― 117 ―




For a few days Langville subsided into great quiet. The only visitor was Mr. Farrant, and, as many of his flock lived on the Langville estate, there seemed to be always a reason for his coming. Mrs. Lang pitied his bachelorhood, too, and always persuaded him to remain for some meal and a little society. This he never seemed disinclined to do. He was certainly sociable, and he managed to please and fit in with every one in the house. He assisted Miss Terry by correcting an exercise now and then, or recommending a book, or setting a sum. He brought new music and new drawings, as well as books for the young ladies, and for Mrs. Lang he had always some request, some tale fitted for her motherly compassion, of his scattered and wild parishioners. The accounts he sometimes gave of a solitary hut or ‘gunjo’note which he came upon unexpectedly in his rides, pitched in some deep secluded gully, where, perhaps, two men lived for a time, cutting bark or sawing planks of the red cedar used for furniture and building, would have made many a stirring tale. Often he was made to understand by innuendoes or broader hints that one of these hut mates had suddenly disappeared, and although a plausible story was told of his destination by the other, it was too plain that grave suspicions of foul play existed. But there was no evidence, no one to witness, no one to be interested in the missing man's fate, sufficiently to hunt up and ascertain the truth of the reports. He might certainly be gone away to a remote place, to ‘Five Islands’note or ‘New Zealand’ as his companion asserted, or he might even then be

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lying in the gully, under some gum-tree. Mrs. Lang warned Mr. Farrant not to ride too much alone among such people, and she had many anecdotes to relate in return, proving the wildness of life, and the consequences to which evil passions led, without the restraint of society and law.

Isabel enjoyed these quiet visits. Mr. Farrant's refined and gentle cast of mind was new to her. She liked to make him talk of England, of its customs, its buildings, and associations.

True, he never showed the power and force with which Mr. Herbert sometimes spoke; but he was far more equable, and his tastes took a wider field. There was no subject on which Mr. Farrant could not make a pleasant observation in a gentlemanly way, imbuing everything with a little of his own sentiment. Whereas, Mr. Herbert often refused to enter on a subject at all, saying abruptly that he knew ‘nothing about it.’ When in the mood, he would turn, and in a few words crush all the clergyman's plausible remarks, begging pardon afterwards, and confessing that Mr. Farrant's was a more popular and pleasing theory. He could make himself disagreeable, even Isabel owned; but when it pleased him to throw off this coat of mail, when he contrived to get her apart from others, and with Miss Terry or one other genial listener, then—who could talk as he did? The pity was, that rare indeed were the times!

Now it was convenient and pleasant to have some one not given to ‘moods,’ but provided with plenty of current small change ready to pass round to whoever wished for it. Little did it matter apparently to Mr. Farrant whether his companions really appreciated the poetry he quoted, or understood his favourite arguments; he persevered; and consequently impressed many people with the idea that he was a very ‘intellectual man,’ quite a ‘poet’ in fact! No sharp remark or far-fetched allusion made his hearers feel thoroughly ashamed of their ignorance; but he seemed to utter their own thoughts, so that each one was felt raised in his own esteem when with him, surprised at his own taste, astonished, and almost persuaded, that he was, after all, rather literary, and not so very ignorant! With Mr. Herbert, it need hardly be said, the effect was quite contrary.

Besides this, the true amiability of the clergyman, so ready with friendly sympathy, won all hearts; and Isabel was pleased to find that her father was often amused by him, and seemed to look forward to his visits. Mr. Farrant took interest in the erection of a ‘boiling-down shed,’ which Mr. Lang, following the prevailing fashion, hoped would succeed—One of those resources, suggested by the exigency of the times, as a means of turning their large herds of cattle into some profit; and

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while occupied with the work, and calculating the probable results, Mr. Lang forgot his panic, and fell back to very much his former life and spirits.

The Bridge question was for the present in abeyance, the Government authorities having taken it up; so that Isabel guessed that her father's ire had subsided, and that if Mr. Herbert would overlook the past, he might soon find his old welcome. But this he did not seem inclined to try. On the first Sunday following their dispute Mr. Lang had angrily refused to allow any of the household to go to church. It was vain to tell him that this desertion of worship would not affect Mr. Herbert. Mr. Lang swore he wouldn't put himself in the way of meeting him; besides, though he declared that he was not angry, and was very glad to see the minister there as often as he liked to come, he wished to show Mr. Farrant that his taking the Herbert side of the question did not please him. The abstaining from ‘supporting’ him by going to church was one means, he thought, of showing this feeling.

When another Sunday came the girls looked at each other, as Mr. Lang muttered something to the effect that the carriage and horses could not be used.

‘Surely, papa, you are not going to keep us all away again to-day,’ said Isabel. ‘It shows how much Mr. Farrant understood your hint, too, for he expressed sorrow at our being kept at home by the weather!’

‘O! we must go to-day, Mr. Lang,’ put in his wife.

‘Go, if you will. But my carriage and horses don't stir, I can tell ye. I am not going to be taxed with driving nine miles and back every week, not I! I will have my own church in my own place, I say, and I'll let them see I will, too!’

It ended in the young people's riding. Mrs. Lang, Miss Terry, and the children had the service at home.

While Isabel waited after church for her brother to lengthen her stirrup, Mr. Herbert left Mrs. Vesey, to whom he had been speaking, causing Isabel to doubt if he meant to notice her or Kate at all, and approached her. Now, he had a trick of smothering what would have been a sunny smile, but the very effort to restrain it curled his lips, and it was still a smile ready to break through the clouds and be very brilliant. Isabel, regarding him keenly, knew this expression; she took courage, and offered her hand.

‘Do you know I thought you were not going to speak to any one of us,’ said she.

Then he laughed, but the light had vanished—the laugh expressed annoyance rather than pleasure.

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‘So, then, you are angry—you wont shake hands?’ she said, rather uneasy, but striving not to show it.

‘Yes, I will,’ taking her offered hand, first in one and then in both his. ‘I can't afford to be sulky just now, if I were inclined—I must pocket my pride. Isabel! I must soon go back to the station. I have serious thoughts of shutting up shop here, and taking my sister there. How do you think it would suit her?’

Isabel here pulled away her hand, and without assistance mounted her horse, and as she did so, said—

‘Not at all. You may go—perhaps we shall all be more peaceable without you. Mr. Budd will never resist our party without yourself to support him. Leave your sister, and go to your flocks! Leave the roads and bridges to your betters. I don't believe really that you understand anything about it, or care. What can it signify to you, personally?’

‘Nothing. It will make no difference to me as an individual. If anything, your father's plan might accommodate me more. But the other is clearly, indisputably, the right side for the public. You don't think me wrong in this?’

Isabel's steed pricked up his ears as Willie and Jem led their rough ponies out. She curbed him for a moment, and said quickly, in her winning way, as her friend Mrs. Jolly called it,

‘If I don't think you wrong, I wont say that you are right.’

Then she touched the horse's neck with her whip, and went on a few steps in a fidgety canter, which bid fair soon to be a fast gallop. But Mr. Herbert was soon at her side, and caught hold of the pommel.

‘Don't be in such a hurry—I want to speak to you; I never get a sight of you now. Seriously, I do think of going to the station. I see not how we are to exist at all, if we don't.’

‘What! are you turned croaker? You are the last man to give in to the dismal cry which the very parrots seem of late to have learnt. For my part, I believe it will do us all a great deal of good,—these bad times; we have all been speculating and extravagant. Depend on it, Mr. Herbert, it is only one of your English clouds; when it clears off, it will show us the real brightness of our skies.’

‘Ha! very pretty—all very well. I am glad, however, that you take it so, and keep up your spirits.’

‘O, I always do that. I can't grow miserable just because wool is down, and bullocks wont sell.’

‘If neither wool nor bullocks sell, what is to become of us all—you and Kate included?’

‘Never mind! we shall do very well.’

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‘Hem!—Well, it is not fair to infect you with my gloominess.’

‘No; but I will willingly give you some of my cheerfulness. . . . . I wonder,’ she added, quickly changing her tone, and shaking her head, while the colour mounted to her forehead, ‘I wonder how you can stand such ridiculous, rattling nonsense as mine. Times are seriously bad, but——’

The boys now looked back, and called their sister.

‘Isabel!’ said Mr. Herbert, ‘one word on another subject; Lynch has asked me to beg for him. Why does not your father let him marry? I really believe it would secure him a good servant in the fellow, and save that poor girl.’

Isabel shook her head. ‘It is no use; it cannot be. She must go out to service; papa can't afford to keep her on the farm, and the more people interfere, the worse for Lynch. Now, good-bye; will you come to-morrow?’

‘No.’ Mr. Herbert removed his hand from the saddle, and drew up his head. ‘No,’ he repeated.

‘Yes, do.’

He half smiled.

‘Mr. Farrant is coming; join him!’

‘No,’ in his most decided manner. ‘It is impossible!’

‘Good-bye, then. A pleasant journey to the station,’ and she kissed her hand, and cantered on.

Isabel had delayed giving Ellen Maclean notice to go, from a dislike to tell her so, and from some undefined hope, that better conduct and more steady industry on the girl's part, might render her stay possible. A vain hope. She only grew odder and wilder. Mrs. Lang was extremely angry, and insisted on her being sent home. Isabel felt herself that, under present circumstances, it would be desirable for both, if Ellen were sent out of Lynch's way. It kept him in constant hot water, if he thought her ill-used, or if he suspected that Venn had any chance of success with her. It would be very desirable if the girl could go into service somewhere. But the only place Isabel heard of, where a girl was wanted to nurse a baby, was not such as made it desirable for Ellen to be in. However, she must leave Langville; and Isabel on this Sunday evening, gave up joining the family walk, in order to have a quiet and uninterrupted talk with her. The girl cried bitterly when told that she must go, and after letting Isabel talk some time without any answer, she said, ‘Very well, she would go home now. But she wasn't going to stay there.’

‘Why, Ellen? Why not try and please your stepmother, and work for her?’

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‘Miss Isabel! wont you please ask the master for the ticket, only the ticket—the blessed ticket, and all would be straight? Don't you see, Jack and me, we're fond one of another, and if life is hard, we could bear up together. What harm would it do to any one, for him to marry me?’

‘It can't be, Ellen. You must wait till Lynch has fairly earned his ticket. His conduct is not such that his master will go out of the way to recommend him, and he does not choose to have any more married couples here.’

‘He allows Venn to marry if he likes,’ the girl said.

‘Yes; if you will marry him, you may.’

‘I'll die sooner! It's all a plot, I know. Every one turns against Jack, I know; most of all, that villain. Let them take care, though. Even the wild dogs will turn and bite in the death-throe. A time would come——’

Then suddenly throwing herself on the floor by Isabel, and catching hold of her dress, the girl looked imploringly into her face.

‘Oh, Miss Isabel, get me a place anywhere, and I'll work, indeed I will; only let us have the ticket afterwards. Well——’ she added, after looking earnestly at Isabel. ‘Well, I'll go home, I'll do anything; I'll go home this very night.’ And she rose and turned away, but returning, held up her hand.

‘Mind what I said! don't be after driving a man desperate. Keep Jack out of punishment, and I don't care what comes of me. Poor girl! poor Nell, the world is hard, but you'll be happy yet, you will.’ And so saying, she persisted in going at once, and no argument or persuasion from Isabella could restrain her. There was a curious vein of something like insanity, or lack of sense, which ran through the girl's mind; and when the fit came upon her, reasoning was vain. All that Isabel could do, was to set one of the servants to watch at a distance, and it was a kind of bare comfort, to hear that she had been traced to her father's hut. Isabel hoped she might keep her promise and work, but even that might not ensure kind treatment from her violent stepmother, who had an antipathy to the girl. This woman did not bear a good character.

Curious stories were whispered about as to her former life. She had been a prisoner, and lived as servant with the canny Scotchman, Maclean, who in his first wife's lifetime was overseer at Langville, and what was called a respectable and well-to-do man. But when the mistress died, leaving this little child Ellen, about whom she had always been anxious, discerning something not quite right in her mind, everything went wrong. Ellen's grief was excessive, and seemed to increase the disorder. The father sank into despondency, and his affairs went

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badly, till he was induced by evil counsel to marry his servant. From that hour, misery and dissension took possession of his hut. Maclean was a changed man. He and his master had quarrelled, and he no longer acted as overseer, but took some land on a clearing lease, and removed his goods to the settlement where he erected a hut. It was to this home the girl went on leaving Langville.