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Title: A Bride from the Bush
Author: Hornung, E. W. (Ernest William), 1866-1921
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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A BRIDE FROM THE BUSH

by

Ernest Wm. Hornung



Collins' Clear-Type Press
London & Glasgow



[Illustration: B.B. _Chap. 4._
  'She looked very fresh and buoyant in the summer morning.']



CONTENTS


   CHAP.                                              PAGE
      I. A LETTER FROM ALFRED                            9

     II. HOME IN STYLE                                  24

    III. PINS AND NEEDLES                               35

     IV. A TASTE OF HER QUALITY                         49

      V. GRANVILLE ON THE SITUATION                     61

     VI. COMPARING NOTES                                71

    VII. IN RICHMOND PARK                               81

   VIII. GRAN'S REVENGE                                 96

     IX. E TENEBRIS LUX                                112

      X. PLAIN SAILING                                 129

     XI. A THUNDER-CLAP                                142

    XII. PAST PARDON                                   151

   XIII. A SOCIAL INFLICTION                           160

    XIV. 'HEAR MY PRAYER!'                             172

     XV. THE FIRST PARTING                             186

    XVI. TRACES                                        194

   XVII. WAITING FOR THE WORST                         209

  XVIII. THE BOUNDARY-RIDER OF THE YELKIN PADDOCK      228

    XIX. ANOTHER LETTER FROM ALFRED                    244



CHAPTER I

A LETTER FROM ALFRED


There was consternation in the domestic camp of Mr Justice Bligh on
the banks of the Thames. It was a Sunday morning in early summer.
Three-fourths of the family sat in ominous silence before the mockery
of a well-spread breakfast-table: Sir James and Lady Bligh and their
second son, Granville. The eldest son--the missing complement of this
family of four--was abroad. For many months back, and, in fact, down
to this very minute, it had been pretty confidently believed that the
young man was somewhere in the wilds of Australia; no one had quite
known where, for the young man, like most vagabond young men, was a
terribly meagre corespondent; nor had it ever been clear why any one
with leisure and money, and of no very romantic turn, should have left
the beaten track of globe-trotters, penetrated to the wilderness, and
stayed there--as Alfred Bligh had done. Now, however, all was plain. A
letter from Brindisi, just received, explained everything; Alfred's
movements, so long obscure, were at last revealed, and in a lurid
light--that, as it were, of the bombshell that had fallen and burst
upon the Judge's breakfast-table. For Alfred was on his way to England
with an Australian wife; and this letter from Brindisi, was the first
that his people had heard of it, or of her.

'Of course,' said Lady Bligh, in her calm and thoughtful manner, 'it
was bound to happen sooner or later. It might have happened very much
sooner; and, indeed, I often wished that it would; for Alfred must
be--what? Thirty?'

'Quite,' said Granville; 'I am nearly that myself.'

'Well, then,' said Lady Bligh gently, looking tenderly at the Judge
(whose grave eyes rested upon the sunlit lawn outside), 'from one
point of view--a selfish one--we ought to consider ourselves the most
fortunate of parents. And this news should be a matter for rejoicing,
as it would be, if--if it were only less sudden, and wild,
and--and----'

Her voice trembled; she could not go on.

'And alarming,' added Granville briskly, pulling himself together and
taking an egg.

Then the Judge spoke.

'I should like,' he said, 'to hear the letter read slowly from
beginning to end. Between us, we have not yet given it a fair chance;
we have got only the drift of it; we may have overlooked something.
Granville, perhaps you will read the letter aloud to your mother and
me?'

Granville, who had just laid open his egg with great skill,
experienced a moment's natural annoyance at the interruption. To stop
to read a long letter now was, he felt, treating a good appetite
shabbily, to say nothing of the egg. But this was not a powerful
feeling; he concealed it. He had a far stronger appetite than the mere
relish for food; the intellectual one. Granville had one of the nicest
intellects at the Junior Bar. His intellectual appetite was so hearty,
and even voracious, that it could be gratified at all times and
places, and not only by the loaves and fishes of full-bodied wit, but
by the crumbs and fishbones of legal humour--such as the reading
aloud of indifferent English and ridiculous sentiments in tones
suitable to the most chaste and classic prose. This he had done in
court with infinite gusto, and he did it now as he would have done it
in court.

'"My dear Mother"' (he began reading, through a single eyeglass that
became him rather well),--'"Before you open this letter you'll see
that I'm on my way home! I am sorry I haven't written you for so long,
and _very_ sorry I didn't before I sailed. I should think when I last
wrote was from Bindarra. But I must come at once to my great
news--which Heaven knows how I'm to tell you, and how you'll take it
when I do. Well, I will, in two words--the fact is, _I'm married_! My
wife is the daughter of 'the boss of Bindarra'--in other words, a
'squatter' with a 'run' (or territory) as big as a good many English
counties."'

The crisp forensic tones were dropped for an explanatory aside. 'He
evidently _means_--father' (Granville nearly said 'my lord,' through
force of habit), 'that his father-in-law is the squatter; not his
wife, which is what he _says_. He writes in such a slipshod style. I
should also think he means that the territory in question is equal in
size to certain English counties, individually (though this I venture
to doubt), and not--what you would infer--to several counties put
together. His literary manner was always detestable, poor old chap;
and, of course, Australia was hardly likely to improve it.'

The interpolation was not exactly ill-natured; but it was received in
silence; and Granville's tones, as he resumed the reading, were even
more studiously unsympathetic than before.

'"Of my Bride I will say very little; for you will see her in a week
at most. As for myself, I can only tell you, dear Mother, that I am
the very luckiest and happiest man on earth!"' ('A brave statement,'
Granville murmured in parenthesis; 'but they all make it.') '"She is
typically Australian, having indeed been born and bred in the Bush,
and is the first to admit it, being properly proud of her native land;
but, if you knew the Australians as I do, this would not frighten you.
Far from it, for the typical Australian is one of the very highest if
not _the_ highest development of our species."' (Granville read that
sentence with impressive gravity, and with such deference to the next
as to suggest no kind of punctuation, since the writer had neglected
it.) '"But as you, my dear Mother, are the very last person in the
world to be prejudiced by mere mannerisms, I won't deny that she has
one or two--_though, mind you, I like them!_ And, at least, you may
look forward to seeing the most beautiful woman you ever saw in your
life--though I say it.

'"Feeling sure that you will, as usual, be 'summering' at Twickenham,
I make equally sure that you will be able and willing to find room for
us; at the same time, we will at once commence looking out for a
little place of our own in the country, with regard to which we have
plans which will keep till we see you. But, while we are with you, I
thought I would be able to show my dear girl the principal sights of
the Old Country, which, of course, are mostly in or near town, and
which she is dying to see.

'"Dear Mother, I know I _ought_ to have consulted you, or at least
told you, beforehand. The whole thing was impulsive, I admit. But if
you and my Father will forgive me for this--take my word for it, you
will soon find out that it is all you have to forgive! Of course, I
am writing to my Father as much as to you in this letter--as he will
be the first to understand. With dearest love to you both (not
forgetting Gran), in which Gladys joins me (though she doesn't know I
am saying so).

    '"Believe me as ever,

        '"Your affectionate Son,

            '"Alfred."'

'Thank you,' said the Judge, shortly.

The soft dark eyes of Lady Bligh were wet with tears.

'I think,' she said, gently, 'it is a very tender letter. I know of no
man but Alfred that could write such a boyish, simple letter--not that
I don't enjoy your clever ones, Gran. But then Alfred never yet wrote
to me without writing himself down the dear, true-hearted,
affectionate fellow he is; only here, of course, it comes out doubly.
But does he not mention her maiden name?'

'No, he doesn't,' said Granville. 'You remarked the Christian name,
though? Gladys! I must say it sounds unpromising. Mary, Eliza,
Maria----one would have rather liked a plain, homely, farm-yard sort
of name for a squatter's daughter. But Ermyntrude, or Elaine, or
Gladys! These are names of ill-omen; you expect de Vere coming after
them, or even worse.'

'What _is_ a squatter, Gran?' asked Lady Bligh abruptly.

'A squatter? I don't know,' said Gran, paring the ham daintily as he
answered. 'I don't know, I'm sure; something to do with bushranging, I
should imagine--but I really can't tell you.'

But there was a set of common subjects of which Gran was profoundly
and intentionally ignorant; and it happened that Greater Britain was
one of them. If he had known for certain whether Sydney (for instance)
was a town or a colony or an island, he would have kept the knowledge
carefully to himself, and been thoroughly ashamed of it. And it was
the same with other subjects understanded of the Board-scholars. This
queer temper of mind is not indeed worth analysing; nevertheless, it
is peculiar to a certain sort of clever young fellows, and Granville
Bligh was a very fair specimen of the clever young fellow. He was
getting on excellently at the Bar, for so young a man. He also wrote a
little, with plenty of impudence and epigram, if nothing else. But
this was not his real line. Still, what he did at all, he did more or
less cleverly. There was cleverness in every line of his smooth dark
face; there was uncommon shrewdness in his clear gray eyes. His father
had the same face and the same eyes--with this difference added to the
differences naturally due to age: there were wisdom, and dignity, and
humanity in the face and glance of the Judge; but the nobility of
expression thus given was not inherited by the Judge's younger son.

The Judge spoke again, breaking a silence of some minutes:--

'As you say, Mildred, it seems to have been all very wild and sudden;
but when we have said this, we have probably said the worst there is
to say. At least, let us hope so. Of my own knowledge many men have
gone to Australia, as Alfred went, and come back with the best of
wives. I seem to have heard, Granville, that that is what Merivale
did; and I have met few more admirable women than Mrs Merivale.'

'It certainly is the case, sir,' said Granville, who had been
patronised to some extent by Merivale, Q.C. 'But Mrs Merivale was
scarcely "born and bred in the Bush"; and if she had what poor Alfred,
perhaps euphemistically, calls "mannerisms"--I have detected no
traces of any myself--when Merivale married her, at least she had
money.'

'Your sister-in-law may have "money," too,' said Sir James, with
somewhat scornful emphasis. 'That is of no consequence at all. Your
brother has enough for both, and more than enough for a bachelor.'

There was no need to remind the young man of that; it had been a sore
point, and even a raw one, with Granville since his boyhood; for it
was when the brothers were at school together--the younger in the
Sixth Form, the elder in the Lower Fifth--and it was already plain
which one would benefit the most by 'private means,' that a relative
of Sir James had died, leaving all her money to Alfred.

Granville coloured slightly--very slightly--but observed:--

'It is a good thing he has.'

'What do you mean?' the Judge asked, with some asperity.

'That he needs it,' said Granville, significantly.

Sir James let the matter drop, and presently, getting up, went out by
the open French window, and on to the lawn. It was not his habit to
snub his son; he left that to the other judges, in court. But Lady
Bligh remonstrated in her own quiet way--a way that had some effect
even upon Granville.

'To sneer at your brother's inferior wits, my son, is not in quite
nice taste,' she said; 'and I may tell you, now, that I did not at all
care for your comments upon his letter.'

Granville leant back in his chair and laughed pleasantly.

'How seriously you take one this morning! But it is small wonder that
you should, for the occasion is a sufficiently serious one, in all
conscience; and indeed, dear mother, I am as much put out as you are.
Nay,' Granville added, smiling blandly, 'don't say that you're _not_
put out, for I can see that you _are_. And we have reason to be put
out'--he became righteously indignant--'all of us. I wouldn't have
thought it of Alfred, I wouldn't indeed! No matter whom he wanted to
marry, he ought at least to have written first, instead of being in
such a violent hurry to bring her over. It is treating _you_, dear
mother, to say the best of it, badly; and as for the Judge, it is
plain that he is quite upset by the unfortunate affair.'

'We have no right to assume that it is unfortunate, Gran.'

'Well, I hope it is not, that's _all_,' said Gran, with great
emphasis. 'I hope it is not, for poor Alfred's sake. Yet, as you know,
mother, he's the very kind of old chap to get taken in and imposed
upon; and--I tell you frankly--I tremble for him. If he is the victim
of a designing woman, I am sorry for him, from my soul I am! If he has
married in haste--and he has--to repent at leisure--as he may--though
this is trite and detestable language, I pity him, from my soul I do!
You have already rebuked me--I don't say unjustly--for making what, I
admit, had the appearance of an odious and egotistical comparison; I
will guard against conveying a second impression of that kind; yet I
think I may safely say, without bragging, that I know the world rather
better than old Alfred does. Well, I have, I will not say my fears,
but my dreads; and I cannot help having them. If they are realised, no
one will sympathise with poor dear Alfred more deeply than I shall.'

Lady Bligh looked keenly at her eloquent son; a half-smile played
about her lips: she understood him, to some extent.

'But what if your fears are _not_ realised?' she said, quietly.

'Why, then,' said Gran, less fluently, 'then I--oh, of course, I shall
be delighted beyond words; no one will be more delighted than I.'

'Then you shall see,' said Lady Bligh, rising, with a sweet and
hopeful smile, 'that is how it is going to turn out; I have a
presentiment that it will all turn out for the best. So there is only
one thing to be done--we must prepare to welcome her to our hearts!'

Granville shrugged his shoulders, but his mother did not see him; she
had gone quietly from the room and was already climbing (slowly, for
she was stout) the stairs that led up to her own snuggery on the first
floor. This little room was less of a boudoir than a study, and more
like an office than either, for it was really a rather bare little
room. Its most substantial piece of furniture was a large unlovely
office-table, and its one picture was framed in the window-sashes--a
changeful picture of sky and trees, and lawn and river, painted this
morning in the most radiant tints of early summer. At the
office-table, which was littered with letters and pamphlets, Lady
Bligh spent diligent hours every day. She was a person of both mental
and manual activity, with public sympathies and interests that
entailed an immense correspondence. She was, indeed, one of the most
charitable and benevolent of women, and was to some extent a public
woman. But we have nothing to do with her public life, and, on this
Sunday morning, no more had she.

There were no pictures on the walls, but there were photographs upon
the chimney-piece. Lady Bligh stood looking at them for an unusually
long time--in fact, until the sound of the old church bells, coming in
through the open window, called her away.

One of the photographs was of the Judge--an excellent one, in which
the dear old gentleman looked his very best, dignified but kindly.
Another was a far too flattering portrait of Granville. A third
portrait was that of an honest, well-meaning, and rather handsome
face, with calm dark eyes, exactly like Lady Bligh's; and this was the
erratic Alfred. But the photograph that Lady Bligh looked at longest,
and most fondly, was a faded one of Alfred and Granville as mere
schoolboys. She loved her two sons so dearly! One of them was much
changed, and becoming somewhat spoilt, to phrase it mildly; yet that
son was rather clever, and his mother saw his talents through a strong
binocular, and his faults with her eyes at the wrong end of it; and
she loved him in spite of the change in him, and listened--at least
with tolerance--to the airings of a wit that was always less good
natured, and generally less keen, than she imagined it. But the other
son had never changed at all; even his present fatal letter showed
that. He was still a boy at heart--a wild, stupid, affectionate
schoolboy. There was no denying it: in his mother's heart the elder
son was the best beloved of the two.

And it was this one who had married with so much haste and
mystery--the favourite son, the son with money, the son who might have
married any one he pleased. It was hard to choke down prejudice when
this son was bringing home a wife from the Bush, of all places!

What would she be like? What _could_ she be like?



CHAPTER II

HOME IN STYLE


'He must be mad!' said Granville, flourishing a telegram in his hand.

'He must be very fond of her,' Lady Bligh replied, simply.

Granville held the telegram at arm's length, and slowly focussed it
with his eyeglass. He had already declaimed it twice, once with horror
in his voice, once with a running accompaniment of agreeable raillery.
His third reading was purely compassionate, in accordance with his
latest theory regarding the mental condition of the sender.

'"Arrived both well. Chartered launch take us Gravesend Twickenham;
show her river. Join us if possible Westminster Bridge 3
o'clock.--Alfred."'

Granville sighed.

'Do you comprehend it, dear mother? I think I do, at last, though the
prepositions _are_ left to the imagination. He has saved at least
twopence over those prepositions--which, of course, is an item, even
in a ten-pound job.'

'You don't mean to say it will cost him ten pounds?'

'Every penny of it: it would cost you or me, or any ordinary person,
at least a fiver. I am allowing for Alfred's being let in rather
further than any one else would be.'

'At all events,' said Lady Bligh, 'you will do what he asks you; you
will be at Westminster at the time he mentions?'

Granville shrugged his shoulders. 'Certainly, if you wish it.'

'I think it would be kind.'

'Then I will go, by all means.'

'Thank you--and Granville! I do wish you would give up sneering at
your brother's peculiarities. He _does_ do odd and impulsive things,
we know; and there is no denying the extravagance of steaming up the
river all the way from Gravesend. But, after all, he has money, and no
doubt he wants to show his wife the Thames, and to bring her home in
a pleasant fashion, full of pleasant impressions; and upon my word,'
said Lady Bligh, 'I never heard of a prettier plan in my life! So go,
my dear boy, and meet them, and make them happier still. If that is
possible, no one could do it more gracefully than you, Gran!'

Granville acknowledged the compliment, and promised; and punctually at
three he was at Westminster Bridge, watching with considerable
interest the rapid approach of a large launch--a ridiculously large
one for the small number of people on board. She had, in fact, only
two passengers, though there was room for fifty. One of the two was
Alfred, whose lanky figure was unmistakable at any distance; and the
dark, straight, strapping young woman at his side was, of course,
Alfred's wife.

The meeting between the brothers was hearty enough, but it might have
been more entirely cordial had there been a little less effusiveness
on one side--not Granville's. But Alfred--who was dressed in rough
tweed clothes of indeterminate cut, and had disfigured himself with a
beard--was so demonstrative in his greeting that the younger brother
could not help glancing anxiously round to assure himself that there
was no one about who knew him. It was a relief to him to be released
and introduced to the Bride.

'Gladys, this is Gran come to meet us--as I knew he would--like the
brick he is, and always was!'

Gran was conscious of being scrutinised keenly by the finest dark eyes
he had ever encountered in his life; but the next moment he was
shaking his sister-in-law's hand, and felt that it was a large hand--a
trifling discovery that filled Granville with a subtile sense of
satisfaction. But the Bride was yet to open her lips.

'How do you do?' she said, the olive tint of her cheek deepening
slightly. 'It was awfully nice of you to come; I _am_ glad to see
you--I have heard such lots about you, you know!'

It was said so glibly that the little speech was not, perhaps, exactly
extempore: and it was spoken--every word of it--with a twang that, to
sensitive ears like Granville's, was simply lacerating. Granville
winced, and involuntarily dropped his eyeglass; but otherwise he kept
a courteous countenance, and made a sufficiently civil reply.

As for Alfred, he, of course, noticed nothing unusual in his wife's
accents; he was used to them; and, indeed, it seemed to Granville that
Alfred spoke with a regrettable drawl himself.

'You've got to play showman, Gran,' said he, when some natural
questions had been hurriedly put and tersely answered (by which time
they were opposite Lambeth Palace). 'I've been trying, but I'm a poor
hand at it; indeed, I'm a poor Londoner, and always was: below
Blackfriars I was quite at sea, and from here to Richmond I'm as
ignorant as a brush.'

'No; he's no good at all,' chimed in the Bride, pleasantly.

'Well, I'm not well up in it, either,' said Gran, warily.

This was untrue, however. Granville knew his Thames better than most
men--it was one of the things he _did_ know. But he had a scholar's
reverence for classic ground; and in a young man who revered so very
little, this was remarkable, if it was not affectation. Granville
would have suffered tortures rather than gravely point out historic
spots to a person whose ideas of history probably went no farther back
than the old Colonial digging days; he would have poured sovereigns
into the sea as readily as the coin of sacred associations into
Gothic ears. At least, so he afterwards said, when defending his
objection to interpreting the Thames for his sister-in-law's benefit.

'What nonsense!' cried Alfred, good-humouredly. 'You know all about
it--at all events, you used to. There--we've gone and let her miss
Lambeth Palace! Look, dear, quick, while it's still in sight--that's
where the Archbishop of Canterbury hangs out.'

'Oh,' said Gladys, 'I've heard of _him_.'

'And isn't that Cheyne Walk, or some such place, that we're coming to
on the right there?' said Alfred.

'Yes,' said Granville, briefly; 'that's Cheyne Walk.'

Luckily the Bride asked no questions--indeed, she was inclined to be
silent--for of all localities impossible to discuss with an uneducated
person, Granville felt that Chelsea and Cheyne Walk were the most
completely out of the question. And that the Bride was a sadly
uneducated person was sufficiently clear, if only from her manner of
speaking. Granville accepted the fact with creditable equanimity--he
had prophesied as much--and sat down to smoke a cigarette and to
diagnose, if he could, this new and wonderful dialect of his
sister-in-law. It was neither Cockney nor Yankee, but a nasal blend of
both: it was a lingo that declined to let the vowels run alone, but
trotted them out in ill-matched couples, with discordant and awful
consequences; in a word, it was Australasiatic of the worst
description. Nor was the speech of Alfred free from the taint--Alfred,
whose pronunciation at least had been correct before he went out;
while the common colloquialisms of the pair made Granville shudder.

'If I did not hope for such surprisingly good looks,' said he to
himself, 'yet even _I_ was not prepared for _quite_ so much vulgarity!
Poor dear Alfred!'

And Granville sighed, complacently.

Yet, as she leant upon the rail in the summer sunlight, silent and
pensive, there was certainly no suggestion of vulgarity in her
attitude; it was rather one of unstudied grace and ease. Nor was there
anything at all vulgar in the quiet travelling dress that fitted her
tall full form so closely and so well. Nor was her black hair cut down
to within an inch of her eyebrows--as, of course, it should have
been--or worn in a fringe at all. Nor was there anything the least
objectionable in the poise of the small graceful head, or in the
glance of the bold dark eyes, or in the set of the full, firm, crimson
lips; and thus three more excellent openings--for the display of
vulgarity--were completely thrown away. In fact, if she had never
spoken, Granville would have been at a loss to find a single fault in
her. Alas! about her speech there could be no two opinions--it
bewrayed her.

Presently Alfred sat down beside his brother, and began to tell him
everything, and did all the talking; while the Bride still stood
watching the shifting panorama of the banks, and the golden sunlight
upon the water, and the marvellous green of all green things. It was
practically her first experience of this colour. And still she asked
no questions, her interest being perhaps too intense; and so the
showman-business was forgotten, to the great relief of Granville; and
the time slipped quickly by. At last--and quite suddenly--the Bride
clapped her hands, and turned with sparkling eyes to her husband: they
had entered that splendid reach below Richmond, and the bridges were
in sight, with the hill beyond.

'I give this best!' she cried. 'It _does_ knock spots out of the
Yarra and the Murray after all!'

Alfred glanced uneasily at his brother, but found an impassive face.

'Come, old fellow,' said Alfred, 'do your duty; jump up and tell her
about these places.'

So at last Granville made an effort to do so; he got up and went to
the side of the Bride; and presently he was exercising a discreet if
not a delicate vein of irony, that was peculiarly his own.

'That was Kew we passed just now--you must see the gardens there,' he
said; 'and this is Richmond.'

'Kew and Richmond!' exclaimed the Bride, innocently. 'How rum! We have
a Kew and a Richmond in Melbourne.'

'Ah!' said Gran. 'I don't fancy the theft was on our side. But look at
this gray old bridge--picturesque, isn't it?--and I dare say you have
nothing like it out there. And there, you see--up on the left
yonder--is Richmond Hill. Rather celebrated, Richmond Hill: you may
have heard of it; there was a lass that lived there once.'

'Yes--what of her?'

'Oh, she was neat and had sweet eyes--or sweet, with neat eyes--I
really forget which. And there was a somebody or other who said he'd
resign any amount of crowns--the number wasn't specified--to call her
his. He was pretty safe in saying that--unless, indeed, he meant
crown-_pieces_--which, now I think of it, would be rather an original
reading.'

'Alfred,' said the Bride abruptly, 'are we nearly there?'

'Not far off,' said Alfred.

Granville bit his lip. 'We are very nearly there,' he said; 'this is
the beginning of Twickenham.'

'Then where's the Ferry?' said the Bride. 'I know all about
"Twickenham Ferry"; we once had a storekeeper--a new chum--who used to
sing about it like mad. Show it me.'

'There, then: it crosses by the foot of the island: it's about to
cross now. Now, in a minute, I'll show you Pope's old place; we don't
go quite so far--in fact, here we are--but you'll be able just to see
it, I think.'

'The Pope!' said Gladys. 'I never knew _he_ lived in England!'

'No more he does. Not _the_ Pope--_Pope_; a man of the name of Pope:
a scribbler: a writing-man: in fact, a poet.'

The three were leaning over the rail, shoulder to shoulder, and
watching eagerly for the first glimpse of the Judge's retreat through
the intervening trees. Granville was in the middle. The Bride glanced
at him sharply, and opened her lips to say something which--judging by
the sudden gleam of her dark eyes--might possibly have been rather too
plain-spoken. But she never said it; she merely left Granville's side,
and went round to the far side of her husband, and slipped her hand
through his arm. Granville walked away.

'Are we there?' whispered Gladys.

'Just, my darling. Look, that's the house--the one with the tall trees
and the narrow lawn.'

'_Hoo-jolly-ray!_'

'Hush, Gladdie! For Heaven's sake don't say anything like that before
my mother! There she is on the lawn, waving her handkerchief. We'll
wave ours back to her. The dear mother! Whatever you do, darling girl,
don't say anything of that sort to _her_. It would be Greek to my
mother and the Judge, and they mightn't like it.'



CHAPTER III

PINS AND NEEDLES


Slanting mellow sunbeams fell pleasantly upon the animated face of the
Bride, as she stepped lightly across the gangway from the steam-launch
to the lawn; and, for one moment, her tall supple figure stood out
strikingly against the silver river and the pale eastern sky. In that
moment a sudden dimness came over Lady Bligh's soft eyes, and with
outstretched arms she hurried forward to press her daughter to her
heart. It was a natural motherly impulse, but, even if Lady Bligh had
stopped to think, she would have made sure of being met half-way. She
was not, however, and the mortification of the moment was none the
less intense because it was invisible. The Bride refused to be
embraced. She was so tall that it would have been impossible for Lady
Bligh to kiss her against her will, but it never came to that; the
unbending carriage and man-like outstretched hand spoke plainly and at
once--and were understood. But Lady Bligh coloured somewhat, and it
was an unfortunate beginning, for every one noticed it; and the Judge,
who was hurrying towards them across the lawn at the time, there and
then added a hundred per cent of ceremony to his own greeting, and
received his daughter-in-law as he would have received any other
stranger.

'I am very happy to see you,' he said, when Alfred had introduced
them--the Judge waited for that. 'Welcome, indeed; and I hope you have
received agreeable impressions of our River Thames.'

'Oh, rather!' said Gladys, smiling unabashed upon the old gentleman.
'We've no rivers like it in Australia. I've just been saying so.'

Granville, who had been watching for a change in his mother's
expression when she should first hear the Bride speak, was not
disappointed. Lady Bligh winced perceptibly. Judges, however, may be
relied upon to keep their countenances, if anybody may; it is their
business; Sir James was noted for it, and he merely said dryly, 'I
suppose not,' and that was all.

And then they all walked up the lawn together to where tea awaited
them in the veranda. The Bride's dark eyes grew round at sight of the
gleaming silver teapot and dainty Dresden china; she took her seat in
silence in a low wicker chair, while the others talked around her; but
presently she was heard exclaiming:--

'No, thanks, no milk, and I'll sweeten it myself, please.'

'But it's cream,' said Lady Bligh, good-naturedly, pausing with the
cream-jug in the air.

'The same thing,' returned Gladys. 'We never took any on the station,
so I like it better without; and it can't be too strong, if you
please. We didn't take milk,' she turned to explain to Sir James,
'because, in a general way, our only cow was a tin one, and we
preferred no milk at all. We ran sheep, you see, not cattle.'

'A tin cow!' said Sir James.

'She means they only had condensed milk,' said Alfred, roaring with
laughter.

'But our cow is _not_ tin,' said Lady Bligh, smiling, as she still
poised the cream-jug; 'will you not change your mind?'

'No, thanks,' said the Bride stoutly.

It was another rather awkward moment, for it did seem as though Gladys
was disagreeably independent. And Alfred, of all people, made the
moment more awkward still, and, indeed, more uncomfortable than any
that had preceded it.

'Gladdie,' he exclaimed in his airiest manner, 'you're a savage! A
regular savage, as I've told you over and over again!'

No one said anything. Gladys smiled, and Alfred chuckled over his
pleasantry. But it was a pleasantry that contained a most unpleasant
truth. The others felt this, and it made them silent. It was a relief
to all--with the possible exception of the happy pair, neither of whom
appeared to be over-burdened with self-consciousness--when Lady Bligh
carried off Gladys, and delivered her in her own room into the safe
keeping of Miss Bunn, her appointed maid.

This girl, Bunn, presently appeared in the servants' hall, sat down in
an interesting way, and began to twirl her thumbs with great
ostentation. Being questioned, in fulfilment of her artless design,
she said that she was not wanted upstairs. Being further questioned,
she rattled off a string of the funny things Mrs '_H_alfred' had said
to her along with a feeble imitation of Mrs '_H_alfred's' very funny
way of saying them. This is not a matter of importance; but it was the
making of Bunn below stairs; so long as Mrs Alfred remained in the
house, her maid's popularity as a kitchen entertainer was assured.

The Bride wished to be alone; at all events she desired no personal
attendance. What should she want with a maid? A lady's-maid was a
'fixing' she did not understand, and did not wish to understand; she
had said so plainly, and that she didn't see where Miss Bunn 'came
in'; and then Miss Bunn had gone out, in convulsions. And now the
Bride was alone at last, and stood pensively gazing out of her open
window at the wonderful green trees and the glittering river, at the
deep cool shadows and the pale evening sky; and delight was in her
bold black eyes; yet a certain sense of something not quite as it
ought to be--a sensation at present vague and undefined--made her
graver than common. And so she stood until the door was burst suddenly
open, and a long arm curled swiftly round her waist, and Alfred kissed
her.

'My darling! tell me quickly----'

'Stop!' said Gladys. 'I'll bet I guess what it is you want me to tell
you! Shall I?'

'Yes, if you can, for I certainly do want you to tell me something.'

'Then it's what I think of your people!'

'How you like them,' Alfred amended. 'Yes, that was it. Well, then?'

'Well, then--I like your mother. She has eyes like yours, Alfred,
large and still and kind, and she is big and motherly.'

'Then, oh, my darling, why on earth didn't you kiss her?'

'Kiss her? Not _me_! Why should I?'

'She meant to kiss you; I saw she did.'

'Don't you believe it! Even if she had, it would have been only for
your sake. You wait a little bit; wait till she knows me, and if she
wants to kiss me then--let her!'

Alfred was pained by his young wife's tone; he had never before heard
her speak so strangely, and her eyes were wistful. He did not quite
understand her, but he did not try to, then; he varied the subject.

'How about Gran?'

'Oh, that Gran!' cried Gladys. 'I can't suffer him at all.'

'Can't suffer Gran! What on earth do you mean, Gladys?'

'I mean that he was just a little beast in the boat! You think he was
as glad to see you as you were him, because you judge by yourself; but
not a bit of it; I know better. It was all put on with him, and a
small "all" too. Then you asked him to tell me about the places we
passed, and he only laughed at me. Ah, you may laugh at people without
moving a muscle, but people may see it all the same; and I did, all
along; and just before we got here I very near told him so. If I had,
I'd have given him one, you stake your life!'

'I'm glad you didn't,' said Alfred devoutly, but in great trouble.
'_I_ never heard him say anything to rankle like that; I thought he
was very jolly, if you ask me. And really, Gladdie, old Gran's as good
a fellow as ever lived; besides which, he has all the brains of the
family.'

'Perhaps,' said Gladys, softening, 'my old man has got a double share
of something better than brains!'

'Nonsense, darling! But at least the Judge was pleasant; what did you
think of the Judge?'

'I funked him.'

'Good gracious! Why?'

'He's so dreadfully dignified; and he looks you through and
through--not nastily, like Gran does, but as if you were something
funny in a glass case.'

'What stuff and nonsense, Gladdie! You're making me miserable. Look
here: talk to the Judge: draw him out a bit. That's all he wants, and
he likes it.'

'What am I to call him--"Judge"?'

'No: not that: never that. For the present, "Sir James," I think.'

'And what am I to talk about?'

'Oh, anything--Australia. Interest him about the Bush. Try, dearest,
at dinner--to please me.'

'Very well,' said Gladys; 'I'll have a shot.'

And she had one, though it was not quite the kind of shot Alfred would
have recommended--at any rate, not for a first shot. For, on thinking
it over, it seemed to Gladys that, with relation to the Bush, nothing
could interest a Judge so much as the manner of administering the law
there, which she knew something about. Nor was the subject unpromising
or unsafe: it was only her way of leading up to it that was open to
criticism.

'I suppose, Sir James,' she began, 'you have lots of trying to do?'

'Trying?' said the Judge, looking up from his soup; for the Bride had
determined not to be behindhand in keeping her promise, and had opened
the attack thus early.

'As if he were a tailor!' thought Granville. 'Trials, sir,' he
suggested suavely. He was sitting next Gladys, who was on the Judge's
right.

'Ah, trials!' said the Judge with a faint--a very faint--smile. 'Oh,
yes--a great number.'

A sudden thought struck Gladys. She became the interested instead of
the interesting party. She forgot the Bush, and stared at her
father-in-law in sudden awe.

'Are there many murder trials among them, Sir James?'

By the deliberate manner with which he went on with his soup, the
Judge apparently did not hear the question. But Lady Bligh and Alfred
heard it, and were horrified; while Granville looked grave, and
listened for more with all his ears. He had not to wait long. Gladys
feared she had expressed herself badly, and quickly tried again.

'What I mean is--Sir James--do you often have to go and put on the
black cap, and sentence poor unfortunate people to be hung? Because
that can't be very nice, Sir James--is it?'

A faint flush mounted into the Judge's pale cheeks. 'It is not of
frequent occurrence,' he said stiffly.

Granville, sitting next her, might easily have stopped his
sister-in-law by a word or a sign before this; but Alfred was
practically hidden from her by the lamp, and though he tried very hard
to kick her under the table, he only succeeded in kicking footstools
and table-legs; and Lady Bligh was speechless.

The Bride, however, merely thought that Alfred had exaggerated the
ease with which his father was to be drawn out. But she had not given
in yet. That would have been contrary to her nature.

'What a good thing!' she said. 'It would be so--so horrid, if it
happened _very_ often, to wake up and say to yourself, "That poor
fellow's got to swing in a minute or two; and it's me that's done it!"
It would be a terror if that was to happen every week or so; and I'm
glad for your sake, Sir James----'

She broke off suddenly; why, it is difficult to say, for no one had
spoken; but perhaps that was the very reason. At all events, she
remembered her experience of Bush law, and got to her point, now,
quickly enough.

'I was once at a trial myself, Sir James, in the Bush,' she said (and
there was certainly a general sense of relief). 'My own father was
boss--or Judge, if you like--that trip. There were only four people
there; the sergeant, who was jailer and witness as well, father, the
prisoner, and me; I looked on.'

'Is your father a member of the Colonial Bar?' inquired Sir James,
mildly.

'Lord, no, Sir James! He's only a magistrate. Why, he'd only got to
remand the poor chap down to Cootamundra; yet he had to consult
gracious knows how many law-books (the sergeant had them ready) to do
it properly!'

They all laughed; but there was a good deal that ought not to have
been laughed at. A moment before, when her subject was about as
unfortunate as it could have been, she had chosen her mere words with
a certain amount of care and good taste; but now that she was on her
native heath, and blameless in matter, her manner had become
dreadful--her expressions were shocking--her twang worse than ever.
The one subject that she was at home in excited her to an unseemly
degree. No sooner, then, had the laugh subsided than Lady Bligh seized
upon the conversation, hurled it well over the head of the Bride, and
kept it there, high and dry, until the end of dessert; then she sailed
away to the drawing-room with the unconscious offender.

It was time to end this unconsciousness.

'My dear,' said Lady Bligh, 'will you let me give you a little
lecture?'

'Certainly,' said Gladys, opening her eyes rather wide, but won at
once by the old lady's manner.

'Then, my dear, you should never interrogate people about their
professional duties, least of all a judge. Sir James does not like it;
and even I never dream of doing it.'

'Goodness gracious!' cried the Bride. 'Have I been and put my foot in
it, then?'

'You have said nothing that really matters,' Lady Bligh replied
hastily; and she determined to keep till another time some
observations that were upon her mind on the heads of 'slang' and
'twang;' for the poor girl was blushing deeply, and seemed, at last,
thoroughly uncomfortable; which was not what Lady Bligh wanted at all.

'Only, I must tell you,' Lady Bligh continued, 'it _was_ an
unfortunate choice to hit upon the death-sentence for a subject of
conversation. All judges are sensitive about it; Sir James is
particularly so. But there! there is nothing for you to look grieved
about, my dear. No one will think anything more of such a trifle; and,
of course, out in Australia everything must be quite different.'

Gladys bridled up at once; she would have no allowances made for
herself at the expense of her country. It is a point on which
Australians are uncommonly sensitive, small blame to them.

'Don't you believe it!' she cried vigorously. 'You mustn't go blaming
Australia, Lady Bligh; it's no fault of Australia's. It's _my_
fault--_my_ ignorance--_me_ that's to blame! Oh, please to remember:
whenever I do or say anything wrong, you've not to excuse me because
I'm an Australian! Australia's got nothing to do with it; it's me
that doesn't know what's what, and has got to learn!'

Her splendid eyes were full of trouble, but not of tears. With a
quick, unconscious, supplicating gesture she turned and fled from the
room.

A few minutes later, when Lady Bligh followed her, she said, very
briefly and independently, that she was fatigued, and would come down
no more. And so her first evening in England passed over.



CHAPTER IV

A TASTE OF HER QUALITY


Mr Justice Bligh was an inveterate and even an irreclaimable early
riser. In the pleasant months at Twickenham he became worse in this
respect than ever, and it was no unusual thing for the slow summer
dawns to find this eminent judge, in an old tweed suit, and with a
silver frost upon his cheeks and chin, pottering about the stables, or
the garden, or the river's brim.

The morning following the arrival of the happy pair, however, is
scarcely a case in point, for it was fully six when Sir James sat down
in his dressing-room to be shaved by his valet, the sober and vigilant
Mr Dix. This operation, for obvious reasons, was commonly conducted in
dead silence; nor was the Judge ever very communicative with his
servants; so that the interlude which occurred this morning was
remarkable in itself, quite apart from what happened afterwards.

A series of loud reports of the nature of fog-signals had come
suddenly through the open window, apparently from some part of the
premises. The Judge held up his finger to stop the shaving.

'What is that noise, Dix?'

'Please, Sir James, it sounds like some person a-cracking of a whip,
Sir James.'

'A whip! I don't think so at all. It is more like pistol-shooting. Go
to the window and see if you can see anything.'

'No, Sir James, I can't see nothing at all,' said Dix from the window;
'but it do seem to come from the stable-yard, please, Sir James.'

'I never heard a whip cracked like that,' said the Judge. 'Dear me,
how it continues! Well, never mind; lather me afresh, Dix.'

So the shaving went on; but in the stable-yard a fantastic scene was
in full play. Its origin was in the idle behaviour of the stable-boy,
who had interrupted his proper business of swilling the yard to crack
a carriage-whip, by way of cheap and indolent variety. Now you cannot
crack any kind of whip well without past practice and present pains;
but this lad, who was of a mean moral calibre, had neither the
character to practise nor the energy to take pains in anything. He
cracked his whip as he did all things--execrably; and, when his wrist
was suddenly and firmly seized from behind, the shock served the young
ruffian right. His jaw dropped. 'The devil!' he gasped; but, turning
round, it appeared that he had made a mistake--unless, indeed, the
devil had taken the form of a dark and beautiful young lady, with
bright contemptuous eyes that made the lad shrivel and hang his head.

'Anyway, _you_ can't crack a whip!' said the Bride, scornfully--for of
course it was no one else.

The lad kept a sulky silence. The young lady picked up the whip that
had fallen from his unnerved fingers. She looked very fresh and
buoyant in the fresh summer morning, and very lovely. She could not
have felt real fatigue the night before, for there was not a lingering
trace of it in her appearance now; and if she had been really tired,
why be up and out so very early this morning? The stable-boy began to
glance at her furtively and to ask himself this last question, while
Gladys handled and examined the whip in a manner indicating that she
had handled a whip before.

'Show you how?' she asked suddenly; but the lad only dropped his eyes
and shuffled his feet, and became a degree more sulky than before.
Gladys stared at him in astonishment. She was new to England, and had
yet to discover that there is a certain type of lout--a peculiarly
English type--that infinitely prefers to be ground under heel by its
betters to being treated with the least approach to freedom or
geniality on their part. This order of being would resent the
familiarity of an Archbishop much more bitterly than his Grace would
resent the vilest abuse of the lout. It combines the touchiness of the
sensitive-plant with the soul of the weed; and it was the Bride's
first introduction to the variety--which, indeed, does not exist in
Australia. She cracked the whip prettily, and with a light heart, and
the boy glowered upon her. The exercise pleased her, and brought a
dull red glow into her dusky cheeks, and heightened and set off her
beauty, so that even the lout gaped at her with a sullen sense of
satisfaction. Then, suddenly, she threw down the whip at his feet.

'_Take_ the beastly thing!' she cried. 'It isn't half a whip! But you
just hold on, and I'll show you what a real whip is!'

She was out of the yard in a twinkling. The lout rubbed his eyes,
scratched his head, and whistled. Then a brilliant idea struck him: he
fetched the coachman. They were just in time. The Bride was back in a
moment.

'Ha! two of you, eh?' she exclaimed. 'Well, stand aside and I'll show
you how we crack stock-whips in the Bush!'

A short, stout handle, tapering towards the lash, and no longer than
fifteen inches, was in her hand. They could not see the lash at first,
because she held it in front of her in her left hand, and it was of
the same colour as her dark tailor-made dress; but the Bride jerked
her right wrist gently, and then a thing like an attenuated brown
snake, twelve feet long, lay stretched upon the wet cement of the yard
as if by magic. Swiftly then she raised her arm, and the two
spectators felt a fine line of water strike their faces as the lash
came up from the wet cement; looking up, they saw a long black streak
undulating for an instant above the young lady's head, and then they
heard a whiz, followed by an almost deafening report. The lash lay on
the ground again, quivering. Coachman and stable-boy instinctively
flattened their backs against the coach-house door.

'That,' said the Bride, 'is the plain thing. Smell this!'

Again the long lash trembled over her head; again it cracked like a
gun-shot somewhere in front of her, but this time, by the help of the
recoil and by the sheer strength of her wrist, the lash darted out
again behind her--as it seemed, under her very arm--and let out the
report of a second barrel in the rear. And this fore-and-aft recoil
cracking went on without intermission for at least a minute--that
minute during which the Judge's shaving was interrupted. Then it
stopped, and there was a fine wild light in the Bride's eyes, and her
breath came quickly, and her lips and cheeks were glowing crimson.

The phlegmatic lad was quite speechless, and, in fact, with his gaping
mouth and lolling tongue he presented a rather cruel spectacle. But
the coachman found an awestruck word or two: 'My soul and body!' he
gasped.

'Ah!' said the Bride, 'that _is_ something flash, ain't it though? I
wonder I hadn't forgotten it. And now _you_ have a try, old man!'

Honest Garrod, the coachman, opened his eyes wide. He knew that this
was Mrs Alfred; he had heard that Mrs Alfred was an Australian; but he
could scarcely believe his ears.

'No, miss--no, mum--thank you,' he faltered. The 'miss' came much more
naturally than the 'mum.'

'Come on!' cried the Bride.

'I'd rather not, miss--_mum_,' said the coachman.

'What rot!' said Gladys. 'Here--that's it--bravo! _Now_ blaze away!'

The old man had given in, simply because this extraordinary young lady
was irresistible. The first result of his weakness was a yell of pain
from the stable-boy; the poor lad's face was bleeding where the lash
had struck it. Rough apologies followed. Then the old coachman--who
was not without mettle, and was on it, for the moment--took off his
coat and tried again. After many futile efforts, however, he only
succeeded in coiling the lash tightly round his own legs; and that
made an end of it; the old man gave it up.

'Show us some more, mum,' said he. 'I've got too old and stiff for
them games,'--as if in his youth he had been quite at home with the
stock-whip, and only of late years had got rusty in the art of
cracking it.

'Right you are,' said Gladys, gaily, when her laughter was over--she
had a hearty, but a rather musical laugh. 'Give me the whip. Now, have
you got a coin--a sixpence? No? No odds, here's half a sov. in my
purse that'll do as well; and you shall have it, either of you that do
this side o' Christmas what I'm going to do now. I'm going to show you
a trick and a half!'

Her eyes sparkled with excitement: she was rather over-excited,
perhaps. She placed the coin upon the ground, retreated several paces,
measured the distance with her eye, and smartly raised the handle of
the stock-whip. The crack that followed was the plain, straightforward
crack, only executed with greater precision than before. Then she had
resembled nothing so much as an angler idly flogging a stream; the
difference was that now, as it were, she was throwing at a rise. And
she threw with wonderful skill; for, at the first crack, the
half-sovereign spun high into the air and fell with a ring upon the
cement; she had picked it up on the point of the lash!

It was a surprising feat. That she managed to accomplish it at the
first attempt surprised no one so much as the Bride herself. This also
added in a dangerous degree to her excitement. She was now in little
less than a frenzy. She seemed to forget where she was, and to think
that she was back on the station in New South Wales, where she could
do what she liked.

'Now that you've seen I can do that,' she cried to the lad, 'stand you
with your back to the wall there, and I'll take your hat off for you!'

The answer of the dull youth was astonishingly wise; he said nothing
at all, but beat a hasty retreat into the safety of the saddle-room.

She turned to the trembling Garrod. 'Then you!'

Even as he demurred, he saw her hand go up. Next moment the whipcord
hissed past his face and there was a deafening report in his right
ear, and the next a fearful explosion just under his left ear, and
many more at every turn and corner of his face, while the poor man
stood with closed eyes and unuttered prayers. It was an elaborate
substitute for the simpler fun of whipping his cap off, the unhappy
creature being bareheaded already. At last, feeling himself still
untouched, Garrod opened his eyes, watched his opportunity, and, while
the lash still quivered in mid-air, turned and made a valiant bolt for
shelter. His shirt was cut between the shoulder-blades as cleanly as
though a knife had done it, but he reached the saddle-room with a
whole skin.

'Ye cowardly devils!' roared the Bride, now beside herself--her dark
eyes ablaze with diabolical merriment. 'I'll keep you there all day,
so help me, if you don't come out of it!' And, in the execution of her
threat, the long lash cracked in the doorway with terrifying echoes.

At that moment, wildly excited as she was, she became conscious of a
new presence in the yard. She turned her head, to see a somewhat
mean-looking figure in ancient tweed, with his back to the light, but
apparently regarding her closely from under the shadow of his broad
felt wideawake.

'Another of 'em, I do declare!' cried the Bride. And with that the
lash cracked in the ears of the unfortunate new-comer, who stood as
though turned to stone.

The blue sky, from this luckless person's point of view, became alive
with the writhings of serpents, hell-black and numberless. His ears
were filled and stunned with the fiendish musketry. He stood like a
statue; his hands were never lifted from the pockets of his Norfolk
jacket; he never once removed his piercing gaze from the wild face of
his tormentor.

'Why don't you take off your hat to a lady?' that lunatic now shouted,
laughing hoarsely, but never pausing in her vile work. 'Faith, but
I'll do it for you!'

The wideawake then and there spun up into the air, even as the
half-sovereign had spun before it. And the very next instant the
stock-whip slipped from the fingers of the Bride. She had uncovered
the gray hairs of her father-in-law, Sir James Bligh! At the same
moment there was a loud shout behind her, and she staggered backward
almost into the arms of her horror-stricken husband. Even then the
Bride knew that Granville was there too, watching her misery with
grinning eyes. And the Judge did not move a muscle, but stood as he
had stood under her fire, piercing her through and through with his
stern eyes; and there was an expression upon his face which the worst
malefactors he had ever dealt with had perhaps not seen there; and a
terrible silence held the air after the mad uproar of the last few
minutes.

That awful stillness was broken by the patter of unsteady footsteps.
With a crimson face the Bride tottered rather than ran across the
yard, and fell upon her knees on the wet cement, at the Judge's feet.

'Forgive me,' she said; 'I never saw it was you!'



CHAPTER V

GRANVILLE ON THE SITUATION


It was in the forenoon of the same day that Granville entered abruptly
his mother's sanctum. Lady Bligh was busily writing at the great
office-table, but she looked up at once and laid down her pen.
Granville threw himself into her easiest chair with an air of
emancipation.

'They have gone!' he ejaculated. If he had referred to the British
workman or to the bailiffs he could not have employed more emphatic
tones of relief; so Lady Bligh naturally asked to whom he did refer.

'To the happy pair!' said Granville.

'They have gone to town, then?'

'To town for the day.'

Lady Bligh took up her pen again, but only to wipe it, deliberately.
'Now, Granville,' she said, leaning back in her chair, 'I want you to
tell me the truth about--about whatever happened before breakfast. I
don't know yet quite what did happen. I want to get at the truth; but
so far I have been able to gather only shreds and patches of the
truth.'

Granville rose briskly to his feet and took his stand upon the
hearthrug. Then he leant an elbow on the chimney-piece, adjusted his
eyeglass, and smiled down upon Lady Bligh. One easily might have
imagined that the task imposed upon him was congenial in the extreme.
Without further pressing he told the story, and told it succinctly and
well, with a zest that was vaguely felt rather than detected, and with
an entire and artistic suppression of his usual commentaries. The mere
story was so effective in itself that the most humorous parenthesis
could not have improved it, and Granville had the wit to tell it
simply. But when he reached the point where the Judge appeared on the
scene Lady Bligh stopped him; Granville was disappointed.

'I think perhaps I have been told what happened then,' said Lady
Bligh; 'at all events I seem to know, and I don't care to hear it
again. Oh! it was too scandalous! But tell me, Gran, how did your
father bear it?--at the time, I mean.'

'Like a man!' said Granville, with righteous warmth. 'Like a man! With
that vile whip cracking under his very nose, he did not flinch--he did
not stir. Then she whipped his hat from his head; and then she saw
what she had done, and went down on her knees to him--as if _that_
would undo it!'

'And your father?'

'My father behaved splendidly; as no other man in England in his
position and--in _that_ position--would have behaved. He told her at
once, when she said she had not seen it was he, that he quite
understood that; that, in fact, he had seen it for himself from
the first. Then he told her to get up that instant; then he
smiled--actually smiled; and then--you will hardly believe this, but
it is a fact--he gave his arm to Mistress Gladys and took her in to
breakfast!'

Lady Bligh sighed, but made no remark.

'It was more than she deserved; even Alfred admitted that.'

Lady Bligh did not answer.

'Even Alfred was knocked out of time. I never saw a fellow look more
put out than he did at breakfast. He had warned us to prepare for
"mannerisms," but----'

Granville made a tempting pause. Lady Bligh, however, refused to fill
it in. She was engrossed in thought. Her line of thought suddenly
flashed across Granville, and he caught it up dexterously.

'As for the Judge,' said he, 'what the Judge feels no one can say. As
I said, he behaved as only he could have behaved in the infamous
circumstances. But I did see him steal a quiet glance at Alfred; and
that glance said plainer than words: "_You've_ done it, my boy; this
is irrevocable!"'

Lady Bligh was drawn at last.

'This is very painful,' she murmured; 'this is too painful, Granville!'

'Painful?' cried Granville. 'I grant you it's painful; but it's the
fact; it's got to be faced.'

'That may be,' said Lady Bligh, sadly; 'that may be. But we ought not
to be hasty; and we certainly ought not to make too much of this one
escapade.'

Granville shook his head wisely, and smiled.

'I don't think there is much fear of _that_. On the contrary, I doubt
if our eyes are even yet fully open to the enormity of this morning's
work. I don't think we any of us realise the hideous indignity to
which my father has been subjected. But we should. We should think of
it--and of him. Here we have one of the oldest and ablest of Her
Majesty's judges--a man of the widest experience and of the fairest
fame, whose name is a synonym for honour and humanity, not only in the
Profession, but throughout every section of the community--a man, my
dear mother, with whom the very smartest of us--I tell you
frankly--would fight shy of a tilt in court, yet whom we all respect
and honour; in very truth, "a wise and upright judge," though I say it
who am his son. And what has happened to him? How has he been
treated?' cried Granville. 'Well, we know. No need to go into that
again. Only _try_ to realise it, dear mother; try to realise it. To me
there is, I confess, something almost epic in this business!'

'I don't wish to realise it; and I don't know, I am sure, why you
should wish to make me.'

'For no reason,' said Granville, shrugging his shoulders, and also
looking hurt; 'for no kind of reason, except that it _did_ strike me
that my father's character had never--never, that is, in his home
life--come out more strongly or more generously. Why, I should like to
lay ruinous odds that he never refers to the matter again, even to
you; while, you shall see, his manner to her will not suffer the
slightest change in consequence of what has happened.'

'It would be a terrible thing if it did,' said Lady Bligh; and she
added after a pause: 'She _is_ so beautiful!'

Granville drummed with his fingers upon the chimney-piece. His mother
wanted a reply. She wanted sympathy upon this point; it was a very
insignificant point, the Bride's personal beauty; but as yet it seemed
to be the only redeeming feature in Alfred's unfortunate marriage.

'You can't deny _that_, Gran?' she persisted.

'Deny what? The young woman's prepossessing appearance? Certainly not;
nobody with eyes to see could deny that.'

'And after all,' said Lady Bligh, 'brought up as she evidently has
been, it would be astonishing indeed if her ways were _not_ wild and
strange. Consequently, Gran, there is every hope that she will fall
into our ways very soon; is there not?'

'Oh, of course there is _hope_,' said Gran, with an emphasis that was
the reverse of hopeful; 'and there is hope, too, that she will
ultimately fall into our way of speaking: her own "mannerisms," in
that respect, are just a little too marked. Oh, yes, there is hope;
there is hope.'

Lady Bligh said no more; she seemed to have no more to say. Observing
this, Granville consulted his watch, said something about an
engagement in town, and went to the door.

'Going to London?' said Lady Bligh. 'You might have gone with them, I
think.'

'I think not,' said Granville. 'I should have been out of place. They
were going to Madame Tussaud's, or the Tower of London, or the
Zoological Gardens--I don't know which--perhaps to all three. But the
Bride will tell us all about it this evening and how the sights of
London compare with the sights of Melbourne; we may look forward to
that; and, till then--good-bye.'

So Lady Bligh was once more alone. She did not at once resume her
correspondence, however. Leaning back in her chair, she gazed
thoughtfully through the open window at her side, and across the
narrow lawn to where the sunlit river was a silver band behind the
trunks and nether foliage of the trees. Lady Bligh was sad, and no
wonder; but in her heart was little of the wounded pride, and none of
the personal bitterness, that many mothers would feel--and do feel
every day--under similar circumstances. What were the circumstances?
Simply these: her eldest son had married a wife who was beautiful, it
was true, and good-tempered, it appeared; but one who was, on the
other hand, both vulgar and ignorant, and, as a daughter, in every way
impossible. These hard words Lady Bligh pronounced deliberately in her
mind. She was facing the fact, as Granville had said that it should be
faced. Yet Granville had used no such words as these; if he had, he
would have been given reason to regret them.

For, as has been said already, Lady Bligh had a tolerably just
estimate of her son Granville; she thought him only rather more
clever, and a good deal more good-natured, than he really was. She
knew that a man of any cleverness at all is fond of airing his
cleverness--and, indeed, must air it--particularly if he is a young
man. For this reason, she made it a rule to listen generously to all
Granville had to say to her. But there was another reason: Lady Bligh
was a woman who valued highly the confidence and companionship of her
sons. Sometimes, it is true, she thought Granville's cynicism both
cheap and worthless; and sometimes (though more rarely) she told him
so. Often she thought him absurd: she was amused, for instance, when
he solemnly assured her of the Judge's high standing and fair fame in
'the Profession'--as if she needed _his_ assurance on that point! But
it very seldom seemed to her that the things he said were really
ill-natured. There, in the main, she was right. There was no downright
malice (as a rule) in Granville; he was merely egotistical and vain;
he merely loved more than most things the sound of his own voice. He
did not designedly make unkind remarks--at least, not often; but he
never took any pains to make kind ones. He passed among men for a
fellow of good nature, and unquestionably he was good company.
Certainly Lady Bligh overestimated his good nature; but to a great
extent she understood Granville; and in any case--of course--she
loved him. But she loved Alfred more; and it was Alfred who had made
this marriage.

Yet it was only with grief that she could think of the marriage, at
present; she found it impossible to harbour bitter feeling against the
young handsome face and honest brave eyes that had taken poor Alfred
by storm, though they had blinded him to a hundred blemishes. The fact
is, her daughter-in-law's face was haunting Lady Bligh. As the day
wore on she found herself longing wistfully to see it again. When she
did see it again, the face was changed; its expression was thoughtful,
subdued, and even sad. Nor were there any _gaucheries_ at dinner that
night, for both Alfred and Gladys were silent and constrained in
manner.

Then Lady Bligh took heart afresh.

'It _is_ only her bringing up,' she said. 'She will fall into our ways
in time; indeed, she is falling into them already--though not in the
way I wish her to; for it must not make her sad, and it must not make
her feel ashamed. It shall not; for I mean to help her. I mean to be
to her what, indeed, I already am without choice--her mother--if she
will only let me!'



CHAPTER VI

COMPARING NOTES


But, during those first few days, Lady Bligh did not get many
opportunities of carrying out her good intentions towards her
daughter-in-law. For several mornings in succession Alfred carried off
his wife to London, and they never returned until late in the
afternoon, while twice during the first week the pair went to the
theatre. They were seeing the sights of the town; and the Bride did
appear to be impressed with what she saw; but the prospect of an
unreserved and racy commentary upon everything, which the first hour
of her installation in her husband's family had seemed to hold
out--and which Granville, for one, had counted upon--was not properly
realised. And at this Alfred perhaps, was scarcely less disappointed
than Granville.

'Why don't you tell them more what you think of things?' said Alfred.
'They won't fancy you half appreciate the Old Country.'

'I can't help it,' replied his young wife. 'You know that I _do_ like
what I see, dear: you know that I am just delighted with everything:
but how can I tell them so, unless I tell them in my own way? Well,
then, I see they don't like it when I drag in the Colonies; yet you
must compare what you see with something you've seen before; and the
Colonies is the only other country ever I did see.'

But the fact is, it was not so much their daughter-in-law's
comparisons, which were inoffensive in themselves, as the terms in
which these comparisons were expressed, that Lady Bligh and Sir James
felt bound to discourage. For it soon became plain that Gladys could
not talk for two minutes about her native country without unseemly
excitement; and this excitement was invariably accompanied by a small
broadside of undesirable phrases, and by an aggravation of the
dreadful Australian twang, even if some quite indecorous Bush idiom
did not necessitate a hasty change of subject. When Australia was
rigorously tabooed the Bride was safe, and stupid; when it was not,
she might be bright and animated and amusing--but you could never tell
what she would say next--the conversation was full of perils and
pitfalls.

The particular conversations that revealed the thinness of the ice in
this quarter were trivial in the extreme. In them it was mere
touch-and-go with the dangerous subject, nothing more: nothing more
because Gladys was quick to perceive that the subject was unpopular.
So she became rather silent in the long evenings at the dinner-table
and in the drawing-room; for it was her only subject, this one that
they did not seem to like. To strangers, however, who were glad to get
up a conversation with one of the prettiest women they had ever met in
their lives, this seemed the likeliest topic in the world; _they_
could not know that Australia was dangerous ground. The first of them
who ventured upon it did not soon forget the experience; it was
probably always a more amusing reminiscence to him than to Gladys's
new relatives, who heard all that passed, and grinned and bore it.

The stranger in question was by way of being illustrious. He was a
Midland magnate, and his name, Travers, was a good one; but, what was
for the moment much more to the point, he was a very newly elected
Member of the House of Commons; in fact, 'the new boy' there. He came
down to dinner at Twickenham flushed with the agreeable heat of
successful battle. Only the week before he had snatched his native
borough from the spreading fire of Democracy, and won one of the very
closest and most keenly contested by-elections of that year. Naturally
enough, being a friend of some standing, he talked freely of his
electioneering experiences, and with a victor's rightful relish. His
manner, it must be owned, was a trifle ponderous; according to
Granville, he was an inflated bore. But Mr Travers, M.P., was
sufficiently well listened to (Lady Bligh was such a wonderful
listener); and he fought his good fight over and over again with such
untiring energy, and depicted it from so many commanding points of
view, that, even when it came to tea in the drawing-room, the subject
was still unfinished. At all events, it then for the first time became
lively; for it was then that Mr Travers turned to young Mrs Bligh
(also for the first time), and honoured her with an observation:--

'No doubt you order these things better in Australia; eh?'

'What things?' asked the Bride, with some eagerness; for of Australia
she had been thinking, but not of Mr Travers or his election.

'Why,' said the Member, with dignity, 'your elections. I was speaking
of the difficulty of getting some of the lower orders to the poll; you
have almost to drive them there. What I say is, that very probably, in
Australia, you manage these things on a superior system.'

'We do,' said the Bride laconically.

The new Member looked astonished; he had expected a more modest
answer.

'Indeed!' he said stiffly, and addressed himself to his tea-cup.

'For,' explained the Bride, exhibiting dangerous symptoms, 'we _do_
drive 'em to the poll out there, and make no bones about it either!'

'Indeed?' said Mr Travers again; but this time there was some
curiosity in his tone. 'This is interesting. I always thought
Australia was such a superlatively _free_ country!'

The Bride scented a sarcasm.

'So it is,' she cried warmly, beginning to speak at a perilous pace,
and with her worst twang; '_my_ word it is! But you don't understand
me. It's like this: we _do_ drive 'em to the poll, up the Bush; I've
driven 'em lots o' times myself. They're camped out--the voters,
like--all over the runs, for all the hands have a vote; and to get 'em
to the police-barracks (the poll, d'ye see?) on election day, each
squatter's got to muster his own men and drive 'em in. I used to take
one trap with four horses, and father another. Gracious, what a bit of
fun it was! But the difficulty was----'

She hesitated, for Lady Bligh was staring at her; and, though her
ladyship's face was in shadow, the Bride was disturbed, for a moment,
by the rigid pose of the old lady's head. A queer expression was come
over the face of the new Member, moreover; but this Gladys could not
see, for he was a tall man, standing, while she was seated.

'What _was_ the difficulty?' asked Granville from a corner, in an
encouraging tone.

Gladys instantly forgot Lady Bligh. 'To keep 'em from going to the
shanty _first_,' she answered, with a merry laugh.

'The shanty?' repeated Mr Travers, with a vague idea of sailors'
songs.

'The pub., then. Of course they all went afterwards, and--but we were
obliged to keep them sober till they'd voted; and that's where the
difficulty came in.'

The assembly shuddered; but, before new ground could be broken, Mr
Travers, for the first time interested in somebody else's
electioneering experiences, said inquiringly:--

'These squatters I presume, represent the landed interest; _my_ party,
in fact?'

'Oh, I don't know nothing about that,' replied the Bride.

At this juncture Alfred announced, in an uncommonly loud and
aggressive tone, that--what do you think?--the glass was going down!

'Is it?' cried Sir James, with a lively concern quite foreign to his
habit. 'Dear, dear! And Mr Travers just now assured me that the
weather was quite settled. I fear that this will disappoint--er--Mr
Travers!'

But it failed even to attract that gentleman's attention; and
Granville, in the background, chuckled satanically over the
ingenuousness of the device. Mr Travers, in fact, was sufficiently
interested elsewhere. 'Yet, of course,' he was saying, 'there _are_
two parties?'

'_My_ word, there are!' returned the Bride.

'And do you call them Whig and Tory?'

'I don't think it'--doubtfully.

'Conservative and Liberal, perhaps?'

'Not that I know of.'

'Yet you say you have two parties----'

'Of course we have, same as you,' broke in the Bride, who would brook
anything rather than the implied inferiority of Australia in the most
trivial respect. 'But all ever _I_ heard 'em called was the squatters'
candidate and the selectors' _man_!'

'And your men, I suppose, voted for the squatters' candidate?'

'I should rather hope so!' said Mrs Alfred, with severe emphasis.
'Even Daft Larry--who's both deaf and mad--had sense enough to give us
his vote!'

Mr Travers, though astonished at her tone, said nothing at the moment;
but Granville asked from his corner:--

'What if they didn't, Gladys?'

The Bride was seized with a sudden fit of uncontrollable mirth. Some
reminiscence evidently tickled her.

'There _was_ one man that we knew of that voted wrong,' she said,
'and he got it pretty hot, I can tell you!'

'Advanced Australia!' murmured Granville.

'I am sorry to hear that, Mrs Bligh,' said Mr Travers (who had ceased
to deal with those local tradesmen, at his place in the Midlands, who
were suspected of having 'voted wrong' the previous week). 'I am sorry
indeed to hear that. May I ask who punished him?'

'Certainly--_I_ did.'

It was a startling reply. The Judge quietly quitted the room. Alfred,
with his back to every one, surveyed his red face in the
mantel-mirror, and ground his teeth; only Lady Bligh sat stoically
still.

'He came back to the trap very drunk--blind, speechless, paralytic,'
the Bride explained rapidly, 'and owned up what he'd done as bold as
brass. So I let him have it with the whip, pretty sudden, I can tell
you. It was chiefly for his drunken insolence--but not altogether,'
said Gladys, candidly.

Mr Travers had been glad to pick up a thing or two concerning
Australian politics, but he seemed now to consider himself
sufficiently enlightened.

'Do you sing, Mrs Bligh?' he asked somewhat abruptly.

'Not a note,' said the Bride, perceiving with regret that the subject
was changed.

'You play, perhaps? If so----'

'No, I can't play neither,' said the Bride, smiling broadly--and
bewitchingly. 'I'm no good at all, you see!'

It seemed too true. She had not the saving grace of a single
accomplishment--nothing, nothing, nothing but her looks!



CHAPTER VII

IN RICHMOND PARK


The day after Mr Travers dined at Twickenham was almost the first day
that passed without the happy pair running up to London together.

'It's far too hot to think of town, or of wearing anything but
flannels all day,' said Alfred in the morning. 'But there's plenty to
see hereabouts, Gladdie. There's Bushey Park and Hampton Court, and
Kew Gardens, and Richmond Park. What do you say to a stroll in
Richmond Park? It's as near as anything, and we shall certainly get
most air there.'

Gladys answered promptly that she was 'on' (they were alone); and they
set out while the early haze of a sweltering day was hanging closely
over all the land, but closest of all about the river.

There was something almost touching in the air of serious
responsibility with which these two went about their daily
sight-seeing; though Granville derived the liveliest entertainment
from the spectacle. The worst of guides himself, and in many respects
the least well-informed of men, Alfred nevertheless had no notion of
calling in the aid of a better qualified cicerone, and of falling into
the rear himself to listen and learn with his wife. At the same time,
the fierce importance, to his wife, of this kind of education
exaggerated itself in his mind; so he secretly armed himself with
'Baedeker,' and managed to keep a lesson ahead of his pupil, on
principles well known to all who have ever dabbled in the noble art of
'tutoring.' But, indeed, Alfred's whole conduct towards his wife was
touching--touching in its perpetual tenderness, touching in its
unflagging consideration, and ten times touching in the fact that his
devotion was no longer blind. His eyes had been slowly and painfully
opened during this first week at home. Peculiar manners, which, out
there in the Bush, had not been peculiar, seemed worse than that here
in England. They had to bear continual comparison with the soft
speech and gentle ways of Lady Bligh, and the contrast was sharp and
cruel. But the more Alfred realised his wife's defects the more he
loved her. That was the nature of his simple heart and its simple
love. At least _she_ should not know that he saw her in a different
light, and at first he would have cut his tongue out rather than tell
her plainly of her peculiarities. Presently she would see them for
herself, and then, in her own good time, she would rub down of her own
accord the sharper angles; and then she would take Lady Bligh for her
model, instinctively, without being told to do so: and so all would be
well. Arguing thus, Alfred had not allowed her to say a word to him
about that escapade with the stock-whip on the first morning, for her
penitence was grievous to him--and was it a thing in the least likely
to happen twice? Nevertheless, he was thoroughly miserable in a
week--that electioneering conversation was the finisher--and at last
he had determined to speak. Thus the walk to Richmond was strangely
silent, for all the time he was casting about for some way of
expressing what was in his mind, without either wounding her feelings
or letting her see that his own were sore.

Now they walked to Richmond by the river, and then over the bridge,
but, before they climbed the hill to the park gates, a solemn
ceremony, insisted upon by Alfred, was duly observed: the Bride ate a
'Maid-of-Honour' in the Original Shop; and when the famous delicacy
had been despatched and criticised, and Alfred had given a wild and
stumbling account of its historic origin, his wife led the way back
into the sunshine in such high spirits that his own dejection deepened
sensibly as the burden of his unuttered remonstrances increased. At
last, in despair, he resolved to hold his tongue, for that morning at
least. Then, indeed, they chatted cheerfully together for the first
time during the walk, and he was partly with her in her abuse of the
narrow streets and pavements of Richmond, but still stuck up for them
on the plea that they were quaint and thoroughly English; whereat she
laughed him to scorn; and so they reached the park.

But no sooner was the soft cool grass under their dusty feet, and the
upland swelling before them as far as the eye could travel, than the
Bride became suddenly and unaccountably silent. Alfred stole curious
glances as he walked at her side, and it seemed to him that the dark
eyes roving so eagerly over the landscape were grown wistful and sad.

'How like it is to the old place!' she exclaimed at last.

'You don't mean your father's run, Gladdie?'

'Yes, I do; this reminds me of it more than anything I've seen yet.'

'What nonsense, my darling!' said Alfred, laughing. 'Why, there is no
such green spot as this in all Australia!'

'Ah! you were there in the drought, you see; you never saw the run
after decent rains. If you had, you'd soon see the likeness between
those big paddocks in what we call the "C Block" and this. But the
road spoils this place; it wants a Bush road; let's get off it for a
bit.'

So they bore inward, to the left, and Gladys was too thoroughly
charmed, and too thoughtful, to say much. And now the cool bracken was
higher than their knees, and the sun beat upon their backs very
fiercely; and now they walked upon turf like velvet, in the shadow of
the trees.

'You don't get many trees like these out there,' said Alfred.

'Well--not in Riverina, I know we don't,' Gladys reluctantly admitted;
and soon she added: 'Nor any water-holes like this.'

For they found themselves on the margin of the largest of the Pen
Ponds. There was no wind, not a ripple could be seen upon the whole
expanse of the water. The fierce sun was still mellowed by a thin,
gauzy haze, and the rays were diffused over the pond in a solid gleam.
The trees on the far side showed fairly distinct outlines, filled in
with a bluish smoky gray, and entirely without detail. The day was
sufficiently sultry, even for the Thames Valley.

'And yet,' continued Gladys, speaking slowly and thoughtfully, 'it
_does_ remind one of the Bush, somehow. I have sometimes brought a mob
of sheep through the scrub to the water, in the middle of the day, and
the water has looked just like this--like a great big lump of
quicksilver pressed into the ground and shaved off level. That'd be on
the hot still days, something like to-day. We now and then did have a
day like this, you know--only, of course, a jolly sight hotter. But we
had more days with the hot wind, hot and strong; what terrors they
were when you were driving sheep!'

'You were a tremendous stock-rider, Gladdie!' remarked her husband.

'Wasn't I just! Ever since I was _that_ high! And I was fond, like, of
that old run--knew every inch of it better than any man on the
place--except the old man, and perhaps Daft Larry. Knew it, bless you!
from sunrise--you remember the sunrise out there, dull, and red, and
sudden--to sundown, when you spotted the station pines black as ink
against the bit of pink sky, as you came back from mustering. Let's
see--I forget how it goes--no, it's like this:--

    ''Twas merry 'mid the black-woods when we spied the station roofs,
       To wheel the wild scrub cattle at the yard,
    With a running fire of stock-whips and a fiery run of hoofs,
       Oh, the hardest day was never then too hard!

That's how it goes, I think. We used sometimes to remember it as we
rode home, dog-tired. But it was sheep with us, not cattle, more's the
pity. Why, what's wrong, Alfred? Have you seen a ghost?'

'No. But you fairly amaze me, darling. I'd no idea you knew any
poetry. What is it?'

'Gordon--mean to say you've never heard of him? Adam Lindsay Gordon!
You _must_ have heard of him, out there. _Everybody_ knows him in the
Bush. Why, I've heard shearers, and hawkers, and swagmen spouting him
by the yard! He was our Australian poet, and _you_ never had one to
beat him. Father says so. Father says he is as good as Shakespeare.'

Alfred made no contradiction, for a simple reason: he had not listened
to her last sentences; he was thinking how well she hit off the Bush,
and how nicely she quoted poetry. He was silent for some minutes. Then
he said earnestly:--

'I wish, my darling, that you would sometimes talk to my mother like
that!'

Gladys returned from the antipodes in a flash. 'I shall never talk to
any of your people any more about Australia!' And, by her tone, she
meant it.

'Why not?'

'Because they don't like it, Alfred; I see they don't, though I never
see it so clearly as when it's all over and too late. Yet why should
they hate it so? Why should it annoy them? I've nothing else to talk
about, and I should have thought they'd like to hear of another
country. I know _I_ liked to hear all about England from _you_,
Alfred!'

Faint though it was, the reproach in her voice cut him to the heart.
Yet his moment had come. He had decided, it is true, to say nothing at
all; but then there had been no opening, and here was one such as
might never come again.

'Gladdie,' he began, with great tenderness, 'don't be hurt, but I'm
going to tell you what _may_ have something to do with it. You know,
you are apt to get--I won't say excited--but perhaps a little _too_
enthusiastic, when you talk of the Bush. Quite right--and no wonder,
_I_ say--but then, here in England, somehow, they very seldom seem to
get enthusiastic. Then, again--I think--perhaps--you say things that
are all right out there, but sound odd in our ridiculous ears. For we
are an abominable, insular nation of humbugs----' began poor Alfred
with a tremendous burst of indignation, fearing that he had said too
much, and making a floundering effort to get out of what he _had_
said. But his wife cut him short.

The colour had mounted to her olive cheeks. Denseness, at all events,
was not among her failings--when she kept calm.

She was sufficiently calm now. 'I see what you mean, and I shall
certainly say no more about Australia. "I like a man that is
well-bred!" Do you remember how Daft Larry used to wag his head and
say that whenever he saw you? "You're not one of the low sort," he
used to go on; and how we did laugh! But I've been thinking, Alfred,
that he couldn't have said the same about me, if I'd been a man.
And--and that's at the bottom of it all!' She smiled, but her smile
was sad.

'You are offended, Gladys?'

'Not a bit. Only I seem to understand.'

'You _don't_ understand! And that _isn't_ at the bottom of it!'

'Very well, then, it isn't. So stop frowning like that this instant.
I'd no idea you looked so well when you were fierce. I shall make you
fierce often now. Come, you stupid boy! I shall learn in time. How do
you know I'm not learning already? Come away; we've had enough of the
water-hole, I think.'

She took his arm, and together they struck across to Ham Gate. But
Alfred was silent and moody; and the Bride knew why.

'_Dear_ old Alfred,' she said at last, pressing his arm with her hand;
'I _know_ I shall get on well with all your people, in time.'

'All of them, Gladdie?'

'At any rate, all but Granville.'

'Still not Gran! I was afraid of it.'

'No; I shall never care much about Gran. I can't help it, really I
can't. He is everlastingly sneering, and he thinks himself so much
smarter than he is. Then he enjoys it when I make a fool of myself; I
see he does; and--oh, I can't bear him!'

A pugnacious expression came into Alfred's face, but passed over, and
left it only stern.

'Yes,' he said, 'I know his infernal manner; but, when he sneers, it's
only to show what a superior sort of fellow he is; he doesn't mean
anything by it. The truth is, I fear he's becoming a bit of a snob;
but at least he's a far better fellow than you think; there really
isn't a better fellow going. Take my word for it, and for Heaven's
sake avoid words with _him_; will you promise me this much, Gladdie?'

'Very well--though I _have_ once or twice thought there'd be a row
between us, and though I _do_ think what he'd hear from me would do
him all the good in the world. But I promise. And I promise, too, not
to gas about Australia, to any of them for a whole week. So there.'

They walked on, almost in silence, until Ham Common was crossed and
they had reached the middle of the delightful green. And here--with
the old-fashioned houses on three sides of them, and the avenue of
elms behind them and the most orthodox of village duck-ponds at their
feet--Gladys stopped short, and fairly burst into raptures.

'But,' said Alfred, as soon as he could get a word in, which was not
immediately, 'you go on as though this was the first real, genuine
English village you'd seen; whereas nothing could be more entirely and
typically English than Twickenham itself.'

'Ah, but this seems miles and miles away from Twickenham, and all the
other villages round about that I've seen. I think I would rather live
here, where it is so quiet and still, like a Bush township. I like
Twickenham; but on one side there's nothing but people going up and
down in boats, and on the other side the same thing, only coaches
instead of boats. And I hate the sound of those coaches, with their
jingle and rattle and horn-blowing; though I shouldn't hate it if I
were on one.'

'Would you so very much like to fizz around on a coach, then?'

'Would I _not_!' said Gladys.

The first person they saw, on getting home, was Granville, who was
lounging in the little veranda where they had taken tea on the
afternoon of their arrival, smoking cigarettes over a book. It was the
first volume of a novel, which he was scanning for review. He seemed
disposed to be agreeable.

'Gladys,' he said, 'this book's about Australia; what's a "new chum,"
please? I may as well know, as, so far, the hero's one.'

'A "new chum,"' his sister-in-law answered him readily, 'is some
fellow newly out from home, who goes up the Bush; and he's generally a
fool.'

'Thank you,' said Granville; 'the hero of this story answers in every
particular to your definition.'

Granville went on with his skimming. On a slip of paper lying handy
were the skeletons of some of the smart epigrammatic sentences with
which the book would presently be pulverised. Husband and wife had
gone through into the house, leaving him to his congenial task; when
the Tempter, in humorous mood, put it into the head of his good friend
Granville to call back the Bride for a moment's sport.

'I say'--the young man assumed the air of the innocent
interlocutor--'is it true that every one out there wears a big black
beard, and a red shirt, and jack-boots and revolvers?'

'No, it is not; who says so?'

'Well, this fellow gives me that impression. In point of fact, it
always _was_ my impression. Isn't it a fact, however, that most of
your legislators (I meant to ask you this last night, but our friend
the senator gave me no chance)--that most of your legislators are
convicts?'

'Does your book give you that impression too?' the Bride inquired
coolly.

'No; that's original, more or less.'

'Then it's wrong, altogether. But, see here, Gran: you ought to go out
there.'

'Why, pray?'

'You remember what I said a "new chum" was?'

'Yes; among other things a fool.'

'Very good. You ought to go out there, because there are the makings
of such a splendid "new chum" in _you_. You're thrown away in
England.'

Granville dropped his book and put up his eyeglass. But the Bride was
gone. She had already overtaken her husband, and seized him by the
arm.

'Oh, Alfred,' she cried, 'I have done it! I have broken my promise! I
have had words with Gran! Oh, my poor boy--I'm beginning to make you
wish to goodness you'd never seen me--I feel I am!'



CHAPTER VIII

GRAN'S REVENGE


All men may be vain, but the vanity of Granville Bligh was, so to
speak, of a special brand. In the bandying of words (which, after all,
was his profession) his vanity was not too easily satisfied by his own
performances. This made him strong in attack, through setting up a
high standard, of the kind; but it left his defence somewhat weak for
want of practice. His war was always within the enemy's lines. He paid
too much attention to his attack. Thus, though seldom touched by an
adversary, when touched he was wounded; and, what was likely to
militate against his professional chances, when wounded he was
generally winged. His own skin was too thin; he had not yet learned
to take without a twinge what he gave without a qualm: for a smart and
aggressive young man he was simply absurdly sensitive.

But, though weaker in defence than might have been expected, Granville
was no mean hand at retaliation. He neither forgot nor forgave; and he
paid on old scores and new ones with the heavy interest demanded by
his exorbitant vanity. Here again his vanity was very fastidious.
First or last, by fair means or foul, Granville was to finish a
winner. Until he did, his vanity and he were not on speaking terms.

There were occasions, of course, when he was not in a position either
to _riposte_ at once or to whet his blade and pray for the next merry
meeting. Such cases occurred sometimes in court, when the bench would
stand no nonsense, and brusquely said as much, if not rather more.
Incredible as it may seem, however, Granville felt his impotency
hardly less in the public streets, when he happened to be unusually
well dressed and gutter-chaff rose to the occasion. In fact, probably
the worst half-hour he ever spent in his life was one fine morning
when unaccountable energy actuated him to walk to Richmond, and take
the train there, instead of getting in at Twickenham; for,
encountering a motley and interminable string of vehicles _en route_
to Kempton Park, he ran a gauntlet of plebeian satire during that
half-hour, such as he never entirely could forget.

To these abominable experiences, the Bride's piece of rudeness
unrefined (which she had the bad taste to perpetrate at the very
moment when he was being rude to her, but in a gentlemanlike way) was
indeed a mere trifle; but Granville, it will now be seen, thought more
of trifles than the ordinary rational animal; and this one completely
altered his attitude towards Gladys.

If, hitherto, he had ridiculed her, delicately, to her face, and
disparaged her--with less delicacy--behind her back, he had been merely
pursuing a species of intellectual sport, without much malicious
intent. He was not aware that he had ever made the poor thing
uncomfortable. He had not inquired into that. He was only aware that he
had more than once had his joke out of her, and enjoyed it, and felt
pleased with himself. But his sentiment towards her was no longer so
devoid of animosity. She had scored off him; he had felt it
sufficiently at the moment; but he felt it much more when it had
rankled a little. And he despised and detested himself for having been
scored off, even without witnesses, by a creature so coarse and
contemptible. He was too vain to satisfy himself with the comfortable,
elastic, and deservedly popular principle that certain unpleasantnesses
and certain unpleasant people are 'beneath notice.' Nobody was beneath
Granville's notice; he would have punished with his own boot the young
blackguards of the gutter, could he have been sure of catching them,
and equally sure of not being seen; and he punished Gladys in a fashion
that precluded detection--even Gladys herself never knew that she was
under the lash.

On the contrary, she ceased to dislike her brother-in-law. He was
become more polite to her than he had ever been before; more affable
and friendly in every way. Quite suddenly, they were brother and
sister together.

'How well those two get on!' Lady Bligh would whisper to her husband,
during the solemn game of _bezique_ which was an institution of their
quieter evenings; and, indeed, the Bride and her brother-in-law had
taken to talking and laughing a good deal in the twilight by the open
window. But, sooner or later, Granville was sure to come over to the
card-table with Gladys's latest story or saying, with which he would
appear to be hugely amused: and the same he delighted to repeat in its
original vernacular, and with its original slips of grammar, but with
his own faultless accent--which emphasised those peculiarities, making
Lady Bligh sigh sadly and Sir James look as though he did not hear.
And Alfred was too well pleased that his wife had come to like
Granville at last, to listen to what they were talking about; and the
poor girl herself never once suspected the unkindness; far from it,
indeed, for she liked Granville now.

'I thought he would never forgive me for giving him that bit of my
mind the other day; but you see, Alfred, it did him good; and now I
like him better than I ever thought possible in this world. He's
awfully good to me. And we take an interest in the same sort of
things. Didn't you hear how interested he was in Bella's sweetheart at
lunch to-day?'

Alfred turned away from the fresh bright face that was raised to his.
He could not repress a frown.

'I _do_ wish you wouldn't call the girl Bella,' he said, with some
irritation. 'Her name's Bunn. Why don't you _call_ her Bunn, dear? And
nobody dreams of making talk about their maids' affairs, let alone
their maids' young men, at the table. It's not the custom--not in
England.'

A week ago he would not have remonstrated with her upon so small a
matter; but the ice had been broken that morning in Richmond Park. And
a week ago she would very likely have told him, laughingly, to hang
his English customs; but now she looked both pained and puzzled, as
she begged him to explain to her the harm in what she had said.

'Harm?' said Alfred, more tenderly. 'Well, there was no real _harm_ in
it--that's the wrong word altogether--especially as we were by
ourselves, without guests. Still, you know, the mother doesn't want to
hear all about her servants' family affairs, and what her servants'
sweethearts are doing in Australia, or anywhere else. All
that--particularly when you talk of the woman by her Christian
name--sounds very much--why, it sounds almost as though you made a
personal friend of the girl, Gladdie!'

Gladys opened wide her lovely eyes. 'Why, so I do!'

Alfred looked uncomfortable.

'So I do!' said the Bride again. 'And why not, pray? There, you see,
you know of no reason why I shouldn't be friends with her, you goose!
But I won't speak of her any more as Bella, if you don't like--except
to her face. I shall call her what I please to her face, sir! But,
indeed, I wouldn't have spoken about her at all to-day, only I _was_
interested to know her young man was out there; and Gran seemed as
interested as me, for he went on asking questions----'

Alfred was quite himself again.

'Any way, darling,' he said, interrupting her with a kiss, 'I am glad
you have got over your prejudice against Gran!'--and he went out,
looking it; but leaving behind him less of gladness than he carried
away.

The conversation had taken place in the little morning-room in the
front of the house, which faced the west; and the strong afternoon
sunshine, striking down through the trembling tree-tops, dappled the
Bride's face with lights and shadows. It was not, at the moment, a
very happy face. All the reckless, radiant, aggressive independence of
two or three weeks ago was gone out of it. The bold, direct glance
was somewhat less bold. The dark, lustrous, lovely eyes were become
strangely wistful. Gladys was in trouble.

It had crept upon her by slow degrees. Shade by shade the fatal truth
had dawned even upon her--the fatal disparity between herself and her
new relatives. This was plainer to no one now than to the Bride
herself; and to her the disparity meant despair--it was so wide--and
it grew wider day by day, as her realisation of it became complete.
Well, she had made friends with Granville: but that was all. The Judge
had been distant and ceremonious from the first: he was distant and
ceremonious still. He had never again unbent so much as at that tragic
moment when he bade her rise from her knees in the wet stable-yard. As
for Lady Bligh, she had begun by being kind enough; but her kindness
had run to silent sadness. She seemed full of regrets. Gladys was as
far from her as ever. And Gladys knew the reasons for all this--some
of them. She saw, now, the most conspicuous among her own
shortcomings; and against those that she did see (Heaven knows) she
struggled strenuously. But there were many she could not see, yet;
she felt this, vaguely; and it was this that filled her with despair.

It was green grass that she gazed out upon from the morning-room
window, as the trouble deepened in her eyes; and in Australia she had
seldom seen grass that was green. But just then she would have given
all the meadows of England for one strip of dry saltbush plain, with
the sun dropping down behind the far-away line of sombre, low-sized
scrub, and the sand-hills flushing in the blood-red light, and the cool
evening wind coming up from the south. The picture was very real to
her--as real, for the moment, as this shaven grass-plot, and the line
of tall trees that shadowed it, with their trunks indistinguishable, in
this light, against the old brick wall. Then she sighed, and the vision
vanished--and she thought of Alfred.

'He can't go on loving me always, unless I improve,' she said
dismally. 'I _must_ get more like his own people, and get on better
with them, and all that. I _must_! Yet he doesn't tell me how to set
to work; and it's hard to find out for oneself. I am trying; but it's
very hard. If only somebody would show me how! For, unless I find out,
he can't care about me much longer--I see it--he can't!'

Yet it seemed that he did.

If attending to the most extravagant wish most lightly spoken counts
for anything, Alfred could certainly care for his wife still, and did
care for her very dearly indeed. And that wish that Gladys had
expressed while walking through the village of Ham--the desire to
drive about in a coach-and-four--had been at least lightly uttered,
and had never since crossed her mind, very possibly. Nevertheless, one
day in the second week of June the coach-and-four turned up--spick and
span, and startling and fairylike as Cinderella's famous vehicle. It
was Alfred's surprise; he had got the coach for the rest of the
season; and when he saw that his wife could find no words to thank
him--but could only gaze at him in silence, with her lovely eyes grown
soft and melting, and his hand pressed in hers--then, most likely, the
honest fellow experienced a purer joy than he had ever known in all
his life before. Nor did the surprise end there. By collusion with
Lady Bligh and Granville, a strong party had been secretly convened
for Ascot the very next day; and a charming dress, which Gladys had
never ordered, came down from her dressmaker in Conduit Street that
evening--when Alfred confessed, and was hugged. And thus, just as she
was getting low and miserable and self-conscious, Gladys was carried
off her feet and whirled without warning into a state of immense
excitement.

Perhaps she could not have expressed her gratitude more eloquently
than she did but a minute before they all drove off in the glorious
June morning; when, getting her husband to herself for one moment, she
flung her arms about his neck and whispered tenderly:--

'I'm going to be as good as gold all day--it's the least I can do,
darling!'

And she was no worse than her word. The racing interested her
vastly--she won a couple of sweepstakes too, by the way--yet all day
she curbed her wild excitement with complete success. Only her dark
eyes sparkled so that people declared they had never seen a woman so
handsome, and in appearance so animated, who proved to have so
little--so appallingly little--to say for herself. And it was Gladys
herself who drove them all home again, handling the ribbons as no
other woman handled them that season, and cracking her whip as very
few men could crack one, so that it was heard for half a mile through
the clear evening air, while for half that distance people twisted
their necks and strained their eyes to see the last of the dark,
bewitching, dashing driver who threaded her way with such nerve and
skill through the moving maze of wheels and horseflesh that choked the
country roads.

And, with it all, she kept her promise to the letter. And her husband
was no less delighted than proud. And only her brother-in-law felt
aggrieved.

'But it's too good to last,' was that young man's constant
consolation. 'It's a record, so far; but she'll break out before the
day is over; she'll entertain us yet--or I'll know the reason why!' he
may have added in his most secret soul. At all events, as he sat next
her at dinner, when the Lady Lettice Dunlop--his right-hand
neighbour--remarked in a whisper the Bride's silence, Granville was
particularly prompt to whisper back:--

'Try her about Australia. Sound her on the comparative merits of their
races out there and Ascot. Talk in front of me, if you like; I don't
mind; and she'll like it.'

So Lady Lettice Dunlop leant over gracefully, and said she had heard
of a race called the Melbourne Cup; and how did it compare with the
Gold Cup at Ascot?

The Bride shook her head conclusively, and a quick light came into her
eyes. 'There is _no_ comparison.'

'You mean, of course, that your race does not compare with ours? Well,
it hardly would, you know!' Lady Lettice smiled compassionately.

'Not a bit of it!' was the brusque and astonishing retort. 'I mean
that the Melbourne Cup knocks spots--I mean to say, is ten thousand
times better than what we saw to-day!'

The Lady Lettice sat upright again and manipulated her fan. And it was
Granville's opening.

'I can quite believe it,' chimed in Gran. 'I always _did_ hear that
that race of yours was the race of the world. Englishmen say so who
have been out there, Lady Lettice. But you should tell us wherein the
superiority lies, Gladys.'

The Bride complied with alacrity.

'Why, the course is ever so much nicer; there are ever so many more
people, but ever so much less crowding; the management of everything
is ever so much better; and the dresses are gayer--_ever_ so much!'

'Ever so much' was a recent reform suggested by Alfred. It was an
undoubted improvement upon 'a jolly sight,' which it replaced; but,
like most reforms, it was apt to be too much _en evidence_ just at
first.

She rattled off the points at a reckless rate, and paused fairly
breathless. Her speaking looks and silent tongue no longer presented
their curious contradiction; she not only looked excited, but spoke
excitedly now. Lady Lettice smiled faintly, with elevated eyes and
eyebrows, as she listened--till the comparison between Colonial and
English dress, at which home-touch Lady Lettice was momentarily
overcome behind her fan. But the Bride had other hearers besides Lady
Lettice; and those who heard listened for more; and those who listened
for more heard Granville remark pleasantly:--

'You used to come down from the Bush for the Melbourne Cup, then?'

'Did once,' Gladys was heard to reply.

'Have a good time?'

'Did _so_.'

'Old gentleman in luck, then?'

'Pretty well. No; not altogether, I think.'

'Didn't care about going again, eh?'

'No; but that was because he knocked up when we got back.'

The conversation had become entirely confidential between the two.
Lady Lettice was out of it, and looked as though she were glad of
that, though in reality she was listening with quite a fierce
interest. Others were listening too, and not a few were watching the
Bride with a thorough fascination: the good humour and high spirits
with which she was now brimming over enhanced her beauty to a
remarkable degree.

'What was it that knocked him up?' inquired Granville softly, but in
distinct tones.

She smiled at him. 'Never you mind!'

'But I am interested.' He looked it.

She smiled at him again, not dreaming that any other eye was upon her;
then she raised her champagne glass two inches from the table and set
it down again; and her smile broadened, as though it were the best
joke in the world.

The refined tale was told. The action was understood by all who had
listened to what went before.

The Judge was one of those who both saw and heard; and he spoke to
Granville on the subject afterwards, and with some severity. But
Gran's defence was convincing enough.

'Upon my honour, sir,' he protested, 'I had no kind of idea what was
coming.'

'Well,' said the Judge, grimly, 'I hope _everybody_ did not take it
in. Her own father, too! Apart from the offensiveness of the
revelation, there was a filial disrespect in it which, to me, was the
worst part of it all.'

Granville looked at his father humorously through his eyeglass.

'I fear, sir, she is like _our_ noble Profession--no Respecter of
Persons!'

But the Judge saw nothing to smile at. 'It is nothing to joke about,
my boy,' he observed. 'It has provoked me more than I can say. It is
enough to frighten one out of asking people to the house. It forces me
to do what I am very unwilling to do: I shall speak seriously to
Alfred before we go to bed.'



CHAPTER IX

E TENEBRIS LUX


Wild weather set in after Ascot. The break-up was sudden; in England
it generally is. In a single night the wind flew into the east, and
clouds swept into the sky, and thermometers and barometers went down
with a run together. One went to bed on a warm, still, oppressive
night in June; one got up four months later, in the rough October
weather. The Bride came down shivering and aggrieved; the whims and
frailties of the English climate were new to her, and sufficiently
disagreeable. She happened to be down before any one else, moreover;
and there were no fires in the rooms, which were filled with a
cheerless, pallid light; while outside the prospect was dismal indeed.

The rain beat violently upon the windows facing the river, and the
blurred panes distorted a picture that was already melancholy enough.
The sodden leaves, darkened and discoloured by the rain, swung heavily
and nervelessly in the wind; the strip of river behind the trees was
leaden, like the sky, and separable from it only by the narrow,
formless smear that marked the Surrey shore. In the garden, the paths
were flanked with yellow, turbid runnels; the lawn alone looked happy
and healthy; the life seemed drowned out of everything else--in this
single night after Ascot. Gladys shivered afresh, and turned her back
on the windows in miserable spirits. And, indeed, in downright
depressing spectacles, a hopeless summer's day in the Thames Valley is
exceptionally rich.

The Bride, however, had no monopoly of bad spirits that morning. This
became plain at breakfast, but it was not so plain that the dejection
of the others arose from the same simple cause as her own. Vaguely,
she felt that it did not. At once she asked herself if aught that she
had done or said unwittingly could be connected in any way with the
general silence and queer looks; and then she questioned herself
closely on every incident of the previous day and her own conduct
therein--a style of self-examination to which Gladys was becoming
sadly used. But no, she could remember nothing that she had done or
said amiss yesterday. With respect to that day, at least, her
conscience was clear. She could say the same of no other day, perhaps;
but yesterday morning she had promised her husband golden behaviour;
and she honestly believed, this morning, that she had kept her promise
well. Yet _his_ manner was strangest of all this morning, and
particularly strange towards her, his wife. It was as though he had
heard something against her. He barely looked at her. He only spoke to
her to tell her that he must go up to town on business, and therefore
alone; and he left without any tenderness in bidding her good-bye,
though it was the first time he had gone up without her.

Gladys was distressed and apprehensive. What had she done? She did not
know; nor could she guess. But she did know that the longer she stood
in the empty rooms, and drummed with her fingers upon the cold,
bleared panes, gazing out at the wretched day, the more she yearned
for one little glimpse of the sunlit bush. The barest sand-hill on
her father's run would have satisfied her so long as its contour came
with a sharp edge against the glorious dark-blue sky; the worst bit of
mallee scrub in all Riverina--with the fierce sun gilding the
leaves--would have presented a more cheery prospect than this one on
the banks of the renowned (but overrated) Thames. So thought Gladys;
and her morning passed without aim or occupation, but with many sad
reflections and bewildering conjectures, and in complete solitude; for
Lady Bligh was upstairs in her little room, and everybody else was in
town. Nor did luncheon enliven matters in the least. It was virtually
a silent, as it was certainly a disagreeable, _tête-à-tête_.

And yet, though Lady Bligh went up again to her little room without so
much as inquiring into her daughter-in-law's plans for the afternoon,
neither was she without a slight twinge of shame herself.

'But I could not help it!' Lady Bligh exclaimed to herself more than
once--so often, in fact, as to prove conclusively that she _could_
have helped it. 'I could not help it--indeed I could not. Once or
twice I did try to say something--but there, I could not do it! After
all, what have I to talk to her about? What is there in common between
us? On the other hand, is not talking to her hanging oneself on
tenter-hooks, for dread of what she will say next? And this is
Alfred's wife! No pretensions--none of the instincts--no, not one!'

A comfortable fire was burning in the sanctum, lighting up the
burnished brass of fender and guard and the brown tiles of the
fireplace with a cheerful effect; and this made the chill gray light
that hung over the writing-table under the window less inviting, if
possible, than it had been before luncheon. Lady Bligh immediately
felt that, for this afternoon, writing letters over there in the cold
was out of the question. She stood for a moment before the pleasant
fire, gazing regretfully at Alfred's photograph on the chimney-piece.
Then a thought smote her--heavily. She rang the bell. A maid answered
it.

'Light a fire for Mrs Alfred downstairs--in the morning-room, I
think--and this minute. How dreadful of me not to think of it before!'
said Lady Bligh, when the servant was gone. 'Poor girl! Now I think of
it, she _did_ look cold at the table. I feel the cold myself to-day,
but she must feel it ten times more, coming from that hot country. And
I have had a fire all the morning, and she has not! She looked sad,
too, as well as cold, now I think of it. I wonder why? She seems so
unconscious of everything, so independent, so indifferent. And,
certainly, I blame myself for seeing so little of her. But does the
smallest advance ever come from _her_ side? Does _she_ ever try to
meet _me_ half-way? If only she had done so--if only she were to do so
now----'

Lady Bligh stopped before following further a futile and mortifying
train of speculation. No; it were better, after all, that no advances
should be made now. It was a little too late for them. If, in the
beginning, her daughter-in-law had come to her and sought her sympathy
and her advice, it would have been possible then to influence and to
help her; it might have been not difficult, even, to break to
her--gently and with tact--many of her painful peculiarities as they
appeared. But she had not come, and now it was too late. The account
might have been settled item by item; but the sum was too heavy to
deal with in the lump.

'Yet her face troubles me,' said Lady Bligh. 'It is so handsome, so
striking, so full of character and of splendid possibilities; and I
cannot understand why it should sometimes look so wistful and longing;
for at all events this must be a very different--and surely a
preferable--existence to her old rough life out there, with her
terrible father' (Lady Bligh shuddered), 'and no mother.'

She could not write, so she drew the easy-chair close to the fire, and
wrapped a shawl about her shoulders, and placed a footstool for her
feet, and sat down in luxury with a Review. But neither could Lady
Bligh read, and ultimately her brooding would probably have ended in a
nap, had not some one tapped at the door.

Lady Bligh--a hater of indolence, who commonly practised her
principle--being taken unawares, was weak enough to push back her
chair somewhat, and to kick aside the footstool, before saying, 'Come
in.' Then she looked round--and it was the Bride herself.

'Am I disturbing you very much?' asked Gladys, calmly; indeed, she
shut the door behind her without waiting for the answer.

Lady Bligh was taken aback rather; but she did not show it. 'Not at
all. Pray come in. Is it something you want to ask me about?'

'There's lots of things I want to ask you about; if it isn't really
bothering you too much altogether, Lady Bligh.'

'Of course it is not, child; I should say so if it were,' Lady Bligh
answered, with some asperity. But her manner was not altogether
discouraging.

'Thank you. Then I think I will sit down on that footstool by the
fender--it is so cold. May I? Thanks. There, that won't keep the fire
from you at all. Now, first of all, may I do _all_ the questioning,
Lady Bligh, please?'

Lady Bligh stared.

'What I mean is, may I ask you questions without you asking me any?
You needn't answer if you don't like, you know. You may even get in
a--in a rage with me, and order me out of the room, if you like. But
please let me do the questioning.'

'I am not likely to get in a rage with you,' said Lady Bligh, dryly,
'though I have no idea what is coming; so you had better begin,
perhaps.'

'Very well; then what I want to know is this--and I do want to know
it very badly indeed. When you married, Lady Bligh, were you _beneath_
Sir James?'

Lady Bligh sat bolt upright in her chair, and stared severely at her
daughter-in-law. Gladys was sitting on the low stool with her hands
clasped about her knees, and leaning backward with half her weight
thus thrown upon her long straight arms. And she was gazing, not at
the fire nor at Lady Bligh, but straight ahead at the wall in front of
her. Her fine profile was stamped out sharply against the fire, yet
touched at the edge with the glowing light, which produced a kind of
Rembrandt effect. There was no movement of the long eyelashes
projecting from the profile; the well-cut lips were firm. So far as
could be seen from this silhouette, the Bride was in earnest. Lady
Bligh checked the exclamation that had risen to her lips, and answered
slowly:--

'I do not understand you, Gladys.'

'No?' Gladys slowly turned her face to that of her companion; her eyes
now seemed like still black pools in a place of shadows; and round her
head the red firelight struggled through the loopholes and outworks of
her hair. 'Well, I mean--was it considered a very great match for
_you_?'

'No; it certainly was not.'

'Then he was not much above you--in riches or rank or anything else?'

'No; we were both very poor; our early days were a struggle.'

'But you were equals from the very beginning--not only in money?'

'Yes; socially we were equals too.'

Gladys turned her face to the fire, and kept it so turned. 'I am
rather sorry,' she said at length, and sighed.

'You are sorry? Indeed!'

'Yes, Lady Bligh, and disappointed too; for I'd been hoping to find
you'd been ever so much beneath Sir James. Don't you see, if you _had_
been ever so much beneath him, you aren't a bit now; and it would have
proved that the wife can become what the husband is, if she isn't that
to begin with--and if she tries hard. No--you mustn't interrupt unless
it's to send me away. I want you to suppose a case. Look back, and
imagine that your own case was the opposite to what it really was.
That Sir James was of a very good family. That you were not only not
that, but were stupid and ignorant, and a worse thing--vulgar. That
you had lived your rough life in another country; so that when he
brought you to England as his wife, your head was full of nothing but
that other country, which nobody wanted to know anything about. That
you couldn't even talk like other people, but gave offence, not only
without meaning to, but without knowing how. That----'

Lady Bligh could hear no more. 'Oh, Gladys!' she exclaimed in a voice
of pain, 'you are not thinking of yourself?'

'That's a question! Still, as it's your first, I don't mind telling
you you've hit it, Lady Bligh. I _am_ thinking of myself. But you must
let me finish. Suppose--to make short work of it--that you had been
me, what would you have done to get different, like?'

'My poor child! I cannot bear to hear you talk like this!'

'Nonsense, Lady Bligh. I want you to tell me how you'd have gone about
it--you know what I mean.'

'I can't tell you, Gladys; I can't indeed!'

'What! Can't tell me what you would have done--what I ought to do?'

'I cannot!' Lady Bligh commanded her voice with difficulty. 'I
cannot!'

'Oh! then it's no good saying anything more about that.' There was a
touch of bitterness in the girl's tone. 'But, at any rate, you might
give me a hint or two how to be more like what you _are_. Can't you do
that, even?'

'No, my dear--how can I? I am no model, Heaven knows!'

'Aren't you? Then I will get up. I am going, Lady Bligh. It's no good
staying and bothering you any longer. I have asked my questions.'

She rose sadly from the stool, and her eyes met Lady Bligh's again.
For some minutes she had kept her face turned steadily to the fire.
The rich warm glow of the fire still flushed her face and lingered in
her luminous eyes. In the half-lit room, with the rain rattling
ceaselessly against the panes, the presence of the Bride was
especially attractive and comforting; but perhaps it was chiefly the
rarity of her companionship to Lady Bligh that made the latter clutch
Gladys's hand so eagerly.

'Don't go, my dear. Stop, and let us talk. This is practically our
first talk together, Gladys, dear; you needn't be in such a hurry to
end it. Sit down again. And--and I do wish you would not always call
me "Lady Bligh"!'

'Then what am I to call you, pray?' Gladys smiled up into the old
lady's face; she could not help facing her now, for Lady Bligh would
hold her hand; she was even forced to draw the footstool closer to the
easy-chair; and thus she was now sitting at Lady Bligh's feet,
touching her, and holding her hand.

'Could you not--sometimes--call me--"mother"?'

Gladys laughed. 'It wouldn't be easy.'

'But why not?'

'Because you could never be a mother to _me_. You might to another
daughter-in-law, but not to me. You, who are so gentle and graceful
and--and _everything_, could never seem like a mother to a--well, to
me. People would say so, too, if they heard me call you "mother." It
would make everybody laugh.'

'Gladys! Gladys! How cruel you are to yourself! You are not what you
say you are. Here--just now----'

'Ah,' said the Bride, sadly. 'Here! Just now! Yes, it is easy enough
here and now. Here in the quiet, by the fireside, alone with you, it
is easy enough to be well-behaved. I am on my good behaviour, and no
one knows it better than I do. And I know it, too, when I behave
badly; but not till afterwards. I go forgetting myself, you see. I
believe it's principally when they talk to me about Australia. I
suppose I lose my head, and talk wildly, and less like a lady than
usual even. Alfred has told me, you see; though I don't know where it
was I went wrong yesterday. I thought I was so very good all day. I
hardly opened my mouth to anybody. But somehow I can't help it when
the Bush crops up. You see, I'm a Bush girl. _All_ the girls out there
aren't like me; don't you believe it. They would think me as bad as
you do. I'm not a sample, you see. I should be riled if I was taken
for one; nothing riles me so much as people speaking or thinking
meanly of Australia! But here, alone with you, with everything so
quiet, it would be difficult not to be quiet too. What's more, I like
it, Lady Bligh--I do indeed. I can't come lady-like all at once,
perhaps; but if I was oftener beside you, like just now, I might by
degrees get more like you, Lady Bligh.'

'Then you shall be oftener with me--you shall, my dear!'

'Thank you--thank you so much! And I shan't mind if you send me away;
yet I won't speak if you're busy. If you'll only let me come in
sometimes, for a little bit, that's all I ask.'

'You shall come in as often as ever you like, my darling!'

The old lady had drawn her daughter-in-law's head backward upon her
lap, and was caressing the lovely hair, more and more nervously, and
bending over the upturned face. Gladys leant back with half-closed
eyes. Suddenly a scalding drop fell upon her cheek. Next moment the
girl was upon her feet. The moment after that she had fallen upon her
knees and caught Lady Bligh's hands in her own.

'You are crying!' said Gladys, hoarsely. 'You are crying, and because
of me! Oh, Lady Bligh, forgive me! How could I know I should bring you
such trouble as this? I never knew--I never dreamt it would be like
this. Alfred told me that I should get on well with you all. He was
blind, poor boy, but _I_ might have known; only we loved each other
so! Oh, forgive me--forgive me for marrying him! Say that you forgive
me! Before God, I never thought it would be like this!'

'My daughter! I have nothing to forgive! Kiss me, Gladys--kiss me!'

'Yes, I will kiss you; but I have brought misery upon you all; and I
will never forgive myself.'

'Gladys--you have _not_! Do not think it--and don't go, Gladys.'

'I must go. You have been good and kind to me; but this is hard for me
too, though I am not crying. I never cry, though sometimes I feel
inclined to, when I think of everything.'

'But now you will often come beside me, Gladys?'

'Yes, I will come. And I will try to change; you have helped me
already. It will not come all at once; but perhaps I can prevent
myself giving you any fresh cause to be downright ashamed of me. Nay,
I must. That's the least I can do. If I fail----'

She stopped, as though to think well of what she was saying. Her face
became pale and stern--Lady Bligh never forgot it.

'If I fail,' she repeated slowly, 'after this, you will know that I am
hopeless!'

She went to the door, but turned on the threshold, as though wishful
to carry away a distinct impression of the scene--the half-lit room,
the failing fire still reflected in the burnished brasses, the
darkening panes still beaten by the wild rain, and the figure of Lady
Bligh, dimly outlined and quivering with gentle weeping. Then she was
gone.



CHAPTER X

PLAIN SAILING


Among unexpected pleasures there are few greater than the sudden
discovery that one has become the living illustration of a common
proverb. Of course the proverb must be of the encouraging order; but
then most proverbs are. Equally of course, the conditions of this
personal illustration should be exceptionally delightful; yet will
there still remain an intrinsic charm in your relations with the
proverb. You will feel benignantly disposed towards it for evermore.
You will receive it henceforth with courtesy, even in the tritest
application. Nor need the burden of obligation be all on your side:
you can give that proverb a good character among your friends--a thing
that few people will do for any proverb. You can tell it frankly:
'Sir, I always thought you were a humbug, like the rest of them. Now I
know better. I admit that I was hasty. I apologise. I shall speak up
for _you_, sir, till my dying day!'

That good-hearted fellow, Alfred Bligh, awaking gradually to a
sensation of this sort, became very rapidly the happiest of men. The
proverb in his case was the one about the dawn and the darkest hour.
Alfred's darkest hour had been the day after Ascot, when, after a
perfectly amicable conversation with the Judge, he had rushed up to
town with ice at his heart and schemes of instant removal in his head.
His dawn was the same evening, at dinner, when an indefinable _je ne
sais quoi_ in the mutual manner of Gladys and his mother attracted his
attention and held him in suspense. And after dinner his sun rose
quickly up.

The happiness of the succeeding days--to Alfred, to Gladys, and to
Lady Bligh--was complete and pure. Nothing much happened in those last
perfect days of June, when the rain had all fallen, and the wind
changed, and summer was come back. There was some rowing on the sunlit
river, and a good deal of coaching, in small parties; but on the
whole they were quiet days. Yet these were the days that stood out
most plainly through the dim distance of after years.

To be closely intimate with Lady Bligh meant an intimacy with a nature
that was generous and sweet and womanly; and it included a liberal
education--for those who would help themselves to it--in gentle,
unaffected manners. Gladys came under this very desirable influence at
a favourable moment, and in precisely the right frame of mind to
profit most by it. And profit she did. As she herself had predicted,
no miracle was wrought; she did not become everything that she ought
to have been in a day; but several small alterations of manner, all of
them for the better, did very quickly take place.

The Bride felt her feet at last. Then, becoming thoroughly in touch
with Lady Bligh, she waxed bold in a less approachable direction, and
with the best results. Not only did she start lively little
conversations with Sir James, but she got him to carry them on in the
same light strain, and sustained her part in them very creditably
indeed, all things considered. But the subject of his judicial
functions was now avoided far more sedulously by Gladys than by the
old gentleman himself. She even joined the Judge more than once in
his early morning prowls; but the stock-whip was always left behind in
her room. On these occasions she showed herself to be an admirable
assistant-potterer; while she delighted her old companion still
further by many pretty and even delicate attentions, to which he was
not used, having no daughters of his own. Thus there were mornings
when the Judge would come in to breakfast with quite a startling posy
in his button-hole, and with a certain scarcely perceptible twitching
of the lips and lowering of the eyelids, such as had been observed in
him sometimes on the bench when the rest of the court were 'convulsed
with laughter.' It invariably transpired that the decoration was the
work and gift of the Judge's daughter-in-law; and, as the old
gentleman had never before been seen by his family to sport any such
ornament, the departure was extremely gratifying to most of them.

Granville, it is true, found fault with the taste displayed in the
composition of the button-holes, and one morning flatly refused one
that had been made for him expressly; but the fact is, Granville was
of rather small account in the house just now. He was busy,
certainly, and was seen very little down at Twickenham; but he might
have been seen more--his temporary occupation of a back-seat was in a
great measure voluntary. Nor was he really malicious at this time. It
is true that he spoke of the leopard's spots, and used other phrases
equally ominous but less hackneyed; for the most part, however, he
made these observations to himself. He could have found nowhere a more
appreciative and sympathetic audience. But, though he looked on
sardonically enough at the Bride's conquests, Granville did not lay
himself out to hinder them. This should be clearly understood. The
fellow was not a full-blown Mephistopheles.

And the happy pair were indeed happy. But for an occasional wistful,
far-away look--such as will come sometimes to every exile, for all the
'pleasures and palaces' of new worlds--Gladys seemed to everybody to
be gay and contented as the midsummer days were long. As for Alfred,
he considered the sum of his earthly happiness complete. Even the
ideal farm (which his solicitors were doing their best to find for
him) in the ideal sleepy hollow (which _he_ meant to do _his_ best to
wake up, by the introduction of vigorous Bush methods)--when
purchased, stocked, furnished, inhabited, and in full swing--could
not, he felt, add much to his present happiness. Poor Alfred! He was
laying out the future on idyllic lines. But, meanwhile, the present
was full of happy days; and that was well.

There was one evening that Alfred did not soon forget.

It was the last Sunday in June. There had been a thunderstorm early in
the afternoon and a smart shower. The evening air was a long, cool,
delicious draught, flavoured with the exquisite fragrance of dripping
leaves and petals; and this, and the sound of the church bells, and
the sunlight glittering upon the wet lanes, came back to Alfred
afterwards as often as he remembered the conversation which made the
walk to the old church all too short. Alfred walked with his mother;
Gladys, some little distance ahead, with the Judge.

'I think Gladys likes England a little better now,' observed Lady
Bligh.

'And can't England say the same thing of Gladys?' cried Alfred. 'Don't
answer the question--it's idiotic. But oh, mother, I'm a fool with
very joy!'

'Because Gladys has won all our hearts, dear?'

'Yes; and I really think she has. You have all been so good, so
patient and forgiving. Don't stop me, mother. If you had been
different, I know I never should have allowed that you had anything to
forgive; but now that you are like this, I own that there was much.
Look at her now with the Judge; he has given her his arm. Now think of
the beginning between these two!'

'Why think of that? We have all forgotten it. You must forget it too.'

'I think of it,' said Alfred, 'because it is all over; because you
have civilised my wild darling; and because I like to realise this.
But, upon my soul, if you had seen her life out there; if you knew her
father (she doesn't remember her mother); if you had any idea of the
work she did on that run; you would simply be amazed--as I am, now
that I look back upon it--at what your tenderness has done. But do you
know, mother, what the dear girl says? I had nearly forgotten to tell
you.'

One would have counted upon a joke, and possibly a good one; for
Alfred stopped to chuckle before coming out with it; though,
certainly Alfred was not the best judge of jokes.

'She says that if ever she makes you feel regularly ashamed of her
again, she may be considered hopeless; and though you forgive her,
she'll never forgive herself! That's rather rich, eh?'

Lady Bligh failed to see it in that light. On the contrary, for one
moment she seemed both surprised and pained.

'Perhaps, Alfred,' she said, thoughtfully, 'she still feels the
restraint, and hates our conventionalities. I often think she must; I
sometimes think she does.'

'Not she! Not a bit of it! She's as safe as the Bank, and as happy as
they make 'em, _I_ know her!'

Poor Alfred!

'Perhaps,' said Lady Bligh again; 'but there may be a constant effort
which we cannot see; and I have once or twice caught a look in her
eyes--but let that pass. I may be wrong; only I think it has been
rather slow for her lately. She must have more amusement. There are
one or two amusing things coming on presently. But just now I should
like to think of something quite fresh to interest her. My dear boy!
you are whistling!--in the churchyard!'

In fact, Alfred was foolish with joy, as he himself had said. He could
not control his spirits long when speaking of Gladys, and hearing her
well spoken of by the others, and marvelling at the change that a few
days had brought about. It was a case of either laughing or crying
with him then; and the tears never got a chance.

But, in the solemn twilight of the church; standing, kneeling, sitting
by his wife's side; sharing her book; listening with her to the
consummate language of the Common Prayer; watching with her the round
stained window fail and fade against the eastern sky--then, indeed,
the boisterous, boyish spirits of this singularly simple-minded man of
thirty melted into thankfulness ineffable and perfect peace.

It so happened that they sang an anthem in the old church that
evening. This neither attracted nor distracted Alfred at first. He was
a man without very much more music in his soul than what he was able
to whistle when in high spirits. It did not strike him that this
anthem was lovelier than most 'tunes.' The sweet sensations that stole
over his spirit as the singing of it proceeded certainly were not
credited to the music. To the words he never would have attempted to
listen but for an accident.

To Alfred the anthem presented but one of the many opportunities
presented by the Church Service for private reverie on the part of
worshippers. Of course his reverie was all about the future and
Gladys. And while he mused his arm touched hers, that was the
delightful part of it. But on glancing down to see her face again (he
had actually not looked upon it for five whole minutes) his musing
swiftly ended. Her singular expression arrested his whole attention.
And this was the accident that made him listen to the words of the
anthem, to see if _they_ could have affected her so strangely.

The Bride's expression was one of powerful yearning. The first
sentence Alfred managed to pick out from the words of the anthem was:
'Oh, for the wings, for the wings of a dove!' piped in a boy's high
treble.

The melting wistfulness in the Bride's liquid eyes seemed to penetrate
through that darkening east window into far-away worlds; and the
choir-boy sang: 'Far away, far away would I rove!'

The solo went on:

    In the wilderness build me a nest:
      And remain there for ever at rest.

Then, with some repetition which seemed vain to Alfred, the chorus
swallowed the solo. And to Alfred's mind the longing in his wife's
face had grown definite, acute, and almost terrible.

As they knelt down after the anthem, his eyes met those of his mother.
She, too, had seen Gladys's expression. Was it the expression she had
referred to on the way to church? Was such an expression a common one
with his darling, and concealed only from him? Was it possible that
she was secretly longing and pining for the Bush--now--when they were
all so happy?

Much later in the evening--long after church--Lady Bligh made an
opportunity of speaking again alone with Alfred. 'I have been maturing
my little plans,' she said, smiling.

'As regards Gladys?' he asked.

'Yes; and I have been thinking that really, after all, she need not be
so dull during the next few days----'

Alfred interrupted her hastily.

'I also have been thinking; and, do you know, after all, I half fancy
that she _is_ a bit dull. I shall be very glad indeed if you have
thought of something to 'liven her up a little.'

Lady Bligh regarded him shrewdly; but she was not entirely astonished
at this complete change of opinion. She, too, had seen Gladys's
longing, far-away expression in church. She, too, remembered it.

'Well, she will be less dull during the next few days than just
lately,' said Lady Bligh, after a slight pause. 'On Tuesday, to begin
with, there is this garden-party of ours; a dull thing enough in
itself, but the people may amuse Gladys. On Wednesday, there is to be
the Opera for her, at last. Thursday and Friday you must boat and
drive. But for Saturday--when the Lord Chief is coming--you are all
invited to lawn-tennis somewhere; are you not? After this week it is
simply _embarras_; the two matches at Lord's, and Henley too, one on
top of the other; then Wimbledon. Gladys must miss none of these. But
can you guess what my happy thought is?'

'You seem to have so many happy thoughts!'

'No; but my little plan for to-morrow?'

'I have no idea. But I think Gladys would be content to do nothing
much to-morrow, perhaps.'

'Alfred,' said Lady Bligh, severely, 'Gladys tells me you have never
once had her in the Park! How is that?'

'I--well, the fact is, I'm such a duffer in the _very_ swagger part of
the town,' said poor Alfred; 'and I never did know the run of the
parks properly.'

'Then you shall drive with Gladys and me, and learn. It is getting
near the end of the season, when every day makes a difference. So, not
to lose another day, we'll drive in to-morrow. This is my happy
thought! I think Gladys will like it--though Garrod won't.'

'You mean he'll say it's too much for _his_ horses? I should think
he'll give warning,' said Alfred, encouragingly.

'He may,' said Lady Bligh, with a fine fearlessness which can be
properly appraised only by ladies who keep, or once kept, their
coachman. 'He may. I defy him!'



CHAPTER XI

A THUNDER-CLAP


Fully ten days were wanting before the Eton and Harrow cricket-match,
which appears to be pretty generally recognised as the last 'turn' in
the great variety entertainment of the season; there was plenty of
life, and of high life, too, in the town yet; and, what was even more
essential to a thorough enjoyment of the Park, the afternoon, as
regarded the weather, was for once beyond all praise. Moreover,
Royalty was there for at least half an hour; so that the circumstances
attendant upon young Mrs Bligh's first appearance in the ring of
fashion were in every way all that could be desired.

It was an 'appearance'; for Lady Bligh, though in no sense a woman of
fashion, was sufficiently well known to attract attention, which was
heightened by the increasing rarity of her appearances in the
fashionable world. Even had it been otherwise, the robust, striking
beauty of the dark young woman at her side must have awakened interest
on its own account. It did, among those who did not know the Blighs by
sight. But with most people the questions were: Where had Lady Bligh
discovered such a fresh and taking type of prettiness? Was the girl a
relative? Was that Alfred Bligh sitting opposite to the ladies, come
back from Australia disfigured by a beard? Was she his fiancée--or
were they already married? It is intended by no means to imply that
the modest and even homely equipage of Lady Bligh became the cynosure
of Hyde Park; but it was certainly seen; and few saw it with
unawakened curiosity.

One or two persons were able to satisfy to some extent this curiosity,
and took a delight in doing so; Lady Lettice Dunlop, for one. The
curiosity that Lady Lettice relieved was of a languid and peculiarly
well-bred kind. A coronet adorned the barouche in which she rode. She
said rather more than she knew, yet not quite all that she did know,
and said it with a gentle disdain. But Lady Lettice was stopped by a
deprecatory gesture of her mother the Countess before she came to the
end--which made her regret having over-elaborated the beginning. The
Countess considered the story most coarse, and regretted the almost
friendly nature of the bow with which she had just favoured poor Lady
Bligh. Yet, as the Lady Lettice was generous enough to fancy, the
Colonial creature did seem on her very best behaviour this afternoon.
And in her fancy Lady Lettice was nearer the mark than in her facts.

Another person, in an even better position to answer questions
concerning the Bride, was Mr Travers, M.P.--now the newest M.P. but
one. He was walking under the trees with his daughter, whom he was
boring somewhat with his political 'shop'; for he was enough of a new
boy still to be full of his nice new lessons. This Miss Travers,
however, was no young girl, but a woman of thirty, with a kind, sweet,
sympathetic face, and a nature intensely independent. She was best
known for her splendid work in Whitechapel, though how splendid that
work really was no one knew outside the slums, where her face was her
only protection--but a greater one than a cordon of police. But she
had also a reputation as a singer, which need not have been confined
to a few drawing-rooms in the West, and numberless squalid halls in
the East, had she been ambitiously inclined. And this Miss Travers was
attracted and charmed by the bold, conspicuous beauty of young Mrs
Bligh; pressed for an introduction; pressed all the harder on hearing
some plain truths about the Bride and her Bush manners; and presently
had her way.

It was now six o'clock. The crowning period of the afternoon had
commenced with the arrival of Royalty a few minutes before the hour.
Carriages were drawn up by the rails on either side in long, regular
ranks. The trough between presented visions of glossy horseflesh and
flashing accoutrements and flawless japan, to say nothing of fine
looks and finer dress; visions changeful as those of the shaken
kaleidoscope; marvellous, magical visions--no matter how much or how
little they owed to the golden glamour of the sinking sun, visions of
intrinsic wonder.

The Blighs' serviceable vehicle had found an anchorage by the inner
rails in the thick of all this, but not in the thickest. They were, in
fact, no farther than a furlong from the Corner, and thus in
comparatively open water. At this point the shrubs planted between the
two converging courses come to an end, and the two roads are separated
by little more than twenty yards. A little way farther on you can see
only the bobbing heads of the riders over in Rotten Row; but at this
point you have indeed 'the whole show' before you. The position had
been taken up on the Bride's express petition. It was the riding that
interested Gladys. She had no eyes for the smart people in the
carriages when once she could watch with as little trouble the hacks
and their riders in Rotten Row. The little interest she took in the
passing and re-passing of Royalty was somewhat disappointing. But it
was plain that she was enjoying herself in her own way; and that was
everything. When the Traverses came up, the interruption of this
innocent enjoyment was a distinct annoyance to Gladys.

Alfred--to whom it was not an afternoon of wild delight--got out of
the carriage with some alacrity; and Miss Travers, with a very
engaging freedom of manner, got in. She button-holed the Bride (if
that is not an exclusively masculine act--as between man and man),
and at first the Bride did not like it. Very soon, however, Gladys was
pleased to withdraw her attention, partially, from Rotten Row and
transfer it to Miss Travers. Like everybody else, the Bride was
immensely attracted; Miss Travers's manner was so sympathetic, yet
unaffected, and so amazingly free (Gladys thought) from English
stiffness; and her face was infinitely kind and sweet, and her voice
musical and soft.

So Mr Travers, with one foot upon the carriage-step, brought Lady
Bligh up to date in her politics generally, and in his own political
experiences in particular; and Alfred made aimless patterns on the
ground with his feet; and Miss Travers questioned Gladys on the
subject upon which all strangers who were told where she came from
invariably and instantly did question her. But Miss Travers did this
in a way of her own, and a charming way. You would have thought it had
been the dream of her life to go to Australia; you would have inferred
that it was her misfortune and not her fault that her lines were cast
in England instead of out there; and yet you would not, you could not,
have suspected her of hypocrisy. She was one of those singular people
who seem actually to prefer, in common conversation, the _tuum_ to
the _meum_. Gladys was charmed. But still she stole furtive glances
across the space dividing them from the tan; and her answers, which
would have been eager and impetuous enough in any other circumstances,
came often slowly; she was obviously _distraite_.

Miss Travers saw this, and followed the direction of the dark, eager
eyes, and thought she understood. But suddenly there came a quick
gleam into the Bride's eyes which Miss Travers did not understand. A
horsewoman was crossing their span of vision in the Row at a brisk
canter. The Bride became strangely agitated. Her face was transfigured
with surprise and delight and incredulity. Her lips came apart, but no
breath escaped them. Her flashing eyes followed the cantering
horsewoman, who, in figure and in colouring, if not in feature, was
just such another as Gladys herself, and who sat her horse to
perfection. But she was cantering past; she would not turn her head,
she would not look; a moment more and the shrubs would hide her from
Gladys--perhaps for ever.

Before that moment passed, Gladys stood up in the carriage, trembling
with excitement. Careless of the place--forgetful of Lady Bligh, of
all that had passed, of the good understanding so hardly
gained--attracting the attention of Royalty by conspicuously turning
her back upon them as they passed for the fourth time--the Bride
encircled her lips with her two gloved palms, and uttered a cry that
few of the few hundreds who heard it ever forgot:--

'_Coo-ee!_'

That was the startling cry as nearly as it can be written. But no
letters can convey the sustained shrillness of the long, penetrating
note represented by the first syllable, nor the weird, die-away wail
of the second. It is the well-known Bush call, the 'jodel' of the
black-fellow; but it has seldom been heard from a white throat as
Gladys Bligh let it out that afternoon in Hyde Park, in the presence
of Royalty.

To say that there was a sensation in the vicinity of the Blighs'
carriage--to say that its occupants were for the moment practically
paralysed--is to understate matters, rather. But, before they could
recover themselves, the Bride had jumped from the carriage, pressed
through the posts, rushed across to the opposite railings, and seized
in both hands the hand of the other dark and strapping young woman,
who had reined in her horse at once upon the utterance of the
'_Coo-ee!_'

And there was a nice little observation, audible to many, which Gladys
had let fall in flying:--

'Good Lord deliver us--it's _her_!'



CHAPTER XII

PAST PARDON


Patience and sweetness of disposition may not only be driven beyond
endurance; they may be knocked outside in, knocked into their own
antitheses. And one need not go to crime or even to sin to find
offences which no amount of abstract angelicalness could readily
forgive or ever forget. It is a sufficiently bad offence, if not an
actual iniquity, to bring well-to-do people into public derision
through an act of flagrant thoughtlessness and unparalleled social
barbarity. But if the people are not only well-to-do, but well and
honourably known, and relatives by your marriage, who have been more
than kind to you, you could scarcely expect a facile pardon. Sincerity
apart, they would be more than mortal if they so much as pretended to
forgive you out of hand, and little less than divine if they did not
tell you at once what they thought of you, and thereafter ignore you
until time healed their wounds.

Woman of infinite sweetness though she was, Lady Bligh was mortal, not
divine; and she showed her clay by speaking very plainly indeed, as
the carriage swept out of the Park, and by speaking no more (to
Gladys) that day. A good deal of cant is current about people whose
anger is violent ('while it lasts'), but short-lived ('he gets over it
in a moment'); but it is difficult to believe in those people. If
there be just cause for wrath, with or without violence, it is not in
reason that you can be in a rollicking good humour the next minute.
That is theatrical anger, the anger of the heavy father. Lady Bligh,
with all her virtues, could nurse the genuine passion--an infant that
thrives at the breast. Indeed, it is probable that before the end of
the silent drive to Twickenham (Alfred never opened his clenched teeth
all the way) this thoroughly good woman positively detested the
daughter whom she had just learnt to love. For it is a fallacy to
suppose that the pepper-and-salt emotion of love and hatred in equal
parts is the prerogative of lovers; you will find it oftener in the
family.

What penitence Gladys had expressed had been lame--crippled by an
excuse. Moreover, her tone had lacked complete contrition. Indeed, if
not actually defiant, her manner was at least repellent. She had been
spoken to hotly; some of the heat was reflected; it was a hot moment.

As for her excuse, it, of course, was ridiculous--_qua_ excuse.

She had seen her oldest--indeed, her only--girl friend, Ada
Barrington. Ada (Gladys pronounced it 'Ida') was another squatter's
daughter; their fathers had been neighbours, more or less, for many
years; but Ada's father owned more stations than one, was a wealthy
man--in fact, a 'woollen king.' Gladys had known they were in Europe,
but that was all. And she had seen Ada cantering past, but Ada had not
seen her. So she had '_coo-ee'd_.' What else was there to be done?
Gladys did not exactly ask this question, but she implied it plainly.
As it happened, if she had not '_coo-ee'd_,' she never would have seen
Ada again, to a certainty; for the Barringtons had taken a place in
Suffolk, and were going down there the very next day. That was all.
Perhaps it was too much.

Silence ensued, and outlasted the long drive. What afterwards passed
between the young husband and wife did not, of course, transpire.
There was no further expression of regret than the very equivocal and
diluted apology comprehended in the Bride's excuses; indeed, Lady
Bligh and her daughter-in-law never spoke that night; nor did Alfred
attempt to mediate between them. As a matter of fact, his wife had
told him--with a recklessness that cut him to the heart--that, this
time, she neither expected nor deserved, nor so much as desired, any
one's forgiveness; that now she knew what she had feared before, that
she was hopeless; that--but the rest was wild talk.

Next morning, however, Alfred went to Lady Bligh with a letter, one
that Gladys had received by the early post. It was an invitation from
the Barringtons, the wording of which was sufficiently impulsive and
ill-considered. Ada besought her darling Gladys to go stay with them
in Suffolk immediately, on the following Saturday, and for as many
days as she could and would; and the invitation included the darling's
husband in a postscript.

'An extraordinary kind of invitation!' observed Lady Bligh, handing
back the letter.

'Ignorance,' said Alfred laconically.

'Did you meet the people out there?'

'Only this girl's brother; the others had been in Europe some time. I
thought him a very pleasant fellow, I remember, though his contempt
for me and for all "home" birds was magnificent.'

'Well,' said Lady Bligh, 'it is hardly the kind of invitation that
Gladys can accept. Is it?'

'She refuses to think of it,' Alfred answered, with a frown that
rather puzzled Lady Bligh. 'But I hope she will change her mind. I
wish her to go.'

His mother was silent for more than a minute. 'Does the letter say
Saturday?' she then inquired.

'Yes.' Alfred gazed steadily in his mother's face as though he would
search her inmost thoughts. 'Yes, it says Saturday. And it is on
Saturday that the Lord Chief is coming down to stay over Sunday, is it
not? I thought so. I very much wish I could induce her to go.'

'Not on that account, my boy, I hope?' Lady Bligh seemed slightly
embarrassed.

'Partly,' said Alfred, speaking firmly and distinctly, but not
without an effort; 'partly on that account, but by no means
altogether.'

'She could not go without you,' remarked Lady Bligh; 'and they do not
ask you civilly, to say the least of it.'

'She _could_ go without me,' returned Alfred emphatically. 'What's
more, I want her to. It's she that won't hear of it. These are quite
old and intimate friends of Gladys and her father. She might easily
spend a week with them alone, without me. Mother--I think she would
like it so, if only she would go! They are probably free-and-easy,
roughish folks, and it would do her good, a week with them. There
would be no restraints--nay, she has observed none here, God
knows!--but there there might be none to observe. She could do and say
what she liked. She would hurt no one's feelings. She would scandalise
no one. And--do you know what, mother?--I have got it into my head
that when she came back she would see the difference, and appreciate
your ways here more than she ever might otherwise. I have got it into
my head that one week of that kind, just now, would open her eyes for
good and all. And I think--there might be no more relapses! Yes, I
thought that before; but I was wrong, you see--after yesterday!
Besides, this week would bring us within a few weeks of Scotland; and,
after Scotland, we shall have our own little place to go to--I have
almost settled upon one. But if I went with her, restraint would go
with her too.'

His voice had broken more than once with emotion. He commanded it with
difficulty, and it became hard and unnatural. In this tone he added:--

'Besides--it would be more comfortable for every one if she were not
here with the Lord Chief Justice.'

'Do not say that--do not think that!' said Lady Bligh; but faintly,
because her heart echoed his sentiment.

'Oh, there's no disguising it--my wife's dynamite!' said Alfred, with
a short, harsh laugh. 'Only an explosion is worse at one time than at
another.' He went hastily from the room, neither of them having
referred more directly to the scandalous scene in the Park.

He went straight to his wife, to try once more to coax her into
accepting the Barringtons' invitation. But it was of no use. She
would not listen to him. She would go nowhere without her husband; she
should write that to Ada plainly.

Later in the morning, Lady Bligh, of her own deliberate design, came
in contact with her daughter-in-law. Gladys attempted escape. Lady
Bligh caught her by the hand.

'You are angry, Gladys!'

Gladys said nothing.

'I don't think _you_ are the one to be angry,' Lady Bligh said,
nettled by the other's sullen manner.

Gladys raised her eyes swiftly from the ground; they were filled with
bitterness. 'Haven't I a right to be what I like with myself?' she
cried. 'I am angry with no one else. But I shall never forgive
myself--no, nor I won't be forgiven either; I am hopeless! I feared it
before; now I know it. Let me go, Lady Bligh!'

She broke away, and found a quiet spot, by-and-by, among the trees by
the river.

'If only I were in _there_!' cried Gladys, out of the tumult of shame
and rebellion within her. 'In there--or else back in the Bush! And
one is possible and easy; and the other is neither!'

By a single grotesque act she had brought her happiness, and not hers
alone, to wreck and ruin!



CHAPTER XIII

A SOCIAL INFLICTION


Happily for all concerned, there was something else to be thought
about that day: it was the day of Lady Bligh's garden-party.

The British garden-party is possibly unique among the social
gatherings of the world. It might be a revelation to most intelligent
foreigners. It is held, of course, in the fresh air; the weather, very
likely, is all that can be desired. The lawn is soft and smooth and
perfectly shaven; sweeping shadows fall athwart it from the fine old
trees. The flower-beds are splendidly equipped; their blended odours
hover in the air. The leaves whisper and the birds sing. The scene is
agreeably English. But let in the actors. They are English too. The
hostess on the lawn receiving the people, and slipping them through
her busy fingers into solitude and desolation--anywhere, anywhere, out
of her way; the stout people in the flimsy chairs, in horrid jeopardy
which they alone do not realise; the burly, miserable male supers, in
frock-coats and silk hats, standing at ease (but only in a technical
sense) around the path, ashamed to eat the ices that the footman
proffers them, ashamed of having nobody to talk to but their sisters
or wives--who are worse than no one: it is so feeble to be seen
speaking only to _them_. This is the British garden-party in the small
garden, in the suburbs. In the large garden, in the country, you may
lose yourself among the fruit-trees without being either missed or
observed; but this is not a point in favour of the institution. Even
in suburban districts there are bold spirits that aspire to make their
garden-parties different from everybody else's, and not dull; who
write 'Lawn Tennis' in the corner of their invitation-cards before
ascertaining the respective measurements of a regulation court and of
their own back gardens. But beware of these ambitious souls; they add
yet another terror to the British garden-party. To go in flannels and
find everybody else in broadcloth; to be received as a champion player
in consequence, and asked whether you have 'entered at Wimbledon'; to
be made to play in every set (because you are the only man in
flannels), with terrible partners, against adversaries more terrible
still--with the toes of the onlookers on the side lines of the court,
and the dining-room windows in peril should you but swing back your
racket for your usual smashing service, once in a way, to show them
how it is done: all this amounts to spending your afternoon in
purgatory, in the section reserved for impious lawn-tennis players.
Yet nothing is more common. The lawn must be utilised, either for
lawn-tennis or for bowls (played with curates), or by the erection of
a tent for refreshments. By Granville's intervention, the Blighs had
the refreshment-tent.

Lady Bligh would not have given garden-parties at all, could she have
been 'at home' in any other way; but as her set was largely composed
of people living actually in town, who would not readily come ten
miles out for a dinner-party, still less for an after-dinner party,
she had really no choice in the matter. Still, Lady Bligh's
garden-parties were not such very dull affairs after all. They were
immensely above the suburban average. To the young and the curious
they held out attractions infinitely greater than garden-party
lawn-tennis, though these could not be advertised on the cards of
invitation. For instance, you were sure of seeing a celebrity or two,
if not even the highest dignitaries, with some of the dignity in their
pockets. And it is inexpressible how delightful it was to come across
a group of Her Majesty's Judges gorging strawberry ices unblushingly
in a quiet corner of the marquee. On the present occasion, when the
stoutest and most pompous Q.C. at the Bar--Mr Merivale--sat down on
the slenderest chair in the garden, and thence, suddenly, upon the
grass, the situation was full of charm for Granville and some of his
friends, who vied with one another in a right and proper eagerness to
help the great man to his feet. Even Gladys (who was so very far from
being in a laughing mood) laughed at this; though she was not aware
that the stout gentleman was a Q.C., nor of the significance of those
initials, had any one told her so.

But this was all the entertainment that Gladys extracted from the long
afternoon. She was amused, at the moment, in spite of herself; she was
not amused a second time. She kept ingeniously in the background.
Alfred was attentive to her, of course, but not foolishly attentive,
this afternoon. And Granville introduced to her one of his
clean-shaven friends, whom Gladys conversed with for perhaps a minute.
She was also presented by the Judge--in his recent genial, fatherly
manner--to one or two of his colleagues. Plainly, the disgraceful
scene in Hyde Park had not yet reached Sir James's ears. But that
scandal was being discreetly discussed by not a few of the guests.
Gladys suspected as much, though she did not know it. She imagined
herself to be a not unlikely subject of conversation in any case, but
quite a tempting one in the light of her last escapade. But this idea
did not worry her. In some moods it is possible to be acutely
self-conscious without being the least sensitive; Gladys's present
mood was one. More often than at the people, she gazed at the window
of her own room, and longed to be up there, alone. She neither took
any interest in what was going on around her, nor cared what the
people were whispering concerning her. No doubt they _were_
whispering, but what did it matter? Misery is impervious to scorn and
ridicule and contempt. These things wound the vanity; misery deadens
it. Gladys was miserable.

Among the later arrivals was Miss Travers. Her father could not come:
he was doing the fair thing by the Party and his constituents: it was
his first term. Miss Travers came alone, and intended to go back
alone, the later the better. Whitechapel had made her fearless and
independent. She rather hoped to be asked to stop to dinner: some
people were certain to stay, for the Blighs were uncommonly
hospitable, and in many things quite unconventional; and Miss Travers
intended to be one of those people, if she got the opportunity. She
also intended to cultivate the most original specimen of her sex that
she had ever yet met with; and for this she tried to make the
opportunity.

But the most original of her sex was also one of the most slippery,
when she liked; she dodged Miss Travers most cleverly, until the
pursuer was herself pursued, and captured. Her captor was a rising
solicitor, a desirable gentleman and an open admirer; but he did not
improve his chances by that interview. Miss Travers was disappointed,
almost annoyed. The unlucky lawyer sought to make her smile with a
story: the story of the '_coo-ee!_' as he had heard it. He knew Miss
Travers intimately; her appreciation of humour was vast, for a woman;
he felt sure she would be tickled. But, unfortunately, the version he
had heard was already fearfully exaggerated, and, as Miss Travers drew
him on gently, yet without smiling as he wished her to, the good
fellow improvised circumstances still more aggravating and
scandalous; and then--sweet Miss Travers annihilated him in a breath.

'I was in their carriage at the time, myself; but--you will excuse my
saying so--I shouldn't have recognised the incident from your
description!'

It was a staggerer; but Miss Travers did not follow up the blow. She
reproved him, it is true, but so kindly, and with such evident
solicitude for his moral state, that the wretch was in ecstasies in
two minutes.

'At all events,' he said, with enthusiasm, 'she has you for her
champion! I won't hear another word about her; _I'll_ champion her
too!'

'If you spoke to her for one moment,' Miss Travers replied, 'you would
own yourself that she is charming. You never saw such eyes!'

This the lawyer seemed to question, by the rapt manner in which he
gazed into Miss Travers's own eyes; but the speech was the prettier
for being left unspoken; and here the lawyer showed some
self-restraint and more wisdom. But immediately the lady left him: she
had descried her quarry.

Gladys dodged again, and, passing quickly through the tent, heard two
words that sent the blood to her cheeks. The words were in close
conjunction--'_coo-ee!_' and 'disgrace.' Without turning to see who
had uttered them--the voice was unfamiliar--she hurried through into
the house, and finding the little morning-room quite empty, went in
there to sit down and think.

She was not wounded by the chance words; her lifeless pride had not
quickened and become vulnerable all in a moment--it was not that. But
it was this: what she had done, she realised now, for the first time,
fully. Disgrace! She had disgraced Lady Bligh, Sir James, Alfred,
Granville, all of them; in a public place, she, the interloper in the
family, had brought down disgrace upon them all. Disgrace!--that was
what people were saying. Disgrace to the Blighs--that was why she
minded what the people said. And she minded this so much, now, that
she rocked herself to and fro where she sat, and wrung her large
strong hands, and groaned aloud.

And it was not only once; she had disgraced them many times. And all
had been forgiven. But this could never be forgiven.

If only she had never married poor Alfred; if only she had never come
among his family, to behave worse than their very servants! The
servants? Would Bella Bunn have behaved so in her place? It was not
likely, for even Bella had been able to give her hints, and she had
consulted Bella upon points on which she would have been ashamed to
confess her ignorance, even to Alfred. But, in spite of all their
goodness and patience, she had brought only unhappiness to them all;
there could be no more happiness for them or for her while she
remained in the family.

'I ought to be dead--or back in the Bush!' she cried again, in her
heart. 'Oh, if only one was as easy as the other!'

These were her sole longings. Of the two, one was strong and not new
(being intensified, not produced, by the circumstances), but
sufficiently impracticable. The other was easy to compass, easy to the
point of temptation, but as yet not nearly so strong, being entirely
the impulse of events. But neither longing was at present anything
more than a longing; no purpose showed through either yet. The reality
of Alfred's love, the feeling that it would kill him to lose her, was
accountable for this. Gladys's resolution was, so far, a blank tablet,
not because purpose was absent, but because it was not yet become
visible.

A rough analogy may be borrowed from the sensitive film used for the
production of a photographic negative. The impression is taken, yet
the film remains blank as it was before, until the proper acid is
applied, when the impression becomes visible.

Now, a moral acid, acting upon that blank tablet of the mind, would
produce a precisely similar effect. Suppose Gladys became convinced
that Alfred would be a happier man without her, that it would be even
a relief to him to lose her: this would supply the moral acid.

The effect of this moral acid would coincide with that of the
photographer's acid. In either case something that had been
imperceptible hitherto would now start out in sharp outline. The blank
film would yield the negative picture; the vague longings of Gladys
would take the shape of two distinct alternatives, one of them
inevitable.

Suppose this happened, one of these alternatives was so simple as to
be already, in its embryo state, something of a temptation; while the
other would remain a moral impossibility.

It must be remembered that the Bride confronted no such alternatives
yet, but merely experienced vague, passionate longings. In this state
of mind, however, but one drop of acid was needed to produce
'development.'



CHAPTER XIV

'HEAR MY PRAYER!'


Miss Travers did not, after all, succeed in cornering Gladys at the
garden-party, but she did contrive to get herself asked to stay later,
and without much difficulty (she would probably have found it far more
difficult to go with the rest--hostesses were tenacious of Miss
Travers); and after dinner, when the ladies went off to the
drawing-room, her stubborn waiting was at last rewarded.

Some other people had stayed to dinner also, in the same informal way,
and among them one or two of Granville's friends. These young men had
come to the garden-party by no advice of Gran's--in fact, those who
chanced to have mentioned to him Lady Bligh's invitation he had
frankly told to stay away and not to be fools. But, having come, he
insisted on their staying. 'For,' he said, 'you deserve compensation,
you fellows; and the Judge's wine, though I say it, hasn't a
fault--unless it's spoiling a man for his club's.'

And while the young men put the truth of this statement to a more
earnest test than could be applied before the ladies left the table,
Miss Travers, in the drawing-room, at last had Gladys to herself. And
Miss Travers was sadly disappointed--as, perhaps, she deserved to be.
Gladys had very little to say to her. As a matter of fact, it was no
less irksome to the Bride to listen than to talk herself. But they
happened to be sitting close to the piano, and it was not long before
a very happy thought struck Gladys, which she instantly expressed in
the abrupt question:--

'You sing, Miss Travers, don't you?'

'In a way.'

'In a way! I've heard all about the way!' Gladys smiled; Miss Travers
thought the smile sadly changed since yesterday. 'Sing now.'

'You really want me to?'

'Yes, really. And you must.' Gladys opened the piano.

Miss Travers sang a little song that Gladys had never heard before,
accompanying herself from memory. She sang very sweetly, very
simply--in a word, uncommonly well. The voice, to begin with, was an
exceptionally sound soprano, but the secret and charm of it all was,
of course, in the way she used her voice. Gladys had asked for a song
to escape from a chat, but she had forgotten her motive in asking--she
had forgotten that she _had_ asked for it--she had forgotten much that
it had seemed impossible to forget, even thus, for one moment--before
the song was half finished. Very possibly, with Gladys, who knew
nothing of music, this was an appeal to the senses only; but it gave
her some peaceful, painless moments when such were rare; and it left
her, with everything coming back to her, it is true, but with a
grateful heart. So grateful, indeed, was Gladys that she forgot to
express her thanks until Miss Travers smilingly asked her how she
liked that song; and then, instead of answering, she went over to
where Lady Bligh was sitting, bent down, and asked a question, which
was answered in a whisper.

Then Gladys came back to the piano. 'Yes, I _do_ like that song, very,
very much; and I beg your pardon for not answering you, Miss Travers,
but I was thinking of something else; and I want you, please, to sing
Mendelssohn's "Hear my Prayer!"' These words came quickly--they were
newly learnt from Lady Bligh.

Miss Travers could not repress a smile. 'Do you know what you are
asking me for?'

'Yes; for what we heard in church last Sunday evening. That's the
name, because I've just asked Lady Bligh. I would rather you sang that
than anything else in the world!'

'But----' Miss Travers was puzzled by the Bride's expression; she
would have given anything not to refuse, yet what could she do?
'But--it isn't the sort of thing one can sit down and sing--_really_
it isn't. It wants a chorus, and it is very long and elaborate.'

'Yes?' Gladys seemed strangely disappointed. 'But there was one
part--the part I liked--where the chorus didn't come in, I am sure. It
was sung by a boy. You could do it so much better! It was about the
wings of a dove, and the wilderness. You know, I come from the
wilderness myself'--the Bride smiled faintly--'and I thought I'd never
heard anything half so lovely before; though of course I've heard very
little.'

'No matter how little you have heard, you will never hear anything
much more beautiful than that,' said Miss Travers, with sympathetic
enthusiasm.

'Since I cannot hear it now, however, there is an end of it.'

Gladys sighed, but her eyes pleaded still; it was impossible to look
in them long and still resist. Miss Travers looked but for a moment,
then, turning round to the keys, she softly touched a chord. 'I will
try the little bit you liked,' she whispered, kindly, 'whatever I make
of it!'

What she did make of it is unimportant, except in its effect upon
Gladys. This effect was very different from that produced a few
minutes before by the song; this, at least, was no mere titillation of
the senses by agreeable sounds. And it differed quite as much from the
effect produced by the same thing in church on Sunday, when Gladys,
after being surprised into listening, had listened only to the words.
Then, indeed, the music had seemed sweet and sad, but to-night each
note palpitated with a shivering, tremulous yearning, dropping into
her soul a relief as deep as that of sorrow unbosomed, a comfort as
soothing as the comfort of tears. And there was now an added infinity
of meaning in the words; though it was the words that had thrilled her
then--then, before she had brought all the present misery to pass.

    O for the wings, for the wings of a dove!
    Far away, far away would I rove:
    In the wilderness build me a nest,
    And remain there for ever at rest.

It is only a few bars, the solo here; and at the point where the
chorus catches up the refrain Miss Travers softly ceased. She turned
round slowly on the stool, then rose up quickly in surprise. Her
ardent listener was gone. And as Miss Travers stood by the piano,
peering with raised eyebrows into every corner of the room, and out
into the night through the open French window, the men entered the
room in a body--she was surrounded.

But Gladys had stepped softly through the window on to the lawn,
re-entered the house by another way, and stolen swiftly up to her
room. The last strains came to her through the open window of the
drawing-room, and in at her own window, at which Gladys now knelt: and
this short passage through the outer air brought them upward on the
breath of the night, rarefied and softened as though from the lips of
far-off angels: and so they reached her trembling ears.

The scent of roses was in the air. The moon was rising, and its rays
spanned the river with a broad bridge of silver, against which some of
the foliage at the garden-end stood out in fine filigree. It was a
heavenly night; it was a sweet and tranquil place; but yet--

    O for the wings of a dove!

Gladys had been home-sick before; she had been miserable and desperate
for many, many hours; but at this moment it seemed as though hitherto
she had never known what it was to pant and pray in real earnest for
her old life and her own country. She was almost as a weak woman in
the transports of spiritual fervour, her vision riveted upon some
material mental picture, the soul for one ecstatic instant separated
from the flesh--only Gladys missed the ecstasy.

There was no light in the room; and the girl remained so entirely
motionless, as she knelt, that her glossy head, just raised above the
level of the sill, would have seemed in the moonlight a mere inanimate
accessory, if it had been seen at all. But only the bats could have
seen Gladys, and they did not; at all events, it was the touch of a
bat's wing upon the forehead that recalled her to herself, making her
aware of voices within earshot, immediately below her window. Her room
was over the dining-room. The voices were men's voices, and the scent
of cigars reached her as well. She could hear distinctly, but she
never would have listened had she not heard her own name spoken; and
then--the weakness of the moment prevented her from rising.

'No,' said one of the voices, 'not a bit of it; oh dear, no! Gladys
has her good points; and, frankly, I am getting rather to like her.
But she is impossible in her position. The whole thing was a fearful
mistake, which poor old Alfred will live to repent.'

The voice was unmistakable; it was Granville's.

'But'--and the other voice was that of Granville's most intimate
friend, whom he had introduced to Gladys during the course of the
afternoon--'doesn't he repent it already, think you?'

'Upon my word, I'm not sure that he doesn't,' said Granville.

'If you ask me,' said his friend, 'I should say there isn't a doubt of
it. I've been watching him pretty closely. Mark my words, he's a
miserable man!'

'Well, I'm half inclined to agree with you,' said Granville. 'I didn't
think so two or three days since, but now I do. You see, there are
camels' backs and there are last straws (though I wish there were no
proverbs); and there never was a heavier straw than yesterday's--'gad!
'twas as heavy as the rest of the load! I mean the perfectly awful
scene in the Park, which you know about, and the whole town knows
about, and the low papers will publish, confound them! Yes, I believe
you're right; he _can't_ get over this.'

'Poor chap!' said Granville's friend.

'You may well say that. Alfred is no genius'--Granville was,
apparently--'but he has position; he has money--luckily for him; he
means to settle down in the country somewhere, and, no doubt, he'd
like to be somebody in the county. But how could he? Look at his
wife!'

'There ought to be a separation,' said the friend, feelingly.

'Well, I don't think it's quite as bad as that,' said Granville,
wearing ship. 'Anyway, there never will be one; you may trust her for
that. And, I must own, I don't think it's all the main chance with
her, either; they're sufficiently spooney. Why, she will not even
leave him for a week on a visit, though, as I understand, he's doing
his best to persuade her to.'

Gladys's hands tightened upon the woodwork of the window-frame.

'Can't persuade her to?' cried the friend. 'What did I tell you? Why,
Lord love you, he wants to get rid of her already!'

This was rather strong, even for an intimate friend, and even though
the intimate friend had drunk a good deal of wine. Granville's tone
cooled suddenly.

'We'll drop the subject, I think. My cigar's done, and you've smoked
as much as is good for you. You can do as you like, but I'm going
inside.'

Their footsteps sounded down the gravel-path; then the sound ceased;
they had gone in by the drawing-room window.

Gladys had never once altered her position; she did not alter it now.
The moon rose high in the purple sky, and touched her head with
threads of silver. It was as though gray hairs had come upon her while
she knelt. The sudden turning of the door-handle, and a quick step
upon the threshold, aroused her. It was Alfred come for an easier
coat. The people were gone.

'What--_Gladys!_' he cried. She rose stiffly to her feet, and
confronted him with her back to the moonlight. 'Up here--alone?'

'You didn't miss me, then?' Her tone was low and hoarse--the words ran
into one another in their hurried, eager utterance.

'Why, no,' cried Alfred; 'to tell you the truth, I didn't.'

He seemed to her in better spirits than he had been all day; his
voice was full and cheery, and his manner brisk. Why? Evidently the
evening had gone off very agreeably. Why? Was it because he had got
rid of her for an hour? Was it, then, true that he was doing his best
to get rid of her for a week--that he would be only too glad to get
rid of her for ever? It was as though a poniard were being held to her
breast. She paused, and nerved herself to speak calmly, before, as it
were, baring her bosom to the steel.

'Alfred,' she said at length, with slow distinctness, but not with the
manner of one who is consciously asking a question of life or death,
'I have been thinking it over, about the Barringtons; and I think I
_should_ like to go to them on Saturday after all. May I go?'

'May you?' Alfred fairly shouted. 'I am only too delighted, Gladdie!
Of course you may.'

The poniard went in--to the hilt.

So delighted was Alfred that he caught her in his arms and kissed her.
Her cheek was quite cold, her frame all limp. Though she reeled on
her feet, she seemed to shrink instinctively from his support.

'What's the matter, Gladdie?' he cried, in sudden alarm. 'What's
wrong--are you ill? Stop, I'll fetch----'

She interrupted him in a whisper.

'Fetch no one.' She dropped one hand upon the dressing-table, leant
her weight upon it, and motioned him back with the other. 'I am not
ill; I only was faint, just for a moment. I am all right now. There,
that's a long breath; I can speak quite properly again. You see, it
was only a passing faintness. I must have fallen asleep by the window.
I was enjoying the lovely night, and that must have done it. There, I
am only tired now, and want--sleep!'

       *       *       *       *       *

That acid had been applied, and not in drops. Its work was complete.



CHAPTER XV

THE FIRST PARTING


It was Saturday forenoon, and everything was ready for the departure
of Gladys. Moreover, the moment had come. Garrod was at the door with
the carriage; the phlegmatic stable-boy, having performed feats of
unsuspected strength with the luggage, had retired into his own
peculiar shell, and lurked in sullen humility at the far side of the
horse; while Mr Dix figured imposingly in the hall. Alfred was here
too, waiting for Gladys to come down. But Gladys was upstairs saying
good-bye to Lady Bligh, and lingering over the parting somewhat
strangely, for one who was going away for a week only.

'If I hear any more such absurd talk,' Lady Bligh said at last, and
with some impatience, 'about forgiveness and the like, I shall punish
you by not allowing you to leave me at all.'

'It is too late to do that,' Gladys hastily put in. 'But oh, Lady
Bligh! if only you knew how happy you have made me--how happily I go
away, having your forgiveness for everything, for everything----'

'Except for what you are saying now. How wildly you do talk, child!
One would think you were going for ever.'

'Who knows, Lady Bligh? There are accidents every day. That's why I'm
thankful to be leaving like this.'

Lady Bligh hated sentimentality. Only the intense earnestness of the
girl's voice and manner restrained her from laughing; sentimentality
was only fit to be laughed at; but this was sentimentality of a
puzzling kind.

A minute later, with passionate kisses and incoherent expressions, out
of all proportion to the occasion, and fairly bewildering to poor
Lady Bligh, Gladys was gone.

Alfred scanned her narrowly as they drove to the station. By the way
she kept turning round to gaze backward, you would have thought her
anxious to 'see the last of' things, as small boys are when the
holidays are over, and bigger boys when they go finally out into the
world. Alfred was going with her to Liverpool Street. She had refused
to go at all if he took her (as he wanted to) all the way into
Suffolk, to return himself by the next train.

'Gladdie,' he said, after watching her closely, 'you look cut up; is
it from saying good-bye to the _mater_?'

'I suppose it must be--if I really look like that.'

'There is still, perhaps, some soreness----'

'No, there is none now,' said Gladys, quickly.

'Then what is it?'

'Only that it is so dreadful, saying good-bye!'

'My darling!--by the way you talk you might be going for good and
all. And it is only for a week.'

She did not answer, but pressed the hand that closed over her own.

During the half-hour's run to Waterloo he continued to glance
furtively, and not without apprehension, at her face. It was unusually
pale; dark rings encircled the eyes, and the eyes were unusually
brilliant.

They had a compartment to themselves. He held her hand all the way,
and she his, like a pair of moonstruck young lovers; and, for the most
part, they were as silent.

'You have not been yourself these last few days,' he said at length;
'I am glad you are going.'

'And I am glad of that,' she answered.

Her tone was odd.

'But I shall be wretched while you are gone,' he quickly added.

She made no reply to this; it seemed to her an afterthought. But, if
it was, it grew upon him with swift and miserable effect as the
minutes remaining to them gradually diminished. When they drove up to
Liverpool Street he was in the depths of dejection.

It was their first parting.

She insisted on sending the necessary telegram to the Barringtons
herself. His depression made him absent, and even remiss. He stood
listlessly by while she filled in the form; at any other time he would
have done this for her, or at least looked over her shoulder--humorously
to check the spelling; but this afternoon he was less attentive in
little things than she had ever known him, because she had never known
him so depressed.

It was their first parting.

He had got her a compartment to herself, but only at her earnest
insistence; _he_ had spoken for a carriage full of people, or the one
reserved for ladies--anything but solitary confinement. It was the
Cambridge train; there were few stoppages and no changes.

Gladys was ensconced in her corner. For the moment, her husband sat
facing her. Four minutes were left them.

'You have a Don in the next carriage to you; an ancient and
wonderfully amiable one, I should say,' observed Alfred, with a sickly
attempt at levity. 'I wish you were under his wing, my dear!'

Gladys made a respondent effort, an infinitely harder one. 'No,
thanks,' she said; 'not _me_!'

'Come, I say! Is it nervousness or vanity?'

'It is neither.'

'Yet you look nervous, Gladdie, joking apart--and, honestly, I never
felt less like joking in my life. And you are pale, my darling; and
your hand is so cold!'

She withdrew the hand.

But one more minute was left. 'Better get out, sir,' said the guard,
'and I'll lock the lady in.'

Gladys felt a shiver pass through her entire frame. With a supreme
effort she controlled herself. They kissed and clasped hands. Then
Alfred stepped down heavily on to the platform.

The minute was a long one; these minutes always are. It was an age in
passing, a flash to look back upon. These minutes are among the
strangest accomplishments of the sorcerer Time.

'It is dreadful to let you go alone, darling, like this,' he said,
standing on the foot-board and leaning in. 'At least you ought to have
had Bunn with you. You might have given way in that, Gladdie.'

'No,' she whispered tremulously; 'I--I like going alone.'

'You must write at once, Gladdie.'

'To-morrow; but you could only get it latish on Monday.'

The bell was ringing. You know the clangour of a station bell; of all
sounds the last that it resembles is that of the funeral knell; yet
this was its echo in the heart of Gladys.

'Well, it's only for a week, after all, isn't it, Gladdie? It will be
the weariest week of my life, I know. But I shan't mind--after all,
it's my own doing--if only you come back with a better colour. You
have been so pale, Gladdie, these last few days--pale and excitable.
But it's only a week, my darling, eh?'

She could not answer.

The guard blew his whistle. There was an end of the minute at last.

'Stand back,' she whispered: her voice was stifled with tears.

'Back?'--Alfred peered up into her face, and a sudden pallor spread
upon his own--'with your dear eyes full of tears, where I never yet
saw tears before? Back?--God forgive me for thinking of it, I'll come
with you yet!'

He made as though to dive headlong through the window; but, looking
him full in the eyes through her tears, his girl-wife laid a strong
hand on each of his shoulders and forced him back. He staggered as the
platform came under his feet. The train was already moving. He stood
and gazed.

Gladys was waving to him, and smiling through her tears. So she
continued until she could see him no more. Then she fell back upon the
cushions, and, for a time, consciousness left her.

It was their first parting.



CHAPTER XVI

TRACES


Alfred did not become unconscious, nor even feel faint: he was a man.
But he did feel profoundly wretched. He tried to shake off this
feeling, but failed. Later, on his way back through the City, he
stopped somewhere to try and lunch it off, and with rather better
success. He was a man: he proceeded to throw the blame upon the woman.
It was Gladys who had supplied all the sentiment (and there had been
an absurd amount of it) at their parting; it was the woman who had
exaggerated this paltry week's separation, until it had assumed,
perhaps for them both--at the moment--abnormal dimensions; he, the
man, was blameless. If _his_ way had obtained, she should have gone
away in highest spirits, instead of in tears--and all for one
insignificant week! He should write her a serious, if not a severe,
letter on the subject. So Alfred went down to Twickenham in quite a
valiant mood to face his week of single-blessedness, and to affect a
droll appreciation of it in the popular, sprightly manner of the
long-married man.

But the miserable feeling returned--if, indeed, it had ever been chased
fairly away; and it returned with such force that Alfred was obliged to
own at last that it, too, was exaggerated and out of all proportion to
the exciting cause. He, in his turn, was sentimentalising as though
Gladys had gone for a term of years. He was conscious of this; but he
could not help it. His thoughts seemed bound to the parting of this
Saturday, powerless to fly forward to the reunion of the next. A vague,
dim sense of finality was the restraining bond; but this sense was not
long to remain dim or vague. Meanwhile, so far as Alfred was concerned,
the Sunday that followed was wrapped in a gloom that not even the
genial presence of the distinguished (but jocular) guest could in any
way pierce or dissipate. Nevertheless, it contained the last tranquil
moments that Alfred was to know at that period of his life; for it led
him to the verge of an ordeal such as few men are called upon to
undergo.

He was not a little surprised on the Monday morning to find among the
letters by the first post one addressed to his wife. She had received
scarcely any letters since her arrival in England--two or three from
tradesmen, an invitation or so, nothing from Australia; but this
letter was directed in a large, bold hand, with which Alfred fancied
he was not wholly unfamiliar; and he suddenly remembered that he had
seen it before in Miss Barrington's note of invitation. Now, the
post-mark bore the name of the town to which Gladys had booked from
Liverpool Street, and the date of the day before; and how could Miss
Barrington write to Gladys at Twickenham, when Gladys was staying with
Miss Barrington in Suffolk?

He tore open the envelope, and his hand shook as he did so. When he
had read to the end of the letter, which was very short, his face was
gray and ghastly; his eyes were wild and staring; he sank helplessly
into a chair. The note ran thus:--

    'Dearest Glad,--We are _so_ disappointed, you can't think. As
    for me, I've been in the sulks ever since your telegram came
    this afternoon. What _ever can_ have prevented your coming,
    at the _very last minute_--for your wire from _Liverpool
    Street_? Do write at once, for I'm _horribly_ anxious, to
    your loving

                'Ada.

    'PS.--And do _come_ at once, if it's nothing serious.

    'Saturday.'

Alfred read the letter a second time, and an extraordinary composure
came over him.

He folded the letter, restored it to its envelope, and put the
envelope in his pocket. Then he looked at the clock. It wanted a
quarter to eight. The Judge was no doubt up and about somewhere; but
none of the others were down. Alfred rang the bell, and left word that
he had received a letter begging an early interview on important
business, and that he would breakfast in town.

Alfred was stunned; but he had formed a plan. This plan he proceeded
to put into effect; or rather, once formed, the plan evolved itself
into mechanical action without further thought. For some hours
following he did not perfectly realise either what he was doing or why
he was doing it. He never thoroughly pulled himself together, until a
country conveyance, rattling him through country lanes, whisked into a
wooded drive, and presently past a lawn where people were playing
lawn-tennis, and so to the steps of a square, solid, country house.
But he had all his wits about him, and those sharpened to the finest
possible point, when he looked to see whether Gladys was, or was not,
among the girls on the lawn. She was not. That was settled. He got
out and rang the bell. He inquired for Mr Barrington; Mr Barrington
was playing at lawn-tennis. In answer to a question from the butler,
Bligh said that he would rather see Mr Barrington in the house than go
to him on the tennis-court. He could wait until the set was finished.
He had come from London expressly to speak for a few minutes with Mr
Barrington. His name would keep until Mr Barrington came; but he was
from Australia.

The last piece of information was calculated to fetch Mr Barrington at
once; and it did. He came as he was, in his flannels, his thick hairy
arms bare to the elbow: a bronzed, leonine man of fifty, with the
hearty, hospitable manner of the Colonial 'squatocracy.' Alfred
explained in a few words who he was, and why he had come. He had but one
or two questions to ask, and he asked them with perfect self-possession.
They elicited the assurance that nothing had been heard of Gladys in
that quarter, beyond the brief message received on the Saturday. Mr
Barrington found the telegram, and handed it to his visitor. It read:
'Prevented coming at last moment. Am writing--Gladys.' By the time of
despatch, Bligh knew that it was the message she had written out in his
presence.

'Of course she never wrote?' he said coolly to the squatter.

'We have received nothing,' was the grave answer.

'Yet she started,' said Alfred. 'I put her in the train myself, and
saw her off.'

His composure was incredible. The Australian was more shaken than he.

'Did you make any inquiries on the line?' asked Barrington, after a
pause.

'Inquiries about what?'

'There might have been--an accident.'

Bligh tapped the telegram with his finger. 'This points to no
accident,' he said, grimly. 'But,' he added, more thoughtfully, 'one
might make inquiries down the line, as you say. It might do good to
make inquiries all along the line.'

'Do you mean to say you have made _none_?'

'None,' said Alfred, fetching a deep sigh. 'I came here straight. I
could think of nothing else but getting here--and--perhaps--finding
her! I thought--I thought there might be some--mistake!' His voice
suddenly broke. The futility of the hope that had sustained him for
hours had dawned upon him slowly, but now the cruel light hid nothing
any longer. She was not here; she had not been heard of here; and
precious hours had been lost. He grasped his hat and held out his
trembling hand.

'Thank you! Thank you, Mr Barrington! Now I must be off.'

'Where to?'

'To Scotland Yard. I should have gone there first. But--I was mad, I
think; I thought there had been some mistake. Only some mistake!'

The squatter was touched to the soul. 'I have known her, off and on,
since she was a baby,' he said. 'Bligh--if you would only let me, I
should like to come with you.'

Alfred wrung the other's hand, but refused his offer.

'No. Though I am grateful indeed, I would rather go alone. It would
do no good, your coming; I should prefer to be alone. So only one word
more. Your daughter was a great friend of Gladys; better not tell her
anything of this. For it may still be only some wild freak, Mr
Barrington--God knows what it is!'

It was evening when he reached London. A whole day had been wasted. He
stated his case to the police; and then there was no more to be done
that night. With an eagerness that all at once became feverish he
hastened back to Twickenham. It was late when he arrived at the house;
only Granville was up; and, for an instant, Granville thought his
brother had been drinking. The delusion lasted no longer than that
instant. It was not drink with Alfred: his excitement was suppressed:
he stood staring at Granville with a questioning, eager expression, as
though he expected news. What could it mean? What could be the
explanation of such fierce excitement in stolid Alfred, of all people
in the world?

Granville thought of the one thing, or rather of the one person,
likely, and threw out a feeler:--

'Have you heard from Gladys?'

'No,' said Alfred, in a hollow voice. '_Have you seen her?_'

This was the last idea that had possessed him: that Gladys might have
come home, that he might find her there on his return. It was the
second time that day that he had cheated himself with vain,
unreasoning hopes.

'Seen her?' Granville screwed in his eyeglass tighter. 'Of course I
haven't seen her! How should we see her here, my good fellow, when
she's down in Suffolk?'

Alfred turned pale, and for an instant stood glaring; then he burst
into a harsh laugh.

'You know how odd she is, Gran! I thought she might have tired of her
friends and come back. She's capable of it, and I feared it--that's
all!'

He left the room abruptly.

'Poor chap!' said Granville, with a sentient shake of the head; 'he
_is_ far gone, if you like.'

       *       *       *       *       *

Next morning Alfred walked into Scotland Yard as the clocks were
striking eleven. His appointment was for that hour, and he had striven
successfully to keep it to the second; though commonly he was a far
from punctual man. In point of fact, he had been sitting and loitering
about the Embankment for a whole hour, waiting until the moment of his
appointment should come, as unwilling to go to it a minute before the
time as a minute late. So he entered the Yard while Big Ben was
striking. And this was a young man with a reputation for
unpunctuality, and all-round unbusinesslike, dilatory habits.

Moreover, for a man who, as a rule, was not fastidious enough about
such matters, his appearance this morning was wellnigh immaculate.
Yet, perhaps, he had only sought, by a long and elaborate toilet, to
while away the long, light hours of the early morning: for, on looking
at him closely, it was impossible to believe that he had slept a
wink. The fact is, abnormal circumstances had conduced to bring about
in Alfred an entirely abnormal state of mind. In a word, and a trite
one, he was no longer himself. A crust of insensibility had hardened
upon him. Had there been no news for him at all at the Yard this
morning, possibly this crust might have been broken through: for he
was better prepared for one crushing blow than for the bruises of
repeated disappointment. Thus, the very worst news might have affected
him less, at the moment, than no news, which is supposed, popularly,
to be of the best. But there was some news.

Official investigation had thus far discovered what a person of
average intelligence, with a little more presence of mind than Alfred
had shown, might have ascertained, perhaps for himself. Yet the
information was important. Gladys had left the train, with her
luggage, two stations before her destination. This was testified by
the guard of the train. But there was a later fact still. It was
certain that Gladys had returned to town by the next up-train: for she
had personally deposited her luggage in the cloak-room at Liverpool
Street between the hours of six and seven on the Saturday evening.
There all trace of her was lost, for the present; but it was extremely
likely that fresh traces would be forthcoming during the course of the
day.

The simple nature of the inquiries that had elicited the above
information will be at once apparent; but Alfred went away with an
exalted opinion of the blood-hound sagacity of the police. In his
present condition of mind, his opinion, good or bad, was not worth
much. He went to a club which he had not been in for years, and of
which he had long ceased to look upon himself as a member; but his
bankers, doubtless, still paid his subscription; and in any case it
was not likely that he would be turned out. He would find some quiet
corner and sit down and wait until the messenger came from Scotland
Yard; for, of course, something more would be discovered during the
course of the day--had they not promised as much? The quiet corner
that he chose was an upstairs window, from which there was a fair
glimpse of the river. The river fascinated him most strangely to-day.
During the hour he had loitered on the Embankment, between ten and
eleven, he had raised his eyes but seldom from the river.

He sat long at the window--so long that minutes ran into hours and the
summer afternoon melted into the summer evening. The room was a
reading-room; the windows were in snug recesses. Alfred had his recess
to himself for hours and hours. He was conscious of no other presence;
certainly no one spoke to him: very possibly, with his beard, no one
recognised him.

The sun was sinking. He could not see it from this window; but he
could see the heightened contrast of light and shadow among the
ripples of the river, and the shadows deepening far away under
Westminster Bridge. This was where his gaze rested. It was a stony
gaze; his lips were compressed and bloodless, his features pointed and
pale. A hideous vision filled his mind; but it was a vision only; it
had no meaning. He did not realise it. He realised nothing.... Some
one came and asked if he was Mr Bligh. It was a club servant. A man
awaited him below. Alfred went down; the messenger from Scotland Yard
was come at last.

The messenger was the bearer of these few words:--

'A lady's hat and jacket have been found in the river below Blackwall.
If you wish to see them, they are here.'

Five minutes later Alfred walked into the office in which he had heard
the result of the investigations that morning, and identified
instantly the jacket and hat awaiting his inspection.

Gladys had gone away in them on Saturday.



CHAPTER XVII

WAITING FOR THE WORST


For the second time, it was Granville whom Alfred first encountered on
his return from town. They met in the twilight. Dinner was over, and
Granville sauntered alone in the bit of garden between the house and
the road, smoking a cigarette. Suddenly the gate was opened, and the
one brother, looking up, saw the other coming quickly towards him
through the dusk.

It was too dark for the ready reading of faces; but it struck
Granville that the approaching footsteps were hasty and unusual. He
recalled Alfred's unaccountable manner of the night before. Indeed,
all his movements, during the past two days, were mysterious: up to
London first thing in the morning, back late, and not a word to any
one; whereas the whole household, as a general rule, were in
possession of most of Alfred's private plans and hopes and fears. But
Granville had no time to speculate now. Alfred came straight up to
him.

'I want to speak to you, Gran,' he said. 'I'm glad I found you here.'

The step had been suspicious; the voice was worse. It was calm enough,
but it was not Alfred's voice at all. Something had happened.
Granville put up his eyeglass; but in that light it did not avail him
much.

'Let us sit down, then,' said Granville, leading the way to a seat
under the trees.

'What is it about?'

Then Alfred began, in set tones and orderly phrases. The affectation
of his manner was almost grotesque.

'I want a kind of professional opinion from you, Gran, about--let us
say, about a case that interests me, rather. That will be near enough
to the mark, I think.'

'Delighted to help you, if I can.' Granville lounged back carelessly
on the garden-seat, but his keen glance lost not a line of the other's
profile, as Alfred bent forward with his eyes upon the ground; and
those lines seemed strangely hardened.

'Thank you. The case is, briefly, this,' Alfred continued:
'somebody--no matter who--has been missing for some days. The number
of days is of no consequence either. The police were not informed
immediately. They only heard of it last night. But, this afternoon,
they found----'

Alfred checked himself, sat upright, shifted his position, and met
Granville's gaze.

'What should you consider incontestable evidence of drowning, Gran?'

'The body.'

'Of course. But you have to look for bodies. What should you find, to
make you search with the absolute certainty of discovering the body at
last?'

'Nothing else could make it an absolute certainty. But lots of things
would set you searching--a hat, for instance.'

'They have found her hat!' said Alfred, through his clenched teeth.

'_Her_ hat! Whose?'

Alfred stretched over, caught Granville's arm in a nervous grip, and
whispered rapidly in his ear. In a moment Granville knew all. But he did
not speak immediately. When he did speak, it was to ask questions. And
there was another unnatural voice now, besides Alfred's--Granville's was
quite soft.

'Was she unhappy at all?' he asked.

'Just the reverse, I thought, until last week. You know what happened
in the Park yesterday week. She said some very wild things after that,
and spoke as though she had never been quite happy here; she vowed she
would never forgive herself for what she had done; and she said she
wished she was dead. Well, I did not think much about her words; I
thought more of what she had done; I put down what she said to the
shame and temper of the moment, not to real unhappiness. But, when I
said good-bye to her, then she _was_ unhappy--more so than I ever knew
her before.'

From his tone, no one could have guessed that he was speaking of his
wife.

'And you think she--she----'

Granville could not bring his lips to utter the words.

Alfred could. 'I think she has drowned herself,' he said calmly.

Granville shuddered. Callous as he was himself by nature, callousness
such as this he could not have imagined possible; it was horrible to
see and to hear.

Neither spoke for some little time.

'Did it never occur to you,' said Granville, at last, 'that she might
have drowned herself without all this trouble, simply by walking to
the bottom of the garden here?'

'What?' cried Alfred, sharply. His fingers tightened upon Granville's
arm. His voice fell, oddly enough, into a natural tone.

Granville repeated his question.

'No,' said Alfred, hoarsely, 'that never crossed my mind. But there's
something in it. God bless you, Gran, for putting it into my head!
It's almost like a ray of hope--the first. If I hadn't seen the
things and identified them as hers----'

'The things! You did not say there was anything else besides the hat.
What else was there?'

'The jacket she went away in.'

'You are sure it was hers?'

'Yes.'

'You could swear to both hat and jacket?'

'Yes.'

Granville leapt to his feet.

'Who throw their things into the water'--he asked, in strange
excitement, for him--'the people who mean to sink or the people who
mean to swim--or the people who mean to stay on the bank?'

Alfred stared at him blankly. Gradually the light dawned upon him that
had entered Granville's quicker intelligence in a flash.

'What do you mean?' whispered Alfred; and, in a moment, his voice and
his limbs were trembling.

'Nothing very obscure,' replied Granville, with a touch of contempt,
which, even then, he could not manage to conceal (Alfred's slow
perception always had irritated him); 'simply this: Gladys has _not_
drowned herself. She was never the girl to do it. She had too much
sense and vitality and courage. But she may mean us to think there's
an end of her--God knows with what intention. She may have gone off
somewhere--God knows where. We must find out----'

He stopped abruptly, and nearly swore: for Alfred was wringing his
hand, and weeping like a child.

Granville hated this, but bore it stoically. It was now plain to him
that Alfred had been driven very nearly out of his senses: and no
wonder--Granville himself could as yet scarcely realise or believe
what he had heard. And this outburst was the natural reaction
following upon an unnatural mental condition. But _was_ there any
ground for hope? Granville was less confident than he appeared when he
amended his last words and said:--

'I _will_ find out.'

Alfred wrung his hand again. He was calmer now, but terribly shaken
and shattered. The weakness that he had been storing up during the
past two days had come over him, as it were, in the lump. Granville
led him to his room. Alfred had never in his life before known
Granville half so good-natured and sympathetic; he blessed him
fervently.

'You were her friend,' he said, huskily. 'She thought no end of you,
Gran! You got on so splendidly together, after the first few days; and
she was always talking about you. Find her--find her for me, Gran; and
God bless you--and forgive her for this trick she has played us!'

Granville did not often feel contrition, or remorse, or shame: but he
felt all three just then. He knew rather too well the measure of his
own kindness to Gladys. For the first time in his life--and not,
perhaps, before it was time--he disliked himself heartily. He felt
vaguely that, whatever had happened, he had had something to do with
it. He had had more to do with it than he guessed. 'I'll do my
best--I'll do my best,' he promised; and he meant his 'best' to be
better than that of the smartest detective at Scotland Yard.

He left Alfred, shut himself up alone, and reviewed the situation. An
hour's hard thinking led to a rather ingenious interview--one with the
girl Bunn. It took place on the stairs, of all places. Granville saw
her set foot upon the bottom stair; he immediately sat down upon the
top one, produced a newspaper, and blocked the gangway.

'Bunn, you have a sweetheart in Australia. Don't pout and toss your
head; it's nothing to be ashamed of--quite the contrary; and it's the
fact, I think--eh?'

'Lor', Mr Granville, what if I have?'

'Well, nothing; only there is something about it in this
newspaper--about Australia, I mean; not about you--that's to come. You
shall have the newspaper, Bunn; here it is. I thought you'd like it,
that's all.'

Bunn took the paper, all smiles and blushes.

'Oh, thank you, Mr Granville. And--and I beg your pardon, sir.'

'Don't name it, my good girl. But, look here, Bunn; stay one moment,
if you don't mind.' (She could scarcely help staying, he gave her no
chance of passing; besides, he had put her under an obligation.) 'Tell
me now, Bunn--didn't Mrs Alfred know something about him? And didn't
Mrs Alfred talk to you a good deal about Australia?'

'That she did, sir. But she didn't know my young man, Mr Granville.
She only got his address from me just as she was going away, sir.'

'Ah! she wanted his address before she went away, did she?'

'Yes, sir. She said she would name him in writing to her father, or in
speaking to Mr Barrington, or that, any way, it'd be nice to have it,
against ever she went out there again, sir.'

'Oh, she gave three reasons all in one, eh? And did she say she'd like
to go out again, Bunn?'

'She always said that, sir, between ourselves--"between you and I,
Bella," it used to be. But, time I gave her the address, she went on
as if she would like to go, and meant a-going, the very next day.'

'Yet she didn't like leaving this, even for a week--eh, Bunn?'

'Lor', no, sir! She spoke as if she was never coming back no more. And
she kissed me, Mr Granville--she did, indeed, sir; though I never
named that in the servants' hall. She said there might be a accident,
or somethink, and me never see her no more; but that, if ever she went
back to Australia, she'd remember my young man, and get him a good
billet. Them were her very words. But, oh, Mr Granville!--oh,
sir!----'

'There, there. Don't turn on the waterworks, Bunn. I thought Mrs
Alfred had been cut up about something; but I wasn't sure--that's why
I asked _you_, Bunn; though I think, perhaps, you needn't name this
conversation either in the servants' hall, or tell any one else what
you have told me. Yes, you may go past now. But--stop a minute,
Bunn--here's something else that you needn't name in the servants'
hall.'

The something else was a half-sovereign.

'It was worth it, too,' said Granville, when the girl was gone; 'she
has given me something to go upon. These half-educated and impulsive
people always do let out more to their maids than to any one else.'

He went back to Alfred.

'There was something I forgot to ask you. How much money do you
suppose Gladys had about her when she went away?'

'I have no idea,' said Alfred.

'Do you know how much money you have given her since you have been
over--roughly?'

'No; I don't know at all.'

'Think, man. Fifty pounds?'

'I should say so. I gave her a note or so whenever it struck me she
might want it. She never would ask.'

'Do you think she spent much?'

'I really can't tell you, Gran; perhaps not a great deal, considering
everything; for, when I was with her, I never would let her shell out.
I never knew of her spending much; but she had it by her, in case she
wanted it; and that was all I cared about.'

And that was all Granville cared about. He ceased his questioning; but
he was less ready to leave Alfred alone than he had been before. He
had found him sitting in the dark by the open window, and staring
blankly into the night. Granville had insisted on lighting the gas:
only to see how the room was filled with Gladys's things. In every
corner of it some woman's trifle breathed of her. Granville felt
instinctively that much of this room, in the present suspense, might
turn a better brain than Alfred's, in Alfred's position.

'Look here,' said Granville, at last: 'I have been thinking. Listen,
Alfred.'

'Well?' said Alfred absently, still gazing out of window.

'I have got a theory,' went on Granville--'no matter what; only it has
nothing to say to death or drowning. It is a hopeful theory. I intend
to practise it at once: in a day or two it ought to lead me to
absolute certainty of one thing, one way or the other. No matter what
that one thing is; I have told you what it is not. Now, I shall have
to follow out my idea in town; and if I find the truth at all, I shall
most likely come across it suddenly, round a corner as it were. So I
have been thinking that you may as well be in town too, to be near at
hand in case I am successful. If you still have a club, you might hang
about there, and talk to men, and read the papers; if not---- Why do
you shake your head?'

'I am not going to town any more,' said Alfred, in low, decided tones.
'If you are right, and she is not dead, she may come back--she may
come back! Then I shall be here to meet her--and--and---- But you
understand me, Gran?'

'Not very well,' said Granville, dryly, and with a shrug of his
shoulders that was meant to shift from them all responsibility for
Alfred's possible insanity. 'In your case I should prefer to be in
town rather than here. However, a man judges for himself. There is one
thing, however; if you stay here all day----'

'What's that?'

'The question whether you should tell the Judge and the _mater_.'

'No,' said Alfred, resolutely; 'I shall not tell them--not, that is,
until the worst is known for certain. They think she is at the
Barringtons'. I shall say I have heard from her. I would tell a
million lies to save them the tortures of uncertainty that I am
suffering, and shall suffer, till--till we know the worst. Oh,
Granville!--for God's sake, find it out quickly!'

'I'll do my best--I've already told you I would,' said Granville
almost savagely; and he left the room.

Granville's best, in matters that required a clear head and some
little imagination, was always excellent. In the present instance his
normal energies were pushed to abnormal lengths by the uncomfortable
feeling that he himself had been not unconcerned in bringing about
that state of unhappiness which alone could have driven his
sister-in-law to her last rash, mysterious step; by a feverish desire
to atone, if the smallest atonement were possible; and by other
considerations, which, for once, were unconnected with the first
person singular. Nevertheless, on the Wednesday--the day following the
foregoing conversation--he found out nothing at all; and nothing at
all on the Thursday. Then Alfred made up his mind that nothing but the
very worst could now come to light, and that that was only a question
of time; and he fell into an apathy, by day, that Granville's most
vigorous encouragement, in the evening, could do nothing to correct.
Thus, when the news did come, when the terrible suspense was suddenly
snapped, Alfred was, perhaps, as ill-prepared for a shock (though he
had expected one for days) as it was possible for a man to be.

It was on the Friday night. Lady Bligh and Sir James were deep in
their game of _bezique_. Alfred sat apart from them, without a hope
left in his heart, and marvellously altered in the face. His pallor
was terrible, but perhaps natural; but already his cheekbones, which
were high, seemed strangely prominent; and the misery in his large
still eyes cried out as it sometimes does from the eyes of dumb
animals in pain. He was conscious of his altered looks, perhaps; for
he sedulously avoided looking his parents in the face. They did not
know yet. It added to his own anguish to think of the anguish that
must come to them too, sooner or later--sooner now--very soon indeed.

The door opened. Granville entered, with a brisk, startling step, and
a face lit up--though it was Granville's face--with news.

Alfred saw him--saw his face--and rose unsteadily to his feet.

'Speak! Say you have found her! No--I see it in your face--she is
there. Let me come to her!'

As Alfred stepped forward, Granville recoiled, and the light left his
face.

Alfred turned to his parents. The Judge had risen, and glanced in mute
amazement from one son to the other: both were pale, but their looks
told nothing. Lady Bligh sat back in her chair, her smooth face
wrinkled with bewilderment and vague terror.

'It is Gladys come back,' said Alfred, in tremulous explanation; 'it
is only that Gladys has come back, mother!'

Even then he chuckled in his sleeve to think that they had never
known, and never need know, anything of this, the worst of his wife's
many and wild escapades.

But Granville recoiled still farther, and his face became gray.

'I have not seen her,' he said, solemnly. 'She is _not_ here.'

'Not seen her? Not here?' Alfred was quickly sobered. 'But you know
where she is? I see it in your face. She is within reach--eh? Come,
take me to her!'

'She is not even within reach,' Granville answered, squeezing out the
words by a strenuous effort. 'I cannot take you to her. Gladys sailed
for Australia last Monday morning!'

Alfred sunk heavily into a chair. No one spoke. No one was capable of
speech. Before any one had time to think, Alfred was on his feet
again, tottering towards the door.

'I must follow!' he whispered, in hoarse, broken tones. 'I will follow
her to-night! Stand aside, Gran; thanks; and God bless you! Good-bye!
I shall know where to find her out there. I have no time to stop!'

Granville stood aside in obedience; but for one instant only: the
next--he sprang forward to catch in his arms the falling form of
Alfred.



CHAPTER XVIII

THE BOUNDARY-RIDER OF THE YELKIN PADDOCK


Picture the Great Sahara. The popular impression will do: it has the
merit of simplicity: glaring desert, dark-blue sky, vertical sun, and
there you are. Omit the mirage and the thirsty man; but, instead, mix
sombre colours and work up the African desert into a fairly desirable
piece of Australian sheep-country.

This, too, is a simple matter. You have only to cover the desert with
pale-green saliferous bushes, no higher than a man's knee; quite a
scanty covering will do, so that in the thickest places plenty of sand
may still be seen; and there should be barren patches to represent
the low sand-hills and the smooth clay-pans. Then have a line of
low-sized dark-green scrub at the horizon; but bite in one gleaming,
steely speck upon this sombre rim.

Conceive this modification of the desert, and you have a fair notion
of the tract of country--six miles by five--which was known on
Bindarra Station as the 'Yelkin Paddock,' the largest paddock in the
'C Block.'

Multiply this area by six; divide and subdivide the product by wire
fences, such as those that enclose the Yelkin Paddock; water by means
of excavations and wells and whims; stock with the pure merino and
devastate with the accursed rabbit; and (without troubling about the
homestead, which is some miles north of the Yelkin) you will have as
good an idea of the Bindarra 'run,' as a whole, as of its sixth part,
the paddock under notice.

The conspicuous mark upon the distant belt of dingy low-sized
forest--the object that glitters in the strong sunlight, so that it
can be seen across miles and miles of plain--is merely the
galvanised-iron roof of a log-hut, the hut that has been the lodging
of the boundary-rider of the Yelkin Paddock ever since the Yelkin
Paddock was fenced.

A boundary-rider is not a 'boss' in the Bush, but he is an important
personage, in his way. He sees that the sheep in his paddock 'draw' to
the water, that there is water for them to draw to, and that the
fences and gates are in order. He is paid fairly, and has a fine,
free, solitary life. But no boundary-rider had ever stopped long at
the Yelkin hut. The solitude was too intense. After a trial of a few
weeks--sometimes days--the man invariably rolled up his blankets,
walked in to the homestead, said that there was moderation in all
things, even in solitude, and demanded his cheque. The longest
recorded term of office in the Yelkin Paddock was six months; but that
boundary-rider had his reasons: he was wanted by the police. When,
after being captured in the hut, this man was tried and hanged for a
peculiarly cold-blooded murder, the Yelkin post became even harder to
fill than it had been before.

During the Australian summer following that other summer which
witnessed the events of the previous chapters, this post was not only
filled for many months by the same boundary-rider, but it was better
filled than it had ever been before. Moreover, the boundary-rider was
thoroughly satisfied, and even anxious to remain. The complete
solitude had been far less appreciated by the gentleman with the rope
round his neck; for him it had terrors. The present boundary-rider
knew no terrors. The solitude was more than acceptable; the
Crusoe-like existence was entirely congenial; the level breezy plains,
the monotonous procession of brilliant, blazing days, and the life of
the saddle and the hut, were little less than delightful, to the new
boundary-rider in the Yelkin. They were the few pleasures left in a
spoilt life.

There could have been no better cabin for 'a life awry' (not even in
the Bush, the living sepulchre of so many such) than the Yelkin hut.
But it was not the place to forget in. There are, however, strong
natures that can never forget, and still live on. There are still
stronger natures that do not seek to forget, yet retain some of the
joy of living side by side with the full sorrow of remembrance. The
boundary-rider's was one of these.

The boundary-rider saw but few faces from the home-station; none from
anywhere else. But, one glowing, hot-wind day, early in January, a
mounted traveller entered the Yelkin Paddock by the gate in the south
fence. He was following the main track to the homestead, and this
track crossed a corner of the Yelkin Paddock, the corner most remote
from the hut. He did not seem a stranger, for he glanced but
carelessly at the diverging yet conterminous wheel-marks which are the
puzzling feature of all Bush roads. He was a pallid, gaunt,
black-bearded man: so gaunt and so pallid, indeed, that no one would
have taken him at the first glance, or at the second either, for
Alfred Bligh.

Yet it was Alfred--straight, virtually, from his sick-bed. As soon as
he could stand (which was not for weeks) he had been taken on board
the steamer. The voyage, it was hoped, would do him good, and he was
bent on going--to find his wife. It did not do him much good; the eyes
that swept at last the territory of his father-in-law were the sunken,
wistful eyes of a shattered man.

Nothing had been heard of Gladys. Granville, indeed, had written to
Bindarra, but there had been no reply. Of this Alfred had not been
informed. From the first moments of returning consciousness he had
expressed himself strongly against writing at all.

So, as he crossed the corner of the Yelkin Paddock, all he knew was
that Gladys had sailed for Australia six months before.

'If she is here, she is here,' he muttered a hundred times; 'and there
will have been no warning of my coming to frighten her away. If she is
not here--if she were dead----'

His eyes dropped upon the bony hand holding the reins.

'Well, it would be an easier matter to follow her there than here. It
would take less time!'

But, as often as this contingency presented itself, his thin hand
involuntarily tightened the reins. Indeed, the nearer he got to the
homestead the slower he rode. Many a thousand times he had ridden in
fancy this last stage of his long, long journey, and always at a
hand-gallop; but, now that he was riding it in fact, he had not the
courage to press on. He let his tired horse make the speed, and even
that snail's pace was, at moments, too quick for him.

At the hour wherein he needed his utmost nerve to meet his fate--his
nerve, and the stout heart that had brought him, weak as he was, from
the opposite end of the earth, were failing him.

The gate in the west fence was in sight, when Alfred, awaking from a
fit of absence, became aware that a man with a cylinder of rolled
blankets upon his back (his 'swag') was tramping along the track to
meet him. For a moment Alfred's heart thumped; he would know his fate
now; this man, who was evidently from the home-station, would tell
him. Then he recognised the man. It was Daft Larry, the witless
stockman, who, being also stone deaf, was incapable of answering
questions.

Larry was a short man, strongly built though elderly, and probably
less old than he looked. He had a fresh complexion, a short gray
beard, and eyes as blue (and as expressionless) as the flawless
southern sky. He recognised Alfred, stood in his path, threw down his
swag, put his hands in his pockets, and smiled delightedly; not in
surprise; in mere idiotic delight. On beholding Alfred, this had been
his invariable behaviour. They had beheld one another last a year ago;
but last year and yesterday were much the same date to Larry.

'I like a man that is well-bred!' exclaimed Larry, with a seraphic
smile, his head critically on one side. On beholding Alfred, this had
been his invariable formula.

Alfred stopped his horse.

Daft Larry cocked his head on the other side. 'You're not one of the
low sort!' he went on.

Alfred smiled.

'_You're_ well-bred,' continued Larry, in the tone of a connoisseur.
Then, wagging his head gravely: 'I like a man that's not one of the
low sort; I like a man that is well-bred!'

That was the end, as it always had been. Larry picked up his swag with
the air of a man who has proved his case.

Alfred had ridden on some yards, when a call from the idiot made him
stop.

'Look there!' shouted Larry, with an ungainly sweep of the arm.
'Dust-storm coming up--bad dust-storm. Don't get catched, mister--you
aren't one of the low sort--not you!'

Daft Larry had been known to give gratuitous information before,
though he could not answer questions. Alfred, instead of riding on,
now looked about him. There was sense enough in the warning; though
Larry, apparently, did not mind being 'catched' himself, since he was
plodding steadily on, leaving the station, probably for good, as he
periodically did leave it. There was every indication of a dust-storm,
though the sun still shone brilliantly. The hot-wind had become wild
and rampant. It was whipping up the sandy coating of the plain in
every direction. High in the air were seen whirling spires and cones
of sand--a curious effect against the deep-blue sky. Below, puffs of
sand were breaking out of the plain in every direction, as though the
plain were alive with invisible horsemen. These sandy cloudlets were
instantly dissipated by the wind; it was the larger clouds that were
lifted whole into the air, and the larger clouds of sand were becoming
more and more the rule.

Alfred's eye, quickly scanning the horizon, descried the roof of the
boundary-rider's hut still gleaming in the sunlight. He remembered the
hut well. It could not be farther than four miles, if as much as that,
from this point of the track; but it was twelve miles at least from
this to the homestead. He also knew these dust-storms of old; Bindarra
was notorious for them. Without thinking twice, Alfred put spurs to
his horse and headed for the hut. Before he had ridden half the
distance, the detached clouds of sand banded together in one dense
whirlwind; and it was only owing to his horse's instinct that he did
not ride wide of the hut altogether; for, during the last half mile,
he never saw the hut until its outline loomed suddenly over his
horse's ears; and by then the sun was invisible.

'I never saw one come on quicker!' gasped Alfred, as he jumped off and
tethered his quivering horse in the lee of the hut.

The excitement, and the gallop, had made Alfred's blood tingle in his
veins. It was a novel sensation. He stepped briskly into the hut.

Almost his first sight on entering was the reflection of his own face
in a little mirror, which was neatly nailed to the wall, close to the
door. Alfred had never been vain, but he did pause to gaze at himself
then; for his face was covered with a thin veneer of sand, as a wall
becomes coated with driven snow. He dashed off the sand, and smiled;
and for the moment, with some colour in his cheeks and a healthy
light in his eyes, Alfred scarcely knew himself. Then he turned his
back upon the glass, merely noting that it was a queer thing to find
in a boundary-rider's hut, and that it had not been there a year ago.

The door had been ajar, and the window was blocked up. The sand,
however, had found free entry through the crevices between the
ill-fitting pine-logs of the walls, and already the yellow coating lay
an eighth of an inch thick all over the boarded floor and upon the
rude bench and table.

Alfred sat down and watched the whirling sand outside slowly deepen in
tint. He had left the door open, because otherwise the interior of the
hut would have been in complete darkness. As it was, it was difficult
to distinguish objects; but Alfred, glancing round, was struck with
the scrupulous tidiness of everything.

'Ration-bags all hung up; nothing left about; fireplace cleaned
out--daily, I should say; pannikins bright as silver; bunk made up.
All this is most irregular!' exclaimed Alfred. 'This boundary-rider
must be a curiosity. I never saw anything half so neat during all the
months I was in the Bush before. One might almost suspect a woman's
hand in it--especially in that mirror. Which reminds me, Gladys told
me she was once out here for a week, alone, riding the boundaries,
when they were short-handed. My darling! What nerve! Would to Heaven
you had had less nerve!'

The thick sand rattled in continuous assault upon the iron roof. It
was becoming a difficult matter to see across the hut. But the storm,
and the gallop, had had a curiously exhilarating effect upon Alfred.
His spirits had risen.

'I wish that boundary-rider would come in; but the storm's bound to
fetch him. I want a pannikin of tea badly, to lay the dust inside;
there's as much there as there was outside, I'll be bound. Besides, he
will have news for me. Poor Larry!--the same old drivel! And to think
that I was something like that in my delirium--that I might have been
left like Larry!'

His attention was here attracted by the illustrated prints pasted
upon a strip of sackcloth nailed to the pine-logs over the bunk: a
feature, this, of every bushman's hut. He went over to look at them,
and, the better to do so, leant with one knee upon the bed--the
rudely-framed bed that was so wonderfully well 'made.'

'Ah!' remarked Alfred, 'some of them are the old lot; I remember them.
But some are new, and--why, that's a cabinet photograph down there by
the pillow; and'--bending down to examine it--'good Heavens! it's of
_me_!'

It was a fact. The photograph, fixed so close to the pillow, was an
extremely life-like one of Alfred Bligh. But how had it got there? Of
what interest or value could it be to the boundary-rider of the Yelkin
Paddock? It had been taken last summer, at Richmond; and--oh, yes, he
remembered now--Gladys had sent one out to her father. That was it, of
course. The boundary-man had found it lying about the veranda or the
yard at the homestead (Alfred knew his father-in-law), and had
rescued it for the wall of his hut. No matter (to the boundary-man)
who it was, it was a picture, and one that would rather set off the
strip of sackcloth. That was it, of course; a simple explanation.

Yet Alfred trembled. The photograph was in a far from conspicuous
position; nor did it look as if it had been left lying about. What if
it belonged to Gladys? What if Gladys had fastened it there with her
own hands? What if she came sometimes to the hut--this hut in which he
stood? What if she had spent another week here riding the boundaries,
when her father was short of men?

All at once he felt very near to her; and the feeling made him dizzy.
His eyes roved once again round the place, noting the abnormal
neatness and order that had struck him at first; a look of wild
inquiry came into his haggard face; and even then, as the agony of
surmise tightened every nerve--a sound broke plainly upon his ears. It
was heard above the tinkle of the sand upon the roof: a horse's
canter, muffled in the heavy sand outside.

Alfred sprang to the door. At the same instant a rider drew rein in
front of him. They were not five paces apart, but such was the density
of the flying sand and dust that he could see no more than the faint
outline of the horse and its rider. Then the rider leapt lightly to
the ground. It was the boundary-rider of the Yelkin Paddock; but the
boundary-rider was a woman.

Alfred reeled forward, and clasped her to his heart.

'Gladdie! Darling!'

He had found her.



CHAPTER XIX

ANOTHER LETTER FROM ALFRED


                          'Bindarra Station, N.S.W., _April 13_.

'Dearest Mother,--Your dear letter, in answer to my first, written in
January, has just reached me. Though I wrote so fully last mail, I
can't let a mail go without some sort of an answer. But, as a matter
of fact, I am in a regular old hurry. The mail-boy is waiting
impatiently in the veranda, with his horse "hung up" to one of the
posts; and the store keeper is waiting in the store to drop my letter
in the bag and seal it up. So I must be short. Even with lots of time,
however, you know I never could write stylish, graphic letters like
Gran can. So you must make double allowances for me.

'And now, dear mother, about our coming back to England; and what you
propose; and what you say about my darling. To take the best
first--God bless you for your loving words! I can say nothing else.
Yes, I knew you were getting to love her in spite of all her
waywardness; and I know--I _know_--that you would love her still. And
you would love her none the less for all that has happened; you would
remember what I explained in my first letter, that it was _for my
sake_; you would think no longer of what she did, but why she did it.

'But, about coming back, we have, as you already know, made up our
minds to live out our lives here in Australia. After all, it's a far
better country--a bigger and a better Britain. There is no poverty
here, or very little; you never get stuck up for coppers in the
streets of the towns; or, if you do, it's generally by a newly-landed
immigrant who hasn't had time to get out of bad old habits. There's
more room for everybody than at home, and fairer rations of cakes and
ale all round. Then there's very little ill-health, because the
climate is simply perfect--which reminds me that _I_ am _quite_ well
now--have put on nearly two stone since I landed! But all this about
Australia's beside the mark: the real point is that it suits Gladdie
and me better than any other country in the world.

'Now for some news. We have decided upon our station at last. It is
the one in Victoria, in the north-eastern district---- I think I
mentioned it among the "probables" in my last. It is not large as
stations go; but "down in Vic" you can carry as many sheep to the acre
as acres to the sheep up here in the "back-blocks." You see, it is a
grass country. But the scenery is splendid: great rugged ranges
covered with the typical gum-trees, of which there are none up here,
and a fine creek clean through the middle of the "run." Then there are
parrots and 'possums and native bears all over the place, none of
which you get up here, though I fear there will be more snakes too.
The only drawback is the "cockatoos." I don't mean the _bird_, dear
mother, but the "cockatoo selectors." Personally, I don't think these
gentry are the vermin my father-in-law makes them out to be; _he_
brackets them with the rabbits; but _I_ mean to make friends with
them--if I can. The homestead is delightful: good rooms, and broad
veranda round three sides. We are going to be absurdly happy there.

'We shall not take possession though till after shearing--_i.e._ in
your autumn, though the agreement is signed and everything arranged.
Meanwhile, we shall stay on here, and I am to get a little more
Colonial experience. I need it badly, but not perhaps so badly as my
father-in-law makes out. He ridiculed the idea of my turning squatter
on my own account, unless Gladys was "boss." But, now that we have
fixed on the Victorian station, he is a bit more encouraging. He says
any fool could make _that_ country pay, referring of course to the
rainfall, which just there, in the ranges, is one of the best in
Australia. Still, he is right: experience _is_ everything in the
Colonies.

'So I am not quite idle. All day I am riding or driving about the
"run," seeing after things, and keeping my eyes open. In the evenings
Gladdie and I have taken to reading together. This was her doing, not
mine, mind; though I won't yield to her in my liking of it. The worst
of it is, it's so difficult to know where to begin; _I_ am so
painfully ignorant. Can _you_ not help us, dear mother, with some
hints? Do!--and when we come home some day (just for a trip) you will
find us both such reformed and enlightened members of society!

'But, long before that, _you_ must come out and see _us_. Don't shake
your head. _You simply must._ England and Australia are getting nearer
and nearer every year. The world's wearing small, like one of those
round balls of soap, between the hands of Time--(a gem in the rough
this, for Gran to polish and set!) Why, there's a Queensland squatter
who for years has gone "home" for the hunting season; while, on the
other hand, Australia is becoming _the_ crack place to winter in.

'Now, as you, dear mother, always _do_ winter abroad, why not here as
well as anywhere else? You must! You shall! If not next winter, then
the following one; and if the Judge cannot bring you, then Gran must.
That reminds me: how are they both? And has Gran been writing anything
specially trenchant lately? I'm afraid I don't appreciate very
'cutely--"miss half the 'touches,'" he used to tell me (though I think
I have made him a present of a "touch" to-day). But you know how glad
we would both be to read some of his things; so _you_ might send one
sometimes, dear mother, without him knowing. For we owe him so much!
And, besides what he did for me afterwards, he was always so nice and
brotherly with Gladys. I know she thought so at the time, though she
doesn't speak about him much now--I can't think why. _You're_ the one
she thinks of most, dearest mother; you're her model and her pattern
for life!

'The mail-boy has begun to remonstrate. He'll have to gallop the whole
way to the "jolly" township, he says, if I am not quick. So I must
break off; but I will answer your dear letter more fully next mail,
or, better still, Gladdie shall write herself. Till then, good-bye,
and dearest love from us both.

    'Ever your affectionate son,

        'Alfred.

'PS.--Gladys has read the above: so one last word on the sly.

'Oh, mother, if you only saw her at this moment! She is sitting in the
veranda--I can just see her through the door. She's in one of those
long deck-chairs, with a book, though she seems to have tired of
reading. I can't see much of her face, but only the sweep of her
cheek, and the lashes of one lid, and her little ear. But I can see
she isn't reading--she's threading her way through the pines into
space somewhere--perhaps back to Twickenham, who knows? And she's
wearing a white dress; you would like it--it's plain. And her cheek is
quite brown; you'll remember how it was the day she landed from the
launch. But there! I can't describe like Gran, so it's no good trying.
Only I do know this: I simply love her more and more and more, and a
million times more for all that has happened. And you, and all of you,
and all your friends, would fairly worship her now. You couldn't help
it!'


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_LIST OF TITLES_

  AINSWORTH, H.
     74 Windsor Castle
    200 The Tower of London

  À KEMPIS, THOMAS
     98 The Imitation of Christ

  ANDERSEN, HANS
    175 Fairy Tales

  ARNOLD, MATTHEW
    138 Poems

  AURELIUS, MARCUS
     82 The Meditations of

  AUSTEN, JANE
     53 Sense and Sensibility
    103 Pride and Prejudice
    190 Emma
    193 Mansfield Park

  BACON, FRANCIS
    167 Essays

  BARHAM, REV. R. H.
     71 The Ingoldsby Legends

  BEACONSFIELD, LORD
    183 Vivian Grey

  BLACKMORE, R. D.
    176 Lorna Doone

  BORROW, GEORGE
    141 Lavengro

  BRONTË, ANNE
     97 Tenant of Wildfell Hall

  BRONTË, CHARLOTTE
      7 Shirley
     11 Jane Eyre
     64 Villette

  BRONTË, EMILY
     31 Wuthering Heights

  BRONTË, THE SISTERS
     91 Agnes Grey, The Professor, and Poems

  BROWNING, MRS E. B.
     67 Poems--Series I.
    127 Poems--Series II.

  BROWNING, ROBERT
    156 Poetical Works of

  BUNYAN, JOHN
     24 The Pilgrim's Progress

  BURNS, ROBERT
    164 Poetical Works of

  CARLYLE, THOMAS
     61 Heroes and Hero Worship
    109 Sartor Resartus
    114 French Revolution, I.
    115      Do.          II.
    155 Past and Present

  CARROLL, LEWIS
     81 Alice in Wonderland

  COLLINS, WILKIE
     18 The Woman in White
     20 No Name
    130 The Moonstone

  COOPER, FENIMORE
    134 The Deerslayer
    188 The Pathfinder

  CRAIK, MRS
      5 John Halifax, Gentleman
     80 A Noble Life
    137 A Life for a Life

  DARWIN, CHARLES
     69 Voyage of the Beagle
    149 On the Origin of Species

  DAUDET, ALPHONSE
    182 Tartarin of Tarascon

  DE QUINCEY, THOMAS
     75 The Confessions of an Opium Eater

  DE WINDT, HARRY
    129 Through Savage Europe

  DICKENS, CHARLES
      1 David Copperfield
     14 Great Expectations
     29 Barnaby Rudge
     33 Oliver Twist
     35 A Tale of Two Cities
     36 The Old Curiosity Shop
     37 Nicholas Nickleby
     38 Pickwick Papers
     39 Sketches by Boz
     40 Dombey and Son
     41 American Notes
     42 Hard Times
     43 A Child's History of England
     44 Christmas Books
     45 Reprinted Pieces
     46 Martin Chuzzlewit
     47 Bleak House
     48 Little Dorrit
     49 Master Humphrey's Clock, etc.
     50 Stories and Sketches
     73 Our Mutual Friend
    154 The Uncommercial Traveller

  DODD, WILLIAM
    169 The Beauties of Shakespeare

  DUMAS, ALEXANDRE
     62 The Three Musketeers
    123 Twenty Years After
    132 Count of Monte-Cristo (Vol. I.)
    133 Count of Monte-Cristo (Vol. II.)
    160 The Black Tulip
    165 Marguerite de Valois
    173 Vicomte de Bragelonne
    178 Louise de la Vallière
    185 The Man in the Iron Mask
    199 The Forty-five Guardsmen

  ELIOT, GEORGE
      3 Adam Bede
     13 The Mill on the Floss
     19 Silas Marner
     32 Scenes of Clerical Life
     68 Romola
     96 Felix Holt

  EMERSON, R. W.
     99 Essays and Representative Men

  FROUDE, J. A.
    125 Short Studies

  GASKELL, MRS
     54 North and South
     57 Cranford
    186 Mary Barton

  GOLDSMITH, OLIVER
     94 The Vicar of Wakefield

  GRANT, JAMES
    122 The Romance of War

  GRIMM BROS.
    143 Fairy Tales

  HAWTHORNE, N.
     17 The Scarlet Letter
     28 The House of the Seven Gables

  HAZLITT, WILLIAM
    172 Table Talk

  HOLMES, O. W.
     59 The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table
     92 The Professor at the Breakfast Table
    113 The Poet at the Breakfast Table
    124 Elsie Venner

  HUGHES, THOMAS
      8 Tom Brown's Schooldays

  HUGO, VICTOR
    128 The Hunchback of Notre-Dame
    142 Les Misérables
    162 The Toilers of the Sea
    202 Ninety-Three

  IRVING, WASHINGTON
    107 The Sketch Book

  KEATS, JOHN
    179 Poetical Works of

  KINGSLEY, HENRY
    116 Ravenshoe
    140 The Recollections of Geoffry Hamlyn

  KINGSLEY, CHARLES
      4 Two Years Ago
      6 Westward Ho!
     86 Hypatia
     89 Hereward the Wake
    106 Alton Locke
    108 The Heroes
    161 Yeast

  LAMB, CHARLES
     56 The Essays of Elia

  LAMB, CHAS. AND MARY
     76 Tales from Shakespeare

  LEVER, CHARLES
     15 Charles O'Malley
    148 Harry Lorrequer

  LLOYD, ALBERT B.
    135 Uganda to Khartoum

  LONGFELLOW, H. W.
     65 Poems

  LOVER, SAMUEL
     60 Handy Andy

  LYTTON, LORD
     27 The Last of the Barons
     55 Last Days of Pompeii
     77 Rienzi
     87 Harold
    126 The Caxtons
    152 Eugene Aram
    191 My Novel

  MACAULAY, LORD
    118 Historical Essays
    119 Miscellaneous Essays

  MARRYAT, CAPTAIN
     84 Mr Midshipman Easy
    195 The Children of the New Forest

  MELVILLE, HERMAN
    146 Typee

  MELVILLE, WHYTE
     85 The Gladiators
    105 The Interpreter
    145 The Queen's Maries
    196 Cerise

  MILLER, HUGH
    104 My Schools and Schoolmasters

  MORRIS, WILLIAM
    197 The Life and Death of Jason

  OLIPHANT, MRS
    102 Miss Marjoribanks

  PALGRAVE, F. T.
     95 The Golden Treasury

  PAYN, JAMES
    110 Lost Sir Massingberd

  POE, EDGAR ALLAN
    201 Tales of Mystery and Imagination

  PROCTER, ADELAIDE
     72 Legends and Lyrics

  READE, CHARLES
      9 It is never too Late to Mend
     21 Cloister and the Hearth
     52 Hard Cash
    136 Peg Woffington and Christie Johnstone
    150 Love Me Little, Love Me Long
    170 Put Yourself in His Place

  RUSKIN, JOHN
     70 Sesame and Lilies and The Political Economy of Art
     78 Unto this Last, and The Two Paths

  SCOTT, SIR WALTER
      2 Kenilworth
     12 The Talisman
     22 Ivanhoe
     58 Waverley
     63 Heart of Midlothian
     90 Old Mortality
    101 Poetical Works
    112 Bride of Lammermoor
    117 The Fair Maid of Perth
    131 Guy Mannering
    139 Rob Roy
    153 The Monastery
    157 The Abbot
    163 The Antiquary
    168 Redgauntlet
    174 Fortunes of Nigel
    177 Woodstock
    180 The Pirate
    187 Quentin Durward
    194 Peveril of the Peak

  SHAKESPEARE, WM.
    189 Tragedies

  SLADEN, DOUGLAS
    146A The Japs at Home

  SOUTHEY, ROBERT
    111 The Life of Nelson

  TENNYSON, LORD
     25 Poems

  THACKERAY, W. M.
     23 Henry Esmond
     34 Vanity Fair
     66 The Newcomes
     83 The Virginians
    120 Adventures of Philip
    121 Pendennis
    144 Yellowplush Papers
    151 Four Georges
    158 Christmas Books
    171 Lovel the Widower
    181 Barry Lyndon, etc.
    184 Book of Snobs
    192 The Great Hoggarty Diamond
    198 Paris Sketch Book

  TROLLOPE, ANTHONY
     79 Barchester Towers
    100 Framley Parsonage
    147 Orley Farm
    159 The Claverings

  WALTON, IZAAK
     88 The Compleat Angler

  WOOD, MRS HENRY
     10 East Lynne
     16 The Channings
     26 Mrs Halliburton's Troubles
     30 Danesbury House
     51 Verner's Pride

  YONGE, C. M.
     93 The Heir of Redclyffe
    166 The Dove in the Eagle's Nest


London and Glasgow

Collins' Clear-Type Press



       *       *       *       *       *



Transcriber's note:

Archaic and variable spelling is preserved as printed, e.g. bewrayed,
subtile, understanded, jodel.

Punctuation errors have been corrected.

Quotation marks and an exclamation point have been added to the entry
for Chapter XIV in the Table of Contents, to match the chapter title
in the main text.

On page 169, for sense the word 'no' has been added--"... she had
brought only unhappiness to them all; there could be no more happiness
for them or for her ..."

The following typographic errors have been corrected:

    Page 82--repects amended to respects--"... and in many
    respects the least well-informed of men, ..."

    Page 101--likly amended to likely--"And a week ago she would
    very likely have told him, ..."

    Page 123--Glady's amended to Gladys's--"... that made the
    latter clutch Gladys's hand so eagerly."

    Page 163--felt amended to feet--"... a right and proper
    eagerness to help the great man to his feet."

    Page 167--abour amended to about--"I won't hear another word
    about her; ..."

    Page 197--you amended to your--"... for your wire from
    _Liverpool Street_?"





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