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  ― 89 ―

Men and Women

Consolation

THERE was moonlight on the water. The wind blew cold from the south-east and sent a gleaming ripple across the bay. Far out the dark outline of an island stood in silhouette against the sky; and from the bush came the plaintive cry of the curlew. A narrow jetty ran away out to the deep water. Upon it a man sat fishing; his line loose in his hand and a deep frown upon his forehead.

Fate had been cruel that day. The man had told himself in the morning that he would confess his love to the most adorable woman on earth, and ask her to be his wife.

But circumstances conspired, and he had found no opportunity to speak with her alone. And now, as he sat looking down at the shadows on the water, he heard voices—a man and woman were singing, away up at the hotel on the cliff. The voice of the man was that of his dearest friend, and the woman's voice was the voice of her he loved.

Hushed by the distance, he heard the deep tones of the man as he sang:

Dear one, dost thou love me true!
Tell me true, tell me true!

And her voice, how sweet it was!—

Must I then my secret tell!—
Yes, I love thee well.

Then their voices blended:

We are pledged to love for ever,
Let the world say what it may;
Nought but death our hearts can sever,
Love with life shall pass away.

And the man on the jetty sighed.

The music ceased; there was a sound of a door opened and closed; and the figures of the singers came down the hillside


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together. The fisherman in the shadow heard their voices as they came toward him. They spoke of music, of poetry, of love; and he knew as he listened that he had only dreamed of happiness.

After a while the woman said, “How cold it is!” and gave a little shiver. And the man by her side took off his coat and threw it over her shoulders. She protested, but he fastened it about her throat.

As his fingers—a man's fingers—fumbled at the button he said: “Let me keep you from the cold—dear—for always.” And she looked up at him, and he clasped her in his arms and kissed her lips.

The man sitting looking into the water felt that there was nothing left for him to live for. Now he had not even a friend. But he kept the line in his hand.

Back up the hill went the lovers with arms entwined. And he was alone with his grief.

Presently his line tightened with a jerk. He rose quickly to his feet, and hand over hand he drew it in. The strain was great, and the frown disappeared from his brow. Steadily now he hauled in—cautiously—easy—ah! Before him lay the great, shining, scaly fish.

He smiled. His face was lit up with the smile.

He baited another hook, threw in his line, and sitting down again looked fixedly into the water.

There are many good fish in the sea.

G. J. V. MACKAY.

Her Coup-De-Théâtre.

THEY had been engaged for a year and a half, but lately she had noticed that his love was beginning to cool. He never talked in the old, rapturous way of “some day,” and their daily meetings had dwindled down to weekly, without even letters between.

The last time she saw him she had noticed that her laughter and smart speeches jarred on him, and he had spoken in praise of a


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woman of their acquaintance with a soft, cooing voice. “Purring,” the girl called it.

She expected him to-night, and had made up her mind for battle, and victory. She clad herself in her woman's armour—a dress he liked the best, a clinging white cashmere that left her throat and shoulders bare. Her soft round arms and neck were her strongest weapons, and she meant to use them.

She was sitting in a low chair when he came, and he noticed how the yellow cushion behind her head suited her eyes, her soft brown eyes.

She rose as he came toward her and held out her hands with a glad gesture. “I knew you would come to-night, for I have been thinking of you all day.”

He sat down by the fire, but she did not go back to her chair. She stood behind him, her fingers playing in his hair in a tender, motherly way. She did not speak for some minutes, but he could feel her heart against his ear as she leant over him. It made it very hard for him to say what he had come to tell her. He wished he had written, or waited till to-morrow. Why had she worn that frock to-night? He had not seen it for months. And why was she so soft and sweet to-night, when she had been so different lately?

“Dear!”—her voice was a caress,—“why did you stay away so long? I have been so lonely.” Her bare arm came soft and warm round his neck, and her cheek was laid on his hair.

He could never tell her like this. He must do it at once.

He got up quickly and walked across the room and back again. She stood watching him with a hurt, wondering look.

“What is the matter, Jim? Something is troubling you. Have you anything to tell me?”

“Yes, I have. Won't you sit down? I can't talk while you are standing there.”

She sat down in her chair by the fire, but he stood against the mantelshelf. It gave him courage to stand thus looking down on her; and clumsily, in his man's way, he told her what he had come to say.




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It was just what she had expected. They had both made a mistake. … They were not suited to each other. … He had met another girl, a little, fair-haired thing who was just the sort of gentle woman he wanted for a wife.

“You are too clever for me, Joy, you know. You would soon grow tired of a big, stupid fellow like me. You want a man who can talk poetry and metaphysics and stuff like that. And I want a wife who cares for home things more than books. You must see that we have both been mistaken, don't you, Joy?”

She sat listening, with her hands clasped before her, her eyes never leaving his face for one second. When he finished speaking, she made just one little choking sound, and hid her face against the chair.

She did not speak at all, and he stood looking down at her, wishing she would not sit like that, wishing she would say something. He had expected angry, cutting things; but instead there was silence, and that bent head. What a pretty head it was! The firelight shone on the bright brown hair, and played in the deep ripples above her ear. Those ripples were never made by tongs or curling-pins, and neither was that little curl that lay on her neck, and tried to hide the tiny mole. He remembered that mole so well. She had always grumbled at it, but he had kissed it and called it her beauty-spot. How long ago that was! It was soon after they were engaged; the night he had given her that emerald ring. He glanced at her hand hanging limp by her side. Yes, there it was in the same place on her little finger—she would not have it on the third. Her hand would look strange without it, for it was the only one she wore. It was a dear hand. Too thin for actual beauty, but soft and well-shaped; and, after all, he did not like fat hands. Hers were firm and cool, and so comforting when one's head ached. Ethel's hands were such baby things, soft and pink and kissable, but he liked a woman to have firm, strong hands best Joy's were strong He remembered how she had held his dog the day the poor little brute broke its leg. She had cried so hard afterwards, too. He wondered if she were crying now. Her


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head was still hidden. Would she never look round! He could n't stand it much longer. He wanted to comfort her. That little mole seemed to invite him to kiss it. He——

She lifted her head and looked at him. Her eyes were wet, but they gleamed with a depth of love he had never seen there before. All the sparkle had gone out of them, but something sweeter had come in. She rose and came to where he was standing.

“Perhaps you are right, dear! I am too hard and worldly for you.” Hard!—with that look in her eyes! “She will make the soft, yielding wife you want, and I know you will be happy. We will say good-bye, and you must go away for a while, and then I shall get used to it—some day.”

She was fidgetting with some violets in a bowl beside her, and he could see she had something more to say.

Suddenly she lifted her face to him and held out her hands.

“Jim, Jim! kiss me just once before you go! You will be hers soon, but now you are mine still. I love you; oh, my dear, I love you!”

Her head was thrown back. Her red lips were parted in eagerness, and her eyes glowed with passion. She had never looked so beautiful before. For one second he looked at her, and then … one white arm was round his neck, her head was bowed on his shoulder, and she had conquered.

When he said good-bye, two hours later, it was settled that the wedding should be in a month.

“I nearly made a big mistake,” he said; “which only proves that I was right when I said you were too sweet and clever for such an ass.”

Her only answer then was a kiss, but when the door closed behind him she smiled at herself in the glass.

“Yes, he was right! I am too clever for him. It was a fine piece of acting, ma chère!”—with a little bow to her image in the glass—“and it brought down the house!”

AMY E. MACK.




  ― 94 ―

An Egotist.

HIS first impression on reading the letter was one of unreality. It had been lying opposite his seat at table, and, with a premonitory chill, he had torn open the envelope and tilted back his chair to read. As in a dream he went over it again, but a third reading accentuated the phrases and brought acutely to his mind all that the loss of her meant. He looked up to find the others engrossed with their meal, and wondered angrily that there should be such indifference to his pain. Then, catching glances in his direction, he crammed the letter in a pocket and made a pretence at eating, lest anyone should guess at his discomfiture.

Dinner over, he hastened to his room and read her letter again and again, noting, through a maze of wonderment, here a trick of words, there the lapse into an accustomed endearment. Sitting idly on the bed, he absorbed slowly the multiplicity of her conflicting reasons, as also her confident assumption of his agreement in them; then wondered vaguely if he were hurt—if this dull numbness meant bitter anguish, or merely emotional disappointment.

She was returning his letters and ring. He affected a contemptuous laugh—tribute to an imaginary audience. His ring! To be treasured as the tombstone of his love? This, obtruding on his reflections as rather neat, he made a note of to use in his reply.

He was taking it very well, he thought. Decidedly, there were few men who, loving her as he did—had done—would have accepted the dismissal so philosophically. And, after all, there were compensations. Freedom offered a wider scope for enjoyment than a life of domesticity. Some theatre-tickets and a tailor's bill stuck in his mirror suggested the fact that he had never denied himself a pleasure. He met this with the reflection that future indulgences would be without conscience-qualms. He was tired, too, of writing—of the weekly repetition of verbal caresses. She had complained of the coldness of his letters. But it was impossible to be always at fever-heat. There had been, too, demands on his time and purse, which he had found it difficult to explain or even specify


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Women never understood these things. She wrote of the delay, the frequent postponements, and the long years of weary waiting. Well, riches were not to be won in a day, and he was no selfish egotist to ask a woman to share poverty merely because she loved him. That her younger sister and two girl friends had married in the interval had no bearing on their case. It was so like a woman's logic to quote these facts as it were in reproach to him. She had known at the time of their engagement what his prospects were. He had been perfectly honest in defining his position. And if she had not been prepared to wait, why had she——? The longer he considered, the clearer it became that she had treated him very badly. Still, she was a woman. He would be generous with her.

The question of his reply came to him. This needed consideration, for it was imperative that she should recognise her position—and her loss. It would be futile to pretend he had never loved her, just as it would be absurd to refute her arguments. Women, he reflected, never reasoned.

Remembering she had always dreaded his sarcasm, he decided that an admixture of bitterness and cynicism would prove effective. The desire to look well, to present the best possible appearance, was fast possessing him.

He was soon absorbed in the composition of his reply, almost to the exclusion of his earlier feelings. After many alterations, he completed a fair copy, and read it over with satisfaction. A particular phrase fitted in so well with his admiration of himself as to raise him almost to exultation.

“Now, I call that good,” he said, surveying himself in his mirror as though for confirmative applause. “Damned good!” A momentary regret that he would not be present to witness its effect on her somewhat chilled his enthusiasm. Pride in his handiwork increased till a craving for sympathetic appreciation dominated all his previous emotions.

“I wonder if old Strong is in,” he said, handling his letter with an almost caressing care. “I'll go and read this to him. He'll enjoy it.”

E. & O. E.




  ― 96 ―

Two Verdicts.

HE sat beside her on the sofa, holding her two hands in his.

Neither spoke, for they imagined they understood one another perfectly, and the silence was only broken by the droning hum of London's traffic, and the rustling of the lace curtains in the soft June breeze that played with the girl's brown hair. She was the first to break the silence:

“Kenneth, dear!”—the pencilled eyebrows arched inquiringly —“Kenneth, dear, how much do you love me? So much that nothing, nothing, nothing could ever make any difference?”

“Nothing could: you know that well, little woman,” he answered. “What's up with you now?”

“I'm so glad,” she said. “I wanted to tell you something. I always meant to tell you, but somehow I couldn't till to-night. Ken, there was a man once——”

“Was there, really? I expect there were several men once, if you were like you are now.”

“No there were n't. There was only one; he made love to me, and I thought I cared for him; and I tried to show him how much I cared. There was only one sort of love he seemed to understand, and I—I—oh, Ken, it was five years ago, and—you aren't angry, Ken, darling, are you?”

The man's face was chalk-white.

In the silence that followed the girl thought she could hear her heart beat. Then the man slowly and deliberately took the diamond-and-turquoise ring from her finger—and left her.

He turned at the door, and looked at her. “You've spoilt my life,” he said. “Good-bye!”

He paused on the Thames embankment, looking at the muddy river.

“Two tenners is n't much,” he said; and then two diamonds glinted for a second in the moonlight as they touched the water.

The turquoise did not catch the light; but then turquoise signifies “love”—and love was dead. From somewhere in the


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Strand, he could hear a string-band playing Tosti's “Venetian Song,” once a favorite song of his. Now the words seemed meaningless to him as he hummed them—

We are alone!
The world, my own,
Doth hold but you and me!

“What damned rot!” he said.

They sat together in a long cane chair on the station verandah.

The stillness of the moonlight night was only broken by the wail of the curlews and an occasional “moo” of motherly solicitude from the milkers outside the calf-pen fence. The girl spoke first.

“How much do you love me, Ken?” she asked.

“So much, darling,” the man answered, “that I won't marry you under false pretences. You think I'm a sort of a King Arthur, but I've been more of a Don Juan; I've been several different sorts of a blackguard, dear. You can't understand; you're too good and pure; but five years ago I came a bad cropper through a woman, and I've been a beast since. I wish I could make you understand, but——”

“I do understand, old boy,” she answered; “but tell me, Ken—never since you knew me?”

“Never, darling, I swear that. Do you hate me for what I've told you?”

“Hate you? No, why should I; you're mine now, and what does it matter to me what you used to be?”

In the drawing-room the squatter's other daughter, fresh from a Sydney school, began to sing Tosti's “Venetian Song” (with the soft pedal down).

We are alone!
The world, my own,
Doth hold but you and me,
But you and me!

The man drew the girl close to him and kissed her.

“I just love that song!” he said.

GRAHAM KENT.




  ― 98 ―

A Woman and A Fly.

SHE was a sort of experimentalist in emotions, and she was lonely. Teaching in the backblocks sharpens the flirtation-palate of a pretty girl, and does not decrease her possibilities.

As regarded this particular victim, she had not meant to go further than an experiment. He saw things differently.

He was only a “cocky,” with little brain beyond sheep; and she was rather a clever girl, with no desire for settling in life at twenty. What tempted her into mischief was his size—he was one of those tall, strong, hot-tempered male animals who always seem to appeal to small women.

They were returning from a ride one afternoon at sunset, when the plains were tenderly tipped with violet and gold. He was thinking of her; she was thinking of the other man—in Sydney.

“I am not going to fall in love with you.” The suddenness of the remark aroused her; its piquancy startled her.

“No?” she queried tentatively. He was silent.

The girl laughed softly as she hummed, “Nobody asked you, sir, she said”; at the same time steadying her horse to a walk. The experiment was promising, she reflected, and she wanted the full measure of its sensations. When you have a fly on a pin you should watch it wriggle, and enjoy yourself.

He looked at her suspiciously, with an uncomfortable idea that she was laughing at him. Very likely she was: she never took these impressionable men seriously.

“Pretend you didn't try?” he suggested. She shook her little head with sudden gravity. “You do not understand me—dear!” She said the last word softly, daringly.

When they reached home, and he was lifting her from the saddle, he suddenly kissed her. What came over her that she did not protest? She could not understand: she was generally particular in these matters. Besides, she was curiously cold-blooded, and so never attempted to lose her self-respect. The man was trembling—things were getting beyond a joke for him.




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A few days after, he called again. She was very subdued, and more puzzling than ever. She was lying in a camp-chair on the verandah, dreamily watching the shadows chasing each other in and out of the straggling belt of timber in the distance.

“Is there any hope for me?”

She looked up at him quickly, half-frightened at the expression on his face.

“For what?” she said, shrinkingly.

“Well, you let me kiss you; you know what that means!” His voice sounded like a threat.

She looked up at him thoughtfully; the tall, well-knit figure pleased her—one part of her; but the narrow forehead and general unpolished look about him offended the other part of her. “I don't see how I could prevent you,” she ventured audaciously.

He literally gasped: “Why, you never tried!”

“I was too hurt,” said the girl, with a pretty air of dignity.

His face grew absolutely miserable; and she became afraid that compassion (a frequent and unsuspected foe to some women) would master her wisdom. She took a mental leap into the possible future. She saw herself his wife and him the father of her children.

That thought saved her. It had been an interesting experiment, and the fly had wriggled beautifully; but 't was time to kill it.

“Good-bye,” she said.

NELLIE BRUTON.

After Many Years.

SHE met him in her teens, when life's glamour was upon them. She was simple and unsophisticated; he, high-spirited and manly. In her twenties, they drifted apart in pride and misunderstanding. The “eternal love” of a boy and a girl became a thing of far-back memories.

In her thirties, she one day entered a railway-carriage—a smiling, gracious woman of the world. In the carriage was a single


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occupant. She bowed and smiled as she recognised her fellow-traveller, then sank into a window-corner and tried to think of nothing in particular as she watched the disappearing trees and cottages. It would take two hours to reach the next station.

How long it was since they had met, and how dear he had been! Even now she could feel his lips upon her hair, and his strong hands imprisoning hers. She glanced towards him. What a look of pain was on his face! He, too, must be thinking. Again she looked. Without a word he held out his arms. Ah! how sweet the time when she could creep into them as into a sheltered fold.

Suddenly the weight of years rolled from her. She was a girl again, and he her king. Throwing aside her heavy cloak she swept towards him with a sob that was almost a gasp, and the next moment was folded close in his embrace, her face buried on his shoulder.

“O, Frank!” she cried. “Frank, forgive me! I did kiss Charlie on the balcony that evening; but I never thought such a slight sin would bring so great a punishment.”

“My love!” he answered, “at last we understand each other!”

“At last!” she echoed, as she held up her red lips for a kiss, and almost unconsciously pushed the brown curls from off his forehead as in past days.

“Oh, why was fate so cruel? Why were we parted so long?”

“Nothing shall part us again, Nellie.”

“No, nothing in Heaven or on earth. I am yours now, and for ever and ever.”

Once again were passionate kisses given and returned, once again was the golden head cushioned on the heart that made so sweet a resting-place.

“How far are you going, Frank?”

“To the end of the world, pet; to the very end of our lives together.”

She lifted her head, and half drew herself from his arms.

“What do you mean?”




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“I mean what you said just now, that nothing in Heaven or on earth shall take you from me, or me from you again.”

“I was mad!” she answered. “But let me be yours for five minutes longer; then—love must die and life end. Kiss me again—again!”

The train whistled. She tore herself from his arms, threw on her cloak, and took her sunshade from the rack.

He stood before her, wonder-stricken.

“Good-bye,” she said, bowing and smiling; and the same gracious woman who had entered the carriage at the last station left it at this; and, without a trace of emotion on her fair face, joined her husband and children on the platform.

VICTOR ZEAL.

He Had Not Hurt Her.

SHE was young when Love came—very young. Life was still hedged round with dreams. At her age life might be stormy, sad, or lonely, but never flat and tasteless. Then the world burst into blossom suddenly and unreasonably—as it does when one is very young. And, of course, Love was everything.

For a month they met and gloried in the sunrise delicacy of unspoken passion. The month passed away. He did not speak; she dared not; and the world turned into mourning. Yet she cherished her dream for seven years.

They met again. What a passionate pulse played in her blood! Old ghosts came out and stared at her everywhere. She looked to the meeting with unspeakable dread and longing. They met; and with a great ache she recognised that her lover had died with her youth. The man who stood in his place was an alien and a stranger. The faint mannerisms he possessed in old days had become decided habits. Where a dimple had been on the boy's face a wrinkle lay in the man's. She had grown more fastidious and


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discerning. He had grown less so. She had ripened and enriched; he had ceased growing with her last knowledge of him, and was perfectly satisfied with himself. She looked into his changed, shallow eyes with a breaking heart, and said to herself, “What matter? Love is all. For life or death I am his. He has needed me. That is all. I will take his life again, and Paradise will come back to the earth.”

“Surely you will never marry him?” said her friends, guessing her thoughts. “'T would throw away your life!”

“Love is all!” she said.

One sweet, dark evening he walked home with her. His manner had the old tenderness, but none of the old doubt. He drew her hand through his arm. She permitted it. Then, for the first time since their meeting, he spoke of the past.

“I believe you loved me then,” he said.

“And you?” she queried.

“You know!” he answered, softly. For a thrilling second the past lived again. “And you?” he insisted.

Then she flung off her long, maiden silence, and spoke: “I loved you—God knows I did!” There was something of the wail from the dead in it. Nevertheless, it was the supreme moment of her life. She soared into heights unguessed—far, far from the man at her side.

For the first time his complacency was disturbed. “I was not worthy,” he whispered.

She answered with sweet scorn: “A man must be honourable.”

“But you heard something about me?” he insisted.

“Nothing.”

“I thought you might have heard some gossip.”

“No.”

“Well, I would have been married, but there were difficulties in the way. She thinks a great deal of me.”

In a waking dream she heard such sentences as: “When a fellow looks for a home” … “She is awfully fond of me.” Her senses came back as she heard him say: “But I wouldn't like to


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think I had done you any kind of wrong. You see, women are not like men. They hold on to things; but a man forgets. You don't think I have hurt you at all, do you?”

She looked at the familiar scene. The scent of lilac suffocated her. The past stabbed her. She knew what a paltry lie love was

“No,” she said.

C.W.

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