would separate
herself from her fellows, haughtily, so that they would be forestalled
in ostracizing her. She would be seen only in the distance of some
great hall singing grand tragic songs.

The sunlight danced in air like transparent silk above the plains. The
breezes lilted down from the frozen water where the eagles drank and
made waves of the seeding grasses, where cattle and sheep browsed in
fat comfort. Then the clear, swift rills in the tussocked flats.

"You're very quiet back there," said Bert. "What about a song?"

She responded with "/Ombra Mai Fu/", thinking of old Salvatore
Tartaglio who had taught it to her.

"Now give us something gay."

"I'm too busy looking at everything to sing any more today," she
prevaricated. Little Pearl climbed back to sit with her. The day grew
high and hot, but those tireless heels never slowed their rat-tat on
the road. Bert and Milly were eager for every word of Raymond, the
pride of the family. Oswald, the wonderful sub-lieutenant, was at Bool
Bool and coming soon to Curradoobidgee. They were also interested in
the Gowandale romance, and Milly asked many questions about Sylvia.
Bert was silent. Talk of Sylvia's likeness to Emily took him back to
the old tragedy of the drowning just before he was to have married
her. Sanely he had laid all thought of it away and devoted himself to
his child wife, now quite matronly, and as full as ever of happiness
and good health, thus confuting the predictions based upon the
disparity in their ages.

The miles stretched across the wide austere landscape till the voice
of Poole's Creek met them on a zephyr from Eaglehawk Gullies, and the
old homestead showed white among its alien trees. The trotters came to
a halt in the back yard. Thankfully they lowered their heads and
tongued their bits, and Poole tended them personally while Milly and
Ignez went to the house.

After a late dinner Bert declared, "Now we're all set for a snooze
before tea." Now nearing seventy, he liked to break the day with a
siesta. Even Ignez yielded to fatigue, in the room off the veranda
that had been Bert's until his marriage.

In the evening it was Bert who noticed that Ignez was not herself. She
had shown no interest in the stables, or orchard, or poultry, or
flower garden--serious symptoms.

"Perhaps her voice was not so good as she expected," said Milly, who
had been in Ignez's confidence in this respect. "I'll find out when
you go to bed."

When the two women had their hair down and their feet in slippers,
Ignez unburdened herself without reserve, and she had come to the one
person of her acquaintance competent to restore her.

"I went through the same experience exactly--/exactly/!" exclaimed
Milly. "It was my wonderful Bert who saved me. He explained everything
so delicately and sensibly, without a word that could have hurt my
feelings. Set my heart at rest in a trice. That's why I worship him."

Matronly wisdom and her superiority in years kept Milly from naming
the partner in her catastrophe. It would not be seemly for Ignez to
know that her fright had come from Larry Healey of Deep Creek. Bert
had guided her from infancy and she was gathering her own knowledge
that the young, inconsistently, were revolted to think of romantic
love in connection with their elders. Ignez, with characteristic
reticence, did not intrude too far into Milly's affair, sufficient for
her to know that Milly had also suffered terror consequent upon
virginal innocence. Ignez answered her unsullying questions and the
matter was cleared up. As Milly sympathetically extracted the details
Delarue became less of a monster and more a romantic figure.

"Men can't help it. They're all a bit loony when /that/ overtakes
them--all except my darling Bert, of course, but he's a one and only."

Milly asked for a photo. Ignez produced the one presented on the first
day in the lair before the snake had uncoiled. "A lovely face! Such a
straight nose and refined mouth and ears. No wonder he kissed you,
Ignez. You look like a peach. I'd like to take a bite out of you
myself. A friend of Rhoda and Raymond would be a gentleman. Of course
it was quite naughty of him to take you to a place unchaperoned, but a
big compliment. He must have found you interesting."

Milly regarded the distinguished-looking Delarue closely and decided
to keep for ever secret the fact that Larry had been the partner in
her equivalent adventure. When relieved of her fears she had come to
feel that Larry had not meant to harm her vitally; her fright and
resistance had compelled him to act roughly to keep her from getting
away in the night to possible danger and to spread some tale. In
recollection Larry had become nothing but over-ardent, a
recommendation to her tenderness. She remembered his unfailing
kindness and witty good humour, his readiness to help and pull his
weight, his attractive slender appearance. She knew he was going
downhill fast, wore a scraggy beard, and brought his family to poverty
by ineptitude aggravated by swilling at the pubs, and made Dot--the
once superb Dot Saunders--miserable. Ignez, in her letters, had told
of bringing Larry home from the Mantrap. Time can act the clown as
well as the idealizer with romance, and Milly would not entirely
explode hers by naming Larry Healey as /vis-à-vis/ the stylish
Delarue.

Ignez was satisfied that Milly knew everything, married as she was to
an almost legendary figure, with a baby of her own, and with the
experience revealed by this confession.

"And you came to Bert. You didn't go to your mother, either," said
Ignez, who was uneasy about ignoring her mother.

"Oh, dear me, no! Most mothers are a generation out of date when their
daughters need them. I have a different plan for Pearl. I have a
wonderful book by an American doctor, called /Tokology/, and another
/In Loco Parentis/, and heaps more." Milly was a person of ideas, and
had gained her experience joyously with a restrained and decent man.

"I think that shows Mr Delarue is sensitive," she commented when Ignez
told her how he had allowed her to depart alone without a word. "He
was shocked to have upset you. I think he must really love you. Would
you like to marry him?"

"Oh dear, no! He's engaged to someone else. That made it worse."

"He could have made a mistake in the other case," said the
knowledgeable Milly.

"In any case," said Ignez sombrely, "I've decided I'm never going to
marry anyone."

Milly laughed robustly. "You wait, and you'll see you wouldn't have
missed marriage for anything."

Ignez could not confess to Milly her revulsion arising from the
knowledge of an evil rawly exposed and driven home by the tragedy at
Redfern. Milly was her childish ideal, yet she, like Rhoda Poole,
might have the unclean idea that men had the right to an indulgence
that inescapably wasted and degraded a percentage of women, and
thereby besmirched all. Ignez was forestalling possible disappointment
in Milly by hiding that festering wound. An attractive eligible man
who could have understood her point of view at this crisis might have
retrieved the status of natural love, but where was such a one?
Abashed by her discovery that her panic had been groundless, she was
fearful of making another downy mistake, also her precocious appraisal
of worth suggested that Masters was probably as noble as any knight,
but what did it avail when he lived at silly old Oswald's Ridges and
thought of nothing but his dairy? He had never been out in the world
to be tried.

With a laughing hug and kiss Milly reassured Ignez and ran away to
report to the unfailing Bert. He had to be wakened but he did not
complain.

"Oh, Bert, you were right! She was nearly mad with worry."

"It wasn't her voice?"

"No. I forgot all about her voice. It was the very same mare's nest I
had that night Larry Healey hugged me a bit fiercely and I got here
with Romp and Merrylegs in a state of batteration after a two days'
ride."

They agreed that Ignez's was a trivial skirmish compared with Milly's
when she had appeared to Bert in the very room where Ignez had now
found salvation. They spent an hour recalling that valkyrian ride.
They were able to smile at girlish fears of violation because of lack
of simple technical knowledge.

"I'm going to teach Pearl everything, so she won't be fooled by her
own simplicity."

Ignez sat on the bed, her toes caressing a tanned horse-hide. Reaction
almost foundered her. Whew! She was thankful she had not betrayed her
simplicity to Delarue. Milly could be depended upon to keep the
secret, and her sudden flight from Sydney could be attributed
to--well, even to biliousness, which she despised as the weakness of
self-indulgent inferiors, who had greedy appetites.

She lay in the bliss of rescue from the bogy her fears had created. It
was heaven to be there with Milly, safe and well, the /status quo/
unimpaired. Milly, staunch, understanding, and experienced, had not
failed her.

A willy-wagtail tweetered in the garden. The song of Poole's Creek
filled the summer darkness with a cool sigh. She was safe and well in
native surroundings. The wide night outside was full of stars, the
morning would come with the chortles of kookaburras. All the dear old
magpies would be warbling. The tame animals would raise their voices
in familiar chorus.

Bert returned to slumber easily and Milly lay on his shoulder rosily
dreaming, but Ignez could not sleep. After the first flush of relief
dissatisfaction with herself remained. As Milly was sure that mothers
were automatically out of date with young daughters, so too was Milly
receding from Ignez as she looked ahead and knew that she could no
more settle in Sydney than at Jinninjinninbong, at any place
circumscribed by this domestic and marriage drag. Her face was set
towards the realm of the arts. She urgently rallied her shattered
emotions, and reassembled her purpose. She had run away from Sydney
without securing professional opinions about her voice, a false start
that would delay and obstruct her. She was ready to begin all over
again. The consequences of the Redfern accident were going deeper into
her subconsciousness, but life could still be sweet in parts,
especially over the seas and far away. The base to start from was
still there and she unharmed upon it. She slept restoringly.

She stayed two days at Curradoobidgee, then rushed home to see her
family. Her mother was delighted with her voice. A horse muster was on
and in the disturbance Ignez was not too closely investigated about
her musical progress or the results of her trip to Sydney. The South
African war had stimulated the horse market and Bob Milford was easy
about a few pounds to pay Ignez's board and her fees.

Her parents said, "We can spare her better now than later, and she'll
be discontented if she doesn't have a flutter."

                          *       *       *

Blanche said that her mother was too frail to endure the thumping on
the piano and Ignez squarking in her loud harsh voice. Blanche
resented Ignez's courting of notoriety that attracted a questionable
kind of attention from men while she herself was overlooked because
she appealed only to what was high and pure in them. She also wished
Ignez to stay at Deep Creek without a break for a time to see whether
Arthur would forsake Lagoon Valley. She hoped to reawaken his interest
in herself when Ignez was not present.

With an extra child in the house Mrs Healey was glad of Ignez's help
and her board money and was supported by prevailing opinion that it
was more sensible and Christian for Ignez to help than to give way to
her folly and self-conceit about the stage. Had Ignez been inexpert in
ordinary occupations she would have served to stress the capability of
Dot and Blanche, but she was swift and clever in all domestic work and
could think up interesting innovations. Blanche was unhappy and
humiliated by Masters's indifference. Dot's was a more deeply embedded
case of disharmony and maladjustment. Past mistakes maddened the proud
and capable woman, and she had much to try her in Larry, whom she had
not loved, and with whom she had made an unaccountable slip only in
the desperation of unreturned affection. If only she had not added to
the mistake in a moment of weakness and thereby condemned herself to a
life of poverty and hard work, resented childbearing, and removal from
the comfortable financial circumstances of her early life! Larry
suffered equally keenly, but he blamed himself for his shortcomings,
and for failing Dot as a provider. He was broken and gentle and had
sympathy for all those in distress, particularly the failures, and
bore with Dot unmurmuringly. Dot felt that her troubles were the fault
of others, the malignity of fate. Rasped to the core, she was at war
with herself.

When Ignez returned to Deep Creek Dot had not recovered from the
birth, and was exacting and irritable, so Ignez lent a hand with the
child. She tried desperately to please in view of the setback she had
brought on herself. Like Larry, she did not blame others. She hid her
perplexities and battled alone as lost as a duck in a desert.

Influenza was rife in the district that autumn and Ignez let her
singing wait while she gave what little time she could to piano and
theory. Frosts came early and her fingers were chapped and stiff from
the washing and scouring and Ignez protested against this kind of work
being augmented unnecessarily, on the grounds that if affected her
hands for piano practice.

Lizzie Humphreys carried this abroad as unbelievable airs on the part
of Ignez. It came back to sting her in a kind of boasting bee among
the housewives when they called on Dot at Deep Creek. Mrs Blackshaw,
complacent in self-righteousness, took occasion to bring her own paws
into view.

"Dear me, Ignez, what lovely little white hands you have. How do you
manage to keep them so?"

"By letting others do the work while you act fine lady at the piano, I
suppose," said Mrs Tomkins slyly.

"I tell Ignez it's much more important to have a well-run house than
white hands," said Mrs Healey with satisfaction in the turn the clack
had taken.

It was merely by comparison with those who had had more decades of
hard labour that Ignez's hands were not yet unseemly paws.

"After I get through washing Mr Blackshaw's trousers the blood often
comes." The tones were heavy with self-immolation.

"Why not scrub moleskins with a brush?" suggested Ignez.

"I'd consider myself lazy to do that--just to save my hands!"

"Wait till Ignez has a husband and half a dozen children."

"That would take the high notions out of the hardiest," contributed
Mrs Healey sardonically.

Ignez escaped to prepare tea while Lizzie was engaged with the baby.
She rebelled furiously against this fatuous self-complacency. Hadn't
any intelligence themselves and would consign her to the same level!
They made work unnecessarily hard by stupidity and then posed as
martyrs. They should adopt sutteeism and be done with it. Their idea
of marriage to be forced upon her--to produce half a dozen replicas of
their own limitations and those of a frowsy pipe-sucker who had as
like as not to be dragged home from the pub! She herself had to bring
home Mazere and Healey because their wonderful great-housekeeping,
pot-scouring, hearth-whitewashing wives were too hennish to do the
salvaging themselves.

She deposited the tea and cakes on the sitting-room table and fled up
the slope from the back door, leaping logs and the creek-bed to ease
her resentment. She came to the brow of the ridge, hidden from the
house by clumps of wattle and sucker saplings. The clear undulating
country towards Cooee showed through a gap in the ragged, barren
hills. There was distance, space, blue beauty. She was speedily
restored to good-tempered resolution to do even more to help Dot lest
she should be sent home where there was no teacher. Old Salvatore, the
miraculous, but banned, had disappeared, gone back to Italy, it was
said. She must ignore the pecks of the cockatoos till she could fly
away.

The matrons resented her absence. "Isn't Ignez going to have tea with
us?" inquired Mrs Tomkins.

"She's gone off to sulk somewhere. She's come back from Sydney with a
swelled head because someone flattered her about her voice. When I
can't stand her here she goes and cooees about the bush."

Blanche was another doubtful of that trip to Sydney. Ignez had nothing
to show but Mrs Raymond Poole's letter, in which she wrote that Mr
Delarue maintained his superlatives and insisted that Ignez must come
again and have her voice properly tested. Just polite flattery, said
Blanche to Arthur at the first opportunity. Arthur, too, would have
liked to think that, though for a different reason. Ignez did not show
Delarue's verse to anyone. She would sometimes study his photograph
and wonder about him. Pricks she suffered, and the set-backs due to
her own mistakes, were showing her that it was not helpful to
antagonise people. She had new-born sympathy with Blanche's desire to
paint. She acknowledged Blanche's exceptional facility and that she
too had little spare time to develop her talent, though with a mere
dozen lessons she had become the pride of her teacher.

Alice Ormiston, the niece of a former canon of the cathedral, had come
from London nearly a year ago and throve because painting was the
latest craze in fancy work. Her studio was continually full of young
ladies. There was never a thought of capturing a native scene or
bloom. That would have been crude. The girls daubed happily, and
gossiped about their lovers while by "touching up", Miss Ormiston
ensured that all her pupils turned out good work--of its class--and in
such quantity that fathers felt they had worth for the fees paid. The
pupils did not see the letters that went to England about the naivety
of the followers of art, nor know what a windfall it was to the
impoverished family of Alice, who was thus sacrificing her own talent
that a younger brother might be supported at Oxford, and incidentally
to become splenetic about the intrusion of women into those sacred
precincts. Nor did Miss Ormiston demand of her pupils that they should
paint from living flowers. They only copied prints. She herself had
sufficient talent to get still life studies into a number of
exhibitions. She wanted funds for herself and that brother. These
girls had no gifts nor any desire to be artists. When they had enough
pictures to line their walls, with a few in addition as wedding
presents for their friends, they disappeared and their places were
taken by other damsels. This routine saved Alice Ormiston time and
energy. Blanche was filling the house with copies of flower studies,
sea-scapes and landscapes so well-executed that they rarely had to be
re-touched by her teacher and won prizes in the domestic arts and
needlework sections of the agricultural shows from Cootamundra to
Cooma.

Ignez turned determinedly to studying the theory and history of music,
in which an examination was approaching, and resolved more fully to
appreciate Blanche, a routine that was to be scrambled by several
unexpected circumstances. One resulted from practices unfamiliar to
the inhabitants of Oswald's Ridges and introduced by the pretentious
curate, after whom the Mazeres' cat was named the Reverend Mull. This
gentleman and his friend and affinity, the cathedral organist, became
the main figures in scandal. Percy Mull, a cockney of obscure origin,
was a staunch imitator of his "betters". He aped an air of detached
and patronizing superiority and an Oxford accent and tried to
reproduce the salonry of an English cathedral town in afternoons at
which young ladies of the top set worshipped his cultural tuition and
listened rapt while he read Browning. Some of the matrons also enjoyed
this novel break from hum-drum routine. He strutted acceptably to the
bush town aspiring to be a cathedral city, and commended the Goulburn
congregation as "the most like England" of any he had seen in the
colonies--a compliment indeed. He introduced some of Oscar Wilde's
recreations and there followed an explosion. Local society had
recently been fooled through one of its bright new favourites, the
bride of a professional man, turning out to be a mere /de facto/. She,
too, had had an outlet for her showy talents and had been the life of
Society. This second much worse scandal had to be scotched at all
costs.

The Reverend Mr Mull found a silly widow, admitted to his tony
afternoons only because of her ample means, delighted to marry him,
and he was removed to a remote parish. The organist, a delicate young
man, opportunely was one of the flu's victims, or at any rate the
epidemic got the blame for his demise. There were private conclaves
galore. A corrective was sought for the truly musical though
dissipated miscreant. The churchwardens insisted upon a reassuring
contrast, a family man if possible.

Alice Ormiston, teacher of painting, saw an opening for Uncle Archie.
He had been a drag on his tribe in Fulham, London, but some years
since they had unloaded him on a town in New Zealand as a church
organist. His family had eaten themselves out of elbows there, and his
niece, seeing how she had flourished among the up-country snobs, saw a
chance for uncle likewise to batten on unsophistication. He was an
elderly, unattractive man with a big fat hennish wife and a numerous
brood--his second--of young and unpromising children. He might have
been made to order, so well suited were he and his dependants to allay
the fears of the churchwardens. He was socially accredited as an
acquaintance of one of the clerics, who had met him in New Zealand, as
well as a relative of Miss Ormiston, herself a credit to womanhood.
She said Uncle Archie was not brilliant, but very solid. The
churchwardens had had too much of brilliance, safety and solidity were
what they craved.

The arrival of Mr Archibald Jepp of London via New Zealand was
reported in both the local papers. He was an all-round musician, and
would be an acquisition in the musical life of the city, already
famous far afield for its Lieder Tafel. Uncle made an opening splurge
by conducting in conjunction with the Lieder Tafel, an oratio through
which his eldest son loudly bleated in a voice like a ram's. Jepp
opened a studio on Montague Street and advertised that he would take a
limited number of pupils for singing and the piano. His niece let it
be known among her wide circle of art students that Uncle Archie had
magnificent piano technique and methods of voice production. He was
rushed as a tutor by the private schools. Ignez's heart was lifted up
as she read. Here was her chance for that preliminary training after
which, like Monica Shaw, she could tour Australia to acquire money for
study in Europe. She hurried to Jepp with three guineas from her
precious store, trembling lest he might not have room for her on his
privileged roster, but one look at this eager, glowing girl assured
her a place with the sensual old ignoramus, though she might not have
had three notes in her scale. Acceptance by a maestro from England was
encouraging to Ignez at the moment of nadir. She had renewed radiance
born of renewed hope, and Arthur's spirits took a downward curve.

"I suppose it'll be all over now," he murmured to Oswald.

Oswald was able to comfort him. The church scandal had reached him
through Lance Gilmour. It was as funny as Sheol to Lance, a robust
gossip, but far too virile and crude to become addicted to such
ancient and aristocratic vices. Lance, a patron of local musical
efforts, guffawed about the bleating younger Jepp, and told how the
old codger had been selected to restore faith. Arthur could see the
funny side of Uncle Archie, the clumsy unkempt grandfather as an
assurance against romantic dangers. Bless the old chap for his age and
family ramifications and unattractive personality! Arthur shuddered to
think that Ignez could have been touched by contamination, but she
would have been in no danger from the vices of the previous organist,
and could perhaps have been helped by his ability as a singing
teacher.

Jepp's experience in voice production had been gained by singing in
tenth-rate choirs. As a man or a musician he did not reach as high as
educated mediocrity. He could tell that Ignez had a voice, but had no
experience to diagnose whether the trouble in the middle register was
basic or merely needed placing and breath control.

"I can sing '/Ombra Mai Fu/' without any trouble with those notes,"
insisted Ignez. She demonstrated, but Salvatore Tartaglio had helped
her with that aria. He had told her she tried to leap a hurdle with
force when all that was necessary was to control her breathing and
soar smoothly over it. It was as simple as that, had she but known.

Jepp said that everything depended on those four notes of the major
scale. She must concentrate on them and work, and work; without those
notes her voice would be useless professionally. Professionally--
magical word, a spur to Ignez, who needed no adjuration to work.

She rose at Spartan hours so that she could meet the demands of
housewifery and have time for practice. That her musical attempts had
the importance of work and used up energy never entered even her own
head, so exiled was she from acquaintance with an artist's needs.
Practising was regarded as pure recreation. She worked prodigiously on
her vocal scales, away up in the gully so as not to disturb Mrs
Healey. She was determined to surprise Delarue and the Pooles upon her
return to Sydney. She hoped to go at the end of the quarter.

The practising became unbearable to Dot, whom the baby was pulling
down somewhat. Ignez asked if the piano could be moved to the kitchen
skillion. Dot objected that it would be spoiled. Larry said that it
was a sound room, to which Dot replied that she was mistress in her
own house, and the piano would remain where it was. She further stated
her belief that Ignez was utterly selfish to think so much of her own
affairs instead of trying to bring a little brightness to those who
had to put up with her presence.

Ignez was that day weary from yesterday's gallop of thirty miles in a
high wind as part of her misdirected struggle with art. Her
resolutions of calmness broke down. She burst into tears and flung
down the pot-lids she had been scouring with ashes, a task that grated
on her nerves. Surely, she thought, the pot-lids could be left till
after her examination. More pot-lids could be obtained if these were
spoiled, but time was valuable to her. Lizzie keenly enjoyed the bout.

"I don't let the old b---- nark me with her pecking," she confided. "I
just hang me lip. The missus'll get no bites outer me, not if I know
it. She wants her pot-lids to be shinier than old mother Blackshaw's."

"What's wrong now?" asked Larry.

"Suffers from an uncontrolled temper, I should say. The wonderful
artistic temperament, I suppose. More like plain selfishness and
inability to see that anyone but herself has to meet difficulties."

Larry retreated without comment.

Ignez went up the hill among the wattles and gum-trees till she
reached the taller timber where the whistling jays scolded her, and
two kangaroo-rats hopped from their tussock beside the whitewash hole.
She had affection for the spot where she and Freda and Dick had been
so happy writing. Today the place had a deserted, aching air and the
soughing she-oaks were in key with her mood. She flung herself on the
comforting carpet of dry needles and wept herself out. The accusation
of a violent temper was galling, because unfair. There was no redress.
Were the matter put to a jury of matrons including Mesdames Tomkins,
Bull, Blackshaw and their like, all motherly types, they would agree
that there was something unnatural in a girl who would forsake
pot-lids and flounce out of the house to sit by herself a mile away in
the scrub. To see any interest in the scrub while tray-cloths could be
drawn-threaded in itself would be an aberration to them. Ignez felt
she had a right to develop her talents, and earned censure as unsexed
by voicing this in theory, but lacked either the ruthlessness and
sharp temper or wily diplomacy to act upon her convictions. She was
vulnerable through sensitiveness, and inhibited by the feeling that as
a Christian she should bear Mrs Healey's burdens.

"No one anywhere understands one tiny scrap or would help me," she
wept in self-pity. In the careers of the celebrated was always someone
to help. She had no one. She was quite alone. Then she remembered God.
She could pray to Him, but at present felt too limp. It was doubtful
if anyone actually banked on God. If, for instance, she were to say to
Mrs Healey that she would withdraw and ask God to solve their
problems, Mrs Healey would report her to the neighbours as mad. They
would advise her to become a lay preacher, like old Mrs Plantaganet.
Ignez was diverted by the thought of the bonneted figure, who took her
turn in the Wesleyan church at Lagoon Valley and laid down the law of
the Gospels in a grandmotherly way to a congregation that ranked her
as the pick of the lay preachers--a demonstration in the practice of
freedom for women two generations in advance of the canons and
curates, dads and devils of the great universities and ancient
cathedrals of the paradise of culture to which she longed to escape.

The friendliness of the bush comforted her. All was so free from
cankerous growth. There was no poisonous or vicious thing to attack
her in that aromatic, silent, unspoiled place, and she was restored by
her habit of thought. She reverted to Arthur, so cheerful and
practical, but behind his protection was his desire to gobble her in
this frowsy marriage business. She felt he did not take her talents
seriously and was waiting for her to abandon her ambitions or be
defeated. She thought of her /doppel-gänger/, Nita, to whom she could
attribute the splendid rebellion and rages to which she herself could
not attain. Nita would have the will to vanquish Dot and Blanche,
while her creator could only creep away to the she-oaks and cry. She
still did not know what had become of Nita and was too sensitive to
ask Mr Harris. She had sent Dick's poems to the /Bulletin/, but had no
verdict, though nearly six months had gone. She let out a few notes of
her voice to test the actuality of her means to escape. It was good.
So she prayed a brave prayer to that beauty in the distance, "Great
God of Heaven, help me so that I can help others. They'll forgive me
if I can succeed and make money to give them things."

Restored by the crisp sunset, red between the white tree-trunks, she
raced homeward alight with health and renewed determination to be
quiet and cheerful under Dot's pricking, but the presence of outsiders
eased her and Ignez was met with good humour.

"Hurry up, Ignez, and help with the tea. Your Uncle Harry has come.
Oh, here's a packet from Lagoon Valley. It has 'manuscript' on it.
Something being rejected, I suppose," she added with a spice of
satisfaction.

Ignez winced through all her being and hid the parcel under her
pillow. All the neighbourhood would know of the rejection.

Harry Milford was going on to Lagoon Valley, where he was also uncle,
since Mrs Milford was a sister of Mrs Mazere. The Milfords were
prospering with the brisk demand for horses created by the war. Harry
had a word alone with Ignez. She loved this genial uncle. Mr and Mrs
Bob had sent their daughter ten pounds extra to go on with her studies
because they were so flattered by the reports floating round from Bool
Bool, from Mrs Poole's letters and from young Oswald Poole during his
visit to the clan. Uncle Harry added a five-pound note "from your Aunt
Emily to buy a new dress."

Ignez was elated. Perhaps God was around somewhere after all. Uncle
Harry asked her to ride across to Lagoon Valley as he would not see
much of her. He had to be at Goulburn early next day and would spend
the night at Mazere's. He had come on horseback and made this detour
especially to see Mrs Mazere, because Mrs Milford was disturbed about
the reports of her sister's health.

Mrs Mazere was quite cheerful that evening and engrossed in news of
her sister.

"You must give us a song, Ignez, so I can hear this wonderful voice,"
Uncle Harry said during the evening.

"Doesn't Ignez's mother want her home?" Blanche asked.

"She wants Ignez to take full advantage of the splendid opportunities
she's having here."

"What does she think of Ignez going on the stage?"

"That hasn't happened yet," said Milford with a twinkle that appeased
Blanche and did not reach Ignez because she was saying something to
Dick.

                          *       *       *

The war in South Africa was not the entertaining safari that
volunteers had at first expected. Chamberlain had early recovered from
his condescension about colonials. "Bobs" had called for twenty
thousand more men to replace those already wasted in military
bungling. Archie Monro was going immediately. Wynd Norton and Eli Bull
had been promoted to a metropolitan company and hoped to get away a
little later.

Archie Monro went around saying good-bye to the neighbours and called
at Deep Creek about half an hour after the others had left for Lagoon
Valley. Dot invited him to come in and await their return. Dot liked
Archie and was glad of his company, and he was still there telling
tales of camp life and singing the current martial songs to Dot's
accompaniment at eleven o'clock. Dot was pleased, as she said, with
this chance to use her own piano. The hour was late for Oswald's
Ridges, but a young man doesn't go to his first war more than once in
his life, and frequently does not come back from it, so Archie
lingered, and at last Ignez and Larry returned. The light in the front
room brought them straight in without putting the horses away and they
sat down to a second supper.

Ignez accompanied Archie to the back gate when the parting hour
arrived. While Larry released the horses Archie shyly handed her a bag
of marbles. He had been a champion; these were his favourite taws.

"Shouldn't the Blackshaws have them?" murmured Ignez. They saw a great
deal of Archie.

"You understand better," he said.

"Thank you for trusting me. I'll keep them till we meet again."

"I'll never forget your singing. So long!"

She watched him as he swung down the track in the moonlight whistling
"The Deathless Army".

Safely in her room at last, she opened the packet of manuscript--
Dick's poems and an opinion. If the writer was young, as the editor
judged her to be, there was a certain amount of promise in the little
verses, though they echoed Paterson and Lawson. The writer in time
would doubtless be one of the minor bush-balladists who were
presenting Australian life. Ignez did not know how to take this, the
first communication she had received on such a subject. It would wound
Dick. She considered suppressing it, but that was not practicable. She
decided to see Dick secretly on her way to her next lesson.

She was fortunate in finding him at a distance from the house and was
able to join the Goulburn road again without being seen.

Dick accepted it as death to all literary effort. He was as destitute
of experience and encouragement as Ignez. He was shamed and mortified
by the word "echo", which he took to mean plagiarism, and about that
he had a high conscience. The pronoun "she" was even more crushing.
Ignez tried to assure him that this was because she had written the
accompanying letter. Dick pointed out that she had signed herself I.
Milford and that her writing was derided by Blanche as masculine. Had
not Ignez herself contended that feminine writing was merely a matter
of nibs and a prescribed slant?

"No one knows, and I'll never let out a word." She thought with
satisfaction of shielding Dick.

A letter about Nita came later. In response to her timid inquiry Mr
Harris wrote that Rankin, the publisher, was away in London since
January, but had said at the time that the story had possibilities. Mr
Harris exhorted Ignez to study established writers and sent her
/Sartor Resartus/ and a tattered copy of /Esmond/, recommended as the
greatest novel of a master. Ignez was discouraged because she much
preferred her old friend /Vanity Fair/. /Sartor Resartus/ was sawdust
to her and she feared this meant that only when she was old and fat
like other authors she might write a real book. That possibility at
the dreary end of life had no allure. Her present worry was to regain
the manuscript with as little notice as possible. She did not hurt
Dick by the news that a girl's effort had received milder
discouragement than his.

She let it slide and put all the time she could into vocal practice
and especially to pushing and straining the four middle notes. Other
events occupied local attention. Wynd and Cowpens weren't long in
following Archie to South Africa. Archie's sister Cherry had failed to
capture Oswald but had impressed his mother so that Mrs Oswald got her
into the Royal Prince Albert Hospital as a probationer. This, the only
opening for girls of social pretensions, was gratifying to Cherry. Mrs
Mazere was poorly that season and Blanche most industrious and
overseeing. One person happy with few reservations was Freda, who
copied everything her heroine did.

"When I grow up I'm going to be clever like Ignez," she proclaimed.

"That mightn't be very clever," said her mother. "Ignez has not done
anything clever yet. It would be better for you to be a good little
girl and help your poor overworked mother."

Ignez ignored the slur. Having passed her first examination with
ninety-nine marks she was sure she could gain the full hundred in the
coming one. She had been dubious on only one point and had gone to
Reggie Pollit and paid five shillings for half an hour's instruction.
Reggie had won a medal or two with his pupils. He was astounded by
Ignez's progress unaided and wanted to enter her as his pupil. Ignez
said that this would not be true, and that she had already entered. Mr
Pollit then kindly offered to keep an eye on her during the
examinations so that she would not be lost.

                          *       *       *

Mrs Mazere took suddenly to her bed, but as she had always been frail
no one was alarmed. Flu was still prevalent. Blanche really had her
hands full and at the beginning of July commanded the help of Ignez.

"We put up with your thumping on the piano for a long while so I
thought you might like to repay a little of what was done for you."

"It's just before my examination," said Ignez, a little dismayed.

"I've had to give up my painting."

Ignez felt it would be callous to say that Mrs Mazere was not her
mother. "If I could manage to study a bit . . ."

"You could easily do that. Otherwise I'd have to keep Philippa from
school, and that doesn't seem fair."

With the mirage of escape gleaming afar, Ignez struggled on. Her
services were accepted as a matter of course and she baulked at
nothing. She also got through her examination. She completed her
papers in half the time allotted and made a speckless copy throughout.
Reggie Pollit, who was present as scrutineer, congratulated her and
said there was no need for her to wait until the closing hour since
she had such a cold long ride. He put her papers with those of his own
pupils. Ignez was glad of this, for she had to go to the pub and
tactfully extract Mazere to ride home with her before he was too far
gone. His wife's illness depressed him so that he gave way to this
weakness. She was glad to do this to help Blanche but her new attitude
had failed to win Blanche because no sooner had Ignez been settled at
Lagoon Valley than Masters again made frequent calls, offering to lend
horses or to bring medicine from town and so on.

                          *       *       *

Mrs Mazere suddenly succumbed to heart failure.

A heavy burden fell on Blanche, but she drew relief from the full use
of her capability. Sylvia had come only two days before her mother's
death and was helpless with grief. Philippa and Aubrey were also sick
from weeping, Dick and Allen dazed, Mazere without a rudder. Several
relatives had come from Bool Bool and the house was full. The burial
was to take place at Goulburn. Old Grandma Blackshaw had performed the
last offices. It was her function to help infants into the world and
prepare bodies for the grave.

The day of the funeral was grey and biting, with winds sweeping across
the flats with the purchase of distance. Grandma Blackshaw
superintended the mourners in their call upon the dead and retailed
her dying words and manner of dissolution. Ignez poured herself out in
sympathy and competent help. Every pot-lid and spoon in the house
shone. Every hearth was snowy. The large laundry fluttered in the icy
wind.

"Blanche is a dear girl," observed Mrs Blackshaw.

"She'll keep the home together. A case of an old head on young
shoulders," supported Mrs Brown.

"The man who gets her will have a prize. How about your Sid?" inquired
Mrs Tomkins. They had their feet on the hobs in the drawing-room.
Others were in the dining-room and the kitchen.

"It was Sylvia's pretty face attracted them all," said Mrs Blackshaw
amiably.

All were given refreshments; some had a nip of whisky.

"Sure, Ignez is another grand gurrl," declared Grandma Blackshaw,
overhearing the eulogy of Blanche.

"She doesn't feel it like I do," amended Blanche, who appeared to be
ubiquitous.

"If you gave way like poor little Sylvia and Philippa you'd feel
better," said Mrs Tomkins.

"I can't," said Blanche with a dry sob. "Poor mother always depended
on me, and I must think of others now." She hurried away,
straightening a window blind as she went.

"She ought to leave things to Ignez."

"Everything's left to her now," declared Grandma, sipping from a cup
of tea with just a drop in it to break the wind. This was the third
attack on the wind that morning and it was departing in prodigious
belchings after inward rumblings and gurglings provocative of mirth.
"Ignez has invention in her. She's game for annything, and full of
loife. She was in the cowyard yesterday, and she did the washing and
baking."

"Still, she's not domestic," said Mrs Blackshaw.

"What ye mean is that she doesn't sit and cluck on the wan clutch of
eggs all the toime regardless of whether there's chicks in 'em or if
they're only rotten."

When left a widow with many small children Grandma had been found
ploughing with her baby on her back in the fashion of the old world.
The men of the Ridges had been so shocked that this had not occurred
again, though Grandma still lived alone. Her daughters-in-law wanted
her to live with them and be more genteel, but the grand, untamed old
hag had refused to be trapped into "anny damn' cage where I could not
call me sowl me own". She had a fellow-feeling for Ignez in her
recalcitrance.

More neighbours arrived. The women entered the house to sympathize and
keep alive the children's grief. Some brought wreaths of cypress and
other conifers. There were few blooms in that month of frost, and
these had been sent to Blanche in twos and threes to make the family's
offering. Sid Blackshaw had ridden round as collector. The men
remained outside in the lee of the stables, perched along a split-rail
fence like a rack of turkeys. They sucked their pipes; some even
cracked a joke quietly. The intimate neighbours helped by two of Mrs
Mazere's brothers carried out the coffin. Ignez ran about putting hot
bricks in the buggies, assisted by Arthur. Suck-Suck drew the family.
They were packed three to a seat, so Arthur took Philippa and Ignez in
his sulky. Oswald brought his sociable for the up-country visitors,
which included young Timson. The Finnegan buggy with Splodger hove
into view as they were about to move off. The old man was seated
beside Michael, and Bridgit was in the back seat. Bridgit had brought
Da up to scratch. He had a low opinion of Protestants and described
Mazere as "a poverty-stricken owld heretic with the soign of God help
us on him". Mazere thought Finnegan the real potato from the bogs and
as bigoted as a bull, but neighbourliness knit them, and neither would
have uttered such descriptions in the other's hearing unless out of
himself with rage or alcoholism. Masters and Tomkins pulled back to
make an opening.

"Keep ye in there in ye'r own places," the old man shouted. "Oi was
niver a friend of the Mazeres, having no call to be, they being
heretics and all, but shure they're neebours, too, and Oi'm showing me
respect in their throuble."

The procession toiled up scrubby pinches in the shelter of the
friendly scrubs and across cleared spaces where the winter winds swept
mercilessly. The neighbour driving the coffin smoked his pipe and
others followed his example to keep their noses warm.

"I wish they'd make the pace a little livelier," Sid Blackshaw
complained to a mate, "or it won't be over in time for the football
match, and I'm hanged if I've crawled all this blooming away for
this." Sylvia as a draw to funerals or sports had lost her power, with
young Timson in the Oswald sociable.

Near town the hearse was waiting and the coffin was transferred.
Arthur lost Philippa's company when she got into the mourning
carriage. The procession passed along Auburn Street and to the
cemetery beyond. The clergyman was waiting, and all that remained of
Mrs Mazere was soon consigned to earth before her sobbing family.
Arthur was alert to extract Ignez from the crowd and moved off before
he could be asked to give anyone else a lift. He hurried her to the
Commercial and gave her a meal. As they departed he wrapped her in his
possum rug and put a heavy shawl about her shoulders. "There now,
we're as snug as can be."

Ignez had had more than enough for her courage of late. Now that the
strain of the last days was ended in that dark hole in the ground,
with the sleet beginning to fall in it, and an empty place at Lagoon
Valley, Masters saw tears on her cheeks in the lamplight as they left
town. He was driving old Tarpot, steady and sure, who had gone home to
Barralong after Sylvia's visit, and he could wipe her tears away.

"Don't you think you could trust me to take care of you?"

"I could trust you to take care of anyone."

"Including your precious little self?" He pinned her to the point with
cheery persistence, but communicated his emotion to Tarpot, who was
eager for his manger so that he started to tear down the hill from the
Queen of the South's like a colt.

"Yes, but, Arthur dear," she began, reluctant to wound him, "wouldn't
that mean that dreadful marriage business?"

"It needn't be dreadful. Good management in marriage as well as in
dairying would help a lot."

"If we're friends to the extent of considering marriage we must have
enough common sense to speak of plain facts," ventured Ignez,
generations in advance of her environment. "It doesn't seem that all
the management in the world could make it easier to give birth to a
swarm of children. Babies are lovely, but see the awful objects they
grow up to, and married women are always suffering. Look at Mrs
Mazere, dead at last. And Mrs Healey is always scotty, and everyone
has to put up with her because a baby is coming. Then she has to be
put up with because the baby's here, and there could be half a dozen
more yet. She never says a word in favour of her husband and yet has a
baby. The thought of marriage like that is disgusting."

"That's an exceptional case," was all he could say.

"Not so very exceptional; there are lots even worse. I must work
harder now and get away. There's always something to take up my time
and baulk me."

"You don't mean that you don't want to marry and have a woman's life
at all?" Consternation was in his tones.

"I would rather die now than be the sort of married woman of Oswald's
Ridges. I want to get away somewhere so that I'll be able to use my
talents without being thought mad or unsexed."

He was trying to understand her, and the double-headed problem facing
her. He tried with a clear, definite mind to fathom a mind so complex
that it would never be able to fathom itself, and which at present was
unaware, as well as without guidance from within and without. He
remembered himself when younger than Ignez; he had ramped first to be
a Red Indian and then an engine-driver. Ignez would get over her
hankering to be a prima donna. In his view the danger was in the
pitfalls that waited for an attractive girl even in an ordinary life,
and to expect them to be avoided on the stage was like expecting a
girl to be safe in a house of ill fame, but such was his faith in
Ignez that he feared no weakness from within herself.

Loving her, he had mastered sections of the papers that had formerly
been skipped. From these and American magazines he had gathered that
there were many casualties along the climb to musical heights. Only a
small percentage of starters got near to the top or stayed there. Many
succumbed to marriage. Even the greatest made touching revelations
that love and home came first. Ignez needed indulgence till she
outgrew her notions. The vain hopes of youthful love had been renewed
when no startling announcement followed her trip to Sydney. She had
not even had her voice tested by any teachers or professors. She was
only a kid at present--seven years younger than himself. Wait till she
had a baby of her own in her arms! That was the answer to all a
woman's hankerings. He wanted to gain her trust so that she could
return without loss of face when the time came. And surely to God she
would not roam abroad by herself, but would be in a school and under
direction!

Ignez recalled the other time she had traversed that road with him in
a gracious night full of happiness and music and had heard Desdemona
Muir in amorous song. Arthur, too, remembered Miss Muir, but as a
theatrical star of virtuous repute, who had relinquished her
footlighted glory to marry a little hee-haw nincompoop who acted
lap-dog to the Governor.

"If you went away somewhere could I come for you after two years?" he
asked suddenly.

"Arthur darling, it wouldn't fit. You're splendid on the land. And
that's the only kind of man who seems really manly to me, but you
couldn't work the land in Australia and live with me in New York or
London."

"No. But I'd rather see you once in two years than all the other girls
in the world all the time. Do you . . . er . . . do you reciprocate
just a shade?"

"If some miracle could make that possible, of course it would be
lovely to see you in London."

"And it's twice that to see you anywhere--even in Cowpens's kitchen
doing the washing in the light of a tallow candle." He was so elated
that she had not rebuffed him that he peered into her face and smiled
till she responded, despite the sadness of the day. "Let's think out a
plan. If you change your mind about this career business, like lots
have done after a go at it, I want you to let me be the first into the
secret, like I was about writing the book."

She was quick to sense that he knew Nita had petered out and that he
was hoping for her voice to come to nothing higher than a church
choir. She resented this, but he was so kind that she let it pass.

"Oh, yes, it would be lovely to tell you of my success."

It wasn't of success so much as of relinquishment of airy-fairy dreams
that he was eager for news, but he was wary of alienating her. "If you
take a notion to throw it up, will you send for me? I'd be a help with
your luggage coming home."

The wind did not pierce the thick fur and wool in which she was
wrapped and she felt more comfort than for weeks. The sleet showers
had cleared; there was a star or two showing.

"There'll be all sorts of dudes wanting to help you with money, but I
shall be very jealous if you let anyone else have a finger in the
pie."

"I shan't take money from anyone; it isn't nice."

"But this is different. You must have money to start. You can repay me
with interest when you're a success. I'll get my photo in the papers
as your discoverer--my only chance, so you mustn't be a kill-joy."

"Oh, Arthur, I hope you capture the butter market and make a fortune,
and get your photo in the papers for that!"

"I mean to keep out of the poorhouse at any rate, and this is a
bargain, I leave myself like a cheque already signed. You have only to
add the date and I'll pay up when you call upon me."

"Oh, Arthur!" was all she could say, and he took it as agreement. He
did not plague her for anything more formal. Strong and young,
bristling with health, he felt that love could never grow stale. His
imagination soared under the frosty stars. The dairy grew to a great
business and he was gone to London to return with a bride. Love could
fuse all incongruities and overcome impossibility. By his dreams has
man expanded from am amoeba. This was a dream rooted in the magnetic
reality beside him. The wind had cleared the jewelled sky, the frosty
breath of the night was an excuse to defeat draughts by nearness, but
the delicacy of his manner as he drew her closer was, "May I?" Ignez
could not wound him by flat resistance. In her complexity there was a
place for him. Her eyes were dewy with gratitude. Tarpot was
accommodating. He knew the road and the hand on the reins.

Blanche would have sent Ignez back to Deep Creek that night, but that
Arthur would have taken her, and also Sylvia clung to her, though her
grief was allayed by the presence of Malcolm Timson. Blanche was
frozen and desolate with more than the loss of her mother when she
noted the attitude of Masters. He took opportunity to offer to help
her in any way possible, particularly, he said, he would keep an eye
on Mazere any sale-days in the Mantrap as it did not look well to have
Ignez on that job.

"I couldn't stop her," said Blanche. "She thrives on any kind of
notoriety." Had his solicitude been for Blanche it would have kept her
warm.



CHAPTER XIV


Away across the ocean Archie Monro was wounded, but not seriously. He
was in hospital and wrote glowingly of South Africa. Wynd and Cowpens,
as yet unscathed, were on active service in the Transvaal. More and
more men were being wasted by enteric and the other staples of war.
The stubborn resistance of the Boers was exciting the admiration of
neutral nations and alarming Britain. A jingo attitude had long since
become obligatory. Healey and Ignez found it politic to suppress their
fair-play notions, even in the house, since they annoyed Dot, who was
always orthodox. This was as well for Ignez; politics, unless those of
the established order, are a bad interest for the artist financially.

At this date Ignez noticed a decided change in her voice. It seemed to
fade. There was nothing the matter with her throat, which never got
sore like other people's, it was simply that the booming quality left
her tones. Jepp said that that was quite all right. In a year from now
she would be singing full voice again. Everything depended upon
breath-control. Ignez did not enjoy Jepp's methods of teaching
breath-control. He took her firmly between his knees and placed his
hands upon her person to show her how to regulate what he termed
"bellows action". She loathed his pawing and his fat stomach, like a
fallen plum-pudding. His stained fangs, the stale tobacco and worse on
his breath, his general frowsiness, his age--he was well into the
sixties--made the physical contact an ordeal to her. She felt that
Uncle Archie's method was excessive, but lacked the /savoir faire/ to
protest without seeming indelicate. /Honi soit/ again. And no matter
how avidly he squeezed and pawed, and how often she tried the hurdle,
her middle notes would not take it, whereas old Salvatore had made it
seem quite natural. He had always stood at a distance. Now,
/carissima, si, si/. She would imitate his production and then could
use those wayward middle notes as easily as the others. Salvatore
would be exuberant in praise of her intelligence.

Where was Salvatore now? There was a rumour that his bones were in the
Indian Ocean, he who had known and lost that musical glory for which
Ignez thirsted.

When Ignez's voice lost power Mrs Healey said that her teacher knew
his business. She had always known that if Ignez were constrained to
sing instead of bellowing she would find her level.

"It must be a great relief to you that her voice has toned down,"
agreed Blanche.

The house at Lagoon Valley was in even better order now that Blanche
had no curb on her will and industry. She had sent Sylvia back to
Coolooluk after a week. At the time of Mrs Mazere's death old Mr
Harris fell due for his superannuation. He had been an institution for
a generation. He was fond of pipes, wore very old hats, and went
shooting a great deal, or read novels in his skillion at the end of
Blackshaw's kitchen. His place was taken by a young woman, who
awakened interest.

Miss Moffat was tall and robust, and one to make a difference in
whatever circle she inhabited. She did not care for Blackshaw's tiny
skillion, so moved to Lagoon Valley, where the big front bedroom was
now empty. Miss Moffat was only three years older than Blanche, and a
nice companion for her. Blanche liked the ready money that she paid,
and advertised herself as capable to board half a dozen such, had she
spare rooms. Philippa was an eager helper, with never a thought but to
run upon all behests.

Miss Moffat was not good-looking. She was big and inclined towards
fleshiness. She had a small fat nose in the middle of a heavy
countenance and was myopic, but she was comfortable and able in
everything except the house. This was becoming in a schoolmistress,
and she unaffectedly insisted upon her domestic inefficiency. The
women were thus able to feel superior to her, and liked her. The men
enjoyed talking politics with her, and though she was city bred she
was interested in crop statistics and wool staples. She saw that
everyone had a chance to display himself. She exhibited Blanche's
paintings and extolled her housekeeping. Visitors to Lagoon Valley
reported that the new teacher was good company for all and an
acquisition to the district. She was reputed to be of good family, and
confessed that she had become a teacher because she could not agree
with a stepmother. She soon organized a picnic at the school, and had
the local Member of Parliament and the clergy of all denominations
visit her and commend her efforts. She encouraged clever little Freda
Healey to enter in a competition for an essay run by the Technical
School in Goulburn. The child won over girls of fifteen years of age.
She received a copy of Shakespeare's works as a prize, and there was a
paragraph about her in the Goulburn /Herald/. Larry was silly with
delight by the first gleam of success in an endless period. He thought
the child took after him, a secret indulgence in view of the
irregularity of her birth. Mrs Healey burst that bubble. She said she
often thought of writing herself but marriage soon took everything
like that out of a woman. Freda attributed her success to Ignez and
her school for literature in the back paddock. Ignez and Dick were
asked what had become of their efforts. Now and again there had been
digs about the packet returned, and Ignez was thankful that she was
able to deflect them from Dick. She was in eclipse herself awaiting
the results of the examination in the theory of music and the
re-emergence of her voice.

It was Blanche's turn to attract some attention. She had never been
able to take life as gaily as Sylvia because she had had to care for
her ailing mother. Now she was praised as a marvellous manager and
housekeeper, who was equally clever at dressmaking or fancy work, and
who also could make a table or a cupboard. The sitting-room and
dining-room were full of her paintings and the lifelike flowers made a
bright show. She was ceaselessly industrious and drew attention to her
excellence in tiresome self-assertion to offset the rasp of unreturned
affection for the only man she craved, and whose indifference left all
her efforts empty of special balm. The makings of a superb craftswoman
were being wasted in rough primitive chores. Driven by the instinct of
self-protection she was consolidating her indispensability to the
family. No soul can go naked before its fellows. It must ambush or
have a mask of some kind.

"What on earth would your father and the family do if you got
married?" said Mrs Tomkins one afternoon when she was at Lagoon Valley
with Mrs Blackshaw.

"I'd never think of marrying while the family needed me."

"You'll miss your chances."

"I must do my duty without thinking of myself."

"How different from Ignez!" said Mrs Tomkins on the homeward way. "She
comes away from her home and thinks she can do great strokes with a
career."

"She'll find out she's not as wonderful as she thinks presently."

This forecast was confirmed that very day by the mail which brought
the results of the examinations in the theory of music. Ignez was
dumbfounded; she had scraped through with only two marks to spare. She
could not conceive why. She had a full and exact copy of her papers
and had checked them and thought them faultless. There must be
something else that she did not understand. Next week the marks would
be listed in the papers and everyone would know of her disgrace.
Blanche would be coldly superior, Mrs Healey caustic, and Mrs Tomkins
would have a smart dig. She knew of no one whose sympathy would be
endurable or healing. She was seared, bewildered with pain, and had to
bear it alone, concealing the depth of her wound. It was such anguish
that never thereafter was she to have full pleasure in winning any
prize because of her sympathy with those who failed.

That afternoon she craved to be alone. She sped up the gully and on to
the casuarina needles to let her anguish wear her out. Mrs Healey had
been more than usually fault-finding, seeming to derive ease for her
own irritability in torturing others. Larry was increasingly her
whetting stone. He kept out of the house as much as possible and found
refuge in acknowledging to himself that he partly deserved his wife's
dissatisfaction because he was not a worldly success. Also, women were
women, and had to be endured.

Ignez looked upon the fallen monarch's magnificent trunk and the
uptorn roots where the woodbine was about to hang its royal purple
among the golden fluff of the wattles. All would be lovely with spring
again and she alone shamed by failure.

                          *       *       *

Ignez took her copy of her examination papers to Mrs Murray, the rival
teacher of Reggie Pollit, and asked if they were correct. Mrs Murray
said they were, in every detail, and should have obtained full marks.
Her only theory for the low marks was that Ignez might have slipped in
a clef or key-signature when copying. Ignez then proceeded to Reggie.
He too agreed that such a paper should have been awarded full marks.
He went further and said that he had looked though her papers before
handing them in and had expected them to receive full marks.

"Then why did I get such low marks?"

"I think Mrs Murray must have bunged your paper up. She's very jealous
of everyone and would like only her own pupils to come top."

Mrs Murray until that day had been unaware of Ignez's existence. In a
flash Ignez saw that Reggie's was a double dastardliness. Now she knew
why he had hovered about her and taken her papers well in advance. Had
she had anyone to uphold her she might have demanded an investigation,
but she was helpless. Discovery of such vicious and cowardly action
sickened her as much as her defeat. Were she to voice her suspicion it
would be regarded as the whining of a weakling. She looked with her
straight deep gaze at Reggie till he crimsoned to the roots of his
sandy hair, then turned and left him silently.

She had to go to the Mantrap for Healey and ran into a celebration for
Petty Doolan. Careful tuition and practice had won Petty the silver
medal in the piano section and she was enjoying the congratulations of
her family and friends. There were chocolates and flowers and other
presents. Petty was flushed with victory, and Ignez crept away with
Healey, eager to escape notice. With passionate fellow-feeling she
remembered the young wood-carter who had been thrown out on the
veranda in the frost as soon as he had got sufficiently drunk.

She tossed all that night in torture. Next day would bring the
newspaper. To gain a little respite she took Freda to get grass for
brooms in the afternoon. If only she could have stayed out all night
in the comfortable friendly scrub away from the derision of her
fellows! She could not drown herself in alcohol or build up a defence
as Blanche was doing. Silence and inward pain were her only resource.

Bridgit Finnegan was another to whom the mail carried trouble on that
Saturday afternoon. Bridgit was not a figure of romance as she sobbed
as if her heart would break. On her head was a dilapidated felt hat
with the red and white hair of Snowy and Spot matted on it. A pair of
man's burst boots showed her toes, a bag apron over a bedraggled skirt
completed her costume. She leant on the pigsty fence where two tar
drums were evidence of the heavy draught she had carried to the
animals, which were refreshing themselves noisily. The kookaburras
were laughing riotously in the trees beyond the potato patch a quarter
of a mile to the west. Parrots and magpies conversed around her but
she did not hear them. The spring light was darkened.

Young Jimmy Norton had ridden by and thrown at her the news that Wynd
had died of wounds and fever at some place with a queer name that
Jimmy could not pronounce. Jimmy's face was swollen with weeping, too.
He had few details. When Bridgit could weep no more and the hills were
black against the west that had faded from red to rose she returned to
the house to get tea. Da would be bawling for his food. Michael had
hurried away to console Elsie Norton. No one comforted Bridgit. Wynd
had not been engaged to her, had not paid her any attention. She
bathed her eyes and silently escaped notice. She had a photograph of
Wynd. He had given copies to all his friends. He had later sent
Bridgit a postcard of Durban and a short greeting signed with his
initials.

She plodded through every task and then by the light of a candle
looked until her eyes ran over again and again at the picture of a
young man, smartly uniformed, whose shadow would never again darken
the doors of Oswald's Ridges. For what he might see in the eyes of
pretty Silvia Mazere he had donned that uniform, but it was Bridgit's
eyes that were sore with weeping for him. It was Bridgit who made a
shrine of the photograph. "He stood just there and said good-bye to
me," she said to herself. "And now he will never come back."




CHAPTER XV


"All that magging about a writing school in the scrub ended in nothing
but Freda winning a little prize, and a packet marked 'Manuscript
Only' returned to Ignez. She's never said a word about what was in it.
And she got the lowest marks of any who passed in the musical
examinations." Blanche was talking to Arthur Masters on the
post-office steps where they met one day in town.

Masters's feelings were mixed as he heard this. He was sorry for
Ignez, but at the same time the information awakened a flicker of hope
that, after all, Ignez might not be a high-flying swan but merely an
extra special home-adorning hen. When Archibald Jepp entered the
building he stalked him observantly and took comfort from his humdrum
dullness and grubbiness. Surely he could be no stimulation to
ambition.

Blanche was in town to get the first-prize tickets for her paintings,
which she was having framed to hang with the winning exhibits. She was
not taking any more lessons. Alice Ormiston had doubled her fees. She
was besieged by pupils. They had to do some of the work themselves
now, and the results were not so magical. This left Blanche the
undisputed champion artist of the art and needlework section of the
shows of the Southern District, and permitted justifiable satisfaction
in her talent.

Ignez in her defeat was not such a target for criticism. Blanche had
more time for Dick, who defied her discipline by reading till all
hours of the night. It made him heavy in the mornings, and Blanche was
afraid he'd set the house on fire. He read such slush--poetry and wild
west yarns. Blanche laid this to the baleful influence of Ignez and
longed for her to leave the district. She wrote to her uncles about
Dick. They suggested having him at Bool Bool, but Dick told Blanche to
mind her own business, and she could do nothing, for he was needed in
the dairying, which had expanded since Masters's cheese and butter
factory was buying the milk of the neighbourhood.

There was little brightness for Ignez these days. Mrs Healey sometimes
accompanied Healey to town and took Lizzie to help with the baby.
Ignez then had only the child next to Freda and was free to test her
voice. There was still no power in it. It had become an ordinary
voice. She felt she could not now make people cry or laugh at will.
She tried every kind of forcing, but the voice simply was not there.
She spoke about it to Jepp. He said she was very young, that if she
rested for a quarter it might be better. She could take piano lessons
instead; a singer needed general musicianship. The old quack was too
ignorant and too callous to be disturbed by her vocal symptoms. He was
greedy for the guineas to help fill the mouths of the brood that
followed upon his lust, and he enjoyed the nearness of this exquisite
girl. He was continually surprised by her sensitiveness, and told her
he had not expected it in the rude colonies. It was what he was
familiar with in the daughters of the county families in England, whom
he could never have seen except at a distance in church.

Ignez shrank increasingly from the feel and smell of him, with his
barnacled fangs and odiously discoloured white moustache, so she
changed from vocal to piano lessons without mentioning it to anyone.
She would remain at Deep Creek to thump the piano instead of to
bellow, as Dot and Blanche put it, not untruly, since Uncle Archie was
almost as wanting in special qualifications for handling a difficult
and unusual voice as the folks of Oswald's Ridges. Ignez was not going
to take a second panic and do anything foolish till she had her
bearings. Her first one had delayed her.

The war dragged on in South Africa. Cowpens was still unhurt. Archie
Monro wrote triumphantly to Ignez and his sister Cherry.

  Dear Ignez,

  How are you getting along at good old Oswald's Ridges? I'm safe
  out of it now. A shying girl here was nursing me and the
  consequence is we got married and before long I will be pushing
  the matrimonial fruit basket.

To Cherry he was more explicit.

  . . . terrible good chuck-in for me. The girl was so balmy about
  me that the old man was up a stump, and as she is an only child
  and a pet, I am in clover. He's going to make a doctor of me, too.
  I'd like to be a surgeon. I could always skin and carve up
  kangaroos and bears and liked to see the blood spurt. It is the
  book-learning that makes me feel like a sick dog looking at a
  fire-stick. But if I don't get through the old man will have to
  divvy up to put me in business. Anyhow, it's better than eating
  dust on the old selection. Hang on to your training as a nurse and
  come over when you are finished. You will have it all your own way
  here.

  You can keep my half of the rent from the place to pay your fare
  over. We might sell out to Olliver, but let him think you are
  going back there so he won't jew you down.

Olliver had come to the Ridges not so long before and had bought a
run-down old place adjoining Deep Creek. He had ten children, mostly
girls, and was a skilled bacon-curer and dairyman. With so much docile
cheap labour he had an advantage over Masters, the bachelor, and
looked like becoming prosperous even on the Ridges.

Malcolm Timson had grown popular at Coolooluk. He was so like his
Uncle Bert at the same age that more and more he assumed the mantle of
Bert himself in Grandma's affections. Life seemed to be repeating
itself, especially since Malcolm was active in errands for Grandma,
just as Bert had once been.

"Isn't it a mercy you're not the dead spit of Great-grandpa Logan,
beard and leg-irons and all," Sylvia would giggle secretly.

                          *       *       *

The year was at its height again and Queen Victoria gone at last. The
Prince of Wales had succeeded to the Boer War, which was still a live
topic on the Ridges. Arthur's butter factory continued to flourish and
Ignez had ceased to sing, so his hopes were still alive. He often
spent an evening at Deep Creek, but had the /nous/ not to be pressing.

A calamity fell upon Blanche without warning.

Mazere, old Richard Mazere, with grey in his beard, and nearly fifty
years of age, had gone barmy. He was married again. Without a word to
anyone he and Miss Moffat had been married in Sydney and were on their
honeymoon.

"/Honeymoon/! Ugh! Wouldn't it make you sick!" said Ignez. To her it
was a blow to love nearly as deadly as that suffered at Redfern more
than a year ago.

All Oswald's Ridges was talking. Some said it was Miss Moffat who was
barmy. The women were disgusted with her. The men were all bucked to
see an old fellow like that carry off a swell young woman. It
furbished their faded /esprit de sex/. It was evidence that a woman
had to have a man, an idea that keeps male ego from wilting.

"You'll be the next owld fule sneaking off wid a young wan," said
Muldoon to Finnegan /père/ in the Bunyip pub where the road to Cooee
branched off from the one to Barralong.

"From what Oi've heard of the young faymale, to take up with that owld
pauper with the soign of God hilp us on him is raydicklus."

"Och, ye've been r'ared ondher a hin, or ye'd know that there's no
marriage in the world too raydicklus to be conshummated. Shure, during
her younger days Oi nivir would have been surprised to hear of the
blissid Pope running off wid the Queen herself."

"And phwat did I hear ye say, ye owld brahmapootra?" demanded Finnegan
with the light of battle in his eyes.

Muldoon repeated.

"Ye owld blaspheming devil! It's a wondher the roof doesn't fall and
swaller ye."

"Shure, Oi'm talking of a man and woman, afther all. 'Tis no wan, not
even thim that's been r'ared ondher a hin, can denoi that."

"Take it back, Oi tell ye! Take it back bafore it's properly heard, ye
owld blasphemer! A man he moight have been wanst, but not now."

"And phwat did he do that turned him from the noble estate of being a
man?" demanded Muldoon pompously.

"The Pope is the Pope, diffrint, Oi'm telling ye, from annyone, and
though the Queen was only a woman, the Pope is such that even a common
priest--God hilp me, there is no such thing as a /common/ priest, but
for illustration I say a common priest--if he loiked to say that he
turned ye into wan of the common stones boording the fluir of this
room, begob he could do it, so much power has he, and him but phwat ye
call a common priest, and think of the difference betune him and the
blissed Pope in all his power and glory!"

"I maintain me own opeenion. I wasn't r'ared ondher a hin, as 'tis
known to all, and Oi tell ye again to ye'r ignorant owld bog-trotter
face that there is in this worruld no marriage too raydicklus to be
conshummated. There now, Mr Finnegan, and wan of these days Oi
wouldn't be surprised to see ye married to owld Mrs Bull and turned
heretic. And phwat's more, Mr Finnegan, that wouldn't be raydicklus at
all, except for the owld woman, for heaven hilp us, where did ye get
the woman who first was fule enough to take ye?"

"Ye're destroyed with rage that no woman would ever consider ye, and
sure, ye're dhrunk, and Oi'm above evening me wits to ye," said
Finnegan, grandly contemptuous, and stalked out to Splodger--as he
thought--and got on. It was a treat for the neighbours that afternoon
to see Finnegan leathering along on Muldoon's Greybeard while Muldoon
walloped Splodger in pursuit, hanging on by the pommel, swaying wildly
from side to side, with streams of such magnificent abuse as are
seldom heard issuing from both.

"Git up, ye old drivelling spalpeen! Ye're loike ye'r owner, not a
horse at all!" Muldoon was bellowing as he passed Blackshaw's, and
turned in towards Deep Creek. He reached the cow-paddock gate and was
too sick to ride farther. He tumbled to the grass and lay in the sun
while Splodger grazed near by.

Ignez noticed the horse and went down the hill to investigate. She
insisted upon bringing the poor old man to the house. He would have
been more comfortable where she found him, but was too decent to women
to gainsay her. She cooked him a meal--to settle his stomach, she
thought. Muldoon struggled to eat it, but mistook his nose for his
mouth and his big beard was troublesome.

"By all the swims in paradise, I maintain me own opeenions!"

Ignez inquired what opinions and learnt that the Pope was a man and
the late Queen Victoria a woman, and that owld Richard Mazere was a
man and this young faymale a woman, and that was why they had married.
Mrs Healey had gone to visit Blanche to hear the details of the
misfortune. When Healey came to start the milking he found Ignez
guarding a pan of honey set to strain before the fire as Muldoon
lurched round it. "Think what a mess if he tumbled in with his beard!"

"What a fuss people do make!" Mrs Healey commented that evening at
tea. "I've heard of the bobberie about old Boko Poole--father of Bert
where Ignez visits--when he married again in his old days. He married
the governess, so history repeats itself. Men will marry anything. The
older they are the sillier their choice."

"That doesn't say much for the women," contested Larry. "And it's the
youth of the woman and Mazere's beard that's making all the talk now."

"All men, if you have to put up with them, are much alike," said Dot
crushingly, and in defiance of a sense of humour.

Sylvia had been summoned by telegraph. Blanche was so disturbed that
she admitted Ignez to discussions after having ignored her for months.

"I could understand it if I'd neglected father and he needed a
housekeeper," she lamented.

"Perhaps he was lonely," ventured Ignez.

"How could an old person like that be lonely?"

"If he had married someone near his own age it wouldn't have been
quite so disgusting," Ignez said.

"But then he might have chosen old Mrs Bull," said Sylvia with
wholesome flippancy, "and we'd have had Cowpens for a brother. We'll
have to make the best of Miss Mother Moffat."

"Easy for you when you're going to be married and get out of it."

"You get married, too."

"I promised mother I'd never leave the children."

"You're trying to send Dick away. Allan's old enough to go to work.
Grandma will want Philippa, and I'll take Aubrey."

"It would be dreadful to break up the family."

"Better to have them go somewhere now before there's trouble and
everyone is miserable," maintained Sylvia.

"But what would I do? Where would I go?" Here was the kernel of the
matter. Blanche had scope for her energies and her unwanted affection
in assuming the burden of the home and family. There was compensation
in being needed and further outlet in commanding her juniors. Now her
cloak of defence was to be torn from her.

"You must get married," reiterated Sylvia, cold advice.

"I must keep my promise to mother," repeated Blanche. "She entrusted
to me everything that she'll have from the Labosseer estate."

"You'd be silly to be a lonely old maid because you have to look after
the kiddies for a few years."

Blanche's pride had been deeply bruised by Masters's indifference. She
clung to the screen of self-sacrifice. She lacked her stepmother's
coarseness. She could not contemplate any frowsy old widower with
daughters of her own age and a grey beard.

"You've got on splendidly with Miss Moffat so far, perhaps it won't be
much different," Ignez said comfortingly.

Thus the matter was resolved. Miss Moffat was not finicky, and rolled
over thistle pricks. Like Ignez she was in advance of the area. She
loved teaching and considered that women had a right to self-support.
She retained her maiden name and kept on teaching. Mazere was heady
through winning a strapping young woman, well educated and of good
family--her father was a physician of high standing. He had grown
weary of Blanche's noble self-sacrifice. Her forceful management
called for too much appreciation and yielded too little ease. She kept
everyone up to her own industry. It was a relief to tell her that she
was free to marry and leave at any moment. Blanche staged a scene on
the theme that her mother had scarcely been cold in her grave, and so
on. Mazere said that Mrs Mazere would be able to look out of heaven
and rejoice that Blanche's youth was no longer being sacrificed. Miss
Moffat saw in Blanche an instrument to save herself from the abhorred
domestic grind, and placated her by insisting that she was
indispensable to manage the house. Blanche was thankful to climb on to
this raft, and discoursed thereafter upon her self-sacrifice only when
out of earshot of her father.

Dick was revolted by the marriage and his feelings were worked upon by
Blanche. To him it was typical of a community wherein he and Ignez
could not write among the she-oaks without arousing foul suspicions.
He rolled his swag and departed before the pair returned. ("Dreadful
old man like that with a honeymoon!")

He had given in to Blanche's suggestion to go to Grandfather Mazere
and the uncles at Mungee, Bool Bool. Here he speedily became a subject
of criticism. Uncle Robert, who ran the place, reported that he seemed
delicate. He lacked grit. The novelty soon wore off getting into the
saddle at 6 a.m. and remaining there till dark or after. He had, too,
a distinct vice in the eyes of grandfather and uncles--he sneaked away
with a book on Sundays instead of following the normal recreations of
young men, which were the perpetration of practical jokes if too young
to be fully engrossed by the company of girls, or in barbering each
other or in looking at horses and talking about dogs and wishing that
Sunday were past.

He was happier when he moved to Coolooluk. Here he was welcomed by
Grandma as a child of the lately dead Isabel, and here was Uncle Erik,
beloved of all his nieces and nephews. Dick was given over to his
uncle who had lately married and had a brand-new half-finished house
not far away up the Mungee. Aunt Mary was a darling, a boy could be at
peace with her whether his ambition was to be a horse-breaker, a
school-teacher, or a poet. Uncle Erik teased him unceasingly about
being lasslorn because he liked poetry, about being a townie because
he came from near Goulburn, but he was not stinging like the Nanda
wits. Uncle Erik was affectionate and oozed kindliness and generosity,
a popular wag whose sayings were treasured even by his butts. Dick's
week-ends were spent with Grandma, who kept the Sabbath, so he could
rest alone companioned by the contents of the bookshelves. Several
members of the family had been readers and Dick found the best of
Thackeray, Dickens, and Scott, as well as Byron, Shelley, Southey, and
many others. His hunger for books increased, a propensity he found it
best to conceal. He had absorbed the idea that the fault lay in
Australia. If he could escape, life would be different. Dick could sit
a buck and shear a sheep, but he wanted something beyond such
preoccupations.

All those who desired to follow another bent, whether in the arts, or
on the stage operatically, melodramatically, or in showing a
performing dog or their own muscles, were of opinion that Australia
was a beastly colonial hole. There was not enough population to
support art and culture. One must at any cost escape to London. The
facts about those who starved in the Big Smoke until the hat went
round to generous compatriots to send them home was not in the Sydney
newspapers, and did not weigh against the successes. Dick had absorbed
the current doctrine, though a stranger to the coteries with literary
aspirations.

                          *       *       *

Life on the Ridges eddied in semicircles and relapsed into stagnation
until another stone was flung into it. Ignez one day received a parcel
by post. When she opened it she was as startled as though a figure had
stepped out of a dream and confronted her in broad daylight. Before
her were six books, all the same. She turned them over and read on the
cover:

                                 NITA

That had a dizzying effect.

Inside the cover was:

                                 NITA
                      /The Story of a Real Girl/
                                 /by/
                            BRYAN MILFORD

Astonishment shook her. Fear sickened her. It could not be, yet it
must be her own book! She opened the cover.

                              CHAPTER I
                          /No Make-believe/

Horrors! It /was/ her own book!

Ignez shivered and went cold with shock. She had long since lost
consciousness of the story. It had been shed far down the track like a
chrysalis.

Tremblingly she peeped into the pages. All the notions she had
scribbled down, half in fun, half in protest, to read to Dick and
Norah Alfreda were here petrified in print. Real, and yet so
unbelievable! She had imagined that a book would be transformed into
conformity with other books and was dumbfounded because all the things
she had striven to make different remained so, strikingly. Writing
that book had been a kind of shouting at the top of her lungs into an
uninhabited silence. Seeing her shouts in cold print was like
discovering that the silence had all the time been full of listeners.
This was confounding. She was helpless under the ordeal. If she had
been informed that Nita was to attain print she would have withdrawn
her. There was no one who would really understand this fresh disaster.
She had learnt to dissimulate her feelings and to take all her terrors
inwardly and alone.

There was no way of hiding this, so she squared her jaws to meet it.
She gave one copy to Mrs Healey and ran to the pigsty, where Larry was
mending the bark shed, and handed him another.

He had difficulty in grasping what had happened, but said kindly,
"This is wonderful. Thank you, my child."

He sat on the top rail of the sty and read. Mrs Healey sat in the
dining-room and read. Ignez went on with dishing up the evening meal,
scarcely knowing what she was doing. Lizzie helped, bursting with
curiosity. At length Mrs Healey said, "The dinner's getting cold and
the cows are waiting to be milked. The things you have always been
jabbering about life and men, look queer in print. Sort of uncanny."

"The neighbours will recognize themselves and I'm afraid it'll make
trouble," said Larry..

"Those aren't our neighbours," protested Ignez. "They're all
make-believe people, only made like real people instead of the silly
ones in books."

"If old Muldoon and the Finnegans and all the others don't recognize
themselves--why, a blind man could tell them in the dark!"

"You needn't worry," said Mrs Healey. "The people about here never
read a book. They'll never see it. Why do you call yourself Bryan?"

"It is one of my names."

Ignez inscribed a copy for Dick and put another aside for Arthur. She
felt that Arthur had a right to know the worst. She did not send a
copy to her parents, moved by some sensitive instinct to keep the
trouble as local as possible, and unaware that it could have any other
significance.

No one had thought of Lizzie, whose interest was excited by this
abnormal happening, which had the stimulation of scandal. Next day she
went to tea with old Mrs Harrap, and Pete said that he could not have
been any more stood on end if Lizzie had told him that Ignez had a
baby by old Larry. Such was Pete's mentality.

"My cripes! Do you mean it's a book that a cove could buy?"

"It has a picture on the cover and printing inside like a real one."

"My cripes! They might have it at old Foxall's!" Pete had a high
opinion of Goulburn's bookstore. He had once entered it to buy a penny
exercise and been dazed by the many books. "Mobs of 'em! I reckon they
have every book in the world there. If they have this one, my cripes,
it would show it was a real book."

"Ooo-o Pete! Do you reckon you could git there afore it closes?"

Peter reckoned he could, and larruped away as if for the doctor. He
did not conceive of there being more than one copy. In this instance
one copy only had been sent as a sample, and its local significance
had not yet been discovered. It was a real book and no gammon.

The scandal was soon full blown and more novel than a fall from sexual
orthodoxy. At first there was incredulity--a book about Oswald's
Ridges by Ignez! Only professors and wonderful people far away wrote
books. But Pete Harrap had a copy. Pete became notorious. He permitted
a few of the neighbours to look at the cover while he tightly clutched
his treasure. Everyone went to town to procure a copy, but there was
none. The bookstore would have some by and by. They had to come from
London. Pete had squandered three and six on the book and charged each
one privileged to read it the same price and stipulated that one
member only in a family was to look at it for that charge. Thus Pete,
the lout, in smart business procedure reaped in loot what Ignez lost
in royalties.

The story was so natural as to be indecent among barely literate
people who confounded real and realistic. Ignez had done it at last. A
girl with her ideas couldn't for ever escape trouble. She had been
seen with her skirts blowing up as she rode astride. She had said that
women should vote like men, and talked in the boldest way about
marriage and other indecent subjects. When she had first come to the
district she had filled the hearths in summer with gum boughs instead
of making a proper screen, and she was always trying to grow silly old
wild things in the garden instead of proper flowers. And she would
rather thump on the piano than work in the house. No wonder she had
made such a mess of everything!

When Dick held the book in his hands, the first he had ever seen
written by someone he knew, his emotions overcame him. His poems had
been too trivial and too full of echoes to achieve print. He had not
yet recovered from that shock, but now had a sense of relief in
escaping such unanimous ridicule and condemnation as Ignez received.

Arthur opened his copy wonderingly. It was also his only acquaintance
with an author in the flesh. Strange that Ignez should be at the root
of this production, that he had supplied the paper on which the
contents had been written, and had heard portions from the girl's
laughing lips under the she-oaks in Healey's back paddock! He had
heard nothing of Ignez's voice lately, and her low pass in the theory
of music had been a relief, had seemed to bring her nearer. This book
would withdraw her again to some interstellary region high above the
Ridges. Intuitional respect for natural gifts warned him anew that
this girl was set apart. He wrote saying that the book was a wonder,
but he could not go to see her for a week as dairy business was
pressing. What a week in the career of Nita! Ignez was slanged as an
out-and-outer, blasphemous and immoral towards the church and her
parents and virtue. Not alone on these scores was the adolescent
little tale condemned. Girls of the Ridges declared that if they could
not write a better book they would eat their hats. This was much
easier for Masters to endure. There was a kind of normality in it. He
would be exalted to protect Ignez and honour her though she might be
excommunicated with bell, book and candle, as he had been ready to
brave similar censure himself for love of her. The "talent" speedily
found it was dangerous to utter criticism in his hearing. At the first
slack hour on Sunday afternoon he hastened to Deep Creek.

He found the household unperturbed. Ignez was performing her tasks
with her usual energy and, as Lizzie was out for the afternoon, he had
the pleasure of assisting her. They had had no visitors during the
week.

"How are the people taking Nita?" he inquired.

"Mrs Healey says no one will be interested."

So! The hubbub had not reached their ears. Perhaps it never would.
Yapping curs would be quiet when the victims could hear. He had to go
to Sydney to take delivery of some machinery, and might not have a
chance to visit her again till it was erected.

Dot and Larry were sensible about the book. They did not mention it
unless it was brought up and then dismissed it casually and
pleasantly. To be identified with the characters did not worry them.
They had suffered in their turn for fear their carefully submerged
"fall" involving parentage of Freda should become known. Compared with
that ordeal this was diversion. Ignez's parents did not hear of Nita's
career till some of their university friends wrote from Sydney
congratulating them on the genius of their child. The book was thus
favourably introduced, though they were alarmed when they read it.
They wrote to Dot and Larry, who were both unperturbed. Larry said the
criticisms were of no more consequence than the cawing of crows. Dot
had the idea that the book might be a good thing to divert Ignez from
her idea of the stage; if the silly little story was allowed to drop
the excitement would soon pass. The book was accepted by the Milfords
as the lesser of two evils.

Masters's absence lengthened to three weeks and in that time Ignez's
scandal veered to fair renown. There was more talk about her than
ever. The people on the Ridges had frequently to direct strangers to
Deep Creek. Some of these were of the bunyip aristocracy. Young
newspaper men came all the way from Sydney, excited that Ignez was of
their own decade, and gave her puffs in paragraphs. Photos of Ignez
appeared in the /Bulletin/ and the /Australasian/. The kindly among
her acquaintances were relieved by the reversal of Oswald's Ridges
judgment so that they had no longer to avoid her as, in pained
confusion, they had been doing. Those who had been the most caustic in
condemnation were now lush with praise and loud in self-advertisement
of their familiarity with her. Dot was refreshed by participation in
all this. She had long been in obscurity and under a cloud with her
family and had satisfaction in meeting people who were interested to
discover her as one of the Saunders of Saunders Plains.

London welcomed Nita. Australia was infested with actual Nitas,
bursting with rebelliousness and equally lacking in Christian
restraint. Mrs Healey remained superb with the streams of visitors
that taxed her hospitality. Here was something to engage her energies
and rusting social competence, a fuller dish than the unsatisfactory
husks of her usual bill of fare.

Arthur called as soon as he returned and was surprised to discern that
there was still no distress in Ignez. It would have been stimulating
to protect her from disparagement, but it was difficult to praise her
because she dismissed the book off-handedly.

"Bother the thing and all the people who are buzzing about it! Aren't
they silly? Isn't it a pity I didn't put your name on it?"

"It certainly is!" was the ringing response, with the unspoken
addition, "If only she had!"

To sing was the desire that still possessed her.



CHAPTER XVI


When Ignez fled from Sydney Moray Delarue had met some chaffing about
his prodigy. Such genuine enthusiasm from one usually disdainful had
aroused curiosity. Of course she was real, he asserted when credited
with having seen a wyvern or a bunyip. She had stayed with old Raymond
Poole, was a sort of connection of the Pooles. Lurline Bennett said,
"You must produce her, Moray. We're past the age of faith."

Delarue ceased to ask about her, his interest had grown dormant. Then
one evening at Miss Bennett's he found that his claim had been sprung
and the name of his prodigy on every tongue. People who thought they
meant something were to be found at Miss Bennett's at-homes. On the
evening in question Delarue pleased himself by arriving late and found
Breta McKneil, an American actress imported by Williamson. With her
was Reeve O'Swig the adipose, who on the stage supported the
much-boomed star, and off it boomed platitudes in her train. There was
a white-haired judge, a corpulent Cabinet Minister, and an
argumentative canon. Most prominent was little Monty Sexton, who
prided himself on being a leader of culture in the unsophisticated
colonial wastes. It was his pride to discern in advance any talent
whether of brush or pen, and he further assumed that anything in that
line had not the true /cachet/ unless he affixed it.

Delarue heard Monty's squeaky voice addressing a clique of disciples
as he entered. It was his pose to ignore Monty, but he heard him
saying, "I consider it an amazing production. You can open the thing
at any page and be arrested by its passion and power. Of course it
must be a sort of reflex action. A child of that age, without any
contacts, could not really feel. Has never been out of the bush, the
publishers guarantee. I don't know when I've been so moved. A native
literary genius at last!"

"Bryan--is it a girl?" demanded someone.

"Yes, and still in short frocks. All the guff will go to her
bushwhacker head. Conceit grafted on to ignorance will soon finish
her, so we must catch her early. Listen to this! 'Nita came out of the
house with a drum of pigs' swill and ploughed her way through the
turkeycocks with their tails in fan array and their bronze breasts on
fire in the setting sun. She hated their pompous male strutting.' Now
isn't that a picture? But listen to this: 'The winds fell away, the
trees stood up.'"

Monty turned another page. "'It was calm around the house and in the
gully, but the restless tree-tops told of winds on the plains--
wide-sweeping, cloudless, thirsty. He plucked a handful of gumleaves
to chew. . . .' Each page has a picture of some kind: 'A road wound
sociably around the big hill. . . . High overhead in the pale blue of
the autumn noon floated the frail shell of a descending moon.' Simple
things that are all to be found in our milieu, but no writer that I
know has thought of capturing it in such original and forceful
sentences."

"But is there no chiaroscuro?" inquired Breta McKneil languorously.

"I consider this rather promising from a girl in short frocks: 'When
she found her courage giving way she fell back on old-fashioned
stubbornness and plugged the breach.' There are many passages I
shouldn't like to read aloud for fear they might be misunderstood. She
can pull out the stops of tears or laughter in a way that's more real
than reality."

"Ah, that is the creative illusion of true art," conceded Breta, as if
she knew.

"Of course her pronouncements on serious issues are too egregiously
funny--you can see she's had no experience at all."

"Come, Moray, and hear about this wonderful girl," said Lurline.

"That," said he, with an air of condescension towards Monty, "is my
bunyip prodigy."

"God bless my soul, Moray, you don't mean it!" gasped Monty, taken off
guard. "But-but-you-you talked about a singer--not nearly so important
as an intellectual genius!"

"The most wonderful natural voice I've ever heard. Could wring tears
from a turnip."

"Did--did you know--what I mean is, that she could write?"

"I advised her to," said Delarue with assumed indifference, but
disposed to be amiable, and, in response to questioning, "She's no
gutterling. Rather not! Mightn't have a stiver, but she's one of the
Mazere and Poole crowd--old families around Morano and Bool Bool."

"Is she an abnormality with weak lungs that'll die young, or a
gargoyle, or what?"

"Is she beautiful?" Lurline's question.

Delarue shrugged. "She had no clothes or fixings--all hair and eyes
and dimples and complexion sort of thing."

"The dimples are rather surprising," interrupted Monty.

"It was the voice that touched me, didn't seem to fit such a child."

Delarue refused to be drawn further. He enjoyed seeing Monty goggling
with curiosity and disappointment that Delarue had doubly forestalled
him. He paid a few minutes of proprietary attention to Lurline, and
slipped away to telephone the Pooles. He must make sure that Ignez
came to Mayborn House again so that he and not Monty should have chief
place with her.

He let himself into his retreat to think. His interest in Ignez had
revived. She had become a desirable object, and he found himself more
deeply involved than could be explained by mere social competition. He
was hungry for the tones of her voice. He was sure that he would never
hear another so moving. Why had the little devil been so quiet
regarding this other talent? Little wonder she had oozed emotional
power. He cursed that he could not procure a copy of /Nita/ until the
morning. He reconstructed her creator's presence there alone with him.
Old Monty and the rabble now on her trail could never see her as he
had, in her pristine innocence and tears, so deeply distressed. Those
kisses--surely her first! He exulted. He continued to exult that no
one else could ever be first with her. Did she remember? Would she
remember, and for how long?

For always. A woman remembers first kisses, a man only his latest.

                          *       *       *

Without surprise Ignez saw Delarue as the train drew in. He saw
exactly the same little girl that he had startled months ago. He took
her bag and steered her through the traffic to the waiting cab.

"Your Aunt Rhoda has an engagement, so I'm to be your messenger boy,
that's if you won't let me be your knight. You never let me know
whether you wanted a knight."

He had helped her to her seat and the vehicle turned out into the city
traffic from the place where the harlot had been killed. He was gazing
at her, his interest fully captured.

"A real knight would be lovely." She smiled at him with fledgling
poise.

Was he to let old Monty get the inside running, old Monty whose head
he had punched at the University? He'd punch it again if it got in the
way. He was cautious against mistakes, but was unaware that instead of
the half-child he had frightened was now a daughter of Eve,
dissimulating her knowledge.

"You're not frightened of me this time, are you?" he asked tenderly,
devouring her with urgent glances.

"No," she whispered, half as though she were, and tilted her head to
hide her smile. Because of Milly's tuition she would never be
frightened of him again, or of any man. It was thrilling to be in a
cab with Moray Delarue rattling down Castlereagh Street. She knew they
were heading for the den and looked forward to being gobbled.

A fire and flowers, with tea, awaited only the kettle. "I'll have the
piano back tomorrow."

"Please don't. I'm forbidden to sing till I learn breath-control."

"Why didn't you tell me about the book?" he inquired in the enchanted
manner that had overcome him, waiting on her in the same style, he who
was used to exacting tribute.

"I said I had written a little when you asked me."

"But not a masterpiece that would take the world by storm."

"It hasn't done that, has it?" She was looking at him searchingly to
discover how much of this was ridicule.

"Haven't you seen the papers? The /Daily Telegraph/, the /Bulletin/--
all of them! In England, too. Haven't people written to you?"

"Yes, lots. Does that mean anything?"

Incredible simplicity. "You're famous! Don't you care?"

"I used to long to be famous when I read about such people," she
admitted, frank but modest. "It wouldn't be just like that, would it?"

Could such naivety exist in conjunction with an intelligence that made
him stretch to meet it? Yes, it could, he decided, remembering her
sexual innocence. Old Monty and his crew were certainly not to have
her except on his terms.

"It's a staggering book. Did anyone help you with it?"

"I don't know anyone who could. It's silly to make such a fuss. I've
outgrown it long ago."

Hostesses would scramble for her, yet there she sat, unconscious that
she was more famous than Breta McKneil, who had an expensive press
agent and a company who worked as a claque to keep her before the
public.

"Could you write any more like that?"

"I could write much better if I said what I really think, and took
pains," she said calmly. "But I only want to sing."

"And what are you doing with all the money?"

"Does anyone get money for a book like that?"

"Good Lord! Haven't you had any?"

"I didn't think about any. I just wrote for fun."

She was outside reality. He longed to take her in his arms
protectively, but had grown cautious.

"We'll go to Aunt Rhoda now. You can have this place for your own.
I'll get my sister to pop in to keep you company."

                          *       *       *

Monty Severn's interest had put a different complexion on Ignez's
second visit to the city. He was determined to exploit his literary
find in spite of Delarue's allegations of a voice, and was aided by
his sister, Mrs Aaron Abhurst, a woman assured in her social demands.
Moray Delarue was equally set upon enjoying his toy amorously and to
circumvent her being wrested from him by social attention. His
strategy was based on her voice. He would work through Rhoda Poole,
who was unversed in the politics of art and easy to manipulate.
Opposed to them both was Ignez's fixed idea in regard to her voice.
She kept it hidden, but her life was hanging on it, and her
preoccupation saved her from the pitfalls of social or amorous
exploitation. As soon as she could ascertain who was the best throat
specialist she would go to him secretly to discover why her voice had
lost its power. In view of her secrecy and ignorance of procedure,
this would take some time, and left her for a period as the third in a
subtle triangle.

Though the knowledge of Eve and the demonstration of her intellectual
gifts made her another person since Delarue had last seen her, this
was not visible in her exterior, and she baffled him. Mrs Abhurst
invited Mrs Poole to bring her prodigy to a small select tea to see if
the girl were possible. Monty appeared at this and was completely won.
As a finished product he demanded beauty and intelligence in a woman
plus polish, but Ignez's natural gifts were exciting, and she needed
only appropriate clothes and some lessons in this and that. Mrs
Abhurst asked Mrs Poole to let her have Ignez for a few weeks.

"Trust that woman to grab a lion and make it roar in her beastly
circus!" snorted Delarue. "That old hornblower of a Monty wants to
attract a little attention to himself. He'll put false notions into
the girl's head. She'd be much happier with you. She still wants old
Ruckstein to try her voice, and as he's in Brisbane for a month, we'd
better wait for him."

Monty had pricked Delarue to action. The higher reaches of /l'amour/
are expensive. Delarue disposed of a race-horse that was eating a debt
onto himself, mortgaged a house, and bethought him of a man whom he
had dismissed earlier. This man had procured an old tub, reconditioned
it, and had a sure thing in trading to the Islands. A fortune was to
be had if the tub and the trade lasted for a trip or two. Delarue had
thought the risk too great for his hard-worked funds but it was still
not too late to plunge. He took a heavy share. A lot of water could
evaporate if Ignez's social début could be delayed for a month.

The number of hours that she spent alone with him would have surprised
his circle. Delarue himself was surprised. He was slipping into an
engrossing passion that gave him much uneasiness as to its end--his
end.

Mrs Abhurst had reports of his being seen with Ignez, and spoke to Mrs
Poole. "I've never seen Moray so keen on a girl for years, and it's
dangerous. It might blight her whole career to have her heart
involved."

"What about Lurline?"

"Lurline's affections would bear transplanting. It's this simple
girl."

"Moray's wild about her voice."

"It simply wouldn't do. Moray's as fickle as the wind--infatuated till
he wins the girl, and then utterly bored. He can't afford to be
serious. He must marry money. He's past the age when he'd think the
world well lost for love."

"I'm sure no harm has been done," said Mrs Poole. "He has given the
child an outing or two out of compliment to Raymond and me."

"His interest is abnormal. He doesn't try to hide it. The girl needs
to buckle down to a musical education, if that's her second bent, and
have her general culture taken in hand."

At that moment in Delarue's apartment was confirmation of Mrs
Abhurst's opinion. Ignez had never known even plain comforts, and
enjoyed the peace and easy furnishings of this retreat, like a bower
in a tower. The sunbeams penetrated in dusted gold, the traffic was
muted like the voice of the Coolgarbilli as it fell out of the slate
hole, haunt of ducks of many species, even the pink-eared. The repose
of being alone in the flat was like a warm rug in the frost. She was
too young and strong to need a physical "rest cure", but she was in
need of a fallow time to rally her will and redefine her purpose. Miss
Delarue dropped in once at the beginning, which made the place
convenable. For the remainder it gave her respite. She would not be
precipitate again. If only she could have had such a flat and the
Steinway for her own years ago free from the intrusion of any owner,
with a great teacher who could make her sing as easily as old
Salvatore, she would be well on her way instead of still seeking a
beginning, she would muse. Had she met Mrs Abhurst to discover her
voice before she was the victim of the charlatan Jepp, her prospects
also could have been different.

"What do you think of these people who pursue you?" inquired Delarue.

"They seem very friendly." She was non-committal.

He pondered on how she talked to her elders so that they were vastly
entertained. He could hardly drag a word from her, yet found her
entrancing. He tried to analyse her charm. Perhaps it was that she
demanded nothing. "What can I give you?"

"Nothing, thank you."

He was relieved that she demurred when he offered to get the piano
back, because he was strapped for funds. Her voice had first won his
interest, now the potential woman had deeper allure. She had
reawakened a touch of his adolescent chivalry. He would not again
shock or startle her, but he hungered to be her teacher. That would be
possible only inside the conventions, and the noose made him hesitate.

"I must go. Aunt Rhoda's taking me to tea."

"I want you. Those old magpies don't. I'm famishing for you."
Passionately, nervously, he caressed the fine-spun hair from the broad
forehead. "Tell me why you're so charming?"

To such banalities /l'amour/ reduces the hardiest. He could play upon
experienced women like harps, yet here was a creature whose ignorance
was matched by her innocence and he had lost his way with her. He
lacked sympathy and understanding, so that she was careful to give him
no inkling that behind the eyes, as soft and appealing as when first
he met them, lay a keen reason; and passion and reason do not rise
concurrently. Reason was brewing contempt for his asseverations and
importunities. Here was a clever man who had all the opportunities. He
flattered her for her purity as the most glorious attribute of
womanhood, yet he and his kind lent themselves to coarse physical
indulgence that resulted in an army of such as the woman at Redfern.
Love's midden. Love's undefendable midden. /That kind of love!/ Every
woman, no matter how sensitive and contingent was in competition with
the street-walker at Redfern. Ugh! That thought had the effect on her
of the Yellow Jack hoisted to warn of physical contamination, if
nothing more.

Delarue had not yet asked her to marry him. The conventions plus her
inexperience confined her to inaction for the present, and she wanted
to gain time. Innately an immense observer, here was what the poets
and philosophers lauded as life itself; so while passive she was
intellectually alert and curious.

"Don't you care that I want you so much?"

"Do you?" She was genuinely wistful.

"I want you more than anything I've ever wanted in my life."

"Do you?" She had not dreamed of such a possibility, and did not
believe him.

"By Jove! I should hate to think of any ruffian marrying you and
ill-using you."

"You'd rather do it yourself," thought the imp in Ignez as she
quenched a smile. Amused contempt wakened, generated by disgust
aroused partly by fastidiousness and rooted in deep revolt against
what seemed to her plain ethical cowardliness. /That/ kind of love had
been scorched at the root so that she sat immune for ever, unknowing
that she, though still alive and healthy, had shared catastrophe with
the woman at Redfern. Delarue floundered in face of her
impregnability. He grew weary from emotional wear and tear and
intellectual perplexity.

                          *       *       *

Raymond and Rhoda as well as Ignez were bored with the infernal book
and for the same reasons. The Pooles discussed it while dressing for
an evening at Lurline Bennett's. Raymond was hanged if he knew why
Ignez had chosen to make the tribe seem like a lot of Steel Rudd's
way-backs. Rhoda agreed that it was most trying. Neither could
conceive what anyone could find in the pesky yarn, but had to conform
when the Chief Justice and Judge Dawson were among the worshippers.
Raymond's concurrence with many opinions was a mere barking with the
dominant pack, and Rhoda, ladylike and amiable, was conformity itself.

"We'll keep 'em to the singing. That's not as bad as the book, though
I can't make out why she yowls such dismal slops."

Later in the evening he set in motion such an urgent demand for a song
that Ignez was cornered.

"I'll play for Miss Bennett to sing. Please let me." She pled so
eagerly that Lurline risked an unknown quantity and had her reward.
Never had she so pliant an accompanist, who without overriding the
voice supplied some of the emotion it lacked.

"And now you must sing yourself, if only a scale," exclaimed Sexton
and others.

"I can't sing now really, please," said Ignez in evident distress.

She was saved by Judge Dawson. He had not toiled out in the evening to
hear any female caterwaul, but had no hesitation in terming /Nita/ a
work of genius.

"Why plague the young lady to sing! We're suffering from a plague of
would-be Melbas. I have a low opinion of the mentality of performing
musicians, but a literary genius is another matter."

Judge Dawson was impatient of those less versed in the law, and people
maintained that he carried the bullying tactics of a great criminal
lawyer into private life. The hardiest young people and many of the
mature avoided the austere old gentleman but Ignez could have hugged
him, beard and all. Rescued from demands to sing she came out of her
shell. Her kind of intelligence in a body so soft and young and
feminine was a novelty, and that intelligence divined a way to escape
betraying her lamed voice. Like a feinting plover she led the
intruders away from it and decided to cling to the protection of the
older and more intellectual people. Also there was a new exhilaration
in exercising her hungry, exploring mind. It gave more easement from
her fears than the gaiety of those of her own age.

"If only she had some frocks! Terrible, don't you think?" Mrs Abhurst
remarked to Delarue.

"I hadn't noticed." He looked towards Mrs Abhurst's sister, dressed
expensively but sitting alone on a couch while Ignez was surrounded by
editors and professors, and Judge Dawson.

Ignez was not interested in her allegedly exceptional intelligence.
The book had been shed from her nervous system in the way of such
manifestations, and she was irritated by the stupidities and false
premises of those who would read into it their own conceptions, or
assume that the story was factually a log of her own life. She was
disillusioned by the eternal attempt of the literally minded to render
tactile the intangibilities of the imaginative processes that can
heighten a simulation of life to a reality more vivid than the actual.
Music was the first breath of existence to her. Even the greatest
poetry came second to the intoxication of music. Writing was clumsy
unsatisfactory work, the soul tumbled over itself waiting on the body,
but to sing and make people laugh or cry, or steal to her and kiss her
and call for more and more, that was ecstasy. For the moment the
sluice-gates of self-expression were blocked. Her emotions were banked
under uncertainty. All the strength of her inner being was concerned
with the loss of her voice. Like a mother with an injured child she
would use any opening favourable to protecting or restoring it. Her
anxiety consumed her to the elimination of normal concerns.

Then a singer at Miss Bennett's mentioned throat trouble and that she
had gone to Dr Bramson. Everyone was sure he was the best throat man
in Australia. Ignez had the information she needed and also the name
of a great throat specialist in Paris in case of further need.

In the morning, under cover of meeting Miss Delarue, she slipped into
Macquarie Street. She had no appointment, but Dr Bramson's attendant
took an interest in her, and presently she found herself with the
great man.

"My throat," she murmured, numb with apprehension.

"The symptoms?" The physician saw a country girl much agitated. "When
I want to put feeling into my voice it won't come. I yawn and yawn."

"Any pain?"

"No."

Gazing into her mouth, he observed, "You certainly have a splendid
roof to your mouth and a fine throat." He took a lot of time and asked
questions about her teacher, how she practised and for how long. Ignez
was soon telling him that she rode thirty miles in the day to take her
lesson, and how she tried and tried with the middle notes but it only
got harder and harder to get any volume into them, and now they were
no good at all.

The doctor said, "Sst! Sst!" As to her teacher, he commanded, "Never
go near that man again! He's a fool or a scoundrel. A prize fighter
couldn't know less about the voice. He should be prosecuted."

Ignez learnt that her throat was relaxed and that she was suffering
from chronic laryngitis.

"Can I sing again--ever?" She could scarcely breathe the question.

"Recovery is possible at your age. You must rest your voice completely
--do you understand?--completely. Speak as little as possible, and
sotto voce, and don't attempt a note of singing."

"For how long?"

"For twelve months. Then come back and let me look at you."

"Yes, doctor." No tears. No complaint. The blow was not yet final.

"I should like to spray your throat for a while to see how it responds
to treatment."

"Would it cost very much?" she faltered.

He noted the dress. "You come from the country. How's the drought?"

"They're afraid it's starting again this winter."

"Come every morning at eleven for a while. Never mind the cost."

Some little backblocks would-be Melba--there were dozens of them--she
had been squalling and strained her organ. Ten chances to one it did
not matter. She would settle down and rear a family. Sturdy boys and
girls to fill the empty spaces would be much more valuable than
another caterwauler in Europe. But professionally there was the
throat; the girl had come a long way alone to consult him; she must
have attention.

Ignez explained to Mrs Poole that she must spend a fortnight with her
mother's old school friend, Mrs Lamb. She had run into her that
morning, and Mrs Lamb would be offended if she overlooked her. Aunt
Rhoda's will wasn't equal to Ignez's, and she was allowed to depart.
She took a few of her things and refused the carriage or a cab. Mrs
Lamb lived in the outer fringes of some /déclassé/ suburb adjoining
Marrickville and would meet Ignez in town, so she said. Ignez was
thankful to the city as a sort of jungle in which she could hide her
innocent actions, whereas in the bush life was so open that one was
like an isolated specimen under a microscope.

Mrs Lamb received her warmly. Ignez said she had been singing too much
and had a relaxed throat.

"Too much dissipating among those gay people, dearie. I know what they
are. I must coddle you a bit."

"I've got to rest my throat, and you don't know what a trial it is to
be plagued to sing. The doctor is going to spray it every day." She
was thankful that Mrs Lamb had no piano.

"I've heard from your mother that you have a grand voice."

"I couldn't bear to lose it," passionately said Ignez.

"Well, dearie, if you had to, it would be God's will. It would show
His love for you in saving you from the temptations of the world."

This to Ignez was a stupid and cruel doctrine. Why should God endow
her with a good voice in the first place? But she valued the kindly
woman as a godsend in the present emergency. Mrs Lamb had never heard
of the pestiferous book. What a relief on that score. She would have
comparative peace. Mrs Lamb was garrulous and famished for a listener.
She was a widow who lived alone in a cottage, which she kept for a son
who was in the Merchant Marine and seldom at home. Ignez listened
sympathetically to the tales of her girlhood with Mrs Milford, and
threw in enough words to show her interest, so they got on splendidly.
Each day Ignez went to Dr Bramson, then hid herself in the Botanic
Gardens to gain some hours of quiet. Also she went to bed early. In
the afternoons Mrs Lamb took her to the Zoo, to Manly, and to other
spots frequented by the rank and file. After the tenth treatment Dr
Bramson said that the laryngitis would clear up. He reiterated the
sentence of twelve months' silence--real silence, no half-way
measures. Ignez paid the small fee mentioned and returned to Mrs Lamb
to collect her belongings. She would depart for the bush to be as
silent as possible.

Mrs Poole was astonished when Ignez said she was going home
immediately. "Again, without seeing about your voice!"

Ignez explained that she had had to go to a doctor about her throat
while at Mrs Lamb's and he had forbidden her to sing for some weeks.
It would be a mistake to exhibit her voice now, people would be
disappointed in it. The easy-going Rhoda found this plausible.

"I should take the doctor's advice without worrying. Write another
wonderful book, darling. You are so young. Moray has some nice news
for you and has been wanting to know where I've hidden you."

Even now, had she mentioned Bramson and the twelve months' silence,
rescuing attention might have been drawn to her. But she had grown so
secretive, and there was no one to take charge of her, no one but
strangers with a passing curiosity. She was defenceless and unguided.
The Pooles were too ignorant in matters artistic to be any protection.

                          *       *       *

"This is very sudden," said Delarue when Rhoda telephoned. "I haven't
taken the child to the Zoo for a ride on the elephant as I promised.
I'm doing nothing tonight, could I entertain her?"

Mrs Poole was relieved because she was going to a formal dinner at
Admiralty House. Delarue immediately telephoned the Abhursts,
callously breaking a theatre engagement and robbing Mrs Abhurst's
sister, so expensively gowned, of a partner.

"And so you're going to bolt again," remarked Delarue with a whimsical
smile. He was glad of it because it would take her away from Monty.
The way that Monty had been talking, and the way Zella Abhurst
supported her brother, made it clear that he was a rival for the
person of Ignez. Through the Pooles he would be better situated than
Monty to pursue Ignez to her bush fastnesses.

A wild southerly was roaring over the world and turning the Pacific to
a cauldron of boiling silver under the moon. The apartment was cosy in
the firelight. Flowers shed their perfume--violets and narcissi,
camellias and daphne such as beautified the terraces at Mayborn House.
Dinner waited on the table. These attentions so pleased Ignez that her
thanks were in her eyes.

The promised news was that Delarue had been to see "old Rankin" about
royalties. So many Nitas had been wild to read about a girl like
themselves, and so many others had been titillated by the novel
experience of seeing bush life, even to poddy calves and smudged
noses, uncompromisingly in print, that the 3d. per copy awarded to
Australian authors already had mounted to £150. A cheque had gone to
Ignez to Deep Creek.

Such wealth overwhelmed Ignez, but she was silent.

"Your ship has come in," said Delarue when the remains of the meal had
been removed. He had put Ignez out of sight while the waiter came. He
was now careful of her reputation, where before he had desired to
exhibit her as a flower in his buttonhole. Ignez had grown independent
of the guard of chaperons, fitted as she was temperamentally to sit in
a heaven or hell of rakes without surrender, and further immunised by
anxiety about her voice.

Delarue's unwillingness for the legal noose had lessened in face of
the Abhurst-Sexton competition. The gleam in Monty's eyes showed he
was completely collared, and to snatch a maiden from Monty was the
reverse of capitulating to a bush kiddy in a sailor dress. "If my ship
comes in as safely as yours, will you come away with me to the south
seas? I've always intended to go there in a yacht."

Ignez wondered if this were an offer of seduction, but it did not
worry her. £150! Enough to go to Paris to see that throat man who had
saved a great diva whose voice had been threatened. She was now sure
in her determination.

"It would be sheer lunacy to marry you without money, when I'm so much
older. Could you love a man so much older?" He knelt on the hearthrug
and drew her to him. "Come, tell me?"

She was serious and spoke without coquetry, "I shall never marry
anyone."

"If I had money I'd drag you to a clergyman this very hour."

He spoke again of his ship.

"Will it make you rich?" inquired Ignez politely.

"It would be a start if the old tub isn't caught in a gale, or on a
coral reef, or we aren't swindled out of our cargo."

"I hope for your sake that you'll be rich."

He grew aware of her passivity under his caresses. Her quick power to
feel had earlier enhanced the sport. He held her away from him
critically.

"Little sleep-walker, don't you like kisses?"

"That would be wicked, wouldn't it?"

He couldn't be sure whether it was the firelight or a smile on her
lips. "Who said that kisses are wicked?"

"I thought everything entertaining might be." The humorous ripple was
clear this time, and the long curling lashes lifted.

"Good Grief! You're not a minx, are you?"

"How should I know?"

"You know how fond I am of you. I couldn't bear to find out that
you're not what you seem, that you're like all the others, only
lacking their practice. It would be a coarse disillusion to think
you're just letting me run on for the experience. I could shoot you
for that. Are you?"

"Oh, no, I wouldn't do that." The soft passionate voice was
reassuring. She laid her cheek against his. He waited for the caress
to go further, but many thoughts restrained her. One was the woman at
Redfern, another was Lurline Bennett.

"I want to keep you always," he murmured, as a thousand lovers were
declaring, even the shop-worn. Could he have seen into her heart, she
was more defenceless than he could have grasped. The knowledge derived
from first kisses and Milly's information was but a morsel in the
jungles she had to travel alone because of her hyper-fastidiousness,
her abnormal sensitivity. Inward went everything offensive to either
of those qualities. She thus became both introvert and extrovert--the
extrovert so open and reckless and robust that the introversion was
not suspected.

"I can't keep you here till my ship comes home, so I must take you to
Potts Point."

They came out into wind, driven by a three days' gale. The newsboys
were crying a "final extry" about a shipwreck. Delarue hurried to the
end of the street and got a paper. He read for some time. He then
turned to Ignez, looking old and different.

"Look!"

She saw the headlines, "WRECK OF THE MARQUESA". In small type was,
"Total Wreck of the /Marquesa/."

"Are there any people drowned? Was it a big ship?" she asked.

"The biggest in the world--to me. Everything's gone down. I'll bid you
good-bye--really good-bye this time." He was brusque, as if eager to
be rid of her. He did not offer to see her home, or even to put her in
a cab, but dived into the paper again. As she walked away he followed
her a few paces.

"I say, kiddy, money is--you can't do anything without money. Here's a
bit of advice, marry money as soon as you can. That's what I'm going
to do. Good-bye!"

Before turning into Pitt Street she looked back and he was still
intent upon the paper, reading it under the street light as though she
did not exist. Such behaviour puzzled her. On the tram it occurred to
her that his ship could have been--the /Marquesa/! She was sorry for
him, but there were other ships. The Mazeres and Healeys lost their
sheep and cattle in every drought, and had no beautiful things like Mr
Delarue's. She herself was suffering more shattering blows than a mere
ship and without letting anyone know. As she travelled on the tram she
was considering further silence and evasions as a defence against
similar shafts to those inflicted by the low pass that Reggie Pollit
had ensured for her by meddling with her examination papers. She could
feel in advance the new satisfaction of Dot and Blanche in her defeat.
Even Arthur, dear as he was, would be thankful to have her reduced to
the level of other girls.

                          *       *       *

Mrs Abhurst and Mrs Poole met on the ferry later that night when their
engagements were over, and Mrs Abhurst discussed Ignez while waiting
for a cab.

"That girl has something on her mind. Nothing touches her. She's not
elated by the furore over her book, and she refuses to sing at all.
That reporter was right who said she closed the book of herself with a
bang in the face of anyone who tried to read it."

"Oh, no! She's one of the openest young girls I know, and always so
happy to help others. She's no trouble as a guest," said the artless
Mrs Poole.

"Quite! But if you try to get near her she closes up, very cleverly,
with a seeming frankness. She needs to get a grasp of her
possibilities."

"She's young yet." Rhoda was out of her depth and uttered the
platitude helplessly.

"I was afraid that Moray Delarue would trifle with her," pursued Mrs
Abhurst, "but I'm beginning to think that it would be a good thing if
he did stir her up--break through her abnormal self-restraint."

"I told you he was kind to her only because of Raymond and me, and
Ignez being a family connection of ours."

Rhoda was complacent. She felt she had the advantage on this point.
She did not mention where her charge had gone that evening. Mrs
Abhurst was exercised because Ignez had been obtuse even to the
enthusiasm of her beloved brother.

"Nothing makes any impression on her. Really a very queer personality,
but a pity if she just peters out. She's /so/ gifted, but has no idea
what to do with herself."

Penetrating woman! If only she had discovered the girl on her first
appearance. If only she had not been driven inward so hermetically. If
only there had been someone with the wisdom and sympathy to ease with
other aspects of knowledge the first impact of abhorrent vices and
injustices. If only man had not developed romantic love and then
degraded it. If only men were logical. If only Helen had not been. If
only life were not so short. If only beauty did not cast a spell. If
only conscience had not been invented to gnaw the vitals. If only--the
phrase echoes through the centuries, heavy with remorse and rue and
regret for lost heavens, for wasted energy, for unplucked joy. If
only--terrible words of blasting power, of torturing significance. If
only--Heavens, if only!



CHAPTER XVII


Winter was gone without rain. Drought's fiery tongue again licked the
land. The season threatened to be worse than the drought of two years
before. For months Oswald's Ridges, and all the other ridges of the
southern district to Riverina and to the grim north-west, groaned for
rain. No adequate steps to preserve fodder had been taken during the
previous lush years. In many places the earth was rising into the
thirsty air like a pall of smoke in which the sun floated as a pale
disk.

The Boer War had petered out. Corporal Bull was home without a scar.
Some considered it a pity that Wynd Norton rather than Cowpens should
be fertilizing the veldt. Young Oswald Poole returned with honours in
spite of his youth. Raymond and Rhoda were deadly proud of him. There
were whispers that he gained promotion by smoodging to his superiors,
but it was conceded that he had a jovial manner and would go high in
the army. Larry Healey was asked to convene a meeting at Deep Creek to
consider a memorial to the boys from that part. He said he would lend
his house, but could logically take no further action, because there
was no denying that these young men had gone out to shoot the other
fellows and that the other fellows had shot them, and both sets were
nearer to dupes than heroes. This was a damper till it was pointed out
that Healey was fond of booze. When Ignez supported him they teased
her about sedition.

Ignez had returned to Deep Creek, but only to collect her things to go
home to Jinninjinninbong. There was now no reason for remaining on
Oswald's Ridges. At that date she found a paragraph in a woman's
column: "That fascinating bachelor Moray Delarue has at last
capitulated to Hymen. The beauteous Lurline Bennett has said yes, and
the popular couple, after orange blossoms and wedding bells at St
Marks, are off to Honolulu for the honeymoon."

So! He was to have his trip to the South Seas! Supposing she had
cared? Ignez shuddered to know how near she had been to added
disaster. He must have been engaged to Lurline all the time, and had
just philandered with her. So! So! Delarue was knightly neither to her
nor to Lurline. Did Lurline know, or did she care? She dismissed it
contemptuously as typical of /that/ kind of love, and returned to her
consuming anxiety. She had confided in no one. Indeed, the merest
thread of explanation had sufficed. The criticism and ridicule of her
musical aspirations had switched to astonishment that her silly book
was considered wonderful by professors and editors, and this was
attested in the newspapers. Also some of the force of the imaginary
Nita was being attributed to her creator so that she was not derided
within her hearing. There was an idea that she was replete with
wealth.

"Think of the thousands of the rubbishing thing that sold, each at
two-and-six or three-and-six!"

"A nice easy way for the money to roll in, just by describing people
as worse than they are--better than slaving with sheep and cows that
die in the droughts!"

"I'm going to write a book myself. I'm sure I could write a better one
standing on my head."

But these were threats, not dreams, and never spilt a drop of ink.

The Milfords were relieved that Ignez's second visit to Sydney had
cured her of the wild notion of going on the stage with its primrose
paths of sin. It all went to show! Girls and boys had notions of
dressing up to play-act or to marry the prince in the fairy tale, or
to be bushrangers or to run away to sea, but a little humoring, and
they all settled down. Yes, it all went to show that Ignez was like
all the others. Her father gave her a desk and a wonderful fountain
pen, her mother a ream of paper. Writing could be done at home in any
odd minute without interfering with her normal family occupations, and
actually brought in money where music was a heavy expense. Milford
banked the miraculous cheque and gave Ignez the book for herself.

But robbed of the emotional release of her voice life was as dull as
beggary to Ignez though she was too young and healthy to be hopeless.
Over the seas and far away glamour still shone. London! There were
surely teachers and doctors there to put her right. Europe! There must
be another Salvatore. If only she had Salvatore now she was sure he
could stand her at the other end of the room, go /Umm-mm mumumummm/!
to throw the notes forward, raise his hand, "Carissima! like this!"
and she would soar over the hurdles of those four notes. Everything in
Australia was to be won by thrift and industry. Men rose from a
shilling to millionairedom by work and self-denial. She had no fear of
hard work.

For the time she docilely accepted the exhortations to write, any ruse
that would further her purpose, and perhaps there would be more money
for this. There followed much disappointing effort. What she wrote was
not what editors or publishers expected. She diligently tried to
please these mentors and her work lost life and originality. There
were platitudinous opinions from the /cognoscenti/, the gist of which
was that she would be ruined by remaining in Australia among
illiterate station hands. It was necessary to "form her style" by the
right "contacts" and the study of the masters of prose. The promise of
/Nita/ was so indisputable that it would be tragic if it could not
fully develop. Several men in educational circles suggested her flight
to London on the literary score. Two gentlemen nearing the ends of
their terms as representatives of the Crown kindly offered to direct
her studies and take her into their families in England. This gave
Ignez added prestige but her parents considered such offers mere
gestures and as out of relation to their own way of life as the stage,
and Ignez herself was now suspicious of the motives of men, even those
with wives, who believed fatuously that they were all in all to their
husbands. Uncle Raymond and Delarue were two different examples.
Blanche, who was an industrious correspondent, never failed to inquire
when the next book was to be expected or if Ignez were going on with
her singing. Freda wrote adoringly about her small concerns. Arthur
Masters, with admirable restraint, careful to express nothing to alarm
Ignez or her parents, wrote monthly letters that were like business
reports of his thriving dairy.

Then at last a proposal was considered as reasonable. Professor Jones
and his wife, both English, who visited the Milfords at intervals,
were going home for the Professor to engage in certain research before
taking up a high position in a Canadian university. Mild, correct, of
modest means, they were to travel second class, and appealed to the
Milfords as heaven sent in this second outburst of Ignez. The
professor knew a great deal more about rock formations than
literature, but being a university professor ambushed that from the
Milfords, and perhaps from the Joneses too.

                          *       *       *

Ignez could not leave, perhaps for ever, without a visit to Oswald's
Ridges. Arthur had kept his counsel so firmly and had been so
unfailingly sympathetic that she wished to tell him personally of her
prospects and private intentions. Her time was her own for these short
weeks, so one afternoon she capped the ridges of the glistening white
road to meet Arthur for a farewell look at Lake George. The lake was
in retreat. The flocks of pelicans, swans, ducks and lively waterhens
with attendant cranes and shags, miles wide and acres deep, which had
been wont to march like a million sheep away from intruders, had
presciently departed. A dry plain rimmed thousands of acres of grey
liquid mud drying into the cracked surface of a gigantic mosaic. A
saurian's wallow lost and empty opposed the empty blue of the sky. A
recent gale of wind had lifted the shallow waters in a wave and
deposited tons of fish to rot on the flat banks.

"The lake has gone away because you are leaving us," said Arthur with
summoned joviality.

Southward lay the uncapturable beauty of blue distance--sun-drenched,
silent, friendly, resistant, passive, haunting, waiting, waiting in an
eternity of oblivion, a land with its history defaced by time, its
legends lost in the aeons. How long had that scene to await
reclamation by new history, other legends?

She reined in to look her last on the landscape. She was riding not
only a sensitive horse but also the wild horse of dreams--dreams
freighted with all that she could never be. Halting there in the
sunlight of the present she had the eerie sense, as on that other
night, that the future was already the past and she and Arthur in
their own legend being carried on the wind that drove across that
ancient place, lately a lake, its fish now blown out to enrich the
dust, the dust blown high to be lost in the Pacific. There was for her
a voice lorn upon the air, a mere echo of an echo diminishing into
space, tantalisingly beyond capture, felt rather than heard, hinting
of grief but of glory too.

"I can't bear it!" she said.

Arthur shivered as if under a spell so that his hand was cold upon
hers--the fire of desire frozen in the ice of renunciation.

"Let's go!"

They turned silently away. Masters accompanied her to Deep Creek
across paddocks dotted in some cases with briers, in others by fallen
timber or stumps, skirting the primeval scrub of big trees and shrubs
where the Merrie Monarch had fallen.

"Don't get too hoity-toity and not come back to Australia till you're
about eighty, like the other great singers," said Arthur suddenly.

"If I recover my voice I'll be back to sing to you in two years." She
was thinking that if she did not recover her voice she would never
come back, never. Never!

She breathed a last farewell to the Ridges as she rode. She had never
loved them, but the years she had known them had cut deeply into her
life and emotions. Imminent departure made her tender, and sky and
air, fences, trees and shrubs, the little dams, the livestock, the sun
sinking behind the ranges in the wide clear sky, had the comfort of
things familiar and friendly.

Arthur said good night at the sliprails near Deep Creek where the
wallabies still sheltered in a belt of scrub.

He came again four days later on the evening of Ignez's departure.
Healey was to take her in the small hours to meet the train at the
siding some miles distant. He lay down for a nap and Ignez went out
with Arthur to say good-bye. Sweetheart Ignez was tied to the garden
palings. Ignez pressed her face to the warm fragrant neck.

"I wonder shall I ever see her again?"

"You will," said Arthur cheerily.

"A horse's life is short. Many a day I'll long for her easy gallop or
dream of her here by the gate stamping the flies off."

"You don't suppose I'll be belting down many nights to talk federation
or woman suffrage with Larry when you're gone, do you?"

Ignez did not reply. She looked across the moonlit flats and heard the
mopokes.

"Well, it has come at last. You're chucking the bush and all of us."
He fidgeted with the mane where it fell beside the girl's face. "Your
heart has always been on those things that we can only read about
here. But--" he hesitated--"supposing your voice takes longer than you
expect to get well, you'll promise to let me know?"

"Perhaps. You have always been my friend."

"Always will be. You can bank on that. Talking of banks, I nearly
forgot my little parting gift." He placed a packet in her hand. "Open
that when you get home to Jinninjinninbong."

"It isn't money?"

Arthur had a disarming gallantry. "Prima donnas receive gifts of
jewels worth fifty times that from people who don't know them, and I
have the rights of a foundation member. Spend it on fees. If it
worries you, pay it back--with interest if you like--when you're
famous like Melba."

He had become confused by the singer plus the writer. With his clear
common sense he knew that she was lost to him completely, but at the
same time he was still acting in the contour of his earlier dreams.

"Saying good-bye won't be any easier if I wait till Mrs Healey comes
out with a broomstick." He took her hand, firmly self-mastered. She
knew now how she would miss his generous cheerfulness, but to take him
from the land would be like caging a noble lion in an anaemic zoo. She
wanted to kiss him. She tiptoed timidly. He responded with a swift
intake of breath, but with a caress as chaste as a brother's.

Surprise remained part of his elation and depression as he rode across
the flat beyond the ploughed paddock where the stones in the empty
creek-bed were noisy under the horse's hoofs, and as he gained the
white track on the gully side and entered the scrub where the night
birds were calling to each other. There seemed to be an unusual number
of them tonight.

The big birds had been Ignez's playfellows since infancy and she
walked up the hillside under the drought-bright stars to hail them
once again. Such a short time since she had decided to go to escape
the pain of being left behind--now she was finding the wrench of going
more painful than to be left. The moon rode halfway between the rim,
and the silver light gave an air of mystic stillness to the misty
flats. She could not stay, but, ah, it hurt to go!

She entered her room and let the candlelight fall upon her little
bedfellow and friend. Freda's boots were set neatly for the morning,
the work upon which she had been engaged was near at hand. She stirred
and wakened as Ignez lay down beside her. She snuggled for a last
whispered confidence. Freda was to learn all she could, and they would
be together again some day to do wonderful things. Ignez swore fealty
for ever and ever. If Norah Alfreda ever should be in a fix, no matter
how grave, she was to seek Ignez.

"No matter what kind of a fix, even one you'd be deadly ashamed to
tell anyone else, you could tell it to me. I want you to promise that,
Norah Alfreda. Because, you see, I once was in a fix myself . . ."

"Oh, were you!" exclaimed the little girl, thrilled. "Tell me, and
I'll keep it a secret."

"Perhaps I'll tell you when you're twenty-one."

"What did you do? Did you tell anyone, Ignez?"

"Yes. I'd have made an awful fool of myself if I hadn't had Milly to
go to. She understood everything, and so would I, no matter what."

Freda promised fervently.



CHAPTER XVIII


Ignez's letter to Dick was posted at Adelaide. He was stunned to know
that she was already beyond the Leeuwin. She had managed adroitly to
depart without notice. Her small baggage contained two undeclared
packets of great potency in conditioning her future way of life--a
dead Cupid and a ruined singing voice. Only her parents saw her into
the care of the Joneses. There was cold comment in Blanche's letter:

  . . . Mrs Healey says Ignez's love of notoriety will someday bring
  her disappointment and curb her selfishness. She says it's always
  like that, the people who bear the heat and burden of the day
  never get a word of thanks, and the utterly selfish have
  everything laid in their laps. Ignez is different from me. My
  family comes first with me, but as soon as she gets a lot of money
  she runs off with it.

Truly Blanche was no exodist. Her ambition would have been to settle
at Barralong with Arthur, a defeat that maidenly pride had to
dissimulate and hide as painfully, if not so disastrously, as Ignez
hid hers.

The pain of Ignez's departure hurt Dick as sharply as the opinion of
his poems.

He was now of age. He could do as he liked and no one could stop him.
He, too, decided to leave Australia, but it was America that lured
him. Novelettes dealing with Indians and buffaloes and white girls
reared as princesses of savage tribes, which he got from the working
men, had inculcated a desire for North America. In his mind he could
see the wide prairies and long rivers and snow-laden spruces of that
country.

Blanche had been industrious with letters, and though she rasped him
at home her attention was gratifying to his loneliness. He confessed
to her that he wanted to leave Coolooluk. She persuaded him to come
home before going farther away. Back at Lagoon Valley he was painfully
discontented. Allan of the merry eyes and slender form had filled his
place. Allan was a frail-looking lad, and Blanche muttered about
"mother's heart" and thoroughly depressed Dick.

The drought, too, was terrible. Even the creeks and rivers of the
Murrumbidgee ranges nearly disappeared that year. Seven of the creeks
of Ten Creeks Run ceased, and the larger streams showed every boulder.
There was not so much spare land as formerly. The stock-routes were as
bare as cowyards. Out west the homes of settlers were buried in the
dust. The moan of starving stock arose like a dirge from one end of
the land to the other to indict the cruelty and inefficiency of man.
It was painful for those of tender hearts to see the tortured cattle
and horses. Mazere lost all but fifteen of his fifty cows, and these
were skin and bone and had to be lifted up each day and sustained on
bran and water. Old Suck-Suck lay down at the far end of his paddock
and died. Muldoon's Greybeard went similarly, and Finnegan's Splodger,
and many another brave old identity. The remaining beasts propped
themselves against the fences waiting for their famine rations. Those
left to their fate in back paddocks wore their teeth away fossicking
for the roots of the tussocks. Oswald at Cooee had the reeds of Lake
Lansdowne to retreat upon. Deep Creek justified its name, and a number
of the neighbours carted water from its permanent holes. Larry Healey
was in advance of his neighbours in political and other ideas and not
so badly off for the moment because he had slaved to grow hay and had
a number of dry stacks that were better than nothing. He had made a
dam near the house that still held water, and with a pump he kept the
vegetables and flowers alive.

Mrs Mazere still held her post and her salary was riches to the
family. Dick could never feel at ease with her or his remarried
father. Mrs Mazere was comfortably polite and left him alone. His
father asked him what he meant to do. Dick said he might try his luck
in the west, which was still calling to the adventurous.

"You're your own boss now, you must do as you think best. You can
always come home again," said Mazere, a little sourly, because he,
too, was sensitive, and pained by the boy's exodus without capital.

"Thank you, father," said Dick, the yeast of escape in him.

He turned to Blanche, who was ostentatiously kind. When she saw that
his mind was set to get away she gave him her store of five golden
sovereigns and some silver. Dick demurred, but Blanche overbore him.
Part of the money was from the sale of her pet lamb to the butcher,
who had wanted a show carcass for the Tiranna race week. Dick's
conscience was smitten because he had not hitherto appreciated her
solicitude. She was sticking to the family in spite of a stepmother
who, Blanche insisted, was as useless and lazy as a man in the house,
while he was fleeing to fresh chances. He confessed that he had enough
money for a steerage passage to San Francisco and might go there
instead of to Western Australia. He didn't want this mentioned in case
he failed. Blanche was comforted to keep his secret till he was safely
away. Her wounded heart reached out in jealous possessive affection
and she helped him with letters and other business about his passage.
Dick was warmed by her sympathy and support so that the anguish that
had been Ignez's began to tinge the prospect of escape. He gave
Blanche the big kangaroo skin that Ignez had left him and that had
been the gift of Masters. Thus it came in the end to Blanche, a
reminder of a season when they had all been so gay and unmenaced by
time's ravellings.

Before departure Dick, too, went out into the night alone to seek
solace from the gum-trees under the stars. The click-click of the
plovers by the dam on the far side of the potato paddock near the
little church among the stumps mingled with the voices of the mopokes
and willy-wagtails.

Blanche and Allan drove him to Goulburn to take the train. The painful
last minutes past, the train pulled away to the accompaniment of
engines shunting and left the two on the platform. The bush was a
milestone passed, the world ahead, but Dick's heart would not reach
forward to adventure. It propped and went back with the paintless
buggy rattling homeward through the drought-blighted landscape. It
clung to the mare who had succeeded to Suck-Suck's work as she toiled
bravely without whip, for she was going home--to Dick, home no more.

Why should this realization suddenly be numbing?

Every rise and hollow of the track was engraved on his mind for ever.
His eyes were seeing the clouds of rosellas and lories rising like
flowers with staccato "Quit! Quit!" from the parched, garnered
cultivation paddocks, the sheets of sparrows whirring from the briers,
the grasshoppers hitting horse and buggy, the grey rabbits bobbing
across the track at dusk. The mailman would toil on his prescribed
course, the sundowners with their billies and blueys tramp endlessly
along the white highroads between the broad houseless paddocks. His
spirit crept with Blanche and Allan to the house at nightfall when the
kookaburras were laughing in the trees beyond the cowyard, and the
glow of the kitchen fire in the wide white hearth welcomed the family
to warm food and a cosy evening. But he would never go there again.
This hyper-sensitive nostalgia was a blight as heavy as Ignez's
tendency to bury her feelings under a brave façade. He had hated the
place, why should the thought of its being lost for ever hurt more
than his discontent had done of old? Wynd Norton had gone away and
died, Archie Monro had gone and remained away, Cowpens had gone and
returned, Arthur Masters had stayed at home to succeed and be happy.
Ignez was his buckler and inspiration. She was only a girl, yet she
had cleared out without any whimpering. He closed the home door in his
mind and gave way to worry about what was ahead of him.

                          *       *       *

The scrub gave place to clear little paddocks and a number of
cottages. The Necropolis. Rows and rows of houses. Huge boards and
every available fence and wall papered with advertisements. Dick liked
the gay colours and daring intimacy of ladies in lingerie and corsets,
with waists thin enough to crack in two. There were jolly tars raising
tobacco and grog, and dozens of other pictures. He was also struck by
the greenery in every nook, so different from the drought-baked
tablelands. More and more houses among the tea-tree scrub. More
cleared spaces.

A din of sounds, an expansive warmth and the electrical presence of
the crowd that sends a tremor half of delight half of fear through
those accustomed to nature and its solitude. There were a bewildering
number of people, more gaily dressed than he was used to, and he
admired their dash and confidence, glancing neither to left nor right,
but apparently bent on a definite goal. They looked as if they owned
the city, as indeed they did. He must get out of the train. It was the
abandonment of a refuge. Thus the first shock of the metropolis.

City life was not so dangerous to a male, or its evils would not
depreciate his marriage value, so no gallant Delarue or friendly Uncle
Raymond met Dick. He had the address of a cheap boarding-house,
obtained from Cowpens, no less. Cowpens, between looking after horses
and suffering a touch of typhoid in South Africa, had had a night in
Capetown, another in Adelaide, and several in Sydney, and was now a
man of the world.

Dick had apportioned his money. His passage was paid, the landing
money demanded of immigrants by the United States set aside. He had a
little extra for sight-seeing /en route/, and Blanche's five pounds,
supplemented by the same amount from Sylvia, made him rich compared
with others. The s.s. /Sierra/ was not due to sail until the following
day at noon and Dick would have the forenoon in the city.

He woke early with a lost sensation. It was still dark and he pictured
the smoke curling out of the wide chimney of the detached kitchen
where the spiced rounds and hams hung in the smoke. The cocks would be
crowing and the dusty cows stirring on the yellow flats--so
comfortingly familiar. How quiet and far away it was! Not another
house within sight, and often not a caller or passer-by through the
whole day. Yet it had an entity that persisted above the rising roar
of the traffic of Redfern and made his heart cold and weak with
homesickness. Why should the innocent adventure he craved have so much
pain in it?

There were weary hours to wait for breakfast. He then sought the ship
to deliver his Gladstone bag and few parcels. A kindly deck-hand told
him how to proceed, and that sailing had been postponed from Friday to
Monday. He was saved by Sylvia's five-pound note and meant to go to
the wharf each day to make sure of the ship.

He now had time to see his own city before escaping to one of noisier
promise on the other side of the Pacific. He hurried to Rankin and
Cunningham's on Pitt Street. The ships in the Harbour were
disappointingly small, but the bookshop exceeded his imagination.
Bright new books were strewn everywhere with the prodigality of cobs
of corn in the sheds of Oswald's Ridges after a good harvest. He had a
pictured acquaintance with libraries whose walls were covered with
ponderous tomes, and the members of his clan had extensive
bookshelves, but this was a staggering array of new volumes, gaudy and
tempting. They smelt new. They would be about living people, some of
them about Australians, like Lawson's and Paterson's works. They could
be one's own without mark of entrance by others. New country, unsailed
seas!

He decided to do with a minimum of meals and to walk everywhere in
order to buy some fancy here. Whew! Some people could buy all the
books they wanted. Dick wandered timidly round, ready to flee if a
shop assistant eyed him disapprovingly. He would send one volume to
Sylvia and another to Blanche--Lawson and Paterson, the idols of his
adolescence. He bought one on Friday and read it during the evening by
the dull gas jet in his horrible, bug-ridden room. On Saturday morning
he returned for Paterson. He was buying the books separately to have
the right to enter the shop a second time. He fell into a trance over
the frontispieces, two faces that were fitting subjects of youthful
adoration. On Sunday he investigated the Art Gallery, the Domain, Hyde
Park, the Museum, and the Botanic Gardens.

The /Sierra/ was not leaving until 5 p.m. on Monday, so in the morning
Dick returned for one more look at the books. He found a table of
second-hand wares and decided to go without a midday meal in favour of
one or two for the voyage. The shy bushman look of him and the rapt
face attracted the notice of a tall man who had fostered numbers of
the type. He was without a hat. Dick shrank from him as the sensitive
with slender purses shrink from pursuing salesmen. This man was
evidently a floor-walker in charge of the books. Fearing he had laid
himself open to suspicion by buying so little, Dick edged towards the
door, but the man cut off his escape. He showed books that had missed
Dick's attention, and the boy's eyes shone, though uneasiness lessened
pleasure. He could not say that he did not want the books or that he
could not afford them, he had been genteelly reared to be ashamed of
poverty. The man was quiet and not like a towny. His clothes had a
comfortable up-country look and he had a beard like the Bool Bool
uncles. Dick didn't know how it started, but presently he was
confiding that he loved books better than anything, but that he had
very few--the drought was so bad--and yes, he would like to write
something.

The man said he would like Dick to look at his own pet volumes. Dick
lacked the technique to decline or accept and soon found himself in an
upstairs room. He saw at once that the shop held a mob of cleanskins,
but here was the home paddock of prime specimens and tried stock. Oh,
to be a bookseller and publisher and have a room like that, or,
failing such a height, to have a book written by himself with a
publisher's name on it, and gum-trees and kookaburras lining the
cover, as Ignez had! Ignez! In that moment he realized the greatness
of Ignez. What a girl could do surely was not beyond a man. He squared
his shoulders to effort. The sinking left the pit of his stomach when
he thought of home. The most congenial encounter in his young life
ended by his carrying away an armful of books that the bearded man had
wrapped up, and that were so heavy that Dick had to hoist the parcel
to his shoulders. There had been a murmur about defective copies,
shop-soiled--couldn't offer 'em for sale. The man's tact had been such
that Dick enjoyed this gift without a wound.

Publishers became of the elect, distributors of gifts like Santa
Claus. In another land when he found it difficult to captain his soul,
when its only fruit were slight verses, he polished a sheaf of them by
the latest rules and sent them to the bookshop on Pitt Street. In
response long after came a book. There followed ten pounds for the
copyright. Dick never heard how his effort was received. He thought of
it as similar to some of the slight volumes that had been presented to
him by the man with the beard, and of whose authors he had been
unaware till he opened the books. He was too diffident ever to inquire
about his early effort.

The fate of the first poems of Richard Labosseer Mazere was to come
into another story of a later day. The end of Dick in this period was
that he arrived aboard the /Sierra/ without mishap and steamed out
from his native land with the setting sun flinging a golden pathway
behind him and the rising moon laying a silver roadway ahead.



CHAPTER XIX


Ignez had been gone much longer than the two years she had mentioned
when departing, but still there was no hint of her return. For the
first eighteen months she had written to her mother and Arthur
Masters, and several others, but her letters lacked any really
confidential news of herself. During the first few months she said
that she was advised to rest her voice to undo the mistakes of vicious
old Jepp, and for a time had taken a post as companion to a lady. She
might still have been saved by rest--complete silence--but that would
have required a sure income, and she needed an exceptional teacher of
voice production to nurse her organ back to strength. She refused the
piano's half-comfort. She was gifted, teachers assured her of that,
but she was twenty, and everything she had done was wrong. It would
require a year of drudgery to overcome her bad habits. If she had
means to devote all her time under sound masters until she was
grounded it would then be possible to discover if she would be a
concert player or only a teacher.

She early ceased to mention her voice. When she found that it had gone
beyond repair it was like the loss of the sun, which might continue to
shine for others but never more warm her. Life had lost its ecstasy.
People presented grief or joy for her sharing; both were alike to her.
She could not sing. She bore it alone, so abnormal, so crippling her
sensitiveness that she hid any signs of her ordeal from those around
her. There were none to testify what her voice had been. She had too
much sense of proportion, besides the faculty, to an uncanny degree,
for measuring her situation by other people's, to become one of those
who make a career for themselves and much tedium for others by
explaining what they might have been and the causes of their failure.

She would never return to Oswald's Ridges except on her own terms.
There were limits to her fortitude. In those days she would wake from
dreams in which she was being pursued by Blanche or Dot, and sometimes
by both, jibing at her while she was tethered to sordid tasks and
struggled for something beyond her strength. When she woke to the
blank reality of her loss there was at least the relief that she was
far, far away, that no one knew what she suffered. It was further a
resolute principle with her that she would not be an I-told-you-so
example to obstruct any other girl who might attempt to escape from
bearing a dozen brats to the accompaniment of scouring pot-lids and
whitewashing hearths and preoccupation with the price of turkeys and
recipes for sponge cakes as recreation.

To Blanche's inquiries about any more books, she replied that writing
was too expensive a hobby. She could not write; her heart was dead.
She loathed her first attempt and the results. As a substitute for
singing writing was a bin of dust. She was free of the Joneses when
the Professor was called across the Atlantic sooner than he had
expected. She met young women who had gone to the United States to
fill musical posts and who at the end of the school year had the means
to spend the long vacation in Europe. Opportunity was reported to be
robust and commodious across the Atlantic, whereas the beggary of
London under its thin crust of paraded luxury and culture and snobbery
was a nightmare.

Her letters from New York were full of enthusiasm. The United States
was even more a land of hope and glory than she had expected. She was
working at various jobs during the day and taking a course in the
evenings to fit her for a secretarial post. As soon as she was
established she wanted her mother to pay her a long visit.

There followed the death of her mother. Ignez wrote broken-heartedly.
Another heavy blow was her father's marriage with indecent haste to
the lady help. Ignez ceased to write even to Arthur, whose fidelity
burdened her. He wrote once a month and still subscribed himself hers
for ever. When she found that two of her early outlets, family life
and the arts, had been firmly cut off as by water-tight bulk-heads,
she opened up other holds in her cargo of general capability and
intelligence. She was soon in the dizzying rhythm of social service
effort with its stimulating contacts and colleagues of international
renown. There was time only for snatches of strictly personal affairs
and less for private letters.

                          *       *       *

When Ignez went away Arthur had his own mail-bag, which was locked in
Goulburn and left for him at the nearest point on the Barralong Road.
He did not want the district to know when he had a letter from Ignez,
or worse, when he had not. His patience was tried by the irregularity
and scrappiness of Ignez's letters. The most faithful heart cannot for
ever nourish itself on memories. He was glad one afternoon as he went
for his bag to see Tottie Norton driving on the crisp white road. She
halted and got out for the buggy. He went to investigate and found she
had a broken trace. He repaired it with his bootlace. Tottie was an
inviting picture in her muslin dress and with a hat like a flower-bed
perched on her golden curls.

"One good turn deserves another. Come and have tea. Elsie will have it
ready."

Masters accepted. They climbed the hill and looked on the view where
the Lake had reverted to a plain against the ranges. Bridgit Finnegan
could be seen on the skyline, far afield after her turkeys, giant
bronzewings from which she made her savings against old age.

"Poor old Biddy! She's great on her turkeys."

"She's lonely and getting eccentric. She was very fond of Wynd."

There was an appropriate silence.

"Mick is still after Elsie? When is she going to give in?"

"She doesn't want to marry at all--like Ignez Milford. Do you know
what became of her?"

"I think Freda Healey hears from her," he evaded.

"Did she marry or write any more books?"

"I must ask Freda next time I run across her. That youngster's growing
up into a bright young woman."

Masters and Ignez had not published the nature and depth of their
friendship. Inferences had been made from the obvious, but time was
erasing that.

"Ignez Milford was much too clever to settle down here," remarked
Tottie, and then, "You must be lonely, Arthur, since your dear old
mother passed on."

"The house seems empty. It needs a woman in it."

"Most houses do." She looked at him and smiled as he helped her to
alight.

One of Oswald's horses was in the stable. "Like old times," was his
greeting as Masters entered and the girls set about preparing tea.

It was pleasant to watch the comely young women bustling about their
hospitality with lively remarks. Both men remained till late at night.
Masters thought keenly of Ignez as he rode through spots still full of
her presence. He did not open his mailbag till he got home. There was
nothing from Ignez. Her latest letter was nearly twelve months old.
Life does not wait even for an empress or an archangel.

Three months later Ignez received a letter which began plainly, "Dear
Ignez," and proceeded:

  I was nine months without a line from you, and then wrote to know
  why. Three more months have passed, plenty of time for a reply,
  but none has come. I can see now that you never meant to marry me
  no matter what happened, and there is one here who is increasingly
  dear to me. She feels towards me as I used to feel towards you and
  that has made me understand. It was a great blow to my pride that
  you did not think it worth while to send me a line and I am
  writing to tell you that I am going to be married to Tottie
  Norton. I know we shall be very happy and she will grow dearer to
  me each year. Of that I feel sure. I have burned your letters and
  hope you will do the same with mine.
                                             Yours truly,
                                               Arthur Masters.

This stirred mingled emotions in Ignez. The relief that she was freed
from the burden of Arthur and that he would be happy with Tottie was
immense. She felt a loving rush of gratitude to Tottie for thus
rescuing both Arthur and herself. If ever anyone deserved prosperity,
respect, and affection it was Arthur. Nevertheless she had wasted much
emotion in uneasiness with regard to him, quite unnecessarily. This
deathless love was a myth. She would remember Arthur always as one of
the nicest men in the world, and had feared him faithful till death,
and yet--!

The days in New York were evil in so far as the development of her
special talents was drowned. She had fallen among reformers, and that
for an artist is more fatal than for a merchant to fall among bandits.
Her heart was frozen by her secret tragedy. There were five heavy,
sealed years when in the anguish of her own loss she could not bear
the performances of other musicians, days when she eschewed concerts
and was separated from music. She suffered no personal neglect but
lovers were never permitted to become paramours or husbands, and
perhaps she was no more unhappy while the fever of self-sacrifice
lasted than she would have been on any other track. The days were a
turmoil of high-geared living and hard work.

After his second marriage Ignez's father sold out and migrated to
Queensland. One of her brothers died. She became a memory to Oswald's
Ridges. Those who had known her there told of her flying along the
roads on her blood mare, and quoted her sayings. Woman suffrage and
Federation made no perceptible difference in virtue, prosperity or
living for either sex. Gum boughs were accepted as charming indoor
decoration. Girls rode astride without comment. Side-saddles were put
high on beams to gather cobwebs and hornet's nests and become objects
of ridicule.



CHAPTER XX


"Remember, Allan, you mustn't desert me when I'm pouring out the
coffee."

"No jolly fear! Where Freda is, there I'll remain."

The seasons with their cycle of lean and plenty, had revolved until
Norah Alfreda and Allan were re-enacting the old comedy that not so
long since had been Ignez's and Dick's. Freda was completing her
sixteenth year and was very much grown up in her own conception. She
and Allan were at the tiny church among the stumps at Lagoon Valley to
help run a coffee supper and concert in aid of the school prizes. A
young bachelor was in charge of the little school in the scrub between
Lagoon Valley and Deep Creek and Mrs Mazere had receded to the post of
sewing-mistress. She had a boy named Moffat now and another child was
imminent. She was no more addicted to housework. Blanche had done
everything for Moffat except to suckle him, and she had done most of
that with the aid of Speckle, a robust old cow whose daughter was in
readiness for the coming event.

Allan was helping Freda with the Deep Creek spring cart in which she
had brought the Healeys' contribution of cakes, milk, home-made
sweets, and flowers for decoration. The charge of a shilling a head
included a meal with the concert. Allan and his mates were responsible
for the wood and the fires and the vessels for the coffee making.

Goulburn talent was expected. Sylvia Mazere, now for some years Mrs
Malcolm Timson, was also to sing. She was lovelier than ever, and
whisperers concerned themselves with her extended freedom from a
family. She was spending a few weeks at Lagoon Valley and a few days
at Cooee. Malcolm Oswald was to sing "When Ye Gang Awa', Jamie" with
her.

It was a piercing night in July, but glittering with moonlight, and
people were coming ten and fifteen miles and farther, making light of
cold in pursuit of entertainment and fellowship. The boys lighted
fires in the old stumps and the younger folks eddied around these
bandying jokes and riddles, and parrying Aubrey Mazere's boyish quips.
The horses were tied to trees, and cosy in possum rugs or other
covering.

The concert began at 7 p.m. to a packed house. Those who couldn't get
in heard through the doorway or windows. Arthur Masters with Elsie
Norton, his sister-in-law, was in a front seat. Arthur apologized for
the absence of his wife, who had a young baby, and insisted that Freda
should come to see it as soon as possible. Gossip attributed Elsie's
presence to her pursuit of Oswald and Michael Finnegan's to his
devotion to Elsie, but in both cases Freda, who was a pet with them,
had sent coaxing invitations, and there was a pleasant friendship
between the families ever since the days of Ignez and Dick.

Mrs Timson first sang "Annie Laurie" and had such an ovation that she
had to give a triple encore, "In Old Madrid", "The Swallows", and then
"Scenes That are Brightest", by which she was to be best remembered,
when she, like Ignez, became legendary.

Freda missed some of the concert because she and Allan, helped by
Blackshaws, Tompkinses, Browns, and Ollivers, were busy in a caboose
of tarpaulins against the end of the church. An old identity who had
received a complimentary ticket--on the strength of water-carrying, to
save his pride--was Mick Muldoon. As he was of the "wan thrue church"
he would not desecrate himself by entering the building, but
neighbourliness and hunger ensured his presence. He was having a hard
time. His fiery pride would not permit him to accept the old-age
pension or charity, and he was much too old for droving contracts. He
lived alone in his hut in the scrub now that his sister had died. The
neighbours feared that he might go hungry. His long white beard was
against him and to deceive strangers he dyed it with wattle bark. The
result of this brave and resourceful attempt was that the fervent
Papist often had a bright orange cataract on his shabby chest. This
was convulsing to the wags, but with precocious understanding Freda
sensed its pathos, and her father had trained her to value Mick's
honesty and fierce independence. Any vulgarian who ridiculed Mick in
her hearing had a little tartar on his hands. She had inherited Mick
from Ignez, and Ignez was still her model and her ideal.

"Och," said the old man, seating himself near Freda and beginning on
the large plate of sandwiches she placed for him, "there's none of
these squawkers can sing loike the little Milford girl. She could
bring annywan's heart into his mouth, and remoind him of all he had
ivir dhrimpt whin he was full of buck, and all that he had croied
about whin a choild with his mother, and everything in the world, with
just wan song. With just wan song she could do it."

"Hear! Hear!" said Arthur Masters, who was struggling through the
crowd to ask Freda if she needed help. "Partners since the days of
She-oak Ridge," he whispered.

"Where is she now, at all, that little Milford gurrl?" asked Mick.

"In New York. You must come to see me, Mr Muldoon, and I'll read you
parts of her letters."

"Poor old beggar," Masters murmured of him. "Looks pretty thin on it."
Muldoon's gaunt frame was outlined by his threadbare clothing. "No
overcoat on a night like this, and he won't let you help him."
Turning, he said, "I wonder, Mick, if you could do a job for me? I
have some springers that have to be handled carefully."

"You won't get that from these fellows r'ared ondher a hin."

"No. I wouldn't trust them to anyone but you, Mick."

Cowpens appeared at the aperture and demanded a private word with
Freda. Arthur took her place while she stepped out.

"Freda, I want to put a question. You don't mind me arskin' for a bit
of encouragement?"

"It's useless to mind what some people do, and I'm so busy, but what
do you want?"

"Well, yer see, I'm beginning early with you so as you can't have
someone ready like all the others always say they have."

"You must be cracked!" she gasped, as she suddenly discerned what was
coming.

"I would like you to tell me plainly."

"Goodness gracious! I'd as soon encourage a goanna as give you /that/
kind of encouragement. Is that plain enough?"

"But are you smitten on anyone else?" he persisted. "Because if you're
free girls often take to blokes at the finish that they didn't cotton
to at first pop."

"I'll take to you with a potstick if you're ever so silly again. I'm
mad with hurry, besides, I'm engaged to Allan Mazere," said Freda, and
fled.

"Well, I'll be blowed!" said Cowpens, scratching his head.

Allan was tiring of his work without Freda's company. Why such
gluttonous old scrags didn't fatten up a bit beat him.

"Serve 'em jolly well right if they explode!" he muttered to Arthur.
"They must be made of good elastic, like young magpies." It was just
like Freda to bamboozle him to this hen duty and then leave him. There
she was now. Arthur returned to his ladies, carrying refreshments.

"Oh, Allan, you're a dear to hang on. I hope you don't mind that I've
just announced that I'm engaged to you."

"Isn't that coming it a bit thick?" he said with a mollified grin.

"It was that idiot of a Cowpens, and I had to get rid of him."

"You mean you were only spoofing--about you and me?"

"You wouldn't expect it to be real yet! I don't want to stick on
Oswald's Ridges and wash pots, with my mind running to fat hen and
nettles, as Ignez used to say. I want to keep on writing till I get
enough money to go to her."

Since the prize essay Freda had won another prize with a short story,
and was ambitious to go to the University, but this was beyond the
Deep Creek resources. Life does not change. It merely moves, sometimes
imperceptibly. As with Ignez, there was no one to estimate Freda's
talent and direct her. The pioneer environment gave the hardy a chance
to be real men and women on one plane, but it was damnably wasteful of
the gifted.

"That'd take an awful lot of money."

"You can save your money from possum skins and rabbits' ears and come,
too. We'll never come to anything in this awful hole. Look at the old
cockatoos--they just scratch the ground a bit and talk about the
weather. What did Dick say in his last letter?"

"He wants me to go over to him. He reckons there are chances for
anyone so long as he's not too long in the horn before he gets away
from the Ridges."

"Fill me cup again, sure I spilled the other," interposed Mick. "Sure,
Oswald's getting to be a droid-up owld hide. Freda, ye'll soon be old
enough for him to toi his horse up at Deep Creek."

"I'm going to America. I'm tired of being reared under a hen."

"My opeenion is--" This was cut short by Oswald's putting his head
inside the shelter and remarking, "Hullo, Muldoon! By the way, if you
haven't too much on hand, I could do with your help for a week or two.
Have you turned Orangeman?"

"/You've/ turned rude," said Freda, "to make personal remarks."

"Excuse me, I didn't know Mick was in the running," retorted Oswald
with a humorous twinkle. "And how do you happen to be here in the
middle of the week? I thought you were in Goulburn studying to be a
school teacher."

"Mother isn't well and I had to come home for the winter."

"I'm sorry to hear that. When did you hear from Dick and Ignez?"

Allan and Freda spoke together.

"Fine! Next time you write tell them both that they know my address if
ever they want a friend or a horse--and so do you, you little--
/flirt!/"

                          *       *       *

"You need to curb that violent temper," said Mrs Healey to Freda three
days later. "It shows on your face and makes you very ugly."

Discontentment rather than anger clouded Freda's face. She had
hankered to go to a picnic but her mother had not felt able to do the
work herself. Her tasks were too much for her since the latest infant
who had arrived when she should have been beyond child-bearing. A sick
irritability made the day's grind unbearable.

"I don't know what's to become of you. Ignez was bad enough with her
conceited notions, but at least she wasn't lazy. Call your father and
help me dish up the dinner."

Freda went to the crest of the ridge to cooee to Larry who was cutting
out briers on the flat, but did not return to the kitchen. Healey
entered twenty minutes later to find Mrs Healey busy with the
saucepans on the open fire, the baby squalling in his cradle.

"Pick up the baby before he chokes. A mother needs two pairs of
hands."

"Well, old chap, you'd make a different noise if you were choking."
The infant crowed and clutched his father's beard. "Where's Freda?"

"You'd better ask her. She has a temper like a fiend. She's lazy, and
if I speak to her she flies off somewhere. I have to thank the bad
example of Ignez for that."

Compassion smote Healey. There was a high flush on Dot's face and she
looked distraught. Under the care-wrought lines he saw her lily and
roses beauty as it had been before life was so hard on her--and he had
failed her. He moved to the door to look for Freda.

"Don't take the child out in the wind, hot from sleep. He'll catch
cold and make more trouble for me."

"You are hardier than that, aren't you, old buffer?" said Healey,
putting a shawl around the child so ineptly that it was a fresh
irritation to his wife. He found Freda in the buggy shed. "My girl,
what has gone wrong this time between you and your mother?"

"Oh, I hate her! She stops me from doing anything I like. Curse this
life of pot-washing and infernal stagnation! Curse mud-mindedness and
black-gin work! Curse everything about this hateful hole!"

"Well, now, you mustn't take things so much to heart. You must help
her through the winter. You can go back to your studies then. You
mustn't quarrel with your mother. She has a great deal to try her."

"Poor people are silly to have so many babies--it's disgusting."

"You can't understand some things yet. You'll know when you are older.
Help your mother, there's a good girl. You'll feel better after some
dinner."

"I don't want dinner."

The baby gurgled and stretched out his arms. Freda could not resist
him. Healey left him with her, knowing there was no better peacemaker
than a baby.

"The little fellow sets us an example. Forget and forgive. It's a
grand thing to be patient." He reported to Dot that nothing was the
matter with Freda except want of an outlet.

"That's right! Uphold /her/! Have sympathy for /her/! It doesn't
matter what I have to put up with. You, the author of all my troubles,
who swore to cherish me and protect me! I can lose my health with
childbearing, and work like an ox; she's young and strong and lazy and
is encouraged to act as she likes."

Larry ate silently, which was further infuriating to Dot's raw nerves.

Out of doors the clear winter sunlight transformed the hard green
leaves of the trees to silver. A mouse ran in and blinked at Freda and
caught the baby's attention. At length he grew hungry and drove Freda
to the house. All might have subsided had not Mrs Healey's resentment
been aroused by Larry's championship of the girl.

"If you're so insane that you rush off into the bush, you might have
mercy on an innocent baby. The little helpless dear is glad to get
safely back to his poor overburdened mother."

"The baby was brought to me by his own sacred father--your husband."

"Really, Freda, if you continue as you're doing lately I must take you
to the doctor, and have advice."

"You always go off on some fresh point that has nothing to do with the
row."

"You flounce into the scrub and keep the baby out in the wind when
he's teething."

"Ignez couldn't stand you either. She was driven to tears often.
You're like that old hypocrite of a Blanche. You can't even run your
hen-coops of houses in peace. You both worked Ignez so that she
couldn't study her art, and now you're doing the same thing to me."

"Ignez's art! And what's yours, I'd like to know!"

"If I had a daughter I'd help her to become something. All you do is
obstruct. You were all jealous of Ignez. She was always doing your
work and Blanche's, and ran a career as well. You can't run your
family without having everyone by the ears. Ignez had to run after
your silly old men, too, and haul them out of the pubs. You know
nothing that clever people know. All you do is wonder if there'll be
tucks in dresses this year or a new recipe for a cake. It wouldn't
matter two years from now if you didn't have more tucks than flabby
old Mrs Blackshaw, sitting like a conceited hen and talking about 'my
Sid', but it will be a crime that you never did anything for Ignez or
me!"

"Ignez! A nice model! I knew I had to thank her for this maniacal
exhibition. /She/ was going to set the Thames on fire. Thought she
only had to thump the piano and bellow like a bull-frog, but she
didn't find other people so self-sacrificing as I was. Ignez a singer!
Ha! Ha!" Dot's forced laugh was stinging.

"Ignez is holding a wonderful position for a girl. She'd never have
had it if she'd stayed and rusted on Oswald's Ridges."

"She has to work for it, I'll be bound. She doesn't sit down like a
lady while I do the work. It's a bad bird that fouls its own nest. You
ought to be ashamed of yourself. When I think what I've suffered for
you--"

"I hate you, simply /hate/ you!" burst from the girl.

"That's right, hate your poor mother who brought you forth in pain and
suffering. Heaven knows you've been enough anguish and torment to me.
I wish you'd never been born. From the moment of your coming it's been
tragedy."

Never before had Dot mentioned her physical parenthood. She had taken
credit as foster mother to an orphan.

"It was tragedy to me when my own dear mother and father died and I
had to come to you. /That/ was the tragedy. I don't know why you
should've been the one to take me. I'll go to Aunt Julie now. I'll
work for money and pay you back every penny you've ever spent on me."

Dot's and Larry's early indiscretion had been so drastically
suppressed and closely guarded by Dot's immediate family, and the
results so cleverly managed and generously shouldered by Larry's
sister Norah, supported by her husband, Alf Timson, that the younger
generation had forgotten the unproved gossip or never had heard it.
The years had already removed many of the knowledgeable elders, but
the effects of her humiliation in love and the inexplicable "fall",
ingrowing, festering all these years, had poisoned Dot's life. She had
never known the relief of a confidant or any sympathy except from the
dead Norah. The uncertainty of how much her own generation knew
injured her pride and self-respect. Larry, by contrast, was remorseful
for the wrong he had done Dot and for his worldly failure. Bondslave
of defeat he did his best--with certain lapses--but his ineptitude and
futility were maddening to the capable, energetic and orthodox Dot.
She never visited her family, because of indigence as well as the old
disgrace, nor did they visit her. She drudged uncongenially without
hope of anything better, at war with her lot.

Lizzie Humphreys had departed into matrimony with Pete Harrap and
Dot's only help was Freda. It was Dot's idea that she should become a
teacher to rescue her from the Ridges, but Freda was not drawn to the
profession and had a silly desire to write, which was to Dot plainly
the unwholesome influence of Ignez. Had Dot been one of those doting
women who could have found reward in sacrificing herself to Freda
things might have been different, but the drag of the baby, the
housework, the tasks connected with dairy, poultry, garden and
outhouses wore her out. What might some day have come to a touching
revelation between them was shattered in a moment of lost
self-control.

"When I can't bear you any longer, the one thing that saves me is that
you're not my /real/ mother," repeated Freda.

"Unfortunately I /am/ your mother."

The tautening of the girl's body, the look in her eyes under the shock
of this instantly informed Dot that she had made another irretrievable
mistake, perhaps the saddest. Why, oh, why in the first place had she
of all women, abstemious, proud, purposeful made that initial mistake
with Larry--/Larry/! It was done, and the habit of vengefulness
against fate took charge again, obliterating the instant of dismay at
her slip.

"If that's so, how is it you've only been twelve years married and I'm
nearly seventeen?"

"You were born before I was married."

"And who's my father?" The transformation in the girl halted the
woman, but only for a moment. She recklessly passed on her own pain.

"Look in the glass and you can see by the ugly cruel look on your
face." Everyone said she was the image of Larry.

No girl in budding beauty can accept her resemblance to a broken man
with a scraggy beard and bloodshot eyes, but this insult passed as a
pin-prick in the general smash. They faced each other, one embittered
by unhappiness and a new turn in an old disaster, the other feeling as
if the heavens had tumbled on her.

When Dot's exacerbated nerves had brought on similar bouts with Ignez
there was satisfaction in the girl's vulnerability. She could never
hide what flitted across her features as perceptibly as a cloud across
a field of wheat. Her eyes had been soft and round, sometimes deep
blue, changing to green or hazel according to her mood or the light.
They would darken with emotion which was always more of pain than
anger. Freda had an amalgam of flintiness through her grandfather, old
Tom Saunders of Saunders Plains. No humbug of sex intruded to cloud
the issue here; what had been done was stark and unsentimentalized
between her and Dot. Freda's eyes were brown, yellowish in strong
light, longer and narrower than Ignez's; her features were finely cut
and aquiline, a face that promised to be handsome from every view, but
there was no weakness in it. She would be more invincible than her
mother in thrust and parry if enraged.

This blow was more devastating personally than what Ignez met at
Redfern because there was in it an unmendable blow to Freda's status
as a member of society as well as the loss of the affection for Norah
and Alfred which she hugged to her secret heart.

She looked at Dot in stony horror. Dot was startled by the coldness
she saw there. Freda was too young to understand anything but her own
misfortune, too outraged for mercy. Silent, she turned and went
swiftly out of the house.

"That's right, run away like a mad dingo instead of facing your
duties," Dot called after her, struggling against recognition of the
recoil of her action upon herself.

Freda rushed to Larry in the potato paddock where he was erecting
hurdles to fold the sheep for manuring the soil. She demanded without
preliminaries, "Are you my father?"

"Yes, of course," he said simply, judging that prevarication was
useless.

"And was I born before you were married?"

Larry was startled by the girl's face. Dismay gathered round his
gentle heart, not through fear of any further suffering for himself,
but that this young creature, who was his delight and hope, should be
hurt.

For Dot's and Freda's protection he was always on guard against this
hidden knowledge. Freda continued to look at him, speechless and
stunned. He could not bear it. What could have made Dot so far forget
herself? Had she no mercy on the girl, no mercy on herself?

"There are lots of things you'll understand better, my child, when
you're older," he murmured, but there was nothing but tragic revulsion
in the relentless young face. "Do, for God's sake, have mercy and try
to understand," he pleaded. "Your mother's a wonderful woman; she
can't help being a little cross at times. There are things in people's
lives . . . I'll talk to you as man to man. It's all my fault. No
business head . . . a failure. . . ."

But Norah Alfreda was running away over the winter paddocks like one
possessed.

Larry saw that the row had been serious this time. Dot was a clever
woman, but there were times when only grog could deaden what he
endured from her contempt. Considering it the result of his own
action, he did not retaliate. With Freda it was different. What new
devil could have entered Dot? If only he had money to send the girl
away for a time! Dot had never let up on Ignez till she had written
the book. Ignez was a grand girl in every way, sweet-tempered and full
of management. She had escaped. He searched the droughty skies. No
mercy there, only the threat of more torture for the unfortunate
stock.

                          *       *       *

The anguish of the untempered young soul was not computable. The
tragedies that Ignez had faced inwardly and alone, though equally
searing, had no element of disgrace that time would not expunge.
People come to boast of their early failures in examinations, and
become tedious in dwelling on gifts they once possessed, but the
wounds of illegitimacy were a life-sentence in that community. Freda
felt that she could not go on living. She even contemplated ways to
take her life. There was no one bigger and wiser of understanding to
whom she could confess her trouble, just as there had been no one to
rescue Ignez's musical gifts from wreck. She sat beside an old stump
in the sun, stricken, unheeding. She could never hold up her head or
face people again. She had seethed with discontent at her lot, but it
had been heaven compared with what it had become.

Filled with anxiety, Larry went home early. In reply to his inquiry,
Dot said, "I suppose she's made off to the bush like a dingo."

"It's a blessing she has the bush to go to in trouble," slipped from
Larry--a mistake.

"/Her/ trouble! Of course everyone is an object of sympathy but me. I
can work and bear all the burdens and take all the blame. Supposing I
flounced off when I was worried, would it be considered a case of
genius? Oh, no! This running to the bush comes from Ignez's bad
example. No other girls in the district do such a thing. Remember what
was said about Ignez by Pete Harrap and his like. And where Freda gets
such a tongue I don't know."

Larry suppressed a bitter smile. Dot had met her match. Ignez, a fully
conditioned dreamer, could be routed by the prosaic Dot, but Freda
could be inflexible; she could hold concretely to cleverness and meet
hate with hate. There had been no hate in Ignez. As soon as the cause
of the irritation was removed she forgave the sinner, recovered
harmony, and was there for fresh exploitation. Larry thought of Milly
Saunders, Ignez's forerunner, his own lost dream, who reminded him of
Ignez.

Any expression of sympathy would only excite Dot further. Larry sighed
and turned to escape. Perhaps the row would blow over. The dog would
lie down again. Temperatures cannot long remain above normal. Dot was
resourceful and efficient. She kept the house spotless and herself and
the children well turned out on less than any woman in the State. His
heart wilted to think of her excellences and his own deficiencies.

"Don't run away, too. If your daughter's not mentally fit for her
duties you must fill the gap. I may be treated like a beast of burden,
but I'm not one."

"What can I do? . . . Kindness is a wonderful thing. Kindness to all
whether they deserve it or not, if we could only rise to that! It's
the whole of Christianity."

"I'm worn out being kind and getting no return. I've spent my strength
in being kind. I'll defy anyone to say I was ever unkind to anyone,
and what do I get for it? Christianity is open for others to practise,
too."

"There was no need to have told the child. I wonder where she went?"

"She'll come home when the work's done."

"Perhaps if you'd let the work go a little sometimes life would be
easier."

"Let the work go, and my hungry child crying in his cradle, and the
other mouths clamouring to be fed, and this big house, and the poultry
and garden--if other people did their duty I could have help. Let the
work go!"

Freda did return at dusk to justify her mother's animadversions and
relieve her father's uneasiness. She performed all her usual tasks.
Dot's alarm for her indiscretion wore away. But there was something
tense and desperate about Freda that made Larry watch her
apprehensively, and he was glad when she went early to her room.

Next morning she went industriously, if silently, about her work; her
mother was triumphant. In the afternoon she took off her apron and put
on a coat and hat and walked out of the house without explanation. She
kept on up and over the ridge to the comfort of the scrub oaks. The
short day was on the wane, the sunbeams streaming long between the
trunks of the taller timber, where the jays would soon be chiming. She
was softened by the friendly, cosy shrubbery as its familiar details
surrounded her. Here she and Dick and Ignez had been so happy in
preparing for a famous future. Here they used to disturb the
kangaroo-rats, there search for ground-berries and sour currants and
geebungs, there in the spring pick armfuls of spotted double-tails and
parrots' heads. She could see the glimmer of the dam near which they
used to dig for clay to keep the hearths immaculate. There was the big
log with the woodbine wreaths on its roots, and the wattle-trees. All
was silent and brown today, but there was comfort in the trees and
their carpet of dry dessicated needles. She could sigh with them.

           And life, my Own, sinks with the molten sun . . .
           The she-oaks sigh, and sigh, all down the slope.

The dear old spot was like an empty room with Dick and Ignez far away.
Could it be true that they had ever come singing down the gully with
Arthur Masters? She crept to the bole of the stringy-bark, warm and
homespun, and storm after storm of sobs racked her. She wept herself
out and came to, feeling cold and sick, but calm.

The voice of Ignez seemed all about her, rich against the sigh of the
she-oaks. She had an overpowering longing to hear it again. Ignez knew
everything and always understood. Ignez had said that no matter what
Freda's difficulties she would always understand, always. Ignez had
said she would understand, even if it were something that could be
told to no one else. She had made Freda promise if ever she were in a
fix to confess it to her. To Ignez alone she could tell the shame of
this tragedy. Ignez would help her bear it, and away over there in
America no one else need ever know. She had Ignez, Ignez had had Milly
Saunders, and Milly had gone to Bert in her turn, and found not only
refuge and release from trouble, but also a life's mate.

Definite purpose suddenly electrified Freda. She went to the dam to
bathe her swollen face, at home among the sounds of coming night. The
kookaburras laughed merrily, the sheep had a campwards bleat. Old Mick
Muldoon's axe could be heard faintly in the distance. The she-oaks'
sigh ran up the slope on a little twilit wind.

She strode firmly home.

Dot reprimanded her, without response. Larry pleaded with Dot
tactfully on the score that she must have patience for the sake of the
baby's milk.

"Yes, and he'll grow up to be another to break my heart."

                          *       *       *

For a week Freda was diligent and tractable. She was so polite,
offering no remarks or responses beyond those necessary to carry on,
that she filled Dot with uneasiness. She was pondering upon some way
to get to Ignez, a considerable undertaking to a young girl without
any income or allowance but meagre pocket-money on rare visits to
town. Then one afternoon she saddled her mare, a beautiful beast her
father had bred for her. Dot asked where she was going.

"For a ride. I'll bring the mail as I come back."

Dot said Teddy could bring the mail after school, that she needed
Freda to get the evening meal while she worked on the suits she was
making for the little boys. Freda ignored this and put on her smart
habit, which Dot had made her. Dot confronted her with a broomstick
threatening to thrash her.

"You can't go on like this. I'll be blamed when you come to harm.
Running about the bush, no doubt you're meeting someone!"

"Don't you dare touch me!" Freda's deadly coldness halted Dot. "It
doesn't matter what you say any more. I'm done with you for ever. I'll
go away where I'll never see you again."

Freda rode across the dry creek-bed and along the bridle track leading
into the scrub and when out of sight of the house turned towards
Barralong. Life on Oswald's Ridges was done. Her wound would remain
with her for ever and ever, but would be easier to bear at a distance
from her mother. Freda remembered that she had been equally
antagonistic to Ignez, whom Freda thought to be perfect, so the fault
was not all on her side. In her present mood she did not care if it
were.

Arthur had always appreciated Ignez; Freda had a sure instinct that he
would now help her because of that. Freda had been too young at the
time to grasp the quality of Arthur's friendship for Ignez, but she
had grown to knowledge because Dot and Blanche made it plain in their
sneers about Ignez having run after him.

Freda's aim was to reach the Barralong gate ahead of the mailman in
the hope that Arthur would come for the mail himself and she could get
him alone. Her business could not be risked in writing when no doubt
Tottie opened all the letters. From the shelter of some high briers
she saw the mailman descending the long slope and Masters riding at
right angles from Barralong House.

"Hullo, Norah Alfreda, old pumpernickle! It's as good as the breaking
of the drought to see you again so soon. You were so busy we didn't
have enough time the other night."

She took hope from his cheery friendliness. Burdens seemed to lighten
in his sane presence. He was riding a familiar mare who had been young
in Ignez's day. She was known as "the Bay" and never seemed to have
had a real name.

"And what have you got to say for yourself today?"

"Nothing very much, I'm afraid. I want to see the baby, but first, I
came to see you specially. I-I-I want someone to help me."

"You know the answer to that."

"I want a terrible lot of help," said Freda timorously.

"Out with it, and we'll see what can be done." He was amused and
curious.

"I want to go to Ignez, and I have only seven pounds. Could you lend
me the fare? I'll pay it back as soon as I can."

His face grew so grave that Freda was alarmed by her forwardness.

"I like Ignez better than anyone else in the world," she said,
beginning to cry. Her emotions got out of hand as she became aware of
the enormity of her request to a man who had long ago ceased to be
Ignez's knight and become Tottie's devoted husband.

Masters was plucking his mare's mane to cover his dismaying
apprehension.

"Has anything happened to her?" he asked, and cleared his throat.

"Oh, no, only I'm dead sick of being here without her."

He smiled with a relief that made him amenable to any adventure. "I'll
be the only one left of the school for literature if you run away.
What's become of Dick?"

"He wants Allan to go to him before he takes root here."

"The trouble is that they don't take root deep enough--only scratch
the surface like cockatoos. Here's a fine large place for long deep
roots." He gazed around the open expanse to the blue ranges behind the
Lake bed to where he and Ignez had ridden, and sank into his own
thoughts and the dreams of yesterdays. He was so silent and looked so
serious that Freda feared her request was immoral. Would Arthur
despise her for it? Perhaps he hadn't enough money for the fare. No
one else that she knew would be so opulent, except Cooee Oswald, and
she did not know him very well.

Arthur returned from his memories and began to pluck the mare's mane
again. "How much would the fare be?"

"Nearly forty pounds."

"Would fifty quite cover it?"

"Oh, yes."

"Good! That's a round sum."

"Oh, Arthur!"

"Does anyone know about this?"

"Oh, please, I don't want them to know, yet. If you think it's wicked
of me to ask you, please don't tell anyone. I can go away and work for
it, but that would take so long, and if I go to Ignez she'd get me
work and I could pay it back more quickly."

"As long as you could be sure that no one but Ignez will ever know."

"I'll be sure. No one must know."

"But you can't just up and run off secretly. What would your father
and mother think? And I'd look like a criminal. Probably be had up for
abducting a minor or something."

"I've got a plan, but it's not quite worked out yet."

"You don't want the money today?"

"Oh, no. It might be some weeks before I'm ready."

"Have you told your father and mother yet?"

"No. I wanted to know if you would help me first."

"A pretty expensive trip. How long do you propose to be away?"

"They have return tickets," she said, substituting evasion for
information. "I think they last six months." She was not going to
confess all her trouble to him, nor that she would never come back.
"I'm going to Sydney to stay with my Aunt Julie, Father's sister, and
of course I'll have to find out who I can go to America with, but I
wanted to tell you first, like we all promised about the school for
writing."

"That's fine. We're the last of the tribe." He felt easier now. Some
girlish whim, which probably would come to nothing. Freda was so
young, almost childish, that he did not credit her determination, and
knew nothing of her inward wound nor that she was thinking that
perhaps he wouldn't have any respect for her if he knew all.

"How shall I pay you back so that no one will ever know?" she asked
earnestly.

"How shall I get the money to you without giving our show away?" He
was equally serious, though he pretended to be jovial.

"I'll think up a scheme. How can I be sure that no one will see my
letter when I write to you?"

"That's easy. I have a locked bag." He laughed, suddenly deciding that
his own key to it should be hidden and the second mislaid till this
business was safely past, though Tottie did not meddle in his mail,
which entailed correspondence plus many circulars, concerning the
thriving dairy.

"But, Arthur, how can I pay you back so that no one will ever know?"
she repeated.

"You could invest fifty pounds in the Barralong District Cheese and
Butter Factory. Ha! Ha! That's the idea."

"Oh, Arthur, you are good!"

"You didn't think I'd let a she-oak mate down, did you? Now we'll go
up to the house."

"I can't stay long. Mother thought I was only coming for the mail.
Would Tottie like Ignez's photo?"

"She might." The tone was casual to offset the flutter of his pulses.
"But you must come and give it to her yourself."

Freda hesitated for a moment, then remembered that never again would
she account to her mother for her comings and goings. Arthur opened
the home gate.

Tottie was a conventionally pleasant picture with her child, to whom
she was giving the evening meal. Freda loved the baby and when it had
been sufficiently extolled she said she was about to go for a stay
with her aunt in Sydney, and would Tottie like a picture of Ignez.

"I'd love it!"

Freda produced it from the front of her habit.

"Oh, doesn't she look lovely!" said Tottie, wisdom or accident aiding
her. "I hope she keeps on succeeding. We must have a silver frame,
Arthur, and stand it on the piano; Ignez was so clever at music. Are
you sure you can part with it, Freda?"

"Yes, because it's a secret, but it's my ambition to go to see Ignez
some day."

"How wonderful! She doesn't write any more books?"

"She says she hasn't time."

"She hasn't become a great singer yet?"

"She never mentions music of any sort. She had a bad throat, you
remember?"

"She's settled down like all us girls. I expect she's going to be
married, and you're going over to be bridesmaid."

"Oh, no. Ignez says she'll never marry. She says no man loves a woman
except for a little while, and then forgets. She says one woman does a
man as well as another."

"We all say lots of things we don't mean--before we're married."
Tottie laughed complacently. Arthur got up and looked out of the door
to the distant hills. The baby made a lunge at the photograph. "Oh,
Arthur, put it on the mantelpiece in the bedroom where it'll be safe,"
said Tottie, who was pouring out tea.

Masters took the photograph into the bedroom and then out by the
French doors to the veranda where he examined it closely. Ignez had
changed from a girl to a woman. She was thinner. There were the same
questioning eyes, the sensitive mouth, the rounded chin, without the
delicate colouring that used to be whipped to rose pink galloping
along the white road in the winds. He could not determine from the
picture whether she were happy or not. The face, once a mirror of
emotions, was now a mask. She looked intelligent, fashionable,
charming, but remote. Inward suffering had given her poise and the
skill to dissemble her feelings. The picture had the enchantment of a
figure immobilized in a stereoscope.

Arthur gave the first backward glance since his marriage. Ignez had
written no more books, she had not taken to the stage, she was working
hard among reputable people, she was not yet married. His dream of
bringing her back might not have been impossible after all, had he
held to it. /No man loves a woman except for a little while, and then
forgets. One woman does a man as well as another./ He, the steadfast
man of his word, who paid his debts and did his whack and more when
necessary to help others, had probably helped her to that cynical
belief. How could he have failed himself so easily? If only he had
gone over to see her before finally deciding!

Ignez's presence was back from banishment. She was riding on
Sweetheart (the Bay) through the blue day again and he was beside her
where the crisp white road topped the ridge and the superb view spread
away to the Southern Highlands beyond the Murrumbidgee.

He was surprised to find how long he had been gazing at the photo,
sunk in musings unusual to his practical mind and energetic
disposition. The eager glow that had been Ignez was gone. This young
woman's face was calm and non-committal. What a fool he was! Some of
the people with whom Ignez was connected were known way out here. Even
without singing or writing Ignez could not have returned to the Ridges
--to old Mick Muldoon, Cowpens in a cowyard that was never up to
standard, and Biddy Finnegan on the skyline with her turkeys. Himself
again, he put the photograph where Tottie had directed and slipped
round the house to come in the back door as if from some errand. Freda
had risen to go.

"I'm sorry you're in such a hurry," Tottie was saying. "You should
have come for the night at least. If you really are going to see
Ignez, do give her my love, and tell her I haven't forgotten her
wonderful book."

"I'll tell her how beautifully you've done up the house, and how happy
you and Arthur and the baby are. I could eat the baby."

"Tell Ignez I have her beautiful present, and the lovely letter she
wrote us when we were married. I'll keep it always."

"I'd better go with you to open the gate into the corner paddock,"
said Arthur.

"Yes, do!" said Tottie. Freda needed no one to open gates for her, but
the Norton girls had never been skilled in that way, especially if
young men were available, as Cooee Oswald had acutely observed.

Arthur tossed Freda to her saddle and they went out onto the Barralong
road, and then flying down the straight incline, a repetition of
gallops with Ignez and her smart equipment and graceful surety in
handling a horse.

"I might be down your way soon and will drop in to see you for old
sake's sake," Arthur said as they parted.

He rode back along the ridge from which a far grand sunset could be
seen reddening the world and showing Biddy, as ever, after her
turkeys. He wondered why Freda had come to him. She was too young to
be riding about borrowing money from men without her parents'
knowledge. However, he had given his promise, perhaps unwisely, for
the sake of a wild sweet dream but lately lost. He was not so easy
about the transaction, and hoped it would not leak out. It could be
twisted to make an uncomfortable smell if it did. He was really doing
it for Ignez because he had failed her in the signature, "yours for
ever". It was a trifling sum in view of what Ignez had meant to him in
giving him the only transcendental experience of his life, one much
more exalting than the first flush of husband--or fatherhood, since it
was purely a dream, and dreams are the unproved measure of a man. It
was gone. It was done. No backward glances ever again. He would watch
against such folly, but the dream remained, leaving unspoiled the
shining heights of a man's inner life.



CHAPTER XXI


All day long Larry Healey followed the plough and the birds followed
him for the grubs that were dislodged from the caked earth. Birds were
with him continually--magpies, butchers, and an occasional kookaburra.
He was soothed by their pleasant companionship, though he was noting
the immutable cruelty of life in the weaker falling prey to the
stronger. The season was lean again. He guided the plough up and down
the arid lands hoping that there would be rain with the new moon. At
the top of the slope he spelled his attenuated hidebound animals and,
taking a view of the clear cold sky, wished to God it would rain. Why
the devil, he mused, was not preparation made in the lush years when
the fodder wasted? Masters at Barralong was a splendid example. There
could be co-operative silos or, failing that, with a little enterprise
each cocky could have his own; but how, without capital, could a man
have enterprise? Fifty pounds would have saved him, but how could a
cockatoo of Oswald's Ridges procure such a sum? If he had saved the
money that went to the Mantrap he might now have a larger sum, but
such reflections inclined him to butt his head against the dusty
wattles of the headlands.

He was on the lower side of the field near the creek, breaking a
virgin land or two. The earth was moister here, the birds braver, and
he turned up a splendid aboriginal axe. By habit he put it aside for
Freda, though she had confided to him that she would never come back
to Deep Creek.

It was seven months since the bitter quarrel and Freda had gone to Mrs
Saffle, her Aunt Julie, who lived near Sydney. That would not last,
said Dot; she had no tolerance of Julie.

Julie was jealous and censorious. From her girlhood she had been a
malicious gossip who ferreted out scandals about other members of the
family and used them without reticence. A poor marriage had not
improved her disposition. She was not one in whom to confide, and it
was a sharp blow that Freda should seek refuge with her. Uneasiness
intensified Dot's disharmony, but there was no danger of Freda's
talking. Her aim was to escape for ever from Australia before her
origin became known.

She confided to Aunt Julie that she wanted a job in Sydney where she
could earn money. Julie scented a family row and was glad of a chance
to discomfort the hoity-toity Dot, on whom she had an edge because the
old Saunders family of Saunders Plains never disguised their belief
that Dot had sunk socially to marry Larry. Fortunately Julie did not
know the full story of Dot, having been a junior at the time. Julie
had one comfort and shield in Aunt Dennis, as she was called, widow of
Dennis, uncle of Larry and Julie. Aunt Dennis had been a barmaid in
Goulburn who had thought it high social advancement to marry into the
squattocracy with Dennis, at the time owner of Eueurunda on Monaro.
But the old Labosseer home had been a forlorn hole to her taste and
the châtelaines of the neighbouring stations inconceivably old frumps.
When her husband had been permanently crippled she returned to the
hotel business with zest and such success that she married her
daughters to "real rich fellows with mansions at Potts Point".

Julie lost no time in exhibiting Freda to Great-aunt Dennis, as she
was to her. Julie worshipped affluence and there were always pickings
to be had from the old lady. She had a fat purse filled from
investments, chief of which was a large wad of shares in the Hotel
Premier, irreverently called the Tadpole by the clans, a huge
caravansarai in the heart of Sydney. Here Aunt Dennis lived in state
in a showy suite. She was not active in business now except for a few
directorships; she had not enough control over her family to occupy
her or satisfy her, so filled in time by having guests, to whom she
was often generous.

She was captivated by Freda and enthusiastic about her determination
to escape from the bush. Aunt Dennis hated the bush; all its
inhabitants were bushwhackers, dull creatures who once had dared to
think themselves too good for her. Freda was soon installed as her
latest companion. The pretty girl set off good dressing and was so
eager to repay kindnesses that she warmed the heart of the old woman,
neglected except for what she could give. At the end of a fortnight
she was doting on Freda and wanting to adopt her.

Freda said that was not possible. Why not? She wanted to go to New
York to see her great friend, Ignez Milford. She held to that against
all blandishments or bribes. At Christmas Aunt Dennis asked her what
she would most like. Fifty pounds to pay the fare to New York to see
Ignez, she said daringly. Aunt Dennis was stirred by the idea to go,
too, but felt too old and fat for the effort really, so compromised
with herself.

"What do you say if I were to send you to your friend and then I could
go over and bring you back later?"

"Oh, could you, would you, Aunt Dennis! That would be perfect,"
gurgled Freda, with an instantaneous decision to work and work and
save money so that she could pay back her passage money to Aunt Dennis
when she remained in New York, and feeling relieved that she would
not, after all, have to call upon Arthur's promise.

Later one of the hotel dwellers was to set out for England via the
United States and could deposit Freda safely with Ignez. Aunt Dennis
had tried to help other girls escape from the despised bush, notably
Freda's Aunt Aileen, famous for having loved and been thwarted, but
Aileen had been a weak creature unworthy of her chances. Freda seemed
to have more mettle. The old grenadier had no qualms about ignoring
Dot and Larry in the matter. They were bushwhackers of the
unsuccessful order, who could be suspected of conniving to unload
Freda on her all this time.

Without Lizzie, now Mrs Pete Harrap, Dot missed Freda's help and
constantly instigated Larry to exercise parental authority to bring
her home. Dot had sent her away with assertions of relief to be rid of
such a useless, bad-tempered creature, and seemed unaware of
inconsistency in demanding her return. Larry took a firm stand against
which Dot was helpless. He refused any action that would bring to
light what they wanted forgotten.

"You've made a mistake in that direction already," he said. "I won't
help you add to it. Leave the girl alone for a while. She'll come to
no harm with Aunt Dennis, a fine old woman of some character and
generosity."

"You /would/ like that type of old vulgarian, living in riches by
putting men in the gutter!"

With a rare glint of anger Larry retorted, "She's worth a dozen of the
sour-gutted, mean, narrow old Saunderses any day."

He wondered what Dot could have said exactly that had proved so fatal.
He dared not ask. She would not confess, but would lay the whole blame
on Freda. He dreamed of going to Sydney to get the girl's confidence,
but how could he do that with the season as it was, with debts
mounting, and his "weakness", though his responsibility to Freda
inspired him as he had not been inspired in years to make a fresh
stand against it. Since her departure there had been no lapses on his
part. To stand by Freda gave him new life; he had something of his own
to cherish. He missed her sorely. There was no one now to enjoy with
him a sunset or a butterfly or any phenomenon of nature. He was rasped
to the core by the dust and the condition of the horses and the
blistering craving to give way to his inner demon. If only the drought
would break!

The sunlight glittered from rim to rim and a little wind hinted of
winter. Larry was feeling more drearily unhappy than usual as he
ploughed. He must not give way. If he did he could expect no mercy,
least of all from himself. "Kindness, kindness," he murmured to the
brassy heavens. "If only nature itself would be kind, life would not
be so hard."

On the track beyond the creek-bed Teddy was fetching the mail. He
handed his father a letter and went on to the house with the papers.
Healey waited till reaching the headland out of sight of the house in
the shelter of the high briers that upheld the decrepit cockatoo fence
and let the horses spell while he read what Freda had written:

  Just a line to let you know that you need not bother about me. I
  shall be quite safe. When you get this I shall be on board the
  /Sierra/ and nearly to San Francisco. This is what I meant to do
  ever since I left. Do not try to stop me or try to make me come
  back. You need not worry because I am going to Ignez and will be
  all right. I will send you some money as soon as I can make some,
  but it won't be for some time because I must first pay back my
  passage money. I am going with friends of Great-aunt Dennis's, and
  she says she is coming over for a trip to bring me back next
  season.

Healey noted the New Zealand stamp and the date of the postmark. Freda
would be nearly to America by now. She had gone away beyond reach.
While she was in Sydney he felt he still had her; now she was lost. He
put the note in his vest pocket and jerked the reins--one of rope and
the other of greenhide--rather wildly to set the miserable beasts
again to their furrowing. He was trembling so that he could scarcely
stand, so he stopped at the far side of the paddock again and sat on a
stump in the briers and lit his pipe. It failed to comfort. A
dismaying emptiness had come upon the day. There was an ache in the
very atmosphere that glittered on the gum-leaves in the westering sun
and in the chilly breeze with winter already in it.

"They all go away--all the young ones with any promise," he muttered,
taking refuge in the general from the shock of the personal. "Just as
soon as ever they can. The papers have long lists of the departing.
Archie and Cherry Monro went, Wynd Norton, Ignez and Dick, and now
Freda. They stream away like the Book of Exodus when they ought to be
coming here to the promised land. There must be something wrong with
the country or its management that everyone runs from it. Yet some
succeed--look at Masters!"

Would this sense of vacuum ever be conquered, filled, or did the curse
of the aborigines or more distant peoples driven out rest upon it, to
hold it a while longer for oblivion?

Such reflections could not soften the fact of Freda's being far out of
reach on a ship. So young, so fiery, so unprotected! But she was going
to Ignez. Thank heaven for Ignez! There was security in the thought of
her.

He had to face Dot with this news. To put it off as long as possible
he returned to ploughing. He ploughed on and on till the birds had all
but left him, till the cattle had camped, till the gobblers were loud
in their evening wrangle about precedence, and he needed his night
eyes to keep the furrow.

"Amy, go and see why your father doesn't come to tea. Teddy has
finished the milking by himself, poor little fellow, and the baby
should be in bed, and you, you slow dirty girl, not ready for tea
yet."

The little girl had been whitewashing. Her apron of sugee and her hard
kip boots were splashed. She left the kitchen by the back door and
took the track to the cultivation paddock. Her father met her
half-way, the winkers over his arm, while out of habit he looked
sideways up to the clear cold sky and wished to God it would rain. The
child put her hand in his. He clasped the warm, soft little fingers in
his hard, cold, work-roughened palm as if they were a lifeline. They
went towards the house, the ordeal with Dot impending.

"Kindness! Kindness! God help us all to be kind to one another whether
we deserve it or not," murmured the sensitive, weary man, but the
little girl was gleefully imitating the mopokes that were calling in
the scrub beyond the sheepyards, and did not hear him.



THE END



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