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Chapter XX.

“Oh! trust not, cling not to the hope
Of constancy below;
Aye, even in life's meanest things,
This is a world of change.”

MRS. ABDY.

“We see but dimly through the mists and vapours;
Amid these earthly damps;
What seem to us but sad, funereal tapers,
May be Heaven's distant lamps.”

LONGFELLOW.

GERTRUDE had come to Sydney to seek employment, and although borne down by dejection, and uncertainty, she resolved to let no longer time elapse in idleness.

“What will you do with yourself, to-day?” inquired Julia Lenny, breaking in upon her meditations.

“I do not know.”

“I am going across the water to visit some friends; will you come?”

Gertrude did not feel inclined, and excused herself.

“Ma will be busy all day; shall I give you my crochet? I am making an anti-macassar, see, a dove with a sprig in its bill; do you see its head? And there's one wing just begun.” She held the piece up by the corners.

Gertrude admired it, and expressed her willingness to assist.

“If you get tired with sitting, you might walk ‘up town’ in the afternoon, when the ladies are out walking.”

“Thank you,” returned Gertrude, marvelling why all times of the day were not equally genteel.

Julia retired to make her toilet, and presently presented herself, looking very pretty, if overdressed; the silk of her gown was too bright to please Gertrude, and the flowers in her bonnet rather in excess; but it was with a very warm, kindly smile, she looked up from the mysteries of the dove's olive branch of peace, which it carried in its bill.

“Oh! how nice you do it, and so clean,” said Julia, pausing to examine. “Don't bother yourself with it, Miss Gertrude.”

“It amuses me, thank you.”

“Good bye then; I shall not be in till after tea,” and she stooped over Gertrude, and imprinted a kiss on her fair brow, before she ran out of the room.

The little act of kindness had opened the floodgates of tears, and for a while, crochet, and doves, and olives were all forgotten, in a deep, and passionate fit of tears. “But this will never do; what would Mr. Tudor say, if he saw me give way so?”

The reflection, which was intended to strengthen, only proved the reverse; and a second burst of tears succeeded, which left her leaning on the sofa arm, and her energies painfully exhausted; but if the thoughts of earthly friends had failed to comfort, the remembrance of Heavenly guardianship was far otherwise. She drew her bible from her pocket, and read, and gradually the quivering nerves became calm, and the despairing thoughts fled, whilst from her very heart, called up the words—

“Oh! spread thy covering wings around,
Till all my wanderings cease;
And at my Father's blest abode,
My soul arrives in peace.”

After this, crochet had less charms, and was so often unripped, that it threatened to be any thing but deserving of the praise Miss Julia had bestowed upon it; and after a listless morning, and apology for dinner, she put on her bonnet, and strolled out.

A brisk sea breeze was scattering clouds of dust along the streets, woefully changing the hues of the goods exposed at the shop doors, and penetrating every where, and every thing. The sun was still bright and the heat excessive; and the green fields of England, and the wide silent forests of the Australian interior, rose up before her eyes in painful contrast.

After a while, as she paused to wipe the dust from her eyes, and endeavour to keep her curls, and veil from fluttering in the air like streamers, an announcement above a door met her eyes; ‘such a one's Registry Office for Females.’ Her heart beat—what was before her? A life of servitude. Had she not better enter, and endeavour to obtain a situation? There was a painful struggle; and duty gained the ascendant, so she stepped forward.

The room was crowded with women, chiefly young, well, and even stylishly dressed: some were silent, and grave, others smiling, and whispering to some companion, or attending to those persons standing in the middle of the room. One was the Registry Agent evidently, and the girls looked up to her as if she were one of the three sisters, the Fates, commissioned by destiny to arbitrate between them and fortune; the two others were an elderly, and a young lady; the elder was scanning through an eyeglass, a little stout ‘maid of all work’ before her, questioning her in a severe tone, whilst the younger played with her parasol, and appeared indifferent to the result.

Gertrude's courage failed, and she drew back, and walked rapidly a few steps in an opposite direction—“but I must do it—I must,” she uttered, pausing—then began a severer, more protracted struggle. The wind, and consequently the dust, had increased, and she stood, her mantle, and veil fluttering in the wind, and the tears, which in spite of her efforts, were coursing down her cheeks, dropping on to her clasped hands; an earnest prayer uttered for guidance, and once more she mounted the doorstep. The ladies were about to depart, and she drew back to allow them to pass, something in the pale, sad face struck the younger lady, and she smiled kindly upon her. The trivial act of sympathy went home to Gertrude's heart, and though she turned unconsciously from the door, and followed up the street in a profound fit of musing, she felt more courageous and hopeful. Presently she came in violent collision with a mass of satin, and more solid materials, and looking up in wonder, found a stout old lady before her.

“Bless the gal!” exclaimed that individual, “why can't you look where you're going.”

“I beg your pardon Ma'am, I hope I did not hurt you.”

The meek tones pacified her wrath.

“Hurt, no—but laws a me—so you are,” and she took Gertrude's arm, and pushed her back a step, to take a better view.

“I've seen you before, young woman,” was the remark, when she had satisfied herself as to the identity.

“I think Ma'am, you must be mistaken.”

“No, I am not; I never be mistaken.”

Gertrude was silent, not venturing to question her infallibility.

“You are the young woman as went up the country with Mrs. Doherty.”

“Yes!” eagerly returned the other, “did you know her?”

At the mention of that name, the fat coarse being before her had changed in aspect in her estimation, she could have run into the old lady's arms, for very delight.

“Yes, to be sure; don't you remember me now?”

“No, Ma'am, I can't say—”

“We met at Mrs. Lodge's 'commodation house; don't you mind now.”

“There were so many persons.”

Her companion looked as if she were not easily mistaken for other people; and said, “my name is Hopper, Mrs. Hopper, and I am the lady Mrs. Doherty refused the sofee to.”

The whole scene rose before Gertrude's mind with a ludicrous coloring, which would have provoked a smile, but for the previous depression; so she apologised for her want of memory, and hoped Mrs. Hopper was well.

“Yes, young woman, I'm nicely; and now let us walk on—I'm glad I met you—where are you now?”

“I am staying with a Mrs. Lenny in town.”

“Indeed! I know her; she is a friend of mine,” and finding Gertrude was about to return home, she offered to accompany her.

Wondering much, the young emigrant thanked her, and the two proceeded in the desired direction.

“So she was murdered! I didn't wonder, such pride must have a bad end; I always looked for something dreadful after that time.”

Gertrude's budding friendship was rudely nipped by this remark, and she returned with some energy, “Indeed Ma'am, you are mistaken in supposing dear Mrs. Doherty deserved such a fate; she was the kindest, and best of women.”

A choking sensation, a struggle with a sob stopped her, and a fresh puff of wind, bearing on it, a ‘brickfielder,’ prevented further conversation; and to get into an omnibus, and ride down the street, was their mutual desire, and action.

Mrs. Lenny welcomed her visitor warmly, and evidently considered her a person of some consequence, and Gertrude gladly ran away to wash her dusty face, and brush her disordered hair; and then after a few minutes' quiet study of her book, she returned to the little parlour, refreshed physically, and mentally by the words “In all thy ways, acknowledge Him, and He will direct thy paths,” laid in her heart for a foundation stone, for hope, and patience to build upon.

The room was redolent of toast, and young onions, when she returned to the parlour; and Mrs. Lenny in a new cap, brilliant with geranium colored ribands, was prepared to hospitably entertain her guest.

Mrs. Hopper although by no means indifferent to the good things of life, was too true a daughter of Eve not to be curious; and it did occur to Gertrude, that her satisfaction in seeing her arose from this very propensity, for she went into a close examination of the murder, in a manner peculiarly distressing to the young girl; no item escaped her, and the possibilities, and impossibilities of identifying the murderer, were balanced with a skill, that would have done credit to one of the legal profession. Mrs. Hopper fully understood the criminal code of laws.

It was a distressing evening to Gertrude; but for that foundation, and the hopes built upon it, she never could have borne it; but the loss of the tender and watchful care which during her residence at Murrumbowrie had surrounded her, were so obviously wanting, that she felt more than ever desolate.

After a while Julia returned, and made a diversion by relating sundry pieces of news she had heard during her visit; yet Gertrude felt increasingly out of her element; the people they spoke of were all strangers to her, and their affairs perfectly uninteresting; nor did the last fashion in bonnets, nor a new crochet lace design interest her in any degree. “I really am both ungrateful and proud,” she said, chidingly to herself: “but I am so unlike them, and I am sure I do not wish to be like.” Later in the evening Mrs. Hopper rose to depart.

“I must not lose the last bus,” said she “but Miss Gonthier I hope you will come out and see me; I live—” and a minute description of the suburb, and street, and house followed, and a speedy visit warmly urged. Gertrude thanked her, inwardly determining never to go; for Mrs. Hopper's investigating propensities had alarmed her, and her coarse showy attempts at gentility shocked her sense of refinement. During the evening she had gathered from allusions to “Hopper, poor dear man,” that her new-old acquaintance was a widow, and from remarks upon the bar, and the public line, and such like things, concluded his calling had been that of an innkeeper; Mrs. Hopper, she found, had retired from business, and lived on her fortune, which report stated to be far from inconsiderable.

“I consider you very fortunate, Miss Gertrude,” remarked Mrs. Lenny, when her visitor had departed, “Mrs. Hopper's a rich open-hearted woman, you are very lucky; she is sure to make you a very handsome present—I told her all about it when you left the room, before tea.” And she drew herself up with a satisfied, and mysterious air.

Gertrude looked surprised, and disclaimed all expectations of such munificence.

“Now if you were wanting it, there would be a home for you.”

The girl shuddered at the very thought. Julia joined in, and gave her a detailed account of carpets, vases, pierglasses, etc.; with adjectives attached to them, sufficient to transport the fancy into some fairy region of palaces; strangely enough, Gertrude's mind was reviewing the first meeting at the accommodation house—her kind friend and employer—the bright, smiling face of the young bushman—and then travelling up the road to Tudor—and the first meeting there—and thinking how could it be that she had feared him so, and even resolved never to see, or speak to him, if she could avoid it. Oh! if she could only tell her difficulties to him now, and seek his guidance. So that ‘real cut glass’—‘a hundred guineas, but it is a beauty, and such a dove’—‘just the size of life, in oils,’ were blended confusedly together, and left a most indefinite impression of a succession of wonders, which Julia expected her to acknowledge by exclamations of ‘dear me,’ ‘indeed,’ ‘is it possible,’ and which it afterwards seemed to her, she must have brought in, with ludicrous inaptitude.

Gertrude had been used to a life of incessant activity, each moment had found its occupation; but this day had been spent in listlessness. Julia Lenny if not employed with her crochet, or unless she had just borrowed a new book, had no resources; and Gertrude, thrown out of her wonted pursuits, sought in vain for substitutes.

Julia had many friends, who looked in frequently for a little chat, but the subjects of conversation were uninteresting to any beyond their own circle; and her books were chiefly the adventures of sundry beautiful young ladies, who the world had conspired together to persecute, but who finally triumphed over all adverse circumstance, and entered upon some matrimonial Elysium of bliss.

Gertrude remembered the objection Tudor had to such works, and therefore did not read them. The old habit of obedience still clung to her. She would never see him again, in all probability; but that did not render her following his advice, or prohibitions less imperative: she thought more of his advice than Mrs. Doherty's, for hers was a mind less under control, and therefore more prone to erroneous judgments, and to be led away by prejudices; thus she was thinking of them, and resolving about another visit to the ‘Fates,’ when Julia broke in upon her meditations.

“Miss Gertrude, does Catherine talk of coming to town?”

“I have heard her express a wish to see you.”

“I wish her Ma would let her—she ought to have a year's finishing.”

Gertrude looked interrogatively.

“It's a sin she don't learn the piano,” pursued Julia.

Kenlow's log hut, with its earthen floor, and the chickens picking at the door, and one of Mrs. Kenlow's famous great ‘dampers’ fresh from the ashes, cooling at the glassless window, presented themselves to Gertrude's mind, and a half exclamation of surprise escaped her.

“Her Pa ought to let her have a year's schooling; she might go to the same lady I did, it would do her good.”

Gertrude thought that questionable; but replied “Kitty has not been to Sydney, I think.”

“No never, her mother used to come down now and then—how I should like to see her: what is she like?”

The description was very favourable, and her cousin was strengthened in her desire to have Kitty introduced to town life.

“I shall write to her about it I do declare, some of these days. I wish you were going to stay in town.”

“Thank you.”

“It must be very dull in the bush.”

“I never found it so, I was always employed, and it seems to me that inactivity alone can make time a burden. There are many trials which deprive life of its charms, but still it need not be a burden, if we are using our abilities, whether of mind, or body, for some desirable end.”

“La!” ejaculated Julia, for want of a better reply.

“Did you ever think of the value of a day, and how much good may be done in it?” pursued Gertrude, rather timidly.

“No, what?”

“I do not mean any set task. There are objects all round us which we can benefit.”

Her companion looked rather vacant, and she said no more; but the longing for a congenial mind grew stronger.

Mrs. Lenny here woke up from a nap with a start; she had been reclining in a large arm chair, and uttering sounds, which bore a great resemblance to snoring.

The view which Gertrude was taking of Sydney, was through a very distorted medium; no wonder then, that she had no desire to remain in it. The cultivated intellects, the learned, and the refined, were placed an immeasurable distance beyond her, and she was ignorant of their existence. Mrs. Lenny like her sister Mrs. Kenlow, was a native of the colony, and united a kind heart to a narrow mind; her world was Sydney, she knew and valued nothing beyond.

At Murrumbowrie, it had been otherwise: those who were not Europeans, were united to the old country by parentage, and by the sympathies which an European literature awakens. Thence was the source from which flowed the streams, which cultivated the soul, and watered the mental field. Thence was the storehouse from which the craving intellect sought, and found its nourishment.

Hail to the world of letters, which binds the human family together, which oversteps the wild waste of waters, which recognises neither the limits of country, nor tongue—a mighty engine for weal, or woe.

Kitty, and other country Australians, Gertrude had met, were certainly more ignorant than Julia Lenny, but they aimed at less, and therefore their short comings were not so palpably felt, nor so conspicuous to the casual observer. True, Gertrude was herself but one of the lowly in station, and knowledge; but there is an innate refinement which has no affinity with the low minded in any station.

The morrow proved more eventful than she had anticipated; in searching for the Registry Office, she met a young woman who had come out in the same vessel from England, a ruddy country girl with a face expressive of simplicity and good-nature, her light hair neatly parted across her brow, which had not yet been hued by an Australian climate. Casual as their acquaintance had been, it was enough to make them meet with pleasure, and each enquired after the other's fortunes with heartfelt interest: each had her own tale to relate. Eliza's was the story of the Emigrant's struggles, and of looming success.

“Father and mother have a bit of land on a clearing lease; and brothers live with them, except John, and he's hired to go to Melbourne.”

“What a long way!”

“Yes, but he will come back again when his time's up.”

There was such perfect confidence in the girl's tone and look; such unhesitating repose in John's good faith, that it sent a pang to Gertrude's heart, to think how many things, perhaps even death, might occur to prevent his return.

“And are not you living with them?” she enquired after they had walked a short distance in silence.

“No, I am in service just out of town.”

This reply led Gertrude to explain her business in Sydney, and to receive intelligence that the persons with whom Eliza lived were in want of a nursery governess. The latter word startled her; but being assured that her capabilities were quite equal to their requirements, she ventured to accompany the girl home.

A large and elegant residence, surrounded by a garden adorned with splendid foreign plants, and kept with great care, was their destination. It was situated on a height overlooking the waters of Port Jackson, which, in that breezeless day, glistened in pellucid tranquillity, dotted over by tiny boats, and here and there a ship at anchor; far the greater part of the town, and docks were out of sight, while one noble ship, her white sails like true messengers of peace spread to court the wind, slowly moved down the harbour, so slowly that it appeared stationary: high and sombre lay the brown scrub covered hills around the port; with metal roofs glittering like minor suns, and white walls reflecting the light told the place of homes in the distance.

Gertrude's courage had been at a low ebb, as she toiled along the hot dusty road, but the exhilarating influences of nature were not without their effect upon her, and the group of children sporting in the verandah, with word and laugh musical as the wood notes of the creeper, were enough to make her feel at home.

Mrs. Walton was reclining upon a sofa, as Gertrude was ushered into her presence; she was a beautiful woman hardly past youth, but the clear skin traced by blue veins, and the feverish flush on the cheek, and brilliant eye told their own tale.

“Be seated,” she said as Gertrude explained her mission. “I really am sorry that I have just engaged a young person; are you an emigrant, or a native girl?”

“An emigrant ma'am,” and she described the locality of her native village, and of Comb Ending.

“I know it well, I have been there, and sketched the old church—it was a fine building once, and even its ruins are grand—yes I remember the ivy crowned pile, well, and the large yew trees—and you come from Comb Ending.” The invalid raised herself on her elbow; the mention of the old familiar place, stirred her feeble pulse. “I too,” she said “am English, a Kentish woman.” There was a little satisfaction in the latter words; “and I have come here for my health.”

“You are not very strong I fear?” returned Gertrude.

“No not very, but I am better—much better than I was before we left home. I was ordered by my physicians to reside in a warmer climate, and having a brother here we came out. I shall soon be well I hope, but Mr. Walton must return to England; he only came here to establish me comfortably; and his engagements require his presence at home. I wish for some one who could take charge of, and instruct my little ones, above a nurse, a respectable girl, who would be a good example to them.”

“And you have met with such a person,” returned Gertrude sadly.

“I have, I could almost say unfortunately, for I do not think the young person will suit me so well as you would have done.” The lady reclined her head on the pillow, passing her wax-like fingers over her brow, as a transitory weariness overspread her countenance—it might be a fear for a moment entertained, that she would see her native land, and her husband when he had parted from her, no more: or perhaps she was fatigued.

Gertrude hardly restrained her tears, as she beheld the too evident symptom of hopeless disease; just then the glass door communicating with the verandah was pushed gently open, and a tall gentlemanly person entered; he was some years the senior of the lady, and the high brow bore the pencilling of deep and long thought, and the dark hair was mingled with silver.

A few words from his wife introduced Gertrude, and drawing a chair near the sofa he sat down to make some kind enquiries after her health.

“I am grieved Edmund” she said, “that this young person should be disappointed; she wants to meet with a quiet respectable home: could we do anything for her?”

“I wish my dear that we could, but we are strangers, and I must so soon leave; but Miss Gonthier, if I can assist you in any way apply to me.”

Tears stood in her eyes as she thanked him; she felt that they were far above not only her, but the inhabitants of Murrumbowrie, and any she had hitherto mixed with. The soft courteous manners, the utter absence of the fear of lessening a tottering dignity by urbanity to inferiors, marked their real gentility; and almost a murmuring regret oppressed her, that she could not have made one, however humble her position, in that household.

Bitter and long was the fit of weeping which followed the closing of the high iron gate; the poor invalid had awakened her sympathy; the clinging to the hopes of recovery, and the brilliancy which her fatal malady gave to her beauty, surrounded the certainty of death with added gloom; she longed to know where her hopes for the future were placed.

The stands of beautiful flowers, the books glittering in azure, crimson, and gold, the choice engravings, and the open piano, told of mental culture and refinement, but all these must soon cease to alleviate her situation, must soon be for ever parted from. The repining thought was stifled in an earnest prayer for her; she sought comfort too in thinking that she might perhaps be able to take advantage of Mr. Walton's kind offer, which she felt sure was given in sincerity: the erect bearing, the firm calm eye, were securities of integrity, even as the kind modulation of the voice were of benevolence.

She lingered awhile to take a farewell view of the harbour. The sun drawing near the horizon cast upon the clouds a brilliant reflection of crimson, faithfully portrayed on the water.

“So true, so soft, the mirrors gave,
As if there lay beneath the wave,
Secure from trouble, toil and care,
A world than earthly world more fair.”

   SIR W. SCOTT.

And the wake in the track of the shipping spread out in rays like gleams from burnished silver; and faintly the sounds of busy humanity broke upon the silence, telling of how “man goeth forth unto his labours until the evening.” The lateness of the hour curtailed her examination of the scene, but did not rob her of the lesson it bore. “Touching the Almighty we cannot find him out; he is excellent in power and in judgment, and in plenty of justice; he will not afflict,” and the tears of regret were sweetened by resignation, whilst she chided herself for the bitterness of those regrets. Shall not the Judge of the world do right she asked herself. Then came one of those long retrospective musings which the evening hours are so adapted to awaken, and she traced her footsteps over the sod of Britain, and through her devious windings, lingering long round her late home at Murrumbowrie; she wondered how it looked now, in the hands of its present proprietor; and she repeated with pride that while he was a specimen of a class who migrate from the old to the new country, he was no specimen of the English nation at large, and she knew that the Australians he had mixed with were not ignorant enough to think him so, when so many men whose talents and worth are antagonistic to such a supposition are sprinkled over the land: they might despise his class, but they could not his country, nor his countrymen.

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