― 376 ―


Changed Circumstances.


It was the second anniversary of Mr. Lang's funeral; and Isabel had given her pupils a holiday, leaving them rather puzzled to account for the favour. A half holiday had been expected because of Mr. and Mrs. Farrant's coming; but the other half, granted ‘because it is a day I like to mark,’ was a great puzzle.

‘It can't be a birthday or a wedding-day, because she was crying in her own room this morning.’

‘Ah! but it may be the birthday of some one dead now,’ suggested ten years old to eight years old. Whereupon they ran off to enjoy themselves.

They were the daughters of Mr. and Mrs. Moreton Scott, of Currajong Park, a good estate, situated some thirty miles from Westbrooke.

Within, the house was comfortable, roomy, and lofty, though scantily furnished; but without, it was rough and only half-finished, waiting for those ‘better times’ so many looked for, and, as yet, in vain. Yet Mr. Scott fared better than many others, and although forced to study economy, there was no poverty, and he could afford to wait and lay by, as it were, till prices rose. He was a good-tempered, genial man, fond of showing hospitality, and very proud of his children. He had a theory that the mistresses of colonial households could not make good teachers, however good mothers. There was not leisure to devote sufficient patience and regularity, which he considered the main requisites in the school-room. His boy was at the King's School, and he made strict

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inquiries for a lady to whom he could entrust his girls. A ‘lady’ was essential, and to insure this point he would be content to waive a few accomplishments, if necessary. Through a friend of Mr. Farrant's Mr. Scott heard of Isabel. He knew Mr. Lang very slightly, and he was in no haste to consent, but contrived first to meet Isabel at a friend's house, without her being conscious of his object.

Her open and intelligent countenance, unaffected manners, together with the gentle and quiet tone which she had fallen into, charmed him at once. Matters were speedily settled, and in him she found a thoroughly kind friend. Mrs. Scott she did not like quite so well. That lady was considered as a clever woman and excellent manager. Her judgment was thought almost infallible, and her advice was sought by many persons. She was in manner cold and unimpressible, holding it beneath a sensible woman to allow any impulse or ebullition of feeling to escape. ‘A uniform self-possession and complete self-control was,’ she said, ‘the mainspring of a woman's character; without it, nothing could go rightly.’

Once this would have been irksome to Isabel. But now it seldom troubled her. She was herself a grave and self-controlled woman, rather than the wild impulsive girl she was. She assured her mother, on her only visit home, that she was content and happy, though Mrs. Lang lamented over her gravity, and thought it a pity that Issy should lose that ‘winning and spirited way of her own, which always took people. If her father could see her, he would not know his pet again!’ At which Isabel only smiled quietly, and glancing at her sister, thought that Kate was not so changed. She had recovered her spirits and looks, and was even prettier than ever, succeeding very fairly in her duties as mistress, though she did not keep the little girls in much order, and they spent much of their time with Mrs. Farrant, who was the friend of all the party. Isabel, spending but little on herself, was proud and pleased to save from her own earnings what procured many a little indulgence for her mother or advantage for her brothers. They were doing well, and Isabel supplied Willie with an allowance for clothes and pocket-money while he remained articled to a solicitor in Sydney.

There was much to say between the two friends. Mrs. Farrant spoke of the old district, and said that the overseer at Warratah Brush kept the place and farm in capital order; but did not seem to know what Mr. Herbert's plans were about it. Isabel turned her head away and asked how the Jollys were. The next moment she coloured up, as Mrs. Farrant reminded her that Isabel had herself seen them last; Mr. Jolly and his son having come out of their way to see her a week since.

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‘There is no mistaking their content,’ Mrs. Farrant observed. ‘You think it is coming round, do you not?’

‘Yes. To say truly, Kate, in to-day's letter, alluded to it very frankly, and has evidently made up her mind. Dear old Tom! at last!’ Isabel said, with some of her old energy. ‘He deserves to be happy.’

‘Yes. What a parading, flaring account that was in the paper of the wedding of A. Fitz, Esq.!’

‘Well, he will reap as he sows. Do you remember his mimicking Mr. Hogg once?—his papa-in-law now.’

‘They say that the lady herself is very pretty and has been well brought up, and she is enormously rich. Indeed, all the party seem to be flourishing; Mr. Vesey is said to be gathering wealth fast, and I did hear some rumour of their return to England, for which I should not grieve.’

‘Don't be spiteful, Mrs. Farrant! I don't care now about them a bit. I am so obliged to him for the wedding. It was Tom's best friend, I believe.’

‘Would Kate have refused him but for that?’

‘I think so. She had a sort of feeling which I cannot understand at all. Not that she cares at all for him, of course. She has long given that up. Why—she could not do so!’

There followed a pause. Isabel was looking out of window absently, and Mrs. Farrant, watching her, heard a low sigh. Presently she came behind her, and laying her hand on Isabel's shoulder, she whispered— 'You must not despair. Take Tom's case as an omen.’

‘Of what? Despair of what?’ she exclaimed, blushing deeply. ‘No, no,’ she added, shaking her head. ‘The case is so very different. As to thinking of it in the way you suppose, I do not—indeed I do not. Whatever there was of that, I battled with it as unworthy of myself—incompatible with self-respect. Yet—I own—yes, there are moments when I remember old days and wonder at the sudden breaking up of a sincere friendship. I can't make it out. Turn it which way I will, there is no accounting for the neglect.’

‘Only one way—and a sad one,’ put in her friend.

‘Ah!—Yet even were it that—if he had again quarrelled with my father and imagined himself as insulted—for he was touchy and proud—yet he owed it to me, at least to write a line to say so. Yes, after—after all that passed—all he said—he owed thus much to me. It is not to be overlooked, I think. No! I cannot quite forgive him! And since—all this time—having heard, as needs he must, all that has happened, still not a word, not a message even, for my mother or any one of us. Even you and Mr. Farrant included. There is but one solution of the riddle.’

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‘I don't know. I can't quite give it up yet. My faith is strong in him—so far that there is, or he fancies there is, some great reason for the silence. And moreover, with all his fortune and so on, I also believe that he suffers—yes, Isabel, a man like him cannot be so wholly changed all at once. He suffers, I repeat.’

‘He is angry, if you like!’

‘Well—Time will show! Perhaps the very next ship that comes may bring tidings.’

‘Then it will be soon; Mr. Scott heard that a ship was seen beyond the Heads, waiting for a wind. But I expect nothing. I did for a long time, but it would not do, it interfered with everything. I used strong measures and stifled expectation and—hope.’

‘I hear various rumours of Miss Isabel Lang's cold and hard heart,’ Mrs. Farrant said presently, and smiling.

‘How so? O, don't listen to such nonsense!’ Isabel rejoined, with heightened colour.

‘I don't want to see you a governess much longer—and—if . . . . '

‘ 'Tis a good trade. I am content. But when Katie goes, I shall return home, which I like better. I consider myself a fortunate person. I always did wish for something to do, for work and real interests, and here I have plenty of both. I am sure it is the happiest lot.’

‘O yes! Yet I hope the work and the interests may be changed into others still deeper and pleasanter.’

‘You are meaning marriage. You married folks never think there can be any real happiness out of matrimony. It is unfair to make it so much the only object and end of life. I never had any real vocation in that way, and I mean to keep as I am.’

‘All very well! But surely, Isabel, you must grant there is no other tie in life so strong and binding; it is woman's natural state.’

‘It may be; but as all cannot marry, it is lucky if some persons do not wish it. When mamma has fretted and vexed at my obstinacy, I have soberly and seriously set about considering the question. After all, it is a matter for reflection—a grave business. And I never could endure the very notion! I should be like the kicking mare yesterday, who teased Mr. Scott so. She would go well enough alone, pull and drag famously, but yoked with another, not a step would she stir, and a fine mischief she did. No, I could not take it easily! Some do, and then it is very well. Now! what are you looking at me in that way for? What have I said, or implied?’

‘Nothing! Yet I may draw my own conclusions, and . . . .’

‘If you conclude anything from it you are altogether . . . .’ But she

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stopped short, looked at Mrs. Farrant, and then twisting her watch-chain, she added—-'No, I can't quite say that. The truth is, I have a feeling—that is—I can't feel as if all had never been. It does influence me, I dare say, so far, that—I can't explain it; but I do assure you, it is not from any idea of hope. No, I am too proud for that! Besides, I am really very happy, more contented than most of my acquaintance, I think.’

Mrs. Farrant kissed Isabel.

‘Pride had a fall, my dear,’ she said, laughing. ‘But you are quite right, and you ought to be happy if living for others is the way to be so. Nevertheless, I must hope for your sake, and every one's sake, we shall yet learn something. Half our troubles come from want of understanding each other, and we shall find out the mistake here some day, sooner or later.’

This was their only tête-è-tête. The Farrants left on the following day, having greatly cheered Isabel, she assured them; and as she smiled at them, standing by the gate, and her rich hair blowing about in the breeze, they remarked to each other that she looked bright enough! ‘If only he could see her as she is now,—become so entirely what he always wished and expected!’ was Mrs. Farrant's observation.

‘If—If!’—returned her husband. ‘But he does not deserve anything. I cannot excuse him; such intolerable pride must work sorrow and woe. Nothing and no one should have been suffered to come between them. I am grievously disappointed in him. But thank goodness, she survives it, and is looking remarkably well and handsomer than ever. I never saw a person so visibly improve as she does.’