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19. CHAPTER XIX.

A BREEZE BEFORE BREAKFAST.

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Isabel did not forget that strange and piercing cry they had heard from the Bark Hut. The she remembered Amelia's news of Ellen Maclean's being engaged as a servant to some one at a distance.

She rose very early and went out towards the men's huts, hoping to learn from Jack Lynch, or some one, what was the truth about this report. Lynch was not to be seen, but ‘civil’ William Smith, alias Gentleman Bill, who always seemed to be at hand when anything was wanted, and had an answer ready for every one, now came up a little behind, according to his custom, his hat off, and his head bent forward between his shoulders, and eyes apparently on the ground.

‘Was the young lady seeking Lynch? Sorry he was gone for the cattle and would not return till night. Could he do anything, or give any message?’

‘No, thank you. I don't suppose you can help. I want to find out where the girl, Ellen Maclean, is at this moment.’

She did not see the quick, scrutinizing glance which seemed to scan her through and through, but she heard him say presently, as if trying to recollect, ‘She was at Allen's at the township—that is, it is a little out of the road down by the creek. Allen works for Budd, and I saw Nelly Maclean minding Allen's children.’

‘When was that?’

‘Some days ago, Miss, let me see—it——’

‘Are you sure she is there now?’




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‘Well—not exactly. For I did hear she had met with a situation somewhere a long ways off. They said that she was going along with some drays.’

‘Where?’

‘I am sure I can't say, Miss. 'Twas no place anear this.’

‘Did her father know of it?’

‘That I don't know neither, Miss. But I think not. I think he was all for keeping her about here; and I knows that Jack Lynch hadn't heard nothing about it; for, says he to me last evening—he and me live in one hut now, Miss—Bill, he says, I shall just give a look in at Allen's as I pass homewards. It is long since I saw the girl. And I says, ‘Well, and so do,’ says I; ‘but mind yourself, Jack, and don't be after time now, and be a aggrawating the master again.’ ’

‘Thank you;’ and Isabel was just going on, when she heard her father's voice, apparently in great anger, and looking around she saw that many of the men, having come in for breakfast, were hanging about and staring with surprise and curiosity. Anxious and troubled, for these rows were but too frequent, she hurried on to where Mr. Lang was standing, and was much surprised to see a man who for some time had lived at their other place, Westbrooke, one whose somewhat dogged, surly honesty had been admitted by his master, by the very fact of leaving him in sole charge of the place, with the cattle and horses. About horses he was particularly clever, and was generally entrusted with the rearing all the colts. Charley Brand, called ‘Bran Charley,’ or ‘Big Charley,’ was a ‘character,’ and in some way a good deal looked up to by his fellow prisoners. A man of few words and uncommon physical strength, he went on his way with the most unfailing punctuality, interfering with no man, scarcely even volunteering a remark.

In old days, when the family had lived at Westbrooke, that being the home-farm and Langville a mere out-station, Charley Brand had, in his own fashion, noticed the children, and had become a favourite of theirs. It was Isabel he especially picked out; but he was kind to all, and had given them many a ride on his sorrel mare. She was therefore about to greet him cordially as usual, but the words did not pass her lips. The man did not even see her; there he stood, hat in hand, his long, thick hair moved by the hot wind which was rising, his stock-whip dropped, and lying on the ground beside him.

He looked his master full in the face—a look not pleasant, and it grew darker and darker, till Isabel could see how angry the man was getting at every gesture and word of her father's.

Mr. Lang, also a stout man, but of lighter build than Brand, in his suit


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of white linen and small Manilla hat, paced to and fro before the stable-door, now smacking a whip sharply, now bending it double, now shaking it in threat, as in his stammering, excited way, he poured out his wrath, supplying all hiatus with oaths and abuse. It is a miserable liberty for any one to be able to speak as his temper prompts him unrestrained. With Mr. Lang there was no one to call him to account for words. His servants were prisoners, with no power to give warning, and only too happy if the anger vented itself in that manner, and stopped short of actual punishment, which it sometimes did. But though this was the case with the majority, there were a few exceptions, which unhappily Mr. Lang did not note—a few to whom these hot words were as poison. He never paused to read the countenance of the man he was abusing.

He did not intend to punish Brand; his services were too valuable, and indeed there was something in the man which forbade the idea; but in his keen disappointment in finding a colt, which he had expected to prove valuable, seriously lame, he eased his mind, according to habit, and was now in the middle of his scolding harangue, or what he called a ‘good blowing up.’

Charley's arrival had been unexpected. He was rather a noted character, and it being also breakfast-time, there was quite an audience. Even the household servants and the boys were there. The blood rushed into Isabel's face. She could not bear her father to expose himself so—to give way so completely to passion, and to use such words. She felt lowered, sorry, and, as she looked at Charley, even afraid.

‘You big, greedy, beef-eating rascal! You are as fat as a prize ox. You sit in and gorge, and neglect your duty. Hang you!—you've ruined the colt, and you'll smart, I promise you. You're a knave, an impostor, sirrah—a smoothfaced, lying rascal! What could be expected from a swindling, thieving, confounded jockey boy! I'll do for you, as sure as my name's Lang! You'll see—you'll feel! I'll make an example of you! You don't suppose I'm going to stand it, do you? . . . . . . . And how long—if your confounded tongue can speak truth—how long has the beast gone lame? Speak out, can't ye?’

‘Yes I can speak out, and I mean so to do, Mr. Lang, when for lack of breath you have stayed your oaths and language misbecoming a gentleman. I let ye have the bit—I just gived ye the reins—for to see what you would please for to say. And now, sir, seeing as how I can't write, except just my name, I comed up here myself, that ye might get the quickest intelligence of this here haccident, which I was all so sorry for as—as—but that's neither here nor there now. The day afore yesterday ‘Prince’ was so well on his fore legs as e'er a colt among 'em


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all. Yesterday evening I zeed him limp. I drove them all into the stock-yard right away, and examined this 'ere consarn, and I believe it may be some poisonous bite, for 'twas all of a inflammation, and seeing all foments and so on did no good, what did I do? I cast about, and remembered as how David Wheler was reputed as clever about them kind of things, and anyhow your honour would know and judge. So I left William in charge, and off I set, and never stopped for sup nor bite till I rides in here; and this here is the wages I gets, as all can bear me witness—a welcome I'll not be likely to forget too soon, either.’

‘What! you threaten, do you? you insolent old methodist; for you've treated us to quite a sermon this fine morning.’

Here a laugh was raised and passed round, faintly, by the audience, but a look from Charlie Brand stopped it. Isabel's hand was pressed on her father's arm.

‘Don't, papa; pray don't provoke him! He is tired—perhaps hungry. Wait till you are both cooler, please!’

‘Go in, child, go in,’ Mr. Lang said, impatiently; then, with affected hilarity, ‘Well, sir, don't think to alarm me with your scowls! You just deserve a good twenty-five, but it is ill flogging a fasting man, so turn in and fill your stomach, and then we'll see——’

‘You'll see that no good comes of insulting and blackguarding an honest man! No, sir; you may chance to live to repent this here morning's work—you may, you may! You're the best man here, perhaps; but——’ and he raised his hand, as was afterwards remembered, and shook it, ‘but you and I, Mr. Lang, may chance to meet again in another place, when perhaps you may not be the master!’

The man was white with suppressed anger: his step tottered a little as he turned away, still muttering something to himself. Again he turned round and looked at Mr. Lang, and seemed about to speak; but after a moment's pause he put his hat on his head and went into the hut nearest to him. Mr. Lang suffered himself to be led in by his daughter, who longed, though she dared not, to say something to Charles Brand.

She heard the murmur of men's voices, the laughter and the rude jest, which, directly the master's back was turned, burst forth. Before they reached the breakfast parlour Mr. Lang's anger had vanished.

‘The surly rascal! By Jove, he's a stout fellow, too! Has a quiet berth down there; all his own way, and can't bear a word to be said to him.’

‘He is not a man to provoke so, papa! I wish you would be more careful. Indeed, it is dangerous to make enemies of these men. Bad policy, to say the very least. He looked so deeply angry—so hurt.’

‘Did he, though? As if a man could hear of a valuable beast like Prince


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being lame, and not blaze up a bit! But stop his mouth—give him some prime ‘ 'baccy.’ Here, money is scarce, but as Charlie was an old friend of yours, I don't mind once in a way—here, give him this crown piece. That will smooth all over, I'll engage. Eh, pet, are you satisfied?’ and he pinched her ear.

‘Bless me, Issy, what makes you look so cold and pale?’ exclaimed her mother, as they sat down to breakfast.

‘Pale, is she? Confound the goose-chick! Hang that villain! Is it his black visage which has turned thee sick, child, eh?’ said her father, turning to look well at her.

When the matter was explained a little, both Mrs. Lang and Kate were surprised at Isabel's ‘sensitive nerves,’ and joked her a good deal. But she said low, so that only Miss Terry, her neighbour, heard it,—

‘That man's look was frightful! If I didn't know he was faithful and attached, I should be indeed uneasy. As it is—well—it is a pity!’

They went out very soon to seek the man, Mrs. Lang intending to make it up to him by a few condescending inquiries and a glass of wine, and Isabel really anxious for a chat with her old favourite; but they found he was gone—gone without any food!

He had brought out his horse, rubbed him down carefully, and let him drink; and then, without a word to any one, rode away—homewards, it was supposed.

‘He didn't wait for orders?’

‘No,’ one man answered. ‘He said any orders could be sent.’

Mr. Lang was of course extremely angry again. He had quite got over his passion, a good breakfast helping not a little towards it. That this fellow should brood over and resent it, proved him more than deserving of everything Mr. Lang had said of him. At first, he threatened to ride after him and bring him back for punishment; his horse must be tired, and could be easily overtaken. This Isabel would have found hard work to prevent, but for the fact that Mr. Lang and his boys were very much wanted to ride in quite an opposite direction, to help in bringing in some cattle—rather a wild set, and therefore exciting.

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