Chapter XI

Under the vine-leaves I shall sit alone,
And the lone breeze will have a mournful tone
Amidst their tendrils, while I think on thee.


Messrs. Arney and Buchan had a property in their hands, which, immediately on receipt of Captain Dell's letter, they agreed was the very thing for him; it was an orphan minor's estate, which had been under tenantry for the last ten years, and must be let for seven more before the heir reached his majority: it was then empty, and so gone to decay as to let at a merely nominal rent.

“The very thing for the Captain,” said Mr. Arney.

“The very thing,” echoed Mr. Buchan, and a letter to that effect was written; and after some little correspondence, Captain Dell rented Aloe Hill for seven years.

It was to this place that the family repaired after the sale. Aloe Hill was a small estate, on the Parramatta River. A few fields, the wreck of an orchard, and a large dilapidated cottage, once plastered and whitewashed, constituted the property; there were, or had been, wide verandas and French windows, but the glass was broken in many places, and the walls cracked and damp-stained; in fact, it was a picture of minors' property; the cottage stood at the head of a small inlet, surrounded by native oaks, and more immediately beside the water the mangrove cast its deep shadows; there was a hut there, inhabited by persons who took wood to town, and their large boat lay moored in front of their dwelling, and beyond the

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gentle slope which rose from the river's edge were a few small farms. The spot was very lonely: the dull patches of bushes shutting it in gave an air of isolation; you felt that you had turned your back on the world, and the distant bark of a dog sounded as a farewell, rather than connecting link with those beyond; no one's business or pleasure led them that way. The wood-cutters were absent all day, and, when at home, convivially inclined; the very air was desolate, and smelt of the weeds left by the receding tide; and the wind found no leaves to rustle, but sighed through the wiry foliage of the native oaks, and burst out in sudden squalls across the fields.

Mr. Arney had sent a person to clean the rooms and welcome the new tenants; for a ride of inspection he had made had left an impression upon his mind, that some cheering influences were requisite. He remembered the lovely girl who, some years before, in company with the Captain, had visited his office, and he fancied he saw her standing in those mouldy smelling rooms, with her bright eyes

“——— looking into the darkness
To see some form arise.”

He fancied he heard those light footsteps treading the weedy paths, and the quick ear gathering up the wind's voices—“Murmurs of pleasures, and pains, and wrongs;” and the old man's heart smote him, that he had recommended so desolate a dwelling for her. Then he said to himself—“but she'll brighten it—yes, she'll brighten it;” and he rode away rapidly, with a radiant face, shedding sun-shine over Aloe Hill, and almost resuscitating the old withered poles of former Aloe flowers, from whence the place took its name. He looked at the unpruned branches of the vines trailing along the paths, and the black stems of the orange trees, and then he pictured it all restored to order; and those dark bright eyes sparkled out between the orange-leaves and through the trellised grapery, and in the midst of all stood the noble-looking old Captain, with his fine form erect, the very personification of indomitable will; and he thought of the orphan heir, and how the value of his property would be augmented by such tenants, till his former satisfaction in the arrangement returned.

The following week, Rachel herself was there; the bustle of moving had, for that day, subsided; the sun was drawing near

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the horizon; the Captain's arm-chair was pleasantly placed near the window, in the future sitting-room, and he was perusing a volume of Macauley's History, and underlining passages which pleased him, or expressed his own ideas; Aunt Nancy was engaged, and Rachel was free to devote an hour to thought; anxieties and cares which for some days had been rather put aside for the time, than overcome, were assuming a formidable array, which she desired to disperse; she followed a faint path leading to the little inlet, and was soon seated on the trunk of an old mangrove, which dead, white, and pierced by worms, reared itself from the water's edge, which, like loving lips, rose in little waves to kiss the shore; the dark foliage of the mangroves cast a profound shadow across the inlet, and in the shallows there rose the dirk-like succours; cockle and trochur shells lay on sandy banks, where the tide had cast them; and on the shore, beyond water-mark, the St. John's wort rose vigorous, clustering over the stumps of oaks, or sending aspiring branches up the stems of standing trees, as if to stare at the setting sun with its broad gay yellow blossoms; the pale lichens clung round the oak stem, and waved as the wind swayed the sad grey-hair like foliage, sighing pensively. The water was so clear that she could discern the keel of a boat, the minor's property, which had floated there till it decayed, and was forming a cradle for young fish, some feet below the stream's surface; near there was no sound, save the low murmurs of the wind and the waters; far off the wood-cutters' song came faintly to her, as they pulled their cumbrous boat up the river and sang to the strokes of their oars, and dogs sent back a barking refrain to the echoes their own tongues awoke. The potent powers of such an evening scene, reddened, over by the sun's last ray, calmed that feverish, if suppressed excitement which had oppressed Rachel, and she bent over the cool waters, laving her hands and brow, till when she looked up the brow was smooth and eye clear; and then she began to trace her own part in the life at Aloe Hill, and her probable influence on those around her; for there were dwellings, though the low hills hid them. “I may die here,” she thought—

“But mind leaves footprints on the sands of time
Itself, resolved again to light undying!
Stamping the past with imagery sublime,
And with the cloud-world of the future vieing.”

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“I have a part in life to fill: Oh, Lord, ‘Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee; because he trusteth in Thee;’ ” and leaning her head in her hands, she prayed for herself and friends, particularly Gilbert. “I must find him and prove his innocence,” was the absorbing thought as she walked homewards. That he did not write, was no proof of criminality to her; she knew his thoughtless disposition—how he would say, “Dear Rachel! I must write to her some day.” And with this acknowledgment he would pass by the subject; still treasuring his sister's image in his heart's purest corner, if hearts have corners.