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  ― 131 ―

A Breath of the Sea

LIZZIE DAWSON'S friends sat in the drawing-room over the bank offices, and talked about Emma. For Emma had excused herself from coming in.

“She's got one of her bad headaches,” said Lizzie, “and doesn't feel up to seeing people.”

“It was the same on your last day,” remarked Mrs. Dean, who suspected “airs” on Emma's part. “She seems to be always having headaches.”

“How different from what she used to be!” another lady ejaculated. “I don't believe she ever had a thing the matter with her before she was married.”

“Different!” echoed the hostess, nearly smashing a cup with the teapot as she banged it down. “You wouldn't know her for the same! And all through that—that—that beast! I can't help it—it's impossible to call him a man.”

The visitors drew their chairs closer.

“Now, tell us, Lizzie—you can trust us—it won't go any further—did he really throw her downstairs,


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and give her concussion of the brain? Everybody says so, you know.”

It was the champion scandalmonger of the town who asked this question, with all her soul in her pretty, eager face.

“No, I don't think he went quite so far as that,' Miss Dawson admitted, with evident reluctance. “At any rate, Emma says he didn't. She was very angry when somebody asked her. But then, she's so soft! Sometimes I get really out of patience with her—standing up for him, when everybody knows he was too bad to live with. Why, he'd have killed her if we hadn't taken her away from him. She has been home six months, living in peace and comfort, and even now she hasn't got over it. She's nothing but a bag of bones, and her spirit broken—crushed”—Lizzie stopped pouring out the tea to blow her nose savagely—“so that you wouldn't know her for what she used to be before she fell into his hands. Brute!

“But,” urged the young matron, who was always anxious to get to the bottom of these things, “if he did not throw her downstairs and injure her brain, how comes she by these constant headaches? She never used to have headaches.”

“Anybody's head would ache, if they were always crying like she is,” replied Lizzie, as gloomy as she was ungrammatical. “Though what she has to fret for now—!”




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“But he did throw the soup-plate at her, with all the hot soup in it?”

“It didn't hit her—it didn't actually touch her. He knocked it over in one of his rages with her, all over a nice clean tablecloth just fresh from the wash.”

“What a wretch!”

“But he was quite capable of throwing it at her. I myself saw him throw a thing at her once. It hit her in the face.”

“No! did you really? What was it?”

“It was a bank-note—a five-pound note. He bought her a dress once—a hideous thing—and gave it to her in such a way that she wouldn't accept it as a gift. She wanted to pay him for it, and gave him the note; and he took it and flung it in her face, using the most dreadful language. She put up her hand to ward off the blow, and the note went flying into the fire, and was burnt up in an instant before our eyes. As it happened, those were the good times, when we were all well off—when five-pound notes were more plentiful than they are now.”

Lizzie sighed. The other ladies sighed. For the moment they became indifferent to Emma Knox and her affairs. It was the beginnning of December, '92, and the depression was still deepening and deepening, instead of getting lighter; and everybody felt it. The great financial scandals were still in their most scandalous stage, and these little country people had lost their little savings, or their friends and relatives had


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lost theirs, through a mistaken confidence in balance-sheets. Therefore they found a private and local scandal less supremely interesting than it used to be. They fell to talking of their afflicted colony, their disreputable Government, their personally altered circumstances, the sad, sad blight that was over all. When they wanted to cheer themselves, they returned to a discussion of the iniquities of Emma's husband.

Meanwhile, Emma lay on the narrow bed that had been hers in the happy years when she had no husband, glad to be out of the way of their talk—glad, even, to be out of the way of Lizzie's talk for once, dear and devoted as Lizzie was. It seemed to Mrs. Knox that nobody remembered she was Mrs. Knox; they seemed to imagine that she could come back just as she went away, and take her old place as if nothing had happened. It was a great mistake. When you have been married—even if married miserably—you have been spoilt for any other life. You can't be a girl again, occupied with the trivial affairs of girlhood, if you would. You can't stand having your father lord it over you, as if you were still nothing but his child. It is maddening to hear people—when it is no concern of theirs—discussing your husband, who, after all, is your husband, before your face, and making him out to be the lowest cad on the face of the earth. In short, the whole position is intolerable—particularly if you are not well. Emma was not well. She had no strength, and her nerves had gone to pieces. Her


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father and sister were beginning to get cross about it, and to talk of sending for the doctor. The doctor—pooh! She knew what would do her good better than any doctor could tell her—as she confided to Tommy, when he came, on his return from school, to ask if her headache was better.

Tommy was merely a rough, ugly, dirty, untidy schoolboy; but he was fond of his sister Emma, and worried to see her so out of health and spirits.

“What is it you think would do you good?” he asked her, as he sat by her bedside, his hat and books scattered over the floor. “If it's anything from the shop, I'll run and get it.”

“It is nothing from the shop,” said Emma, drawing herself up into a sitting posture, with unusual animation. “It is nothing that can be got here, Tommy. It's something better than doctor's stuff—something that I have been longing for for weeks and months past.”

“I know—a letter from David,” said the boy brightly.

Emma's pale young face flushed crimson, and one could see the signs of a haughty spirit behind it. She pretended to be both surprised and angry at this audacious suggestion. For David was the wicked husband from whose clutches she had been rescued by an indignant family.

“David!” she exclaimed. “What are you thinking of? Why should I want a letter from David? I


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have not written to him; I don't even know where he is. He—he is nothing to me. Pray don't run away with the idea that I am fretting about him.”

“Oh!” faltered Tommy, with an abashed and disappointed air; “I didn't know. I thought perhaps——”

“Don't think, dear boy. The less we all think on that subject, the better—and the less we talk, too. I can't”—with a sudden change of front—“oh, I can't bear to hear them all discussing him and abusing him behind his back, when he can't defend himself. I do think it is so mean!”

“So do I,” said the boy promptly. “But I don't do it. I never did think he was as bad as they made out. You know you've got a bit of a temper yourself, Emmie. Perhaps you riled him sometimes—without knowing it, you know.”

“Perhaps I did,” said Mrs. Knox. “I often wonder—however, it is no use thinking about that now. The thing is done, and it can't be helped.” She sighed; then, with an effort, roused herself. “I'll tell you what I want, Tommy—a breath of the sea! You know how I love the sea, and what good it always does me. I feel, if I could have just one day on it, away from all these people—say a run down to Sorrento in the Hygeia—I should be set up for the summer. I should begin to get strong at once. I do want to get away for a little, Tommy—I do want to get strong.” Her voice quivered.




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“Then, why don't you go?” he asked her.

“If only for a couple of days!” she ejaculated longingly. “Even one day—one sight of the sea—one breath of it—would make a new creature of me. I know it would. Of course, it is expensive, and I haven't much money, and I won't ask father now—now that I am married; but just a couple of days would not cost much, would it? I could go second-class, for that matter.”

“You wouldn't go alone, would you?”

“I don't want to. It's lonely enough at the best of times; I don't want to make it worse. But I would not like to drag Lizzie away; I'd rather not do that. I was thinking—you haven't got examinations next week, have you?”

“Not till the weck after,” the boy replied, breathless with delighted anticipation. “Oh, I say! you don't mean you would take me?”

“You could look after me very well,” said Mrs. Knox, who, unfortunately for one in her position, had no vocation for independence. “I want somebody, and yet I don't want to be bothered. Suppose you and I go together—shall we? It wouldn't put you off your examinations?”

“Not the least little bit,” he assured her fervently. “If you stew up to the last moment, your head only gets muddled. It is far better to try and forget everything for a few days—freshens the brain, you know—puts you regularly into form.”




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“I believe it is the best plan,” she said, when she had thought it over. “Then we'll do it, Tommy.”

“Good egg!” he cried in rapture. This was the correct form of expression with schoolboys at that date.

Lizzie, when she came to hear of the projected enterprise, was dissatisfied with it.

“I should have thought,” she remarked, “that the sea, and Sorrento particularly, would have been the last place you'd wish to go to.” And she said so because it was near the sea that Emma had lived her disastrous married life, and at Sorrento that she had spent the honeymoon which began it. Emma assured her that, on the contrary, the sea was the first and only thing she longed for; and it seemed like pure perversity to Lizzie's mind. Lizzie then declared that she must go too, to take charge of her sister, who was not strong enough to travel alone. She ridiculed the idea of Tommy as a protector, to his great wrath. “That child!” she called him.

“He is fourteen, and he is devoted to me,” protested Emma. “He is all the protector I want, and I have promised him, Lizzie. And of course father cannot do without you. It is only for a couple of days.”

“A couple of days is not long enough to do you any good; and then suppose—just suppose you were to come across that man?”

“Well? What if I did?”—blushing furiously. “He would not kill me.”




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“You don't know what he wouldn't do. I would not have you run such a risk for the world, without me with you.”

“There's no fear of that,” said Emma, with set lips. “Not the slightest fear. I should think he'd be like the snakes, and get as far out of one's way as possible.”

“A very good name for him,” said Lizzie: “a snake. He is just like a snake—that snake in the fable that was warmed in somebody's bosom and then turned to bite. Little we thought what we were doing when we let him into this house!”

Emma's flush deepened, and the hard line of her mouth grew harder.

“You may be sure,” she said bitterly, “that he regrets the day he entered it quite as much as we do. I've no doubt he hates the very thought of me—loathes it—would not touch me with a pair of tongs if he could help it.”

She had her way about going to Melbourne, with Tommy for an escort. On Monday night he scrubbed himself all over in a hot bath, and on Tuesday morning went to have his hair cut and to buy himself a new necktie; for it was not until Tuesday that Mr. Dawson gave his married daughter leave to please herself.

Then, on Tuesday afternoon, brother and sister set off by the slow train, Tommy gravely elated over his responsibilities, and Emma in better spirits than


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he had seen her at any time since her separation from her husband. They did not travel second-class, which in Australia is thought a low thing to do, even by the little shopkeepers; Mr. Dawson had forbidden it. “For we have not come to that yet,” he said, “poor as we are these times.” And Lizzie would not hear of eight hours of hard seat for a weakened back. They wanted Emma to wait until next morning for the express, but she could not wait. That was the one thing about which she was irresistibly obstinate.

“Father might change his mind, or the weather might change; let us go while we can,” she urged Tommy confidentially; and the boy sincerely assured her that he was “on.”

They left, therefore, at 3.30, and reached Melbourne before 11. It was a delightful journey to both; weather warm, without sultriness or dust, and the country, that looks so lonesome to un-Australian eyes, beautiful to theirs, after the heavy rains of the cool spring. The grass was seeding, of course, and therefore taking its tawny summer tints, but never had they seen it so thick and fresh in the last month of the year. The corn was being cut in the cultivated fields, scattered like isles in the sea of bush. The plenteous harvest was almost the single sign of prosperity left to the country in its day of unexampled adversity, and it was easy for the most superficial eye to read it. Emma's eyes, having


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looked on a landscape of wild hills only since she fled home from her cruel husband, feasted upon the scene, so full of associations of other times and journeyings.

“My word!” was the bush boy's frequent comment, “do look at that grass! Won't there be some bush fires presently!”

Yes, she supposed there would. She talked to Tommy from time to time, but for the most part she sat silent, thinking her own thoughts. It was in December, she remembered, that she had gone on her honeymoon over this same line, by this same slow train. Then the grass had been burnt up by weeks of blazing weather. What a roasting day it was! and how strange and home-sick she had felt, how heart-broken at parting with Lizzie, how terrified at the prospect before her! She smiled as she recalled her girlish foolishness, and Tommy thought it made her look like her old self again. Now she could not disguise from herself that she was homesick in quite a different way. It was homesickness that was drawing her from her father's house back to Sorrento and the sea. She was beginning to feel, though she did not understand the fact—which really is a fact, though it is the fashion to deny it—that it is not only better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all, but better to have even a bad husband than to have none; meaning, of course, a bad husband like David, who was still


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a man—not a brute-beast in human shape, like Neill and Deeming.

I don't think I have mentioned that Emma Knox was pretty — very pretty — and only twenty-five last birthday. In her dark serge skirt and jacket and striped cotton blouse, with the neatest sailor hat on her curly fringe and protuberant Clytie knot, and a trim little veil to keep all in order, she was a charming figure—that kind of figure which you see, as soon as you look at it, was never meant to go about the world without a man to take care of it. Emma had never known what it was to want a man—certainly not at a railway station in the night—and so felt a little timorous, a little of the castaway, on stepping upon the platform at Spencer Street. But Tommy rose to the occasion, shaking himself from the fetters of untimely sleep. He shouldered the bag they shared between them, thrust his arm gallantly between his sister and the crowd, and escorted her to the tram and the Victoria Coffee Palace with the air of a father in charge of a toddling babe. He had not seen the lights of Melbourne since he was a petticoated child himself, but nothing daunted him.

They had little bedrooms side by side, in one of which they shared a frugal supper of Lizzie's sandwiches and wine and water from a travelling flask and the toilet bottle. In the old days David used to put up at Menzies', and she remembered how he


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once brought her the most delicious trayful after she had gone to bed, with his own hands.

“How odd it feels,” she mused aloud, “to be in a place like this without him!”

“I should think it does,” said Tommy, knowing whom she meant by him. “I should think you'd miss him awfully sometimes.”

She was not angry. She sighed, and looked tired. “Well, you are a good substitute, dear,” she rejoined, gathering the crumbs of their repast into a screw of paper. “But now we must get to sleep as fast as we can, so as to be fresh for our trip in the morning.”

She saw him to bed and tucked him up, and he was asleep in five minutes. But she could not get away from her thoughts of David—David at his good times—for hours. It was four o'clock before she ceased to hear the post-office chimes. At seven she awoke, and the first sound she was conscious of was the pattering of rain.

“Oh-h-h!”

Tommy heard her groan and came running in.

“It won't be much—it can't be—so lovely as it was yesterday,” he cried.

“Even if it is, we must go, Tommy.”

“Of course we must.”

They dressed themselves, and found their way through a public drawing-room to a balcony overlooking the street.




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“Hurrah!” cried the boy. “It's left off! I told you so!”

It had; but the sky had a dull and stormy look, and a fierce, muggy wind was blowing.

“North,” remarked Emma gloomily, with her hands over her hair, and her eyes screwed up. “Just my luck!”

“Well, a north wind will be much better on the sea than on the land.”

“If Lizzie were here, she'd make me wait till tomorrow.”

“Oh, I wouldn't wait, if I were you.”

“I can't! I must go! I feel as if something was drawing me—that I can't resist. But I know all my pleasure is going to be spoilt. It is my fate—always.”

Tommy continued to combat this point of view, and they went to breakfast. Before breakfast they bought a paper from the little girl on the doorstep, to assure themselves that nothing had happened to prevent the Hygeia from keeping her engagements. No; that was all right. She was to start at 10.30, as usual.

They were ready to set off by a little after nine, and then it was raining again. “A few heat drops,” said Tommy; adding, when they soon ceased to fall, the inevitable and triumphant “I told you so!” When they sat down on a bench at the railway station, tickets in hand, to wait for a Port Melbourne train, a little sheltered from the howling blast, they persuaded


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themselves that it was really going to be a fine day, and Emma's spirits rose. She began to think of the Back Beach, and the ocean rollers, and the sweet little bowery paths cut in the scrubby cliffs, where she and David used to wander, yawning for weariness of them and of each other (a disagreeable detail that she chose to forget), in the first long week of their married life. How she longed to see them again! And it was going to be fine, after all.

The wind blew them on to the pier and up the gangway of the boat, Tommy holding on to his hat and his bag of bananas, Emma trying to keep her hair and her skirts together; and then they reached a haven of peace in two of the Hygeia's little chairs, on her spacious covered deck. There the wind, if only it had been not quite so boisterous, was beautiful. Wind and sea go naturally together. The bay was lumpy and ruffled, full of little waves; they lapped and splashed against the piles of the pier, and seethed along the vessel's side; and Emma's ears drank in the sound like music, and her heart swelled as if with the exhilaration of strong wine.

This is what I wanted!” she said, settling herself in a quiet corner by the open rails. “Oh, I know it is going to do me such a lot of good! Oh, Tommy, you don't know what the sight of the sea is to me after all this long time!”

She caught her breath hysterically, and was silent for a minute; then, with cheerful calmness, urged the


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boy to walk about and amuse himself, and not mind her. She was all right now. She had her book. She wanted nothing more.

Tess of the D'Urbervilles, in one volume, lay ostentatiously open on her knee, and she turned the pages over. But never a word, even of that new and notorious work, did she read, or want to read, to-day. However, Tommy was satisfied, and went to look at the saloon and the machinery, and to make friends with the ship's officers, who fed his country curiosity and entertained him gloriously for the whole voyage.

Even after the last train had arrived there were not many passengers—a mere handful, compared with the hundreds that used to crowd the bay boats in the old times—the good old times, when she and David took trips together. And the ships were few at the port piers, not jammed together from end to end, and overflowing into the open, as she had always seen them. And all was changed! Where life used to be bright and stirring, it was now flat and dull—“stale,' to use the expressive schoolboy adjective so much in vogue—stale as soda-water uncorked since yesterday. The fizz was gone out of everything. But then a north wind always predisposes you to look on the dark side; and not only did the wind keep in that detestable quarter, and blow as it always does blow therefrom, but the rain came on before the boat reached Queenscliff, destroying all hope of a fine day.

Tommy came to tell his sister when Queenscliff


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was in sight—the pretty hill of trees, and the town that rises so charmingly out of the water on a fine day. In its sad, wet veil she did not want to look at it. She sat still where she was, with her face to the sea, while Tommy watched, with deep interest, the debarking passengers scrambling under their umbrellas down to the streaming pier. “After all,” he said, when this sensation was past, “it's a pity we did not wait another day. I can see you are not enjoying yourself a bit.”

“Oh, but I am—I am!” she responded to the reproach in his voice. “And there's plenty of time for it to clear before we reach Sorrento. The wind is going down. I daresay it will be delightful when we get there.”

And when they got there it did not rain much, not enough to wet them seriously between the pier and the hotel. Dinner at the Continental was an essential part of the programme. She and David had lived at the Continental during their honeymoon, and she had been tantalising Tommy with descriptions of the meals they used to have.

When they reached the house, the feeling of things being changed came back in force. There were no gay visitors flocking around, as they used to do at this hungry hour; and, having been accustomed to walk into hotels under the wing of a big husband, Emma felt vaguely small and mean—as if she had greatly come down in the world—when she entered


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this one without him. The large dining-room, where they had eaten so many nice things together, had the air of desolation that prevailed elsewhere. All its tables were fully set, with flowers in the middle and spiky napkins sticking out of the wine-glasses, as for a hundred guests; but no guests were there. Yes—five; so few that they were lost in the expanse, but enough to show that the dinner had not vanished, if the company had. Mrs. Knox sat down in the wilderness of white damask, and drew off her gloves. A silent waiter stole up with a couple of soup plates, and Tommy fell to with all his heart. And gradually the room grew so dark that they could hardly see the end of it, and the rain swept past the windows in an opaque sheet.

“Isn't it too, too bad!” wailed Emma, under her breath. “My one day!”

“Perhaps we might come again to-morrow,” suggested Tommy, with his mouth full of fish.

“I can't afford two days,” she sighed. “And we shall never, never get to the Back Beach!”

“Oh, yes, we shall,” he replied comfortingly. “This won't last. It is too heavy. Have some beer, old girl—it'll cheer you up.”

“I really believe I will,” she said, with a tearful laugh. And she ordered some. “Well, at any rate, whatever else goes wrong, the dinner is all right, isn't it?”

“Rather!” assented Tommy, with all the emphasis at his command. He had got hold of the bill of fare,


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and found that he could go on for as long as he liked without adding to the necessary fee.

They had enjoyed an excellent ragout of beef and olives, and Emma had finished, and Tommy was starting a course of poultry, when a belated guest entered—making eight. It was still raining heavily, and the room was a cave of shadows; but this person, by reason of his size, the light colour of his clothes, and the bright redness of his beard, shone in the doorway like the sun through clouds. It was impossible to overlook him, unless your back was turned, like Tommy's. Emma sat against the wall, with her face to the door, and had nothing to do but to gaze about her; consequently she saw him the moment he entered, and to the best advantage. Also, he saw her. But whereas she started as if she had been shot, turned crimson as a peony and then white as milk, his cold eyes travelled calmly over her, and he walked to his seat, shook out his napkin, and signalled for his dinner, as indifferent to her presence, apparently, as if she had been a piece of furniture.

In a dry voice she said to Tommy, as soon as she could speak, “Make haste, dear; I want to go.”

“It's no use going while it pours like this,” he answered reasonably. “Where could you go? Better stay under shelter till it holds up. And I want some lemon tart, if you don't mind—and some maraschino jelly, and cheese. Wouldn't you like some cheese and salad? You haven't had half a dinner.”




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“I can't eat any more,” she whispered faintly. “But you have what you like. Only don't be long.”

She leaned back against the wall, and tried to look indifferent and calm, like David. But she felt sick. Was this what she had made such frantic efforts to get to Sorrento for? To meet her husband like a stranger, and to be spurned in that insulting manner, as if she were the dirt under his feet—as if he were the injured instead of the injurer! She should have listened to Lizzie. Oh, if Lizzie were here, how she could pay him out for that! But she had no Lizzie—she was alone and defenceless. That was his opportunity. That was what he had always done—taken advantage of her helplessness to be cruel to her. Oh, it was cruel! How could he do it—when she was not well—when he could see how solitary she was, straying about unattended and uncared for, save by a little schoolboy, too little to defend her against a big, strong man. Tears of self-pity came into her eyes, but she got rid of them quickly, terrified lest he should see her letting herself down to care. She did not care—not she. But a great lump stuck fast in her throat, and she could not keep her eyes off him.

Of course he had turned his back on her, or nearly turned it. She could just see the tip of his blunt nose and the line of his hairy cheek. What a fine man he was! She thought he was a little stouter than of old—their troubles had not told on him as they had on her—and his rough grey suit was very becoming.


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Positively he was handsome. They used to jeer at his red beard, but it was a beautiful beard. Auburn—not red. His severe tranquillity, under the circumstances, was astounding. He ate his dinner as calmly as if she were a hundred miles away from him—as, doubtless, he wished she was. No, it was a matter of perfect indifference to him. He didn't care where she was or what she did. He would not care if she were dead. Perhaps he wished she was, so that he could marry somebody else. And she wondered with terror—for it had never occurred to her before—whether he had begun to love somebody else. She wondered what he had come to Sorrento for. Not with any idea of seeing her, and making the quarrel up, clearly. With her heart swelling and thumping in every part of her body at once, burning through and through with mortification and resentment, she wondered whether she could sit out Tommy's dinner without bursting into tears.

Fortunately, she managed that. When, with a satisfied sigh, he announced that he had done, there was nothing in her veiled face to attract the attention that was again wholly at her service. He was quite happy and comfortable, and assumed that she was, too. And now all her desire was to get him out of the room in ignorance of his brother-in-law's presence there, and to get herself past that maddening person with a proper show of dignity. This, also, she managed fairly well, by keeping her nose very much up in the


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air, and hustling the boy along at a run. And great was her satisfaction, when out of doors again, to feel that she had not made a fool of herself for David's amusement.

Out of doors it rained still, and she did not know where to go. In the bright and stirring old days the trams would be running to and from the Back Beach every few minutes, but now they had stopped, and the cabs were at the pier. She could walk to the Back Beach, but it would tire her dreadfully, and there would hardly be time to walk there and back too. Besides, she would be soaked; not that that mattered. There was no one to care whether she took her death of cold or not. It would be the best thing that could happen. But in the first place it was necessary to get out of the path that David would traverse when he had finished his dinner.

She stepped over a magnificent dog lying on the door-mat, and led Tommy round the house to a quiet corner that she knew of, where a verandah sheltered them, and they were out of view from the public approach. Here they stood and watched the rain, until the grey sky lightened, and Emma calculated that David must have finished his meal and gone.

Then she said to her brother: “Tommy, dear, go to the Back Beach I must! It is clearing up, and we have over an hour still. Run, like a good boy, and find out if any trams are starting. If not, get a cab


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and bring it here. I am a little tired, and you'll go quicker without me.”

Off went Tommy at full speed. Emma stood on the steps of the paved path to the hotel dining-room, to wait for his return. And David quietly came down that path behind her.

As soon as she knew that it was he—and she knew it the moment she heard his step—she moved aside to let him pass, and stood very rigidly, staring at the sky. And he did pass her—almost. Just as she was seized with an insane impulse to beg him to take some notice of her, he checked his stride and spoke. His voice was abrupt and cold, but she had never before been so glad to hear it.

“Won't you get wet?”

She answered, without looking at him, “Oh, no; I have my ulster on”—and then wished she had not been so familiar. She remembered how she had been humiliated, and pressed her lips together.

“I think you had better stand under the verandah. There's no use in catching cold for nothing.”

“I shall do very well where I am, thank you.”

“Where's Tommy gone?”

“To get me a cab or a tram. I want to go to the Back Beach.”

“I'll see about it. Perhaps he doesn't know where to find them.”

“Pray don't trouble. He knows perfectly. We don't require any assistance.”




  ― 154 ―

She was quite pleased with her lofty tone and demeanour. But when he took her at her word, and then and there walked off, without even a good-bye, she raged at herself for having spoken so nastily, and was seriously upset. “That was my first chance,” she said, “and perhaps it will be my last. It would serve me right.” Yet she looked eagerly for the coming cab or tram, making sure—almost sure—that David would return with it. He had evidently noticed that she was not strong, and was alive to the fact that she was not adequately protected. He really had a kind heart at bottom. And he must care something about her still. He was not anxious for her to die, so that he might marry somebody else.

It was the tram that came, and she ran across the road to meet it. But only Tommy sat in the open carriage, and she saw by his face that he had not seen David. She was absurdly disappointed, and could not speak when the boy pointed out to her that it had quite left off raining. She thought of the times when she and David had gone spinning together over the bosky tram-road to the ocean shore. Could he have forgotten them? He had heard her say that she was going now; had he no wish to return to those old haunts with her? But of course he had not. And it was all her fault.

The little engine whisked them through the wet bushes, and set them down upon the lovely headland overhanging the sea—the real outside sea, with


  ― 155 ―
breakers spouting round the big rock, and foaming like whipped cream along the sands; and as she gazed at the familiar scene her throat ached, and her eyes burned, and her excited pulses shook her all over, worse than ever. The wind had died down, and the rain cleared off; beyond the breakers and the rock the waters seemed almost calmer than the bay And the colours were too wonderful for words. A wide band of dove-blue sky—herald of another squall—lay over the horizon, and under it a breadth of peacock-purple sea that no painter would dare to imitate, because the critics, people who don't notice atmospheric effects, would turn up their noses and exclaim, “Who ever saw sea like that?” And the sea in the middle, under the clearer sky, was more artistically unnatural still—a metallic, translucent, bright pea-green, with pinky-lilac shadows under the clouds. It had almost a stagey glare and gaudiness about it—or that is what a faithful picture of it would have had; the real thing was so exquisitely beautiful that no one in a pensive mood could stand it. Emma stumbled down the winding paths a little way, until she came to a bench where she could sit at ease and look out, as from a lighthouse tower, upon the scene, and there she dropped, feeling as if her heart would break. It had come to this—cry she must. She had borne up gallantly, considering that she had no health to support her, but she could bear up no longer. So she said to her brother, “Tommy, dear, I feel as if I


  ― 156 ―
should like to be alone a little while. I'm—I'm tired. You go down to the beach and amuse yourself. Get some shells and things for Lizzie. I'll sit here and rest till it is time to start.”

This, of course, was Tommy's natural impulse, and down he went, promising to be back by a quarter to four, when the last tram started for the steamer. He was out of sight immediately, and not another soul was to be seen. She looked all round to satisfy herself of that, and then took out her pocket-handkerchief, laid her two arms on the back of the bench, buried her face in them, and thoroughly enjoyed a good hearty outburst—got the lump out of her throat, and the swelling out of her breast, and felt better after it than she had done for months.

While still abandoned to this paroxysm, but over the first violence of it, the big grey man from the hotel came down upon her, and this time she did not hear him. For not only did she indulge in tears, she also moaned aloud, because that was a luxury denied her in her father's house, where Lizzie was for ever watching her. She cried, “Oh—oh—oh-h-h!” in long-drawn wails and sighs, which filled her ears to the exclusion of other sounds. Thus the noise of solid steps on the soft sand of the winding footpaths was lost.

David saw her while yet some yards away, and paused to look at her. He had fully intended to cut her if he met her again—to cut her with particular


  ― 157 ―
precision and emphasis—but now he changed his mind. He had the temper of a fiend, no doubt, but there was a little something of the angel under it, if one took the trouble to look deep enough, and that part of him was touched by her forlorn attitude. It was a very pretty attitude for a slender figure, particularly about the waist. She sat as on a horse, only much more gracefully, and under her twisted shoulders and upraised arms the curves of her girlish shape were very dainty. Her jacket was under her, for the bench was wet, and the simplicity of a cotton blouse and close-clinging serge skirt exactly suited her. She had an instinct for dress, and therefore her clothes always suited her; they were quite simple, but never lacked distinction and style. People are born with this attribute in all classes of life.

Presently she lifted her head to dab her red eyes and set her hat straight, and then she saw her husband. He was behind the seat, but not behind her face, which looked thunderstruck for the moment. As there was not time to think how she should behave, she did not behave at all. She cried out, piteously, “Oh, David, why do you torment me?”

He came forward at once.

“I have no thought of doing such a thing,” he said stiffly. “I did not know you were here, or I would have taken another path.”

There was a little pause, and then she burst out vehemently, “One would think I had the plague!”




  ― 158 ―

He raised his brows. “Isn't that what you wish?”

“Oh,” she cried, “I don't know what I wish! I'm miserable!”

Then she turned round upon the seat, and sat up primly, giving hasty twitches to hat and veil. He hesitated for a moment, and boldly sat down beside her.

“That cloud,” said he, “is getting thicker. There's another storm coming.”

“I am afraid so,” she answered, looking at the dove-blue belt, which had a more slaty hue and a greater width than when she last noticed it. “But it doesn't matter. There is more shelter here than there used to be.”

“Yes. They've built that shed since our time.”

The mention of “our time” was paralysing. She racked her brains for another topic, but could not find one. A terrible silence ensued.

David broke it—with a thunderbolt. “What makes you miserable?” he asked her. And, though he looked quite away from her when he spoke, she cowered and cast her eyes upon the ground. Of course she gave the inevitable answer—“Nothing!”

“People don't say they are miserable, and cry their hearts out, for nothing.”

“How do you know I was crying?”

“I saw you. I heard you.”

“Have you been watching me?”

She took on her indignant tone, and he disdained to reply. Upon which she veered round hastily.




  ― 159 ―

Everything makes me miserable! How can I be otherwise than miserable?”

“Why, I thought it was only being with me that made you miserable. I have been imagining you quite enjoying yourself—with that dear, amiable sister of yours.”

“Say what you like to me, but don't sneer at her,” she exclaimed in a quarrelsome tone, and again—since he did not “answer back”—repenting. She had no real heart for quarrelling now; nor, it appeared, had he. Lest he should get up and go—lest this brief but precious opportunity should be wasted like the last—she hastened to make herself more agreeable.

“Are you—are you quite well, David? You look well.”

“Yes, thanks. I'm all right.” He silently poked the damp ground with his umbrella, and, having rooted up a weed or two, stole a side glance at her. “I'm afraid I can't return the compliment,” he remarked. “I don't think you are looking well at all. I noticed it directly I saw you.”

“Just now?”

“No—at lunch.”

“Did you really take the trouble to notice me at lunch?”

“I did.” Another palpitating pause. “What's been the matter with you, Emmie?”

“Oh, nothing.”




  ― 160 ―

“Of course. I expected you would say that. Well, I suppose it is no business of mine——”

“I mean, nothing serious; I haven't been really ill. It's—it's more mind than body, I think.”

“How's that?”

He poked five holes in the gravel while he waited vainly for an explanation.

“I daresay,” she presently continued, “I shall be ever so much the better for this little change. The sea always does me good.”

“Are you staying here?”

“No. We came by the boat this morning, and are going back now. It must be nearly time, by the way.”

“More than half an hour yet,” he said, looking at his watch. “Who are ‘we’?”

“Tommy and I. He has gone down to the beach to look for shells.”

“Only Tommy? Are the rest of them in town?”

“No—at home. We came by ourselves, just for the trip—just because I pined so for a breath of sea. We shall return to-morrow. Are you——?”

But she could say no more. Both jerked their heads sharply towards the sound of an approaching step hurrying up an unseen path beneath them. In a moment Tommy's freckled face appeared above the bushes.

“Oh, here you are!” exclaimed Emma weakly.


  ― 161 ―
She pretended to be much relieved, but she was ready to cry with chagrin.

“Well, my boy,” said David, with assumed heartiness, “how are you?”

Tommy stopped dead with amazement, red and breathless; then came forward to shake hands with his brother-in-law, accepting his presence without comment—for even a rough school-boy has a wonderful knack of behaving like a gentleman at times in such awkward crises. His first idea was to make himself scarce immediately.

“It's coming on to rain,” he stammered. “Hadn't I better run up and see if there's a tram about?”

He looked at David, and David looked at him, with shy affection. They had always been good friends.

“Perhaps you'd better,” said David, as Emma's reluctance to move kept her silent. “Yes, it is coming on to pour badly. Put on your jacket, Emma.”

She stood up, and he helped her on with her light coat, just as he used to do in the honeymoon days. Perhaps he would have done something more, and so would she, had not the storm cloud burst in a fierce shower and driven them to seek instant shelter. They scrambled up the hill to the long shed that was a strange place to them, and there stood side by side behind David's umbrella—for the rain drove from the sea; and Emma began to wonder, with a shaking


  ― 162 ―
heart, how the adventure was going to end. Tommy was at the tram platform, skipping up and down with glee.

“You needn't,” said David, “hug that damp thing against your thin skirt, need you? Give it to me.” He alluded to her ulster, which hung over her folded arms.

“It is all right, thank you.”

“Give it to me.”

She handed it over with a smile—her first smile—pleased to hear the imperious tone at which she used to be so absurdly offended. When he had carefully felt it all over, he bade her put it on. He also helped her to adjust it with the hand that was not holding the umbrella. As his big fingers fumbled with a button near her throat, she cast down her eyes, and blushed and trembled, as if she were being tentatively wooed again. The old girl bashfulness prompted her to frustrate their mutual ends by a stupid and commonplace remark:—

“What a day for a bay excursion!”

“Yes,” he said slowly. “What made you choose such a day?”

“I did not choose it.” And she went into explanations. “I might say,” looking at him almost archly, “how came you to choose such a day?”

“I? Oh—business.”

“Not pleasure?”

“No, indeed. I haven't been thinking much about


  ― 163 ―
pleasure these days. I'm like the rest, as I suppose you know—pretty nearly stone-broke.”

What? You don't mean that! No; I never, never knew!”

“Well, I've lost a good two-thirds of the income I had when you were with me, and Heaven knows whether I am going to save the rest. So you see,” with sudden bitterness, “you timed it very well.”

She moved closer, and looked squarely up at him, and there were tears in her eyes. “Oh, David, how can you speak so? Do you suppose I cared for money—for anything——”

“You certainly did not care for me,” he broke in roughly. “That's all I know.”

“But, if you come to that, did you care for me?”

“I never deserted you, at any rate.”

“But, Davie——”

Alas! At this critical juncture they were interrupted again. Tommy came running to inform them that the tram was about to start. Stern duty compelled him.

“Oh!” Emma faintly ejaculated; and then a deadly silence fell.

When all three were in the car, exposed to a rush of rain that was like a volley of bullets, she whispered under David's umbrella, held broadside to the gale, “Are you going by the Hygeia too?”

He said “Yes.” And then they spoke no more, except to Tommy, until they reached the boat. On


  ― 164 ―
the way thither they had to shelter for some minutes in the tram-shed on the bay side. When they walked down the pier and climbed on board, the air was clear and soft, and a pallid sky gleaming over a mauve and pea-green sea.

On deck David picked up a chair, and asked his wife where she preferred to sit. She chose a place astern, between two of the fixed seats, where there were fewest people. There, being comfortably settled, with her feet upon the rail, and her back to everybody, she felt that all she wanted in the world was to have him in another chair beside her, to talk to her all the way to Melbourne, which would be for two hours and a half. In that time, surely, she would be able to explain away some of the misapprehensions that he evidently laboured under. She burned to explain them—to justify herself. No, not to justify herself exactly; perhaps not even to excuse herself; but to disabuse his mind of the idea that she had left him because she did not care for him—to make him understand, above all things, that she was not the woman to seek comfort for herself while those she loved were in difficulty and poverty—to wholly reconsider the situation, in short, with a view to better arrangements.

But, instead of sitting down with her in that deliciously quiet corner, which she had chosen on purpose, he strayed away with Tommy. They disappeared together before she was aware of it, and did


  ― 165 ―
not come back. She kept her ears pricked and her eyes turned over her left shoulder for a long time; but the Hygeia is a boat on which one can easily lose and be lost to one's friends, and for nearly the whole distance between Sorrento and Queenscliff she never saw a sign of them. The fact was that David had a great many vital questions to submit to his small brother-in-law before he could proceed further; but this she did not think of. She imagined that Tommy had gone off to leave the coast clear for a lover's tête-à-tête, and that David had gone off to avoid that tête-à-tête. As time went on, and hope and patience failed, and it seemed evident to her that he was quite implacable, she ceased to make any pretences to herself. She admitted that she could never bear now to go back to the country as she had come away from it—that if he refused to let her retrace the mad step she had taken six months ago, her heart would break, and her life become wholly valueless to her.

A very miserable woman she was as she sat forlornly alone in her nook between the empty seats, watching the rough tumble of the water that could hardly shake the floor beneath her, and the floods of swirling foam that ran past her feet, tucked between the open rails. Listening to the sound she loved—the sweetest music in the world—and gazing on the scene for which her soul had hungered as an exile for its home, she said to herself that she wished she was dead—that she would like to jump up from her


  ― 166 ―
chair and throw herself overboard. “If I were dead, past troubling him any more, perhaps he would care for me a little,” she thought, with tear-filled eyes and a bursting heart. “Oh, I wish I was drowned and dead at the bottom of the sea!”

Then something occurred whereby she nearly had that wish. The Hygeia was nearing Queenscliff—where Emma was convinced that David would get off and finish his journey by train, so as to be finally rid of her—and the Flinders, on its way to Launceston, was making for the Heads. The two fast boats, like long-lost brothers hastening to embrace each other, kept their respective courses at full speed until they met, and the bows of the Tasmanian boat were only a few yards from the side of the bay steamer, rather more than a few yards from the end. To err is human, even in the case of ships' officers, who, it must be admitted, err less, professionally, than any body of known men; and the navigator of the excursion boat had the apparently reasonable idea that he could get past in time. So he did; but an “imminent collision” was spoken of in the evening papers, and the Marine Board, not having enough to do with inquiring into things that did happen, gladly took note of those that might have done so, and decided, in sundry forms and ceremonies lasting over a fortnight, that the Hygeia had incurred penalties for violating—or nearly violating—the rules of the road. Certainly a collision did seem imminent for a


  ― 167 ―
moment—even inevitable. Romantic reporters described the Hygeia's people as rushing for life-belts and cork jackets in a panic of fright; but there was no time for that—no time even to turn the button which would have showered those articles upon all in need of them. They simply got up from their chairs and stood for a breathless instant with their hearts in their mouths. Then, the Flinders having already backed her engines, the Hygeia ported her helm, whisking round with the light speed of a waltzing lady; and, sideways to each other, they swept apart, and went their ways as if nothing had happened. In fact, nothing had happened. It was all over in a breath.

But in that breath things changed for Emma. She sat facing the Flinders as it came up, exactly in the path of the towering bows; and as she sprang from her chair an arm was flung round her, and she was whirled from that dangerous place.

“Don't be frightened, dear; stick to me,” said David. And the boat slewed round, and they saw they were not going into the water. Emma, though she did not want to drown now, had a moment's keen disappointment. She thought how beautiful it would have been to be shipwrecked, and saved by her gallant husband; for, of course, he would have saved her. Next moment he was leading her back to her seat, laughing confusedly; she, hanging on his arm, bathed in delicious blushes from head to foot.




  ― 168 ―

“Ha! I say, that was a narrow shave! I really thought she was into us,” he said, as he handed her a chair.

“Yes; and wasn't it odd?”—her voice quivered and her eyes filled—“I was just wishing I was at the bottom of the sea.”

“Don't talk nonsense,” he rejoined, very roughly, but with no unkindness in his tone.

“It isn't nonsense. I don't care a bit for my life—as things are now.” There was a wail in her voice. “David, you are not going away again, are you?”

“Only to get a chair.”

He fetched a chair, and sat down beside her, very close. Flanked by the two empty seats, and with their backs to the deck, where all the passengers, Tommy included, were looking towards Queenscliff pier with their backs to them, they enjoyed some minutes of welcome privacy.

“And so you haven't found it so very jolly, after all?”

He smiled a little to himself, but did not let her see it.

“Oh, David, I have been so miserable—so utterly miserable—without you!”

“And you were utterly miserable with me. So what's to be done?”

“It was my fault, David. I know I don't deserve to be forgiven——”

Too overcome to proceed, she looked at him with


  ― 169 ―
swimming eyes, and put out her hand appealingly. He took it and held it, gently kneading it between his own.

“I think it was mostly mine,” he said. “I know I've got a vile temper, and you did use to rile me, old girl, now didn't you?”

“I was a beast.”

“No, no, you weren't. But—well, we didn't understand each other, did we? We were both too new to it, I suppose. I should have been gentler with a delicate little thing like you. I have been awfully sorry about it many a time.”

“You never wrote to me, David!”

“You never wrote to me, Emmie.”

“I didn't like to.”

“And I couldn't, after your telling me——”

“Oh, don't speak of that! If you knew how I have regretted those hasty, wicked words, how I've wanted to come back——”

“There, there!” he whispered soothingly, for her emotion was so great that it threatened to attract notice. “Let's say no more about it. Come back, if you feel you want to; if you think you can put up with such an ogre as I am—a ruined man, into the bargain.”

“Oh, I don't mind your being poor—all the better! I can work for you, as well as you for me. I can do without a servant——”

“No, no; I'm not so badly off as that. I'm not


  ― 170 ―
going to let you slave and fag, and wear yourself out. It's for me to take care of you, pet. And I mean to do it—a little better than I did last time. When I get you again, I'll see if I can't fatten you up a bit, and put the roses back into your cheeks. You are looking wretched.”

“No wonder! No wonder!”

“Only you must promise not to throw me over again, Emmie, if we happen to quarrel. I daresay I shall be obstreperous sometimes—I'll try not——”

“Darling! Darling!”

She leaned against his bent shoulder, put an arm across his breast, which she could hardly span, and her lips to his prickly red moustache. He clasped her for a moment, and they snatched an eager kiss. Of course people saw them, even with their backs turned, and were visibly scandalized. But Emma, while blushing for her indiscretion, refused to be ashamed of it.

“Are we not husband and wife?” she demanded, bridling.

“Thank God we are!” he replied; “and what we've got to do now is to keep so. But, Emmie, let us behave ourselves in a public place. Put your hat straight, my dear. I am going now to get you a cup of tea.”

He went downstairs, leaving her, in her palpitating happiness, to tuck up her loose hair, arrange her veil, and otherwise compose herself. When he returned,


  ― 171 ―
Tommy was with him, grinning from ear to ear, and capering for joy.

“My word,” he whispered audibly, “you little thought what you were coming to the seaside for, did you? And on such a bad day too! Wasn't it a bit of luck?”

Emma looked at him with solemn, impassioned eyes.

“I believe,” she said, breathing deeply, “that I was led.”

It came on to rain and blow again harder than ever—a gale fierce enough to snap hawsers wholesale, according to later reports; but the Hygeia, with weather awnings down, slipped calmly through it, and David and Emma, when they had moved forward a little, were perfectly dry and comfortable. Never in all their lives had they been so comfortable before. Then, at about five o'clock, the colour came into the sea again, and the loveliest rainbow into the sky.

David pointed to it.

“The world is not to be drowned any more, Emmie.”

“Not by me,” she answered, with a chastened smile.

Tommy had left them for a long time, and now came creeping back to give them the encouragement of his opinion that it was going to be a fine evening after all.




  ― 172 ―

“I believe so,” said David. “And I was just regretting that we hadn't stayed at Sorrento. We could have had a nice long ramble before dark.”

“Oh, but we couldn't have stayed, you know. We promised to go home to-morrow. I've got my examinations next week.”

“Well, my boy, you can go. I'll see you off safely, and get somebody to look after you on the journey But Emma had better stay with me. One day of the sea isn't enough for her—she wants a longer change. Tell Lizzie I don't think, by the look of her, that she has been at all well taken care of up there——”

“David, hush!”

“And that I think she's safer in my charge. We'll go back to Sorrento, Emmie, and stop there over Sunday, since the sea does you so much good.”

Two Old Fogies




  ― 175 ―

Chapter I

“TUESDAY next being Prince of Wales's birth—being—er—er—the Feast of All Saints, there will be Divine Service in this church at seven o'clock in the evening.”

Anna Paine was sitting in the choir, nearly fronting her father, when he gave out this notice. She looked at him with steely eyes that transfixed him like daggers. The girls beside her tittered; the men behind her nudged each other, and whispered, and fluttered leaves of music noisily. A smile rippled over the faces in the body of the church. One decorous maiden lady in a front pew hung her head and blushed.

“Certainly,” thought Anna Paine, “he is falling into his second childhood. Last Sunday he gave out the wrong hymn, and the Sunday before he put his hood on inside out. Nothing but the infirmities of age can explain this increasing absent-mindedness.”

She totted up his sum of years, and saw that he was indeed growing an old man—fifty-five next birthday.




  ― 176 ―

The lady who had blushed and not laughed at the parson's blunder—she also was quite an old woman, forty at the least—emerged upon the footpath after service in company with a youthful niece and nephew. They dawdled as they walked, for the brother of the lady and father of the girl and boy was counting the offertory in the vestry, and it was their habit to wait for him. It had been their habit since the boy came home. The boy, by the way, was a smart, moustached young man, taking a little holiday between his labours at the University, which were over, and the labours of his profession, which were yet to come. But, of course, he was a boy to his aunt, just as she was an old maid to him.

He pounced upon Anna Paine as she was sedately walking towards the parsonage. Her severe young face, full of trouble and responsibility about her aged and erring father, melted into smiles.

“Oh, is it you?” she cried, as if she had not been lingering on purpose to let him catch her up. “Good-morning.”

“Good-morning, Miss Paine. Oh, I say, did you hear what your father said when he gave out the notice? Prince of Wales' birthday, by Jove! You should have seen aunt's face. I nearly had a fit. Now, if it had been me—! I've done nothing but think of Prince of Wales' birthday ever since he asked me to come and see the fireworks from the church tower.”




  ― 177 ―

“What?” cried Anna.

“Don't you know? He said we shouldn't want to be in the crush of the street, and that we could see everything from the tower beautifully; and he proposed that we should all go up and spend the evening there. I think it's the jolliest idea, don't you? Didn't he tell you he had asked us?”

“Not a word,” said Anna. “He is getting dreadfully forgetful. I am really afraid that he is losing his faculties a little—that his memory is going—”

“I daresay. But don't you think it a delightful way of seeing the fireworks? I believe he did ask us to tea; but, of course, he had no business to do that without speaking to you.”

“Oh, do come; come to tea, of course—all of you. We shall be delighted.”

“Thanks—thanks; it's too good of you. My father never goes out to tea, as you know; but poor old aunt will be charmed, and Eve too.”

“I ought to go and speak to your aunt.”

“You needn't. She's got Toby.”

They glanced back towards the church, and laughed to see aunt staggering in the embraces of the parsonage dog, a mongrel collie, strong and ardent enough to knock the little woman down.

“How can she let him?” exclaimed Anna, who permitted no such liberties herself. “He will tear that lace mantle to rags. I can't understand why he is so fond of her, can you?”




  ― 178 ―

“Cupboard love. She's a soft-hearted old dear, and gives him cakes and bones when he comes to the house.”

“Then no wonder he almost lives there.”

“Is he too much away? She shall leave off encouraging him. I will tell her.”

“You need not; I don't want him. I hate dogs about the place; they are so messy, especially in wet weather.”

“I hope to goodness it won't be wet on the ninth.”

“I hope not, indeed.”

The treasurer came out from the vestry, with the morning's takings in his pocket, and his young daughter claimed him. Mr. Paine hurried to release aunt from Toby's loving persecutions.

“Down, sir! down this minute! How dare you, sir?”

He would have cuffed the collie had not aunt protected him.

“Do not scold him,” pleaded she, looking at the tall grey man with the softest woman's eyes. “It is just pure affection, Mr. Paine, and we old folks don't get too much of that.”

“I hope you don't call yourself old, Miss Ransome,” said the parson earnestly.

“Oh, yes,” she rejoined, with a fluttered laugh and blush; “a most ancient person.”

“Then what must I be?” he inquired tragically.

She blushed a little more as she tried to make


  ― 179 ―
him believe that he was in the golden prime; and the young people—the real young people—came up.

“Well, Miss Ransome,” said Mr. Paine, “I hope we are to have the pleasure of seeing you on Prince of Wales' birthday. By the way, what a stupid mistake I made this morning! Yes, my dear”—to Anna—“I know you are going to read me a lecture, but I assure you it was the purest accident. I can't think how I came to do it. So many things just now—Prince of Wales' birthday, Guy Fawkes, and so on—that I suppose I got confused amongst them. I wonder I did not say ‘Guy Fawkes' Day,’ with all the boys in the town coming to beg subscriptions for their bonfires and crackers.”

“One does not,” said Anna gravely, “connect things of that sort with the services of the Church. At least, I am glad you did not say, ‘Tuesday next being Cup Day’—for it is Cup Day, more's the pity.”

“I should hardly have made that mistake,” said Mr. Paine, with dignity, “seeing how much I disapprove of racing and gambling—one of the curses of this country.”

“Yes,” murmured aunt, glancing at her nephew, who had sunk a pound of precious money in Tatter-salls' Sweep.

“I should hope you disapprove of Guy Fawkes, too,” said Anna. “Anything so absurd as to preserve a custom of that kind as a British institution, in a


  ― 180 ―
new country, and at this time of day! No wonder the Catholics are offended.”

“But, my dear,” said aunt gently, “no one thinks of its origin now. It is only kept up as an excuse for bonfires. Boys do so love bonfires!”

Aunt loved boys, and was kind to their little weaknesses; but Anna was for doing what was right and reasonable, regardless of human whims. “They should be taught better,” said she. “It is ridiculous to give them a good education with one hand, and with the other to encourage them in a display of ignorance and bigotry that would disgrace the most uncivilized nation. Don't you think so, Mr. Ransome?”

She spoke to Mr. Ransome junior. Mr. Ransome senior had been dragged into the church tower by his daughter Eve, who desired to assure him that the ladders were safe.

“Certainly,” said young Ransome, in his cheerful way. “But since bonfires are to be—it's idiotic, of course—but as they will be lit, in spite of us, wouldn't it be nice to go up the tower to look at them? I know of six at the least. They would look very pretty at night, burning on the hills.”

He had, in fact, helped to build one of those six bonfires; he had given his oldest hat and trousers to the straw man who was to crown its apex—instigated by aunt.

“Saturday is your father's busy night,” suggested aunt.




  ― 181 ―

“But I could get forward,” said Mr. Paine eagerly. “I could spare an hour or two.”

“No need for that, sir; I'd look after them,” said Alan Ransome, with an exulting look at Anna.

“Then suppose you all come round before it gets dark?”

This plan was agreed to, in addition to the plans for Prince of Wales' birthday; and then the party separated. Old Ransome (he, too, was over fifty), a bank manager of standing in the town, led the way home with his daughter, a bouncing girl of fifteen. Young Ransome followed, escorting his little aunt. He wanted to give her his arm, to aid her feeble steps; but the umbrella skirt of her Sunday gown required a hand to hold it up behind, and the other was occupied with her parasol and Prayer-Book. In the rear of the party Toby trotted stealthily, sniffing the beloved footsteps on the pavement. He always liked to see her safely home, even when his sense of duty to his own family prevented him from staying there with her.

It was the loveliest day, that 30th of October, and promised settled weather for the great events. Both aunt and nephew were thinking of this as they paced the street towards their dinner.

“It isn't often we have a really all-fine Cup Week,” said Alan at last, “but I do think we are safe for it this time.”

“Yes,” said aunt, smiling at the intense blue sky.


  ― 182 ―
“I am so glad! I hate to think of poor holiday-makers having their pleasure spoiled.”

She did not allude only to the racing folks, on whom the good Church people desire that rain should fall. Cup Day being a public holiday through the length and breadth of Victoria, and all the trains and steamboats running at excursion fares, the Y.M.C.A. and Sunday Schools innumerable disport themselves in pious games, and shopkeepers and postmen, with all representatives of industrious respectability, go a holiday-making in their best clothes as a social duty, and in a more thorough manner than at any other time of the year—even Christmas. And the sun must shine upon just and unjust together. Perhaps, however, aunt was not even alluding to these.

In the parsonage Mr. Paine sat down to his dinner, vis-à-vis with his daughter, who kept house for him so admirably. She was a very pretty girl, and looked charming in her new summer frock of pink zephyr and the neat apron she had put on to preserve it. No one would have guessed, from her appearance, how severe she could be. She caused her father to shake in his shoes at times like the present, when he knew he had failed in his duty as a clergyman and a rural dean. Anna, somehow, never failed in hers.

“What delightful weather!” remarked the parson, with affected light-heartedness, beginning to carve


  ― 183 ―
the cold lamb set before him. “The collection was double what we had last Sunday morning.”

Anna turned the salad over thoughtfully.

“It is very unfortunate that Cup Day should fall on the first,” she said. “I am afraid we shall have no congregation. I think, father, you ought to have said something about it in your sermon. How many will remember All Saints' Day when their heads are full of the winner and their gains and losses?”

“Perhaps I ought. But I will have a choir practice after service. That always brings a few. I will give it out to-night.”

“I am afraid even the choir will not come on a Cup Night. But I will go and see some of them, and ask them to set an example. And, by the way, my dear father, do please write down your notices in future, and read them from the paper. Your memory is not as good as it used to be, and a mistake such as you made this morning is too, too dreadful. The whole church was giggling. All the young clergy will hear about it, and make fun of you. I dare say it will come to the bishop's ears.”

“I know, my dear. I am extremely sorry. But we are all liable to blunder sometimes. I suppose I was thinking of your young friends coming to see the fireworks from the tower, or something of that sort.”

We might have thought of it,” said Anna, “though not in church, I hope. But such things can't interest you.”




  ― 184 ―

Mr. Paine attacked his dinner resolutely. He was an old man, grey and bald, with lines in his thin, large-featured face; but his teeth and his appetite for food (amongst other things) were as good as hers. She lectured him throughout his meal, gently, but firmly. Then she made him a nice cup of tea, and sent him forth to his afternoon bush service with a great coat and comforter in the buggy; for she was a devoted child.

“My dear,” he protested, “I don't want wraps this summer day.”

“That is just where you careless people make a mistake,” she replied calmly. “You think that one warm day, like one swallow, makes a summer. It may turn cold at any moment, and will when the sun goes down. It is very well for us young folks to run risks—though I never do it, for I think it is wrong—but not for people of your age. The first heat is worse for giving colds than winter weather.”

So he drove off, with his wraps under the seat, accompanied by Toby, who had returned from his visit to aunt to join the expedition; and Miss Paine went to Sunday School. She was a terror at Sunday School. Of course I mean that she was a terror to misbehaving boys and girls. To the school itself she was foundation and coping stone; it never could have got along, not to say excelled in good management as it did, without her.

The first of November came. The first of November


  ― 185 ―
is All Saints' Day, and when it falls on a Tuesday it falls naturally on the first Tuesday of the month, and the first Tuesday of the month is Cup Day. The combination, as sadly anticipated, was fatal to the success of Mr. Paine's service. A morning week-day service never had a chance, save on Good Fridays and Christmas Days, but an evening one, especially with a choir practice tacked on to it, did sometimes come off, to flatter the poor parson that the church was still what it used to be in the good old times. On this occasion there was no congregation—only Anna and another; and the verger was furious at having to pull the bell on Cup Night. He rang for ten minutes instead of the regulation quarter of an hour, and then plunged into the street and was lost to sight and use. Mr. Paine waited dejectedly for the girls of the choir; was then commanded by Anna to read the prayers and give a short address, as a duty to the solitary parishioner who had been led to expect them, but who would gladly have let him off; he then put out the lights himself, and locked the western door. Before he left the vestry he wrote down in his sermon book that a service had been held, and had been poorly attended on account of rain. But it was not the rain that killed that service; it was the Cup. The great race had been run two hundred miles away, and the astonishing victory of Glenloth had been known for hours; but still the excitement


  ― 186 ―
of the event reverberated through the little town, and so absorbed the thoughts of nearly every man, woman and child in it that they never noticed the lighted windows of the church on the hill. The bell tinkled to deaf ears.

“I did think,” said Mr. Paine, “that Miss Ransome would have come, if nobody else.”

“Yes,” said Anna, who was aggrieved because Alan had not brought his aunt—though, indeed, even she acknowledged that it was too much to expect of any young man who had not a pronouncedly pious bent. “She, at any rate, might have set an example.”

Though it was with no idea of setting an example that she did it, aunt had duly prepared for church. To her it was a blessed privilege to sit under Mr. Paine, and the Cup was nothing; she did not even know that Glenloth had been last horse but one in the betting, until Alan told her at tea. But just as she was creeping downstairs in waterproof and goloshes, her niece intercepted her, and loudly forbade her to go out on such a night.

“The idea of your thinking of such a thing, with a cold already!” cried Eve. “You naughty old woman! I will not allow you to risk your precious health, so don't imagine it. Take off your things this minute.”

“My dear, I am quite protected from the weather,” pleaded aunt; “look at me!” She displayed her


  ― 187 ―
rubber-shod feet and the wings of her Russian cloak. “How can I take harm with these?”

Eve called her brother, who had just rushed in to give his father the latest news of sweep winnings, and she put the case to him.

“Look here, Alan! are we to let this old lady go out and catch her death of cold, just for the sake of making up a congregation for Mr. Paine?”

“Certainly not,” said Alan. “Most decidedly not. If she doesn't know how to take care of herself better than that, we must teach her. A little woman, under seven stone, as thin as tissue paper, with a chest as delicate as I don't know what—I daresay we are going to let her get cold and catch her death, just to please Mr. Paine!”

“Dear boy,” murmured the object of his solicitude with a hand on his arm, “to think so much of his old aunt! But I am well wrapped up, love, and I do so want to go!”

“You are not to go,” he declared firmly.

And the end of it was that she took off her water-proof and goloshes, and sat down to listen to his story of the rainy Cup—rainier than in Assyrian's year—and the fortune that would have been his had he drawn Glenloth in Tattersall's. She made a bad listener, which was not often the case. The sound of the church bell, faint and thin in the distance, distracted her.




  ― 188 ―

Chapter II

THIS was the first disappointment. And the sad Cup Day, taking its colour from the general aspect of public affairs, seemed to have set the key for all the November holidays. On the fifth it rained again, and harder than before. There should have been an eclipse of the moon on Friday night, and the astronomers had their turn of frustrated hopes, for no moon could show itself through such density of cloud. All Saturday it poured so continuously as to preclude the possibility of bonfires burning, as it was thought, though boys might be expected to try to light them. Mr. Paine got forward with his sermon, and aunt was all day putting her head out of doors to see how the sky looked; but at seven o'clock it was dripping still, and they had to resign themselves to fate. Aunt knew she would not be allowed to go out in the rain, and was not so foolish as to propose it. Eve, also, was ordered by her father to remain at home. Only Alan, who was a young man and could do as he liked, shook himself into his caped ulster, set a flannel cap on the back of his curly head, and marched off to the parsonage.




  ― 189 ―

“I came, sir,” said he at the study door, “to say that aunt and Eve are very sorry, but it was too wet for them to come out to-night.”

“Yes,” said Mr. Paine, “I was afraid so. Well, we must hope for better luck next week. There would be nothing to see, I suppose. Bonfires will never burn after being soaked like this.”

“I don't know,” said Alan; “I expect they'll pour buckets of kerosene over them. Trust the boys not to be done, when they've set their minds on having them.”

“But it's too wet to go out to them. The parents would not allow it.”

“It is not as bad as it was. I think it is holding up. More like a Scotch mist than actual rain. You can hear them letting off their crackers. I'm sure, if it doesn't actually pour in sheets, they will have the bonfires somehow. Shall we just take a run up the tower and look?”

This was not the same thing to Mr. Paine as escorting a party which included aunt, and he begged to be excused. “But you go, if you like, my boy,” he said hospitably. “You know the way. Anna will give you a lantern.”

“And would—would Miss Paine——?”

“You can ask her. I don't suppose she would, on such a night; but you can see what she says. You will excuse me now; I am rather occupied. Saturday is my busy night, you know.”




  ― 190 ―

He retired within his sanctum, and shut the door. Anna, he knew, would do all that was right in the entertainment of the young man. He never thought of her as needing a chaperon or parental protection of any kind. She never thought of it either, young and pretty as she was.

She was sitting in the dining-room, delicately darning a rent in her father's cassock. He had torn it on a nail last Sunday, and said nothing to her about it until Sunday had nearly come again—for which she had severely reprimanded him. She thought it another proof that the forgetfulness of old age was creeping on. But he had not forgotten; he had merely put off telling her to the last moment because he was afraid of what she would say. When Alan Ransome returned from his mission to the study door, she snipped the silk thread, folded up the garment, tucked all her implements into her neat work-basket, and gave herself up to a girl's enjoyments.

“Well,” she said, with a welcoming smile, “you have not persuaded him to do anything so foolish?”

“No,” said Alan, sitting down comfortably and spreading his arms on the table. “But he said I might go up, and that you would give me a lantern.”

“Certainly. But are you really so set on seeing a bonfire? Not that there will be any to-night——”

“There will,” he interposed. “Listen! it has left off raining.”

He held up his hand, and they listened, looking


  ― 191 ―
into each other's eyes. It did not seem to be raining now, but they could hardly have heard rain, in any case, for the constant popping of Chinese crackers in the street.

“Are you really so keen to see a boy's bonfire that you would toil up those ladders in the dark and wet alone——?”

“Not alone,” he again interrupted. “I'll go if you'll go; if not, I shall stop down, of course.”

“And do you think I am going to be so silly?”

“I don't see anything silly about it. It is not raining. They are sure to light up. And the effect will be very pretty seen from there.”

“I have not your passion for bonfires. I disapprove of them.”

“I know. It's just the artistic effect. You can imagine they are the beacons those old Scotch fellows used to burn to summon the clans to war. Do come! You promised that you would on Sunday.”

“Yes, if fine. And when I thought we were going to be a party.”

“You and I are party enough. Your father told me I might ask you.”

The colour rose in her pretty face. She got up and went out to look at the night. Alan promptly followed her.

“It is pitch-dark,” she said falteringly.

“All the better,” he declared. “They will show up splendidly. Far better than if it were clear.”




  ― 192 ―

“It does seem so idiotic,” she continued, laughing. But there was indecision in her voice, and he felt his point was gained.

“Go and wrap yourself up and get the lantern,” he urged. “If you don't like to climb the tower, we can just have a look from the church gate.”

Still protesting, she fetched a cloak and hat, and procured a lantern from the kitchen. The maid-of-all-work was out for the evening, like all bush-town maids on this day of the week, when shops closed at ten instead of at six, and a faint flavour of Continental boulevard made the lighted pavements attractive, even in wet weather; so there was no one to spy and make remarks upon the young lady's proceedings. It is needless to say that she would have indignantly scouted the idea of doing anything, at any time, that the whole world might not see and know of; but we all have our weak moments, and the unacknowledged feeling that she was taking rather an extreme liberty with conscience and the convenances caused Anna Paine to respect her father's judgment and prerogatives a little more than usual. She was glad that he had told Alan to ask her to go with him, and that he saw no harm in her doing so.

Of course they did not stop at the church gate. A glow in the distant darkness showed that one bonfire, at least, had been started successfully, by kerosene or otherwise; and Alan believed it was the one that he had built, and insisted that they must go up the


  ― 193 ―
tower to prove it. Anna said, “Oh, well, just for a moment”; and the sudden thumping of her heart seemed to presage the fate that she thereby rashly invited.

The key was in the vestry door—“as usual!” Anna interjected—and they let themselves into the church, the intense silence of which was almost audible. It was, by the way, a superior church for a bush town; large and strong, built of the white granite that formed the hill on which it stood and the wooded ranges that surrounded it. The tall, square, battlemented tower was a particularly rare distinction, of which the parish was very proud. It had three storeys, the middle one being the bell chamber; and on the leaded roof stood a tall flag-staff, from which the royal standard flew on Queen's birthdays and other national occasions. The ascent was made by very long and extremely shaky ladders, which, however, were guaranteed to bear.

At the bottom of the lowest of these, in the porch behind the great west door, Alan halted.

“I will go first and open the trap,” he said. “Stay here till I get up. Don't start till I am off the ladder, and can hang down the lantern for you to see by. Are you sure you don't feel nervous?” His tone was very tender.

“Not a bit,” she replied; “I have been up too often to feel nervous.”

But still her hands trembled as she grasped the


  ― 194 ―
rungs, one after another, and slowly hoisted herself after him towards the square hole overhead.

His eager, handsome face overhung the hole, and his arms were outstretched to receive her as soon as her hat was on a level with it. The trial to women's nerves was at these points, because the ladders stood against the wall, and one had to clamber sideways over a little chasm to reach the floor; and he was resolved to take every care of her.

“Don't bother,” she cried, hurriedly scrambling to her feet; “I am used to it. I don't want help. It's your poor aunt whom we shall have to look after, if she is really determined to come up on Wednesday.”

“She is quite determined,” said Alan. “You would think she was a girl looking forward to a ball, the way she is counting on it. Poor old thing!”

He lowered the cover over the trap door, and they ascended the second ladder, past the beam that supported the bell, which projected rather dangerously. “Mind the beam! Mind the beam!” he kept calling out, until the little figure had passed it, and was near him once more. Then he dashed aside the lantern, and was in time to half lift her from the ladder to the floor.

“I told you I wanted no help,” she protested, shaking out her skirts. But she said it with a friendly laugh, and her face, gleaming for a moment in the little haze of lantern light, was lovely with girlish blushes.




  ― 195 ―

Again he made the trap-door safe, and they ascended the third ladder, which came out upon the roof. This time he set the lantern upon the edge of the opening, and when she came up he seized her in both arms, and dragging her and himself to their feet together, stood on the leads and held her to his breast, and kissed her face and hair under her hat brim.

She uttered a cry of consternation. “Oh! oh! was this what you enticed me up for? Oh, Mr. Ransome, don't—you forget yourself—”

“But you don't mind—you do care for me,” he murmured, continuing to kiss her with all the ardour of a lover of his years. “I know it—and you are not angry with me really—not really, Anna? I couldn't help it—it had to come some time. Well, I won't tease you, if you'd rather not. Let us look at the bonfires. Yes, there they are—two of them—and that biggest one is mine. At least, I helped some little fellows to build it.”

They stood, silent and trembling, in an embrasure of the granite battlements, and looked out upon the world. It was one limitless sea of gloom, save where the street lamps and the torches of the Salvation Army defined the broken outlines of the town below them, and where the bonfires blazed upon the black hills that ringed them round. One of the fires soon went out; the other lasted longer, and made a brave show to the end.




  ― 196 ―

“That's mine,” said Alan.

But it was useless to pretend to be interested in trifles of that sort now. They were two young things, as nature made them, and it was all dark night around, and they were absolutely alone in it. Lovers never could have found a place better fitted for love-making than the top of that church tower, with the three trap-doors shut down. Before they knew it they were leaning against each other, like two shocks of corn in a summer field. And Alan asked his companion whether she loved him, and she confessed frankly that she did.

“But, dear,” she said solemnly, “I am very sorry that this has happened. I have been hoping—praying—that you might not come to care too much for me.”

“Oh, Anna! Why?” Her head was resting on his shoulder, and his moustache upon her lips, so he could not understand it. “Because, Alan, I can never marry you.”

“Oh, why?” he cried again. “Not just yet, perhaps, until I have begun to make a living—”

“Never!” she reiterated, in a tragic voice. And she stood away from him, and leaned upon the breast-high parapet of stone, which was wet with unheeded rain.

“That's nonsense,” said Alan Ransome.

“No,” said she; “it is duty.”

How should it be duty, he wanted to know. For his part, he couldn't for the life of him see it.




  ― 197 ―

“I will never leave my father, Alan. He is getting infirm, and he has no one but me to take care of him. While he lives I must not think of making a home for myself.”

“But, dearest, other girls do it. Every day they do. It is what fathers expect.”

“Other girls may be selfish, but you would not wish me to be so, Alan.”

“At any rate, he won't live for ever. He is getting old, as you say.”

“People sometimes live to be eighty and ninety, and so may he. We will not count on his death, please, dear.”

“No, of course not. Still—well, we need not bother about the future yet—one never knows what may turn up. Let us be happy in the present, darling,” drawing her again into his young arms.

“But if I let you be happy in the present,” she urged, “I shall be laying up unhappiness for you in the future. No, Alan, I will not drag you into a long engagement, that might last till I am an old maid—as old as your aunt. You shall be free to marry and to live your life. I am not free. I am dedicated to my father for as long as he lives. You must give me up, dear.” And here she sobbed a little, and kissed him.

“I won't give you up,” said the boy tempestuously.

“You must, darling. You shall not sacrifice yourself for me.”




  ― 198 ―

“I tell you I won't,” said Alan.

Then the cruel rain came down, and they had to go down too. At every trap-door they stopped to hug and kiss each other, to say that they must part, and to declare they could not. On the bench in the porch, at the foot of the last ladder, they sat down to repeat the process. They did so again in a pew in church, and once more in the vestry. There they did indeed part for the moment, for they could not bear to re-enter the house together, as if nothing had happened.




  ― 199 ―

Chapter III

AND the old man and the old maid had no luck at all. On Prince of Wales' birthday it simply rained in torrents from morning till night, without stopping once. The flag on the church tower clung like a wet dish-cloth to the staff, from the time it was run up at what should have been sunrise until it was taken down at dusk. And at dusk the town crier went round with his bell, and announced that the display of fireworks was postponed to a future date. It would have been something to have a little tea-party at the parsonage, without the fireworks and the tower. But it was too wet even for that. The old man was depressed and dyspeptic, and the old maid went to bed at nine o'clock and cried herself to sleep, though such very old fogies were certainly old enough to have known better.

But at last it all came right. The town was not to be defrauded of its holiday, and Tuesday, the 15th, was appointed, by advertisement in the local papers, as the day when shops would close, sports be celebrated in the public park, fireworks let off and torchlight procession take place, all as they would have done on the 9th had weather been favourable. And


  ― 200 ―
Tuesday was just as perfect a day for the purpose as the previous Wednesday had been the reverse.

Mr. Paine sent a note to aunt before he had his breakfast.

“DEAR MISS RANSOME,—

“Will you and your young people give us the pleasure of your company to tea to-night? The weather does seem settled at last, and it will be pleasant on the church tower, if you think you can manage the ascent. I am told the fireworks are to be very fine. With our united kindest regards,

  “Yours very sincerely,

   “WILLIAM PAINE.”

Aunt hastened to return an answer—by Eve as she went to school.

“DEAR MR. PAINE,—

“Thank you very much for your kind invitation. Tell dear Anna that we shall be delighted to come. We are quite looking forward to our little excursion up the tower, especially in such beautiful weather. I shall be able to get up quite well, I am sure. I have always been fond of fireworks, and it will be so nice to see rockets go up without cricking one's neck.

“Believe me, dear Mr. Paine, most truly yours,

   “ELIZABETH RANSOME.”

The recipient of this note spread it on the breakfast-table, beside his plate of egg and bacon, and read it again and again, as if it were some choice bit of literature.

“How would it be,” he suggested diffidently, “to ask one of Eve's schoolgirl friends? She is so much younger than the rest of us. She might be dull without a companion of her own age to talk to.”




  ― 201 ―

“A good idea,” said Anna graciously. “I will do so. Then,” she thought, “there will be six of us. Father looking after aunt, and Eve having another child to keep her company, Alan and I will have a chance to talk over our affairs. And the table will be balanced properly.”

She set the table with her own hands at half-past five. There was a nice cold fowl, and a tongue, and a veal pie, and delicious cakes that she had made herself, and a salad, and a dish of strawberries, with cream. She was a sparing housekeeper, as a rule, so that Mr. Paine, when he came out of his room from dressing, was surprised to see so handsome a repast, and his pleasure equalled his surprise. Aunt had not had a meal in the house for years, and he had been anxious lest Anna should think less of aunt's entertainment than of the keeping qualities of food in warm weather.

It was quite warm weather—full summer—now, and aunt came at six o'clock, in the prettiest new crépon gown, grey, with a puffy vest of white silk, that gave quite a style to her little figure. She had iron-grey hair, which had once been black, and her thin, small face was ivory-white; but her eyes were dark and brilliant still, with something of the expression of Toby's: very sweet and earnest, if you took the trouble to notice them. Her hair was drawn plainly back into a knot of braids behind, as an old woman's hair should be; but she had pinned a


  ― 202 ―
red rose into the lace at her neck, which was an anachronism, a false note, to Anna's mind.

“I think, Miss Ransome,” said that prudent young lady, “you would have been better advised to put on an old gown to-night. The tower is a dusty, cob-webby place, and you will spoil that pretty new one.”

“Oh, no,” said aunt carelessly, patting her hair before the glass in the spare bedroom. “It won't hurt.”

“You had better let me lend you an old one of mine.”

Aunt would not hear of such a thing. She was like poor father, who thought nothing of tearing a good cassock on a nail.

They went into the drawing-room, which was profusely decked with roses, and almost immediately into the dining-room, which was similarly adorned, several vases of them standing about in the interstices of the well-filled table. Alan, with a bud in his button-hole, sat by his hostess, and aunt at Mr. Paine's right hand. The two old folks beamed as they settled themselves in their chairs and opened their napkins, but the four young ones were too occupied with their own interests to notice it. The French windows stood wide to the exquisite light and air, and on the verandah Toby lay at full length on his stomach, with his nose between his paws, keeping an eye cocked upward in the direction of aunt's face. Now and then she threw him a confidential smile, which set his fringed tail thumping vigorously.




  ― 203 ―

“You are not eating,” remarked the host, breaking off a little story of a quarrel in the choir—aunt was so sympathetic and understanding about these things—to note the condition of her liver wing.

“Oh, I am getting on beautifully! It is a delicious fowl—I am enjoying it so much,” she assured him; and urged him on with his absorbing narrative. But the fact was she had the very least sore throat, which somehow seemed to have taken away her appetite. No one, of course, was allowed to suspect this.

“And so I went to the girl, and told her I was sure Miss Lomax had not intended to insult her, and begged her to take the solo, since there was no one else able to sing it; and I had a talk with Miss Lomax to try and persuade her to explain But they would neither of them listen to me. Each said she would never come into the choir again while the other belonged to it. So they are both staying away—which means that we have not a reliable soprano at all. The others will not open their mouths without some one to lead them, and Anna cannot do everything.”

“It is too bad,” said aunt warmly, “that you should be worried with those petty squabbles, when you have so much else, so many more important things to think of. It is a pity I am not a young girl, with a good treble voice.”

“Yes—no, no, I don't mean yes. It would be a


  ― 204 ―
pity if you were anything but just what you are. Do let me take your plate and give you some pie. Some strawberries, then? Anna, Miss Ransome's cup is empty.”

“I beg your pardon, Miss Ransome,” said Anna, with a start. She was forgetting her duties for the moment in a semi-private discussion with Alan on the great subject of individual responsibility. The pair of schoolgirls were chattering across the table about the affairs of their school, their approaching examinations, the holidays, the matric., and so on. It was a most successful tea-party.

After tea, it being still broad daylight, the children sat down to a game of tiddledy-winks, to pass the time until it was dark enough for the fireworks. Tiddledy-winks looks a silly game to those who do not play it, but to those who do it becomes strangely fascinating; so that even after the lamps were lighted it was difficult to make those players leave off. Anna took Alan for a stroll round the garden, but before she did so gave proper heed to the question of what was to be done for aunt.

“I think, father,” she said, “that Miss Ransome ought not to go up the tower in the dark, for the first time. If you were to take her now, while it is still daylight, and make her go gently and take plenty of time, she would not be nearly so nervous. Al—Mr. Ransome would see after us.”

“That is a good idea,” cried Mr. Paine. “Come,


  ― 205 ―
Miss Ransome, we will lead the expedition. What wraps have you?”

Aunt's little mantle was fetched, and declared to be inadequate. Mr. Paine insisted on an old furred jacket and woollen hood, provided by his daughter.

“It will be chilly up there, though it is so mild now,” he said, “and you must be careful of that delicate chest. Put on all the warmth you can carry, Miss Ransome. Be on the safe side.”

“Perhaps I had better,” she said, submitting meekly to Anna's resolute hands. “I seem to have just a little touch of cold hanging about me from the damp weather.”

“If I had known that,” said Alan menacingly, “I wouldn't have allowed you to come. I've a great mind to forbid your going up.”

“Dear boy, it is nothing,” she answered in a panic, and hastened out before he could say more. Alan was going to be a doctor, and was beginning to practise on his aunt. She thought it so sweet of him to take such care of her, and to give her pills and potions when she was not well; but to-night she preferred to be taken care of by Mr. Paine. Luckily, Alan desired her room at that moment, and not her company; so he let her go.

Happiness is not the prerogative of youth, whatever the young may think. Those two old fogies, left to their own devices for three-quarters of an hour, were perhaps as happy as they had ever been in


  ― 206 ―
their lives. When they had shut themselves into the vestry, and shut out the dutiful children who loved to keep them in order, they felt young themselves; and, though they treated each other with a delicate respect that is somewhat out of date, the same light was in their eyes, the same glow in their hearts, as had been kindled in those of the girl and boy now walking round the garden.

“This is my new chalice-veil,” said the parson eagerly, “that I got out from London last mail. I have been wanting to show it to you. Is not the work perfect? And here's the illustrated catalogue—I want you to tell me which of these altar cloths you like best. I must manage somehow to get a new one before next Easter, and I have such faith in your taste; I am always wishing for you to consult with and to decide for me, Ah, it is too dark to see properly! Put it in your pocket and look at it when you are by yourself at home.”

This was the sort of thing they talked about. Trumpery, doubtless, to people who are not old fogies, but heart-satisfying to them.

The dusk was gathering fast when they passed down the church to the front porch and the ladders, and Mr. Paine began to be anxious about aunt's nerves, and she anxious to show him how intrepid (under certain circumstances) she could be. He reproached himself for not having rigged up certain appliances to make the ascent easier, and she skipped


  ― 207 ―
up the trembling rungs while he was talking about it, so that his heart came into his mouth. Anna would have been scandalized to see an old lady so conducting herself had she been there.

They reached the top safely, but slowly. The rapid twilight had become night by the time they emerged upon the roof, and when aunt was led to the battlemented parapet to look out upon that view for the first time, she cried, “Oh—h—h—h!” in rapture.

It was indeed a beautiful picture, well worth the waiting for. There was no rain or mist to spoil it now. The sky was clear of cloud, full of its own deep Australian night colour, and thick with stars. Like waves along the horizon rolled the forest-covered ranges, all distinct in the transparent air; shadows of velvet, with here and there a house-light, like a diamond twinkling out of them. The town beneath lay suffused in Rembrandtish glows from lamps, seen and unseen, and red torches beginning to flare under the new-leaved English trees. The atmosphere was pure and fine to an intoxicating degree, for no factory chimney, no coal smoke, no mud, no dust, no anything that was unclean, defiled it; it was the atmosphere of the hills and of an early summer night washed in plenteous spring rains and perfumed with the wholesome breath of gum-trees and flowers. In short, perfect.

Aunt sighed a long sigh once or twice in silence. When she spoke there were tears in her voice.




  ― 208 ―

“This makes one feel,” she said—and stopped, unable to express herself.

“Yes,” said her companion softly.

The torches were all lit, and glowed redly down the street like an invisible house burning. Out of the glare the clock-tower of the post-office rose, pallid and unsubstantial, into the upper darkness, like something in a lime-lighted transformation scene. Little foreshortened figures, mere ants upon the ground, were moving hither and thither—members of the fire-brigade, in their smart uniforms, arranging the torchlight procession.

“I must call the children,” said Mr. Paine.

He went to the trap-door and listened; then he went to the parapet overlooking his own house and grounds, and signalled with a gentle “cooee” over the tree-tops. Presently the young ones, heralded by the lantern, which was extinguished as soon as possible, came scrambling up, laughing and calling to one another; and as the last one—Eve—put lier head out of the hole, whish—sh—sh—the first rocket shot into the sky, burst with a little hollow noise like a bursting pea-pod, and rained down its enchanting stars.

“Those rockets,” said Eve to her companion, “cost five shillings apiece.”

“I think it a wicked waste of money,” said Anna.




  ― 209 ―

“In these bad times, too,” said Alan sympathetically.

But aunt whispered, to the grey man beside her, that she simply loved to look at them; and he said, so did he.

The procession was formed, and began its march round the streets, to the stirring music of the town band. They could not see it for a long time, but saw where it was by the illumination of the trees above it as it passed. Every now and then it emitted a spray of little rockets, that died upon the roofs and roads, and, like great chords in a merry tune, another and another of those soaring big ones, which would have beckoned the souls of spectators like aunt to the infinities they seemed to pierce if Eve had not persisted in stating how much they cost. At last it came flaring and clanging into the street beside the church, along by the tree-walled church garden, and round the corner, and past the gate; and just in front of the tower it halted, spread, re-formed, and lit itself up in the most amazing blood-red flame—a wizard light, celestial or infernal, anything but earthly, transfiguring the world, “just as if Biela's comet had run into us,” Eve Ransome said. The grey-white granite of the tower wall blushed crimson as a rose, and the faces on the top of it were the faces of angels or ghosts. The church trees glittered, leaf by leaf, like the jewelled trees of fairy-land.

“I would not,” said aunt, in a low tone of rapture, “have missed this for anything!”




  ― 210 ―

“I am so glad,” said Mr. Paine earnestly, “so devoutly glad that it is a fine night. I did so want you to enjoy it.”

Then the red light died out, and the cool, clear, blue darkness came back, with all the quiet hills lying out in it. The procession marched back into the town, with its Liliputian rabble after it, and worked its magic in other streets. Four more great rockets—another pound, as somebody remarked—leaped, hissing, into the empyrean, and dropped each its handful of coloured stars in space. Then all was still, the church tower was left alone, and the night suddenly began to feel cold.

“It's over,” said Eve, jumping up from where she lay on the flat of her back along the sloping leads. “Polly, let's go down and have another game of tiddledy-winks.”




  ― 211 ―

Chapter IV

NEXT morning aunt awoke with a very sore throat. But a maiden aunt is not privileged to be ill on account of so ordinary a complaint as that, and she got up and dressed and pursued the trivial round and common task as usual.

First she went into her nephew's room, picked his slimy sponge out of his soapy hand-basin, and his towel—very wet—from the floor, where he had flung it, on top of his pyjama trousers. Also she removed his hair-brush, which he had plunged into the ewer before using, from the book—the good, new, medical book—on which he had left it, face downwards, to drain. Though she had brought him up, she had never been able to make him keep his things tidy—nor Eve either. She, too, liked to throw her nightgown on the floor, and anything wet that might be handy upon it, or upon the bed. She would never hang up frock or jacket by its loops, nor upon a knobbed hook if there happened to be a sharp-ended one available. She would never wear her “sets” in rotation, but always took the garment that came first out of the drawer; and she forgot to change her things on the right days, and to put them into the


  ― 212 ―
wash when they were changed. Also, she never brushed her teeth when she could help it, nor thought it necessary to do more to her hair than have it superficially smooth for meal-times. Aunt did not blame them, for they had had a slatternly mother. She just did their tidying for them. This, of course, was worrying work at times, and worry tells upon you when you are not well. To-day, somehow, she did not feel as if she could stand too much of it.

Going into her niece's room, before descending to breakfast, she found Eve dressed in the white frock she had taken off last night—by no means a frock to go to morning school in. She was ordered at once to change it.

“It's cool,” said Eve mutinously, “and all my others are hot ones. Besides, it's dirtied out, going up that tower.”

“It is scarcely soiled at all,” said aunt, “and will last some time for afternoons. Take it off, my dear, when I tell you.”

Eve pulled it off tempestuously, dashing about the room. She had a writing-table of her own—a birthday present from aunt—and on it stood the travelling ink-bottle which she persisted in using rather than the solid vessel that had been provided for her. The two halves of the travelling ink-bottle were nearly equally heavy, and she mostly left it open. It was open now, and as she ill-temperedly flung herself about she knocked it over, and the ink streamed


  ― 213 ―
across the pretty table-cloth. She hastened to mop it up with one of her best cambric pocket-handkerchiefs.

“Oh, Eve! Eve!” wailed aunt. “When shall I teach you sense!”

“I'm awfully sorry—I didn't mean to do it,” pleaded Eve. “Don't be cross, there's an old dear. It's all right now. And I'll put my old frock on, though it is such a fearfully hot day.”

“I will try to get your new print finished, darling,” said aunt, appeased.

Eve took off the too-smart white dress, and stood in the coloured petticoat which had been showing through. On the breast of that petticoat was a large, dark patch. Aunt saw it, and touched it; it was sopping wet.

“Well, aunt, there was a slug got upstairs and crawled over my clothes in the night. I only saw the slimy mark where it had been after I had put on my petticoat, and I just took a sponge and cleaned it.”

“Child, take it off directly—take everything off. You will catch your death!”

“I can't, aunt dear. I haven't got another petticoat. It's in the soiled clothes-basket. I forgot to put it in the wash. And the other one is slit all down the front.”

“Give it to me to mend,” said aunt, in a voice of despair.

The troubles of the day came thick and fast, and


  ― 214 ―
before noon the little woman broke down under them. Alan, hunting for biscuits to stay his stomach until dinner-time, found her crying in the pantry, where she was trying to fill a glass jug from an empty filter.

“Hullo, old woman, what's the matter?” he cried, affectionately concerned.

“Did you ever see such a minx as Sarah?” moaned aunt bitterly. “You would think she did it on purpose. Empty again—and in this weather! And I have just found the big kettle cracked right across the bottom! She left it to go dry on the fire, and when it was red-hot poured cold water into it.”

Aunt dropped her head on her nephew's stalwart arm and sobbed aloud.

He put the arm round her. “Here, you are not going to cry about a rubbishy thing like that, surely! Give me that jug—I'll fill it at the bank filter. Why, you're all of a tremble! And how hot your hand is!” He grasped the little hand, and laid his large, cool fingers on the flurried pulse. “Aunt, you're ill—that's what's the matter with you—not kettles and filters. Come along and sit down and tell me how you feel. It's that beastly tower business, I expect. I just thought you'd catch cold, exposed so long to the night air.”

“I had it before, darling. I could not have caught it there, wrapped up as I was—so well taken care of.”

He took her to the family sitting-room, and there looked at her tongue, listened to her breathing—which


  ― 215 ―
was decidedly heavy—and put a clinical thermometer into her mouth. Temperature, 101°.

“You go straight off to bed, old lady,” he said sternly. “That's the place for you.”

“I can't, dear boy. I must get Eve's print frock finished. Now that the weather has turned hot, she has nothing to wear.”

“Off to bed,” he repeated, with the inflexible air of the professional adviser. “If you don't go of your own accord, I shall call the Governor to make you. I shall send for a doctor whom you won't like half as well as you do me.”

Aunt went to bed, and Eve put on a poultice—in a great hurry—before going to afternoon school, and Alan administered a dose from a bottle he had procured at the chemist's. Then the patient was ordered to go to sleep, and no one thought anything more about her until tea-time. The boy went to the club tennis-ground, and the girl, on her return from school, practised exercises on the piano. Aunt, propping herself on pillows, and with her work-basket beside her, sewed at the print frock all the afternoon, and finished it.

She was accustomed to a cup of tea at four o'clock, and to-day pined for it desperately, choked with the scorching thirst of a fever now at 103°. She heard the rattle of the tray as Sarah carried it to the sitting-room, and trembled with suspense as Eve strummed on and on, regardless of its arrival. After


  ― 216 ―
five minutes' waiting, aunt called aloud; she waited, weeping a little, and called again; but she was too far off for her voice to be heard, and she had no bell. At last, in desperation, she got out of bed and went down the passage in her nightgown—a thing strictly forbidden by her medical man. Eve heard her then, and came flying to scold her for disobeying Alan's orders.

“You bad old woman! What's the use of doctoring you, when you undo it all like this?”

“I want my tea, love; and I want it hot,” said poor aunt.

“All right. I thought you were asleep. Go to bed, and I'll bring it to you.”

Aunt retreated to her room, and Eve brought the tea. But now it was tepid and nasty, the milk a brown scum upon the top—no comfort at all. However, aunt bore the disappointment, rather than trouble Sarah and Eve to make a fresh cup, since they did not volunteer to do so. She drank the wretched stuff, while her niece eagerly turned about the print frock and urged her to finish it if she could, so that it might be put on in the morning.

When the girl had gone, having been called for to take a walk with a school friend, the little hot hands sewed on desperately until their job was done. Then aunt got out of bed again to put away her work-basket, lest Alan should suspect what she had been doing and scold her; and, returning, lay down in the


  ― 217 ―
pensive dusk to realize how solitary she was, and how much more ill she felt than she had done in the morning. “Oh, how happy they are that have their own dear husbands to take care of them!” she thought, with her handkerchief at her fevered eyes.

However, she was not without some one to care for her. In the evening, when the family were making merry with a casual guest over a game of cards, and Sarah was talking to her young man at the yard door, a shrinking, slinking form came gliding through the passages and up the stairs and straight into the darkened room. Toby seemed to have foreboded that aunt was ill, and felt impelled to come and see, the reason of which unusual solicitude on the part of a dog for a person not belonging to his own household being due to his instinctive knowledge that she ought to have belonged to it, and virtually did so. He laid his damp nose on the edge of the mattress and whimpered under his breath, begging her to reassure him. Then, after standing still for a long time, while she embraced his head and let him lick her face as much as he liked, he stealthily climbed upon the bed and stretched himself at full length beside her. He was full of fleas, but she did not mind that now. They lay there together in silent sympathy until Mr. Ransome, learning that his sister was not well, came to ask her how she felt, on his way to bed. Then Toby was kicked downstairs and bundled out into the street.




  ― 218 ―

All next day Mr. Paine kept audibly wondering what on earth was the matter with that dog. Toby left the house, and came back, whining and restless; left it again, and returned in the same perturbed condition, as if vainly looking for something.

“What is it, old dog? What is it, then?” he demanded cheerily, slapping Toby's sides.

Toby yapped, jumped with all his feet at once and made little runs to the door.

“Do you want me to take you for a walk, old fellow? Very well; let us go for a walk.” Mr. Paine went to get his hat and stick, and Toby shrieked with eagerness. So the object of his desire seemed understood.

The parson, who was an inveterate gossip, saw and stopped a few parishioners in the street; then he remembered that he had something to say to his treasurer about a Church meeting, and called at Mr. Ransome's bank. The manager was at home, but seemed less interested in Church matters than usual.

“I hope,” said Mr. Paine, “that your family are all well.”

“Thank you,” said Mr. Ransome, “they are, with the exception of my sister, who has managed to pick up a nasty sort of feverish cold.”

“I am sorry for that. She is not seriously indisposed, I trust?”

“I trust not,” said Mr. Ransome. “For the house all seems to go to pieces when she is laid up.”




  ― 219 ―

He said no more, and Mr. Paine, feeling that he was not wanted particularly, got up to go. “Here, Toby! Toby!” he called. “Where is that dog of mine off to?”

“I daresay he is in my sister's room,” said the banker, with wonderful toleration, for he had been heard to threaten that he would shoot Toby some day. “You might leave him, if you don't mind. It amuses her to have him.”

“Certainly,” said Mr. Paine, “if he is not a nuisance. Give her my kind regards, and tell her I hope she will soon be herself again.”

That evening, when he was in his study, looking up a subject for Sunday's sermon, Toby came and clawed at the door, and whined more urgently than ever.

“He can't want a walk now,” thought the parson, annoyed by the disturbance; “and if he goes on like this, he will have to be punished. Quiet, sir!” he thundered.

Then Toby gave up asking him to come and help poor aunt in her extremity, and went back to do what he could for her by himself. He found the bank shut up, and lay on its street doorstep till morning.

In the morning the town rang with the news that aunt was in a critical state with inflammation of the lungs. The veriest nobody becomes a somebody under these circumstances. Mr. Paine, breakfastless,


  ― 220 ―
was rushing off to make inquiries, when a note was put into his hand.

“DEAR MR. PAINE,—

“My poor aunt has had a very bad night, and the doctor seems to consider her case a serious one. Father thinks it would be a comfort to her to see a clergyman, so will you kindly come round to-day, if quite convenient? They are trying to get her to sleep now, so perhaps you had better not call until after dinner.

  “Yours sincerely,

   “EVE RANSOME.”

Mr. Paine called four times, but it was not until late in the afternoon that he was let in, though his daughter had been assistant nurse all day. It was Anna who withheld, and then gave permission to admit him, and who gravely escorted him to aunt's room.

“She is a little better now,” said the young clergy-woman, in her business-like way, “but it will not last. You had better urge her to take the sacrament while she can. I suggested it for this afternoon, and that we should join, but she seems to wish to see you alone first. I am afraid she does not realize how short her time is likely to be.”

The clergyman, leaving behind him his prayer-book for the sick, and all concern for the viaticum, to which Anna attached so much importance, crept into aunt's room. What a change, in three days, from that happy, happy night! She had just rallied from


  ― 221 ―
a sort of half-drowned state, out of seas of stupefying pain and narcotic insensibility, and she smiled at him wistfully with her heavy, dark eyes. But death was in her face. He saw it the moment he looked at her, and she knew that he saw it.

He sat down in the chair by the bed—on the far side of her lay Toby, looking from one to the other with solemn satisfaction—and he took her poor hand in his, and wept over it and kissed it. It was the first lover's kiss that aunt had ever had.

“Lock the door,” she whispered, panting.

He stumbled across the room, blind with tears, and turned the key in the lock. Going back to her, he dropped on his knees, put one arm under the pillow and the other over her labouring little breast, and kissed her again—on the lips this time. She kissed him back, moaning, with shut eyes, holding him to her as well as she could with hands so fast losing their power to hold anything. Toby gently stretched forward from where he lay beside them, and licked the two grey heads.

“I have chosen the altar-cloth,” gasped aunt, when she was able to speak. “Number fifty-two—the Latin cross—with the three stars—on the super-frontal—in silk velvet—the best——”

“Oh, my dear,” he groaned, “don't mind those trifles now!”

“Yes. You must get it—for Easter. I want a lawyer—to come and make a codicil. I want to


  ― 222 ―
leave—the money to buy it—number fifty-two. Then—when you go—into the church—and see it—you will remember me.”

“Oh, my God! As if I shall need anything to remember you by!”

A bursting sob broke from him, hushed down quickly, lest the people in the house should hear. Aunt's face screwed up for a moment, and two tears rolled down. Toby rose to his feet in alarm, and sniffed and whined.

“Don't—darling!” breathed aunt. “Oh, I never knew—I never thought—that you cared—like that!”

“Didn't you? You must have known. But the children, dear—the children——”

“They would never have allowed it,” sighed aunt.

“I might have had you all this time to take care of, to nurse——”

“And I could have been such a comfort to you—William——”

“Elizabeth! Oh, what a different life! What a home——”

“But the children—wouldn't let us. They would have said—we were mad. They would never—never have allowed it, William.”

“And now—now we have lost the chance!”

“Yes—no, not quite. This has been—our chance. Kiss me, William. Oh, William! I never thought—to call you William—to have you kiss me—William——”




  ― 223 ―

“Oh, Elizabeth! Elizabeth!”

Toby whined again, begging them to command themselves. But they could not.

Anna looked at the clock in the sitting-room about this time. “Father must have finished his prayers and reading by now,” she said. “I must take her some nourishment.”

She took it, and firmly administered it. Mr. Paine witnessed the operation in mute anguish, hovering between the bed and the door, while the patient did her best to show him that she could swallow still. Then he was ordered to go home and do his sermon. For it was Friday night.

On Sunday night she died, while he was preaching a sermon that was several years old. And, of course, he had not been allowed to nurse her in her last hours, though Toby was privileged to stay by her nearly all the time. Toby would have been turned out often, but whenever he saw a chance of that happening he got under the bed, and so evaded notice. He also learned that he must not open his mouth, though his heart should burst with grief; so he lay and watched in passive patience, or with pricked ears and quivering nose, until his friend ceased to see that he was there, ceased to respond to his surreptitious licks, ceased to be visible to his yearning eyes. Then he did lament most dismally. They overlooked him, lying under the bed, when they left her in a long box with a sheet over it, hidden


  ― 224 ―
in a nest of cut paper frills; and the noise he made gave Sarah such a turn that she declared she durs'n't sleep in the house till the corpse was out of it. A corpse that a dog howled over in that fashion was something out of nature, she said.

They tied Toby up with a strong chain all Monday, so that he might not disturb the funeral.

The weather changed on Monday—in that sudden way that is peculiar to Australian weather—from summer to winter, in a night. And the hundreds of mourners that “followed,” in cabs and buggies, and on horseback and on foot, after the kindly Australian custom, felt an unusual grey dreariness in the familiar function, and were glad to get it over and get back to the warm precincts of home and the public-house. By four o'clock—twenty hours from the time when she had belonged to the living world—poor aunt was in her grave, with the raw earth heaped above her; and the gates of the cemetery were shut, and not a soul within them.

But one came back. Mr. Paine, having gone through the ordeal of getting his tea, could no longer endure the proximity of his daughter, with her untimely questions and advice. On a pretext of parochial business, he went out while it was still day-light, and took Toby off the chain to go with him. The dog sprang forward, wagging an expectant tail, as if there were still hopes that aunt might be somewhere whence she could be brought back, But when


  ― 225 ―
he stood beside her grave, and saw how his master looked at it, he seemed to understand what had been done that day, though he had not been to the funeral. He lifted up his nose and howled on a long note; then he fell upon the new-made mound, and began to rake away the earth with his fore-paws.

“No use, Toby!” said his weeping master. And he stopped the dog's proceedings, replacing the scattered mould with his hands, and patting it smooth. Dogs were not allowed in the cemetery, by order of the trustees, but the print of Toby's body was discernible upon that mound as long as the soil was loose enough to take it. The caretaker laid wait with his gun for the desecrating beast, until the matter was explained to him. Then he and the trustees gave Toby the freedom of the city—that city of the dead.

The Ransomes wanted to buy him, for aunt's sake, and the enticements of pats and bones were offered from many other quarters. But a dog like Toby is not to be bought, though men and women are. He stuck to his fellow-mourner, making more of him than he had ever done, seeing a new need for his devotion—a double need. The parish did not see it, but Toby saw it—the change that the 20th of November had worked in William Paine. The children might call him an old man now, for he was an old man. But he had not been old before.




  ― 229 ―

“One of these Little Ones”

“I AM going,” said Mrs. Atcheson to her young friend, Minna Smith, “to have tea on board the Seamew this afternoon, and the captain has asked me to bring you. Will you come?”

She looked up, suffused with smiles, from a note she had been reading. This was the note:

“DEAR MRS. ATCHESON,—

“Bring your visitor by all means. I shall have no difficulty in finding some one to help us to entertain her. The children, I fancy, can amuse themselves.

  “Yours very faithfully,

   “JOHN BRENT.”

John Brent was the captain of the Seamew, and the Seamew was not that sort of ship which makes a business of afternoon teas. She did not fly the white ensign, nor even the blue; she was merely an old merchant sailing vessel of about sixteen hundred tons, unloading steel rails and loading wheat at Williamstown. Williamstown, it may be remarked, still felt the stir of commerce in her veins, and the pier over the way did not lie naked as a breakwater for half the week, as it does now.




  ― 230 ―

Miss Smith was delighted. She was a bush girl, to whom ships were a novelty; at the same time she had cultivated a romantic passion for the sea, having sailor blood in her. She thought it was so very kind of Captain Brent to think of asking her.

At three o'clock she put her pretty little sailor hat on her pretty little curly head, and tied a sailor knot in the coquettish necktie that finished off her navy-blue serge gown. Mrs. Atcheson—who husband was a pilot, cruising outside at this moment in a gale of wind—put on her beady bonnet and a little veil that ended at the tip of her nose, and they set forth on their expedition. The children did not go; they did not even know they had been invited. Mrs. Atcheson preferred the freedom of her own arrangement. She wished to do what was quite proper, but she did not wish to have her tête-à-tête with the captain interfered with.

The Seamew lay near the end of the pier, and a sister ship, called the Penguin, of the same company, chanced to lie beside her at the extreme end. The former had but recently arrived, the latter was ready for departure; her sails were bent, her flying jib-boom run out, her sides glossy with new paint, all spick and span as she could be, a foil to her neighbour, rusty and weather-beaten, whose toilet was still to make. The yards of the Seamew swung bare and lop-sided, her deck was in confusion with the open hatch and swinging cargo and clanking windlass, and her grimy


  ― 231 ―
hull was only made grimier by the stripes of gleaming scarlet that men on hanging platforms were beginning to daub upon it. But ships, and captains of ships, must not be judged by these outward appearances.

No sooner were the two ladies in view of their destination than two men cast themselves over the side of the Seamew, disappeared amongst railway trucks, and, emerging, saluted.

“There they are!” cried Mrs. Atcheson joyfully.

“Which is your captain?” inquired Minna Smith.

“Oh, the fair man, the fair man, of course. Such a nice fellow! But I never knew a fair man who wasn't,” said Mrs. Atcheson, who was thirty-nine, and had had a vast experience of both sorts.

Minna pointed out that the other gentleman was dark. Having tawny locks of her own, inclining to the fieriness of Captain Brent's beard, she rather preferred dark men. As yet, however, they were only pictures to her mind—not men.

“So he is. And a handsome fellow too! I don't suppose all dark men are bad,” the matron allowed, smiling her sweetest smile upon this one, whom she had never seen before.

Cordial greetings ensued, and the stranger was introduced as Captain Spurling of the Penguin. Mrs. Atcheson had not seen him before because his ship had spent her time in port at a Yarra wharf. She had loaded in the river, and was only touching at Williamstown on her way out. Her master was


  ― 232 ―
as much smarter than his host as she now was to the Seamew—a fine, tall, full-bearded, straight-nosed, black-eyed fellow, young for a sea captain, but not so young as he looked. Despite his colour, Mrs. Atcheson was strongly tempted to annex him, but she remained faithful to her older friend, who, having made Miss Smith's acquaintance, desired to know why the children had not turned up.

“Dear Captain Brent, it was so good of you to ask them! But Maudie had a little cold, and Jacky was awake half the night with toothache, and the weather was so bad.”

They walked on together. Captain Spurling and Minna followed. The latter, being unaccustomed to society and the other sex, wore a modest blush and smile that were very becoming; and the bold eyes of her gallant escort dwelt admiringly upon her. “I am decidedly in luck,” he thought. “I don't think I ever saw a prettier young creature.” Which was quite true. And her great charm lay in the evident fact that she was not yet quite old enough to know how pretty she was.

He helped her with much tender care up the somewhat rude gangway of the Seamew, steadying her with his arm; and in a very short time they were left to their devices by the chaperon and the host. Mrs. Atcheson cared for captains, one at a time, but not for ships, and when the wind seemed likely to tear her best bonnet to pieces she retired to the saloon,


  ― 233 ―
whence she refused to budge until it was time to return to her family; but Minna was eager to see everything that was to be seen, and revelled in the merry blast that brought the dew of the salt sea to her fresh young lips, and the bloom of a carmine rose-petal to her cheeks. Wherefore she stayed outside, and Captain Spurling stayed with her.

From the poop he showed her his own ship first of all, pointing out wherein she was superior to other ships of her kind, and especially to the Seamew; then he directed her gaze to the ships across the water and the St. Kilda and Brighton shores, through a telescope that he held steady for her. He walked her out upon the bridge, merely an open platform between the boats, and explained the working of the compass and the wheel, while the freshening wind blew her up against him, and, but for him, might have blown her off. He showed her the little engine room, with the forge and tools in it, the bo'sun's and the sailmaker's lockers, the cook's galley, and the tiny forehouse shared by these men and the carpenter, one of whom was performing a rough toilet in it; and, further on, he did the honours of the cavernous fo'c's'le, the modesty of whose inmates was protected by its dense gloom. He introduced her to the fowls, hanging in a huge bird-cage under the boat skids aft of the deck-house, and to the pigs in their sty forward; and he instructed her in the matter of running and standing rigging, and mysteries of that kind. She did not


  ― 234 ―
understand the half of it, but was charmed with everything, and above all with him, the most devoted and delightful showman. When the rain came along on the back of the wind, slanting and stinging, and shelter was desirable, neither of them felt drawn cuddy-wards. Captain Spurling's suggestion that a descent into the Seamew's stomach—'tween-decks and the hold—might possibly be an interesting excursion, was considered a most happy one, and unhesitatingly jumped at.

The men were ceasing work, having sent up the last of those dangerous-looking bundles of railway iron, and only a part of the main hatch was left unclosed. She was lowered to him through this and down the perpendicular ladders with great care, and found herself in an awesome place of shades astonishingly vast. Of course she had no fears—with him—but when that black cavern suddenly rang to a blood-curdling yell that she did not know the cause of, she jumped and gasped, and clutched her companion's arm.

“Don't be frightened,” he murmured, locking hand and arm together. “It is only a cat. Here, puss! puss! puss!”

A pair of yellow eyes glared out of the gloom forward and disappeared.

“Oh—h—h!” sighed Minna, with her hand upon her heart.

It was certainly a creepy place, to one unaccustomed


  ― 235 ―
to it, in that owl's light; and the ship cat was as wild as any Bengal tiger. She was supposed to visit the cook at a certain hour daily, but otherwise lived in solitude, under hatches, waging savage warfare with the rats. Disturbed and startled by the apparition of a lady, she moved about in the mysterious distance with stealthy creepings and scamperings, rending the silence at intervals with that sudden snarling “yowl,” which is distressing to the human ear at the best of times, and now echoed through the ship's emptiness in a most dismal manner.

“Shoo!” cried Captain Spurling; and he pressed his left arm to his side. “We might have had a little more light upon the subject. However, I can see, if you can't. You trust to me.”

“It is like a witch's cave,” she laughed tremblingly, “with that creature mewing. How uncanny it sounds in this great hollow place! I had no idea the Seamew was so enormous.”

He led her into the bows, and they stood invisible, looking back to where the light filtered down from above, dim with rain, on so small a portion of the enclosure. The girl's heart was beating fast, as the heart of seventeen is bound to do under such circumstances. The man felt it, like an electric thrill in the air.

“I suppose that is the mast?” she queried breathlessly.

“The foremast—yes; and the main beyond it.


  ― 236 ―
You can't see the iron-work under the deck, bracing it across and across? No, that's not a rat. Don't be alarmed; I will take care of you. By-and-by all this will be filled with bags of wheat, right up to the top——”

He was interrupted by an agonized wail, as of a soul in torment, and Minna's hand on his arm contracted for a moment. He laid his own right hand upon it soothingly.

“It is so dark!” she faltered. “Hadn't we better go back to the others?”

He drew her—or rather, she drew him—forward, where the light was better. There the sailmaker, since the lower deck was cleared of cargo, had been at work; his implements and a heap of weather-worn sails were spread upon the spacious floor, a bolt of new canvas near them.

“Sit here,” said Captain Spurling, kicking the latter article to a safe distance from the yawning mouth of the hold and the feeble daylight; “sit and rest yourself a little before you go up. It is raining still; wait till it leaves off, so that you don't get wet.”

She seated herself on the bundle, and he presently lowered himself into a nest of sail-cloth, whence he could see into her pretty face and watch the play of her innocent emotions as she listened and talked to him—the stirrings of the young womanhood which had come into being so recently that he was the first man to recognise it.




  ― 237 ―

It was a full half-hour before they climbed back into the world, and they were summoned by a hail from Captain Brent.

“It's hard lines,” said Captain Spurling—and from this remark the reader will infer the preceding conversation—“it's awfully hard lines that I've got to go, just when I have begun to know you.”

“Yes,” she sighed, with her foot upon the ladder. “But you will come back again some day?”

“I hope so. One never knows. You will give a thought to me sometimes when I am away upon the sea?”

She looked at him eloquently, too deeply moved for speech, imagining the blissfulness of companionship with such a man in all the perils of his noble work and romantic solitude: the rapture of tropical cyclones and Cape Horn icebergs, which would have no terrors in such a case. Never had she loved the sea and all belonging to it as she loved it now.

They emerged upon the windy deck and entered the little saloon in silence. On a table by the rudder-trunk was spread the captain's equivalent for afternoon tea—port wine, and almonds and raisins, dried figs, and English fancy biscuits—and he sat beside it. Mrs. Atcheson lolled upon a red velvet sofa that curved with the curve of the ship's blunt stern, under a row of portholes, and she was too much absorbed in her companion and conversation to notice, as she


  ― 238 ―
ought to have done, the colour and expression of Miss Smith's face.

She lay awake all night, dreaming finer dreams than ever come in sleep; and in the morning her hostess gave her a commission.

“Oh, my dear, I am so frightfully busy!” Mrs. Atcheson explained. “You know that I have asked Captain Brent to come in to-night for a game of whist, and I must have two or three to meet him. That means supper. I have a fowl to dress, and oyster patties to make, and I don't know what else; otherwise I would go myself. But I really don't see how I can spare the time.”

“What is it? Let me do it,” urged Minna, anxious to be useful.

“Oh, my dear girl, would you? Oh, I should be so much obliged to you! It is just to go to the pier with this parcel for Captain Spurling. The Penguin is still there, I see, and I'm so afraid of being too late with it. He kindly offered to take anything for me to England, and I thought it a good opportunity to send some cast-off clothes for my sister's children.”

Minna blushed from top to toe. Even Mrs. Atcheson could not fail to see it.

“Are you too shy?” she laughed. “But of course you need not go on board. And Jacky shall escort you. I would not ask you, Minna, to do anything that was improper, my dear. You have only to hand


  ― 239 ―
the parcel to Captain Spurling, and come away directly. I dare not trust Jacky alone with it, or I would not trouble you.”

Terrified, but exulting, Miss Smith presently set forth upon this errand, Jacky, aged ten, accompanying her. He gathered a few friends by the way—Saturday-morning schoolboys, loafing about the streets—so that by the time she reached the Penguin she had four cavaliers; none too many for the support she needed. Jacky, who had the cheek of a dozen, shouted, “Skipper, ahoy!” for which she could have boxed his ears, and Captain Spurling responded in person, to her mingled mortification and delight.

“Give him the parcel, Jacky,” she implored, in a frantic undertone. “Give it to him, with mother's message, and come away.”

But no; this was not how Fate and Captain Spurling meant to deal with such a chance. Off went the skipper's cap, and his handsome face shone trans-figured when he recognised the bashful girl, shrinking away from the group of brazen boys. But it was only a looking-glass to reflect the light in hers, which magenta blushes could not hide from him. He was down the gangway in two seconds.

“What, Miss Smith! And you have brought the parcel yourself? How kind of you! How good of you! Come up and have a little rest after your walk.”




  ― 240 ―

“Oh, no! oh, no!” she replied, with tragic gravity. “I must not stay, indeed. I should not have come, only there was no one else. We are very busy at home, and Mrs. Atcheson wants me.”

“Just for five minutes—just to have a look at my ship before we go. The boys will like to see it—eh, boys? And you have no objection to gingerbread nuts, I suppose?”

Jacky jumped to the bait, and was over the side in a twinkling, his mates at his heels. It appeared to Minna that she could not stand on the pier by herself, nor seem ungracious to and suspicious of a man like this man. And, after all, she had an escort—four escorts—which made it all quite proper. So, with downcast eyes and fluttering heart, she ascended the wobbling plank that served for gangway, steadied by the strong hand; and she stood on the Penguin's deck in the morning sunlight, slim and sweet, with her hair shining, the prettiest young creature that had ever been seen there—to Captain Spurling's mind.

And what became of the four escorts? Unlimited gingerbread was placed at their disposal, and then the bo'sun was called and instructed to show them round. He performed his duty thoroughly. He showed them everything. And they were too much taken up with the mysteries of pantry and store-room, with the medicine chest and the flag-locker, with cutlasses and shark hooks, with harpoons and scientific instruments, to remember that Miss Smith existed. When they


  ― 241 ―
went forward, out of sight and sound, she forgot that they did.

The captain entertained her in his smart little cuddy. He showed her the two or three empty cabins available for chance passengers, with his own small suite on one side and the berths of officers and apprentices on the other; and that was all the sight-seeing they did on this occasion. She had not the zest of yesterday, and seemed afraid even to peep through the doors. The only apartment which her modesty permitted her to enter was his little sitting-room astern. He had cut off with a partition his red velvet sofa and private table, preferring the dignity of seclusion where Captain Brent preferred fresh air. Behind that partition, which made the outer cabin seem cramped and stuffy, he had not only his sofa and table and his arm-chair, but a number of fancy trifles—pictures and Japanese storks, and brackets with little ornaments on them—in the boudoir style; and the general effect was one of great elegance, to the taste of the bush girl. There were several photographic portraits—one of a dark-eyed boy that she concluded was Captain Spurling's brother, it was so like him; but he did not tell her whose the faces were, and she thought it would be rude to ask him. The ports were open, and ripples of light played over the low ceiling, reflected from the rippling tide.

“I must not stay,” she ejaculated, hurried and breathless, and yet she found herself sitting on the red velvet sofa, with a cushion at her back (Captain Brent


  ― 242 ―
would have despised a cushion even more than he would have scorned a paper fan). And presently she found Captain Spurling sitting beside her, with his arm around her waist. Had he been required to defend his conduct, he would have pleaded the irresistible circumstances—for there are men who see a natural validity in this excuse, and a chaperon of thirty-nine has no business to ignore the fact; while as for Minna's conduct, she was a young thing, and knew no better. As young things do, when fine fellows provoke them to it, she had fallen frantically in love; and of course she took this particularly fine fellow for a god in human shape, a king who could do no wrong. If he put his arm round her waist, it was because—oh, bliss unspeakable!—because he loved her too. Such had been her bringing up—strange as it may appear, in a land of precocious girls.

She fluttered in his embrace like a wild bird in a snare, and then yielded to it, dropping her head upon his shoulder.

“Oh,” she wailed in tears, “when—when shall I ever see you again?”

At noon the Penguin was towed out. At night Miss Smith's headache was so bad that she could not join the whist party. A few days later she went home to her mother, who thought her very little benefited by her seaside trip. She was pale and absent-minded; she shunned companionship; she confessed to sleeping


  ― 243 ―
poorly. When asked what was the matter, or whether anything was the matter, she, of course, said, “Nothing.” Mrs. Smith, who had a family of ten, every one of which was cherished as if an only child, knew better, but would not force the confidence that was not freely given. A girl growing up does not realize that her mother is far more accustomed to being young than she is, and shuts her out as one who cannot possibly understand. So Minna's parent, homely and hard-working, erroneously supposed to have no soul above poultry and butter, could only watch her pretty first-born, of whom she was so fond and proud, with an aching heart, and contrive little treats and outings, beaten-up eggs and cups of beef-tea, to cheer her. The instinct that is so rarely at fault in such a case divined a love affair at once, and Mrs. Atcheson, in strict confidence, was written to. Mrs. Smith and Mrs. Atcheson had been at school together.

The reply of the latter was emphatic.

“Certainly not. She met nobody at my house, and even if she had, she is too much of a child to think of such things at present. Do not, my dear Eliza, put ideas of love and marriage into her head; she will grow up and have her woman's troubles quite soon enough. Keep her innocent as long as you can. I daresay she has a little indigestion, or some irregularity of that sort. I should consult a doctor if I were you.”

Mrs. Smith did not consult a doctor. She knew a


  ― 244 ―
nice young squatter, a good son and an excellent man of business, with an honest eye for a pretty girl; and she asked him to come and see them. He came, nothing loth, and came again, and yet again—until the expected result ensued. And then Minna refused him. As it would have been an excellent match, Mr. Smith reasoned and remonstrated; in fact, he wanted to lock her up on a diet of bread and water until she repented of her contumacy. But Mrs. Smith drew the Jovian lightning upon her own head. She would not have the child worried, she declared, and threw over her candidate without hesitation, though with many inward pangs.

Other young men were beckoned to—good, clean, solid bush fellows—and responded readily; for Mrs. Smith, who was said to be a drudge and a slave to her own family, could think of no better cure for her girl's complaint than the old-fashioned “comfortable home” and contingent babies. Not every young woman, by a long way, has a choice of husbands in this so-called favoured land; a vast number do not get the chance of one; but Minna was so exceptionally sweet and pretty that it would have been an easy matter to “settle” her satisfactorily had she been inclined to settle. But she would not hear of it. She refused her third offer as resolutely as she had done the first. And the third, from a father's point of view, was the best of them all.

“What in the name of fortune do you want?”


  ― 245 ―
roared Mr. Smith, justifiably exasperated—nay, fit to dance with rage—at this childish folly and the placid obstinacy of the culprit's face.

“Don't be angry with me, father,” she returned, with a pale smile. “I don't wish to be married. And if I did, I don't want a man of that sort.”

“Of that sort!” he shouted. “Of that sort! The only fault he has is that he's a thousand times too good for you.”

And then the mother interposed.

“Let her alone, Jimmy. She is over-young for husbands yet, and I'm sure we are in no hurry to get rid of her, bless her!” And she paused in her search for a son-in-law, and reproached herself for having, perhaps, “put ideas” into her child's head before it was old enough to receive them.

Meanwhile, Minna's heart was away upon the sea. She thought of the sea all day and dreamed of it all night, and read of it in as many of Clark Russell's novels as the local Mechanics' Institute could supply; and of course she had made up her young mind that only a sailor could satisfy her. Also that her love for the particular sailor responsible for this state of things was “that love which only comes once in a lifetime”—peculiar, as we know, to young people in their teens.

She looked in many newspapers for tidings of the Penguin, but found none. At long intervals she would come upon the name of the Seamew, and of the


  ― 246 ―
Albatross, and the Petrel, and other boats of that line in the columns of shipping news, but she never happened to discover the whereabouts of the most precious of all vessels after the sad Saturday when she stood alone on the back beach of Williamstown to watch it fade upon the horizon, homeward bound. She had fits of fever over this matter, alternating with fits of cold despair when she convinced herself that the Penguin had gone down with all hands, leaving none to tell the tale.

At last she saw that the Seamew had returned to Melbourne. Immediately she resolved to repair thither in order to question Captain Brent about his friend. She confessed for the first time that she was out of health, and said that only sea air could restore her.

“Sea air did not do you much good when you tried it before,” Mrs. Smith remarked, but allowed the child to have her own way, as usual. Maria Atcheson was written to, and Minna was consigned to her, with an equivalent for her “keep” in the shape of a noble hamper of farm produce.

The chaperon expressed herself as quite shocked by the girl's appearance when they met on the Spencer Street platform.

“Why, how thin you've got!” she exclaimed. “I should hardly have known you. i expect you've just been moped to death up there. How people can stand the bush year in and year out I can't conceive,


  ― 247 ―
especially a girl of your age. I know it would kill me in no time. But you'll soon get all right now you are in my hands, Minna. It is not beef-tea that you want, with all due deference to your mother, but a few theatres and parties, and things of that sort.”

“Like we had last time,” said Minna, with averted face. “Do you remember our afternoon on board the Seamew? By the way, the Seamew is in again, isn't she?”

“I believe so. Is this your portmanteau?”

“Yes; that's all. I suppose you have seen Captain Brent?”

“Not yet.”

“Not yet? The ship has been here for more than a week!”

“Oh, I am sick of ships! Come along; let us get home. I am going to take you to a chrysanthemum show this afternoon, and we shall only just have time to lunch and dress.”

The fervour of Mrs. Atcheson's friendships was only equalled by their brevity, and, as Minna presently discovered, Captain Brent had had his day.

So it was a little while before she found an opportunity to get sight and speech of him. Three days of passionate anxiety intervened. Then she excused herself from certain calls, caught Jacky on his return from school, bribed him to go for a walk with her, and flattered his pride as escort by asking him to show her the ships at the railway pier.




  ― 248 ―

“Do you remember the gingerbread nuts that Captain Spurling gave you, Jacky?”

“Oh, yes; he wasn't a bad sort, was he?”

“I wonder where he is now? I suppose you don't know?”

“Never heard a word of him from that day to this. But I'll tell you who is here, Miss Smith—old Captain Brent—and he's worth a dozen Spurlings any day.”

“Why?” asked Miss Smith, indignant and concerned.

“Oh, he's awfully kind, you know. Since he's been in this time he's given us boys the best tuck-out we ever had in our lives.”

Minna laughed, and her step grew brisk.

“Perhaps we might pay him a little call now, Jacky. What do you say?”

Jacky said, in all sincerity, that he was “on.”

It was a late call. The distance from the Strand at Williamstown to the railway pier is much longer than it looks, and this was a time of year when the shades of evening fell early—soon after five o'clock, in fact. The ships, when they were reached, loomed vast and vague, infinitely majestic and imposing, in the brooding hush of a sea-foggy night that had quite closed in. All work for the day was over, and the old pier was deserted, the few yellow gleams on its rail metals and the hulls that lined it serving but to deepen its air of solitude and make darkness visible.


  ― 249 ―
Nevertheless, Captain Brent was at home—contrary to the custom of captains in port—and he welcomed his visitors cordially. He wanted them to stay and dine with him, and was much disappointed when Miss Smith reluctantly refused, on the ground that Mrs. Atcheson did not know where they were. “We were just having a little walk,” she explained, “and being so near we thought we might as well say ‘How d'ye do.’” Which, Captain Brent declared, was a most friendly act on their part. And he brought out his port wine, and the bush girl, not to hurt his feelings, sipped a little of it, not at all understanding how good it was.

Over the nauseous glass she found an opportunity to mention Captain Spurling.

“I hope he is quite well,” she said, in a casual way. “I have not seen his ship mentioned in the papers. I hope he reached home safely after leaving here?”

“Oh, yes,” said Captain Brent. “He got home all right. Found a new baby added to the family circle.”

“A baby!” gasped Minna, petrified.

“Three weeks old. And, what was a great deal worse, found that his daughter had run away and got married. Eloped with a music-master.”

“His daughter! Do you mean his daughter?”

“The eldest. Nothing but a child, of course. But that's the worst of being a sailor, Miss Smith. You can't take care of the young girls when they want protection most, and they won't mind their mothers


  ― 250 ―
these times. Why, she couldn't have been a day older than you are. Not nineteen till May, I think they said. Young hussy! And as for that music-master, I believe Spurling pretty nearly killed him, and serve him right.”

“I,” said Minna, in a dazed way, as if talking in her sleep—“I shall be nineteen in May.”




  ― 253 ―

A Sweet Day

LORD THOMAS DE BOHUN had been married twice — and more. In fact, he was sick and tired of womenkind. And that is why he came out to Australia. He thought a year or two of travel in a savage country, free of all the trammels of civilization, would give him a rest. Besides, the second Lady Thomas had been rather nice to him, and she had died pathetically, and he missed her. Wherefore he loathed the British matchmaker for the present, and was glad to get as far away from her as possible.

He was not a roué and a reprobate, such as this introduction might imply. Nothing, of the sort. A better-natured or more charming young man — he was on the right side of forty still — was not to be found in London. But he was the son of a duke, poor fellow, with a great deal of money, and no work to do — misfortunes for which the fair-minded reader will make a large allowance.

In the beginning, Australia did not quite answer his expectations. Whereas he had imagined a dresssuit to be a thing unknown, he found himself obliged


  ― 254 ―
to wear one nightly, and he was just as ducal in our city clubs and drawing-rooms as he would have been at home — indeed, a great deal more so. But as soon as he escaped into the country he was all right. Clad in moleskins and a Crimean shirt, with a soft felt hat on his head, and big spurs on his heels, he galloped about at kangaroo hunts and cattle musters, a simple bushman of the bush (while his servant played the gentleman in Melbourne), enjoying health and happiness and the unrivalled charm of novelty to a degree unknown before. Anybody could get him who had no right to get him. The great country houses, flattering themselves that they alone could entertain him suitably, found it a most difficult matter to drop salt on his elusive tail.

He was at a bush hotel one evening, spending a convivial hour with perfect strangers, who did not know he was Lord Thomas. Having heard his name was De Bohun, they called him Mr. Bone, and were quite satisfied with that. So was he. The talk turned upon agricultural machinery, as used by English and Australian farmers respectively; and a member of the latter class, as Lord Thomas supposed, was most anxious to show him a five-furrow plough and various modern implements-American “notions” of the labour-saving kind.

“You come home with me,” said the jolly old man, “and you shall see 'em working. Now do, Mr. Bone. Pot-luck, you know, but a hearty welcome.”




  ― 255 ―
Lord Thomas jumped at the chance, for, amongst other delightfully novel pursuits, he had set himself to the improvement of his mind in these matters, as a responsible landlord and potential duke.

“But your family?” he objected. “Would it not inconvenience them to receive a stranger without warning, and at so late an hour?”

“Not a bit of it, Mr. Bone. There's always a bed ready for anybody that may turn up. Mrs. Kemp will be charmed to see you.”

“In that case,” said Lord Thomas, “I accept with pleasure.”

A pair of rough horses, in a ramshackle American wagon, were brought round, and they set forth on a ten-mile voyage through the bush, with neither lamps nor moon to steer by. At a long, swinging trot, never hastening and never loitering, the shabby animals did it in an hour without making a false step, and were as fresh at the end as at the beginning. The mysterious, illimitable gloom and the romantic solitude were very refreshing to the London man, and so was his host, who was full of merry tales and valuable information. Lord Thomas, in short, enjoyed his adventure thoroughly.

But he was taken aback by the sight of Mr. Kemp's house. Instead of the shanty of his anticipations, he beheld a tall and imposing structure, cutting a great block out of the starry midnight sky. A sweet place by daylight — ivied, virginia-creepered,


  ― 256 ―
grape-vined all over its mellow brick walls and decaying verandahs, with a great garden and magnificent trees around it.

“Built by my father in the early days,” said Mr. Kemp. “The first big house in this district, and the only one for nigh twenty years. We've been rich folks in our time, Mr. Bone, but the ups and downs, you know, — things ain't what they used to be, specially since the Boom. However, we've still got a roof over us, thank God, and a crust to share with a friend.”

The family had retired, and the guest, having been warmed with whisky, was escorted to his bedroom by the host. It was a kind of bedroom to make him feel slightly nervous about meeting the hostess next morning. The bed creaked with age, and so did the carpetless floor beneath it; but the linen was fine and the pillows soft, the handsome old rosewood furniture shone like glass, and there was an impalpable air about everything that bespoke the house of a lady.

“I don't know whether you like the windows shut?” said Mr. Kemp, hospitably bustling about. “We always keep them open, and the blinds up. Nobody to overlook us here, you know.” He tried to pull down a sash which stuck in the frame, but at Lord Thomas's request desisted.

“Leave it as it is,” said the guest. “I like them open. It's so Australian!”




  ― 257 ―
And he presently lay down on his lavender-perfumed couch, feeling — after his experience of bush inns — that it was the nicest bed he had ever occupied. And that scent of the earth and of the night, coming in through open windows, how exquisite it was! He blew out his candle-a home-made candle in an old chased silver candlestick-and slept like a baby.

Not for long, however. Voices called him through those open windows, and before six o'clock he was leaning out of one of them, awake and alive as he ad rarely been at such an hour.

What an Arcadian world was this, in which he felt like a man new born! Air as clear as crystal, and dew shining on shrubs and trees; giant acacias and native white cedars, and pink and white oleanders that could have swallowed an ordinary bush house; the morning moon still gleaming like a jewel over the saffron sunrise and the intensely dark-blue hills.

He had heard curlews in the night and frogs at the break of dawn; now the magpies were fluting all over the place, cheerful fowls were crowing, laughing jackasses shouting “Ha-ha-ha!” and “Hoo-hoooo!” to one another. Delicious sounds. But none acutely audible as the immense silence at the back of them.

“This,” said he to himself, “is the real bush, that we have heard so much about, at last.”

He looked down from his window, and saw the arrows at the ripe grapes now loading the eaves of


  ― 258 ―
the verandah; saw a hare limping along the gravelled paths, where no hare should be. He looked over the garden hedges to the peaceful fields outside, where cows were feeding quietly, throwing shadows on the wet grass; flocks of cockatoos were screaming amongst them, and sprinkling themselves like white flowers over the fresh-ploughed land; and an army of dusky jays held the vineyard on the hill, whence their joyous gabble rose continuously. It was not his property they were destroying, and he saw and heard them with delight — those denizens of the wild bush — that was healing him, body and soul, of the ills of excessive civilization.

The pink dawn spread and glowed, quenching the horned moon and dimming the sapphire hues of the distant ranges. Then some white bee boxes gleamed conspicuously to the right of the flower garden — an orderly encampment, like tents on a field of battle — and he could see the busy swarms going forth to their day's labour. He could even hear them humming, they were in such myriads. And another thing he heard-a faint, muffled clatter-which he traced to a little building near the gate of the bees' enclosure; a shed made of reeds, with two windows and a door in it — doubtless the honey-house, in which some one was early at work. As he listened to the noise within, he watched the door, which faced his view, and presently he saw a girl come out of it. She wore a pink cotton sun-bonnet, veiled with a


  ― 259 ―
bushman's fly net, and an all-embracing tight apron, which made her look like the toy figures of a Noah's ark. In each hand she carried a long tin box, one heavier than the other, by rough loops of fencing wire; and she marched with them down an alley between the bee hives. Mr. Kemp had casually mentioned his daughter, who, at the time, Lord Thomas had not regarded as affecting him in any way. Evidently this was she, and the circumstances of the house disposed him to take another view of her.

He saw her put the boxes on the grass and set the lids open, then lift the roof from one of the wooden hives. A cloud of angry insects rose to her stooping face and buzzed about her; it made him tingle to see them, but she heeded them no more than if they had been motes in the sun- rays that now lighted up her figure so effectively. She puffed something that smoked into the open hive from a sort of little bellows arrangement, and then lifted out the frames of comb, held them dangling in the air while she brushed black masses of bees off them, and placed them edgewise in one of the boxes on the grass until she had quite filled it. Out of the other she took similar frames, which she dropped into the emptied chamber, and shut down there. Then he saw her labouring towards the honey house with the weighted box, and was exasperated to note how it dragged her down. She passed it from hand to hand to case the


  ― 260 ―
strain, but could not carry it without a twist of her supple body, a staggering gait, and pantings that he seemed to hear, though of course he could not.

“What a shame!” he inwardly ejaculated. And he withdrew into his room, emptied a can of water into a battered old bath, and dressed in haste. The clatter in the honey-house, which had ceased while she was amongst the bees, showing that she worked single-handed, began again.

“I wonder,” quoth Lord Thomas, “what she's doing in there?”

He thought he would go down to see, and went, stepping softly, so as not to disturb the rest of the family, who did not seem to rise so early as she. As usual in the bush, no locks or bolts impeded him; he turned the handle of the hall door, and noiselessly slipped out.

What a morning indeed! Freshly autumnal — for it was the end of March — though the day would be all summer until the sun was low again; cool almost to coldness, with an air that washed the lungs and invigorated the heart in a manner to make mere living an ecstasy, even to a lord — the air of the spacious, untainted bush, and of nowhere else in the wide world. He stood a moment on the steps of the verandah to drink it in — to sniff the wholesome odour of gum trees and the richer scent of the perennial orange flower starring the thick green walls of the orchard paths. Then he strolled down one of those


  ― 261 ―
perfumed lanes — the one that divided the back garden from the front-and presented himself at the gate of the bee enclosure just as Miss Kemp, with one of her tin boxes, dashed out of the honey-house and slammed the door behind her, disappointing the expectations of a cloud of besieging bees.

She saw him and stopped short, evidently taken aback, and conscious of her coarse apron and limp sun-bonnet, not worn for company. He hesitated for a moment in sympathetic confusion, but, being immediately aware that the form thus plainly outlined was a charming one, as also the pink face in the frame of pink calico, stood his ground and modestly accosted her. He lifted his cap gracefully, and a bee got under it.

“Good morning — you brute!” was what he said.

“Don't come,” she cried in answer, waving him back. Then she pulled off a sticky glove and held a bare hand over the gate, regardless of bees, expressing a polite astonishment at his being up so soon.

“I heard of your arrival, Mr. Bone,” said she. “I hope you slept well. I hope you like Australia, as far as you have seen it.”

They chatted conventionally for some minutes. He apologised for his presence, and she reassured him, on behalf of the family, with an easy frankness that seemed to say he was but one of dozens of Mr. Bones flowing in a continuous stream through the house, like tramps through a casual ward. And then


  ― 262 ―
he begged to be allowed to help her in her work. “I am sure,” said he, “you must want somebody to carry that heavy box — oh, conf——! They know I am a stranger, evidently.”

“Go away,” she laughed. “You have no business here. I don't want help — I am quite used to doing it all — and you'd better go and sit on the verandah, where you can be at peace. Or wouldn't you like a stroll round? With a pipe, perhaps?”

“Will you show me round?”

“I'm sorry I can't; I must be busy here. The honey is coming in so fast this weather — which may break at any moment-that I can't gather it quickly enough. I get on an average nearly a quarter of a ton per day.”

She looked at him with an air of professional pride, forgetting her costume; and he looked at her. The closer view showed freckles and a retroussé nose, without at all detracting from her charm. He could gaze full into her face without being rude, because her eyes were continually following the movements of the bees that buzzed about him. Every now and then her fingers skirmished round his head like a flight of butterflies.

Five minutes more, and she was tying a large apron round his waist, over a very old coat that did not fit him, and he was planting on his aristocratic head an aged straw hat, flounced with mosquito netting. In this costume, finished off with a pair of


  ― 263 ―
good gloves of his own, cheerfully sacrificed, he was allowed to pass through the gate and take up the box by its handles of fencing-wire. The sun was well above the ranges now, and every dewy leaf and blade of grass glittering.

“What a heavenly morning!” he sighed ecstatically.

“Isn't it?” she assented, and then fell to work again with an energy interesting to contemplate in a person of her sex and years. She walked between the rows of hives till she came to the one to be operated on; he walked after her, inwardly nervous, but with an air of utmost valour.

“Now be careful,” said she, as she seized her little bellows. “Tuck that net into your waistcoat in front, and then lift the lid off for me.”

He did as she bade him, and gasped at the spectacle presented. How all those bees managed to breathe and move, let alone work, in the space they occupied, was more than he could understand. She had no time to explain just now. While he stood rigid, and imagined bees under the hems of his trousers — for they were thick in the grass he stood on — she rapidly smoked the hive and drew out the frames of comb, heavy with honey, brushed thousands of stinging things off them, and placed them in the empty tin. From the full one she took the frames, filled only with hollow cells, which she had brought from the honey house; and these she dropped into


  ― 264 ―
the hive amid the masses of bees, leaving less than an inch between one wall of comb and another.

“And you make the same wax do again?” he inquired, thirsting for knowledge.

“Many times,” she replied, pleased to inform his ignorance. “That comb will be refilled in about ten days. Put the lid on again, please. Gently-don't crush more than you can help. Now ——”

She straightened her back and looked at him.

“Now what?” he inquired eagerly.

“Well, if you would, you might be filling the other box while I extracted.”

But this was rather more than his courage was equal to. He said he was afraid he did not know enough about it yet.

“Very well; we will go and extract the lot we have.”

They went to the honey-house together, and she quickly shut the door as soon as both were in. He smiled to himself as he saw her do it. The situation to him was — well, noticeable; to her it was absolutely without sentimental suggestions. The honeyhouse was the place for work, not for play.

It was a stuffy and a sticky place, for its little windows, as well as the door, had to be closed to keep the bees out. Ventilation depended on the loosely-woven canvas lining the reed-thatched walls. Half of the floor was raised above the other half, so that the honey from the extractor, pouring from the


  ― 265 ―
spout upon a fine sieve, could flow downwards to the great tank, and from that into the tins which conveyed it to market. Five tons' weight of these tins were stacked on the lower floor, all filled and soldered up; and many more, Miss Kemp stated, were stored in the house.

“I used to get sixpence a pound for it,” she informed him, with an anxious, business look in her pretty grey eyes; “but now the stores won't give more than threepence. It really doesn't seem worth while, at that price, taking railway charges and all do you think it does?”

Lord Thomas did not, emphatically.

“So I am going to try exporting. I have the regulation boxes and tins — fifty-six pounds in a tin, and two tins in a case — and, as soon as I can get my hands free here, I shall prepare a consignment for the London market. I do hope that will pay! You are an Englishman, Mr. Bone — what is your opinion of the chances of a trade in Australian honey?”

With the confidence of utter ignorance, Lord Thomas assured her that there was a splendid opening. He knew people — heaps of people — who would snap it up gladly; and proposed to himself to be her purveyor to those people, comprising all the De Bohuns and his numerous lady friends.

“Oh, I am so thankful to hear you say that!” Miss Kemp ejaculated, with a heave of the chest.


  ― 266 ―
“You see wool is down, and cattle selling for nothing and the value of places like this dropped to less than what they are mortgaged for; therefore something must be done. I've begun with honey, so I want to go on with it. I can increase to any extent, if I can only get a regular and paying market.”

He was oddly touched, and more interested and amused than he had ever been in his life, to see a pretty girl regarding her destiny from such a point of view. It was something quite out of his experience. She really wanted to work, and not to flirtto do something for men, instead of being done for by them. And et there was nothing of the new woman about her. She was sweetly old-fashioned.

For instance, it gave her a visible shock to learn, in the course of miscellaneous conversation, that he had a baby ten months old and had left it behind in England.

“What!” she exclaimed tragically, “without either father or mother to look after it?”

“Oh,” said he, “there are plenty of people to look after it.”

“Who will — who could — like its own parents?”

“Well, you wouldn't have a fellow travel about the world with a nursery in his train-now would you?”

“I don't know how you can travel, under such circumstances.”

He thought this very funny. And yet he liked it. Lady Thomas the first had detested children; Lady


  ― 267 ―
Thomas the second, a mother for a day, had shown no feeling for them. This girl's evident concern for his virtual orphan-who, as she said, might die of croup or convulsions without his knowing it, while he idly gadded about like an irresponsible bachelorstruck him as very interesting. She asked questions about it in an earnest way, and made him feel quite fatherly and serious. He wondered if the poor little brat was really being cared for properly, and determined to make strict inquiries by the next mail.

Conversation was notallowed to hinder business. While she talked in this friendly, human fashion, Miss Kemp worked as he had never seen a lady work before, as he had never worked himself since he was born. With a frame of comb in one hand, and in the other a big knife, kept hot in a tin of water standing on an oil-fed flame, she sheared off the capsules from the cells that had been filled and closed, leaving those that had bees in them, with the rapidity and dexterity of a performing conjuror. Then she dropped the frames into the wheel arrangement inside the extractor, and turned the handle violently-no, he turned it for her while she prepared more frames, full ones for the machine and empty ones for the tin box, and cleared up the shreds of wax, and so on. She had no regard for attitudes, nor for the state of her complexion, and it was clearly evident that she valued Lord Thomas for his services and not for himself. He had never been in such a


  ― 268 ―
position since he was a fag at school; in relation to a woman, never. It chagrined him a little, but pleased him much. He determined to remain Mr. Bone for the present.

Called to breakfast, he made the acquaintance of just such a hostess as he had expected — a faded woman, with a refined face and voice, English born, and homesick for her own country. He exercised upon her that art of pleasing, of which he was a master, and she was so charmed with him that she begged him to stay a little, not to run away immediately, unless bored by the dulness of the place. Her husband abetted her, with the unquestioning hospitality of the bush, which asks no more of a guest than that he shall know how to behave himself.

“And I'll show you all my improvements,” said Mr. Kemp. “A good deal more than you could run through in an hour or two, or even in a day.”

“Thanks, thanks,” Lord Thomas murmured. “just at present I am more interested in the honey industry than in anything else. I intend to keep bees myself when 1 get back, and it is a great chance for me to see all the working of the thing as it is done here. Er — er — how clear and beautiful that is!” He looked at a dish containing a square block of honey in the comb, neatly removed from the wooden frame it was made in. Letty hastened to pass it to him.




  ― 269 ―
“Isn't it?” she crooned, surveying it with a maternal air. “And this is what I get only threepence for in the local market! I can't but think there must be ways of exporting it in sections, with careful packing. Don't you think if it could be brought on English breakfast tables in the comb like this there would be a great demand for it? I am sure they haven't honey to surpass our honey.”

Lord Thomas was equally sure of it — convinced, indeed, that benighted England never tasted anything like it in its life. Mrs. Kemp smiled a superior British smile. Mr. Kemp pooh-poohed the fuss his daughter made over comparative trifles. What was honey, as a topic of interest for an Englishman anxious to improve his mind, compared with ensilage, and irrigation, and six-furrow ploughs ?

For two precious hours Lord Thomas found himself obliged to attend to these latter subjects with what interest he could muster, and he only got away from them so soon by force of misleading insinuations to the effect that bees were his natural hobby and bee-keeping his proposed profession. At eleven o'clock he resumed his sticky apron and gloves, his old coat and his veiled old hat, with more delight than he had ever taken in clothes before — ridiculous as it seemed, even to himself — and rushed to the heated and messy honey-house as he had never rushed to a royal garden party.

Letty's hot face lighted up at sight of him. Beads


  ― 270 ―
of perspiration lay like dew under her clear eyes and over her pretty lips, but she cared not, neither did he. This sort of thing did not spoil the effect, as usual.

“Oh, how good of you!” she exclaimed. And at once she set him to work. He buckled to with might and main as if his life and hers depended on the amount of honey they could extract in a given time. They had two hours together, talking while they worked, growing better friends every minute.

“Labour-saving machines,” said she, still harping on the one string, “are splendid, I know; but they run away with money when there isn't any money. My plan is just the opposite of father's. It mightn't be such good economy in other circumstances, but as things are it is my idea of economy. I don't know what you think.”

He told her what he thought, and she told him it was beside the point. So it was. So he wanted it to be. Hard as he worked at the handle of the extractor, he worked still harder at trying to change the subject. But, though she might be led aside a step or two, she could not be wholly drawn from it.

It was worse after lunch. She said to him, with the firm air of a general directing military manœuvres, “Now you know all that is to be done in the house, so you can attend to that while I am changing the frames in the hives. Oh, never mind


  ― 271 ―
the box; I can carry it quite easily. And we shall get on twice as fast.”

He found he had to do it — the uncapping with the hot knife, and all the rest of it — while she went back and forth outside. It was a long afternoon, and the little shed was stifling. The perspiration poured from his brow and trickled down his neck as he strained every nerve to be ready for her each time she brou-ht the full box in. And his wages were next to nothing.

But at last the sun went down, and his long struggle to get the better of his rivals seemed over. They came straggling home in the golden twilight to their well-earned rest, and Letty Kemp prepared to follow their example when it was too dark to work any more.

“There,” said she, with a sigh of utter weariness and satisfaction, “we have done well, haven't we? I can't tell you how much obliged to you I am, Mr. Bone.”

Suddenly he felt tired of being Mr. Bone and a casual labourer, so he said awkwardly, “Er — er — I think you haven't got my name quite correctly. It is De Bohun — Thomas de Bohun.”

“Oh, I beg pardon,” she returned, in an airy manner; and he perceived that she was not enlightened. “You know, Mr. de Bohun, there is a little talk and movement about eucalyptus honey just now. Some chemist people at home have been praising its medicinal


  ― 272 ―
properties. And it is everything in these cases to strike while the iron is hot.”

“Ye — es,” drawled Lord Thomas absent-mindedly. Actually she had been so absorbed in those blessed bees as not to have heard of him in his proper character.

They took off their sticky overalls and returned to the house to prepare for the evening meal. And when Miss Kemp came downstairs, washed and brushed, in a pale-blue frock, a white muslin fichu, and a rose, Lord Thomas thought her beautiful. Yes, in spite of freckles and a turned-up nose. Never had he seen in woman's shape such pure health and such an absence of self-consciousness. Of all the charming novelties surrounding him, these were the most charming.

“I suppose she's too busy to notice what a sweet creature she is,” he thought, as he sat down to the juicy slice of mutton for which he had earned so keen an appetite. And he anticipated with joy the leisure hours he now expected to spend with her, undisturbed by bees, in the somewhat threadbare drawing-room.

All went thither together at the conclusion of the meal- the comfortable tea-dinner of the bush. Mr. Kemp, desiring to talk ploughs and ensilage, proposed a smoke. His guest, yearning for tobacco, aching in every limb, declined. Mrs. Kemp sent her daughter to the piano, and Letty played — admirably


  ― 273 ―
Lord Thomas thought — the intermezzo from Cavalleria, and a few things of that sort; and while he tried to listen, and to feed his sense of the girl's many-sided excellence, his hostess babbled about London as she remembered it, and wanted a thousand and one details of the dear city as it was now. During a laborious description of the Thames Embankment, Letty rose from the music-stool, and softly moved about the room. Her admirer flattered himself that she was listening to him, but was shortly undeceived. She vanished at a moment when his face was turned from the door, and never came back.

“Does she actually leave me!” he dumbly groaned. “Is she so lost to all the feelings of her sex as to imagine that I won't miss her while I have this old woman to talk to?” It was enough to drive any titled gentleman to extremities.

Soon he was hunting the dim verandahs round and round, in search of the fugitive. He explored the passages of the house; he walked about the garden, smelling so strongly of orange blossom, in the pure night air; and he used bad language under his breath. At last he was drawn to a light shining like a thread of incandescent wire through a certain outhouse door. He lifted the latch and looked in.

There she was. Kneeling on a piece of sacking in the middle of the floor, with her blue skirt pinned up round her waist under a large apron, and with all the mess of a station workshop and lumber-shed around


  ― 274 ―
her, she was busily engaged in painting her brand on honey tins. A kerosene lamp shed effective rays on her dainty figure, her fair, clear skin, her shining chestnut hair.In short, Lord Thornas stood and looked at her, fascinated. Of the thousands of pretty women that he had admired in his time, not one had ever appeared to such advantage in the matter of background and grouping. Yet he protested at the sight.

“Oh, I say! Haven't you done enough work for one day, Miss Kemp? Are you trying to kill yourself?”

She looked up at him with a laugh; and her eyes, focussing the light were like stars in the grubby gloom.

“Oh, I beg your pardon, Mr. de Bohun! I thought, as you were talking to mother, you would not notice if I slipped away for half an hour.”

“Did you?” said Lord Thomas, entering and shutting the door behind him.

“I want so badly to get my consignment away next week. And I thought if I painted the tins tonight, they would be dry for packing in the morning — ”

She continued to dab her black brush upon a slip of perforated zinc, but her quick hand became slightly unsteady, and she blushed visibly, even in that bad light. The fact was that Lord Thomas — not as Lord Thomas, but as a man — was a delightful fellow, and it was not in nature that a healthy, heart-


  ― 275 ―
whole girl could spend a long and intimate day with him without being more or less affected in the usual way. As yet her bees were of more consequence than lovers-he was resentfully aware of it-but that did not prevent her feeling hourly more conscious that toil was sweetened by his participation therein. She was pleased that he had found her. She was more pleased when he took the black brush from her, asked leave to remove his coat, turned up his cuffs, and began to paint honey tins himself.

“I am not a very practised hand at this sort of thing,” he confessed. “You must tell me if I don't do it right.”

“You are quite as practised at that as I am at looking on while others do my work,” she replied.

“So I suppose,” he rejoined thoughtfully.

They had a happy hour, unmolested by the parents, who never supposed that their practical Letty could lend herself to foolishness. Lord Thomas painted all the tins successfully. He could not well go wrong while she held the lettered label straight. Their two heads were within an inch of touching as they bent over their job; a handkerchief might have covered their four hands while the branding was in process. They looked at each other's fingers continually.

“Mine,” said Letty, “are quite rough compared with yours, I don't think I ever saw such beautiful nails. It's my belief you never did a stroke of work in your life until you came here.”




  ― 276 ―
“Well,” said Lord Thomas, colouring a little, “I am afraid I haven't done much. You make me awfully ashamed of myself, Miss Kemp.”

They fell into serious talk at this stage — the first serious talk Lord Thomas had ever had with a young lady, all his experiences notwithstanding.

“I wish,” he abruptly remarked, “you'd teach me to be as useful as you are.” There was much feeling in his voice.

She seemed to think the matter over. Then she asked him when he intended to return home. He said he was not sure.

“Soon, I suppose?”

“Oh, I suppose so.”

“You must go soon,” she urged. “You must, for the sake of that poor baby, left to the tender mercies of hired people.”

“Well,” he said, “I will.”

“Then you will have an opportunity to be very, very useful. You can look after my honey for me in London — oh!”

He flung the paint-brush into the pot.

“I suppose it is useless,” he exclaimed, through grinding teeth, “to expect you to care a straw for anything except honey and bees!”

There were but two courses open to a self-respecting man, titled or otherwise — to make her do it, or die in the attempt.




  ― 277 ―

She is Her Grace the Duchess now. And an excellent duchess into the bargain. The smart folks laugh at her for not “knowing her way about,” but the duke does not. He thoroughly realizes that she knows it better than they do. When, as a surprise present to her, he established a magnificent apiary in the castle grounds, and then found she did not care for it, he was a little disappointed; but he soon woke to the fact that bees had been merely the make-shift of circumstance until worthier objects for the exercise of her splendid abilities were provided. With great households to administer and young dukes to rear — not to speak of a thousand matters of more public moment — she advisedly transferred her interest in honey to the wives of her husband's tenants.

“But they will never make honey like mine,” she says, shaking her coroneted head. “It wants the taste of the eucalyptus in it.”




  ― 281 ―

The Wind of Destiny

THE yachtsmen of the bay had been jubilant for months: this morning they were simply in ecstasies. Aha! it was their turn now. The sporting landsmen, magnates of the Melbourne Club and the great stations, who had had all the fun of the fair hitherto, were out of it this time. Oh, no doubt the new Governor was fond of his “bike,” and of a good horse, and of golf and polo, and the usual things; and, of course, he would be pleased with the triumphal arches and many gorgeous demonstrations of civic welcome and goodwill. But it was here that his heart would be—here, on the blue water, with the brethren of his craft. The country might not know it, but they knew it—mariners all, with their own freemasonry—they and he.

Every yacht of any consequence had been on the slips quite lately—as lately as was compatible with having paint and varnish dry. One or two of the newer models, wanting extra depth for their bulbous keels, were all but too late in their desire to be spick and span for the great occasion, but happily got a


  ― 282 ―
west-wind tide to float them up in time. And here they all were, scores and scores of them, as smart as they could be, with their beautiful sails going up, burgee and ensign flying in the breeze of the loveliest morning that could possibly have been provided for a national festival depending wholly on the weather for success. Yesterday it had been cloudy and gloomy, threatening rain; and to-morrow the north wind was to blow a sultry hurricane, opaque with dust; but today was heavenly. No other adjective, as Fanny Pleydell remarked, could describe its all-round perfection.

She was putting on her new white drill with the blue sailor collar, and her new straw hat with Kittiwake in gold letters on its new blue ribbon, and joyously addressed her brother through a passage and two open doors. He shouted back that it—the day—was “ripping,” which meant the same thing. The only doubt about it was whether there would be wind enough. There is always that doubt in yachting forecasts—that and the lesser fear of having too much; without which, however, yachting would be no fun at all. The Kittiwake (once the property of Adam Drewe, Esq.) was one of the crack boats, and Herbert Lawson—familiarly “Bert”—was skipper and owner; and he had no mind to make himself a mere St. Kilda decoration, as the land-lubbers in authority desired. Let the others tug at moorings if they chose, like wild birds tied by the legs, for hours


  ― 283 ―
and hours; the Kittiwake intended to fly when she opened her wings—weather permitting—and not submit to be treated as a slab in a canvas wall. She was going to meet the Sunbeam on free water, halfway down the bay, which, with any sort of wind, she could easily do, and still be back in time for the landing ceremony. And so Captain Bert kept an eye on tree branches and the set of anchored craft, while giving keen attention to his toilet, arraying himself in ducks like the driven snow and flannels like milk, waxing the curly points of his moustache till they tapered smoothly as a ram's horns, trimming his nails, and choosing a silk handkerchief to foam out of his breast pocket, as with a view to being inspected at close quarters through a strong telescope from the Sunbeam's deck.

But he was not dressing himself for the eyes of his vice-sovereign lady. It was for the sake of Lena Pickersgill and Myra Salter that he took such pains to render his handsome person as attractive as possible—and he did not quite know which.

Let me briefly explain. Old Lawson had died not long ago, leaving Herbert master of a good business in Melbourne, a good old family house at Williams-town (with the Kittiwake attached), and a most comfortable and even luxurious income for these post-boom days. Sister and brothers were sufficiently provided for—the former married, the latter studying for professions—and there was no widowed


  ― 284 ―
mother to take care of and defer to. Herbert was a man of domestic instincts, and turned thirty, and an arbitrary housekeeper bullied him. In short, every circumstance of the case cried aloud to him to take a wife, and he was as ready as possible to do so. But, of course, he wished to be a lover before becoming a husband, and fate had not yet clearly indicated the object he sought. He was a particular young man, as he had every right to be, and much in dread of making a mistake.

To-day he had arrived at the stage of choosing Lena and Myra, out of all the girls he knew, as the only possibles. Before night he hoped to have made up a distracted mind as to which of the two was the right one. Chaperoned by young Mrs. Pleydell, both were to be guests of the Kittiwake for a long, fine day; and surely no better opportunity for the purpose could possibly have been devised.

Miss Salter was a Williamstown young lady, a schoolmate of Fanny Pleydell's, and was to embark with her hostess early. She was Fanny's candidate for the vacancy in the family, and rather suffered as such from the advocacy of her friend. Miss Pickersgill, belonging to a somewhat higher rank of life, lived in town, and was to be taken off from the St. Kilda pier. Fanny had not wanted to have Lena asked, and for that reason Bert had firmly insisted on it. For that reason also he was inclined to promote


  ― 285 ―
her to the place of honour, rather than a girl whom he felt was being thrust down his throat.

But when he presently met the latter, and helped her into his dinghy with the tenderest air of strong protection, he thought her very sweet. She was a fair, slim thing, shy, unaffected, and amiable, and looked delicious in her white garb. All the ladies on board had to wear white to-day, to harmonize with the pearly enamel of the boat and her snowy new Lapthorn sails; and Myra had the neatest frock, and the prettiest figure to set it off. And, moreover, as he very well knew, she did not run after him when she was let alone.

He rowed her and his sister to the yacht, on which a numerous white-uniformed crew had made all ready for the start, and he sent the dinghy back in charge of his brother to pick up three more lady guests. These three were nobodies as regards this story—a homely aunt and two plain cousins, who had a family right to the suddenly valuable favours at their kinsman's disposal. They made up the number he thought would fill the cockpit comfortably—three on each side.

Mrs. Pleydell, as soon as she had gained the deck, plunged below to investigate the matter of supplies; Miss Salter sat down to survey the scene, and the skipper sat down beside her. They had quite twenty minutes of quiet tête-à-tête, and to that extent placed Miss Pickersgill at a disadvantage.




  ― 286 ―

“Isn't it a heavenly morning?”—or “a ripping day,” as the case might be—was what they said; and “I wonder will the breeze hold?” and “Didn't you feel certain last night that it was changing for rain?”—conversation that had no literary value to make it worth reporting. However, it is not in words that incipient lovers explain themselves, but in the accompaniment to words played by furtive eyes and the corners of lips, and other instruments of nature inaudible to the outward ear. Myra's varying complexion confessed a lot of things, and the amount of intelligence in the horns of that moustache which had been waxed so carefully was wonderful. Indeed, it really seemed, thus early in the day, as if the die were cast. Both looked so handsome and felt so happy, and the weather and all the circumstances were so specially favourable to the development of kindly sentiments.

“I am so glad you were able to come,” the young man remarked, whenever they fell upon a pause, changing the emphasis to a fresh word each time. And the young woman put it in all sorts of modest but convincing ways that he was not more glad than she was. Oh, it was a heavenly morning, truly! And Mrs. Pleydell and the crew were more and more careful to do nothing to mar the prospect.

But soon the fat aunt and excited cousins arrived, all in white, and as conscious of it as if dressed for a fancy ball, and it was time to make for the


  ― 287 ―
rendezvous across the bay. Thither were the yachts of all clubs converging in dozens and scores, like an immense flock of seabirds skimming the azure water, their sails like silver and white satin in the sun. As Bert Lawson steered his own, proudly convinced that she was queen of the company, he named his would-be rivals to his guest, keeping her so close to him that he had to apologise for touching her elbow with the tiller now and then. Occasionally he exchanged an opinion with the crew that the old so-and-so didn't look so bad, and they continually cocked their eyes aloft to where the blue ensign waved in the languid breeze. It wasn't every boat that could dip that flag to the new Governor—no, indeed!

“Isn't it a pretty sight?” the ladies cried to one another—and it certainly was. Even the prosaic shore was transfigured and glorious—in one place, at least. The St. Kilda pier and the hotel, and the steep slope connecting them, smothered all over in green stuff and bunting, and packed with what appeared to be the whole population of the colony, was a striking spectacle as viewed from the sea. The most bigoted Englishman must acknowledge it.

“Oh,” exclaimed Fanny Pleydell, staring through a strong pair of glasses, “I wouldn't have had you miss it for the world, Myra dear.”

“And yet I nearly did,” the girl replied, glancing at Bert from under her hat brim as he stood over her, intent on business. “If mother had not been so


  ― 288 ―
much better this morning, I could not possibly have left her.”

The skipper ceased shouting to his too numerous men not to crowd the boat's nose so that he could not see it, and dropped soft eyes on his sister's friend. “Dear, dutiful, unselfish little soul!” he thought. “That's the sort of woman to make a good wife. That's the girl for me.” It was still not more than twenty minutes to eleven, and he had got as far as that.

But now Miss Pickersgill intervened. She put off from the gorgeous pier, which was not yet closed to the public, in the dinghy of a local friend, in order that the Kittiwake should not be burdened with its own. It afterwards transpired that she had engaged to grace the yacht of the local friend, and had thrown him over for Bert Lawson, having no scruples of pride against making use of him, nevertheless. She was a radiant vision in tailor-made cream serge, a full-blooded, full-bosomed, high-coloured, self-confident young beauty, with bold eyes and a vivacious manner, calculated to make any picnic party lively. As she approached, like a queen enthroned, all the male creatures hung forward to gaze and smile, Bert springing to the side to help her over—which was only what she expected and was accustomed to. And she jumped into the midst of the group around the cockpit,—four humble-minded admirers and one firm adversary,—chose her place and settled herself,


  ― 289 ―
nodding and waving salutations around, as if she were Mrs. Bert already.

Myra's heart sank in presence of so formidable a rival. Myra was the daughter of a retired sea-captain in rather narrow circumstances; Lena's father was a stock-broker, and reputed to roll in money. She had fat gold bangles on her wrists, and a diamond in each ear. She lifted her smart skirt from a lace-frilled petticoat, and the serge was lined with silk. The dejected observer moved to make way for so unquestionable a superior. But Bert detained her with a quiet hand.

“Sit still,” he said. “There is plenty of room.”

To her surprise and joy, she found he still preferred her near him. It was not money and gold bracelets that could quench her gentle charm.

And now the fun began. The yacht, with every stitch of canvas spread, set out upon her course, determined to be the first to salute her future commodore. There was just enough wind to waft her along with a motion as soft as feathers, as airy as a dream, and the heavenly morning, on the now wider waters, was more heavenly than ever.

“It's our day out, and no mistake,” quoth Miss Pickersgill, in her hearty way. “Let's have a song, old chap”—to Bert—“or do some thing or other to improve the occasion. What do you say, Mrs. Pleydell?’

“I,” said the hostess cheerfully, but with tightened lips, “am going to get you all something to eat.”




  ― 290 ―

“And I'll go and help you,” said Myra, rising hastily.

“Oh, all right—go on; I'll keep 'em alive till you come back. Now then, tune up, everybody! I'll begin. What shall I sing, Mr. Lawson?” with a languishing glance at him over her shoulder. “You shall choose.”

“I think you'd better whistle,” said Bert, whose eyes were on his sails, and his nose sniffing anxiously.

“All serene. I can do that too. But why had I better whistle?”

“Wind's dying away to nothing, I grieve to say.”

“By George, it is!” his young men echoed, in sympathetic concern. “If we don't mind, we shall fall between two stools, and be out of everything.”

“What's the odds, so long as you're happy?” was Miss Lena's philosophic response. And they adopted that view. With every prospect of being ignominiously becalmed, out of the track of events in which they had expected to take a leading and historic part, they lolled about the deck and sang songs with rousing choruses—popular ditties from the comic operas of the day—and professed themselves as jolly as jolly could be.

“How fascinating she is!” sighed Myra Salter, listening from the little cabin to the voice of the prima donna overhead. “I don't wonder they all admire her so much!”




  ― 291 ―

“I am quite sure my brother does not admire her,” said Mrs. Pleydell with decision. “He thinks, as I do, that she is a forward minx—he must.” Bert's laugh just then came ringing down the stairs. In an interval between two songs, he and Miss Pickersgill were enjoying a bout of “chaff”—rough wit that crackled like fireworks. “Of course she amuses him,” said Fanny grudgingly.

“And isn't it lovely to be able to amuse people?” the girl ejaculated, envious still. “She charms them so that they forget about the wind and everything. She is just the life and soul of the party, Fanny.”

I think she spoils it, Myra. If we don't look out, we shall be having her serenading the Governor with ‘He's a jolly good fellow,’ or something of that sort. If she attempts to disgrace us with her vulgarity before him, clap your hand over her mouth, my dear. I shall.”

Myra laughed, and was somewhat comforted. But she still thought how lovely it would be to be able to amuse people and take them out of themselves. “He would never be dull with her,” she thought sadly. “I am so stupid that I should bore him to death.”

One of Miss Salter's unusual charms, perfectly appreciated by sensible Mrs. Pleydell, and not overlooked by Bert, was a sweet humble-mindedness—a rare virtue in these days.

The first of several light luncheons was served on


  ― 292 ―
deck, without interrupting the concert. Between gulps of wine and mouthfuls of sandwich, Miss Pickersgill continued to raise fresh tunes, and the crew to shout the choruses, and the audience of fat aunt and simpering cousins to applaud admiringly. It was a case of youth at the prow and pleasure at the helm, and an abandonment of all responsibility. A dear little catspaw came stealing along, and hardly excited anybody. The yacht gathered way, and began to make knots again, faster and faster, but even that did not draw the light-hearted young folks from their frivolous pastime. Thanks to the syren of St. Kilda, they had almost forgotten the errand they were on. It really did not seem to matter much to any one whether he or she met Lord Brassey or not; he had become an incident of the day, rather than its main feature.

Still, the eyes of the crew continually searched the horizon, and presently one man saw smoke where no one else saw anything, and out of that spot a faint blur grew which resolved itself into the Aramac with the Governor on board, and the Ozone and Hygeia, its consorts. The three boats in a row advancing steadily, under all the steam they could make, were not unimpressive in their way, but the only thing the Kittiwake cared to look at was the lovely pillar of white cloud, shining like a pearl, which was recognised as the Sunbeam with all sail set. She was bearing off from the Government flotilla,


  ― 293 ―
dismissed from their company, superseded and discarded; but to yachtsmen's eyes she was a sort of winged angel, a spirit of the sea, and they but grubby mortals by comparison, common and gross.

“Why, why,” they exclaimed, with groans of regret, gazing on the fairy column as if that were all the picture, “why didn't they let him come up in her, and let us bring him? What does he want with a lot of cheap-jack politicians here? They just spoil it all.”

“It wouldn't be them if they didn't,” some one said, voicing a rather prevalent opinion. And in fact they were spoiling it rather badly on the Aramac just then, if all tales be true. They had not wanted Miss Pickersgill to show them how to do it.

It was past the hour fixed for the landing ceremonies—and the poor sun-baked crowds ashore would have been dropping with fatigue if there had been room to fall in—when Bert Lawson shouted “Dip! dip!” to his brother, who held the ensign halliards, and was confused by the excitement of the moment. After all, the Kittiwake was first, and proud was every heart aboard when the cocked-hatted figure on the Aramac's bridge saluted her and the flag as if he had known and loved the one as long as the other. Every man and woman was convinced that he stood lost in admiration of her beauty and the way she was manœuvred. Bert brought her as close as was compatible with proper


  ― 294 ―
respect, and they all posed to the best advantage for the Governor's eye, Miss Pickersgill in front.

Now, you fellows,” she panted breathlessly. “All at once—‘See-ee the conq-'ring he-e-e-e-ero’——”

But Mrs. Pleydell's hand was up like a flash, and there was a “Hsh-sh-sh!” like the protest of a flock of geese. The fair Lena was so taken aback that she nearly fell into the captain's arms. The captain did not seem to mind; his arm went round her waist for a moment almost as if it had the habit of doing it; and he whispered an apology that restored her self-control. At the same instant he signalled to the crew, and they burst into three great solid British cheers. Another signal stopped them from further performances, and the steamers swept by. The crisis of the day was over.

Then the Kittiwake turned and followed the fleet, and realized her remaining ambitions. She was back at St. Kilda, with the yachts that had been lying there all the morning, by the time his great excellency, transhipped once more, arrived there. Through their glasses the ladies could see the procession of little figures along the pier, and the departure of the carriages after the guns had fired the salute; and they could hear the school children singing. When all was over, a sigh of vast contentment expressed the common thought, “What a day we're having!” The turn of the landsmen had come, but no one at sea could envy them.




  ― 295 ―

“Now we'll have a look at the Sunbeam as she lies,” said Bert, and then headed back for Williams-town.

“And we want some refreshment after what we have gone through,” said the hospitable hostess.

Luncheon was served for the third time, and subsequently two afternoon teas. The yachts, dissolving all formation, swam aimlessly about the bay, more like seabirds than ever, and took snap-shots at each other with their kodak cameras. Miss Pickersgill's singing powers failed somewhat, but she continued to chaff and chatter with the young men, breaking off at intervals to hail her friends on passing boats. Good-natured Fanny Pleydell laughed with the rest at the fun she made; the admiring aunt and cousins could not remember when they had been so entertained; and Myra Salter was satisfied at heart because Bert had never allowed her to feel “out of it.” And so the happy day wore through. They had had seven hours together when they began to look for Lena's dinghy, and before separating they testified with one consent that they had never had a more delightful holiday, or, as Lena neatly phrased it, “such a jolly high old time.”

“Then I'll tell you what we must do,” said the gratified host. “Go out together—the same party, since we suit each other so well—on the sixteenth of next month. That's our opening day, Miss Pickersgill, as of course you know; and, with the


  ― 296 ―
Governor for commodore, it ought to be the best we've ever had.”

“All who are in favour of this motion,” chanted Lena, “hold up your hands!”

Every hand went up at once, except Myra's. The shy girl looked to Fanny for an endorsement of the free and easy invitation, and Mrs. Pleydell was knitting her brows. But soon she smiled consent, to please her brother, who, stealing behind Miss Salter unobserved, seized her two hands and lifted them into the air.

They imagined they were going to have their good time over again. They even anticipated a better one, though only of half the length. For whereas the wind had been too light on the 25th of October, it blew like business on the 16th of November, when it was of the last importance that it should do so. No more auspicious opening day had ever dawned upon Victorian yachtsmen. The Governor, who was their Governor for the first time in history, had consented to direct their evolutions in person. This alone—this and a good wind—assured laurels to the clubs of Hobson's Bay which all other clubs would envy them. The Sunbeam had been towed to the chosen anchorage; Government House was on board. All the swells, as Miss Pickersgill termed them, indigenous to the soil, would be lone and lorn at the races, because their Lord and Lady were away.


  ― 297 ―
If they offered their ears for a place in viceregal company, they could not get it. “Aha!” said the yachtsmen one to another, “it is our turn now.”

This time the Kittiwake took her own dinghy to St. Kilda. She towed it along with her all the afternoon, as a brake upon the pace, which threatened to carry her beyond the position assigned to her in the wheeling line, for she was faster than the boats before and behind her. And so the services of local friends were not required on Miss Lena's behalf. Bert himself, in a very ruffled sea indeed, went off to the pier to fetch her. But not altogether for the sake of paying her special honour; rather, because it was most difficult to bring anything alongside to-day without bumping off fenders and on to new paint. He had had the kindest feeling for both girls during the past three weeks, but what little love he had fallen into was love for Myra Salter. He had just left her deeply in love with him. He had given her the card of sailing directions, taught her how to read the commodore's signals, and told her she was to be his captain for the day, as he was to be the crew's. Down in the small cabin, picking pecks of strawberries, with the assistance of the aunt and cousins, Mrs. Pleydell's prophetic eye saw visions of an ideal home and family—that comfortable and prosperous domestic life which is the better and not the worse for having no wildfire passions to inflame and ravage it—and a congenial sister-in-law for all time. Myra


  ― 298 ―
lingered on deck to follow the movements of the tossing dinghy through the captain's strong field-glasses, also assigned to her exclusive use for this occasion. He had another pair—not quite so strong—for Miss Pickersgill.

Little did that young lady suppose that she was to play second fiddle for a moment. She wore another new dress and a ravishing peaked cap, much more becoming than the sailor straw. She smiled upon the skipper, struggling to hold the dinghy to the pier, as at a faithful bond-slave merely doing his bounden duty.

“It is our opening day!” she sang, as she flourished a hand to him. “It—is—our—opening da-ay!”

“It is, indeed,” he shouted back. “Made on purpose. Only I think we shall have too much of a good thing this time, instead of not enough. Wind keeps getting up, and we've reefed already.”

“Oh, it's stunning!” she rejoined, gaily skipping into the boat; she was a heavy weight, and nearly tipped it over. “Let it get up! The more the merrier.”

“Yes, if there were going to be racing. I wish there was! We should just run away from everything.”

“Then let's race,” quoth Miss Pickersgill, as if commanding it to be done. “Let's show the old buffer”—I grieve to say it was his sacred lordship she referred to—“what the Kittiwake can do.”




  ― 299 ―

Bert had to explain. It took him until they reached the yacht to make the young lady who looked so nautical understand what she was talking about. And after all she was inclined to be sentimentally hurt because he would not do such a little thing to please her.

The wind got up, more and more, showing that there was to be no monotonous repetition of the former circumstances. The Kittiwake danced and pranced as if the real sea were under her, and half a dozen dinghies trailed astern would hardly have made any difference. There was no sitting round the cockpit, as on drawing-room chairs, to flirt and sing; one side was always in the air, and the other all but under water, see-sawing sharply at uncertain intervals; and the ladies had to give their attention to holding on and keeping their heads out of the way of the swinging boom. Lena shouted to the men, who had to stick to business in spite of her, that it was the jolliest state of things imaginable, and said “Go it!” to rude Boreas when he smacked her face, to encourage him to further efforts. But her five companions were more or less of the opinion that they had liked the first cruise better. The poor fat aunt was particularly disconcerted by the new conditions; she said she couldn't get used to the feeling of having no floor under her, and the sensation of the sea climbing up her back.

She was the first to say, “No, thank you,” to


  ― 300 ―
strawberries and cream, and “Yes, please,” to whisky.

Is there anything funny in having the toothache that people should laugh at the victim as at some inexhaustible joke? Ask the poor soul whose nerves are thus exquisitely tortured what his opinion is. He will tell you that it is one of the gravest elements in the tragedy of human pain; also that the heartless brute who sniggers at it ought to have thumbscrews put on him and twisted tight. Is there anything disgraceful in being sea-sick in rough weather, that those who don't happen to feel so at the moment should turn up their noses at the sufferers in contemptuous disgust? Emphatically not. It is a misfortune that may befall the best of us, and does, instead of being, as one would suppose, the penalty of a degrading vice, like delirium tremens. Why, even the Sunbeam was ill that afternoon—the first folks of the land, fresh from the discipline of a long and stormy voyage—which sufficiently proves the fact.

But when Myra Salter was observed to sit silent and rigid, with bleached lips and a corpse-like skin, it was with eyes that slightly hardened at the sight. Yes, even the captain's eyes! It is true he smiled at her, and said, “Poor child!” and peremptorily ordered the useless stimulant, and was generally concerned and kind; but the traditional ignominy of her case affected him; her charm and dignity


  ― 301 ―
were impaired—vulgarized; and the flavour of his incipient romance began to go. Of course young men are fools—we all are, for that matter—and young love, just out of the ground, as it were, is like a baby lettuce in a garden full of slugs. And it is no use pretending that things are different from what they are. And if you want to be an artist, and not a fashionable photographer, you must not paint poor human nature, and leave the moles and wrinkles out. It is a pity that an estimable young man cannot be quite perfect, and that an admirable young woman should be unjustly despised; but so it is, and there's no more to be said.

Myra shook her head at the suggestion of whisky; only to imagine the smell of it was to feel worse at once—to feel an instant necessity to hide herself below. But Fanny Pleydell, coming upstairs at the moment when she was beginning to stagger down, caught her in her arms and held her back—a fatal blunder on Fanny's part.

“No, my dear, no!” she cried, on the spur of a humane impulse; “you must not go into that horrible hole; it would finish you off at once. Besides, there isn't room for you; aunt and the girls are sprawling all over the place. Have a little spirits, darling—yes, you must; and keep in the fresh air if you want to feel better.”

She pressed whisky and water on the shuddering girl, and cruel consequences ensued. Bert turned his


  ― 302 ―
head away, and tried to shut his ears. Lena smiled at him in an arch and confidential manner. She was as bright and pretty as ever—more so, indeed, for the wind exhilarated her and deepened her bloom.

“I think,” she said, “it is a great mistake for people who are not good sailors to go to sea in rough weather, don't you?”

Well, Bert almost thought it was. He was a very enthusiastic yachtsman, especially to-day, when he wanted the Kittiwake and all her appurtenances to be as correct as possible.

The drill was over, and the regiment of yachts disbanded. The Sunbeam had gone to a pier at Williamstown, and the commodore was receiving his new colleagues and entertaining them. The Kittiwake was off St. Kilda, with her freight of sick on board. The aunt filled up one tiny cabin, the cousins another, and they groaned and wailed and made other unpleasant noises, to the amusement of a callous crew. Myra Salter, too helplessly ill to sit up without support while the boat rushed through the water with a slice of deck submerged, had sagged down to the floor of the cockpit, and now lay there in a limp heap, propped against Fanny's knees. She had not spoken for an hour, and during that time Bert had hardly noticed her. He had been devoting himself to Miss Pickersgill, so far as the duties of his


  ― 303 ―
official post allowed, as was only natural when she had become practically his sole companion, and when, as a lover of a good breeze and proper sailoring, she had proved herself so sympathetic.

Now he was rowing her home from the yacht to the shore. She sat facing him in the dinghy, with the yoke lines round her waist, and he could not keep his eyes from her brilliant person, nor keep himself from mentally comparing it with that sad wisp on the cockpit floor. She met his glance, and held it. They were both excited by the wind, the inspiring flight of the yacht, the varied interests of the opening day.

“Oh, it was splendid!” she exclaimed. “Whatever the others may think about it, I know I never enjoyed myself so much in my life. And I am so much obliged to you for taking me, Mr. Lawson.”

“You are the right sort to take,” replied Bert with enthusiasm; and he imagined a wife who would enter into his favourite pursuits like a true comrade. “And I hope we shall have many a good cruise together.”

“It won't be my fault if we don't,” she said promptly.

“It won't be mine,” he returned. “Consider yourself asked for every day that you'll deign to come.”

“What, for ever?”

“For ever.”

She looked at him archly, pensively, meaningly,


  ― 304 ―
with her head on one side. She was really very handsome in her coquettish peaked cap, and he reflected that she was evidently healthy and probably rich.

“You don't mean that, Mr. Lawson?”

“I do mean it, literally and absolutely.”

“For every yachting day as long as I live?”

“For every yachting day, and every day that isn't a yachting day.”

She was so joyously flustered that she ran the dinghy into the pier. He had to catch her in his arms to prevent her going overboard. As there were people watching them from above, he could not kiss her, but he gave an earnest of his intention to do so at the first opportunity.

Of course she was the wrong one. He knew it no later than the next day, in his heart of hearts, though never permitting himself to acknowledge it, because he flatters himself that he is a gentleman. Equally, of course, he will go on to render his mistake irrevocable, and be miserable ever after, and make her so, from the highest motives. Already the wedding gown is bought, and they go together to ironmongers and upholsterers to choose new drawing-room furniture and pots and kettles for the kitchen. The marriage will surely take place when the bride has made her preparations, and anybody can foretell what the consequences will be. They will pull against


  ― 305 ―
each other by force of nature, and tear their little shred of romance to bits in no time. And then they will sink together to that sordid and common matrimonial state which is the despair and disgrace of civilization. She will grow fat and frowsy as she gets into years—a coarse woman, selfish and petty, and full of legitimate grievances; and he will hate her first, and then cease to care one way or the other, which is infinitely worse than hating. And so two lives will be utterly spoiled, and possibly three or four—not counting the children, who will have no sort of fair start.

And all because there was a bit of a breeze on the opening day of the season!

But such is life.

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