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Mr. Scott's Guest.


‘Have you nearly finished your letter? papa says; for the boy is ready to go!’ said one of the children, a few days after the Farrants' visit.

‘So early?’ and Isabel looked at her watch.

‘Yes. There is a gentleman come with papa, and papa wants to send about his luggage, which was to come by the mail cart, and the boy is to take the letters at the same time.’

‘Very well; here is mine.’

Then Isabel sat down to correct an exercise, which being very full of faults, somewhat tried her patience. Before it was quite done the door opened.

‘Miss Lang!’ said Mrs. Moreton Scott, coming in, ‘I want to ask you a favour. Will you be so good as to make and pour out the tea for me? I have a headache, and Moreton has brought back a visitor, rather a stiff difficult person to entertain, too, from what I saw.’

Isabel of course acceded to the request. She rather liked Mr. Scott's way of bringing in a guest uninvited beforehand and unexpected; it gave a little variety to their party. This evening she felt so happy, she was quite up to any enjoyment. She was passing on, but heard one of the little girls say—'What is his name, mamma?’

‘Herbert—Mr. Herbert,’ was the answer.

It stopped her short in her way down-stairs. She felt the rail of the banister shake a little under her tight grasp. Her heart, too, beat very

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hard, and then, with a flutter, seemed to be dying away.

‘Nonsense! There are other Herberts!’ was her first thought. The next was, ‘Well, wasn't I wishing—praying—for news! And if this should be!—only it can't. It is absurd. How odd it was to hear the name!’

Rousing her courage, and by great effort stilling herself, she went on her way, and came against two gentlemen as they left the drawing-room. Mr. Scott was talking of his house plan, and leading the way to his dressing-room, saying that the spare bed-room would be ready presently, meanwhile this would do.

‘Ah, Miss Lang! Good day! Have I startled you? Didn't see you coming at all! The children well and good, I hope? Let me introduce this gentleman, Mr. Herbert, to you. Miss Lang—that is, properly and correctly, Miss Isabel Lang, I believe—Mr. Herbert.’

It was himself! Isabel's hand was ready to meet his, but he merely bowed, scarcely, as she thought, looking at her. Fortunately she was aware in time of his intention to ignore any previous acquaintance, and had sufficient presence of mind to return his bow. They passed on, and she heard Mr. Scott's voice saying—

‘Governess to our girls—but a lady. I would have that;—quite a lady. You must remember Lang of Bengala? And his sad end—but I forget, wasn't that after you left us?’

Then the door shut, and she heard no more.

‘Well,’ continued Mr. Scott, ‘his family were reduced to almost poverty and retired to a small place which luckily had been settled on the wife. This girl, I am told, did wonders—acted as a son might have done, and supported the family and cleared off some debts of honour which could not be legally claimed, all by her active and sensible management. I believe she supplied pretty nearly all Sydney in firewood. It was a wonderful speculation, and answered too. Then she turned governess. Between ourselves, there was a great fuss—a hue and cry—about that wretched man Mornay—De Mornay—as he ought to be styled. He had got hold of the poor thing and pretty nearly converted her, so they say. But—but—I own I attach no importance to such rumours; and my wife and I were saying the other day, no one can conduct herself better than she has done, or be a better Protestant and Churchwoman. In fact, she is quite a favourite here; and it is our principle, you see, to make the governess, our children's teacher and companion, one of the family. I say this because you may wonder—some people object, you know. But unless you are changed, Herbert, I believe you are no stickler for caste, eh?’

So Mr. Scott rattled on, not noticing the change in his friend's face,

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or his attitude of suffering, as, instead of washing or brushing, he sank into a chair and buried his head in his hands. Only once he spoke. When Mr. Scott said—

‘You knew Lang?’

‘Yes,’ he answered.

But the tone did not encourage Mr. Scott to prolong the subject. He asked if Mr. Herbert was ill or tired. Then advised him to make haste, unless he liked cold tea. And then he hoped he did not dislike children, because it was one of the customs of the house that they took their meals with their parents. If Mr. Herbert found their habits not disagreeable, Mr. Scott hoped heartily he would make real use of their house. First, to recruit—for the voyage had surely done him no good—and secondly, as a resting-place till he had settled his plans. It was nothing with a good horse to ride to Paramatta any day, and then proceed by steamer, if he had business in Sydney.

Mr. Herbert ‘was obliged. Liked children, better than older people generally, and hoped they would not alter a single custom for him.’

‘O, we never do that! That is my notion of hospitality—not turning your household upside down and putting on company manners, with the best china, &c. No, we jog on, one day as another, make our friends welcome, give them our best, and let them feel free to come or to go, and that they're not hindering anything by remaining just as long as it is agreeable to them. Now—ready? I cut the bread and butter, I beg to observe; and I hear voices.’

He led the way, and pointed to a chair by his wife as Mr. Herbert's seat; Isabel was screened by the urn, and too busy in doing justice to her task to look up or say a word. Conversation was not very brisk. Mrs. Scott was always slow, and this evening she was tired. The children were awed into silence and good behaviour at the look of Mr. Herbert's face. Mr. Scott talked for all, nor was he content long that Isabel should remain in the background. He really liked her to be noticed and appreciated; partly from his genuine kindness and liking of her, and partly also because he was somewhat proud of his choice, proud of having so agreeable and undoubted a lady as instructress for his children. Mr. Scott's wife, children, house, horse, cat and dog, were one and all ‘singularly good and superior.’ He was a happy man, content with and proud of all that bore the mark of M.S. Yet his egotism was never offensive—only kindly.

The tea seemed such a long affair! Isabel dared scarcely glance towards the corner on her right hand side, where, next Mrs. Scott, Mr. Herbert sat. She had a vague impression that he looked ill, and that he

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was not so hearty and hungry after his ride as Mr. Scott was. He talked but little at first, but after a while he shook off his silence and entered upon English topics, politics, &c., with much of his old and familiar manner, graver, perhaps, and not so sharp and dogmatic. Perhaps, Isabel thought, the mixing with good society, finding his equals among intellectual men, had cured him of his habit of shutting himself up, or being dictatorial, at feeling himself standing alone and above his companions. Once it flashed across her, ‘Is it possible he did not catch the name, and that I am too altered to be recognised?’ But, no, that would not hold. And she was forced to receive the fact that he was entirely estranged; offended beyond power of reconciliation. For she knew by his whole look and manner that he was angry. When tea was over, and Isabel retired to the school-room, making some excuse for not joining them in the drawing-room that evening, she gave way to a feeling of overwhelming misery. ‘Could it be true? Had she seen him? And what a meeting! It had been very bad to wait in suspense. But now even that was gone. There was nothing more to expect or to hope. It was very bitter. Yet she might learn to get over it in time, and to consider her past life as dead and buried quite;’ so she reasoned.

Mrs. Scott found her in tears, tears such as she had never seen from Isabel, or perhaps fancied it was possible for her to shed. She looked surprised and a little reproachful. But the children were not there, so that the example of weakness and excitability would not injure them. Isabel reading some of her thoughts, stammered out as well as she could, ‘That she was very sorry to be so weak, so foolish; but old times would sometimes come back to her mind.’

To which Mrs. Scott answered, ‘Yes; no doubt it is very sad, very. But it is morbid and injurious to indulge in these regrets. It is a bad plan to keep days, and very bad to hoard up old letters. You must make exertion and compose yourself. Now, let me beg of you to come with me to the drawing-room and force yourself to enter into whatever topic is discussed. It is painful and disagreeable, like bitter medicine, I know, but not the less needful.’

But Isabel pleaded to be excused for this once. She was tired. She would go to bed and sleep. Mrs. Scott should see that she would not so transgress again. But, O, she thought,’that I could fly away—go and hide myself! How can I suffer his being here? Perhaps, however, he will go at once. He did not expect to see me here, I think, though he was so still, so unmoved apparently, on hearing my name. I little thought how difficult it would be.’