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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.


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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


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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


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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.’




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‘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!’

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