XIX The End of a Dream

I MET Shaw next afternoon in the common room; he had cut all the morning lectures. I had just had a row with Voyce, the captain of my football team, who wanted me to join in a match on the following day, and was annoyed at my steady refusal to play again. He had said, “Since you took up with that fellow Shaw you are no longer any good to us.” I had replied coldly that I was at liberty to act as I chose, and that “that fellow Shaw” was my friend and a gentleman. Voyce interpreted this remark as a personal reflection, and I was obliged to spend a quarter hour in convincing him that I had intended no insult. Voyce was a big fellow, and excessively pugnacious. The argument had left me heated and undignified. Shaw led me into the quadrangle, where some girls were playing tennis; he seemed distressed about something. I asked him what was the matter. He said, “There has been a row at home!”

I pressed him for details. He said, “It's all over May Denton,” and looked at me very sharply.

“Whatever about?” I cried.

“She has been meeting some man night after night clandestinely after dark, indeed, after everyone else went to bed,

  ― 169 ―
slipping out and meeting him, and coming back at all hours of the night and morning.”

I suppose I must have turned pale, for he asked angrily, “This means nothing to you, Lucas?”

I did not understand him, and shook my head. He cried, “I can see it does. You don't mean to tell me that after the warning I gave you you have fallen in love with the heartless little wretch!”

I muttered something incoherent. Edward shook his fist, and swore in a savage undertone. “It's too bad, too bad altogether, the way she led you on! She ought to be whipped! Mother is awfully cut up about it, and so is father, too, on your account chiefly. Mother has said all along that you cared for her, but I simply would not believe it. I told her that I had warned you; but she just laughed at me. She said warnings were never any good in cases of this sort. It seems she is right!”

“How was it found out?” I muttered.

“A servant!”

“Do you know who it was—the man?” I gasped desperately.

“No, she wouldn't say; but we all think it is that fellow Percival. He has been after her for months; the beggar wants her money. She took the high hand, and said she was responsible to no one for her actions, that she was her own mistress, and rot of that sort. There was an awful scene. Mother had hysterics, and father almost boxed her ears. She stood up and faced him like a little fury, and dared him to touch her. Then, in the middle of it, Percival called and off she went with him to lunch up the river. I promised the mater to follow and bring her home, for the poor old lady is frightened of an elopement. I only called here to get you; I want you to come with me. Will you?”

“Very well.”

I slipped into the common room, and, throwing off cap and gown, donned my hat. We then jumped into a cab. “Lime Street Wharf!” cried Shaw, “and quick about it; we want to catch the two-thirty Hunter's Hill steamer!”

“Right oh!” answered the cabby, and we were off like the wind.

  ― 170 ―

“The mater is packing,” said Edward presently; “she is going to take her off to Melbourne to-morrow night, and catch the Himalaya for London, so as to nip this matter in the bud, and put a stop to my lady's capers for good and all!”

At this I was almost in despair. The thought of losing May so quickly was torture unspeakable. I longed to confide in Edward, and let him know that I was the man May had been secretly meeting; but I dared not without her consent. Edward, no doubt with the idea of doing me a service, and curing my passion for his cousin, occupied the whole of our journey in giving me accounts of her misdoings. According to him, she had already broken more hearts than any other girl in Sydney, had won for herself the reputation of being fast and reckless, and was in her home life a little termagant, self-willed, hot-tempered, and without a spark of reverence in her composition.

The more I took her part the more bitter he became, until at length he allowed her to possess no virtues save pluck and purity, and the last admission he qualified by declaring that she frequently put herself into such dangerous positions that it was more by good luck than anything else she had managed to retain it.

“Consider her latest escapade,” he cried. “Could you blame any man for anything he might do, when a girl so tempts him as to put herself in his power at all hours of the night, as she did? For my part, I think the fellow a fool to have let her go unscathed, whoever he was!”

“But are you sure?” I muttered, anxious to hear all his mind.

“Why, as to that,” he replied, “I know her too well to doubt! Whatever else she may be, she respects herself; and I believe she would kill herself or the man, if anyone dared to take a liberty with her. You see, with her it is not a matter of love. If it were, the Lord only knows! She'd probably prove as weak as any other girl. But she is incapable of love. She doesn't care a snap of the fingers for Percival. She has just been meeting him because she thought it a romantic thing to do, and because she knew it would be sternly forbidden were it known. If she marries

  ― 171 ―
him, it will be in revenge for the rating she got to-day. But I want to save her from that if I can. Percival is all right, as fellows go, but he's a mean hound at heart; frets if he loses a copper. You ought to see him play whist for shilling points; it would be a revelation to you in the man's nature.”

“I thought you liked him?”

“Bosh! I can't stand him; never could. I put up with him, because the mater used to like him, and he once did the pater a good turn in the press, when the labour members were trying to oust him from his position in the Civil Service because he is over fifty-six years of age.”

“Edward,” said I, “have you ever been in love?”

“I am and have been for years.”

“Have I ever met her?”

“No, she lives in Melbourne. I only see her twice a year myself. She—she—(he stammered a little)—she's a work girl. She's a retoucher in Falks', the photographers. Her name is Mabel Lord.”

“Do you intend to marry her?”

“It is why I am going through the Uni., Lucas. Nothing else could have induced me, for my whole ambition is to write. When I get my degree the governor will obtain for me a billet in the service, and then I shall. This is private, Lucas. They know nothing about Mabel at home; if they did they would go off their heads; they expect me to marry money!”

“Are you engaged?”

“Yes, these seven years.”

“I am glad you are in love, Edward; you can understand my feelings for your cousin.”

“You'll have to get over that, Lucas!”

“I don't want to, Ned; never, while I live. I worship her.”

Shaw groaned. “The little wretch; I could strangle her. Do you know I thought at first she might have fallen in love with you—you are so different from the other fellows she has fooled with?”

“How do you mean?”

“You are more serious, more clever, and there seems more in you. Besides, you are better-looking.”

  ― 172 ―

“Do you think me good-looking, Ned?”

“Scarcely that, but you have character in your face, and a lot of strength; you look a thorough aristocrat, and of a good stamp, too!”

I coloured high with pleasure. “It may sound womanish, Ned, but I'm glad to hear you say that, for I know you mean it. I could never see anything in my face more than eyes, but sometimes I feel sure there's something in me. I'm always dreaming of doing big things in the future!”

Shaw laughed. “I wish you'd put that girl out of your head.”

“No, I'll win her, Ned; you mark my words, one of these days May Denton will be my wife.”

“I'd like to think so, Lucas; but I can't. If you could make her care for you you'd get as good a wife as they make, mind that, for all her faults are on the surface; she's sound inside. And she has money, too, a fact not to be despised.”

“I don't care two straws for her money!”

“I believe you, Lucas. I simply could not imagine you as a fortune hunter; you have too much heart for that—a fool could see it.”

“Ned!” I cried, suddenly, “there they are!” We had landed long before from the steamer, at Cassilis Wharf, and were strolling across country in the direction of Rupert's Cave, where Edward believed that May and Percival were lunching tête-à-tête. We saw in a neighbouring field the runaway pair walking at a little distance from each other, their backs to us.

“Ned,” said I, “I feel a fool; what excuse can there be for my presence? What will Percival think?”

“Leave that to me,” he replied. We got through a fence and hurried to overtake them. They meanwhile entered another field, in which were a lot of fat sheep. We heard a man shouting loudly from the enclosure opposite. In a few minutes we had almost reached them, but their attention was distracted by the shouting yokel, who was advancing to meet them armed with a pitchfork. “You are trespassing!” he yelled, excitedly. “Get out at once, or

  ― 173 ―
I'll summon you, you pack of fools; can't you see you're disturbing my ewes!”

It was true; the great fat sheep which had a moment before been contentedly browsing on the herbage were now in a great fluster, and floundered about in a state of frantic excitement, probably frightened by Miss Denton's gorgeous sunshade. Miss Denton stopped dead, but Percival moved forward a few paces, as though to protect her from the enraged farmer. This was a middle-aged and excessively wrathful person. Unmindful of a lady's presence, he swore at us all like a drunken drover, and threatened Percival with his fork—a most ugly-looking weapon. Percival, protesting and apologising, backed and backed until he reached us, then, seeing his reinforcement, I think he was not sorry, at all events at once, that his tête-à-tête with Amber Eyes was broken up for the day. Shaw spoke to the farmer coolly and sensibly, and reminded him that none of us had trespassed out of malice. “Dang yer,” cried the fellow, “what do I care? malice or no malice, those ewes are nigh to lambin', an' if they takes hurt, I'll have the law o' ye.”

“Very good!” replied my friend, and, imperturbable as glass, handed the man his card, together with half-a-crown. “If they take any harm,” he added, “you will know where to find me, and you'll have no difficulty in getting your due.”

This somewhat mollified the yokel, and presently he retreated whence he came, but first insisted that we should at once depart from his land. We made no demur, and proceeded towards that part of the fence which he indicated as our proper point of exit; naturally, it was the point farthest away from the sheep, and by chance it was also a point most distant from the yokel's house.

We did not any of us speak until we were without the field. Percival was the last to climb the fence, which was one of those rickety contrivances known as a dog's leg. He seemed boiling with suppressed fury.

“Now is our chance for revenge!” he cried. “The insolent dog! I'll teach him that he can't insult a lady with impunity!”

With that he seized a log, which happened to be loose,

  ― 174 ―
and proceeded to smash up the fence. I could hardly believe my eyes. The fellow had been full of apologies while the yokel was present, but now that he had gone, he was venting his spite like a woman. I darted up, and seizing his arm, swung him away with more force than politeness.

“You coward!” I cried, hotly. “How dare you do such a thing! you are worse than a woman!”

His eyes blazed. “Dare!” he growled, and swinging the log he still carried aloft, brought it down with murderous force in my direction. I had just time to spring aside to avoid it, when Percival staggered, threw up his hands, and fell senseless to the ground. Edward Shaw had struck him on the jaw with all the strength of his body. The three of us stood round and gazed at him and at each other. May Denton was white to the lips. Edward Shaw was panting with rage. I, too, felt boiling.

“This,” gasped Edward, contemptuously touching the prostrate man with his foot, “this is the thing for whom you have just missed disgracing yourself. Perhaps this will open your eyes!”

“Edward,” cried the girl, “how dare you speak to me like that—before Mr. Rowe!”

“He knows!” cried Shaw; “I told him everything!”

“How dared you!”

Her bosom heaved and her eyes flashed.

“He is my friend. In any case, I am not accountable for my actions to you!” replied Shaw, but more coolly.

“Mr. Rowe,” muttered Miss Denton, “I am sorry that you have been informed of my delinquencies. Why Edward saw fit to try and disgrace me in your eyes I cannot imagine, but I ask you to believe this: I never, never in my life met or saw Mr. Rupert Percival clandestinely!”

I bowed low. “Certainly, I believe you, Miss Denton!”

“Bah!” said Shaw.

She looked me in the eyes. “You see, he does not believe me!”

“Shall I try to convince him?”

She gave me a meaning look. “Thank you, sir; no! I am not accountable for my actions to Edward—nor to

  ― 175 ―
anyone!” she answered, proudly. “Edward can believe what he likes. I shall not be bullied!”

“That is right!” he cried, with scorn. “Behave as you please; disgrace yourself and your relations, then act the tragedy queen if anyone presumes to question you. Never mind, my lady, you won't have the chance for long. Tomorrow, at mid-day, you and your aunt take the mail train to catch the Himalaya at Melbourne!”

“I am glad to hear it!” she exclaimed; “and now, with your permission, unless you have some more kind things to say to me, I shall take my leave.”

“You had better wait for us; we can't leave this fellow here; he is unconscious!”

“You may not; I can. I have no wish to be escorted by him after what he did and tried to do. ‘A coward—worse than a woman.’ ” (Her eyes flashed defiance at me.) “And as for you, Edward, I wish to have nothing further to do with you. You have insulted me in a most ungentlemanly and brutal way, and I simply decline to remain in your company!”

She swept me a mocking courtesy, gave Edward a cold nod, and next moment was yards away, walking with her pretty head high in air, as Shaw had said—like a tragedy queen.

I turned to Edward. “I can't allow her to go off like that, Ned!” I muttered.

He laughed shortly. “Follow her, then!”

“But I don't like to leave you with this cad.”

“Oh!” he sneered, “I can manage him; he'll be like a whipped cur when he comes round!”

I was painfully embarrassed what to do; but Miss Denton drew me like a magnet. I felt that Shaw was angry with me for wishing to desert him, but I could not help myself. I hurried after the girl. I found her shaking in a paroxysm of silent laughter.

“Didn't I manage that cleverly?” she asked.

“May!” I cried, “you have got yourself into a frightful row, and all over me!”

“I did it on purpose.”

“What?” I gasped.

  ― 176 ―

“I gave the housemaid a sovereign to tell aunty about me!”

“May! May!” I cried, almost sick with surprise. “Why did you do this? But you are fooling me. You never did it?”

“I did, Lucas.”

“But why?”

“Because I knew what would follow. I knew that their first thought would be to hurry me away to England, in order to stop the scandal! They have done exactly what I expected and wished.”

I was cut to the heart. “You want to leave me!” I muttered. “You want to leave me!”

“Yes!” she cried, and turned to me a face I could not read, it was so doubtful, so troubled, and yet so full of love and challengeful witcheries inexpressible of speech. “I want to leave you, Lucas. If I could get away this moment —if I could put a thousand miles between us by telegraph—I would!”

“You do not love me, after all!” I said, miserably.

“I do not know.”

No, she did not know. I read it in her eyes. She knew neither her heart nor her mind. After that, I had nothing to say to her. She, too, had nothing to say to me. I was so unhappy that her silence was something of a comfort. We sat at the stem of the ferry boat, and silently stared into the glassy, sunlit waters, which the knife-like bows cut with a ceaseless, lulling swish, like the rustling of rich drapery on a satin polished floor.

When we had landed she broke the silence, while we stood waiting for a cable tram at the foot of King Street. “Would you like one more night?” she asked very softly.

I looked at her, and saw that she made the suggestion from compassion.

“How could we?” I muttered.

“We could dine together, then afterwards stroll out to the Chair.”

But her eyes asked me to refuse.

I sadly shook my head. “No, May. I am afraid that such nights are over for both of us.”

  ― 177 ―

“Then bid me good-bye now.”



“Won't you let me see you before you go?”

“No, I hate farewells. Let us say good-bye now.”

“We may never meet again!”

“In two years.”

“It is a long time, May!”

“It will pass, Lucas.”

I held out my hand. My eyes were blurred so that I could not see her perfectly. “Good-bye, May!” I said, huskily.

Our hands clasped and parted. I swung on my heel and strode off, blind with pain. “Lucas!” whispered a voice in my ear.

I stopped, arrested by a hope that hurt more keenly than the pain.

“Do you hate me?” she whispered; she was pale as death.

“You are mine, May!” I cried; “mine by that kiss!”

She shuddered. “Ah!” she cried; “you remind me of that?”

I fell back a step, and gazed at her, thrilled with an emotion that was new to me, so much was there in it nobler and less selfish than mere passion; but I was angry too. “Very good!” I said quietly; “I release you from your vow. You may leave me free—free as air!”

“Free?” she questioned. “And yourself, Lucas?”

I laughed unsteadily. I do not know what at. “Why, as for me!” I said, “you need not worry your head about me. I shall do very well, thank you.” And, with a bow, I walked away, leaving her standing there seemingly lost in thought. A cable tram caught and passed me presently. She was seated on the dummy car, and was paying her fare to the conductor. She did not glance in my direction, nor once look back. I watched her till she was out of sight. At York Street, where for a moment the tram paused, she purchased a paper from a news-boy, and immediately commenced to read. Apparently she had already forgotten me; her face was perfectly composed, her attitude graceful, careless,

  ― 178 ―
and indifferent, the ghost of a smile played on her lips, as though her mind was engaged with an amusing thought.

“Edward is right,” I muttered; “she is entirely heartless!” I thought each instant that my own heart must break or burst.