― 45 ―




‘Really, my dear John,’ said Miss Herbert, a morning or two after the visit from the Langville party, ‘I think you ought to call on Mr. Vesey, eh?’

‘Hem,’ said Mr. Herbert, twisting his moustaches, and then stretching himself after a diligent perusal of the Sydney Herald.note

‘I never pay morning visits,’ he added, presently.

‘Ah, but you should. You ought to come forward here and take your proper place; besides, these are strangers and gentlefolks, and as we are, it seems, to meet them at the Langs, it would be but civil, I do think, eh?’

‘They are not much in our style, I fancy; but, however, I have nothing very particular to do to-day, so shall we both ride there?’

Miss Herbert readily consented to accompany him, and they were soon on their way to Vine Lodge.

‘Mrs. Vesey was staying at Langville, was she?’ asked Mr. Herbert, as he rode lazily along, just in front of his sister, for the path was narrow; they having preferred a short bush cut to the usual road.

‘Yes, Mrs. Vesey came with them when they returned from Sydney. She and Mr. Fitz were guests at Langville, while Mr. Vesey prepared his new house for them.’

‘It was in a wretched state of ruin, as I recollect,’ said Mr. Herbert. ‘I heard of Vesey up the country—he has money, it is said.’

‘Very likely; so Mr. Budd says—and he is sure to know. I understand from our friend, Miss Warner, in Sydney, that Kate was very much

  ― 46 ―
talked of for that Mr. Fitz.’

‘You have told me that so often!’ said Mr. Herbert, impatiently. ‘Hallo,’ added he, as they came to a fence which commanded a view of the house, ‘grand alterations, I declare; ha! that's an improvement.’

A few minutes' riding brought them to the door, at which Mr. Herbert rapped with his whip handle; knockers and bells being very rare, or quite unknown in the district.

Mrs. Vesey's slight, well-dressed figure appeared at the open window, and with her glass at her eye, she reconnoitred her visitors. On seeing who it was, she stepped quickly into the verandah, holding out both hands, and expressing the greatest possible delight at seeing both the lady and gentleman; ‘it was so kind, so very neighbourly—gentlemen generally were such wretched hands at visiting.’ Miss Herbert was carefully dismounting during this warm welcome, and her brother only frowned, while he led off the horses to the stable, answering to Mrs. Vesey's apologies at there being no man— ‘that he was quite accustomed to the work, and never trusted his horses to any colonial servant.’

The parlour was scantily furnished, the floor bare, and the walls only whitewashed; but the lady had contrived to make it look very habitable. A few flowers tastily arranged in tumblers stood on the table—a handsome work-box lay open; spirited sketches and a few finished drawings were ‘littered’ about with studied negligence; and last, but not least, a harp and music-stand gave a certain air to the room, which at once struck Miss Herbert.

Mr. Herbert soon came back accompanied by Mr. Vesey, who was good looking, with a very fresh, clear complexion. He had not much manner, and he made a great deal of sound when he talked, filling up gaps with pompous hems and haws, and he also had rather a trick of leaving his sentences unfinished for his wife to conclude for him, or if she were otherwise engaged, Mr. Vesey drew in his breath with his teeth shut, which had a very significant effect. He had a very high opinion of his wife, though to hear him sometimes, people might run away with an idea that he was a perfectly tyrannical husband, and ‘Laura’ a mere cipher. ‘Certainly,’ as Mrs. Lang remarked to her husband,’ Mr. Fitz had much more to say, and ten times more manners, but then Mr. Vesey was very good-natured, and had a very handsome fortune.’

‘Do you begin to feel settled?’ asked Miss Herbert, by way of saying something.

‘Why—hem—aw—settled? why, hardly . . .’ ‘O, we're in a horrid rummage!’ said Mrs. Vesey, interrupting her husband. ‘It is indeed nothing short of one of Hercules' labours to make this place habitable.’

  ― 47 ―

‘It is thought a good farm,’ remarked Mr. Herbert.

‘Ah! well, of course, that is the point—aw—hem; ladies . . . .’

‘Make great sacrifices when in an unlucky moment they consent to emigrate, don't you think so, Miss Herbert. It is very much like being buried alive! Just imagine, with so many families in the district—that's the term, I believe?—and not even a book-club! How can one exist? How do you manage, Miss Herbert?’

Miss Herbert thus appealed to, in a grave manner, began to explain how she occupied herself, how very different her life now was to that she had been accustomed to. And Mrs. Vesey nodded and shook her head, and seemed to listen with the greatest sympathy and attention, drawing out the old and well-loved history of Bath, and Bath friends.

‘Laura!’ said Mr. Vesey; ‘what was the name of hem—that—that fellow, you know; a neighbour, you know—aw—of your father's; kept hounds, you know . . . .’

‘Sir Charles Herbert, do you mean?’

‘Yes, exactly . . . . gentlemanly man—hem—any relation of yours, hey?’

‘My uncle,’ Mr. Herbert answered, drily; and then rising and going to the window he reminded his sister that he had a long round to take before they went home.

‘O, positively!’ exclaimed Mrs. Vesey, jumping up; ‘you shan't go in such a hurry. Have pity on me, Mr. Herbert, I pray, and remember how long it is since I have met a rational creature. I can't—Mr. Vesey wont allow you to cut your visit short in this way. My harp is strung and tuned, and I want you to hear a new waltz.’

‘By Jove!’ exclaimed Mr. Vesey, striding to the window, and peeping under Mr. Herbert's arm, ‘who on earth—hem!—who are these? why, it is what's-her-name, I declare!’

‘Miss Lang!’ said his wife, running to the other window; while Miss Herbert, not having heard what was said, followed as soon as she could gather up her habit.

‘Kate and Jem Lang,’ she said; ‘and who are they in the gig?’

‘That's little Miss what's-her-name, and—hem—Laura—they will stay, you know, aw—for . . . .’

‘Lunch, certainly. Call Arthur, Mr. Vesey, will you; it is utterly out of the question that I can entertain all single handed—pray, I beseech you, not to go . . . .’ she turned as she spoke to where Mr. Herbert had stood, but he was gone; he and Mr. Vesey had stepped out of the window, and were assisting the ladies to dismount. Mrs. Vesey repeated her request to Miss Herbert, who answered, it must rest with her brother,

  ― 48 ―
she had no objection to remain.

The dining-room was small; a narrow, ill-shaped room, but, with a little clever contrivance, it held all the party.

‘Well—hem'—said Mr. Vesey, as he handed Miss Herbert to a chair. ‘This is what I call, a what's-is-name, pleasant kind of thing. I hate, you know, ceremony, and—aw—what shall I help you to? Laura, what's that?’ and as he surveyed the prettily laid out dishes, he devoutly hoped none of the guests were very hungry, and heartily wished ‘Laura’ would undertake to carve for the party she had pressed into her service.

Mr. Herbert expressed his dislike to anything in the shape of lunch, and as there was but little room, he stood by the window, behind Mrs. Vesey's chair.

‘Well, we shall muster all the district soon!’ exclaimed Mr. Herbert; ‘here is Tom Jolly!’

‘Ho, Jolly Tom, bid him come in; he is my especial delight,’ said Mr. Fitz, with much gravity, and he contrived to put Jolly Tom a little out of countenance as he rose and bowed very low, and said he supposed he was hungry, and smelt the cold beef; but the more the merrier, and so on, looking hard at the somewhat shy young man all the time; while Mr. Vesey muttered to himself about a ‘confounded shabby affair for so many mouths,’ and Mrs. Vesey's terrible eye-glass was up, while she thanked Mr. T. Jolly over and over again for being so very kind as to take the trouble of paying them a visit.

‘Well, ma'am, to say the truth, I met Willie Lang, and he told me I should find the Miss Langs here, and as I had a message for them, you see, I thought I couldn't do better than follow. How do, Kate,’ he said, stretching out his arm behind Mr. Fitz to reach her, and then colouring all over at the polite bow he received, instead of the hearty shake he intended to give.

Isabel came to his relief. ‘I am so glad you came Tom! will you come here? There is plenty of room.’

But Tom was no lunch eater either, and rather awkwardly, though with the most good-humoured face possible, he retreated to where Mr. Herbert had taken his station, and they were soon in full talk. When lunch was over, Mrs. Vesey proposed going to look at the garden; Mr. Fitz led the way with Kate; Tom watched them, but did not appear disposed to follow, till Isabel laughed, and blushing as she spoke, beckoned him to her side, and then taking his arm, she led him away.

‘Did you see that?’ exclaimed Miss Herbert, looking at Miss Terry, at the same time making a movement with her hands to express astonishment and pity.

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‘I assure you it is all from high spirits,’ said Miss Terry, smiling. ‘I assure you, Miss Herbert, she is a very simple-minded, true-hearted girl.’

‘Ah, you are so kind in judging others,’ answered Miss Herbert, laying her hand on Miss Terry's arm; ‘and now will you allow me to introduce my brother to you? John!’ and she turned back to him, refusing to listen to Miss Terry's assurance that she had been already introduced, and as she formally led him up to Miss Terry with an air of pride, as much as to say, ‘Look at him, how different from every one else!’ there was the peculiar inquiring expression of eye, so often seen in deaf people, as she watched the movement of his lips. After this, Miss Herbert stepped back to join Mrs. Vesey, who had gone to fetch her parasol.

In the midst of Mrs. Vesey's explanations of plans for improving the garden, Miss Herbert found time and opportunity to observe that her brother was making himself agreeable to the very pretty little governess whom she patronised. He was evidently pleased and pleasing, and this put his sister into very good humour. Soon, however, a sound of merry ringing laughter made them all look up. It was Isabel: she had made a bet with Mr. Vesey that she would mount a ladder which stood against part of the house where they were repairing the roof. Mr. Vesey was sure no lady had nerve for it, and Isabel, thus dared, mounted it and sat herself on the roof, holding by a chimney. Mr. Vesey clapped his hands, and declared she was a spirited girl, and then in his excitement he proceeded to take away the ladder, leaving her in a somewhat giddy position. Isabel, however, would own no fear. She sat still, and only laughed, while Tom stood by looking as if he thought Mr. Vesey was going rather too far. When Miss Herbert saw it, she turned sharp round and said it gave her vertigo even to look at her. Mrs. Vesey spied at her and laughed. Miss Terry looked alarmed, and earnestly begged Mr. Vesey to put back the ladder.

‘No, that I wont; ha! why, she isn't giddy, you know, at all! She has been badgering me, hem! and faith, you know it's all fair play. If she'll own she's giddy . . . . .’

But Isabel shook her head.

‘Give me this, if you please,’ said Mr. Herbert, in an authoritative manner, at the same time taking the ladder from Mr. Vesey, and placing it against the house. He planted it firm, and then said—'Come down, Isabel, and come backwards.’

She coloured up, but obeyed in silence. When she reached the ground she laughed again, and threatened revenge on Mr. Vesey.

  ― 50 ―

‘How could you be so silly?’ said Mr. Herbert.

‘Silly! I think I was very brave.’

‘You might have broken a limb—your spirits run away with you;’ and Mr. Herbert looked grave.

‘I know what runs away with some one else,’ she answered, still laughing; ‘but however, as I don't mean to acknowledge myself silly, or to say I am sorry, and am not in a humour for lecturing, I wish you good-bye! Come, Tom, let us go into the garden.’

She ran on, followed by Tom and Mr. Herbert. Presently she stopped, and leaning against the fence, said—

‘Why don't you go to Miss Terry, Mr. Herbert?’

‘Because I had rather stay here—I mean to see that you play no more pranks.’

‘But we don't want you, do we, Tom? Come, now, I am sure you like Miss Terry—don't you?’

‘I don't know her much as yet,’ said he, looking half-amused.

‘I want you to cultivate her acquaintance, and I know so well what you will say to her—'Such a dreadful girl is that Isabel! so vulgar! so boisterous! Do teach her a little of your own gentleness’.’

Mr. Herbert and Tom both laughed as she imitated the former.

‘You flatter yourself too much, Isabel. How do you know we have not better subjects to talk of than yourself?’

‘Why, I saw such grim displeasure on your brow just now, it is so natural you should give vent to it, since you know you dare not now take me to task.’

‘I have something else to say to you,’ said Mr. Herbert, ‘but I see you are in no mood to hear me.’

‘What is it about?’

‘I'll tell you if you will leave off joking and listen. Ah,’ seeing Tom walk away, ‘I am glad he is gone. Now listen. I want to have some serious conversation with you. I must ask you something.’

‘How solemn! Are you sure that I shall answer, Mr. Herbert?’

‘Pshaw, Isabel,’ he said, somewhat impatiently, ‘I am tired of joking.’

‘Thank you, sir, you are very complimentary!’ said she, curtseying low. ‘Good morning;’ and she climbed the fence before he knew what she was about, and in another minute was begging Kate to ask for their gig and horses. Mr. Fitz protested against this, but Isabel was firm; Jem was despatched to the stable, and the ladies were soon putting on bonnets and riding skirts. Mr. Fitz politely walked by Kate and her brother to the slip rails, and Miss Terry was begging Isabel not to flourish about her whip, and ‘to please to look at the horse, and not at

  ― 51 ―
Tom Jolly!’ but Isabel had many last words for him and messages to his mother, and as she gave him a hearty shake by the hand, tears stood in his eyes. Isabel talked to the horse, who was eager to get on, but once more, to Miss Terry's alarm, she pulled up the reins, and turning round, nodded to Mr. Herbert.

‘Good-bye!’ she said. He took off his hat and bowed.

‘Just as you please,’ she said to herself, though loud enough for Miss Terry to hear. Then touching the horse with her whip, they dashed over the rough new-made road in a way which made Mr. Vesey stare and shrug his shoulders.