― 234 ―


Further Explanation.


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.’

  ― 235 ―

‘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

  ― 236 ―
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?’

  ― 237 ―

‘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,

  ― 238 ―
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—

  ― 239 ―
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.’

  ― 240 ―

‘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?’