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Title: The Passion Years
Author: Arthur Gask
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1202461.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: June 2012
Date most recently updated: June 2012

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------------------------------------------------------------------------

Title: The Passion Years
Author: Arthur Gask

*

Published in The Australian Women's Weekly, Saturday 26 December, 1936.

_____________

A charming story, in an Australian setting, of a man who had no money; a
girl who had too much.

_____________


*


THEY sat on the bed-edge, all pink and white in their robes-de-nuit, and
they looked pretty enough to eat. Midnight had long since sounded but
on, on, they chattered like the race--old daughters of Mother Eve.

"Yes, Mary, they just worship each other, and now they've got the
loveliest baby in all the world. And yet it all began to happen only
just a year ago to-day. Jim had never seen Della until then, and I was
the only one of our family who had spoken to her.

"It seems just like a tale one reads and, of course, it's a very
sentimental one, too. Oh, no dear, you take it from me sentiment is not
all sickly, and only those say it is who are getting old and sickly
themselves. Sentiment's the most beautiful thing in all the world, and
when you're first in love, well, the sentiment there is just too holy
and too sacred to understand.

"I tell you, when Harold first kissed me it was the most wonderful
moment of my whole life, and Mother says one of the next most wonderful
will be when they first put Harold's baby in my arms.

"Oh, you goose! You needn't blush! Of course, you'll be married
yourself, some day, and a baby's only what every girl who's really in
love looks forward to. So, you needn't pretend to be shocked at all.

"Well, about Della and Jim. We were on the racecourse at Flemington, and
Jim had plunged on his filly, Rose of Dawn, to win a tremendous lot of
money. Yes, it was awfully stupid of him, I know, and I was as angry
about it as anything. But then, what can a sister do? I had told him how
wrong it was of him, and he had admitted to me that morning how foolish
he had been.

"If he lost, it meant quite the end of everything for him as far as
racing was concerned, for he would have to sell up all his horses and
never own any more again. And you can imagine what that would have meant
to him, dear, when all our lives we have had horses about us and racing
is in our very bones. You remember it was Father who bred the great
McAlpin, whose children are now scattered all over the world.

"Well, it was just before the race and we were sitting in the members'
stand and I was telling Violet Carmichael something of what Jim had
done. I didn't tell her everything, by a long way; but I let her know
poor Jim would be very hard hit if his filly lost, and that he would
have to give up racing altogether and go into a bank or be a curate or
do something like that.

"I had just finished telling her when I turned round to find that Della
Charter was sitting exactly behind us and must have heard everything.
'The little cat!' I thought, and I was furious. I knew she was the only
child of the rich old John Charter, who had made millions of dollars in
the wheat pit in Chicago, and I disliked her because she was supposed to
be purse-proud, with all the money they had got. I just hated to think
she had heard all about Jim's money affairs. So I pretended not to have
noticed her, and then, before she could get any opportunity to speak to
me, Jim came up and the starting-bell rang for the horses to be sent
away.

"Oh, Mary, it was an awful race, and it will haunt me as long as I live!
Rose of Dawn should have won easily, but through no fault of hers she
was beaten in the very last stride. She got off all right and, coming
round the bend, was well up and only just behind the leaders, running on
the inside of them all.

"'She'll win,'" whispered Jim exultingly. "'She'll leave them standing
still, the moment she's called upon.'

"I felt my heart bursting with excitement. We could see them all so
plainly, as they came thundering into the straight, and nothing was
going as effortlessly as Rose of Dawn.

"But then, suddenly, the awful thing happened!

"Lord Rayleigh's great horse, Leviathan, swerved right in and drove Rose
of Dawn almost on to the rails. It was simply ghastly! Her jockey had to
snatch her up to prevent a most dreadful accident. He had to pull her
up, almost dead, and then, when he brought her round again on the
outside, she had lost her good position and was lengths and lengths
behind all the other horses.

"I shut my eyes and felt as if I were going to faint, but then, almost
instantly, a perfectly thundering shout came up from the crowd and I
opened them again to see what had happened.

"Rose of Dawn had been sent after the field again, and she was galloping
like the wind. She had her beautiful head low down and was coming with a
withering rush that was simply glorious to see. Of course, it looked
quite hopeless, for she was much too far behind, but, realising what she
was attempting, the very courage of it appealed to everyone and the
crowd just roared for her to come on.

"Then almost in a few seconds, so it seemed, she was again among the
other horses. One after another she picked them up and passed them as if
they were common hacks, until ten yards from home there were only two in
front of her and she was close upon the heels of even these. For a
moment, then, everyone thought she was actually going to win, for she
headed Wild Aster when three lengths from the judge's box, but with a
fearful effort the other horse, Poisoned Berry, just managed to keep his
head in front, and she was beaten in the last stride.

"Mary, I nearly wept, and poor Jim went white as death. But I saw him
draw in his face, as a proud man always does when he meets defeat, and
then he looked down and gave me a quiet, brave smile.

"'It's all right, little woman.'" he whispered. "'It's all in the game,
and it was a great race, anyhow.' Then before I could say a word to try
and console him, the voice of Della Charter broke in.

"'Say, Miss Bevan.' she said in that quiet, slow drawl of hers,
'introduce me to your brother, will you? Sure, that was the most
wonderful race I've ever seen, and I guess I've lost more on it than
I'll ever lose again.'

"I turned round in a perfect spasm of fury. I would snap her head off, I
determined. The tactless and bad-mannered little minx! To break in at a
dreadful moment like that, when we were both of us so strung up with
emotion that even Jim's voice, as she must have heard, was half-broken
in his distress! Yes, I would be downright insulting to her! I turned
round, I say, and then--I saw that with all her quiet drawl, her eyes,
like mine, were wet with tears.

"I introduced Jim, like a lamb.

"Oh, Mary, do you ever realise what angels we women can be?

"There was Jim in a perfect agony of disappointment and remorse. He was
deep down in the depths, and left to himself, with all his courage,
would have fought out in dreadful bitterness those next few hours, for
there seemed no silver lining anywhere to his cloud.

"But Delia stepped in and took all the sting out of everything. She
brought him back to common sense and hope. Indeed, in a very few minutes
he was looking at her as if he had somehow, miraculously, something in
the world even more interesting than his beloved filly, Rose of Dawn.

"And I don't wonder she fascinated him. She looked so beautiful that
afternoon. Excitement had given her a most lovely color, and, with those
big grey eyes in that Madonna face of hers, she looked the picture of a
very beautiful woman.

"She asked Jim to take her down to tea, and then, to the great envy of
all the men, she kept him by her side all the rest of the afternoon. She
introduced him to her father, and Jim made such a hit there that the old
man insisted we should both dine with them that night at their hotel.

"Then things began to move very quickly.

"They invited us up for ten days to a house-party at their gorgeous
place at Melton Bay, and there we mixed with some of the most wealthy
people in Australia. We had a glorious time, and Della, to the great
amusement of everybody, made a dead set at Jim.

"There was no doubt about it. She singled him out, and the two of them
were always to be found together. Jim, of course, was soon hopelessly in
love with her, and, as the days went by, he could not help seeing she
was not indifferent to him, too.

"But Jim is proud, and suddenly, to everyone's surprise, he took to
avoiding her and keeping as much out of her way as possible. I knew what
it was at once. He was thinking of Della's money and wasn't going to
have it said that he had run after her because she was rich. Then poor
Della began to look unhappy, but she's quite as proud as Jim and wasn't
going to try and lead on any man who didn't want her. So she, in turn,
became distant and everybody wondered what had happened and if there had
been a quarrel.

"So things were up to the last day before the house party was going to
break up, and then I, if you please, stepped in. I thought it high time
I took a part in the game and went no trumps on a heart hand.

"It was just after breakfast and I went to Jim in the rose-garden, close
by a spraying fountain. 'Jim,' I said curtly, 'you're a fool.' He looked
at me very curiously. 'Well, what about it?' he asked with a wistful
smile. 'Della's in love with you,' I blurted out--he got very red--'and
everybody seems aware of it but you'--he got even redder still. 'Yes,' I
went on angrily, 'and you're making them all laugh at her, because you
don't propose.'

"Jim simply glared at me. 'You're quite mistaken, Dorothy,' he said
sharply. 'She's not in love with me. You women are always imagining
things.'

"'Imagining!' I cried hotly. 'Why, I'm positive about it! I tell you
again that you're a fool, for you're in love with her yourself, too.'

"'I'm not a fortune-hunter, anyhow,' he said, coldly, and without
another word he turned and walked away.

"Then, not two minutes after, I met Della and, like Jim, she looked pale
and unhappy. 'Della,' I burst out impulsively 'Jim loves you; but he
won't tell you so because you're well-off and he is not.'

"Just for one moment she seemed startled and then, but for a suddenly
heightened color, it might have been she had not taken in what I had
said. She looked at me gravely and her beautiful face--she is very
beautiful, Mary--had all the calmness of perfect self-control. 'Yes.' I
went on, 'and I've just told him he's a fool. He's down there by the
fountain and if he's not weeping, too, it's only because he's a man.'

"'Thank you, Dorothy,' said Della, very quietly. 'I've always thought
you were a wise child.'

"She left me at once and turned to go into the garden, but from what
they told me afterwards I was able to piece together most of what
happened when, a minute later, she came upon Jim. She found him by the
fountain, where I had told her he would be, and he smiled gravely as she
approached.

"She plucked a little rosebud and she held it out to him in her
beautiful white hand.

"'Isn't it lovely?' she asked, innocently.

"'Yes, lovely,' smiled Jim. 'I've always thought so.'

"Della then blushed crimson. She pretended to smell the rosebud and
brushed it over lightly with her lips. Della's got such a pretty mouth,
Mary, and if I were a man I should be always wanting to--well, anyhow,
Della kissed the rose and held it out again towards Jim. 'You may have
it,' she said, ever so softly; 'that is, of course, if you really want
it.'

"Della says Jim got white as a ghost, but he reached out and took both
the hand and the rose. 'Which may I have?' he asked in a whisper,
looking her straight in the eyes.

"Then Della says there was a long silence, until Jim suddenly
straightened himself up and let go her hand. 'I am too poor to marry a
girl like you,' he said, gently, and he made as if to turn away. But
Della laid her hand upon his arm.

'Riches don't count always, Jim,' she whispered, 'and the richest woman
may be the poorest if she's not brave enough to take love when it comes
her way.'

"Then, I don't quite know what happened, for they won't, either of them,
tell me much; but I expect Jim took her in his arms.

"No one saw either of them again until just before lunch, and then they
came into the lounge, where we were all waiting for the sounding of the
gong. They looked quite cool and ordinary, too ordinary, I thought in a
flash. Della came over to me and kissed me. 'Oh, Della,' I exclaimed
instantly, 'I'm so glad.'

"'What about, dear?' she asked, blushing furiously and darting, I saw, a
quick glance at Jim.

"'You darling,' I replied, 'your cheeks smell of tobacco!'

"Everybody burst out laughing, and then Jim kissed her brazenly in front
of us all.

"'Now, you little fibber,' I asked presently, 'tell me exactly what you
did lose that afternoon when Rose of Dawn was beaten.'

"Della looked radiant. 'I lost my heart, Dorothy,' she whispered. That
was all.'

"Well, they were married six weeks afterwards and this morning, at a
quarter-past five, I was made Aunty Dorothy. Yes, dear, I think we had
better go to sleep now; but isn't my nightie pretty? Those bows--oh,
well, you see pink is Harold's favorite color, and soon--but there,
you're blushing again. Good-night, Mary. Keep to your side of the bed
and pinch me if I snore. Yes, it's a good thing the baby is a boy, for
if it had been a girl I'm sure they'd have wanted to call it Rose of
Dawn."



THE END


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