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  ― 172 ―

20. CHAPTER XX.

MYSTIFICATION.

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In the course of the morning, when Isabel was in the school-room, just as the morning's lessons were winding up, and wondering at the gentle patience with which Miss Terry heard a page of French vocabulary mispronounced by Fanny, a high-spirited child, said to be like herself and rather a dunce, the difficult French was quickly broken off by an exclamation, ‘There are visitors! O! it is Mr. Farrant and somebody. Now we shall go. I am glad!’

Isabel looked out, and saw Mr. Herbert and Mr. Farrant. The latter had dismounted, and was about to inquire if the family were at home, while Mr. Herbert showed his uncertainty of being welcome by retaining his seat on horseback till there was an order for admittance. She turned to look at Miss Terry, and to say, ‘Send away the children, and come with me;’ and she could not help seeing the deep blush which covered face and neck as the teacher bent over the book, and strove to recal her pupil's wandering attention. Isabel smiled involuntarily as she said again, ‘Do come!’ and then she herself hastened out, with pleasure and fear rather strongly contending; for she knew it was her note which had done the deed, and she did not know how her mother and father would receive him; while satisfaction at bringing ‘the two’ together again, quickened by the sight of the blush, was almost so great as to make her forget to be awkward about Mr. Farrant. Were the truth told, his visit on this particular occasion could have been dispensed with, however.

‘How lucky that you are come!’ was her greeting as she stepped out


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by the verandah; ‘we were in the most deplorable state of dulness. A man is coming for the horses; you need not go yourself, Mr. Herbert. Well, if you will—if you wont trust any one but yourself. Is it ‘Pearl’?’

‘Yes; therefore worthy of all care, and she wont bear rough handling, you see; and to say truth, I do always prefer looking after my own horse in this country. No offence, I hope?’ he said, patting the silky mane.

‘No; it is not worth while.’ Then catching up a parasol which usually lay within reach, she turned to accompany him to the stables, while Mr. Farrant, less experienced in the careless ways prevalent, or perhaps caring less, gave up his steed to the boy who appeared, and after greeting Isabel, proceeded to pay his respects in the drawing-room.

‘I have obeyed you, Isabel,’ Mr. Herbert said as they went on.

‘Yes; so I perceive. You are very good,’ she said, but rather doubtfully, for she was at the moment wondering—should her father return and find him, how would he behave? So much, she well knew, depended on the circumstances of the hour.

‘I hope it is all right,’ Mr. Herbert went on. ‘I hold you responsible. I fancied, after what passed, I should not be justified in coming without express invitation from your father. But I have taken yours as the second best thing.’

‘Papa will forget it all! I know he is sorry for it now; only being the elder, and so on, he couldn't quite make up his mind to be the first to come round. Papa's anger is hot, but soon over; he wonders that people mind it, he so completely forgets it himself.’

‘Well, I am ready to overlook much, knowing his temper, and making excuses for him on many accounts; but there is a point beyond which no man can be expected to go, or justified in bearing.’

‘Ah! if you mean to talk and to look like that, I shall wish I had never interfered,’ Isabel said.

‘Like what? How am I looking to displease you, eh, Isabel?’

‘Never mind! Only, please we wont talk about it;’ and she drew a very long breath.

He looked at her, half amused and half kindly. ‘Are you very doubtful as to the issue of your efforts? Do you wish me now to give it up? I can leave you here at once, if you like.’

‘O no! the fact is, papa and the boys are away after cattle. I don't expect them yet. He will be pleased to hear of your visit, I know. There was a great fuss this morning about the colt, which is terribly lame—some snake-bite, or perhaps a centipede, they say; and Charlie Brand came here about it.’

‘Yes, so I understand,’ Mr. Herbert said, drily; ‘indeed, I saw him—


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hem. He is a capital servant, Isabel, and has served you all well.’

‘I know. So he went to you. O, he looked so dreadfully angry, and used such threats;’ she shuddered a little.

‘You are certainly nervous, my dear Isabel. There is nothing, I hope, to fear from him; he is too good a man. But—’

‘I know, I know!—don't let us begin about that. Now, is ‘Pearl’ right?’

‘Yes; but how is it I can't hit on a subject pleasing to you this morning?’ Something in her face made him draw her hand on his arm as they returned to the house. At first neither spoke; then he said, ‘I took Mr. Farrant to a new part of his straggling parish to-day. He is going about his work in a very orderly manner, and I really believe he will make his way here, and be appreciated.’

He consulted her face again with a quick glance, as if to see if this subject was more fortunate. But something was the matter with the parasol, and she was intent on rectifying it, so that her face was hidden. By the time it was put right they had reached the verandah. As he stepped back for her to precede him, she turned quickly round—

‘Please not to tell papa or mamma, or Kate, that it was my doing.’

‘You foolish little thing; I know that you must really be frightened, to be so beseeching. Trust me; for your sake I will take care that there shall be nothing unpleasant; I mean, of course, as far as I can manage it.’

‘For ‘my sake’?’ and she gave a saucy and incredulous smile.

‘Yes; for whose sake but yours? For the sake,’ he added in another tone, ‘of the little maiden who stood at this very window, and first judged me as a crusty fellow for not liking children; then thought me not so bad, after all, and took my part. From that time till now she has been my chief object in this house. Eh, Isabel?’

‘And soon she will have to cede that honour,’ she added, laughing, and turning to go in. He had no opportunity of asking what she meant, for she led him at once into the drawing-room, where all the party were.

Mr. Farrant had probably, Isabel thought, prepared the way, for Mrs. Lang's reception of Mr. Herbert was kind enough. She regretted her husband's absence, and inquired much for his sister. He remained talking to her for an unusual time, till, in fact, Mr. Farrant proposed going over their songs: then Mr. Herbert indulged himself in a newspaper and easy-chair, from which he might drink in the sweet sounds and also make a few quiet observations.

He had not heard them for some time, and he praised the improvement in Isabel's part warmly, and said it was a good work bringing out her


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voice. Mr. Farrant was animated in his encouragement, proving that practice and teaching would do so much. He was sure, from the tone of Mr. Herbert's own voice in speaking and reading, that he could sing if he tried.

This Mr. Herbert denied, saying he had tried very hard when a lad, emulous of being musical. Miss Terry urged him to make a trial now, and drilled him a little through the ‘Do, re.’ He succeeded better than he expected, and was pleased,—tried again, and again, and finally sang an easy song or two with Miss Terry, who offered to give him lessons, but at the same time urged his acquiring a little knowledge of the notes, &c. She went to the school-room for books, and he accompanied her, and when there, they remained deep in talk for some little time.

Isabel's delight was extreme. She could scarcely keep it to herself, and her gleeful eyes chanced suddenly to meet Mr. Farrant's. He was looking amused too, and even conscious. Leaving his seat near Mrs. Lang, he came close to her and was bending towards her, when she caught a look from Kate which brought all the blood to her face and gave a very sudden, if not unwelcome, turn to her thoughts. When, however, the sense of his words, spoken in a low tone, did reach her mind, she as speedily recovered her ease, her interest in what he said absorbing other feelings.

‘Ellen Maclean has left the district, and is, I hear, gone far away,’ he was saying.

‘It is true, then! And do you know where she is gone?’

‘Her father does not,’ he answered, after a moment's pause. ‘I am sorry to say the step was taken entirely without his knowledge, far less consent. I fear very much it will end ill.’

‘How so? Where is it? and who managed it? I did not know she had a friend who could procure her a situation.’

‘It was no true friend, I fear; though perhaps she thought so. Her peculiar mind forbids her being judged by common rules, or I should be seriously afraid that she had acted in this most improperly.’

‘What do you mean? Do tell me, Mr. Farrant, please! Ellen is much to me—very much. I can't help feeling her as a sort of charge. Her own mother—such a sweet woman, every one says—was my foster-mother, and Nelly was born here.’

‘Yes; so I heard. I cannot tell you where she is gone till I am more certain of facts than I am now. It is a bad business, and there has been much mystery and concealment. This alone would arouse my suspicion.’

‘But is any one looking after her? Is she actually gone?’




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‘Yes; her father is gone after her—at least, he is gone to find out what he can. It is since he left this morning that I discovered what I have as—as—to the party concerned.’

He stopped in grave thought. ‘You have a man called Smith, or Bill, here, haven't you?’ he asked, presently.

‘Yes; ‘Gentleman Bill.’ A sneaking, smooth, but very clever man—a ticket-of-leave man.’

‘Just so. I suspect he has been in the business, but I don't know. Wasn't there an idea of her marrying your storekeeper?’

‘He wished it, and asked papa's leave; but Nelly wouldn't have him.’

‘He is very angry now, and in his rage has let out a few hints of shameful conduct of his own and others. There has been some curious and deep play. I can't quite understand it. But I fear for the poor girl very much.’

So did Isabel, though her fears took no certain shape. Affairs were not by any means in a comfortable state among their numerous government men and women,note she knew. Venn was strongly suspected to be at the bottom of much incipient rebellion, but Mr. Lang would not hear a word from any one against him. He had promoted the man with a full knowledge of his character, and in a fit of worry and fear had resolved to rid himself of the evil by making it the man's interest to serve his master.

Unfortunately, this step had been opposed, and Mr. Lang having once made a personal party matter of it, was determined to ‘carry his point over every one's head,’ a motive which had become a very ruling one in his life. Isabel had left Mr. Farrant to continue the subject to her mother, and was ruminating on his information, while absently plucking the leaves from the creeper which trailed over the verandah. Voices reached her from the school-room window, which opened also on the verandah, at an angle from the drawing-room.

‘I am so very glad,’ Mr. Herbert was saying, ‘to have this opportunity of speaking; circumstances were against me before.’

What Miss Terry's answer was, did not transpire—something, doubtless, favourable and sweet, Isabel thought. Presently his voice again reached her, a little subdued, but by no means a whisper.

‘Yes; mystery is always undesirable, but in this case it is right—for a time. And if you write within three days, it will do, though the sooner the better. Can't you send a note by the post-boy?’

A few words were lost—he was gone further from the window. Now he returns, and Isabel can so well understand the content, the composed, and controlled, but deep satisfaction of the tone; she can even see, in her


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own fancy, the answering look in his face, so familiar are his habits and expressions to her.

‘Be hopeful! The worst, the difficult part, is over. Now that intercourse is renewed, opportunity will not be lacking. I can venture to answer for Mr. Lang; with all his faults, he is truly kind-hearted, and I can see that you are a special favourite. He will be delighted to secure your society near.’——Again, ‘Mr. Farrant is impatient, yet, pray, beg him to be guarded, cautious—to think it well over before . . . . .’

Isabel's downright honesty here caused conscience to prick sharply. With a tell-tale face, she put her head round the corner. ‘What are you two talking secrets at the open window for? I heard you—at least, I heard some—and I understand all about it!’

They came out—Miss Terry's cheeks quite as red as Isabel's while the gentleman looked very provoking and rather triumphant. ‘You understand, do you? Well, we know you can keep a secret, and your forbearance wont be taxed long either. As you have thrust yourself on our secret council, you must e'en take the consequence and act the discreet friend. As you have heard ‘all about it,’ your own excellent judgment will point out the necessity of silence as yet. What have you done with Farrant? Where is he, Issy?’

‘Talking to mamma,’ she answered, again stealing a look at Mr. Herbert's lighted-up face, and then noting Miss Terry's very evident embarrassment.

The two gentlemen were just speaking of taking leave when Mr. Lang's voice was heard, and very soon he and his boys came in sight, and also the bullocks.

Isabel looked quickly from the returning party to Mr. Herbert. Was the moment propitious? But the affair was taken out of her hands. She heard her mother begging both the gentlemen to remain and see Mr. Lang.

She felt Mr. Herbert's glance, as it rested for a moment on herself, and she looked up in time to see him exchange a look of meaning with Miss Terry. At the same instant, he expressed his intention of waiting to pay his respects to Mr. Lang; but Mr. Farrant, having spoken a few quiet words to Miss Terry, turned to her and said, he hoped she would kindly say everything proper to Mr. Lang for him, but he must return home at once, he had important business to attend to.

Mr. Herbert watched the clergyman ride down the hill with a grave, yet amused air.

‘What should you say, Isabel—judging solely by the cut, the air, the tout ensemble, as the minister rides yonder—should you guess him a


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happy, a successful man, or not—eh?’ He looked at her with a mischievous twinkle in his eye.

‘Indeed, I don't know—very doubtful, I should say,’ was her answer, with a little annoyance in it. ‘But,’ she went on, determined to return his joke on himself, ‘were I asked as much about some gentleman near me, I should not hesitate so much.’

‘Ah, indeed?’

‘No—in fact, a little less broad display of content would be more interesting,’ she said, with a stress on the word.

He raised his eyebrows with a smile of interrogation and surprise; then lowering both his look and his voice, he said quietly and with some earnestness, ‘I am content, Isabel,’ as you say. Here he paused and looked at her; then smiled at something in her face.

‘Mahomet found the mountain full of promise—but—come into the garden,’ he added, and trying to take her hand.

‘No,’ she said, withdrawing a step from him, and surprised at his manner, so suddenly in the last sentence telling of deeper feeling than he often showed; and while she liked it, shrinking from it too—wondering at herself why, now it came to the point, she did not more eagerly meet his advances towards making her a confidante.

‘No, I don't like you so—so—triumphant—so dreadfully happy; I can imagine all you have to say; and I don't care to hear any rhapsody second-hand. Besides, here comes papa full of the wild beasts—and that is a subject I do like.’

‘Umph,’ and he bit his lip. ‘ ‘Rhapsody’ indeed! You're as slippery as—as . . . . You are the most eccentric of human beings! But, Isabel, you are not in earnest. May I not trust to—to—the gleam of light, I . . . .’

‘What gleam of light?—ah, I understand! ‘Metaphor,’ I suppose, eh? Very proper, I dare say; but I am too plain to catch it all at once. A ‘gleam of light;’ poetical perhaps? Is that the way you gained your ‘gleam of light'—by talking poetry instead of plain English?—ah, you are all alike—can't use common sense or plain prose. Old Mr. Jolly's is the only way—and I wonder how Tom would talk?’

‘Tom! what on earth has Tom to do with it? He seems to interest you very deeply! But I own, I can't exactly see what possible connexion he has with any expression I may have been unfortunate enough to use—rousing your spirit of sarcasm thereby.’

‘There now—off you go—phiz!—phiz—iz—pop! Well, well! I suppose it must be excused! I implore your pardon for knocking over your romantic and poetical ideas. Only, don't you see—what can I do?


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I am so downright and so matter-of-fact, that I can't understand fine words. You should go to Kate, she would lend a willing and a sympathising ear.’

‘I wont trouble her, thank you! But if you are in one of your wild, impossible moods, I can, in fact, I must, wait. I wonder if any one of the wild cattle they chased to-day was more difficult to get hold of and win—manage, I mean, than . . . .’ ‘Good morning, sir,’ said Mr. Lang, who coming up, heated and eager about his successful run, turned the attention of every one to himself at once. There was no allusion made by him or by Mr. Herbert to the past. A very slight increase of rapid utterance—a little stammer on Mr. Lang's part, and the slightest possible touch of hauteur in Mr. Herbert's bow—alone marked the consciousness which both sought to hide. Mr. Lang broke off in the midst of his description of the desperate leap a bullock had been about to take, but was prevented by Willie, of whom his father was greatly proud, to take it for granted Mr. Herbert would remain and dine with them. ‘It was very lucky, for he had picked up another guest—some one Mrs. Lang wouldn't guess in a hurry, or Kate either; indeed, she was quite on a wrong scent, he saw from the becoming colour rising in her cheeks.’ A very fine gentleman, indeed; a scholar, very polite, very handsome, and so on, but yet not a man to bring up a lady's blushes. Wait and see—you'll see!’ Mr. Lang cried out, as he went away, laughing and enjoying the mystification of his wife. ‘Only I say, Mrs. Lang, we must have something good for dinner. Isn't there time now for some of those very nice custards Miss Terry makes so well?’

‘Nonsense, Mr. Lang; I wish you would forget that stupid joke! But who is it? Girls! can you guess who is coming in this mysterious fashion? Where can your papa have met any one out in the Bush?’

‘Papa is so fond of jokes!’ said Kate. ‘It is one of our neighbours, of course. Mr. Jolly or his son, I dare say.’

‘I fear nothing so refreshing,’ said Isabel; ‘I rather suppose it must be the Roman Catholic priest; I met him this morning among our men's huts. And I don't know what it is, but there is something in that man that I can't get over. They say he is here trying to get names for a church.’

‘Yes, he was in the settlement yesterday,’ Mr. Herbert remarked.

‘To be sure Mr. Lang must be crazy to invite him here to dinner! It can't be! Really it is very wrong, very dangerous!’ exclaimed Mrs. Lang as she went out to give orders, much annoyed evidently.

‘It is Dr. Mornay, the person the Kearneys were fond of. We met him at the North Shore, don't you remember, Kate?’ said Isabel.

‘O, yes! The Kearneys swear by him. For my part, I thought him very


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disagreeable.’

‘Did you? I can't say that! returned her sister. ‘But I am afraid of him.’

‘You afraid of any one, Issy? Well, I must make a note of that!’ said Mr. Herbert, smiling at her. ‘Come into the garden,’ he continued, in a lower key. ‘There is time enough—I have something to say to you.’

‘Yes, of course! But I don't want to hear it; I know all about it.’

‘You do?’ and he tried to catch her eye.

‘Yes. There is Miss Terry going out with the children. Well?’ she added, seeing him turn back to herself, indifferently. ‘Now go! I have really some work which must be done before dinner! Now, don't pretend to be bashful! Go, and have a talk. It will do you good;’ and she moved on.

‘You are a very provoking girl! You might borrow a leaf from that lady's book. Isabel, don't go. Consider how long it is since I was here!’ But she only laughed from the window, and pointed mockingly to the path where Miss Terry might be seen with the two little girls and their favourite dog. Then she ran off to her own room, and Mr. Herbert, finding Kate had also disappeared, after a few low growls, actually did as he was bidden, and overtook the governess.

‘She is really very trying,’ he could not help saying.

‘Who——Isabel? Has she been teasing you again?’ asked Miss Terry.

‘I wonder what she will be after all!’ he said, musingly.

‘Something very good. There is an excellent foundation, sterling good.’

He sighed, and then tried to turn the subject to Kate, but Miss Terry continued. ‘Isabel has never yet known sorrow or trial. I believe that is wanting to perfect her. It is a theory of mine,’ she went on, earnestly, ‘that without this, scarcely any character is complete, especially strongly marked ones such as Isabel's.’

‘I wonder where trouble or trial is to come from? I should be sorry to see her gaiety—her look of perfect health—touched. No! I can't fancy her in sorrow!’ Mr. Herbert answered.

‘From what I gather, I fancy trial of a certain kind cannot be very far off. Poor Mr. Lang is often troubled and anxious about money matters, and these young people have never yet known what poverty is.’

‘Ah, true! His affairs are darkish, I believe. Well Isabel has a brave, strong heart.’

‘Indeed she has! You will see how she will come out then. They will all depend on her.’ Miss Terry spoke with animation, and Mr. Herbert


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was well pleased to continue the subject.

They turned into the vine-walk. Isabel saw them from her window. She observed the bent heads and their gestures, and she smiled. By degrees, however, her face clouded and her work fell neglected.

She thought how long Mr. Herbert had been her own especial friend, her own property as it were, would he, as a married man, be the same to her? Then she reckoned up his good points, and thought Miss Terry a very fortunate woman, and fell to wondering what they talked of, and if Miss Terry ever saw that particular look in his eye, which only came very seldom indeed, but so lighted up and changed his whole face, and which had lately, even that very morning, made her drop her own eye and caused an emotion which she could not account for, and found hard to hide entirely.

She had now and then seen a look a little like it in her father—never in Mr. Farrant. This made her compare the two men, and she found herself wishing that Mr. Farrant was in some points more like her old friend. She ended by deciding that all such affairs as love-making and marriage, were very disagreeable, and she heartily wished people would remain as they were. Why not? They were all very comfortable.

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