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  ― 109 ―

12. CHAPTER XII.

A RAINY FOREGROUND AND RUIN IN PERSPECTIVE.

note

‘It is quite impossible for any one to go out to-day,’ said Mr. Lang, in true hospitable fashion, regarding the rain as a Godsend.

They were waiting breakfast for Mrs. Vesey.

‘I don't believe I'll get my letters,’ he continued, with that utter confusion of ‘shall’ and ‘will’ which is a great characteristic of ‘Currency’ talk,note ‘unless I ride for them myself. The boy will never stand this rain.’

It might truly be said that it ‘poured.’ Streams of water ran over the road; and the low land was like one large pond or lake. The rain was so hard that even the covered way, leading from the house to the kitchen, did not protect the servants from getting wet as they passed, the wind drifting in at the open sides.

The covers of the various dishes were wet when placed on the table. A regular Australian breakfast it was! Langville was famous for good cheer. Beefsteaks, bacon, kidneys, cold meat, plenty of fresh eggs, peach jam, marmalade of various kinds, honey and fruit, with West Indian yams, potatoes, and a large dish of boiled rice and curry brought up the rear.

Mr. Herbert was teaching the boys to tie some particular knot, and there was a grand consultation as to what was to be the order for the day. Mr. Lang insisted on every one, ‘every soul,’ remaining at Langville. But Mr. Herbert demurred. He had business.

‘Of course ye have. I could have taken my oath ye had business!


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Steam mill, eh?’ said Mr. Lang, in that way, half-joke half-earnest, he used often to Mr. Herbert.

Then Mr. Farrant ventured to say that two idle days running would not do for him. He must go home.

Mr. Vesey, while observing the dishes, and settling which he would try first, laughed at the notion of minding a wetting. He had heard of being ‘snowed’ up, but never of being ‘rained’ up, since the time of Noah, ha! ha! ha! . . . .

‘Haven't ye? Well, keep your eyes open, and I'll lay a wager ye'll know the meaning of being rained up. Soon, too!’ said Mr. Lang.

‘You'll have to be quick, sir,’ put in Willie, ‘or you'll have to swim Petty's Creek.’

Miss Herbert at last consented to remain, as well as Mrs. Vesey, till the roads should be in a better state. Mr. Herbert promised to return for her, as soon as it was possible.

‘Three days' quarantine, at least, Miss Herbert,’ said Isabel. ‘I watched the moon set last night, and I knew how it would be. And pray why must you go?’ she added, turning round suddenly on Mr. Herbert. ‘Is your presence at home so positively indispensable?’

‘Of course, Issy! Why you forget the mill, the steam mill!’ said Mr. Lang, laughing.

‘I should like to stay,’ Mr. Herbert said, speaking low, so as only to be heard by Isabel.

‘Then do! You owe me some politeness, you know. Stay, and I'll be so much obliged. Miss Terry! wont you second me?’

That lady looked up, but evidently had not heard what it was she was required to do, and Mrs. Vesey rallied her on being absent and ‘dreamy.’

‘Don't you think Mr. Herbert ought to stay here to-day?’ asked Isabel.

‘Certainly, certainly,’ answered Miss Terry; colouring a very little, but not showing any further awkwardness.

‘If Miss Terry thinks so, I really think I must. No, I forgot! I can't stay this morning. But I will make a point of returning this evening,’ Mr. Herbert said, looking pleased.

Here Mrs. Lang called Isabel aside. Then she was occupied with putting up some books belonging to Mr. Farrant.

‘Are you ready, Mr. Herbert?’ said the clergyman, coming in. ‘I must ask to keep with you, not knowing the ford which Willie makes out so formidable.’

The two gentlemen bowed, and were soon trotting off, as fast as the slippery road would allow.

There was some little difficulty in finding ‘in-door’ amusement for


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so large a party at Langville. Neither of the ladies had brought work, but Mrs. Vesey proposed their going to the store, to learn to make custards. Miss Herbert begged for writing materials, saying she had a letter to get ready for the post. While Mrs. Lang was preparing to teach her friends the mystery of a good custard, Mrs. Vesey's untiring pencil was busy. She was drawing caricatures.note First there was her brother and his dog, an ugly terrier, with the proverb, ‘Love me, love my dog.’ He laughingly protested against his having such a hooked nose, but his sister declared it was exactly like, and appealed to Kate for her opinion. Kate said it was ‘horrid,’ at which the gentleman confessed he felt consoled; but Mrs. Vesey rather drove poor Kate into a corner by pretending to be hurt at her drawing being so condemned and criticised. Then came a rough but very clever sketch of their party at the pic-nic. Mr. Budd was admirable; Isabel said she could hear his ‘twanging’ voice, talking of his zeal for public good, and coming down with fifty pounds, winking all the time. ‘How can you do them so well? so very like?’ she asked Mrs. Vesey.

‘Try. You will find it very easy with practice. Try on fat Mr. Jolly.’

Isabel did try, and as she had a natural turn for the sort of thing, and a free, true touch, it was no bad attempt.

‘Capital!’ said Mr. Fitz. ‘Why you are a genius, Miss Isabel.’

‘Famous!’ exclaimed Mrs. Vesey. ‘Now, try Mr. Herbert! Oh, pray do!’ added she, as Isabel shook her head, and pushed away the paper.

‘It is hardly fair,’ said Isabel. ‘If they were present—perhaps—but to laugh at the absent——’

‘Who on earth would dare to laugh at Mr. Herbert, to his face?’ said Kate, in an alarmed voice.

‘Come, try! Positively I want your idea of Mr. Herbert's physiognomy, Miss Isabel Lang. It is a study.’

Miss Herbert, who was sitting at another table, and was deaf, had not heard all that was said, but the name of Herbert struck her. She looked up, and catching Mrs. Vesey's eye, that lady quickly gave her Isabel's profile of Mr. Jolly. ‘A portrait by Miss Isabel Lang. Good, isn't it, Miss Herbert?’

‘Indeed I am no judge. It doesn't strike me as being like. I cannot approve of caricatures,’ she added, rising and going out of the room.

‘Now, then, we have offended the respectable spinster!’ said Mrs. Vesey. ‘She has retreated in anger—true tragedy style! I will have my revenge too, in a full-length portrait—toss of the chin and all! By the way, she is like her brother, the grand signior. Are they supposed to be much attached, and all that sort of thing? I conclude neither party will ever marry. Is there any fraternal bond or promise of perpetual union?’




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‘Oh, no! Why Miss Herbert would give a good deal to be married,’ said Kate.

‘My dear creature! What! Do you mean it? Hasn't she turned the awkward corner yet? Bless me! I thought she had passed that formidable turn in life. I considered her quite as one of the extremely respectable, delightful, charming sisterhood of single ladies.’

‘So she has. So she is,’ said Isabel. ‘I am sure there is nothing whatever to justify Kate's idle remark.’

‘Well, Issy, all I can say is,’ Kate answered, peevishly, ‘if she doesn't think of it, some one else does. Miss Herbert is not averse to the attentions of—— But what are you laughing at?’ she suddenly said, blushing.

‘Only at your shrewd sagacity and your charming simplicity, my dear girl! So I find all my little romances about primitive life in the Bush melt away, on near inspection. These two excellent beings are not bound together as brother and sister, as I conceived. They are just like other mortals, and would marry—if they could. Perhaps that is what makes him so ‘crusty’ at times. I might say ‘low,’ but I prefer plain English, and have a leaning to culinary similes. He is ‘crusty’ sometimes, and puts a ‘damper’ on one's gaiety. But I find no fault. He is an original. I adore originality. He is too proud to be bonâ fide a settler and make money, too high in his notions to do without money, and too conscious of his powers to consent to being a mere nobody in England.’

‘That is it, exactly. How clever you are, dear Mrs. Vesey!’ said Kate, looking admiringly and lovingly at her new friend.

The discussion was stopped by a summons from Mrs. Lang for all the ladies who wished to help in the custards. Mr. Fitz insisted that he should be very useful in beating up eggs, and made them laugh by tying on one of the little girls' pinafores and tucking up his sleeves. All went to the store but Isabel. She put on her bonnet and paced up and down the verandah, on that side of the house where the rain did not beat in.

The coolness of the air was acceptable, and with every big drop that fell, there were pleasing associations of good crops and of green verdure, instead of dry, sere grass, or the soil gaping in ugly cracks for the moisture it so often lacked.

She stood leaning against a pillar at the further end of the verandah for a moment, looking at the strange scene before her. The lowlands were a sheet of water, out of which thin, spare trees with attenuated foliage raised themselves; their fantastic ribbons of hanging bark now wet and dank. Streams coursed down the road which led to the house; streams of water which, if they had been wisely saved in tanks, would


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have been a provision in time of need in that land where so often ‘no water is.’ Cattle and sheep and horses gathered together beneath such miserable shelter as the narrow and scanty foliage of the bush afforded. Yet was it a cheering prospect for them. Two days' sunshine would raise, as if by magic, many a banquet of juicy grass, particularly wherever a black gin had chanced to kindle a fire. These emerald spots, few and rare, are indeed the jewels of the bush.

But some one was to be seen riding through the wet, braving the falling torrents, and guiding the slipping horse over the now hidden ruts and stumps. He came nearer, into the entrance road. The only gate of which Langville could boast, was heard to bang heavily through the pattering of the rain as it fell on the pavement round the verandah. For one moment the horseman was lost to Isabel's view—as he descended the dip—then again he appeared. ‘It must be Mr. Herbert,’ thought she. ‘I am glad he is come. No—why it is my father; where can he have been—for the letters perhaps. He must have expected an important one, to go on such a day!’ It was Mr. Lang, and in five minutes more he rode up to the house; ‘hallooed’ for the man to take his horse, and swore at him for not being quick enough. Then muttering beneath his slouched and dripping hat something about ‘Rascals and vagabonds and cursed times,’ he came on to the verandah—stopped short at seeing Isabel, and asked what she did there; whether she wanted to grow like the green barley?

‘I was tired of the house; but where have you been, sir? how wet you are. Why did you go out to-day?’

‘Go out! why, because I expected a letter. The rascal has written; I have it; precious document! Grinding a poor man to dust, ruin, starvation, beggary. No more pic-nics or government balls, which your mother is mad about. Issy, I am a ruined man! We are beggars. You must turn to and work, my girl! I pay 800l. a year in mortgages already, and now I applied to Barr, and the good-for-nothing, usurious rascal has the impudence to offer me 300l. for a bill of three months for 700l.!note I asked him if he really had the conscience to do so, and he writes word—'Conscience and I have taken leave of each other for some time. This is my offer. Take it or not, as you like’.’

‘But why go to him, sir—why not sell stock?’

‘Sell! just show me how! show me who will buy. Sixpence a head for my best merinos, I suppose. Yes, ‘sell!’ Easy to say ‘sell!’ I must either answer this demand for 300l. or become insolvent. I know not where to raise it! The colony is ruined. They've taken away our convict labour;note that was the beginning. However, Westbrooke, thank goodness, is


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settled on your mother—it may be a retreat for us yet.’

‘I did not know how seriously bad your affairs were,’ said Isabel.

‘Not worse than my neighbours, that's one comfort. Budd is hard up, they say; and Herbert even says he shall have to let Warratah and go to his station. The sooner the better. 'Pon my soul that fellow is abominable! But for him and his confounded ‘public good’ items, I could get that bridge at once. It would raise my land directly; but he's as obstinate as a mule. Why, I even put it to him in a way most men are open to. I convinced him it would be best for his pocket hereafter. I even went so far as to offer him a consideration, if he would withdraw his opposition, and, if you believe me——’

‘O papa! Did you do that! How could you?’ exclaimed his daughter, really distressed.

‘What harm? But, as I was going to say, he drew up like an emperor and declined, and, by Jove, looked so haughty and so confounded sulky, that I out with it, and gave him a little bit of my mind. I told him a few things, and if he shows himself here again very soon—why, he is a bolder man than I thought.’

Isabel was silent for some time. At last she said—

‘O, papa! you have made me downright wretched.’

‘How so?’ he returned quickly, looking at her.

‘I hope you don't mean that——’

‘I meant such a good scheme! It was all so very comfortable and pat, and now you have gone and destroyed it all! Yet you profess to like Miss Terry, too.’

‘Miss Terry? Is the girl gone mad? How have I injured her, for goodness sake?’

‘Don't you see, daddy, that she, being a very taking little woman, has managed to please even that difficult to be pleased man, Mr. Herbert? Fact—I assure you. They are made for each other. And I had set my heart on it; and now you see you have driven him away, and destroyed the hope.’

‘By Jupiter! how these women do go on! As if I could possibly have suspected such a plot. Besides, she's too good for him—much too good. Let it alone, Issy, and don't interfere with his concerns.’

‘But Miss Terry. She is a governess, and it would be such a good thing for her to have a home of her own, and then we should have her near us. Confess, now, it is not such a bad idea.’

‘I am sure—if she wishes it. I should be very sorry to injure her. Well, well—I have given him a flea in the ear, 'tis true; but I leave you women to make it up. If he likes her, it isn't my words that will keep him away.’




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‘And, now, what can be done, papa, about our affairs. How can we retrench?’

‘Don't know. I did say to your mother we must not indulge in a governess now, but she was ‘up’ about it in a minute, and I confess I should be loth to part with the little woman, especially if you are right in your conjectures.’

‘Yes; we must not send her away, whatever we do, papa, yet awhile. Who, then, can go?’

‘Well, we must cut down the list of people about the place. Such a number of rations really hampers one now-a-days. That girl—that do-nothing lass—why should she be on us? She might go for one, and two or three of the men I shall send off. Your mother is always in rows with that girl, too, Issy, and if you take my advice you will let her go home.’

‘Such a home as it is, though!’

‘She could do well enough if she would. There is Venn wanting to marry her. And if she wont have him, let her go home and keep steady, and she could hear of a place in time. I assure you her being here leads to mischief. It sets all the men up, for somehow she is a great favourite, and it makes jealousy with the other servants.’

‘Well, then, she shall go. She will not keep rules, I know, and is always running out, which mamma is angry about. Poor girl, I fear she will get into some mischief before long.’

When Isabel and her father joined the others, they found that Dr. Marsh had come in Mr. Herbert's gig to fetch Miss Herbert—much to her surprise, as her brother had promised to come. Isabel looked at her father, and he smiled.

‘He's sulky with me—that's it, ma'am. He and I had some argument; and I'll lay a wager, when you return, he'll call me a few pretty names.’

Miss Herbert tried to get up a laugh, and said something about disputes and arguments, and then said she would go at once to prepare for her drive. Isabel followed, and helped her to gather her things together.

‘Didn't your brother send any message to say why he didn't come himself?’ she asked, uneasily.

‘No, none. Perhaps he is engaged; and Dr. Marsh is very kind always.’

‘Yes—very. Do you think your brother,—Mr. Herbert, is really much interested in the bridge question?’

‘Yes—very much,’ Miss Herbert said, drily.

‘How tiresome it is. You don't think that he is angry, I hope? Papa is unguarded, you see, but at bottom he means kindly.’

‘I dare say. But my brother, being a military man, has been accus


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tomed to great respect and regard for the sensitiveness of a gentleman's feelings—a thing little understood here.’

‘I hope politeness is understood,’ Isabel answered, bridling up a little. ‘But, however,’ she added, with heightened colour, ‘please Miss Herbert try and persuade your brother not to be angry, to forgive us, and not to desert us!’

‘Your father and he will judge about that,’ Miss Herbert answered, with cold reserve. She did not like Isabel's evident wish to bring her brother there. ‘Besides, my brother has plenty to do,’ she added, ‘and these are not times to allow of pleasure-taking and idling. He has been too fond of throwing away his time. I can't conscientiously urge him to visit here so often.’ 'We don't wish to hinder his work, of course,’ said Isabel, trying to be cold and calm too; ‘and, after all, he must take his own way; only I don't like misunderstandings.’

‘You seem very earnest in the matter! Shall I take any message from you to my brother, telling him of the flattering interest you have in his concerns, and the regret you show at any fear of his staying away rather more than he has done?’

This was said in an ironical tone, which Isabel resented.

‘Thank you! I wont trouble you with any message, since as far as regards myself it is a matter of no consequence at all. Luckily we have now such an agreeable addition to our neighbourhood, what with the Vine Lodge people and the Parsonage, that we can spare——’

‘Old friends!’ put in Miss Herbert, shortly, as she turned to leave the room, all equipped for her drive.

‘Those who are too busy to come,’ Isabel quietly added, and here their talk ended.

The Doctor was ready, and very soon after watching this pair drive down the road, Mrs. Vesey was summoned by her husband to depart. They left under protest, and with a promise to come again very soon.

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