Chapter III.

We sat and talked until the night,
Descending filled the little room;
Our faces faded from the sight
Our voices only broke the gloom.


DR. Bower was seated in an arm chair by the fireplace, where at present no fire burnt, he was attired in a rough, and rather worn grey coat, and a broad brimmed cabbage tree hat bound over with a handkerchief, which was knotted beneath his unshorn chin, had not been removed, and imparted a peculiar old, womanish character to features which displayed a sufficient firmness to bear this softening.

He was not a young man, for his hair was nearly white; nor yet old, for the tall figure had retained its erect and haughty bearing.

“This is the young person,” said Mrs. Doherty as Gertrude entered. They had evidently been speaking of her.

Dr. Bower fixed his peculiar little grey eyes upon her, and took a cool survey, while she spread the tea table.

Gertrude was conscious of an indignant throbbing at her heart, and schooled herself severely for having so much pride to be so wounded.

“Have you much sickness Doctor?” inquired Mrs. Doherty.

“Very little. You heard I suppose that your neighbour had broken his leg.”

“No. Who?”

Gertrude listened, and ceased to distribute the tea spoons in the saucers.

“Down at Muttee Muttee.”

“Not Charley Inkersole surely. I saw him at Lodges on the way up?”

“No, Dick.”

“Bless me. I'm glad of it,” said Mrs. Doherty with unusual tartness.

“Charitable, truly, how so?” inquired the Doctor with one of his little satirical contractions of the corners of the mouth; it was not a smile, it had no semblance to lightheartedness.

“Never mind. Gertrude pour the tea out. Doctor take a seat.”

Mrs. Doherty seated herself with a vexed air; and the gentleman appeared to sip his tea with infinite relish. Presently she inquired:

“Is Charley Inkersole up yet?”

“Yes, he returned last night. What a flash young fellow that is.”

Mrs. Doherty nodded her assent.

Gertrude thought both in a very un-Christian mood that evening.

“How do you like Australia, and Murrumbowrie in particular?” inquired Dr. Bower.

“Very much.”

Mrs. Doherty looked pleased at her reply.

Tea was always served so early, that the sun had scarcely dipped beneath the Western range of blue mountains when Gertrude left the house, to take a stroll through the orchard. A clear sharp air like a messenger who had girded himself and run before the chariot of winter stirred the young blood of the English immigrant, and lightly springing from foot to foot she ran down the long walk. By the water a melancholy toned Curlew wailed, and a flight of Crows gyrating through the clear sky, uttered their solemn caw; and on her way back an opossum ran past, and mounted an apple tree, still ruddy with fruit.

Usually Gertrude spent the evening over her needle work, and now that she had fled before the acrimonious humours of Mrs. Doherty and her visitor, she yet lingered. The scene reminded her of Comb Ending; and how dear is a recollection when the object is connected with early days, passed and for ever. It reminded her too of the inscriptions, and her Biblical studies; and with an earnest solicitude that she might not become a careful Martha amidst her much serving, she retraced with slow steps the ascending path.

“How late Mr. Tudor is out to-night” she said as half hidden by the orchard trees she perceived a horseman.

The china roses, yellow and lilac chrysanthemums, and a few dahlias, still graced the borders; and Gertrude fluttered about among the fragrant blooms, gathering a bunch for the sitting room sideboard; singing in a low sweet tone one of the fine old anthems, that the organ of Comb Ending had pealed forth so solemnly when the sun was shining in mosaic work through the arched window, above the square pew where squire Blocklock sat dozing, during afternoon service.

The moon had risen, and the clear pale rays streamed over the tree tops, and lighted her path as she turned towards the house. A shadow fell across the light, she looked up, a tall male form opened the gate and drew aside to permit her to pass out.

“Oh! is it you—I was quite startled,” said Gertrude uncertain if she was relieved that it was Charles Inkersole that took her hand, and gave it a cordial familiar shake.

“I'm glad to see you looking so well Miss Gonthier,” he said in that same cheerful easy voice.

“Thank you.”

“And do you like the place, are they kind to you?”

He never had seemed a stranger, for his manner was utterly without restraint; and when he spoke with the air of one who had a right to question, Gertrude replied with perfect simplicity: she spoke warmly of the kindness that had been extended towards her.

“Then you are comfortable,” he said with complacency. “I'm glad of that. Ned Tudor's a stiff proud chap, but you've nothing to do with him I suppose.”

“No, nothing.”

“Don't he come up to take tea and sit the evening with you and Mrs. Doherty sometimes?”

“No, never. I never saw him in the house.”

“He used before you came: but he's so proud.”

The old gloom rushed into Gertrude's heart, but she made no comment: the shadow rested on her path again.

“Do you often walk out of an evening?” inquired Inkersole tossing back the long thick hair from his brow.

“I never did before. I have not much leisure, indeed I may be wanted now.”

“But wait. Is Dr. Bower within? my brother has broken his leg. I don't know how such a rider as Dick came to get such an ugly fall; but he did, and now he has loosened the bandages; will you tell the old Doctor to come down? or stay, I'll wait and go with him, tell him so if you please. Good night Miss Gonthier,” and he extended his hand, and shook hers warmly, and watched her enter the house with a comment strengthened by a term not employed when addressing the young Immigrant. “She's a—nice girl. What's her other name I wonder. Mary, or Annie, perhaps, or may be it's Victoria, as she came from England?” While the youth was speculating on a subject already well known to the reader, Gertrude had apprised the Doctor that he was wanted, and that the messenger was waiting for him in the yard.

Doctor Bower was stirring a glass of hot spirits and water, and looked displeased as he yawned. “Heigho, the beautiful life of a Doctor!”

“The horse is in the stable and the saddle locked up in the tool house by this time,” said Mrs. Doherty, “send some one down to Tudor for the key.”

Gertrude left the room to do so.

“Won't he come?” inquired Inkersole advancing.

She explained the difficulty.

“I'll go Miss Gonthier.” He vaulted into the saddle and took the high gate with a flying leap, proud of the opportunity of showing Gertrude his prowess; while she turned pale with fright.

Dr. Bower was in the midst of a long narrative of the fevers incidental to some part of India, and politely recommenced when she came back.

“It was very sudden in its effects, very” he pursued speaking slowly and stirring the contents of the glass, “one moment the sailors would be swabbing the decks and skylarking.”

Gertrude thought she heard voices without but could not be certain from the monotonous tones of the narrator, “The next they would fall down powerless if—if one of your bullock drays” glancing at Gertrude “had come along the deck they could not have moved a leg—then,” surely that was the gate opening— “Then came the collapse.”

Dr. Bower fixed his eyes with a vacant stare on the empty hearth.

“Hah! it was nasty illness” said Mrs. Doherty briskly, she had heard the story repeatedly, it was the Doctor's favorite, and he always mentioned the swabbing and skylarking, and as it would appear, the not very apt illustration of a bullock team on shipboard, more especially as he always looked at some one who had no bullock teams.

“We called it the Black Jack” he resumed. There was a distant sound either a shout, or the yelp of a dog. Good gracious could any accident have happened to—but the Doctor prompted by a question from Mrs. Doherty was off again.

“It was on account of some of the symptoms, on our ship all hands were attacked on the” again the narrator stirred his glass of toddy and slowly resumed, giving the names of all the Ships on the Station at the time, and the number of victims in each. He was just about to describe the sufferings of himself and another Surgeon who were the only persons to attend the sick, when the voices of Inkersole and Tudor in the yard caught Mrs. Doherty's ear.

“Here they are now Doctor; here take your grog, why you have let it get cold,” her sharp clear voice prevented more than an occasional sound reaching the parlour. Once Gertrude heard Inkersole say “the night was as black as murder,” and then the jingling of a buckle against the stones. He was evidently saddling the Doctor's horse. Presently afterwards Tudor said something about its being a bad business, all the while Dr. Bower sat still and vacant, and Mrs. Doherty kept up a running fire of orders and questions.

Five, ten, fifteen minutes elapsed.

“Do go in and fetch him out” said Charley Inkersole, impatiently.

“I could not get him to move” was the reply.

“I will if I bring him out by the collar.” The speaker crossed the threshold.

“Nonsense, Miss Gertrude” raising his voice.

She ran to him.

“Be good enough to tell the Doctor that Inkersole's waiting for him, he left his brother in great pain,” said Mr. Tudor.

She complied and heard Charley say “Gertrude, that's a pretty name is it not?”

Mr. Tudor's reply was inaudible.

“Well well,” said Dr. Bower yawning and stretching “I must go I suppose; good night Mrs. Doherty.” Slowly he shook hands, then went through the same lengthy formula over Gertrude's little hand, and retired.

Never had Gertrude been so conscious of the loss of her mother as she was that evening, vain was it that as she crossed and re-crossed a large hole in a stocking that she tried to listen and understand what Mrs. Doherty said, her senses would wander away into a dreamy reverie, in which the treasured guardian of her childhood and the bright light hearted Charley Inkersole were confusedly blended: till she longed for the tender sympathizing bosom to rest her weary bewildered head upon; and pour out all her new emotions and perplexities. She was like the tender nestling which essaying its first flight sees afar off the hawk, and flutters to the accustomed nest and maternal wing, when lo! both are gone, and the weary thing sinks affrighted.