― 103 ―




There was a long evening before them, and Mrs. Lang was quite tired, and said that her daughters must amuse the party. Kate agreed as far as playing chess with Mr. Fitz went, and Mrs. Vesey contrived to keep several of them round her, including Dr. Marsh and the boys, while she drew comic figures with astonishing rapidity. Miss Terry was almost entirely at the pianoforte, while Mr. Herbert, always fond of music, sat near her, his arms crossed and his pointed chin turned upwards, utterly unconscious how well Mrs. Vesey's pencil had represented him, and how much of the tittering and whispering which came from that table was occasioned by his own attitude. Isabel, meantime, passed from one party to another, encoring Miss Terry, and bringing out all the few books and curiosities in the house for Miss Herbert; while a pile of old newspapers was fetched for Mr. Vesey, who had expressed a wish to see the market prices of two years since.

The early hours and active habits of the family did not generally allow of any of those fascinating talks at ‘brushing hair’ time to which young ladies are said to be prone. To-night, however, proved an exception, and the two sisters, for once in a way remained to talk over the day.

‘It has been such a delightful day, hasn't it?’ said Kate.

‘I was thinking,’ said her sister, ‘I can't make up my mind quite. It is pleasant to see some new faces, but on the whole, I do believe I have had more trouble than pleasure.’

  ― 104 ―

‘I enjoyed it all, all but that very stupid speechifying. But Mrs. Vesey is enough to make everything pleasant. She turns all into fun.’

‘You and she are inseparable, and that brother of hers—do you really like him, Kate?’

‘Why, don't you?’

‘I know nothing about him. But, somehow, they are complete strangers after all, and I think we should be careful; we do not know them at all.’

‘Nonsense! What is there to know? They are of good family, and have some fortune, and are the most agreeable people we have in the whole district. Take it altogether there were really a respectable set of gentlemen,’ continued Kate, ‘Mr. Henley and Mr. Farrant, but Mr. Fitz is the best, out and out.’

‘Umph. You forget Mr. Herbert, and really, I think not one of them cuts him out, when he likes to be sociable. Kate! an idea has got into my head, and it wont go out again. Guess what it is.’

‘How can I—is it about me?’

‘No, but it savours of matrimony.’

‘I am sure I can't guess then.’

‘The very thing. Just exactly the right thing! Unique, charming; O, Kate!’

‘I am sure I can't guess, unless it is of yourself; who is there but you and me?’

‘No one else? What not in this very house? O, Kate! how can you so overlook Miss Terry? Come, now you can guess, I am sure.’

‘Miss Terry! a governess!’

‘Yes, a governess, but what a delicate, gentle, sensible little thing it is; what a meek, yet spirited wife she will make for—for—come, Kate, do you give up?’

‘Yes! I thought you hated matchmaking, Issy.’

‘Matchmaking! Why, girl, I make no matches, I only imagine what a wife there is ready made for Mr. Herbert. I am passive, quite, but I see and I wish. I didn't bring them together; I didn't give her that matchless voice, the very thing he most affects; I didn't tell her to sing his favourite songs better than all the others; I didn't give her eyes with that soft downward turn, or eyebrows so delicately arched, or her figure, that quiet, ladylike grace, which is his very exemplification of what should be—the realization of his ideal, in fact. I have heard him describe her exactly when he wishes to give one a model, and here, in this out-of-the-way place, she comes, just as he returns home; quite like a novel! Kate, it is already a fact arranged. Decide

  ― 105 ―
on your bridesmaid costume. I, for my part, mean to study the concoction of bridecake.’

‘You are absurd, Issy! You can't be sure. He may not like to marry a governess; though, I am sure I don't care whom he marries! And as to her, I wish her joy, for they say he has a temper of his own.’

‘To be sure! a fine, blazing, warm, kind, domineering temper, too! And she will be oil and sunshine. Hurrah! I say, Kate, we must be very careful not to betray our idea. That would spoil all, only it will be fun to watch the process of a real courtship, and slily help it on, you know.’

‘Our idea? It is quite all your own. Take care of yourself. I am sure you will go and tell Mr. Herbert, or allow him to read it in your face, as he often does. Besides, I suspect, Issy, there will be other things to divert your attention soon. Some people say a certain gentleman rather likes you.’

‘O, yes, a great many do. I should be sorry to think it was only one.’

‘Well, people talk about me,’ returned Kate, rather affectedly. ‘But really I think, Issy, you are the greater flirt or coquette now. I am sure I am quite content with one. . . .’

‘How moderate! I am not; I require a variety. That would be the worst of being engaged, and all that nonsense. It would spoil all the fun to be tied down to one. I couldn't stand it,’ said Isabel, laughing.

‘Well, I shall laugh when you are fairly caught. And caught you will be soon, or, to borrow papa's expression, my name is not Kate. But I am sleepy, so good night.’

‘Good night!’ Isabel returned.

Meanwhile another colloquy was going on in the ‘state-room,’ as it was called.

Mr. Vesey, in his dressing-gown, was looking out of the window.

‘What a aw—confounded noise these wild cattle are—aw—making. And by Jove if it isn't as black as ink out there, and looking like aw—rain. Pretty job to be aw—kept here to-morrow—eh!’

‘I shouldn't care; as we have no cook, it will be convenient. Besides, I want to ascertain for myself in what state these folks' affairs really are. That creature Budd insinuates that Kate's beauty will be her portion. Yet they said in Sydney that both the girls would have something handsome on their wedding-day, to say nothing of what the father may leave.’

‘Well, Arthur, is—aw—not losing time, any way. He is rather particular, I should say; don't you?’

  ― 106 ―

‘Nothing but mere flirtation. As to that, if we find Mr. Budd right, Arthur can easily back out of it. I shall send him off at once; though I believe Arthur is not one to forget the one thing, even for the sake of Kate's bright eyes. What a fool the girl makes of herself about him, swallowing all the nonsense he talks.’

‘Every man to his taste—aw—of course, but give me the other girl—aw—upon my soul, she's—aw a deuced nice little thing, aw—plenty of spirit you know—and—to my thinking, very handsome, too.’

‘She is my particular aversion,’ returned his wife, with asperity. ‘That girl presumes to—to—’

‘I thought she cut you up sharp, aw—my dear!’ laughed the husband.

‘Cut me up! Her cool way is unbearable. The only redeeming point in these people is their having a little money, and possessing the sense to see they are ages and ages behind civilization. The notion of presuming to set me right,—to set up, as she does, for a character; and to order about her elder sister, too! But she will learn who has most influence over Kate yet. I will pay back Miss Isabel Lang, sooner or later.’

‘Ay, ay! I didn't know it had reached—aw—to this point! Well, if there is war between you—it will—aw, be great fun, aw—for you are both great spirits, and clever, aw—and all that, you know. How has ‘Issy,’ as they call her, managed to—aw, offend you, my love?’

‘In every way. But I will show her I am her match yet. Do you hear, Mr. Vesey; don't go and make a fool of yourself, and flatter up that young lady, because I don't approve of her at all. As to Arthur, it will be a bore, now we have taken this place and all, if our information turns out incorrect. Kate without money is not of course to be thought of. If she had a few thousands, I should be glad to have Arthur settled down as a married man. It may steady him.’

‘Good luck to the poor girl who has that brother of yours, my dear. Upon my soul I pity her. I say, I affirm, Arthur Fitz may have—aw—a long head, and all that, but I say, I don't mind betting anything, he hasn't aw—a heart as big as a kitten's.’

‘Never mind hearts——Dear me, there comes the rain, I do believe!’ and Mrs. Vesey put out the light, and ceased talking.

Beneath her gay and girlish manner, this lady had a very calculating and shrewd mind. Mr. Vesey possessed a very tolerable fortune, but there had been troubles in the family, and there were several poor relations. It was partly to avoid them, and partly in hopes of realizing a large fortune very speedily, that they came to the colony. Her only brother accompanied them, having come to the end of the little he

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inherited, after a few years' gay living. He too was shrewd and selfish; he liked money, but was too fond of pleasure to work for it if it could be had without. For some time he had lived upon his brother-in-law, and while they were in Sydney Mrs. Vesey determined that he must marry some one with money. They met the Langs at some parties, and were struck with the evidence of wealth displayed, as well as by Kate's beauty, which was great. An acquaintance was directly brought about, and through Mr. Lang they heard of the Vine Lodge estate, which might be had a great bargain, he said. The Langs' fortune was exaggerated in Sydney, and it served to turn the scale, and decide the Veseys on going to Vine Lodge. Wealthy neighbours whom she might flatter, and turn to use as well as fun, just pleased Mrs. Vesey, and to secure so desirable a prize as Kate for her brother, she would have taken much trouble. Her husband, though very liberal, and entirely led by her, was beginning to be tired of supplying Arthur Fitz with funds, and in fact his marriage was an event much desired by his sister, for more reasons than she cared to say. Hitherto all had prospered. Mrs. Lang, completely charmed by the notice of so ‘fashionable’ a person as Mrs. Vesey, cultivated the acquaintance, and fulfilled all that lady's hopes and calculations with respect to being a ‘good neighbour,’ i.e., supplying Vine Lodge with fruit and vegetables, and lending this and that, while the place was yet rough and disordered.

Langville was entirely at their service while their own place was being furnished, and Langville horses and carriages at their disposal. There was but one hitch, which had a little startled Mrs. Vesey from the very first, and which gave her more uneasiness as she saw more of her. Isabel, though readily entering into the fun and the spirit of their new neighbours, had a keener observation than her mother and sister. She saw sometimes more than Mrs. Vesey intended, and did not scruple to show that she saw. In fact, Mrs. Vesey could neither completely win and fascinate, or awe Isabel. She felt she had found her match, and that her worldly schemes might be frustrated through the influence and good sense of Isabel. There was something also of truth in her husband's remark. Of Kate's beauty, Mrs. Vesey never dreamt of being jealous; it was so very different from her own style. But there was in Isabel enough of similarity to provoke the spirit of rivalry. Now Mrs. Vesey never could endure to divide her reign. She must be acknowledged the sole and undisputed queen of her own peculiar territory. She prided herself on her wit and her power of repartee, on her always speaking home truths; and while she was eminently fashionable, she professed to hold herself free from all

  ― 108 ―
restraint,—to wear, and to say, and to do, just what pleased herself.

All this dazzled Kate, and Mrs. Vesey's word was law to her in all matters of taste. But Isabel, looking on, had detected that Mrs. Vesey was in reality playing her sister and mother a trick, and, according to schoolboy phrase, was ‘chaffing’ them.

Mrs. Vesey also found that she did not entirely carry away the adoration of the district, as she had expected. Some persons preferred Isabel's merry ways and fun. So this, with several other small things, made Mrs. Vesey look on Isabel with increasing dislike and suspicion.