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  ― 129 ―

Chapter XXII

“Yes, it was love,—if thoughts of tenderness,
Tried in temptation, strengthen'd by distress,
Unmoved by absence, firm in every clime,
And yet, ah! more than all, untired by time.

If there be love in mortals—this was love.”


Thick purple and copper-colored clouds spread over the heavens, and vivid coruscations of light shot and quivered across the summer's sky; and the wind sighed through the oaks by the water, and flapped the creaking shutters of the minor's house at Aloe Hill. It was a dreary, though midsummer night, and Gilbert closed the blinds and drew a chair near his sister. Aunt Nancy was working—true Penelope, her labours never ended; conversation had drooped, and each pursued his or her employment or amusements in silence. At the further end of the room, Gilbert's friend, Bain, paced slowly, with folded arms, sometimes pausing to scrutinise his companions, and gaze more carnestly at that strange anomaly of almost childish form and features and heavy widow's weeds; At length Gilbert interrupted his reveries by expressing a fear that he must find the quiet irksome.

“On the contrary, I am in a state of unusual satisfaction: lavishly painting and guilding in imagination; listening to the fall of waters and birds singing—anything pure and refreshing.”

Aunt Nancy, who was not afflicted with such fertility of imagination, inquired simply—

“Do you hear the birds singing at this hour of the night?”

“Not exactly, ma'am,” returned Bain, gravely, but with rather sparkling eyes. “May I offer to read aloud to you, as conversation is not very animated?”

Rachel rose and brought a small volume.

“Would you read this? it is new to Elice.”

Bain bowed gracefully, and commenced Longfellow's pathetic tale, “Evangeline.” The cynic was laid aside, and he threw a force of feeling and pathos into his tone, which did justice to the exquisite poem. While he was repeating—




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“Merry the meeting was of ancient comrades and neighbours;

Friend clasped friend in his arms; and they who before were as strangers,

Meeting in exile, became straightway as friends to each other”—

wheels were heard on the grass-grown drive without, and he laid down the book.

“Who can it be?” asked Rachel, laying her hand on her brother's arm, as he rose to ascertain.

“Can it be Osman?”

“No, Bain: he has business to settle in Sydney; he promised to come out some day soon, but not at this hour.”

A loud knock announced that the stranger was seeking admittance, and Gilbert opened the door; for, attracted by the light, the knocker had come to the sitting-room. A tall elderly man stood disclosed, with a military-cut coat, buttoned up to his chin, and a large iron-grey moustache shading his mouth.

“Is this the residence of Captain Dell?” he inquired. The effect of the simple question startled him; the females turned away in tears, and the young man's cheek blanched as he pointed to his sable suit. The stranger uttered an exclamation of horror.

“Can it be possible that I am too late?”

Finding his friend too agitated to remember either hospitality or ceremony, Bain invited the stranger to enter; he looked earnestly at the tall brown man, and then at Gilbert and the girls; finally resting his gaze on Aunt Nancy.

“Do I see Miss Dell—Miss Anne Dell?” he inquired. She acknowledged her identity.

“I thought so; yet how changed! May I inquire if you know anything of your sister Emma's children—a boy and girl?”

“I do—they are here.”

“That young man and woman! but they must be. Gilbert—Rachel, I am your father.”

The latter sprang to the extended arms, and Gilbert scarcely less excited, clasped his parent's hand in his. Aunt Nancy began to sob, in memory of the days when Emma was a mirthful girl, and Major Calder, the sallow, grizzly old soldier, a fine, elegant young man.

Elice glided from the room, and as she passed along the verandah, encountered Bain, looking very unlike a stoic philosopher;


  ― 131 ―
he said something about the parlour being warm, and took a cigar from his pocket, but the little widow fled on in silent emotion.

Later in the evening the party reassembled; Bain's cigar had quite restored his defiant bearing, and the soldier looked particularly happy, with his daughter on his knee, and his son seated beside him, and Elice at the other side; he had much to tell her, and letters, and colodiotype portraits to present from her family. Miss Dell, who had always held the polite Surgeon Gillett in great awe, had many questions to ask, and all had leisure to survey Major Calder. He was a fine military-looking man, but far too sallow and hollow-checked to be handsome, and probably he never had been; though he had large, full, dark eyes, like his daughter.

A few days were given up to idleness and pleasure, and then the Major began to talk seriously to his son of his future life.

“You are past boyhood, Berty, and must choose your future course. I can procure you a commission, if you desire to enter the army; or I can assist you in any other way you wish, in moderation, for my means are limited.”

“I have a few hundred pounds of my own, father, and I should like to get a station. Mr. Bain is disposed to do the same; we would join partnership, and need not encroach on your kindness.”

The Major coughed, and shook quietly; there was a little independence in the wish to owe all to his own exertions, which pleased him.

“You have my consent, boy—do as you like. I am, indeed, relieved that you do not seek the army; you will be better as a squatter; but do you think you can trust this Alvin Bain?”

“Perfectly.”

“Good. I have had experience in a soldier's life—we don't want to part with you, Gilbert, but I like action. I want to see you at some steady occupation. I have been a wandering, unsettled man, following the impulse of the moment, and left only ‘footsteps in the sands behind me,’ which the waves of time have washed out as I made them.”

“I will lose no time.”

A month passed, and then the family circle was again divided, perhaps to unite no more.




  ― 132 ―

Osman had twice visited them during that time, and he, George Welton, and his sister, were added to the party the evening preceding the squatter's departure for the Gwydir River.

Major Calder and Aunt Nancy sat in the verandah, and Elice with them; the innocence and freshness of the young widow had chained Bain's attention—the man of the world, who had sickened over its duplicities and artifices, who had drunk of its pleasures and sins to satiety, and, sickening of them, found a higher principle of action, the love of God in Christ; the child-like spirit of the fair young being presented a novelty particularly gratifying to his satiated and world-weary heart; and therefore her society and conversation pleased him more than any of the others.

The other young people were grouped at the farther end of the verandah. Rachel was singing in a clear, melodious voice, not unmixed with melancholy.

“Clare,” said Gilbert, in an under tone, “before we part, I have something to communicate to you, which I have shrunk from mentioning, although I resolved that you should know it.”

“Not if it pains you,” she returned, seeing his troubled expression of countenance.

“I must. You know, Miss Clare, how rashly and wrongly I acted nearly twelve months since, and you know how heavy a punishment followed me, in the loss of my grandfather; but you do not know that another heavy curse lighted upon me—the suspicion of a great crime!—which all my own and my friends' efforts to remove have proved futile; and it must through life, unless some unforeseen interposition of Providence occurs, remain a blot upon my name. God knows, Clare, that I am innocent, and I can only trust to my friends' believing me so to support me under this burden.”

“No, the integrity of your own heart will support you, even if others do not believe you.”

“May I hope that you—”

“Have perfect confidence in your truth.” The calm, kind tone cheered him.

“Clare, I thank you. In the future, when I am far from you, I shall retain that kind look and tone.”

There was a pause, and then, dissatisfied with so much, Gilbert sought and won another promise.




  ― 133 ―

Three months later, Gilbert Calder, having improved the hut at the station on the Gwydir—though, City Lady, it was then rough enough to scare you—returned for his bride; it did not scare her, for she wrote cheerfully of it, and the life she led. She praised her husband and his friend Bain; they were so steady and industrious, and they were forming a little library for winter evenings' amusements, and planting a garden, and teaching her to ride. “And, Rachel,” she wrote, “in my cottage, with its walls lined by old newspapers, and slab floor covered by tea-chest matting, I have all the essentials, and many, very many, of the pleasures of life. Do you know those same newspapers are my best friends: when Gilbert is from home, I draw my chair near the wall, and work and read. I have gathered such a heterogeneous mass of information as would astonish you, varying from the siege of Troy to the fashions in the year one. Speaking of fashions, I dress as pleases me, and my world—i. e. Gilbert—and am very independent. I want George and Grace to give up city life, and come here, but fear they are too townish.

At the time that this wedding took place Leigh Osman sailed for Sumatra or Java, or some of the northern islands. In four years, he hoped to realise enough to free his property from encumbrances, and then to return. He spoke little of his future hopes or intentions.

And now, what sort of life was Rachel leading at Aloe Hill? A very busy, useful one. Still was she the main-spring of the establishment: the first excitement over, she feared her long-absent parent would miss the gay companions among whom his life had been spent for so many years; he might grow dissatisfied and melancholy; she must try and prevent this. There were sorrows and anxieties—hopes deferred, and the pangs of uncertainty in her heart; but they must all lie buried there. She must be his comfort and pride, and she must cheer her aunt and Elice, who long remained drooping and sad; and she did it all—not proudly trusting to her own strength, but relying upon her Saviour. All those trials, and she had many, were maturing her character and strengthening her Christian faith. Years hence, if Leigh Osman escaped the fevers and dangers of his foreign exile, he would find her even more worthy of his love than when he went; he would, perhaps, also have benefited, and learn to place full confidence in a true


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heart; yet, had he known the homage so frequently paid the Major's handsome daughter, some little jealous fears for her fealty might have been pardoned.

That the Major himself viewed her with pride we may be assured, and, indeed, almost with reverence. It was well that she ever treated him with obedience and respect, for it led him towards the principles which actuated her; and much was there in the mind and habits of the old veteran opposed to religion.

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