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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
Date most recently updated: September 2009

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Cockatoos
A Story of Youth and Exodists

by

Brent of Bin Bin (Miles Franklin)


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-Ã -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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