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Title: A Mere Chance, Vol. 2 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. II.


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



    CONTENTS OF THE SECOND VOLUME.


    CHAPTER

       I.--Another Rash Promise
      II.--The Beginning of Troubles
     III.--"Where there was never Need of Vows."
      IV.--After the Ball
       V.--Rachel's First Visit in Melbourne
      VI.--In Mrs. Hardy's Store-room
     VII.--"He Has Come Back"
    VIII.--"The Light that never was on Sea or Land"
      IX.--Eleven p.m.
       X.--Mrs. Reade's Advice
      XI.--Until Christmas
     XII.--"The Ground-Whirl of the Perished Leaves of Hope"
    XIII.--Rachel on the Philosophy of Marriage



A MERE CHANCE.



CHAPTER I.

ANOTHER RASH PROMISE.


Mr. Kingston, as soon as he received Mrs. Thornley's invitation, sent a
telegram to her nearest post-town, to tell her he would start for
Adelonga on the following day, and await at the inn where he left the
railway the buggy she was kind enough to say should be sent to meet him.

There was much amusement at Adelonga over this unwonted promptitude on
the part of an idle and self-indulgent man, who had never been known to
hurry himself, or to go into the country willingly; and Rachel was
teased in fun and congratulated in earnest on the strong hold she had
gained upon his erewhile erratic affections.

The buggy was ordered at once--Mr. Thornley's own pet Abbott buggy, that
floated over the rough roads--and a pet pair of horses were harnessed
into it, and another pair sent forward to change with them on the way,
and Mr. Thornley himself set forth to meet his guest.

Next day Lucilla ordered one of her best rooms--usually reserved for
married ladies--to be prepared for him, and had great consultations
with her cook on his behalf; and at about five in the afternoon he
arrived, wrapped in a fur-collared overcoat, like a traveller in bleak
and barren regions, and had a royal welcome.

Lucilla, followed by her mother, went out to the verandah to meet her
old friend--though, indeed, she never willingly omitted that graceful
act of hospitality, whoever might be her guest--and was delighted to
receive again the same old compliment on her charming appearance that
had pleasantly befooled her in her maiden days. Mrs. Hardy was likewise
greeted with effusion, and responded cordially; and then they all looked
round.

"Where is Rachel?" inquired Mr. Kingston, with anxious solicitude;
"isn't she well?"

Rachel was found in the drawing-room, nervously rearranging the cups and
saucers that had just been brought in for tea. Lucilla ushered him in
with a smile, and discreetly retired with her mother, upon some utterly
unnecessary errand.

The lovers met in the middle of the room, and Rachel went through the
ordeal that she had been vaguely dreading all day. It was worse than she
had expected, for she felt, by some subtle, newly-developed sense, that
she had been greatly missed and ardently longed for, and that they were
truly lover's arms that folded her, trembling and shrinking, in that
apparently interminable embrace.

She had not yet come to realise the magnitude and the ignominy of the
wrong that she was doing him, but a pang of remorseful pity did hurt
her somewhere, through all her stony irresponsiveness, for the fate that
had driven him, the desired of so many women, to set his heart at last
upon one who did not want it.

For a brief intolerable moment she felt that she had it in her to
implore him to release her from her engagement, but--well, she was a
little coward, if the truth must be told.

And, moreover, she had not quite come to the point of giving up her pink
boudoir, and her diamond necklace, and all her other splendid
possessions in prospect, because she could not love the contingent
husband as was her duty to him to do.

She did not know as yet that she loved another man.

"And you never came to meet me?" said Mr. Kingston, with tender
reproach, as he led her by one reluctant hand to a sofa that was wheeled
up comfortably to the fireside. "And I was straining my eyes all across
the paddock, to see you on the verandah looking out."

"I was looking out," said Rachel; "I saw the buggy before it reached the
woolshed. But----"

"But you thought it would be nicer to have our meeting here, with no one
to look on? So it is, darling; you were quite right. I could not have
helped kissing you, if all the servants on the place had been standing
round; and one doesn't like to make a public exhibition of one's self.
Oh, my pet, I _am_ so glad to get you again! And how are you? Let me
have a good look at you. Oh, if you are going to blush, how am I to
tell whether you are looking well or not?"

"I am not going to blush," said Rachel; "and I am quite well. I never
was better. The country air is doing me ever so much good."

"I am not so sure of that," rejoined Mr. Kingston, rather gravely,
stroking her soft cheek. "You look fagged, as if you had been knocking
about too much. I didn't like your going to those rubbishy little
races--I told Thornley so. Have you been sitting up late at night?"

"No--I have been doing _nothing_," pleaded Rachel; "I am really as well
as possible. How is the house getting on?"

"The house is not doing much at present. They are still pottering at
the foundations, which seem to take a frightful lot of doing to. Not
that they have had time to make much progress since you were there--it
is not much over a fortnight yet, you know. Oh, but it has been a long
fortnight! Rachel, now I have got you, I don't mean to lose sight of you
again."

"How did you leave Beatrice?" inquired Rachel, hastily.

"Beatrice is quite well--as sprightly as ever. I told her I meant to
bring you back to town, by force of arms if necessary, and she said I
was quite right. We can't do without you in Melbourne--I can't, anyhow;
and what's more, I don't mean to try."

"How is Uncle Hardy?"

"Uncle Hardy? I'm sure I don't know--I was very nearly saying I don't
care. Of course he is quite well; he always is, I believe. Is there
anybody else you are particularly anxious about, Mademoiselle?"

"Yes," said Rachel, smiling and blushing; "I am anxious about Black
Agnes. How is my dear Black Agnes? _Does_ William attend to her
properly?"

"I don't leave her to William," said Mr. Kingston. "I have taken her
away to my own stables. And there she is eating her head off--wanting
you, like the rest of us. If you have no more questions to ask, I'll
begin; may I? I have some _really_ important inquiries to make."

Rachel gasped. But to her immense relief Lucilla was heard approaching,
talking at an unnecessarily high pitch of voice to her mother, who
responded with equal vigour; and the two ladies entered, followed by
Mr. Thornley, all wearing a more or less deprecatory aspect.

The men and the matrons grouped themselves round the fire, and plunged
into an animated discussion of the latest Melbourne news. Rachel poured
out the tea, and insisted on carrying it round to everybody, regardless
of polite protests; which charmed her lover very much.

He was rather cold, and a little stiff and tired after his unwonted
exertion; his seat was soft and restful; and he liked to see the slender
creature gliding about, with her sweet face and her deft hands, and
picture to himself with what meek dutifulness she would serve her lord
and master when the time came.

Rachel hoped they were in for a pleasant gossip till dinner time, but
she was much mistaken.

"I must go and see after my baby, Mr. Kingston, if you will excuse me,"
said Lucilla at the end of half-an-hour, setting down her empty but
still smoking teacup, and rising with an air that implied a pressing
duty postponed to the very last moment. Mr. Kingston expressed an ardent
desire to make the baby's acquaintance, which flattered the young mother
greatly, but otherwise led to nothing. Lucilla went out, promising to
introduce her son under favourable auspices in the morning; and as she
disappeared, Mrs. Hardy jumped up and followed her with apparently
anxious haste.

"Oh, Lucilla, I _quite_ forgot that aconite for Dolly's cold!" she
exclaimed; "shall I come and look for it now?"

Mr. Thornley, left behind, stood on the hearthrug, shifting uneasily
from one leg to the other. He cleared his throat, remarked that the days
were lengthening wonderfully, moved some ornaments on the chimney-piece,
and looked at his watch.

"Dear me," he muttered briskly, as if struck with a sudden thought, "a
quarter to six, I do declare! Excuse me a few minutes, Kingston."

"Certainly," replied Mr. Kingston. And then _he_ went out.

"How stupid they are!" cried poor Rachel to herself, almost stamping her
foot with vexation. But there was no help for it. The affianced couple
were once more left to themselves--as affianced couples should be, and
should like to be--in the pleasant firelight and no less pleasant
twilight shadows that were filling the quiet room.

Mr. Kingston rose, took his reluctant sweetheart's hand, and led her
back to the sofa by the hearth.

"What time do they have dinner here?" he asked.

"Seven o'clock," said Rachel, with a sinking heart.

"Then we shall have nearly an hour to ourselves, shan't we? Come then,
and let us have a good long talk. But first, I've got something for
you."

He began to fumble in his pockets, and presently drew forth a little
square packet, neatly sealed up in paper, which he laid on Rachel's
knee. Wise man! he had not had his long and varied experiences for
nothing.

The girl in smiling perplexity turned the mysterious parcel over and
over, broke first one seal and then another with much delicate
elaboration; cautiously stripped off the paper wrappings, and revealed,
as she expected, a morocco jewel-case.

"Oh, how kind!" she murmured, stroking it caressingly with her white
fingers.

"Open it before you say that," said he; "you don't know that there is
anything in it yet."

"Ah, but I know your ways," she rejoined; "I know it is sure to be
something lovely." And then she lifted the lid, and exclaimed "O-o-oh!"
with a long breath. There lay, on a bed of blue velvet, a beautiful
little watch, thickly set on one side of the case with tiny diamond
sparks, which on examination proved to illuminate the flourishes of a
big R; and a chain of proportionate value was coiled around it.

Rachel was in ecstacies. She had longed for a watch all her life, and
had never yet had one, except an old silver warming-pan of her father's,
which would not go into a lady's pocket.

It was only lately that Mr. Kingston had discovered this fact; and he
had immediately had one prepared for her, such as he considered would be
worthy of her future position in society, and of his own reputation for
good taste. He felt himself well repaid for his outlay at this moment.
Of her own accord she put up her soft lips and kissed him, pouring out
her childish gratitude for his thoughtfulness, and his kindness, and his
goodness, in broken exclamations which were charmingly naïve and sweet.

"You are always giving me things," she murmured, shyly stroking his coat
sleeve.

"Dear little woman!" he responded, with ardent embraces, from which she
did not shrink--at least, not much; "it is my greatest pleasure in life
to give you things."

And from this substantial base of operations the astute lover opened the
campaign which was to deliver her, a helpless captive, into his hands.

"And now," he said, when the watch having been consigned to its pocket
in her pretty homespun gown, and the chain artistically festooned from a
button-hole at her waist, a suggestive silence fell upon them--"now I
want to know what you mean by saying you won't be married till next
year? Naughty child, you made me very miserable with that letter. Though
to be sure it was better than the other one, which was so horribly, so
really brutally, cold that I had to go to the fire to get warm after
reading it. Oh, Rachel, you are not _half_ in love yet, I fear!"

"Don't say that," she murmured, with tender compunction.

"And I believe that is why you wish to put off our marriage."

"Oh, don't say that!" she repeated, weakly anxious to re-assure and
conciliate him, and to postpone unpleasantness--woman-like, afraid of
the very opportunity that she wanted when she saw herself unexpectedly
confronted with it. "I don't wish to put it off--only for a little
while."

"Do you call till next year a little while? Because I don't."

"Of course it is. Why, here is August!"

"And there are five long months--double the time we have been engaged
already. And it wouldn't be comfortable to be travelling in the hot
season."

"You said spring would be a nice time," suggested Rachel. She was
touching his sleeve with timid, deprecatory caresses, and she was
desperately frightened and anxious.

"Yes; _this_ spring--not twelve months hence. Oh, my pet, _do_ let it be
this spring. There are three lovely months before us, and I should like
to get that Sydney house. I have the offer of it still for a few days; I
got them to keep it open till I could consult you. You _must_ remember
that I am not as young as you are, Rachel; a year one way or the other
may be of no account to you, but it is of very great importance to me."

There was a touch of impatience and irritation in his voice, which
helped her to pluck up courage to cling to her resolve.

At the same time she heard the soft ticking of that precious watch at
her side; her heart was touched and warmed by what she called his
"kindness;" and she was anxious to do anything that she _could_ do to
please him.

"Won't it do when the house is built?" she asked, in a wheedling,
cowardly, coaxing tone, as she laid her cheek for a moment on his
shoulder. "I will come back to Melbourne as soon as you like--I can stay
with Beatrice, if aunt likes to remain here. We can be together almost
as if we were married. We can ride together every day, and watch how the
house goes on; and you know aunt doesn't mind _how_ much you are with us
at Toorak. Only if you would consent to put off the wedding till then--"

"Will you promise to marry me then?" he asked quickly.

"Yes, I will, really," she replied, without any hesitation, thankful for
the reprieve, which she had been by no means sure of getting.

"As soon as the house is built?"

"As soon as the house is finished."

"No--not finished; that mayn't be next year, nor the year after. As soon
as the roof is on?"

Rachel paused.

"How long does that take?"

"Oh, a long time--ever so long."

She paused again, with a longer pause. And then,

"Very well," she sighed, resignedly.

"It is a bargain? You promise faithfully? On your solemn word of
honour?"

"Oh, don't make such a terrible thing of it!" she protested, with a
rather hysterical laugh, that showed signs of degenerating into a
whimper. "I _can_ only say I will."

"And that is enough, my sweet. I won't require you to reduce it to
writing. Your word shall be your bond. It is a long while to wait, but I
must try to be patient. At any rate, it is a comfort to be done with
uncertainty, and to have a fixed time to arrange for. And now, perhaps,
we ought to go and dress. Tell me how much it wants to seven, Rachel;
you have the correct Melbourne time."



CHAPTER II.

THE BEGINNING OF TROUBLES.


It was in the afternoon that Lucilla again expected her guests, on the
day of the ball given at Adelonga in honour of the coming of age of her
absent stepson; and the hospitable arrangements characteristic of bush
households on such occasions, were made for their reception on the usual
Adelonga scale. All the visitors were to be "put up" of course; and from
the exhaustless piles of material stowed away in the ample store-rooms,
bed-rooms were improvised in every hole and corner, and beds made up
wherever beds could decently go--in the store-rooms themselves, in the
school-room, in the laundry, in the gardener's cottage, as well as in
the numerous guest-chambers with which this, in common with other
Australian "country seats," was regularly supplied.

Bright log fires burned on every hearth; bright spring flowers adorned
all the ladies' dressing-tables; stupendous viands piled the pantry
shelves and filled the spacious kitchens with delectable odours.

Servants bustled about with a festive air.

Mr. Thornley, in shirt sleeves, brought forth treasures from the remote
recesses of his cellar that no one but he was competent to meddle with.

Mrs. Thornley moved complacently about her extensive domain, regulating
all these exceptional arrangements with that housewifely good sense and
judgment which distinguished all Mrs. Hardy's daughters.

Rachel found her sphere of action in the ball-room, where with Miss
O'Hara and the children, a young gardener to supply material, the
station carpenter to do the rough work, and Mr. Kingston to look on and
criticise from an arm-chair by the fire, she worked all day at the
decorations, which had been designed in committee and partly prepared
the day before. The great Japanese screens had been carried away (to be
made very useful in the construction of bed and bath-rooms) and the
carpets taken up; and now she feathered the great empty room all about
with fern-tree fronds--hanging them from extemporised chandeliers, and
from wire netting stretched over the ceiling, and from doorless
doorways, rooted in masses of shrubs and blossoms that made a bower of
the whole place. It was just such a task as she delighted in, and she
was considered to have completed it successfully at four o'clock, when
she put her finishing touches to a trophy over the chimney-piece, which,
though rather complicated as to symbolism, being arranged on a
foundation of breech-loaders and riding-whips, had a bold and pleasing
effect.

At four o'clock the guests began to arrive. She was directing her
attendants to sweep up the last of her litters from the newly-polished
floor, when the Digbys' waggonette drove in at the wide-standing garden
gates, and rattled up to the house.

After them came other buggies in quick succession. Grooms and house
servants poured out to receive them; doors banged; confused voices and
laughter rose and fell in waves of pleasant sound through the maze of
passages intersecting the rabbit-warren of a house.

Rachel ran to a window and looked out in time to see Lucifer led off to
the stables blowing and panting, and jangling his bridle, but stepping
out still with unconquered spirit, as became a brave old horse of noble
lineage, whom such a master owned.

Mr. Kingston, the only other person just then in the room, came behind
her and laid his hands with the air of a proprietor on her shoulders.

"Whose hack is that?" he inquired, with languid curiosity. "Looks a good
sort of breed, something like your mare in colour, only much bigger."

"Mr. Dalrymple's," murmured Rachel.

"Dalrymple?--that brother of Mrs. Digby's you spoke of? I've heard of
that fellow. I was curious to know who he was, and I made inquiries at
the club. He is a rather considerable scamp, if all tales are true."

"All tales are not true," replied the girl, with majestic calmness.

"And pray how do _you_ know?" he retorted quickly, a little amused and
a great deal irritated by her highly indiscreet behaviour. "I don't
suppose that you have heard all that I have--at any rate, I _hope_ not."

"I know enough," she stammered hurriedly; "I know the worst anyone can
say against him."

"I hope not," repeated Mr. Kingston, with ominous gravity.

"And I know he has done wrong--done very wrong, indeed; but he has had
such terrible provocations--he has been, oh, so dreadfully unfortunate!"
she went on, wishing heartily that she had not undertaken her new
friend's defence, yet finding it easier to go through with it now than
to turn back and desert him. "And, whatever he may have been once, he
is doing nothing to harm anybody now; and it is cruel of people to be
always raking up the past, when it is done with and repented of, and
throwing it in his teeth. Any of us would think it hard and unfair--you
would yourself."

"Never mind me, my dear; my past is not being called in question that I
am aware of."

Mr. Kingston's not very placid temper was rising.

"He is doing nothing wrong now," she repeated, frightened but reckless;
"if he were, Mr. Thornley would not invite him here--he said so himself.
And Lucilla, though she does not like him--nobody likes him,
indeed--says he would never do a mean action, and that he has perfect
manners, and that he is a thorough gentleman every way. I think they
all agree about _that_."

"And yet don't like him. That is rather inconsistent. And what about
yourself, Rachel? If it is not a rude question--are you an exception in
this respect, or not?"

He had taken his hands from her shoulders, and was standing sideways in
the embrasure of the window, so that he could see her face; and he was
smiling in a most unpleasant manner.

Rachel had never seen him like this before, and the first seed of active
dislike was sown where as yet there had been nothing worse than
indifference. The familiar colour rose and flooded her white brow and
her whiter throat. She clenched her hands to still the flutter of her
heart. She shut her teeth and struggled in silence against an
ignominious impulse to cry.

But Mr. Kingston continued to watch her with that sardonic curiosity;
and presently, like the traditional worm, she turned on him.

"Yes," she said, "I am an exception. I like Mr. Dalrymple very
much--what little I know of him. I have seen no reason to do otherwise.
I do not pay any attention to vulgar gossip."

A timid woman, trying to be defiant, generally fails by overdoing it;
and so did she, poor child. Mr. Kingston heard the emphasis of strong
emotion, that she would have given worlds to keep back, vibrating
through her tremulous accents, and it drove him beyond those
considerations of policy and politeness which he made a boast of as his
rule of life and action--especially in his dealings with women. Rachel,
however, in the category of women, was exceptionally placed with respect
to him; and I suppose one must do him the justice to concede that this
was an exceptional emergency.

"I'll tell you what," he said, smiling no longer, and speaking with a
rough edge to his voice that betokened the original rude nature, usually
so carefully clothed, and that she instinctively resented as an
indignity, "Thornley can do as he likes about the people he brings here
to associate with his wife, but I won't have you making acquaintance
with a vagabond like that."

"I have already made his acquaintance," she said quietly.

"Then I beg you will break it off."

"How can I break it off while he is in the same house with me?"

She was surprised to find how strong she was to withstand this incipient
tyranny; and yet her heart contracted with a pain very like despair.

"There will be so many people that one--and he a man--may be easily
avoided, if you wish to avoid. And you _will_ wish to do what would
please me, wouldn't you, dear?" he demanded, perceiving that he was
bullying her, and trying to correct himself.

"Yes," she replied; "certainly. But I hope you will not ask me to be
rude to one of my cousin's guests. I don't mind what else I do to please
you. And when I am married, I will of course know nobody but the people
you like."

"You are as good as married to me already," he said, putting his arm
round her shoulder as she stood before him, with all sorts of changes
and revolutions going on within her. "And of course I don't want you to
be rude--I don't want you to be anything. Simply don't take any notice
of Dalrymple--he will quite understand it; don't dance with him, or have
anything to do with him."

"Not dance with him!" she broke out sharply.

Her evident dismay and disappointment, together with her unconscious
efforts to evade his embrace, exasperated his already ruffled temper
afresh.

"Certainly not," he said, with angry vehemence. "I shall be exceedingly
annoyed and vexed if I see you dancing with that man."

Rachel did not know until now how much she had secretly set her heart
upon doing this forbidden thing; as her exigent lover did not know until
now that he had it in him to be so horribly jealous.

"He will be sure to come and ask me," she said, with a despairing sigh.

"Very well. If he does, I beg you will refuse him."

"Then I must refuse everybody."

"Not at all. He will quite understand that there are reasons why he
should be exceptionally treated."

"And do you think I will make him understand _that_?" she burst out,
with pathetic indignation that filled her soft eyes with tears. "Do you
think I would be so--so infamously rude and cruel? Oh, Mr.
Kingston"--she never called him "Graham" except in her letters, though
he tried his best to make her--"you don't want to spoil all my pleasure
to-night, which was going to be such a happy night?"

"Your pleasure doesn't depend on dancing with Mr. Dalrymple, I _hope_."

"No--no; but may I not treat him like all the rest, for Lucilla's
sake--for common politeness' sake?"

"No, Rachel. I don't want to be unkind, my dear, but you must remember
your position, and that now you belong to me. A lady who understands
these matters can quite easily manage to get off dancing with a man if
she wishes, without being rude. You must learn those little social
accomplishments, and this is a very good time to begin. Now let us
change the subject. Kiss me, and don't look so miserable, or I shall
begin to think--but that it would be insulting you too much--that you
have fallen in love with this disreputable ruffian."

Mr. Kingston tried to assume a light and airy manner, but his badinage
had a menacing tone that was very chilling.

Rachel, strange to say, did not blush at all; she quietly excused
herself on the plea that she must go and arrange her dishevelled
costume, and (having no private bedroom to-night) went a long way down
the garden to a retired harbour for half an hour's meditation.



CHAPTER III.

"WHERE THERE WAS NEVER NEED OF VOWS."


When Rachel came back to the house it was nearly five o'clock.

There was to be a great high tea at six, for which no dressing was
required, in place of the ordinary dinner; and as she did not feel
inclined to meet the crowd of company that was assembling in the
drawing-room sooner than was necessary--to tell the truth, she had been
crying, and her eyes were red--she returned by a back way to the
ball-room, which she knew would be to all intents and purposes, empty.

As an excuse for doing so she carried in her arms some long wreaths of
spiræa which she had discovered on a bush at the bottom of the garden,
with which she intended to relieve the masses of box and laurestinus
that made the groundwork of her decorations.

Lightly flitting up a stone-flagged passage at the rear of the house,
she suddenly came upon Mr. Dalrymple. He emerged from the door of the
laundry, which had been assigned to him for sleeping quarters, just as
she was passing it.

"Oh!" she cried sharply, as if he had been a ghost; and then she caught
her breath, and dropped her eyes, and blushed her deepest blush, which
was by no means the conventional mode of salutation, but more than
satisfied the man who did not know until this moment how eagerly he had
looked for a welcome from her.

"How do you do?" he said, clothing the common formula with a new
significance, and holding her hand in a strong grasp; "I was wondering
where you were, and beginning to dread all kinds of disasters. Where are
you going? May I carry these for you?"

He saw by this time the traces of her recent tears, and the cheerful
cordiality of his greeting subsided to a rather stern but very tender
earnestness.

Silently he lifted the white wreaths from her arm, and began to saunter
beside her in the direction of the ball-room, much as he had led her
away into the conservatory on that memorable night, which was only a
week, but seemed a year ago.

All the time she was thinking of Mr. Kingston's prohibition, and
dutifully desiring to obey him; but she had no power in her to do more.

They passed through the servants' offices, meeting only Lucilla's maid,
who was in a ferment of excitement with so many ladies to attend to, and
had not a glance to spare for them; they heard voices and footsteps all
around them as they entered the house; but they reached the ball-room
unperceived and unmolested, and found themselves alone.

The great room, with its windows draped and garlanded, was dim and
silent; the gardener's steps stood in the middle ready for the lighting
of the lamps; nothing but this remained to be done, and no one came in
to disturb them.

For ten minutes they devoted themselves to business. Mr. Dalrymple
mounted the steps, and wove the spiræa into whatever green clusters
looked too thin or too dark; he touched up certain devices that seemed
to him to lack stability; he straightened some flags that were hanging
awry; and Rachel stood below and offered humble suggestions.

When they had done, and had picked up a few fallen leaves and petals,
they stood and looked round them to judge of the general effect.

"It is very pretty," said Mr. Dalrymple; "and it makes a capital
ball-room. I have not seen a better floor anywhere."

"It was laid down on purpose for dancing," said Rachel, who knew she
ought now to be making her appearance elsewhere, yet lingered because he
did.

"Are you fond of dancing?" he asked abruptly.

"Yes," she said; "very."

"Will you give me your first waltz to-night?"

He was leaning an elbow on the piano, near which he stood, and looking
down on her with that gentle but imperious inquiry in his eyes, which
made her feel as if she had taken a solemn affidavit to tell the truth.

"I--I cannot," she stammered, after a pause, during which she wondered
distractedly how she could best explain her refusal so as to spare him
unnecessary pain; "I am very sorry--I would, with pleasure, if I could."

"Thank you," he said, with a slight, grateful bow. "Well, I could hardly
hope for the first, I suppose. But I may have the second? Here are the
programmes," he added, fishing into a basketful of them that stood on
the piano, and drawing two out; "let me put my name down for the
second, and what more you can spare; may I?"

She took the card he gave her, opened it, looked at the little spaces
which symbolised so much more than their own blank emptiness, looked up
at him, and then--alas! She was a timid, tender, weakly creature when
she was hurt, and she had not yet got over the effect of Mr. Kingston's
harshness; and she had been crying too recently to be able to withstand
the slightest provocation to cry.

She tried to speak, but her lip quivered, and a tear that had been
slowly gathering fell with an audible pat upon the piano. He drew the
card from her in a moment, and at the same time swept away any veil of
decorous reticence that she might have wished to keep about her.

"What is the matter?" he asked, with gentle entreaty, which in him was
not inconsistent with a most evident determination to find out. "_I_ am
not distressing you, asking you to dance with me, am I?"

"Oh, no--it is nothing! Only please _don't_ ask me," she almost sobbed,
struggling against the shame that she was bringing on herself, and
knowing quite well that she would struggle in vain.

He watched her in silence for half a minute--not as Mr. Kingston had
watched her, though with even a fiercer attentiveness, and then he
said, very quietly,

"Why?"

But he had already guessed.

"Because--because--I have promised not to."

"You have promised Mr. Kingston?"

Scarlet with pain and mortification, in an agony of embarrassment, she
sighed almost inaudibly,

"Yes."

"Not to dance with me? or merely not to dance waltzes?"

"Must I tell you?" she pleaded, looking up with appealing wet eyes into
his hard and haughty face.

"Not unless you like, Miss Fetherstonhaugh. I think I understand
perfectly."

"Oh, Mr. Dalrymple, I want to tell you about it, but I cannot. I am
saying things already that I ought not to speak of."

"I don't think so," he replied quickly, suddenly softening until his
voice was almost a caress, and set all her sensitive nerves thrilling
like an Æolian harp when a strong wind blows over it. "It is in your
nature to be honest, and to tell the truth. You are not afraid to tell
the truth to me?"

"I would not tell you an untruth," she murmured, looking down; "but the
truth--sometimes one must, sometimes one ought--to hide it. And I hoped
you would not need to know about this."

"Why, how could I help knowing it? Did you think it likely I might by
chance forget you were in the ball-room to-night?"

What she thought clearly "blazed itself in the heart's colours on her
simple face." But she did not lift her eyes or speak.

"I am very glad I know," he continued, in a rather stern tone. "If you
had done this to me, and never told me why----"

"I should have trusted to you to guess that it was not my fault, and to
forgive me for it," the girl interposed, looking up at last with a flash
in her soft eyes that, as well as her words, told him a great deal more
than she had any idea of.

"It was really so?" he demanded eagerly. "It was not your own desire to
disappoint me so terribly?"

"Oh, _no_."

"If you had been left to yourself you would have danced with me?"

"Yes, of course."

"Quite willingly?"

"You _know_ I would!"

Mr. Dalrymple drew a long breath. It was rather a critical moment. But
he was no boy, at the mercy of the wind and waves of his own emotions,
and Rachel's evident weakness of self-control was an appeal to his
strength that he was not the man to disregard. Still it was wonderful
how actively during these last few minutes he had come to hate Mr.
Kingston, whom he had never seen.

"I suppose," he said presently, "I must not ask the reason for this
preposterous proceeding?"

"Do not," she pleaded gently. "There is no reason, really. It is but Mr.
Kingston's whim."

"And are you determined to sacrifice me to Mr. Kingston's whim?"

She did not speak, and he repeated his query in a more imperious
fashion.

"Are you really going to throw me over altogether, Miss Fetherstonhaugh?
I only want to know."

She looked up at him piteously, and he softened at once.

"Tell me what I am to do," he said, in a low voice. "_Do_ you wish me
not to ask you for any dances? It is a horrible thing--it is enough to
make me wish I had gone to Queensland on Monday, after all--but I will
not bother you. Tell me, am I not to ask you at all?"

"If you please," she whispered with a quick sigh, full of despairing
resignation. "I am very sorry, but it is right to do what Mr. Kingston
wishes."

"That is not my view in this case. However, it is right for _me_ to do
what _you_ wish. And I will, though it is very hard."

Here Rachel, feeling all her body like one great beating heart, moved
away to the door, driven by a stern sense of social duty.

Her companion did not follow her, and she paused on the threshold,
turned round, and then suddenly hurried back to him.

"Mr. Dalrymple," she said, putting out her hand with an impulsive
gesture, "do not wish you had gone to Queensland instead of coming here
to-night. If you do I shall be _miserable_!"

He seized her hand immediately, and stooping his tall head at the same
moment, brushed it with his moustache. Then, looking up into her scared
face, he said--like a man binding himself by some terrible oath:

"_That_ I never will."

Once before in that room they had touched the point where not only mere
acquaintance but warmest friendship ends. Then it had been to her a new,
incomprehensible experience; now she could not help seeing the reason
and the meaning of it, though, perhaps, not so clearly as he.

In a moment she had drawn her hand away, and like a bird frightened from
its nest, had vanished out of his sight, leaving him--thoroughly aroused
from his normal impassiveness--gazing at the empty doorway behind her.

When they met again, ten minutes afterwards, it was in the drawing-room,
which was crowded with people; and through all the crush and noise, she
was as acutely conscious of his presence as if he alone had been there.

She moved about with tremulous restlessness and downcast eyes; afraid to
look at him--afraid he should look at her; paying her little civilities
mechanically, and conducting herself generally, to her aunt's extreme
annoyance, more like a bashful schoolgirl and a poor relation than
ever.

Mr. Kingston, doing his best to fascinate Miss Hale, who stood beside
him, giggling and simpering and twiddling her watch-chain, looked
anxiously at his little sweetheart when she entered, thought he saw
signs of his own handiwork in her disturbed and downcast face, called
her to him, and until the great tea-dinner was over, and they all had to
disperse to dress, compassed her with devout attentions, intended to
assure her of his royal forgiveness and favour.

But he did not remove the prohibition, which made her more and more
resentful as she continued to think about it, and less and less
responsive to his ostentatious "kindness;" and he treated Mr.
Dalrymple--when he condescended to acknowledge his presence at
all--with a supercilious rudeness that Mr. Thornley, in conjugal
confidence, declared to be "very bad form," and that prompted the gentle
Lucilla to be "nicer" to the younger man than Rachel had ever seen her.
He was so open in his hostility that it was generally noticed and talked
of (and the cause of it more or less correctly surmised).

The only person who seemed absolutely indifferent to it and to him was
Mr. Dalrymple himself; and in his secret heart he was much more glad
than angry to have earned such pronounced dislike from such a quarter,
though as impatient of what he called "impudence" as anybody.

That Adelonga ball was a memorable event to most of the people that it
gathered together--as what ball is not? Mr. Thornley celebrated the
coming of age of his son and heir, to begin with. Mrs. Thornley appeared
for the first time, "officially," after the birth of her baby, who was
the hero of all occasions to _her_, and inaugurated a great "county"
reputation as a charming hostess and woman.

Mrs. Hardy got her best point lace irretrievably ruined by catching it
on an unprotected corner of the wire-netting upon which Rachel had
worked her decorations; and she also saw the lamentable frustration of
several wise plans that she had made.

Two young people became engaged; others, male and female, fell in love,
or began those pleasant flirtations which led to love eventually.

Miss Hale on the other hand, quarrelled with Mr. Lessel, who took upon
himself to object to her extravagant appreciation of Mr. Kingston's
rather extravagant attentions; and their engagement was broken off.

Mr. Lessel at the same time captivated the fancy of a charming young
lady, only daughter of the Adelonga family doctor, resident in the
township close by, who was destined in less than twelve months to be his
wife.

Mr. Kingston, surfeited with balls, had a deeper interest in this one
than in any of the hundreds that he had attended in the course of a long
and gay career.

Never before had he admired a pretty woman with such ferocious sincerity
as he admired his little Rachel to-night; never before had he used such
rude tactics to make the object of his affections jealous--thereby to
subdue rebellion in her; never before had he been so defied and
circumvented by a being in female shape as he was to-night by this
presumptive little nobody, whom he had singled out for honour, and who
was bound to honour him, and his lightest wish.

As for Mr. Dalrymple and Rachel--they must be classed together in this
catalogue of special experiences, for they shared theirs between
them--the Adelonga ball marked a new and very memorable departure in the
history of their lives. For half the evening they danced decorously
apart.

Mr. Dalrymple justified Mrs. Thornley's expectations, of course, and
distinguished himself above all the dancing men assembled; Rachel, who
had had but little teaching, was a dancer by nature and instinct, as
light and effortless, as airy and graceful as a bit of wind-blown
thistle-down.

She loved it, as she loved all pleasant and poetic things; and though
she could not have the partner she wanted, and had to take whom she
could get, she felt to-night, and more and more as the evening wore
away, that she had never heard and felt, in the strains of mere
senseless instruments and in the thrill of responsive pulses, music of
mundane waltzes and galops of such inspired and impassioned beauty.

There was a young artist from Melbourne who played lovely airs on a
violin to a piano accompaniment, and he seemed literally to play upon
her, spiritually sensitive as she was to-night to the lightest touch of
that divine afflatus which makes poetry of certain passages in the most
prosaic lives.

Now rapturously happy, now tragically miserable, and tremulously
fluctuating up and down between these two extremes, she was blown about
like a leaf in autumn wind by the subtle harmonies of that magical
violin. At least she thought it was the violin. We know better.

At about twelve o'clock she went into the house on an errand for
Lucilla, and came back by way of the conservatory, as the first bars of
a Strauss waltz were stealing through the fern-roofed alleys, with
nameless tender associations in every liquid note.

For a few seconds she paused in the shadowy doorway, a slight, white
figure against the dim background, with hair like a golden aureola, and
milk-white neck and arms--a gracious vision of youth and beauty as
prince could wish to see.

But the Sleeping Princess now was acutely wide awake; the life that ran
in her quickened pulses was almost more than she could bear. Her eyes
shone restlessly, her breath fluttered in her throat, her heart ached
and swelled with some vague, irresistible passion, as the waves of that
delicious melody flowed over her, like an enchanter's incantation.

A few paces off, within the ball-room, Mr. Dalrymple stood with his
back to the wall watching her; his dark face was lit and transfigured
with the same kind of solemn exaltation. She turned her head, and they
looked at one another, mutually conscious of the supreme moment that had
unawares arrived.

He held out his hand--she almost sprang to meet him; and then, oblivious
of betrothals, and promises, and houses, and diamonds, she floated down
the long room, under the very noses of her aunt and Mr. Kingston, lying
in a reckless ecstasy of contentment in her true love's arms.



CHAPTER IV.

AFTER THE BALL.


Whatever might have been Rachel's confusion of mind as to the nature and
consequences of her escapade, Mr. Dalrymple, from the moment that he
took her in his arms, understood the situation perfectly. It was
sufficiently serious to a man in his position, who, whatever his faults,
was the soul of honour; but it was never his way to dally with
difficulties, and he left himself in no sort of suspense or uncertainty
as to how he would deal with this one.

Whether right or wrong, whether wise or foolish, in any sudden crisis
requiring sudden choice of action, he obeyed his natural impulse,
subject to his own rough code of duty only, without an instant's
hesitation, and followed it up with unswerving determination, totally
unembarrassed by any anxiety as to where it might lead or what it might
cost him, or as to any ultimate consequences that might ensue.

In nine cases out of ten a man of honour, placed as he was now, would
have regretted an unconsidered act of folly, and have cast about for
means of extricating himself and the girl who was behaving badly to her
affianced husband from the position into which it had led them--even,
perhaps, to the extent of using

         "Some rough discourtesy
     To blunt or break her passion."

But he was the one man in ten who, equally a man of honour, felt himself
under no obligation to do anything of the kind. If she loved him--and
now he knew she did; if he loved her, or was able to love her--and he
allowed himself no doubt upon that point from this moment of her
self-revelation, though he had not _meant_ to permit anybody (least of
all a mere child like this) to supplant the dead woman on whom the
passion of his best years had been spent--then the thing was settled.
They might waltz together till daylight, and no one would have any
right to interfere.

The social complications that surrounded them, and which a conventional
gentleman would have considered of the last importance, were to him mere
matters of detail. They must manage to get out of them as best they
could.

So he carried her round and round the room, the most perfect partner he
had ever danced with, who moved so sympathetically with all his
movements that she might have been his shadow--but for the electric
current of strong life that her hand in his, and her light weight on his
shoulder, and the subtle sense of her emotion, sent thrilling through
his veins; and in the teeming silence his brain was busy making rapid
plans and calculations for effectively dealing with the many
difficulties that would come crowding upon both of them as soon as this
waltz was over.

Clearly, the first thing to do was to dispose of ambiguities between
themselves.

"Come into the conservatory," he said, in a quick under tone, when five
silent, delicious minutes had passed; "I want to say something to you
before these people begin to spread all over the place again."

But even as he spoke, as if a spell had been broken, the light and
rapture died suddenly out of her face, her limbs relaxed, her airy
footsteps faltered, she seemed to melt away in his arms.

"Oh," she whispered, looking up at him with tragic eyes, full of fear
and despair, "how wicked I have been! What _will_ he say to me?"

"Never mind _him_," replied Mr. Dalrymple; "you must not let him have
any right to dictate to you any more--you must break off your engagement
at once, and get out of his hands. Wicked!--the only wicked thing would
be to deceive him any longer. You _know_ you don't love him. Come into
the conservatory, and let us talk about it. _Do_ come--there is nobody
there now!"

But Rachel, being a woman, and a coward, and only eighteen years old,
would not come. She knew what she wanted, but she dared not do it--she
dared not even think of it.

"I must not--I must not!" she protested, in a childish panic of terror.
"Let me go, Mr. Dalrymple, _please_--I have done very wrong--I am afraid
to stay----"

And slipping out of his arms, which did the utmost that courtesy
permitted to hold her, she fled through a doorway near and disappeared;
and thus threw away an opportunity the loss of which was to cost them
both long days and nights of suspense and suffering--as she foresaw with
agonies of regret, even while she did it.

Mr. Dalrymple danced and talked, and sauntered about, proud and cool as
usual to the superficial observer, but raging with impatience in his
heart, and watched for her return; but he saw her no more until supper
time, when she was led into the dining-room, looking very pale and
quiet, on Mr. Kingston's arm.

The whole night passed, and he never had a chance to get near her again;
though as may be supposed, it was from no lack of effort on his part;
and he went to the laundry at last, hours after she had gone to bed, to
change his clothes preparatory to taking a morning walk up the hills,
without even having had the satisfaction of one look from her eyes,
which, however timid and terrified, he felt sure would have told him the
truth.

She did not come into the drawing-room before breakfast; and at that
irregularly conducted meal she sat again by Mr. Kingston's side, the
whole table's length from him. But glancing round her as she took her
seat, she met his fixed gaze, and bowed with a subtle, wistful
impressiveness that reassured him completely as to the state of her mind
towards him, let her outward actions be what they might.

It was very tantalising; all his habitual calmness was upset; his very
hand trembled as he took his coffee from Lucilla, and once when his
gentle hostess spoke to him, he did not hear her.

The fret of this state of things, it is needless to say, chafed his
incipient passion into flame; and the flame was kept up thereafter, at a
more or less fierce heat and brightness, by the winds of adversity that
ought to--and in nine cases out of ten would--have put it out.

After breakfast the company began to disperse in a desultory manner by
installments. Some of the guests lingered until the afternoon; some until
the next day.

The Digbys were the first to leave--partly because they had so far to
go, partly because Mrs. Digby was anxious about her children--and of
course Mr. Dalrymple had to go with them.

He hunted in vain for Rachel when the breakfast party broke up. She
_knew_ he was hunting for her, and she longed to go to him, and
therefore as a matter of course, she hid herself.

Only at the last moment, as he was about to ride gloomily away, she
appeared on the threshold of one of the inferior front doors, pale and
shrinking, but desperate with vague despair--thinking to solace herself
with one more glimpse of him when he would not know she was looking. But
he saw her in a moment, flung himself from Lucifer's back, and caught
her before she could steal away again.

It was not the sort of farewell he had hoped for--several of the ladies
came straggling about them before they could exchange half a dozen
words--but it was infinitely better than none.

"Are you going to Queensland?" Rachel asked, in a tone which said
plainly--"Are you going away from me?"

"I must go," he replied; "but I shall not stay--I shall come back as
quickly as possible. And you--what will you do?"

She flushed scarlet and dropped her eyes, and her lips began to quiver.
The rustle of Mrs. Hardy's majestic skirts was heard approaching. It was
too late for confidences.

"I hope, when I come back, I shall find you free," he whispered
hurriedly, emphasising the significance of the words with the crushing
clasp of his hand over hers and the eager desire in his eyes; and then
he took off his cap, included all the ladies in one last silent adieu,
remounted his horse, and departed.

As he rode through the bush this lovely spring morning, near enough to
the waggonette to open the gates for it, but far enough away to indulge
in his meditations undisturbed, he pondered many things; and
particularly he wondered, with a devouring anxiety, what Rachel had been
doing and thinking of since she left him so abruptly at midnight, after
practically giving herself to him.

If he could have known it is doubtful if he would have felt so certain
of her as he was, though nothing would have deterred him now from making
the best fight in his power for the possession of her.

When, in terror of the consequences of what she had done, she broke away
from him and escaped out of the ball-room, she rushed to her own room,
forgetting until she dashed into the middle of an untidy litter of open
boxes and portmanteaus which Miss Hale had left on the floor, that it
was not hers to-night; and then she turned and sped down one of the
innumerable passages into the quiet starlight outside, and sought refuge
in that lonely arbour at the bottom of the garden, which already, not
many hours before, had given sanctuary to these new emotions.

That she courted bronchitis and consumption, exposing her bare warm arms
and bosom to the chill of a frosty night, was a trivial circumstance
quite unworthy of consideration.

In this arbour she abandoned herself to the full luxury of that passion
which was neither joy nor grief, and yet had the pain and ecstasy of
both in the sharpest degree.

She knelt on the damp floor, and leaned her arms on the dusty bench,
regardless of panic-stricken ants and enterprising black beetles, and
she shook from head to foot with sobs.

"Oh my love!" she murmured to herself. "Oh, my love!"

And then presently lifting herself up and appealing to the star-worlds
far away, and the immutable universe in general:

"Oh, what shall I do? Oh, what can I do?"

By and bye she sat down on the bench, clasped her hands on her knees,
and tried her best to compose herself.

The keen air made her shiver, and perhaps it did something to cool her
agitation and brace her nerves as well.

Slowly she gathered her wits together, made tremulous efforts to school
herself to be womanly and courageous, and at last crept back to the
lighted and crowded house, hugging a brave but terrible resolution.

She went to the nearest fire to warm herself. It was in a little room
adjoining the dining-room, where the last preparations for supper were
going on.

As she knelt on the hearthrug, extending her white arms to the blaze,
Mr. Kingston came behind her and laid his hands on her shoulders, so
silently and unexpectedly that she gave a little startled cry.

"Did I frighten you, my pet?" said he, gaily; "I beg your pardon. I
couldn't think where you were gone to. I am afraid you are tired. You
have been waltzing too much. That fellow Dalrymple does go round at a
killing pace with his long legs. Poor Miss Hale couldn't stand him at
all--she nearly fainted. Ah, naughty child! Didn't I tell you not to
dance with him? And you never paid the least heed! If this is how you
defy me now, what am I to expect after we are married, eh?"

She looked up in his face with guilty, bewildered eyes. He was not by
any means so cool as he assumed to be, but it was evident that he
intended to ignore her offence, and was not going to scold her.

_He_ was not young and rash, if she was; and the few minutes he had
taken for reflection, during her absence in the garden, had shown him
where the path of wisdom lay. Her first sensation was one of extreme
relief; and then she became slowly conscious of a vague sinking at her
heart.

Once more she sighed to herself--feeling discouraged and overpowered,
and unequal to the formidable vastness of her resolution--"Oh, what
shall I do?"

It would have been much better--much easier--if he had scolded her.

Before the revels of the night were quite over, Mrs. Hardy sent her to
bed, noticing that she was looking unusually quiet and pale. She was
very glad to go, and made haste to hide herself in the little impromptu
nest that had been prepared for her on a couch in her aunt's room,
before that lady should require the use of her apartment.

She was wide awake, however, when Mrs. Hardy joined her, and too
restless to disguise it; and the elder woman, who knew nothing of the
girl's entanglements with her two lovers--who had, indeed, congratulated
herself on the prudent abstinence which had been unexpectedly practised
with reference to "that objectionable young man" who was such a
dangerously delightful dancer--gossiped and grumbled over the little
events of the evening, chiefly of the accident to her lace and the
absurdities of Miss Hale and Mr. Lessel, who were publicly known to have
had a serious misunderstanding, unaware of her listener's
pre-occupation, until the candles were finally extinguished.

About an hour later, as she was anxiously cogitating what steps she
should take towards the repairing of her own mishap, Mrs. Hardy thought
she heard a suspicious sound in the silence of the room.

"Rachel," she called, softly; "is that you, child?"

No answer. Only a rustle of drapery, indicating that Rachel had turned
over in her bed. She listened a few minutes, and the suspicious sound
was repeated. Raising herself on her elbow, she called more loudly.

"You are not _crying_, Rachel, are you?"

The girl flung herself out of bed, ran across the room, a little white
ghost in the faint dawn, and threw her arms round her aunt's neck. She
had no mother, poor little thing, to tell her troubles to; and she
wanted a mother now.

"Oh, dear Aunt Elizabeth," she sobbed passionately, "do help me--I am so
miserable! I don't want to marry Mr. Kingston! I don't love him--I have
made a mistake! I didn't think enough about it, and now I know we should
never suit each other. Won't you tell him I was too young, and that I
made a mistake? Won't you--oh, please do!--help me to break it off?"

On what a mere chance does destiny depend.

If Mrs. Hardy's evening had been triumphant and prosperous--if she had
not torn her best lace, and torn it in consequence of Rachel's
carelessness--she would probably have received the girl's touching
confidence as a tender mother should. As it was, she felt that after all
her fatigues and worries, this was really too much.

"What nonsense are you talking, child?" she exclaimed angrily. "Is it
any fault of Mr. Kingston's if Miss Hale behaves like an idiot? She is
nothing but a vulgar flirt, and he knows it as well as you do--only it
is his way to be attentive to all women."

"Miss Hale!" repeated Rachel vaguely; "I'm not thinking of Miss Hale. I
am not blaming anybody--only myself. I was very wrong to accept Mr.
Kingston at the first--oh, aunt, you _know_ we are not suited to each
other! He ought to marry somebody older and grander, and I--I thought I
should like to be rich, and to live in that house--and I thought I
should come to love him in time; but now I know it was all a mistake.
Do--do let me break it off before it goes any further! Let me stay with
you--I shall be _quite_ happy to stay with you and Uncle Hardy, if
you'll only let me!"

"You are dreaming," replied her aunt, giving her a slight shake in the
extremity of her dismay and mortification; "you talk like a baby. Do you
think a man is to be taken up one day and thrown away the next? And it
is worse than that to jilt a man--and Mr. Kingston of all people--after
being engaged to him for months, as you have been, and after leading him
into all sorts of preparations and expense. The bare idea is monstrous!
And all for nothing at all, but some ridiculous sudden fancy! You may
have seen things of that sort done amongst the people you have been
brought up with, but no _lady_ would think of disgracing herself and her
family by such conduct."

"Oh, aunt!" moaned Rachel piteously, as if she had had an unexpected
blow.

"I don't like to speak harshly to you, my dear," Mrs. Hardy proceeded,
in a rather more gentle, but still irritated tone. "Only you _must_ not
vex me with such absurd and childish notions. I know it is only a
passing whim--you are over-tired, and you are hurt because Mr. Kingston
paid Miss Hale so much attention, though it is only what he does to all
women, without meaning anything whatever; but still it is a serious and
horrible thing--breaking an engagement, a really happy engagement, as
yours is--jilting a kind, good man, after giving him every
encouragement--even to _think_ of! Don't let me hear you mention it
again, unless you want to break my heart altogether. And after all I
have done for you--I don't want to boast, but I _have_ been a good aunt
to you, Rachel, and you would have been in a poor place but for me--the
least you can do is to respect my wishes, especially as you know I wish
nothing but what is for your real good and welfare."

Rachel wandered back to her bed, laid her head gently on the pillow, and
closed her eyes. Mrs. Hardy in the dead silence that presently ensued,
was relieved to think that she had "settled off" at last; but it was not
sleep that kept her so quiet--it was the calmness of defeat and despair.



CHAPTER V.

RACHEL'S FIRST VISIT IN MELBOURNE.


In the last week of August, when the place was looking its
loveliest--the rustic gables of the pretty house all hung with wistaria,
and the shrubberies full of fragrant bushes of purple and white
lilac--Mrs. Hardy, Mr. Kingston, and Rachel took their departure from
Adelonga. It was to one of them a truly heart-breaking business.

Rachel stood on the verandah while the horses were being put to,
clasping Lucilla and the baby alternately to her heart, and wept without
restraint, until her eyes were swollen, and her delicate colour resolved
into unbecoming red patches, and there was scarcely a trace of her
beauty and brightness left.

No one but herself was at all able to realise what this moment cost her.
She was not only leaving a place where she had spent the happiest period
of her youth; not only parting from friends with whom she had
established the most tender and sympathetic relations; she was closing a
chapter, or rather a brief passage, which was the one inspired poem of
her life; and she was saying good-bye to Hope.

As long as she was at Adelonga, there was the chance that Mr. Dalrymple
might come back--at any rate, notwithstanding the Queensland
arrangements, there was a constant impression that he was near. And as
long as she was at Adelonga she had felt bold to strive, by various
feeble and ineffectual devices, to extricate herself from her
engagement.

Now she was going where it seemed to her her lover would never be
allowed to reach her, and where in a hard world of money and fashion,
and under the terrible dominion of "the house," she would be a helpless
victim in the hands of Fate.

"Good-bye, darling Lucilla!" she sobbed; "thank you so much--I have been
so happy here--I am so sorry to go away!"

The gentle woman was inexpressibly touched, and of course cried for
company. Mrs. Hardy had her own maternal reluctance to face an
indefinite term of separation from her daughter. And altogether Mr.
Kingston was not without justification for his unusually irritable frame
of mind.

He did not like to see women crying; he was particularly annoyed that
Rachel should exercise so little command over herself, and that she
should have red eyes and a swollen nose; and he was uneasy about the
untoward episode which had been the first hitch in the smooth current of
his engagement, and wondered whether it could be possible that a
lingering fancy for that Dalrymple fellow was making her so unwilling to
return to her Melbourne life.

Moreover, he hated country travelling--long drives over rough bush
roads, and bivouacs at country inns, where the food was badly cooked and
the wine detestable; and he was suspicious about the behaviour of the
Adelonga horses, whose little traits of character came out rather
strongly in the invigorating air of spring; and he had a nasty touch of
gout.

However, the day was fine, and the drive was lovely. As she was carried
along, with the soft air blowing in her face, full of the delicious
fragrance of golden wattle, Rachel ceased to cry--becoming calm, and
pensive, and pretty again--and took to meditation; wondering, for the
most part, what Queensland was like, and how it was she could ever have
thought Melbourne, as a place of residence, preferable to the bush.

They passed a charming little farmhouse, more picturesque in the simple
elegance of its slab walls and brown bark roof than any Toorak villa of
them all, set in its little patch of garden, with fields of young green
corn and potatoes, neatly fenced in, behind it. It had its little rustic
outbuildings, its bright red cart in the shed, its tidy strawyard, its
cows and pigs and poultry feeding in the bush close by.

The farmer was working in his garden; the farmer's wife, on her knees
beside him, was weeding and trimming the borders of thyme that ringed
the little flower beds. They both paused to gaze at the imposing
equipage crashing along with its four strong horses, and at the ladies
and gentlemen perched so high above them; and Rachel, looking down from
her box-seat, thought she had never seen such a picture of rural and
domestic peace. She had suddenly ceased to regard material wealth and
splendour as in any way essential to happiness.

To live in some such home as this (provided one had enough to live on
and to pay one's way), working with one's own hands for the man one
loved--that seemed to her at this moment the ideal lot in life.

Having started from Adelonga an hour before noon, the horses were taken
out at two o'clock to be fed and watered, and the little party camped
beside a shady water-hole for lunch.

Lucilla had put up a bounteous basket of good things, and all the
materials for afternoon tea; and the fun of arranging the grassy table
first, and of making a fire and boiling the kettle afterwards--not to
speak of the very satisfactory meal that intervened--had its natural
effect upon our impressionable heroine of eighteen.

Her _fiancé_, much revived by a tumbler of dry champagne, carefully
cooled in the water-hole, was also in improved spirits and temper, and
he set himself to be very kind to his little sweetheart, and forgave her
all her misdeeds.

Between three and four, having had their tea, the horses were put to,
and they started on their way again; and just at nightfall they arrived
at the railway, and at the inn where they were to spend the night.

Here they found dinner awaiting them, of which Rachel partook in sleepy
silence; and she went to bed soon afterwards, and slept too soundly even
to dream of trouble.

In the morning they parted from Mr. Thornley, and started by the first
train to town; at noon they lunched in a railway refreshment-room; and
in the middle of the afternoon they found themselves once more in
Toorak, being helped out of the family brougham by good-natured Ned, and
welcomed into the green satin drawing-room by his bright-faced wife.

"And so you are back again at last!" exclaimed Beatrice gaily, as she
took her young cousin into her arms. "And how are you, dear child? Why
you look quite pale. Take off your hat and sit down at once, and have
some tea. Mr. Kingston, I don't think this country air that they talked
so much about has done anything very wonderful after all. Rachel is not
looking so well as she was when she left."

Rachel blushed a lovely rose-colour immediately, of course, and Mr.
Kingston looked up at her with vague anxiety.

"I don't think she is, myself," he said; "I noticed it as soon as I got
up there. But she will be all right now she is home again."

"I am only tired," murmured Rachel.

"A girl like you has no business to be tired," retorted the little
woman brusquely.

It did not escape her sharp eyes that something was the matter, and she
determined to take the earliest opportunity to find out what it was.

"I do hope to goodness," she said to herself, "that it is not her
engagement that she is tired of--and everything going on so nicely!"

And then she took off Rachel's sealskin cap and jacket, settled her by
the fireside, furnished her with a cup of fragrant tea and some thin
bread and butter, and left her to herself while she attended to her
mother's wants.

Beatrice and her tea had a generally cheering and invigorating effect.

Mr. Kingston, making himself comfortable in a very easy chair, grew
talkative and witty upon the news of the day and the latest items of
fashionable gossip; in the society of this charming little woman of the
world--_his_ world--the satisfaction of being in town again began to
creep over him pleasantly.

He stayed for half an hour--outstaying Ned, who retired modestly at the
end of twenty minutes; then he led Rachel into the hall, kissed her,
told her to go to bed early and come out with him for a ride in the
morning, and went off to his club--sorry to leave his little lady-love,
but glad to be able to get his letters, to hear what was going on in
Melbourne, and to read his "Argus" on the day of publication again.

After his departure Mrs. Hardy and Beatrice plunged fathoms deep in
talk. Mrs. Hardy wanted to know how her husband and her servants, and
her neighbours and her friends, had been conducting themselves during
her absence, and Beatrice wanted minute particulars about Lucilla and
the baby.

Rachel had no occasion to feel herself _de trop_; at the same time she
saw she was not wanted. She sauntered softly round the room, laid some
music scattered about over the piano in a neat pile, re-arranged some
yellow pansies that were tumbling out of a green Vallauris bowl, and
then stole noiselessly into the hall and out of the house.

The grounds of the Hardy domain were more beautiful with flowers now
than she had ever seen them; but she did not stay amongst the flowers.
She went down little lonely paths, intersecting vegetable beds and
forcing-frames, to a gate at the bottom of the kitchen-garden, where she
was within speaking distance of the workmen engaged on the new house,
with nothing to impede a full view of their operations.

She was feverishly anxious to know how they were going on--whether they
were still "pottering at the foundations," or whether the stage of walls
had set in.

The working day was not yet over, and the well-known chinking and
clinking of the stonemason's implements smote her ear. She thought,
when she began to count them, that there were a great many more men than
there used to be, and she wondered why this was.

The young man who was sent out by the architects to supervise the
builders, and whose acquaintance she had made with Mr. Kingston, was
walking about the dusty enclosure, and presently recognising her, he
lifted his hat, and then seeing that she still lingered, came up to the
gate to speak to her.

"How are you getting on, Mr. Moore?" she asked pleasantly. "Are you
still doing the foundations?"

Mr. Moore assured her that they had completed the foundations, and that
they were getting on splendidly.

"Won't you come out and have a look at what has been done?" he inquired.

She thanked him and said she would; and he opened the gate with
alacrity, and escorted her through a labyrinth of bricks and stones,
over ground strewn thickly with sharp-edged chips that cut holes in her
boots, very well pleased to be the first to show her the progress that
had been made in her absence.

She could see for herself that a great deal had been done. The trenches
were filled up; great square blocks of stone ridged the outlines of the
ground-floor rooms--little bits of rooms they looked, and not at all
like the stately and spacious apartments of the architect's design; but
it seemed to her that what had been done could not be a tenth or
twentieth part of all that there was to do.

"I suppose," she said, "it takes a long time to build the walls and make
such a quantity of windows?"

"Oh, dear, no," responded Mr. Moore cheerfully. "All the worst of the
work is over now, as far as the shell is concerned; the walls will run
up in no time. It is a big house, but there are plenty of men on it, and
all materials ready. It is after the shell is done that the real tedious
work commences."

"You mean after the roof is on?"

"Yes. The interior decorations are the chief thing about this house.
The outside is not much."

"When do you expect the shell will be finished?" asked Rachel, in fear
and trembling.

"Some time in the course of the summer--within the next two or three
months probably."

"And the roof on?"

"Oh, yes; of course the roof on," he replied.

There was a pause; and then she said in a very small, thin voice:

"Thank you, Mr. Moore. I think I must go back now."

He escorted her back to the garden gate, lifted his hat, and bade her
good evening; and it struck him suddenly--with far more force than it
had struck Beatrice--that she was looking extremely unwell, and not at
all like the bright and blooming creature that she was when she went
away.



CHAPTER VI.

IN MRS. HARDY'S STORE-ROOM.


Rachel was very young, no doubt, but she was growing rapidly. To all
intents and purposes she was at least five years older when she came
home from Adelonga than she was when she went there; and the process of
development by no means ceased or slackened at that point.

The blossoming of her womanhood had come suddenly, like the blossoming
of the almond trees, in one warm burst of spring; but the inner heart,
that budded in secret, continued to swell and ripen, in spite
of--perhaps because of--the absence of sunshine in her spiritual life.

The physical change in her was noticeable to everybody. Her constitution
was much too sound to be easily injured by mental wear and tear; but her
health was necessarily affected in a greater or less degree,
temporarily, for the better or for the worse, by the more powerful of
those mental emotions to which her body was peculiarly sensitive and
responsive at all times.

So she lost some of her delicate pinky colour, and her large eyes grew
heavy and dreamy, and she looked generally faded and altered, in the
dulness of these empty days. She had no more enthusiasm for Toorak life
and Melbourne dissipations. She went into no raptures over jewels and
dresses, or any pretty things; she had none of the old zest for operas
and balls.

She was quiet, and silent, and preoccupied, moving about the house with
a strange new dignity of manner (resulting from the total absence of
self-consciousness), a sort of weary tolerance, as if she had lived in
it all her life, and was tired of it.

After watching her for a few days, secretly, and in much perplexed
anxiety, Mrs. Reade made up her mind that something was seriously wrong,
and that it was time for her to interfere to set it right. She went to
her mother in the first place for information.

It was eleven o'clock in the morning, and Mrs. Hardy was in her
store-room, counting out the day's allowance of eggs to an aggrieved and
majestic cook.

The little woman stood by silently, watching the transaction with a
smile in her brilliant eyes, thinking to herself what a great mistake it
was, if poor mamma could but see it, to insist on an inflexible morality
and economy in these petty matters; and when it was completed, after a
little acrimonious discussion, she quietly shut the door, and addressed
herself to her own business in her customary straightforward way.

"I want to know what is the matter with Rachel," she began, spreading
her handkerchief on a keg of vinegar, and sitting down on it
deliberately.

Mrs. Hardy mechanically sought repose in the one chair of the apartment,
which stood in front of the little table where she was in the habit of
making out her accounts.

"I'm sure that is more than I can tell you, my dear. What an insolent
woman that is!--if she thinks I am going to let her have the run of my
stores, as Mrs. Robinson did, she is very much mistaken."

"Something is wrong with Rachel," proceeded Mrs. Reade calmly; "and I
want to find out what it is."

Mrs. Hardy made an effort to smooth her ruffled feathers down.

"I think the child must be fretting for Lucilla and the baby, Beatrice.
She and Lucilla were bosom friends, and she just went wild about the
baby--it was quite ridiculous to see her with it. And when she left them
she cried as if she were completely heartbroken; and she has never been
like herself since. I can't think what else ails her--unless she is out
of sorts, and wants some medicine. I did give her some chamomilla
yesterday, but it does not seem to have done her any good."

"No," said Mrs. Reade, with a sudden smile, "I don't think it is a case
for chamomilla. She is not ill; she is unhappy--anyone can see that.
_You_ can see it, can't you?"

"I'm sure no girl has less cause to be unhappy," protested Mrs. Hardy
evasively, in a fretful and anxious tone. "It is very ungrateful of her
if she is."

"But what can have caused it? She was all right when she went to
Adelonga. Something must have happened while she was there. She is not
merely fretting after Lucilla and the baby--oh, no, it is a deeper
matter than that. I am afraid--I really am seriously afraid, by the look
of things--that it has something to do with Mr. Kingston." Her mother,
though silent, was so obtrusively conscious and uneasy that she felt
assured, the moment that she looked at her, of the correctness of her
surmise. "Oh, do tell me what has happened!" she continued, eagerly.
"Something has, I know. It is what I have been dreading all along--with
these tiresome delays! They ought to have been married out of hand, and
then there would have been no trouble."

"If there _is_ anything wrong between them," Mrs. Hardy reluctantly
admitted, "it is--I must say that for Rachel, though she is very trying
with her silly childishness--it is Mr. Kingston's doings."

"Of course," assented Mrs. Reade, promptly.

"It was on the night of the ball. He rather neglected Rachel--the first
time I ever knew him to do it--and he flirted in that foolish way of
his--with Minnie Hale. You know Minnie Hale?--a great, fat, giggling
creature--quite a common, vulgar sort of girl--not in the least _his_
sort, one would have imagined. I don't wonder that Rachel was offended;
I was extremely vexed with him myself, for he did it so
openly--everybody noticed it. It was so bad, really, that the man that
horrid girl was engaged to, Mr. Lessel, broke off with her on account of
it. That will show you. She was a great deal worse than he was, of
course. But he went great lengths. Perhaps he had been taking too much
wine," she sighed, plaintively.

"No," said Mrs. Reade. "He has plenty of faults, but _that_ is not one
of them."

"Rachel was deeply hurt and shocked," Mrs. Hardy proceeded. "Naturally,
for it was not a thing she had been used to, poor child. She took it
very much to heart--so much that she wanted, like Mr. Lessel, to break
off her engagement there and then." Here Mrs. Hardy went into details
of poor Rachel's unsuccessful struggle for deliverance. "But of course I
reasoned with the foolish child," she added conclusively; "I talked her
out of _that_."

Mrs. Reade sat very still, tracing patterns on the floor with the point
of her parasol.

"And did they have a quarrel?" she asked, vaguely. She was evidently
thinking of something else.

"No. There was a coolness, of course, but--oh, no, I am sure they did
not quarrel. He has seemed anxious to make up for it, and she has not
shown any temper or resentment. But things have been uncomfortable if
you can understand--very unsatisfactory and uncomfortable--ever since. I
think she was disappointed in him, and cannot get over it. I have been
hoping that it was all right, and that she was only unsettled and
dispirited about leaving Adelonga. But now you mention it--yes, now I
think of it--I'm afraid she is brooding over that other trouble still.
Foolish child! she lives in a world of romantic ideals, I suppose."

"_Why_ did Mr. Kingston flirt with Minnie Hale?" asked Mrs. Reade,
looking up at her mother impressively.

"Oh, my dear, you know him as well as I do."

"You think he was worn out with being good?"

"He _has_ been good, Beatrice--very good--ever since his engagement."

"Yes, he has. But if he had had a mind to misbehave, I don't think his
duty to Rachel would have stopped him. The fact is, since his engagement
he has never wanted anyone but her. I have watched him closely, and
wonderful as it seems, he has never shown the slightest disposition to
flirt beyond the stage of pretty speeches--not even when she was
away--not even with Sarah Brownlow."

"It is a great pity," sighed Mrs. Hardy. "I wish they were safely
married."

"And at the worst of times," the younger lady proceeded thoughtfully,
regardless of the interjection, "he was fastidious in his choice--he
liked someone who was either pretty or clever, or decidedly attractive
in some way. I never knew him take any notice of a girl of _that_ sort
before."

"There is no accounting for men's tastes, my dear."

"Oh, yes," Mrs. Reade replied promptly; "I know that Minnie Hale is not
_his_ taste. I know he did not go on with her as you say he did, merely
for the pleasure of it to himself. I think it must have been to spite
Rachel."

"Beatrice!"

"Yes, mother--that is what I think. It is the only reasonable motive he
could have had."

"But why on earth should he wish to spite Rachel?"

"That is what I want you to tell me. You were in the house with
them--try and think of all that happened just before the ball. I'm
certain something was wrong between them, to begin with. Perhaps you did
not notice it at the time, but you might remember little
circumstances--" Mrs. Reade broke off, and watched her mother's
disturbed face with bright attentiveness. "_Rachel_ did not flirt with
anybody, did she?"

"Now, my dear, you know the child is incapable of such a thing."

"Oh, I don't mean deliberately, of course. But she might do it
accidentally, with those sentimental eyes of hers. And she _is_ so
charmingly pretty!"

"No, she certainly did not flirt," said Mrs. Hardy; "she has never
given him any uneasiness on that score, pretty as she is, and never
will, I am quite sure. But there was a man----"

"Ah!" sighed Mrs. Reade, laying her parasol across her knees, and
folding her hands resignedly.

"Why do you say 'ah,' Beatrice, before you hear what I am going to tell
you? There was a man there whom Mr. Kingston disliked very much. He gave
himself airs, and they somehow came into collision, and Mr. Kingston was
in rather a bad temper. That was all that went wrong before the ball,
and Rachel had nothing to do with that."

"Do you think so? I am certain she had," the young lady replied
deliberately.

"Well, if you think you know better than I do, who was there to see----"

"Go on, dear mamma. Tell me all about him. Who was he? What was he
like?"

Mrs. Hardy, pocketing her dignity, proceeded to describe Mr. Dalrymple,
with great amplitude of detail, as he had appeared from her point of
view.

The result was a kind of superior Newgate villian, of good birth and
distinguished presence, whom Mrs. Reade regarded with a sinking heart.

"Oh, dear me!" she sighed, blankly, "what a pity! What a grevious pity!"

"I _can't_ see why you should look at it in this way, Beatrice. I tell
you she had little or nothing to say to him, and she only danced with
him once the whole evening. I took care to point out to her the kind of
man he was, and to warn her against him."

"You ought not to have done that."

"My dear, you will allow me to be the best judge of what I ought to do.
She was very good and obedient, and she acted in every way as I wished
her."

"But she liked him, didn't she?" asked Mrs. Reade.

"Yes," Mrs. Hardy admitted, with evident reluctance, "I am afraid she
did like him."

"I am sure she did," said Mrs. Reade, decisively. "And there is more
than liking in the matter, unless I am much mistaken. I have never been
in love myself," she remarked frankly, "but I fancy I know the symptoms
when I see them. I feared from the first that it was something of that
sort that was the matter with her. At any rate--" putting up her hand to
stay the imminent protest on her mother's lips--"at any rate, if he has
not made her love him, he has made her discontented with Mr. Kingston."

"Well, Beatrice," the elder woman exclaimed, with an impatient sigh,
rising from her chair, "if such a thing should be--if such a misfortune
should have happened after all my care--we must only do the best we can
to mend it. Thank goodness he's gone. He is not at all likely to give
her another thought. If he does--" Mrs. Hardy shut her mouth
significantly, and her Roman nostrils dilated.

"You can't help his thinking what he likes," said Mrs. Reade, with a
gleam of mockery in her bright eyes.

"I can help his doing anything further to disturb her. I can see that he
never meets or speaks to her again."

Mrs. Reade continued to smile, looking at her majestic mother with her
bird-like head on one side.

"I hope so," she said. "I'm sure I hope so, if you can do it without her
knowledge. But if you should have to act, whatever you do, don't make
martyrs of them."

"Don't talk nonsense," retorted Mrs. Hardy.



CHAPTER VII.

"HE HAS COME BACK."


Mrs. Reade, being satisfied that she had found out Rachel's
complaint--as indeed she had--put her under treatment without delay.

On the very day of her interview with her mother in the store-room, she
sought and obtained permission to take the patient home with her for a
week's visit, in order to try the experiment of change and a new set of
dissipations, and to make her preliminary investigations undisturbed.

She had a charming house of her own at South Yarra, which she "kept"
admirably, and where, in an unpretensious manner, she had established a
little _salon_ that was a fashionable head centre in Melbourne society,
and well deserved by virtue of its own legitimate merits to be so.

She was not severely orthodox in these matters, like Mrs. Hardy, who
weighted her entertainments with any number of dull people, if they only
happened to be in the right set; though she was quite ready to
acknowledge the propriety of her mother's system in her mother's
circumstances.

There was no want of refinement in her hospitality, but there was a
delicate flavour of Bohemianism that, like the garlic rubbed on the
salad bowl, was the piquant element that made it delightful--to those,
at any rate, who were sufficiently intelligent to appreciate it.

If men and women were uninteresting, she could have nothing to do with
them, though they were the very "best people;" that is to say, she
limited her intercourse to those ceremonial observances which rigid
etiquette demanded.

If they were clever and cultured, and otherwise respectable and
well-behaved, and were capable of being fused harmoniously into the
general brightness of her little circle, she was inclined to condone a
multitude of sins in the matter of birth and station.

Artists of all sorts, travellers and politicians, distinguished members
of every profession (so long as their own merits and accomplishments
distinguished them) were welcome at her house; where they would be sure
to meet the most interesting women that a judicious woman, superior to
the petty weakness of her sex, could gather together.

So it was that Mrs. Edward Reade's afternoons and evenings were
synonymous with all that was intellectually refreshing and socially
delightful to those who were privileged to enjoy them.

But so it was, also, that Rachel, in consideration of her youth, her
impressionable nature, and what were supposed to be her democratic
tendencies, had not been allowed to know much about them hitherto.

"Now, however, the case is different," said Beatrice, authoritatively,
as she sat in her little pony carriage at the front door, waiting for
her cousin to come down stairs. "It will do her good to shake up her
ideas a little, and draw her out of herself. And if she does take an
undue interest in people of the lower orders"--looking at her mother
with mocking bright eyes--"it will be so much the better. Perhaps Signor
Scampadini, with that lovely tenor of his----"

"Oh, no, Beatrice. Mr. Kingston would very much dislike anything of that
sort."

"Anything of what sort?" laughed Mrs. Reade. "Mr. Kingston can trust
me, mamma. And we must counteract Mr. Dalrymple somehow."

"Mr. Kingston himself ought to counteract him--if there is any
counteracting necessary."

"Ah!" sighed Mrs. Reade, shaking her head slightly. She said no more,
but in her own mind she put that argument aside as useless.

There had been a time, indeed, when she had believed Mr. Kingston
sufficient for all purposes, on the basis of Rachel's apparently modest
spiritual needs; but now she knew she had been mistaken.

The girl had grown and changed since then, and the old conditions no
longer fitted her. The little woman was disappointed, but she was too
wise to make a fuss about it. Difficulties had come that she ought to
have foreseen and provided for, but since they had come, they must be
dealt with. "Ah!" she said, with a sigh and a smile; and that was the
extent of her lamentation.

So Rachel went away with her to South Yarra, and had a brilliant week of
it. The weather was warm and lovely, and the soft air full of the
delicate intoxication of spring time, to which she was peculiarly
susceptible.

She basked in sunshine as she rattled about Melbourne streets and
suburbs in Beatrice's little basket-carriage, and as she sat in
Beatrice's bow-windowed drawing-room, gossiping over afternoon tea.

She had a month's allowance of society dissipation of the most seductive
description in that week--music, dancing, _tableaux vivants_, dressing,
shopping, sightseeing, swarms of gay and witty company from noon till
midnight, every conceivable kind attention from her cousin, and the most
flattering homage from everybody else--all in an easy and cosy way that
was very charming and luxurious. It certainly cheered her up a great
deal.

We _do_ get cheered, against our intention and desire, against our
belief almost, by these little amenities that appeal to our superficial
tastes, even when we seem to ourselves to be full of trouble.

It is well for us that we are so susceptible to light impressions, to
the subtle influences of the daily commonplace, which are like delicate
touches to a crude picture in their effect upon our lives; if we were
not, our lives would hardly be worth having sometimes, crippled as they
are with great sudden griefs and disappointments, and wasted with the
lingering paralysis of spiritual loss and want.

Mrs. Reade, watching the effect of her prescription day by day, thought
things were going on very nicely, and took great credit to herself. She
could plainly perceive that the disturbing element in the family
arrangements was no trifling ball-room fancy; but she had great faith in
the girl's youth and gentle character, and in the efficacy of judicious
treatment, and it seemed to her that her faith had not been misplaced.

At any rate, she justified her reputation as a clever woman by the tact
she displayed in the management of her self-imposed task. No one could
have done more, under the circumstances, to further the desired end. She
did not have Mr. Kingston about her house too much; she thought Rachel
would appreciate him more if she had time to miss him a little. Nor did
she force the girl's confidence with respect to Mr. Dalrymple, or even
invite it in any way--that is to say, not in any way that was apparent
to _her_.

She took no notice of the obvious indications of her cousin's anxiety to
extricate herself from her engagement, though secretly they caused her
acute uneasiness. She was a kind little soul, and though quite content
with a _mariage de convenance_ herself, did not like to see another
woman driven into it against her will.

It was for Rachel's good that she should be tided over those temptations
to squander a substantial future for a romantic present, which were
peculiarly dangerous to a girl so undisciplined in worldly wisdom as
she, and it was absolutely necessary to guard her against the
machinations of profligate spendthrifts; but if she _could_ have fallen
in with the excellent arrangements that had been made for her, without
repugnance and suffering, what great cause for thankfulness there would
have been!

So, although she never wavered in her determination to do what she
considered her duty, she did it, not only with judgment, but with the
utmost gentleness and consideration.

She took Rachel to call on certain shabby and faded women who had made
rash marriages with poor or unsteady men, that she might see the
consequences of such imprudence in the sordid tastelessness of their
dress and their household furniture.

She likewise presented to her notice the charming spectacle of a young
bride of fashion, as she "received" on her return from her honeymoon,
surrounded by all the refinements of wealth and culture in a
perfectly-appointed home.

She spoke incidentally, but often, of the habits and customs of fast
young men, in general and in particular, drawing picturesque
illustrations from her own experience, which tended to show that they
invariably made love to every girl they came across, and forgot all
about her the moment her back was turned. She showed her poetic
photographs of foreign cities; she taught her the value of old lace and
china.

And by these and other insidious devices, she really contrived to do
something towards weakening the impression that Mr. Dalrymple had made,
and strengthening the antagonistic cause.

But when the week was over, and she took her young charge back to her
mother, intending to apply for an extension of leave, that she might
pursue the treatment that had proved so beneficial, alas! all her
patient work was undone in a moment, like the web of the Lady of
Shalott, when she left off spinning to look at the irresistible Sir
Lancelot riding by.

They arrived at the Toorak house rather late in the afternoon, after a
visit to the Public Library to see the last new picture, and one or two
entertaining calls; and they were told that Mrs. Hardy was out, but was
expected in every minute.

Rachel jumped down from the carriage first, and ran lightly up the white
steps into the hall, with a pleasant greeting to the servant who
admitted her; and there she stood a few seconds, to look round upon all
the familiar appointments, as people do when they return home after an
absence.

And as she looked, her eye fell upon a card on the hall table, which she
immediately picked up.

"John," she called sharply, wheeling round upon him with a sudden
fierceness of excitement that Mrs. Reade, a dozen yards off, understood
to mean disaster of some sort; "John, when did this gentleman call?"

"About half an hour ago, miss."

"Oh, _John_--only half an hour!"

"He said he would call again to-morrow, miss."

Mrs. Reade came softly into the hall, carelessly adjusting her long
train behind her.

"Who is it, dear?" she asked. But she had already guessed who it was.

Rachel held out the little slip of pasteboard with an unsteady,
shrinking hand. She could not speak. There was a great light and flush
of excitement in her face, which yet was as full of fear as joy.

"Roden Dalrymple," murmured Beatrice, reading hesitatingly, as if the
name were unfamiliar to her. "Is not that one of Lucilla's friends?"

"Yes," said Rachel, drawing a long breath and speaking softly. "He was
at Adelonga when we were there. He went away to Queensland, but--he has
come back."

"Evidently he has. What a pity we missed him. He may have brought us
some news from Adelonga. Oh, dear me, don't you want your tea very
badly? I do. John go and get us some tea, will you?"

Mrs. Reade did not intend to commit herself to any course of action
until she had time to think over this new and most embarrassing
complication, so she dismissed Mr. Dalrymple from the conversation.

Rachel turned the card about in her hands, reading its inscription over
and over again. She was going to carry it away; but she reluctantly went
back and laid it where she had found it. Then she followed Beatrice into
the drawing-room like one in a dream.

The little woman watched her closely from the corner of her bright eyes,
and she was terribly alarmed. She had had no idea until now what a
formidable person this Roden Dalrymple was. The girl was in a quiver of
excitement from head to foot. She wandered restlessly about the room,
vaguely fiddling at the furniture and ornaments; she could not control
her agitation.

John brought in the teapot, and Mrs. Reade peeled her gloves from her
small white hands, and rolling them into a soft ball, tossed them down
amongst the cups and saucers. She began to pour out the tea in silence,
wondering what in the world she had better do.

The silence was broken by the sound of carriage wheels crunching up the
drive. Rachel came to a standstill in the middle of the room, and
listened with a rigid intensity of expectation that was quite as painful
to her companion as her more demonstrative emotion had been.

They heard the bustle of Mrs. Hardy's arrival, heard John open the front
door, heard the sweep of silken draperies in the hall. And then they
heard a familiar voice, raised several notes above its ordinary pitch.

"John!"

"Yes'm."

"When did this gentleman call?"

"About an hour after you left'm."

"Did you tell him we were all out?"

"Yes'm. And he'll call again to-morrow, he says."

"Oh, indeed--will he! You'll just tell him, _whenever_ he calls, that I
am not at home, John--that _nobody_ is at home. Do you hear? That
gentleman is not to be admitted."

"Oh, you stupid woman!" Mrs. Reade sighed to herself, not meaning to be
disrespectful, but grudging to see delicate work marred by inartistic
hands.

And then she looked at Rachel, and realised the catastrophe that had
occurred. All the colour had gone out of the sensitive face, all its
agitation, all the soft, submissive tenderness that had characterised
it hitherto. She looked straight before her, with stern eyes full of
indignant passion, and with her lips set in a hard, thin line.

The meek little child, who had been so easy to manage, was going to
assert the rights of womanhood, and to take the conduct of her affairs
into her own hands.



CHAPTER VIII.

"THE LIGHT THAT NEVER WAS ON SEA OR LAND."


Mr. Dalrymple was in Melbourne for almost the whole of the time that he
had intended to spare from his partner and his property in Queensland,
which was nearly three weeks, and he never once succeeded in
communicating with Rachel, which was the special mission on which he had
come down.

He called at the Toorak house again and again, and was always told that
the ladies were not at home.

There was not much else that he could do at this stage of courtship,
knowing nothing of Rachel's circumstances in connection with Mr.
Kingston, and having had no definite assurances of her disposition
towards himself; but he did this persistently, until he became suddenly
aware that Mrs. Hardy did not mean to admit him.

Then he wrote a short note to Mr. Gordon, containing certain
instructions in the way of business, and an intimation that he might
have to stay in town longer than he had anticipated, and, therefore, was
not to be calculated upon at present.

Having despatched which, he addressed himself to the matter he had in
hand, with a quiet determination to carry it through, sooner or later,
by some means.

It was not his way to plot and scheme clandestinely, but being driven to
do it, he did it promptly and with vigour.

He wrote a long letter to Rachel, reviewing with delicate significance
the position in which they had stood to one another on the day of their
parting at Adelonga, and formally offering himself for her acceptance;
and he begged her to appoint some time and place where, if she were
willing, she could give herself and him an opportunity for coming to a
mutual understanding.

This letter he did not put into the post, being naturally distrustful of
Mrs. Hardy, but he carried it in his pocket ready for any chance that
might enable him to deliver it with his own hands--for which chance he
began to search with diligence in every place of public resort where
Rachel would be likely to appear.

Rachel, in the meantime, was distracted with suspense and misery. She
saw all possibilities of a legitimate meeting relentlessly and
effectually circumvented.

She was kept under such strict surveillance that she did not even see
her lover's face, except on one occasion, when she was at the opera, and
when, sitting between her aunt and Mr. Kingston, she was afraid to lift
her eyes to look at him.

She could do nothing in her own behalf, while she was uncertain of his
intentions. She felt herself more and more hopelessly in the toils of
her engagement, as day by day, Mr. Kingston--who yet had mysteriously
changed somehow--became more and more obtuse to the state of her mind
towards him, and more and more persistently affectionate and amiable,
and as day by day, Mrs. Hardy, grown hard and unsympathetic, impressed
more and more strongly upon her the fact that she was a penniless and
friendless orphan who owed everything that she had to her.

And all the time she loathed the very sound of Mr. Kingston's voice and
the very touch of his hand, with an unreasoning passion of repugnance
that she had never thought it possible she could feel for one who had
been so kind to her; and as a natural consequence--or cause--she was
consumed with a sleepless fever of expectation and longing for that
other lover whom she loved.

But such a state of things could not last, and after all it came to an
end much sooner than either of them expected.

There came a night when Mr. and Mrs. Hardy had to go to a stately dinner
party which did not include young girls. A most lovely night it was, in
perhaps the loveliest month of the year, when there was no need to put
candles in the carriage lamps, and no need for a fire in the big green
drawing-room, where between seven and eight o'clock Rachel was left to
amuse herself, in apparent safety, until bed time. A young moon shone in
at the open windows before the mellow daylight was gone, as Mrs. Hardy,
in rustling silk and tinkling jewels, entered to say good-night.

The evening wind went whispering round the house, ruffling a thousand
tufts of bougainvillea that embossed the outer wall, and breathing into
the dim room the sweetness of early roses and the fresh fragrance of the
sea.

To Rachel, ever afterwards, it was the most beautiful night that the
world had known.

"Now, my dear, John will light the gas for you--two burners will do
to-night, John--and you can practise your music undisturbed. Don't leave
the windows open any longer; it will be chilly by and bye. And don't sit
up late. Good-night."

"Good-night, auntie," responded Rachel.

She proffered the regulation kiss in an absent manner, nodded with a
smile to her uncle, who was waiting outside, and stood on the threshold
of a French window to watch the carriage until it passed out of the
gates and disappeared.

Then instead of going to practise her music, she went out and sat down
on the top of one of the square pedestals that flanked the steps of the
terrace upon which the window opened, and clasped her hands about her
knees.

John left the window open for her, lit the gas and the piano candles,
returned to find her still sitting in the same place, as if she had not
stirred, and went away to make his own arrangements for a pleasant
evening.

Half an hour later she was wandering about the garden, heedless of the
chill that was creeping on with nightfall, and looking before her with
eyes so full of dreams that they did not see where she was going
to--gliding up and down the level terraces like a ghost in the dusky
twilight, with the silver of the moonshine on her golden hair.

And then, by mere mechanical submission to the force of habit, she found
herself presently at that back gate which overlooked "the house,"
leaning her arms upon the upper rail, and staring at the low ridges of
gleaming wall a few dozen yards off, which were rising as it seemed to
her, with the rapidity of magic from the foundations that had taken so
long to do, the stony embodiment of a relentless fate.

It was very quiet there to-night. No swarms of carpenters, and
bricklayers, and stonemasons; no idle boys gaping at them over the
fence; no people walking and driving about the road.

She tried the gate, and found it locked; then she climbed lightly over
it, and holding up her skirts, stole across the strip of arid waste that
lay between it and the nucleus of the building which was once to have
been her palace, and now could only be her prison-house, eager to
discover anything she could that would indicate the real progress that
was being made.

She threaded her course daintily through heaps of brick and stone and
broken _débris_; she entered the skeleton house by its gaping porch, and
she wandered about the labyrinth of its passages and vestibules, feeling
her way with cautious feet and outstretched hands, until she came to her
own boudoir; and there she sat down on a joist of the flooring, and
laid her face on her knees and cried.

The sweetness of the solitary night, quite as much as the sight of all
those permanently-adjusted ground-floor door and window frames, melted
her into these sudden tears, full as she was of the aching rapture of
her love and trouble, which needed but a touch to overflow. The
possibility of a human spectator of her emotion never for a moment
occurred to her.

However, Mr. Roden Dalrymple had also taken it into his head to have an
after-dinner walk in the moonlight, and happening for a very good
reason, to be prowling about in this neighbourhood, he had seen the
slender little figure gliding across the open space between the back
gate and the new building, and he had guessed in a moment whose it was.

And so, as Rachel sat with her feet in subterranean darkness, her hands
clasping her knees just above the level of the floor that was to be, and
her face hidden in her lap, she heard a sound, suggestive of midnight
robbers and murderers, that for a moment paralysed her timid heart; and
then a voice, calling her softly,

"Miss Fetherstonhaugh! Do not be frightened. It is only I--Roden
Dalrymple."

He came in through the gap of the doorway, while she stared at him and
held her breath; he stepped swiftly and lightly from joist to joist
until he reached the corner where she was sitting.

Then he sat down beside her quietly, as if he were taking a place she
had been keeping for him; and the next moment--with no question asked
and no explanation given--they were sealing the most sacred of all
contracts irrevocably, in the silence of the solemn night.

It was well for Rachel that, with all his faults, Roden Dalrymple was
not the reprobate he was supposed to be, but a man of stainless honour,
in whose keeping the welfare of an ignorant and imprudent girl was safe;
for--from the day when she went into the conservatory with him in the
first hours of their acquaintance, stranger as he was, and she the most
modest of girls, simply because he asked her--she had laid herself,
metaphorically, at his feet--too simple and single in all her aims and
impulses not to love unreservedly when she began to love at all, too
strong in her young enthusiasm for her own ideals to be hampered by
doubts either of herself or him, too thoroughly natural and ingenuous to
disguise her heart or to bend it to the yoke of conventional law and
order.

Now she gave herself up at once, turning to meet his outstretched arms,
lifting her face to his strong and eager kisses with a passionate
responsiveness and abandonment that, while it infinitely quickened his
love and gratitude, showed him plainly that all the responsibility of
her future happiness would rest with him.

"Oh," she said, with a long sighing sob, "I have wanted you so!"

"Have you, indeed?" he replied, tightening his arms about her with a
gesture that was more significant than speech. "My little love, you
shall never want me any more, if I can help it."

These were the terms of their "initial marriage ceremony."

And it is just to Mr. Dalrymple to say that he not only never took the
slightest advantage of the irregularities that she innocently allowed,
but--at any rate, not until long afterwards--he never even saw them.

That they were candid and truthful in themselves and to one another was
from the first the essential bond between them, otherwise unlike as they
were; and to him the absence of the usual maidenly reticence and
reluctance displayed on these occasions indicated, all circumstances
considered, rather a finer delicacy of nature than the ordinary, and
never the faintest suspicion that she held the treasures of love and
womanhood cheaply, even for his sake.

Feeling no need of further explanation--understanding one another, by
that subtle sense which defies analysis, that instinctive recognition of
spiritual kinship which, in its early development, was to them what is
called "love at first sight," but which had in it the germs of a true
companionship and comradeship that might defy all the accidents of time
and chance--they sat for a few blessed silent moments side by side, she
with her young head leaning trustfully against his worn brown face, not
wanting to speak, unwilling even to think of all the difficulties that
lay in ambush around them, ready to break into this ineffable peace with
the breaking of the silence; looking over a low window-sill before them
into the quiet night, with grave and happy eyes--at Melbourne, lying in
a glorified haze of twilight beneath them, and at the silver of the sea
beyond.



CHAPTER IX.

ELEVEN P.M.


"Rachel," said Mr. Dalrymple presently, speaking her name as if he had
had it in familiar use for years, "I suppose you have broken off with
_him?_"

Rachel did not reply for a few seconds; he felt her trembling in his
arms.

"Oh, forgive me," she whispered, turning her face a hair's-breadth
nearer to his as he stooped to listen.

And then she told him all the story of her engagement, as far as her new
experiences enabled her to read it, and all the circumstances which had
combined to keep her still in captivity so long after she should have
been free.

The simple narrative gave even him, who was rather inclined to make
molehills of mountains, a sense of the difficulties of the situation,
that kept him silent for a few minutes in unwonted perplexity of mind.

"How old are you?" he asked abruptly, at last.

"I shall be nineteen in three weeks," she answered.

"You are sure you won't be twenty-one?"

"I'm sure I shan't. Why?"

"Because if you are only nineteen, I cannot carry you off and marry you,
love, which would have been the simplest way out of it."

"I should not like that way," whispered Rachel. "It would be a wrong
way."

"Yes, dear--except as a last resource. Of course we would try all the
other ways first. But we must have our rights, you know. If they won't
give them, we must take them--we must get them as we can."

"Cannot we be married until I am twenty-one?" she queried timidly.

"Not without your guardian's consent. Is there any chance of my getting
that, or any kind of toleration even, if I call on him at his office
to-morrow and use all the eloquence at my command?"

"No. Aunt Elizabeth won't let _him_ have anything to do with it."

"If I call on her, then?"

"Oh, no--not the slightest. In the first place, she won't see you. And
if she did--oh, no, you must not try--not yet! I think it would make
everything worse than it is already."

"Then you see the alternative?--a separation for perhaps two whole
years."

"If I know we are going to be so happy at the end of it----"

"Ah--at the end of it! It will be a fine test for you, Rachel."

"Why for me, any more than for you? Oh, don't talk of tests!" she
pleaded; "I only want to feel sure I shall never lose you, and I don't
mind waiting two years. If only----"

"If only what?"

"If only Mr. Kingston would go away!"

"Now listen to me," he said gently, but with his grave peremptoriness,
"you must not let another day pass without breaking off with him. You
must _send_ him away, Rachel. I am sorry for him, poor devil, but you
couldn't do him a worse wrong than let him go on deceiving himself about
you."

"Oh, do you think I would do that? Of course I will not. I can do it
_now_--now that you have come. For now I shall feel strong, and now I
can tell them why. I shall write him a letter before I go to bed, and I
shall tell Aunt Elizabeth as soon as I have sent it. But what will they
say to me? It will be dreadful."

"Poor little woman! Can't I take the dreadful part of it for you? _I_
shan't mind it."

"You can't. I know it will be better for us both if you will not have
anything to do with it just yet."

"I think I _must_ see your uncle, dear, before I go away again."

"Well--if you think it best. But it will do no good with Aunt Elizabeth.
He leaves it all to her."

Mr. Dalrymple gazed thoughtfully at the distant horizon, where little
points of yellow twinkled in the silvery obscurity of the moonshiny bay.

He was deeply troubled and perplexed about this tender little creature,
and the idea of leaving her to bear the brunt of unknown trials for his
sake, seemed too preposterous to be taken seriously. And yet what else
could he do?

"Tell me," he said presently, stroking her silky head as it lay on his
breast, "tell me what is the worst that can happen to you, Rachel?"

"The worst," sighed Rachel, "will be hearing Aunt Elizabeth tell me that
I have repaid all her generosity and kindness to me with ingratitude and
treachery."

"That will be very bad. But you will have to try and make her understand
the real right and justice of it, love. She must see it, unless she is
stone blind. She can't expect us to outrage all the laws of nature to
suit her narrow schemes. You don't think there will be anything still
worse?--that she will make your life wretched by making you feel your
dependence--that kind of thing?"

"I am not sure," said Rachel. "She has been very, very good to me; but
lately--since she has got suspicious about you--she has been hard.
However, if the worst comes to the worst, I can go and be a governess or
companion somewhere until you are ready for me."

"No, Rachel, no; you must promise to tell me if you are persecuted in
any way--if you are miserable in your aunt's house--and my sister Lily
will take care of you. You are not to let the worst come to the
worst--do you hear? You must let me know of anything that happens, and
I will come at once and see about it. Oh, my poor little one, I begin to
realise what sacrifices you will have to make for me! Will you think the
game was worth the candle, I wonder, when you are as old as I am?"

"Yes," said Rachel; "I know I shall--if you will be as contented with me
then as you are now."

"Do you _really_ think you have counted the cost?" he persisted
anxiously. "Remember, you were going to marry Mr. Kingston, because you
thought it would be nice to be rich and to live in a grand house and to
wear diamonds."

"That was before I had seen _you_. I don't want to be rich now. Indeed,
I would rather not."

"Has anybody told you how poor I am?"

"Yes," she whispered, stealing a timid hand to his shoulder. "I have
been thinking of it. Beatrice says it is a mistake for poor men to
marry--that they cripple their career. But I hope--I think--_I_ shall
not be any burden to you. Once I was poor, too, and I know all about it,
and I can manage with a very little. I think I could help you in lots of
ways, and not be a hindrance."

"A hindrance, indeed!" he interrupted. "My darling, if I had you for my
companion, life would be sweet enough for me, under any circumstances.
It was your comfort and happiness I was thinking of."

"I only want to be with you," she said, under her breath. "I don't care
where--I don't care how."

"_Really_, Rachel?"

"Really, indeed."

"You are so young! Think what a number of years you have before you, in
all probability. If you should lose the colour out of your life too
soon, if you should have to drudge--but I won't let you drudge," he
added, with a sudden touch of fierceness, "I will take care of you, and
you shall have all you want. It _won't_ be a sacrifice--not even all
this"--looking round him--"if you give it up for a man you love, who has
health and strength to work for you. It would make you miserable if you
had it. You know it would?"

"I do know it," she responded, without a moment's hesitation.

She had finally made up her mind that after all material poverty was not
the worst of life's misfortunes. Indeed, provided the element of debt
were absent, she thought it might in Roden Dalrymple's company, "far
from the madding crowd," in the lonely wilds of Queensland, be rather
pleasant than otherwise; for it would mean the delight of working for
and helping one another, and a blessed freedom from interruption and
restraint in the enjoyment of that wonderful married life which would be
theirs.

"But I should like to know what made you take to me," he went on, in the
immemorial fashion, stroking her soft face. "I should like to know why
you chose, for your first love--I am your first, am I not, Rachel?"

"You _know_ you are. And it was no matter of choice with me--you know
that, too."

"A man who made shipwreck of his fortunes for another woman almost
before you were born----"

"Hush!" interrupted Rachel. "I have no rights in your past, and I don't
want any. This present is mine, and that is enough for me."

"A battered old vagabond----"

"No," she persisted; "I won't allow you to call yourself a vagabond. It
is bad enough to hear other people do it."

"After seeing him under what one would be inclined to consider, well,
anything but favourable auspices--for how many days, Rachel?"

"Oh," she said, hiding a scarlet face, "don't remind me of that! It was
too soon--but I could not help it."

"The sooner the better, my sweet--if it lasts," he responded, kissing
her with solemn passion; "and I will _make_ it last."

"Do not be afraid of that," she whispered eagerly. "I know I am young--I
know one ought not to be too positive about the future--but I _feel_
that it will be impossible to help loving you always, even if I try not
to, which I certainly shan't. I am sure I began it when I saw you riding
across the racecourse that day--I am sure I shall not stop any more as
long as I live. I don't think there can be another man in the world like
you."

And so they talked, until it occurred to one of them to wonder what the
time was. Mr. Dalrymple struck a match and looked at his watch, Rachel
shielding the small flame from the wind with her hand.

"Oh," she exclaimed in dismay, "what would Aunt Elizabeth say if she
knew I was sitting out here at eleven o'clock at night!"

"Call it eleven p.m.," he suggested, looking at her with his slow smile;
"that sounds so much better."

"Did you think it was so late? The time has flown."

"I _felt_ it flying," he replied. "But I did not think it was so late.
I'm afraid you must go home, little one. Oh, dear me, when shall we have
such a time again! Will you come here to-morrow night, and tell me how
you have got over your day's troubles?"

This was not a proposal that Rachel could accept comfortably, nor that
he could bring himself to press upon her. But when they came to
reconsider their position and necessities, it was hard to find an
alternative.

"You see, I must go back to Queensland in a day or two," Mr. Dalrymple
explained, when, having taken her out of her hole and dusted her skirts
with his handkerchief, he led her through the labyrinth of walls into
the open moonlight, and they paused, hand in hand, for a few last words.
"We have an immense deal to do up there, and Gordon wants me. I must
look after getting things together for you too. There is not even a roof
for your head yet. But I can't bear to leave town without knowing first
how matters are likely to go with you."

"If you _should_ be obliged to do that--if I _cannot_ see you again,"
said Rachel, "when will you come back?"

"I will come back in--let me see, this is October--in two months. I will
be back at Christmas. I should have liked to see your uncle to-morrow,
just that there should be no mistake about what I mean to do; but if you
think it will make things harder for you, I won't, of course. You shall
just tell Kingston what you like, and the rest of them I will enlighten
when I come. By that time he will be out of the way and done with, and
we shall have a straight road before us."

"Yes," said Rachel, sighing; "I think that will be best. And perhaps, by
that time, Aunt Elizabeth will let you in."

"If she doesn't, I shall bombard the house."

"You will be _sure_ to be back at Christmas?"

"If I am alive, dear, and a free agent--certainly. And I shall find you
ready for me then?"

"Oh, yes!"

With this compact between them, and the giving to Rachel of her lover's
town address, and very explicit directions as to where she might find
him at any given hour when she might happen to want him until the day of
his departure, they kissed one clinging, lingering kiss in motionless
silence, and bade one another--though they did not know it--a long
farewell.

"Which is your window, Rachel? Can I see it from here?"

She pointed to it in silence, it was very distinct just now in the
moonshine, between two dark pine trees. She was crying a little, and she
could not speak.

"I will be here to-morrow night," he said; "and if you _can't_ come out
to me, have a light in your room at twelve o'clock, darling, to let me
know you are all right."

And then they separated; and Rachel felt rather than saw her way home,
so dazzled with tears was she, while Roden Dalrymple at her desire
remained behind and watched her.

She went straight into the house and upstairs to her room, to gather
together, in a feverish hurry of renunciation, all her diamonds and
jewels, which like Dead Sea apples, had suddenly become dust.

And he, long after she was gone,--long after Mrs. Hardy's carriage
returned, and all the chimes in the city had rung the midnight
hour--lingered where she had left him, leaning his arms on a convenient
wall, watching a lighted window, and thinking. He was very happy. He had
come unawares upon his happiness, when he was most in need of it, and it
seemed to him that it was the best he could have had.

Anything sweeter than this fresh and simple heart, which was satisfied
to invest all its wealth in him--anything brighter than the future she
had spread before him--he did not want or wish for. It was the amplest
compensation that he could imagine for the mistakes and disappointments
of his wasted past.

And yet, though he was hardly conscious of it--though he would not have
owned to it if he had been--he had a vague misgiving about her. He did
not wish that she had been less easy to win; he had no fear that she was
mistaking a sentimental girlish fancy for love; he did not for a moment
apprehend that she would forsake or wrong him.

But there was a suggestion of untried and untested youth about all the
circumstances of this sudden betrothal, as far as she had influenced
them, and there was an intangible suspicion that somewhere she was
weak.

He did not recognise, and therefore did not formulate, the sentiment
that infused that touch of grave and sad anxiety into his happy
meditations; but, nevertheless, it was there, and the time came when it
was justified.



CHAPTER X.

MRS. READE'S ADVICE.


Rachel was not a heroine. She was simply a sweet and interesting girl;
except that she was unusually pretty, by no means above the ordinary
level of nice girls. She was better than a great many that we are
acquainted with, no doubt, but she was not so good as some.

And she had, as has been already indicated, that fault which, of all
faults, perhaps, is most common to girls, whether nice or
otherwise--that amiable weakness that is more disastrous in its
consequences than many a downright vice--she was, if not quite a coward,
cowardly.

She was afraid to meet difficulties in the open, as it were--to attack
the main body and scatter them, and have done with it; she sheltered
herself in ambush, and made desultory attacks on flank and rear with
temporary compromises, hating the thought of duplicity and longing to do
right, yet most of all dreading the violent, harsh hurt to tender
sensibilities (whether her own or other people's) that was inevitable in
the shock of a pitched battle.

It is a defect in a woman's character very much to be deplored, of
course, and it is one that seems unpardonable to a strong-minded person.

Nevertheless, it is much more of a misfortune than a fault (and we may
as well say the same, while we are about it, of all our constitutional
defects, from red hair to kleptomania, since we did not choose our
parents nor the social conditions to which we were born); and to Rachel,
whose instinctive truthfulness and high sense of moral rectitude
prompted her to struggle hard, if vainly, against it, it was purely a
misfortune, and at no time in her life more so than now.

For, after turning the question over and over in her mind through all
that feverish and wakeful night, she finally decided that in breaking
off her engagement with Mr. Kingston she would not mention, either to
him or to anyone else, the place that Mr. Dalrymple now occupied in her
affections and affairs.

As no one was aware of their having met, and as he was coming back
himself so soon to clear up everything much better than she could, she
persuaded herself that it would be not only unnecessary, but in the
highest degree inexpedient, to aggravate the inevitable pain and
difficulty that was before her and all of them.

Hating his very name as they did, would she not expose her lover to
insult, and his motives and actions to misconception, and probably
prejudice their chances of happiness irrevocably?

And at the same time do no good whatever, but only add an element of
unspeakable bitterness to the disappointment of her aunt, and to the
mortification of her already ill-used and much-wronged _fiancé_, and, as
a matter of detail, an incalculable amount of difficulty to her own
sufficiently formidable task? She was certain that she would, and she
felt that she could not, and need not do it.

It took her all night to mature her course of action, but having finally
brought herself to believe that it was not only so much the easiest to
herself, but in every way the best for all concerned, to ignore Mr.
Dalrymple for the present, she committed herself to it by writing a
long letter to Mr. Kingston--a tender, penitent, self-accusing letter,
in which she begged him to forgive her for having discovered so much too
late that they were unsuited to one another, and prayed that he might
some day be happier with a better woman than it was in her power to make
him, and that he would ever believe her his attached and grateful
friend, without suggesting the existence or possibility of any other
lover, present or to be.

The natural results followed. Mr. Kingston, seeing no sufficient reason
for these sudden strong measures, refused to treat them seriously.

He was quite aware, and it troubled him deeply, that she was not happy
in her engagement, and he was very jealous and suspicious of Mr.
Dalrymple, whom he had seen once or twice about town; but he had set his
heart upon her, as we say, with the perverse obstinacy of a fickle man
who had been spoiled by women's flattery, and the more she seemed to
shrink from him the more he wanted to have her, and the more he was
determined not to let her go if he could possibly help it.

His love not only lacked reciprocity--without which love is never worthy
to be spelt with a capital L--but it was so diluted with all sorts of
vanities and egotisms that, though its flavour was there, the potent
spirit was absent, and he was incapable of making a sacrifice for her
happiness at the expense of his own.

When he solemnly assured himself that he loved her as he had never loved
anyone before, and that he could not and would not give her up--when he
declared, moreover, that he was ready to spend his future life in her
service, and would take his chance of making her care for him--he not
only told the truth, as far as he understood it, but perhaps he touched
the highest point of heroism of which his selfish nature was capable.

All the same, the strong necessities of the case were the carrying out
of the great enterprise which was symbolised by the half-built house,
and the realisation of his schemes for his own enjoyment; the possession
(and the securing from other men) of the most attractive, the most
admired, and to him most loveable woman of his set, who had so to speak
given him a legal lien upon her person; the maintenance of his social
position and dignity, and the avoidance of ridicule and embarrassment.

So when he had read Rachel's letter, with a great expense of bad
language in the first place, and of wise reflection subsequently, he
made up his mind that it was merely the result of their Adelonga
differences, which had been rankling in her sensitive heart, and not the
formal resignation that he would be required to accept.

"No, no, young lady," he said to himself, as he made a careful toilet
before setting forth to see her, "I have not sacrificed my liberty and
all my comfortable habits, at your instigation and for your sake, to
take my _congé_ at the eleventh hour in this way."

And then he cast about in his mind anxiously for ways and means whereby
he might meet and overcome this strange reluctance, which not only
seemed to him a cruel injury and injustice after all he had done for
her, but really distressed him acutely, and made him extremely unhappy.

Was there anything amongst Kilpatrick's glittering treasures that would
tempt her to smile and kiss him, and be sorry that she had given him
this heartless blow?

He felt to-day that he would spend a thousand pounds cheerfully for
anything that would please her.

But at the same time he was uneasily conscious that even the largest
and purest diamonds would not appreciably affect the situation.

She was no longer open to these fascinations, as she used to be; several
little circumstances had convinced him of that.

It was a bad sign, he feared; but he hoped it indicated nothing more
serious than that the novelty of wealth and luxury had worn off.

He recognised its existence so far that he went on his delicate mission
to Toorak, trusting to his own merits and eloquence, with no bribes of
any sort in his pocket.

After all, he did not see Rachel that day. She was weeping hysterically
in her bedroom at the top of the house, and therefore was not
presentable.

Mrs. Hardy, much excited and discomposed by the shock she had just
received (on being told by Rachel that she had not only written a letter
to her _fiancé_, to break off her engagement, but had _sent_ it),
received him in the drawing-room, and did the best that wisdom, at such
short notice, suggested to repair the catastrophe which she had been
powerless to prevent.

She tried to smile and joke, in a considerate and well-bred manner; she
rallied him upon his misconduct in the matter of Miss Hale, which had
evidently been at the bottom of all the mischief, gently pointing out to
him that a sensitive nature like Rachel's, and a tender heart that loved
and trusted him, could not be played with, even in the conventional
fashion, with impunity.

And then she hastened to explain the suddenness and unexpectedness of
this "freak;" how sure she was that it had been perpetrated under the
influence of a fit of temper or dejection, or some other unhealthy
condition of mind; how equally sure she was that it was already repented
of--though, of course, it was not for her to give an opinion or to
interfere. All of which would have been very proper and sensible, but
that the effect was marred by a bubbling under-current of angry
excitement that her utmost efforts could not hide.

Mr. Kingston watched and listened, with smiling self-possession. Finding
that he was not to see Rachel, nor to get any fresh information, he did
not prolong the interview. He had no confidence in Mrs. Hardy--few men
had, in matters of this kind. He received her communications in a
friendly manner, as one receives an embassy under a flag of truce; he
never thought of allowing himself to be influenced by them one way or
the other, or of asking her assistance and advice.

As soon as courtesy permitted, he bowed himself out of her presence,
with magnanimous expressions of good-will and a request that nothing
might be be said or done to distress or embarrass Rachel. And then he
got into his cab thoughtfully, and went to South Yarra to call on Mrs.
Reade.

It was not one of this young lady's reception days, as no one knew
better than himself; nor had she left her house in pursuit of tea and
gossip at other people's "afternoons," as he half expected would be the
case.

The sprightly maid-servant (all Mrs. Reade's servants were maids, and
all of them sprightly), who opened the door to his thundering knock,
recognising a privileged friend of the family, admitted him with
alacrity; and he walked into the drawing-room and found his hostess
sitting there alone, nestling in one of her seductive low chairs with an
open letter on her knee.

She, too, had just received the news of Rachel's escapade; the letter,
full of dashing and incoherent sentences, was in Mrs. Hardy's
handwriting, and had arrived half an hour ago from Toorak. But there
were no signs of excitement and discomposure about this little person,
who rose to meet him, looking cool and bright, with even the suspicion
of a twinkle in her eyes.

"Have you come for a gossip?" she asked, looking up at him with friendly
frankness. "Because if you have you had better send your cab away. I am
going out at five o'clock, and I'll drive you into town."

The cab was sent away; and Mr. Kingston, with a feeling of comfort and
safety about him, sat down in a bow-windowed recess, in his favourite of
all the cunningly-devised chairs, and with his elbows on his knees,
began to fiddle with the top of a silk sock, at the toe of which his
companion was now knitting industriously.

"Is this for Ned?" he inquired, after a pause.

"Now, isn't that a superfluous question?" she replied, holding it up.
"Look at the size of it. Could any foot but his fill out that enormous
bag? Of course it is for Ned. Don't you know it is the new fashion for
wives to knit their husband's socks? One must be in the fashion, even if
one's husband is a giant."

"Very nice for one's husband. It seems beautifully soft; pretty colour,
too." Then, after a pause, "Does Rachel know how to knit?"

"Yes," said Mrs. Reade, calmly; "we both learned together while she was
staying with me, and she does it much quicker than I do. I suppose you
are thinking you would like to participate in the benefits of the
fashion too?" she added, lifting her face suddenly, with a quick look in
her bright eyes that was like the opening of a masked battery.

"If I thought that Rachel would ever knit socks for me, for the pleasure
of it----" He paused with a change and break in his voice, regarding her
wistfully.

Mrs. Reade immediately made a sheaf of her needles, wound them up in the
sock, and impaled her ball of silk upon them. "Tell me," she said,
folding her hands on her knees in a business-like manner, "tell me, what
has Rachel been doing?"

"Don't you know? She has written to me to break off our engagement."

"What for?"

"I can't imagine--she doesn't say. I thought _you_ might be able to help
me to find that out."

Mrs. Reade looked at him in silence for a few seconds, kindly and
gravely. Even she felt herself a little at a loss as to what course to
pursue.

"What have you done?" she asked abruptly.

"Nothing. I went up to see her just now, but I was disappointed. She
could not, or would not, come in. I rather fancy your mother had been
scolding her."

"I have no doubt she had. She doesn't approve of independence on the
part of young people."

"I won't have her scolded," Mr. Kingston broke out, with sudden
vehemence. "If I like to blame her, that is another matter. I won't
have her set against me by other people. Nothing would make her hate me
more than that kind of thing."

Mrs. Reade felt the justice of this protest, but she did not see fit to
discuss her mother's little mistakes. "What are you going to do?" she
inquired.

"Do you mean am I going to take my dismissal in this off-hand way? No,
certainly not. After all the time we have been engaged--after all that
has come and gone between us--after all the preparations that have been
made--it would be _too_ preposterous! I should be the laughing-stock of
the colony."

"That would be very sad," said Mrs. Reade, with her head on one side.

"Now be a good little woman, and don't jeer at me--I didn't come to you
for that. You know--or you ought to know--that I am horribly upset and
miserable about all this business, and that I want you to help me."

"I don't see how I can help you," she said.

"Tell me about Rachel. What is the matter with her? What does she mean?"

"Well, evidently she means that she doesn't want to marry you," sighed
Mrs. Reade. "Tiresome child, why didn't she think of it before?"

"Why should she think of it now? Oh, yes, I know she has not been keen
about it for some time, as she should have been. But she has not seemed
to _dislike_ it; she has looked forward to it as much a matter of
course as--as it has been to all the rest of us. And I felt so sure it
would be all right--that I could make her as happy as possible--when we
were once married and she had settled down!"

It was not often that Mrs. Reade was perplexed, but now--between her
duty to her family, her strong affection for Rachel, and her desire to
assist her friend--she really did not know what to do. While she was
silent, struggling with the dilemma in her active mind, Mr. Kingston
went on.

"It is since she went to Adelonga that she has changed so much. Haven't
you noticed?"

"You did not behave very well to her at Adelonga, you know."

"Who told you that? Did she?"

"Never mind who told me. There is never any secrecy about your
proceedings--I will give you that credit. You treated her very badly at
Lucilla's ball."

"Not worse than she treated me," he began, impetuously; and then he
paused and looked at his hostess. He was gentleman enough to shrink from
discussing Rachel's misdeeds in connection with "that Dalrymple fellow,"
but he longed to find out how much her wise cousin and late companion
knew. Mrs. Reade fingered her knitting with a placid and impenetrable
face.

"Tell me--you know Rachel so intimately--do you think----"

"Do I think what?"

"That there is anyone she cares for--more than she cares for me?"

He was impelled, against his better judgment, to ask this awkward
question. Mrs. Reade gathered herself together, so to speak; it was one
of those sudden emergencies that inspire a brave woman.

"If I thought she cared for anyone who was a better man, and could make
her happier than you," she said deliberately, looking him straight in
the face, "she should have him, or it would not be my fault."

"But she does not?"

"So far as I know she does not. But," she was an honest little woman,
and it gave her a pang to mislead him, even though she did it for what
seemed to her a good end, "but, at the same time, no doubt she does not
care for you as she ought to do."

"I hope that will come," he said cheerfully.

If only Mr. Dalrymple did not stand in his way, he felt all difficulties
manageable.

"It is a great risk; you ought to think well before you take it."

"I have thought well."

"And I will be no party to making _her_ take it against her will."

"But I think she will be willing if she is treated properly. Of course I
don't want to marry her by force. I want to bring her round to like it
as she used to like it. If there is nobody else, why not? And you _will_
help me, won't you?"

Mrs. Reade looked at him with bright and friendly eyes. He was really
taking it very well considering how badly he had been treated, and how
extremely susceptible he was to indignities of this, or indeed any
description. He certainly must be strangely in love with that perverse
child, she thought--much more in love than she had ever expected to see
him--to be able to put his wrongs in the background like this. He
deserved to be helped.

And as far as human judgment was to be trusted, to help him would be to
play Providence to Rachel.

"I will do what I can," she said kindly. "That is to say, I won't
interfere, but I'll give you good advice whenever you do me the honour
to ask for it."

"Thank you; I ask for it now. What do you advise me to do?"

She pondered a few moments, watching him thoughtfully.

"You are quite sure, once for all, that you think it worth while to
throw yourself away on an ungrateful little monkey who doesn't
appreciate you?"

"I'm quite sure I want to marry Rachel. I hope she will appreciate me,
but if she doesn't--well, I want to marry her all the same."

"And are willing to take the consequences?"

"Oh, yes; I'm not afraid of consequences--once the wedding is over."

He smiled as he made this almost sacrilegious assertion, which implied a
marital control of consequences that was offensive in the ears of the
little woman, who liked to see husbands kept in their proper places.

"Don't boast," she said sharply, "you might find yourself in a very
unpleasant position when the wedding was over. And you will, too, if you
don't mind."

The dialogue was interrupted at this point. A little brougham rattled
past the window on its way from the stable-yard to the front-door, and a
servant came in with tea.

Mrs. Reade looked at her watch, and her guest's face fell.

"Is it five o'clock?" he exclaimed testily; "and you have not given me
any advice!"

"Will you have a cup of tea?" she inquired, coolly.

"No, thank you. _Must_ you go out this afternoon?"

"Well, I could hardly countermand the carriage now, because you are
here, could I? We'll have a drive somewhere before we go in to town, and
I'll give you advice as we go along."

She drank her tea standing in the middle of the room, and then leaving
him to fret and fume by himself, went away to dress, and in the
retirement of her own apartment to concoct a definite scheme of action.

In a few minutes she came back alert and bright, in a very charming
French bonnet, and with yards of silken train behind her. She was ready
for him in every sense of the word.

As soon as they were out upon the road, and she had finished buttoning
a refractory glove, she said gravely, with an air of having solved all
doubts,

"Now I will tell you what you must do."

"Yes?"

"You must accept Rachel's dismissal."

"_What!_ I'm sure I shall not do anything of the kind."

Mrs. Reade laid herself back in the carriage and folded her hands.

"Very well," she said, calmly.

"No, but really--I beg your pardon--I don't understand you. Do you mean
I must just give her up and have done with it? Because you know it is
just that that I can't do."

"Not at all. But don't ask my opinion----"

"Oh, yes, _do_ tell me what you mean."

"Well, I was going to suggest that you see or write to Rachel and tell
her you will do what she wishes rather than distress her; but that,
while leaving her free, you will consider yourself still as much bound
to her as ever, and wait in hope that she will come back to you someday.
That kind of thing, you know."

"Oh, yes, that is all very well. And in the meantime I shall be getting
old--that is to say, I shall be losing time--and she will be sure to be
run after by other men the moment my back is turned."

"It will be better to lose a little time than to worry her now," said
Mrs. Reade. "If you draw off from her a little, she will miss you, and
then probably she will want you, and provided you left her assured of
your faithfulness, and didn't go flirting with Miss Hale and people, it
would be just the kind of delicate and chivalrous consideration for her
that she would appreciate. Yes, I know Rachel; it would touch her heart
deeply."

"But some other fellow might get hold of her--finding she was free, you
know."

"I think," said Mrs. Reade, smiling slightly, "that we may safely leave
my mother to look after that."

Upon consideration Mr. Kingston thought so too. He began to see
glimmerings of wisdom and reason in this proposed course.

"But your mother will have to be looked after herself," he said,
breaking a little pause abruptly. "If _I_ am not to worry Rachel,
nobody else shall."

"Of course. I will look after my mother."

"And suppose," he continued presently, deep in troubled thoughts,
"suppose she never renews the engagement after all?"

"Oh, well--suppose the world comes to an end to-morrow--we can't help
it!"

"Do you think she will?"

"I do think she will--honestly, I do--if you are patient and gentle, and
do as I tell you. She will be dull and lonely; she will miss you about
her, and not only you, but many pleasant things that are associated with
you; she will bethink herself that she has treated you badly--as indeed
she has--and she is so tender-hearted that it will fret her. And if she
sees you occasionally, not in season and out of season, but now and
then, at opportune times, and you do her little voluntary services in a
delicate and unobtrusive way--then some of these days, seeing you still,
she will suddenly think that she loves you, and--well, then it will be
all right, you know."

"Oh, I hope so!" he broke out, with a deep, impatient sigh--though it
was not a great deal to hope for when it came to be reckoned up. "But
how long will she be reaching that point?"

"It depends."

"And we were to have been married in a couple of months--three at the
most. Upon my honour, it _is_ too bad!"

"I shouldn't be surprised if you were married quite as soon as you
arranged to be," Mrs. Reade proceeded calmly, building this comfortable
theory upon the conviction that Mr. Dalrymple, in spite of his
persistence in calling at Toorak, was not the kind of man to remain
faithful to a ball-room fancy, nor to undertake anything so expensive
and so respectable as matrimony under the most favourable conjunction of
circumstances; and feeling sure that Rachel, with her clinging,
impulsive nature, finding her desires frustrated in this direction,
would be under an imperious necessity to seek--or, at any rate, to
accept--support elsewhere. "If I had her with me for six weeks, I think
I would not mind risking a small bet----"

"_Can't_ you have her with you?" Mr. Kingston interposed eagerly.

"No, I fear not. My mother would not consent to let her go from home
just now. The situation is too grave. But even as things are, if you
manage the child properly, I don't at all despair of seeing you
married--or, at any rate, engaged again--before the year is out. Very
far from it."

"I would give a thousand pounds at this moment if I could be certain
that that would be," sighed Mr. Kingston, plaintively.

"Only you must do what I tell you. I assure you, if you _want_ to
succeed, that is your best, if not your only chance. Will you do what I
tell you?"

"I will see Rachel first."

"Of course. See her and give her plainly to understand what a pain
and disappointment it is to you to give her up, and that you only do it
for her sake. Perhaps, if you talk it over with her, she will cancel her
letter, and it will be all right at once; in which case you had better
arrange for your marriage as quickly as possible. But if it should be
otherwise--if she should still press for a dissolution of her
engagement--let her go for a little while. It need not be for long."

"I think I will," said Mr. Kingston, thoughtfully. And he did.



CHAPTER XI.

UNTIL CHRISTMAS.


Mrs. Reade was accustomed not only to give advice and to see it taken,
but to see the wisdom of it justified in the success of its practical
application.

Nevertheless, she was more surprised than Mr. Kingston himself at the
great and good results which apparently followed her interference in his
affairs. Matters were a little critical for a week or two.

Of course he "saw" Rachel, and attacked the position which she had taken
up with all the forces at his command. He was, in his Mentor's judgment,
indiscreetly zealous and persevering; and the almost fierce obstinacy of
Rachel's resistance, which neither science nor brute force could
overcome, being an altogether anomalous demonstration of character, was
even more portentous.

But when presently Mr. Kingston, in a dignified and graceful letter,
accepted his defeat, while at the same time clearly intimating that the
withdrawal of his former pretensions in no way indicated any change in
his affections and fidelity, then everything seemed to go well.

The girl _was_ touched and grieved to the depths of her tender heart
for the wrong and the trouble that she had inflicted upon him, and was
in agonies of anxiety for his welfare.

"Do you think he will go back to Miss Brownlow?" she inquired one day of
Beatrice, with pathetic eyes full of tears; "and, oh, _do_ you think she
will make him happy?"

She was terribly taken aback when her cousin with much asperity
upbraided her with the heartlessness of the suggestion.

For a little while, having received her aunt's grudging acquiescence in
the dissolution of her engagement, having sent back all her jewels,
having surreptitiously despatched a note to her lover in Queensland
(which she implored him not to answer) to tell him that she was
honourably free, and living in the anticipation of his return, Rachel
began to blossom in beauty and brightness again, like a flower that
night had chilled in the warmth of morning sunshine.

It was, perhaps, a little discouraging to see how very much relieved and
refreshed she was in her freedom--that she did not even hanker after her
lost diamonds, and the riches and luxuries that had once been so
desirable and so precious; but Mrs. Reade, as was her custom, looked
below the surface of things, and found her compensations.

That the girl had recovered her balance, so to speak, and was in sound
health, mentally and physically, was of the first importance in this
sensible young woman's view of the case; and her eager friendliness to
Mr. Kingston whenever she met him--eager in proportion to the modesty of
his demands of course, and sometimes warm with impulsive tenderness such
as she had never voluntarily manifested in the days of her
engagement--seemed to foreshadow the most hopeful possibilities. Indeed,
if Mr. Kingston behaved well, Rachel, apart from her specific
misdemeanour, behaved even better.

Mrs. Hardy, outwardly conforming to her daughter's scheme, would not, or
could not, disguise her resentment at the failure of the original
enterprise, and visited it upon the girl, as perhaps was natural, more
roughly than she would have done had Rachel been her own child or less
deeply indebted to her.

She was ostentatiously cold and indifferent, or she was sarcastic, and
harsh, and rude; she was rigorous to the verge of tyranny in her
determination to allow no other man the smallest opportunity for
improving the occasion in the manner that Mr. Kingston had
indicated--withdrawing her niece from all the gay assemblies where she
had hitherto disported herself with so much enjoyment and _éclat_, and
keeping her to a petty routine of study and household duties that was
made as dull and irksome as possible.

Yet Rachel, always so sensitive to both kindness and unkindness, and as
much hurt by a snub as she would have been by a blow, took it all with
the sweetest patience and temper.

She devoted herself to her aunt's service as she never had done before,
compassing the sombre woman with every possible delicate attention that
tact and thoughtfulness could devise; and she not only persevered in
this amiable conduct, but kept a certain placid and gentle brightness
about her, under all discouragements, for weeks and weeks together.

Mrs. Reade, as a matter of course, was greatly touched and pleased; for
it was evident--as far as her sharp eyes could see--that Mr. Dalrymple
was not the source of inspiration _now_, seeing that he had been
effectually circumvented on his first attempt to renew her acquaintance,
and had never been seen or heard of since. It seemed to the anxious
little woman that the girl had only wanted her freedom for awhile, and
that, by and bye, by the mere drift of the current, she would be borne
back to the arms that were waiting for her.

Things seemed to be going on so well that Mrs. Reade, when the gaieties
of the "Cup" season were over, thought she might venture to leave town
for a few weeks. She wanted very much to pay a long-deferred visit to
Adelonga.

She had not been there since Lucilla was a bride, and of course she had
not seen the baby. She was also anxious to find out for herself "the
rights" of the story that her mother had told her concerning Rachel's
conduct and experiences while sojourning under her sister's roof, and
if possible to make the acquaintance of some of Mr. Dalrymple's people.

So, with customary promptitude, she made her preparations. She sent for
Mr. Kingston and gave him judicious advice and encouragement to direct
and uphold him in her absence.

Then she interviewed Mrs. Hardy, and expressed herself so strongly on
behalf of her own views as to what was right and proper in the
management of Rachel's case, that they nearly came to "words."

And, finally, having fortified the position to the best of her power,
she sought out Rachel herself, and, in the privacy of that little
chamber at the top of the house, bade her an affectionate and reluctant
good-bye.

"I don't know if my mother has told you, dear, that Lucilla wanted me
very much to bring you with me," she said, when they were sitting
together by Rachel's window, hand in hand.

"Did she? Dear Lucilla, how I should like to see her!" ejaculated
Rachel, but not in the tone of voice that Mrs. Reade had expected.

"And I begged very hard for permission, but mamma thought it better not
to interrupt your music and painting lessons again so soon. It is a
great disappointment to you not to go, isn't it? At first I thought I
would not tell you anything about it."

"Ah, but I am glad you told me," said Rachel; "for I must send a
message to Lucilla to thank her. She knows how I loved to be at
Adelonga--I think it is the sweetest place in the wide world."

"I wish I could take you," said Mrs. Reade; "but----"

"Oh, no, Beatrice, I cannot go, I know. Indeed, I would rather not. I
would rather stay with Aunt Elizabeth, and go on with my lessons."

Mrs. Reade was considerably astonished and disconcerted by this
evidently genuine sentiment. There was _something_ in so ready a
relinquishment of the pleasures of Adelonga, which had always been so
great, and also in the tremulous eagerness with which the girl put the
proposal from her--a proposal which Mrs. Reade had feared would be
cruelly tantalising at this time; but it was not immediately apparent.

Rachel could not stand the silent scrutiny of her cousin's brilliant
eyes. Blushing violently, she rose from the couch on which she had been
sitting, and rested her arms on the window-sill, and looked out upon the
sombre pine trees that stood perfectly motionless in the golden summer
air.

"Do you see how that house is getting on?" she said, breaking an awkward
pause. "The walls are simply _rushing_ up. They will be ready for the
roof directly."

Mrs. Reade stood on tiptoe and peeped over her shoulder.

"I wonder you have the heart to look at it," she replied.

"Oh, Beatrice!"

"I do, when you think what a wreck you have made of all the hopes and
plans that that poor dear man has been building with it."

"He will build some more, and better ones, by and bye, I hope."

"Not he. Men don't do that so easily at his age."

"Oh, yes," she persisted, imploringly, "I think he will, indeed. He did
it very easily with me."

"For an exceedingly good reason--because he loved you from the first.
Oh, you ungrateful little monkey, it's to be hoped you'll die an ugly
old maid!"

"That would be better than being the wife for years and years of a man I
did not love."

"Rubbish. As if one could have everything all at once in this world. You
girls think of nothing but yourselves. You don't take into account that
it might be worth while to make somebody else happy."

"How could I make him happy unless I loved him, Beatrice?"

"Oh, don't talk about it. You have pleased yourself, I suppose, and he
must do the best he can. He is terribly miserable as he is, poor fellow;
but I daresay he'll get over it."

"Is he miserable _now_?" inquired Rachel anxiously. "Have you seen him
lately?"

"I saw him yesterday, and he told me that his life had no value for him
now that he had lost you, and that he should never live in his house
unless you were the mistress of it. I shouldn't imagine he felt
particularly jolly under those circumstances. However, it is no use
worrying ourselves on his account," the little woman added cheerfully,
seeing tears in her cousin's gentle eyes.

"But I am so sorry for him!"

"That won't help him much, my dear. And if _you_ are happy, I suppose
that is all we need care about."

"Oh, no, Beatrice!"

"We haven't time to fret over other people's troubles," Mrs. Reade
proceeded, in what Rachel thought an exceedingly heartless manner; "life
is too short."

"But, Beatrice----"

"Now, I can't talk about Mr. Kingston any more. I have all my packing to
do yet, and I must run away and see after it. Good-bye, dearest child.
Mind you write often. I wish you were going with me--I can't bear to
leave you behind."

Rachel flung her arms round her small cousin with characteristic
fervour.

"When do you think you will come home again?" she inquired tremulously,
almost in a whisper.

"I can't say, dear, exactly."

"Before Christmas, won't you?"

"I think so; it will all depend on circumstances."

"Oh, _do_ be back by Christmas," Rachel pleaded, with an almost tragic
eagerness. "It would be dreadful if Christmas came and you were so far
away!"

"Am I so necessary to the festivities of the season?" laughed Mrs.
Reade, much touched and flattered. "Well, I'll see what I can do.
Suppose I try and bring Lucilla and the children back, and make a
regular family gathering of it?"

"Oh, if you _could_!" sighed Rachel.

All the terrors of her time of trial would be gone, she thought, if she
could have these two faithful cousins beside her.

So Mrs. Reade went off by the morning train, tolerably easy in her mind.
She took her big husband with her, "to keep him," as she said, "out of
mischief;" and she stayed away much longer than she had intended to do.
She was delighted with Adelonga, and with her sister's companionship.

Ned, also, while being kept in order, enjoyed himself excessively; and
as long as he was "good" in the matter of his besetting sin, his lady
and mistress liked him to enjoy himself. There were plenty of bush
gaieties in the shape of sporting meetings and balls, and the time
slipped away rapidly, as time at Adelonga usually did.

A dance at the Digbys' gave Mrs. Reade the desired opportunity for
making the acquaintance of Mr. Dalrymple's people, and she learned a few
facts with respect to that gentleman which, while considerably
aggravating her alarm, tended to modify and dignify the impressions of
him that her mother had given her.

Lucilla showed her a fine photograph of his powerful, melancholy,
highbred face, and she was quite overcome by it.

"Oh, dear me!" she said to herself, with a sort of angry dismay, "it is
no wonder that Rachel was infatuated. If _I_ had had attentions from
that man--little as I am given to falling in love--I think I should have
been as bad as she."

When Christmas came the sisters were still at Adelonga. Lucilla could
not leave home, and persuaded Beatrice not to leave her. They contented
themselves with sending pretty presents and many loving messages and
excuses to their relatives in Melbourne, and plunged into a series of
festive entertainments that lasted for several weeks.

Then suddenly, as she was dressing for a ball, Mrs. Reade was startled
to receive a letter from her mother, begging her to return to town at
once, as Rachel was very ill.



CHAPTER XII.

"THE GROUND-WHIRL OF THE PERISHED LEAVES OF HOPE."


Mrs. Reade lost no time in obeying her mother's summons. In two days she
was back in Melbourne, and having given ten minutes to the inspection of
her domestic affairs, and refreshed herself with tea and bread and
butter, she went on to Toorak in the carriage that had brought her from
the station, without even waiting to change her travelling-dress.

At Toorak she found things in a most discouraging and deplorable
condition--as they never would have been, she told herself, had she
remained in town.

Mrs. Hardy, who met her in the hall, and took her to her own room for
elaborate explanations, was herself a most puzzling and unsatisfactory
feature in the case, for she made it evident to her daughter's keen
perception that something more had happened than was accounted for in
her rather disconnected narrative, and that she did not intend to
disclose what it was.

There was a touch of nervous recklessness and defiance in the way she
spoke of Rachel's illness--as if the poor child had crowned a systematic
series of misdemeanours by falling ill on purpose--and of her hearty
regret that she had ever had anything to do with such a perverse and
ungrateful girl, which conveyed to Mrs. Reade the impression that her
cousin had in some way been persecuted, or had at any rate, been
subjected to more heroic treatment than her own judgment and advice had
sanctioned.

Under such circumstances it was, perhaps, natural that her mother should
be somewhat reserved, since to be fully confidential would be to confess
that she had made mistakes; but this sudden reversal of old habits,
occurring at this important crisis in the family fortunes, was a
serious aggravation of the already sufficient difficulties that the
little woman had to deal with.

What complicated her task still further was the discovery that Mr.
Kingston was again a frequent visitor at the house, and a strong
suspicion that he was cognisant of those unauthorised measures--whatever
they were--which she was not to hear of. The only thing she could hope
for was that Rachel would make a clean breast of all her secrets.

"And if she trusts me, I will stand her friend against them all,"
declared the baffled conspirator to herself, as she sat and listened to
her mother's tangled story.

It appeared that Rachel's first signs of illness had become apparent
very soon after the Reades had left town. She began to fade in colour
and to fail in appetite, and grew nervous, flighty, and restless; and,
upon investigation, it was discovered that she had lost the habit of
sleeping as a healthy girl should sleep at night.

The family doctor was called in, who, amongst other remedies prescribed
a return to horse exercise, which, since the breaking-off of her
engagement, had been abandoned; and Mr. Kingston thereupon begged so
earnestly that she would ride Black Agnes again, that she reluctantly
consented to do so to please him.

Mr. Kingston behaved most delicately, it was explained, and did not
force himself upon her in her rides. She always went out with William.
"Always," however, turned out to be only twice, and on both occasions
the carriage had accompanied her with Mr. Kingston in it.

Just before Christmas she refused to ride any more, and she behaved in
the most rude and ill-bred manner to Mr. Kingston. On Christmas Day she
was _very_ aggravating--in what way did not appear--and Mrs. Hardy had
to "speak" to her; and the result was that she flew into a violent
passion, and then had a fit of hysterics, and then fainted dead away,
and did not come round for nearly five minutes.

"I don't recognise Rachel in any of those performances," remarked Mrs.
Reade. "Why did you not send for me then, mother?"

"Because I thought it was nothing but a temporary attack. The weather
was sultry--she was full of whims and fancies. What could you have done
if you had come? And she was better again next day."

"Well?"

"Well, then, when I was doing all I could to nurse and take care of her,
she went out of a warm room one night, and rambled about the garden or
somewhere in a heavy dew, and got her feet wet. Wasn't it _too_ bad? I
could have _shaken_ her when I saw her come in, with a face as white as
ashes, and chilled to her very bones!"

"She caught cold, I suppose?"

"Of course she did. And then she had a touch of fever--what else was to
be expected? Her pulse was very high, and she was excited, and inclined
to be delirious--indeed, we had as much as we could do to manage her. It
did not last long, and it was really nothing but the consequences of her
imprudence, the doctor said--and there was a little low kind of fever
going about just now--and he did not think her constitution was very
strong. He says she will soon be all right, with care; and indeed, the
fever is quite allayed since I wrote to you, and any little danger that
there might have been is over. But she keeps low. She doesn't seem to
gain strength--and no wonder, considering we can't get her to eat
anything. I am glad you have come back; perhaps you will have more
influence with her than I have."

"I suppose I may go up?" Mrs. Reade inquired, after a pause. Her mother
gave her permission readily; it was a great surprise and relief to her
to find herself spared the searching cross-examination which she had
rather uneasily looked forward to.

"You had better put on your bonnet and have a drive," the young lady
proceeded, pausing with her hand on the door. "It will do you good,
after being in the house so much. I don't want the horses taken out, and
they will only scratch holes in the gravel if they stand here doing
nothing. I am not going away till dinner time."

"Thank you, my dear, I think I will," said Mrs. Hardy. Mrs. Reade went
upstairs to Rachel's room, and without knocking, opened the door softly.

It was a bright January afternoon, but the heat of the day was over, and
a sea breeze was springing up. The window was open, and the chintz
curtains softly rustling to and fro. There was a magnificent bouquet on
a table at the foot of the bed; the air was full of the perfume of
roses; a few flies were buzzing over a plate of strawberries set on a
chair at Rachel's side.

The invalid was lying on a sofa, in a white dressing-gown, in an
attitude of extreme languor, asleep. One hand holding a fan had dropped
beside her; the other was under her head. Her dark gold hair was loose
and tumbled, and curling in damp rings on her temples; her face was
flushed and thin; there were hollows and shadows under the tired closed
eyes. She looked as if she had been ill for months.

Mrs. Reade, examining her attentively as she knelt by the sofa, was
deeply shocked and concerned. Never would she have gone away to Adelonga
if she could have foreseen this! And never should the poor little thing
be harried and worried, as she had evidently been, again, if _she_ had
any power to prevent it--no, not though twenty Mr. Kingstons and all
their twenty fortunes were at stake.

A mosquito settled upon the girl's white arm, and the light brush of the
finger that removed it wakened her. She drew a deep breath, and opened
her eyes languidly; then seeing her visitor, she stared at her for a
second in a dazed and startled way; and then to Mrs. Reade's great
embarrassment and distress, she suddenly flung herself into her arms,
and broke into the wildest weeping.

"Now, Rachel! Now, my dearest child----"

But it would have been as hopeless to try and stop the Falls of Niagara
as this tide of passion at the flood; seeing which, Mrs. Reade waited
for the ebb in silence. By the time it came the girl was completely
exhausted; she seemed to have the merest fragment of strength.

"Now," said Beatrice, when she had sponged her face and hands and
otherwise taken steps to revive and soothe her, "now tell me what all
this is about. I know you are in some great trouble, and I have come
home on purpose to help you."

"No one can help me!" Rachel cried, despairingly, tears rushing afresh
into her hot eyes.

"Oh, nonsense. Just tell me what is the matter, and see if I can't. Are
they trying to make you marry Mr. Kingston? Because I can soon send
_him_ about his business."

"No; Mr. Kingston is very kind _now_. He sends me flowers every day. He
does not worry me. He is very considerate and thoughtful. For I think
he--knows."

"Well, and now I want to know. Is it about--someone else? Is it about
Mr. Dalrymple?"

"Who told you?" the girl demanded, with sharp entreaty. "Oh, Beatrice,
what have you heard? Did Mrs. Digby tell you anything about him? Is he
in Queensland? Is he alive? What is he doing?"

Mrs. Reade replied that she had heard nothing of Mr. Dalrymple beyond
the fact that he was believed to be in Queensland, and doing well.

"If he had not been, they must have known," said Rachel. "Oh, my love,
if I could see you for myself just once."

She began to cry again, more bitterly than before, and to wring her
hands. There was a fierce excitement in her grief and despair that for a
moment stunned the little woman who had never known what it was to be in
love.

And then Rachel told all the story of her clandestine engagement, as the
reader already knows it, without any reservations. The _dénouement_ was
exactly what Mrs. Reade expected--"And he never came!"

"Poor little thing!" she ejaculated pitifully.

"I was as certain that he would come as that Christmas would come," said
Rachel, reckless in her confessions now that she had begun to open her
heart. "And there _was_ a strange gentleman here, and he was shut up a
long time with Aunt Elizabeth, and I thought it was he--"

"Are you sure it was not he?"

"Quite sure. When he was going away I ran out into the garden and
watched for him; he was an ugly _little_ man. And if it had been Roden,
and he had wanted to see me, _he_ would not have allowed himself to be
sent away."

"That would have depended on mamma; wouldn't it?"

"Oh, no. He would never have let her send him away; and Aunt Elizabeth
says, solemnly, that he never came."

"You told _her_ about him then?" asked Mrs. Reade.

"Beatrice, I was nearly mad--I don't know what I said. She was very
angry--she always hated him. But I did not care--I was too miserable to
care. And I made her _swear_ that he had never come; and now--it is
nearly February--now I know he didn't. I don't want anybody to tell me."

Mrs. Reade put all these revelations into her mental crucible, and in a
few seconds she had the product ready. On presenting it to Rachel,
wrapped up in the gentlest language, it came to this simply--that "it
was always the way with men of that kind."

"He is not like other men," said Rachel. "I do not blame him. I have
thought of it, over and over and over, every night and every day, and I
know why it was. I _ran after him_, Beatrice--I took him before he
offered himself to me--I had only seen him once or twice when I showed
him I loved him, and made him think I wanted him--he did not ask me to
be his wife until I had given myself to him already! I did not think of
it then, but I see it clearly now. I dragged him into it--I gave him no
choice. And now he is away, and he thinks about it, and he knows I am
not enough for him. How should I be enough--_I_ for such a man as that?
Oh, that happy woman, who died in his arms! Oh, how I wish I had been
she!"

"Well," said Mrs. Reade, after a pause, trying to speak cheerfully, but
feeling profoundly disheartened; "you ought not to have had anything to
do with lovers and marriages at your time of life, and you must just
give up thinking of such things until you are older and wiser."

"I shall never give _him_ up," said Rachel quietly; "never, if I live
to be a hundred. I have told Aunt Elizabeth--I told her to tell Mr.
Kingston--that I shall never love any other man. It would be impossible,
after loving him. When I am well I shall ask her to let me go out and be
a governess, and earn my own living. I don't want to be rich, I want to
be poor, like him. And some day, perhaps, I may see him again, and be
able to do something for him--if it isn't till he is an old, old man, I
don't care. If only God lets him live and lets me live, so that we are
both in the world together--I'll take my chance of the rest. But--but,"
and she turned her head from side to side, and began to tremble and cry
in a weak, hysterical abandonment of all self-command, "if I have to
wait for years and years, without a sight of his face or a sound of his
voice, how shall I be able to live? The longing for him will kill me!"

Mrs. Reade went away when her carriage returned, more humble-minded than
she had been in her life. She wanted very much to stay and nurse her
cousin until she was better, but she could not do that, because she
could not trust Ned to keep house and keep sober by himself; so she set
off to see the doctor to get a confidential report of the "case,"
meaning to intimate her suspicions that there was a touch of fever on
the brain, and to gain his sanction to a scheme for removing the invalid
to her own cheerful abode at South Yarra as soon as she became
moderately convalescent.



CHAPTER XIII.

RACHEL ON THE PHILOSOPHY OF MARRIAGE.


Probably no girl of nineteen--probably no man or woman of any age--ever
died of a broken heart, unless when that complaint was complicated and
aggravated by the presence of physical disease of some sort.

Rachel's constitution was sound, albeit her nervous organisation was
extremely delicate, and she did not die, neither under this bitter first
blow, nor later on, when she had still sharper provocations.

A little tender petting and coddling at the hands of her cousin
Beatrice, who was now her devoted ally and friend, did more to restore
her than all the doctor's medicines and all her aunt's jellies and
broths.

The very talking of her troubles eased and soothed her, and gave her a
sense of refreshment and rest, and though Beatrice offered her no
encouragement on Mr. Dalrymple's behalf--and indeed hinted pretty
broadly that the terrible thing which had happened was an inevitable
sequel and corrective to a lapse of reason that partook of the character
of temporary insanity, to say the least of it--she was heartily if not
demonstratively sympathetic.

Within a fortnight of her cousin's return she reached that stage of
convalescence which made the removal to South Yarra justifiable, and in
the doctor's opinion expedient.

Mrs. Reade had great difficulty in carrying out this little enterprise.
Her mother had never shown herself so impracticable.

She was determined not to let Rachel out of her sight, she said; and she
stuck to that determination against many artful manoeuvres so steadily
that the powerful small woman, little accustomed to be thwarted, and
still less to own to it, nearly made up her mind to confess herself
beaten, and to break the disappointment to Rachel.

Mrs. Hardy, however, relented in a sudden and unexpected manner. She
received a consignment of furniture and _bric-à-brac_ from her
travelling daughter, together with most interesting and bewildering
advices.

Laura wrote to say that the Toorak House, if it had any respect for
itself, must immediately get rid of its pierglasses, its whitewash, and
its aniline colours; and poor Mrs. Hardy, who had ever walked with the
complacent dignity of a priestess and oracle in the sacred regions of
household art, was too much excited and disturbed by the humiliating
discovery that she was old-fashioned and behind the times, and by her
agonising desire to recover her proper position, to pay the customary
attention even to Rachel's business.

While she was absorbed in beginning the mighty task of re-adjusting her
ideas of taste and the details of her domestic environment, which, after
a few years of painful struggle with the impracticabilities of Eastlake
mediævalism, was to result in the existing combination of Chippendale
and the Japanesque, she felt that it would be a relief to divest herself
of superfluous cares.

So she laid her daughter under solemn obligations to protect Rachel's
interests and the honour of the family, and allowed her to take the
invalid away with her for a week or two, that so she might give her
undivided attention to the choice of new coverings for the drawing-room
furniture, and the question what should be done to the ceiling.

The two young women were very grateful for the chance which set them
free to follow their own devices. Mrs. Reade brought her new brougham--a
propitiatory offering from Ned after he had scandalously disgraced
himself by going to a public dinner and coming home in a dishevelled
condition at noon next day--and conveyed her charge to South Yarra in a
nest of soft cushions, and laid her on a pillowy sofa in the brightest
of homely boudoirs, where they discussed the situation and afternoon tea
with much content and cheerfulness.

Rachel was strangely peaceful and amiable at this time. She puzzled her
companion excessively. She had, indeed, a sort of exalted
transcendentalism about her that was almost aggravating to that
practical and most unsentimental person. Her way of moralising upon love
and lovers, after such an experience as she had had, was very naïve and
touching, but eminently preposterous, Mrs. Reade considered--and she did
not at all mind saying so.

"A lover who is unfaithful does the deadliest dishonour that is possible
to love, in _my_ opinion," said she, with her customary air of decision.
"To break _any_ pledge is bad enough, but to break _that_ pledge ought
to disqualify a man from ever again calling himself a man."

"I do not think there should be any pledges in love, either given or
asked for," said Rachel softly. "Love is not a thing to be tied and
bound. Fancy a man feeling that he _had_ to keep a promise if he did
not wish to do it! And, oh! fancy a woman letting him--being deceived
into letting him make a sacrifice for her! It would be an outrage and a
degradation to both of them. I think Roden--Mr. Dalrymple--is above
that, Beatrice."

From all she had heard, Mrs. Reade was decidedly disposed to think so
too.

"He says that they are a curse upon people's lives--those engagements
that are kept," continued Rachel, looking solemnly out of the window
with her pensive eyes.

"Did he tell you that? Dear me, he must be a most extraordinary man."

"I understand it perfectly--I know what he means. When we love one
another we are not responsible; something in us makes us do it. When we
leave off loving--when we get dissatisfied--we can't help it either. It
is nature that tells us to do the one as well as the other; and nature
should be obeyed, Roden says."

Mrs. Reade made no comment upon this, but thought to herself that it was
a remarkably wise provision of nature--under the circumstances--that her
devotee was endowed with the courage of his convictions.

"It is very hard for me now, but it is the truest kindness and
gentleness on his part," the girl went on, with a tremor in her quiet
voice. "He knows we understand each other better than any one else can
do. I think some day he will come and tell me all about it--when he
thinks I can bear it; how he could not help it; that that other woman's
memory was more to him than any new love a few days old could be, and
how he was true to her and to himself, and to me, not to wrong any of us
any further to gratify my foolishness. It will be something of that
sort, I know; it will be nothing that is a disgrace to him. Ah,
Beatrice, you think I am talking childish nonsense, I see it in your
face."

"I certainly do, my dear. I think you are fully qualified for admission
into the Yarra Bend, if you wish for the candid truth."

"No; you don't know him, and I do. I am puzzled, I don't deny that I am
puzzled a little; but I _trust_ him. He may do what he likes; I shall
never think that he will do anything wrong. Some day it will be
explained, and I shall see that he was right. I shall love him the more
for not being afraid to break off with me when he felt it was a mistake.
Under any circumstances I love him too well not to be thankful I am
spared the misery of seeing him suffer from an irksome marriage that
could not satisfy him. And love--as he and I understand love--would be
degraded by vulgar efforts to keep it under lock and key."

"I don't know whether it occurs to you," remarked Beatrice, with her
head on one side; "but it is a very dangerous doctrine that you and Mr.
Dalrymple seem to believe in. Logically worked out, it leads--goodness
knows where it _doesn't_ lead to."

The blood flew over the girl's pale face. She was the most sensitively
delicate, the most maidenly, of girls; and she scented a meaning in her
cousin's words that shocked her terribly.

"I am sure that cannot be," she said, with a majestic gentleness that
was full of severe reproach.

"You don't imply that husbands and wives, when they are tired of each
other--or even when only one is tired--are at liberty to make fresh
combinations?"

"You _know_ I am not alluding to married people, Beatrice. They are like
nuns who have taken the veil; they have nothing to do with--with--such
things as we have been speaking of."

"Oh, indeed--haven't they?"

"They are in a sacred place. They are out of the common world--out of
the arena, so to speak. They have taken their prizes, and gone to sit
with the spectators. Even if they do marry wrongly, and do not love each
other afterwards, in the fullest way, after such a dedication as they
have made--with such ties and confidences, and intimacies between them,
so sacred, and so close, and so delicate, and so--so--oh, Beatrice,
don't look at me like that! You know what I mean."

"I am trying to follow you, dear."

"You are married yourself, and you know how it is--better than I do. Yet
_I_ know, too. If I were married--if I were Roden's wife----"

"You would lie down at his feet and let him clean his boots on you, if
there did not happen to be a door-mat handy--oh, yes, I quite
understand _that_."

"I would never make demands upon him that he should love me always," the
girl proceeded, with a gentle solemnity that this kind of flippant
witticism could not discompose. "I would never even ask him if he loved
me. It would seem to me a coarse and insulting question, and it would
tempt him to doubt whether he did. If he went away from me, I would
never say to him, 'Write to me often--write me long letters.' It is so
stupid of people to do that! Of course, if he wanted to, he would; and
if he did it because he was asked, his letters would be valueless, and
worse. He should never have to think of me as a mortgage on his life and
his happiness--he should do as he liked--he should love me as he liked.
And if ever he left off loving me, I should know he could not help it--I
should not blame him--I should not ask him why. I should _feel_ it in a
moment--I am sure, long before he did--as one feels a chill in the air
when the sun goes in, even if one's eyes are shut; but I should never
say a word about it. And yet----"

"And yet it would never occur to him, you think, to provide himself with
a more congenial companion?"

"Beatrice, I cannot talk to you, if you make those suggestions."

"I am only making your own suggestions, my dear. You said it was a
degradation to love to keep it under lock and key."

"And I said I was not speaking of married people. You _know_ there is
something--whole worlds of things--besides love to be considered in
their case."

"Married people are just as human as single people--and so, for the
matter of that, are nuns who have taken the veil, I suppose. Vows, if I
understand you rightly, are immoral; and the dictates of nature should
be obeyed. Nature is uncommonly likely to dictate to man who is not in
love with his wife that there might possibly exist a more desirable
woman."

"I don't know how to explain myself," said Rachel, who felt herself in a
distressing entanglement, and yet was conscious that her principles were
being utterly misconstrued; "but I know that _that_--what you allude
to--would be an impossibility."

"Well, I daresay it would," said Mrs. Reade, after a pause. She was
suddenly struck with the impropriety of insisting upon strict logic in
the discussion of these delicate matters, all things considered. Yet she
was not quite content to leave off at this point.

"Put Mr. Dalrymple aside, Rachel. Suppose you were yourself married, not
to him, but to someone you did not particularly care for?"

"That could never be," the girl replied quickly.

"Oh, I don't know. It was very nearly being, I may take leave to remind
you. None of us can forsee what will happen, and 'never' is a ridiculous
word for a child like you to use. You will not live an old maid for
fifty or sixty years because you are disappointed in a lover whom you
have known for a few days--don't you believe it."

"I will make no vows," said Rachel with a faint smile; "but I express to
you my sincere conviction that I shall never marry anybody. If I do--and
I can't say I _wish_ to be an old maid--I shall tell the person, whoever
he is, all about Roden, frankly."

"Of course you will. And very probably he will like you the better for
that frankness, and be quite willing to take you on your own terms. But
then, suppose after years of married life Mr. Dalrymple turned up again,
and you found you felt towards him as you do now--what then?"

"What then?" repeated the girl, much disturbed and a little affronted;
"I should not recognise that I felt so."

"But suppose--for the sake of argument--that you could not help
yourself?"

"I hope I could help it, Beatrice. I should not allow him to remind me
of the past."

"Would not the past suggest itself sufficiently? Ah, my dear, he is a
very strong man! And you are as weak as--well, we needn't say anything
about that. If he wanted your love back, and you had it in your
heart----"

"If he did," interposed Rachel; "but I know he never would--I should
love him no more."

"Would that be in accordance with the terms of your philosophy?"

"Yes, it would. For nature makes us with many capacities. Some of them
counteract the others. Don't talk of these things any more, Beatrice--I
don't like it."

"Very well, dear; I won't."

The little lady got up from her seat on the floor, opened a window, put
the teacups on the table, and asked her cousin if she had seen the
beautiful Persian tiles that Mr. Kingston had just had sent out to him
for one of the dados in the new house.

Rachel responded absently, gazed for a little while in silence upon the
sleepy garden full of flowers and humming bees, and as Mrs. Reade had
expected, returned herself to the abandoned topic.

"At any rate," she said thoughtfully, "there is one thing I would always
do. I would tell the truth. I would never have secrets. I would sooner
do the wrongest thing, the wickedest crime, than hide it. If I _feel_
things in my heart--well, my husband, if I have one, shall know all
that I know. And I will never do anything that he--that the whole
world--may not see."

"Does that seem to you so easy?" inquired Beatrice, settling a top-heavy
rosebud in a slender Venetian vase. "Did you never have any secrets that
you were afraid to tell?"

The girl was silent for several minutes. She was crimson to the throat,
and her face was turned away from her companion.

"I will do what is sure to be right and--safe," she said at last,
falteringly; "I will never marry anybody, if I do not marry Roden."


THE END OF THE SECOND VOLUME.





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