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Title: The Passion Years Author: Arthur Gask * A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1202461h.html Language: English Date first posted: June 2012 Date most recently updated: June 2012 Produced by: Maurie Mulcahy Project Gutenberg Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg Australia License which may be viewed online at http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html
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A charming story, in an Australian setting, of a man who had no money; a girl who had too much.
THEY sat on the bed-edge, all pink and white in their robes-de-nuit, and they looked pretty enough to eat. Midnight had long since sounded but on, on, they chattered like the race—old daughters of Mother Eve.
"Yes, Mary, they just worship each other, and now they've got the loveliest baby in all the world. And yet it all began to happen only just a year ago to-day. Jim had never seen Della until then, and I was the only one of our family who had spoken to her.
"It seems just like a tale one reads and, of course, it's a very sentimental one, too. Oh, no dear, you take it from me sentiment is not all sickly, and only those say it is who are getting old and sickly themselves. Sentiment's the most beautiful thing in all the world, and when you're first in love, well, the sentiment there is just too holy and too sacred to understand.
"I tell you, when Harold first kissed me it was the most wonderful moment of my whole life, and Mother says one of the next most wonderful will be when they first put Harold's baby in my arms.
"Oh, you goose! You needn't blush! Of course, you'll be married yourself, some day, and a baby's only what every girl who's really in love looks forward to. So, you needn't pretend to be shocked at all.
"Well, about Della and Jim. We were on the racecourse at Flemington, and Jim had plunged on his filly, Rose of Dawn, to win a tremendous lot of money. Yes, it was awfully stupid of him, I know, and I was as angry about it as anything. But then, what can a sister do? I had told him how wrong it was of him, and he had admitted to me that morning how foolish he had been.
"If he lost, it meant quite the end of everything for him as far as racing was concerned, for he would have to sell up all his horses and never own any more again. And you can imagine what that would have meant to him, dear, when all our lives we have had horses about us and racing is in our very bones. You remember it was Father who bred the great McAlpin, whose children are now scattered all over the world.
"Well, it was just before the race and we were sitting in the members' stand and I was telling Violet Carmichael something of what Jim had done. I didn't tell her everything, by a long way; but I let her know poor Jim would be very hard hit if his filly lost, and that he would have to give up racing altogether and go into a bank or be a curate or do something like that.
"I had just finished telling her when I turned round to find that Della Charter was sitting exactly behind us and must have heard everything. 'The little cat!' I thought, and I was furious. I knew she was the only child of the rich old John Charter, who had made millions of dollars in the wheat pit in Chicago, and I disliked her because she was supposed to be purse-proud, with all the money they had got. I just hated to think she had heard all about Jim's money affairs. So I pretended not to have noticed her, and then, before she could get any opportunity to speak to me, Jim came up and the starting-bell rang for the horses to be sent away.
"Oh, Mary, it was an awful race, and it will haunt me as long as I live! Rose of Dawn should have won easily, but through no fault of hers she was beaten in the very last stride. She got off all right and, coming round the bend, was well up and only just behind the leaders, running on the inside of them all.
"'She'll win,'" whispered Jim exultingly. "'She'll leave them standing still, the moment she's called upon.'
"I felt my heart bursting with excitement. We could see them all so plainly, as they came thundering into the straight, and nothing was going as effortlessly as Rose of Dawn.
"But then, suddenly, the awful thing happened!
"Lord Rayleigh's great horse, Leviathan, swerved right in and drove Rose of Dawn almost on to the rails. It was simply ghastly! Her jockey had to snatch her up to prevent a most dreadful accident. He had to pull her up, almost dead, and then, when he brought her round again on the outside, she had lost her good position and was lengths and lengths behind all the other horses.
"I shut my eyes and felt as if I were going to faint, but then, almost instantly, a perfectly thundering shout came up from the crowd and I opened them again to see what had happened.
"Rose of Dawn had been sent after the field again, and she was galloping like the wind. She had her beautiful head low down and was coming with a withering rush that was simply glorious to see. Of course, it looked quite hopeless, for she was much too far behind, but, realising what she was attempting, the very courage of it appealed to everyone and the crowd just roared for her to come on.
"Then almost in a few seconds, so it seemed, she was again among the other horses. One after another she picked them up and passed them as if they were common hacks, until ten yards from home there were only two in front of her and she was close upon the heels of even these. For a moment, then, everyone thought she was actually going to win, for she headed Wild Aster when three lengths from the judge's box, but with a fearful effort the other horse, Poisoned Berry, just managed to keep his head in front, and she was beaten in the last stride.
"Mary, I nearly wept, and poor Jim went white as death. But I saw him draw in his face, as a proud man always does when he meets defeat, and then he looked down and gave me a quiet, brave smile.
"'It's all right, little woman.'" he whispered. "'It's all in the game, and it was a great race, anyhow.' Then before I could say a word to try and console him, the voice of Della Charter broke in.
"'Say, Miss Bevan.' she said in that quiet, slow drawl of hers, 'introduce me to your brother, will you? Sure, that was the most wonderful race I've ever seen, and I guess I've lost more on it than I'll ever lose again.'
"I turned round in a perfect spasm of fury. I would snap her head off, I determined. The tactless and bad-mannered little minx! To break in at a dreadful moment like that, when we were both of us so strung up with emotion that even Jim's voice, as she must have heard, was half-broken in his distress! Yes, I would be downright insulting to her! I turned round, I say, and then—I saw that with all her quiet drawl, her eyes, like mine, were wet with tears.
"I introduced Jim, like a lamb.
"Oh, Mary, do you ever realise what angels we women can be?
"There was Jim in a perfect agony of disappointment and remorse. He was deep down in the depths, and left to himself, with all his courage, would have fought out in dreadful bitterness those next few hours, for there seemed no silver lining anywhere to his cloud.
"But Delia stepped in and took all the sting out of everything. She brought him back to common sense and hope. Indeed, in a very few minutes he was looking at her as if he had somehow, miraculously, something in the world even more interesting than his beloved filly, Rose of Dawn.
"And I don't wonder she fascinated him. She looked so beautiful that afternoon. Excitement had given her a most lovely color, and, with those big grey eyes in that Madonna face of hers, she looked the picture of a very beautiful woman.
"She asked Jim to take her down to tea, and then, to the great envy of all the men, she kept him by her side all the rest of the afternoon. She introduced him to her father, and Jim made such a hit there that the old man insisted we should both dine with them that night at their hotel.
"Then things began to move very quickly.
"They invited us up for ten days to a house-party at their gorgeous place at Melton Bay, and there we mixed with some of the most wealthy people in Australia. We had a glorious time, and Della, to the great amusement of everybody, made a dead set at Jim.
"There was no doubt about it. She singled him out, and the two of them were always to be found together. Jim, of course, was soon hopelessly in love with her, and, as the days went by, he could not help seeing she was not indifferent to him, too.
"But Jim is proud, and suddenly, to everyone's surprise, he took to avoiding her and keeping as much out of her way as possible. I knew what it was at once. He was thinking of Della's money and wasn't going to have it said that he had run after her because she was rich. Then poor Della began to look unhappy, but she's quite as proud as Jim and wasn't going to try and lead on any man who didn't want her. So she, in turn, became distant and everybody wondered what had happened and if there had been a quarrel.
"So things were up to the last day before the house party was going to break up, and then I, if you please, stepped in. I thought it high time I took a part in the game and went no trumps on a heart hand.
"It was just after breakfast and I went to Jim in the rose-garden, close by a spraying fountain. 'Jim,' I said curtly, 'you're a fool.' He looked at me very curiously. 'Well, what about it?' he asked with a wistful smile. 'Della's in love with you,' I blurted out—he got very red—'and everybody seems aware of it but you'—he got even redder still. 'Yes,' I went on angrily, 'and you're making them all laugh at her, because you don't propose.'
"Jim simply glared at me. 'You're quite mistaken, Dorothy,' he said sharply. 'She's not in love with me. You women are always imagining things.'
"'Imagining!' I cried hotly. 'Why, I'm positive about it! I tell you again that you're a fool, for you're in love with her yourself, too.'
"'I'm not a fortune-hunter, anyhow,' he said, coldly, and without another word he turned and walked away.
"Then, not two minutes after, I met Della and, like Jim, she looked pale and unhappy. 'Della,' I burst out impulsively 'Jim loves you; but he won't tell you so because you're well-off and he is not.'
"Just for one moment she seemed startled and then, but for a suddenly heightened color, it might have been she had not taken in what I had said. She looked at me gravely and her beautiful face—she is very beautiful, Mary—had all the calmness of perfect self-control. 'Yes.' I went on, 'and I've just told him he's a fool. He's down there by the fountain and if he's not weeping, too, it's only because he's a man.'
"'Thank you, Dorothy,' said Della, very quietly. 'I've always thought you were a wise child.'
"She left me at once and turned to go into the garden, but from what they told me afterwards I was able to piece together most of what happened when, a minute later, she came upon Jim. She found him by the fountain, where I had told her he would be, and he smiled gravely as she approached.
"She plucked a little rosebud and she held it out to him in her beautiful white hand.
"'Isn't it lovely?' she asked, innocently.
"'Yes, lovely,' smiled Jim. 'I've always thought so.'
"Della then blushed crimson. She pretended to smell the rosebud and brushed it over lightly with her lips. Della's got such a pretty mouth, Mary, and if I were a man I should be always wanting to—well, anyhow, Della kissed the rose and held it out again towards Jim. 'You may have it,' she said, ever so softly; 'that is, of course, if you really want it.'
"Della says Jim got white as a ghost, but he reached out and took both the hand and the rose. 'Which may I have?' he asked in a whisper, looking her straight in the eyes.
"Then Della says there was a long silence, until Jim suddenly straightened himself up and let go her hand. 'I am too poor to marry a girl like you,' he said, gently, and he made as if to turn away. But Della laid her hand upon his arm.
'Riches don't count always, Jim,' she whispered, 'and the richest woman may be the poorest if she's not brave enough to take love when it comes her way.'
"Then, I don't quite know what happened, for they won't, either of them, tell me much; but I expect Jim took her in his arms.
"No one saw either of them again until just before lunch, and then they came into the lounge, where we were all waiting for the sounding of the gong. They looked quite cool and ordinary, too ordinary, I thought in a flash. Della came over to me and kissed me. 'Oh, Della,' I exclaimed instantly, 'I'm so glad.'
"'What about, dear?' she asked, blushing furiously and darting, I saw, a quick glance at Jim.
"'You darling,' I replied, 'your cheeks smell of tobacco!'
"Everybody burst out laughing, and then Jim kissed her brazenly in front of us all.
"'Now, you little fibber,' I asked presently, 'tell me exactly what you did lose that afternoon when Rose of Dawn was beaten.'
"Della looked radiant. 'I lost my heart, Dorothy,' she whispered. That was all.'
"Well, they were married six weeks afterwards and this morning, at a quarter-past five, I was made Aunty Dorothy. Yes, dear, I think we had better go to sleep now; but isn't my nightie pretty? Those bows—oh, well, you see pink is Harold's favorite color, and soon—but there, you're blushing again. Good-night, Mary. Keep to your side of the bed and pinch me if I snore. Yes, it's a good thing the baby is a boy, for if it had been a girl I'm sure they'd have wanted to call it Rose of Dawn."
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