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2. CHAPTER II.

NEIGHBOURS.

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‘The church will be pretty full to-day, any how,’ said a curly-headed boy to his companion; ‘we'll soon want another if the district improves at this rate. Come, Dick, you take the bell, for I'm fairly tired;’ and accordingly the two school-boys relieved guard at the bell, which was hung outside a small slab building, and jingled in an unharmonious way.

The graves scattered around proclaimed that this was the church or place of worship for the district. The public road passed in front, and all round was thick bush or forest, save a few flat paddocks belonging to a neighbouring farm. Had it been more cleared, and the unvarying outline of gum-trees a little broken, it might have been pronounced a pretty spot. Here and there was a single graceful shrub, many a delicate blossom, and that peculiar depth of blue sky which inspires the eye with a sense of space. It would have been a pleasant scene, but for the brown and sun-dried grass, and that dull bluish hue, a peculiar feature in Australian foliage, which lessens the beauty to English eyes.

Mr. Herbert stood leaning against the fence, beating the grasshoppers down with his cane, as they swarmed round him, then shifting his straw hat, he turned and looked absently down the road, at the people coming to church. There were working men in white trousers and blue shirts, some distinguished by the addition of a jacket or smart neckerchief, and all with cabbage-tree hats. There were but few women in proportion; either the distance was too great, or the heat too oppressive, or they could


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not leave their young families. Then came a gig, driven by a remarkably thin, lanky man, and by him was seated a plump, showily-dressed little woman, his wife. Their boys, three in number, galloped before on their ponies.

‘How are ye, Herbert? I was afraid we were late,’ said Mr. Budd, as he guided his horse through the gate; ‘but I see the Langs are not here yet.’ Mr. Herbert gave a distant bow to this address, which was spoken in a nasal, shrill tone of voice, but answered not a word.

‘Oh, here they are, Mr. B.!’ said the lady, disentangling her dress from the gig-step. ‘Here they are, the phaeton, the gig, and all the horses! My! what a number! and there's the new comers, I declare, in a spring cart. Well! I thought they were a cut above that, I must say!’

Mrs. Budd smoothed her dress, and exchanged her gloves for a newer pair.

‘Come on, come on,’ said her husband, ‘before the row begins. What a stiff fellow that Herbert is, to be sure! Considering what I am, I should think he might vouchsafe a word; he, with his small farm, and never doing anything for the good of the district! And here am I taking upon myself all the responsibility and trouble, and am ready to put down my 50l. or 100l. in a minute!’ Mr. Budd's voice was stopped by his wife.

‘My! do look now, Mr. B., look at Mrs. Lang, and the Miss Langs! How smart, I declare! and then there's that Mrs. Vesey, in sleeves just like a man's coat—new fashion, I suppose—and who's that tall fellow?’

‘Oh, that's Fitz, Mrs. Vesey's brother—has some capital dogs, I hear. Perhaps we might come to a bargain. I'll have out our old gig, and do it up. I'll put a low enough price upon it. A little cash, and a couple of those hounds . . . .’

‘Dogs again! Mr. B., don't, pray, be getting any more dogs! There are fifty on the farm already, if there's one!’

Here the husband and wife entered the church, and took their seats, while the parties just arrived were greeting each other at the gate.

‘Here we are,’ said Mr. Lang, with a laugh, ‘safe and sound at last; but 'pon my honour, Herbert, you should get a couple of your men to mend that bridge; we were over as near as could be!’

‘The bridge? Why! it doesn't belong to me,’ returned Mr. Herbert, drily. ‘Though near our paddock, we seldom or never use it; we always cut across the flat, and avoid it. You and Mr. Budd must see to it.’

‘Budd! Oh yes, to be sure, very true, it will give him an excuse to be busy. He certainly ought to do it; very true, his wool-drays always pass that way. Yes, to be sure, I'll give him a hint.’

‘Better send one of your own men, papa; it would be done in a day,’


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said Isabel Lang, who now joined them. Mr. Herbert smiled and bowed, but she put out her hand, and said, ‘How d'ye do?’ in so hearty and frank a manner, that the gravity and distance vanished, and they were soon chatting freely, while the rest of the Lang party collected.

‘And how is Miss Herbert?’

‘Quite well; she is as usual busy in the school.’

‘Very good and indefatigable, I am sure, sir,’ remarked Mrs. Lang, after a curtsey to Mr. Herbert. ‘Single ladies have the advantage over us, that they have so much spare time,’ she added, in a patronising tone.

The gentleman again bowed coldly, and drew back a little for the party to pass. On they went,—Mr. Lang and his second daughter Isabel, then Mrs. Lang, all flounces and feathers, her satin dress brushing the ground, and Miss Lang, a pretty, fashionable-looking girl. Near her walked the stranger, about whom Mrs. Budd had asked—a gentleman-like figure, and, if not regularly handsome, with an attractive face. Then came two little girls and their governess, the latter chiefly remarkable for her quiet, plain dress; Mr. and Mrs. Vesey, and Captain Smith, the officer in charge of the mounted police stationed in the neighbourhood followed; and the last, though certainly not least in stature, walked Mr. Herbert, his lip half curling, though it gradually relaxed as he walked up the little building, and seated himself in a corner of one of the wooden benches. As the service proceeded, another party was added to the congregation. A dozen or more blacks might be seen looking through the open door; some staring curiously round, and others listening to the preacher open-mouthed. The sermon was one to create interest in all, from different reasons. Its object was to call on them to build a church more fitted for Divine worship than the present building. It was curious to see Mr. Budd's deportment, now bending his sharp grey eyes on the clergyman with a self-satisfied expression, and now looking at one, and then another of the congregation, as much as to say, ‘That's for you?’ Mr. Lang raised his eyebrows every now and then, as if in wonder, and then fell to blowing his nose. Mr. Herbert, neither moving head nor foot, leant back in his seat, listening with grave attention. Mr. Farrant had not long been their clergyman, and the style of his sermon, as well as many other things about him, were very new to the district.

When the service was over, and they were once more in the churchyard, waiting for their carriages, Mr. Herbert was stopped by Mr. Budd, who, drawing him aside, began a long story about what he had done with regard to building the new parsonage, and how he was ready now with time and money to commence another church. Mr. Herbert looked impatient, and at last abruptly broke from him, following the others,


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who were apparently bending their steps across the paddock, instead of getting into their carriages. The Lang's house, Langville, being so far from church, they often stayed and had lunch at Warratah Brush before they returned home.

‘Well, Mr. Herbert, do you see what a party we are, and going to besiege you as usual?’ said Isabel, as he overtook her.

‘Well,’ said he, ‘but it wont last long! When the other church is built, we shall see you no more, I suppose.’

‘No more of those odious Langs, then, for you and Miss Herbert!’ said she, laughing, and half mimicking Miss Herbert's manner. ‘Papa can't forgive Mr. Budd at all. He would not have come here to-day had it not been for Mr. Farrant.’

Mr. Herbert made no answer, but swung his cane round and round; perhaps he wondered if Isabel had really ever overheard his sister's comments on the Langville Sunday visits.

‘What do you think of our new neighbours, Mr. Herbert?’ said Isabel.

‘I have hardly seen them yet. I always look at old friends first, and I find two young ladies of my acquaintance so—so—what shall I call it?—so come out, that I've had no eyes for anything else.’

‘It is only because you have been so long in the bush that civilized society seems strange to you, I dare say. I don't think I can return the compliment, however. Some people of my acquaintance have drawn in instead of coming out! A whole week returned, and not the good manners to call!’

Here Mr. Lang looked back, and called out, ‘Issy, my darling, where did you put the letters?’

‘Tom has them, papa.’

‘No, he hasn't; he told me you had them.’

‘I only know I told him they were in the driving-box, papa. Run, Willie, do, and see if they are not there.’

But Willie did not hear; on the contrary, he quickened his pace in the other direction, and was soon out of sight.

‘I'll run back,’ said Mr. Herbert.

‘Oh no, pray!’ said Isabel. But he was off.

‘Ah, let him go, 'twill take the starch out of him on such a day as this.’ Mr. Lang, shifting his hat, and putting his hand on his daughter Isabel's shoulder. Then laughing, and saying that she made a capital walking-stick, he turned round and asked Mrs. Vesey if she did not think it must be a hard matter to find such a tribe in shoe leather in these pinching times?

Miss Herbert produced biscuits and grapes, bread and butter, colonial


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wine,note and lemon syrup for her guests. Mrs. Vesey was loud in her praises of everything, and swept about the little room with an easy confidence, which contrasted curiously enough with Mrs. Lang's stiff attempts at dignity. Mrs. Vesey patted the dogs, whistled to the parrots, examined all the little contrivances, and between times joined Mrs. Lang in quizzing Mr. and Mrs. Budd.

‘They are deliciously absurd,’ said she; ‘his musical voice would make his fortune in the puppet-show of Punch and Judy. I shall cultivate their acquaintance assiduously.’

‘Well, I confess I don't see anything to like in them,’ said Mrs. Lang, understanding the lively Mrs. Vesey literally. ‘Mrs. Budd is thought to dress well, I know, but it is not after my taste, I confess.’

‘Voice, madam!’ exclaimed Mr. Lang, ‘if anything could set my teeth on edge in the world it would be that detestable fellow's voice! Could you but hear him at a public meeting—heart and senses!— you'd never care to listen to his burr-r again!’

‘What is that building with a long chimney?’ asked Mrs. Vesey, looking through her glass.

‘That is a mill,’ said Mr. Herbert.

‘How many bushels did ye grind last week, Herbert?’ asked Mr. Lang, with a half laugh, and winking hard at Mrs. Lang.

‘It was out of repair,’ was the answer.

‘Ay, ay, so I thought. Give me old brown Ben instead of your long chimneys and smoke,’ said Mr. Lang, taking up a book.

‘And does ‘brown Ben’ never get lame?’ drily remarked Mr. Herbert.

‘And what if he does? Put in another—no want of horse-flesh here.’

‘Great waste of it, and great waste of labour, in my opinion,’ said Mr. Herbert. ‘Why, I can show you on my books what the steam-mill does.’ And he rose and went out of the room.

‘Books! books!’ said Mr. Lang, ‘send them to Jericho. I never go by books; I go by old experience, and I know what a horse-mill is, and I know that—’

‘Are they talking of the mill?’ asked Miss Herbert, who was a little deaf, of Mrs. Lang. ‘It is such a convenience!—but John has laid out a great deal on it.’

‘Indeed,’ said Mrs. Lang; ‘I should have thought Mr. Herbert knew better, in these times!’

When Mr. Herbert reappeared with his books, which contained a farm journal, Isabel remarked that it was quite time to go.

‘I must just prove the fact,’ said Mr. Herbert, and he read out a statement of the mill work.




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‘I don't care a farthing, sir, for all the statements in the world!—they are not worth this,’ said Mr. Lang, snapping his fingers. ‘They don't convince me, Mr. Herbert.’

‘It would be a hard matter to do that, I own,’ said Mr. Herbert, with a look of contempt.

Mrs. Lang laughed affectedly, and, rising from her chair, said the carriage was come, and so they had better leave the discussions of mills for another day.

The party took their respective places in the phaeton, gig, spring cart, or saddle-horses, and left Warratah Brush and Miss Herbert to ‘peace and quietness,’ as that lady observed when they drove off.

Warratah Brush was a pretty specimen of the generality of colonial cottages, such as they were before people began to build those comfortable stone houses which are now becoming so numerous. It consisted of four rooms on the ground floor, leading into each other without any passage. At the end of the deep verandah there were two small closets boarded in, which went by the name of ‘verandah rooms;’ one was used as a spare bedroom for travellers, the other for a kind of pantry or store. The beautiful Moreton Bay bignonia, with its clusters of pink blossom, and the passion-flower completely covered the roof and verandah, and was trained into arches, though here and there a long wreath escaped from its confinement, and waved to and fro in the evening breeze, which had now set in. In front was a small garden, consisting of a few beds, with narrow paths between, gay with roses and geraniums. A slight shade was afforded by a group of white cedar trees, already full of their yellow berries. The garden was surrounded by a low fence, which divided it from the farm-yard. Opposite rose a goodly barn, which towered far above the low and steep-roofed cottage, and a little to the left was a stock-yard and a fowl-house, all in good repair and in sight of the house. Behind stood the kitchen and wash-house.

Two large kangaroo dogs lay outside the gate which opened into the verandah, and within stood a row of cages containing different parrots.

‘Well,’ said Miss Herbert, as she sat in the verandah, and fanned herself with a newspaper, ‘it is over till next week, at any rate! I am sure I wish our house was ten miles off from the church, and then we should not have our rooms so filled, and my temper ruffled, every Sunday by those Langs!’

‘So that was the Mrs. Vesey?’ said her brother.

‘Yes; I don't know what to make of them; they are stylish-looking people—evidently gentlefolks. But I don't like their being so very intimate at Langville already. Mrs. Vesey and Isabel seemed to have a


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great many jokes together, which no one else could hear and you know I hate jokes!’

‘My dear, I assure you everybody could hear but yourself.’

‘You are quite mistaken, John; I saw it all; indeed, I believe they were quizzing me—or the room.’

‘Nonsense; it was Mr. Budd. However, I agree with you about the heat of the room. Really it is too small! I saw such a good site for a house the other day, Mary, behind the Creek. I should like to build there.’

‘Surely you will not be so absurd as to build a Herbertville, just because there is a Langville, John? Pray lay out no more money here! Try and save enough to go home.’ She sighed as she pronounced the last word.

‘Home!’ said her brother. ‘This must be our home. There is not a chance of our ever returning. I don't know even that I wish it. Ten years make a fearful gap, and we should neither of us like the climate of England now, or the habits.’

‘O John, John! as if the very sight of a face fresh from the old country does not set one longing for England! I hate this place; we are buried in the bush, losing money, and having no one to associate with. It is all very well for you; a man finds occupation—but for a lady . . . . .’

‘Why, what do you call all those people who were here just now? Ours is quite a gay district! By-the-bye, Mary, I thought the girls, the Langs I mean, a good deal got on; what has smartened them up so?’

‘O, they are ‘come out’ now, and they have been staying in Sydney, as I told you, and I dare say paid the milliner a few visits. Kate is certainly a pretty girl—very pretty—and with the fortune she will have, will be sought after, no doubt. I suspect she was much admired in Sydney. They say she was the belle of the room at the Sheriff's ball, and Mr. Fitz paid her great attention. Poor Tom Jolly, I feel for him very much!’

‘Isabel looks well, too,’ said Mr. Herbert; ‘she is quite come out since I went away. One forgets how time passes; she is fast growing into womanhood.’

‘Ah, you know,’ said Miss Herbert, drawing in her breath in a way peculiar to herself when not quite pleased, ‘we never agree about her; I can't admire her at all, she is so freckled!’

‘So fair, you mean,’ put in Mr. Herbert.

‘Handsome eyes, certainly,’ Miss Herbert continued, with an air of consideration and concession.

‘Beaming,’ interrupted her brother.

‘But such a nose! A regular ‘turn up.’ ’

‘Nez retroussé. Elle est piquante et spirituelle.’note




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‘And her mouth is too wide, or is it that she is always laughing?’

‘ 'Tis a sweet smile, so full of human love, as some poet says.’

‘In fact,’—Miss Herbert went on, not noticing her brother's interruptions, ‘it is lucky that she is, if anything, rather under-sized, for if she were as tall as her sister, she would be masculine indeed.’

‘As it is, she rejoices in a well-knit, compact figure, active and lithe, and frolicsome as a kitten.’

‘Pooh, John,’ remarked his sister, who had only heard his last words, ‘you will tip your chair over in a moment! What a trick you have of balancing it so, and looking up into the sky, uttering paradoxes.’

‘Prove that! Prove that I have uttered one paradox.’

‘You have uttered an absurdity. In the first place, she is not at all like a kitten, and in the second, if she is, it is no merit, as you seem to assume. Young ladies should not mimic kittens. Your encouragement of Isabel Lang's faults is very wrong in you, John! You ought to know better.’

‘My dear Miss Herbert! I!—I encourage her faults!—when I am for ever criticising and finding fault! Any other girl but herself would hate me.’

‘You do encourage her by making a joke of it. She is too confident, too self-sufficient as it is;—too fond of quizzing and joking, and too forward. I am sure she and Mrs. Vesey were laughing at my old-fashioned dress.’

‘My dear, indeed. . . . .’

‘My dear John, don't contradict me! I can't hear, perhaps, as well as others, but I can see. Believe me, my eyes are particularly good, and I did see; so don't make the matter worse by smoothing it over. Of course I don't care a farthing—I can't be expected to dress so well, or to know the fashions exactly as the Miss Langs or Mrs. Vesey, but still . . . .’

Here the servant came to ask if they were ready for dinner.

‘Yes, make some tea, Jane; here, take the key and fill the canister from the chest. Come, John, before the beef grows cold.’

Mr. Herbert, however, remained to read a letter. Its contents seemed not very pleasing. He frowned, and gave a low whistle, at which one of the dogs jumped over the gate.

‘Pshaw, Forrester, I don't want you; go back, sir!’

The animal drooped his head and wagging his tail in token of submission mingled with disappointment, lay down on the mat within the gate, looking up every now and then at his master, who, after again reading the letter, joined his sister at dinner.

‘Have you anything to give Mr. Farrant, Mary?’ said her brother. ‘I think he will call on his way back; he half promised to do so.’




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‘Dear me, then, I must contrive something. He will be so tired and weary, poor man, after such a hot ride.’

Miss Herbert hurried over her dinner in order to prepare some little favourite delicacy for the clergyman. There was much searching in cupboards and consulting with the maid, though Mr. Herbert often said ‘Pshaw,’ and assured her that an egg and some cold meat would be quite enough.

But visitors had been scarce of late at Warratah, and Miss Herbert liked the pleasure of preparation on a small scale; and, moreover, as it was the first meal the clergyman had taken in her house, she determined to have it properly arranged, and some handsome old silver, with the Herbert crest on it, was somewhat proudly taken out. She did not generally use it, being too much afraid of bushrangers, but she thought she should like to show Mr. Farrant that some of his parishioners had this very important certificate of belonging to an old family!

‘Ah, it looks like home!’ sighed she, as she placed the massive spoons and forks on the table. ‘Well! how things are changed, to be sure!’

‘Female vanity!’ muttered Mr. Herbert, with a slight toss of his head, while a little of the said vanity might have been seen lurking about the regions of his own mouth, had it not been more than half hidden by his moustachios.

‘I shall leave you to your hospitable cares, and try and meet Farrant,’ and lighting his cigar he went out, followed by the dogs.

The bush was in an uproar from the noisy birds called familiarly ‘old soldiers,’ as they fluttered about in busy restlessness before going to roost. Then a wild shrieking laugh rang through the forest, and the large-headed bird, the laughing jackass, flew heavily from one white gum to another. Gay parrots chattered their ‘good nights,’ while magpies interchanged plaintive adieus.

A tempting seat on a fallen tree induced Mr. Herbert to rest and give himself up to the listless, dreamy influences of the evening, unfreshened as it was by any breeze, and only cooler than it had been all day from the absence of the burning sun.

The return of the clergyman, however, soon interrupted his dreams. Mr. Herbert had met Mr. Farrant before he went to his station, but had not seen much of him. He had not felt quite sure whether he should like him or not. Mr. Farrant was essentially fitted to be a popular man, and likely to be so. Every one praised him, and this caused Mr. Herbert to look with something like distrust on him. At first he had met him with cold hauteur, fully determined not to be in a hurry in forming an intimacy. Mr. Farrant's manner, charming as it was to others, did not


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quite please Mr. Herbert; but having heard of a very disinterested action done by Mr. Farrant, and the sermon of that morning having proved that he could speak stern truth in a grave manner, as well as win ladies' hearts by talking of poultry and bees, and having a pleasant word for every one, high, low, rich, or poor,—Mr. Herbert was now bent on showing his readiness to come forward to him. Perhaps there was a little complacency in the thought that Mr. Farrant might find him a more congenial companion than any other person in the district—a slight feeling of pride and satisfaction in the idea that though longer, perhaps, in granting his friendship and regard, it would be found as well worth having as others!

In fact, the sister with her cookery, old family plate, and such things, was not more anxious to please than the brother. He ‘unbent’ this evening, and gave himself up to conversation in a way in which few could excel him when he chose. Mr. Farrant was pleased; the weariness he had felt from hard duty in the fervent heat of the day passed away. They adjourned to the verandah, Miss Herbert's ‘withdrawing-room,’ as she called it, and there was much to say and much to hear. Mr. Farrant could talk of the old country, and found interested listeners. Improvements, new books, and music were canvassed, and then Mr. Farrant touched on his desire to have something like good singing in the church. Miss Herbert shook her head at his idea of some of the ladies undertaking it; she thought no one had any taste for music or anything like a voice in the district. Her brother thought her hypercritical; he was sure the Langs had good natural ears, though uncultivated, and Mr. Farrant smiled as he asked if they had heard Mr. Lang's governess sing?

‘No,’ Miss Herbert said. ‘But she was much prepossessed with her appearance; such a contrast as it was to the Miss Langs!’

Mr. Herbert remarked, with the slightest possible tone of depreciation, that she was a very little person, and he had not noticed her face. Then came a pause, which Mr. Farrant broke by speaking of his enjoyment of the rides—the beautiful ‘flats,’ which seemed made for a gallop! He seemed pleased with everything. The climate was delightful, the independence of the life charming.

‘And the people?’ asked Miss Herbert.

‘Full of kindness and hospitality; thoroughly well meaning,’ said Mr. Farrant.

This led to a long discussion. Miss Herbert spoke of individuals, and compared them with old acquaintance in Bath. Mr. Herbert spoke of the colony in general, and dwelt on the evil the convict system had been to society. He alluded impatiently to the faults and grievances, and in the


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tone of a somewhat disappointed theorist. Prizing the freedom of life, and dwelling with eloquence on its many picturesque points, yet evidently deeming a man of education like himself thrown away; wondering how any person could be foolish enough to break through old associations and home ties, and exile himself to such a barren land, yet—owning that habit had reconciled him to the evils; and though for the first five years, finding his money-tree did not bear the promised fruit, he had over and over again resolved to return to England—he now felt that this was his home. The climate alone was an inducement, and late accounts from England did not tend to make him desire to be there.

Mr. Farrant listened, but did not agree. He, too, had felt the transplanting. He confessed it was a sad wrench; but instead of being disappointed, he had found everything better than he expected. He had excuses for all, and dwelt with evident pleasure on the kindness with which he had been received.

‘You go very often to Langville, I believe?’ said Miss Herbert.

‘Yes, I do. Really they are so kind. They are delightful girls.’

‘Kate is very pretty, certainly,’ remarked Mr. Herbert, stooping as he spoke to stroke a cockatoo.

‘Very pretty; but not to be compared to her sister, I think. Miss Isabel Lang is——’

‘O dear! O dear! Surely you cannot call her pretty!’ said Miss Herbert, with an almost ludicrous expression of concern.

‘I do. What do you say, Mr. Herbert?’

‘That you have chosen quite a wrong word. But here comes old Forrester to claim his share of attention. Come, Mr. Farrant, if you are anything of a dog-fancier, you must confess this to be a noble fellow;’ and Mr. Herbert expatiated on his merits and points as men are apt to do of a favoured animal.

It was time to break up the party, and Mr. Farrant with reluctance mounted his horse, promising to repeat the visit very soon.

‘A very agreeable young man,’ remarked Miss Herbert, as their guest trotted off.

‘Yes, a pleasant, gentlemanly man—an acquisition—certainly an acquisition,’ returned her brother.

‘Well, I do hope he wont be falling in love with Issy; I fancied he looked rather conscious when speaking of her.’

‘A true woman's fancy. Now that the girls have appeared at the balls in Sydney, I suppose every one who speaks to them must be a lover. I thought one might expect a freedom from such folly in the Bush. Depend upon it, Mary, Mr. Farrant has no such thought at present.’




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‘Ah, well! we shall see,’ said Miss Herbert, with a very positive nod of the head.

‘I shall ride to Langville for breakfast to-morrow; I have some business to talk over with Lang, and I will make my observations and report them for your benefit,’ remarked Mr. Herbert, carelessly, as he moved away from the verandah into the yard, in a somewhat lounging fashion.

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