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Title: Aunt Jo - A Love Story of the Cedar Scrubs
Author: Edward S. Sorenson
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1403141.html
Language: English
Date first posted:  December 2014
Most recent update: December 2014

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------------------------------------------------------------------------
*

Aunt Jo
A Love Story of the Cedar Scrubs
by Edward S. Sorenson

Published in the Northern Star - Lismore, NSW
June 6, 1906 through October 24, 1906

Also published in the Star - Christchurch, NZ
September 3 through October 2, 1906

CONTENTS

Chapter I
Chapter II
Chapter III
Chapter IV
Chapter V
Chapter VI
Chapter VII
Chapter VIII
Chapter IX
Chapter X
Chapter XI
Chapter XII
Chapter XIII
Chapter XIV
Chapter XV
Chapter XVI
Chapter XVII
Chapter XVIII
Chapter XIX
Chapter XX
Chapter XXI
Chapter XXII

CHAPTER I.

It was the ninth of November, a day that was "kept up" at this time by
a section of the people who had plenty of money and no work to do.
Riding and picnic parties had been organised days before, and a dance
arranged in Dumboon township for the evening. The feminine division,
especially the love-lorn, looked forward to it hopefully, even
anxiously. Dances were seldom held in that neighbourhood, and
opportunities for match-making in a scattered, hard-working community
were chance ones, with heart-breaking intervals between. Occasionally
"Long Bill" would meet Amelia Jane in the bush while bullock-hunting,
and they would say "Good day" to one another. Bill would ask Amelia
Jane if she had seen anything of Battler in her travels; and Amelia
Jane would make a similar inquiry concerning Strawberry. Then they
would say "So long," and go their ways. There wasn't much satisfaction
in that. Besides, Amelia Jane was barefooted, and her old print frock
gaped at the back. It always did have a gape somehow when she met Bill.
The consciousness of her shortcomings was discomfiting, and her manner
towards him restrained in consequence. It was different when they met
in the fine feathers, and it was night, and they could discourse with
strangers, And hug them, too, by special license.

The ballroom, with its varied associations, communions, whirls and
excitement, is responsible for much of the match-making in such country
places. Masculine Dumboon was not wildly interested in the marriage
question. It had gone its sober way so long that it seemed to have
forgotten there was such a thing as a connecting link. Some of the
girls were drawing perilously near the border of old-maidenhood, and
were desperately anxious to change their condition. One or two had
already ceased to have "birthdays," with a determination to remain
young. They had been young a long while.

A spinster appeared to them like the black sheep in a flock. She was
liable to be regarded as one about whom there is something amiss, and,
in small places like Dumboon is usually a conspicuous person. She
particularly desired the thrill and the intoxicating glamour of the
ballroom to stir the devil in the other party and bring him to the
scratch.

Amelia Jane was one of the neglected ones. Why, she did not know; she
was as much a woman as any other. She was plain, sun-browned and toil-
scarred; but who wanted good looks in a cedar scrub? She had the
strength of a man, and was not afraid to use it. As her father, Peter
Johnson often remarked, "She's es good a bit o' stuff in th' yoke es
e'er a puncher put a brand on." But Amelia Jane didn't go off.

She had been running wild in the jungles from infancy, and had never
taken any care of herself in the way that girls do. Being an only
child, she acted as general rouseabout for her father, and often went
with him to the mountain camps to cook and hunt the bullocks. She could
climb like an aborigine, and her knowledge was principally of timbers,
birds and animals. Only lately, when the sex instinct began to waken
and incline her irresistibly towards the lengthy William, did she
consult the looking-glass, and set to work to cultivate her rebellious
hair, and to decorate herself with bits of ribbon and white myrtle
flowers. Nor was this the only change in the jungle girl occasioned by
the propinquity of Bill. From a bold romp, whose innocent eyes would
flinch from no man, she became shy and reserved, and pensive glances
took the place of the fearless stare of old time. Above all, there came
a distaste for the masculine pursuits that had been the leaven of her
jungle life, and a love for home that was decidedly feminine.

She chanced to meet Long Bill, otherwise "Crackshot" Sooley, this day
near the township. For once she was walking. The pony had got out.

"Huloa, Bill!" she called from twenty yards off, making towards him.

"Whey!" roared Bill and his team came to a stand! He was a thin, sinewy
giant, and his face was set in a perpetual grin.

"See yer got a new bullock in t'day," she remarked. "Where'd yer get
him."

"Swopped Yallerman ter Abe Watts for him."

"Thought Yallerman was a clinker?"

"He could heave a trifle when he liked, but 'twas seldom he liked.
Reckon I scored a p'int on Abe in that deal."

"Where's Abe now?"

"Comin' along behind. Ruther a close call he had th' other day. 'Tween
me an' you an' that waggon, he was about the scaredest man as ever
dived into water. We wur raftin' logs at Big Hole, an' had got one
poised ready to let go down the slope, when Abe noticed a junk o' wood
in the way, 'bout half-way down, that 'ad been dislodged by th' last
log. We holds on while he jogs down the shoot, but just as he'd removed
th' obstruction th' log slipped away from us, an' boomed an bounded
down 's if it was a live thing with a special commission to flatten out
Abe Watts. Seemed to whiz round an' jump more'n any log ever did. We
let out a yell to warn him, an' he just shot one look at that revolving
horror--only a roll or two from him then, an' cut like Charlie Samuels
for the river. Couldn't have escaped any other way very well, as his
time was purty limited, an' the rollin' ground bein' hollow, with, a
dense brush on both sides. There warn't a man there but watched th'
stampede with blanched face, an' scarce a one breathed as Abe dived
wildly into deep water, an' the big cedar plunged with a mighty splash
fair over him. I tell yer, we never expected to see him come up alive;
but up he bobbed, sure enough, ten yards out, an' turned a scared face
towards the dancin' log. 'Are yer hurt?' yells everybody at once. 'Not
much!" says Abe; an' when he'd scrambled out he said th' log 'ad struck
him hard on the soles of his boots, an' druv him to th' bottom. 'I'll
take my solemn oath,' he ses, 'no logs go pile-drivin' me agin!' "

Bill spat into the grass. "See there's to be a bit of a flare-up in
town tor-night," he remarked.

"Yer goin'?"

"Dunno."

"Y' orter."

"Why?"

"Be orlright fun."

Bill drew snake tracks in the dust with his whip handle.

"Where'll yer be after tea?" he asked.

" 'T home."

"Might be round," Bill went on. "Think Ginger's runnin' near your
paddick somewhere."

Amelia Jane made snake tracks in the dust with her big toe.

"I've got no mount," she said.

"I'll mount yer," Bill answered with sudden decisiveness. "This ole
moke o' mine's jest in his nateral element under petticoats. Come third
once in th' ladies' hacks at Grafton show."

How many 'orses was there in it?" Amelia Jane inquired.

"Three," said Bill, his eye dwelling admiringly on the veteran. "
'Ain't much to look at now, but he was a daisy them times. My oath,
yes."

"What ar' you goin' to ride?" she asked.

"I'll rake up something 'tween now an' sundown," said Bill. "If I don't
afore I'll be beat, I'll ride ole Brindle in th' pole there. I stuck a
saddle on him up at the scrub one day, when I was pushed for a 'orse,
an' he didn't shape too bad. Bit rough, an' stiffnecked when yer wanted
to haul him round anyways sharp but he'd gee off an' come hither good
enough where he'd plenty o' ground. An' quiet 's a lamb. Was comin'
clitter-clatter down th' road to see M'Gurren about some logs I wanted
to sell in a hurry. He was buyin' then. Just near Tillalee slip-rails a
bald head shot up from behind a log, an' the next thing I knows, I'm
rollin' under a cockspur bush, an' Brindle's peltin' back to th'
mountains, with th' flaps o' the saddle floggin' him like two big
wings; an' ther's Aleck M'Gurren divin' under th' fence 's if he was
after something an' 'adn't much time to ketch it in. The old scamp 'ad
been on his hands and knees squintin' up a holler log, lookin' for
native cats. 'Losh!' he ses, leanin' across th' fence. 'Tis yesel',
Bill Sooley!' 'Some of it is, I ses, unwindin' a yard o' yaller spider
web from me neck, an' subtractin' th' prickles. 'Ye're a lucky mon,
Sooley,' he ses. 'Ye're a varra lucky mon.' 'Where's th' dash luck come
in?' I ses, wipin' the blood off me nose. 'Ye didna break ye' neck,'
ses M'Gurren! 'If ye ken when ye're wul off, mon, yell step it hame.'
Seein' as Brindle was only a speck on th' horizon, an' still makin'
tracks, there warn't much choice about it. Never straddled him since;
but I reckon I'm good for him ter-night if there's no prad to be got."

"I ken expect yer to call then, for sure?"

"You ken."

Amelia Jane smiled approval, and passed him slowly, looking down at her
feet. Bill lifted his whip. "Whey, come 'ere, Roan! Gee Brandy!" The
loaded jinker strained and creaked, the bullocks switched their tails
as they bent to the yokes, and a dust-cloud floated between them.

"Crackshot" Sooley was one of the semi-civilised, way-back settlers of
Yeerong Creek--the pioneers of a wild, wallaby-haunted region, reeking
with the oaths of giant bullock-drivers, and a-tingle with the far-
sounding notes of the bullfrog bells. These settlers had kept sturdily
to their usual avocations and the ring of the axes and the roar of the
whips were heard in the scrubs as on other days. Why should they go
holidaying in honour of a princeling who was "no relation of theirs?"
That was their philosophic view of the case, expressed in the rough
jargon of their kind.

They were a rugged people. Of various nationalities, of many shapes and
sizes; they displayed as great a diversity in their dispositions as in
their opinions and appearances. Yet the majority were related, and
bound together into one whole like the correlative inhabitants of
Pitcairn Island. It was not safe for a stranger to speak ill of any one
of them, though among themselves they would pull each other to pieces
with the liberality of a married couple in a domestic squabble. Where
there was no other relationship there was still the always ticklish
point of an anticipatory connection. "Kilfloggin," otherwise George
Wrightson, a teamster who had made a name in Dumboon by frequently
getting drunk, was wont to go beyond this limit by saying, "His old man
an' my bundle o' charms swopped dorgs, an' 'twas a fair an' square deal
if they did palm off wasters on one 'nother, an' I'm not agoin' ter
hear nothin' sed agin him. So look out."

Their main income was derived from the cedar trees that fringed the
banks of the Yeerong, and contributed to the gloom of the adjacent
scrubs. Team after team crawled regularly along the roads to Dumboon,
where the logs were rafted, over bog holes, rocky gullies and
corduroyed swamps. Everyone on the Yeerong could drive bullocks, even
the settlers' wives and daughters; and everyone could exhort in the
picturesque language of the ox-conductor without misplacing an
expletive once in a week. They had been inured to it from the cradle;
and, when some of the men succumbed to the attractions of Cadby's
hostelry, Amelia Jane and "Sarah, from the Dairy" thought nothing of
taking the teams out of town, while the postmaster and the storekeeper,
and the publican and the policeman, stood looking at them in an idle,
used-to-it sort of way.

Their homes were little slab humpies, with uneven earthern floors, and
roofs of stringy bark, fastened to the rafters with strips of
greenrhide. The doors hung on leather hinges often made out of the tops
of old boots and were fastened with wooden pegs. Corn sacks hung over
the square openings left in the walls for windows. Fowls and ducks ran
in and out all day, and at night roosted in the surrounding trees. Long
grass grew up to the doorsteps, whence narrow tracks zigzagged to the
water-hole and the cockatoo yards. It wasn't very lonely, though it
looked so in the daytime, when the men and boys, and sometimes the able
girls, were away at work in the scrubs. There was scrub everywhere,
thick, dark jungles, where brush turkeys and wonga pigeons abounded,
running away back to bluecapped ranges. The only fences to be seen were
little dog-leg squares, in which an old horse was kept for rounding up
the bullocks. Among the hills, a short distance off the Yeerong, were a
few settlers who formed quite a different class. They were farmers and
small cattle-raisers. The elite, of course, were gathered together in
Dumboon and none but the most respectable were received within their
circle. Ladies who took in washing, and gentlemen who had been in gaol,
were treated with scorn. Of those among the hills--or "The Hielans," as
Aleck M'Curren, the rich bachelor laird of Tillalee, pleased to style
them--three families had the privilege of entree. These were the Lyntons
of Druton, the Battyes of Murrawang, and the Lethcotes of Fairymede.
The Keatons of Gimbo, the only other homestead on the hills, were now
almost forgotten personages. The triumvirate were copioneers of the
district, and were respected both by the silvertails and coppertails,
though some of them were near as rough and wild as their surroundings.

"Buit that's naething to fash aboot," said M'Curren when discussing the
subject one day with old Edwin Lynton. "There's gude under th' rough
exterior that appeals mair ta a mon thon softness o' speech an' gude
luks. There's only one I dinna care muckle aboot, an' that's th' Widow
Keaton. I canna stun' that wuman at a', mon. She's a vulgar wuman."

"She's had no learning," pleaded Lynton in extenuation. "That is the
fault of those who were responsible for her bringing-up."

"She wasna brung oop at a'," said M'Gurren, viciously. "She was drug
oop. But she needna hae sich a bad tongue for a' that. She has a varra
wickit tongue. Why, mon, ye never hear her speakit weel o' ony one, not
e'en o' her ain folk, 'cept it be Eustace. As for th' lad Mark, he's a
gude-for-naething."

"Oh, Mark's all right," said Lynton, who was a widower. "He'll astonish
some of you cynics one of these days, take it from me."

But M'Gurren shook his head. "It's not in him, mon, it's not in him,"
he said, with emphasis. "He's a neer-da-weel, an' he loafs on th' auld
wuman. I dinna like that in ony man."

"He's a clever lad for all that, and he might be a blessing to his
mother yet. Did you see his 'Ode to a Bullfrog' in the last paper?"

"Ood ta fiddlesticks!" cried M'Gurren, irascibly. "Wul his 'Ood ta th'
Bullyfrogs' bring him bread, an' butter?"

"It would surprise you if it turned out to be the foundation of fame
and fortune," Lynton argued.

"It wad," M'Gurren admitted. "Buit--losh, mon, I canna see it, I canna
see't."

"Well, time will tell."

"'T wul," M'Gurren agreed. "They telt me his mither an' Kilfloggin
keepit company--eh?"

"I think poor old George is more at home in the company of a
rumbottle," said Lynton. "I laughed at him at the races last Boxing
Day," he went on hurriedly. He didn't want to discuss the widow with Mr
M'Gurren. Mark was a friend of his.

"Ah!" said M'Gurren, expectantly.

"You were away, I think?"

"Aye; I was owre on the Logan wi' me brither Tonald."

"Well, Kilfloggan and Sooley had taken a little too much of our friend
Cadby's 'extra special' on board, and became troublesome. At last the
trooper took them both, and chained them to a fair-sized log behind the
booth, with the intention of releasing them when the races were over,
if they were then sufficiently law-abiding to be at large. It was a
blistering hot day, and the thirst of the prisoners soon grew to be
unbearable, being aggravated by the gurgle of liquor through the bush
wall that separated them from the bar. No one heeded their shouts and
solicitations; their friends were too interested in the sports.
'Jumpin' Jemima! this is a bit too sudding,' says George. 'Must 'ave a
beer somehow.' 'Kinder like to sample some meself,' said Sooley. George
stood up. There was plenty of chain. 'Let's see if we can't breast th'
bar, lock-up an' all,' he says. 'I ken manage my end of her. Hook on.'
'Purty heavy,' says Sooley, trying the weight. 'Fraid ye'll wobble an'
drop her.' 'Don't you make no error,' says George. 'Ain't that
shikkered. Kon only see one Bill Sooley yet, enyway.' ' 'D'ruther burn
th' consarn 'an carry it,' says Sooley. 'Blamed thing's chockfull of
ants.' 'Wonder wot they're in for?' says George, regarding the log as
an official reformatory. 'Drunk an' dishorderly,' says Sooley,
absently. A race started, and the clatter of hoofs put fresh vigour
into George. 'Got a holt of her,' he says. 'Can't stand this caper ony
longer.'

"They hoisted the lock-up on their shoulders, one at each end, and,
staggering round to the front, banged it down on the bar. 'Beer!' gasps
George. 'Bucketful' adds Sooley. They drank their beers saw the race
out, had more beer, then shouldered their lock-up again, and hurried
back with it before the trooper returned. He found them asleep some
time later and when they woke up the chains were off, the log was gone,
and the course deserted. 'Dunno who stole th' lockup,' said George,
when I saw him a few days afterwards; 'but we took our discharge quick'
n lively.' "

CHAPTER II.

Though ignored by Dumboon society, and treated as a nobody by most
people, young Mark Keaton was well received by the few families among
the hills--with one exception. Mr M'Gurren could not tolerate him,
despite the fact that he was handsome, prepossessing in manner, and
clever in many ways. He was twenty-one, tall, slightly built, and
fairly well educated. His father, Hugh Keaton, had made his pile in the
cedar trade when the timber was handy, was easily got out, and brought
a big price on the bank. With this he had purchased Gimbo. His
predecessor was Patrick Monaugh, whose relict was the present Mrs
Lethcote, who presided at Fairymede. Hugh had since pegged his claim in
Necropolis, leaving his widow comfortably well off.

Besides Mark, there were two younger sons, Luke and Eustace, who had
left their books for the teams and the scrubs when they had barely
entered their teens. The lushful shadowlands were enchanting then but
when the father died they sold out and went west. How they got on, or
what they were doing there, no one on the Yeerong knew. Like most men
who wander into the bush to look for work, they "never troubled to
write."

Mark had always been a favourite with his father, and as he lacked the
robust physique of his brothers, and was thus less fitted for the
hardships of the cedar getter, he was allowed to follow his natural
bent--"book learning." He was a perfect philomath compared with the
others. He read and wrote, was always thinking, and never had much to
say. That he had talent, that he was a colt of some promise, was
admitted by his friends, though none accredited him with being a
genius. Some of his poetic efforts had experienced the glare of print
in the local paper, and those M'Gurren had sneered over, and cited
Bobbie Burns, and snickered. He had also written three or four novels
of enormous bulk, and teeming with hair-bristling incidents and utterly
impossible things. The want of funds, he said, prevented his becoming
famous on the spot, and those who had plenty held tight to it, and
refused to recognise his claims. Mark was sorely wounded by this apathy
and diffidence.

"If I could only get money enough to publish my first book," he
exclaimed, "I would surprise some of these scurrilous cynics of
Dumboon."

"Why don't yer go an' work for it?" his mother snapped. "D'yer 'spect
to sit down an' whistle an' see it come rollin' up to yer?"

"Aint I working day and night!" Mark retorted.

"Phugh!" said his mother. "Th' most yer do is to sit in there, cooped
up like a sittin' hen on wooden eggs, scribblin'. What in the name o'
Patience's th' good o' that? You don't get nothing for it. An' yer call
it work! Look at Luke an' Eustace, how they use ter buckle to it in the
scrubs an' on the road. You work!"

"Mental work is harder than ordinary labour," said Mark, humbly.

"Get out! Can't I see the difference with me own eyes? Look how tired
they use to come 'ome--regular knocked up. An' th' way they use ter
sweat. Lord bless' me, when did I ever see you sweat. No," she
iterated, " 'taint work at all simply a continyel worryin' o' the brain
that'll put yer in Collan Park, or Yarra Bend, or Tarbon Crick, or
Woogaroo. That's what bookworms come to. They go crazy."

That, Mark complained, was another handicap. He had, from a literary
point of view, a bad mother. However much he studied and struggled, he
got nothing but snubs and sneers for his pains. There were some who
took an interest in him, and were sanguine that a prosperous future
awaited him. These were mostly impecunious persons, who had nothing to
give but advice. They made no charge for the advice. He confided in
them, but never wholly in his mother. There was a time when she was his
confidant, before she knew of the many difficulties a scribe has to
contend with in his first attempts. She thought he was a wonder at that
time, and rushed around, showing the neighbours what her boy wrote out
of his own head. The utter failure of Mark's initial effort opened her
eyes, and henceforth his productions were "useless rubbish." She was a
querulous woman, a pessimist who found fault with the universe and the
inscrutable ways of the Almighty; a selfish woman, who had an
insatiable greed for money, coupled with a relish for scandal and
gossip. This often caused Mark, a modest and sensitive young man, much
embarrassment and confusion when in company of people of cultivated
tastes. This occurred only at the races, however, when they stood in a
crowd.

When the "Dumboon Express" began to blazon, his soulful effusions
before the public eye, he thought his mother's prejudices would be
swept away. He was disappointed.

"What's th' good o' writin' po'try?" she demanded. "There's enough o'
that maudlin stuff writ to supply all creation till doomsday. If you
was paid for it 'twouldn't be so bad, but yer never get a cent."

"The money will come by and bye," Mark protested.

"Phugh!" said his mother. "Fancy I see Bill Sooley an' Abe Watts an'
Kilfloggin givin' their cedar away to anybody as would take it for the
askin', an' say th' money 'ill come by an' bye. They're not such fools.
They make sure o' the spons fust."

"One has to make a name in literature," Mark explained. "Any hoodlum
can cut and sell cedar."

"He can't sell rubbish though," his mother retorted. "He can't sell
mahogany for cedar. An' seems to me, your books is all mahogany, while
them printer coves wants genuine cedar. 'Taint names they want to buy.
It's quality stuff. I know. I've seen books with no names on 'em. An'
yours 'ud go, name or no name, if they was the genuine cedar."

She picked up a mat and shook it viciously, then carefully replaced it.

"I see by th' last paper that cedar's riz, an' it's likely to go up
more," she resumed. "Abe Watts an' Bill Sooley's makin' a good thing
out of it these days. They know which side their bread's buttered. My
word! An' here's you, stuck in the house day in an' day out, maunderin'
like a lovesick fool about a girl's lovely blue eyes, an' her sweet red
lips, an' her rosebud cheeks, an' her beautiful brow, an' her swan
neck, an' her musical voice, an' her silken hair, an' her snow-white
bosom--Yah! Can she bake a batch o' bread that yer ken eat, or make a
shirt to put on yer back? You give me th' pip, you do."

Mark shouldered his gun, which he had been cleaning, and departed
hurriedly. What was the use of talking? He could never make her
understand. He felt that a crisis was approaching, and already in
spirit he was wandering over the broad wild lands that spread around
him, knowing that, like Luke and Eustace, he would soon be far away.
And once away, he would be prepared to tackle any kind of work, and
work hard; but here, where every child and every dog knew him, having
set out on the inky way with a blare of trumpets, he could not bring
himself to throw down the pen now and take up the tools of the cedar
getter for such would be an admission of failure. Foolish pride! But
Mark was only a stripling yet.

With his old dog for mate, he cut across to Druton Hill on the pretence
of getting a duck. In reality the duck he was thinking of was known as
Ethel Lethcote. He was so wrapped up in thoughts of her that all else
was a blank; and presently when his foot and his eye lit simultaneously
on what appeared to be the sinuous body of a snake, he leaped into the
air with, an involuntary cry. Stepping cautiously back, with gun in
readiness, he saw that it was only the thick part of a broken bullock
whip, which had been placed reptilian fashion' across the track. As he
kicked it into the grass, a low laugh from the road brought a flush to
his cheeks. He was at the teamsters' camping grounds, and Abe Watts,
lying in the bunk under the tail of his waggon, had been, watching him
for some minutes.

"Seem to 'ave th' jumps purty bad t'day, Mark," he said, sitting up and
wiping his eyes.

"Thought it was a, snake," answered Mark shamefacedly. "Didn't notice
it till I was on top of it."

"Reminds me o' Kilfloggin," laughed Abe. "Come home purty late one
night, half sprung as usual. Th' door of his hut (wot is Thompson's
now) was open, an' as he steps in he stumbles agin something big an'
hairy. It sed 'hee-haw,' tremenjus loud an' sudden, an' as George
sprawls out, it bumps him in th' stomick an' purty nigh knocks th' roof
off with him. 'Fore he ken drop back, a pesky old rooster makes a
spring off o' some tin cans he was roostin' on, an' hits him agin, with
th' gol-darndest clatter yer ever heard. Soon's George got his feet he
cut for Cadby's pub like a barrel down a hill. He was purty wopsy for a
week after, an' he wouldn't sleep in that hut agin for three beers.
They told him 'twas only Thompson's donkey what'd fetched him one in
th' bread-basket. But George couldn't swaller that yarn--not by a long
sight. He punched that donkey though one day 'when it smelt at him
through th' fence. 'Twarnt because he believed the critter 'ad anything
to do with it but he jes' punched him on genrel principles."

"One gets a daddy of a scare at times from things that would hurt him
no more than his own shadow," said Mark. "I'll never forget the time I
went to get a drink at the Horseshoe Lagoon. I was lying on a big gum
log, and stretching far over to reach the water, when up pops something
wet and hairy right under my eyes. It gave me such a start that the bit
of dead bark I was holding on to broke, and I shot head-first into the
lagoon. I was out again as quickly as ever a man left water, not
knowing yet what kind of aquarian horror I had encountered. Didn't even
want to drink. When I'd been on dry ground long enough to get my breath
back, I saw it pop up again under the reeds. It was the celebrated
ornithorhynchus paradoxus, whose everyday name is platypus.

"I had a ripsnorter of a fright myself last week," said Abe. "Was
comin' down with an extra big load on, an' jes' past Black Gully I
pulled up to give th' cattle a blow. Was squattin' in th' shade, with
me back agin a coolabah, when something limp an heavy comes whack on to
me head an' begins to claw an' scratch about like fightin' tomcats. I
got the bends out o' me, an' hollered, an' lit into new territory, all
in one spontan-eous act. Then I sees a long black streak scratchin'
gravel like billy-o for th' next tree an' 't 'adn't gone far up when
down it comes slap-bang agen, through hookin' on to a bit of loose bark
that give way. That blamed critter was th' celebrated varanus varius,
which his everyday name is goana."

"I saw M'Gurren in a terrible funk one day with a goana," Mark
rejoined. "It was about twelve months ago. He'd been putting a rail in
his bottom line, and on the way home his dog flushed one from the
grass, and there being no tree handy, it circled round M'Gurren and
scurried up on to his shoulders. And there was the dog springing and
barking at it, and Mac skipping about kicking at it and yelling to it
to lay down. The goana had him clutched by the shoulder and by the nape
of the neck, and Mac daren't lay hold of its tail to haul him off in
case he took some shoulder and neck with him. He sidled around for
about five minutes, squinting cautiously round, left and right, and
perspiring like a cheap waterbag. The nearest tree was a hundred yards
off, and at last, keeping the dog in front of him, he backed slowly
towards it feeling his way, and wincing and screwing his neck up when
the sharp claws pricked a little more than usual. When he got to the
tree, he put his shoulder carefully against the trunk, and invited his
goanaship to get aloft. As soon as it did, Mac rushed home for his gun,
and pretty soon there was one goana less on the Yeerong."

There' d 'ave been another missin' at next summer's congress if I'd
spotted that pet fright o' mine when I went back that way," said Abe.
"Took th' rifle for that, special. But th' carrion 'ad removed an' left
no address."

"Well, I must remove, too," said Mark. "Getting late."

He tucked the gun under his arm, and continued his way to Druton Hill.
Reaching the crest, he paused awhile under a big ironbark, and looked
wistfully towards the homestead. It was some satisfaction to see the
duckhouse, even if the duck wasn't visible. Just then, however, the
report of a gun echoed through the scrub below him. He ran down, and,
picking his way through the underbush, came suddenly upon the man who
had fired the shot. It was Kilfloggin. Mark had noticed his team on the
road near Gimbo, where he had unyoked for the night. He had conceived a
mild feeling of animus towards the pot-famous gentleman, and this
inimical sentiment was unstintedly reciprocated by the Herculean
bullock driver.

He was singing--

"Oh, what would you do if the billy boiled o-ver?
Molly, O Molly, my lo-ver--"

"Hulloa!" cried Mark. "What are you doing here?"

"What's that ter do with you?" Kilfloggin demanded, calmly tucking a
pigeon under his belt.

"It's a lot to do with me," Mark answered. His ears began to burn.
"You're in Lynton's paddock, and he allows no one but me to shoot
here."

"Well, that's his affair, not yours," said Kilfloggin, reloading.

"You mind yer own bizness, young un."

"I'll make it my business to report you. You're trespassing on our
preserves."

Mark was angered. The man's insolence and sangfroid stung him.

"You're a bit sudding, young feller. Better mind yer aint too sudding,"
Kilfloggin returned as calmly as before.

"What do you mean by that?" asked Mark, mastering his temper. The other
was a big man.

"I've got es much right ter bang around 'ere es you 'ave," the latter
replied. "Who th' jumpin' adder are you, enyway? Jes' you get along,
young 'un, an' hold yer gab. I don't want ter do yer eny injury--barrin'
yer force me. Be a pity ter spile yer good looks. That bit o' skirt
over th' hill wouldn't like it for one. Kinder 'urt her feelin's."

"It might be your own looks that would suffer," Mark retorted. The man
took a step forward, and, leaning on his gun, said: "Look 'ere, me
cockshaver, you come th' crawlin' informer bizness with me, an' by th'
jumping Jemima, you'll fall in. I'll bundle you out o' yer home neck
an' crop; see if I don't."

"You will?"

Mark regarded the big man with a new interest.

"Yais, I will. I ken do it, mind yer. There's no bloomin' gassin' about
it. So don't be too sudding."

He turned abruptly and plunged through the scrub, with another burst of
song:--

"My old bay 'orse run down th' hill;
If he hasn't come up he's down there still"

Kilflogsin was a bit of a mystery on the Yeerong, and for a moment
after he had left him Mark wondered what power he could have over him
or his. Then he laughed scornfully and walked away. Soon he had
forgotten the incident.

CHAPTER III.

Mark beat round so that his way home would take him by Fairymede House.
Ethel was in the garden and saw him coming. As he approached a side
gate that was well screened by trees from the house she came across the
lawn and met him. He raised his hat with stiff formality. Ethel hated
formalities.

"Good sport," she said, her eyes on the gun. "But where's the game?"

"Only had two shots," said Mark, "Didn't, hit anything, though."

"You are a duffer," she commented, laughing. "Reminds me of Abe Watts."

"How did you know him?" asked Mark.

"He used to be a rouseabout on Fairymede. Earned his team here. He was
awfully fond of shooting, but could never hit anything he fired at. One
day father was driving home from town, and met him in the paddock. Abe
had nothing, as usual, though he said he had wounded some fine ducks
and they dived. He always wounded something when no one was with him.
Father twitted him. 'D'yer think you could hit un haystack, Watts?' he
said. 'You throw your cady up,' says Abe, 'an' see if I can't hit it.'
Father had a brand new white helmet on. He got out of the dogcart and
threw it into the air. Abe squinted along the barrel as it went up and
covered it while it came down, and when it lay on the ground--just a few
feet in front of him he fired and blew a great tunnel through it. Abe
has worn that helmet bullock-driving ever since, with the holes patched
up with brown paper. They call him 'The General.' "

"Didn't he pay for it?" asked Mark.

"Not he," said Ethel. "Abe thinks no end of that helmet. When the
bullookies chaff him about his shooting Abe pulls off the old helmet
and shows the holes as proof that he can shoot. When he tells the yarn,
though, the helmet's in midair when he 'plunks it.' 'You ask old Myles
didn't I,' he says, as a clincher."

"Bill Sooley's a goot shot, I've heard," Mark observed, by way of
saying something.

"Oh, he's ratty," said Ethel. "He shoots bees and beetles on the wing
with bullets. When he goes fishing and wants bait he shoots his
grasshoppers whilst they're flying--also with bullets."

"I've heard of that kind of shooting," said Mark. "Never saw it,
though. There was Stamps our postmaster in Dumboon. According to his
talk, he never missed a shot once in a blue moon. His greatest ambition
was to shoot the first snipe at the opening of the shooting season.
Leonard Lynton swears that he used to crawl about the moorlands from
midnight till sunrise to catch the early bird. He gained the
distinction for three years in succession, but the fourth year Leonard,
bent on beating him, potted his bird the day before, and hung it in a
bush. A bare-legged youngster, with a bridle on his arm, observed the
manœuvre, and, awaiting his chance, took the bird and presented it to
Stamps. The latter was out early as usual next morning, deposited the
dead bird in a tussock, and then concealed himself behind a log to
watch. About dawn, Leonard came along, fired at the bush, and, with a
comically-set face, searched around for the game that wasn't there.
Suddenly another echoing report rang out, and Stamps came forward with
a triumphant smile. 'Beat you, Lynton, old chap!' 'Where?' asked
Leonard shamefacedly. 'Fell in that tussock.' Leonard rushed it; but at
the tussock he stopped, and his face became radiant. Stamps pulled up a
second later with a sickly grin. The first snipe was stiff and cold,
and covered with a regiment of ants!"

"I saw Leonard the day before yesterday at Murrawang," said Ethel. "I
was spending the day with Mrs Battye, and Leonard was over for the
mustering. Leila Battye and I helped to muster one paddock in the
afternoon, and then we helped in the yard, perched up on the cap,
working two of the drafting gates. It was great fun. When I was coming
home, I saw Amelia Jane in the Ironbark Paddock. She was riding full
gallop after a dingo, her hat hanging from her neck, and brandishing a
long stick. Poor dingo was cutting for his natural, his long red tongue
lolling out, and his eyes glaring; but he hadn't pace enough. The pony
would rush up with its ears back, and then you'd hear that stick whiz;
but he'd dodge under the pony's neck and make off in another direction.
He'd get about twenty yards start before she could haul round, then
down on him she'd ride again like a charging lancer. At last he plunged
into Long Swamp, and Amelia Jane plunged in after him. It was deep,
too, and weedy. So you can imagine the state she was in. She caught him
half way over, and brained him in the water. Then she towed him ashore
by the tail, and hacked off his scalp with a tomahawk she had in a
pouch hanging to her saddle. 'What a glorious chase you've had,
Amelia,' I says to her. 'And what a glorious pickle you're in!' 'Oh,
that's nothing,' she says. 'You should a seen me when I collapsed with
the emu eggs.' 'How did that happen?' I asked. 'Had half a dozen or 'em
stowed in the bosom o' me dress,' she says, an' was joggin' along home
quite pleased, when th' pony puts its hoof in a hole an' soused me. I
dropped right on them eggs. Talk about squash! Th' blessed yolk run all
over me. An' sticky! I tried to scrape it off with a bit o' shell, but
that only spread it about more. Had to get in th' crick, clothes an'
all, when I got home.' "

"Wonder that girl doesn't break her neck," said Mark.

Ethel laughed. She was a pretty girl of eighteen, with dancing blue
eyes, and long brown hair, and she had a brisk, piquant style that was
pleasing. Often had young Keaton looked with longing and admiration
upon her sweet face, and he was enraptured when she smiled upon him.
She was one of the smiling sort; her pleasant countenance was like a
sunbeam. Yet her life was not a happy one, the consequence of her
father's second marriage. She was but a mere child when her mother
died, and her father, Myles Lethcote, worried with the care of his
daughter and his house, and haunted with financial difficulties, became
fascinated with the happy future pictured for him by the widow Monaugh,
who, though ungainly, and horribly ignorant, was endowed with a fair
fortune. Still he dangled a long while at the bait, but ultimately he
was hooked and landed. He regretted the step ever afterwards, for Biddy
soon got the upper hand of him, and at Fairymede her word was law. The
fortune for which he had married her he never saw, but he very soon
lost sight of the little he had left of his own.

To begin her new state of existence properly, and in accordance with
the dictates of social conscience, Biddy considered it necessary to
have a lady's companion, and so brought her first husband's sister,'
Johanna Monaugh, out from Dumboon. She was an antiquated spinster, not
at all good-looking; indeed, in her natural state, she might be
described as ugly; but, unlike Biddy, who had a brogue that would trip
a donkey, she spoke with the accent of the native born. She possessed
one good quality: she loved little Ethel, and the girl had learned to
call her "Aunt Jo." This did not accord with the tastes and wishes of
Biddy, who subsequently endeavoured to expel Miss Monaugh, but that
good lady resolutely refused to be expelled.

"Lavinia Lethcote was my dearest friend, and I'm going to stay here to
look after her daughter,'" she said, with a great many nods and
twirling of fingers. "That was her wish."

"Ugh!" said Biddy, indignantly. "D'ye think now, Jo, I'm not able to
look afther th' colleen just as well as you? Bedad, I'd ate me hat if I
couldn't do that, anyway."

"You could if you liked, Biddy. But you know you don't love the child.
And children want love--girls above all. They can't live without it.
I've had an opportunity of judging."

Miss Monaugh almost invariably ended her arguments in this way. She
knew exactly how things should be, or would be, from previous
experience. It aggravated Biddy more than anything, but, for all that,
she had to put up with it.

So this ill-assorted family continued to live together at Fairymede
until Ethel had grown into the fine young woman that Mark Keaton saw
her--in a loose, white dress and a broad sun hat, and a mass of wavy
brown hair flooding her back.

"How have you enjoyed your holiday?" he asked her, rubbing an imaginary
rust spot off the barrel of his gun.

"Didn't have one," answered Ethel. "Been working all day."

"What doing?"

"Helping Aunt Jo with her flounces, and tucks and pleats, and ribbons
and laces, and goodness knows what not. It beats me why some people
can't go out of doors without carrying a milliner's shop front with
them. It makes such a lot of work and I don't particularly love work.
However, tonight is my own."

"You are going to the dance?"

"Of course. Aren't you?"

"I don't think so--unless----"

"Well?"

"--Unless you are going--alone?"

"Alone?" cried Ethel. "Now, wouldn't I look well going alone. All
through that dark bush, and running against some rough scrubber at
every turn. That would be nice. If I could ride or drive like they can,
and was used to their gipsy life like Amelia Jane, I might manage all
right without a chaperone. But, you see, I can't. Another thing, I
haven't Amelia Jane's brazen cheek."

"Then may I hope for the pleasure of your company?"

"Oh, Aunt Jo is going in. Mr M'Gurren will drive--"

"I see!" said Mark, with ill-concealed displeasure. M'Gurren was
frequently in Ethel's company. Consequently, Mark didn't like M'Gurren.
He would tell himself that the Scotchman was a moulty old bird, while
Ethel was only a chicken; but the ugly thought would obtrude that
wealth covereth many defects and forgiveth many sins, and he would be
filled with resentment. M'Gurren, moreover, was a favoured guest at
Fairymede. He dropped in at all times of the day--in fact, the dogs had
ceased to bark at him. But Mrs Lethcote did not want Mark. Like
M'Gurren, she had no liking for him. Though the warmest friendship
existed between him and the other inmates of Fairymede, the despotic
and unctuous Biddy was Governor-General, and that closed the portals
against indigent persons. Still, it did not prevent occasional meetings
between the young couple. Where there's a weakness there's a loophole.

"Of course, you'll be there," she added, after a brief silence.

Mark shook his head, tracing figures on the rail with his fingers.

"Everybody will be going," Ethel went on, "that is, everybody of any
consequence."

"Well, I'm not of any consequence, it seems," he returned. "No one will
miss me. And there's not much fun in dancing--unless you can take
someone, you like."

He looked at her meaningly.

"What about Amelia Jane or Sarah from the Dairy?" asked Ethel,
mischievously.

Mark threw the gun across his shoulder with savage energy.

"I hope you'll have plenty of fun," he said, doffing his hat again.
"Goodbye!"

Ethel was annoyed, and leaned across the gate, gazing after him. They
had known each other from childhood, and had tramped to school
together. She had always liked him. He was kind and good-natured and so
different from the brawling tatterdemalions who frequented their road.
He had often carried her over the cowals and muddy places so that she
would not soil her dainty shoes. He received no thanks for those little
attentions from her stepmother; but her own little heart was filled
with gratitude. They had gathered wild flowers together along the
slopes of Fairymede's hills; had studied head against head under the
sheltering gums, where he had coached her through difficult lessons
with a patience that was inexhaustible, so that she might keep at the
top of her class and pulled among the lilies and the moaning reeds on
the lagoon in the evening. These were sweet memories now that the days
were so far away. Though Ethel was to all appearances heart and pocket
light, and fancy free, at eighteen, she often felt the same regret as
Mark, and could murmur in chorus with him:--

The days we lived in the bygone
We'd live if we could again;
We'd pass once more into childhood,
That knoweth no ill or pain;
And we'd romp again as we used to,
So glad on the cool green lea,
And confide our thoughts to each other
In the shade of the old gum tree.

CHAPTER IV.

Ethel had just turned from the gate, and was picking a bouquet for
herself, when she was joined by Mr M'Gurren.

"Weel? lassie, are ye na ready for the dance ta-nicht?"

"No, Mr M'Gurren, I'm not ready. I'm not quite decided whether I'll go
or not."

"Not gang to the dance! Oots, lassie! What nonsense have ye got in yer
hud noo?" Mr M'Gurren exclaimed, no little astonished at the change in
Ethel; for, until this evening, she had been all enthusiasm regarding
the ball.

"You may call it nonsense, Mr M'Gurren," answered Ethel, "but I'd
rather stay at home. I'm sure I wouldn't enjoy myself a bit if I went."

"An' whee not?" He bent forward, and his bushy brows knitted.

"I expected Liola Battye over; but at the last moment she sent word
that she was going with my cousin Leonard. Then Mark told me just now
that he wouldn't be there. So I am disappointed."

"I see!" said M'Gurren, with that strained look on his face that comes
of trying to appear unconcerned when something has gone against the
grain.

"I wasna 'ware th' lad Keaton cam ta Fairymede," he added.

"He passed here on his way home," Ethel explained.

M'Gurren looked doubtful. "Ye' mither dinna ken ye meetit?" he said,
his glance half questioning, half reproachful.

"Perhaps you will tell her, Mr M'Gurren," said Ethel, with a defiant
challenge in her eyes. He flicked a pebble hard with his walking stick.
It flew through the palings and knocked a fowl's eye out.

"You have only to mention it, you know," Ethel went on, "to stop Mark
from coming through here."

"Ye spek varra familiarly o' th' mon, lassie," rasped M'Gurren. "Om I
ta understund ye are abboot ta mak a match o' it?"

"There no reason for you to do so, Mr M'Gurren," said Ethel, tartly. "I
have known Mr Keaton all my life; and I have always called him Mark.
Why shouldn't I? We were children together."

"That's a' varra weel, lassie. Buit ye never call me Aleck. Ye ha' kent
me syne ye wur a wee thing in short frocks, an' mony's th' time I
dancit ye on my knee, an' sung ye ta sleep. Da ye ken hoo glud ye used
tae be whun I singit 'Bonnie Doon' an' 'My Luv She's Buit a Lassie
Yet'? Ye liked them, lassie, ye liked them. Ye didna look awa owre the
hielans whun I'd have a wad wi' ye, buit ye'd rin am' sit yesel' doon
on' my knee. Ye wur a buxom lassie then, buit I'm afeart something's
gang agley wi' ya o' late. What is it, lassie? Come, mak a clean breast
o' it. Dinna fear I'll telt ony one."

"There is nothing to tell, Mr M'Gurren," Ethel answered. "I am only
disappointed."

"Aye, an' a' on account o' young Keaton, not ganging awa' wi' ye ta th'
dance. Ye're foolish, lassie, verra foolish. I've naething ta sey agin
th' lad, buit, for a' that, I wadna like ta see ye marrit ta him."

"Why not?" she asked, subduing the rebellious spirit that rose to
demand what it was to him whom she married.

"Because ye've been used ta luxury an' gude coompany. Ye'd want ta be
amang cheerfu' folk, an' in a gude hame. He cudna gi' ye ony o' them,
hooever muckle he'd like ta. He's verra poor, an' ye ken he spends ta
muckle o' his time wi' his books. If th' lad wad gang awa' an' ploo his
lan' and graw something, 'twad be better for him thon a' his books. He
'll ne'er mak a bawbee wi' his scribblin', ne'er a bawbee." And Mr
M'Gurren shook his head, and drummed his fingers on the palisading.

Ethel offered no comment. She was a patient little soul, and preferred
to await developments rather than to argue with a stubborn man, for
M'Gurren was stubborn, and no amount of reasoning could change his
opinions once they were formed. He had a secret dislike, as before
stated, for Mark, and did his best, in his own cunning way, to
prejudice Mrs Keaton against her son's literary efforts. Ethel knew
this, and so the futility of attempting to defend him. Besides, she did
not wish the Scotchman to know that she took an interest in the doings
of Mark Keaton. M'Gurren had long been an admirer, and had the full
sympathy and support of Mrs Lethcote, who put it pretty plainly to the
girl that she would be better pleased with her room than with her
company, and that marriage with him would make them all rich.

At that moment Miss Monaugh put her head--adorned with curl papers--out
of the window and called to Ethel.

"Gang awa', lassie, an' get yesel' ready," said M'Gurren. "Dinna fear,
there 'll na be plenty o' laddies there wi'oot Mark Keaton. I'll dreeve
ye there an' bock safe an' soond, an' maybe I'll do a hop wi' ye mesel'
afore th' nicht is owre--if ye wul gi' me one. Eh?"

"Certainly if I go. I'll see what Aunt Jo says."

"A'richt, lassie. I ken she'll bring ye alang wi' her. She wadna like
ta gang alone wi' me, as that wad set folks talkin' aboot us."

"And might they not talk about you and me?"

"Not at a'. Dinna be afeart o' that. Ye're a wee laesie yet, an'
they'll ken ye're ta young ta be coortin' for a wee. An' Mistress Jo
wul be wi' us. 'Twul be protection in their e', ye ken. An' I'm only
th' dreever. Sa get yesel' ready, an' I'll gang awa' an' help ye'
faither wi' th' dog-cart."

Lethcote was already engaged in harnessing up the horse at the stables.
Ethel saw now that she had spoken too late. She feared a scolding from
her stepmother if she made known her wish to stay at home, for that
worthy dame had arranged with M'Gurren that they two should go
together, and Aunt Jo--at her own invitation--was to accompany them as
chaperon.

It was not her first dance; but her father had taken her on all
previous occasions.

M'Gurren walked round the trap and the horse, tugging at a strap here,
and altering a buckle there, making a purring noise the while with his
lips, which was the nearest approach he could get to a whistle. Old
Myles inwardly resented his interference, and eyed him in the way that
a snake looks at a goana when they meet in a hollow log. He was
nominally lord and master of all Fairymede, including the trap and the
bob-tail nag; but, according to M'Gurren's demeanour, he was only a
flunkey, and the Scotchman was boss. It was his thoughtless way.

"Has he hud a drink, mon?" asked Mac, patting the horse.

"Take un down an' try un," growled Myles, giving the bellyband a savage
jerk that made the horse jump, and the point of the shaft prodded
M'Gurren in the ribs before he could get out of the way.

"Carefu', be carefu'!" he cautioned, while Myles glared. He caught hold
of the off wheel and shook it; then went round and treated the near
side wheel in the same way.

"A drap o' ile wadna do her ony 'arm, Lethcote," he suggested.

"Put'n on then, put'n on," snapped Myles, and he bustled round as
though he had suddenly received a new consignment of energy. Mac
examined the stop, and said it wanted screwing up. Myles gasped, and
his eyes almost shed sparks.

Mac wasn't done yet. He surveyed the turnout as a whole, standing back
and looking under it and round it. "I maun sey it's a dirty trop ta gae
ta toon wi'," he remarked, cheerfully. "A drap o' water--"

Myles didn't hear any more. He remembered an engagement elsewhere, and
left in a great hurry. Mac completed the arrangements, and tied Bobtail
to a post, wondering what had come over Myles to make him so
"onfreendly."

"I dunno the reason on't, Jo, but Biddy--she try to shove me in th'
corner when old Mac's here," Mr Lethcote explained, seating himself
shortly afterwards on the verandah and lighting his pipe. He was an
Englishman and, to look at him, one would take him to be a perfect
gentleman; but, as Miss Monaugh averred, he spoke like a thrall, and
was, to those not used to him, difficult to understand. He was a silent
member, for the most part. He liked to sit in a quiet corner, with his
pipe, and listen. But he was not to be ignored. He took umbrage if the
speakers did not occasionally look or direct a word his way. Not that
he desired to take any part in the conversation. He did not want them
to talk to him individually, only to talk at him now and again to show
that he was included in the company. M'Gurren was a constant offender
in this respect; his manner was such as to imply that he was ignorant
of the old man's existence.

"Baint as I care for meself; baint fair to Etty," he went on. "I be her
father, Jo."

"So you are," Jo admitted.

"Doant want to have nowt to do wi' un but . . . if un come pokin' arter
Etty, I'll crack un bald head for un, I'll warrant!" And the old
gentleman shook a formidable fist at the atmosphere.

"You are ridiculous, Myles," said Miss Monaugh. "Mr M'Gurren has no
such intentions."

"I hope not, Jo; but . . . drat un, what un allers comin' here for?
Dratty nigh live here now," Myles exclaimed, scowling across his
shoulder.

"He's an old friend of Biddy's, and comes here simply for company.
There's nobody at Tillalee but his man-servant. (And Biddy thinks
there's no one in this place when Mr M'Gurren's not here.) But don't be
alarmed, Myles. He's not infatuated with Biddy--nor with Etty either.
You forget that I am one of the household."

Myles gazed thoughtfully at the grass trying to understand the
situation. When he looked round again she was gone.

CHAPTER V.

Miss Monaugh was standing before a large mirror in her own room, her
head aslant, and both hands engaged in untwisting one of the notable
curlpapers above her ear. A few tresses hung in crumples, a few twisted
papers lay on the table among a various assortment of toilet
requisites. The door opened, and Ethel entered.

"Why, child, what a time you’ve been! I thought you were never coming.
Have you become so very interested in Mr M'Gurren all at once? One
would really think so."

"No, Auntie. At least, I am interested in him in one way."

"And that is?"

"I want to get rid of him. Auntie, do me a favour to-night. I don't
want to go to Dumboon."

“Don't want to go! Goodness, child, what's come over you?" cried the
spinster, dropping into a plush-covered chair. Her deft fingers worked
with increased speed.

"Auntie," said Ethel, kneeling on the carpet, and clasping her hands on
Miss Monaugh's lap, "Liela is not coming for me, and Mark isn't going.
So I have no one to take me but--"

"Well?"

"Mr M'Gurren."

"He is taking me, child. You go with us."

"Does mother know of that?" asked Ethel, dubiously.

"It doesn't matter a pin what she knows, or what she doesn't know. Let
it suffice that we know it."

"But it wont suffice."

"It will have to."

Ethel leaned her head against her hand.

"Auntie," she said, gently, "you don't understand. M'Gurren doesn't
come here merely as a friend."

"Of course not. I know that." Miss Monaugh was emphatic on that point.

"But you don't know the truth. Mother," said Ethel, lowering her voice,
"mother wants me to marry him."

"Wants you to marry him?"

"Yes."

"Are you mad?"

"No, Auntie. She hasn't spoken to me about it. But she has hinted. So I
don't want to go with him to-night."

Miss Monaugh had let go her curl-papers, and looked at her niece with
something like dismay depicted in her face. She was a tall, slight
woman, with bent shoulders; and her face, never beautiful, was faded
and withered in advance of her forty years. Some of her acquaintances
accused her of being older but Aunt Jo never owned to more than thirty-
two, and that, she said, was a shocking age for an un-married woman.
Had it not been for her own skill, in the elaborate use of rouge and
prunella, and the constant and lavish application of cream and
buttermilk, Aunt Jo would not only have been unable to compete on
something like equal terms with her more bounteously-endowed sisters,
but would have been irrevocably doomed. As it was, she kept herself in
fair order, and could manage on a pinch to win a smile from the young
ones still. She had a horror of cold winds, of hard water, and more
particularly of a hot sun, which brought out the freckles like
mushrooms after a shower. And this was a sore trouble to her if there
happened to be no buttermilk or lemons handy, in which case she would
resort to vinola, or glycerine and cucumber, or other mysterious
concoctions. She was a good woman at heart, despite her feminine
weakness in the matter of looks but she dearly wanted to become Mrs
Somebody, for people were wont to call her the old maid, and point her
out as one who had missed her mark, and so was fated to be "miss'd" for
the rest of her days. She had started on a husband's track at sixteen--
sweet sixteen--and had pursued it diligently for twenty-four years
without meeting the desired party. Some had smiled upon her, and
loitered awhile in her company then passed on into the world of the
rhodomontadist to tell of their adventures with "Aunt Jo." This was the
only complimentary title she had achieved outside her own home circle.
Her life had been one long routine of disappointments. Only lately a
glimpse of hope had come to gladden her poor old heart. She had come
upon his shadow, and with a little diplomacy, a little tact and patient
vigil, she might gain her end, and in the near future be Mrs--

"Come here, child." Ethel had sat down on the carpet. "You have nothing
whatever to fear. Never mind what your mother wishes. Treat it as a
farce. It is nothing more. Come here. I want to tell you a secret. I
can talk to you while you are doing my hair for me."

"I didn't know you had any secrets, Auntie," said Ethel, taking up a
position behind the spinster's chair. The latter coughed an
aristocratic little cough and smoothed out her dress.

"Oh, yes, Etty; I have a great secret," she said, nodding her head in a
way that put the papers in shivers. "I have never breathed a word of it
to anyone, and I wouldn't have it known for worlds."

"Then don't tell it to me, Auntie," Ethel advised.

"I must, Etty. I must confide in you for your own sake; to show you
that you needn't be afraid. Be careful with that kiss-curl, dear. It's
a favourite. Someone admired it last Sunday. If you notice, it curves
so nicely and naturally. Do you think I have put enough of the golden
fluid on?"

Oh, yes, your hair has a nice glow. It's like a picture."

"That's a bad simile. Pictures are painted artificial, in fact."

"So's your hair, Auntie--" Ethel stopped abruptly, abashed at her own
slip. Jo coughed again, and pretended not to notice.

"I'm so sensitive that I'd be worried all night if I thought it didn't
look natural," she resumed. "Women take notice of these things and pass
remarks. Men don't mind so much."

She toyed with her curling tongs for a moment as if irresolute. Ethel
said nothing, but pursued her task with skill and rapidity. Only, the
rustle of the paper was heard. Then, Miss Monaugh said:

"You are not the romping, gadabout little thing you used to be, Etty.
You are older, and you're getting sense. You are growing into a woman.
And a very nice young woman you'll be. I think you ought to marry well.
But I have noticed that you have grown very grave lately. I know the
cause. I have grown grave too. But you don't know the cause. That is
the secret I am going to tell you. Do be careful of that curl, child.
It's the only good one I have."

"If I damage it, Auntie, I'll buy you another," said Ethel, smiling in
spite of herself.

"Now, don't be laughing at me, child," said the spinster. "I hate to be
laughed at."

She had a full view of Ethel's face in the mirror, which that young
lady had momentarily forgotten. She was always in a buoyant mood in her
aunt's company, for Jo was not only her best friend and only
confidante, but her shallowness and over-estimation, of her own
importance amused her. Indeed, Aunt Jo considered herself a very
aristocratic personage--a step above anything on the Yeerong as well as
an authority on all important matters that vex a woman's mind. She
loved a little romance, and would have been in the empyrean of
happiness could she have drawn around her a veil of mystery without
losing her character, and become the envy of her common, sisters, and
the cynosure of masculine eyes.

"I am not laughing at you, Auntie," Ethel replied.

"I saw you smiling, child," Auntie reproved.

"I was thinking of what Mr M'Gurren said," Ethel answered,
unblushingly.

"Ah! M'Gurren--What did Mr M'Gurren say?"

"He was talking a lot of rot to me this evening. I believe he's getting
childish. He wants me to call him 'Aleck.' "

Aunt Jo bit her thin lips, and clenched her thin hands. Then she said:
"I am surprised that Mr M'Gurren should have so far forgotten himself
as to make such an improper request. It would be indelicate--impudent.
No lady addresses a gentleman by his first name, unless he be some near
relation, or, better still, her betrothed. I am sure you are not
betrothed to Mr M'Gurren?"

"Indeed I am not," said Ethel, with an indignant little pout."

"You have a lover, I think, Etty. Have you not?"

"Perhaps," said Etty, modestly. "He's only a shadow yet, a phantom that
lurks outside the castle walls."

Aunt Jo didn't quite grasp her meaning. She said "If you have a lover,
why don't you let him in?"

"Oh, no, nothing like that!" mischievously. "It is sometimes better to
keep him out. Absence, you know, makes the heart grow fonder."

Jo shook her head slowly. "Tis always the pretty girls that play the
deuce with the boys. I was pretty once--very pretty. I hope, when you
are my age, you won't regret lost opportunities." And Miss Monaugh
sighed. "With regard to Mr M'Gurren," she went on presently, "do you
think he wishes you to be his--er--sweetheart?"

"Yes, Auntie."

"Tut, tut, child! Don't talk nonsense. Mr M'Gurren has been like a god-
father to you, like an uncle. He has known you since you were a baby
and naturally he takes an interest in you. He has, I believe, some
intention of becoming--er--related to the family, and--Perhaps that is
why he wishes you to call him 'Aleck,' " she interrupted herself as
this idea occurred to her.

"Very likely," said Ethel, with a grimace.

"Ah, yes, there is some likelihood," the spinster continued, and a
pleased expression settled on her face. Ethel was puzzled.

"In what way do you think he intends to become related to our family,
Auntie?" she inquired.

"By marriage, of course. You know, he's been coming here very
frequently the last few weeks. He has lost his heart, Etty. That's the
long and the short of it. I've had an opportunity of judging. I've
taken an interest in Mr M'Gurren, and have found out a thing or two.
He's a kind, fatherly sort of man, Etty, and one who could love deeply--
and I am sure he does. He's not over fifty; just in the prime of life.
His beard is a little grey--such a nice beard, though--and his hair thin--

"Very!" Ethel interrupted. "In fact,

'He has no wool on the top of his head,
The place where the wool ought to grow.' "

"Ethel, please don't It's rude. And do be careful of that curl," said
Jo, peevishly. "I am sure Mr M'Gurren is a very nice man, considering.
He has his faults, like the rest of us. No one is perfect, and never
will be. But he has such nice legs, if he is a bit awkward with his
hands--or arms. And he has such a nice manner. He speaks so nicely. I've
had an opportunity of judging. A least bit more of a turn to that curl,
dear. That's it."

"Your hair will be beautiful tonight, Auntie," said Ethel, soothingly.

"Do you think he'll admire it?"

"Who?"

"Al--Mr M'Gurren."

"Oh! Well, he ought to."

"Etty!"

"Yes?" I--I can trust you, Etty?"

"Of course you can."

"You will never tell a soul?"

"Certainly not."

"Nor whisper it even to yourself?"

No. I can think of it just as well. What is it?"

"I--I love him!"

"Oh, Auntie! You!"

"I am sure, child, there is nothing shocking in that," said the
spinster, frowning.

"Not the least. But I am so surprised. I never thought--I never dreamt
of such a thing. It seems so strange."

"A woman's love strange! All women are born to love."

"Very often they love in vain."

"I shall not love in vain. You will see to-night. That is why I am so
anxious to go. What a chance! He has never had hold of me yet--as he
must hold me when we're dancing. He may even propose. He has hinted--and
looked--You know the way they look. I am sure he cares for me. I've had
an--

"Ain't you two nearly ready yit? Bejabers, one 'ud think ye were goin'
to a prize show, or something. How much longer are ye goin' to be, now
thin?" cried Biddy, bursting unceremoniously into the room.

"We'll be ready in a few minutes, Biddy. I'm just finishing my hair."

"'H'm!" Biddy sniffed. "D'ye think there'll be room in th' cart for
you, Jo?"

"Goodness, Biddy, do I take up so much room that a cart won't hold me?"

"There's only wan sate."

"Quite sufficient for three, I should think, especially when none of us
can be accused of being afflicted with obesity. If you were there--"

"I won't be there. So just spare your 'ifs,' Johanna, if you please.
An' I dunno phwat th' divil an old scrag like you wants to be goin' to
balls for, ayther. I niver wint. Indade, I could always get a husband
whin I wanted wan widout goin' to balls."

"Indeed, Biddy," cried Jo, bristling up, "if I had been through the
mill as often as you I am sure I wouldn't boast of it."

"You have nothing to boast of at prisent, onyway," snapped Biddy.

"And if I was a married woman, I'd respect my husband," Jo continued.
"I wouldn't have people coupling my name with another man's."

"'Twould be the height of flattery to you if they did," Biddy retorted.
"And who may the other man be?"

"I won't mention names," Jo answered.

"Thin don't mintion your dirty insinuations," Biddy returned. " 'Tisn't
me that's kapin' the other man from couplin' wid you, enyway. He
wouldn't look at ye if I was dead."

"Who?" asked Jo, with frigid innocence.

"Ugh" said Biddy, turning away. "Don't think I can't see y'r drift.
'Tis as plain as you are, Jo."

Ethel accosted her as she was retreating. "Mother, let me stay. I have
no wish to go. I--I have a headache."

"You have, indade! Well, take it wid you. I promised to let you go, an'
go you will. So just hurry up."

Ethel was about to expostulate when Aunt Jo tacitly enjoined her to
keep quiet. Biddy tossed her head, with an audible sniff, and passed
into the dining-room. Aunt Jo finished her hair, whilst Ethel gathered
up the pieces of paper she had strewn about.

"Etty, just hand me the things as I want them," said she, smearing her
face and neck with an unlabelled cream. "Take this, and give me the
hare's foot and that pot of pink rouge."

Having put a bloom into her cheeks--fading away gradually to the
faintest tint under the eyes--with this, the lady of punctilious and
scrupulous taste requested the powder puff. Next the eyes and eyebrows
were delicately embellished with a water cosmetique.


"Now give me that stick of lip salve. There--that's it. Now, I'm ready.
How do I look?"

"Oh, charming," said Ethel.

Jo stumped to the end of the room and back. "How's my carriage?" she
asked.

"As graceful as a yard of pumpwater," answered Ethel.

Jo looked doubtful. She turned and twisted before the mirror, holding a
smaller one in her hand to see the back of her head. "I think it will
do nicely," she concluded.

"It ought to fetch 'em," Ethel rejoined. "Don't use such vulgar
expressions, child," Aunt Jo reproved. And please don't insinuate that
I am titivating myself up to catch--er--something opposite. . . . Men are
brutes."

"Oh, auntie!"

"Men are brutes," Miss Monaugh repeated, still smarting from Biddy's
cruel stabs. "I've had an opportunity of judging."

"I see," said Ethel; "all men are brutes but the man I want. For him I
dress--"

"No, dear I dress to please myself."

Ethel laughed softly as she passed into the dining-room on the old
maid's arm. Biddy was furious. Myles smiled from his corner.

" 'Tis a wondher, Jo," said the irate lady, "you don't commince in th'
mornin'. It takes you such a whoile to doll yeself up that it's hardly
worth goin' at all whin ye're ready to shtart. 'Pon me sowl, I niver
saw the like of you. Sit down an' have your tay, for God's sake. I'll
pass th' cups meself."

"I'm sure there's no occasion for such hurry," the spinster
expostulated. "You needn't get yourself out of breath over nothing.
We've got the whole night before us."

"Indade you haven't. The half of it's gone now. Begob, whin I was a
young girl I've often popped on me duds an' had a fly round, an' been
back agin afore me mistress--me mother--missed me from th' house at all."

"That was wrong to go away without leave."

"Indade! An' who gave you leave, pray?"

"I am my own mistress," Aunt Jo replied defiantly.

"Well," said Biddy from her vantage by the side-table, "ye're old
enough to be, God knows."

"I understood you to say you never went to balls," Aunt Jo returned,
icily.

"It's thrue for me, I didn't," said Biddy. " 'Twas visitin' me frinds I
wint, not leg-sparrin' in a ballroom. 'Twas me dad had th' derry on
thim places. ' 'Tis the ballrooms ruin the gals,' he used to say. I
mind him well,"

"Then why are you so anxious for Etty to go?" Miss Monaugh inquired.

Biddy suddenly struck a listening attitude. "Was that th' cart runnin'
away wid th' horse, Myles?" she asked.

"It warn't," said Myles.

"I heard something like wheels rattlin', enyway," Biddy persisted.

"Old hen floppin' off roost," Myles explained, and peace followed.

CHAPTER VI.

That night all was bustle and excitement in Dumboon. As a rule the town
was as dull as the Old Man Plain, with scarcely a pedestrian to be seen
along the grassy side-walks and only teams of struggling oxen and
creaking timber trucks, filing at intervals through the streets, and
raising clouds of dust in passing. To-night there was a fair crowd at
the principal corner, and in front of the pub, which stood opposite the
"Assembly Rooms," a noisy lot from the Upper Yeerong--the "Cedar Push"--
had congregated.

A mixed few were gathered in the ballroom. The instruments--a violin and
a concertina--were already screeching and screaming when the dogcart
from Fairymede drove up, and there alighted from it Mr M'Gurren, Ethel
and Aunt Jo. The first dance was just concluded, and the two ladies had
hardly dismembered themselves of their wraps when the Master of
Ceremonies requested the gentlemen to "S'lect partners for the fust set
o' quadrilles."

"This is oor dance, lassie," said M'Gurren, as Ethel entered on Aunt
Jo's arm. The spinster frowned, and looked furtively around her, in
search of a probable partner. It would be so embarrassing to have the
companionship of Ethel taken from her. There were several men present
whom she had smiled with in her time, but these had their quantum of
female. For a small back-block town, there was a distressing quantity
of female to be provided for, wherever they came from.

"I wish you would excuse me, Mr M'Gurren," said Ethel. "I've hardly had
time to get my breath yet, and I'd rather sit it out. I don't like the
figures, and there's such a crowd geting up--I'm afraid there will
scarcely be room. Do let us rest awhile--or, perhaps you and Aunt Jo--"

The sentence was concluded with an appealing look towards the latter
lady. Of course, it was a preconcerted arrangement that Aunt Jo was to
have the monopoly as far as possible in the matter of dancing with the
laird of Tillalee. She saw that her aunt would have a poor chance of
obtaining a better chevalier among that assemblage, whose majority was
composed of the roughs, and, ever indulgent to her, Ethel was prepared
to forgo her own desire to dance rather than be an obstacle to her
aunt. But M'Gurren was obdurate.

"Oots lassie, ye mauna sit doon in the cauld. Coom alang noo, an' dinna
brek y'r promise. I ken your auntie winna lack for a partner th'
nicht."

He spoke with some asperity; there was even anger in his voice. Ethel,
without further demur, took his proffered arm and permitted him to lead
her away. Soon the music started, and she was mixed in the rapidly-
moving throng, passing in and out in a continual dizzy maze.

"It's a strange thing," mused Aunt Jo, sitting down to wait until good
fortune should attend her, "that a man is always chary of the one he
loves on these occasions. Now, if he had loved Etty he would have asked
me to dance and ignored her. I don't quite understand it--I suppose I
will some day. Perhaps he doesn't want the public to know he cares for
me, though, forsooth, he needn't be ashamed of me. Perhaps he wants to
try me, to make me jealous. But he needn't trouble--I'm not jealous."
And she tossed her head in scorn.

Seated on her left were Bill Sooley, in hob-nailed bluchers, and Amelia
Jane, in thirsty 'lastic-sides--the elastic much stretched. She moved
closer to address Amelia Jane, when both got up to fill a vacancy in
the squares left by the retirement of a couple at the far end. Aunt Jo
could scarcely conceal her annoyance. Everybody, it seemed, was going
to dance. She was the only wallflower, the only one destined to look on
in silence, denied the unique privilege and the rare pleasure
associated with the dance. It could not be the fault of her looks--there
were many there who were plainer; her hair was done up in faultless
style, her dress was perfect and becoming yet she was the only woman
there unasked.

She sat it through, contenting herself with the self-assurance that Mr
M'Gurren would take her up in the next. It was a schottische, and, next
to a waltz, that was a favourite with her. She heard him ask Ethel for
it, and heard her tell him that she was engaged, though it did not
appear to her that such was the case. Then, with glaring eyes, she saw
him lead the extra-corpulent, red-faced Mrs Cadby, the publican's wife,
down the hall! Aunt Jo was fairly vexed, and sought relief in an ante-
room. About the middle of the dance her privacy was intruded upon by
two persons whom she had not wished to meet there. They were Ethel's
cousin, Leonard Lynton, and Miss Liela Battye.

"Why, Jo, what are you doing here?" the latter exclaimed, and her
cheeks went a deeper pink.

"I came in here for a little peace, Liela. I feel so tired after my
drive. I don't know how it is, driving tires me dreadfully of late. It
didn't use to. And those men are so persistent. When one tells them she
doesn't want to dance, isn't that enough? You would think so. But they
won't take no for an answer. No less than seven begged me to get up
with them in the schottische. It's very annoying. So I had to run away
and hide myself. They're such a nuisance. Are you not dancing, Liela?"

"Oh, yes. But we have only just arrived; and we're a little too late,"
answered Liela, who was a pretty little coquette of nineteen or twenty,
the one ewe lamb of Braxton Battye, of Murrawang. Leonard's uncle,
Edwin Lynton, a gentleman-farmer of moderate means, was Battye's
nearest neighbour.

"I think we'll remove to the ballroom, Liela," said Leonard. "Won't you
take a turn at all to-night, Jo? I'm surprised to see you running away
from the boys. You'll never get a husband if you do that."

"Oh, Leonard, you shock me! A husband! Do you imagine for a moment that
I'd have a husband?"

"Why not? You surely do not intend to die an old maid?"

"I am not otherwise minded, Leonard. There is no disgrace in that. An
old maid, I should think, is deserving of the respect of all good
people. Her state is a credit and an honour. It shows strength and
courage in having resisted the temptations of the vulgar sex."

"Not always," said Leonard, practically. "Many become virtuous old
maids through the want of temptation. In any case, it's against Nature.
You are shirking your duty to her. It may be in you as in any other
woman, to contribute the strong hand that is always wanted at the
country's helm."

"Ah!" said Aunt Jo, smiling demurely, "if all men were like you,
Leonard, I might be prevailed upon to change my mind. But they are
unjust and cruel. They consider themselves woman's superior in
everything. She is man's slave. He commands, and she must obey. Do you
call that fair?"

"She has the power, by her finer qualities, her natural gentleness and
love, to make man all that could be desired," said Liela, smiling
sweetly into Leonard's face. Aunt Jo felt envious, a little bitter.

"Ah, yes." she said, most girls at your age fall in love--they have no
control over themselves; and they are apt to exaggerate far too much
for their future happiness. They see things only with a lover's eyes
and you know Cupid attaches an invisible though beautifying lens to the
orbs of his victim and each in her clientele thinks she has found an
angel, and that the world is a paradise. By-and-bye the veil will be
torn away, and they'll wake up as from a dream. I've had an opportunity
of judging."

"Miss Monaugh," said Leonard, gravely, "you are a traitress--you are a
mistake! Liela, I can't allow you to remain longer in such company.
Miss Monaugh, I trust, will change her views and join us presently.
Otherwise, the finger of scorn will be pointed at her."

"Do you really think, Leonard, she means what she says?" Liela asked as
they left Aunt Jo to her own thoughts. Leonard laughed.

"She'd buckle up this minute if she had the chance. She's as ugly as
virtue, and as flat as a slab. Only a marooned ourang-outang would get
enthusiastic over poor old Jo."

But the old maid thought she had scored a point. She could not for a
moment have it supposed that she remained single for want of an
alternative. To the general public she must appear a woman of rigidly
moral principles, who considered it contaminating to hold intercourse
or associate frequently with the opposite sex when such was avoidable.
She was in reality a little pious--as little as she could afford to be.
She liked truth, honesty and goodness in others; but never scrupled to
tell a white lie herself when the truth was inconvenient.

She sat listening to the music, and the trip of many feet--sounds that
intensify a woman's feelings, and fill her with longing. Presently she
heard voices near her, and the language was a jarring discord.

"By gosh!" said a deep bass voice, "I'm sweatin' like a 'orse. Been on
the go ever since I come. Reg'lar flyer that larst piece I 'ad. Hang me
if I could hold her times. Thought it was a she wallaby I'd bumped
agin. Dyer know her, Crowbar?"

"Never clapped eyes on her afore. Wot dyer think o' Dick th' Walloper?"

"He's goin' it 'ammer an' tongs. An' twig th' capers o' Roarin' Tom!
Blow me if I could keep it jiggin' at that pace. Think you could,
Doodlum Buck?"

"Not me. Doan b'lieve in it. 'D ruther 'ave a long shandy."

"Doan mind if I do. Works wants a bit o' lubricatin' after swingin'
them heifers."

"Ribuek. Hulloa here's' Kilfloggin. Tip us yer flipper. An' how yer
poppin' up?"

"Fusrate. How goes it with you coves?"

"Tip-top. How's Sarah from th' Dairy tickle yer fancy eh?"

"Yum-yum! Too sudding. Arst her up jest' now, an' got a look that was
frosty enough to make hair grow on a window pane. She's collared on Abe
Watts--stickin' to him like a leech. No one else es got a look in. Not
es I care a hang personly. I'm off her."

"Wal, le's go an' 'ave a drink, an' a pull o' the pipe."

Aunt Jo returned to the ballroom, which was now pretty well crowded. It
was a strange medley, and everyone seemed to be dancing and enjoying
themselves except Aunt Jo. She felt extremely small, and began to fancy
that every-body was looking at her, and laughing at her solitude. She
was sorry she had come; she vowed she would never come again.

"There's too much larrikinism and impropriety going on at diversions of
this sort," she remarked to a young woman who sat near her, fanning her
flushed face. Just then a tall bullock-driver, in corduroys, striped
shirt and black coat, accosted her. "Hingaged, miss?"

"I am not dancing, thank you," said Aunt Jo, with much satisfaction,
for Mr M'Gurren had just come up in time to hear the words that were
interchanged.

"Whee lass, I havena seen ye oop once ta-nicht," he exclaimed.

"I didn't feel in the humour for dancing, Mr M'Gurren," she answered in
her sweetest manner. "I've been enjoying myself looking on."

"Buit ye maun shake a leg ta," said M'Gurren. "Wul ye have a short
squeeze' wi' me? Eh?"

"Certainly; Mr M'Gurren." Jo assented, with a most enravishing smile.
"I have refused everyone till now. But you are the only one with whom I
care to dance. We are used to each other. And in a crowded room like
this one wants a good partner. It's not an easy task getting round
without a mishap of some sort."

"Dinna be afeart aboot that. I wadna ask ye at a' if I thought there
was a danger. I've been roond mony a time the nicht, an I ken there's
room for a'. Ye maun ken the step, that's a."

Aunt Jo was in raptures as she joined the throng of enthusiasts for the
first time that long and tedious night; but the next instant she nearly
dropped to the floor as she caught the words of the bullock-driver,
whom she had refused a moment before.

"Say Kilfloggin, d'yer see that wry faced old hag bobbin' about there?"

"Eh? Why--that's--Aunt Jo!"

"Yais. The old tomcat told me jes' now she didn't darnce. Only arst her
out o' pity--she looked so lonely holdin' the wall up be herself. An'
look at her with Moneybags! S'pose I warn't good enough for her. Aint
got enough beans. Wot won't money do, eh? By cripes, she do make me
laugh!"

Other remarks were made about the way she hopped, and some of the
younger girls even giggled as she panted past them, and altogether made
things unpleasant for Aunt Jo. The rough-shod scrub men bumped her
heavily, and once she was knocked off her feet. M'Gurren, in trying to
save her, went down on top of her. The building shook, and several
couples dropped on to the seats in paroxysms of laughter.

"I theenk we'd better sit down, lass," said M'Gurren, kindly. But Aunt
Jo wouldn't hear of it. She whirled on furiously, with tears of
indignation in her eyes, and swung hard against every female she could
reach, especially the married ones. The timber-getters took up the
gauntlet, and bumped her more than ever. They went out of their way to
meet her, and each collision was accompanied by ribald jest. One would
yell out, "Whoa there! wild cattle from the Mooni!" Shortly another
would send her reeling towards the centre, and shout as he swung on,
"Gee off, Bismarck!" A third would swing out arid drive her back to the
tune of "Stand over, Brown!"

Finally, Kilfloggin, who had been watching the proceedings with a
sullen look, bumped one of the jokers heavily on the jaw, and the dance
ended in a short but gory fight. Kilfloggin gained the victory also a
black eye.

Aunt Jo, having lost Mr M'Gurren in the confusion, retreated hurriedly
to the ante-room, panting like a knocked up dog. She said she would
never again be induced to go among the libertines that convene at a
bush dance. And she wasn't.

CHAPTER VII.

A few days later Leonard called at Gimbo. The house, which had a garden
all round it, with two large mulberry trees in the back corners, and a
front awning of grape vines and honeysuckle, stood on the prettiest of
the Yeerong hills. It looked out upon a long stretch of moorland, near
the head of the lagoon which coursed round Fairymede. A raised red road
ran across it between the boundaries, over which the cedar teams passed
into Dumboon. That red road was engraven on Mark's memory. He and Ethel
used to meet and part there when they went to school.

As usual, Mark was sitting behind a plodding pen.

"Now then, old boy," said Leonard, haven't you had enough of that for
one day?"

"Never have enough of it," answered Mark. "Think I was born for it."

"Don't know how you stick to it like you do," Leonard went on. "One day
would kill me."

"You weren't intended for a novelist," said Mark. "I've been at it for
years, and I love it now more than ever."

"Have you heard from the publishers yet?" asked Leonard.

"Got a letter yesterday," answered Mark.

"How did the first book get on?"

"It's waiting for postage to come back."

"And the second?"

"It wants postage too."

"What about the third?"

"It also wants postage."

"Must cost you a tidy sum for stamps," Leonard remarked.

"A good bit," Mark admitted. "That's the result of living in the bush."

"What are you doing now?"

"The fourth."

"Better chuck it, old man," said Leonard, kindly.

"No," said Mark. "I'm confident I'll succeed some day. I've been
assured by two or three who saw my work that they've often read worse.
I don't allow everyone to see them. I like a man who'll tell me exactly
what he thinks, not seek to flatter me with undeserved praise."

"Quite right," his friend agreed. "I've read some of your tales, and I
can assure you I spoke my mind concerning them. If you take my advice
you won't write any more like them." Mark tried to look pleasant. "I
told you The Sundowner was too serious," Leonard went on. "I don't say
it couldn't be read through if a man put his mind to it but there are
books, you know, that are harder to read than chopping wood. Another
thing, your hero gets mixed. 'Dunno where he are' half his time. But--
we've had enough of books for once"--with an impatient half-turn on his
heel. "Let's go for a walk. I've got something to tell you, and perhaps
I'll be able to do you a good turn." He nodded towards Fairymede.

Mark was putting on his coat when Mrs Keaton came into the room.

"Are you off, Leonard?" she inquired, standing in the doorway.

"Have an appointment at the bridge," Leonard answered.

"Oh!" said the widow archly, "is that the way the wind blows? Goin' to
see Ethel Lethcote. I thought she was Mark's girl."

"I didn't know she was anybody's girl," Mark said, sulkily.

"Well, she ain't yours, it seems." She made a wry face and looked
towards the red road. "You're too quiet for her--an' too slow to catch a
cold."

Mark hurried away. He was a little afraid of his mother. As they turned
their backs to the gate, a whip-crack bounded in the distance. Leonard
looked up and laughed.

"Was thinking of Abe Watts," he said, and chuckled again.

What about him?" asked Mark.

"One of his bullocks--Yellowman, he called him--was lying down in the
yoke as I crossed the road. Abe was prodding him and twisting his tail
and cursing him by turns. Couldn't get so much, as a grunt out of him.
'That fellow would be better in a cask than in the team,' I said to
him. 'It's a bloomin' pity Bill Sooley warn't in th' cask with him,'
says Abe viciously. 'Swopped me that crawlin' cow for a spankin' good
steer. Sed he could pull like Bill Beach. By cripes, I'll be one with
him. You'll see!' Sooley came along behind, singing:

'If I 'ad a 'orse an' he wouldn't go,
Wouldn't I whack him--no, no, no!'

" 'Wot th' jiggins d'yer do with a bullock that won't go?' says Abe,
sulkily. 'Tell yer fusrate plan,' says Bill, leaning on his whip. 'Put
yer mouth to his ear an' whistle. Takes his mind off everything else,
an' fetches him to his feet in one act.' Abe took hold of Yellowman's
ear, and, thrusting his mouth through the hair, blew a sharp and sudden
blast down the orifice. Yellowman snorted, and, swinging his big head
round, struck Abe on the jaw and knocked him sprawling in the dust.
Then he jumped up and kicked Abe in the commissariat department, and
rushed into the yoke so hard that he shifted the jinker himself. 'Heerd
tell that was a good dodge,' said Sooley. 'Ye'll know how to manage
Yellowman now.' Abe got up slowly, rubbing his stomach, and spitting
out dust. He scowled across his shoulder as he brushed his helmet,
then, walked away in dead silence."

"Ominous," said Mark. "He'll get back on Sooley before many days."

"I bet he will," said Leonard. "The other evening Abe went fishing in
Big Hole. Half an hour afterwards Sooley strolled down for a dip, and
found him asleep, with the line hitched to his leg. He stripped behind
a bush, hauled that line up, and cut the hook off; then he gripped the
sinker in his hand, and dived quietly into the hole with it. A couple
of tugs woke Abe, and in a second or two he was on his feet, bristling
with excitement, and hauling in hand over hand. 'By cripes,' he says,
as he gets the full weight of it, ' 's th' old man cod what's been
nabbin' hooks 'ere for th' last forty year.' Bill wriggled and twisted
a bit to show he was a live fish but 'twas like hauling up a log all
the same. He had no propelling force where his tail should be, and he
wanted a pull at the atmosphere pretty bad. He shot up close to the
bank, threshing the water like a harpooned whale. His head and face
were covered with weeds, and as soon as he's out he rears over the
first ledge of bank and astonishes Abe with a snort that would have
shamed a koala. Abe's eyes bulged. 'What in thunder ken that be!' he
gasped, backing away. 'Bow-wow-wow!' barked the fish, making a scramble
after him. Abe dropped the line and cut up that bank like a whipped
dog. Bill washed the mud off himself, and followed with his clothes
under his arm. Abe was at the camp, wildly excited, telling the other
men about the monster. By this time it had red eyes, as large as
saucers, a green mane and tail, four tremendous legs, and claws ten
inches long. 'Never saw th' like of it,' says Abe. 'Never heerd th'
like of it. 'Twarnt no known animal, I'll swear.' Bill walked up.
'Here's your tackle, Abe Watts,' he says. 'Darned hard lines if a man
can't go for a dive 'thout gettin' hooked an hauled up like a blamed
fish!' The men roared, and poor Abe slunk away to hide himself."

"A day or two later, when they'd finished rafting, Abe called out to
Sooley, who was paring a lash for his whip. 'Hey, Bill, look 'ere!' He
pointed out a boomer kangaroo, standing bolt upright about two hundred
yards away. 'What about some 'rootail soup?' Bill whipped in and got
his rifle. 'He's mine, first pop,' he says, dropping on his knee. He
fired at the chest, but, the roo didn't fall. It never moved. 'Must 'a'
been something wrong with that cartridge,' says Bill, puzzled. He
examined the next, put it in carefully, and fired again. Same result.
'Why, I thought you could shoot!' says Abe. 'Danged if I ken make it
out,' says Bill. 'Swear them shots hit.' 'Strange he didn't move,' says
Abe. 'Didn't so much as wince.' 'Never saw a blamed 'roo stand fire
like it,' says Bill. 'Mus' be hard o' hearin',' says Abe. He's lookin'
straight at us, whether-or-no,' says Bill. 'Mus' be par-blind, too,'
says Abe. Another slug was presented to him. Still he stood. 'Well,
that beats all!' says Bill. ' 'S either paralysed with fright, or he
died standin'. Reckon I'll alter his attitude 'fore I'm done with him.'
He walked towards the animal, loading as he went. Fifty yards off he
fired again. No impression. Then he walked right up, sidled round him,
prodded him with the gun fore and aft, and peered into his eyes. Then
Bill pulled him savagely by the ear, and his head fell over, showing
the top of a stake and some dry grass sticking up through the skin.
When Bill came back, he was about the maddest man ever seen around Big
Hole."

They had barely crossed the house paddock when Kilfloggin thumped into
Mrs Keaton's front room. He had lately taken an interest in that lady.

"Seen yer son, an' 'air gaw'n Fairymede way," Kilfloggin remarked,
flopping into a chair, and spinning his hat under the table. S'pose
yo'll soon be 'avin' a weddin' in th' fam'ly?"

"Why--who's there to get married?" asked the widow, surprised.

"Mark."

"Phugh! He can't keep himself, let 'lone a wife. He's stuck in that
room there, an' not a word out of him, from jackass to mopoke, an' from
mopoke to jackass agin. I tell him if ever he gets married his wife
'ill run away from him the fust week."

"Too much edjecation, missus, too much on't. 'S all very well for them
as is rich an' ken afford to put on airs an' live up to it, but for a
poor man it spells ruin. Spoils him every way yer look at it."

"It's spoilt him, 't any rate. I told th' old man it would at th'
outset. I sed as sure as eggs wasn't onions he'd be a ruined man if he
got too much edjecation. An' wasn't I right?"

"You was, missus. There's no two ways about that."

"There's Luke an' Eustace." the widow went on. " 'S there anyone on the
Yeerong can drive bullocks or use a cross-cut saw better'n they can?"

"There ain't. They was real bobby-dazzlers, them boys."

"An' you should just hear Luke singin'!"

"Heerd him, missus. Fine singer, Luke,"

" 'Way down upon th' Swanee River' was a great favourite of his. He
could sing it grand. I used to sit on that doorstep, a nights listen
in' when Eustace 'ud be on th' woodheap with th' concertina, an' Luke
'ud be lyin' on his back on th' grass, singin' th' 'Swanee."

"Could play the jews-harp a bit, too," Kilfloggin added, spitting on
the cat; and wiping his mouth with his arm. "Use ter like ter hear
him."

"He was the jolliest of the fam'ly, th' only one with any music in him.
The others couldn't so much as whistle a toon. Luke was full o' fun.
Plenty o' life in th' place when he was 'ome."

"Aye, Luke was the rollickin' sort."

"Bit fond of his nip, like his father. That's his only fault. We'd all
been well off if 't 'adn't been for Hugh drinkin' so, an' fillin' that
boy's head with a lot o' rot. 'S right enough, I use to tell him, to
have enough learnin' in the fam'ly to make up a log, but we've got no
use for any more. 'S like learnin' 'Melia Jane to play the goana, as
old Peter was talkin' o' doin' once. Ah, well, he's gone now, poor old
feller, an' there's no use stirrin' up old sores."

"Not a bit o' use."

"I only hope Luke won't turn out like the old man. One thing, he's got
Eustace with him, an' that might keep him straight."

"Aye, Eustace 'll keep a pull on him. They'll be comin' 'ome some day
with a good stockin' for y'r."

"God send they will. I'd be sure 'o' what Eustace had. He was always
good-hearted, an' never kept a penny from me. Luke's seldom got any to
give. Fools it away. Mark's the stingy one. He'd skin a flea for its
hide. But he wont work 'cept at them books. He'll go mad over 'em yet.
Mad as a hatter."

"He will; no two ways about that."

"He hasn't enough edjecation to be a real scholar, an' too much to be a
man."

"That's it. Ye've jus' sed it, missis. He ought to go out an' jine his
brothers. They're th' coves 'ud make a man of him. P'rhaps they'll take
him out when they come."

"I wish to God they would."

"Le's 'ave a drop on the strength of it, missus," said Kilfloggin, with
a shy look, at the same time extracting a flask from his pocket.

"You're a terrible man, George," the widow reproved. "You're goin' from
bad to worse." And she shook her head and looked sad.

George grinned;. "Come on," he said persuasively. "Wish 'em luck in a
good old nobbler."

"It's the curse o' the country, George," she said, eyeing the bottle.
"It's been the ruin o' many a good fam'ly, but--" Her lips were getting
dry. --"Still, there's no 'arm in havin' a glass now'n agin. Does good
at times if taken in mod'ration."

"Them's my sentiments. 'S all right es long's yer know when to put the
peg in."

"What I use to tell the old man," said the widow, rising. " 'Now Hugh,'
I'd say, it's time to put the peg in.' 'S all right, Mary,' he 'd say.
'We'll put him in by'n-bye.' He would, too."

"When the keg was empty," added George.

"When the keg was empty," the widow repeated, swallowing as the dryness
went down her throat. "Them kegs was the devil's own. Ye'd see one
strapped on top of every jinker that went out after pay day, an'
there'd be carousin' an' fightin' to no end up at th' mountains. Th'
old hands swallered more cedar logs that way an' ever you seen, George.
'Twas th' drunkenest crick this as ever run water."

George shook the bottle and held it up to the light.

"Good head," he said.

"Wait till I get the tumblers, George," she enjoined, and bustled out.

CHAPTER VIII.

Mark and Leonard waited at the log bridge that spanned an arm of the
lagoon separating Fairymede from Gimbo. Here was a cluster of willows
overhanging the water, a few rustic seats, and a family boat moored at
the end of a rough plank. It was an old trysting place, where, as Biddy
put it, "many a poor fool had sowed trouble for future rapin';" and it
was here that Aunt Jo dreamt her dreams of the sweet by-and-bye.

"We are too early," said Leonard, lightning a cigarette. Mark did not
smoke. He was too mean, his mother said.

"Whom are we here to meet?" he asked.

"Girls," said' Leonard. He threw himself down on the grass under the
willows. "I've been wanting to tell you a secret ever since the ball,"
he went on. "You missed a treat by not going--and Ethel missed you."

"D'you think so?" asked Mark, quickly.

"Sure of it. Why didn't you come?"

"Because old Mac carried too many guns. Seems to have the inside
running, confound him."

'"You're making a bloomer," said Leonard. "Your chances are as good as
mine were. I carried my heart in my boots, as you are doing now. But
while the knot's untied there's hope. I pegged away--quietly; and to-day
I'm the happiest sinner on the Yeerong."

"So you have won the monopoly?" said Mark.

"Yes, old fellow; she's my copyright," laughed Leonard.

"You're lucky," said Mark, seriously, while his mind pictured all
manner of delightfully amorous scenes, and his eyes wore that envious
look of a fruitless lover listening to the rhapsodies of a more
fortunate swain. "She's a good little girl--the second best about here."

"The second best! Who, then, is the best?"

"Ethel."

Leonard smiled. "Of course," he said, "every man considers his own bit
of property the nonpareil. She is par excellence the sweetest and
dearest on earth. We'll not quarrel over that. It's only natural that
you and I, running on separate tracks, should hold different opinions
on this subject."

"Just as well it is so," said Mark, "or we would both be in love with
Ethel. That would be a misfortune."

"Why?"

"Rivals can never be friends. We'd be cutting each other's throats."

"More likely you'd be cutting your own in the background," said
Leonard. "Old M'Gurren's got you flogging now--and I'd treat M'Gurren as
a joke." Mark glared at the lagoon and chewed grass. "You are too
backward; too slow, in fact," Leonard continued. "A woman likes a
cheerful, fearless man. Ethel is naturally gay, but she's hobbled.
She's at the beck and call of a heartless duenna. Why don't you stiffen
your backbone and oust M'Gurren?"

Mark's face flushed, and his cheeks quivered for an instant. "Do you
mean to tell me," he cried, "that he would marry Ethel?"

"Of course--if he could."

"He can't though?"

"He can."

Mark bit his lip. A flock of parrots swooped over them. Their
screechings sounded afar off. "I don't believe it!" he said, with
suppressed passion. "Ethel's got too much spirit to marry an old
reprobate like him. He's old enough to be a child's playmate, and she's
not mercenary enough to take his wealth into consideration. There's
nothing mercenary in her nature."

"There is in her stepmother's. She got on the soft side of Myles
Lethcote for his stocking, and she'll sell Ethel for M'Gurren's."

"And would you stand by and see her do it?"

"How can I interfere?"

"You are Ethel's cousin."

"That doesn't give me the right to oppose her father and stepmother."

"Surely her father is not a party to it?"

"He's only a mere automaton. He has to lump what Biddy likes. He owns
up."

"Then he's no man!" Mark asseverated.

"He's good-hearted, but he's got no backbone," Leonard interposed.

"A henpecked husband is a contemptible creature." Mark persisted. "I'd
like to see the woman who would get the better of me."

"Don't crow," said Leonard. "Seems to me you're just about beaten now."
He nodded towards Fairymede. "You are letting Ethel drift further and
further from you, while M'Gurren follows her like a poodle. I'd like
her to be your wife, but if you dally much longer you'll lose her.
There's too much procrastination about you for good-fortune to be your
hand-maiden. Buck up to her as if you owned creation. There's only one
road to take in love--straight ahead. Doesn't matter how much you
stumble and blunder. The main thing is to keep on."

Mark was accustomed to this kind of plain speaking from Leonard. He
remained silent for some time, pulling blades of grass and nibbling
them, his brow knitted in meditation. Leonard did not interrupt him. He
hoped he had at last instilled some determination in this fluctuating
lover.

Presently he said: "Tell me how you did it--what you said, and what she
said."

"Don't remember exactly," said Leonard. "Proposals are usually foolish--
as seen by others."

"As seen by cold-blooded mortals and useless old prudes," corrected
Mark. "You've been through the mill. I might profit by your
experience."

"I don't think you would," said Leonard. "Frankly, I had my little
speech prepared six months beforehand. I used to be proposing morn,
noon and night. I'd lay awake half the night thinking about it, and
mope around all day talking to myself. I practised an anticipatory
dialogue smart, witty and complimentary what I would lead off with,
what she would be likely to reply, and what I would say to that; and so
on till I got her in my arms."

"Yes?" said Mark, brightening up.

"All wasted effort," said Leonard. "Ready-made speeches are the hardest
to say when you get the girl in front of you. And she doesn't say the
things she ought, and her actions don't fit. She's got you bogged in
five seconds. Best way is not to think anything till the opportunity
occurs--then jump into the first opening she gives you--say whatever
comes handy."

"What did you say?"

"Well, we were looking at the stars (astronomy's a fine supplementary
subject when you're courting; study astronomy), and she remarked that
it was a beautiful night. That was an opening--and I braced myself up at
once and jumped in. 'Everything's beautiful where you are,' I said."

"What did she say to that?"

"She said, 'That'll do you now!' and looked at me sideways, and
tittered a little bit, you know. That was encouraging, I could see she
was pleased."

"Yes but what did you say then?"

"I said, 'I mean it.' Then I put my arm round her quickly, and said,
'Liela, I love you!' "

"Ah! And what did she say?"

"She said, 'Oh, get out!' and tried to pull away."

"What next?"

"I said, 'I do, really.' "

"And what did she say?"

"Nothing. Only hung her head, looked pleased--and blushed."

"What did you do then?"

"Hugged her and kissed her."

"Good What did she say to that?"

"Only looked more pleased, and blushed furiously."

"And what happened next?"

"Her old man happened, next. He popped round the corner suddenly, and
he said, 'Hulloa what are you doing here?' I was a bit flabbergasted,
and could only grin. You know the fierce way he fixes his eyes on you,
and stares, with his head thrust forward. He made no wriggle. We were
always first-rate friends, Battye and I, though he was going to help me
off his premises with a stockwhip once for taking the loan of a horse
of his without asking. I reckoned he'd just about shoot me for taking
his daughter. But seemingly the daughter wasn't as important as the
horse."

"You were always a lucky beggar," said Mark, enviously. "If Biddy had
caught me like that with Ethel, I'd have been poll-axed on the spot."

"Here they come!" Leonard interrupted.

Mark gazed up the track for a moment with flushed cheeks. Ethel and
Liela were coming towards them, leading Aunt Jo and M'Gurren by nearly
half a mile.

"Looks dainty enough to touch the heart of a wheelbarrow," he said,
admiringly.

"Yes, she's a fine girl," Leonard agreed. "Are you going to put it to
her?"

"I must."

"Go up to her and spit it straight out. Girls like spirit."

They met. A few trite remarks and some maidenly tittering followed,
then Leonard marched off with Liela. Mark stood alone with Ethel,
looking as cheerful as a bear with a sore head. His heart was thumping
into his neck; five minutes later it might have been a brick he had
swallowed by the cold, dead feel of it.

And Leonard, happiest of mortals, dawdling slowly homeward with his
little sweetheart under his wing, and admiring the beauty of the
evening, and everything mundane, never guessed that Mark's love, like
his manuscripts, had been declined with thanks."

CHAPTER IX.

Miss Monaugh and Mr M'Gurren strolled slowly towards the willow trees.
The spinster was in excellent spirits, and talked more flippantly than
was her wont. She felt that this was a triumph not to be lightly passed
over--her walking along with the bird of Tillalee when Ethel was going
the same way. He knew nothing of the plans that had been carefully
concocted before leaving Fairymede House, or perhaps the two younger
ladies would not have eluded him so easily and gone on ahead.

"We'd form quite a delightful procession from the tryst if we all went
afoot," said the spinster meaningly. "Three couples, one behind the
other."

"I canna see more'n two," said M'Gurren, looking suspiciously in front.

"We are not all paired yet," the spinster answered. "Mark and Leonard
are under the willows. See, the girls are now joining them. Don't you
think, Mr M'Gurren, that they would make two excellent matches--Leonard
and Liela, and Mark and Ethel?"

"I ken Leonard an' Miss Battye are engeeged ta be marrit, buit I dinna
ken muckle aboot th' relationship o' the other twa. Buit she wadna be
sa foolish as ta rin after one o' his ilk, wad she?"

"Surely you have nothing to say against Mr Keaton? He's a good, honest
young fellow, and a gentleman every inch of him. I know that for
certain. I've had an opportunity of judging."

"That's richt enou', buit he's poor, varra poor."

"What of that? Were not the best of Scotland's heroes poor? Was not
Robbie Burns poor?"

"Dinna coompare a skit o' a mon like that wi' Rabbie Burns. He was a
guid laddie ta his parents. He didna loaf on them like this mooncalf
here. I wadna gi' a bawbee for a mon that cudna earn a bannock wi' the
pattle or the whop, or one that cudna gang awa' frae his mither's
appron strings."

" 'He's a man for a' that,' " the spinster quoted. "As to not being
able to earn a bannock--whatever that may be--let me say, Mr M'Gurren,
that Mark works harder than many of those who accuse him of being a
loafer. He's a clever man, and he'd be an excellent match, I consider,
for Ethel. They are so much of an age. He may be poor as a bandicoot
now, but he has good picking before him."

"I canna see it," said M'Gurren. " 'Tis mair likely he'll ga ta the
dogs a'tagither. He's not unco strang ta work."

"He's not built for a navvy or a cedar-getter but he's got brains. He's
following the avocation that Nature fitted him for. I hope, Mr
M'Gurren, it isn't prejudice that makes you speak so disparagingly of
Mark Keaton?"

"Na, na. I hae varra mickle agin the lad. I dinna like ta see him
carryin' on wi' Ethel in this fashion, that's a'. Her mither wad make
muckle ta do if she kent they meetit at the breedge."

"I actually believe, Mr M'Gurren, that you are jealous."

"Na, na; dinna say that," M'Gurren protested hurriedly.

"You give me that impression," the spinster returned vengefully.
"There's no more impropriety in her meeting Mr Keaton at the bridge
than there is in our walking together. He didn't meet her by
appointment either. It was merely chance. He came, it seems to me, for
an outing with Leonard."

"Buit he mauna kent Leonard was camit ta meet his sweetheart. I speer
Leonard telt him ta cam ta make luv ta Ethel."

"What if he did?" said Miss Monaugh, defiantly. "If Mark is not a
proper person to make love to Ethel, who is? I can think of no one more
suitable for her among the people of the Yeerong. As I said, he's just
the age--about three or four years her senior. I hold that no woman
should think of marrying a man who is more than four years older than
herself until she has reached the age of--er--thirty. It isn't proper;
it's often a sin. Many who have passed their prime, for instance, like
to marry young girls. There is no love in such matches, only a morbid
desire on the part of the beastly male person. The girl is sacrificed
on the altar of Mammon. It's slavery, pure and simple. Does he not buy
the girl? And is she not in bondage for life? God grant that Ethel will
never be made the victim of such heinous practices. Let her have love
in a bark hut rather than be a slave in a castle. There's no happiness
in ill-assorted marriages. Money can't buy it. I've never been married
myself, but I've had an opportunity of judging."

They had now reached the bridge. Leonard and Liela had gone on, waving
their adieux from a distance, and Mark and Ethel stood with downcast
faces behind the willows. The spinster had a quick eye, and she
discerned in an instant that the subject under discussion was a serious
one. She took little heed of this, for Mark was generally grave and
meditative, even when others were rippling with merriment. Her
attention was more occupied with Mr M'Gurren. He was angry, she could
see, and he watched the young couple with an ugly frown. Even when mere
civility demanded a reply to some frivolous question, he spoke in an
altered tone to her, and shot glances their way that were like flashes
of fire. She was puzzled, and was conscious of a chilly fear creeping
over her. She dreaded something, but she hardly knew yet what that
something was. She had a vague idea that things were not progressing as
she wished, that M'Gurren's fancy was riveted on Ethel--not on her. In
confirmation of this, there cropped up the remembrance of his
preferment of Ethel at the ball, and the recollection of a remark
passed by the unscrupulous Kilfloggin, that "Ol' Porridge-pot was
breakin' his blamed neck after th' little piece o' Lethcote's." Many
other little incidents she recalled, giving credence to her suspicions;
but she trusted Ethel too implicitly to suspect her of any conspiracy.
If Ethel was a rival at all, it was unwittingly. She was aware that
Biddy had base designs on "Moneybags," but the thought that he would be
willing to gratify that sordid desire had never entered her mind. She
must speak to Ethel. This evening they two would be alone, and she must
be acquainted with everything, or--

"Fetch the lassie alang noo, Mis Monaugh, an' I'll get the boat ready,"
M'Gurren broke in abruptly, bustling about and knocking himself out of
breath in his eagerness to get the ladies on board as quickly as
possible.

The bottom of the boat was strewn with willow leaves which had to be
cleaned out; the rowlocks had to be fixed in their places, and the oars
got out, and the seats cleaned. Aunt Jo, instead of joining Ethel, sat
down on one of the rustic seats and watched operations. This
exasperated M'Gurren, who was now very red in the face, and perspiring
like a water-cart. He didn't speak, and Jo was too pre-occupied to make
any comment. She wished to leave Mark and Ethel together till the last
moment, and then to have a word with the young man before they started
to row round to Fairymede. But when she turned round, intent upon that
object, she found herself face to face with Ethel, and saw Mark,
already out of earshot, hurrying homewards. Then M'Gurren, thinking
they were yet in company, and before he had hardly completed his task,
cried out sharply:

"Noo then, cam alang wi' ye, an' let's gang awa' hame. The nicht i'
camin' on, an' we have a lang pull, I ken."

"Don't you think, Mr M'Gurren, that it would be better to leave the
boat where it is and walk back?" Ethel protested. After her interview
with Mark, she dreaded being shut up in that small boat under the eyes
of Aunt Jo and M'Gurren. It would occupy the latter an hour to pull
round, and that time now would seem a week to Ethel.

She was sorry for Mark. She was pale and excited, and waves of emotion
swept through her at times choking her utterance. She wanted to get
home, to be in her own room, where she could think it all over, and
perhaps "have a good cry." But M'Gurren was not to be denied. He pulled
the boat well up to the landing, and held it there so that they could
step in safely. When they were seated, and the boat had been pushed
off, M'Gurren, taking a precautionary look around him by way of
preface, gave vent to his pent-up feelings in an abusive outburst
against the "moon-calf," holding forth that it was ungentlemanly;
illustrative of ill-breeding, in fact, "to rin awa' wi'oot e'en a word
or a nod to a body. Heigh!" continued the irate M'Gurren, "nin buit the
roughs o' Yeerong wad da sich a thing. Ta rin awa' wi'oot takin' leave
o' a body! Weel, weel, that beats a'!" And he laughed, a low, gurgling
laugh that had little of mirth in it.

Twice Ethel essayed to speak, and each time a lump seemed to rise in
her throat. At last she broke down, and tears trickled silently through
her fingers as she sat bowed in the stern of the boat.

For a moment M'Gurren stared, then swung his oars savagely.
Unfortunately, he missed the water on each side, and fell on his neck
over the seat. Jo laughed. She couldn't help it. M'Gurren, very red in
the face, and breathing like a half-winded horse, scrambled up, and got
into swing again with the energy of a bull-ant on a hot shovel.

CHAPTER X.

Aunt Jo monopolised M'Gurren as much as possible, to allow Ethel to
regain her composure. She had never before been in such perplexity, and
her heart was weighted with doubts and misgivings. She was certain of
four things: That Ethel loved Mark Keaton; that they had quarrelled and
parted; that M'Gurren loved or wanted Ethel; and that the course of her
own true love thenceforth could not run smooth. She was angry with
both. And M'Gurren was morose and taciturn. Consequently the
conversation was difficult, and intervals of painful silence were
frequent. He was uncertain and jerky in his rowing, and twice went near
to capsizing the boat. The lagoon was not an easy course for an amateur
to take a boat over patches of reeds and water-lilies frequently
intervened, in which one or other of the oars would become entangled.
Now the left would be dipped far down into the water, while the other
would skim over the surface, and M'Gurren would nearly go on his neck
again; then he would run her nose into a clump of reeds, and bring down
a shower of furry blossoms that smothered their heads and stuck to
their dresses. Nor was this all. At every second or third stroke a
shower of water went flying over them; and the climax was reached when
M'Gurren, by an awkward lurch, let one of his oars drop in the stream.

"Dear me," cried Aunt Jo, unable to restrain herself any longer, "what
a treat you are giving us! Hadn't we belter pull ashore? We'll have an
accident."

"Bide a wee," said M'Gurren irritably. "We're gettin' alang fine--
considerin' I havna hondled a blade for twa months. We'll be hame in
guid time, lassies. I maun be mair heedfu' o the weeds, that's a'."

He paddled back as one would paddle a canoe, and then Aunt Jo picked up
the floating oar. M'Gurren held out his hand for it, but Aunt Jo had no
intention of surrendering it.

"I am going to help navigate this craft," she announced, with decision.

"Dinna trooble, lass, dinna trooble yesel'," M'Gurren objected. "Ah can
pull her hame mesel'."

"No, you can't. "It's sundown--or very near it and this is a dangerous
place to be benighted in. We are wet too. We'll catch our death of cold
if we don't hurry."

It was a cruel little speech, and M'Gurren looked pained.

"I'm sorry, lass, ta have wet ye," he said, with genuine contriteness.
" 'Twa on accoont o' the weeds. But there's a clear stretch ahud noo,
an' I'll pull her hame wi'oot a splash."

"No, you wont," said Aunt Jo stoutly. "The exercise is good for me, and
I'm going to pull an oar."

She sat down beside the disconcerted Scotchman, and commenced to use
the oar with more dexterity and vigour than he was able to show. Ethel,
alone in the stern, and finding it trying to her nerves to remain
inertly facing the rowers, took up a short plank that lay at her feet,
and with this improvised rudder steered the craft safely through the
intricacies of the winding, reed-grown lagoon.

M'Gurren was ill-pleased at the change. He showed it in his face, and
in the manner of his rowing. To be deprived of an oar was a slur
against his ability as a waterman, and to he ousted from his position
of a leader by a woman was, before Ethel, a degradation not to be
permitted to pass unavenged. He watched his opportunities, and when a
huge clump of rushes loomed up before them, or a snag appeared
dangerously near, he threw all his strength into his stroke to slew the
boat round so that she would strike. He didn't care if he perished
himself, as long as he succeeded in wrecking "that pree-posterous
woman." But, to his chagrin, he saw them passed untouched. Aunt Jo
appeared to be pulling with the greatest ease; he was exerting himself
to the utmost. He grew redder in the face, and breathed hard and short.
Yet her simple, easy stroke counterbalanced his, and try as he would to
force her round, the boat sped serenely on. At last he paused from
sheer exhaustion.

"Losh, wuman, I maun sey ye pull a fine strook," he panted, looking in
a dazed and wondering manner at his companion's slender arms. "I dinna
ken hoo it is," he continued, with a mystified air. "Ye dinna seem ta
put muckle power int' ye strook, an' yet I canna mak ony mair
impression on her thon yesel', an' I maun sey I pull unco hard. I canna
mak it oot at a."

"Have you been trying to force her round to show that your strength is
greater than mine?" Jo asked indignantly.

"Well, I'll telt the truth, I have. I cudna stund bein' beaten by a
wuman," M'Gurren confessed, wiping the teeming perspiration from his
heated face.

"You've knocked yourself up," said Jo, placidly. "I thought you were
getting rather short in your strokes."

"I kepit time." M'Gurren returned. "Buit I cudna get her roond."

"You were silly to try. You know, M'Gurren," pursued Aunt Jo in her
most affable manner, "brute strength is little use when pitted against
science. I've had an opportunity of judging."

M'Gurren had forgotten that Ethel was steering the boat, otherwise he
might have been tempted to try his brute strength against the
spinster's science. She was glad when a diversion occurred. Round a
sharp point they came abreast of an old man fishing on the bank. This
was Myles Lethcote, seated under a broad straw hat, his rod across his
knee, complacently smoking a short pipe and waiting with his accustomed
patience for a bite. Fishing and reading absorbed most of his time when
Biddy wasn't in her tantrums and giving him the rounds of the kitchen.

"Weel, mon, have ye cochit ony fush the day?" asked M'Gurren, grasping
the excuse for a rest with enthusiasm.

"Five on 'em," Myles answered.

"Guid, varra guid!"

Myles had four very little ones behind a tussock, and one big one. He
held up the big one as a sample put it down and held it up again,
repeating the performance until he had apparently shown five different
fish.

"Losh, they're fine specimens," said M'Gurren. "What i' aboon the
weicht o' them?"

"Purty near three pun, I'll warrant," said Myles. "Nowt t'what unhooked
while ago. Fetched un all but top an' lost un. Didn't let'n take un far
'nough 'fore I gin haul un in. Been chuckin' round for hour or more,
spectin' he'd come back. Baint seen nowt on him since, though."

"He wont coom bock, mon," said M'Gurren, with the air of a man who knew
all about the ways of fish. "Get aboord here, an' we'll tak' ye alang
hame wi' us. Ye cochit enough the day."

Myles shook his head, and shifted the pipe to the other side of his
mouth. "E'll come back," he said. " 'N' if I get half a chance at un,
I'll nab un next shot."

"Why, pa, it may be a bunyip," Ethel suggested, laughing for the first
time since they had started.

"Shugh!" said Myles, and shifted his pipe again.

"He dinna b'lieve in the bunyip," said M'Gurren, chuckling.

The fisherman's back seemed to straighten. "Didna ever see bunyip,
Mac?" he asked.

"Na, I canna sey I've seen one; buit I've heard tellit o' 'whops of
'em. I ken th' bunyip i' the big fush that awa's gets awa, mon."

Aunt Jo saved the situation for Myles. "There's some awfully big eels
in this lagoon, though, and they come up from the bottom after sundown.
Let's be getting home."

"Oots, wuman!" said M'Gurren. "Are ye afrud of an eel? They winna da ye
the bit o' harm."

Aunt Jo shrugged her shoulders. "I shouldn't like to try them," she
said. "They're horrid things."

They lay to their oars again and left the old man fishing, a satisfied
smile making curves round the stem of his pipe. At the boatshed they
disembarked. M'Gurren and Ethel went homewards together! They dawdled
along, at the former's request, to allow Aunt Jo to draw away from
them. This she did with more readiness than might have been expected
but Aunt Jo had "good reasons." When she had got beyond earshot,
M'Gurren took Ethel's arm in a fatherly fashion and said:

"Ye didna seem varra hoppy this afternoon, lassie. Did ye fa' oot wi'
the lad frae Gimbo?"

"No, Mr M'Gurren," Ethel answered simply.

"Ye creed i' the boat, lassie!"

"Yes."

"Have ye ony trouble?"

"No."

Ethel refused to be drawn out. M'Gurren was at a loss for an
explanation. She kept her face persistently from him, and he was
obliged to stoop his broad shoulders when speaking to her. Mrs
Lethcote, bubbling over with excitement and expectancy, at this
interesting juncture was standing on tip-toe at the lattice window,
which commanded a full view of the long straight path, and watching
every movement of the approaching twain. Aunt Jo, somewhat flurried,
and panting from the prodigious exertion of walking up the incline,
came in and joined her.

"The Lord bless ye, Jo! Ye did fine to come away an' lave thim
together," Mrs Lethcote ejaculated. "He's proposin', Jo! D'ye see how
he's bindin' over her. That's how y'r brother Pat--God rist his bones--
bint over me whin he popped the question--his hand just so, his head a
bit av a skew. Ah! now she's squintin' at him. Lord bless us, say yis,
darlint! Ye've got your chancer now. Pon me sowl, she'll be Mrs
M'Gurren afore the year's out. Ah, they've shtopt! Didn't I tell you
so? They're havin' the usual bit av a blarney, d'ye mind. Ah--good! Ooh
drat him, he's put his hands behind him--no! Well done, me boy--he's
comin' agin! Be jabers, he's too slow for a funeral. Why th' divil
don't he hug the colleen!"

Aunt Jo's heart was going pit-a-pat, and she observed the movements of
the loiterers with envious eyes. If he would only bend over her like
that; if her ears could catch the tender words meant only for Ethel;
How slowly the time seemed, to drag away. Each moment seemed an hour,
and it appeared that the time when she would be alone with Ethel would
never come. But she heard it all at last, and it gave her a problem to
solve.

At the moment when she had seen them stop, M'Gurren was saying;--

"It's na use talkin', lassie, I ken ye na hoppy wi ye mither. She's
varra poor, an' I wad like ta help her. I have a fine hoose owre the
loch, buit it's unco lonely by mesel'. I want a wife o' my ain, d'ye
ken. Wul ye coom, lassie, an' share it wi' me?"

"Oh, Mr M'Gurren, please don't ask me!" Ethel cried affrightedly. "I
can't leave my father yet. He's very good to me."

"Then let's get marrit, an' ye can be guid ta him. I am a wee bit auld,
lassie, buit I am rich, an' I'll gi' ye enough for a'. He'll live in
coomfort an' peace wi' ye mither then, an' Aunt Jo wul bide wi' us at
Tillalee. They telt me yestreen that onless ye marrit money ye'd have
ta gang ta service, an' ye faither maun wuk like Kilfloggin an' Abe
Watts."

"Who told you that?" Ethel cried, almost fiercely.

"Ye mither tauld me," M'Gurren answered her. "I'd be laith ta see ye
baith wukin' awa' like flunkies whun there's na need ta. An' ye can
dreeve aboot yesel' in fine frocks instud. I spuk ta ye mither
yestreen, an she consentit. Sa ye have only ta sey th' wad, lassie, an'
ye troubles wul be owre."

"My troubles are only just beginning," said Ethel, in a low voice.

She was agitated. The crisis she had long dreaded was upon her. Various
pictures of the future, resultant upon this or that decision, flashed
through her mind. Poor Ethel! She recognised the impossibility of
remaining longer with her step-mother if she refused to marry money now
that it was offered her. The thought that poor old pater should have to
give up angling for "big uns," and go scrub-cutting or something, was
the sorest point. For him she had rejected Mark Keaton. But Myles would
sooner be shot than see her married to M'Gurren. He wanted her near
him; but her presence could not save him from the threatened cropper if
she did not respect the wishes of his better-half. She felt weak.

"Dinna fash aboon troubles, lassie," M'Gurren rejoined. "Gi' me ye
bond, an' I'll mak ye my bonny bride. I'll dreeve ye owre the hielans
in the gig, an' row ye owre the loch; an' evra nicht I'll singit ye
auld favourite sangs--'My Lav She's Buit a Lassie Yet,' an' 'Auld Robin
Gray.' "

"I know you mean well, Mr M'Gurren, and--if you really love me--"

"Dinna doobt it, lassie," M'Gurren broke in gleefully. "I canna spak as
I ought ta, buit--I luv ye. I luv ye!"

"Then have pity--spare me. Oh, spare me!" Ethel cried, breaking down.

M'Gurren's jaw dropped as though someone had hit him. "Oots, lassie,"
he said, roughly, "ye canna ask for mair'n I wad give ye."

"I am too young to marry," she went on, piteously. "Don't ask me till
I'm twenty. I'll give you my answer then. Grant me that--if only that,"

M'Gurren did not respond. He was looking down, and tapping his foot on
the ground. Ethel sighed, and continued:

"My step-mother would force me to marry for money. She doesn't like me.
She wants to get rid of me--wants to sell me. She's cruel and selfish.
If you love me, don't be her cat's paw--don't buy me."

M'Gurren stared at the landscape, looking stunned.

"Tell her nothing of what's passed between us," Ethel went on, "or
she'll pay me out somehow. I didn't mean to tell you this--I don't know
what I'm saying. Let it end here--till--till I'm twenty."

"Bide a wee. Gin I promise ta mention it na mair tul ye twenty, wul ye
promise ta drap a' intercourse wi' the lad frae Gimbo?"

"All intercourse between us has already ceased."

"Varra quid. Ye ha' my promise."

"And you won't tell my step-mother what took place here this evening?"
asked Ethel, speaking with a little more calmness, though there was
still a frightened look in her eyes. M'Gurren pitied her. She looked
such a helpless little thing standing there, timid and trembling. He
took her hand and fondled it between his own.

"Na, lassie," he answered, more tenderly. "I wad like ye ta be my ain,
buit I dinna want ye ta be onhoppy. Sa have ye way, lassie, have ye
way."

"Thank you," said Ethel. As soon as she reached her room Mrs Lethcote
rushed after her.

"Phwat did he say?" she whispered excitedly. "Phwat was he sayin?"

"He was telling me about the beautiful house he has at Tillalee."

"Aye?"

"And he asked me would I like to live there."

"Good! An', you towld him--"

"I thought I would like it."

"Good agin! Phwat did he say to that?"

"Some day I might. I was too young yet."

The lightning change in Biddy's face was almost pathetic.

"Too young yet!" she shrieked. "God sake, does the blitherin' old fool
think ye'r a grane sugar plum or something that 'ill spile be pluckin'!
Too young at aighteen! 'Tis precious little he knows about wimmen. The
owld shrimp!"

"When I was twenty he would ask me to share it with him," Ethel hurried
on.

"Share phwat?" asked Biddy.

"His beautiful house," said Ethel.

"His beautiful fiddleshticks!" Biddy snorted. "Whin ye're twinty
indade!"

"Yes, mamma," Ethel answered.

"The loggerjowl! Phwat's he thinkin' about at all, at all?"

She stood frowning at the wall, her hands on her hips. Ethel, timid and
anxious, toyed with her bangle. She feared, not so much her step-
mother's imperiousness now that a compromise had been arranged with Mr
M'Gurren, but that her duplicity would be discovered if she were
subjected to much cross-questioning.

Presently Biddy inquired: "Phwat did you say to him thin?"

"I didn't say anything," Ethel answered.

"Ye couldn't 'ave sed much less, indade," Biddy retorted. "Bedad, ye
deserve to go to th' washtub, ye do. Whin an illigant squireen comes a-
courtin' ye, an' ye shtand like a booby an' let him think ye're a bit
av a chicken. Did I ever hear th' like of it!" And the old lady swung
sharply, and stamped away with fireworks in her heels.

Ethel heaved a sigh of relief, and flew to the motherly arms of Aunt
Jo.

CHAPTER XI.

Mark had become more solitary in his habits than ever, and, like Myles,
spent much of his time fishing. It wasn't a very exciting diversion for
a jilted lover, but it led him to a discovery that stirred the devil in
him. He was sitting in a shaded nook, where he was screened from view
by overhanging lillipillies and wild cherry trees, nursing a crooked
rod, and watching a monotonous floater. Presently voices disturbed his
quietude, and a moment later he recognised Kilfloggin and "Crowbar."
They were on the same errand as himself, both carrying their
whipsticks, the whips being rolled tightly round them, and a fishing
line dangling from the small end of each. This saved the trouble of
cutting special rods.

Mark looked about for a means of escape. He didn't want to meet those
kind of people. They always asked him, with a grin up their sleeves,
"hadn't he got a job yet?" It was humiliating to admit even that he
wanted such a low thing as a job. He hauled in his lines quickly, and,
not having time to slip away unseen, he hid himself in the thick
undergrowth. To his chagrin, they threw down their tackle close by, and
commenced fishing. Under the circumstances, he could do nothing but
remain like a crouching rabbit until they went away, as discovery now
would be doubly embarrassing. They were in a talkative mood, and soon
he was listening attentively.

"So yer goin' ter spend yer Sunday at Gimbo," Crowbar was saying;
"Whatcher little game there?"

"Jes' wait awhile. Got a good thing on. Sumthin' better'n roughin' it
in them man-killin' scrubs," Kilfloggin replied.

"I see!" said Crowbar. "Hangin' yer hat up to ther widder, eh?"

"Got it on th' peg, me boy. Goin' ter be spliced soon. This is strickly
confidential, mind yer. Whatcher think of it?"

"Wal, dang me if it don't beat cockfightin'. A wild scrag of a scrub
warrior like you puttin' th' yoke on Widder Keaton. S' must be kinder
'ard up."

"Hard up be hanged! Reckon I'm good enough for Widder Keaton eny day.
She's not one o' them as goes in for finery, an' puttin' on airs, an'
that sort o' tomfoolery. 'S rough an' ready as they make 'em. Jes' my
style to a T. Ye'll see me spare-chainin' her up ter parson's 'fore
long. Won't I cut a shine then!"

"Wot about Lord Muck, th' pote? He'll bite a bit, I reckon."

"He'll bite sumthin' purty hard, you make no error. Wait till we're
hitched up all tight an' square, an' I'll let him know wot for. I prog-
nos-ticate there'll be a lively-bust-up in that fam'ly. 'Tween me an'
you an' th' gate post, I've put up with a' lot of his foppishness for
th' sake of old Mary. Why, dynamite his eyes, he's too almighty big to
look th' way we're goin'. Like Mad Sambo down at th' dairy. Sacked th'
best qualified worker he ever 'ad 'cause th' feller was too much of a
white man to crawl round him like a grovellin' worm. . . . I only took
th' job to oblige him while I was spellin' me bullocks."

"Oh, you was th' bloke wot flung th' dish o' butter over Sambo?"

"I was. By th' jumpin' Jemima, it took a fall out of him. Lapped round
his mug bewtyful."

"Did yer go back for yer wages?" asked Crowbar.

"I didn't. Wouldn't touch his dirty stuff if he brought it to me,"
Kilfloggin answered. "But Mr High-an'-mighty Mark Keaton Esquire
needn't try that game on," he resumed: I'll 'ave it all out of him,
take my tip. Got a spare team, 'n if he don't like to go an' portify
that he ken put a coil in his bluey an' get. I'll 'ave none of him. 'S
a bit too sudding for me."

"Time he chucked th' titty-bottle onyway," said Crowbar.

"I mean ter yoke up th' widder," Kilfloggin went on. "But darn me if
goin' to find grass for th' whole herd of 'em like some do."

"Ye'd be a chump if yer did," Crowbar rejoined. "I wish yer luck, ol'
man. That's more'n we're 'avin' 'ere, so wot's 'say if we shift?"

"Jes' as well. Bitin' tarnation slow ter-day. Wanted ter get a couple
extra purtikler too. Ol' gel likes fish, she do."

When they had gone Mark stepped out of his hiding place, filled with
loathing and disgust for his prospective stepfather and angered with
his mother for contemplating the espousal of "a fellow like that."

As he plodded over the hills he encountered Leonard, who was on his way
home from Dumboon.

"Great bit of fun yesterday," he said, dismounting.

"What was that?" asked Mark, absently. He was still thinking of the
threatened increase in the family.

"You know, Abe Watts has been breaking his neck for some time to get
home on Sooley. Same time he didn't allow it to be suspected that he
bore any malice, being on the most friendly terms with the long person.
Sooley has the faculty of grasping his opportunities at a moment's
notice, but Abe is a slow mover, and the amount of brain work he did
after that crowning indignity on Red Road was prodigious. The
inspiration came when he saw Peter Johnson driving home from town with
a horse called Stopdead in the shafts of the spring cart. That horse
has one characteristic the thought of which so pleased Abe that he even
patted Yellowman as he unyoked him at the campingplace. The bullocks
were turned up the flat by Peter's selection for the night. Abe took
them up, and rode back on Stopdead. Said he'd bought him for fifteen
quid. Sooley said he was a fool; the horse was no good. 'Jes' get on
an' try him,' says Abe. Canters like a racin' 'orse, an' ken jump
anything with hide on. Dirt cheap, I reckon.' Sooley got on, smoking,
and took a twist or two out of him. 'Fair ter middlin' he says. Bit
hard in the mouth.' 'Try him at th' gutter.' says Abe. 'Go over like a
bird, ye'll find.' The gutter was about ten feet wide, with a foot or
two of water in it, covered with weeds, and very boggy. Bill went a
long way back, and pelted at it with arms and legs and reins swinging.
Doesn't ride as well as he shoots. Abe was standing near the take-off,
and just as Stopdead was going to leap, he yells out 'Whey!' sharp and
sudden. The old horse acted up to his name. He stopped dead--but Sooley
didn't. He shot head first into the gutter like a frog off a rail. Abe
just waited to see him regain his perpendicular--with a heap of mud and
weeds dripping from his head. Then he remembered that Johnson wanted
the horse at 6.21 sharp, and raced away to keep the appointment."

"Thought he bought the horse?" queried Mark, as cheerfully as Bill
Sooley might have said it after he had combed the weeds and crayfish
out of his hair.

"Bought him be hanged! Just borrowed him to chuck Sooley. Didn't get
back till midnight, having spent the evening exaggerating the
circumstance to Peter Johnson. Sooley was in bed, and Abe was getting
in very quietly when his feet touched something deadly cold. It was a
warm night, but the contact made him feel like an iceberg. If you
remember, he had seven years' growth frightened out of him once in the
scrubs. Woke up one night and felt a snake crawling under his shirt.
Had to lie mighty still while Sooley got a light and a waddy and as
soon as Sooley saw the shirt move he gave Abe a most unmerciful welt
across that part of him where his supper was digesting. Explained
afterwards that he'd forgotten, in his excitement, that Abe was under
the snake. Abe upended like dynamite, knocked Sooley through the tent,
and stood over the fire till the snake was rooted out and exterminated.

"Well, feeling the cold thing the other night, his hair bristled, and
he bounded out double quick, and yelled out to Sooley to light up. But
Mr Sooley was in an extra heavy sleep and didn't hear. He snored loudly
in confirmation. Abe got the lantern and a stick, and searched
carefully all round then he turned the blankets back very gently with
the stick, and discovered a wet shirt, the one Sooley had taken his mud
bath in, tightly rolled up. Abe clutched it vengefully, and was tip-
toeing towards Bill's bunk when the long one sprang out and cut away
through the bush like a startled emu. Abe after him with the wet shirt;
but Sooley had too much foot. Chased him half way to Johnson's, then
went back and chopped up a lot of horsehair and sprinkled it in Bill's
bunk. Bill was very restless after he turned in again, and got up
earlier than usual. They cried quits at breakfast time."

Mark walked along in moody silence. He rarely fraternised with the
bullockdrivers, and the yarn only riveted his mind on the horrible idea
of calling Kilfloggin "father."

"I want you to come with us tomorrow," Leonard said, after a long
pause. "I'm taking Liela and Etty to the mountains for a ride."

Mark shook his head. "We don't speak now," he explained.

"What! has it come to that?" cried Leonard. "What's happened?"

"She declined me--I mean," Mark stammered, "she won't have me."

"The deuce!" said Leonard, pacing steadily, through the grass. "I'm
sure she cares for you. I could stake my life on it."

"She has a queer way of showing it," Mark rejoined.

"It's as I tell you; she's tied to M'Gurren. You must wrest her from
him. Keep your pecker up. A woman's 'no' means nothing."

"Then how can a woman's promise be relied upon?"

"Oh, they always mean 'yes.' I'll try and get to the bottom of this
first time I'm alone with Etty. I'll put Mac's pot on if there's a
possible, anyway."

It was nearly dark when they separated; and Mark received another shock
when he reached home. His mother had a visitor for supper, and that
visitor was his now deadly enemy, Kilfloggin. On the table stood a
black bottle, explaining the cause of his mother's flushed face and
garrulity. Mark's brow clouded, and there was an ominous look in his
eyes as he approached the table. He stopped near the bibulous visitor;
and, looking from one to the other, said:

"What is the meaning of this, Wrightson? Is it your intention to make
my mother a hog like yourself?"

Wrightson guffawed. "It 'ud take Goramighty to make a hog of a sow," he
said. "Eh, old woman?" Then he turned slowly round in his chair and
faced the old woman's son. "Look 'ere, young' un, if I am a drunkard
it's me own money I get drunk on. You make no error about that. I'm not
a sponger, strike me blue blind if I am. An' there's no 'arm es I ken
see in havin' a friendly nip with yer mother. She was jes' tellin' me
es how she's got a letter from Luke an' Eustace, who's out Mackinlay
way breakin' 'orses, an' makin' two quid a week an' we've been drinkin'
their good healths."

"Luke an' Eustace are both well off, while you've 'ardly a boot to yer
foot," his mother added. "Ye'd better go to work now while ye've got
the chance. George says he's got a spare team, an' he'll give you the
job o' drivin' it."

"Mr George is very anxious to get me out of the way no doubt," said
Mark. "I happen to know his intentions. Before I'll lift a whip for him
I'll go barefooted."

"It's what ye'll soon have to," his mother retorted. "Ye'll have to go
an' do something. I can't keep you.

"Would you see me driving bullocks for a fellow like that?"

He pointed a scathing finger at the oxen proprietor, while keeping his
gaze on his mother.

"An' who are you that you shouldn't drive bullocks?" that lady
demanded. "Your poor old father wasn't too stuck up to do it."

"He was a man, he was," said George. "Twas an honour ter drive on th'
same road with him."

"The honour was very much one-sided," Mark returned.

Kilfloggin drew his feet in and threw his head forward. "Young feller,"
he said, "yer ought ter be ashamed o' yerself. Go an' buckle to it like
a white man, not be a loafer all th' days o' yer life--"

Mark's fist shot out suddenly. George blocked it neatly with his mouth,
and fell over a chair. He staggered to his feet, looking ugly. Mark
picked up the chair and poked him through the doorway with the leg of
it.

"Now take yourself off," he cried. "And don't dare put a foot inside my
paddock again."

"Don't bust yourself, young feller. You're rather sudding--"

Mark slammed the door, and strode back to the dining-room.

"Mother, why do you encourage that brute here?" he demanded. "Is it
possible you can entertain the thought of marrying such a man as that?
Do you want to make yourself an object of ridicule?"

"Shugh!" cried his mother, with a flourish of her skirts. "I'm goin' to
marry George Wrightson, an' I don't care a fig for what you or anyone
else says. You pack up your duds an' clear. I've had enough of you an'
your cuss-ed books."

"Right!" said Mark. "That settles it."

He went to his room. She heard him packing up, but did not go near him.
At daylight he was gone. Two hours later the widow entered his room,
and found a note on the packing-case table. It was short.

"Mother, I am going into the bush. If you marry Wrigntson you will
never see or hear from me again. Good-bye, Mark"

Then the silence, the heavy stillness, of that great lonely house was
broken by a mother's sobs. Mark was really gone.

CHAPTER XII.

Amelia Jane, while riding across the hills at the back of Fairymede,
was surprised to see smoke issuing from the chimney at Nolan's Hut. It
had been empty for two years. Standing back off the road, and screened
by the scrub, it was never visited by travellers. She bore down,
beating a tattoo on the ribs of her grey pony. The traveller who had
broken the repose of Nolan's Hut was getting grass for a bed. He was a
young man, and new chumish in appearance.

"Campin'?" she asked.

"Campin'," he answered.

"Been 'ere long?"

"Three days."

"Lookin' for a job?"

"Not exactly. Prospecting."

"Oh! Y' a gold digger," she cried. "Get ony gold?"

"Haven't tried this neighbourhood yet." he answered.

"Where'd yer try larst?"

"Down country."

"Must be a good way down."

"Why?" She was looking at his white hands and whiter neck. "Y' seem
to've had a longish spell 'tween jobs," she answered.

The prospector hacked off more grass. The pocket-knife was blunt, and
his hands reddened.

"I'm lookin' for Strawberry," the girl volunteered after watching him
awhile.

"Who's Strawberry?" he asked, indifferently.

"One o' father's bullocks. Reg'lar cow ter poke away."

He straightened up again. "You're Miss Johnson, I think?" he said,
thoughtlessly. Then he bit his lip and bent again.

"Amelia Jane Johnson," she amended. She eyed him more critically, and a
look of intelligence came suddenly into her weather-beaten face.

"Oh! Why you must be th' cove wot writes portry 'bout bullyfrogs an'
things er--Mark Keaton?"

"Yes," he admitted, crimsoning. "My name's Mark Keaton."

She became reserved at once. She seemed to understand the situation,
and gathered up her reins. "Must find Strawberry," she said, and went
off with her back hair bobbing up and down to the rough canter of the
old grey.

Her recognition of him was sufficient assurance that the news would
soon spread, and he wasn't a bit surprised when next day Miss Monaugh
paid him a visit. She left Myles on the road with the dogcart, and
walked across.

Mark expected a warm lecture from the spinster but she only laughed,
and expressed a hope that he would like the change of quarters.

"The quarters are right enough," he said. "It's this what's troubling
me just now." He handed her an open letter, which he had received that
morning. "It concerns 'The Sundowner.' They will publish if I pay part
of the cost price. It's a good chance, but I'm afraid I must let it
go."

"That would be a pity," said Aunt Jo, wrinkling her forehead and
frowning as she read the missive. She laid it down carefully and
drummed her fingers on the table. Presently she said: "The amount, is
only sixty pounds. You'll get two-thirds of the profits--if there are
any."

"There's bound to be a profit," said Mark, confidently.

"How long do you think it would take to recoup your outlay?" she asked.

"Depends," said Mark. "Might be only a few months, might take years."

"Do you think it's worth the risk."

"I'd risk ten times the amount tomorrow if I had it," said Mark,
impatiently.

"Hem! How much--you'll excuse the question--how much have you on hand?"

"Two pounds."

"Oh!" said the spinster, with a twitch of her lips. "You only want
fifty-eight pounds more."

Only fifty-eight pounds more," Mark repeated seriously.

"It seems to me," she said, meditatively, "you were too precipitate in
leaving home, Mark. Parents often quarrel with their children. That's
nothing. It doesn't take long for the breach to mend. I've had an
opportunity of judging."

"You don't know the nature of the quarrel," said Mark, gravely.

"Yes, I know all about it," Aunt Jo interposed.

"Of course! Nothing spreads like scandal," he remarked grimly.

"There's some talk of your mother marrying George Wrightson," Jo went
on, "and you think it would be scandalous for her to do so. You make a
great mistake. It is her duty. She's been a widow long enough. Let her
marry."

"But, Miss Monaugh, the man is a sot--low, vulgar, and as ignorant as
the proverbial pig."

"We are not all wiseacres. Besides, you must remember your mother is
not--er--refined. She's getting old, too, and she's lonely, and poor as a
bandicoot. You can't keep her, and the other boys are missing
quantities. All good reasons why she should accept George Wrightson.
Marriage will be to their mutual advantage. The single state to a
woman, let me tell you, is not an unmixed blessing. I've had an
opportunity of judging."

"Do you know anything of Wrightson's antecedents?" he asked her.

"His antecedents are all right," she answered easily. "Don't you worry
over that. He's led a wild life, I know. But he's a hard-working man--
when he working--and as honest as circumstances will permit. His worst
fault is a weakness for drink. Plenty of people drink."

"So they do," Mark admitted. "But that doesn't make George Wrightson
any more respectable."

"George isn't as black as he's painted," she responded. "I could tell
you something that might alter your opinion of him. But not now--some
other time. For the present, rest, assured that she will he marrying
into a good family--a very good family indeed."

She stood up and brushed the front of her dress with her hands. "I
would like you to meet me on the hill," she continued, "say Friday
afternoon."

"What time?" asked Mark.

"Let me see! I'll be here about four--with Etty."

Mark started. "Couldn't you come alone? I'd rather not meet Miss
Lethcote. We--We--"

"Well?"

"Didn't she tell you?" Mark was embarrassed, and found difficulty in
explaining himself.

"Oh, yes," Miss Monaugh replied. "She told me. I made her."

"You know, then, it wouldn't do--"

"Don't be a fool!" she broke in. "I can assure you Ethel won't be
displeased to see you. I've been speaking to her."

"I'm sure I'm much obliged to you." said Mark, a little irritably. "But
I couldn't think of forcing my society on to a girl--"

"Again I say don't be a fool!" Miss Monaugh interrupted. "Your
besetting sin, Mark, is false pride. You stand too much on dignity. You
are too vulnerable, too sensitive; you are so easily wounded. The
average bushman, in your shoes, with the chances you had, would not
have walked off at the first rebuff with defeat stamped all over him in
large capitals; he would have shown a bold front, and talked her out of
her silly little caprices. It only wants a little pluck, a little
determination. The lack of those qualities in a man is hateful to a
woman. I've had an opportunity of judging."

"You think I am a coward," said Mark, flushing. "Because I would not
press my suit, when I had no home to offer her, when I hadn't the price
of an engagement ring; and there is the fact that the family is against
me--"

"Deuce take the family!" Miss Monaugh interjected fiercely. "Biddy is
against you tooth and nail; but she isn't as numerous as that. She may
be captain of the ship, but she's got a mutinous crew, and one of these
fine days she'll find herself drooped overboard. I'm one of the family,
and you depend on it, when Biddy reckons without me she makes a false
calculation. You be on the hill on Friday afternoon, and if there is
need of a ring after you've seen Ethel, I'll buy you one. As for the
home, the consummation of the marriage you are kicking against may put
that over your head. But never mind that now. All in good time. You
meet us without fail."

Mark pondered irresolute, and while he pondered Abe Watts rode up. He
peered in with a grin, then gave a violent start, looked serious, and
departed hurriedly without having said anything. But he carried a bolt
in his quiver, and was bursting to throw it out when he reached the
camping-ground, where Bill Sooley had just turned out for the night.

"By cripes!" he cried, tilting his battered white helmet to the back of
his head. "Wot d'yer think, Bill?"

"What?" Bill was all attention. Abe's manner betokened something above
the ordinary.

"Mark Keaton's took up his residence in Nolan's Hut."

"Go on!" cried Bill. "Is that a fact?"

"An' ol' Johanna's keepin' house for him."

"Never!"

"Straight! Jus' seen 'em with me own eyes." said Abe. " 'Melia Jane
told me mornin' he was there, an' I called round, thinkin' to chiack
him a bit. Looks in, an' there they are, the two of 'em, as thick as
flies on a dead 'orse."

"Wot sort o' furniture 'ave they got?"

"They've got a table wot used ter be th' door; a block an' a gin-case,
a billycan, a bottle of ink an' a pen, an' a lot o' writin' paper."

Bill chuckled, and jerked his head like a dummy at a Punch and Judy
show. "That beats all!" he said. "Never thought Jo 'ud come ter that."

"She's been, splittin' her blessed self to get a bloke ever since she
ar-rove," Abe went on. "Warn't over purtikler neither. 'Ad serious
designs on yours truly, let me tell yer, time I was workin' on th'
station."

"Y' orter copped out on her, Abe. Been well brung up, they say. Play
th' melodium an' all. Why, ye'd been purty near respectable with a
woman like that,"

"Couldn't stand her 't any price. Too boney."

"Don't think Jo's bad lookin' though, when y'r come to know her," Bill
persisted.

"Ye must know her a dash sight better' n I do then, if ye've seen
enything good-lookin' about her," Abe returned. "Her face 'ud blunt an'
axe. An' she's as silly 's an old ewe in a dry paddock. Never reckoned
th' pote 'ud rub chins with her. Thet knocks me bandy."

"Must be goin' to fetch him out," Bill surmised. "Kinder like to hear
'em holdin' forth over there."

"Warn't sayin' much when I peered in," said Abe. "Looked 'bout as
eloquent as a pair o' Quakers at a wake. Might a been-ex-orsted
though."

"Hang me if I don't lose some bullocks round that way ter-morrer," Bill
declared. "Kinder like to see 'em."

But Bill had his trip for nothing. Mark was a hatter, looking as happy
as a sick crow in a storm. He went back later to make sure; but still
there was nothing of a suspicious character to be picked up. After that
the long gentleman who shot bees and beetles had a suspicion that Abe
Watts had been pulling his leg. Others went straggler hunting round by
Nolan's Hut, and seeing no sign of the prude Johanna, they were
unanimous in their opinion that Abel was an inventor. Thus Aunt Jo's
good character remained untarnished.

CHAPTER XIII.

That night Miss Monaugh, after a short consultation with Ethel and her
father, shut herself up in her room. Seating herself at a side-table,
she unlocked a small escritoire, and took from it a pile of letters.
Old and musty letters they were, some older than Jo, and were tied up
with faded red tape. She carefully untied it, and selected two sealed
missives from the packet. The first had found her at Nanango on the
occasion of her only absence from Gimbo during her brother's ownership
of that place. She returned immediately, and had never since paid a
visit to her parents' home. Since that hurried journey her father had
been planted on Baramba Creek, and her brother among the hills of
Yeerong; Gimbo had passed into the hands of the Keatons; her sister-in
law, the redoubtable Biddy, had yarded Myles Lethcote, and Fairymede
had become her real home.

A big sum of money had been paid for Gimbo by Hugh Keaton, and what had
become of it was a mystery, and the sorest of points to Biddy. She
suspected that he had buried it somewhere, and had forgotten to tell
her; and the thought that a fortune--which should be hers--was hidden
somewhere near at hand was galling in the extreme. She had often spoken
of this, and in a hundred places she had made the sceptic Myles dig for
the hidden treasure, and a hundred times had he carried his spade home
and reported that he had seen "nowt on't."

"Ye don't dig dape enough," Biddy would say. "'Tis only bandicootin' ye
are. 'S well sind an old hen to scratch about as you."

"Better," Myles conceded. "There be worms for th' hen. There's nowt
else. Onreasonable," he said. "No un 'ud bury money in a hole 's if
'twas a dead cat, an' say nowt. No good un diggin'."

"Phwat th' divil's become o' the money thin?" cried Biddy. "Tell me
that if you know so much about it. Now, thin."

"He mought a spent un," Myles suggested.

"No, he didn't spend it," Biddy rejoined. "Not a skerrick he'd spend
but I'd know it. Divil a fear."

"They mought'n paid un--"

"They did pay him. He told me he was goin to put it in th' bank, he
did, an' I thought he had. But whin I looked for the resates I couldn't
find thim, an' whin I wint to th' bank the sorra a cent of it had he
put there at all. He went off so suddent--bad luck to it--that I hadn't
time to get things in ordher, an' be told where this was, an' where
that was. 'Twas meself searched th' house high an' low, but th' divil
o' use o' sarchin'. 'S well look for a nadle in a haystack. So where
can it be but buried undher a tray?"

"Naw" said Myles. "Nowt but a gawk ud put un underground. He warn't a
fool, Pat Monaugh. He wouldn't bury un."

Biddy believed otherwise. She had dreamt of it, and each morning she
led him to a fresh spot that a shadowy hand had pointed out as the
repository. Myles came to dread late suppers, as that made Biddy dream
something awful. He believed she ate heavily on purpose to dream; and
she put all sorts of things under her pillow, including Pat's photo
with a sovereign tied to it. But nothing came of it, and after a time
she desisted in her fruitless pursuit, and ultimately ceased to talk
about it.

All this and many other incidents, were recalled to mind by these two
mouldy, time-worn letters, the first of which ran:--

"My Dear Friend,--I wish, you would come down at once. If I could leave
my little Ethel in good hands, and know that she would be well cared
for, I could die happy. I wrote to my brother, Reginald Courtenay, and
to my sister, Theresa Lynton, and begged them to take her and bring her
up with her cousins, Leonard and Adeline. They replied that they could
not receive a Lethcote into the Courtenay family. You know, I married
against my father's and brothers' wishes; married beneath me. It is
hard on her, but it can't be helped. So, my dearest friend, I appeal to
you to take charge of my little girl, and bring her up in the best way
possible. You are yourself but a girl; but you have influence--you have
wealthy relatives. I will leave you £200 to use on her behalf. Myles
has been a good husband and a loving father; but, as you know, a man
isn't fitted to take sole charge of child, particularly of a girl.
Moreover, he is easily led, and might be persuaded to give her to some
woman who would neglect her, and even be cruel to her. Therefore I give
her wholly into your charge, with authority to act as you think right
in all matters pertaining to her welfare. But I do not wish you to
separate her from her father unless it becomes absolutely necessary.
Watch over her unobtrusively--like a guardian angel. Never desert her,
and heaven will reward you. --Your sincere friend, Lavinia Lethcote."

"Poor dear Lavinia!" Miss Monaugh murmured, refolding the sheet. She
suspected that Myles would marry again. She wished him to marry me for
Ethel's sake. I was young and hopeful then. But poor brother Pat
followed Lavinia, and Biddy, of course, must step in and cut me out. It
was just like her. She was always selfish and designing. But my day
will come yet, and--Sigh! I'll snap my fingers at her."

Mechanically she flipped her fingers above her head, and tossed the
letter back into its receptacle. Then she lay back in her chair, and
gave way to a more sober train of thought.

"Yes, I've done my duty," she cogitated. "No one, not even Ethel
herself, knows of that money which I have kept in the bank so long. Nor
does Ethel think that the money I give her from time to time--in
presents--is in reality her own--the accumulated interest on her own
capital. Perhaps I ought to tell her--no; it's too soon yet. She's doing
all right. But I'd pity her if she had no better guardian than Biddy. A
nice one she is to have charge of another's child. A nice one, indeed.
I'll spoil her little game, trust me. Leonard and Liela will soon be
married now, and Ethel and Mark must come together--if I know how many
beans make five. They've been very foolish. Just like young people. But
I'll fix that up. Only let me get this satisfactorily settled, and
Widow Keaton and George Wrightson married, and it won't be very long
after before I am mistress of Tillalee. This' is leap-year, and--Well,
I've had an opportunity of judging."

She was rocking herself to and fro, with a contented smile on her face;
but now paused as she suddenly bethought her of something else?

"Let me see," she soliloquised, as the clock was striking eleven.
"Mark's business must be disposed of first. If I'm not greatly
mistaken, that will be an easy matter. I must run over Pat's last
letter to begin with." She took it up and read:

"My Dear Sister,--I received the final instalment of £1000 yesterday for
Gimbo. Last night I buried it at the spot I showed you and this
morning, whilst our furniture was being removed into Dumboon, I planted
a willow tree over it. The other £2000 I sent to the old people. We
will never miss it. My wife will be well provided for when I go. I told
her I invested part of the Gimbo money in mining, and by-and-by I shall
have to invent another story to the effect that my mining speculations
failed, and that I went into it deeper to recoup my losses and lost
all. She's a spendthrift, and the money would be ruthlessly squandered
were it left to her. It gives me more contentment to divide the bulk of
it between my mother and sisters, knowing it will make them
comfortable. When I am gone you can dig up the money and bank it. Don't
be too hasty, however, for your sudden acquisition of wealth would
arouse Biddy's suspicions. I have done my best for all in a quiet way.
Our cottage will soon be finished, and then I would be glad if you
would come and live with us again.--Your affectionate brother, Pat."

With her elbow on the table, and her chin resting on the palm of her
hand, Miss Monaugh sat for many minutes poring over her brother's
letter. The town house, she remembered, had been left to Biddy, and was
sold by her after her marriage with Myles Lethcote. During all the
years since then the buried money had never been touched. Often the
spinster had decided to remove it and put it to some profitable use,
and as often again decided to leave it alone. So the time passed, and
the willow grew till now a great tree with far-spreading roots stood, a
silent sentinel, over her treasure. It might have been better for her
had she possessed herself of it, and so enhanced her own position, and
drawn after her a coterie of followers--mostly of the indigent order.
But a woman never does know what to do with money, and indecision is
often the bane of her life.

However, Miss Monaugh had now determined to utilise her fortune, and
after accomplishing her various missions, if she failed to tempt the
Laird of Tillalee--well, people often advertised for wives. She could
answer one of these advertisements. There would be no harm in that; in
the event of failure, she could live with Ethel, or return to Nanango.
She had corresponded regularly with her mother, who frequently asked
her to return. But Miss Monaugh would not go back to her home. The why
and wherefore of this was the secret which she never allowed to pass
her lips--the secret of a first love and a dark past.

The house of the Monaughs stood on Baramba Greek. With them lived Miss
Helen Crogan, who was Johanna's aunt, and only two years her senior.
This young lady paid constant visits to a station in the vicinity, the
attraction being the squatter's son, Gerald Trevors. Gerald was at the
time engaged to Miss Monaugh, then on her first visit to Gimbo. She was
only eighteen then; Gerald was twenty. The families, said rumour, were
instrumental in bringing about the betrothal. There wasn't much love in
the match, unless it were on the weaker side. She, however, on
returning and learning the true state of affairs, broke off the
engagement for the sake of her aunt, and likewise to preserve the good
name of the Monaughs. The sacrifice of a lover was not a very serious
matter then; Eighteen has time and opportunity, Forty has neither.

Gerald eloped with Helen, and Johanna fled to the Yeerong. That episode
had long ago died out, and Miss Monaugh thought that if Fortune did not
attend her now she could return to Nanango without fear of any
humiliation. Having come to this definite conclusion, she rose and put
away her letters. It was past midnight when she retired to her virtuous
couch to dream of Aleck, who just now appeared to be her last desperate
hope. She always called him Aleck in Dreamland. Once he had kissed her
there. Others had kissed her, too. Ah; the lovers she had known--in her
sleep.

Once she had been nearly married. She stood at the altar with--she could
never think who the man was; someone she had picked up on the way to
church. There was no church in Dumboon and no parson. The postmaster
officiated in matrimonial matters. But she was sure this place was a
church. She stood in her bridal robes--resplendent, triumphant. The
parson opened his book, and was about to grant the license demanded by
Mother Grundy when in waltzed Biddy.

"Phwat the divil's this she cried," aghast.

"Sh, woman!" said the parson.

"God be good to us!" Biddy exclaimed. "Is it a dirty Chow she's goin'
to wed!"

"Jo looked round, and was horrified to see beside her a grinning
Mongolian, with shaven head and pig-tail as long as a cable--the ugliest
Chinaman she had ever looked at. Then she saw that she, too, wore a
pig-tail, and the two were tied together. This was the nuptial knot,
only wanting to be drawn tight to make them one until the Divorce Court
doth them part. But the bubble burst, and next day she almost hated
Biddy. As it was only in Dreamland it didn't matter what her husband
was. She felt that Biddy had robbed her of a great opportunity of
judging. It was just what Biddy would do, in any case.

CHAPTER XIV.

On the day appointed Mark set out for Druton Hill. He walked slowly,
his eyes bent on the ground in meditation. So many things had happened
during the last few weeks, and a great deal more was expected to happen
in the near future. Strange to say, his mother held the foremost place
in his thoughts. He wondered how she was getting on all alone in that
big house, and half regretted, in spite of all he had said to Leonard
and Miss Monaugh, that he had not been more patient and considerate.

In an uncertain mood he climbed the hill. From west to south he could
trace the sinuous course of the Yeerong, and on the flat he saw Leonard
and Liela, arm-in-arm, approaching Druton garden from the hill. They
got into a trap, and he watched them drive away in the direction of
Murrawang. They had evidently left the summit but a few minutes before
he reached it. They would soon be husband and wife, and Mark thought of
the approaching nuptials with horror. They would want him to be best
man, or something, and he would rather see Leonard lose his girl than
go through that ordeal just now. He had a notion of shifting from
Nolan's Hut into some unfrequented jungle, and lying low until the
trouble was over. It did seem annoying that a man could not take a wife
to his bosom without so much fuss and bother.

Just then he descried Aunt Jo coming from Fairymede, and observed the
patient Myles dodging about after the calves. They met in the little
home paddock but Mark did not know what was said till long afterwards.

"Goin' up hill, Jo?" said Myles, interrogatively. Jo said she was.

"Will you see un there, think you?" Myles continued.

"Oh, yes," she answered. "He won't fail to keep his appointment. That
is one good point in Mark Keaton."

"I like un," Myles declared. "Like un to marry my little gel. Where be
she?"

"I expect to meet her on the hill. She's been spending the day with
Liela."

"So she be," Myles agreed. "I want to get un away from here, Jo.
Leonard an' Liela will take un on they honeymoon. That 'ull be summat.
Baint enough, though." He edged nearer. "Y' see, Biddy wants to yoke un
on to Mac, cos he's got a pun or two. Mus'n let un do that, Jo. 'D
ruther see un tied to Crackshot!"

"Don't you worry, Myles. Mr M'Gurren will never marry Etty." Aunt Jo
spoke with a firmness that reassured Mr Lethcote.

"Good!" he said, his eyes twinkling with pleasure. "Good on you, Jo. Do
'ee think she an' Mark will make a match on't?"

"Oh, yes," said Jo. "I know she likes him."

"An' him?"

"He's dead gone on her."

"Good!" said Myles, rubbing his hands. "Do yer best for un, Jo. If un
want t' 'ave a word alone wi' Etty--why, let'n 'ave it."

"Certainly."

"N' if un seem bit backward, Jo, why--" He nudged her meaningly with his
elbow. "Help un along, Jo. 'D ruther see it fixed up 'fore un goes
away. An' Biddy won't know nowt on't."

"It will give me pleasure," said the spinster, "to spoil her little
schemes. She's treated Ethel very badly. Poor child! For her sake I
have often regretted that you married that woman."

"Drat un," said Myles, who also regretted that circumstance. "She
bewitched me, Jo. Dunno how. She baint a takin' sort--when 'ee come to
look at her. . . I didn't know you so well then, Jo. If I was single--"

"Never mind that, Myles. It's too late now."

"So 'tis, drat'n all. Mought live long while yet too," said Myles,
reflectively. "But we make, un chew cold cabbage yet, I'll warrant."

He went on with his calves, and Mark from his coign of vantage watched
the spinster treading cautiously through the grass. She had a horror of
snakes. She encountered them frequently, but, beyond further surprising
them with a sharp scream, and an impromptu skip and hop, did them no
harm. Such circumstances, however, were detrimental to Miss Monaugh,
for horrible snake dreams was the inevitable result to each encounter,
and Aleck was never at hand to pull the reptiles off her. At times she
would stop short, or spring aside, and when it transpired that the
cause of her trepidation was only a crooked stick, resume her way in
the same preoccupied manner. Mark smiled at her groundless alarms and
unnecessary caution. He liked the old maid. Despite her many
shortcomings, she was a good woman in the main. Presently his attention
was diverted by a sweet voice singing in the scrub. He listened. The
trilling notes drew nearer, and the voice became more familiar. He
heard the words--

'Twas the last rose of summer,
Left blooming, alone;
All her lovely companions
Are withered and gone--"

Long, long ago he had heard that song, and then it was from the lips of
Ethel. Surely it was her voice he heard now! Jo had promised to bring
Ethel with her. Perhaps she had formed some plan for a reconciliation,
and caused Ethel to precede her for that purpose. She had assured him
that Ethel would he glad to see him.

He started forward, knowing the meeting must naturally be a trifle
embarrassing for both, and determined to have it over before Jo
arrived. His blood pump worked prodigiously as he approached the
outskirts of the scrub, and heard her step on the withered leaves. A
scrub, with its dulled light, its commingling of aromas, its bird
notes, and everlasting greenery, was a delightful place to meet a
pretty girl in. He quickened his pace, but an unsympathetic lawyer vine
gripped him and tore his immaculate courting pants. The next moment
Ethel emerged from the screening foliage, holding her hat by a ribbon
in one hand, and a bunch of ferns in the other. Her cheeks went pink at
the sight of him. Beyond that she evinced no surprise. On the other
hand, Mark was shy, and felt awkwardly out of place.

"I've been hunting for ferns," she explained.

The ice was broken, and she spoke with a suavity that encouraged him.

"I know where there are some pretty ones--if you will come," he
rejoined.

"It's too late now," said Ethel. "Perhaps another day we shall have
more time."

This was promising, at all events. Mark was in a measure delighted.

"I'm waiting for my aunt," Ethel continued. "I--I suppose you're looking
for Leonard?"

"Oh--not exactly! Er--your aunt's coming up the track," Mark stammered.
"Shall we go and meet her?"

"We'll go to the top of the hill if you like."

There was considerable restraint yet on both sides; so different from
the freedom of past days.

They climbed slowly up the hill in silence, and when they had almost
reached the top he spoke with an abruptness that startled her.

"Ethel, did you intend that I should accept the answer you gave me at
the bridge as final?"

She did not speak.

"You'll excuse my speaking of it again," he continued tremulously. "I'm
going away--soon--perhaps for good."

"Where are you going?" she asked in a low voice.

"North."

"Over the border?"

"Far over. I thought I might have taken you unawares--that you spoke
without knowing your true feelings," he said, reverting to the vital
point. "I think--I was dear to you once. Am I to understand that I am no
longer so?"

"No, Mark," Ethel replied. "I'll always be your dearest friend--"

"What's the use of that?" Mark interrupted, desperately. "I love you,
Ethel--passionately. My whole future's centred in you."

They had reached the top of the hill, and stood face to face in the
shadow of an ironbark. She was grinding a leaf into the ground with the
ferrule of her parasol. He took the gloved hand in which she held the
bunch of ferns, and placed his arm around her shoulders.

"Ethel, do you care for me?--I know you do!" he cried passionately.

She felt his lips suddenly touch her cheek, and drew away abashed. The
ferns were scattered at their feet.

"Oh, Mark--Mr--"

"No, no; call me Mark. Ethel, dearest, you are mine!" He bent over her.
"It's your father's wish that you should be my bride."

"He never told me so," Ethel answered. "It would be his downfall."

A change came over Mark. They were standing a little apart again.

"You are determined," he said, "to marry money?"

"I haven't determined anything. I'm too young yet. Money alone can save
my father."

"And if that money is forthcoming?"

"I am free!"

He clutched her arm in a fierce grip that made her wince.

"Ethel, tell me frankly, do you love me or not?"

"Oh, do not ask me! Let me go!"

"Mar--Mr Keaton, you are hurting me."

She was frightened. Her lips trembled as she straggled vainly to free
herself. Her hat was hanging from her hair; her parasol lay on the
ground.

"Tell me--I will know!" cried Mark wildly. "Do you wish to cast me from
you for ever?"

"It would be better so."

"That's what your judgment tells you. But your heart--Can you say under
heaven you do not love me?"

Silence. He turned her so that she faced him.

"Ethel, can you?"

"N--no--"

"Then you are mine--mine! Nothing will ever tear you from me--nothing!"

He clasped her fiercely to him, and covered her face with kisses.
Ethel, breathless and trembling, lay limp and unresisting in his arms.
He lifted her face gently; And then, like a timid child, she looked up
with swimming eyes, hesitated--then put her lips to his. And while they
stood there, intoxicated with the lingering sweetness of love's first
thrilling kiss, Miss Monaugh, who had crept up behind the tree, her own
heart palpitating, surprised them. Ethel broke away, blushing. Mark,
flushed and excited, looked blankly at the elder lady.

"I am glad!" she said, simply. She grasped his hand. Ethel turned away
to pick up her ferns.

"It's all right now?" she added in a whisper. "I told you so, didn't I?
Ah! I had an opportunity of judging."

Mark clutched her arm. His manner, wild and strange, startled her.

"All right now?" he repeated. "Miss Monaugh--My God, I've bought her!"

She thrust him rudely aside. "Fool!" she whispered fiercely. Then, as
Ethel came forward: "My dear child, let me congratulate you. I am
exceedingly glad. You have realised your father's fondest wish. God
bless you!"

She kissed her, then walked away to gather some flowers she didn't
want. She gathered them till sundown, and sat on a log by herself,
arranging them till dusk.

As the dusk deepened she led them slowly homeward, watching the ground
for snakes, and never saying a word. At the sliprails, opening into the
little home paddock, she spoke:

"We will leave you here, Mark. Good-bye!"

And again she turned away to let them kiss good-night.

CHAPTER XV.

Tuesday was an eventful day. Leonard and Liela were that morning united
in the holy bonds of matrimony. Miss Monaugh was not present at the
ceremony, but presided over the breakfast table in the big room at
Murrawang, where the gentility of Dumboon and most of the Hill's folk
were assembled. She was a gorgeous quantity of white satin, paint and
frizzled hair, and smiled upon everybody with the utmost Urbanity. To
Widow Keaton and George Wrightson, whose presence was due to the
courtesy of Mrs Battye, she was particularly gracious, and she had
successfully contrived to effect a reconciliation between the former
and her son. The widow was penitent, and begged him to return home.

"It's so lonely," she said. "I'll go mad If I stop there much longer.
I've got Sarah from th' Dairy stayin' with me now. Such a one to talk
an' sing y'r never heard. When I'm too busy to mind her, she'll sit an'
crotchet like anything, with th' music box goin' all the time--for hours
at a stretch. She makes things hum a bit, she do. But th' house don't
seem th' same with no man in it. Seems dead an' holler. Abe Watts comes
some nights, but he only comes after Sarah. An' they sit out on the
log, muggin' and titterin' till all hours. Come 'ome an' get a good job
on th' crick. Don't be a fool."

But Mark said he had already made arrangements to go to Brisbane, and
would be off in a few days. She didn't mention the subject again. Mark
was headstrong, and at a time like this she did not wish to run the
risk of another quarrel. He had been down in the dumps all the morning.
A long separation from his sweetheart, but recently won, was a matter
that weighed heavily on a man like Mark. Ethel was going away with the
newly-married couple, and it would be months before he would see her
again at Fairymede, even should circumstances enable him soon to return
to his old haunts.

Shortly he went in search of her. He found her with Miss Monaugh and
Liela at the side of the buggy, which stood waiting, with old Myles
standing at the heads of the horses. He drew her aside.

"I'm glad you're going away from here," he said softly; "and yet--I
can't tell you how sorry I am to part from you so soon. We've been
engaged such a little while."

"But we'll soon see each other again," said Ethel, more hopefully. "You
are going away yourself, and I consider it a blessing I am not left
here alone with that horrid old man. I know mother is watching us now.
She doesn't like to see us together."

Miss Monaugh, having taken leave of Leonard and Liela, now came back to
the lovers. She had opened her umbrella, and, holding it so that it
screened them from view of all but a few in front whom they did not
mind, said: "There now, no one will be the wiser. I know you wanted to--
both of you. Kiss her, Mark--Lors, child, how you blush!"

Still Ethel did not mind Aunt Jo; she was a motherly old person. But it
seemed to her improper to kiss a man before the eyes of others. But
there was no help for it. They could not be further screened, and she
could not leave Mark with a simple handshake. Their lips met, lingered
rapturously, tremulously; then she hurriedly disengaged herself from
his embrace, and treating her aunt to a stage kiss (which was too quick
for the spinster, who only smacked at the air as Ethel was drawing
back), sprang nimbly into the vehicle. It was all over in a moment, yet
many eyes had witnessed the erotic scene, and ere another day had
passed, half as many tongues had told the tale, and by the end of the
week all Dumboon and all the Yeerong knew that Ethel Lethcote was
betrothed to Mark Keaton.

The bridal party were delayed by the over-generous Biddy, who brought
out a tubful of grapes, and insisted on stowing them in the buggy.

"There's no tellin' but ye might get hungry an' thirsty on the road
where there's no shanty to be callin' at. The fust day do make ye
thirsty, an' there's nuthin' like a grape or two to give relafe to a
body, so there isn't. I'm sure the horse can pull thim. Just shtick
thim undher the sate, you bosthoon. There that's it. Couldn't ye've
done that before? Now, off you go, an' good luck be wid the lot of
you."

"Good-bye, Liela," said Mrs Battye kissing her daughter. "You'll come
an' see me sometimes, drat--" And then she burst into tears; and while
she was still "sniffin'," as Mrs Keaton stoically remarked, they drove
off through a shower of old boots, shoes slippers and rice. The horses
reared and plunged, and all the old hens and ducks came cackling and
quacking after the scattered grain.

"God save us th' mokes have bolted!" Biddy was heard to exclaim above
the general laughter. "Avast, ye bosthoons, don't ye see they've
bolted! Howld 'em tight, acushla."

"They're a' richt, mistress," was the reassuring response from Mr
M'Gurren. "Dinna see th' lad i' whoppin' them oop ta get oot o' th'
fire?"

"Aye," said Myles, chipping in. "There's nowt to be feared on when
Leonard got holt o' the reins. He'll pull un back, I'll warrant."

"It's a hidiotic pro-sading, anyway." Biddy persisted. "I can't see how
it's lucky to get a whack on the shpine, or a clout on the jaw wid an
owld boot. Where's the luck come in at all?"

"I dinna ken, mistress," said M'Gurren, his eyes on the departing trio.
"Maybe Misstress Keaton can telt us o' the guid that i' in't?"

"I dunno eny good in it," was the prompt rejoinder. "I think it 'ud be
more sensible to toast 'em 'an to pelt 'em with shoe-leather."

"There ye've sed it!" Mr Wrightson affirmed. "Them's my sentiments to a
T."

When the principals had disappeared the guests gathered in knots to
discuss the prospects of the marriage. Many stayed all day, dancing and
merrymaking, but the greater number made an early move for home. Among
these were the Fairymede people. Mr Wrightson and his intended bride
stayed to "see it out," the former being ultimately removed under
protest to the Red Road. Biddy and Myles drove back in the dogcart, but
Mr M'Gurren and Miss Monaugh elected to walk.

The spinster had enjoyed herself immensely and was in a very good
humour. From Murrawang to Fairymede was a long walk, but she would
gladly have walked it a dozen times over under the same conditions. The
presence of Mr M'Gurren seemed to lessen the distance by half, and
rendered her proof against fatigue.

"Did you ever notice, Mr M'Gurren," she said, "that one marriage always
leads to another, and very often two or three? This one will be no
exception. It's a certainty that at least three more weddings will be
coming off shortly."

"Heigh, lass, that's guid for Dumboon! Wha are th' parties?"

"The first, I think, will be Abe Watts and Sarah from the Dairy. Abe is
an old acquaintance of mine. The next won't be very far from
Fairymede."

"Ah!" said Aleck, looking slyly at the old maid. "Is it yesel' that wul
gang ta the altar in a breedal robe?"

Miss Monaugh sighed. "Oh, no," she answered. "Nobody would take that
much interest in me. I am left in the cold. I'm afraid I am getting too
old and faded."

She was fishing for a compliment, but the laird was not a gallant man.

"Aye, lass," he rejoined. "I'm afeart your time hae slipit awa'. Ye're
ta auld for the young ones noo."

Miss Monaugh shut her parasol with a snap, and drove it viciously into
the ground at every step. "They are not all young," she said, tartly.
"I know some old men who would marry, but somehow they have an
intemperate desire to wed youth. That is very wrong. Age and youth
cannot connubially cooperate happily. It would blight a young girl's
life like a touch of frost on a summer flower. There is nothing of that
nature in the matches to which I allude. Mrs Keaton is a middle aged
woman--a widow and in George Wrightson she has chosen one in her proper
sphere--a man in every way suited to be her husband."

"Is't true they're ta be marrit?"

"Quite true."

"Ah cudna believe it."

"Why not?"

"He's sich an awfu' drunkard. He'll swallow oop Gimbo in whusky afore a
twa'-month."

"I can assure you he'll do nothing of the kind. Widow Keaton will keep
him under control--and reform him."

"I hope she wul, lass. I hope she wul," said M'Gurren, with the air of
one who believed that she wouldn't.

"Wha i' the other coople?" he inquired a moment later.

"Mark Keaton--"

"Mark Keaton! Losh," cried M'Gurren, laughing outright. His levity
aggravated the dignified Miss Monaugh.

"Indeed, Mr M'Gurren," she said, with some acerbity, "I can see nothing
to laugh at. There's' nothing ludicrous in Mark getting married. He's
the finest looking man on the Yeerong."

"That's richt enough. Buit what's the guid o' a mon bein' fine lookin'
if he canna keep himsel'? The lad i' verra poor."

"Oh, what's the use of talking!" cried the spinster with an impatient
shrug. M'Gurren's frequent references to Mark's poverty irritated her.
"I have told you," she continued, "that Mark has prospects. He'll be a
rich man before many years--and a great man. While a man is down keep
him down is the motto of a good many, and I am sure it's no credit to
them. Poor men, particularly the working class, are often of the most
sterling worth. I can't say so much for the majority of the rich. They
have no sympathy with their less fortunate fellows. I've had an
opportunity of judging." She paused for an instant while she again put
up her parasol. "Yes," she resumed, "I consider Mark, from a social
standpoint, the most eligible parti on the creek. He'll be the most
envied, too, for his betrothed is sans pareil."

"Canna telt a body her name, lass?" said M'Gurren, pettishly.

"Oh, yes, certainly. But you must promise me faithfully that you will
tell no one. Their little affaire d'amour is only known to a select
few, and we' don't want it to reach Mrs Lethcote's ears above all
persons. Do you promise?"

"Aye--dinna fear I'll telt ony one."

"You know, Mr M'Gurren, Mark and my niece were reared within coo-ee of
each other. They were playmates together, schoolmates together--and
naturally became much attached to each other. It is very gratifying,
therefore, to reflect that a union so auspiciously begun in childhood,
and deepened into the warmest affection they grew to man and woman--"

"The Lud bless us--"

"Mark and Ethel are now engaged," Miss Monaugh concluded imperturbably.

"Engeeged ta be marrit!" her companion gasped, stopping short, and
regarding her with kindling eyes. In the expression of his face one saw
a mingling of incredulity, surprise and dismay, as when a thing long
sought and looked upon as a certainty is suddenly blown away like a
straw in a gale. With his broad acres, his fine house and magnificent
gardens, his huge fortune, and the all-powerful, indomitable Biddy to
back him, he had made dead sure of Ethel. He had not pressed himself
upon her of late. He had proposed to her, and she had not rejected him;
she had promised to acquaint him of her decision on the day when she
would be twenty years of age. He had admitted the reasonableness of her
wish not to become a wife before she had grown out of her teens. He did
not expect that. Therefore her request had been met with a ready
acquiescence. Since then he had been given no cause to complain, and
had met with no rebuffs from Ethel. She had been the same towards him
as formerly, and he had been satisfied. But Miss Monaugh had thrown
another light upon the matter, and a great fear permeated him that some
intrigue was at work. Either Ethel was false and tricky, or Miss
Monaugh was a designing minx, bent upon working out some villainous
scheme having for its object the advancement of her own precious ends.
He was afraid of Miss Monaugh. She had a way of saying and doing things
that discomfited him. Besides, she had been courting him outrageously,
which gave him the impression that she had a hankering after his money,
but for which she would think no more of him than she did of the
meanest of the scrubbers. In reality, Miss Monaugh was not of a sordid
turn of mind. She merely had an antipathy for the condition of an old
maid. Had another, qualified by approximation of age and social
standing to her own, presented himself within reasonable distance of
Fairymede, she would have angled for him as energetically as she did
for the Laird of Tillalee. She had made up her mind to acquaint him of
Ethel's engagement that he might understand the hopelessness of his
suit, and give a little more of his attention to her. It was out now,
and her heart was in a flutter; yet she was a strong woman.

"Yes," she answered, "I believe they will be married about the end of
the year. By then he should be drawing an income sufficient to keep her
in comparative comfort. He's not so 'varra poor' as you imagine. He
will be rich, take it from me. I've had an opportunity of judging."

"If he is a mon," said M'Gurren, angrily, "he wad bide a wee, an' get
marrit whun he cam' inta th' big fortune ye talk aboot. Whee shud he
marry on naething whun he may hae enough for a' if he wad bide a wee?
He hasna got a hame ta tak her ta--"

"Oh, yes, Mr M'Gurren," Miss Monaugh interrupted. "He will shortly come
into possession of a splendid property."

"Whaur aboot? Wha hast noo?"

"Oh," said the spinster, looking straight ahead, "that's a matter I am
not yet at liberty to divulge."

M'Gurren eyed her suspiciously.

"I've hud aboon that afore, lass, buit I doot it--I varra, muckle doot
it."

"Of course you do," said Miss Monaugh, crossly. "You have a grudge
against him, and it wouldn't suit your purpose to see him come into
property."

Aunt Jo was quit content to let the matter rest at that, and she was
glad when Amelia Jane suddenly shot across in front of them on the old
grey pony.

"Did yer see Strawberry enywhere?" she called out, slackening for an
instant.

"I dinna ken onything aboot un," M'Gurren snapped.

"He's a blister'd swine, that Strawberry. 'S always away, an' nobody
never sees him," Amelia Jane complained, as she whacked the grey into
his paces again. Aunt Jo stopped dead, with a sudden straightening of
her shoulders, and stared after Miss Johnson with her mouth open.

"That woman has a vulgar tongue," M'Gurren commented.

"Dear me!" Miss Monaugh said, and walked on.

During the rest of the way M'Gurren, contrary to his usual custom, was
taciturn and thoughtful whilst Miss Monaugh chatted about the wedding
festivities, the dresses and the presents, and such congenial topics.
She could afford to discourse on such matters; she felt that she had
gained another point, and was nearer the state of matrimony than she
had been for a long time.

CHAPTER XVI.

A dark and stormy night, with heavy rain clouds hovering overhead and
low rumblings of thunder in the distance. The windows and doors at
Fairymede were barred against the fierce wind. The willows bowed and
sighed, and the dead leaves fell in showers. A night to hug the
fireside, yet two figures stood under the swaying branches by the
bridge. Both were closely muffled, and their cloaks flapped and twined
like living things about their legs. They were a man and a woman, and
that woman was Miss Monaugh. In one hand she held a huge umbrella; in
the other a bull's-eye lantern.

"Jumpin' Jemima! this is a lovely night to bring a feller out in." the
man grumbled. "Couldn't yer leave it till ter-morrer?"

"No. I want a hundred pounds before six o'clock to-morrow morning. I
have nowhere to get it but there; an; as no one must know of this
plant, it must be accomplished to-night at all hazards. Have you got
the tools?"

"They're 'ere."

"Then get to work. The sooner it's done the better. It shouldn't take
you very long."

"Dunno so much about that. I ain't a steam engine. Aint got eyes like a
mopoke neither. How's a feller to see what he's a doin', I'd like ter
know?"

Miss Monaugh turned on the light, which enabled her companion to find
the pick and shovel he had been groping for.

"Where's the spot--the eggs-akt spot, mindger. I ain't goin' to turn the
whole darned paddick upside down lookin' fort. 'F I don't drop plump on
to't fust shot I claims another fiver. That's straight wire."

"Now George, don't be unreasonable. Five pounds will pay you very well.
And, bear in mind, I didn't bring the storm."

"No one sed you did. But you ought 'ave knowed 'twas comin'. I could
see it dinner time when them white fleeces was bowlin' up from back o'
Dumboon."

"Well, I couldn't."

"That's queer. Warnt so sudding that you couldn't 'ave 'ad a
hopportunity o' judgin'."

"I don't take any interest in the weather, George."

"Don't it stir up your pet corns when there's rain comin'?" George
inquired. "It do mine."

"For all that," Miss Monaugh proceeded, ignoring the rudeness of her
companion, "I am sorry it has turned out so unpropitious for us--"

"Unpro-whater?"

"So unfavourable," Miss Monaugh explained.

"Wal," growled George, who was in a cantankerous mood, "why couldn't
yer say so. What's th' use o' chuckin' yer jaw-breakers at me? Jumpin'
Jemima, if this aint a bull-snorter of a black perisher, tell me."

"At the worst," said Miss Monaugh in a conciliatory tone, "we'll only
get a drenching if it does rain. We're not sugarsticks that will melt.
And there's a chance of its holding off till we're finished--if you
would only get to work. Look at the time we're wasting!"

"Where's the eggs-akt spot, that's the question?" Miss Monaugh gave a
little cough, and commenced to examine the root of the tree under which
they were standing. "Have you the axe?" she asked.

"Holy wars!" he exclaimed. " 'S not stuck under that spiflicated tree,
is it?"

"Fair under that tree, George."

"Wal, that's a nice go if yer like."

"I'm afraid you'll have to grub it out. It has such a cluster of roots
that to undermine it would take too long. A pity--a great pity! But
there's no help for it. It must come out."

George swallowed an oath. Then he said "Look 'ere, Jo, this is a bit
sudding. There was nuthin' about tree-grubbin' in the contrak, an'
'less the terms is altered I'm goin' ter strike. Why, 't'ill take ter
Sunday mornin' to finish it an' I doesn't work on Sunday. Make no error
about that. I wants a fair deal, else we'll 'ave to squash the
'greement an' go 'ome. Them's my sentiments. So there you are."

"Goodness me" cried Miss Monaugh crossly, "what an aggravating fellow
you are. If I give you a hundred pounds, what would be the use of it to
you? You'd only go and drink it."

"An' what's it to do with you if I did? What do you want with th'
money, eh? I'll tell yer. You wants to buy off a rival, so yer ken cop
old spooneywinks. See! I'm up to you. So jes' fork out, an' none o' yer
funny bizness. Aint I kep' yer secret all these years so them bobtail
swells wouldn't sniff at yer? What 'ud they say if they knowed--"

"George!"

"That's me!"

"We can dispense with speculations of that kind--please."

"Right-o. Stump up, an' I'm dumb. What's th' bargain?"

Miss Monaugh picked up her skirts, and fidgeted with the lantern. She
was very angry, but to some extent succeeded in controlling her temper.

"If you get me that money in one hour," she said, I'll--I'll double the
honorarium though I must say it's very extortionate."

" 'Onor-rary-orum! Ex-tor-shin-it! Purty good, them!" George mumbled as
he peeled off his coat. "One hour, eh? Yer too sudding, Jo--too
sudding!"

With these vague expressions the dilatory George spat on his hands and
rubbed them together. "Ye'll soon 'ave yer darbies on it, Jo," he said,
more agreeably. "I ken work like anything when I start."

The first, half-hour made little impression on the matted roots, which
appeared to defy the repeated assaults of pick and axe. Miss Monaugh
stood by, holding the light, now breaking the monotony with little
coughs, now humming fragmentary songs, to keep up her patience. At last
George, with a long sigh, stood up to straighten his back. He leaned on
his pick handle, and looked at his companion.

"What th' buckjumpin' adder did he shove it under there for? Must 'ave
'ad white ants or beetles in his socks, or something."

"I beg your pardon?" said Miss Monaugh, icily.

"Beg yer parding!" George repeated with scorn, and spat on his hands
again--impressively.

"George," said Miss Monaugh, sternly, "you should speak respectfully of
the dead."

"He showed respect for th' livin', didn't he?" George retorted. "He
helped me when I come 'ere fust, didn't he? Him with his thousands; me
without a shirt to me back. What was th' use of it to him after all?
Had t'leave it behind him. So will you. An' who'll get it? Who'll 'ave
th' pleasure o' splashin' it up? That herrin'-gutted' old geyser, I
s'pose?"

"George!"

"That's me!"--calmly.

"You--you're insulting!"

"I ken understand a man plantin' spuds," George went on; "but good
money. . . . That ain't the aggreeculture wot pays, Jo. You make no
error. Why don't yer splash it up an' enjoy yerself? I'd help yer--
willingly."

Without waiting for a reply he drove the axe into the roots with a
vicious thud. Minutes passed. George worked hard, now with the pick,
now with the axe, till at last, with the assistance of a gust of wind,
the tree came down. The second thrust of the pick in the hollow struck
the iron box in which the treasure was secreted. With a little leverage
he hauled it out, and Miss Monaugh, with much show of excitement and
exultation, proceeded to inspect it.

She had hardly scraped the clay off the rust-eaten top when she heard a
footfall close behind her, and, springing round, threw the light full
upon the face of an unexpected intruder. One glimpse of his face
sufficed, and both uttered an involuntary exclamation on recognising
Mark Keaton!

For a moment he stood looking from one to the other, and from them to
the tree they had felled. Then he said, in a voice husky with anger:

"Miss Monaugh, what is the meaning of this? Why are you destroying my
property in this ruthless manner?"

"It had to be destroyed, Mark," said Miss Monaugh, desperately. "I'll
explain directly."

"That won't replace the tree. I wouldn't have had it destroyed for a
hundred pounds. It was under that very tree my father sat the last time
he was here. And didn't Eustace, perched in its branches, sing to you,
'Woodmen, Spare That Tree?' And you've cut it down!"

He almost choked, and Miss Monaugh knew from experience that his eyes
were filled with tears.

"Oh, Mark, I'm sorry--I couldn't help it--it had to be done--"

She stopped, panting. Then she turned to the dark figure crouching
against the fallen trunk. "George, I wish you would gather up these
implements and--and go home."

"Go home!" repeated the low, deep voice of Kilfloggin. "That's what we
say to dorgs--Go home! That's my thanks. An' yet we's--old acquaintances!
Too sudding, Jo, too sudding!"

When he had gone Mark said, as he took up the box at its owner's
request: "Is that man a special friend of yours?"

"N--no!" she replied, with a hesitation that Mark did not fail to
notice. "I employed him to do this work for me."

"To uproot my favourite tree for this worthless box," said Mark,
reproachfully. "Jo, you have done me an injury."

"Oh, Mark, don't say that! At least, say it is reparable."

"How can it be? If the tree were replanted it would wither and die. I
can only preserve its precious wood. Even that must be entrusted to
other hands, for I'm going away in the morning. That's why I am here
tonight. My mother asked me to come and have tea with her. I wish now I
hadn't come."

"Mark, listen to me," said Miss Monaugh. She was almost crying. "That
box isn't so worthless as you think. It contains a--a thousand pounds in
gold."

"Good heavens! Are you so rich?"

At other times Mark would not have been so impertinent as to ask such a
question; he was carried away by the astounding announcement of the
opulence of the spinster whom he had always regarded as being in
straitened circumstances, and dependent on her relatives.

"Yes, she replied. "I am passably rich, though nobody knows it, and I
can well afford to give you a hundred pounds for the damage I have
done. I intended from the first to give you that, as I could not get my
money without injuring you. You need it too. It will enable you to
bring out your book. So you may consider it a streak of good luck."

Mark was silent and thoughtful, and Miss Monaugh realised with pleasure
that she had succeeded in accomplishing her generous wish without
hurting his sensitive feelings.

"Now," she continued, with something of her usual buoyancy, "I'll give
you this sum before you go away, so that you won't be under any
inconvenience. And I must ask you as a favour not to betray the
perpetrators of that deed, or reveal your knowledge of the facts. Old
Biddy would be ramping if she knew the truth. Myles and I will cut up
the wood and preserve it for you and I'll plant a sprig of the old tree
on the same spot, and it will have a history more important than the
others. Ten years hence, when you are master of Gimbo, and a man of
wealth and fame, let us hope, you may sit under its branches and tell
the tale to your little wife, and thank me for cutting down the old
one."

"That sounds like a fairy tale," said Mark. "Too good to be true."

"We mustn't talk any more," she whispered. "I want you to sneak that
into my room for me as quietly as possible. I'll have to hide it in my
big box."

The storm burst on them before they reached the house, and two
miserably wet creatures crept in like burglars going to crack a crib.
He put the box down by the side of Jo's spotless bed, while she brought
out a bottle of wine. The room smelt of lavender, and it was cosy and
warm. A sleek-coated cat (pet and comfort of the old maid) purred
drowsily on a white goat-skin; and on her dressing table stood a
statuette of the Virgin Mary.

"You're the only man that's ever been in here," she remarked, with a
blushful smile as she handed him a nobbler-glass.

Mark drank it off and left hurriedly.

* * * * * *

Early as it was, Miss Monaugh was in Dumboon before the coach departed
with Mark on the box seat. He went away with a radiant face, and she
returned to Fairymede in time for breakfast, conscious that she had
been of service to at least one fellow creature.

CHAPTER XVII.

"Are ye goin' out this mornin', Jo?"

"Yes, Biddy. I'm going over to Widow Keaton's," Miss Monaugh replied as
she came in to breakfast, her hair in curl papers. It was nearly nine
o'clock, and Biddy was completing the table arrangements. Mr Lethcote
was in the garden, "potterin' about." Biddy did all the morning work
indoors, and Miss Monaugh officiated during the rest of the day. The
scrubbing, washing, and such laborious work was done by a black gin--the
only servant Biddy could afford nowadays.

"Sure, I knew ye were off for a galivant," said Biddy, with an arch
smile, which she generally put on when in a good humour. " 'Tis aisy to
tell whin I see you bobbin' about like a paper facthory. It bates me
phwat you see in frizzlin' yer thatch so. 'Twould look as well in a
plait."

"Ah!" the spinster sighed, pressing back a rebellious curl over her
ear. "My hair is a great trouble to me since Etty's gone. It takes such
a time, and is so tiresome and awkward."

" 'Tis a waste of time, it seems to me," said Biddy. "Takes somethin'
more'n a bit of curly hair to do the thrick. So it do."

"Really, Biddy, you try me out of all patience," cried Miss Monaugh,
testily. "According to your idea, I should cut my hair off and go
naked."

"Faith, ye'd be more attractive if ye did," Biddy answered.

Miss Monaugh tossed her head, a look of dull disdain in her face.

"An' ye're goin' over to Widow Keaton's?" Biddy pursued presently.

"I am," Miss Monaugh replied, nodding.

"Phwat in th' world are ye goin' over there for at all?"

"I arranged to meet George Wrightson there. I have a little business to
transact with him. Also, I wish to speak to them about the approaching
nuptials."

"Th' Lord save us! Is she goin' to make up to him?"

"Is he going to marry her, you mean. I don't know when it's to be, but
I shall know all about it before lunch."

"Of course you will. An' here I'm left to do all th' work an' Mr Lynton
comin' over for a day's fishin' wid th' old man. He's beginnin' to
ramble, to be sure. I s'pose he finds it lonesome like now Leonard's
gone."

"I suppose so," Miss Monaugh returned. "I'll be back for lunch, so
you'll have all the afternoon and evening to gossip with him."

" 'Tis yeself ought to be a little attractive to him," said Biddy.
"He's a decent man, an' rale good company, Jo."

"So are others," Jo replied, darkly. She picked up a serviette and
examined the ivory ring. Biddy brought the tea in and set it on the
side board.

"Sing out to the old man, Jo. He's clanin' th' flowers out of the wades
somewhere."

"Cleaning the weeds out of the flowers, you mean," Jo corrected.

"Indade I don't," said Biddy. "The old amhadaun dunno a flower from a
wade. He just makes a guess at it, an' 'tis a fade to a shmell he
guesses wrong. There was me bed o' what-d'yer-call-'ems, wid some
pigwade growin' in it. I showed him which was pigwade an' which was
what-d'yer-call'ems; an', bedad, whin I wint to see how he was gettin'
along wid his job, there was all me lovely what-d'yer-call-'ems pulled
up be th' roots, an' th' dirty pigwade left in the bed. Sure, the old
fool's goin' off his chump."


"Bat you must remember, Biddy," said Jo, more leniently, "Myles isn't
an experienced horticulturist. He does his best--"

"He do--in the distructin' line. That's about all. Sind a yell out o'
the windy there. Sure, the tay 'ill be cold, an' th' day's goin' an'
nothin' done."

Myles came in, wearing bo-yangs, and dragging his feet like a working
bullock. He sat down at the head of the table, took up the carving-
knife, examined it carefully, and ran his thumb along the edge.

"D'ye want th' grindstone?" asked Biddy, watchin' him with arms akimbo.

"Whar's steel?" asked Myles.

"In th' yard where ye left it whin ye killed lasht," said Biddy. " 'Tis
lucky yer head's screwed on. So it is."

Myles picked up another knife, and, having slashed the two together,
proceeded with the carving of a cold joint.

Breakfast over, Miss Monaugh immediately betook herself to Gimbo. The
punctual George was ensconced in a big, cushioned chair, toying with a
piece of cotton, while a kitten lay on its back at his feet clawing at
the lower end of it. Little things like that amused George. Already he
looked upon Gimbo house as his own, and made himself thoroughly at
home.

The widow was sitting at the sewing machine, preparing her own
trousseau, as Miss Monaugh remarked, on entering.

"I'm getting a few things ready," the widow admitted. "I've 'ardly got
a dress fit to go to a dog-fight in, an' yer want to look something
decent at a time like this."

"Of course," her visitor assented. "This is an occasion that occurs but
once in a lifetime to most people. With some, like yourself, for
instance, it--it repeats."

"Aye, George chipped in, "an' with some people it's a 'casion that
don't occur at all. Now, that's darn curious, ain't it?"

The spinster winced, and her dark eyes flashed angrily. "Getting ready
for marriage is a momentous thing for maidens," she went on: "They're
in a flurry all the while, and don't know half they want. With you, of
course, it's different. As I said, you've been married before, and know
by experience what's required."

"She's 'ad a hopportunity o' judgin', which you haven't, Jo," said
George. Jo pretended not to hear him, and went on in a dry, matter-of-
fact way:

"I'm very glad to hear that you have decided to change your name again,
and must take this opportunity of congratulating you. I'm sure I wish
you every happiness, though, I suppose, it will be a little hard for
you to lose the old home."

The widow shifted uneasily, and looked quickly at George, on whose face
there was a puzzled expression. It was no secret to Miss Monaugh that
George coveted the widow's property, that is, Gimbo homestead and
lands; nor was it unknown to her that he possessed nothing apart from
his teams and a small selection. She had an idea of helping him to
build, but that was a kernel that was not advanced enough to burst from
its casement yet.

But for his drinking and gambling proclivities, George might have been
a rich man. He repented sometimes, when he was alone, and his thoughts
took that course. But invariably he ended his cogitations with the
reflection that it was all in a lifetime, and a man might as well have
all the enjoyment he could while he lived. He would be a long while
dead.

Miss Monaugh smiled. She took it for granted that nothing now would
part them, and was confident of her ability to do with George as she
wished.

"What game now Jo?" asked that gentleman. Jo's only response was a
stony stare. The widow looked up, resting her arms on the stand of the
sewing machine.

"Did you ever see the will?" she asked.

"Often," Miss Monaugh replied. "You know, Mr Lethcote is one of the
executors."

"Yes--Lethcote; Brexton Battye an' Edwin Lynton. Don't you think it's a
fool of a will to go an' make?"

"Oh, dear no. I consider it very sensible will:"

"But where's the sense come in.?"

"Don't you see, your marrying again is to be considered as more
unfavourable than otherwise to your children. The property would be at
the mercy of your husband." She looked meaningly at George. "Mr Keaton
did quite right in protecting the interests of his sons; and he
naturally expected that, if you married again, you wouldn't require the
place, as your husband would provide a home for you."

"A bark hut in th' scrub," the widow sneered. "I reckon half th' wimen
are better single. They ken dress themselves decent, if they do 'ave to
go to service. An' they 'ave comfortable rooms, an' good tucker, an'
money of their own to spend as they like--go to a dance or a play, or
anywhere else, for th' matter o' that. But when they're married they've
scarce got a stitch to put on. Always in rags, always slavin' an' stuck
everlastin' in one place like a lamp-post."

"Of course, it's nice to have some independence, and fine clothes,"
Miss Monaugh assented. "But that isn't everything in the making of
happiness. Fine clothes, after all, are only dead adornments. There is
more satisfaction in having a man than stagnating in fine clothes."

"Now yev've said it, Jo," cried George, repeating it slowly to himself.
"Ruther like them sentiments. 'More sat'sfaction havin' a real live man
than bein' a stag eatin' fine clothes.' Must r'member that, Jo."

Jo looked at him with withering scorn.

"You was talkin' about a will," George resumed, unabashed. "Isn't this
place your'n, Mary?"

"Yes, 's long's I'm a widder, but when I chuck off the weeds it goes to
Mark."

"Do, it?"

The widow nodded.

"Why didn't yer say so before?"

"What's it matter?" the widow demanded. She faced him sharply. "Is it
me or the 'ouse you want?"

"You, of course!" George answered with emphasis. "But it kinder 'urts
me feelings to see th' old place goin' to him. He'll never work to keep
it together."

"Mark Keaton works harder than you do, George, and is already making
money," Miss Monaugh informed him.

"Must 'ave started purty recent," George remarked.

"Mark has always been diligent," Miss Monaugh reproved severely.

"I'm not sayin' enything agin his intelligence," George drawled. "He's
got enough o' that to keep away from hard graft. Him an' work fell out
at the fust go off. 'S regards splosh, I ain't got nuthin' to blow
about, but I'd back my forty years' gatherin' agin his, for all that."

"Yer might' fall in th' pot like yer did th' other day," the widow
snapped with sudden ire.

"Don't you make no error!" cried George, and his back seemed to
stiffen.

"Dear, dear!" said Miss Monaugh. "I hope you two are not going to
quarrel. It would be so inopportune. By the bye, when is the wedding to
be?"

"I dunno--an' I don't care," the widow snapped. "I don't see th' use o'
gettin' married at all." She turned over the hem of a dress, and ran it
under the needle. George drew a long face, and remained silent.

"I am sure you would be happier as George's wife than living here by
yourself," said Miss Monaugh, consolingly. "George, I must tell you, is
my cousin--"

"Your cousin!" the widow exclaimed; dropping her work. This was the
spinster's trump card.

"That knocks her!" said George, grinning. "Ruther surprises 'er to hear
as I'm 'ighly connected. Worst of it is," he added, scratching his
head, "they won't own me."

"Good gracious!" said the widow, somewhat conciliated. "I never knowed
that before."

"Nobody else knowed it. Jo took care of that."

"And I don't wish it to be known now till after the wedding," Miss
Monaugh rejoined. "You are so indecorous, George--"

"Jumpin' Jemimah!" cried George. I knowed I was a purty bad egg, but
never reckoned I was enything like that. In-de--what th' ---- is it agin?"

"I am ashamed of you," Miss Monaugh went on. "You are never
respectable; you make no effort to better yourself."

"You an' me warn't made for th' same track." George returned. "Ye're
doin' all right in this country, Jo. Don't you leave it."

"You are a plebeian. Your own family are ashamed of you," Miss Monaugh
continued severely.

"Dunno what a flea-bean is," said George, rubbing his chin. "As fer th'
High-an'-mightys bein' ashamed o' me, that's nuthin' new. I'm used to
that sort o' thing. 'Twouldn't surprise me if I was to be ashamed o'
meself someday."

"It would surprise me," Miss Monaugh declared with a brisk inclination
of the head. "You ought really to conduct yourself better--being my Aunt
Mary's child. Poor dear! Do you ever hear from her?"

"Me?" cried George, chuckling at the bare idea. "No," he drawled, "I
ain't quite stylish enough for them. Neither Crogans nor Wrightsons
ever trouble me."

"Your aunt was a Miss Crogan?" said the widow, addressing Miss Monaugh.
"Is she George's mother?"

"Unfortunately, she is."

"Dear me! To think of that now!" said the widow, musingly. "They, are
such high people, too, I've heard."

"I'll tell you how it happened," said Miss Monaugh, answering the
widow's inquiring gaze. "George was always a scapegrace. He ran away
from home when a boy--went off with a swagman. They travelled as father
and son, right away into the wilds of Queensland--"

Something like a muttered oath from George interrupted her. He ducked
suddenly, and whipped up the leg of his nether garment.

"What's bit yer?" the widow asked.

George screwed a bristly shank round and searched energetically under
the folded tweed, making a lightning grab at one place, and scratching
vigorously at another. "Flamin' bug or something's assaultin' me," he
said.

"There's no bugs 'ere--unless you brought 'em," the widow dissented.

"Must be a flea, then," George surmised, baring more leg. He had no
socks on.

"Might be fleas," the widow admitted. "Pincher's always layin' about
inside."

"George!" the spinster cried in shocked tones.

"That's me!"

"How dare you!"

George continued in pursuit of the insect. "Can't stand fleas," he
said. "Makes you feel like a blackfeller's dorg."

He had another exhaustive look round, then gave it up. "Must 'ave got
away," he concluded.

The spinster coughed softly, and resumed: "Mr Wrightson in the meantime
was searching high and low for Master George. He found him six years
after when overlanding with cattle. He was then stock-riding on a
station three hundred miles away from his home. He was brought back,
and everything was done to repair the evil effects of his wandering.
But George was not to be repaired. He soon ran away again. His father
followed him to the Dawson River, and there lost sight of him. Seven
years passed, and one day a ragged tramp called at Mr Wrightson's and
asked for a situation. A stray word or two aroused the old gentleman's
suspicions. 'Who are you?' he asked. 'Who are me?' cried the tramp.
'Well, that's pure, that is. Fetch out th' old woman an' see if she'll
say who are yer? She'd know me old hide if she seen it hangin' out on
th' fence. I'm George Wrightson!' It was indeed the prodigal son. His
father gave him some clothes and money, and told him to go. 'Go!' cried
George, abashed. 'Doncher want me?' 'No,' his father answered. 'You
have chosen your bed, so lie on it. Henceforth you are no son of mine.'
George smiled grimly. 'You--you're a bit sudding, old feller,' he said,
'too sudding.' He never went home again."

"Well, that beats all I ever heard!" said the widow, looking at George
in a new light. "You never said anything about that. What 'ave yer got
to say for ye' self?"

George jerked his thumb towards Miss Monaugh. "Ask Jo," he said.

"I forbade him to speak of it," she explained. "Now, of course, it
doesn't matter, so far as we are concerned. I considered it my duty to
inform you of these facts on hearing of your engagement. Now that you
know, I hope you don't think any the worse of him?"

"Worse, no! I think more of him. Ye're quite a hero, George--an' Miss
Monaugh's cousin, too! Well, I declare, if that ain't as good as I've
heard since I dunno when."

"At least," Miss Monaugh rejoined, "he's to be made a hero, for Mark's
book is founded on his adventures in the bush. He's the sundowner."

"How did Mark know?" asked the widow.

"I told him the adventures as being those of a Queensland acquaintance
of mine, and instructed him to take Kilfloggin as a model."

"Jumpin' Jemima!" cried George. "In a book--makin' fine speeches, doin'
wonders I couldn't manage nohow, an' muggin' some purty gel I never
knowed--Too sudding, Jo!"

"Do you really think he'll ever do any good at it?" the widow inquired
with a little enthusiasm; and Miss Monaugh was glad to see that there
was a little motherly pride in this woman after all.

"There is abundant reason to hope for the best results," Miss Monaugh
replied. "I've had an opportunity of judging."

The widow leaned meditatively on the machine, her hands interlaced,
staring into vacancy. Presently she said: "Mr M'Gurren was tellin' me
yesterday it was no use goin' into that sort of thing without capital."

"Mr M'Gurren!"

"He often comes here now. He's not a bad old sort, an' he amuses me th'
way he talks."

Miss Monaugh made a grimace, and looked at her watch.

"Dear me, it's after twelve! I really must be going."

She rose and smoothed out her skirt.

"Won't you stop to dinner?" the widow asked graciously.

"No, I thank you. I promised to be home in time for lunch, and Mrs
Lethoote will be annoyed if I keep her waiting. I had no idea it was so
late."

"Mindger come to th' weddin', Jo!" George bawled after her. "Yer
mightn't 'ave another charnce."

"Good morning!"

George chuckled as Jo put up her parasol and departed.

CHAPTER XVIII.

From time to time letters came from Mark and Ethel. The latter was
having a jolly time at Nanango. She asked after Mr M'Gurren. How was
the old fogey spending his time? He was spending a great deal of it in
Widow Keaton's company, she was informed, and it was rumoured that they
were engaged.

"He comes to Fairymede very seldom," Miss Monaugh wrote. "It seems to
me that I have only succeeded in ridding you of him at the cost of
losing him myself. He is flirting outrageously with the widow,
apparently out of spite. Mrs Keaton shows very bad form in allowing it,
considering that she is engaged to George Wrightson, and cannot
possibly hope to hold her head any higher. Mr M'Gurren may one day
regret his behaviour. I am not going to be trifled with. I have Other
admirers; as Mr M'Gurren may yet find to his sorrow. I shall only wait
for him another year."

It was good news to Miss Monaugh to hear that Leonard was going to
manage Woorowolong Station on his return.

"I always told Leonard he could get that billet if he exerted himself a
little," Miss Monaugh asserted. She was seated in the stern of the
boat, her hand trailing in the water. Mr Lynton of Druton was plying
the oars. He rowed up the lagoon to the bridge. Here the boat was
moored, and Mr Lynton courteously assisted his expectant companion to
land.

"I just want to see how my tree is doing," Miss Monaugh explained.
"Neglect at the start is the cause of most trees not doing well here."

"Have you found out anything with regard to the old tree?" Mr Lynton
asked, looking at the few leafless branches that remained, and Miss
Monaugh answered unblushingly, "Nothing." She was loosening the soil
around the young tree.

"I believe," he added, "there is a little romance attached to these
trees that make them so much thought of by the people here."

"Yes; each one has its own little story," she replied, and her eyes
grew wistful.

"I should like to hear them," he went on. "Will you take me round Miss
Monaugh, and tell me what they are?"

"With pleasure. There's very little to tell, and nothing to interest
anyone but those concerned. This one was planted by my dear brother,
Pat, on the spot where he confessed his love to Biddy O'Meilly who is
Mrs Lethcote now. Pat dug the hole, and Biddy put the tree in. Then
each took a sprig and kept it as a memento. Poor Pat is dead now, and
Biddy is married again. That second tree, near the bridge, marks the
spot where she used to meet Myles Lethcote while she was staying with
the Keatons. Do you see that little mound at the lower side? They sat
there, and Myles, following Pat's precedent, planted a tree when they
were betrothed. The third was planted by Lavinia Courtnay. She was
staying with the Battyes, you know. She came over with Mr Battye and
Leonards mother, then a girl, to look at Fairymede. The two latter
pulled round in the boat, and Myles, and Lavinia walked across. While
waiting for the others, he proposed to her there. She was a good woman,
the best friend I ever had. The next tree was planted by Ethel; and,
strangely enough, it was under its branches that Mark first asked her
to be his wife. That is all."

"Very pretty," said Mr Lynton, "each one having an amorous meaning, and
the whole forming a Lover's Walk, or, as Mr M'Gurren calls it, 'The
Tryst.' But you have only spoken of four. There was a fifth, which,
thanks to the unknown vandals, has made way for this mite. Had that one
no little secret attached to it?"

"No-no!" She was leaning on his arm, dawdling along the slope towards
the boat. He stopped where the young tree was planted.

"This, I believe, Miss Monaugh, was grown by your own hands. It would
be a pity to let it grow up without being distinguished. 'T'wouldn't be
in keeping with the rest, and lovers would pass it by as a lonely
thing, beneath their notice. Let us consecrate it. Like that tree, we
are two lonely souls. Let us throw our lots together, and be man and
wife."

"Oh, Mr Lynton--I--I never thought of such a thing!" Miss Monaugh cried,
blushing furiously. In reality she had expected it as soon as she had
begun to speak. There was something in his manner, in his glances that
warned her. But it was all so new and pleasing, this sudden realisation
of a lifelong dream to receive a proposal of marriage from a man--a
real, live man,--that she was startled out of her wits. She was
overwhelmed; she was agitated--frightened. She stood there irresolute,
with heightened cheeks, her eyes afire and her heart in a flutter. Mr
Lynton was a cool, bold man. There was nothing of the passionate ardour
and impulsiveness of the youthful lover about him. He had long grown
out of that period, and spoke with a calmness and sobriety that a young
girl might take for indifference, not to say cold-bloodedness, and
perhaps resent. But to Miss Monaugh it was as the dulcet voice of a
sylvan idyll whispering in the bowers of Dreamland. And yet she had
never thought of him as a lover!

"What does it matter whether you thought of it or not? We are well
suited for each other, and I'm sure you'll learn to love me if you do
not now. We are not young and foolish. We look for more than love.
You'll want for nothing at Druton. I'll be a devoted husband. There's
no more to be said. The question is, will you or will you not?"

"It's so sudden, Mr Lynton, that I really don't know what to say," she
answered breathlessly. "You have taken me by surprise. And it's a
question that needs some consideration. It doesn't do to act in a
haphazard fashion. I like to look before I leap. Besides I have been so
happy--single--that I don't think I can be any better off by changing my
present state."

"Oh, nonsense! A single woman is only half a woman. It's time you had a
husband of your own--that is--I mean, a home of your own. All women do,
you know."

"Yes, it's expected of us that we should. I don't know why it is. But
men can be bachelors to the end of their days, and be just as much
respected as the benedicts; but if a woman comes to be an old maid she
is ridiculed. All sorts of nasty things are said about her. It's a
shame. Woman has just as much right to remain single as a man."

"I beg to differ from you there. Woman is man's companion. He has to
feed, clothe and shelter her. Many a man finds it difficult to support
himself; others, though comfortable enough themselves, are not
sufficiently well off to keep a wife as she should be kept, and are too
honourable to drag her lower than the position in which he finds her.
Such men deserve credit for keeping to themselves. For woman there is
no excuse. Unless she is morally bad, or what we term 'fast,' she will
find some worthy one willing to espouse her, and the offer of that man
should not be rejected."

Miss Monaugh maintained a breathless silence. If she could have rushed
away and had a "good think"! If she could have consulted with Ethel, or
Myles, or even with Biddy! She felt incompetent in the matter of
deciding for herself. She might accept him; but, then--what about
M'Gurren? He might come round again when he had got over his
disappointment in regard to Ethel, and propose at any moment. If she
engaged herself to him while betrothed to Edwin Lynton, her
misdemeanour would be bandied from mouth to mouth. They would call her
a jilt, and she could not be called a jilt. She must at all hazard
maintain her dignity and honour in the eyes of the public of Yeerong.

"I am waiting for your answer, Miss Monaugh," Mr Lynton reminded her.
She started and coloured to the eyes. Would this big man put his arm
round her and kiss her if she said "yes?" Would it seem indelicate, or
worse, if she snapped him up at the first asking, when there had been
no courtship?

Then she stammered, while she felt that she would like to be married at
once: "I am sorry, Mr Lynton, but I can't give you an answer to-day. If
you will--er--call the day after tomorrow I--I will tell you."

Miss Monaugh regretted having made the request almost as soon as the
words were uttered. The day after to-morrow seemed such a long way
ahead. She might have lessened the agony by some hours had he pressed
her but Mr Lynton was a patient wooer, and nodding acquiescence, he
commenced to talk about the beauty and sweetness of gum blossoms.

They strolled slowly homeward, and when he had taken his departure Miss
Monaugh, over the supper table, recounted to Biddy and Myles exactly
what had happened during the afternoon.

"Begob, thin, we ought to chalk it up," was Biddy's unfeeling remark,
which evoked a chuckle from the delighted Myles. He had a soft spot in
his heart for Jo, and he liked to see her have her proper share of the
world's good things. "An' why' th' divil didn't you say 'yis' at once,
you fool?" she demanded in an altered tone.

"I wanted to ask your opinion," Miss Monaugh returned.

"My opinion indade! Phwat 'ave I to do wid it? Ugh! You ought to think
yeself lucky to get th' chance o' marryin' widout anybody's opinion at
all. But some people are niver satisfied. If ye give thim a pig they
want a shtye to put him in."

"Oh, there's no need to make a fuss over it," said Jo, testily. "I
haven't rejected the man."

"You haven't, so; but thin he mightn't come agin."

"Don't reject un, Jo," Myles advised. "I've knowed un goin' on for
twenty year, an' baint seen nowt about un to pick at. He'll make 'ee a
good mate, I'll warrant."

"The Lord save us, where could she get a better?" cried Biddy,
wrathfully. "She ought 'ave rushed him, so she ought. Beggars can't be
choosers, mind that, an' nixt time he comes spooneywinkin' around yer
if ye ken fetch him on agin--just clinch th' bargain there an' thin, an'
none o' yer palaverin' about it."

"Indeed," said Miss Monaugh with some asperity, "I have more strings
than one to my bow."

"Ye'd better fasten on to wan of thim thin," Biddy retorted. "They're
shlippery things, Jo, an' ye're gettin' purty stale now."

In the course of further conversation Miss Monaugh learned that Mr
M'Gurren had made a call in her absence, and in declining an invitation
to dinner the following evening, gave as an excuse that he was engaged
to dine with the widow at Gimbo.

"Big George be hangin' fire wee bit long," said Myles. "If un doan'
watch unself Mac 'ull 'cut un out."

"Bad cess to him, he's always shtuch over there," cried Biddy,
frowning. "Phwat do he want to be pokin' over there for at all? He
niver wint next or nigh th' place while Etty was here. 'Tis to be hoped
she'll be back soon. 'Twas a fool I was, lettin' her go. We're a dhry
lot, Jo. There's no more magnetism in us than there is in a fish bone.
So there isn't."

"I don't think it is Ethel's absence that has effected him. He must
have found some stronger attraction at Gimbo," Miss Monaugh suggested.

"Has he!" Biddy retorted. "That's all you know about it. Just wait till
she comes back, an' you'll see him flyin' over here, begob, like a
shtreak o' scared lightnin' tumblin' down a graised lamp-post."

"H'm!" Miss Monaugh had her own opinions on the matter. She decided at
once how to act with regard to the refractory M'Gurren.

"Things are coming to a crisis." she soliloquised. "I shall soon know
the truth."

CHAPTER XIX.

On the pretence of seeing Wrightson, Miss Monaugh called upon the widow
the following afternoon. M'Gurren was there; but there was no sign of
George.

"Dear me, how unfortunate! I made sure I would find him here."

"Ye a' mair likely ta find him in his humpy owre yon," said M'Gurren.
"Loh, I was owre there yestereen lookin' for a stirk I'd lost, an'
there he was on th' brud o' his back, readin' Ned Kelly, an' sich a
fine day to be oot amang the timber ta. Heigh, he's an eedle mon."

"I have always found him industrious," said Miss Monaugh, coldly.

"Oots, wuman, ye ken as weel as I dae the mon's an awfu' drunkard. Evra
bawbee he maks gangs ta the publican. He wadna fash himsel' muckle
aboot wairk at a' if he cud get his liquor wi'out it. Th' mistress can
telt ye hoo he used ta cum here wi' his bottles, an' gang awa' hame in
th' middle o' th' 'nicht drunk as a lud. Buit he winna cam here ony
mair."

"I hope you have not quarrelled, Mrs Keaton," Miss Monaugh said, in
some doubt, focussing the latter's downcast face.

"Oh, no," answered that lady. "But the fact is--Aleck, you'd better
tell her. I must see to my bread."

Aleck! The truth flashed upon the mind of Miss Monaugh, and her heart
seemed to jump into her mouth. She felt cold and white.

"Weel," said Aleck, throwing one leg over the other, and complacently
stroking his beard, "the fact is, she's na longer th' Widow Keaton she
hae changed her name."

"She is married?"

"That's sae."

"To whom?"

"Mesel'."

"To you!"

"Aye. She i' th' Mistress M'Gurren. We were marrit twa days syne."

"Good heavens!" the spinster exclaimed, completely forgetting herself
in the astonishment that this announcement occasioned her. Her face was
the hue of a scraped pig, her nervousness painfully manifest. All the
bitterest feelings of her nature for a moment held sway; spitefulness,
envy, hatred against the widow--now widow no longer, but the helpmeet of
the one she had ear-marked for her own, had striven to gain, had cast
all modesty to the winds, and gone beyond the limits of decency, in her
unwomanly wooing, only to discover on a sudden, when there had appeared
no obstacle in the way of achievement, that she had ignominiously lost;
This low, vulgar woman, in her tawdry, indecorous flimsies, had ousted
her; the pessimistic female, who had neither breeding nor
accomplishments, whose obesity and rubicundity were the results of
inebriation and gluttony; this illiterate, shameless, brazen old
trollop had caught the wealthy laird in her indifferently cast net,
whilst she--the proud and stately Johanna Monaugh, with all her
utilitarian views and disregard of conventionalities--had been
contemptuously ignored--spurned--scorned! Her pride was deeply wounded;
her hands clenched as though they itched to scratch the wretch who had
so basely insulted her; and she was filled with sickly qualms as she
conceived the base character of that woman who, practising the role of
a confidential friend, had surreptitiously cajoled her, and
appropriated that to which her claim was the most infinitesimal. Only a
few hours before she had breathed ambrosial sweets, now the flames of
hell raged within her breast, and she glared at M'Gurren and the
slattern he called wife, with the bitter hatred of a scorned woman.

"Ye dinna congratulate me, lass," Mr M'Gurren reminded her. This was
adding fuel to an already blazing fire.

"Congratulate you!" she cried, with flashing eyes. "Do you know what
you have done? Are you aware that this woman was all but married to
George Wrightson?"

"I ken she was engeeged ta him, buit that was bruk off long syne."

"Indeed it was not. George Wrightson does not know at the present
moment that his affaire d' amour is at end. Only the other day she was
preparing her trousseau under his very nose, and arranging for the
wedding. What day it was fixed for I don't know. But it must be near at
hand. The poor fool will come to claim her, as he has a right to, and
find her your wife! She has treated him abominably; and you, who are
her confederate, have acted a part wholly at variance with the conduct
of a gentleman. I'm--Really, I'm thoroughly disgusted with the whole
business."

"I canna see hoo it concerns ye, lass," said M'Gurren quietly.

"How it concerns me!" the spinster screeched. "George Wrightson is my
cousin, and naturally I take an interest in his affairs. Marriage would
have been his salvation. Now he will be ruined. He will drink himself
to death. That will be your doing. You don't know yet half the mischief
you have done. Do you know the old adage: 'Marry in haste, repent at
leisure?' You will repent in a very short time. Retribution will come,
mark me, and you'll get your desserts. I know it. I've had an
opportunity of judging."

Mrs M'Gurren came in, carrying a small parcel in her hand. "Miss
Monaugh, this is some of our weddin' cake for yerself an' Mrs
Lethcote."

"Indeed, madam." said the spinster, bristling again, "as you didn't
consider it worth your while to invite us, after all our kindnesses to
you and Mr M'Gurren, you can keep your cake.''

"Oh, dear!" said Mrs M'Gurren, firing up at once. "Yer needn't get into
such a mighty tear about it. Yer not the only one, madam."

"Oots, wuman, ye mauna quarrel noo," M'Gurren interrupted. "I'll telt
ye th' truth, lass. Ye ken th' folk aboot here wadna lookit kindly on
oor nuptials. Sae I tuk Mark alang wi' me ta toon last nicht, an' we
were marrit at the registry. There was na party at a'."

"You told me you were married two days ago?" said Miss Monaugh, coldly.

"Sae I did, lass. I was just ha'in' a joke wi' ye. Take the cakes,
lass, an' dinna let there be a difference batween us."

"Thank you. If it pleases Mrs Lethcote I will send a servant for it."

"A servant!" cried M'Gurren, indignantly. "It may be harder, lass, ta
find th' flunkey thun ta carry the cake home wi' ye."

"Make no mistake on that point, Mr M'Gurren," she returned with an
emphatic little bow. "I wish you a good afternoon."

Then, without further words, and still in a temper, Miss Monaugh
bounced out of the room. As she passed through the broken gate she
heard Mrs M'Gurren humming, in evident satisfaction:--

"Alas and alack,
She--came--back,
An' she'd a naughty little twinkle in her eye."

The spinster tossed her head in scorn, and hurried homewards with a
flutter of skirts, and oscillation of ribbons and laces, there to
confide to Biddy "the disgraceful conduct of Moneybags and that
female."

Biddy at first was speechless with rage and horror, then she stormed
and raved, and stamped her foot on the floor till everything in the
room shook and rattled. Old Myles retreated quietly into the next room,
and there be shook hands with himself with much enthusiasm, and
chuckled in secret over the good news. "Etty 'ill have nowt to fear
from un now," he soliloquised, tossing his head waggishly, "an' she'll
be right slap glad on't, I'll warrant."

At dinner Biddy denounced him as a viper, and a two-faced thing.

"There's no mahn in him; he hasn't th' spirit of 'a louse. He's only a
thing," she raved. "He shall niver come anigh my house agin--niver!
Myles, I strictly forbid ye ever to spake to th' spalpeen agin, mind
that."

"Doan want to speak to un." Myles beamed with delight.

"I should think not, indade! After all he used to say about Mother
Keaton--runnin' her down to the lowest, an' goin' on about Mark so--to
turn round an' marry the owld cow. The Lord save us! An' th' way he
used to talk to me about Etty an' I dunno how many times he asked me
for her. Johanna, take care she niver associates wid him. By the grace
o' God, she shall niver be polluted be sich company. Niver will she
spake to him--or I'll spiflicate her. Just moind that now, Johanna."

Johanna answered nothing. She was intent upon her own dismal thoughts.
They were in nowise lightened by the mornings mail, which brought her a
note from Mr Edwin Lynton stating that he had been called upon to act
as deputy for Leonard until that young gentleman returned from the
north, and consequently could not hope to see her again for some time,
unless she favoured him with a visit to Woorowolong. It was not a love
letter, merely a formal announcement that might have been written by
anybody. Her heart sank within her as the thought struck her that he
had mistaken her procrastination for dismissal, and had abandoned his
suit for her hand. It was feasible, for could he not have called on his
way to the station--if only just to obtain her answer. She had asked him
to come, and regretted more than ever that she had done so. It made her
feel so small and mean. Perhaps he was indifferent. Old age does not
become infatuated with a woman's charms like youth. He may have only
proposed in a moment of generosity and gallantry, perhaps out of
devilment, thinking that she was already another's, and would, of
course, refuse him.

She carried the letter to her room and wept over it, reread it and wept
again.

"Oh, why did I hesitate!" she lamented, her elbows on the dressing
table, and propping her chin up with her palms. "Why didn't I snap him
up, and thus have made sure of one? I have learned a lesson. Never
again will I put off till to-morrow a man I can have to-day. I could
have been Edwin's darling this moment but for my folly. Now I may lose
him. Even if he is sincere, he may not be courageous enough to ask
twice. Well, I could speak--Ah, I have it! I will reply to his note,
and give him an answer. There is nothing improper in doing that."

She brightened immediately on grasping this brilliant idea, and,
without loss of time, produced pen and paper and dashed off a billet
doux to Mr Lynton:--

"Your note brought with it much disappointment. I was expecting and
wishing for you every minute when I received it. Since I saw you last I
have discovered that my heart is not my own. I have learned the truth
of the old saying that absence makes the heart grow fonder. It does
seem an age since we separated, each day drags away so wearily. I am
lonely without you. Do come, or write.--Yours for ever, Johanna."

"That ought to fetch him." she mused, after reading it over to see that
it was all right and proper. Her musings carried her along the old
beaten of the expectant woman. She spoilt many envelopes by addressing
them to her future self, "Mrs Lynton" and "Mrs Johanna Lynton" and "Mrs
Edwin Lynton, Druton," and she sketched a postage stamp in one corner,
and two or three imaginary postmarks on the back and front, just to see
how it would look. Then her thoughts ran on wedding dresses and
bridesmaids, and all the silly appointments with which modern custom
surrounds the application of the connecting link that makes man and
woman one indissoluble whole, till she had almost forgotten the letter.

She re-read the precious document again, then sealed it carefully, and
at the first opportunity despatched it to her "Dear Edwin." How easy it
was to transfer that term of endearment from Aleck to Edwin!"

CHAPTER XX.

Meanwhile, the bibaceous Kilfloggin called on the false widow at Gimbo
to see to the final arrangements for their wedding. He was passably
sober, and had donned a clean shirt and dispensed with his bo-yangs.

"How dyer do, Mary? Come to see if yer had things shipshape for the
parson."

"Oh, yer needn't trouble yerself about th' parson. He's not wanted eny
more."

"Not wanted!" cried George. "Surely ter God y' ain't goin' to jib on it
now?"

Look here, Mr Wrightson," said the widow, bracing herself, "it's no use
beatin' about the bush. I might's well tell yer the truth at once. I
thought it over, an' I ses, 'Well, I won't do it without my boys'
consent.' So I wrote to 'em, an' they said, 'If you want to marry, take
Aleck M'Gurren. He can give you a good home, an' keep you like a lady.
George Wrightson drinks, an' he's got nothing.' "

"Got nuthin'!" cried George. How do they know what I got? Might 'ave a
darned sight more'n they have. I'll take my oath I ken make a better
splice than old Aleck M'Gurren, enyway."

"They've knowed Mr M'Gurren since they wur kids, an' I reckoned it was
good advice," she went on.

"Marry th' old Scotchman!" George iterated. "Jumpin' Jemima! y'r must
kid yerself. Why, a bloke like him 'ud never think o' lookin' yer way,
Mary! Though he ain't worth pickin' up as a man, he thinks th'
goldarned sun rises out o' one of his boots an' sets in th' other."

"Not so fast, if you please. An' don't call me Mary. If me husband
heard yer--"

"Yer 'usband!"

"My husband," she repeated, nodding her head.

"Well, by cripes!" he gasped. "Where'd yer get him?"

"I am Mrs M'Gurren," she informed him, reddening.

For a full minute George stood staring at her in speechless amazement.
Presently he laughed, and drew a flask of whisky from his pocket.

"Here, 'ave a nip, old gel. 'T'll put yer in better humour."

But the old girl made a grimace, and waved him aside.

"Don't come near me with any o' that stuff, or I'll smash th' bottle on
the stones," she said, and there was venom in her voice.

"What, not havin' any?"

"Indeed I'm not!"

Again George stared at her. Then he said:

"Mrs M'Gurren, eh? By gum, missus, this is a bit sudding."

"We won't haggle over that," she said. "An' I don't think Mr M'Gurren
would like to see you here."

"My troubles about M'Gurren!" said George. "There'll be precious little
of him left after you've had him a year. But don't fret about me,
missus. My shadder 'll be kep' off Gimbo grass. You make no error!"

With these valedictory expressions he departed. He whistled softly, as
though he didn't mind but he was hard hit. Down the flat he lifted his
voice suddenly:--

Oh, my heart is broke--
God knows it is!"

He stopped abruptly, as he had commenced, and thereafter, as a musical
genius, he was silent. What became of him may be told in a few words.
Now and again he would deliver a load of timber, and Bill Sooley or Abe
Watts, and sometimes Amelia Jane, would take the team out for him,
while he remained in Dumboon "knocking his cheque down." At times he
got paralytic; again he "saw things," and dodged them wildly among the
trees on his way to camp. In the scrubs he sobered up, and would be
moody till he got back to the pub. One day the expected happened.
George had paid another teamster to load his waggon for him, and went
out, drunk, to bring it in himself. Crossing a gully he fell off his
horse, and the wheel went over him. Amelia Jane was riding behind, and
hurried to his aid.

"Yer hurt, George?" she inquired.

"Put yer cluver on, 'Melia; I'm goan ter take yer out," said George,
with a sickly smile.

"Why, split me if he ain't gone stark mad!" Amelia Jane exclaimed.
"George, you've gone an' busted yer biler dead sure!"

"Stand over, Brown!"' said George, breathing hard. "Bang yer eyes--mind
to knock yer down!"

Amelia Jane got frightened, and coo-ee'd for help. Three or four
bullockies ran up. George smiled bravely, and even tried to sing--

Wrap me up in me stockwhip an' blanket,
An' bury me deep down below,
With me saddle an' quartpot for comp'ny,
Down where th' coolabahs grow."

"What's the matter?" asked Sooley, breathlessly.

"Ol' jinker's knocked me out," George answered. "Ruther sudding, wasn't
it? Too sudding--"

That was the end of Kilfloggin, and Miss Monaugh swore that she would
never forgive M'Gurren and that "disreputable female" for having driven
him to the deadly bottle.

CHAPTER XXI.

Midwinter saw Leonard and his wife domiciled at Woorowolong. Ethel and
Mark returned with them, the latter taking the billet of book-keeper at
the station as a pot-boiler. Mr Lynton returned to his old haunts. Miss
Monaugh had called on him at the station, and, going home across the
bush, she encounted Amelia Jane, who was hard riding as usual on the
old grey pony. She pulled up sharply, and slewed a little off her
course to meet the spinster.

" 'D yer see Strawberry enywhere?" she asked, dropping the reins to do
up her back hair.

"No, Amelia," said Miss Monaugh. "Have you lost that troublesome beast
again?"

"Oh, he's a swine," Amelia Jane averred. "He won't stop like another
bullock, but pokes away in th' scrubs on his ace every time he's let
go. Dunno why father don't pole-axe th' cow. Got me rode blind pretty
near."

Miss Monaugh was sorry, and hoped the refractory bovine would soon be
found. She did not want to talk today. She was eager to get home to
unburden herself of a great secret to Biddy. But Amelia Jane was
bristling with news just now, and hung on to her.

"Hear about Abe Watts?" she asked.

"What about him?" asked Jo.

"Spliced," said Amelia Jane.

"Go on!" cried Jo, a little interested.

"To Sarah from the Dairy," Amelia Jane went on.

"When did it happen?"

"Larst night. Great dance."

"Well, I'm glad they're happy." The spinster always took it for granted
that people were happy when they got married.

"Me an' Bill was there," Amelia Jane continued.

"How did you get on?"--absently.

Amelia Jane tittered, and pulled at the horse's mane. "Asked me to say
when," she said.

"Did he? And when is it to be?"

"Next time he comes in."

"Oh! I'm very glad, Amelia. I congratulate you. You were sensible.
Procrastination is the thief of love. I've had an opportunity of
judging."

"I s'pose you know Bill?" Amelia Jane inquired.

"I have seen him a few times," Miss Monaugh replied.

"Ain't a bad old stick when yer come to know him proper. Real smart,
too. Y' orter hear him performin' when he's stuck. Cripes, he do jump
an' holler, an' cracks like guns goin' off."

"He's a good shot, I've heard," Miss Monaugh remarked.

"Oh, rippin'. Hits th' bull's-eye every pop. But I meant th' way he
cracks his whip. There's none of 'em comes up to him at that. Never
heard nobody swear like him neither."

"It's very wrong to swear," Miss Monaugh reproved. "You must use your
influence with him, Amelia, and try to reform him."

"But Bill's a champion," Amelia Jane protested. "It's just lovely to
hear him."

Miss Monaugh smiled sweetly. "I am so glad you are going to be
settled," she repeated.

"I'll be done jiggin' about after Strawberry enyway," Amelia Jane
responded. "Must get along."

She whacked the old pony on the ribs and went off full speed again.
Miss Monaugh brushed along as rapidly as her dread of snakes would
permit, her dear old face radiant, and her heart throbbing with
goodwill to all creation. The hills and the scrubs had never charmed
her eyes as they did now and the warbling of the magpies, and the
chirrupping of parrots--every sound fell like sweetest music on her
ears. Her erstwhile prosaic world was an enchanted land, and the
palescent sunset was a dream of Heaven. The quiet old cows browsing on
the hills, the foals gambolling on the flat, and the croak of the black
shag down by the lagoon, all touched responsive chords--associations of
home and of long ago--and filled her with, an indescribable happiness.

On reaching home she rushed in to Biddy to entrust her immediately with
her wonderful secret.

"Would you ever believe it, Biddy," she gasped, dropping breathlessly
into a chair.

Biddy regarded her with a frigid stare. "Got 'em again," she said.

"I'm engaged!" Miss Monaugh concluded, swallowing huge gulps of the
atmosphere.

"Engaged!" repeated Biddy, contemptuously. "Indade, haven't you enough
to kape you widout goin' to service? I thought so, anyway. Phwat's it
ye' re goin' to be?"

Miss Monaugh pursed her lips in contempt. "Do you imagine I could
degrade myself by going out to service?" she demanded.

"I don't" Biddy answered. "I imagine ye'd better ye'self a lot. I've
seen more women 'an you at service. You sed you were engaged?"

"So I am."

"In what capacity, thin?"

"In a matrimonial capacity--if you'll have it that way. I am going to be
married."

Biddy threw up her hands and laughed loudly. "Ooh, the Lord save us!
Are ye goin' off 'at lasht?"

"Do you mean, am I going away, Biddy?"

" 'Tis off the shelf I mane. Sure, 'tis a harrowin' time ye've been on
it."

Miss Monaugh was annoyed, but tried to look as though she did not care.
"Mr Lynton, you know--"

"Oh, it's Mr Lynton thin! Ye did get him?"

"Biddy, how rude you are. I'm surprised."

"So am I, bedad. I didn't think th' old crony had that much generosity
in him."

"Indeed, the generosity is on the other foot, if there's any generosity
about it," Miss Monaugh retorted. "It is not the first time Mr Lynton
has asked me."

"Well, no," Biddy admitted, slowly. " 'Tis a dhry old shtick he's
gettin', all the same."

"Is he!" sullenly. "I'm no dryer than you are, if it comes to that."

"Whin's it comin' off, Jo?" asked Biddy in a more pacifying tone.

"Whenever I like," Jo answered, triumphantly.

"Did he tell you that?" cried Biddy, with distended eyes.

"He did," said Jo, trying to appear calm while fumbling with her
gloves.

"An' ye're shtill Johanna Monaugh?"

"I'm still Johanna Monaugh, of course."

"Wal, afther that!" cried Biddy, her face eloquent of dissent. "I'd
like to see the bold cockshaver who'd say that to me if I stud in your
boots. I'd give him th' crook of me arm pretty shmart, an' I'd say to
him, ses I, 'Come on, me bhoy; there's no time like th' prisent.' Men
are kittle cattle, an' there's nothin' like takin' 'em on the hop."

"That would be bad form, Biddy," said Miss Monaugh, severely. "Though
I'm not a stickler for conventionalities, I believe in observing the
proprieties in cases of this sort. There are people who would be glad
of something to say about the indecent haste and that sort of thing.
Mother Grundy is a nasty old cat in matters of this kind. If a person
in my position were to go and marry at a moment's notice, she would
turn up her snub nose and talk scandal. But she won't have the chance.
Everything will be strictly formal and proper, and I'll get there in
good time, never fear."

"Ye'll niver do it younger, Johanna," Biddy said.

Miss Monaugh, highly indignant, bounced out of the room. She found a
more sympathetic listener in Myles, and with him expatiated on the many
estimable qualities of her fiance and the amiable Myles expressed
himself as being delighted to know that she had succeeded in "hookin'
summat arter all."

Meanwhile, Biddy was much exercised as to what was to become of Ethel.
In her heart she was glad that Johanna was to be taken away to Druton,
for then Ethel would not be so much under her baneful influence, and
would therefore be more tractable and obedient to her stepmother. She
assisted Miss Monaugh all she could in her preparations, and did not
trouble herself much to conceal her anxiety to be rid of her.

"Of course she doesn't like me," Miss Monaugh confided to Myles,
"because I've upset so many of her plans. But she'll miss me when I'm
gone. If she knew the truth about Ethel she wouldn't be in each a hurry
to kick me out. It serves her right."

It was about sunset on Saturday when Mr Lethcote, who had gone to the
station the day before to meet his daughter, drove her home in the
dogcart. Miss Monaugh had returned some hours earlier, and now assisted
the young lady to alight.

''You look happy, child--so contented." she said, roguishly but only
Ethel knew the meaning of the wink and smile that accompanied the
words.

She had benefited immensely by her trip. She was a little sunburned
certainly, but there was a healthy sparkle n the dear blue eyes that
gave her whole face an animated appearance. She was at times
delightfully piquant and her brisk manner was a source of pleasure to
her father and Aunt Jo. But her repartees, her fearlessness,
occasionally disconcerted her stepmother. The latter realised now that
Ethel had grown into a woman, and was not to be so easily cajoled as
she had expected. It was all Johanna's fault, of course. She had made
her "old fashioned," self-willed and rebellious.

But Biddy did not despair. She'll do my biddin' whin Jo's gone," she
declared, "or be th' grace o' God I'll knock shpots off her. I'll let
her understand widout eny equivocatin' who's boss of this
establishment. Take it from me now."

CHAPTER XXII.

"How old are you, Etty?" Biddy asked on the Monday morning.

They were in the drawing-room. In a little sitting-room adjoining were
two gentlemen. They had been smuggled in there by Miss Monaugh.

"Just keep quiet till you're wanted," she enjoined them. "You know your
role. Pop in at the right time. We'll have a little drama--or perhaps I
should say comedy to finish up with. It's the best way to get out of
the difficulty."

"I'm afraid ther'll be something of the tragic element in it," said the
elder of the two gentlemen.

"Of course there will. Biddy will be in an awful rage. I wouldn't be
surprised if she has a fit. But it will soon pass over. Just follow my
instructions, and all will be well."

She returned to the drawing-room.

"I am nearly twenty;" Ethel answered. Then, after a pause, she added,
"Leonard says I do not look it."

"You mightn't look it," said her stepmother, "but, for all that, you
have the way wid you that tells pretty plain that ye warn't born
yesterday, it's time, Etty, ye begun to think o' settlin' down. It
bates me now what we're goin' to do for you. There was Mr Fogarty--a
very nice young man. He's just married Miss Cadby, th' publican's
daughter. He always admired you, did Fogarty, an' if ye 'adn't gone
away, I'm sure she wouldn't 'ave got a bit of him. An' ye lost M'Gurren
(the old bog-throtter) ye lost him through, your own foolishness, so ye
did."

"I didn't want Mr M'Gurren, mother. I'm glad he's out of the way,"
Ethel returned. "There are better men than Mr M'Gurren on the Yeerong--
one, at least."

"Who is that, pray?"

"Mark Keaton."

"Phugh! He's not worth his salt. He might own Gimbo (thanks to old
M'Gurren), but what's he got to kape it goin'? He won't work, an'
phwat's the use of his writin'?"

Miss Monaugh tossed her head and passed into the hall.

"He's going to work at the station," Ethel replied. "His writing is
bringing him in money already. In a few years he'll be rich, or I'm
greatly mistaken."

"I think you are. It ud take half a lifetime at least to make onything
at that game nowadays. Mr Lynton told me so, and he ought to know. Who
th' divil would marry a bookworm on that spec, enyway?"

"That question is out of date, mother. He's married."

"Mark Keaton is?"

"Yes."

Mrs Lethcote dropped her hands over her lap, still holding her work--
some white material she was sewing. Ethel was slightly nervous.

"The Lord be thanked for that much!" said her stepmother, fervently.
Her gaze wandered through the open door. Across the flat, along the Red
Road, a few teams were passing. Twining wreaths of vapour rose like
snowclouds from the hills beyond. The sun shone out, and insect life
began to waken, and to relieve the monotonous stillness of the July
morning.

Ethel looked up timidly. "You are glad, mother?" she questioned.

"Of course I am," her step-mother replied. "I didn't think he'd do it.
but 'tis as well he has. He's beyond harm-doin', enyway."

"There was never any harm in Mark Keaton, I am sure," said Ethel,
picking up a book that lay on the table. "If he is poor, he is honest."

"I always thought ye had a fancy for th' bosthoon," said Biddy. "I hope
ye've got over that--now."

"No, mother," said Ethel, slowly. Her eyes were fixed on the book. "I
always loved him--I love him dearly."

She spoke very tenderly, her face half-hidden in the thick folds of the
curtains. Biddy was horrified.

"Love him!" she cried. "Are ye mad? How can ye say such a thing! Ye
don't know what ye're talkin' about, goose. Ye ought to be ashamed of
ye'self, so ye ought. To say ye love a married man! Did I iver hear th'
like of it!"

"Would you have me hate him?"

" 'Twould be betther so. I wouldn't have ye love him if he was single,
but--married! God forbid! Ye must be crazy, child. Phwat would his wife
think at all, at all?"

"She thinks it quite proper," Ethel answered in a low voice.

"To love her husband?"

"Certainly."

"The Lord be good to us! I donno phant sort of a woman she can be."

Biddy went on sewing very rapidly for a few seconds. Suddenly she put
it down again. "Who did he get holt of, for God's sake? Some wicked
adventuress in Brisbane. I s'pose?"

"No, mother," said Ethel, with reproach in her eyes and voice. "He
married in Nanango."

"Indade! An' who is his wife?"

"I am!"

"God be good to us! You-u!"

"Yes. mother, I am Mark's wife."

"God forgive you!" said Biddy, hoarsely. Her face was white, and her
eyes flashed with an angry glare. "An' ye feel mighty proud, no doubt?
Ye think ye'ye done a shmart thing to marry that jackanapes? Th' dirty
scamp!"

She sprang up and stamped her foot oh the floor. "By the powers, if he
ever comes into this house I'll throttle him! I'll knock him down wid
the saucepan! I'll scald the dog, I will!"

"Oh, mother!"

"I'll sphlit his skull open wid the tay-pot--"

Biddy stopped short. Mark Keaton stood on the threshold, looking calmly
at her.

"Begging your pardon, madam," he said, "were you alluding to our
marriage?"

"Indade I was, thin. Drat you for an impudent pup! I'll have ye
presecuted!"

"What wrong have I done?"

"Wrong!" screeched the infuriated woman. "Phwat right did ye ever do ye
dog! Didn't ye take my daughter away an' marry her against my will!
'Tis abductin' ye've done. She' undher age. Dyer know that?"

"I do. I obtained permission from the proper authority to marry Ethel."

"The proper authority! An' who th' divil's the proper authority, I'd
like to know?"

The side door opened, and Aunt Jo entered.

"I am," she said, with an emphasis that greatly disturbed the curl
papers.

"You--u--u!"

"Yes, me."

"You--"

"Now, Biddy, don't make a fuss over nothing. Just listen to me. Before
Ethel's mother died she made me the guardian of her child. I have the
deed here." She tapped a paper which she held in her hand. "I would
have told you this long ago, and let you know all about Mark and
Ethel's engagement if you had acted properly towards her. But you tried
your best to sacrifice the poor child for M'Gurren's money. So we had
to indulge in a little game of checkmate."

"Indade!" cried Biddy, wrathfully. I'll take good care I'll checkmate
you for th' future. As ye think so much of her fine husband, ye can get
him to kape yez. I won't, so there."

"You never have, Biddy. I've kep myself--although," she added, as an
afterthought, "I am indebted to you for the shelter of your most,
hospitable roof"

"Ye won't be any longer thin. I'll stake me sowl on that much."

"I won't. I have a home of my own."

"Have you? 'Tis mighty racent ye've found it thin."

"I'm to be married on Wednesday Biddy, to Mr Lynton, and--"

"Lord save us! Do ye mane it?"

"Certainly. And I should like to be married here. Mr Lynton wishes it."

Biddy sank into a chair, hardly knowing whether to laugh or to cry. The
clouds were passing over, and Mark, noting the favourable signs stepped
forward.

"Mrs Lethoote," he said, "we have not been on the best of terms in the
past, which was my reason for not asking your permission to marry
Ethel. I knew you would dismiss me at once. We have always loved each
other, Ethel and I, and, for fear of being parted, we agreed to marry
in secret. I have already made a name, and am in a position to keep her
as she should be kept. So I trust you will forgive us our little
delinquency, and be good friends."

He held out his hand. Mrs Lethcote accepted it in silence.

"There now," said Miss Monaugh smiling blandly; "you will be proud of
him yet, Biddy. Of course you could tear my hair out, and all that, but
you'll come to look at it as we do before long. These sort of matches
mostly turn out happily. I am quite satisfied this one will. I've had
an opportunity of judging."

She threw the door open, and, with many smiles and courtesies, and a
modest little blush, announced Mr Edwin Lynton.

"My dear Mrs Lethcote," said that gentleman, pompously, "let me
congratulate you. I am very glad things have turned out so happily. Are
you not delighted now? Come?"

"Well," said Biddy, reluctantly, "it might 'ave been worse."

"Of course it might," Mr Lynton assented, patronisingly. "But," he
added slyly, "it could scarcely have been better. Your son-in-law, my
dear madam, is the lion of the Yeerong."

Mrs Lethcote smiled, and drew her stepdaughter to her. "I hope ye'll be
happy, Etty," she said, and kissed the young wife on the cheek.

"Happy!" said the excited and delighted Myles, who had been beaming on
the company through the window all the while, and enjoying Biddy'
confusion. "She's got nowt to trouble un now. She'll be 's happy 's a
sandboy, I'll warrant."

"There is only one more act to make all complete," said Mr Lynton, with
sly glance at Miss Monaugh, who blushed modestly and slapped him
playfully on the shoulder.

"Ye're goin' to take Jo away from us?" Biddy broke in. "That's it of
course. Ye don't think she kept that bottled up, do you?"

"Certainly not. I particularly requested her to tell you. I hope you
have no objection--"

"Indade I haven't. Take her an welcome. Bad cess to her, phwat hasn't
she done since she's been here! But niver mind. A bad indin' often has
a good beginnin'. I forgive you, Jo, an'--the best of luck be wid you."

THE END


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