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CHAPTER III. AN ECLAIRCISSEMENT.




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WE now proceed to open the first scene, not in Britain, but in Australia. It was a beautiful day in January, about midday, that two persons walked to and fro in a small garden which was laid out in front of a white cottage. The one was a young lady of surpassing beauty; the other, a man who appeared hardly more than twenty-five, but his features were unnaturally worn, and his eye gave a quick, unsteady glance, which altogether put it beyond the power of an observer to hazard anything like an accurate guess of what his age might be. The day was not oppressively hot, the air was pleasant, and the too powerful rays of the sun were intercepted by the thick forest. The casements of the house were open, the front rooms appeared to contain no unwelcome listeners, and the two paced along without any dread of being interrupted.

The first surmise of a concealed observer would most probably have been, that they were lovers. A rather more attentive inspection of their manners and features would have occasioned a change in their opinion. The face of the young settler, for such he seemed, betrayed anxiety and mental irritation, while his lovely companion struggled hard to repel the uneasiness she felt at her position. Her timid eye


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wandered about, and her ear was on the stretch watching for some friendly intruder to break the tête-á-tête, which every moment became more irksome. The young man gazed earnestly in her face once or twice, and seemed as if he was anxious to address her upon some powerfully exciting topic; but his courage failed, and he turned off with some common-place remark, like a soldier who would fain attempt a daring deed, but whose valour fails at the critical moment. He seemed aware of his weakness, and at last made a desperate effort—his breath almost stopped, and his brain reeled, as he uttered, “Miss Waller, there is something I wished to say to you.”

The young woman looked as if the worst had occurred; but she did not jump, or start, or scream, or blush,—nay, she did not either faint or go into “hysterics.” She replied quietly, that she should be happy to hear anything which Mr. Willis could have to say to her.

“You must know,” gasped the person addressed as Mr. Willis, “that I am—in—love with you,—that is —that—I would—wish—to—to—to—marry you. I have not got very much property, it is true; but what I have will maintain us in a humble sphere of life. You will have to cast in your lot with one who has few friends, but who is the more likely to love you upon that account. I hope you will favour my addresses. I am not, it is true, very much in the habit of speaking to ladies—or I have not been for some time past; but if I express myself in a clownish fashion, you must excuse my manner on account of my earnestness."




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His companion had listened to his passionate address in silence. He ventured to take her hand, and clasped it with something like ecstatic fervour. A severe inward struggle had kept the young lady silent; but when he took her hand, she answered —

“Mr. Willis, I am sorry to be placed in this disagreeable position; you know that it must give me infinite pain to refuse your offer. My affections are still disengaged; and even were it otherwise, I would not marry without the consent of my relations—and their consent I do not think you would get.”

“Well,” interrupted the settler, “will you let me ask it? Your sister would not refuse me; Butler might, as he has no favour for me, but he is only your brother-in-law.”

“It would be of no service,” replied she; “I cannot —in fact, it is better to be plain and not deceive you, I am sorry I can never think of accepting your offer. I wish you well and happy. I must go inside to my sister.”

“Stay but one moment, lady,” said Mr. Willis, almost choking with emotion. “Might not time effect some change in your feelings? Do not deny me in a rash or harsh manner.”

“Mr. Willis,” replied the girl in a tone of severe dignity, “I have heard of women who took time to consider offers, and battered their hand for a certain specified amount of comfort and fine furniture; but I despise them. I will not take a day to consider the offer—nor an hour, nor a minute. Although I am an Australian, I am not mercenary; I am not, thank God, tainted with the too common vice of my countrymen


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—and, alas! countrywomen too. It may suit the old worn-out cockney flirts whom I occasionally see here, to weigh the advantages or disadvantages of offers, but it suits not me. I am sorry to repeat that I cannot entertain your offer.”

It was but too plain, even to the excited young man, that she was resolute and determined. In a moment after, she excused herself and entered the house. The settler remained standing in the same position; who shall describe the reflections which tortured his mind? To be refused by a mercenary woman who will weigh you in the scale with the property you possess, is a lucky escape; but to be refused by one who is worth possessing, is exquisite torture. The settler partially recovered himself, and without re-entering, he left the garden and tore himself from the spot. “What an éclaircissement!” he said mentally. “I was an ass, a tom-fool, a spooney, to put it in the power of any person to slight me. I was positive that she loved me, and how eminently I was mistaken!—Loved me!—bah! what a contemptible dolt! what a sentimental love-sick puppy! what a noodle! what a silly-billy! A man of the world, too, like me, who has played his part in many a gay and noble scene, to be slighted by a native ‘cornstalk!’ I cannot yet believe it,—it must be but a dream and a lie.—But how I loved the girl, too! She is not to blame; no, hang it! I must not censure the girl, only I mistook her glances. I was a conceited idiot, and fancied, because she looked upon me, that she loved me: I deserved it all. And then she will tell her sister, and that puppy Butler, who will laugh in his


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sleeve at me, and think me an inferior. Well, I wish them all well,—I am compelled to do that; however bitter my heart is, I cannot curse them; but I curse myself! I curse the country! I curse my station! I curse my agent! I curse my lawyer! I curse my barber!” He threw himself on the ground, and tore his hair with rage.

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