a treasure-trove of literature
treasure found hidden with no evidence of ownership
Title: Looranna - An Australian Story Author: M. A. McCarter * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1401131h.html Language: English Date first posted: March 2014 Most recent update: March 2014 This eBook was produced by: Walter Moore Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg Australia Licence which may be viewed online.
GO TO Project Gutenberg Australia HOME PAGE
"GRACE, my dear, I think that you acted unwisely, very unwisely, in leaving 'Looranna,' when old Lawyer Graham entreated you to remain, and something tells me that he had some ulterior motive for so urging."
The speaker is Mrs. Carrington, a dignified, elderly lady, who in her youth must have been very beautiful, for even now, after the ravages of time, her face bears strong traces of early loveliness. Over her kind features one can easily discern the imprint of a deep and recent sorrow. She is addressing her niece, Grace Moore, a tall, beautiful girl, who is seated on a low stool by her side. The girl does not answer, but remains silent and thoughtful.
Again the elderly lady remarks: "It was very unwise." And then, as if arguing some point in doubt, she continues: "I wonder why Lawyer Graham so urged you to remain at 'Looranna,' and I wonder if he is an honest man."
As she speaks, Mrs. Carrington looks questioningly and anxiously at her niece, as if expecting from her some explanation, some solution.
"Oh, auntie dear," exclaims Grace, impatiently, "do not allow our sorrow to make you uncharitable; chase even the shadow of suspicion from your mind. Old Lawyer Graham was my father's trusted and tried friend. He has known me since I was a tiny child—an infant, I may say. Oh, auntie dear," and Grace Moore's face beams with the beauteous light of faith and trust as she concludes, with great emphasis, "dear old Lawyer Graham is a good and an honest man."
The light of faith and hope which shines on the girl's face is not reflected in that of Mrs. Carrington's. Doubt still darkens her countenance as she says, dejectedly:
"Yes, yes, Grace; but remember that Mr. Graham is a lawyer, and—"
"Oh, surely, auntie," interrupts Grace, half indignantly, "even a lawyer can be an honest man."
"Of course," asserts the aunt, "every man can be honest if he so chooses; but what seemed strange to me was that Mr. Graham urged you to remain at 'Looranna' when—"
"He urged, auntie, because he pitied us," Grace says, as if she is determined not to allow her faith in the old lawyer to be shaken.
"Why, then," asks Mrs. Carrington, "did you persist in coming away?"
"Because," the girl answers, promptly, "I would not stay anywhere on sufferance. Could you not see how reluctant, how embarrassed, Mr. Graham was?"
"I noticed how evasive he was. I noticed everything, and that is why I doubt, why I suspect."
For a second the old lady seems lost in the arguing of something in her mind, then turns to her niece with a look of decision.
"Grace," she says, "tell me this, my girl. Have you had a line, a word, from Jack Mannering? Has he, too, failed?"
A deep blush overspreads the girl's lovely face, and a pained look saddens the kind eyes. She turns away in silence, and Mrs. Carrington knows that Grace has not had a line, not a word, from her lover. She sighs sorrowfully as she whispers, "No wonder I doubt, no wonder I am suspicious."
"Dear auntie," Grace exclaims, as she gently places her soft young arms caressingly around her kinswoman's neck—"let doubt die. Doubt is a cruel, killing spirit. Doubt withers that choice, beautiful blossom of faith which should always glow and flourish in the heart. Suspicion darkens the glorious lamp of trust, which should always burn brightly and cheerfully in our souls. Without faith and trust, life would be dark and cheerless. Oh, dear auntie," and Grace looks imploringly at her aunt as she whispers, "chase suspicion and doubt away; let trust live ever with us; let us fondle and nourish faith in our hearts, and there let it flourish to cheer and brighten our way."
Mrs. Carrington looks proudly and fondly at her niece, but still there are indications in her face that tell she is not wholly satisfied.
"Why, then," she asks, "did you not remain at 'Looranna' until something was arranged, as Mr. Graham wanted you to do?"
Grace's clinging arms fall, and, rising to her feet, a proud, determined light beams from her eyes, and her musical voice is firm and ringing as she says: "How could I remain at 'Looranna?' I could not remain anywhere on sufferance. Remember, auntie, always remember, that I am an Australian girl."
"Yes, Grace, and you have all that pride, all that confidence, all that ambition, and all the freedom of the Australian race. I pray God that that pride, that confidence, that ambition and freedom will guide you safely along. I will argue no further with you. Grace, forgive me what I say, for sometimes I do not know what I am saying. My heart is so sad, so very sad, for your sake."
"Auntie, dear, do not take our losses so much to heart. 'Looranna' is gone, and all is gone; but what of that? It had to be; to save my father's name I had to let them all go. Though the present be dark, and the outlook a gloomy one, let me face it, as my father's daughter should, with a clear conscience, a healthy body, and a brave heart. You know I am bound to succeed, and then we shall be independent." And as Grace Moore speaks she again places her strong young arms around her dearly-loved relative.
"I know, Grace dear, that you are brave, and wish to meet with a courageous heart the great difficulties which just now beset us; but still, my dear girl, I cannot help feeling sad, for it is a great blow—ay, a cruel blow!" And the kind old face of Mrs. Carrington looks worn and pale with anxiety, and her sixty years of life seem to weigh with unusual heaviness on her to-day as she sits in the one old arm-chair in the front room of a small, rented, furnished house.
Her crape-draped figure bends forward, and for a moment there is a disconsolate, hard look in her kind eyes as again she says: "Grace, my dear niece, indeed this is a cruel blow to us both!"
"Yes, auntie," and there is a note of consolation in Grace's voice as she speaks—"yes, it is a blow, and, as you say, a cruel one. But we must remember that everything might have been much worse. What is the loss of 'Looranna' and all, auntie, that you should fret so much? Do not fear for my sake, and really I think, as things are, that we should be very thankful to Almighty God for blessing us with the greatest of all earthly blessings, good health. I am strong, and I can work; and you, auntie—well, you know, this is a nice, comfortable little cottage," and Grace smiles encouragingly as she looks round the little room, "and when I am away you can occupy yourself by making some of that fine Irish lace for which you were so famous when you did it for pastime sake; and little Molly Casey can come and stay with you—it will keep you from thinking of the past." As the girl speaks, she, too, thinks of the past, and for a moment the shadow of a shadow again creeps into her bright eyes; but, dashing aside the intruding and unwelcome thought, "I must not let auntie see. I must not let her see even the reflection of a shadow on my face," and she turns and occupies herself for a second or two arranging some flowers in a vase, till the shadow passes from her fair face.
Mrs. Carrington will not be soothed, and she shakes her head dejectedly. "Grace, darling," she whispers, "you do not know the world that you are about to enter, and must enter, and I—"
"Oh, but, auntie, I'll soon find out the world. I am strong." And as Grace speaks she looks strong. There is no sign of the shadow now in her lovely, grey eyes, and her rosy cheeks are dimpled and beaming with a healthy glow. She had spent years of her childhood on "Looranna," her father's station, a large run in the interior of New South Wales, where the acreage runs into square miles. There she learned to take a fence with the best horsemen on the run, and many a day had she spent in the saddle, accompanied by her father, rounding up the cattle with the stockmen. She had been educated in one of the first colleges in the city, where she had acquired all the culture, education, and polish of a refined lady. The wholesome, untrammelled freedom of country life away back on "Looranna," amongst the giant trees, listening to the songs of the wild birds, gladdened by the sight of the field flowers as they bloom in their beauty under the warm rays of Australia's life-giving sun, the bleating of the sheep and the lowing of the cattle were as music to the daughter of Gerald Moore, whilst the chase of the hare or the hunt of the kangaroo were sport which brought the glow of health to her face and developed her muscular strength—such strength and physical beauty as can seldom be attained by women wholly reared in the city.
Grace is tall, but she seems to grow taller as she proudly tosses her pretty head, as if in defiance of all who would say that she could not work, or that she would fear the, to her, unknown and untrodden way before her.
"Ah, my dear Grace," says the old lady, "you are a brave girl! You are like your father, but still a girl—a young lady, I should say—and one who has been reared in the kind lap of refinement and luxury. You have never before known what it is to toil for bread. All your life, Grace dear, you have been served, and now you have to serve. Oh, it almost breaks my poor old heart!" A sob escapes Mrs. Carrington as she bows her head in painful thought.
A quiver passes over the girl's face, and a tear dims her eyes, but the aunt does not see it.
"I always thought, Grace," Mrs. Carrington continues, "that my brother would have secured you against such disaster. Why ever did he so speculate? He was always venturing! Oh, why did he invest so much? I cannot understand how some men will risk everything, and forget those depending upon them," and Mrs. Carrington angrily tosses aside the cushion, as if she must in some way show her indignation. "I cannot have patience with such men as your father! He told me that he had made your future secure, that 'Looranna' was yours."
"Oh, hush, auntie, dear! Do not say another word about dear old dad. I know how dearly you loved him. You know very well, auntie, that it was men like dad who made this Australian nation. Men like dad came here with but little; they worked hard, and they made fortunes. They gathered the gold from the richly-stored bosom of this, the world's greatest goldfield, from which so much of the precious metal has been gathered, and where still lies, snugly hidden, sufficient to buy kingdoms. They gathered the wool and the wheat from off the well-nourished, vast acreage of the squatters' runs, and such men as dad did not hoard their money and fly from the land which gave them their wealth, as many cowards did, for the sake of empty titles, pomp and vanity, which their gold could buy abroad in other lands."
"Yes, yes," murmurs Mrs. Carrington, reflectively, "your father stayed here, as many of the old pioneers have done."
"Yes, auntie," replies Grace, proudly, "the vast wealth that dad won was spent where he had won it—in this fair, sunny Australian clime; in the building up of a great nation—a nation that will yet rise up and be the brightest and most valuable jewel in the circle which binds the British Empire. The dazzling brilliancy of the light sent forth from this Australian jewel will shine over all the earth, and that radiance will be as a guiding star to lead all the white races of the earth on their way to one united white fold—a white fold pure and clean from any coloured lines. Oh, auntie, I am so proud to belong to a nation who have the courage to demand, to insist, upon a White Australia; and, auntie, I am glad that dad's money went in helping to build that nation!"
Over Mrs. Carrington's face there is a new light; a new resolve seems to have entered her soul; she seems to grow young as she fondly gazes at her brave young niece. "My girl, my darling Grace," she says, "you are a true daughter of Australia! If your father and your mother were here now they would both be proud of their Australian daughter; but they are at rest, and may their souls be at peace. You have infused into me some of your strength and enthusiasm. Yes, Grace, go; we will both work."
The strong arms of Grace tighten as they clasp the dear, kind form of her loving aunt. "You are all I have," she whispers gently, "and I am so pleased, auntie dear, that you will not fail me."
With a sigh of relief, Mrs. Carrington asks: "What do you intend to do?"
"Anything, aunt," and, hurriedly crossing the room, she takes up the day's paper and reads the list of "Wanteds."
"Now listen, auntie dear, to the list I have to choose from," and with a bright smile she proceeds to read, and as she finishes she says: "You see, I can be a cook now, please don't interrupt," as her aunt starts with a frightened look. "A cook, a good one, can get from £1 to 25s. a week. Of course, I haven't any references, but, then, you could give me one. I can be a governess—£12 10s. a year one place, £15 another, £25 another, to teach music and languages. They specify French, Latin, and German, with the privilege, you know, auntie, of dining with the children in the nursery, and being allowed to play the piano, sit in the room, and be introduced to visitors. Of course, the cook takes her meals in the kitchen; but what of that? I think I would rather be a cook," says Grace, half jestingly. "You know dad always said I was a splendid cook, and so did the visitors, for many a time I used to slip into the kitchen with dear old Norah, and prepare the dinner, and make the dainty puddings under her directions, and it was fun to hear dad and his friends praising dear old Norah for my accomplishments. Mrs. Evans, the registry office keeper, told me yesterday that it was useless for me to try and get pupils for music nowadays, as you know, aunt, that almost every cottage we pass there is a placard in the window 'Music lessons given.' I think, aunt, I had better go and arrange for that cook's place at once; it is a good one."
"Oh, no, no, no! For heaven's sake, no, not that! Take the governess' place at Captain Jenkins.' Do this to please me now, girl. Do not take the other. Oh, take the governess' for goodness sake, and then if it should——" and Mrs. Carrington pauses, and looks surprised as Grace sits down, and a stubborn, vexed look mars for a moment the beauty of her lovely face. She is about to make an angry refusal, but as she catches a glimpse of the pathetic look in the kind old face of her aunt, her heart softens, and the stubborn looks passes off—the look of vexation is replaced with an obedient smile.
"Very well, aunt," she says, as she kisses the soft old cheeks so like her father's, "I will go to Captain Jenkins' now. I will not need a reference for Mrs. Jenkins; she knew dad well."
"God bless you, my dear!" whispers Mrs. Carrington, as, a few minutes later, Grace goes out to seek her livelihood; to fight her battle in the tough, hard field of life. It is a tough, hard fight which girls have to face when they are compelled to seek their livelihood, alone, unprotected, in the great, unmerciful struggle for bread. Some of them win and come off victorious, and many, the weaker ones, stumble and fall, and are cast adrift amongst the great, ever-increasing human river of wasted ones.
Grace passes down the street of one of the poorest suburbs of Melbourne . On, on she wends her way, her step buoyant, and her young heart hopeful.
"Why should I fail?" she asks herself.
Suddenly she slows her step, a shadow passes over the light of hope, and a quiver of pain twitches her fair face.
"Can this be fancy's dream? No, no," she assures herself, "it is real—too real."
Looking around, she catches sight of the reflection of her face in a shop window.
"Oh, dear!" she gasps, "the reflection of my face in that glass is ghastly. I must not look like that. If aunt saw me now she would ask where all my Australian confidence had gone. I must so school myself that my face will not indicate the pain in my heart. Auntie asked me about Jack Mannering. How could I tell her that I, too, have— But, oh! what am I thinking of? I must not encourage such thoughts."
So engrossed is Grace with her thoughts, and so lost is she in the dreams of the past and the building up of hopes for the future, that she does not feel the distance nor count the time. She has come a long way, and the poor suburbs lie far behind.
Pausing and gazing around at the mansion homes towering in their grandeur and munificence, she murmurs softly: "I am now in my own sphere — But what am I saying?"
She laughs low and bitterly, and again a quiver passes over her face.
"These," she soliloquises, "are the homes of the wealthy; I am not in my own sphere."
As she passes along, she gazes curiously at the names on the gates of the different entrances. She pauses before one.
"Garoopna," she reads. She is about to make her entrance, when once again that quiver of pain disturbs the former calmness of her face.
"How can I do it?" she asks herself, and all her hope, all her confidence seem to have vanished, leaving her a lonely and timid girl. There are even tears in her eyes as she gazes along the well-kept avenue that leads up to the home of the Jenkins'.
"Why am I so frightened?" Grace murmurs. "This is not the first fine home I have entered. 'Looranna' is a finer place than this, and yet I stand here in hesitation and in fright."
This attempt to revive her waning courage seems to fail, for she adds: "I am forgetting that when I entered those homes I entered as a guest, or as mistress; but now I go to beg, to crave for leave to toil." And the despairing and frightened look deepens in her lovely eyes.
For a minute she wavers. She is about to go back—to retrace her steps.
Suddenly she rouses herself and tosses her head proudly in the air. "For shame!" she says in self-rebuke. "Is it I, Grace Moore, who am afraid? Do I forget that I am an Australian girl? I must never forget that!"
With a bright glow of hope shining in her eyes, she opens the gate, passes up the long drive, and, with the strengthening spirit of confidence in her heart, crosses the verandah, rings the bell, and passes into "Garoopna."
"You know, Miss Moore," Mrs. Jenkins, the Mistress of "Garoopna," said in answer to Grace's application for the position of governess, "it is very unusual for a lady to take a servant without a reference," but she added kindly, as she watched the proud blush play over Grace's countenance, and saw the pathetic, anxious look in her eyes, "I knew your father many years ago, and I like your face."
It was thus that Grace Moore obtained the first situation she had applied for.
Mrs. Jenkins did not tell Grace that in the faraway past it was Gerald Moore's kind heart and generous hand that had helped her husband and herself to lay the foundation of their vast fortune.
It could hardly be expected that Mrs. Jenkins, a wealthy lady, would tell a servant that she ever owed a debt of gratitude in her life.
Grace lost no time in taking up her new duties, and, as the weeks passed by, Mrs. Jenkins congratulated herself on having taken her on trust.
Miss Moore has now been three months in her position as governess to Captain Jenkins' grandchildren, who are on a visit from Sydney . One morning, just as Grace is giving the children their usual music lesson at the piano, Mrs. Jenkins hurriedly enters the music room.
"Oh, I am in such trouble to-day, Miss Moore. Here am I with a houseful of visitors—more are coming—and there is the dinner party to-night! I am almost distracted. The cook and the housemaid have quarrelled, and cook has left in a huff, and Miss Clarence and Miss Rose are both coming home, so the other maids will have their hands full. Oh, what shall I do? Those servants are so annoying."
Grace winces at the word servant.
"Surely," she says, "you will be able to get someone to do the cooking."
"No, not now. At Christmas time, you cannot get them for love or money."
"Could not Miss Clarence or Miss Rose help?"
"Oh, no, dear, no. They do not know how, even if they would, and the kitchen maid is a blockhead; she cannot prepare anything. I'm sure I'll have an attack of the nerves after all this."
For a moment Grace thinks, as she looks round on her well-disciplined little charges, and then she whispers in her mind, "Aunt would not object, I am sure;" and then, with a decided look on her face, she rises from her seat at the piano, and says kindly, "Can I help you?"
Mrs. Jenkins' eyes open in surprise. "You help me! How could you help me? It is the cook who has gone."
"Well, to-morrow," says Grace, "you know the children will be taking their recess, and surely nurse can relieve me. I'll go into the kitchen, and, really, I can cook."
The gratitude on Mrs. Jenkins' face needs no words to express, and, by the time the visitors have all arrived, Grace is installed in her new role as cook.
Whilst Grace and her assistant, the kitchen maid, are preparing the many dishes for the grand dinner, a discussion is going on between Mrs. Jenkins and her two daughters.
"Mother, you said you had a new governess for Harold's children—(oh, how I hate the little brutes!)—I have not seen her. What is she like?"
"Oh, I suppose she is a stiff old maid," interjects Clarence, as she caresses a poodle dog, and adjusts the little, open-work silk bootees which decorate its paws.
"Or," remarks Rose, "I suppose she's like De Morrow's governess—the widow of an officer"—and, as she speaks, she unfastens the jewelled collar from her mastiff's neck.
Paul is a fine dog, but then he is treated finely, for he is lying on a tiger rug in the drawing-room.
"Is the new governess ugly, Ma?" both the girls ask in chorus, as they now zealously hug their pets.
"Ugly!" ejaculates Mrs. Jenkins, in surprise. "No, dears; she is a very handsome girl, accomplished and good. I knew her father, but that was many years ago."
A look of alarm grows on the two girls' faces, and, as the mother leaves the room, a sound like that of a sigh is heard.
"Oh, fancy, isn't Ma foolish? Just fancy! Why on earth did she get a handsome governess, and accomplished—the daughter of an old friend, too? I suppose Ma will have her at table."
"Indeed," says Clarence, "if Ma does that, I will have headache, and stay in my room; but come on. Let us go down to cook, and tell her about Peter and Paul. I believe there is a new cook, and she must understand how our dear pets are to be fed. Do you know, Rose, I believe that, many a time, that horrid Jane, the old cook, used to take the poultry off our dear pets' plates, and give them her beef and mutton instead. I am glad we took them with us whilst we were away, aren't you? But I was so vexed on the boat when that man gave the fresh milk to that woman with the horrid baby, and our poor doggies had to have the stale milk, weren't you, dearie?" and Rose stoops and fondles the mastiff, as if in sympathy for the sick baby being preferred to him.
Clarence is the elder of Captain Jenkins' daughters, and, as she enters the kitchen with her big mastiff by her side, "You are the new cook?" she says, authoritatively, as she observes Grace with her large white apron and cap, sleeves rolled up, and battling with the pots and pans.
There is a merry twinkle in Grace's eyes as she sees the two young ladies, whom she concludes must be the daughters of the house. (Clarence and Rose had gone on a holiday before Grace had taken her work.) "Yes," she says, "I am the cook for the present. Is there anything I can do for you?"
Miss Jenkins thinks it unworthy of her, as daughter of the house, to take much notice of the menial.
"I wish you, cook, to give Peter and Paul their dinners. I will send them out with Mary when Pa carves the poultry. Will you see that they get their food, because, sometimes, the other servants have not given the dear fellows their meals properly? So do not forget, cook."
"I'll not forget; I will see that they are properly attended to."
At the kitchen door Miss Jenkins pauses, and, half-turning, says: "What is your name, cook?" As Grace is still busy with the dishes over the fire, she does not hear, and Miss Jenkins goes on her way.
Grace Moore looks after the departing Miss Jenkins. On her face there is a look of wonder and surprise. "She says her father carves the poultry for Peter and Paul! Well, my father," she muses, "was a liberal, broad-minded man. He treated his servants well, and if they were good he called them friends; but I am sure he never would permit his daughters to be so enrapt with the coachman and the groom—I suppose that is whom she means by Peter and Paul." And as Grace turns to dish up the dinner, which would do credit to a French chef, her face still wears a puzzled look of wonder; but, as she is kept busily engaged answering the orders from the dining-room, she has no time to think of Peter and Paul. At last there is a lull, and then Mary, the waitress, hurries into the kitchen with a daintily-set tray of poultry, etc., for two, and, as she places it on the table, "For Peter and Paul," she says, then rushes out; and, as no one has explained, Grace is under the impression that either the coachman or the groom is Peter, and, when the groom looks into the kitchen a few minutes later, she remarks, "Miss Jenkins sent these dinners down for you."
"For us?" he ejaculates.
"Well, she said for Peter and Paul—"
"Yes, yes," breaks in the groom. "That's right, cook," and there is a mischievous twinkle in the man's eye.
"Miss Jenkins said I was to take it to your room, and—"
"Oh, no, no! Not at all," interrupts the groom. "Thank you very much. Never mind, cook. I'll always carry it. You need never bother;" and Grace passes on the tray.
"Ha, ha!" chuckles Bill Carney, the groom. "She has given us the poultry! Cook thinks we are Peter and Paul! Wouldn't Miss Rose and Miss Clarence flare up if they seed their dogs eating our beef, while we dined on the selected carvings of poultry? But, oh, it's good to be dogs nowadays. Nice choice dinners, and to be hugged and kissed and decorated by the young ladies. I wish I was a dog," and again he chuckled.
After the house dines, and the visitors retire to the drawing-room, Mrs. Jenkins has time to think of Grace, and, as she enters the kitchen, she is surprised to find her erstwhile governess seated at the servants' table, and dealing out the dinners as though to the manner born.
When Grace sees her she hurries to meet her.
"My dear, I am sorry that you have to have your meals here. But, really, the dinner was capital. All went off so well—but you must bring the children into the drawing-room. Their father will want to see them, and I must introduce you to my daughters. They have both been asking about the new governess, but they would be shocked if I told them that you had cooked the dinner, upon which so much praise was lavished."
Grace hesitates for a moment; she is tired, but there is a look of decision in her face as she says, "I will bring the little ones in. I will go and dress now." Although courageous, she always feels a certain amount of diffidence in entering the drawing-room. She does not wish to meet any of the friends whom she knew when at "Looranna."
There is one man especially whom she would always avoid meeting now. When, a little while later, she enters the drawing-room with the children, she passes in so quietly that she is almost unnoticed, though the two daughters of the house are much taken aback. Clarence is surprised and vexed. She can hardly control the vexation on her countenance as she bows stiffly in acknowledgment when their mother introduces the new governess.
Clarence looks for a minute, then, turning to her mother, says in a whisper loud enough for the guests to hear: "Why, mother, this is the new cook. I was speaking to her in the kitchen."
"Hush, dear," says her mother, in a subdued tone. "Hush, do not let her hear you. Miss Moore obliged me."
"Indeed, mother, but I will. I am much annoyed. I feel as if I could go out of the house. A governess is bad enough, but to bring the cook in!" and Clarence walks out.
When her mother follows her, and is out of hearing: "How dare you, Clarence," she says, "to behave so? Miss Moore obliged me by going to the kitchen to-day, when the cook left. Is Miss Moore any the less a lady because she was able to take up the cook's position in an emergency? It is conduct such as yours that prevents good, honest, well-bred ladies, who are without fortune, but are accomplished and willing—it is conduct such as yours that prevents them from taking up those household duties which are essential and becoming to a woman—ay! to any lady in the land. It is the highest duty. It is the most responsible duty. For on its true fulfilment rests the foundation of society. So, Clarence, go back, and, when you find an opportunity, apologise to Miss Moore." Mrs. Jenkins, as if anxious to show some apology on her daughter's behalf, and knowing, as she has many times heard Grace playing in the nursery, that she is an accomplished violinist—
"Miss Moore," she says, and her tone is very kind, "would you kindly play to us some of those pieces I have so often heard you playing in the nursery?"
Grace rises, and, as she crosses the drawing room, she looks indeed as if she had not felt the bitterness of Clarence Jenkins' words, but in her soul they rankle.
At first she felt inclined to cry, but—"What a fool I am," she says to herself, "breaking down almost at the first insult. Grace Moore, I am ashamed of you." She inwardly rebukes herself for her weakness. "This is but one of the little stumbling-blocks that I must climb over."
As she takes up the instrument and begins to play, there is no sign of the threatened tears; no trace of the nasty and bitter dart which pierced the proud heart. She rather pities Clarence for her littleness, and, as the notes ring out from the old violin under Grace Moore's masterful yet delicate touch, the hearts of all listeners are enraptured as the strains of the old masterpieces echo along.
The old melodies enchant the listening ears, and the player is lost as, in fancy, she is away once more on her father's old home, amongst the tall, giant trees at "Looranna;" and, as her fingers run over some old hunting theme, she seems to hear the hounds, as they return to their kennels at the homestead, after a long day's hunting the kangaroo away back over the vast run.
"Dear old 'Looranna!' " she breathes, lovingly, to herself.
The theme is ended, and as she puts down the violin she sighs. There is silence—such a silence as is only felt when one hears something which is sublime, but which he cannot understand. Such a silence is ever greater appreciation than the loudest applause.
"Kindly take the children away, Miss Moore," and Grace starts, for the command of Mrs. Jenkins brings her back, and she now knows where she is. She remembers—"she is the governess."
The music had carried her away in fancy's flight to that far-off home, "Looranna," and the agitation of the soul returning and awakening her from that blissful dream had convulsed her heart, leaving her face pale; but it was only for a minute, and, with a mighty effort, she banishes all traces of dreamland from her face, and goes out with the children.
"Mother," Clarence says, the morning after the dinner party, "when does Harold intend to take his children home? I'm sure they are quite a pest to us; they are continually here!"
"If they were gone," interjects Rose, who is sitting by the fire warming her little poodle, as she puts the woollen bootees on the canine paws—"if those children were gone, that would end our trouble, because there would be no need then for the cook to masquerade as the governess."
"Indeed, no!" interposes Clarence, with vehemence. "And to tell you the truth, Ma," turning to her mother, who has not yet answered either of them, for the fact of the matter is, Mrs. Jenkins is just now much troubled between one thing and another, and is so preoccupied with mentally arranging the household management for the day, and planning as to the best way to entertain her guests for their enjoyment, that she has not even heard what her daughters have said, so lost is she in thinking-land.
Just then her little granddaughter, a girl about eight years of age, one of Grace's pupils, enters, holding a younger sister by the hand. They are both beautiful children. The elder one, Maud, with her dark eyes and her fair hair, looks a picture for an artist, yet, for a child so young, there is a pathetic, yearning look in those lovely orbs; and the little blue-eyed sister of six, with her tossed curls and cherub face, seems a little fairy, sweet and lovable, only for kisses.
"Grandma, please, good-morning!" says the elder one, as they come into the room.
"Oh, dears!" says Mrs. Jenkins, as she fondly takes the little one on her knee, arranges the pretty curls, and kisses the sweet, upturned faces of her two grandchildren, "where is nurse?"
"She is waiting, Grandma."
"Well, then, pets, toddle away."
""But, Grandma, please, we want Miss Moore to come and play on the piano, and tell us pretty stories."
"Oh, well, dears, Miss Moore is busy just now, so run on and play with nurse, that's good children;" and, with another kiss, the little ones scamper away.
"I wish those children were gone home, Ma!" again Clarence remarks, as she adjusts the large goggles and cloak on her mastiff dog, Paul, in preparation for the motor drive—"I wish they were gone!"
"Listen to me," says Mrs Jenkins, and the tone of her voice is a vexed one, "it would be very much better for the both of you, Clarence and Rose, if, instead of dressing up those dogs, and pampering them as you are continually doing, you were to devote a little more time to helping me. You make my heart sad with your ways. There are those two little children who came here with their sweet "good-morning" kisses, and you let them go without even a smile, and, poor little lambs, you want to know when they are going home. Well, they are going home when their mother is ready to mind them. She, like many others, although a loved and honoured wife, rebels against the holy, loving care of motherhood. She is continually flying about the country in search of fickle enjoyment, amusing herself, and joining in every new fad of society. She cares nothing for the sacred responsibilities of a wife, and leaves her babies (when she has them, which is seldom) to the care of any strange maid who may be in her service at the time. All she cares for is to see her name figuring in the papers, at some Government House function, or some 'At Home,' at which her jewels will shine brightest, and where she will be the envy of some wife maybe as careless as herself; but what good is it all to her, though the jewels shine brightly, and the lightning flashing from them brings envy to the female hearts? The light from the brightest and most costly jewels that any woman can wear will be dimmed beside the holy light shining in the beautiful, sweet, innocent eyes of a little child." And Mrs. Jenkins crosses the room in deep sorrow as she thinks of her wayward daughter-in-law. Then, with a deep sigh, she says, as if to herself: "But I suppose, after all, she is only a fashionable lady!"
"Really, Ma, you say such strange things! Would you have Harold's wife a regular old frump? You know, Ma, we must follow society, or be 'nowhere.' You could not expect Milly to be running round to the 'At Homes' with the children! Why, Society would think her mad if she brought one of the children with her! It is not fashionable nowadays, Ma," and Clarence looks as if she had explained much.
"No, it is not fashionable," retorts Mrs. Jenkins, regretfully. "It is not fashionable, I know, and all the worse for Society that it is so. But mark me, Clarence, Society will continue to degenerate while it considers it fashionable for women to appear in the best drawing-rooms, and being photographed accompanied by their pet dogs, instead of their own children. Somebody once said 'we came of animals,' but it looks very much as if our tastes are drifting to the animals."
Rose and Clarence look at each other and shake their heads as they whisper; "It's no use arguing!"
Just then a shadow passes the window, and a cheery, manly voice calls out "Mother!" and Mrs. Jenkins hurries away at her son's call.
"I wonder what news Harold has now? I hope nothing that will keep us back from our motor drive. The news must be good, for I hear Harold laughing."
Just then Harold enters with a telegram in his hand, and, when the girls read it, they are both highly elated.
"How lovely! Milly is coming! Oh, that will be splendid!"
"Yes, girls; and if you hurry up," says Harold, "we'll be in time to meet the train about twelve miles out. It will be a good run, and I can come back in the train, and leave you girls to the tender care of Dr. Ferguson and Tom Allen. I know you will be pleased at that arrangement," and he looks slyly at his sisters, whose blushes tell their own tale.
There is a general simmer of excitement when it is known that Harold Jenkins' wife, Milly, the mother of the two children, is expected; and when Harold bends to kiss Maud and little Effie, before he takes his place in the motor-car, where his sisters Rose and Clarence are already seated, Paul, the mastiff, is sitting beside his mistress. She has her arm protectingly around his massive body. Dr. Ferguson is looking not too pleased at the position the canine rival occupies beside his promised wife.
Tom Allen is not so bad, because Rose's pet poodle, which is small and cosily wrapped in a dainty padded rug, lined with the softest silk—such silk as is found lining the hoods of infants who are born to the purple and fine linen—lies so snugly on her lap, and is likely to sleep most of the journey. Anyhow, Tom Allen consoles himself with the thought that it will.
The pathetic, yearning look for a moment vanishes from the eyes of Maud when Harold says kindly to his little daughters; "We are going to bring Mamma back with us;" and the faces of the two children brighten.
As the car puffs away, Maud says; "What a pity, Grandma! What a pity Papa didn't take us, too, to meet Mamma!"
"Papa couldn't," interposes Effie, the little white-faced cherub with the tossed curls. "He couldn't; there was no room for us."
As Mrs. Jenkins looks after the little ones, and then gazes thoughtfully at the retreating car, "No, they had no room for you!" she says, bitterly; "but they had room for their dogs!" And, as she turns round, she sees Grace Moore, who happened to be passing from the garden to the kitchen, stooping to caress the two little girls, and playfully fastening a spray of flowers in the hair of each of the little maids, Maud and Effie.
Grace does not see Mrs. Jenkins, and, as she surveys the two pretty children, with their floral decorations amidst their pretty locks, "Kiss me again," she says, "for you dear children remind me of the angels;" and, as the little arms entwine round her neck, she wonders how the mother of those children can leave them for so long.
Grace stands and watches them for a moment as they scamper across the lawn, and then turns away, and goes into the kitchen. "Their mother is coming to-day," she muses. "Why is it that I should always pity those lovely girls? They have everything and every surrounding, everything that money can buy; they are well-clothed, well-fed; they want for nothing, and yet I pity them because—they have not a mother's love! I can hardly remember my own mother, but what I do remember is a sweet and gentle face, caressing me and kissing me, and then— I had Dad—dear old Dad—and now I have Auntie. But, oh, dear! how the world changes! I must not think so much, or I'll be sad. I must remember that I am the cook!" and she smiles as she chases the melancholy thoughts which will insist on troubling her to-day, and, to look at her, one would think that a sad light had never even cast its shadow over her bright face, or that any sorrow had ever entered her soul; and when Mrs. Jenkins comes to the kitchen a little while before the guests are expected back to dinner, she wonders, if her own daughters were suddenly bereft of fortune and home, could they acquit themselves in any capacity with such credit as Miss Moore is now doing.
"I know, Miss Moore, that you have much to do, and I regret that I cannot find anyone to relieve you of this, which must be an unpleasant task."
"I am thinking seriously," says Grace, as she looks approvingly at Jane, the kitchen-maid, who is a nice, smart, bright-looking, rosy-faced country girl, "that it will be unnecessary for you to bother about a new cook, for Jane here is progressing so satisfactorily that I am sure, with a few more lessons, she will be thoroughy competent. Indeed, now, I've trusted her with several dishes with success, and I am sure that, about the end of the week, Jane will be capable of taking up the duties. She is smart, and takes a pleasure in learning."
"You are kind to say so, Miss Moore, and thank you for taking the pains with Jane." And, turning to the kitchen-maid, Mrs. Jenkins says; "I am pleased to hear, Jane, that you are getting on so well."
"What a splendid advantage to a lady," she thinks, "to be able to teach her servants how to perform their duties. Who would have thought that Jane could have been so soon instructed? Indeed, many of us lose valuable servants," is her concluding thought, "all owing to our inability to teach them." For a second she is lost in thought; then she says, "I wish, Miss Moore, that you would bring Maud and Effie to the drawing-room after dinner, their mother being here. I would like you, not nurse, to bring the little ones in."
"Oh, dear Miss Moore, come quickly! Come quickly! Mamma and Papa and all the ladies are in the drawing-room, and Grandma says that you are going to bring us in. Oh, do be quick, please!" and Maud holds her face for Grace's kiss, and claps her hands with delight.
"But where is Effie?"
"Oh, she ran down, and is waiting near the door; Grandma said we had to wait. Oh, here is Effie!" and Effie runs up, confidently, to catch hold of Grace's extended hands.
As she, with the two children, passes into the drawing-room, Effie clings shyly, and tries to hide herself in the folds of Grace's skirt. It is a long while since she has seen her Mamma, and, although she is inclined to rush forward and be caressed, still the tiny mite feels a strange shyness when she sees her mother.
Grace is astonished as she looks at the beautiful woman, who bows coldly in acknowledgment to the introduction to her children's governess.
Maud is not shy, and she rushes up, pressing her girl face to her mother's, and crying for the joy and warmth of her soul.
"Dear, dear, don't pull the lace off my gown!" Mrs. Harold Jenkins says. "But, gracious! how the child has grown," she adds, as she untwines the fond encircling arms from around her soft, white neck, and stands back and surveys Maud, who again has the yearning look in her beautiful eyes.
Grace can now see from whom the child has inherited her fair face.
Little Effie peeps from behind the folds of the dress, and her mother, seeing her, exclaims; "Surely, Ma, this cannot be Effie? Why, she has grown quite out of my recollection! Come here, dear, and kiss Mamma," and the little child's white face is shyly upturned to receive her mother's kiss.
"That's right, darling, don't move Mamma's necklet;" and, turning to the governess, she says; "I did not catch the name. What name was it? Ah! Moore—Miss Moore . Miss Moore, while you have charge of my little girls, I hope that you will teach them not to be so demonstrative. See, Maud behaved just like a common child when showing her affection."
The dark eyes of Maud are filled with tears—tears of disappointment and pain. She feels that she has in some way offended her mother, and she moves gently along to the side of her Grandma's chair. Somehow, there is a pained look on the old lady's face as she pats the little girl's cheek and sighs.
"I cannot get over how those two children have grown. It is only a few months since they came here, and, see, they have grown almost out of my memory."
"Yes," Mrs. Jenkins says, meaningly, "and their father hardly knew them, either. You forget, Milly, that it is nearly eighteen months now since you have seen either of them."
"Oh, yes, I forgot, Ma. Of course, we went to England . Oh, how the time does fly when one is travelling! And, of course, Harold and I were at all the exhibitions in the various cities of Europe, and I am proud to say that I have taken first prize everywhere I have exhibited my dear little doggies."
At this Clarence exclaims; "Oh, Milly dear, you promised to show us your dear little pets! When are they coming?"
"When are they coming?" repeats Milly, in astonishment. "Why, Clarence, do you think I'd come without them? They are snugly asleep now in their little portable cots in my room. I'll run and get them."
"But, stay," says Rose. "Alice, the maid, will bring them."
"Oh, no, no!" hastily interjects Milly. "She might hurt the dears!" and she lifts Effie gently down from the arm of the chair, where the child had climbed by her side. "I never let anyone touch them but myself. I got such a lovely little poodle at Baden. It cost fifty guineas, but, oh, it is a treasure! Just wait until you see it!" and off she hurries.
By this time Grace is sitting down and nursing little Effie, who had crept to her side again, to hide in the folds of her dress, and take a peep stealthily at her beautiful mother.
When Milly returns she is accompanied by her husband, who is carrying two great baskets, something like dress-baskets, but at each end there are ventilators.
"Now, Harold, don't, be rough; but I needn't warn you, need I, dear?" and Milly looks sweetly at her husband, "for you love them as much as I do, don't you?"
Grace, from her quiet corner, where she sits with Effie on her knee, looks at Harold Jenkins and his wife, as they carefully unfasten the large baskets, and tenderly lift out from where they are nestling amongst the pale-blue silk cushions five or six tiny, white poodle dogs. Grace thinks, "What a fine pair—the woman tall, fair, well-proportioned, and beautiful; the man tall, dark, well-built, broad-shouldered, and handsome!" And, as she admires their physical beauty, she thinks, "If in the old, old days these two people had lived, they would, no doubt, have been the parents of great churchmen, great statesmen, or brave soldiers." But Grace may just think so, for, alas! they now are as they are—degenerators of their race, worshippers of dogs, fashion slaves. Such men and such women are vile; they are but mockeries, and, under the cloak of matrimony, they commit sins for which nations have been destroyed. They console themselves with the thought that their fine raiment and grand jewels hide their wickedness from the world. It may; but fine garments and rich jewels cannot cloak the soul.
"Now, Maud, just kiss the little pet. He's sick, so you must not hold him."
"Ah, here's Dr. Ferguson," remarks Rose, as she gloats enviously over the puppies in the portable cot. "Here, come on now, Dr. Ferguson; don't be looking at Clarence. Milly's poor little Fido is sick."
Effie gets down gently from Grace's knee, and quietly peeps over to look at the canine pets.
"You mustn't touch them, Effie. Be good now, and you may just kiss this one," and Effie kisses the little poodle which her mother fondles so tenderly.
"Let me see," says Dr. Ferguson, who has pushed his way through the admiring circle. "What's the matter with it, Mrs. Jenkins?"
"I don't know; it couldn't take its bottle. See!" and Milly holds up a baby's small bottle half-filled with warm milk. "It couldn't drink it; I think its throat is sore."
"Well, do not let the child kiss it if its throat is sore," the doctor retorts, somewhat roughly, Milly thinks, as he takes the dog from her. "You know, dogs are very liable to diphtheria. By Jove! but this one has a sore throat. Confound it, what madness to kiss it!" and, forgetting himself and his position with Clarence for a minute, he says, in his ordinary medical style: "Why will you ladies fondle and kiss animals? You know they carry infection, and I hate—"
"Doctor, doctor!" comes Clarence's voice. "Oh, what do you say?" And, as if to show him how she defies such medical opinions, she turns and kisses her big mastiff, Paul, who is always by her side, fairly on the mouth.
"And yet men will kiss such women! Ugh!"
"Mother!" Harold Jenkins has an anxious look on his face as he speaks "Mother, do you not think it would be better if Miss Moore took Maud and Effie out? Dr. Ferguson has made me nervous after what he has said about that poodle."
"Indeed, my son, the children will be very much better out of here, and some day you and your wife may learn to value your children better than dogs. No wonder, indeed, that the good Father Vaughan speaks hard and speaks often of such conduct as yours. He is always pleading, always calling, but still you continue to caress and to fondle to your hearts the pampered dogs, whilst your little children are hungering and starving for their parents' love." And Mrs. Jenkins looks hurt and sorrowful as she turns from her son, and crosses the room to ask Grace to take the children out.
"But, please, Grandma, we want to kiss Ma first," plead Maud and Effie; and, as they stand beside their mother, they say; "Please, Ma, good-night." But their mother is so absorbed in her discussion with Dr. Ferguson about the sick poodle that she does not hear or heed them; and, as the two little girls pass out of the room, there is something like the sound of a sob heard.
"Never mind! Don't cry," Grace whispers, as she kisses away the tears from the little ones' faces. "Mamma may come by and bye, when you are in bed, and whisper, 'God bless you!' as she gives you your good-night kiss."
"Auntie, dear, you cannot know how I've been longing to feel your warm, kind caresses, and to hear your dear, kind voice speaking to me as you are now. You must just spoil me for the time I am with you. I have only two hours until I go back; for, dear Auntie, this is my first afternoon out. What was it we used to say, 'Mary Jane's afternoon out,' " and Grace's voice rings out in merry laughter. The old Aunt even smiles as she looks fondly on her lovely niece, who is sitting on a low stool by the side of the big, old arm-chair, and resting her curly head lovingly against the old lady's bosom.
"My girl, I have been lonely indeed, waiting and watching for you to come back. Surely, Grace, we could find something else!"
"Oh, yes, I suppose there could be many other ways, but I like this one. You don't know how splendid I am. Now, don't look so pained, dear Auntie. You would, indeed, be proud of me if you could only know of my accomplishments. Auntie, dear, I was quite lost before—really I was. I did not know I could do so much; and, truly, I love Mrs. Jenkins, the dear old soul! I could do anything for her, she is always so kind. I think, though, Auntie, she is thought to be rather old-fashioned, but she is just as she should be, I think. Auntie, you never told me if you heard anything—had any letter, or—you know, Auntie. I want to know such a lot, and I cannot wait to hear all. But have you found out if that was true about Jack? Sometimes I've been so frightened that I might meet him; and yet, again, I think that he may have been in England when my letter went, telling him of the loss of 'Looranna,' Dear old 'Looranna!' You know that if he never received the letter, that would explain his long silence."
Over the aunt's face there is a bitter, pained look; an indignant flash for a moment hardens her kind eyes. Grace does not see it, so she goes on—"You know, Jack always said that he loved me so much, that he would rather I was poor, so I would know it was only for myself he wanted me; and we are poor enough now, indeed!"
In the old lady's mind there is a mental battle; she is undecided about something. "Will I?" she asks herself, as she fondly strokes the nestling head. "Shall I tell her? Would it be too cruel? She has had many blows"—the old lady argues in her mind; "but no! it is better that I should tell her—better that she should hear it from me."
With a kind look of pity stealing over her sympathetic face, she bends and kisses the girl. "Grace," she whispers, "do not think of him—wipe that story from your heart—forget him, my child—he was unworthy of your lightest thought!"
"Oh, surely, you misjudge him; do not condemn him until we have heard. For my sake, Auntie, think kindly!" and again she nestles her head closer, so closely that she can hear the warm beating of the heart that loves her so well.
"My girl, would you have me deceive you? You have not heard, but I have. Jack Mannering wanted 'Looranna,' and when he heard 'Looranna' was gone, he went too. Now, do not start; be a brave girl. You are brave, Grace, I know. Do not let the weakness of one man bring a tear. Your father knew him well. Your father (may the Lord have mercy upon his soul) spoke the truth when he said Jack Mannering is only an English fop, in search of a wealthy heiress in Australia to redeem his fortunes lost beyond the seas," and again the dark, hard light is in Mrs. Carrington's eyes as she looks at the bowed head of her niece.
"Auntie, you say you know. What do you know?"
"I know, dear, that he has forgotten you, and is engaged to be married to some wealthy Australian girl. Old Lawyer Graham told me so."
Grace rises from her seat, and, with a blanched face, she gazes. A fierce, deep pain is in her heart, as if a keen blade was cutting away from the girl's very soul all faith, all trust in humanity. A struggle rises in her soul. The great flames of faith and love are dwindling down; they are now almost into a tiny spark; they are flickering. Will they go out? Will the beautiful spirit of faith in mankind die?
For a minute the fight, the struggle within Grace's soul, goes on—then the dark look passes from her face, and two great tears steal down the pale cheeks, as, once more resting her head on her aunt's bosom, she sobs, and the spark lives as she whispers: "Auntie, Auntie! You are all I have—you are true! The fight was strong; and, oh, Auntie, that did hurt my heart!" and she sighs as if to shake the trouble off with a deep, heavy breath. "So Jack was false," she murmurs, and her tone now is light. "Well, Auntie, I am glad I am a servant now. Oh! so glad, for it was worth losing 'Looranna' to find Jack out. If ever I meet him now, he will find no trace of this struggle. Ah! it was well, Auntie, that you told me;" and a minute later Molly Casey announces the arrival of Father Ryan, the parish priest, who used to stay at "Looranna" when on his periodical visits amongst his country parishioners. He knew Grace as a little girl, and many a time would she run to meet him when he would say Mass at "Looranna," where the congregation was composed of settlers, who came from their far-off homes, many miles away in the surrounding country, and old Squatter Moore, the genial host, with an Irish heart and an Irish hand, would welcome and cater for all, poor and rich alike, who came to the homestead to kneel in prayer at Holy Mass.
As Father Ryan enters the small, dingy room, Jack Mannering is forgotten, and Grace and her aunt vie with each other as to which of them will give the good priest the first greeting.
"Oh, dear Father Ryan! you are indeed welcome." Mrs. Carrington's voice rings with true hospitality as she clasps the outstretched hand of their faithful friend, as a loving child would clasp the hand of a fond parent.
"God bless you, my children," the priest murmurs fervently, and while the holy benediction wafts along he turns to greet Grace.
"Dear Father Ryan," is all that she can say, but the good priest knows by the clasp of her hand that he is welcome, very welcome.
At last Grace finds voice. "I am so glad, Father Ryan, you have come," she says, "for you always bring with you an atmosphere of peace, a ray of light, that sends the sunbeam of hope dancing all around."
"I am glad, Grace, that you think so, and I pray God that I will always bring light and peace everywhere I go."
The two women look as if they are sure he will.
"So I have found little Grace at last," Father Ryan begins. He always calls her "little Grace." "Here have I been hunting the country for you," and he sits wearily down in the big, old armchair which Mrs. Carrington has just vacated for him. "I've been hunting the place this couple of days, street after street, and only for old Lawyer Graham I would have had to go back home without seeing you at all. Now, Grace, tell me what you have been doing? But what are those tears in your eyes for?" he anxiously asks. "Is there anything troubling you, my child?"
"Oh, Father, I have just had the final blow!" and Grace wipes the tears from her eyes as she speaks.
"I suppose, then, you have heard about Jack Mannering? Oh, the rascal! Never mind, Grace. As if you were not good enough—without a penny, good enough for any man! Good enough to be the wife of a king! Now, don't cry; remember always what your father said. You know you could never have had the blessing of God fully, even if you had married, for, my girl, mixed marriages are never good. Mark my words! I say—never!"
"But, Father, Jack said he would become a Catholic."
"Oh, yes, he was prepared for anything," interrupts Father Ryan, sarcastically. "He was prepared to even sell his soul for 'Looranna.' Ah! your father, Grace, your father was wise indeed when—" and Father Ryan looks as if he was about to say something, but checks himself. "Now, Grace, my child," he continues, "wipe away those tears, and kneel down and thank God for His kindness and His mercy to you. Thank Him always, and seek consolation, and you will find it only and always with God. God will heal this sorrow in your soul. Only He is the physician who cures all; the only One to succour the afflicted in the holy, beautiful, sanctifying spirit of religious peace."
When Grace rises off her knees where she had knelt by the good Father's chair, the old, bright look is on her face.
"Thank you, Father," she says. "I can now go back to Mrs. Jenkins', for I feel that sweet peace of soul, God's holy balm. I will now go away and get my hat and cloak," and, with a cheery "good-bye" to Molly Casey, who is in the kitchen preparing the tea, and tenderly kissing her aunt, who looks now as if a great load had been lifted from her shoulders, Grace turns and kindly takes her leave of the good old priest, who had always helped her with his kind, fatherly advice; for to Father Ryan she had always appealed, even as a little child, when in any difficulty or childish trouble, and his sympathies were always soothing, and his guidance faithful. And now, as she passes out once more to take up her duties at Mrs. Jenkins', the sound of his "good-bye" and "God bless you!" makes her heart glad and her step buoyant as she hastens along.
When Grace arrives at the home of the Jenkins', and she passes along on her way to her own room, she wonders what is causing so much commotion—servants running hither and thither. Then she remembers that this is the evening of the annual ball at Government House, and Mrs. Jenkins' guests and family are to be present.
"Oh, I'm so glad you have come back early, Miss Moore," says the nurse. "Mrs. Harold Jenkins has been asking for you."
Just then Milly looks out of her dressing-room, and calls to Clarence, who is passing, "I wish you could spare me a maid to help me dress?" "Where is that Moore girl?" Grace hears as she passes along the corridor, and her face grows red. She also hears the rejoinder: "Oh, she! She'd make you look a fright! She has such horrid taste!"
"Oh, anything is better than nothing!" But Grace cannot hear the latter part as she hurries to her own room, her face burning and her heart pained.
A moment later a gentle tapping calls her, and, calming herself, she opens the door.
The vexed look is gone as she meets the kindly face of old Mrs. Jenkins, who says, in her usual gentle way; "I am so pleased, Miss Moore, that you are back; the children's mother cannot manage without a maid. I want you to help her, and oblige me, as this ball to-night is the greatest of the season, and the girls are so excited that they cannot help anyone."
For a moment Grace's face grows red, and the excited and indignant look is there again. She thinks, "I will not, I cannot, help that woman!" She is about to refuse, but again the sweet voice of the aunt and the kind "God bless you" of Father Ryan seem to waft along on the air, and the thought of resentment vanishes from her soul. She goes with Mrs. Jenkins to the room of her daughter-in-law, and, with deft fingers, she helps to decorate Milly, the spoilt daughter of fashion. Grace does not seem to heed the nasty little pin-pricks this woman of wealth thrusts now and then, and when she puts the finishing touches on the extravagant toilet, and as Milly surveys herself in the long mirrors which panel the walls of the dressing-room, "You have taste, then?" she says, in a condescending and a grudging tone. "So funny to find taste where one least expects it!" and she laughs vulgarly.
"Madam," says Grace, and there is a spark of fire in her eyes, "the taste is not mine. Your gown is not of my choosing. I do not consider it tasteful at all; it is far too elaborate, the bodice is too low, and you wear too many jewels. To my mind it is but an advertisement of wealth, and not good taste. I only place the gems on you in the best way possible." And, with this home-thrust, Grace tosses her head proudly, and walks off, leaving Milly astounded.
"Whoever would tolerate such impertinence, such impudence and pride, from a common menial? How dare she? But I'll pay her back. She is certainly unfit to teach the children. She dare to say my dress was common and vulgar!" and again Milly surveys the reflection of her beautiful person in the mirror, and, with a self-congratulatory smile, she goes down to the drawing-room, where the party are all assembled, ready to depart to the coming festivities. Her eyes flash as she sees Grace, with the two children, waiting to see the party off.
"Oh! how lovely you look, Milly!" echo Rose and Clarence in chorus; and Harold says, "Really, Milly dear, your diamonds seem to shine brighter to-night. How have you got them on? They look perfect."
"My word," exclaims Dr. Ferguson, who is an admirer of beauty, "your maid must be an adept in the art of dressing."
Milly thinks, "Now is my opportunity. Oh, yes, by the way," she says aloud, "I would have forgotten;" and, turning to her mother-in-law, who is standing quietly by, surveying the bevy of pretty women in their varied and gorgeous attire, the shades of the many gowns all blending into one pretty picture of colour, and admiring their handsome, manly escorts, "Ma," she says, "I think you have misplaced Moore; I am sure she would be far more creditable as a lady's maid. I know you find her generally useful; if you want a reference I will give her one. She was my maid to-night," and Milly laughs.
There is a light in Grace's eyes that outshines the light flashing from the jewels on the beautiful woman.
Old Mrs. Jenkins can see that there is some undercurrent of venom in her daughter-in-law's voice, and, turning to Milly, she says with pride, "Whatever duties Miss Moore undertakes she performs with credit."
Just then a servant announces, "The motors are ready," and Harold hastens to kiss Effie and Maud, who then come forward to receive their mother's kiss prior to her departure.
"Now, be careful," commands Milly, as she kisses little Effie, "keep your hands away," and the little arms that are outstretched to clasp her neck fall to the child's side; "and, oh, you naughty girl," she cries, as Maud will not be debarred, and hungrily clasps her dimpled child-arms round the fashionable woman's neck. See!" Milly cries, angrily, as a diamond pendant falls on the velvet carpet.
Grace hastens forward to prevent the child from getting the threatened slap, and, picking up the pendant, replaces it in position in the woman's necklet. "Maud could not help it," she says, excusingly.
"No; but you could," is the angry retort, as she suffers Grace to rearrange the jewel. "Why do you teach her to display her affection in such a manner? I told you before to teach her not to be so demonstrative; it is common, and betrays low training, and I think you are unfit to continue in charge of her."
The insult from the lips of the beautiful woman pierces to the very soul of Grace Moore, and her sensitive, proud heart is crushed as for a moment she stands wavering, as if about to give vent to the scorn that rankles in her soul. Her face is dyed with an angry flush of shame; she is about to say something, but, with a mighty effort, controls her anger. "What am I thinking of?" she whispers in her soul. "I must not forget that God can help me now! Neither must I forget that I am a servant here, and I must never forget that I am a lady." Slowly the red flush of anger fades from the girl's face, leaving her cheeks pale, but, for a second, her face twitches, and her eyes look dim. "Oh, I must not let them see!" she thinks, and, as she turns and bends low over the little child, she dashes away the tears.
"Oh, Miss Moore, don't cry, please!" pleads little Effie, as she tenderly looks up into Grace's face. "Effie will kiss you and make you better,"
Picking up the child, "Hush! hush!" she whispers, and she hurries from the room.
As Milly looks after Grace, her face for the moment seems to lose all its beauty, and Dr. Ferguson, who, but a few minutes before, had been admiring the beautiful woman, now thinks, "Well, after all, fine faces and lovely forms do not count for much, when such beautiful gifts but cloak an ugly soul."
"Clarence," says Dr. Ferguson, as he with Miss Jenkins was strolling on the lawn, a day or two after the ball—"My dear, you really must give up such frivolity. It is all very well, in its own way, to have dogs and animals for pets, but to caress and fondle them as you do is dangerous; microbes are—"
"Indeed!" interrupts Clarence, as she tosses her head, "if you think you are going to dictate to me, it would be better for us to part now, for I am fully determined to have my dogs—yes, and to kiss them, too. There, I don't care how vexed you are. Milly has her dogs, and Harold never says a word. Yes, I know you are in a temper," and Clarence turns her pretty head indignantly and defiantly as she adds, poutingly, "You are always finding fault with my dogs."
"Clarence, dear, it is because I love you and wish to save you from injury that I tell you these things. True, Harold does not find fault with Milly, but I would be very sorry indeed if my little Clarence became a wife or a mother such as Milly is. Why, she is heartless. I'll never forget the night of the ball, and all because her little daughter kissed her fondly; yet, dear, think how that woman caresses those poodle dogs. Oh, my girl, do not be like her."
"I am surprised at you," and a vexed light flashes in Clarence's eyes as she speaks, "finding fault with Milly. Oh, I know why!" and she laughs mockingly. "It is through that horrid Miss Moore, and because Milly just told her what she thought. I do wish Ma would dismiss that one. There are Ma, and Harold, and you. You all take her part. I am sure Milly is one of the most beautiful and most fashionable women in society of the present day. I sincerely trust that I'll only be able to be like her."
Just then a big dog bounds up beside Clarence. "Come, Paul, you darling," she cries, tantalisingly—"come on. Kiss me?" and she bends forward and kisses the dog.
Dr. Ferguson is now vexed, indeed; he would swear if he were a man who used bad language. As it is, he does not hide his anger. "Clarence," he exclaims, and there is an angry ring in his voice, and his firm face is set.
Clarence can see that the doctor is in no mood to be trifled with, but still she does not release her arm from encircling the dog's neck.
"Clarence," again he says. "You did that to defy me," and he places his hand half-tenderly on the girl's head. "Listen to me, my girl," he continues. "If ever you kiss that dog again, I promise you, by all the love I bear you, that I will never kiss you," and once again Clarence, with a defiant, stubborn look marring the beauty of her fair face, bends forward and kisses the dog.
"Very well, then," and Dr. Ferguson's face is white with passion. "You have chosen. Be it so," and he turns and strides across the lawn, leaving her with her arm still encircling the dog's form.
"Oh, he'll come back again," Clarence murmurs, confidently. "If I had given in then he would be master always," and she laughs a low, merry laugh, and looks after her retreating lover, but he shows no sign of relenting as he still angrily strides on, muttering to himself as he goes. "I have been a fool, but, bah!" and then he looks up, as he almost collides with his cousin, Tom Allen, the lover of Rose Jenkins.
Dr. Ferguson would pass on with a curt nod, as he does not wish conversation with anyone just now; but Tom Allen, who notices the white, set face of his kinsman, asks kindly, "I say, Fergie, old man, what's amiss? Why, man, you look terrible," and he turns and walks by the side of Dr. Ferguson, to whom he looks anxiously for an explanation. "What's up, old man?" he asks again, and, seeing Clarence Jenkins on the other side of the lawn, he says, "Is it anything with Clarence, eh! old man?"
Dr. Ferguson pauses in his stride, and turning to his friend, "Yes, Tom, it is," and his face grows harder.
"Why, you don't mean to say that you have quarrelled?"
"Yes, old man, and seriously. I might as well tell you, Tom. I'm off. I'm fairly tired of Clarence's dog worship, and I—"
"Well, you don't mean to say that you have quarrelled over that? You know the women will have their pets. Why, man, if I quarrelled with Rose for that, we would have parted long ago. I must acknowledge I feel vexed at times. Only a little while ago I was looking for Rose, and found her in her sitting-room surrounded with the dogs, and nursing one of them—Milly's sick one. And there was little Effie, that little youngster of Harold's, looking on from the distance, with such a wan, wistful face, and no one taking any notice of her. Poor little mite, she looked very ill. Yes, I felt vexed then. I came out here to cool my anger. So, look here, old man, come and we'll take a bike ride, and work this temper off."
"No," Dr. Ferguson ejaculates. "No, my friend," and the "No" sounds firm as he grips Tom's hand. "I know you mean well, but this is—"
"For heaven's sake," breaks in Tom, "don't make yourself ridiculous. Quarrelling now! Why, you would be the laughing-stock of the crowd were they to learn the cause of the quarrel; and there is young Captain Frank just arrived with his English visitor. Don't let his reception be met with a severance of your engagement. You know, old man, Clarence will do what you wish, she loves you so dearly."
"She defied me." Dr. Ferguson's face looks glum as he remembers; but Tom, the peacemaker, persists: "Oh, Fergie, old boy, that is the way with women; it is hard for us to understand them. They always do the opposite. Now, I believe, if you said that Clarence had to keep the dogs, she would give them all up. It is the perversity of the sex. I believe Eve would have left the apple alone if she had not been forbidden it"
Dr. Ferguson's face softens. He loves Clarence, and Tom's encouraging words help to lighten the determined look on the doctor's countenance, and his voice is even soft as he grips his friend's hand. "Thanks, Tom, old man," he says, and passes on towards the house.
"Ah," murmurs Tom Allen, as he watches his friend, the doctor, pass out of view. "Clarence had better be careful, or she will lose her doctor. He felt that badly," and Tom goes down among the trees to saunter alone.
As Grace sees Dr. Ferguson approaching the house she runs to meet him. "Oh, doctor, I have been looking for you everywhere. Come quickly," she exclaims, pantingly. "Little Effie is ill. Come to the nursery."
"Wait, wait," and the doctor, as he speaks, catches her arm as if to detain the excited girl. "Calm yourself, Miss Moore," he says, "calm yourself. Kindly explain."
"I cannot wait. Oh, no, doctor, come now," and the alarmed Grace grips the doctor's arm as if to hasten him along. "For God's sake," she cries, "come now. Little Effie is choking."
Clarence Jenkins, from her leafy shelter on the opposite side of the lawn, watches with a pair of jealous eyes as Grace and the doctor hurry to the house. "So," she mutters, "that is why he was so quick to take offence, and make my pet dogs the pretence for a quarrel. Ha! ha!" she laughs, a low, mocking, hollow laugh—"I wonder will he tell her? I hate her, that horrid being," and, as she speaks, she clenches her delicate fingers, and the shining jewels in her engagement ring seem to reflect the light of the fire flashing from her angry eyes. "How dare he leave me and join that girl? I knew she was an intriguer. She took his arm familiarly. Oh, dear, and she my mother's servant! I will go to the house and tell Ma, and if she keeps her there afterwards, well, then—"
Rising from her seat, she hurries to the house, and, as she passes to her room, she wonders what is the cause of so much commotion and excitement.
"Oh, dear," Rose gasps, as she meets Clarence, "I wish Ma and Milly were home. There is Effie suddenly ill. I don't know what to do. Dr. Ferguson is here."
"Where is Effie?" asks Clarence, in a careless tone.
"She is in the nursery with Miss Moore, and, oh, I think the child is dying."
"Oh, nonsense! Don't get so excited, and make such a fuss about nothing. I am sure Miss Moore is creating this alarm unnecessarily."
"Oh, thank goodness!" exclaims Rose, as she hears the sound of the motor-car as it puffs up to the hall door. "Thank goodness, you are at home," she says, as she meets her mother in the hall. "Oh, Mother, I am almost distracted. Effie is ill. I have telephoned everywhere I thought to find you."
"Effie ill! What can have happened to her?" and Mrs. Jenkins is up the stairs in an instant, and even taking off her bonnet as she hurries into the nursery.
The old lady bends her kind face over the little cot, where Effie is struggling and tossing for breath; and, as she meets the pathetic, appealing look on the child's anxious face, she turns and looks questioningly into the doctor's eyes. "It is that ? she says, "I know it is, doctor," and she hopes that he will contradict her.
But he does not. For a second his face tells nothing. Again she looks at the child, and once more appeals to the doctor. "Doctor," she says, "tell me. Is it so?" The doctor inclines his head, and, as he continues to treat the little patient, Mrs. Jenkins knows.
Still Effie tosses in her agony, and clings to Grace, and, between the spasms, she gasps, "Mamma!"
Mrs. Jenkins moves gently from the room, and, meeting Harold in the corridor, "Come, my son," she says. "Effie calls for her mother, and her mother is not here. You come," and, as the old lady passes into the room, "I fear," she says, "Effie will not call long."
"What is the matter?" asks Harold, anxiously, he had been out, and only just learned of the child's illness.
"Come, my boy. See!" and Harold follows his mother into the nursery.
As he sees the child gasping and struggling, a look of horror blanches his face. He does not see the glad, appealing look in the pained eyes of his little Effie. He is astonished at finding her thus, and too shocked to see anything but the struggling and gasping of his little daughter.
Turning, he grips the doctor tightly by the arm. "What is it?" he asks, nervously. "Tell me quickly."
"Diphtheria," Dr. Ferguson answers, and there is in his voice a sound of pity.
"Oh, it cannot be diphtheria. You mistake. How could she contract it? There is no one—"
"Is there no hope? Can you do nothing to ease that agony? Oh, doctor, do something."
Mrs. Jenkins wrings her hands in her agony as she looks at Effie's little white face, now grown almost purple.
Dr. Ferguson thinks for a moment, then whispers something to Mrs. Jenkins, and she hurries from the room.
"I have sent for Dr. O'Meara, the cleverest throat specialist we have," Dr. Ferguson explains. "He will be here soon. Ah, I hear his motor. He is here, thank God."
As Dr. O'Meara stands by the cot, Grace Moore's face grows white, and then a deep scarlet, for she recognises in him the playmate of her childhood—a neighbour from "Looranna."
The entrance of Dr. O'Meara into the sickroom has carried Grace's thoughts once more away to the vast fields, and to the winding banks where the River Darling flows away back at her old home. " 'Looranna,' dear old 'Looranna!' " she whispers in her soul; and, in fancy, once more she, with Kathleen O'Meara, the doctor's sister, scampers and plays over the flower-decked fields. In her fancy's dream this man, the doctor, is again their guide, and leads them in their canter over plains and through woods. It was he who first taught Grace and Kathleen how to master the fiery steed—in fact, he was Grace's hero of her childhood days.
When Dr. Frank O'Meara rises from his examination of little Effie, and looks at the nurse, an astonished light for a moment beams in his eyes as he gazes in glad surprise on the kind, womanly face of Grace Moore, and the hands of the two friends meet in the firm clasp of true friendship. (There are many clasps of hands, but theirs is the warm clasp of true and lasting friendship.) The doctor, too, dreams back, and, with the electricity of thought, he is once more a college boy, hastening home for the Christmas vacation, and always to be welcomed by the bright smile and happy laughter of his little friend and neighbour, Grace Moore. As his thoughts fly on, a black cloud darkens his face whilst he thinks, for he can remember, also, one day when he hurried home—this time a man full of hopes, for he had achieved, and won, the highest honours his heart had longed for; but not all—he had not won all his heart had longed for—for this time he had come, with hope in his soul, to ask Grace to be his wife only to find that she was betrothed to Jack Mannering. The cloud still deepens as he turns away.
In a flash the doctor forgets the past, as, with professional concern, he again looks at his little patient, and then at Dr. Ferguson, and shakes his head. "Too late, old man! Too late."
"What?" gasps Harold, in a husky whisper. "My God, man, surely you do not also say too late? She cannot, she must not, die! For God's sake, do not say that?"
"I want my Mamma!" comes a weak, choked, child voice from the bed.
Mrs. Jenkins has been telephoning everywhere, hoping to find Milly, the child's mother, but without success, and her kind face twitches as she once more enters the room and hears the verdict of the great specialist, and hears, too, the little child's craving call. With a broken-hearted sigh she beckons to her son, and again goes out of the room.
He follows her into the corridor.
"Harold, my boy," she whispers, soothingly, "my heart is sorry for you," and the manly head of Harold Jenkins bows to receive his mother's sympathetic kiss and her motherly caress.
"Wherever can Milly be?" asks the mother, as her son roughly dashes away his tears. "We must find her; little Effie calls for her."
"Mother, you know, I have sent Tom Allen with the motor to Eagleson's; he should be back soon. Mrs. Eagleson had some meeting. I believe she is in some way connected with a neglected children's home. I think Milly went to the meeting with her."
"To a meeting for neglected children," repeats Mrs. Jenkins, and there is a world of scorn in her voice. "Milly interested in neglected children! Oh, the inconsistency of it! Surely, Harold, you must mean neglected dogs. But, hark, is not that the sound of our car returning?"
"Yes, mother," and Harold, in his anxiety, hurries along the corridor, followed by his mother.
"No," he mutters despondingly, as he gazes at the newly-arrived motor, which stands throbbing outside the hall door. "It is Mason's. What can be the matter? Surely not," and Harold, trembling, opens a note which the chauffeur hands him. "What can it be?" he wonders, as, with shaking hands, he holds it to the light.
It is just a few lines scrawled in Milly's careless style:
"Dear Harold,—I am staying for the night. Come, like a dear, and bring me a dinner-frock. Miss Moore will select one, and, like a dear, do not forgot to bring my darling little Fido. I want to show him to Lady Emmerson; she is staying here. Tell Rose to wrap him cosily; I am anxious about the dear little pet. Now, hurry up, like a dear boy.—Yours lovingly, Milly."
With an oath Harold crushes the note and throws it from him; then, with a cloud of sorrow in his heart, he turns and hurries back to the sick child.
As Mrs. Jenkins looks after her son she sighs heavily. "And this," she murmurs, "is what they call a happy marriage! This is the society of the day. A wife and a mother gallivanting from house to house with that Mrs. Mason! A woman, certainly a wealthy society lady, but still a woman, whom Harold's wife should not associate with; and yet she is with her, leaving her child sick and uncared for by a mother's hand. Oh, God, my soul is pained—so pained! But I am forgetting. There is the chauffeur in the car waiting for the message," and Mrs. Jenkins hurriedly scrawls a few lines to Milly, and, as she hands the note to the man, "Go," she says—"go for your life and bring Mrs. Harold Jenkins back. Her little one is dying."
For a minute, with hope and despair battling in her soul, she watches after the car, then turns and follows her son to the couch of little Effie.
"Poor little pet!" she murmurs as she helplessly looks at the white-faced little child. Then, "Oh, doctor!" she whispers, and she catches the arm of the specialist, "save her for us. Do ease the little darling."
The spasms are becoming more frequent. "Oh, that is a hard one," says the doctor, as Effie struggles and fights for breath. The little face, in its pain, turns appealingly to Grace, who, all the time, is standing by the cot holding the child's hand.
"Up! Up!" gasps Effie, and she holds out her baby arms.
Grace looks at the doctors, and, as they both nod assent, she tenderly lifts the child-form in her kindly arms. As she does so, Dr. O'Meara whispers, warningly, "Be careful, Grace. Remember the danger."
Mrs. Jenkins hears him. "They are friends," she concludes.
Harold looks at Grace. He cannot thank her for her kindness to his little one, but he presses her hand, and she knows by the pressure of his manly hand that she has won a friend, and the gratitude of his soul.
A cloud of fear darkens Harold's eyes, and an agonising pain pierces his heart as he looks on his little child, struggling and tossing with pain, and a deep agony racks his soul when he hears the spasmodic little cry of Effie as she softly whispers, "Mamma—Mamma! I want my Mamma! Oh, Miss Moore—do bring my beautiful Mamma? Effie wants—to kiss Mamma—kiss Mamma—good-night and Papa, too. Grandma, will you please bring—Mamma? Effie—wants—to kiss— Mamma—good-night."
The child's voice grows weaker, and again the spasms—another spasm—and the two doctors look helplessly on. They know they can do nothing. Human aid availeth not.
"Another like that," Dr. O'Meara whispers, "and, then—"
When the spasm passes, "Mamma," is the whispered sound from the child, and, with a long, yearning look towards the door, the little one softly sighs: "Oh, God, please find—and—and give—me my—Mamma." There is another little struggle, another yearning look, and then—all is quiet.
Two great tears fall from the pitying eyes of Grace Moore, and trickle over the little white face of Effie, who will never more yearn for a kindly look or a loving caress from her "beautiful mother."
Harold kneels beside the little form, and, as Mrs. Jenkins kneels by her son's side, her frame shakes with sobs, and softly a whispered prayer from Grace accompanies the fair, pure soul of little Effie on its way to the Eternal Rest.
The two doctors, so accustomed to scenes of death, stand by in reverential awe. Then they, too, kneel. In the presence of death in any form a strange, weird, awe-inspiring feeling pervades us as we gaze on the empty casket, and we know that a soul is, alone, crossing the Bridge, the Great Dividing Bridge, which leads to Eternity.
"I wonder will Harold follow! He looked so glum. Don't you think he did?" Milly said to her friend, Mrs. Eagleson, as, after the meeting for the "Care of Neglected Children," they whirl along the country roads on their way to Mason's.
"Well, yes, he was rather short in his manner; and, really, Milly, I thought you were going to give in and go back with him when he raised objections to this trip, and, indeed, you did look a little undecided and wavering. You know, Milly, dear, it is our duty to attend those meetings, else what would the neglected children do?"
"I give in!" repeats Milly. "You mistake me. Indeed, Harold knows better than even to expect me to do such a thing; but the truth is, I felt anxious. You know, I left little Fido so sick, and I do so hope to take all the first prizes this season with the dear little beauty. Rose promised to nurse him till my return; that is why I stood in hesitation for the moment; but, then, I remembered that Rose is such a devoted nurse, and I knew she would mind my pet."
"Where did Harold say he would join us?"
"He should have been at your house, but he will join us at Mason's. You know, I sent Mason's car along, and gave the chauffeur a note asking Harold to meet me there; but, here we are!" And all thoughts of Harold vanish as Milly and her friend are introduced to the guests.
"Whatever can have kept him?" thinks Milly, as, a few minutes later, she looks through the window of Mrs. Mason's drawing-room. "Ah, I see a motor coming!" And she cranes her neck and tries to penetrate into the distance. "Come, dear!" she says, "can you tell me whose car this is?"
"Oh, Milly," says her friend impatiently, "bother the car! Harold will turn up in good time. Just let us enjoy ourselves."
"I think there is only one in that car, but it is too far away to see it plainly." And both women turn away from the window and join in the general merriment of the other guests who have just arrived.
If Milly is in any way disappointed at Harold's non-appearance, her manner does not betray it, for her laughter is lightest, and her face beaming and happy, as she gaily jests with her companions; and she even forgets her little dog Fido and his pains.
"How lovely it is to have you here," Mrs. Mason says, as she enters the drawing-room, "and just fancy meeting you both at the last minute! I do so love a scramble party. I suppose Grandmother Jenkins will be horrified when she learns that you so suddenly decided to join my Bohemian set. Really, Milly, if we were to study what people say, we would never have a bit of amusement."
"You are quite right. But, see, is that your car returning?" asks Milly anxiously, as she again looks through the window.
"Yes," replies Mrs. Mason, "and the chauffeur is alone."
"Harold was too vexed," thinks Milly; "he did not come." And she follows her hostess out of the room, to learn what message the chauffeur brings.
The man is anxiously searching his pockets and looking about the car for something. "I have lost the note," he mutters.
"Have you any message?" asks Milly, in the proud, haughty, domineering tone she always assumes when addressing a menial; and, as the man hesitates, "Quick, man! Do you not hear me? Did you deliver my note?"
"Yes, madam, I gave Mr. Harold Jenkins your note, and he seemed very troubled and excited."
"Did he give you an answer?" comes the quick question.
"No, madam, but his mother did," answers the chauffeur. "She said, 'Go. Bring Mrs. Harold Jenkins at once—her little one is dying."
Milly's face blanches; indeed, her face must be ghastly, but the artificial colouring hides its pallor.
"Oh, mercy! What could she mean? Surely Rose has not—. Oh. yes; Fido was sick. I must go. Oh, Kitty, do come with me; if Fido dies I will lose hundreds of pounds! Oh, do come quickly!" And, hastily getting their wraps, Kitty and Milly take their places in the car, and are soon speeding on their journey to "Garoopna."
The beauties of the surrounding scenery, as they swish along by hill and glade, past mansions of the wealthy and the lowly homes of the artisan, do not appeal to the two women in their eagerness to reach their destination.
"Home at last!" ejaculates Milly, as she alights from the car; and, as the servants admit her, she does not pause to ask any questions; she does not notice the silence in the household, nor the pitying looks on the faces of the maids as she passes them, but she hurries to Rose's room. "Oh, Rose!" she exclaims, as she rushes into the room. "Why do you cry? What is the matter? Where is Fido? How is he?"
"Oh, bother Fido! Do not ask me. He is gone; Harold destroyed him."
"What?" almost yells Milly, "my Fido gone! Destroyed, did you say? Who dare?" And she almost collapses in the intensity of her passion.
"Oh, Milly, hush! Little Effie; dear little Effie—" and again Rose bursts into tears.
"Did I hear Milly's voice?" asks kind old Mrs. Jenkins, as she softly enters the room, and her tear-stained face looks pale and wan—she has just come from the couch of the dear little one.
"What is this I hear?" Milly cries. "My Fido destroyed? How dare Harold? How dare Dr. Ferguson? They are both cowards!" Then, turning, she sees Dr. Ferguson standing in the doorway. "How dare you, Dr. Ferguson? How dare you be so cowardly as to destroy my Fido?" As she looks, her eyes are almost blinded with vexation. Then she sees Harold standing behind the doctor, and the look on his face almost frightens her. The doctor stands aside, and Harold passes into the room.
"Hush, Milly, hush!" And Harold Jenkins gently caresses his wife as he speaks. "I know, Milly dear, you are much pained; but still, my dear wife, you must not be unjust."
Milly impatiently tosses her husband's encircling arms away.
"I tell you, Harold," she says and there is an emphatic note in her voice—"I will not hush! I think it was cowardly—cowardly in the extreme—of Dr. Ferguson to destroy my Fido!"
"Come, Milly, come!" the old lady says, softly. "Come; I will show you!" And, turning to her son, "Harold, my boy, come with your wife—she does not know. Why weep over dogs? You have much more to weep over. Come and see!"
Milly, having spent her passion, allows herself to be led by the old lady, and, followed by Harold, they pass along the corridor.
She then, for the first time, notices the mysterious strangeness in the manner of the old lady and Harold; and some intuition in her soul whispers all is not well with Effie. She is frightened. "Harold!" she says, and, stopping, she tightly grips her husband's arm. "What is it? What is it? Tell me?" And her soul re-echoes the reply, "Death! death! death!"
She enters the room in silence, and walks to the cot. As she gazes down on the white face of little Effie, a great sob echoes through the room—a melancholy, painful, pathetic sob, wrung from a mother's aching heart.
The spark of mother-love which has been lying dormant for so long in this woman's soul—that spark which has been almost quenched with the cold, callous flood of gaiety and fashion—now struggles to live, and, at the sight of the little dead face, it takes strength and bursts forth into flame, and the agony of the mother's heart is deep and hard as she stoops and kisses the pale, white face.
As Mrs. Jenkins looks pityingly on, "Oh, would," she murmurs, sorrowfully—"would that Milly had so kissed her little Effie in life. How that child yearned and craved for her mother's kiss!"
"Please, Clarence, do throw away that cigarette and answer me; you have been puffing, puffing all the time. I have finished mine long ago—see!" And the speaker, Rose Jenkins, flips away the tiny end of the exhausted cigarette.
Clarence, who is languidly reclining in a hammock, which is hung in a shady nook in a corner of the vast grounds which surround her father's mansion home, does not answer, but watches dreamily the blue smoke as it curls upwards amongst the branches of the old gum tree in which the hammock is hung.
Rose's hammock is near, but she does not enjoy the quiet; she wants to talk. "Oh, bother you, Clarence!" she says; "why do you not say something? I cannot read—books do not interest me," and she tosses her book on to the tiny table which stands close by. Clarence does not speak, and Rose continues. "Sometimes," she says, "I often wish that we were poor; then we should have to do something, and the time would not seem so long." But still Rose cannot rouse her sister to interest, and again she lapses into silence; and, as she gazes disconsolately across the lawn, "Oh!" she cries, "thank goodness! Here comes someone, even if it is only Tom Allen, with his speeches and lectures. Now, be good, Peter!" she says, as she pats her dog's head. "Lie still!" she adds, as the dog makes as if to jump out of the hammock, "and here's a biscuit." The dog takes the proffered biscuit, and lies back obediently.
Turning, Rose smiles a smile of welcome as her lover reaches her side.
"Oh, Tom, I'm so pleased you came! I am just tired of Clarence. She will not speak, and I am dying for a conversation. And, really, I was just wishing you would come."
"And I am glad I came!" And a glow of happiness brightens Tom's face at the girl's warm welcome. He does not notice the shallowness in her tone—indeed, he loves Rose too fondly to think that she could be shallow in any way.
Clarence does not throw away her cigarette to speak her welcome, but her little, jewelled hand is lazily held out in a careless greeting, as she lightly takes his hand.
"Oh, fie! Clarence," says Tom; "throw away that nasty cigarette. Then, as he catches sight of the vexed look on her face, "Excuse me, Clarence," he adds, "but those pretty lips were never created to encircle the narcotic weed. To my mind, smoking cigarettes is a desecration to a woman's lips."
"Oh, you come preaching just like Ma!" replies Clarence; "but it is all the same to me. Every lady who is anybody takes a cigarette nowadays. Why, you men would keep all the good things for yourselves."
"I am sorry you came now," interjects Rose, as she pouts peevishly. "I wanted someone to talk to, and not to hear lectures; so you had better be off, Tom, if that's what you came to tell us."
A cloud of anger darkens Tom Allen's manly countenance, and over the face of Clarence, who is looking on, there is a merry look of satisfaction, and the smoke rises in thicker clouds; then the merry, low, rippling laugh gurgles forth as she holds her lighted cigarette between her lovely, tapered, and gem-bedecked fingers, and her laugh rises and rings in echoes along through the trees. Even the birds seem to take up the notes as they warble from their leafy perches. The sun is too hot for the feathered songsters to be flying, so they sing from the boughs, and their coloured coats resemble so many various-hued flowers as they peep out from amongst the leaves.
"Oh, Tom!" Clarence exclaims, after her laughter ceases. "I could not help laughing, you reminded me so of Dr. Ferguson," and again she laughs.
"Hullo! what is the cause of all this merriment?" asks Captain Frank Jenkins, as he emerges from amongst the foliage.
Captain Frank Jenkins is Mrs. Jenkins' second eldest son; he is an officer in the Royal Navy, and has been on the Mediterranean station for some years, and is now on his extended furlough, prior to taking up his duties on the Australian station. He is a handsome specimen of manhood—an Australian, a capable officer, and one who has proved himself well able and fit to guard the waters which surround England, the mother land, the great seat of empire, wealth, and commerce.
"Did you see Jack Mannering about?" he asks. "I have been racing round the grounds in search of you all."
At the mention of Jack Mannering's name Clarence's eyes brighten. Jack Mannering has been a guest of Mrs. Jenkins for the past three months. He arrived with Captain Frank just a few days after little Effie was laid to rest, and so escaped the shadow of the melancholy cloak which had so lately hung over the house.
Harold and Milly had gone away in their yacht, and Grace Moore had taken Maud away to the country for change of air, and away from the danger of infection that might linger. Dr. O'Meara had so advised.
"I saw Jack Mannering a few moments ago," Tom Allen answers! "See, there he is!"
"Come here, you laggard!" cries Frank, as he catches sight of his friend coming over the lawn. "Come here and explain yourself. Where have you been hiding?"
The languid look vanishes like a flash from Clarence Jenkins' luring eyes. She is alert in a minute, and no one can doubt the glad light of welcome which takes the place of the languid look when she meets the admiring gaze of Jack Mannering as he hastens to the side of her hammock.
"Really, old man"—and there is a world of apology in Jack Mannering's voice as he speaks—"I have been looking for you everywhere. Your grounds are so charming, and the shade of the little nooks so enticing, that I could not resist the temptation of a quiet puff, and—would you believe it?—I fell off to sleep, and was awakened by the sound of silvery laughter. I followed the sound, and so found my way."
They all laugh at the idea of Frank's English friend being lost in the acres which comprise the surrounding grounds.
"Oh," Rose remarks, "I quite forgot. I promised to write a letter for Ma." And she hurriedly steps from her hammock. "I must go now."
Rose does not like Jack Mannering. His tall, handsome figure and fine face have no attraction for her, although he looks very handsome this morning, attired in a white flannel yachting suit, and his sailor hat, resting on his fair, curly head, suits him to perfection. But still, Rose does not like him; perhaps it is a strange intuition which she does not understand.
"Yes, Tom," she says, as he opens her sunshade, "come with me, and we will go round and see the new fish pond,"
The cloud passes from Tom's face as he feels the delicate touch of Rose's hand on his arm, and he forgets the little wordy war they so recently had; and, as Captain Frank watches the retreating figures of Rose and Tom Allen, he, too, rises and saunters away.
As Clarence watches Jack Mannering from under her half-closed eyelids, she mentally compares him with Dr. Ferguson—to the latter's disparagement. "Jack has nice manners," is her comment; "he is always so polished and gentlemanly; he has not that rude manner of fault-finding. Oh, yes, I like him best; but he is poor," is her concluding thought. And Jack Mannering, as he looks admiringly at Clarence, thinks, "What a beautiful woman she is!" And he wonders if he has made any progress towards the winning of her heart; but, as he looks at her finger, he thinks for a minute, "Clarence, you still wear Ferguson's ring. Why is that?" And, as he speaks, he sits beside her in the hammock, and gently caresses the soft curls which play around her temples.
"Oh, Clarence," he pleads, "why will you drive me mad? You tell me that you love me, and yet that ring is always there; it tantalises me. If you loved me you would not—"
The curl-bedecked head is resting on his shoulder, and the luring eyes look into his. "You know very well I love you, Jack, better than anyone," she whispers.
"Then why wear that ring?" he asks.
Clarence, in her heart, cannot explain. She does not really know whom she likes the better—Jack Mannering or Dr. Ferguson. Hers is a society heart—she is a fashionable society woman, with a fashionable, vagrant heart.
"But, Clarence," Jack again asks, "tell me why you wear that ring?"
Clarence is spared the necessity of explaining, for, a few yards in front of the hammock, Mrs. Jenkins is hurrying towards them.
There is an angry frown on the old lady's countenance as she sees her daughter in the embrace of this young English guest, and Jack Mannering can see the look, and there is no mistaking the tone in her voice as she says: "Clarence, I want you to meet Maud and her governess; they are coming by the train. Tom Allen and Rose and Frank have gone away to meet the yacht, and as Maud's train comes in earlier, it will be necessary for you to go at once."
Clarence's face grows dark at the mention of the governess, and something like a sigh escapes her as she inwardly comments, "That horrid child and that horrid Grace Moore back again! Oh, dear, but I suppose I'll have to go!" Then she says agreeably, "Very well, Ma!" And, turning to Jack Mannering, "You will have to drive the small motor. We must go away to meet Mamma's pet granddaughter and Mamma's pet servant."
And, as Mrs. Jenkins watches the two hurrying off, "Scandalous!" she murmurs. "Such conduct! And it is of no use my speaking. Clarence is engaged to one man, and is actually wearing his ring, and yet carrying on a violent flirtation with another. She seems to have no sense of the responsibility, the duty she owes to Dr. Ferguson. No honourable girl would behave so. When I speak to her, she only says, 'Ma, it is fashionable to flirt!' Heigh-ho!" the old lady sighs; "but I suppose this is the way with the new woman—the fashionable society lady and I must be old-fashioned. Ah, there they go! They did not take long," she murmurs, as the car comes down the drive.
"Ma looked so vexed, didn't she, Jack? But she will be pleased now, when she knows we have gone to meet her favoured ones. But mind, Jack! You almost knocked my poor doggie out of the car!" And Clarence places her arm protectingly round the huge mastiff's neck as she replaces him on the seat between them.
Jack looks glum at the position the dog occupies, but says nothing.
As they turn into the road, Dr. Ferguson sweeps past in his car.
"Oh, there is Dr. Ferguson!" she ejaculates in surprise. "He is back again; he has been away such a long time."
"My word," interjects Jack, "and such a black look he has on! I believe he is jealous."
"Oh, yes, he always was jealous of Paul—wasn't he, doggie?" And Clarence fondles the dog as they speed along.
"See, the train is in!" she exclaims, as she and Jack Mannering hurry along the platform just as the train pulls up and the doors swing open.
"Be careful, Maud!" calls Clarence, as the child almost leaps from the carriage with joy. "Oh, you naughty girl! You almost pulled my hat off. Now, then, that will do!" as she releases herself from the child's warm clasp.
Grace Moore hurriedly collects her parcels, and is out on the platform in a minute. She does not expect a warm greeting or a welcome home, consequently she bows politely to Clarence's curt nod.
"Jack, this is Maud, Harold's little daughter," Clarence explains. And, as Jack Mannering turns from greeting the child, Grace lifts her veil—and he steps back, and his face grows white. For a second he cannot speak; he loses all control of himself; he feels—he knows—he is a coward as he meets the accusing, cold, scornful look in the beautiful, kind eyes of the woman he once wooed for a wife for the sake of her gold. He quails beneath the look of pitying scorn—it is so unlike the look he was once wont to meet in the kind, trusting eyes of the beautiful heiress of "Looranna."
"Maud, dear, you must sit here," Clarence says, as she pulls down and arranges the front seat in the small motor. As she does so, she thinks: "Ah, so Jack was bewitched with her beauty. I never saw him look so before; he has scarcely spoken to me since he saw her. I must be careful. I must not let her come with us. I would rather brave Ma's displeasure a thousand times than have her with us now."
So, turning to Grace, who was handing to Maud some small parcels of toys, "Miss Moore," she says, "the groom will very shortly come along with the cart for the luggage, and you can find room in it." And, as a kind of excuse, she adds: "You see, we have not accommodation in this small motor."
Maud can see the hurt look, the pained twitching on the face of her governess, and, before Grace can say anything, the child exclaims, "But, Auntie, if you put Paul down off the seat, Miss Moore could sit there, and Paul could lie near my feet. Couldn't you, doggie?"
"How dare you, child?" and the fierce, vexed look on her Aunt's face compels Maud to silence.
Paul, the mastiff, from his comfortable seat, looks on as if none could dethrone him, and, when Clarence fondly caresses him, there is, in the dog's mind, a sense of security. He now knows that he will not have to vacate his seat, even though Grace Moore should have to walk.
Jack Mannering looks straight in front. He has not the courage to venture any remark.
"Indeed! indeed! I would much prefer walking," interposes Grace, hurriedly, and, from the emphasis in her tone, Maud knows she means it, and her face brightens. The tear-drops on the child's cheek dry, Grace waves a merry "Ta-ta," the car speeds down the road, and is soon out of sight.
"I will not wait for the cart. Clarence meant to insult me; but, if she only knew it, she conferred on me a great favour by not taking me in that car. At the same time, oh, it did hurt me, and I hated that Jack Mannering should have witnessed my humiliation," and Grace walks along the road thinking—thinking.
At times she pauses and gazes, enrapt with the surrounding scenery. Away back she can see the ranges rising in their magnificent beauty and weird grandeur, as they look down from their lofty heights to the distant sea.
The very sight of the great trees on the distant hills takes the thoughts of the lonely girl back to her old home, "Looranna," and, in fancy, she can hear the magpies piping, the songbirds singing, and, high up, the screech of the cockatoo as he perches monarch-like on the topmost branches of the highest tree. She even thinks she can hear the sweet music of the waters of the River Darling as they flow past on their winding course through the flower-decked banks at the old homestead, and, in the gathering twilight, she fancies that she can see the same winding river, throwing back its gleams through the gold of the wattles overhanging its banks, and kissing its bosom with showers of falling petals. She can hear the whispering waters as they skirt the grassland, and the cattle lowing softly, lazily chewing their cud, as they rest under the fringing willows and gnarled gums, and again the dip, dip, dipping of the paddle of the canoe, as some of her father's servants cross the river to look after the cattle on the other side.
A touring cyclist whizzes past, and Grace awakes to the present. "I will rest here," she says, half aloud, and she sighs. "I must have come a long way, and, whilst thinking, I have forgotten the distance; but oh! they were such beautiful thoughts—thoughts of dear old home," and she leans to rest on the hand-rail of the bridge which crosses the creek.
As she looks into its waters her heart grows sad. The happy dream passes away.
"Oh, it is horrible!" she murmurs. "My heart rebels at having to go back to that house to serve Clarence Jenkins, and to listen to her continual and studied slights; and, when I think of that Jack Mannering, it so annoys me to remember that I was so foolish as to imagine that I cared for him. If I were to leave now, and go to Auntie, she would think that I cared for him still. No, I must stay. Truly, my heart is sad to-day, and the world seems very dark. I wonder where dear old Father Ryan is? If I could see him, he would tell me what to do. Ah, but could I meet that dear, good priest, and tell him that I have always done what he advised? No, I could not, because he told me, whenever in a dark hour like this, I was to pray, and I have forgotten; and here have I been rebelling against my fate, instead of praying." Then, for a moment, in the girl's soul, there is a whispered prayer. It wafts on high. She breathes her trouble to her God, and, suddenly, over her face there creeps a glorious, happy light—a look beautiful to see. It is not of the earth. It is the heavenly light reflected from the lamp of the angels. All the despairing, sorrowful cloud has now vanished, and the beautiful eyes are brightened with the celestial, lifegiving beams of hope.
"Just a moment ago," she murmurs, "all was dark, cloudy, and dim; there were no stars in my sky then. Now the sun is bright and the world is fair. Thank God! I can go now," and, with a brave heart and a buoyant step, Grace once more sets out on her way. She had not gone far when the sounding horn of an approaching motor warns her. She hurriedly steps aside, and is much surprised to see the car pull up, and the occupant, Dr. Ferguson, alight.
"Indeed, is it you, Miss Moore? I really did not recognise you when I sounded the horn. I thought you had gone on with Clarence and the others."
Dr. Ferguson had become very well acquainted with Grace during his professional visits to Maud and Effie, and he had a great respect for her.
"How comes it," he asks, "that I find you walking?"
Grace does not wish to explain, so she simply says, "I can assure you I preferred walking, instead of waiting for the luggage cart. There was not room for me in the motor."
The doctor's face darkens. "No," and his tone is angry. "There was not room for you, but Clarence could find room beside her for her great mastiff dog, and that brainless, insufferable puppy, Mannering."
Grace starts in surprise at the doctor's sudden outburst of anger.
"Oh, pardon me, Miss Moore," he hastens to say "For the minute I forgot," and, with a strong man's command, he masters his feelings, and the frown passes from his face as he says, "Yes, you may enjoy the walking, but this is too far. Allow me to offer you a seat. I am going your way."
Grace does not hesitate. She is glad, for she is very tired, and she knows that Dr. Ferguson does not offer her a seat in his car with that vulgar familiarity which some men consider they can show to the servants in their friends' houses. She knows that he treats her with that kind, manly courtesy which gentlemen always show to women whom they esteem, irrespective of what position they may hold.
As she takes her seat beside the doctor, "How is little Maud?" he concernedly asks. "Is she growing stronger? and how have you both enjoyed your visit to the country?"
"Oh, Dr. Ferguson, thank you, Maud is much benefited, but is not yet her old self. We enjoyed ourselves splendidly at 'The Hills.' "
"I have heard a great deal about 'The Hills.' What are they like?"
"Oh, well, doctor, to tell you the truth, my descriptive powers are too poor to do them justice. You should just see them for yourself. I shall never forget the beauties of the scene—the view is simply superb. Situated as it is, on the crest of the mountain spur, the track, leading to the house at which we were staying, follows the ridge, and, along its whole length, the valley of the Yarra can be overlooked, and presents one of the most beautiful panoramas I have ever seen."
"Is the hill broad on the top?" queries the doctor, interestedly.
"Ah," Grace thinks, "he has forgotten his annoyance about Clarence now, and I am glad," and then to the doctor she replies, "Oh, no, in the front of the house the orange groves sweep gently down the hillside, and, once the track is crossed, the mountain slopes abruptly down, down, mile after mile, until the valley is reached. In the morning, we looked down on a great, rolling sea of mist, which filled the valley, as far as the vision could penetrate, and, in the far distance, is seen the opposite chain of mountain peaks, towering from the verge of the ocean of snowy billows. The illusion was perfect, and filled our hearts with a sense of awe indescribable as we watched the rising and falling of the shivering waves of mist, slowly, and one would think reluctantly, giving way to the sheen of the morning sun as the sky monarch rose higher and higher, and shot his rays far down the mountain side, until here and there appeared tiny islands in the glen below; then the tree tops, and, last of all, the silvery river, meandering through the verdant valley lands, dotted everywhere with farms and vineyards, the pretty residences resting so peacefully in their exquisite frameworks of greenery. Oh, the picture, Dr. Ferguson, was exquisite," and over Grace's face there is a beautiful glow of health and enthusiasm, as she tries to tell her companion of the glories of the changing panorama of the mist waves.
The doctor sees the glowing eyes and watches the enthusiastic countenance of Grace, and he thinks, "This girl is indeed a fine woman; she has the true artistic soul, and yet—she is only a servant. Your picture," he says, "is indeed a graphic one. You slander yourself to say that you cannot describe. It must indeed have been a pleasant resting-place, away from the turmoil and even the sight of the city."
"Indeed, doctor, we could, on a fine day, see the city from the house; for the eye wanders over miles and miles of undulating bush country, and on a clear day can be seen the smoke from the brickfields of Brunswick and Northcote, and, occasionally, even the tall chimney-stacks may be discerned, telling of the busy hive of human toilers who of the restful bush know little, and of its soothing calmness and peace have never tasted."
"Really, Rose, I think it is a shame for Ma to be keeping that Miss Moore; Jack looked astonished when she got out of the train. I know he was bewitched by her beauty, for she is beautiful; and for a minute he could not speak. Then, after we got into the car and were on our way, I looked at him sideways, and his face was pale. I said, 'Jack, why are you so silent ?' He did not answer for a second or two, as if he did not hear me; then I nudged him and he said to me, 'Clarence, what is she doing at your place? Is she a guest?' 'Whom?' I asked. 'Grace,' he said; and then, correcting himself, '"Miss Moore,' he went on. 'Is she your mother's guest? You did not tell me.' 'My mother's guest!' I said. 'No! she is my mother's servant. But, why? Have you met her before ?' I asked. You know I had not mentioned her name, and I wondered how he knew it. His face looked so agitated for a minute, and then he said, 'No, no!' quite coolly. 'I was only curious, Clarence,' he added, 'for she is a very beautiful woman, and I wondered.' Now, Rose, was not that enough?"
"But how did he know her name?" asked Rose, suspiciously.
"Oh, I suppose I must have mentioned it on the way, though I do not remember having done so."
"Did you introduce them?"
"Did I what? Surely, Rose, you will give me credit for more sense! I never introduce my mother's servants to our guests—and especially her!"
"Oh, well, I suppose it was just as well. Do you know, I often wonder how we did not meet this Moore girl when she was in society. But, then, that would scarcely be possible, for I do not think she was ever in our set."
"Our set! Indeed, no! My firm belief is that she never was in society at all. Just fancy!" continues Clarence, sarcastically. "If she had ever been a lady she would never be so much at home in the kitchen. Fancy a lady cooking dinner and mending the household linen, and then polishing up for the drawing-room! My opinion is that she is an adventuress, and has just mastered these accomplishments for her own ends. Ma will find her out yet. Oh, I do so wish Ma would dismiss her! If she remains here—well, Jack will be bound to meet her at some time or other." And Clarence's voice takes a whining tone, and Her face wears a martyr-like air.
"Oh, bother Miss Moore!" says Rose, consolingly. "Don't trouble yourself about her; surely you know you are beautiful enough, dear, to keep Jack Mannering, if you want him. Now, look how devoted to you Dr. Ferguson always was; and, dear knows, he met her often enough."
"Yes, of course, he was devoted; but, then, he was always pointing out her good qualities, all the same. But he is different to Jack. I do wish Ma would send her away. I would rather take on the care of Maud myself—yes, sooner than keep that governess here."
"Ha! ha! ha!" And Rose's laugh echoes so merrily through the garden that even the blooms on the many branches seem to vibrate in chorus with its merry ring.
Clarence looks at her, and a vexed and curious expression darkens her fair face; but still Rose laughs and laughs. At last her merriment subsides. "Oh, Clarence," she says, "that was good! Just fancy you playing the part of governess! Is Maud's life insured? If you think of taking over the care of her, Harold had better see to it at once, for I am sure she would be dead in a week!"
Clarence is too vexed to answer; she is indignant with her sister's laughter and ridicule, and Rose, looking towards the house, cries, "See, there is Ma beckoning to you." And, with a sulky air, Clarence crosses over to the verandah.
Mrs. Jenkins looks worried. "Clarence," she says, "are you sure Miss Moore would wait for the cart? It seems such a shame that she should be left behind. I hope, dear, that it was not through any unkindness on your part that she had to wait."
"Indeed, it was her own wish, so do not worry. But I do so wish that you would let her go." And Clarence's tone is wheedling. "Don't you think that Maud could go to school? I hate Miss Moore; she seems to me to be a hypocrite. Oh, Ma, do let her go; do dismiss her!"
Mrs. Jenkins' face wears an incredulous and pained look. "Clarence, my girl," she says, "you surprise me! You are unkind and wicked. Miss Moore is the most unselfish and the kindest girl I have ever met. Had it not been for her I do not know how I should have managed; and, I am sure, but for her tender care Maud would have gone when little Effie went. You are cruel and hard to speak so of a defenceless girl!"
"Indeed, Mother, I am sure you are imposed upon; you do not know girls as I do. Miss Moore assumes all this meek air just to keep in your favour. I am sure she is a designing, scheming girl. Even Dr. Ferguson—"
The mother's ears are alert to catch anything with reference to Dr. Ferguson. "Ah!" she thinks, "I might now learn why it is that he has not been here so often lately."
"Yes," continues Clarence, "even Dr. Ferguson, that methodical, gentlemanly, grim physician, is ever loud in his praises of the beautiful Miss Moore. Oh, Ma! I do not like her!"
"I wonder," thinks Mrs. Jenkins, "if Clarence is jealous? Surely Miss Moore—but, no! Why should I think such things?"
Just then the old lady catches sight of a motor-car turning into the drive. Clarence's eyes follow her mother's.
"See, we have visitors. Who are they? I cannot distinguish them."
"Who are they?" repeats Clarence. "Why, Dr. Ferguson and your pet governess, Mamma!"
Before the mother can reply, the car pulls up at the verandah, and, as Dr. Ferguson assists Grace to alight, he says: "I almost regret, Miss Moore, that we have come to the end of our journey. Your description of the country was a beautiful one. You should paint the picture."
"Indeed, doctor," answers Grace, with a smile, "have I not been painting it for you the whole of the way—word painting, you know?"
The doctor notices a cold, suspicious look in Mrs. Jenkins' eyes as she takes Grace's extended hand.
With the quick intuition of a warm, affectionate soul, Grace feels a chill. Anyone else could have been cold and she would not have cared; but Mrs. Jenkins had always been kind to her—motherly, even—and now Grace so wanted kindness. She was tired and lonely; she had been a long way, away amongst strangers, and attending to the cares of Maud. Clarence's rebuffs and nastiness were hard, but she had forgotten them; and, as she looks at Mrs. Jenkins, her eyes grow dim.
"What can it mean?" she asks herself. "Why is she so changed?" Grace is about to give way to tears, when the sound of a woman's sarcastic, bitter voice arouses her pride, and the tears go back as she hears Clarence say, "How do you do, Dr, Ferguson? We are fortunate, indeed, in having a servant in our household who can tempt our friends to come once more within our gates!"
At the sound of the nasty, bitter speech, the cold look vanishes like a flash from Mrs. Jenkins' eyes, and the thoughts of doubt which Clarence had so lately implanted in her mother's mind die. With a kindly voice, she says, "Miss Moore, I am so pleased to have you back."
Dr. Ferguson, quite ignoring Clarence's insinuations, says, "I was fortunate, indeed, Mrs. Jenkins, in being able to offer Miss Moore a seat in my car. She looked very tired when I overtook her on the way."
"Oh!" thinks Clarence, "I hope she does not mention that I told her to stay behind for the cart." Then, aloud, she says, "I thought Miss Moore preferred to walk."
Grace looks at Clarence in surprise.
"It is not worth my while," she thinks, "to contradict her; for, in a sense, I did prefer to walk. Then, turning to the doctor, "Thank you, Dr. Ferguson; thank you very much." And without further comment, Grace passes into the house.
"You must stay to tea, now you are here, Dr. Ferguson," Mrs. Jenkins says hospitably.
The doctor hesitates, then looks at Clarence, and, meeting the old, kind look in her face, he decides. "Yes," he says; "but I must not leave the car standing in the pathway. I will tell Ned to remove it." And he goes away to give instructions to his man.
When he is out of hearing, Clarence turns to her mother. "Now, Ma," she says, "will you believe that Miss Moore is a designing creature? She just waited back for him!"
"Oh, dear, dear!" interjects the old lady, "I can hardly believe it." And her face looks sorrowful and perplexed. "Surely, you make a mistake. She would not be so deep and designing. Gerald Moore's daughter could not be so deceitful. Surely, Clarence, you are mistaken; I cannot believe it!" And, with a heavy sigh, Mrs. Jenkins passes into the house.
"Oh, dear! Is not everything going beautifully? If Ma will only dismiss her! Ma has set her heart on Dr. Ferguson for me—and he was all right, in a way. But if Ma would only get it into her head that Miss Moore has come between us, it would be—just beautiful! Dr. Ferguson was always too strict. Jack Mannering is different, and I don't want him to meet her; he might, like the rest, fall under her modest, unassuming wiles. I am so glad Jack is here; it will show Dr. Ferguson that if he could dictate to me about my poor doggies, I could soon find consolation. I think I will give him back his ring." And she looks at the brilliant jewels shining on her finger. "But, oh! it is too lovely!" she thinks. "I hate to give it back. I am sure it is the handsomest and the costliest ring I have ever seen!
"But there is Jack. I must run and tell him that Dr. Ferguson is here. Jack! Jack!" And Clarence's low, musical voice is carried along on the air. "Whom do you think is here?" she asks, gleefully, as she catches up to Mannering, who has been sauntering among the trees and battling within himself as to whether he should see Grace and ask her to be silent. He had fought long with his thoughts, and had concluded that "Grace would be silent." And when Clarence says, "Dr. Ferguson is here; he brought Miss Moore home, and he is staying to tea," she thinks she can detect a jealous look creep into Jack Mannering's eyes.
"Surely," she thinks, "he could not have admired her so. No; he must be jealous because the doctor is staying. Jack, do you think Miss Moore so very beautiful? All men admire her greatly."
"Now," thinks Jack, "if I can make Clarence jealous, she will do as I wish. Think her beautiful?" he repeats. "Yes, she is very beautiful; but not so beautiful as my sweet girl," he quickly adds, as a frightened look flits in Clarence's eyes.
"Do you love me so much, Jack?"
"Love you? Yes, with all the love of my soul! But, tell me, Clarence, do you love me as much as you say you do? Be candid."
"Yes, Jack; I love you better than anyone on earth."
"Better than Ferguson?"
"Ay! better than anyone on earth."
"Well, then, why do you not be free, and give back that ring? I cannot in honour see you wear it. Do give it back."
For a minute Clarence hesitates—the ring is beautiful; its costly jewels tempt her to keep it But, with a sigh, she slowly takes it from her finger, and, with a kiss to Jack, she hurries away to where Dr. Ferguson is standing on the verandah. As they go into the house together, "Dr. Ferguson," she whispers, "our engagement was all a mistake. Here, I give you back your ring."
"Are you tired, dear? You know, Maud, you must not overtax yourself, and walk too much; just rest here for a while, and I will gather the flowers for you." And Grace, as she speaks, places the rug over a seat in a sheltered corner of the garden, and then, turning to Mrs. Jenkins, she remarks, anxiously, "Maud does not look well to-day."
"No!" the grandmother agrees. "That pathetic look still lingers, and I think the pallor of her countenance accentuates the depth of colour in her dark eyes. I thought," she reflects, as she looks at Maud, "that when Effie went Milly had changed; but she is just the same."
"Please, Grandma, is Mamma downstairs yet?"
"No, dear, she has not yet changed her cycling dress; she will be down directly. Have patience. I will go and see, and will bring her." And Mrs. Jenkins walks away, sad at heart, in search of her daughter-in-law.
"I do wish Mamma would come," Maud murmurs, as she gazes wistfully towards the house.
"See the pretty flowers I have gathered for you," says Miss Moore, as she gaily tosses the blooms on to the child's lap.
With a sigh, Maud turns from her longing gaze to the flowers.
"Oh, are they not lovely?" she exclaims. And for a minute the pathetic look softens as she takes the sweet consolation of the flowers.
"Oh, Miss Moore, have not the flowers pretty faces!" she cries, as she fondly clusters the blooms together. "Sometimes I think I can hear them speaking; and, oh! such pretty tales the flowers tell! But, then, when the sun is hot and they are scorched and thirsty, I feel so sorry, because I know they will soon droop and die, like Effie died. Effie was like a lovely flower, wasn't she, Miss Moore?"
Grace, as she listens to the child's prattle, thinks: "Ah! Effie was like a beautiful flower, and you, too, are like a lovely, fragile bloom, thirsting, languishing for the life-giving dew of a mother's love!"
"But," continues Maud, "when the rain comes the flowers seem to smile and laugh their thanks of gratitude to the little drops. But Effie does not live again, does she, Miss Moore?" And a lonely, desolate look creeps into the child's eyes as she murmurs, "I do wish Effie would come back to me, just like the flowers."
"Oh, Maud, dear, we must not wish Effie to come back. Effie is at rest. She is a little angel; she is an everlasting flower in the great Garden of Paradise."
Grace's eyes are dim; her heart is full of sympathy for the lonely child.
Suddenly the lonely look vanishes from Maud's face as she exclaims, in notes of gladness: "Oh, here is my Mamma! I see her coming down the avenue. Now, I will give her these pretty flowers, and then she will kiss me." And Maud's eyes beam with a glad light when her mother and grandmother cross to where she is sitting.
"It is nonsense," Milly is saying; and she tenderly caresses the little dog in her arms. "It is nonsense," she repeats with emphasis; "the child is all right. Maud, dear, you know you have been on a long holiday, and your lessons have been sadly neglected." And in a haughty and domineering tone she says to the governess: "Miss Moore, Maud's music lessons have been much neglected of late. I think you have shown poor judgment, and have been very lax in your teaching."
Grace's face grows red with an indignant and angry flash; she is about to give vent to her vexation, but, with an effort, she controls herself, as she looks at the wan, pathetic face of her little pupil.
Milly does not notice the flash of indignation in the governess's eyes as she continues: "Take Maud back to her music now; and, if you wish to remain in charge of her, do not encourage her."
The child looks frightened; she sees her mother is vexed.
"Please, Mamma, do not send me back to lessons to-day; do not say I must play the piano. Oh, Mamma, I feel so sad when I play." And the little face looks up imploringly into her mother's beautiful but cold countenance, as she continues her pleading.
"Please, Mamma, do not say I must play the piano now, for when I touch the keys I always think that a shadow comes beside me and sits just where Effie used to sit. I feel a breath fan softly on my cheek, and I think a little hand touches mine. I turn round, but the shadow is gone, and only the sunbeams stay. Oh, Mamma, I cry then, because I think of Effie."
The mention of the name of the little dead child almost touched, as if with an electric flash, the dull spark of mother-love which was lying dormant within the fashionable woman's soul. She almost dropped her little poodle. "Oh, dear!" she cries, "I almost let my little Fido fall!" In an instant the tender look is replaced by one of annoyance and temper. "What nonsense is this I hear?" she ejaculates. And she looks accusingly at Grace, who is standing by with tears of sympathy dulling her lovely, kind eyes. "Take Maud back to the schoolroom at once! How dare you encourage such ideas? Erase from her mind these wild and silly, superstitious thoughts."
"Madam, you are unjust and cruel! Do you not see your child is ill? Why should I instil such strange fancies into the child's mind?"
Milly does not answer, but haughtily tosses the flowers her little daughter had given her on to the seat and walks away.
"I tell you, Milly," says the grandmother, "you will yet regret you are so unkind to Miss Moore. She does her best for the care and welfare of your child, and why is it that you always misjudge her? I cannot understand why you treat her so."
"Oh, well, Ma, she is your pet servant, and we all cannot see her in the same light as you do."
As Grace looks after the two women, her warm, proud Australian blood rises in rebellion, and a dark scowl blackens her fair face, and she mutters: "Must I still serve that woman?" She forgets Maud in the intensity of her indignation. Her kind hand is clenched and hard as she says, half aloud: "No, I will not serve her; a thousand times, No! For Maud's sake I would have stayed. But, oh, my soul revolts, and I cannot suffer this any longer. Daily, hourly, I try to serve her, but I will not try again. I will go back to Aunt. Yes, I will go back!"
"Miss Moore! Miss Moore!" whispers Maud, as she gazes sorrowfully at the governess's agitated face.
But Grace does not hear her, and she continues: "I will go back to Aunt. If I had known Jack Mannering was here, I would never have come back from the hills. But when I found him here, I thought to brave that; but now I cannot remain. No! it would be better to get away from them all. I could put up with much, but I cannot serve that woman any longer."
"Miss Moore! Miss Moore!" the child's voice whispers. And Grace turns as Maud gently touches her sleeve.
Suddenly the angry light disappears from Grace's eyes, and, like a flash, the dark cloud passes from her face, and she looks into Maud's delicate, sweet countenance.
"I am so sorry I vexed my Mamma. Oh, I am so sorry! Will you please take me back to the music-room, and I will play the piano?"
"But, my dear child," says Grace, and her heart is sorry as she looks at the wan, pathetic little maid gazing so anxiously, "you could not walk to the house; you—"
"Oh, I think I could. I will catch your arm. I do so want to play the piano now, and I will never more tell Mamma if I am sorry, or if I cry when I think Effie comes, and then Mamma will not be cross. See, Miss Moore, how I can walk!" And as Maud takes a few steps her gait is very unsteady. She would have fallen, but Grace's strong arms are quick to the rescue.
"No, Maud, dear, you must not walk just yet. Wait until you grow strong and well."
"Oh, but, Miss Moore, I cannot stay here! I must go; I must go to the music-room and play, or Mamma will come back again, and will be so vexed; and she will be cross with you, and you will cry again. I was so sorry to make you cry. I was naughty."
"No, no, Maud, dear, you were never naughty. Come, child, I will carry you to the music-room; I will take you in my arms, dear. That is right, love; put your arms round my neck."
"Miss Moore, you are so good, so kind." And the little child kisses Grace's cheek lovingly and affectionately, while the soft child-arms cling fondly round her neck. The touch of the innocent, pure, warm lips sends a thrill of joy through the hurt soul of the governess; her heart is soothed. All the insults from the beautiful Milly Jenkins are forgotten.
"How wicked I am to think I could leave this lonely little child while she needs my care! If the mother's cruel and bitter taunts are cold and hard, the soft, clinging arms and loving kiss of the little child soothe and compensate for all."
"But, oh, Miss Moore, I know I am heavy—so heavy."
"Indeed, no! See how I can carry you. I can take the flowers, too."
"I know you used to carry me when we were amongst the hills, but I am heavier now." And, as Maud clusters the flowers to her bosom, she remarks regretfully, "Mamma forgot the roses. She could not carry them because she had to carry little Fido. Miss Moore, will there be dogs in Heaven, in the great garden of Paradise where Effie is? Will there be dogs there?" again the child asks.
"Oh, dear," thinks Grace, "what strange thoughts wave through this child's mind!" To the child she says, "Maud, why do you ask me such funny things?"
"I want to know, please, Miss Moore. I hope there will not be any dogs there, because when my Mamma comes to Heaven, and when Effie and I run to the gates of Heaven to meet her—that is, when I am an angel, too, Miss Moore—then, if there are dogs there, Mamma would pick up the dogs and forget to kiss us, and she would not see the pretty flowers or know of their sweet incense. Is not 'incense' the right word, Miss Moore?"
"But, Miss Moore, I see a tear on your cheek. I will kiss it away. Did I hurt you? Why did you cry?"
"No, Maud, you never hurt me; but sometimes, child, I think, and then the naughty tear will fall. But, see, now I can laugh!" And Grace smiles to divert the child's thoughts, and, as they go upstairs, even Maud's child laughter rings along the old hall.
"Mother, you spoil Dad. I am sure you spoil him. I think it is nonsense, Mother, to wait on a man as you have done. There is Dad closeted in the library, day after day, sketching away at those old coast maps of his, and here are you collecting his pipes, looking after his slippers, and I have even heard Dad asking you for his spectacles when he was wearing them! At times I do not know how you put up with his fidgety ways. I am sure I would not spoil a man like that; I never will." And Clarence Jenkins, as she speaks, tosses her head impatiently and looks determined.
"I spoil your father, dear? No, no! You know your father has much to do. He is always busy, and now that he has been promoted to Colonel, he has extra and important responsibilities to contend with; so if he gets a little irritable at times, I know, girl, it is not with me it is the overwork."
"Well, Mother, Dad must be strange. Extra responsibilities, now he is a 'Colonel,' did you say? Why, I always thought that the higher one rose in the Government service the less one had to do. I always understood, Mother, that the head officials got the underlings to work out all these things and do the heavy labour, and they (the heads) had only to sign their names and take the credit of it all; while they rise higher and higher, and their enormous salaries grow in keeping with their exalted positions. Dad should resign. All our great statesmen retire with big pensions, and I think it is foolish to work like Dad does, when he could rest at ease."
"Your father will never be happy idle; he must complete his work."
"Oh, well, if Dad will do so, I know one thing—I will never encourage my husband, when I get one, to utilise his time sketching maps and drawing plans and building imaginary fortifications of ports. No! I would require more attention from my husband. I am sure I would not be neglected by any man."
"Your father never neglected me. It has always been a pleasure to me to see him and to help him climb over all difficulties to the position he now holds. I was always proud to see him win fresh honours; his triumph was my triumph. Sometimes, Clarence, I pity the young men of the day when their wives encourage them only in frivolity and ease, and when they pass out of life they leave nothing behind to benefit mankind."
"Oh, well, Ma, there is no use arguing with you about Dad; so I think I will run off and get dressed, or Milly will be waiting. You know, we are going to an 'At Home' to-day."
"Oh, dear! pleasure, pleasure! What will the future Australian generation be like, with such wives and mothers? They are for ever hunting, chasing, following in the wake of that fickle, luring goddess, Folly. No wonder some say we are pleasure-mad. But, oh, maybe Clarence will get sense some day." And Mrs. Jenkins goes on with her darning.
"Well, Mother," says Captain Frank Jenkins, as he steps through the open window, "always busy! Put aside that work, and come for a drive with me; it will do you good. You know, I do not like to see the dear old face grow pale." And, as he fondly kisses his mother's time-worn cheek, his manly form looks magnificent as he stands with his arm caressingly around her neck. "Oh, but it is good, Mother, to have my arm thus!" he says; "it is so good to be home once more and feel my arms about you. You cannot know how I have longed to see your dear old face, and to feel the warm kiss of my little mother."
Mrs. Jenkins looks up admiringly into the manly face of her son; her eyes glow with the light of love, and for a second the thought passes in her mind: "Ah! what is the pleasure all the world can give compared to such love as this?"
"There is nothing, Mother," he continues, "nothing like a soldier's life to make a man think of his mother. Sometimes I think, after all, men are weak, and are very much dependent on a woman's loving care. When the storm tossed, and the battle raged, my first thoughts were always of you, Mother."
"Oh, Frank, my boy," some day another woman will take those thoughts away from me! But, no, boy, I will not be jealous; it is but as it should be. And I know that my boy Frank will always love and remember me."
"Oh, here comes Dad." And Mrs. Jenkins' face beams with delight as she turns to greet her husband, who is looking on admiringly.
"George," she says, "you look grand in your 'Colonel's' uniform. Indeed, I will be proud to-day with my soldier-husband and soldier-son."
"Thank you, Mary! You always flatter me. I was half-afraid to appear in these new trappings."
Colonel Jenkins' tall, dignified form is rugged, and strong. He is, indeed, a fine specimen of the sons of the homeland; but there is no trace of the namby-pamby officer about him. He does not wear his uniform with the air of a tailor's dummy; he does not spend his time waxing his moustache, as some military men do; his cockade is not tilted to one side, and he does not assume that affectation, that drawl of speech and domineering manner which usually is found in men of no ability, who have attained their position by having a "friend at Court." He has risen by ability and hard work; it is seldom ability is recognised nowadays, but when difficulties arise it is such men as Colonel Jenkins who can grip the helm. He is a soldier—every inch a soldier—and one can well see that his son Frank follows in his father's footsteps; they are both men of grit; they are men that any nation would be proud of, and Mrs. Jenkins, as she stands looking at the two men she so loves, feels compensated for the many years of toil she has gone through, the many setbacks of fortune she had to fight against in the early years, the many privations and hardships she had to contend with, when she, with her husband, dwelt in their canvas house on the goldfields in the early fifties. She feels she is repaid for all the cares and anxieties she had to bestow on her little ones, and she looks with pride on the manly form of her soldier-son.
"I am glad, Dad, that you have got through with your maps. I think they are excellent. You must be tired, Father; it must have been a difficult and long task."
"Yes, boy, I feel tired, and the drive with you and your mother will do me good. I could not leave the plans till I had finished them."
"You should take a rest, Dad; you should take more rest."
"Rest, Frank! Is it you who would have your father rest, and leave my work undone? How could I rest and leave our land as it is—our coast unprotected, our shores unguarded, our fortifications neglected? No, lad, I will never rest."
"But, Dad, we are not unguarded. The mother country watches and guards us."
"Ah, boy, do not deceive yourself. We are a rich and a great nation—the greatest in the world! We have thousands of miles of coast line, and what watches in these waters?—a few boats dodging here and there!" And Colonel Jenkins' face looks scornful. "The teeming millions of the East are looking at us greedily, enviously, threateningly. My son, they are only waiting till the time is ripe, for the motherland to be inveigled into some broil with, maybe, some hypocritical white nation that calls 'Peace, peace!' while building and making ready for war. The sons of the East are wily sons. They fawn—ay! with that oily smile of theirs they lure, and with that basilisk-like glance they even join in treaty with the motherland, while all the time they are getting ready to snatch away this beautiful country—the garden of the white race. We must be ready, Frank, for these wily ones in our unprotected state. We stand out beckoning, encouraging, the foe to come."
Frank looks thoughtful. "Father," he says, "you are right; we must have—we will have—an Australian Navy, manned by Australian men. We want a white Australia, and to keep that we must shut our door against the coloured invasion, and we must be able to keep it closed; and to accomplish that we must now depend upon ourselves."
While Colonel Jenkins and his son are discussing the necessity for an Australian Navy, Mrs. Jenkins sits down and looks as if she is resigned to listen to a long discussion.
"Here, Dad!" Frank exclaims, as he catches sight of the interested look on his mother's countenance—"here, Dad, we have been discussing matters military, while mother is being delayed of her promised drive."
"Indeed, my son, I am not thinking of the drive. I am glad that the sons of Australia are at last waking up to their danger—to the knowledge that they have a rich and vast territory, teeming with natural wealth, millions of fertile acreages, and rich treasures buried deep in its bosom. My soul is glad to know that at last our sons are awake and determined to guard our shores—determined to build for themselves a Navy that will be able to smile at any foe, a great, powerful Australian Navy."
"Mother, you are a true patriot of this, your adopted land."
"Your mother was always patriotic," interjects the Colonel. "If our statesmen were half as enthusiastic, half as much interested in the welfare of our land, instead of this dangerous procrastination, our Navy would be an accomplished fact; our Navy would now be the pride, the glory, the watchguard of the southern seas."
"Harold, I think you are positively ridiculous, and, if I were Milly, I would drive on. You know very well, Harold, you might have come yourself, but there you are; you go moping about with all the airs of the melancholy Dane, and you think, because you do not care for amusement now, that your wife should remain out of it just to please you." Clarence looks vexed and determined as she remonstrates with her brother. "I wish, Milly, you would give me the reins," she continues. "What will Mrs. Mason think? We are late."
"I think Clarence is quite right," Milly remarks, poutingly. "Why you want me to stay from Mrs. Mason's I cannot understand."
"Milly," and Harold's voice has a sad ring as he speaks, "I have told you often that Mrs. Mason's is not a house that I care to have you visiting at; and, Clarence," he says, turning to his sister, "if you persist in going there, I will be compelled to speak to our mother. Do not go," again he urges, and there is a sound like a note of entreaty in his voice.
"But why?" she asks, impatiently, and her beautiful eyes open wide, wonderingly. "Surely you do not mean you are narrow-minded, and just because people call Mrs. Mason bohemian—"
"No, no!" he interrupts, "but her visitors are not the class I care to see my wife associate with; her men friends are—"
"Oh, dear!" Clarence's laugh rings out merrily. "Do you know, Milly," she says, "Harold is jealous? I know he does not wish us to go, because he is jealous of Fred."
"Do not make yourself ridiculous, Harold. I intend to go. I am going. I like the friends I meet at Mrs. Mason's, and if you are mean enough to be jealous, well—"
"I am not jealous, Milly. But you are a beautiful woman, and I do not like to hear my wife's name bandied at the clubs, or her beauty discussed by every brainless noodle and wealthy, indolent roué who may frequent Mrs. Mason's drawing-room. You cannot know how it hurts me to see you visit that woman."
"Indeed!" Clarence retorts, "Mrs. Mason is one of our leaders; she is a wealthy society lady—"
"She may be all you say, but she has no moral code. There is always too much champagne, too many cigarettes, too much of everything that should not be."
"I am sorry we stopped to speak. You interrupted our drive simply to talk like a fool. What new fad is this you are adopting? One time you took your pleasures equally with me. You were not annoyed, then, when I took a cigarette. Harold Jenkins has turned moralist, eh? He has changed indeed!" and Milly's tone is very sarcastic.
"I enjoyed all this once; but that was before Effie died. Since then I see things differently."
"You are horrid. You know I was trying to forget."
"Never mind, dear wife. I was cruel, I know. Forgive me."
Tucking in her little dog cosily in her lap, Milly turns away without a word, gives rein to her ponies, and drives off.
"So she defies me," Harold mutters, as he looks after the phaeton; "she is determined to go her way. She will not be warned. I felt mad last night at the club when I heard those fellows relating tales of Mrs. Mason's go-as-you-please 'At Homes,' and her scramble 'Gipsy' tea-parties; and when I thought my wife and sister might be amongst the women discussed by those scampish boasters, my blood boiled, and my fingers tingled to clutch them, and to strangle the foul insinuations in their throats. But I curbed my feelings, and now to think she has gone to join in their tainted companionship, to breathe in the vitiated atmosphere which surrounds them! Oh, God, to think of it!" and Harold sinks disconsolately on a seat under the shelter of an old gum tree near by. He is so occupied with his gloomy thoughts that he does not notice the near approach of his father.
"Well, my boy, what is amiss? Your face looked like a thundercloud as I came along. Have you lost anything on 'Change,' or do the coalminers threaten?"
Harold does not look up, but, with his chin resting on his hand, greets his father.
"Anything wrong, my boy?" again the father asks, as Harold remains gloomy and silent.
"Yes, Dad; I was vexed with Milly just now."
As Colonel Jenkins looks at his son, he thinks how worn and haggard he is; but aloud he says: "Vexed with Milly, did you say?"
Harold hesitates. "Will I," he asks himself—"will I tell him?" and, meeting the anxious, expectant gaze in his father's eyes, he decides.
"I was vexed, Dad, because she will insist upon visiting Mrs. Mason."
"Surely," exclaims the father, in the tone of one who had not heard aright, "you do not mean to say that Milly visits Mrs. Mason of 'The Olives ?' "
"Yes, Mrs. Mason of 'The Olives.' "
"You must forbid that. But, remember, boy, you are much to blame with regard to Milly. You know she was a fine girl, and sometimes I think it was a great misfortune that you struck the coal mine on your land. Too much money is bad for us sometimes. Excuse me, Harold, but latterly you do not seem to have done anything useful. Now, my son, just listen to me. In place of attending to your business, and seeing that the men employed by you are properly looked after, you trust this duty to the managers. I have watched this neglect, but was loath to find fault. You are constantly travelling from place to place; never settled, always on the move. What is the result? Strikes looming in the distance, your wife and yourself quarrelling, and your little child neglected. The fact of the matter is, the whole hobby of you and Milly seems to be a wild endeavour to find some new way of killing time, while in your race after amusement time is but killing you. Now that you suddenly awaken to the folly of it all, you expect Milly to as suddenly turn from her frivolity to your way of thinking. If I were you, Harold—now take your old father's advice, my boy; I am an old man, and I have seen the world—I would take Milly home, and settle down to some useful task. It is wonderful when one is engaged in healthy occupation how the mind is at ease, and what little time there is for mischief doing. But come on, chase away those frowns. It is unlike you to be sitting scowling here while the beauties of Nature are smiling around. Come, we will go to Maud, and after that we go to the barracks;" and, arm in arm, the father and son, in silence, pass along through the trees to the house.
"Hush! Listen," and the two men stand in the shadow of the doorway, entranced by the sound of sweetest music as it rises and falls in soul-inspiring cadence. As they listen, the troubled frown passes from Harold's face, a soothing, soft glow lights up his countenance.
"Who plays?" the Colonel asks, in a subdued tone, as if loath to mar with the sound of human voice the melodious strains as they issue forth. "Who plays?" he again asks.
"Miss Moore," whispers Harold. "Maud's governess."
"She is a genius! How comes it she is but a governess? A woman who can play like that a governess?"
As they listen they fancy they can hear the low, silvery, rippling sound of running water as the player touches on some river song. The theme changes, and a low, weird, melancholy sound, a cry, as it were, of a soul bound in darkness, and struggling to be free, floats along. The listeners can almost think they hear the teardrops of anguish, wrung as if from a breaking heart, as the notes rise and fall on the air. The melancholy wail ceases, and notes, bright, rippling, and gay, laughing with sunshine and gladness, betokening a merry heart, chase the teardrops away, and the laughing of a child's voice rings out in harmony with the glad tones.
When the music ceases, "Come," whispers the Colonel. "That laugh is infectious. We will join them, and forget dull care."
"Oh, Papa," says Maud, as she clasps her arms around her father's neck, "and, you, Grandpa, you should have been here a minute ago. Miss Moore played for us; didn't she, Grandma?"
"Yes, George, and it was a treat. Daily I discover new beauties, new delights, in Miss Moore's playing," and Mrs. Jenkins looks proudly at Grace.
"Oh, Papa," again Maud exclaims, enthusiastically. "She played so lovely! I think angels are whispering all around me when Miss Moore plays."
"We came, dear," says the grandfather, as he fondly kisses his little granddaughter—"we came to ask Miss Moore to take pity on us, and play for us. We would like to hear the angels, too. Miss Moore, you must pardon us for listening, but it is seldom one hears the violin played with such a masterly touch. If you were in the Old World the multitudes would worship at your shrine."
Grace's face glows at the congratulatory words of Colonel Jenkins. She likes him; he is always so courteous and kind. He never makes her feel she is but a menial in his household.
"Oh, do please play for Papa; he is so tired. If you play he will put his head down here and rest"—and Maud indicates a soft cushion on the couch beside her—"just where I put my head when it is tired, and it always grows better when you play."
Grace looks questioningly at Mrs. Jenkins.
"Please do," the old lady says, and once more Grace takes up the violin.
"Put your head here, Papa—that's right—and if it aches I will hold my hand on it and it will grow so well," and Maud's small, tender hand is placed fondly, lovingly, on her father's brow.
Once more the mellow notes resound, and once more Grace is lost in the land of song. It is strange that when she touches that old violin she seems to forget all; she lives in another land—another world.
Harold listens, and a voice seems to speak to him in each chord. As her fingers touch the strings, the soft, soothing sound whispers to him of consolation, hope and peace.
Time passes, but still the listeners eagerly drink in every note.
Mrs. Jenkins is watching the varying emotions as they flit over the player's beautiful face, and she thinks, "What deep wells of love must be in this woman's heart, when, by lightly touching those strings of the violin, she can thrill us to the very soul!"
So lost is Grace in the fairyland of dreams, as her fingers lovingly touch the strings, that she does not hear the light footfalls of Clarence and Milly as they approach the room and peep in the doorway; neither does she hear their low, mocking laugh as they turn away and hurry along the corridor. She cannot hear a low, bitter voice saying, "So, that is why Harold would not accompany us to 'The Olives?' "
"How much did you lose?" Clarence asks, anxiously, as she watches Milly, who is re-arranging the dogs' portable cots.
"Oh, for goodness sake, don't ask me. I am almost terrified to think of it."
"But, Milly, surely your allowance will meet it?"
"My allowance? Oh, dear!" and she smiles sarcastically. "Why, I have lost double that amount."
"Is it as bad as that?" and Clarence's face grows long with dismay. "I thought I was bad enough. Ma thinks I have settled for my gowns, but the truth is I owe about £200 to the costumiere, and the ball coming on, I will want some new dresses. Oh, dear, I do not know how I will manage?"
There is a woe-begone, despairing look on her face as she thinks of her difficulties; then she adds, "There is that little, spiteful cat of a milliner continually pestering me for payment; if I have had one letter, I have had twenty during the month. It is so horrid and annoying. If it were not that she is the best milliner in Melbourne, I can assure you I would never buy another thing from her. Mrs. Eagleson, I know, has not paid her milliner for dear knows how long, and yet she has not this worry. I do so wish I could borrow the money. I know if you had it I would be all right," and again Clarence relapses into thought, and her face is dark as she thinks; then a tiny look of hope brightens her countenance. "Milly," she says, "would you ask Harold?"
The bright look flits almost immediately, as Milly retorts, snappishly, "Are you mad, Clarence? How could I ask Harold? Would you have me tell him that I want £1000, when he knows it was only the other day I had my cheque? Do you think I could go to him, and say to him, meekly, 'Please forgive me; I lost £1000 last night at Mrs. Mason's Bridge party!' Oh, no, dear, I could not do that. No doubt he would give it to me, but, no, I would rather sell my jewels. I would rather do anything than ask him, after the way he spoke. Fancy him forbidding me in that authoritative manner to visit Mrs. Mason's! If I could only get enough to pay Fred; I do so hate to be in debt to him. But, heigh-ho! it is wretched to be in this fix."
Clarence is again deep in thought. She is battling in her mind, planning, scheming, as to how she can best avoid meeting the little milliner, whom she is expecting every minute to make her appearance. Suddenly she suggests, in the tone of one about to use a last resource, a last argument, "Would you sell the puppies?"
Milly's face is blank with amazement. She is so astonished she does not speak for a second or two, but she looks in the cot, and tenderly lifts out her choicest little poodle, which she had just cosily tucked in its place amongst the cushions in the cot, after giving it its morning bath. She always baths her dogs herself. She would not trust such a duty to the hands of a maid for fear their touch might not be gentle. As she holds the little canine pet fondly in her arms, her eyes melt with the soft light of love. "Sell you, my pet?" she whispers, as she addresses the dog in a dreamy tone. Then, as if suddenly realising the enormity of the suggestion, she turns to Clarence, who is looking on expectantly.
"You are cruel," she cries, "to suggest it. Sell my dogs? No! No! Not one of them! I would sooner brave Harold's anger than part with one of my dear little doggies," and, as if to compensate the dogs for even the thought, she turns again to the cots, and takes them out one by one, and kisses and pats them fondly. There are even tears in her eyes as she fondles them.
As Clarence looks on the display of affection, ay! of the unnatural love of this woman for the baby's rival—her dogs—she, too, feels sad, and regrets.
"How cruel I was," she says, in tones of self- rebuke, and, as if in apology to the dumb species, she caresses and presses one of the little poodles fondly to her breast. "How could I say such a heartless thing? I must be mad. I am nearly frantic, I know. Only the other day, when Lady Emmerson offered me £100 for Paul, I felt I could kill her, and now to think that I asked or hinted at you parting with your little darlings," and the two women fondle and caress the dogs, and replace them with loving care in their little beds.
As they go out of the room Milly asks, "Do you think Frank has any money?"
"Oh, of course, I know he has; but how am I to tell him?" and Clarence looks despairingly as she fastens a large hat on her mastiff's head. "Poor Paul," she murmurs, and she rests her shapely head on the dog's massive neck. "Your mistress is much worried just now. Milly," she says, as she looks up from her attention to the dog, "I am sorry I gave Dr. Ferguson that ring now; if I had it I could sell it," and she laughs jestingly. "It was such a beauty," and she thinks regretfully as she mentally calculates the amount of money it would have brought. "But, heigh-ho! that is gone. There is no use thinking about that now. Come, and we will look for Frank. I will ask him; it is the only thing left when you will not ask Harold."
"But do you think Frank will tell Ma?" Milly asks, apprehensively.
"Not if he promises us to keep silent. £2000! Good gracious! What an awful lot! If I could only get enough from him to settle with that horrid milliner! But, stop!" and Clarence and Milly hesitate as they see the slim, dark-clad figure of a woman coming slowly up the drive. "It is no use running; here is that horrid milliner now. Come on down the walk, so that we will meet her. Ma might see her if she comes here," and the two women hurry down the pathway to intercept Miss Gray—the little milliner from the city—before she reaches the house.
"Oh, good-morning, Miss Gray." Clarence's tone has a diplomatic ring as she speaks to the fashionable hat-builder. But she whispers to Milly: "I must put her off somehow. Do not go far."
The milliner looks hesitatingly. "Miss Jenkins," she says, "may I see you privately a moment?" and she looks at Milly, who is now standing near.
"Oh, I know what you have called about," Clarence interrupts hurriedly. "You want some money. Well, you cannot have any just yet. Surely, Miss Gray," and her tone changes, "this is unpardonable. Whatever are you tradespeople thinking of?"
The milliner's pale face grows red; she is frightened and tired. She has come a long way, and Miss Jenkins is a wealthy customer she does not wish to lose; but she must have money. "I can assure you, Madam,"—she says and her tone is very humble—"it is force of circumstances which compels me to again urge for settlement. You know I have written often, imploring for some money. Yours is not the only debt I have; there are many such; and if I do not get some settlement, I will be forced to close. My sister is very ill, almost dying; my mother is bed-ridden; the rent is raised and is very high; the landlord must be paid. The warehouses refuse to supply me with goods unless I settle for the last season's stock, and I cannot unless my customers assist me by settling. Everywhere I go people are away; some of them have gone to England, and I must wait for payment till they return. Others have gone on yachting excursions, which all means delay. My sister must get care and medical treatment or she will die; so you will understand why I am forced to trouble you."
"Indeed!" Clarence ejaculates, "and why do you come to me with all this tirade of woes? It is not convenient to settle mine now." And, assuming her old haughty air, she turns away.
"You had better placate her; she might go to Ma. Tell her you will write and arrange in a few days. Go! tell her anything to get her away," Milly advises, cautiously.
"But how can I?" pleads Clarence, in an agonised tone. "I would like to order her out of the grounds if I could, for daring to come here; but, then—"All the while the milliner stands dejectedly awaiting the favour of her fashionable customer's will.
"I must get her out of here, for fear Ma shall come along."
"But, look!" she hastily exclaims, "there is Ma on the verandah.
"Is she looking this way?" asks Milly, excitedly.
"No! I think she is speaking to Miss Moore."
"Well, for heaven's sake, go and get the milliner out of the way!"
"I will send a cheque in a few days, Miss Gray, and I regret that you should have deemed it necessary to call."
"Can you give me anything now, no matter how small, even a few shillings? My sister is so—"
"No! no!" And Clarence stamps her foot angrily. "I cannot now; have I not told you I would send? I do not know what you tradespeople mean by annoying one with such persistency."
"Come! come!" gasps Milly. "Ma will see." And they both hurry away into the shelter of the trees.
Miss Gray's face looks wan, and her eyes fill with tears as she looks after the retreating figures. "Oh, God!" she cries, and her heart seems wrung with agony as she murmurs despairingly, "What can I do? My last hope—and this is all. Nothing! nothing! I have written to her day after day, week after week, month after month, only to be put off from time to time; and now I cannot wait longer. How can I return to see those dear ones—my mother and my sister—languishing, fading away, for the want of that little nourishment which by right should be theirs? If Miss Jenkins paid me, my sister could have proper treatment and my mother could be cared for." The little milliner's pale face grows paler still, and deep, dark lines are under her eyes—lines which betoken long toil by the gaslight as her deft, weary fingers mould and fasten blooms and plumes into some fairy-like decoration for some fashionable woman's head. She looks longingly towards the direction where Clarence and Milly had gone. "If I go to her mother, and ask her for a settlement, they would never give me an order again, never patronise me, and they would use their influence to take their other fashionable friends from me. No! I must not go to the house; I must go back." And she opens a little, thin purse, and counts a few coppers. "I have not enough to pay my fare. No!" she says, dejectedly, as she replaces the coins, "I must walk; there is not enough, and yet they—" She stops suddenly. "Oh! I feel so giddy; what can it mean?" And she leans for support against a large gum tree. "But, still—Ah! I must not stand here." And she holds her head between her hands to stay the whirling sensation. "Could it have been the sun? I hope not. I forgot. I have not yet had any food. It is horrible to know." And her face darkens with indignation and rebellion of soul as she thinks, "We have been so often compelled to go without even ordinary food, while they—" And again she looks towards the trees. "I can hardly see!" Her voice grows frightened as she murmurs, "I must go," and she makes as if to pass down the walk; but again the giddiness overtakes her, and she totters forward. "What can this mean?" she gasps.
"All around seems to be whirling, and the sky goes black; spots dance before my eyes!" And again thrusting out her hands as if to grasp something to hold by, Miss Gray falls fainting upon the gravel path.
"Oh, dear!" exclaims Miss Moore, who was standing on the verandah where Mrs. Jenkins had just left her. "A woman has fallen on the path. What can be the matter with her?" And hastily catching up her sun hat, which was lying beside Maud's chair, she runs hurriedly down the drive.
"Poor thing!" she murmurs, as she tenderly lifts the fallen girl, "she has fainted here in the hot sun." Grace takes off her own large sun hat and shades the girl's face from the hot rays. Her own lovely hair, which is left unprotected, looks like so many golden waves 'neath the sunbeams, sparkling and shining as the soft, curly tresses ripple and play with the breeze. "I must lift her to the shade. I wonder who she is, and what she wants here? I am sure I saw her speaking to Clarence and Maud's mother a few minutes ago, and I am sure I have seen her somewhere before," concludes Grace, as she places the girl on the soft grass under the tree. "I must get help; but—Oh, thank God!" she exclaims, with heartfelt fervour, as she sees Dr. O'Meara, who is on his way to the house to see Maud.
When he sees her, he alights from the car, and hurries to her side.
"Grace," he says, as he warmly clasps her hand, "I am—"
"Oh, Doctor!" she interrupts, "I am so glad you have come. See!" And she points to the prostrate form upon the grass, which was hidden by the shelter of the trunk of the large tree. In an instant the professional instinct of the Doctor is alert; for the second he forgets the warm clasp of Grace's hand, and the glad light which beamed in her eyes when he came. He stoops, and carefully examines Miss Gray. "Who is she?" And he looks up at Grace questioningly.
"I do not know, but I think I have seen her before; I fancy she came to the house to see Miss Clarence."
The doctor goes to his car, and, taking out a flask, pours out a small quantity of the contents between Miss Gray's clenched teeth. "See, she is coming round now," he says, as she slowly opens her eyes
"I fainted," she whispers, brokenly. "I am sorry." And again she closes her eyes, and is silent for a minute; then she says, "I think I could walk now." And Grace and the doctor assist her to her feet.
"But I am sure you must not walk," the doctor says, firmly. "Come back to the house."
"Oh, no!" hurriedly interrupts the milliner, and her face again looks frightened.
They wonder why that apprehensive look, but say nothing.
"Have you far to go?" asks the doctor.
"To the city," dejectedly murmurs Miss Gray, and again she leans against the tree.
"You cannot catch a train for some time," Grace interposes, kindly, pityingly; but she does not renew the invitation to the house.
"Oh! I do not wish to get the train. I have to walk."
A sudden light comes over Grace's face, a sudden intuition whispers to her, "This girl has not the money to pay her fare." She looks at the car, and then at the doctor. In her eyes he thinks he can see a request. There was no word spoken, but the doctor says to Miss Gray, "You must go in my car; the chauffeur will take you home."
The kindness of the two strangers touches the very soul of the milliner, and as she takes her seat in the car, great tears of gratitude roll down her pale, careworn cheeks.
Grace understands the tears, and her own eyes are full as she presses the girl's hand, and the car moves off.
"Poor thing!" she observes, reflectively; "it must have been the sun."
"No, no!" responds the Doctor, as he gently takes Grace's hand in his manly clasp and leads her to the shelter of a tree; "it was not the sun with her. It was overwork, want, anxiety, and hunger. Could you not see those gaunt spectres pictured on her face?"
"But she is well dressed. Surely she would not be in such want?"
"Truly she is well dressed; but I recognised her as the car moved off. That is Miss Gray, the Collins-street milliner."
"Well, then, how is she starved?" Grace asks, doubtingly.
"My girl, don't you know that she has to work for fashionable women, and they are so often heartless and cruel, and forget to pay their milliner's bill? But, then, dear, I should remember that you were never one of those sort of fashionable women. But, why those tears?" he asks. He puts his arm protectingly around her, and he wonders if she has forgotten. He wonders what strange fate brought Jack Mannering to be a guest at the home of the Jenkins'. He wonders and he hopes.
"Wipe those tears away, Grace," he says, very kindly. "My girl, one could forever weep at the cruelty and injustice inflicted by some fashionable ladies."
"Ma! do you pay the governess to go racing down the grounds? Maud has been here on the verandah, unattended, for some time. I do not know how you tolerate that girl Moore's whims. When Milly and I were over in the grounds we saw her running down the path. I am sure that is half an hour ago. Is it not?" and Clarence turns to Milly, who is standing near, cutting some roses off a creeper that grows near a fountain which is spraying, cooling the atmosphere, and making the little flowers laugh in gladness as the tiny drops of spray sparkle like jewels on their pretty, perfumed faces.
"I am sure it was fully that time," confirms Milly, spitefully.
"That is unlike Miss Moore to leave Maud so long," remarks Mrs. Jenkins, thoughtfully.
"But, please, Grandma," interposes Maud, quickly, as she looks up from where she is lying on her invalid chair, "Miss Moore had to go; she said somebody was hurt, and she ran away down there," and Maud points down the long drive.
"Whom did she say was hurt?" asks Clarence, and a meaning look passes between Milly and herself.
"Oh, she did not say who it was; she only looked frightened, and ran. I tried to go after her, but could not; my legs were too shaky, and I was so sorry, because I would have liked to have gone. If somebody was hurt I could—"
"There, there," interrupts Milly, "I suppose Maud has gone and put herself back another week by that girl's excitable ways."
"Oh, no, Ma, really. I did not hurt myself. I just stood up and held on to the chair, but my legs would not hold me, so I got down again. Then I saw you coming, and I was so glad I had not gone after Miss Moore. If I had gone I would have missed you, wouldn't I?" and she looks up at her mother with a pleased, gladdened look in her pathetic eyes. "But, Ma, you have not kissed me yet," she says, wistfully. Milly is busily occupied fastening a newly-cut rose on the jewelled collar which encircles her little dog's neck, and does not heed the child.
Mrs. Jenkins looks anxiously along the drive. "You stay here with Maud," she says, "and I will go and see what is the matter."
Maud's keen eyes peer into the distance. "Look, Grandma, look! See yonder, amongst the trees, coming this way. That is Dr. O'Meara and Miss Moore. Now, Grandma, you need not go out in the hot sun, for she is coming back."
Milly's musical laugh, low and mellow, ripples upon the air. It would be a pretty laugh but for that low ring, that undercurrent of sarcasm, which mars the beautiful music. The laugh ceases, and turning to Clarence, she says, insinuatingly, "Someone was hurt; I wonder if this is the hurt one she is bringing to us?"
Clarence's face is black with vexation. "Ma," she cries, "Miss Moore is a designing creature. How often have I to tell you that you harbour and nourish to your heart a cunning woman? She was not satisfied with Dr. Ferguson, but now she is using her wiles on our latest specialist. A servant? Why, she has not a particle of humility in her, and yet you retain her. One would think she was our guest, and not a servant. Maybe Dr. O'Meara thinks she is a guest, the way she has been treated; he would hardly walk along with one's servant so openly."
Mrs. Jenkins looks thoughtfully at the doctor and Grace as they approach, but, as if driving some unwelcome thought from her mind, she says aloud, "What am I thinking of? Dr. O'Meara has known Miss Moore since she was a child."
"So she tells you, Mother," exclaims Clarence, insinuatingly; "but I—"
"Hush, hush! they will hear you;" then, turning, Mrs. Jenkins says, "How do you do?" as Dr. O'Meara steps on to the verandah.
"Where have you been, Miss Moore? Maud has been quite neglected. I am sure I do not know how you could go and leave the child here alone," Milly says, reprovingly.
"And she tried to follow you," interjects Clarence. "Doctor, if you find Maud is worse to-day I am sure the fault will be wholly due to neglect," and looking round cautiously, to be sure that Grace cannot hear, she adds, in an undertone, "Our governess forgets sometimes that she is a servant."
The doctor's eyes flash with an angry light. He is about to say something, but he subdues himself.
Mrs. Jenkins hears, and, "Hush, Clarence!" she remonstrates. "How can you speak so?"
Grace does not speak, but the doctor does, and there is a malicious but merry twinkle in his eyes as he says, "Miss Moore and I have just had an adventure, quite a sensation, in your grounds a few moments ago. If it had not been for Miss Moore's timely aid, it might have been a tragedy. As it is, I think all may be well. The consequence is, I will have to crave hospitality until my car returns."
"A tragedy! A sensation!" ejaculates Mrs. Jenkins, in astonishment. "I do not understand."
"As I entered your gates," explains the doctor, "and was coming up the drive to see my little friend"—and he pats Maud playfully, and while he speaks he closely watches Clarence's face—"I had not gone far," he continues, "when I saw Grace—Miss Moore," he says, correcting himself quickly—"in great distress. I hurried to her, only to find that she had been trying to restore animation to an apparently lifeless girl. I feel confident, if the girl had not received attention in time, she would have died; you know the sun was so hot. If she had lain on the path for any time it might have been fatal. So, considering everything, I think Miss Moore ought to be congratulated on her rescue work."
"Who was she? What was she like? Was she coming here?" asks Mrs. Jenkins, anxiously.
"Well, I recognised her," and the doctor's look is keen as he watches Clarence; "she was coming from here. It was Miss Gray, the fashionable milliner from Collins-street." He is satisfied, for Clarence's face blanches at the mention of the name of the milliner, and Milly, too, turns away to hide her confusion. The doctor bestows his attention on Maud, who looks relieved when she hears that Miss Moore has had someone to champion her cause.
"Miss Gray here!" ejaculates Mrs. Jenkins, in surprise. Then, quietly, she goes over to Clarence and asks in a low whisper, "Did she want you?" and there is a world of accusation in her voice as she again whispers, "Did she want you? Did Miss Gray come to see you? Do you owe her anything?"
Clarence has recovered her composure, and she answers her mother very calmly, "No, Ma, you know I do not. I have paid her," and as she meets the accusing look in her mother's eyes her own eyelids droop.
The mother sighs as she turns away. "Can it be?" she thinks. "Could Clarence lie to me? I must go. Yes, I will go and see this woman. Yes, I must go and see Miss Gray, and ascertain the cause of her visit here."
Milly sees the suspicious look in her mother-in-law's eyes, and she hurries away after her little dog, which had slipped from her arms. As Maud looks after her mother, she murmurs, inaudibly, "Ma forgot to kiss me." The little face twitches, and she bends her head low into the cushions.
Dr. O'Meara, unseen by the others, passes a note to Clarence. When she looks at it her face grows red and then pale, and, to hide her agitation, she hurries away.
"What did you tell Ma?" Milly asks when Clarence joins her, a few seconds later.
"Oh," retorts Clarence, stubbornly, "I told her I paid it. One would think that horrid Dr. O'Meara came on purpose to rouse Ma's suspicions. But let her find out; I am sick of the thing. And look what he gave me?"
"What is it?"
"The milliner's account. Cannot you see?"
"For mercy's sake, where did he get it?"
"Picked it up," he said, "down the drive."
"I wonder," Milly whispers, apprehensively, "if that Moore girl knows of it?"
"Oh, I don't care who knows now," and Clarence's face works convulsively as she crumples the little account into a wisp and throws it from her.
"Do not get yourself in such a rage," advises Milly, as she looks at Clarence's angry countenance.
"You cannot know how I hate that fellow and that girl Moore. I believe they were triumphing over me," and as her anger deepens, Clarence, resting her arm on the side of the little settee that forms part of the furniture of the alcove, bursts into tears.
"If you are going to cry, I cannot tolerate it. If I were you I would be calm. If Ma sees your eyes red, and finds you sobbing here, what will she think? Come, dear, come to your room;" but, with an impatient gesture, Clarence shakes her arm free, and sits sulkily. "Well, then," Milly exclaims hotly, and there is a hurt look on her face as she speaks, "have your own way; I will leave you."
Clarence, as she sits alone, murmurs to herself, "If Ma finds out I have told a lie she will be fearfully angry. She would never pardon a falsehood. If Pa knew the truth, I believe he would cut off my allowance;" and at the thought she again weeps.
Jack Mannering, who was passing along the corridor, hearing the sound of sobs from the alcove, and noticing the dog Paul standing by the curtains, pauses and looks in. Seeing Clarence, "What is this?" he asks, anxiously. "My little girl in tears!" and, gently putting his arm round her, he whispers, coaxingly, "What are those tears for; tell me, love?"
"Oh, Jack, dear, I have been so sad. I was so vexed with that Miss Moore." At the name of Miss Moore Jack's eyes look frightened and the arm encircling Clarence's waist tightens, and he quickly asks, "What of her? What has she said?" and there is a note of alarm in his voice.
"I am vexed because Ma keeps her," explains Clarence, as she nestles her head on his shoulder.
A sigh of relief escapes Jack. "Is that all? Never mind, my dear," and he kisses the upturned face passionately; "Soon my little girl will be away from them all. Darling, you must come to me if they make you unhappy. You must come to me at once, as my wife."
"Oh, Jack," and the light of love beams in those orbs that were so lately dimmed with tears, "Yes, Jack, I will be your wife any time, when you will."
A triumphant lights glows in Jack Mannering's eyes as he looks at her, and the betrothed kiss drives away all thought of the little milliner from the soul of Clarence Jenkins, and the two sit there whispering to each other the story that is so old and yet so new, that story that never goes out of date, the tale that Adam first whispered to Eve in the Garden of Eden in the long, long ago, when all the world was young; the same old story that will still be whispered on, though ages pass and new ideas enlighten the world. New fashions take the place of the old, the new woman and the new man come and go, but Adam's story still holds sovereign sway. The hoary-headed old god, Time, may point with his bony fingers to the dial, telling of centuries passing, but still that old-young tale will be whispered on.
"Dear one," Jack whispers, "you know you have promised, love, to be my wife."
"Yes, dear, but I am afraid Pa will object; you know Pa and Ma had set their minds on Dr. Ferguson." In Clarence's eyes there is a tiny spark of regret as she remembers the time when she promised Dr. Ferguson to be his bride. But as she looks at Jack's handsome face and manly figure, the light of regret dies away. "You know, you must not be disheartened if they are cross. Pa always considers our happiness first, and when he knows the happiness of my life rests with you I am sure dear old Dad will give his consent."
"I must go and brave it. I feel confident your father will say 'Yes;' " and with another kiss the two leave the alcove and pass along the hall. When they reach the library door, Clarence stops; she is evidently nervous.
"You go in alone," she whispers.
Jack, noticing her agitation, says, "Do not be a little coward; remember always you are mine. No friend, no foe can break the chain. Strong is the link of true love's vow," and, with another kiss and a look of love, he leaves her, and enters the library to interview Colonel Jenkins.
When Jack Mannering enters the library the old Colonel's quick eye can at once see that his mission is one of importance. It is unusual for anyone to disturb the Colonel in his den, but, nevertheless, he receives Jack with that fine old courtesy that is inborn in men of the old school. At once Jack feels at home as he takes the seat indicated, and when the Colonel offers him a cigar, he feels he is on sure ground.
"I am sorry to disturb you, Colonel," he says, "but the fact is"—he hesitates, and then goes on, and his voice even seems firm as he proceeds—"I came to tell you that I love your daughter, and I want your consent to our engagement."
"Eh, man, what?" ejaculates the Colonel, with a look of surprise, whether feigned or real, a casual observer could not tell which. "You love my daughter? Which daughter?" and a tricky look is in his eyes as he asks the question.
"Your daughter Clarence. I love her, and she has promised to be my wife."
"Egad, man," again ejaculates the Colonel, "but she is doing well; it is only a little while since I gave my consent to her marriage with Dr. Ferguson."
"She loves me, I can assure you; she has promised to be my wife."
"So! so!" whispers the Colonel to himself, "the rupture between Clarence and the doctor was a serious one. Ah, well!" he adds, in his mind, "Ferguson was a good fellow. I am sorry," and he sighs. Aloud he says, "You surprise me, Mannering; you must know you ask me to decide a weighty matter. The giving away of one's daughter in marriage requires very serious consideration on the part of a parent. I hardly know you, truly. You have been our guest for months past. You met Frank abroad, but that does not tell me much. I know nothing of your family—your history. I must know something more about you before I can decide so weighty a matter."
"But, Colonel, I am a gentleman; my father was a gentleman, and when my uncle dies I will be entitled to a seat in the 'House of Lords.' My family line is of the bluest blood that England can boast. If your daughter marries me, some day she will be a countess," and as Jack Mannering speaks he looks anxiously to see the effect of this elaborate announcement.
"So I understand," the Colonel says in a matter-of-fact tone (he is quite unimpressed by the exalted station Jack claims title to); "but it is this way," he continues. "What settlement can you now arrange for Clarence? You know we Australians count a prospective coronet as nothing, and we are not, as some other countries are, impressed with the dignity of empty titles," and, as he watches Jack, he thinks, "Somehow, I don't like to see young men in the prime of their manhood idling the precious hours of their youth away, building up their hopes of fortune on the graves of men. No! I do not like it." Then, to Jack, he says, "You know Clarence has been used to a good home. Are you prepared to give her a home suitable to her station? Do not answer me now," he adds, advisingly; "go away and think it over, and remember this, that my daughter's happiness comes first to me; but remember this also, that the wealthy men of Australia do not want to pave a golden way for their children to pass into the circle of the blue-blooded aristocracy of any country."
"My income now, of course, would not, but my prospects—"
"Ah, young man," and the Colonel's tone is sympathetic, "homes built only on prospects have but a very shaky foundation to rest upon. However, think it over; you will excuse me now," and the old courteous manner prevents Jack from feeling offended at being thus dismissed.
The Colonel, looking after Jack as he goes out of the room, thinks, "So this is why Clarence severed her engagement with Dr. Ferguson. Ah, my child," he murmurs, sorrowfully, "after all, your heart is but a fickle one. I am sorry, my girl, sorry." He speaks as if addressing some invisible presence. "I am sorry for you, Clarence; your old father is indeed sorry, and he cannot compliment you on your second choice. Ah, women, women! No wonder women are so often betrayed when they are so easily infatuated with a handsome exterior and flattering speeches, and when they are blinded by the dazzling, luring light reflected from the paste jewels which so often gleam in prospective coronets."
"Confound it," Jack mutters, as he looks back at the door which has just closed behind him; "he wants a settlement, does he? Well, he cannot have it. How can I make a settlement? I can make a bogus one, and if I am tempted, I will." He pauses, and a determined look lights up his face as he says, "But I will have Clarence all the same. I did not tell the Colonel that many lives stand between me and my uncle's title. I did not tell him that. I wonder if old lawyer Graham has told him anything. If I thought he had—but, bah! I was glad to get out of the room. Colonel Jenkins' eyes seemed to pierce to my very soul. I felt that his every look was full of suspicion. If old Graham told him that I once called at his office to find out particulars of Grace Moore's fortune when I was betrothed to her, if Graham told him that, of course I would understand why he was so insistent about the settlement. Old Moore was not like that; he did not insist on a settlement. But, then—ah, that is past and gone now," and Jack Mannering looks back dreamily into the past. "Grace was a nice girl; what a pity she was poor!" Then he looks frightened as he muses, "If old Lawyer Graham had not told me in time, I might have been burdened with a penniless wife. But I am all right this time, even if Clarence's father will not give his consent. He loves her too well to see her in poverty. Sometimes I ask myself, do I love her, or do I not? I believe I do, and I—"
"Oh! Jack! Jack! What did Dad say?"
"I wonder," is Jack's first thought, "if I have been speaking aloud? But, no," he assures himself as he looks at Clarence.
"What did Dad say? Did he give his consent? He did not, I know," she says, and there is the sound of a sob in her voice as she speaks.
Jack fondly kisses the upturned, anxious face. "No, love, he did not give his consent. I must first make a settlement, and you know, dear, I cannot do that yet," and Jack looks very dejected and hopeless.
"Did Father speak of a settlement to you? Oh, how cruel! how mercenary! As if that could weigh upon me;" and again Jack's kisses soften the pain in her heart.
"Come," he says, "I want to ask you a question, Clarence, my girl; would you marry me without your father's consent?"
"Elope with you, Jack—elope with you, do you mean? Would it not be a sensation? It would be splendid, and, I am sure, if I were once your wife, dad would forgive; I know he would forgive me anything."
Jack Mannering's face clears. "My girl, you love me, you love me, and with your love I am quite satisfied that I will surmount every obstacle."
"Jack!" and a frightened look comes into Clarence's eyes and her head nestles close to his shoulder, "if Dad should never forgive, would you be content then? would you be sorry?"
For a second a hard light flickers in his light blue eyes. "My daughter's happiness is my first consideration," rings in his ears. Those were the Colonel's words, he thinks, and the hard light of doubt passes away as he whispers gently, "I will always be content with you. With you, my little girl, by my side, I flourish, I live; without you, I perish, I die."
The sound of the soft music of the violin falls on their ears unheeded, the songs of the wild birds flitting about by the open window do not dispel the charm of their love's young dream.
A little while later, as she hurries away to her room to dress for dinner, he softly whispers to her, "You must not fail."
"Never fear, I will keep my part of the compact; but, hush! here is Rose."
When Rose joins them, she looks from one to the other. "What is the matter?" she asks; "you both look as if you had joined a secret society, and were conspiring to upset a kingdom."
"Oh, not quite so bad as that! We are not anarchists," and, with a light laugh, Jack passes down the hall.
"How can Clarence tolerate Jack Mannering?" Rose asks herself, as she looks after him; but she says nothing, and the two girls go into the dressing room and proceed with their toilet.
'What are you going to wear?" asks Rose, after some silence, as she shakes the folds out of her lovely dinner-gown. "I am going to wear this pale-green one. Tom says it is lovely, and so it is. What do you think?"
Clarence does not answer her, or comment on the gown. On her face there is a look of doubt and resolution fighting for supremacy; then her face calms; the look of resolution has chased away the shadows of doubt. For a moment she sits admiring the reflection in the mirror of her own lovely, luxuriant locks, as they fall in rippling waves over her shapely shoulders.
"Excuse me for not answering you. I forgot. My mind is so troubled. I want to tell you a secret; never mind about the dress. I am so worried, and I must tell someone. I cannot tell Ma; I must only tell you. But, you must promise to keep secret what I have to tell."
Rose's large, fine eyes open wide in surprise: "Oh, do not tell me if it is a very dreadful secret, for, you know, Clarence, I am the very last one to be entrusted with a secret like that; and, really, to be candid, you look as if you had committed a murder, or something dreadful," she adds, with mock horror on her fair face. "Do not tell me your confidences; the fact is, I cannot keep my own secrets, so how could you expect me to keep silent about yours? Just fancy; the other day I told Tom Allen I loved him better than my dogs, and now he is quite triumphant over me. I am quite sorry I told him. But that reminds me, you can have my dog 'Peter' if you like, and the little pig, and the monkey."
"Oh, hold your tongue; do not be ridiculous. I want you to listen. And, really, it is so serious, you must listen."
Rose looks at her sister, and the bantering light dies out of her own face as she notices Clarence's anxious, pained look. "Oh, well," she says, "if it is really serious I will listen, and I promise to keep what you have to tell sacred," and she gives her own beautiful hair an extra tug as she disentangles the masses of curls.
"Rose!" and Clarence's voice sinks to a low whisper, and she looks cautiously around, and even moves the large curtain drapery hanging near the doorway and peers behind before she goes on, "Jack wants me to elope with him, and you must help me."
"He wants you to what?"
"To elope with him! Are you deaf? Do not repeat my words so loud."
The brush drops from Rose's hand, as she stands rigid, convulsed. For a moment she is speechless, then she gasps, "Clarence, are you mad? Elope with Jack Mannering! That fellow? He is a coward to ask you to do such a thing! Oh, Clarry, dear!"—she calls her sister by the old pet name she used to call her in childhood's days—"do not listen to him. Do not wreck your life. For God's sake, abandon such an idea." All shallowness, all fickleness, seems to have passed away from her face as she appeals imploringly, and kindly puts her arm caressingly around her sister's neck. "How could I help you to your ruin?" she asks again. "I say Jack Mannering is a coward!"
Clarence's face grows black with vexatious rage; she tosses her sister's arm off roughly. "I am sorry I told you now. Do not dare to call Jack Mannering a coward again!" and she stamps her foot passionately at her sister, and her eyes flash fire. "I hate you, Rose!" she exclaims, and tears of rage fall down her inflamed cheeks. "I am sorry I asked you now; I am sorry I told you anything." She sinks on a chair in the dressing-room and sobs. "I have no one to help me," she moans. "I thought I could have trusted you; I thought you would have helped me."
As Rose looks at her sister in tears she says, soothingly, "I would help you in any way I could to save you from trouble. Look, I have helped you," and she goes to a little drawer, and pulls out a small piece of paper which shows signs of having once been roughly crumpled. "See, dear, I found that in the alcove, and paid it;" and, as Clarence looks through her tears, she can see receipted the account of the little milliner. "I found it where you had thrown it," explains Rose, "and when Milly told me I paid it, for I knew you had lost your allowance so I paid it out of mine; so, you see, I would do much to help you. But, loving you as I do, I would rather strew flowers on your grave—I would rather do so a thousand times—than help you to become the wife of Jack Mannering in such a disgraceful way. He does not love you, he cannot love you, or he would not ask you to betray your father's trust; to break your mother's heart; to become the sensation of the hour. No! If he loved you he would not ask you to do such a despicable act. If Tom Allen were to ask me to marry him in secret, I think I would kill him."
Clarence looks at the receipted account, and then she puts her arms around Rose's neck and kisses her as she whispers, "Thank you for settling with Miss Gray."
As the two girls go down to dinner together, radiant in their loveliness, their faces glowing with light and beauty, no one would guess the storm of passion which had so recently passed over their souls.
"Doctor," says Mrs. Jenkins to Dr. O'Meara, who is on his usual visit to Maud, "what do you think of our little patient? Do you think she will improve?"
"Well," replies the Doctor, and he seems to weigh every word, "sometimes I think she is getting well, and again she seems to relapse. I feel confident the child would recover if she could forget the loss of her little sister."
"Ah, Doctor!" and the old lady's kind heart is sad as she speaks, "if her mother would take the child and fondle her to her heart, caress her, show her what she hungers for—a mother's love—she would wake up from this lethargy. She is a child full of love. Look at her now," and the Doctor turns to see Maud's young arms twined fondly round Grace's neck.
As he looks at Grace his eyes soften, and he once more murmurs in his heart: "I wonder if she has forgotten Jack Mannering. If I knew," is his concluding thought, "I would"—and again he looks at her, and decides a very important question in his mind.
"Oh, Doctor, your car is ready."
At the sound of the child's voice, he starts. "Thank you, Maud," he says. "I am afraid I was forgetting about my car. I was just beginning to stray away into the pleasant valleys of dreamland," and he laughs pleasantly.
"I am glad that the car did not come round till you had your tea. Was the tea nice?" and Maud looks inquiringly at Dr. O'Meara. "I am sorry the car has come, because now you have to go," she continues.
"The tea was lovely, my little friend." He pats her cheek, and he wonders how her mother or anyone else could forget to fondle and caress this tender, beautiful child. Turning to Mrs. Jenkins, he says: "Maud always reminds me of a fair white lily, beautiful but fragile."
The grandmother's eyes fill as she looks at the child. "Yes, she is indeed like a beautiful lily, a flower that may be broken by the first rude wind that disturbs it "
"But"—and the Doctor's voice is still low as he speaks—"you must impress upon Maud's mother that it is absolutely necessary for the child to be taken away. Take her to Sydney, take her home, take her anywhere; but on no account have her taken to the music-room. From what Miss Moore tells me, she always thinks more of the little lost one when she is at her music. Change of scene, new faces, and new amusements may take her mind away from these strange fancies."
"I will tell her father. I have told her mother often, but—" Mrs. Jenkins hesitates; she was about to say something which might have been disparaging to her daughter-in-law, but restrained herself.
Dr. O'Meara notices the hesitation, and he feels he can read between the lines; he understands there is something; otherwise, why is it that Milly is never in attendance on the sick child, never showing any interest in her welfare?
"I will leave you now," he says; "my visit has been a long one to-day. Good-bye, Maud, dear," he whispers, kindly.
"Please, Doctor," she says, as he holds her little hand, "when you shake hands with Miss Moore do not hurt her."
Grace looks up and laughs. "Hurt me, dear? Why should you think Dr. O'Meara hurts me?"
"Well," says Maud, excusingly, "I thought Dr. O'Meara hurt your hand, Miss Moore, because when he takes your hand your face always goes red, and when he goes away I always think I can see tears in your eyes, so I thought perhaps he held your hand too tightly."
Grace bends low over the cushion to hide the flush that will persist in crimsoning her face.
The Doctor, too, goes red, and, stooping, he kisses Maud on the forehead. "I will remember. I will not hurt her hand. You are a dear, thoughtful little patient. No wonder Miss Moore loves you so dearly," and, as he turns to go, he whispers something to Mrs. Jenkins; then, taking Grace's hand, "I want you," he says—"I want to speak to you alone."
Grace looks at Mrs. Jenkins, who takes the seat beside Maud's chair, and she understands that she may go. As she walks down the steps and along the pathway through the flowers, the Doctor still holds her hand. When they come to the garden-seat near the fountain, they pause.
Around them the flowers are all smiling and gay, their varied-coloured faces all blending into one harmony of colour, and the perfume of their sweet odour breathing incense on the air. Above, in the trees, the songbirds are singing, and as they flit from tree to tree their many-coloured plumages seem to be vying with the flowers to make beautiful the scene.
"Grace," the Doctor says, as he takes his place beside her on the seat, "I want to ask you a question that I would have asked you long ago when you were at your dear old home, 'Looranna;' but first tell me, do you still love Jack Mannering?"
Her face grows red, and then turns ghastly pale. "Can you ask me that?" she ejaculates. "Do you think that I could still love him? Do you think when I found him so unworthy of my love that I could still bestow it! No! A thousand times, no!"
Over the Doctor's face there comes a great light, a look of gladness beams in his eyes, and his voice is very fervent. "Thank God!" he exclaims; "thank God for that! I was afraid," he adds, "that there might still live a tiny spark of that old love. I was afraid that that scoundrel had won your love, and, maybe, left your heart desolate."
"Do not blame Jack Mannering; for, to tell you truly, sometimes I feel I owe to him the gratitude of my life. You cannot know how I thank him in my heart, although I have never spoken to him since he left me at 'Looranna.' He avoids me always. I see him here, daily, hourly, in the company of Clarence Jenkins, and I now know I never loved him. Think, only think, what a terrible mistake it would have been if I had married him. Every day I live I thank God that I lost 'Looranna,' for, in losing it, I discovered him; so you see why I feel so grateful to him, even though he played the coward's part. Yes, it was well indeed I lost 'Looranna,' and Grace looks dreamily away and thinks of her old home. In the far-off distance she can see once more with fancy's eye the dear old place. She can look abroad on its vast acreages; she can hear the river murmuring as it runs its course to the sea; every tree, every flower, she can see; she loves them all, every shady nook, the vast plains and the dense forest lands. All, all are dear; but still she rejoices at the loss of them.
"Grace," the Doctor says, with a look of decision on his strong face, "you cannot know how you have relieved my heart. I feel a new life, a new hope, beaming within my soul. I cannot leave you here. You cannot know how my heart has ached to see you a servant. My blood boiled many times at the cold and cruel words of Milly and Clarence Jenkins. I then thought you still loved Jack Mannering, and I kept silent; but now I cannot live and know you as a servant. You must come to me and be my wife. I have loved you long; I have loved you always. You know I do, Grace. I loved you when you were but a little child."
"I know you love me. I know you always loved me; but I thought you only loved me like a brother loves. You pity me now."
"I have always loved you. You must know how lonely my life has been since the day I went to 'Looranna,' and asked your father's consent to our engagement; and when he told me you were betrothed to Jack Mannering, I thought the light of my life went out. I know I had never spoken to you, but I thought you knew. Now, dear, you must come to me and be my wife."
As Grace looks into his face she can see the light of love in his eyes—true, faithful, lasting love. "Do you think I could drag you down?" and her voice is full of love as she speaks. " Loving you as I do, could I step between you and success? You are just rising in your profession. You are now the favoured doctor of society; your whole future promises to be great. If you were to marry me, only a common servant—" The Doctor tries to interrupt her. "Wait," she says, and she continues: "If you married me—a common servant—your fashionable patients would rise up against you and turn away in scorn. No! I would not. No! I must not drag you down; you must marry someone in your own class. It will never do for Dr. O'Meara, the fashionable specialist, to marry a servant. Remember that always."
"Drag me down?" he repeats. "Why, any man would be proud to rise to your level. I will never marry anyone but you; and you alone must be my wife. You say you love me, and yet—"
"I say I love you," interrupts Grace. "Yes, I love you with all the love of my soul. I must have loved you always. That other seems just like the reflection of a foolish dream. Love, it was not. I love you, and only you; but, oh! do not tempt me—do not ask me to be your wife yet. I could not stand beside you, and see you losing your place in the world, to be laughed at by your fashionable people, who would point and say, 'Oh, his wife was only a servant!' I love you too much to see that"
"You love me, darling!" he exclaims in accents of joy. "Let the world say what it will. What care I, though my wife was a servant once? She is the woman I honour and love. Come, love, you must be mine. You are fit to be the wife of a king." And as they go back to the verandah, Mrs. Jenkins murmurs: "Clarence said the Doctor would not walk openly with Miss Moore. Clarence was mistaken. I am afraid that I will lose my governess, that she will break her engagement with me, and form a new one with Dr. O'Meara."
"Uncle Frank," Maud says anxiously, as her uncle, the Captain, is carrying her to a seat in the garden amongst the trees, where she usually sits when not in the music-room, "I want you to tell me something, really and truly; will you, Uncle?"
"Yes, dear," says the Captain, as he keeps step with Grace, who is walking beside him, holding a sunshade to shield Maud from the warm rays of the noonday sun.
"But, Uncle," again Maud interrupts the Captain's thought, "I want to know so much!"
"Well, my dear, I am waiting for you to ask me the question."
"Please, Uncle Frank—Now, mind, it is to be really the truth." And as Captain Jenkins places her upon the seat, he asks, "What must I do to prove I am telling the truth? Will I have to—"
"Oh, Uncle, I will know you are telling the truth. You are a gentleman. Miss Moore told me you were a gentleman, and she told me you would be an admiral some day. Did you not, Miss Moore?"
"Now, now, Maud!" laughingly protests Grace, "you know it is not ladylike to repeat all our conversations, especially when we are talking about our friends."
"Oh, I thought it was only wrong to tell if it were bad!" and Grace and the Captain laugh heartily at the idea. "But, Uncle, now you are forgetting. I want you to tell me! I know you love me. But do you love Miss Moore?"
"Oh, Maud!" Grace ejaculates, and her face is red with embarrassment.
"Why do you want to know, you little tyrant?" he asks, as he playfully caresses her. "Why do you want to know?"
"Oh, but, Uncle, you are asking a question now, and you promised to answer mine."
As Captain Jenkins looks at Grace her head is bowed, and still the scarlet flush dies red her fair face. He looks at her for a second, and then, turning to his niece, he says, half banteringly: "Yes, you little rogue!" and he is surprised at the serious ring in his own voice.
"Oh, that settles it!" Maud says, with all the air of a learned barrister deciding a case, and she gives a heart-felt sigh of relief, and her little face looks as if it had been relieved of much care as she continues: "I am so glad, Uncle, because now we three are friends; it is so nice to love one another. Just like I love my Mamma."
As Grace meets the earnest look in his eyes, she feels that the friendship now formed by the innocent prattle of a little child will be true and lasting.
Day after day for some time past Captain Jenkins has carried Maud to this cosy seat in the garden, and each day he finds new pleasure, new joy, in the company and conversation of the child's governess. This friendship strengthened and deepened as the time went on, and now Maud's innocent prattle has given birth to a new thought in his heart. And, as he looks at Grace, in his soul the question is asked: "Can it be that I, who have hitherto never been affected by the charms of a beautiful woman, should now feel so strangely drawn towards this girl?" And as he still looks at her averted face he thinks, "I believe I do care."
"Uncle Frank, you and Miss Moore can go and gather some lovely flowers for me. I promised Grandma to arrange some little bouquets for the sick children in the hospital, so please go and pick them for me. Please, Uncle, gather a lot of pretty white roses. Grandma wants them, too. Miss Moore will show you the best sort, and I will watch you from here."
He looks at Grace, and, taking up the basket, says: "Very well, Maud, we will obey you; but wait till you are well, my little niece, and I will expect you to gather the flowers for me."
"Uncle, if I get well I will gather lots of flowers for you. And I will do such a lot of things for you—will we not, Miss Moore?"
"Yes, Maud dear, we will." And they hurry away to gather the flowers.
As Captain Jenkins culls the roses, and puts them in the open basket, he seems to be lost in deep thought; and, looking at Grace, who is holding the basket, he can see that her face still wears a look of embarrassment. "Maud's pretty prattle," he thinks, "has made Miss Moore uncomfortable. I must say something to divert her thoughts." And, looking up, "Miss Moore," he says, "I suppose you are, like the others, looking forward to the coming festivities of race week? It is wonderful the fascination, the magnetic attraction, the Melbourne Cup day has for the Australian world!"
"Next week Cup week?" she exclaims, incredulously. "Truly, I had almost forgotten it. One time I suppose I was like—but, oh, what is the good of talking about one time? Cup week does not mean much to me now. When my father lived, it was different. Then—" and she turns away to hide the shadow dimming her eyes.
"Miss Moore, I am—"
"Uncle Frank! Uncle Frank!" interrupts Maud, as she calls from her seat.
"Her majesty calls," says Grace, and all shadows have gone from her fair face as she speaks.
"Not you, Miss Moore, thank you. I just want Uncle Frank."
As he hurries through the flower-laden bushes, "Well, my dear Maud, what is it?"
"Oh! Uncle Frank, I forgot to tell you. I want a red rose. Please tell Miss Moore to get a really beautiful red one. I want to give it to Dr. O'Meara. He so loves red roses; I know he does," she continues, "for Miss Moore gave him one the other day, and he looked so pleased. And, Uncle Frank, he must have loved it, because I saw him kissing it, and when Miss Moore pinned it on his coat, he patted her cheek; so I knew he loved the rose."
For a minute a slight shadow passes over the face of the Captain, then he says: "Very well, dear, I will tell Miss Moore. I will tell her she has a little rival," and, stooping, he kisses his niece, and goes back to gather the flowers.
"New commands, Miss Moore! Maud wants a beautiful red rose for Dr. O'Meara."
At the mention of the name of the doctor, Grace's face glows with pleasure, and a new light beams in her eyes.
"Ah!" thinks the Captain, "if he loves the rose, she loves him. I must banish these thoughts that were awakening in my soul."
Grace forgets that Captain Jenkins is there. Mechanically she holds the basket for the flowers. Her face still glows, and her heart thrills as she thinks of the brave heart of Dr. O'Meara, who loves her so fondly. She forgets everything, so wrapt is her soul in the joyous thoughts, and her face reflects the gladness of a satisfied heart. She even forgets little Maud, so lost is she in dreamland. The basket drops from her hand, and the flowers lie scattered at her feet. "Oh, I beg your pardon! Forgive me; I was thinking."
"Yes, and happy thoughts, too, they must be. If Dr. O'Meara saw you now, he would call you his rose queen."
And the roses in Grace's cheeks rival the red one which has been gathered for Maud.
As Captain Jenkins gathers up the scattered roses, he thinks: "How like a man's hopes are these flowers! But a moment ago they were blooming in health and beauty. They are rudely cut from their stems; soon they will wither and die."
"We will go back now," he says, aloud, as he completes filling the basket.
"Very well," assents Grace. "I think we have gathered sufficient."
"When they reach Maud's side with the flowers, "Oh, how beautiful they are!" she cries, joyfully. "I think, Uncle Frank, you should go and tell Grandma to come and see them." And as he strides towards the house, "Is not Uncle Frank good?" she says. "He will bring Grandma now, and I do hope my Mamma is home, for she might come, too." The old, pathetic look again deepens in Maud's eyes, and her thin face grows sad.
When Captain Jenkins enters the house, he hears Clarence's voice raised in angry tones.
"Indeed, Hopkins," she is saying, "how should I know where Miss Moore is? I suppose she is somewhere with the child. Why do you want her?"
"Please Miss, there is a visitor to see her—a lady."
"Well," Clarence comments authoritatively, "show her round the back! Surely, you should know that ladies are not in the habit of calling upon servants; and, for the future, try and distinguish between the term 'lady' and a 'person.' "
"But, please, Miss, this is a real lady!" Hopkins looks very servile; but still she does not hurry away in obedience.
Hopkins is not an Australian. She is an imported maid, and consequently she has not that proud spirit that is inborn in the Australian race.
"I tell you, show this person to the back!" again Clarence orders angrily.
"But, please, Miss, she is in the morning-room."
"How dare you, Hopkins!"
"What is all this noise about?" asks the Captain.
"Oh!" exclaims Clarence, half -ashamed that he should hear her angry tones. "I was vexed because Hopkins has shown some person that called on Maud's governess into the morning-room, and Hopkins says the visitor is a lady."
"Oh, well," and he whispers low to his sister, so as the maid who has passed along cannot hear. "You know, Clarence, you must not forget that you are a lady. You had better go into the morning-room, while I hurry away to bring Miss Moore."
Clarence's eyes blaze with vexation.
"You forget yourself, Frank," she indignantly retorts. "If you are infatuated, and spend the morning in the company of our servant, I will not so far forget my dignity by entertaining her guest!" and, with an angry frown darkening her pretty face, she turns and walks away to her room.
The Captain is very vexed with his sister. "I am surprised," he murmurs, "to find Clarence so shallow. She should remember that a lady is never rude to anyone, not even to the guest of her servant. I will go myself." As he enters the morning-room a pair of lovely arms are outstretched, and a girl's sweet, musical voice exclaims, "Oh, Grace!"
He is almost embraced in the pretty arms. "I beg your pardon!" he says, "and—"
"Oh, excuse me," the visitor exclaims hurriedly. "I thought it was Miss Moore. And, please, do not think me rude? The fact is, I only came from Ireland yesterday. I am Kathleen, Dr. O'Meara's sister; and when I heard that Grace was here I would not wait for my brother to bring me," she feverishly adds, and her disappointed face looks pathetic and shy.
"Dr. O'Meara's sister! You are welcome indeed." And Captain Frank holds out his hand cordially as he says, "I am Frank Jenkins; maybe you have heard of me."
"Oh, yes, I have often heard my brother speak of you. You are Captain Jenkins—but, oh, what will he think when I tell him that I almost hugged you? I know what he will say, and—"
"Oh!" interrupts Frank, "I think he will be sorry for me," and they both laugh merrily. And as he looks at the fair, lovely countenance of the girl, he thinks, "No wonder Hopkins knew she was a lady. She is the fairest woman I have ever seen."
"You cannot know," says Kathleen, impressively, and her face seems suddenly to become wistful, "how I long to see Grace. Oh, it is so dreadful to think that all the time I was enjoying myself away in Ireland—the dear old home of my fathers—my darling girl-friend was in trouble. I know you would be kind, but, oh, it is dreadful to think that while I was enjoying everything, she had to go out amongst strangers to toil," and the tears roll down the sweet, womanly face. Then, hurriedly, she wipes the tears away and smiles.
"I will ring for my mother."
"No, no! Please take me to Miss Moore first."
"Come, then, I will take you to her. She is in the garden with Maud." And as Frank goes by her side on their way through the flowers, "What a sweet little woman she is!" he thinks. "The tears have all vanished; her face now looks like sunshine after rain."
When Kathleen sees Grace where she is seated with the child in the garden, "Oh, darling!" she exclaims, and in a minute the two girls are locked in a fond embrace.
Clarence, looking from the window, remarks to her mother, who is standing near her, "Frank is truly a plebeian in his ways. He takes his chief pleasures in the company of servants, and makes Maud the excuse. And now, look at him; he has just escorted the person calling on Miss Moore across the grounds to her. You must not be surprised, Ma, if you find that at last our gallant Captain brother makes a mesalliance," and she walks out of the room.
Colonel Jenkins hears Clarence's whispered words, and a sudden, surprised look comes into his face. "What does she mean?" he inquires, anxiously.
"Oh, Clarence thinks that Maud's governess is trying to gain the affections of our son Frank. But she is mistaken. Grace Moore is too good a girl for that. Besides, I think that her heart is already given to another."
The Colonel sighs relievedly. "Yes," he says, "she is a good girl. But you know, Mary dear, it would never do for our son to make a mesalliance."
Mrs. Jenkins looks at her husband and laughs long and heartily. Then, putting her arm affectionately on his shoulder, she says. "Excuse me, George, for laughing, but I had to laugh. Surely our success in life makes you forget. Tell me this, would it be a mesalliance? Would the union of our son with the daughter of Gerald Moore—would such a union be a mesalliance?"
"No! No! Mary, my wife, such a union would not be a mesalliance. For the moment I did forget."
"Yes, my son, I think it would be better to tell Milly all. I know it would be better. If you have any difficulties to contend with, it is only right that your wife should know of them. I do not wish to blame either of you now, my boy, but it is not too late for both of you to start afresh. You must go home, as your father said. It is the only remedy now, since the coal miners have gone out on strike, and your mines are lying idle. The miners may become desperate, unless some remedy is found immediately; and, remember this, Harold, the absentee mine owner is almost as great a curse to a State as the absentee land owner. He shows little interest in his possessions; and certainly the absentee owner should remember that he owes a duty to the State from which he derives his income. You know, my boy," and Mrs. Jenkins' voice wears a tone of gentle rebuke as she speaks to her son, "you and Milly are the worst of absentees. Hitherto you have been gathering in the dividends, only to extravagantly spend them abroad in other lands. You did not interfere if the miners were imposed upon, and had to toil deep in the bowels of the earth, with death ever hovering in their wake." Harold winces, and is about to say something, but his mother continues, "These poor miners have to breathe in the foul, poisonous atmosphere, away where God's sunlight never reaches, and where pure air cannot be breathed. They have grown tired of toiling always for a miserable recompense. You now find that they are not content to suffer always. They have the God-given ambition of freemen; they are only asking of you enough to enable them to live as white men should live. Hitherto, you have been deaf to their call. You have been satisfied to pay large bonuses yearly to the managers who could work your mines in the cheapest way; you forgot that the great profits shown in the balance-sheets were sucked, leech-like, from the poor miners, the earners of your wealth. And what is the result of this long neglect? The toilers are in rebellion! But then, Harold, you are no worse than many of the other absentee employers."
Over Harold's face there are varying signs of emotion as his mother speaks, but he is silent.
"You know," the old lady continues, as if he were still a little boy, and she were chiding him as of old, "up to this you have had no limit to your extravagance. Milly's hotel expenses for her dogs alone, while in London, must have run into a small fortune! No wonder that difficulties surround you now."
Harold is still silent, his head resting on his arm, as he leans his elbow on the little work-table in his mother's private sitting-room, where he had gone for consolation when he learned that his mines in Sydney had closed down and the miners were on strike, demanding better conditions.
Many a time, as a little boy, when he would have difficulties with his lessons or some other boyish troubles, it was his wont always to come to this little room to seek his mother's helpful advice, and she would always help him and guide him.
As she now looks at his bowed head, "Ah!" she murmurs, "the tiny patches of grey have too soon appeared to mar the beauty of those thick, dark curls."
"Rouse up, my son!" she whispers, as she pats his head gently. "Do not give in like this. Go back to Sydney, and meet your men fairly. Do not listen to your managers; see the men yourself, and if the concessions they claim are just, agree to them; and, remember, it is not a loss of honour to give in or acknowledge when you have been in the wrong."
The touch of the mother's soft hand is so soothing to the worried man's tired head.
"You are right, Mother. You have shown me as if in a mirror my own deficiencies and neglect. I will go to Milly now."
"Yes, do. And I am sure, though Milly is proud, and in a way spoilt, that when she knows, she will think differently. Go to her now and tell her all."
And when Harold looks, he can see that there are tears in his kind old mother's eyes. "I am sorry, Mother, that I have bothered you with my troubles," and, stooping, he kisses her soft, kind cheek, and goes out in search of his wife.
As Mrs. Jenkins looks after her son, "Ah!" she murmurs, and shakes her head hopelessly. "There he is. He is now almost in sight of the loss of a vast fortune, and all through their own neglect. A little care now, a wise discretion, may steer them clear of the rocks that threaten to wreck them and toss them into the seas of adversity. But what is the loss of fortune compared to that other canker that I know is gnawing at his heart—the loss of his peace of mind? If that wound could be healed, then—" And the mother leans on the little table where her son had so recently leant, and she thinks long and deeply. "What better could they expect," she murmurs, "living such a life as they have led? Vanity, frivolity, and sin. That sin, alas! that is sapping the lifeblood of France, that one-time glorious and beautiful nation. All the world stands aghast, now, watching the death throes of that great land, and yet, alas! we harbour that sin, that threatens to destroy every white child, and wipe from the face of the earth every vestige of the white race. But, then, what am I thinking of? Harold and Milly are only fashionable. She has her dogs to fondle and kiss. She does not want or love the baby face." Mrs. Jenkins looks prophetic as she murmurs, "If society continues thus in its racial suicide, the coloured races will yet smile in triumph and not be able to find even the trace of a white man." The poor old lady's face looks very sad, and as she passes along the corridor she sees Harold entering Milly's dressing-room, and she murmurs, "I hope all will end well."
When Harold enters he finds his wife seated on a low stool, gently brushing out her little poodle's white curls.
"I wish," she cries impatiently, "you would not be so clumsy! See! You almost stood on my puppy's little rug; it is a new one." And, looking up, she notices that Harold's face looks white and haggard, and she thinks, "I wonder what he came for? There is something serious, for he looks terrible. I hope he has not found out that I have borrowed money from Mrs. Mason's brother Fred. Surely, Clarence would not tell. But, no," she assures herself, and pretends not to notice as she goes on with the dog's toilet. Now and then she stops to sprinkle a little scent among the woolly curls.
At last Harold speaks. He does not notice the dogs, neither does he notice her impatient manner. "Milly," he says, "I have just had bad news from Sydney. As you know, the miners are all out on strike, and now I must return at once, for if the mines remain closed for any time—well, then—"
"Oh! Is that all?" says Milly, interrupting him, "One would think you had something terrible to tell. If you must return to Sydney, I suppose you must."
"Yes, dear, I must go at once, but I want you to go with me."
The brush drops from Milly's hand. "I go with you? Are you mad? How can I return to Sydney now? Why should I go home? Surely you do not expect me to go, and arrange a business matter for you? Have you forgotten that next week is 'Cup Week,' and that my imported frocks have just arrived? Do you think that I would go at such a time? Oh, no! Harold, do not alarm yourself. I intend to be the best dressed lady at the races this year. My race gown cost me a small fortune, and my ball dress cost—"
"Never mind what they cost," exclaims Harold, interrupting her. "It is absolutely necessary that we return now. Our whole future depends upon it."
"Well, then, if it is absolutely necessary, go. I think you are mean and selfish to suggest that I should accompany you." And she again takes up the brush, and once more attends to the dog's curls.
"But, Milly, if this trouble with the miners be not settled at once, and satisfactorily, I am afraid that our monetary losses will be so great that it will mean financial failure to us. So you see, my dear, how urgent and serious is the position."
A frightened look passes over her face. "Financial failure!" she exclaims. In these ominous words she can see poverty, want, and misery, and the light shining from her diamonds, which are lying on the dressing-table near, grows dim, and she sits down on her couch and bursts into tears.
"Never mind, dear," he whispers consolingly, as he gently puts his arm caressingly around her. "You must not cry; it is not too late, and all may yet be well. With you by my side I can go back strong, and can meet my men, and I feel confident that I will tide over all difficulties. Milly, my dear wife, you do not know how sad my heart has been of late to know that a great gulf has been opening up between us, and that my wife and I have been drifting apart. You will come?"
With an impatient movement, she tosses his arm away, and hurriedly wipes her tears.
"Indeed, Harold, I am not going to return now! I will stay here until the race week is over, no matter what is the result; so you had better go alone."
"But, Milly, Dr. O'Meara says that if we wish to keep Maud with us, we must go home and take her away from here; so you must come. Every time the doctor sees the child, he says he can see that she is fading away. Hitherto we have avoided our responsibilities as parents. It must all end now. I can understand, from what Miss Moore tells me, that the child will not forget little Effie, or those strange, weird fancies, while she remains here."
"Oh, indeed! So Miss Moore is the authority. Has she been once more entrancing you with some pretty tunes on the violin? If we went now, would the fair governess accompany us as handmaid to our little daughter?" Milly's beautiful face looks wicked. " I see now why we should take Maud home. Maybe Miss Moore would like a change of scene? You had better go; no doubt she would have no objection to go also. I must ask Ma would such an arrangement suit her, or, perhaps, Mrs. Grundy might say something. But, Harold, take my advice; do not make a fool of yourself, as your brother Frank is doing."
"How can you, Milly, so forget yourself as to be so vile and insinuating?" Harold's face is black with anger, as he gives vent to his pent-up rage, "You speak unjustly of a good woman—one who is devoted to our child. Only for her loving care what would become of Maud? You forget you are a mother; you never go near her; you sit, and never grow tired of fondling and caressing those dogs; you lavish kisses, that should be the child's, on their canine faces, while she lies languishing for a fond caress, for a loving kiss, from you. Whenever I go to her my heart aches; her first words are for her mother, and yet you seldom or never go near her. I now ask you to do something for her sake, for your own, and you insult me. Lately I have stood a lot; but, remember, I will not tolerate such conduct any longer."
"Come in!" Milly calls, as she hears a gentle tapping at the door.
"Hello, what is the matter?" Clarence asks, as she enters the room and notes her brother's cloudy face. "You and Milly still at loggerheads? What is the trouble now, eh?" and she glances at her sister-in-law with such a look of comradery that Milly knows she has a strong ally in her.
"Oh, dear, nothing unusual. Harold is always martyr-like in his airs lately. What do you think? He wants me to go to Sydney at once."
"To Sydney now! Surely, Harold, you cannot mean that you want Milly to go away now, just on the eve of our most delicious time? Really, I do not know what has come over you lately. You mope about, and you expect your wife to do the same."
"You are wrong; you know you are. I only ask Milly to come back now because Maud's health demands that we should take her away, and there are other worries; so, what are the festivities of Cup week, or any other festivities, when Maud's life is in jeopardy?"
"As for Maud, I think Dr. O'Meara is an alarmist; I fancy his visits here are continued so that he can carry on a flirtation with the pretty governess. Oh, do not look shocked, Harold! She is not so prim as you think. Even Frank is not adamant against her charms, and the Doctor—"
"Oh, Clarence! it is not Dr. O'Meara whom I think is responsible for this new freak of Harold's. I fancy Miss Moore must be the authority."
"Oh, yes, I forgot; and I fancy Harold, too, has worshipped at the shrine. Do you remember, Milly, the day he would not come with us? Oh, you need not look so fierce, my brother," Clarence continues.
"Be silent!" he commands, indignantly; "you are unbearable. Both you and Milly, by your nasty insinuations, indiscriminately cast slurs on an innocent woman."
Clarence is frightened by the fierce look in her brother's face. "Oh, he is vexed," she murmurs to herself, and she cautiously moves out of the room. The angry look still darkens Harold's face, and, turning to his wife, he says, "Think well over what I have said to you, Milly, and if you value Maud's life you will not hesitate." And, without another word, he opens the door and passes out alone into the darkness of the night.
"How can I guess where you have been to, you little madcap?" Dr. O'Meara says, playfully, to his sister, Kathleen. "I was never good at conundrums," he continues, "so you must tell me where you have been."
"Oh, you are just horrid! You are so lazy that you will not even try to guess."
"Well, then," the doctor ventures, "I suppose you have been for a spin on 'Wildfire;' and, you know, my sister, the little brute is a fiend. I have warned you—"
"No, I have not been on 'Wildfire' to-day. I see, you cannot guess, so I suppose I had better tell you; I have been to 'Garoopna' to see Grace Moore."
A surprised and glad look brightens the doctor's face.
"Oh," she continues, "you cannot understand how my heart felt when I saw her! I am determined she will not remain there, though Mrs. Jenkins is kind to her. I am sorry, now, that I went to Ireland; for if I had remained here, all would have been different. Grace would not have been a servant now."
"So you stole a march on me, did you? You know I promised to take you to 'Garoopna.' However did you get there?"
"I went by train, and I had no difficulty whatever in finding my way to the house."
"But why on earth did you go by train? Could you not have taken—"
"Well, you see," she explains, "I thought if I went in the car I would have some bother. There would be too much attention drawn to me if I drove up to 'Garoopna' in a motor to see the governess; as it was, everything was just lovely. Mrs. Jenkins is the kindest and sweetest old lady I have ever met; she was so nice."
"Did you meet Miss Jenkins?"
"Oh, no!" replies Kathleen, regretfully. "Her mother said she was confined to her room with a headache."
"Ha! Ha! Ha!" laughs the doctor; "I thought as much. I thought you would hardly meet Miss Jenkins."
"But, why? Is Miss Jenkins always ill? Why should you think I would not meet her?"
"Well, you see, my little sister, you dense little girl, can you not understand? Miss Jenkins would be too horrified; she would hardly care to be presented to a lady who would call on a governess."
"Is she so horrid as that?" queries Kathleen. "Oh, but I have not told you all yet! I met Captain Jenkins, and I know I will shock you when I tell you what happened. But, really, he is so nice! I think he is just the handsomest man I know, and not a bit vain; just sensible and nice. But, wait till I tell you how I met him. When I knocked, a maid answered the door, and she showed me into the morning-room. When I told her I called on Miss Moore, she looked me up and down, and then she said, 'Are you sure it is Miss Moore you want to see?' It was so funny to see how she looked when I assured her it was Miss Moore I called upon; and, when she went out, I heard quarrelling in the hall, and there was a great discussion as to whether I was a lady or a person! Then I heard a footstep, and I thought, 'This is Grace;' and I advanced to the door, and held my hands out—just like this." She extends her arms dramatically while she speaks. "I thought to clasp her, and take her by surprise. I just said, 'Grace!' and, oh! I almost fainted; for there, in the doorway, was a tall, handsome man; the nicest man I have ever seen! It was Captain Jenkins! Of course, I apologised, and felt very shy; but, when he told me who he was, I seemed to know him well. You know, you often mentioned his name to me; and when he took me to Grace I forgot all about him till I was coming away, and then he would insist on driving me home. So, you see, I have had quite an experience with my morning's outing! You must invite Captain Jenkins to join our party to the races. He asked me if we would join them, and—"
"Now, now!" interrupts the doctor. "Be careful, my little sister; you must not let this soldier-son of Mrs. Jenkins' steal your heart away!"
"Do not be nasty, Frank!" she pleads, shyly, as she turns away to hide the deep blush which suffuses her pretty face.
"Ah, Kathleen, that is a symptom! You know I can diagnose heart trouble very accurately!" remarks the Doctor, with well-assumed professional gravity.
With a look of retaliation flashing in her eyes, she retorts: "Maybe I can also diagnose a heart affection; and, if I am right, I say, 'Physician, heal thyself!' For, really, I used to think that you loved Grace Moore; in fact, I always thought you did!"
The bantering light flits from Dr. O'Meara's face. "My dear sister, you are right. I always loved her, and I love her now!"
"You love her, and yet you leave her there—a servant!"
"Yes; but the fault is not mine. I have asked Grace to be my wife."
In a moment Kathleen's young arms are entwined round her brother's neck, and a fond kiss is imprinted on his cheek. "Oh, Frank, I am so glad!" she says, softly. "I will tell you now, but you must not laugh; I promised Captain Jenkins that we would meet him at the races! His mother asked me to join their party; but, as Grace would not be in that arrangement, I thought it would be better if we could meet them at the course. I would like so much to meet him again!"
"Very well, my little sister, I will arrange to suit your wishes; but, remember, Kathleen," he adds, "a soldier's love is often but a roving fancy. A soldier has but little time for love; so be careful, and do not lose your heart!"
"Well, Frank, a soldier like Captain Jenkins is always a brave man, and—" Suddenly Kathleen stops, as she sees the merry twinkle in her brother's eyes, and she hurries out of the room to hide the deep blushes that again mantle her fair face.
"Poor little Kathleen!" soliloquises the Doctor, when the door closes after the retreating girl; "I wonder—. But, what am I thinking of? It may only be a fleeting fancy. Anyway, the Captain is a fine fellow; a gentleman, every inch of him!" And again the Doctor falls into deep thought. Then, suddenly rousing himself, "Why," he exclaims, "I am growing as sentimental as a schoolboy! I must go now and see Grace. Surely I will be able to persuade her of the folly of her decision! Mrs. Carrington wishes it. I will have no longer delay! She must give way! She must be mine!" A little while later, as he takes his place in the car, he looks very determined.
An onlooker would think that it would not take much persuasion for him to win a wife from any circle, with his handsome, manly face; his straight, honest eyes—eyes that will look one fairly in the face. His are not those shifting orbs which one often meets, and which betoken double-dealing, hollowness, and deceit.
Dr. O'Meara is always careful with his chauffeur. He is careful that the driver will not exceed his usual pace; there is no fear of his being brought up for furious driving. To-day, somehow, he murmurs to himself, "This cautious and careful driving annoys me."
He is anxious to be at his destination; but he does not care to now bid the driver to take on that furious speed with which his thoughts and heart would propel him over the space between himself and Miss Moore. The beauty of the belt of tree-clad hills towering in the distance does not attract his admiration. On they speed, past tree and shrub, past mansion and hovel, but he sees them not; his thoughts are not with the beauty of the scene.
"Kathleen is right!" he murmurs. "I must overcome all objections! Grace must be my wife!"
And, with a relieved sigh, he feels the car slow up, and turn into the entrance leading to the home of the Jenkins'. As he does so, he can see Grace standing on the verandah in close conversation with Father Ryan, the parish priest of "Looranna," and old Lawyer Graham, the family lawyer of Gerald Moore.
On Grace's face there is a look of bewilderment, as she looks from one to the other; but Dr. O'Meara cannot hear old Lawyer Graham saying, in an undertone: "You are surprised, Miss Moore! But law is law, and to-day is the day. It said your twenty-second birthday, or your wedding-day!"
Still the bewildered expression makes her lovely face look blank, and turning to the priest, "Father Ryan," she says, "you would not deceive me? Is this true? Do I dream, or is it real?"
"Yes, my child," replies the old priest, "it is true! Every word is true!"
"Very well, then," and the blank look disappears from her sweet face as she murmurs, softly: "Poor old Dad! He always thought of me; his first thoughts were always for my welfare. Poor old dad!" Then, suddenly, she clutches the old lawyer's arm, and, looking anxiously into his face, she whispers hurriedly, "Keep silent still!" Then, turning to the priest, "Dear Father Ryan," she whispers, entreatingly, "keep the secret a little longer!"
"We will be silent, Grace," says the priest.
"Yes," adds old Lawyer Graham, as he takes her hand; "we will be silent until you bid us speak."
When Dr. O'Meara comes up to where they are standing, "Well, Frank, my boy!" ejaculates Father Ryan, as he grips the Doctor's hand in a warm greeting; "I am just on my way to your house."
"I can assure you, Father," responds the Doctor, as he still retains the warm, clasping hand, "there is no one will be more welcome; we would have you with us always if we could."
"I know that, my boy; but, as Mr. Graham's time is precious, I will now hurry away and rejoin you at your house."
As Lawyer Graham and Father Ryan pass down the drive, "I am glad that is over!" Father Ryan remarks, "for I do not like keeping secrets like that. It was so hard to see Grace there, and, knowing what I knew, Gerald Moore put a great task on me! I am glad it is all off now. My mind is greatly relieved, now that she knows all."
"Ah, Father, but it was a wise precaution. Gerald Moore was wise, indeed! If he had not been wise that scamp would—" Old Lawyer Graham breaks off, and the two pass along in silence.
When Dr. O'Meara turns to Grace, he wonders at the strange look on her face, and she knows that he is scrutinising her countenance.
"Does my face speak?" she asks herself, as she takes his extended hand. "I must school myself so that my countenance will not be as an open book. I would like to tell him now," she thinks, "but I must not—yet."
He can see that she is much agitated. "Ah!" he inwardly concludes, "she is sad, now, because the sight of Father Ryan revives old memories!"
"Grace, my girl!" he whispers, gently, "does the sight of those two old friends cause you pain? Does the reviving of old memories make your heart so sad that you weep?"
"No, Frank. Father Ryan never yet brought me pain. He has, to-day, brought me tidings of great joy, and my heart is glad."
"Well, why those tears?" queries the Doctor, incredulously.
"Oh, Frank, sometimes we cry with joy; but I think now these tears are tears of gratitude for my dear old dad! You cannot know how good my father was to me!"
"Yes, dear, your father was a good man; and you know, if he were alive and here to-day, he would tell you that you are acting wrongly in refusing to be my wife."
Suddenly she looks into his face, and a happy, beautiful smile illuminates her countenance.
The look on Grace's face gives new hope to the Doctor, and, as they walk hand in hand down to where the fountain plays, and listen to the song of the birds softly cooing their notes of love as they flit amongst the overhanging branches of the trees, one would think that Dr. O'Meara would not require to use much persuasion, and, when next he would ask Grace to be his wife, her answer will not be "No!"
In a lowly coal-miner's cottage, situated on the brow of a hill, away where Newcastle kisses the sea, within a few miles of Sydney, the mother city of the great Australian Federated States—Newcastle, the greatest coal-mining centre of the southern world, upon which the great commerce of the southern seas depends for its coal supply, and wherefrom the steam monsters of the rails find their propelling force. When the mouths of these great coal caves are closed by strikes or any other cause, commerce is almost at a standstill; trade is paralysed, and the streets are in darkness. In this lowly cottage Mrs. Allen, a pale-faced woman, pulls aside a clean, though shabby, well-darned curtain, and she gazes anxiously through the window.
"I wonder," she soliloquises, "if they have settled anything to-day? This long wait, this long want, surely, cannot last? But, hark! did I hear a call?" she asks herself. She listens, and hears a weak voice calling, "Mumma! Mumma!" And she hurries to answer the call.
"I want a drink, please!" comes a feeble voice from the bed; "and, please, Mumma, I want a little piece of bread!"
The woman's pale face grows haggard as she mutters, "Take the drink, Daisy!" and she holds the cup to the child's lips.
"I will give you bread by and bye! Wait till Harry comes back from selling the papers, and then he will bring some."
And, with a heavy sigh, she turns away from the bed, and once more takes up her vigil by the window.
"Ah, here is Harry coming now!" she says, half-aloud, and her thin face brightens.
Just then a little boy of about eleven years enters. "Hallo, Mother!" he cries.
"Well, my boy, I am so glad you have returned!" she says kindly, and, as she looks at him, she thinks his well-patched galatea suit seems too thin for the evening air. "It is growing chill this evening," she murmurs, and sighs.
"Mother!" the boy interposes, wistfully, "I only got fivepence this evening! I did not stay out so long; I knew you would be waiting."
"Oh, well, Harry, my boy, you must have had a long walk for that; but I am glad that you have even got so much!"
And as Mrs. Allen looks down at her son's broken boots and his threadbare garments, and then at his pale, thin, hungered face, a bitter, rebellious thought rankles in her soul.
"Oh, God!" she exclaims, "how long will this last? How long?"
The boy looks surprised. "What last, mother?"
"Oh, nothing, Harry! I forgot. But, my boy, will you run and get me a loaf of bread? Your sister—little White-face—has been asking for some."
"All right, Mother! but"—and the boy pauses at the doorway—"I heard them saying up the street that they are going to blow up the mine to-night!"
"Hush, hush!" gasps his mother, as she tightly grips her son's arm and gazes fearfully around. "Do not say that! Do not whisper such a thing! The men must be mad to even think of it! Run for the bread now, and do not breathe that word again! No, not for your life!"
"Oh, well, Mother," Harry responds, apologetically, "it was Tom Jones said it to Bill Inglis."
But, catching sight of the frightened look on her face, "No, Mother, I won't say it again!" he says. And he runs off for the bread, wondering, in his boy-mind, why his mother feared him to speak of what Tom Jones had said.
As Mrs. Allen looks after her son, "What is the good of it all?" she moans. "Toiling; wearily waiting; no bread; no anything; the grate empty and the cupboard empty!"
And again she looks through the window; then, turning, she mutters, as she tosses back the curtains impatiently: "Men are mad to strike! But what am I saying? What else can they do? Better to starve outright than to toil and starve; while they—the owners, the employers—while they and theirs flaunt in wealth and luxury! Why should the toilers starve?"
Her face still looks bitter and dark.
"The last thing of value has been put away!" she murmurs. "I have only this now!" and she looks down at the ring shining on her worn hand. "Only this!" and she twirls the plain gold circlet upon her finger, and then, suddenly, she puts her hand quickly behind her back, as if to chase temptation from her mind. Then, again, she argues with herself: "Daisy must have something to eat; she is too weak to want as we can want."
Once more she holds back the curtain, and peers into the distance. "I wish Jack were here! If what Tom Jones said be true, surely Jack would not join them. It would be too horrible! And, yet, Jack's face looked strange to-day when Daisy cried for milk; and he muttered an oath as he went out."
"When Harry returns, I will go," and she puts on her hat as she continues, "I must go, for, if anything should happen, Jack is so hot-headed and desperate—"
When Harry comes in with the bread, "Going out, Mother?" he asks, and he looks surprised that his mother should be going out, for she seldom goes away from home.
"Yes, boy, I am going out for a little while, and I want you to mind Daisy." And she gives the little one in bed some bread and milk, which Harry had just brought in. He looks hungrily at the bread. It is fresh; and he is a growing lad. "I am sure I could eat it all," flashes through his mind; "but," is his concluding thought, "dad and mum want some, and little white-face Daisy. One piece is enough, Mother!" he says, as his mother is about to cut another piece for him.
"Be a good boy, dear, and mind Daisy." And Mrs. Allen pulls her thin cloak tightly round her shoulders, and hurries away through the quickly closing in shadows of the evening.
She stops abruptly. "Oh, I forgot! I forgot to tell him," and she hurries back to the cottage.
"Harry, do not have a light while I am out!" And, fondly kissing her little girl, and with a pat and a kiss to the boy, she once more hastens away.
As she passes along through the dimly-lighted streets, she murmurs to herself, "I will have to do it! I must get money! What if it is the last? I will do it!" and she stops and thinks. Then she turns quickly into one of the main thoroughfares, passes along, and enters a shop which is dimly lighted. She has often been to this shop lately; so she knows the way, and, pausing at the counter, with a sigh she takes off her ring—the only one—a plain gold one. "It is my wedding-ring!" she says, as she passes it over the counter. The man on the other side does not feel a responding sigh as he hears the deep, melancholy one of the woman. "Beezness is beezness!" he thinks, as he adds up the cent, per cent., and mentally—not sentimentally—calculates the value of the ring.
"I want five shillings, please," she says courageously.
The pawnbroker looks at the ring, then at the gaunt, haggard face of the woman. "I will give you three shillings!"
She knows there is no use arguing for more. "Very well!" she says, dejectedly, and, with one more longing look at the little golden circlet—the last remnant of any value that she possessed—she takes up the coins and hurries from the shop.
There are tears in her eyes, and curses in her heart, as she hurries down the street, out of the light into the gloom, and across in the direction of the coal-pit.
"My feet are so tired!" she murmurs, as she hurries along. The rough ground she is now crossing penetrates through her ragged footwear, and hurts her feet.
"Great Heavens!" she exclaims, and she stops and listens, and her white face grows blanched with terror. "What if I am too late? What mean those wild yells of rage?" And, as she comes nearer to the coal-pit, she can see through the gathering gloom a vast concourse of people, yelling and hooting with rage, and, here and there, troopers riding round endeavouring to disperse the mob.
"Oh, God!" she cries, and a great, deep pain rends her soul, "if Jack is there? If what Harry said be true? But, no, no!" and, as she reaches the fringe of the crowd, she listens.
A man is on the staging, near the pit's mouth, addressing the mob. But the hooting and yelling are deafening. Stones and lumps of coal are flying in the direction of the man on the staging. Women and children are joining in the mêlée.
She crushes through the crowd and makes her way towards the pit's mouth. As she comes closer the mob have screamed themselves hoarse, and there is a lull. She can hear the man saying: "Go back to your work, or I will put men in your places! The mine must open to-morrow, whether you work in it or not! If you go back, you go back at my terms! I have shiploads of men coming to take your places."
"Blacklegs! Blacklegs!" yells the mob. And again the gas-laden missiles are showered through the air, and the hoots grow deeper.
"What terms?" yells the leader of the strikers; and again the mob shrieks.
Mrs. Allen's heart almost ceases beating. She recognises the voice of her husband as he again yells, "We will work as men, but not as slaves!"
She elbows her way through the crowd. "Jack!" she gasps, as she reaches his side, and her voice is low, husky and appealing, "Come away! For God's sake, come away! What have you there? You would not do it?"
"You here, Kitty!" And, for a minute, Jack Allen forgets the mob. "Go back to Daisy!" he whispers. "Go back, wife! Leave me here! We must have bread! We must have work! Go home, girl!"
"But, Jack," she again gasps, in the same husky whisper, "what have you there?"
He looks at her; he leans down and whispers, and, with a look of horror on her face, she cries, "Well, I will stay, too!"
Again the man on the staging calls, "Take off your coats, men, and go to work!"
"The conditions! The conditions!" is the responding cry. And again the hooting and yelling from the mob.
When the uproar is at its highest, no one notices a tall, haggard-faced man elbowing his way up through the mob to the side of the staging. The man on the staging does not see him as he yells back, "The owner will not give any better conditions, and if you interfere with the workers at the mine to-morrow, the soldiers will fire upon you!"
The missiles of coal again speed through the air. One piece strikes the haggard-faced man at the side of the staging; he staggers, and says something to the man on the stage, whose face also grows haggard, and he quickly gets down to give place to the new-comer.
As the great, lawless, hooting mob look on, "Who is it?" they cry.
"Fellow-men!" the newcomer calls. But so uproarious is the din that they cannot hear him. "Fellow-men!" again he shouts, "I have come to give you justice!"
"Who is he that prates of 'justice'?" yells Jack Allen.
"The mine-owner! The mine-owner!" they all yell, as they recognise the man on the staging. "Harold Jenkins, the mine-owner!" again shout the coarse-voiced mob.
"Tyrant! Tyrant!" And the word echoes and re-echoes through the hollowness of the surrounding hills. "Go back to your yacht! Go back and spend your blood-money abroad! Tyrant! Tyrant!"
Jack Allen's face grows black with hatred as he cries, "You come to us now and brag of justice when our wives are starving and our children dying of want! Why didn't you come before?"
"I have come to right your wrongs, fellow-men! At least be Britishers, and hear me out!"
"Go back to your yacht! Britisher!" And the mob laugh in sarcastic chorus: "Bring your blacklegs! Bring your blacklegs! Let them go into the mine! Let them dare!"
"Again I appeal to you!" calls the mine-owner. "Listen to me!"
The mob cannot hear, so deafening is the roar of the human volcanoes as they belch forth their torrent of wrath.
A lump of coal strikes the speaker, and the blood trickles down his cheek.
"Don't be cowards!" he cries. "I came here to remedy your wrongs; to bring peace and prosperity amongst you, and you greet me with blows!"
With the infernal din, the pandemoniacal yells, the mob cannot hear, and they cry: "Tyrant! Tyrant! Bring the shipload of blacklegs your manager threatens us with! Bring them along!"
"If you will not listen, then you must blame yourselves. I have come a long way, and I want to be just!"
"Listen to him, Jack! For Heaven's sake, listen to him!" urges Mrs. Allen, as she clutches her husband's arm. "He speaks fairly."
"Fairly? How can you say so! See yonder troops? See those they are guarding? They are the blacklegs! They are only waiting. He speaks fairly so that we will disperse, and then those wretched creatures—those vermin of humanity—can creep in, and toil for a sweated wage! Ah, we have suffered long! Do not grip my arm!"
"Take off your coats now, boys, and go into the mine and work, and trust me to deal fairly by you."
Again the hollow, mocking laugh rings out; and even little children and women join the gaunt-faced men in the hooting and yelling. Again the missiles fly, and pieces of coal fall in showers; and one piece, more accurately aimed than the rest, strikes the speaker. Just then a trooper rides forward through the crowd, his horse kicking and plunging its way towards the staging. A cry of pain—the horse has trampled on women and children in its passage. As Jack Allen assists a woman to her feet, he looks after the trooper, and his face is black with rage, as he yells, "Justice? Justice? Yes, we will give him justice!"
Civilised man, when in the hours of ease and satisfaction, is docile and gentle; but when once he throws off the mantle of civilisation, lets loose the rein of revolt, bursts into rebellion, he is wilder and more ferocious and vindictive than the wildest beast that races, reinless, through the forest.
Jack Allen has now lost the mantle of civilisation. He is as a wild beast and, with a maddened yell, he cries, "Justice! Justice!" and rushes forward and disappears in the black mouth of the pit. For a minute all is quiet. Then a great rumbling sound is heard. "The bomb! The bomb!" the crowd shout. And they stampede in every direction. With a deafening roar the earth shakes to its very foundations, and great tongues of flame burst forth from the mouth of the pit, and sweep along the side of the hill. The lurid light shines far o'er the bay, and casts a sickly glimmer over a steam yacht that is standing a little way out to sea.
* * * * * *
Harold Jenkins, the gaunt-faced man, stands alone on the pier. He looks back at the burning mine. "I came too late!" he murmurs, as he gets into the small boat and is rowed back to his yacht.
Soon the anchor is weighed, and, as the yacht moves away out on the waters, the reflection of the lurid flames shines far out on the distant waves.
Harold Jenkins looks back, and mutters, "The reflection looks like blood! Their blood! It is like a curse following in my wake!" Then he turns his back on the sight and looks on in front, into the dark and troubled sea.
Cup Day! What a magnetic attraction those two words carry to the heart to the very soul of the Australian world: to the myriads, the great concourse, of humanity! What happy laughter, what sunshine, what gladness; and, alas! to some, what sorrow, what heart-sobs, what tragedy!
The pioneer settler, thousands of miles away back in the dense forest lands, leaves his axe and his hut; the planter leaves the sugar-cane ungathered; the wool king leaves the woolpress, the fleece and the bales; the wheat-farmer leaves his golden grain abroad in the fields; and, away in the West, the sturdy miner throws down the shovel, the dish and the bucket; and all—all—hurry away to join the surging throng that is moving in one mighty mass, like so many magnetised atoms, crushing and swaying, as they rush to that luring lodestone—the Melbourne Cup.
All nations, all colours, and all creeds are represented, the veriest scoundrels of the earth hob-nobbing, elbowing, and pushing for place with the honourable and the true-hearted.
They strain and they struggle; they crush back the weaker ones, so eager are they to catch sight of the mighty magnet that has drawn them all with such a fascinating power into the hypnotic circle—the Flemington Racecourse.
An onlooker wonders, if the bugle call of alarm were to ring out now, and the rise or fall of the Empire be at stake, would this mighty concourse be as enthusiastic—would they rush to answer the bugle call? Echo answers: "The lodestone holds them fast; they are pleasure-magnetised."
"How do I look?" asks Milly, as she proudly surveys herself from different points in the long mirrors that panel the surrounding walls of the dressing room.
For a minute Clarence is lost in admiration; then she says, "You look superb. You will be the handsomest woman on the course to-day; and, I am sure, if Harold were here; he could not but be proud."
She looks past Milly to catch a reflection of her own lovely person as she continues, "Really, you make me feel quite plain beside you."
"Oh, nonsense, Clarence! You are just fishing for compliments!"
How strange it is that women never grow tired of flattery. But, then, Milly is not flattered; for, in truth, she is a beautiful woman, and, gowned as she is to-day in the costliest and the latest design of a Parisian costumiere, her magnificent loveliness shows at its best.
Still, even beside her, Clarence also looks beautiful. Milly's charms do not shadow the loveliness of her sister-in-law. Her beauty is of another type, consequently these two women never clash with their personal charms.
"I wonder," remarks Clarence, thoughtfully, "if Harold will be back in time for the Cup?"
"Did you ever see such a mad freak?" rejoins Milly. "He is growing quite an alarmist. I am sure there was no trouble at the mines. But, never mind," she adds reflectively, as she looks at a little bit of paper and consoles herself, "he left me a cheque. With it I must make enough to pay Fred. I would not, for the world, let Harold know that I owe that money, for I believe he hates Fred."
"Well, you know, I always had an idea—I always thought him a bit nasty where Fred was concerned. But bother Harold," Clarence concludes impatiently; "the others are waiting, so we had better hurry. But I say, dear, do not put so many drops in your eyes."
"Well, would you have me go dull-eyed?"
"It is not necessary to go dull-eyed; but you need not use so much. The people will know you use it by the unnatural brilliancy of your eyes."
"What if they do?" retorts Milly, defiantly, as she adds another drop under the lids of her beautiful orbs. "Every lady uses it nowadays. You need not preach; you put enough in."
"Oh," rejoins Clarence, good-humouredly, "a drop of belladonna one way or the other does not matter much. But, come on, dear, this is the day for fun, and I hope you have got some good tips from Fred. You know, it is no use asking Frank to put money on for us. If we were to ask him, he would preach us a sermon the length of my arm. You know the night we were playing 'Bridge,' he gave me such a lecture. He said it was scandalous to see ladies gambling, and I only staked my bangle."
"Well, we will not ask him. Fred is well in with the jockeys. I mean to plunge heavily to-day. It is neck or nothing! If I win—but, oh, I am sure to win; Fred says he is certain of the winners, so come on, and we will back the 'cert,' as the jockeys say."
The two trip lightly down the broad stairs with a hopeful smile beaming on their lovely faces.
"Is Jack Mannering coming here for you?" Milly asks, carelessly.
Clarence stops, and a vexed look for an instant chases her pretty smiles away. "No, he is not!" she answers bitterly. "He will meet me at the course. You know, Ma treated him so coldly just before he went to stay at Hayden's. But, never mind," she adds, hopefully. "He may have some good tips, also."
Once more the smiles of pleasure return to her face.
"Dear Grandpa, how lovely my Mamma is!" Maud exclaims, as her mother and Clarence emerge from the doorway.
"Yes, child, and some day you will be a lovely woman, just like your mother. Won't that be nice?" says Colonel Jenkins, as he stoops and kisses his little granddaughter, then hurries away to join his wife, who is in the waiting car.
"Oh, Mamma!" calls Maud, "you do look pretty." As Milly looks at her little daughter, a keen onlooker would think that, for a minute, just for a second, a look of pity flitted through the woman's eyes; but it may have been the effect of the little drops she had so lately inserted within the eyelids.
"Well, Maud, dear! so you like my dress? Do you think it is very pretty?"
Somehow, Milly Jenkins is kinder to-day. Perhaps it is that her anticipations are happy ones. She is looking forward to big wins. Maybe, that thought softens her heart, or it may be that—
"Yes, Mamma, your dress is just lovely! and you look like a flower with pretty petals all around it."
Milly laughs softly. "Oh, you little flatterer!" she says, playfully, as she kisses the delicate face of her little daughter.
It is pathetic to see the lovely eyes brighten, and the joyful flush cover the pallid face of the little child, as she feels the warm pressure of her mother's lips.
"Mamma, will the angels be like you? Will they have soft, beautiful faces like yours, and will they kiss me like you have kissed me now? If they do, Mamma—"
In a minute the kind light flits from the mother's eyes, and she looks vexed and hard as she turns to Miss Moore, who has just come on to the verandah, "I see Maud still has those weird, uncanny fancies. I thought I told you to erase such thoughts from the child's mind?"
Grace's eyes are bright, not with belladonna drops, but with the sparks of vexation. She can see the regretful, sorrowful look on the face of the little child.
"Maud's are not weird or uncanny fancies; they are beautiful and holy thoughts!" she declares, calmly.
Milly is about to make an angry retort, but she sees Frank and Clarence waiting for her in the carriage, so, without a word, she hurries away to join them.
As they drive down to the gates, Captain Jenkins waves a gay salute to his little niece; then, turning to Milly, "What a pity," he says, "we could not have taken the child with us."
Milly makes no reply; whether she thinks so or not, her face does not tell.
Soon all three are enjoying the beauty of the glorious freshness of an Australian, bright November morning. Above them the clear, blue sky laughs down, and the beams from the sun dance and play on the bright, richly-mounted trappings that hang over the horses' well-groomed bodies. Around, the flowers are all smiling in the full glory of their spring beauty.
Captain Jenkins' equipage rolls along the road, dodging for place through the hurrying throng of vehicles that are racing along. All sorts and sizes of conveyances are utilised. There is the vanman, with his load of happy youths, their beaming faces peeping out from the back of the van, all making glad the day with their bright laughter. There is the cabbage carter, with his useful contrivance; the fish cart, the milk cart, the baker's cart, all carrying their load of sightseers; and even the marine store's half broken down equipage, made safe with a piece of rope tied here and there, loaded up with its human freight; the lorry, the drag, and the cart, all dodging, pushing along. The motor-car, throbbing its way onward with the horn blasting out notes of warning, and frightening the timid steeds; the buggies, the coaches and the carriages, with their prancing horses, and their loads of richly-attired occupants, that betoken wealth and grandeur, stand out in bold contrast to the marine cart, with its poorly-clad denizens of the slums. But, still, they are all bright and gay; all bent on making a fortune, and on having a merry day. "Is it not a pity," observes Milly, "that those horrid carts are allowed to run along this thoroughfare on such a day as this? They get in our way, and impede our progress. We would have been at the course ere this but for—"
"You surprise me! You are quite an autocrat; but even you should be satisfied, for, see, the carriages fill the best part of the road, and those others—well, I suppose we should not begrudge them room."
Milly thinks she can detect the slightest little accent of rebuke in her brother-in-law's voice, but she does not say anything.
"Look!" interjects Clarence, as she nudges Milly's arm, "there is Mrs. Mason! She has just passed us in that carriage, and Fred was with her. He was looking so hard at us. I bowed, but you did not seem to notice; and, with gazing at you, he quite ignored my little bow."
Frank Jenkins' face looks very grave as he remarks, reprovingly, "I think you should be more select in your acquaintances!"
"Oh, lecture again!" pouts Clarence. "I think Milly and I are subjected to the greatest number of lectures of anybody I know! Talk about penance! Even on a holiday like this—"
"Oh, very well; I am sorry I said anything. Anyway," Frank thinks, "a holiday like this is not the time to start pointing out the imperfections of our friends. I will leave them alone to-day." And he does not again refer to Mrs. Mason or her brother.
When they pass on to the Lawn, all eyes are turned in their direction—the admiring glances of the men, who cannot resist the attractive charms of a pretty face, and the envious sighs of the women.
What a pity that women are so weak as to envy a sister more favoured by nature than themselves! They forget that fine faces and rich gowns may hide a very imperfect and cruel soul, just as the smooth sea, calm and still, often hides the cruel rock that lies close to the surface, waiting to wreck the unwary ship that may rashly venture on its hypocritical, luring, smooth-faced waters.
Vice-royalty is present at this great race meeting: the Governors from the different States, with their ladies and retinues, the highest in the land are there. The millionaire wool-king and the rich sugar planter, the coal-mine owners and the gold-mine owners, are all investing some of their great wealth in the hope of becoming still wealthier by a fortunate win. At the back, on the Hill, the artisan and his wife look on the Lawn with envy. The wife would like to dress like those ladies on the Lawn. A whispered word from her, and he hurries away to invest his few shillings. "It is the rent money," he mutters, "but it may bring a big win!" Away down on the Flat many thousands, with their little picnic parties, are assembled. They have brought lunch with them, and are enjoying themselves with evident relish on the coarse fare they have for themselves catered. They are all happy: the wharf-labourer, the toil-worn factory hand, and even the poor, thin-faced city clerk, who has been ousted from the stool and the desk by sweated female labour.—As one looks at these thin-faced penmen, and remembers they have been thrown into penury by the acts of their sister women, who work for a pittance, and, alas! so often become the mistresses of their masters, one wonders why politicians clamour so much against the alien labourer, who will work for a sweated wage, while they look on and smile at these female clerks, who snatch the bread from fathers and brothers.—Even the poor sweated ones find a shilling to back the favourite."
Soon the party from "Garoopna" are surrounded by a bevy of handsomely-gowned lady friends and their polished, manly escorts.
"Excuse me; I will re-join you directly." Clarence and Milly watch curiously after Captain Jenkins as he hurries across the Lawn.
"Who is it?" Milly asks, eagerly.
"But who is with him?"
"I do not know. But, see, they are coming this way."
"I wonder if it could be his sister?"
"Oh, surely not! I believe Miss O'Meara is very wealthy, and that lady is dressed quite plainly; she has only a white linen dress on. Fancy coming to the races dressed like that!"
"But she is pretty," both women conclude.
As Captain Jenkins comes over with the lady, and when Dr. O'Meara says, "This is my sister," Clarence thinks that Miss O'Meara is very beautiful, and that she looks lovely, though she only wears a white linen dress.
When they take their seats on the grandstand, Kathleen's fresh and happy chatter keeps the party in bright merriment.
Captain Jenkins, as he looks on the bright face beside him, thinks, "Of all the fair ladies on the Flemington course to-day, Kathleen O'Meara is the sweetest and fairest;" and as he looks at Clarence and Milly, with their costly raiment and brilliant jewels, he thinks, "Kathleen is like a beautiful natural rose, fresh in the garden of life. They are like the artificial blooms; but, then—" He turns away, and forgets Milly and Clarence, and their puffs and their powders.
Milly whispers something to Clarence, and she says, "Frank, have you seen Ma anywhere about?"
"No, I have not. I think we had better seek them; they must be somewhere near the vice-regal box."
He looks at Kathleen, and she understands the question in his eyes, and passes down the grandstand by his side.
A glance of understanding flits over Clarence's face. "That explains," she thinks, "why he so often visits O'Meara's."
"Come on now, Milly," she whispers; "we had better look for Fred before Frank comes back, or we will not get a penny on a race."
"Oh, thank goodness!" she sighs, relievedly, as she sees Mrs. Mason, Jack Mannering, and Mrs Mason's brother pushing their way through the crowd up to where they are seated.
Dr. O'Meara does not notice their approach, and, when Clarence says, "I believe, Doctor, you have not yet met Mr. Mannering? Allow me to introduce you," a deep, red flush creeps over his usually calm face, and a steely light hardens his kind eyes. In Jack Mannering's face, for a second, a look of apprehension flits, then a flash, half-defiant, chases the apprehensive look away. Just for an instant the two men pause, and then the Doctor says, haughtily, "Jack Mannering and I have met before!"
Clarence thinks there is an undercurrent of sarcasm in his voice, and she looks at Jack; but his face tells her nothing.
Dr. O'Meara says to the ladies, "You will kindly excuse me now! I will leave you with your friends."
As he passes down the steps, he mutters, "The insufferable cad; I could not touch his hand!"
Clarence looks after the Doctor until he is lost in the crowd.
"How strange he is!" she says, musingly. "Did you know him before, Jack? One would think you had done him some great wrong; he looked so fierce! I thought I could see the fire of hate flashing in his eyes."
"Oh, I suppose I may have met him! You know, Clarence, I meet so many; and Dr. O'Meara—his individuality is not so pronounced that I would have his picture photographed on my mind. I must have met him somewhere."
And she is satisfied.
"Oh, I am so delighted you have come!" Milly whispers, as she takes Fred's hand in greeting. And if he holds her hand a little longer than is conventional, she does not notice or say anything; and Mrs. Mason wisely keeps the others closely occupied in conversation about the glowing tips she has got as to which horse will win the Cup.
"Fred, are you sure—very sure—that it is a certainty?"
"Do you think I would deceive you?" And Fred's eyes have a strange light as he looks admiringly into Milly's beautiful face.
If she were wise, she would toss her head aside, and scorn such a gaze; but, alas! she smiles.
"Hurry, then, Fred," she says; "I will risk it!" And she presses into his hand the cheque that Harold left.
"All?" queries Fred, as he looks at the figures on the cheque.
And with one more pressure of the hand he hurries away, and quickly returns with a little card.
"Have you anything on, Fred?"
"Yes, heavily backed it—heavily. Will you have anything on the minor races?" he asks. "The Cup will not be run for some time, so you had better have something to hold your interest," he adds.
"But I have put all on the Cup!"
"You know, dear," he whispers, "my cheque is yours."
For a minute a frightened look flashes over Milly's brilliant eyes. "Then, very well, Fred," she says, "divide £20 with the others. It is only cowards who are afraid!" And she laughs; but her laugh sounds not too mirthful.
"There," Fred ejaculates, as he comes back breathlessly with a handful of tickets, and hands them to her.
She counts them over, and there is a note of alarm in her voice as she cries, "Why, you have put £100 on for me! If I were to lose?" And her face looks frightened.
"Well, if you did, what then?" and in his soul Fred Allison mutters, "I might win!" And there is a fiendish, exultant feeling of anticipated triumph in his heart.
When she looks round she sees that Clarence and Jack Mannering have gone; and, looking over in the distance, she can see them passing down to where the fountain plays, at the other end of the Lawn.
Fred saw Milly's anxious glance, and he interpreted her look. And evil thoughts sully his soul.
Away down on the other side of the Lawn, Mrs. Jenkins is serving out afternoon tea to her guests and their friends. The old lady is very happy as she looks at the bright faces and listens to the happy laughter of the young people. Now and again she listens to her husband's more solid topic of conversation, as he discourses and argues with his male friends about his pet hobby—the Australian Navy.
She hears one of his friends saying, "Oh, we are all right! A Navy is an expensive undertaking. We can always depend on the motherland."
"Arrant folly!" Colonel Jenkins expostulates, and there is an undercurrent of indignation in his voice as he continues, "We are no shadow of a willow; we are a great branch of a mighty oak, but we must not lean for ever on the dear old parent tree. We must have our own Navy at any cost, and prove to all that we are worthy sons of our sire. We can never be a free or independent people," he vehemently concludes, "until we have learned to lean upon ourselves!"
With a sigh, Mrs. Jenkins turns away to listen to the gay chatter, and to watch the gay butterflies of fashion as they flit about her.
Soon she is lost in deep contemplation, gazing at the brilliant display of the sparkling throng of richly-gowned women moving around.
"How like a vast, roofless ballroom this lawn appears!" she murmurs. "And, dear knows, most of the gowns are more suitable for such a place than a racecourse; and even in a ballroom some of these frocks would be extremely décolleté. In some Eastern countries, I believe, the women never appear in public unless veiled I wonder what would be the thoughts of those Eastern folk if they could take a peep at Flemington Racecourse to-day?"
She has unconsciously given voice to her thoughts, and Rose, coming up unnoticed, and overhearing her mother's soliloquy, whispers, slyly: "Perhaps, Mamma, they would send us a shipment of veils!" and she laughs merrily.
In an instant the serious look vanishes from the mother's face, and she, too, laughs. "I am afraid, my girl," she says, "I am old-fashioned. But, tell me, Rose, have you seen Clarence and Milly? I have not seen either of them for some time."
"Oh, Ma, I am sure they are enjoying themselves somewhere. When I saw them last, they and Jack Mannering were up on the stand."
"Well, I am sure they will want a cup of tea. You had better find them."
"Very well, Ma."
Tom Allen looks glad. These two like beings sent messages. He is quite proud of Rose, and he is glad to have her to himself. As she goes along by his side, he thinks, "She is like her garden namesake—a fair, white rose."
"We have lost my brother!" remarks Kathleen O'Meara, as she takes the proffered cup of tea; but there is not a very regretful tone in her voice as she speaks. "He had to go," she goes on to explain.
Captain Jenkins glances at the bright face with a look of proprietorship. She can feel his gaze, and her face blushes.
Mrs. Jenkins watches the by-play. "So," she thinks, "he said there was nothing like a soldier's life to make a man think of his mother; but, if I mistake not, I think my soldier-boy has found someone else to fill his heart's thoughts."
In the mother's eyes there is a tiny shadow of regret. "What am I thinking of?" she murmurs, as she refills her dainty little cup; "I believe I am foolish, and felt jealous for the minute. It is just as it should be," she continues, as she looks at Kathleen, with her shy blushes and bright smiles playing with the dimples on her kind, sweet face. She longs to take the girl in her arms and kiss her. Then a laugh steals over her face, and she murmurs, inaudibly, "Why, I am getting quite childish."
"See, Rose and Tom have been successful in finding Clarence."
"Here she comes, escorted by her gay cavalier, Jack Mannering!" says Captain Jenkins, as he sees his sister and Jack approaching.
"Oh, Ma, this is lovely! I am just famished for a cup of tea!"
"Well, my girl— But where is Milly?"
"I left her not long since; she was with Mrs. Mason and some friends." Clarence thinks it wiser not to mention Fred.
A look of disapproval leaps into Mrs. Jenkins' eyes; but it vanishes again, and she thinks, "It is no business of mine. I am tired of telling her. I am always telling her. But, enough!" And, as she passes a cup of tea to Clarence, she remarks, "I fancy we are about to have a change. See! The sky is growing quite dark, and the air is so sultry. I think it would be wise not to remain much longer. We will just wait till the Cup is run. Rain now would be a calamity, as the gowns would be destroyed before one could get to shelter."
"Yes, Ma; I think we will not remain much longer. It does look cloudy, and I would not like my frock destroyed."
"Well, my boy!" says the Colonel, as he turns round and sees his son, Captain Jenkins. "So, I see, you are quite a lady's man!" and he looks quizzically at Kathleen. "Well, well!" he adds, "there is nothing like a good woman's guiding influence."
Captain Frank looks at his mother, then at Kathleen. "No, Dad," he says, "there is no influence like that of a good woman's love to guide a man through the battles of life unto peace!"
There is a smile in the old man's eyes, and a knowing look flits over his face.
"Talking about battles," he says, "I was just looking at this immense gathering, Frank. I suppose there is about 100,000 people here to-day; that, I believe, is the estimated number. I was thinking, as I looked at this vast crowd, that it is useless to depend on a voluntary service of soldiery here; as the first great race-meeting, a football match, or a cricket match, would find our drill-rooms deserted."
"Just watch that great concourse of people. They have all rushed here to worship at the fickle shrine of the god, 'Folly.' Let us hope, Frank, that they will rouse in time from this idolatrous worship of pleasure's god—wake to the interest of this great nation before it is even damped with innocent blood. It is because I love our people so well that I would have them rouse the patriotic spirit within their souls, and wake them to the knowledge that they must guard and keep for themselves this great Australian nation, and to do so patriotism must come before pleasure."
"Dad, our boys are patriotic enough, but they chafe against the discipline to which the soldiers of the old world are compelled to submit."
"They dislike discipline, do they, Frank? Would they prefer to bow their necks to the yoke of some foreign invader? Ah, boy, we must have the compulsory drill; we must take them from the sporting field to the drill-room, and compel them to learn how to protect themselves."
Kathleen is listening attentively to what Colonel Jenkins is saying. She is looking at him with wonder and admiration. "My father used to say," she says, "that every man and every woman in Australia should know how to be a soldier."
"Your father was right!" the Colonel responds, warmly, and as he looks at Kathleen, who is standing beside the Captain, "Her father was right," he thinks, "and, if I mistake not, she will follow his ideals, and she will serve in the ranks of a certain Captain."
As she catches a merry look in his face, "You are laughing at me, Colonel Jenkins," she says, "but I can assure you that Grace Moore and I are splendid shots. My father taught us how to use the rifle; and, if ever our country is besieged, be sure you will find us in the trenches." And she laughs merrily.
Clarence laughs sarcastically. "Oh, indeed," she interjects, "and what other accomplishments does our fair governess possess? Ma, you have a treasure!"
"Really, Miss Jenkins," Kathleen says, innocently ignoring the sarcasm, "you need not doubt our abilities. Mr. Mannering can confirm my statement, for he has often seen Miss Moore and I at practice at the butts away back at the old homestead, 'Looranna.' Have you not?" she asks, dryly.
Mr. Mannering does not answer, for he has hurried into the throng.
A look of bewilderment passes over Clarence's face. "Strange," she says, "that you and Dr. O'Meara both should imagine that you had met Mr. Mannering before. This is his first visit to Australia."
"Oh, well, then," replies Kathleen, archly, "he must have a double." Then, lowering her voice, so that the others may not hear, "Miss Jenkins, when I knew him, he was engaged to my friend, a very beautiful and wealthy girl. One day he called on the family lawyer, and, in answer to his inquiries as to the extent of my friend's fortune, the old lawyer told him something. Whatever it was, the love story ceased, and soon the seas rolled between Jack Mannering and my friend. It is only two years ago; so it is not so long to bear a face in memory. However, if I were you, I would ask him; he may be able to convince you that he has a fortune-hunting double."
Then, as she remembers that Clarence is Captain Jenkins' sister, she thinks, "Will I tell her? Yes, for her brother's sake I will warn her."
Her voice is very kind as she whispers, "If I were you, I would make sure. The young lady I refer to is good and beautiful. He wooed and sought her in marriage only for the sake of her gold."
For a minute Clarence is silent; there is a battle being fought in her heart. "Can it be true?" she is asking herself. "No, no! Jack would not deceive me thus. It must be some strange delusion someone like him they have met." Then over her face there creeps the light of understanding. She remembers something, and, turning to Kathleen, who is still by her side, and out of hearing of the others, "Miss O'Meara, will you tell me the name of this friend who was at one time betrothed to Jack Mannering?" On her face there is an expectant look, as if she anticipates what the reply will be.
Kathleen looks at her pityingly. "Yes, I will tell you. The lady I refer to is Grace Moore—Maud's governess."
For an instant a look of hate dims the light of beauty in Clarence's eyes. Her face twitches, but with an effort she sweeps back the wave of emotion.
"Thank you, Miss O'Meara! I am glad you told me. I will now go and see Jack Mannering."
Race after race goes by. Milly wins and loses, and as she counts the coins that Fred brings to her, "Fred," she cries, "you are a wizard; you told me truly. Take this! Take it all, and place it on the great race. But are you sure?" And she pulls back her hand, still clutching the golden coins.
"Of course I am! Do you think I would deceive you?"
And again that peculiar look flashes in his eyes, and she hands over the coins.
He once more pushes his way to where the bookmakers stand amongst the elms, and again adds to Milly's wager.
What mighty stakes sometimes hang on the result of the Melbourne Cup! The man of little means has risked his all on that one race. The bank clerk, maybe, has robbed so that he could venture. He thinks he will have a good win, and pay it all back; but, if he loses—well, then— And he looks down where the dark waters of the Yarra meander along.
Milly Jenkins, with the hope of recouping her losses at Bridge, has risked—ah, she has risked, what?
At last the bell rings for the race of the day. All the horses are out of the saddling paddock, and on the course in front of the stand. As they parade up and down, their glossy manes shine in the sun, and the jockeys, with their various coloured silk jackets filled out by the breeze, look like so many tiny rainbows.
The crowd now on the Lawn are all pressing forward to the front. Those on the stand are straining their eyes to get a glimpse of the starting post.
Milly has forgotten all the others; and she looks anxiously at Fred and then at the horses. "They are going to the post now," she cries.
Suddenly a hushed silence falls on the great concourse of people. Every nerve is strained, every eye is set. The dong of the bell rings out over the course, and, with one mighty, united roar, the spectators cry, "They're off!"
"The red, is that it, Fred?" asks Milly, feverishly. "Ah, yes," she cries. "I must watch the red."
Her face grows pale; even the artificial coloring does not wholly hide the pallor as she eagerly watches the red silk jacket as it sweeps, in its lightning course, away down past the watchers on the Flat.
Her heart is beating very fast She forgets that she is on the grandstand at the Flemington course; but the others likewise forget. She nervously grips her companion's arm. Every nerve is strained to the highest tension as she watches the horses plunging along in their mad gallop. Her companion does not watch the race; he is watching her face as she gazes far out on the course. He can see another race—the light of Hope and of Despair chasing each other over her beautiful countenance. He can feel the quivering of her body. Her little hands are clenched and hard.
"Look, Fred!" she cries, and her face looks black as she gasps, "The red is down!"
"Oh, no! But, oh! I could not see for the minute. There it goes! The red wins! The red wins!" she cries, as she rises and sways. "But, no. Ah, God!" and she turns with a despairing gasp from the field, and falls, fainting, amidst the gaily-decked throng of sightseers.
"Miss Moore, is it wrong to speak about the angels? Why was Mamma cross? What are weird and uncanny fancies?"
"It is not wrong, dear, to speak of the angels."
"Well, Miss Moore, do you think that God will sometimes let the angels come down to earth? If He does, I will ask Him to send Effie down; because papa is not back yet, and the horses that Uncle Frank is driving might bolt, and I want the angels to mind mamma."
"Yes, God does sometimes let the angels come down to earth," Grace answers, soothingly.
And as she looks at the little, wistful face, she thinks, "God leaves an angel with us sometimes; for, surely, this little child is an angel; all her thoughts and actions are angelic. She is sweet and lovable; but how flushed her face is! She does not look so well to-day; perhaps it is the heat."
"Maud, would you like to be down in the garden," she asks, "in the shade of the trees? If you would care to go, I will take you there."
"Oh, no, thank you, Miss Moore! I will wait here until Dr. O'Meara comes. He is coming today. He told me yesterday that he would be here, and that he would bring dear Dr. Ferguson to see me. Do you think they will be here soon?"
"Yes, love, I am sure they will be here. Just be patient for a little while."
"Dr. Ferguson has been away a long time," the child continues, reflectively; "he has been right over to England. It seems such a long time since he has been here," she murmurs, as she closes her eyes wearily, and relapses into silence. The shadow cast from the green verandah blind throws a ghastly hue over her thin, wasted features.
Grace, as she watches the varying emotions playing over the little face, murmurs softly to herself, "I am afraid she will not be long with us now. Day after day she is fading from us. How can her mother leave such a beautiful child? How can she be so heartless?"
Grace gently moves the chair on which Maud is lying closer to the shade.
"She is asleep," she whispers, as she gently fans the little flushed face. "I will be glad when the doctor comes. Mrs. Jenkins and the others were perhaps all too excited to notice how changed the child is," and Grace's heart feels very sad as she still watches and fans.
At last Maud tosses restlessly, and suddenly sits up and looks round. "Was I asleep?" she asks.
"Yes, dear; you have had a nice long sleep," answers Grace, as she rearranges the cushion on the child's chair.
"I thought I must have slept, Miss Moore, for I had such a nasty dream. I did not know I was sleeping. I thought I was just lying here with my eyes closed, and I thought I saw my mamma, and, oh, she looked so lovely, so very beautiful; she was dressed just like she was to-day. I thought there was a great dark gulf, deep and wide, right in front of her; she stood on the edge, gathering something. She thought they were good flowers, but I knew they were not. They were growing along inside the brink of the great gulf, and, when I looked at them, I could see they were not real flowers; for, just out of the centre of them, there were tiny little heads, and I thought someone said they were serpents' heads, and they put out their fangs as if to sting. But my mamma could not see the serpents' heads, and she was reaching out her hand to pick the flowers. I tried to call, 'Mamma! Mamma!' I wanted to tell her, but I was too sick; I could not call out. I could not move. Then I could see down, deep in the great gulf, a man, a big, tall, dark, cruel man, and he was laughing and beckoning to my mamma, and telling her to pull the flowers, and mamma was just going to step forward to pluck them, and I cried out, 'Oh, God, mind my mamma!' and I thought I could hear Effie's voice, too, saying, 'Please, God, mind my mamma! ' Just then I awoke. Oh, Miss Moore, I feel so frightened and so sad. Do you think that I only dreamt it, or was it really true?"
"Of course, Maud, you sweet little baby, you dreamt it," and she kisses the kind, little, pathetic face, as she adds, "When little girls are not well they dream strange dreams, sometimes."
"Is that what mamma calls weird and uncanny fancies?"
"Oh, I suppose so," Grace answers, evasively; "but, Maud, you must not be thinking of those dreams; you must be thinking of the bright sunlight, the laughter of the birds, of the trees, and of the flowers. Listen to the birds, how they sing. Their glad songs are echoing and re-echoing through the woods. They are happy, flitting amongst the trees. They do not let nasty dreams make them sad."
"I suppose, Miss Moore, they are happy because they are well and strong, and they can fly about with their mother-birds amongst the branches; but, if a bird were sick, its wing broken, or it could not fly, or if its little sister bird was dead, then it would be sad, wouldn't it?"
Grace thinks, "Ah, Maud is like a little wounded bird; her sweet, fair soul is chafing against the bondage of its fragile prison house."
"Did I sleep for long?"
"Oh, yes, dear, for a good while. You had a long sleep."
"I do wish Dr. O'Meara would come soon," says Maud, anxiously.
She does not seem to be able to rest. There are two little red spots on her cheeks, and her eyes are unusually bright.
"He will be coming soon. I think I can hear his car now," and Grace stands up and peers into the distance. "Yes, I can see the car."
Her face glows with a happy light when, a few minutes later, Dr. O'Meara clasps her hand in warm greeting, and looks lovingly into her eyes, and his heart rejoices at the warm welcome that greets him in those responsive orbs.
"So you see, Grace, my girl, I could not stay away. I left Kathleen with Captain Jenkins."
Grace bends her head to hide the shy blushes that creep over her face.
"I am so pleased you have come; Maud has been asking for you. She does not seem so well to-day. I am glad now that I did not let you and Kathleen persuade me to go."
"Dr. O'Meara, how do you know Miss Moore's name is Grace? You always call her 'Grace,' " and Maud looks questioningly at the doctor.
"Oh, I have known Miss Moore a long time, ever since she was a little girl like you. When you grow to be a great lady, I will then call you 'Maud,' if you will allow me."
"Oh, how funny! Grandpa said, when he was going away to the races, that some day I would grow up to be a beautiful lady, just like my Mamma. But, you know, Dr. O'Meara, if I grew up to be a lady, I could not be an angel."
"Why, dear, do you not think ladies can be angels?"
"Oh, yes, of course," she hastens to explain. "I mean it would be a long time, if I had to grow up to be a lady first."
Dr. O'Meara and Grace both think that Maud will not have to wait so very long to be an angel.
"You told me, Doctor, that you were going to bring Dr. Ferguson to see me to-day."
"Well, he will be here very soon, dear. You are very exacting, you little puss," and he pats the tender little hand playfully.
Then, turning to Grace, he says, "I promised your aunt to take you to see her this evening, and she was so pleased when I told her what your answer was to me. You should have seen the glow on the dear old face when I told her you had promised to be my wife."
For the minute Dr. O'Meara and Grace had forgotten Maud.
"Oh, Dr. O'Meara," she exclaims, "is Miss Moore going to be your wife? I am so glad, because I love her; and you will mind her, won't you? Just like my papa minds my mamma." Then her face looks wistful as she adds, "I wish my papa would come home soon. I want—but, ah! I think I hear grandma's voice in the house."
"So did I—in fact, I am sure. They must have returned. I will go in and see," and Grace hurries into the house.
"I am sure it is grandma's voice, and she has Dr. Ferguson with her. They must have met him."
Just then Dr. Ferguson and Mrs. Jenkins step through the open window on to the verandah.
After greeting Dr. O'Meara, Mrs. Jenkins turns to Grace, and says, "I am sorry I left you so long; I did not wait to see the Cup race run. I think we old folk grow tired; and, then, I grew anxious to see if there was news from Harold. But I see you had pleasant company."
"Truly, Mrs. Jenkins, I did not mind it in the least."
As Dr. Ferguson takes the child's thin hand, and pats her pretty cheek, "Well, my little maid, so you told Dr. O'Meara that you would like to see me once more?"
"Yes, Dr. Ferguson. I wanted to see you for a long time; but grandma told me you were away in England. I am glad you have come back, because I want to ask you something." And the deep, pathetic eyes look sorry as she whispers, "I wanted to ask you if you are very poor."
"Poor!" And a surprised look lightens up Dr. Ferguson's face, and Dr. O'Meara joins him in the laugh. Then he says, "Excuse me, Maud, but what makes you think I am poor?"
"Oh, one day, a long time ago, I heard grandma saying, when Aunt Clarence was walking down the garden with Jack Mannering, grandma looked after them, and she said, 'Poor Dr. Ferguson!' and she shook her head just like this; and she kept on saying, 'Poor Dr. Ferguson! Poor Dr. Ferguson!' and then she went inside. I felt so sorry, because I thought you were poor."
"No, my dear child, you must not be sorry; I am not poor. So you must laugh and be bright."
Maud sighs relievedly. "I am so glad," she cries; "but I must ask grandma why she called you poor."
Dr. Ferguson says nothing, but he thinks he knows why Mrs. Jenkins was one time sorry for him.
"Maud has not been so well to-day," Grace explains, "and I am so pleased you have returned. She seemed anxious about her father and mother, and has been feverish in her ways, and saying such strange things. But she brightened up very much when Dr. O'Meara came."
The old lady looks long and thoughtful. "Poor little darling," she murmurs. "I wish her father was home. I am glad now I did not wait for the Cup. I felt anxious and worried," she adds, as she turns and goes back to the child.
"Yes," Dr. Ferguson is saying, "it is as you say. You are right, O'Meara."
And the two men of medicine walk down the path in close consultation.
Mrs. Jenkins can see that Maud looks very flushed, and again the poor old lady shakes her head pathetically.
"I think, Grandma, I would like to go to the nursery; I feel so tired now, and when the birds sing my head aches; and when I look down at the flowers I am sorry that I cannot run about amongst them. But, before I go upstairs, please, Grandma, will Miss Moore carry me down to my place in the garden? I want to see the white rose bushes, and I want to gather a little bunch for mamma, a little bunch for papa, and I want to get a red rose for Dr. O'Meara."
"Very well, dear, we will both come with you." And Grace tenderly lifts the weak child in her strong young arms.
As the two women pass down to the rose garden, Mrs. Jenkins looks at Maud, then at the flowers. "I wonder which is the fairest flower—this human little flower that is withering in the bud, or those on the trees in the garden, that are smiling in all the glory, the bloom, of their young maturity?"
Maud's eyes brighten. "This one for papa," she exclaims, joyfully, "I will keep it, and give it to him when I see him. Then she looks round. "There, those are for my mamma; she loves those cream roses. Won't she be glad when I give them to her to-night? Dr. O'Meara loves the red rose. Cut that one, please, Grandma? No; let me cut it myself. It is such a long time since I picked a rose."
And Grace stoops while the child gathers the flower.
They are just about to turn away when Maud cries excitedly, "Oh, Grandma, there is another lovely rose. I think I will pull it for mamma, and I will tell her the last rose I picked to-day was for her. That is enough now, thank you, Grandma. Do you think the other flowers are vexed because I took these away, and left them without their mates? If I thought they were vexed I would never cut a flower again."
And as the two women go back to the house, Grace thinks, "When next Maud will be cutting roses, it will be amidst the everlasting flowers in the great Garden of Paradise."
When Maud gives the red rose to Dr. O'Meara he kisses her. "Thank you, my sweet little friend," he whispers. "I will keep this flower, and I will call it 'The Angel's Rose.' "
When Rose and Tom Allen find Milly, she, with Mrs. Mason, is just coming out of the ladies' room on the grandstand, where Mrs. Mason had taken her when she had so suddenly collapsed after the Cup race was run.
"Do not tell Rose I fainted," she whispers. "Do not let them know; not any of them, especially Rose. She is not like Clarence; she would tell Ma, and they would all wonder what caused me to collapse, and I could not, I dare not, tell them. They would not understand."
"Oh, Milly!" ejaculates Rose, when she comes up to them, "what is the matter? Your face looks ghastly."
"Does it, really? Oh, then, it must have been the crowd and the excitement."
"Tom and I have been looking everywhere for you. When we could not find you, we went back to where Ma was waiting with tea, but she had gone home. She was anxious about Harold."
At the mention of her husband's name, a peculiar look, like that of remorse, flits in Milly's eyes, and she asks, anxiously, "Is there any news from Harold? Did your father hear?"
"Oh, no, and no news is good news; and you know, Milly, Ma often takes those funny fancies. We could not get the thought that something was wrong out of her mind. So she left."
As Milly is coming down the steps of the grandstand, she stops and clutches nervously at the handrail.
Rose notices the action. "Milly," she says, "you are not well. You do not seem well, and I am sure you do not look as if you had enjoyed yourself to-day."
"Oh," interjects Mrs. Mason, as she sees her brother Fred anxiously waiting near, "I think Milly had better come with me; she is tired, that is all, and you young folks will have more freedom without the married ones," she adds, cunningly.
Milly meets the look in Fred's eyes as she glances across. "Yes, Rose," she says, "I think I will go with Kitty. Tell Clarence and Frank that I have gone with her."
Rose thinks she can detect a look of understanding passing between Mrs. Mason and her brother, Fred. In a minute her mind is made up. "I cannot," is her thought, "leave Harold's wife to go with them now. What would people say, and what scandal would be added to her name, if she were seen driving away with them alone? She must come home with us, or I will go with her. Why will Milly know this woman? Her reputation is smeared, and her brother Fred is a scoundrel! But this is no place to argue it. Milly," she says quietly, "do you not think that, if you are tired, Tom and I could drive you home, and you could have a rest, change your dress, and see if there is any news from Harold? Then, if you still wanted to go, we could drive you over to Mrs. Mason's."
Milly thinks that Rose looks suspicious, and she is determined to chase the germs of suspicion from her mind. "Very well," she answers, "I will go with you; perhaps it is better so," and she repeats "Perhaps it is better so" with such emphasis that one would think she was deciding something of great moment—more than the ordinary decision as to whether she would go in the carriage with Tom and Rose, or accompany Mrs. Mason and her brother.
Mrs. Mason is a diplomatist to the very finger tips, and Fred takes his cue from her.
"It would never do for me," he thinks, "to raise objections."
And as Milly looks at him, her beautiful eyes fall before the look of passionate admiration she sees reflected on his handsome, sensual face.
Tom Allen thinks he can understand the look, and he murmurs to himself, "Why does Harold Jenkins leave his wife to associate with these people—a woman with Mrs. Mason's reputation, her name stained, besmirched with the foul atmosphere of the divorce court, and her brother, a reprobate, a scoundrel? They are wealthy, no doubt, and with the golden key of their wealth they open many doors. Few doors, few homes, that the golden key will not give admittance to. Alas! that it is so," and he is sorry that Milly—the wife of his friend—should know and associate with them.
"Hurry, Tom, and get the gig," Rose whispers.
And as he goes down to the carriage paddock, he meets Captain Frank Jenkins and Kathleen.
"I was just looking for you, Tom. Have you seen Milly or Clarence about?"
"Milly is with Rose, and she does not look too well, and I was just hurrying away to get the gig. Ah, here is Clarence! She is coming now."
When Clarence comes up, "Frank," she says, "will you be going home soon? I have such a headache."
In a minute Kathleen O'Meara's sympathies are with Clarence; and, as she looks at her, she thinks, "There is more than a headache the matter with her. There is a troubled cloud hanging over her fair face, darkening the sunshine of her beauty." Looking up at the Captain, "I think you had better go away immediately," she whispers.
Tom Allen interrupts, "Would it not be better," he says, "if I took the carriage? Rose and I are going to drive Milly home, so Clarence and Mannering could come with us."
At the mention of the name of Mannering, the cloud on Clarence's face deepens, and an angry light flashes in her eyes.
"Very well," agrees the Captain, as he walks along a little way with Tom. "Thanks, old man. I will take Kathleen in the gig."
Tom understood, and arranged that way purposely, so that Captain Jenkins could have Kathleen to himself.
A little later, when he drives round to where Milly is waiting with Rose, he is surprised to see Clarence get in the carriage without Jack Mannering.
"You will come to-night, dear?" Mrs. Mason says coaxingly.
"I will," Milly answers quickly, as she turns to Fred, who is standing back from the rest.
"Confound them!" he mutters. "Why did they come along? But, dear, you will not deceive me? You will keep your word? Remember, you have promised me, and you know I love you," and the man's musical voice is low, persuasive, and earnest. As he looks into her lovely face, "You know," he whispers again, "I love you, and you have promised to brave all. You know, the race decided it. Fate decided it. Everything says it must be so."
"Do not be so frightened," he adds, anxiously, as a look of fear passes in Milly's eyes. "With me you have nothing to fear. The world will be at your feet. I can give you everything; wealth, love—"
"Hush, Fred! Hush! They might hear you."
"They cannot hear," again he urges. "Where shall I wait to-night? You will not deceive me?"
"No, no, Fred! I will be there. I will come to where the fountain plays, near the rose garden, when it is dark."
"I will be there! Do not fail me. You know I love you!"
"Yes, Fred, I know. I know you love me."
Alas! poor, foolish woman! She thinks he loves her; but man does not degrade the one he loves.
Milly gets into the carriage, and Tom Allen and Rose take their places beside her.
As Fred gazes after her, a look of triumph beams in his eyes, "To-night!" he mutters. "Tonight!"
As they drive along, "Are you sure, dear, that you are well?" Rose asks, anxiously. "I have never seen you look so agitated. Your hand trembles."
"Oh, I am all right!" and Milly snatches her hand impatiently away.
But Rose will not be so easily put off, and she whispers, "I did not like to see you with those people. Excuse me! but you cannot know the reputation Mrs. Mason bears. If I were you, I would not know them."
In a moment Milly's face is hard and haughty, as she angrily retorts, "Thank you. I would thank you very much if you would not discuss my friends, or speak so disparagingly about those whom I wish to know."
"Very well, just as you will." And Rose sits back in the carriage, and is silent.
Clarence does not seem interested in their conversation. She is sitting silent, and one would think sulkily, in the corner of the carriage.
"Well," remarks Tom, jestingly, "this is a very Quaker-like company, coming from the races. One would think that we had all gambled and lost."
"Did you have anything on, Clarence?"
"No," is her curt reply. And then, as if sorry for speaking snappishly to Tom, who, she knows, is only trying to brighten them up, for everyone looks dull, "Excuse me, Tom," she says. "I was not thinking of the races; my head aches."
And as Milly sits absent-minded, Tom and Rose chatter away, and pretend not to notice the humour of the others.
When they arrive at "Garoopna," Milly hurries to her room, and when she is alone she closes the door and looks in the mirror. "Rose told the truth. I do look ghastly. I look horrible! Oh, that was a dreadful drive! I hated to look at Rose, because I felt that she could see into my very soul, and read what is written there. I wonder if they have heard from Harold yet? When I went out of this room this morning I was hopeful; now I have lost all. I could not tell Harold; no, never tell him. He must never know what I have lost to-day. Rose said my hand shook; it is shaking now," and she looks at her little jewelled hand pitifully. She cannot control her nerves. Then she rises, goes to the table, and opens a little drawer. "I must take it!" she mutters, as she pours a few drops into a glass. "If I do not take it I will have no nerve," and, with a gulp, she drains the nerve-composing draught.
A few minutes later, when Rose gently taps and enters the room with a cup of strong coffee, "Drink this, dear," she says. "You still look ghastly. You gave me such a fright at the course to-day. I thought you were going to be ill."
"Oh, well, I did feel slightly ill," says Milly, evasively, and inwardly she congratulates herself that Rose never heard that she had fainted. "I think it was the excitement," she adds, as she again opens the drawer and takes out something, and presses it against her arm.
"Don't, don't! You use that drug too freely. See, your pretty arms are all marked."
Milly's hand trembles as she puffs the powder to hide the little puncture.
"Do not go out to dinner to-night, Milly. Just lie down and rest."
"Hush, dear! I will go! I must go! I promised!"
"Oh, well," says Rose, resignedly, "if you will go, you will," and, as she goes out of the room, she murmurs: "I wish Harold was home. I think Milly is getting just a little desperate." And Rose goes along the hall lost in thought, sorry and perplexed.
When she comes to Clarence's room she taps; but, not getting an answer, she again taps a little louder. Then she hears a sobbing voice say, "Come in!" When she enters, and sees her sister's eyes all swollen and red with weeping, her beautiful hair, all dishevelled, hanging over her shapely shoulders, "Oh, Clarence!" she exclaims, in shocked, surprised tones, "whatever is wrong?"
But Clarence's only answer is a sob, as she sinks dejectedly into a low chair, and buries her face in the soft lace cushions.
Rose kneels down beside her. "What ails you? Tell me, dear? Have you been reckless to-day in betting? Have you lost?"
But still only the sobs from Clarence, whose frame is shaking with emotion.
"Is it money?" again asks Rose, as she caressingly places her arm round her sister's form.
"No! No! It is not money! No, not money!"
"What, then? Tell me, dear? I may be able to help you. You must not stay here moaning and wailing like this. Has Jack Mannering offended you?"
Suddenly, Clarence rises to her feet, and her handsome face wears the old haughty look as she cries, angrily, "Yes, Rose. Jack Mannering has offended me; he has offended me beyond pardon; he has deceived me."
"Well, the remedy is in your hands. If he has deceived you now, be sure you cannot trust him, or believe in him in the future. Give him up! It is unlike you, my proud sister, to be here weeping and wailing over the falseness of Jack Mannering, or any other man. Bring your pride to your aid. Give him up."
In the words "Give him up" Clarence can see the vision of a coronet vanishing from her sight, all the great ambitions of her life to become my lady, and rank in the first society of the land, vanishing with that vision.
Again Rose urges, "Give him up! Prove to them all that you are a woman of courage, a proud woman, one who will not tolerate meanness or deceit in a man."
For a minute, Clarence stands irresolute. Then her little hands are clenched and hard, and a determined look mingles with the light of beauty in her fine eyes as she exclaims:
"Rose, on the Flemington course to-day, Jack Mannering and I parted for ever!"
Cup Day has gone. The Flemington course is deserted, and the gay throng of sightseers has dispersed. They have all hurried away to their homes, for the sky threatens, and the storm will soon break. Many hearts are glad, and many hearts are sad. Some have gambled high, and have lost; a few have won. Milly Jenkins was a heavy loser. She played for a high stake. She was reckless indeed when, in her mad thirst, she risked her good name; the stake was her soul.
Amongst the favoured ones of fortune there is still the great glow of anticipated pleasure, for to-night is the great ball of the season, and the favoured ones of fortune and the élite of the land are to be there.
Away down by the side of the river the bank clerk looks deep into the waters. He has lost, and the waters to him sing of peace. He looks back upon the lights of the city; they do not speak to him of hope. "There is nothing!" he says; "there is nothing! I was a fool to have risked it." With a moan of despair, and as if to crown his folly, he sinks down into the bosom of the murky stream. And the flotsam—this human barque—that has been wrecked on the rocks of Folly is swept out to sea. He was a unit—only a unit—and no one misses him. The artisan and his wife risked the rent money; it is gone, and when the landlord calls to-morrow for his rent, they will be homeless. But, what of that? Such things must be while men will risk all, and venture so much, on the tossing of a coin or the speed of a favourite steed.
The city streets are alive. The theatres are opened. The concert halls echo forth their songs, and those pleasure-seekers who are undeterred by the threatening storm throng the various places of amusement. The pleasures of the day do not cloy their appetites, for they cry, "More! More!" as they feverishly fill the various play-houses, and seem like so many idolaters worshipping before Pleasure's shrine.
The atmosphere is stifling. Now and again a lurid flash of lightning illuminates the sky; then peal, peal, and the storm comes nearer.
Suddenly the great boom of the thunder rumbles and crashes, and shakes the very foundation of the earth. The very artillery of Heaven seems to have burst forth over this fair city of the South. The wind sweeps up with volcanic force, sweeping and tossing aside everything that lies in its path. The rain bursts forth in a mighty torrent, and soon the city streets are like so many tiny rivers, as the waterspouts of the clouds with a great rush pour their contents indiscriminately over them all.
Still the sound of the encore rings out from the music-hall, the plaudits from the theatres, and the gay laughter from the dance houses.
Away out on the bay the storm waves rage; they moan and toss in their tempestuous fury.
Harold Jenkins stands on the deck of his little yacht; around him his crew are fear-stricken. "It is useless; we can do nothing now!" they cry. These poor sailors know they are at the mercy of the rude waves, and each mountain of water, rising around and in front, threatens, in its menacing fury, to engulf the little craft.
Harold can see with the glare of the flashing lightning the ghastliness of their manly faces. Underneath he can feel the timbers creaking and groaning as the boat is crushed in the cruel arms of the angry waves. In the engine-room all is dark; the water has poured down the hatchways, and the fires are out. "It is useless, my men," he says, "but be brave!" And his face looks blanched with the intensity of his anxiety. At the back of him, he thinks he can see, still trailing on the mountains of water, the red glare of the burning mine; but he knows that it is only fancy, for the mine is many leagues away. Round him the seething abyss gurgles and hisses: and, far away in front and above the din of the storm, he thinks he can hear Maud's voice calling, "Papa! Papa!" And then he thinks he can see Milly. "Oh, God!" he cries, "calm the storm! Let me see them once again."
Once more the men cry out in their agony of fear; but they are ashamed when they see Harold standing with firm, set face and iron grip tightly holding the wheel, endeavouring to guide the boat on her way, while the water dashes around and above.
"Have courage, boys!" he cries out. "Have courage, yet! See! yonder are Melbourne's harbour lights."
"No, no!" the men cry out; "it was but the lightning flashes playing on the waves."
Over the home of the Jenkins' the storm rages fast and furious, and the clouds hang thick and black.
A cloak of deep sorrow hangs over every heart. Old Mrs. Jenkins' face is haggard and drawn as she wrings her hands in anguish, and says to her husband, "Oh, George! my heart is wracked with sorrow! No word—not a line—from Harold! And those wild reports in the newspapers, they tell of horror and death. Could my boy have perished at the mines?"
"No, no, wife; be calm! It is unlike you to give way like this. You must not notice all the wild reports you read in the newspapers. To-morrow you may see a contradiction. The newspaper men write these sensational headlines but to fill space and to sell the papers. I tell you, Harold left in his yacht after the mine was fired; he will be here soon. Be calm, Mary, be calm!"
"Well, listen!" she gasps, as the thunder rolls and the lightning flashes, and the wind moans and sweeps along with hurricane force. Trees and shrubs are torn up by the roots and dashed aside like so many feathers in a gale. "Listen to that!" she gasps. "If he is on the sea, what hope is there in such a storm as this? His yacht will be dashed to pieces by the angry waves! Oh, my son, my son!" she cries pathetically. "Even if he escapes the anger of the stormy deep, if his boat should reach the shore—" Mrs. Jenkins breaks off, and sighs pitifully as she wearily passes along to the room where her little granddaughter lies in bed waiting for her Mamma to come and get the flowers.
Still the thunder rumbles and the lightning flashes.
"Oh, Miss Moore," Maud is saying as Mrs. Jenkins enters, "I am so frightened of the storm! Listen to the wind moaning! I do wish my Mamma would come! And, oh, Miss Moore, when that wind blows I think of my Papa; he is out on the waves now."
"You must not be frightened, dear," whispers Grace, as she soothingly caresses the child. "You need not fear the storm, dear. You must just ask God to mind you—now. He will mind you—and ask Him to mind your Mamma and Papa; and, even though the waves toss and the storm rages, your father's yacht will come safely to land. You know, God guides through the storm as well as through the calm."
Maud looks up with her great, pathetic eyes, and Grace can see the flush is deeper on the lovely, wasted cheeks. "Well, then, Miss Moore, I will pray." And she lies back on the pillows, whispering softly; then she opens her eyes and says: "Grandma, you look so tired! Have you been crying? You have been frightened of the storm, too? Pray, Grandma; just pray. Pray that Papa's boat will come soon."
Mrs. Jenkins bends low to kiss the child, and turns away quickly to hide the tears that will trickle down the old face.
"Will Mamma be here soon, Grandma? Because, see, the roses I have for her are getting quite withered." Maud sits up in bed and clusters the flowers.
"Yes, pet, your hands are hot. Will I put the flowers in some water? Then they will freshen up."
"Oh, no, thank you! I will hold them. If you put them in the water, I might not know which rose was the one I cut, and I want to give Mamma the very one—the very last rose that I gathered in the garden."
"Your Mamma will be here directly. She had a headache when she returned from the races, but she is better now, and will be here soon."
Another loud clap of thunder. Maud sinks back on the pillows, and a look of fear again blanches her sweet face; and once more the whispering of the child's voice in prayer wafts softly on the air, "Sweet, kind, good God, mind my Papa and Mamma!"
"I will go and bring your Mamma now." Grace does not like the look on Maud's face. "She is so frightened," she thinks, "and her little, weak frame is not able to battle with such fear. If her mother comes to her, she may be pacified."
Grace moves quietly from the room, and she taps at Milly's door.
"Mrs. Jenkins," she says, "Maud is very frightened of the storm, and she calls for you."
"Very well, Miss Moore; tell her I will come."
When Grace has left the room, Milly mutters, "How can I go to Maud? How can I go?"
And once more she takes the drops from the vial and drinks it. "Rose says I use this too freely, but how can I help it? If it were not for it I would, indeed, collapse. If I had had it at the course to-day I would have been right; but, perhaps I had better go to Maud first." Then she thinks, "No, no! I must wait."
She sits long, and is lost in deep thought. Then, rousing herself, "I hope Rose will not come back. I will put on my cloak now; but, then, if they should come—" The cloak drops from her hand. "Bah! if they come, they come. I am sick of it!" Milly does not ring for her maid to assist her with her dressing to-night, but goes on hurriedly with her toilet.
To look at her now, one would never suspect the turmoil that is surging in her soul; and to look at her face, no one would guess that the calm, brilliant beauty is but a mask covering a very volcano of agitation.
Then, suddenly, she remembers something. "I will take them!" She crosses the room and takes up the basket that contains her prize white poodles. She opens it and looks at the dogs, then closes it gently. "Yes," she again murmurs, "I will take them."
Glancing at her tiny watch—a birthday present from Harold—which is fastened to her wrist: "It is almost the time now," she murmurs. She pulls aside the curtain and looks out of the window. It is dark early to-night; the clouds are black, but now and again they are lit up with vivid flashes of lightning. In the distance, the hills rumble with the echo of the thunder.
She lowers the gas in her room' so that she can see better into the darkness—"I believe I can see the lights of Fred's car now! Yes, it is, and he waits near the fountain!" She recoils, as a lurid flash of lightning more vivid than the others darts along and almost blinds her with the intensity of its light. "That was an awful flash!" she gasps. She drops the blind hurriedly and puts her pretty little, jewelled hands up to her ears to stifle the sound of the thunder, and turns the gas up to its full height.
Once more she surveys her reflection in the mirror. "There is no sign of agitation now!" she mutters, "and yet Rose would have me not use the drug. What would society ladies do without the nerve-composing drops? Even Harold would not have me use it. He says cigarettes are vulgar, champagne is vulgar, and even forbids a wager at a 'Bridge' party. If he only knew how much I am in debt to Fred; if he knew that I owed him anything—only one penny—I believe he would go mad! But what would we fashionable ladies do if we had not some kind gentlemen friends to help us out of our little peccadilloes? But, alas! sometimes those helpful friends demand big interest, heavy payment!" And again Milly falls into deep thought. Then, rising hurriedly, "Why do I delay?" she cries. "They may come! I must go! If I stay—"
"I will leave the light burning, and they will think I am in the room." With one more glance around, and picking up the basket, she cautiously goes out, and stealthily passes along the well-lighted hall.
"I must hurry! If they were to see me now, what could I say? Nothing, nothing!"
Still the thunder rolls and the lightning flashes. Milly glides softly through the door, and pauses for a minute on the doorstep. Her tiny, white satin shoes seem too delicate to come in contact with the rain-sodden grass; her white, trailing, silk drapery is too dainty to be soiled by the storm and rain; and her soul is too bright, too precious a possession, to be blackened by the foul, the debasing, smearing hand of sin! But she does not stay to think of that; she just pauses for the minute. "I see the light of his car standing by the fountain. If anyone should come along? If Captain Frank—or, if Harold should return, and find Fred's car waiting—then, oh, God! what would it mean?" Pulling her cloak closely around her, she hurries across the rain-sodden turf to the path by the rose-garden.
"Are you there, Fred?"
"Yes, Milly! I knew you would not fail me!"
"Is Kitty with you, Fred?"
"No! she is waiting for us at 'The Olives;' she was frightened by the storm. But storm or anything else could not deter me, dear, when I had to come for you."
"Here, Fred," she whispers, as she hands him the basket with the dogs. He places it under the seat. As she reaches out to catch hold of the handrail of the car, and her tiny foot is on the step, "Jump up, quickly!" he cries, hoarsely; "I thought I heard a footstep!"
The light from the lamp on the car falls on the little jewelled watch on Milly's wrist, and she steps back, and a pang of remorse pierces her soul as she gasps: "Harold's watch! Harold's gift!" Then, as Fred is about to take her hand, she pulls it away as she exclaims, "No, no, Fred! Go without me! I cannot go! I cannot go! What would Harold do? Poor Harold! He would go mad! And he was so good to me. No, I must not—I cannot—go! I cannot bring this shame upon his head!"
"Do not jest with me! I love you! I love you! Harold will find consolation with some other woman; maybe with Miss Moore, the beautiful governess."
In a minute, at the mention of Grace's name, Milly's remorseful mood changes. "I forgot," she mutters. And once more her hand grips the handrail and her foot is on the step. She is about to get into the car when a strong hand grips her arm and drags her back, and a woman's voice, husky with rage, cries: "Are you mad, woman? Are you mad? See yonder window, see where the light burns; in that room your child is dying! Would you bring the blush of shame to that angel face?"
Milly falls back. "Oh!" she gasps, and she cringes low into the shadow as she exclaims, in the agony of her soul's shame, "Merciful Heavens! Maud's governess, Grace Moore!"
Fred, who had fallen back aghast at the sudden interruption, now makes a step forward. "You—" he ejaculates.
"Stand back! Coward! Liar!" comes Grace's indignant and angry voice.
"Get out of my way!" Fred commands, "and allow this lady to enter the car. You won't? Egad! then, my beauty, I will put you in the car!"
And Fred makes as if to catch hold of Grace; but she is strong. She is not a delicately-reared city girl, no hot-house flower. Her hand has many a time held in rein the half-tamed steed away back on the vast fields, on the wild plains, of "Looranna;" her little hands are strong.
Fred can see she looks determined as the light of the car falls upon her proud face, and the fire of scorn shines in her eyes as she stands protectingly between the weak woman and the man; and, when he steps forward to clasp her, she is quick, and, snatching one of the lamps from the car, she dashes it into his face. The blow stuns him, and, with a groan, Fred falls prostrate at their feet.
The light from the car still shines on Grace Moore's face, and she is magnificent in her anger as she looks down in triumphant scorn at the prostrate man.
"Rise, Mrs. Jenkins, rise!" And she assists Milly to her feet as she says, "Do not kneel in thanks to me! Go, in the humility of your soul, kneel, and thank your God!"
The lightning flashes and the thunder rumbles; and, hand in hand, the two women hurry back to the house.
On the step, Grace pauses and looks back. "Thank God!" she gasps, as she sees, with the lightning flash, Fred Allison get into the car and drive off.
As the two doctors were driving away from "Garoopna," after Maud had given Dr. O'Meara the rose, Dr. Ferguson said: "I am sorry that I came, for, really, O'Meara, driving through these grounds revives old memories. You know, one time I had hopes—Oh! but there, why should I think of those old dreams?" he adds, as if trying to chase Memory's intruding voice away.
"Really, Ferguson, do you still think of, and care for, Clarence Jenkins; or—"
"Do I still care for her? Yes; I have never ceased to care for her!"
Dr. O'Meara looks at his friend, and in his heart he wonders why a strong man, stern and brave, could care for such a woman—a coquette—one who seems to live only for frivolity. "But, then," he continues thinking, "it is ever thus. Outsiders wonder why some people bestow all the love of their strong, honest hearts so often on those who appear to be unworthy of true affection."
And then, as if Dr. Ferguson could read the thoughts passing in his friend's mind, he says: "You know, Clarence was not always so fickle in her ways. When we became engaged, she was one of the finest of girls—true-hearted and kind; at least, I thought so. She went to England, and came back full of all the newest fads and foibles of dog worship. It was fashionable in London, she said, for ladies to always carry dogs about with them, and she seemed, from that, to find in them her chief pleasure. When I pointed out the danger of kissing those canine pets we quarrelled. Then she went with Milly to 'Bridge' parties; Mannering came along with Frank, and then the breach widened and we parted. Do not laugh, O'Meara! No wonder you laugh—here am I telling my love-story like a simple schoolboy. But, somehow, I cannot help talking about her. When I looked at that sweet little girl, Maud, I do not know how it was, but the past all seemed to rise again, and the old dreams came back."
"Do not think, Ferguson, that I laugh at you; but when you mentioned Mannering's name, I had to smile; it seemed so strange that that contemptible individual should have crossed both our lives."
"Why! Did you meet him? Did he cross your path before?"
"Yes, in the long ago. You remember, Ferguson, when I left college—when we passed our examinations and I got my diploma—I hurried home then to offer my love to, and woo for wife, the girl I loved, only to find that she was betrothed to this Jack Mannering. I left then, but later on found out that he had left the country. The young lady, who was supposed to be very wealthy, had lost her fortune, and, when he was told that she had lost her money, he disappeared without any explanation, proving that he only sought her for the sake of her gold. And I never saw him again till I met him on the course to-day, although I knew he was staying at 'Garoopna.' He always avoided me, or perhaps my visits were so timed that he was always away when I called."
"I wonder does Clarence know? She cannot know! Her pride would revolt against one who could be so mean as to be a fortune-hunter." But, in his mind, Dr. Ferguson determines that he will not be the one to tell her.
Dr. O'Meara is sorry for his friend. "Never mind, old man; things may turn out differently." Then, changing the subject, he says, "You had better come on with me. I have to call on Mrs. Carrington on my way, and I expect Frank Jenkins will be at my place, and he can drive you back."
Dr. Ferguson thinks for a minute, then he decides. "Very well; but you will be coming back yourself, will you not?"
"Yes, I have promised to go back, and you might as well come with me. Do not look so alarmed, old man! I do not want you to go and fight a duel with Mannering. You know, it is your duty to come and see Maud; and, God knows, she needs our best endeavours now. I know you do not care to meet Clarence? Well, never mind about that; come to see the child. Did you ever see such an unnatural woman as her mother? She has never, so long as I have known her, bestowed any affection on that little child."
"Oh," replies Dr. Ferguson, sarcastically, "Milly Jenkins always thinks it is vulgar to bestow affection on her child. In fact, she seems to blame the little children for being here. She is one of the many thousands of women who marry because it is fashionable to get married, and marriage does away with the stigma of old maid. Such women take on the holy name of wife, but all the time they rebel against the sweet, beautiful cares of motherhood; and, when the child does come, it is always felt to be an intruder, and put aside for the servants to attend to, while the mother runs the gauntlet in the fashionable life, vying with the gayest spinster as to who shall count the greatest number of beaux in their train. Look here, O'Meara! would you believe it? I have been at drawing-room entertainments and fashionable ball-rooms, and I can assure you I am no prude; but I was astonished and disgusted at the number of married ladies that I have seen carrying on violent flirtations, and thirstily drinking in the fulsome flattery of the aristocratic scamps who would so stoop as to make loving speeches to the wives of their friends. Of course, you know, children, to such women as these, mean hindrance. Such women have no regard for the responsibilities, no respect for the sacred duties, they assume with the holy bonds. Milly Jenkins is a copyist! But, forgive me, O'Meara, if I speak bitterly; for I feel that I owe her a grudge. I blame her for influencing Clarence, and encouraging her, for vanity's sake, to take up with Mannering; so, perhaps, I do speak bitterly, and maybe I am biassed."
"Well, do you not think now," says Dr. O'Meara, after deep reflection, "that we men are much to blame for the frivolity of the gentler sex? The fact is, we encourage the women in this silly conduct! No, no, Ferguson!" as Dr. Ferguson is about to interrupt him, "I do not mean we personally, but the majority of men. For instance, I have noticed some men flocking round, worshipping, at the shrines of the butterflies of fashion, women who only live to decorate and beautify their persons—women who would sacrifice every tie so as to gain, and enjoy, their own selfish pleasures. Yet an honest, homely girl—self-sacrificing, affectionate, and good—is quite ignored by the same men; left, as they say, 'on the shelf'— the wallflower of the ball-room. So, you see, while men do not open their eyes, but allow themselves to be beguiled by the painted faces and decorated beauties, they but encourage frivolity; so we cannot wonder, and men deserve to suffer when they, so speaking, prepare the rod to strike their own backs."
"Well, yes, you are right," says Dr. Ferguson, thoughtfully, "and— But, here we are, I am afraid, talking scandal about the sex; whereas, in ordinary chivalry, we should only speak of their good qualities, and in words of defence. But I suppose we are only human, after all, and are liable to get out of the bounds of chivalry at times, as well as the rest."
The two friends turn into Dr. O'Meara's house in silence.
When Kathleen sees them, "You are welcome," she says, with that fine, open courtesy which the warm-hearted Australian people are always wont to extend to a guest. And Dr. Ferguson is a particular favourite of Kathleen's; he was her brother's school friend, so she calls him her friend also. Indeed, the two men were friends as boys, and now they are friends as men. Not that cold, outside friendship which so often means nothing; they are friends with the true grip of friendship joining them together. They trust each other; they love each other, with that warm bond of affection with which a brother loves a brother.
"Who do you think is here?" she asks, merrily, as she looks up into their faces. "No, you must guess!" as Dr. O'Meara wants to pass her to ascertain for himself.
"You know, Kathleen," he says, "you are always giving me conundrums, and I cannot guess one; but I think I will venture this." He thinks for a minute; then, with assumed seriousness, "I suppose a soldier has been here reconnoitering; or, maybe, he has stormed the citadel and stolen away my sister's heart. Is it so, Kathleen? Have I guessed accurately?"
"Don't be nasty!" she says, poutingly. "I will not tell you now! I was just going to tell you."
"Well, I can guess, my little sister!"
With that, a cheery voice—that they all know and love so well—calls out: "What are you doing, Kathleen, bailing those two boys up? Cannot you let them come along till I see them?"
"Oh, is it you, Father Ryan?"
The two doctors hurry along to grip the hand of the good old priest.
"Well," Dr. O'Meara says, when they are seated in the drawing-room, "it is a pleasure indeed, Father, to have you here again! We thought you would be down for the races."
"I meant to be at the races, indeed I did; but old Lawyer Graham and myself had a lot of business to attend to. Would you believe it, Frank? Since I saw you last we have been away, all over the country; and we only came down a few hours ago. I can assure you, I was very sorry I could not get down in time. The fact of the matter is, I am beginning to pity myself. I do not know why men, when they are dying, constitute me guardian of their children. Here am I with my life bothered out of me with lawyers and one thing and another; and I am thinking that your father, Frank—the Lord have mercy on his soul! — gave me plenty to do when he made me guardian of Kathleen, here; for, if I am not mistaken, and if we are not careful, I think we will be finding her enlisting in the service of the new navy they are talking of having. Since I came, I have got no news from her but of battles, soldiers and navies."
At the priest's jesting words the shy blushes chase each other over Kathleen's pretty face.
"What a sweet little woman she is!" Dr. Ferguson thinks, as he listens to the merry banter of the good priest. "I did not know that Kathleen had military tendencies," he says, aloud; "but that explains much. I wondered why we were so deserted at the races to-day, and why one soldier had assumed sole possession of my little friend—Kathleen."
"Oh, Dr. Ferguson, if you join the rest of them against me, I will not like you at all! I promise you faithfully that I will cut you off in my will! I think I have left you something in the corner of it."
"Come, Ferguson, we will leave Kathleen and her love-story for a while. I want to show you a new case of instruments."
While they are examining Dr. O'Meara's latest purchase, Father Ryan says, "I am right, Kathleen," and he adds, slyly, "You made great progress."
"You are not vexed, are you, Father?" she asks, with a half-anxious look.
"Vexed? Well, now, tell me this: If I told you that you had to send this soldier-son of Mrs. Jenkins away without consolation, what would you say? Do you think you would obey me?"
A frightened light flits over Kathleen's face; but, catching the look of suppressed merriment in the good priest's eyes, the shadow of fear vanishes from her own. "Now, Father," she says, jestingly, "do not be putting such a heavy test on my veracity! But," she adds seriously, "you know, Father Ryan, I always obey you, and one time you said that long company-keeping was bad, that you did not approve of it; so you must not blame me now if I am obeying you, and following your advice too closely."
"Did I say that?" he asks, pretending to revive his memory. "Well, if I did say it," he adds, "I suppose I must have meant it; and I say now that I am not vexed. I am very pleased with your choice, and God bless you! You must be very proud of Frank Jenkins, and England cannot but be proud of her soldier."
"Thank you, Father; but Frank is not an English soldier. He is an Australian soldier, and when Australia has her navy built the world will have reason to look with respect on Australia's soldier-sons!"
"Frank," Kathleen whispers aside to her brother, when he is away from the others, "is there any bad news from Harold Jenkins? When the Captain read the evening newspaper, he seemed to go white, and he said, 'I see Harold has had some trouble at the mines.' He looked so worried, and he hurried away; so I was wondering."
"They had not heard anything when I left."
Kathleen looks consoled, then she says, "But, Frank, I thought Grace was to come with you, and we were to go to Mrs. Carrington's with her this evening?"
"She would have come, but Maud has taken a bad turn, poor little girl; so, you know, Grace could not leave her. Indeed, I would not ask her to leave when I saw the child looking so ill. I must go to Mrs. Carrington's now, because Ferguson and I will have to go back to 'Garoopna.' "
"Well, then, if you wish to escape the storm, I think you had better hurry."
"Did I hear you say you are going back to 'Garoopna' to-night? If you are, Frank, you can tell Grace that I will see her before I return to Sydney."
"But surely, Father Ryan, you do not intend to go back so soon!" interjects Kathleen, disappointedly.
"Oh, well, you know, I cannot stay away always from my parish; so you will have to hasten, if you expect me to arrange all this marriage business for you. If not, you will have to follow me to my parish if you want me as celebrant at the marriage feast; for, indeed, I am not going to bother the Bishop by intruding on another man's parish."
And they all laugh heartily at Father Ryan's hasty arrangement of matters.
Suddenly, Kathleen's face glows, as Captain Jenkins is announced. "He has come back," she says, excitedly, and the shy blushes deepen on her beautiful face.
She can see at once, as he enters the room, that there is an anxious look on his face.
"No, Kathleen, there is not any news so far," he replies. "There has been trouble at the mine; but there is no word from Harold yet. I knew you would be anxious, so I hastened to tell you."
"Thank you!" she whispers, "I knew you would come back."
"Why do you wear this anxious look? Is there anything wrong?" Father Ryan asks, as he holds the Captain's hand.
"Well, Father, the papers carry bad news about my brother's mines at Newcastle. There has been a strike and some bomb throwing. The first I heard of it was in the evening paper; but there is no direct word, nothing to show where Harold is. He must have been there. He left to go there. But we cannot ascertain anything definite as yet."
"Bomb-throwing!" exclaims Father Ryan, in a shocked tone. "Have they come to that? Have they introduced that instrument of anarchy into this fair land? Shame on them! Why cannot they settle their industrial disputes in peace? But, then, how can they make any settlement, peaceful or otherwise, when the owner is an absentee?"
When Kathleen O'Meara sees Dr. Ferguson and her brother depart, she returns to the drawing-room, where Father Ryan and Captain Jenkins are in close conversation together, and she knows by the look on both their faces that the subject of their conversation is herself.
"Quick! Quick! Remove your dress, Mrs. Jenkins; for God's sake, remove it quickly!" Grace urges, when they gain the security of Milly's room, unobserved by anyone. "Take it off! No, you must not sit down; there is no time. Come, let me help you!" she goes on, feverishly. "I cannot stay here; and, yet, I cannot leave you with those dripping garments. Some of the others might come any minute." And Grace looks round in frightened anticipation. "Maud may be calling! Rouse up! No, you must not sit down!" she cries impatiently as Milly again sinks into the chair with a dazed look dimming her beautiful eyes. "Let me remove your dress." And she commences to unfasten the rain-drenched silk gown; but Milly tries to shake Grace's hands off, and again sinks into the chair.
"Leave me! Leave me to myself! It is horrible! It is horrible! Leave me to myself!"
"How can I leave you? Do you want them all to know that you have been out? Would you have them suspect what has happened?"
Once more she proceeds to unfasten the dress. This time Milly does not stay her, but, with a hopeless, resigned look, the proud woman, who so often insulted and derided her child's governess, submits humbly. There is no pride, no haughtiness now; only humility, abject humility.
"You would get your death if you remained in these things," Grace continues, hurriedly. "My own dress is wet; but I will quickly remove that. There will be no curious eyes to look at me; no questions asked about my dress," she adds, "I must help you first."
Still Milly looks dazed as she stands submissively.
"Ah, what a difference from when I acted as maid for Milly Jenkins before! She was then scornful, haughty, and insulting; now she is— But I must not let that intrude now, and bring to my soul unchristian thoughts. I must forget that, forget many cruel words and hard speeches. Only the weak and paltry remember to be vindictive. I must shield her now."
Her face looks even holy as she hastens to remove all traces of the storm and rain from the cowering woman.
Suddenly she stops and listens. "I thought," she whispers, "that I heard a footstep."
Milly's face grows even ghastlier; and they both listen.
"No," Grace murmurs, "I was mistaken."
Still Milly remains passive. She does not endeavour to help to get the wet clothes off. She just gazes, white and dazed.
"You will get your death of cold if you remain longer with these wet garments clinging around you. I tell you, you will get your death."
The dazed look vanishes. "Death? Did you say Death, Miss Moore? Ah, how good that would be! Death! What is death? It is only to be dead; only to forget. This is life, and I live with dishonour. I would die and end all."
"Ah, death does not end all. You must live to repent; live to wipe away all traces of dishonour; live to make that soul clean that you have so lately besmirched by dragging it into the foul mire of temptation! No, no, death does not end all; for, after death comes the everlasting—the awakening of the soul in the new life of eternity. You must live to repent, so that the awakening will be to everlasting bliss."
"You speak like that! You are good; you understand. But if Harold knew all, he would kill me!"
"Will the fact of your husband not knowing make the sin any the lighter? Will the fact of his not knowing smooth and patch your conscience? It may—"
"No, no!" moans Milly. "All the water in the world cannot wash such stains away. Ah, Miss Moore, if we would only pause and think, how many wrongs would be avoided! If we would but think, when once a foul act is done, it is done for ever! We cannot obliterate a heinous deed! Do what we will, the foul odour will arise—ah, yes, to the end of time!"
The tears are on Grace's kind face, and Milly sees them. "You weep! Would that I could weep!"
"Remember, Mrs. Jenkins, it is not yet too late to weep in your heart, to pray and regret."
"You speak to me like this, and you help me?"
"Yes, to shield you from the scornful eyes of all. I could have killed that man! But, enough! We loiter, and the time is short. Come, be brave. Wake up from this lethargy! Throw away the wicked past, as you would throw away this beautiful, wrecked garment!"
As she speaks, she removes the lovely white silk gown—one of Milly's imported frocks—which was so recently dainty and beautiful, but now is mud-stained, draggled, and looks like a soiled rag. When Milly knelt beside the car in the rain she had forgotten her dress—indeed, she had forgotten everything then; and her dainty white shoes are now shapeless and sodden.
"Throw away the wicked past!" repeats Grace. "Take on new ways; remember, it is not too late to do so!"
For a minute Milly sits listlessly; then she says, ''Miss Moore, you are a good woman. Tell me if I have been mad? Ah, would," she continues, as she looks at the dirty dress, "that I could throw away, wipe out at one stroke, the wickedness, the follies of my day; but, no, it cannot be."
"Maybe you have been mad; I think all folly is a sign of madness. But you must always thank God that you did not take that fatal step—that you never crossed the brink. No, it is not too late! Had you crossed the brink had you gone in that car with Fred Allison to-night all the water in the world could not wipe away the foul, black spots that would have rested on your name! You have been wicked, indeed, when you, as the caretaker of your soul, exposed yourself to such temptation and danger. You must forever regret having done that. We must all regret when we have exposed our good name—our very souls—to such danger."
"Ah, but, Miss Moore, you must despise me. Such an act as mine cries aloud for Heaven's wrath; the foul odour of it will arise to the end of time. If Harold knew, he would kill me."
"Now," whispers Grace, as she finishes the fastening of the fresh gown, "if they come, they need never know; no one need ever know."
Milly's mood changes. Suddenly rising and gripping Grace's hands, "Fred will tell; he will betray," she says, gaspingly. "I owe him money. I owe him nearly £1000; so that is why—" and she breaks off and shudders. He will be vexed! He will be so angry! He will tell! My name will be bandied at the clubs to-night. Everyone will know, and everyone will despise me!"
"You should have thought of that before, Mrs. Jenkins; but, if I can guess aright, I hardly think that Fred Allison will boast of to-night's work."
Milly sinks into a chair, and moans in agony as she wails, "What can I do? What can I do? Fred will tell Harold, and then all will be lost! I will have to explain; and I cannot meet Harold and tell him I have borrowed money from Fred Allison! I cannot tell any of them that I owe this money! No! I would rather die first!"
For a minute Grace stands and is lost in deep thought. There is a wavering look flitting over her face—a look of decision and a look of doubt battling for place. "Will I?" she asks herself. "Does she deserve it?" Then, again, she thinks, and she remembers in those thoughts the many pin-pricks, the many heartaches, this woman has caused her. She remembers the many petty insults that have so often caused her blood to boil in revolt, and make the tears fall and her heart ache. She thinks of them all now, as she looks at the beautiful woman sitting, rocking, in the agony of remorse. For a minute Grace's heart is bitter; then a new thought chases the bitter one away, and she remembers an angel face, with tossed curls playing round in the wind, and she thinks she can feel the little arms twined fondly round her neck as the owner of that little angel face would lisp some prayer for her Mamma. Then she thinks on, and tears come to her eyes as she recalls the last time she felt the clasp of those little arms, and she thinks of the last time she looked down on that still, sweet face. "Poor little Effie!" she murmurs, inaudibly.
The look of indecision flits, and, moving to the side of Milly, she gently places her arm round her, and whispers something, softly and kindly.
Milly looks up hurriedly. "You? Miss Moore, how can you? Ah, but, now, tell me this. You cannot mean it? It cannot be true. No, it cannot be true!"
"Do not doubt me. This is no time to jest; no time to play lightly with words. I tell you, it is true!"
Rising, Milly exclaims, and there is a new light in her eyes, a new look on her face, as she speaks, "And you can do this for me? After all I did! After all!"
"Yes. And you will throw the past aside as you did that dirty garment, take on a new life, and I will be amply repaid."
Taking hold of Milly's hand, Grace looks imploringly into her face. "Promise me, now, Mrs. Jenkins! Promise me that," she entreats. "For little Effie's sake, promise!"
"I promise!" responds Milly, and there is a sound of a sob in her voice as she repeats, "And you can do this for me?"
"Yes! I do this for you because you are Maud's mother, and because you are the mother of Effie—the mother of an angel—and the voice of that angel-child whispers me to do it."
Then, as Grace is about to go out, Milly puts out her hand to stay her. "What if Fred should tell?" she gasps, and her face again looks blanched with fear.
"Do not think he will tell. Fred Allison would not have it known that he was frustrated by a woman! And, remember, your secret with me will be sacred—sacred as my very soul. I will never tell it—never breathe it again. I will hold that as a sacred promise between my God and me." Picking up the wet shoes from the floor, and rolling them with the dress into a bundle, "Hide these!" she urges, and then hurries from the room.
When Grace is gone, Milly looks at the dirty bundle. "She has gone!" she mutters. "Oh, God! I must have been mad! I have been cruel and cold to her, and, now, see what she has done for me! I have slandered her; I have hated her; and for what? Nothing! Maybe it was I envied her because she was good. And now she has done this for me—she has saved me; she dragged me back from the abyss. Grace Moore has done this for me. She bade me go to Maud; but how can I see her? Will not that child see reflected in my eyes the shadow of guilt? She cannot see guilt itself, because I have not been guilty. No, no! Not that! Miss Moore saved me. Can I go to Maud?" she asks herself; then she sits and thinks for a minute. "I must go!" she concludes.
Then her eyes darken, and a frightened look again flits over her face as she murmurs: "When Harold comes back, will he know? Will he see? Will he guess? Will he be able to read in my face— But, no, no! Oh, God! grant that he will never learn, will never know!"
Turning round, Milly catches sight of the reflection of her face in the mirror, and she staggers back. "If Harold came now, he would know by the look of remorse, the haggard lines, on my face. How can I chase them away? How can I? Ah, this!" she hurriedly opens the little drawer and takes out the vial "this will do it! This will stay the shaking of my hand! This, this!" And she holds up the vial containing the nerve-composing drug. "Will I take it? Will I? Will I?" Then, suddenly, a look of horror leaps into her face. "No, no!" she cries, and she dashes the vial from her. It falls to the floor, and is scattered in fragments. "I promised! I promised to throw away the past, and I will! What was it Miss Moore said? Ah! she said to pray, and that she, too, would pray. Prayer! Prayer! It is so long since I said a prayer." And a dreamy look creeps slowly over Milly Jenkins' face as she sinks down on her knees.
She is a magnificent picture of a "Magdalene" as, in all the abandon of her great loveliness, she kneels imploring her God for pardon and for peace.
"Oh, God!" she cries, aloud—"oh, God, send him—my husband back!"
As she rises, a new light falls upon her face.
Suddenly the door opens, and a man, storm-tossed and haggard, gaunt-faced and weary, stands looking at her from the doorway.
With a bound, Milly rushes to his side. "Oh, Harold!" she cries, "thank God you are back! Harold, my husband!" and, twining her arms round his neck as she again cries, "Thank God you are back!" her beautiful head falls sobbingly on her husband's breast, while the canker of remorse gnaws her very soul.
The gaunt-faced, storm-tossed man clasps her fondly in his arms.
"Ah, Milly, my wife!" he exclaims, "what were the strikes?—what were the burning mines?—what were the bombs?—what were the raging waves?—what was the wrecked barque on the hissing, seething deep?—what were they all? Nothing! Nothing! What of the thunder, and what of the lightning's flash? What care I for them all? They are as nothing! Nothing! I would brave them all a thousand times for a reward like this!"
And Harold Jenkins bends and lovingly kisses his wife's tear-stained face, and presses her fondly to his heart.
What if she whispers to him now, and tells him of Fred Allison? Will he forgive her? But that is their secret, not ours. We have no right to pry into the secrets whispered between husband and wife. Their confidences are sacred.
"No, Kitty! She is not here."
"You do not mean to tell me that Milly has not come?"
"No, she is not here; and she will not come. Do not ask me any more. I cannot tell you any more. Enough to say that she is not with me." And Fred Allison throws down the basket containing Milly's dogs, which she had handed to him when she was about to get into the car, before she had been seized with remorse, and before Grace Moore came to her rescue.
Fred threw down the basket with such force that the little canine inmates were jostled, and they commenced to make themselves loudly heard.
A surprised look lightens up Mrs. Mason's face as she exclaims, "What are these? What are these, Fred? Milly's basket! Milly's dogs!"
"Yes!" Fred answers sulkily. "They are Milly's dogs! I will have one revenge," he adds; "she will never get them back again."
"But, Fred, I cannot understand! Why should Milly give you the dogs, if she did not intend to come? Tell me why? Tell me all? You know I always try to help you, so I do not see why you should be afraid to tell me; and, oh, Fred"—and Mrs. Mason's face seems to glow with hatred—"you cannot know how my heart longs to drag the pride of those Jenkinses down! Old Mrs. Jenkins always refused to recognise me, though I was introduced to her often. She thought I was not good enough for her daughter-in-law to associate with; she succeeded in stopping Clarence's visits, but I made Milly lose at 'Bridge,' so she had to come. The downfall of their pride was my chief desire! You know I am wealthy; we are both wealthy. I have no need to crave the patronage of anyone, for the matter of that; but I want to command, with my wealth, an entry into any home wherein I wish to pass! Mrs. Jenkins' ignored me, and her door was always closed to me. But, come on, Fred, tell me? Did you see Milly?"
"Yes, and she gave me the dogs; but that is all I will tell you; so, Kitty, it is useless to argue any further." And Fred Allison looks vexed and determined as he turns sulkily away.
"Oh, well! never mind, Fred, you need not tell me; keep the particulars to yourself!" And Mrs. Mason's tones have a very independent, indifferent ring. "But there is one thing I can be sure of, that Milly will tell me. The fact is, I think I can guess," she continues, aggravatingly. "Milly was frightened of the storm; or, maybe, she changed her mind, and my vain brother would not have even his sister know that a woman changed her mind or baffled him in any way where he was concerned."
At the word "baffled," Fred turns round, and the dark, angry look on his face deepens.
"Beware, Kitty!" he retorts; "I am in no mood to be aggravated, to be tantalised; so have done! Do not seek to know any more."
"Oh, well, Fred, there is no need to get vexed with me, and speak in such gruff, threatening tones. You know, I have always done my best for you. It was I who encouraged Milly to lay such heavy odds; it was I who always encouraged her to venture again for the 'one more' game of 'Bridge,' always buoying up her hopes that she was going to retrieve her losses, while I knew all the time she could not win, and she was becoming more and more involved in your debt. I could have lent her money; I could have stayed her hand from play; but I did not. It was I who poisoned her mind, and made her jealous of the governess, Miss Moore."
At the mention of the name of Miss Moore, Fred's teeth clench hard, and he puts his hand up to his head. He has not yet removed his cap, and he will not remove it, he determines in his mind—no, not while Kitty stands there quizzingly watching, anxiously trying to fathom the secrets of his mind—to penetrate with a curious gaze to his very soul.
His hand drops down, and he mutters in his mind, "Grace Moore will pay heavily for her interference! She will pay heavily for that blow!"
Kitty is surprised at her brother's silence and altered, reticent manner, and she says, consolingly, "Never mind, Fred, we have the puppies."
And she opens the basket, and counts out Milly's prize little poodles. "Every one of them is worth £100!" she exclaims, as she lifts them out one by one.
Suddenly she stops, and Fred turns and looks at her, surprisedly, as peals of laughter echo and re-echo with the sound of the thunder.
"What are you laughing at, Kitty?" he asks, impatiently. "For goodness sake, stop! You will become hysterical!"
But Kitty cannot stop. She laughs even till tears roll down her cheeks with excessive merriment.
"Oh, Fred, that was a terrible laugh!" And again the merry notes peal out as she looks at the little poodles, sitting cosily, with their tiny feeding bottles, amongst the blue satin cushions which pad the basket.
"In Heaven's name, stop! This merriment is mistimed. I can assure you, Kitty, I am in no mood to listen to such hilarity."
She stops. "Fred," she says, "cannot you see? Cannot you understand? Milly Jenkins would sooner part with her life than with these dogs. She loves them better than anything else in the world—ay, even better than her own children! I never saw a woman so absorbed—so monstrously mad—over dogs as she was. Chase away the black look from your face. Change your clothing, and go to the smoke-room, and take a cigar. Take everything coolly and quietly, and, as you puff the blue smoke from the narcotic weed, and watch it curling up to the ceiling, you, too, will laugh when you think! Just rest and be quiet! Just enjoy yourself and wait! Rest assured, ere long, she will be here! The storm or rain will not prevent her; nothing will stay her when she misses her dogs! Do you know, Fred, the dogs will always come first with her—always first in her affections? Watch and wait. And when you hear another car, be sure it will contain Harold Jenkins' wife."
In an instant the black, angry look on Fred Allison's face gives place to the light of hope.
"Excuse me, Kitty," he says, "if I have behaved like a brute! I could not help it; I was mad with disappointment and rage! You are a witch! I will do as you say. I will change my coat—yes, it is wet—and, then—"
And Fred Allison hurries away.
When he enters the room, he closes the door tightly. Taking off his cap, he looks in the mirror. "Yes, it is black," and he closely examines a discoloured mark high up on his forehead.
"Grace Moore did that!" he mutters; and his teeth clench and his face grows dark.
"I would not tell Kitty no, I would not have her know. I would not have anyone learn that; but—"
And again he looks at the mark, and his fingers tighten.
"I will pay that girl back for this! But, by Jove! if she had not come on the scene we would have met the old Colonel as he drove by with Harold, and that would have been a catastrophe. But I will pay that girl out, all the same, if ever she crosses my path, or I cross hers!"
He hurriedly changes his clothes, and then goes down to join his sister in the drawing-room.
"I hear Harold Jenkins had a narrow escape with his yacht; he and the crew were only saved after great difficulty," Fred hears one of the guests saying as he enters.
"And I believe the yacht has foundered out in the bay," interjects another, who has just arrived. "I was down at the Port, and saw Harold Jenkins and the old Colonel drive off in a motor. Harold looked as if he had got a tossing."
"And I believe he has had a lot of trouble at one of his mines in Newcastle. It may mean financial ruin to him, and what does that mean to Mrs. Harold Jenkins? She is a handsome woman, with expensive tastes; and financial ruin to a woman like her would mean social death. I hardly think that she will survive the strain. To her, indeed, it would mean a calamity."
"I thought she was to be here to-night?"
"Oh, yes! but, I suppose she will be detained now by her husband's arrival—if he has arrived," Kitty adds, nonchalantly.
But in her mind she thinks, "This explains why she did not come—"
The topic is dropped, and the guests go on with their own amusements, and Milly's name is forgotten.
But there is a peculiar look in Fred Allison's face. A strange look of triumph glitters in his eyes.
"I wonder," he thinks, "will she—will Milly Jenkins—be able to pay me now, or will I have to get it from Harold?"
And although the others are merry-making, happy and jovial, there are two people amongst them—the hostess and her brother—who are keenly listening for every sound; keenly watching with expectant, anxious look for the arrival of Milly.
At times they think they can hear a knock; they rise expectantly, only to fall back into their seats.
The night wears on. Time passes. Their keen, listening ears at last catch the sound of a motor-car approaching. Mrs. Mason listens. "It has stopped." And, hurrying over to her brother's side, she whispers, "Fred, I heard the car pull up, and I peeped through the curtain. It is Jenkins' car! Hurry out! It will be Milly! Come on!"
Fred and Kitty hurry out of the room.
"Yes, I thought so," says Kitty; "I was sure it was there!"
In answer to a loud, hurried knocking, Fred opens the door.
They do not wait for the menial to answer the knock. They are too anxious.
Fred looks out into the storm. He falls back hurriedly as he sees, standing on the steps, Jenkins' chauffeur, and Jenkins' car waiting on the drive close by.
"Oh, but this is a storm!" ejaculates the chauffeur, "and I can tell you, sir, I did not half like coming through it; but there was no getting away from it, so I had to face it to bring you this letter."
Fred and Kitty look at each other, and Fred takes the letter in silence.
"No, thank you!" says the man, as Fred offers him a coin. And, strange as it may seem, this servant of the Jenkins' refuses to take the tip offered. But perhaps he was only obeying orders in thus refusing.
"Very well," says Fred, as he replaces the coin in his pocket; "but you are a strange servant!"
With a "Good-night, sir!" the chauffeur goes down the steps, gets into the car, and goes back to the home of the Jenkins'; back, through the storm and rain, to "Garoopna."
"What is it?" asks Kitty, as Fred is about to open the letter. "Be quick! It is not Milly's hand-writing!" as she observes the envelope.
He does not answer, but hurries away to the security of his own room; and, turning on the electric light with nervous fingers, and with a look of blank surprise, he tears open the envelope.
There is a little note and a paper. He can hardly read the note, it is so hurriedly scrawled, evidently the work of a nervous hand.
"Dear Fred," it says, "enclosed you will find a cheque to meet my indebtedness to you. I have borrowed it, and thus I end my gambling debts. Tell Kitty she may keep my dogs."
He spreads out the cheque and looks at it. Surprise—blank surprise—utter astonishment o'erspreads his face. He looks for a minute, then he, too, laughs—but not a merry laugh—as he reads and re-reads the name signed to the cheque.
"Ah, what would Kitty say to this?" he mutters. "She is mistaken; Milly Jenkins will not follow. She will not come for her dogs! 'Kitty may have them,' she says. What can she mean? What can have changed her?" And once more he takes up the note and peruses it. " 'Kitty may have my dogs!' " he repeats. "Well, what will Kitty say to that?"
She is waiting, and, opening the door, Fred says: "Come here, Kitty! Come here and read that!"
Mrs. Mason reads and re-reads, and the look of amazement on her face rivals the astonished look on that of her brother's.
At last she says, as she looks up into his angry face, "What does it all mean? I may have her dogs! Those dogs are valuable, very valuable, and she loves them as her life. Milly Jenkins must be mad!"
"She encloses the money! Where is it?"
"It is here!" But he does not show her the cheque. "Go back to your guests, Kitty. They will wonder. I will re-join you directly."
And she goes out obediently.
Once more Fred takes up the cheque, and, spreading it out very carefully, he looks at it, deeply and long.
Then he mutters, and his face is now black, indeed, " Baffled by that woman! Once again frustrated by Grace Moore! But, stay! what am I thinking of?" he asks. Then an evil, exultant light glitters in his eyes as he exclaims triumphantly, "How can she sign a cheque for that amount? How can she sign a cheque for any amount? She is a menial—a poverty-stricken menial! What is the crime?" he asks, as if addressing someone, "to sign a cheque when one has no account? Grace Moore must have forgotten when she signed this piece of paper. How can she meet it? She is only a paid employé—only a servant. Dr. O'Meara is her friend—her lover! I wonder what he will say when I show him this little piece of paper?''
Fred carefully replaces the cheque, with Milly's note, in the envelope.
"I will go now," he determines, and he puts on his motoring coat. "There is no time like the present," he murmurs. "I cannot go now amongst my guests until I have played this trump card." And he chuckles as he puts the envelope into the pocket of his great-coat, and passes out of the room.
When he opens the hall door a great gust of wind sweeps up, and one lurid flash of lightning almost blinds him.
"I must not go out in that! I will wait;" and he hurriedly closes the door. "By Jove! but it does rage!" he adds; "that flash almost blinded me! But I must not let them know I intended going," and he takes off his big coat and places it in his room.
As he re-enters the room where his guests are assembled he smiles with that smooth, even smile that only a hypocrite can smile; while, all the time, in his heart, he is thinking darkly.
Soon the thoughts of the cheque vanish from his mind as he is absorbed fascinated in a game of "Bridge" with some fellow-friends from the club.
Everyone is merry in the room, the bright, gay laughter of the ladies mingling with the music of the orchestra that plays in the saloon. When Mrs. Mason entertains, she entertains lavishly, and her guests are made to feel they are welcome.
She is now showing them the basket with Milly's little dogs, and the ladies are gloating over the beauties of the little curly-coated pets. She has not told them that Milly has given the dogs to her, for the guests all expect Milly to come when the storm ceases.
"Gracious, how the wind roars!" exclaims Mrs. Mason. "The lightning is terrific! Oh, yes, it is a fearful storm!" she adds, nervously.
"But the sound of the storm does not mar the merriment of the party.
Of course, the noise of the storm does not blend with the laughter; but still the laughter ripples.
Suddenly, consternation strikes every heart in the room.
A terrific crash is heard, and the house rattles and shakes to its very foundations, as if some mountainous body had crashed upon it.
"Oh, God, what is that?" Mrs. Mason gasps, as she grips her brother's arm and gazes fearfully into his face.
For a minute Fred is speechless. Then, "Oh, Kitty!" he exclaims, "it is a thunderbolt! It has struck the house!" and his face is ghastly with horror.
A panic seizes the assembled guests. They run hither and thither in their wild excitement to escape from the swaying building. As they run along the corridor, in the direction of Fred's room, "The house is on fire!" they yell. "Fire! Fire!" and great tongues of flame leap up and stay their progress. They know they cannot escape that way, for the great, surging flames sweep up from the hall. They are repulsed; the flames drive them back.
"Come back! Come back!"cries Fred. "The balcony! The balcony!"
And the panic-stricken crowd rush back to the drawing-room, in answer to his call. The electric light is out, but the reflection of the flames throws a ghastly, lurid glare over all, revealing the terror-stricken faces of the women and the horrified countenances of the men.
"The balcony! The balcony!" again Fred cries. And, tearing, struggling, scuffling, the terror-stricken crowd rush the balcony.
Beautiful, daintily-clad ladies, with their fragile costumes, do not hesitate now to penetrate into the storm.
"Be calm! Be calm!" cries Fred. "The flames cannot reach us yet! See!"
And he points to the blaze as the great tongues of flame lick up and devour everything in their path.
One by one the ladies are helped to the ground. Mrs. Mason is the last. When she reaches the ground she looks round and cries: "Jump! Jump, Fred! for your life! The flames are at your back!"
He is about to leap. Suddenly he remembers something, and, looking round, he turns back and hurriedly enters the room.
A woman's terrified scream, loud and long, rings out above the din of the storm, then ceases as Mrs. Mason sinks back, fainting, into the arms of one of her guests.
When she awakens she can only see the ashes of her mansion home. "The Olives" has been burnt to the ground, and Fred Allison has perished in the flames.
What he had gone back for, no one knew. Maybe it was for the letter. Whatever it was, his ashes mingle with those of "The Olives."
"Please, Papa, will it soon be day?"
"Yes, Maud, dear, soon it will be day, and then the sun will shine and the birds will sing; then Papa will carry you to the garden, and let you see the lovely flowers."
"But, Papa, is Mamma here? I am so sorry it is dark now! Ah, yes, Mamma is here. I can feel her soft face touching my cheek, and I can feel her hand clasping mine. Kiss me, please, Mamma? Oh, it is so lovely to feel your kiss! When you come to Heaven, and Effie and I meet you there, you will not forget to kiss me then, will you, Mamma?"
"No, no, Maud, darling!" whispers Milly, and there is the sound of tears in her voice as she speaks.
She again bends low and kisses her little daughter's flushed cheek. All the deep love of her passionate heart is welling up and wringing her very soul with anguish.
"I must have been mad!" she murmurs, inaudibly. "All those misspent years! Those years of neglect! The years I forgot my darling! Oh, God! have I grown sane too late?"
And again she bows her head on the pillow beside her child.
"Papa!" again Maud whispers, "were you frightened in the storm? Was it dark like this, then? And, oh, Papa, did the storm rage, away out on the sea?"
"Yes! my child." And Harold Jenkins' voice is broken, and his eyes are heavy with despair, as he sits beside the couch on which his only child lies waiting, calling for the "Light."
The lamps in the room are burning brightly, but still she cries, "I wish the day would come, because I cannot see well. There is a deep, black cloud hanging over all. I cannot see, and I do so want to see; but when the day dawns, then there will be light, and then I will see Mamma's beautiful face and look into her lovely eyes. Sometimes, when I look into my Mamma's eyes, I think I can see all the colours of the flowers, and the sky.
"Papa, tell me, is Mamma's face beautiful, or did she fall down that great, big gulf? Did she pick the flowers with the serpents' heads that the great, dark man with the cruel face was telling her to gather?"
Milly starts, and a frightened, startled look shines in her eyes.
Harold and Milly look at each other. Grace says, whisperingly, "She but wanders! She tells her dream."
"Papa, you will always mind Mamma," again whispers Maud, and her voice is weak, sweet, and low, as she turns her deep, pathetic eyes to her father's face. "You will always mind her," she continues, feebly, "and, when you see a great, deep gulf, put your arm around Mamma and take her away; for I am always too sick, and I cannot call and tell her. But, oh, I am forgetting—that was only a dream, wasn't it, Miss Moore? I was asleep then. I only dreamt it!"
"Yes, darling, you were asleep; but, now, you are awake, and you know there is no dark gulf threatening your mother; so be calm, dear!"
Maud sinks back on the pillow, and is silent for a minute.
Then she says, "Kiss me, Papa, for I am so tired. Mamma!" she calls, "when Papa's head aches, you will put your hand on his brow, and hold it—just like this!" And she puts out her little hand and tenderly touches her father's brow.
His head is resting on the pillow beside her. He has forgotten the storm, forgotten the mine, forgotten everything now as he feels the burning touch of the little child's hand. He can feel the feverish throbbing of the pulse, and he knows—
"You will mind Papa, won't you, Mamma?" And once more Milly whispers softly, and Maud is content.
"Is Miss Moore here? Where is Miss Moore?"
"Yes, darling, I am here!" And Grace pats Maud's cheek, and plays with the soft curls that hang around.
"Well, please, Miss Moore, Papa's head throbs; I can feel it. Will you bring your violin and play? And then Papa's head will grow better, and I so want to hear you play. When you play, I always think I can hear the angels whispering. Then Effie might come, and then the lamp of the angels would shine. If it was shining, I could see Mamma and Papa. I could see you all."
For a second she is silent and thoughtful, and her face is very pathetic and wan. Then she says: "Dr. O'Meara, will you tell Dr. Ferguson, when you see him, that I said, 'Poor Dr. Ferguson!' I know now why Grandma called him 'poor.' "
"Yes, my little friend; but you can tell him yourself, for he is here. He came to try and make you well."
"Oh, I am so pleased you are here!" Dr. Ferguson moves up to the side of the bed and stoops and kisses her, and she smiles weakly. "You know," she says, "I cannot see very far away now; the room is too dark, but soon it will be day!"
Then she continues, in a half-wandering tone, "I want you to know, Dr. Ferguson, that I am sorry that Auntie Clarence was cruel to you. Grandma said that was why she called you 'poor.' But when I go to Heaven, Effie and I will pray for you, and we will ask God to tell Auntie Clarence not to be cruel to you any more."
Clarence, who is sitting on a chair at the foot of the bed, bends her head low on the cushions, and anyone who had known her would hardly credit that this was the proud, haughty, domineering, overbearing girl who, hitherto, has not shown any sympathy, any tolerance, for anyone but herself. To look at her now, as she weeps sorrowfully, no one would think that she—one time, when dressing her big dog "Paul" for his motor ride, and while she was adjusting the goggles on the canine favourite—had said to her mother: "Ma, when will Harold take those children home? I hate the little brutes!" As she now sits and listens to Maud speaking, as it were, from the borderland, the doorway of the eternal home, her heart throbs with anguish. The great marble, artificial crust is broken and shattered; the callous case has fallen away, and the true woman's heart is revealed.
Her form shakes with the sobs; and then, rising from the chair, she goes and, gently bending over Maud, she kisses her.
"God bless you!" she whispers. "I will never be cruel again; never cruel to anyone!" And she goes back and once more sinks into the chair, and buries her face in the cushions.
Dr Ferguson, who is standing near, putting his hand on her bowed head, whispers quietly to her: "Never mind, Clarence, my girl. Do not weep; perhaps it is better so!"
For an instant she looks up into his manly countenance, then once more hides her face in the cushions.
His heart is glad, for he thought he could see in her eyes the reflection of the light of other days—a look of kindness; he thought he could see a look of love. He may be mistaken; maybe he is not.
Over Maud's face there steals a beautiful, happy light. She is silent for a minute; then she says, "Miss Moore, will you bring the violin? But, please, take me in your arms first? I want to sit on your knee, and put my arms round your neck, just like I used to do when we sat amongst the ferns on the hills, and you used to tell me pretty stories, and I would tell you of my dreams. Please, Mamma, I think I would like to go to the music-room! I would like to sit once again by the piano and play! May I, Mamma?"
"My dear child, I am afraid you are too weak to sit at the piano! To-morrow, dear!"
"Ah!" the grandmother thinks, sorrowfully; "to-morrow? How foolish to say, to-morrow! Tomorrow is a long way off! To-morrow may never come!"
"Oh, please, Mamma, say yes, now! Miss Moore will carry me! May I go, Mamma? Do say yes!" the weak voice persists.
Milly looks questioningly at the two doctors, and both say, as they bow assent, "Just as well! Just as well!"
As Mrs. Jenkins looks at her son's haggard face, she thinks: "Poor Harold! He has battled the storm, only for this!" And, going over to his side, she puts her arm round his neck, and, kissing his cheek, "My boy, my boy "—and there are tears on her kind face as she speaks—"Harold, my boy, I am sorry for you! Your mother is sorry, indeed!"
"Yes, mother," he whispers back, "I know you are!" And he kisses her fondly, and wipes the tears from her cheeks.
"Yes, that is right, Miss Moore!" as Grace lifts Maud out of the bed.
"Oh, I do love to clasp my arms round your neck! But the roses—oh! where are they? Here, Mamma, I culled this rose for you!" and she picks out a white rose from the bosom of her gown. The flower is withered, and is bowing on the stem. "Here, Mamma, I culled that. It is the very last rose I picked in the garden! Yes, Mamma, keep it, there are no serpents' heads in it!"
Milly takes the rose, and soon its petals are glistening, and revived, with the human dewdrops—a mother's tears.
"I think I have a rose for everyone," the child continues; "but that one was the last rose I gathered, and it was for you, Mamma. Now, please, Miss Moore, take me to the music-room! Yes, I am holding my arms tightly round your neck! When we are there, I will sit quietly by the piano, and Effie might come; then it will be light! It is growing darker here."
As Grace passes from the room, with the little girl clasped fondly in her arms, she bends her head in the child's soft curls to hide the tears of emotion that she knows are revealed on her face.
In her heart, she thinks, as she looks at Milly walking by her side, "Oh, what anguish must that mother suffer, when my heart feels such pangs! My little friend, my little care, is slipping from me!" And again Grace bends her head amongst the curls.
As they enter the music-room, "Ah!" exclaims Maud, weakly, "I can see now, Mamma! Will you please sit beside me, and you can hold me up. Papa, you sit here; but do not sit in the place where Effie used to sit. Mamma, they are not weird or uncanny fancies! Miss Moore said they are not; and Miss Moore knows, Mamma! I want to whisper to you, 'Do not be cross with her any more!' Oh, that is nice!" And Maud passionately kisses her mother's face.
"Will I hold you, dear?"
"If you hold me, Miss Moore, then you cannot play; and I want you to play the violin, while I play on the piano. You know, the piece Effie and I used to play."
"Will Mamma hold you?" asks Milly.
"But will I be too heavy, Mamma?"
"No, no, my pet, not too heavy!" And, for the first time, Milly sits on the stool and takes her little daughter in her arms, and holds her tenderly to her breast.
As Dr. O'Meara looks on, he whispers, aside, to Dr. Ferguson, "The physician that could have cured the child, I am afraid, has come too late! The medicine she wanted was too long delayed."
As he looks at Milly, he murmurs, inwardly, "Somehow, I pity this woman! Yes, I pity her from my soul; and yet, hitherto, she has only aroused feelings of bitterness in my heart."
Mrs. Jenkins also looks at her, and she wonders what has caused this great change in her daughter-in-law. Now she is womanly, motherly; before, she was artificial and cold.
But Maud's voice breaks the train of thought. "Now, Papa, your head will be better. It will not throb again, and there will be no more tears in your eyes; there are tears in your eyes now. You will hear the angels whispering; they always whisper when Miss Moore plays to me.
"Yes, Mamma, that is right, and, please, kiss me before I play; and, Papa, just one kiss! Everyone—must kiss me now—and, poor Grandma, one for you!" Then, turning to Grace, "Kiss me, Miss Moore; just like you always kiss!"
And as Grace bends over to kiss the sweet little, upturned face, Dr. O'Meara can see one little, pearly drop shining on the golden curls that hang over Maud's shoulder.
"Dear Papa!" she says, as Harold passionately kisses her burning cheeks.
"And now, Mamma, the last one for you; then I will play!"
Milly holds her fondly and tightly to her breast, as if in that close clasp she would hold and keep her with her always. She still holds her; then, with one long, clinging kiss on the child's lips, her whole soul thrills with a mother's love.
"She is mine!" she murmurs, in her soul; "she is mine! But, oh, God, she is slipping, slipping from me!—slipping away!—and my heart will be alone and desolate!"
"Listen, Mamma!" and Maud's voice is getting very low. "Now, Miss Moore, please, play."
And the notes of the violin ring through the room, and slowly the child's delicate fingers pass lightly over the keys of the piano.
"Listen, Papa, listen!" she whispers.
Grace forgets everything; for, in her heart, she thinks she is playing the accompaniment to a departing soul.
Maud's fingers trace over the keys, and, with a bright look on her face, she says, "Listen, Mamma! Listen, Papa! The angels are whispering now! Soon the light will come! Soon the day dawn! Oh, Mamma, I can see your face! I can see all your faces now; for Effie is coming, coming with the angel's lamp, and, with its light, I can see you—I can see you all! I can feel Effie's breath fanning my cheek! I can feel the tiny fingers touching mine!"
Still the wasted fingers pass slowly over the keys, and Grace plays on, the music of the old violin blending with the sweet, sacred theme of the child's accompaniment.
"Papa, always mind Mamma! Is your head better now? I knew the music would cure your head. Don't cry, Papa! But, listen! Ah! the angel's lamp shines bright and clear; all is day, for Effie now is near."
The listeners, are entranced with the music. Grace looks wonderingly. "Can she play like that?" she asks herself, in surprise. "No, it must be the angels playing."
Slower and slower Maud's fingers pass over the keys, and her voice sinks lower, till it is almost a whispered sound.
"I can see you all now—see you, Mamma, and feel your kind hands clasping my neck! I can feel you kissing my cheek."
She pauses; she seems very weak.
"I know—Effie—is near—very—near."
She again pauses, and her fingers cease to play; and the great, pathetic eyes look up, yearningly, into her mother's beautiful, tear-stained face. The violin stops as Maud murmurs brokenly:
"Mamma—just kiss—your—little—girl—goodbye, and—wipe—that—falling—tear. God's—angel—band—is—calling—me! See!—yonder—beams—the Light. I—follow—it—in—peace—to—God!—Mamma—one——kiss———good————night."
With one more pathetic, yearning look into her mother's face, Maud's pretty head, with its golden curls tossed and beautiful, sinks wearily back on her mother's breast. The pathetic eyes close.
The storm has passed away. All is quiet, and brightly breaks the new-born day. Over the hills the sun is slowly climbing, and its beams are softly peeping through the shutters. The soft light falls on Maud's face as she lies back, silent and still, on her mother's bosom. As the early sunbeams kiss the golden curls, they seem like a halo of glory crowning the little child.
"She sleeps!" murmurs Milly, and Harold takes hold of Maud's little hand as it falls listlessly to her side.
Mrs. Jenkins gently pushes back the soft curls, and reverently kisses the sweet face, then turns away disconsolately.
Milly, looking piteously into Grace's face, whispers, "Miss Moore, Maud sleeps! Maud sleeps!"
"Yes," responds Grace, with a deep sigh, as she tenderly, sympathisingly, puts her strong arm around Milly—"yes, Maud sleeps!"
And, bending low, she kisses the sweet, upturned face that she had so often kissed before, and she pats the little hand that she had so often patted and guided on its way.
"Yes," she murmurs, "our little pet sleeps: the everlasting sleep! She has gone to that land where there is no night; no darkness; no sorrow; no pain! Maud sleeps to us; the everlasting sleep; but she wakes to the light, to the beauties, to the glorious splendour of God's Eternal Day."
Months have passed since Maud was laid to rest beside her little sister, Effie, and the violets that were planted then are blooming now, fresh and bright, over the little mound.
A beautiful, fragile flower from Life's garden has been transplanted to bloom for ever in the great Garden of Paradise.
Everyone misses the sweet little, fragile blossom; but they are consoled when they remember that Life's rude winds can never more disturb the petals of the fair, human flower.
But, still, one cannot help sighing now and then—the heart's own solace is the silent tear. Parting at any time is sad; but the everlasting parting is sadder still. But, surely, this is not an everlasting parting? No, not everlasting! for, after our frail barque has battled with the storms of Life, and our souls find rest in the Sheltering Harbour of the eternal shore, we will then meet our loved ones again, where parting is not, and cold Death is no more.
Months have passed. Christmas has gone, and Easter is approaching; but still Grace Moore remains at the home of the Jenkins.'
She had to stay, for Milly required her care. For many weeks after Maud's death Milly's life was despaired of. She has been sick almost unto death.
"I cannot go!" Grace said to Dr. O'Meara. "How can I go, and leave Maud's mother when she so needs me? You will not ask me!" she pleads.
And he says, "No, my girl; I will wait."
Everyone wondered at Milly; wondered when she would cling to, and, even in the height of fever, call incessantly for, Grace Moore.
No one knew the sacred bond between them—the bond of gratitude in Milly's soul.
Grace was always ready, always willing to answer to the call. She felt well rewarded for her long care, her long vigil, when she saw the healthy glow returning to Milly's cheek, and knew that Milly's time had not yet come.
Many a time during the long, weary watching, when Grace would sit beside the bed, Harold would come in and kiss his wife; and sometimes he would hear her babble in her delirium, "Stay! Miss Moore! Harold must never know! He must never know!"
She would always, on these occasions, turn his thoughts away.
Everybody wonders what changed the proud, haughty woman. Why is it that she so clings to, and craves for, the one to whom, hitherto, she had so often only shown hatred and scorn?
At last, she is getting better; and the joy that is in all hearts is, in a sense, chasing away the shadow that has been clinging round, hanging over, all as they would think of the sweet face, and miss the little darling, that lies beneath the mound.
"I was not good enough to keep her," Milly whispers as Grace assists her to the verandah, where she sits in the sunshine, gaining strength daily. "Oh, no, Miss Moore, I was not good enough to keep her!"
Her mood changes, and she asks, impatiently: "Why was she taken from me? Why?" And a rebellious light shines in her eyes.
"Now, you must be good!"
And one would think, from Grace's tone, that she was addressing Maud; for her voice is loving, sympathetic, and kind.
"You know, Mrs. Jenkins, you must not rebel against the will of God. She had to go; and you must just try and look bright again. Try and smile. Try and get well, so that you may be able to comfort your husband; to go hand in hand with him back to your own home; to soothe with the kindness and fondness of a wife's love the sorrow and pain of his aching heart. Do not rebel again;" Grace continues. "Do not be sad. Remember that your two little darlings are beautiful angels, that you are the mother of the angels; make your life so that you will be worthy of that exalted title, and always remember that Effie and Maud were not too good to give to God."
We make a great wail, a great sorrow over death. It is selfish to keep long in that sorrow. We should not sorrow for the dead when we know our loved ones were ready and fit to die.
"Miss Moore, you are an angel yourself; you are so good!"
And Grace stoops and kisses the delicate cheek. "Now, promise you will try and be bright! Here is your husband coming. God knows he is sad enough. For his sake try and look cheerful!"
When Harold takes the place beside his wife, and Grace goes off to attend to some other duties, Milly says, "Miss Moore is a good woman! Oh, you can never know how good she is to me!"
"God bless her; she is indeed a good woman!"
Milly looks at him, and thinks, "How worn he is! No wonder Grace Moore says his heart is sad."
"When I am strong enough to travel," she says, "will you take me home?" and she leans her head against her husband's breast, and the strong man's hand presses tenderly through the waves of golden curls that decorate her shapely head, as she goes on, softly—"We will soon go home. We will begin life anew, and let the past, the horrible past, fade into oblivion, and bridge over with our love the great gulf that has so long yawned between us."
"Oh, my darling! God bless you, wife! God bless you for those words! When you are fit to travel we will go. You can never know how comforting those words are to me. My heart has been sad and lonely, very sad indeed."
In his heart he is wondering if two little souls are praying for them.
"Milly is now the Milly of old," he thinks. And there is a smile of joy on her thin face, as Harold presses her fondly to his heart.
Colonel Jenkins and his wife watch them, as, lover-like, Harold and Milly stray through the trees. "Mary," the Colonel says, "see those two, who have been so long estranged, at last are united, God send never to be parted again!"
"Thank God!" Mrs. Jenkins says, fervently, as she looks up into her husband's face—"thank God, Milly has at last come to her senses; she and Harold are going back to their own home. May God bless and guide them!"
"Well, Mary, they should get on well," responds the Colonel, as he takes his wife's hand and links it through his arm. "They should get on well. I have fixed Harold's business affairs up for him. Everything is right. They have good reins and a clear road in front of them; they should be able to drive clear of the ruts, and I think they will."
When Dr. O'Meara comes to see Grace, he is very happy when she tells him that Milly and Harold are about to return to Sydney.
"Do not think me selfish, my darling, but I am glad Milly Jenkins is well, and that she and her husband are going home. Glad, indeed, for now I will not have to wait longer for my wife."
As Grace's head is resting on his breast, she feels like a tired child resting for support on his strong, manly bosom, and, as she looks up into his kind face, she whispers, "Frank, it seems so restful to have my head here, and to know that soon I will be with you always. Dear old Father Ryan was here to-day, and, oh, Frank, when I see his good, kind face, I feel as if I were once more back at 'Looranna;' and I think I can see the trees and the woods, and I fancy I can hear the birds sing, and the waters of the river flowing."
"But, my girl," whispers the doctor, lovingly, "you must not think of 'Looranna' now; just look forward to the brightness and happiness of the home that I will give you. Never let the loss of 'Looranna' even once dim or shadow your eyes."
She starts suddenly. "Will I tell him?" she asks herself. "Will I tell him now? Is it wrong to keep even that secret for a little while? Will he be vexed with me when he learns afterwards? No, I will not tell him now," she decides; "I will not have the world say that Frank O'Meara married me for my money. But," she argues with herself, "why should I care for what the world would say?"
And she looks up into his face, and her voice is very sweet and low, "Would you be very vexed," she asks, "if you knew I had a secret that I had not told you? I have a secret; but I would rather not tell you now. I would rather wait until we are married."
"Is it connected with our love?" And the doctor's face looks anxious.
"Oh, no, no, nothing about our love. Do not look so alarmed! It is nothing that can possibly interfere with the happiness of our lives. It is only—"
"Hush, Grace! You must not tell me. I will not listen."
And he fondly kisses her and caresses her to him.
"Very well, Frank; I am glad you do not want to know."
And Grace is happy; she is satisfied, for she would have told him, but he would not listen.
A light of happiness beams on her face, and joy reigns in her heart as both go hand in hand whispering the story of their hearts—forging the chain of Love—the chain that is so strong that, when its links are true, untarnished by the base metal of falsehood, it can hold nations together; but, if that chain is ever strained with the cruel act of unfaithfulness, it becomes fragile—easily broken asunder. Those severed links may be joined together again, patched, as it were, with soothing influence and kind words, but the links of love, once severed, never more regain their original strength; never recover their untarnished beauty. The indent, the scar, the mark of the rent will remain for ever to spoil the beauty of the love links. But the love chain that Grace Moore and Dr. O'Meara forge is strong, and all the jewels that grace those links are like gems from above. The links will never part; they are links of undying love forged by a manly, honest heart, and the sweet, loving devotion of a good and beautiful woman.
They are so lost in the maze of happy dreamland that they do not notice the time passing. But what lovers ever count time by the length of the hours? For happy lovers, time is all too fleeting.
Suddenly Grace says, "I am sure I heard Kathleen's voice! Yes," she adds, "I know that is her laugh! How joyous and free her laughter sounds!"
"So, I have found you at last!" exclaims Kathleen, as she trips lightly through the beds of flowers. "Here you have been hiding from us. How could you, Grace?" she says, in a tone of mock rebuke. "I do not wonder at my brother, for I know he is trying to get out of my way. But, oh, dear!" and the bantering look flits from Kathleen's eyes, and the sweet girl face is upturned for Grace to kiss, "I so wanted you, and have been seeking for you everywhere."
"Really Kathleen, I can assure you I did not know you had arrived. Father Ryan told me you were coming over, but I did not expect you so soon."
"Do you know? It is almost time for me to go! But, I quite understand," and Kathleen looks roguishly at Grace, whose blushes deepen, and her fine eyes are shy and drooping.
"I want you," continues Kathleen, ignoring the pretty embarrassment—"I want you to come right away with me. You know now you have no further excuse—Milly is better; so you must come. I came over to-day determined to carry you off. Say you will come!" and Kathleen looks sweet and coaxing, and her bright, fresh young face, beaming with the hue of health, looks very winning.
"Indeed, now," interjects Mrs. Jenkins, as she joins them, "you must not be trying to entice her away! You must let me have that one pleasure! Promise me, dear! I want Miss Moore to stay with me till she leaves to go to her own home."
Grace looks at the kind face, and she thinks, "How good she has always been to me—always."
Then, turning to Kathleen, "Do not ask me," she says. "Soon I will be with you always; but I must stay with Mrs. Jenkins until—"
And the old lady kisses Grace's flushed cheeks. In her heart she determines that Grace's wedding will be such as she would give to her own daughter.
"Grace," Kathleen whispers, as the two girls walk arm in arm behind the doctor and Mrs. Jenkins, "I suppose it will be best. But—" and she hesitates as if she is not too sure of what she is about to say; then she begins again: "Grace, you will not be offended with me, will you, if I say something that, maybe, your pride— Oh, yes, dear. Now, do not deny it, you are proud; but you know you have just the sort of pride I like. Well, if I say something that might just hurt that little bit of proud spirit, you must promise me not to be offended."
"Offended with you? No, dear! I know you love me too well to hurt me. Tell me what it is."
"Well, dear," and Kathleen looks winsome and coaxing, "I want you to let me buy your trousseau. Now, do not say anything else but 'Yes!' "
"My darling little friend!" and Grace's arms clasp Kathleen in a warm, sisterly caress. "Yes, dear, if it pleases you, I will be delighted; and, very likely, soon I will be called upon to buy a trousseau in return. Oh, I know it will not be long!"
It is now Kathleen's turn to blush. "Very well, and I will be proud to wear the trousseau you will buy for me. So that is settled," she adds, with the air of one who has favourably decided a very weighty matter.
And the two girls go along happy. Kathleen is delighted to know that her friend's bridal robes will be worthy of the bride, and Grace smiles a happy, contented smile.
"Miss Moore," ejaculates Milly, after Dr. O'Meara and his sister had gone, "I congratulate you from the bottom of my heart! I will always pray for you, and think of you as the dearest friend of my life! I will never forget that horrid night." Her eyes look frightened. She glances around hurriedly, and her voice sinks to a husky whisper, "You are going to be married now—going to be a happy wife. Tell me this, would you ever breathe of the secrets of that night to your husband? Tell me, for, oh! God, I could not have his eyes looking at me with scorn! Would you ever tell him? Would you tell your husband?"
For a second there is a proud light in Grace's eyes, but it is only for a second; then there is a look of pity as she says, kindly, reassuringly, "Do not doubt me, Mrs. Jenkins; no, not even to my husband—the man whom I love before any being on earth, even he shall never know. I will never breathe of that night to a living soul. Have I not sworn to keep the secret of that night sacred between my God and me?"
The morning breaks brightly and clearly. All are bright, gay, and happy. The joyous sound of laughter echoes through the spacious halls of Colonel Jenkins' home, gladdening the hearts of all.
Mrs. Jenkins and Mrs. Carrington sit together, listening to the wedding bells. They have renewed an old friendship, have met again after many years. When last they met they were girls at school, and that is many, many long years ago.
To-day, Mrs. Carrington looks almost young, her heart is so light with joy.
"I could die easy," she says, "now that I see Grace under the protecting care of a good man."
There are even tears on her cheeks—tears of joy—so happy is her heart, so full of thanksgiving to God.
Even the bush birds seem to be more numerous than usual amongst the tall gums and pines, the sweet trills of the thrush and the rich warbling notes of the magpie blending harmoniously in the chorus of bird voices. It seems as if all the feathered songsters of the wood have flown from away back at "Looranna," and have gathered in the surrounding garden of "Garoopna," to sing in chorus of congratulation blessings on the bride.
The varied coloured coats of the birds, as they flit from tree to tree, seem like so many tiny rainbows as the warm Australian sun kisses their gorgeously-coloured plumage.
In the house, Kathleen O'Meara is flitting about like a butterfly; her heart is glad. Everyone is busy; everyone wants to make this—Grace's wedding day—a day to be remembered.
Even Clarence Jenkins has joined in, and is assisting at, the preparations. At first, she was very much averse to the arrangements when she heard that Grace was to be married from their house. She was very indignant; she was very vexed; but Rose said to her, "Oh, well, you know, Clarence, Miss Moore, when she becomes Dr. O'Meara's wife, will be a lady, and will be in the first society of the land; so I think Mamma is wise in treating her well now; and then, you know, how good she was to Milly. Even if she did know Jack Mannering once—well, he behaved shabbily to her; so, if I were you, I would just join in with the rest."
Afterwards, Clarence began to think of Rose's words, and, step by step, she climbed down from the paltry stand of empty pride, and gradually she commenced to join with the others; and, now the wedding morning has arrived, there is not one dissenting voice in the house.
Kathleen has not been mean, for the bridal robes are indeed worthy of the bride.
Grace always looked beautiful, but to-day she looks magnificent. The bright, rosy hue of health smiling on her cheek, and the light of happy love beaming in her kind eyes, she is a bride that any man, ay, even a king, would be proud to lead to the altar.
"Oh, Kathleen!" she exclaims, as she surveys herself in the mirror, "I am glad I look so well! No, do not call me vain, dear; it is for Frank's sake that I am proud to-day; and for your sake, too; for you have indeed made me look splendid in these queenly robes! I am afraid they are too beautiful."
"Indeed," rejoins Kathleen, as she looks with grateful eyes and satisfied heart, "but you would look beautiful, never mind how you were garbed. But we are paying compliments to each other!"
And both voices ring out in happy and melodious laughter.
"Look," exclaims Kathleen, as she points through the window, "the sun shines out in its warm splendour. Everything is beautiful; everything is bright. Even the flowers are laughing, and the birds are singing, for your wedding day. They say that the sun dances on Easter Sunday," she continues. "Well, I am sure that it dances on Easter Monday, too. I am sure it is dancing now."
"Oh, nonsense! It is the laughter in your eyes that dances!"
"Perhaps so. But, really, Grace, I am so happy to-day that I fancy I could be dancing all the time."
"What a pity that this is not a double wedding. It would have been so nice if you were being married to-day, also."
"Indeed," retorts Kathleen, "'when I get married I want to be the bride of the day! To-day, they would all be looking at you and ignoring poor little me. When I get married I want to be the centre of all attention!"
"Well, talk about vanity! You are vain! But, my dear, no one could overshadow your fair beauty and winsome face. No matter who is with you, you will always be 'Fair Kathleen!' "
And Graces kisses, and playfully pinches, the rosy cheeks.
"When you come back again," Kathleen says, "do not be surprised if Clarence Jenkins and Dr. Ferguson have let bygones be bygones. To-day, we were talking about him, and I said, 'I wonder why he does not marry; why he never seems to be paying attention to any lady!' Clarence's face went so red, and her eyes drooped; and then, afterwards, I could understand this little embarrassment. I saw her fastening a rose in his coat. They did not think I noticed. I am sure he looked as if he loved her so dearly! Mrs. Jenkins was with me, and she said, 'Oh, well, I am glad!' 'Glad of what?' I asked. 'Glad that Clarence is sensible at last,' she said; and she nodded in the direction of Clarence and Dr. Ferguson. And—"
"Why," interrupts Rose, as she enters the room to assist in the dressing of the bride, "you are almost finished, Kathleen!"
And with deft fingers the two girls arrange the bridal wreath and veil, and then trip away to decorate their own fair persons.
The bridesmaids are skipping about, like so many butterflies, shedding sunshine and laughter everywhere—such sunshine and laughter as is always to be seen and heard when a bevy of pretty girls gather together, and especially on a wedding day.
Father Ryan has permission from the Bishop to be the celebrant. Mrs. Carrington is happy when she sees Grace in all the glory of her bridal robes, and, as the party enter the church, "Mrs. Jenkins," she whispers, "you have been good to Grace." A soft light steals over Mrs. Jenkins' kind face as she says, "Gerald Moore's daughter deserved this from me."
At the altar the bride and bridegroom kneel. They vow to love for ever; as long as life will last. Over Grace's heart there is stealing the happy, holy name of wife. When Dr. O'Meara takes her hand, "God bless you," Father Ryan says, fervently; "God bless you both! I baptised you when you were little children, and now I have united you both in the holy bonds of matrimony. God send that you keep those bonds strong and brave, unsullied by the world, holy and clean! God bless you both!"
And with the good priest's blessing still ringing in their ears, Dr. O'Meara and his wife drive back to "Garoopna."
The wedding breakfast passes over as most wedding breakfasts do. And the merry jests and the happy laughter mingle with the tinkling of the glasses and the jovial songs of the toasters.
Grace hurries away, and changes her bridal robes for a travelling dress.
All the guests escort the bride and bridegroom to the boat on which Dr. O'Meara and Grace embark on their honeymoon trip to Ireland. It has been Grace's long hope and ambition to stray amongst the lakes and dells of Killarney, and to visit the ruins of the old round towers of Ireland; to view these emblems, great and grand; to see the birthplace of her forefathers.
Mrs. Carrington's heart is glad, because she, too, is going with them. She is glad to know that she will once more tread upon Irish soil.
Though Grace's heart is elated at the idea of this trip to the old world, still, when they banteringly say that she will want to remain away—"Oh, no," she exclaims. "You must remember I am an Australian; and, though other lands be fair, and other climes be wooing, I will come back; for there is no land so warm and fair as our dear sunny Australian clime. Nowhere can we find more loving, warm or generous hearts than the hearts that beat in the bosoms of our Australian people."
"Bravely spoken!" says Father Ryan, enthusiastically, as the party assemble on the deck of the mailboat. "You are, indeed, a true-born daughter of Australia," he continues, "and we will all be watching for your return, so you must hasten back."
The bell rings to warn the visitors it is time to go ashore; and with many handshakes and fond kisses, the party hurry from the boat.
But Father Ryan and Lawyer Graham do not go with the rest; they stand back and wait till the others have gone
Then old Lawyer Graham says: "Before we leave you, Grace, I have something to give you. Yes," he adds, "I will have to call you Grace still!"
"Oh, Mr. Graham," she replies, warmly, "I will always be Grace to my old and tried friends."
She stands shy and blushing with the rice and confetti clinging to her hair, and scattered on the deck at her feet.
"I have a present to give you," old Lawyer Graham goes on. "You have received many valuable presents, I know, but this one, the one I carry, is a present from your dead father. It was entrusted to Father Ryan and myself, and we give it to you as it was given to us."
"Yes," repeats Father Ryan, "we give it to you as it was given to us."
And Lawyer Graham hands Grace a sealed envelope; and, with a "Good-luck," and a hearty shake of the hand, he turns and hurries away.
She looks at the envelope, and, for a minute, her fine eyes are dim.
"No, no," she murmurs; "I must not let a tear dim my eye to-day. Poor old dad! Dear old dad!" she whispers.
Father Ryan is the last to leave; and, gripping both their hands together in his warm clasp, "Goodbye, my children!" he says; "May your voyage be untroubled by rocks and storms, and God send you safely back! You have both embarked now on the sea of life together. May your voyage be a good one! Remember, my children, to always keep the guiding light of your holy faith in front; follow that Pilot Star, and it will guide you safe away, clear of the rocks; and, at last, when your voyage through life is over, the radiant light of that holy faith will guide you safely into the sheltering harbour of eternal bliss! Go, my children! God bless you!"
And, with one more warm clasp of the hand, Father Ryan leaves them. As he goes down the gangway, that is about to be hoisted, the others can see there are tears in the old priest's eyes.
Grace and Dr. O'Meara cannot speak, their hearts are too full; and, when she looks up into her husband's face, he puts his arm protectingly around her, and draws her gently to his side.
"Grace," he whispers, "those are not tears of sorrow; they are sanctifying tears."
As she looks after the good priest, her eyes are dim. "Dear old Father Ryan," she whispers, softly. "God guide and mind him always!"
Soon the anchor is weighed, and the boat puts out to sea. They still stand hand in hand on the deck waving their adieus.
Mrs. Carrington has gone to her cabin. She did not want anyone to see her weeping to-day. She is so happy, and the tears of joy will flow.
Grace turns to her husband, and her eyes are now bright and fair, clear and undimmed. The light of love is beaming in those beautiful orbs, and Dr. O'Meara stoops and kisses her. "Grace, my wife!" and there is a world of love in his voice, "always mine! Mine for ever!"
"Yes, Frank, yours for ever!" And, handing him the envelope, "This," she says, "contains the secret that I would have told you, but you would not listen."
And with her loved hand fondly linked in his arm, and her head resting lovingly on his shoulder, Dr. O'Meara opens the envelope; then, with a look of astonishment on his fine, manly face, "Grace!" he ejaculates, "these are the title deeds of 'Looranna!' "
"Yes, Frank, I know." And her head lies closer on her husband's bosom. "Father Ryan and Lawyer Graham told me on my birthday. I then asked them to keep it secret till now, so that the world could not say that you married me for my money."
"Ah, my dear wife!" he whispers, as he presses her fondly to his bosom, and kisses her beautiful cheek. "Poor or rich, you are always the same to me! I love my wife just the same!"
"I know, Frank, you love me! I know you always loved me, and I am so happy with your love; but, for your sake, I rejoice to know that I am still the 'Heiress of Looranna.' "
This site is full of FREE ebooks - Project Gutenberg Australia