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CHAPTER XIX. A FAMILY PARTY.—AN ECLAIRCISSEMENT.




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IT was about six weeks after the sad catastrophe detailed in the last chapter, that Arabin sat down to dinner with his wife, her sister, and Mr. Butler. Ever since the melancholy event, he had been labouring under severe indisposition; for some time indeed he was in danger, but “there were more days for him,”note and he was now once more restored to health. His wife had watched over him in his illness with tenderness and affection. She had her own little troubles too, for she could not forget that Willis had been a devoted admirer, and although unfortunate, he was a talented gentleman. His very misfortunes and his violent end excited her pity. We cannot attempt to deny that Martha Waller did entertain some little tender regard for the deceased. Before the mists of insanity began to cloud his intellect, he possessed good, or rather fascinating manners. She did not love him then; she did not perhaps know what the term expressed; but she was partial to him. She sincerely wished his success; she feared his dark, untameable spirit. Had his disposition been kind and gentle, like that of Arabin, she very likely would have loved him.

Man in his natural state, when uninfluenced by religion,


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is a singular and an incongruous compound of good and evil; he will change his temper as often as the chameleon its colour. At one moment his heart seems to overflow with meekness and generosity, and love towards all created beings. He treads the wilderness, and feels his heart bound in unison with the grand and beautiful in nature. He gazes upon the summer sunset, and admires the gorgeous blazonry of the ever-changing sky, until he is in reality a poet, an enthusiast. He turns towards the perpetual sea, and finds its holy beauty bring balm to the soul. Then, in a few hours, or weeks, or days, we find the same person pursuing a course of the most debasing intoxication, or acting a mean and shuffling part. We once knew a notorious thief and drunkard, who was a writer of poetry of a high quality: in his writings he breathed the loftiest sentiments; in private life he was a mean swindler, and a bloated debauchee. Lord Byron, too, was a melancholy instance: he possessed the finest feelings of our nature, with a brilliant genius, a fertile imagination, and a depth of feeling almost beyond humanity; and yet he possessed the most debasing in common with the most exalting virtues. Woman is very different, and singular in her feelings. She will love strongly, and conceal it from every eye; yea, even from the person who inspired the passion. Many never allow that they love; the secret is buried in their bosoms for ever. How many have gone away sorrowing from the presence of those they loved, who, had they dreamed that it was reciprocated, would never have departed! Woman, in addition to her tenderness of disposition, has that equanimity of character,


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the want of which is so remarkable in man. There are among the sex monsters who, naturally vain and ignorant, cannot resist the insatiable desire for admiration and for flattery, and who would wish to receive this impure and poisonous incense from the whole world. Such women are a libel upon their sex: possessing the outward form of woman, they lack every noble feeling which would gain them respect or esteem.

To return to our reeord. Mr. Butler had had a decided antipathy to Willis; he could never see anything in his melancholy, misanthropic character to approve. This was the first time they had assembled since his sad end, and the conversation naturally turned to that event, and he could not agree with Dr. Arabin in the discussion which ensued. We may just mention, that there was a mental superiority in the character of the latter, which Mr. Butler did not like to allow, although he was inwardly sensible of it; and the fact was rather galling. He despised this superiority in the person before him, but he admired it in the abstract. This caused him frequently to be more positive in his opinions than he would otherwise have been; but he really was partial to his new connexion, and very fond of his pretty sister-in-law.

The dinner passed without a single word being uttered by any person at table; the settler inquired of Dr. Arabin if he thought it would be prudent to drink a glass of wine?

“No” replied Arabin; “I am certainly very much better, but I should be mad to drink wine: I have


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had a narrow escape, and I must take great care of myself.”

“You are all well again,” replied the settler.

“There is only one thing which forces me to wish to live,” said Dr. Arabin: “for her sake (pointing to his wife) I rejoice that I am likely to recover.”

“Nonsense,” replied Mr. Butler: “you are young, and have had too little trouble, and not knowing real difficulties, you brew for yourself artificial annoyances. You should go into the world and mix with society; I do not mean with any or all men, but with a select few. You should learn to make a calculation of the value of sheep-farming, and write a letter to the editor of one of the papers on ‘squatting,’ that all-important Colonial topic of conversation, and you will become a Colonial character. If you could descend to truckle to the Executive, you would be a J. P.; but I think that is a questionable honour. I once had a spice of sentiment myself, and would sigh for hours after a fine belle; but it has all worn off now.”

Arabin smiled faintly, but made no reply. The conversation then turned upon Willis, and every countenance was overcast with gloom. How indebted men are to the circumstances of the moment for happiness! the mere mention of the name of an unfortunate will cloud the faces of a hundred.

“I think, for my part,” said the settler, “that he met exactly the fate he deserved. I never could bear him myself, and think those who allowed him to go at large incurred a fearful responsibility. The worst trait in his character, however, was his duplicity and dishonesty.”




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“Poor Willis!” replied Arabin; “even from the first time I saw him, I was interested; he was an eccentric character, but latterly his vagaries assumed a darker aspect, and it was not difficult to decide what his fate would be. I think, however, he possessed fine abilities awfully misapplied. Under better auspices, he might have been a splendid character. It is melancholy to find a person born to wealth and rank end his days in the Australian Bush without a friend, and by a violent death.”

“It is melancholy,” said the settler; “but it was the man's own fault. He would come out here without informing his friends, and he would not go back. His obstinacy was the cause of all his misfortunes, and I must say he deserved them.”

“I think he deserves your pity,” remarked Dr. Arabin. “If he erred, his inward sufferings were a fearful retribution.”

“We will not quarrel about it, then,” said the settler. “Have you sent in your bill against him?”

“No, I do not intend to do so; he only owes me a trifle—he used to pay me regularly while attending him.”

“If he owes you anything, you ought to get it; he has died intestate, and no heir will appear, because the name is assumed. His real name was Lord Mount Albion, and he was heir to the Marquis of C————, who has a fine property in the West of England. I saw the papers, which arrived some time ago,—for it appears they had discovered his retreat, after the death of two elder brothers,—and from the abridged copy of a letter found in his desk, it would


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appear that he had replied he would return immediately, and I suppose they still expect him.”

“I suppose his station and stock will be forthwith sold?” said Dr. Arabin.

“It is advertised. I would not give much for it. The station is not a very fine one, and what stock he had was spoiled and neglected, although originally very good indeed.”

They were here interrupted by the servant, who carried a letter which the postman had just left. It was addressed to Dr. Arabin.

“Who can this be from?” inquired he. “Why, as I live, it is from Captain Thomson! Has he had time to be home?—Yes, he has.”

He opened the letter, and its contents amused and surprised him. He gave it to Mr. Butler, who read it aloud.

MY DEAR FRIEND,

I am glad to say that my health is still good, although nothing but vexation seems to be my lot. I never was so humbugged in all my born days. I hope, though, that my 300 ewes are in good health, for I shall have to fall back upon them at last. I do believe that before I reach the old country, I shall be as poor as a church-mouse; but am very glad that I have the sheep and their increase, and my few cattle, to fall back upon, else I should not have known where to cover myself or what to be at in my old age, for I was never so humbugged in all my born days.—But to begin at the beginning. I went, the very moment I received the money from you, and made arrangements with the great person, the lawful heir of so much money and property, for going to England and securing it as fast as possible. The person who knew the case, and who was acquainted with the property, and where the documents were situated, we were


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obliged to take with us: for our passage and other expenses I paid about £300. We had a long and a rough voyage, and I landed with my two protêgès quite confident of success. We took up our abode at an inn near Blackfriars' Bridge, and after going about for two or three days like noblemen, we thought it but proper that we should see to business. I went with him to an attorney in Red Lion Square, and told him to commence proceedings, and offered to pay him before, if he doubted our inability to take up the case.

“I can't take up the case,” replied the gentleman, “unless you show me that you have a case. How do you know that your friend is the heir to this property?”

“His father used to say that he ought to have had a large property,” I replied.

“Is that all the grounds you have for an action?” replied the lawyer.

“No; there is a young man who knows the property: I think he states that Lord H———— has unlawful possession of it now.”

“Very well,” replied the lawyer. “Call with this young man to-morrow.”

On the following morning we called, and the attorney examined him at some length. He was clear about the property —that it had been for many years in Chancery, that Lord H———— had got it; but that he had always heard it reported that he was in unlawful possession, and that the real heir was in New South Wales in poor circumstances. After this, his evidence became confused, nor could he trace the property by any link to the person in whose success we were interested. The solicitor inquired, rather sarcastically, if I had any other evidence; but I was at a loss. I had heard many in the Colonies say that he was positively the heir to an enormous property, and that he would be one day the wealthiest commoner in England, but I could not trace the report further. In fact, I had been so positive of the thing, that I had never displayed any great curiosity, for fear that my selfishness would appear. The case seemed already to me most likely to tumble down; however, I put a good face on the matter, and resolved to wait until the solicitor should


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make the necessary inquiries. We still lived in the hotel like gentlemen, and went about town spending money in very fine style. At last we ventured to return and receive the solicitor's answer. When we entered, he peered at us rather sharply, and said—“I have made every inquiry and find that such a case as you mention never was in Chancery; therefore, you have no case that I can discover.”

We stood like so many statues; such a disappointment never was before experienced: we paid his costs and departed. I, for one, cried with vexation. To have been made a fool of was too bad; but, in addition, to have been taken away sixteen thousand miles from home and totally ruined, was a horrible misfortune. When too late, I discovered my error. Who then was to blame? Of course I was, for rushing rashly into a thing about which I knew nothing certain, nothing except by hearsay, and these vague reports could not be traced to anything after all. But the disappointment was perhaps not one whit the less severe upon me, that I was the author of it—the very shame of having been so green was enough; and I know the settlers about you will laugh at old Thornson's misfortunes, and ascribe them all to his being so cunning in his own estimation. I must just let them laugh, and you can spread it over the country, that the laugh may have died away before I return to it.

There is no business to be done here; everything appears overstocked—hardly bread-and-cheese to be got with severe bodily and mental exertion; so I shall just go out again, and gather the wreck of my fortune together, and make a fresh start somewhere, with my few cattle and sheep. I shall be better off now than when I first went upon the fine station I sold you, and which cannot be equalled in Australia. You may always depend upon the wool; it is of beautiful quality. Give my respects to Mr. Butler and his lady, and Miss Waller, (I compliment you on your taste,) and to the wild devil Willis, if he be still alive; and I am, my dear friend,

J. VALLENTlNE THOMSON, The Knight of the Rueful Countenance




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When the letter was finished, Butler laughed and said it served him well right for his cupidity, and that he was very glad he had been deceived. Arabin, on the other hand, was sorry for his misfortunes, and thought he deserved pity rather than ridicule.

“You do not know his temper,” continued Mr. Butler: “he will bring back five hundred pounds with him, as he could not have spent more than four hundred when he found out the falsehood of the case, and he will come back in the intermediate cabin of some trader. When he comes out again, he has about seven hundred sheep with you, and his cattle are on thirds upon another station. With five hundred pounds expended properly—and he will know the value of ready money now—he will sit down comfortable for life in the Bush. So had he been totally ruined, I would have pitied him; but now I shall laugh and roast him about his voyage to England.”

“I see,” replied Dr. Arabin, “that he will be comfortable after all, if he reserves the sum you state, which I think is the most probable conjecture. Yet he has suffered much inconvenience and loss, and deserves some commiseration.”

The conversation here ended, and the ladies were allowed to commence playing.

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