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16. CHAPTER XVI.

Doing Better Than Thinking.

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The statement made by Ellen Maclean, and attested by Mr. Farrant, agreeing as it did with many small circumstances, together with the lack of evidence against the two convicts, was received as truth by the authorities and by society in general. It was a great relief, which even served to lighten the actual trouble, to believe they had lost him through an accident, and not from ill-will and revenge. It lifted Isabel into fresh vigour again, and warmly did she resent any return to uncomfortable doubts, which from her nature Mrs. Lang was but apt to do. She was so completely unhinged, that her mind lost almost all power of settling on a conviction. It was trying to Isabel to find her return to the old story, and require it all to be proved over again and again, ending with, ‘Well, it is very mysterious, very! I shall always think it a mystery about Mr. Herbert, and it doesn't look well, his running away. What did he run away and hide for, if he was not ashamed?’

Fervently did Isabel wish at these times to have it in her power to say more than the old oft-repeated and barren story, which reached them through others and not from the Herberts themselves. One of them might at least have written or sent a message of condolence; but no word ever came. Isabel found her best remedy lay in active work, and it seemed as if, henceforward, she would not have to complain of having nothing to do; all fell upon her as a matter of course. She, with an old servant, preceded the general ‘flitting,’ in order to prepare their future home. Miss Terry promised to bring the others when all was ready. The


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meeting between Isabel and Charlie Brand was curious. She grasped his rough and big hand, silent from deep feeling. He understood her. ‘Ay, ay,’ he said, drawing his sleeve across his face, and jerking away his favourite little stump of pipe in his pre-occupation of mind. ‘Ay, ay! I knows all so well as if you were bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh. No offence, I hope, miss! Says I to myself many's the time, when cooped up down yonder, for the second time in life, as a felon,—says I, Keep up, old boy! This time you're in the right, and you knows it, and Lord, miss, when I gave out the words ‘Not Guilty,’ didn't I thunder it out like truth, as it was. And I says to myself, for comfort like, when things comed hard and pinching, and 'bove all, when the folks looked askance at me as if I was a murderer,—I says, Missy up there don't consider you to be that bloody-minded sinner no ways. (You see they'd told me your opinion, miss.) Miss Issy can't help it; she would, if she could. Law must take its way; and 'tis contrary that Mr. Herbert's over the sea and can't say not a word for me. Ay, 'twas sort of comfort that ye didn't condemn me, miss.’

‘No, indeed, you were right there, Charlie; never for one moment.’

‘The Lord give you the like justice, if e'ersoever you may be so misfortunate as to need it. Say no more, if you please. 'Twas just a sharp pinch, and soon over, and here I am, myself again, and ready to serve you and the missis, if so be it is agreeable to yourselves. If not, I can get my ticket made out for some place else, you see. But as I knows the country, and the ins and outs of the estate, I could, though I says it that shouldn't say it, give you some good advice of a time, and would look well after the concern, and do all that's needed, with a slip of a boy.’

‘Of course, Charlie, we must have you. You will be prime minister, and I am king. You and I must rule our kingdom, and the first thing is to try and make a little bit of money you see, Charlie, if that is possible——’

‘I consider it is, miss; and by your leave I've a scheme to submit to your consideration.’

The drays with the furniture arrived without any serious misadventure, and everything was in its place, and every corner scrubbed and scoured out, by Isabel's own hands, aided by the maid. While without, Charlie proved his zeal by getting in a fine stack of fire-wood for the approaching cold season, and also putting the garden in good order, and mending palings and fences, so that Kate and her mother might not be unnecessarily shocked by dilapidation.




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It was now what was called the winter, a little frosty of a morning and evening, but clear and bright all day; thoroughly enjoyable weather. It was quite ‘fresh’ enough to serve as excuse for a cheerful fire, which Isabel thought would give a look of home and welcome to their one sitting-room. She had prepared everything; arranged the snow-white mosquito hangings, and placed her mother's pillows at the proper inclination; set out her treasured piece of Rattan matting, and placed all the little nick-nacks, which from affection had been picked out to bring. A meat tea had been ordered, and she had culled all the best and freshest flowers, to brighten up the rooms. There seemed nothing more she could do; and rather tired with work and with expectation, Isabel sauntered out across the high paddock where Charlie's hut stood; and reaching the fence which divided it from the bush, she leaned there, looking at the view which spread out wide and clear before her. Westbrooke was on a hill, the highest point being the centre of the horse paddock where Charlie's hut was erected; and towards the west lay a wide, undulating tract of country—tolerably clear of forest—and where might be seen as many as two churches, and their small cluster of attendant huts, forming the settlements of the district. It gave a sociable and civilized appearance to the place, in strong contrast with Langville, where nothing of cultivation was seen, but that which belonged to itself. Here, Mr. Lang had first brought his young wife ‘Kitty.’ Here, Kate and Isabel had been born. She thought of the early days, scarce remembered, when they had left this for an almost uncleared place, very far out of the way, as it was then thought. Her mind went on through her life—hitherto so very smooth a one as to have but few landmarks. The one most vividly remembered, and bearing most after-consequences, was her acquaintance with Mr. Herbert. She tried to recall his first visit—his attitude and his look. She went over her own rather singular part in the affair, and tried to trace her appreciation and liking of him, while the keen remembrance of her saucy speeches and battles, made her wonder that he had not considered her as a very ‘odious little girl.’ Unconsciously her lips parted into a smile as she thought how far from this was the truth. How partial and how constant had his friendship for her ever been. So kind and so judicious! no silly flattery and nonsense, but always speaking the plain truth, and desiring her good; only vexed, if he thought her doing wrong, or led astray. ‘I did not behave well to him,’ she thought; ‘and papa, poor dear papa!—I wonder why he never could understand, and get on with him.’ This brought a graver train of ideas, and by degrees it seemed as if some heavy weight had been put on her, even during that quiet walk; for, carried away by the relief it had been


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to find all slander put down by facts, and fully occupied by present active work, she had not till now fully taken in all the sadness, and even the strangeness of his conduct, as regarded herself. It fell on her now like some cold, wet shroud. It weighed on her spirits; she felt she had lost some great and precious thing. Just, too, at the very moment when she had begun to wake up to a new sense of its worth—to rejoice even in the failure of her own pet scheme, since it left her her friend! Looks and words were now recalled, which had not been so consciously noticed at the time. Yes! she had looked to that promised visit in a very peculiar way. Then, it had been so blended with shyness and dread that its sweetness had been somewhat lost; but now, at this distance, she could look on it quietly and coolly, except that it made her heart beat rather quickly (‘but that must be owing to her day's hard work’). Why had he wished so particularly to see her—to get her away alone and in a quiet listening mood? That it was not to make a confidante of her as to his love for another, she had learnt. What then could it be? And how provoking she had been;—so silly and trifling and vexing! Yet how full of kindness and affection had been his look at her; sometimes, once or twice, it had been even more, when she had suddenly met his eye. Many times before had he and her father had an argument and a brief quarrel, but it had always ended in being friends again. What then could have, not only kept him away during a time of affliction, but have allowed him to leave them—for ever, perhaps—without a word, a line, spoken or written, or even a message? What if he should really never return, finding England too pleasant? His sister's going looked like leaving altogether. What if the ship were lost, or he were to get some illness—the cholera, for instance? She shivered, and moved away from the fence. ‘Surely it was time for the travellers to arrive. Was that the carriage, that black speck on the road?’

Isabel turned and walked homewards in a drooping, heavy way, very different from the quick step she had come out with. Charlie noticed it from his corner in the wood-yard; staying his vigorous strokes of the tomahawk to notice it well as she passed.

‘Tired, I guess! Lonely too—glad they be coming,’ was his remark thereon.

But this fatigue was not of the body, and did not so easily pass away as Charlie hoped; though she made great efforts, and never spared herself. Miss Terry said she had not given herself time to mourn. It was no use pushing it off. Nature must have its way sooner or later. Mrs. Lang moaned over the necessity for her daughter's working so hard; and Kate thought if Issy liked she might easily sit still and get rest and not


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look so tired and dismal; at which Isabel laughed, and was much offended, she said, making from that time greater efforts to appear happier than she was. She was vexed, too, and took herself vigorously to task till she succeeded, by scolding and drilling, in obtaining a more ‘Christian state of mind,’ as she said. ‘Some fine day I shall, or some one will, get a nice letter from England. It will be full of explanations, making us feel very foolish for our silly thoughts. He is not and cannot be changed from good to bad all at once. He will write in a friendly tone and tell us his plans, and we, one of us, will answer it and tell him ours. I have no business—no right whatever to look for more. He is at liberty to go and live in that land if he likes. So no more fretting, Miss Isabel Lang! Be a wise and brave woman, and do your work, and don't fall into that bad habit of ‘thinking.’ Doing is better than thinking any day.’

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