Chapter X

  ‘Fairacre, 14th March.


‘A very disconcerting thought hopped into my head after reading over your last letter. You seem to go to see the Rev. S. Carter very often. Tell me true—is it the quality of the good man's theology, or his daughters, that attract you? Perhaps you have not yet arrived at the conscious stage. Oh yes, I am quite an authority on the tender passion. I have read and re-read Mr. Harrison's play, and made endless suggestions. There are two young people who are madly in love with each other, but do not know it till a certain crisis. I object to this rather, but A. says that it is for the stage, and not for posterity. You would have laughed if you had heard us deciding such knotty points as to whether a certain young man would have the presence of mind to improvise a story when he was interrupted in making a declaration of love; whether the heroine was not disloyal in believing her lover guilty of a crime because appearances were strongly against him, etc., etc. There is an unusual and interesting plot, and the dialogue is erisp. A. calls it “Macaroni” for the present, because he says I have been sticking feathers in it. I found him out using up some things I said, and he declares it is because Evelina resembles me, and would naturally speak a little like me.

‘I have now a very nice riding-horse, from Zembra's, named Ivan. Our favourite ride is to the seaside, which we reach in half an hour when we make for the Grange or Henley Beach. The latter is my favourite ride. We pass such old-looking gardens, and hedges still full of Macartney roses—altogether a flat, shadowy tract in which there are always sea-birds wheeling slowly above the trees—sea-gulls, white terns, and occasionally those lovely little gulls, snow-white and pale gray, with blood-red feet and bills. When

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disturbed by the trampling of our horses they utter mournful cries, and fly before us seaward. They remind me of something in an old author somewhere on the shelves: “About thee gathered the daughters of old ocean, uttering cries of grief. They spread over thee vestments perfumed with ambrosia.”

‘But I have been strangely neglectful in not introducing you before this to Major Foster and Mr. Paul Ferrier. Though we have known them only since you left, they are now habitual visitors—in fact, they may be called our amis de la maison in the antique line.

‘The cause of the Major's visit to Adelaide is a great joke. He came to administer consolation to an old friend who had lost his wife, and was inconsolable — for nine months. Do you not find this very funny? But when I tell you that this friend is Mr. Inglis Taylor! During the first six months of his widowhood Mr. I. T. wrote repeatedly to his old friend, urging him to come on a long-promised visit; he was so broken-hearted, but could not leave his clients to go for a change. But the Major being long a widower, with his only daughter settled, and having retired from the army, why should he not come? So, moved by the sacred ties of old friendship, and the duty of administering consolation, the Major came, and found his friend enjoying the sober ecstasies of his third honeymoon. You know already something of Mrs. I. Taylor and her many matrimonial adventures. I have not the slightest doubt that on the voyage the Major read standard works of philosophy and religion, so that he might be better able to bind up a prostrate and bleeding spirit. I have tried to glean information on this point, but the Major is reticent. In fact, I think he mistrusts my motives. He does not know that my curiosity arises from my wish to be a beautiful soul. Don't you remember that Montague says the beautiful souls are they that are universal, open, and ready for all things; if not instructed, at least capable of being so? Now, I do want to be instructed how a man feels when he has come fifteen thousand miles to weep on the neck of a widower, and finds him married for the third time to a woman who has been thrice married before. Well, perhaps this is only her third husband, but I cannot make any other reduction in the number. I never see her without recalling the woman of Samaria. But I suppose it makes a

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difference if there is only one of them living at a time—I mean of the husbands.

Mr. Ferrier is an ex-missionary. He lived among the blacks for twenty years; but he has been so much concerned for their souls that he does not know any myths, and their customs, I suppose, are not to be spoken of. He called shortly after you left, to ask if mother would subscribe to the mission in which he was so long engaged till severe and repeated ophthalmia threatened him with blindness. Indeed, he had almost lost his sight when he came to be treated in the hospital here six months ago. Even now, when he is outside, he always wears a green shade over his eyes. He has about sixty pounds a year to live on, and out of this he subscribes ten pounds a year to the Mandura Mission. He is nearly seventy, but looks older, being very weather - beaten and brown, and his eyes so dim. There is something heroic and ardent about the old man; and imagine being so enthusiastic about the conversion of the aborigines! You know mother's angelic kindness to poor and lonely people. He is quite alone in the world, and no doubt his leisure engrosses most of his time. It is an understood thing that he comes to Fairacre twice or thrice a week, and we all subscribe to his beloved mission. I think he has more of Don Quixote in him than any other I have ever known.

‘You say that you never think of me now as doing anything but making snares for the stubble-loving grasshoppers or watching birds on the wing. Well, we do pass a great deal of our time outside. The worst ardours of the summer are over; the woods are so shady, and the children and the dogs tempt me out constantly, when I have serious thoughts of confusedly tumbling over divers authors. After breakfast we go out to feed the pigeons and the chickens. There are so many pigeons now, they darken the air, flying down to be fed. They alight on our shoulders and make such pretty cooing sounds. It is not to be credited though, how long-legged and everyday Hector grows in common with his family. Time, who is the most impertinent busybody in the world, so soon spoils chickens—and alas! I suppose I ought to say, young women. Ivan begins to distinguish my voice, and makes me very happy sometimes by whinnying when I speak to him. … Often we follow a string of

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ants to their home, and watch them descend with the booty they have gathered. We drop crystals of sugar and grains of wheat and rice so as to watch them carrying off their loads in triumph. This afternoon we discovered a hive of bees in Hercules. Is it necessary to explain that this is the gigantic gum-tree opposite us in the Park Lands? Their hum is never absent there; but near that great old tree it is as though one were inside a hive. We watched numbers passing in and out of the hollow stump of a broken limb, high up, and, looking closely, we saw the ends of their waxen cells. How many jars of honey are hived away. there is now an all-absorbing thought—second in interest only to the chrysanthemums, which are swelling visibly and promise to open early this season. After discovering the wild hive, we wandered homeward; and when we got back, we ate grapes in the vine arcade. It is quite a show, literally bending beneath its loads of grapes; so are all the fruit-trees, each after its kind. The jargonelle pears are as yellow and soft as cream, and the large purple Turkish figs melt on the trees. The peaches and apricots blush at each other, like lovers in a play. (Mem.: Offer this comparison to Mr. Harrison for “Macaroni.”) There are some pomegranate-trees, whose fruit looks like fiery blossoms. They are not quite ripe yet, but we got one each, and sat down picking seeds from the crimson rinds, like sparrows.

‘ “Now, Dustiefoot, it is extremely wrong of you to thrust your cold black nose in my face——” My dear, don't you think it is time I stopped? That is the way with us in our dear, quiet Adelaide! We have so little to distract us, that when we begin to do anything the difficulty is to leave off.’