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Title: A Mere Chance, Vol. 1 of 3 - A Novel
Author: Cambridge, Ada, 1844-1926
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Libraries.)



    A MERE CHANCE.

    A NOVEL.

    BY ADA CAMBRIDGE,


    AUTHOR OF "IN TWO YEARS TIME," &c.

    IN THREE VOLUMES.

    VOL. I.


    LONDON:
    RICHARD BENTLEY AND SON,
    Publishers in Ordinary to Her Majesty the Queen,
    NEW BURLINGTON STREET.
    1882.
    _Right of Translation Reserved._



    CONTENTS OF THE FIRST VOLUME.


    CHAPTER

       I.--A Marshal Neil Rose
      II.--Family Counsels
     III.--Mr. Kingston's Question
      IV.--The Answer
       V.--So Soon!
      VI.--A Rash Promise
     VII.--Two Love Letters
    VIII.--How Rachel Met "Him"
      IX.--A Black Sheep
       X.--Outside the Pale
      XI.--Mr. Dalrymple has to Consult Gordon
     XII.--"Oh, if they had!"



A MERE CHANCE.



CHAPTER I.

A MARSHAL NEIL ROSE.


A few years ago there was a young _débutante_ in Melbourne whose name
was Rachel Fetherstonhaugh. She had risen upon the social horizon
suddenly, like a new star--or, one might almost say, like a comet, so
unusually bright was she, and so much talked about; and no one quite
knew where she had come from. Mrs. Hardy had introduced her as her
niece--everyone knew that--but there were sceptics who, having never
heard of female relatives previously (except the three daughters, who
had married so well), declared that she might be "anybody," picked up
merely for matchmaking purposes--it being well understood that Mrs.
Hardy had for an unknown period sustained life, figuratively speaking,
upon the stimulus of matrimonial intrigues, and had now no more
daughters to provide for.

That this pretty creature had been unseen and unsuspected until the last
Miss Hardy, as Mrs. Buxton, was fairly away on her honeymoon, and almost
immediately after had been introduced to society as Mrs. Buxton's
successor, was a kind of circumstance that seemed, of course, bound to
have a mystery at the bottom of it. But, as a matter of fact, there was
no mystery. Rachel Fetherstonhaugh was a _bona-fide_ niece, and her
entrance into the Hardy family at a particular juncture could be quite
easily accounted for.

Her father had been Mrs. Hardy's brother--a good-for-nothing, unlucky
brother, whose clever brains could do anything but earn money, and whose
pockets could no more hold it than a sieve could hold water--a brother
whom, long ago, before she had become rich and fastidious, Mrs. Hardy
had loved, and served, and worked for, but whom, of late years, she
had--with some mild self-reproach for doing so--ignored as far as
possible.

This man had married a girl without a penny, as such a man was certain
to do; and his wife had left him a widower, with an only child, a few
years afterwards. Since then, for fifteen years, he had rambled about
from place to place, seeking his fortune in all kinds of visionary and
impracticable schemes, whose collapse one after the other, never
deterred him from fresh enterprises, until a sunstroke closed the list
of his life's many failures at the early age of forty-five.

A formal little note was sent by his orphan daughter to Mrs. Hardy to
announce this sad event; and for half an hour after receiving it the
bereaved sister was inconsolable, tormenting herself with unavailing
regrets for her neglect of "her own flesh and blood," and with
harrowing reminiscences of loving early years.

At the end of that time, however, she had made many generous plans for
her dead brother's child, which cheered and comforted her; and in time
these gave place to the prudent, unemotional dictates of worldly wisdom.
Mrs. Hardy dried her tears, bought herself a black bonnet, and stole out
of town in a surreptitious fashion, to see what manner of niece had been
thrown upon her hands.

She pictured to herself what the child's life had probably been--the
motherless child of a vagabond speculator, who had lived very
indifferently by his wits; and the most she hoped for was to find her a
raw bush girl, rudimentally educated, and uncontaminated by the low
society in which she had been brought up. For such a niece she had
mapped out what seemed to be a suitable career--that of a nursery
governess in some _distant_ colony; and she had resolved to be a good
friend to the girl, to set her up in clothes, and to see that she never
came to want or misfortune if by any reasonable means it could be
helped.

To her intense surprise her young relative turned out to be a remarkably
pretty and refined young woman, obviously accustomed to the decorous and
reticent poverty of people who had "seen better days" and appreciated
the fact, and not raw in any sort of sense, though diffident and shy;
the kind of young woman, indeed, who, it was evident at a glance, was
capable under good management of bringing honour and glory upon the
family.

The result was as above indicated. Rachel Fetherstonhaugh, instead of
being sent into obscurity to earn her bread, was adopted in the sight of
all men as a daughter of the house--that great white house at Toorak,
which had achieved local fame for its profuse entertainments, its social
diplomacies, and its three great marriages.

Her father's debts were paid; her wardrobe was supplemented with the
very best style of new clothes--less expensive, but more becoming, than
any that Mrs. Buxton and Mrs. Buxton's sisters had worn; and by and bye
when, having got over the first shock and grief of her father's death,
she made her appearance in public, and began to take an interest in her
new life, she found herself, to her great astonishment, a personage--if
not _the_ personage--in the society around her.

It must be said, and not to her discredit, I hope, that Miss
Fetherstonhaugh liked being a personage very much indeed. She had grown
up a sensitive little gentlewoman, full of delicate thoughts and tastes,
in the midst of dull, uncultured people of sordid cares and occupations,
and of uncongenial surroundings of all sorts; and the mere physical
enjoyment of her changed circumstances, in which everything was orderly,
and dainty, and plenteous, and "nice," was something like the enjoyment
that a flower must feel when the sun shines.

And the sudden discovery that certain shy conjectures about her
personal appearance (which she had hardly had leisure or heart to attend
to) were confirmed by the best authority--to know herself a pretty girl,
and to see that society paid her homage accordingly--this was an
experience that no woman born, being in possession of her faculties,
could help delighting in. And having all the grateful consciousness of
the value of life and its good things that nature gives to the young and
healthy, unspoiled by artificial sentiment, her delight was unbounded,
and consequently unconcealed.

Rachel Fetherstonhaugh was, as her uncle said, "A modest, good girl,
with no nonsense about her." All the same, she was proud and glad of her
fair, clear-cut features, and her pensive, large, sweet eyes that were
full of tender suggestions, for which no authority existed when she
lifted them meekly to an admirer's face; and that figure which with all
its slenderness had the curves of beauty everywhere, and those waves of
ruddy auburn hair.

"I am so glad I am not plain," she once said to her cousin, Mrs.
Thornley (who strange to say did not repeat the remark to all her
friends with disparaging comments, but responded confidentially with a
sympathising kiss, and said she could quite understand it). "I have
always thought that it must be the most charming thing in the world to
be a really pretty woman. And now I know it."

On a grey afternoon in the beginning of May this young lady was
enjoying the luxury of a slow drive up and down Collins Street,
shopping with her aunt. She nestled in a soft corner of a well-appointed
Victoria, with a great rug of native bearskins about her knees, showing
her delicate fresh face, like a well-hung picture, to the crowd of
passers-by on the pavement, and yet sitting just enough above them to
see into the shop-windows over their heads; and she felt--though she did
not formulate the sentiment--perfectly happy and satisfied.

If the truth must be told, she found the sight of more or less
well-dressed men and women, streaming up and down the busy street, more
interesting than the most lovely landscape she had ever seen. She took
as much pleasure in the exquisite fit of her gloves as in the exquisite
colour and fragrance of a Marshal Neil rose that she wore in her
button-hole; and she had never seen a moonrise or a sunset that had
fascinated her _more_ than that sealskin jacket in Alston and Brown's
window, which she observed was exactly the size for her. It is not,
therefore, to be supposed that she is a heroine unworthy of the name.

At Alston and Brown's Mrs. Hardy stepped out of her carriage for perhaps
the fifth time. She was a very large, masculine kind of woman, with a
remarkably fine Roman nose, of which she was excessively proud, and
justly, for it had been a valuable weapon to her in the battle of life,
literally carrying all before it. When he had got over the effect of her
nose, the beholder of Mrs. Hardy's person, as a rule, was pleasantly
impressed by it. It had a generous and a regal air.

"My dear," she said to her young companion, "I only want to match some
lace. Will you go in with me, or will you stay where you are?"

"I think I will stay, if you please, aunt," replied Rachel. "The
carriage is so comfortable, and I like to look at the street."

"Don't look too much," said Mrs. Hardy, smiling anxiously. "There are
all kinds of office clerks and people mixed up with the crowd at this
hour."

"I don't want to look at _men_," said Miss Fetherstonhaugh, with more
dignity than one would have given her credit for. "It is the ladies'
dresses I like to see--and the horses."

Mrs. Hardy marched into the shop with that imposing mien which became
more and more pronounced as she grew older and stouter, and her social
successes accumulated; and her niece sat still in her corner, and looked
for a long while at the sealskin jacket.

"All my cousins have sealskin jackets," she mused, "but I don't think
they had them until they were married. Perhaps I shall have one when I
am married. I can't expect my aunt to buy me one, of course; she has
bought me so many pretty things. How lovely and soft that brown fur is!
How well it would suit my complexion! If my husband is rich, and asks me
what I should like for my first birthday present, I shall not have any
difficulty in making up my mind. I wonder _will_ he be rich? like Mr.
Thornley, and Mr. Buxton, and Mr. Reade. At any rate, he must not be
poor; if he is, I won't have him. I know enough of poverty"--with a
little shudder and a sudden solemnity in her face--"and I don't mean to
run into it again if I can help it."

Here she fell into a rather mournful reverie, thinking of her old life,
with its shifts and privations--of her poor father, who had been so
happy through it all, never feeling the weight of the petty debts and
dishonours that lay like lead on her--of her struggles to keep his
affairs straight--of her prayers that she might not live to despise and
desert him, which was a temptation that grew with her growing years--and
as she thought, she gazed absently, tenderly, pensively, not on the
sealskin jacket, but on the faces of the passers-by. She had no idea how
excessively interesting and pretty she looked to those passers-by with
that expression in her eyes.

However, a gentleman came by presently, a well-preserved young man of
fifty or sixty, with a waxed moustache, and a slender umbrella carried
musketwise over his shoulder; and his attention was violently arrested.

"Where _have_ I seen that charming creature?" he asked himself,
imploring his memory, which had a great store of miscellaneous
treasures, to be quick and help him. "Surely I have been introduced to
her somewhere. Oh, of course! it is old Hardy's niece, or ward, or
whatever she is. Good day, Miss Fetherstonhaugh," turning back when he
had nearly passed her, and making a profound obeisance with his hat off.
"Fine afternoon for a drive."

She recognised _him_ immediately. She had danced a quadrille with him at
her memorable first evening "out," and she had learned a great deal of
him since from the gossip of her aunt's circle. There was a time, she
had been told, when he was nearly becoming a member of the family
himself. He was a great merchant--or an ex-merchant rather--who had
dealt in some mysterious commodity that had brought enormous profits;
and he had risen by all kinds of good luck, from no one knew what depth
of social insignificance to the proud position of a man of fashion
about town, whom ladies delighted to honour.

"Good day, Mr. Kingston," she responded, looking very pink and bright,
and a little flurried as she returned his salutation. She had the
daintiest complexion that ever adorned a youthful face, and whenever she
was startled or embarrassed, however slightly, she blushed like a rose.
Mr. Kingston, accustomed to appraise the charms of his female friends
with an almost brutal impartiality, was unjustifiably touched and
flattered by this innocent demonstration. He was really very glad he had
remembered who she was before he had lost so good an opportunity for
looking at and talking to her.

"I don't think it _is_ a very fine afternoon," she remarked presently,
as the gentleman seemed to find himself for once a little at a loss for
a subject; and she smiled at him through her blushes, which went and
came suddenly and delicately, as if they were breathed over her by the
air somehow. "It has been looking grey, like rain, ever since we
started; and it is rather cold, don't you think?"

"Is it? Ah! so it is. But we must expect cold weather in May. I suppose
it is rather strange to you to be finding winter coming on at this
season?"

"No. Why should it be strange to me?"

"I thought--I am sure somebody told me--that you were recently out from
England."

"Oh, dear, no," she replied, frankly. "I was born in this colony, and
have lived in it all my life."

"In the name of fortune, where?"

"In different places; at Sandhurst, at Ballarat, and on the Upper
Murray, and in little townships here and there in the bush; and
sometimes in Melbourne."

"I am sure I never saw you in Melbourne until I met you at that dance
the other night," he protested earnestly. "I never should have forgotten
your face if I had once seen it."

"I daresay not," she said, and she was angry to find herself blushing
again. "I was but a child when I lived in Melbourne before, and--and my
home was not in Toorak then."

Mr. Kingston understood. She had been a poor relation in those days,
and the Misses Hardy were unmarried. He had a constitutional antipathy
to poor relations, and he was a little disappointed. For a few seconds
he kept silence, while he wondered what her antecedents could have been.
Then he looked at her again, and she was regarding him with a curious
gravity of demeanour, almost as if she had divined his thoughts. There
was a meek majesty about her that commanded his respect, and that he
considered was excessively becoming.

After all, what did it matter about her antecedents? Did she not look a
thoroughly well-bred little woman, sitting there in her furs and soft
cushions, with her head held so straight? Did he not hear other
men--better men than he from a genealogical point of view--singing her
praises wherever he went? Whatever she had been, she was a distinguished
personage now, whose acquaintance it behoved a veteran lady-killer to
cultivate, and that without delay.

"I am very glad your home is in Toorak now," he said gallantly. "I have
some land there myself, quite close to your uncle's place."

"Indeed," murmured Rachel.

"Yes, and I am going to build on it soon. I have just got the plans out
from home--capital plans. I shall bring them in for Mrs. Hardy's
opinion. When my house is built we shall be neighbours. You will have to
help me, you and your aunt, with the furnishing and all that sort of
thing that ladies understand."

"I don't think I understand much about it," she said; "but I shall like
to see it done. I am very fond of pretty furniture. Will your house be
very big?"

"Oh, nothing out of the way. I'm not going to spend _more_ than twenty
thousand pounds on it. My friends tell me I ought to do the thing
properly when I am about it; but I don't see the fun of locking up a lot
of money in bricks and mortar. I might want to change my residence any
day, you see."

Rachel looked at him with awe. There was a flippancy in the way he spoke
of that twenty thousand pounds which almost shocked her.

"If you are going to build a palace," she said, "don't talk of asking my
help. I have never had anything to do with that kind of thing."

"Oh, my dear Miss Fetherstonhaugh--really it will be nothing but an
ordinary good-sized, comfortable house, and I am sure your taste would
be perfect. At any rate, you will help me with the gardens? I mean to
have good grounds, whatever else I go without; and ladies always know
how to lay out beds and things better than we do."

"_I_ shouldn't know," she said, smiling; "but I think my aunt is very
clever at that. We have beautiful flowers--even so late as this."

"So I see." He glanced admiringly at the rose on her breast, and she
stuck her pretty chin into her throat and looked at it too. "What a
lovely bud that is! Marshal Neil, is it not? Oh, don't take it out--the
black fur on your jacket makes such a charming background for it."

Rachel already had it in her hand, and was stroking the velvety yellow
petals and the dark green leaves.

"We have plenty of them," she said; "there is a wonderful autumn bloom
of roses just now. This is a picture, isn't it? with that deep colour
like an apricot in the heart, and those scarlet stains streaking it
outside. Would you like to have it?" And she held it out with a frank
gesture and the most captivating smile; and then, as he took it with a
low bow and much ostentatious gratitude, she blushed the deepest crimson
to the roots of her golden hair.

At this moment Mrs. Hardy emerged from the shop, her ounce-weight of
purchases being carried behind her; and Mr. Kingston turned to receive
an effusive greeting.

"Oh, my dear Mr. Kingston, is it you?" the stately matron exclaimed.
"How _glad_ I am to see you--I have not met you for an age! Where _have_
you been? And when _are_ you coming to call on me again?"

"I will come whenever you will allow me," this illustrious person
replied, with an alacrity of demeanour that did not escape notice. "I
thought of coming this afternoon, and on my way I saw your carriage, and
your niece told me that you were shopping."

"No; I did not tell you that," interposed Rachel gravely.

He looked at her and laughed, and his laugh for some unaccountable
reason called her retreating blushes back. Mrs. Hardy glanced sharply
from one to the other, and then she also laughed, in decorous matronly
fashion.

"Well, come and dine with us to-night," the elder lady said, "and take
us to the opera. That would be a friendly thing to do, if you are
disposed to be friendly. Beatrice and Mr. Reade are coming--nobody else;
and you can take Mr. Hardy's ticket. He is always glad to get off
going."

"I will indeed--I will with pleasure," was the prompt response; and with
some further exchange of civilities, the friends separated.

Mr. Kingston walked away to his club, with his flower in his
button-hole, swinging his umbrella gently, and wondering to what class
of woman this pretty Miss Fetherstonhaugh belonged.

"Is she a coquette?" he asked himself over and over again; "or is she
charmingly fresh and simple?"

Mrs. Hardy rolled home in her little Victoria, and she also asked
herself questions which were by no means easy to answer, as she stole
furtive glances at the little black figure sitting, watchful and alert,
beside her.

"My dear," she said presently, breaking a long silence, "where is your
rosebud gone to?"

"I gave it to Mr. Kingston, aunt."

"You gave it to Mr. Kingston!" Mrs. Hardy almost shouted in the
vehemence of her surprise. Then, pausing for a moment while she stared,
not unkindly, at the torrent of blushes that flowed over her pretty
face, she ejaculated, almost in a tone of awe, "Good gracious!"



CHAPTER II.

FAMILY COUNSELS.


The drawing-room of the house in Toorak where our heroine lived, looked
very cosy and comfortable a few hours later in the ruddy glow of the
firelight. It was a little before the days of domestic high art in
Victoria, and it was by no means the charming apartment that it is now.
There was no dado, no parquetry floor, no tiled hearth, no _étagère_
mantelpiece--nor Persian rugs under foot, nor Limoges plaques and
Benares dishes on the walls, nor Japanese screens and jars, nor
treasures of jade and china, nor anything, in fact, that there ought to
have been.

The pleasant firelight danced upon a whitewashed ceiling, plentifully
adorned with plaster-of-Paris mouldings, and upon whitey-grey walls
sprigged with golden flowers. The floor was completely covered with a
vivid green carpet, also sprinkled with flowers; and the windows were
draped with brilliant damask to match, depending from immense gilt
cornices in festoons looped with cords and tassels. There was a
cut-glass chandelier hanging down in the middle, and there was a
gigantic pier-glass reaching from the marble chimney-piece to the
plaster-of-Paris frieze, with little gold cupids sitting on the top of
it, tying wreaths of gold flowers into a knot. The chairs and couches
shone in slippery satin, with wonderful rosewood convolutions wriggling
out from them, that one could hardly venture to call legs; and there was
a terrible chiffonniere, full of looking-glasses, with a marble top,
reflecting all these splendours over and over again--which was quite
unnecessary.

Nevertheless, though Mrs. Hardy cannot look back upon it without a
shudder, the old room was a pleasant room. She herself came into it on
this occasion, having dressed a little earlier than usual, and was
struck by its air of luxurious warmth and comfort. She saw nothing to
shock her artistic susceptibilities; she liked the twinkle of her glass
drops, and the shine of her spacious mirror, and the deep glow of her
emerald satin and damask--though she would die sooner than own to it
now.

She went leisurely over to the fire, sank down in a low arm-chair, and
put up her feet on the fender to warm, with a distinct impression upon
her mind of congenial surroundings and satisfied aspirations. Long ago
she had been a poor man's wife--the most estimable and devoted of poor
men's wives--doing her own housework, making her own bread and butter,
nursing her own babies, mending her husband's clothes; and in those days
she had beautified her bush hut with cheap paper and chintz, and thought
it prettier than a palace.

Later on she had had a smart brick and stucco cottage, and in it a
drawing-room--her first drawing-room--with a green and scarlet drugget
on the floor, lace curtains over the window, a centre table (with a
basket of wax flowers under a shade in the middle), and a "suite" in
green rep disposed around; and this in its day had seemed to her an
apartment quite too good for common use. Next she had aspired to a
Brussels carpet, and by and bye to a pier-glass and a piano. And so she
had come by degrees to this Toorak splendour, in each stage feeling that
she had reached the summit of her ambition, and vindicated her claim to
the most correct taste.

The same process of evolution and development had taken place in
herself, outwardly and inwardly. She was naturally a kindly, honest,
good-hearted woman, and she was by birth a lady. But year by year nature
having much to struggle with had retired, step by step into the
background of her personality, and she was simply what the education of
society--her society--made her. Practically, fashion and _les
convenances_ were her gods. Those men or women who were not what she
generally termed "well-bred"--who were behind the times in social
matters, who had no place in her great world, nor any capacity for
making one--were not people to be received into her house, or to have
anything to do with. Her demeanour to such unfortunate individuals, when
she did happen to come into contact with them was, to say the least,
chilling.

Yet those who knew her best, declared that if any of these ineligibles
were to fall into great trouble, she would be the first to help and
befriend them if she could; and that if her husband were to lose his
fortune and suddenly plunge her into poverty again, she would set to
work to cook his dinners and mend his clothes with the same cheerful
willingness as of yore.

She sat in the warm firelight, toasting her feet, and her brain was busy
with projects. For some weeks past she had been troubled about her young
niece, on account of her too absurd innocence, and her ignorance of
social etiquette in many important details. The girl's manner and
carriage had been particularly easy and graceful, but she had constantly
counteracted the effect of this by a deplorable want of penetration as
to who was who, and of reticence concerning her own history and
experiences, which had been very mortifying to an aunt and _chaperon_
accustomed to better things; and her efforts to teach and train one who
seemed so gentle and pliant had been singularly unfruitful. Rachel was a
sweet child, and she was fond of her, and proud of her beauty;
nevertheless, she had declared to herself and to Beatrice more than
once, that she had never known a human creature so hopelessly dense and
stupid.

To-night, however, she took another view of the case. That rural
freshness had possibly found favour in the eyes of Mr. Kingston, who had
been the ideal son-in-law to so many mothers of so many polished
daughters. She was surprised, but she could understand it. For she knew
that men had all sorts of queer, independent, unaccountable ways of
looking at things--at women in particular; and she had already noticed
that they liked those ridiculous blushes--which to her mind showed a
painful want of culture and self-possession--in which the girl indulged
so freely.

What if she should be able to marry her to Mr. Kingston--who had foiled
the artifices of well-meaning matrons, and resisted the fascinations of
charming maidens exactly suited for him for so many years--after
marrying all her own children so well? That was the theme of her
meditations, and she found it deeply interesting. She longed for the
arrival of Beatrice, who was her eldest daughter and her chief
_confidante_ and adviser, to hear what she had to say about it.

She had been by herself about ten minutes, during which time a servant
had lit up the cut-glass chandelier, when there was a ring at the
door-bell, and Mr. and Mrs. Reade were ushered in. Mrs. Reade was a tiny
little dark woman, with a bright and clever, though by no means pretty,
face, in which no trace of the maternal features was visible.

She was beautifully dressed in palest pink, with crimson roses in her
hair, and delicate lace of great value about her tight skirt and her
narrow shoulders; and her distinguished appearance generally rejoiced
her mother's heart. Behind her towered her enormous husband, in whom
blue blood declined to manifest itself in the customary way. He was an
amiable, slow-witted, honest gentleman, with a large, weak face, rather
coarse and red, particularly towards bedtime, and heavy and awkward
manners; and he was as wax in the hands of the small person who owned
him.

"Ned," she said, looking back at him as she swept across the room, "you
go and find papa, and let mamma and me have a talk until the others come
in."

Ned obediently went--not to find his host, who was probably in the
dressing-room, but to read "The Argus" by the dining-room fire, while
the servants set the table. And the mother and daughter sat down
together to one of the confidential gossips that they loved. Mrs. Reade
began to unfold her little budget of news and scandal, but immediately
laid it by--to be resumed between the acts of the opera presently--while
she listened to Mrs. Hardy's account of the transactions of the
afternoon. It did not take that experienced matron long to explain
herself, and the younger lady was quick to grasp the situation. At first
she was inclined to scoff.

"Oh, we all know Mr. Kingston, mamma. He dangles after every fresh face,
but he never means anything. _He_ will never marry--at any rate, not
until he is too old to flirt any more."

"But, my dear, he is going to build his house."

"I don't believe a word of it," said Mrs. Reade. "He has been going to
build that house ever since I can remember. It is just one of his artful
devices. Whenever he wants to make a girl like him he tells her about
that house--just to set her longing to be the mistress of it. That is
the only use he will ever put it to. You'll see he will tell Rachel all
about it to-night. He will beg her to help him with her exquisite taste,
and so on. Oh, I know his ways. But he means nothing."

"He has already told Rachel," said Mrs. Hardy, laughing. "And, what is
more, he is going to bring the designs to show her, and he says he is
really going to put the work in hand at once."

"If so," said Mrs. Reade, gazing into the fire meditatively, "it looks
as if he had been proposing to settle himself--though I shall not
believe it till I see it. But then he must have made his plans before he
ever saw Rachel. It must be Sarah Brownlow he is thinking of, mamma."

"Sarah Brownlow passed him this afternoon, Beatrice, and he hardly
noticed her. While as for Rachel--well, I only wish you had been there
to see the way he looked at her, and the way he said good-bye. My
impression is that he thinks it is time to settle--as indeed it is,
goodness knows--and so has begun with his house; and that he is looking
about for a mistress for it, and that something in Rachel has struck
him. I am certain he is struck with Rachel."

Mrs. Reade gazed into the fire gravely, while she pondered over this
solemn announcement.

"It is possible," she said presently. "It is quite possible. All the men
are saying that she is the prettiest girl in Melbourne just now. An
elderly club man, who has seen much of the world, is very likely to
admire that kind of childish, simple creature. If it should be so," she
continued, musingly, "I wonder how Rachel will take it."

"Rachel," said Mrs. Hardy, with sudden energy, "is not so simple as she
seems. You mark my words, she will be as keen to make a good marriage as
anybody as soon as she gets the chance."

"Do you think so?" her daughter responded, looking up with her bright,
quick eyes. "Now that is not at all my notion of her."

"Nor was it mine at first, but I am getting new lights. It never does to
trust to that demure kind of shy manner. I assure you she made such use
of her opportunities this afternoon as surprised me, who am not easily
surprised. In about ten minutes--I could not have been in Alston's more
than ten minutes--they were on the most frank and friendly terms
possible, and she had given him a rose to wear in his button-hole."

"Nonsense!"

"I assure you, yes. And I know, by the look of him, that he never saw
through it. It is wonderful how even the cleverest men can be taken in
by that _ingénue_ manner. He evidently thought her a sweet and
unsophisticated child. Sweet she is--the most amiable little creature I
ever knew; but she knows what she is about perfectly well."

Mrs. Reade gazed into the fire again with thoughtful eyes; then after a
pause she said:

"I think you don't understand her, mamma. I think she really saw no more
in Mr. Kingston than she would have seen in any poor young man without a
penny."

"No, Beatrice. She talked about his new house, and all the money he was
going to spend on it, in a ridiculous way. She was completely fascinated
by the subject."

"I can't imagine little Rachel scheming to catch a rich husband," the
young lady exclaimed, with a mocking, but pleasant laugh.

"You don't see as much of her as I do, my dear Beatrice," her mother
replied, with dignity. "If you did, you would know that she is as fond
of money and luxury as any hardened woman of the world could be. She
quite fondles the ornaments I have put in her room. She goes into
raptures over the silver and china. A new dress sends her into
ecstacies. She annoys me sometimes--showing people so plainly that she
has never been used to anything nice. However, it will make it easier
for me to settle her than I at first thought it would be. It will be all
plain sailing with Mr. Kingston, you will see."

"Mother," said Mrs. Reade--she only said "mother" when she was very
much in earnest--"let me give you a word of advice. If you want to marry
Rachel to Mr. Kingston--and I hope you will, for it would be a capital
match--don't let her know anything about it; don't do anything to help
it on; don't let her see what is coming--leave them both alone. I think
I know her better than you do, and I have a pretty good idea of Mr.
Kingston; and any sort of interference with either of them would be most
injudicious--most dangerous. I shall see to-night--I'm sure I shall see
in a moment----"

There was a ring at the door-bell, and the stir of an arrival in the
hall, and the little woman did not finish what she wanted to say. She
rose from her chair, and shook out her pink train; and the mother to
whom she had laid down the law rose also, looking very majestic.

"Mr. Kingston," said the servant, throwing the drawing-room door open.

The great man entered with a springing step, bowing elaborately. His
glossy hair (some people said it was a wig, but it was not) was curled
to perfection; his moustaches were waxed to the finest needle-points; he
wore flashing diamond studs on an embroidered shirt front; and there was
a Marshal Neil rose in his button-hole, not very fresh, and too much
blown to be any ornament to a fine gentleman's evening toilet, hanging
its yellow head heavily from a weak and flabby stalk.



CHAPTER III.

MR. KINGSTON'S QUESTION.


While her aunt and cousin were discussing her downstairs, Miss
Fetherstonhaugh was dressing herself for dinner in her little chamber at
the top of the house. This was a part of the daily ceremonial of her new
life, in which she took a deep and delighted interest. The whole thing,
in fact, was charming to her. To come sweeping down the big staircase in
dainty raiment, all in the spacious light and warmth--to have the doors
held open for her as she passed in and out--to go into the dining-room
on her uncle's arm, and sit at dinner with flowers before her--seeing
and feeling nothing but softness and colour, and polish and order
everywhere--was at this time to realise her highest conception of
earthly enjoyment.

Her bedroom was not magnificent, but it had everything in it that she
most desired--the whitest linen, the freshest chintz and muslin, a fire
to dress by, an easy chair, and above all, a cheval glass, in which she
could survey her pretty figure from head to foot. She stood before this
cheval glass to-night a thoroughly happy little person. Hitherto, with a
mirror twelve inches by nine, that had a crack across it, she had seen
that her face was fair and fresh, and that her hair had a wonderful
red-gold lustre where the light fell upon it; but she was only now
coming to understand what perfection of shape and grace had developed
with her recent growth into womanhood, to make the _tout ensemble_
charming.

She looked at herself with deep content--no doubt with a stronger
interest than she would have looked at any other lovely woman, but in
much the same spirit, enjoying her beauty more for its own sake than for
what it would do for her--more because it harmonised herself to her
tastes and circumstances, than because it was a great arsenal of
ammunition for social warfare and conquest.

She was still in mourning for her father, and had put on a simple black
evening dress. Her natural sense of the becoming dictated simple
costumes, but education demanded that they should be made in the latest
fashion; and she regarded the tightness of her skirt in front, and the
fan of her train behind, with something more than complacency.

As yet the lust for jewels had not awakened in her, which was very
fortunate, for she had none. The tender, milky throat and the round
white arms were bare; and all the ornament that she wore, or wanted, was
a bouquet of white chrysanthemum and scarlet salvia on her bosom, and
another in her hair.

Pretty Rachel Fetherstonhaugh! If Roden Dalrymple could have seen her
that night, only for five minutes, what a deal of trouble she might have
been spared!

The dinner bell rang, and she blew out her candles hurriedly, and
flitted downstairs. On the landing below her she joined her uncle--a
small, thin, sharp-faced person, with wiry grey hair, and "man of
business" written in every line of his face--as he left his own
apartment; and they descended in haste together to the drawing-room,
where four people were solemnly awaiting them.

The first thing that Rachel saw when she entered was her Marshal Neil
rose. She glanced from that to its wearer's face, eagerly turned to meet
her, full of admiring interest; and, as a matter of course, she blushed
to a hue that put her scarlet salvias to shame.

Why she blushed she would have been at a loss to say; certainly not for
any of the reasons that the assembled spectators supposed. It was merely
from the vaguest sense of embarrassment at being in a position which she
had not been trained to understand.

An hour or two before, her aunt had made that rose the text of a
discourse in which many strange things had been suggested, but nothing
explained; and now they all looked at her, evidently with reference to
it, yet with painful ambiguity that perplexed her and made her uneasy;
and she could only feel, in a general way, that she was young and
ignorant and not equal to the situation. Much less than that was amply
sufficient to cover her with a veil of blushes.

At dinner she sat between Mr. Reade and her uncle, and, being on the
best of terms with both of them, she confined her conversation to her
own corner of the table, and scarcely lifted her eyes; but when dinner
was over--dinner and coffee, and the drive to the opera-house--then Mr.
Kingston, deeply interested in his supposed discovery of a new kind of
woman, and piqued by her shy reception of his generally much-appreciated
attentions, set himself to improve his acquaintance with her, and found
the task easy. They were standing on the pavement, in the glare of the
gaslight, with a lounging crowd about them.

Mrs. Hardy had dropped a bracelet, for which she and her son-in-law were
hunting in the bottom of the brougham, and Mrs. Reade was chatting to an
acquaintance, whose hansom had just deposited him beside her--a bearded
young squatter, enjoying his season in town after selling his wool high,
who stared very hard at Rachel through a pair of good glasses, as soon
as he had a favourable opportunity.

Mr. Kingston stood by the girl's side, staring at her without disguise.
The shadow of the street fell soft upon her gauzy raiment and her white
arms and the lustre of her auburn hair, but her face was turned towards
the gaslight--she was looking wistfully up the long passage which had
something very like fairy land at the end of it--and he thought he had
never seen any face so fresh and sweet.

"You like this kind of thing, don't you?" he said, gently, as if
speaking to a child, when in turning to look for her aunt she caught his
eye.

"Oh, yes," she replied, promptly, "I do, indeed! I like the whole thing;
not the singing and the acting only, but the place, and the people, and
the ladies' dresses, and the noise, and the moving about, and the
lights--everything. I should like to come to the opera every
night--except the nights when there are balls."

Mr. Kingston laughed, and said he should never have guessed from what he
had seen of her that she was such a very gay young lady.

"You don't understand," she responded quickly, looking up at him with
earnest, candid eyes; "it is not that I am gay--oh, no, I don't think it
is that! though perhaps I do enjoy a spectacle more than many people.
But it is all so new and strange. I have never had any sightseeing--any
pleasure like what I am having now, that is why I find it so
delightful."

"Come, my dear!" cried Mrs. Hardy sharply (she had found her bracelet
and overheard a part of this little dialogue), "don't stand about in the
wind with nothing over you. What have you done with your shawl?"

"It is here, aunt," replied Rachel meekly, lifting it from her arm.

Her cavalier hastened to take it from her and adjust it carefully over
her shoulders. During this operation Mrs. Hardy swept into the lobby,
taking the arm of her big son-in-law; and Mrs. Reade, having parted from
her friend, glanced round quickly, followed her husband, and put herself
also under his protection. Mr. Kingston, smiling to himself like
Mephistopheles under his waxed moustache, was left with Rachel in the
doorway.

"How _does_ it go?" he said, fumbling with a quantity of woolly fringe.
"All right--there's no hurry. It is not eight o'clock yet. Pray let me
do it for you."

She stood still, while he dawdled as long as he could over the
arrangement of her wrap, but she cast anxious looks after the three
receding figures, and she was the colour of an oleander blossom. He was
a little disconcerted at her embarrassment; it amused him, but it
touched him too.

Poor little timid child! Who would be so mean as to take advantage of
her inexperience? Not he, certainly. He gave her his arm and led her
into the house, with a deferential attentiveness that did not usually
mark his deportment towards young girls. On their way they were accosted
by a boy holding a couple of bouquets in each hand.

"Buy a bouquet for the opera, Sir?" said he, in his sing-song voice.

Mr. Kingston paused and put his glass in his eye. They were bright
little nosegays, and one of them, much superior to the other, had a
fringe of maiden hair fern and a rich red rose in the middle of it. He
took this from the boy's hand, and offered it to Rachel with his
elaborate bow.

"Permit me," he said, "to make a poor acknowledgment of my deep
indebtedness to you for _this_."

And he touched the drooping petals of the Marshal Neil bud, and imagined
he was paying her a delicate sentimental compliment.

If Rachel had been the most finished fine lady she could not have
undeceived him more gracefully.

"Thank you," she said, simply, and she smiled for half a second.

To be sure her red rose was not redder than she was, but she held her
head with a gentle air of maidenly dignity that quite counteracted the
weakness of that blush.

Mr. Kingston began to suspect, with some surprise, that she was not so
easy to get on with as she appeared. However, that did not lessen his
interest in her by any means.

"I am afraid you think I have taken a liberty," he suggested presently.
What had come to him to care what a bread-and-butter miss might think?
But somehow he did care.

"Oh, no," she said, "it is very kind of you. But you must not talk of
being indebted to me. Flowers are not--not presents, like other things."

By this time they had reached the top of the stairs, and Mrs. Reade was
sweeping out of the cloak-room, where she had been "settling" her hair,
and putting a little powder on her face.

"Mamma is gone in," she said, taking the girl's hand kindly; "there are
plenty of people here to-night, Rachel. You must look for a lady sitting
on the right of the Governor's box, in a high velvet dress. She is one
of our Melbourne beauties."

So they went in and took their seats; and Rachel found herself sitting
in the front tier, not very much to the left of the viceregal armchairs,
and her cousin Beatrice was on one side of her and Mr. Kingston on the
other.

She was perfectly contented now. She smiled at her flowers; she furled
and unfurled her fan; she looked round and round the house through her
glasses, whispering questions and comments to Mrs. Reade, who knew
everybody and everybody's history; and it made Mrs. Hardy quite uneasy
to see how thoroughly and evidently she enjoyed herself. Mr. Kingston
recovered his spirits which she had damped a little while ago.

He watched her face from time to time--generally when she was absorbed
in watching the stage; and the more he looked, the more charming he
found it. So fresh, so frank, so modest, so sweet, with those delicate
womanly blushes always coming and going, and that child-like fun and
brightness in her eyes. He had never been so "fetched," as he expressed
it, by a pretty face before; that is to say, he did not remember that he
ever had been.

It was, indeed, very seldom that he regarded a pretty face with such a
serious kind of admiration. He found himself wondering how it would
fare, how long it would keep its transparent innocence and candour in
the atmosphere of this new world--this second-rate Hardy set, which was
full of meretricious, manoeuvring, gossip-loving women--with a touch of
anxiety that was quite unselfish. He was sure now that she was not a
coquette; he was experienced enough to know, also, that, however humble
her origin and antecedents, she was a girl of thoroughly "good style;"
and it would be a thousand pities, he thought, if the influence of her
surroundings should spoil her.

When the curtain fell and the gas was turned up, he noticed that people
all round the house were turning their glasses upon her. Certainly she
made a charming study from an artistic point of view. What taste she had
shown in the grouping of her white chrysanthemums, and the way she had
mixed in those few velvety horns of red salvia. They were colours proper
to a brunette, but they seemed to accentuate the delicacy of her milky
complexion and the fine shade of her red-gold hair.

What a chin and throat she had! and what soft, yet strong, round
arms!--white, but warm, like blush rose petals that had unfolded in the
dews of dawn at summer time, against the black background of her dress.
And her shape and her colour were nothing compared with the expression
of utter content and happiness that shone out of her face, irradiating
her youth and beauty with a tender light and sweetness that, like
sunshine on a sleeping crater, gave no hint of the tragic trouble hidden
away for future years. No wonder people looked at her. Of course they
looked.

The glasses that she had been using belonged to Mrs. Reade, and now that
lady was busy with them, hunting for her numerous acquaintances. Mr.
Kingston held out his own, curious to see if she would discover what
attention she was receiving, and what the effect of such a discovery
would be.

"Thank you," said Rachel gratefully; and she settled herself back in her
seat, and proceeded to take a thorough survey of all the rank and
fashion that surrounded her. For a long time she gazed attentively,
shifting her glasses slowly round from left to right; and Mr. Kingston
watched her, leaning an elbow on the red ridge between them, and
twiddling one horn of his moustaches.

He expected to see the familiar blush stealing up over the whiteness of
her face and neck. But she remained, though deeply interested, quite
cool and calm. Presently she dropped her hands in her lap and drew a
long breath.

"There is a lady over there," she said in a whisper, "who has something
round her arm so bright that I think it must be diamonds. Do you see who
I mean? When she holds up her glasses again, tell me if they are real
diamonds in her bracelet."

Much amused, Mr. Kingston did as he was bidden.

"Oh, yes," he said, "they are real diamonds. That lady is particularly
addicted to precious stones. She walks about the street in broad day
with a Sunday school in each ear, as that fellow in _Piccadilly_ says.
Are you like the majority of your sex--a worshipper of diamonds? I
thought you did not care for jewellery."

"I do," she replied, smiling. "I don't worship jewels, but I should like
to have some. I should like to have some real diamonds _very_ much."

"I daresay you will have plenty some day, and very becoming they'll be
to you. Not more so, though, than the flowers you are wearing to-night,"
he added, looking at them admiringly.

Rachel touched up her ornaments with a thoughtful face.

"There is such a light about diamonds," she said musingly; "no coloured
stones seem so liquid and twinkling. I don't care in the least about
coloured stones. If I were very rich I would have one ring full of
diamonds, to wear every day, and one necklace to wear at night--a
necklace of diamond stars strung together--and perhaps a diamond
bracelet. And I wouldn't care for anything else."

"Should you like to be very rich?" asked her companion, smiling to
himself over these naïve confessions. He was gazing, not only into her
eyes, but at her lovely throat and arms, and imagining how they would
look with diamonds on them.

"Yes," said Rachel. "But the great thing I wish is not to be poor. I
hope--oh, I do hope--I shall never be poor any more!"

"I don't think you stand in the least danger of that," said Mr.
Kingston.

"I know all about it," continued the girl gravely; "and I don't think
you do, or you could not laugh or make a joke of it. You _cannot_ know
how much it means. _You_ never have debts, of course."

"Debts? Oh, dear, yes, I do--plenty."

"Yes, but I mean debts that you can't pay--that you have to apologise
for--that hang and drag about you always. I won't talk about it," she
added hurriedly, with a little shiver; "it will spoil my pleasure
to-night."

"_Don't_," said Mr. Kingston. He did not find it a congenial topic
either. "Tell me what you would do if you were rich."

"What I would do?" she murmured gently, smiling again. "Oh, all kinds of
things--I would pay ready money for everything, in the first place. Then
I would have a lovely house, with quantities of pictures. That is one
great fault in our house at Toorak--we have no nice pictures. And I
would wear black velvet dresses. And I would have a beautiful sealskin
jacket. And a thorough-bred horse to ride----"

"Oh, do you ride?" interposed Mr. Kingston, eagerly.

"I used to ride. I like it very much. My father gave me a beautiful mare
once; but afterwards he rode a steeplechase with her, and she fell and
broke her back. I can ride very well," she added, smiling and blushing.
"I can jump fences without being afraid. But Uncle Hardy keeps only
carriage horses, and none of the family ride."

"But you must have a horse, of course. I must speak to your uncle about
it," said Mr. Kingston. "Indeed, I think I have one that would suit you
admirably, and I'll lend him to you to try, with pleasure, if you'll
allow me."

"Oh, _will_ you? Oh, _how_ delightful! When will you let me try him? But
I forgot--I have no habit!"

"That is a difficulty soon got over. I'll speak to your aunt," said this
influential autocrat.

And here a bell rang, and the curtain rose upon a fresh scene. Mrs.
Reade and her mother had had an absorbing _tête-à-tête_, and now turned
to see what their charge was doing. Mr. Reade, redolent of something
that was not eau de cologne, came back to his seat; and Rachel began to
watch the proceedings of the prima donna, who was solemnly marching
across the stage. Mr. Kingston was aware, however, that the girl's
thoughts were not with the spectacle before her. She was evidently
preoccupied about those promised rides.

"I shall have no one to go with me," she whispered presently, in the
pauses of a song.

"I shall be proud to be your escort," he whispered back. "And there will
always be the groom, you know," he added, seeing the colour of the
oleander blossom suddenly appear. "Do not be anxious. I will manage it
all for you."

"You are _very_ kind," she said, looking up into his face with that shy
blush, and a charming friendliness in her eyes, "and I am very grateful
to you; but please do not try to persuade Aunt Elizabeth against her
wish." And she did not say much more to him. From this point she became
silent and thoughtful.

When they reached Toorak, however, Mr. Kingston redeemed his promise
faithfully in his own way, and at considerable trouble to himself. Mr.
and Mrs. Hardy both liked to do things, as they called it, "handsomely,"
but at the same time without any unnecessary expense; and neither of
them could see his proposal in the light of a paying enterprise.

Rachel was driven out in the carriage daily; she appeared at all places
of fashionable resort; she took abundant exercise. A riding-horse would
be expensive, and so would a saddle and habit, not to speak of the
addition to the stable necessities; and what would there be to show for
it? But while the uncle, and still more the aunt, were delicately
fencing with the proposition, Mrs. Reade struck in and swept all
objections away.

"Of course the child ought to ride if she has been used to riding," said
this imperious small person. "You send your horse here, Mr. Kingston,
and Ned shall come round and see what she can do with it." This was in
the hall, where he was supposed to be saying good-night; and Rachel had
gone upstairs to bed.

"Thank you, Mrs. Reade--if I may," he said, with an eager gratitude that
amused himself. "I am sure it would be a great pleasure to her--and it
would be so good for her health. Why don't _you_ ride too? It is such
splendid exercise."

"I would in a minute, if I had a figure like hers," laughed Mrs. Reade.
"Mamma, we must get her a good habit to set off that figure. I'll come
round in the morning, and go with you to have her measured. Are you
going, Mr. Kingston, without a cup of hot coffee? Good-night, then; mind
you send your horse."

The servant shut the door behind him; and he went out into the solemnity
of the autumn night. The wind was rustling and whispering through the
shrubberies round the house; it had the scent in it of untimely violets,
mingled with a faint fragrance of the distant sea.

Above, the stars were shining brilliantly; below, the teeming city lay
silent in the lap of darkness, with a thousand lamplights sprinkled
over it. In the foreground he could dimly see the lines of gravelled
paths and grassy terraces, and the gleam of great bunches of pale
chrysanthemums swaying to and fro in the cool air.

"It is a splendid site," he said to himself; "but I think, if anything,
mine is better."

He stood for some time, looking away over the illuminated valley to the
milky streak on the horizon where in three or four hours the waters of
Port Philip Bay would shine; and then he sauntered down to the lodge,
and found his hansom waiting for him.

"Go up to my land there, will you?" said he, pointing his thumb over his
shoulder as he got in. "I'm going to set the men on soon, and I want to
have a look at it."

The driver, wondering whether he had had more champagne than usual,
said, "All right, Sir," and drove him the few dozen yards that
intervened between Mr. Hardy's gates and the place where his own were
designed to be.

In the darkness he clambered over the fence, made his way to the highest
ground in the enclosure, and stood once more to look at the
lamp-spangled city and the dim and distant bay.

"Yes," he said, "I am higher here. I shall get a better view." And he
began to build his house in fancy--to see it towering over all his
neighbours', with great white walls and colonnades, and myriad windows
full of lights, and lovely gardens full of flowers and fountains. "I
must begin at once," he said. "I must see the contractors to-morrow. I
must not put it off any longer, or I shall be an old man before I can
begin to enjoy it."

And after long musing over the details of his project, he stumbled back,
through saplings, and tussocks, and broken bottles, to the fence; tore
his dress-coat on a nail getting over it; and subsiding into his cab,
lit a cheroot, and stared intently into vacancy all the way to his club.

When he reached this bachelor's home he did not know what to do with
himself. He thought he would write to a celebrated firm of contractors
to make an appointment for the morning; but it was past twelve o'clock,
and the letters had been collected.

Some men called him to come and play loo, but he was not in the mood for
cards. He tried billiards, and found his hand unsteady; he went into the
smoking-room, but it was hot and noisy. He had always liked his club,
and maintained against all comers that it was a glorious institution;
but now he began to see that after all a middle-aged gentleman of ample
fortune might find himself pleasanter lodgings. He went out of doors,
where the air was so sweet and cool, rustling up and down an ivied wall,
and over a strip of lawn that lay deep in shadow below it; and looking
at the clear dark sky and the clear pale stars, he put to himself a
momentous question, for which he had a half-shaped answer ready:

"Who shall I ask to be the mistress of my house?"



CHAPTER IV.

THE ANSWER.


A girl of eighteen is popularly supposed to be grown up--to have all
wisdom and knowledge necessary for her guidance and protection through
the supreme difficulties of a woman's lot. When one gets ten years
older, one is apt to think that this is a mistake. Life is not so easy
to learn. The treasures of love, like visions of the Holy Grail, are not
revealed to those who have known none of the waiting, and yearning, and
suffering, and sacrifice that teach their divine nature and their
immeasurable worth.

And to all the vast meanings and solemn mysteries that surround the
great question of right and wrong--the great question of human life--the
spiritual eyesight is blind, or worse than blind, until the experience
of years of mistakes and disillusions brings, little by little, dim
apprehensions of light and truth.

Rachel Fetherstonhaugh, with the snare of her beauty and her sensuous
love of luxurious surroundings newly laid about her feet, entered upon
her kingdom more than ordinarily unprepared.

Poor little, helpless, foolish child! How was she to know that marriage
meant something better than a richly-appointed house and a kind
protector? How could she be held accountable for the commission, or
contemplation, of a crime against her youth and womanhood of whose
nature and consequences she was absolutely ignorant?

She was flitting in and out through the French windows of the
drawing-room one fine morning, with a basket of flowers on her arm,
busily engaged in rearranging the numerous little bouquets that she made
it her business to keep in perennial freshness all about the house, when
Mr. Kingston was announced.

She had seen him several times since the night of the opera; he had left
his card twice when she had been away from home; and Mrs. Hardy had had
polite messages respecting the horse, which had been duly sent for her
approval. He came in now, with his light and jaunty step, bowing low,
and smiling so that his white teeth shone under his Napoleonic
moustache, carrying a large roll of paper in his hand.

"Good morning, Miss Fetherstonhaugh," he exclaimed gaily. "I must
apologise for this early call; but I can never find you at home after
lunch these fine days."

Rachel, who had not seen his approach nor heard him enter the house,
whose hall-door was standing open for her convenience, turned round with
her hands full of flowers. In the sunshine of the morning she looked
more fair and refined than he had ever seen her, he thought. The
plainest little black gown showed her graceful shape to perfection; her
complexion, always so delicate, was flushed and freshened with the wind
and her embarrassment.

As for her hair, half-covered with a shabby garden hat on the back of
her head, it was the central patch of light and colour in the
bright-hued room; he was sure he had never seen hair so silky in texture
and so rich in tint.

His ideal woman, hitherto, had been highly polished and elaborately
appointed; she had been a woman of rank and fashion, in Parisian
clothes, a queen of society, always moving about in state, with her
crown on. But now, in the autumn of his years, all his theories of life
were being overturned by an ignorant little country girl, sprung from
nobody knew where; and a coronet of diamonds would not have had the
charm of that old straw hat, with a wisp of muslin round it, which
framed the sweetest face he had ever seen or dreamed of.

"My aunt is in her room," she stammered hastily; "I will send to tell
her you are here. She will be very glad to see you."

And she called back the servant who had admitted him, and sent a message
upstairs.

Mrs. Hardy, however, did not hurry herself. She was a thrifty
housekeeper still, as in her early days, and devoted her forenoons
religiously to her domestic affairs. Just now she was sorting linen
that had returned from the wash; and, hearing that her niece was in the
drawing-room, she had no scruple about remaining to finish her task.

"Say I will be down directly," she said. And she did not go down for
considerably more than half an hour.

In the meantime Rachel tumbled her flowers into the basket, took off her
hat, and seated herself demurely in a green satin chair.

"It is a lovely morning," she remarked.

"Oh, a charming morning--perfectly charming! You ought to be having a
ride, you know. Have you tried Black Agnes yet?"

"No, not yet. My habit has not come home. They promised to send it last
night, but they did not. I am very anxious to try her. She is the
prettiest creature I ever saw. I--I," beginning to blush violently,
"have not half thanked you for your kindness, Mr. Kingston."

"Pray don't mention it," he replied, waving his hand; "I shall be only
too glad if I am able to give you a little pleasure."

"It is the _greatest_ pleasure," she said, smiling. "But she is so
good--so much too good--I am half afraid to take her out, for fear
anything should happen to her. Uncle Hardy says she is a much better
horse than he wants for me."

"Your uncle had better mind his own business," said Mr. Kingston, with
sudden irritation. "If you are to have a horse at all, you must have one
that is fit to ride, of course."

"But I think it is his business," suggested Rachel, laughingly.

"No; just now it is mine. I mean," he added hastily, a little alarmed at
the expression and colour of her face, "that Black Agnes is mine. And
while I lend her to you she is yours. And I trust you will use her in
every way as if she were actually yours."

"Thank you; you are very kind. I hope nothing _will_ happen to her. I
shall take great care of her, of course. I will not jump fences or
anything of that sort."

"Oh, pray do," urged Mr. Kingston. "She is trained to jump. She has
carried a lady over fences scores of times." The fact was he had only
bought her a few days before, and had selected her from a large and
miscellaneous assortment on account of this special qualification. "I
hope you will let me ride out with you, and show you my old
cross-country hunting leaps. You will not mind jumping fences with her,
if I am with you, and make you do it?"

"No," she said, "for I shall show you that it is not the fault of my
riding if accidents happen."

"Exactly. I am sure it will not be your fault. But we will not have any
accidents--I will take too good care of you. Can't we go out this
afternoon? Oh, I forgot that habit. I'll call on your tailor, if you'll
allow me, and 'exhort' him; shall I? I have done it before, on my own
account, with the most satisfactory results."

"No, thank you," said Rachel, "I would not give you that trouble. He
will send it home when it is ready, I suppose."

And she rose from her chair and began to move about the room, wondering
whether her aunt was ever coming downstairs.

Mr. Kingston thought it would be expedient to change the conversation.

"I have brought you the plans of my house," he said, taking up his roll
of papers, and beginning to spread great sheets on a table near him. "I
meant to have asked your opinion before I began to build it, but--well,
I took it for granted that you would like it as it was."

"Ah, yes," responded Rachel brightly, coming to his side. "Uncle Hardy
said you had begun. And you know I can see all the men and carts from my
window. Oh! oh!"

This enthusiastic exclamation greeted the unrolling of the "front
elevation," which, in faint outlines, filled in with pale washes of grey
and blue and pink, showed her the towers and colonnades of her ideal
palace. When he heard it, Mr. Kingston's heart swelled. He was more
charmed with his pretty creature than ever.

"This, you see," said he, "is the main entrance--fifteen steps. But
won't you sit down? You will see better. And this wing is where the
drawing-rooms are to be," he added, when she had seated herself, and he
had taken a chair beside her. "There are three large rooms in a line,
that can all be thrown together on occasions--when necessary. I have not
decided about the furniture yet, nor the colours of the walls. You must
help me with those things presently. The dados, which are being designed
at home, are to be of carved wood, most of them; mantelpieces to match.
Some of the dados will be of inlaid stone, tiles, and that sort of
thing. I suppose you don't know what a dado is, do you?"

"No," said Rachel, meekly. Whereupon he entered into elaborate
explanations.

"I think I should not like tiles on the wall," she ventured to remark;
"they would feel very cold, wouldn't they?"

"They tell me tile is the proper thing," he replied; "and of course I
want to have everything that is proper. But whatever my--my wife wishes
shall be law, of course. In her own rooms, at any rate, she shall
consult her own taste entirely."

Rachel stared at him, coloured and laughed. "Oh, you did not tell me
about your wife before," she said. "I did not know you were engaged to
be married. That is why you are making haste to build your house? I am
very glad. I congratulate you."

"Do not; do not," he stammered earnestly. "I speak of a possible wife,
because I hope to have a wife some day. I am not engaged. I wish I
were."

"Oh!" she said, looking down bashfully, with oleander blossoms
everywhere. "I beg your pardon."

"I wish I were," he repeated. "But I am going to get ready for that
happy time against it does come. See, these are to be her rooms. They
face the south, and I am going to have a rose garden below them. This is
to be her boudoir. I thought of having the walls and the ceiling painted
in coral. I have noticed that pink lights in a room are very becoming to
a lady's complexion, rather pale on the walls, for the sake of the
pictures. You said you liked plenty of pictures?"

"I? Oh, yes, I like pictures."

"And I did mean to have a dado of very fine, rich tiles to make a
foundation of colour, you know; but you don't like tiles?"

"Oh, but _I_ don't know anything about it, Mr. Kingston! You had better
do what you said--furnish the other rooms, and leave your wife, when you
get one, to choose the decorations of her own herself."

"She _shall_ choose them herself. But, Miss Fetherstonhaugh--"

"Rachel, my dear, your habit has come," said Mrs. Hardy, appearing at
this interesting moment. "Oh, how do you do, Mr. Kingston? Pray forgive
me for leaving you so long. I hope you have come to lunch? Oh, yes, you
must stay to lunch, of course. We'll take you into town afterwards, when
we go out to drive."

Mr. Kingston stayed to lunch, and made himself very agreeable. But then
he went into town by himself, and returned in an incredibly short space
of time in riding costume, mounted on a powerful brown horse. During his
absence, Rachel had put on her habit, and found that it fitted her
beautifully; and Black Agnes had been caparisoned, and was pawing the
gravel before the hall door. Mrs. Reade, magnificently attired for a
series of state calls, had appeared upon the scene, and was regulating
all these pleasant circumstances.

"Now then, Mr. Kingston, you must only take her along quiet roads. And
she is not to jump any fences when Ned is not with her."

"Why, Ned?" inquired Mr. Kingston. "I am as learned in fences as Ned,
don't you think?"

"Oh, yes, I know all about that. But it is the look of the thing. You
remember, Rachel, you are not to jump fences."

"No, Beatrice, I won't."

"Have a good gallop, my dear, and enjoy it," the little woman added.
"I'll take care of mamma; and when we have done all our calls we will
come and meet you."

Mr. Kingston stepped jauntily to Black Agnes's side. He was an old
steeplechase rider before he was a successful city merchant, and he
looked ten years younger in his riding-dress. Rachel, with a radiant
face, approached him, and laid her small foot on his proffered palm.

In a moment she was up like a feather, and sitting square and light in
her saddle like a practised horsewoman as she was; and all her
attendants, groom included, looked up at her admiringly. Even Mrs. Hardy
forgot the expense she had been put to.

"The child certainly does look well on horseback," she remarked,
resignedly, as Black Agnes's shining haunches disappeared round a clump
of laurels. "What a figure she has, Beatrice!"

"Oh, dear me, yes!" assented the younger matron pettishly. "Why didn't
_we_ have figures like that!"

Meanwhile, the black mare and the big brown horse paced out into the
road, and for a little while the riders contented themselves with
friendly glances at one another. Rachel was crimson with pride and
bashfulness, looking lovely and riding beautifully, as she could not
but know she was. Mr. Kingston, sharing some measure of her elation and
excitement, was absorbed in looking at and admiring her.

By and bye they had a long canter, which carried them well out into the
country, where there were no houses and no people, and where the shadows
were beginning to rest on the peaceful autumn landscape. And then Mr.
Kingston made her draw rein under a clump of trees, while she looked
back at the city they had left behind, glorified in the light of the
sinking sun.

"So now there is something else you like besides operas and balls?" he
said, laying his hand upon the black mare's silky mane.

"Yes," she replied, drawing a long breath, "and I think this is best of
all! She is like a swallow--she seems to skim the ground! And I--I don't
know when I have felt so happy!"

All his years and his experience went for nothing under these
circumstances, when she looked as sweet as she did now.

"You must keep Black Agnes," he said eagerly. "I will speak to your
uncle. I will not have you riding low-bred brutes. Nothing but the best
is fit for you; you, who know how to ride so well, and enjoy it so much!
You will keep her, to please me?"

If she had been sitting in a green satin drawing-room she would
probably have checked this ardent outburst at an apparently harmless
stage. She would have blushed, and looked grave and majestic; but now
she was, in a sense, intoxicated. She lifted a pair of radiant, grateful
eyes to his face, and she held out her hand impulsively.

"How good you are to me!" she said. "How much pleasure you give me!"

And then, of course, he succumbed altogether.

"That is what I want to do, not now, but always," he said, drawing the
mare's head to his knee, and the small, weak hand to his lips, which had
kissed so many hands, though never with quite the same kind of kiss.
"That is why I am building my house. It is you I wanted to be its
mistress--didn't you know that?--to do just what you like with it, and
with me, and with all I have!" And, when once he had fairly set it
going, the flood of his eloquence, running in a well-channelled groove,
flowed freely, and overwhelmed the poor little novice, who had never
been made love to before.

"I--we--we have only seen each other a few times," she ventured to
suggest at last, but not until her imagination had been captivated by
the splendid prospect before her. She had the colour of a peony in her
cheeks, and frightened tears in her soft child's eyes; but her
experienced lover knew that his cause was gained.

"That has been enough for me," he said. "Once was enough for me." Then,
after a long pause, "Well? Is it to be 'yes' or 'no?'"

"Oh, I don't know!" she stammered desperately, turning her head from
side to side. "I have had no time. Let us wait until we know each other
better."

"_I_ know quite enough," he persisted, "and I am not so young as you are
that I can afford to wait."

She trembled and panted, gathering up her reins and dropping them in an
agony of embarrassment.

"Oh," she said at last, "what can I say? Won't you let me speak to Aunt
Elizabeth?"

"Of course, as soon as you like after you get home. I am not afraid of
Aunt Elizabeth. I know what _she_ will say. But now, dear--while we are
here by ourselves--I want you to tell me, of your own self, whether you
like me--whether you would really like to come and live with me in my
new house? You don't want anybody to help you to make up your mind about
that?"

"No," she whispered, hanging her head, feeling at once terrified and
elated, and wishing to goodness she could see Mrs. Hardy and Beatrice
driving along the lonely empty road.

"You _would_ like it? Turn your face to me and say 'Yes,' just once, and
I won't bother you any more."

She turned her face, scarlet all over her ears and all down her throat,
and she tried to meet his ardent eyes and could not. Her lips shaped
themselves to say "Yes," but no sound would come. However, sound would
have been, perhaps, less expressive than the silence which overwhelmed
her in this proud but dreadful moment. At any rate, Mr. Kingston was
satisfied.



CHAPTER V.

SO SOON!


They rode home sedately in the cool and quiet evening. Mr. Kingston,
having accomplished the end for which he had contrived this unchaperoned
expedition, was content to keep close to his pretty sweetheart's side,
to look in her face occasionally with significant smiles, and to
ruminate on his own good fortune.

Rachel, fluttered and dismayed at the situation in which she found
herself, bestowed a wandering attention on the near-side fields and
hedges, and discouraged conversation. It is needless to remark that the
carriage did not come to meet them. The long shadows lengthened, the sun
sank down below the glowing horizon, the glory of the evening faded away
into the soft dusk of the autumn night.

Lamps were being lighted when they entered Toorak; the workmen who had
begun at the foundations of the new house were "knocking off;" the gates
of Mrs. Hardy's domain were standing open, and the woman at the lodge
informed them that she had not returned from her drive.

They rode up to the house, and Mr. Kingston got off his horse and lifted
Rachel down. She disengaged herself from his arms as quickly as
possible, and then stood on the doorstep, while the groom led both
horses away, and looked at her _fiancé_ anxiously, blushing with all her
might.

"Won't you let me come in?" he asked smiling. But he did not mean to be
refused admittance; and he turned the handle of the door and led her
into the hall and into the drawing-room, as if it had been his own
house.

The lamps had not been lit in the drawing-room, but a bright fire was
burning, making a glow of rich and pleasant colour all over its mossy
carpet and its shining furniture. Rachel's flowers were blooming
everywhere. Soft armchairs stood seductively round the cheerful hearth.
An afternoon tea-table was set for four, with everything on it but the
teapot.

"My aunt is late," said Rachel uneasily. "I wonder what can have kept
her. I hope there has been no accident."

Mr. Kingston showed all his teeth in a momentary smile, and then
addressed himself to the opportunity that had so happily offered.

"Oh, no, she is not late; it is the days that are getting so short," he
said. And as he spoke he unfastened her hat and laid it aside, and then
drew her burning face to his shoulder and kissed her. She stood still,
trembling, to let him do it, one tingling blush from head to foot. She
liked him very much; she was very proud and glad that she was going to
marry him; she quite understood that it was his right and privilege to
kiss her, if he felt so disposed. Still her strongest conscious
sentiment was an ardent longing for her aunt's return--or her uncle's,
or anybody's. The spiritual woman in her protested against being kissed.

"I want you not to be afraid of me," said Mr. Kingston, half anxious,
half amused, as he patted her head. "I am not an ogre, nor Bluebeard
either; you seem to shrink from me almost as if I was. You must not
shrink from me _now_, you know."

"I will not--by and bye--when I get used to it," she gasped, with a
touch of hysterical excitement, extricating her pretty head, and
standing appealingly before him, with her pink palms outwards. "I'm not
afraid of you, Mr. Kingston, but--but it is very new yet! I shall get
used to it after a little."

He looked down at her with sudden gravity. She was on the verge of
tears.

"Oh, yes," he said quietly, almost paternally, "we shall soon get used
to each other. There is plenty of time. Let me see--how old are you?
Don't tell me; let me guess. Eighteen?"

She smiled and composed herself. Yes, she was just eighteen. Somebody
must have told him. No, upon his honour, nobody had; it was his own
guess entirely. Did he not think he ought to have chosen someone older
for such a position of importance and responsibility? No; she was
gallantly assured that she had been an object, not of choice, but of
necessity. And so on.

When the dialogue had brought itself down to a sufficiently sober level,
he took her hand, and drawing her into a seat beside him, continued to
hold it, and to stroke her slight white fingers between his palms.

"They say good blood always shows itself in the fineness of a woman's
hands," he said; "if so, you ought to be particularly well-born."

"I don't know what your standard is," she answered, smiling. "My father
came of a border family ages ago, I believe. I never knew anything about
my mother's parentage; she died when I was a baby."

"I am _sure_ you are well born," he said, looking fondly and proudly at
her as she sat in the firelight, with her golden hair shining. "I shall
have not only the finest house, but the most beautiful wife to sit at
the head of my table. I don't believe there is another woman in
Melbourne who will compare with you, especially when you get those
diamonds on."

"Diamonds!" ejaculated Rachel.

"Yes; those diamonds you talked about the other night, don't you
know?--that you would have if you were very rich. Well, you are going to
be very rich. And I am going to order you some of them to-morrow. You
must give me the size of your finger. A 'ring full of diamonds,' didn't
you say? How full?"

Rachel smiled, blushed, and ceased to feel that strong repugnance to
the amenities of courtship which had distressed both herself and her
lover at an earlier stage.

Here a servant came in to light the gas. The man appeared conscious of
the inopportuneness of his intrusion, and despatched his business in
nervous haste, clinking the pendants of the cut-glass chandelier in a
manner that his mistress would have highly disapproved of.

Rachel and her visitor watched him with a sort of silent fascination, as
if they had never seen gas lighted before. When he was gone, Mr.
Kingston took out his watch. It was past six o'clock. He had a dinner
engagement at seven, and had to get into town and change his clothes.

"I'm afraid I dare not wait for Mrs. Hardy," he said, rising. "I hate to
go, but you know I would not if I could help it. I will see your uncle
at his office the first thing in the morning, and come to lunch
afterwards. Shall I?"

"If you like," murmured Rachel, shyly. And then she submitted to be
kissed again, and being asked to do it, touched her lover's fierce
moustaches with her own soft lips--not "minding" it nearly so much as
she did at first. She was beginning to get used to being engaged to him.

When immediately after his departure Mrs. Hardy, having left her
daughter at her own house, came home, and heard what had been taking
place, she could hardly believe the evidence of her ears.

"So soon!" she ejaculated, lifting her hands. "Is it credible? My dear,
are you sure you are not making a mistake?"

Remembering the wear and tear of mind and body that the management of
these affairs had cost her hitherto--remembering the illusive and
unsubstantial nature of all Mr. Kingston's previous attentions to the
most attractive marriageable girls--she found the suddenness of the
thing confounding.

"Don't you think you may have misunderstood him?" she reiterated,
anxiously. "I'm afraid he is rather given to say more--or to appear to
say more--than he means sometimes."

Rachel blushingly testified to the good faith of her _fiancé_, by
references to the ring for which her finger had already been measured,
and to the impending interview at her uncle's office.

"I should never have thought of it of myself Aunt Elizabeth," she said
meekly.

Mrs. Hardy sank into an easy chair, and unbuttoned her furs, as if to
give her bosom room to swell with the pride and satisfaction that
possessed her. Then, looking up at the slender figure on the hearthrug,
at the candid innocent face of the child who had been bequeathed to her
love and care, a maternal instinct asserted itself.

"My dear," she said, "you are very young, and this is a serious step.
You must take care not to run into it heedlessly. Do you really feel
that you would be happy with Mr. Kingston? He is much older than you
are, you know."

Rachel thought of the new house, and of the diamonds, and of all her
lover's tributes to her worth and beauty.

"Yes, I think so, aunt. He is a very nice man. He is very kind to me."

"He has lived so long as a bachelor, that he has got into bachelor
ways," Mrs. Hardy reluctantly proceeded. "He has been rather--a--gay, so
they say. I doubt if you will find him domesticated, my dear."

"I shall not _wish_ him to stay always at home with me," replied the
girl, with a fine glow of generosity. "And I do not mind tobacco-smoke,
nor latchkeys, nor things of that sort. And if he is fond of his club,
I hope he will go there as often as he likes. _I_ shall not try to
deprive him of his pleasures, when he will give me so many of my own.
And, you know, dear aunt, I shall be quite close to you; I can never be
lonely while I am able to run in and out here."

Mrs. Hardy was reassured. This was the pliant, sweet-natured little
creature who would adapt herself kindly to any husband--who was not, of
course, an absolutely outrageous brute.

And Mr. Kingston, except that he was a little old, a little of a
_viveur_, a trifle selfish, and, it was said, rather bad tempered when
he was put out, was everything that a reasonable girl could desire. She
smiled, rose from her chair, and kissed her niece's pretty face with
motherly pride and fondness.

"Well, my love, it is a great match for you," she said, "and I hope it
will be a happy one as well."

And then, hearing her husband coming downstairs, she left the room
hurriedly to meet and drive him back again, that she might explain to
him the interesting state of affairs while she put on her gown for
dinner.



CHAPTER VI.

A RASH PROMISE.


There was of course no opposition to Rachel's engagement. Mr. Hardy,
away from his office, was simply Mrs. Hardy's husband, not because he
had no will of his own, but because he acknowledged her superior
capacity for the management of that complicated business called getting
on in the world, to which they had both devoted their lives for so many
years.

Mrs. Reade, who next to her mother was the greatest "power" in the
family, approved of the match highly, though she had herself proposed to
be Mrs. Kingston at an earlier stage of her career; but she had a good
deal to say before she would allow it to be considered a settled thing.

In the first place she had a serious talk with the bridegroom-elect, in
which she demanded on Rachel's behalf certain guarantees of good
behaviour when he should have become a married man. She was a clever
little clear-headed woman, full of active energies, for which the
minding of her own business did not supply employment; and being blessed
with plenty of self-confidence and much good sense and tact, she
contrived to give her friends a great deal of assistance with theirs,
without giving them offence at the same time.

Occasionally she came across another strong-minded woman who objected to
interference; but the men never objected. They rather liked it, most of
them.

Mr. Kingston, at any rate, thought it was very pleasant to be lectured
in a maternal manner by a woman five feet high, who was just thirty
years younger than he was; and he made profuse and solemn promises that
he would be "a good boy," and take the utmost care of the innocent young
creature who had confided her happiness to his charge. And then she
fetched Rachel away to spend the day with her, and, over a protracted
discussion of afternoon tea, gave _her_ some valuable advice as to the
conduct of her affairs.

"You know," she said, with much gravity and decision, "it is always best
to look at these things in a practical way. Mr. Kingston is, no doubt, a
splendid match, and not a bad fellow, as men go; but it is no use
pretending that he won't be a great handful. He has been a bachelor too
long. The habit of having his own way in everything will have become his
second nature. I doubt if anyone could properly break him of it now, and
I am sure _you_ could not."

"I should not try," said Rachel, smiling. "I should like my husband,
whoever he was, to have his own way."

Mrs. Reade shook her head.

"It doesn't answer, my dear. What is the use of a man marrying if his
wife doesn't try to keep him straight? And if you give in to him in
everything, he only despises you for it."

"But, Beatrice," Rachel protested, "all men don't want keeping straight,
do they? It seems to me that every case is different from every other
case. One is no guide for another."

"I know it isn't. I'm only thinking of your case. And I want to make you
understand it. You don't know him as well as I do, and you don't know
anything about married life. If you run into it blindfold, and let
things take their chance, then--why, then it is too late to talk about
it. Everything depends upon how you begin. You must begin as you mean
to go on."

"And how ought I to begin?" inquired Rachel, still smiling. She could
not be brought to regard this momentous subject with that serious
attention which it demanded.

"Well, _I_ should take a very high hand if it were my case--but you are
not like me. I should put a stop to a great deal that goes on now at
_once_, and get it over, while the novelty and pleasure of his marriage
was fresh and my influence was supreme. I should try to make him as
happy as possible, of course, for both our sakes. I'd humour him in
little things. I'd never put him out of temper, if I could help it. But
I would keep him well in hand, and on no account put up with any
nonsense. If they see you mean that from the beginning, they generally
give in; and by and bye they are used to it, and settle down quietly and
comfortably, and you have no more trouble."

Rachel's smiling face had been growing grave, and her large eyes
dilating and kindling.

"Oh, Beatrice," she broke out, "that is not marriage--not my idea of
marriage! How can a husband and wife be happy if they are always
watching each other like two policemen? And they marry on purpose to be
happy. I think they should love one another enough to have no fear of
those treacheries. If they are not alike--if they have different tastes
and ways--oughtn't they to be companions whenever they _can_ enjoy
things together, and help each other to get what else they want. Love
should limit those outside wants--love should make everything safe. If
that will not, I don't think anything else will. I should never have the
heart to try anything else, if that failed."

Mrs. Reade gazed with intense curiosity and interest at this girl, with
her young enthusiasm and her old-world philosophy. She was so surprised
at the unexpected element introduced into the dialogue, that for a few
minutes she could not speak. Then she put out her hand impulsively and
laid it on Rachel's knee.

"Is _that_ how you feel about Mr. Kingston?" she exclaimed, earnestly.
"My dear, I beg your pardon. I did not know how things were. If you
think of your marriage in that way, pray forget all I have been saying,
and act as your own heart dictates. That will be your safest guide."

So Rachel was engaged with satisfaction to all concerned. She
conscientiously believed that she loved her elderly _fiancé_, and that
she would be very happy with him; and the rest of them thought so
too--himself of course included.

The winter wore away, full of peace and pleasure. The interesting event
was public property, and the engaged pair were fêted and congratulated
on all sides, and enjoyed themselves immensely.

Rachel had her diamond ring, and a diamond bracelet into the bargain,
with a promise of the "necklace of stars, strung together," on her
wedding day: and her aunt in consideration of her prospective
importance, bought her the coveted sealskin jacket.

Black Agnes was made over to her entirely, and she rode and jumped
fences to her heart's content. She went to the opera whenever she liked.
She was the belle of all the balls; and in the best part of Melbourne
her splendid home was being prepared for her, where she was to reign as
a queen of beauty and fashion, with unlimited power to "aggravate other
women"--which is supposed by some cynics to be the highest object of
female ambition.

And Mr. Kingston bore with extreme complacency the jokes of his club
friends on his defection from that faith in the superior advantages of
celibacy, which he and some of them had held in common; for he knew they
all admired his lady-love extravagantly, if they did not actually go so
far as to envy him her possession. And he attended her wherever she went
with the utmost assiduity.

When the winter was nearly over, an event occurred in the Hardy family
which made a change in this state of things. Mrs. Thornley, the second
daughter, who lived in the country, having married a wealthy landowner,
who preferred all the year round to manage his own property, presented
Mrs. Hardy with her first grandchild; and being in rather delicate
health afterwards, wrote to beg her mother to come and stay with her,
and of course to bring Rachel.

To this invitation Mrs. Hardy responded eagerly by return of post, and
bade Rachel pack up quickly for an early start. Rachel was delighted
with the prospect, even though it involved her separation from her
betrothed; and her preparations were soon completed. Mr. Hardy was
handed over to his daughter Beatrice, "to be kept till called for;" one
old servant was placed in charge of the Toorak house, and others on
board wages; and Mrs. Hardy, paying a round of farewell calls, intimated
to her friends that she was likely to make a long visit.

Rachel rose early on the day of her departure. It was a very lovely
morning in the earliest dawn of spring, full of that delicate,
delicious, champagny freshness which belongs to Australian mornings.
She opened her window, while yet half dressed, to let in the sweet air
blowing off the sea.

Far away the luminous blue of the transparent sky met the sparkle of the
bluer bay, where white sails shone like the wings of a flock of
sea-birds. Below her, spreading out from under the garden terraces, far
and wide, lay Melbourne in a thin veil of mist and smoke, beginning to
flash back the sunshine from its spiky forest of chimney stacks and
towers. And close by, through an opening in the belt of pinus insignis
which enclosed Mr. Hardy's domain, and where just now a flock of king
parrots were noisily congregating after an early breakfast on almond
blossoms, she could see the dusty mess surrounding the nucleus of her
future home, and the workmen beginning their day's task of chipping and
chopping at the stones which were to build it; even they were
picturesque in this glorifying atmosphere. How bright it all was! Her
heart swelled with childish exultation at the prospect of a journey on
such a day.

As for Mr. Kingston, to be left behind to stroll about Collins Street
disconsolately by himself, just now she did not give him a thought.

Two or three hours later, however, when she and her aunt, accompanied by
"Ned"--who had no office, unfortunately for him, and was therefore
driven by his wife to make himself useful when opportunity
offered--arrived at Spencer Street, there was Mr. Kingston on the
platform waiting to see the last of her. If she was able to leave him
without any severe pangs of regret and remorse, he for his part was by
no means willing to let her go.

"You will write to me often," he pleaded, when, having placed her in a
corner of the ladies' carriage, he rested his arms on the window for a
last few words. Mrs. Hardy was leaning out of the opposite window,
deeply interested in the spectacle of an empty Williamstown train
patiently waiting for its passengers and its engine.

"Yes," said Rachel slowly; "but you must remember I shall be in the
country, and shall have no news to make letters of."

"I don't want news," he replied with a shade of darkness in his eager
face. "Pray don't give me news--that's a kind of letter I detest. I
want you to write about yourself."

"I--I have never had many friends," she stammered, "and I am not used to
writing letters. You will be disappointed with mine--and perhaps ashamed
of me."

"What rubbish! Do you think I shall be critical about the grammar and
composition? Why, my pet, if you don't spell a single word right I
shan't care--so long as you tell me you think of me, and miss me, and
want to come back to me."

"Oh," said Rachel bridling, "I know how to _spell_."

Here a railway official shouldered them apart in order to lock the door,
and Mr. Kingston demanded of him what he meant by his impudence. Having
satisfied the claims of outraged dignity, he again leaned into the
window, and put out his hand for a tender farewell.

"Good-bye, my darling. You _will_ write often, won't you? And mind now,"
with one of his Mephistophelian smiles, "you are not to go and flirt
with anybody behind my back."

"I never flirt," said Rachel severely.

"Nor fall in love with handsome young squatters, you know."

"Don't talk nonsense," she retorted, melting into one of her sunny
smiles. "If you can't trust me, why do you let me go?"

"I would not, if I had the power to stop you--you may be quite sure of
that. But you will promise me, Rachel?"

"Promise you what?"

"That you will be constant to me while you are away from me, and not
let other men----"

She lifted her ungloved hand, on which shone that ring "full of
diamonds" which he had given her, and laid it on his mouth--or rather on
his moustache.

"Now you'll make me angry if you go on," she said, with a playfully
dignified and dictatorial air. "No, I won't hear any more--I am ashamed
of you! after all the long time we have been engaged. As if I was a girl
of _that_ sort, indeed!"

Here the signal was given for the train to start, and Mrs. Hardy came
forward to make her own adieux, and to give her last instructions to her
son-in-law, who had been meekly standing apart.

As they slowly steamed out of the station, Rachel rose and comforted her
bereaved lover with a last sight of her fair face, full of fun and
smiles.

"Good-bye," she called gaily; "I promise."

"Thank you," he shouted back.

He lifted his hat, and kissed the tips of his fingers, and stood to
watch the train disappear into the dismal waste that lay immediately
beyond the station precincts. Then he walked away dejectedly to find his
cab. He had grown very fond of his little sweetheart, and he anticipated
the long, dull days that he would have to spend without her.

He wished Mrs. Hardy had been a little more definite as to the time when
she meant to bring her home. It was not as if he were a young man, with
any quantity of time to waste. However, he had her assurance that she
would be true to him under any temptations that should assail her in his
absence; and though too experienced to put absolute faith in that, it
greatly cheered and consoled him. He stepped into his hansom, and told
the driver to take him to Toorak, that he might see how the house where
they were going to live together was getting on.



CHAPTER VII.

TWO LOVE LETTERS.


MR. KINGSTON _to_ MISS FETHERSTONHAUGH.

     "My dearest love,

     "I had no idea that Melbourne _could_ be such a detestable
     hole! Why have you gone away, and taken all the life and
     brightness out of everything?

     "If I had not the house to look after--and there is not much to
     interest one in that at present--I declare life would not be
     worth the trouble it entails in the mere matter of dressing and
     dining, and slating the servants and tradespeople.

     "I went to Mrs. Reade's last night. Everybody was there; but I
     was bored to that extent that I came home in an hour (and
     physicked _ennui_ at the card-table, where I lost ten pounds).
     I could not get up any interest in anybody. Mrs. Reade herself
     looked remarkably well. She is a very stylish woman, though she
     is so small. And Miss Brownlow looked handsome, as usual--to
     those who care for that dark kind of beauty. I confess I don't.
     I could only long for you, and think what a lily you would have
     been amongst them all, with your white neck and arms. (Be very
     careful of your complexion, my darling, while you are in the
     country; don't let the wind roughen your fine skin, nor sit by
     the fire without a screen for your face).

     "As usual, poor Reade got a good deal snubbed. I would not be
     in his place for something. But if a wife of mine told me in
     the presence of guests that I had had as much wine as was good
     for me, I'd take care she didn't do it a second time. My little
     wife, however, will know better than that; _I_ have no fear of
     being henpecked. It was a kind of musical evening, and Sarah
     Brownlow sang several new songs. I thought her voice had gone
     off a great deal.

     "I must say for Mrs. Beatrice, that she is a capital hostess,
     and manages her parties as well as anybody. But this one was
     immensely slow. Everything is slow now you are away. Is it
     necessary for you to remain at Adelonga for the whole time of
     your aunt's visit? Can't you come back to town soon, and stay
     with Mrs. Reade? _Do_ try and manage it; I'm sure your aunt
     would be willing, and it would be a most delightful arrangement
     all round.

     "You will find Adelonga very dull, I fancy. It used to be a
     pleasant house in the old days, when Thornley was a bachelor;
     but two marriages must have altered both it and him, and the
     second Mrs. Thornley is not lively, even at the best of times,
     and must be terribly depressing as an invalid. There are a lot
     of children, too, are there not? If your aunt doesn't let you
     come back, can't you, when your cousin is well enough,
     manoeuvre to get me an invitation? I would not mind a country
     house if you and I were in it together. Nothing could well be
     drearier than town is without you. And it would be so charming
     to be both under the same roof!

     "And this reminds me of something I want to speak to you about
     seriously, so give me your best attention. (I wonder whether,
     having read so far, you are beginning to cover yourself with
     blushes in anticipation of what is coming? I am sure you are.)

     "You told me, you know, my darling, that you did not wish to be
     married for a year or two--not until the house was built and
     finished, you said--because you were so young. But I have been
     thinking that that will never do. The house will probably be an
     immense time in hand; it is not like an ordinary plain house,
     you see. And _I_ am not young, if you are. I don't say that I
     am old, but still I have come to that time of life when a man,
     if he means to marry and settle, should do it as soon as
     possible. And you are not any younger than your cousin Laura
     was when she married last year; and her husband, moreover, was
     a mere boy. I remember when Buxton was born, and he can't be
     five-and-twenty, nor anything like it. So you see, my pet, your
     proposal is _quite_ absurd and unreasonable.

     "And now I will tell you what mine is. And I know my little
     girl's gentle and generous disposition too well to doubt that
     she will offer any serious opposition to it, or to any of my
     urgent wishes. I propose that we marry without any delay; that
     is to say, with no more delay than the preparing of your
     trousseau necessitates.

     "We have already been engaged some months, and by the time your
     visit is over and your preparations made, we shall have fully
     reached the average term of engagements amongst people of our
     class. I want you to let me write to your aunt (I am sure she
     would see the matter _quite_ from my point of view), and
     suggest a day in September, or in October at the latest. That
     is a lovely time of year, and all my other plans would fit in
     with such an arrangement beautifully.

     "You have never travelled, nor seen anything of the world yet;
     and I should like to show you a little before you settle down
     in your big house to all the cares of state. So I thought we
     would go for a short honeymoon to Sydney or
     Tasmania--whichever you like best; then come back for the
     races, and to see how the house was going on. I think there
     will be a club ball, too, about that time; if so, I know you
     would like to go to it _with your diamond necklace on_. Would
     you not? And then--while the shell of the house is building--I
     propose we repeat the honeymoon tour on a larger scale, and go
     to Europe.

     "I know you would like to see all that Laura Buxton is seeing
     now; and I will take care that you see a great deal besides.
     You shall make the old grand tour, if you like it; it will be
     new enough to you.

     "And we will have a good time in Paris; and we will amuse
     ourselves, wherever we go, collecting furniture and pictures,
     and ornaments for our house.

     "You shall choose everything for your own rooms--as I told you
     my wife should--from the best looms and workshops in the world.
     And then when we come home we will take a house somewhere while
     we superintend the fitting up of our own.

     "And finally, we will give a brilliant ball or something, by
     way of housewarming, and settle down to domestic life.

     "Now is not this a charming programme? I am sure you will think
     so--indeed you _must_, for I have set my heart upon it.

     "Pray write at once, dear love, and give me leave to put
     matters in train. Do you know you have been away four days and
     I have only had a post-card to tell me you arrived safely! That
     is not how you are going to treat me, I hope. I know there is a
     daily mail from Adelonga, and (though I repudiate post-cards) I
     don't care what sort of scribble you send so long as you write
     constantly. Remember what I told you about that. And remember
     your _promise_.

     "And now, good-night, my sweetest Rachel. Sleep well, darling,
     and dream of me,

     "Your faithful lover,

     "GRAHAM KINGSTON."

MISS FETHERSTONHAUGH _to_ MR. KINGSTON.

     "My dearest Graham,

     "I am afraid you will think I ought to have written to you
     before, but I have been so much engaged ever since I arrived
     that I really have not had an opportunity.

     "Mr. Thornley is always showing me about the place, or the
     children are wanting me to have a walk with them, or my cousin
     sends for me to her room to see the baby; so that I may say I
     have scarcely a moment to call my own until bedtime comes, and
     then I am much too sleepy to write--the effect of the country
     air, I suppose. I am enjoying myself excessively.

     "The weather is lovely, and this is certainly the most
     delightful place. It is a regular old bush house, which has
     been added to in every direction.

     "The rooms are low, and straggle about anyhow; there is no
     front door--or, rather, there are several; and it has shingle
     roofs and weatherboard walls (though all the outhouses are
     brick and stone, and Mr. Thornley is going to build a new house
     presently, which I think is _such_ a pity.)

     "My own room has a canvas ceiling, which flaps up and down when
     the wind is high: and most of the floors are of that dark,
     rough-sawn native wood of olden times, which makes it necessary
     that the best carpets should have drugget, or some kind of
     padding under them. But, oh, how exquisitely the whole house is
     kept inside and out.

     "The drawing-room is _much_ prettier than ours at Toorak;
     because Mr. Thornley has travelled a great deal at odd times,
     and collected beautiful things, and seems to have good taste,
     as well as plenty of money. There are quantities of pictures
     everywhere; he is very fond of pictures.

     "And the conservatories are half as big as the house; he is
     fond of flowers too. Just now they are full of delicious
     things--cyclamens, and orchids, and primulas, and begonias, and
     heaths of all sorts, and azaleas, and I don't know what. There
     are quantities of flowers in the garden too, so early as it is.
     The great bushes--almost trees--of camellias are simply
     wonderful; and there is a bed of double hyacinths under my
     window of all the colours of the rainbow.

     "Then there is a fernery--part of it roofed in, and part
     running down through the shrubberies on one side. The tree
     ferns make a matted roof overhead, and other ferns grow
     between like bushes, and little ferns sprout everywhere
     underneath amongst stones and things. There are winding paths
     in and out through it, where it is quite dark at mid-day; and
     there are little rills and waterfalls trickling there in all
     directions, carried down in pipes from a dam up amongst the
     hills behind the house.

     "Don't you think _we_ might have a fern-tree gully? If the
     water could be got for it, it would run down the side of a
     terraced garden even better than it does here, where the ground
     falls very slightly. If you like I will ask Mr. Thornley how he
     made his, and all about it; he is always delighted if he can
     give any information. He is such an excessively kind man. I
     like him _so_ much. How long is it since you saw him? When he
     was a bachelor, I think you said you stayed at Adelonga. That
     must have been a long time ago, for his eldest daughter (just
     now finishing her education in Germany) is older than I am.
     There is a painting of him in the dining-room as a young man,
     and one of his first wife. His is not the least like what he is
     now. But I will tell you what might _really_ be his
     portrait--Long's old inquisitor in the 'Dancing Girl'
     picture--I mean that genial old fellow in the arm-chair, who
     leans his arms on the table and grasps (I am sure without
     knowing what he is doing) the base of the crucifix, while he
     enjoys the sight of that pretty creature dancing. If you go and
     look at him the next time you find yourself near the picture
     gallery, you will see Mr. Thornley's very image. He is the
     soul of hospitality; he is so courteous to everybody in the
     house--even to his children; he is one of the nicest and
     kindest men I ever met.

     "But I have not said a word about my cousin Lucilla, or the
     baby, or the other children. The baby is a little _duck_. I am
     allowed to have him a good deal, because the nurse says I am
     much 'handier' than most young ladies; and I certainly _have_
     the knack of making him stop crying and of soothing him off to
     sleep.

     "The other children--three dear little girls--are in the
     schoolroom; but Lucilla will not allow their governess to keep
     them too strictly, because they are not very strong. Lucilla
     herself I like _excessively_. She is much quieter than
     Beatrice, and I don't think she is so clever, and she is not at
     all pretty: but she is very sweet-tempered and kind, and very
     fond of Mr. Thornley, though he is so much older than she is. I
     am glad to say she is getting quite strong; so much so indeed
     that she is going to have a large party next week.

     "There are to be some country races, in which Mr. Thornley is
     interested, and we are all going, and some people are coming
     back with us to dine and spend the night. There is some talk of
     a ball, too, to celebrate the coming of age of young Bruce
     Thornley, who is now at Oxford--Mr. Thornley's eldest son. That
     would be the week after. I _hope_ Lucilla will decide to have
     it; they say Adelonga balls are always charming, and that
     people come to them from far and near.

     "One enormous room, with two fireplaces, which is gun-room,
     billiard-room, smoking-room, and gentlemen's sanctum generally
     (which in the general way is divided by big Japanese screens,
     and laid down with carpets), was built and floored on purpose
     for dancing in those old times that you remember. Perhaps you
     have yourself danced there? Tell me if you have. I can see what
     a delightful ball-room it would make, with lots of shrubs and
     flowers. It opens into the conservatory at one end, and a
     passage leads from the other both into the dining-room and out
     upon the verandahs, which are wide, and bowered with creepers,
     and filled with Indian and American lounge chairs.

     "How are you getting on in town? Did you go to Beatrice's
     party, and was it nice? I hope William will look after my dear
     Black Agnes properly, and not let her out in the paddock at
     night. _Would_ you mind sometimes just calling in to see, when
     you are up that way?

     "The workmen are having fine weather, are they not? Aunt
     Elizabeth and I have been telling Lucilla all about the house,
     and she says it will be magnificent. But Mr. Thornley does not
     like pink for the boudoir. He says if I have pictures, some
     shade of sage, or grey, or peacock would be better as a ground
     colour. What do you think? I must say _I_ like the idea of
     pink.

     "Now I have come to the end of my paper. And have I not
     written you a long letter? I hope you will not find it very
     stupid.

     "Aunt Elizabeth and Lucilla send their kindest regards, and
     with much love, believe me,

    "My dear Graham,

    "Yours most affectionately,

    "RACHEL FETHERSTONHAUGH."

     "P.S.--Just received yours of Tuesday. _Please_ give me a
     little time to think over your proposal, and do not do anything
     at present. The tour in Europe would be very delightful, but I
     think, if you don't mind, I would rather not be married _quite_
     so soon."



CHAPTER VIII.

HOW RACHEL MET "HIM."


Adelonga at about nine o'clock on the morning of the race day would have
presented to the eye of the distinguished traveller--who, however, did
not happen to be there, though he was a pretty constant visitor--a
thoroughly typical Australian scene; typical, that is to say, of one
distinct phase of Australian life. It was the enchanting weather of the
country to begin with; which, say what grumblers will, is not to be
matched, one month with another, in all the wide world--clear, fresh and
sunshiny, with an air at once so delicate and so invigorating that none
but exceptionally unhappy mortals could help feeling glad to be alive to
breathe it.

There had been a cold mist overnight, which was now melting away before
the sun in shining white fleeces that swathed the hollows and shoulders
of the hills behind the house, long after the upper slopes and peaks had
stood sharp and clear in their own forest garments against a sky as pure
as a sapphire and as blue as wild forget-me-nots.

All the shrubberies that hemmed in the great garden--all the
smooth-shaven wide lawns where croquet hoops still lingered--all the
lovely waves and festoons of creepers that flowed over and curtained the
verandah eaves--all the bright box borders, and all the gay
flowerbeds--glistened with a sort of etherealised hoar-frost, and were
greener than painter's palette could express in this early spring time.

The rambling, old, one-storied house, with its endless roofs and gables,
was the very type and pattern of that most charming of all bush houses,
_the_ bush house _par excellence_; cottage in design, palace in the
careful finish and elaboration of all its appointments, which, when its
owner is rich and cultured, marks the latest of many developments--such
as becomes, unhappily, rarer every year, and will soon have disappeared
entirely.

Columns of white smoke rose from half a dozen chimneys, testifying to
the noble logs that blazed away within; while French windows, sash
windows, lattice casements, and doors of all sorts stood open to the
morning sun and the delicious morning air. Behind the house rose a
screen of budding orchard trees, flushed here and there with peach and
almond blossoms. Before the house, on the wide gravelled drive, where
never weed presumed to show its head, stood an open break, large, but of
light American build, round which most of the family and several
servants were congregated, while four powerful horses fidgetted to be
starting, the wheelers only being attached at present.

Mr. Thornley stood in the break, superintending the bestowal of luncheon
hampers, and shouting cheerily, but with that touch of imperiousness
which indicated a man who had been a master all his life, to the
servants below him. Mrs. Thornley, looking slight and girlish, stood on
the steps of one of the numerous front doors, wrapped in a shawl. She
had wished very much to go to the races too, and to take the nurse and
baby for the further glorification of the occasion; but her husband had
forbidden her to think of anything so foolish, and she had ceased to do
so accordingly, with an abject meekness that would have greatly
disgusted Mrs. Reade.

Mrs. Hardy stood on the doorstep too, more imposing than ever beside
this gentlest and most unpretending of her children; and the governess
came out of the house in festive apparel with her two elder pupils
dancing after her.

Rachel was already on the box, where she was to sit beside the driver,
to her great delight. She was in the wildest spirits, and she was
looking as lovely as everything else looked on that eventful morning.
She had quite disregarded Mr. Kingston's injunctions to take care of her
complexion.

A dark-blue felt hat worn rather on the back of her head, left her soft
face exposed to the sun and wind, as well as to the admiring gaze of all
men. Nothing could have shown up its texture and colour, nor the
wonderful burnished richness of her hair, better than that dark-blue
hat. She wore with it a dark-blue, close-fitting dress, very tight about
the knees, as was then the newest mode, but setting easily to her figure
otherwise, and strongly outlining all its perfect curves of girlish
beauty. She would rather have displayed the sealskin jacket than her own
lovely shape, if she could have found an excuse for doing so; but the
day was going to be warm, and her aunt, who was a thrifty soul, would
not allow the sealskin jacket to be made a mere emergency wrap of--to be
thrown into the boot with the rugs and waterproofs.

Everything was ready at last, after a great deal of commotion and much
running to and fro--the bountiful luncheon that was to be available for
all comers when luncheon time came, the hamper of crockery, the basket
of fresh-cut salad, the wine, the beer, the soda-water, the spirit stove
and kettle to make afternoon tea with, &c.--and the ladies took their
seats.

Mrs. Hardy throned herself in an inside corner, Miss O'Hara, the
governess in the opposite corner, next the door sat the butler and a
nursemaid, and the children took up the room of four grown-up people in
the middle of the vehicle. However, it was expected to have a full
complement of passengers coming home, which was a great satisfaction to
everybody.

Mr. Thornley climbed into his seat and began to gather up his reins: the
two restive leaders where put to; the groom who was to accompany the
carriage rode off to open gates; and "Steady! steady!" roared the
driver, letting out his thong with lightning flashes over the four bare
backs, as the impulsive animals after their immemorial custom, mixed
themselves all together in promiscuous kickings and buckings prior to
coming to a clear understanding with themselves and him.

For the few delightful seconds that were occupied in getting off, Rachel
was deaf to the cries of her terrified aunt, and blind to everything but
the wild movement beneath her; then, as the horses sprang into their
collars simultaneously with one great bound, and swept out into the
paddock, scattering frightened sheep in all directions, she looked back
at her cousin, standing forlornly alone on the doorstep, and waved her
hand rapturously.

"Good-bye! good-bye!" she called, in her clear happy voice. "I do wish
you were coming!" And looking down on Mrs. Hardy before she turned her
head, she rallied that stately matron in a gay and reckless manner. "It
is all right, Auntie: there is nothing in the world to be afraid of. We
made a beautiful start! If the off-leader does get both his traces on
one side, Mr. Thornley knows how to make him get between them again.
And, oh, _what_ a day it is!"

It was, indeed, a day--the kind of day I suppose that has made us, young
and old, the holiday-loving, easy-going, fate-defying people that we
are, and for ever unfits us, when we have had a few years of them, for
any more of those stern experiences, social and atmospherical, in which
the youth of many of us seems to us now to have been so harshly
disciplined.

Sir Henry Thompson has shown us what a close affinity exists between
food and virtue; no grown Briton can come out here for ten years and go
back without learning something of the value of climate as a raw
material of happiness.

Though every settled township in the colony has its racecourse and its
yearly meetings, this, the nearest to Adelonga, was a two-hours' drive
distant, even with four fast horses; and it was nearly the time for the
first event to come off when our party reached the ground.

The course lay in the ring of a shallow valley, hemmed in with low
hills on one slope of which the vehicles of the "county families" of
the neighbourhood were withdrawn a little apart from the space occupied
by the bulk of the crowd, and such booths, merry-go-rounds, and other
rural entertainments as the bulk of the crowd affected.

There was no grand stand, no platform even--except the judge's box,
which was dedicated to-day to Mr. Thornley's use, and a gallery running
along one side of the saddling-enclosure, where the betting men chiefly
congregated. But this slope, rising rather steeply immediately behind
the place where a grand stand _would_ have been, was a favourable
position, for ladies at any rate, from which to view the main
proceedings; and here the Adelonga break was brought to anchor.

Two grooms were waiting to take out the horses, which were fed and
watered on the ground in the prevailing picnic fashion, and "hung up" at
the boundary fence, where scores of others were tethered.

Mr. Thornley looked about for the people he expected to join his party,
found they had not arrived, and then set forth to the saddling-enclosure
to see what horses were going to start and when.

Rachel continued to sit on the box, and thought it was delicious. She
had a powerful field-glass all to herself, and through this she surveyed
the units and groups that composed the company--women and children, a
great many of them, in charge of sporting husbands and fathers of all
ranks, all perfectly orderly and well-behaved, and all apparently
enjoying themselves as much as she was.

Some people from a neighbouring buggy came up to speak to Mrs. Hardy,
and to inquire after Mrs. Thornley's health; and a carriage full of
young people further down enticed away the Thornley children and Miss
O'Hara.

Before she was involved in any of these social proceedings, however, Mr.
Thornley returned, and asked her if she would not like to go with him
and see what was doing "down there"--pointing over his shoulder in the
direction from whence he had come.

In a moment she had sprung lightly from her perch and was standing
beside him, pleading eagerly for her aunt's permission, which was
graciously given, with certain vague qualifications that she did not
stop to listen to.

And then she tripped across the green springy grass, shy and fluttered,
and charmed with her enterprise, blushing vividly under the stares of
those dreadful men, and feeling in her innocent heart not a little proud
of the distinguished position in which she found herself.

The bell was ringing for saddling, and Mr. Thornley took her into the
enclosure to see this operation, which she found deeply interesting.
Crowds of men--betting men, jockeys, owners, stewards--elbowed one
another in and out, and the horses paced and pranced amongst them; and
into the thick of it marched the burly judge to show his young charge
what there was to be seen.

And what did she see? Jockeys putting on their jackets in semi-private
corners; owners superintending the adjustment of saddles and riders;
noisy gamblers rushing hither and thither with book and pencil; graceful
horses lightly sailing out one after another to try the chance on which
so much beside money was staked; and--men falling back respectfully to
make way for her wherever she went, and to gaze with surprised curiosity
and admiration on the unique spectacle of so fair a creature in so rude
a place. It was all very delightful.

"And now," said Mr. Thornley, who for his own part was well pleased to
keep her with him, "now you shall stand in my box and see the race. Come
along."

And away they went into the outside crowd, and she was escorted up the
steps and placed like a queen on her royal daïs, in sight of all the
country side assembled. She was inclined to think that--for once in a
way--it was even better than going to the opera.

Thereafter until the race was over, she watched the proceedings with the
deepest awe and interest. She was so afraid she should embarrass Mr.
Thornley in the performance of his professional duty that she got as far
away from him as possible, and leaning over the side railing enjoyed her
observations in silence.

The horses came to their starting-place and had their usual differences
of opinion. Ambitious amateurs offered advice to the starter, who
recommended them to mind their own business. Two or three jockeys
careered about wildly, and one was fined; and then the flag dropped, and
they rushed away; and Rachel lifted her glass with trembling hands and
gazed at the flying colours, mixing and fading as they passed into the
sunshiny distance, and held her breath. Round they came presently, and
past her they flashed, two or three together, two or three straggling
behind; and the roar of the men beneath and around her made her turn a
little pale.

No word was uttered that was unfit for her girl's ear to hear, but the
waves of shouts rolling all about her expressed a fierce eagerness of
suspense and expectation that made her think of "poor Lorraine Loree,"
whose husband sacrificed her to the chance of winning a race.

The clamour rose, and lulled, and rose again, as for the second time the
green circle was traversed and the horses came in sight--some lagging
far behind, some labouring along under the whip, two keeping to the
front almost neck and neck, whose names were flung wildly into the air
from a hundred mouths.

And then Mr. Thornley, standing quietly with his eye upon the little
slip of wood before him, said, "Bluebeard and Jessica--half a head." And
it was over.

Rachel drew a long breath. She was not sorry that it was over, though
she was very glad to have seen it. She shook herself, as if to get rid
of a painful spell, and felt that she might begin to enjoy herself
again.

"_Dear_ horses!" she exclaimed, with an almost solemn rapture as she
watched them straggle away. She would have liked to go up and pat them
all, and caress their heaving flanks and their poor trembling noses,
after all they had gone through. And then her face brightened as the
winner came pacing back, dropping and lifting his beautiful head as he
filled his lungs again; and when his jockey saluted the judge, she
leaned forward over the railing and smiled a smile in acknowledgement of
his prowess, which made that jockey think himself a hero for the rest of
the day.

"And now," said Mr. Thornley, "there is nothing more at present: so
we'll see how your aunt is getting on, and look for the Digbys." The
Digbys were the people they expected to take back with them to Adelonga.

But even as he spoke he was arrested in his place by some of his many
friends, who crowded the steps below him, wanting to have a few minutes'
gossip about the race, or perhaps wanting to have a nearer view of her
own pretty person, never seen in those parts before.

And while she waited she turned aside to have another amused look at the
children in their merry-go-rounds, and the lads playing Aunt Sally, and
all the simple festivities of the holiday-makers, whose proceedings she
could so well survey from her present commanding position; and it was
then that she saw for the first time a remarkable-looking horseman
riding slowly through the crowd.

Her attention was attracted in the first place by the beauty of his
horse--for in a small way she was a good judge of horses: and then she
noticed that the equipment of that noble animal was slightly different
from what she was accustomed to see.

She supposed it was an English saddle in which that tall man sat so
square and straight; then she wondered why he wore his stirrup leathers
so excessively long; and then lifted her glass and stared intently at
his face. There was not much of this to see just now, even through a
strong glass; for he wore a small, soft cap with a peak to it, low over
his eyes, in which the sun was shining, and though his jaws were shaven
and his brown throat bare, he had a heavy, drooping, reddish moustache,
which was the largest she had ever seen.

He was riding in the direction of the judge's box, and as he came near
she dropped her glass, and shrinking back shyly touched that potentate's
arm. Mr. Thornley turned round, and the horseman took off his cap with a
stately sort of careless courtesy, and revealed a clear-cut, keen-eyed,
powerful, proud face, neither young nor old, rather thin and worn, and
tanned and dried to leather-colour, which Rachel felt at once to be the
most _impressive_ face she had ever looked upon.

"Hullo!" cried Mr. Thornley, in an accent of profound amazement. "Why,
I thought you were gone to Queensland!"

"I ought to have gone," the stranger replied. He had a quiet, cool
voice, that nevertheless rang clear through all the noise about them. "I
duly started yesterday, but we broke a trace, and I lost my train by two
minutes."

"Two minutes! Well, that was hard lines. Are the Digbys here?"

"Yes."

"You are not going to make another start immediately, I suppose?"

"Not till next week, I think."

"Then you'll come back with us to-night?"

"Thanks."

Here he reined up his horse just beside Rachel's railing, and sent a
furtive but searching glance up into her pretty blushing face.

"Allow me to introduce my wife's cousin, Miss Fetherstonhaugh," said Mr.
Thornley, laying his hand on her shoulder with a paternal gesture.
"Rachel, my dear--Mr. Roden Dalrymple."



CHAPTER IX.

A BLACK SHEEP.


"Who is Mr. Roden Dalrymple?" asked Rachel presently. Mr. Thornley was
escorting her back to her aunt, and the person in question was riding
across the ground--slowly, as he had come--in search of one of the
grooms of his party, to whom he might deliver his horse to be stabled in
the township until the return from Adelonga.

"Who is he?" repeated Mr. Thornley. "He is Mrs. Digby's brother. Nice
little woman, Mrs. Digby. You will like her I know. I am very glad she
has come."

"But what is he?" persisted Rachel, so absorbed in watching the tall
rider swinging along at that stately, easy pace, with his long stirrups
and his dangling rein, that she nearly tumbled over a couple of children
who crossed her path. "Is he a Queensland squatter?"

"That is what he thinks of being," laughed Mr. Thornley, with an amused,
half-mocking laugh. "He has taken up a big run with Jim Gordon, and they
are going to live there and manage for themselves. A nice mess they'll
make of it, I expect."

"Why?" inquired Rachel.

"Why? They know no more about it than you do. How should they? Oh, by
the bye, yes; I suppose Dalrymple has dabbled in cattle a little--in
that South American venture of his. But that experience won't benefit
him much. He lost every penny he put into that business."

"Has he lived in South America?" asked Rachel.

"He has lived all over the world, I think. He's a rolling stone, my
dear, that's what he is--with the proverbial consequences."

"Is he poor, then?"

"Poor as a church mouse. That is to say, he has got a bit of an estate
somewhere in Scotland or Ireland--I really forget which--an old ruin of
a house mortgaged to the chimney-pots, and a few starved farms, that
bring him in a few odd hundreds now and again. He tries all sorts of
queer schemes for mending his fortunes, but they never come to
anything."

"Perhaps he is one of the unlucky ones--like my poor father," suggested
Rachel.

"I don't know. I'm afraid he's a ne'er-do-weel. Judging from his past
history--Jim Gordon knows all about him--he has no worse enemy than
himself."

"What is his history?" Rachel asked the question with a vague sense of
resentment against her prosperous host, who had probably never known
misfortunes.

"Well, he was an only son, and I suppose spoilt--to begin with. He was
brought up for the army--simply, as far as I can make out, from force of
habit, because his father and no end of grandfathers had been soldiers
before him--instead of being taught how to manage and improve that
ramshackle old property of his.

"He was in a crack cavalry regiment; one of the worst of them--I mean
for folly and extravagance; and he went no end of a pace, as if he had
the Bank of England at his back, and got all his affairs into a mess;
and then he got gambling at Newmarket. The story goes that he played a
brother-officer for some woman that they were both in love with; and he
staked everything he had in the world that he could lay his hands on,
except that old land and house, which the law kept for his children.
Fortunately, he is not married, nor ever likely to be."

"And he lost her?" said Rachel, in an awed whisper, with something very
like tears in her eyes.

"Her? He lost more than ever she was worth, I'll be bound. He lost to
that extent that he had to sell his commission to pay. The young fool!
he must have been a raving lunatic."

"And what did he do then?" asked Rachel, taking out her handkerchief and
blowing her nose ostentatiously.

"No one quite knows what he did for the first few years after he sold
out. He lived in Paris most of his time, and knocked about on the
continent, at Baden and those places--up to no good, you may be sure.
Then he went to the Cape, hunting and amusing himself; and then to
California, gold-digging; and then all about South America, trying
farming or cattle-raising, or something of that sort; and then Digby
went home and married his sister, and she persuaded him to come here."

"Has he been here long?"

"A year or two. He has lived with them most of the time--learning
colonial experience of Digby, I suppose. She is awfully fond of him,
that little woman. And Digby never says a word against him--for her
sake, I suppose."

"Why should he say anything against him?" asked Rachel rather warmly.
"He is doing nothing wrong now, is he?"

"Oh, no. He is older and wiser now, I daresay. Still--still--" and Mr.
Thornley looked askance at the pretty young creature who was about to
make this reprobate's acquaintance under his roof, and bethought him
that he ought to secure her against temptation and danger--"still
there's no doubt that he is rather a bad lot--what you would call a
black sheep, you know, my dear--not the sort of man that it is desirable
to be very intimate with."

Rachel blushed one of her ready blushes, and with such suddenness and
vigour that Mr. Thornley feared he had accidentally made equivocal
suggestions.

"I don't mean that he is not a gentleman--a thoroughly honourable
gentleman," he explained hastily. "I don't know the rights of that
Newmarket business, but in everything else, as far as I am aware, his
moral character is as good as mine is; otherwise I should not ask him to
Adelonga. I am only speaking of him as a man who has lived a sort of
loose, extravagant, Bohemian kind of life, you know."

"I know," assented Rachel absently. Already his prudent tactics were
having their natural effect. She was ready to champion the cause of this
apparently friendless, as well as unfortunate man; in whom, had he been
recommended to her favour, she might--I do not say she _would_, but she
might--have felt only an ordinary unemotional interest; and she did not
want to hear any more to his disparagement.

"Is that their buggy?" she asked, nodding in the direction of a covered
waggonette which was now drawn up alongside the break--in which three
ladies sat with Mrs. Hardy, while three gentlemen leaned in and talked
to them.

"Yes," he replied, "and that is Mrs. Digby--that little woman in a brown
hat. The one next her is Mrs. Hale, a neighbour of theirs--cousin of
Digby's. The girl is Miss Hale. That's Digby with the big light beard.
The little man is Hale. The man with a brown beard is Lessel--engaged to
Miss Hale."

"Are they all coming to Adelonga?"

"They are. And I am wondering how we are going to stow them all. We can
pack ten inside, with a little squeezing, but there is Dalrymple
extra."

"I'll sit in the boot with the children."

"And all the portmanteaus? Indeed you won't. I must take two on the box.
How do you do, Mrs. Digby? How do, Mrs. Hale? How do, Miss Hale? I am
delighted to see you all."

Here ensued many complicated greetings, and protracted inquiries and
explanations as to everybody's health and welfare; and then Rachel found
herself absorbed in the group, and the business of making all these new
people's acquaintance. She was a shy, but an eminently adaptable, little
person, ready to melt like snow before a smiling face and a kindly
manner; and as she naturally received a great deal of attention, she was
soon at her ease amongst them.

Mrs. Digby was a graceful and distinguished-looking woman, fair and
pale, with a soft voice and refined and gentle manners, and her she
admired excessively, with the reverent enthusiasm of eighteen for a
sister beauty of eight-and-twenty.

Mrs. Hale was less attractive. She was rather pompous and imperious,
rather noisy and bustling, anxious to lead the conversation, and
generally to dominate the company; and withal she had no pretensions to
good looks, except in respect of her very handsome costume, and not a
great deal to good breeding; she was large and strong; she was rich and
prosperous; she had a small, meek husband. Such as she was, she
monopolised the largest share of Mrs. Hardy's attention.

Miss Hale was a comfortable, round-faced, wholesome-looking girl,
pleasant to talk to, but not intellectually, or indeed in any way
remarkable. She devoted herself to Rachel ardently, with the air of
taking friendly relations as a matter of course, under the interesting
circumstances; glancing archly at Rachel's diamond ring, and displaying
the less magnificent symbol of her own betrothal; and otherwise,
whenever opportunity offered, suggesting the sentimental situation with
more or less directness.

Rachel, however, did not find her engagement a matter of absorbing
interest; she preferred to talk to Mrs. Digby about the little Digbys
left at home, or to muse in silent intervals--which, to be sure, came
few and far between--of that sad and tragic story of which a glimpse
had just been given her.

The men of the waggonette party were pleasant, ordinary men; all of them
Australians born, and two of them--Mr. Digby and Mr. Lessel--fine,
handsome specimens of our promising colonial race. They were assiduous
in their attentions to the youngest and prettiest lady of the company,
who, as a matter of course, liked their attentions; but she could not
help feeling a certain restless desire for the return of Mr. Roden
Dalrymple, whose absence seemed to make the circle strangely incomplete.

He was a long time coming back. They went down to witness the second
race; they wandered for half-an-hour amongst the booths and
merry-go-rounds to amuse themselves with any rustic fun that was going
on; they congregated under the shelter of the judge's box--Mrs. Digby
and Miss Hale standing in it on this occasion--to see yet another
"event" disposed of; and then the butler and the nursemaid with profuse
amateur assistance began to spread the tablecloth for lunch on a bit of
grassy level, pleasantly shadowed in the now brilliant noontide by the
big body of the break.

All the portmanteaus had been placed in the boot of this capacious
vehicle, and the Digbys' waggonette and horses had been sent to the
hotel to await their return from Adelonga; and still there was no sign
of Mr. Dalrymple.

"Where can the fellow be?" inquired Mr. Digby of the general public,
looking up for a moment from his interesting occupation of brewing
"cup," in which Rachel was helping him. "He is the most unsociable brute
I ever came across--always loafing away by himself. It isn't safe to
take your eye off him for a moment."

"How well Queensland will suit him!" laughed Mrs. Hale.

"No doubt he rode down to the township to give his own orders about
Lucifer," said his sister, lifting her gentle face. "You know he never
cares to trust him to a groom."

"He could have done that and been back again an hour ago," rejoined her
husband. "However, pray don't wait for him when lunch is ready, Mrs.
Hardy; he will turn up some time."

Rachel had an indignant opinion, to which she longed to give
expression, that they would all be most grossly rude if they did
anything of the sort. She resented this too ready inclination to slight
a man who in her estimation was dignified by his heroic experiences so
much above them all; and as far as in her lay she did what she could to
counteract it.

She took a napkin and polished all the wine-bottles, and peeled the foil
from all the champagne corks; she mixed and tossed the salad in a slow
and cautious manner; she garnished the numerous meats with unnecessary
elaboration; she would not allow luncheon to be ready, in short, until
either one o'clock or the missing guest arrived.

She was standing on the step of the break, helping to hand down rugs
and cushions for the ladies to sit upon--which was not her business, as
her aunt's disapproving eye suggested--when at last she discerned him
far away on the outskirts of the crowd.

"It wants ten minutes to one, Mr. Thornley, and I see Mr. Dalrymple
coming," she called out in her fresh, clear voice.

"Where do you see him?" asked Mr. Digby, who was standing in the break,
hugging an armful of opossum rugs. "_I_ don't see him."

She pointed silently, and for some minutes Mr. Digby looked in vain for
his brother-in-law, knitting his brows, and shading his eyes from the
sunlight. At last he saw him.

"All that way off!" he exclaimed. "You must have very good sight, Miss
Fetherstonhaugh, to recognise him at such a distance."

"He is easy to recognise," said Rachel, simply.



CHAPTER X.

OUTSIDE THE PALE.


The races were over at four o'clock, with the exception of the
"Consolation Stakes," and a few other informal affairs, upon which Mr.
Thornley did not condescend to adjudicate; and the Adelonga party,
swelled to fifteen, set off on their long drive home.

It was a time of year when the twilight fell early and it was dark
between six and seven; but to-night there was a moon, and there was no
need to hurry; all that was necessary was to get back in comfortable
time to dress for an eight o'clock dinner.

There was a great deal of conversation, but Rachel had not much share in
it. The break was crowded, of course.

The two servants sat on the box with Mr. Thornley; the boot was
full of portmanteaus. There was no room for the children inside, except
on the knees of their elders; and one of them Rachel insisted on nursing
(and she went fast asleep), while Miss O'Hara sat beside her with the
other. Buxom Miss Hale was wedged opposite, with (Rachel was sure, and
it offended her sense of propriety deeply) her lover's arm round her
waist. Mr. Dalrymple sat by the door, almost out of sight and sound.

Rachel had scarcely spoken to him all day; the profuse attentions of the
other gentlemen to her had interposed between them, and perhaps, though
she was not aware of it, her aunt's little manoeuvres also. But her
thoughts were full of him, as she sat, tired and silent, in her corner,
with the sleeping child in her arms.

Her imagination was fascinated by the story of his life, which, given to
her in so brief an outline, she filled in for herself elaborately,
dwelling most of course upon the dramatic Newmarket episode, and
wondering whether that woman was worthy or unworthy of the sacrifice of
fame and fortune that he had made for her.

"What a lovely night!" remarked Miss Hale, breaking in upon her reverie.

Rachel looked up, with an absent smile. The moon was beginning to
outshine the fading after-glow of a gorgeous sunset; stars were stealing
out, few and pale, in a clear, pale sky; the distant ranges were growing
sharp and dark, with that velvety sort of bloom on them, like the bloom
of ripe plums, which is the effect of the density of their forest
clothing, seen through the luminous transparency of their native air.

There was a sound of curlews far away, making their melancholy
wail--broken now and then by the screaming of cockatoos, or the
delirious mirth of laughing jackasses, or the faint "cluck, cluck" of
native companions sailing at an immense distance overhead. The frogs
were serenading the coming night in every pool and watercourse; the cold
night wind made a sound like the sea in the gums and sheoaks under which
they swept along, crashing and jingling, at the rate of ten miles an
hour. The lonely bush was full of its own weird twilight beauty.

"It is a very lovely night," assented Rachel; and she sighed, and laid
her cheek on Dolly Thornley's head. She was a little tired, a little
sad, and she did not want to talk just now. Seeing which, Miss Hale gave
herself with an easy mind to her lover's entertainment.

However, when the four horses drew up at the most central of the
Adelonga front doors, panting and steaming, with their exuberance all
evaporated, the naturally light heart became light and gay again. It was
such a cheery arrival too. The charming old house was lit up from end to
end; blazing logs on bedroom hearths sent ruddy gleams through a dozen
windows; doors stood wide like open arms ready to receive all comers.

Mr. Thornley handed his guests out of the break with profuse gestures of
welcome, shouting to his servants, who were trained as he was himself,
to all hospitable observances, and hurried to take traps and bags.

Mrs. Thornley, looking girlish and pretty in a pale blue evening dress,
stood on the doorstep, eager and smiling, scattering her graceful and
cordial salutations all around her.

"Oh, Lucilla," exclaimed Rachel, when she had given her charge to a
nursemaid, running up to kiss her cousin, between whom and herself very
tender relations--based on the baby--existed, "we have had such a
_lovely_ day. I am sorry you were not with us."

"I am glad you enjoyed yourself," responded Mrs. Thornley
affectionately. "You have had splendid weather. Run and see if the fire
is burning nicely in Mrs. Digby's room, there's a dear child."

It took some time to get all the guests collected in the house, and then
to disperse them, with their wraps and portmanteaus, to their respective
rooms. Rachel assisted her cousin in this pleasant business, trotting
about to carry shawls, and poke up fires, and get cups of tea and cans
of hot water. It was the kind of service that she delighted in.

When everybody was disposed of, and she went to her own room, she found
she had barely half-an-hour in which to dress herself. What, she
wondered, should she put on to make herself look very, very nice. With
all these strangers in the house it behoved her to sustain the credit of
the family, as far as in her lay. She set about her toilet with a flush
of hurry and excitement in her face.

All her weariness was gone now; she was looking as bright and lovely as
it was possible for her to look. Discarding the black dress that was her
ordinary dinner costume, she arrayed herself all in white--the fine
white Indian muslin which had been brought to Adelonga for possible
state occasions, and which was, therefore, made to leave her milky
throat and arms uncovered. She put on her diamond bracelet, but she took
it off again. She fastened a pearl necklace--another of her lover's
presents--round her soft neck, but she unfastened it, and laid it back
in its velvet case.

She went into the drawing-room at last with her beauty unadorned, save
only by a bit of pink heath in her bosom--without a single spark of that
newly-acquired jewellery that her soul loved--lest she should help, ever
so infinitesimally, to flaunt the wealth and prosperity of the family in
the eyes of impecunious gentlemen. And it is needless to inform the
experienced reader that Mr. Dalrymple, turning to look at her as she
entered, thought she was one of the loveliest girls he had ever seen.

He was far away on the other side of the room, and she did not go near
him. The ladies were rustling about in their long trains and tinkling
ornaments; the men were trooping in, white-tied and swallow-tailed,
rubbing their hands and sniffing the grateful aroma of dinner.

Then the gong began to clang and vibrate through the house, and the
company, who were getting hungry, paired themselves to order, and set
forth through sinuous passages to the dining-room. Rachel being,
conventionally, the lady of least consequence, was left without a
gentleman to go in with; and she sat at the long table on the same side
with Mr. Dalrymple, too far off to see or speak to him.

When dinner was over and the ladies rose, she took advantage of a good
opportunity to pay a visit to the baby, whom she had not seen all day--a
terrible deprivation.

She whispered her proposed errand to Lucilla, who gratefully sent her
off; and the baby being discovered awake and amiable, she spent nearly
an hour in his apartment, nursing and fondling him in her warm, white
arms. It was her favourite occupation, from which she never could tear
herself voluntarily.

By and bye the baby dropped asleep, and was tenderly lowered into his
cradle; and then having nothing more to do for him, she tucked him up,
kissed him, and went back to her social duties.

When she entered the drawing-room she found the whole party assembled,
and some exciting discussion was going on. Mrs. Hale sitting square on a
central sofa was evidently the leading spirit; and Mrs. Hardy sitting
beside her, indicated to the girl's experienced eye, by the expression
of her face and the elevation of her powerful Roman nose, that she was
supporting her neighbour's views--whatever they were--in a determined
and defiant manner. Miss Hale and Mr. Lessel had retired to a distant
alcove, but they had suspended their whispered confidences to listen to
the public debate. Mr. Thornley and Mr. Hale were trying to play chess,
but were also distracted. Mr. Digby lounged against a side table
pretending to be absorbed in _The Argus_, but peeping furtively at
intervals over the top of the sheet. Miss O'Hara sat apart knitting,
with an expression of rigid disapproval.

Mrs. Digby, in a very central position, full in the light, lay back in a
low easy chair, and fanned herself with gentle, measured movements. Her
eyes were fixed on a picture in front of her, her soft mouth was set,
her face was pale, proud, and grave; very different from Mrs. Thornley's
beside her, which was disturbed and downcast, as that of a hostess whose
affairs were not going well. Rachel saw in Mrs. Digby for the first time
a strong resemblance to her brother.

Mr. Roden Dalrymple stood alone on the hearthrug with his back against
the wall, and his elbows on a corner of the mantelpiece. His face was
hard and cold, yet not without signs of strong emotion.

It was evidently between him and Mrs. Hale that the discussion lay, and
it was equally evident that the "feeling of the meeting" was against
him. Rachel, taking in the situation at a glance, longed to walk over to
the hearthrug and publicly espouse her hero's cause, whatever it might
happen to be. What she did instead was to glide noiselessly to the back
of her cousin's chair, and leaning her arms upon it, to "watch the case"
on his behalf. They were all too preoccupied to notice her.

"It is all very well," Mrs. Hale was saying in an aggressive manner,
"but it was nothing short of murder in cold blood. And if you had been
in any other quarter of the globe when you did it, you would not have
escaped to tell the tale to us here."

"My dear Mrs. Hale--excuse me--I am not telling the tale to you here. I
have not the slightest intention of doing so."

"But everybody knows it, of course."

"I think not," said Mr. Dalrymple.

"That you had a quarrel with a man who had once been your friend,"
proceeded Mrs. Hale, with a vulgar woman's unscrupulousness about
trespassing on sacred ground; "and that you hunted him round the world,
and then, when you met him in that Californian diggings place, shot him
across a billiard-table where he stood, without a moment's warning."

"Oh, yes," said Mr. Dalrymple, calmly; "he had plenty of warning--five
years at least."

"Not five minutes after you met him. Mr. Gordon was there, and said that
he was a dead man five minutes after you came into the room and
recognised him."

"Gordon can tell you, then, that I satisfied all the laws of honour. The
meeting had been arranged and expected; there were no preliminaries to
go through--except to borrow a couple of revolvers and get somebody to
see fair play. There were at least a dozen to do that; Gordon was one."

"Poor fellow," ejaculated Mrs. Hardy with solemn indignation. "And _he_
fired in the air, I suppose?"

"He would have fired in the air, I daresay, if he had any hope that I
would do so," replied Mr. Dalrymple, with a face as hard as flint, and a
deep blaze of passion in his eyes. "But he well knew that there was no
chance of that. He was obliged to shoot his best in self-defence."

"Then you might have been killed yourself!--and what then?"

"That was a contingency I was quite prepared for, of course. What
then?--I should have done my duty."

"Don't say 'duty,' Roden," interposed Mrs. Digby, very gently and
gravely.

"My dear Lily, the word has no arbitrary sense; we all interpret it to
suit our own views. It was my idea of duty."

"Poor fellow!" exclaimed Mrs. Hardy again. "It is a dreadful story. And
did he leave any family?"

"I would rather not pursue the subject, Mrs. Hardy--if you have no
objection."

"I wonder you are not afraid to go to bed," Mrs. Hale persisted,
undeterred by the darkness of his face. "The ghost of that poor wretch
would haunt _me_ night and day. I should never know what it was to sleep
in peace."

Rachel listened to this fragment of a conversation, which had evidently
been going on for some time; and her heart grew cold within her. Mr.
Dalrymple happened to turn his head, and saw her looking at him with her
innocent young face scared and pale; and he was almost as much shocked
as she. A swift change in himself--a straightening of his powerful,
tall frame, and a flash of angry surprise and pain in his imperious
eyes--aroused a general attention to her presence.

"You here, my dear?" exclaimed Mrs. Hardy, much discomposed by the
circumstance. "That is the worst of these irregular shaped rooms--with
so many doors and corners, one never sees people go out and come in."

"How is baby?" inquired Mrs. Thornley eagerly, thankful for the
diversion. "Is he sleeping nicely?"

Mr. Dalrymple strode across the room and wheeled up a chair. "Won't you
sit down, Miss Fetherstonhaugh?" he said, looking at her with a little
appeal in his still stern face. "You must be tired after your long day."

"Thank you," said she; and she sat down. But she felt incapable of
talking--incapable of sitting still, with her hands before her. General
conversation of a more comfortable and conventional kind than that which
she had interrupted was set going all around her.

The lovers resumed their _tête-à-tête_ in the corner; the chess-players
continued their game; Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Hardy, suffering from a very
justifiable suspicion that they had been a trifle rude, endeavoured to
make themselves particularly entertaining. But she sat silent and
miserable with downcast eyes, picking at the embroidery on her dress,
and wishing the evening over--this disappointing evening which had
counteracted all the brightness and pleasure of the day--so that she
could slip away to bed.

"You have had no tea," said Mr. Dalrymple presently, when all the
married ladies were absorbed in discussing the merits of their
respective cooks. "It came in while you were out of the room. Won't you
have some now?"

Grateful for any interruption of the spell of embarrassment which was
holding her painfully under his watchful eyes, she thanked him, and
rising hastily went over to one of the numerous recesses of that
charmingly arranged room, where the evening tea-table usually stood
between a curtained archway and a glass door that led into the
conservatory.

Of course he followed her. The curtains were looped back so as to permit
the glow of lamps and firelight to stream in from the room, and on the
other side a full moon shone palely down through a network of flowering
shrubs and fern trees. They could hear the conversation of the rest
distinctly--particularly Mrs. Hale's share of it. But it was a very
retired place.

"You had better sit down," said Mr. Dalrymple, "and let me pour it out
for you. Yes--I do it every night for my sister. She, too, likes to have
the teapot brought in. But I doubt if it is fit to drink; it has been in
half an hour. I thought you were tired and had gone to bed."

"Did you?"

"Yes; I am afraid you _are_ very tired. You ought not to have come
back."

"I--I wish I had not," she said, hardly above a whisper, as she took the
cup from his hands. She looked into his face for a moment with her
timid, troubled eyes, and then looked down hastily and blushed her
brightest scarlet.

"I know, I know," he replied, in a low tone of emotion that had a touch
of fierceness in it. "I saw how shocked you were, and I could have
bitten my tongue out. But I should never have spoken of _that_ if Mrs.
Hale had not badgered me into it. If it had been one of the men--but
they know better! A woman, though she may be the most prodigious fool,
is privileged. I am very sorry. I can't tell you how sorry I am."

"It is not _hearing_ it that matters," stammered Rachel, stirring her
tea with wild and tremulous splashes; "it is knowing--it is thinking--of
its being true."

He paused for a moment, and looked at her with a look that she was
afraid to meet, but which she _felt_ through all her shrinking
consciousness: and then he said quietly. "Drink your tea, and let us go
into the conservatory for five minutes."

It was a bold proposal under the circumstances; but it did not occur to
her to question it. She drank her tea hastily, and put down her cup; and
Mr. Dalrymple opened the glass door, which swung on noiseless hinges,
and passing out after her, coolly closed it behind them both. It was
very dim and still out there. The steam of the warm air, full of strong
earthy and piney odours, clung to the glass roofs through which the moon
was shining, and made the light vague and misty. The immense brown
stems of the tree ferns, barnacled with stag horns, and the great green
feathers spreading and drooping above them, took all kinds of phantom
shapes.

Rachel herself looked like a ghost in her white dress, as she flitted
down the dim alleys by that tall man's side, tapping the tiled floor
with her slippered feet with no more noise than a woodpecker.

"Is that the lapageria?" asked Mr. Dalrymple, when he thought they had
gone far enough for privacy, pausing beside a comfortable seat, and
pointing upward to a lattice-work of dark leaved shoots, from which hung
clusters of dusky flower bells. "How well it grows here, to be sure!"

"Everything grows well here," responded Rachel, relieved from some
restraint by this harmless opening of their clandestine _tête-à-tête_;
"and that creeper is Mr. Thornley's favourite. The flowers are the
loveliest red in daylight."

"Now I want to tell you a little about that story you heard just now,"
he proceeded gravely. "Sit down; it won't take long."

"You said you would rather not talk about it," murmured Rachel.

"I would much rather not. There is nothing I would not sooner do--except
let you go away thinking so badly of me as you do now. I don't usually
care what people think of me," he added; "I am sure I don't know why I
should care now. But you looked so terribly shocked! It hurts me to see
you looking at me in that way. And I should like to try if I could to
make you believe that I am not necessarily a bad man, more than other
men, though bad enough, because I fought a duel once and killed my
adversary."

"_Meaning_ to kill him," interposed Rachel. "That is the dreadful part
of it!"

"Yes; I meant to kill him. I staked my own life on the same chance, if
that is any justification, but--oh, yes, I meant to kill him, if I
could. I had a reason for that, Miss Fetherstonhaugh. Shall I tell you
what it was?"

"Yes," whispered Rachel. "But how _could_ there be any sufficient reason
for such a terrible crime?"

"Don't call it a crime," he protested. "That is how they speak of it
who know nothing about it--that is how they will represent all my life,
which has been different from theirs--to make you shun and shrink from
me as if I had the small-pox. Wait till you know a little more."

He was leaning forward with an elbow on his knee, and looking into her
face. She met his eyes now in the uncertain moonlight, which was shining
on her and not on him; and he saw no sign of shrinking yet.

"Why did you do it?" she asked sorrowfully.

"Long ago," he said, after a pause, "he and I fell in love with--some
one; and she loved him best. At least I think she did--I don't know.
Sometimes I fancy she would have cared most for me, if we had had our
chances. But we had no chances; I had to give my word of honour not to
stand between her and him--not to try to win her, unless she distinctly
showed a preference for me."

"I understand," whispered Rachel. She knew this part of the story
already.

"At any rate," he continued, "she made choice of him. He sold out of the
service, and they went away together. I had sold out myself not long
before, and went away too--travelling about the world. I was very lonely
at that time; I didn't much care where I went or what became of me. It
was several years before I saw or heard of her again."

"Yes?"

"And one night, when I had come back home to look after my property, I
met her in London streets. It was the middle of winter--it was
raining--she was all alone--she was almost in rags--"

"Don't tell me any more!" implored Rachel, beginning to tremble and cry.

"No," he said, and he drew a deep long breath, "I _can't_ tell you any
more. Only this--she died. I did all I could to save her, but it was too
late. She died of consumption--brought on by exposure and want, and
misery of all sorts--a week or two after I found her. And now you know
why I killed him. _That_ was why!"

There was a long pause, broken once or twice by Rachel's audible
emotion. She had still her own views as to the right and justice of
what he had done; but she did not dream of the presumption of giving
them now.

This tremendous tragedy of love and revenge dwarfed all her theories of
life to the merest trivialities. She could only wonder, and tremble, and
cry.

"It is an old story now," said Mr. Dalrymple, more gently. "And I try
not to think too much of it. It was all fair, thank Heaven!--I comfort
myself with that. I could have shot him once before in Canada; but he
was unprepared then. He did not see me, and I would not take him at a
disadvantage. I try not to think of it now. I don't want you to think of
it either--after to-night. Will you try not to? And try not to let them
persuade you that I am quite a fiend in human shape?"

Rachel blew her nose for the last time, put her handkerchief in her
pocket, and smiled a tearful smile.

"I am afraid you are not very good," she said, shaking her head, "but I
know you can't be a really wicked man."

"How do you know it?" he asked eagerly.

"How? I'm sure I don't know--I feel it."

"Thank you, thank you," he said, in a low, rapid under tone. "You don't
know how I thank you for saying that. At any rate, I have _some_
rudimental morality. I am honest, to the best of my power. I tell no
lies to myself, or to any man--or woman. What I say I mean, and what I
do I own to--if called upon, that is. You may trust me that far. And I
_hope_ you will."

"I will," said Rachel, without a moment's hesitation.

How often they thought afterwards of their first strange talk, all alone
in that shadowy place. It was as if they had known one another in some
other world, and had met after long absence; they felt--widely unlike as
they were--so little as strangers usually do beginning a conventional
acquaintance in the conventional way. However, it did occur to both of
them that it would be as well to go back to the drawing-room before they
should be missed.

"I am glad to have had this opportunity," said Mr. Dalrymple, who rose
first. "I shall hope--I shall feel sure--that you will not let yourself
be prejudiced unfairly by anything you may hear. For the rest, I hope
you will try not to think of this painful story again."

And he began to saunter back, and she to saunter beside him.

As they entered the drawing-room by the glass door, they heard Mrs.
Hardy calling:

"Rachel! Rachel! Why, where is Rachel gone to?"

The girl glided into the broad, warm light, a little confused and
dazzled, and, of course, dyed in blushes, which deepened to the deepest
pink of oleanders--nay, to the still richer red of that lapageria which
had attracted Mr. Dalrymple's attention just now--as she became
conscious of the curious observation of the assembled guests, who, she
well knew, would not regard this characteristic demonstration as lightly
as those did who knew her.

"I am here, Aunt Elizabeth," she replied, in an abject voice, as if she
had been caught in something very disgraceful.

"Oh!" responded Mrs. Hardy, "I thought you were gone to bed." She looked
sharply at the girl's downcast face, and then more sharply at Mr.
Dalrymple, who met her eyes with a stately and distant air of not
putting himself to the trouble of remembering who she was that she found
very offensive and aggravating. "You had better go, my dear," she said
peremptorily. "It is late, and you have had a tiring day. I shall be
having Mr. Kingston complaining if I let you knock yourself up."

Rachel was only too glad to say good night and go. The other ladies
began to rise and stir about, gathering up fans and fancy work, but she
left the room before they had come to any unanimous decision about
separating. Mr. Dalrymple held open the door for her. "Good night," she
whispered hurriedly, not looking at him. He answered by a strong
pressure of her hand in silence. She did not understand it then, but
looking back afterwards she knew that that first brief hand-clasp
stirred her erstwhile latent woman's soul to life. She was never the
same afterwards.

Half an hour later, when she was sitting by her own fireside, dreamily
brushing her long auburn hair over a blue dressing-gown (blue was her
specially becoming colour), Mrs. Hardy tapped at her door, and entered.

"I have brought you a little wine and water, dear," said she, looking
very friendly and amiable. "I know you seldom take it, but to-night it
will do you good. And Lucilla says you are to be sure not to get up to
breakfast if you feel tired in the morning."

"Oh, thank you, auntie, but you know I _never_ lie in bed! And I am not
in the very _least_ tired. I have had a delightful day."

"Yes; it has been a pleasant day. I am glad you have enjoyed it so
much. I am only sorry we had to bring that Mr. Dalrymple back with us.
I consider him a most objectionable, a most disreputable, young man--not
so very young either; he will never see forty again, unless I am much
mistaken. But Lucilla and Mr. Thornley are both so much attached to Mrs.
Digby; for her sake they are obliged to be civil to him."

Rachel was silent.

"You will, however, be careful, dear, I know, not to get more intimate
with him than necessary," Mrs. Hardy continued. "Mr. Kingston would
dislike it very much. He is a very wild young man--he has not at all a
good character."

"You said Mr. Kingston was wild, auntie," the girl suggested timidly.
It was her sole feeble effort in defence of her absent friend.

"Nonsense! I'm sure I said nothing of the kind. He is a man whom
everybody looks up to. There is no question of comparison between them.
At any rate," she added, with solemn severity, "Mr. Kingston has not
taken a fellow-creature's life, as this man has. _That_ is reason enough
why we must none of us have more to do with him than is absolutely
necessary. You will remember that, Rachel? Be civil to him, my dear, of
course, but no more. I should not have allowed you to come into contact
with such a man if I could have helped it, and we had no idea of seeing
him to-day. However, they will all be gone after to-morrow, and you need
not recognise him again. The Digbys are coming to the dance next week,
but Mrs. Hale says he means to start again for Queensland on Monday. Let
us hope they won't break their traces a second time. Good night, my
dear; you will remember what I say? It is what Mr. Kingston would wish
if he were here, I know."

And Mrs. Hardy kissed her niece affectionately and went away to bed,
with a sense of having done her duty, and without the least suspicion
that as a domestic diplomatist, she had covered herself with disgrace.



CHAPTER XI.

MR. DALRYMPLE HAS TO CONSULT GORDON.


Of course it is well understood, without further explanation, that Mr.
Dalrymple and Rachel were in the position of the Sleeping Beauty and her
prince when the spell that held life in abeyance was--or was about to
be--broken. At the same time it is not to be inferred that the man, with
his years and experience, fell in love at first sight with a merely
pretty face, nor that the girl was more than ordinarily impressionable
and inconstant, or had any constitutional weakness for wild young men.

Perhaps it is not necessary to essay the difficult task of finding a
theory to account for it. Everybody knows that if there is a law of
nature that will not lend itself to system, it is that which governs
these affairs.

The greatest force and factor in human life comes to birth by a mere
chance--in Roden Dalrymple's case by the breaking of a trace, which was
in itself the result of a whole series of trivial and quite avoidable
circumstances; and then it thrives or languishes by the favour of petty
accidents--until time and sanctifying associations put it beyond the
reach of accident. That is its superficial history, taking a general
average.

Quality and potency are questions of temperament; vigour of growth
depends in great measure on what may be called climatic influences. But,
as with some other great mysteries of this world, human understanding
can make very little of it.

At the same time people do not fall in love with each other absolutely
without rhyme or reason. And these two did not. Of course personal
appearance had, in the first instance, something to do with it.

To a girl of Rachel's disposition (or, indeed, of any other
disposition), nothing in the whole catalogue of manly graces could have
been more captivating than that quiet air of power and dignity which
was the chief characteristic of her hero's person and bearing.

And Mr. Dalrymple, who was not the kind of man to be at any time
insensible to the charm of a sweet face, had had sufficient experience
to understand and appreciate the peculiar charm of this one--its
unaffected modesty and candour; and he had had, moreover, little of
anything to charm him in his later wandering years.

And Rachel was not merely a pretty girl, by any means. Being of a most
unselfish, unassuming, kindly nature, and having a subtle apprehension
of the general fitness of things, her manners were exceedingly gracious
and winning--not always conventional, perhaps, but always refined and
modest; and that honest youthful enthusiasm for life and its good
things, which more or less flavoured all she said and did, though
inimical to the prejudices of the British matron, was a charming thing
to men.

Then Mr. Dalrymple had the faculty to perceive what made her look at him
with so peculiarly wistful and earnest a look; he recognised his friend,
if not his love and mate, in the earliest hours of their acquaintance. A
friend in so fair a shape was doubly a friend naturally; and the strong
appetite that he had for friendship, as a rudimental phase of passion,
had had little to feed on but bitter memories for more than a dozen
years.

As for Rachel, it was almost inevitable that she should lose her heart
to this hero of romance--this Paladin with a touch of the demon in
him--whom circumstances combined to present to her under such singularly
impressive auspices. If the truth must be told, she fell in love much
more suddenly and hopelessly than he did; and the fates--incarnate in
the persons of his enemies--did their best to precipitate the
catastrophe.

On the morning following their strange interview in the conservatory--of
which she had been dreaming all night--she awoke with a dim sense of
something being wrong. It was so very dim a sense that she did not
consciously apprehend it, and therefore made no investigation into its
origin. But instead of jumping out of bed as usual, eager to plunge at
once into the unknown joys of a new day, she lay still until obliged to
get up to receive her tea, and gazed pensively into vacancy.

It was just such a morning as yesterday--the sun shining in through the
white blind, the fresh wind rustling along the leafy verandahs, the
magpies gossiping cheerily in great flocks about the garden; and there
was that sweetest baby cooing like a little wood pigeon as he was
carried past her door in his nurse's arms. But she was deaf to these
erewhile potent influences.

"Your hot water, miss," quoth a housemaid in the passage.

"Thank you, Susan," she responded absently, and continued to gaze into
vacancy.

"Your tea, miss," came, with another tap, presently.

And then it was she had to get out of bed. She took in her tea, set it
down on a chair and forgot it; she put on her slippers and
dressing-gown, and armed herself with towel and sponge, but had to make
three visits to the bath-room before she could get in.

Then she woke up to the fact that she was late, and scampered excitedly
about the room in her anxiety to make a becoming toilet in the shortest
possible space of time. Finally, she went to breakfast five minutes
after the gong was supposed to have assembled the family, and found that
the gentlemen had all gone out early on a shooting expedition.

"Isn't it too bad?" exclaimed Miss Hale. "They arranged it in the
smoking-room last night, after we were gone to bed; and Harold _knew_
that we wanted to play croquet."

Croquet, it may be remarked, had not yet "gone out," and Harold was Mr.
Lessel.

"They had their breakfast at six o'clock," said Mrs. Thornley, smiling.
"And you know, dear Miss Hale, it is nearly the last day of the open
season, and my husband has been trying to preserve those lagoons in the
forest on purpose. There were a great many ducks there last week, and
they will have good sport and enjoy themselves, I hope. They said they
would be back to luncheon."

"Oh, don't you believe it!" snorted Mrs. Hale, who, having given her
lord orders to stay at home, which had been grossly violated, was in an
aggrieved and aggressive mood. "_I_ know them!--never a thought will
they give to luncheon, or to us either, until they are tired of their
sport. If they are in time for dinner, that's quite as much as you can
expect."

Rachel sat down, feeling fully as much as anybody the blank that the
five gentlemen had left behind them. She did not exactly say to herself
that it had been waste of time and trouble to put fresh frills into her
dress, but that was the nature of her sentiments.

It was not a lively morning. None of them expected it would be, so they
were not disappointed. The matrons beguiled the dull hours with
sympathetic gossip on domestic themes.

Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Hardy had a banquet of Melbourne news and scandal, in
the discussion of which they incidentally glorified their respective
connections, each for the other's edification, until a suggestion of
Mrs. Hale's (to the effect that Mr. Kingston was not much better than he
should be, in spite of his wealth) caused a slight coolness to arise
between them.

Mrs. Thornley and Mrs. Digby, both young wives and mothers, with many
tender interests in common, whispered pleasantly over their needlework,
chiefly of their nursery affairs.

The two girls had no resource but to keep each other company. They went
first to see the baby; but Miss Hale was not an enthusiast in babies.
Then they had a little music; and here Rachel did not greatly
distinguish herself.

After that they walked about the garden and talked. Rachel was told all
about Mr. Lessel--how charming and how good he was--what his father
meant to settle on him when he married--when the wedding was to be, and
what the bridesmaids were to wear. Then she was enticed into a few
reluctant confidences about her own engagement, which led to a detailed
description of the new house, and an invitation to Miss Hale, when she
should be Mrs. Lessel, to pay a visit there some day with her husband.
And so the morning wore away, and luncheon-time came.

They waited luncheon until past two o'clock, and, to the sombre
satisfaction of Mrs. Hale, the sportsmen did not return, and the made
dishes were spoiled.

Then the mail arrived, and there was a letter for Rachel from her
_fiancé_, begging her to write at once to relieve his mind of a fear
that she was ill, and to tell him at the same time that she acquiesced
in the arrangements he had proposed for their early marriage, and
whether she preferred Sydney or Tasmania for the introductory wedding
trip.

He particularly wanted her to settle these little matters without
further delay, as the spring was so much the pleasantest time for
travelling, and he had had the offer of a charming house in Sydney, on
the shores of the bay, for the first two or three weeks in October,
which would only be open for a few days.

When she had read this letter, she was in a frantic hurry to answer it.
Holding it in her hand, she excused herself to her companions, who were
all setting forth for a gentle walk; begging to be allowed to stay at
home with an anxious eagerness that provoked significant and indulgent
smiles, which said, "Oh, pray don't mind us," as plainly as smiles could
speak.

So when they were gone, she made herself comfortable in the
smoking-room, in one of the screened compartments of which there was a
sort of public writing-table, supplied with great bowls of ink, and
sheafs of pens, and reams of paper, on which "Adelonga" was printed--as
if Adelonga had been a club--for the use of all-comers; and where there
was always a glorious fire of big logs whenever there was the least
excuse for a fire.

Here she began her second letter to Mr. Kingston--with effusive
conciliatory excuses for having been such a very bad correspondent. She
had really been so much engaged--time had slipped away, she didn't know
how--the post had gone once or twice without her knowing it--yesterday
they had been away from home; altogether, fate had been against her
writing as often as she had intended, but she would promise him to be
more regular in future.

Then followed a description of the races, and an enumeration of the
guests they had brought back with them--who they all were, what they
were like, and her estimation of them respectively. One was dismissed
without comment--"and a Mr. Dalrymple, Mrs. Digby's brother" (and of
course her dearest Graham remarked the extreme simplicity of this
phrase, and was curious about the interesting details that were
conspicuous by their absence). And then, after a few inquiries about the
progress of the house, she plunged into the really important matter.

"I have been thinking about your proposal a _great_ deal, and I want
you, _please_, not to be angry with me if I cannot accede to it," she
began in an abject and deprecating manner that was significant of her
state of mind. "I want to stay a little longer with my dear aunt, to
whom I have had so little opportunity as yet of making what return is in
my power for all her kindness to me; and I want a little time to
improve myself, too, for my future position as your wife, dear Graham.
Lucilla is a beautiful housekeeper and is teaching me lots of things;
and I am brushing up my French and German with Miss O'Hara, who said my
accent (but it is much better now) was enough to set one's teeth on
edge. Moreover, I am _really_ too young to be married just yet. I am
hardly nineteen, and Laura Buxton was nineteen and a half. Perhaps next
year----"

At this point she was interrupted by the arrival of the sportsmen. They
had been to the drawing-room, apparently, for they came in by way of the
conservatory, through a door just opposite the writing-table. She put
down her pen and rose in haste.

"Hullo, Rachel! Good-morning, my dear. Don't get up--we won't disturb
you," shouted Mr. Thornley, cheerily. "Come in, Lessel--come in,
Dalrymple. Here's where the guns go."

"What sport have you had? And are you not very hungry?" she asked,
moving away from her chair and standing on the hearthrug. According to
her primitive ideas of propriety, she was bound to stay a little while
and see to their hospitable entertainment, there being no proper hostess
available.

"Hungry? I should think so. And we had very good sport, though not much
to show for it," responded Mr. Thornley. "Only five ducks to five guns,
and Dalrymple shot four of them. They are wild enough at the best of
times; but at the end of the season there is no getting near them."

"You must be a very good shot," she said, lifting her eyes meekly to Mr.
Dalrymple's face. And then, the moment the words were spoken, she would
have given worlds to recall them, and looked at him again with a dumb
entreaty to be forgiven.

He smiled gently, reading her like a book.

"Oh, no," he said; "I was only lucky in having the birds."

They all came round her as she stood on the hearthrug, except Mr.
Thornley, who had gone to order some bread and cheese and beer; and they
looked pleased with the situation.

Mr. Digby began to tell her what a lovely day it was, and to ask her
why she had not gone out for a walk, too; and then, when she explained
that she had had letters to write, and found herself, unfortunately,
unable to do so without blushing over it (blushing because she feared
she was _going_ to blush), Mr. Hale broke in; and Mr. Hale in
conversation was, in his very different way, worse than Mrs. Hale.

"To Melbourne, I presume?" insinuated this little monster, with an arch
smile. Rachel, the colour of a peony, lifted her head an inch nearer to
the ceiling.

"I only heard last night," he continued, rubbing his hands, and looking
a whole volume of vulgar pleasantries, "that the redoubtable Kingston
has been vanquished at last, and that it is to your bow and spear that
he has fallen. Allow me to congratulate you, Miss Fetherstonhaugh."

"To congratulate _him_, I should think you mean," broke in Mr.
Dalrymple, who was studying the effect of sunset on a picture of the
Adelonga homestead and pulling his moustaches violently. "Hadn't we
better go and wash our hands, Digby, and make ourselves more fit for
ladies' company?"

"To congratulate him, too, certainly," said Mr. Hale; "very much so, of
course. But still it is a great conquest on the part of Miss
Fetherstonhaugh. Perhaps you don't know Kingston?"

"I have not that honour," replied Mr. Dalrymple stiffly; and the tone of
his voice strongly implied that he did not in the least degree desire
it.

"Well, I do; and I know that he has openly defied the combined powers
of her charming sex for--I am afraid to say how many years--as long as I
can remember."

"I daresay that has not distressed them," said Mr. Dalrymple.

"Come, come, Hale," said Mr. Digby, who thought his kinsman's allusion
to Mr. Kingston's age a terrible slip of the tongue; "let us go and wash
our hands. Come along, Lessel."

"And my wife tells me," continued the irrepressible little man, "that
the--a--the interesting event is to take place very shortly!"

Rachel came out of her majestic reticence with a rush that astonished
everybody.

"Oh, _no_, Mr. Hale--not for a _long_ time--not for a year, at the very
least! Who _could_ have told Mrs. Hale such a thing? I assure you it is
quite, quite wrong! _Do_ you know who told her? Was it my aunt?"

She looked at him with an earnest, imploring look that aroused Mr.
Dalrymple to regard her with considerably sharpened interest. The
alarming thought had struck her that her lover might have privately
enlisted Mrs. Hardy's support for his new scheme; and if so, how should
she be able to resist so formidable a pressure?

"I think it was Mrs. Thornley told Mrs. Hale. She had a letter from her
sister, Mrs. Reade, yesterday; and Mrs. Reade had mentioned it. Ladies'
gossip, Miss Fetherstonhaugh!--ladies never can keep secrets, you know.
They tell everything to one another, and then to us. And we--we tell
them nothing. We know better, eh, Digby?"

"Come along," said Digby, who was getting a little savage, "and don't
talk like a fool."

At this critical juncture Mr. Thornley appeared to announce that there
was bread and cheese in the dining-room for anybody who was hungry.
Whereupon the men trooped out--all but Mr. Dalrymple, who apparently was
not hungry. He was lounging at Rachel's side, with an elbow on the
mantelpiece, pulling his moustache meditatively; and he did not move.

Rachel was fluttered and excited.

"How _do_ people get hold of those things?" she exclaimed, with a vexed,
embarrassed laugh. "It is very true that everybody knows one's business
better than one does one's self. I _hate_ that kind of impertinent
gossip. No one has the _least_ ground for supposing that I am going to
be married shortly. I have no intention of being married for ever so
long."

"Why do you care what people say?" said Mr. Dalrymple. "I never care. It
is much the best plan."

"I would not, if I could help it; but I can't," she responded, turning
round and mechanically spreading her pink palms to the fire.

"And, after all," he continued, slowly, "all the talking in the world
can't make you marry if you don't want to."

She did not look up, but the blood flew over her face.

"I did not say I didn't want to," she murmured. "Of course I want
to--not yet, for a long time, but some day--or I should not be engaged."

"I don't think that _always_ follows, Miss Fetherstonhaugh. I think many
people engage themselves, and live to think better of it. And then, if
they don't refuse to consummate an admitted mistake, they--well, they
ought to, that's all. Forgive me, I am speaking in the abstract of
course. I have had a great deal of experience, you know."

"Of broken engagements?" queried Rachel, smiling faintly at the fire.

"No, not of them--not personally. The curse of my life was an engagement
that was kept. And I have seen so much misery, such everlasting wreck
and ruin, come upon people I have known and cared for--people who kept
the letter of the law of honour and disregarded the spirit--who
preferred sacrificing all that made life worth having, for certainly two
people, and probably four, to breaking an engagement that had no longer
any sense or reason in it."

"But surely an engagement--it is the initial marriage ceremony--should
be kept sacred," protested Rachel, daring at last to look up, in defence
of pious principles.

"Yes," he said, "certainly--when it is _really_ the initial marriage
ceremony."

"And how--what--what is the proof of that?"

"Shall I tell you what I think it is? When the people who are engaged
long and weary for the consummation--for the time to be over which
keeps them from one another."

There was a dead silence. Rachel continued to gaze into the fire, but
her eyes were dim, and all her pretty colour sank out of her face. He
had given her a great shock, and she had to take a little time to
recover. Presently she looked up, pale and grave, with a fuller and more
open look than she had ever given him.

"You should not have told me," she said gently; "you should not talk to
me so."

"No--you are right--I should not--forgive me," he replied, speaking low
and hurriedly, with something new and strange in his voice. And then
they became simultaneously aware of the dangerous ways into which their
discussion had led them, and, by tacit consent, turned back. Rachel
moved away to the writing-table, and began to gather her papers
together; Mr. Dalrymple brought his arm down from the chimney-piece and
looked at his watch.

"It is five o'clock," he said; "the ladies are having a long walk, are
they not?"

"No; it was nearly four when they started. They will be in directly for
their tea."

Then, without looking to right or left, Rachel hurried out of the room;
and Mr. Dalrymple, after silently holding the door for her, strode away
to the dining-room, where he was still in time for some bread and
cheese.

The first thing Rachel did on reaching her room, was to sit down and
cry--why or wherefore she never asked herself. She had not yet learned
the art of analysing her emotions.

She felt vaguely perplexed and hurt, and ashamed and indignant; and a
few tears were necessary to put her to rights. They were very few, and
soon over.

In less than ten minutes she had again addressed herself to Mr.
Kingston's letter, which she finished up with the suggestion that their
marriage should take place "next year," and a profusion of unwonted
endearments.

At dusk she went to the drawing-room, where the reunited guests were
having tea in the pleasant firelight, the gentlemen lounging about in
their knickerbockers and leggings, the ladies sitting with hats tilted
on the back of their heads, Mrs. Hale victorious over her subdued
husband. Miss Hale happy with her recovered beau. She sat a little
outside the circle and talked in under-tones to Lucilla; Mr. Dalrymple
stood far away on the other side of the room, and talked to nobody.

That night Rachel was the first to go to dress; she was the last to come
back when the gong announced dinner. And when she came she was arrayed
in all her glory--pearl necklace, diamond pendant, diamond bracelet,
jewelled fan--all her absent lover's love-gifts that good taste
permitted her to wear, and a few more. And there was no repetition of
the conservatory scene.

Mrs. Hardy was perfectly satisfied with the result of her diplomatic
measures. Rachel sat by her aunt's side, and sewed industriously all the
evening at a pinafore for her precious baby, who was about to be
short-coated. Mr. Dalrymple sat rather apart, gnawing his moustache,
apparently absorbed in a photographic album of Lucilla's, which he had
discovered in a cabinet near him.

Two or three times, when Rachel stole a look across the room, unable to
repress her restless curiosity to know what he was doing, she saw him
gazing meditatively at this open book, and always on the first page of
it. She wondered whose photographs they were that interested him so
much, and she felt that she could not go to bed without satisfying her
anxiety on this point.

When after tea, music and cards and other gentle entertainments were set
going, and Mr. Dalrymple was at last enticed by his host from his corner
and his album to make a fourth at the whist-table, she watched her
opportunity and stole round to the chair on which he had been sitting.
He had his back to her, but he was facing a mirror in which he could see
her distinctly; and while he watched her movements, he trumped his
partner's trick for the first time in his life, and otherwise disgraced
a notorious reputation.

"I suppose," said Mrs. Hale, who was his partner, with considerable
asperity, "that you don't trouble to play well if you haven't some
great stake to play for."

"I beg your pardon," he replied, gravely bending his head. Rachel was
stealing back to her aunt's side and her baby's pinafore, and he left
off looking into the mirror and making mistakes.

Meanwhile Rachel had satisfied her curiosity. When she opened the album
on the first page she saw two familiar faces--one of a young, bright
girl, with pensive eyes, conspicuous for "that royalty which subjects
kings;" the other angular, aquiline, hollow, full of the lines of age,
and smirking with the sprightliness of youth--herself and Mr. Kingston,
to whom, unknown to her, Lucilia had lately given this place of honour.

She stood still for a few minutes, looking down on them, with the colour
deepening in her cheeks. She seemed to see for the first time how
incongruous a pair they made, and how mean a presence her lover really
bore.

It was a bad likeness of him, she said to herself; but in point of fact
she was shocked by a faithful representation of his meagre features and
his peculiar smile--which after all was too frivolous and artificial to
be worthy of comparison with the smile of Mephistopheles.

She did not consciously judge his by the standard of that other face,
which was so impressively dignified and resolute; but she had looked at
this same photograph two days ago, and then it had not struck her
unpleasantly, as it did now.

Without thinking what she was doing, she tore out her own likeness, and
also the last photograph in the book, which was an old one of her Cousin
Lucilla as a child, and she made them change places. Having effected
which--surreptitiously, as she thought--she closed the album softly,
laid it away in the cabinet, and returned to her seat by her aunt's
side.

When the ladies were gone to bed, the first thing Mr. Dalrymple did was
to get out that album again and look at it; and he had some very serious
thoughts when he found out what she had done.

In the morning all the visitors left early, for they had a long distance
to travel. Mr. Thornley was to take them part of the way home, and the
break and the four horses were brought round at eight o'clock. Rachel
came out to the verandah with her aunt and cousin to see them start.

"Good-bye, dear Mrs. Digby," said Lucilla, affectionately kissing her
particular friend. "Good-bye, Mrs. Hale. Good-bye, Miss Hale. I am so
sorry you could not stay longer, but we shall expect you back next week.
Good-bye, Mr. Dalrymple, I hear you are off to Queensland again on
Monday?"

Mr. Dalrymple shook hands and lifted his hat, and then said very
quietly, but with great distinctness, "Not quite so soon as that, I
think, Mrs. Thornley. I shall consult Gordon before I make another
start."

"Oh, well, in that case we shall hope to see you again, too. Of course
you'll come with your sister next week, if you _should_ be still with
her?"

"Thank you," said Mr. Dalrymple. "I shall be most happy."

Rachel was not looking at anybody in particular; and nobody was looking
at her. But her rather pale and pensive face suddenly became of a colour
that might have put even the lapageria rosea to shame.



CHAPTER XII.

"OH, IF THEY HAD!"


Wandering about that afternoon in an aimless and restless manner, Rachel
entered the drawing-room through the conservatory door, and found her
cousin sitting there alone, at her own little davenport, writing
letters. Lucilla looked up with a smile of cordial welcome.

"Do you know what I am doing?" she exclaimed brightly. "Come here, and
say thank you. I am writing to ask Mr. Kingston to come."

"To ask Mr. Kingston to come?" the girl repeated blankly. "What for,
Lucilla?"

Mrs. Thornley was not like Mrs. Reade; she was amiable and sweet, but a
little dull of apprehension. She did not grasp the obvious significance
of this reply. Still it struck her as inadequate.

"Why, my dear child, what a question! Because you are here, of course,
and because he is moping about town, Beatrice says, and doesn't know
what to do with himself."

"Does Beatrice say that?" inquired Rachel, with a little pang of
self-reproach. This man, who had done her the greatest honour, who had
paid her the highest compliment that any man could bestow on any
woman--she was conscious of requiting him with ingratitude at this
moment. "He is very, very--kind," she faltered. "I am afraid he thinks
too much about me. When have you asked him to come, Lucilla?"

"In time for the dance next week, and as much sooner as he likes. I have
told him to send word what day will suit him, if he can come, and that
we will send to the station. Of course we could not allow _him_ to come
up by coach. I am very glad we have that dance in prospect; it will be
something to amuse him. I should have been half afraid to ask him into
the country if there had been nothing going on. He used to hate the
bush. However," looking up archly, "Beatrice says I need not be afraid
of his feeling dull on this occasion."

"Did Beatrice tell you to ask him? I mean did she suggest it to you?"

"Yes, dear--to tell the truth. I should not have asked him, simply
because I knew he didn't like the bush. It did not occur to me that he
would be fretting after you--Mr. Kingston fretting after anybody is such
a very novel idea! Oh, my dear Rachel"--and here she drew the girl close
and kissed her--"you are luckier than ever I thought you were!"

"Yes," sighed Rachel; "I know I am very lucky."

"And Beatrice says," continued Mrs. Thornley, with her arm round her
cousin's waist, "that we shall be having everything settled soon, and
that you are to have a delightful tour in Europe. How you will enjoy
that! It was the one thing I wished for when I was married that I did
not get. Not but what," the gentle woman added quickly, "I am very glad
I did not get it now. I could not have been happier than I have been at
Adelonga, and it must be very inconvenient to have a baby when one is
travelling about. You must tell me, darling, what you would like for a
present. John and I were talking about it last night--John thinks a
great deal of you, you must know, which is a thing you ought to be proud
of, for he is very particular and critical about girls--and he says he
would like to give you something worth having. But I told him you and I
would talk it over before we decided what it should be."

"How good you are! How good everybody is!" exclaimed Rachel, folding the
girlish matron in a rather hysterical embrace. "But I don't think I
shall be married just yet, Lucilla--wait till we hear what Mr. Kingston
says."

"Oh, we know already what _he_ is going to say."

"There is the party to be thought of first," proceeded Rachel,
determined, now that Mr. Kingston was coming, not to dissipate in
fruitless skirmishes the strength that she would require to fight the
inevitable battle with him. "You have only a week before you, and you
have not sent out your invitations, have you?"

"Yes, I have. I did that the day you were at the races, and have had
answers to some of them. We shall get about thirty or forty people
together, I hope--perhaps more. I wonder, by the way, whether Mr.
Dalrymple could bring that friend of his, Mr. Jim Gordon--I _wish_ I had
thought to ask him. We have too large a proportion of married people,
unfortunately." Lucilla had become thoughtful and business-like. "Seven
bachelors altogether," she remarked musingly, after a pause; "that is
not nearly enough. Does Mr. Kingston dance now, Rachel?"

"Yes, but not a great deal--mostly quadrilles. I think," she added,
reflectively, "he is rather troubled with gout in one of his knees."

"Poor fellow! He waltzed with me I remember when I first came out, and
that's not very long ago. Surely _he_ can't have gout--a man who walks
with such a peculiarly light and airy tread! Though, to be sure, I knew
a man of twenty-five--or was it thirty-five?--who had gout badly."

"Perhaps it is rheumatism," suggested Rachel; "or lumbago."

"Nonsense. Lumbago, indeed! One would think he was a patriarch. But if
he doesn't waltz----"

Lucilla paused in perplexity.

"Does Mr. Gordon waltz?" Rachel meekly inquired.

"Oh, no doubt--sure to. I have never seen him, but all those old army
men dance well."

"Then I suppose Mr. Dalrymple dances well?"

"Of course he does. Poor fellow, he excels in everything that is of no
consequence. Oh, yes, Mr. Dalrymple is decidedly an acquisition in a
ball-room, whatever he may be elsewhere."

"Lucilla!"

"What, dear?"

"Why do you all speak of him in that hard way? You are so kind to
everybody else, but for him nobody seems to have a good word. I think it
is so cruel!" she broke out with sudden passion. "The way Mrs. Hale
insulted him the other night--a man like that, whom she was not fit to
associate with--and all of you sitting round and letting her do it--I
think it is dreadful!"

"Oh, my dear," responded Mrs. Thornley, with tremulous earnestness, a
little frightened at the vehemence that she was too dull to understand,
and deeply shocked by the implied reflection on her hospitality, "you
don't suppose we encouraged or defended Mrs. Hale? We were as vexed as
you were at her gross want of taste--of common courtesy, one might say.
John was excessively angry--with dear Mrs. Digby sitting by to hear it
all; he said at first that he would never have her in his house again."

"But he is going to have her?"

"Yes. Well, they are old neighbours you see, and related to the Digbys.
And I daresay she knows no better."

"She is a horrid woman," said Rachel, viciously; "and so is her
husband."

"A horrid woman?" laughed Lucilla. "Oh, no, dear, be just--he is not so
bad as that. And you know, Rachel"--becoming gently argumentative--"it
is not surprising that people object to a man who has had such a career
as Mr. Dalrymple's. You know what he has done?"

"Only fought a duel," said Rachel. "No, I am not defending him, Lucilla,
but how many men have done the same in old days, without being objected
to?"

"It was a very _bad_ duel," said Lucilla gravely. "There were
circumstances connected with it that were very disreputable--so they
say."

"You shouldn't trust to hearsay," protested the girl eagerly. "Why don't
you go by the evidence of your own senses? Does he look like the man to
do disreputable things?"

"He looks like a man who could never do anything mean or underhand,"
said Mrs. Thornley; "I admit that. He has a noble face; and he has
perfect manners; and he is clever. But, oh! Rachel, when a man has been
in the dock, and for such a crime as that--"

"Do you mean he has been in prison?"

"Of course. He was arrested and put on his trial for murder, or
manslaughter--I forget which it was called. He was acquitted we know,
but by the merest accident. Popular feeling was with him, strange to
say, and Mr. Gordon fought hard for him. They were not over particular
in California, I suppose, and there was a flaw somewhere. But he _might_
have been hung, Rachel! That is where it is--he was tried for murder,
and he _might_ have been hung!"

Rachel was leaning against the wall, and looking into the recess that
made a passage to the conservatory. She was calling up a vision of that
memorable night, which was the birthnight of her womanhood, so recently
come and gone--the fern-tree canopy, letting the moonlight through, the
little bench, set in a bower of cork and maidenhair, where she sat alone
with him in a world of brooding shadows--the strong, proud face,
bending forward to look at her, darkly distinct in the soft, green
gloom.

And she heard his voice again, incisive, imperious, yet melting her very
heart within her as he told her the simple history of this terrible
episode in his life. He might have been hung!--he did not tell her that.
She stole away from her cousin, and walked up and down the long alleys
of the conservatory, pale and passionate with her fierce indignation.
Would they indeed have dared to hang him? And if they had--oh, if they
had!

Some thirty miles away Mr. Dalrymple was riding by his own short cuts
through the bush, with his peaked cap drawn over his eyes. His
beautiful horse, tall and stately like himself, with glossy dark coat,
and a white star on his forehead, paced with long strides through
saplings and brushwood, swinging his head slowly up and down on the
loose rein with a rhythmical movement that betokened ease of body and
content of mind.

His master gazed heedfully at the brilliant parrots flashing about with
long, rushing darts over his head, and at the myriads of wild flowers
crushed and trampled under foot. He wore a sprig of epacris in his
button-hole, and carried a sheaf of delicate orchids with their stalks
tucked under the saddle in front of him.

He hummed a Strauss waltz as he went along through the sunshine and
shadows of the waning day, and thought of the time when he would go
back to Adelonga and carry that girl with the sweet eyes away in his
arms, on the wings of just such a dreamy measure, into the only
realisable Utopia of this world.

And perhaps he was more glad of his life than he had ever been since the
day when he so nearly lost it--caring not much whether he did so or not.


END OF THE FIRST VOLUME.


London: Printed by A. Schulze, 13, Poland Street. (S. & H.)





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