― 241 ―


Unwelcome Visitors, and Farewell.


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

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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

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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

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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

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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.’