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Volume II.




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1. CHAPTER I.

Confession and Confusion.

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It was quite late, wonderfully so for Langville, but Isabel, thoroughly wide-awake, kept watch in her room, which commanded a view of one of the drawing-room windows, three of which formed a sort of wide bow, and stood out from the rest of the house.

The windows were open, and the muslin curtains were gently swaying in the evening breeze. She saw that some one was there. Every now and then Mr. Farrant's figure came in sight. He seemed to be walking up and down.

Mrs. Lang and Kate were in bed. Miss Terry had come up stairs with Isabel, and had given her a hurried nervous good-night at parting, and an extra squeeze of the hand as if to mark her sympathy.

‘What is he saying? I wonder,’ thought Isabel; ‘Will it vex papa if I say no? It will mamma, poor mamma! I thought, of course, he would speak to me first! But I suppose this is the correct thing. Not the nicest, though! Yet, perhaps, it is good, and will make it easier for me. I don't want to hurt or mortify him. Have I done wrong not to draw back more, I wonder? Hallo! Who is that?’

‘Isabel! May I come in?’

‘You, Miss Terry! Yes, come in. Have you no light? I can find some matches.’

‘No, don't. I don't wish for light. I could not be easy without seeking you, Isabel, for I feel that you guess, know, in fact! I saw your kind sympathy, to-night! Dear Isabel! let me talk to you a little.’




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‘Ah, well—so do! To be sure! I remember now; and to-morrow all this is to be gone through for you, only if Willie is right, he has blundered; excuse me, Miss Terry, but you must cure him of that same blundering propensity!’ Isabel went on rapidly and not very coherently. Miss Terry, with her hand on Isabel's arm, looked at her in surprise.

‘I want you to wish me joy—that is, if you can—if you believe it will be joy for me, Isabel! Do you know I feel lonely to-night—strange, isn't it?’

‘It is all strange to me! I wish I could understand and feel it. I suppose I am one who can't, who never am meant to be in love and all that. Does it really seem so long to you to wait for to-morrow to see him? You must, indeed, be very fond of him!’

‘Well, that I am; though when I spoke of loneliness it was that I missed the congratulations of friends and relations.’

‘I see! But indeed you will have plenty! I am so glad, so very glad, though I can't show it. I have always been wishing and planning this very thing! I assure you I have really planned and worked hard to get you quiet chats and so on.’

‘You have been most kind. I thought it so very generous not to be curious or angry at the evident mystery you perceived. Isabel, it has been painful to us both to keep it secret; but circumstances made it needful. I always felt it so wrong, so guilty, to be deceiving you all.’

‘For how long?—we could see for ourselves, don't flatter yourself!’

‘Yes; no doubt you could and you did see something, though we were careful, too. But you could not know how far it went—that in fact we were engaged before I came here!’

Isabel started.

‘Miss Terry! Come——What do you mean?’

‘Yes, indeed, so it was; and I felt it very wrong. But till my friends came round and consented, we dared not mention it. We agreed to do as well as we could, and patiently await our hour. It was a mere accident our coming to this district. I accepted this situation, while he, unknown to me, made his own arrangements with the bishop. I doubted, and was nearly giving up coming, and then we thought better of it, and agreed to receive it as a good omen, and be thankful. And——’

‘Stop, please! I am giddy! I don't hear quite well!’ and Isabel sat down as she spoke, with her hands raised to her head.

‘Do explain clearly, will you? You were—you are—engaged to——to——’

‘Mr. Farrant,’ interrupted Miss Terry. ‘There he is, telling your father all our story, at this moment. Do you see?’ and she pointed to the


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drawing-room window.

‘Yes, I see!’ Isabel said, in a low voice.

‘Are you ill, Isabel? Am I keeping you up selfishly?’

‘No; only I feel confused—giddy. Just say it again, will you?’

‘What, that Edward Farrant and I are promised to each other, and that he wants to have his wife soon, and is now consulting your kind father about his plans? But you don't congratulate me.’

‘Haven't I? But I do. Yes, I believe I do very much; only you see you have startled me—surprised me. And now—I can't help thinking of—remembering another, who will be also surprised and, perhaps, hurt.’

‘Who can that be? And I was so sure you had guessed our secret! Edward was sure of it too. He said he began to tell you one day at the Veseys, and you stopped him in your warm, hasty, but fervent way, and he was convinced you understood it all. And he even fancied you were kind enough to try and cultivate his acquaintance for my sake——’

‘Well, well!’ Isabel murmured, as if only half awake. ‘And Mr. Herbert; I suppose he also understood all?—so you imagine at least. And what are you all dreaming about? I am certain he came to confide the secret to me to-day, and before to-day! Why, I wished him joy, and he said, to-morrow you were to consult or tell my father!’

‘Impossible! You must have misunderstood him, Isabel. Mr. Herbert has known the truth for some little time, and has been very kind; interesting himself in getting at my brother-in-law and helping us much. It is you who have been dreaming, Isabel! Are you awake now, think you?’

‘I don't know! I hardly think so!’ she said in an uncertain way, and gazing about her.

‘Well, I will leave you to sleep and real dreams. To-morrow it will all seem clear to you, and I shall claim a heartier shake-hands; it is not like what I expected from Isabel at all. Good night!’

‘No! you must not go,’ said Isabel, springing after her with some of her own energy. ‘I am waking up—I shall be all right presently. But—no,’ she said, withdrawing her before extended hand, ‘I won't congratulate you yet, till I have picked my bone clean. Pray do you consider it proper, and right, and fair, for him—for any man—to come to a neighbourhood professedly a single and a free man—free to woo and win young ladies, and so on? Suppose Amelia, or Kate, or I had chosen to fall deeply in love. What then? I call it abominable!’

‘But I saw there was no such inclination. I was on my guard of course; and he was very guarded in his manner to others, even though he was imprudently regardless of remarks with respect to myself. If there had


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been the smallest fear, of course we should have confessed all, at whatever risk to ourselves.’

‘You think yourselves very wise—wonderfully sharp, I see! But I don't at all agree with you. No; I maintain you did ill. If no mischief has come it is not your faults. It proves us a very stony, unimpressible set here. I think’ (she went on just a little bitterly) ‘that with all Mr. Farrant's charms and ‘wishing-to-please-you’ manner, no one's heart was touched. As it is, say what you will, I believe that the men have fared the worse. I am certain Mr. Herbert has gone on a wrong track. I am sure he likes you, and thought he had won you, too!’

‘My dear Isabel, excuse me—that is going too far! Every one understands better than that. Why, I could show you notes of his—of Mr. Herbert's—to me and to Edward, about this very thing. Surely, don't you remember that day in the verandah, when you said you had overheard our secret?—his and mine! And Mr. Herbert said, since you had forced our confidence, you must keep it. Surely—O, Isabel! you do know better; you must be conscious. Come, if a fear of Mr. Herbert's being unhappy is what stands between me and my expected hoped-for good wishes, I must get them!"

‘Do you really care for them so much?—now, too, that you are so rich in that way! I should have fancied that swallowed up all other feelings, and there was no room for either regret or for more joy.’

‘But it is so long that I have been wishing and longing to tell you—to speak openly! I thought you liked Edward, and I was so glad. I have watched you admire his singing. It drew me closer to you, Isabel. It hurts me for you to be so cold and so harsh now! Can't you forgive us?—we have had much to bear.’

Isabel's answer was to throw her arms round Miss Terry's neck, and to kiss her vehemently. All the native generosity of her heart seemed to flash from her eyes, half dimmed as they were with hushed tears. ‘May you be happy! And you will be happy. Are you very fond of him? Tell me—what is it you feel? I want to know. Do you like all he does, and says, and is? Do you feel to want him when he is away, and yet wish to run away from him when he is here? O, it must be so very very strange! I should not like it. No; I don't really think it is in me to love in that way. If I ever did——’

‘What then, Isabel?’

‘I was going to say I should be unbearable. If I were alone, like you, I might perhaps throw myself wholly on one—only it would be so difficult to find the very right one—one to suit! But now I have papa, and mamma, and Kate, and the chicks, and the troublesome boys, and Mr.


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Herbert, in a fashion—to say nothing of you or the dear old Jollys, and Tom, and, most of all, daddy! He is my love.’

‘So you think now.’ And Miss Terry smiled. ‘There! the conference is over. See, the light is out, and your poor papa must be half dead with fatigue. He wont forget this evening in a hurry! I'll wait till they are in their rooms. There, both doors are fast. Now good night, dear Isabel! good night!’

‘Good night. Don't be surprised if I am clean gone—vanished to-morrow morning! I feel like it—as if I was whirling off somewhere—as if the whole world was turned over. To-morrow will not, cannot come like any other day, I am sure. We shall see! I feel like something will happen. You may laugh; but I mean it. I never was like this before.’

‘Shall I return to you? Are you afraid to be left? Over-excitement, perhaps. Take a little sal volatile.’

‘No, but a glass of water. On no account come back. Precisely what I want is to be alone. When I don't hear your voice I shall feel myself all right. Good night, Mrs. Farrant—arch-deceiver! actress! cunning woman!’

And again Isabel tried to think. But her efforts were worse than ever now. She had a confused notion that it was a relief—that she was glad, and sorry, and surprised all together—that there would be a great deal of ‘fuss’ to-morrow, and something would happen. She felt as if a part of her life had gone suddenly. There was to be a new act and a new scene. She felt as if she was shifted onwards by some invisible power, and had left old things behind. A few hours seemed to her like months or years ago. Sleep, sound and deep, put an end to these sensations.




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2. CHAPTER II.

Further Explanation.

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It was curious, but a weight seemed gone from her. There was a feeling as if it was incumbent on her to look bright and well, and she took unusual trouble to pick out a nice dress, turning over and rejecting several before she was pleased. At last a blue and white muslin was chosen; it was very simple, and not at all costly, but it was fresh and clean, and hung in nice ample folds from the throat to the feet, only confined at the waist by a belt which matched exactly. With her bright wavy hair and sunny smile, in spite of the freckles which so moved Mrs. Vesey's pity, Isabel was as pleasant and fresh an object for the eye to meet on coming down to breakfast as could be imagined; and so her father evidently thought, as he kept his hand under her chin and gazed again and again into her truth-telling eyes.

‘Hast heard, Issy? Ay indeed! and don't care? That's my own heart's darling!—I could have sworn it!—I said so! Sure—quite sure? Another look!—Ah! 'tis my own bright lassie! Now, then, marry away, parson and little woman, as fast they like. But, I say, Issy, wasn't it a sell, eh? Come, I judged her best after all; I never believed she cared for our friend of the mustaches. Ah, here's mamma! Well, Mrs. Lang, here's our poor girl, hardly able to speak or look up, as you may see.’




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‘Indeed, I am not surprised;—nothing will ever surprise me again,’ Mrs. Lang remarked while preparing the proper quantity of tea with the air of a martyr. ‘He is gone, I believe, isn't he?’

‘If you mean that culprit Mr. Farrant, my love, yes, he is gone, ashamed to face us, no doubt, eh, Issy?’

‘Issy!’ said Mrs. Lang, with an elevation of her head; ‘I don't think it very good taste of you to be pretending jokes with your father on this subject. It ought to be met with becoming dignity. I call it downright shameful! Talk of deceiving!—talk of breach of promise!’

‘Come, now, my dear Kitty, pray, pray be careful; after all no harm is done. Look here at Isabel,—is this a broken-hearted lassie? No, no; we wont hurt the poor things with black looks and rebukes. Forget and forgive; of course I shall miss the custards, Mrs. Lang; and the singing, Mrs. Lang; but I'll try to get over it. Here's Kate! Come Kate,—do you scent bridecake, or wedding gloves, my dear? Here we are full of it!’

‘Yes, I heard; Miss Terry told me just now,’ Kate said with a careless, proud toss of the head. ‘Strange affair, I think;—not very fair to some parties, I should say! Luckily for myself it doesn't affect me in the remotest manner, but it is rather queer!’

‘I should think so; the very idea of a governess behaving in such a scandalous way! Taking the precedence of the two young ladies of the house, pushing herself forward! How you can be so strange, so unnatural, Mr. Lang, I can't think!’

‘Come now, mamma,’ said Isabel, coming up and coaxing her; ‘you don't wish Mr. Farrant or any one else to see that you meant him for one of your daughters, do you?’

‘Indeed, no!—my daughters, the Miss Langs of Langville, may look higher, I should hope!’

‘Spoken like a wise woman, Kitty—beg pardon—Mrs. Lang. Bless me, if he had asked me for her I believe I should have said something he wouldn't like.’

‘Who is the ‘her,’ daddy?’

‘Why you—you sauce-box! Mamma wanted to persuade me you fancied him, eh, Issy? as if I didn't know better. Wouldn't have had him, would you, lassie?’

‘Grapes are sour when out of reach,’ said Isabel, as she buttered her father's toast and gave it to him. ‘I have got you to look after, daddy; quite enough I am sure,’ she added, laughing.

‘Ay, and so it is! Issy and I suit, and we don't mean to cut yet. Now, Mrs. Lang, my dear, let me recommend this egg, it will do


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you good and clear your heart. Now you find us all whole and happy, you wont fret? You will forgive the young people. And I say, about that bridecake,—can't we make it here?’

‘Impossible, Mr. Lang; and I don't feel disposed to make any great effort,—for—for—’

‘A note for Miss Lang, and messenger to wait for an answer,’ said the serving lad, giving Kate a highly-scented pink note.

‘They hope to see me there the day after to-morrow,’ said Kate, flushing with pleasure. ‘No objection is there?’ and, receiving her mother's hearty consent, and not observing her father's doubtful ‘umph!’ she flew off to answer the note.

Isabel clenched her fingers tightly together, and in her mind waged deadly war with any one cruel enough to disappoint Kate. She snatched up the note, when Kate returned and examined it. Apparently it afforded no particular satisfaction.

An hour or two later, when the little post messenger came back, Isabel sought her father. She found him at last near the foal shed still poring over a letter. Isabel was startled at the face he lifted on hearing her steps.

‘Papa! what is it? No, don't try to laugh! I knew—I knew something was coming wrong; I felt so last night, I did indeed. Tell me, what is it?’

‘What I have long looked for, child,—Ruin! ruin! Good God!—not a house, not a man stands! Lucky he who has funds in England, as it seems our friend and creditor Herbert has. He seems all right again, and so takes upon himself a little lecturing. Read it yourself, he does not want to press the trifle I owe him, as he has found relief from present pressure. Well, beggars can't choose; but it irks me, girl, to be obliged to him.’

‘Yet, he is a very old and a very true friend. I would sooner trust him than—than the Vine Lodge people or Mr. Budd.’

‘Well—this fixes me! To Sydney I must go. I must consult with Smith, the lawyer. He'll advise whitewashing,note and then there's Westbrooke to go to. But I shall try yet;—your mother! I dread her leaving this, you see.’

‘Don't!—you mustn't dread anything—but disgrace. She will get over it. Westbrooke is a pleasant place. Don't go deeper into it—don't, daddy! Stop at once; it is best for all!’

‘There's truth in that! Well, don't go and croak to mother. Kate is going on a visit; I fear she is deceived, poor girl.’

‘When shall you go, papa?’




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‘As soon as I can. First I must ride down to the new wheat plot, and leave directions. I shall send for, or swear in, a couple of constables.note I am not easy about those rascally Bushrangers; there is a report that they are in this district. If so, we shall feel them, on account of Lynch, you see. Well, go in—keep up mamma's spirits. I sha'n't be back till late, for I have far to ride. The boys come with me and take orders. Perhaps I may start for Sydney to-morrow. Kiss me, and now go, my sunbeam! Ah, Issy—we've cheated the parson!’

‘Pardon me, sir; it seems rather more like the parson's cheating us.’

‘What, didst think of him, then?’

‘Couldn't help it, when every one repeated it every day. But as I fretted much at the possibility of their being right, you may suppose I am not at all unhappy at finding they were all wrong. I should have said ‘No’ at last, I am sure.’

‘Ay, ay! No, Issy, you mustn't desert the nest. The old birds are getting heavy on wing. I couldn't part with you were a king to come and ask me for your hand!’

She left him, looking round on the evidences of comfort and wealth; the place redeemed from the wilderness by her father. And to think they must leave it all! It was hard—hard for them! For herself one place was as good as another. She always liked Westbrooke.

These thoughts were dispersed by seeing Mr. Farrant riding briskly up the entrance road. Not feeling quite in a humour to respond to his demonstrations of happiness and calls on her sympathy, she turned away towards the stables and fed her favourite little foal. The boys were there too, and they had a long inspection of all the horses, till they mounted and rode off, leading their father's mare to meet him at a certain field. Isabel was turning to go in, when Mr. Herbert appeared, leading Pearl, according to his custom.

She was vexed at feeling herself shy and blushing; but somehow, in spite of Miss Terry's assurances, Isabel dreaded making known that lady's engagement to him. She waited gravely engrossed with her own thoughts, while he put Pearl up in comfort.

‘You expected me?—Yes, I have you now at last!—and we will have a turn in the vinewalk,’ he said. Isabel wondered a little at his manner; then put it down to his being unhappy.

‘No, not there. Look!—do you see?’ and Isabel nervously pointed to where Mr. Farrant and Miss Terry were crossing the green, evidently bound for the same place. Searching and keen was the glance she threw at him; she felt shy too, and more awkward than she ever did,


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on his account.

‘They have done abominably. What right had he—had she to—to——’ but she could not finish.

‘To suit each other, and to find it out and engage to marry?’ And he in his turn tried to read her face.

‘Well! what do you see, or fancy you see? Willow, willow?note feeling it yourself, you see it in me! I pity you. It is a sad downfall to my first, as it shall be my last, putting a finger into the thing called matrimony. Ah! I thought you two so suited! But, of course, whatever you felt or feel, you will not confess it—of course not! You are too proud. And I like you quite as well for it—only it is not in me. And I can't pretend that I am not regularly taken in and deceived.’

‘My dear Isabel! You speak so fast, so rapidly; you are so agitated——’

‘That indeed I am not!—never was cooler in my life! But, come, I will not meet them just now! Come this way;’ and she put her hand on his arm, and hurriedly drew him in an opposite direction from the garden towards the men's huts, and the bush which skirted them.

‘I don't understand you,’ he said, presently. ‘What am I too proud to show? What is it you are deceived by? I suppose—I conclude that Farrant spoke out last evening. Such I understood was his intention, and so I warned you, if you remember.’

‘As if I understood one single word you said! Never was so taken by surprise in my life! And surely you knew it! I thought you yourself admired Miss Terry, and had proposed, and—and——Well!’ she said, in a half-defiant, half-tremulous way, as if ashamed of her shyness, ‘why not speak out? What harm in it? O! if one might but be allowed to speak plain truth, just as we think it! Every one gave me to understand,’ she went on with determination, ‘that he, that consummate actor, that arch deceiver, that he——’ but still it wouldn't do, she could not say it. ‘It is a mortification, isn't it? I ought to be very miserable—heart-broken and deceived—oughtn't I?’ and her voice, in spite of all her efforts, sounded tremulous and thick.

‘O, Isabel! I didn't think this! No, indeed I was mistaken!’ Mr. Herbert said, dropping her hand, and walking on before her in a brusque, disturbed manner. She followed, however, and both were silent, till they came to the fence, and they stood against it. ‘I see, I see! That hurried manner, I understand! Poor child. It was very wrong! Nothing can justify their deceiving us all so! Their secret would have been safe, but we should have known it—you and your family I mean—


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all along. And did you really not guess it?—not see something going on?’

‘On the contrary; my guesses were all wrong. I did not profess to know or understand such affairs; and when every one came to the same conclusion (why, I even fancied you did) I believed at once! Last night, up to the very last moment, I saw everything wrong. I suppose the correct thing would be to be dreadfully proud and haughty; but somehow I can't reach it. I feel as if I had been ‘made a fool of,’ in plain English, and there's an end of it! It serves me right, I dare say, and will be a lesson. And now let us talk of something else! Papa has had very unpleasant news, and must go to Sydney to-morrow.’ Her deep though smothered sigh was heard by him.

‘Your father wont—I can't get him to trust me, or to believe I have a great regard for him. I could, perhaps, help him now, Isabel. I have had unexpected relief myself. You know, surely, how glad I should be to be of use—don't you? We are friends, you and I, although——’

‘Yes! O yes! But it wont do. I feel something is going to fall on us. I am sure I have had a ‘presentiment’ lately. When do you go to the station?’ she added, abruptly.

‘Immediately. There is nothing now to wait for. When I return, then——. Is there anything I can do?’ he added, as if catching himself up. ‘Isabel, you can't fancy what a disappointment it is to find you so—so——. I came hoping to open my heart to you; but I see it is a wrong time. My dear little Isabel!’ he said, fondly, and again drawing her hand in his arm. ‘You and I have long been friends; my love for you is great, perhaps peculiar. I don't like to see you suffer. You wont long, will you? You will overcome any feeling that his attentions (confound the man!) had roused. Abominable! Men ought to be careful. But your own pride will come in to aid you.’

‘O yes; if only poor dear mamma will not make me ridiculous through her own annoyance.’

‘Is she then much disappointed? Did she really believe it, and wish it?’

‘I think she did. And then poor Kate's affair; I fear it will not end well.’

‘The only good end to that will be to have nothing to do with him. Isabel, I could tell you things of that fellow that would startle and horrify you. He is an ingrained rascal, worldly and evil. No; Kate deserves some better fate than to be his soon-neglected, ill-used wife. I hear she is going to Vine Lodge.’




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‘Yes; on a long-promised visit. I hope it will decide things one way or the other! I know she has been uneasy at his long absence and coldness.’

‘And if she knew what he had been about. Good heavens! how young girls are taken in! Better fret for ever than marry him. But he wont have her now he finds she is not an heiress. You are aware of the reputation you both had in Sydney? Ah! what's that? Is that the dinner-bell?’




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3. CHAPTER III.

Unwelcome Visitors, and Farewell.

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Shrill, sharp, and hurried, as if pulled by no steady hand, and for no household purpose, the big bell at the top of Langville House swang to and fro, and sent its call far and wide over the premises.

‘That is the alarm bell,’ said Isabel; ‘it is scarcely ever rung. Papa had it put up in case we needed any of the servants or men at night, or for fire, or Bushrangers. Surely—can it be the children for fun?’

No child's hand pulled the string. Fire! No symptoms appeared of such a thing. All the men were dispersed at their work; it wanted half-an-hour to dinner. ‘Ah! there it goes again;’ and Mr. Herbert ran back to the house as fast as he could. Mr. Farrant joined him at the back-door, while a few miserably frightened female servants peeped out from kitchen and laundry; but no man was to be seen.

‘What is it? What can it be?’ exclaimed at the same time Isabel and Miss Terry, meeting about the middle of the yard.

‘Where is Mr. Lang?’

‘Gone away to the new wheat-paddock, quite out of hearing.’

‘Edward is beckoning for us, Isabel,’ said Miss Terry, pointing to the back-door of the house, where Mr. Farrant appeared for a moment, and then seeing he was observed, retreated again.

When they came in, a scene at once ludicrous and alarming made Isabel at least understand in a moment what it was all about.




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Kate was extended on the couch in the work-room, pale and faint, just recovering herself, in fact, from a swoon. Mrs. Lang was disordered and flushed, her cap all on one side, as she divided her grief between her daughter's state and the state of her desk and secretary, which bore evident marks of being turned topsy turvy.

The little girls were also there and their nurse. Sophy was crying bitterly, the other hiding her face in her nurse's apron; and the said nurse, with uplifted hands, was repeating, in a flurried and incoherent way, what she meant to be an explanation of the event.

‘The villain! If he hasn't been after terrifying every soul of us, the wee darlints and all. And Miss Kate there, in a dark swound, enough to turn the heart of any Christian. But, holy Virgin! they be no Christians at all, at all—only a set of rampaging, ill-minded rogues, that desarves hanging this minute, and a good fifty afterwards—the saints save them! The poor missis! to see all her bits of money forbye the jewels, made free with before her very eyes; and she lawful missis of the place, and a power of servants at her command; and he stuck there, ye may believe me! with a grate ugly gun at her poor head!—One giving her her death-stroke, jist wi' looking at the nasty gun, and the other as glib and quick, and so polite! Save us! if he didn't turn out every drawer and every box, and made off with Miss Kate's lovely golden watch and all. Och hon, Och hon!’ and then followed a succession of Irish howls and exclamations in a hybrid tongue, made up between her Irish descent and the currency speech she had learnt in the colony. For ‘nurse’ was a currency woman, her parents being ‘real’ Irish emigrants, one of the very first that ever came to Sydney. She was not a bad specimen of her class, and, according to her own notions, she served Mrs. Lang very faithfully, being fond of the children; and having been twice ‘crossed in love,’ she had fully made up her mind to remain in service, till she could save enough to keep a lodging in Sydney, having forsworn the married state, and occasionally uttering her maxims, gained, as she said, by ‘hard experience,’ to her two young ladies, Miss Kate and Miss Isabel.

‘Well!’ said Mr. Herbert, coming back to the room, and lowering his voice as he caught sight of Kate's open eyes, and pale, frightened aspect (Isabel was bathing her forehead with eau de Cologne). ‘Well! no traces but those of a spoiled city. The rascals! They are off! When did you ring that bell?’

‘As soon as I was free. But I was ‘baled up’note with a gun at my head,’ said Mrs. Lang, roused out of all small affectations. ‘Kate and I were working. I had just finished my accounts, intending to ask Mr. Lang for money before he left, as he talks of doing.——Yes; just locked my desk


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and left the keys in it. I said to Kate, ‘The little girls are spoiling their frocks out there; go, love, and see what they are about.’ Dear Kate complied, as she always does. She is so very amiable! But she turned in a moment in dreadful horror—'Mamma! a man!’ And before I understood her, those dreadful, horrid fellows were at the open window, bowing and grinning! O! I knew! I have had it all before! But Kate, poor dear, delicate, Kate!——’

‘So the bell was not pulled till the deed was done. Is that it?’ and Mr. Herbert's lip curved a little.

‘I don't know what you mean! My nerves are quite unstrung, and I can't bear that abrupt, terrifying manner. How could I ring with a gun levelled at my head? How could Kate ring when she was fainting, and that villain lifted her up and put her down there before my very eyes! As to the others, the men, the servants, friends, boys,—we were entirely deserted! entirely! when they went away, that is, allowing them five minutes, though they said twenty, and I knew they would kill me and Kate too, if we provoked them—then I pulled the bell indeed! But considering we had two gentlemen on the place, besides our numerous staff of men, some of them constables too, I consider that we were shamefully neglected! Not one of you came in time to do any good. No! Kate and I fought our own battle, and no thanks to any one!’ Mrs. Lang used her handkerchief in more ways than one, and looked aggrieved as well as much upset. ‘Come and lie down, mamma!’ said Isabel, in a soothing but firm voice. ‘Poor mamma! you are quite ill. Such a fright! And Kate so bad! And are they really gone—escaped? Did you recognise the faces, mamma?’

‘No, indeed. Though I dare say it must be that dreadful Lynch. I am nearly certain it was his voice. He might have been disguised, you see!’

‘No, madam,’ said nurse. ‘It was not Jack Lynch, I assure you. Bless you, I saw the faces quite plain—and I'd know them again anywhere. One was dark, and short and square. The other taller and thinner, and had red—yes, either red or quite light hair, and he smiled and showed his teeth; a rare cage too.note And did your honour just inquire among the men? For they will have made off some road for certain, and one or other of them would likely come right against them returning for dinner.’

‘I asked, of course. They were one and all utterly astonished and ignorant. Every one had been at work, and knew and heard nothing! Nothing more probable than a coalition, eh, Farrant?’ said Mr. Herbert.

‘You know best, of course; meanwhile, shall you not send a constable or two after them, and search the huts—not only here, but every one in the neighbourhood? Though too late to prevent this mischief, we may


  ― 244 ―
arrest the evil, and make this district too hot for them. The rascals! The breakers of all home peace and home ties. Lucky, indeed, it is no worse. Fortunate, I do believe, that none but women were here, and consequently there was no dream of resistance, no blood shed. I can't help shrewdly suspecting, at least some connexion between this and Lynch's running off. It is surprising how they cling one to another. The cause of one is the cause of all! Ah, well, poor fellows, their hour is at hand. The mounted police are already bidden to ride after them, and bring them dead or alive! And at the same time, this same police staff is being swept out, and suspected characters dismissed or sent elsewhere.’

‘Do you mean that this very place, this district, is infested particularly?’ inquired Mrs. Lang.

‘Just now it is,’ Mr. Herbert said. ‘Lynch's absconding made some noise, and it so chanced that Bird and Beast,note the so-called pair of notorious outlaws, were before rumoured as about here. A fellow came across one in the Bush and recognised him directly. His silence was purchased for a given time by a famous pouch of ‘ 'baccy.’ But the social qualities of the weed brought out the news that same evening. And this fact was capped by another fellow saying, that a strange man answering to the description of ‘Beast,’ with a perfect forest of hair on his head and face, was seen skulking behind a barn somewhere. Old Wright was stopped, and his pockets turned out. They carried off his toothpick case and a picture of his mother, so he says, which he always carried about him, but no cash. In fact, various petty rumours prove, like the jackals, that the lion is somewhere at hand. To-day is further proof. Thank God! you escaped so well. Justice will soon fall on them; and, meanwhile, this panic will do no good; shall I disperse these gathering, gaping idlers, Mrs. Lang?’

On her assenting, he went out to the yard, and in a brief, authoritative manner told the men they were too late, and that, as usual, the women had done all the work. Little harm was done. All must now return to order and to work.

‘Constables—Brady! Toole! come here in a quarter of an hour. I shall have orders and a warrant ready for you. Now friends—now good people—good women—off with you! The show is over. They came suddenly, as your own final end and doom will. There is nothing to be said, nothing to be done.’

Murmuring and exchanging looks, they all turned away, and, as far as outward signs lay, there was no more undue distraction or excitement.

In the house they looked over the disordered drawers, amused to see the experience and skill with which they had directly pounced on the


  ― 245 ―
valuable and portable articles.

Unfortunately there was some money—more than usual, for the payment of wages, and also a private hoard of poor Mrs. Lang's, for the providing some dainty luxury for her pet child, which had been carried off, and also some rings and brooches, some rich embroidery work,—which amused Isabel, she wondering how they could know its value—and a silver snuff-box and pencil-case. The rest of the plate was safe. They had only ventured on the one room, it seemed.

Mr. Herbert observed, that as these wretched men were from all possible trades, among them might be found a judge even of articles of a lady's toilet; and he brought forward an example of a friend of his, who was robbed one evening when every one was busy in the harvest fields, and she and a girl-servant had returned to undress and put to bed the tired-out children. Three men came; one entering the bedroom where the lady was, through the window. He told her that two others were close outside, and that any attempt at giving alarm or escape would cause mischief. They did not wish to do harm, but must help themselves in order to live, having eaten nothing since yesterday morning. She said she had no money, only the few shillings in her purse, which she threw towards him. He called to his comrade, who entered and set to work to open and examine every box and drawer, with the quickest and most expert fingers. He chose all that was valuable and rejected all the common and imitation stuff. They tied up all these feminine articles in some silk handkerchiefs of her husband's, and were just about to make off, when to her horror ‘clang, clang!’ went the gathering bell. There was a rush and a scuffle—shots fired outside—oaths and threats were heard—and one old white-haired man, a very old servant, burst in and fell at her feet. ‘Save me, madam! Save——’ but as he spoke his brains were dashed out.

‘It was ascertained that this old fellow, the only one left in the house, resolved to make an effort to secure these audacious robbers, so he rang the bell which summoned the other men. The robbers had barely time to escape. One in revenge returned to kill the poor mistaken old fellow; but even he got off through the window, hiding for a moment behind a water-cask, and then, when they were searching through the house, he rejoined his fellows in the Bush. Two of the party are to this day uncaught; one was hanged.—No! resistance, unless well managed and adequate, is worse than useless—positively wrong for women alone.’

This event, of course, upset all the usual regulations of Langville. The cook could not help being one hour late with dinner. Even the dogs and the cats were roaming about in forbidden corners. The children recov


  ― 246 ―
ered from their alarm, were acting bushrangers in the nursery, with great unction. Kate remained rather faint and plaintive, till reminded by her mother to make her preparations for an early drive to-morrow to Vine Lodge. Mrs. Lang subsided into a very sleepy and resigned state, only wondering what kept Mr. Lang and the boys so late. Then Isabel proposed their all going to meet them, and Miss Terry agreed to come and bring the children. The two gentlemen said they would go part of the way, but Mr. Farrant had business in the settlement, and Mr. Herbert thought his sister might chance to hear of these unwelcome visitants, and that he must go back to comfort her.

‘I thought you wished to see papa?’ Isabel observed.

‘Yes; so I did! But it seems as if an age had passed since I came this morning. No! I must yet defer my talk. It would be no time now. I wish I could be more easy about you, Isabel! I am sure you will suffer from this, sooner or later. I don't mean the bushrangers,’ he added, in answer to her look of question.’ I allude to the surprise—the—the—I trust I may term it the annoyance——’

‘O, you are thinking of that! Is it only to-day we heard of it? How very strange. Yes; you have hit it exactly. It is a surprise, and a somewhat annoying one.’

‘Isabel, if you can, keep Kate from Vine Lodge. She is really a sweet girl—much more interesting than I ever thought her before, I confess. For Heaven's sake, keep her easily-led mind from close contact with that woman! Some day you will agree with me in this, if you don't now. She showed me her friend's sketches and rhymes. Anything more utterly in bad taste I can't fancy. And you, Isabel, do not, I entreat, if only for my sake, do not cultivate the accomplishment! You mean no harm, you say? I know it. If I didn't, I should not speak so to you! Isabel, look at me for a moment. I think you understand me, for you come to me as to a friend you may trust—I shan't forget that. Since I knew of their secret,’ nodding slightly towards Miss Terry and her lover in front of them, ‘I have been happy—yes—happy! But—no, don't hurry away!—When I return—that is, if forced to go at all to the station, which I devoutly hope to avoid, I shall come to you. Isabel, we have been good friends, eh? Yes!—well—but we must be somewhat more than that now.’

‘What; enemies?’

‘No! but—Isabel——’

‘They are calling—come! I feel more like an enemy than anything else now, with every one. I should like to mount a swift horse and pursue and take them! A hundred pounds! when we are so very hard up! Poor


  ― 247 ―
daddy, he was troubled enough without this! and our drays are on the road.—Shouldn't wonder if it really has something to do with Lynch.’

She rattled on, with a burning colour in her face, while his eyes were fixed on her all the time with a serious scrutiny which made her heart flutter, though she tried to resent it and to pull away her hands which he held fast in his.

‘Well, good-bye, good-bye, Isabel!’ he said, still lingering. ‘When I come again, you must—I must say a few words—I mean, I want to tell you something—you will listen then, will you? Promise, promise me—for lately you have always evaded me. Well, take care of yourself—God bless you!’

Then, in the act of turning back, he said, coming and whispering close to her ear, ‘Should—should anything happen—I mean, if you leave this—go to Westbrooke,—or if you think I can help in any way, and supposing I should be detained in some now unforeseen way, you will write to me? Do you trust me, Isabel?’

‘Yes, of course I do!—all but in one thing,’ she could not resist adding, with a saucy smile—'you wont understand a joke,’ she said, with mock earnest in her voice and look. ‘It is a pity; a little fun is very amusing, and I don't see why it always makes you so grave and angry; but never mind, there's no joke now. Give my love to your sister, will you? Of course, I don't mean you should really do so. Why, what would she say or think? No, but give my—something—whatever is correct, and so on—and I hope she has not been worried by robbers. Ah, there's Willie, I see—papa is near, then. Will you stay?’

‘No, I can't. Again, good-bye—au revoir!’

‘Good-bye,’ she repeated, and she kissed her hand at him once again, as he turned round by the stable.

She felt sorry he was gone, he had been so kind! That was his best and nicest smile, without a bit of sarcasm or irony. There was no one like him, after all! Yet Miss Terry liked another better. How very strange and incomprehensible taste is! ‘But there they are, all telling and telling, and they wont leave me a scrap of news for poor daddy.’




  ― 248 ―

4. CHAPTER IV.

Fraternal Confidences.

note

Leaving the family at Langville to relate their adventure with all the natural alarm, annoyance, and wonder attending such a case, we will follow Mr. Herbert in his return to Warratah Brush.

‘Ah, John, I didn't expect you quite so soon! It is very good of you, and lucky perhaps, too, for here is a letter left by some person travelling to Sydney, I understand.’

‘Indeed! Have you had any visitors, Mary?’

‘Not a soul. I did rather expect Mrs. Vesey, after what she said on Sunday; but fine words cost nothing. How are the Langs?’

‘Rather so so. They had visitors, and of that kind, that I felt somewhat anxious to be here and know how you fared. I believe Forrester & Co. on the verandah are our best friends and keep our place safe from such calls.’

‘What, bushrangers? Well, I assure you, the dogs have been very uneasy to-day—growling at nothing. I shouldn't wonder if they were within scent, and seeing so many men working as there chanced to be in the yard, and these formidable dogs, they thought better of it. To say truly, John, thanking you all the same for your kind thought, I had just as soon be here alone as have you with your fire-arms. You could do nothing, taken by surprise, as you are sure to be; and imperfect resistance is sure to end in bloodshed. I should let them help themselves.’

‘Not very pleasant to watch the rascals turning out one's things before


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one's face. But where women are concerned, you are right.’

Mr. Herbert here read his letter.

‘That has made you grave again! I was observing how very bright you looked, John, when you first came in—just as if you had heard good news. But what is this?’

‘Nothing new. Confirmation of my doubts of that humbug of an overseer, with his plausible Scotch dialect. I must be off at once. Trust me to take a canny Scotchman again. An Irishman, you may have your honest and open doubts about, and so act on your guard, and if you do chance to win his heart, he will not like to ruin you. But the Scotch preach you a sermon and cheat you at the same time. Can you have my kit ready—let me see—to-morrow or the day after? I must see Blackett first, and that will take a day. I shall go there and start straight from his place, you see. But it is intolerably provoking just now, when I so much wanted to settle—to see——’

‘What did you want to settle, John? To go at once is the great object. I should hope you need not stay there at all. You are wanted so much here.’

‘If I could get to Langville and back before breakfast——’ he was murmuring to himself.

‘What, to Langville again! O, John, what does it mean?’

‘It means that a secret has come out which it might have been better for all had we known it before. Like other mysteries, it has led to a few errors. Mary, Farrant has declared himself—he——’

‘Has he, indeed? What, after all, it is to be Isabel, then, though I began to hope——’

‘Thank God! no, no, no!’

‘No? you can't mean it! What, has she refused him?’

‘He has, it seems, been engaged to Miss Terry, even before they either of them came here. Family circumstances forced them to secrecy. It might have done mischief. Happily, I think,—I hope, it has done none.’

‘You astonish me! Well, then, he has good taste, after all! A much more suitable person indeed. Only—only—O John! I did so like her—Mr. Farrant is a man of taste!’

‘Which John Herbert is not? Mary, can't you, wont you try to like Isabel a little better?’ and he sat down by his sister on the couch, and slid his hand round her waist. So seldom was there any attempt at demonstration of their quiet but strong attachment, that Miss Herbert was taken by surprise, and rather moved. His smile pleased her. It was earnest, wistful, happy, and unconstrained.

‘Do, Mary, try! It is, I assure you, only a little prejudice on your part.


  ― 250 ―
I should grieve to marry one you could not like. I believed I never should again wish to unite my fate with another's. But I feel this is no slight fancy, no youthful fascination. I love her, love her,’ and his voice rose, ‘in the way a man of my age loves, having once been disappointed, and therefore having kept aloof from all play at loose and bind with the feelings,—as a man capable of weighing facts and sounding the depths of his own heart, can love once—and—but once.’

‘Tell me, John, are you engaged? Is it done?—lest I do mischief,’ she added, in a tremulous, almost apologetic voice.

‘No—that's it. The suspense—you can hardly guess how anxious and nervous I am till—’

‘As if you could doubt—doubt for an instant!’

‘You are mistaken, Mary,’ he said, shaking his head. ‘I doubt much, and altogether; I am wholly uncertain if I shall not injure my cause by speaking now. Yet after such a narrow escape, how can I leave her—leave it uncertain? I know she likes me,—too well, I sometimes fear! I don't expect her love could be like my own. It could not be! Mary, one moment I hope—the next, I despair!’

‘John, is it possible you forget all the pain, the stinging torture you suffered once?’

‘And why remind me of it now?’

‘Because I must! I remember thinking the effect of that trial anything but softening. It made you bitter and harsh, John. Where you love, any great fault would be to poison you, and any fault of the kind showing that peculiar tone of mind, would, I know, be unbearable. Now, John, you think me unkind and prejudiced. I don't wish to be so! True, I did not take that fancy to her you did. But I had no cause to be prejudiced, seeing you like her so well—I watched her, and I solemnly declare to you, John, that I have seen, not once, not twice, but over and over again, indications of that selfsame disposition, a disposition to prefer fun to kindness. She would wound her dearest friend rather than sacrifice a joke or a bit of so-called wit and fun! Then, Mrs. Vesey, hasn't she seen this in Isabel? Ay, and worked it—used if for her own amusement? More than you know have they given way to the low habit of caricaturing their neighbours. While waiting for Mrs. Vesey to put her bonnet on a week ago, when I went there, I turned over a book on the side-table. It was full of pictures, likenesses of every individual in the district, and Sydney people, too! Odd and comical enough. Clever, I suppose, they are called. Not a thing, not a gesture, escapes their sharp eyes.’

‘Their!—it was Mrs. Vesey's book, her drawings, wasn't it? What has it to do with Isabel?’ He spoke hurriedly and anxiously, all the sweetness


  ― 251 ―
gone from his face. Swinging his foot up and down, with his fingers in his waistcoat pockets, he watched his sister's countenance.

‘I used the plural advisedly, John. Several of the pictures had I. L. in the corner, and besides that, when Mrs. Vesey came in, she said, ‘Ain't they clever, Isabel Lang's I mean? she is so ridiculously sensitive, and afraid lest any one should see his own likeness, as if any one could possibly mind a little harmless fun!’ I begged to disagree from her, and said I thought it a very hazardous experiment, which no friendship would stand. She looked very meaningly at me, and asked if you were not peculiarly sensitive. I said, not more so than others. ‘O!’ she laughed, ‘I heard a very droll story about it at Bath. I know! But you need not fear my saying anything. I shall not tell a soul.’ ’

‘What could the woman mean, Mary?’

‘Of course she has in some way heard some gossip, John. She knew some of our Bath acquaintance, and it is very possible, people are so fond of ill-natured stories, that . . . we know we have nothing to expect from her forbearance, John. Naturally, her friends would lay all the blame on you, and exaggerate it too.’

‘Good heavens! that it should follow even here, here to the Bush! That a would-be fine lady of fashion should have hit on that miserable story, and now to have been actually probing, and cross-examining me and my countenance to find out how far it fitted. She has even the audacity to play her experiments on me, and to drag her—to drag my own little girl into it too! Something told me that woman could and would work me evil, I took such an antipathy to her!’

He rose and moved up and down, walked to the open door, came back and leant against the chimney-piece. He was very much disturbed. His sister was sorry, but she was too much taken up with her fear and her grief to refrain from giving him temporary pain, if it would but open his eyes!

‘Now, with regard to Isabel—for we have been led far away from her,’ she began——

‘Yes, far indeed,’ he answered with a sudden turn of relief. ‘Isabel may allow her high, girlish spirits to run off with her. I allow, Mary, she is unguarded, frank to a fault, and even giddy; but a more tenderly kind and loving heart never beat. Guided, as she would be, by one she loved and respected, her natural good taste would soon cast off all the little faults she has contracted from the tone of this small, confined society. Frank, ingenuous, generous, true as sunshine, clear as a drop of clear water—why, her faults are but what the French call 'Les défauts de ses qualités.’note When once she is mine, when she knows how my very life is


  ― 252 ―
bound up in her, she will give up drawing caricatures or Mrs. Vesey's society, which, after all, she only upholds in a little perversity of spirit and for her sister's sake. If I could but be sure—if only that untoward occurrence had not come between me and my words—all would now have been certain! Yet—perhaps—I don't know—it may be well to wait a little, too. They all believed in Mr. Farrant, and perhaps she did—perhaps she suffers—but no, her eye was too bright and clear for that.’

His words became a mere soliloquy at last.

‘O, John! every one, even her own mother, says she is obstinate and self-willed. Miss Terry, who is really attached to her, told me she was anxious about that spirit of opposition that showed at times so strongly. She needed self-control, Miss Terry said. She called her a grand character, but all rough, like a fine piece of marble awaiting the chisel. It is a fearful chance—a serious experiment for a man to be that sculptor as well as husband. Particularly as in this case (blind yourself to it as you may), when in her are the very seeds, which, if encouraged, may shoot up into that poison you have such cause to dread, and from which all your nature rebels and shrinks. I entreat you to pause and reflect,’ she added, gravely and kindly.

‘What have I been doing all this time?’ he said, quickly. ‘Is it a new, sudden fancy of mine—is she a mere chance acquaintance?’

‘I deny that inference, John. You have hitherto known and loved her as a child, and a child only. You were as blind as any doting father or uncle. Only of late has she risen in a new light to you. Stimulated by example, I believe you first chose to feel jealous and sensitive; and then, Heaven help me! I believed you had given it up and returned to common sense. The fact is, you have quarrelled and argued yourself into love—a most mistaken, ill-founded love. God grant you may see clearly, at least before you are utterly lost! I do entreat a further delay! You are going to the station. Well, go. Leave things as they are. Ponder, and consider, and pray, John, to be guided. See what a month may bring forth. Wait. If all is right, it is but little time lost. It may prove infinite gain.’

‘Four weeks—a month—preposterous!’

‘Four weeks set against a life,’ she repeated, gravely.

‘And how much wiser will four weeks make me up there with lazy shepherds? Or, do you intend to act for me, Mary, and spy, and watch, and note down all her unwary, careless words? Poor child! Mary, it is not kind—it is not like you.’

‘Never mind me, so that you are saved from another shock, John—a shock which would, I fear, make you neither a wiser nor a better man.’




  ― 253 ―

‘You are older than I am,’ he said, after a long pause and several turns to and fro the room. ‘You have been a good sister, Mary; I can't refuse to follow your advice. I wait—I will wait till after my return from the station, to please you. Then I must be at liberty to follow my own judgment.’

‘God send it be a right one, then!’




  ― 254 ―

5. CHAPTER V.

‘Free Again!’

note

It was quite late before Jack Lynch left Langville, after Gentleman Bill's side thrusts, on that night of the storm. Often had this alternative presented itself, but as often had it been forcibly repressed. For what would become of Nelly then? Lynch's secretly cherished hope was to make of that poor, helpless, but very lovely girl a respectable wife. For her, he desired all that his own mother had been. For her, he wished to wipe out the stain of his crime; to begin afresh, with a ticket, and a hope of perfect freedom in the end. But when once that hope was undermined and destroyed, he was reckless. For himself, it was far pleasanter to brave Lang, and perhaps revenge his wrongs, than to live on in hopes of quiet respectability, but enduring provocation and severity meanwhile. ‘Bill’ knew what he was about. Each word, each insinuation, every pause, told, as he intended it should tell, on Lynch's sore and goaded spirit. He, Bill, awoke with the early dawn, and stealthily stole out of his resting-place. He passed by Lynch's hut, and noted the closed door,—closed by a stone from without. He laughed—his low inward chuckle, looking quickly but keenly around. His work was accomplished, and giving a shove to the small bundle he carried over his shoulder, he went away briskly. His abrupt disappearance as well as his sudden visit there at all, was lost sight of, as he expected, in the greater stir which Lynch's desertion caused. Meanwhile, hardly heeding the rough night, Jack Lynch pressed onwards with as much speed as he could command. The trees bent to and fro under the heavy gusts, and branches were


  ― 255 ―
continually falling. Dark clouds drifted across the sky, making it anything but a desirable night for those who chanced to be out. Lynch with his hat drawn a good deal over his eyes, avoided the roads or even the most beaten tracks, and kept in the scrub. Sometimes he paused for a moment and rested against a tree; then again hurried along; and wonderful to say, scarcely ever appeared to hesitate as to his course, dark and wild as the scene was. After several hours' walk, he came to a fence, which he climbed over, and then keeping by it for a few yards, he reached a creek. ‘All right!’ he exclaimed; ‘I've not forgotten the way, then, though 'tis two or three years since I drove the bullocks off this ground; and now, is it safe to go to Charlie, or what? In troth, the walk has made me tired and hungry. I'll trust him for to-night.’

He swiftly crossed an open paddock which stood high, and overlooked the surrounding country. A few head of cattle and horses were lying down, and some of them were aroused by the man's steps. It was just light enough for him to see a hut which stood almost in the centre of this paddock; but when he approached within a few yards of the place, the deep growling and angry barking of several dogs made him stand, and call out, ‘Hallo!’ in a loud voice. ‘Charlie Brand! Hallo, there! keep in your dogs.’

A man now appeared at the door of the hut, cracking a stock-whip.

‘What's all this? and who are you, I'd like to know, that wants Charlie Brand, this time of night? Growler will not suffer any liberties, so you'd better not try.’

‘I want a night's lodging, Charlie; don't go to say you don't know me, dark as the night is. You aint the man of sharp sight I took you for, if you can't tell your chum from your foe.’

‘Is that you, Lynch?’ returned the other, advancing a step.

‘Ay, Jack Lynch, as large as life.’

‘Well! what's in the wind now? Come, I said to Growler a while ago, says I, 'tisn't a night for man nor beast to get his rest. Don't mind the dogs; come on, will ye. Down, Growler; lie down, sir, will ye.’

The two men now entered the hut together. Lynch took the only seat, and Charlie applied himself to rekindling the dying embers. When the wood caught fire, and the flame lighted up the hut, he turned round, and with a sarcastic, dry smile, surveyed his companion. ‘So you've had a long walk,—ha! ha! ha!—and what's going to be the end? Have you got your ticket? and are you come with any orders?’

‘I have neither ticket nor orders,’ answered Lynch, throwing off his hat and passing his hand through his bushy hair.

‘Well, so I guessed! What you couldn't keep quiet, after all, I suppose.


  ― 256 ―
And what's your course now? Why, it aint many months before you get your ticket. Martin said the other day you couldn't be refused again, for you'd been uncommon steady.’

‘And much use it is to be steady, to be sure!’ returned Lynch, bitterly. ‘He abused me before everybody; called me all the names in the world; threatened me with forty lashes again—and all for nothing! and I so near my ticket! But I've escaped him; I'm a free man; and what's more, I'll be revenged!’

‘Take my advice, and eat a bit of supper and go to bed, and you'll think better of it before morning. 'Tis no joke in these times to take to that most gentlemanly profession of the Bush. The police are sharper than they used to be. You have no other than Norfolk Island to look to. But, perhaps, you've heard of the gay doings there under the new governor, the theatre,note and all that—ha! ha! Perhaps, Lynch, you look for promotion in that little select corner of the world? Tush, man, you'll give yourself up, and if . . . .’

‘And be flogged! I'll tell you what, Charlie Brand,’ added he, rising and looking fearfully agitated, ‘I've sworn to be revenged; I don't care what comes of me afterwards; but I'll be revenged! He has used me worse than a dog, worse than a born slave! What was I sent out here for? Wasn't it for taking revenge when I was insulted? Ay, ay, 'twas brought in manslaughter. I didn't mean to kill the chap, then; I was sorry—yes—I would most have died myself to bring back his breath. But my nature is high—Lang knew it; he knows I'm a good servant; he knows I'm a prisoner. He has never tried the kind word; and my mind has been growing harder and harder, and now I'm resolved.’

‘And what does little Nelly say to this,’ said Charlie, drily.

‘Don't name her! Any way, that's over! I'll tell ye what, Charlie Brand, I'd have made her a good husband, though I am a government man; and when I had my ticket, I could have offered her a respectable home; but that's over, as I said before; and that cold-hearted tyrant that has done it and trampled on me, shall feel my hand on him. And I say, Charlie, there's no time to waste. Have ye got a drop of brandy here? If you have, give it me quick. I must be off!’

Charlie rose and locked the door of the hut, putting the key in his pocket.

‘Come on! sober now!’ said he, as if speaking to a refractory colt. ‘This is no night for the Bush, and I've no brandy, not I. But I'll give you some as good tea as ever crossed your lips. Why, the old hut can hardly stand this blustering wind! Hark now! there goes a tree! Come, Lynch, don't look so black and sulky, and don't take to stewing your grievances,


  ― 257 ―
man! To be sure, Lang is hasty and peppery, and not over-considerate of his assigned men, as I can show. But there, 'tis only to bear it; and we can't help ourselves, you see!’

‘Yes we can, and I will! There's many a good fellow driven to the Bush, and his sin lies at the door of them who gave him such treatment. 'Tis a fine life when you're used to it; plenty of fun and good cheer,’ said Lynch.

‘Your and my taste differ, that's all; I like a roof over my head, and prefers riding quiet to being hunted like a native dog,’ said Charlie, putting in a large allowance of tea into a quart pot, and setting it on the fire.

‘I don't see much differ,’ returns the other, gloomily, again sitting down and drawing nearer the fire, which gave a sense of comfort and insensibly soothed his excited mind. ‘ 'Tis a choice of evils anyway, as they say; it all depends on what sort of master you get, and I'm sure no slaves can be worse used than Lang's men are.’

‘Why, I suppose, when you were shipped off, and had ‘Convict’ written on your back, or ‘Hyde Park Barracks’note as large as life on your slop, you didn't go to delude yourself with thinking you were to lead the life of a man of pleasure? 'Tain't no good to stiffen oneself up, Lynch. We're under punishment, as Herbert used to say, and so we must bear it; and, for my part, I've got to make myself tol de rol easy under the yoke.’

‘Ah! you've got your ticket! and so should I, and I should have had Ellen, but for that cursed hard man. Now don't stop me, Charlie! for revenge I must have, so give me a sup of tea and let me out!’

‘A sup of tea and welcome. But I'm not so unhospitable I hope, as to turn you out of doors to-night; and pray what kind of revenge is it you're hatching? I'll tell you what, Lynch,’ and he fixed his eyes steadily and determinedly on him; ‘if you mean anything like blood, you're come to the wrong man. You don't suppose I'd let you go off, after what you've said. No! I'd just take you to the lock-up, my friend, if I had a moment's thought of your passion not passing away. I wont say I love my master, for that I don't; but there's one in that family I'd lay down my life for, pretty like it—the second girl! Ay, my life! She's like my own child; like what ‘she’ is now, I'll be bound, if I could see her!’ (and he wiped his face as he spoke). ‘I've helped her on her pony scores of times; I've shot birds for her and climbed the trees like a native for young parrots. Many's the time her voice seemed to come into me like, when she'd come running out of the school-room with ‘Now, Charlie, I may play!’ I say, I'd lay down my worthless life for her. So don't think I'll let you


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go on any evil errand to any belonging to her. You know me, Lynch!’ said he, again looking sternly at him.

‘Know you! Yes, I know you; but I don't fear you. But, Charlie, wouldn't you take revenge if you'd been insulted and unjustly accused—and what harm? Aint I a marked man already? 'Tis better than twenty-four hours I've been out now, and . . . .’

‘Well, then, Lynch, I'll make free to tell you that you have another world as well as this present to look for. God says, ‘Do no murder;’ and if you aint afraid of me, you are of Him, I suppose.’

‘ 'Tisn't much I've heard of Him since I went to the Sunday-school, many a long year back. And did ever you find any to talk to you about that here, Charlie?’

‘I have—thanks be; I have, Jack. Mr. Herbert has. And now, thanks be, there's a church and minister close by, and there I go. But here's some tea, and though I can't say much for the meat, seeing 'tis a little tainted, owing to the flies getting into the cask,—the damper is right good; and now eat and drink, and make yourself comfortable.’

Lynch, who had eaten nothing since the morning, did full justice to Charlie's hospitality, and meanwhile his companion asked questions.

‘And how goes it up yonder? Any signs of the times? Ah! that's bad! No sale, you say? That pinches Lang like a tight shoe, I'll warrant. And the horses? I was looking for a few here soon. The feed keeps up here uncommon fine. And how do the new chumsnote get on—the new minister and the others?’

‘What should I know of them?’ said Lynch, after a long pull at his quart pot. ‘They're seemingly a gay enough set. Makes the place alive! They do say as how the parson is a rare good master, an easy man every way. He'll get plucked among them all if he don't look out.’

‘Ay, ay, Jack. 'Tain't a country where a man can afford to shut his eyes for a moment.’

‘Your favourite, Miss Issy, as they calls her, is to be married to the parson, as they say. You might see and get your ticket made out for that district, and get a place there.’

‘I'm not given to roving. If they leave me tol de rol quiet I haven't no inclination to change. But how's this? I always made it sure as gospel that Miss Issy would have Mr. Herbert! I'll always stand up for him. Many a good word has he given to me, and if all the masters were like him, assigned servants would have justice, leastways. Well, well! I used to think to myself that he was sweet upon her, and if once she was grown up, that would be a match. But I mind 'twasn't always peace among them. The master had his bone of a time to pick with Herbert, and this


  ― 259 ―
one could stand up for his rights and respect too.’

When Lynch had finished his meal, he seemed to be quieted down, for, as Charlie shrewdly observed, ‘Fasting don't sweeten the temper.’ The bed (a sheet of bark and an opossum rug) was given up with true hospitality, which might have graced grander places, to the guest, while Charlie wrapped himself in a rough coat, and made himself comfortable by the fire, with some sacks rolled up for a pillow. Very soon both men slept soundly. But Lynch awoke and jumped up at the first gleam of morning light, saying ‘They would track him thus far, and he must be off now and double the scent.’

‘So then you determine to go on? You wont go and give yourself up, and settle down again?’

‘No, be hanged if I do! If now there was a chance—if they'd be easy and pass it over like, and let it be any ways just—I would, just for Nelly's sake, try once more. But they've been at her with their base tricks. I'll lay a wager now, Charlie, she'd be after sorrowing for me, if anything happened. The only creature who would any way. But no! I'm not a going to be fooled by such ways. They think they have me tight with her name. She should have kept steady to me. Now there's but one way for a fellow of pluck. Good morning. You saw me turn towards Sydney road, eh? Thanks for the lodging! Good-bye!’

Charlie watched him in the dim early light, not without a certain sarcastic grin, while he shook his head too, and said—'There goes another fine fellow, straight on for Norfolk Isle, or the gallows!—there's no saying! He has had dog's fare, and worse. Never nothing but abuse and stripes! Man's spirit can't stand it. Providence keep him from meeting the master, or I wouldn't answer for the end, not I!’




  ― 260 ―

6. CHAPTER VI.

The Bushranger's Progress.

note

After a circuitous route, and resting two nights by a fire he kindled in the Bush,—on the third day after his visit to Charlie Brand, Lynch found himself in more familiar ground. It was rather surprising how he had contrived to keep right and not lose himself in the interminable monotony of the Bush, and he had not done so without much careful scrutiny of the sun by day and the stars by night, also often referring to a soiled, crumpled piece of paper, on which was roughly dotted down a map of directions for his guidance. Once again he leant against a tree, with his tomahawk carefully within reach of his hand, and consulted his map. Then looking above he recognised with a smile of triumph that the very next tree to that against which he leant, was a blue gum, which had been fired, and one side of which was dead, while on the other its forklike branches had still both green leaves and blossom.

It was a peculiar tree in its decided shape and its half-and-half condition. Moving a little, so as to bring the said tree quite in front; he noted another a little to the side, bearing marks of the notches made by the natives in climbing those tall and straight trunks in search of wild honey.

‘All right,’ he said, and suddenly turning away from the direction he had previously followed, he plunged down among thick undergrowth and loose iron stones. It was a steep hill. At the bottom was an empty water-hole. On the bushes around it hung, as if torn off in scrambling, a piece of cloth, intended to pass for white. Again Lynch's face showed


  ― 261 ―
satisfaction. He sat down and whistled in a low peculiar fashion, which soon broke into a capital imitation of the curlew's cry. After repeating this three times it was answered, and then a boy, only half-clothed in such rags that it was hard to say what garment they ever represented, came in a stealthy but rapid step straight to where Lynch sat.

‘All right,’ he said.

Lynch arose and followed him, saying, ‘Moved, haven't ye?’

‘Yes; 'twasn't safe, on account of the gentry. Made a flitting; and they think we are gone a long way, instead of a few yards further down. More trouble to get at, especially for horses, you see.’

‘And the police?’

‘They've been, and gone like mad, clatter and crash, and thirsty; always wanting drink. Found tracks of they fellows up country! All quiet here now, and people's eyes looking away, you see.’

‘You are a sharp lad,’ remarked Lynch; and no more was said.

They soon came in sight of a rude hut, formed of two sheets of bark, fastened together by poles. The fowls and other household appendages, were scattered about in a rough and disorderly fashion, and a woman with rough, untidy hair came out and hailed Lynch. It was the same person to whose wild dwelling Mrs. Vesey had once dared to conduct her guests. Taking fright at the visit, and also at the presence, near at hand, of the police, these people had shifted quarters. Their hut was now down in the gully, and out of sight, but not really at all further from Vine Lodge than before. And here Jack Lynch, according to his scheme of doubling the scent, ventured to come back to his old district as an outlaw—at war with authority! It was quite in accordance with their code of honour, that a man should be skilful and brave enough to make his first essay in the new line, close to the very spot of his former bondage; and where people were still talking over his escape with keen interest and open-mouthed wonder.

After greeting the new comer, and swearing at the yelping dogs, Judy returned to the dark hut, and tried to rouse a man who was sleeping there; not in the gentlest way.

‘Come, rouse up, will ye! Up with the stone jar there, 'tis right beneath that big carcase of yourn. We'll drink this night to the ‘free man,’ let to-morrow bring what it will!’

After enforcing her words with some pushes and blows, the man turned over, and peered through his shaggy hair, till he caught sight of Lynch standing without, and feeling at the edge of his tomahawk. One spring brought him close to Jack.

‘Somewhat forbye that will be wanting, Jack; and I've got a right good


  ― 262 ―
'un.—Have it, on condition of fair share, the first good chance ye get.’

‘Where is it?’ said Lynch, looking eager.

The man retreated again to the hut, and returned in a moment with a carbine, and shot, and powder-flask, as well as a belt.

‘I've got a belt,’ Lynch said, pushing that away, and examining the gun narrowly.

‘I'll warrant 'un as true and good,’ said the man. After a little talking the bargain was made, and Lynch felt himself master of the weapon.

The woman had spread some food meanwhile, a couple of empty tea-chests turned up, forming the table. Cold salt beef, rather hard; freshly baked damper, and a bottle of pickled anchovies, with tea of course, sweetened with plenty of coarse sugar, but no milk, was the fare. And a stone jar was very soon lifted up, and one wineglass, pushed round to each in turn. The boy and two or three children having shown their heads, were sent off quickly, with a good allowance of damper and beef, and told to keep off till bed-time.

‘You are born to luck, Jack,’ remarked the man; at which Lynch only curled his mouth.

‘Lang journeys to Sydney to-morrow, taking the short cut.’

‘Well, and what of that? He never carries no cash, as you know.’

‘No; but the scrub is so thick, and there's but one track fit for a horse. Keep yourself close, dodging behind a thickish stem, and pop with ‘lively’ there, and your revenge is done, eh!—don't that set the blood a tingling now, Jack? Didn't you just think of such a chance, when Dan was at your back, last time?’

‘Hold your peace, Robert, and don't be after copying the very devil himself! I'm not going back that way, just now, seeing I have but now travelled that road. Sydney way isn't safe nor profitable. I shall cut away and join a fellow I know, who keeps snug, and gets no name, but watches the up-country drays, and so makes a very pretty business. I'm told he cleared several pounds by the last venture on tea and sugar, and a wine cask which reached its owner, a leetle the weaker for the journey, and wouldn't shock a teetotaller even, on account of its strength!’

Judy laughed, and refilled the glass. Lynch refused it, and said he preferred the tea: at which she seemed much astonished, and then professed herself ‘up to him;’ adding that in another month he wouldn't be after fearing a glass of the raal genuine Irish milk would make his hand or his eye less steady for business.

‘The priest was after inquiring for you, Jack, some days agone.’

‘Ay, indeed! And for why? It is to him I owe a long bill for coming between me and the girl. I'm up to him, and know him; he said she


  ― 263 ―
shouldn't marry a Protestant; as if poor Nell knew Protestant from Catholic, or Catholic from Christian!’

‘Seems he is very sharp after his ‘sheep’ as he calls 'em. He's got a sort of a house downaway there, and does a smart bit of business there for O'Connell. He screws them up tight for pence, they say, and has a power of boys at his back, ready for a fight and a row any hour. Don't see the good of it, not I! What's Repale to us, out here? Brings down the law folks about us, and disturbs the liberty of this here free country.’

‘ 'Tis wonderful how you Catholics do hold together. But I don't concern myself with it,’ said Lynch.

‘I'd nigh forgot I was a Catholic, by the powers!’ said the man; ‘Judy there, she keeps it up of a time for the credit of us both, but——’

‘Didn't I pay up our pence to the priest, and didn't he praise me for a good Catholic, eh?’ Judy laughed.

‘So my Nelly was here,’ Lynch presently said, having finished eating, and leaning back so that he commanded the countenances of both his companions.

‘What next?’ Judy said with an oath, after a very evident pause of doubt.

‘Well; she was here! I know all about it. You needn't think to hide it either. Come, you were hired I know on one side. Now you see things are shifted. You know me. If I'm to be any way concerned with you, it will be for your advantage to speak up. What's past is past, I know that. But what is to be, depends you see.’

Judith exchanged inquiring and somewhat frightened glances with the man, who after a short pause, said gruffly,

‘He's right, Judy; Jack's our man. What of the other? The crawling fellow, he uses us all like a pack of dumb beasts, and then just laughs at us.’

‘Gentleman Bill brought Nelly here. That I know,’ said Lynch. ‘I want to know for whom he acted? I did think 'twas the curse of the place there, that scamp Venn. But I saw he was mad, and beaten like myself. No, no, that Bill slides and slips anywhere, and somebody has made it worth his while to lead us on blindfold, and then leave us in a ditch. Who was it? and where is she gone?’

‘As to the first,—Judy, do'ee know the name?’ said the man. ‘It beats me—outlandish thing. But he's a up-and-up chap, lives handy by, or did. Met my lady in the Bush, when she was a crying over her stepmother's blows, and tells her a lot of gammon, and throws dust in her eyes. Well! he gets Bill in to the fore, and she's carried off.’

‘There ye're wrong, man!’ interposed Judy; ‘she went free like, to


  ― 264 ―
one Allen, as child's-maid, or anything else you like—Allen's woman knows what she's about. There this young spark used to go, and talk up to her. He was thought to be making great love up at the big house, all the same. But he's an out-and-outer, and no mistake; he's got a fine place up and away somewhere, and it seems his drays with stores was going up there (fine chance for a pretty fellow like you, Jack!); and so Nelly was to join them, and 'twas here they brought her for the start. Bless you, no money's enough for the bother and the fuss we had along of it. She was downright crazy, and so haughty like. Her wouldn't do this, and wouldn't go here! and so on! I had to bring her to reason, and Robert here showed her the length of his stick, I warn you, or ever we kept her from running right away, and losing us all our wages.’

‘Go on,’ said Lynch, with his teeth set close, and looking at the woman in a way which, had she seen it, she would scarcely have liked.

‘One time the gentry took it in their heads to come gallivanting down there, where we camped then. Bad manners of them, and good luck for them they never came back again. Well, if you believe me, the girl took on one of her frantic fits, and cried out so that they thought a pig was killing—and that brute of a dog, too, nearly spoilt all sport by whimpering over one of 'em, too sharp for her own good, she was. But they went off again, scared by Robert's handsome face there, and his black mane—off they fluttered like a flock of geese, whispering and glancing, and holding in their petticoats, for fear they'd come to some disgrace in ‘sich a hole,’ as I heard one of 'em say, while she squinted at us all through a brass ring like, or gold, perhaps, it would be. Didn't I laugh when they was off? our young spark and all! 'Twas a audacious trick of his to show his nose here, in company with them all. But he's a prime cock, and will die game, I'll wager.’

‘His name?—surely you must remember it!’ said Lynch.

‘No, I don't. 'Twan't Herbert, was it, Robert?’

‘Tush, no! Why he's owner of the farm at the settlement. A magistrate too. He wasn't here at all. I don't mind the name;—like child's play, no sound in it to catch hold on.’

‘Where's Jem? The boy can tell! Sich a memory he's got! As sharp as a needle!’ Judy said.

‘Well! go on. Did she—did Nelly seem to like his visits? Was it of her own wish and will? Now, Judy, speak true! I'll find out some way, and if you deceive me, 'twill be the worse for you!’

Judy did not like the red light which now glowed in his eyes, or his low determined voice.

‘Nonsense! Why should I go for to gammon you?’ she said, nerv


  ― 265 ―
ously. ‘As to liking it, she did. She was all smiles and manners when he was here. La, bless us!—didn't he flatter and give her finery enough; but when he was off, she'd turn perverse and sit and moan, with all her hair let down about her like . . . .’

‘I know!’ he interrupted, impatiently. ‘Get on, missis! Quick, and out with it.’

‘The grass wont grow under your steps neither, Jack, if this is your way!’ she replied; a little resenting his short way of speaking.

‘But, Judy, why don't 'ee tell the chap why she leant so kindly an ear to his words? Seems now, were I her follower, as I see plain enough Jack is, that's what I'd like to reach.’

‘Right, Robert. Tell me that, Judy.’

‘Well, I believe 'twas on account of his stories about what he was going to do for her right away; such gammon! But Lord love you, she'd sit and look at him and drink it all down, same as if 'twas true gospel. Summut about a ticket; I never could get no sense of it, not I. And he persuaded her she was to be a married missis, and wear a gold ring, and keep house, and what not. And she was to be his maid, to clean up, and wash and mend! Much notion she had of such work! And she were to have a honest man for a husband, brought up from somewhere. For you see, there never was no talk of hisself, just to humour her like, baby as she was!’

Here the man put aside his pipe, and broke out with a gruff, but hearty fit of laughing.

‘Well, Judy woman, didn't I think ye were sharper? La sakes, now! Where's your wit been wandering? You, who in general jump at anything, like a shark to the bait. Don't 'ee see now, 'twas just this very chap the girl were wild after? Don't you see 'twas about Jack the young fellow gammoned her, telling about getting his ticket of leave, and getting him up there for his servant, and marrying them right away?’

‘As if he would have paid all he did just for that purpose, Robert? Dullard!’ she retorted, contemptuously.

‘But can't ye see, now it lies open afore ye? The girl cared for Jack, and wouldn't leave him, no how. So they just used his name, and got her in their toils. Once they'd got her there, she might whistle for her man and her golden ring! He was mad about it, taken with her silly little baby face; but that's the way of the fine gentleman. Eh, Jack—am I far wrong now?’

But Jack did not speak. His face was buried in his hands. He raised it at last to ask, ‘And where is she now?’

‘O that's more than I can tell or guess. They got her off, though she


  ― 266 ―
fairly cut and run once, misdoubting something at the last. There was a deal of squealing, I can promise you, and Bill had to just bind her hands if he wished to keep eyes in his head, and then they up with her to a horse, and a stouter man nor Bill held her fast. I heard her squealing for long after they were out of sight; and only that the young spark had been very firm about no violence, they'd have stopped her mouth. As to where she is now—perhaps come to her right senses to know what's what, and not to throw away a good chance up there. Or, there was a report, which I didn't heed at all, at all, that she left them, spite of their watching her, and took to the Bush. One man swore he saw her up in a tree, sitting with her hair all round her and singing; and he was so scared he took to his heels, and just signed the cross and called upon the saints, for he'd heard tell of nasty things, in the shape of women living in wild places, in trees, or in the sea. But I didn't take no account of this till this very minute, and now seems like as if it might be Nelly herself. What do you say?’

‘O, Jem! here, you're wanted!’ called Judy. ‘What was the name of that young gentle chap who comed here after the girl?’

‘What, he down to the house? Mr. Fitz. I knows 'un well.’

‘Ay, ay, that's the go!’ and Lynch's eyes betrayed his also knowing the owner of that name.

‘He's left this. He's got a place up the country. ‘Goorundoo’ they call it, or Fair Dale; some one, some t'other, up Yass way, and I heard tell he'd lots of drays travelling upwards, and a fine stock of horses he got cheap at a sale.’

‘Clever chap!’ Judy said, pleased at her boy's knowledge.

‘Come here, boy,’ said Lynch. ‘Here's the last coppers I have, three—four of them, and if I had more I'd give it to you, and willing. You've done a good deed. Keep your memory, my lad, and make it serve you as it will me this day.’

Long afterwards, when the children were asleep, and Judith and Robert busy in making things secure for the night, feeding the dogs and so on, Lynch sat still on a stone, a little retired from the glow of the fire, seemingly lost in thought. Some of the hard bitterness passed from his face, and his lips trembled as if with deep feeling struggling for mastery. Once when left quite alone for a moment, the man and woman being out of sight in search of a missing fowl, he lifted his head from his hands and said aloud, ‘O Nell, Nelly girl!—have they murdered ye? And you will be seeking the old place, and the old hut, and no Jack there! Jack's gone, Nelly,—bound for the gallows! But, please God, he'll seek you yet, and hear of you, dead or living. And the vile knave, the worse than thief and outlaw, the base deceiver, the craven coward, I'll find him, too, and


  ― 267 ―
demand full payment for all he owes you and me!’

‘What's that you are saying there, Jack?’ said Judy, coming back.

‘Come, turn in, man,’ said Robert. ‘Now's the time for sleep. To-morrow you'll have to put yourself to the fore and begin work. Which way will ye be going? Best settle the signals, you see. The white rag there and further down by the falls, means ‘all's safe and right here.’ If you sees nothing, don't venture. Down at Sampson's I'll always get your letters or messages, and he's a tight chap. To-morrow—well—shan't you be for having a look after Lang?’

‘No! I'm bound for the tracks about the road to Goorundoo.’

‘You're late for the drays.’

‘I know. But 'tisn't the drays I'm after. Robert, if she—if Nelly should ever come back here, take her in and take good care of her, if you mean to be chums with me. I tell you she's one of heaven's angels got down here by mistake—changed at birth, perhaps! Anyway that man will be bold who dares lay a rough finger on her!’

‘What be you after her? That's a bit of cursed nonsense, Jack, and nothing else.’

‘I am after her till I find her alive or—and I am after him, too. I know him. I'll bide my time—Lang! What is Lang to this one!’

‘Well, you do look like something! I wouldn't care to meet you so everywhere! But 'tis folly to waste so much pluck on a slip of a girl without her wits. One female is as good as another! Let her go, man, and just you put that spirit into your dealings with others, and you'll have plenty of everything, and to spare. And I hope you'll remember your old friends.’

‘Ay,’ put in Judy; ‘ask her, poor silly maid. She'll tell you I was kind to her, and gave her a bit of good advice. Don't forget all you owes us, Jack! In case you start early to-morrow, and I feel so tired I'm like to sleep late, I know; don't forget us, and you'll find it handy to have a friend's place for a hide,—a snug, secure little hide as it is, too.’

Judith would have talked on in her sleepy and now rather fretful tone, had not the man roughly ordered her off to bed. He then brought out a sheet of dry bark and a blanket for Lynch; put fresh fuel on the fire, which was made on some stones outside the hut, and then he left him. But Jack Lynch slept very little that night. Wild thoughts coursed up and down his excited mind. Now he was a boy at home, with his mother; then he remembered, as if it was yesterday, Nelly Maclean's mother's death, and the girl's bitter grief, and all his soothing efforts to console her. Then he was again in the lock-up, being primed by a sympathising friend to meet the cruel scourge with some intoxicating dram, and he writhed and


  ― 268 ―
loathed with agony and hatred. Above all, Nelly's sweet and artless voice, his ‘sky-lark,’ as they called her, her constant love, her trust, and her beauty, with all her own troubles and ill-treatment, came before him with unnatural distinctness. He could not keep still. He rose and walked about; then took off his hat and brushed back his hair, to feel the night air on his heated brow. His pulses beat quick and full, his limbs trembled. He looked at and handled his carbine, and felt a throb of joy in its possession. He fancied how he would waylay and watch for a sure opportunity when he could face that man, and coolly tell him his sin was found out, and should be punished. He thought he could see the dainty young fellow's face turn white, and hear him plead for mercy. But no mercy should he meet! He grasped the gun so tight as to give a pang of pain to his own hand, which recalled him to himself, and he wondered for a moment at finding himself alone in the still, clear, calm night, the red embers making the wild loneliness of the spot only the more discernible, and those wonderful lights shining overhead. He was free—free in a certain sense—with a deadly weapon at command; but alone,—quite alone, and at war with all. For who was there he could trust? Who was there that would hesitate to betray him to a cruel death for a reward?—who, save poor Nelly, if she yet lived. Then thoughts of her love came and softened him; all that might have been, and now never, never could be! All he and she had talked of and hoped, and which in course of time might have been, but now never could be. He had destroyed their small and distant hope by his own rash deed. For him to live was henceforth to flee from pursuers—from death! He would be followed, and watched, and dogged. He must never rest, never forget; always fight, and take even his needful food by force. And Nelly! If he ever found her, would she care to share such a fate? Overcome at last, the reaction followed, and he sank down exhausted and trembling, cold dew trickling from his face, after the burning fever. Jack Lynch laid his head on the bark and cried very bitterly. From his very heart he called on ‘Nelly’, as if she were some guardian angel. At last he dropped off into a disturbed sleep, calling still on her and on his mother. And the sun was above the hill-top before he woke and understood all that had passed and all that lay before him.

He wished to go before the hut people came out. But they just caught him, and sent wishes, and warnings, and prophecies of ‘good luck’ after him as he scrambled down the hill and disappeared out of their sight in the dense and pathless forest.




  ― 269 ―

7. CHAPTER VII.

The Wedding Head-Dress.

note

Isabel was surprised to find how comparatively little Lynch's escape irritated her father. Perhaps he was glad at heart to be relieved from seeing a man he so much disliked, and knew he had not always treated justly. Or perhaps more pressing troubles occupied him; altogether he was much calmer and quieter, though grave. Little things did not vex him, and his voice took a lower tone. He visited all the outlying huts and the land in process of clearing, leaving orders and noting progress. He made his boys drive in all the horses, and looked them over carefully. He also spent some time in arranging his papers, some of which he was to take to Sydney. Some letters were missing likely to be of consequence, and he allowed Isabel and even Miss Terry to help him in the search. Mrs. Lang was energetically busy in looking out his shirts and darning imaginary thin places in his socks. She also baked a very large stock of ginger-nuts, which used to be a favourite indulgence of his, and no one reminded her that it was too hot weather for such a compound, for every one felt it best that she should be occupied. One day—it was the day before that on which Mr. Herbert started for his station—Mr. Lang noticed that his darling Issy was paler than she ought to be. He spoke of it, and asked if she had been over-working herself. When she denied it, laughingly, he whispered—'No fretting, is it?’ And she was provoked with herself for being silly enough to blush so deeply that he could not help observing it.




  ― 270 ―

‘What!—after all, Issy? O, fie, fie!’

‘No, daddy, indeed, indeed you are wrong! Do you know, I can't understand why I am so very glad as I am? It only shows me what a blessing it is things were so ordained.’

‘But you can't tell me you are not fretting, child, about something?’

‘Yes; but there are many things rather ‘fretty’ just now, you see. What is the matter with the Jollys? Not one of them has been here for such a time—I don't like it! They mustn't cut us! Then about—Kate. I am rather fidgety about that; and I don't like my daddy's going to Sydney alone on this errand—and then . . . But I am not ill—a ride will make me all right.’

‘Then take a ride; Willy and Jem can go.’

‘I will,’ she answered, readily; ‘I want to go and see how Kate goes on; and I'll be back again for dinner.’

So Isabel and her brothers went to Vine Lodge, and found Kate looking quite at home and very happy with her friend. Isabel was further relieved by hearing there that Tom Jolly was away at Mr. Henley's new station, and Amelia staying in Sydney.

‘Do you know anything of the Herberts?’ she asked, in a careless tone, presently.

‘No. Don't you? Do you mean he has not been every day to Langville?’ said Mrs. Vesey, with an emphasis Isabel did not like. She wondered if Kate had told her friend the news of Miss Terry—she didn't like to take if for granted.

‘I have a book here which I must return. I have a great mind to ride round by the Settlement with it,’ said Isabel, speaking to Kate.

‘If it is for Mr. Herbert, we are sending a man there this very afternoon. He will be happy to convey your parcel.’

And Mrs. Vesey, raising her glass, gave a meaning glance and smile at Kate. Isabel saw it too, and drew up a little.

‘Thank you, but——’

‘You had rather take it yourself? Well, it is a satisfaction to put a thing into the owner's hands, I grant, and not having seen him for so very long—for two days, I think you said?—I dare say you are anxious to——’

‘No—not that! And I shall be very glad if you will let your man take it. But, Kate, can you give me some paper?’

Isabel spoke haughtily—she meant to be cold—and was offended.

‘Here!’ said Mrs. Vesey, presently, while Isabel looked over Kate's shoulder, searching her blotting-book for a sheet large enough. ‘See, Miss Isabel Lang! I have tied it up—I flatter myself on having


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parcel-tying fingers! Quite a gift! It ‘comes'—no practice or study will do it. I abhor a clumsy home-tied parcel. It is like a sloven of a woman, down at heels, and out at elbows. But please direct it yourself. That will explain matters. A nice little corner for your love, you see. You look shocked! Is it possible! Now, I should have said it was quite right and natural to put ‘with I. Lang's love,’ or even ‘kind love.’ I declare I should say so myself. No—‘regards’ would be the right term for me. But you must put love, or he will come cantering up your road in a grand taking, to know the meaning of it.’

‘There!’ said Isabel, having hastily scribbled the direction in her worst writing, and not deigning to notice Mrs. Vesey's jokes. ‘Dont forget it, Kate.’

J. HERBERT, Esq.,

Warratah Brush.

From I. L., with thanks.

Mrs. Vesey shrugged her shoulders as she read it aloud, saying—'Cold, freezing! Ah, you are so very proper—quite prudish—though people do call you . . . Tell Henry to put this into the basket he is to carry to Mr. Herbert,’ she said, giving the parcel to a servant who answered her summons, made by striking a glass with her thimble.

‘What do people say I am, Mrs. Vesey?’ said Isabel, having told Willie to fetch her horse.

‘O, best not repeat these things! It gives a different, and often a wrong impression.’

‘But I want to know. Please to tell me.’

‘Well—it is nothing! Only I have heard people say you were a ‘fast’ girl—and inclined to rebel against all rules of decorum, and so on.’

‘Who are the people, Mrs. Vesey?’

‘I can't pretend to specify; several!’

‘Our society is so small, it is easy to distinguish. Was it your husband, or was it Mr. Farrant?’

‘I was not thinking of either of them. Certainly I have heard Mr. Herbert say something of the kind and regret it too, quite in a kind and friendly, almost fatherly way; Dr. Marsh, too!’

‘Thank you! Now, here are the boys! Any message home, Kate? Good-bye!’ and she was soon off, and riding so fast that her brothers exclaimed, and, for a wonder, begged for a little breathing time.

Isabel was generally chatty and cheerful with the boys, and


  ― 272 ―
consequently a great favourite. To-day she was silent all the way. She did not like Mrs. Vesey's looks or tone of voice when speaking of Mr. Herbert. She resented it as impertinent.

Yet, why—what was it? If it had not been for her disagreeable remarks, she would have added something to the bare direction; at all events, it would have been, as always before, with her ‘love.’ She wished she had not sent the book by their man at all.

And what had kept him from coming again, as he had so distinctly said he should do? And what made her so peculiarly anxious about this one visit? Was it his hints and allusions about wanting to speak quietly to her? What was there to say, now Miss Terry's affair had been duly discussed? Above all, what was the meaning of his look when he held her hand and so earnestly bade her good-bye? It could be no bad news, no subject for his sympathy and needing preparation to bear it. Whatever it was, it looked like joy to him.

She had hardly ever,—perhaps never, seen him so moved. Again and again she thought of it, and recalled each expression, every word and tone, and, contrary to her usual habit, weighed and measured and mused over it. She had looked with such great, such almost bounding joy, to seeing him again, mixed with a shy feeling too, which brought the colour to her face even in thinking of it. Then, as the first day came and went and he did not appear, she found herself pausing at night before going to bed, to think of it again, to see if she had invented, or made something out of nothing. No; she could see it again—that look! She could feel the pressure of his hand. It was something close to his heart, something precious which he would not risk exposing to her perverse moods, but kept back and withheld, in a grave, wistful impatience, till he felt the right moment was come. ‘It was nice of him,’ she thought. It pleased and excited her in an extraordinary way, considering how much there was to think of about her father's affairs. This was a little secret hoard which she kept hidden, but peeped at every now and then, and grew strangely eager to come face to face with. ‘Surely to-day he will be here!’ But the to-day passed into yesterday, and Mr. Herbert came not, and so it was with another day. And then Isabel grew troubled, and her face showed it. The ride had not worked its promised cure either; but, luckily, Mr. Lang took it for granted that all was right and made no remark. They had a quiet and silent dinner. Mr. Lang drinking wine with his wife and his daughter, one after the other, and expressing regret that Kate was away. It took them all by surprise when just before tea Kate herself rushed into the room, rather excited and out of breath. After kissing all round, she


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explained that Mrs. Vesey was obliged to go to the Budds, and she had proposed dropping Kate at the bottom of the hill by the gates, and picking her up again in the same spot to-morrow morning. ‘I was glad to come back and say good-bye to papa. Isn't it fun?’

‘It does you credit, Katie girl! Come here and kiss me! I was wishing to see your pretty face too. Can't help believing I am on some long journey, though I haven't been accustomed to make much of a ride to Sydney either. But the errand, I suppose, stretches the distance—and somehow—I wish I was home again, girl!’

Mrs. Lang expressed great pleasure in Kate's ‘pretty attention’ to her father, and her kind, affectionate feelings. Kate's coming inspired a little more spirit and her reception gratified her. It was no bad specimen of a family group, bound together by affection, and drawn all the closer under pressure of a threatened calamity.

‘Any commands for Sydney?’ inquired Mr. Lang, smiling. ‘Come, I am sure some things are wanted. Lots of white ribbon, white gloves, and so on—and who is to make the cake? Wont trust me to choose the finery—eh, Miss Terry?’

‘No, indeed, papa!’ said Kate; ‘who would?’

‘Ay, ay!’ he said, his eyes growing dim and soft, as, resting back in his chair, some recollection came over him, causing him to look at his wife, and then at Isabel.

‘Issy, my dear, what do you think was the prettiest and most becoming dress I ever saw for a bride?——ah! you wont guess—eh, Kitty?—Mrs. Lang, will she?’

‘A veil, of course,’ said Kate. ‘But what makes you think of this now?’

‘No! veil, no! nothing like it. Shall I tell, mamma?’ he said.

‘Yes, do! Kate, come and hear what mamma wore when she was married! We never heard—I never thought of asking, for my part.’

‘Ah! we are growing so learned now in these matters—eh, Miss Terry?’

‘I should like to be informed, sir; my experience is small.’

‘Would you fancy your mother, girls, going out of the beaten track entirely? By Jove, she was pretty enough to go her own way, too. A singular costume it was, pretty and simple. Kate, would you wear it? I bet ten pounds,—though, heaven knows, money is scarce—that neither one of you here would wear the like! Yet it was very pretty, and would look well in a picture.’

‘Yes, I would, if it was really simple and pretty,’ said Isabel.

‘And singular! That would settle it for you, Issy,’ Kate said, and


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got a pinch for her pains.

‘What was it, papa? I am curious.’

‘A straw bonnet—a broad hat?’ guessed Miss Terry and Kate.

Mrs. Lang smiled a little, and then held her handkerchief to her face.

‘What is the use of raking all that up, Mr. Lang?’

‘Now, mamma,—we must hear!’

‘Well,’ said Mr. Lang, ‘your mother was married in a—a—hang it! I never can remember that French name! In plain English—a night-cap!’

‘Papa!’

‘Impossible!’

‘Some play on the word,’ suggested Miss Terry.

‘Not a bit of it. A night-cap!’ he repeated.

‘No! Mr. Lang! You always will persist in that mistake. It was not a cap at all, for I had none. It was a fine cambric pocket-handkerchief tied over my ears, gipsy fashion,’ said Mrs. Lang.

They all laughed and wondered. Mr. Lang laughed too, but in a subdued way. And again there was that rare, tender light in his eye, as if he was looking a long way back, and he sighed as he went on.

‘Night-cap or not, it was a substitute for one, and I say again, it was a becoming dress, too. Ay, girls, have ye never heard of the marriage bells we had,—the feast, the excursion or tour? There was the parson, and the Captain, the second mate, and, I think, three men besides, eh!—well, two and a boy—you're right, my dear. Said I, ‘Parson, have you a Common Prayer-Book or not?’ ‘Yes,’ he said; ‘but why, Willy?’ You see he was a friend of mine. ‘Well, find out the marriage service and join us. I can better take care of her as my wife; and if the worst comes, it will do no harm.’ So I fetched her out—we had got up a sort of rude shelter, with sails and so on, for her—all trembling was she, a poor, delicate, slight darling! So young and so pretty! Ah—well! And there was, as I said, our marriage peal—the dismal break of the waves on that wild shore; and as for rejoicing and feast—even as we sat we could hear the devilish infernal yells of those savages, and we knew the feast they were holding. So I held her up, and the parson married us then and there; and then we wrapped her in a large rough coat of one of the drowned men, and I carried her down to the boat, which all this time the men had got as ready as they could. We shoved off—seven souls, on a wild, stormy sea, with no compass, and only biscuit and rum for a few days, and the shouts of that crew reached us as we pulled on. By heaven! for many a night afterwards I awoke hearing that noise!—So that was your mother's and my wife's bridal


  ― 275 ―
dress, girls. A prettier one—one more to my mind—I never shall see. We reached shore, and we got married again, all in form, just to please your mother . . .’

‘It is no good to repeat and keep up that tale. I can't think why you told them,’ said Mrs. Lang. ‘Why should you wish to risk its getting about?’

‘She thinks it a sort of infra dig.—a blot on the escutcheon, you see,’ whispered the husband. ‘Now, I don't. I see nothing to be ashamed of.’

‘Certainly not! But why did you never tell us before, my dear father?’ said Isabel. ‘And how did it happen? You must tell the whole story now.’

‘Nay, now, my dear—Mrs. Lang, now, don't go! I wont say another word!’ expostulated her husband, and catching hold of her, he gave her some hearty kisses and pulled her down by him, for she had risen with apparently the intention of going away. ‘I only wish these lasses here may have, in some respects, as true a sweetheart as I was then, whatever I've been since—eh, Kitty—Mrs. Lang? Come—I see you smile—come, 'tis hardly the second or third time maybe, I have talked of these days; seeing for some reason you didn't fancy it, and indeed I have avoided it like an ugly picture myself. But sometimes memory is strong—old thoughts will come. I venture to say, young and thoughtless as we were to be husband and wife, no truer pair ever came together. We have seen ups and downs, rough and smooth. We began our voyage on rough seas, sure enough. Then we put into port, and after some toil and labour—nothing to young folks—we mounted the ladder, and I thought I had you in a snug corner for life. On my soul, I did! But Providence ordains, and we must submit; and if bad times come again—any way here we are together yet. Cheer up, missis! we'll weather it; and, after all, Westbrooke is good enough for happiness.’

‘But how did it happen?’ persisted Isabel. ‘I am dying to hear all about it.’

‘Well, then, so it happened. Katharine Keeley and I had plighted our troth, as they say, young as we were. I had not a hundred pounds in coin, and she had nothing. But my uncle gave me a hundred bullocks, and three hundred sheep, and dealing me a round oath, bade me take it, and prosper as I could, or I should never deserve another farthing from him. Well! land was to be had for almost nothing then in New Zealand, and some of your mother's family were settled there and doing well; so it came about that I was sent there on a message, for which I was to receive payment if I succeeded in striking a good bargain


  ― 276 ―
with the native chief. Your mother, Katharine Keeley, had been in Sydney for education, when I first saw her, and now she was to go back to her kindred. So we both took our passages in the same ship, the brig Emu, Captain Nuttall commanding. Mr. Rowe, the clergyman, a friend of mine, and several other passengers were there. We set off with fair winds and smooth sea. Bless your soul! I thought it was paradise. I was a good sailor, and there was pretty little Kitty always sitting under the awning. Famous opportunity, Kate, is a voyage for making love! But a change came; a gale of wind and many disasters. To be brief—the Emu split to bits on a rocky shore. That was a smash!—there were two boats. They took the longboat and provisioned her; and then ascertained how many could safely go in her. Lo and behold! nine must be left out. We drew lots; Kitty here was to go; I was left, and so was the parson. Well! she cried, and vowed she wouldn't go without me, and no one cared to give up his chance of life for me. So off they went; and we had the small boat, and our share of provisions too. Three days we were out in that storm, not knowing where we were, and two of the men died. But the Captain, who was with us, you see, guessed that we were near some desperate savage islands, where they eat one another. Sure enough, at last we sighted land, and made for it. Water we must have! It cleared up a little, and we saw where we were. The Captain, and one at least of the men, knew at a glance, and he knew, if we were seen, we should all be killed. But water we must get; and there was a little repair to be done to the boat. So we rigged up a rough shelter from the wind and rain for your mother, and some of us guarded her, while some mended the boat, and some searched for water. This they found, at risk of their lives; and they also found—what assured us of the fate of our poor comrades in the longboat. My God! I can never forget that hour. Soon we heard those dreadful cries, yells I may say, in the distance; and one of our men, who had served in a whaler, and knew about these parts, said it was a song of rejoicing over some prisoners, and the natives were about to hold feast, and . . . . good Lord! it was but too true! We heard afterwards from one, who being but a bit of a cabin boy, managed to escape, that every soul of them perished; ay,—like so many sheep in the shambles! So, girls, it was then and there, with a grisly death staring us in the face, that I got the parson to marry us two; and in the dress she had on when startled up in the storm your mother became a bride! The good Lord saved us! We made off unseen. The fiends were too busy to keep any look-out. The sky cleared and soon the waves went down. The Captain used all his skill to steer us for New Zealand, and before we got there,


  ― 277 ―
we were seen and taken up by a whaler.

‘Now isn't that a romantic and wonderful history, eh? Talk to me of fiction! Girls! I have seen true, actual life stranger than all the fairy tales that ever were invented.’

‘It is so very strange to have buried it so completely! You should rather have celebrated your escape every year,’ said Isabel.

‘Yes. Well, in some fashion we did; for to say truth, we always kept that wedding-day, and not the day, a month later, when we went to church, or rather school-house, where the service was then performed. Only, as I say, mamma here, would never let me notice it any further than a private kiss, for the shivering, pale, little bride of a Kitty, who had turned into such a fashionable, matronly lady, as ‘Mrs. Lang!’—eh, mamma? Why! she would never let me call her ‘Kitty,’ or even ‘Kate,’ after we came to my paternal fortune. As to ‘Katharine,’ it was too much of it, too big a mouthful for common use; so it dropped into ‘Mrs. Lang,’—dropped into oblivion, like many another thing which I was very loth to part with. You don't know what a notable, thrifty little wife my ‘Kitty’ was. Well! I must say she deserved her honours. She was a good wife to me in my days of toil, and deserved to have all she liked when prosperity came. Now, then, Kate! Issy! if the money for French lace veils and wreaths, and all such costly ‘frizmagigerry’ is not ‘to the fore,’ when it should be;—what say you? shall it be a—a—what d'ye call it, a ‘bony newy,’note or a handkerchief, tied gipsy fashion? which I remember now, it was, and not a genuine night-cap—which, by the way, I never think a very pretty thing. But I never see either of you tie a handkerchief so—over your ears—without a sort of prick taking me back to that seashore, the cloudy sky, the distant shrieks, and the pretty Kitty Keeley.’

‘Well, now, mamma,’ he went on presently, with a genial smile, which Isabel dearly loved, and still a look as if his eyes were seeing far back in life—'well; no harm is done, is there? These girls think the story worth hearing, you see; and by Issy's face, I should guess, she is thinking that such an adventure is rather an honour than otherwise. Any how, it has done me good! I think we have too much buried our past, and forgotten to set up a tombstone either! And now for a wind-up—a secret in your ear, my dear. No! Issy, Kate, you are not to hear, on any account.—Whisper! In my secretary drawer—the inner one, wrapped up carefully, is that very identical ‘bony'—what d'ye call it—'handkerchief,’ in fact;—you will find in it as much as will buy such another at least—in case, some fine morning, either of our girls should want such head-gear, d'ye hear? Don't tell! for golden shiners


  ― 278 ―
are dreadfully scarce, and what's more, those infernal Bushrangers have keen scent. Ah! you jade! you must listen, must you?’ catching Isabel, and bestowing a hearty kiss. ‘Kate didn't hear a syllable! she is too demure, my pretty Kate; so I'll reward her too;’ and he kissed her.

‘ 'Tisn't safe, Mr. Lang, as I have often told you, to have money in the house. It was a miracle they didn't scent it out that day,’ remarked his wife even while he was still speaking.

‘Ah! they'd never find that corner! I'd eat my head if they did! Well, what shall be done with it? All I know is 'tisn't safe in the banks! However, whatever it is, and I have almost forgotten, there lies a little saving which I make over to you. It may come in some day yet.’

‘Give me your key and I will make it safe at once,’ Mrs. Lang said, roused and looking cheerful again.

‘I'll be hanged if you shall touch it,’ he said, withdrawing the key from her; ‘or at least till you give me due thanks! There! another for Kitty,’ he said, between his kisses. ‘And now make it safe and tell no one. Trust a woman to invent a scheme, and a man to blunder.’

Kate followed her mother. Isabel remained, leaning over the back of her father's chair, playing with his hair. Miss Terry had slipped out quietly before, feeling that they ought to be alone.

‘Come here, child,’ and he placed her on his knee. ‘Issy, you know now that your mother has had some trials in her life. My dear, that was an awful peril, and she was, I do assure you, as brave as any one among us; and we were none of us cowards! Her weak little body did give way. Many times I held her fainting in my arms from cold, and hunger, and fright, but her spirit was always up. Never a scream or a sigh. The Captain, who always came to see us as long as he lived, used to speak with wonder of her. He was very fond of her. I say, Issy, d'ye think 'twill break her heart to leave this?’

‘She will feel it, of course. But no; she will rally when danger really comes, daddy, just as she was brave then.’

‘Bless your heart. Well, God grant it! I own to you, if I saw your mother grieve and fret too much, I couldn't stand it—I could not. I vex her often. We have words; but she knows I am sorry afterwards, and we understand one another. But I declare my chief thought is to make her happy, and all this bother would be nothing but for the ruin to her——poor Kitty! poor Mrs. Lang!’

‘But you may arrange matters now,’ Isabel managed to say through her blinding tears, for the seeing one or two roll down her father's cheek was more than she could stand quietly.

‘Not much chance of it! But there will be Westbrooke. It will keep


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you all alive and going.’

‘ ‘Us’ all, daddy, unless you mean to desert us and take your passage.’

Mr. Lang did not answer. He was lost in thought; a painful, anxious look shadowed his face.

‘Well,’ he said presently, as if recovering himself from some maze; ‘I shall be right glad when it is over and settled in one way or other. I shan't stay one moment more than I can help. Issy! look well after everything. I don't mind telling you, I am uneasy about those wretched sinners, the Bush fellows. They may do me an ill turn and come here again. For no consideration resist them. Mind! let them eat and drink, and spoil, if they will, but keep a good look-out about the huts, and after the dogs. Have Towser here every night. The Jollys will come and do anything for you; and the Parson, as far as he can, he will; 'tother one, Herbert, wont be likely to come! Now don't look grave, for it can't be helped. Our blood was up, and we had hard words. I can't put up with his pride, and his cold ways, and his setting up so! I don't wish to have him here again in a hurry; he don't suit me. But for all that, angry as I was, I don't bear him malice. Perhaps,’ he added, uneasy at the look in his child's face, which she vainly strove to conceal, too—'perhaps we shall come round again in time, that is, if he keeps out of my way just now, while I am smarting about these miserable money concerns. Anyway, to please you, I'd swear the peace with any one, even Herbert. But, I say, Issy, come, tell your old father the truth, my pet. Is this—this man anything to you? I mean, in all the late love-making, has it so chanced that you and he . . .’

‘Why, papa! haven't we all been thinking that Mr. Herbert was making up to Miss Terry till just now?’ she said, laughing, but blushing too.

‘Well, so we have, or you tried to make me believe it. But that was a mistake, and—and——Perhaps he knew his own mind all along, you see, and had the taste to like my darling best. Eh, well now, supposing—imagining this to be so, what should you say to it?’

‘I can't imagine or suppose anything about it. I don't think I have much imagination.’

‘Can't you? Then you aint in love, that's clear!’

‘I never wish to be either, if it would make you less happy, and, what is more, I don't fancy it is in my line at all! I assure you, daddy, it is quite funny how often I stop with a feeling of joy and relief, when it strikes me that Mr. Farrant and Miss Terry are engaged, and that it is no longer expected for me to be entertaining him, and so on! Yes; I could clap my hands and dance for joy, in spite of feeling as if they


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had made us rather foolish.’

‘God love you, my pet, and I hope it is not greedy or selfish, but I don't want to give you away yet, and that's the truth. But, as I have said before, don't fret! Leave us alone, and Herbert and I shall get all right again. You'll see! Bless your bright loving eyes, I would be civil to any one, just to please you! So cheer up, my heart's pet! Give your old dad a sweet sunny smile now, and go to bed. I have one or two letters to sort out, and shall follow soon. Mamma and Kate are counting the hoard, I'll be bound! I wonder where they'll hide it! Now, Isabel, I leave you to keep up your poor mother, and Kate, and all. 'Tis your spirit and courage I look to now, while I am away—and—always. God in heaven bless you, my heart's darling, and a dear child you have always been to me! Now, again,—and again—good night. Keep alive and cheerful, and tell Kate to get her bony newy . . .’

‘Not for that Fitz, though!’ Isabel said, as she went out, looking back with a smile.

‘No!’ her father laughed back. ‘As you say, Issy, not for Fitz. Heaven send her a better one, or, any way, make her happy—all happy!’

Isabel saw her father off just after dawn the next day. His old accustomed cheery way had come back, and the tender melancholy of the preceding evening seemed to have vanished, now that it came to action. She watched him out of sight, and vowed in her heart that come what might of change or trouble, she would do her best to smooth things for him, and Westbrooke should yet prove a very happy home for all. Later Mrs. Vesey called for Kate, claiming the remainder of the visit, although Mrs. Lang was wishing to keep her now that she was at home. When they were gone, Isabel felt herself to be on the ‘look-out,’ in spite of efforts to the contrary. Nothing but a very sudden summons to the station would have kept him away! And not even that—'for he could have found time just to ride here and say good-bye!’ No; she remembered that Mr. Lang had spoken of hard words. Perhaps it was something fresh. And yet Isabel was not aware that they had met lately. Mr. Farrant came, and stayed to carve for them at dinner. He knew nothing of the Herberts, believed they were all right, Mr. Herbert certainly intending to go to his station, but when, he did not know. Isabel, in riding with her brothers, passed quite in front of Warratah Farm. But though any time before, she would naturally have stopped at the gate and inquired for Miss Herbert, now, some shy, conscious feeling rendered this an impossible thing; and they even rode the faster while within sight of the place. For which afterwards Isabel


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soundly rated her own folly, and wrathfully attacked Miss Terry in this way. ‘What is come to us all? There is some spirit of stiff gravity brooding over us. I wont bear it! I will be myself, my ownself! Why doesn't Mr. Herbert come here as he said he should? It is your fault. Your hiding up that secret has done more harm than you think. He is afraid to come, or, perhaps, he is unhappy!’

‘No, no, Isabel. He may be busy. These are days for men to be very anxious and eager about their concerns. But Mr. Herbert will come here as soon as he possibly can. He is not unhappy now, nor do I expect he need be so!’

‘Oracular! and that nod and smile, full of meaning—if one could discover what! Well, I wont dispute and run the risk of snapping off your nose, for I feel savagely disposed. It is dull, dreadfully dull. Kate must come home. When will daddy be here, I wonder? O, dear me! to think of my wishing time to fly. A very serious symptom, and it all comes of having nothing to do!’




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8. CHAPTER VIII.

The Hurricane.

note

Another storm of wind! Not common windy weather which sweeps up clouds of dust or leaves, and rattles at windows and doors, and which some persons really enjoy, but a fearful hurricane, destroying everything weakly which lay in its path, scaring the animals, and leaving its mark wherever it passed. Just before sunset there was every symptom of a thunderstorm. Then, when the sun was gone, those black clouds seemed riven asunder, and dispersed, covering the sky with light and rapidly moving vapour, and a dull but deep sound came up the valleys, setting all the trees swaying and shaking, till the noise increased to a sound which might have been mistaken for the loudest thunder. It was not a night on which one would choose to pass through a Bush road where the slight, brittle trees were sure to snap and fall in all directions. At any pause in the deafening roar might be heard sharp, loud reports from their fall.

Mr. Jolly paused and turned his horse's head back again.

‘No,’ he said to his wife, who greeted him eagerly at the stable door. ‘I will not go there to-day. It would be a clear tempting of Providence. Such a wind is not often felt.’

‘And only so lately we had such another storm,’ she put in.

Before they reached the house, lingering to ascertain the safety and well-being of many a fowl or animal, or to mourn over fallen shingles and the debris from any tenement the least out of repair, they were turned back by hearing the steps of a horse clatter over


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the paved yard.

‘Tom!’

‘Ay, the lad himself!’

‘Why back so soon, boy?’

‘Why—why—? Haven't you heard? Don't you know? Mr. Budd said all the district was up about it!’

‘About what? Why, the lad looks scared! What ails you, Tom?’

‘Yes—no—that is—Then you haven't heard?’

‘We hear the storm, and think you a rash fellow to come on such a day. Did you take the short road?’

‘I did.’

‘Good heavens! Tom; do you know how great the peril is?’

‘Yes. But I didn't consider—O, father—mother—something so terrible—I don't know how to say it! Yet father and I ought to be busy searching, too——’

‘Tom! speak out—suspense is worse than any certainty!’ and Mr. Jolly's rubicund face turned pale.

‘Mr. Lang is . . . .’

‘Dead? Good God!’

‘You don't say so!’ cried Mrs. Jolly.

‘Not dead—at least, no one knows. He is missing. Left Sydney day before yesterday——’

‘Pooh! He has visited some one. He's snug somewhere. Lang is an old hand, and would know this wind was not good travelling,’ returned Mr. Jolly, with evident determination not to allow any danger, and with sudden relief shown in every feature.

‘But, sir, he left Sydney the day before yesterday,’ Tom put in very gravely. ‘It was fine weather. He generally does it in a day. And then his horse is come home, saddle turned round and torn to bits, and bridle, of course, in pieces. The creature was found by a man who knew him and his master, who lives at Bango Bridge Inn. The landlord sent him on to Langville. I hear they are distracted!’

‘Upset—taken to some hut or house near—will turn up. Nonsense, Tom; nonsense!’ again asserted Mr. Jolly, but with a fallen countenance.

‘They had heard,’ Tom went on, but speaking now to his mother, ‘that his affairs were very bad; in fact, he had settled to go through the insolvent court. He told them to expect him as the day before yesterday. Men are out in every direction searching. Nothing has been discovered; but great suspicion is entertained on account of that wretched convict who ran away with threats of vengeance. They say


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he swore to have Lang's life. The mounted police are out.’

‘The mounted monkeys! Cowardly dogs!’ ejaculated Mr. Jolly, glad of something on which to vent his excitement; ‘what do they do? Make a row, and give warning, and let the rogues get off! You and I and half-a-dozen free British hearts will do more than half-a-hundred mounted police! John! saddle my stock mare!’ called out Mr. Jolly. ‘And Prince for Mr. Tom,’ he added.

The wife cast a rueful look at the terrible tempest still raging, but said no word of discouragement. She hurried in to prepare food and start them as comfortably as she could.

‘Would it be any good my going to the house? Could I comfort any of them?’ she said.

‘I called there,’ Tom returned, humbly and in a mournful tone. ‘I saw Issy. She looks like—like a stone image. Mrs. Lang was very ill, and Kate—Miss Lang—had only then come back from—a visit. Miss Terry was kind enough to speak to me, and even ask our help in the search. From what she said, misfortunes have not come singly, for the officers were there to put an execution in the house, the doing of that insolent fellow, Swartz and Co., who tried to oppose his being whitewashed. She and Issy told them that Mr. Lang had set off with a full purpose of throwing up all he had. But they were insolent, the brutes, and there they remain, till Mr. Lang's lawyer or some one comes to settle matters. Mr. Vesey was there, making a precious row in the yard. But I don't fancy he knows much, or that Isabel depends on him. She said she wished so much for an ‘old’ friend! Father! I know she will like you to go!’

‘Pooh, pooh! A very foolish affair! Lang robbed and murdered, indeed! The very last man! That strong active fellow—an old stager, too! Pooh! Old friends? Of course! Where's Herbert? He is sure to be there?’

‘No, sir,’ and again Tom looked distressed; ‘Mr. Herbert had set out for his station; but—so the report goes—he was stopped on the road by an express messenger from his sister, bearing a letter of wonderful news from England. That he is heir to a title, and immense estates, and that he must go there immediately. They say at Bango Bridge Inn that he is already on board the China, which is advertised to sail to-morrow. And—and—there are many reports!’

‘A budget of gossip!—news, I mean—not half of it is true, I'll wager,’ said Mr. Jolly, considerably disturbed, but not willing to allow it.

Towards evening the mighty wind went down. It was gone, no


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one knew where or how! People were occupied in estimating the ravages, and breathed more freely, finding their dwellings not swept bodily away, though requiring considerable repairs.

In the little morning-room, as in former days, sat Kate, Isabel, and Miss Terry. The Jollys had been there, and had taken back the little girls, while the boys were with Mr. Farrant. Mrs. Lang was stunned and stupified; she shed no tears, but remained still all day, refusing food, and only shaking her head, when anything was said of failure after a fresh search.

‘They were all wrong,’ she said. ‘All stupid! Mr. Lang knew the country so well. He would soon come home, she knew!’

Parties of twos and threes went out in all directions, all, hitherto, in vain! Mr. Jolly showed himself indefatigable and wise, a true friend in need, as Isabel often repeated and with marked emphasis. It was a pity to see her so pale and stricken, all the free, bright look gone. In its stead an expression of startled terror. The very efforts she made to rouse herself were spasmodic, her tone of voice altered. Whenever she could, she sat resting her head on her hands, and gazing with dry eyes, that seemed to burn for want of a tear. Kate, too, was deeply dejected, and wept all day. She was glad if she could find any one to listen, to talk. Miss Terry was a great support, being calm and self-possessed, and Mr. Farrant was constantly there, acting as much like a son as he could.

‘What was the report to-day?’ Kate inquired, languidly.

‘It is supposed,’ returned Miss Terry, ‘that another servant is involved—Lynch! He is known to have been at Charlie Brand's hut. They are searching for him in another direction. Mr. Fitz, they say, is out with a party of mounted police. The poor wretched man has been seen in that district, and they think he is hiding not far off.’

Kate's face brightened a little.

‘So, you see, he has not so entirely forgotten us!’ she remarked, triumphantly.

Isabel, on the contrary, looked only more sad. She said—'Lynch, too! Poor fellow!’

But the real pressure was in the thought that among all who came forward to show sympathy and offer help, the one she most anxiously looked for, kept away. Why was it? Could it be that the wretched misunderstanding with her father had engendered so deep an anger? The entire absence of the Herberts from any participation in this trouble


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gave great offence to Mrs. Lang and was sharply commented on by Kate. Even were he still at his station, there was time to have heard (for such news flies fast), and to have written. Miss Herbert, too! where was she, that no message or line even, came to remind them of her being an acquaintance? There was a great struggle in Isabel's mind whether she should volunteer a note to Miss Herbert or not. It would end suspense. But it was too like begging for notice, and her pride refused such a step. When a subject is shut up in one's own mind and dwelt upon unduly, it is apt to become magnified and distorted. It was so, perhaps, here. Isabel was suffering a double portion of grief in imagining the reasons for this painful and unaccountable silence. At last she broke silence, and remarked to Kate, ‘What can have come to Miss Herbert not to call, or send to inquire?’

‘Why, Issy! is it possible? Have you been asleep or deaf? Don't you know that Miss Herbert is gone away—they say, sailed for England. Certainly her brother took his passage in the China; Mr. Jolly says they have succeeded to some property.’

This was news! Isabel, engrossed at first in the terror of her father's disappearance, had failed to hear any other remarks. Since then her own silence and reserve had kept her ignorant. Without another syllable, she now withdrew; whether this was a relief or not, she did not know. It was so strange, so unexpected, that it needed consideration, and her mind was so tired, so utterly weary of supposing and concluding, that even while she mused, she dropped into an uncomfortable nap, the result of over-taxed strength. When she roused herself from this fit of drowsiness and rejoined the others, she found them eagerly gathered round a letter just received from Mr. Jolly, who had despatched a messenger with it.




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9. CHAPTER IX.

The Stockman's Rounds.

note

On the morning after the storm, Charlie Brand, the stockman at Westbrooke farm, saddled his sorrel mare, and, with his grim, sardonic smile, surveyed the premises, keenly noting what had suffered and what escaped. He was uneasy as to the fate of some wild young horses in the bush paddock—that is, a large portion of the bush or forest fenced off—and directed his mare that way. He was far too experienced a bushman to be surprised at finding the usual beaten track blocked up by fallen trees, so that it required some skill and patience to get on at all. At last, after a long circuit, he spied his charges grouped together in a small cleared space, raising their heads and snorting with shy yet friendly greeting as the old sorrel and her rider came in sight. At a peculiar noise he made, they put down their noses and smelt, and then advanced a few paces;—then a little closer, and so on till one had his shaggy yet well formed head resting in familiar confidence on Charlie's arm; while another made advances to the sorrel, who only responded by twitching her odd tail about and imperturbably nibbling the grass which grew within her reach. After a few moments passed in this way, Charlie mounted again, and when he moved on he was followed by his friends. He turned off into a different direction from that he came, meaning to try to fall into another track or bush-path, sometimes used by travellers as a short cut to Sydney. Jogging along and whistling as he went, he was suddenly thrown quite on his mare's neck, and a few words, more pithy than polite, came from his lips in his surprise at the skittish nonsense of


  ― 288 ―
the usually staid animal. But to-day she was moved and lost her wonted balance; with ears pricked up and eyes starting, the sorrel backed and turned and jumped, and not all Charlie's efforts could induce her to keep from swaying violently from one side of the road to the other. ‘The devil! what is it, then? Be hanged if I can see anything, you vile old humbug—capering about in this mad fashion now, in your advancing years. Ay, and there's the young ones following your bad example—in course! Snort away! Some dead wild dog or native cat or bullock, maybe——’ and he dismounted.

It required considerable remonstrating and patting before the sorrel mare could even then be induced to stand still and not suddenly rush off, breaking the bridle. On the farther side of a grim, rough, iron bark tree, among the clustering currant bushes, lay what Charlie soon saw to be a man. He was lying with his face turned round towards the ground, his hat was off, and not to be seen directly. Cautiously, and with that awe which the roughest and bravest spirit feels face to face with a violent death, Charlie crept nearer, and was about to examine into it more narrowly, when, from a young tree near at hand, with heavy flight, soared away one of those large carrion birds, ever found near death. Two or three large magpies followed, uttering the plaintive note peculiar to them in Australia. Charlie shivered and looked stern for a moment, then again his curiosity overcame his dread, and he turned round the head delicately and tenderly. But he let it go again, staggering back, pale and fixed with horror.

‘My God! That wretched fellow! Then he has gone and done it! The scamp! The black heart! The poor miserable sinner has not been content with dishing himself here, but he must get himself ruined for the next life too! I oughtn't to have let him off so easy, but somehow—I didn't . . . . I've been angry myself, and had bitter thoughts . . . but—it wouldn't have come to this. And so I believe I didn't think it would with him.’ He now fastened the mare to a sapling, and proceeded to find out if indeed it was hopeless death, and how it had chanced.

There was blood on the shirt front and on the ground which he found came from a cut on the temple and from the nose and mouth. Mr. Lang was quite dead—had been dead for many hours.

It was far from any help—no one was the least likely to pass that way. Charlie stood considering what to do and also how this had happened. Mr. Lang had no arms upon him. His purse was still in his pocket. Then Charlie went back, searching about on the ground for any indications of a struggle or as to which way Mr. Lang might have been going. There was a slight appearance of pressure among the currant bushes near,


  ― 289 ―
some of which were half broken and bent. Some few yards off he also found one or two marks of a horse's shoes, pointed towards the up country road, but these were speedily lost entirely. Searching with keen and observant eyes, he at last saw, on a prickly banksia, a small scrap, apparently from a woman's dress. Then, further on, a piece of faded, dirty blue ribbon and some dead wild flowers, which had evidently been bound together with grass, and when withered, cast aside. Nothing more did he see, till, returning to where the corpse lay, on a branch growing low down on a gum tree, a man's hat caught his eye—Mr. Lang's, probably. It had been evidently hung there purposely by some hand. Charlie looked and shook his head—'Foul play, I'll swear,’ he said, and removing the hat he saw ‘J. Lang, Esq.,’ written within.

Then after a few more moments' deep thought he lifted the body, and managed to place it on his mare; securing it as best he could with his necktie, pocket-handkerchief, and a piece of green hide. He rolled up his old blanket, which as a habit he always took on his saddle, and made a cushion which supported the head; and then leading the mare, he retraced his steps, walking with bowed head and downcast face. He placed it on his own stretcher, and even gently stroked aside the hair, which soiled with dust and blood lay heavy on the brow.

The last time they had met—master and man—harsh and bitter words had passed. Mr. Lang was a sharp master; but Charlie had served him well, and had found contentment at least in his service. He was a man strongly influenced by old habits, and possessing a certain dry, rough, but very earnest affectionateness, which was showed by his fondling every animal within his reach, and never passing a child without a smile and a joke. He was moved to the heart now! His conscience smote him for all the intemperate words he had uttered to Mr. Lang. Here was the husband—the father smote dead, left to be the prey of wild things—or, to the chance discovery of his own servant!

It was very awful! Mr. Lang was known to have been very hard on Lynch. Lynch had been liked by Charlie; and he was sorry to think of this deed and its consequences. Yet he did not hesitate. He determined at once to go to the nearest settlement, and get a constable, and speak to the Squire Morrison—no time was to be lost. All the consequences of this step rose clearly to his view. He would be questioned about his having seen Lynch, and, perhaps, would be called as a witness against him! He stayed to light his pipe, ‘to put a little comfort and spirit into him,’ as he said, and then covering the body decently, he left his hut, making the door as secure as he could. Accompanied by his dogs, he walked on, looking neither to the right nor to the left. As he climbed over the fence


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which led into the road, he fancied he caught sight of a man near the small bridge which spanned the road; whoever it was, he seemed to cross the opposite fence and was hidden behind a clump of wattles. Charlie went on, still buried in his thoughts. The grief of Mrs. Lang and her children was now dawning on his mind, slow to take an impression, and only now thinking of the calamity in that light. ‘Miss Isabel, his favourite, her papa's darling—how her bright eyes would sadden!’

‘Hallo! Who's there? O, Thompson; well, I was going to find you!’ he said, finding himself suddenly touched on the shoulder by a man he knew to be a constable.

‘Indeed! was you?’

‘Yes, I was, and to Mr. Morrison too—something has happened——’

But his words were suddenly checked by the sight of another man who came from the fence, and was exchanging looks with Thompson.

‘The fact is, Brand, I—we—’

‘Cut short,’ said the other in a gruff voice. ‘We were after you. Lucky meeting! By your leave—’ and while he produced a pair of handcuffs, which he rapidly proceeded to place on the astonished Charlie, he nodded grimly at a paper which meanwhile the more hesitating Thompson took from his pocket, and held out for Charlie to see.

It was a warrant for his seizure, on suspicion of having murdered J. Lang, Esq.

‘How can you say that? when I've just found the body—brought it home to my own place and set off as fast as my legs would carry me, to tell of it! Come, no nonsense, Thompson.’

‘Certainly not, Brand! I'm sure I'm uncommonly sorry—'tis awkward and disagreeable; only take care, Brand, what you say, for it might bring you to trouble. Serious affair, you see!’

‘Look at this,’ growled the other, and pointing to some marks of blood on Charlie's hand and shirtsleeve—jacket he had none on.

‘Ah, yes! suspicious, awkward, very!’ said Thompson, pompously, in a very evident fright all the time.

‘Nonsense! Don't I tell ye I found him, lifted him and brought him home? 'Tis his blood—'tis.’

‘Exactly, his blood.’

‘His face had blood on it—running from mouth and nostrils on to the ground—lying along in the wild currant plants, he was. Now he is on my stretcher. Come and see him, if you don't believe me.’

‘Perfectly. I quite believe you, my dear fellow—only—duty—warrant! You see, to obey orders is my creed. Mr. Morrison and Captain Lambert signed the warrant, sent me on and Bent here—and here we are,


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ready to do our duty, and sacrifice our feelings to the hard altar of duty. Please don't talk, Brand; it might do you harm; swallow down your words, don't let 'em out. Keep your own counsel, and it is their business to prove it.’

‘Well, they can't prove what isn't, any way; though many an innocent man is punished for the guilty, as I know—and if I am ordained to be the man—well, no use making a jaw. But there's my poor beasts must be fed, and there's the body up there, you see.’

‘That will be attended to.’

‘O well, lead on, then! Where am I to go to? a man don't know in the morning where he'll be lying the night, eh?’

‘To the North Creek lock-up. Don't take it to heart, my fine fellow. Comfortable accommodations, and if you've the cash, good brandy to be had dirt cheap; made not so very far off as to make the carriage heavy. In that very place, I and Toms, he's dead now shot through the lungs poor cove, what we all risk in the cause of duty! Well, as I was about to observe—hem—in the North Creek lock-up, Toms and I had the honour of putting a very great fellow in his day—no other than the celebrated Rileynote—he as shot an officer commanding the mounted police, and killed two men up country, besides divers other deeds. He lay a night in this lock-up, and bless your soul! he called for the best to eat and drink, and made himself very comfortable, and the next day marched on before us, with the police armed to their chins, riding in file. 'Twas a hot, dusty day! One time I thought all was up, sure enough, when we stopped to rest, and Toms he went to see and get us something to drink from a hut we spied not far off. So we sat down under the starved, miserable little sticks, what passes for trees thereabouts; all at once, says I, where's Riley? Nowhere was he to be found! Such a sputter; such a swearing and cursing; such a hallooing and calling, and the police talking big about going here and there and everywhere! And after all, there was my friend coolly grinning at us behind a bush, just making himself ‘snug and comfortable,’ as he said. ‘No, no; now he was nabbed, he'd take it quietly, and make no more fuss,’ he said. And so he did. For not a month after he was hanging, and I saw him myself.’

Beguiling the way with such talk, they marched poor Charlie Brand to the nearest settlement; and here as soon as possible was the body removed, and an inquest held.




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10. CHAPTER X.

The New Schoolyard.

note

A piece of ground had been fenced and cleared round the new church which Mr. Lang had taken such interest in building. It was not ill-chosen and being rather elevated, it commanded a view of the surrounding country. Mr. Farrant had left a few native apple trees; a picturesque, gnarled tree and some evergreen shrubs prevented the bare, desolate aspect which too many newly cleared spots have. It was a solitary place, though it was not likely long to remain so. Around the new church there would soon spring up some huts tempted by the richness of the adjacent soil and the luxury of a full and good sized creek, which, making a sudden turn in its course, seemed, as Mr. Lang had pointed out, to have come that way on purpose.

Here, two men were digging, and now and then they paused and looked down the road.

‘Well; Lang didn't think who'd be the first to try the feel of this here ground, eh, Bob?’

‘Not he,’ returned the other, also leaning on his spade and shifting his head for a moment. ‘ 'Twere a particular fancy of his, this here place, and they say as how it led to words 'twixt him and Herbert and Budd. To my thinking 'tis a pretty place, and if the land is let in lots like for the clearing and building, I'd not mind just to take one. Look, d'ye see?’ and he touched the earth which stuck to his spade. ‘This is rightdown good soil; and that creek, too—and then 'tis right upon the high road to Sydney upwards—Lang knew what he was about.’




  ― 293 ―

‘Ay, ay—and so he did, Bob! Well, poor fellow—'pon my soul, I'm sorry for him this minute, I be; though he did get me twenty infernal lashes. Well, well; I wonder where he be gone to. 'Tis a queer thought, aint it, Bob?’

‘They parsons tell a deal about it. Perhaps 'tis true—perhaps 'tisn't. But learning is a great thing to help a man on, Andrew. I have heard say it brings a man to know about the lights up yonder, and showed him where this here great big country was. If so, I don't see why it shouldn't give me a hint or two about the world we are all bound to, I suppose.’

‘The poor will come to the top, mayhap, then. My old father used to talk wonderful—his tongue got him into scrapes; for he was always speaking and telling of the troubles of the poor and how they get oppressed. Well, and he said, that next life, the poor would have their own way, and they'd . . . .’

‘Lynch couldn't wait for that, poor chap; he's been and done for himself. Must be caught in the end.’

‘What!—don't 'ee think 'twas Charlie, then—eh, Bob?’

‘Not I. Bless 'ee—Charlie's not the chap for it.’

‘Ay, ay? Well, Lynch was aggravated, as I will say; and 'tween ourselves, Bob, Bill Smith didn't do him no good. He got his sharp fingers in, and I'd lay a wager he know a thing or two this minute about this here affair.’

‘Folks talk as how that Herbert had no goodwill for Lang. They met at the inn down away, and had hard and warm words—so they say—and Lang muttered something as he rode off; and Herbert got merry like—as a man does trying to keep off thoughts and deceive people. He talked a great deal and looked strange, they say, and didn't eat nothing, but seemed all put about and astray like. Then he rode away after t'other, you see.’

‘Bless my soul! you don't say so? Ay, ay? Well, that's a choker. And so they are saying as how that——’

‘Well, they talk—talk, that's all! 'Twas strange, you see. There was a quarrel; and the house servants were speaking about it, and that Miss Issy was very much hurt at it. But, mind me, see if they don't look it all over, and just prove black and white against the Government man. Either Charlie or Lynch or both will swing for this here deed whether 'twas another did it or no.’

‘I wonder will it be a large following?’ remarked the other, after a pause.

‘No great things, I dare say,’ returned Bob. ‘He was not much liked; but, I say, what's that? Here they are, then, at last. Come on, we must dig


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away, or we'll be behindhand.’

Yet both lingered near the fence watching the approach of the hearse as it slowly mounted the hill.

They brought him home, past the church he had built, to his own place, there to rest for a short space only, for on the next morning early he was borne to his grave—the first in the churchyard. Mr. Jolly and his son and Mr. Budd accompanied the body home. And now, in spite of his man Bob's prophecy, a long train followed the funeral. Besides his own family and servants, several people came from a distance, and once again, and for the last time, every possible contrivance was made at Langville to accommodate those who had come far, with beds—the Parsonage also lending help. The additional trouble which this brought to Mrs. Lang was joyfully borne in consideration of the honour and respect shown to her husband.

‘So many friends!’ she remarked.

‘Yes,’ answered Isabel. ‘A great many people. But as to friends—we shall have to begin afresh in that respect as in every other.’

There were many she had never expected or even thought of—she felt the compliment—but it seemed to mark it only as still stranger that any one should be absent. Then she turned to listen to Mr. Jolly, who was speaking in a hushed, solemn tone.

‘There are grave suspicions, I grieve to say. He is committed for trial, and they are vigorously prosecuting a search for Lynch.’

‘Who is committed?’ asked Isabel.

‘Charlie Brand.’

‘Charlie—Charlie Brand?—committed for—for—what is he suspected of, Mr. Jolly?’

‘Of—you know, my dear, he was seen to be in a great passion here—and——’

‘I know—I saw and heard him!’

‘Well; and he was heard to utter some foolish threats, and then—in fact—I need not enter into details which must be painful; but there is grave cause for suspecting him. Poor misguided man!’

‘It is not true—it can't be true! Mr. Jolly, I am so sure Charlie didn't—didn't—couldn't. He kill my father! No—no!—if all the world, and all the courts of justice say yes—I will say no! And can nothing be done—can no one speak for him—see him? Don't you feel it to be an impossibility yourself, mamma?’

‘My love, remember, when people are in a passion they don't know anything, and he was heard to say strange and very wrong things. And that dreadful Lynch! I always did dread him! That girl, too! she set him


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up and did mischief.’

‘Poor Charlie! If I could but see him and tell him, I believe him innocent! Poor fellow! where is he, Mr. Jolly? I must and will see him!’

‘O, Issy! how strange you are! See or care for a man who has murdered poor papa? I am sure I hope he will be hanged!’

‘Kate, don't say such things. It is not proved yet. Doesn't he deny it himself?’

‘O, yes! His story is that he found him lying dead in the Bush, and brought him back to his hut. Well, time will show. He will have a fair trial and a clever lawyer to plead his cause.’

‘If Mr. Herbert was here, this would be prevented!’ cried Isabel. ‘He knows Charlie so well. He would say at once that . . . .’

‘A fair trial!’ again repeated Mr. Jolly. ‘I say, I wish the poor fellow no harm; but I wish to find out and punish the perpetrator of such a foul and wicked deed. My poor friend, your father, must not be allowed to perish without our stirring heaven and earth to discover how it was. There are strong suspicions against Brand and against Lynch. Both had been heard to utter violent words, both had been reprimanded, and had therefore a spite against the master. It can be proved, so I am told, that on the morning that Charlie Brand came and went in that strange way, he saw Jack Lynch as he went through the bush. Lynch spoke of the girl Nellie, and Charlie's words are reported to have been—'I wouldn't stand it.’ Then Lynch runs away, after being insolent and threatened with punishment. He goes straight to Westbrooke Farm, straight to Charlie's hut. They were seen together the day following the storm. But I need not say all this . . . .’

‘No; but if there was twice as much to say, I still declare that Charlie is not the man. You might as well say, Mr. Jolly, that you yourself or any other friend did it in a fit of anger,’ Isabel said, warmly.

Mr. Jolly's countenance at this assumed a strangely troubled aspect. Casting his eyes for an instant on his son, who blushed deep crimson, he bent them on the ground and muttered some incoherent words.

‘Take care, my dear love,’ he added, patting Isabel's shoulder. ‘Many a word uttered in chance and in sheer carelessness, may be caught up and turned to evil, in such a miserable and mysterious affair as this is. Don't play with edge tools.’

‘Edge tools! Careless words!’ she repeated. ‘Mr. Jolly, did you hear me rightly? I only said that it would be easy to patch up a string of evidence if one chose, and say a friend did it.’

‘I know. What makes you say this? Have you any—any—fear? Have you heard? Good God above, Issy!’ the old man went on, apparently


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gathering fright from her scared face. ‘Say you spoke carelessly, not with meaning. Child! do you know what is said? what people are saying now—yes, now?’

‘O father!’ cried Tom, almost reproachfully.

But the old man's words, and yet more his manner, had by this time riveted the attention of every one, and they urged him to speak out and not hide anything. Mrs. Lang said she ought to know all that was said or thought.

‘Yes,’ joined in Isabel, ‘tell us. There is no more harm in suspecting one more than another. Convicts are not the only wicked people.’

‘Surely not! Yet—this trouble is dark enough, Heaven knows, without idle tongues wagging. Folly! Nonsense! No—no—no! May as well put it to myself, or to Tom there! I say, were circumstances, was evidence ten times more damning,’—the old man grew more and more vehement,—'I say, I would punish such slander. An angry man, a proud man, he could be at times, but to turn his hand and slay his neighbour, his friend, his enemy, if you will,—I affirm, John Herbert is not that man!’ and he struck his stick loudly on the floor to emphasize his words.

‘John Herbert! Mr. Herbert!’ was breathed out in solemn, startled, and fearful whispers, and each face changed in a moment. Isabel's colour flew to her very temples. She gasped for breath and pressed her hand on her throat.

‘O what a wicked, wicked lie! And he, where is he?’

‘Yes, where is he?’ echoed Mrs. Lang. ‘And what makes them say so, Mr. Jolly?’ and she burst into a fit of weeping, in which Kate joined.

‘People will say anything—anything!’ said Tom, eagerly. ‘They love mystery and horror! I wish there was a punishment for chatterboxes! Slander,—it is slander, libel.’

‘It is an ugly fact, that they had warm words at the inn; that they were known to have disagreed before. And now Herbert's very absence, his quick going away is brought up against him. They say it is all a story about a fortune.’

‘But is Miss Herbert gone, too?’ asked Isabel.

‘No, I think not,’ said Tom.

‘Then ask her! Go or write and ask her if he is gone to England on business, or . . . .’

‘She wouldn't say, if . . . .’ remarked Mrs. Lang.

‘Yes, she would! Go, Mr. Jolly. Go at once, as a piece of righteous justice to an absent man, a fellow-creature, a friend! Go at once to her, and ask her these plain questions.’

Mr. Jolly looked puzzled, and again patted Isabel's arm kindly,


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murmuring, ‘Poor little soul! Poor child! You ought not to have heard about it, but God will bring out the truth! He will not let the innocent suffer!’

‘Yes, father, Isabel is right. Let us,—I will, if you like, and if you think me fit for it. (You see, Issy, father is tired.) Let me go! I am ready to start at once. I will see the poor lady and ask her to tell me why her brother went, and all about it.’

After a little further conversation, they all agreed that it was a shocking report, and the sooner it was stopped the better; unanimously voting it to be right to learn what they could from Miss Herbert, and for the time forgetting little grievances against her, in anxiety to prevent her hearing the rumour, ‘poor lady!’ It was settled for Tom to rest that night, and to start early in the morning on his mission, meanwhile they were to send to Warratah Brush, and inquire there what the overseer knew of his master's and mistress's movements.

‘Doesn't it seem a horrible addition to the grief, all this wretched suspecting others?’ Isabel remarked to Miss Terry, as they slowly paced up and down the verandah waiting for Mr. Jolly's return; for he would go himself to Warratah Brush.

‘After all, why are we to be so sure it was a murder? Papa may have been thrown.’

‘Yes; very true. But I suppose this was thought impossible on the inquest. Yet how careful they ought to be in such a hidden case.’

Isabel was very pale now, and she shivered.

‘Are you cold?’ Miss Terry inquired.

‘Yes—no; that is, not in the body; but I feel cold in my heart! Only a few weeks, a few days almost, ago—to think of us all then, and now! I used to think life so quiet and dull! and now——Can I be myself, Isabel? who laughed, and believed care was far away in spite of poverty. O, poor dear daddy!’ She stopped, quite overcome. Then rallying, she spoke fast and eagerly, not waiting for an answer. ‘Why need there be a trial? Why didn't they say, ‘accidental death?’ This is making it three deaths! It was bad enough before. Papa dead, gone for ever! No one to know what he felt; and friends forsaking us—being offended! So forlorn I thought the world was this morning, so dreary and hopeless! and now, this is worse again. Of course it is all wicked nonsense; yet to have such a thought breathed—O! isn't it too much? And if he ever hears it, as he will and must—O dear!’

Miss Terry felt anxious for the poor girl; she looked as if years older; for Isabel was one on whom sorrow and anxiety told deeply and rapidly. As Miss Terry remarked to Mr. Farrant, there was cause for fear about


  ― 298 ―
her, unless some little change or relief came soon. She had grown visibly thinner, and never had the relief of quiet weeping which her mother and Kate had. She either slept not at all for the whole night, or she fell into a dead heavy sleep, which seemed thoroughly unrefreshing. She took to being much alone, even avoiding, after just the first, Miss Terry. For hours she would sit at her own window, doing nothing. And these long times of thinking, so new to Isabel, seemed at last to bring calm to her.

‘What do you sit so much alone for, my love?’ her mother would ask. ‘It is so dull, so bad for you. For my part, I don't like to be alone a moment now. It is better to employ oneself, and prevent dwelling on it at all.’

‘Yes, for you, mamma. But I am very busy at those times—busy in sifting and understanding things. I have found out a great deal, I assure you. At least, I have learnt my own foolish ignorance, and perhaps it will guide me for the future.’ Isabel tried to speak cheerfully.

‘How odd you are, Issy!’ cried poor Kate. ‘What can you mean? How will it guide you? How were you ignorant? For my part, I can't bear thinking at all now. There is nothing to think about!’ and tears directly came.

On the fourth day, Miss Terry came outside to Isabel's window, at which as usual she was sitting, and she was startled at the infinite sadness of the girl's unconscious gaze. Forgetting why she came, for the instant, she was moved to stoop, and press a kiss on her head, and say, ‘Isabel, he will come back; all will be cleared!’

‘What! have you heard? What do you mean?’ Isabel exclaimed, her whole expression changing at once, and her pale face flushing up.

‘Of that, how could I hear? but I prophesy it. No, don't shake your head so hopelessly, dear Isabel. Let me say just this once, that I understand your feelings, and all, all . . . .’

‘My wretched, bungling, ignorant mistakes,’ Isabel interrupted, abruptly. ‘It is half my own doing, and not the easier to bear for that. Never mind! I am not going to give way. Have patience with me. Say not a syllable to mamma and Kate. You will see I shall come out of it in time.’

After a moment's pause, Miss Terry said, ‘But I interrupted you to tell you that Mr. Jolly is here. Yes, he went himself, after all, and saw her! From his own account, good old man, he managed very well, not to shock her; and she had heard nothing at all, luckily. A fortune, a large landed property, has come to Mr. Herbert. The news was sent express after him, and overtook him two stages on his way to the station. He turned back at once, and was just in time to secure a half-cabin in the


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China. It was of consequence for him to lose no opportunity. Miss Herbert was left to wind up affairs and to follow.’

‘What alone, poor lady?’

‘No, not alone. Mr. Jolly's was the first smile I have seen on any face for many a day. Fancy, she asked Mr. Jolly for congratulations; next week she is to be married!’

‘You don't say so!’

‘Yes. Dr. Marsh came in while Mr. Jolly was there. Well, isn't it funny?’

‘Very! I suppose he—Mr. Herbert—knew it; or has she done it since?’

‘I conclude he knew it, for Dr. Marsh has authority to manage business matters. Warratah Brush is to be sold . . . .’

‘Of course!’ and Isabel sighed heavily. ‘But not unless a fancy price be offered,’ continued Miss Terry, ‘which is quite improbable. It is to be left to the overseer, and the station is to be kept on, too. That looks like . . . .’

‘Good management!’ put in Isabel, quickly. ‘Waiting for better times and a better sale—that's all.’

‘Well, at all events, one's mind is relieved. For Mr. Jolly looks quite bright again. Miss Herbert's quiet and simple answers and information cleared away the ugly mist from his mind; for, as he said, though he didn't believe a syllable, still he wished to feel terra firma under him.’

‘O, I never felt any doubt. It is absurd!’ Isabel answered, sadly, and again sighing. ‘That didn't weigh on me, at least beyond the first dreadful idea. Does he say any more of the others, Charlie and Lynch?’

‘No. But come and see him; you have sat here long enough.’




  ― 300 ―

11. CHAPTER XI.

Bush-ranging.

note

After leaving the hut where we last brought him, Lynch made the best of his way, avoiding all roads, yet keeping on his course wonderfully. He was a powerful, stout man, but rough walking and much fasting began to tell on him. He was now beyond his own range. He only guessed his way, and had no longer any friendly hut to seek, where he was sure of shelter and food.

It was a wild country, and he was forced to look about him, and not lose sight of fences or other marks of civilization. Once after a weary spell of many miles, in which his shoes had worn quite off, and his clothes were much torn by the bushes, he came almost suddenly upon a ‘clearing.’ Heaps of trees lay piled and ready for the firing, a lot of ironbark palings were lying on the ground too, ready to begin a fence. Warily he climbed a tree, and saw in the distance some smoke and some sheep. He also heard a sheep-bell.

It was evidently some newly formed sheep station; now the question was, how should he proceed? Food he must have; clothing too, especially shoes, would be very acceptable. He examined his gun and his powder-flask; all was right; so was his knife and his small tomahawk, which he wore suspended in his leather belt—yet he paused, and looked grimly doubtful. Was there no other way of satisfying his hunger? He bitterly cursed the life, and all who had led him into it, but his doubts were suddenly stopped short by the approach of a dog of the terrier breed. Up went the gun in a second, and stepping back behind a large


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tree, he was again a man prepared to resist or attack a fellow-man—an outlaw!

The dog stopped short, and uttered a bark, then came nearer, sniffing and pricking up his ears. But Lynch's threatening eye told, and after another stare, and a few more barks, he turned, and was out of sight. Lynch receded further into the forest, and waited awhile to listen, but except the distant sheep-bell, he heard nothing. For a long time, till the sun got alarmingly low in fact, he skulked about, not liking to go nearer to the station without ascertaining the number he should have to deal with, and yet knowing that here he must feed. Again he climbed a tree, and looked around him, but not a man was to be seen, though still the smoke went up, and still every now and then the bell tinkled. From the look of the clearing, and all the timber which had been felled, he was sure there must be more than one man. Perhaps two, a shepherd and his mate, who felled the trees. Well, he could manage two, unless they had a savage watch-dog, as was frequently the custom. Again he gave a look, and this time he saw a man engaged in gathering up sticks for his fire. It was evidently an old man, Lynch believed somewhat of a cripple, too. Looking further and intently (and blessing his wonderfully keen and clear far-sight), he took notice that from the dress, this man was still a government servant; he might therefore turn out a friend. Greatly relieved, Lynch came down from his post of observation, resolved to try what fair words would do, and glad to be yet once more excused from making his first essay as a robber. He walked on fast, and again the terrier appeared in the path, and again accosted him with a bark interrogatory, to which Lynch this time responded amicably, and whistled for him to approach. He took the dog's obeying him as a good omen, and was even patting the creature, forgetting that he was a bushranger, and thinking of years ago, when he was startled by a familiar voice pronouncing his own name.

‘Jack Lynch, as large as life! Surprises will never go out of fashion! And where's your shoemaker, chum?’ was said in a glib, rapid, low-pitched voice. ‘Come, no guns or nonsense here, man! Though, honour alive, but you make a good highwayman; would do to set up a private theatre, such hattitudes and rolling heyes! But good evening, friend! and welcome.’

‘Welcome where, and to what? Be you the old gentleman himself, Gentleman Bill, that I pop on you here this way?’ said Lynch, with gruff contempt he could not hide, and fingers clutching at his gun, as if he longed to raise it.

Bill—for Bill Smith it was—saw this; he threw a keen, sidelong


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glance, and noted Lynch's angry eye, sunken cheek, and weary gait, as well as his arms and his tattered clothes.

‘Well!’ and he laughed one of his loudest and most chuckling laughs. ‘You are born under a lucky star, my eyes!’

‘Get out with your cursed nonsense!’ Lynch growled. ‘Ye know 'tis a lie.’

‘Civil—polite! I repeat, a lucky star. Law, don't think to growl over me, man. Don't I see with half an eye, that you've been hiding and looking like a hungry fox, waiting your opportunity, and all prepared to present and fire; and don't I see your very heart's a taking a nap like, and going smooth and easy, because there's no question of powder or shot, and only coming across an old chum, who's got a sup, and a bite, and a smoke, over and above, for his friends? Down, big spirit, down. Aisy now,’ and he stroked Lynch's sleeve, as if patting a dog.

‘Get out, will ye? Keep off, or the big spirit may give ye what you don't like, yet! True, I'm a fasting man, and my feet all sores and blisters; but afore I'm agoing to break bread with you in peace, Bill, you'll just answer me, what have you been and done with Nellie? eh, Gentleman Bill?’

A long whistle, expressing the utmost surprise, was Bill's answer; but just as Lynch was about to speak again, he put in,

‘There's not another hut nor gunyio within a score of miles. You must be more than man if so be you set off with a fasting stomach, and leave Pat and me to our supper.’

‘Never mind, I'll take care of myself, never you fear. But answer me.’

‘O! ah, I see! So you mean to try your hand like, 'pon Pat and me. Lynch's first appearance in character! True, Pat's old, Pat's crippled and got only half an eye; and our pet darling bulldog, what would strangle a lion, he's gone a little tour for change of air, with Tony, who is gone down along to a store for fresh tomahawks. Couldn't be a more convenient little opportunity, Jack! Well, let us see how you begin. 'Twill be as good as a play; only, you see—I suppose now, Jack, you think you could finger me in a moment? Bale me up in a trice, eh? Bill don't wear ugly knives, do he? nor shoulder naughty carbines, do he? No; but to tell ye a secret, Jack, he do wear something very pretty too, and as convenient as pretty.’

Saying which, with one of his slyest glances, and shaking his shoulders with his suppressed laugh, he pulled out two pistols, and showed them to be loaded.

‘Nothing! nothing at all, chum! Don't be alarmed. It needn't prevent your little practice at all; all the better, you see, for I can pretend to


  ― 303 ―
oppose you—all play, you know, Jack! O, yes; pleasant sport, only as I am sure your stomach is uttering dismal groans, suppose we put off our play till we've tried Pat's damper and Pat's cold pork, to say nothing of a half a jar of best mixed pickles, with London shop-mark on it! Ah, glad to see you a Christian. I'd lay a wager now there's Quaker blood somewhere, on one side or the other, in your family—eh, Jack?’

‘As much as there's Quaker's blood in you!’ growled out Lynch, trying to walk on as if unconscious of his companion's meaning.

‘Ah, if you'd said Jew's, that would have been something like it. My great grandmother's great grandmother was a Jewess, and my respected grandfather, of the same generation, was king of the gipsies. A great man he was, and left inheritance to his children, I can tell ye.’

They were now close to a bark hut, and the old man Lynch had before seen, and whom Bill hailed as Pat, was stooping over the fire, while something in the shape of a table was spread with damper, cold pork, and tea—a welcome sight to poor Lynch, who laid aside his gun, and stretched himself out as old Pat bade him, while he muttered to Bill, ‘And who is he, and where did ye get him? Didn't want any more mouths at the barrel of pork; however, please yourself, please yourself! only fill it again when 'tis empty, that's all.’

‘Hold your cursed nonsense!’ retorted Bill, angrily. ‘He's my chum and dearly beloved friend. Come, old crooked bones, you know but for me you'd have been in his shoes, and that's none at all, at present. He's on the bush, you old dotard, with half an eye which can't see nothing.’

‘On the bush? Ay, ay—and how's that about?’ and Pat turned with eager curiosity to Lynch, but he was too hungry to waste his breath on words. After a few mouthfuls he answered him shortly, and then turned on Bill.

‘Now, tell me, Smith, as you'd wish to be answered the day you have got a like trouble—tell me—what of that girl?’

‘O dear me! what it is to be in love! Fancy a strapping, likely chap like you always a ranting and a raving and a sighing and a dying, quarrelling with man and beast, fasting and looking wretched, all for a slip of a female gender! My gracious! they're not worth it!—not worth this, Jack;’ and suiting the action to the word, he filliped a bit of damper away.

‘Don't put me off, Bill, if you mean me well, as perhaps you do. You've fed me when I was fainting I can't deny and wont forget neither, for with all his faults Jack Lynch is no turncoat or masker. What I say I mean—what I mean I says right down.’

‘I know—but 'scuse me, you right down chaps are very unpleasant


  ― 304 ―
chaps, too.’

‘Is Nelly living?—tell me that!’

‘I believe so—I hope so. Pity for her pretty face to feed worms, or her sweet voice to be dumb. I hope Nelly is alive and kicking—happy, too, as I believe she is; and don't you go to grudge it to her.’

‘I grudge it! The Lord knows what I would do for the girl's good!’

‘That's right. Well—but don't let them big black eyes of yours blaze up at me so. Faith, it makes my eyes water! Don't be opening your nose and your mouth to receive my information, for I've none to give ye. Sorry for it, Jack—but as true as my name is William Bridges and not Smith at all—I knows not where Miss Maclean is at this present. I wish I did, my hearty! I've lost much for my ignorance.’

‘Bill! she left with you! I have heard—Judy——’

‘Told you a pack of lies, of course—dear old lady! Calm yourself, and drink another pint of tea. Now, here's the length and the breadth of the matter. She was with me, or, more properly, I was with her. We were journeying pleasant as possible—she seated like a queen on her throne, 'pon top of the dray, and all the fellows a crowding round her for to hear her sing just like a little bird. She was in tip-top spirits, and had her joke and her word with every one. One spark got quite foolish upon her, and dash me, but I believe he began making his court rather too free—that is, ahem—if others had seen—ahem! Why d'ye look up so? I am not meaning anything. Did ye think I did?’

‘Never mind—go on.’

‘ 'Twasn't going on, unfortunately. 'Twas going off, nobody knows how; but one morning when we all woke up and was about starting, my bird was a missing. Ay—flown right away, I believe you. We coo-ee-eed, we screamed, shouted, waited, cursed, swore, and called upon saints (for two of us was Catholics). But nothing came of it; whether she flew right up, or ran away upon a kangaroo, or what, I don't know. Never more we heard or saw of her, and, what's more, don't believe ever shall. That's my tale, believe it or no, as you like. It lost me a good five-pound note, as I'm a man. Gad, if I did come across her, I'd feel much disposed to try what I could do in the line of bringing refractory females to order.’

‘Well, Bill, God in heaven knows whether you speak truth or false. As I said, I've eaten with you and touched your hand, so—you're safe now. But, by heavens, I scent some nasty dirty plot you have hatched that wont bear daylight, I fancy. What you intended I can't say, but 'twas no good for her, I guess, and perhaps 'tis better for her she's lying dead under a bush, as I suppose she is this minute, than . . . .’

But he could not go on. Covering his face with his large brown hand,


  ― 305 ―
he crouched down, out of the fierce blaze, and soon his frame shook, while gurgling, suffocating sobs seemed to tear him, and tears rained down over his slice of damper. In a few moments he succeeded in stopping himself.

‘It do you credit,’ muttered old Pat. ‘I cried myself when I buried my gal—thirty years and more agone. I don't give in to hearts as hard as stones. No, not I!’

‘Nell was a sweet bird—worth a few tears, if any gal ever is,’ said Bill. ‘But I don't take to them. They are not in my line.’

Then he told Lynch which road he ought to take if he still persisted in going on Nelly's track. Lynch said one road was as well as another, so he could get victuals as he went on. And then Bill told him where one or two solitary habitations, in reality, sly grog-shops, were situated, as well as where a few well-stocked farms lay, one of which he might visit with great chance of success if he was wary and chose a good moment. Listening to these directions, Lynch soon followed old Pat's example, and fell into a sound sleep, even where he lay.

He awoke early, and before his companions. But not caring to move, he lay on, considering Bill's tale, and looking forwards with a heavy, oppressed heart, for what was life to him? Hardly worth fighting for food to support it! Nelly was dead! Then he thought it all over again, recalling former suspicions and hints, and Judy's account of Nelly's screams, till he was certain that some foul play had been used, that she had been decoyed or forced to go away. Then suddenly came back the name the boy had mentioned, and he saw how it was. Sitting there in the dim dawn alone, his face kindled and his hands were clenched, as one thought brought another, till once more a purpose filled him. He had something to do—something worth living for! He drew in his breath so loudly that he disturbed both sleepers.

‘Cautious! I must be wary! Ay, ay, deep Gentleman Bill! I must beat you if I can. Revenge—revenge. Ay, Jack Lynch, go-a-head, and be revenged!’

Quietly and noiselessly he managed to rise and leave the small hut. The dog looked up drowsily, but on a gesture from Lynch laid down again. Taking a good-sized piece of the damper, which had been left on the box that reversed acted as table, he got away, and, looking back once to see if all was still quiet, he plunged into the thick scrub, having carefully ascertained his bearings from the first rays of the sun as they lighted the topmost leaves of the tall trees.




  ― 306 ―

12. CHAPTER XII.

The Chase.

note

We can only briefly follow Lynch in his several adventures, losing his way at one time, and being driven to eat grubs, as the natives do, from hunger; then chancing to stumble upon a convict shepherd watching his sheep, who bade him roughly but heartily God speed, and shared his last drop of whisky in drinking ‘Death to masters and liberty to government-men!’ Not once did he take his food by force, though two or three times it was a narrow escape. At last he approached Goorundoo, and coming to a sly grog-shop to which he had been directed, he learnt that the mounted police were out in search of him; a strong body, and headed by the new comer, who had brought such a fine lot of cattle, and got such a fine place at Fair Dale. ‘Yes,’ the man said, ‘he was a smart, up-and-up chap; powers of money and some sense. Fond of his pleasure, too, if all was true. He had been in a mad passion a while back at the miscarriage of a plan of his. It seemed he had set his mind on a slip of a girl, who by all reports was out of the way comely and well-favoured.’

‘Ah! her name, did you hear that?’ exclaimed Lynch.

‘Was Nellie; that's all ever I heard. Well, and so they got her 'pon top of a dray, and had orders to treat her like a queen, and they say as how she fairly turned all their heads, and sang more like a bird than anything else. But whether one of the party made too free, or what, or whether she came with her own free will, no one knows. Any way, she gave them the slip, and was missing one morning. They searched up and down, and


  ― 307 ―
sent out here and there, but never saw nor heard no more of her. No! there I'm wrong, for the curious part of all is, they did hear! God bless your soul! not a man hereabouts would go out to that spot where last they camped out, alone! Fact, I assure you. I heard Phil Blunt with my own ears declare as how, when they were searching and calling out ‘Nellie! Nellie!’ that they heard her voice answer on the top of the highest tree there, but they saw only a yellow bird, and it spread its wings out, which shone like gold, and sang, just as she did and in her voice, and it flew right away up, out of sight; and when they fetched the other men to that place, there was she herself, in white, sitting upon a branch, crying bitterly, and when they spoke to her she gave a scream, and there was a rustle in the branches over head, and they never see no more of her! Ay! and now of nights they say there's singing often heard, and sometimes crying and wailing. Our young master, the owner of Fair Dale, took horse they say and went himself, being greatly set on her, like one ‘witched’ they say, and he came back as pale as ashes, and wouldn't speak a word, good or bad, only swearing under his breath against some one who had deceived him.’

‘What is his name?’

‘A queer one, not just handy to my lips; Fig, or something like it.’

‘Fitz?’

‘Ay, you're on it! Just one of your rough-riders, what don't stick at man nor beast, so he feathers his own nest and hatches his own eggs. He's as good as two at a bargain any day. Well, he's out now with this party of cursed police, and take my advice, and just make off westwards, and hide up for a bit. You could easy borrow a horse from the young master's paddock. I knows one would carry ye safe and fast, a stocking hind off leg. Come at a whistle, tame as a kitten. Saddle? Well, I've an old one would patch up; here, I'll chop it for your knife there, eh? No, bless'ee, a knife's no great use; besides, after a bit, ye can help yourself from Downley's big store, some twenty miles to westward. Find out Tim Stone and his mate, cutting bark near the Jerry river, well known. They'll join you, I guess; watch for a branding-day; all hands in stock-yard with cattle; walk in bold and straight; maidens squeak, bale 'em up; go into the store, fill your pockets and ride off; keep stocking for the purpose.’

Lynch gave up his knife, and took the wretched, rotten old saddle, which by dint of tying with cord, he managed to use. He found and caught the horse with his friend's help, and set off, not as he was advised, to hide exactly, but to reconnoitre, to come up with his pursuers. If he, if Mr. Fitz should be with them—then it would be hard if he didn't get


  ― 308 ―
one fair shot at him. For the rest he cared not! The sun struck powerfully on Lynch's head, causing a kind of half-drowsy sensation, and his thoughts seemed to go strangely back, and recall old scenes long since put aside, if not quite forgotten. His mother showing him some pictures from a large family Bible; her very voice seemed to sound in his ears, as she spoke of that other life which his father had already entered into. If it were so, if Nellie was there, should he meet her? and what would his stern old mother say to the poor girl's wild ways? Then he remembered the man's account of her singing, and wondered, if really dead, whether she might not possibly return and sing, and in some way point out who had injured her. The plaintive note of some magpies overhead seemed to chime in with his thoughts, and looking upwards through the spare attenuated foliage of the eucalyptus trees, to the intense blue sky, he wished he could hear her voice, or see her. The country being altogether new and strange to him, he let his horse take his own way a little, and after a couple of hours' quiet riding, he came up with a shepherd, attended by two dogs, and plaiting the cabbage-tree leaf into lissums for hats.note The shepherd was the first to greet, after a keen, prolonged stare at Lynch.

‘Well met; stranger, I guess?’

‘Ay, and seeking information 'bout one Fitz; got a station hereabouts, lately.’

‘Ay, ay! You know him, do you? Queer stories abroad of that 'ere spark. I'm soon after going home to yonder hut. Ye'll be welcome to a can of tea, and a smoke.’

Lynch accepted the invitation, and meanwhile offered his new acquaintance some tobacco, which he eagerly accepted, and placed in his cheek with great gusto. Under its influence he began to talk, and at last hit on something which caused his hearer to pause in his attention to his horse, and hearken with all his might.

‘So you see, folks do say that this very slip of a girl, what scared folks so hereabouts, is the culprit. The report says she murdered Lang of Langville, and has confessed to it too!’

‘What! Nelly, Nelly Maclean, murdered Lang—my master—Mr. Lang! Were you saying that?’ exclaimed Lynch, with emphasis.

‘So they are saying.’

‘ 'Tis just a lie! a black, wicked lie! Why, 'tis an impossibility! That slip of a child! My poor singing bird, who hasn't heart to tread on a worm. Go on; tell me all you know. Hell and murder! I begin to feel astray, like as if everything was clean turned topsy-turvy.’

He ended with a deep sigh, almost a groan, and sank his head between


  ― 309 ―
his hands, heedless of the horse's attempts to pull his head away from any hold. But as the shepherd went on speaking of the report which had reached this distant place by some drays passing onwards, Lynch again seized the halter, and seemed to arouse himself, and to take good care of the horse. After waiting an hour, he said he should push on without accepting the shepherd's offer of shelter and food. He must get on as fast as he could, he said, and having asked and received some minute directions as to the road, he mounted his stolen horse, and set off through the bush, avoiding public roads—often astray—but sustained by some exciting impulse, which caused him to forget hunger and danger.




  ― 310 ―

13. CHAPTER XIII.

The Lark's Last Song.

note

One evening, when Isabel, according to her custom, had sought her own room to throw herself into the past, to indulge in regret, and gather up what comfort she could for the future, but more than all, perhaps, to be free from the remarks and surmises which fell from others, and often sadly jarred on her,—while sitting at her table, and idly and absently turning over a few stray volumes of Mr. Herbert's, left behind, a slight rustling at the window made her look round. It was dark, and she saw nothing, but she fancied that a branch of the rosebush which grew there, moved, as if touched by something different from wind. The window was near the ground, and very much covered by roses, according to a fancy of Isabel's.

Her thoughts rested not one moment on it, but, unconsciously, her eyes remained turned towards it. In a few moments, the branch was again moved, slowly—carefully—some one certainly was there, looking in! This was not pleasant, but Isabel was not frightened, believing it to be one of the maids. Presently she was aware of a face being pressed close and flat to the glass—a white, strange face. As there was no light within the room, it was of course almost impossible for any one without to see in. In another moment a hand tried the window. It so happened that it was not fastened, Isabel had shut, but not latched it, on coming in; and now a thin and white arm passed in, with an uncertain, slow movement, and pushing the window back, a head and face appeared. Such a face, discoloured, with wild, distended eyes, and long, disordered hair! Isabel


  ― 311 ―
almost imagined it to be a spectre, and being considerably upset and unnerved, she felt positively glued to her seat, frozen, or rather stiffened with horror. Then the figure leaped straight into the room, and uttered a strange laugh, half pleased, half wild and mischievous.

‘Ellen! Ellen! is that you?’ was all Isabel could manage to say.

Directly she spoke, the girl was aware of her presence, and sprang towards her. Her breathing was short and quick, like one upset with running. She pressed one hand on her bosom.

‘Ah! Miss Isabel! Well—you see—and here I am! Goodness knows I'm tired! They have starved me, miss! Not a bird in the bush would give me a crumb! But,’ and she laughed again, a laugh which made Isabel shudder. ‘I said I'd be up to them all. Give me a piece of meat and bread, do—do—miss! Didn't I beg of your papa as he lay yonder, but sorrow a word he'd answer me! and why? Shall I tell you? Because he couldn't—he was dead—dead! Ain't you glad? I am! I sorry about it? Why, now he's dead, we'll get the ticket, Jack and me. He was bad and wicked, so cross to poor Jack! 'Twas for that I killed him! Ay, with these hands—ay, d'ye see? I believe there's red on them now, for all I tried to get it out. I don't like it—I never could abide blood! For all that I killed him! Shall I tell you how?’

‘For God's sake be still, and don't say such dreadful things, Ellen!’ said Isabel, recoiling from her in fear and terror. ‘Poor girl!’ she said, changing her tone with effort, ‘you don't know what you say. Come, stay quite still here, and I'll fetch you some food. Will you promise?’

‘I can't stay, lady,’ shaking her head gravely; ‘I must go to Jack. He's waiting—waiting! I must tell him how I gave them all the go-bye. Such fun! And then how I went on, and on, and on, till I came up to where Lang lay, so bad and so weak. And then, you see, I killed him! I say it was myself did it, and not Jack. Who dare say it was him? Just like their spite! Bless you, Jack was away—I'm sure I don't know where—miles and miles away! Why, if he'd been there, would I have had to starve—eh? Give me some food, Miss Isabel, do—do!’

‘Keep still here till I get it, then;’ and Isabel hurried out and called to Miss Terry, telling her briefly to keep watch on the girl's movements. Isabel went to the kitchen, and brought back some warm milk and bread, which Nelly seized and swallowed voraciously.

‘Is Mr. Farrant here, or coming here?’ Isabel asked eagerly.

‘He can hardly have left the place yet; he was to speak to Venn for your mother. Shall I fetch him?’

‘If you please, do; he must advise. This is terrible. She is evidently a raving lunatic; but what makes her say that—that—? In fact she declares


  ― 312 ―
she killed him! Good God, how dreadful!’

‘Hardly possible, when one considers her size and strength. But she may know something—out of her ravings one may gather some clue. But I'll go at once,’ said Miss Terry.

Ellen was sitting back in her chair, having eaten her food, braiding up her disordered hair and crooning a low, dismal ditty to herself. On seeing Isabel by her she looked up with a vague and dim expression; and Isabel saw how worn and haggard she was, and took in the torn and soiled state of her garments.

‘Poor Nelly—poor unfortunate girl,’ she murmured, softly.

‘Yes, wasn't I? But now good luck is come; wasn't I a nice clever lassie, now? 'Twasn't hard at all—so easy! I only just knelt down beside him and looked at him, and he groaned and half opened his eyes, and I touched his hand, and then—and then—La! Miss Isabel, only think, if we'd done the like before, how much trouble it would have spared. Pah!—I didn't like blood! When they beat and shot poor ‘Wasp,’ Jack's little dog, I screamed and I cried till they threatened to serve me the same. Yes, it was very clever of me, wasn't it now? For, you see, I killed him. He was dead as a stone when I left him. Don't you believe me? You look funny. I don't like that dismal dress. See! now I've tied up my hair, if I can but find some shoes, I must be off on my travels again. Couldn't stop here, thank'ee. No, the ticket, the ticket!—Jack must have it by this time. He's a free man, and he's waiting for me!’

‘A free man, as you say. And for all I know waiting for you, too,’ Isabel repeated, in grave sorrow.

‘Wont you come, too, Miss Isabel?—you may; you and me will go on our weary, weary journey—all through thick trees, and trees, and trees—where they can't find us at all at all! 'Tis better than those dismal jolting drays and the bad rogues of men with their cunning eyes, and long whips going ‘smack, smack!’ I like the trees; only when the wind comes it is terrifying, because they all begin to talk and sing and shriek; but that was on account of the wake—the way our folk do for the dead. Mother was there, and lots—some very ugly—ah! shocking!—dead, dead—yes, quite dead and cold. There he lies! He can't be cross to Jack no more. Wasn't I a clever girl? And the wind! how it moaned and whistled and got stark mad, and that big bough just tumbled down—a pity for the poor tree, too.’

Then she broke out into a song, or rather scraps of several songs; the one she most often repeated, with a strange wild thrill and vigorous emphasis, was some odd doggerel rhymes—




  ― 313 ―
A turning, and turning, and turning,
My mammy she's ever churning,
‘Good day, my lady,’ says she!
And turning, and turning, and turning,
My daddy's always learning,
‘I'm weary of all,’ says he!note

Before Miss Terry had returned, Ellen's head had sunk back on the chair, and she was asleep.

‘She is a mere shadow! She has been starved; and see—here are bruises and cuts!’ said Mr. Farrant when he came in, after having looked at the poor exhausted girl.

‘Her talk is so very wild—she hints at such terrible things—where can she have been?’ said Isabel.

‘I suspect she ran away from the drays which were to have taken her to the place talked of. She, poor girl, suspected wrong and deceit, and, with her usual cunning, she fairly slipped away from them. This much I have gathered from various rumours. Perhaps she has been lost in the mazes of the bush since, or afraid of showing herself to any one. She is very ill indeed, now. Here is every symptom of high fever. Can you get her into bed?’ Mr. Farrant said. And as he left the room, the two ladies tried quietly to remove her to a couch they had hastily made up as a bed. But she awoke, and had quite an access of delirium, screaming and talking, knowing no one, but always insisting that she was going on some weary journey, among trees, with nothing to eat, and a very high wind; and that Jack was free, and was expecting her. Then she looked at her stained arms and hands and shuddered, exclaiming at her horror of blood.

With the help of a stout maid-servant, they at last succeeded in getting her on the bed, and then, after another struggle and great difficulty, she swallowed a soothing draught, and Isabel, by her own request, was left to watch by her. Mr. Farrant said he should make his bed on the drawing-room sofa, in order to be at hand in case she should say anything worth noting down, or should Isabel need any help.

All night the poor girl was delirious, with brief snatches of disturbed sleep. She talked incessantly, and sometimes sang. Sometimes she was again a child, and spoke of childish pains and joys, and appealed to her mother. Then she was speaking to Jack Lynch, or moaning with sad, broken words at some one's cruelty to his little dog. There was a great confusion in her mind about wicked, bad people, meaning harm to


  ― 314 ―
herself, and others to Jack. Once she raised herself quite up and entreated Isabel to send and liberate Jack Lynch from prison, in such a quiet and composed manner, that Isabel believed her to be in her right mind for an instant. ‘Miss! Jack didn't do that thing! I heard the men say that while Lang lived he could never get married or the ticket. Gentleman Bill said so when he took me away; so when I heard the voice up in the tree tell me, ‘Now was the time,’ why, then I went up to him where he lay, and . . . .’

‘O, Nellie! Poor Nellie, don't talk so, or I cannot sit here with you, alone. It horrifies me! you never did it either. You could not. But it shows me that Lynch did, and that he played on your fancies, till you believed you were the one.’

But already Ellen's mind had gone from that to other things;—all night till dawn it was the same, till apparently worn out, her talking subsided into groaning. It was again night, when softly and anxiously Mr. Farrant and Miss Terry appeared at the door, and made signs for Isabel to come away, and let one of them take her place. But she whispered that she could not stir for a moment, that Ellen slept—a sweet and quiet sleep. Perhaps, if she ever did awake, she might be conscious and clear. She had heard of such cases; and the eager, wistful, questioning of her eye on either countenance, bespoke how deep was her anxiety that this might come to pass.

‘Be ready, be near, to write down—you understand?’ she said, with that deadly calmness which is the very height of passionate excitement. It was impossible not to comply, and she saw that both of them took their seats in the adjoining room, prepared to watch and wait, according to her desire.

But time went on, and there was little sign of any awaking—if at all—to any purpose. The pulse of the poor girl was sinking, and already a grey hue, and a sharpened look, had spread on her weary and emaciated face. Isabel listened for her faint breathing intently, for she began to believe she would die in this sleep. The contrast between the two faces was striking. The one so utterly abandoned to rest—still, and scarcely alive—so pale and wan! The other growing each moment more and more excited and flushed, with her lips set, and her eyes bright with eagerness. A curlew came near, and began his melancholy cry. So eerie, so mournfully it rose amid the intense silence of that dying bed! Again and again it repeated the sad note, till once, when it sounded nearer, Ellen started up, and looking round half wildly, half in pleasure, said:— 'Ah, there's Jack himself! Coming, lad, coming! Bless us, I'm stiff; can't jump up. Miss Isabel, is it yourself sitting anent me? Ah, that's


  ― 315 ―
very kind, and 'tis my dead mother will thank you, miss, for this and all other favours. Help me—hark again! Jack's impatient. Jack's free, and I must go to him, and we'll get the ticket.’

‘Stay, Nellie, don't; lie still, my dear! You are very ill, and you must stay here with me till you are well. Jack is not waiting now. That is not his whistle, but a real curlew. Can you understand?’

‘Yes, yes; I'm ill, am I? Well, and so I am. That's odd. It's all of wandering in that great, wide bush. So lonely, Miss Isabel, and the wind was really terrifying. I was scared of it! And Miss Isabel, stoop, close—I'm faint like—faint—very——’

Here Miss Terry gave her some nourishing drink which stood ready; she and Mr. Farrant had come in softly, and stood behind the curtain at the head of the couch. They answered a look from Isabel, and she saw that Mr. Farrant was listening to the girl.

‘That's good, good! So I'm ill, very ill? I know it. Don't put me off the notion. I like to go to my mother; and Jack will come soon, I know. Wont you come soon, dear Miss Isabel, where all is peaceful and resting, as you used to tell me? But stop! I had something I wanted to say to you—to you only. What was it, I wonder?’

‘Was it—anything about—what you saw—in the bush? Did you run away, Nellie? and did you see my father, Mr. Lang?’

‘Ah, that's it! Miss Isabel—don't fret, dear, but—I must tell you, for I feel like as if I could tell you right and true. I saw him lying all along the ground—so pitiful! all bad, and eyes shut. They say Jack had given him a blow. That's lies! Jack was not near the place. If he had been, I'd have seen him; and I never could see him, nowhere at all, at all! though I went on and on, all day, and most all night, among the trees. My! that was lonely!’

‘But my father—Mr. Lang——’

‘Yes; he was lying all along, and his horse was looking at him, so saucy like, and I was just hiding behind a clump of bushes, afeared if your father should set eyes on me, he'd scold! But I watched; and the horse took a bite just, and another bite, and then off he went—the cratur! his reins all draggling, and the saddle all on a twist; and so Mr. Lang looks round a bit, and sees the cratur desert him, and then he lies back again and gives a moan, up out of his heart, and I saw him put his hand up to his head, and it was red with blood. Then he shuts his eyes, and I thought, may be . . . .’ Here she seemed too exhausted to go on; but a little pause, and some more arrowroot, revived her. In fainter and more catching accents she went on. ‘I thought he might be sleeping, so I came very softly up to him, and I saw the red blood flowing—flowing—all


  ― 316 ―
down—shirt and ground. I puts my two hands together, so! and I says, soft like, but as if I was praying to the Blessed Virgin, ‘Please, sir, please, Mr. Lang, wont ye give me the ticket? and I'll fetch you water and wine, and do all I can for you. Please, sir, for the love of Heaven and the Holy Virgin, wont you?’ He just opened one eye a bit like, as if he fancied it was some spirit up in the air, and he fetches a big sigh, and his hand drops down heavy. Then I took notice of a big branch of a tree, broken clean off by the wind, and which had seemingly struck him, for it had broken in his hat like, and I saw the bits of twigs on the hat, and bits of bark and twigs on his breast; and I noticed that the branch was anigh his head, just where the blow and the blood was. So, don't you see, I think, as how—perhaps—the great wind killed him, eh, Miss Isabel? because he ever denied the ticket to Jack, who'd done him no bad turn, but only good. O dear! I think so, I think that is how it was; and I don't like blood, and he looked so white, and so still! I got frighted; so I picks up his hat, seeing 'twas not altogether spoilt, and hangs it on a branch near, and then I went on to find Jack, and tell him, and tell you, and I got tired and hungry—and now—I am ill, you see. But no, I'm ready—quite, quite ready, to go to Jack. Where's Jack? Hark! his whistle again! I must go—good-bye, good-bye!’

In another moment, the curlew still making his moan, though further off, the girl again slowly opened her eyes, and held out her hands as if in ecstasy. ‘O, I'm after coming as quick as I can, Jack. Jack! Jack! the ticket—the blessed ticket.’

‘Let us pray!’ said Mr. Farrant; and kneeling, they followed him in an earnest and solemn petition for this departing soul. Her eyes were fixed on the ceiling, her features were fast becoming rigid, though a smile was on her face. ‘Jack, Jack! My dead mother!’ were the last murmured, faint syllables, and with the last her spirit was breathed away.




  ― 317 ―

14. CHAPTER XIV.

Last Words.

note

It was on the evening of the next day, that Isabel, tired and wearytempted her, and sitting there, her fancy wandered beyond the limits of the small clear space before her. The mystery was solved now. To her mind all was clear. She could connect the girl's words and knew how her father met his death. A great horror was spared her and all, for surely in time even her mother and Kate would accept this history in their inner hearts, as they now languidly, and as if with constraint, agreed to it with their lips. But Mrs. Lang could not easily divest herself of the strong impression she had, that her husband had been murdered, either by one of the two convict servants, or horrible, dreadful to think of, in a fit of passionate anger by the man he had insulted. Carried away with these thoughts, striving to realise the relief this new version was to her, Isabel was unusually lost to things present, and neither heard nor saw what went on not far from her. Behind—not many yards, where he could scan her attitude and side face, stood Jack Lynch, the very ghost or shadow of what he had been when last Isabel saw him. Pale as the shadow of death, worn, unshaven, his hair rough and wild, his deep and dark eyes blazing with a concentrated smouldering fire of intense heat; the other features more clearly cut and defined than ever, and alive with some powerful passion; there he was, ragged, and torn, a sight which would scare most persons. Finding her so lost to everything, he advanced a step and rustled the branches of underwood purposely. At last she raised her


  ― 318 ―
head, but did not glance round, and he was forced to come to her side.

‘Good heavens! who is it?’ she cried, starting up. Then suddenly recalling her presence of mind, ‘Do you want anything? Are you—are you in want? Who are you?’ she repeated, as a dim recognition floated over her mind.

‘I am one Lynch—Jack Lynch,’ he answered, hoarsely. ‘I come—Is she alive and safe? Safe, I say.’ He went on, not pausing for an answer, ‘You haven't—you daren't have let them take her away for that! How dared any one believe such a lie? She did it?’ and he broke into a wild laugh which caused Isabel to shudder. ‘She! No—no! Bless you! 'twas another hand, not her innocent fingers. No—no! I'd sworn vengeance, so I had! Many's the time I had it in me to kill him! and now he's dead, got his reward. But don't go for to kill the most innocentest and sweet little soul that ever lived. Hang the right man. He stands before you, Miss Issy, and he don't mean to shirk; only—only—for the love of God, for the hope ye have for mercy for yourself, let me only see Nellie once more! Will ye, now?’

‘What are you saying? What do you—what can you mean? Did you—did you, after all—do—kill him—my father? O Lynch! O Jack Lynch, how could you? How dared you?’

‘O, I dared and I could! Why not? Tell me why, Miss Issy? Did he ever spare me? Did I ever get a kind word or aught but curses? Did he pity the poor ill-used orphan, poor Nellie? Would he let her come to me, who would have died or lived so I could best shelter her? No, he—he—Well, that's past now! He's gone! I am ready—yes, ready. But let me see her first, and then bind me and lead me off to your prison. The gallows is welcome!’

‘I don't understand you at all!’ said Isabel, bewildered and frightened at his vehemence.

‘Don't you? Isn't Nellie—Ellen Maclean here? Tell me!’

‘Yes—yes, she . . . .’

‘Then for God's sake let me see her. And, Miss Isabel, you'll never live to repent it, if you use every bit of power you can to get her set free. Don't I say I am the guilty man? Take me and let her go. Now, do you understand?’

‘But, Lynch,’ and she laid her hand on his arm, which trembled with his eagerness. ‘Thank God, we have heard, we know now that my poor father was not murdered at all. At least, so Nellie said. And now you come and confess you did it! O, Lynch! is it, can it be true? Have you done this dreadful, this cruel deed?’

The man gazed at her tearful eyes for a moment; he even rubbed his


  ― 319 ―
own hand across his brow, as if to wipe away something.

‘What's hanging to me? What do I care? only—O miss—let me see her first of all! It is the last favour I'll ever beg of man or woman,’ he added, pleadingly.

‘You shall see her, of course. But I must make you understand first, Lynch. Be patient and listen to me. Poor Nellie, you know, has been missing for a long time. No one could find her out, though there were rumours about—well, I see you have heard of this;—then came this horrid thing, and then only two days ago Nellie came to my window. She was cold and half-starved. She must have been lost in the bush, and she was more strange and excited than I ever knew her. She said some dreadful things, that is, she declared she had done it, killed my poor father, and all to get your ticket of leave! How awful it is to say anything to one only half-witted like her! Who knows what words led her even to imagine doing such a thing? By nature such a kind-hearted and gentle girl.’

‘She didn't do it!’ Lynch thundered out. ‘She—a weak slip of a girl! Don't I say I am guilty? Surely I had cause enough to hate him!’

‘Don't say that now! Don't bring up such fearful feelings. Death should teach us better. Ellen now would tell you, could she speak, that a ticket is little, hard words but little, and wont last for ever, but to be wicked and take revenge and to hate, will bring us to hell! She and my father have perhaps met now, up there . . . .’

‘Met! Do you mean—what do you mean, miss?’

‘I mean that Nellie is dead, Lynch—lying dead now in my own room—dead and cold—that is her body. But she is, I hope, safe and happy. Come and see her, if you wish it.’

And rising she went on, while he followed, neither speaking again; nor did they meet any one. She opened the door and signed for him to go in. He stopped and pulled off his torn shoes. Then softly he went in, and close to the bed stood for one moment quite still, then gently lifted the delicate white covering which shrouded her face. So young and childish she looked, and so thin, sharp, and pale! Nellie was dead, indeed. He uttered one long, low, but heart-piercing cry, and fell on his knees beside her, hiding his face; convulsive sobs shook him.

‘O, Nellie! Nellie! It's me—your own Jack, darling, that loves you always and forgives you all, if you've ever forgotten him! Speak, darling,—speak again—just one word! No—never she'll speak again;—never more! But they wronged you. Yes—they've broken your poor heart with fright and craft—the wicked vermin! Nellie! Why did you leave me so? Why didn't you wait just to look at me and say—‘Jack,


  ― 320 ―
come! Don't mind the rope—we're bound for the same shore!’ They said you did it! If you did—I would have died for you! But you would not wait. You are gone and I am left alone—alone—all and quite alone for evermore!’ Then nothing was heard but deep sobs. The poor upturned dead face, such a contrast to his! ‘But it wont be long,’ he began again; ‘I'm a coming after you, my heart's pet! They'll put you in the earth, and don't be afeard, for Jack will come and lie beside ye. He's spent and worn, darling, and his days are reckoned up, pretty nigh. They deceived you! Yes—I know about it,’ and he took her hand and kissed it, almost frantically, begging her not to fret—he knew all now, and loved her more than ever. Then rising, and with a sudden self-control stopping his tears and sobs, he turned to Isabel and spoke gravely and sternly.

‘I'll swear I'll find the rascal that strove to ruin her, and do my best to punish him. That done, I'll be glad and thankful to follow her so soon as they choose and any way they please. A hunted animal can't live long, and it's come to that now with me—and worse too. For the wild dogs have got their homes, but Jack Lynch has not a stone to lay his head on.’

Isabel here left the room, meaning to come back again and offer rest and refreshment on her own responsibility to Lynch. When she returned he was not there. It was easy to go out by the window, and so she concluded he had done so, thinking better, perhaps, of giving himself up as guilty, and resolved to fight a little longer for life.




  ― 321 ―

15. CHAPTER XV.

Lynch Sleeps—Isabel Acts.

note

They buried Nellie in the new churchyard.

Two graves now caught the eye of travellers on the high road, and for some time after it was still only two, none other being added.

On the very day that they bore her to this last home, Lynch, having used his strength to the utmost, was obliged to pause from sheer fatigue. He was now many a long mile from Bengala, and approaching the neighbourhood where he had before been—near Mr. Fitz's place, in fact. He had stopped and robbed one traveller; driven to the desperation of a famished man, and set as he was on meeting his enemy face to face, he was anxious to prolong his miserable life for that purpose. Overcome and utterly weary he found a tolerably sheltered spot and laid down for a noontide nap. Strange dreams came to him there, in which his mother and early days, as well as Nellie, were mingled and confused. It might be the oppression of nightmare, or was it the sense of something abhorrent and antagonistic which caused him to turn and mutter, and finally to wake with a start?

Quick as thought his hand had sought and found his gun, for there, in front of him, standing only a few feet from him, was one he little expected to see.

‘Gentleman Bill! What's in the wind now?’

The individual addressed turned with a significant gesture, and in a moment the words, ‘Give yourself up!’ were uttered; while a mounted policeman advanced, and Lynch saw himself surrounded by at least


  ― 322 ―
half-a-dozen men. He was against an iron-bark tree. Hardly more grim and dark was it than the man who stood thus at bay. He seemed not to heed the man nearest him. His dark, hollow eyes were searching for some object, which, to judge from the sudden flash of light which suddenly gleamed, he found.

There was a sound of footsteps—a voice—a few sharp clicks—and then the reports of at least three guns—all in a moment. ‘Gentleman Bill’ leapt like a cat on Lynch and caught his arms, but it was too late. Too late did he cry, ‘Don't fire! remember the reward!’

The policeman, naturally timid and nervous, seeing Lynch's determined attitude of resistance, and hearing his gun's report, took aim, and by chance (for his hands shook so that it was a matter of mere chance) the ball struck Lynch. He fell instantly.

Then there was a medley of voices.

‘What the deuce did you fire for, Tim? Save the fool! Wasn't six agin one, enough to take the chap in a whole skin?’

‘He was desperate—I knows what that is! A desperate man will kill or maim a round dozen afore he gives in. I fired when I see him aim at the Squire there,’ answered the accused, as he stooped over his victim to ascertain the extent of the mischief.

‘By Jove, a pretty shot that! Ay, and say so, right through the chest! Poor chap! Well, its best; better nor a halter, to my mind.’

Lynch opened his eyes, and tried to speak, but only a gurgling sound came. ‘Give him a drop of something! Here, Mr. Kinder, have ye your flask handy?’

The man so addressed turned from his occupation of assisting the other wounded man, (which was Mr. Fitz, who had joined the chase con amore,) and handed his flask for Lynch.

The brandy revived him, and he glared wildly to where Mr. Fitz now sat, having recovered from his swoon.

‘Didn't I do for him, after all? Well! and well, 'twas so ordained! 'tis all over now. Ay, Nellie I told ye I'd not be long,’ with a gasp between each word.

‘Wont you confess now?’ urged the constable. ‘Here's one as can put it down and take ‘Affy David’ 'twas your dying speech and confession. 'Twould come handsome and be interesting, and for the public good, for there's a deal of stir 'bout how 'twas brought about, you see. Charlie Brand lies in jail at this present on suspicion, and the gent over the sea, what had hard words, he's not altogether whitewashed. Now, if you done it, now is your time; confess the murder! And do it handsome, like a plucky chap as you be.’




  ― 323 ―

‘What murder?’ Lynch muttered, and opening his dim eyes again for a moment.

‘Lang's! Didn't you give him his finish, or who was it?’ This question was repeated more than once, and at last, making a great effort, Lynch said,

‘I know nought about it! I didn't so much as see the man. No! no! Providence kept him out of my reach. Let me alone! a drop of water,—and let me alone!’ The water refreshed him, and again he spoke—'Bill! ah—but 'tis a mean, dirty trick of yours! You can't be friend or foe. So it's you that have coyed her away, and now betrayed me, and all for—for money—dirty—rascal—Jew.’

Perhaps something in Lynch's look, or his words, or perhaps an old feeling of acquaintanceship, touched the small speck of heart which remained to Bill, for he shuffled and looked uneasy under this speech, nor could he apparently bear to meet the glare of those strange eyes.

‘All in the way of life and business, Jack,’ he said, in his low, smooth voice. ‘A poor devil would be a heathen downright to refuse a matter of twenty pound which was offered to find yourself alive! They'd have caught you first or last, so look at it bravely, chum, and save your breath and strength for your last bit of a journey. Any wishes you may have, I will punctually attend to. Speak your mind, Jack.’

‘I've none! Thank God, I leave none behind me in this bad place! Good-bye, Bill! All's over atween us, and we'll be meeting no more, I suspect. It wouldn't be heaven to me to have such creeping blackguards as you there.’

He was apparently sinking fast; they whispered to each other that it would soon be over. One man wished to alter his position for the better; Lynch groaned, but it relieved him, and after a time he began to murmur to himself, words unintelligible to them, for in this awful hour he was transported through his failing mind to his boyhood's home, and he was speaking with his mother. A soft, and almost sweet expression altered his face, and caused the rough bystanders to say in a whisper, ‘they say 'tis the angels awhispering in the ear, when dying folks look like that.’

‘Call in Nellie, mother! If you're weary, she will sing like a lark to you. Love her for my sake, mother! Down by the water meadow I went for Lenten Rosen;note you shall have some, and Nellie must have the rest to wear when she goes to the King's courts, in heaven, you told me about. You and I will follow her there, mother!’

‘Again! Is it you calling, mother? Don'tee look so angry! I didn't mean it—I was angered!’

‘Hark! hark!’ and he lifted a finger, and gazed into the space above


  ― 324 ―
with eyes which were fast becoming filmy. 'Aint she singing beautiful?’ Then with a change of voice—'Stripes and hard words—no ticket! No matter. Coming!’ he said louder, 'coming—help! help me, I'm so—so weary—sleepy—sleep—sleep—!’

And so his voice died away to the faintest whisper; then all was still and silent, and the rude men standing round listened eagerly. So, in the wild bush, with the deep intense blue sky above him—the hunted, miserable convict drew his last breath!

Before any one spoke, a bird began a sweet but monotonous song high over head, and Gentleman Bill looked quickly up, with a queer expression. Nor did he join in the conversation which followed on the doubts, and the pros and cons as to Lynch's guilt, for they had not yet heard of Nellie's testimony.

They carried Mr. Fitz home, and summoned a medical man to dress his wound and broken limb, while they bore Lynch's body to the nearest settlement for an inquest. His memory was spared the brand of murder, and Charles was released from jail, by the authorities receiving the girl's statement of the manner of Mr. Lang's death added to other circumstances.

They buried Jack Lynch in a plot of ground near the ‘lock-up,’ there being no consecrated place. The convicts and ticket-of-leave men about, joined in setting up a stone slab with his name engraved by one among them, and the date. Long afterwards it was found that some one had planted a scarlet geranium there, and that a rude, but not ill-imagined figure of a bird had been carved on the stone; while there were some who averred that on certain nights a real bird, different from anything known in Australia, is seen perched on the tomb, which, after remaining some time there, spreads its wings and mounts upwards like a lark, singing sweetly, till both sound and sight are lost in distance. But sweet as the song is said to be, no one will willingly visit the place to hear it. They take trouble to this day, to make a long and difficult circuit rather than pass near the spot, and if you ask about it, there is a look of awe and hesitation, and it is difficult to get them to say anything. ‘Well, of course, there's no saying!’ one, sorely pressed, at last owned—'it may be all nonsense, but they do say as 'tis haunted by a female in shape of a bird, and folks do tell, as how there has been heard piteous sobs and moans—lamenting like, and then comes the bird, and all's quiet; but 'tis queer and strange, and no one knows the rights of it, you see!’ Such, with a little variation, is the answer given to all inquiries.




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16. CHAPTER XVI.

Doing Better Than Thinking.

note

The statement made by Ellen Maclean, and attested by Mr. Farrant, agreeing as it did with many small circumstances, together with the lack of evidence against the two convicts, was received as truth by the authorities and by society in general. It was a great relief, which even served to lighten the actual trouble, to believe they had lost him through an accident, and not from ill-will and revenge. It lifted Isabel into fresh vigour again, and warmly did she resent any return to uncomfortable doubts, which from her nature Mrs. Lang was but apt to do. She was so completely unhinged, that her mind lost almost all power of settling on a conviction. It was trying to Isabel to find her return to the old story, and require it all to be proved over again and again, ending with, ‘Well, it is very mysterious, very! I shall always think it a mystery about Mr. Herbert, and it doesn't look well, his running away. What did he run away and hide for, if he was not ashamed?’

Fervently did Isabel wish at these times to have it in her power to say more than the old oft-repeated and barren story, which reached them through others and not from the Herberts themselves. One of them might at least have written or sent a message of condolence; but no word ever came. Isabel found her best remedy lay in active work, and it seemed as if, henceforward, she would not have to complain of having nothing to do; all fell upon her as a matter of course. She, with an old servant, preceded the general ‘flitting,’ in order to prepare their future home. Miss Terry promised to bring the others when all was ready. The


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meeting between Isabel and Charlie Brand was curious. She grasped his rough and big hand, silent from deep feeling. He understood her. ‘Ay, ay,’ he said, drawing his sleeve across his face, and jerking away his favourite little stump of pipe in his pre-occupation of mind. ‘Ay, ay! I knows all so well as if you were bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh. No offence, I hope, miss! Says I to myself many's the time, when cooped up down yonder, for the second time in life, as a felon,—says I, Keep up, old boy! This time you're in the right, and you knows it, and Lord, miss, when I gave out the words ‘Not Guilty,’ didn't I thunder it out like truth, as it was. And I says to myself, for comfort like, when things comed hard and pinching, and 'bove all, when the folks looked askance at me as if I was a murderer,—I says, Missy up there don't consider you to be that bloody-minded sinner no ways. (You see they'd told me your opinion, miss.) Miss Issy can't help it; she would, if she could. Law must take its way; and 'tis contrary that Mr. Herbert's over the sea and can't say not a word for me. Ay, 'twas sort of comfort that ye didn't condemn me, miss.’

‘No, indeed, you were right there, Charlie; never for one moment.’

‘The Lord give you the like justice, if e'ersoever you may be so misfortunate as to need it. Say no more, if you please. 'Twas just a sharp pinch, and soon over, and here I am, myself again, and ready to serve you and the missis, if so be it is agreeable to yourselves. If not, I can get my ticket made out for some place else, you see. But as I knows the country, and the ins and outs of the estate, I could, though I says it that shouldn't say it, give you some good advice of a time, and would look well after the concern, and do all that's needed, with a slip of a boy.’

‘Of course, Charlie, we must have you. You will be prime minister, and I am king. You and I must rule our kingdom, and the first thing is to try and make a little bit of money you see, Charlie, if that is possible——’

‘I consider it is, miss; and by your leave I've a scheme to submit to your consideration.’

The drays with the furniture arrived without any serious misadventure, and everything was in its place, and every corner scrubbed and scoured out, by Isabel's own hands, aided by the maid. While without, Charlie proved his zeal by getting in a fine stack of fire-wood for the approaching cold season, and also putting the garden in good order, and mending palings and fences, so that Kate and her mother might not be unnecessarily shocked by dilapidation.




  ― 327 ―

It was now what was called the winter, a little frosty of a morning and evening, but clear and bright all day; thoroughly enjoyable weather. It was quite ‘fresh’ enough to serve as excuse for a cheerful fire, which Isabel thought would give a look of home and welcome to their one sitting-room. She had prepared everything; arranged the snow-white mosquito hangings, and placed her mother's pillows at the proper inclination; set out her treasured piece of Rattan matting, and placed all the little nick-nacks, which from affection had been picked out to bring. A meat tea had been ordered, and she had culled all the best and freshest flowers, to brighten up the rooms. There seemed nothing more she could do; and rather tired with work and with expectation, Isabel sauntered out across the high paddock where Charlie's hut stood; and reaching the fence which divided it from the bush, she leaned there, looking at the view which spread out wide and clear before her. Westbrooke was on a hill, the highest point being the centre of the horse paddock where Charlie's hut was erected; and towards the west lay a wide, undulating tract of country—tolerably clear of forest—and where might be seen as many as two churches, and their small cluster of attendant huts, forming the settlements of the district. It gave a sociable and civilized appearance to the place, in strong contrast with Langville, where nothing of cultivation was seen, but that which belonged to itself. Here, Mr. Lang had first brought his young wife ‘Kitty.’ Here, Kate and Isabel had been born. She thought of the early days, scarce remembered, when they had left this for an almost uncleared place, very far out of the way, as it was then thought. Her mind went on through her life—hitherto so very smooth a one as to have but few landmarks. The one most vividly remembered, and bearing most after-consequences, was her acquaintance with Mr. Herbert. She tried to recall his first visit—his attitude and his look. She went over her own rather singular part in the affair, and tried to trace her appreciation and liking of him, while the keen remembrance of her saucy speeches and battles, made her wonder that he had not considered her as a very ‘odious little girl.’ Unconsciously her lips parted into a smile as she thought how far from this was the truth. How partial and how constant had his friendship for her ever been. So kind and so judicious! no silly flattery and nonsense, but always speaking the plain truth, and desiring her good; only vexed, if he thought her doing wrong, or led astray. ‘I did not behave well to him,’ she thought; ‘and papa, poor dear papa!—I wonder why he never could understand, and get on with him.’ This brought a graver train of ideas, and by degrees it seemed as if some heavy weight had been put on her, even during that quiet walk; for, carried away by the relief it had been


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to find all slander put down by facts, and fully occupied by present active work, she had not till now fully taken in all the sadness, and even the strangeness of his conduct, as regarded herself. It fell on her now like some cold, wet shroud. It weighed on her spirits; she felt she had lost some great and precious thing. Just, too, at the very moment when she had begun to wake up to a new sense of its worth—to rejoice even in the failure of her own pet scheme, since it left her her friend! Looks and words were now recalled, which had not been so consciously noticed at the time. Yes! she had looked to that promised visit in a very peculiar way. Then, it had been so blended with shyness and dread that its sweetness had been somewhat lost; but now, at this distance, she could look on it quietly and coolly, except that it made her heart beat rather quickly (‘but that must be owing to her day's hard work’). Why had he wished so particularly to see her—to get her away alone and in a quiet listening mood? That it was not to make a confidante of her as to his love for another, she had learnt. What then could it be? And how provoking she had been;—so silly and trifling and vexing! Yet how full of kindness and affection had been his look at her; sometimes, once or twice, it had been even more, when she had suddenly met his eye. Many times before had he and her father had an argument and a brief quarrel, but it had always ended in being friends again. What then could have, not only kept him away during a time of affliction, but have allowed him to leave them—for ever, perhaps—without a word, a line, spoken or written, or even a message? What if he should really never return, finding England too pleasant? His sister's going looked like leaving altogether. What if the ship were lost, or he were to get some illness—the cholera, for instance? She shivered, and moved away from the fence. ‘Surely it was time for the travellers to arrive. Was that the carriage, that black speck on the road?’

Isabel turned and walked homewards in a drooping, heavy way, very different from the quick step she had come out with. Charlie noticed it from his corner in the wood-yard; staying his vigorous strokes of the tomahawk to notice it well as she passed.

‘Tired, I guess! Lonely too—glad they be coming,’ was his remark thereon.

But this fatigue was not of the body, and did not so easily pass away as Charlie hoped; though she made great efforts, and never spared herself. Miss Terry said she had not given herself time to mourn. It was no use pushing it off. Nature must have its way sooner or later. Mrs. Lang moaned over the necessity for her daughter's working so hard; and Kate thought if Issy liked she might easily sit still and get rest and not


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look so tired and dismal; at which Isabel laughed, and was much offended, she said, making from that time greater efforts to appear happier than she was. She was vexed, too, and took herself vigorously to task till she succeeded, by scolding and drilling, in obtaining a more ‘Christian state of mind,’ as she said. ‘Some fine day I shall, or some one will, get a nice letter from England. It will be full of explanations, making us feel very foolish for our silly thoughts. He is not and cannot be changed from good to bad all at once. He will write in a friendly tone and tell us his plans, and we, one of us, will answer it and tell him ours. I have no business—no right whatever to look for more. He is at liberty to go and live in that land if he likes. So no more fretting, Miss Isabel Lang! Be a wise and brave woman, and do your work, and don't fall into that bad habit of ‘thinking.’ Doing is better than thinking any day.’




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17. CHAPTER XVII.

Life At Westbrooke.

note

Twelve months had come and gone. The country was still in a depressed and uncertain condition. Public and commercial confidence was still at a low ebb. Throughout the length and breadth of the colony might be seen unfinished buildings—houses and churches—waiting for the money, so difficult to raise, to pay the expense of their completion. Here and there, a once comfortable and prosperous family dwelling was deserted, while its inhabitants had been driven to migrate farther away, to some out station perhaps, devoting all the energy and means of each member of the family to the keeping together what stock there was, and ever devising fresh ways of making any profit. Gentlemen's sons, who were to have been brought up to the learned professions—perhaps to have returned to the old country for a little polish and teaching, were now obliged to put the shoulder to the wheel, literally, and save wages by acting as tillers of the ground or stockmen. Poverty filled the land, and though there was a little lull, old houses and firms were still breaking, and money and lands changing hands.

Among those who profited were the Veseys. They, having some ready money, bought up stock at very low prices, and had taken a fine and improved farm on the Hunter for a mere ‘song.’ Vine Lodge was consequently again deserted. Warratah Brush was occupied by Mr. Herbert's agent—at least, he divided his time between it and the station. He had orders to sell or let, if certain terms could be


  ― 331 ―
had. If not, he was to go on quietly and do the best he could with the property. His answer to all inquiries was, that Mr. Herbert was in England engaged in a law-suit, and that he had succeeded to some fortune, but no title. Miss Herbert had surprised people by marrying Dr. Marsh, and then, as his wife, going to England. Langville was occupied by a retired innkeeper from Paramatta, who, it was said, kept a queer house, and lived a questionable life, very much undisturbed by any remarks that his very few and distant neighbours might make. A great change had come to the district—Bengala was a deserted place; and yet in the little township there were signs of life and stir. More huts and even weather-boarded cottages had been added, and small settlers had taken advantage of the times to rent plots of ground cheaply, which they cultivated on their own account, and kept up a small trade by supplying distant stations with necessaries at an enormous price, when it was not convenient to go all the way to Sydney.

The Parsonage was now covered with creepers, and the garden was a model for the neighbourhood. Mr. Farrant was married, and he and his wife lived very comfortably there with their parish, school, glebe farm, and pupils, having plenty to do, and only regretting the separation from their old friends.

A bright and scientifically built up wood-fire burnt on the well-whitened, large fireplace at Westbrooke farm. The two little girls were busy making doll's clothes in a corner, speaking in hushed voices, and now and then casting a glance towards Mrs. Lang, who sat with some needlework on her lap, but for the time not heeding that or anything. She still wore weeds, and had a clouded, discontented expression. Isabel was busy over some accounts. Presently she shut her desk with a sharp snap, and looking up with a bright face, said— 'Mamma, it will do. Clear profit; enough to pay for Jem's expenses, and get you a new cloak into the bargain, Mrs. Lang. What do you think of that?’

‘I don't want it! What is a new cloak to me? No! if there really is anything to spend, pray let dear, darling Kate have it. In her last letter she says that her dress is getting quite shabby, and she makes that an excuse for not going to the ball. Poor Kate! Ah! well!’

‘There is some one out there,’ said Fanny, presently.

‘Dr. Mornay, probably. I asked him to step down this evening. I wished to give him a message for Kate. He could take anything, Issy, for us. My dear—wont you—hadn't you better just go and meet


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him? I am sure it is his step in the verandah.’

‘No,’ returned Isabel, somewhat shortly, and with a slight shade on her changeful face. ‘I don't see that I need go out to him. He will be here in a minute.’

‘As you like, my dear!’ with a sigh. ‘But he is so very—so particularly kind and attentive—and has been so real a friend . . . .’

‘So funny, that you have completely forgotten to be afraid of him—a Roman Catholic priest!’ said Isabel.

‘But he is not at all like one,’ returned her mother. ‘How he comes here and talks—so clever,—so agreeable, and so polite! He is just like a Protestant—all but his long coat.’

Isabel laughed a little; but what she was going to say was checked by a knock at the door. Fanny opened it, and received a caressing stroke on the head for her pains. Dr. Mornay came in like an intimate and constant visitor, drawing the child on to his knee, after greeting Mrs. Lang and while he spoke to Isabel, whose hands were too full, it seemed, for shaking hands. She was collecting the bundles of papers which had strewed the table.

‘Busy as ever, I see,’ he remarked.

‘Yes; I have finished my accounts, and the result is very consoling; after paying for the new harness and all the expenses, a very respectable profit remains.’

‘All owing to your kind suggestion,’ said Mrs. Lang, addressing Dr. Mornay. ‘I am sure, as I tell Issy, we ought to be very much obliged to you.’

‘Issy doesn't need reminding of that’, she said, with a blush rising, as she tied up the last packet, and left the table clear for the tea-tray. ‘It will be great triumph showing it to that perverse Charlie. I wont spare him; he shall come down and confess his mistake,’ she added.

‘He has quite come round to the idea,’ Dr. Mornay remarked. ‘I suspect he only keeps up the argument for the sake of a little fun with his young mistress. In sober earnest he allowed to me that it was a good ‘spec,’ and he went on to hope that when you had made some money by it, his own pet scheme might be carried out, which is to make your fortunes, you know.’

‘Building houses is such a risk,’ sighed out Mrs. Lang. ‘And then, times are so bad. When we had spent ever so much on the proposed street, who would there be to live in it—at least to pay the rent? No; it wont do to be led too much by that man, though he means well.’




  ― 333 ―

‘Certainly he does. But the beauty of Dr. Mornay's plan was, that it involved so little outlay,’ said Isabel.

‘I have sometimes been led to regret my officiousness, nevertheless,’ he answered, drawing his chair a little nearer to Isabel's. ‘I fear it has brought a great deal of hard work on you. Even now, though so-so bright, you are thinner than you should be, than you were when—’

‘O, yes, people do get thinner as they grow older. Work is the salt of life; I adore it! No work hurts me, especially such very successful work as this has been. No, you were a good adviser, Dr. Mornay, in that matter.’

‘But not in others!—Is that what you mean to imply?’

‘I implied nothing. I never have double meanings. I am too dull and matter-of-fact.’

‘Talking of being thin, Dr. Mornay, pray observe my dear Kate, and tell me if she is really wasting away in that terrible place,’ Mrs. Lang put in.

‘O mamma! You used to like us to go to Sydney. Consider how very dull Kate would be here. Now she is quite gay in the metropolis, and—’

‘Issy, I think that is hardly right. It is unfeeling and selfish towards your poor dear sister. You are comfortable at home, while she is living with her cousin; such a particular person, too, who worries poor darling Kate every day and all day long, and then you know how bad her spirits are, and how devotedly fond she is of home and of me!’

Isabel made no answer. But her cheeks were very red, and while she turned quickly to get the kettle, her handkerchief was furtively raised to her eyes. Dr. Mornay rose, in his courteous way, to take it from her, and she resigned it without a word. Mrs. Lang left the room, saying she would be back in a moment.

‘Do you happen to know of a governess being wanted in any respectable family?’ asked Isabel, lightly, but not looking at Dr. Mornay.

‘A governess?’

‘Yes. You always seem to know everything. We are so in the habit of going to you for help now, that I ask even this, you see, though of course it must be a Protestant family.’

‘God forbid you should come to that drudgery,’ was his answer, playing with the knife before him.

‘Good gracious me, Dr. Mornay, what is it? I positively must learn to look on you as—as—dealing in unlawful knowledge at the least.


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How could you guess that I meant myself? Can you, indeed, read one's very thoughts?’

He smiled. It was a very peculiar smile, speaking of self-content and yet of doubt. It was at once amused and very sad.

‘I can read some thoughts, and you are so very transparent!’ he said, gently and earnestly. ‘Yet I could wish to read more, and find my power very limited.’

‘Well! all I can say is, it is not endurable; it is awful! You actually find out what I declare I have never so much as hinted to any living soul; and only just lately ventured to glance at in my own private thoughts!’

Mrs. Lang's re-entrance turned the subject to the duties of the meal. Dr. Mornay talked in a light and agreeable manner of local interests. There was no one person and no fact unobserved by him. He threw himself into the spirit of his companions wonderfully, adapting himself to every taste, not stupidly and weakly agreeing with every one, but refraining from obtruding his own peculiar opinions, especially when the subject bore on religion. As to making converts, he never seemed to have such an idea, and Mrs. Lang had long since grown to look on him as their pleasantest and most useful friend. His advice had often been to the point and very judicious, especially when he had suggested their cutting down the numberless small trees which in some parts crowded the estate, and sending them as fire-wood, for sale in Sydney. At first Charlie Brand had sneered at the notion, and much worried Isabel by what she called his stupid prejudice and opposition. Charlie was all for building a street in the small township, as the property extended to one side of the public road. He thought ‘Lang Street’ would sound well, and turn out a profitable speculation. But Isabel liked the wood scheme best, and so heartily threw herself into the work, standing early and late in the bush, watching the trees being felled, and looking at the carts being filled, that Charlie could not resist trying to please her. When returning from the sale, he saw her looking out so anxiously for his arrival, and noted the eager, bright inquiry of her eyes, as she scanned the empty cart and then his face, that it became a real pleasure to him to be able to say ‘Tolerable-good-enough sale,’ and so on. As said above, this scheme, carried on for more than ten months, had answered entirely, and they were now about to continue it on a larger scale. Then, Dr. Mornay had helped them very much in getting Jem into a situation, on a cattle station, and this evening he was talking very eagerly about what it might lead to. In fact, when Isabel came to consider it quietly, which


  ― 335 ―
she did at last, she felt surprised at the way in which this man, almost a stranger a year ago, had become necessary to the house—an advising friend, and implicitly trusted by Mrs. Lang, whose disposition was completely satisfied by his gentle flattery and never-failing attention. Not getting the proposed chapel and school-house in Bengala district, he had subsequently been sent to Westbrooke, where the Romanists had a church, a school, and a thoroughly comfortable residence for the priest. This had greatly facilitated the intimacy, which was added to from his being a great friend, and at one time confessor, to some distant cousins of Mr. Lang, who resided at the north shore, near Sydney.

When the tea-things were removed, and Isabel had brought out her work-basket, Dr. Mornay asked in a lower tone than that he generally used, ‘If the sketch he had begged for, and had been half-promised, was forthcoming?’

‘Half a promise is not a whole. Indeed it was your own imagination, for I did not enter into any promise; I never do draw now. I haven't time, and I—I hate it.’

‘I should not like to ask you to do anything you really hated. I was wrong then to persevere in begging. I did crave a sketch like the one I saw of your old place. I should have sent it home.’ There was a touch of sadness in his tone.

‘Indeed! Home! Have you then . . . .’

‘You think it strange for a priest to talk of home!’ he interrupted. ‘You look on us as separate and lonely individuals, cut off from all household and domestic ties, all human feelings, all affection and love. Yet I had a home, and a mother and father, and sisters too. All are gone, save one, I believe. It was to her I thought of sending it.’

There was so much of pathos, so much tender recollection touched with sadness in his tone, that she looked into his face: it was in harmony with his voice, though his eyes were bent on the table. She was moved by the idea of his life of exile and self-denial; the giving up of all that most men desire and hold precious. Was it out of real self-devotion? Was this man, who had so far thrown off his attributes as to be considered by them as any other ordinary friend,—was he so devoted, so religious a man? In what light must she, must they all appear to him, and what was his motive for seeking them, and devoting so much time to their amusement? Had he been zealous to convert them to his own views, she could understand it. But it would almost seem as if he came to please and amuse himself. Yet, the very fact


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of his being a priest seemed to involve higher and sterner motives. As we have before said, Isabel was no great thinker. Her feelings were warm and impulsive, and at this moment there was a re-action in favour of this singular man. She was angry with herself for some rather disagreeable doubts concerning him, and some cold and curt speeches she had made in consequence. She hastened now to assure him that she would to-morrow seek out her sketching things, and forthwith begin the drawing. She was out of practice, but she would do her best. Then he looked up at her, his whole face changed. It was but one brief instant—a mere flush—but its expression had the effect of throwing back her previous sympathy and kindly regard. She felt afraid of him, afraid of something which she did not understand, and which had at different times struck her much in the same sudden and strange way. She involuntarily shrank back and drew herself very upright. Before, she had been bending forwards, toying with her needles and thread, and wrapped in the interest his words and manner excited.

‘It is very kind of you. But I know I must not thank you too much. Perhaps when I come back it will be ready,’ he said.

Nothing could be more polite, and at the same time almost indifferent, than his tone now, and she rallied herself for losing her wits. What was there to scare her so?

‘You wish to go from home that your sister may return. Isn't that it?’ he presently asked, with kind interest.

‘O, of course you know all, everything! Well—yes—some such thought, I confess, has struck me. Mamma pines for Kate, and perhaps it is rather trying for her to be there, in not the pleasantest of positions. I couldn't stand it! No, far rather would I dig the ground. Yet I thought she preferred it to the rough work here. Poor Kate! she is not born for work. But now all is in pretty good train here, and it will do her good, perhaps, to come home.’

‘And for you to change from your toil, anxious toil, now that it begins to grow a little lighter, to something even worse! Have you ever considered what the duties of a governess consist of?’

‘Often! I have imagined myself one. For that I have tried my hand with my sisters; and if all children are as good, it need not be very bad. I am serious. And I mean to inquire at once, and not speak of it here, till something is settled. It would worry mamma. They must be small children, too, Dr. Mornay. I am not accomplished, as you know.’

‘Because you have not cared to be so. You have power, capacity for anything. No, thank Heaven! you are not an accomplished young


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lady. Happy the parents, thrice happy the children who . . . .’

‘No compliments,’ she put in; ‘I always feel myself insulted. Moreover, it is not truth, for I am not an agreeable, easy-going body. No doubt I shall vex both the parents and the pupils. But I shall do my best. Can you conscientiously recommend me?’

‘The difficulty is, that of course my interest lies with those of my own church. I fear my recommendation would scarcely do you much service; would it not alarm the sheep? A wolf! they would say; Gunpowder-plots and the Inquisitionnote might be thought to lurk in that wavy, golden hair, or shine out in your eyes. No, I will make inquiries and find out who is wanting a governess, but beyond that, for your own sake, I will not go.’

‘Thank you! As usual, you are all wisdom and foresight. But you . . . .’ and she fell into a fit of musing.

‘Of what are you thinking, may I ask? You pique my curiosity by beginning a sentence. After asserting, what you are good enough to call my wisdom, comes a ‘but.’ Now what does that alarming ‘but’ lead to? Do say!’

‘I was thinking that I can't quite understand you. You puzzle me. I always thought that Catholics were so bigoted, calling us all ‘heretics,’ and that at least every priest was by duty bound to try and make converts. But you . . . .’

‘Dr. Mornay is so liberal and so kind!’ said Mrs. Lang, just coming into the room. ‘Ah! your poor dear father was so good a judge of people! He first asked Dr. Mornay to our house—I so well remember the day! And of course I always go by what he thought right and safe.’ Mrs. Lang spoke pathetically, and gave a sigh.

Isabel remembered that day too; and Dr. Mornay, rising, said that he felt grateful for Mrs. Lang's good opinion, and valued it all the more from the amiable motive she gave for it. He, too, had not always found among Protestants such confidence and generous liberality as he always met here. But the world was growing wiser by slow degrees. People were learning to understand each other. There was greater freedom of opinion now. By-and-bye, all would be brothers. Then, with a low respectful bow, he shook Mrs. Lang's hand, again noticed the children, and invited them to see his tame kangaroo. Lastly, he came to Isabel, and seemed to hesitate what would be her wish, for he had found it did not always lead to hand-taking. To-night she stretched out her hand cordially, and wished him a pleasant walk home.




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18. CHAPTER XVIII.

Moonbeams.

note

The next day, as Isabel was leaving the garden by a gate which led to a certain favourite walk through the bush to a creek called there a river, she was hailed by some one on the bush side, and looking up, saw Dr. Mornay with his leather pouch slung on his shoulder, evidently on a botanical expedition, to which science he was much addicted. He bowed in his most courteous way, throwing a certain dignity into his greeting, which answered the purpose he intended, by putting her more at her ease.

‘Any new specimens?’ she asked, gaily.

Whereupon he opened his pouch, and from the book drew forth his spoils, at the same time giving a learned yet interesting account of each.

‘I wish I could induce you to enter into this pursuit,’ he said. ‘You would find it invaluable as a resource, giving an interest to every walk.’

‘I have already begun to notice and even gather the flowers,’ she answered. Then adding with a smile, ‘It was impossible to avoid catching the infection.’

He looked gratified.

‘I wish that I might believe my influence strong enough for that or for any other thing.’

‘But it was from you I learnt the taste.’

‘Or rather, being at a loss for an occupation just to fill up time, you have been led to try it, and I am delighted to find that it is so. Natural history has been to me a great gain, taking the place of the recreation


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others find in channels which are forbidden to me.’

‘And you really confess that you need relaxation and unbending from your calling? Yet I fancied it was all in all to you, leaving no blank.’

‘Well, and it has, I may say, filled me—led me on for years,’ he said, warmly. ‘Yes, it is a glorious, a high destiny! When one has passed the first difficulties, it opens a wide field to a man—power, influence, authority! In what other situation can a man attain so much?’

‘And I heard it said that Dr. Mornay's ambition was to be fully realized, that the highest honours awaited him in his profession. But—is it true,’ she added, breaking off abruptly into another tone, ‘is it true that you are going away?’

‘I am ordered to go to Rome. Yes; I have received flattering letters bidding me appear there as soon as I can.’

There was a tone of regret which surprised her, and looking up, she found his eyes bent on the ground.

‘Then it is true?’ Isabel rejoined.

‘What?’

And he searched her face with his powerful eyes. But even while he looked, his expression changed. Some feeling seemed to rise which softened while it troubled him. He withdrew his gaze with a sigh.

‘And your sister,’ Isabel ventured to say with hesitation. ‘She will, of course, hear and rejoice in your success and honour?’

He scarcely seemed to hear her. He was walking faster, and seemed disturbed.

‘Yes,’ he said, presently; ‘it is true I might attain to distinction and power; what I have toiled for, I have at least attained. Strange! that now it is offered—within my very reach—it seems to have lost its value. Strange state of things!’

And, most unusual for him, he was for a short time lost in thought, and walked on by her side as if unconscious of her presence, far less of her words. But Isabel did not mind it; she thought it was quite in character with his habits of deep and lonely thought, and all the great subjects which doubtless occupied him. She even hoped he had not heard her remark about his sister. She gave her attention to the plants growing near her, and stooped to gather some pretty blossom, hoping to leave him quite at ease. They were the lovely fringed violets which she gathered—so delicate in form, so brilliant and soft in tint. She examined them closely and with pleasure, and then arranged them with a spray of the correa. On looking up, she found his eyes again bent on her.

‘Does it ever strike you,’ he said, in a quiet, and almost mournful tone, ‘the analogy between plants and life? It may be fanciful, but it is at least


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a pleasant idea to trace it. This correa, now, with its stiff stem and prickly hard leaves, bearing so exquisite and delicate a blossom; so very fragile, it seems to be, among the hard prickles, yet it . . . .’

‘But I am too matter-of-fact to have a scrap of fancy,’ Isabel returned, laughing. ‘If I thought anything at all beyond the fact that these orange bells look well beside the violets, it would be to pity the poor little weak thing for being among such hard prickles.’

He smiled.

‘Yet the very contrast is touching; and perhaps the prickles and the stiff stem protect the fairy-like flowers better than more pliant, and softer companions would.’

Again he seemed to sigh; and Isabel fancying him in rather low spirits, felt afraid to begin on any subject.

‘I should like you to see, just to see my sister,’ he presently half whispered.

‘Why a stress on ‘just to see’?’

‘Because I don't know that I should care for you to be much with her. She is almost a saint—a devoted daughter of the Church.’

‘And would of course disdain me as a heretic?’

‘Or lead you, through admiration of her saintly character, to think as she does,’ he said, gently.

‘Well! and I should have fancied that would be just what you would wish and desire. In fact, Dr. Mornay, I never do quite understand it, pleasant and convenient as it is, how you manage to like us Protestants, and don't even try to convert us. How is it?’

‘For one thing, had I commenced in that way, your doors would have been shut against me. I have lived long enough to know how ill-judged haste is. Yet, pray don't imagine from this, I am keeping in reserve, and mean suddenly to show my teeth;’ and he smiled rather sadly. ‘It strikes me as strange myself, that in my intercourse with you, the thought once so prominent and powerful, seems to have faded. I have not, after the very first, thought of even wishing it were so, far less of converting you; rather—on the contrary, I mean——’

He stopped short in evident confusion; and she answered, in a joking way,

‘You don't mean that you think of coming round to us?’

‘No! no! Yet—I will own—yes, Isabel (mind, I am saying what I would not hint at to another soul—scarcely allow to myself—except in confession) my intercourse with you—my great, intense pleasure—has cost me much severe sorrow and penance. You little think what it needs to—to—keep oneself in order. And how it is, I don't know, but just


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lately, regrets, old feelings and associations, seem to have received new life. My sister—the old home—my boyhood—all has, as it were, risen from the grave, and haunted me. Doubtless—for my good! In order to strengthen the weaker parts ere the day of reward. I mean, when I may, by God's mercy, be called to a higher post.’

‘Do you mean,’ she said, in her straightforward way, after looking at him, ‘that because of your friendly visits to us, you have had to do penance?’

‘I do;’ and he smiled. ‘Yes; severe penance.’

‘Then why come? Why do what you think wrong or dangerous? I am sure we should—mamma, would be sorry enough to bring this on you.’

‘Thank you,’ he said, rather coldly. ‘I dare say you could well and easily spare me. As to what I foolishly said just now—pray think no more about it; above all, say nothing to others. It lies between me and God. Human flesh is weak and faulty to the end. It is a gain and a relief to know that penance will avail to blot out our infirmities. I was led on to open my heart to you—as I often am, I know not why or how. You will not betray me—my weakness—will you?’

‘You know I will not! of course not. But how can you suppose that torturing yourself is of any use? And, really if your visits to us cause it, I cannot wish that——’

‘They will not be for long,’ he interrupted. ‘Very soon I go from this—may be for ever! Don't grudge me the last lingering look on all—all those feelings and ties, from which I may soon be more than ever cut off. Long fasts and deep penitence will wipe out their memory afterwards, no fear! Perhaps this strange impulse, this looking back—this . . . . Perhaps it may be sent to try—to prove me;—a little indulgence is sometimes graciously permitted. I crave your kindness, Isabel Lang, for the short time left me here.’

‘We shall all be glad, I am sure, to do anything for your comfort,’ she answered readily, and moved to pity and feel for him by his sad and mournful manner. Even Isabel's simple and single heart was not proof against the charm—that this much talked-of and highly considered priest, usually so impenetrable in his bland courteousness—should bend to open his inner heart to her, and to her alone.

‘You have been a very kind friend, Dr. Mornay—in a time of need, too—when—when there were but few,’ she said with a husky voice.

‘You are very good to say so. But—when you say this, do you mean yourself? For it is your kindness and your sympathy I crave—yours, as distinct from the others—from all—the world,’ he added; the last two words in so low a whisper that Isabel did not hear it.




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They had reached the creek now, and after admiring the graceful growth of the water-loving shrubs, and listening for the bell-bird's note, Dr. Mornay said he must cross the river, being bound for a distant farm. He knew she did not mind the walk back alone. If he could, he should come in the evening, and bring her a book he had ready prepared for specimens of dried flowers. He was anxious to make a botanist of her before he left.

She answered that they should be glad to see him, and with a friendly nod, responded to by a long and grave look, rather than a bow, Isabel turned back, and, walking fast, was soon through the bush, her active nature longing for a little commonplace home talk, after the strange, rather sad, and, to her, incomprehensible conversation of Dr. Mornay.

Finding her mother in the garden, they had a discussion as to which crop would be most profitable; then Isabel adjourned to the stock-yard, where she refreshed herself by a survey of the calves and a chat with Charlie Brand. From one thing to another she lingered on till summoned to tea, surprised to find it quite half-an-hour later than usual, and her mother doing the honours to Dr. Mornay, having added several small luxuries to their usual fare, in expectation of his visit. Isabel peeped in, and with due dismay, at finding how she had forgotten time, she promised not to be long, and ran away to take off her walking things. While doing so, the remembrance of Dr. Mornay's face, unusually pale, and very hollow, struck her.

‘I see now, how much thinner he is. Fancy his fasting, and all that! Well! I suppose he is very earnest and good, poor man. He has great courage and self-denial, for he is one who evidently values all he has to renounce. I suspect there is many a battle between spirit and flesh there. I hope he wont kill himself! But really now I think of it, he is looking sadly.’

Full of this, she returned prepared to be very cordial and kind, and to allow the ‘poor man’ at least a little pleasure, if he thought it such.

Apparently he had thrown off the gravity which had oppressed her. He talked pleasantly and chattily of various things, making Mrs. Lang quite merry, and sorry when he rose, saying he must go. He shook hands all round, even with Isabel, who generally confined herself to a nod.

They thought him on his way home, and Mrs. Lang was speaking of him in terms of praise, when he returned, saying that really the moonshine was so very beautiful, and the air so soft and balmy, it was a pity not to enjoy it. Wouldn't they put on shawls and come as far as the gate? It was a pity to shut out such silvery calm radiance; it would ensure them good dreams and sweet sleep. He spoke to Mrs. Lang, but


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his eye sought Isabel.

The idea of rheumatism made Mrs. Lang shrink from going beyond the door, but she added, ‘Issy never catches cold, she can go! She is such an admirer of moonlight too. Ah! how poor darling Kate used to joke you, don't you remember? and compare you with Mr. Herbert. Kate never cared very much for it, I think.’

‘O yes, mamma, she did. It is lightning you are thinking of. Moonlight is too sentimental and uncertain for me. I prefer broad daylight, much. You see, those mysterious shadows, that undefined outline, except just under the white light which is so very cold—is not after my taste. Give me everything open and clear, warm, true, and decided.’

‘Yet keep a little corner for moonlight—such light as this is,’ Dr. Mornay said, turning and gazing upwards, as he stood at the door. ‘Not only the moon, but the planets, the constellations, and those wondrous nebul' which to-night look like innumerable silver threads. And I want you to see the effect of the deep shadow and bright light on the hill where your man's hut stands. The very oxen, as they lie about, chewing the cud, take a new form; and the clumps of scarlet geranium look quite singularly lovely. You are not afraid of cold, I know. Let me beg you to come! You may prefer sunshine after all, if you like it.’

‘Go, Issy. Don't keep Dr. Mornay standing! Don't be so perverse, child,’ said her mother.

Isabel caught up a little shawl which lay on a side table, and hastily throwing it over her head, she passed rather brusquely by Dr. Mornay, and went out to the far end of the deep verandah. But there she stopped short.

‘Yes, it is very bright. ‘The daylight sick;’note and what a noise those frogs are making! Quite melodious you think, I dare say. But to me it is only croaking, though it is all in honour of the moon, I dare say. How many sheets of paper have you wasted in trying to adore her ladyship, and what epithets did you use? I should like to hear some new way of praising it.’

So she rattled on, without waiting for an answer.

‘You don't see it here. A little further on—do come!’

‘No, I don't wish to be mad. Moonbeams affect the brain, you know. But you'll have nice light for walking home. That troublesome dog, old ‘Noble,’ will be be disturbing mamma all night. Don't you hear him! Silly fellow, baying at the moon. How the little opossums will be out to-night; ah! there goes a gun. Poor little things, some one is slaughtering them. How many bad and cruel deeds has the moon seen, even more than the sun—perhaps that is what makes her pale.’




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‘Yes, that idea is expressed very well by some author, though at this moment I don't recollect who.’

‘Indeed! Yet I never read it; so I was not stealing, if it turns out a clever idea.’

‘No one knowing you could suppose such a thing. No wonder that you like all clear and bright things, and have so little patience for anything doubtful or hidden. You are almost transparent yourself, and as clear as—as truth! I don't wish you to be less so by even the shadow of a shade. May you never be forced into subtle reserves, never haunted and oppressed by doubts and uncertainty, or by inability to discern light from darkness. Yet—yet—the very angels are said to have compassion—to look down from their pure and lofty heights with pity and compassion on mortals obliged to wear a veil. Thus much I would ask from you . . . .’

‘But I am no angel, and never profess to be one,’ she said, quickly.

‘An angel! No indeed! What is an angel? Intangible,—a dream—perhaps a myth. You are living and real. A woman—a woman . . . Come further here.’

And he even laid his hand on her arm to draw her out. His voice had fallen gradually in the more excited, more solemn tone which now and then came. She was unwilling to go on, and yet did not like to offend or hurt him by refusing altogether. She stopped again at the fence, however, and declared she would not go beyond.

‘Don't you feel such a scene carry you away far beyond the present—quite back to old times; and then again to some unknown future we have perhaps dreamt of in a confused way?’ he asked. ‘It seems to me so suggestive of peace and rest—work done. And if, as you say, so many dark deeds are done at such an hour, how many passages of love, how many sacred confidences and heroic resolves, have received inspiration, or rather consecration, from these unobtrusive rays—not quite dark, yet not quite light—tempting one on to utter thoughts which the glare of day and the very feeling of work to be done, sends back like a snail to its shell. One reposes now and feels! Every one, probably, has some particular moonlight night to look back upon as an era, when words were said or deeds done, which coloured his life for ever. Some under its influence have sworn a life's love and devotion, interchanging vows, and henceforth feeling not one—not alone—but mated! Others, less happy, choose their career; perhaps turn the long doubting scales, and in a moment of enthusiasm add the required weight, which makes them henceforth aliens from their kind—slaves—martyrs—ay, martyrs . . . laying down all of self—even to the very liberty of speech and look.


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And this total abnegation, this entire surrender of will, has at first its own stern charm. It points to an unknown future, and self-sacrifice is dear to an ardent, impassioned nature. He goes a willing victim—bound—laid on the altar. He works and toils and suffers. Brain, intellect, affections, temper, passions, taste, all are brought up and submitted to discipline, drilled, and ruthlessly cut down, except in as far as they are of use in the sacrifice . . . And then, this first elevation of mind passed, then there steps in ambition! To be first in the train, to be best and first to do and to suffer, to rule as he has been ruled, even the world; to mould men's fiercest passions as he chooses. Vast—infinite almost—seems this path—glorious and inspiring! Happy, happy for that man, if from such a dream he never awakes, if this phase is the last; except, indeed, that which in course of nature comes on all who live long enough to find that all is vanity,note yea, ‘all;’ and that all must die—be dust, and perish. But for some . . .’

He paused, his voice thrilling with the deep, constrained passion it betrayed; and glancing timidly in his face, Isabel saw the deep-set eyes glitter strangely, while the lips were quivering, and the broad forehead, whiter even than common in the moonlight, seemed to expand. She could not but listen and be still. His whole strength of will was bent on it, and such excess of urgency seldom fails for a time.

‘For some,’ he went on, ‘even this wont do! The highest, the most coveted and eagerly sought after prizes, all power, all authority, all praise, turns suddenly into apples of Sodomnote—dust and ashes—a mere sham and delusion. A man awakes to find himself burning with thirst, craving just that one—one drop of living waternote which has been put from him—consumed in the fire of the sacrifice—gone—gone! He gave it up. Like Esau,note he bartered it. And now—now—my God!—well—what is left for him? Hell! What is hell? Tell me, tell me, Isabel, you young, innocent girl, standing there in open surprise, wondering if I am mad or the Evil One himself! . . . . No, I am but a man—mortal, miserable! A man without a hope—without a tie—ay, almost without a faith!’

For a moment he bent his head and crossed his arms on his bosom, perhaps from long habit. Then lifting his head and looking at her, with dim eyes and features drawn as if by sudden and great effort to control agitation, ‘But you are thinking that I am a priest, one sworn to work in the fold of the only true and Catholic Church. A good and great work it is. Yet suppose—I say suppose—that I hate and rebel . . . O, Isabel!’

‘Dr. Mornay!’ she put in quickly. ‘Please don't say that! Do you know what you are saying, I wonder?’

Her clear, true-sounding voice was in strong contrast with his hurried,


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husky whisper. The very heat and strength of his passion made her doubly calm, as if it extinguished all feeling in her (a not uncommon occurrence to undemonstrative natures).

‘Forgive me!’ he said, ‘you are right—forgive! Yet—you cannot see—you cannot understand—a Protestant! what is it? to be free—free! free to—to—O, if you felt—if you knew!—but you are so cool, unconscious—Isabel! (with renewed energy) you must feel! Heat communicates heat!’ and he seized her hand, but dropped it almost immediately, and then in quite a different voice, subdued, courteous, and restrained, ‘You said that moonbeams affected the head or the brain. There is truth in every fable; certainly they strangely stir the heart. They always have—always had—a peculiar influence on me. Atmospheric influences have never been enough studied, I think,’ he added, drily, after a pause. ‘I fear,’ he said again, as she remained silent, ‘I fear I have been ranting unpardonably! It will not add to your liking for moonshine. Have I disturbed you?’ and now his voice went, as it were, with his words, and expressed a gentle, troubled regret. ‘Will you forget and forgive? Say you forgive me. Be kind—a little so! It will harm no one. I am a priest—yet—sometimes I can't help being only a man, and I go back to old times—to home—to a sister. Is it so very sinful, that I should feel a pang of loneliness, and crave for one word of true affection—one kind word!’

‘Sinful! Why should you suppose so?’ she said quickly, and resenting the hardness of his lot. ‘It is natural and right! O, I do think it is so wicked to forbid priests from marrying, if they wish it. Of course many must be wretchedly lonely, for it is not every one who is so very ambitious, or successful either.’ She spoke in her frank, impulsive way, all her innate Protestantism urging her to pity the man, and consider him the victim of system.

‘Ah! we wont enter on that discussion,’ he answered, with a little start, and even a look of alarm in his face. ‘Now I ought not to detain you against your will, I know. Good night! You do—you will forgive?’ he added, lingering and retaining her hand in both his.

‘Yes, quite,—if it is needed, entirely! Good-night! You shall have the sketch!’

‘Thanks.’ He murmured something besides which she could not catch, and then turned away. Soon he had passed out of the gate, which swung to, with a sharp click, and Isabel saw him go down the cedar avenue which led from the front of the cottage to the township or settlement; saying to herself, ‘Curious! I wonder if he meant himself all the time! I suppose so. Horrible, cruel system it is, too! And this is the


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great Dr. Mornay Mr. Farrant was speaking of as being so influential in his own Church, and one likely to arrive at the very highest distinctions; commanded to repair to Rome by the Pope himself, there to be fêted and honoured, and they say to receive a Cardinal's Hat, and to . . . Well, well! suppose, as Mr. Farrant said, he should be Pope himself some day, it would be curious to remember this walk and talk. At all events it assures me that Popes are just like all other men; a little cleverer, perhaps, instead of the indescribable and impossible beings my fancy has painted them.’

With these thoughts, half uttered aloud, according to a trick of hers, Isabel reached the parlour, and blinking and shading her eyes from the lamp-light, she answered her mother's queries, ‘Was Dr. Mornay gone? What had he talked of? What an agreeable man he was! so astonishing for a Roman Catholic priest, too!’ &c. &c. Mrs. Lang was somewhat fretful that night, and inclined to be offended at Isabel's inclination for silence or short answers. She accused her of being very rude and brusque to Dr. Mornay, at which Isabel laughed, and owned she was so sometimes; she didn't know why exactly, but a ‘feeling’ came over her, and she didn't always like his manner or his look. But she assured her mother they had made it up and parted good friends, and that she pitied him very much, too much to be annoyed at him, and then declared her intention of going to bed. Mrs. Lang answered that it was no use for her to do the like, for the dogs were making such a noise she could not sleep. She would write to ‘poor dear Kate.’




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19. CHAPTER XIX.

‘Absence Makes The Heart Grow Fonder.’

note

Adversity had not sweetened Mrs. Lang's temper; nor was it to be expected that the habit of fretfulness, indulged in for years, should give way suddenly. Yet she was not really selfish, and mourned far more for her children's sake than her own, at their change of fortune.

Weak minds are often unjust, from sheer inability to take in the whole of any subject. Thus, Mrs. Lang threw all her natural affectionateness into Kate's portion, and made her, as it were, the scapegoat—or representative of the Langville ruin. For Kate's sorrows, small and great, the mother sympathised and felt; for her she would gladly have pinched and denied herself, even necessaries; while the boys, and in fact all besides, would have sunk in comparison to the most trifling want of Kate's. But fortunately Isabel was there, to care for her mother, and to insist on justice being done to the others. Through her undaunted energy and determination, the boys were not neglected, but were likely to be helped and launched, each in the way best suited to his character. The elder, Jem, was already, thanks to Dr. Mornay, promised a very good situation, and the fortunate wood selling speculation enable them to give him an outfit without applying to friends for help—a fact most acceptable to Isabel, though she was grieved to find her mother preferring to retain the money for Kate's expenses in Sydney, and leaving Jem to chance, saying ‘Boys always could shift, and get on!’ Mrs. Lang's pride had vanished, or taken another form. The second boy was destined to enter a highly respectable solicitor's office in Sydney. In the meantime he was


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being polished off by Mr. Farrant. Kate, since the first few weeks, had found a home with a distant cousin—a widow lady residing in Sydney—well off now—though in early life Mr. Lang had generously maintained her. Her husband being wealthy, she had every comfort, and saw a great deal of society. Though what is called a little ‘particular’ in temper, she did not forget, nor was she ashamed of owning Mr. Lang's former kindness. Her invitation to Kate was couched in friendly terms, and delighted Mrs. Lang, who saw in it a reprieve for her darling, and a life much more suited to her pretty Kate, than working like a servant, buried in the bush. Kate, however, was not long in discovering that it was a different thing to be ‘Mrs. Offley's cousin, poor Miss Lang, you know’ . . . from the well-portioned and well-dressed daughter of the rich Mr. Lang. This, and a continual depression which she could not shake off—even in a round of parties—gave her letters home a tone of disappointment which grieved her mother, who directly put it down to ‘Mrs. Offley's queer temper,’ and from a little quiet boasting of dear Kate's invitation to Sydney, she fell into speaking of it ‘as a cruel separation from home, and grievous trial to poor darling Kate!’ By degrees Kate became the injured one, the martyr and victim, the self-denying child, who sacrificed herself for others; and her being in Sydney was an act of heroic self-devotion, often contrasted with Isabel's happy home life. For some time Isabel bore these remarks without caring. She knew that Kate could not do her work or take her place, at least for some time, till things were put into train. Mrs. Lang did not even know what Isabel did daily; for, she spared her mother in every possible way, and always, at whatever cost, provided for her wants. Thus from being a busy and active housekeeper, and in her younger days especially, as her husband so often said with joking pride, an energetic and managing woman, Mrs. Lang, knocked down with the sudden grief and change of prospects, sank into imagining herself unequal to any work, and passively gave up the reins to Isabel. At first, her whole occupation was in writing to Mrs. Farrant or to her cousins in Sydney, and afterwards to Kate. One subject alone formed the theme, and round it her thoughts paced also, in a dreary circle, which seemed to grow narrower daily. When the first alarm of poverty had gone off, and through Isabel's sensible arrangements and friends' kindness, she enjoyed, without care or thought, all her small daily comforts, Mrs. Lang began to accept it all as a matter of course, and even forgot previous facts. Without going into the business, she settled in her own mind that it had been a false alarm, and that though no longer at Langville or keeping her carriage, she was still far from being poor. She sometimes urged this as a reason why it was so hard on Kate to be


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forced to live with Mrs. Offley, and when Isabel tried to explain, she often ended with hinting that some people liked to rule; but after all, Kate was the eldest, and should therefore be considered first, etc. Tears sprang to Isabel's eyes at these speeches; but while it was necessary, she did not allow it to influence her; well knowing that Kate could not carry on her plans about the farm, she worked on as well as she could, being ably and faithfully supported by Charlie Brand. In his rough way, he could not do enough to show his gratitude, though very seldom did the subject pass his lips. Once, when Isabel was urging him to rest, for that he had already done more than a day's work, and might trust the chopping wood to the boy, he answered, looking up at her, with his tomahawk sticking into the block,

‘When I were down there in the cage, thinking all was up, I thought to myself, ‘If I dies with murder branded on me, it wont keep me out of the kingdom of Heaven, seeing 'tis not a true bill; and when I gets there, it will be my first endeavour to keep a sharp look-out for her who had the kindness to believe I didn't do it. I shall know the road by that time, and if a helping hand can do aught, she'll have one that's all! And as far as I could (being no scholar), I put up a prayer for her. Now I think, Miss Isabel, you know who I mean, and that's all about it. So when you see Charlie Brand a working pretty considerable hard, you'll know the why and the wherefore.’

Yet, it must be confessed, much as it pleased and gratified her, Charlie Brand's devotion would not make up for everything. Isabel sorely missed her father. She was always his particular darling, as Kate was her mother's. And during his life she had no room for missing her mother's caressing affection. Now she felt the difference—felt it acutely, too! And the allusions and hints about Kate's absence began to be more than she could well bear. Circumstances were changed now. Everything had been put into order and good training. Perhaps Kate, with her mother's help, could and would contrive to keep the wheels a-going. Isabel could rely on Charlie Brand to carry on the wood-cutting, which used up all the otherwise useless timber on several acres of bush land, and fetched a good price as firing sold to retail dealers, who fetched it from a place near Sydney, to which Isabel had to convey it.

The time was come for some change to be desirable, Isabel felt. Kate could return home; but at present their resources would not allow of more than one besides the little ones, so that Isabel would have to go elsewhere. Fortunately, she could work and gain money, being able-bodied, as well as having an energetic and active mind. So the thought gradually assumed shape, each speech of her mother's bringing it out in


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stronger colours. She must be a governess! Yes! after all her toil and labour to make this home, she must leave it, and live and work among strangers. Nor would her absence cause any grief; on the contrary, as it brought Kate home, it would be actually a time of rejoicing. She was not dear or necessary to any one in the world now. No one felt any great interest in her, no one regarded her efforts, except in as far as they ministered to her mother's or Kate's benefit. No one thought of begging her not to go too far or do too much. No! if she worked all day and every day—real hard work—it was deemed by her mother, and by Tom Jolly, their constant visitor, as an honour and privilege to be allowed such an opportunity of doing anything for Kate. Dearly as she did love Kate, it must be owned that there were moments when this feeling brought pain. These thoughts came strongly before her on this evening, after hearing several more pointed speeches than usual from her mother. Even causing her to recal with a sigh the vain though generous devotion of Captain Smith, formerly in charge of the corps of mounted police in their old district, who, on the death of Mr. Lang and report of his family's ruin, gallantly swore that he had always liked and admired Isabel Lang, and if she was now poor, he should be proud to have her for a wife. Nor did it end in words, for very soon after the family had come to Westbrooke, a clattering was heard one day, and a soldier rode up to the back yard bearing a letter from his chief to Miss I. Lang. A curious letter it was, and oddly enough expressed. But the meaning was clear and honourable. He told her he had long admired and loved her, but held back from feelings of humility. He offered all he had, wishing it was more. Mrs. Lang urged her to consider it, and not act from impulse and hurry. ‘Under present circumstances,’ she began; but Isabel interrupted by saying her answer would be the same under all circumstances, and all her consideration was to write as kind and gentle a ‘No’ as she could. This little episode was not disagreeable. It sometimes helped to warm her heart when it shivered or felt lonely as now. After all, there was much kindness in the world, so often found, too, where unexpected. And then all the words Dr. Mornay had used, more especially on this evening, returned. They were full of a strong and affectionate interest. What had she done to excite it? It seemed like a friend in need rising up. Certainly she wished he was not a Catholic priest exactly. And yet this was beginning to be less a drawback. She was interested and curious about his early history. She pitied and admired him. He was not by any means an ordinary man. So agreeable and entertaining at times! But again there were moments when she drew back afraid of she knew not what. And with all this crept in a complacent consciousness that he was interested


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in and drawn towards herself particularly, either through some likeness to one of his early friends, or from affinity of taste. When all else is arid and barren, and one has a feeling of being overlooked, there is scarcely a heart insensible to the pleasure of finding itself to be genial in any way to some one. It is natural and human to turn to the light, wherever it may shine.

It comforted Isabel a little to feel herself an object of interest and importance to Dr. Mornay. He alone now ever read her countenance, and saw fatigue or sorrow written there when she did not deign to speak of either. He alone appreciated her efforts and her self-denying love for her family. He alone thought her equal (or superior) to Kate, and not the merely useful working drudge—one of those who, undertaking all the disagreeable tasks which some one must do and no one likes, constantly hears it affirmed by those who sit quietly and benefit by their labours, ‘O, she likes it! She is in her element!’

Mrs. Lang was fond of Isabel, and proud of her, too. She descanted on her useful qualities now, complacently asserting that Issy was in her glory. It was what she had always wished for. Dr. Mornay judged more truly. He saw where the yoke pressed, and that only a high sense of duty sustained her. Busied as she was with domestic occupations, he deemed her worthy for his friend; her opinion was sought, sometimes her advice asked, and yet the world spoke of him as a star. To her he had sometimes thrown off his trappings and shown a human heart—weaker, yet infinitely more interesting, than the one he was supposed to possess by people in general.

Yet with all the gratification and soothing power of this reflection, Isabel knew that it would not do to rest too much on this singular friendship. In one way her faith had been much weakened, and she cautioned herself often, never to build upon another man's friendly regard, it was like building a house on the sands. Also, an instinctive feeling of reserve and caution came to warn her that although, to her, Dr. Mornay was a kind and helping friend, apparently seeking her good only, he was really separated by his religion and calling as a priest. It was all very well to receive it as passing interest and amusement, but she must be careful. Now this caution and reserve was especially distasteful to her nature, and it set her wishing he was a Protestant. That alone was wanting to make him perfectly delightful. His faults, as far as she could see, were incidental to his calling and position, and would fall away in the clear, broad daylight of the English Church. Then his hurried troubled words seemed again to sound in her ears. Was it possible that he really began to find the defects of his own creed, and to recognise the


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value of the Reformed Church?note It was a pleasant idea, full of charm and excitement, to be the means of bringing this great and clever man, this star of Rome, to her own faith. Was it impossible? Surely such things had happened! The thought had glanced before her once or twice, but had been dismissed as foolish. Now, however, it would not vanish, but grew into shape. Forgetting her own troubles she eagerly threw herself once again into the unprofitable employment of castle-building. Dr. Mornay's conversion would even be a greater triumph than making a match between Miss Terry and Mr. Herbert. This was something worth living for. Nor did her previous failure discourage or warn her, and yet Isabel was not otherwise than humble. She had learnt a lesson, and now, instead of putting herself forward presumptuously, she felt that her share in the work must be passive and silent. Not for one moment did she reckon on any argument on her part weighing with him. Rather he would be insensibly led to it through her. That he had doubts, she felt sure, and that he was uneasy and unhappy. How doubly careful must she be of her duty, lest her faults should hinder the work! There was something very fascinating to one of her temperament in this. It elevated her; she lost herself in pursuing this idea, and really tired by a busy day, she fell asleep while thinking, leaning back on a couch with all her clothes still on, and the cold, clear moon rays falling full upon her. Isabel slept soundly as if in bed.




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20. CHAPTER XX.

The Hour Of Temptation.

note

As Isabel had predicted, ‘Noble’ did bay in a very tormenting way at the moon, and his deep-toned voice was the signal for several sharp and yelping animals, in all directions, and at great distances, to send their several answers, which from the rarity of the atmosphere, resounded clearly, and disagreeably broke on the stillness of the hour. Mrs. Lang turned and tossed, and wished the dogs—anywhere. It worried her. She arose and looked out of her window, lest any one should by chance be lurking about. Not a living thing could be seen, not a moving object of any kind as it seemed, for the slender leaves of the white cedar did not move. There was no air, all was still and bright. ‘But there are some clouds there. Perhaps they will gather in the moon's path and obscure her pitiless rays; then the dogs would rest, and let others sleep.’ As Mrs. Lang fancied, so it happened. The Queen of the Night passed behind a thick mass of clouds, from which there seemed no outlet, for they were gathering fast and forming into battle array, and darkness fell on the land about. ‘Noble’ retired to his bed of straw, and one after another, all the distant barks ceased. Sleep appeared to reign everywhere. Meanwhile the hitherto still leaves began to tremble, and a low sough was heard, as the rising wind caught itself among the intricacies of the forest. A change had come to the night; there was a breeze everywhere, though not a high wind. The one or two ardent lovers of sport, who had sacrificed their sleep for a ‘bang at the 'possums,’ hastened home to get what they could out of the remainder


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of the night. Yet, one figure might have been seen still. He carried no gun, and apparently it had been the charms of the scene alone which kept him so incessantly pacing about, now up and down the cedar avenue, then in a paddock which lay in front of the cottage, and commanded a view of the place. Now he paused, leaning on the fence, his head buried in his hands. Then again started up, and with rapid steps crossed over and stood facing the house. After which, with careful and silent footfall, he passed quite round it, gazing at each chamber-window as he went, which according to the custom of the place, were mostly unshaded by anything but the plants which half buried the whole building. It had been a close night, and one window had been left partly open. Now in the rising breeze this shook to and fro with a clatter. Dr. Mornay, for he it was, stopped before it and seemed to listen. All was still! Again went the casement, and he stretched out his hand and bent back a pretty stiff rose-branch to keep it steady. One moment more and he passed on—slowly—and with arms folded, seemingly without looking what direction he took, he reached the old dog's kennel and a horse-block. ‘Noble’ growled, but two words in a low clear voice, set his tail wagging and restored him to his slumbers. Dr. Mornay sat down on the block. It was nearly dark now, and his face must have been hidden, had any been there to see. But his gestures were remarkable, and after clasping, and almost wringing his hands, and throwing up his face to the now darkened sky, with some impulse of despairing entreaty, as it seemed, he uttered aloud, though his voice was broken, and so changed it could scarcely have been recognised,—'What is it ? presentiment! Yet why? The third time in my life—What can it be? Have I scoffed, and now am I to be convinced? Are these spirits?—It is rending, burning, torture!—Once more—yet once more, let me try.’ And he fell on his knees and made the sign of the cross. With bowed head, he seemed to pray with passionate urgency. A groan, half-suppressed, at times burst forth and broken words—'All—all—penances—denial—vigils—labours and toil!—Will nothing avail now? Not even my promised reward! Pish! what is it? What is it now I approach it?—Rotten;—dust and ashes! In a few months I should gain all. All! —honour—power. Is it some device of the enemy which has blinded my soul—my intellect! I—I—the stern—the rigid—who laughed at all—I, having battled through more than a score of years, the envy of all. Strong,—great in my self-possession, so that I could afford to approach the forbidden things! For me it had no charms. But now! Scourge—fasting—torture—where are ye? What am I?’—

Then, as if checking himself, and taking up his hat, which had fallen, he rose and walked to and fro—to and fro, with eyes bent on the ground.




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Again he stood still. ‘Why am I here? What cursed spell chains me to this place? Presentiment?—humbug! I don't, I wont believe in it. It is fever! I am ill. I exposed myself to her. Yet—I don't wish it undone—unsaid, No! it won me . . . . Ah, yes . . . . That was a glimpse of heaven. For what is heaven, but the height and crown of our happiness! Each soul must have its own heaven! I now begin to see what mine must be . . . Fables. What do we know?’—

Presently his foot struck against something, and a very slight ray of light served to show him a glitter on the ground. First his hand mechanically sought his breast, then quickly picked up a locket tied by a black ribbon, which he had dropped without being aware of it. He examined it as well as he could, and pressed it passionately to his lips.

‘Ah! is it an omen? To drop—to lose this! Ah, sister! ah, Isabella! my own Isabella—After our work is done, we are ‘to meet.’—She said so. So she prays in her humble home, in her pain—her love—her loneliness! I must not desert her. Her cries, would . . . . O my God! what is heaven? What is hell? O, Isabella! if we two had been but Protestants—Heretics . . . . Blasphemy! I see her as she raises her thin hand to stop me. I see her, hear her sigh. She prays—prays for me—the priest—the . . . She is a true child of the Church. Am I mad? No, no; not at all mad. Good Lord—this is a conflict with the devil! 'Tis he who has taken the form that intoxicates me—the very name which is itself a spell of fascination to me! Avaunt ye, Evil One! Pooh, I am doting. It is no spirit—it is myself. Why have I these feelings—these passions? What has a priest—a sacrificed man—to do with them? I deemed I had destroyed them, ruthlessly killed them, smothered them; and yet they live!’ Again he changed his tone to tremulous pleading. ‘O, Isabella of my soul—sister—is this your blessed warning? Do you speak to me in this? ‘Fly,’ I hear you say. ‘It is sin, deadly sin. It will cost you the toil, the work of your whole life—all your reward here—all your hope—all my hope hereafter.’ Isabel, I obey, I go! Good Lord! Blessed Virgin! O, all ye holy saints! Powers of heaven! angels of the Almighty! guard me now—thy long-time servant. My stripes, my fasts and vigils, my hard and lonely lot, let it all plead for me now. I go!’

He crossed his arms on his chest as he uttered the last words with a solemn gesture, and his voice rose. With it also rose a rushing sound—not however heeded by him at the moment, absorbed as he was in deathly conflict with his foe. Some time passed, and he was still walking, though with less hurried steps, and his arms still folded on his chest. Was it the wind making that swift, sharp rush? Clouds were hurrying here and there, and still the shrubs, trees, and grass swayed


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about, but in no very certain direction. It was growing gusty, and seemed undecided in which quarter it was to blow. All was still—buried in sleep. Nothing broke the silence but that singular low, ever increasing sound. The voices of his own heart, and its yet hard throbbings, prevented him from noting it. But by another sense, he was made aware of something unusual. He raised his head, and his delicately cut nostril worked. ‘Fire! fire! Some of those bush fires! But——’ again he sniffed and turned in the direction of the barn, which stood close by some uncleared bush; ‘this is coming near,—or is it the wind set in that way?’

There had been two or more of these bush fires going on in the neighbourhood for some days, as he knew. But now with all his usual keen senses awake and clear again, he felt in an instant this was not from the bush.

‘Ha!’ he exclaimed, turning to the cottage; ‘that's it,’ and with a few bounds as it seemed, he stood by the dwelling, within which Mrs. Lang, and three children, and two maids were sleeping. The whole building was of weather-board, and the roof made of shingles—all inflammable wood. But part of the building was a little detached, for having found it necessary to add two or three rooms, Mr. Lang had put up one of the moveable wooden houses then in vogue. It stood on low wheels or blocks, a little above the ground, and was connected with the main building by a covered way, only a few feet long. Unless passing on that side, it was difficult to see that it was a separate building, both being in the course of years, of one tint, and overgrown with plants. In this moveable house, familiarly called the ‘wooden box,’ Isabel had her sleeping-room, and her store. Here also in a small closet, slept one of the servants; the other remaining with the little children, whose room adjoined Mrs. Lang's. There were besides these, two other small sleeping-closets, called ‘verandah rooms,’ being enclosed off the deep, double verandah, and they served for a passing guest, or for the boys when at home.

When Dr. Mornay reached the spot, he saw that it was Isabel's part that was on fire. As yet it had not touched the cottage. At once he perceived, by pulling down the tarpauling, which, well painted, served as cover to the connecting passage, there might be a possibility, if the wind was at all favourable, of saving the cottage. But it required hands, and to be done at once. Only Charlie Brand and a boy were within call. The man who helped and served as drayman lived in the township. Charlie's hut was some way off, and there was no way of giving him the alarm, for the bell which had been often talked of as very desirable, he knew was not yet even ordered. All this flashed across his mind in an


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instant. But the flames now seemed to wind and wrap themselves round that doomed wooden box. The smoke was suffocating. Yet no one stirred or gave signs of life. ‘Good God! they must be insensible! The smoke—’

Then he remembered his closing Isabel's casement, and he flew round to it, obliged to make a wide circuit, for red-hot pieces of wood and shingles were beginning to fall. And just then, with a sigh, low, but ominous, the wind swept through the cedars, and played in the swamp oaks, and then gave fresh impetus to the devouring flame, which shot up in awful beauty, like some savage beast licking its prey.

‘Isabel! Isabel!’

But to his wild appeal there was neither answer nor stir—not a sign of life. And the crackling, hissing flames raged wilder and madder than ever. Then, for a brief moment, arose one of those struggles when the light of the soul seems quenched, when right and wrong are inextricably blended, when reason has fled, and fierce passions rise up in fearful strength to contend with foregone habit. Habit alone and not principle taking the helm. Fortunate for the poor torn soul at such a time if the habit has hitherto been guided by principle!

‘She is insensible—she will die—perhaps she is dead. O, God! dead! Yet isn't this an answer to my wild prayer—to my sister's prayer? I can go. Who will know I was here? I should be saved from the sin—the disgrace. Am I cruel? Ah no, for life is but agony! Dead—she can no longer beguile me from my hardly earned honours. Dead—she will no longer mix herself up in my dreams with that other Isabel. I shall be free—free—and she, so pure, so good—she will be at rest!’

For an instant he turned away from the burning house—only for an instant. The whole instinct of the man revolted and rose up against such a decree.

‘Is it right, or is it wrong?’ he exclaimed in frantic agony. ‘I had vowed—resolved to give her up. God knows it! God heard it! Isn't it, then, sin to save her? Are not these flames sent in answer to my wild prayer—my former strict devotion—and for hers—my saintly sister's sake?—to take away and remove from my path this delusion of the enemy! She must die! Better for many such to perish, than for discredit to come on the Church—through one of God's chosen ministers too! I will have masses offered for her. To her I had exposed my weakness in a bitter moment. And she must therefore . . . What—die, die horribly? She—Isabel—to die such a cruel death, and I—a man—a brave, strong man, here, able to save her!’

In a moment the old force of habit came back in full sway. In another


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instant he was plunging through that sea of flame—that stifling smoke.

‘Isabel! Isabel!’

But there was no answer. He saw her and seized her, wrapping her in a large cloak which was hanging near the couch on which she lay, dressed. He carried her out. The flame had not yet reached the interior of her room, though the smoke was so thick as to make it hardly possible to breathe. He bore her on—fast—faster—never pausing or looking round. No sooner had he clasped her in his arms than all else was forgotten—all! He stopped at last at the end of a sloping paddock which ran round the farm, and was fenced off because it had been drilled for maize. A fallen tree lay along. On it he sank, and then, with panting breath, and wildly throbbing pulses, he gazed at her whom he carried. ‘Was she dead, after all?’ He laid her down gently and tenderly, taking off his own coat and covering her with it. He knew where some water was to be found, and quickly came back with his handkerchief dripping, which he applied to her forehead and hands. The quiet, and the clear pure air, soon revived the paralysed senses. There was a quiver in the eyelids—a slight movement of the hand. Then all was apparently locked in death again. Kneeling by her, bending over her, he uttered wild words. Now addressing her as a departed soul and praying to her as to some saint. Now speaking as to a living woman, entreating her compassion, urging her to arouse herself that they might go—fly together!—for that she had been given him this night as a prey—as his own. He told her there were other lands where they might go and live, out of reach even of the Church. There they would make their own heaven. Then, when the first strength and heat of this had exhausted itself, his voice sank into low, tender murmurs, and his tears dropped unheeded; while bitter sobs choked his whole frame. Incoherent as were his words, they had a wondrous pathos in them; they were so impassioned, yet so sad.

There was too little light to see it, though there were the first faint indications of a cloudy dawn, but on her face there arose a flush, even while she lay so motionless. At last, at some pause he made, she sighed and moved.

‘Where am I? Is it a dream?’ she said, wildly and trembling very much; ‘I was dreaming of Dr. Mornay,’ and she again closed her eyes.

‘Were you? You are cold! O, let me wrap you up and carry you on—on—’ and he strove to raise her. ‘Isabel! Isabel!’

‘Dr. Mornay'—she was now completely conscious. ‘Where am I? Take me back directly.’

‘Back! where? No—we must go on—onwards, not back! never back! I will carry you.’




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‘Tell me what it means! Do you hear?’ and she raised herself into a sitting position, and spoke with sternness, though her voice was stifled, and she felt so ill she could hardly pronounce a syllable.

‘The fire! Didn't you know? There was fire. God sent it! Jehovah!—for the sacrifice! But I saved you. The house is burnt down. Nothing remains by this time. You and I are saved, and we only. How could I help it? I couldn't let you die—perish! How could I? Now let us go on—on, far, far onwards. It is cold here.’

Isabel looked keenly round her, noting every bush and tree. She was one of those whose senses are seldom confused, but are ready and clear for any emergency.

‘O, Dr. Mornay! You wont, you can't deceive me! I trust you. You are a man of stern principles—a man——. But how ill I feel! For the sake of God—of your own soul—take me back, or——Is it really burnt? are they hurt? Leave me here—call some one—call Charlie Brand here!’ She spoke with increasing terror and urgency.

‘My soul! my soul! what of it? It is you I ask—of you I demand—what is to come to my soul? Honour, glory, power—all was mine,—but for you! You are mine now—wholly mine, given to me this night—a brand from the burning!’note

‘Do as I say,’ she cried, interrupting him, firmly, for she believed him to be mad. ‘If not, I shall walk home as I can.’

Just then a dog came up with his nose to the ground; he gave a sharp bark or two, and ran off again, then came back, and on the slope of the ground which rose suddenly near them, a figure loomed large and dark against the pale grey sky.

‘Thank God!’ breathed out Isabel, faintly, and sinking back in the reaction of joy at this most opportune relief. For it was stout Charlie himself, who was searching about in a state of mind bordering on frenzy at finding Miss Isabel missing.

‘Carry me home, Charlie—quick! Home!’

‘Ay, ay, and here ye be? My—and this gent too! What, then, it's you has been and pulled her out of that blaze, and a credit to ye it is. But how you comed to hear it down away there, and not a soul had glimpse of the truth nigh the very place, passes me.’

‘I was taking a stroll, as I am fond of doing on such a bright night. I saw—happily I saw the fire, and was enabled to—to—’

‘Ay, ye've saved her; a good deed, too. Couldn't afford to part with her, no ways. Good fruit is scarce!’ Charlie said, and in a moment he had lifted Isabel in his arms, winding the cloak round her skilfully. He pointed with his foot to the coat, half kicking it. ‘That's yourn! Best put


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it on! A chill will bring the rheumatics after a sweat.’ It was always observed that when most excited in feeling, Charlie subsided into his roughest dialect. As he was going, he half turned to say, ‘Missis will be going down 'pon her knees, I guess, to ye for this turn. Mortal bad just now, not knowing where her was,’ nodding towards Isabel. ‘Began to think ‘most she must be gone up straight in a chariot of fire!note Couldn't see not a morsel of her, not even a heap of ashes like.’ With that he set himself to walk straight on.

A low, stifled moan reached Isabel as she had closed her eyes, feeling faintish, yet indescribably content to be in Charlie's safe keeping.

‘Stay, Charlie! He saved me from a dreadful fate. Is he hurt? Ask—wait! Father Mornay!’

He came to her side directly, but his eyes were bent on the ground.

‘Thank you, thank you,’ she said. ‘God will bless you for saving me.’

She held out her hand. She never afterwards forgot the burning touch of his as he took it and pressed it to his lips. It seemed to her as if it had left a scorching mark behind, and the sound of his voice was unnatural. It was more like a hollow rattle as he tried to utter something and could not,—probably ‘Good-bye.’

‘Poor man! Don't lose sight of him, Charlie!’

‘Ay, ay! Has done a good turn this here night.’ Charlie strode on. ‘Queer thing, that fire. Only just saved. Moveable house gone, every atom of it. Flames caught the cottage just a little and blackened it, but thanks be, the wind went down, and by tearing away the tarpauling, all was saved.’

‘Any one hurt?’ Isabel asked.

‘Yourself and him yonder. No other. All asleep—had to scream and cry like mad.’

‘But Susan—she slept near me; has anyone thought?’

‘She took care of herself, it seems. Susan didn't fancy the baying of old Noble,’ said Charlie, chuckling at the idea; ‘and on the sly went and took up with Bridget; slept like a top all through, till I threw a pail of water over her to sarve her out.’

‘Why?’ asked Isabel, amused in spite of herself.

‘Because of her not being in the fire, where she ought to have been, aside o' you.’

There was silence then, for Isabel was shivering and feeling ill. Besides which, a terrible fear and perplexing doubt lay heavily on her. It was still all confused—all a dream! To fall asleep with such a scheme, and to wake feeling so stupified, finding herself there, and with him alone, and then those words—those words! Could she ever cease to hear


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them, to feel them, worse than fire flames? He must have been mad, insane. Perhaps from over-excitement or excess of fasting or work; he was subject to attacks of illness; and once had a brain fever. O that she might never see him again! That he might never, never guess that, though unable to move or give signs of life, she had heard, and having heard, wished to swoon really, or even to die, rather than face him again!

Mrs. Lang, having been long since fully roused, received her daughter with hysteric weeping; praising the bravery of her deliverer; blessing and thanking him, and wishing he had come to be cared for; of course he was hurt, too. But it was evident that Isabel needed real care now, and by Charlie's advice, he was allowed to send a messenger for a doctor who lived only ten miles off, and she was meanwhile laid on her mother's bed and left quiet. What a day it was! The alarm given, people from all parts, within a circuit of some twenty miles, crowded to express sympathy and offer help. There was a constant examining of the wreck of the ‘wooden box;’ there were reiterated explanations and questionings as to the probable origin of the fire, and as to its being discovered. Charlie Brand, it seemed, usually awoke once towards morning, and sometimes being anxiously inclined, peeped out to take a survey of his premises. He said, the first thing he saw was a red light over the house. In another moment he was dressed, and, followed by his dog, striding across the paddock. He found the place all but consumed; the last wall fell in with a crash as he came up. He rushed in to see if any one was among the rubbish, and hallooed as, he said, he had never done since he was a boy. His screams had the effect of awaking Mrs. Lang, and then the two maid-servants. But where was Isabel? The suspense, till ‘Noble’ scented her out, had been frightful. Charlie said, ‘I didn't feel so bad and all-over like, when I thought I was to hang.’ Then came the question, But how did Dr. Mornay know of the fire, and knowing it, why had he not raised an alarm? He was not present to explain, so a variety of solutions of the mystery of his conduct were brought forward. Isabel's own version was, that he was so excited and upset, that having rushed in and saved her, he lost all further presence of mind, and as she had been in a swoon, perhaps he dared not leave her. She urged the propriety of some one going to his house to inquire after him. He was certainly very ill, and most likely was hurt, and he ought to be well cared for. Mrs. Lang set off towards evening, herself to inquire and to pour out her thanks. Having sent off the little girls with a kind neighbour, and leaving Isabel asleep under the influence of a soothing draught, the doctor ordering perfect repose and silence for her, Mrs. Lang, after indulging in a fit of weeping and wishing for Kate to talk to, bethought herself of Dr.


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Mornay, and gladly undertook the mission. But her long walk (long for her) was thrown away, except as to filling up some time. The servant, a stupid half-deaf man, said, ‘His Reverence had not been at home since the previous evening. He had not returned at night, but that was not out of the common for him, nor had he been nigh the place for the day.’

‘But surely you ought to search, inquire. He was helping at our fire, and he was probably hurt. Have you taken any steps?’

‘Hurt—no! His Reverence was ever very independent. Here to-day, to-morrow gone! He didn't like to be asked too much for. No doubt he was about his work somewhere, perhaps in Sydney, perhaps after some sick and sorrowing soul. He'd turn up, not a doubt. No fear!’

Mrs. Lang was indignant, and failing in stirring this man's fears or anxiety, she went to the Parsonage and opened her budget of news and her troubles to Mr. Sands, a stout, round-about, suave little man, yet ‘with a little pepper in his composition, too,’ as he always asserted, rubbing his round, fat hands as he spoke, and winding up with a low, but very hearty laugh.

He turned most things into a joke, till it came to some certain point, and then at a knot or some unseen hitch in the smooth running of the thread, he would suddenly ruffle his feathers like a turkey-cock, his face growing a bright ruby red even to his bald pate, and his hitherto smooth speech turned into sputtering and stammering. He was not married, but said to be engaged. He was rather popular, and preached ‘clever’ sermons; and had quite a curiously neat garden in which he dug and watered, and, as he said, ‘took all his recreation.’

To him Mrs. Lang imparted her anxiety about Dr. Mornay.

‘Certainly! Very handsome of you, my dear madam. I always make a point of bowing and being on the best of terms with the Catholic priest and the Presbyterian minister. Beyond that I don't pretend to go. Ah!—very heroic—quite romantic. And how came he so opportunely on the spot? Ah!—fond of moonlight; superior man! I understand likely to receive very high honours—very high indeed—that is, in the Roman Church. My brains! what a delusion it is. Can you conceive such benighted ignorance, Mrs. Lang? But unhappily such a man, such an intellect as Dr. Mornay's does not—can not, in point of fact—receive it. No! Then what does it end in? Ah, that's it—that's exactly the very point! My dear madam, I can prove . . . .’

‘But if he has fainted in the bush, after saving my child! It is horrid to think of!’ Mrs. Lang said, trying to bring him to the point.

‘Very—O, very horrid indeed! Only you see—really I don't wish to hurt your feelings—but he is a very dangerous man—insidious! Indeed


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he is; and as one of my parishioners, one of my fold—allow me to suggest, it is at least a bad example. I see you are harping on probable danger of another kind to himself. Now, I don't apprehend any. He is the most ‘whimmy’ man ever known. His servant is right. We shall hear of him in some freaky way soon. But, O! of course, anything to oblige. Yes, if such be your wish, madam, I'll send men at once.’

And under a doubtful sense of overwhelming politeness, Mrs. Lang left, still very much at sea as to Mr. Sands' real meaning.

She found Isabel much worse, in high fever, as it seemed, and delirious. This called out long dormant, but not actually forgotten or lost powers. Mrs. Lang was once more the active, light-handed ‘Kitty’ of whom her husband had been proud to talk. She watched her child, and forgot her own fatigue in the keen sense of anxiety which came over her, lest this prop, this dutiful ‘helping’ child should be taken from her.

Relief came just as it was very sorely needed; Isabel still seriously ill, and Mrs. Lang beginning to give way. Mr. Jolly and his son rode up about the time for the early dinner. Joyfully did Mrs. Lang go out to meet them.

‘What brought you just as I wanted you?’ she asked.

‘Ill news travels fast,’ Mr. Jolly said. ‘Now, what can we do? Mrs. Jolly bade me bring you, every one of you, back. Bless your soul! she is turning out every room at this moment. Such a contriver as she is! Room and to spare for all. No denial. Well, well; as soon as darling Issy can be moved I mean, of course! I'll have every one of ye! Where are the chicks? Gone! Where's Kate—Miss Lang? The deuce! In Sydney now, and Issy ill and her mamma tired out? That wont do. No, no! Kate aint the girl I take her for if she isn't wanting to be here. Can't she come?’

‘Let me—can't I go with a message?’ Tom ventured to say, colouring up. ‘O, father, if we had but brought the gig now!’

‘As to that, it can be fetched, boy.’

‘On no account,’ said Mrs. Lang. ‘At least for Kate. Couldn't think of it. No, no. It is necessary now, in our altered position, as I always say, to be doubly particular. And, excuse me, for a lady to travel in a gig with a young man is—is——’

‘But the old one, madam; any harm in me, now?’

‘No, of course,’ Mrs. Lang said, with a bow to Mr. Jolly. ‘You really—if you would be so kind as to bring up our dear girl, I know she will be delighted to come. Her heart is so soft and tender. She pines away, poor darling! All her spirits gone—her pretty colour faded.’

Here Tom shuffled his feet very impatiently. Mrs. Lang looked at him in surprise, and then resumed her speech.




  ― 365 ―

‘I am not sure,—but before this sudden and awful disaster (the fire, I mean) Dr. Mornay had been so good as to promise me to see my Katie. And he is so remarkably clever, I am sure he would find or invent some way of bringing her to me at once. That is, supposing his servant is right, and the Doctor is in Sydney. Very mysterious isn't it, Mr. Jolly?’ she added, with a sudden change of tone.

‘What, ma'am—the Doctor going to Sydney?’

‘Yes. I mean his part in our adventure altogether. His saving Issy, and then disappearing. No one can even guess where he is. He appeared quite suddenly as the fire broke out, and then disappeared. But priests—Catholic priests—are, I believe, always mysterious.’

‘Do you mean that fellow, I beg pardon, that gentleman who was trying to get up a church and what not, our way?’ said Mr. Jolly. ‘Ay, ay; a very clever chap I have heard he is. The Pope's right hand—something very high and powerful in disguise, they say. Sent out here for some political purpose, as well as the strengthening their party. Well, now, you do as you think proper, of course; but for my Amelia, now, I'd sooner trust her to a young fellow like Tom there, though he might, whether he meant it or no, make a little love to her, than have her argued into believing black is white by a man of that stamp.’

‘Now I think of it, Mr. Jolly, if I write to Kate, Mr. Merryman is coming in a day or so to his place near this township. He will be too happy to oblige us, I know, and will give Kate a seat in his carriage—a very comfortable one.’

Mrs. Lang had thrown some of her old attempted dignity into her manner. Again she was Mrs. Lang of Langville. Mr. Jolly fell to using his great big purple pocket-handkerchief and clearing his throat.

‘Then let me,’ Tom said, nervously; ‘may I take your letter to Miss Lang? I could go to Mr. Merryman for her, and act as messenger, you see, and anything in fact—and—and I have some business to do in Sydney—eh, father?’

So this matter was arranged thus. Tom was to carry the note, and to give Kate all the help he could, which he took as a high honour, and on his suggestion being received, he took courage, so as to talk, and make some very pertinent remarks as to the fire and its consequences.

Mr. Jolly, finding there was really nothing for him to do, said he should return to his wife, and with many repeated, hearty offers of help, he took leave. First, however, holding a consultation with Charlie Brand about the replacing the lost rooms; the result of which was that, under the said chief's directions, a new building was very soon being erected. When Mrs. Lang hoped he was not running up bills, and so on, he


  ― 366 ―
nodded and grinned, and assured her ‘that there bush, coupled with good will, had the wherewithal to build houses enough for a town as big as Sydney itself!’

Before Isabel was recovered, a neat weather-board building was ‘looking up,’ and to watch the progress of it became a source of amusement to her, as she reclined near her mother's window.

After some little delay and difficulty, Kate arrived, but with Tom as her escort after all. Mr. Merryman was not going to leave Sydney for another fortnight, so Tom, finding that Kate's anxiety to go home was great, took on himself to hire a gig, his own horse being quiet in harness; and with more pride and pleasure than he cared to show, he drove Miss Lang home, without an accident or adventure of any kind.

Isabel was fairly surprised, as a blooming, elegantly dressed person came rustling into her room. Was this the pining, injured Kate? Sydney seemed to have done more than Westbrooke; they had no such blooming specimens here. Mrs. Lang's pride and joy were great, and Isabel had not the heart to give the prudent warning which rose to her lips, when she saw the preparations her mother was making to celebrate this event. Kate's return was to be a fête, and Mrs. Lang's notions were more consistent with Langville style than Westbrooke. After a little, she gave up the notion of a large dinner-party, because Issy was not well enough. But Mr. Sands was invited, Tom pressed to remain, and a note despatched to Dr. Mornay. But still the deaf man shook his head, and said ‘his Reverence had not returned, but he was about his work somewhere, no doubt! He was used to go away quietly like this; no fear, no fear at all!’




  ― 367 ―

21. CHAPTER XXI.

The Newspaper Paragraph.

note

‘Tom! are you grown dumb? Come! I am so dull. Do tell me news, all the news of the dear old place,’ said Isabel, after Tom had remained silent for some few minutes.

She was still in her mother's room, on a couch. It had been found that her leg received a burn, from a falling spark, or piece of wood, probably. The wound, though small, had become troublesome, and now kept her a very unwilling prisoner.

‘I beg your pardon, Issy! I was thinking. But how are you? better?’

‘Yes, only this stupid leg! But of what are you thinking, Tom?’

‘Well, as to your all coming on a visit to us. You see, father and mother expect it, and I was considering, that with contrivance, we could make your sister and Mrs. Lang comfortable. O, I hope you will come!’

‘Mamma may, and the little ones, but indeed, Tom, I cannot! Business, you see—I am become an important personage now. As to Kate—well—I don't know, she is better and happier, perhaps it would be a pity to take her where old things must return to her mind.’

‘But if you mean——They are all gone, every one, Issy! We would do all we could to make her merry. The air is good, and——Issy!’ he said, drawing his seat close to her couch, and speaking in almost a whisper, while his face grew crimson—

‘If that would be any relief—I mean of course it would! But will you tell her—that—that—I am always so very busy, you see, that I am never at home. I catch my meals anywhere, don't come in and sit down; you


  ― 368 ―
understand? So, she needn't mind me—or—or if she ever for a moment desired anything I could do for her, there, I am within call in a moment. You understand?’

‘Yes, quite. O Tom, that isn't the way! You good, blundering soul, can't you see? No, indeed! I shall not say so, nor will you, I hope, ever be tempted to act so—to give up your rightful, honoured place as your father's son, in your own house! Besides, Tom, Kate wouldn't, couldn't wish it, or like you the better for it.’

‘Wouldn't she? I only meant I wouldn't, for all the world, be in her way or obtrude myself. Though as to not loving and adoring her,—that, Issy, I can never help doing, so long as I live. But I know so well—don't you think I know—and feel—and see—that I am not like those young fellows she meets? We are quiet simple folks—honest and true, I hope; but, bless you! I see the difference. Yet—sometimes—May I tell you, Isabel?—you are always so very kind! Well, I have had a pleasant thought, that is, if—if—your sister—’

‘Call her Kate!’

‘Kate! Ah! but I don't think she likes me to do so. But, however, to you, just to you, I will. If Kate should happen not to marry, and her heart is so good and so pure, that she can't forget that—that—(but no, I will not abuse him) though he clearly has forgotten her—is she should live on as she is, and in time, years hence, she should, in the natural run of things, ever feel a little deserted, when younger people come and push her out rudely, as it is the way of the world;—if then her feelings should have changed a little, and if I only can carry out my resolutions, and have lived as I ought, so as to be not wholly unworthy, it pleases me, Issy, to think, that then I may, perhaps, succeed. She may then allow me to—to—love her—to work for her!’

‘When she is grown old and ugly?’

‘That she never, never can be! Certainly not in my eyes!’ he answered, with warmth.

‘Well, Tom, all I can say is, and always have said, I admire and respect you, and the wonder is, and always will be, how Kate can be so blind. Ah! Tom, you would aim at the highest and best! But why didn't you content yourself with poor me?’

Tom laughed. He thoroughly understood her. ‘I know I wouldn't give up or forfeit your regard—may I say regard?’

‘Regard and affection and respect and interest and admiration and . . . .’

‘Stop, Issy, that sounds like mocking me! No, but your regard, affection, for so it is between us, is my great pleasure. And it is a wish,


  ― 369 ―
pretty nearly as deep in my heart as the other, that some day—you see we need patience in this life, Issy—things will work round in time—that one of these days, I may see you joined to the only one worthy of you, and exactly suited. You know who I mean, I see!’

‘Yes, of course I do. But I hope, Tom, your own wish has more foundation, more possibility about it, than this. Consider, even if your first premises are right—consider, now—nonsense! Yet, I own, I do wish we could only hear something satisfactory of him, and . . . has mamma said anything to you, Tom, or to your father?’

Tom looked down, grave and sorry. ‘Yes, Isabel, I can't deny but she has; very distressing, and to me utterly unaccountable. But surely she doesn't really mean it?’

‘I don't know. Sometimes I resolve to think it is just one of poor mamma's whims, when she gets low and into that mood. She was always rather suspicious, I think, and latterly she was sensitive and jealous. And no one can blame her for resenting any affront to poor papa. Nor can affronts, whether intended or not, be denied. Unhappily, they were always misunderstanding each other. Circumstances added to it, and their tempers were so opposed. Their views of everything so different!’

‘Yes, yes, all that I grant; and even that Mr. Herbert could be disdainful and contemptuous, rather imperious too.’

‘Yes; but remember, he was provoked, Tom. There was not one near him, his equal as to education and so on. It was a trial to him, a jar to his peculiar tastes, and he unfortunately did not make allowance; and I always shall think his sister's crude, jealous temper irritated him, and that with an influence less sensitive, less egotistical, in fact, he would have left off all that . . .’

‘Quite so. O, I do like to hear any one do him justice, Issy! It is so horrid to hear them running him down; pitiful creatures, who were afraid to breathe in his presence. But now he is gone, that he is absent, they throw dirt and take their petty revenge by picking out and exaggerating all his faults. But all the poorer kind adore him, and so do we, all of us!’

Isabel had blushed at the beginning of Tom's sentence, but was now calm and cool again, even a little pale, and she bit her lips as she said, ‘After the trial, after all the evidence and the talking, to speak or think of that dreadful—excuse me, but so it was, suspicion, is so very bad. Mamma little knows how she wounds me to pain each time she alludes to it, or I see the thought is passing through her though she does not speak.’

‘Don't distress yourself, Isabel, Mrs. Lang doesn't really believe it


  ― 370 ―
more than I do. Only you see, she is troubled and sore, poor soul, and then report says he, Mr. Herbert, is getting quite a rich man in the old country. If he was poor or in distress, I'd bet, Mrs. Lang would be the first to come round and help him, and all those shadows would vanish out of her mind.’

‘Yes; you are right there, Tom,’ said Isabel, brightening with pleasure, both at the truth of his remark, and the good clear sense he showed when not under constraint, and confused with shyness. ‘Yes! that is the root of it, after all,—jealousy. Well, it is harder to rejoice with those who rejoice, than to weep with those who weep. Don't you think so?’

‘To some. But am I tiring you? They said I must not stay long.’

‘O, no! you do me such good. 'Tis such a comfort to be able to say all this.’

Here Kate came up to the window. She was outside, and leaning her elbows on the sill, she stood in a frame, as it were, with the rich scarlet geranium all round her. She had been walking, and held flowers in her hand, which she handed to her sister.

‘I wish you could come out, Issy. It is so nice here. The garden is so improved. Couldn't you be drawn in a chair somehow?’

‘Where is the chair?’ said Isabel, smiling, but gazing out wistfully too, for fresh air and sunshine were meat and drink to her.

‘How stupid of me!’ exclaimed Tom, rising, and tapping his forehead. Then, without a word, he was rushing out of the room.

‘Tom!’ said Isabel, surprised and rather provoked at his not remaining and talking on pleasantly, now Kate was present.

‘O, I beg pardon—only—good-bye! I forgot—that is—some business. Good-bye. May I come again?’

And without even a glance towards Kate he was gone.

‘What a funny animal it is!’ she said, smiling, and gathering the scarlet blossoms.

‘I don't know what has suddenly struck him now; but I wish you could have heard how well he has been talking. Tom is a sensible, good-hearted fellow as ever lived—improved too.’

‘Yes. I thought he had picked up a little polish, though there is room for more still. Our cousin thought him very handsome,’ said Kate, rather affectedly.

‘Well, and so he is.’

‘That is a matter of taste. He is too dark and ruddy—too stout. But mamma is waiting for me, Issy. I brought you the newspaper, sent here by that polite Mr. Sands. It will pass away the time till I come in again.’




  ― 371 ―

So she gave her the Sydney Morning Herald, and turned away to meet her mother, who was examining the vegetable garden and orchard.

‘More failures! Good gracious me! I hope poor Mr. Vance is not actually ruined. His poor little delicate wife and numbers of small children! Ah—here's something in my way!’ and she read among the advertisements about some good shingles being wanted, and stuck a pin there to show to Charlie Brand—for he had a lot of ‘shingles’ to dispose of.

‘And here's something else. O dear! O dear! ‘Wanted, a governess, to teach the rudiments, &c.,—will be treated as one of the family. Good testimonials required. Apply to X. W., Shorts, stationer, George-street, Sydney.’ I'll answer it forthwith.’

Then she idly skimmed over the paper, with her mind occupied by the reflections roused by the above advertisement. Conning over her letter, imagining the interview which might follow, wondering who X. W. was in reality, and how she should play her new part, &c.

Suddenly the whole expression of her face was changed. Every feature seemed in a state of tension—the eyes distended with terror, and her breathing fast and hurried. Eagerly she read on, growing dizzy, for the words seemed to dance up and down, and were all colours, till everything at last was flame—bright, burning flame; and, with a scream, covering her face as if to guard it from something, she fell back in her cushions—to all appearance fainted.

The paper fell on the ground.

Mrs. Lang came in, hurried as usual, fretting a little, and scolding the maid for not having the tea ready and prepared. ‘Miss Isabel ought to have had something quite an hour ago. It is very important, the doctor says, that she have nourishment every two hours or so.’

‘There! didn't I say so. Look at that. She has fainted—Kate! Kate!’

Luckily, Kate was at hand, and there in a moment.

They revived her after a time, and she declared she had not fainted—she had been seized with a panic and a giddiness. She had read—or had she dreamt it? and she looked half bewildered into Kate's face, who did not know what to make of it.

‘Where is the paper?’ Isabel cried with sudden recollection. ‘Dream!—no! it is there! Read it yourselves. What does it mean? Horror! Horrible! O, mamma—O, Kate! Such a terrible, dreadful thing!’

They exchanged glances of wonder and fright—uttered some words meant to be soothing, but so foreign to the purpose that they were


  ― 372 ―
irritating. At last Kate lifted the newspaper, and observing the pin at the advertisement, said, ‘I don't understand what it is all about.’

‘Read it, Kate! not that! but—about the fire here—and—and—O, mamma! Doctor Mornay is dead!’

At this she burst into a fit of weeping. And Kate, searching the newspaper, at last came on a paragraph headed—

‘Shocking Catastrophe.’

She pointed to it, and whispered to her mother to take it into the next room and leave her with Isabel to follow as soon as she could.

Mrs. Lang and Tom read an account of some gentleman who had gone out on a botanizing expedition in the bush around the north shore, that sandy soil being famous for the abundance and variety of its wild flowers. While searching about, they had discovered the body of a man lying in a very sequestered spot. This corpse had been afterwards identified as the celebrated and respected Father or Doctor Mornay. A small phial was found tightly clenched in one hand. In his waistcoat pocket there was a parcel, which contained a locket with a curl of a woman's hair, and the word ‘Bella,’ in old English letters worked in enamel.

There was also this written on the back of a letter in pencil—

‘ ‘A poor sinner closes a life of toil and penance, alone and in shame, lost in a moment of fiery trial. As you desire to be delivered from purgatory yourself, entreat for the prayers of the faithful in behalf of this erring soul!

‘ ‘Ora pro me! once God's faithful servant!note Let the locket and sister's hair lie on his poor broken heart and return with it to dust. In that he has sinned, he dies. Mother of Heaven, intercede! Father, have mercy! God, the Judge, Thou knowest all!’ ’

‘The writing was irregular and illegible, and some words had been carefully blotted over.

‘The result of the inquest was a verdict of ‘Suicide under temporary insanity, brought on by an injury supposed to be received in his late heroic efforts to save the life of a lady from fire.’

‘Many of the Roman Catholic priests attended, and there was quite a crowd on the day of the funeral, which was conducted with great pomp and solemnity; a sermon being preached in his usual eloquent style, by,’ &c. &c.

In another part of the sheet, there was a detailed, but very incorrect account of the fire, breaking out in the dwelling of the widow of our late respected fellow-colonist, the well-known Mr. Lang, of Langville, &c.


  ― 373 ―
There was also another paragraph quoted from the Catholic newspaper, giving a history of Dr. Mornay's birth and life to this effect. ‘That he was the only son of emigrant parents, who had taken refuge in the south of Ireland, where the father had earned a poor living by teaching his native language, French, at some schools. The mother had been Italian, and to her native city, Rome, the son had been sent as a youth, to be educated according to the tenets of the members of the Society of Jesus. There had been two sisters, one became a nun in a monastery in Ireland, the other had been struck blind by lightning, and was a well-known character in her own place, a voluntary Sister of Charity, ever ministering to others, after devoting herself to her parents till their deaths. A romantic attachment had subsisted between ‘Sister Isabella’ and her brother, who at first showed no vocation for the priesthood, and gave some trouble by his fiery and determined character. But the superiors had taken the measure of his intellect (not that it was so expressed in this biographical outline) and foresaw that he would be a worthy member of their body. It was however owing to his sister's earnest entreaties and her own exalted piety and devotion, that he finally became a candidate for orders. His future progress was described, and in forcible terms, it was told how he had outstripped all his fellows in devotion and zeal. How he had early displayed a great talent for the management of intricate affairs, a clearness of head and power of adaptation to circumstances, wonderful for his age. He had been looked upon as one of their great props, trusted by all his superiors. Just at this very time, had been sent from Rome all the necessary papers to advance him to the highest authority and dignity. The Pope had sent for him, and great honours were talked of as awaiting this distinguished servant of the Church, as soon as he arrived in the Holy City. He had much desired to leave a well-organized school and system in the Westbrooke district, it was said, where Catholic families abounded. By his own request, he had been sent to that place as the resident priest, and the result of his labours showed what he had accomplished. A fire breaking out in a neighbour's premises and dwelling-house, Dr. Mornay, in his usual prompt and self-forgetting way, was on the spot before any one else had received the alarm, and only in time to rescue an interesting young woman from a shocking death. He found her senseless from the smoke. At the risk of his own life he bore her out, through the raging flames and stifling smoke. But it was supposed that he received a blow in the head by some falling rafter, as there was a slight discoloration on the brow, and that this and the shock, falling on a much-tried constitution, had affected the brain. There was no other way of accounting for the tragedy which wound up the sad event, and deprived the Holy Church of one of her stanchest and most able sons.’ It went on further to describe the solemn procession, the crowd of mourners who had gathered from even very distant parts, to follow this holy man to his last rest, testifying to the respect and reverence they had for him, &c. &c. At the end it was hinted ‘that what rendered his heroism and brave self-devotion more touching and interesting, was that this young lady he had been so earnest to save, had given every promise of becoming a convert to his teaching. His heart had been intently set on reclaiming this soul from heresy and error, and he had looked forward to placing her safe within the true fold. There was even some reason to suppose that this person had a strong desire, opposed in the most tyrannical way by her friends, to offer herself and her life to God, by taking the vows and the veil in the monastery near Paramatta,’note &c. &c.

This assertion was followed by a sharp contradiction in this style, ‘We have good authority for saying that this is merely a pleasant flight of the fancy, and wholly unfounded in fact, for there never was the smallest idea of the said young lady leaning towards Romanism,’ &c. &c.

We must leave it to the imagination to picture the effect these several announcements had on the several persons with whom our tale is connected. Suffice it to say, there was little else thought of or spoken of for some time. And it was not to be wondered at that this, as much as she heard of it, and luckily much was kept from her, had the effect of throwing Isabel back in a relapse, during which her life was in great danger. Nor did she lose the after effects of this illness for some months. When she again took her place among the family circle, with her kind and able friend, Mrs. Farrant, at her side, it was observed that a change had come to Isabel. It might be the consequence of physical weakness, or it might be the shadow of some solemn impression, which had sobered her down. And though it could not be said she was not cheerful, or that she was sad, every one felt the difference. Mrs. Farrant said to her husband, that it was what she had always looked for, ‘the finishing touch, as it were, to bring all that was crude into one mellow tone.’ The little sisters said Issy was much ‘more gentle and pretty than she was;’ and Kate remarked that she used to be afraid of saying some things to Issy lest she should be ‘snubbed,’ but now she could tell her any and everything.’

The Westbrooke fire and ‘that terrible suicide,’ as well as the hint as to Isabel's probable conversion to Rome, occupied the public for some time. But very soon all traces of the fire disappeared, and that ceased to


  ― 375 ―
be spoken of. And it did not suit Dr. Mornay's friends to encourage too much investigation into his melancholy and mysterious end. His place was soon to all appearance supplied. And who was there to mourn him or shed a tear of pity for his sad fate?

Other events crowded in and had their day. A young colony, like a young child, is more bent on pushing onward, than prone to look back. Even with the Langs, being comparatively a new acquaintance, he soon faded out of their daily life—to all but Isabel. Like a sudden meteor light, he had crossed their path. ‘Kind, courteous and agreeable,’ they said. ‘Rather odd, too;’ but all was accounted for by the word Priest. Unknown and unguessed were all his struggles and his agony. But when the sound of his pleading, despairing voice, echoed in Isabel's ears, and again in memory she felt that burning touch, she would in silent awe, mingled with a sad and tender pity, utter in her own heart a prayer that he might at last rest in peace. Her own severe illness and the relapse mercifully spared her from the pain and annoyance of knowing herself to be the subject of talk and wonder. By the time she returned to daily life and society, the world had forgotten and passed on to other things.




  ― 376 ―

22. CHAPTER XXII.

Changed Circumstances.

note

It was the second anniversary of Mr. Lang's funeral; and Isabel had given her pupils a holiday, leaving them rather puzzled to account for the favour. A half holiday had been expected because of Mr. and Mrs. Farrant's coming; but the other half, granted ‘because it is a day I like to mark,’ was a great puzzle.

‘It can't be a birthday or a wedding-day, because she was crying in her own room this morning.’

‘Ah! but it may be the birthday of some one dead now,’ suggested ten years old to eight years old. Whereupon they ran off to enjoy themselves.

They were the daughters of Mr. and Mrs. Moreton Scott, of Currajong Park, a good estate, situated some thirty miles from Westbrooke.

Within, the house was comfortable, roomy, and lofty, though scantily furnished; but without, it was rough and only half-finished, waiting for those ‘better times’ so many looked for, and, as yet, in vain. Yet Mr. Scott fared better than many others, and although forced to study economy, there was no poverty, and he could afford to wait and lay by, as it were, till prices rose. He was a good-tempered, genial man, fond of showing hospitality, and very proud of his children. He had a theory that the mistresses of colonial households could not make good teachers, however good mothers. There was not leisure to devote sufficient patience and regularity, which he considered the main requisites in the school-room. His boy was at the King's School, and he made strict


  ― 377 ―
inquiries for a lady to whom he could entrust his girls. A ‘lady’ was essential, and to insure this point he would be content to waive a few accomplishments, if necessary. Through a friend of Mr. Farrant's Mr. Scott heard of Isabel. He knew Mr. Lang very slightly, and he was in no haste to consent, but contrived first to meet Isabel at a friend's house, without her being conscious of his object.

Her open and intelligent countenance, unaffected manners, together with the gentle and quiet tone which she had fallen into, charmed him at once. Matters were speedily settled, and in him she found a thoroughly kind friend. Mrs. Scott she did not like quite so well. That lady was considered as a clever woman and excellent manager. Her judgment was thought almost infallible, and her advice was sought by many persons. She was in manner cold and unimpressible, holding it beneath a sensible woman to allow any impulse or ebullition of feeling to escape. ‘A uniform self-possession and complete self-control was,’ she said, ‘the mainspring of a woman's character; without it, nothing could go rightly.’

Once this would have been irksome to Isabel. But now it seldom troubled her. She was herself a grave and self-controlled woman, rather than the wild impulsive girl she was. She assured her mother, on her only visit home, that she was content and happy, though Mrs. Lang lamented over her gravity, and thought it a pity that Issy should lose that ‘winning and spirited way of her own, which always took people. If her father could see her, he would not know his pet again!’ At which Isabel only smiled quietly, and glancing at her sister, thought that Kate was not so changed. She had recovered her spirits and looks, and was even prettier than ever, succeeding very fairly in her duties as mistress, though she did not keep the little girls in much order, and they spent much of their time with Mrs. Farrant, who was the friend of all the party. Isabel, spending but little on herself, was proud and pleased to save from her own earnings what procured many a little indulgence for her mother or advantage for her brothers. They were doing well, and Isabel supplied Willie with an allowance for clothes and pocket-money while he remained articled to a solicitor in Sydney.

There was much to say between the two friends. Mrs. Farrant spoke of the old district, and said that the overseer at Warratah Brush kept the place and farm in capital order; but did not seem to know what Mr. Herbert's plans were about it. Isabel turned her head away and asked how the Jollys were. The next moment she coloured up, as Mrs. Farrant reminded her that Isabel had herself seen them last; Mr. Jolly and his son having come out of their way to see her a week since.




  ― 378 ―

‘There is no mistaking their content,’ Mrs. Farrant observed. ‘You think it is coming round, do you not?’

‘Yes. To say truly, Kate, in to-day's letter, alluded to it very frankly, and has evidently made up her mind. Dear old Tom! at last!’ Isabel said, with some of her old energy. ‘He deserves to be happy.’

‘Yes. What a parading, flaring account that was in the paper of the wedding of A. Fitz, Esq.!’

‘Well, he will reap as he sows. Do you remember his mimicking Mr. Hogg once?—his papa-in-law now.’

‘They say that the lady herself is very pretty and has been well brought up, and she is enormously rich. Indeed, all the party seem to be flourishing; Mr. Vesey is said to be gathering wealth fast, and I did hear some rumour of their return to England, for which I should not grieve.’

‘Don't be spiteful, Mrs. Farrant! I don't care now about them a bit. I am so obliged to him for the wedding. It was Tom's best friend, I believe.’

‘Would Kate have refused him but for that?’

‘I think so. She had a sort of feeling which I cannot understand at all. Not that she cares at all for him, of course. She has long given that up. Why—she could not do so!’

There followed a pause. Isabel was looking out of window absently, and Mrs. Farrant, watching her, heard a low sigh. Presently she came behind her, and laying her hand on Isabel's shoulder, she whispered— 'You must not despair. Take Tom's case as an omen.’

‘Of what? Despair of what?’ she exclaimed, blushing deeply. ‘No, no,’ she added, shaking her head. ‘The case is so very different. As to thinking of it in the way you suppose, I do not—indeed I do not. Whatever there was of that, I battled with it as unworthy of myself—incompatible with self-respect. Yet—I own—yes, there are moments when I remember old days and wonder at the sudden breaking up of a sincere friendship. I can't make it out. Turn it which way I will, there is no accounting for the neglect.’

‘Only one way—and a sad one,’ put in her friend.

‘Ah!—Yet even were it that—if he had again quarrelled with my father and imagined himself as insulted—for he was touchy and proud—yet he owed it to me, at least to write a line to say so. Yes, after—after all that passed—all he said—he owed thus much to me. It is not to be overlooked, I think. No! I cannot quite forgive him! And since—all this time—having heard, as needs he must, all that has happened, still not a word, not a message even, for my mother or any one of us. Even you and Mr. Farrant included. There is but one solution of the riddle.’




  ― 379 ―

‘I don't know. I can't quite give it up yet. My faith is strong in him—so far that there is, or he fancies there is, some great reason for the silence. And moreover, with all his fortune and so on, I also believe that he suffers—yes, Isabel, a man like him cannot be so wholly changed all at once. He suffers, I repeat.’

‘He is angry, if you like!’

‘Well—Time will show! Perhaps the very next ship that comes may bring tidings.’

‘Then it will be soon; Mr. Scott heard that a ship was seen beyond the Heads, waiting for a wind. But I expect nothing. I did for a long time, but it would not do, it interfered with everything. I used strong measures and stifled expectation and—hope.’

‘I hear various rumours of Miss Isabel Lang's cold and hard heart,’ Mrs. Farrant said presently, and smiling.

‘How so? O, don't listen to such nonsense!’ Isabel rejoined, with heightened colour.

‘I don't want to see you a governess much longer—and—if . . . . '

‘ 'Tis a good trade. I am content. But when Katie goes, I shall return home, which I like better. I consider myself a fortunate person. I always did wish for something to do, for work and real interests, and here I have plenty of both. I am sure it is the happiest lot.’

‘O yes! Yet I hope the work and the interests may be changed into others still deeper and pleasanter.’

‘You are meaning marriage. You married folks never think there can be any real happiness out of matrimony. It is unfair to make it so much the only object and end of life. I never had any real vocation in that way, and I mean to keep as I am.’

‘All very well! But surely, Isabel, you must grant there is no other tie in life so strong and binding; it is woman's natural state.’

‘It may be; but as all cannot marry, it is lucky if some persons do not wish it. When mamma has fretted and vexed at my obstinacy, I have soberly and seriously set about considering the question. After all, it is a matter for reflection—a grave business. And I never could endure the very notion! I should be like the kicking mare yesterday, who teased Mr. Scott so. She would go well enough alone, pull and drag famously, but yoked with another, not a step would she stir, and a fine mischief she did. No, I could not take it easily! Some do, and then it is very well. Now! what are you looking at me in that way for? What have I said, or implied?’

‘Nothing! Yet I may draw my own conclusions, and . . . .’

‘If you conclude anything from it you are altogether . . . .’ But she


  ― 380 ―
stopped short, looked at Mrs. Farrant, and then twisting her watch-chain, she added—-'No, I can't quite say that. The truth is, I have a feeling—that is—I can't feel as if all had never been. It does influence me, I dare say, so far, that—I can't explain it; but I do assure you, it is not from any idea of hope. No, I am too proud for that! Besides, I am really very happy, more contented than most of my acquaintance, I think.’

Mrs. Farrant kissed Isabel.

‘Pride had a fall, my dear,’ she said, laughing. ‘But you are quite right, and you ought to be happy if living for others is the way to be so. Nevertheless, I must hope for your sake, and every one's sake, we shall yet learn something. Half our troubles come from want of understanding each other, and we shall find out the mistake here some day, sooner or later.’

This was their only tête-è-tête. The Farrants left on the following day, having greatly cheered Isabel, she assured them; and as she smiled at them, standing by the gate, and her rich hair blowing about in the breeze, they remarked to each other that she looked bright enough! ‘If only he could see her as she is now,—become so entirely what he always wished and expected!’ was Mrs. Farrant's observation.

‘If—If!’—returned her husband. ‘But he does not deserve anything. I cannot excuse him; such intolerable pride must work sorrow and woe. Nothing and no one should have been suffered to come between them. I am grievously disappointed in him. But thank goodness, she survives it, and is looking remarkably well and handsomer than ever. I never saw a person so visibly improve as she does.’




  ― 381 ―

23. CHAPTER XXIII.

Mr. Scott's Guest.

note

‘Have you nearly finished your letter? papa says; for the boy is ready to go!’ said one of the children, a few days after the Farrants' visit.

‘So early?’ and Isabel looked at her watch.

‘Yes. There is a gentleman come with papa, and papa wants to send about his luggage, which was to come by the mail cart, and the boy is to take the letters at the same time.’

‘Very well; here is mine.’

Then Isabel sat down to correct an exercise, which being very full of faults, somewhat tried her patience. Before it was quite done the door opened.

‘Miss Lang!’ said Mrs. Moreton Scott, coming in, ‘I want to ask you a favour. Will you be so good as to make and pour out the tea for me? I have a headache, and Moreton has brought back a visitor, rather a stiff difficult person to entertain, too, from what I saw.’

Isabel of course acceded to the request. She rather liked Mr. Scott's way of bringing in a guest uninvited beforehand and unexpected; it gave a little variety to their party. This evening she felt so happy, she was quite up to any enjoyment. She was passing on, but heard one of the little girls say—'What is his name, mamma?’

‘Herbert—Mr. Herbert,’ was the answer.

It stopped her short in her way down-stairs. She felt the rail of the banister shake a little under her tight grasp. Her heart, too, beat very


  ― 382 ―
hard, and then, with a flutter, seemed to be dying away.

‘Nonsense! There are other Herberts!’ was her first thought. The next was, ‘Well, wasn't I wishing—praying—for news! And if this should be!—only it can't. It is absurd. How odd it was to hear the name!’

Rousing her courage, and by great effort stilling herself, she went on her way, and came against two gentlemen as they left the drawing-room. Mr. Scott was talking of his house plan, and leading the way to his dressing-room, saying that the spare bed-room would be ready presently, meanwhile this would do.

‘Ah, Miss Lang! Good day! Have I startled you? Didn't see you coming at all! The children well and good, I hope? Let me introduce this gentleman, Mr. Herbert, to you. Miss Lang—that is, properly and correctly, Miss Isabel Lang, I believe—Mr. Herbert.’

It was himself! Isabel's hand was ready to meet his, but he merely bowed, scarcely, as she thought, looking at her. Fortunately she was aware in time of his intention to ignore any previous acquaintance, and had sufficient presence of mind to return his bow. They passed on, and she heard Mr. Scott's voice saying—

‘Governess to our girls—but a lady. I would have that;—quite a lady. You must remember Lang of Bengala? And his sad end—but I forget, wasn't that after you left us?’

Then the door shut, and she heard no more.

‘Well,’ continued Mr. Scott, ‘his family were reduced to almost poverty and retired to a small place which luckily had been settled on the wife. This girl, I am told, did wonders—acted as a son might have done, and supported the family and cleared off some debts of honour which could not be legally claimed, all by her active and sensible management. I believe she supplied pretty nearly all Sydney in firewood. It was a wonderful speculation, and answered too. Then she turned governess. Between ourselves, there was a great fuss—a hue and cry—about that wretched man Mornay—De Mornay—as he ought to be styled. He had got hold of the poor thing and pretty nearly converted her, so they say. But—but—I own I attach no importance to such rumours; and my wife and I were saying the other day, no one can conduct herself better than she has done, or be a better Protestant and Churchwoman. In fact, she is quite a favourite here; and it is our principle, you see, to make the governess, our children's teacher and companion, one of the family. I say this because you may wonder—some people object, you know. But unless you are changed, Herbert, I believe you are no stickler for caste, eh?’

So Mr. Scott rattled on, not noticing the change in his friend's face,


  ― 383 ―
or his attitude of suffering, as, instead of washing or brushing, he sank into a chair and buried his head in his hands. Only once he spoke. When Mr. Scott said—

‘You knew Lang?’

‘Yes,’ he answered.

But the tone did not encourage Mr. Scott to prolong the subject. He asked if Mr. Herbert was ill or tired. Then advised him to make haste, unless he liked cold tea. And then he hoped he did not dislike children, because it was one of the customs of the house that they took their meals with their parents. If Mr. Herbert found their habits not disagreeable, Mr. Scott hoped heartily he would make real use of their house. First, to recruit—for the voyage had surely done him no good—and secondly, as a resting-place till he had settled his plans. It was nothing with a good horse to ride to Paramatta any day, and then proceed by steamer, if he had business in Sydney.

Mr. Herbert ‘was obliged. Liked children, better than older people generally, and hoped they would not alter a single custom for him.’

‘O, we never do that! That is my notion of hospitality—not turning your household upside down and putting on company manners, with the best china, &c. No, we jog on, one day as another, make our friends welcome, give them our best, and let them feel free to come or to go, and that they're not hindering anything by remaining just as long as it is agreeable to them. Now—ready? I cut the bread and butter, I beg to observe; and I hear voices.’

He led the way, and pointed to a chair by his wife as Mr. Herbert's seat; Isabel was screened by the urn, and too busy in doing justice to her task to look up or say a word. Conversation was not very brisk. Mrs. Scott was always slow, and this evening she was tired. The children were awed into silence and good behaviour at the look of Mr. Herbert's face. Mr. Scott talked for all, nor was he content long that Isabel should remain in the background. He really liked her to be noticed and appreciated; partly from his genuine kindness and liking of her, and partly also because he was somewhat proud of his choice, proud of having so agreeable and undoubted a lady as instructress for his children. Mr. Scott's wife, children, house, horse, cat and dog, were one and all ‘singularly good and superior.’ He was a happy man, content with and proud of all that bore the mark of M.S. Yet his egotism was never offensive—only kindly.

The tea seemed such a long affair! Isabel dared scarcely glance towards the corner on her right hand side, where, next Mrs. Scott, Mr. Herbert sat. She had a vague impression that he looked ill, and that he


  ― 384 ―
was not so hearty and hungry after his ride as Mr. Scott was. He talked but little at first, but after a while he shook off his silence and entered upon English topics, politics, &c., with much of his old and familiar manner, graver, perhaps, and not so sharp and dogmatic. Perhaps, Isabel thought, the mixing with good society, finding his equals among intellectual men, had cured him of his habit of shutting himself up, or being dictatorial, at feeling himself standing alone and above his companions. Once it flashed across her, ‘Is it possible he did not catch the name, and that I am too altered to be recognised?’ But, no, that would not hold. And she was forced to receive the fact that he was entirely estranged; offended beyond power of reconciliation. For she knew by his whole look and manner that he was angry. When tea was over, and Isabel retired to the school-room, making some excuse for not joining them in the drawing-room that evening, she gave way to a feeling of overwhelming misery. ‘Could it be true? Had she seen him? And what a meeting! It had been very bad to wait in suspense. But now even that was gone. There was nothing more to expect or to hope. It was very bitter. Yet she might learn to get over it in time, and to consider her past life as dead and buried quite;’ so she reasoned.

Mrs. Scott found her in tears, tears such as she had never seen from Isabel, or perhaps fancied it was possible for her to shed. She looked surprised and a little reproachful. But the children were not there, so that the example of weakness and excitability would not injure them. Isabel reading some of her thoughts, stammered out as well as she could, ‘That she was very sorry to be so weak, so foolish; but old times would sometimes come back to her mind.’

To which Mrs. Scott answered, ‘Yes; no doubt it is very sad, very. But it is morbid and injurious to indulge in these regrets. It is a bad plan to keep days, and very bad to hoard up old letters. You must make exertion and compose yourself. Now, let me beg of you to come with me to the drawing-room and force yourself to enter into whatever topic is discussed. It is painful and disagreeable, like bitter medicine, I know, but not the less needful.’

But Isabel pleaded to be excused for this once. She was tired. She would go to bed and sleep. Mrs. Scott should see that she would not so transgress again. But, O, she thought,’that I could fly away—go and hide myself! How can I suffer his being here? Perhaps, however, he will go at once. He did not expect to see me here, I think, though he was so still, so unmoved apparently, on hearing my name. I little thought how difficult it would be.’




  ― 385 ―

24. CHAPTER XXIV.

The Caricature.

note

How easy it is to make resolutions! To say overnight, ‘To-day I have been silly, but to-morrow I will be wise and collected. So and so must be my feelings,’ &c. But however diligently we may have conned the lesson, a very small deviation in any of the circumstances we have imagined, upsets all the pre-conceived plan. People look and speak and act otherwise than we expected, and our answer, which we had so cleverly settled, wont fit at all. Then we are awkward and nervous, and so gradually or at once, down falls our wonderful construction for defence.

Isabel determined to be very indifferent and calm. It would not do to be silent and grave, and so to call forth any remark from Mr. and Mrs. Scott. She must go on precisely as she had always before done with their guests. Yet she must guard against the slightest appearance of meeting him even halfway. She thought she had schooled herself to be, as well as to seem to be, uninterested and indifferent with regard to him and his movements. But this was difficult in his presence. Mr. Herbert probably found no such trouble, for it was at his option to go or to stay; yet he remained, expressing his enjoyment of the peace and quiet of the country, after the heat and bustle of Sydney, a few days of which had made him much disposed to taking his passage back again as soon as possible, and throwing up all the settlement of business which he came to conduct.

‘What, then you were not ill from the voyage?’ asked Mr. Scott.




  ― 386 ―

‘No; I am a capital sailor. I don't own to being ‘ill’ at all, as you will have it I was. It was pure bother and worry.’

‘You must find great changes even in the time of your absence!’ remarked Mrs. Scott.

‘Yes, of course! Yes, many, wonderful changes!’ It was also clearly ascertained in conversation that Mr. Herbert had lived in the same district with the Langs, a fact which Mr. Scott had forgotten, or was ignorant of; for the acquaintance begun at Bath, had not been much renewed in the colony. Mr. Herbert merely assented dryly, and turned the subject directly, which was put down by the Scotts as out of delicacy to Miss Lang's feelings. Isabel, on her part, also simply allowed the fact, and that she had not deemed a formal introduction necessary.

‘O!’ said Mrs. Scott, ‘but of course he didn't know you; young people change and grow.’

And on the idea that Isabel had been very young, for Mr. Herbert had once said he knew her as ‘a child,’ Mrs. Scott did not think it at all odd that their acquaintance was so slight. But though circumstances were thus smooth and easy, and by a little management she was never thrown in his way except when the whole party were assembled, Isabel actually suffered from the continual strain it was to one of her impulsive temperament, to keep up the required unmoved exterior. After a few days, she became restless in his absence, listening and watching for even the sound of his voice or footstep, though in his presence it was almost worse. Every turn of his voice, each movement, excited her to explain to herself its meaning; unconsciously she watched his incomings and his outgoings, and never lost a word of his conversation even if not addressed to the party in general, but to Mr. or Mrs. Scott personally. Isabel felt sure that he was ill and in some trouble. He could not deceive her by his plausible way of accounting for it all, or by his affectation of indolence. His pale face made her sorry, in spite of his stiff way of disclaiming any claim to the title of invalid. She knew by the inflection of his voice that he was sometimes dejected, though his funny stories kept Mr. and Mrs. Scott alive and excited them to laughter. Isabel couldn't laugh. They rallied her, as having no sense of wit or fun, as failing to appreciate a good joke, and so on. And she knew not how to answer, but listened with burning cheeks, and feeling that his eye had been turned on her, either in wonder or perhaps stern contempt for her affectation, in setting up another character to her employers. She, whose fault had been loving a joke but too well! Then, when released from observation, and relieved from the necessity of any further acting, she would sit for hour after hour without a light, trying to calm herself, to


  ― 387 ―
get down her beating pulses, to cool her head and hands in the night breeze. Sometimes, wholly overcome, she would cry with shame at breaking down so in her efforts, and for her miserable want of proper pride. Her aching heart was a shame and reproach to her. For why should she care if he was ill or unhappy? What was it to her, though he had a cough and put his hand on his side so often as if in pain? Why should she fidget herself to watch if he got a comfortable seat, or was out of a draught, a thing which he always had disliked, and which the Scotts never noticed or felt,—or if the children's spirits led them to talk too loud or too fast? What was all this to her?

One day, owing to rain, there was no going out, and Mr. Scott had brought all his children to the drawing-room by way of amusement to himself. His wife was away occupied in some household matter. But after the little girls had shown off their accomplishments by repeating poetry, and playing a tune, and answering questions in arithmetic, and the proud and fond father was proceeding to draw out their cleverness by proposing that they should read aloud by turns, Isabel, having observed the weary, pre-occupied look on Mr. Herbert's face, as he watched the rain and stroked his moustaches, made a whispering proposal to amuse them by telling them a story. This was received gladly, only Mr. Scott stipulated that the story should go on where they were. So she drew them to a corner, one at her side, the other on a stool at her feet, and in a low, clear voice, she gained their full interest. Once, towards the end, on looking up, she met Mr. Herbert's eyes bent on her with an expression of mournful inquiry. She hurried over the conclusion, and not heeding the pathetic requests of ‘Tell it again'—'Tell us another,’ she went away. At the door she fancied she heard a voice say—'It is my turn now—I know a wonderful tale.’ And this voice was not the father's.

Did he do it to divert them from following and teasing her? And what did that look mean? It required a vigorous taking herself to task, followed by a course of quick pacing to and fro her room, to calm her at all. Not till she had bathed her face well in cold water, and forced herself to sing a verse of a song to prove the steadiness and clearness of her voice, would she return.

No one looked up on her entering the room. The little girls were full of animated delight at Mr. Herbert's powers as story-teller; and after tea Mr. Scott persuaded his guest to have a trial of skill at chess, which led them on and on, being well matched, till it was bedtime.

But after five days had so come and gone, Isabel began to show signs of ailment. She was thinner and had constant fever about her; no


  ― 388 ―
appetite, and no power of sleeping at night. She felt irritable too, and was easily upset, tears being provokingly near the surface, which distressed her very much. She knew she was ill, and spoke of going home to consult their own doctor, at which Mrs. Scott demurred. It looked as if she could not be cared for and nursed with them. Why, was not the medical man who attended them as good as another? And, meaning kindly, she annoyed Isabel by sending for this Mr. Blackett unknown to her. He said there was a good deal of excitement and fever in the system. ‘Had she been over-working herself? Did she tax her brain too much?’ Quiet, and as much open air as possible, was advised; this, with some cooling medicine, would probably stop the feeling. If not, he should prescribe another remedy on his next visit. And Isabel's lips quivered into a sickly, sad smile, as she wondered to herself ‘if medicine would cure her.’

Following this advice, Isabel went out earlier than usual the next day. They walked to the fenced paddock—a favourite place for the children's games, and while they were engrossed by their play, she leant against the fence, feeling unequal to much walking. It was no longer a strange thing for her to ‘think.’ Fast and free crowded in many thoughts. They presented themselves generally as questions—questions which were never answered. She dreaded them, and yet seemed to have lost all power of bidding them avaunt! Like spectres which haunt a fever-stricken patient, so did these fancies and doubts haunt her, and give her no rest. She could not be anywhere but they were there too.

After remaining lost in these reflections, with eyes fixed on the ground, seeing nothing, and elbows resting wearily on the topmost rail, she exclaimed aloud, under sudden impulse—

‘I can't understand it! It is a mystery—a wretched mystery!’

‘What is such a mystery, Miss Lang?’ was spoken in Mr. Scott's voice close by her.

She started, and on looking up at him her worn face was immediately covered with a deep, burning flush, for a little behind him was Mr. Herbert.

‘Can't we help you to solve the mystery? I like dispelling darkness and doubt. What were you thinking of, surely not on that mongrel growth before you, the barley, maize, and vetch, on the other side of the fence? Isn't it funny? It will be a nice little bite for the horses, though; eh, Herbert?’

Mr. Scott made many remarks on his crops and on different modes of feeding cattle; sometimes turning to watch his children as they raced about and sent their voices far and clear.

‘Little merry rogues. What, Julia too!—and where's baby? Doesn't


  ― 389 ―
it seem odd? Can you fancy that you were ever just as active—just as eager in catching a ball? Though it is not so very long ago in your case,’ he added, smiling at Isabel.

‘No! But it seems—so long! All so far off and dreamy—not real—but like stories I liked and made my own by poring over them.’

‘Ah, it is the happiest time!—No time like childhood, Miss Lang! But are you suffering? Just now you had a colour, and I hoped you were better. Now you are—excuse me—you are very pale. Are you right to be standing here so long?’

‘Perhaps I had better go in,’ she said, wearily, and feeling thoroughly sick at heart—unequal to the fresh air and sunshine—and dreading the solitude of her room as much as the effort it was to be with others.

She was surprised as in passing by Mr. Herbert, who stood in the narrow path made through the paddock, he said, in a low, smothered tone—

‘Don't go in. I mean,’ he added, correcting himself, ‘don't let us disturb you. I heard Mrs. Scott say that it was thought good for you to be out as much as possible.’

‘No, Miss Lang—I beg—pray don't interpret my speech into a hint for you to go in,’ Mr. Scott here hastened to say. ‘Come, let us go and see my poor sick filly, if you are not tired?’

‘Not at all,’ she said; and she followed him at once.

Just as they reached the shed in which was the filly, a man came up, beseeching a word or two with his master in private. Saying he would return directly, Mr. Scott turned to go, but stopped to beg Mr. Herbert to look at the creature's knee.

How thankful Isabel was to see the children running and bounding towards them, having guessed what brought them here. In a moment they were intent on their remarks and their expressions of pity for the filly; then ran off to fetch handfuls of green barley, telling ‘Snowdrop’ to take it from them, while Mr. Herbert proceeded gravely, and with the eye of a connoisseur, to examine the bad limb, and to stroke and encourage the poor thing, so as to allow him to touch the tender place. For one moment Isabel resolved to escape. They would not miss her. To be here in this way, all but alone with him, was intolerable; just now, too, when she felt so weak and so foolish, and so sure she could not exercise any control over herself if at all hurried.

‘There is papa! See, he is gone to the mill,’ said the eldest girl. ‘How tiresome!’

‘Then he will not return—Jones always has such long stories—he will keep him an hour at least. Hadn't we better go home, my dears?’


  ― 390 ―
Isabel said; and without waiting for their answer she began walking back by the pathway. But presently, hearing no one follow her, she turned to look for them. Mr. Herbert was giving them jumps, letting each by turn stand on the top rail and then giving them a hand, as down they came in a flying leap. They screamed with laughter at the fun of it, and shouted, ‘Again! Only once more! It is my turn!’

‘The first time I have known him notice them,’ Isabel thought. ‘Anything rather than be with me. Children are convenient sometimes. Well! I need not remain. If he is so well amused, I'll leave them to his care;’ and on she went more rapidly, feeling half angry, though at what she did not know, and very sore and hurt, which vexed her, as a proof of utter weakness. ‘I shall break down and expose myself, or really grow mad or silly, if this is to go on much longer. Mrs. Scott must listen—must believe me. I will go home! or I'll—yes, better give up the situation. As long as he is in the colony, he will probably be coming here—I shall be better out of it; though I didn't know I was so despicably weak—well, well!’

A loud voice, loud but deep, now reached her. He was counting, ‘One, two, three!’ Then came a shout, but she would not turn to look at them. He had set them to race, she supposed, as he had often done with her little sisters, ay and with herself and Kate and the boys—often! often!

As the words hung on her very lips, so intently did they rise, a light but trembling touch fell on her shoulder. ‘Who is that?’ And she turned short round. It was Mr. Herbert, looking thoroughly moved and agitated, with some entreaty at heart which his lips refused to utter. ‘O, is it you?’ she exclaimed. Her voice and look expressing surprise and reproach.

‘Don't hurry away!—Isabel!—I can't bear it any longer! For God's sake, stay—I am not iron—nor stone!’

She could have wept then and there, so much did his appeal, his look, move her. She longed to bow her head and to hide, but instead, she raised herself, drawing up with dignity. ‘What do you mean?’ she said, coldly. ‘I don't know what you are made of. What can you mean by such words?’

‘Mean? Why—all—everything! Mean? Did I mean to come upon you in this way? Good God! to live in the same house day after day? I tell you I can't bear it. You are philosophic and calm I see. Your composure and self-possession is to be envied. It was fate which led me here—here, of all places—of all places the last I need look to stumble on you!’

‘I am very sorry,’ she answered, her voice faltering in spite of her


  ― 391 ―
efforts. ‘But it was at your option to stay or go at once, at least so I understood. But, we will see. If Mrs. Scott will allow me,—she wouldn't hear of it two days ago, when I begged it, but she may now—indeed she must!—I will go home. Then you can remain in peace. It was not my wish or intention to disturb you, I am sure. But though you have come back, I suppose the colony is wide enough for us both—we need not meet.’

‘Good heavens! don't talk in that way! Do I wish to send you away? You know I do not. Besides, if it comes to that, I can go, as you observed. It is for me to leave, not you. But still, however that may be—now—now—listen. Stay, for I must speak.’ He paused, as if for breath. ‘Do you remember our last meeting? Do you?’

After an evident struggle, she said, turning from him towards the rail, ‘Much has happened since to put it out of my head. But, however, I don't forget; I am not likely ever to forget it,’ she added, more firmly and eagerly.

‘Much has happened, as you say. To you and to me—much!’ he replied. ‘Yet it seems to me as if my life had stood still, as if everything has been a dream since then, since I left you that day, feeling that with you rested all my future, and the sweet but torturing conviction that my hour was come, that time which a man most dreads; when he must risk all, bring his manhood's strength of love and pride, uncertain if it will be received or rejected—perhaps with scorn, perhaps indifference. I knew,’ here his voice rose and rang again, vibrating, as it were, from the heart's pressure. ‘I knew then how I loved—how—how deeply! But I could not tell if—in fact, I feared that you held me too much in the light of an intimate friend, a cousin or uncle, to think of me in any other way. I expected you to be frank and kind. I longed for the time, while I dreaded it to torture. You never can know what I then felt, how that night passed with me, with what mingled hope and fear I hailed that dawn, and knew I was to seek you, to tell all—to hear all. And then—then . . . .’ He struck his forehead and, as if overpowered, took a short turn a few steps on and back. He had hit the right chord. Had he assumed her feelings with regard to him to be otherwise than doubtful, she would have shrunk and drawn in with offended pride. As it was, he did not even know what had been the nature of her feelings for him. She was touched, and though she struggled very hard for composure, she could not altogether repress a choking but half-smothered sob, which shook her whole person visibly, and she grasped the rail tightly in her efforts to keep down the rising agitation. He heard that sob. He saw the trembling, when he turned about and faced her again. With one stride he came close to her, and again laid


  ― 392 ―
his hand on her shoulder.

‘Isabel! Had I returned—had I come back to you, what would have been my reception? Tell me!’

‘What possible right have you to ask that?’ she said, as soon as she could speak, raising her head, and withdrawing from his touch. ‘It is enough that you never did come back. And it would be more seemly if you were to inquire what I thought—that is, if you care to know—of—of your professing friendship, and then—when trouble and care came—of your desertion and your unkind, cruel, proud neglect of my mother. Even as an acquaintance, a neighbour, in whose house you have been—something was due . . .’

‘You forget, or perhaps you did not fully know, how such considerations had been cancelled,’ he answered, gravely, and she thought cruelly, coldly. ‘Yet, though such was the case, I should not have yielded; my love for you was so strong, it over-powered all, everything. I was prepared to overlook insult and wrong for you. I felt there was truth in what my sister urged, yet—you—you were the favourite child of your poor father, and I flattered myself that in our love for you—his and mine, we should drop all differences and make peace. No, that was not it! I tell you that no amount of rudeness, of prejudice, of misunderstanding, would have withheld me. Nothing—but yourself—yourself! It was your own hand, and it was a cruel blow. I asked you but now, what would my reception have been? I forgot—surely I had my answer! a most needless question—unless—’ and he fixed his eyes on her, as if reading into her heart. ‘Unless I could still find it a mistake? I want to be assured! If that torture could but be removed!’ While she watched him in the greatest surprise, curiosity, and fear; for his incoherent words, and the incomprehensibility of all he said alarmed her; he drew out a pocket-book, and with trembling fingers, and face pale with excitement, he proceeded to select from many others, a folded paper. This he opened, and held it towards her. ‘You see?’ and he again searched her countenance with keen scrutiny.

She blushed as she read to herself,

'For Mr. Herbert,

'With I.L.’s thanks and kind regards.’

‘Well!’ he said, though there was scarcely a sound, only his lips framed the word.

She looked up at him in amazement, and echoed, ‘Well! And what of it? A direction it seems, an old direction, from me to you. Where is the treason or the harm? I suppose it was a cover to some of the books you lent me. Why—I see—I know! Yes, I remember quite well when that


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parcel was sent. It went from Vine Lodge; Mrs. Vesey said a messenger was otherwise going to the township from them, and she would send this safely. Didn't it come? Were the books safe?’

‘It came. The books were there, a man or boy from Vine Lodge did bring it;’ he spoke in a sad tone, almost like despair. Then suddenly he unfolded the paper quite, and turning the other side upwards, displayed to her a cleverly drawn picture of himself, or rather a caricature, ridiculously like, yet utterly disagreeable and even offensive. ‘And you recollect it all too! It was all just as you say! So—it was your hand that drew this, drew it first, and sent it to me. Your doing and planning—after all!’ There was a touching tone of lament in his quiet low voice. Hope was fled. There need be no more agitation, since there was no longer any suspense!

‘But what is it? Let me look at it longer. Where did it come from?’ she exclaimed. ‘It is an odious thing. So vulgar!—clever too.’ She spoke rapidly. Then pausing, she looked up at him, struck by some sudden thought. ‘Do you mean—did you think I drew that?’

‘Did you?’ he said, huskily.

‘Did I?’ She let the paper drop, and turned from him with a haughty gesture of scorn. ‘Mr. Herbert, you know quite well that I did not. I wish, indeed,’ she added, quickly and lightly, even mockingly, ‘that I had half the power displayed there! I beg your pardon for dropping the precious treasure; you seem to value it so much and keep it so carefully. But here come the children, just in time, at the finale of this—this—strange story. We will go in now.’

‘She didn't do it after all—Thank God! thank God!’ he had murmured, half to himself, but half aloud. Meanwhile he took the drawing from her, and tore it into small shreds, throwing them down and treading them into the soil. She uttered a contemptuous expression and laughed, something in her old way, only it was more mocking and bitter now, than saucy and merry. She went on, leaving him still stamping on the bits of paper. A few steps onwards she was met by the heated and panting racers. Mr. Herbert had, it seemed, sent them to search for gum,note promising a great reward for the largest lot and the best lumps. Fanny now claimed the prize. He received their gatherings, in a somewhat hurried manner, filling his pockets with the gum. ‘Now, if you will all run on a-head, and keep there, so that I can explain a particular piece of business to Miss Lang, I don't know what I wont give you. Perhaps a slice of the full moon; certainly something very wonderful indeed. Do you hear?’

‘They are too heated already,’ Isabel said, perversely trying to detain


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them near her. But the bait was tempting, and they did their best to deserve the promised reward, and soon outstripped their elders.

‘I don't wish to annoy you,’ he said, in a depracatory and gentle way, studying her face. ‘But consider, how anxious

‘You have borne the suspense with great philosophy hitherto! You have not hurried for an explanation or ever sought any, I believe, have you? You assumed the fact, and without proof . . . .’

‘Remember how it was,’ he interrupted. ‘I had, I felt conscious, betrayed—given you cause to guess, at least, something of my feelings for you. But a very few hours after, I receive a parcel of my own books, directed to me in your own writing, and sealed with the identical seal you had once before used to me, a guinea-fowl, with the motto, ‘Come back.’ Within this sealed parcel, nay, on the very sheet of paper itself, is this drawing. Remember, I had seen you trying to make caricatures such as Mrs. Vesey did, and that I had displeased you by expressing my dislike, my strong disapproval, of such things. I had been shown some of your drawing, at least so I was told and believed they were. One was of Mr. Jolly. My sister always warned me against this phase in your character which she had discovered, and which she knew to be peculiarly distasteful, I may say hateful to me. It was a strong case. I tried to disbelieve my own powers of sight. I carried the paper to my sister and asked her whose writing she thought it was? ‘Isabel Lang's’ she said at once. Then I showed her the picture. She nodded gravely, and said she was more sorry than surprised. What could I think? Could I go to you and inquire? No; I took it as your answer, a check to my advances, which you had seen and desired to stop at once. Add to all this, my previous misunderstanding with your father. I left home that very evening, more mad than wise; I rode hard and rashly, scarcely feeling I was moving, and hardly pulling up for rest or food, till my horse's strength failed. I went towards my station, but while resting by the way, I was overtaken by a messenger sent by my sister with English letters containing important news, and urging me to sail at once. It suited my mood. I stayed for nothing. I was only too glad to go, to leave this land, urged back by a somewhat similar feeling to that which first goaded me to emigrate. My sister met me in Sydney, bringing my clothes, and also the bad news about you. I forgot to say that I had curiously enough come to the very same inn on the same day as your father—we supped together—and—Isabel, I wish, believe me I truly wish, we had parted in peace. I don't think I could help it; but that is no matter now. He was angry, and he little knew how sore and smarting I was, or perhaps he


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would not have poured such irritation on the wound. Well, I embarked without loss of time, immediately in fact. My sister was to follow as soon as she could arrange affairs for us both. I tried hard to drown grief and to forget. I assumed my new position and duties as soon as I arrived. I entered into society and excited myself about the pending lawsuit. Pooh, how vague, hollow, and rotten it all was! I was wretched. My thoughts and ideas revolved on a pivot, one only chord vibrated, and that ever—always. I became ill and restless. Then, at last, I roused myself by the advice of a good man who was frank and honest enough to tell me plain truths, and showed me I could not be happy as I lived. I was appointed steward to a large estate and fortune, and I was bound to do good. Well, I looked about—but do I bore you? are you tired?’—for he heard her sigh.

‘Go on,’ was all she said.

‘I looked around, with a dreary feeling you can hardly understand, and my heart seemed to warm a little to this colony. I settled to leave my affairs, lawsuit and all, in a trusty friend's hands, and to return here. Perhaps I might even remain here, and devote my means to carrying out a few of my theories, and setting an example in developing the resources of the land. Sydney brought me much misery, however; I found that I was haunted by the past. The bustle and the heat—altogether I was nearly knocked up, when I came across Moreton Scott, formerly a tolerably intimate acquaintance. He pressed me to come to his home for rest and quiet. That evening, I heard your voice, only two or three words, speaking to some one on the stairs. It was a shock! But I had warning to enable me to meet you calmly. It was surely God's hand which brought me here, of all places the place I never once thought of as connected with you, much less your dwelling-place. Now, can't you excuse a little my credulity? Isabel, is forgiveness on your part impossible?’

‘I hope not. I have, I believe, no choice, if I desire to rank as a Christian,’ she said, with an attempt at being light and indifferent, but a catch in the voice betraying the feeling she would fain hide. ‘Yet, first I must observe, that even supposing you were right, in deeming me to be so clever as to be guilty of that picture—what then? What is there so very very heinous—so dreadful in it? Can't you take a joke?’

‘Good Heavens! Don't you see—don't you feel—that no woman could so turn a man to ridicule, if she had the smallest spark of that feeling which would induce her to take him for her husband? I mean any respect or esteem. Certainly, I am sensitive; I grant it. Yet I care not, comparatively at least, for what others do. It was the idea of your doing


  ― 396 ―
it—you—you! It seemed so strange that I should be singled out for such a cut, that for the second time my love should be so blasted and mocked, but . . . .’

‘Indeed!’ she exclaimed quickly, and looking keenly at him. ‘The second time you say?’

‘Yes—yes! the second time. What is there in me to provoke it?—others live to old age and never suffer so. I will tell you; of course I meant so to do, that when I first came to this colony, it was flight from a cruel disappointment; it was a cruel insult, I may say, which drove me, then a very young man, to take a sour and bitter view of all things. Isabel, when I was first in all the glory of epaulettes and spurs, a very fine fellow, of course, in a dashing cavalry regiment, I was rather courted by the gay folks at Bath. There were then pre-eminent in fascination and charms, two girls—cousins and rival belles, acknowledged queens of the place. One of them was superb and magnificent, every feature a model, of a calm but cold style of beauty. The other less faultless, possessed, in my eyes, infinitely more attraction. She was the best specimen of high-bred fashion I ever saw. Her sparkling wit and cleverness, and a certain fearless frank way of saying everything she chose, caught my fancy. I mistook it for an ingenuous nature. I was young then. I know now it was the result of high art. Of course I was to fall in love, and so I did. I believed myself bound to her for ever. I also believed that she returned the preference, and there was no obstacle to our union, it was so much desired by our mutual friends. I was mustering courage to come to the point, and to know my fate certainly, though I believed that we had long understood one another. I happened one evening to enter, unheard, a room in which she was, with a select party, entertaining them by a little dramatic scene. She was a wonderful actress, and was in the habit of amusing us with a sort of ‘Mathews at Home’note entertainment. The lights were placed so as to fall only on the stage. I stood in the shadow and heard her voice, thrilling clear as it was, as her words excited peals of laughter. She was, I believe, so I have been told since, giving a comic description of a picnic, and taking off some well-known Bath characters. I had hardly stood there two minutes, when she hit upon me. It so happened that at this picnic she had a very narrow escape from being killed by her horse taking fright. I, seeing her danger, had left my occupation, uncorking bottles, I believe, for our luncheon, and sprang forward to turn the animal's head. Well, all this scene was now brought up, travestied and turned into the greatest ridicule. Nothing could be more disgusting and absurd than the creature she represented me to be. Yet she so cleverly caught one's likeness, that


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the audience was convulsed with laughter. Her courage increased with applause; at first she had been a little shy at this point I thought, her voice had faltered a little; but now urged on, by clapping and cries of ‘encore! capital!’ she was carried away, and said more I dare say than she intended. You may suppose I did not wait long. At best my position would have been awkward. I crept away, unseen and unheeded, at first feeling more sorry than angry. But I presently discovered the real measure and depth of my love, for it did not take long to vanish. When my eyes were opened, and I saw in what light she looked upon me, I began also to read her character better. In fact, it never could have been real love, but only its semblance, a passing, young man's fancy and nothing more, from which I am thankful I was released, though in so painful a manner.’

‘Of course! That is always said,’ Isabel remarked, with a certain emphasis which made him look earnestly at her for a moment.

When he spoke again, his voice had a tenderer and softer tone.

‘The worst part of it was, that this, together with other things, gave me a great distaste for society—for companionship at all. I was in great danger of becoming misanthropic, or, perhaps, of plunging into reckless and dangerous pleasures, to drown my rather miserable thoughts. The upshot was, I displeased my father and uncle by exchanging into a line regiment then abroad. But it was good for me. I saw something of a soldier's life and real work; mixed in the world and got well knocked about. Then my regiment was ordered here; and I fell in love with a bush life, and retired on half pay, taking a grant of land. I intended to lead a solitary life, and forswore all society, and especially all young unmarried ladies. But Providence was kind, and sent a light across my path which saved me from pitfalls, albeit I may be far from what I ought to be. Yes, it is a notable fact, that I, who only noticed children to think them little pests, I, who since my own twin sister's early death, which event was soon followed by my mother's, never knew the influence of home affections and charities—I met a child then—who—who—. Others passed her over to prefer her sister's beauty; but to me—to me—she seemed to be everything—all—something my nature had unconsciously needed and blindly sought. Yes, Isabel; you were for me like a little sister—and more than a sister—more than any sister could be—distinct from all the world. All that you did and said pleased me. I tried to account for this singular fancy in discovering a likeness to that other one. Well, there was a something, and I do believe my sister noticed it—enough to make me shudder, when I perceived your natural love of mimicry and love of a joke. I think that you ‘took’ to me, as they say,


  ― 398 ―
from the first—others said so. I know that your beaming eyes, which gave so frank and cordial a welcome, were my attraction to the house, and often tempted me to be idle. Then I taught you to ride, and helped you to draw—I felt as if you were mine in some way. You were never shy with me. You were too young and too frank to have any conventional scuples. They trusted you to me, and I hope—yes, I have that comfort, I believe that I never, never abused the trust. I was rough and cross enough at times, and you could be sharp, too! Sometimes, as you grew older, I was jealous—intensely so! But, on the whole, our intercourse was smooth and pleasant—sincere and true. I think that we both liked being together, and trusted to each other. And then——’

Another of those choking, half-strangled sobs, burst from her. She longed to run away—to be alone and weep freely. She stopped for a moment against the paling. He looked concerned, and put out his hand towards her, as if proffering help and sympathy.

‘No,’ she said. ‘But you walk so fast—and—I'm not strong, I believe. And then—what is the good of going back—to all—to old times?’

The words were jerked out with effort, and an hysterical laugh struggled to overcome her.

‘Patience me! There is the bell! Let me go—I must go.’

And she tried to hurry on. But he held her back firmly and gravely.

‘There is no hurry. No, Isabel, you shall not hurry off from any sudden impulse. If you go, it must be deliberately—at such a moment. Let us walk on quietly.’ And he tried to draw her hand on to his arm. But she would not allow this.

They were silent for some steps, she trying to overcome her agitation. Presently he said in a very quiet voice—

‘What did you think—what did you do, finding I did not come again? Did you expect me that next day?’

‘I did. You said you would come, if you remember.’

‘Did I? And what then—what did you do?’

‘I waited.’

There was deep meaning in her voice as she said this. Many an elaborate sentence would fail to convey so much. The weariness of hope deferred. That ‘waiting’ which so many women have as their portion.

‘What a brute you must have thought me! No wonder that you condemned me, so that now, when we met again, you almost forgot we were not the mere acquaintance or strangers we seemed to be. I read your indifference, and it further confirmed the hint I thought you had intended to give me in that picture. It surprised me. I looked for resentment and pique; but such cool indifference I did not think was in


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your nature.’

‘Didn't you? Did you expect I was to go on boiling or freezing for ever, and that experience would not teach me the happy medium?’

‘What, are you only now returning!’ here exclaimed Mr. Scott, coming out of the garden gate, a few feet in front of them. ‘There have I been all this time ‘rowing’ with that rascal at the mill, who is spoiling all the machinery with his obstinate ignorance. Hasn't the first bell gone?’

‘Yes, some time ago,’ Isabel said, and she hurried away; while Mr. Herbert vented his annoyance at the interruption—long as the interview had been—by switching all the grass and wild flowers within reach of his cane.




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25. CHAPTER XXV.

Worse And Worse.

note

There was but little time for reflection, or for the quiet luxury of giving way to the overpowering feelings which had well nigh choked her; yet Isabel rapidly went over the principal points of her late conversation and its wonderful revelations, as, according to the house custom, she changed her dress for tea.

Her wish for an explanation had been granted. She understood now what had before seemed utterly incomprehensible. But the question was, how did they stand with regard to one another? ‘I am to pardon him, and he, I suppose, is to pardon me. Then, are we to be as before? Hardly. My mother will not forgive or forget so easily. Besides, he is a rich man, a grand personage now, as Mr. Scott explained to me—‘Squires’ they call them at home, he says; and as a country gentleman, he takes his place with the highest. And I am a—governess—a drudge of a governess. We are come down as he has climbed up. Impossible, therefore, to fall back into our old places. And I wont stand being condescended to! I hope he will soon take himself off, or I must. I can't be acting a part any longer. Dignified distance doesn't suit me. I can be hot and angry, or I can be amiable and agreeable in an intimate way. If I could but escape the tea this evening—the ever meeting him again!’

Tears trickled over her face, warning her, that if she wished to escape observation, she must eschew the subject at once, and prepare for proper behaviour. With a desperate effort she stopped the inclination to cry, smoothed her hair, and arranged her dress, even adding a ribbon by way


  ― 401 ―
of looking ‘cared for.’ But that description of the Bath belle—his first love—rang in her ears, and as she looked into her glass she found herself making comparisons between the figure and face reflected there and his account of another. Then with a wish, hovering between a desire to lie down and sleep, never to wake again, or to be transported back to the days when she had been the child he had described—with a vague sound in her ears of those happy hours gone for ever, giddy with weakness, and feeling very tired, she went down stairs, took up her knitting mechanically, and answered Mrs. Scott's calm questions till the gentlemen entered.

At table she sat just opposite to Mr. Herbert, and she made sundry mistakes in passing the wrong things, and helping Fanny to sugar instead of salt.

‘You are tired, Miss Lang. You were out too long,’ Mr. Scott said.

‘I was getting a little uneasy,’ put in Mrs. Scott. ‘Were all the lessons ended?’

‘Yes, we began so early,’ Isabel said, quickly.

Then the children began to tell their mamma what Mr. Herbert had told them to do, and of his promised reward. Isabel's cheeks burnt, as childlike, they spoke out rather inconveniently, dwelling on details. Then her head began to throb, and glad was she at the first move to rise and leave the room, feeling, come what would, she must give way now. She looked so shivered and sick when, some time after, they sought her, that Mrs. Scott told her to go to bed at once. For hours she tossed about feverish and suffering. Not till near dawn did she fall asleep.

Heavy, plashing rain, long foretold and expected, had set in, greeting Isabel when she woke—puzzled and conscious that something had happened, but not sure what. Gradually it all returned.

‘Here we are, he and I. Neither of us can go in this rain,’ was her first idea. Then followed—'And why should we go? There is room for both.’

Before she was dressed a great dread came over her. She longed for some good excuse to remain in her room, to escape the meals. She almost wished she was really ill, instead of only this stupid ailing. At last the maid's coming took her by surprise. She brought her breakfast, by Mrs. Scott's order. It was kind of Mrs. Scott; and she was glad of the reprieve. Then she began to form a plan for her conduct; to be at her ease, yet plainly showing that she was aware of the distinction between ‘Mr. Herbert and a governess.’ She studied sundry free and easy, yet distantly polite speeches. But she found no opportunity for making use of them.

When she hurried down to do what lessons there was still time for, Isabel found, that the rain having a little ceased, her pupils were gone to


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spend the day with their aunt. This she did not know was owing to a hint from Mr. Herbert, quickly received and adopted by Mr. Scott, that she herself needed quiet and rest.

The gentlemen went out in spite of rain and the thick clay soil. Isabel was left to herself the greater part of the day. She was standing by the window looking out when they returned. Greetings were exchanged, and Mr. Scott inquired how she felt. Presently a chair was placed for her, and looking round, she met Mr. Herbert's eye, at which all her studied ease vanished, and a foolish fit of shy distress came on, so that she was hardly aware that Mrs. Scott came into the room, talked, and went out again followed by her husband, leaving Mr. Herbert and Isabel alone together. She still gazed out at the shrubs and the distant country. He was sitting behind her, and his eyes were bent on her as if measuring something.

‘I see, now, that you are changed, Isabel,’ he said.

She blushed and started a little as she found no one else was in the room; but, throwing herself into a would-be careless attitude, she answered, half in joke, half in anger—

‘No doubt. How long has it taken to arrive at so important and interesting a fact? That you are not changed is proved by that remark, which is scarcely complimentary.’

He smiled and brightened up. There was a sweet and familiar charm in this return to her old provoking and saucy retorts.

‘I meant no harm. Did I insinuate anything derogatory to you, by saying that you are changed?’

‘The interpretation being—‘You are changed, having grown older and uglier;’ it is not customary in polite society to say so, whatever we may think. But your discrimination is admirable! I am changed—I am altered—I am aged. Moreover, I am not so well as I used to be, and that adds no charms.’

In spite of the badinage, there was a fall in the voice which came from some inward heart-throb. He had moved from his previous seat and stood a little more in front, studying her aspect with grave, but tender scrutiny.

‘Yes, I can trace it. I see that you have suffered.’

‘I was a blooming, prosperous, thoughtless lassie,’ she said, quickly, yet with earnest emphasis, turning away her face from him. ‘I am now unprosperous, come down in life, in fact, and forced to be careful,—that is all. I know I am changed, very well I feel it. But I am not the only one; other things are changed too. We need not talk about it. You need not trouble yourself to measure or understand the exact line of change. Mr.


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and Mrs. Scott believe us to be little known to one another. You are not at all obliged to undeceive them, you know.’ She thought she had mastered herself completely, but her voice was thick and her manner irritable.

He sighed. ‘I deserve this! You greatly misunderstand my words, however. I fear,’ he added, presently, ‘I fear you find it hard to forgive?’

She tore the lace of her cuff frills, and her chest heaved under the enforced restraint she put on herself. But she said, as lightly as she could—'No. But I want you to see, to understand, that I have had some trouble, the struggle to live and to provide for others—my family I mean, of course. But though you see me not altogether well and strong, just now, you must not judge anything by that. The worst is over—past long ago, and I get on very well indeed now. So what I want to say is, that though of course I am glad of the explanation, and that such an absurd idea—about that picture, I mean—is put out of your head, as it so distressed you; yet, of course, I know we can't be—that I am not what I was at all. I can't explain myself; I am stupid and dull this morning, but surely you understand what I mean?’

‘It hardly needed so many words to say that it is your desire I should not presume on former friendship! You desire me to understand that my company is not agreeable to you, in homely phrase,’ he answered, deeply hurt, and showing he was so.

‘I didn't say so. I left it for you to choose how far Miss Isabel Lang, governess to Mrs. Scott's children, is an acquaintance for Mr. Herbert!’ she replied with spirit and displeasure.

He said nothing, but returned to his first seat, where he took up a book. In another moment Mrs. Scott returned and sat down at her work-table; Isabel swelling and panting, and wishing to jump out of window; but pride kept her there and still. She knitted industriously, only speaking when Mrs. Scott spoke to her, during the pauses between her attempts to draw Mr. Herbert into conversation. But he remained silent and gloomy. And so it was for the rest of the day and during the evening. Mr. Scott remarked it to his wife in Isabel's presence.

The next day Isabel took her place as usual in the school-room, and walked out with the children. Again they met the gentlemen, but this time they did not join parties. At dinner Isabel could not avoid seeing Mr. Herbert's face, and she was surprised and somewhat shocked to find him looking so ill. He was silent, and when forced to speak, there was a weariness and flatness in his manner quite sad to see. Once in the evening as he sat, in the old attitude, apart and unhappy, she remembered when she had understood that mood, and was privileged to tease


  ― 404 ―
or please him out of it. She was conscious that her own words had hurt him. She recalled looks and tones of that morning's explanations, and felt she had done her best to alienate him. He felt things very deeply. He was looking really ill now. Why should she not try to rouse him, even at the risk of compromising her dignity? Why should she not try to make some amends for the hurt she had caused? Yet it was difficult. There was a gulf between them now, partly of her own making. He had more than once called her ‘Miss Lang.’ How then could she come forward? Yet on self-reflection she felt she owed him some apology for that most blundering, confused, and unfortunate speech of hers. This then she would make. She would see at once, if a way opened for more, or not. It was difficult to find an opportunity, for he avoided her, or at least all tête-è-têtes. Some one was always present. Two days passed after she resolved on an apology, before she found herself for one moment alone with Mr. Herbert. But at last she did so, with only the little girl next to the baby in the room. Not a minute must be lost. So, hurried and flushed, she looked up at him as he sat in the shade, with a book on his lap, his hands in his pockets, and his eyes somewhere upwards. She plunged desperately into it, not daring to pause, lest her courage should ooze away.

‘I have been wishing,’ she began, feebly, and stopped by something in her throat. Then, on again, this time a little louder. He withdrew his upward gaze, and looked at her as she said—'Mr. Herbert—I feel—I owe you an apology.’

‘Do you? I was not aware of it!’

‘Yes, you are. I mean—I beg your pardon, but I was rude, don't you remember—and seemed to be ungrateful the other day?’ Here she stopped short, and tossed off a tear, smiling, however, though her eyes were dim. ‘But I did not mean or wish it. You misunderstood me!’

‘Did I?’ he said in a gentle tone, though his voice was sad. Then as she did not go on, he added, ‘How so?’

‘I think you did. Yet perhaps I am wrong and mistaken even now. Very likely nothing I said or did could have that effect, or has anything to do with it,’ she said, with sudden revulsion of feeling. ‘But I felt that I had spoken rudely and ungraciously, when perhaps—perhaps—you meant to be kind, and then seeing you so grave I determined to make an apology. That's all!’ she added, returning to the assumed ease of manner.

He was looking at her, still leaning on his elbow, and pushing aside his hair with his fingers, showing thereby a shaded brow, and a countenance betraying inward trouble. ‘You have a kind heart, I know,


  ― 405 ―
and do not mean to give pain, I believe,’ he said.

Then he slowly removed his eyes from her to the ground, slightly shaking his head, and moving his hands in a way familiar to her, as a sure sign of his being rather unhappy. Her quick eye had caught this gesture, and noted the weary, listless sadness brooding on his face. An impulse seized her. She suddenly rose, though what to do she didn't know. It ended in her catching up little Julia, the baby girl, and hugging her tightly, kissing the child's face and neck and hair.

Julia cried out ‘Don't!’

‘What, mayn't I love you? Let poor Issy love you, Ju,’ she half whispered, pleading earnestly with eye and voice.

‘No, no—not now—by and bye;’ and the child turned away, going back to her play. Presently she passed near Mr. Herbert, as she had done several times before. Now he stopped her.

‘Little Ju!’ he said, and kissed her, stroking her hair.

His notice was unusual, and struck the child. She stopped in her play and looked up at him, as if expecting more.

‘Don't you like to be loved, Julia?’ he said, again stroking her hair.

‘What?’

‘Will you kiss me—a pretty kiss?’

She held up her rosy little lips directly—drawing a deep sigh of surprise and content—and suffered him to draw her on to his knee, where she was soon quite at her ease, counting his buttons, while he played with her curls.

Isabel's needle flew in and out at a rapid rate the while.

‘I don't think I quite understand, even now,’ Mr. Herbert said, as if there had been no pause or break in the conversation. ‘You say I misunderstood. I thought you inferred a wish that our intercourse should be within the boundary of mere common acquaintance for the future—that you wished to check in me all idea of going back and taking up the threads where they fell.’

He paused almost at each word, as if each carried a separate meaning.

‘Perhaps I was too willing to forget all that wretched interim. The relief was so great, so exquisite, that I was going back again at once, as if it had been only an evil dream. Then—I understood that you wished to check this—to remind me I had sinned past forgiveness in your sight. The hours since then have been spent in realizing that it is no dream, but a terrible reality; that, though we sit at the same table, live under the same roof, there is a partition wall between us! I would have gone—I ought to have gone directly. Yet, I accepted Scott's invitation to prolong my stay, in order to make assurance sure—to take it all in, and look my


  ― 406 ―
fate in the face. I flattered myself I had gone on quietly. But from your thinking it necessary to apologize, I fear my manner has betrayed me and shown pain—pain which I had no right or intention to obtrude on you; though—I can't say I wish you had not seen it. That it was worth your while to observe me so far—that small consideration even—I am glad of. But it shall be ended! You shall not be annoyed.’

Could this be Mr. Herbert?—the former kind and partial friend, whose very notice of her had been once a source of pride! Was this the irate and easily-ruffled man she used to like to tease, even while she feared him—speaking so quietly and sadly—so almost humbly! Even little Julia looked up quickly, perceiving pain in his voice. He kissed her upturned face, and went on twisting and untwisting her curls.

Isabel had dropped her work. With her hands passionately clasped over her face, she murmured, low, yet loud enough for him partly to hear—though she did not mean he should do so—'This is dreadful!—too dreadful!’

He put the child off his knee quickly, and rose from his seat. One step he had taken as if going to her, when—the door opened, and Mrs. Scott came in, followed by the other children. Isabel gathered up her work, and without a glance at any one, she left the room.

She was sitting in the school-room unoccupied, as she had been for more than an hour, when the servant came in.

‘Is it late, Lucy?’

‘The bell will go in a moment, miss. But I came to bring you this'—laying down a tiny note. ‘Mr. Herbert said he was sorry not to bid you good-bye, miss.’

‘Good-bye?—What!—Is he gone?’

‘Yes, he has been gone about twenty minutes I should think.’

‘Yes,’ put in Fanny, coming into the room. ‘And papa is so vexed about it! He declares Mr. Herbert is very, very capricious; for he promised he would stay longer, and then all at once, he said it was fine, and he must go directly.’

Isabel opened her note and read as follows:—

‘Feeling I have no right to disturb your life by my unwelcome presence, I have told my kind host—what is truth, that I am not well, and want to be at home (meaning my chamber at Petty's Hotel,note of course). Let me say this once, that it grieves me to know of your toil and your trouble. But the peace attending the performance of duty, and the natural cheerfulness of your own temper, will, I hope, support you. I know you well enough to feel sure that you will rise above your trial. Forgive all the pain and annoyance I have ever caused you, and which I can't endure


  ― 407 ―
to witness. You do not need, nor would you accept, any help I could give. Isabel! no one will ever love you better than I would, and no one will ever more truly desire your happiness—than your old and once near friend, J. HERBERT.’

‘Are you sure he is gone for good?’ Isabel asked.

‘Yes,’ said Fanny, astonished. ‘Why, look! I dare say you may get a peep of him now going up the hill. Yes; see!—there he is!’

And Isabel, keenly scanning the little bit of road visible from the window as it wound round a severe hill, descried a black speck, which, on farther inspection, might be like a man on horseback. When it was out of sight she turned away and walked slowly to her own room, drank some water, and then, sitting down, she closed her eyes in spite of the warning bell for dinner.

She knew now that happiness had been very near her, and that it was gone—gone for ever! Was it not by her own blundering, too? All was over! A grey curtain had once more fallen on her life, giving all things a sombre hue. She tried to think that this was best. She had been tolerably happy and easy before this late return to old thoughts. This had brought both acute pain and great pleasure. Now all was over, and after a little time she should recover herself and return to former habits, and her hardly earned content and equanimity. It would be better, for now there was nothing more to know—no further waiting and looking for tidings—no treacherous whispers from Hope to beguile her into even a passing moment of gladness! She knew all now. She felt as if she had come to the end of an exciting story—THE END! All was over. And yet she must live on, dull and dreary, as she was now. No, that could not, should not be! She must rouse from this dull stupor, this utter hopelessness. She reminded herself of one source of comfort which would soon give her more pleasure. She might now look back on Mr. Herbert's character as the same, neither better nor worse than she had always known it. He was faulty, but with all his excess of sensitiveness he had attractive qualities she had never found in any one else. His present life had not apparently hurt him or tarnished his old generosity. His sense of responsibility, if anything, was increased, she thought; and he seemed more gentle—more humble.

But the second and last bell now clanged shrilly. The dinner loomed before her as some dreaded monster; but go down she must; and eat, or pretend to eat, she would; lest they should think she was fretting. So rallying all her courage and powers of endurance, and feeling very like a machine, she went into the room where the rest of the people were.




  ― 408 ―

26. CHAPTER XXVI.

The Dessert.

note

Mr. Scott was more annoyed than Isabel had ever seen him. He was sorry to lose his guest, and vexed at the sudden whim which had upset his arrangements. This affected his temper, and for a time everything was wrong. Mrs. Scott maintained her usual phlegm; but even more softly and quietly than was her habit, she commented on the misery and inconvenience of a person's not knowing his mind, or being decided in little things.

‘Did you hear anything of this extraordinary move, Miss Lang?’ she asked. ‘You were some time in Mr. Herbert's company, I think, this morning.’

‘I did not hear a word of it.’

‘He is so poorly, too. But I don't care! If he has a brain fever down there at Petty's, it will serve him right. Such a violent hurry, too—wouldn't wait a moment! He seemed like one in a dream. 'Pon my soul, I shouldn't be surprised at . . . . I don't believe he knew what he was doing or saying,’ said Mr. Scott, helping himself much more frequently and abundantly to wine than he usually did.

At last the dishes were removed, and the clatter ceased. The dessert was a little better; and Isabel cracked nuts by way of doing something. She was talking to the children, amused with some droll speech of little Julia's, when the servant came to the door and summoned her master.

A whispered dialogue was held in the hall, a few isolated words of which alone reaching the dining-room. Then Mr. Scott popped in his


  ― 409 ―
head for a moment.

‘My dear, don't be alarmed! I'll go and judge for myself. I'll wager anything it is all palaver and humbug.’

He was rather pale and hurried, notwithstanding his assuring words, and went away past the window rapidly. Isabel looked at Mrs. Scott with a vague presentiment of evil. That lady languidly remarked—'Some horse hurt, perhaps. But I wish he would be less hurried. Self-control, composure, is so very desirable, under all circumstances.’

The servant came in again, her countenance evidently full of some important news, which she was longing to impart.

‘Master has a umbrella, ma'am,’ at last she ventured to remark. Then, gathering courage, she went on—'They do say as how it is a gentleman has had a accident about two miles down the road. So the draymen say. Some drays chanced to be passing, and they told our Harry of it; and from the description, Harry thought as how it might be Mr. Herbert, and wished to tell the master. They say he was carried upon a door to the ‘Currency Lass’ inn. They thought as how the life was quite distinct.’

‘Come, that is enough,’ said Mrs. Scott. ‘I believe nothing till I know more. Everything is exaggerated. It is in all uneducated natures to magnify these accidents. Miss Lang, don't allow these little people to be frightening themselves about nothing. They must be taught early to use their reason, and to control all sudden feelings of alarm, and so on. We shall hear all in good time. Miss Lang, will you . . . . . But where is she?—Where is Miss Lang?’

No one knew. She was gone, but no one had seen her leave the room. They sought her everywhere, but vainly.

‘Very thoughtless, indeed! She has, I dare say, gone to the garden, forgetting the children might need her,’ remarked Mrs. Scott, quietly.

Soon a panting and puffing messenger came with a scrap of paper from Mr. Scott, on which he had scribbled a request for the carriage to be sent as soon as possible to the above-named public-house; for that Mr. Herbert had been thrown from his horse. He was stunned, and they feared he had broken his arm, but nothing very serious, it was hoped.

Mrs. Scott gave the necessary orders, and quietly had everything prepared for receiving her late guest. Neither did she omit to sow a few seeds of good advice, impressing on her children the moral of the event—namely, that hurry and impulse were bad things to lead any one.

In about an hour's time, Mr. Scott returned with Mr. Herbert, the latter looking very pale, and with his arm disabled. He apologized warmly, though in a hurried way, for all the trouble he had caused, and confessed he should have done wiser to follow their advice. ‘But a lesson learnt is


  ― 410 ―
a thing gained.’

‘Ah, I grumbled preciously at you, and swore you should never catch me inviting you here again,’ said Mr. Scott. ‘And, you see, you return of your own accord, and not by my asking. Of course, now you are ill and wounded, we must receive you and even nurse you. But I shall give you a bit of my mind hereafter. Never mind! What is a broken arm? ‘ 'Tis an ill wind blows no good to any one.’ So, you see, I gain a companion for some weeks to come.’

Mr. Herbert was obstinate in persisting that he would await the doctor's visit on the couch in the drawing-room instead of going at once to bed. Mrs. Scott warned him of evil and scolded, or rather ‘gave advice;’ but still he persisted. Then she wished to clear the room and send away the children.

‘Mr. Herbert must be perfectly quiet. Ask Miss Lang to take them.’

‘Can't find her no ways, ma'am.’

‘What, isn't she in yet?’

‘Where is she?’ said Mr. Scott.

‘That we don't know. Have you looked in the garden?’ said his wife to the servant.

‘Yes, ma'am. Couldn't see nothing of her there.’

‘She was here, in this room, when I left,’ said Mr. Scott. ‘For I remember observing how pale she was.’

‘Very likely! Any sudden thing turns her, poor girl. She is rather shattered. Her father's death and that fire, and all those scenes, I suppose, did it.’

‘Have you looked over the house?’ suggested Mr. Herbert.

Upon which the children were despatched to hunt her up. They thought it good fun. But ere very long, the eldest girl, Fanny, rushed back to her mother, and when close beside her burst into tears, with her face hid on her mamma's shoulder.

‘What is it, Fan?’

‘Good God! what is it?’ exclaimed Mr. Herbert, half moving off the couch, but falling back again directly from sharp pain.

‘O, I think she must be dead!’ sobbed Fanny.

‘Nonsense! You are upset—frightened, child. Where is she?’ said Mrs. Scott, trying to be severe, but, for her, very hurried.

The nurse here came in, with a disturbed face.

‘Yes,’ she said. ‘In a swoon! No one knows for how long—poor dear soul! She was lying right across the passage. Seemed as if she was going into the spare room. She was always quick and ready in thought. Perhaps she was going to see if the bed was gotten ready for the gentleman.’




  ― 411 ―

Mrs. Scott went out with nurse. And, by dint of coaxing the frightened Fanny, and sending Mary, the second child, to inquire, the gentlemen heard at last that Miss Lang had ‘awoke,’ with a great groan and looking very wild. Then, ‘mamma had explained to her that no one was dead, or even so very much hurt, and told her to lie quietly.’

‘But who was said, or supposed to be dead?’ Mr. Herbert wished to know.

‘You, I suppose,’ the child said, shyly. ‘Harry, the man, said that life was ‘distinct gone;’ and Miss Lang heard it. Perhaps that frightened her and made her ill. I've seen her bad before often, only she told me not to tell, for it was nothing.’

The child would have gone on, pleased by feeling her words were of importance, but Mr. Herbert gave a low groan, which made all the young ones look with wonder and awe on his own pain, which they were fast forgetting in their excitement about their governess. He was chained to that couch—stay there he must! but by the time that the doctor arrived, a very quick pulse and fever had set in.

Meanwhile, Isabel had sunk into a refreshing sleep. She could give no explanation of her swoon, or her intention in seeking that particular room. She had felt giddy and sick during dinner and even before. Of course the sudden news might have upset her. Mrs. Scott pronounced it to be from over-nervousness—a very bad habit, and she hoped Miss Lang would try to conquer it for the future.

Mr. Herbert said, when they were speaking of her down-stairs later in the evening, ‘that he had known Isabel faint very suddenly before, when far stronger than she seemed now.’ And then it came out that he had known more of her than the Scotts had supposed. As he was excited with pain and fever, he forgot his reserve, and even confided to Mr. Scott his friendship with the Lang family; spoke of his disagreements with Mr. Lang, and so on. So much did he say, that when, towards dawn, Mr. Scott left his friend to snatch a little sleep, he told his wife that he believed ‘there was something in it!’ with which sage and oracular sentence he turned over and went to sleep.

‘Something in what? What is Moreton thinking of, I wonder?—O—I see—I see!’ his wife soliloquized. And at breakfast the next morning, Mrs. Scott bestowed a keener look on her governess. But she said nothing, and gravely acquiesced in Isabel's assurance, that it was all past, and she was quite well and able to be in the school-room as usual. In her fall she had grazed her forehead slightly, and that mark was there. Beyond this there were no symptoms of the swoon.




  ― 412 ―

27. CHAPTER XXVII.

Reading The News.

note

Mr. Herbert proved a refractory patient, and the amiable doctor had to consent to many freaks previously unheard of in the treatment after a fall and with a broken bone. He excused his forced compliance on the ground ‘that opposition only did more harm where the will was strong. There was risk of injuring, certainly, but—&c.!’ So Mr. Herbert had his own way, and wrapped in a Turkish pattern dressing-robe, and looking quite ‘interesting and invalidish’ as Mrs. Scott said, he took possession of the couch, on the third evening after the accident. Isabel not hearing of his intention, and not dreaming of his leaving his own room, was taken completely by surprise on entering the drawing-room. She was immediately retreating, supposing that the room was given up to his use.

‘Come in!’ said Mrs. Scott. And trying to shake off her shyness, she came up to where that lady was standing, surrounded by her children, who stared at Mr. Herbert's dress and his slung arm.

‘Good evening!’ Isabel said, trying hard to be cool and indifferent. But he held out his sound hand, without speaking, and she was constrained to give him hers. Touched by the warmth of his grasp, she felt excited; then, not daring to trust herself to be silent, she rattled on, even rallying him, and declaring she heard his screams from the road, and that it was that which made her faint. ‘He only pretends, Fanny,’ she went on, not daring to pause, and catching hold of the astonished child. ‘He likes to be made much of, and fancies that Turkish robe is


  ― 413 ―
very imposing and becoming!’ A quiet and amused smile on Mrs. Scott's face at last made her suddenly stop short.

‘You are rather sharp on our invalid, Miss Lang,’ said Mr. Scott, coming in. ‘Yet you showed sympathy and compassion enough by swooning in that tragic way.’

‘Supposing it had nothing whatever to do with the accident, after all?’ she said. ‘It sounds so romantic and like a novel, it is a pity to contradict it, isn't it? But facts are stubborn, and this is the fact—that I managed to turn giddy and fall when I was upstairs, at least some ten minutes after the news was brought, having, moreover, been rather queer and ‘all-overish’ all the day.’

‘You are very anxious to prove you were not frightened, I observe,’ said Mr. Scott.

‘Not anxious at all,’ Isabel said; ‘but so it was.’

‘Well, Miss Lang is not usually one to lose her presence of mind by foolish fright and alarm, I will say,’ put in Mrs. Scott.

‘No, Fanny; no play here. There are too many in the room, my dear,’ said Mr. Scott to his wife.

‘Yes; the children must go,’ she said. Then in a whisper to Isabel, she added, ‘I will take them away, if you will be so very good as to stay here and . . .’

‘No,’ returned Isabel, very decidedly,—'no, indeed, I can't do that, Mrs. Scott. There is our history class to come off, and—and . . . .’

‘The doctor does not wish him to read to himself,’ Mrs. Scott still whispered. ‘He is wishing for the newspaper, and my throat is sore. In fact, Miss Lang, it would be a real favour,’ she pursued. ‘Will you? Is it very disagreeable? Mr. Scott will remain, if you wish it. But you read aloud so nicely—just the news.’

‘Hallo! what is all that whispering about?’ cried Mr. Scott.

And Isabel, afraid lest Mr. Herbert should overhear, or guess at her reluctance, hastily, and not over graciously, said, ‘I must, of course, if you want me to do it.’ And taking up the newspaper, she sat down like a victim, or a school-girl set on a hated task. She did not ask what she should read, but plunged into the leading article at once, hesitating, in her nervousness, and then suddenly conscious of her rapid, hurried style, not very easy to hear, she checked herself, and forced her words to come out in sober and proper sequence. Presently Mr. Scott became fidgety, and said he was sure that Herbert ought to have an air cushion for the broken arm, and he knew where to find one which was put away in his study. Isabel saw him go, but read on steadily, though without the smallest notion of the meaning of the words. This went on, till she


  ― 414 ―
found the paper was slipping out of her hands, and looking up, saw, with a start, that Mr. Herbert was stretching out his well arm, and at some risk to the lame one, as she was scarcely within his reach, he was trying to pull away the paper from before her face.

‘I beg your pardon,’ he said, falling back on his cushions again, and somewhat alarmed at the sudden change of colour in her face.

‘Shall I go on? or is there any particular part you want to hear?’ she said, stooping to pick it up, and willing to hide her countenance from his keen eyes if she could.

‘No, no—though it is very nice. Just what I have often so dreamt of.’

‘What! your lying there with a broken arm?’ she said. ‘Very unpleasant dreams.’

And she laughed a little, nervously, and again seemed to search the paper for a subject.

‘No; but having you to read to me,’ Mr. Herbert said.

‘It is not by any means the first time, I believe,’ she went on, in a careless tone. ‘Wasn't there Sinbad, and a long, dull poem by one Goldsmith, which . . .’

‘Yes; you read it seated on my knee. Fancy that! O, Isabel—’

And then he stopped. After a little pause he went on quietly, almost as if speaking to himself.

‘There is—there must be some fate in it. Here I am again, having made up my mind to leave——And then’—here his voice took a tone of peculiar tenderness—‘you did care—you may deny it, if you like, and I dare say you will; but you were sorry at the idea of my danger, Isabel.’

And he looked at her reproachfully.

‘I don't wish to deny it at all. Why, surely you would expect it! Wouldn't you feel the same for me—or for any one.’

He did not answer this. His eyes were bent on her. She felt their meaning to the quick, though she dared not meet them.

‘Is there no hope, then?’ he said, as if to himself. Then, louder, ‘Isabel, tell me just one thing. Is it that you can't forget or forgive—is it resentment? or is it . . . . Could it never, under any circumstances, have been possible for you to—to—like me—in the way—I like—love you? Was it even then impossible for the friend to be something even dearer and nearer? Had I only come back on that next day, would you have said ‘yes’? Answer me—would you?’

‘Said ‘yes’ to what?’ she answered, fighting it off to the last, though much moved by his earnestness.

‘To my question. If I had asked you to be my wife?’




  ― 415 ―

He could not see her face. It was hidden; and she did not speak. The pause of absolute silence seemed to be long. At last, with a sigh, he broke it.

‘You know me well, all my faults,’ he said. ‘You know that I love you. Can you ever, if not now, in time, return it? Do speak!—I shall never ask again. Perhaps . . . have you known me too long as a friend to look on me as a lover, a husband?—or—or—is it possible that your old regard is gone? Do you even dislike me?—Isabel!’

His words came the faster and more vehemently, that she still remained silent. Again he tried to put out his hand to touch her. But he winced visibly at the pain caused by the exertion of stretching out his arm, and shut his eyes for a moment, looking very white.

‘Pray don't do so,’ she murmured.

He seemed not to hear her. An expression of sadness and suffering seemed to stiffen each feature.

‘Not a word? At least say ‘No,’ and end suspense,’ he said, faintly. Then, controlling the impatience of his tone—'Isabel, I shall never tease you again; but I entreat you to speak now. Tell me—is it anger—or is it indifference? Ah! anger might yet leave a little hope.’ And he threw up his hand and pressed his head. ‘But, I see! I see! It is indifference—cool, disdainful indifference!—dislike, I believe. There! she is going, and without one word, after all my entreaty—my . . . .’

She had risen from her seat as he spoke. He covered his eyes with his hand.

‘Yes,—well—go!—go, if you like it. If you go now, I shall understand it—I shall know that . . .’

But he was stopped by feeling something close over him, and the hand which he was now impatiently drawing through his hair (a trick he had when much vexed) came suddenly in contact with something soft, while a kiss, light as dew, fell on his fingers.

Almost springing off his couch, he managed to seize and secure her hand, and drew it over his face.

‘Isabel! God bless you—God love you! You shall never, never repent this. My darling!’ he went on, ‘it is not in your nature to be disdainful or unkind. Yet—what may I think or hope? No—don't go, Isabel; you must come here now.’

And he drew her round to his side. She did not resist, but sank on her knees, burying her face behind his cushions. After a moment, he anxiously tried to raise her head, stroking her hair with his left hand fondly.

‘Don't cry—don't! Is it, then, only for me—because you fear to


  ― 416 ―
injure, to hurt me now? Isabel, unhappy?’

‘No—no.’

‘But you are—I see you are! How have I hurt or distressed you? Isabel, what is it?’

Seeing him really distressed, she forced the tears back and looked up.

‘It is nothing. You brought it all on yourself—all. But it is a great mistake.’

‘What is a mistake, Isabel?’

‘All—all this!’

‘These tears, but not . . . .’

‘I tell you it is all wrong,’ she said, with her old petulance. ‘You are acting under an impulse, as Mrs. Scott would say,’ and she laughed hysterically.

‘Mrs. Scott! Nonsense! Isabel, do you love me?’

‘If I do, I ought not to . . . .’

‘Don't—don't say that! Indeed, indeed, I will value and cherish it always.’

‘I shall tease you into bad health—to death, perhaps,—who knows? There, I thought I was changed; but seeing you has brought back all my old self.’

‘Has it? I am glad. Isabel, you are sure you like me?’

‘No, indeed!’

‘No! you love me, then,—do you?’

‘You ask too many questions. It is tiresome, Mr. Herbert.’

‘Well—only once, just once tell me so! Do you forgive me quite? If you wont speak, give me your hand—do, Isabel!’

She looked at him for a moment earnestly, and then with a quick movement she put her hand in his. He drew her close—very close. ‘Let me go, please,—they are coming!’ He let her go, and she went back to her chair.

‘That is so far away. Closer—come nearer!’

‘Because you are ill, I suppose I must humour you,’ she said, in a troubled voice, and drawing her chair a little nearer to him. ‘And pray do you consider this a discreet step of yours, Mr. Herbert?’ she asked soon, demurely enough, though it was evident she kept a strong check on herself, and was still deeply excited.

‘About what?’ he asked.

‘Why,’ she said, hesitating, ‘what will they say? I mean your sister and grand English friends. Will they like a governess—a girl without beauty or fortune for . . . .’




  ― 417 ―

‘For what? Explain yourself. This girl without ‘beauty or fortune,’ what about her, Isabel? Come, tell me, how is my discretion at fault? But come yet nearer,’ he said; ‘sit on this low seat; I want to see you. No, no; they wont come. Why, they have left us on purpose.’

‘On purpose! What do you mean?’

‘Only that they guess something, and are obliging,’ he said.

‘No! Guess—guess what, Mr. Herbert? Did you tell them, then?’

‘What had I to tell?’ he said, much amused at her alarm. ‘Certainly Scott took it into his head to be joking me this morning, and cross-questioning me too; and I owned, I believe,—that is, I said I had an interest—a regard; but never mind about them. Come here!’ And she did come. ‘That's right. Now I can see your face; a thinner face than it was!’ he added, gently stroking aside a little of her stray hair. ‘Did you blame me very much?’ he said, after a little silence. ‘Were you very angry, Issy, at my not coming to you directly after that last visit? You must have thought it strange, indeed!’

‘I fought your battles while I could;’ her voice was not very clear, and her eyes glistened with unshed tears.

‘Did you?’

‘Yes, and then—I tried to forget you.’

‘And succeeded?’

She glanced at him, and then struggled to say something saucy, but it ended in her hiding her face with her hands, while a few tears trickled down, and a short strong sob burst all restraint. It did not last long. ‘I did not sit down and fret,’ she said, as soon as she could command a steady voice. ‘I had much to do. I was very happy and content. Yes, and leading a better and a busier life than you ever knew me to do.’

He smiled. ‘This is so pleasant, as it ought to be. Don't you find it quite ‘natural,’ Issy?’

‘Yet, only a few days ago, and you treated me as the veriest stranger,’ she answered. ‘And that was all natural, I suppose?’

‘Don't talk of it! But although I did so, the very instant I found myself in your presence my heart throbbed to suffocation, and all my pre-conceived ideas seemed to vanish. I felt all the time that you were mine. I could scarcely refrain from drawing you to me, and claiming you as my own, in spite of all and everything.’

‘Whether I liked it or not?—you took that for granted, I suspect, very coolly.’

‘No; sometimes just the reverse. Don't alarm yourself—you have not been won unwooed. Be content; you have perplexed and troubled me quite enough, and I tortured myself often with the notion that you could


  ― 418 ―
never love me. At other moments I certainly seemed to rest on it as a fact pre-ordained. You were mine—mine—without reasoning or accounting for it, that was the feeling.’

Here Isabel jumped up from her low stool and was only just seated in proper dignity, demurely sheltered by the newspaper, when Mr. and Mrs. Scott came in.




  ― 419 ―

28. CHAPTER XXVIII.

Telling The News.

note

‘Well, finished the news?’ Mr. Scott asked.

‘Are you ready to return to your room, Mr. Herbert?’ inquired his wife.

‘Not exactly.’

‘But you seem flushed. The news has been too exciting, I fear—eh, Miss Lang?’ said Mr. Scott, looking keenly at her.

‘Well, wool is down, and there is an article prophesying another insolvency in some important house in Sydney,’ she said, looking at the paragraphs as she spoke.

‘Yes, Gribble and Co. are tottering, so it is said. Where will it end?’ And fairly launched on the fruitful topic of bad times, they all talked on eagerly, finding it difficult to stop. Under cover of this discussion Isabel slipped away. Before her return among them, Mr. Herbert had told his hosts of his being engaged to her, so that the first expressions of surprise having been freely uttered, Isabel received a cordial hand-shake from Mr. Scott, and a smile tolerably approving from the lady. With regard to Mr. Herbert, she was herself surprised to find how easily she fell into the old easy and familiar footing, at least, when alone with him. Before others there was a little shyness, and he found it difficult even to catch her eye, far less get an answer when he particularly addressed her. Mrs. Scott was considerate, and contrived that they should be a good deal together and alone. At such times some of the old battles were fought again.


  ― 420 ―
He soon shook off his indisposition, and save the sling, there was no further mark of his accident. Isabel lost her careworn look, and the colour came back to her cheeks, under the quiet repose of her heart. Her manner to him was pretty and characteristic. It was what it used to be, with deeper touches. While he was an invalid and on the couch, she was very docile and gentle; so much so, that he laughed and wondered, saying he expected to have to quote the old song to her, ‘One of two must obey.’ But her obedience was so exemplary that . .’

‘Don't be too sure of it!’ she said. ‘When you are yourself again and acting the master, stalking about as a lord of the creation, I shall not be the meek, yielding creature you have found me lately. You are now down and in my power. It would be cowardly and dishonourable to bully you. But . . . .’

‘What will she do? What does Miss Lang mean, Mr. Herbert?’ little Mary had asked, as she sat with her doll, unheeded by them.

‘You perhaps can inform me. What does she do with you in the school-room? Is she very terrible?’

‘No—only she will be minded. But you are so big and so tall, she couldn't make you mind, if you didn't like.’

‘Well, that's a comfort for me! Do you know, Mary, if you grow very restive and troublesome, when Miss Lang goes away, your mamma must let you come to me. I have a peculiar method for taming horses and children. Once—very long ago—there was a little girl somewhere about your age, no, nearer your sister Fanny's. She was offended about something and out of temper. It was at a sort of gipsy party some miles from home, and she had ridden on a nice little pony, but rather spirited and apt to jump about and kick. Well, this girl took it into her head to punish us all by declaring she would not mount her pony. She would walk home by herself. They could not frighten her with the prospect of the darkness which must overtake her. The nurse and a lady friend there, and her sister and brothers, all were quite upset, and some of them cried. But the girl was hard and determined, and began to walk off, just like a little rebel as she was. Then they applied to me. ‘She will be lost. Something must happen. O Mr. Herbert!’ All right, said I; and throwing the pony's rein over my arm, I went on whistling. Soon I spied the little rebel walking along in front, and on her hearing the horse's steps, I saw that she quickened her pace; very soon, before she knew that any one was near her, she found herself on the pony's back, and the bridle in her hand. ‘I'll get down—you'll see I will!’ she


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said. But as she struggled and insisted on walking, the pony's legs were tickled by a switch, and he began to caper and kick so that she had to hold on. Then the rest of the party came trotting along, all the horses fresh and eager to go home. So the young lady was obliged to keep her seat. She kept in front of the cavalcade, and I believe scarcely slackened the pace, which was of the fastest, till they reached their own gates.’

‘Ah, she was conquered. But who was it, Mr. Herbert?’

‘That's a secret,’ Mr. Herbert said, amused.

‘How can you remember such nonsense?’ Isabel remarked. ‘Ask him, Mary, how he got punished for his share in that affair.’

‘It was you,’ said Mary, shyly. ‘Tell me some more about Miss Lang—do, Mr. Herbert.’

‘Yes; and while you do so, I shall go and write my letter,’ said Isabel, and not heeding his request that the letter might be put off, that this was their only quiet time for that day, and so on, she left him, really wishing to have no further delay in writing to Jem. The only cloud of this time of peace to Isabel, was that she dared not yet tell her mother of her having had any explanation with Mr. Herbert. She had, of course, mentioned his arrival, and since then had only briefly alluded to him, as one with whom she had no concern. Indeed, she was conscious that she must have given them an impression of his extreme coldness, and ‘cutting’ the acquaintance. Her mother's letters always contained some wonder at Isabel's consenting to remain in the same house with one who had acted so ‘scandalously;’ for her part, she hoped she should never meet him. It had been settled by Isabel and Mr. Herbert, that as soon as he could move, he should go himself to Westbrooke and announce their engagement. Yet as the day drew near, and she saw him going about, and fit for the ride, her heart failed her.

‘Why are you so grave?’ he asked. ‘I fear I need not flatter myself that it is because I am going away.’

‘I have a great mind to go with you,’ she answered.

‘Indeed! Well, do so. Yet I thought you settled it was best for me to go first on my own account, and try what I can do.’

‘Yes; but I dread it so.’

‘I hope the dread is needless. Your mother is not so very implacable a person, and you may really trust me to behave properly, when I am so anxious to win her pardon.’

She shook her head. ‘Yes—O yes, it wont be difficult to win. Too easy; that's it.’




  ― 422 ―

‘I don't understand.’

‘Why, don't you see that you are now rich and we are poor, and mamma seems to think so much more than she did of our ‘doing well,’ as she calls it, and so on . . . .’

‘Is that all?’

‘Quite enough too. I don't like it. On the whole, I should prefer her holding back and refusing her consent.’

‘Isabel!’

‘Yes, I should. The other is mortifying; I don't like it.’

‘Nonsense, nonsense. I dare say we could have managed to be happy as poor folks, but surely a comfortable income is a good thing, and your mother is right to desire it for her children, in reason. Don't fancy that I shall think less of her for any care or expectation she has for you. Putting money aside, I know she might very reasonably object to trusting you to me at all. The more she thinks of you and requires for you, the better I shall like her.’

‘You will be satisfied. Mind, I trust to you. Please don't be sharp or satirical. I never liked it towards them. Now, I couldn't bear it! No, I couldn't, I wouldn't . . . .’

‘Nonsense, Issy! As if I should be sharp and satirical to your mother! You ought to know me better. You must trust me, my darling; and I shall for this once do better without you than with you.’

She did not remind him of the many times he had been satirical, but smiled, amused at his present goodwill for them all. She saw him drive away, having sent for a gig from Sydney; and turning back to the school-room, she felt lonely and anxious, yet very happy too.

Mr. Herbert did well; and his account of his visit and reception pleased her, on the whole. From her mother she received an elaborate and rather stiff letter, congratulating her on the ‘fine prospects’ which awaited her. Mr. Herbert had acted handsomely, she said, and made such ample and proper apologies, and was so earnest and so humble in begging her forgiveness and consent, that she had granted both, and hoped she had done well. Isabel was old enough to choose for herself, and so on. Kate's was a less studied affair. She was very glad that her dear Issy was at last caught, and seemed so happy. But for her part, not all his fortune or his cleverness could make her get over the dread she had of him. But of course Issy would never tell him this; and she confessed he had been very kind, and very pleasant, too, for him, and Tom thought a great deal of him. Quite a month passed before Mr. Herbert left Bengala, to which


  ― 423 ―
place he had gone from Westbrooke with Tom Jolly.

Isabel had now left the Scotts and was at home. She had offered to remain longer with them, but they were too kind to allow it; and fortunately Mr. Scott had found a substitute, who promised well, ready to come at once.

Mr. Herbert had urged her giving up the task of teaching as soon as possible; and Isabel herself could not help longing to be in her home again, there to examine and realize her new happiness.

Charlie Brand was waiting for her at the end of the Cedar Avenue, and (what no one had ever seen him do before) his hat was actually lifted clear off his head, while the queerest smile touched his lips and shone in his eyes.

‘Glad to have ye back, miss! You'll find us pretty flourishing and looking up, though wanting rain. Fine crop of grapes as ever I saw; but a poor gathering of Ingin Corn. Ay, they slips of yourn are come up finely at last, as you see. The willow will be as fine as the parent tree up at Langville. Patience, you see, miss, and most things come round, and come straight, too! Didn't I say these slips would grow in time? also, that ‘folks’ would find the way back over the wide sea, and all? For, wide as the ocean is, there's a small chap I've heard of, what's painted without breeches, will find his way over—eh, now, miss? Don Cupid don't stick at a difficulty, do he now miss?’

By which Isabel understood him to express his content and triumph at the fulfilment of his prophecies, that Mr. Herbert would come back some day. But when she alighted from the carriage, and claimed a heartier congratulation by slipping her fingers into his great horny hand, instead of returning her squeeze, he dropped her hand directly, retreating a step, and again touching his hat.

‘Miss—I wish you and the gentleman all joy, I'm sure, and—and—I—’ but his words failed him, and he turned sharp round with bent head and walked away fast.

Isabel found herself made much of by her mother and Kate, to say nothing of her young sisters, who were delighted at her return home. They dragged her here and there and everywhere, anxious to show every spot.

It was pleasant to be at home again, to draw round the tea-table and feel so content—so free from anxiety.

‘When will our other visitor arrive?’ remarked Mrs. Lang.

But hardly had she said it when a gig drove up and Mr. Herbert


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came in. That evening he and Isabel had a stroll round the paddocks and to her old favourite view from the fence. She told him some of her old thoughts there, but he could not bear her to allude to that time, or to hear of her suffering through him; so they pushed on, and were at last at the bottom of the paddock. Mr. Herbert proposed her resting on a fallen tree; but she glanced around, and, with a look of almost horror, said—

‘Don't let us stay here. That log!—not taken away yet; though I begged Charlie to have it removed or to burn it. O, it is nothing,’ she added, seeing his surprise, ‘only—don't let us stay here. This is where—he—where poor Dr. Mornay brought me that night of the fire!’

And Isabel shuddered and covered up her eyes for a moment. He knew how she shrank from even an allusion to this time, and gently drew her away to higher ground, where the sun still shone. But she could not immediately throw off the feeling of sadness and awe which the memory of her brief intercourse with that unhappy man always promoted. Perhaps the shock it had caused her had been overruled to work well. It had left an indelible impression that there were deep and awful phases in life unknown and unguessed by her; that with all her energy and desire to set things right and straight, she was utterly powerless even to comprehend half the grief and struggles which her fellow-mortals endured. To such a temperament as Isabel's such a sense of powerlessness and humiliation only gave the touch which was needful in order to soften and subdue what might otherwise be too strong and too light.

The two sisters were married on the same day. Both agreeing in preferring a very quiet wedding, the party was limited to Tom's family, the Farrants, and the Scotts; Isabel's pupils acting as bridesmaids.

Mr. Herbert talked of returning to England, yet he lingered; and after some time, finding it vacant, he took Langville. This led to Kate and Tom setting up a separate establishment for themselves at Warratah Brush, so that, as Mr. Farrant observed, the Parsonage had again its old neighbours and friends.

We must now bid them all farewell, though reluctant to leave the old scenes and associations they have called up.

A great change has come to the land since that time. The young colony struggled through much disappointment and depression—struggled manfully; and then came the discovery of gold, bringing


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renewed life and prosperity.

Handsome and substantial churches must have multipliednote through the length and breadth of the land, taking the place of the poor little attempts described in this tale. It is a grand country! And her children will not forget that added wealth and power is also added responsibility. In her hour of need, men were sent out from the mother country and partly maintained, who should preach patience and consolation to all who suffered; and there was suffering. Now, in their time of prosperity, surely they will not be slow to feel, but thankful to show, that they can themselves support and maintain God's church in fitting dignity. ‘To whom much is given, much will be required.’note

Floreat Australia!note

THE END.
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