Chapter XVII

“Nights enough in tears,
And days in all the sickness of suspense,
Our anxious love hath pass'd.”

While the affairs of the encumbered estate which Leigh Osman had inherited became each day more burdensome, a new idea was presented to him. Mr. Heslop made him an offer to rent the Ranges, and, after mature reflection, he decided on accepting his offer: the rent would liquidate the interest, and leave him free to employ his personal exertions to dissolve the claims upon it. In a short time it was let, the stock sold, and Leigh, followed by Ben Owen, a faithful servant, who wished to share his master's fortunes, left the Ranges. The future was all uncertainty; he had no profession, no knowledge of business, beyond that acquired on his farm; no influential

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friends to procure him a situation, and with a mind and spirit energetic and ready to work, he found both idle. Captain Dell was the only person whose counsels he could seek: he had learnt of their change of abode, but was ignorant of the cause. Perhaps, while he believed that he held his feelings in perfect control, his naturally sensitive disposition swayed him to seek the Captain, from a desire once more to enjoy the society of his grand-daughter.

While Osman was journeying to Aloe Hill, Rachel was, in almost helplessness, prosecuting her search for Gilbert, constantly believing that she had found some clue, and as constantly disappointed; and the impression that he had really left the colony daily assumed strength, and added to the bitterness she felt in seeing her grandfather so surely, though gradually, sinking; and the more intense became her desire to lift the load from the spirit of the one, and gain a pardon for the other. A strong Christian faith supported her, and a naturally firm, brave spirit proved a powerful auxiliary.

She had more than once, since the visit described in a former chapter, journeyed home with Mrs. Tebbut, and partaken of Prosper Hugo's hospitality; she had found in the old iron dealer a rich mine of noble feeling and homely worth—a true diamond in a rough setting. Just at this time came a note from Clare Welton. “George thinks he has heard of Mr. Calder,” she wrote. “Can you come to town?”

Mr. Eveleigh had already left home, when she received the request, and her next resource was the Tebbuts.

“But I an't coming out to-night, ‘cause Joe wants to see the play,” Mrs. Tebbut said, in conclusion of an offer of a seat among her fruit-baskets.”

Captain Dell was looking very drooping that day, and Rachel hesitated to leave home, she had been so repeatedly disappointed; but hope prevailed.

“Rachel appears very fond of town; I should not have expected it;” remarked the Captain when she had departed.

“Poor darling, it's lonely here—and no wonder they wish to have her among them; she is before the Enticks' girls, with all their advantages.” And Aunt Nancy watched the receding figure of her niece with a glowing face.

“She is a good girl, God bless her,” returned the old man fervently.

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Rachel, however, was doomed to encounter another disappointment. Intending to return with her neighbours in their humble conveyance in the morning, she bade her friends, the Enticks, farewell on retiring. It was very early; the clock pointed to the half-hour as Rachel consulted its open oldfashioned face, set round with gaudy flowers, a blue rose, and a pink lily.

“Half-past five. At least I shall see Sydney under a new aspect,” she mused, securing her mantle, and stepping with noiseless feet down the passage, and unlocking the door. The sun was just rising; the golden ball of St. James's Church glistened in the first rays, and then the roofs of the higher buildings caught the amber tint, and so it travelled from gable to gable, and shot in at the upper windows to awaken the sleepers; but the streets were still in shade, cool, fresh, and quiet. A group of labourers passed her now and then, with flat baskets, from which protruded saws and squares, or a paintpot or trowel in hand: then, near the tardy rising walls of the Cathedral, an old woman, with a temporary table, raised on benches, circulating large cups of coffee, and thick slices of bread-and-butter among her customers, the workmen, and a few tall boys, masons, labourers, or 'bus boys, perhaps. Not much was said; they eat and drank quietly, and then filed away, and collected in groups, sitting along the curb-stones, and waiting for six o'clock.

Rachel passed on quietly, pained by her novel and solitary position. The passengers in the streets increased; the few females that she had first seen slowly pursuing their way with a homeless air, were replaced by servants opening the shutters, or taking a little fresh air for a moment at the gateways; and then Rachel reached her destination, Prosper Hugo's Iron Store. The gates beside the little shop were open, and the old brown horse hung his melancholy head, and rested on one foot, as young Joe arranged the harness upon him, and Mrs. Tebbut was throwing the empty bushel basket into the cart.

“Why now ——,” ejaculated she, pausing for a moment, as Rachel approached, and Prosper emerged from the little kitchen, and a few words explained the reason of her visit.

“Room! yes, to be sure,” replied Mrs. Tebbut: “plenty of room. Joe put those baskets in one another—so.”

Joe went on hooking the chains without speaking, but presently

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arranged the baskets and boxes, old red-painted gincases, and even turned one on its side, and threw some bagging which had been sewed over the baskets of fruit upon it, and with an expressive point and grunt, indicated that that was her seat; and Rachel stepped up off the chair which the old man placed, and prepared for her return home. Again she had been disappointed, and the sinking form of her grandfather, and the dark uncertain future, rose up before her, and she was gratified that Joe pushed his head into a basket, and, judging from the nasal discord, slept; and Mrs. Tebbut was so occupied in driving and counting the profits of her marketing, that beyond an occasional explanatory sentence, informing the young lady that Joe had been roused before his usual hour, and that Prosper was a good old soul, though he was rough, she did not speak; so they passed out of the town, and along the dusty road, and then through the bush, and passed cottages and orchards, to the river; and Rachel alighted and went on her way with a weary heart, but brave countenance.

“Back so early, dear! What did Mrs. Entick say to your leaving her house before breakfast?” was Aunt Nancy's salutation, as she pressed a kiss upon the glowing cheek.

“They had not risen, Aunt; but I wished them good-bye in the evening.”

“Why did you not stay in town, and come out with Mr. Eveleigh? These Tebbuts are decent people, but I don't like your riding in a fruit-cart, child; it's very unfit for you.”

“I walked up the town, Aunt.”

“Well, but dear, I don't like it; you might have stayed.”

“I wanted to be at home,” was the rather vague reply, made expressive by a fond smile. “How is grandfather?” was added, in a tone of suppressed anxiety.

“He has just gone into the dining-room.”

Rachel hastily removed her bonnet and sought him. Captain Dell was seated in his arm-chair, his head resting upon his hands, and his face expressive of mental and bodily weariness.

“You have returned early, my child,” he said, on encountering her fond anxious look Rachel bent over him, imprinting a kiss on the broad forehead, while she concealed the tears which had risen in her eyes; and then she looked up and delivered sundry kind messages with which she had been charged.

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“Tebbut was here—he wanted to see you about fruit or vegetables,” remarked Aunt Nancy, as she officiated among the coffee-cups.

“I will see him, Aunt.”

“And, my dear, there is an article in the paper I wish you to read: the fine print tries my sight.”

“I will read it at once, dear Grandfather, if you wish.”

“Perhaps you are too fatigued.”

Rachel was indeed weary, but she sprang up in quest of the journal, and complied with his request; and what purer joys are there than those springing from duties fulfilled and happiness bestowed? Let not the daughter or the wife forget her home mission, for it is a holy one.

Old Joseph Tebbut had a great many business matters to arrange, and, as his style was decidedly verbose, their disposal took some time. While thus engaged, Rachel was startled by a step near, and, turning with a smile to meet her grandfather, encountered Mr. Osman. The start and exclamation were quickly repressed, and she held out her hand rather gravely.

“My presence surprises you, does it not?”

“I expected to see my grandfather—”

“And was disappointed?”

Rachel could not answer this, for the thoughtful countenance near her, lighted by evident pleasure, awakened a crowd of emotions, which she had not time to analyze.

Mr. Osman offered her his arm, having first waited the completion of her business with Tebbut, and they began slowly to pace the orchard walks.

“That path does not lead towards the house, Sir, but in an opposite direction.”

“I wished to learn from you how your friends were. I have been weaving a web of surmises, less from what the Captain has written than from what he has omitted. In the first place, I have feared that he missed your gentle cousin, and Cowanda.”

“Yes, I fear so.” A low sigh replied to his question with greater force than her words.

“And he is not quite well?”

Rachel could hardly bear this, but the old habit, confidence, swept away the reserve springing out of her previous agitation, and she communicated all her fears upon that subject, and found relief even in giving shape to the dread shadows which

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had haunted her. Many of those vague terrors vanished before the sympathising yet firm judge who scanned them, and by the time they returned to the house she was calm again.

The Captain was delighted, and appeared inspired by new life; to Rachel there was but one drawback—the momentary anticipation that their visitor would inquire for Gilbert; that the evening should pass without his doing so surprised her, but in the morning, when he found her alone in the verandah, be spoke of Gilbert.

“Captain Dell has not mentioned him for some time, and my inquiries have met with no reply.”

“He has displeased Grandpa,” she faltered.

“Well, shall we not try and remove the offence?”

“I fear we cannot.”

“May I inquire the reason of such a fear? Be assured impertinent curiosity does not prompt the question.”

“I know it; but he believes Gilbert guilty of—of a crime, which I cannot prove he has not committed, though I am sure of it.”

The distress which her eyes and pale cheeks expressed shocked him, and in a gentle voice he invited her to let him at least share her anxiety, hoping, did he know the circumstances, that he might be able to help her. Convinced, as Rachel was, of her brother's innocence, she knew her reasons were such as would not be communicated to another, arising only from feeling, and it was with hesitation that she complied; sensible of lowering herself, also, in the eyes of her companion, whose pure rectitude of principle she well knew; but, when she paused in her recital, the almost respectful tone in which he replied made her aware that her fears on that subject were groundless.

“I see several peculiar circumstances, which, if explained, might clear away the clouds which surround our poor Gilbert.”

The kind mention of her brother affected Rachel deeply; for a few moments she wept. Leigh suffered her to grow calmer before he resumed the conversation; he pointed out to her the circumstances which laid it open to supposition that some one, aware of Gilbert's intended flight, had made use of his name to forge upon the Captain, and escape; and he proposed to himself the task of proving this.

“At present,” he concluded, “I am at a loss in what way to engage either my energies or acquirements. I have no profession,

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no acquaintance with business, that is, commercial affairs. Captain Dell advises me to look round, and not be in a hurry to enter into some engagement which I might afterwards regret. For a few weeks, therefore, I may have much leisure. Does your aunt know what you have been doing?”

“In part, but she discouraged my efforts, regarding them as disobedient to grandfather. You do not know how acutely I have felt the apparent selfishness of my conduct, when it seemed as if, finding this place dull, I could leave my friends to suffer alone, and seek amusements in Sydney.”

“It must, but we will hope to clear up all these mysteries shortly.—Good morning, Miss Dell.” The latter remark Mr. Osman made turning to receive Aunt Nancy, as she advanced along the verandah.

Rachel, who had not so great a command of feature as her companion, looked confused, conscious of speaking on a subject which the worthy lady deemed as rebellious; which confusion Aunt Nancy did not fail to observe, and assign to another cause; and she smoothed the creases out of her black silk apron, with a quiet smile at her powers of penetration.

A week later, and Mary Eyeleigh received a visit from her young neighbour.

“I have come to tell you good news,” was Rachel's salutation.

“Indeed! what may I share in?”

The Eveleighs knew something of Rachel's cares: the builder had heard in Sydney that Gilbert had forsaken his situation; he had observed that his name was never mentioned at Aloe Hill, and he had questioned Rachel, and learnt how earnestly she desired to find her brother. Mary, therefore, read in the unusually glowing face that she had met with success.

“I have discovered the father of the German who accompanied Berty on his journey—or rather, Mr. Osman has.”

“And your brother?”

“Not yet.” She described the locality where the German lived, adding that she had seen him.

“But how did you find your way there?”

“Well, Mr. Osman drove me part of the way, and when we left the gig we procured a guide;—he might have sat for a brigand; I am sure any artist would have considered him a treasure, with his black eyes and beard, and all the et cetera of

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that romantic class of gentlemen. He soon began to talk to us of his travels; he had been to California, and all our Diggings; to Victoria, Van Diemen's Land, Chili, and the Islands—everywhere, indeed; but the life at the Diggings appeared to have impressed him most; he spoke of Ballaarat, and the many horrors he had witnessed there, and of those he had seen buried, unknown and uncared for; ‘and they must have friends somewhere,’ he added, ‘that's what beats me.’ ‘Yes,’ I said, ‘friends who were looking for their return, or their letters, and they never coming.’ ‘That's true, Miss, that's true,’ he replied, and for some minutes strode on in silence, only muttering to himself, ‘Oh dear, oh dear!’ as if dark deeds were unfolding themselves before his mind's eye. Presently he continued —‘At one Digging, when I was let down into the claim in the morning, I felt something cold; I cried to my companions for God's sake to draw me up, and let down a light, for something was wrong;—it was two young men, with their skulls clove in, —quite young, not more than eighteen, and no one knew anything about them; they were laid aside, and buried like dogs. Oh dear!’

“As far as our guide's road and ours lay in the same direction, he continued to talk in this way, sometimes speaking of England with a short laugh. He was just about to return there.”

“Those diggings are horrible places,” remarked Mary, when she paused.

“Oh, Mary, Mary! to think Berty may be there!” answered Rachel, all her fortitude giving way, and for a few moments she trembled, as if in an ague fit, clasping her hands across her eyes, as if she would not let the tears fall.

“Don't, dear, don't,” sobbed Mary, her weaker nature yielding instantly to sympathy; and, warned that this indulgence in grief was not for her, Rachel soon looked up firm but pale. It makes the heart so unselfish to live for others—the abnegation of I and the exalting of thou, so strong in that holy love! and with a prayer for more strength, Rachel pursued—

“When our guide had to leave us, he found a substitute in a little baro-footed boy, who trotted along silently and briskly through the bush. It was far away, where Herman Korff had bought a little patch of land, and cleared it of the scrub; and already a fine vegetable crop, enriched by sea-weeds from

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the river, refreshed our sight; the hut itself was formed of deal cases, and tin roofed, like so many now-a-day, but it was comfortable and neat. Happily, Mary, industry is rewarded in this colony: I was informed by a German that the wages of the men, such as farm labourers, are only £4 a-year, and the females £1, in some parts of their own country. They appear to desire to be landholders, if only on a small scale, and by frugality their wish can be accomplished here. I cannot help thinking that Australia is peculiarly adapted for such a class of persons: good farmers and gardeners, with steady industrious habits, and soundly educated; they are respectable, if so conducted; yet hardy and unaccustomed to luxury.”

“I know you have a great affection for the nation.”

“Yes, I have: their country, their literature, their history, all peculiarly interest me. But to return to Herman Korff—there was embryo wealth around the old man; his vegetables almost ready for the market, and an old horse, a beauty in his day, grazing close by; and the corner of a cart peeped out from under a shed, constructed of boughs. The man was very civil; he told us who his son was engaged to, and where he now was, but Gilbert had quitted him when he had delivered the dray at the station, and started on foot for the Ophir; he was called Gilbert St. Just.”

“So far all is well; but that is some time since. Can he give you no more recent information?”

“He cannot—yet we may find him: Mr. Osman has written to gentlemen he knows, who are at Ophir.”

“You will be anxious for their reply.”

“Mary, I dare not think of the ensuing weeks; I know nothing of ‘the pleasures of Hope;’ uncertainty is pain—even anticipated pleasure—to me. I suppose my spirit is vehement; I fear so. I try to be calm, and have learnt to look quiet, but uncertainty is a rack which tortures me.”

Mary looked surprised; she had none of those vivid emotions—those burning pulses, which were a part of her friend's nature: a good girl, of ordinary capacity and feeling, life had to her no undercurrent, no Maelstroms; she could be sorrowful and anxious, but not dashed, like the noble ship, upon the rocks, and shattered; she would be safe from want of weight; but Rachel's was a strong character, though under the control of religion; that was her safeguard and shield, and the duties

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of those weeks would be as faithfully performed as though no inward flame burnt.

During that period she did not leave home, and Leigh Osman was much with them; when he entered the room her eyes were raised to meet him, but day by day she read the same answer—silent disappointment, and her eyes fell. He knew what she felt, and he applied the balm which best revived her. When he could not speak of heavenly things, he exerted himself to interest the Captain, and never without success. Again the head was raised, the eye kindled—again that fine air of geniality spread over the old man; once more he felt pleasure in recounting past adventures and actions, or in contesting knotty points in metaphysics or philosophy. If Leigh found him drooping and silent, he suggested some theme where their views were antagonistic, and provoked him to discussion; and then led him to subjects where both were agreed. These arguments did him good; they excited him, and he pronounced Leigh “A fine fellow—a fine fellow.”

Whether Osman enjoyed those days at Aloe Hill it was impossible to decide; he looked too grave to be very happy, and a smile seemed rather to flit across his face to cheer others than to spring from innate cheerfulness; his own views were not clearer, his future still buried in uncertainty, and that poverty sealed his lips and crushed his every hope, and determined his rigidly honorable and proud spirit to preserve the character of a friend only.