― 292 ―


The New Schoolyard.


A piece of ground had been fenced and cleared round the new church which Mr. Lang had taken such interest in building. It was not ill-chosen and being rather elevated, it commanded a view of the surrounding country. Mr. Farrant had left a few native apple trees; a picturesque, gnarled tree and some evergreen shrubs prevented the bare, desolate aspect which too many newly cleared spots have. It was a solitary place, though it was not likely long to remain so. Around the new church there would soon spring up some huts tempted by the richness of the adjacent soil and the luxury of a full and good sized creek, which, making a sudden turn in its course, seemed, as Mr. Lang had pointed out, to have come that way on purpose.

Here, two men were digging, and now and then they paused and looked down the road.

‘Well; Lang didn't think who'd be the first to try the feel of this here ground, eh, Bob?’

‘Not he,’ returned the other, also leaning on his spade and shifting his head for a moment. ‘ 'Twere a particular fancy of his, this here place, and they say as how it led to words 'twixt him and Herbert and Budd. To my thinking 'tis a pretty place, and if the land is let in lots like for the clearing and building, I'd not mind just to take one. Look, d'ye see?’ and he touched the earth which stuck to his spade. ‘This is rightdown good soil; and that creek, too—and then 'tis right upon the high road to Sydney upwards—Lang knew what he was about.’

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‘Ay, ay—and so he did, Bob! Well, poor fellow—'pon my soul, I'm sorry for him this minute, I be; though he did get me twenty infernal lashes. Well, well; I wonder where he be gone to. 'Tis a queer thought, aint it, Bob?’

‘They parsons tell a deal about it. Perhaps 'tis true—perhaps 'tisn't. But learning is a great thing to help a man on, Andrew. I have heard say it brings a man to know about the lights up yonder, and showed him where this here great big country was. If so, I don't see why it shouldn't give me a hint or two about the world we are all bound to, I suppose.’

‘The poor will come to the top, mayhap, then. My old father used to talk wonderful—his tongue got him into scrapes; for he was always speaking and telling of the troubles of the poor and how they get oppressed. Well, and he said, that next life, the poor would have their own way, and they'd . . . .’

‘Lynch couldn't wait for that, poor chap; he's been and done for himself. Must be caught in the end.’

‘What!—don't 'ee think 'twas Charlie, then—eh, Bob?’

‘Not I. Bless 'ee—Charlie's not the chap for it.’

‘Ay, ay? Well, Lynch was aggravated, as I will say; and 'tween ourselves, Bob, Bill Smith didn't do him no good. He got his sharp fingers in, and I'd lay a wager he know a thing or two this minute about this here affair.’

‘Folks talk as how that Herbert had no goodwill for Lang. They met at the inn down away, and had hard and warm words—so they say—and Lang muttered something as he rode off; and Herbert got merry like—as a man does trying to keep off thoughts and deceive people. He talked a great deal and looked strange, they say, and didn't eat nothing, but seemed all put about and astray like. Then he rode away after t'other, you see.’

‘Bless my soul! you don't say so? Ay, ay? Well, that's a choker. And so they are saying as how that——’

‘Well, they talk—talk, that's all! 'Twas strange, you see. There was a quarrel; and the house servants were speaking about it, and that Miss Issy was very much hurt at it. But, mind me, see if they don't look it all over, and just prove black and white against the Government man. Either Charlie or Lynch or both will swing for this here deed whether 'twas another did it or no.’

‘I wonder will it be a large following?’ remarked the other, after a pause.

‘No great things, I dare say,’ returned Bob. ‘He was not much liked; but, I say, what's that? Here they are, then, at last. Come on, we must dig

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away, or we'll be behindhand.’

Yet both lingered near the fence watching the approach of the hearse as it slowly mounted the hill.

They brought him home, past the church he had built, to his own place, there to rest for a short space only, for on the next morning early he was borne to his grave—the first in the churchyard. Mr. Jolly and his son and Mr. Budd accompanied the body home. And now, in spite of his man Bob's prophecy, a long train followed the funeral. Besides his own family and servants, several people came from a distance, and once again, and for the last time, every possible contrivance was made at Langville to accommodate those who had come far, with beds—the Parsonage also lending help. The additional trouble which this brought to Mrs. Lang was joyfully borne in consideration of the honour and respect shown to her husband.

‘So many friends!’ she remarked.

‘Yes,’ answered Isabel. ‘A great many people. But as to friends—we shall have to begin afresh in that respect as in every other.’

There were many she had never expected or even thought of—she felt the compliment—but it seemed to mark it only as still stranger that any one should be absent. Then she turned to listen to Mr. Jolly, who was speaking in a hushed, solemn tone.

‘There are grave suspicions, I grieve to say. He is committed for trial, and they are vigorously prosecuting a search for Lynch.’

‘Who is committed?’ asked Isabel.

‘Charlie Brand.’

‘Charlie—Charlie Brand?—committed for—for—what is he suspected of, Mr. Jolly?’

‘Of—you know, my dear, he was seen to be in a great passion here—and——’

‘I know—I saw and heard him!’

‘Well; and he was heard to utter some foolish threats, and then—in fact—I need not enter into details which must be painful; but there is grave cause for suspecting him. Poor misguided man!’

‘It is not true—it can't be true! Mr. Jolly, I am so sure Charlie didn't—didn't—couldn't. He kill my father! No—no!—if all the world, and all the courts of justice say yes—I will say no! And can nothing be done—can no one speak for him—see him? Don't you feel it to be an impossibility yourself, mamma?’

‘My love, remember, when people are in a passion they don't know anything, and he was heard to say strange and very wrong things. And that dreadful Lynch! I always did dread him! That girl, too! she set him

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up and did mischief.’

‘Poor Charlie! If I could but see him and tell him, I believe him innocent! Poor fellow! where is he, Mr. Jolly? I must and will see him!’

‘O, Issy! how strange you are! See or care for a man who has murdered poor papa? I am sure I hope he will be hanged!’

‘Kate, don't say such things. It is not proved yet. Doesn't he deny it himself?’

‘O, yes! His story is that he found him lying dead in the Bush, and brought him back to his hut. Well, time will show. He will have a fair trial and a clever lawyer to plead his cause.’

‘If Mr. Herbert was here, this would be prevented!’ cried Isabel. ‘He knows Charlie so well. He would say at once that . . . .’

‘A fair trial!’ again repeated Mr. Jolly. ‘I say, I wish the poor fellow no harm; but I wish to find out and punish the perpetrator of such a foul and wicked deed. My poor friend, your father, must not be allowed to perish without our stirring heaven and earth to discover how it was. There are strong suspicions against Brand and against Lynch. Both had been heard to utter violent words, both had been reprimanded, and had therefore a spite against the master. It can be proved, so I am told, that on the morning that Charlie Brand came and went in that strange way, he saw Jack Lynch as he went through the bush. Lynch spoke of the girl Nellie, and Charlie's words are reported to have been—'I wouldn't stand it.’ Then Lynch runs away, after being insolent and threatened with punishment. He goes straight to Westbrooke Farm, straight to Charlie's hut. They were seen together the day following the storm. But I need not say all this . . . .’

‘No; but if there was twice as much to say, I still declare that Charlie is not the man. You might as well say, Mr. Jolly, that you yourself or any other friend did it in a fit of anger,’ Isabel said, warmly.

Mr. Jolly's countenance at this assumed a strangely troubled aspect. Casting his eyes for an instant on his son, who blushed deep crimson, he bent them on the ground and muttered some incoherent words.

‘Take care, my dear love,’ he added, patting Isabel's shoulder. ‘Many a word uttered in chance and in sheer carelessness, may be caught up and turned to evil, in such a miserable and mysterious affair as this is. Don't play with edge tools.’

‘Edge tools! Careless words!’ she repeated. ‘Mr. Jolly, did you hear me rightly? I only said that it would be easy to patch up a string of evidence if one chose, and say a friend did it.’

‘I know. What makes you say this? Have you any—any—fear? Have you heard? Good God above, Issy!’ the old man went on, apparently

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gathering fright from her scared face. ‘Say you spoke carelessly, not with meaning. Child! do you know what is said? what people are saying now—yes, now?’

‘O father!’ cried Tom, almost reproachfully.

But the old man's words, and yet more his manner, had by this time riveted the attention of every one, and they urged him to speak out and not hide anything. Mrs. Lang said she ought to know all that was said or thought.

‘Yes,’ joined in Isabel, ‘tell us. There is no more harm in suspecting one more than another. Convicts are not the only wicked people.’

‘Surely not! Yet—this trouble is dark enough, Heaven knows, without idle tongues wagging. Folly! Nonsense! No—no—no! May as well put it to myself, or to Tom there! I say, were circumstances, was evidence ten times more damning,’—the old man grew more and more vehement,—'I say, I would punish such slander. An angry man, a proud man, he could be at times, but to turn his hand and slay his neighbour, his friend, his enemy, if you will,—I affirm, John Herbert is not that man!’ and he struck his stick loudly on the floor to emphasize his words.

‘John Herbert! Mr. Herbert!’ was breathed out in solemn, startled, and fearful whispers, and each face changed in a moment. Isabel's colour flew to her very temples. She gasped for breath and pressed her hand on her throat.

‘O what a wicked, wicked lie! And he, where is he?’

‘Yes, where is he?’ echoed Mrs. Lang. ‘And what makes them say so, Mr. Jolly?’ and she burst into a fit of weeping, in which Kate joined.

‘People will say anything—anything!’ said Tom, eagerly. ‘They love mystery and horror! I wish there was a punishment for chatterboxes! Slander,—it is slander, libel.’

‘It is an ugly fact, that they had warm words at the inn; that they were known to have disagreed before. And now Herbert's very absence, his quick going away is brought up against him. They say it is all a story about a fortune.’

‘But is Miss Herbert gone, too?’ asked Isabel.

‘No, I think not,’ said Tom.

‘Then ask her! Go or write and ask her if he is gone to England on business, or . . . .’

‘She wouldn't say, if . . . .’ remarked Mrs. Lang.

‘Yes, she would! Go, Mr. Jolly. Go at once, as a piece of righteous justice to an absent man, a fellow-creature, a friend! Go at once to her, and ask her these plain questions.’

Mr. Jolly looked puzzled, and again patted Isabel's arm kindly,

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murmuring, ‘Poor little soul! Poor child! You ought not to have heard about it, but God will bring out the truth! He will not let the innocent suffer!’

‘Yes, father, Isabel is right. Let us,—I will, if you like, and if you think me fit for it. (You see, Issy, father is tired.) Let me go! I am ready to start at once. I will see the poor lady and ask her to tell me why her brother went, and all about it.’

After a little further conversation, they all agreed that it was a shocking report, and the sooner it was stopped the better; unanimously voting it to be right to learn what they could from Miss Herbert, and for the time forgetting little grievances against her, in anxiety to prevent her hearing the rumour, ‘poor lady!’ It was settled for Tom to rest that night, and to start early in the morning on his mission, meanwhile they were to send to Warratah Brush, and inquire there what the overseer knew of his master's and mistress's movements.

‘Doesn't it seem a horrible addition to the grief, all this wretched suspecting others?’ Isabel remarked to Miss Terry, as they slowly paced up and down the verandah waiting for Mr. Jolly's return; for he would go himself to Warratah Brush.

‘After all, why are we to be so sure it was a murder? Papa may have been thrown.’

‘Yes; very true. But I suppose this was thought impossible on the inquest. Yet how careful they ought to be in such a hidden case.’

Isabel was very pale now, and she shivered.

‘Are you cold?’ Miss Terry inquired.

‘Yes—no; that is, not in the body; but I feel cold in my heart! Only a few weeks, a few days almost, ago—to think of us all then, and now! I used to think life so quiet and dull! and now——Can I be myself, Isabel? who laughed, and believed care was far away in spite of poverty. O, poor dear daddy!’ She stopped, quite overcome. Then rallying, she spoke fast and eagerly, not waiting for an answer. ‘Why need there be a trial? Why didn't they say, ‘accidental death?’ This is making it three deaths! It was bad enough before. Papa dead, gone for ever! No one to know what he felt; and friends forsaking us—being offended! So forlorn I thought the world was this morning, so dreary and hopeless! and now, this is worse again. Of course it is all wicked nonsense; yet to have such a thought breathed—O! isn't it too much? And if he ever hears it, as he will and must—O dear!’

Miss Terry felt anxious for the poor girl; she looked as if years older; for Isabel was one on whom sorrow and anxiety told deeply and rapidly. As Miss Terry remarked to Mr. Farrant, there was cause for fear about

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her, unless some little change or relief came soon. She had grown visibly thinner, and never had the relief of quiet weeping which her mother and Kate had. She either slept not at all for the whole night, or she fell into a dead heavy sleep, which seemed thoroughly unrefreshing. She took to being much alone, even avoiding, after just the first, Miss Terry. For hours she would sit at her own window, doing nothing. And these long times of thinking, so new to Isabel, seemed at last to bring calm to her.

‘What do you sit so much alone for, my love?’ her mother would ask. ‘It is so dull, so bad for you. For my part, I don't like to be alone a moment now. It is better to employ oneself, and prevent dwelling on it at all.’

‘Yes, for you, mamma. But I am very busy at those times—busy in sifting and understanding things. I have found out a great deal, I assure you. At least, I have learnt my own foolish ignorance, and perhaps it will guide me for the future.’ Isabel tried to speak cheerfully.

‘How odd you are, Issy!’ cried poor Kate. ‘What can you mean? How will it guide you? How were you ignorant? For my part, I can't bear thinking at all now. There is nothing to think about!’ and tears directly came.

On the fourth day, Miss Terry came outside to Isabel's window, at which as usual she was sitting, and she was startled at the infinite sadness of the girl's unconscious gaze. Forgetting why she came, for the instant, she was moved to stoop, and press a kiss on her head, and say, ‘Isabel, he will come back; all will be cleared!’

‘What! have you heard? What do you mean?’ Isabel exclaimed, her whole expression changing at once, and her pale face flushing up.

‘Of that, how could I hear? but I prophesy it. No, don't shake your head so hopelessly, dear Isabel. Let me say just this once, that I understand your feelings, and all, all . . . .’

‘My wretched, bungling, ignorant mistakes,’ Isabel interrupted, abruptly. ‘It is half my own doing, and not the easier to bear for that. Never mind! I am not going to give way. Have patience with me. Say not a syllable to mamma and Kate. You will see I shall come out of it in time.’

After a moment's pause, Miss Terry said, ‘But I interrupted you to tell you that Mr. Jolly is here. Yes, he went himself, after all, and saw her! From his own account, good old man, he managed very well, not to shock her; and she had heard nothing at all, luckily. A fortune, a large landed property, has come to Mr. Herbert. The news was sent express after him, and overtook him two stages on his way to the station. He turned back at once, and was just in time to secure a half-cabin in the

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China. It was of consequence for him to lose no opportunity. Miss Herbert was left to wind up affairs and to follow.’

‘What alone, poor lady?’

‘No, not alone. Mr. Jolly's was the first smile I have seen on any face for many a day. Fancy, she asked Mr. Jolly for congratulations; next week she is to be married!’

‘You don't say so!’

‘Yes. Dr. Marsh came in while Mr. Jolly was there. Well, isn't it funny?’

‘Very! I suppose he—Mr. Herbert—knew it; or has she done it since?’

‘I conclude he knew it, for Dr. Marsh has authority to manage business matters. Warratah Brush is to be sold . . . .’

‘Of course!’ and Isabel sighed heavily. ‘But not unless a fancy price be offered,’ continued Miss Terry, ‘which is quite improbable. It is to be left to the overseer, and the station is to be kept on, too. That looks like . . . .’

‘Good management!’ put in Isabel, quickly. ‘Waiting for better times and a better sale—that's all.’

‘Well, at all events, one's mind is relieved. For Mr. Jolly looks quite bright again. Miss Herbert's quiet and simple answers and information cleared away the ugly mist from his mind; for, as he said, though he didn't believe a syllable, still he wished to feel terra firma under him.’

‘O, I never felt any doubt. It is absurd!’ Isabel answered, sadly, and again sighing. ‘That didn't weigh on me, at least beyond the first dreadful idea. Does he say any more of the others, Charlie and Lynch?’

‘No. But come and see him; you have sat here long enough.’