― 74 ―




Mrs. Lang was in her store-room on the morning when the party was expected, dispensing flour and sugar, butter and eggs, and other necessaries, and giving directions to her servant. She told Isabel to make haste and come to her; and ‘Kate, you go to the drawing-room to receive the Veseys, and tell Miss Terry to have the children dressed and the school-room tidy.’

Isabel was now actively employed in making pastry, and Kate having exchanged her riding-dress for a white gown, took out her worsted work and awaited the arrival of the Veseys.

Presently Mr. Lang came into the store.

‘Well, then, what now? I tell you, my dear, if you have custards, get Miss Terry to make 'em; she's more successful than you are, a great deal.’

‘You had better get Miss Terry to be housekeeper then, Mr. Lang, or your wife, perhaps; for really you seem to prefer her to everybody!’

‘She's a good little soul, anyhow, Mrs. Lang, so don't be jealous, my dear; but she wont ride, and how are we to get her to Sugarloaf to-morrow?’

‘Why, if she wont ride (such nonsense and folly!) she can stay at home; indeed, I think she is wanted to mind the little ones.’

‘She shall do no such thing, if I drive her myself, Mrs. Lang! She shall go. Why, who is to sing, I should like to know, if she don't go?’

‘O, very well, Mr. Lang, certainly,’ said his wife, bridling up. ‘You

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may drive her instead of me; no doubt you prefer it; I will stay at home.’

‘Nonsense,’ muttered Mr. Lang, looking angry.

‘There is no sort of occasion for any one to stay at home,’ said Isabel; ‘we have asked the Herberts to bring their spring-cart; Miss Terry can go in that, and either Mr. Herbert can drive, or I'll drive her myself, and you and mamma can go in the old gig with quiet Peggy, who will pull you out of all the bogs.’

‘That'll do, Issy; you've a head for managing these things, I see,’ said her father. ‘So, then, the Herberts are coming—well, well—provide plenty of prog,note d'ye hear? and put up some of the cherry brandy, and we'll make hay while the sun shines, for how long we shall be above water I don't know. Ruin! ruin! Such times!’ and muttering these last words he left the room.

‘What can he mean?’ said his wife. ‘Dear! how he delights to terrify me! we are not going to ruin, I hope. Has there been any news of the bank to-day, Issy, my dear?’

Issy did not know; but she had heard the overseer say that only ten out of fifty fat bullocks had been sold, and unless they were sent to be boiled down, they might stay and eat away all the grass for many a long month.

Mrs. Lang shook her head and said—

‘To be sure, the times are dreadful! but the bank—the bank is the worst of all! Nobody knows whether everything belonging to them may not be seized. I have been persuading your father to take the boys from school and get a tutor for them; one can be had for 30l. or 40l. a year, or less than that, and it would save a good deal; and, after all, what's the use of so much Latin and Greek? If they learn to keep accounts and write a good hand, they will be better off than poring over dead languages that no one speaks or understands except disagreeable people, like Mr. Herbert.’

‘And Mr. Farrant,’ Isabel remarked.

‘Yes, my dear, Mr. Farrant; but he'd be all the better, to my thinking, if he was less peculiar; Latin and Greek have given him odd notions; he'll never be a man to do well for himself; he can't live upon poetry or Latin, though really I believe he expects us to live on precious little, he talks so much about giving money for this and that, as if four walls wasn't every way as good for worship as useless pillars and all that carving of ugly faces about them. Aye, aye, depend upon it, Issy, my dear, Latin don't make a good farmer nor a good husband, my dear.’

Isabel did not answer; she was intent on ornamenting the rim of a tart, and her mother soon left her.

The Veseys had arrived. The gentlemen went to look at the horses,

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and Mrs. Vesey remained in the drawing-room with Kate.

Mrs. Vesey had come with her husband to New South Wales to make a fortune, laugh at everything, to be admired, as a lady of fashion, and do as she liked.

Clever caricatures were drawn of scenes at Langville, and humorous verses were scribbled cutting up every one, of course. Selections of these had been shown to Miss Lang, who thought them very charming and clever. Kate had already remodelled her dresses and collars after Mrs. Vesey's fashion, and had begun a chair-cover like the one at Vine Lodge.

Mrs. Vesey paid great attention to Kate, admired her eyes and hair, and whispered in confidence what she thought of the people in the district.

And now, tired with the heat, Mrs. Vesey threw herself on the sofa, saying—

‘There now, Miss Lang, my dear creature, sit in front of me, and I shall see you; it is really a treat in this part of the world to see a pretty face! I beg pardon, but really this is not a becoming climate. I must try and recover myself before your worthy mother comes. Pray say nothing of my being here; let us enjoy each other for an hour; where is your sister? O! making pastry; well, a very creditable, respectable occupation; and does Mrs. Lang cook the dinner? O! I beg pardon, but I thought it was a colonial fashion, and very primitive; our great grandmothers must have been dear creatures with their keys and receipt-books. I mean to be quite Mrs. Notablenote myself; I assure you I have serious thoughts of milking the cows! O, it is killingly hot, but this is a palace of a room—only pardon me, a fright of a carpet—Sydney, I suppose—I must tell your father where to send for one in London.’

‘Does your head ache?’ asked Kate, seeing her hold her temples.

‘O, my dear, I am subject to dreadful headaches. I am quite a martyr to them! Perhaps you will be so delightfully goodnatured as to fan me a little, for the flies are very annoying.’

Kate was but too happy to be so employed; she took a screen, and whilst fanning her friend, they talked of to-morrow's excursion.

‘The Herberts, you say. Well, I am glad of that; the old spinster is such fun, and he, too, with his long chin; and who else is to be here?’

‘The Budds and the Jollys. . .’

‘Ah! the Jollys, and Mr. Tom, of course. Don't blush; though, by the bye, it is remarkably becoming. I did hear, how I wont say—perhaps my cockatoo told me, for he is very chatty—I did hear it whispered that this young Mr. Jolly blushed, not like you, Kate, but as red as a peony when

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a certain young lady's name was mentioned; but I hate a man who blushes. He is all very well, I dare say—a capital stock-man, but . . . .’

The gentlemen coming in put a stop to the conversation. Mr. Fitz insisted on relieving Miss Lang—he would fan both ladies. ‘By the bye, Miss Lang, who is that uncommonly pretty girl on your farm?’ he said.

‘I don't know who you mean, unless you call Ellen pretty. I never knew she was a beauty,’ said Kate.

‘The girl I mean has hair like gold and eyes like—I hardly know what they are like. She is small, and neat, without a cap, we saw her down at those huts by the mill.’

‘It must be Ellen. She is the daughter of one of our men. Her father is very angry with her because she wants to marry a convict.’

‘O here is Mrs. Lang!’ said Mrs. Vesey, jumping up and nearly upsetting a small table which stood near. ‘So very glad to see you, my dear Mrs. Lang. Hope you haven't hurried away from your household business, I am sure. I am afraid you have been getting all sorts of nice things for us. Now, I don't care a straw what I eat!’

To all this Mrs. Lang replied by a stiff and constrained curtsey, and trying at the same time to fall into Mrs. Vesey's ‘easy way.’ She was soon followed by Isabel, in her white dress, and her hair smoothly braided, smiling, yet receiving her visitors with a certain air of dignity which silenced Mrs. Vesey for a moment.

Presently, however, she whispered to Kate, ‘My dear Miss Lang, do prevail on your sister to try milk of roses,note or something, to get rid of those dreadful freckles. She is so awfully burnt and disfigured.’

Kate blushed as she said, ‘Issy did not mind; she always ran out in the sun without a bonnet.’

Dinner was announced, and Mrs. Vesey praised the mutton, and Mr. Lang talked of his numerous flocks and herds, and what wages shepherds ought to get. Then Mrs. Vesey fell in love with a pumpkin pudding, which she declared she must take a lesson how to make from the cook, if Mrs. Lang would allow her. Mrs. Lang coloured and fidgeted, and said she should be most happy to show Mrs. Vesey anything; but Isabel laughed, and said she doubted if the cook knew much about it.

‘Issy always makes the puddings,’ said Mr. Lang. ‘Issy and Miss Terry are capital hands at that sort of thing. Miss Terry's custards, Mrs. Vesey, are the very best——’

‘Pray, Mr. Lang, don't talk about custards; I dare say Mrs. Vesey is not very much interested in custards,’ said Mrs. Lang.

But Mr Lang had got upon his favourite theme, and one which

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irritated his better-half, to his great amusement; and Mrs. Vesey protested that custard was the very thing she liked best in the world. Delicious custards! Would Miss Terry be so very obliging as to make some, and let her see the process?

Mr. Fitz, too, said be should certainly come and be initiated in the art of custard-making; it would be capital fun to beat eggs.

‘Don't you think, Miss Lang (turning to Kate), it is a beautiful sight to see the froth rising and rising? Besides, I have always understood there is quite an art in doing it—a stiff elbow, isn't it?’

Kate laughed at his eagerness, and more still when he took up a fork and began to imitate the action. But Mrs. Lang was uneasy, and had a sort of suspicion that they were laughing at her; so she hurried over the dessert, proposing a turn in the verandah.

‘Did you ever see a burning off?’ said Isabel to Mrs. Vesey.

‘O, dear, no!—never—I should like it of all things!’

‘We can easily go, then; for about a quarter of a mile away they are burning off a large paddock.’

The gentlemen heard the proposition, and seconded the resolution, though Mrs. Lang could not think why Issy had proposed such a thing; ‘as if it was not pleasanter to walk round the cultivation!’

‘What is that?’ said Mrs. Vesey.

‘O, don't you know that we Bush folks are prouder of a bit of cultivation—cultivated, cleared land—than of all the forest and wild country in the world,’ said Isabel.

‘It is not an unnatural feeling,’ said Mr. Farrant. ‘What has cost us trouble generally possesses an interest in our eyes.’

‘And yet I think I never could cut down a fine tree without a pang,’ said Miss Terry.

‘O, yes, you would, in the wholesale way in which the Bush is cleared, Miss Terry; it is not like the magnificent single trees you talk of in England. Come to-night, and see if you wont lend your aid with hearty good-will to burn the fallen wood,’ said Isabel. ‘But do, Kate, let us wait for the Herberts; Mr. Herbert is such a famous hand at making a bonfire, and when it is darker it looks so much better.’

‘No, Issy, don't wait for them. I'm sure we are more at ease without Mr Herbert,’ said Kate.

‘Why, surely you are not afraid of the grand signor Herbert, are you?’ said Mrs. Vesey. ‘He is the greatest fun possible. It excites one's wits when he is present; for you either get such a dark frown or such a smile.’

‘Or such a contemptuous look,’ interrupted Kate.

‘To be sure, that is just it. There is nothing common about him; he is

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just the man to bring to your feet, my dear.’

‘Not very easily, I should think,’ said Kate.

‘Come; you shall see how I make him talk. You are not half up to fun, Kate; but do come here, and pick me that rose for my brooch, and I've something to whisper to you, fairest of the fair.’ So saying she sprang off the verandah, which was raised by a green bank, and Kate followed her to a part of the house which had a creeping rose trained on it.

Mr. Farrant said he was going to visit a sick person on the farm, but would join them at the fire. The other gentlemen were still in the dining-room. Mrs. Lang and Isabel sat in the verandah, while Miss Terry went to see her pupils—the two youngest girls of the family.