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  ― 157 ―

Waiting.

Reginald Dubois, on a six months' trip to Australia for the good of his health, after passing his final examination for a barristership-at-law, was standing on the steps of a fashionable hotel, the morning after his arrival in Sydney, smoking a cigar, and enjoying the genial sunshine, when a curious thing happened. A brougham drove up to the hotel, and its coachman entered the corridor to return almost immediately, and quietly approached him:

“Mr. Reginald Dubois, I believe, sir?”

“Yes, that is my name,” he replied, glancing curiously into the man's clean-shaven face. “What is this?” and he ripped open the envelope.

“When you are ready, sir,” remarked the coachman, withdrawing to the curbstone. Dubois read, and reread the letter carefully with a perplexed expression. It was neatly written on pink paper, faintly perfumed, and ran thus:—

    “Sydney,

   “June 7th, 19——.

 “Dear Reginald,—

  “I've only just learned you have come


  ― 158 ―
at last. I'm so overjoyed that I've sent the brougham for you. Come at once to yours ever,    “CONSTANCE.”

Beckoning the coachman to him, Dubois hastily said: “You've made a mistake. This letter is not for me.”

The man glanced at him, and at the letter. “You're Mr. Reginald Dubois, sir, from Yorkshire, England.”

“Yes, that's so. But——who told you to give me this letter?”

“Miss Dennis, sir. And she said I hadn't to return without you,” he added nervously. Dubois scrutinised the man, who stroked his chin as though embarrassed, and then glanced at the brougham with its pair of silver-harnessed chestnuts shining sleekly in the sunshine.

“Wait a few minutes,” and the young man leaped up the steps, and entered the hotel corridor on the impulse of making some inquiries of the hotel proprietor. On second thoughts, however, he slipped into a chair. There had been a number of Sydney people on board his steamer, and perhaps——. He racked his brain in the attempt to focus their personalities. Though he had been on speaking terms with several of them the intimacy was not such as to invoke a desire on either side for correspondence when ashore, much less for him to receive from any one of them an invitation couched so affectionately. More perplexed than ever, he again


  ― 159 ―
read the letter. “There must be some mistake,” he thought. “The writer evidently expects someone. Can there be another Reginald Dubois? But the fellow says from Yorkshire. Never heard of another Reginald Dubois in the county. If it's not for me, for whom is it? Very mysterious! Well, what must I do? There's no fear of a plot in these civilised days, although this isn't England. But the brougham augurs everything is genuine. I'll go anyway. It will be an adventure whichever way it moves.”

In another minute the young man was bowling along to interview his unknown correspondent. He was soon aroused from his pondering by the sudden stopping of the brougham before a suburban mansion, and the appearance of a man-servant standing at the open front door. “Evidently expected,” he thought. He was at once conducted through the hall into a room sumptuously, though somewhat gloomily furnished. It struck him the servant had eyed him curiously as he solemnly withdrew, and, with a strained attempt to conceal his embarrassment beneath an air of studied respect. Glancing round the chamber his eye was caught by a large portrait in black and white crayons hanging above the mantelpiece, that gave him a shock. Striding nearer he examined it with astonishment. “How extraordinary!” he muttered. The portrait could easily have passed as the likeness of himself.


  ― 160 ―
The difference was that the countenance was a shade thinner, the hair cut short, the lips more compressed, and the general expression more resolute. The young man was still contemplating what appeared his own double gazing down at him when a breath of air from behind and a slight rustle notified that someone had entered the room, and he turned on his heel. A tall woman, of spare figure, attired in black, was standing near him, her large brilliantly glittering black eyes fixed earnestly on him, her long, white, tapering fingers cracking together convulsively. He gazed at her, riveted, her deadly-white face was so corpse-like, enframed in the coal-black hair parted down the middle, and drawn back over the ears in a fashion long obsolete. He felt she had once been a vividly beautiful brunette of the type he had seen when ashore at Gibraltar. But years and some deep-abiding grief had chastened it all down to spectre-like unearthliness. He felt rather than saw the shining white teeth through her parted lips, held spell-bound by the brilliant eyes that seemed to pierce his soul. So transfixed was the young man that he failed to realise she had spoken, and fell back with alarm when her white writhing fingers clutched his hand, shooting a freezing chill through his marrow. “Ah!” The long moaning sigh lifted and depressed her bosom, as though her soul were escaping.

Collecting his thoughts with a quick effort, he bowed.




  ― 161 ―

She started, her white face craned into his with eyes like dazzling stars till her breath fanned his forehead curls.

“It's Reggy,” she muttered to herself; then her arms flew around his neck, and with tears falling like rain she exclaimed, amid intermittent sobs:

“My darling has come! Day after day I've waited. Oh, Reggy, how I have suffered! Is it months or years? Look at me! Why don't you kiss and caress me? Your voice has changed. Your face isn't quite the same. And these curls; how cruel I am. You kept your promise. How beautiful they are. Why didn't you write, darling? Everyone has been against me. What haven't they said? But why talk of them. I saw your name in the paper in the list of arrivals. They don't know you are here. Don't let them part us again. God! it would kill me. Look, Reggy, look at me; kiss me, sweet. Why are you so cold and distant? Are you —— ah!”

Her arms fell to her side, and she drew abruptly back, biting her under lip, with eyes flashing defiance on a stout woman in a travelling costume, who had quietly entered the room. The young man stood dumb-founded, with a quiver of agitation in every limb. Everything wore the aspect of a strange dream, from which he struggled to awake, and could not. He was too overwhelmed to know what he was doing, and


  ― 162 ―
stood gazing at them like one stupified. There was a deep silence, snapped suddenly by the beseeching cry of the one who had first entered the room:

“ 'Tis Reggy, sister, come at last.”

“Constance, go to your room at once.”

The other darted towards Dubois, crying loudly: “No! You shall not part us. I will shout for help. Don't let her, Reggy, don't let her. She always hated you. Don't! Don't!”

“What dreadful work! The nurse shall suffer for this,” murmured the stout woman, hurrying to the door.

“My God!” ejaculated the young man, frightfully distressed as he endeavored to console the anguished being clinging to him desperately, entreating him in shrill tones to protect her. The sweat streamed from his brow with agitation. His arms ached beneath her frantic tugs and struggles. He felt a pang of pain for her, despite his relief, when a middle-aged woman garbed as a nurse, hastened into the room, and, catching the poor creature by her hands with a sharp jerk, unlocked her fingers from his neck, snatched her up, and carried her wailing from the room.

With a harassed expresson the portly woman returned almost immediately, shutting the door gently behind her, and, approaching the young man, studied his face silently, her brows working over some inward amazement.




  ― 163 ―

“Be seated, sir,” and motioning him to a chair she continued to scrutinise his countenance, regardless of his obvious discomposure at his extraordinary position. Several times her eyes glanced at the crayon portrait and back at Dubois face, her brows never ceasing to express some mental perturbation.

“Very remarkable,” she at length commented audibly.

The young man stared blankly at her, instinctively recoiling from obtruding vapourish apologies in a hush so momentous. As though recalled to a sense of obligation to a stranger by the sound of her own voice she seated herself, and bending forward spoke slowly in deferential tones:

“I greatly regret, sir, I was not at home when you came to prevent what has taken place. I trust, however, you will accept my sincere apologies and overlook the unprecedented act of my unfortunate sister. Against my expressed orders the coachman has thought fit to execute her wishes, for which he will be at once dismissed. How she has managed it all is astonishing. Indeed, everything connected with it is astonishing. Your name, I believe, is Mr. Reginald Dubois, and you are from Yorkshire, England?”

“That is so,” replied Dubois in a low voice, his heart sinking he knew not why.

The lady thought a few moments, fidgeting nervously.




  ― 164 ―

“I'm so amazed by what appears more than a coincidence, that you will pardon me if I appear rude. Was your father's name Reginald?” And she waited a reply with acute tension of body.

“It was, madam.”

“You see the likeness;” and she nodded towards the portrait. A wave of impressions swept over Dubois' mind; his father's bearded face as he last saw him; his father's boast that he would never die whilst his son lived. He glanced at the portrait—was it possible? Then something like awe touched him. He awaited the next question breathlessly.

“Is he still alive?”

“No, madam; my father died some years ago. I feel bewildered. That portrait——”

“Was given to my sister. But, tell me, do you know anything of your father's life that would lead you to suppose he had ever been in Australia?”

“He was a midshipman, madam, and——”

“That is your father's portrait, sir. Everything is explained; but it seems like the hand of God. Poor Constance!”

Dubois shivered as the revelation burst on him. Then one flashing thought—my mother must never know this! The lady's voice recalled him from his subjective turmoil. Her acrid first words cut his sensitive nature sharply:




  ― 165 ―

“Your father soon forgot her for another. You've seen the ruin of a once clever, beautiful girl. Constance worshipped him. Month after month, year after year, it was always Reggy. We might have saved her had we noticed the malady in time. But she betrayed no sign to us. Only became melancholy as the years passed. I married, and did not see her again until it was too late. Had your father seen but for one day her misery, her constant trust, her love for him—— But it was madness from the beginning. She was only a child. Then—but you see how like a ghost she is. Always listless, except when her poor mad brain conjures up something about him. And he——married in England. What brutes men are!” And with that vehement objurgation she paused, wiping the streaming tears from her cheeks. Dubois mastering an emotion also perilously on the edge of tears, huskily asked:

“Is there no hope?”

“None! I'm now a widow, and live with her, so she has everything she craves for. Our grandfather, whose pet she was, bequeathed her this home, and an income to me for her behalf. She has every indulgence. However did she learn you were in Sydney?”

“She said she saw my name in the list of arrivals.”

“The newspapers print the lists. How cunningly she did it, thinking I shouldn't know. Harris ought to be ashamed of himself. He knows her state. I suppose


  ― 166 ―
he had no idea of what he was doing. The cause of her malady is only known to the family and the doctor. But, sir, pray tell me, did you father enter any profession?”

“Well, no. He lived a country gentleman's life after his marriage.”

The young man sat a picture of discomfiture, facing his interlocutrix, craving for the interview to end, to be alone with the emotion swelling his heart, all the while conscious of a far-off dread lest he should hear more facts to pain him.

“Are you sure my father was altogether to blame for your sister's calamity? I never knew him guilty of a dishonorable action,” he said.

“Quite sure. They were betrothed. He promised to return at the end of his voyage and marry her. We were given to understand his father would allow him an income till his position was assured.”

The young man felt sick at heart, and sadly went away.

And poor Constance is still waiting——still waiting!

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