― 66 ―




There was a very pleasant room at Langville, called the ‘work-room’, or ‘morning-room’. It was well screened by dark venetian shutters. A fine specimen of the Lyre-bird's tail ornamented the cedar chimneypiece, and some of Kate's school flower and fruit paintings, in richly-gilt frames, relieved the white-washed walls. There was but little furniture, save some comfortable American rocking-chairs and a large table covered with work and work-baskets, at which Mrs. Lang and her daughter Kate sat busily employed.

A smaller table stood near the window, where Isabel was stationed, apparently drawing; though from the blackened scraps of paper which lay about, it seemed as if she was more intent on wasting her pencils.

‘It does not signify,’ said she, snapping the point she had so carefully cut, in her energy. ‘I do think it a shame, Kate!’

‘I cannot help it,’ exclaimed Kate, pettishly. ‘I wish they would leave me alone. I am sure I don't ask them to do so. It is all very well for you, Issy; you are not so tormented as I am!’

‘My dear,’ remarked Mrs. Lang, soothingly; ‘my dear, you are Miss Lang, you know, and of course you will receive a great deal of attention; and now you are both getting of an age that really it is very desirable to be careful as to whom you encourage. I always stand up for poor young Jolly; and I shall always say he is a worthy, nice young man. But my love, Issy, your sister certainly has every right to look higher for an establishment.’

‘O mamma!’ laughed Isabel; ‘I am not thinking of any ‘establishement.’

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I only contend that good old friends are not to be pouted at for the new brooms. As to matrimony, and that sort of thing, I think it is all fiddlesticks. (How lucky Miss Terry is not here!) Dear me, what a horrid pass we are come to, if we are not to speak, or laugh, or move, without reference to such a grave concern as matrimony, or an establishment!’

‘You are very childish, Isabel,’ said her mother. ‘What a sad disadvantage it was, to be sure, your father's being so over-indulgent, and keeping you at home! You never will learn Kate's manners.’

‘O, well! I am content to leave them all to Kate—so that I am not put into a strait-waistcoat, and obliged to look here and look there, and smile on one and pout on another. However, it is hard to have to do all the agreeable to the miserable neglected ones, while pretty Kate breaks their hearts.’

‘Ah!’ said Mrs. Lang, half laughing; ‘you may keep your own manners, Issy; for if you are not so handsome as your sister, still I think there is something which seems to make you a favourite.’

‘Certainly, no other house is so beset as ours!’ said Kate, affectedly.

‘Of course not, my dear love. Besides the attraction you are, ours is naturally the house to which everybody would desire an introduction; and I am sure I am always particularly happy to see friends. Issy, my dear, I hope you will put away your drawing and run your flounces. I am sure the dress will be nothing without them. Kate's looks lovely. You will look so plain by her side; and you know, my dear, your face and figure wont bear it. . . . . .’

‘As to that, mamma,’ interrupted Kate, ‘Issy is not so very plain, except her freckles.’

‘Certainly not! Who ever said so? Issy is a very fine young woman, to be sure!’ said Mrs. Lang.

‘A bouncing lassie am I,’ said Isabel, with a very bright smile. ‘But really, mother, you have some malicious intent. You will make Kate and me dreadfully vain if you go on so. As to the flounces—I really cannot undertake such a labour.’ Here she yawned as if very tired. ‘But let me have Ellen's help, and I will come out frilled to my waist. Do, my dear mammy!’

‘I have said, my dear, that I think it very imprudent to have in the girl. She is only half saved or very wicked; but however, do as you will, only don't let her annoy the other servants.’

Mrs. Lang here left the room, and presently Kate began to try on her skirt; and while looking before and behind, and taking a few steps to see the effect, she remarked, ‘I never saw any one like you, Issy, for getting your own way. If you set your heart on anything, you are sure to get it!’

  ― 68 ―

Isabel smiled, but said nothing.

‘What can it be to you about this poor girl? It is sure to end in mischief, and you will have a precious deal of trouble to guide her. Every one says she is crazed!’ Presently she added—'Are you finishing the drawing of the church, or what? O! Issy, by the bye, do you know I think a certain person finds Langville very attractive.’

‘A great many do, according to mamma's account,’ Isabel answered.

‘Ah, yes! but really and truly, I do believe that one among them is very attentive to you. Come now, don't pretend, for I am sure you know what I mean.’

‘Do you mean Dr. Marsh?’

‘Of course I don't.’

‘Perhaps Mr. Herbert, then?’ said Isabel.

‘No, not Mr. Herbert. Some one else, much better than Mr. Herbert.’

‘Who can it be?’ said Isabel, with mock gravity.

‘Mr. Farrant. He is always coming here.’

‘Yes, as a clergyman. It is very natural he should visit his parishioners,’ said Isabel, stooping to pick up her pencil.

‘Nonsense; he doesn't go to any other house as he does here.’

‘You forget this is Langville!’ said Isabel, laughing.

‘Ah, laugh away, Issy; but I am positive about it. You can't deny it. See how you are blushing.’

‘I don't know what I am to deny, Kate; and of course you could make any one colour up by making such absurd faces. Pray don't fall into the White's abominable fashion of always talking of beaux and so forth. I do so detest it.’

‘It is hard I mayn't have a joke, however,’ said Kate, tossing her head, and pouting. ‘Every one laughs at me! Besides, I am sure it is true. Mrs. Vesey said so.’ And then saying she must go and remind the laundress to iron a collar for her, Kate left the room.

Isabel soon put up her drawing things, and taking up a parasol, stepped out of window. She crossed the lawn, or rather what stood for a lawn, and skirting along by the garden, took the path which led to a paddock. Crossing this, she passed through some partially cleared bush, and came to a hut inhabited by Maclean, who had rented some land of Mr. Lang, and also worked for him. A stout hard-featured woman was employed in scouring a tub in front of the hut. On seeing Isabel, she stopped, pushed back her hair, and made what was intended for a curtsey.

‘Good day, Mrs. Maclean. Where is Ellen?’

The woman laughed.

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‘Ye needn't come to me for that information. She may be where she likes, and I'll never say another word to her,—a good-for-nothing young miss! It is hard, I consider, to get the ill-will and words I have just for trying to keep her up. She is the very plague of my life and her father's too!’

‘It would be well if she could be employed,’ said Isabel.

‘Well, and aint there plenty for her to do if she would! She is a bad girl, miss—a bad girl.’

‘I have a little needlework which I want done. My mother says Ellen may come to the house and do it if—if——’

‘Mrs. Lang had best give it to myself. Ellen can't nor wont work. I said to her father this morning, I would see to get her out in service in some farm where there's hard work. She needs a tight hand.’

‘I should like to try her once more,’ remarked Isabel. ‘She needs kindness, Mrs. Maclean.’

The woman's face darkened, as she muttered, ‘She needs a good stick: but, however, miss, if you wish to be trying her, all I can say is she'll not be found here. Our hut is the last place my lady fancies,’ and Mrs. Maclean, without further ceremony, turned away and occupied herself with making up the fire.

Isabel went on. A little way at the side a slip rail led to a bush paddock. She climbed the fence, and called ‘Ellen’ several times, but no answer came. Then Isabel turned further among the trees. A slight crackling noise in the bushes attracted her—she again called ‘Ellen,’ and a creeping, timid figure peeped round from a thick mass of wild currant plants, and seeing who it was presently curtsied.

‘Ellen, idling here!’ said Isabel, reproachfully.

‘I have nothing to do.’

‘Why not go home and work?’

‘Home—I've no home!’ Large tears stood in her eyes, as she added, quickly, ‘Look here, Miss Isabel—look at my arm and my neck—see those black marks—look at this cut,’ raising her yellow hair from her temple; ‘that's what I get at home!’

‘What is it all for, Ellen; is it that you really will not work and behave well? or——’

‘No! I wont work for her. I have worked—but no more. It is all because I wont give up——’

‘Give up what, Ellen—Lynch?’

‘Yes; but that is not all. They pretend to care for that, and dear me, miss, it isn't for my character they care; only you see Venn, he is in power now; and—’

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‘What has Venn to do with you?’

‘Nothing! and never shall! Lynch would kill him first.’

‘I don't understand you, Ellen.’

‘Why then, miss, Venn is always after me, and they—that is she—wants me to have him; and that's why I got these blows.’

‘And what is your objection; there is not much difference between him and Lynch, is there, as to character?’ Isabel was suddenly stopped by the girl's vehement exclamation—

‘My objection! I hate him;—his character! he is a reptile—a base, low, creeping reptile! Miss Isabel,’ added she, coming closer, and looking into her face earnestly, ‘did ever you know what it was to love—to love one who loves you, and is scorned by all besides? No, you never did! You are good and kind—yes, a kind young lady—but it isn't the fate of such as you. When you marry you will wear fine clothes, and go to church, and all will smile. You can't understand what I say—that I would die—I would kill myself—rather than have any one but Jack Lynch. I am the only living thing except Wasp, the creature, he cares for, or that can win a smile out of his heart. He'll never give me up—I'll never give him up; and he says if master—if your father, Miss Isabel, would give the leave, he'd be able to bring me to his hut for his wife, and then no power in law could keep me from him. Think of that! O, you'll get the leave for us, wont you? you'll beg it, wont you? and then I'll work, indeed I will!’

‘Ellen, I can do nothing for you in this matter; but Lynch asked if I would try and get you work in our house.’

‘Did he? O yes, he wished it, I remember. He said 'twould make me hold up my head again; he made me promise to behave well. And you will—you are going to take me, and I shan't be sent away up the country to her aunt, as she threatened? O, Miss Isabel, I will work for you, indeed I will.’

‘Very well, Ellen. Come to me in an hour; you know my room; come there. But you must be tidy, and you must obey orders; no going out, Ellen, remember.’

‘Well, just let me say the good-bye to him; just tell him what I'm going to do, and I'll obey you. Bless you, dear Miss Isabel!’

Isabel returned to the house, pondering over Ellen's strange character, and wondering why her father would not let them marry at once. Ellen gathered up some flowers which she had been arranging according to her fancy, and singing in a clear voice, she sauntered on through the bush, keeping in a line with the fence, though not directly by it; now looking at the birds, now crushing a gum leaf and smelling it, and

  ― 71 ―
sometimes stopping to kick at an ugly red ant, and talking to it as a child might, ‘Ah! wouldn't you like to have a bite at me? Ah, but you see I have on a shoe to-day, good luck to you. Ah! you ugly, ill-tempered looking thing!’ At last the sound of a bell roused her to greater speed. She bound her long hair round and round her head, and fixed the velvet band tighter on her forehead; then ran lightly till she came to that part of the bush which was close to the ‘farm’ and the men's huts.

The dinner bell still clanged shrilly through the place, and there was the sound of laughter and voices. The horse who had been turning the mill was set at liberty, while a boy pushed a load of coarse hay towards him for his refreshment. Stately, heavy oxen came from the fields, looking patient and sober, while the whips cracked over their heads, and the men hallooed and swore. The blacksmith stayed his bellows and laid aside his apron, while a few were already cutting up beef and damper.

Ellen replied not to their greetings, though a kind word and a nod was given by many; while others winked or sneered, and then laughed loud as she hurried by. But on she went to the last hut. A white terrier jumped upon her, and she hugged and stroked him.

‘Lynch, are you there?’

He was there—not eating or preparing his dinner, however; but sitting on a log, with a black shade of suppressed anger on his face.

‘What, Nell! here again! Well, if you wont take no advice, you must take your own way, I suppose. 'Twas a dark day you first saw me, Nell!’

‘And why are you not at dinner, Jack?’ said she, coming close to him. ‘And what ails you? Good God! Jack,’ added she, looking frightened, ‘what is it? You haven't had words again, have you?’

‘I'm sick of words—I'm sick of life! Whatever such a wretch as I was created for puzzles me. There's something wrong. One man is not made to be so put upon by another.’

She sat on the floor by him, looking at him—the dog beside her.

‘Look, Nell, at the meat Venn favoured me with for a week's rations! look at it—tainted, and half bone!—last week the same; but that I don't mind—it is his silly spite. Ah, Nelly! he'll have you yet.’

She shuddered, and drew her arm through his, but said nothing.

‘He had the impudence to speak light of you this very day. He knew I would not stand that, so I come off short commons, you see. He in the store!—he a head servant!—the veriest, lowest knave and pilfering, lying rogue in this country! But never mind . . . . And then, Nell, no more coming down of evenings, my girl. I'm to move—I'm to leave this here hut, and move up with Gentleman Bill.’

‘Why, Jack?—what can that be for?’

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‘Why,—Nell, do you ask? Just because they know I like this place, and I have set a peach-tree and a few cabbages here, and knocked up a shelf, and made it somehow my own—that's ‘why.’ But I'm proof—I am not a going to let out. The ticket, Nelly—the ticket!—just let me get the blessed ticket!’

He looked at her as he spoke, and the bitterness seemed to pass away. His eyes were dim as he drew his hand from his head, and passed it over hers, stroking her hair. But it was soon gone, that kindly dew-drop falling on a withered plant. It was shaken off, and the lips were again tightened, and the eyes hardened.

‘Lynch?’ and her voice trembled; ‘Lynch, I have good news—all owing to you, Jack. What do you think?—Miss Isabel is to have me to work for her.’

‘A good thing, too. Why, now, Nell, you will hold up your head again. And mind me,’ added he, ‘Nell, give me up; try to serve Miss Isabel, and you'll get on, mayhap; and don't be after thinking of me, Nell. Bad as I am, I don't wish you to be dragged to misery through me.’

‘Would you give me up, Jack?’

‘No, and that I wouldn't, save for your good. I have known you since you were a child, and I never knew you bad—never unkind—only put upon; and sorely used . . . . You've the softest, the kindliest eye was ever made, I believe. . . . . .’

‘And you have for me, Lynch,’ sobbed Ellen. ‘Never say that again. I will never give you up. You've been father and mother and friend to me. I'll work; and Miss Isabel will get the ticket, and then I'll come to you and live here with you, and then you'll never have the dark look.’

Her voice was drowned at last by sobs and tears—her head fell on his knee.

The rough, hard man would have blessed her, would have prayed for her, but he didn't know how. Evil passions were even then at work within him; yet, bad as he was, there was one soft spot, one point in his heart which could be touched. Harshness irritated and goaded him, but kindness and forbearance—even pity—had power.

Insulting words had passed from Venn a few hours before—words of scorn against Ellen—mixed with triumphant mockery—that if he chose he could marry the girl directly, in spite of Lynch. Lynch answered. Venn had power, and he used it. He could pick out the worst meat, the worst tea, and give short measure. He was, in truth, jealous of Lynch with regard to Ellen. Venn was, as Mr. Herbert had said, ‘a great villain;’ but his wickedness lay in cunning and swindling, and for self-interest he could smooth his brow and smile, and speak fair words to any one. He

  ― 73 ―
was clever. Though he had cheated his master over and over again, he had kept out of punishment; and partly through a wish to turn the cunning for instead of against himself, and partly because Venn was so very good an accountant, and had a respectful manner, Mr. Lang had promoted him. He did not trust him, but he made it worth his while to save his pocket, though sometimes it might be at the expense of the other men.

Venn knew how to hint at the triangle and forty lashes—a disgrace he had escaped—a disgrace which acted like bitter poison on Lynch, and turned even his better feelings to gall. Venn joked about it as he weighed out rations, and asked when the ticket was to come; and he followed Ellen, found out her favourite haunts, flattered her, and even threatened her. All this made dark work in Lynch's bosom. It seemed as if it was only Ellen's love which kept the bitter thoughts of revenge and despair from finding a vent. But the ticket!—a few months or weeks more, and it must be his—and he could marry, and work where he liked; and Ellen—she would be taken from an unhappy home—she would be cherished—ah! as much as if she were the first lady in the land. He was strong and able—what more could they need? food and firing, and all that was necessary for clothing would be theirs. What a tidy, convenient hut he would build for her, with flowers about it! no matter where—the more lone the better for them both: she would sing like a bird! People should see that a convict's wife could be happy and cared for!

These were his dreams by night and his thoughts by day, in his brighter moments. They beckoned him on, and sustained him. He bid her often leave him, and give him up, and implored her to go away home, and not ‘bring scandal and talk on herself.’ Yet if she failed to come, he would wander about the Bush, after work, to see what was become of her, and watch for hours outside her father's hut, and listen, to know if she were there.

It was a great relief to him to think of her having work at Langville; and with this one comfort he turned more easily from his own grievances.