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5. CHAPTER V.

THE PETITION.

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It was some little time before either of the ladies spoke; but when the horse pulled up at a hill, Miss Terry, with a sigh of relief, said—‘Well, my dear Isabel, I was wondering if the horse was running away!’

Isabel laughed. ‘Were you really afraid! I beg your pardon; but do you know what a relief it is sometimes to drive or ride or run fast, as it happens? It is such a cure for vexations! There! I am all right again now, as cool as possible!’

‘What had happened to put you out, may I ask?’ said Miss Terry, smiling.

‘Ah! thereby hangs a tale! I'll tell you all about it one day. Miss Terry, what do you think of our society? you have seen all now. Mr. Herbert is our last lion.’

‘I shall answer by asking your opinion. I know but little of any of them, and am not quick at becoming acquainted.’

‘How cautious you are! Well, no wonder, poor little timid soul as you are, suddenly brought into these wild parts, among such a rough set! What do I think of them? Well, let me see, first our friends the Herberts; the lady is a mixture, she holds us very cheap, and yet can't do without us, she is an affectionate sister, though rather exigeante,note as we were taught in our vocabularies. She is not bad-hearted, and not good-tempered. She does not like being Miss to the end of her days, and yet finds no one worthy of alliance with the Herberts—The Herberts! I will own to you in confidence, it sounds better than the Langs, but names are


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fiddlesticks . . . .’

‘My dear Isabel again! Now that is one of the expressions I protest against. What can you mean by it?’

‘Oh, it stands for nonsense, humbug, and all sorts of things; I think it is an innocent kind of word after all, it comes out so plump too, ‘fiddlesticks.’ But to please you, I'll eschew it, indeed I will. You don't say, ‘how vulgar; Issy!’ like Kate, or order me to be more careful, like Mr. Herbert. By the bye, I always enjoy horrifying him of all things in the world.’

‘Well, so I guessed from what I saw to-day; but I suppose he takes it as you mean it?’

‘Oh, not always; besides, there is such a thing as being in earnest in joke. Do you understand? I don't see any use in being afraid of flesh and blood, even when ornamented with moustachios. I always defy Mr. Herbert, and we give each other rap for rap, I always coming round to sweet temper the soonest. But how do you like him?’

‘He is very much what you led me to expect, only perhaps more agreeable.’

‘I saw he was on his good behaviour to you. Well! I am glad you like him, and I am sure he will like you. But did you remark his way of helping his sister to wine?’

‘Yes, I did certainly, and I thought of what you said the other day.’

‘Yes, that's it. It isn't that one objects to his being attentive to her, it is all very right, but it is done in such a way. My sister, Miss Herbert! as if she was the only person worth thinking of. It offends my good father and mother.’

‘It is a pity that he has that brusque way, but nevertheless, Isabel, I like his face. It is an expressive countenance, and his whole bearing is quite that of a gentleman; nay more, almost aristocratic. But go on with your idea of the people.’

‘Well, then, next to the Herberts comes Dr. Marsh, as a matter of course; a kind of note of admiration to be affixed to their names, for the little Doctor grows eloquent in praise of that ‘superior fellow Herbert, and that extremely agreeable woman, his sister.’ But I will pass him over and Captain Smith, who, in his regimentals, serves to dress up a room, booby as he is.’

‘Pray do not use such a term, Isabel.’

‘Well, you must confess him very silly, and that is tantamount to being a——; but I'll be a good girl, and spare you.’

‘Mr. Tom Jolly, Isabel, what is he?’

‘What! why an honest man, every inch of him! worth a dozen Fitzs,


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with studs and chains and rings to boot; worth, Miss Terry—more worth loving a vast deal than all the fine gentlemen in the world, and his father and his mother too, I love them all.’——Isabel's eyes glistened as she spoke, then smiling, and returning to her former tone, she added, ‘It was a mistake; depend on it, Tom should have fancied me, and not Kate.’

‘You had better tell him so, then.’

‘To be sure! so I have a dozen times over. And now we will trot on, if you please; I have fulfilled your wishes to perfection, I am sure.’

‘Not quite; there is one missed out—Mr. Farrant.’

‘O no, no! I am not going to meddle with him—he is one of your perfect characters—no, thank you.’

‘But I particularly wish to know your opinion of him—I have a particular reason,’ said Miss Terry, looking out for the stumps as she spoke.

Isabel too seemed to look attentively at the road, as she answered,

‘Have you, though? What reason can you have?’

‘O pray mind the stumps, Isabel, and don't upset us in this awful-looking place!’ exclaimed Miss Terry.

By the time they had surmounted the difficulty they were overtaken by Kate and Jem, who had dawdled behind them, and then all Isabel's attention was devoted to picking out the best track. At last, when they got into the high road, she said, speaking quickly, and as if with restrained emotion, ‘Are you very unhappy up here, Miss Terry?’

‘Unhappy! what can you mean, Isabel?’

‘I mean that you must, in your heart, think us strange folks, and I often fancy you look astonished and disgusted.’. . She sighed, and then went on. ‘You and Mr. Farrant—of course I see and feel all the difference—you think me a great Tomboy—with something good at bottom, perhaps—but sadly wrongheaded. Just, in fact, what I think myself, and yet not like, for,—would you believe it, I could find it in my heart to cry when I think of you and then of myself. O! don't be afraid!—I am not really going to shed a tear,’ said she, laughing, as Miss Terry laid her hand on hers. ‘The downright truth is, I think you the best little thing I ever saw, and the prettiest and the dearest; but I am not going to be swearing eternal friendship and all that stuff, only I wish I was a child again, and under you. . . . You see I did not go to school with Kate, so I never learned to be prettily behaved and so forth, for the truth is, I would not go to school—and I was always my dear daddy's darling, you know—and go I didn't. I ran wild in sun-bonnet and holland pinafore, except when Mr. Herbert tried to teach me drawing, and he tried to get me to read too. He meant to be very kind, and I liked laughing and


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quarrelling with him, and thought him vastly superior; but oh dear! I am very silly. Do you think me very dreadful, Miss Terry?’

‘If I told you all I think, you would consider me a flatterer and insincere, Isabel. I will not say that I don't see your faults, but I am very sure that you will conquer them, and they are very much on the surface.’

‘Well! no one knows what I may become with you. Your eyes tell me how I shock you; but, now, don't you think, Miss Terry, people do make too much of little things, and that there is a little insincerity, after all, veiled under a polite, or as Mr. Herbert says, ‘refined'—that's his favourite word, by the bye—a ‘refined’ manner?’

‘Are you very sure that your own manner is always a true index to your mind, Isabel?’

‘I laugh when I could cry often enough, and I will confess—but no, I wont confess anything now—for here we are at home, and that lazy boy, Jem, has left down the rails—I think he might have stayed to let us through. Now, you must hold the reins while I get out. If Mr. Herbert were here, his chin would nearly reach the sky in his indignant censures on the utter want of manner in the colonial youth, ‘to leave a lady to put up a slip rail.’ Now guide him through steadily. Famous! why, you'll be a whip in time. By the bye, Mr. Farrant, I suspect, is astonished at Kate and me for driving; but you see I have brought you back safe and sound.’

Isabel was proceeding to put up the rails again herself, when a man drew near. He shifted his hat slightly, as if he intended to be respectful, but didn't know how exactly.

‘I'll put it to rights, miss.’

‘Good evening, Lynch,’ said Isabel, as soon as she recognised one of her father's men. At this the hat was taken fairly off; and, looking at her in a peculiar way, he said—

‘I made so bold as to try to see you this evening, Miss Isabel.’

‘Why, have you anything to say?’ and Isabel drew back her foot from the gig step as she spoke.

‘I've a strange request to make,’ said the man, holding the horse, who seemed inclined to fidget at the delay. ‘I have no right, as you may think, to say it, but they say as how you are a kindly-natured young lady, and there's one you were good to long ago, who is ashamed to cross your path now. Maybe you've heard'—here he hesitated and patted the horse absently— ‘you've heard, no doubt, of the girl Ellen Maclean, and how she ran away from her hard stepmother?’

Isabel nodded assent.

‘Well, then, she is as innocent as yourself in respect to that affair, but never an hour's peace has the poor girl got since. That vixen, Mrs.


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Maclean, uses her shocking bad; and the girl's fairly pining. She would go down on her knees to you if you and the Missus would give her some work in the house. 'Tis her heart's desire to serve you, miss, but she dare not ask the favour herself. Maybe you could shelter her, miss? 'Twill be doing her a great kindness.’

‘I don't see how I am to do it,’ said Isabel. ‘There are servants enough already, and my mother, I fear, doesn't think too well of Ellen, and there are strange reports——’

‘For the love of Heaven, miss, don't blast the character of the most ill-used girl that ever trod this earth!’ exclaimed he, with great agitation. ‘She has had a kind word for Jack Lynch, and he has promised to marry her. What crime in that? She is as innocent as an angel, and has not the wit that some have to stand scorn and cruelty. Miss Isabel, I give you my word and honour, she'll die or go crazed if she isn't taken out of all this. If she got into service it would save her, but she breaks her heart to leave this place.’

‘I will speak to my mother, Lynch, and see what can be done, but don't expect too much.’

‘Expect! I expect nothing! I beg your pardon, miss,’ added he, in softened tones. ‘You'll never repent doing a kind action for her, I'll warrant, and if she's happy I don't care what happens.’

Lynch again took off his hat as Isabel wished him good evening.

‘Is that the man who wants to be married that I heard Mr. Lang speak of?’ asked Miss Terry as they drove on.

‘Yes. He doesn't seem much like a man to break one's heart for, does he? What the girl can see in his grim, convict-like appearance I can't think; but she is in love with him. She is a strange being; there is something wildish about her altogether. I used to be very fond of her, and she of me, till she took up this Lynch. I wish they could marry; but papa wont hear of it.’

Lynch remained standing by the slip rails, and as soon as the gig was out of sight, a slight figure timidly and cautiously crept out of the bushes near, and came up to him.

‘You saw her then?’

‘I did, Nell;’ and his whole manner and expression changed into softness as he looked on her.

‘I have watched her often and often as she passes out on foot or on horseback, but it is long since I spoke to her. Is there any hope?’ she added after a pause.

‘She will see what she can do.’ Lynch turned and leant on the fence as he spoke. ‘And now, Ellen,’ he continued, ‘if you do get into the


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house, or if they get you another place—take my advice and think no more of me. You'll see what I say is true. I can't marry—I can't get my ticket—no! I am sure, do all I can, something will happen. I try to keep out of his way, for his very voice stirs up my blood . . . . You know 'tis reckoned a disgrace to you to have anything to say to me.’

‘I don't care,’ sobbed the girl; ‘ever since my mother died you were my best friend; you, and then Miss Isabel. Folks call you a bad man, and dangerous; but don't I know better? you bear a heavy, lone heart. Wasp and I know it,—the creature! poor dog!’ she added, turning to pat a little rough terrier which had kept close to the man all the time.

‘And don't, Jack,—don't just say a word in answer to the master—but bite your lips and think of the ticket, and keep down your anger. And as to me,’ she added, raising her head and looking up at him affectionately, ‘as to me—I don't care—I'll bear everything. I've been used to hardship since that woman crossed our doorstone; and if you could only set yourself to take sharp words or blows—as I do. Why, this is what I do! I think,—never mind, they can't touch your heart within you; and that's where happiness lies. I thought it was gone when my mother died. Ah! that was the sorrowful day, and my father was so stern! I feared him always; and do you mind you came Lynch, and made me the beautiful nosegay, and sang the pleasant songs, and called me Golden Nelly, because of my yellow hair?—and I cried so bitterly that time when you got punished.’

‘Ay, ay, Nell, I remember; but you are running on, and you forget you shouldn't be here. 'Tisn't much I can do, but by heaven they'll drive me to mischief if they harm you! Now go home, my dear,’ he added, soothingly; ‘go home by the Bush. I must go to my hut this way.’

She put her hand on his arm and said, ‘And you saw Miss Isabel, and she said yes?’

‘Miss Isabel said she would try,’ said Lynch. She waved her hand, and was soon out of sight among the bushes. He whistled to his dog and walked towards the farm in another direction.

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