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18. CHAPTER XVIII.

MYSTERIOUS NEIGHBOURS.

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When Mr. Lang found from his half-offended wife that the Herberts were to be at Vine Lodge, he swore he wouldn't go. He had plenty to do and to look after at home.

‘How long is this feud to go on, papa?’ Isabel asked.

‘For ever, as far as I care! I bear no ill-will, not a bit of it! But that confounded Herbert's stiffness and pride shall come down. If he chooses to come here, or make an apology, or show any desire to make it up, well and good. I'll give him my hand and say, Come, my boy, that's something like it. But I'll eat my head if I go one step out of my way to meet him.’

Mrs. Lang also found that her presence at home was indispensable, and no persuasion, even from Kate, would move her.

‘Is Miss Terry going?’ asked Isabel.

‘Indeed I think not, my love. Miss Terry ought to superintend the little girls' studies.’

‘Studies be hanged! The little woman shall go, if she likes. Kate, bid her get ready. She shall go in the gig with you. Willy will drive, and Jem and Issy can ride,’ said the father.

But Kate returned with Miss Terry's thanks, but she could not leave home to-day.

‘Eh! what! But she shall! D'ye hear, Kate? Say she must go!’ said Mr. Lang, from behind his newspaper.

‘It is no use, papa, she wont do what she settles not to do, for any


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one,’ Kate said, rather languidly. ‘Besides, did Mrs. Vesey ask her? Are you quite sure? It is not every one who expects the governess, and all that!’

‘Confound it! Then stay at home every one of ye. If—if a gentlewoman—a lady—whom I choose——’

‘Hush, daddy!’ Isabel here put in; ‘don't excite yourself. Miss Terry really cannot go, she says.’

‘You are sure she doesn't wish it, Issy?’

‘Quite sure,’ Isabel said, rather sorrowfully. ‘It is very provoking of her, as I particularly wanted her to come.’

‘Then, Mrs. Lang, my dear, she shall remain with us. Her wishes shall be obeyed in my house. I shall be delighted with her company. Let's have a good dinner, Mrs. L.’

Mrs. Lang left the room, saying that it was sickening to make such a fuss about governesses, and that she believed the world was turning head over heels.

Isabel asked her brother Jem to ride with her round by the Jollys. It would not make much difference, and she wanted to see Mrs. Jolly and carry some seeds.

Kate and Willie were to go in the gig.

Mrs. Jolly was looking at her bees. She was delighted to see Isabel. Amelia and Tom were going to Vine Lodge, and they could all ride on together. She and her husband were not going. ‘We are too old, my dear; we like to stay at home best. Very nice people, very gay, and so on; but we are old-fashioned and simple, and we don't quite understand them.’

When the neat garden was admired, and a pretty bouquet gathered, Mrs. Jolly insisted on Isabel's coming in to rest while Amelia dressed. She divided the flowers, binding their stalks up in ribbon. ‘Now, these are for Kate, my dear, with my love. Poor dear Kate! Ah, Issy! what is good for one is bad for another, in this life. No doubt you are all rejoicing, and enjoying this new society; and indeed, I hope it is all as good as it seems, and that dear Kate will be very, very happy. But you must excuse me, my dear, if I, as a mother, don't seem quite so cheerful about it as I should, being an old friend and neighbour. But when I see my poor child's face—poor Tom! Of course, Issy dear, we know that Kate has a right to look high, but——’

Tears dimmed the mother's bright eyes, and Isabel's colour flushed up as she exclaimed, ‘I wish she may find that looking high, as you call it, will be as good as—as—Tom! How Kate can prefer that dandy, that cold, quizzing——’




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‘Hush, my dear! Of course, I think a great deal of Tom, for I know his heart and his temper. But I believe that other young man is very clever and very good-looking; and after all, it is a matter of fancy; and Kate is not to blame—not at all. Don't let her fancy I or any one, even Tom, ever blames her. I believe he would do a great deal to make her happy, and now he is of course very unhappy. His father and I mean to send him away to visit some relations in Van Dieman's land, for a change. Ah! we can't help these troubles. To say the truth, we old folks would have preferred yourself, Issy. You always were a great favourite of husband's and mine—but Tom always adored your sister, never had a thought for any one else, and I really believe never will. I don't offend you by saying this, do I, dear?’

‘No; you never could offend me.’

‘Well, my dear, and I hope papa and mamma like Kate's prospects?’

Isabel did not answer directly; she smiled merrily to herself. Presently she said, ‘Do you know, I wish from my heart I was Queen Elizabeth, or as despotic!’

‘Bless me, my dear! what makes you wish such a thing! Why, she cut off every one's head, and threw people into prison, didn't she?’

‘I should like to be able to give my orders very much, just now. I should like to say to this one ‘do this,’ and another ‘do that;’ and I am very sure it would be for the good and happiness of all parties if some one could set all straight.’

‘My dear! How can you suppose you know what is best? In these matters, every one is the best judge for him or herself, and one can't be controlled.’

‘No; but there is so much absurd ceremony and reserve, that people don't understand each other or themselves. I should like to say, under penalty of death, You Tom Jolly take Kate Lang for your wedded wife. And then, You Mr. Herbert take Miss Terry.’

‘You don't say so!’ interrupted Mrs. Jolly, almost starting up with surprise. ‘Well! well! I am astonished! that is a thing I never dreamt of.’

‘Pray don't repeat it, dear Mrs. Jolly, not even to Amelia or to Mr. Jolly. It is quite my own idea and secret.’

‘It can never be—never! My dear, just consider,’ Mrs. Jolly said, gravely.

‘But I have considered; I am always considering it; and I am sure it is a most delightful and a most probable thing, and it is quite sure to be, some time or other!’

‘You don't say so! And does your mamma know it? Dear me, how


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very differently we and almost every one have judged, to be sure! Well, well!’

‘Dear Mrs. Jolly, do tell me, why need there be always so much fuss and mystery and misunderstanding in these affairs? Is it needful? Why couldn't Tom, for instance, say long ago—Kate, do you like me well enough to marry me? And then, at all events, he would have known his fate before he got so deep into it. But so much manouvring and sighing and talking and stuff seems to me so absurd. Kate says, when a man proposes he is sure to go down on his knees! Conceive the horrors of it; I should burst out laughing! Did Mr. Jolly do so to you?’

‘No, indeed, my dear,’ returned Mrs. Jolly, laughing. ‘He was a plain man, much as he is now. It was in church. He was going away to sea the next day. We had known and liked each other a long time. He opened his prayer-book at the words in the marriage service, and laying it on my knee, pointed out—'Wilt thou have this man,’ &c.? I looked up in his face, and seeing there what he meant, I just put my finger on the answer, ‘I will.’ And that was all! When he returned from that voyage we married. That was our courting!’

‘That suits me exactly; plain and straightforward. After all, what is the use of a man going down on his knees to entreat a person just to obey him? for that is the real meaning of all the nonsense—'Will you be my wife?’ There's sense in that. One can look out the meaning of the word ‘wife’ somewhere,—in the man's eyes and mouth—I should—and there see if it is written ‘slave,’ or ‘plaything,’ or ‘helpmeet,’ and answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ accordingly. A plain answer to a plain question. Ah, you may laugh, but I mean it. And here comes Amelia, and I see Tom and Jem with the horses. So, good-bye. Good-bye!’

‘It is really atrocious!’ exclaimed Mrs. Vesey, after examining her guests through her glass. ‘I had ordered so much meat and pudding, and expected such a host, at least double the number; and here the Langs can't come, the Budds can't come, Captain Smith, Dr. Marsh, Miss Herbert—I am not quite sure even of the Signor himself! Well, come in, come in; I am in a very cross mood; but come in, pray, and we can twirl our thumbs, at all events. Mr. Tom Jolly, the success of this party rests on you. Here are you, verily our only beau, except Arthur, who will be back for dinner. Very sorry, but he was called away on business this morning. So, you see, you are our forlorn-hope, our pièce de resistance—in fact, our all!’

Tom grew redder and redder under this stream of words. He was


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meditating in his mind whether he might venture to shake hands with Kate, or if he was only to bow.

‘Ah! here is the hero. Here is Mr. Herbert!’ called out Mrs. Vesey, and in a moment she had run out to receive him in the verandah. She led him in, and then waving her hand towards the couch on which Kate and Isabel were, she said, ‘It is not my fault that Mr. and Mrs. Lang are not here. The fact is, I am a peaceable Christian, and it irks me to have quarrelling among friends and neighbours. Our little district ought to be a perfect dove-cot. Now, let me beg of you, Mr. Herbert, to lay down your arms and your arguments; let me have the supreme pleasure of seeing peace established! Your hand, Mr. Herbert; Kate, my love, Miss Isabel Lang, I know you will both support me.’

Kate looked extremely uncertain in what way to take all this; but as it was Mrs. Vesey, it must be right. She half put her hand out, and then with a deep blush drew it back again when she found that Mr. Herbert was making a very low bow. In another moment, he had turned to Tom Jolly, and after a few words with him, they went out of the room together. They met Mr. Vesey just outside, and all went off to the stock-yard, the usual point of interest to the gentlemen. Isabel had turned away and buried her face in a book during Mrs. Vesey's annoying speech. She was very angry indeed. She was sure it had completely undone all the good her note was intended to work. If Mr. Herbert thought that all this was a plan concocted between them, and arranged before his arrival, nothing would make him more angry. To be so turned into ridicule, and to find them so led away by Mrs. Vesey's jokes after his warnings, would hurt him exceedingly.

She sat long ruminating over this, but apparently reading. At last dinner was announced, and she found herself led out by Mr. Fitz, who was full of regret at the tiresome business which had delayed him; but as he contrived to place himself adroitly next to Kate, who had been taken out first by Mr. Vesey, Isabel was soon at liberty to look about and see what other people were doing. She saw Mr. Herbert, all the gravity and annoyance gone, doing his best to be very agreeable to Amelia Jolly; while poor Tom listened to the lively Mrs. Vesey, and stole wistful glances towards Kate. A vacant place was left for Mr. Farrant, but he did not come till long after they had risen from the table. Amelia drew her arm very affectionately through her friend Isabel's, and led her away to a pleasant and secluded seat in a shady corner of the verandah. Here they chatted as young girls do.

‘And do you like Mr. Fitz very much, dear Isabel?’

‘Don't ask me, if you please, Amelia.’




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‘I beg your pardon; I meant nothing, I am sure. By the way, I suppose you are very glad that poor Ellen Maclean has got a place, aint you?’

‘ 'Tisn't very much of a one,’ Isabel said.

‘O, I hoped it was! You see, I heard you say how much you wished she was in some steady family, and I told mamma, and she said she would try her as a kitchen-maid. So I rode with Tom to the settlement to see about it, and found she had left her father's. O, what a dreadful woman that Mrs. Maclean is!’

‘Yes—well?’

‘Well, she said, very gruffly, that the girl was gone to Allen's place, and directed us there. But we could not go till the next day; and then Mrs. Allen said that ‘Nelly’ was engaged to be servant to some gentleman far up the country, and was to start this very day, I think she said, with some drays.’

‘Are you sure? It is very odd I never heard of this.’

‘I am quite sure; and I was sorry too, for I had taken an interest in the poor girl's fate and sad story; and I think mamma would have been kind to her.’

‘To be sure! The very thing of all others! Gone up the country? Where, and to whom? I must inquire, Amelia; for somehow I dread what will come to poor Nelly. She has not the sense to guide herself, and is so pretty that every one notices her. It is very odd,’ Isabel continued, musingly. 'Ah, there is Mr. Farrant! I am glad he is come at last,’ said Amelia. ‘Isn't it very nice to have a clergyman, and such a one—so good, and so kind, and so agreeable?’

‘Well done, Amelia! String on a few more epithets. Go on— dignified, manly, clever!’

‘No, no; I leave that for Mr. Herbert,’ said Amelia, with a little more spirit than she usually showed. ‘I don't give him up for any one, after all. Then, I believe I always prefer familiar faces and old friends.’

‘Don't you like a variety? Confess that it is pleasanter to have these additions to our circle.’

‘I don't know—perhaps so; yet I was very well content before. I think we were quite as happy without them, only perhaps I ought not to say so. Then I believe I am stupid, for I confess I don't quite understand all the cleverness, wit, or whatever you call it, that Mrs. Vesey and her brother have. It is true,’ she added, after a pause, ‘that our society was small; but, as papa and mamma always said, Mr. and Miss Herbert were hosts in themselves. Papa says, much as he has been about the world, he scarcely ever saw a man he liked more. I


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don't think these new people half appreciate him, either.’

‘Agreed. But, Amelia, I did not know you were such a staunch admirer of his. It is a pity he doesn't know it.’

‘Not for worlds! Goodness! O, Isabel!’

Both girls gave a start, and looked for a moment rather silly, as they heard a voice they recognised but too surely, very near, say, ‘What are you two gossiping about?’ and then, from behind the sheltering cedar, Mr. Herbert, newspaper in hand, appeared.

‘If you heard yourself well abused, it served you just right, you base deceiver! Do you know, it is very dishonourable to listen?’ said Isabel, rallying herself, though covered with blushes. But poor Amelia could not recover so soon. In frightened amazement, she shrank behind her bolder friend as far as she could, and tried to remember what she had said.

‘O, were you talking of me?’ Mr. Herbert said, coolly, trying to hide a little look of consciousness meanwhile.

‘As if you didn't hear! and you are chuckling over it at this moment, forgetting that Amelia's praise—and of course you observed that I did not second her at all—is worth this,’ flipping her fingers. ‘Why, she praises every one, and, over and above all, Mr. Farrant. She is no judge, so you need not be vain.’

‘She judges people by her own heart,’ Mr. Herbert said, and at the same time trying to bring forward a garden stool.

‘Now don't come here, please. After all that praise, you will be unbearable. I see by your face how it is. We don't want him, do we, Amelia?’

‘I want you, however,’ he said, seating himself by her side. ‘Now, how d'ye do? We may as well shake hands, since it is—how long? since we met.’ He took her hand as it lay on her lap.

‘Ah, you didn't choose to do that just now!’

‘No; not to gratify a vulgar joke,’ he said.

‘You were very angry, I saw,’ she went on, all the more boldly, because in reality she was ill at ease, and wondering if he had received her note.

‘Not with you. I admired your presence of mind and dignity, and thought it a pity poor Kate couldn't do the like.’

‘There now,’ she said, pulling away her hand from his grasp. ‘You can't be civil without a little bit of rudeness too!’

‘I was not rude to you, at all events.’

‘As if it wasn't the same thing! You always think because your high and mighty benevolence chooses to pick me out, you may say what


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you like of my people! Now, I wont have it.’

‘Well—come—I beg your pardon for that little slip. Practise what you preach, Isabel. I came here on purpose to see you. Mahomet will go to the mountain, as you desire.’

‘Will he?’ she said, trying to turn away from his inspection, and feeling very shy, and inclined to run away.

Mr. Vesey here came up to beg them all to join the others; they were to walk and see a certain view, he said. He offered his arm to Amelia, leaving Mr. Herbert and Isabel to follow.

‘Stay a moment, Isabel,’ Mr. Herbert said as she rose. He even pulled her gently back to her seat. ‘It was like you to write that note.’

‘Yes,’ she returned, quickly; ‘I dare say you abused me well for a meddling, forward girl, unfeminine and all that.’

‘I shall keep it always,’ he returned, quietly and gravely. ‘It is now some five or six years since you and I first made acquaintance, and vowed friendship at first sight. You were a child then; and I was foolishly dreaming, and forgetting that a time must come—’ he stopped, and cleared his voice, then went on: ‘I assure you, Isabel, I do not desire to have any arguments with your father. But I must have my own opinions, my principles, and act up to them too. You tell me to come to Langville, and I shall do so, solely because you bid me, and to see you.’

‘Yes, yes; I know all about it! Come and see me; and no one else, I suppose?’

He was looking at her, not understanding her tone, still less the lurking fun in her face, when Mr. Farrant came up to them.

It was the first time he had greeted Isabel; she blushed a good deal, and more still when she saw Mr. Herbert draw back with cold gravity. ‘I am desired to fetch you both,’ Mr. Farrant said. They all walked on in silence, till Mr. Farrant began some ordinary remarks, which Isabel answered.

The party were standing about the stock-yard and talking of the horses. Tom Jolly was praising his little mare ‘Jenny Jones’ to Mr. Fitz, and for the moment warmed in his subject, had completely thrown off his usual bashful manner. ‘She's out and out the best stock horse in the country, sir! Why, she seems to know the very beast I want to cut out. How she'll fly after them! You see, the bullocks will generally make for falling ground—down they go such precipices! that many a horse can't follow. Bless you, ‘Jenny Jones’ will follow any herd in the colony. And then to see her when a devil of a beast shies round;—she wheels in a minute, though at full gallop, two and


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three times over; 'tis no such easy matter to sit such a sudden turn—then crack goes the whip, and the beast is cut out as clean as butter. She's the sweetest stock mare, sir, in the district. I wouldn't sell her for any price!’

Every one had now some anecdote to tell of some wonderful chase after wild cattle, or some wonderful horse. Mr. Farrant remarked to Isabel that it was a natural feeling, that strong attachment which grew up between a man and his horse. As they proceeded on their walk, he kept by Isabel's side. They somehow got round from horses to Miss Terry, and it came out in the course of conversation that Mr. Farrant knew her brother-in-law, and could satisfy Isabel's curiosity in many ways about him, and the conduct which led to Miss Terry's going out as a governess. He stopped himself short at last, apologizing for boring her. ‘No,’ she said, eagerly; ‘it was a subject full of interest for her. She did so pity Miss Terry's having to teach,’ and so on. Then she added, with a significant smile, ‘that she hoped, after all, the evil would be turned to good. It might end in something not so very bad, after all!’ On which Mr. Farrant gave a look of keen inquiry at her. They had loitered on the road, and now found themselves left behind and alone. Isabel was the first to observe this, and she felt rather conscious and uneasy. They walked on in silence for a little while, each apparently busy with some thought. ‘I fancy,’ the gentleman began, in a low and hesitating voice, ‘I fancy that you have some suspicion of—of what I intended to keep a secret for some little time.’ She said nothing, not knowing what to say, but feeling very hot and uncomfortable, and angry with herself for not keeping with the others. He presently went on again, but hesitating and nervously. ‘I am peculiarly circumstanced. I can't explain—yet—may I ask?—may I trust? Is it too much to——?’

‘Don't! not now, please!’ she interrupted, earnestly; but hardly knowing what she said: ‘we are so far behind!’

‘We can soon overtake them,’ he said gently. Then as if seeing her distress, he changed his tone. ‘I beg your pardon! I fear I have bored you! It was a wrong time. I leave myself in your hands; some day—some time—soon—I hope I shall be able to explain and speak plainly.’

‘O, there they are!’ she said, with a long breath of intense relief. Then she checked her hurrying steps, feeling it was not fair or kind towards him! She had stolen a glance, and her quick eye had detected symptoms of agitation or disappointment. She did not wish exactly to hurt him; only if he would but wait till she knew her own mind better—and only would use few words, and not make speeches, how


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thankful she would be!

‘Yes, here they are,’ he echoed, rather sadly, she thought. ‘Thank you for your kind—but no! your own generous warm heart needs no formal words of thanks: it will best plead for me, I know.’ He offered his hand as he spoke, and she yielded hers to its gentle but warm pressure.

‘Come here, Issy,’ called Willie; ‘here's the bell bird.’

They stood on the edge of a deep, dark gully, descending some hundred feet with but little slope. At the bottom was a narrow and shallow stream, which in some parts formed a chain of small ponds in hollow basins of rock. Gigantic lilies, with their rich coronals, reared their stately heads amid the feathery foliage which abounded, and the sweet monotonous note of the water-loving bell bird alone broke the deep silence.

‘A frightful place to come upon without warning, when chasing bullocks!’ remarked Mr. Fitz.

‘It is the same gully in which the waterfall empties itself some fifteen miles north,’ said Mr. Herbert. ‘We came upon it four years ago, quite suddenly, when hunting the kangaroo. No one seemed to know the existence of the fall, and it is a very considerable one too.’

‘A lonely place to set up one's tent, isn't it?’ said Mrs. Vesey. ‘But if we go on a few steps we shall come upon a human habitation. Parishioners of yours, Mr. Farrant, which I dare say you know nothing about. Charles and I were walking here last week and found it out. Rather rough neighbours I suspect they are.’

‘Yes. I see no good, aw—Laura, of putting one's self into aw—that sort of—of trap—at all. By Jove! the old lady is aw—something awful—Miss Lang; I assure you she is.’

Some of the party wished to turn back, among whom was Mr. Herbert. For, he said, ‘Many of these gunyos were the resort of bushrangers, or sly grog-shops. Unless on business, or an errand of duty, he never cared going too near them.’

But some thought it an exciting adventure, and said it would be cowardly to return. It was proposed for Mr. Farrant to be spokesman, and to introduce himself as their clergyman. ‘What do you say?’ he asked Isabel; and she, conscious and shy, hardly knowing what she did, turned round to Mr. Herbert and asked him to come. He looked pleased, and was about to draw her hand on his arm, when Mr. Farrant looked back. ‘Miss Isabel Lang comes with me, I believe?’ They were all forming into pairs, it seemed, that each lady might have a protector. Mr. Herbert immediately withdrew, motioning for her to go to Mr.


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Farrant, and remarking, with an indifferent, dry voice, ‘I shall stay here. If there is any danger, cooee-ee, and I'll come.’

So saying, he caught hold of a branch and swung himself down for a few feet on the giddy precipice, to a little level platform, from whence he had a beautiful view, range after range, of the deeply blue mountains, and where he could trace the source of the stream, here and there tolerably deep and full, and then again broken by rocks so as to form pools.

The rest of the party, headed by Mrs. Vesey, Willie, and Jem, followed the track, which presently led them away from the edge of the gully into dense scrub, where the native currant bushes and five corner plants abounded. Soon a few blackened stumps were seen, telling of man's work, but already the quick-growing creepers had fastened their tendrils and gay blossoms over them, half hiding their ruins.

Then the place became clearer; several large trees had been cut down, a stack of bark was piled up, and a rude attempt at a shed, in which lay a broken cart, and a tethered bullock standing near, bespoke the neighbourhood of human beings.

In another moment, as they turned a sharp corner, they met with a welcome more lively than pleasant. About half-a-dozen dogs of all kinds, but chiefly a mongrel breed, half dingo and half cur, filled the lone place with their snaps and growls, and the gentlemen had enough to do to keep them from their heels and the ladies' skirts.

A hut, or rather a gunyo, was seen, its high-pitched gable, formed of two very large sheets of bark, placed together like a card house, and a rough attempt at a chimney at the side, of loose stones unmortared. Standing by its side, a magnificent red cedar rose lofty and proud, affording strength, and shade, and shelter. Such as the dwelling was, there were evident signs that it had been inhabited for at least a season. A large pumpkin ran along the ground, and catching a broken post, which seemed to have served as a tethering post, it climbed from thence to the cedar, and from that again threw out its clinging arms to the back roof, on which lay three or four very large pumpkins. There was also a few feet of ground which had been cleared and drilled, and where a dozen or so of Indian corn-stalks raised their green leaves and hung their tasselled blossoms. Some ugly Cochin fowls, tailless, and with abundant legs, pecked about, while a tame cockatoo reared his crest, and joined his shrill cry to the yelping dogs.

‘I wonder if any one is here!’ Mrs. Vesey said.

As she spoke, a woman with her hands shading her eyes appeared


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from behind the hut. She had on a man's cabbage-tree hat, on the top of a mass of rough and disordered red hair. She wore a short bedgown and stuff petticoat, and in her mouth was stuck a short black pipe, from which came the fumes of inferior tobacco.

‘Good day!’ said Mrs. Vesey. ‘What a charming place you have here!’ While the boys beckoned to Mr. Farrant to come forward, and whispered sagely that there was a man ‘behind there; they had caught sight of him peeping at them.’

‘Down, ye noisy devils!’ called out the woman, at the same time throwing some pieces of wood at the dogs, which proceeding procured a cessation of noise. But at the same time a much more formidable guardian appeared and took up his place by the woman;—a fierce bull-terrier, with flaming but half-closed eyes, and a wide, open mouth, displaying a row of formidable teeth, over which the lips never closed. A low growl rather alarmed Mrs. Vesey, who quickly retreated, saying—

‘Pray, my good woman, keep in that dreadful, beautiful, awful, charming creature! I adore dogs, but I should be afraid of that pet of yours. How do you do, Mrs.——. You see, in taking a walk, we have come on your house. It is a curious place.’

‘Get in, ye varmin,’ the woman said, kicking the formidable brute till he skulked behind her, though still keeping up the low, ominous growl.

‘Pray, ma'am,’ said Mrs. Vesey, suddenly hitting on what she thought a very happy idea, ‘have you any fowls for sale?’

‘Depends on what I'd get for 'em. Don't care to sell; but, seeing we're short of tea, wouldn't care to swop with 'ee. A quarter chest—and, I don't care, ye may take the lot of 'em.’

‘A thousand thanks! But it will be needful for me to put it on paper, and do a sum, before I can agree to such a liberal offer.’

‘Please yerself—'taint none of my seeking;’ and the woman turned as if to go.

Just then a shrill, wild scream rose, as it seemed, from the hut. It was a signal for all the dogs to begin again; but the effect of that cry was apparent on every one of the party—most of all, Isabel was startled.

‘Good gracious! what is it? I know that voice!’

There was a sound of scuffling; a dull, heavy noise, and then a gruff voice uttered a whole volley of oaths, and a man, whose hairy face wore a most sinister expression, put his head out of the door.

‘Send they quality folks away, ye Judy, or I'll have Bluebeard at their throats! Go on your ways, or it will be the worse for ye.’




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‘My good woman,’ here Mr. Farrant interposed, ‘I am the clergyman of this district. I have ridden about in many a corner, but I did not know of your hut. Can I be of any use? I am ready to be a friend to all my flock. What may be your name?’

The woman scowled, and then after an intent survey of the speaker, her face relaxed into a sort of grin, which as soon gave way to an unhappy expression, mingled with distrust, fear and defiance.

‘My name is Judy Brown, ginnote that's any good to 'ee. As for a clargyman, us don't want none of that trade. We are Catholics, my man and me. We don't ask no one to help us; and I warn ye, if ye come on that kind o' errand, ye'd best turn home again. 'Tis no place for ye at all, at all!’ She lowered her voice to one of warning at the last, and half pointed backwards with her thumb.

Here Mr. Vesey began to bluster a little, saying that as a magistrate he could not help having an unpleasant suspicion of neighbours who only received a friendly call in such a fashion. He hoped all was right; but he thought it right to say, that now Vine Lodge was inhabited again, it would not be so well for people to imagine that they could do just as they liked —break the laws, &c.

Then the woman began to whimper, rubbing her eyes with her ragged apron. They were only very poor folks, she said. Her husband cut bark, and had been ‘squatting’ there about a year. They hurt no one, and wished no one to interfere with them. They were hard-working people.

‘Have you any children?’ said Mr. Farrant, taking out his pocket-book to note down the facts.

‘Three, please your honour. Two lies there at the foot of yon white gum, and one is up the country keeping of sheep for a gentleman.’

Isabel observed a turn in her lips, very much like a suppressed smile, in spite of the whining voice she had so suddenly assumed.

With a quick impulse, and under pressure of a fleeting suspicion she could not quite realize, she said—

‘Does any one live here besides you and your husband?’

The woman gave a searching glance at her, and then hesitating, first said ‘No one,’ then corrected herself and said, ‘Forbye a girl, just to help me 'bout the work, and so on—a flighty, do-nothing lass, she is, too—and . . . .’

But again that cry rose, and now it sounded like ‘Help!’ The woman looked round uneasily, and said ‘it was a neighbour took ill with a sun-stroke.’

A small, mutilated white terrier just then burst out of the hut, and made its way snuffling, and whining, to where Isabel stood. She,


  ― 163 ―
naturally fond of dogs, stooped to notice it, remarking that it seemed to know her, when again there was a suppressed noise, and the dog listening, bounded back and disappeared within the hut.

The man who had been half hiding all this time, now showed himself, and in a very daring and insolent way, asked what they wanted. For as to selling fowls, they didn't profess to sell poultry, and as to the minister calling, once for all he begged to say, no such a man was wanted there; and if folks didn't know better than to go where they was not wanted, they would some day find they'd best have minded their own affairs. He had a carbine on his shoulder and a couple of wanga wangas and an opossum in his hand. No one felt disposed to dispute with him or seek a further acquaintance with the mysterious gunyo.

So wishing him and the woman good day, they all turned back. Some faint and confused noise of speaking, and as it seemed even hot argument, reached them, and once again they were all startled, as the wail of a dog echoed far and wide. It was evident that the poor animal had received punishment for something.

‘I wish we had some of the police here,’ said Isabel. ‘I have a strong impression that something is going wrong there. Kate!’ she said, turning round and waiting for her sister, who with Mr. Fitz was a few steps behind, ‘Kate, did you notice that dreadful scream? Didn't it remind you of Ellen Maclean, as we have heard her cry out, when ill-treated by her wretched mother?’

‘It was only a child, I think,’ remarked Mr. Fitz, quickly; ‘or, didn't she say some one was ill or delirious? What did you suppose, Miss Isabel Lang? How could this Ellen somebody get here, and why?’

‘It is a sly grog-shop, and something worse,’ Mr. Farrant remarked. ‘It will be well to give a hint to Captain Smith of the existence of such a nest. Rather too near to be pleasant I should think, Mrs. Vesey?’

When they told Mr. Herbert all that had happened, he said he could have told them the sort of thing they would find; he had seen many of them. They were generally the very scum and outcasts of the people; their hut is the rendezvous for all the bushrangers or runaways. They made their living ostensibly by cutting bark or sawing wood; but generally there was a deep excavation under their beds, where the grog was kept. The police were afraid of them, if not actually bound by bribery.

As he walked on by Isabel and Mr. Farrant, still talking of these wild characters, Isabel said, ‘I can't get it out of my head that it was poor Nelly's voice!’




  ― 164 ―

‘That was fancy,’ Mr. Farrant answered; ‘for I know the girl is gone with some drays to a station very far up the Hunter. I couldn't make out who it was she was to live with; but I hope it is a good arrangement.’

‘Under present circumstances it is not bad for her to be out of this neighbourhood,’ Mr. Herbert returned. ‘She is a singular being,’ he went on; ‘there is something very attractive about her.’

As he talked on of the girl, Isabel, always carried away by the impulse of the moment, and under the influence of his old familiar kindness and protection, suddenly put her hand in and took hold of his arm.

He smiled, looked quickly at Mr. Farrant, and then said, as if apologetically, ‘She thinks my arm must be at her service; I am a sort of lay uncle, you see. Take care and not be entrapped by little girls in sun bonnets, Mr. Farrant; you don't know the consequences!’

‘Is there anything extraordinary in my taking your arm unasked?’ she said, trying to withdraw her hand and struck by his manner. But he held it fast, laughing.

Mr. Farrant said something as to its being a very pleasant ‘consequence;’ and he also ventured on a significant smile, while he said, ‘he perfectly understood about it.’

‘Understand what?’ she asked, with flushing cheeks; and she clung to Mr. Herbert the rest of the way in her shy avoidance of Mr. Farrant.

It might have been this feeling, so new to her, which made Isabel quieter and more silent all the rest of the evening. It was a real pleasure to her to meet her old friend after their late estrangement; and as he was in one of his most agreeable moods, and talked in his pleasantest way of foreign lands and travels, keeping the conversation thereby off the small and personal topics of the neighbourhood, Isabel felt proud of him, and off ran her speculations on her favourite scheme, so much so that she was rather absent, and, a thing very unusual for her, gave one or two dreamy answers, betraying her pre-occupation.

When the party broke up, and by the doubtful light of a young moon, they set off to find the tracks through the Bush to their respective homes, Mr. Herbert was not sorry that the clergyman found his duties made it advisable for him to return by a somewhat longer round. He wanted to leave a message at a hut which lay more on the road to Langville; so that he turned off with the Lang party, and left Mr. Herbert to go on alone.

Mr. Herbert left his good horse to find his own way, and gave himself up to a good fit of thinking. He was strictly and peculiarly a man with sensitive appreciation of the honour due from one man to another; besides his military training, his own disposition pointed this way.


  ― 165 ―
Not for the world would he now, having, as he thought, been made aware of Mr. Farrant's intentions, intrude or interfere between him and Isabel. Sometimes he bewailed his own blindness in not anticipating him, and trying to secure the prize so long his own in one sense, that he had forgotten a change must ever come. As it was, he was forestalled; yet, as an old friend, he had still his own place, which he would cede to no one. Sweet as was her confiding trust in him, it was mingled with pain, for he thought it showed so very plainly the light in which she viewed him,—the impossibility of any nearer tie existing between them. Then he turned to the parents, and thought that perhaps it was a fortunate thing all hope was crushed.

It would not be a pleasant connexion. Mr. Lang would probably never consent, or if he did, there would be perpetual disagreement. His marriage at all would be highly imprudent just now, and a great blow to his sister. He had considered himself a determined bachelor; all his habits and his ideas had tended to this. Why should he suddenly desire to change? After all, he might be mistaken. His feelings for the girl were probably what they ever had been. Never, till he had heard her talked of for some one else, had he suspected anything more. He might continue to be her friend, and meet her nearly every day; but if she really did marry Mr. Farrant, how would it be then?

He winced at the thought. He could bear to have her as she was—Isabel Lang; he believed he could bear to think of her as nothing nearer to him; but to see her belong to another—to know that his intercourse with her must depend on that other's will— Pshaw! he whipped up his horse suddenly at the thought. Then, cooling down again, he took a cool survey of the case, and before he reached home he had settled his plan. It was by no means certain that Isabella would marry Mr. Farrant. Indeed, he had seen her avoid him and even prefer himself. But, ah! that very avoidance—would he not be glad to see something of the sort towards himself. The very open and frank affection she showed him was against him. However, he would see as much of her as he could. He would observe and watch, and scrupulously abstain from standing in Mr. Farrant's light; though he half wished he had not committed himself by asking any question. If he found that it was dangerous to himself—there being no question of danger to any other—if the present wild dream did not give way to his foregone habits, he could but leave it all and betake himself to the far-off station. There, it would go hard indeed but he should bring himself to sober sense again.

But the probability was he might indulge himself in the pleasure


  ― 166 ―
of seeing and hearing her without harm to himself or any one else; and that there was no one pleasure he cared so much for, he had pretty well convinced himself during all the days he did not meet her, and dreaded Mr. Lang's anger might even make any further intercourse impossible. So Mr. Herbert returned in a particularly amiable mood—disposed to be very kind to his sister and sociably tell her about the day. He even remarked how pleasant it was to find her there to welcome him, instead of a bare and comfortless bachelor's room. Miss Herbert was surprised and relieved. She had been unhappy at his depression, and now finding him disposed to see all things hopefully, and to talk as he used to do of always remaining a bachelor, she rallied all her cheerfulness, and to hear and see them that hour before they parted for the night, one would have supposed no care or trouble entered into their quiet and uneventful life.

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