previous
next

Chapter XIX.

Man. Now by your leave, good friend,
Who may you be?”

Thos. A poor night traveller.”

MRS. M. HOWITT.

Once Gertrude paused to look back at Murrumbowrie, to recall the peaceful, busy days past; to people again the distant houses with familiar forms. The brisk step, the bright eye, of her who was no more, rose up before her. The tall manly figure of Edward Tudor; and that firm, reliant mind, and spirit, which were always to be depended upon.

These, like pictures in a Magic Lantern, passed before her. The smiling face of Charley Inkersole—the cynical doctor—the moustached, impertinent, yet courteous present proprietor, and all the subordinate characters; and among them she stood alone: tears filled her eyes; and reality, and the past blended in the burning drops which veiled her sight.

Kenlow chirrupped on the old horse that drew the cart in which she sat, and they proceeded on their way to the nearest Township, passing one night at the Rocky Creek. How different from the previous visits she had paid there; the first with Tudor, the other, accompanied by Mrs. Doherty; and her quivering nerves seemed inadequate to the task of listening to Dugdale's, and his daughter's questions and remarks, while Kenlow related the losses of property already; the advantages many had taken to rob the incompetent heir, and prophesied that “it would slip through his fingers, like water.”

“Mr. Tudor is not down yet?” inquired Dugdale.

“No.”

“I wonder at that, he is so active.”

“Well, it seems a long time, but it's only half the time he usually is; and if Jim did not overtake him, he won't hurry till he hears the news; so that all things considered, he could not be down before.”

“Was Jim pretty steady?”

“Very, if he kept from drink, but if he took a glass, he is the very—” and Kenlow assigned a rather dark character to the messenger.

Maria led Gertrude into the little parlour, just the same bright, pretty place as formerly; and made her take off her bonnet, and mantle.

“And where are you going?” she inquired kindly.

“To Sydney. To Mrs. Kenlow's sister; where I can stay till I get a place.”

“What! Will you go to service?”

“What else could I do?”

“For the present you mean—Well if I was him I wouldn't let you,” muttered Maria walking off with the bonnet; and pursuing something of Betsey's opinion of him.

Gertrude was too sad to inquire into the cause of her displeasure.

Mrs. Lenny, the widowed sister of Mrs. Kenlow was keeping a corn store, near Brickfield Hill. A shed with its dusty beams and posts knocking together, as if they had the palsy, rose before the dwelling; and under this shelter of green decaying shingles, were displayed sundry tempting oranges, and apples; or peaches, and grapes, as the season might be, with cadaverous shrivelled pineapples, cruelly bruised bananas, with a jolly faced melon, or trumpet pumpkin, backed up by trusses of hay, and bags of maize; among which, a steep flight of steps led “the nighest way” Mrs. Lenny said to the house.

Gertrude was not expected; she had come down by the mail, with a letter from Mrs. Kenlow to her sister; “which explained all about it.” She found by dint of enquiring, her way to the desired spot, and presented herself, and introduction.

“Bless me!” ejaculated Mrs. Lenny, and so Mrs. Doherty is murdered! we saw something about it in the papers: but come in, and tell all about it.

Gertrude followed her up the steep steps with a very aching heart; something struck upon her sensibilities, a sense of uncongeniality, and that she was not, and could not be understood; that there was a gulf between her, and her present companion, that could never be filled by kindness, or good wishes; unless, and a shudder passed over her frame, unless she sank to their level. From henceforth, she was really to be a servant, and a bitter fear of herself took possession of her. She might gradually sink to the low mental level of her roundfaced hostess; not but she was well, even richly dressed, and the parlour had no lack of papier machè, and china ornaments, and a gay large patterned carpet, and green window curtains, and some good furniture; but it was badly arranged, and everything bore the same vulgar impress.

Mrs. Lenny sat down in an arm chair, and called her daughter Julia, to come and see the lady who had brought a letter from ‘auntie’; and a good-looking, white-faced girl answered the summons, with that cold, stiff manner, that the ignorant mistake for good breeding.

It was impossible to keep up conversation; Gertrude said as little as she could about the sad changes at Murrumbowrie.

Julia read her aunt's letter, and then remarked, “Miss Gertrude will stay with us, mamma.”

“Yes, you must stay with us for a while, Miss Gertrude. When do you expect the young man down?”

Gertrude supposed she meant Tudor, and replied, “I did not think he was coming to Sydney.”

“Oh! I made a mistake; I thought he was in Sydney.”

“No, at the station, Ma'am.”

“Yes, I understand: at the station, seeing after things.” And the mother, and daughter exchanged glances.

Gertrude felt rather annoyed; and quite ignorant of their meaning; but Julia, who was a good-natured girl, when she could surmount excessive gentility, remembered that their visitor must be tired, and hungry, and with the aid of an untidy girl, fragrant of onions, soon supplied her wants liberally, and then when the meal was scantily discussed, led her to her own apartment, to change her dress.

“I am so glad you came to-day,” remarked she, “for we are to have a party to-night, and a dance. Have you a dress?”

Gertrude looked appalled, and answered in the negative.

“Never mind, we will manage that; one of mine, with the least possible alteration, will do. You are rather smaller than me.”

“Thank you, but indeed I could not, I am too sad.” A great witness of the inward sorrow fell from under her drooping lids.

“Oh! you must cheer up for the party, it would be such a pity to miss it.”

“I cannot dance.”

“Never mind, I will show you the step, and I'll get my brother Tom to dance with you, and he can tell you what to do,” and she went off in reminiscences, and anticipations of parties, past, and future.

The sense of desolation was increasing so rapidly upon Gertrude, that it threatened to become unbearable at no distant time, and she restrained a fit of tears with considerable effort.

Evening did come, and so many ladies, and gentlemen gyrating in so small a space, hopping and shuffling through polkas, had never fallen to her share to witness.

Under the plea of a headache, she might have said heartache, which indeed is generally understood to be meant by the former, Gertrude escaped joining in the scene.

Brother Tom soon found a much more sprightly partner, in the young lady who superintended the bonnet department, in one of the fine Pitt street drapery establishments; and if being very hot, and fatigued, and crushed into a small space, constitutes happiness, the whole party enjoyed themselves amazingly: indeed, when the windows were opened to let in the sea breeze, and a crowd of mosquitoes swept in, attracted by the candles, enjoyment must have reached a climax rarely attained.

All the young men were exceedingly polite, and “the ladies” appeared to be the objects of their great devotion, while they were elegance itself.

Gertrude, from a quiet corner behind the table, which had been pushed aside, watched the new phase of life opening up to her view, with very grave, philosophical eyes, and weighed the whole as “lighter than vanity.” Then, in the midst of Miss Smith's brilliant execution of the ‘Fire Fly’ polka, and the accompanying heavy tread of the dancers, her thoughts wandered back to that last evening before Tudor left for the station, and the rational, intellectual feast they had had, and a low sigh escaped her.

After a while, Mrs. Lenny came to enquire after her headache, and see if she would like to retire to rest, and very gladly she crept away to weep in solitude, as she had done every unobserved moment since she left Murrumbowrie.

previous
next