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  ― 207 ―

Broken China.

“HOW beautiful your hair is, Chalice!”

He had often said it before, but whenever he saw his wife's rich brown hair hanging down, his artistic soul demanded the bestowal of praise upon it.

“I do believe that is the tenth time this week you have said that,” she replied, laughing up at him. “Yes, I have lovely hair, but you should have seen my mother's. Hers almost swept the ground.”

He walked nearer to her.

“What a lonely life you have had, my dear! Your father killed, your mother dead, and your brother——how old did you say your brother was when he was drowned, Chalice?”

She bent to tie her shoe. He didn't see her face whiten. “He was just twenty,” she said faintly, from her stooping position.

“And you have been alone, except for two old servants, ever since—till now?”

“Yes,” came more faintly.

She made an effort.

“Yes, I was very lonely. But I don't think of those days now. They have gone. All my best days are before me. O, Ted!” with the fervour of truth in her voice, “I thank God every night for my happiness—for having met you. I love you so. I would die for you!”

She put her arms round his neck. “I don't believe any woman ever loved a man as I do you.”

He laughed and kissed her.

“It was well, too, for me that I stumbled across your home, Chalice.”




  ― 208 ―

She dropped her arms and spoke hurriedly. “Ted, when shall we go and see the Gap? You promised me a week ago, and the wet weather may set in any time.”

“We can go to-day if you like.”

“To-day? This morning?” He nodded. “Oh, that will be splendid.”

She clapped her hands, and her face flushed with pleasure at the thought of the happy day before her. She was all eagerness to start.

“I will run and put on my dress now. And you won't be long with the horses, will you? I will ride Lightning to-day.”

A horse galloped up the path. Chalice couldn't see, but she knew who it was. It was Tom O'Connor from Tawonga station with the mails. Her husband went to meet him; she heard a few murmuring words, and, as was the usual custom, heard Tom dismount and walk into the dining-room with Ted. She knew she needn't hurry in dressing now, for Tom was such a talker. She played lovingly with her wedding-ring. Three months married! How the time had passed! It seemed only yesterday that—God! she mustn't commence to think, else—she began humming to drown her thoughts. How beautiful the wattle looked! There was a branch bending down to the verandah, laden with blossoms. The yellow would look pretty against her dress.

She finished dressing, and stepped out and picked a bunch.

A slight, stifled scream escaped her as she looked towards the horse. This wasn't Tom's sturdy little chestnut—this great, black, sweating horse! It turned its head. She staggered against the wall. What a fool she was! More men than one had a black horse with a white mark on its forehead. It must be a station-hand's. She would go and pat it. She went up closer. Her hand extended, but swiftly drew back again. Her eyes dilated with fright and fear. The stitches! The stitches in the saddle-cloth that she had sewn in six months ago stared her in the face!

Blindly groping her way to her window, she wondered, dully, what they were saying in the dining-room. She must hear. She


  ― 209 ―
must know. She would go along the verandah. No, they would see her, they would hear her—she would go through the bath-room, and steal quietly along till she came to the door.

As she crept along the hall, a deep, mellow voice was speaking. She clenched her teeth.

Edward Murray stood with his back to the speaker, and played with his watch-chain.

“Chalice isn't even her name. She adopted it as a tribute to her own beauty. She would have liked every man to have drunk of her. Many men have. Even I; and even”—with a savage glance at the obstinately-turned back—“you!”

The woman crouched outside like a beaten cur.

“She drove her old mother to the grave. She has played with men as with flowers, tossing them aside when tired of their fragrance. She would have been another man's mistress, if I had not come along—so she chose me. The house you took her from three months ago was my house. And if you had looked you would have found a little grave——”

The door-handle made a rasping noise—the man stopped speaking; the handle turned, and before he could rise from his chair the slash of a riding-whip had come across his face.

Furious and blinded with pain, he sprang forward, but recoiled as he saw Chalice.

All her anguish and terror seemed to have frozen into her frame. Her arm was held high up, the whip grasped in her tense fingers.

The man turned his eyes away from her white face.

There was a moment's silence.

She felt she was going mad. She should not have come in so soon. She should have waited till her husband had spoken, then—— O God! why didn't he speak? Why didn't he move? Even shuffle his feet—anything! Anything was better than his standing like a silent, awful Fate behind her!

She caught the click of his chain, as he threw it up and down.

He sauntered up to her.




  ― 210 ―

“A fine attitude, madam, a fine attitude—that of outraged virtue—or furious vice, eh? It has a fine effect.”

Her body relaxed; the whip dropped to the floor.

He put his hand on her shoulder and half-whispered into her ear.

“So your lonely life has had its compensations, my little wife? The chirping of the cricket, the trilling of the creek, the rustle of the gum-leaves, the scent of eucalyptus—all these things you used so poetically to tell me about, have not, then, always satisfied your delicate womanly instincts?”

He paused.

“You do not speak. Why don't you call this man a liar? Perhaps,” taking her hands and patting them, “you are shy!”

She looked up at him, all her dumb agony in her eyes.

“As shy, perhaps, as the day I knocked at your door, down by the creek, and you opened it, and I looked at you; your head drooped with shyness—my little innocent one!”

She shivered as he passed his hand caressingly over her hair.

“As shy, perhaps, as the day you lent me your—er—father's horse—a black one,”—smiling over her head to the man opposite him,—“with—er—a white mark on its forehead. And— do you remember?—we rode, and rode, and rode, and all else was forgotten. And your hair came tumbling——”

“Edward! Edward!”

“Over your shoulders, and I—kissed—you. And your sweet, maidenly blushes !—ha—ha—ha!”

She broke into sobs.

“Ah, we had merry times down in that little home. Every day brought forth a new pleasure. Every day was coloured with our joy—our happiness.”

Jack Morton's eyes glared at him.

“How timidly your little hands used to seek mine! How your eyes used to sparkle as I approached!”

“Don't, don't! That time is sacred to me.”




  ― 211 ―

“How lovingly your arms twined round my neck! How soft your whispers!”

“Have pity——”

“Ah, Chalice, forgive me! I have done wrong. This life I have brought you to is too rough—too coarse a setting for such a jewel. You must obey the cravings of your spotless purity; return to the creek that calls you, to the home that waits for you—to your own virtuous loneliness.”

His hand slid down to hers.

Jack Morton anticipated him. He rushed forward, snatched Chalice's hand, wrenched the ring off, and threw it with all his force into the other's face.

There was a moment of terrified silence. Mad fury possessed both men. They looked at each other, the white, quivering face of Murray contrasting strangely with the dark, distorted countenance of Morton.

A startled sob came between them. Murray recovered himself He flicked some dust off his coat. How foolish, and what a waste of energy to lose his temper over these two wretches!

He spoke in a smart, business-like way. “I thank you, my man. You have performed that little duty more forcibly than ever I would have done. You had both better go now. The woman's belongings will be sent on to the station.”

He went towards the door. She ran after him, hardly understanding.

“Ted, Ted !—what do you mean? You are not leaving me?” Her voice grew shrill with fear. “You will not go from me? No, no, you will have pity; you … Ted! don't go, don't go!” She caught his sleeve, in a vain effort to stop him. He pushed her back. “Oh, have mercy! I love you so. I—oh, God! don't leave me.” Her sobs choked her. “Let me stay with you. I will not speak to you, nor touch you; only let me see you sometimes. Edward,” pleadingly, “I will be your servant.”

“I always insist on my servants being clean!”

She gave a little moan. “Yes, yes; but you are lifting me.




  ― 212 ―

You have shown me Heaven. No, no, don't go!—you have shown me——” He found it a difficulty to pass through the door with her clinging to him. “God! For the sake——” His foot advanced and tripped hers. “For the sake—— Ted! don't leave me!”

She fell down.

“You brute!” roared Jack Morton to the closed door.

He ran to pick her up; but she was shrieking and beating her hands against the door, and calling on her husband. He dropped his head in his hands. He had never seen grief like this before; and something like remorse for what he had done was coming to him.

After a little while her cries grew fainter; her breath came in exhausted gasps.

He raised her up.

“Chalice, my poor Chalice!” he said, brokenly; “don't cry, dear. You must come and live with me again. It shall be as if this man had never lived. Hush! And—God forgive me!—I will put a ring on your finger this time. My ring will be more sacred, more binding, in my sorrow, than his was, in his weak ignorance Come, Chalice, come back with me.”

“Yes, yes, I will come. I don't care, now,” she said, wildly. “Nothing matters now. Everything is over. Only take me away; a long way from here.”

Morton swore, under his breath, at the hollow misery in her eyes.

He drew her on to the verandah and swung her into the saddle. He sprang up behind her. The horse's head was turned, and they moved down the path. They had not gone very far when she cried out to stop the horse.

“Stop, stop!—pull up!” She dragged fiercely at the reins. “Jack, pull up! I must see him again. I can't go away yet. Loose your hands! He may have called me, and I not have heard him. He may”—with a wild hope—“have relented. Let me go—let me go!”




  ― 213 ―

She dropped to the ground, and ran back, the thought of his calling her uppermost in her mind.

“Come back, Chalice, come back!”

“No, no; I must see him.”

“Well, there he is—curse the fellow—look!”

“Where—where?”

“There, by that window”—pointing with his whip.

She looked, and dropped her head.

Ted was standing, delicately waving his hand to them.

She was very quiet as Jack lifted her up again, and her face was hidden in his sleeve as they galloped away.

HOIYA.

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