Chapter I

IT was one Sunday afternoon in the middle of December and in the province of South Australia. The grass was withered almost to the roots, fast turning gray and brown. Indeed, along the barer ridges of the beautiful hills that rise in serried ranks to the east of Adelaide, the herbage was already as dry and bleached as carded flax. In the gullies, thickly timbered and lying in perpetual shade, the ground still retained the faint graying green distinctive of Australian herbage in a state of transition from spring verdure to summer drought.

But soon even the shadiest recesses would bear witness to the scorching dryness of the season. For even before the middle of this first month of summer, two or three of those phenomenal days had come which furnish anecdotes for many successive months alike to the weather statist and the numerous class who cultivate community of soul by comparing experiences of those dreadful days on which ‘the hall thermometer stood at 104° before noon.’ This Sunday had not quite been one of the days that make the oldest residents turn over heat averages extending to the early dawn of the country's history. But, nevertheless, it was a very hot, still day, without a breath of wind stirring, and in the distance that faint shimmering bluish haze which, to the experienced eye, tells its own tale of days to come.

The masses of white, silver and messmate gum-trees that clothe these same Adelaide hills so thickly, formed a grateful resting-place for the eye, wearied with the steadfast

  ― 2 ―
glare of sunshine. So did the vineyards that dot their declining slopes, and the gardens and orchards that are scattered broadcast to the east of the town. But even Adelaide itself is interwoven with the foliage of trees, which do so much to mitigate, both for eye and body, the severities of a semi-tropical climate. This fascinating embroidery of trees is more especially observable in glancing over North Adelaide. This extensive and important suburb, which is divided from Adelaide proper by the Torrens Lake and Park Lands, lies considerably above the city and adjacent suburbs. So large a proportion of the houses are surrounded by gardens, that from some points of view North Adelaide looks like a well-trimmed wood, thickly studded with houses.

And these gardens are, as a rule, neither suburban slips, with precocious trees selected for their speedy power of growth, nor the painfully pretentious enclosures which auctioneers delight to term ‘grounds.’ No, they are genuine gardens—roomy, shadowy, well planted, well watered; rich in flowers and many fruit-trees, bending in due season under their fertile loads; haunted with the hum of rifling bees, fragrant with the perfume of old-world blossoms. In such a garden on this Sunday afternoon a young man and woman were slowly pacing up and down a broad central walk, thickly trellised with vines. The gadding tendrils, the wealth of wide emerald leaves, the countless oval clusters of ripening grapes — Crystal, Black Prince, and delicate Ladies’ Fingers—which clothed the trellis on the sides and overhead, made a delightful picture. So did the great rose-trees hard by, garlanded after their kind with pale pink, yellow, white and blood-red roses. Parallel with this vine arcade there were loquat trees loaded with thick clusters of clear-skinned creamy fruit, and orange-trees, with dark-green globes nestling among glossy boughs, sheeted in waxen blossoms, whose penetrating odour loaded the atmosphere. But as so often happens when a young man and woman are engaged in a tête-à-tête, neither the objects round them nor any topic of wide social importance engrossed their attention.

‘Do you know why I asked you to come out into the garden, Stella?’ said the young man, breaking a pause that had followed some previous talk.

  ― 3 ―

‘Oh, to admire the roses, and flick the poor vine-leaves with your riding-whip now and then.’

‘I wouldn't mind betting a thousand to one you know as well as I do; but that's the way with you. You'll never help a fellow out of a hole. Why didn't you come to Melbourne last month?’

‘Ted, that reminds me. Shouldn't I congratulate you on your horse winning the Melbourne Cup? Or is it an old stupid story by this time?’

‘It's the things that don't come off which make the stupid stories.’

‘Well, I congratulate you, then. How long have you been on the turf?’

‘I haven't been on the turf at all, in one way. I've bred racehorses, and bought and sold them, ever since my uncle died, leaving me Strathhaye; that's now six years ago, come Easter.’

‘Well, for six years you have been more deeply interested in young horses than in anything else in the world——’

‘You know a jolly sight better than that.’

‘You have talked of them, dreamt of them, been with them; several times you have nearly died for them; always you have lived for them, and now at last you have won the blue ribbon of the Australian racing world. How did you feel when you saw your horse pass the winning-post?’

‘I didn't see him at all. He was a dark horse, and sold the bookmakers right and left. There was a packed mob of them yelling like devils, calling out this horse and the other. When the number was put up, and people kept shouting “Konrad!” I saw blue stars for a bit.’

‘It must be delightful for something to happen that makes you see blue stars. I almost wish I had been there.’

‘I wish you had. I would have had a new drag in your honour, and a team that would have made most of those there look silly. Why didn't you come when Laurette wrote to ask you?’

‘Oh, let me see! I know there were very good reasons, but I forget them.’

‘Now, Stella, don't sham. You wouldn't forget them if they were very good reasons.’

‘What nonsense! the better they are the more completely

  ― 4 ―
they go under sometimes. Think what good reasons there are for being good, and things of that sort.’

‘Now, I'm not going to be put off. You've often served me that trick. I ask you a question and you start a new quarry, and the night after I wake up thinking, “Stella never told me whether she still writes to Billy Stein,” or whatever it may be. Why didn't you come?’

‘Must you know?’

‘Yes, certainly.’

‘Well, as I was walking by the Torrens, I found a little palm-basket sewn up in the most cunning manner with a red worsted thread. I unpicked it, and out flew a little milk-white dove, crying: “Don't go to the Melbourne Cup, don't go to the Melbourne Cup!” ’

‘Well; I'll be hanged if ever I saw a girl that can make up a fib patter than you can when you like!’

‘Now I know why you wanted to come into the garden—so that my mother shouldn't overhear you talking like a jockey.’

‘Oh, that's all you know about the way jockeys talk! You never heard them. Besides, you know, you shouldn't tell a crammer.’

‘It's not a crammer—it's a parable.’

‘That's blasphemy, isn't it, calling yarns you make up as you go along after things in the Bible?’

‘Do you think there are no parables except those in the New Testament?’

‘I know a parable is when a fellow asks for a long drink in everlasting fire, and the other chap in Isaac's bosom won't even wet his lips. By Jove, I've often thought there wasn't much to choose between them for goodness! One had his good time here and turned his back on the beggar; but the beggar was more spiteful—he had all eternity to behave better, but didn't.’

‘Oh, Ted! you are too delightfully literal.’

‘I wish to the Lord you really believed I was too delightfully anything. Surely you might have dropped a fellow a line when Konrad won, seeing you had the naming of him.’

‘Did I? When?’

‘Why, a month after he was foaled. Don't you remember that frightfully stupid ball at Government House, where a fellow couldn't put a hoof down without treading on some

  ― 5 ―
old tabby's train? There was Mrs. Bartholomew Gay with one from here to the Polar regions—white satin embroidered with Chinese dragons, or something. I had to stand with one foot in the air, like a circus-tumbler, so often, for fear of stamping on her tail; at last I firmly planted my foot on it, and tore it out of the gathers. By Jove, didn't she look daggers at me! But she trundled it off the floor after that.’

‘What a memory you have!’ said the girl, laughing. ‘I remember now—we sat out a dance, and you told me about some signally talented yearlings, and this foal, who had such — brilliant pedigree—I am proud of him; I shall kiss the star on his forehead when I see him.’

‘You remember he has a star? You had much better let me take it to him—not that I would give it to him, though.’

‘Now, Ted, if you are too bold I shall return to my book.’

‘No, no, you wouldn't have the heart to do that. You can always go to your books while I am mostly three hundred and fifty miles away. How many months is it since I saw you last?’

‘Oh, two or three, I suppose.’

‘It was in July, nearly six months ago; and you then said you would most likely come to Laurette's in November. But you didn't. You wouldn't come to the Cup, and you wouldn't drop me a line to say you were glad about Konrad—all to avoid giving me a chance. Now, don't make your eyes big, as if you didn't take in what I say. Why don't you ask me what chance?’

‘Well, then, what chance?’ returned the young lady, laughing, but with a heightened colour.

‘To once more ask you to marry me.’

‘Only once more? Then after that we may be fast friends.’

‘Not at all—we shall be man and wife.’

‘Oh, Ted! Well, I suppose we could hardly be both.’

They smiled in each other's faces, but the young man soon became grave.

‘Stella, how often have I asked you to marry me?’

‘Do you mean counting from the very beginning, or since we have grown up?’

  ― 6 ―

‘I don't think it's fair for you always to poke borax at me. Why don't you be serious?’

‘I don't like being serious. I have been to church once already. The proper way to spend a hot Sunday is to be like chaff that the storm carrieth away——’

‘What do you mean by that? Is it another parable?’

‘I mean to lie in a hammock in the west veranda, and think whatever idle thoughts choose to come into your head, or read your favourite poets, or listen to a bird on a branch hard by. Do you hear that white-breasted swallow in the top of the Moreton Bay fig-tree?’

They were silent for a few minutes, and the liquid, melodious carols of the little minstrel filled the air.

‘But I would much sooner listen to you than to that little rubbish,’ said the young man in an emphatic tone.

‘Oh, what bad taste! Wouldn't you like to know what it really feels like to float in the air like a sunbeam?’ asked the girl mischievously.

‘He only flies and sings for his tucker—I can get mine without that. Besides, I would sooner be on the earth near you than anywhere you could mention. Stella, it was close to this very spot I first asked you to be my wife, when we were both of an age to marry. Do you remember it?’

The girl looked at her companion with undisguised amusement.

‘I should think I did! You were barely nineteen.’

‘And you were nearly eighteen—a very good age for both, considering I had been left my own master twelve months before, with twelve thousand a year. What more did we want?’

‘A little wisdom, a little love, a little sympathy, and power of companionship—everything that we ought to have mutually.’

‘Do you mean that I didn't love you enough, or didn't know my own mind?’

‘But surely marriage is the sort of bargain which needs two to make it?’

‘Well, at any rate you refused me out and out then, and you were as solemn as if you were going into a convent. Larry always declares you were thinking of doing it then. I know you had a picture of the Virgin, and said she was

  ― 7 ―
our advocate, and talked about the soul and all sorts of Papist things—enough to make a Protestant's hair creep.’

‘Did your hair creep? And how did you know you were a Protestant? Because you never go to church, I suppose?’

‘That's neither here nor there. But now, do you remember the second time I asked you?’

A quick wave of colour swept over the girl's face.

‘Ted, what is the use of going over all this?’

‘Well, I'll go over it—and you check me if I make a mistake. It was eighteen months later. We hadn't seen each other for nearly a year. You were in the garden when I came. Is that right?’


‘I saw your mother and told her I was going to try my luck again, and she said I had her consent and good wishes. The moment you saw me you asked if any gifted year-old colt had hit his leg, I looked so serious; and then you said: “Oh, you are going to be foolish again”——’

‘And you were, and I was still more foolish—for you knew your own mind, and I didn't know mine.’

‘Foolish! By George! when I think about you, and feel rather savage, I remember that once in your life, anyhow, you were good and sensible; and that's the day you promised to be my wife, and sat beside me in the arbour of Spanish reeds, with the scarlet japonica hanging on it in bundles.’

‘You certainly have rather a dreadful memory.’

‘Yes—you wore a cream-coloured dress like the one you have on now. I could tell you every word you said—and, by heaven! I could tell you, too, how I felt a week afterwards when I got your letter at Strathhaye breaking it all off, and saying it was a frightful mistake on your part.’

‘Well, Ted, do you want me to say again how sorry I am? Do you want me to grovel in the dust all my life because of that blunder? After all, you brought it on yourself by being so persistent when I was in rather a weak-minded mood.’

‘Weak-minded? You never were half so good before or since. And you had quite got rid of all that stuff about convents and Papists.’

‘You must not speak so disrespectfully of these things.’

  ― 8 ―

‘Well, you know very well you may have any notions you like—as long as you have me.’

‘That is rather a strong bribe.’

‘I'll make it much stronger if you'll tell me how. You don't suppose it does a fellow any good to come a cropper like that, do you?’

‘Why, three months afterwards I heard you were going to be married to Miss Julia Morton. Why weren't you?’

‘I did try to like Julia—if it were only to vex you; but, by Jove! when she began to be in earnest, I found the shoe was on the wrong foot. You might be vexed for a day, but I should be vexed for all the rest of my life.’

‘What makes you think I would be vexed for a day?’

‘Oh, just because I've come to belong to you—in a sort of way—like that goggle-eyed owl and the little gold pistol hanging at your watch-chain.’

‘I use the little gold pistol to wind up my watch with, and the owl has sparkling ruby eyes into which I look in church when I am very tired. The one is useful and the other beautiful, you see, Ted.’

‘And I am both,’ said the young man imperturbably. ‘Besides, I can give you whatever money will buy—take you anywhere.’

‘But then, you see, you would be always there.’

‘Yes; and when I wouldn't be about you would nearly cry your eyes out. You may laugh, but women always get fonder of their husbands. Look here, Stella, you said “yes” once before; you'll have to say it again and stick to it. The last time I spoke to you you said you would think over it. You've had plenty of time. You're close on twenty-three. A girl should be married by that time.’

‘Or not at all. You seem to forget that many women never marry.’

‘But you're not one of them. Now, Stella, look me in the face and tell me, do you intend to be an old maid?’

‘Oh, one doesn't intend it; but sometimes circumstances are more merciful than one's intentions.’

‘Has any fellow come along that you care for more than me?’


‘Thank the Lord for that! All you know have been in

  ― 9 ―
love with you already—Willy Stein, Wigram, Lindsay, Andrew——’

‘Ted, you really are too absurd! Don't you think it is wrong to trifle away the precious moments that never come back again?’

‘Ah, yes, they do. When I've been with you the time comes back over and over again. Besides, Stella, how can you call it trifling when I ask you to marry me? Will you?’

‘No, thank you.’

‘You speak just as if I offered you a mouldy bit of bread.’

‘No; as if you offered me some rich cake for which I have no appetite.’

‘What if you did not get another chance of refusal?’

‘Do you suppose I expect you to turn up periodically all my life, asking me if I am “game” to come out with you into the garden?’

‘Well, it's what I'll do, unless you get married to someone else.’

‘Or unless you get married yourself.’

‘I shall never marry any woman but Stella Courtland, and that's as sure as my name is Edward Ritchie.’

The two had paused in their pacings to and fro, and stood facing each other at the end of the vine arcade furthest from the house, close to a great white Fortuniana rose-tree, thickly covered over with roses and buds in all stages of unclosing.

The girl was tall and very finely formed. Her face in repose was apt to be rather cold and pale. The eyes were extremely beautiful—starry, large, deep and liquid. When we try to describe eyes or flowers, we find that language is extremely destitute in precise colour terms. They were dark gray-blue—sea-blue is, perhaps, the term that most nearly approximates to the hue of this girl's eyes, and as that tint in the waves is subject to rapid changes, to deepening intensity and gleaming flashes of paler light, so did those bewitching orbs reflect each passing emotion. They were as sensitive to her moods as the surface of water is to the sky's influence. Thus it will be seen that their range of expression was infinite. The same might be said of the whole countenance. When moved or animated, it glowed and sparkled as if a light shone through it. The brow was singularly noble, and gave promise of unusual mental power.

  ― 10 ―
The complexion was very fair and clear, and when she talked it was often tinged with swift delicate rose-pink, that died away very slowly, leaving a soft warm glow in the cheeks like that often seen in a moist sea-shell. It was a face whose every line and feature indicated that Stella was endowed with rare qualities of intellect and imagination, quick to feel, to see, to think. And yet a very woman, far from indifferent to admiration and the sense of power that the homage of men gives a girl. Yet, withal, liable to that quick disdain of the more frivolous aspects of life, which to those who understood but one side of her complex nature appeared in the light of wilful caprice. She made a captivating picture as she stood under the thick woof of clustering grapes and vine-leaves that threw flickering shadows over her well-poised head, with its abundant coils of silky hair, which had a slight wave and was of that deep golden-brown colour that is seldom retained after childhood.

The young man was good-looking in a not uncommon and distinctly unintellectual way. He was close on six feet in height, with a well-knit, athletic figure, a sun-bronzed face, inclining to be florid. The forehead was low and square; the eyes dark-brown; the hair lighter in tone, cut close, but crisply curling to the roots. The nose was thick, but straight and well defined. The jaws were too heavy, and the lips, partly concealed under a heavy drooping moustache, were over-full. Altogether, it was the face of a man who could be firm and determined in action, yet morally lacking in force of will.

The contrast between the two faces in form, development, and expression was so striking that a casual onlooker might conclude there was that essential difference of nature and temperament which might somehow form a basis for marriage. This impression would be strengthened by a lurking air of indecision in the young woman's face as her companion delivered his resolve in a voice that well carried out the robust air of knowing what he wanted, and a determination to compass it, which was conveyed by his general demeanour.

‘I don't know whether I should say that I am sorry or glad you are going to be a bachelor,’ she said reflectively. ‘Will you grow very thin and cross, or stout and good-natured?

  ― 11 ―
The worst of it is, if you get stout you will hobble and have a bad toe. It will be really gout, you know, but you'll call it a sprain or something. And then, when you come to see me, you will tread on dear Dustiefoot's paws. I suppose I may be a little deaf by that time. Ah, I can never bear to think of growing old or dying!’ and Stella stopped abruptly with a little shrug of the shoulders.

‘Why didn't you finish your fancy sketch? If you were a little deaf I would bawl at you: “Do you remember that Sunday in December when the garden was full of roses, and that little beggar of a bird was singing?” And then you'd say: “Ah, Ted, why didn't we get married when we were young?” … You know, Stella, you'll have to give way in the end. Twice you've named a horse for me, and twice it's turned out most lucky. Now, tell me—suppose we had been married this morning at church, what would you think the very worst part of the concern?’

‘That you wouldn't drive to the railway-station and set off for Strathhaye—alone.’

‘Well, that's flat. I often wonder what makes me so ridiculously soft about you, Stella. You say such horrid things to me, while every other girl I come across——’

‘Now, Ted, if you boast, your very last fragment of a chance is gone.’

‘Oh, I have got a fragment of a chance, then? Come, that's the best thing you've said yet. Look here, Stella, have you ever been in love? Now, honour bright?’

‘Well, hardly—except with people in books.’

‘But how the deuce could you be in love with people in books?’

‘Oh, I assure you they are far the nicest people to fall in love with.’

‘Because you can put them on a shelf and leave them there.’

‘Yes, that is one great charm. It is partly what ruins life, the way people see so much of each other, till they know each other by heart, up and down—all their stories that once were funny, their pet theories, their stupid idiosyncrasies——’

‘What are idiosyncrasies?

‘Let me see. It is your idiosyncrasy to wish to marry; it is mine to think it too dangerous an experiment.’

  ― 12 ―

‘Fancy calling it an idiosyncrasy when a fellow is spoony. But I expect that is not the dictionary meaning. Well, you are all but twenty-three, and you have not been in love. You may depend, if you are not heels over head before you are twenty, you never will be. So you may as well save waiting any longer.’

The girl laughed out loud.

‘Well, Ted, you are the first I have heard use inability to love as an argument for getting married. You are really very humble.’

‘Oh! a fellow is always very humble when he's up to the hilt in love.’

‘It is afterwards, when the fair is over, that he isn't quite so meek and beseeching.’

‘Well, you wouldn't have him be a humble jackass at a distance all through? It's too much like making your dinner off peaches. Besides, a girl like you always has her own way, hand over fist, single or married; and when to that you add ever so many thousands a year——’

‘Always when you have been to Melbourne you harp more and more on your money.’

‘Maybe. You see, the more you see of the world the more you find how much people think of money, and how much it gets for you.’

‘And yet to be poor in the midst of riches is the worst kind of poverty.’

‘But you see,’ said the young man eagerly, misinterpreting the drift of this remark, ‘Strathhaye is none of your big leasehold affairs. It's nearly all freehold—a good deal of it fit to carry three or four sheep to the acre—where never a cockatoo nor a free selector dare show his nose.’

‘Oh, I feel as if I knew every inch of Strathhaye!’

‘Well, a good tale is none the worse for being twice told. Besides, I am coming to the point. You might marry for love to-morrow, and in a few months find you were quite insolvent in the article—have to pay a bob in the pound, or even less.’

‘True—become an utter bankrupt; such things happen.’

‘Yes; there was your friend Cicely Mowbray——’

‘Oh, please don't!’ said Stella, in a tone of quick pain.

‘Well, not speaking of things doesn't make them different. You know how completely gone she was on the

  ― 13 ―
man she married; and in less than three years she ran off with another fellow!’

‘And that was less immoral than staying with the man she married,’ said Stella, a hard expression coming into her face.

‘Still, it isn't what people mean to do when they marry for love. You see, the point is that you may fall as completely out of love as you may fall into it. But you can't wake up one morning to find eighty thousand acres firstclass arable land, freehold, all gone to kingdom come like a rainbow. May I smoke a cigarette?’

‘Yes. What a pretty case, and what elegant little cigarettes!’

‘They ought to be. Do you know what they cost each?’

‘Oh heavens! You are going to be just like Crœsus Henway, always telling the price of things.’

‘Or you might say like my father. He likes to mention the figure that things cost. Still, I might easily take after a worse old boy than the governor. Though, mind you, I don't mean to go into Parliament ever, and give ninety Affghanistan camels for an exploring expedition, and get a handle tacked to my name because they came on a desert a hundred miles by ninety.’

‘You're like a good many more Australians. You'll never do as much for your native land as your fathers did for their adopted one.’

‘Oh, I don't know! I've half a dozen gold medals for my wool; and my horses are far-away the best in the district. But there—I'll put my foot in it again if I say much more. Would you like me to be Sir Edward Ritchie, Stella, like the old man?’

‘Surely that is a very foolish question to ask me, of all people.’

‘I am not so sure about that—Sir Edward and Lady Ritchie. If you really have any fancy for the title, I might give another big dose of camels to the Government. There's plenty more desert to be opened up for selectors to perish in.’

‘Your speaking of the desert reminds me that I am getting parched with thirst. There must be some afternoon tea going on by this time. Haven't we been here a good while?’

‘About five minutes. I don't care for tea. But I'll go and get a split soda for myself and bring you a cup. Oh, if

  ― 14 ―
we go inside you won't come out again—and we haven't settled anything yet. But here comes Kirsty with a tray.’

Kirsty was a tall spare woman, who was getting to be more than middle-aged, but whose active, vigorous ways forbade the imputation of old age. She was invariably attired in black, a snowy cap, apron, collars and cuffs, and a face in which all the cardinal virtues ran riot. But it was withal tempered by a certain severity of expression that would seem to be seldom absent from the bearing of trusted Scotch servants who have lived nearly all their lives in one family.

‘I hae brought your pet Chiny teapot, Miss Stella,’ said Kirsty, putting the tray down on a little wicker table that was fixed beside a rustic bench in the arcade. ‘And Mr. Tom bade me ask ye, sir, whether ye wadna rather hae a glass o’ soda water?’

‘Yes, if you please, Kirsty; but tell Mr. Tom to draw it mild.’

‘Where is Maisie, or Sarah, Kirsty?’ asked Stella, as she poured herself out a cup of tea. ‘You shouldn't be attending on us here, when we really ought to go inside.’

‘Weel, Miss Stella, ye see there's whiles when people disna want ither folk aboot,’ answered Kirsty, with a demure smile; ‘Sarah's gone to Mile End to see her aunt; as for Maisie, I've set her to learn a page o’ the Shorter Catechism. She used to ken every question in it; but ye suld hear her when I pit a few till her to-day. It's just awfu’ hoo this climate seems to be against proper grounding in the fundamentals.’

‘Poor Maisie!’ said Stella with a smile; ‘fancy learning a page of the Shorter Catechism on a day like this!’ She fanned herself softly with a wide pink satin fan, tipped with marabout feathers, and slowly sipped her tea.

‘What is the Shorter Catechism when it is at home?’ asked the young man, who was sitting near the girl and watching her every movement.

‘Oh, it's just a little Scotch book, full of questions and answers about things people are supposed to believe—but don't.’

‘What sort of questions?’

‘The first is, What is the chief end of man? Now what answer would you give to that?’

  ― 15 ―

‘Being in a garden with the girl who won't have you—but will some day——.’

‘No; but in a general way, what do you think is the chief end of man? what he should most live for?’

Ritchie knitted his brows for a moment. ‘Well, I should say it is to sell on the rise and have a good time.’

‘Sell on the rise?’

‘Yes, if you sell on the rise you make a pot of money. If you don't, the other fellow collars the tin. Now, what is the answer in the Catechism?’

‘The answer is that the chief end of man is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him for ever.’

‘But, of course, that means when people get to heaven.’

‘But why should they get to heaven if they do nothing to deserve it?’

‘Well, there you ask me a question! Ah! here comes Kirsty with my seltzer. Here's to you, Stella—and many of them,’ said Ritchie, clinking Stella's cup with his tall tumbler, and tossing off half its contents at a draught.

‘What a pretty pale amber colour! Is that ordinary soda water?’ asked Stella.

‘Yes, ordinary soda water—but not ordinary old Irish whisky. I'd back your brother Tom's judgment in that article against any man's. Have a little nip. It's ever so much better than tea. I say, Stella, why does the old woman—Kirsty, I mean—set her daughter to learn such stuff?’

‘Ted, I am afraid you are almost a heathen. Do you ever read the Bible?’

‘Well, I sometimes begin to read it on Sunday evening after a game or two at billiards. But I generally drop off to sleep. I seem as if I always knew what was coming.’

‘I wonder how much you really know of it?’

‘Oh, lots! You try. Ask me about Noah or any of those old buffers.’

‘Then what can you tell me about Noah?’

‘Ah, Noah! Well, he was the one that put all the insects into an ark and drank too much wine, and was going to put a knife into his son Esau, till the ram called out, “Here am I.” If he had been a proper prize animal he'd never have given himself away like that. Well, what are you laughing at?’

  ― 16 ―

‘Oh, Ted, Ted! Then what about Abraham?’

‘Abraham was one of those fellows that was always getting into a fix because he didn't leave his wife at home. It shows how wrong it is for a man to take his wife everywhere.’

‘And Isaac, what about him?’

‘Well, he was about as sly as a Jew pawnbroker. He put on a kangaroo skin, or something, so as to get a mess of porridge. But he didn't make much out of it, for he got put into a fiery furnace afterwards—but no, it was a pit.’

‘And how many sons had he?’

‘Well, there was Jacob and a thundering lot more; but ten of them got lost, you know—the ten tribes—so you can't expect me to know their names. One of them—Joseph—had an awful swell coat. He went down into Egypt. But I never could swallow all the yarn about him. Do you think you ought to laugh so much at things out of the Bible?’

‘Ted, do you really think all that is in the Scriptures?’

‘I bet you it is; and a lot far more unlikely. Yes; I'd lay you all I hope to make when next I sell on the rise you couldn't ask me much in the Old Testament I wouldn't give you an answer to,’ said Ritchie, with the elation of a man who has passed a creditable examination.

‘But what things do you sell? I thought you sent your wool to London and sold your surplus stock to station-brokers, as my brothers do at Lullaboolagana.’

‘Oh, I don't mean station stuff. I mean shares of all kinds. Gold in Victoria; silver in New South Wales; rubies, copper, and tin in South Australia; opals in Queensland; pearls in Western Australia. I have had a share in a pearling boat at Shark's Bay for two seasons. I mean to show you a specimen of the pearls before long. But, after all, no speculation comes up to betting on thoroughbreds that go flashing by with a feather-weight on them. But, you know, it strikes me that no one with a lot of money gets such a curly half-hour out of betting or plunging as those that put their last copper on something they know nothing about, and then hold their breath till they see whether they go to gaol or make a haul.’

‘Well, this is very edifying. It seems the great thing in

  ― 17 ―
selling on the rise is to rob your neighbour and have some excitement. I had no idea you were such a financier.’

‘Oh, a fellow must do something. As for wool and sheep, you shear your flocks and ship the wool off. The sheep are turned into the paddocks and begin to grow their next clip, and the London market goes up or down a few farthings in the pound. It's all as slow as a christening.’

‘Were you ever at a christening?’

‘Yes, I was, worse luck! and stood godfather, too!’

‘You a godfather? Oh, Ted, this is too ridiculous!’

‘Well, I thought it meant just to give the little beggar a silver pot and a five-pound-note now and then. But it appears you tell the most barefaced crammers about renouncing the devil and all his work. It seems to me the moment you have anything to do with the Church you have to tell lies till you're black in the face.’

‘And who is the happy babe that may be left to your spiritual guidance?’

‘Why, Henrietta's last baby. She's John Morton's wife, you know. Aren't we somehow related through the Mortons? You see, my sister is married to John Morton, and your brother Claude is married to Helen Morton, John's sister. Now, what relation am I to you?’

‘Oh, the relation that should sit a little further away. We always come back to talking of ourselves.’

‘Well, there's nothing else half so interesting. By the way, I was coming part of the way from Melbourne with Dick Emberly, and he said your brother Cuthbert was going to take charge of a congregation in one of the Melbourne suburbs. I didn't know he was a full-fledged parson.’

‘Yes, he was ordained three months ago. He is going to take a congregation at Hawthorne for some months for a clergyman who has fallen ill.’

‘Oh, now you'll come to Melbourne. Larry said she would make you come for part of the season. Have you seen her yet since she came to my father's?’

‘No; she called the other day, but I was out. She left word that she wanted to see me particularly, and I meant to call one day this week. How does her husband go on now?’

‘Oh, much as usual. It's always head you lose, tail I win, with a man like the Hon. Talbot Tareling. No member

  ― 18 ―
of the “British nobility,” as Larry was so fond of calling it, that I've known in the Colonies has much idea about money, but to grab as much as possible without doing a stroke of work.’

‘Well, I cannot help liking Mr. Tareling. He has such very good manners, and he is very amusing.’

‘You see, it's all he's got to show for himself and for being descended from goodness knows how many lords, and for having an uncle a K.G. and his elder brother married to the daughter of a duke. Lord, how Larry used to cram them all down our throats, till we found out to our cost what an expensive trick it is to have a sister marry into the “British nobility.” Look here, Stella, shall you be in tomorrow afternoon? Because, if so, Larry will drive across and settle when you'll come, then. You see, you can't get out of it now that Cuthbert is to be in Melbourne.’

‘Oh, let me see. I'll have to consult my mother and decide about all sorts of things. You see, I've promised to go to Lullaboolagana in May or June.’

‘Very well; take Melbourne on the way. I am going to see the old people this evening, and I shall tell Larry.’

‘Didn't you come from Godolphin House?’

‘No; you see, when I got in by the inter-colonial last night, I went with one or two other fellows straight to the club. Then I didn't get up very early, and so I came direct here to see you.’

‘When did you see your parents last?’

‘Oh! about six months ago—the same time as I saw you before.’

‘Well! and the way your poor mother dotes on you—her only boy! Why do people think it is a blessing to have children? Very often it seems one of the bitter pleasures of life.’

‘Well, you see, if people didn't think things were a little better than they are, the world wouldn't gee up at all. And doesn't it say even in the Bible that a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife? Then how much more will he do it for the girl who doesn't want to be his wife!’

‘Ted, your logic is irresistible.’

‘You may call it logic if you like—but it's true.’

‘Which logic seldom is; but then it's correct, and you

  ― 19 ―
can so seldom combine the two,’ said Stella in the light, mocking tone which came to her so readily; ‘I declare I've nearly emptied my teapot! It is fatal to begin to drink on a day like this.’

‘Yes; the more you drink, the more you want to—that's the mischief of it,’ said the young man, with a gloomier expression than the occasion seemed to call for.

‘By Jove! I nearly forgot I had this for you, Stella,’ he said presently, taking a small parcel out of his breast coat-pocket, sealed and addressed as it had come by post. ‘You're always interested about the niggers. Myers, my book-keeper, is a great dab at finding things out about them. By the way, he corresponds with your old friend, Dr. Stein. Well, some time ago Myers fossicked out about a very rum sort of shoe that the blacks use on particular occasions. I told him to get me one if he could, and when I got to the club last night I found this waiting for me. Oh, it's over three weeks since I left Strathhaye; I've been in Melbourne and other places.’

‘Let me open it!’ cried Stella. ‘I love unfastening an unknown parcel; it is one of the simple pleasures of life that never palls. Oh, Ted, what a cunning, gruesome-looking sort of thing!’ she said, as the shoe was revealed to view.

It was light, and compressible into a very small compass. The sole was composed of emu feathers, matted together with a dull red coagulated substance. The upper part was a sort of network of small plaited strands crossed and recrossed. This curious shoe was extremely crude in shape, being exactly alike at both ends.

‘Why, Ted, this is hair!’ cried Stella, after examining the net closely, and touching the plaited strands, which had still a dull gloss.

‘Yes—a woman's hair.’

‘Ah! only a woman's hair. How strangely wicked this shoe begins to look! Not a scrap of difference between the heel and the toes—and yet one could tell it is meant for a shoe; and it looks as if it would keep well on the foot. Let me see how it would look.’

Stella quickly slipped off her own shoe and put on the aboriginal one.

‘Put it off! put it off! I can't bear to see it on you,’ cried the young man vehemently.

  ― 20 ―

But the girl merely laughed, and walked a few steps, and found that this curious covering for the foot, though much too large, yet clung to it with strange tenacity.

‘Do you know that it is the most unlucky thing you could do?’ said the young man quite gravely.

‘Really!’ said Stella, smiling at the sombre tone of conviction in which he spoke. ‘Well, give me my own shoe, Ted. No—I can put it on.’

Ritchie half reluctantly returned the pretty little bronze shoe with its silver buckle and dainty bow, and then took up the aboriginal one.

‘Now, do you know what this is called, and what it is used for?’ he said, holding it at full length on his outspread palm.

‘No; but I am dying to know, for I never before heard that any of our blacks made any attempt at shoeing themselves. Could they walk far in a thing of that kind?’

‘Far enough for their purposes, I dare say,’ returned Ritchie grimly. ‘That is a Kooditcha shoe, and a black fellow never puts a pair of them on except when he steals at night upon an enemy to kill him.’

‘Oh, Ted, are you making that up to give me what you call a “curly half-hour”?’

‘Oh, but you've not heard all yet. Do you see that reddish stuff holding the feathers together? Well, that is human blood.’

‘How horrible! I wish I had not put it on,’ said the girl, with a little shiver. ‘It really has an assassin-like look, and such strange sombre tints.’

‘You see, it would make no more track than a butterfly, and nothing to show it was on a foot. The blacks say they can track anything that walks or crawls, from a horse to a young snake; but not a ghost or an enemy in Kooditcha shoes.’

‘Well, of all the myths I have gathered about the blacks, none are so dramatic as this relic. Thank you so much for getting it for me.’

‘Well, I'm glad you like it. I wouldn't touch the thing with a pair of tongs, for my own part.’

‘Human blood and a woman's hair! I wonder if anyone ever wore this to creep up to a tribal foe at midnight? But why did you say it was unlucky to put it on?’

  ― 21 ―

‘Well, the blacks say if you put one on and don't kill anybody, you'll live to wish someone had killed you.’

‘Clearly the only thing for me to do is to kill someone. Who shall it be?’ asked Stella, with mock gravity.

‘Well, I'd offer myself, but you did for me long ago.’

‘Why, Ted, you are getting quite epigrammatic.’

‘Oh, I can't make a stew of my heart and put it into a letter, like some fellows. But look here, Stella. Ah, here comes Cuthbert. By Jove! he looks almost like a Bishop already.’

The newcomer, Cuthbert Lionel Courtland, was three years older than his sister. He was a young clergyman, with perhaps something of the ultra-gravity of demeanour that may sometimes be observable in those that have recently entered on the sacred calling. He had the finely-developed brow that was a characteristic of the Courtland family, dark gray eyes, something like Stella's in expression, and a beautifully-chiselled mouth, that helped largely to convey the calm, sunny expression which marked his face.

The two young men greeted each other as old acquaintances.

‘You're a full-blown parson, Courtland, since I last saw you; I suppose I ought to congratulate you, but——’

‘But you're not quite sure, Ritchie? Well, I'll take the half-will for the deed.’

‘The fact is, I never know what to say before a parson; and though we've been kiddies together, I don't believe I can forget after this you belong to the cloth. The white choker and that makes you look, somehow, as if you had belonged to the clergy all your life.’

‘Well, shall I put a spotted necktie on, Ted—for old acquaintance’ sake?’ laughed the young clergyman.

‘Oh, I'm just going, thank you. Stella has been blowing me up for not being with my parents. There's a little filly I've had sent to my father's for you to ride, Stella. May I come and take you out on Tuesday morning?’

Stella hesitated, and then consented to the arrangement. The brother and sister accompanied their guest to the house, where he made his adieus to the rest of the family. He then mounted his horse and rode away.