― 164 ―

Told by Three.

They say I'm bad. Perhaps I am. Certainly, these latter days leave no record to be proud of. Aimless, careless, devilish passing of time. Yet it was not always so. My thoughts fly backwards. The years fall from me, and memory revives for a moment vanished sweetness, dead hopes, and past ambitions. I am again the lover fond and accepted, diffident yet confident, proud, though humble. I hear tenderly-uttered words of love, feel kisses on my lips, and soft tendrils of hair beneath my hand. I perceive the silent if unspoken opposition of her parents to my suit.

It was mine then to prove to them, later on, all I could accomplish. I worked hard to remove this obstacle, and no toil was too hard with this end in view. With her at its finish work meant joy; labour was sweet, and toil life. They were good days, those hopeful working ones, holding out promise of greater good. Their brightness served to intensify the darkness that followed.

The visits that my courting comprised were the strips of silver lining in the grey clouds of my toil. I snatched them as I could from the work that was to be the means of crowning my life. … One evening, after a long and hard day's work, I rode into Marrah to see her. I was physically tired and worn out, yet every incident of that night stands out with vivid clearness—the details of the sweeping muslin dress, the curves of her tall, graceful figure, the glory of her brown hair, and the earnest, steadfast gleam of her grey eyes.

How foolish then to think the steadfastness and earnestness were for me!

Even before she spoke I was conscious of a change in her. I was not long left in doubt. After some circumlocution she directly attacked the subject agitating her mind.

“Leonard,” he said, “I think we've made a mistake!”

With her words came a premonition of evil. I would not question her.

“Leonard, we must part!”

I kept silent.

“It's for your welfare—for your good. I am too thoughtless for one so capable and energetic as—you—”

She terminated the sentence without words. I refused to help by speech.

“I am not fitted for drudgery. I might become a discontented wife—”

She hesitated, as though defying me to deny her imputation.

“A discontented, overworked wife makes a miserable husband.”

I still maintained my dumb attitude.

“Am I not right?” she demanded, softly.

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Her insistence brooked no further delay. I took her hands in mine.

“Explain yourself,” I said, slowly.

She rose and stood before me.

“Am I the sort of woman built by nature to bake bread and cut up sheep—”

I looked at her slender white hands. On a finger of one glittered the ring I had toiled to place there.

“I do not want a cook or a servant,” I interrupted her to say.

“It's not a man's desires but his circumstances that enable him to keep his wife other than as a working housekeeper.”

She spoke with a quiet determination that told me her words were the outcome of a thought-out decision. I knew at once the prudent counsel of parents had prevailed against her love. I scorned to plead my cause against such.

“You are right,” I replied slowly. “I cannot gainsay such an opinion. At your own wish all is ended between us. Good-bye, Mavis, good-bye!”

A moment later the house was closed for ever on a man who fifteen minutes previously entered it with the joy and confidence of an accepted lover. … The intervening years that lay between that day and this are smirched and darkened by the hideous incidents that occur in the life of a man who, hopeless of achieving any good, probes the lowest depths of life in search of oblivion and respite from the gnawing sense of failure that is ever at him.

The Maid.

They think me soured. Possibly I am. For a woman young as I cynicism is certainly an unattractive trait. None know it better than I, and the knowledge is bitter, even though at times I set to the world a smiling face. I have tried to regain my faith in my fellows and failed. I understand now that it is only the exceptional man who lives and works for others. The average one works selfishly for the self that from birth to death rules him. Women are taught to look on men as superior to all the paltry weaknesses that assail their own sex, and yet men pay to, and gain the love of a woman merely to satisfy the petty vanity of their nature. This much I have proved beyond uncertainty. There are times when doubt will come whispering to me—then, coolly and calmly, I go over that night we last met. I cannot bear sight of that muslin dress that became me so well, and I wore it that night to look my best, because he was coming. Even as he entered the room I knew the labour of dressing accomplished nothing. It was not in him to feel interested in the attire of the woman he professed to love. Directly he stepped on the verandah I saw the dark, sullen look on his face, as though duty, not pleasure, brought him to me. …. The ease with which he acquiesced in my remarks concerning the breaking-off of our engagement makes my blood boil, even after this length of time. Possibly he came to me with that intention. Perhaps—but why should I here in loneliness give a thought to the man who in going to the bad has but returned to the ways that his heart loves best. …… Years have gone since then, years darkened by

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sorrow. First, my father—one of the few men who lived uprightly for the sake of good alone—was taken from me. Then my mother—'tis because of her going that the blinds are close drawn, and the heaps of black-edged envelopes—bearing inscriptions more varied than their size, shape, and depth of conventional mourning edge—lie on the table near me, ready to be opened. I am left well off, as the world has it, yet gratitude has no place in my life. …. I am too weary even to weep those tears I kept back years ago, that their ravages should not distress those near and dear to me. I have become that most hateful thing in my own sight—a spiritless, selfish, listless, and discontented woman, knowing full well I have my life in my own hands to mould it as I will. I cannot delude myself into belief that my freedom is other than distasteful to me, or that I shall give to the world the best in me. So to the dreary end I go on.

The Selector's Wife.

(Writen before Mavis Laing's visit to the selection.)

They think I'm lonely. They don't know. They do not look beyond my rough dwelling. They do not understand the company baby is for me, nor can they comprehend the joy that is ours—baby's and mine—when our dear one comes home at the finish of his hard day's work. They only see me living monotonously day by day, tidying our humble house, scrubbing, washing, cooking meals, and clearing them away with tedious regularity. They watch George toiling and sweating under stress of storm and heat, and rain and cold. The blessing of our love that sweetens life, enriches penury, and lightens labour, is invisible to them. So they cannot know that he goes forth cheered each day by baby's smile and my farewell, nor that he leaves us strengthened and ready for our little round of everyday duties by his cheery good-bye and the turn of his head to nod a second adieu when he reaches the paddocks, ere the uncleared land hides him from our view. We both look forward to the day when the hardest part of our work will be done, when there will be change for me, and ease for him, and baby will share in both.

The object that gave rise to these thoughts lies unheeded in my mind. It is a letter from Mavis Laing, enclosed in a black-bordered envelope. She is coming to us “for a holiday,” she says, “because you are the only sincere woman I know. You and George and the baby are often in my thoughts, and I cannot help wondering if you two older ones have changed your simple views of life. I hope not, for I need a little diversion, and if you will have me I shall get it.” I am sorry for Mavis. George laughs at me when I say so, and calls her a “born old maid.” Certainly for a woman comparatively young she is cold and cynical, and her remarks on the other sex are somewhat jarring. I'm afraid when she sees our poor little house she will look down on it, for she inherited her father's property, and he died a wealthy man. She will smile her irritating smile of superior wisdom when she learns how George took up and befriended that poor miserable creature Leonard Delroy. I imagine her saying: “My dear George, you pick up a drunken loafer, nurse him to

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health, give him work, and make much of him, and expect a permanent reformation. Well, I hope you are not disappointed.” George will laugh uneasily, having hard work not to be rude to her. ….

(Written a few days after commencement of the visit.)

Surprises will happen, and this is the greatest surprise of all. Mavis and Delroy, it seems, met years ago. Neither appears pleased to meet again. I suppose she has heard something concerning the wild life he led, and she lets him see that she knows it. He shrinks shamefacedly from her, and she treats him with a lofty scorn that seems so fitting a manner to go with her tall figure and long, sweeping black skirts. I think it extremely ill-natured of her. If she rides her high horse again, I'll speak plainly to her and tell her if Fortune has helped her and Fate vanquished him, it is the more reason she, as a woman, should be more tolerant of his weakness, and remember, if he is only a selector's labourer now, he is still a gentleman by education, training, and culture. ….

(Written at the termination of the visit.)

I spoke to Mavis. I wonder if things would have turned out as they had had I not done so.

“My dear Julia,” she said coolly, “you and your George know as much as baby there of the selfishness that lies at the apparent virtues of most men.”

“You may talk as you like,” I cried warmly, “but politeness demands that you treat a man beneath our roof with civility. He is a hard-working fellow, and anxious to retrieve his past.”

“It is rather a good paying game, that hard-working sort of thing, but so far as I am concerned he has played it for all it is worth.”

“Mavis,” I replied suddenly, “what is there between you and him?”

My words conveyed more than I intended. I had not the remotest suspicion of the truth until she turned to me with flashing eyes and flushed cheek.

“Nothing!” she cried. “Has he told you anything? 'Twould be like him to do so.”

“I never dreamed for one moment he had anything to tell. Now I shall certainly ask him—” I tried to speak airlly.

“You shall not mention my name to him.”

“I always knew there lurked a woman's influence in his life, but never till now did I suspect a man's in yours—”

“How dare—” she interrupted.

“Do not speak so,” I interrupted softly. “If you once cared (I emphasised the past tense) for him and yet not enough to share poverty and hardship with him—”

“It was not I, but he, who deemed the struggle too great a sacrifice. After leading me to believe that for my sake he worked, I found out he worked but to become rich for money's sake.”

With that enigmatical attempt at explanation, she walked away to the little room I apportioned her, to which I could not as hostess intrude on her

  ― 168 ―
privacy. … Nothing directly came of our talk, but the next evening we five—baby, Mavis, Len Delroy, George, and myself—were on the verandah. It was a lovely evening at Christmas. The moon threw its light over the near and distant bush land. The season was the best for years, consequently our surroundings were beautiful to the sight, sweet-smelling to our nostrils, and pleasant for our thoughts to linger on. Mavis was unusually silent, just opening her lips to utter some caustic remark. Len Delroy was taciturn. George was drowsy, so, but for baby, who was just learning to talk and make herself a pet with everybody, we should have been a dull company indeed. I mentioned the moonlight just now. I must do so again to make you understand that “it was clearly as light as day.”

Presently Mavis rose, and, dragging her long black muslin skirts behind her, she walked leisurely among the roughly-made flower-beds in front of us. A moment later Leonard Delroy, with a smothered cry, was after her. The next, we were all in a state of commotion. I caught baby up in my arms, and held her tightly. Mavis's trailing flounces had disturbed a snake. Len, watching her, saw the reptile rear its head, and was just in time to save her from its fangs. In time to save her—but, in doing so, received the hurt himself. Catching it in his right hand, the thing twisted back and embedded is venom in his forefinger. Quick as a lightning flash George had the creature disabled at his feet, and almost simultaneous with its death Len stood before us minus a finger, looking white and ill, with the blood soaking through the handkerchief rolled round his hand….. There was Mavis, white-faced and humbled, clinging to him, weeping and tearful as any lovelorn maiden in her teens. And he humble and lowly listening to her loving protestations as one unworthy of a word from her.

Such a demonstrative pair of lovers never did I see, each taking more than his or her share of blame of what I never could make out…..

“Julia,” sobbed Mavis an hour later, when, with baby asleep, we two women, nervous and anxious, were passing the midnight hour, until the return of the two men from the twenty-mile drive to the town whence George had driven Leonard to ensure medical aid, “if he should die now I shall go mad.”

All her unattractive independence was gone. She looked old and haggard in the lamplight, yet, somehow, she was the Mavis of long ago.

“Have patience,” I murmured comfortingly, “you have nothing to fear. They will return before midday.”

It was late in the afternoon when they did come. Both men were lively and apparently none the worse for the worry and excitement. Len had evidently confided his love story in George.

A month after her marriage, Mavis purchased a mortgaged station—Melabrino—for half its real value, and nothing would do but George should go in as co-partner with Leonard Delroy, her terms enabling him to do so, being so liberal that the succession of good years that followed cleared George of his financial indebtedness to her, and so increased the wealth of the Delroys that Delroy himself feels less a dependent on his wife's money. Not that it mattered much, for a happier couple never lived.