― 212 ―




A few days after the storm, Kate, Isabel, and Miss Terry were sitting together, each apparently occupied in sewing. But a grave silence had been so long unbroken that one of the little girls coming suddenly to the window, startled them.

‘Two gentlemen riding up the road!’ she said.

On which Kate coloured a little, and shook out her flounces, and twisted her bracelet.

‘Mr. Herbert and Mr. Farrant,’ again said Sophy.

Isabel glanced from Kate to Miss Terry, and caught a deep flush on the face of the latter, though she was bending very quietly over her work as before, and did not indulge in any of those little manouvres Kate had begun.

Kate rose and went to the window.

‘Was ever a house so pestered with callers?’ she said, pettishly; ‘I thought for once what a nice quiet morning we were having; and what is the use of Mr. Herbert's coming now? Papa is sure to speak about Lynch and that other affair. Really, I do wish he would stay away!’

‘Kate!’ remonstrated Isabel, with her finger raised, but so that Miss Terry did not see it.

Kate stepped quickly into the verandah, saying something about going to mamma.

‘Poor Kate! It doesn't look very well, do you think so, now he is here not to call for so many days,’ remarked Isabel.

  ― 213 ―

‘I fancied his manner very disagreeable the last time he came. I wondered how Kate could bear it. But isn't she invited to stay there?’

‘Yes, at some indefinite time. Well—well!’

Here the two visitors entered. Both shook hands first with Isabel; she was nearest to the door.

Mr. Farrant put down a parcel. ‘Some new music,’ he said. He should beg for a trial of it, by-and-bye. He had to visit the sick man living in the Bush behind Langville, but if he might do so, he would call in as he returned.

‘Are you in such a hurry to go now,’ Isabel said, somewhat awkwardly, and stepping towards the window, wanting to bring Mr. Farrant out that the other two might remain together; hearing footsteps she concluded that he did so. She began picking some flower, saying, as carelessly as she could, ‘What music is it; sacred?’

‘What music do you mean? Don't waste the flowers so, and don't throw them away. Give me that bud.’

It was not Mr. Farrant's voice, and Isabel cast a hurried look through the window, in time to see that gentleman in the act of leaving the room. Mr. Herbert smiled as her eye came back to his.

‘He means to spend the evening here. But I can only spare a short time,’ he said, placing his bud in his button-hole with care.

‘Didn't know you were up to all that,’ she laughed. ‘We are coming on quickly! How long will it last, I wonder? But come, this wont do. We mustn't leave her.’

‘Miss Terry is going to try the song,’ Mr. Herbert said, drawing Isabel's hand on his arm as he spoke. ‘Have you a parasol? for I want you to come in the garden, Isabel.’

‘I'll fetch one;’ and she ran in at the window quickly. ‘Why is this? Why don't you come?’ she said to Miss Terry.

‘I want to look over this; mayn't I?’ and again Miss Terry blushed.

‘Unkind thing! Well—I don't understand your tactics at all. But you will come presently, come to the garden—do!’

‘I will if you so much wish it.’

‘I wish it? Nonsense! You make me cross! Absurd!’

She took a parasol from the hall and went out at the door, coming round to Mr. Herbert, who still waited for her on the verandah.

‘Hush—wait!’ he said; and both stood for a moment to hear Miss Terry's voice.

‘Isn't it magnificent?’ Isabel said.

‘I have only once before heard a voice I liked better,’ he answered.

‘Liked better! You are impartial. You actually allow that there may

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be better? Well, of course, my experience is none. I never heard any at all like it, nor could I have fancied anything so beautiful.’

‘Not more so than Farrant's?’

‘Perhaps not. No—but different,’ and Isabel stooped her face aside, so that it was hidden from him.

After a little silence she said—'Well, Mr. Herbert?’

‘Well, Isabel. But what does that ‘well’ signify?’

‘Only—what about going to live at the Station, and giving up Warratah Lodge, and so on?’

‘I meant to tell you. Letters from home—from England—have arrived, considerably relieving my mind. I hope to weather these difficulties and to struggle on, and then—it can't last for ever—better days will come. We shall begin with a new system altogether.’

‘Yes; those who can weather it, as you say. Many will be swamped, though.’

‘Come! you are turned sad-hearted now, Isabel. Is your father very uneasy? I fancied he was worried and careworn?’

‘Very likely. Every one is anxious; he not more so than others.’ There was a shade of annoyance, even resentment, in her tone, which he did not understand.

‘I dare say not! I meant nothing!’ he said, kindly. ‘By the way, Jack Lynch, Isabel! I was so grieved to hear of it! grieved and surprised, for I knew he meant to . . . .’

‘He was most insolent! Why, he would have killed papa! Even you cannot defend his conduct!’ she said quickly.

‘I do not. I know the man is capable of any excess, if—if—provoked. But I grieve; for I also know, or believe, that he might have done well. A very singular character! And the girl—have you heard of her?’

‘Nothing beyond rumours. That is shocking!’ she said; ‘some one has taken advantage of her want of wit, I am very sure. Poor Nelly; I hope almost she is dead! I hope we shall hear; we still inquire; and Dr. Mornay promises to leave no stone unturned.’

‘Better not! Let it alone. There is nothing to hear, nothing to be done,’ said Mr. Herbert.

‘I don't see that at all! and I could not rest till I had tried every means to find out,’ Isabel returned with warmth.

‘Again, I say, I advise you not! Ah, there are the children!’ and he greeted them very kindly.

‘Well, Isabel, and how does the wooing go on? I mean Mr. Fitz!—Ah! is it a sore subject? I beg your pardon. Do you mean . . . .’

‘I mean nothing, and I know nothing. Kate has an invitation to go

  ― 215 ―
there soon.’

‘Poor Kate! You wont believe me, but the less you have to do there the better. But I can't afford to quarrel, nor will I have any frowns, for I must soon pay a visit to that station, and I came for a nice talk. Isabel, I have something to—something I wish to say to you——’

‘No, don't! I know! Please don't make a preface a yard long and look so grave! I can't bear any weighty secrets just now. I assure you I am a creature of many moods, and to-day my mood does not incline to bear or to hear.’

‘You always put me off so!’ and Mr. Herbert sighed. ‘Well—O! here's some one already!’ he spoke impatiently, hearing footsteps coming along the gravel-path, and as he stood behind a vine-covered trellis, he could not see who it was.

‘Why, it is Miss Terry!’ Isabel said, with a saucy look at him. ‘What of the song?’ she added, as Miss Terry came up.

‘Beautiful! you must hear it. It is for two voices;’ and turning, they all paced slowly up and down the vine-walk, the conversation being principally kept up by Mr. Herbert and Miss Terry, so much so, that at last, with a sly smile, Isabel lingered a step behind, and then turning round the corner, she was at the top of the garden by the arbour with the young ones before they missed her.

When, after some time, Isabel, believing she had managed beautifully to secure a quiet tête-è-tête for the two, reappeared in the drawing-room, she was rather surprised to find them all there, and Mr. Herbert actually employed in holding a skein of silk for Kate to wind. This was a wonderful stretch of politeness, Isabel thought; and she smiled, amused to see Kate's evident gratification, and the pretty becoming pink which mantled on her cheeks as he paid her compliments on her skilful fingers.

‘Well! what will not love do!’ Isabel thought. ‘Why, he's becoming that domestic, tame animal, a lady's man!’

She looked at Miss Terry, who was sewing, again the picture of serene content.

Mrs. Lang was talking in a plaintive tone of the bad times, and of Lynch's dark threats, and the great increase of annoyance by bushrangers, when Mr. Farrant entered the room. He was tired, he said, and had nearly lost his way, which made him nervous.

‘What is it, my dear mother?’ Isabel said, after receiving sundry hints by gesture and look, and observing Mrs. Lang glance uneasily from Mr. Farrant to herself.

Mrs. Lang gave her daughter's work a little pull, while she turned

  ― 216 ―
with a great effort to be quite at ease, and asked Mr. Farrant if he would like a glass of wine or some lemon sirrup and water.

‘What! does my dearly beloved sock annoy you, Mrs. Lang?’ exclaimed Isabel, rather perversely, regardless of all the hints to hide it up. But Isabel was a little ‘put out.’ She did not know herself why exactly, but felt much disposed to contradict and ‘be cross,’ as children say.

‘Hardly drawing-room work—lady's work,’ suggested Mrs. Lang, in a low and fluttered voice; for though a very slave to the opinions of others on such subjects, and having a great notion of these two gentlemen's super-particularity, she still was rather vain of Isabel's open rebellion. She fancied that it sometimes pleased, and had grown at last to be more easy under it, as ‘Issy's way, and quite original!’

‘Well, I appeal to the judgment of the company! Votes, true and honest! Is the knitting this sock, destined for William Lang, Esq., when he goes out after cattle or fishing, &c., an offence to the taste and the associations of the present company and to this room—the drawing-room? for I understand mamma that in the morning-room it would not have been so shocking.’

‘How absurd you are, Issy!’ said Kate.

‘Look at this wool!’ Isabel went on; ‘it is pretty and soft, grey and white; and these pins, surely what can be prettier, being of ivory, alias bone, neat and ladylike; and if the leg and foot be not of fairy dimensions; we English—no, Anglo-Australian, that's it—are proud of such a stout leg. Come! no fighting off! Miss Terry, your opinion, please!’

‘I confess to a predilection in favour of knitting and netting,’ said Mr. Farrant, stooping to examine the sock. ‘And how wondrously comfortable! Anti-rheumatic, I am sure. I envy Mr. Lang the——’

‘The socks or the leg?’ put in Isabel, while at the same moment Mrs. Lang said, ‘I am sure, Mr. Farrant, Issy would be most happy, quite gratified to make you such a pair; that is, to fit you, if—if——’

‘Hold, mamma, if you please! I have been about three months already, and this is the first sock. You know I am no worker. I hate all twiddle-dee and twiddle-dum over crochet and canvas, and all that sort of work; I make and I mend needful garments as a strict, stringent duty; and knitting such as this, I keep for odd, idle moments, when I am too dull to enjoy talking, and yet have to sit up, company fashion.’

‘As now?’ said Mr. Herbert, with a curl of his lip.

‘Come, no sneers at me! As for you, it is Hercules, and I don't know who. I shall see you working in the ground of some immense

  ― 217 ―
chair-chair-back soon.note But the question is not decided! Is this admissible; or, shall I take my sock and myself away? no great punishment to either party, perhaps!’

‘No, since Mr. Farrant is so kind as to——’ Mrs. Lang began.

‘On no account,’ said Mr. Farrant. ‘Stay, Miss Isabel Lang, and knit on.’

‘And you?’ Isabel looked at Miss Terry.

‘Certainly,’ was the answer.

‘Yes, stay, or you will be exalting yourself into a martyr, suffering persecution, and ready to sacrifice yourself in behalf of ugly work, because no one else likes it,’ said Mr. Herbert.

‘Thank you!’ said Isabel, rising and making a low curtsey. But the colour flushed up and then faded, and there was a little tremor of the lips too, which told of something not far from pain at Mr. Herbert's home thrust.

Isabel was soon very earnest over her knitting, saying she had made a fault somewhere and must find it out.

Meanwhile Kate's skein being done, Mr. Herbert called for another, and overcame her scruples by protesting that he quite enjoyed it.

‘Ah, and this soft lamb's-wool is still prettier than silk,’ he said, as she produced some delicately shaded skeins. ‘I always think a heap of these wools—German, are they not?—a singularly happy ornament on a table. I don't care much for such work when done; I think it is thrown away, nine cases out of ten; but all the accompaniments, the etcetera, I like. The frame I see some ladies use, is quite a piece of furniture!’

This led to Kate's alluding to some great wool embroiderers, some ladies, known to Mr. Herbert and the Langs, in Sydney.

Isabel looked up now and then in great surprise, to find him talking in that tone, evidently desiring to please—and to Kate, too! To Kate, with whom he rarely exchanged a dozen words. And she, losing the slight shade of trouble which had been on her face before, was looking quite her best, very pretty!

Mr. Farrant had led off Miss Terry to the pianoforte, and there they were intently discussing something—the new song, she supposed. But Isabel had a feeling very new to her, of being somewhat overlooked. As she sat brooding over the little shadow which had in some strange way crept into her heart, she chafed and felt angry. ‘What are they all about, I wonder? What fun if I could but really read each heart now at this moment! Evidently Mr. Herbert and Miss Terry understand one another. What is he doing with Kate? and have I frightened away my

  ― 218 ―
admirer, said to be? No one would guess it from to-day, I am sure! . . . . I doubt if I should sit quite so content as Miss Terry does; actually she seems flattered and pleased. Pooh, there should be some little difference in the eye or something! A good thing not to be jealous! Perhaps it is. But one may go too far! Well, I shouldn't like it; no, I shouldn't!’

As this last idea rose very emphatically, even to her very lips, and caused her to shake her head a little, though very unconsciously, it attracted Mr. Herbert's notice, and Kate's also, as she followed the direction of his glance.

‘Issy, what are you saying to yourself?’ said Kate. ‘I guess, though, what it was; not very difficult with your face, is it? By-the-bye, Mr. Herbert, speaking of the Moretons, did it ever strike you that our Isabel is like Ada?’

‘No, indeed! I take Ada Moreton to be as perfect a specimen of her peculiar kind or type as can be seen.’ Mr. Herbert spoke in his old somewhat dogmatizing tone, which Kate never understood; but he did not heed her blank look.

‘It is a very common hackneyed phrase to call a pretty woman a butterfly, or a humming-bird. But I never see Ada Moreton without the aptness of the simile striking me; touching, skimming over every-thing, scarce alighting on anything; pretty, graceful, and bright; tempting youths to follow, and, if they can, make her a prisoner; yet if caught——’

‘Well! if caught; what then?’ Isabel put in, rather sharply.

‘Ah! I didn't think you were listening,’ Mr. Herbert said. ‘I know of old how you swear by Ada Moreton.’

‘My first notion of prettiness. But you . . . . .’

‘Never admired her,’ he concluded, decidedly, and with rather more emphasis than the words or the subject seemed to merit.

‘I confess I don't see in what way Ada and Issy are alike,’ said Mrs. Lang, as if comparing them in her mind, and looking at Isabel.

Mr. Herbert uttered a short, dry, rather contemptuous laugh, and nearly broke Kate's skein, which had diminished to only a few threads. ‘Ada is all prettiness, no rough point, not a corner anywhere. She speaks and sings like a musical-box; never was cross or blunt in her life;—at all events, in company.’

‘Enough!—quite enough to prove your assertion. Thank you!’ said Isabel.

Kate laughed. Mrs. Lang was puzzled.

‘What a very sincere person Anna Moreton is. Don't you think so?’

  ― 219 ―
Kate ventured to remark to Mr. Herbert.

‘Sincerity is a quality which covers a multitude of faults,’ said Mr. Farrant, coming up to them.

‘True,’ said Mr. Herbert, who had finished his task, and was now leaning back in his chair so far, that it threatened to lose its balance every moment. ‘True,’ he said, looking up at the ceiling; ‘yet there is a something which passes for sincerity, which is really nothing more than a total want of self-restraint; a forgetfulness of any consideration but its own headlong impulse. This outpouring of temper and opinion, without reference to subject, person, or time, passes current for sincerity, but it is a mistake——’

‘Thank you again, Mr. Herbert!’ said Isabel, with a heightened colour.

‘I assure you,’ and down came the chair with a sudden thump—'I assure you I meant nothing at all. However . . . . there is a proverb about a cap fitting—and——’

‘Fitting so wonderfully well, that I take it, you see; and I'll wear it, and carry it off at once, in order to ruminate soberly on your able definition of sincerity.’

She was in the verandah in another moment, and passing quickly to the work-room, from whence she intended escaping to her own bed-room. But she was caught. Just as she reached the work-room door opening on the passage, which led from the front hall, Mr. Herbert appeared coming out of the drawing-room, a much shorter way than hers.

‘Isabel, stay. Indeed, you must not run away. I want you, seriously. I don't know when I may be able to come again—and—I must speak to you; tell you something.’

They were at the furthest end of the passage, where, when all the doors were shut as now, it was rather dark. Isabel saw that he was a little nervous, and she had no wish for him to read her countenance, feeling thoroughly unsteady and upset. She tried to laugh, and said she could not stay—she was busy—and so on.

‘I have not really hurt or annoyed you, Isabel? surely not?’ he said, taking her hand.

‘Dear me, no! Annoyed or hurt because you were rude! That would be odd!’

‘Rude! I wasn't; I could not be rude. Come, you shall tell me what ails you. What is it, Isabel? And do come back to the work-room, I really must say something to you.’

‘I know all about it; and I don't wish to hear you—not now, at least.’

  ― 220 ―

‘You know!—you know!’

‘Yes, indeed! Whatever my sincerity may be, I can't affect ignorance of this. It may sound odd, I dare say; but the truth is, I do know. And what is more, I am glad; and as you must know, with all your discrimination, I give hearty consent.’

Her manner was flurried and she pressed his hand a little. He was holding hers tightly, and now it became a warm grasp, while he tried to see her face in the doubtful light, and strange varying emotions passed over his features. But she kept it turned away, and presently covered it with her handkerchief, and something very like a suppressed catching sob came.

‘O dear, how silly!’ she exclaimed, trying to pull away her hand; ‘do let me go! please—please! There, it is Mr. Farrant coming, I hear him. Let me go. Please do, Mr. Herbert!’ she went on more and more urgently.

‘You shall;—well, you shall. But some other time—I wont tease you now. Farrant told me that he meant to see your father to-night. How nervous you are, child. Not afraid of me, surely? I may come to-morrow, Isabel?’

‘Of course; only I thought you couldn't. But I see—I understand! Yes, come; come, by all means! But O dear, how funny it all is; and then there is this evening. I must go, or I shall be crazy.’

He let go her hand and she turned away; then came back again, laid her hand on his arm, and tried to speak, but burst into agitated tears, and ran off as fast as she could.

Mr. Herbert was soon seen riding away. Isabel watched him, as in the quiet of her own room she stilled her tears, feeling heartily ashamed of herself, and very guilty at leaving the drawing-room.

‘But they are singing again. Miss Terry will talk for me. So to-morrow papa is to be told and consulted. I shall triumph! My pet scheme! Poor Kate, it is very sad for her, though! I could fight that puppy! Flattering and wooing her, and now turning the cold shoulder, at the first scent of poverty. The others are of different metal, it seems. But I can't like it! I can't take it in! I don't like him as much as I thought I did. Well! I am not bound. I can say ‘No.’—To-night! Horrid prospect! Will it be ‘No’ or ‘Yes?’ I will not be listening to the singing! None of those old songs! I wont have it! It is not fair. It blinds me. I'll sit here and think! Such a serious step requires serious thought. And how very kind Mr. Herbert was to me! He guesses it all, I am sure!’

So Isabel went on, trying hard but in vain to reduce her thoughts to shape and order, and to decide on the pros and cons, whether it should

  ― 221 ―
be ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to the proposal which Mr. Farrant was to make this evening. But her ideas perpetually wandered from this to the other affair, her own darling scheme. She must behave better to Mr. Herbert next time. He meant to be kind and friendly, and she had all but repulsed him and all the confidence he tried to give her. Why was it that she felt so shy in hearing his story? It was odd! Again she passed in review the two gentlemen, and again she liked Mr. Herbert as a ‘friend’ over and over again the best; and again she decided that ‘friends’ were far pleasanter than ‘lovers.’ She only hoped Miss Terry appreciated him properly. Isabel somewhat doubted this. Now she was inclined to resent Miss Terry's measured expressions, and her very unruffled though conscious manner.

‘Well—the dinner bell will soon ring! They don't seem to have missed me, anyhow,’ she said, as, some time having elapsed, she felt rather weary of sitting still and ‘thinking.’ ‘Thinking is dreadfully tiresome, wearying work, I am sure.’

Here she heard the boys stamping along the passage. Her door was touched and opened.

‘Issy!’ said Willie, peeping in. ‘O, here you are! Where in the world are all the rest? Not a soul in the drawing-room! Farrant,—is he here? Going to stay, do you say? Eh, Issy, blush away!—that's it, is it? What fun! Is it settled?’

‘No, no, Willie; pray don't talk so! Besides, what do you mean? What is there to settle?’

‘Fiddle-dum!—as if you didn't know? But I say, Issy, what will the governor say, eh?’