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12. Chapter XII.

Miss Florrynote Mason's wedding-dress bee formed a pretty and animated gathering. The nine or ten dearest friends were chiefly in white or delicately tinted dresses, and each was adorned with a profusion of blooms worn in bouquets, clusters, wandering sprays, or plastrons,note according to the nature of the wearer's favourite flowers. There was a swelling ripple of talk and laughter as they settled down, and a little consternation on finding that the dressmaker had not prepared "seams" enough. Some had swelling lengths of ivory satin, but all could not be employed on the skirt and noteunder-jupon.

"A bit of pipingnote will do for me," said one.

"And the pocket for me," said another.

"What is the use of putting a pocket in a wedding-dress?" asked one of the elder girls. "It is only in your sanest and calmest moment you can remember where it is to be found."

At last all were provided with some portion of the satin, into which more or less stitches could be put, by amateur needles, without encroaching on the delicate question of fit or style.

"Now that we are all at work, I think the "sanest and calmest" of us should tell a story," said the bride-elect.

"I wish I had been married for a few days, and then I would tell you girls a story that would make your flesh creep," said a young sister of Florry's, who had but recently escaped from the school-room.

There was some laughter and expostulation, and the elder sister said a little severely, "Now, Mab, don't begin to carry on!"

"I wonder you allow yourself such a common phrase, looking as you do so much like an exalted cherub," retorted Mab. "And as for "carrying on," nothing will make me believe that it is not rather dreadful to go away from every friend you have in the world with a strange man."




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"Do you call Lance a strange man?" asked Florry indignantly.

"Certainly; you just see him for a little time in the evening after he has spent the day in trying to look good–not always successfully. Besides, if it weren't rather gruesome, why should one's mother give the institution away so?"

"Oh, don't laugh, girls! it will only make her worse," said Florry, in a vexed tone. But the girls were too much amused not to laugh, and one of them pursued the subject by asking how one's mother "gave the institution away."

"Why, for weeks before a girl marries," replied Mab very seriously, "her mother never calls her anything but "poor dear!" and "poor darling!" and the last day of all it is "poor dear darling!" and tears."

"You have been through it all, Mab."

"Yes. Florry is the fourth girl married out of this house, and two brothers have followed the same broad path, and even they, I believe, breakfasted on coloured soda-waternote the morning they were led to the altar, blushing, the poor dears! like tomatoes."

"Really, Mab, I'll get mother to ask you to go into the schoolroom if you run on at such a rate," said Florry.

"I can call spirits from the vasty deep, and so can you, and so can any man, but will they come?"note said Mab, in a declamatory, semi-mocking tone, very provocative of a breach of the peace.

Fortunately a diversion was caused just then by the entrance of Mdlle. Clemente, a young French lady whose father was a viticulturist near the Masons.note

"Come here, dear, till I admire "le dernier chic"note in millinery," cried Mab, between whom and this young lady a warm friendship existed, unimpaired by the fact that neither was very fluent in the other's mother tongue.

"Ma notechérie, rien de plus simple et de moins compliqué. Ce qui manque en général un chapeau moderne c'est l'idéalité,"note said mademoiselle, taking her chapeau to bits like a Chinese puzzle, by pulling out a few pearl-headed pins.

Mab insisted on mademoiselle sitting by her, "de causer chiffons,"note and gradually the "bee" fell into amicable pairs and groups, till a burning discussion arose regarding a recent tennis tournament,note in which sides were vehemently taken regarding two


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champion players–A, an Englishman, and B, an Australian.

"A is so much more graceful; look at his splendid underhand strokes: he puts the pace on a ball entirely with his wrist."

"But his volley is nothing to B when smashing, and the brilliant way B plays his strokes overhand, and takes his balls forehand."

"Ah, but look at the splendid length A kept on his noteball, hardly any falling inside the service line."

"But then B's double play! Did you notice him in the semi-final? A cannot come near him in some things; for example, the underhand lift."

"Do you compare the two? "For as sunlight unto moonlight, and as water unto wine––" "note

"I think, Miss Paget, I must make you mistress of the ceremonies," said Mrs. Mason, advancing with a smile from the bay-window, in which she had been engrossed in talk with Mrs. Tillotson till the rising tide of too eager controversy attracted her attention.

Miss Paget was laying a foldnote on a long slip of bridal satin, smiling from time to time at the girlish chatter going on around her, but noteon the whole too much engrossed with her own thoughts to have a very clear idea of what was being said.

"Oh, very well," she answered; "what does a mistress of the ceremonies do?"

"I think she sorts those who are notenot of the notefaith in tennis into packages not wanted on the voyage," said a demurely grave voice.

"That is too burning a question. As I am in authority, I think I'll second Florry's original proposal, and call on the oldest and wisest of you for a story. I am the oldest, but I wouldn't like to say I am the wisest."

"For my own part, I believe a girl is as wise as ever she will be at sixteen," said Mab, holding up her chin defiantly.

"Oh, Mab, Mab, you don't really think so!" said a girl with velvet-soft voice and eyes who sat near the enfant terrible.

"Then, if you think you are æons wiser than I am, you tell a story, Jessie," responded Mab with a determined air.

Jessie laughed, and then held up a trailing breadth of the thick shining satin she was overcasting with minute stitches, looked at


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it admiringly, and said:

"Really, Florry, this is the loveliest satin––"

"Oh, you awfully mean thing!" said Mab impetuously. "I would sooner be a stewed rabbit than try to get out of a contract like that!"

"Like what, Mab?"

"Why, smothering the point in dispute by holding up ivory satin to a lot of girls––"

"But why is that such an infamous proceeding?"

"Because no question of truth or justice has the slightest show, compared to the tail of a wedding-dress, especially if it is twenty-five and a demi bobnote a yard."

"Oh, really, Mab!" began Florry in a pained voice. And then Jessie–being one of the fierily sympathetic kind who go through life responding to every call, and seeking above all things to save others from the pain which her own too sensitive nature exposed her to–interposed.

"Yes, I suppose it is true. I did try to get out of the challenge. The thing is to show that at sixteen or thereabouts you had as much sense as at–well, say twenty-five."

"Yes; if the theory functions, you can easily spot an incident," said Mab with the calm certainty which belongs to her years, and a mixture of metaphors peculiarly her own province.

Thus goaded on, Jessie looked pensively thoughtful, diving into her past life for a "case in point."

"Well, it is hardly a story; it is about myself, and it makes me rather ridiculous," she said, laughing a little.

"Of course–because you were not so wise then," said Mab in an encouraging tone.

"It was when we were returning from England some years ago. Among the passengers there was a Lord Guy Pearsall, fourth son of the Duke of Saltson."

"And you were cringing enough to fall in love with him?" said someone, laughing mischievously in the shadow of the grand piano, near notea folding-door that opened into a conservatory radiant with exotic flowers. "A scion of the effete British aristocracy, and your father a fiery republican!"note

"No, I did not," answered Jessie, blushing a little. "I admit I


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admired his filbert nails very much, for I know they often come into the world, but seldom last––"note

There was general laughter at this.

"Well, we forgive you enthusing about filbert nails, which probably require generations of people living on others. But, confess now, he had other attractions?"

"Not in the way of being good-looking. He was quite a little man, not at all young, with rather a red face, and hardly any hair: none on his face, and hardly any on his head. He told father he had about three sousnote a day to live on. I suppose it was true, for we heard he often lost forty or fifty pounds a night at cards. However, we got very friendly, as people do on ship-board. And really he had not a thread of affectation in him. He was going to a cattle-station in North Queensland, to live there, you know, not just on a visit. I said to him one day, how different he would find it from his previous life, for he had lived nearly always in big cities."

"Oh, Jessie, you were making it easy for him to ask you to share his solitude!" said the irrepressible Mab. But she was laughingly reprimanded by Miss Paget, and Jessie went on:

"Well, he said he thought he would rather like "roughing it," and then I don't quite know how it came in––"

"Oh, conversation is often very inconsequent in real life, especially on board a mail-boat," said someone in a tone of judicial gravity.

"Well, I fancy it was to prove that he had roughed it a little, even in England, for he told me how, a short time before he left, he had been staying at a rectory in the country, and how he thought a bourgeoisie dinner at six o'clock was so nice and interesting. How there was a whole leg of mutton–a whole leg on the table at once–and potatoes and things standing in dishes, and not removed till they were nearly all eaten; and how, when these were taken away, the maid brought in a pie–quite a large dish–and after that came the most curious part of the performance: the maid went round the table with a funny little brush, with a crooked ivory back to it, and swept the table–actually swept it, by Jove! with this odd-looking brush, before putting down the apples and walnuts, etc."

"Oh, Jessie, what fun to hear him describing a crumb-brush! Didn't you laugh?"




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"Yes–at the crumb-brush," said Jessie, her cheeks reddening.

"I would have laughed outright, and told Lord Guy that it was only on Sundays we used a crooked brush with an ivory back," said another.

"Well, I know I was a dreadful little snob, but it gave me a sort of humiliated feeling to hear our every-day dinners described as if they were the customs of some newly-discovered savages. But I was only seventeen at the time, and if you think, Mab, I would be guilty of such silliness now. . . . And what followed was worse, for father asked him to dinner. Lord Guy stayed a fortnight at Government House, and I just felt I would die if our maid went round sweeping the table before him. So I implored mother to have notea dinner à la russe. You know that was not common here seven years ago––"note

"My dear Florry," said the mother of the bride-elect, entering the room at this juncture, "Miss North has come; but she has a young lady with her, something of an invalid, and thinks she had better not stay, perhaps."

"Ah, she must, if only for half an hour," returned Florry eagerly.

She excused her absence for a few moments, warning the narrator of the crumb-brush story not to proceed till she returned. In a short time she came noteback and placed a large easy-chair opposite the open bay-window, explaining, as she did so, that Miss North and her young charge would come in for a short time just to see them at work.

"She is the loveliest girl you ever saw," she was saying when the stranger entered, leaning on Miss North's arm. She bowed with grave simplicity as she was led to the arm-chair, and as they looked at her with kindly, interested faces, each felt that her rare loveliness could not have been exaggerated. The deep radiant eyes, with their heavy sweeping lashes, the flower-soft oval face, the white wide brow framed with masses of deep amber hair, but, above all, the curiously spiritual expression of face–all made a picture which, once seen, could not but linger long in the memory. But why was the face of one so young and beautiful stamped with that strange look of remoteness alike from the turmoil, excitement, and careless gaiety of youth? It seemed as


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if the careless chatter around her could have as little part in her thoughts as if she already belonged to another world.

She looked out through the open window, and into the valley below the lawn, which was filled with the delicate downy foliage of olive-trees, whose gray-green leaves, in clustered masses, have something of the dimness of pale clouds rather than the verdure of living trees.

"I do not know those trees, I think," she said, turning to Miss Mason, who had drawn a chair to her side.

"Those down in the valley? They are olive-trees."

"Yes, I remember reading about them a short time ago," she said, mentally recalling the words: "And He came out, and went as His custom was unto the Mount of Olives."note

It was on the day before her mother died she had read this passage. But the interval between that time and the present seemed now to be separated from her, not by months, but by a few hours.

There was some demand on Miss Mason which called her to another part of the room. Seeing Miss Paget near at hand, looking at Doris with fixed interest, she introduced the two, and asked Miss Paget to take her place beside the new-comer.

"Miss Paget, there is something I should like to ask you," said Doris, when they were left alone.

"Yes, dear; let me hear what it is."

"Is your name Helen?"

"Yes."

Doris was silent for a little, and then said softly:

"I am glad we have met."

"Had you heard my name before?"

"Yes; you could hardly imagine where I heard it notethe first time."

"I should like to know."

"It was in the midst of the Silent Sea–the gray lonely plains where the gray salt-bush, bending before the wind, looks like noiseless waves."

"And who spoke my name there?"

"Victor."

"Ah! you heard him speak it? Was he–did he know you were there?"




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"No. He was ill with fever."

"Near the house in which you lived?"

"No; he had gone away. I do not quite understand. But the man who took care of him in a little hut said Victor did not wish people to know where he was for some reason."

"Was that the one notewho took him to the hospital?"

"No; it was Kenneth–Kenneth Campbell, our old shepherd–who took him. I was with Kenneth, and sat near noteto Victor to make his head easier. And then I heard him call on you, as the man who took care of him did before."

"The man in the little hut?"

"Yes. Can you tell me how Victor is? I have been wishing to know so much before we go away."

Miss Paget drew a long quivering breath. For a moment she thought her answer would be: "He is here–you will see him;" but almost as noteif without volition her answer came:

"He is much better. He came from the hospital two days ago."

"Oh, I am glad! And noteyou have seen him?"

"Yes; he is staying at our house. I am taking care of him."

"Dear Miss Paget, I know you will be so good and kind!" There was notea scarcely perceptible tremor in the girl's voice.

By way of answer, Miss Paget pressed Doris's hand. There was a mist before her eyes, and a faint, far-off tumult in her ears. It seemed as if her heart were torn by two contending impulses, and as if she waited helplessly to see which prevailed.

"I am happy you are taking care of him, for I know he loves you," said Doris, after a little pause.

A servant brought them some tea. Miss Paget looked round to see if perhaps Victor had come into the drawing-room. She saw Mrs. Mason leaving it with a small tray, and she divined that this was some tea for Victor in his own room. Should she hasten after Mrs. Mason, and tell her that Miss North's young charge was a friend whom Victor would be glad to see? Should she tell Doris that he was here? She did neither, and the moments passed.

"My dear, I think we must be going now," said Miss North, coming to the bay-window in which the two sat.

When going away, Doris asked Miss Paget to come to see her


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on the morrow, and Miss Paget gladly consented. The hour was fixed for five o'clock in the afternoon by Miss North. She was a lady of considerable talent, extremely hospitable to new ideas, and perhaps more willing still to impart them. She lingered to speak to Miss Paget while Florry Mason talked to Doris.

"I am glad you are coming to see the dear child. I want her to get as well as possible before she leaves. She has a touch of intermittent fever, and you know the average doctor's old-fashioned way of putting people to bed! Now, I am certain that the sources of life are profoundly influenced by our will; and this girl, young and beautiful as she is, and in a way happy, would be perfectly content to die. She has lost her mother, in whom she was noteentirely wrapped up. She was brought up too much alone. It was partly, I believe, a fad of her father's. Now, my theory is, that girls should not be subjected to experiments. They may do no harm, and produce interesting variations, in the case of men and pigeons."

Miss Paget watched Miss North's neat little brougham drive away, and then heard a chorus of voices discuss the singular beauty and charm of her young patient.

"But I like eyes with more "go" in them," said Mab. "Hers are just holy. One would not dare to speak to her of a "mash"note or––"

"A what, Mab?" said her mother, in a wondering tone.

"A "mash," mothera new kind of encyclopedia."

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