Chapter XXIX

THREE weeks of Stella's visit at Lullaboolagana had passed, when her brother Claude and his young wife returned from their travels. It had been arranged that they were to live at the head station a year or two before starting an establishment on their own account. Mrs. Claude was a good-looking, vivacious young woman, who, as is the wont of travellers, had brought back many tales of the countries she had seen. They had spent February and March in England among relations on both sides, and this, on the whole, was the part of their foreign experience which oftenest afforded themes of reminiscence.

‘Some days would begin bright,’ she would say, ‘and then all at once a fog would come on. After peering into the sky for some time you would find the sun in the most awkward position, looking for all the world like an old worn-out rose-coloured platter. But even when there was no fog you would think the sky was coming down on top of you. It was so awfully low and dark, and all the trees shivering—I used to long to put a petticoat on the poor things. And at Uncle Courtland's rectory in Devonshire I found a little blue gum trying to live. Oh dear, I nearly cried over it.’

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‘Why? well, you must have been homesick!’ said Louise.

‘Well, I don't know—but at any rate I was very dull. They went to church so often, and I felt I ought to go too. One of the girls had been to Girton, and she is a little like Stella in some things—but the rest seem to look on her as a pagan…. I couldn't believe you had more sunshine here than you liked. You begin to understand why English people laugh so little.’

‘But do they?’ questioned Stella, who was listening and sewing by a French window that opened on the veranda. ‘I think all the English people I have known laughed as much as we do; and what other nation has produced such humorists?’

‘Oh yes, long ago. Now they laugh most when they are here—like Dr. Langdale. I should think there must be millions of women in England who never laughed out in all their lives. I suppose that's why they take everything so seriously. If you're five minutes late for breakfast they look at you as if you had stabbed the cook—or worse; for they would say a cook can be replaced, but if you waste the time you can never get it back.’

‘You see, dear, we get rather lax ideas of punctuality in the long hot summers,’ said Louise apologetically.

‘Oh, my goodness! how I should like to see some of our relations there—panting on their bedroom floors instead of seeing that everyone is at the table to the minute! Such a fuss over wasting the time! Claude says it's part of “le cant Anglais.” What better can you do when the sun never shows himself?’

‘You speak as though you had been rather in a wet blanket there,’ said Stella, smiling, ‘and found the people rather agaçant. Now, I think nice English people are the nicest of all.’

‘Yes, in Australia, away from the rest,’ said Nell, with a sparkle in her eyes; ‘but a houseful gets upon the nerves—and as for a whole country full of them, nothing but the thought of leaving it for Australia, say, keeps you up. I can see you don't take that in quite; but wait till you go there, Stella. I don't believe you would stay two days at your uncle's. They are for ever talking of church and the anti-Unionists.’

No doubt Mrs. Claude could have enlarged eloquently on

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the subject had it not been cut short by the entrance of her mother and sister Julia, who were speedily followed by Dr. Langdale. He stayed only a few minutes, however, being on his way to Nareen, and having merely called with a book for Stella. Mrs. Morton could never see Dr. Langdale without entering on conjectures as to whether he might not settle in Victoria, instead of returning to London when his year was up.

‘We do so need good doctors in this country,’ she said; ‘and really the young men who take their degrees in Melbourne and Sydney seem anxious to cut people up just out of curiosity to see what's inside them.’

There was a general laugh at this, but Mrs. Morton did not speak in a joking spirit.

‘Indeed, girls, it is true. There was that young Dr. Jones at Warracootie. Not a fowl could they keep. He was trying to invent a liver pill, and used to try its effects on hens and ducks. They all died in convulsions. He said it was in the sacred cause of science and humanity—but surely it's better to have your own eggs fresh laid. And then, if he knew as much about the liver as he should, would his pills act in that way?’

‘But, for all we know, Dr. Langdale may be engaged to be married, and obliged to return,’ said Miss Morton, and she managed to watch Stella's face as she spoke. But she did not glean anything from the survey. Then Mrs. Claude, who knew the rather callous way in which her sister was prone to investigate and thresh out any subject that interested her, changed the conversation. But the subject was one on which Miss Morton was conscious of an aching void for information, and next Sunday, when Claude and his wife were spending the day at Broadmead, the Morton station, Miss Julia returned to the subject again.

She was a young woman who took her prospect of settling in life, as she would have called it, very seriously. It was now nearly three years and a half since she and Mr. Ritchie had been, as she thought, on the verge of becoming engaged. She had had frequent opportunities of meeting him during her visits to her brother and his wife, Ted's elder sister. She believed that Ted still admired her a good deal—that she formed, in fact, a sort of second string to his bow, which he would soon fall back on, if only he

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were finally convinced that Stella was not to be won, or, better still, if Stella married. This was a calculating, not to say mercenary, way of looking upon marriage for a good-looking young woman of twenty-five. But we sometimes forget that the freedom of choice in marriage, which is permitted to women of the Anglo-Saxon race, has the effect of making some of them regard the institution on cool business principles. It is an ‘arrangement’ made by themselves, instead of by the mothers, as in France. Indeed, no French mother could go to work in a more disenchanted way in this respect than a certain type of Australian girl. ‘I am getting on in life,’ she will say, examining the corners of her eyes and the parting of her hair critically. And then she counts over the number of eligible men in her circle, and makes a mental tick against the name of the one who combines most money with good looks. If he dies, or marries the wrong woman, the process of ticking has to be gone over again.

But to do Miss Morton justice, affection, though not of an absorbing nature, had something to do with her designs on Ted Ritchie. She could readily have loved him, and would much sooner have married him than, say, the dissipated younger son of an English peer, as her friend Laurette had done. She had, indeed, during the period when Ted seemed seriously bent on coming to the point, discarded a local suitor, who was quite as wealthy as the recreant knight, but twenty years older, and with a fringe of crimson hair scantily surrounding a singularly flat crown. His eyes, too, were of the protruding order, and his chin fell away a good deal. Altogether, he had very much the look of a frog that has lived through many winters. Still, he had fifteen thousand a year, and such an income always placed a marriage above the odious category of scratch matches. But he was a shy sort of creature, and seemed to have taken a woman's ‘No’ as being final. He would doubtless require unmistakable tokens of goodwill to bring him to the point once more. Now, though Miss Morton was not romantic in her disposition, though she had started in life with few ideals, while those that she had were of a tough, serviceable kind, yet she hesitated, and delayed showing those tokens while Ted was still in the land of the living—in other words, unmarried. If she could only write to tell

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Laurette that Stella was engaged! Before she left Melbourne the two had canvassed the whole affair in that exhaustive, unreserved fashion habitual to many women in talking over their own and other people's affairs.

‘I consider Stella as good as engaged to Ted after all that has passed,’ Laurette had said. And when Julia came home, it was with a fixed resolve to regard Ted as no longer among the quick; and she had even planned those overtures which would convince Mr. Timothy Haydon that, though a girl might decline to leave the parental roof over three years ago, it did not follow that she would always be in that negative mood. He would come home with them from church one Sunday, as he sometimes did, and a little accidental stroll in the garden together and a judicious leading would surely be enough. But, then, before this visit or stroll came off, she found that Stella Courtland and Dr. Langdale were ‘as thick as two thieves,’ as she expressed it in writing to Laurette. On getting this letter, Laurette had instantly written back asking Julia to be sure to let her know if anything happened. It was rather early days for anything to have ‘happened’ in Laurette's sense of the term; but, then, speedy wooings are not rare in Australia, especially when there is a separation in near prospect. Stella's visit was not to extend beyond the middle of September, while Dr. Langdale's original intention was to return to England in October. And then they saw so much of each other: they had so much to say, and looked grave, and laughed, and interested, and animated all in turn. What could such proceedings mean, but that they were fascinated by each other and falling in love?

And then, in the midst of her dubitations on the point, Mr. Timothy Haydon suddenly announced his intention of visiting England after shearing. It was well known to his friends that he had a tribe of unmarried elderly female relations in England—cousins of all degrees of nearness and remoteness. He would never return ‘alive,’ Julia was certain of that. If she was not prepared to resign him, to let him become the victim of a foreign brave of the female ‘sect,’ she must take speedy action. But what if, after the day on which that stroll should come off in the garden with a successful issue, she heard that the knell of Ted's

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hopes as far as Stella was concerned had been rung! It was a cruel position for a young woman whose fate lay in her own hands, as far, at any rate, as the second best match possible to her was concerned. It was like the story of the old woman who was driving her pigs to market. In her perplexity Julia resolved to play the part of the rope in that legend of the nursery. According to the light that was in her, she resolved on a little experiment of her own to bring matters to a crisis.

Two days before Mrs. Claude returned there had been a lawn-tennis party at Dr. Morrison's. Dr. Langdale was one of the players, and during an interval in which Miss Morton and he were looking on, the lady took the opportunity of speaking of Stella's play as a prelude to playing the part of the rope.

‘Miss Courtland never strikes the ball except on the run. Now, which do you think is the better way to play a stroke, Dr. Langdale?’

‘The way in which you are most successful, I should say,’ answered Langdale, smiling.

‘I would like awfully to learn how to put on twist when I give a service as Miss Courtland does. I wish she were to settle here when she marries; but her future home will be a long way off.’

‘Yes?’ said Dr. Langdale. But Julia could not detect any show of surprise. There was, perhaps, a slight, slow alteration of colour, and in a little while he added: ‘I did not know that Miss Stella was to be married.’

‘Oh, it is a very old story! She was engaged for a short time years ago to the gentleman and broke it off, and now it is on, or as good as on, again—at least, so her sister-in-law that is to be told me. Perhaps I should not have spoken. But’—with an arch smile—‘I thought, as you are such good friends, that you knew.’

‘Well, I hope the happy man deserves his good luck,’ returned Langdale; and there the matter dropped.

In thinking over it afterwards, a panic seized Julia that she might have put a rachet in the wheels instead of giving them a spin. But no; she felt certain people could not be so intimate without ‘talking over’ things that concerned them. If Langdale was at all affected, he would not rest till he found out whether this was true. Such rumours

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often advanced affairs in a marvellous way; but since then eight days had come and gone, and there was no sign. Miss Morton used to lie awake at night thinking that after all she might fall between two stools. And now shearing would soon begin, and she was as undecided as ever about that stroll in the garden with Mr. Timothy Haydon.

So on this Sunday she resolved to glean all that she could, hoping for some light that would help her to come to a decision. After dinner she and Mrs. Claude went into the banksia-covered arbour at the far end of the garden, the very spot in which Julia had pictured herself gently leading her Adonis of fifty into the primrose path of dalliance. She recalled him as she had seen him that morning (his pew was not far from theirs in church), and her heart fell. His fiery fringe of hair was getting scantier, his eyes paler and more blinking, his wrinkles more obtrusive. And then she thought of Ted. The contrast between the two gave her a sense of faltering dismay. Then she thought of Stella as an interloper, whose unpardonable wilfulness overshadowed her own (Julia's) plans like a nightshade.

‘Well, Nell, and how do you get on with Stella Courtland, on the whole?’ she said, suddenly rousing herself out of the reverie in which the probable and possible husband formed a disconcerting foreground.

‘Oh, charmingly! Who could help liking her?—so full of fun, and all kinds of unexpected fancies.’

‘You seem to have rather a trick of standing round her at Lull, when she talks; but, for my own part, I like a girl with a more open disposition. Now, who would see her with Dr. Langdale without thinking they were lovers, or going to be?’ said Julia, with much animation.

‘Well, and supposing they were?’ said Mrs. Claude, a little surprised at her sister's tone.

‘Supposing they were! And she as good as engaged to Ted Ritchie!’ retorted Julia.

She was determined to put her case bluntly, so as to extort her sister's opinion all the more quickly.

But instead of evoking any sharp denial, as she hoped to do, a sudden light seemed to fall on Mrs. Claude.

‘Well, now, that explains what has begun to puzzle me,’ she said slowly; and at these words poor Julia's heart fell.

‘What has been puzzling you, Nell?’

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‘The sort of fast friendship there is between Stella and Dr. Langdale, without any approach to love-making.’

‘Without any approach to love-making!’ echoed Julia bitterly. ‘Well, Nell, you must be a greenhorn to be taken in by such stuff. Why, you cannot see the two together without knowing at once they are playing at being friends; but it's about the shabbiest disguise I ever saw.’

‘Oh, I know how you look at it, Julia,’ said Mrs. Claude, with a quiet smile. ‘You only see part of the play, and the other part you put together all endways.’

‘Well, I see only part, but enough is as good as a feast, they say. Why, last Thursday when I was over there I saw them meeting at the passion-flower bridge, and it took them a solid hour to get from there to the house! And yet till Stella appeared you know the sort of deadly calm the Doctor always maintained to young ladies. Indeed, Mrs. Waring felt certain there was something behind it all—that he was privately married, or a woman-hater, or something.’

‘Oh, we all know Mrs. Waring's talent for working out patterns for other people's lives,’ said Mrs. Claude, with a superior little smile which Julia found very trying. ‘You see,’ she went on, with the combined experience of one recently married and travelled, ‘people in the Bush think, as a rule, that if two people like Stella and Dr. Langdale have long interesting talks, it must somehow mean love-making. So it does in ninety-eight cases, but they are the ninety-ninth, and with them it doesn't. And when you see a little more of the world you'll find there are plenty more like them. Why, when we were at Geneva we met an American lady and her mother. I suppose I ought to name the mother first, but she was really as much in the back-ground as an extra dress-basket. Well, the daughter was not young, and there was a countryman of hers, the Consul there, who had been her intimate friend for fourteen years. During all that time when they are apart they write long letters to each other every other week.’

‘Good gracious! what a waste of time! Why in the world don't they marry?’ cried Julia energetically.

‘Well, you see, they only want just to be friends,’ answered Mrs. Claude, with unconscious irony; ‘and they had all sorts of things to talk about, only they were always

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very serious. But Stella and the Doctor have great fun very often.’

‘Why, do they chaff each other much? Because, you know, that's a great sign sometimes. That's the way Dan Wylie and Milly Waring used to go on.’

‘Mercy on us! do you suppose that Stella and Dr. Langdale go in for that sort of horse-play?’ said Mrs. Claude, with a comic look of horror.

‘Well, I wish to goodness you would give me some idea of what they do go in for. I might then get an opinion of my own. You mustn't think it's just idle curiosity,’ said Julia, with a solemn expression. ‘Any time I overhear them they laugh and smile at things that don't seem to me in the least funny. And Hector, too, who is the slowest coach I ever saw in my life, he seems quite lively and talkative with these two.’

‘Well, you know, Hector and Dr. Langdale were great friends before ever Stella came.’

‘What was that talk going on about novel-writing on Thursday evening?’

‘Oh, there is a theory that each is writing a novel. Stella declares the Doctor is bent on making his book so agreeable that there are crowds of obliging fairies in attendance on his characters, picking crumpled rose-leaves out of their way, and so on. And he imagines that her people in the end resolve to sit still all their lives, as the only way in which they can avoid doing evil; and then when things go wrong they call Nature, and Life, and Providence to the bar of judgment, and decree that they ought to be hanged, so as to give the world a fresh start. The Doctor declares that reaping as we sow makes up two-thirds of the misfortunes of life. Then Stella asserts that life is so arranged that you sow tares when you mean to sow wheat, and that when you do sow honest grain an enemy comes in the night, who spoils the harvest.’

‘Well, it's rather silly, don't you think, to go on so about far-off things? And then they seem to turn even people's misfortunes into a joke. They were actually smiling over Mr. Dene's compound fracture.

‘Oh, Julia, how can you take up things in such a crooked way!’ said Mrs. Claude warmly. ‘They did nothing of the sort. Hector had been to see Mr. Dene, and said he was

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getting low-spirited through being confined to the house so long. And then Stella said, quite gravely at first—she often makes one believe she is in earnest when she is not—“I suppose in writing a novel fit to be read when one smoked a pipe after the labours of the day are over, an accident of this kind should be termed one of the agreeable amusements of old age—or would you ignore a compound fracture altogether?” ’

‘Well, I am sure that is chaffing, if not more so,’ said Julia sturdily. ‘And then, what did Dr. Langdale say?’

‘ “Not if it pointed one's pet moral so completely,” he said. “You must perceive that if an old gentleman at seventy-three persists in riding a fiery horse imperfectly broken in, he lays himself open to accident; in fact, he was so likely to get his neck broken, that a compound fracture may be, in comparison, called a gentle warning.” ’

‘And then Hector and Dr. Langdale have taken to calling Stella “St. Charity.” What is that for?’

‘Oh, because she has the most extraordinary way of finding out creatures that are hurt. Before we came, she found a little calf with a broken leg when she was out riding. One of the boundary riders set the leg for her, and she has nursed it in a fashion. It is now nearly well. Then early last week she came upon an old crow badly wounded, and she brought that right home, and tied up its broken wing and treated it with vaseline. Hector and Dr. Langdale call it Satan; but Stella won't have that name. She says the only time Satan was hurt it only made him cleverer than ever. But it's a dreadfully cross old crow, and we all think it is the queerest pet. But it really begins to hop after Stella.’

‘Oh, she's a spoilt thing; she always does just whatever comes into her head, however queer it may be,’ said Julia impatiently. She really seemed as far as ever from any guiding light as to that walk with Timothy.

‘Well, what comes into her head in that way is very kind and sweet,’ returned Mrs. Claude. ‘There is poor old Mick——’

‘Mick? Is that a crow, or a calf, or what?’ said Julia pettishly.

‘Not nearly so interesting—to most people, at any rate,’ laughed Mrs. Claude. ‘He is a dreadful little old ragged,

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drunken Irishman, who has eight young children. He used to come to Lull sometimes asking for a job; but Dunstan and some of the other men thought so badly of him, Louise dared not give him any work. But one day when he came, Stella met him by the creek, and had a long chat with him, and coaxed Dunstan to give him work; and now he is in constant employment in the Home Field, and hardly a day passes but he says something ridiculously droll to Stella. She declares that naturally he is one of the best little men she ever knew.’

‘What, that awful little Mick Doolan, that has been so often in gaol for drunkenness?’

‘Yes; but Stella has found out it is his wife who drives him to the public-house. She is a perfect virago, and every now and then Mick comes with a black eye and a funny shade over it. He says he was breaking wood, and a stick flew up and hit him. Stella goes to see her regularly now when she goes into Minjah, and we fancy things are a little better. But Stella does not like to talk of her charities. She says they nearly always turn out addled eggs.’

‘I don't wonder at it if she takes up people like Mick. Mrs. Wylie met her near the cemetery the other day, and she watched her go into it with a basket of flowers. What does she do that for?’

‘She weeded Rupert Courtland's grave, and puts flowers on it once or twice a week. The cousin, you know, who planted the Home Field, and lived there with the Courtland brothers so many years. He was so fond of trees and flowers, and planted so many rose-trees that are now in full bloom.’

‘Well, you may say what you like, but I think she is rather queer,’ said Julia. ‘Then, do you really think, Nell, that neither Stella nor Dr. Langdale care for each other, except as friends? Mind, as I said before, I have good reason for wishing to know.’

‘But what good reason can anyone else have to know what chiefly concerns themselves? I should be very sorry to answer decidedly for either, especially for—well, I don't think I should say it.’

‘For whom? What a close sort of thing you are getting, Nell!’

‘Well, for Dr. Langdale, if you must know. When he

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walks across in the afternoon, if Stella is not in the room, or in the veranda where we sit so often, and he catches sight of her coming, or hears her voice, his whole face lights up. You see, his is a face that must show what he feels more than most men's. There is no part of it hidden. The eyes and mouth sometimes look as tender as a woman's, and yet there is something a little hard about him. And suddenly, when he is talking, something makes him look almost stern.’

‘Well, Nell, you always were one to notice a great deal and find things out long before other people did!’ said Julia with sisterly admiration. She herself seldom noticed things unless they had a distinctly personal bearing; and then she invariably interpreted them according to her own wishes.

‘It seems to me you have been taking Dr. Langdale out of winding pretty completely,’ she said after a pause.

‘Well, you see, one must do something when one has to keep in-doors so much, and do a lot of sewing,’ said Mrs. Claude with a pensive little sigh, unconsciously hitting upon one of the keys to that passion for psychological observations which, with some women, develops into a sort of sixth sense; ‘but for all that, you know, I shouldn't be a bit surprised if they parted friends and nothing more. Certainly Dr. Langdale doesn't talk of returning to England much, lately; and Stella too, sometimes, when she speaks of returning to Fairacre, suddenly turns very silent. But that may be because she thinks of Ted. She is to stay at Laurette's on her way back.

‘But what do Louise and Claude say? As for Hector, he's such a stick-in-the-mud, he wouldn't see anything unless several people told him plump.’

‘Claude and Louise? We none of us exchanged a syllable on the matter. Oh, you mustn't imagine we sit and talk things over, and try to ferret things out, as—as we girls used to.’

‘Well, I call that a very cold, reserved sort of way for a family,’ said Julia, with a touch of scorn. ‘And that's one of the things that the tourist people who come here for a few weeks, and write books, praise us for. They say we have such an open, unreserved, easy way.

‘But then you see those tourists mostly see the people

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who have made money in business in the towns, and they are nearly always garrulous everywhere. It's their life,’ said Mrs. Claude, with a touch of her husband's manner that was not lost upon Julia.

‘Yes, and no doubt the Courtlands are extra reserved because of their ancestry,’ she said, tossing her head. ‘It's good of you to keep so friendly with us, Nell, after marrying into such a set.’

‘Don't be so absurd, Julia; and whatever you do, don't mention a word of what I've said to anyone.’

‘What have you said, then?’ cried Julia, in high dudgeon. ‘I could imagine ten times as much in half a minute. I believe you know more than you say. I think Stella Courtland is a perfect flirt, and you don't like to—to tell on her. But, after all, I don't believe she'll ever give up a man with fifteen thousand a year for one that has to look at people's tongues for a living.’

Mrs. Claude could not refrain from laughter at this incisive summing-up.

‘Dr. Langdale needn't if he does not like. You know he has seven hundred a year private income.’

‘Yes; his father was in business, at any rate—a London fruit-broker. I don't think that was so very aristocratic,’ said Julia, who really was in the mood in which certain women love to fling their tongue abroad like a javelin.

‘Yes, his father was a London fruit-broker and the grandson of a baronet,’ answered Mrs. Claude calmly. ‘Oh, Mrs. Morrison only mentioned it in the course of conversation, just when I told her that my pretty moss-green bonnet was bought in London, in a shop kept by a lord's daughter.’

‘Well, if Stella didn't feel it was wrong to make such fast friends with one man when she's engaged to another, surely she would have said something to you or Louise about Ted,’ said Julia, making a last despairing effort to ‘fossick’ out some more highly coloured hint than she had yet obtained.

‘Oh, as to that, Stella got so much blamed on all sides for getting engaged to Ted for a week and then breaking it off: we none of us expect to hear of her being engaged till she's on the eve of marrying. You know it was after that affair she came to see Louise, over three years ago; and

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she said then she never would be engaged for more than a few days. The temptation of throwing it all up again might be too great.’

‘Oh, she's a conceited thing! I always think there's something almost impertinent in the cool way she treats everything,’ said Julia viciously.

‘Look here, Julia, if you don't like Stella, we'll stop talking about her,’ said Mrs. Claude; and with that she returned to the house. Julia lingered for a few moments in the arbour, trying to decide whether it would not be safer to have Mr. Haydon to dinner next Sunday, and renounce all chance of Ted for good and all—‘that Stella is too risky a creature to let anything hang on her ways,’ she thought, and she slowly followed Mrs. Claude into the house.

‘Oh, my dears,’ her mother was saying, ‘did you hear that Sally Richardson died on Saturday night at twenty minutes past twelve? She ate a little sago, with a table-spoonful of port wine in it, only half an hour before; and she said the whole of “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild,” a little afterwards. Her poor dear mother——’ and Mrs. Morton wiped her eyes.

‘Well, mamma, you know what a fearfully tiresome creature Sally always was,’ said Julia tartly.

Sally had been a housemaid in the Morton family for some time, but indeed it needed not this tie in the past to make Mrs. Morton dwell with effusion on every small particular she could glean of a death, or on the blank that it caused. It is sometimes curious to observe the modifications which parental traits undergo in a second generation. Julia had inherited all her mother's ardour for the details of other people's lives, but utterly divested of her mother's quick sympathy. There was really no personal gratification which Mrs. Morton would have purchased during any period of her life, had it been in her power, at the cost of a finger-ache to a Mandarin in China. Whereas there was no kind of ache Julia would have saved any young woman she knew, if such pain could advance her own scheme of life. Perhaps when the laws of heredity are better understood, the danger of saddling a daughter with callous indifference to the claims of others will serve to curb the too expansive altruism of mothers like Mrs. Morton.

‘The idea of mamma going to sit up with that Richardson

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woman all Friday night!’ said Julia in a discontented voice.

‘Well, my dear, you ought to be used to your mother being a real Christian by this time,’ said her father, not without intentional sarcasm.

He was a hale old man of seventy-five, who enjoyed the distinction of being the only squatter in the Warracootie District who had lived fifty years of his life in Australia. He was one of three brothers—descendants of an old English squire who had lost his land—who had come to Victoria with a little capital, which had all been lost in unprofitable speculations, so that they were for some time knock-about hands, till a fortunate gold claim formed the foundation of the wealth which they now enjoyed.