Chapter VI

Strong sense, deep feeling, passions strong,
A hate of tyrant and of knave,
A love of right, a scorn of wrong,
Of coward, and of slave;
A kind, true heart, a spirit high,
That could not fear and would not bow,
Were written in his manly eye,
And on his manly brow.


About the same time came two unexpected visitors to Cowanda, or rather, Mr. Fenwick having on all sides been considered Elice's admirer, the surprise had rather been that he had suffered some months of silence and absence to pass; but, however, he was once again at the Farm, and established in his wonted seat, between the Captain and his grand-daughter. The other visitor was Leigh Osman, from the Ranges; he had brought

  ― 41 ―
some small portion of the money owing by his father to Captain Dell; though the sum was trifling, there was a satisfaction to a mind so sensitively just in acquitting any responsibility.

“Did you read the account of the Races, Miss Rachel?” said Fenwick. They were seated round the tea-table.

“No, Sir.”

“No!—how was that?”

“I never do.”

“But you have a reason beyond custom?” She looked up, and met the eyes of Mr. Osman fixed inquiringly on her.

“Yes; we have often discussed the subject,—that is, Mr. Fenwick and I. I do not approve of racing.”

“But a horse of mine ran, Miss Rachel.”

“I am sorry for it,” she returned quietly.

“By Jove, are you? It was a splendidly contested match. I never saw better running. They—” Mr. Fenwick fell into an elaborate description of the race; this was his hobby; he had landed property, but, like many of the Australian young men, had an instinctive turn for trade, which developed itself in stock dealing: horses and cattle were objects of his especial attention, and had not Leigh imperceptibly led the conversation into a channel more agreeable to their lady companions, he would have detailed the results of all the speculations in which he had been engaged since they last met.

Leigh was not generally apt to join in common conversation, but in the present instance he was led on, first, by the desire to prove the truth or fallacy of the Captain's assertion that Rachel could understand him; and, afterwards, by the pleasure her sensible remarks and earnest, sparkling eyes gave him. The Captain warmed in such society, and shone in a fine, stately geniality, which he rarely displayed, or rather, rarely found occasion for. Aunt Nancy, like a truly kind-hearted person, was always pleased when others were; and if the subjects of conversation were above her comprehension, she was well content to see her father's glowing face, as he leant back in his large, cumbrous chair, his hands resting on either arm, and the mellow sunshine of satisfaction diffusing itself over his stately person. Shall we admit so much of woman's weakness, as that Aunt Nancy did feel more hospitable because she knew that her cake might have come from the oven of a confectioner without disgracing him, and that her bread and butter could

  ― 42 ―
not have been exceeded;—not that the gentlemen would not have been welcome if the former had been heavy, and the latter sour or rancid; but the perfection of her culinary preparations certainly heightened her good feelings towards them, and even awoke a little pride,—though not a pride which ranks in the catalogue with “all uncharitableness,” but quite the reverse.

“No, he is not handsome,” each of the females mentally pronounced, as they looked at Leigh Osman; but how soon that was forgotten,—for there are qualities of heart and mind which far outvalue beauty; we may weary of the gaudy colors of the tulip,—the fragrant violet never tires; meretricious charms first attract, but the power of goodness never changes.

“No common path of life his steps pursued.”

He looked grave, however,—that gravity which springs from continued struggles with monetary difficulties, subjects which a mind constituted like his found particularly irksome.

“How are the cattle looking down your way?” presently inquired Mr. Fenwick, who usually led the conversation back to stock.

“Very well.”

“Are the Ranges well watered?”

“Particularly so, and abundantly grassed.

“Hum. I have been thinking of a spec. in trading horses across the country, and I want to meet with a few good depôts to rest them by the way. I'll talk to you about it after tea.”

Leigh assented.

“May I add a little cream to your tea, Mr. Osman?” said Aunt Nancy;—whether as a mark of the high estimation in which she held him, or whether she had been so absorbed in his previous conversation as to be uncertain of having added that requisite ingredient, is uncertain, for she had a habit of expressing favor in a palpable form.

Even a pleasant tea-drinking will end, and the little party scattered to amuse themselves according to their several tastes. Leigh and the Captain paced one of the verandahs, gravely discussing the involved position of the Ranges, and the girls and their old friend sauntered away to a large shady tree at the bottom of the garden, where a seat had been erected. Mr. Fenwick had brought a bundle of books with him for them,

  ― 43 ―
and they were presently seated examining them, and commenting upon their contents.

“This is a beautiful engraving—see, Elly, how clear, yet delicate, the strokes.”


Fenwick bent over. “There is a much nicer one here, see.” It was a ludicrous sketch, of little artistic merit, which he handed them. Elice laughed, so did Rachel, yet the feeling which she had experienced once before crept into her heart: certainly he wanted refinement and taste; he did not share in all the finer pulses which make up the life-tide of existence; she looked at her cousin,—her soft eyes were resting on his smiling face with such simple confidence that she strove to drive away the idea.

“How few feel as I do. I never met with anyone who really understood me,—unless, indeed, it may be Mr. Osman.” Instinctively she looked towards the house; between the trees she could now and then see the gentlemen as they paced the verandah; they were conversing earnestly and gravely, and a low sigh stirred her woman's heart to think how complex were the cares which occupied that mind, and the deep crape round the cabbage-tree hat was evidently not a tribute to custom only.

“Rachel, will you have a ride to-morrow? I have been endeavoring to persuade Miss Elice, and she will give no promise without your decision,” were the words which recalled her attention to her companions.

“I shall be most happy,” she returned, smiling brightly.

“Then it is settled—did Jack recover from his sprain?”

“Quite. Our horses have had a long rest.”

Next day, when Rachel stepped from the house equipped, she found Leigh Osman securing her horse's girths.

“Do you go with us?” she inquired.

“If you permit me.” A bright smile accompanied the words.

“We shall be very proud to act as guides to the beauties of our neighbourhood.”

“Do you sketch?”

“A little, very little,—but I love the beautiful.”

“Shall I become your drawing-master while I stay here?”

“Oh! I thank you.” She stood watching him carefully arranging her horse's equipments, and then sprang lightly from his hand to the saddle.

  ― 44 ―

There was something peculiarly fresh and naive about Rachel; it had immediately struck Leigh, and a little conversation, and still more observation, had revealed to him warm feelings and noble qualities. It was a new delight to travel through old paths of learning, to communicate and simplify; sometimes smiling gravely at the avidity with which she received it, often surprised with some remark displaying a mind of no common order. These rational conversations, nobler and purer in their aims than any she had hitherto joined in, filled her with delight; yet she was even less gay than usual, but very happy in his society; he never forgot the ruling principle of his actions, and many a lesson that gentle yet firm spirit gave her, which were remembered and treasured up long afterwards in hours of sorrow and darkness.

Every morning the horses were saddled and brought to the door; there was never any hindrance from refractory or strayed horses. Both girls were good riders, and, whether cantering along a level or guiding their steeds through the bush, equally at home. Mr. Fenwick engaged Elice's attention, and Rachel was consequently left to the charge of the Master of the Ranges. On one of these occasions the conversation turned on Gilbert.

“And you have heard from him but once?”

“But once,—soon after he reached Sydney. I am very anxious—”

“Do you fear he is ill?”

“No, but I think his silence a bad augury. You know he did not wish to enter this office.”

“That aversion may be overcome by a steady determination.”

Rachel looked grave, conscious that this was the very quality her brother wanted.

“And ‘prejudice is the child of ignorance,’ you know. On nearer acquaintance he may not find city life so irksome.” She knew he was trying to cheer her, and she tried to look comforted.

“Up to the time I sailed for England my days were chiefly passed on horseback; there could not have been a more thoughtless, unmethodical lad. I craved for knowledge, and the impulse led me to books; but I had no plan of study, and the generally established character of a genius, which kindly prejudiced friends conceded without reflection, threatened to lead me into

  ― 45 ―
a listless gratification of mere impulses, and the regular studies and necessary close application of college life were at first disagreeable, till I found those impatient longings for information had the means of gratification before them, and that awakened my ardour to seize on them.”

Rachel looked up in the firm countenance, and thought that the discipline must have been a severe one, with such a lively imagination,—such an absorbing love of mental pursuits; she wondered how he had become a farmer with such apparent equanimity; the sense of duty which bound him to an uncongenial pursuit had, indeed, imparted to his manner something decisive, and almost melancholy at times.

“Will you go to Sydney before reaching home?” she inquired presently.

“No. Had I done so I would have called on Gilbert, but we will be acquainted in future, I hope. It will not be long before I come—yes,” he added abruptly, in an altered tone, “it must be some time. I shall return to the Ranges very shortly.” This was one of those sudden changes Rachel had witnessed several times before, which unaccountably swayed the humours of the young man, and she forbore to remark it.

“Have you ‘the gift of silence’?” presently inquired Mr. Osman, lightly.

“I think not.”

“You are uncertain, but uncertainty is not your kindred mood; it oppresses you, and you throw it off by vigorous action. To do—there is gratification—there is power in that.”

“Pardon me if I am hardly following you.”

“What—I was thinking aloud! I often do so from having no one to speak to. I make the pictures and books in my home share my emotions, but the highest gratification would be the culture of a mind;—to see it growing and expanding beneath my care, to watch its development, to train and strengthen it, as the gardener cherishes a choice plant, and prizes its promise of perfection.” He paused, and Rachel said with a smile,—

“Still thinking aloud?”

“No, I was speaking to you. Was my tone dreamy? Well, I was dreaming—yes, a dream in truth. Come, let us join them; Fenwick is giving Elice a lesson in steeple-chasing. How essentially the animal predominates over the mental in some natures!”

  ― 46 ―

“I fear so,” she answered, so sadly that her companion started.

“I hope the subject of conversation was pleasing,” called Fenwick, as they joined them, with a roguish laugh.

“Quite.” Mr. Osman's calm manner checked the raillery the other had prepared; in fact, the Master of the Ranges had such a serious way of speaking to Rachel, and always appeared so desirous of improving her mind rather than good opinion, that when he left Cowanda no one could attach any other word than friendly to his devotion to her; and when on that day Fenwick was interrupted in laying out plans for the next week, by the remark that during the ensuring week he hoped to be at home, he merely expressed his regret.

“By Jove! I suppose it is time for me to be starting, too,” he added.

“My movements need not direct yours—the ladies will be dull without you.”

Fenwick glanced at Elice. “Between ourselves, Osman, I should think they would miss you most, because you can talk about their music and drawings, and all the old masters, and that sort of fiddle-faddle, which I can't.”

Leigh smiled gravely, and Rachel laughed at the idea of frivolity being attached to those grave discussions in which he was so frequently ongaging her. However, the time of his departure came, and all missed him; for he had a quiet, kindly way which won affection.