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21. CHAPTER XXI.

The Newspaper Paragraph.

note

‘Tom! are you grown dumb? Come! I am so dull. Do tell me news, all the news of the dear old place,’ said Isabel, after Tom had remained silent for some few minutes.

She was still in her mother's room, on a couch. It had been found that her leg received a burn, from a falling spark, or piece of wood, probably. The wound, though small, had become troublesome, and now kept her a very unwilling prisoner.

‘I beg your pardon, Issy! I was thinking. But how are you? better?’

‘Yes, only this stupid leg! But of what are you thinking, Tom?’

‘Well, as to your all coming on a visit to us. You see, father and mother expect it, and I was considering, that with contrivance, we could make your sister and Mrs. Lang comfortable. O, I hope you will come!’

‘Mamma may, and the little ones, but indeed, Tom, I cannot! Business, you see—I am become an important personage now. As to Kate—well—I don't know, she is better and happier, perhaps it would be a pity to take her where old things must return to her mind.’

‘But if you mean——They are all gone, every one, Issy! We would do all we could to make her merry. The air is good, and——Issy!’ he said, drawing his seat close to her couch, and speaking in almost a whisper, while his face grew crimson—

‘If that would be any relief—I mean of course it would! But will you tell her—that—that—I am always so very busy, you see, that I am never at home. I catch my meals anywhere, don't come in and sit down; you


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understand? So, she needn't mind me—or—or if she ever for a moment desired anything I could do for her, there, I am within call in a moment. You understand?’

‘Yes, quite. O Tom, that isn't the way! You good, blundering soul, can't you see? No, indeed! I shall not say so, nor will you, I hope, ever be tempted to act so—to give up your rightful, honoured place as your father's son, in your own house! Besides, Tom, Kate wouldn't, couldn't wish it, or like you the better for it.’

‘Wouldn't she? I only meant I wouldn't, for all the world, be in her way or obtrude myself. Though as to not loving and adoring her,—that, Issy, I can never help doing, so long as I live. But I know so well—don't you think I know—and feel—and see—that I am not like those young fellows she meets? We are quiet simple folks—honest and true, I hope; but, bless you! I see the difference. Yet—sometimes—May I tell you, Isabel?—you are always so very kind! Well, I have had a pleasant thought, that is, if—if—your sister—’

‘Call her Kate!’

‘Kate! Ah! but I don't think she likes me to do so. But, however, to you, just to you, I will. If Kate should happen not to marry, and her heart is so good and so pure, that she can't forget that—that—(but no, I will not abuse him) though he clearly has forgotten her—is she should live on as she is, and in time, years hence, she should, in the natural run of things, ever feel a little deserted, when younger people come and push her out rudely, as it is the way of the world;—if then her feelings should have changed a little, and if I only can carry out my resolutions, and have lived as I ought, so as to be not wholly unworthy, it pleases me, Issy, to think, that then I may, perhaps, succeed. She may then allow me to—to—love her—to work for her!’

‘When she is grown old and ugly?’

‘That she never, never can be! Certainly not in my eyes!’ he answered, with warmth.

‘Well, Tom, all I can say is, and always have said, I admire and respect you, and the wonder is, and always will be, how Kate can be so blind. Ah! Tom, you would aim at the highest and best! But why didn't you content yourself with poor me?’

Tom laughed. He thoroughly understood her. ‘I know I wouldn't give up or forfeit your regard—may I say regard?’

‘Regard and affection and respect and interest and admiration and . . . .’

‘Stop, Issy, that sounds like mocking me! No, but your regard, affection, for so it is between us, is my great pleasure. And it is a wish,


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pretty nearly as deep in my heart as the other, that some day—you see we need patience in this life, Issy—things will work round in time—that one of these days, I may see you joined to the only one worthy of you, and exactly suited. You know who I mean, I see!’

‘Yes, of course I do. But I hope, Tom, your own wish has more foundation, more possibility about it, than this. Consider, even if your first premises are right—consider, now—nonsense! Yet, I own, I do wish we could only hear something satisfactory of him, and . . . has mamma said anything to you, Tom, or to your father?’

Tom looked down, grave and sorry. ‘Yes, Isabel, I can't deny but she has; very distressing, and to me utterly unaccountable. But surely she doesn't really mean it?’

‘I don't know. Sometimes I resolve to think it is just one of poor mamma's whims, when she gets low and into that mood. She was always rather suspicious, I think, and latterly she was sensitive and jealous. And no one can blame her for resenting any affront to poor papa. Nor can affronts, whether intended or not, be denied. Unhappily, they were always misunderstanding each other. Circumstances added to it, and their tempers were so opposed. Their views of everything so different!’

‘Yes, yes, all that I grant; and even that Mr. Herbert could be disdainful and contemptuous, rather imperious too.’

‘Yes; but remember, he was provoked, Tom. There was not one near him, his equal as to education and so on. It was a trial to him, a jar to his peculiar tastes, and he unfortunately did not make allowance; and I always shall think his sister's crude, jealous temper irritated him, and that with an influence less sensitive, less egotistical, in fact, he would have left off all that . . .’

‘Quite so. O, I do like to hear any one do him justice, Issy! It is so horrid to hear them running him down; pitiful creatures, who were afraid to breathe in his presence. But now he is gone, that he is absent, they throw dirt and take their petty revenge by picking out and exaggerating all his faults. But all the poorer kind adore him, and so do we, all of us!’

Isabel had blushed at the beginning of Tom's sentence, but was now calm and cool again, even a little pale, and she bit her lips as she said, ‘After the trial, after all the evidence and the talking, to speak or think of that dreadful—excuse me, but so it was, suspicion, is so very bad. Mamma little knows how she wounds me to pain each time she alludes to it, or I see the thought is passing through her though she does not speak.’

‘Don't distress yourself, Isabel, Mrs. Lang doesn't really believe it


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more than I do. Only you see, she is troubled and sore, poor soul, and then report says he, Mr. Herbert, is getting quite a rich man in the old country. If he was poor or in distress, I'd bet, Mrs. Lang would be the first to come round and help him, and all those shadows would vanish out of her mind.’

‘Yes; you are right there, Tom,’ said Isabel, brightening with pleasure, both at the truth of his remark, and the good clear sense he showed when not under constraint, and confused with shyness. ‘Yes! that is the root of it, after all,—jealousy. Well, it is harder to rejoice with those who rejoice, than to weep with those who weep. Don't you think so?’

‘To some. But am I tiring you? They said I must not stay long.’

‘O, no! you do me such good. 'Tis such a comfort to be able to say all this.’

Here Kate came up to the window. She was outside, and leaning her elbows on the sill, she stood in a frame, as it were, with the rich scarlet geranium all round her. She had been walking, and held flowers in her hand, which she handed to her sister.

‘I wish you could come out, Issy. It is so nice here. The garden is so improved. Couldn't you be drawn in a chair somehow?’

‘Where is the chair?’ said Isabel, smiling, but gazing out wistfully too, for fresh air and sunshine were meat and drink to her.

‘How stupid of me!’ exclaimed Tom, rising, and tapping his forehead. Then, without a word, he was rushing out of the room.

‘Tom!’ said Isabel, surprised and rather provoked at his not remaining and talking on pleasantly, now Kate was present.

‘O, I beg pardon—only—good-bye! I forgot—that is—some business. Good-bye. May I come again?’

And without even a glance towards Kate he was gone.

‘What a funny animal it is!’ she said, smiling, and gathering the scarlet blossoms.

‘I don't know what has suddenly struck him now; but I wish you could have heard how well he has been talking. Tom is a sensible, good-hearted fellow as ever lived—improved too.’

‘Yes. I thought he had picked up a little polish, though there is room for more still. Our cousin thought him very handsome,’ said Kate, rather affectedly.

‘Well, and so he is.’

‘That is a matter of taste. He is too dark and ruddy—too stout. But mamma is waiting for me, Issy. I brought you the newspaper, sent here by that polite Mr. Sands. It will pass away the time till I come in again.’




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So she gave her the Sydney Morning Herald, and turned away to meet her mother, who was examining the vegetable garden and orchard.

‘More failures! Good gracious me! I hope poor Mr. Vance is not actually ruined. His poor little delicate wife and numbers of small children! Ah—here's something in my way!’ and she read among the advertisements about some good shingles being wanted, and stuck a pin there to show to Charlie Brand—for he had a lot of ‘shingles’ to dispose of.

‘And here's something else. O dear! O dear! ‘Wanted, a governess, to teach the rudiments, &c.,—will be treated as one of the family. Good testimonials required. Apply to X. W., Shorts, stationer, George-street, Sydney.’ I'll answer it forthwith.’

Then she idly skimmed over the paper, with her mind occupied by the reflections roused by the above advertisement. Conning over her letter, imagining the interview which might follow, wondering who X. W. was in reality, and how she should play her new part, &c.

Suddenly the whole expression of her face was changed. Every feature seemed in a state of tension—the eyes distended with terror, and her breathing fast and hurried. Eagerly she read on, growing dizzy, for the words seemed to dance up and down, and were all colours, till everything at last was flame—bright, burning flame; and, with a scream, covering her face as if to guard it from something, she fell back in her cushions—to all appearance fainted.

The paper fell on the ground.

Mrs. Lang came in, hurried as usual, fretting a little, and scolding the maid for not having the tea ready and prepared. ‘Miss Isabel ought to have had something quite an hour ago. It is very important, the doctor says, that she have nourishment every two hours or so.’

‘There! didn't I say so. Look at that. She has fainted—Kate! Kate!’

Luckily, Kate was at hand, and there in a moment.

They revived her after a time, and she declared she had not fainted—she had been seized with a panic and a giddiness. She had read—or had she dreamt it? and she looked half bewildered into Kate's face, who did not know what to make of it.

‘Where is the paper?’ Isabel cried with sudden recollection. ‘Dream!—no! it is there! Read it yourselves. What does it mean? Horror! Horrible! O, mamma—O, Kate! Such a terrible, dreadful thing!’

They exchanged glances of wonder and fright—uttered some words meant to be soothing, but so foreign to the purpose that they were


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irritating. At last Kate lifted the newspaper, and observing the pin at the advertisement, said, ‘I don't understand what it is all about.’

‘Read it, Kate! not that! but—about the fire here—and—and—O, mamma! Doctor Mornay is dead!’

At this she burst into a fit of weeping. And Kate, searching the newspaper, at last came on a paragraph headed—

‘Shocking Catastrophe.’

She pointed to it, and whispered to her mother to take it into the next room and leave her with Isabel to follow as soon as she could.

Mrs. Lang and Tom read an account of some gentleman who had gone out on a botanizing expedition in the bush around the north shore, that sandy soil being famous for the abundance and variety of its wild flowers. While searching about, they had discovered the body of a man lying in a very sequestered spot. This corpse had been afterwards identified as the celebrated and respected Father or Doctor Mornay. A small phial was found tightly clenched in one hand. In his waistcoat pocket there was a parcel, which contained a locket with a curl of a woman's hair, and the word ‘Bella,’ in old English letters worked in enamel.

There was also this written on the back of a letter in pencil—

‘ ‘A poor sinner closes a life of toil and penance, alone and in shame, lost in a moment of fiery trial. As you desire to be delivered from purgatory yourself, entreat for the prayers of the faithful in behalf of this erring soul!

‘ ‘Ora pro me! once God's faithful servant!note Let the locket and sister's hair lie on his poor broken heart and return with it to dust. In that he has sinned, he dies. Mother of Heaven, intercede! Father, have mercy! God, the Judge, Thou knowest all!’ ’

‘The writing was irregular and illegible, and some words had been carefully blotted over.

‘The result of the inquest was a verdict of ‘Suicide under temporary insanity, brought on by an injury supposed to be received in his late heroic efforts to save the life of a lady from fire.’

‘Many of the Roman Catholic priests attended, and there was quite a crowd on the day of the funeral, which was conducted with great pomp and solemnity; a sermon being preached in his usual eloquent style, by,’ &c. &c.

In another part of the sheet, there was a detailed, but very incorrect account of the fire, breaking out in the dwelling of the widow of our late respected fellow-colonist, the well-known Mr. Lang, of Langville, &c.


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There was also another paragraph quoted from the Catholic newspaper, giving a history of Dr. Mornay's birth and life to this effect. ‘That he was the only son of emigrant parents, who had taken refuge in the south of Ireland, where the father had earned a poor living by teaching his native language, French, at some schools. The mother had been Italian, and to her native city, Rome, the son had been sent as a youth, to be educated according to the tenets of the members of the Society of Jesus. There had been two sisters, one became a nun in a monastery in Ireland, the other had been struck blind by lightning, and was a well-known character in her own place, a voluntary Sister of Charity, ever ministering to others, after devoting herself to her parents till their deaths. A romantic attachment had subsisted between ‘Sister Isabella’ and her brother, who at first showed no vocation for the priesthood, and gave some trouble by his fiery and determined character. But the superiors had taken the measure of his intellect (not that it was so expressed in this biographical outline) and foresaw that he would be a worthy member of their body. It was however owing to his sister's earnest entreaties and her own exalted piety and devotion, that he finally became a candidate for orders. His future progress was described, and in forcible terms, it was told how he had outstripped all his fellows in devotion and zeal. How he had early displayed a great talent for the management of intricate affairs, a clearness of head and power of adaptation to circumstances, wonderful for his age. He had been looked upon as one of their great props, trusted by all his superiors. Just at this very time, had been sent from Rome all the necessary papers to advance him to the highest authority and dignity. The Pope had sent for him, and great honours were talked of as awaiting this distinguished servant of the Church, as soon as he arrived in the Holy City. He had much desired to leave a well-organized school and system in the Westbrooke district, it was said, where Catholic families abounded. By his own request, he had been sent to that place as the resident priest, and the result of his labours showed what he had accomplished. A fire breaking out in a neighbour's premises and dwelling-house, Dr. Mornay, in his usual prompt and self-forgetting way, was on the spot before any one else had received the alarm, and only in time to rescue an interesting young woman from a shocking death. He found her senseless from the smoke. At the risk of his own life he bore her out, through the raging flames and stifling smoke. But it was supposed that he received a blow in the head by some falling rafter, as there was a slight discoloration on the brow, and that this and the shock, falling on a much-tried constitution, had affected the brain. There was no other way of accounting for the tragedy which wound up the sad event, and deprived the Holy Church of one of her stanchest and most able sons.’ It went on further to describe the solemn procession, the crowd of mourners who had gathered from even very distant parts, to follow this holy man to his last rest, testifying to the respect and reverence they had for him, &c. &c. At the end it was hinted ‘that what rendered his heroism and brave self-devotion more touching and interesting, was that this young lady he had been so earnest to save, had given every promise of becoming a convert to his teaching. His heart had been intently set on reclaiming this soul from heresy and error, and he had looked forward to placing her safe within the true fold. There was even some reason to suppose that this person had a strong desire, opposed in the most tyrannical way by her friends, to offer herself and her life to God, by taking the vows and the veil in the monastery near Paramatta,’note &c. &c.

This assertion was followed by a sharp contradiction in this style, ‘We have good authority for saying that this is merely a pleasant flight of the fancy, and wholly unfounded in fact, for there never was the smallest idea of the said young lady leaning towards Romanism,’ &c. &c.

We must leave it to the imagination to picture the effect these several announcements had on the several persons with whom our tale is connected. Suffice it to say, there was little else thought of or spoken of for some time. And it was not to be wondered at that this, as much as she heard of it, and luckily much was kept from her, had the effect of throwing Isabel back in a relapse, during which her life was in great danger. Nor did she lose the after effects of this illness for some months. When she again took her place among the family circle, with her kind and able friend, Mrs. Farrant, at her side, it was observed that a change had come to Isabel. It might be the consequence of physical weakness, or it might be the shadow of some solemn impression, which had sobered her down. And though it could not be said she was not cheerful, or that she was sad, every one felt the difference. Mrs. Farrant said to her husband, that it was what she had always looked for, ‘the finishing touch, as it were, to bring all that was crude into one mellow tone.’ The little sisters said Issy was much ‘more gentle and pretty than she was;’ and Kate remarked that she used to be afraid of saying some things to Issy lest she should be ‘snubbed,’ but now she could tell her any and everything.’

The Westbrooke fire and ‘that terrible suicide,’ as well as the hint as to Isabel's probable conversion to Rome, occupied the public for some time. But very soon all traces of the fire disappeared, and that ceased to


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be spoken of. And it did not suit Dr. Mornay's friends to encourage too much investigation into his melancholy and mysterious end. His place was soon to all appearance supplied. And who was there to mourn him or shed a tear of pity for his sad fate?

Other events crowded in and had their day. A young colony, like a young child, is more bent on pushing onward, than prone to look back. Even with the Langs, being comparatively a new acquaintance, he soon faded out of their daily life—to all but Isabel. Like a sudden meteor light, he had crossed their path. ‘Kind, courteous and agreeable,’ they said. ‘Rather odd, too;’ but all was accounted for by the word Priest. Unknown and unguessed were all his struggles and his agony. But when the sound of his pleading, despairing voice, echoed in Isabel's ears, and again in memory she felt that burning touch, she would in silent awe, mingled with a sad and tender pity, utter in her own heart a prayer that he might at last rest in peace. Her own severe illness and the relapse mercifully spared her from the pain and annoyance of knowing herself to be the subject of talk and wonder. By the time she returned to daily life and society, the world had forgotten and passed on to other things.

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