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Chapter II.

It is not that my lot is low,
That bids this silent tear to flow;
It is not grief that bids me moan,
It is that I am all alone.

H. K. WHITE

“MR. Tudor was down here this morning, missus; he waited a while for you.”

“Has he gone?”

“Yes. I think he was going up the road a piece, for he said he might meet you coming back,” resumed the innkeeper.

It was the last day's journey, and they had yet some miles to travel through the bush, for Mrs. Doherty's property lay back from the road.

Gertrude shared some of her impatience, which although extreme before, was evidently augmented since she had received this intelligence. She now leaned eagerly forward, with her keen eyes searching the unbroken solitude; presently a horse's foot at a brisk trot sounded behind them. “Draw up, Ben,” said she quickly. The driver did as commanded, and the equestrian gained upon them. He was a tall young man, about six feet high, rather thin, but well built; with serious, handsome features, and a healthy glow upon his brown cheek. He smiled, and bowed to Mrs. Doherty, inquiring after her health; and she addressed him as Tudor.

“Help me down. I will walk awhile, and you can tell me how all gets on,” she said.

Mr. Tudor sprung from his horse, lifted her to the ground, and drawing one arm through his horse's bridle, offered her the other, and they walked leisurely behind the vehicle conversing, though every word was audible to Gertrude.

“I have a girl, Ned.” The speaker was Mrs. Doherty.

“She will suit you I hope.”

“Yes, I think so. She is a very superior girl, too much so indeed.”

“A fine lady!” interrogatively.

“No, no, nothing of that sort; but a real simple English girl. You are smiling, what now? I am not often taken in, am I?”

“Certainly not.”

The listener felt half angry.

“He thinks me only a servant, and despises me,” said she internally.

Mrs. Doherty asked some questions about the farm affairs, and the conversation took another turn. But Gertrude was still depressed, when at length a large white cottage with its broad verandah and prolific orchard sloping down the side of the hill from the dwelling to a chain of large deep water holes, came in sight. It was a pretty place, backed up by a range of dark sombre forest hills, breaking here and there, as if to show the superb tints of ultra-marine and rose of the distant line of mountains and fleecy clouds flying round the setting sun; broad fields from which the harvest had been gathered some time; and grass meadows spread around on both sides, and were picturesquely dotted with cattle depasturing.

“Home at length, Gertrude” exclaimed the clear sharp voice of Mrs. Doherty, as she stept up to the cart, looking cheerful and bright.

The young girl smiled faintly, but grew grave as Mr. Tudor approached, and she hastened to descend. Her slight figure was not concealed by the dark cotton dress, which from the waist fell in full drapery and almost covered a foot about half the size of a native girl's. There was nothing vulgar in the simple form, or manners of the young stranger, and Tudor who saw her for the first time instinctively gave a respectful bow, and then, half smiling at himself, walked away, to see after the wants of the pair of fine horses, which drew the cart.

“Welcome home missus, welcome home,” cried a cheerful voice, evidently fresh from the green Isle.

“Well, Mary, back at last you see,” returned the mistress, with good humoured shortness.

“Sure thin, an' it was a long time yers bin this time any way,” said the plump domestic, apparently well pleased to see her employer again.

“There! there! get tea and away with you,” said the brisk commanding tone, “now lay down, that will do, will you eat me, down, down,” several large dogs were half devouring her, only pausing to bestow an occasional growl on Gertrude.

She stood desolate and weary, there were none human, or animal to welcome her; it was not her home; she was a stranger there, a servant, a companion for the red faced Mary O'Shannassy. A bitter cry to heaven for help and support swelled up from the lonely heart. Sad mystic human nature, over whose every hope and aspiration is written DISAPPOINTMENT, and thrice blessed Religion, which opens a vista to hopes and joys unclouded and perfect.

Mrs. Doherty meanwhile had patted her huge boisterous pets, and bade Gertrude follow her into the house.

“I shall keep you about myself, child. There, that will be your own room, at the back of mine; you will sit and eat with me, and have the charge of the house and dairy—though I keep a dairyman; but you must rule. Tudor keeps the store key, that is the stores for the people; but you will have this bunch; this is my private store key; this—but to-morrow I shall put you into your work, and mind you be faithful. I brook no want of fidelity, that is wilful dishonesty; and if I can help it you shall never be the tool of others.” These were the words of Mrs. Doherty as she conducted Gertrude through a part of the house.

Left alone, she felt much relieved; her situation was far above what she had a right to expect—it might even be happy; still she could not shake off the painful effect of Mr. Tudor's— what?—repressed smile? She was quite ashamed of such weakness, and yet dreaded that he might use the power he evidently possessed over Mrs. Doherty, to bias her mind against the friendless orphan. He had become an object of dread to her, and she was relieved not to see him again that night or next morning.

Mary O'Shannassy received orders from the new comer with a half saucy, half familiar manner; but finding her quietly dignified, was inclined to enter into friendly chat.

“Where do you come from, and when did you come?” were two of her first questions, which being replied to, led on to “what did you come for?”

This was rather inexplicable, and Gertrude evaded a direct reply.

“Sure then an' I came to get married, an' its married I'll be as soon as I can,” was the candid confession of the handmaiden.

The other smiled.

“But suppose you should make a bad choice,” she suggested, “you may marry in haste and repent at leisure you know.”

“Not I,” retorted Mary, flushing hotly.

“People often do.”

“The craters,” contemptuously.

“Well, Mary, let us see about the dinner, that is our business just at present, I believe.”

This important task being completed, and Mary showed such an utter innocence of the culinary art that Gertrude did not wonder that Mrs. Doherty required a better informed comptroller of affairs. They turned to the house; then followed the dairy; then several bags of linen, torn or otherwise out of repair, were sorted over, and layed by for spare moments, which promised not to be frequent; and by the time one o'clock and dinner came, she had found her multifarious duties no sinecure.

Several times during the morning, when she passed a small office at the back of the house she had seen Mrs. Doherty and Tudor, apparently busied over accounts and letters, both wore grave and businesslike countenances; and when the former came in rather late to dinner, it was with a weary air, or rather as near an approach to weariness as she ever displayed; still the dreaded Tudor was absent, and Gertrude half suspected he was still writing; he seemed untiring.

A few active days made Gertrude quite at home at Murrumbowrie. Under her charge the former disorder that had reigned supreme through the house gave way. Mary was more than vexed—Mrs. Doherty more than satisfied: she had an aversion to feminine pursuits for herself. In a plain dress and sun bonnet, marching round her fields, or counting in a flock of sheep, she was at home. She might have changed places with half the hardier sex, and filled their stations in a thoroughly manly spirited manner. Gertrude quailed when she heard that stern commanding tone rating the indolent, or caught a flash of the brilliant eyes: yet towards herself there was something indescribable in Mrs. Doherty's manner, an electric influence, a ray of refulgence, something powerful and undefined. Gertrude felt it, and was conscious of the support and comfort it gave her.

It was Saturday afternoon, Gertrude was busy making apple tarts for the coming Sabbath's dinner, and musing, not unpleasantly on the active life she had led since the Monday evening previous.

“Be them for to-morrow?” inquired Mary OShannassy leaving a pot she was scouring, and coming up to the table.

“Yes. What a beautiful oven we have,” and she glanced at the glowing coals and bricks.

“Them pies 'ill be could to-morrow.”

“Certainly, why not?”

“I never seed a could dinner in this house on a Sunday, that's all I know, but ye'll do as ye like sure,” and she bounced back to the pot.

Gertrude stood uncertain. The larder could already boast of one of those huge joints of salt meat which appeared three times a day upon the table, and a good piece of cold bacon purely white and red, and veined like choice marble.

“We will boil some potatoes Mary, and we have had cold meat before.”

“I mind that: but on Sunday Missus looks for a better dinner than common. Thim taters are getting low in the bin, and ye must tell the “super” to send up another bag.”

“Who?” innocently questioned Gertrude.

“Mr. Tudor sure, did n't ye know he was Misses's superintendent?”

“No. But Mary who is this?”

As she spoke, a sprucely dressed being flourishing a small cane with which he tapped a well brushed boot looked in at the door.

“I beg your pardon Miss,” with a salaam to Gertrude, “good evening Miss O'Shannassy,” with a bow to Mary. “I have your permission to enter?” again inclining towards the former. Gertrude gave it, and bent low over a complicated wreath of paste roses she was putting round her tart to enjoy a silent laugh.

“Now get along wid ye” chuckled Mary with red cheeks.

“Miss O'Shannassy” in an indescribable voice, and the visitor seated himself on a form, and redoubled the nervous flourishing of his cane; changing the boot.

“Get along, the crater,” cried that young lady, quite hysterical with laughter: where upon the visitor withdrew to the stone court upon which the back of the house and all the domestic offices opened, and throwing himself into the approved attitude for reciting “my name is Norval” waved the cane distractedly.

The interview however appeared perfectly satisfactory to himself and Mary, who scrubbed the pot with unwonted energy, chuckling and muttering something about the “Himperance of the crater.” Her displeasure respecting the cold dinner vanished, and she was in perfect good humour.

Gertrude encountered Mr. Tudor in the tool house, hanging up his saddle, and stepped in to speak about the potatoes. He was laughing and watching the stranger.

“He's cracked I think,” he said to Gertrude.

“Who is he?”

“An admirer of Mary, I suspect. He is Jack M'cMaster, one of our sawyers. Did he pop the question just now?”

“He only wished ‘Miss O'Shannassy’ good evening,” returned Gertrude, laughing.

“Well! it's all the same thing I expect. Soon after Mary first came up, that big Tipperrary bullock driver you may see about took a fancy to her, and they were to be married; but Mary fancied herself slighted and reproved Pat accordingly. Master Pat borrowed my old black pony, and actually rode all the way down to the Rocky crossing place, nineteen miles to buy a gown at Dugdale's Store, and on his return presented it to Catherine Dunn, who was dairy woman, then, and sure enough next time Father O'Connor came round on his half yearly visit, they were married.”

“Poor Mary!” exclaimed Gertrude indignantly.

“Mary relieved her feelings by bestowing a slap on Kate's face, and calling her a few names better not translated from their original Erse; and after that they became the best of friends.” Edward Tudor was looking so bright and merry eyed, that Gertrude could scarcely recognise the grave, silent being, she had previously considered him to be.

“We have a visitor in the parlour. I saw Mrs. Doherty and Dr. Bower walking up from the Lucerne paddock just now.” He politely brushed some flour from her dress as he spoke. “Pull off that big apron—there now you look very nice” and he surveyed her with his usual grave face.

Gertrude delivered her message about the potatoes and entered the house.

Tudor locked the toolhouse and dropped the key into his pocket with a half sigh, as he walked home whistling snatches of song.

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