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Title: The Three Miss Kings - An Australian Story
Author: Cambridge, Ada
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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THE THREE MISS KINGS

An Australian Story


BY

ADA CAMBRIDGE


AUTHOR OF MY GUARDIAN


NEW YORK

D. APPLETON AND COMPANY

1891



    CONTENTS


          I.  A DISTANT VIEW
         II.  A LONELY EYRIE
        III.  PREPARATIONS FOR FLIGHT
         IV.  DEPARTURE
          V.  ROCKED IN THE CRADLE OF THE DEEP
         VI.  PAUL
        VII.  A MORNING WALK
       VIII.  AN INTRODUCTION TO MRS. GRUNDY
         IX.  MRS. AARONS
          X.  THE FIRST INVITATION
         XI.  DISAPPOINTMENT
        XII.  TRIUMPH
       XIII.  PATTY IN UNDRESS
        XIV.  IN THE WOMB OF FATE
         XV.  ELIZABETH FINDS A FRIEND
        XVI.  "WE WERE NOT STRANGERS, AS TO US AND ALL IT SEEMED"
       XVII.  AFTERNOON TEA
      XVIII.  THE FAIRY GODMOTHER
        XIX.  A MORNING AT THE EXHIBITION
         XX.  CHINA _v._ THE CAUSE OF HUMANITY
        XXI.  THE "CUP"
       XXII.  CROSS PURPOSES
      XXIII.  MR. YELVERTON'S MISSION
       XXIV.  AN OLD STORY
        XXV.  OUT IN THE COLD
       XXVI.  WHAT PAUL COULD NOT KNOW
      XXVII.  SLIGHTED
     XXVIII.  "WRITE ME AS ONE WHO LOVES HIS FELLOW-MEN"
       XXIX.  PATTY CONFESSES
        XXX.  THE OLD AND THE NEW
       XXXI.  IN RETREAT
      XXXII.  HISTORY REPEATS ITSELF
     XXXIII.  THE DRIVE HOME
      XXXIV.  SUSPENSE
       XXXV.  HOW ELIZABETH MADE UP HER MIND
      XXXVI.  INVESTIGATION
     XXXVII.  DISCOVERY
    XXXVIII.  THE TIME FOR ACTION
      XXXIX.  AN ASSIGNATION
         XL.  MRS. DUFF-SCOTT HAS TO BE RECKONED WITH
        XLI.  MR. YELVERTON STATES HIS INTENTIONS
       XLII.  HER LORD AND MASTER
      XLIII. THE EVENING BEFORE THE WEDDING
       XLIV. THE WEDDING DAY
        XLV. IN SILK ATTIRE
       XLVI. PATTY CHOOSES HER CAREER
      XLVII. A FAIR FIELD AND NO FAVOUR
     XLVIII. PROBATION
       XLIX. YELVERTON
          L. "THY PEOPLE SHALL BE MY PEOPLE"
         LI. PATIENCE REWARDED
        LII. CONCLUSION



THE THREE MISS KINGS.



CHAPTER I.


A DISTANT VIEW.


On the second of January, in the year 1880, three newly-orphaned
sisters, finding themselves left to their own devices, with an income
of exactly one hundred pounds a year a-piece, sat down to consult
together as to the use they should make of their independence.

The place where they sat was a grassy cliff overlooking a wide bay
of the Southern Ocean--a lonely spot, whence no sign of human life
was visible, except in the sail of a little fishing boat far away.
The low sun, that blazed at the back of their heads, and threw their
shadows and the shadow of every blade of grass into relief, touched
that distant sail and made it shine like bridal satin; while a certain
island rock, the home of sea-birds, blushed like a rose in the same
necromantic light. As they sat, they could hear the waves breaking and
seething on the sands and stones beneath them, but could only see the
level plain of blue and purple water stretching from the toes of their
boots to the indistinct horizon. That particular Friday was a terribly
hot day for the colony, as weather records testify, but in this
favoured spot it had been merely a little too warm for comfort, and,
the sea-breeze coming up fresher and stronger as the sun went down, it
was the perfection of an Australian summer evening at the hour of which
I am writing.

"What I want," said Patty King (Patty was the middle one), "is to
make a dash--a straight-out plunge into the world, Elizabeth--no
shilly-shallying and dawdling about, frittering our money away before
we begin. Suppose we go to London--we shall have enough to cover our
travelling expenses, and our income to start fair with--surely we could
live anywhere on three hundred a year, in the greatest comfort--and
take rooms near the British Museum?--or in South Kensington?--or
suppose we go to one of those intellectual German towns, and study
music and languages? What do you think, Nell? I am sure we could do it
easily if we tried."

"Oh," said Eleanor, the youngest of the trio, "I don't care so long as
we go _somewhere_, and do _something_."

"What do you think, Elizabeth?" pursued the enterprising Patty, alert
and earnest. "Life is short, and there is so much for us to see and
learn--all these years and years we have been out of it so utterly! Oh,
I wonder how we have borne it! How _have_ we borne it--to hear about
things and never to know or do them, like other people! Let us get
into the thick of it at once, and recover lost time. Once in Europe,
everything would be to our hand--everything would be possible. What do
you think?"

"My dear," said Elizabeth, with characteristic caution, "I think we are
too young and ignorant to go so far afield just yet."

"We are all over twenty-one," replied Patty quickly, "and though we
have lived the lives of hermits, we are not more stupid than other
people. We can speak French and German, and we are quite sharp enough
to know when we are being cheated. We should travel in perfect safety,
finding our way as we went along. And we _do_ know something of those
places--of Melbourne we know nothing."

"We should never get to the places mother knew--the sort of life we
have heard of. And Mr. Brion and Paul are with us here--they will tell
us all we want to know. No, Patty, we must not be reckless. We might
go to Europe by-and-bye, but for the present let Melbourne content us.
It will be as much of the world as we shall want to begin with, and
we ought to get some experience before we spend our money--the little
capital we have to spend."

"You don't call two hundred and thirty-five pounds a little, do you?"
interposed Eleanor. This was the price that a well-to-do storekeeper in
the neighbouring township had offered them for the little house which
had been their home since she was born, and to her it seemed a fortune.

"Well, dear, we don't quite know yet whether it is little or much,
for, you see, we don't know what it costs to live as other people do.
We must not be reckless, Patty--we must take care of what we have, for
we have only ourselves in the wide world to depend on, and this is
all our fortune. I should think no girls were ever so utterly without
belongings as we are now," she added, with a little break in her gentle
voice.

She was half lying on the grass, leaning on her elbow and propping her
head in her hand. The light behind her was growing momentarily less
fierce, and the breeze from the quiet ocean more cool and delicious;
and she had taken off her hat in order to see and breathe in freedom.
A noble figure she was, tall, strong, perfect in proportion, fine in
texture, full of natural dignity and grace--the product of several
generations of healthy and cultured people, and therefore a truly
well-bred woman. Her face was a little too grave and thoughtful for
her years, perhaps--she was not quite eight-and-twenty--and it was
not at all handsome, in the vulgar sense of the word. But a sweeter,
truer, kinder face, with its wide, firm mouth and its open brows, and
its candid grey eyes, one could not wish to see. She had smooth brown
hair of excessive fineness and brightness (a peculiarity of good blood
shared by all the sisters), and it was closely coiled in a knot of
braids at the back of her head, without any of those curls and fringes
about the temples that have since become the prevailing fashion. And
she was dressed in a very common, loosely-made, black print gown,
with a little frill of crape at her throat, and a leather belt round
her by no means slender waist. Her feet were encased in large and
clumsy boots, and her shapely hands, fine-skinned and muscular, were
not encased at all, but were brown with constant exposure to sun and
wind, and the wear and tear of miscellaneous housework. The impetuous
Patty, who sat bolt upright clasping her knees, was like her, but with
marked differences. She was smaller and slighter in make, though she
had the same look of abundant health and vigour. Her figure, though it
had never worn stays, was more after the pattern of modern womanhood
than Elizabeth's, and her brilliant little face was exquisite in
outline, in colour, in all the charms of bright and wholesome youth.
Patty's eyes were dark and keen, and her lips were delicate and red,
and her hair had two or three ripples in it, and was the colour of
a half-ripe chestnut. And altogether, she was a very striking and
unmistakeably handsome girl. She, too, wore a black print gown, and a
straw sailor hat, with a black ribbon, tilted back on her bead, and
the same country-made boots, and the same brown and gloveless hands.
Eleanor, again, with the general family qualities of physical health
and refinement, had her own characteristics. She was slim and tall--as
slim as Patty, and nearly as tall as Elizabeth, as was shown in her
attitude as she lay full length on the grass, with her feet on the
edge of the cliff, and her head on her elder sister's knee. She had a
pure white skin, and sentimental blue eyes, and lovely yellow hair,
just tinged with red; and her voice was low and sweet, and her manners
gentle and graceful, and altogether she was one of the most pleasing
young women that ever blushed unseen like a wild flower in the savage
solitudes of the bush. This young person was not in black--because, she
said, the weather was too hot for black. She wore an old blue gingham
that had faded to a faint lavender in course of numerous washings, and
she had a linen handkerchief loosely tied round her neck, and cotton
gloves on her hands. She was the only one of the sisters to whom it had
occurred that, having a good complexion, it was worth while to preserve
it.

The parents of these three girls had been a mysterious couple, about
whose circumstances and antecedents people knew just as much as they
liked to conjecture, and no more. Mr. King had been on the diggings
in the old days--that much was a fact, to which he had himself been
known to testify; but where and what he had been before, and why he
had lived like a pelican in the wilderness ever since, nobody knew,
though everybody was at liberty to guess. Years and years ago, he
came to this lone coast--a region of hopeless sand and scrub, which
no squatter or free selector with a grain of sense would look at--and
here on a bleak headland he built his rude house, piece by piece, in
great part with his own hands, and fenced his little paddock, and made
his little garden; and here he had lived till the other day, a morose
recluse, who shunned his neighbours as they shunned him, and never was
known to have either business or pleasure, or commerce of any kind
with his fellow-men. It was supposed that he had made some money at
the diggings, for he took up no land (there was none fit to take up,
indeed, within a dozen miles of him), and he kept no stock--except a
few cows and pigs for the larder; and at the same time there was never
any sign of actual poverty in his little establishment, simple and
humble as it was. And it was also supposed--nay, it was confidently
believed--that he was not, so to speak, "all there." No man who was not
"touched" would conduct himself with such preposterous eccentricity as
that which had marked his long career in their midst--so the neighbours
argued, not without a show of reason. But the greatest mystery in
connection with Mr. King was Mrs. King. He was obviously a gentleman,
in the conventional sense of the word, but she was, in every sense,
the most beautiful and accomplished lady that ever was seen, according
to the judgment of those who knew her--the women who had nursed her in
her confinements, and washed and scrubbed for her, and the tradesmen
of the town to whom she had gone in her little buggy for occasional
stores, and the doctor and the parson, and the children whom she had
brought up in such a wonderful manner to be copies (though, it was
thought, poor ones) of herself. And yet she had borne to live all
the best years of her life, at once a captive and an exile, on that
desolate sea-shore--and had loved that harsh and melancholy man with
the most faithful and entire devotion--and had suffered her solitude
and privations, the lack of everything to which she _must_ have been
once accustomed, and the fret and trouble of her husband's bitter
moods--without a murmur that anybody had ever heard.

Both of them were gone now from the cottage on the cliff where they had
lived so long together. The idolised mother had been dead for several
years, and the harsh, and therefore not much loved nor much mourned,
father had lain but a few weeks in his grave beside her; and they had
left their children, as Elizabeth described it, more utterly without
belongings than ever girls were before. It was a curious position
altogether. As far as they knew, they had no relations, and they had
never had a friend. Not one of them had left their home for a night
since Eleanor was born, and not one invited guest had slept there
during the whole of that period. They had never been to school, or had
any governess but their mother, or any experience of life and the ways
of the world save what they gained in their association with her, and
from the books that she and their father selected for them. According
to all precedent, they ought to have been dull and rustic and stupid
(it was supposed that they were, because they dressed themselves so
badly), but they were only simple and truthful in an extraordinary
degree. They had no idea what was the "correct thing" in costume or
manners, and they knew little or nothing of the value of money; but
they were well and widely read, and highly accomplished in all the
household arts, from playing the piano to making bread and butter, and
as full of spiritual and intellectual aspirations as the most advanced
amongst us.



CHAPTER II.


A LONELY EYRIE.


"Then we will say Melbourne to begin with. Not for a permanence, but
until we have gained a little more experience," said Patty, with
something of regret and reluctance in her voice. By this time the sun
had set and drawn off all the glow and colour from sea and shore. The
island rock was an enchanted castle no longer, and the sails of the
fishing-boats had ceased to shine. The girls had been discussing their
schemes for a couple of hours, and had come to several conclusions.

"I think so, Patty. It would be unwise to hurry ourselves in making
our choice of a home. We will go to Melbourne and look about us. Paul
Brion is there. He will see after lodgings for us and put us in the
way of things generally. That will be a great advantage. And then the
Exhibition will be coming--it would be a pity to miss that. And we
shall feel more as if we belonged to the people here than elsewhere,
don't you think? They are more likely to be kind to our ignorance and
help us."

"Oh, we don't want anyone to help us."

"Someone must teach us what we don't know, directly or indirectly--and
we are not above being taught."

"But," insisted Patty, "there is no reason why we should be beholden
to anybody. Paul Brion may look for some lodgings for us, if he
likes--just a place to sleep in for a night or two--and tell us where
we can find a house--that's all we shall want to ask of him or of
anybody. We will have a house of our own, won't we?--so as not to be
overlooked or interfered with."

"Oh, of course!" said Eleanor promptly. "A landlady on the premises is
not to be thought of for a moment. Whatever we do, we don't want to be
interfered with, Elizabeth."

"No, my dear--you can't desire to be free from interference--unpleasant
interference--more than I do. Only I don't think we shall be able to be
so independent as Patty thinks. I fancy, too, that we shall not care to
be, when we begin to live in the world with other people. It will be so
charming to have friends!"

"Oh--friends!" Patty exclaimed, with a little toss of the head. "It is
too soon to think about friends--when we have so much else to think
about! We must have some lessons in Melbourne, Elizabeth. We will go
to that library every day and read. We will make our stay there a
preparation for England and Germany and Italy. Oh, Nell, Nell! think of
seeing the great Alps and the Doge's Palace before we die!"

"Ah!" responded Eleanor, drawing a long breath.

They all rose from the grass and stood still an instant, side by side,
for a last look at the calm ocean which had been the background of
their simple lives. Each was sensible that it was a solemn moment, in
view of the changes to come, but not a word was spoken to imply regret.
Like all the rest of us, they were ungrateful for the good things of
the present and the past, and were not likely to understand how much
they loved the sea, that, like the nurse of Rorie Mhor, had lulled them
to sleep every night since they were born, while the sound of its many
waters was still in their ears.

"Sam Dunn is out late," said Eleanor, pointing to a dark dot far away,
that was a glittering sail a little while ago.

"It is a good night for fishing," said Patty.

And then they turned their faces landward, and set forth on their road
home. Climbing to the top of the cliff on the slope of which they had
been sitting, they stood upon a wide and desolate heath covered in all
directions with a short, stiff scrub, full of wonderful wild-flowers
(even at this barren season of the year), but without a tree of any
sort; a picturesque desert, but still a desert, though with fertile
country lying all around it--as utterly waste as the irreclaimable
Sahara. Through this the girls wended their way by devious tracks
amongst the bushes, ankle deep in the loose sand; and then again
striking the cliff, reached a high point from which they had a distant
view of human habitations--a little township, fringing a little bay;
a lighthouse beyond it, with its little star shining steadily through
the twilight; a little pier, running like a black thread through the
silvery surf; and even a little steamer from Melbourne lying at the
pier-head, veiling the rock-island, that now frowned like a fortress
behind it, in a thin film of grey smoke from its invisible little
funnels. But they did not go anywhere near these haunts of their
fellow-men. Hugging the cliff, which was here of a great height,
and honeycombed with caves in which the green sea-water rumbled and
thundered like a great drum in the calm weather, and like a furious
bombardment in a storm, they followed a slender track worn in the scant
grass by their own light feet, until they came to a little depression
in the line of the coast--a hollow scooped out of the great headland
as if some Titanic monster of a prehistoric period had risen up out of
the waves and bitten it--where, sheltered and hidden on three sides by
grassy banks, sloping gently upward until they overtopped the chimneys,
and with all the great plain of the sea outspread beneath the front
verandah, stood the house which had been, but was to be no more, their
home.

It was well worth the money that the storekeeper had offered for it. It
was a really charming house, though people had not been accustomed to
look at it in that light--though it was built of roughest weatherboard
that had never known a paint-brush, and heavily roofed with great
sheets of bark that were an offence to the provincial eye, accustomed
to the chaste elegance of corrugated zinc. A strong, and sturdy,
and genuine little house--as, indeed, it had to be to hold its own
against the stormy blasts that buffeted it; mellowed and tanned with
time and weather, and with all its honest, rugged features softened
under a tender drapery of hardy English ivy and climbing plants that
patient skill and care had induced to grow, and even to thrive in
that unfriendly air. The verandah, supported on squat posts, was a
continuation of the roof; and that roof, with green leaves curling
upward over it, was so conspicuously solid, and so widely overspread
and over-shadowed the low walls, that it was about all that could be
seen of the house from the ridges of the high land around it. But
lower down, the windows--nearly all set in rude but substantial door
frames--opened like shy eyes in the shadow of the deep eaves of the
verandah, like eyes that had expression in them; and the retiring
walls bore on numerous nails and shelves a miscellaneous but orderly
collection of bird-cages, flower boxes, boating and fishing apparatus,
and odds and ends of various kinds, that gave a charming homely
picturesqueness to the quaint aspect of the place. The comparatively
spacious verandah, running along the front of the house (which had been
made all front, as far as possible), was the drawing-room and general
living room of the family during the greater part of the year. Its
floor, of unplaned hardwood, dark with age and wear, but as exquisitely
clean as sweeping and scrubbing could make it, was one of the loveliest
terraces in the country for the view that it afforded--so our girls
will maintain, at any rate, to their dying day. Now that they see it no
more, they have passionate memories of their beloved bay, seen through
a frame of rustling leaves from that lofty platform--how it looked in
the dawn and sunrise, in the intensely blue noon, in the moonlight
nights, and when gales and tempests were abroad, and how it sounded
in the hushed darkness when they woke out of their sleep to listen
to it--the rhythmic fall of breaking waves on the rocks below, the
tremulous boom that filled the air and seemed to shake the foundations
of the solid earth. They have no wish to get back to their early home
and their hermit life there now--they have tasted a new wine that is
better than the old; but, all the same, they think and say that from
the lonely eyrie where they were nursed and reared they looked out
upon such a scene as the wide world would never show them any more.
In the foreground, immediately below the verandah, a little grass, a
few sturdy shrubs, and such flowers as could keep their footing in so
exposed a place, clothed the short slope of the edge of the cliff,
down the steep face of which a breakneck path zig-zagged to the beach,
where only a narrow strip of white sand, scarcely more than a couple of
yards wide, was uncovered when the tide was out. Behind the house was a
well-kept, if rather sterile, kitchen garden; and higher up the cliff,
but still partly sheltered in the hollow, a very small farm-yard and
one barren little paddock.

Through a back gate, by way of the farm-yard and kitchen garden, the
sisters entered their domain when it was late enough to be called
night, though the twilight lingered, and were welcomed with effusion
by an ugly but worthy little terrier which had been bidden to keep
house, and had faithfully discharged that duty during their absence. As
they approached the house, a pet opossum sprang from the dairy roof to
Eleanor's shoulder, and a number of tame magpies woke up with a sleepy
scuffle and gathered round her. A little monkey-bear came cautiously
down from the only gum tree that grew on the premises, grunting and
whimpering, and crawled up Patty's skirts; and any quantity of cats
and kittens appealed to Elizabeth for recognition. The girls spoke to
them all by name, as if they had been so many children, cuffed them
playfully for their forward manners, and ordered them to bed or to
whatever avocations were proper to the hour. When a match was struck
and the back-door opened, the opossum took a few flying leaps round
the kitchen, had his ears boxed, and was flung back again upon the
dairy roof. The little bear clung whining to his mistress, but was
also put outside with a firm hand; and the cats and magpies were swept
over the threshold with a broom. "_Brats!_" cried Patty with ferocious
vehemence, as she closed the kitchen door sharply, at the risk of
cutting off some of their noses; "what _are_ we to do with them? They
seem as if they _knew_ we were going away, the aggravating little
wretches. There, there"--raising the most caressing voice in answer
to the whine of the monkey-bear--"don't cry, my pet! Get up your tree,
darling, and have a nice supper and go to sleep."

Then, having listened for a few seconds at the closed door, she
followed Elizabeth through the kitchen to the sitting-room, and, while
her sister lit the lamp, stepped through the French window to sniff
the salt sea air. For some time the humble members of the family were
heard prowling disconsolately about the house, but none of them, except
the terrier, appeared upon the verandah, where the ghost of their evil
genius still sat in his old armchair with his stick by his side. They
had been driven thence so often and with such memorable indignities
that it would never occur to them to go there any more. And so the
sisters were left in peace. Eleanor busied herself in the kitchen for
awhile, setting her little batch of bread by the embers of the hearth,
in view of a hot loaf for their early breakfast, while she sang some
German ballads to herself with an ear for the refinements of both
language and music that testified to the thoroughness of her mother's
culture, and of the methods by which it had been imparted. Patty went
to the dairy for a jug of milk for supper, which frugal meal was
otherwise prepared by Elizabeth's hands; and at nine o'clock the trio
gathered round the sitting-room table to refresh themselves with thick
slices of bread and jam, and half-an-hour's gossip before they went to
bed.

A pretty and pathetic picture they made as they sat round that
table, with the dim light of one kerosene lamp on their strikingly
fair faces--alone in the little house that was no longer theirs,
and in the wide world, but so full of faith and hope in the unknown
future--discussing ways and means for getting their furniture
to Melbourne. That time-honoured furniture, and their immediate
surroundings generally, made a poor setting for such a group--a long,
low, canvas-lined room, papered with prints from the _Illustrated
London News_ (a pictorial European "history of our own times"), from
the ceiling to the floor, the floor being without a carpet, and the
glass doors furnished only with a red baize curtain to draw against
the sea winds of winter nights. The tables and chairs were of the
same order of architecture as the house; the old mahogany bureau,
with its brass mounting and multitudinous internal ramifications, was
ridiculously out of date and out of fashion (as fashion was understood
in that part of the world); the ancient chintz sofa, though as easy
as a feather bed, and of a capacity equal to the accommodation of
Giant Blunderbore, was obviously home-made and not meant to be
too closely criticised; and even the piano, which was a modern and
beautiful instrument in itself, hid its music in a stained deal case
than which no plain egg of a nightingale could be plainer. And yet this
odd environment for three beautiful and cultured women had a certain
dignity and harmoniousness about it--often lacking in later and more
luxurious surroundings. It was in tune with those simple lives, and
with the majestic solitude of the great headland and the sea.



CHAPTER III.


PREPARATIONS FOR FLIGHT.


Melbourne people, when they go to bed, chain up their doors carefully,
and bar all their windows, lest the casual burglar should molest them.
Bush people, no more afraid of the night than of the day, are often
quite unable to tell you whether there is such a thing as an effective
lock upon the premises. So our girls, in their lonely dwelling on the
cliff, slept in perfect peace and security, with the wind from the sea
blowing over their faces through the open door-windows at the foot of
their little beds. Dan Tucker, the terrier, walked softly to and fro
over their thresholds at intervals in the course of the night, and kept
away any stray kitten that had not yet learned its proper place; that
was all the watch and ward that he or they considered necessary.

At five o'clock in the morning, Elizabeth King, who had a little slip
of a room to herself, just wide enough to allow the leaves of the
French window at the end of it to be held back, when open, by buttons
attached to the side walls, stirred in her sleep, stretched herself,
yawned, and then springing up into a sitting posture, propped herself
on her pillows to see the new day begin. It was a sight to see, indeed,
from that point of view; but it was not often that any of them woke
from their sound and healthy slumber at this time of the year, until
the sun was high enough to shoot a level ray into their eyes. At five
o'clock the surface of the great deep had not begun to shine, but it
was light enough to see the black posts and eaves of the verandah, and
the stems and leaves that twined about them, outlined sharply upon the
dim expanse. Elizabeth's bed had no footrail, and there was no chair
or dressing-table in the way to impede a clear view of sea and sky.
As she lay, the line of the horizon was drawn straight across the
doorway, about three feet above the edge of the verandah floor; and
there a faint pink streak, with fainter flushes on a bank of clouds
above it, showed where the sun was about to rise. The waves splashed
heavily on the beach, and boomed in the great caves of the rocks below;
the sea-gulls called to each other with their queer little cry, at
once soft and shrill; and the magpies piped and chattered all around
the house, and more cocks than could anyhow be accounted for crowed
a mutual defiance far and near. And yet, oh, how still--how solemnly
still--it was! I am not going to describe that sunrise, though I saw
one exactly like it only this very morning. I have seen people take out
their tubes and brushes, and sit down with placid confidence to paint
sun-kissed hills, and rocks, and seas; and, if you woke them up early
enough, they would "sketch" the pink and golden fire of this flaming
dawn without a moment's hesitation. But I know better.

Ere the many-coloured transformation scene had melted in dazzle
of daylight, Elizabeth was dressing herself by her still open
window--throwing long shadows as she moved to and fro about the now
sun-flooded room. Patty was busy in her dairy churning, with a number
of her pets round the door, hustling each other to get at the milk
dish set down for their breakfast--the magpies tugging at the cats and
kittens by ears and tail, and the cats and kittens cuffing the magpies
smartly. Eleanor, singing her German ballads still, was hard at work
in the kitchen, baking delicate loaves for breakfast, and attending to
kitchen matters generally. The elder sister's office on this occasion
was to let out and feed the fowls, to sweep and dust, and to prepare
the table for their morning meal. Never since they had grown out of
childhood had they known the sensation of being waited upon by a
servant, and as yet their system of education had been such that they
did not know what the word "menial" meant. To be together with no one
to interfere with them, and independent of everybody but themselves,
was a habit whose origin was too remote for inquiry, and that had
become a second nature and a settled theory of life--a sort of instinct
of pride and modesty, moreover, though an instinct too natural to be
aware of its own existence.

When the little loaves were done and the big ones put in the oven,
Eleanor fetched a towel, donned a broad hat, and, passing out at the
front of the house, ran lightly down the steep track on the face of
the cliff to their bath-house on the beach--a little closet of rough
slabs built in the rock above high water; whence she presently emerged
in a scanty flannel garment, with her slender white limbs bare, and
flung herself like a mermaid into the sea. There were sharks in that
bay sometimes, and there were devil-fish too (Sam Dunn had spread one
out, star-wise, on a big boulder close by, and it lay there still,
with its horrible arms dangling from its hideous bag of a body, to be
a warning to these venturesome young ladies, who, he fully expected,
would be "et up" some day like little flies by a spider); but they
found their safety in the perfect transparency of the water, coming
in from the great pure ocean to the unsullied rocks, and kept a wary
watch for danger. While Eleanor was disporting herself, Patty joined
her, and after Patty, Elizabeth; and one by one they came up, glowing
and dripping, like--no, I _won't_ be tempted to make that familiar
classical comparison--like nothing better than themselves for artistic
purposes. As Elizabeth, who was the last to leave the water, walked
up the short flight of steps to her little dressing closet, straight
and stately, with her full throat and bust and her nobly shaped limbs,
she was the very model that sculptors dream of and hunt for (as
many more might be, if brought up as she had been), but seldom are
fortunate enough to find. In her gown and leather belt, her beauty of
figure, of course, was not so obvious: the raiment of civilisation,
however simple, levelled it from the standard of Greek art to that of
conventional comparison with other dressed-up women--by which, it must
be confessed, she suffered.

Having assumed this raiment, she followed her sisters up the cliff
path to the house; and there she found them talking volubly with Mrs.
Dunn, who had brought them, with Sam's best respects, a freshly caught
schnapper for their breakfast. Mrs. Dunn was their nearest neighbour,
their only help in domestic emergencies, and of late days their devoted
and confidential friend. Sam, her husband, had for some years been a
ministering angel in the back yard, a purveyor of firewood and mutton,
a killer of pigs, and so on; and he also had taken the orphan girls
under his protection, so far as he could, since they had been "left."

"Look at this!" cried Eleanor, holding it up--it took both hands to
hold it, for it weighed about a dozen pounds; "did you ever see such
a fish, Elizabeth? Breakfast indeed! Yes, we'll have it to breakfast
to-day and to-morrow too, and for dinner and tea and supper. Oh, how
stupid Sam is! Why didn't he send it to market? Why didn't he take it
down to the steamer? He's not a man of business a bit, Mrs. Dunn--he'll
never make his fortune this way. Get the pan for me, Patty, and set the
fat boiling. We'll fry a bit this very minute, and you shall stay and
help us to eat it, Mrs. Dunn."

"Oh, my dear Miss Nelly--"

"Elizabeth, take charge of her, and don't let her go. Don't listen to
her. We have not seen her for three whole days, and we want her to
tell us about the furniture. Keep her safe, and Patty and I will have
breakfast ready in a minute."

And in a short time the slice of schnapper was steaming on the table--a
most simply appointed breakfast table, but very clean and dainty in
its simplicity--and Mrs. Dunn sat down with her young _protégées,_ and
sipped her tea and gave them matronly advice, with much enjoyment of
the situation.

Her advice was excellent, and amounted to this--"Don't you go for to
take a stick o' that there furniture out o' the place." They were
to have an auction, she said; and go to Melbourne with the proceeds
in their pockets. Hawkins would be glad o' the beds, perhaps, with
his large family; as Mrs. Hawkins had a lovely suite in green rep,
she wouldn't look at the rest o' the things, which, though very
comf'able, no doubt--very nice indeed, my dears--were not what _ladies
and gentlemen_ had in their houses _now-a-days_. "As for that there
bureau"--pointing to it with her teaspoon--"if you set that up in a
Melbourne parlour, why, you'd just have all your friends laughing at
you."

The girls looked around the room with quick eyes, and then looked at
each other with half-grave and half amused dismay. Patty spoke up with
her usual promptness.

"It doesn't matter in the least to us what other people like to have
in their houses," said she. "And that bureau, as it happens, is very
valuable, Mrs. Dunn: it belonged to one of the governors before we had
it, and Mr. Brion says there is no such cabinet work in these days. He
says it was made in France more than a hundred years ago."

"Yes, my dear. So you might say that there was no such stuff now-a-days
as what them old gowns was made of, that your poor ma wore when she was
a girl. But you wouldn't go for to wear them old gowns now. I daresay
the bureau was a grand piece o' furniture once, but it's out o' fashion
now, and when a thing is out o' fashion it isn't worth anything. Sell
it to Mr. Brion if you can; it would be a fine thing for a lawyer's
office, with all them little shelves and drawers. He might give you
a five-pound note for it, as he's a friend like, and you could buy a
handsome new cedar chiffonnier for that."

"Mrs. Dunn," said Eleanor, rising to replenish the worthy matron's
plate, with Patty's new butter and her own new bread, "we are not going
to sell that bureau--no, not to anybody. It has associations, don't you
understand?--and also a set of locks that no burglar could pick if he
tried ever so. We are not going to sell our bureau--nor our piano--"

"Oh, but, my dear Miss Nelly--"

"My dear Mrs. Dunn, it cost ninety guineas, I do assure you, only five
years ago, and it is as modern and fashionable as heart could wish."

"Fashionable! why, it might as well be a cupboard bedstead, in that
there common wood. Mrs. Hawkins gave only fifty pounds for hers, and it
is real walnut and carved beautiful."

"We are not going to sell that piano, my dear woman." Though Nelly
appeared to wait meekly upon her elder sisters' judgment, it often
happened that she decided a question that was put before them in this
prompt way. "And I'll tell you for why," she continued playfully. "You
shut your eyes for five minutes--wait, I'll tie my handkerchief over
them"--and she deftly blindfolded the old woman, whose stout frame
shook with honest giggles of enjoyment at this manifestation of Miss
Nelly's fun. "Now," said Nelly, "don't laugh--don't remember that you
are here with us, or that there is such a thing as a cupboard bedstead
in the world. Imagine that you are floating down the Rhine on a
moonlight night--no, by the way, imagine that you are in a drawing-room
in Melbourne, furnished with a lovely green rep suite, and a handsome
new cedar chiffonnier, and a carved walnut piano--and that a beautiful,
fashionable lady, with scent on her pocket-handkerchief, is sitting at
that piano. And--and listen for a minute."

Whereupon, lifting her hands from the old woman's shoulders, she
crossed the room, opened the piano noiselessly, and began to play her
favourite German airs--the songs of the people, that seem so much
sweeter and more pathetic and poetic than the songs of any other
people--mixing two or three of them together and rendering them with a
touch and expression that worked like a spell of enchantment upon them
all. Elizabeth sat back in her chair and lost herself in the visions
that appeared to her on the ceiling. Patty spread her arms over the
table and leaned towards the piano, breathing a soft accompaniment
of German words in tender, sighing undertones, while her warm pulses
throbbed and her eyes brightened with the unconscious passion that was
stirred in her fervent soul. Even the weather-beaten old charwoman fell
into a reverent attitude as of a devotee in church.

"There," said Eleanor, taking her hands from the keys and shutting up
the instrument, with a suddenness that made them jump. "Now I ask you,
Mrs. Dunn, as an honest and truthful woman--_can_ you say that that is
a piano to be _sold?_"

"Beautiful, my dear, beautiful--it's like being in heaven to hear the
like o' that," the old woman responded warmly, pulling the bandage
from her eyes. "But you'd draw music from an old packing case, I
do believe." And it was found that Mrs. Dunn was unshaken in her
conviction that pianos were valuable in proportion to their external
splendour, and their tone sweet and powerful by virtue solely of the
skill of the fingers that played upon them. If Mr. King had given
ninety guineas for "that there"--about which she thought there must be
some mistake--she could only conclude that his rural innocence had been
imposed upon by wily city tradesmen.

"Well," said Nelly, who was now busy collecting the crockery on the
breakfast table, "we must see if we can't furbish it up, Mrs. Dunn.
We can paint a landscape on the front, perhaps, and tie some pink
satin ribbons on the handles. Or we might set it behind a curtain, or
in a dark corner, where it will be heard and not seen. But keep it
we must--both that and the bureau. You would not part with those two
things, Elizabeth?"

"My dear," said Elizabeth, "it would grieve me to part with anything."

"But I think," said Patty, "Mrs. Dunn may be right about the other
furniture. What would it cost to take all our things to Melbourne, Mrs.
Dunn?"

"Twice as much as they are worth, Miss Patty--three times as much.
Carriage is awful, whether by sea or land."

"It is a great distance," said Patty, thoughtfully, "and it would be
very awkward. We cannot take them with us, for we shall want first
to find a place to put them in, and we could not come back to fetch
them. I think we had better speak to Mr. Hawkins, Elizabeth, and, if
he doesn't want them, have a little auction. We must keep some things,
of course; but I am sure Mr. Hawkins would let them stay till we could
send for them, or Mr. Brion would house them for us."

"We should feel very free that way, and it would be nice to buy new
things," said Eleanor.

"Or we might not have to buy--we might put this money to the other,"
said Patty. "We might find that we did not like Melbourne, and then we
could go to Europe at once without any trouble."

"And take the pianner to Europe along with you?" inquired Mrs. Dunn.
"And that there bureau?"



CHAPTER IV.


DEPARTURE.


They decided to sell their furniture--with the exception of the piano
and the bureau, and sundry treasures that could bestowed away in the
latter capacious receptacle; and, on being made acquainted with the
fact, the obliging Mr. Hawkins offered to take it as it stood for a
lump sum of £50, and his offer was gratefully accepted. Sam Dunn was
very wroth over this transaction, for he knew the value of the dairy
and kitchen utensils and farm-yard appliances, which went to the new
tenant along with the household furniture that Mrs. Dunn, as a candid
friend, had disparaged and despised; and he reproached Elizabeth,
tenderly, but with tears in his eyes, for having allowed herself to
be "done" by not taking Mr. Brion's advice upon the matter, and shook
his head over the imminent fate of these three innocent and helpless
lambs about to fling themselves into the jaws of the commercial
wolves of Melbourne. Elizabeth told him that she did not like to be
always teasing Mr. Brion, who had already done all the legal business
necessary to put them in possession of their little property, and had
refused to take any fee for his trouble; that, as they had nothing more
to sell, no buyer could "do" them again; and that, finally, they all
thought fifty pounds a great deal of money, and were quite satisfied
with their bargain. But Sam, as a practical man, continued to shake his
head, and bade her remember him when she was in trouble and in need
of a faithful friend--assuring her, with a few strong seafaring oaths
(which did not shock her in the least, for they were meant to emphasise
the sincerity of his protestations), that she and her sisters should
never want, if he knew it, while he had a crust of bread and a breath
in his body.

And so they began to pack up. And the fuss and confusion of that
occupation--which becomes so irksome when the charm of novelty is
past--was full of enjoyment for them all. It would have done the
travel-worn cynic good to see them scampering about the house, as
lightly as the kittens that frisked after them, carrying armfuls of
house linen and other precious chattels to and fro, and prattling the
while of their glorious future like so many school children about to
pay a first visit to the pantomime. It was almost heartless, Mrs.
Dunn thought--dropping in occasionally to see how they were getting
on--considering what cause had broken up their home, and that their
father had been so recently taken from them that she (Mrs. Dunn) could
not bring herself to walk without hesitation into the house, still
fancying she should see him sitting in his arm-chair and looking at her
with those hard, unsmiling eyes, as if to ask her what business she had
there. But Mr. King had been a harsh father, and this is what harsh
fathers must expect of children who have never learned how to dissemble
for the sake of appearances. They reverenced his memory and held it
dear, but he had left them no associations that could sadden them like
the sight of their mother's clothes folded away in the long unopened
drawers of the wardrobe in her room--the room in which he had slept and
died only a few weeks ago.

These precious garments, smelling of lavender, camphor, and sandalwood,
were all taken out and looked at, and tenderly smoothed afresh, and
laid in a deep drawer of the bureau. There were treasures amongst them
of a value that the girls had no idea of--old gowns of faded brocade
and embroidered muslin, a yellow-white Indian shawl so soft that it
could be drawn through a wedding ring, yellower lace of still more
wonderful texture, and fans, and scarfs, and veils, and odds and ends
of ancient finery, that would have been worth considerably more than
their weight in gold to a modern art collector. But these reminiscences
of their mother's far-off girlhood, carefully laid in the bottom of the
drawer, were of no account to them compared with the half-worn gowns
of cheap stuff and cotton--still showing the print of her throat and
arms--that were spread so reverently on the top of them; and compared
with the numerous other memorials of her last days--her workbox, with
its unfinished bit of needlework, and scissors and thimble, and tapes
and cottons, just as she had left it--her Prayer-Book and Bible--her
favourite cup, from which she drank her morning tea--her shabby velvet
slippers, her stiff-fingered gardening gloves--all the relics that her
children had cherished of the daily, homely life that they had been
privileged to share with her; the bestowal of which was carried on in
silence, or with tearful whispers, while all the pets were locked out
of the room, as if it had been a religious function. When this drawer
was closed, and they had refreshed their saddened spirits with a long
walk, they set themselves with light hearts to fill the remainder of
the many shelves and niches of the bureau with piles of books and
music, painting materials, collections of wild flowers and shells and
seaweeds, fragments of silver plate that had lain there always, as
far as they knew, along with some old miniatures and daguerreotypes
in rusty leather cases, and old bundles of papers that Mr. Brion had
warned them to take care of--and with their own portfolios of sketches
and little personal treasures of various kinds, their father's watch,
and stick, and spurs, and spectacles--and so on, and so on.

After this, they had only to pack up their bed and table linen and
knives and forks, which were to go with them to Melbourne, and to
arrange their own scanty wardrobes to the best advantage.

"We shall certainly want some clothes," said Eleanor, surveying their
united stock of available wearing apparel on Elizabeth's bedroom floor.
"I propose that we appropriate--say £5--no, that might not be enough;
say £10--from the furniture money to settle ourselves up each with a
nice costume--dress, jacket, and bonnet complete--so that we may look
like other people when we get to Melbourne."

"We'll get there first," said Patty, "and see what is worn, and the
price of things. Our black prints are very nice for everyday, and we
can wear our brown homespuns as soon as we get away from Mrs. Dunn. She
said it was disrespectful to poor father's memory to put on anything
but black when she saw you in your blue gingham, Nelly. Poor old soul!
one would think we were a set of superstitious heathen pagans. I wonder
where she got all those queer ideas from?"

"She knows a great deal more than we do, Patty," said wise Elizabeth,
from her kneeling posture on the floor.

They packed all their clothes into two small but weighty brass-bound
trunks, leaving out their blue ginghams, their well-worn water-proofs,
and their black-ribboned sailor hats to travel in. Then they turned
their attention to the animals, and suffered grievous trouble in their
efforts to secure a comfortable provision for them after their own
departure. The monkey-bear, the object of their fondest solicitude,
was entrusted to Sam Dunn, who swore with picturesque energy that he
would cherish it as his own child. It was put into a large cage with
about a bushel of fresh gum leaves, and Sam was adjured to restore
it to liberty as soon as he had induced it to grow fond of him. Then
Patty and Eleanor took the long walk to the township to call on Mrs.
Hawkins, in order to entreat her good offices for the rest of their
pets. But Mrs. Hawkins seized the precious opportunity that they
offered her for getting the detailed information, such as only women
could give, concerning the interior construction and capabilities of
her newly-acquired residence, and she had no attention to spare for
anything else. The girls left, after sitting on two green rep chairs
for nearly an hour, with the depressing knowledge that their house was
to be painted inside and out, and roofed with zinc, and verandahed with
green trellis-work; and that there was to be a nice road made to it, so
that the family could drive to and from their place of business; and
that it was to have "Sea View Villa" painted on the garden gate posts.
But whether their pets were to be allowed to roam over the transformed
premises (supposing they had the heart to do so) was more than they
could tell. So they had an anxious consultation with Elizabeth, all
the parties concerned being present, cuddled and fondled on arms and
knees; and the result was a determination _not_ to leave the precious
darlings to the tender mercies of the Hawkins family. Sam Dunn was to
take the opossum in a basket to some place where there were trees,
a river, and other opossums, and there turn him out to unlearn his
civilisation and acquire the habits and customs of his unsophisticated
kinsfolk--a course of study to which your pet opossum submits himself
very readily as a rule. The magpies were also to be left to shift for
themselves, for they were in the habit of consorting with other magpies
in a desultory manner, and they could "find" themselves in board and
lodging. But the cats--O, the poor, dear, confiding old cats! O, the
sweet little playful kitties!--the girls were distracted to know what
to do for _them_. There were so many of them, and they would never be
induced to leave the place--that rocky platform so barren of little
birds, and those ancient buildings where no mouse had been allowed so
much as to come into the world for years past. They would not be fed,
of course, when their mistresses were gone. They would get into the
dairy and the pantry, and steal Mrs. Hawkins's milk and meat--and it
was easy to conjecture what would happen _then_. Mrs. Hawkins had boys
moreover--rough boys who went to the State school, and looked capable
of all the fiendish atrocities that young animals of their age and sex
were supposed to delight in. Could they leave their beloved ones to the
mercy of _boys?_ They consulted Sam Dunn, and Sam's advice was----

Never mind. Cats and kittens disappeared. And then only Dan Tucker
was left. Him, at any rate, they declared they would never part with,
while he had a breath in his faithful body. He should go with them to
Melbourne, bless his precious heart!---or, if need were, to the ends of
the earth.

And so, at last, all their preparations were made, and the day came
when, with unexpected regrets and fears, they walked out of the old
house which had been their only home into the wide world, where they
were utter strangers. Sam Dunn came with his wood-cart to carry their
luggage to the steamer (the conveyance they had selected, in preference
to coach and railway, because it was cheaper, and they were more
familiar with it); and then they shut up doors and windows, sobbing as
they went from room to room; stood on the verandah in front of the sea
to solemnly kiss each other, and walked quietly down to the township,
hand in hand, and with the terrier at their heels, to have tea with Mr.
Brion and his old housekeeper before they went on board.



CHAPTER V.


ROCKED IN THE CRADLE OF THE DEEP.


Late in the evening when the sea was lit up with a young moon, Mr.
Brion, having given them a great deal of serious advice concerning
their money and other business affairs, escorted our three girls to
the little jetty where the steamer that called in once a week lay at
her moorings, ready to start for Melbourne and intermediate ports
at five o'clock next morning. The old lawyer was a spare, grave,
gentlemanly-looking old man, and as much a gentleman as he looked, with
the kindest heart in the world when you could get at it: a man who
was esteemed and respected, to use the language of the local paper,
by all his fellow-townsmen, whether friends or foes. They Anglicised
his name in speaking it, and they wrote it "Bryan" far more often than
not, though nothing enraged him more than to have his precious vowels
tampered with; but they liked him so much that they never cast it up to
him that he was a Frenchman.

This good old man, chivalrous as any paladin, in his shy and secret
way, always anxious to hide his generous emotions, as the traditional
Frenchman is anxious to display them, had done a father's part by
our young orphans since their own father had left them so strangely
desolate. Sam Dunn had compassed them with sweet observances, as we
have seen; but Sam was powerless to unravel the web of difficulties,
legal and otherwise, in which Mr. King's death had plunged them. Mr.
Brion had done all this, and a great deal more that nobody knew of,
to protect the girls and their interests at a critical juncture, and
to give them a fair and clear start on their own account. And in the
process of thus serving them he had become very much attached to them
in his old-fashioned, reticent way; and he did not at all like having
to let them go away alone in this lonely-looking night.

"But Paul will be there to meet you," he said, for the twentieth time,
laying his hand over Elizabeth's, which rested on his arm. "You may
trust to Paul--as soon as the boat is telegraphed he will come to meet
you--he will see to everything that is necessary--you will have no
bother at all. And, my dear, remember what I say--let the boy advise
you for a little while. Let him take care of you, and imagine it is
I. You may trust him as absolutely as you trust me, and he will not
presume upon your confidence, believe me. He is not like the young men
of the country," added Paul's father, putting a little extra stiffness
into his upright figure. "No, no--he is quite different."

"I think you have instructed us so fully, dear Mr. Brion, that we shall
get along very well without having to trouble Mr. Paul," interposed
Patty, in her clear, quick way, speaking from a little distance.

The steamer, with her lamps lit, was all in a clatter and bustle,
taking in passengers and cargo. Sam Dunn was on board, having seen the
boxes stowed away safely; and he came forward to say good-bye to his
young ladies before driving his cart home.

"I'll miss ye," said the brawny fisherman, with savage tenderness; "and
the missus'll miss ye. Darned if we shall know the place with you gone
out of it. Many's the dark night the light o' your winders has been
better'n the lighthouse to show me the way home."

He pointed to the great headland lying, it seemed now, so far, far
off, ghostly as a cloud. And presently he went away; and they could
hear him, as he drove back along the jetty, cursing his old horse--to
which he was as much attached as if it had been a human friend--with
blood-curdling ferocity.

Mr. Brion stayed with them until it seemed improper to stay any
longer--until all the passengers that were to come on board had housed
themselves for the night, and all the baggage had been snugly stowed
away--and then bade them good-bye, with less outward emotion than Sam
had displayed, but with almost as keen a pang.

"God bless you, my dears," said he, with paternal solemnity. "Take care
of yourselves, and let Paul do what he can for you. I will send you
your money every quarter, and you must keep accounts--keep accounts
strictly. And ask Paul what you want to know. Then you will get along
all right, please God."

"O yes, we shall get along all right," repeated Patty, whose sturdy
optimism never failed her in the most trying moments.

But when the old man was gone, and they stood on the tiny slip of deck
that was available to stand on, feeling no necessity to cling to the
railings as the little vessel heaved up and down in the wash of the
tide that swirled amongst the piers of the jetty--when they looked at
the lights of the town sprinkled round the shore and up the hillsides,
at their own distant headland, unlighted, except by the white haze of
the moon, at the now deserted jetty, and the apparently illimitable
sea--when they realised for the first time that they were alone in this
great and unknown world--even Patty's bold heart was inclined to sink a
little.

"Elizabeth," she said, "we _must_ not cry--it is absurd. What is there
to cry for? Now, all the things we have been dreaming and longing for
are going to happen--the story is beginning. Let us go to bed and get
a good sleep before the steamer starts so that we are fresh in the
morning--so that we don't lose anything. Come, Nelly, let us see if
poor Dan is comfortable, and have some supper and go to bed."

They cheered themselves with the sandwiches and the gooseberry wine
that Mr. Brion's housekeeper had put up for them, paid a visit to Dan,
who was in charge of an amiable cook (whom the old lawyer had tipped
handsomely), and then faced the dangers and difficulties of getting
to bed. Descending the brass-bound staircase to the lower regions,
they paused, their faces flushed up, and they looked at each other as
if the scene before them was something unfit for the eyes of modest
girls. They were shocked, as by some specific impropriety, at the
noise and confusion, the rough jostling and the impure atmosphere,
in the morsel of a ladies' cabin, from which the tiny slips of bunks
prepared for them were divided only by a scanty curtain. This was their
first contact with the world, so to speak, and they fled from it. To
spend a night in that suffocating hole, with those loud women their
fellow passengers, was a too appalling prospect. So Elizabeth went to
the captain, who knew their story, and admired their faces, and was
inclined to be very kind to them, and asked his permission to occupy
a retired corner of the deck. On his seeming to hesitate--they being
desperately anxious not to give anybody any trouble--they assured him
that the place above all others where they would like to make their bed
was on the wedge-shaped platform in the bows, where they would be out
of everybody's way.

"But, my dear young lady, there is no railing there," said the captain,
laughing at the proposal as a joke.

"A good eight inches--ten inches," said Elizabeth. "Quite enough for
anybody in the roughest sea."

"For a sailor perhaps, but not for young ladies who get giddy and
frightened and seasick. Supposing you tumbled off in the dark, and I
found you gone when I came to look for you in the morning."

"_We_ tumble off!" cried Eleanor. "We never tumbled off anything
in our lives. We have lived on the cliffs like the goats and the
gulls--nothing makes us giddy. And I don't think anything will make us
seasick--or frightened either."

"Certainly not frightened," said Patty.

He let them have their way--taking a great many (as they thought)
perfectly unnecessary precautions in fixing up their quarters in case
of a rough sea--and himself carried out their old opossum rug and an
armful of pillows to make their nest comfortable. So, in this quiet
and breezy bedchamber, roofed over by the moonlit sky, they lay down
with much satisfaction in each other's arms, unwatched and unmolested,
as they loved to be, save by the faithful Dan Tucker, who found his
way to their feet in the course of the night. And the steamer left her
moorings and worked out of the bay into the open ocean, puffing and
clattering, and danced up and down over the long waves, and they knew
nothing about it. In the fresh air, with the familiar voice of the sea
around them, they slept soundly under the opossum rug until the sun was
high.



CHAPTER VI.


PAUL.


They slept for two nights on the tip of the steamer's nose, and they
did not roll off. They had a long, delightful day at sea, no more
troubled with seasickness than were the gulls to which they had
compared themselves, and full of inquiring interest for each of the
ports they touched at, and for all the little novelties of a first
voyage. They became great friends with the captain and crew, and with
some children who were amongst the passengers (the ladies of the party
were indisposed to fraternise with them, not being able to reconcile
themselves to the cut and quality of the faded blue gingham gowns,
or to those eccentric sleeping arrangements, both of which seemed to
point to impecuniosity--which is so closely allied to impropriety, as
everybody knows). They sat down to their meals in the little cabin with
wonderful appetites; they walked the deck in the fine salt wind with
feet that were light and firm, and hearts that were high and hopeful
and full of courage and enterprise. Altogether, they felt that the
story was beginning pleasantly, and they were eager to turn over the
pages.

And then, on the brightest of bright summer mornings, they came to
Melbourne.

They did not quite know what they had expected to see, but what they
did see astonished them. The wild things caught in the bush, and
carried in cages to the Eastern market, could not have felt more
surprised or dismayed by the novelty of the situation than did these
intrepid damsels when they found themselves fairly launched into the
world they were so anxious to know. For a few minutes after their
arrival they stood together silent, breathless, taking it all in; and
then Patty--yes, it _was_ Patty--exclaimed:

"Oh, _where_ is Paul Brion?"

Paul Brion was there, and the words had no sooner escaped her lips
than he appeared before them. "How do you do, Miss King?" he said, not
holding out his hand, but taking off his hat with one of his father's
formal salutations, including them all. "I hope you have had a pleasant
passage. If you will kindly tell me what luggage you have, I will take
you to your cab; it is waiting for you just here. Three boxes? All
right. I will see after them."

He was a small, slight, wiry little man, with decidedly brusque, though
perfectly polite manners; active and self-possessed, and, in a certain
way of his own, dignified, notwithstanding his low stature. He was not
handsome, but he had a keen and clever face--rather fierce as to the
eyes and mouth, which latter was adorned with a fierce little moustache
curling up at the corners--but pleasant to look at, and one that
inspired trust.

"He is not a bit like his father," said Patty, following him with
Eleanor, as he led Elizabeth to the cab. Patty was angry with him for
overhearing that "Where is Paul Brion?"--as she was convinced he had
done--and her tone was disparaging.

"As the mother duck said of the ugly duckling, if he is not pretty he
has a good disposition," said Eleanor. "He is like his father in that.
It was very kind of him to come and help us. A press man must always be
terribly busy."

"I don't see why we couldn't have managed for ourselves. It is nothing
but to call a cab," said Patty with irritation.

"And where could we have gone to?" asked her sister, reproachfully.

"For the matter of that, where are we going now? We haven't the least
idea. I think it was very stupid to leave ourselves in the hands of a
chance young man whom we have hardly ever seen. We make ourselves look
like a set of helpless infants--as if we couldn't do without him."

"Well, we can't," said Eleanor.

"Nonsense. We don't try. But," added Patty, after a pause, "we must
begin to try--we must begin at once."

They arrived at the cab, in which Elizabeth had seated herself, with
the bewildered Dan in her arms, her sweet, open face all smiles and
sunshine. Paul Brion held the door open, and, as the younger sisters
passed him, looked at them intently with searching eyes. This was a
fresh offence to Patty, at whom he certainly looked most. Impressions
new and strange were crowding upon her brain this morning thick and
fast. "Elizabeth," she said, unconscious that her brilliant little
countenance, with that flush of excitement upon it, was enough to
fascinate the gaze of the dullest man; "Elizabeth, he looks at us as
if we were curiosities--he thinks we are dowdy and countryfied and it
amuses him."

"My dear," interposed Eleanor, who, like Elizabeth, was (as she herself
expressed it) reeking with contentment, "you could not have seen his
face if you think that. He was as grave as a judge."

"Then he pities us, Nelly, and that is worse. He thinks we are queer
outlandish creatures--_frights_. So we are. Look at those women on the
other side of the street, how differently they are dressed! We ought
not to have come in these old clothes, Elizabeth."

"But, my darling, we are travelling, and anything does to travel in.
We will put on our black frocks when we get home, and we will buy
ourselves some new ones. Don't trouble about such a trifle _now_,
Patty--it is not like you. Oh, see what a perfect day it is! And think
of our being in Melbourne at last! I am trying to realise it, but it
almost stuns me. What a place it is! But Mr. Paul says our lodgings
are in a quiet, airy street--not in this noisy part. Ah, here he is!
And there are the three boxes all safe. Thank you so much," she said
warmly, looking at the young man of the world, who was some five
years older than herself, with frankest friendliness, as a benevolent
grandmamma might have looked at an obliging schoolboy. "You are very
good--we are very grateful to you."

"And very sorry to have given you so much trouble," added Patty, with
the air of a young duchess.

He looked at her quickly, and made a slight bow. He did not say that
what he had done had been no trouble at all, but a pleasure--he did not
say a word, indeed; and his silence made her little heart swell with
mortification. He turned to Elizabeth, and, resting his hands on the
door-frame, began to explain the nature of the arrangements that he had
made for them, with business-like brevity.

"Your lodgings are in Myrtle Street, Miss King. That is in East
Melbourne, you know--quite close to the gardens--quite quiet and
retired, and yet within a short walk of Collins Street, and handy for
all the places you want to see. You have two bedrooms and a small
sitting-room of your own, but take your meals with the other people of
the house; you won't mind that, I hope--it made a difference of about
thirty shillings a week, and it is the most usual arrangement. Of
course you can alter anything you don't like when you get there. The
landlady is a Scotchwoman--I know her very well, and can recommend her
highly--I think you will like her."

"But won't you come with us?" interposed Elizabeth, putting out her
hand. "Come and introduce us to her, and see that the cabman takes us
to the right place. Or perhaps you are too busy to spare the time?"

"I--I will call on you this afternoon, if you will permit me--when
you have had your lunch and are rested a little. Oh, I know the
cabman quite well, and can answer for his taking you safely. This is
your address"--hastily scribbling it on an envelope he drew from his
pocket--"and the landlady is Mrs. M'Intyre. Good morning. I will do
myself the pleasure of calling on you at four or five o'clock."

He thereupon bowed and departed, and the cab rattled away in an
opposite direction. Patty deeply resented his not coming with them,
and wondered and wondered why he had refused. Was he too proud, or too
shy, or too busy, or too indifferent? Did he feel that it was a trouble
to him to have to look after them? Poor Paul! He would have liked
to come, to see them comfortably housed and settled; but the simple
difficulty was that he was afraid to risk giving them offence by paying
the cab fare, and would not ride with them, a man in charge of three
ladies, without paying it. And Patty was not educated to the point of
appreciating that scruple. His desertion of them in the open street was
a grievance to her. She could not help thinking of it, though there was
so much else to think of.

The cab turned into Collins Street and rattled merrily up that busy
thoroughfare in the bright sunshine. They looked at the brilliant
shop windows, at the gay crowd streaming up and down the pavements,
and the fine equipages flashing along the road-way at the Town Hall,
and the churches, and the statues of Burke and Wills--and were filled
with admiration and wonder. Then they turned into quieter roads, and
there was the Exhibition in its web of airy scaffolding, destined to be
the theatre of great events, in which they would have their share--an
inspiring sight. And they went round a few corners, catching refreshing
glimpses of green trees and shady alleys, and presently arrived at
Myrtle Street--quietest of suburban thoroughfares, with its rows of
trim little houses, half-a-dozen in a block, each with its tiny patch
of garden in front of it--where for the present they were to dwell.

Mrs. M'Intyre's maid came out to take the parcels, and the landlady
herself appeared on the doorstep to welcome the new-comers. They
whispered to themselves hurriedly, "Oh, she has a nice face!"--and then
Patty and Elizabeth addressed themselves to the responsible business of
settling with the cabman.

"How much have we to pay you?" asked Patty with dignity.

"Twelve shillings, please, miss," the man gaily replied.

Elizabeth looked at her energetic sister, who had boasted that they
were quite sharp enough to know when they were being cheated. Upon
which Patty, with her feathers up, appealed to the landlady. Mrs.
M'Intyre said the proper sum due to him was just half what he had
asked. The cabman said that was for one passenger, and not for three.
Mrs. M'Intyre then represented that eighteen-pence apiece was as much
as he could claim for the remaining two, that the luggage was a mere
nothing, and that if he didn't mind what he was about, &c. So the sum
was reduced to nine shillings, which Elizabeth paid, looking very grave
over it, for it was still far beyond what she had reckoned on.

Then they went into the house--the middle house of a smart little
terrace, with a few ragged fern trees in the front garden--and Mrs.
M'Intyre took them up to their rooms, and showed them drawers and
cupboards, in a motherly and hospitable manner.

"This is the large bedroom, with the two beds, and the small one opens
off it; so that you will all be close together," said she, displaying
the neat chambers, one of which was properly but a dressing-closet;
and our girls, who knew no luxury but absolute cleanliness, took note
of the whiteness of the floors and bedclothes, and were more than
satisfied. "And this is your sitting-room," she proceeded, leading the
way to an adjoining apartment pleasantly lighted by a French window,
which opened upon a stone (or, rather, what looked like a stone)
balcony. It had a little "suite" in green rep like Mrs. Hawkins's, and
Mrs. Dunn's ideal cedar-wood chiffonnier; it had also a comfortable
solid table with a crimson cloth, and a print of the ubiquitous Cenci
over the mantelpiece. The carpet was a bed of blooming roses and
lilies, the effect of which was much improved by the crumb cloth that
was nailed all over it. It was a tiny room, but it had a cosy look, and
the new lodgers agreed at once that it was all that could be desired.
"And I hope you will be comfortable," concluded the amiable landlady,
"and let me know whenever you want anything. There's a bathroom down
that passage, and this is your bell, and those drawers have got keys,
you see, and lunch will be ready in half-an-hour. The dining-room is
the first door at the bottom of the stairs, and--phew! that tobacco
smoke hangs about the place still, in spite of all my cleaning and
airing. I never allow smoking in the house, Miss King--not in the
general way; but a man who has to be up o' nights writing for the
newspapers, and never getting his proper sleep, it's hard to grudge him
the comfort of his pipe--now isn't it? And I have had no ladies here to
be annoyed by it--in general I don't take ladies, for gentlemen are so
much the most comfortable to do for; and Mr. Brion is so considerate,
and gives so little trouble--"

"What! Is Mr. Paul Brion lodging here?" broke in Patty impetuously,
with her face aflame.

"Not now," Mrs. M'Intyre replied. "He left me last week. These rooms
that you have got were his--he has had them for over three years. He
wanted you to come here, because he thought you would be comfortable
with me"--smiling benignly. "He said a man could put up anywhere."

She left them, presently; and as soon as the girls found themselves
alone, they hurriedly assured each other that nothing should induce
them to submit to this. It was not to be thought of for a moment. Paul
Brion must be made to remove the mountainous obligation that he had put
them under, and return to his rooms instantly. They would not put so
much as a pocket handkerchief in the drawers and cupboards until this
point had been settled with him.

At four o'clock, when they had visited the bathroom, arranged their
pretty hair afresh, and put on the black print gowns--when they had had
a quiet lunch with Mrs. M'Intyre (whose other boarders being gentlemen
in business, did not appear at the mid-day meal), prattling cheerfully
with the landlady the while, and thinking that the cold beef and salads
of Melbourne were the most delicious viands ever tasted--when they had
examined their rooms minutely, and tried the sofas and easy-chairs, and
stood for a long while on the balcony looking at the other houses in
the quiet street--at four o'clock Paul Brion came; and the maid brought
up his card, while he gossiped with Mrs. M'Intyre in the hall. He had
no sooner entered the girls' sitting-room than Elizabeth hastened to
unburden herself. Patty was burning to be the spokeswoman for the
occasion, but she knew her place, and she remembered the small effect
she had produced on him in the morning, and proudly held aloof. In her
sweet and graceful way, but with as much gravity and earnestness as if
it were a matter of life and death, Elizabeth explained her view of the
situation. "Of course we cannot consent to such an arrangement," she
said gently; "you must have known we could never consent to allow you
to turn out of your own rooms to accommodate us. You must please come
back again, Mr. Brion, and let us go elsewhere. There seem to be plenty
of other lodgings to be had--even in this street."

Paul Brion's face wore a pleasant smile as he listened. "Oh, thank
you," he replied lightly. "But I am very comfortable where I am--quite
as much so as I was here--rather more, indeed. For the people at No. 6
have set up a piano on the other side of that wall"--pointing to the
cedar chiffonnier--"and it bothered me dreadfully when I wanted to
write. It was the piano drove me out--not you. Perhaps it will drive
you out too. It is a horrible nuisance, for it is always out of tune;
and you know the sort of playing that people indulge in who use pianos
that are out of tune."

So their little demonstration collapsed. Paul had gone away to please
himself. "And has left _us_ to endure the agonies of a piano out of
tune," commented Patty.

As the day wore on, reaction from the mood of excitement and exaltation
with which it began set in. Their spirits flagged. They felt tired and
desolate in this new world. The unaccustomed hot dinner in the evening,
at which they sat for nearly an hour in company with strange men who
asked them questions, and pressed them to eat what they didn't want,
was very uncongenial to them. And when, as soon as they could, they
escaped to their own quarters, their little sitting-room, lighted with
gas and full of hot upstairs air, struck them with its unsympathetic
and unhomelike aspect. The next door piano was jingling its music-hall
ditties faintly on the other side of the wall, and poor Dan, who had
been banished to the back yard, was yelping so piteously that their
hearts bled to hear him. "We must get a house of our own at once,
Elizabeth--at _once_," exclaimed Eleanor--"if only for Dan's sake."

"We will never have pets again--never!" said Patty, with something like
an incipient sob in her voice, as she paced restlessly about the room.
"Then we shall not have to ill-treat them and to part from them." She
was thinking of her little bear, and the opossum, and the magpies, who
were worse off than Dan.

And Elizabeth sat down at the table, and took out pencil and note-book
with a careworn face. She was going to keep accounts strictly, as
Mr. Brion had advised her, and they not only meant to live within
their income, as a matter of course, but to save a large part of
it for future European contingencies. And, totting up the items of
their expenditure for three days--cost of passage by steamer, cost of
provisions on board, cab fare, and the sum paid for a week's board and
lodging in advance--she found that they had been living for that period
at the rate of about a thousand a year.

So that, upon the whole, they were not quite so happy as they had
expected to be, when they went to bed.



CHAPTER VII.


A MORNING WALK.


But they slept well in their strange beds, and by morning all their
little troubles had disappeared. It was impossible not to suppose
that the pets "at home" were making themselves happy, seeing how the
sun shone and the sea breezes blew; and Dan, who had reached years of
discretion, was evidently disposed to submit himself to circumstances.
Having a good view of the back yard, they could see him lolling
luxuriously on the warm asphalte, as if he had been accustomed to be
chained up, and liked it. Concerning their most pressing anxiety--the
rapid manner in which money seemed to melt away, leaving so little to
show for it--it was pointed out that at least half the sum expended was
for a special purpose, and chargeable to the reserve fund and not to
their regular income, from which at present only five pounds had been
taken, which was to provide all their living for a week to come.

So they went downstairs in serene and hopeful spirits, and gladdened
the eyes of the gentlemen boarders who were standing about the
dining-room, devouring the morning's papers while they waited for
breakfast. There were three of them, and each placed a chair promptly,
and each offered handsomely to resign his newspaper. Elizabeth took an
_Argus_ to see what advertisements there were of houses to let; and
then Mrs. M'Intyre came in with her coffee-pot and her cheerful face,
and they sat down to breakfast. Mrs. M'Intyre was that rare exception
to the rule, a boarding-house keeper who had private means as well as
the liberal disposition of which the poorest have their share, and so
her breakfast was a good breakfast. And the presence of strangers at
table was not so unpleasant to our girls on this occasion as the last.

After breakfast they had a solemn consultation, the result being that
the forenoon was dedicated to the important business of buying their
clothes and finding their way to and from the shops.

"For we must have _bonnets_," said Patty, "and that immediately.
Bonnets, I perceive, are the essential tokens of respectability. And we
must never ride in a cab again."

They set off at ten o'clock, escorted by Mrs. M'Intyre, who chanced
to be going to the city to do some marketing. The landlady, being a
very fat woman, to whom time was precious, took the omnibus, according
to custom; but her companions with one consent refused to squander
unnecessary threepences by accompanying her in that vehicle. They had a
straight road before them all the way from the corner of Myrtle Street
to the Fishmarket, where she had business; and there they joined her
when she had completed her purchases, and she gave them a fair start at
the foot of Collins Street before she left them.

In Collins Street they spent the morning--a bewildering, exciting,
anxious morning--going from shop to shop, and everywhere finding
that the sum they had brought to spend was utterly inadequate for
the purpose to which they had dedicated it. They saw any quantity of
pretty soft stuffs, that were admirably adapted alike to their taste
and means, but to get them fashioned into gowns seemed to treble their
price at once; and, as Patty represented, they must have one, at any
rate, that was made in the mode before they could feel it safe to
manufacture for themselves. They ended by choosing--as a measure of
comparative safety, for thus only could they know what they were doing,
as Patty said--three ready-made costumes that took their fancy, the
combined cost of which was a few shillings over the ten pounds. They
were merely morning dresses of black woollen stuff; lady-like, and with
a captivating style of "the world" about them, but in the lowest class
of goods of that kind dispensed in those magnificent shops. Of course
that was the end of their purchases for the day; the selection of
mantles, bonnets, gloves, boots, and all the other little odds and ends
on Elizabeth's list was reserved for a future occasion. For the idea of
buying anything on twenty-four hours' credit was never entertained for
a moment. To be sure, they did ask about the bonnets, and were shown a
great number, in spite of their polite anxiety not to give unprofitable
trouble; and not one that they liked was less than several pounds in
price. Dismayed and disheartened, they "left it" (Patty's suggestion
again); and they gave the rest of their morning to the dressmaker, who
undertook to remodel the bodices of the new gowns and make them fit
properly. This fitting was not altogether a satisfactory business,
either; for the dressmaker insisted that a well-shaped corset was
indispensable--especially in these days, when fit was everything--and
they had no corsets and did not wish for any. She was, however, a
dressmaker of decision and resource, and she sent her assistant for a
bundle of corsets, in which she encased her helpless victims before she
would begin the ripping and snipping and pulling and pinning process.
When they saw their figures in the glass, with their fashionable tight
skirts and unwrinkled waists, they did not know themselves; and I am
afraid that Patty and Eleanor, at any rate, were disposed to regard
corsets favourably and to make light of the discomfort they were
sensibly conscious of in wearing them. Elizabeth, whose natural shape
was so beautiful--albeit she is destined, if the truth must be told, to
be immensely stout and heavy some day--was not seduced by this specious
appearance. She ordered the dressmaker, with a quiet peremptoriness
that would have become a carriage customer, to make the waists of the
three gowns "free" and to leave the turnings on; and she took off the
borrowed corset, and drew a long breath, inwardly determining never to
wear such a thing again, even to have a dress fitted--fashion or no
fashion.

It was half-past twelve by this time, and at one o'clock Mrs. M'Intyre
would expect them in to lunch. They wanted to go home by way of those
green enclosures that Paul Brion had told them of, and of which they
had had a glimpse yesterday--which the landlady had assured them was
the easiest thing possible. They had but to walk right up to the top of
Collins Street, turn to the right, where they would see a gate leading
into gardens, pass straight through those gardens, cross a road and
go straight through other gardens, which would bring them within a
few steps of Myrtle Street--a way so plain that they couldn't miss
it if they tried. Ways always do seem so to people who know them. Our
three girls were self-reliant young women, and kept their wits about
them very creditably amid their novel and distracting surroundings.
Nevertheless they were at some loss with respect to this obvious route.
Because, in the first place, they didn't know which was the top of
Collins Street and which the bottom.

"Dear me! we shall be reduced to the ignominious necessity of asking
our way," exclaimed Eleanor, as they stood forlornly on the pavement,
jostled by the human tide that flowed up and down. "If only we had Paul
Brion here."

It was very provoking to Patty, but he _was_ there. Being a small man,
he did not come into view till he was within a couple of yards of them,
and that was just in time to overhear this invocation. His ordinarily
fierce aspect, which she had disrespectfully likened to that of Dan
when another terrier had insulted him, had for the moment disappeared.
The little man showed all over him the pleased surprise with which he
had caught the sound of his own name.

"Have you got so far already?" he exclaimed, speaking in his sharp and
rapid way, while his little moustache bristled with such a smile as
they had not thought him capable of. "And--and can I assist you in any
way?"

Elizabeth explained their dilemma; upon which he declared he was
himself going to East Melbourne (whence he had just come, after his
morning sleep and noontide breakfast), and asked leave to escort them
thither. "How fortunate we are!" Elizabeth said, turning to walk up the
street by his side; and Eleanor told him he was like his father in the
opportuneness of his friendly services. But Patty was silent, and raged
inwardly.

When they had traversed the length of the street, and were come to the
open space before the Government offices, where they could fall again
into one group, she made an effort to get rid of him and the burden of
obligation that he was heaping upon them.

"Mr. Brion," she began impetuously, "we know where we are now quite
well--"

"I don't think you do," he interrupted her, "seeing that you were never
here before."

"Our landlady gave us directions--she made it quite plain to us. There
is no necessity for you to trouble yourself any further. You were not
going this way when we met you, but exactly in the opposite direction."

"I am going this way now, at any rate," he said, with decision. "I am
going to show your sisters their way through the gardens. There are a
good many paths, and they don't all lead to Myrtle Street."

"But we know the points of the compass--we have our general
directions," she insisted angrily, as she followed him helplessly
through the gates. "We are not quite idiots, though we do come from the
country."

"Patty," interposed Elizabeth, surprised, "I am glad of Mr. Brion's
kind help, if you are not."

"Patty," echoed Eleanor in an undertone, "that haughty spirit of yours
will have a fall some day."

Patty felt that it was having a fall now. "I know it is very kind of
Mr. Brion," she said tremulously, "but how are we to get on and do for
ourselves if we are treated like children--I mean if we allow ourselves
to hang on to other people? We should make our own way, as others have
to do. I don't suppose _you_ had anyone to lead you about when _you_
first came to Melbourne"--addressing Paul.

"I was a man," he replied. "It is a man's business to take care of
himself."

"Of course. And equally it is a woman's business to take care of
herself--if she has no man in her family."

"Pardon me. In that case it is the business of all the men with whom
she comes in contact to take care of her--each as he can."

"Oh, what nonsense! You talk as if we lived in the time of the
Troubadours--as if you didn't _know_ that all that stuff about women
has had its day and been laughed out of existence long ago."

"What stuff?"

"That we are helpless imbeciles--a sort of angelic wax baby, good
for nothing but to look pretty. As if we were not made of the same
substance as you, with brains and hands--not so strong as yours,
perhaps, but quite strong enough to rely upon when necessary. Oh!"
exclaimed Patty, with a fierce gesture, "I do so _hate_ that man's cant
about women--I have no patience with it!"

"You must have been severely tried," murmured Paul (he was beginning
to think the middle Miss King a disagreeable person, and to feel
vindictive towards her). And Eleanor laughed cruelly, and said, "Oh,
no, she's got it all out of books."

"A great mistake to go by books," said he, with the air of a father.
"Experience first--books afterwards, Miss Patty." And he smiled coolly
into the girl's flaming face.



CHAPTER VIII.


AN INTRODUCTION TO MRS. GRUNDY.


Patty and her sisters very nearly had their first quarrel over Paul
Brion. Patty said he was impertinent and patronising, that he presumed
upon their friendless position to pay them insulting attentions--that,
in short, he was a detestable young man whom she, for one, would have
nothing more to do with. And she warned Elizabeth, in an hysterical,
high-pitched voice, never to invite him into their house unless
she wished to see her (Patty) walk out of it. Elizabeth, supported
by Eleanor, took up the cudgels in his defence, and assured Patty,
kindly, but with much firmness, that he had behaved with dignity
and courtesy under great provocation to do otherwise. They also
pointed out that he was his father's representative; that it would be
ungracious and unladylike to reject the little services that it was
certainly a pleasure to him to render, and unworthy of them to assume
an independence that at present they were unable to support. Which was
coming as near to "words" as was possible for them to come, and much
nearer than any of them desired. Patty burst into tears at last, which
was the signal for everything in the shape of discord and division to
vanish. Her sisters kissed and fondled her, and assured her that they
sympathised with her anxiety to be under obligations to nobody from the
bottom of their hearts; and Patty owned that she had been captious and
unreasonable, and consented to forgive her enemy for what he hadn't
done and to be civil to him in future.

And, as the days wore on, even she grew to be thankful for Paul Brion,
though, of course, she would never own to it. Their troubles were many
and various, and their helpless ignorance more profound and humiliating
than they could have believed possible. I will not weary the reader
by tracing the details of the process by which they became acquainted
with the mode and cost of living "as other people do," and with the
ways of the world in general; it would be too long a story. How Patty
discovered that the cleverest fingers cannot copy a London bonnet
without some previous knowledge of the science of millinery; how she
and her sisters, after supplying themselves grudgingly with the mere
necessaries of a modern outfit, found that the remainder of their
"furniture money," to the last pound note, was spent; how, after weary
trampings to and fro in search of a habitable house in a wholesome
neighbourhood, they learned the ruinous rates of rent and taxes and
(after much shopping and many consultations with Mrs. M'Intyre) the
alarming prices of furniture and provisions; how they were driven to
admit, in spite of Patty, that that landlady on the premises, whom
Eleanor had declared was not to be thought of, might be a necessary
safeguard against worse evils; and how they were brought to ask each
other, in surprise and dismay, "Is it possible that we are poor people
after all, and not rich, as we supposed?"--all these things can be
better imagined than described. Suffice it to say, they passed through
much tribulation and many bitter and humbling experiences during the
early months of their sojourn in Melbourne; but when at last they
reached a comparatively safe haven, and found themselves once more
secure under their own control, able to regulate their needs and
their expenditure, and generally to understand the conditions and
possibilities of their position, Elizabeth and Eleanor made a solemn
declaration that they were indebted for this happy issue to the good
offices and faithful friendship of Paul Brion alone, and Patty--though
she turned up her nose and said "Pooh!"--though she hated to be
indebted to him, or to anybody--agreed with them.

They settled down to their housekeeping by very slow degrees. For
some time they stayed with Mrs. M'Intyre, because there really seemed
nothing else to do that was at all within their means; and from
this base of operations they made all those expeditions of inquiry
into city habits and customs, commercial and domestic, which were
such conspicuous and ignominious failures. As the sense of their
helplessness grew upon them, they grudgingly admitted the young man
(who was always at hand, and yet never intruded upon or pestered
them) to their counsels, and accepted, without seeming to accept, his
advice; and the more they condescended in this way the better they
got on. Gradually they fell into the habit of depending on him, by
tacit consent--which was the more easy to do because, as his father
had promised, he did not presume upon their confidence in him. He was
sharp and brusque, and even inclined to domineer--to be impertinent, as
Patty called it--when they did submit their affairs to his judgment;
but not the smallest suspicion of an unauthorised motive for his
evident devotion to their interests appeared in his face, or voice, or
manner, which were those of the man of business, slightly suggesting
occasionally the imperious and impartial "nearest male relative."
They grew to trust him--for his father's sake, they said, but there
was nothing vicarious about it; and that they had the rare fortune
to be justified in doing so, under such unlikely circumstances, made
up to them for whatever ill luck they might otherwise have seemed to
encounter in these days. It was he who finally found them their home,
after their many futile searches--half a house in their own street and
terrace, vacated by the marriage and departure to another colony of the
lady who played the piano that was out of tune. No. 6, it appeared,
had been divided into flats; the ground floor was occupied by the
proprietor, his wife, and servant; and the upper, which had a gas stove
and other kitchen appliances in a back room, was let unfurnished for
£60 a year. Paul, always poking about in quest of opportunities, heard
of this one and pounced upon it. He made immediate inquiries into the
character and antecedents of the landlord of No. 6, the state of the
drains and chimneys, and paint and paper, of the house; and, having
satisfied himself that it was as nearly being what our girls wanted
as anything they would be likely to find, called upon Elizabeth, and
advised her to secure it forthwith. The sisters were just then adding
up their accounts--taking stock of their affairs generally--and coming
to desperate resolutions that something must be done; so the suggested
arrangement, which would deliver them from bondage and from many of
their worst difficulties, had quite a providential opportuneness about
it. They took the rooms at once--four small rooms, including the
improvised kitchen--and went into them, in defiance of Mrs. M'Intyre's
protestations, before they had so much as a bedstead to sleep upon;
and once more they were happy in the consciousness that they had
recovered possession of themselves, and could call their souls their
own. Slowly, bit by bit, the furniture came in--the barest necessaries
first, and then odds and ends of comfort and prettiness (not a few
of them discovered by Paul Brion in out-of-the-way places, where he
"happened" to be), until the new little home grew to look as homelike
as the old one. They sent for the bureau and the piano, which went
a long way towards furnishing the sitting-room; and they bought a
comfortable second-hand table and some capacious, cheap, wickerwork
chairs; and they laid a square of matting on the floor, and made some
chintz curtains for the window, and turned a deal packing-case into
an ottoman, and another into a set of shelves for their books; and
over all these little arrangements threw such an air of taste, such
a complexion of spotless cleanliness and fastidious neatness, as are
only seen in the homes of "nice" women, that it takes nice people to
understand the charm of.

One day, when their preparations for regular domestic life were fairly
completed, Patty, tired after a long spell of amateur carpentering,
sat down to the piano to rest and refresh herself. The piano had
been tuned on its arrival in Melbourne; and the man who tuned it had
stared at her when she told him that it had been made to her mother's
order, and showed him the famous name above the key-board. He would
have stared still more had he heard what kind of magic life she could
summon into the exquisite mechanism boxed up in that poor-looking
deal case. All the sisters were musicians, strange to say; taught by
their mother in the noble and simple spirit of the German school, and
inheriting from her the sensitive ear and heart to understand the
dignity and mystery, if not the message (which nobody understands) of
that wonderful language which begins where words leave off. To "play
the piano" was no mere conventional drawing-room performance with them,
as they themselves were no conventional drawing-room misses; a "piece"
of the ordinary pattern would have shocked their sense of art and
harmony almost as much as it might have shocked Mozart and Mendelssohn,
and Schubert and Schumann, and the other great masters whose pupils
they were; while to talk and laugh, either when playing or listening,
would have been to them like talking and laughing over their prayers.
But, of the three, Patty was the most truly musical, in the serious
meaning of the word, inasmuch as her temperament was warmer than those
of her sisters, her imagination more vivid, her senses generally more
susceptible to delicate impressions than theirs. The "spirits of the
air" had all their supernatural power over her receptive and responsive
soul, and she thrilled like an Æolian harp to the west wind under the
spell of those emotions that have no name or shape, and for which no
imagery supplies a comparison, which belong to the ideal world, into
which those magic spirits summon us, and where the sacred hours of our
lives--the sweetest, the saddest, the happiest--are spent.

To-day she sat down, suddenly prompted by the feeling that she was
fagged and tired, and began to play mechanically a favourite Beethoven
sonata; but in five minutes she had played her nerves to rest, and was
as steeped in dreams as the great master himself must have been when
he conceived the tender passages that only his spiritual ears could
hear. Eleanor, who had been sewing industriously, by degrees let her
fingers falter and her work fall into her lap; and Elizabeth, who had
been arranging the books in the new book-shelves, presently put down
her duster to come and stand behind the music-stool, and laid her
large, cool hands on Patty's head. None of them spoke for some time,
reverencing the Presence in their quiet room; but the touch of her
sister's palms upon her hair brought the young musician out of her
abstractions to a sense of her immediate surroundings again. She laid
her head back on Elizabeth's breast and drew a long sigh, and left off
playing. The gesture said, as plainly as words could have said it, that
she was relieved and revived--that the spirit of peace and charity had
descended upon her.

"Elizabeth," she said presently, still keeping her seat on the
music-stool, and stroking her cheek with one of her sister's hands
while she held the other round her neck, "I begin to think that Paul
Brion has been a very good friend to us. Don't you?"

"I am not beginning," replied Elizabeth. "I have thought it every
day since we have known him. And I have wondered often how you could
dislike him so much."

"I don't dislike him," said Patty, quite amiably.

"I have taken particular notice," remarked Eleanor from the hearthrug,
"and it is exactly three weeks since you spoke to him, and three weeks
and five days since you shook hands."

Patty smiled, not changing her position or ceasing to caress her cheek
with Elizabeth's hand. "Well," she said, "don't you think it would be
a graceful thing to ask him to come and have tea with us some night?
We have made our room pretty"--looking round with contentment--"and
we have all we want now. We might get our silver things out of the
bureau, and make a couple of little dishes, and put some candles about,
and buy a bunch of flowers--for once--what do you say, Nelly? He has
_never_ been here since we came in--never farther than the downstairs
passage--and wouldn't it be pleasant to have a little house warming,
and show him our things, and give him some music, and--and try to make
him enjoy himself? It would be some return for what he has done for
us, and his father would be pleased."

That she should make the proposition--she who, from the first, had not
only never "got on" with him, but had seemed to regard him with active
dislike--surprised both her sisters not a little; but the proposition
itself appeared to them, as to her, to have every good reason to
recommend it. They thought it a most happy idea, and adopted it with
enthusiasm. That very evening they made their plans. They designed the
simple decorations for their little room, and the appropriate dishes
for their modest feast. And, when these details had been settled, they
remembered that on the following night no Parliament would be sitting,
which meant that Paul would probably come home early (they knew his
times of coming and going, for he was back at his old quarters now,
having returned in consequence of the departure of the discordant
piano, and to oblige Mrs. M'Intyre, he said); and that decided them to
send him his invitation at once. Patty, while her complaisant mood was
on her, wrote it herself before she went to bed, and gave it over the
garden railing to Mrs. M'Intyre's maid.

In the morning, as they were asking which of them should go to town to
fetch certain materials for their little _fête_, they heard the door
bang and the gate rattle at No. 7, and a quick step that they knew. And
the slavey of No. 6 came upstairs with Paul Brion's answer, which he
had left as he passed on his way to his office. The note was addressed
to "Miss King," whose amanuensis Patty had carefully explained herself
to be when writing her invitation.

    "MY DEAR MISS KING,--You are indeed very kind, but I fear
    I must deny myself the pleasure you propose--than which, I
    assure you, I could have none greater. If you will allow
    me, I will come in some day with Mrs. M'Intyre, who is very
    anxious to see your new menage. And when I come, I hope you
    will let me hear that new piano, which is such an amazing
    contrast to the old one.--Believe me, yours very truly,

    "PAUL BRION."

This was Paul Brion's note. When the girls had read it, they stood
still and looked at each other in a long, dead silence. Eleanor was
the first to speak. Half laughing, but with her delicate face dyed in
blushes, she whispered under her breath, "Oh--oh, don't you see what he
means?"

"He is quite right--we must thank him," said Elizabeth, gentle as ever,
but grave and proud. "We ought not to have wanted it--that is all I am
sorry for."

But Patty stood in the middle of the room, white to the lips, and
beside herself with passion. "That we should have made such a
mistake!--and for _him_ to rebuke us!" she cried, as if it were more
than she could bear. "That _I_ should have been the one to write that
letter! Elizabeth, I suppose he is not to blame--"

"No, my dear--quite the contrary."

"But, all the same, I will never forgive him," said poor Patty in the
bitterness of her soul.



CHAPTER IX.


MRS. AARONS.


There was no room for doubt as to what Paul Brion had meant. When
the evening of the next day came--on which there was no Parliament
sitting--he returned to No. 7 to dinner, and after dinner it was
apparent that neither professional nor other engagements would have
prevented him from enjoying the society of his fair neighbours if he
had had a mind for it. His sitting-room opened upon the balcony--so
did theirs; there was but a thin partition between them, and the girls
knew not only when he was at home, but to a great extent what he was
doing, by the presence and pungency of the odour from his pipe. When
only faint whiffs stole into their open window from time to time,
he was in his room, engaged--it was supposed--upon those wonderful
leading articles which were, to them, the great feature of the paper
to whose staff he belonged. At such times--for the houses in Myrtle
Street were of a very lath-and-plastery order--they were careful to
make no noise, and especially not to open their piano, that he might
pursue his arduous labours undisturbed. But sometimes on these "off"
nights he sat outside his window or strolled up and down the few feet
of space allotted to him; and they would hear the rustle of the leaves
of books on the other side of the partition, and the smell of his pipe
would be very strong. This indicated that he had come home to rest and
relax himself; on which occasions, prompted by some subtle feminine
impulse, they would now and then indulge themselves with some of their
best music--tacitly agreeing to select the very finest movements from
the works of those best-beloved old masters whose majestic chimes rang
out the dark evening of the eighteenth century and rang in the new age
of art and liberty whose morning light we see--so as not to suggest,
except by extreme comparison, the departed lady who played conventional
rubbish on the instrument that was out of tune. That Paul Brion did not
know Bach and Spohr, even by name and fame (as he did not), never for
a moment occurred to them. How were they to know that the science and
literature of music, in which they had been so well instructed, were
not the usual study of educated people? They heard that he ceased to
walk up and down his enclosure when they began to play and sing, and
they smelt that his pipe was as near their window as it could get until
they left off. That was enough.

To-night, then, he was strolling and sitting about his section of the
balcony. They heard him tramping to and fro for a full hour after
dinner, in a fidgetty manner; and then they heard him drag a chair
through his window, and sit down on it heavily. It occurred to them
all that he was doing nothing--except, perhaps, waiting for a chance
to see and speak to them. A little intercourse had taken place of late
in this way--a very little. One night, when Elizabeth had gone out
to remonstrate with Dan for barking at inoffensive dogs that went by
in the street below, Paul, who had been leaning meditatively on his
balustrade, bent his head a little forward to ask her if she found the
smell of his tobacco unpleasant. She assured him that none of them
minded it at all, and remarked that the weather was warm. Upon which
he replied that the thermometer was so and so, and suggested that she
must miss the sea breezes very much. She said they missed them very
much indeed, and inquired if he had heard from his father lately, and
whether he was well. He was glad to inform her that his father, from
whom he had just heard, was in excellent health, and further, that
he had made many inquiries after her and her sisters. She thanked
Mr. Brion sincerely, and hoped he (Mr. Paul) would give him their
kindest regards when he wrote again and tell him they were getting on
admirably. Mr. Paul said he would certainly not forget it. And they
bade each other a polite good-night. Since then, both Elizabeth and
Eleanor had had a word to say to him occasionally, when he and they
simultaneously took the air after the day was over, and simultaneously
happened to lean over the balustrade. Patty saw no harm in their doing
so, but was very careful not to do it herself or to let him suppose
that she was conscious of his near neighbourhood. She played to him
sometimes with singular pleasure in her performance, but did not once
put herself in the way of seeing or speaking to him.

To-night, not only she, but all of them, made a stern though unspoken
vow that they would never--that they _could_ never--so much as say
good-night to him on the balcony any more. The lesson that he had
taught them was sinking deeply into their hearts; they would never
forget it again while they lived. They sat at their needlework in the
bright gaslight, with the window open and the venetian blind down, and
listened to the sound of his footstep and the dragging of his chair,
and clearly realised the certainty that it was not because he was too
busy that he had refused to spend the evening with them, but because
he had felt obliged to show them that they had asked him to do a thing
that was improper. Patty's head was bent down over her sewing; her face
was flushed, her eyes restless, her quick fingers moving with nervous
vehemence. Breaking her needle suddenly, she looked up and exclaimed,
"Why are we sitting here so dull and stupid, all silent, like three
scolded children? Play something, Nellie. Put away that horrid skirt,
and play something bright and stirring--a good rousing march, or
something of that sort."

"The Bridal March from 'Lohengrin,'" suggested Elizabeth, softly.

"No," said Patty; "something that will brace us up, and not make us
feel small and humble and sat upon." What she meant was "something that
will make Paul Brion understand that we don't feel small and humble and
sat upon."

Eleanor rose, and laid her long fingers on the keyboard. She was not in
the habit of taking things much to heart herself, and she did not quite
understand her sister's frame of mind. The spirit of mischief prompted
her to choose the saddest thing in the way of a march that she could
recall on the spur of the moment--that funeral march of Beethoven's
that Patty had always said was capable of reducing her to dust and
ashes in her most exuberant moments. She threw the most heartbreaking
expression that art allowed into the stately solemnity of her always
perfectly balanced execution, partly because she could never render
such a theme otherwise than reverently, but chiefly for the playful
purpose of working upon Patty's feelings. Poor Patty had "kept up"
and maintained a superficial command of herself until now, but this
unexpected touch of pathos broke her down completely. She laid her arm
on the table, and her pretty head upon her arm, and broke into a brief
but passionate fit of weeping, such as she had never indulged in in
all her life before. At the sound of the first sob Eleanor jumped up
from the music-stool, contrite and frightened--Elizabeth in another
moment had her darling in her arms; and both sisters were seized with
the fear that Patty was sickening for some illness, caught, probably,
in the vitiated atmosphere of city streets, to which she had never been
accustomed.

In the stillness of the night, Paul Brion, leaning over the balustrade
of the verandah, and whitening his coat against the partition that
divided his portion of it from theirs, heard the opening bars of
the funeral march, the gradually swelling sound and thrill of its
impassioned harmonies, as of a procession tramping towards him along
the street, and the sudden lapse into untimely silence. And then
he heard, very faintly, a low cry and a few hurried sobs, and it
was as if a lash had struck him. He felt sure that it was Patty who
had been playing (he thought it must always be Patty who made that
beautiful music), and Patty who had fallen a victim to the spirit of
melancholy that she had invoked--simply because she always _did_ seem
to him to represent the action of the little drama of the sisters'
lives, and Elizabeth and Eleanor to be the chorus merely; and he had
a clear conviction, in the midst of much vague surmise, that he was
involved in the causes that had made her unhappy. For a little while
he stood still, fixing his eyes upon a neighbouring street lamp and
scowling frightfully. He heard the girls' open window go down with a
sharp rattle, and presently heard it open again hastily to admit Dan,
who had been left outside. Then he himself went back, on tiptoe, to
his own apartment, with an expression of more than his usual alert
determination on his face.

Entering his room, he looked at his watch, shut his window and bolted
it, walked into the adjoining bedchamber, and there, with the gas
flaring noisily so as to give him as much light as possible, made a
rapid toilet, exchanging his loose tweeds for evening dress. In less
than ten minutes he was down in the hall, with his latch key in his
pocket, shaking himself hurriedly into a light overcoat; and in less
than half an hour he was standing at the door of a good-sized and
rather imposing-looking house in the neighbouring suburb, banging it
in his peremptory fashion with a particularly loud knocker.

Within this house its mistress was receiving, and she was a friend
of his, as might have been seen by the manner of their greeting when
the servant announced him, as also by the expression of certain faces
amongst the guests when they heard his name--as they could not well
help hearing it. "Mr.--_Paul_--BRION," the footman shouted, with three
distinct and well-accentuated shouts, as if his lady were entertaining
in the Town Hall. It gave Mrs. Aarons great pleasure when her domestic,
who was a late acquisition, exercised his functions in this impressive
manner.

She came sailing across the room in a very long-tailed and brilliant
gown--a tall, fair, yellow-haired woman, carefully got up in the best
style of conventional art (as a lady who had her clothes from Paris
regardless of expense was bound to be)--flirting her fan coquettishly,
and smiling an unmistakeable welcome. She was not young, but she looked
young, and she was not pretty, but she was full of sprightly confidence
and self-possession, which answered just as well. Least of all was
she clever, as the two or three of her circle, who were, unwillingly
recognised; but she was quick-witted and vivacious, accomplished in
the art of small talk, and ready to lay down the law upon any subject,
and somehow cleverness was assumed by herself and her world in general
to be her most remarkable and distinguishing characteristic. And,
finally, she had no pretensions to hereditary distinction--very much
the contrary, indeed; but her husband was rich (he was standing in a
retired corner, a long-nosed man with dark eyes rather close together,
amongst a group of her admirers, admiring her as much as any of
them), and she had known the social equivalent for money obtainable
by good management in a community that must necessarily make a table
of precedence for itself; and she had obtained it. She was a woman
of fashion in her sphere, and her friends were polite enough to have
no recollection of her antecedents, and no knowledge of the family
connections whose existence she found it expedient to ignore. It must
be said of her that her reputation, subject to the usual attacks of
scandal-loving gossips who were jealous of her success, was perfectly
untarnished; she was too cold and self-contained to be subject to the
dangers that might have beset a less worldly woman in her position (for
that Mr. Aarons was anything more than the minister to her ambitions
and conveniences nobody for a moment supposed). Nevertheless, to have
a little court of male admirers always hanging about her was the chief
pleasure, and the attracting and retaining of their admiration the
most absorbing pursuit of her life. Paul Brion was the latest, and at
present the most interesting, of her victims. He had a good position
in the press world, and had recently been talked of "in society" in
connection with a particularly striking paper signed "P. B.," which
had appeared in the literary columns of his journal. Wherefore, in the
character of a clever woman, Mrs. Aarons had sought him out and added
him to the attractions of her _salon_ and the number of sympathetic
friends. And, in spite of his hawk eyes, and his keen discernment
generally, our young man had the ordinary man's belief that he stood
on a pedestal among his rivals, and thought her the kindest and most
discriminating and most charming of women.

At least he had thought so until this moment. Suddenly, as she came
across the room to meet him, with her long train rustling over the
carpet in a queenly manner, and a gracious welcome in her pale blue
eyes, he found himself looking at her critically--comparing her
complacent demeanour with the simple dignity of Elizabeth King, and
her artificial elegance with the wild-flower grace of Eleanor, who was
also tall and fair--and her studied sprightliness with Patty's inspired
vigour--and her countenance, that was wont to be so attractive, with
Patty's beautiful and intellectual face.

"Ah!" said Mrs. Aarons, shaking hands with him impressively, "you have
remembered my existence, then, _at last!_ Do you know how many weeks it
is since you honoured me with your company?--_five_. And I wonder you
can stand there and look me in the face."

He said it had been his misfortune and not his fault--that he had been
so immersed in business that he had had no time to indulge in pleasure.

"Don't tell me. You don't have business on Friday evenings," said Mrs.
Aarons promptly.

"Oh, don't I?" retorted Mr. Brion (the fact being that he had spent
several Friday evenings on his balcony, smoking and listening to his
neighbours' music, in the most absolute and voluptuous idleness).
"You ladies don't know what a press-man's life is--his nose to the
grindstone at all hours of the night and day."

"Poor man! Well, now you are here, come and sit down and tell me what
you have been doing."

She took a quick glance round the room, saw that her guests were in a
fair way to support the general intercourse by voluntary contributions,
set the piano and a thin-voiced young lady and some "Claribel" ditties
going, and then retired with Paul to a corner sofa for a chat. She was
inclined to make much of him after his long absence, and he was in a
mood to be more effusive than his wont. Nevertheless, the young man
did not advance, as suspicious observers supposed him to be doing, in
the good graces of his charming friend--ready as she was to meet him
half-way.

"Of course I wanted very much to see you--it seems an awful time since
I was here--but I had another reason for coming to-night," said Paul,
when they had comfortably settled themselves (he was the descendant
of countless gentlefolk and she had not even a father that she could
conveniently call her own, yet was she constrained to blush for his bad
manners and his brutal deficiency in delicacy and tact). "I want to ask
a favour of you--you are always so kind and good--and I think you will
not mind doing it. It is not much--at least to you--but it would be
very much to them--"

"To whom?" inquired Mrs. Aarons, with a little chill of disappointment
and disapproval already in her voice and face. This was not what
she felt she had a right to expect under the present combination of
circumstances.

"Three girls--three sisters, who are orphans--in a kind of way, wards
of my father's," explained Paul, showing a disposition to stammer
for the first time. "Their name is King, and they have come to live
in Melbourne, where they don't know anyone--not a single friend. I
thought, perhaps, you would just call in and see them some day--it
would be so awfully kind of you, if you would. A little notice from a
woman like _you_ would be just everything to them."

"Are they nice?--that is to say, are they the sort of people whom one
would--a--care to be responsible for--you know what I mean? Are they
_ladies?_" inquired Mrs. Aarons, who, by virtue of her own extraction,
was bound to be select and exclusive in her choice of acquaintances.

"Most certainly," replied Paul, with imprudent warmth. "There can be no
manner of doubt about that. _Born_ ladies."

"I don't ask what they were born," she said quickly, with a toss of the
head. "What are they _now?_ Who are their connections? What do they
live on?"

Paul Brion gave a succinct and graphic sketch of the superficial
history and circumstances of his father's "wards," omitting various
details that instinct warned him might be accounted "low"--such, for
instance, as the fact that the single maidservant of the house they
lived in was nothing more to them than their medium of communication
with the front door. He dwelt (like the straightforward blunderer
that he was) on their personal refinement and their high culture and
accomplishments, how they studied every day at the Public Library,
taking their frugal lunch at the pastry-cook's--how they could talk
French and German like "natives"--how they played the piano in a way
that made all the blood in one's veins tingle--how, in short, they were
in all things certain to do honour and credit to whoever would spread
the wing of the matron and chaperon over them. It seemed to him a very
interesting story, told by himself, and he was quite convinced that it
must touch the tender woman's heart beating under that pretty dress
beside him.

"You are a mother yourself," he said (as indeed she was--the mother
of four disappointing little Aaronses, who were _all_ long-nosed and
narrow-eyed and dark, each successive infant more the image of its
father than the last), "and so you can understand their position--you
know how to feel for them." He thought this an irresistible plea,
and was unprepared for the dead silence with which it was received.
Glancing up quickly, he saw that she was by no means in the melting
mood that he had looked for.

"Of course, if you don't wish it--if it will be troubling you too
much--" he began, with his old fierce abruptness, drawing himself
together.

"It is not that," said she, looking at her fan. "But now I know why you
have stayed away for five weeks."

"Why _I_ have stayed away--oh! I understand. But I told you they were
living _alone_, did I not? Therefore I have never been into their
house--it is quite impossible for me to have the pleasure of their
society."

"Then you want me to take them up, so that you can have it here? Is
that it?"

The little man was looking so ferocious, and his departure from her
side appeared so imminent, that she changed her tone quickly after
putting this question. "Never mind," she said, laying her jewelled
fingers on his coat sleeve for a moment, "I will not be jealous--at
least I will try not to be. I will go and call on them to-morrow, and
as soon as they have called on me I will ask them to one of my Fridays.
Will that do?"

"I don't wish you for a moment to do what would be at all unpleasant to
yourself," he said, still in a hurt, blunt tone, but visibly softening.

"It won't be unpleasant to me," she said sentimentally, "if it will
please you."

And Paul went home at midnight, well satisfied with what he had done,
believing that a woman so "awfully kind" as Mrs. Aarons would be a
shield and buckler to those defenceless girls.



CHAPTER X.


THE FIRST INVITATION.


Mrs. Aarons kept her promise, and called upon the Kings on Saturday.
Mrs. M'Intyre saw her get down at the gate of No. 6, at about four
o'clock in the afternoon, watched the brougham which had brought her
trundling slowly up and down the street for half-an-hour, and then saw
her get into it and drive off; which facts, communicated to Paul Brion,
gave him the greatest satisfaction.

He did not see his neighbours for several days after. He heard their
piano, and their footsteps and voices on the verandah; but, whenever
he essayed to go outside his own room for a breath of fresh air, they
were sure to retire into theirs immediately, like mice into a hole when
the cat has frightened them. At last he came across them in an alley of
the Fitzroy Gardens, as he and they were converging upon Myrtle Street
from different points. They were all together as usual--the majestic
Elizabeth in the middle, with her younger sisters on either side of
her; and they were walking home from an organ recital in the Town Hall
to their tea, and a cosy evening over a new book, having spent most
of the morning at the Public Library, and had their mid-day dinner at
Gunsler's. As he caught sight of them, he was struck by the change
in their outward appearance that a few weeks of Melbourne experience
had brought about, and pleased himself with thinking how much their
distinguished aspect must have impressed that discerning woman of
the world, who had so kindly condescended to take them up. They were
dressed in their new gowns, and bonneted, booted, and gloved, in the
neatest manner; a little air of the mode pervaded them now, while the
primitive purity of their taste was still unadulterated. They had never
looked more charming, more obviously "born ladies" than to-day, as he
saw them after so long an interval.

The three black figures stood the shock of the unexpected meeting
with admirable fortitude. They came on towards him with no faltering
of that free and graceful gait that was so noticeable in a city full
of starched and whale-boned women, and, as he lifted his hat, bowed
gravely--Elizabeth only giving him a dignified smile, and wishing him
a good evening as she went by. He let them pass him, as they seemed
to wish to pass him; then he turned sharply and followed them. It was
a chance he might not get again for months, perhaps, and he could not
afford to let it slip.

"Miss King," he called in his imperative brusque way; and at the sound
of his voice Elizabeth looked back and waited for him to join her,
while her younger sisters, at a sign from Patty, walked on at a brisk
pace, leaving her in command of the situation. "Miss King," said Paul
earnestly, "I am so glad to have an opportunity of speaking to you--I
have been wanting all the week to see you, that I might thank you for
your kindness in asking me to tea."

"Oh," said Elizabeth, whose face was scarlet, "don't mention it, Mr.
Brion. We thought of it merely as a--a little attention--a sort of
acknowledgment--to your father; that it might please him, perhaps,
for you to see that we had settled ourselves, as he could not do so
himself."

"It would have pleased _me_, beyond everything in the world, Miss King.
Only--only--"

"Yes, I know. We forgot that it was not quite _de rigueur_--or, rather,
we had not learned about those things. We have been so out of the
world, you see. We were dreadfully ashamed of ourselves," she added
candidly, with a little embarrassed laugh, "but you must set it down
to our ignorance of the laws of propriety, and not suppose that we
consciously disregarded them."

"The laws of propriety!" repeated Paul hotly, his own face red and
fierce. "It is Schiller, I think, who says that it is the experience
of corruption which originated them. I hate to hear you speak of
impropriety, as if you could even conceive the idea of it!"

"Well, we are not in Arcadia now, and we must behave ourselves
accordingly," said Elizabeth, who was beginning to feel glad in her
gentle heart that she had been able to make this explanation. "I think
we are getting corrupted with wonderful rapidity. We have even been
_called upon_, quite as if we were people of fashion and consequence,
by a lady who was dressed in the most magnificent manner, and who came
in her carriage. Her name was Aarons--Mrs. Aarons. She said she had
heard of of our being here, and thought she would like to make our
acquaintance."

"Did she?" responded Paul warmly, thinking how nice and delicate it
was of Mrs. Aarons to respect his anxious wish that his name and
interposition should not be mentioned, which was certainly more than he
had expected of her. "And were you all at home when she called?"

"As it happened--yes. It was on Saturday afternoon, when we are
generally rather busy."

"And have you returned her call yet?"

"No. We don't mean to return it," said Elizabeth composedly; "we did
not like her enough to wish to make an acquaintance of her. It is no
good to put ourselves out, and waste our own time and theirs, for
people whom we are sure not to care about, and who would not care about
us, is it?"

"But I think you would like her if you knew her, Miss King," pleaded
Paul, much disturbed by this threatened downfall of his schemes. "I
am sure--at least, I have always heard, and I can speak a little from
personal knowledge--that she is a particularly nice woman; thoroughly
kind and amiable, and, at the same time, having a good position
in society, and a remarkably pleasant house, where you might meet
interesting people whom you _would_ like. Oh, don't condemn her at
first sight in that way! First impressions are so seldom to be trusted.
Go and call, at any rate--indeed, you know, you ought to do that, if
only for form's sake."

"For politeness, do you mean? Would it be rude not to return her call?"

"It would be thought so, of course."

"Ah, I was not sure--I will call then. I don't _mind_ calling in the
least. If she has done us a kindness, it is right to acknowledge it in
whatever is the proper way. It was my sisters--especially Patty--who
took a dislike to her, and particularly wished not to see her again.
Patty thought she asked too many questions, and that she came from some
motive of curiosity to pry into our affairs. She was certainly a little
impertinent, I thought. But then, perhaps, ladies in 'the world' don't
look at these things as we have been accustomed to do," added Elizabeth
humbly.

"I don't think they do," said Paul.

By this time they had reached the gate through which Patty and Eleanor
had passed before them out of the gardens. As they silently emerged
into the road, they saw the pair flitting along the pavement a
considerable distance ahead of them, and when they turned the corner
into Myrtle Street both the slender black figures had disappeared. Paul
wondered to see himself so irritated by this trifling and inevitable
circumstance. He felt that it would have done him good to speak to
Patty, if it were only to quarrel with her.

Elizabeth bade him good-night when she reached the gate of No. 6, where
the hall door stood open--putting her warm, strong hand with motherly
benevolence into his.

"Good-night, Miss King. I am so glad to have seen you," he responded,
glaring fiercely at the balcony and the blank window overhead.
"And--and you will return that call, won't you?"

"O yes--of course. We will walk there on Monday, as we come home from
the Library. We are able to find our way about in Melbourne very well
now, with the help of the map you were so kind as to give us when we
first came. I can't tell you how useful that has been."

So, with mutual friendship and goodwill, they parted--Elizabeth to join
her sisters upstairs, where one was already setting the tea-kettle to
boil on the gas stove, and the other spreading a snow-white cloth on
the sitting-room table--Paul Brion to get half-an-hour's work and a
hasty dinner before repairing to the reporters' gallery of "the House."

He did not see them again for a long time, and the first news he heard
of them was from Mrs. Aarons, whom he chanced to meet when she was
shopping one fine morning in Collins Street.

"You see, I remembered my promise," she said, when matters of
more personal moment had been disposed of; "I went to see those
extraordinary _protégées_ of yours."

"Extraordinary--how extraordinary?" he inquired stiffly.

"Well, I put it to you--_are_ they not extraordinary?"

He was silent for a few seconds, and the points of his moustache went
up a little. "Perhaps so--now you mention it," he said. "Perhaps they
_are_ unlike the--the usual girl of the period with whom we are
familiar. But I hope you were favourably impressed with your visit.
Were you?"

"No, I wasn't. I will be frank with you--I wasn't. I never expected to
find people living in that manner--and dressing in that manner. It is
not what I am used to."

"But they are very lady-like--if I am any judge--and that is the chief
thing. Very pretty too. Don't you think so?"

"O _dear_ no! The middle one has rather nice eyes perhaps--though
she gives herself great airs, I think, considering her position. And
the youngest is not bad looking. _Miss_ King is _plain_, decidedly.
However, I told you I would do something for them, and I have kept my
word. They are coming to my next Friday. And I do _hope_," proceeded
Mrs. Aarons, with an anxious face, "that they will dress themselves
respectably for the reputation of my house. Do you know anyone who
could speak to them about it? Could you give them a hint, do you think?"

"_I!_--good gracious! I should like to see myself at it," said Paul,
grimly. "But I don't think," he added, with a fatuity really pitiable
in a man of his years and experience, "that there is any danger of
their not looking nice. They must have had their old frocks on when you
saw them."



CHAPTER XI.


DISAPPOINTMENT.


How they should dress themselves for Mrs. Aarons's Friday was a
question as full of interest for our girls as if they had been brought
up in the lap of wealth and fashion. They were not so ignorant of the
habits and customs of "the world" as not to know that evening dress
was required of them on this occasion, and they had not seen so many
shop windows and showrooms without learning something of its general
features as applied to their sex and to the period. Great were the
discussions that went on over the momentous subject. Even their studies
at the Public Library lost their interest and importance, it is to be
feared, for a day or two, while they were anxiously hesitating, first,
whether they should accept the invitation, and, secondly, in what
costume they should make their first appearance in polite society.
The former of these questions was settled without much trouble.
Elizabeth's yearning for "friends," the chance of discovering whom
might be missed by missing this unusual opportunity; Patty's thirst
for knowledge and experience in all available fields, and Eleanor's
habit of peaceably falling in with her sisters' views, overcame the
repugnance that all of them entertained to the idea of being patronised
by, or beholden for attentions that they could not reciprocate to, Mrs.
Aarons, against whom they had conceived a prejudice on the first day of
contact with her which a further acquaintance had not tended to lessen.
But the latter question was, as I have said, a matter of much debate.
Could they afford themselves new frocks?--say, black grenadines that
would do for the summer afterwards. This suggestion was inquired into
at several shops and of several dressmakers, and then relinquished,
but not without a struggle. "We are just recovering ourselves," said
Elizabeth, with her note-book before her and her pencil in her hand;
"and if we go on as we are doing now we shall be able to save enough to
take us to Europe next year without meddling with our house-money. But
if we break our rules--well, it will throw us back. And it will be a
bad precedent, Patty."

"Then we won't break them," said Patty valiantly. "We will go in our
black frocks. Perhaps," she added, with some hesitation, "we can find
something amongst our mother's things to trim us up a little."

"She would like to see us making ourselves look pretty with her
things," said Eleanor.

"Yes, Nelly. That is what I think. Come along and let us look at
that bundle of lace that we put in the bottom drawer of the bureau.
Elizabeth, does lace so fine as that _go_ with woollen frocks, do you
think? We must not have any incongruities if we can help it."

Elizabeth thought that plain white ruffles would, perhaps, be best,
as there was so much danger of incongruities if they trusted to their
untrained invention. Whereupon Patty pointed out that they would have
to buy ruffles, while the lace would cost nothing, which consideration,
added to their secret wish for a little special decoration, now that
the occasion for it had arisen--the love of adornment being, though
refined and chastened, an ingredient of their nature as of every other
woman's--carried the day in favour of "mother's things."

"And I think," said Patty, with dignity, when at last Friday came
and they had spread the selected finery on their little beds, "I
think that ladies ought to know how to dress themselves better than
shop-people can tell them. When they want to make themselves smart,
they should think, first, what they can afford and what will be
suitable to their position and the occasion, and then they should think
what would look pretty in a picture. And they should put on _that_."

Patty, I think, was well aware that she would look pretty in a picture,
when she had arrayed herself for the evening. Round the neck of her
black frock she had loosely knotted a length of fine, yellow-white
Brussels lace, the value of which, enhanced by several darns that
were almost as invisibly woven as the texture itself, neither she nor
her sisters had any idea of. Of course it did not "go" with the black
frock, even though the latter was not what mourning was expected to
be, but its delicacy was wonderfully thrown up by its contrast with
that background, and it was a most becoming setting for the wearer's
brilliant face. Patty had more of the priceless flounce sewn on her
black sleeves (the little Vandal had cut it into lengths on purpose),
half of it tucked in at the wrists out of sight; and the ends that
hung over her breast were loosely fastened down with a quaint old
silver brooch, in which a few little bits of topaz sparkled. Elizabeth
was not quite so magnificent. She wore a fichu of black lace over her
shoulders--old Spanish, that happened just then to be the desire and
despair of women of fashion, who could not get it for love or money;
it was big enough to be called a shawl, and in putting it on Patty had
to fold and tack it here and there with her needle, to keep it well
up in its proper place. This was fastened down at the waist with a
shawl-pin shaped like a gold arrow, that her grandmother had used to
pin her Paisley over her chest; and, as the eldest daughter, Elizabeth
wore her mother's slender watch-chain wound round and round her neck,
and, depending from it, an ancient locket of old red gold, containing
on its outward face a miniature of that beautiful mother as a girl,
with a beading of little pearls all round it. Eleanor was dressed up
in frills of soft, thick Valenciennes, taken from the bodice of one
of the brocaded gowns; which lace, not being too fragile to handle,
Elizabeth, ignorant as yet of the artistic excellence of the genuine
coffee-colour of age, had contrived to wash to a respectable whiteness.
And to Eleanor was given, from the little stock of family trinkets,
a string of pearls, fastened with an emerald clasp--pearls the size
of small peas, and dingy and yellow from never having been laid out
on the grass, as, according to a high authority, pearls should be.
Upon the whole, their finery, turned into money, would probably have
bought up three of the most magnificent costumes worn in Melbourne that
night; yet it can scarcely be said to have been effective. Neither Mrs.
Aarons nor her lady friends had the requisite experience to detect
its quality and understand what we may call its moral value. Only one
person amongst the company discovered that Eleanor's pearls were real,
and perhaps only that one had been educated in lace, save rudimentally,
in the Melbourne shops. And amongst the _nouveaux riches_, as poor
gentlefolks well know, to have no claims to distinction but such as are
out of date is practically to have none.

Late in the evening, Paul Brion, who had not intended to go to this
particular Friday, lest his presence should betray to the sisters what
he was so anxious to conceal from them, found that he could not resist
the temptation to see with his own eyes how they were getting on; and
when he had entered the room, which was unusually crowded, and had
prowled about for a few minutes amongst the unpleasantly tall men who
obstructed his view in all directions, he was surprised and enraged
to see the three girls sitting side by side in a corner, looking
neglected and lonely, and to see insolent women in long-tailed satin
gowns sweeping past them as if they had not been there. One glance
was enough to satisfy _him_ that there had been no fear of their not
looking "nice." Patty's bright and flushed but (just now) severe
little face, rising so proudly from the soft lace about her throat and
bosom, seemed to him to stand out clear in a surrounding mist, apart
and distinct from all the faces in the room--or in the world, for that
matter. Elizabeth's dignified serenity in an uncomfortable position
was the perfection of good breeding, and made a telling contrast to
the effusive manners of those about her; and fair Eleanor, sitting so
modestly at Elizabeth's side, with her hands, in a pair of white silk
mittens, folded in her lap, was as charming to look at as heart of man
could desire. Other men seemed to be of his opinion, for he saw several
hovering around them and looking at them with undisguised interest; but
the ladies, who, he thought, ought to have felt privileged to take them
up, appeared to regard them coldly, or to turn their backs upon them
altogether, literally as well as metaphorically. It was plain that Mrs.
Aarons had introduced them to nobody, probably wishing (as was indeed
the case--people of her class being morbidly sensitive to the disgrace
of unfashionable connections) not to own to them more than she could
help.

He withdrew from their neighbourhood before they saw him, and went to
seek his hostess, swelling with remonstrant wrath. He found her on a
sofa at the other end of the room, talking volubly (she was always
voluble, but now she was breathless in her volubility) to a lady who
had never before honoured her Fridays, and who, by doing so to-night,
had gratified an ambition that had long been paramount amongst the many
ambitions which, enclosed in a narrow circle as they were, served to
make the interest and occupation of Mrs. Aarons's life. She looked up
at Paul as he approached her, and gave him a quick nod and smile, as if
to say, "I see you, but you must be perfectly aware that I am unable
to attend to you just now." Paul understood her, and, not having the
honour of Mrs. Duff-Scott's acquaintance himself, fell back a little
behind the sofa and waited for his opportunity. As he waited, he could
not help overhearing the conversation of the two ladies, and deriving a
little cynical amusement therefrom.

"And, as soon as I heard of it, I _begged_ my husband to go and see if
it was _really_ a genuine example of Derby-Chelsea; and, you see, it
_was_," said Mrs. Aarons, with subdued enthusiasm--almost with tears of
emotion.

"It was, indeed," assented Mrs. Duff-Scott earnestly. "There was the
true mark--the capital D, with the anchor in the middle of it. It is
extremely rare, and I had no hope of ever possessing a specimen."

"I _knew_ you would like to have it. I said to Ben. '_Do_ go and snatch
it up at once for Mrs. Duff-Scott's collection.' And he was so pleased
to find he was in time. We were so afraid someone might have been
before us. But the fact is, people are so ignorant that they have no
idea of the value of things of that sort--fortunately."

"I don't call it fortunate at all," the other lady retorted, a little
brusquely. "I don't like to see people ignorant--I am quite ready to
share and share." Then she added, with a smile, "I am sure I can never
be sufficiently obliged to Mr. Aarons for taking so much trouble on my
account. I must get him into a corner presently, and find out how much
I am in his debt--though, of course, no money can represent the true
worth of such a treasure, and I shall always feel that I have robbed
him."

"Oh, pray, pray don't talk of _payment_," the hostess implored, with a
gesture of her heavily-ringed hands. "You will hurt him _dreadfully_
if you think of such a thing. He feels himself richly paid, I assure
you, by having a chance to do you a little service. And such a mere
_trifle_ as it is!"

"No, indeed, it is not a trifle, Mrs. Aarons--very far from it. The
thing is much too valuable for me to--to"--Mrs. Duff-Scott hesitated,
and her face was rather red--"to deprive you of it in that way. I don't
feel that I can take it as a present--a bit of _real_ Derby-Chelsea
that you might never find a specimen of again--really I don't."

"Oh, _please_"--and Mrs. Aarons's voice was at once reproachful and
persuasive--"_please!_ I know you wouldn't wish to hurt us."

A little more discussion ensued, which Paul watched with an amused
smile; and Mrs. Duff-Scott gave in.

"Well, if you insist--but you are really too good. It makes me quite
uncomfortable to take such a treasure from you. However, perhaps, some
day I may be able to contribute to _your_ collection."

Like her famous model, Mrs. Ponsonby de Tompkins, Mrs. Aarons stalked
her big game with all kinds of stratagems, and china was the lure with
which she had caught Mrs. Duff-Scott. This was a lady who possessed
not only that most essential and valuable qualification of a lady,
riches, but had also a history that was an open page to all men. It
had not much heraldic emblazonment about it, but it showed a fair
and honourable record of domestic and public circumstances that no
self-respecting woman could fail to take social credit for. By virtue
of these advantages, and of a somewhat imperious, though generous
and unselfish, nature, she certainly did exercise that right to be
"proud" which, in such a case, the most democratic of communities will
cheerfully concede. She had been quite inaccessible to Mrs. Aarons,
whom she was wont to designate a "person," long after that accomplished
woman had carried the out-works of the social citadel in which she
dwelt, and no doubt she would have been inaccessible to the last. Only
she had a weakness--she had a hobby (to change the metaphor a little)
that ran away with her, as hobbies will, even in the case of the most
circumspect of women; and that hobby, exposed to the seductions of a
kindred hobby, broke down and trampled upon the barriers of caste. It
was the Derby-Chelsea specimen that had brought Mrs. Duff-Scott to
occupy a sofa in Mrs. Aarons's drawing-room--to their mutual surprise,
when they happened to think of it.

She rose from that sofa now, slightly perturbed, saying she must go
and find Mr. Aarons and acknowledge the obligation under which he had
placed her, while all the time she was cudgelling her brains to think
by what means and how soon she could discharge it--regretting very
keenly for the moment that she had put herself in the way of people
who did not understand the fine manners which would have made such a
dilemma impossible. Her hostess jumped up immediately, and the two
ladies passed slowly down the room in the direction of the corner
where our neglected girls were sitting. Paul followed at a respectful
distance, and was gratified to see Mrs. Duff-Scott stop at the piano,
in place of hunting for her host (who was never a conspicuous feature
of these entertainments), and shake hands cordially with a tall German
in spectacles who had just risen from the music-stool. He had come
to Mrs. Aarons's Friday in a professional capacity, but he was a
sufficiently great artist for a great lady to make an equal of him.

"Ah, my dear Herr Wüllner," she said, in a very distinct voice, "I
was listening, and I thought I could not be mistaken in your touch.
Heller's _Wanderstunden_, wasn't it?" And they plunged head first into
musical talk such as musical people (who never care in the least how
much unmusical people may be bored by it) love to indulge in whenever
an occasion offers, while Mrs. Aarons stood by, smiling vaguely, and
not understanding a word of it. Paul Brion listened to them for a few
minutes, and a bright idea came into his head.



CHAPTER XII.


TRIUMPH.


Our girls still sat in their corner, but a change had come over them
within the last few minutes. A stout man sitting near them was talking
to Elizabeth across Eleanor's lap--Eleanor lying back in her seat, and
smiling amiably as she listened to them; and Miss King was looking
animated and interested, and showed some signs of enjoying herself at
last. Patty also had lost her air of angry dignity, and was leaning a
little forward, with her hands clasped on her knees, gazing at Herr
Wüllner's venerable face with rapt enthusiasm. Paul, regarding her for
a moment, felt himself possessed of sufficient courage to declare his
presence, and, waiting until he could catch her eye, bowed pleasantly.
She looked across at him with no recognition at first, then gave a
little start, bent her head stiffly, and resumed her attentive perusal
of Herr Wüllner's person. "Ah," thought Paul, "the old fellow has woke
her up. And she wants him to play again." Mrs. Duff-Scott had dropped
into a chair by the piano, and sat there contentedly, talking to the
delighted musician, who had been as a fish out of water since he came
into the room, and was now swimming at large in his native element
again. She was a distinguished looking matron of fifty or thereabouts,
with a handsome, vivacious, intelligent face and an imposing presence
generally; and she had an active and well-cultivated mind which
concerned itself with many other things than china. Having no necessity
to work, no children on whom to expend her exuberant energies, and
being incapable of finding the ordinary woman's satisfaction in the
ordinary routine of society pleasures, she made ardent pursuits for
herself in several special directions. Music was one. Herr Wüllner
thought she was the most enlightened being in female shape that he
had ever known, because she "understood" music--what was really music
and what was not (according to his well-trained theories). She had,
in the first place, the wonderful good sense to know that she could
not play herself, and she held the opinion that people in general had
no business to set themselves up to play, but only those who had been
"called" by Divine permission and then properly instructed in the
science of their art. "We won't look at bad pictures, nor read trashy
books," she would say. "Why should our artistic sense be depraved and
demoralised through our ears any more than through our eyes? Mothers
should know better, my dear Herr Wüllner, and keep the incapables in
the background. All girls should learn, if they _like_ learning--in
which case it does them good, and delights the domestic circle; but
if at sixteen they can't play--what _we_ call play--after having had
every chance given them, they should leave off, so as to use the
time better, or confine their performances to a family audience."
And Mrs. Duff-Scott had the courage of her convictions, and crushed
unrelentingly those presumptuous amateurs (together with their
infatuated mammas) who thought they could play when they couldn't, and
who regarded music as a mere frivolous drawing-room amusement for the
encouragement of company conversation. Herr Wüllner delighted in her.
The two sat talking by the piano, temporarily indifferent to what was
going on around them, turning over a roll of music sheets that had had
a great deal of wear and tear, apparently. Mrs. Aarons sat beside them,
fanning herself and smiling, casting about her for more entertaining
converse. And Paul Brion stood near his hostess, listening and watching
for his opportunity. Presently it came.

Mrs. Duff-Scott lifted up a sheet of crabbed manuscript as yellowed by
time as Patty's Brussels lace, and said: "This is not quite the thing
for a mixed audience, is it?"

"Ah, no, you are right; it is the study of Haydn that a friend of mine
asked of me yesterday, and that I propose to read to him to-night,"
said Herr Wüllner, in that precise English and with that delicate
pronunciation with which the cultivated foreigner so often puts us to
shame. "It is, you perceive, an arrangement for one violin and a piano
only--done by a very distinguished person for a lady who was for a
short time my pupil, when I was a young man. You have heard it with
the four-stringed instruments at your house; that was bad--bad! Ach!
that second violin squeaked like the squeaking of a pig, and it was
always in the wrong place. But in good hands it is sublime. This"--and
he sighed as he added more sheets to the one she held and was steadily
perusing--"this is but a crippled thing, perhaps; the piano, which
should have none of it, has it all--and no one can properly translate
that piano part--not one in ten thousand. But it is well done. Yes, it
is very well done. And I have long been wanting my friend to try it
with me."

"And what about the young lady for whom it was written?--which part did
she take?"

"The piano--the piano. But then she had a wonderful execution and
sympathy--it was truly wonderful for a lady, and she so young. Women
play much better now, as a rule, but I never hear one who is an amateur
play as she did. And so quick--so quick! It was an inspiration with
her. Yes, this was written on purpose for that lady--I have had it ever
since--it has never been published. The manuscript is in her own hand.
She wrote out much of her music in her own hand. It was many, many
years ago, and I was a young man then. We were fellow-pupils before I
became her master, and she was my pupil only for a few weeks. It was a
farce--a farce. She did not play the violin, but in everything else she
was better than I. Ah, she was a great genius, that young lady. She was
a great loss to the world of art."

"Did she die, Herr Wüllner?"

"She eloped," he said softly, "she ran away with a scapegrace. And the
ship she sailed in was lost at sea."

"Dear me! How very sad. Well, you must make your friend try it over,
and, if you manage it all right, bring him with you to my house on
Monday evening and let me hear it."

"That shall give me great pleasure," said the old man, bowing low.

"You have your violin with you, I suppose?" she asked.

"It is in the hall, under my cloak. I do not bring it into this room,"
he replied.

"Why not?" she persisted. "Go and fetch it, Herr Wüllner, and let Mrs.
Aarons hear you play it"--suddenly bethinking herself of her hostess
and smiling upon that lady--"if she has never had that treat before."

Mrs. Aarons was eager to hear the violin, and Herr Wüllner went
himself, though reluctantly, to fetch his treasure from the old case
that he had hidden away below. When he had tuned up his strings a
little, and had tucked the instrument lovingly under his chin, he
looked at Mrs. Duff-Scott and said softly, "What?"

"Oh," cried Mrs. Aarons, striking in, "play that--you know--what you
were talking of just now--what Mrs. Duff-Scott wanted so much to hear.
_I_ want to hear it too."

"Impossible--impossible," he said quickly, almost with a shudder. "It
has a piano part, and there is no one here to take that."

Then Paul Brion broke in, conscious that he was running heavy risks of
all sorts, but resolved to seize his chance.

"I think there _is_ someone who could play it," he said to Mrs. Aarons,
speaking with elaborate distinctness. "The Miss Kings--one of them, at
any rate--"

"Nonsense," interrupted Mrs. Aarons, sharply, but under her breath.
"Not at all likely." She was annoyed by the suggestion, and wished to
treat it as if unheard (it was unreasonable, on the face of it, of
course); but Mrs. Duff-Scott caught at it in her direct way. "Who are
they? Which are the Miss Kings?" she asked of Paul, putting up her
eye-glass to see what manner of man had taken upon himself to interfere.

"My dear lady," sighed Herr Wüllner, dropping his bow dejectedly, "it
is out of the question, absolutely. It is not normal music at its
best--and I have it only in manuscript. It is impossible that any lady
can attempt it."

"She will not attempt it if she cannot do it, Herr Wüllner," said Paul.
"But you might ask her."

Mrs. Duff-Scott had followed the direction of his eyes, and her
attention was violently arrested by the figures of the three girls
sitting together, who were so remarkably unlike the majority of Mrs.
Aarons's guests. She took note of all their superficial peculiarities
in a moment, and the conviction that the lace and the pearls were real
flashed across her like an inspiration. "Is it the young lady with the
bright eyes?" she inquired. "What a charming face! Yes, Herr Wüllner,
we _will_ ask her. Introduce her to me, Mrs. Aarons, will you?"

She rose as she spoke and sailed towards Patty, Mrs. Aarons following;
and Paul Brion held his breath while he waited to see how his reckless
enterprise would turn out. In a few minutes Patty came towards the
piano, with her head up and her face flushed, looking a little defiant,
but as self-possessed as the great lady who convoyed her across the
room. The events of the evening had roused her spirit, and strung up
her nerves like Herr Wüllner's fiddle-strings, and she, too, was in a
daring and audacious mood.

"This is it," said the old musician, looking at her critically as he
gave a sheet of manuscript into her hand. It was a wonderful chance, of
course, but Patty had seen the facsimile of that manuscript many times
before, and had played from it. It is true she had never played with
the violin accompaniment--had never so much as seen a violin until she
came to Melbourne; but her mother had contrived to make her understand
how the more delicate and sensitive instrument ought to be deferred to
in the execution of the piano part, and what the whole should sound
like, by singing the missing air in her flexible trilling voice; and
just now she was in that peculiar mood of exaltation that she felt
inspired to dare anything and assured that she should succeed. "You
will not be able to read it?" Herr Wüllner suggested persuasively,
drawing hope from her momentary silence.

"Oh, yes," she said, looking up bravely: "I think so. You will stop me,
please, if I do not play it right." And she seated herself at the piano
with a quiet air of knowing what she was doing that confounded the two
ladies who were watching her and deeply interested Mrs. Duff-Scott.
Paul Brion's heart was beating high with anticipated triumph. Herr
Wüllner's heart, on the contrary, sank with a mild despair.

"Well, we will have a few bars," he sighed. "And pray, my dear young
lady, don't bang the piano--I mean don't play over me. And try to keep
time. But you will never do it--with the best intentions, my dear, you
will never be able to read it from such a manuscript as that."

Patty looked up at him with a sort of radiant calmness, and said
gently, "Go on. You see you have an opening movement to yourself."

Bewildered, the old man dropped his bow upon the strings, and set forth
on his hopeless task. And at exactly the right moment the piano glided
in, so lightly, so tenderly, and yet with such admirable precision and
delicate clearness, that it justified, for once, its trespass upon
ground that belonged to more aerial instruments. It was just what Paul
Brion had counted on--though Paul Brion had not the least idea what
a wild chance had brought about the fulfilment of his expectations.
Patty was able to display her chief accomplishment to the very best
advantage, and the sisters were thereby promoted to honour. The cold
shade of neglect and obscurity was to chill them no more from this
happy moment. It was a much greater triumph than Patty herself had any
idea of, or than anybody had had the least reason to expect. _She_
knew that piles of music, all in this self-same handwriting (she had
never seen any other and supposed that all manuscript music was alike),
were stowed away in the old bureau at home, and in the ottoman which
she had constructed out of a packing-case, and that long familiarity
had made it as easy to her to read as print; but Herr Wüllner was not
in a position to make the faintest guess at such a circumstance. When
Elizabeth moved her seat nearer to the piano, as if to support her
sister, though he was close enough to see it, he did not recognise in
the miniature round her neck the face of that young lady of genius who
eloped with a scapegrace, and was supposed to have been drowned at
sea with her husband. And yet it was that lady's face. Such wonderful
coincidences are continually happening in our small world. It was not
more wonderful than that Herr Wüllner, Mrs. Duff-Scott, Paul Brion, and
Patty King should have been gathered together round one piano, and that
piano Mrs. Aarons's.

The guests were laughing and talking and flirting, as they were wont to
do under cover of the music that generally prevailed at these Friday
receptions, when an angry "Hush!" from the violinist, repeated by Mrs.
Duff-Scott, made a little circle of silence round the performers. And
in this silence Patty carried through her responsible undertaking
with perfect accuracy and the finest taste--save for a shadowy mistake
or two, which, glancing over them as if they were mere phantoms of
mistakes, and recovering herself instantly, only served to show more
clearly the finished quality of her execution, and the thoroughness of
her musical experience. She was conscious herself of being in her very
best form.

"Ah!" said Herr Wüllner, drawing a long breath as he uttered the
exclamation, and softly laying down his violin, "I was mistaken. My
dear young lady, allow me to beg your pardon, and to thank you." And he
bowed before Patty until his nose nearly touched his knees.

Mrs. Duff-Scott, who was a woman of impulses, as most nice women are,
was enthusiastic. Not only had she listened to Patty's performance with
all her intelligent ears, but she had at the same time investigated
and appraised the various details of her personal appearance, and been
particularly interested in that bit of lace about her neck.

"My dear," she said, putting out her hand as the girl rose from the
music-stool, "come here and sit by me and tell me where you learned to
play like that."

Patty went over to her readily, won by the kind voice and motherly
gesture. And, in a very few minutes, Paul had the pleasure of seeing
the great lady sitting on a sofa with all three sisters around her,
talking to them, and they to her, as if they had known one another for
years.

Leaving them thus safe and cared for, he bade good-night to his
hostess, and went home to his work, in a mood of high contentment.



CHAPTER XIII.


PATTY IN UNDRESS.


When Paul Brion bade Mrs. Aarons good-night, he perceived that she was
a little cold to him, and rather wondered at himself that he did not
feel inclined either to resent or to grieve over that unprecedented
circumstance.

"I am going to steal away," he said in an airy whisper, coming across
her in the middle of the room as he made his way to the door. "I have a
good couple of hours' work to get through to-night."

He was accustomed to speak to her in this familiar and confidential
fashion, though she was but a recent acquaintance, and she had always
responded in a highly gratifying way. But now she looked at him
listlessly, with no change of face, and merely said, "Indeed."

"Yes," he repeated; "I have a lot to do before I can go to bed. It
is delightful to be here; but I must not indulge myself any longer.
Good-night."

"Good-night," she said, still unsmiling, as she gave him her hand. "I
am sorry you must go so soon." But she did not look as if she were
sorry; she looked as if she didn't care a straw whether he went or
stayed. However, he pressed her hand with the wonted friendly pressure,
and slipped out of the room, unabashed by her assumed indifference and
real change of manner, which he was at no great trouble to interpret;
and he took a cab to his office--now a humming hive of busy bees
improving the shining hours of the gaslit night--and walked back
from the city through the shadowy gardens to his lodgings, singing a
tuneless air to himself, which, if devoid of music, was a pleasant
expression of his frame of mind.

When he reached Myrtle Street the town clocks were striking twelve.
He looked up at his neighbours' windows as he passed the gate of No.
6, and saw no light, and supposed they had returned from their revels
and gone peaceably to bed. He opened his own door softly, as if afraid
of waking them, and went upstairs to his sitting-room, where Mrs.
M'Intyre, who loved to make him comfortable, had left him a bit of
supper, and a speck of gas about the size of a pea in the burner at the
head of his arm-chair; and he pulled off his dress coat, and kicked
away his boots, and got his slippers and his dressing-gown, and his
tobacco and his pipe, and took measures generally for making himself at
home. But before he had quite settled himself the idea occurred to him
that his neighbours might _not_ have returned from Mrs. Aarons's, but
might, indeed (for he knew their frugal and unconventional habits), be
even then out in the streets, alone and unprotected, walking home by
night as they walked home by day, unconscious of the perils and dangers
that beset them. He had not presumed to offer his escort--he had not
even spoken to them during the evening, lest he should seem to take
those liberties that Miss Patty resented so much; but now he angrily
reproached himself for not having stayed at Mrs. Aarons's until their
departure, so that he could, at least, have followed and watched over
them. He put down his pipe hastily, and, opening the window, stepped
out on the balcony. It was a dark night, and a cold wind was blowing,
and the quarter-hour after midnight was chiming from the tower of the
Post Office. He was about to go in for his boots and his overcoat, when
he was relieved to hear a cab approaching at a smart pace, and to see
it draw up at the gate of No. 6. Standing still in the shadow of the
partition that divided his enclosure from theirs, he watched the girls
descend upon the footpath, one by one, fitfully illuminated from the
interior of the vehicle. First Eleanor, then Elizabeth, then Patty--who
entered the gate and tapped softly at her street door. He expected to
see the driver dismissed, with probably double the fare to which he was
entitled; but to his surprise, the cab lingered, and Elizabeth stood at
the step and began to talk to someone inside. "Thank you so much for
your kindness," she said, in her gentle but clear tones, which were
perfectly audible on the balcony. A voice from the cab answered, "Don't
mention it, my dear. I am very glad to see as much of you as possible,
for I want to know you. May I come and have a little gossip to-morrow
afternoon?" It was the voice of Mrs. Duff-Scott, who, after keeping
them late at Mrs. Aarons's, talking to them, had frustrated their
intention of making their own way home. That powerful woman had "taken
them up," literally and figuratively, and she was not one to drop them
again--as fine ladies commonly drop interesting impecunious _protégées_
when the novelty of their acquaintance has worn off--save for causes in
their own conduct and circumstances that were never likely to arise.
Paul Brion, thoroughly realising that his little schemes had been
crowned with the most gratifying success, stole back to his rooms, shut
the window softly, and sat down to his pipe and his manuscripts. And he
wrote such a maliciously bitter article that, when he took it to the
office, his editor refused to print it without modifications, on the
ground that it would land the paper in an action for libel.

Meanwhile our girls parted from their new friend with affectionate
good-nights, and were let into their house by the landlady, who had
herself been entertaining company to a late hour. They went upstairs
with light feet, too excited to feel tired, and all assembled in
Elizabeth's meagrely-appointed bedchamber to take off their finery
and to have a little happy gossip before they went to rest. Elizabeth
herself, who was not a gushing person, had the most to say at first,
pouring out her ingenuous heart in grateful reminiscences of the
unparalleled kindness of Mrs. Duff-Scott. "What a dear, dear woman!"
she murmured, with soft rapture, as she unwound the watch-chain and
locket from her neck and disembarrassed herself of her voluminous
fichu. "You can _see_ that what she does and says is real and
truthful--I am certain you can trust her. I do not trust Mrs. Aarons--I
do not understand her ways. She wanted us to go and see her, and when
we went she was unkind to us; at least, she was not polite. I was very
sorry we had gone to her house--until Mrs. Duff-Scott came to our sofa
to speak to us. But now I feel so glad! For it has given us _her_. And
she is just the kind of friend I have so often pictured to myself--so
often longed to know."

"I think it was Patty's playing that gave us Mrs. Duff-Scott,"
said Eleanor, who was sitting by the dressing table with her frock
unbuttoned. "She is fond of music, and really there was no one who
could play at all except Herr Wüllner--which was a very strange thing,
don't you think? And the singing was worse--such sickly, silly sort of
songs, with such eccentric accompaniments. I could not understand it,
unless the fashion has changed since mother was a girl. I suppose it
has. But when Patty and Herr Wüllner got together it was like another
atmosphere in the room. How did you come to play so well, Patty?--to be
so collected and quiet when there was so much to frighten you? I was so
nervous that my hands shook, and I had to squeeze them to keep myself
still."

"I was nervous, too, at first," said Patty, who, divested of her
dress and laces, was lying all along on Elizabeth's bed, with her
pretty bare arms flung up over the pillows, and her hands clasped
one over the other at the back of her head. "When we got there, that
impudent maid in the room where we took our things off upset me; she
looked at our old hats and water-proofs as if she had never seen such
things before--and they _did_ seem very shabby amongst all the pretty
cloaks and hoods that the other ladies were taking off. And then it
was so ignominious to have to find our way to the drawing-room by
following other people, and to have our names bawled out as if to call
everybody's attention to us, and then not to _have_ attentions. When we
trailed about the room, so lost and lonely, with all those fine people
watching us and staring at us, my knees were shaking under me, and I
felt hot and cold--I don't know how I felt. The only comfort I had was
seeing how calm Elizabeth was. She seemed to stand up for us all, and
to carry us through it. _I_ felt--I hate to think I could be such an
idiot--so nervous and so unhinged, and so miserable altogether, that
I should have liked to go away somewhere and have a good cry. But,"
added Patty, suddenly sitting up in the bed, and removing her hands
from the back of her head to her knees, "but after a little while it
got _too_ horrid. And then I got angry, and that made me feel much
better. And by-and-bye, when they began to play and sing, and I saw how
ridiculous they made themselves, I brightened up, and was not nervous
any more--for I saw that they were rather ignorant people, in spite
of their airs and their fine clothes. When the girl in that beautiful
creamy satin dress sang her whining little song about parting and dying
half a note flat, while she dashed her hands up and down the keyboard,
and they all hung round her when she had done and said how charming
it was, I felt that _really_--" Patty paused, and stared into the
obscurity of the room with brilliant, humorous, disdainful eyes, which
expressed her sentiments with a distinctness that made further words
unnecessary.

"But, you see, if people don't _know_ that you are superior to them--"
suggested Eleanor, folding up Elizabeth's best gloves, and wrapping
them in tissue paper, with a reflective air.

"Who would care about their knowing?" interposed Elizabeth. "We should
not be very much superior to anyone if we could indulge in a poor
ambition to seem so. That is not one of Patty's feelings, I think."

"But it is, then," Patty confessed, with honest promptness. "I found
it out to-night, Elizabeth. When I saw those conceited people sweeping
about in their splendid trains and looking as if all Melbourne belonged
to them--when I heard that girl singing that preposterous twaddle,
and herself and all her friends thinking she was a perfect genius--I
felt that I would give anything, _anything_, just to rise up and be
very grand and magnificent for a little while and crush them all into
vulgarity and insignificance."

"Patty!" murmured Elizabeth.

"Yes, my dear, it shocks you, I know. But you wouldn't have me disguise
the truth from you, would you? I wanted to pay them out. I saw they
were turning up their noses at us, and I longed--I _raged_--to be in
a position to turn up my nose at them, if only for five minutes. I
thought to myself, oh, if the door should suddenly open and that big
footman shout out, 'His Grace the Duke of So and So;' and they should
all be ready to drop on their knees before such a grand person--as
you know they would be, Elizabeth; they would _grovel_, simply--and he
should look with a sort of gracious, ducal haughtiness over their heads
and say to Mrs. Aarons, 'I am told that I shall find here the daughters
of my brother, who disappeared from home when he was young, along with
his wife, the Princess So and So.' You know, Elizabeth, our father, who
never would talk about his family to anybody, _might_ have been a duke
or an earl in disguise, for anything we know, and our mother was the
very image of what a princess _ought_ to be--"

"We should have been found out before this, if we had been such
illustrious persons," said Elizabeth, calmly.

"Yes, of course--of course. But one needn't be so practical. You are
free to think what you like, however improbable it may be. And that is
what I thought of. Then I thought, suppose a telegram should be brought
in, saying that some enormously wealthy squatter, with several millions
of money and no children, had left us all his fortune--"

"I should think that kind of news would come by post," suggested
Eleanor.

"It might and it mightn't, Nelly. The old squatter might have been that
queer old man who comes to the Library sometimes, and seems to take
such interest in seeing us reading so hard. He might have thought that
girls who were so studious would have serious views of life and the
value of money. Or he might have overheard us castle-building about
Europe, and determined to help us to realise our dreams. Or he might
have fallen in love with Elizabeth--at a distance, you know, and in a
humble, old-fashioned, hopeless way."

"But that doesn't account for the telegram, Patty."

"And have felt himself dying, perhaps," continued Patty, quite
solemnly, with her bright eyes fixed on her invisible drama, "and have
thought he would like to see us--to speak to Elizabeth--to give some
directions and last wishes to us--before he went. No," she added,
checking herself with a laugh and shaking herself up, "I don't think it
was that. I think the lawyer came himself to tell us. The lawyer had
opened the will, and he was a friend of Mrs. Aarons's, and he came to
tell her of the wonderful thing that had happened. 'Everyone has been
wondering whom he would leave his money to,' he says to her, 'but no
one ever expected this. He has left it to three poor girls whom no one
has ever heard of, and whom he never spoke to in his life. I am now
going to find them out, for they are living somewhere in Melbourne.
Their name is King, and they are sisters, without father or mother, or
friends or fortune--mere nobodies, in fact. But now they will be the
richest women in Australia.' And Mrs. Aarons suddenly remembers us,
away there in the corner of the room, and it flashes across her that
_we_ are the great heiresses. And she tells the other ladies, and they
all flock round us, and--and--"

"And you find yourself in the position to turn up your nose at them,"
laughed Eleanor. "No one would have guessed your thoughts, Patty,
seeing you sitting on that sofa, looking so severe and dignified."

"But I had other thoughts," said Patty, quickly. "These were just
passing ideas, of course. What really _did_ take hold of me was an
intense desire to be asked to play, so that I might show them how much
better we could play than they could. Especially after I heard Herr
Wüllner. I knew he, at least, would appreciate the difference--and
I thought Mrs. Duff-Scott looked like a person who would, also. And
perhaps--perhaps--Paul Brion."

"Oh, Patty!" exclaimed Elizabeth, smiling, but reproachful. "Did
you really want to go to the piano for the sake of showing off your
skill--to mortify those poor women who had not been taught as well as
you had?"

"Yes," said Patty, hardily. "I really did. When Mrs. Duff-Scott came
and asked me to join Herr Wüllner in that duet, I felt that, failing
the duke and the lawyer, it was just the opportunity that I had been
looking and longing for. And it was because I felt that I was going to
do so much better than they could that I was in such good spirits, and
got on--as I flatter myself I did--so splendidly."

"Well, I don't believe you," said Elizabeth. "You could never
have rendered that beautiful music as you did simply from pure
vindictiveness. It is not in you."

"No," said Patty, throwing herself back on the bed and flinging up
her arms again, "no--when I come to think of it--I was not vindictive
all the time. At first I was _savage_--O yes, there is no doubt about
it. Then Herr Wüllner's fears and frights were so charming that I
got amused a little; I felt jocose and mischievous. Then I felt Mrs.
Duff-Scott looking at me--_studying_ me--and that made me serious
again, and also quieted me down and steadied me. Then I was a little
afraid that I _might_ blunder over the music--it was a long time since
I had played that thing, and the manuscript was pale and smudged--and
so I had to brace myself up and forget about the outside people. And
as soon as Herr Wüllner reached me, and I began safely and found that
we were making it, oh, so sweet! between us--then I lost sight of lots
of things. I mean I began to see and think of lots of other things. I
remembered playing it with mother--it was like the echo of her voice,
that violin!--and the sun shining through a bit of the red curtain
into our sitting-room at home, and flickering on the wall over the
piano, where it used to stand; and the sound of the sea under the
cliffs--_whish-sh-sh-sh_--in the still afternoon--" Patty broke off
abruptly, with a little laugh that was half a sob, and flung herself
from the bed with vehemence. "But it won't do to go on chattering like
this--we shall have daylight here directly," she said, gathering up her
frock and shoes.



CHAPTER XIV.


IN THE WOMB OF FATE.


Mrs. Duff-Scott came for her gossip on Saturday afternoon, and it
was a long one, and deeply interesting to all concerned. The girls
took her to their trustful hearts, and told her their past history
and present circumstances in such a way that she understood them even
better than they did themselves. They introduced her to their entire
suite of rooms, including the infinitesimal kitchen and its gas stove;
they unlocked the drawers and cupboards of the old bureau to show her
their own and their mother's sketches, and the family miniatures, and
even the jewels they had worn the night before, about which she was
frankly curious, and which she examined with the same discriminating
intelligence that she brought to bear upon old china. They chattered
to her, they played to her, they set the kettle on the gas-stove and
made tea for her, with a familiar and yet modest friendliness that
was a pleasant contrast to the attitude in which feminine attentions
were too often offered to her. In return, she put off that armour of
self-defence in which she usually performed her social duties, fearing
no danger to pride or principle from an unreserved intercourse with
such unsophisticated and yet singularly well-bred young women; and she
revelled in unguarded and unlimited gossip as freely as if they had
been her own sisters or her grown-up children. She gave them a great
deal of very plain, but very wholesome, advice as to the necessity
that lay upon them to walk circumspectly in the new life they had
entered upon; and they accepted it in a spirit of meek gratitude that
would have astonished Paul Brion beyond measure. All sorts of delicate
difficulties were touched upon in connection with the non-existent
chaperon and the omnipotent and omnipresent Mrs. Grundy, and not only
touched upon, but frankly discussed, between the kindly woman of the
world who wished to serve them and the proud but modest girls who were
but too anxious to learn of one who they felt was authorised to teach
them. In short, they sat together for more than two hours, and learned
in that one interview to know and trust each other better than some of
us will do after living for two years under the same roof. When at last
the lady called her coachman, who had been mooning up and down Myrtle
Street, half asleep upon his box, to the gate of No. 6, she had made a
compact with herself to "look after" the three sweet and pretty sisters
who had so oddly fallen in her way with systematic vigilance; and
they were unconsciously of one mind, that to be looked after by Mrs.
Duff-Scott was the most delightful experience, by far, that Melbourne
had yet given them.

On the following Monday they went to her house, and spent a ravishing
evening in a beautiful, cosy, stately, deeply-coloured, softly-lighted
room, that was full of wonderful and historical bric-à-brac such as
they had never seen before, listening to Herr Wüllner and three brother
artists playing violins and a violoncello in a way that brought tears
to their eyes and unspeakable emotions into their responsive hearts.
Never had they had such a time as this. There was no Mr. Duff-Scott--he
was away from home just now, looking after property in Queensland;
and no Mrs. Aarons--she was not privileged to join any but large and
comprehensive parties in this select "set." There were no conceited
women to stare at and to snub them, and no girls to sing sickly
ballads, half a note flat. Only two or three unpretentious music-loving
ladies, who smiled on them and were kind to them, and two or three
quiet men who paid them charmingly delicate attentions; nothing that
was unpleasant or unharmonious--nothing to jar with the exquisite music
of a well-trained quartette, which was like a new revelation to them
of the possibilities of art and life. They went home that night in a
cab, escorted by one of the quiet men, whose provincial rank was such
that the landlady curtsied like an English rustic, when she opened
the door to him, and paid her young lodgers marked attentions for days
afterwards in honour of their acquaintance with such a distinguished
individual. And Paul Brion, who was carefully informed by Mrs. M'Intyre
of their rise and progress in the world that was not his world, said
how glad he was that they had been recognised and appreciated for what
they were, and went on writing smart literary and political and social
criticisms for his paper, that were continually proving too smart for
prudent journalism.

Then Mrs. Duff-Scott left Melbourne for a visit to some relations
in Brisbane, and to join her husband on his homeward journey, and
the girls fell back into their old quiet life for a while. It was an
exceedingly simple and homely life. They rose early every morning--not
much after the hour at which their neighbour on the other side of the
wall was accustomed to go to bed--and aired, and swept, and scrubbed
their little rooms, and made their beds, and polished their furniture,
and generally set their dwelling in an exquisite order that is not at
all universal with housewives in these days, but must always be the
instinct of really well-bred women. They breakfasted frugally after the
most of this was done, and took a corresponding meal in the evening,
the staple of both being bread and butter; and at mid-day they saved
"messing" and the smell of cooking about their rooms, and saved also
the precious hours of the morning for their studies, by dining at a
restaurant in the city, where they enjoyed a comfortable and abundant
repast for a shilling apiece. Every day at about ten o'clock they
walked through the leafy Fitzroy and Treasury Gardens, and the bright
and busy streets that never lost their charm of novelty, to the Public
Library, where with pencils and note-books on the table before them,
they read and studied upon a systematic principle until the clock
struck one; at which hour they closed their books and set off with
never-failing appetites in search of dinner. After dinner, if it was
Thursday, they stayed in town for the organ recital at the Town Hall;
but on other days they generally sauntered quietly home, with a new
novel from Mullen's (they were very fond of novels), and made up their
fire, and had a cup of tea, and sat down to rest and chat over their
needlework, while one read aloud or practised her music, until the time
came to lay the cloth for the unfashionable tea-supper at night-fall.
And these countrified young people invariably began to yawn at eight
o'clock, and might have been found in bed and asleep, five nights out
of six, at half-past nine.

So the days wore on, one very much like another, and all very gentle
and peaceful, though not without the small annoyances that beset the
most flowery paths of this mortal life, until October came--until
the gardens through which they passed to and from the city, morning
and afternoon (though there were other and shorter routes to choose
from), were thick with young green leaves and odorous with innumerable
blossoms--until the winter was over, and the loveliest month of the
Australian year, when the brief spring hurries to meet the voluptuous
summer, made even Melbourne delightful. And in October the great
event that was recorded in the annals of the colony inaugurated a new
departure in their career.

On the Thursday immediately preceding the opening of the Exhibition
they did not go to the Library as usual, nor to Gunsler's for their
lunch. Like a number of other people, their habits were deranged and
themselves demoralised by anticipations of the impending festival. They
stayed at home to make themselves new bonnets for the occasion, and
took a cold dinner while at their work, and two of them did not stir
outside their rooms from morn till dewy eve for so much as a glance
into Myrtle Street from the balcony.

But in the afternoon it was found that half a yard more of ribbon was
required to complete the last of the bonnets, and Patty volunteered to
"run into town" to fetch it. At about four o'clock she set off alone
by way of an adjoining road which was an omnibus route, intending to
expend threepence, for once, in the purchase of a little precious time,
but every omnibus was full, and she had to walk the whole way. The
pavements were crowded with hurrying folk, who jostled and obstructed
her. Collins Street, when she turned into it, seemed riotous with
abnormal life, and she went from shop to shop and could not get waited
on until the usual closing hour was past, and the evening beginning
to grow dark. Then she got what she wanted, and set off home by way
of the Gardens, feeling a little daunted by the noise and bustle of
the streets, and fancying she would be secure when once those green
alleys, always so peaceful, were reached. But to-night even the gardens
were infested by the spirit of unrest and enterprise that pervaded the
city. The quiet walks were not quiet now, and the sense of her belated
isolation in the growing dusk seemed more formidable here instead of
less. For hardly had she passed through the gates into the Treasury
enclosure than she was conscious of being watched and peered at by
strange men, who appeared to swarm all over the place; and by the time
she had reached the Gardens nearer home the appalling fact was forced
upon her that a tobacco-scented individual was dogging her steps, as if
with an intention of accosting her. She was bold, but her imagination
was easily wrought upon; and the formless danger, of a kind in which
she was totally inexperienced, gave a shock to her nerves. So that when
presently, as she hurriedly pattered on, hearing the heavier tread and
an occasional artificial cough behind her, she suddenly saw a still
more expeditious pedestrian hastening by, and recognised Paul's light
figure and active gait, the words seemed to utter themselves without
conscious effort of hers--"Mr. Brion!--oh, Mr. Brion, is that you?"

He stopped at the first sound of her voice, looked back and saw her,
saw the man behind her, and comprehended the situation immediately.
Without speaking, he stepped to her side and offered his arm, which
she took for one happy moment when the delightful sense of his
protection was too strong for her, and then--reacting violently from
that mood--released. "I--I am _mortified_ with myself for being such
a fool," she said angrily; "but really that person did frighten me. I
don't know what is the matter with Melbourne to-night--I suppose it is
the Exhibition." And she went on to explain how she came to be abroad
alone at that hour, and to explain away, as she hoped, her apparent
satisfaction in meeting him. "It seems to promise for a fine day, does
it not?" she concluded airily, looking up at the sky.

Paul Brion put his hands in his pockets. He was mortified, too. When he
spoke, it was with icy composure.

"Are you going to the opening?"

"Yes," said Patty. "Of course we are."

"With your swell friends, I suppose?"

"Whom do you mean by our swell friends? Mrs. Duff-Scott is not in
Melbourne, I believe--if you allude to her. But she is not swell. The
only swell person we know is Mrs. Aarons, and she is not our friend."

He allowed the allusion to Mrs. Aarons to pass. "Well, I hope you will
have good seats," he said, moodily. "It will be a disgusting crush and
scramble, I expect."

"Seats? Oh, we are not going to have seats," said Patty. "We are going
to mingle with the common herd, and look on at the civic functions,
humbly, from the outside. _We_ are not swell"--dwelling upon the
adjective with a malicious enjoyment of the suspicion that he had not
meant to use it--"and we like to be independent."

"O yes, I know you do. But you'll find the Rights of Woman not much
good to you to-morrow in the Melbourne streets, I fancy, if you go
there on foot without an escort. May I ask how you propose to take care
of yourselves?"

"We are going," said Patty, "to start very early indeed, and to take
up a certain advantageous position that we have already selected
before the streets fill. We shall have a little elevation above the
heads of the crowd, and a wall at our backs, and--the three of us
together--we shall see the procession beautifully, and be quite safe
and comfortable."

"Well, I hope you won't find yourself mistaken," he replied.

A few minutes later Patty burst into the room where her sisters were
sitting, placidly occupied with their bonnet-making, her eyes shining
with excitement. "Elizabeth, Elizabeth," she cried breathlessly, "Paul
Brion is going to ask you to let him be our escort to-morrow. But you
won't--oh, you _won't_--have him, will you?"

"No, dear," said Elizabeth, serenely; "not if you would rather not. Why
should we? It will be broad daylight, when there can be no harm in our
being out without an escort. We shall be much happier by ourselves."

"Much happier than with _him_," added Patty, sharply.

And they went on with their preparations for the great day that had
been so long desired, little thinking what it was to bring forth.



CHAPTER XV.


ELIZABETH FINDS A FRIEND.


They had an early breakfast, dressed themselves with great care in
their best frocks and the new bonnets, and, each carrying an umbrella,
set forth with a cheerful resolve to see what was to be seen of the
ceremonies of the day, blissfully ignorant of the nature of their
undertaking. Paul Brion, out of bed betimes, heard their voices and the
click of their gate, and stepped into his balcony to see them start.
He took note of the pretty costumes, that had a gala air about them,
and of the fresh and striking beauty of at least two of the three
sweet faces; and he groaned to think of such women being hustled and
battered, helplessly, in the fierce crush of a solid street crowd. But
they had no fear whatever for themselves.

However, they had not gone far before they perceived that the idea of
securing a good position early in the day had occurred to a great many
people besides themselves. Even sleepy Myrtle Street was awake and
active, and the adjoining road, when they turned into it, was teeming
with holiday life. They took their favourite route through the Fitzroy
and Treasury Gardens, and found those sylvan glades alive with traffic:
and, by the time they got into Spring Street, the crowd had thickened
to an extent that embarrassed their progress and made it devious and
slow. And they had scarcely passed the Treasury buildings when Eleanor,
who had been suffering from a slight sore throat, began to cough and
shiver, and aroused the maternal anxiety of her careful elder sister.
"O, my dear," said Elizabeth, coming to an abrupt standstill on the
pavement, "have you nothing but that wisp of muslin round your neck?
And the day so cold--and looking so like rain! It will never do for you
to stand about for hours in this wind, with the chance of getting wet,
unless you are wrapped up better. We must run home again and fix you
up. And I think it would be wiser if we were all to change our things
and put on our old bonnets."

"Now, look here, Elizabeth," said Patty, with strong emphasis; "you see
that street, don't you?"--and she pointed down the main thoroughfare of
the city, which was already gorged with people throughout its length.
"You see that, and that"--and she indicated the swarming road ahead of
them and the populous valley in the opposite direction. "If there is
such a crowd now, what will there be in half-an-hour's time? And we
couldn't do it in half-an-hour. Let us make Nelly tie up her throat
in our three pocket-handkerchiefs, and push on and get our places.
Otherwise we shall be out of it altogether--we shall see _nothing_."

But the gentle Elizabeth was obdurate on some occasions, and this was
one of them. Eleanor was chilled with the cold, and it was not to be
thought of that she should run the risk of an illness from imprudent
exposure--no, not for all the exhibitions in the world. So they
compromised the case by deciding that Patty and Eleanor should "run"
home together, while the elder sister awaited their return, keeping
possession of a little post of vantage on the Treasury steps--where
they would be able to see the procession, if not the Exhibition--in
case the crowd should be too great by-and-bye to allow of their getting
farther.

"Well, make yourself as big as you can," said Patty, resignedly.

"And, whatever you do," implored Eleanor, "don't stir an inch from
where you are until we come back, lest we should lose you."

Upon which they set off in hot haste to Myrtle Street.

Elizabeth, when they were gone, saw with alarm the rapid growth of
the crowd around her. It filled up the street in all directions, and
condensed into a solid mass on the Treasury steps, very soon absorbing
the modest amount of space that she had hoped to reserve for her
sisters. In much less than half-an-hour she was so hopelessly wedged
in her place that, tall and strong as she was, she was almost lifted
off her feet; and there was no prospect of restoring communications
with Patty and Eleanor until the show was over. In a fever of anxiety,
bitterly regretting that she had consented to part from them, she kept
her eyes turned towards the gate of the Gardens, whence she expected
them to emerge; and then she saw, presently, the figure of their good
genius and deliverer from all dilemmas, Paul Brion, fighting his way
towards her. The little man pursued an energetic course through the
crowd, which almost covered him, hurling himself along with a velocity
that was out of all proportion to his bulk; and from time to time she
saw his quick eyes flashing over other people's shoulders, and that he
was looking eagerly in all directions. It seemed hopeless to expect him
to distinguish her in the sea of faces around him, but he did. Sunk in
the human tide that rose in the street above the level of his head,
he made desperately for a footing on a higher plane, and in so doing
caught sight of her and battled his way to her side. "Oh, _here_ you
are!" he exclaimed, in a tone of relief. "I have been so anxious about
you. But where is Miss Patty? Where are your sisters?"

"Oh, Mr. Brion," she responded, "you always seem to turn up to help us
as soon as we get into trouble, and I am _so_ thankful to see you! The
girls had to go home for something, and were to meet me here, and I
don't know what will become of them in this crowd."

"Which way were they to come?" he inquired eagerly.

"By the Gardens. But the gates are completely blocked."

"I will go and find them," he said. "Don't be anxious about them. They
will be in there--they will be all right. You will come too, won't you?
I think I can manage to get you through."

"I can't," she replied. "I promised I would not stir from this place,
and I must not, in case they should be in the street, or we should miss
them."

"'The boy stood on the burning deck,'" he quoted, with a laugh. He
could afford a little jest, though she was so serious, for he was happy
in the conviction that the girls had been unable to reach the street,
that he should find them disconsolate in the gardens, and compel Miss
Patty to feel, if not to acknowledge, that he was of some use and
comfort to her, after all. "But I hate to leave you here," he added,
glaring upon her uncomfortable but inoffensive neighbours, "all alone
by yourself."

"Oh, don't mind me," said Elizabeth, cheerfully. "If you can only find
Patty and Nelly, and be so good as to take care of them, _I_ shall be
all right."

And so, with apparent reluctance, but the utmost real alacrity, he left
her, flinging himself from the steps into the crowd like a swimmer
diving into the sea, and she saw him disappear with an easy mind.

Then began the tramp of the procession, first in sections, then in
imposing columns, with bands playing, and flags flying, and horses
prancing, and the people shouting and cheering as it went by. There
were the smart men of the Naval Reserve and the sailors of the
warships--English and French, German and Italian, eight or nine hundred
strong--with their merry buglers in the midst of them; and there were
the troops of the military, with their music and accoutrements; and all
the long procession of the trades' associations, and the fire brigades,
with the drubbing of drums and the blare of trumpets and the shrill
whistle of innumerable fifes accompanying their triumphal progress.
And by-and-bye the boom of the saluting guns from the Prince's Bridge
battery, and the seven carriages from Government House rolling slowly
up the street and round the corner, with their dashing cavalry escort,
amid the lusty cheers of Her Majesty's loyal subjects on the line of
route assembled.

But long before the Queen's representative made his appearance upon
the scene, Elizabeth had ceased to see or care for the great spectacle
that she had been so anxious to witness. Moment by moment the crowd
about her grew more dense and dogged, more pitilessly indifferent to
the comfort of one another, more evidently minded that the fittest
should survive in the fight for existence on the Treasury steps. Rough
men pushed her forward and backward, and from side to side, treading
on her feet, and tearing the stitches of her gown, and knocking her
bonnet awry, until she felt bruised and sick with the buffetings that
she got, and the keen consciousness of the indignity of her position.
She could scarcely breathe for the pressure around her, though the
breath of all sorts of unpleasant people was freely poured into her
face. She would have struggled away and gone home--convinced of the
comforting fact that Patty and Eleanor were safely out of it in Paul
Brion's protection--but she could not stir an inch by her own volition.
When she did stir it was by some violent propelling power in another
person, and this was exercised presently in such a way as to completely
overbalance her. A sudden wave of movement broke against a stout
woman standing immediately behind her, and the stout woman, quite
unintentionally, pushed her to the edge of the step, and flung her upon
the shoulder of a brawny larrikin who had fought his way backwards and
upwards into a position whence he could see the pageant of the street
to his satisfaction. The larrikin half turned, struck her savagely
in the breast with his elbow, demanding, with a roar and an oath,
where she was a-shoving to; and between her two assailants, faint and
frightened, she lost her footing, and all but fell headlong into the
seething mass beneath her.

But as she was falling--a moment so agonising at the time, and so
delightful to remember afterwards--some one caught her round the waist
with a strong grip, and lifted her up, and set her safely on her feet
again. It was a man who had been standing within a little distance of
her, tall enough to overtop the crowd, and strong enough to maintain an
upright position in it; she had noticed him for some time, and that he
had seemed not seriously incommoded by the bustling and scuffling that
rendered her so helpless; but she had not noticed his gradual approach
to her side. Now, looking up with a little sob of relief, her instant
recognition of him as a gentleman was followed by an instinctive
identification of him as a sort of Cinderella's prince.

In short, there is no need to make a mystery of the matter. At
half-past ten o'clock in the morning of the first of October in the
year 1880, when she was plunged into the most wretched and terrifying
circumstances of her life--at the instant when she was struck by the
larrikin's elbow and felt herself about to be crushed under the feet of
the crowd--Elizabeth King met her happy fate. She found that friend for
whom, hungrily if unconsciously, her tender heart had longed.



CHAPTER XVI.


"WE WERE NOT STRANGERS, AS TO US AND ALL IT SEEMED."


"Stand here, and I can shelter you a little," he said, in a quiet tone
that contrasted refreshingly with the hoarse excitement around them.
He drew her close to his side by the same grip of her waist that had
lifted her bodily when she was off her feet, and, immediately releasing
her, stretched a strong left arm between her exposed shoulder and the
crush of the crowd. The arm was irresistibly pressed upon her own
arm, and bent across her in a curve that was neither more nor less
than a vehement embrace, and so she stood in a condition of delicious
astonishment, one tingling blush from head to foot. It would have been
horrible had it been anyone else.

"I am so sorry," he said, "but I cannot help it. If you don't mind
standing as you are for a few minutes, you will be all right directly.
As soon as the procession has passed the crowd will scatter to follow
it."

They looked at each other across a space of half-a-dozen inches or
so, and in that momentary glance, upon which everything that mutually
concerned them depended, were severally relieved and satisfied. He was
not handsome--he had even a reputation for ugliness; but there are
some kinds of ugliness that are practically handsomer than many kinds
of beauty, and his was of that sort. He had a leathery, sun-dried,
weather-beaten, whiskerless, red moustached face, and he had a
roughly-moulded, broad-based, ostentatious nose; his mouth was large,
and his light grey eyes deeply set and small. Yet it was a strikingly
distinguished and attractive face, and Elizabeth fell in love with it
there and then. Similarly, her face, at once modest and candid, was an
open book to his experienced glance, and provisionally delighted him.
He was as glad as she was that fate had selected him to deliver her in
her moment of peril, out of the many who might have held out a helping
hand to her and did not.

"I am afraid you cannot see very well," he remarked presently. There
were sounds in the distance that indicated the approach of the
vice-regal carriages, and people were craning their necks over each
other's shoulders and standing on tiptoe to catch the first glimpse of
them. Just in front of her the exuberant larrikin was making himself as
tall as possible.

"Oh, thank you--I don't want to see," she replied hastily.

"But that was what you came here for--like the rest of us--wasn't it?"

"I did not know what I was coming for," she said, desperately,
determined to set herself right in his eyes. "I never saw anything like
this before--I was never in a crowd--I did not know what it was like."

"Some one should have told you, then."

"We have not any one belonging to us to tell us things."

"Indeed?"

"My sisters and I have lived in the bush always, until now. We have no
parents. We have not seen much yet. We came out this morning, thinking
we could stand together in a corner and look on quietly--we did not
expect this."

"And your sisters--?"

"They went home again. They are all right, I hope."

"And left you here alone?"

Elizabeth explained the state of the case more fully, and by the time
she had done so the Governors' carriages were in sight. The people
were shouting and cheering; the larrikin was dancing up and down in
his hob-nailed boots, and bumping heavily upon the arm that shielded
her. Shrinking from him, she drew her feet back another inch or two;
upon which the right arm as well as the left was firmly folded round
her. And the pressure of those two arms, stretched like iron bars to
defend her from harm, the throbbing of his heart upon her shoulder, the
sound of his deep-chested breathing in her ear--no consideration of
the involuntary and unromantic necessity of the situation could calm
the tremulous excitement communicated to her by these things. Oh, how
hideous, how simply insupportable it would have been, had she been thus
cast upon another breast and into other arms than HIS! As it was, it
was all right. He said he feared she was terribly uncomfortable, but,
though she did not contradict him, she felt in the secret depths of her
primitive soul that she had never been more comfortable. To be cared
for and protected was a new sensation, and, though she had had to bear
anxious responsibilities for herself and others, she had no natural
vocation for independence. Many a time since have they spoken of this
first half hour with pride, boasting of how they trusted each other at
sight, needing no proofs from experience like other people--a foolish
boast, for they were but a man and woman, and not gods. "I took you to
my heart the first moment I saw you," he says. "And I knew, even as
soon as that, that it was my own place," she calmly replies. Whereas
good luck, and not their own wisdom, justified them.

He spoke to her with studied coldness while necessarily holding her
embraced, as it were, to protect her from the crowd; at the same
time he put himself to some trouble to make conversation, which was
less embarrassing to her than silence. He remarked that he was fond
of crowds himself--found them intensely interesting--and spoke of
Thackeray's paper on the crowd that went to see the man hanged (which
she had never read) as illustrating the kind of interest he meant.
He had lately seen the crowd at the opening of the Trocadero Palace,
and that which celebrated the completion of Cologne Cathedral; facts
which proclaimed him a "globe-trotter" and new arrival in Melbourne.
The few words in which he described the festival at Cologne fired her
imagination, fed so long upon dreams of foreign travel, and made her
forget for the moment that he was not an old acquaintance.

"It was at about this hour of the day," he said, "and I stood with the
throng in the streets, as I am doing now. They put the last stone on
the top of the cross on one of the towers more than six hundred years
after the foundation stone was laid. The people were wild with joy, and
hung out their flags all over the place. One old fellow came up to me
and wanted to kiss me--he thought I must be as overcome as he was."

"And were you not impressed?"

"Of course I was. It was very pathetic," he replied, gently. And she
thought "pathetic" an odd word to use. Why pathetic? She did not like
to ask him. Then he made the further curious statement that this crowd
was the tamest he had ever seen.

"_I_ don't call it tame," she said, with a laugh, as the yells of the
larrikin and his fellows rent the air around them.

He responded to her laugh with a pleasant smile, and his voice was
friendlier when he spoke again. "But I am quite delighted with it,
unimpressive as it is. It is composed of people who are not _wanting
anything_. I don't know that I was ever in a crowd of that sort before.
I feel, for once, that I can breathe in peace."

"Oh, I wish I could feel so!" she cried. The carriages, in their slow
progress, were now turning at the top of Collins Street, and the hubbub
around them had reached its height.

"It will soon be over now," he murmured encouragingly.

"Yes," she replied. In a few minutes the crush would lessen, and he
and she would part. That was what they thought, to the exclusion of all
interest in the passing spectacle. Even as she spoke, the noise and
confusion that had made a solitude for their quiet intercourse sensibly
subsided. The tail of the procession was well in sight; the heaving
crowd on the Treasury steps was swaying and breaking like a huge wave
upon the street; the larrikin was gone. It was time for the unknown
gentleman to resume the conventional attitude, and for Elizabeth to
remember that he was a total stranger to her.

"You had better take my arm," he said, as she hastily disengaged
herself before it was safe to do so, and was immediately caught in the
eddy that was setting strongly in the direction of the Exhibition. "If
you don't mind waiting here for a few minutes longer, you will be able
to get home comfortably."

She struggled back to his side, and took his arm, and waited; but they
did not talk any more. They watched the disintegration and dispersion
of the great mass that had hemmed them in together, until at last they
stood in ease and freedom almost alone upon that coign of vantage which
had been won with so much difficulty--two rather imposing figures,
if anyone had cared to notice them. Then she withdrew her hand, and
said, with a little stiff bow and a bright and becoming colour in her
face--"_Thank_ you."

"Don't mention it," he replied, with perfect gravity. "I am very happy
to have been of any service to you."

Still they did not move from where they stood.

"Don't you want to see the rest of it?" she asked timidly.

"Do you?" he responded, looking at her with a smile.

"O dear no, thank you! I have had quite enough, and I am very anxious
to find my sisters."

"Then allow me to be your escort until you are clear of the streets."
He did not put it as a request, and he began to descend the steps
before she could make up her mind how to answer him. So she found
herself walking beside him along the footpath and through the Gardens,
wondering who he was, and how she could politely dismiss him--or how
soon he would dismiss her. Now and then she snatched a sidelong glance
at him, and noted his great stature and the easy dignity with which he
carried himself, and transferred one by one the striking features of
his countenance to her faithful memory. He made a powerful impression
upon her. Thinking of him, she had almost forgotten how anxious she
was to find her sisters until, with a start, she suddenly caught sight
of them sitting comfortably on a bench in an alley of the Fitzroy
Gardens, Eleanor and Patty side by side, and Paul Brion on the other
side of Eleanor. The three sprang up as soon as they saw her coming,
with gestures of eager welcome.

"Ah!" said Elizabeth, her face flaming with an entirely unnecessary
blush, "there are my sisters. I--I am all right now. I need not trouble
you any further. Thank you very much."

She paused, and so did he. She bent her head without lifting her eyes,
and he took off his hat to her with profound respect. And so they
parted--for a little while.



CHAPTER XVII.


AFTERNOON TEA.


When he had turned and left her, Elizabeth faced her sisters with
that vivid blush still on her cheeks, and a general appearance of
embarrassment that was too novel to escape notice. Patty and Eleanor
stared for a moment, and Eleanor laughed.

"Who is he?" she inquired saucily.

"I don't know," said Elizabeth. "Where have you been, dears? How have
you got on? I have been so anxious about you."

"But who is he?" persisted Eleanor.

"I have not the least idea, I tell you. Perhaps Mr. Brion knows."

"No," said Mr. Brion. "He is a perfect stranger to me."

"He is a new arrival, I suppose," said Elizabeth, stealing a backward
glance at her hero, whom the others were watching intently as he walked
away. "Yes, he can have but just arrived, for he saw the last stone put
to the building of Cologne Cathedral, and that was not more than six or
seven weeks ago. He has come out to see the Exhibition, probably. He
seems to be a great traveller."

"Oh," said Eleanor, turning with a grimace to Patty, "here have we been
mooning about in the gardens, and she has been seeing everything, and
having adventures into the bargain!"

"It is very little I have seen," her elder sister remarked, "and this
will tell you the nature of my adventures"--and she showed them a rent
in her gown. "I was nearly torn to pieces by the crowd after you left.
I am only too thankful you were out of it."

"But we are not at all thankful," pouted Eleanor. "Are we, Patty?"
(Patty was silent, but apparently amiable.) "It is only the stitching
that is undone--you can mend it in five minutes. We wouldn't have
minded little trifles of that sort--not in the least--to have seen the
procession, and made the acquaintance of distinguished travellers. Were
there many more of them about, do you suppose?"

"O no," replied Elizabeth, promptly. "Only he."

"And you managed to find him! Why shouldn't we have found him
too--Patty and I? Do tell us his name, Elizabeth, and how you happened
on him, and what he has been saying and doing."

"He took care of me, dear--that's all. I was crushed almost into a
pulp, and he allowed me to--to stand beside him until the worst of it
was over."

"How interesting!" ejaculated Eleanor. "And then he talked to you about
Cologne Cathedral?"

"Yes. But never mind about him. Tell me where Mr. Brion found you, and
what you have been doing."

"Oh, _we_ have not been doing anything--far from it. I _wish_ you knew
his name, Elizabeth."

"But, my dear, I don't. So leave off asking silly questions. I daresay
we shall never see or hear of him again."

"Oh, don't you believe it! I'm _certain_ we shall see him again. He
will be at the Exhibition some day when we go there--to-morrow, very
likely."

"Well, well, never mind. What are we going to do now?"

They consulted with Paul for a few minutes, and he took them where they
could get a distant view of the crowds swarming around the Exhibition,
and hear the confused clamour of the bands--which seemed to gratify
the two younger sisters very much, in the absence of more pronounced
excitement. They walked about until they saw the Royal Standard hoisted
over the great dome, and heard the saluting guns proclaim that the
Exhibition was open; and then they returned to Myrtle Street, with a
sense of having had breakfast in the remote past, and of having spent
an enormously long morning not unpleasantly, upon the whole.

Mrs. M'Intyre was standing at her gate when they reached home, and
stopped them to ask what they had seen, and how they had enjoyed
themselves. _She_ had stayed quietly in the house, and busied herself
in the manufacture of meringues and lemon cheese-cakes--having, she
explained, superfluous eggs in the larder, and a new lodger coming in;
and she evidently prided herself upon her well-spent time. "And if
you'll stay, you shall have some," she said, and she opened the gate
hospitably. "Now, don't say no, Miss King--don't, Miss Nelly. It's past
one, and I've got a nice cutlet and mashed potatoes just coming on the
table. Bring them along, Mr. Brion. I'm sure they'll come if _you_ ask
them."

"We'll come without that," said Eleanor, walking boldly in. "At least,
I will. _I_ couldn't resist cutlets and mashed potatoes under present
circumstances--not to speak of lemon cheese-cakes and meringues--and
your society, Mrs. M'Intyre."

Paul held the gate open, and Elizabeth followed Eleanor, and Patty
followed Elizabeth. Patty did not look at him, but she was in a
peaceable disposition; seeing which, he felt happier than he had been
for months. They lunched together, with much enjoyment of the viands
placed before them, and of each other's company, feeling distinctly
that, however small had been their share in the demonstrations of the
day, the festival spirit was with them; and when they rose from the
table there was an obvious reluctance to separate.

"Now, I'll tell you what," said Eleanor; "we have had dinner with you,
Mrs. M'Intyre, and now you ought to come and have afternoon tea with
us. You have not been in to see us for _years_."

She looked at Elizabeth, who hastened to endorse the invitation, and
Mrs. M'Intyre consented to think about it.

"And may not I come too?" pleaded Paul, not daring to glance at his
little mistress, but appealing fervently to Elizabeth. "Mayn't I come
with Mrs. M'Intyre for a cup of tea, too?"

"Of course you may," said Elizabeth, and Eleanor nodded acquiescence,
and Patty gazed serenely out of the window. "Go and have your smoke
comfortably, and come in in about an hour."

With which the sisters left, and, as soon as they reached their
own quarters, set to work with something like enthusiasm to make
preparations for their expected guests. Before the hour was up, a
bright fire was blazing in their sitting-room, and a little table
beside it was spread comfortably with a snow-white cloth, and twinkling
crockery and spoons. The kettle was singing on the hearth, and a
plate of buttered muffins reposed under a napkin in the fender. The
window was open; so was the piano. Patty was flying from place to
place, with a duster in her hand, changing the position of the chairs,
and polishing the spotless surfaces of the furniture generally, with
anxious industry. _She_ had not asked Paul Brion to come to see them,
but since he was coming they might as well have the place decent, she
said.

When he came at last meekly creeping upstairs at Mrs. M'Intyre's heels,
Patty was nowhere to be seen. He looked all round as he crossed the
threshold, and took in the delicate air of cheerfulness, the almost
austere simplicity and orderliness that characterised the little room,
and made it quite different from any room he had ever seen; and then
his heart sank, and a cloud of disappointment fell over his eager face.
He braced himself to bear it. He made up his mind at once that he
had had his share of luck for that day, and must not expect anything
more. However, some minutes later, when Mrs. M'Intyre had made herself
comfortable by unhooking her jacket, and untying her bonnet strings,
and when Elizabeth was preparing to pour out the tea, Patty sauntered
in with some needlework in her hand--stitching as she walked--and took
a retired seat by the window. He seized upon a cup of tea and carried
it to her, and stood there as if to secure her before she could escape
again. As he approached she bent her head lower over her work, and
a little colour stole into her face; and then she lifted herself up
defiantly.

"Here is your tea, Miss Patty," he said, humbly.

"Thanks. Just put it down there, will you?"

She nodded towards a chair near her, and he set the cup down on it
carefully. But he did not go.

"You are very busy," he remarked.

"Yes," she replied, shortly. "I have wasted all the morning. Now I must
try to make up for it."

"Are you too busy to play something--presently, I mean, when you have
had your tea? I must go and work too, directly. I should so enjoy to
hear you play before I go."

She laid her sewing on her knee, reached for her cup, and began to
sip it with a relenting face. She asked him what kind of music he
preferred, and he said he didn't care, but he thought he liked "soft
things" best. "There was a thing you played last Sunday night," he
suggested; "quite late, just before you went to bed. It has been
running in my head ever since."

She balanced her teaspoon in her hand, and puckered her brows
thoughtfully. "Let me think--what was I playing on Sunday night?" she
murmured to herself. "It must have been one of the _Lieder_ surely--or,
perhaps, a Beethoven sonata? Or Batiste's andante in G perhaps?"

"Oh, I don't know the name of anything. I only remember that it was
very lovely and sad."

"But we shouldn't play sad things in the broad daylight, when people
want to gossip over their tea," she said, glancing at Mrs. M'Intyre,
who was energetically describing to Elizabeth the only proper way of
making tomato sauce. But she got up, all the same, and went over to the
piano, and began to play the andante just above a whisper, caressing
the soft pedal with her foot.

"Was that it?" she asked gently, smiling at him as he drew up a low
wicker chair and sat down at her elbow to listen.

"Go on," he murmured gratefully. "It was _like_ that."

And she went on--while Mrs. M'Intyre, having concluded her remarks upon
tomato sauce, detailed the results of her wide experience in orange
marmalade and quince jelly, and Elizabeth and Eleanor did their best
to profit by her wisdom--playing to him alone. It did not last very
long--a quarter of an hour perhaps--but every moment was an ecstasy
to Paul Brion. Even more than the music, delicious as it was, Patty's
gentle and approachable mood enchanted him. She had never been like
that to him before. He sat on his low chair, and looked up at her
tender profile as she drooped a little over the keys, throbbing with
a new sense of her sweetness and beauty, and learning more about his
own heart in those few minutes than all the previous weeks and months
of their acquaintance had taught him. And then the spell that had been
weaving and winding them together, as it seemed to him, was suddenly
and rudely broken. There was a clatter of wheels and hoofs along the
street, a swinging gate and a jangling door bell; and Eleanor, running
to the window, uttered an exclamation that effectually wakened him from
his dreams.

"Oh, _Elizabeth--Patty--_it is Mrs. Duff-Scott!"

In another minute the great lady herself stood amongst them, rustling
over the matting in her splendid gown, almost filling the little room
with her presence. Mrs. M'Intyre gave way before her, and edged towards
the door with modest, deprecatory movements, but Paul stood where
he had risen, as stiff as a poker, and glared at her with murderous
ferocity.

"You see I have come back, my dears," she exclaimed, cordially, kissing
the girls one after the other. "And I am so sorry I could not get to
you in time to make arrangements for taking you with me to see the
opening--I quite intended to take you. But I only returned last night."

"Oh, thank you," responded Elizabeth, with warm gratitude, "it is treat
enough for us to see you again." And then, hesitating a little as she
wondered whether it was or was not a proper thing to do, she looked at
her other guests and murmured their names. Upon which Mrs. M'Intyre
made a servile curtsey, unworthy of a daughter of a free country, and
Paul a most reluctant inclination of the head. To which again Mrs.
Duff-Scott responded by a slight nod and a glance of good-humoured
curiosity at them both.

"I'll say good afternoon, Miss King," said Mr. Brion haughtily.

"Oh, _good_ afternoon," replied Elizabeth, smiling sweetly. And she and
her sisters shook hands with him and with his landlady, and the pair
departed in some haste, Paul in a worse temper than he had ever known
himself to indulge in; and he was not much mollified by the sudden
appearance of Elizabeth, as he was fumbling with the handle of the
front door, bearing her evident if unspoken apologies for having seemed
to turn him out.

"You will come with Mrs. M'Intyre another time," she suggested kindly,
"and have some more music? I would have asked you to stay longer
to-day, but we haven't seen Mrs. Duff-Scott for such a long time--"

"Oh, pray don't mention it," he interrupted stiffly. "I should have had
to leave in any case, for my work is all behind-hand."

"Ah, that is because we have been wasting your time!"

"Not at all. I am only too happy to be of use--in the absence of your
other friends."

She would not notice this little sneer, but said good-bye and turned
to walk upstairs. Paul, ashamed of himself, made an effort to detain
her. "Is there anything I can do for you, Miss King?" he asked, gruffly
indeed, but with an appeal for forbearance in his eyes. "Do you want
your books changed or anything?"

She stood on the bottom step of the stairs, and thought for a moment;
and then she said, dropping her eyes, "I--I think _you_ have a book
that I should like to borrow--if I might."

"Most happy. What book is it?"

"It is one of Thackeray's. I think you told us you had a complete
edition of Thackeray that some one gave you for a birthday present.
I scarcely know which volume it is, but it has something in it about
a man being hanged--and a crowd--" She broke off with an embarrassed
laugh, hearing how oddly it sounded.

"You must mean the 'Sketches,'" he said. "There is a paper entitled
'Going to See a Man Hanged' in the 'London Sketches'--"

"That is the book I mean."

"All right--I'll get it and send it in to you at once--with pleasure."

"Oh, _thank_ you. I'm _so_ much obliged to you. I'll take the greatest
care of it," she assured him fervently.



CHAPTER XVIII.


THE FAIRY GODMOTHER.


Elizabeth went upstairs at a run, and found Patty and Eleanor trying
to make Mrs. Duff-Scott understand who Paul Brion was, what his father
was, and his profession, and his character; how he had never been
inside their doors until that afternoon, and how he had at last by mere
accident come to be admitted and entertained. And Mrs. Duff-Scott,
serene but imperious, was delivering some of her point-blank opinions
upon the subject.

"Don't encourage him, my dears--don't encourage him to come again," she
was saying as Elizabeth entered the room. "He and his father are two
very different people, whatever they may think."

"We cannot help being grateful to him," said Patty sturdily. "He has
done so much for us."

"Dear child, that's nonsense. Girls _can't_ be grateful to young
men--don't you see? It is out of the question. And now you have got
_me_ to do things for you."

"But he helped us when we had no one else."

"Yes, that's all right, of course. No doubt it was a pleasure to him--a
privilege--for _him_ to be grateful for rather than you. But--well,
Elizabeth knows what I mean"--turning an expressive glance towards the
discreet elder sister. Patty's eyes went in the same direction, and
Elizabeth answered both of them at once.

"You must not ask us to give up Paul Brion," she said, promptly.

"I don't," said Mrs. Duff-Scott. "I only ask you to keep him in his
place. He is not the kind of person to indulge with tea and music, you
know--that is what I mean."

"You speak as if you knew something against him," murmured Patty, with
heightened colour.

"I know this much, my dear," replied the elder woman, gravely; "he is
_a friend of Mrs. Aarons's_."

"And is not Mrs. Aarons--"

"She is very well, in her way. But she likes to have men dangling about
her. She means no harm, I am sure," added Mrs. Duff-Scott, who, in
the matter of scandal, prided herself on being a non-conductor, "but
still it is not nice, you know. And I don't think that her men friends
are the kind of friends for you. You don't mind my speaking frankly,
my love? I am an old woman, you know, and I have had a great deal of
experience."

She was assured that they did not mind it, but were, on the contrary,
indebted to her for her good advice. And the subject of Paul Brion was
dropped. Patty was effectually silenced by that unexpected reference
to Mrs. Aarons, and by the rush of recollections, embracing him and
her together, which suddenly gave form and colour to the horrible
idea of him as a victim to a married woman's fascinations. She turned
away abruptly, with a painful blush that not only crimsoned her from
throat to temples, but seemed to make her tingle to her toes; and,
like the headlong and pitiless young zealot that she was, determined
to thrust him out for ever from the sacred precincts of her regard.
Mrs. Duff-Scott was satisfied too. She was always sure of her own power
to speak plainly without giving offence, and she found it absolutely
necessary to protect these ingenuous maidens from their own ignorance.
Needless to say that, since she had adopted them into her social
circle, she had laid plans for their ultimate settlement therein. In
her impulsive benevolence she had even gone the length of marking
down the three husbands whom she considered respectively appropriate
to the requirements of the case, and promised herself a great deal of
interest and pleasure in the vicarious pursuit of them through the
ensuing season. Wherefore she was much relieved to have come across
this obscure writer for the press, and to have had the good chance, at
the outset of her campaign, to counteract his possibly antagonistic
influence. She knew her girls quite well enough to make sure that her
hint would take its full effect.

She leaned back in her chair comfortably, and drew off her gloves,
while they put fresh tea in the teapot, and cut her thin shavings of
bread and butter; and she sat with them until six o'clock, gossiping
pleasantly. After giving them a history of the morning's ceremonies,
as witnessed by the Government's invited guests inside the Exhibition
building, she launched into hospitable schemes for their enjoyment of
the gay time that had set in. "Now that I am come back," she said, "I
shall take care that you shall go out and see everything there is to be
seen. You have never had such a chance to learn something of the world,
and I can't allow you to neglect it."

"Dear Mrs. Duff-Scott," said Elizabeth, "we have already been indulging
ourselves too much, I am afraid. We have done no reading--at least none
worth doing--for days. We are getting all behind-hand. The whole of
yesterday and all this morning--"

"What did you do this morning?" Mrs. Duff-Scott interrupted quickly.

They gave her a sketch of their adventures, merely suppressing
the incident of the elder sister's encounter with the mysterious
person whom the younger ones had begun to style "Elizabeth's young
man"--though why they suppressed that none of them could have explained.

"Very well," was her comment upon the little narrative, which told her
far more than it told them. "That shows you that I am right. There are
a great many things for you to learn that all the books in the Public
Library could not teach you. Take my advice, and give up literary
studies for a little while. Give them up altogether, and come and learn
what the world and your fellow-creatures are made of. Make a school of
the Exhibition while it lasts, and let me give you lessons in--a--what
shall I call it--social science?--the study of human nature?"

Nothing could be more charming than to have lessons from her, they told
her; and they had intended to go to school to the Exhibition as often
as they could. But--but their literary studies were their equipment for
the larger and fuller life that they looked forward to in the great
world beyond the seas. Perhaps she did not understand that?

"I understand this, my dears," the matron replied, with energy. "There
is no greater mistake in life than to sacrifice the substance of the
present for the shadow of the future. We most of us do it--until we
get old--and then we look back to see how foolish and wasteful we
have been, and that is not much comfort to us. What we've got, we've
got; what we are going to have nobody can tell. Lay in all the store
you can, of course--take all reasonable precautions to insure as
satisfactory a future as possible--but don't forget that the Present is
the great time, the most important stage of your existence, no matter
what your circumstances may be."

The girls listened to her thoughtfully, allowing that she might be
right, but suspending their judgment in the matter. They were all too
young to be convinced by another person's experience.

"You let Europe take care of itself for a bit," their friend proceeded,
"and come out and see what Australia in holiday time is like, and what
the fleeting hour will give you. I will fetch you to-morrow for a long
day at the Exhibition to begin with, and then I'll--I'll--" She broke
off and looked from one to another with an unwonted and surprising
embarrassment, and then went on impetuously.

"My dears, I don't know how to put it so as not to hurt or burden you,
but you won't misunderstand me if I express myself awkwardly--you
won't have any of that absurd conventional pride about not being
under obligations--it is a selfish feeling, a want of trust and true
generosity, when it is the case of a friend who--" She stammered and
hesitated, this self-possessed empress of a woman, and was obviously at
a loss for words wherein to give her meaning. Elizabeth, seeing what it
was that she wanted to say, sank on her knees before her, and took her
hands and kissed them. But over her sister's bent head Patty stood up
stiffly, with a burning colour in her face. Mrs. Duff-Scott, absently
fondling Elizabeth, addressed herself to Patty when she spoke again.

"As an ordinary rule," she said, "one should not accept things
from another who is not a relation--I know that. _Not_ because it
is improper--it ought to be the most proper thing in the world for
people to help each other--but because in so many cases it can never
happen without bitter mortifications afterwards. People are so--so
superficial? But I--Patty, dear, I am an old woman, and I have a great
deal of money, and I have no children; and I have never been able to
fill the great gap where the children should be with music and china,
or any interest of that sort. And you are alone in the world, and I
have taken a fancy to you--I have grown _fond_ of you--and I have
made a little plan for having you about me, to be a sort of adopted
daughters for whom I could feel free to do little motherly things in
return for your love and confidence in me. You will indulge me, and let
me have my way, won't you? It will be doing more for me, I am sure,
than I could do for you."

"O no--no--_no!_" said Patty, with a deep breath, but stretching her
hands with deprecating tenderness towards their guest. "You would
do everything for us, and we _could_ do nothing for you. You would
overwhelm us! And not only that; perhaps--perhaps, by-and-bye, you
would not care about us so much as you do now--we might want to do
something that you didn't like, something we felt ourselves _obliged_
to do, however much you disliked it--and if you got vexed with us, or
tired of us--oh, think what that would be! Think how you would regret
that you had--had--made us seem to belong to you. And how we should
hate ourselves."

She looked at Mrs. Duff-Scott with a world of ardent apology in her
eyes, before which the matron's fell, discouraged and displeased.

"You make me feel that I am an impulsive and romantic girl, and that
_you_ are the wise old woman of the world," she said with a proud sigh.

But at this, Patty, pierced to the heart, flung her arms round Mrs.
Duff-Scott's neck, and crushed the most beautiful bonnet in Melbourne
remorselessly out of shape against her young breast. That settled the
question, for all practical purposes. Mrs. Duff-Scott went home at six
o'clock, feeling that she had achieved her purpose, and entered into
some of the dear privileges of maternity. It was more delightful than
any "find" of old china. She did not go to sleep until she had talked
both her husband and herself into a headache with her numerous plans
for the welfare of her _protégées_, and until she had designed down to
the smallest detail the most becoming costumes she could think of for
them to wear, when she took them with her to the Cup.



CHAPTER XIX.


A MORNING AT THE EXHIBITION.


Paul Brion was wakened from his sleep next morning by the sound of Mrs.
Duff-Scott's carriage wheels and prancing horses, and sauntering to
his sitting-room window about ten minutes later, had the satisfaction
of seeing his young neighbours step into the distinguished vehicle and
drive away. There was Elizabeth reposing by her chaperon's side, as
serene as a princess who had never set foot on common earth; and there
were Patty and Eleanor, smiling and animated, lovelier than their wont,
if that could be, nestling under the shadow of two tall men-servants
in irreproachable liveries, with cockades upon their hats. It was a
pretty sight, but it spoiled his appetite for his breakfast. He could
no longer pretend that he was thankful for the fruition of his desires
on their behalf. He could only feel that they were gone, and that he
was left behind--that a great gulf had suddenly opened between them and
him and the humble and happy circumstances of yesterday, with no bridge
across it that he could walk over.

The girls, for their part, practically forgot him, and enjoyed the
difference between to-day and yesterday in the most worldly and
womanly manner. The sensation of bowling along the streets in a
perfectly-appointed carriage was as delicious to them as it is to most
of us who are too poor to indulge in it as a habit; for the time being
it answered all the purposes of happiness as thoroughly as if they had
never had any higher ambition than to cut a dash. They went shopping
with the fairy godmother before they went to the Exhibition, and that,
too, was absorbingly delightful--both to Elizabeth, who went in with
Mrs. Duff-Scott to assist her in her purchases, and to the younger
sisters, who reposed majestically in the carriage at the door. Patty's
quick eyes caught sight of Mrs. Aarons and a pair of her long-nosed
children walking on the pavement, and she cheerfully owned herself a
snob and gloried in it. It gave her unspeakable satisfaction, she said,
to sit there and look down upon Mrs. Aarons.

As they passed the Melbourne Club on their way to the Exhibition, the
coachman was hailed by the elder of two gentlemen who were sauntering
down the steps, and they were introduced for the first time to the
fairy godmother's husband. Major Duff-Scott, an ex-officer of dragoons
and a late prominent public man of his colony (he was prominent
still, but for his social, and not his official qualifications), was
a well-dressed and well-preserved old gentleman, who, having sown a
large and miscellaneous crop of wild oats in the course of a long
career, had been rewarded with great wealth and all the privileges
of the highest respectability. He had been a prodigal, but he had
enjoyed it--never knowing the bitterness of either hunger or husks.
He had tasted dry bread at times, as a matter of course, but only
just enough of it to give a proper relish to the abundant cakes and
ale that were his portion; and the proverb which says you cannot eat
your cake and have it was a perfectly dead letter in his case. He had
been eating his all his life, and he had got it still. In person he
was the most gentle-looking little man imaginable--about half the size
of his imposing wife, thin and spare, and with a little stoop in his
shoulders; but there was an alertness in his step and a brightness in
his eye, twinkling remotely between the shadow of his hat brim and a
bulging mass of white moustache that covered all the lower part of
his small face, which had suggestions of youth and vigour about them
that were lacking in the figure and physiognomy of the young man at
his side. When he came up to the carriage door to be introduced to his
wife's _protégées_, whom he greeted with as much cordiality as Mrs.
Duff-Scott could have desired, they did not know why it was that they
so immediately lost the sense of awe with which they had contemplated
the approach of a person destined to have so formidable a relation to
themselves. They shook hands with him, they made modest replies to his
polite inquiries, they looked beyond his ostensible person to the eyes
that looked at them; and then their three grave faces relaxed, and in
half a minute were brimming over with smiles. They felt at home with
Major Duff-Scott at once.

"Come, come," said the fairy godmother rather impatiently, when
something like a fine aroma of badinage was beginning to perfume
the conversation, "you must not stop us now. We want to have a long
morning. You can join us at the Exhibition presently, if you like,
and bring Mr. Westmoreland." She indicated the young man who had
been talking to her while her spouse made the acquaintance of her
companions, and who happened to be one of the three husbands whom she
had selected for those young ladies. He was the richest of them all,
and the most stupid, and therefore he seemed to be cut out for Patty,
who, being so intellectual and so enterprising, would not only make
a good use of his money, but would make the best that was to be made
of _him_. "My dears," she said, turning towards the girls, "let me
introduce Mr. Westmoreland to you. Mr. Westmoreland, Miss King--Miss
Eleanor King--Miss _Patty_ King."

The heavy young man made a heavy bow to each, and then stared straight
at Eleanor, and studied her with calm attention until the carriage bore
her from his sight. She, with her tender blue eyes and her yellow hair,
and her skin like the petals of a blush rose, was what he was pleased
to call, in speaking of her a little later to a confidential friend,
the "girl for him." Of Patty he took no notice whatever.

Mrs. Duff-Scott, on her way to Carlton, stopped to speak to an
acquaintance who was driving in an opposite direction, and by the time
she reached the Exhibition, she found that her husband's hansom had
arrived before her, and that he and Mr. Westmoreland were waiting at
the entrance to offer their services as escort to the party. The major
was the best of husbands, but he was not in the habit of paying her
these small attentions; and Mr. Westmoreland had never been known,
within her memory of him, to put himself to so much trouble for a
lady's convenience. Wherefore the fairy godmother smiled upon them
both, and felt that the Fates were altogether propitious to her little
schemes. They walked up the pathway in a group, fell necessarily into
single file in the narrow passage where they received and returned
their tickets, and collected in a group again under the great dome,
where they stood to look round on the twenty acres of covered space
heaped with the treasures of those nations which Victoria welcomed in
great letters on the walls. Mrs. Duff-Scott hooked her gold-rimmed
glasses over her nose, and pointed out to her husband wherein the
building was deficient, and wherein superfluous, in its internal
arrangements and decorations. In her opinion--which placed the matter
beyond discussion--the symbolical groups over the arches were all out
of drawing, the colouring of the whole place vulgar to a degree, and
the painted clouds inside the cupola enough to make one sick. The
major endorsed her criticisms, perfunctorily, with amused little nods,
glancing hither and thither in the directions she desired. "Ah, my
dear," said he, "you mustn't expect everybody to have such good taste
as yours." Mr. Westmoreland seemed to have exhausted the Exhibition,
for his part; he had seen it all the day before, he explained, and he
did not see what there was to make a fuss about. With the exception
of some mysteries in the basement, into which he darkly hinted a
desire to initiate the major presently, it had nothing about it to
interest a man who, like him, had just returned from Europe and had
seen the Paris affair. But to our girls it was an enchanted palace of
delights--far exceeding their most extravagant anticipations. They
gave no verbal expression to their sentiments, but they looked at each
other with faces full of exalted emotion, and tacitly agreed that they
were perfectly satisfied. The fascination of the place, as a storehouse
of genuine samples of the treasures of that great world which they
had never seen, laid hold of them with a grip that left a lasting
impression. Even the _rococo_ magnificence of the architecture and its
adornments, which Mrs. Duff-Scott, enlightened by a large experience,
despised, affected their untrained imaginations with all the force of
the highest artistic sublimity. A longing took possession of them all
at the same moment to steal back to-morrow--next day--as soon as they
were free again to follow their own devices--and wander about the great
and wonderful labyrinth by themselves and revel unobserved in their
secret enthusiasms.

However, they enjoyed themselves to-day beyond all expectation. After
skimming the cream of the many sensations offered to them, sauntering
up and down and round and round through the larger thoroughfares in
a straggling group, the little party, fixing upon their place of
rendezvous and lunching arrangements, paired themselves for a closer
inspection of such works of art as they were severally inclined to.
Mrs. Duff-Scott kept Patty by her side, partly because Mr. Westmoreland
did not seem to want her, and partly because the girl was such an
interesting companion, being wholly absorbed in what she had come
to see, and full of intelligent appreciation of everything that was
pointed out to her; and this pair went a-hunting in the wildernesses of
miscellaneous pottery for such unique and precious "bits" as might be
secured, on the early bird principle, for Mrs. Duff-Scott's collection.
Very soon that lady's card was hanging round the necks of all sorts of
quaint vessels that she had greedily pounced upon (and which further
researches proved to be relatively unworthy of notice) in her anxiety
to outwit and frustrate the birds that would come round presently;
while Patty was having her first lesson in china, and showing herself a
delightfully precocious pupil. Mr. Westmoreland confined his attentions
exclusively to Eleanor, who by-and-bye found herself interested in
being made so much of, and even inclined to be a little frivolous. She
did not know whether to take him as a joke or in earnest, but either
way he was amusing. He strolled heavily along by her side for awhile
in the wake of Mrs. Duff-Scott and Patty, paying no attention to the
dazzling wares around him, but a great deal to his companion. He kept
turning his head to gaze at her, with solemn, ruminating eyes, until at
last, tired of pretending she did not notice it, she looked back at him
and laughed. This seemed to put him at his ease with her at once.

"What are you laughing at?" he asked, with more animation than she
thought him capable of.

"Nothing," said she.

"Oh, but you were laughing at something. What was it? Was it because I
was staring at you?"

"Well, you _do_ stare," she admitted.

"I can't help it. No one could help staring at you."

"Why? Am I such a curiosity?"

"You know why. Don't pretend you don't."

She blushed at this, making herself look prettier than ever; it was not
in her to pretend she didn't know--nor yet to pretend that his crude
flattery displeased her.

"A cat may look at a king," he remarked, his heavy face quite lit up
with his enjoyment of his own delicate raillery.

"O yes, certainly," she retorted. "But you see I am not a king, and you
are not a cat."

"'Pon my word, you're awfully sharp," he rejoined, admiringly. And
he laughed over this little joke at intervals for several minutes.
Then by degrees they dropped away from their party, and went straying
up and down the nave _tête-à-tête_ amongst the crowd, looking at the
exhibits and not much understanding what they looked at; and they
carried on their conversation in much the same style as they began it,
with, I grieve to say, considerable mutual enjoyment. By-and-bye Mr.
Westmoreland took his young companion to the German tent, where the
Hanau jewels were, by way of giving her the greatest treat he could
think of. He betted her sixpence that he could tell her which necklace
she liked the best, and he showed her the several articles (worth
some thousands of pounds) which he should have selected for his wife,
had he had a wife--declaring in the same breath that they were very
poor things in comparison with such and such other things that he had
seen elsewhere. Then they strolled along the gallery, glancing at the
pictures as they went, Eleanor making mental notes for future study,
but finding herself unable to study anything in Mr. Westmoreland's
company. And then suddenly came a tall figure towards them--a
gentlemanly man with a brown face and a red moustache--at sight of whom
she gave a a little start of delighted recognition.

"Hullo!" cried Mr. Westmoreland, "there's old Yelverton, I do declare.
He _said_ he'd come over to have a look at the Exhibition."

Old Yelverton was no other than "Elizabeth's young man."



CHAPTER XX.


CHINA V. THE CAUSE OF HUMANITY.


Meanwhile, Major Duff-Scott took charge of Elizabeth, and he was
very well satisfied with the arrangement that left her to his care.
He always preferred a mature woman to a young girl, as being a more
interesting and intelligent companion, and he admired her when on a
generous scale, as is the wont of small men. Elizabeth's frank face
and simple manners and majestic physical proportions struck him as an
admirable combination. "A fine woman," he called her, speaking of her
later to his wife: "reminds me of what you were when I married you,
my dear." And when he got to know her better he called her "a fine
creature"--which meant that he recognised other good qualities in her
besides that of a lofty stature.

As soon as Mrs. Duff-Scott stated her intention of going to see "what
she could pick up," the major waved his hand and begged that he might
be allowed to resign all his responsibilities on her behalf. "Buy what
you like, my dear, buy what you like," he said plaintively, "but don't
ask me to come and look on while you do it. Take Westmoreland--I'm sure
he would enjoy it immensely."

"Don't flatter yourselves that I shall ask either of you," retorted his
wife. "You would be rather in the way than otherwise. I've got Patty."

"Oh, she's got Patty!" he repeated, looking with gentle mournfulness at
the young lady in question, while his far-off eyes twinkled under his
hat brim. "I trust you are fond of china, Miss Patty."

"I am fond of _everything_," Patty fervently replied.

"Oh, that's right. You and Mrs. Duff-Scott will get on together
admirably, I foresee. Come, Miss King"--turning to Elizabeth--"let us
go and see what _we_ can discover in the way of desirable bric-à-brac.
We'll have a look at the Murano ware for you, my dear, if you
like"--again addressing his wife softly--"and come back and tell you
if there is anything particularly choice. I know they have a lovely
bonnet there, all made of the sweetest Venetian glass and trimmed with
blue velvet. But you could take the velvet off, you know, and trim it
with a mirror. Those wreaths of leaves and flowers, and beautiful pink
braids--"

"Oh, go along!" she interrupted impatiently. "Elizabeth, take care of
him, and don't let him buy anything, but see what is there and tell me.
I'm not going to put any of that modern stuff with my sixteenth century
cup and bottle," she added, looking at nobody in particular, with a
sudden brightening of her eyes; "but if there is anything pretty that
will do for my new cabinet in the morning room--or for the table--I
should like to have the first choice."

"Very well," assented her husband, meekly. "Come along, Miss King.
We'll promise not to buy anything." He and Elizabeth then set off on
their own account, and Elizabeth found herself led straight to the foot
of a staircase, where the little major offered his arm to assist her in
the ascent.

"But the Murano Court is not upstairs, is it?" she asked, hesitating.

"O no," he replied; "it is over there," giving a little backward nod.

"And are we not going to look at the glass?"

"Not at present," he said, softly. "That will keep. We'll look at it
by-and-bye. First, I am going to show you the pictures. You are fond of
pictures, are you not?"

"I am, indeed."

"Yes, I was certain of it. Come along, then, I can show you a few
tolerably good ones. Won't you take my arm?"

She took his arm, as he seemed to expect it, though it would have
been more reasonable if he had taken hers; and they marched upstairs,
slowly, in face of the crowd that was coming down.

"My wife," said the major, sententiously, "is one of the best women
that ever breathed."

"I am _sure_ she is," assented Elizabeth, with warmth.

"No," he said, "_you_ can't be sure; that is why I tell you. I have
known her a long time, and experience has proved it to me. She is one
of the best women that ever lived. But she has her faults. I think I
ought to warn you, Miss King, that she has her faults."

"I think you ought not," said Elizabeth, with instinctive propriety.

"Yes," he went on, "it is a point of honour. I owe it to you, as the
head of my house--the nominal head, you understand--the responsible
head--not to let you labour under any delusion respecting us. It
is best that you should know the truth at once. Mrs. Duff-Scott is
_energetic_. She is fearfully, I may say abnormally, energetic."

"I think," replied Elizabeth, with decision, "that that is one of the
finest qualities in the world."

"Ah, do you?" he rejoined sadly. "That is because you are young. I
used to think so, too, when I was young. But I don't now--experience
has taught me better. What I object to in my wife is that experience
doesn't teach her anything. She _won't_ learn. She persists in keeping
all her youthful illusions, in the most obstinate and unjustifiable
manner."

Here they reached the gallery and the pictures, but the major saw two
empty chairs, and, sitting down on one of them, bade his companion
rest herself on the other until she had recovered from the fatigue of
getting upstairs.

"There is no hurry," he said wearily; "we have plenty of time." And
then he looked at her with that twinkle in his eye, and said gently,
"Miss King, you are very musical, I hear. Is that a fact?"

"We are very, very fond of music," she said, smiling. "It is rather a
hobby with us, I think."

"A hobby! Ah, that's delightful. I'm so glad it is a hobby. You don't,
by happy chance, play the violin, do you?"

"No. We only know the piano."

"You all play the piano?--old masters, and that sort of thing?"

"Yes. My sister Patty plays best. Her touch and expression are
beautiful."

"Ah!" he exclaimed again, softly, as if with much inward satisfaction.
He was sitting languidly on his chair, nursing his knee, and gazing
through the balustrade of the gallery upon the crowd below. Elizabeth
was on the point of suggesting that they might now go and look at the
pictures, when he began upon a fresh topic.

"And about china, Miss King? Tell me, do you know anything about china?"

"I'm afraid not," said Elizabeth.

"You don't know the difference between Chelsea and Derby-Chelsea, for
instance?"

"No."

"Nor between old Majolica and modern?"

"No."

"Nor between a Limoges enamel of the sixteenth century--everything
_good_ belongs to the sixteenth century, you must remember--and what
they call Limoges now-a-days?"

"No."

"Ah, well, I think very few people do," said the major, resignedly.
"But, at any rate"--speaking in a tone of encouragement--"you _do_ know
Sèvres and Dresden when you see them?--you could tell one of _them_
from the other?"

"Really," Elizabeth replied, beginning to blush for her surpassing
ignorance, "I am very sorry to have to confess it, but I don't believe
I could."

The major softly unclasped his knees and leaned back in his chair, and
sighed.

"But I could learn," suggested Elizabeth.

"Ah, so you can," he responded, brightening. "You can learn, of course.
_Will_ you learn? You can't think what a favour it would be to me if
you would learn. Do promise me that you will."

"No, I will not promise. I should do it to please myself--and, of
course, because it is a thing that Mrs. Duff-Scott takes an interest
in," said Elizabeth.

"That is just what I mean. It is _because_ Mrs. Duff-Scott takes such
an interest in china that I want you to cultivate a taste for it.
You see it is this way," he proceeded argumentatively, again, still
clasping his knees, and looking up at her with a quaint smile from
under his hat brim. "I will be frank with you, Miss King--it is this
way. I want to induce you to enter into an alliance with me, offensive
and defensive, against that terrible energy which, as I said, is my
wife's alarming characteristic. For her own good, you understand--for
my comfort incidentally, but for her own good in the first place, I
want you to help me to keep her energy within bounds. As long as she
is happy with music and china we shall be all right, but if she goes
beyond things of that sort--well, I tremble for the consequences. They
would be fatal--fatal!"

"Where are you afraid she should go to?" asked Elizabeth.

"I am afraid she should go into _philanthropy_," the major solemnly
rejoined. "That is the bug-bear--the spectre--the haunting terror of
my life. I never see a seedy man in a black frock coat, nor an elderly
female in spectacles, about the house or speaking to my wife in the
street, that I don't shake in my shoes--literally shake in my shoes, I
do assure you. I can't think how it is that she has never taken up the
Cause of Humanity," he proceeded reflectively. "If we had not settled
down in Australia, she _must_ have done it--she could not have helped
herself. But even here she is beset with temptations. _I_ can see them
in every direction. I can't think how it is that she doesn't see them
too."

"No doubt she sees them," said Elizabeth.

"O no, she does not. The moment she sees them--the moment she casts
a serious eye upon them--that moment she will be a lost woman, and I
shall be a desperate man."

The major shuddered visibly, and Elizabeth laughed at his distress.
"Whenever it happens that Mrs. Duff-Scott goes into philanthropy," she
said, a little in joke and a great deal in earnest, "I shall certainly
be proud to accompany her, if she will have me." And, as she spoke,
there flashed into her mind some idea of the meaning of certain little
sentences that were breathed into her ear yesterday. The major talked
on as before, and she tried to attend to what he said, but she found
herself thinking less of him now than of her unknown friend--less
occupied with the substantial figures upon the stage of action around
her than with the delusive scene-painting in the background of her own
imagination. Beyond the crowd that flowed up and down the gallery, she
saw a dim panorama of other crowds--phantom crowds--that gradually
absorbed her attention. They were in the streets of Cologne, looking
up at those mighty walls and towers that had been six centuries
a-building, shouting and shaking hands with each other; and in the
midst of them _he_ was standing, grave and critical, observing their
excitement and finding it "pathetic"--nothing more. They were in
London streets in the early daylight--daylight at half-past three
in the morning! that was a strange thing to think of--a "gentle and
good-humoured" mob, yet full of tragic interest for the philosopher
watching its movements, listening to its talk, speculating upon its
potential value in the sum of humankind. It was the typical crowd that
he was in the habit of studying--not like the people who thronged
the Treasury steps this time yesterday. Surely it was the _Cause of
Humanity_ that had laid hold of _him_. That was the explanation of the
interest he took in some crowds, and of the delight that he found in
the uninterestingness of others. That was what he meant when he told
her she ought to read Thackeray's paper to help her to understand him.

Pondering over this thought, fitfully, amid the distractions of the
conversation, she raised her head and saw Eleanor coming towards her.

"There's Westmoreland and your sister," said the major. "And one of
those strangers who are swarming all about the place just now, and
crowding us out of our club. It's Yelverton. Kingscote Yelverton he
calls himself. He is rather a swell when he's at home, they tell me;
but Westmoreland has no business to foist his acquaintance on your
sister. He'll have my wife about him if he is not more careful than
that."

Elizabeth saw them approaching, and forgot all about the crowd under
Cologne Cathedral and the crowd that went to see the man hanged.
She remembered only the crowd of yesterday, and how that stately
gentleman--could it be possible?--had stood with her amid the crush and
clamour, holding her in his arms. For the first time she was able to
look at him fairly and see what he was like; and it seemed to her that
she had never seen a man of such a noble presence. His eyes were fixed
upon her as she raised hers to his face, regarding her steadily, but
with inscrutable gravity and absolute respect. The major rose to salute
him in response to Mr. Westmoreland's rather imperious demand. "My old
friend, whom I met in Paris," said Mr. Westmoreland; "come over to have
a look at us. Want you to know him, major. We must do our best to make
him enjoy himself, you know."

"Didn't I tell you?" whispered Eleanor, creeping round the back of her
sister's chair. "Didn't I tell you he would be here?"

And at the same moment Elizabeth heard some one murmur over her head,
"Miss King, allow me to introduce Mr. Yelverton--my friend, whom I knew
in Paris--"

And so he and she not only met again, but received Mrs. Grundy's
gracious permission to make each other's acquaintance.



CHAPTER XXI.


THE "CUP."


Out of the many Cup Days that have gladdened the hearts of countless
holiday-makers on the Flemington course assembled, perhaps that of
1880 was the most "all round" satisfactory and delightful to everybody
concerned--except the bookmakers, and nobody grieves much over their
disasters (though there are several legitimate and highly respected
lines of business that are conducted on precisely the same system as
governs their nefarious practices). It was, indeed, considered that
the discomfiture of the bookmakers was a part of the brilliant success
of the occasion. In the capricious spring-time of the year, when cold
winds, or hot winds, or storms of rain, or clouds of dust, might any of
them have been expected, this second of November displayed a perfect
pattern of the boasted Australian climate to the foreigners of all
nations who had been invited to enjoy it--a sweet blue sky, a fresh and
delicate air, a broad glow of soft and mellow sunshine, of a quality
to sufficiently account for the holiday-making propensities of the
Australian people, and for the fascination that draws them home, in
spite of all intentions to the contrary, when they have gone to look
for happiness in other lands. The great racing-ground was in its finest
order, the running track sanded and rolled, the lawns watered to a
velvet greenness, the promenade level and speckless and elastic to the
feet as a ball-room floor; and by noon more than a hundred thousand
spectators, well-dressed and well-to-do--so orderly in their coming
and going, and when congregated in solid masses together, that the
policeman, though doubtless ubiquitous, was forgotten--were waiting
to see the triumph of Grand Flâneur. At which time, and throughout
the afternoon, Melbourne city was as a city of the dead; shops and
warehouses deserted, and the empty streets echoing to a passing
footfall with the hollow distinctness of midnight or the early hours of
Sunday morning.

While a full half of the crowd was being conveyed to the course by
innumerable trains, the sunny road was alive with vehicles of every
description--spring-carts and lorries, cabs and buggies, broughams
and landaus, and four-in-hand coaches--all filled to their utmost
capacity, and displaying the sweetest things in bonnets and parasols.
And amongst the best-appointed carriages Major Duff-Scott's was
conspicuous, not only for its build and finish, and the excellence of
the horses that drew it, and the fit of the livery of the coachman
who drove it, but for the beauty and charming costumes of the ladies
inside. The major himself, festive in light grey, with his member's
card in his button-hole and his field-glass slung over his shoulder,
occupied the place of the usual footman on the box seat in order that
all the three sisters should accompany his wife; and Mrs. Duff-Scott,
having set her heart on dressing her girls for the occasion, had been
allowed to have her own way, with the happiest results. The good woman
sat back in her corner, forgetting her own Parisian elegance and how
it would compare with the Cup Day elegance of rival matrons in the
van of rank and fashion, while she revelled in the contemplation of
the young pair before her, on whom her best taste had been exercised.
Elizabeth, by her side, was perfectly satisfactory in straw-coloured
Indian silk, ruffled with some of her own fine old lace, and wearing
a delicate French bonnet and parasol to match, with a bunch of
Camille de Rohan roses at her throat for colour; but Elizabeth was
not a striking beauty, nor of a style to be experimented on. Patty
and Eleanor were; and they had been "treated" accordingly. Patty was
a harmony in pink--the faintest shell-pink--and Eleanor a study in
the softest, palest shade of china-blue; both their dresses being of
muslin, lightly frilled, and tied round the waist with sashes; while
they wore bewitching little cap-like bonnets, with swathes of tulle
under their chins. The effect--designed for a sunny morning, and to
be set off by the subdued richness of her own olive-tinted robes--was
all that Mrs. Duff-Scott anticipated. The two girls were exquisitely
sylph-like, and harmonious, and refined--looking prettier than they had
ever done in their lives, because they knew themselves that they were
looking so--and it was confidently expected by their chaperon that they
would do considerable execution before the day was over. At the back
of the carriage was strapped a hamper containing luncheon sufficient
for all the potential husbands that the racecourse might produce, and
Mrs. Duff-Scott was prepared to exercise discriminating but extensive
hospitality.

It was not more than eleven o'clock when they entered the carriage
enclosure and were landed at the foot of the terrace steps, and already
more carriages than one would have imagined the combined colonies could
produce were standing empty and in close order in the paddock on one
hand, while on the other the grand stand was packed from end to end.
Lawn and terrace were swarming with those brilliant toilets which are
the feature of our great annual _fête_ day, and the chief subject of
interest in the newspapers of the day after.

"Dear me, what a crowd!" exclaimed Mrs. Duff-Scott, as her horses drew
up on the smooth gravel, and she glanced eagerly up the steps. "We
shall not be able to find anyone."

But they had no sooner alighted and shaken out their skirts than
down from the terrace stepped Mr. Westmoreland, the first and most
substantial instalment of expected cavaliers, to assist the major to
convoy his party to the field. Mr. Westmoreland was unusually alert
and animated, and he pounced upon Eleanor, after hurriedly saluting
the other ladies, with such an open preference that Mrs. Duff-Scott
readjusted her schemes upon the spot. If the young man insisted upon
choosing the youngest instead of the middle one, he must be allowed to
do so, was the matron's prompt conclusion. She would rather have begun
at the top and worked downwards, leaving fair Eleanor to be disposed of
after the elder sisters were settled; but she recognised the wisdom of
taking the goods the gods provided as she could get them.

"I do declare," said Mr. Westmoreland, looking straight at the girl's
face, framed in the soft little bonnet, and the pale blue disc of her
parasol, "I do declare I never saw anybody look so--so--"

"Come, come," interrupted the chaperon, "I don't allow speeches of
that sort." She spoke quite sharply, this astute diplomatist, so that
the young man who was used to being allowed, and even encouraged, to
make speeches of that sort, experienced the strange sensation of being
snubbed, and was half inclined to be sulky over it; and at the same
moment she quietly seconded his manoeuvres to get to Eleanor's side,
and took care that he had his chances generally for the rest of the day.

They joined the two great streams of gorgeous promenaders slowly pacing
up and down the long green lawn. Every seat in the stand was occupied
and the gangways and gallery so tightly packed that when the Governor
arrived presently, driving his own four-in-hand, with the Duke of
Manchester beside him, there was some difficulty in squeezing out a
path whereby he and his party might ascend to their box. But there were
frequent benches on the grass, and it was of far more consequence to
have freedom to move and display one's clothes, and opportunities of
meeting one's friends, and observing the social aspect of the affair
generally, than it was to see the racing to the best advantage--since
one had to choose between the two. At least, that was understood to
be the opinion of the ladies present; and Cup Day, notwithstanding
its tremendous issues, is a ladies' day. The major, than whom no man
better loved a first-class race, had had a good time at the Derby on
the previous Saturday, and looked forward to enjoying himself as a man
and a sportsman when Saturday should come again; but to-day, though
sharing a warm interest in the great event with those who thronged
the betting and saddling paddock, he meekly gave himself up to be his
wife's attendant and to help her to entertain her _protégées_. He did
not find this task a hard one, nor wanting in abundant consolations. He
took off Elizabeth, in the first place, to show her the arrangements
of the course, of which, by virtue of the badge in his button-hole, he
was naturally proud; and it pleased him to meet his friends at every
step, and to note the grave respect with which they saluted him out of
compliment to the lady at his side--obviously wondering who was that
fine creature with Duff-Scott. He showed her the scratching-house, with
its four-faced clock in its tall tower, and made erasures on his own
card and hers from the latest corrected lists that it displayed; and he
taught her the rudiments of betting as practised by her sex. Then he
initiated her into the mysteries of the electric bells and telegraphs,
and all the other V.R.C. appliances for conducting business in an
enlightened manner; showed her the bookmakers noisily pursuing their
ill-fated enterprises; showed her the beautiful horses pacing up and
down and round and round, fresh and full of enthusiasm for their day's
work. And he had much satisfaction in her intelligent and cheerful
appreciation of these new experiences.

Meanwhile Mrs. Duff-Scott, in the care of Mr. Westmoreland, awaited
their return on the lawn, slowly sweeping to and fro, with her train
rustling over the grass behind her, and feeling that she had never
enjoyed a Cup Day half so much before. Her girls were admired to her
heart's content, and she literally basked in the radiance of their
success. She regarded them, indeed, with an enthusiasm of affection and
interest that her husband felt to be the most substantial safeguard
against promiscuous philanthropy that had yet been afforded her. How
hungrily had she longed for children of her own! How she had envied
other women their grown-up daughters!--always with the sense that hers
would have been, like her cabinets of china, so much more choice and
so much better "arranged" than theirs. And now that she had discovered
these charming orphans, who had beauty, and breeding, and culture,
and not a relative or connection in the world, she did not know how
to restrain the extravagance of her satisfaction. As she rustled
majestically up and down the lawn, with one fair girl on one side of
her and one on the other, while men and women turned at every step to
stare at them, her heart swelled and throbbed with the long-latent
pride of motherhood, and a sense that she had at last stumbled upon
the particular "specimen" that she had all her life been hunting for.
The only drawback to her enjoyment in them was the consciousness that,
though they were nobody else's, they were not altogether hers. She
would have given half her fortune to be able to buy them, as she would
buy three bits of precious crockery, for her absolute possession, body
and soul--to dress, to manage, to marry as she liked.

The major kept Elizabeth walking about with him until the hour
approached for the Maiden Plate race and luncheon. And when at last
they joined their party they found that Mrs. Duff-Scott was already
getting together her guests for the latter entertainment. She was
seated on a bench, between Eleanor and Patty, and before her stood a
group of men, in various attitudes of animation and repose, conspicuous
amongst whom was the tall form of Mr. Kingscote Yelverton. Elizabeth
had only had distant glimpses of him during the four weeks that had
passed since he was introduced to her, her chaperon not having seemed
inclined to cultivate his acquaintance--probably because she had not
sought it for herself; but now the girl saw, with a quickened pulse,
that the happiness of speaking to him again was in store for her. He
seemed to be aware of her approach as soon as she was within sight,
and lifted his head and turned to watch her--still sustaining his
dialogue with Mrs. Duff-Scott, who had singled him out to talk to; and
Elizabeth, feeling his eyes upon her, had a sudden sense of discomfort
in her beautiful dress and her changed surroundings. She was sure that
he would draw comparisons, and she did not feel herself elevated by the
new dignities that had been conferred upon her.

Coming up to her party, she was introduced to several
strangers--amongst others, to the husband Mrs. Duff-Scott had selected
for her, a portly widower with a grey beard--and in the conversation
that ensued she quite ignored the only person in the group of whose
presence she was distinctly conscious. She neither looked at him nor
spoke to him, though aware of every word and glance and movement of
his; until presently they were all standing upon the slope of grass
connecting the terrace with the lawn to see the first race as best
they could, and then she found herself once more by his side. And not
only by his side, but, as those who could not gain a footing upon the
stand congregated upon the terrace elevation, gradually wedged against
him almost as tightly as on the former memorable occasion. Below them
stood Mrs. Duff-Scott, protected by Mr. Westmoreland, and Patty and
Eleanor, guarded vigilantly by the little major. It was Mr. Yelverton
himself who had quietly seen and seized upon his chance of renewing his
original relations with Elizabeth.

"Miss King," he said, in a low tone of authority, "take my arm--it will
steady you."

She took his arm, and felt at once that she was in shelter and safety.
Strong as she was, her impulse to lean on him was almost irresistible.

"Now, give me your parasol," he said. The noonday sun was pouring down,
but at this critical juncture the convenience of the greatest number
had to be considered, and unselfish women were patiently exposing their
best complexions to destruction. Of course Elizabeth declared she
should do very well until the race was over. Whereupon her companion
took her parasol gently from her hand, opened it, and held it--as from
his great height he was able to do--so that it shaded her without
incommoding other people. And so they stood, in silent enjoyment,
both thinking of where and how something like this--and yet something
so very different--had happened before, but neither of them saying a
word to betray their thoughts, until the first race was run, and the
excitement of it cooled down, and they were summoned by Mrs. Duff-Scott
to follow her to the carriage-paddock for lunch.

Down on the lawn again they sauntered side by side, finding themselves
_tête-à-tête_ without listeners for the first time since they had been
introduced to each other. Elizabeth made a tremendous effort to ignore
the secret intimacy between them. "It is a lovely day, is it not?" she
lightly remarked, from under the dome of her straw-coloured parasol. "I
don't think there has been such a fine Cup Day for years."

"Lovely," he assented. "Have you often been here before?"

"I?--oh, no. I have never been here before."

He was silent a moment, while he looked intently at what he could see
of her. She had no air of rustic inexperience of the world to-day. "You
are beginning to understand crowds," he said.

"Yes--I am, a little." Then, glancing up at him, she said, "How does
_this_ crowd affect you? Do you find it all interesting?"

He met her eyes gravely, and then lifted his own towards the hill above
the grand stand, which was now literally black with human beings, like
a swarming ant-hill.

"I think it might be more interesting up yonder," he said; and then
added, after a pause--"if we could be there."

Eleanor was walking just in front of them, chatting airily with her
admirer, Mr. Westmoreland, who certainly was making no secret of
his admiration; and she turned round when she heard this. "Ah, Mr.
Yelverton," she said, lightly, "you are very disappointing. You don't
care for our great Flemington show. You are not a connoisseur in
ladies' dresses, I suppose."

"I know when a lady's dress is becoming, Miss Eleanor," he promptly
responded, with a smile and bow. At which she blushed and laughed, and
turned her back again. For the moment he was a man like other men who
enjoy social success and favour--ready to be all things to all women;
but it was only for the moment. Elizabeth noted, with a swelling sense
of pride and pleasure, that he was not like that to her.

"I am out of my element in an affair of this kind," he said, in the
undertone that was meant for her ear alone.

"What is your element?"

"Perhaps I oughtn't to call it my element--the groove I have got
into--my 'walk of life,' so to speak."

"Yes?"

"I'll tell you about it some day--if I ever get the chance. I can't
here."

"I should like to know. And I can guess a little. You don't spend life
wholly in getting pleasure for yourself--you help others."

"What makes you think that?"

"I am sure of it."

"Thank you."

Elizabeth blushed, and could not think of a remark to make, though she
tried hard.

"Just at present," he went on, "I am on pleasure bent entirely. I am
taking several months' holiday--doing nothing but amusing myself."

"A holiday implies work."

"I suppose we all work, more or less."

"Oh, no, we don't. Not voluntarily--not disinterestedly--in that way."

"You mean in my way?"

"Yes."

"Ah, I see that Westmoreland has been romancing."

"I have not heard a word from Mr. Westmoreland--he has never spoken of
you to me."

"Who, then?"

"Nobody."

"These are your own conjectures?"

She made no reply, and they crossed the gravelled drive and entered the
labyrinth of carriages where the major's servants had prepared luncheon
in and around his own spacious vehicle, which was in a position to
lend itself to commissariat purposes. They all assembled there, the
ladies in the carriage, the gentlemen outside, and napkins and plates
were handed round and champagne uncorked; and they ate and drank
together, and were a very cheerful party. Mr. Yelverton contributed
witty nothings to the general entertainment--with so much happy tact
that Mrs. Duff-Scott was charmed with him, and said afterwards that
she had never met a man with finer manners. While the other men waited
upon their hostess and the younger sisters, he stood for the most part
quietly at Elizabeth's elbow, joining freely in the badinage round him
without once addressing her--silently replenishing her plate and her
glass when either required it with an air of making her his special
charge that was too unobtrusive to attract outside attention, but
which was more eloquent than any verbal intercourse could have been to
themselves. Elizabeth attempted no analysis of her sweet and strange
sensations. She took them from his hand, as she took her boned turkey
and champagne, without question or protest. She only felt that she was
happy and satisfied as she had never been before.

Later in the afternoon, when the great Cup race and all the excitement
of the day was over, Mrs. Duff-Scott gathered her brood together and
took leave of her casual male guests.

"_Good_-bye, Mr. Yelverton," she said cordially, when his turn came to
bid her adieu; "you will come and see me at my own house, I hope?"

Elizabeth looked up at him when she heard the words. She could not
help it--she did not know what she did. And in her eyes he read the
invitation that he declared gravely he would do himself the honour to
accept.



CHAPTER XXII.


CROSS PURPOSES.


While Elizabeth was thus happily absorbed in her "young man," and
Eleanor making an evident conquest of Mr. Westmoreland, Patty, who was
rather accustomed to the lion's share of whatever interesting thing
was going on, had very little enjoyment. For the first hour or two she
was delighted with the beauty of the scene and the weather and her own
personal circumstances, and she entered into the festive spirit of the
day with the ardour of her energetic temperament. But in a little while
the glamour faded. A serpent revealed itself in Paradise, and all her
innocent pleasure was at an end.

That serpent was Mrs. Aarons. Or, rather, it was a hydra-headed
monster, consisting of Mrs. Aarons and Paul Brion combined. Poor Paul
had come to spend a holiday afternoon at the races like everybody
else, travelling to the course by train along with the undistinguished
multitude, with the harmless intention of recruiting his mind, and, at
the same time, storing it with new impressions. He had meant to enjoy
himself in a quiet and independent fashion, strolling amongst the crowd
and studying its various aspects from the point of view of a writer
for the press to whom men and women are "material" and "subjects," and
then to go home as soon as the Cup race was over, and, after an early
dinner, to spend a peaceful solitary evening, embodying the results of
his observations in a brilliant article for his newspaper. But, before
he had well thought out the plan of his paper, he encountered Mrs.
Aarons; and to her he was a helpless captive for the whole live-long
afternoon. Mrs. Aarons had come to the course in all due state, attired
in one of the few real amongst the many reputed Worth dresses of the
day, and reclining in her own landau, with her long-nosed husband
at her side. But after her arrival, having lost the shelter of her
carriage, and being amongst the many who were shut out from the grand
stand, she had felt just a little unprotected and uncared-for. The
first time she stopped to speak to a friend, Mr. Aarons took the
opportunity to slip off to the saddling paddock, where the astute
speculator was speedily absorbed in a more congenial occupation than
that of idling up and down the promenade; and the other gentlemen who
were so assiduous in their attendance upon her in the ordinary way
had their own female relatives to look after on this extraordinary
occasion. She joined one set and then another of casual acquaintances
whom she chanced to meet, but her hold upon them all was more or less
precarious; so that when by-and-bye she saw Paul Brion, threading his
way alone amongst the throng, she pounced upon him thankfully, and
confided herself to his protection. Paul had no choice but to accept
the post of escort assigned to him under such circumstances, nor was
he at all unwilling to become her companion. He had been rather out
in the cold lately. Patty, though nominally at home in Myrtle Street,
had been practically living with Mrs. Duff-Scott for the last few
weeks, and he had scarcely had a glimpse of her, and he had left off
going to Mrs. Aarons's Fridays since the evening that she snubbed him
for Patty's sake. The result was that he was in a mood to appreciate
women's society and to be inclined to melt when the sunshine of his old
friend's favour was poured upon him again.

They greeted each other amicably, therefore, and made up the intangible
quarrel that was between them. Mrs. Aarons justified her reputation as
a clever woman by speedily causing him to regard her as the injured
party, and to wonder how he could have been such a brute as to wound
her tender susceptibilities as he had done. She insinuated, with
the utmost tact, that she had suffered exceedingly from the absence
of his society, and was evidently in a mood to revive the slightly
sentimental intercourse that he had not found disagreeable in earlier
days. Paul, however, was never less inclined to be sentimental in her
company than he was to-day, in spite of his cordial disposition. He
was changed from what he was in those earlier days; he felt it as soon
as she began to talk to him, and perfectly understood the meaning of
it. After a little while she felt, too, that he was changed, and she
adapted herself to him accordingly. They fell into easy chat as they
strolled up and down, and were very friendly in a harmless way. They
did not discuss their private feelings at all, but only the topics that
were in every-day use--the weather, the races, the trial of Ned Kelly,
the wreck of the Sorata, the decay of Berryism--anything that happened
to come into their heads or to be suggested by the scene around them.
Nevertheless, they had a look of being very intimate with each other
to the superficial eye of Mrs. Grundy. People with nothing better to
do stared at them as they meandered in and out amongst the crowd, he
and she _tête-à-tête_ by their solitary selves; and those who knew they
were legally unrelated were quick to discover a want of conventional
discretion in their behaviour. Mrs. Duff-Scott, for instance, who
abhorred scandal, made use of them to point a delicate moral for the
edification of her girls.

Paul, who was a good talker, was giving his companion an animated
account of the French plays going on at one of the theatres just
then--which she had not yet been to see--and describing with great
warmth the graceful and finished acting of charming Madame Audrée,
when he was suddenly aware of Patty King passing close beside him.
Patty was walking at her chaperon's side, with her head erect, and her
white parasol, with its pink lining, held well back over her shoulder,
a vision of loveliness in her diaphanous dress. He caught his breath
at sight of her, looking so different from her ordinary self, and was
about to raise his hat, when--to his deep dismay and surprise--she
swept haughtily past him, meeting his eyes fairly, with a cold disdain,
but making no sign of recognition.

The blood rushed into his face, and he set his teeth, and walked on
silently, not seeing where he went. For a moment he felt stunned with
the shock. Then he was brought to himself by a harsh laugh from Mrs.
Aarons. "Dear me," said she, in a high tone, "the Miss Kings have
become so grand that we are beneath their notice. You and I are not
good enough for them now, Mr. Brion. We must hide our diminished heads."

"I see," he assented, with savage quietness. "Very well. I am quite
ready to hide mine."

Meanwhile Patty, at the farther end of the lawn, was overwhelmed
with remorse for what she had done. At the first sight of him, in
close intercourse with that woman who, Mrs. Duff-Scott again reminded
her, was not "nice"--who, though a wife and mother, liked men to
"dangle" round her--she had arraigned and judged and sentenced him
with the swift severity of youth, that knows nothing of the complex
trials and sufferings which teach older people to bear and forbear
with one another. But when it was over, and she had seen his shocked
and bewildered face, all her instinctive trust in him revived, and
she would have given anything to be able to make reparation for her
cruelty. The whole afternoon she was looking for him, hoping for a
chance to show him somehow that she did not altogether "mean it," but,
though she saw him several times--eating his lunch with Mrs. Aarons
under the refreshment shed close by the Duff-Scott carriage, watching
Grand Flâneur win the greatest of his half-dozen successive victories
from the same point of view as that taken by the Duff-Scott party--he
never turned his head again in her direction or seemed to have the
faintest consciousness that she was there.

And next day, when no longer in her glorious apparel, but walking
quietly home from the Library with Eleanor, she met him unexpectedly,
face to face, in the Fitzroy Gardens. And then _he_ cut _her_--dead.



CHAPTER XXIII.


MR. YELVERTON'S MISSION.


On a Thursday evening in the race week--two days after the "Cup,"
Mrs. Duff-Scott took her girls to the Town Hall to one of a series of
concerts that were given at that time by Henri Ketten, the Hungarian
pianist, and the Austrian band that had come out to Melbourne to give
_éclat_ to the Exhibition.

It was a fine clear night, and the great hall was full when they
arrived, notwithstanding the fact that half-a-dozen theatres were
open and displaying their most attractive novelties, for music-loving
souls are pretty numerous in this part of the world, taking all things
into consideration. Australians may not have such an enlightened
appreciation of high-class music as, say, the educated Viennese,
who live and breathe and have their being in it. There are, indeed,
sad instances on record of a great artist, or a choice combination
of artists, having appealed in vain for sympathy to the Melbourne
public--that is to say, having found not numbers of paying and
applauding listeners, but only a select and fervent few. But such
instances are rare, and to be accounted for as the result, not of
indifference, but of inexperience. The rule is--as I think most of
our distinguished musical visitors will testify--that we are a people
peculiarly ready to recognise whatever is good that comes to us, and
to acknowledge and appreciate it with ungrudging generosity. And so
the Austrian band, though it had many critics, never played to a thin
audience or to inattentive ears; and no city in Europe (according
to his own death-bed testimony) ever offered such incense of loving
enthusiasm to Ketten's genius as burnt steadily in Melbourne from the
moment that he laid his fingers on the keyboard, at the Opera House,
until he took his reluctant departure. This, I hasten to explain (lest
I should be accused of "blowing"), is not due to any exceptional virtue
of discrimination on our part, but to our good fortune in having
inherited an enterprising and active intelligence from the brave men
who had the courage and energy to make a new country, and to that
country being such a land of plenty that those who live in it have easy
times and abundant leisure to enjoy themselves.

Mrs. Duff-Scott sailed into the hall, with her girls around her, and
many eyes were turned to look at them and to watch their progress to
their seats. By this time "the pretty Miss Kings" had become well-known
and much talked about, and the public interest in what they wore,
and what gentlemen were in attendance on them, was apt to be keen on
these occasions. To-night the younger girls, with their lovely hair
lifted from their white necks and coiled high at the back of their
heads, wore picturesque flowered gowns of blue and white stuff, while
the elder sister was characteristically dignified in black. And the
gentlemen in attendance upon them were Mr. Westmoreland, still devoted
to Eleanor, and the portly widower, whom Mrs. Duff-Scott had intended
for Elizabeth, but who was perversely addicted to Patty. The little
party took their places in the body of the hall, in preference to the
gallery, and seated themselves in two rows of three--the widower behind
Mrs. Duff-Scott, Patty next him behind Eleanor, and Elizabeth behind
Mr. Westmoreland. And when the concert began there was an empty chair
beside Elizabeth.

By-and-bye, when the overture was at an end--when the sonorous tinkling
and trumpeting of the orchestra had ceased, and she was listening, in
soft rapture, to Ketten's delicate improvisation, at once echo and
prelude, reminiscent of the idea that the band had been elaborating,
and prophetic of the beautiful Beethoven sonata that he was thus
tenderly approaching, Elizabeth was aware that the empty chair was
taken, and knew, without turning her head, by whom. She tried not to
blush and feel fluttered--she was too old, she told herself, for that
nonsense--but for half a minute or so it was an effort to control
these sentimental tendencies. He laid his light overcoat over the back
of his chair, and sat down quietly. Mrs. Duff-Scott looked over her
shoulder, and gave him a pleasant nod. Mr. Westmoreland said, "Hullo!
Got back again?" And then Elizabeth felt sufficiently composed to turn
and hold out her hand, which he took in a strong clasp that was not
far removed from a squeeze. They did not speak to each other; nor did
they look at each other, though Mr. Yelverton was speedily informed of
all the details of his neighbour's appearance, and she took no time to
ascertain that he looked particularly handsome in his evening dress
(but _she_ always thought him handsome; big nose, leather cheeks, red
moustache, and all), and that his well-cut coat and trousers were not
in their first freshness. Then the concert went on as before--but
not as before--and they sat side by side and listened. Elizabeth's
programme lay on her knee, and he took it up to study it, and laid it
lightly on her knee again. Presently she pointed to one and another of
the selections on the list, about which she had her own strong musical
feelings, and he looked down at them and nodded, understanding what
she meant. And again they sat back in their chairs, and gazed serenely
at the stage under the great organ, at Herr Wildner cutting the air
with his baton, or at poor Ketten, with his long, white, solemn face,
sitting at the piano in a bower of votive wreaths and bouquets, raining
his magic finger-tips like a sparkling cascade upon the keyboard,
and wrinkling the skin of his forehead up and down. But they had no
audible conversation throughout the whole performance. When, between
the two divisions of the programme, the usual interval occurred for the
relaxation and refreshment of the performers and their audience, Mr.
Westmoreland turned round, with his elbow over the back of his chair,
and appropriated an opportunity to which they had secretly been looking
forward. "So you've got back?" he remarked for the second time. "I
thought you were going to make a round of the country?"

"I shall do it in instalments," replied Mr. Yelverton.

"You won't have time to do much that way, if you are going home again
next month. Will you?"

"I can extend my time a little, if necessary."

"Can you? Oh, I thought there was some awfully urgent business that you
had to get back for--a new costermonger's theatre to open, or a street
Arab's public-house--eh?"

Mr. Westmoreland laughed, as at a good joke that he had got hold
of, but Mr. Yelverton was imperturbably grave. "I have business in
Australia just now," he said, "and I'm going to finish that first."

Here the portly widower, who had overheard the dialogue, leaned over
Patty to join in the conversation. He was a wealthy person of the
name of Smith, who, like Mr. Phillips's father in the _Undiscovered
Country_, had been in business "on that obscure line which divides
the wholesale merchant's social acceptability from the lost condition
of the retail trader," but who, on his retirement with a fortune, had
safely scaled the most exclusive heights of respectability. "I say," he
called out, addressing Mr. Yelverton, "you're not going to write a book
about us, I hope, like Trollope and those fellows? We're suspicious
of people who come here utter strangers, and think they can learn all
about us in two or three weeks."

Mr. Yelverton reassured him upon this point, and then Mrs. Duff-Scott
broke in. "You have not been to call on me yet, Mr. Yelverton."

"No. I hope to have that pleasure to-morrow," he replied. "I am told
that Friday is your reception day."

"Oh, you needn't have waited for that. Any day before four. Come
to-morrow and dine with us, will you? We are going to have a few
friends and a little music in the evening. I suppose you are fond of
music--being here."

Mr. Yelverton said he was very fond of music, though he did not
understand much about it, and that he would be very happy to dine with
her next day. Then, after a little more desultory talk, the orchestra
returned to the stage and began the second overture--from Mozart this
time--and they all became silent listeners again.

When at last the concert was over, Elizabeth and her "young man" found
themselves once more navigating a slow course together through a
crowd. Mrs. Duff-Scott, with Mr. Westmoreland and Eleanor, moved off
in advance; Mr. Smith offered his arm to Patty and followed; and so,
by the favour of fate and circumstances, the remaining pair were left
with no choice but to accompany each other. "Wait a moment," said Mr.
Yelverton, as she stepped out from her seat, taking her shawl--a soft
white Rampore chuddah, that was the fairy godmother's latest gift--from
her arms. "You will feel it cold in the passages." She stood still
obediently, and he put the shawl over her shoulders and folded one end
of it lightly round her throat. Then he held his arm, and her hand
was drawn closely to his side; and so they set forth towards the door,
having put a dozen yards between themselves and the rest of their party.

"You are living with Mrs. Duff-Scott, are you not?" he asked abruptly.

"Not quite that," she replied. "Mrs. Duff-Scott would like us to be
there always, but we think it better to be at home sometimes."

"Yes--I should think it is better," he replied.

"But we are with her very often--nearly every day," she added.

"Shall you be there to-morrow?" he asked, not looking at her. "Shall I
see you there in the evening?"

"I think so," she replied rather unsteadily. And, after a little while,
she felt emboldened to ask a few questions of him. "Are you really only
making a flying visit to Australia, Mr. Yelverton?"

"I had intended that it should be very short," he said; "but I shall
not go away quite yet."

"You have many interests at home--to call you back?" she ventured to
say, with a little timidity about touching on his private affairs.

"Yes. You are thinking of what Westmoreland said? He is a scoffer--he
doesn't understand. You mustn't mind what he says. But I should like,"
he added, as they drew near the door and saw Mrs. Duff-Scott looking
back for them, "I should very much like to tell you something about it
myself. I think--I feel sure--it would interest you. Perhaps I may have
an opportunity to-morrow night."

Here Mrs. Duff-Scott's emissary, Mr. Smith, who had been sent back
to his duty, claimed Elizabeth on her chaperon's behalf. She and her
lover had no time to say anything more, except good-night. But that
good-night--and their anticipations--satisfied them.

On reaching Mrs. Duff-Scott's house, where the girls were to sleep,
they found the major awaiting their return, and were hospitably
invited--along with Mr. Westmoreland, who had been allowed to "see them
safely home," on the box-seat of the carriage--into the library, where
they found a bright little fire in the grate, and refreshments on the
table. The little man, apparently, was as paternal in his dispositions
towards the orphans as his wife could desire, and was becoming quite
weaned from his bad club habits under the influence of his new
domestic ties.

"Dear me, _how_ nice!--_how_ comfortable!" exclaimed Mrs. Duff-Scott,
sailing up to the hearth and seating herself in a deep leather chair.
"Come in, Mr. Westmoreland. Come along to the fire, dears." And she
called her brood around her. Eleanor, who had caressing ways, knelt
down at her chaperon's feet on the soft oriental carpet, and she pulled
out the frills of lace round the girl's white neck and elbows with a
motherly gesture.

"Dear child!" she ejaculated fondly, "doesn't she"--appealing to her
husband--"remind you exactly of a bit of fifteenth century Nankin?"

"I should like to see the bit of porcelain, Nankin or otherwise, that
would remind me exactly of Miss Nelly," replied the gallant major,
bowing to the kneeling girl. "I would buy that bit, whatever price it
was."

"That's supposing you could get it," interrupted Mr. Westmoreland, with
a laugh.

"It is the very shade of blue, with that grey tinge in it," murmured
Mrs. Duff-Scott. But at the same time she was thinking of a new topic.
"I have asked Mr. Yelverton to dine with us to-morrow, my dear," she
remarked, suddenly, to her spouse. "We wanted another man to make up
our number."

"Oh, have you? All right. I shall be very glad to see him. He's a
gentlemanly fellow, is Yelverton. Very rich, too, they tell me. But we
don't see much of him."

"No," said Mr. Westmoreland, withdrawing his eyes from the
contemplation of Eleanor and her æsthetic gown, "he's not a society
man. He don't go much into clubs, Yelverton. He's one of the richest
commoners in Great Britain--give you my word, sir, he's got a princely
fortune, all to his own cheek--and he lets his places and lives in
chambers in Piccadilly, and spends nearly all his time when he's at
home in the slums and gutters of Whitechapel. He's got a mania for
philanthropy, unfortunately. It's an awful pity, for he really _would_
be a good fellow."

At the word "philanthropy," the major made a clandestine grimace to
Elizabeth, but composed his face immediately, seeing that she was not
regarding him, but gazing with serious eyes at the narrator of Mr.
Yelverton's peculiarities.

"He's been poking into every hole and corner," continued Mr.
Westmoreland, "since he came here, overhauling the factory places, and
finding out the prices of things, and the land regulations, and I don't
know what. He's just been to Sandhurst, to look at the mines--doing a
little amateur emigration business, I expect. Seems a strange thing,"
concluded the young man, thoughtfully, "for a rich swell of his class
to be bothering himself about things of that sort."

Mrs. Duff-Scott had been listening attentively, and at this she
roused herself and sat up in her chair. "It is the rich who _should_
do it," said she, with energy. "And I admire him--I admire him, that
he has given up his own selfish ease to help those whose lives are
hard and miserable. I believe the squalid wretchedness of places
like Whitechapel--though I have never been there--is something
dreadful--dreadful! I admire him," she repeated defiantly. "I think
it's a pity a few more of us are not like him. I shall talk to him
about it. I--I shall see if I can't help him."

This time Elizabeth did look at the major, who was making a feint of
putting his handkerchief to his eyes. She smiled at him sweetly, and
then she walked over to Mrs. Duff-Scott, put her strong arms round the
matron's shoulders, and kissed her fervently.



CHAPTER XXIV.


AN OLD STORY.


Mrs. Duff-Scott's drawing-room, at nine or ten o'clock on Friday
evening, was a pleasant sight. Very spacious, very voluptuous, in
a subdued, majestic, high-toned way; very dim--with splashes of
richness--as to walls and ceilings; very glowing and splendid--with
folds of velvety darkness--as to window curtains and portières.
The colouring of it was such as required a strong light to show
how beautiful it was, but with a proud reserve, and to mark its
unostentatious superiority over the glittering salons of the
uneducated _nouveaux riches_, it was always more or less in a warm
and mellow twilight, veiling its sombre magnificence from the vulgar
eye. Just now its main compartment was lit by wax candles in archaic
candlesticks amongst the flowers and _bric-à-brac_ of an _étagère_ over
the mantelpiece, and by seven shaded and coloured lamps, of various
artistic devices, judiciously distributed over the abundant table-space
so as to suffuse with a soft illumination the occupants of most of
the wonderfully stuffed and rotund chairs and lounges grouped about
the floor; and yet the side of the room was decidedly bad for reading
in. "It does not light up well," was the consolation of women of Mrs.
Duff-Scott's acquaintance, who still clung to pale walls and primary
colours and cut-glass chandeliers, either from necessity or choice.
"Pooh!" Mrs. Duff-Scott used to retort, hearing of this just criticism;
"as if I _wanted_ it to light up!" But she had compromised with her
principles in the arrangement of the smaller division of the room,
where, between and beyond a pair of vaguely tinted portières, stood the
piano, and all other material appliances for heightening the spiritual
enjoyment of musical people. Here she had grudgingly retained the
gas-burner of utilitarian Philistinism. It hung down from the ceiling
straight over the piano, a circlet of gaudy yellow flames, that made
the face of every plaque upon the wall to glitter. But the brilliant
corona was borne in no gas-fitter's vehicle; its shrine was of dull
brass, mediæval and precious, said to have been manufactured, in the
first instance, for either papal or imperial purposes--it didn't matter
which.

In this bright music-room was gathered to-night a little company of
the elect--Herr Wüllner and his violin, together with three other
stringed instruments and their human complement. Patty at the piano,
Eleanor, Mrs. Duff-Scott, and half-a-dozen more enthusiasts--with a
mixed audience around them. In the dim, big room beyond, the major
entertained the inartistic, outlawed few who did not care, nor pretend
to care, for aught but the sensual comfort of downy chairs and after
dinner chit-chat. And, at the farthest end, in a recess of curtained
window that had no lamps about it, sat Elizabeth and Mr. Yelverton,
side by side, on a low settee--not indifferent to the pathetic wail of
the far-distant violins, but finding more entertainment in their own
talk than the finest music could have afforded them.

"I had a friend who gave up everything to go and work amongst the
London poor--in the usual clerical way, you know, with schools and
guilds and all the right and proper things. He used to ask me for
money, and insist on my helping him with a lecture or a reading now
and then, and I got drawn in. I had always had an idea of doing
something--taking a line of some sort--and somehow this got hold of me.
I couldn't see all that misery--you've no idea of it, Miss King--"

"I have read of it," she said.

"You would have to see it to realise it in the least. After I saw it I
couldn't turn my back and go home and enjoy myself as if nothing had
happened. And I had no family to consider. I got drawn in."

"And _that_ is your work?" said Elizabeth. "I _knew_ it."

"No. My friend talks of 'his work'--a lot of them have 'their
work'--it's splendid, too--but they don't allow me to use that word,
and I don't want it. What I do is all wrong, they say--not only
useless, but mischievous."

"I don't believe it," said Elizabeth.

"Nor I, of course--though they may be right. We can only judge
according to our lights. To me, it seems that when things are as bad
as possible, a well meaning person can't make them worse and _may_
make them better. They say 'no,' and argue it all out as plainly as
possible. Yet I stick to my view--I go on in my own line. It doesn't
interfere with theirs, though they say it does."

"And what is it?" she asked, with her sympathetic eyes.

"Well, you'll hardly understand, for you don't know the class--the
lowest deep of all--those who can't be dealt with by the Societies--the
poor wretches whom nothing will raise, and who are abandoned as
hopeless, outside the pale of everything. They are my line."

"Can there be any abandoned as hopeless?"

"Yes. They really are so, you know. Neither religion nor political
economy can do anything for them, though efforts are made for the
children. Poor, sodden, senseless, vicious lumps of misery, with the
last spark of soul bred out of them--a sort of animated garbage that
cumbers the ground and makes the air stink--given up as a bad job, and
only wanted out of the way--from the first they were on my mind more
than all the others. And when I saw them left to rot like that, I felt
I might have a free hand."

"And can you succeed where so many have failed?"

"Oh, what I do doesn't involve success or failure. It's outside all
that, just as they are. They're only brutes in human shape--hardly
human shape either; but I have a feeling for brutes. I love horses
and dogs--I can't bear to see things suffer. So that's all I do--just
comfort them where I can, in their own way; not the parson's
way--that's no use. I wouldn't mock them by speaking of religion--I
suppose religion, as we know it, has had a large hand in making them
what they are; and to go and tell them that God ordained their
miserable pariah-dog lot would be rank blasphemy. I leave all that. I
don't bother about their souls, because I know they haven't got any; I
see their wretched bodies, and that's enough for me. It's something not
to let them go out of the world without _ever_ knowing what it is to be
physically comfortable. It eases my conscience, as a man who has never
been hungry, except for the pleasure of it."

"And do they blame you for that?"

"They say I pauperise them and demoralise them," he answered, with
a sudden laugh; "that I disorganise the schemes of the legitimate
workers--that I outrage every principle of political economy. Well, I
do _that_, certainly. But that I make things worse--that I retard the
legitimate workers--I won't believe. If I do," he concluded, "I can't
help it."

"No," breathed Elizabeth, softly.

"There's only one thing in which I and the legitimate workers are
alike--everybody is alike in that, I suppose--the want of money. Only
in the matter of beer and tobacco, what interest I could get on a few
hundred pounds! What I could do in the way of filling empty stomachs
and easing aches and pains if I had control of large means! What a good
word 'means' is, isn't it? We want 'means' for all the ends we seek--no
matter what they are."

"I thought," said Elizabeth, "that you were rich. Mr. Westmoreland told
us so."

"Well, in a way, I am," he rejoined. "I hold large estates in my own
name, and can draw fifty or sixty thousand a year interest from them if
I like. But there have been events--there are peculiar circumstances
in connection with the inheritance of the property, which make me
feel myself not quite entitled to use it freely--not yet. I _will_
use it, after this year, if nothing happens. I think I _ought_ to;
but I have put it off hitherto so as to make as sure as possible
that I was lawfully in possession. I will tell you how it is," he
proceeded, leaning forward and clasping his knee with his big brown
hands. "I am used to speaking of the main facts freely, because I am
always in hopes of discovering something as I go about the world. A
good many years ago my father's second brother disappeared, and was
never heard of afterwards. He and the eldest brother, at that time
the head of the family, and in possession of the property, quarrelled
about--well, about a woman whom both were in love with; and the elder
one was found dead--shot dead--in a plantation not far from the house
on the evening of the day of the quarrel, an hour after the total
disappearance of the other. My uncle Kingscote--I was named after him,
and he was my godfather--was last seen going out towards the plantation
with his gun; he was traced to London within the next few days; and
it was almost--but just not quite certainly--proved that he had there
gone on board a ship that sailed for South America and was lost. He
was advertised for in every respectable newspaper in the world, at
intervals, for twenty years afterwards--during which time the estate
was in Chancery, before they would grant it to my father, from whom it
descended to me--and I should think the agony columns of all countries
never had one message cast into such various shapes. But he never gave
a sign. All sorts of apparent clues were followed up, but they led to
nothing. If alive he must have known that it was all right, and would
have come home to take his property. He _must_ have gone down in that
ship."

"But--oh, surely he would never have come back to take the property of
a murdered brother!" exclaimed Elizabeth, in a shocked voice.

"His brother was not murdered," Mr. Yelverton replied. "Many people
thought so, of course--people have a way of thinking the worst in
these cases, not from malice, but because it is more interesting--and
a tradition to that effect survives still, I am afraid. But my
uncle's family never suspected him of such a crime. The thing was not
legally proved, one way or the other. There were strong indications
in the position of the gun which lay by his side, and in the general
appearance of the spot where he was found, that my uncle, Patrick
Yelverton, accidentally shot himself; that was the opinion of the
coroner's jury, and the conviction of the family. But poor Kingscote
evidently assumed that he would be accused of murder. Perhaps--it is
very possible--some rough-tempered action of his might have caused
the catastrophe, and his remorse have had the same effect as fear in
prompting him to efface himself. Anyway, no one who knew him well
believed him capable of doing his brother a mischief wilfully. His
innocence was, indeed, proved by the fact that he married the lady
who had been at the bottom of the trouble--by no fault of hers, poor
soul!--after he escaped to London; and, wherever he went to, he took
her with him. She disappeared a few days after he did, and was lost
as completely, from that time. The record and circumstances of their
marriage were discovered; and that was all. He would not have married
her--she would not have married him--had he been a murderer."

"Do you think not?" said Elizabeth. "That is always assumed as a
matter of course, in books--that murder and--and other disgraces are
irrevocable barriers between those who love each other, when they
discover them. But I do not understand why. With such an awful misery
to bear, they would want all that their love could give them so much
_more_--not less."

"You see," said Mr. Yelverton, regarding her with great interest, "it
is a sort of point of honour with the one in misfortune not to drag the
other down. When we are married, as when we are dead, 'it is for a long
time.'"

Elizabeth made no answer, but there was a quiet smile about her lips
that plainly testified to her want of sympathy with this view. After
a silence of a few seconds, her companion leaned forward and looked
directly into her face. "Would _you_ stick to the man you loved if he
had forfeited his good name or were in risk of the gallows?--I mean if
he were really a criminal, and not only a suspected one?" he asked with
impressive slowness.

"If I had found him worthy to be loved before that," she replied,
speaking collectedly, but dismayed to find herself growing crimson,
"and if he cared for me--and leant on me--oh, yes! It might be wrong,
but I should do it. Surely any woman would. I don't see how she could
help herself."

He changed his position, and looked away from her face into the room
with a light in his deep-set eyes. "You ought to have been Elizabeth
Leigh's daughter," he said. "I did not think there were any more women
like her in the world."

"I am like other women," said Elizabeth, humbly, "only more ignorant."

He made no comment--they both found it rather difficult to speak
at this point--and, after an expressive pause, she went on, rather
hurriedly, "Was Elizabeth Leigh the lady who married your uncle?"

"Yes," he replied, bringing himself back to his story with an effort,
"she was. She was a lovely woman, bright and clever, fond of dress and
fun and admiration, like other women; but with a solid foundation to
her character that you will forgive my saying is rare to your sex--as
far, at least, as I am able to judge. I saw her when I was a little
schoolboy, but I can picture her now, as if it were but yesterday.
What vigour she had! What a wholesome zest for life! And yet she gave
up everything to go into exile and obscurity with the man she loved.
Ah, _what_ a woman! She _ought_ not to have died. She should have lived
and reigned at Yelverton, and had a houseful of children. It is still
possible--barely, barely possible--that she did live, and that I shall
some day stumble over a handsome young cousin who will tell me that he
is the head of the family."

"O no," said Elizabeth, "not after all these years. Give up thinking
of such a thing. Take your own money now, as soon as you go home,
and"--looking up with a smile--"buy all the beer and tobacco that you
want."



CHAPTER XXV.


OUT IN THE COLD.


Paul Brion, meanwhile, plodded on in his old groove, which no longer
fitted him as it used to do, and vexed the soul of his benevolent
landlady with the unprecedented shortness of his temper. She didn't
know how to take him, she said, he was that cantankerous and
"contrairy:" but she triumphantly recognised the result that she had
all along expected would follow a long course of turning night into
day, and therefore was not surprised at the change in him. "Your brain
is over-wrought," she said, soothingly, when one day a compunctious
spirit moved him to apologise for his moroseness; "your nervous system
is unstrung. You've been going on too long, and you want a spell. You
just take a holiday straight off, and go right away, and don't look
at an ink-bottle for a month. It will save you a brain fever, mark
my words." But Paul was consistent in his perversity, and refused to
take good advice. He did think, for a moment, that he might as well
have a little run and see how his father was getting on; and for
several days he entertained the more serious project of "cutting" the
colony altogether and going to seek his fortune in London. All the
same, he stayed on with Mrs. M'Intyre, producing his weekly tale of
political articles and promiscuous essays, and sitting up all night,
and sleeping all the morning, with his habitual irregular regularity.
But the flavour had gone out of work and recreation alike, and not
all Mrs. Aarons's blandishments, which were now exercised upon him for
an hour or two every Friday evening, were of any avail to coax it back
again. Those three Miss Kings, whom his father had sent to him, and
whom Mrs. Duff-Scott had taken away from him, had spoiled the taste
of life. That was the fact, though he would not own it. "What care I?
They are nothing to me," he used to say to himself when fighting an
occasional spasm of rage or jealousy. He really persuaded himself very
often that they were nothing to him, and that his bitter feeling was
caused solely by the spectacle of their deterioration. To see them
exchanging all their great plans and high aspirations for these vulgar
social triumphs--giving up their studies at the Library to attend
dancing classes, and to dawdle about the Block, and gossip in the
Exhibition--laying aside their high-bred independence to accept the
patronage of a fine lady who might drop them as suddenly as she took
them up--was it not enough to make a man's heart bleed?

As for Patty, he made up his mind that he could never forgive _her_.
Now and then he would steal out upon his balcony to listen to a
Schubert serenade or a Beethoven sonata in the tender stillness of a
summer night, and then he would have that sensation of bleeding at the
heart which melted, and unnerved, and unmanned him; but, for the most
part, every sight and sound and reminiscence of her were so many fiery
styptics applied to his wound, scorching up all tender emotions in one
great angry pain. Outwardly he shunned her, cut her--withered her up,
indeed--with his ostentatiously expressed indifference; but secretly
he spent hours of the day and night dogging her from place to place,
when he ought to have been at work or in his bed, merely that he might
get a glimpse of her in a crowd, and some notion of what she was doing.
He haunted the Exhibition with the same disregard for the legitimate
attractions of that social head-centre as prevailed with the majority
of its visitors, to whom it was a daily trysting-place; and there
he had the doubtful satisfaction of seeing her every now and then.
Once she was in the Indian Court, so fragrant with sandalwood, and
she was looking with ardent eyes at gossamer muslins and embroidered
cashmeres, while young Westmoreland leaned on the glass case beside
her in an attitude of insufferable familiarity. It was an indication,
to the jealous lover, that the woman who had elevated her sex from
the rather low place that it had held in his estimation before he
knew her, and made it sacred to him for her sake, was, after all,
"no better than the rest of them." He had dreamed of her as a man's
true helpmate and companion, able to walk hand in hand with him on
the high roads of human progress, and finding her vocation and her
happiness in that spiritual and intellectual fellowship; and here she
was lost in the greedy contemplation of a bit of fine embroidery that
had cost some poor creature his eyesight already, and was presently
to cost again what would perhaps provision a starving family for a
twelvemonth--just like any other ignorant and frivolous female who
had sold her soul to the demon of fashion. He marched home to Myrtle
Street with the zeal of the reformer (which draws its inspiration from
such unsuspected sources) red-hot in his busy brain. He lit his pipe,
spread out his paper, dipped his pen in the ink-bottle, and began to
deal with the question of "Woman's Clothes in Relation to her Moral
and Intellectual Development" in what he conceived to be a thoroughly
impersonal and benevolent temper. His words should be brief, he said
to himself, but they should be pregnant with suggestive truth. He
would lay a light touch upon this great sore that had eaten so deeply
into one member of the body politic, causing all the members to suffer
with it; but he would diagnose it faithfully, without fear or favour,
and show wherein it had hindered the natural advancement of the race,
and to what fatal issues its unchecked development tended. It was a
serious matter, that had too long been left unnoticed by the leaders
of the thought of the day. "It is a _problem_," he wrote, with a
splutter of his pen, charging his grievance full tilt with his most
effective term; "it is, we conscientiously believe, one of the great
problems of this problem-haunted and problem-fighting age--one of the
wrongs that it is the mission of the reforming Modern Spirit to set
right--though the subject is so inextricably entangled and wrapped up
in its amusing associations that at present its naked gravity is only
recognised by the philosophic few. It is all very well to make fun of
it; and, indeed, it is a very good thing to make fun of it--for every
reform must have a beginning, and there is no better weapon than just
and judicious ridicule wherewith Reason can open her attack upon the
solid and solemn front of time-honoured Prejudice. The heavy artillery
of argument has no effect until the enemy has contracted an internal
weakness by being made to imbibe the idea that he is absurd. A little
wit, in the early stage of the campaign, is worth a deal of logic. But
still there it stands--this great, relentless, crushing, cruel CUSTOM
(which requires capital letters to emphasise it suitably)--and there
are moments when we _can't_ be witty about it--when our hearts burn
within us at the spectacle of our human counterpart still, with a few
bright exceptions, in the stage of intellectual childhood, while we
fight the battle of the world's progress alone--"

Here the typical strong-minded female, against whom he had fulminated
in frequent wrath, suddenly appeared before him, side by side with a
vision of Patty in her shell-pink Cup dress; and his sword arm failed
him. He paused, and laid down his pen, and leaned his head on his hand;
and he was thereupon seized with a raging desire to be rich, in order
that he might buy Indian embroideries for his beloved, and clothe her
like a king's daughter in glorious apparel. Somehow that remarkable
paper which was to inaugurate so vast a revolution in the social system
never got written. At least, it did not for two or three years, and
then it came forth in so mild a form that its original design was
unrecognisable. (N.B.--In this latest contribution to the Dress Reform
Question, women, to the peril of their immortal intellects, were
invited to make themselves as pretty as they could, no hard condition
being laid upon them, save that they should try to dress to please the
eyes of men instead of to rival and outshine each other--that they
should cultivate such sense of art and reason as might happily have
survived in them--and, above all, from the high principles of religion
and philanthropy, that they should abstain from bringing in new
fashions violently--or, indeed, at all--leaving the spirit of beauty
and the spirit of usefulness to produce their healthy offspring by the
natural processes. In the composition of this paper he had the great
advantage of being able to study both his own and the woman's point of
view.)

The next day he went to the Exhibition again, and again he saw Patty,
with no happier result than before. She was standing amongst the
carriages with Mr. Smith--popularly believed to have been for years on
the look-out for a pretty young second wife--who was pointing out to
her the charms of a seductive little lady's phaeton, painted lake and
lined with claret, with a little "dickey" for a groom behind; no doubt
tempting her with the idea of driving such a one of her own some day.
This was even more bitter to Paul than the former encounter. He could
bear with Mr. Westmoreland, whose youth entitled him to place himself
somewhat on an equality with her, and whom, moreover, his rival (as
he thought himself) secretly regarded as beneath contempt; but this
grey-bearded widower, whose defunct wife might almost have been her
grandmother, Paul felt he could _not_ bear, in any sort of conjunction
with his maiden queen, who, though in such dire disgrace, was his queen
always. He went hastily away that he might not see them together, and
get bad thoughts into his head--such as, for instance, that Patty might
be contemplating the incredible degradation of matrimony with the
widower, in order to be able to drive the prettiest pony carriage in
town.

He went away, but he came back again in a day or two. And then he saw
her standing in the nave, with Mr. Smith again, looking at Kate Kelly,
newly robed in black, and prancing up and down, in flowing hair and
three-inch veil, and high heels and furbelows, putting on all sorts
of airs and graces because, a few hours before, Ned had crowned his
exploits and added a new distinction to the family by being hung in
gaol; and she (Patty) could not only bear that shabby and shameless
spectacle, but was even listening while Mr. Smith cut jokes about
it--this pitiful demolishment of our imagined Kate Kelly, our Grizell
Hume of the bush--and smiling at his misplaced humour. The fact being
that poor Patty was aware of her lover's proximity, and was moved to
unnatural and hysteric mirth in order that he might not carry away the
mistaken notion that she was fretting for him. But Paul, who could see
no further through a stone wall than other men, was profoundly shocked
and disgusted.

And yet once more he saw his beloved, whom he tried so hard to hate.
On the night of the 17th--a Wednesday night--he had yawned through
an uninteresting, and to him unprofitable, session of the Assembly,
dealing with such mere practical matters as the passing in committee
of clauses of railway bills and rabbit bills, which neither enlivened
the spirits and speeches of honourable members nor left a press critic
anything in particular to criticise; and at a few minutes after
midnight he was sauntering through the streets to his office, and
chanced to pass the Town Hall, where the great ball of the Exhibition
year was going on. It was not chance, perhaps, that led him that
way--along by the chief entrance, round which carriages and cabs were
standing in a dense black mass, and where even the pavements were too
much crowded by loiterers to be comfortable to the pedestrian abroad
on business. But it was chance that gave him a glimpse of Patty at
the only moment of the night when he could have seen her. As he
went by he looked up at the lighted vestibule with a sneer. He was
not himself of the class which went to balls of that description--he
honestly believed he had no desire to be, and that, as a worker for
his bread, endowed with brains instead of money, he was at an infinite
advantage over those who did; but he knew that the three Miss Kings
would be numbered with the elect. He pictured Patty in gorgeous array,
bare-necked and bare-armed, displaying her dancing-class acquirements
for the edification of the gilded youth of the Melbourne Club, whirling
round and round, with flushed cheeks and flying draperies, in the
arms of young Westmoreland and his brother hosts, intoxicated with
flattery and unwholesome excitement, and he made up his mind that
she was only beginning the orgy of the night, and might be expected
to trail home, dishevelled, when the stars grew pale in the summer
dawn. However, as this surmise occurred to him it was dispelled by the
vision of Mrs. Duff-Scott coming out of the light and descending the
flight of steps in front of him. He recognised her majestic figure in
spite of its wraps, and the sound of her voice directing the major
to call the carriage up. She had a regal--or, I should rather say,
vice-regal--habit of leaving a ball-room early (generally after having
been amongst the first to be taken to supper), as he might have known
had he known a little more about her. It was one of the trivial little
customs that indicated her rank. Paul looked up at her for a moment, to
make sure that she had all her party with her; and then he drew into
the shadow of a group of bystanders to watch them drive off.

First came the chaperon herself, with Eleanor leaning lightly on her
arm, and a couple of hosts in attendance. Eleanor was not bare-armed
and necked, nor was she dishevelled; she had just refreshed herself
with chicken and champagne, and was looking as composed and fair
and refined as possible in her delicate white gown and unruffled
yellow hair--like a tall lily, I feel I ought (and for a moment was
tempted) to add, only that I know no girl ever did look like a lily
since the world was made, nor ever will, no matter what the processes
of evolution may come to. This pair, or quartette, were followed by
Elizabeth, escorted on one side by the little major and on the other by
big Mr. Yelverton. She, too, had neither tumbled draperies nor towsled
head, but looked serene and dignified as usual, holding a bouquet to
her breast with the one hand, and with the other thriftily guarding her
skirts from contact with the pavement. But Mr. Brion took no notice of
her. His attention was concentrated on his Patty, who appeared last of
all, under the charge of that ubiquitous widower (whom he was beginning
to hate with a deadly hatred), Mr. Smith. She was as beautiful
as--whatever classical or horticultural object the reader likes to
imagine--in the uncertain light and in her jealous lover's estimation,
when she chanced, after stepping down to his level, to stand within a
couple of yards of him to wait for the carriage. No bronze, or dead
leaf, or half-ripe chestnut (to which I inadvertently likened it) was
fit to be named in the same breath with that wavy hair that he could
almost touch, and not all the jewellers' shops in Melbourne could have
furnished a comparison worthy of her lovely eyes. She, too, was dressed
in snowy, foamy, feathery white (I use these adjectives in deference to
immemorial custom, and not because they accurately describe the finer
qualities of Indian muslin and Mechlin lace), ruffled round her white
throat and elbows in the most delicately modest fashion; and not a
scrap of precious stone or metal was to be seen anywhere to vulgarise
the maidenly simplicity of her attire. He had never seen her look so
charming--he had never given himself so entirely to the influence of
her beauty. And she stood there, so close that he could see the rise
and fall of the laces on her breast with her gentle breathing, silent
and patient, paying no attention to the blandishments of her cavalier,
looking tired and pre-occupied, and as far as possible from the
condition in which he had pictured her. Yet, when presently he emerged
from his obscurity, and strode away, he felt that he had never been in
such a rage of wrath against her. And why, may it be asked? What had
poor Patty done this time? _She had not known that he was there beside
her._ It was the greatest offence of all that she had committed, and
the culmination of his wrongs.



CHAPTER XXVI.


WHAT PAUL COULD NOT KNOW.


It was a pity that Paul Brion, looking at Patty's charming figure in
the gaslight, could not have looked into her heart. It is a pity, for
us all, that there is no Palace of Truth amongst our sacred edifices,
into which we could go--say, once a week--and show ourselves as we
are to our neighbours and ourselves. If we could know our friends from
our enemies, whom to trust and whom to shun--if we could vindicate
ourselves from the false testimony of appearances in the eyes of
those whom we love and by whom we desire to be loved--not to speak of
larger privileges--what a different world it would be! But we can't,
unfortunately. And so Paul carried away with him the impression that
his Patty had become a fine lady--too fine to have any longer a thought
for him--than which he had never conceived a baser calumny in his life.

Nor was he the only one who misread her superficial aspect that night.
Mrs. Duff-Scott, the most discerning of women, had a fixed belief
that her girls, all of them, thoroughly enjoyed their first ball.
From the moment that they entered the room, a few minutes in advance
of the Governor's party, received by a dozen or two of hosts drawn
up in line on either side of the doorway, it was patent to her that
they would do her every sort of credit; and this anticipation, at any
rate, was abundantly realised. For the greater part of the evening
she herself was enthroned under the gallery, which roofed a series of
small drawing-rooms on this occasion, eminently adapted to matronly
requirements; and from her arm-chair or sofa corner she looked out
through curtains of æsthetic hues upon the pretty scene which had
almost as fresh an interest for her to-night as it had for them. And
no mother could have been more proud than she when one or other was
taken from her side by the most eligible and satisfactory partners,
or when for brief minutes they came back to her and gave her an
opportunity to pull out a fold or a frill that had become disarranged,
or when at intervals during their absence she caught sight of them
amongst the throng, looking so distinguished in their expensively
simple toilettes--those unpretending white muslins upon which she had
not hesitated to spend the price of her own black velvet and Venetian
point, whereof the costly richness was obvious to the least instructed
observer--and evidently receiving as much homage and attention as they
well knew what to do with. Now it was Eleanor going by on the arm of
a naval foreigner, to whom she was chatting in that pure German (or
equally pure French) that was one of her unaccountable accomplishments,
or dancing as if she had danced from childhood with a more important
somebody else. Now it was Patty, sitting bowered in azaleas on the
steps under the great organ, while the Austrian band (bowered almost
out of sight) discoursed Strauss waltzes over her head, and Mr. Smith
sat in a significant attitude on the crimson carpet at her feet. And
again it was Elizabeth, up in the gallery, which was a forest of fern
trees to-night, sitting under the shade of the great green fronds with
Mr. Yelverton, who had such an evident partiality for her society.
Strange to say, Mrs. Duff-Scott, acute as she was in such matters, had
never thought of Mr. Yelverton as a possible husband, and did not so
think of him now--while noting his proceedings. She was taking so deep
an interest in him as a philanthropist and social philosopher that
she forgot he might have other and less exceptional characteristics;
and she left off scheming for Elizabeth when Mr. Smith made choice
of Patty, and was fully occupied in her manoeuvres and anxieties for
the welfare of the younger sisters. That Patty should be the second
Mrs. Smith she had quite made up her mind, and that Eleanor should be
Mrs. Westmoreland was equally a settled thing. With these two affairs
approaching a crisis together, she had quite enough to think of; and,
with the prospect of losing two of her children so soon after becoming
possessed of them, she was naturally in no hurry to deprive herself
of the third. She was beginning to regard Elizabeth as destined to
be her surviving comfort when the others were gone, and therefore
abandoned all matrimonial projects on her behalf. Concerning Patty,
the fairy godmother felt that her mind was at rest; half-a-dozen times
in an hour and a half did she see the girl in some sort of association
with Mr. Smith--who finally took her in to supper, and from supper
to the cloak-room and carriage. For her she had reached the question
of the trousseau and whom she would invite for bridesmaids. About
Eleanor she was not so easy. It did not seem that Mr. Westmoreland
lived up to his privileges; he did not dance with her at all, and was
remarkably attentive to a plain heiress in a vulgar satin gown and
diamonds. However, that was nothing. The bachelors of the club had all
the roomful to entertain, and were obliged to lay aside their private
preferences for the occasion. He had made his attentions to Eleanor
so conspicuous that his proposal was only required as a matter of
form; and Mrs. Duff-Scott felt that she would rather get the fuss of
one engagement over before another came on. So, when the dissipations
of the night were past, she retired from the field with a pleasant
sense of almost unalloyed success, and fondly believed that her pretty
_protégées_ were as satisfied with the situation as she was.

But she was wrong. She was mistaken about them all--and most of all
about Patty. When she first came into the room, and the fairy-land
effect of the decorations burst upon her--when she passed up the
lane of bachelor hosts, running the gauntlet of their respectful but
admiring observation, like a young queen receiving homage--when the
little major took her for a slow promenade round the hall and made
her pause for a moment in front of one of the great mirrors that
flanked the flowery orchestra, to show her herself in full length and
in the most charming relief against her brilliant surroundings--the
girl certainly did enjoy herself in a manner that bordered closely
upon intoxication. She said very little, but her eyes were radiant
and her whole face and figure rapturous, all her delicate soul spread
out like a flower opened to the sunshine under the sensuous and
artistic influences thus suddenly poured upon her. And then, after an
interval of vague wonder as to what it was that was missing from the
completeness of her pleasure--what it was that, being absent, spoiled
the flavour of it all--there came an overpowering longing for her
lover's presence and companionship, that lover without whom few balls
are worth the trouble of dressing for, unless I am much mistaken. And
after she found out that she wanted Paul Brion, who was not there,
her gaiety became an excited restlessness, and her enjoyment of the
pretty scene around her changed to passionate discontent. Why was
he not there? She curled her lip in indignant scorn. Because he was
poor, and a worker for his bread, and therefore was not accounted the
equal of Mr. Westmoreland and Mr. Smith. She was too young and ardent
to take into account the multitudes of other reasons which entirely
removed it from the sphere of social grievances; like many another
woman, she could see only one side of a subject at a time, and looked
at that through a telescope. It seemed to her a despicably vulgar
thing, and an indication of the utter rottenness of the whole fabric
of society, that a high-born man of distinguished attainments should
by common consent be neglected and despised simply because he was not
rich. That was how she looked at it. And if Paul Brion had not been
thought good enough for a select assembly, why had _she_ been invited?
Her answer to this question was a still more painful testimony to the
generally improper state of things, and brought her to long for her
own legitimate and humble environment, in which she could enjoy her
independence and self-respect, and (which was the idea that tantalised
her most just now) solace her lover with Beethoven sonatas when he
was tired of writing, and wanted a rest. From the longing to see
him in the ballroom, to have him with her as other girls had their
natural counterparts, to share with her in the various delights of
this great occasion, she fell to longing to go home to him--to belong
to Myrtle Street and obscurity again, just as he did, and because he
did. Why should she be listening to the Austrian band, eating ices
and strawberries, rustling to and fro amongst the flowers and fine
ladies, flaunting herself in this dazzling crowd of rich and idle
people, while he plodded at his desk or smoked a lonely pipe on his
balcony, out of it all, and with nothing to cheer him? Then the memory
of their estrangement, and how it had come about, and how little chance
there seemed now of any return to old relations and those blessed
opportunities that she had so perversely thrown away, wrought upon her
high-strung nerves, and inspired her with a kind of heroism of despair.
Poor, thin-skinned Patty! She was sensitive to circumstances to a
degree that almost merited the term "morbid," which is so convenient
as a description of people of that sort. A ray of sunshine would light
up the whole world, and show her her own pathway in it, shining into
the farthest future with a divine effulgence of happiness and success;
and the patter of rain upon the window on a dark day could beat down
hope and discourage effort as effectually as if its natural mission
were to bring misfortune. At one moment she would be inflated with a
proud belief in herself and her own value and dignity, that gave her
the strength of a giant to be and do and suffer; and then, at some
little touch of failure, some discovery that she was mortal and a woman
liable to blunder, as were other women, she would collapse into nothing
and fling herself into the abysses of shame and self-condemnation as
a worthless and useless thing. When this happened, her only chance of
rescue and restoration in her own esteem was to do penance in some
striking shape--to prove herself to herself as having some genuineness
of moral substance in her, though it were only to own honestly how
little it was. It was above all things necessary to her to have her
own good opinion; what others thought of her was comparatively of no
consequence.

She had been dancing for some time before the intercourse with Mr.
Smith, that so gratified Mrs. Duff-Scott, set in. The portly widower
found her fanning herself on a sofa in the neighbourhood of her
chaperon, for the moment unattended by cavaliers; and, approaching
her with one of the frequent little plates and spoons that were
handed about, invited her favour through the medium of three colossal
strawberries veiled in sugar and cream.

"I am so grieved that I am not a dancing man," he sighed as she refused
his offering on the ground that she had already eaten strawberries
twice; "I would ask leave to inscribe my humble name on your programme,
Miss Patty."

"I don't see anything to grieve about," she replied, "in not being a
dancing man. I am sure I don't want to dance. And you may inscribe your
name on my programme and welcome"--holding it out to him. "It will keep
other people from doing it."

The delighted old fellow felt that this was indeed meeting him half
way, and he put his name down for all the available round dances that
were to take place before morning, with her free permission. Then, as
the band struck up for the first of them, and the people about them
began to crystallise into pairs and groups, and the smart man-o'-wars
men stretched their crimson rope across the hall to divide the crowd,
Mr. Smith took his young lady on his arm and went off to enjoy himself.
First to the buffet, crowned with noble icebergs to cool the air, and
groaning with such miscellaneous refreshment that supper, in its due
course, came to her as a surprise and a superfluity, where he insisted
that she should support her much-tried strength (as he did his own)
with a sandwich and champagne. Then up a narrow staircase to the groves
above--where already sat Elizabeth in a distant and secluded bower with
Mr. Yelverton, lost, apparently, to all that went on around her. Here
Mr. Smith took a front seat, that the young men might see and envy him,
and set himself to the improvement of his opportunity.

"And so you don't care about dancing," he remarked tenderly; "you, with
these little fairy feet! I wonder why that is?"

"Because I am not used to it," said Patty, leaning her white arms on
the ledge in front of her and looking down at the shining sea of heads
below. "I have been brought up to other accomplishments."

"Music," he murmured; "and--and--"

"And scrubbing and sweeping, and washing and ironing, and churning and
bread-making, and cleaning dirty pots and kettles," said Patty, with
elaborate distinctness.

"Ha-ha!" chuckled Mr. Smith. "I should like to see you cleaning pots
and kettles! Cinderella after twelve o'clock, eh?"

"Yes," said she; "you have expressed it exactly. After twelve
o'clock--what time is it now?--after twelve o'clock, or it may be a
little later, I shall be Cinderella again. I shall take off my glass
slippers, and go back to my kitchen." And she had an impulse to rise
and run round the gallery to beg Elizabeth to get permission for their
return to their own lodgings after the ball; only Elizabeth seemed to
be enjoying her _tête-à-tête_ so much that she had not the heart to
disturb her. Then she looked up at Mr. Smith, who stared at her in a
puzzled and embarrassed way. "You don't seem to believe me," she said,
with a defiant smile. "Did you think I was a fine lady, like all these
other people?"

"I have always thought you the most lovely--the most charming--"

"Nonsense. I see you don't understand at all. So just listen, and I
will tell you." Whereupon Patty proceeded to sketch herself and her
domestic circumstances in what, had it been another person, would have
been a simply brutal manner. She made herself out to be a Cinderella
indeed, in her life and habits, a parasite, a sycophant, a jay in
borrowed plumage--everything that was sordid and "low," and calculated
to shock the sensibilities of a "new rich" man; making her statement
with calm energy and in the most terse and expressive terms. It was her
penance, and it did her good. It made her feel that she was genuine in
her unworthiness, which was the great thing just now; and it made her
feel, also, that she was set back in her proper place at Paul Brion's
side--or, rather, at his feet. It also comforted her, for some reason,
to be able, as a matter of duty, to disgust Mr. Smith.

But Mr. Smith, though he was a "new rich" man, and not given to tell
people who did not know it what he had been before he got his money,
was still a man, and a shrewd man too. And he was not at all disgusted.
Very far, indeed, from it. This admirable honesty, so rare in a young
person of her sex and charms--this touching confidence in him as a
lover and a gentleman--put the crowning grace to Patty's attractions
and made her irresistible. Which was not what she meant to do at all.



CHAPTER XXVII.


SLIGHTED.


Some hours earlier on the same evening, Eleanor, dressing for dinner
and the ball in her spacious bedroom at Mrs. Duff-Scott's house, felt
that _she_, at any rate, was arming herself for conquest. No misgivings
of any sort troubled the serene and rather shallow waters of that
young lady's mind. While her sisters were tossing to and fro in the
perturbations of the tender passion, she had calmly taken her bearings,
so to speak, and was sailing a straight course. She had summed up her
possibilities and arranged her programme accordingly. In short, she had
made up her mind to marry Mr. Westmoreland--who, if not all that could
be desired in a man and a husband, was well enough--and thereby to
take a short cut to Europe, and to all those other goals towards which
her feet were set. As Mr. Westmoreland himself boasted, some years
afterwards, Eleanor was not a fool; and I feel sure that this negative
excellence, herein displayed, will not fail to commend itself to the
gentle reader of her little history.

She had made up her mind to marry Mr. Westmoreland, and to-night she
meant that he should ask her. Looking at her graceful person in the
long glass, with a soft smile on her face, she had no doubt of her
power to draw forth that necessary question at any convenient moment.
It had not taken her long to learn her power; nor had she failed to see
that it had its limitations, and that possibly other and greater men
might be unaffected by it. She was a very sensible young woman, but I
would not have any one run off with the idea that she was mercenary
and calculating in the sordid sense. No, she was not in love, like
Elizabeth and Patty; but that was not her fault. And in arranging her
matrimonial plans she was actuated by all sorts of tender and human
motives. In the first place, she liked her admirer, who was fond of her
and a good comrade, and whom she naturally invested with many ideal
excellences that he did not actually possess; and she liked (as will
any single woman honestly tell me that she does not?) the thought of
the dignities and privileges of a wife, and of that dearer and deeper
happiness that lay behind. She was in haste to snatch at them while
she had the chance, lest the dreadful fate of a childless old maid
should some day overtake her--as undoubtedly it did overtake the very
prettiest girls sometimes. And she was in love with the prospect of
wealth at her own disposal, after her narrow experiences; not from any
vulgar love of luxury and display, but for the sake of the enriched
life, bright and full of beauty and knowledge, that it would make
possible for her sisters as well as herself. If these motives seem
poor and inadequate, in comparison with the great motive of all (as
no doubt they are), we must remember that they are at the bottom of a
considerable proportion of the marriages of real life, and not perhaps
the least successful ones. It goes against me to admit so much, but one
must take things as one finds them.

Elizabeth came in to lace up her bodice--Elizabeth, whose own soft eyes
were shining, and who walked across the floor with an elastic step,
trailing her long robes behind her; and Eleanor vented upon her some of
the fancies which were seething in her small head. "Don't we look like
brides?" she said, nodding at their reflections in the glass.

"Or bridesmaids," said Elizabeth. "Brides wear silks and satins mostly,
I believe."

"If they only knew it," said Eleanor reflectively, "muslin and lace are
much more becoming to the complexion. When I am married, Elizabeth,
I think I shall have my dress made of that 'woven dew' that we were
looking at in the Exhibition the other day."

"My dear girl, when you are married you will do nothing so
preposterous. Do you suppose we are always going to let Mrs. Duff-Scott
squander her money on us like this? I was telling her in her room just
now that we must begin to draw the line. It is _too_ much. The lace on
these gowns cost a little fortune. But lace is always family property,
and I shall pick it off and make her take it back again. So just be
very careful not to tear it, dear."

"She won't take it back," said Eleanor, fingering it delicately;
"she looks on us as her children, for whom nothing is too good. And
perhaps--perhaps some day we may have it in our power to do things for
_her_."

"I wish I could think so. But there is no chance of that."

"How can you tell? When we are married, we may be very well off--"

"That would be to desert her, Nelly, and to cut off all our
opportunities for repaying her."

"No. It would please her more than anything. We might settle down
close to her--one of us, at any rate--and she could advise us about
furnishing and housekeeping. To have the choosing of the colours for
our drawing-rooms, and all that sort of thing, would give her ecstasies
of delight."

"Bless her!" was Elizabeth's pious and fervent rejoinder.

Then Eleanor laid out her fan and gloves for the evening, and the
girls went down to dinner. Patty was in the music-room, working off
her excitement in one of Liszt's rhapsodies, to which Mrs. Duff-Scott
was listening with critical approval--the girl very seldom putting her
brilliant powers of execution to such evident proof; and the major was
smiling to himself as he paced gently up and down the Persian carpeted
parquet of the long drawing-room beyond, waiting for the sound of the
dinner bell, and the appearance of his dear Elizabeth. As soon as she
came in, he went up to her, still subtly smiling, carrying a beautiful
bouquet in his hand. It was composed almost entirely of that flower
which is so sweet and lovely, but so rare in Australia, the lily of
the valley (and lest the reader should say it was impossible, I can
tell him or her that I saw it and smelt it that very night, and in that
very Melbourne ballroom where Elizabeth disported herself, with my own
eyes and nose), the great cluster of white bells delicately thinned and
veiled in the finest and most ethereal feathers of maiden-hair. "For
you," said the major, looking at her with his sagacious eyes.

"Oh!" she cried, taking it with tremulous eagerness, and inhaling its
delicious perfume in a long breath. "Real lilies of the valley, and I
have never seen them before. But not for me, surely," she added; "I
have already the beautiful bouquet you told the gardener to cut for me."

"You may make that over to my wife," said the major, plaintively. "I
thought she was above carrying flowers about with her to parties--she
used to say it was bad art--you did, my dear, so don't deny it; you
told me distinctly that that was not what flowers were meant for. But
she says she will have your bouquet, Elizabeth, so that you may not be
afraid of hurting my feelings by taking this that is so much better.
Where the fellow got it from I can't imagine. I only know of one place
where lilies of the valley grow, and they are not for sale _there_."

Elizabeth looked at him with slowly-crimsoning cheeks. "What fellow?"
she asked.

He returned her look with one that only Major Duff-Scott's eyes could
give. "I don't know," he said softly.

"He _does_ know," his wife broke in; "I can see by his manner that he
knows perfectly well."

"I assure you, on my word of honour, that I don't," protested the
little major, still with a distant sparkle in his quaint eyes. "It was
brought to the door just now by somebody, who said it was for Miss
King--that's all."

"It might be for any of them," said Mrs. Duff-Scott, slightly put out
by the liberty that somebody had taken without her leave. "They are all
Miss Kings to outside people. It was a very stupid way of sending it."

"Will you take it for yourself?" said Elizabeth, holding it out to her
chaperon. "Let me keep my own, and you take this."

"O no," said Mrs. Duff-Scott, flinging out her hands. "That would never
do. It was meant for one of you, of course--not for me. _I_ think Mr.
Smith sent it. It must have been either he or Mr. Westmoreland, and I
fancy Mr. Westmoreland would not choose lilies of the valley, even if
he could get them. I think you had better draw lots for it, pending
further information."

Patty, rising from the piano with a laugh, declared that _she_ would
not have it, on any account. Eleanor believed that it was meant for
her, and that Mr. Westmoreland had better taste than people gave him
credit for; and she had a mind to put in her claim for it. But the
major set her aside gently. "No," he said, "it belongs to Elizabeth.
I don't know who sent it--you may shake your head at me, my dear; I
can't help it if you don't believe me--but I am convinced that it is
Elizabeth's lawful property."

"As if that didn't _prove_ that you know!" retorted Mrs. Duff-Scott.

He was still looking at Elizabeth, who was holding her lilies of the
valley to her breast. His eyes asked her whether she did not endorse
his views, and when she lifted her face at the sound of the dinner
bell, she satisfied him, without at all intending to do so, that she
did. _She_ knew that the bouquet had been sent for her.

It was carefully set into the top of a cloisonné pot in a cool corner
until dinner was over, and until the girls were wrapped up and the
carriage waiting for them at the hall door. Then the elder sister
fetched it from the drawing-room, and carried it out into the balmy
summer night, still held against her breast as if she were afraid it
might be taken from her; and the younger sister gazed at it smilingly,
convinced that it was Mr. Westmoreland's tribute to herself, and
magnanimously determined to beg him not to let Elizabeth know it.
Thus the evening began happily for both of them. And by-and-bye their
carriage slowly ploughed its way to the Town Hall entrance, and they
went up the stone stairs to the vestibule and the cloak-room and the
ball-room, and had their names shouted out so that every ear listening
for them should hear and heed, and were received by the hospitable
bachelors and passed into the great hall that was so dazzlingly
splendid to their unsophisticated eyes; and the first face that Eleanor
was aware of was Mr. Westmoreland's, standing out solidly from the
double row of them that lined the doorway. She gave him a side-long
glance as she bowed and passed, and then stood by her chaperon's side
in the middle of the room, and waited for him to come to her. But he
did not come. She waited, and watched, and listened, with her thanks
and explanations all ready, chatting smilingly to her party the while
in perfect ease of mind; but, to her great surprise, she waited in
vain. Perhaps he had to stand by the door till the Governor came;
perhaps he had other duties to perform that kept him from her and his
private pursuits; perhaps he had forgotten that he had asked her for
the first dance two days ago; perhaps he had noticed her bouquet, and
had supposed that she had given it away, and was offended with her.
She had a serene and patient temperament, and did not allow herself to
be put out; it would all be explained presently. And in the meantime
the major introduced his friends to her, and she began to fill her
programme rapidly.

The evening passed on. Mrs. Duff-Scott settled herself in the
particular one of the series of boudoirs under the gallery that struck
her as having a commanding prospect. The Governor came, the band
played, the guests danced, and promenaded, and danced again; and Mr.
Westmoreland was nowhere to be seen. Eleanor was beset with other
partners, and thought it well to punish him by letting them forestall
him as they would; and, provisionally, she captivated a couple of naval
officers by her proficiency in foreign languages, and made various men
happy by her graceful and gay demeanour. By-and-bye, however, she came
across her recreant admirer--as she was bound to do some time. He was
leaning against a pillar, his dull eyes roving over the crowd before
him, evidently looking for some one. She thought he was looking for her.

"Well?" she said, archly, pausing before him, on the arm of an
Exhibition commissioner with whom she was about to plunge into the
intricacies of the lancers. Mr. Westmoreland looked at her with a start
and in momentary confusion.

"Oh--er," he stammered, hurriedly, "_here_ you are! Where have you been
hiding yourself all the evening?" Then, after a pause, "Got any dances
saved for me?"

"_Saved_, indeed!" she retorted. "What next? When you don't take the
trouble to come and ask for them!"

"I am so engaged to-night, Miss Eleanor----"

"I see you are. Never mind--I can get on without you." She walked on a
step, and turned back. "Did you send me a pretty bouquet just now?" she
whispered, touching his arm. "I think you did, and it was so good of
you, but there was some mistake about it--" She checked herself, seeing
a blank look in his face, and blushed violently. "Oh, it was _not_
you!" she exclaimed, in a shocked voice, wishing the ball-room floor
would open and swallow her up.

"Really," he said, "I--I was very remiss--I'm awfully sorry." And he
gave her to understand, to her profound consternation, that he had
fully intended to send her a bouquet, but had forgotten it in the rush
of his many important engagements.

She passed on to her lancers with a wan smile, and presently saw him,
under those seductive fern trees upstairs, with the person whom he
had been looking for when she accosted him. "There's Westmoreland and
his old flame," remarked her then partner, a club-frequenting youth
who knew all about everybody. "_He_ calls her the handsomest woman
out--because she's got a lot of money, I suppose. All the Westmorelands
are worshippers of the golden calf, father and son--a regular set of
screws the old fellows were, and he's got the family eye to the main
chance. Trust him! _I_ can't see anything in her; can you? She's as
round as a tub, and as swarthy as a gipsy. I like women"--looking at
his partner--"to be tall, and slender, and fair. That's _my_ style."

This was how poor Eleanor's pleasure in her first ball was spoiled.
I am aware that it looks a very poor and shabby little episode, not
worthy of a chapter to itself; but then things are not always what they
seem, and, as a matter of fact, the life histories of a large majority
of us are made up of just such unheroic passages.



CHAPTER XXVIII.


"WRITE ME AS ONE WHO LOVES HIS FELLOW MEN."


When Elizabeth went into the room, watchfully attended by the major,
who was deeply interested in her proceedings, she was perhaps the
happiest woman of all that gala company. She was in love, and she was
going to meet her lover--which things meant to her something different
from what they mean to girls brought up in conventional habits of
thought. Eve in the Garden of Eden could not have been more pure and
unsophisticated, more absolutely natural, more warmly human, more
blindly confiding and incautious than she; therefore she had obeyed her
strongest instinct without hesitation or reserve, and had given herself
up to the delight of loving without thought of cost or consequences.
Where her affections were concerned she was incapable of compromise or
calculation; it was only the noble and simple rectitude that was the
foundation of her character and education which could "save her from
herself," as we call it, and that only in the last extremity. Just
now she was in the full flood-tide, and she let herself go with it
without an effort. Adam's "graceful consort" could not have had a more
primitive notion of what was appropriate and expected of her under the
circumstances. She stood in the brilliant ball-room, without a particle
of self-consciousness, in an attitude of unaffected dignity, and with a
radiance of gentle happiness all over her, that made her beautiful to
look at, though she was not technically beautiful. The major watched
her with profound interest, reading her like an open book; he knew what
was happening, and what was going to happen (he mostly did), though
he had a habit of keeping his own counsel about his own discoveries.
He noted her pose, which, besides being so admirably graceful, so
evidently implied expectancy; the way she held her flowers to her
breast, her chin just touched by the fringes of maiden-hair, while she
gently turned her head from side to side. And he saw her lift her eyes
to the gallery, saw at the same moment a light spread over her face
that had a superficial resemblance to a smile, though her sensitive
mouth never changed its expression of firm repose; and, chuckling
silently to himself, he walked away to find a sofa for his wife.

Presently Mrs. Duff-Scott, suitably enthroned, and with her younger
girls already carried off by her husband from her side, saw Mr.
Yelverton approaching her, and rejoiced at the prospect of securing his
society for herself and having the tedium of the chaperon's inactivity
relieved by sensible conversation. "Ah, so you are here!" she exclaimed
cordially; "I thought balls were things quite out of your line."

"So they are," he said, shaking hands with her and Elizabeth
impartially, without a glance at the latter. "But I consider it a duty
to investigate the customs of the country. I like to look all round
when I am about it."

"Quite right. This is distinctly one of our institutions, and I am very
glad you are not above taking notice of it."

"I am not above taking notice of anything, I hope."

"No, of course not. You are a true philosopher. There is no
dilettantism about you. That is what I like in you," she added frankly.
"Come and sit down here between Miss King and me, and talk to us. I
want to know how the emigration business is getting on."

He sat down between the two ladies, Elizabeth drawing back her white
skirts.

"I have been doing no business, emigration or other," he said; "I have
been spending my time in pleasure."

"Is it possible? Well, I am glad to hear it. I should very much like
to know what stands for pleasure with you, only it would be too rude a
question."

"I have been in the country," he said, smiling.

"H--m--that's not saying much. You don't mean to tell me, I see.
Talking of the country--look at Elizabeth's bouquet. Did you think we
could raise lilies of the valley like those?"

He bent his head slightly to smell them. "I heard that they did grow
hereabouts," he said; and his eyes and Elizabeth's met for a moment
over the fragrant flowers that she held between them, while Mrs.
Duff-Scott detailed the negligent circumstances of their presentation,
which left it a matter of doubt where they came from and for whom they
were intended.

"I want to find Mr. Smith," said she; "I fancy he can give us
information."

"I don't think so," said Mr. Yelverton; "he was showing me a lily of
the valley in his button-hole just now as a great rarity in these
parts."

Then it flashed across Mrs. Duff-Scott that Paul Brion might have been
the donor, and she said no more.

For some time the trio sat upon the sofa, and the matron and the
philanthropist discussed political economy in its modern developments.
They talked about emigration; they talked about protection--and wherein
a promising, but inexperienced, young country was doing its best to
retard the wheels of progress--as if they were at a committee meeting
rather than disporting themselves at a ball. The major found partners
for the younger girls, but he left Elizabeth to her devices; at least
he did so for a long time--until it seemed to him that she was being
neglected by her companions. Then he started across the room to rescue
her from her obscurity. At the moment that he came in sight, Mr.
Yelverton turned to her. "What about dancing, Miss King?" he said,
quickly. "May I be allowed to do my best?"

"I cannot dance," said Elizabeth. "I began too late--I can't take to
it, somehow."

"My dear," said Mrs. Duff-Scott, "that is nonsense. All you want is
practice. And I am not going to allow you to become a wall-flower." She
turned her head to greet some newly-arrived friends, and Mr. Yelverton
rose and offered his arm to Elizabeth.

"Let us go and practise," he said, and straightway they passed down the
room, threading a crowd once more, and went upstairs to the gallery,
which was a primeval forest in its solitude at this comparatively
early hour. "There is no reason why you should dance if you don't like
it," he remarked; "we can sit here and look on." Then, when she was
comfortably settled in her cushions under the fern trees, he leaned
forward and touched her bouquet with a gesture that was significant of
the unacknowledged but well-understood intimacy between them. "I am so
glad I was able to get them for you," he said; "I wanted you to know
what they were really like--when you told me how much your mother had
loved them."

"I can't thank you," she replied.

"Do not," he said. "It is for me to thank you for accepting them. I
wish you could see them in my garden at Yelverton. There is a dark
corner between two gables of the house where they make a perfect carpet
in April."

She lifted those she held to her face, and sniffed luxuriously.

"There is a room in that recess," he went on, "a lady's sitting-room.
Not a very healthy spot, by the way, it is too dank and dark. It was
fitted up for poor Elizabeth Leigh when my two uncles, Patrick and
Kingscote, expected her to come and live there, each wanting her for
his wife--so my grandmother used to say. It has never been altered,
though nearly all the rest of the house has been turned inside out. I
think the lilies of the valley were planted there for her. I wish you
could see that room. You would like sitting by the open window--it is
one of those old diamond-paned casements, and has got some interesting
stained glass in it--and seeing the sun shine on the grey walls
outside, and smelling the lilies in that green well that the sun cannot
reach down below. It is just one of those things that would suit you."

She listened silently, gazing at the great organ opposite, towering out
of the groves of flowers at its base, without seeing what it was she
looked at. After a pause he went on, still leaning forward, with his
arms resting on his knees. "I can think of nothing now but how much I
want you to see and know everything that makes my life at home," he
said.

"Tell me about it," she said, with the woman's instinctive desire for
delay at this juncture, not because she didn't want to hear the rest,
but to prolong the sweetness of anticipation; "tell me what your life
at Yelverton is like."

"I have not had much of it at present," he replied, after a brief
pause. "The place was let for a long while. Then, when I took it over
again, I made it into a sort of convalescent home, and training-place,
and general starting-point for girls and children--_protégées_ of my
friend who does slumming in the orthodox way. Though he disapproves
of me he makes use of me, and, of course, I don't disapprove of him,
and am very glad to help him. The house is too big for me alone, and
it seems the best use I can put it to. Of course I keep control of
it; I take the poor things in on the condition that they are to be
disciplined after my system and not his--his may be the best, but they
don't enjoy it as they do mine--and when I am at home I run down once a
week or so to see how they are getting on."

"And how is it now?"

"Now the house is just packed, I believe, from top to bottom. I got
a letter a few days ago from my faithful lieutenant, who looks after
things for me, to say that it couldn't hold many more, and that the
funds of the institution are stretched to their utmost capacity to
provide supplies."

"The funds? Oh, you must certainly use that other money now!"

"Yes, I shall use it now. I have, indeed, already appropriated a small
instalment. I told Le Breton to draw on it, rather than let one child
go that we could take--rather than let one opportunity be lost."

"You have other people working with you, then?"

"A good many--yes, and a very miscellaneous lot you would think them.
Le Breton is the one I trust as I do myself. I could not have been here
now if it had not been for him. He is my right hand."

"Who is he?" she asked, fascinated, in spite of her preoccupations, by
this sketch of a life that had really found its mission in the world,
and one so beneficent and so satisfying.

"He is a very interesting man," said Mr. Yelverton, who still leaned
towards her, touching her flowers occasionally with a tender audacity;
"a man to respect and admire--a brave man who would have been burnt at
the stake had he lived a few centuries ago. He was once a clergyman,
but he gave that up."

"He gave it up!" repeated Elizabeth, who had read "Thomas à Kempis" and
the _Christian Year_ daily since she was a child, as her mother had
done before her.

"He couldn't stand it," said Mr. Yelverton, simply. "You see he was a
man with a very literal, and straight-going, and independent mind--a
mind that could nohow bend itself to the necessities of the case. I
don't suppose he ever really gave himself up out of his own control,
but, at any rate, when he got to know the world and the kind of time
that we had come to, he couldn't pretend to shut his eyes. He couldn't
make-believe that he was all the same as he had been when a mere lad
of three-and-twenty, and that nothing had happened to change things
while he had been learning and growing. And once he fell out with
his conscience there was no patching up the breach with compromises
for _him_. He tried it, poor fellow--he had a tough tussle before he
gave in. It was a great step to take, you know--a martyrdom with all
the pain and none of the glory--that nobody could sympathise with or
understand."

Elizabeth was sitting very still, watching with unseeing eyes the
glitter of a conspicuous diamond tiara in the moving crowd below. She,
at any rate, could neither sympathise nor understand.

"He was in the thick of his troubles when I first met him," Mr.
Yelverton went on. "He was working hard in one of the East End
parishes, doing his level best, as the Yankees say, and tormented all
the time, not only by his own scruples and self-accusations, but by a
perfect hornet's nest of ecclesiastical persecutors. I said to him. 'Be
an honest man, and give up being a parson--'"

"Isn't it possible to be _both?_" Elizabeth broke in.

"No doubt it is. But it was not possible for him. Seeing that, I
advised him to let go, and leave those that could to hold on--as I am
glad they do hold on, for we want the brake down at the rate we are
going. He was in agonies of dread about the future, because he had a
wife and children, so I offered him a salary equal to the emoluments
of his living to come and work with me. 'You and I will do what good
we can together,' I said, 'without pretending to be anything more than
what we _know_ we are.' And so he cast in his lot with me, and we have
worked together ever since. They call him all sorts of bad names, but
he doesn't care--at least not much. It is such a relief to him to be
able to hold his head up as a free man--and he does work with such a
zest compared to what he did!"

"And you," said Elizabeth, drawing short breaths, "what are you?--are
you a Dissenter, too?"

"Very much so, I think," he said, smiling at a term that to him, an
Englishman, was obsolete, while to her, an Australian born, it had
still its ancient British significance (for she had been born and
reared in her hermit home, the devoutest of English-churchwomen).

"And yet, in one sense, no one could be less so."

"But _what_ are you?" she urged, suddenly revealing to him that she was
frightened by this ambiguity.

"Really, I don't know," he replied, looking at her gravely. "I think
if I had to label my religious faith in the usual way, with a motto, I
should say I was a Humanitarian. The word has been a good deal battered
about and spoiled, but it expresses my creed better than any other."

"A Humanitarian!" she ejaculated with a cold and sinking heart. "Is
that all?" To her, in such a connection, it was but another word for an
infidel.



CHAPTER XXIX.


PATTY CONFESSES.


A little group of their male attendants stood in the lobby, while Mrs.
Duff-Scott and the girls put on their wraps in the cloak-room. When the
ladies reappeared, they fell into the order in which Paul, unseen in
the shadows of the street, saw them descend the steps to the pavement.

"May I come and see you to-morrow morning?" asked Mr. Yelverton of
Elizabeth, whom he especially escorted.

"Not--not to-morrow," she replied. "We shall be at Myrtle Street, and
we never receive any visitors there."

"At Myrtle Street!" exclaimed the major, who also walked beside her.
"Surely you are not going to run off to Myrtle Street to-morrow?"

"We are going there now," said she, "if we can get in. Mrs. Duff-Scott
knows."

"Let them alone," said the chaperon, looking back over her shoulder.
"If they have a fancy to go home they shall go. I won't have them
persuaded." She was as reluctant to leave them at Myrtle Street as the
major could be, but she carefully abstained, as she always did, from
interfering with their wishes when nothing of importance was involved.
She was wise enough to know that she would have the stronger hold on
them by seeming to leave them their liberty.

They were put into the carriage by their attentive cavaliers, the major
taking his now frequent box seat in order to accompany them; and Mr.
Smith and Mr. Yelverton were left standing on the pavement. Arrived
at Myrtle Street, it was found that the house was still open, and the
girls bade the elder couple an effusively affectionate and compunctious
good-night.

"And when shall I see you again?" Mrs. Duff-Scott inquired, with a
carefully composed smile and cheerful air.

"To-morrow," said Elizabeth, eagerly; "to-morrow, of course, some of
us will come." All three girls had a painful feeling that they were
ungrateful, while under obligations to be grateful, in spite of their
friend's effort to prevent it, as they stood a moment in the warm night
at their street door, and watched the carriage roll away. And yet they
were so glad to be on their own "tauri" to-night--even Eleanor, who had
grown more out of tune with the old frugal life than any of them.

They were let in by the ground-floor landlady, with whom they chatted
for a few minutes, arranging about the materials for their breakfast;
then they went upstairs to their lonely little bedrooms, where they
lit their candles and began at once to prepare for bed. They were dead
tired, they said, and wanted to sleep and not to talk.

But a full hour after their separation for the night, each one was as
wide awake as she had been all day. Elizabeth was kneeling on the floor
by her bedside, still half-dressed--she had not changed her attitude
for a long time, though the undulations of her body showed how far from
passive rest she was--when Patty, clothed only in her night-gown, crept
in, making no noise with her bare feet.

"Elizabeth," she whispered, laying her hand on her sister's shoulder,
"are you asleep?--or are you saying your prayers?"

Elizabeth, startled, lifted up her head, and disclosed to Patty's gaze
in the candle-light a pale, and strained, and careworn face, "I was
saying my prayers," she replied, with a dazed look. "Why are you out of
bed, my darling? What is the matter?"

"That is what I want to know," said Patty, sitting down on the bed.
"What is the matter with us all? What has come to us? Nelly has been
crying ever since I put the light out--she thought I couldn't hear her,
but she was mistaken--sobbing and sniffing under the bedclothes, and
blowing her nose in that elaborately cautious way--"

"Oh, poor, dear child!" interrupted the maternal elder sister, making a
start towards the door.

"No, don't go to her," said Patty, putting out her hand; "leave her
alone--she is quiet now. Besides, you couldn't do her any good. Do you
know what she is fretting about? Because Mr. Westmoreland has been
neglecting her. Would you believe it? She is caring about it, after
all--and we thought it was only fun. She doesn't care about _him_, she
couldn't do that--"

"We can't tell," interrupted Elizabeth. "It is not for us to say.
Perhaps she does, poor child!"

"Oh, she _couldn't_," Patty scornfully insisted. "That is quite
impossible. No, she has got fond of this life that we are living now
with Mrs. Duff-Scott--I have seen it, how it has laid hold of her--and
she would like to marry him so that she could have it always. That is
what _she_ has come to. Oh, Elizabeth, don't you wish we had gone to
Europe at the very first, and never come to Melbourne at all!" Here
Patty herself broke down, and uttered a little shaking, hysterical sob.
"Everything seems to be going wrong with us here! It does not look so,
I know, but at the bottom of my heart I feel it. Why did we turn aside
to waste and spoil ourselves like this, instead of going on to the life
that we had laid out--a real life, that we should never have had to be
ashamed of?"

Elizabeth was silent for a few minutes, soothing her sister's
excitement with maternal caresses, and at the same time thinking with
all her might. "We must try not to get confused," she said presently.
"Life is life, you know, Patty, wherever you are--all the other things
are incidental. And we need not try to struggle with everything at
once. I think we have done our best, when we have had anything to
do--any serious step to take--since we came to Melbourne; and in Europe
we could have done no more. It seemed right to please Mrs. Duff-Scott,
and to accept such a treasure as her friendship when it came to us in
what seemed such a providential way--did it not? It seemed so to me. It
would have been ungenerous to have held out against her--and we were
always a little given to be too proud of standing alone. It makes her
happy to have us. I don't know what work we could have done that would
have been more profitable than that. Patty"--after another thoughtful
pause--"I don't think it is that _things_ are going wrong, dear. It is
only that we have to manage them, and to steer our way, and to take
care of ourselves, and that is so trying and perplexing. God knows _I_
find it difficult! So, I suppose, does everyone."

"You, Elizabeth? _You_ always seem to know what is right. And you are
so good that you never ought to have troubles."

"If Nelly is susceptible to such a temptation as Mr. Westmoreland--Mr.
Westmoreland, because he is rich--she would not have gone far with us,
in any case," Elizabeth went on, putting aside the allusion to herself.
"Europe would not have strengthened her. It would have been all the
same. While, as for you, my darling--"

"I--I!" broke in Patty excitedly. "I should have been happy now, and
not as I am! I should have been saved from making a fool of myself if I
had gone to Europe! I should have been worth something, and able to do
something, there!"

"How can you tell, dear child? And why do you suppose you have been
foolish? _I_ don't think so. On the contrary, it has often seemed to me
that you have been the sensible one of us all."

"O, Elizabeth, don't laugh at me!" wailed Patty, reproachfully.

"I laugh at you, my darling! What an idea! I mean it, every word. You
see everything in a distorted and exaggerated way just now, because
you are tired and your nerves are over-wrought. You are not yourself
to-night, Patty. You will cheer up--we shall all cheer up--when we
have had a good sleep and a little quiet time to think things over."

"No, I am not myself, indeed," assented Patty, with moody passion. "I
am not myself at all--to be made to feel so weak and miserable!" She
put her face down in her hands and began to cry with more abandonment
at the thought of how weak she had become.

"But Patty, dearest, there must be something the matter with you," her
motherly elder sister cried, much distressed by this abnormal symptom.
"Are you feeling ill? Don't frighten me like this."

The girl laid her head upon her sister's shoulder, and there let
herself loose from all restraint. "You _know_ what is the matter," she
sobbed; "you know as well as I do what is the matter--that it is Paul
Brion who worries me so and makes me so utterly wretched."

"Paul Brion! _He_ worry you, Patty--_he_ make you wretched?"

"You have always been delicate and considerate, Elizabeth--you have
never said anything--but I know you know all about it, and how spoiled
I am, and how spoiled everything is because of him. I hate to talk of
it--I can't bear even you to see that I am fretting about him--but I
can't help it! and I know you understand. When I have had just one good
cry," she concluded, with a fresh and violent burst of tears, "perhaps
I shall get on better."

Elizabeth stared at the wall over her sister's head in dumb amazement,
evidently not deserving the credit for perspicacity accorded to her.
"Do you mean," she said slowly, "do you really mean--"

"Yes," sobbed Patty, desperate, for the moment dead to shame.

"Oh, how blind--how wickedly blind--how stupid--how selfish I have
been!" Elizabeth exclaimed, after another pause in which to collect
her shocked and bewildered faculties. "I never dreamt about it, my
darling--never, for a single moment. I thought--I always had the
settled impression that you did not like him."

"I don't like him," said Patty, fiercely, lifting herself up. "I love
him--I _love_ him! I must say it right out once, if I never speak
another word," and she bent her head back a little, and stretched out
her arms with an indescribable gesture as if she saw him standing
before her. "He is a man--a real, true, strong man--who works, and
thinks, and lives--lives! It is all serious with him, as I wanted
it to be with me--and I _might_ have been worthy of him! A little
while ago we were so near to each other--so near that we almost
_touched_--and now no two people could be farther apart. I have done
him wrong--I have been a wicked fool, but I am punished for it out of
all proportion. _He_ flirt with a married woman! What could I have
been dreaming of? Oh, how _disgusting_ I must be to have allowed such
an idea to come into my head! And yet it was only a little thing,
Elizabeth, when you come to think of it relatively--the only time I
ever really did him injustice, and it was only for a moment. No one can
always do what is right and fair without making a mistake sometimes--it
was just a mistake for want of thinking. But it has taken him from me
as completely as if I had committed suicide, and was dead and buried
and done with. It has made him _hate_ me. No wonder! If he cared about
me, I wouldn't be too proud to beg his pardon, but he doesn't--he
doesn't! And so I must face it out, or else he will think I am running
after him, and he will despise me more than he does already."

"But if he was doing no harm," said Elizabeth, soothingly, "he could
not suppose that you thought he was."

"No," said Patty, "he will never think I was so disgusting as to think
_that_ of him. But it is as bad as if he did. That at least was a
great, outrageous, downright wrong, worth fighting about, and not the
pitiful shabby thing that it appears to him. For, of course, he thinks
I did it because I was too grand to notice him while I was wearing a
fine dress and swelling about with great people. It never occurred
to me that it would be possible for him or anybody to suspect me of
_that_," said Patty, proudly, drawing herself up; "but afterwards I
saw that he could not help doing it. And ever since then it has been
getting worse and worse--everything has seemed to point to its being
so. Haven't you noticed? I never see him except I am with people who
_are_ above noticing him; and Mr. Smith--oh, what I have suffered from
Mr. Smith to-night, Elizabeth!--has all this time been thinking I was
going to marry him, and I can see now how it must have looked to other
people as if I was. Just think of it!"--with a gesture of intense
disgust. "As if any girl could stoop to that, after having had such a
contrast before her eyes! No wonder he hates me and despises me--no
wonder he looks at me as if I were the dirt beneath his feet. I wish I
were," she added, with reckless passion; "oh, my dear love, I only wish
I were!"

When she was about it, Patty cleansed her stuffed bosom thoroughly.
It was not her way to do things by halves. She rhapsodised about her
love and her lover with a wild extravagance that was proportionate
to the strained reserve and restraint that she had so long put upon
her emotions. After which came the inevitable reaction. The fit being
over, she braced herself up again, and was twice as strong-minded and
self-sufficient as before. When the morning came, and she and Elizabeth
busied themselves with housework--Eleanor being relegated to the sofa
with a sick headache--the girl who had dissolved herself in tears and
given way to temporary insanity, as she chose herself to call it, so
recently, was bright, and brusque, and cheerful, in spite of sultry
weather; and not only did she pretend, even to her confidante, that the
young man on the other side of the wall had no place in her thoughts,
but she hardened her heart to adamant against _him_, for having been
the cause of her humiliating lapse from dignity. It was quite a lucky
chance, indeed, that she did not straightway go and accept the hand
and fortune of Mr. Smith, by way of making reparation for the outrage
committed vicariously by Paul Brion on her self-respect.



CHAPTER XXX.


THE OLD AND THE NEW.


The weather was scorchingly hot and a thunderstorm brewing when the
girls sat down to their frugal lunch at mid-day. It was composed of
bread and butter and pickled fish, for which, under the circumstances,
they had not appetite enough. They trifled with the homely viands for
awhile, in a manner quite unusual with them, in whatever state of the
atmosphere; and then they said they would "make up" at tea time, if
weather permitted, and cleared the table. Eleanor was sent to lie down
in her room, Patty volunteered to read a pleasant novel to the invalid,
and Elizabeth put on her bonnet to pay her promised visit to Mrs.
Duff-Scott.

She found her friend in the cool music-room, standing by the piano, on
which some loose white sheets were scattered. The major sat on a sofa,
surveying the energetic woman with a sad and pensive smile.

"Are you looking over new music?" asked Elizabeth, as she walked in.

"O my dear, is that you? How good of you to venture out in this
heat!--but I knew you would," exclaimed the lady of the house, coming
forward with outstretched arms of welcome. "Music, did you say?--O
_dear_ no!" as if music were the last thing likely to interest her. "It
is something of far more importance."

"Yelverton has been here," said the major, sadly; "and he has been
sketching some plans for Whitechapel cottages. My wife thinks they are
most artistic."

"So they are," she insisted, hardly, "though I don't believe I used the
word; for things are artistic when they are suitable for the purpose
they are meant for, and only pretend to be what they are. Look at
this, Elizabeth. You see it is of no use to build Peabody houses in
these frightfully low neighbourhoods, where half-starved creatures are
packed together like herrings in a barrel--Mr. Yelverton has explained
that quite clearly. The better class of poor come to live in them, and
the poorest of all are worse off instead of better, because they have
less room than they had before. You _must_ take into consideration
that there is only a certain amount of space, and if you build model
lodgings here, and a school there, and a new street somewhere else, you
do good, of course, but you herd the poor street-hawkers and people of
that class more and more thickly into their wretched dens, where they
haven't enough room to breathe as it is--"

"I think I'll go, my dear, if you'll excuse me," interrupted the major,
humbly, in tones of deep dejection.

"And therefore," proceeded Mrs. Duff-Scott, taking no notice of her
husband, "the proper and reasonable thing to do--if you want to help
those who are most in need of help--is to let fine schemes alone. Mr.
Yelverton expects to come into a large property soon, and he means to
buy into those wretched neighbourhoods, where he can, and to build
for one-room tenants--for cheapness and low rents. He will get about
four per cent. on his money, but that he will use to improve with--I
mean for putting them in the way of sanitary habits, poor creatures.
He makes a great point of teaching them sanitation. He seems to think
more of that than about teaching them the Bible, and really one
can hardly wonder at it when one sees the frightful depravity and
general demoralisation that come of ignorance and stupidity in those
matters--and he sees so much of it. He seems to be always rooting
about in those sewers and dunghills, as he calls them--he is rather
addicted to strong expressions, if you notice--and turning things out
from the very bottom. He is queer in some of his notions, but he is a
good man, Elizabeth. One can forgive him his little crotchets, for the
sake of all the good he does--it must be incalculable! He shrinks from
nothing, and spends himself trying to better the things that are so bad
that most people feel there is nothing for it but to shut their eyes to
them--without making any fuss about it either, or setting himself up
for a saint. Oh!" exclaimed Mrs. Duff-Scott, throwing a contemptuous
glance around her museum of precious curiosities, "how inconceivably
petty and selfish it seems to care for rubbish like this, when there
are such miseries in the world that we might lighten, as he does, if we
would only set ourselves to it in the same spirit."

_Rubbish!_--those priceless pots and plates, those brasses and ivories
and enamels, those oriental carpets and tapestries, those unique
miscellaneous relics of the mediæval prime! Truly the Cause of Humanity
had taken hold of Mrs. Duff-Scott at last.

She sat down in an arm-chair, having invited Elizabeth to take off
her hat and make herself as comfortable as the state of the weather
permitted, and began to wave a large fan to and fro while she looked
into vacant space with shining eyes.

"He is a strange man," she said musingly. "A most interesting,
admirable man, but full of queer ideas--not at all like any man I ever
met before. He has been lunching with us, Elizabeth--he came quite
early--and we have had an immense deal of talk. I wish you had been
here to listen to him--though I don't know that it would have been very
good for you, either. He is extremely free, and what you might call
revolutionary, in his opinions; he treats the most sacred subjects as
if they were to be judged and criticised like common subjects. He talks
of the religions of the world, for instance, as if they were all on
the same foundation, and calls the Bible our Veda or Koran--says they
are all alike inspired writings because they respectively express the
religious spirit, craving for knowledge of the mystery of life and the
unseen, that is an integral part of man's nature, and universal in
all races, though developed according to circumstances. He says all
mankind are children of God, and brothers, and that he declines to make
invidious distinctions. And personal religion to him seems nothing more
than the most rudimentary morality--simply to speak the truth and to
be unselfish--just as to be selfish or untrue are the only sins he
will acknowledge that we are responsible for out of the long catalogue
of sins that stain this unhappy world. He won't call it an unhappy
world, by the way, in spite of the cruel things he sees; he is the most
optimistic of unbelievers. It will all come right some day--and our
time will be called the dark ages by our remote descendants. Ever since
men and women came first, they have been getting better and higher--the
world increases in human goodness steadily, and will go on doing so as
long as it is a world--and that because of the natural instincts and
aspirations of human nature, and not from what we have always supposed
all our improvement came from--rather in spite of that, indeed."

Mrs. Duff-Scott poured out this information, which had been seething in
her active mind, volubly and with a desire to relieve herself to some
one; but here she checked herself, feeling that she had better have
left it all unsaid, not less for Elizabeth's sake than for her own. She
got up out of her seat and began to pace about the room with a restless
air. She was genuinely troubled. It was as if a window in a closed
chamber had been opened, letting in a too strong wind that was blowing
the delicate furniture all about; now, with the woman's instinctive
timidity and fear (that may be less a weakness than a safeguard), she
was eager to shut it to again, though suspecting that it might be
too late to repair the damage done. Now that she took time to think
about it, she felt particularly guilty on Elizabeth's account, who had
not had her experience, and was not furnished with her ripe judgment
and powers of discrimination as a preservative against the danger of
contact with heterodox ideas.

"I ought not to repeat such things," she exclaimed, vexedly, beginning
to gather up the plans of the Whitechapel cottages, but observing
only her companion's strained and wistful face. "The mere independent
hypotheses and speculations of one man, when no two seem ever to think
alike! I suppose those who study ancient history and literatures,
and the sciences generally, get into the habit of pulling things to
pieces--"

"Those who learn most _ought_ to know most," suggested Elizabeth.

"They ought, my dear; but it doesn't follow."

"Not when they are so earnest in trying to find out?"

"No; that very earnestness is against them--they over-reach themselves.
They get confused, too, with learning so much, and mixing so many
things up together." Mrs. Duff-Scott was a little reckless as to means
so long as she could compass the desired end--which was the shutting
of that metaphorical window which she had incautiously set (or left)
open.

"Well, he believes in God--that all men are God's children," the
girl continued, clinging where she could. "That seems like religion
to me--it is a good and loving way to think of God, that He gave His
spirit to all alike from the beginning--that He is so just and kind to
all, and not only to a few."

"Yes, he believes in God. He believes in the Bible, too, in a sort of
a way. He says he would have the lessons of the New Testament and the
life of Christ disseminated far and wide, but not as they are now, with
the moral left out, and not as if those who wrote them were wise enough
for all time. But, whatever his beliefs may be," said Mrs. Duff-Scott,
"they are not what will satisfy us, Elizabeth. You and I must hold fast
to our faith in Christ, dear child, or I don't know what would become
of us. We will let 'whys' alone--we will not trouble ourselves to try
and find out mysteries that no doubt are wisely withheld from us, and
that anyhow we should never be able to understand."

Here the servant entered with a gliding step, opened a little
Sutherland table before his mistress's chair, spread the æsthetic
cloth, and set out the dainty tea service. Outside the storm had burst,
and was now spending itself and cooling the hot air in a steady shower
that made a rushing sound on the gravel. Mrs. Duff-Scott, who had
reseated herself, leant back silently with an air of reaction after her
strong emotion in the expression of her handsome face and form, and
Elizabeth mechanically got up to pour out the tea. Presently, as still
in silence they began to sip and munch their afternoon repast, the girl
saw on the piano near which she stood a photograph that arrested her
attention. "What is this?" she asked. "Did he bring this too?" It was a
copy of Luke Fildes' picture of "The Casuals." Mrs. Duff-Scott took it
from her hand.

"No, it is mine," she said. "I have had it here for some time, in a
portfolio amongst others, and never took any particular notice of it. I
just had an idea that it was an unpleasant and disagreeable subject. I
never gave it a thought--what it really meant--until this morning, when
he was talking to me, and happened to mention it. I remembered that I
had it, and I got it out to look at it. Oh!" setting down her teacup
and holding it fairly in both hands before her--"isn't it a terrible
sermon? Isn't it heartbreaking to think that it is _true?_ And he says
the truth is understated."

Like the great Buddha, when he returned from his first excursion beyond
his palace gates, Elizabeth's mind was temporarily darkened by the new
knowledge of the world that she was acquiring, and she looked at the
picture with a fast-beating heart. "Sphinxes set up against that dead
wall," she quoted from a little printed foot-note, "and none likely to
be at the pains of solving them until the general overthrow." She was
leaning over her friend's shoulder, and the tears were dropping from
her eyes.

"They are Dickens's words," said Mrs. Duff-Scott.

"Why is it like this, I wonder?" the girl murmured, after a long,
impressive pause. "We must not think it is God's fault--that can't
be. It must be somebody else's fault. It cannot have been _intended_
that a great part of the human race should be forced, from no fault of
their own, to accept such a cruel lot--to be made to starve, when so
many roll in riches--to be driven to crime because they cannot help
it--to be driven to _hell_ when they _need not_ have gone there--if
there is such a place--if there is any truth in what we have been
taught. But"--with a kind of sad indignation--"if religion has been
doing its best for ever so many centuries, and this is all that there
is to show for it--doesn't that seem to say that _he_ may be right,
and that religion has been altogether misinterpreted--that we have all
along been making mistakes--" She checked herself, with a feeling of
dismay at her own words; and Mrs. Duff-Scott made haste to put away
the picture, evidently much disturbed. Both women had taken the "short
views" of life so often advocated, not from philosophical choice, but
from disinclination, and perhaps inability, to take long ones; and
they had the ordinary woman's conception of religion as exclusively
an ecclesiastical matter. This rough disturbance of old habits of
thought and sentiments of reverence and duty was very alarming; but
while Elizabeth was rashly confident, because she was inexperienced,
and because she longed to put faith in her beloved, Mrs. Duff-Scott
was seized with a sort of panic of remorseful misgiving. To shut that
window had become an absolute necessity, no matter by what means.

"My dear," she said, in desperation, "whatever you do, you must not
begin to ask questions of that sort. We can never find out the answers,
and it leads to endless trouble. God's ways are not as our ways--we
are not in the secrets of His providence. It is for us to trust Him
to know what is best. If you admit one doubt, Elizabeth, you will see
that everything will go. Thousands are finding that out now-a-days,
to their bitter cost. Indeed, I don't know what we are coming to--the
'general overthrow,' I suppose. I hope I, at any rate, shall not live
to see it. What would life be worth to us--_any_ of us, even the best
off--if we lost our faith in God and our hope of immortality? Just try
to imagine it for a moment."

Elizabeth looked at her mentor, who had again risen and was walking
about the room. The girl's eyes were full of solemn thought. "Not
much," she replied, gravely. "But I was never afraid of losing faith in
God."

"It is best to be afraid," replied Mrs. Duff-Scott, with decision.
"It is best not to run into temptation. Don't think about these
difficulties, Elizabeth--leave them, leave them. You would only
unsettle yourself and become wretched and discontented, and you would
never be any the wiser."

Elizabeth thought over this for a few minutes, while Mrs. Duff-Scott
mechanically took up a brass lota and dusted it with her handkerchief.

"Then you think one ought not to read books, or to talk to people--to
try to find out the ground one stands on----"

"No, no, no--let it alone altogether. You know the ground you ought to
stand on quite well. You don't want to see where you are if you can
feel that God is with you. Blessed are they that have not seen and
yet have believed!" she ended in a voice broken with strong feeling,
clasping her hands with a little fervent, prayerful gesture.

Elizabeth drew a long breath, and in her turn began to walk restlessly
up and down the room. She had one more question to ask, but the asking
of it almost choked her. "Then you would say--I suppose you think
it would be wrong--for one who was a believer to marry one who was
not?--however good, and noble, and useful he or she might be--however
religious _practically_--however blameless in character?"

Mrs. Duff-Scott, forgetting for the moment that there was such a person
as Mr. Yelverton in the world, sat down once more in an arm-chair,
and addressed herself to the proposition on its abstract merits. She
had worked herself up, by this time, into a state of highly fervid
orthodoxy. Her hour of weakness was past, and she was fain to put forth
and test her reserves of strength. Wherefore she had very clear views
as to the iniquity of an unequal yoking together with unbelievers, and
the peril of touching the unclean thing; and she stated them plainly
and with all her wonted incisive vigour.

When it was all over, Elizabeth put on her hat and walked back through
the pattering rain to Myrtle Street, heavy-hearted and heavy-footed, as
if a weight of twenty years had been laid on her since the morning.

"Patty," she said, when her sister, warmly welcoming her return,
exclaimed at her pale face and weary air, and made her take the sofa
that Eleanor had vacated, "Patty, let us go away for a few weeks, shall
we? I want a breath of fresh air, and to be in peace and quiet for a
little, to think things over."

"So do I," said Patty. "So does Nelly. Let us write to Sam Dunn to find
us lodgings."



CHAPTER XXXI.


IN RETREAT.


"Is it possible that we have only been away for nine months?"
murmured Elizabeth, as the little steamer worked its way up to the
well-remembered jetty, and she looked once more on surf and headland,
island rock and scattered township, lying under the desolate moorlands
along the shore. "Doesn't it seem _at least_ nine years?"

"Or ninety," replied Patty. "I feel like a new generation. How exactly
the same everything is! Here they have all been going on as they always
did. There is Mrs. Dunn, dear old woman!--in the identical gown that
she had on the day we went away."

Everything was the same, but they were incredibly changed. There was no
sleeping on the nose of the vessel now; no shrinking from association
with their fellow-passengers. The skipper touched his cap to them,
which he never used to do in the old times; and the idlers on the
pier, when the vessel came in, stared at them as if they had indeed
been away for ninety years. Mrs. Dunn took in at a glance the details
of their travelling costumes, which were of a cut and quality not
often seen in those parts; and, woman-like, straightway readjusted her
smiles and manners, unconsciously becoming at once more effusive and
more respectful than (with the ancient waterproofs in her mind's eye)
she had prepared herself to be. But Sam saw only the three fair faces,
that were to him as unchanged as his own heart; and he launched himself
fearlessly into the boat as soon as it came alongside, with horny hand
outstretched, and boisterous welcomes.

"So y'are come back again?" he cried, "and darn glad I am to see yer,
and no mistake." He added a great deal more in the way of greeting
and congratulation before he got them up the landing stage and into
the capacious arms of Mrs. Dunn--who was quite agreeably surprised to
be hugged and kissed by three such fashionable young ladies. Then he
proceeded to business with a triumphant air. "Now, Miss 'Lisbeth, yer
see here's the cart--that's for the luggage. Me and the old hoss is
going to take it straight up. And there is a buggy awaiting for you.
And Mr. Brion told me to say as he was sorry he couldn't come down to
the boat, but it's court day, yer see, and he's got a case on, and he's
obliged to stop till he's done wi' that."

"Oh," exclaimed Elizabeth, hastily, "did you tell Mr. Brion that we
were coming?"

"Why, of course, miss. I went and told him the very first thing--'twas
only right, him being such a friend--your only friend here, as one may
say."

"Oh, no, Sam, we have you."

"Me!"--with scornful humility--"I'm nothing. Yes, of course I went and
told him. And he wouldn't let us get no lodgings; he said you was just
to go and stay wi' Mrs. Harris and him. He would ha' wrote to tell yer,
but there worn't time."

"And much more comfortable you'll be than at them lodging places," put
in Mrs. Dunn. "There's nothing empty now that's at all fit for you. The
season is just a-coming on, you see, and we're like to be pretty full
this year."

"But we wanted to be away from the town, Mrs. Dunn."

"And so you will be away from the town. Why, bless me, you can't be
much farther away--to be anywhere at all--than up there," pointing to
the headland where their old home was dimly visible in the November
sunshine. "There's only Mrs. Harris and the gal, and _they_ won't
interfere with you."

"Up _there!_" exclaimed the sisters in a breath. And Mr. and Mrs. Dunn
looked with broad grins at one another.

"Well, I'm blowed!" exclaimed the fisherman. "You don't mean as Master
Paul never let on about his pa and him buying the old place, do you?
Why, they've had it, and the old man has been living there--he comes
down every morning and goes up every night--walks both ways, he do,
like a young chap--this two or three months past. Mrs. Hawkins she
couldn't bear the lonesomeness of it when the winter come on, and was
right down glad to get out of it. They gave Hawkins nearly double what
_you_ got for it. I told yer at the time that yer was a-throwing of it
away."

The girls tried to look as if they had known all about it, while they
digested their surprise. It was a very great surprise, almost amounting
to a shock.

"And how _is_ Mr. Paul?" asked Mrs. Dunn of Patty. "Dear young man,
it's a long time since we've seen anything of him! I hope he's keeping
his health well!"

"I think so--I hope so," said Patty gently. "He works very hard, you
know, writing things for the papers. He is wanted too much to be able
to take holidays like ordinary people. They couldn't get on without
him."

Elizabeth turned round in astonishment: she had expected to see her
sister in a blaze of wrath over Sam's unexpected communications. "I'm
afraid you won't like this arrangement, dearie," she whispered. "What
had we better do?"

"Oh, go--go," replied Patty, with a tremulous eagerness that she vainly
tried to hide. "I don't mind it. I--I am glad to see Mr. Brion. It will
be very nice to stay with him--and in our own dear old house too. Oh, I
wouldn't refuse to go for anything! Besides we _can't_."

"No, I don't see how we can," acquiesced Elizabeth, cheerfully. Patty
having no objection, she was delighted with the prospect.

They walked up the little pier in a group, the "hoss" following them
with the reins upon his neck; and, while Elizabeth and Patty mounted
the buggy provided by Mr. Brion, Eleanor gratified the old fisherman
and his wife by choosing to stay with them and ride up in the cart. It
was a lovely morning, just approaching noon, the sky as blue as--no,
_not_ as a turquoise or a sapphire--but as nothing save itself can be
in a climate like ours, saturated with light and lucent colour, and
giving to the sea its own but an intenser hue. I can see it all in my
mind's eye--as my bodily eyes have seen it often--that dome above, that
plain below, the white clouds throwing violet shadows on the water, the
white gulls dipping their red legs in the shining surf and reflecting
the sunlight on their white wings; but I cannot describe it. It is
beyond the range of pen and ink, as of brush and pigments. As the buggy
lightly climbed the steep cliff, opening the view wider at every step,
the sisters sat hand in hand, leaning forward to take it all in; but
they, too, said nothing--only inhaled long draughts of the delicious
salt air, and felt in every invigorated fibre of them that they had
done well to come. Reaching the crest of the bluff, and descending into
the broken basin--or saucer, rather--in which Seaview Villa nestled,
they uttered simultaneously an indignant moan at the spectacle of Mrs.
Hawkins's devastations. There was the bright paint, and the whitewash,
and the iron roof, and the fantastic trellis; and there was _not_ the
ivy that had mantled the eaves and the chimney stacks, nor the creepers
that had fought so hard for existence, nor the squat verandah posts
which they had bountifully embraced--nor any of the features that had
made the old house distinct and characteristic.

"Never mind," said Patty, who was the first to recover herself. "It
looks very smart and tidy. I daresay it wanted doing up badly. After
all, I'd sooner see it look as unlike home as possible, now that it
isn't home."

Mrs. Harris came out and warmly welcomed them in Mr. Brion's name.
She took them into the old sitting-room, now utterly transformed, but
cosy and inviting, notwithstanding, with the lawyer's substantial old
leather chairs and sofas about it, and a round table in the middle
set out for lunch, and the sea and sky shining in through the open
verandah doors. She pressed them to have wine and cake to "stay" them
till Eleanor and lunch time arrived; and she bustled about with them in
their rooms--their own old bedrooms, in one of which was a collection
of Paul's schoolboy books and treasures, while they took off their hats
and washed their hands and faces; and was very motherly and hospitable,
and made them feel still more pleased that they had come. They feasted,
with fine appetites, on fish and gooseberry-fool at one o'clock, while
Sam and Mrs. Dunn were entertained by the housekeeper in the kitchen;
and in the afternoon, the cart and "hoss" having departed, they sat on
the verandah in basket chairs, and drank tea, and idled, and enjoyed
the situation thoroughly. Patty got a dog's-eared novel of Mayne
Reid's from the book-case in her bedroom, and turned over the pages
without reading them to look at the pencil marks and thumb stains; and
Eleanor dozed and fanned herself; and Elizabeth sewed and thought. And
then their host came home, riding up from the township on a fast and
panting steed, quite thrown off his balance by emotion. He was abject
in his apologies for having been deterred by cruel fate and business
from meeting them at the steamer and conducting them in person to his
house, and superfluous in expressions of delight at the honour they had
conferred on him.

"And how did you leave my boy?" he asked presently, when due inquiries
after their own health and welfare had been satisfied. He spoke as
if they and Paul had all been living under one roof. "And when is he
coming to see his old father again?"

Patty, who was sitting beside her host--"in his pocket," Nelly
declared--and was simply servile in her affectionate demonstrations,
undertook to describe Paul's condition and circumstances, and she
implied a familiar knowledge of them which considerably astonished her
sisters. She also gave the father a full history of all the son's good
deeds in relation to themselves--described how he had befriended them
in this and that emergency, and asserted warmly, and with a grave face,
that she didn't know what they _should_ have done without him.

"That's right--that's right!" said the old man, laying her hand on his
knee and patting it fondly. "I was sure he would--I knew you'd find out
his worth when you came to know him. We must write to him to-morrow,
and tell him you have arrived safely. He doesn't know I have got you,
eh? We must tell him. Perhaps we can induce him to take a little
holiday himself--I am sure it is high time he had one--and join us for
a few days. What do you think?"

"Oh, I am _sure_ he can't come away just now," protested Patty, pale
with eagerness and horror. "In the middle of the Exhibition--and a
parliamentary crisis coming on--it would be quite impossible!"

"I don't know--I don't know. I fancy 'impossible' is not a word you
will find in his dictionary," said the old gentleman encouragingly.
"When he hears of our little arrangement, he'll want to take a hand, as
the Yankees say. He won't like to be left out--no, no."

"But, dear Mr. Brion," Patty strenuously implored--for this was really
a matter of life and death, "do think what a critical time it is! They
never _can_ spare him now."

"Then they ought to spare him. Because he is the best man they have,
that is no reason why they should work him to death. They don't
consider him sufficiently. He gives in to them too much. He is not a
machine."

"Perhaps he would come," said Patty, "but it would be against his
judgment--it would be at a heavy cost to his country--it would be just
to please us--oh, don't let us tempt him to desert his post, which _no_
one could fill in his absence! Don't let us unsettle and disturb him at
such a time, when he is doing so much good, and when he wants his mind
kept calm. Wait for a little while; he might get away for Christmas
perhaps."

"But by Christmas, I am afraid, you would be gone."

"Never mind. We see him in Melbourne. And we came here to get away from
all Melbourne associations."

"Well, well, we'll see. But I am afraid you will be very dull with only
an old fellow like me to entertain you."

"Dull!" they all exclaimed in a breath. It was just what they wanted,
to be so peaceful and quiet--and, above all things, to have him (Mr.
Brion, senior) entirely to themselves.

The polite old man looked as if he were scarcely equal to the weight
of the honour and pleasure they conferred upon him. He was excessively
happy. As the hours and days went on, his happiness increased. His
punctilious courtesy merged more and more into a familiar and paternal
devotion that took all kinds of touching shapes; and he felt more
and more at a loss to express adequately the tender solicitude and
profound satisfaction inspired in his good old heart by the sojourn of
such charming guests within his gates. To Patty he became especially
attached; which was not to be wondered at, seeing how susceptible he
was and how lavishly she exercised her fascinations upon him. She
walked to his office with him in the morning; she walked to meet him
when he came hastening back in the afternoon; she read the newspaper
(containing Paul's peerless articles) to him in the evening, and mixed
his modest glass of grog for him before he went to bed. In short,
she made him understand what it was to have a charming and devoted
daughter, though she had no design in doing so--no motive but to
gratify her affection for Paul in the only way open to her. So the old
gentleman was very happy--and so were they. But still it seemed to
him that he must be happier than they were, and that, being a total
reversal of the proper order of things, troubled him. He had a pang
every morning when he wrenched himself away from them--leaving them,
as he called it, alone--though loneliness was the very last sensation
likely to afflict them. It seemed so inhospitable, so improper, that
they should be thrown upon their own resources, and the company of a
housekeeper of humble status, for the greater part of the day--that
they should be without a male attendant and devotee, while a man
existed who was privileged to wait on them. If only Paul had been at
home! Paul would have taken them for walks, for drives, for boating
excursions, for pic-nics; he would have done the honours of Seaview
Villa as the best of hosts and gentlemen. However, Paul, alas! was tied
to his newspaper in Melbourne, and the old man had a business that he
was cruelly bound to attend to--at any rate, sometimes. But at other
times he contrived to shirk his business and then he racked his brains
for projects whereby he might give them pleasure.

"Let's see," he said one evening, a few days after their arrival; "I
suppose you have been to the caves too often to care to go again?"

"No," said Elizabeth; "we have never been to the caves at all."

"_What_--living within half-a-dozen miles of them all your lives! Well,
I believe there are many more like you. If they had been fifty miles
away, you would have gone about once a twelvemonth."

"No, Mr. Brion; we were never in the habit of going sight-seeing. My
father seldom left the house, and my mother only when necessary; and we
had no one else to take us."

"Then I'll take you, and we will go to-morrow. Mrs. Harris shall pack
us a basket for lunch, and we'll make a day of it. Dear, dear, what a
pity Paul couldn't be here, to go with us!"

The next morning, which was brilliantly fine, brought the girls an
anxiously-expected letter from Mrs. Duff-Scott. Sam Dunn, who was an
occasional postman for the solitary house, delivered it, along with
a present of fresh fish, while Mr. Brion was absent in the township,
negotiating for a buggy and horses for his expedition. The fairy
godmother had given but a grudging permission for this _villeggiatura_
of theirs, and they were all relieved to have her assurance that she
was not seriously vexed with them. Her envelope was inscribed to "Miss
King," but the long letter enclosed was addressed to her "dearest
children" collectively, tenderly inquiring how they were getting
on and when they were coming back, pathetically describing her own
solitude--so unlike what it was before she knew the comfort of their
companionship--and detailing various items of society news. Folded in
this, however, was the traditional lady's postscript, scribbled on
a small half-sheet and marked "private," which Elizabeth took away
to read by herself. She wondered, with a little alarm, what serious
matter it was that required a confidential postscript, and this was
what she read:--

"I have been thinking over our talk the other day, dear. Perhaps I
spoke too strongly. One is apt to make arbitrary generalisations on the
spur of the moment, and to forget how circumstances may alter cases.
There is another side to the question that should not be overlooked.
The believing wife or husband may be the salvation of _the other_, and
when the other is _honest_ and _earnest_, though _mistaken_, there is
the strongest hope of this. It requires thinking of on _all_ sides, my
darling, and I fear I spoke without thinking enough. Consult your own
heart--I am sure it will advise you well."

Elizabeth folded up the note, and put it into her pocket. Then--for
she was alone in her own little bedroom--she sat down to think of it;
to wonder what had reminded Mrs. Duff-Scott of their conversation the
"other day"--what had induced her to temporise with the convictions
which then appeared so sincere and absolute. But she could make nothing
of it. It was a riddle without the key.

Then she heard the sound of buggy wheels, hurried steps on the
verandah, and the voice of Mr. Brion calling her.

"My dear," said the old man when she went out to him, speaking in some
haste and agitation, "I have just met at the hotel a friend of yours
from Melbourne--Mr. Yelverton. He came by the coach last night. He
says Mrs. Duff-Scott sent him up to see how you are getting on, and to
report to her. He is going away again to-morrow, and I did not like to
put off our trip, so I have asked him to join us. I hope I have not
done wrong"--looking anxiously into her rapidly changing face--"I hope
you won't think that I have taken a liberty, my dear."



CHAPTER XXXII.


HISTORY REPEATS ITSELF.


He was talking to Patty and Eleanor in the garden when Elizabeth went
out to him, looking cool and colonial in a silk coat and a solar
topee. The girls were chatting gaily; the old lawyer was sketching a
programme of the day's proceedings, and generally doing the honours
of his neighbourhood with polite vivacity. Two buggies, one single
and one double, in charge of a groom from the hotel, were drawn up by
the gate, and Mrs. Harris and "the gal" were busily packing them with
luncheon baskets and rugs. There was a cloudless summer sky overhead--a
miracle of loveliness spread out before them in the shining plain of
the sea; and the delicate, fresh, salt air, tremulous with the boom of
subterranean breakers, was more potent than any wine to make glad the
heart of man and to give him a cheerful countenance.

Very cheerfully did Mr. Yelverton come forward to greet his beloved,
albeit a little moved with the sentiment of the occasion. He had parted
from her in a ball-room, with a half-spoken confession of--something
that she knew all about quite as well as he did--on his lips; and he
had followed her now to say the rest, and to hear what she had to reply
to it. This was perfectly understood by both of them, as they shook
hands, with a little conventional air of unexpectedness, and he told
her that he had come at Mrs. Duff-Scott's orders.

"She could not rest," he said, gravely, "until she was sure that you
had found pleasant quarters, and were comfortable. She worried about
you--and so she sent me up."

"It was troubling you too much," Elizabeth murmured, evading his direct
eyes, but quite unable to hide her agitation from him.

"You say that from politeness, I suppose? No, it was not troubling
me at all--quite the contrary. I am delighted with my trip. And I am
glad," he concluded, dropping his voice, "to see the place where you
were brought up. This was your home, was it not?" He looked all round
him.

"It was not like this when we were here," she replied. "The house was
old then--now it is new. They have done it up."

"I see. Have you a sketch of it as it used to be? You draw, I know.
Mrs. Duff-Scott has been showing me your drawings."

"Yes, I have one. It hangs in the Melbourne sitting-room."

Mr. Brion broke in upon this dialogue. "Now, my dears, I think we are
all ready," he said. "Elizabeth, you and I will go in the little buggy
and lead the way. Perhaps Mr. Yelverton will be good enough to take
charge of the two young ladies. Will you prefer to drive yourself, Mr.
Yelverton?"

Mr. Yelverton said he preferred to be driven, as he was not acquainted
with the road; and Elizabeth, throned in the seat of honour in the
little buggy, looked back with envious eyes to watch his arrangements
for her sisters' comfort. He put Patty beside the groom on the front
seat, and carefully tucked her up from the dust; and then he placed
Eleanor at the back, climbed to her side, and opened a large umbrella
which he held so that it protected both of them. In this order the
two vehicles set forth, and for the greater part of the way, owing to
the superior lightness of the smaller one, they were not within sight
of each other; during which time Elizabeth was a silent listener to
her host's amiable prattle, and reproaching herself for not feeling
interested in it. She kept looking through the pane of glass behind
her, and round the side of the hood, and wondering where the others
were, and whether they were keeping the road.

"Oh, they can't miss it," was Mr. Brion's invariable comment. "They
will follow our tracks. If not, the man knows our destination."

For the old lawyer was making those short cuts which are so dear to
all Jehus of the bush; preferring a straight mile of heavy sand to a
devious mile and a quarter of metal, and ploughing through the stiff
scrub that covered the waste moors of the district rather by the sun's
than by the surveyor's direction. It made the drive more interesting,
of course. The bushes that rustled through the wheels and scratched the
horses' legs were wonderful with wild flowers of every hue, and the
orchids that were trampled into the sand, and gathered by handfuls to
die in the buggy, were remarkable for their fantastic variety. And then
there were lizards and butterflies, and other common objects of the
country, not so easily discerned on a beaten track. But Elizabeth could
not bring herself to care much for these things to-day.

They reached high land after a while, whence, looking back, they saw
the other buggy crawling towards them a mile or two away, and, looking
forward, saw, beyond a green and wild foreground, the brilliant sea
again, with a rocky cape jutting out into it, sprinkled with a few
white houses on its landward shoulder--a scene that was too beautiful,
on such a morning, to be disregarded. Here the girl sat at ease, while
the horses took breath, thoroughly appreciating her opportunities;
wondering, not what Mr. Yelverton was doing or was going to do, but how
it was that she had never been this way before. Then Mr. Brion turned
and drove down the other side of the hill, and exclaimed "Here we are!"
in triumph.

It was a shallow basin of a dell, in the midst of romantic glens,
sandy, and full of bushes and wild flowers, and bracken and tussocky
grass, and shady with tall-stemmed gum trees. As the buggy bumped
and bounced into the hollow, shaving the dead logs that lay about in
a manner which reflected great credit upon the lawyer's navigation,
Elizabeth, feeling the cool shadows close over her head, and aware
that they had reached their destination, looked all round her for the
yawning cavern that she had specially come to see.

"Where are the caves?" she inquired--to Mr. Brion's intense
gratification.

"Ah, where are they?" he retorted, enjoying his little joke. "Well, we
have just been driving over them."

"But the mouth, I mean?"

"Oh, the mouth--the mouth is here. We were very nearly driving over
that too. But we'll have lunch first, my dear, before we investigate
the caves--if it's agreeable to you. I will take the horses out, and
we'll find a nice place to camp before they come."

Presently the other buggy climbed over the ridge and down into the
hollow; and Mr. Yelverton beheld Elizabeth kneeling amongst the bracken
fronds, with the dappled sun and shade on her bare head and her blue
cotton gown, busily trying to spread a table-cloth on the least uneven
piece of ground that she could find, where it lay like a miniature
snow-clad landscape, all hills except where the dishes weighed it to
the earth. He hastened to help her as soon as he had lifted Patty and
Eleanor from their seats.

"You are making yourself hot," he said, with his quiet air of authority
and proprietorship. "You sit down, and let me do it. I am quite used
to commissariat business, and can set a table beautifully." He took
some tumblers from her hand, and, looking into her agitated face, said
suddenly, "I could not help coming, Elizabeth--I could not leave it
broken off like that--I wanted to know why you ran away from me--and
Mrs. Duff-Scott gave me leave. You will let me talk to you presently?"

"Oh, not now--not now!" she replied, in a hurried, low tone, turning
her head from side to side. "I must have time to think--"

"Time to think!" he repeated, with just a touch of reproach in his
grave surprise. And he put down the tumblers carefully, got up, and
walked away. Upon which, Elizabeth, reacting violently from the mood
in which she had received him, had an agonising fear that he would
impute her indecision to want of love for him, or insensibility to his
love for her--though, till now, that had seemed an impossibility. In
a few minutes he returned with her sisters and Mr. Brion, all bearing
dishes and bottles, and buggy cushions and rugs; and, when the luncheon
was ready, and the groom had retired to feed and water his horses, she
lifted her eyes to her tall lover's face with a look that he understood
far better than she did. He quietly came round from the log on which he
had been about to seat himself, and laid his long limbs on the sand and
bracken at her side.

"What will you have?" he asked carelessly; "roast beef and salad, or
chicken pie? I can recommend the salad, which has travelled remarkably
well." And all the time he was looking at her with happy contentment, a
little smile under his red moustache; and her heart was beating so that
she could not answer him.

The luncheon was discussed at leisure, and, as far as Mr. Brion could
judge, was a highly successful entertainment. The younger girls,
whatever might be going to happen to-morrow, could not help enjoying
themselves to-day--could not help getting a little intoxicated with the
sweetness of the summer air and the influences of the scene generally,
and breaking out in fun and laughter; even Elizabeth, with her
desperate anxieties, was not proof against the contagion of their good
spirits now and then. The travelled stranger, who talked a great deal,
was the most entertaining of guests, and the host congratulated himself
continually on having added him to the party. "We only want Paul now
to make it all complete," said the happy old man, as he gave Patty,
who had a dreadful appetite after her long drive, a second helping of
chicken pie.

When the sylvan meal was ended, and the unsightly remnants cleared
away, the two men smoked a soothing cigarette under the trees, while
the girls tucked up their clean gowns a little and tied handkerchiefs
over their heads, and then Mr. Brion, armed with matches and a pound
of candles, marched them off to see the caves. He took them but a
little way from where they had camped, and disclosed in the hillside
what looked like a good-sized wombat or rabbit hole. "Now, you stay
here while I go and light up a bit," he said, impressively, and he
straightway slid down and disappeared into the hole. They stooped and
peered after him, and saw a rather muddy narrow shaft slanting down
into the earth, through which the human adult could only pass "end on."
The girls were rather dismayed at the prospect.

"It is a case of faith," said Mr. Yelverton. "We must trust ourselves
to Mr. Brion entirely or give it up."

"We will trust Mr. Brion," said Elizabeth.

A few minutes later the old man's voice was heard from below. "Now,
come along! Just creep down for a step or two, and I will reach your
hand. Who is coming first?"

They looked at each other for a moment, and Patty's quick eye caught
something from Mr. Yelverton's. "I will go first," she said; "and you
can follow me, Nelly." And down she went, half sliding, half sitting,
and when nearly out of sight stretched up her arm to steady her sister.
"It's all right," she cried; "there's plenty of room. Come along!"

When they had both disappeared, Mr. Yelverton took Elizabeth's
unlighted candle from her hand and put it into his pocket. "There is no
need for you to be bothered with that," he said: "one will do for us."
And he let himself a little way down the shaft, and put up his hand to
draw her after him.

In a few seconds they stood upright, and were able, by the light of
the three candles just dispersing into the interior, to see what
kind of place they had come to. They were limestone caves, ramifying
underground for a quarter of a mile or so in direct length, and
spreading wide on either side in a labyrinth of chambers and passages.
The roof was hung with a few stalactites, but mostly crusted with soft
bosses, like enormous cauliflowers, that yielded to the touch; lofty
in places, so that the candle-light scarcely reached it, and in places
so low that one could not pass under it. The floor, if floor it could
be called, was a confusion of hills and vales and black abysses, stony
here, and dusty there, and wet and slippery elsewhere--altogether an
uncanny place, full of weird suggestions. The enterprising and fearless
Patty was far ahead, exploring on her own account, and Mr. Brion,
escorting Eleanor, dwindling away visibly into a mere pin's point,
before Mr. Yelverton and Elizabeth had got their candle lighted and
begun their investigations. A voice came floating back to them through
the immense darkness, duplicated in ever so many echoes: "Are you all
right, Elizabeth?"

"Yes," shouted Mr. Yelverton instantly, like a soldier answering to the
roll-call. Then he took her hand, and, holding the candle high, led her
carefully in the direction of the voice. She was terribly nervous and
excited by the situation, which had come upon her unawares, and she
had an impulse to move on hastily, as if to join her sisters. Bat her
lover held her back with a turn of his strong wrist.

"Don't hurry," he said, in a tone that revealed to her how he
appreciated his opportunity, and how he would certainly turn it to
account; "it is not safe in such a place as this. And you can trust
_me_ to take care of you as well as Mr. Brion, can't you?"

She did not answer, and he did not press the question. They crept
up, and slid down, and leapt over, the dark obstructions in their
devious course for a little while in silence--two lonely atoms in the
vast and lifeless gloom. Fainter and fainter grew the voices in the
distance--fainter and fainter the three tiny specks of light, which
seemed as far away as the stars in heaven. There was something dreadful
in their isolation in the black bowels of the earth, but an unspeakably
poignant bliss in being thus cast away together. There was no room for
thought of anything outside that.

Groping along hand in hand, they came to a chasm that yawned,
bridgeless, across their path. It was about three feet wide, and
perhaps it was not much deeper, but it looked like the bottomless pit,
and was very terrifying. Bidding Elizabeth to wait where she was,
Mr. Yelverton leaped over by himself, and, dropping some tallow on a
boulder near him, fixed his candle to the rock. Then he held out his
arms and called her to come to him.

For a moment she hesitated, knowing what awaited her, and then she
leaped blindly, fell a little short, and knocked the candle from its
insecure socket into the gulf beneath her. She uttered a sharp cry as
she felt herself falling, and the next instant found herself dragged up
in her lover's strong arms, and folded with a savage tenderness to his
breast. _This_ time he held her as if he did not mean to let her go.

"Hush!--you are quite safe," he whispered to her in the pitch darkness.



CHAPTER XXXIII.


THE DRIVE HOME.


The girls were boiling a kettle and making afternoon tea, while the men
were getting their horses and buggy furniture together, at about four
o'clock. Elizabeth was on her knees, feeding the gipsy fire with dry
sticks, when Mr. Yelverton came to her with an alert step.

"I am going to drive the little buggy back," he said, "and you are
coming with me. The others will start first, and we will follow."

She looked up with a startled expression that puzzled and disappointed
him.

"_What!_" he exclaimed, "do you mean to say that you would rather not?"

"Oh, no, I did not mean that," she faltered hurriedly; and into her
averted face, which had been deadly pale since she came out of the
cave, the hot blood flushed, remembering how long he and she had stood
there together in a profound and breathless solitude, and the very
blackest night that ever Egypt knew, after he took her into his arms,
and before they remembered that they had a second candle and matches
to light it with. In that interval, when she laid her head upon his
shoulder, and he his red moustache upon her responsive lips, she had
virtually accepted him, though she had not meant to do so. "No," she
repeated, as he silently watched her, "you know it is not that."

"What then? Do you think it is improper?"

"Of course not."

"You would really like it, Elizabeth?"

"Yes--yes. I will come with you. We can talk as we go home."

"We can. That was precisely my object in making the arrangement."

Eleanor, presiding over her crockery at a little distance, called to
them to ask whether the water boiled--and they perceived that it did.
Mr. Yelverton carried the kettle to the teapot, and presently busied
himself in handing the cups--so refreshing at the close of a summer
picnic, when exercise and sun and lunch together have resulted in
inevitable lassitude and incipient headaches--and doling out slices of
thin bread and butter as Patty deftly shaved them from the loaf. They
squatted round amongst the fern fronds and tussocks, and poured their
tea vulgarly into their saucers--being warned by Mr. Brion that they
had no time to waste--and then packed up, and washed their hands, and
tied on their hats, and shook out their skirts, and set forth home
again, declaring they had had the most beautiful time. The large buggy
started first, the host driving; and Mr. Yelverton was informed that
another track would be taken for the return journey, and that he was
to be very careful not to lose himself.

"If we do lose ourselves," said Mr. Yelverton, as his escort
disappeared over the crest of the hill, and he still stood in the
valley--apparently in no haste to follow--tucking a light rug over his
companion's knees, "it won't matter very much, will it?"

"Oh, yes, it will," she replied anxiously. "I don't know the way at
all."

"Very well; then we will keep them in sight. But only just in sight--no
more. Will you have the hood up or down?"

"Down," she said. "The day is too lovely to be shut out."

"It is, it is. I think it is just about the most lovely day I ever
knew--not even excepting the first of October."

"The first of October was not a lovely day at all. It was cold and
dismal."

"That was its superficial appearance." He let down the hood and
climbed to his seat beside her, taking the reins from her hand. He had
completely laid aside his sedate demeanour, and, though self-contained
still, had a light in his eyes that made her tremble. "On your
conscience," he said, looking at her, "can you say that the first of
October was a dismal day? We may as well begin as we mean to go on,"
he added, as she did not answer; "and we will make a bargain, in the
first place, never to say a word that we don't mean, nor to keep back
one that we do mean from each other. You will agree to that, won't you,
Elizabeth?"--his disengaged arm was round her shoulder and he had drawn
her face up to his. "Elizabeth, Elizabeth,"--repeating the syllables
fondly--"what a sweet and honest name it is! Kiss me, Elizabeth."

Instead of kissing him she began to sob. "Oh, don't, don't!" she cried,
making a movement to free herself--at which he instantly released
her. "Let us go on--they will be wondering where we are. I am very
foolish--I can't help it--I will tell you presently!"

She took out her handkerchief, and tried to calm herself as she sat
back in the buggy; and he, without speaking, touched his horses
with his whip and drove slowly out of the shady dell into the clear
sunshine. For a mile or more of up-and-down tracking, where the wheels
of the leading vehicle had left devious ruts in sand and grass to
guide them, they sat side by side in silence--she fighting with and
gradually overcoming her excitement, and he gravely waiting, with a
not less strong emotion, until she had recovered herself. And then
he turned to her, and laid his powerful hand on hers that had dropped
dejectedly into her lap, and said gently, though with decision--"Now
tell me, dear. What is the matter? I _must_ know. It is not--it is
_not_"--contracting his fingers sharply--"that you don't mean what you
have been telling me, after all? For though not in words, you _have_
been telling me, have you not?"

"No," she sighed; "it is not that."

"I knew it. I was sure it could not be. Then what else can
matter?--what else should trouble you? Is it about your sisters? You
_know_ they will be all right. They will not lose you--they will gain
me. I flatter myself they will be all the better for gaining me,
Elizabeth. I hoped you would think so?"

"I do think so."

"What then? Tell me."

"Mr. Yelverton, it is so hard to tell you--I don't know how to do it.
But I am afraid--I am afraid--"

"Of what? Of _me?_"

"Oh, no! But I want to do what is right. And it seems to me that to let
myself be happy like this would be wrong--"

"Wrong to let yourself be happy? Good heavens! Who has been teaching
you such blasphemy as that?"

"No one has taught me anything, except my mother. But she was so good,
and she had so many troubles, and she said that she would never have
been able to bear them--to have borne life--had she not been stayed
up by her religious faith. She told us, when it seemed to her that we
might some day be cast upon the world to shift for ourselves, never
to let go of that--to suffer and renounce everything rather than be
tempted to give up that."

"Who has asked you to give it up?" he responded, with grave and gentle
earnestness. "Not I. I would be the last man to dream of such a thing."

"But you--_you_ have given up religion!" she broke forth, despairingly.

"Have I? I don't think so. Tell me what you mean by religion?"

"I mean what we have been brought up to believe."

"By the churches?"

"By the Church--the English Church--which I have always held to be the
true Church."

"My dear child, every Church holds itself to be the true Church, and
all the others to be false ones. Why should yours be right any more
than other people's?"

"My mother taught us so," said Elizabeth.

"Yes. Your mother made it true, as she would have made any other true,
by the religious spirit that she brought into it. They are _all_
true--not only those we know of, but Buddhism and Mohammedanism, and
even the queer faiths and superstitions of barbarian races, for they
all have the same origin and object; and at the same time they are all
so adulterated with human errors and vices, according to the sort of
people who have had the charge of them, that you can't say any one of
them is pure. No more pure than we are, and no less. For you to say
that the rest are mistaken is just the pot calling the kettle black,
Elizabeth. You may be a few degrees nearer the truth than those are who
are less educated and civilised, but even that at present does not look
so certain that you are justified in boasting about it--I mean your
Church, you know, not you."

"But we go by our Bible--we trust, not in ourselves, but in _that_."

"So do the 'Dissenters,' as you call them."

"Yes, I am speaking of all of us--all who are Christian people. What
guide should we have if we let our Bible go?"

"Why should you let it go? I have not let it go. If you read it
intelligently it is truly a Holy Scripture--far more so than when you
make a sort of charm and fetish of it. You should study its origin
and history, and try to get at its meaning as you would at that of
any other book. It has a very wonderful history, which in its turn is
derived from other wonderful histories, which people will perversely
shut their eyes to; and because of this undiscriminating ignorance,
which is the blindness of those who won't see or who are afraid to see,
it remains to this day the least understood of all ancient records.
Some parts of it, you know, are a collection of myths and legends,
which you will find in the same shape in older writings--the first dim
forms of human thought about God and man and the mysteries of creation;
and a great many good people read _these_ as gospel truth, in spite
of the evidence of all their senses to the contrary, and take them
as being of the same value and importance as the beautiful books of
the later time. And there are other Bibles in the world besides ours,
whether we choose to acknowledge them or not."

Elizabeth listened with terror. "And do you say it is _not_ the light
of the world after all?" she cried in a shaken voice.

"There should be no preaching to the heathen, and spreading the good
tidings over all lands?"

"Yes, there should," he replied; "oh, yes, certainly there should.
But it should be done as it was by Christ, to whom all were with Him
who were not against Him, and with a feeling that we should share all
we know, and help each other to find out the best way. Not by rudely
wrenching from the heathen, as we call him, all his immemorial moral
standards, which, if you study them closely, are often found, rough as
they are, to be thoroughly effective and serviceable, and giving him
nothing in their places except outworn myths, and senseless hymns, and
a patter of Scripture phrases that he can't possibly make head or tail
of. That, I often think, is beginning the work of salvation by turning
him from a religious man into an irreligious one. Your Church creed,"
he went on, "is just the garment of religion, and you wear finely-woven
stuffs while the blacks wear blankets and 'possum-skins; they are all
little systems that have their day and cease to be--that change and
change as the fashion of the world changes. But the spirit of man--the
indestructible intelligence that makes him apprehend the mystery of his
existence and of the great Power that surrounds it--which in the early
stages makes him cringe and fear, and later on to love and trust--that
is the _body_. That is religion, as I take it. It is in the nature of
man, and not to be given or taken away. Only the more freely we let
that inner voice speak and guide us, the better we are, and the better
we make the world and help things on. That's my creed, Elizabeth. You
confuse things," he went on, after a pause, during which she kept an
attentive silence, "when you confound religion and churchism together,
as if they were identical. I have given up churchism, in your sense,
because, though I have hunted the churches through and through, one
after another, I have found in them no adequate equipment for the
work of my life. The world has gone on, and they have not gone on.
The world has discovered breechloaders, so to speak, and they go to
the field with the old blunderbusses of centuries ago. Centuries!--of
the prehistoric ages, it seems, now. My dear, I have lived over forty
years--did you know I was so old as that?--seeking and striving to get
hold of what I could in the way of a light and a guide to help me to
make the best of my life and to do what little I might to better the
world and brighten the hard lot of the poor and miserable. Is that
giving up religion? I am not a churchman--I would be if I could, it
is not my fault--but if I can't accept those tests, which revolt the
reason and consciousness of a thinking man, am I therefore irreligious?
_Am_ I, Elizabeth?"

"You bewilder me," she said; "I have never made these distinctions. I
have been taught in the Church--I have found comfort there and help. I
am afraid to begin to question the things that I have been taught--I
should get lost altogether, trying to find a new way."

"Then don't begin," he said. "_I_ will not meddle with your faith--God
forbid! Keep it while you can, and get all possible help and comfort
out of it."

"But you have meddled with it already," she said, sighing. "The little
that you have said has shaken it like an earthquake."

"If it is worth anything," he responded, "it is not shaken so easily."

"And _you_ may be able to do good in your own strength," she went on,
"but how could I?--a woman, so weak, so ignorant as I?"

"Do you want a policeman to keep you straight? I have a better opinion
of you. Oh, you will be all right, my darling; don't fear. If you only
honestly believe what you _do_ believe, and follow the truth as it
reveals itself to you, no matter in what shape, and no matter where it
leads you, you will be all right. Be only sincere with yourself, and
don't pretend--don't, whatever you do, pretend to _anything_. Surely
that is the best religion, whether it enables you to keep within church
walls or drives you out into the wilderness. Doesn't it stand to
reason? We can only do our best, Elizabeth, and leave it." He put his
arm round her again, and drew her head down to his shoulder. They were
driving through a lone, unpeopled land, and the leading buggy was but a
speck on the horizon.

"Oh!" she sighed, closing her eyes wearily, "if I only knew _what_ was
best!"

"Well," he said, "I will not ask you to trust me since you don't seem
equal to it. You must decide for yourself. But, Elizabeth, if you
_knew_ what a life it was that I had planned! We were to be married
at once--within a few weeks--and I was to take you home to _my_ home.
Patty and Nelly were to follow us later on, with Mrs. Duff-Scott, who
wants to come over to see my London work, which she thinks will help
her to do something here when she returns. You and I were to go away
alone--wouldn't you have liked that, my love?--to be always with me,
and taken care of and kept from harm and trouble, as I kept you to-day
and on that Exhibition morning. Yes, and we were to take up that
fortune that has been accumulating so long, and take Yelverton, and
make our home and head-quarters there; and we were to live a great deal
in London, and go backwards and forwards and all about amongst those
unhappy ones, brightening up their lives because our own were so bright
and sweet. You were to help me, as only a woman like you--the woman
I have been looking for all my life--could help; but I was not going
to let you work too hard--you were to be cared for and made happy,
first of all--before all the world. And I _could_ make you happy--I
could, I could--if you would let me try." He was carried away for the
moment with the rush of his passionate desire for that life that he was
contemplating, and held her and kissed her as if he would compel her to
come to him. Then with a strong effort he controlled himself, and went
on quietly, though in a rather unsteady voice: "Don't you think we can
be together without harming each other? We shall both have the same
aims--to live the best life and do the most good that we can--what will
the details matter? We could not thwart each other really--it would be
impossible. The same spirit would be in us; it is only the letter we
should differ about."

"If we were together," she said, "we should not differ about anything.
Spirit or letter, I should grow to think as you did."

"I believe you would, Elizabeth--I believe you would. And I should grow
to think as you did. No doubt we should influence each other--it would
not be all on one side. Can't you trust me, my dear? Can't we trust
each other? You will have temptations, wherever you go, and with me,
at least, you will always know where you are. If your faith is a true
faith it will stand all that I shall do to it, and if your love for me
is a true love--"

He paused, and she looked up at him with a look in her swimming eyes
that settled that doubt promptly.

"Then you will do it, Elizabeth?"

"Oh," she said, "you know you can _make_ me do it, whether it is right
or wrong!"

It was a confession of her love, and of its power over her that
appealed to every sentiment of duty and chivalry in him. "No," he said,
very gravely and with a great effort, "I will not make you do anything
wrong. You shall feel that it is not wrong before you do it."

An hour later they had reached the shore again, and were in sight of
the headland and the smoke from the kitchen chimney of Seaview Villa,
and in sight of their companions dismounting at Mr. Brion's garden
gate. They had not lost themselves, though they had taken so little
heed of the way. The sun was setting as they climbed the cliff, and
flamed gloriously in their faces and across the bay. Sea and sky were
bathed in indescribable colour and beauty. Checking their tired horses
to gaze upon the scene, on the eve of an indefinite separation, the
lovers realised to the full the sweetness of being together and what it
would be to part.



CHAPTER XXXIV.


SUSPENSE.


Mr. Brion stood at his gate when the little buggy drove up, beaming
with contentment and hospitality. He respectfully begged that Mr.
Yelverton would grant them the favour of his company a little
longer--would take pot-luck and smoke an evening pipe before he
returned to his hotel in the town, whither he, Mr. Brion, would be
only too happy to drive him. Mr. Yelverton declared, and with perfect
truth, that nothing would give him greater pleasure. Whereupon the
hotel servant was dismissed in charge of the larger vehicle, and the
horses of the other were put into the stable. The girls went in to wash
and dress, and the housekeeper put forth her best efforts to raise the
character of the dinner from the respectable to the genteel in honour
of a guest who was presumably accustomed to genteel dining.

The meal was served in the one sitting-room of the house, by the
light of a single lamp on the round table and a flood of moonlight
that poured in from the sea through the wide-open doors. After the
feasts and fatigues of the day, no one had any appetite to speak of
for the company dishes that Mrs. Harris hastily compounded, course by
course, in the kitchen; but everyone felt that the meal was a pleasant
one, notwithstanding. Mr. Yelverton, his host, and Patty, who was
unusually sprightly, had the conversation to themselves. Patty talked
incessantly. Nelly was amiable and charming, but decidedly sleepy;
and Elizabeth, at her lover's side, was not, perhaps, unhappy, but
visibly pale and noticeably silent. After dinner they went out upon
the verandah, and sat there in a group on the comfortable old chairs
and about the floor, and drank coffee, and chatted in subdued tones,
and looked at the lovely water shining in the moonlight, and listened
to it booming and splashing on the beach below. The two men, by virtue
of their respective and yet common qualities, "took to" each other,
and, by the time the girls had persuaded them to light the soothing
cigarette, Mr. Brion was talking freely of his clever lad in Melbourne,
and Mr. Yelverton of the mysterious disappearance of his uncle, as if
it were quite a usual thing with them to confide their family affairs
to strangers. Eleanor meanwhile swayed herself softly to and fro in
a ragged rocking chair, half awake and half asleep; Elizabeth, still
irresistibly attracted to the neighbourhood of her beloved, sat in the
shadow of his large form, listening and pondering, with her eyes fixed
on the veiled horizon, and all her senses on the alert; Patty squatted
on the edge of the verandah, leaning against a post and looking up into
the sky. She was the leading spirit of the group to-night. It was a
long time since she had been so lively and entertaining.

"I wonder," she conjectured, in a pause of the conversation, "whether
the inhabitants of any of those other worlds are sitting out on their
verandahs to-night, and looking at _us_. I suppose we are not so
absolutely insignificant but that _some_ of them, our own brother
and sister planets, at any rate, can see us if they use their best
telescopes--are we, Mr. Yelverton?"

"We will hope not," said Mr. Yelverton.

"To think that the moon--miserable impostor that she is!--should
be able to put them out," continued Patty, still gazing at the
palely-shining stars. "The other Sunday we heard a clergyman liken her
to something or other which on its appearance quenched the ineffectual
fires of the _lesser_ luminaries--"

"He said the sun," corrected Elizabeth.

"Well, it's all the same. What's the sun? The stars he hides are
better suns than he is--not to speak of their being no end to them. It
shows how easily we allow ourselves to be taken in by mere superficial
appearances."

"The sun and moon quench the stars for _us_, Patty."

"Pooh! That's a very petty parish-vestry sort of way to look at things.
Just what you might expect in a little bit of a world like this. In
Jupiter now"--she paused, and turned her bright eyes upon a deep-set
pair that were watching her amusedly. "Mr. Yelverton, I hope you are
not going to insist upon it that Jupiter is too hot to do anything but
blaze and shine and keep life going on his little satellites--are you?"

"O dear no!" he replied. "I wouldn't dream of such a thing."

"Very well. We will assume, then, that Jupiter is a habitable world, as
there is no reason why he shouldn't be that _I_ can see---just for the
sake of enlarging Elizabeth's mind. And, having assumed that, the least
we can suppose--seeing that a few billions of years are of no account
in the chronology of the heavenly bodies--is that a world on such a
superior scale was fully up to _our_ little standard before we began.
I mean our present standard. Don't you think we may reasonably suppose
that, Mr. Yelverton?"

"In the absence of information to the contrary, I think we may," he
said. "Though I would ask to be allowed to reserve my own opinion."

"Certainly. I don't ask for anybody's opinion. I am merely throwing
out suggestions. I want to extend Elizabeth's vision in these matters
beyond the range of the sun and moon. So I say that Jupiter--and if not
Jupiter, one of the countless millions of cooler planets, perhaps ever
so much bigger than he is, which lie out in the other sun-systems--was
well on with his railways and telegraphs when we began to get a crust,
and to condense vapours. You will allow me to say as much as that, for
the sake of argument?"

"I think you argue beautifully," said Mr. Yelverton.

"Very well then. Millions of years ago, if you had lived in Jupiter,
you could have travelled in luxury as long as your life lasted, and
seen countries whose numbers and resources never came to an end. Think
of the railway system, and the shipping interest, of a world of that
size!"

"_Don't_, Patty," interposed Elizabeth. "Think what a little, little
life it would have been, by comparison! If we can't make it do us now,
what would its insufficiency be under such conditions?"

Patty waved her hand to indicate the irrelevancy of the suggestion.
"In a planet where, we are told, there are no vicissitudes of climate,
people can't catch colds, Elizabeth; and colds, all the doctors say,
are the primary cause of illness, and it is because they get ill that
people die. That is a detail. Don't interrupt me. So you see, Mr.
Yelverton, assuming that they knew all that we know, and did all that
we do, before the fire and the water made our rocks and seas, and the
chalk beds grew, and the slimy things crawled, and primitive man began
to chip stones into wedges to kill the saurians with--just imagine for
a moment the state of civilisation that must exist in Jupiter, _now_.
Not necessarily our own Jupiter--any of the older and more improved
Jupiters that must be spinning about in space."

"I can't," said Mr. Yelverton. "My imagination is not equal to such a
task."

"I want Elizabeth to think of it," said Patty. "She is a little
inclined to be provincial, as you see, and I want to elevate her ideas."

"Thank you, dear," said Elizabeth.

"It is a pity," Patty went on, "that we can't have a Federal
Convention. That's what we want. If only the inhabited planets
could send representatives to meet and confer together somewhere
occasionally, then we should all have broad views--then we might find
out at once how to set everything right, without any more trouble."

"Space would have to be annihilated indeed, Miss Patty."

"Yes, I know--I know. Of course I know it can't be done--at any
rate, not _yet_--not in the present embryonic stage of things. If a
meteor takes a million years to travel from star to star, going at
the rate of thousands of miles per second--and keeps on paying visits
indefinitely--Ah, what was that?"

She sprang from her low seat suddenly, all her celestial fancies
scattered to the mundane winds, at the sound of a wakeful magpie
beginning to pipe plaintively on the house roof. She thought she
recognised one of the dear voices of the past. "_Can_ it be Peter?" she
cried, breathlessly. "Oh, Elizabeth, I do believe it is Peter! Do come
out and let us call him down!"

They hurried, hand in hand, down to the shelving terrace that divided
the verandah from the edge of the cliff, and there called and cooed and
coaxed in their most seductive tones. The magpie looked at them for a
moment, with his head cocked on one side, and then flew away.

"No," said Patty, with a groan, "it is _not_ Peter! They are all gone,
every one of them. I have no doubt the Hawkins boys shot them--little
bloodthirsty wretches! Come down to the beach, Elizabeth."

They descended the steep and perilous footpath zig-zagging down the
face of the cliff, with the confidence of young goats, and reaching the
little bathing-house, sat down on the threshold. The tide was high, and
the surf seething within a few inches of the bottom step of the short
ladder up and down which they had glided bare-footed daily for so many
years. The fine spray damped their faces; the salt sea-breezes fanned
them deliciously. Patty put her arms impulsively round her sister's
neck.

"Oh, Elizabeth," she said, "I am so glad for you--I _am_ so glad! It
has crossed my mind several times, but I was never sure of it till
to-day, and I wouldn't say anything until I was sure, or until you told
me yourself."

"My darling," said Elizabeth, responding to the caress, "don't be sure
yet. _I_ am not sure."

"_You_ are not!" exclaimed Patty, with derisive energy. "Don't try to
make me believe you are a born idiot, now, because I know you too well.
Why, a baby in arms could see it!"

"I see it, dear, of course; both of us see it. We understand each
other. But--but I don't know yet whether I shall accept him, Patty."

"Don't you?" responded Patty. She had taken her arms from her sister's
neck, and was clasping her knees with them in a most unsympathetic
attitude. "Do you happen to know whether you love him, Elizabeth?"

"Yes," whispered Elizabeth, blushing in the darkness; "I know that."

"And whether he loves you?"

"Yes."

"Of course you do. You can't help knowing it. Nobody could. And if,"
proceeded Patty sternly, fixing the fatuous countenance of the man in
the moon with a baleful eye, "if, under those circumstances, you don't
accept him, you deserve to be a miserable, lonely woman for all the
rest of your wretched life. That's my opinion if you ask me for it."

Elizabeth looked at the sea in tranquil contemplation for a few
seconds. Then she told Patty the story of her perplexity from the
beginning to the end.

"Now _what_ would you do?" she finally asked of her sister, who had
listened with the utmost interest and intelligent sympathy. "If it were
your own case, my darling, and you wanted to do what was right, _how_
would you decide?"

"Well, Elizabeth," said Patty; "I'll tell you the truth. I should not
stop to think whether it was right or wrong."

"Patty!"

"No. A year ago I would not have said so--a year ago I might have been
able to give you the very best advice. But now--but now"--the girl
stretched out her hands with the pathetic gesture that Elizabeth had
seen and been struck with once before--"now, if it were my own case, I
should take the man I loved, no matter _what_ he was, if he would take
me."

Elizabeth heaved a long sigh from the bottom of her troubled heart. She
felt that Patty, to whom she had looked for help, had made her burden
of responsibility heavier instead of lighter. "Let us go up to the
house again," she said wearily. "There is no need to decide to-night."

When they reached the house, they found Eleanor gone to bed, and the
gentlemen sitting on the verandah together, still talking of Mr.
Yelverton's family history, in which the lawyer was professionally
interested. The horses were in the little buggy, which stood at the
gate.

"Ah, here they are!" said Mr. Brion. "Mr. Yelverton is waiting to say
good-night, my dears. He has to settle at the hotel, and go on board
to-night."

Patty bade her potential brother-in-law an affectionate farewell, and
then vanished into her bedroom. The old man bustled off at her heels,
under pretence of speaking to the lad-of-all-work who held the horses;
and Elizabeth and her lover were left for a brief interval alone.

"You will not keep me in suspense longer than you can help, will you?"
Mr. Yelverton said, holding her hands. "Won't a week be long enough?"

"Yes," she said; "I will decide it in a week."

"And may I come back to you here, to learn my fate? Or will you come to
Melbourne to me?"

"Had I not better write?"

"No. Certainly not."

"Then I will come to you," she said.

He drew her to him and kissed her forehead gravely. "Good-night, my
love," he said. "You will be my love, whatever happens."

And so he departed to the township, accompanied by his hospitable host,
and she went miserable to bed. And at the first pale streak of dawn
the little steamer sounded her whistle and puffed away from the little
jetty, carrying him back to the world, and she stood on the cliff, a
mile away from Seaview Villa, to watch the last whiff of smoke from its
funnels fade like a breath upon the horizon.



CHAPTER XXXV.


HOW ELIZABETH MADE UP HER MIND.


If we could trace back the wonderful things that happen to us "by
accident," or, as some pious souls believe, by the operation of a
special Providence or in answer to prayer, to their remote origin,
how far should we not have to go? Into the mists of antiquity, and
beyond--even to the primal source whence the world was derived, and
the consideration of the accident of its separation from its parent
globe; nay, of the accident which separated our sun itself from the
countless dust of other suns that strew the illimitable ether--still
leaving the root of the matter in undiscoverable mystery. The chain of
causes has no beginning for us, as the sequence of effects has no end.
These considerations occurred to me just now, when I sat down, cheerful
and confident, to relate how it came to pass (and what multitudinous
trifles could have prevented it from coming to pass) that an
extraordinary accident happened to the three Miss Kings in the course
of the week following Mr. Yelverton's departure. Thinking it over, I
find that I cannot relate it. It would make this chapter like the first
half-dozen in the book of Chronicles, only much worse. If Mr. King
had not inherited a bad temper from his great-great-grandfathers--I
could get as far as that. But the task is beyond me. I give it up,
and content myself with a narration of the little event (in the
immeasurable chain of events) which, at this date of which I am
writing--in the ephemeral summer time of these three brief little
lives--loomed so large, and had such striking consequences.

It happened--or, as far as my story is concerned, it began to
happen--while the steamer that carried away Mr. Yelverton was still
ploughing the ocean waves, with that interesting passenger on board.
Seaview Villa lay upon the headland, serene and peaceful in the
sunshine of as perfect a morning as visitors to the seaside could
wish to see, all its door-windows open to the south wind, and the
sibilant music of the little wavelets at its feet. The occupants of
the house had risen from their beds, and were pursuing the trivial
round and common task of another day, with placid enjoyment of its
atmospheric charms, and with no presentiment of what was to befall
them. The girls went down to their bath-house before breakfast, and
spent half an hour in the sunny water, diving, and floating, and
playing all the pranks of childhood over again; and then they attacked
a dish of fried flathead with appetites that a schoolboy might have
envied. After breakfast the lawyer had to go to his office, and his
guests accompanied him part of the way. On their return, Sam Dunn
came to see them, with the information that his best boat, which bore
the inappropriate title of "The Rose in June," was moored on the
beach below, and an invitation to his young ladies to come out for
a sail in her while the sea was so calm and the wind so fair. This
invitation Elizabeth declined for herself; she was still wondering in
which direction the right path lay--whether towards the fruition of
her desires or the renunciation of all that now made life beautiful
and valuable to her--and finding no solution to the problem either in
meditation or prayer; and she had little inclination to waste any of
the short time that remained to her for making up her mind. But to
Patty and Eleanor it was irresistible. They scampered off to their
bedrooms to put on their oldest frocks, hats, and boots, rushed into
the kitchen to Mrs. Harris to beg for a bundle of sandwiches, and set
forth on their expedition in the highest spirits--as if they had never
been away from Sam Dunn and the sea, to learn life, and love, and
trouble, and etiquette amongst city folks.

When they were gone, the house was very still for several hours.
Elizabeth sat on the verandah, sewing and thinking, and watching the
white sail of "The Rose in June" through a telescope; then she had her
lunch brought to her on a white-napkined tray; after eating which in
solitude she went back to her sewing, and thinking, and watching again.
So four o'clock--the fateful hour--drew on. At a little before four,
Mr. Brion came home, hot and dusty from his long walk, had a bath and
changed his clothes, and sat down to enjoy himself in his arm-chair.
Mrs. Harris brought in the afternoon tea things, with some newly-baked
cakes; Elizabeth put down her work and seated herself at the table to
brew the refreshing cup. Then home came Patty and Eleanor, happy and
hungry, tanned and draggled, and in the gayest temper, having been
sailing Sam's boat for him all the day and generally roughing it with
great ardour. They were just in time for the tea and cakes, and sat
down as they were, with hats tilted back on their wind-roughened heads,
to regale themselves therewith.

When Patty was in the middle of her third cake, she suddenly remembered
something. She plunged her hand into her pocket, and drew forth a
small object. It was as if one touched the button of that wonderful
electric apparatus whereby the great ships that are launched by
princesses are sent gliding out of dock into the sea. "Look," she said,
opening her hand carefully, "what he has given me. It is a Queensland
opal. A mate of his, he says, gave it to him, but I have a terrible
suspicion that the dear fellow bought it. Mates don't give such things
for nothing. Is it not a beauty?"--and she held between her thumb and
finger a silky-looking flattened stone, on which, when it caught the
light, a strong blue sheen was visible. "I shall have it cut and made
into something when we go back to town, and I shall keep it _for ever_,
in memory of Sam Dunn," said Patty with enthusiasm.

And then, when they had all examined and appraised it thoroughly, she
carried it to the mantelpiece, intending to place it there in safety
until she went to her own room. But she had no sooner laid it down,
pushing it gently up to the wall, than there was a little click and a
faint rattle, and it was gone.

"Oh," she exclaimed, "what _shall_ I do? It has fallen behind the
mantelpiece! I _quite_ forgot that old hole--and it is there still.
Surely," she continued angrily, stamping her foot, "when Mr. Hawkins
took the trouble to do all this"--and she indicated the surface of the
woodwork, which had been painted in a wild and ghastly imitation of
marble--"he might have taken a little more, and fixed the thing close
up to the wall?"

Mr. Brion examined the mantelpiece, pushed it, shook it, peered
behind it with one eye, and said that he had himself lost a valuable
paper-knife in the same distressing manner, and had long intended to
have the aperture closed up. "And I will get a carpenter to-morrow
morning, my dear," he boldly declared, "and he shall take the whole
thing to pieces and fix it again properly. Yes, I will--as well now as
any other time--and we will find your opal."

Having pledged himself to which tremendous purpose, he and they
finished their tea, and afterwards had their dinner, and afterwards sat
on the verandah and gossiped, and afterwards went to bed--and in due
time got up again--as if nothing out of the common way had happened!

In the morning Fate sent another of her humble emissaries from the
township to Seaview Villa, with a bag of tools over his shoulder--tools
that were keys to unlock one of her long-kept secrets. And half an
hour after his arrival they found the opal, and several things
besides. When, after Mrs. Harris had carefully removed the furniture
and hearthrug, and spread cornsacks over the carpet, the carpenter
wrenched the mantelpiece from its fastenings, such a treasure-trove
was discovered in the rough hollows of the wall and floor as none of
them had dreamed of. It did not look much at the first glance. There
were the opal and the paper-knife, half a dozen letters (circulars and
household bills of Mrs. King's), several pens and pencils, a pair of
scissors, a silver fruit-knife, a teaspoon, a variety of miscellaneous
trifles, such as bodkins and corks, and a vast quantity of dust. That
seemed all. But, kneeling reverently to grope amongst these humble
relics of the past, Elizabeth found, quite at the bottom of everything,
a little card. It was an old, old card, dingy and fretted with age,
and dried and curled up like a dead leaf, and it had a little picture
on it that had almost faded away. She carefully wiped the dust from it
with her handkerchief, and looked at it as she knelt; it was a crude
and youthful water-colour drawing of an extensive Elizabethan house,
with a great many gables and fluted chimney-stacks, and much exuberance
of architectural fancy generally. It had been minutely outlined by
a hand trained to good draughtsmanship, and then coloured much as a
child would colour a newspaper print from a sixpenny paint-box, and
less effectively, because there was no light and shade to go upon.
It was flat and pale, like a builder's plan, only that it had some
washy grass and trees about it, and a couple of dogs running a race
in the foreground, which showed its more ambitious pretensions; and
the whole thing had evidently been composed with the greatest care.
Elizabeth, studying it attentively, and thinking that she recognised
her father's hand in certain details, turned the little picture over
in search of the artist's signature. And there, in a corner, written
very fine and small, but with elaborate distinctness, she read these
words:--"_Elizabeth Leigh, from Kingscote Yelverton, Yelverton, June_,
1847."

She stared at the legend--in which she recognised a peculiar capital
K of his own invention that her father always used--with the utmost
surprise, and with no idea of its tremendous significance. "Why--why!"
she gasped, holding it up, "it belongs to _him_--it has Mr. Yelverton's
name upon it! How in the world did it come here? What does it mean?
Did he drop it here the other day? But, no, that is impossible--it was
quite at the bottom--it must have been lying here for ages. Mr. Brion,
_what_ does it mean?"

The old man was already stooping over her, trying to take it from her
hand. "Give it to me, my dear, give it to me," he cried eagerly. "Don't
tear it--oh, for God's sake, be careful!--let me see what it is first."
He took it from her, read the inscription over and over and over again,
and then drew a chair to the table and sat down with the card before
him, his face pale, and his hands shaking. The sisters gathered round
him, bewildered; Elizabeth still possessed with her first impression
that the little picture was her lover's property, Eleanor scarcely
aware of what was going on, and Patty--always the quickest to reach
the truth--already beginning dimly to discern the secret of their
discovery. The carpenter and the housekeeper stood by, open-mouthed and
open-eyed; and to them the lawyer tremulously addressed himself.

"You had better go for a little while," he said; "we will put the
mantelpiece up presently. Yet, stay--we have found a very important
document, as I believe, and you are witnesses that we have done so. You
had better examine it carefully before you go, that you may know it
when you see it again." Whereupon he solemnly proceeded to print the
said document upon their memories, and insisted that they should each
take a copy of the words that made its chief importance, embodying it
in a sort of affidavit, to which they signed their names. Then he sent
them out of the room, and confronted the three sisters, in a state of
great excitement. "I must see Paul," he said hurriedly. "I must have my
son to help me. We must ransack that old bureau of yours--there must be
more in it than we found that time when we looked for the will. Tell
me, my dears, did your father let you have the run of the bureau, when
he was alive?"

No, they told him; Mr. King had been extremely particular in allowing
no one to go to it but himself.

"Ah," said the old man, "we must hunt it from top to bottom--we must
break it into pieces, if necessary. I will telegraph to Paul. We must
go to town at once, my dears, and investigate this matter--before Mr.
Yelverton leaves the country."

"He will not leave the country yet," said Elizabeth. "What is it, Mr.
Brion?"

"I think I see what it is," broke in Patty. "Mr. Brion thinks
that father was Mr. Yelverton's uncle, who was lost so long ago.
King--King--Mr. Yelverton told us the other day that they called _him_
'King,' for short--and he was named Kingscote Yelverton, like his
uncle. Mother's name was Elizabeth. I believe Mr. Brion is right And,
if so--"

       *       *       *       *       *

"And, if so," Patty repeated, when that wonderful, bewildering day
was over, and she and her elder sister were packing for their return
to Melbourne in the small hours of the next morning--"if so, we are
the heiresses of all those hundreds of thousands that are supposed
to belong to our cousin Kingscote. Now, Elizabeth, do you feel like
depriving him of everything, and stopping his work, and leaving his
poor starved costermongers to revert to their original condition--or do
you not?"

"I would not take it," said Elizabeth, passionately.

"Pooh!--as if we should be allowed to choose! People can't do as they
like where fortunes and lawyers are concerned. For Nelly's sake--not to
speak of mine--they will insist on our claim, if we have one; and then
do you suppose _he_ would keep your money? Of course not--it's a most
insulting idea. Therefore the case lies in a nutshell. You will have to
make up your mind quickly, Elizabeth."

"I have made up my mind," said Elizabeth, "if it is a question of which
of us is most worthy to have wealth, and knows best how to use it."



CHAPTER XXXVI.


INVESTIGATION.


They did not wait for the next steamer, but hurried back to Melbourne
by train and coach, and reached Myrtle Street once more at a little
before midnight, the girls dazed with sleep and weariness and the
strain of so much excitement as they had passed through. They had sent
no message to Mrs. Duff-Scott at present, preferring to make their
investigations, in the first place, as privately as possible; and Mr.
Brion had merely telegraphed to his son that they were returning with
him on important business. Paul was at the house when they arrived,
but Mrs. M'Intyre had made hospitable preparations at No. 6 as well
as at No. 7; and the tired sisters found their rooms aired and their
beds arranged, a little fire lit, gas burning, kettle boiling, and
a tempting supper laid out for them when they dragged their weary
limbs upstairs. Mrs. M'Intyre herself was there to give them welcome,
and Dan, who had been reluctantly left behind when they went into the
country, was wild with rapture, almost tearing them to pieces in the
vehemence of his delight at seeing them again, long past the age of
gambols as he was. Mr. Brion was consoled for the upsetting of his
own arrangements, which had been to take his charges to an hotel for
the night, and there luxuriously entertain them; and he bade them
an affectionate good-night, and went off contentedly to No. 7 under
the wing of Paul's landlady, to doze in Paul's arm-chair until that
brilliant ornament of the press should be released from duty.

Cheered by their little fire--for, summer though it was, their fatigues
had made them chilly--and by Mrs. M'Intyre's ham and chicken and hot
coffee, the girls sat, talking and resting, for a full hour before they
went to bed; still dwelling on the strange discovery of the little
picture behind the mantelpiece, which Mr. Brion had taken possession
of, and wondering if it would really prove them to be the three Miss
Yelvertons instead of the three Miss Kings, and co-heiresses of one of
the largest properties in England.

As they passed the old bureau on their way to their rooms, Elizabeth
paused and laid her hand on it thoughtfully. "It hardly seems to me
possible," she said, "that father should have kept such a secret
all these years, and died without telling us of it. He must have
seen the advertisements--he must have known what difficulties he was
making for everybody. Perhaps he did not write those names on the
picture--handwriting is not much to go by, especially when it is so
old as that; you may see whole schools of boys or girls writing in one
style. Perhaps father was at school with Mr. Yelverton's uncle. Perhaps
mother knew Elizabeth Leigh. Perhaps she gave her the sketch--or
she might have come by it accidentally. One day she must have found
it--slipped in one of her old music-books, maybe--and taken it out to
show father; and she put it up on the mantelpiece, and it slipped down
behind, like Patty's opal. If it had been of so much consequence as it
seems to us--if they had desired to leave no trace of their connection
with the Yelverton family--surely they would have pulled the house down
but what they would have recovered it. And then we have hunted the
bureau over--we have turned it out again and again--and never found
anything."

"Mr. Brion thinks there are secret drawers," said Eleanor, who, of all
the three, was most anxious that their golden expectations should be
realised. "It is just the kind of cabinet work, he says, that is always
full of hidden nooks and corners, and he is blaming himself that he did
not search it more thoroughly in the first instance."

"And he thinks," continued Patty, "that father seemed like a man with
things on his mind, and believes he _would_ have told us had he had
more warning of his death. But you know he was seized so suddenly, and
could not speak afterwards."

"Poor father--poor father!" sighed Elizabeth, pitifully. They thought
of his sad life, in the light of this possible theory, with more tender
compassion than they had ever felt for him before; but the idea that
he might have murdered his brother, accidentally or otherwise--and for
that reason had effaced himself and done bitter penance for the rest of
his days--never for a moment occurred to them. "Well, we shall know by
to-morrow night," said the elder sister, gently. "If the bureau does
not yield fresh evidence, there is none that we can allow Mr. Brion, or
anyone else, to act upon. The more I think it over, the more I see how
easily the whole thing could be explained--to mean nothing so important
as Mr. Brion thinks. And, for myself, I should not be disappointed if
we found ourselves only Miss Kings, without fortune or pedigree, as we
have always been. We are very happy as we are."

"That is how I felt at first," said Patty. "But I must say I am growing
more and more in love with the idea of being rich. The delightful
things that you can do with plenty of money keep flashing into my mind,
one after the other, till I feel that I never understood what being
poor meant till now, and that I could not content myself with a hundred
a year and Mrs. Duff-Scott's benefactions any more. No; the wish may be
father to the thought, Elizabeth, but I _do_ think it, honestly, that
we shall turn out to be Mr. Yelverton's cousins--destined to supersede
him, to a certain extent."

"I think so, too," said Eleanor, anxiously. "I can't--I
_won't_--believe that Mr. Brion is mistaken."

So they went, severally affected by their strange circumstances, to
bed. And in the morning they were up early, and made great haste to get
their breakfast over, and their sitting-room in order, in readiness for
the lawyer's visit. They were very much agitated by their suspense and
anxiety, especially Patty, to whom the impending interview with Paul
had become of more pressing consequence, temporarily, than even the
investigations that he was to assist. She had had no communication
with him whatever since she cut him on the racecourse when he was
innocently disporting himself with Mrs. Aarons; and her nerves were
shaken by the prospect of seeing and speaking to him again, and by
the vehemence of her conflicting hopes and fears. She grew cold and
hot at the recollection of one or two accidental encounters that had
taken place _since_ Cup Day, and at the picture of his contemptuous,
unrecognising face that rose up vividly before her. Elizabeth noticed
her unusual pallor and restless movements, and how she hovered about
the window, straining her ears to catch a chance sound of the men's
voices next door, and made an effort to divert her thoughts. "Come and
help me, Patty," she said, putting her hand on her sister's shoulder.
"We have nothing more to do now, so we may as well turn out some of the
drawers before they come. We can look over dear mother's clothes, and
see if they have any marks on them that we have overlooked. Mr. Brion
will want to have everything examined."

So they began to work at the bureau with solemn diligence, and a fresh
set of emotions were evolved by that occupation, which counteracted,
without effacing, those others that were in Patty's mind. She became
absorbed and attentive. They took out all Mrs. King's gowns, and her
linen, and her little everyday personal belongings, searched them
carefully for indications of ownership, and, finding none, laid them
aside in the adjoining bedroom. Then they exhumed all those relics of
an olden time which had a new significance at the present juncture--the
fine laces, the faded brocades, the Indian shawl and Indian muslins,
the quaint fans and little bits of jewellery--and arranged them
carefully on the table for the lawyer's inspection.

"We know _now_," said Patty, "though we didn't know a few mouths ago,
that these are things that could only belong to a lady who had been
rich once."

"Yes," said Elizabeth. "But there is another point to be considered.
Elizabeth Leigh ran away with her husband secretly and in haste, and
under circumstances that make it seem _most_ unlikely that she should
have hampered herself and him with luggage, or bestowed a thought on
such trifles as fans and finery."

The younger sisters were a little daunted for a moment by this view of
the case. Then Eleanor spoke up. "How you do love to throw cold water
on everything!" she complained, pettishly. "Why shouldn't she think
of her pretty things? I'm sure if I were going to run away--no matter
under what circumstances--I should take all _mine_, if I had half
an hour to pack them up. So would you. At least, I don't know about
you--but Patty would. Wouldn't you, Patty?"

"Well," said Patty, thoughtfully, sitting back on her heels and folding
her hands in her lap, "I really think I should, Elizabeth. If you come
to think of it, it is the heroines of novels who do those things. They
throw away lovers, and husbands, and fortunes, and everything else, on
the slightest provocation; it is a matter of course--it is the correct
thing in novels. But in real life girls are fond of all nice things--at
least, that is my experience--and they don't feel like throwing them
away. Girls in novels would never let Mrs. Duff-Scott give them gowns
and bonnets, for instance--they would be too proud; and they would
burn a bureau any day rather than rummage in it for a title to money
that a nice man, whom they cared for, was in possession of. Don't tell
me. You are thinking of the heroines of fiction, Elizabeth, and not of
Elizabeth Leigh. _She_, I agree with Nelly--however much she might have
been troubled and bothered--did not leave her little treasures for the
servants to pawn. Either she took them with her, or someone able to
keep her destination a secret sent them after her."

"Well, well," said Elizabeth, who had got out her mother's jewellery
and was gazing fondly at the miniature in the pearl-edged locket, "we
shall soon know. Get out the books and music, dear."

They were turning over a vast pile of music, which required at least
half a day to examine properly, when the servant of the house tapped
at the door to ask, with Mr. Brion's compliments, when it would be
convenient to Miss King to receive that gentleman. In a few minutes
father and son were in the room, the former distributing hasty and
paternal greetings all around, and the latter quietly shaking hands
with an air of almost aggressive deliberation. Paul was quite polite,
and to a certain extent friendly, but he was terribly, uncompromisingly
business-like. Not a moment did he waste in mere social amenities,
after shaking hands with Patty--which he did as if he were a wooden
automaton, and without looking at her--but plunged at once into the
matter of the discovered picture, as if time were money and nothing
else of any consequence. Patty's heart sank, but her spirit rose;
she determined not to "let herself down" or in any way to "make an
exhibition of herself," if she could help it. She drew a little aside
from the bureau, and went on turning over the music--which presently
she was able to report valueless as evidence, except negative evidence,
the name, wherever it had been written at the head of a sheet, having
been cut out or erased; while Elizabeth took the remaining articles
from their drawers and pigeon-holes, and piled them on the table and in
Nelly's arms.

For some time they were all intent upon their search, and very silent;
and it still seemed that they were to find nothing in the shape of that
positive proof which Elizabeth, as the head of the family, demanded
before she would give permission for any action to be taken. There were
no names in the old volumes of music, and the fly-leaves had been torn
from the older books. Some pieces of ancient silver plate--a pair of
candlesticks, a pair of salt-cellars, a teapot and sugar basin (now
in daily use), a child's mug, some Queen Anne spoons and ladles--were
all unmarked by crest or monogram; and two ivory-painted miniatures
and three daguerreotypes, representing respectively one old lady in
high-crowned cap and modest kerchief, one young one with puffs all
over her head, and a classic absence of bodice to her gown, one little
fair-haired child, similarly scanty in attire, and one middle-aged
gentleman with a large shirt frill and a prodigious quantity of
neck-cloth--likewise failed to verify themselves by date or inscription
when carefully prised out of their frames and leather cases with Paul
Brion's pen-knife. These family portraits, understood by the girls to
belong to the maternal side of the house, were laid aside, however,
along with the pearl-rimmed locket and other jewels, and the picture
that was found behind the mantelpiece; and then, nothing else being
left, apparently, the two men began an inspection of the papers.

While this was going on, Patty, at a sign from Elizabeth, set up
the leaves of a little tea-table by the window, spread it with a
white cloth, and fetched in such a luncheon as the slender larder
afforded--the remains of Mrs. M'Intyre's chicken and ham, some bread
and butter, a plate of biscuits, and a decanter of sherry--for it was
past one o'clock, and Mr. Brion and Paul had evidently no intention
of going away until their investigations were complete. The room was
quite silent. Her soft steps and the brush of her gown as she passed
to and fro were distinctly audible to her lover, who would not so much
as glance at her, but remained sternly intent upon the manuscripts
before him. These were found to be very interesting, but to have no
more bearing upon the matter in hand than the rest of the relics that
had been overhauled; for the most part, they were studies in various
arts and sciences prepared by Mr. and Mrs. King for their daughters
during the process of their education, and such odds and ends of
literature as would be found in a clever woman's common-place books.
They had all been gone over at the time of Mr. King's death, in a vain
hunt for testamentary documents; and Elizabeth, looking into the now
bare shelves and apertures of the bureau, began to think how she could
console her sisters for the disappointment of their hopes.

"Come and have some lunch," she said to Paul (Mr. Brion was already at
the table, deprecating the trouble that his dear Patty was taking). "I
don't think you will find anything more."

The young man stood up with his brows knitted over his keen eyes,
and glanced askance at the group by the window. "We have not done
yet," he said decisively; "and we have learned quite enough, in what
we _haven't_ found, to justify us in consulting Mr. Yelverton's
solicitors."

"No," she said, "I'll have nothing said to Mr. Yelverton, unless the
whole thing is proved first."

Never thinking that the thing would be proved, first or last, she
advanced to the extemporised lunch table, and dispensed the modest
hospitalities of the establishment with her wonted simple grace. Mr.
Brion was accommodated with an arm-chair and a music-book to lay
across his knees, whereon Patty placed the tit-bits of the chicken
and the knobby top-crust of the loaf, waiting upon him with that
tender solicitude to which he had grown accustomed, but which was so
astonishing, and so interesting also, to his son.

"She has spoiled me altogether," said the old man fondly, laying his
hand on her bright head as she knelt before him to help him to mustard
and salt. "I don't know how I shall ever manage to get along without
her now."

"Has this sad fate overtaken you in one short week?" inquired Paul,
rather grimly. "Your sister should be labelled like an explosive
compound, Miss King--'dangerous,' in capital letters." Paul was sitting
in a low chair by Elizabeth, with his plate on his knee, and he thawed
a good deal, in spite of fierce intentions to the contrary, under the
influence of food and wine and the general conversation. He looked at
Patty now and then, and by-and-bye went so far as to address a remark
to her. "What did she think of the caves?" he asked, indifferently,
offering her at the same moment a glass of sherry, which, though
unaccustomed to fermented liquors, she had not the presence of mind
to refuse--and which she took with such a shaking hand that she
spilled some of it over her apron. And she plunged at once into rapid
and enthusiastic descriptions of the caves and the delights of their
expedition thereto, absurdly uplifted by this slight token of interest
in her proceedings.

When luncheon was over, Elizabeth culled Eleanor--who, too restless
to eat much herself, was hovering about the bureau, tapping it here
and there with a chisel--to take her turn to be useful by clearing
the table; and then, as if business were of no consequence, bade her
guests rest themselves for a little and smoke a cigarette if they felt
inclined.

"Smoke!" exclaimed Paul, with a little sarcastic laugh. "Oh, no, Miss
King, that would never do. What would Mrs. Duff-Scott say if she were
to smell tobacco in your sitting-room?"

"Well, what would she say?" returned Elizabeth, gently--she was very
gentle with Paul to-day. "Mrs. Duff-Scott, I believe, is rather fond of
the smell of tobacco, when it is good."

Mr. Brion having satisfied the demands of politeness with profuse
protestations, suffered himself to indulge in a mild cigarette; but
Paul would not be persuaded. He resumed his study of the manuscripts
with an air of determination, as of a man who had idled away precious
time. He conscientiously endeavoured to fix his attention on the
important business that he had undertaken, and to forget everything
else until he had finished it. For a little while Patty wandered up and
down in an aimless manner, making neat heaps of the various articles
scattered about the room and watching him furtively; then she softly
opened the piano, and began to play, just above a whisper, the "Sonata
Pathetique."



CHAPTER XXXVII.


DISCOVERY.


It was between two and three o'clock; Mr. Brion reposed in his
arm-chair, smoking a little, talking a little to Elizabeth who sat
beside him, listening dreamily to the piano, and feeling himself
more and more inclined to doze and nod his head in the sleepy warmth
of the afternoon, after his glass of sherry and his recent severe
fatigues. Elizabeth, by way of entertaining him, sat at his elbow,
thinking, thinking, with her fingers interlaced in her lap and her
gaze fixed upon the floor. Patty, intensely alert and wakeful, but
almost motionless in her straight back and delicately poised head,
drooped over the keyboard, playing all the "soft things" that she could
remember without notes; and Paul, who had resisted her enchantments
as long as he could, leaned back in his chair, with his hand over his
eyes, having evidently ceased to pay any attention to his papers. And,
suddenly, Eleanor, who was supposed to be washing plates and dishes in
the kitchen, flashed into the room, startling them all out of their
dreams.

"Elizabeth, dear," she exclaimed tremulously, "forgive me for meddling
with your things. But I was thinking and thinking what else there was
that we had not examined, and mother's old Bible came into my head--the
little old Bible that she always used, and that you kept in your top
drawer. I could not help looking at it, and here"--holding out a small
leather-bound volume, frayed at the corners and fastened with silver
clasps--"here is what I have found. The two first leaves are stuck
together--I remembered that--but they are only stuck round the edges;
there is a little piece in the middle that is loose and rattles, and,
see, there is writing on it." The girl was excited and eager, and
almost pushed the Bible into Paul Brion's hands. "Look at it, look
at it," she cried. "Undo the leaves with your knife and see what the
writing is."

Paul examined the joined leaves attentively, saw that Eleanor was
correct in her surmise, and looked at Elizabeth. "May I, Miss King?" he
asked, his tone showing that he understood how sacred this relic must
be, and how much it would go against its present possessor to see it
tampered with.

"I suppose you had better," said Elizabeth.

He therefore sat down, laid the book before him, and opened his sharp
knife. A sense that something was really going to happen now--that
the secret of all this careful effacement of the little chronicles
common and natural to every civilised family would reveal itself in the
long-hidden page which, alone of all the records of the past, their
mother had lacked the heart to destroy--fell upon the three girls; and
they gathered round to watch the operation with pale faces and beating
hearts. Paul was a long time about it, for he tried to part the leaves
without cutting them, and they were too tightly stuck together. He had
at last to make a little hole in which to insert his knife, and then
it was a most difficult matter to cut away the plain sheet without
injuring the written one. Presently, however, he opened a little door
in the middle of the page, held the flap up, glanced at what was behind
it for a moment, looked significantly at his father, and silently
handed the open book to Elizabeth. And Elizabeth, trembling with
excitement and apprehension, lifting up the little flap in her turn,
read this clear inscription--

                   "To my darling child, ELIZABETH,
                        From her loving mother,
                         ELEANOR D'ARCY LEIGH.
                   Bradenham Abbey. Christmas, 1839.
                           Psalm xv., 1, 2."

There was a dead silence while they all looked at the fine brown
writing--that delicate caligraphy which, like fine needlework, went
out of fashion when our grandmothers passed away--of which every
letter, though pale, was perfectly legible. A flood of recollection
poured into the minds of the three girls, especially the elder ones,
at the sight of those two words, "Bradenham Abbey," in the corner of
the uncovered portion of the page. "Leigh" and "D'Arcy" were both
unfamiliar names--or had been until lately--but Bradenham had a place
in the archives of memory, and came forth at this summons from its
dusty and forgotten nook. When they were children their mother used
to tell them stories by the firelight in winter evenings, and amongst
those stories were several whose scenes were laid in the tapestried
chambers and ghostly corridors, and about the parks and deer-drives
and lake-shores of a great "place" in an English county--a place that
had once been a famous monastery, every feature and aspect of which
Mrs. King had at various times described so minutely that they were
almost as familiar with it as if they had seen it for themselves.
These stories generally came to an untimely end by the narrator
falling into an impenetrable brown study or being overtaken by an
unaccountable disposition to cry--which gave them, of course, a special
and mysterious fascination for the children. While still little things
in pinafores, they were quick enough to perceive that mother had a
personal interest in that wonderful place of which they never tired
of hearing, and which evidently did not belong to the realms of
Make-believe, like the palace of the Sleeping Beauty and Blue-beard's
castle; and therefore they were always, if unconsciously, trying to
understand what that interest was. And when, one day when she was
painting a wreath of forget-me-nots on some little trifle intended for
a bazaar, and, her husband coming to look over her, she said to him
impulsively, "Oh, do you remember how they grew in the sedges round the
Swan's Pool at Bradenham?"--and when he sternly bade her hush, and not
speak of Bradenham unless she wished to drive him mad--then Patty and
Elizabeth, who heard them both, knew that Bradenham was the name of the
great house where monks had lived, in the grounds of which, as they
had had innumerable proofs, pools and swans abounded. It was the first
time they had heard it, but it was too important a piece of information
to be forgotten. On this memorable day, so many years after, when they
read "Bradenham Abbey" in the well-worn Bible, they looked at each
other, immediately recalling that long-ago incident; but their hearts
were too full to speak. It was Mr. Brion who broke the silence that had
fallen upon them all.

"This, added to our other discoveries, is conclusive, I think,"
said the old lawyer, standing up in order to deliver his opinion
impressively, and resting his hands on the table. "At any rate, I
must insist on placing the results of our investigation before Mr.
Yelverton--yes, Elizabeth, you must forgive me, my dear, if I take
the matter into my own hands. Paul will agree with me that we have
passed the time for sentiment. We will have another look into the
bureau--because it seems incredible that any man should deliberately
rob his children of their rights, even if he repudiated his own, and
therefore I think there _must_ be legal instruments _somewhere_; but,
supposing none are with us, it will not be difficult, I imagine, to
supply what is wanting to complete our case from other sources--from
other records of the family, in fact. Mr. Yelverton himself, in
five minutes, would be able to throw a great deal of light upon our
discoveries. It is absolutely necessary to consult him."

"I would not mind so much," said Elizabeth, who was deadly pale, "if it
were to be fought out with strangers. But _he_ would give it all up at
once, without waiting to see--without asking us to prove--that we had a
strictly legal title."

"Don't you believe it," interposed Paul sententiously.

She rose from her chair in majestic silence, and moved towards the
bureau. She would not bandy her lover's name nor discuss his character
with those who did not know him as she did. Paul followed her, with his
chisel in his hand.

"Let us look for that secret drawer, at any rate," he said. "I feel
pretty certain there must be one, now. Mr. King took great pains to
prevent identification during his lifetime, but, as my father says,
that is a very different thing from disinheriting _you_. If you will
allow me, I'll take every moveable part out first."

He did so, while she watched and assisted him. All the brass-handled
drawers, and sliding shelves, and partitions were withdrawn from their
closely-fitting sockets, leaving a number of holes and spaces each
differing in size and shape from the rest. Then he drew up a chair in
front of the exposed skeleton, and gazed at it thoughtfully; after
which he began to make careful measurements inside and out, to tap the
woodwork in every direction, and to prise some of its strong joints
asunder. This work continued until four o'clock, when, notwithstanding
the highly stimulating excitement of the day's proceedings, the girls
began to feel that craving for a cup of tea which is as strong upon the
average woman at this time as the craving for a nobbler of whisky is
upon the--shall I say average man?--when the sight of a public-house
appeals to his nobler appetite. Not that they wanted to eat and
drink--far from it; the cup of tea was the symbol of rest and relief
for a little while from the stress and strain of labour and worry, and
that was what they were in need of. Elizabeth looked at her watch and
then at Patty, and the two girls slipped out of the room together,
leaving Eleanor to watch operations at the bureau. Reaching their
little kitchen, they mechanically lit the gas in the stove, and set
the kettle on to boil; and then they went to the open window, which
commanded an unattractive view of the back yard, and stood there side
by side, leaning on each other.

"In 1839," said Patty, "she must have been a girl, a child, and living
at Bradenham _at home_. Think of it, Elizabeth--with a mother loving
her and petting her as she did us. She was twenty-five when she
married; she must have been about sixteen when that Bible was given
to her--ever so much younger than any of us are now. _She_ lived in
those beautiful rooms with the gold Spanish leather on the walls--_she_
danced in that long gallery with the painted windows and the slippery
oak floor and the thirty-seven family portraits all in a row--no doubt
she rode about herself with those hunting parties in the winter, and
rowed and skated on the lake--I can imagine it, what a life it must
have been. Can't you see her, before she grew stout and careworn,
and her bright hair got dull, and her pretty hands rough with hard
work--young, and lovely, and happy, and petted by everybody--wearing
beautiful clothes, and never knowing what it was to have to do anything
for herself? I can. And it seems dreadful to think that she had to
remember all that, living as she did afterwards. If only he had made it
up to her!--but I don't think he did, Elizabeth--I don't think he did.
He used to be so cross to her sometimes. Oh, bless her, bless her! Why
didn't she tell _us_, so that _we_ could have done more to comfort her?"

"I don't think she ever repented," said Elizabeth, who remembered more
about her mother than Patty could do. "She did it because she loved him
better than Bradenham and wealth and her own personal comfort; and she
loved him like that always, even when he was cross. Poor father! No
wonder he was cross!"

"Why didn't he go back--for her sake, if not for ours--when he saw the
advertisements? Elizabeth, my idea is that the death of his brother
gave a permanent shock to his brain. I think he could never have been
quite himself afterwards. It was a sort of mania with him to disconnect
himself from everything that could suggest the tragedy--to get as far
away as possible from any association with it."

"I think so, too," said Elizabeth.

Thus they talked by the kitchen window until the kettle bubbled on the
stove; and then, recalled to the passing hour and their own personal
affairs, they collected cups and saucers, sugar-basin and milk-jug,
and cut bread and butter for the afternoon repast. Just as their
preparations were completed, Eleanor came flying along the passage from
the sitting-room. "They have found a secret drawer," she cried in an
excited whisper. "At least not a drawer, but a double partition that
seems to have been glued up; and Mr. Brion is sure, by the dull sound
of the wood, that there are things in it. Come and see!"

She flew back again, not even waiting to help her sisters with the tea.
Silently Elizabeth took up the tray of cups and saucers, and Patty the
teapot and the plate of bread and butter; and they followed her with
beating hearts. This was the crisis of their long day's trial. Paul
was tearing at the intestines of the bureau like a cat at the wainscot
that has just given sanctuary to a mouse, and his father was too much
absorbed in helping him to notice their return.

"Now, pull, pull!" cried the old man, at the moment when the sisters
closed the door behind them. "Break it, if it won't come. A--a--ah!" as
a sudden crash of splintered wood resounded through the room, "there
they are at last! I _thought_ they must be here somewhere!"

"What is it?" inquired Elizabeth, setting down her tea-tray, and
hastily running to his side. He was stripping a pink tape from a thin
bundle of blue papers in a most unprofessional state of excitement and
agitation.

"What is it?" he echoed triumphantly. "This is what it is, my
dear"--and he began in a loud voice to read from the outside of the
blue packet, to which he pointed with a shaking finger--"The will
of Kingscote Yelverton, formerly of Yelverton, in the county of
Kent--Elizabeth Yelverton, sole executrix."



CHAPTER XXXVIII.


THE TIME FOR ACTION.


Yes, it was their father's will--the will they had vainly hunted for
a year ago, little thinking what manner of will it was; executed when
Eleanor was a baby in long clothes, and providing for their inheritance
of that enormous English fortune. When they were a little recovered
from the shock of this last overwhelming surprise, Mr. Brion broke
the seal of the document, and formally and solemnly read it to them.
It was very short, but perfectly correct in form, and the testator
(after giving to his wife, in the event of her surviving him, the sole
control of the entire property, which was unentailed, for her lifetime)
bequeathed to his younger daughters, and to any other children who
might have followed them, a portion of thirty thousand pounds apiece,
and left the eldest, Elizabeth, heiress of Yelverton and residuary
legatee. Patty and Eleanor were thus to be made rich beyond _their_
dreams of avarice, but Elizabeth, who had been her father's favourite,
was to inherit a colossal fortune. That was, of course, supposing such
wealth existed in fact as well as in the imagination of this incredible
madman. Paul and his father found themselves unable to conceive of such
a thing as that any one in his senses should possess these rare and
precious privileges, so passionately desired and so recklessly sought
and sinned for by those who had them not, and should yet abjure, them
voluntarily, and against every natural temptation and moral obligation
to do otherwise. It was something wholly outside the common course of
human affairs, and unintelligible to men of business. Both of them
felt that they must get out of the region of romance and into the
practical domain of other lawyers' offices before they could cope
effectively with the anomalies of the case. As it stood, it was beyond
their grasp. While the girls, sitting together by the table, strove to
digest the meaning of the legal phrases that had fallen so strangely on
their ears, Mr. Brion and Paul exchanged _sotto voce_ suggestions and
opinions over the parchment spread out before them. Then presently the
old man opened a second document, glanced silently down the first page,
cleared his throat, and looking over his spectacles, said solemnly, "My
dears, give me your attention for a few minutes."

Each changed her position a little, and looked at him steadily. Paul
leaned back in his chair, and put his hand over his eyes.

"What I have just been reading to you," said Mr. Brion, "is your
father's last will and testament, as I believe. It appears that his
surname was Yelverton, and that King was only an abbreviation of his
Christian name--assumed as the surname for the purpose of eluding the
search made for him by his family. Now, certain circumstances have come
to our knowledge lately, referring, apparently, to this inexplicable
conduct on your father's part." He paused, coughed, and nervously
smoothed out the sheets before him, glancing hither and thither
over their contents. "Elizabeth, my dear," he went on, "I think you
heard Mr. Yelverton's account of his uncle's strange disappearance
after--ahem--after a certain unfortunate catastrophe?"

"Yes," said Elizabeth. "We all know about that."

"Well, it seems--of course we must not jump at conclusions too hastily,
but still it appears to me a reasonable conjecture--that your father
and Mr. Yelverton's lost uncle _were_ one and the same person. The
affair altogether is so extraordinary, so altogether unaccountable, on
the face of it, that we shall require a great deal of proof--and of
course Mr. Yelverton himself will require the very fullest and most
absolute legal proof--before we can accept the theory as an established
fact--"

"Did I not say so?" Elizabeth interrupted eagerly, surprised by
the old man's sudden assumption of scepticism now that all doubt
and uncertainty seemed to be over. "I wish that nothing should be
done--that no steps of any sort should be taken--until it is all proved
to the last letter."

"Well," said Mr. Brion, at once abandoning his cautious attitude, "we
must take steps to obtain proof before we _can_ obtain it. And, as it
providentially happens, we have received the most opportune and, as I
believe, the most unimpeachable testimony from Mr. Yelverton himself,
who is the loser by our gain, and who gave us the information which is
so singularly corroborated in these documents before the existence of
such documents was known to anybody. But if more were wanted--"

"More _is_ wanted," urged Elizabeth. "We cannot take advantage of his
own admissions to ruin him."

"If more were wanted," Mr. Brion repeated, with growing solemnity
of manner, "we have here a paper under your father's hand, and duly
witnessed by the same persons who witnessed the will--where are you
going, Paul?" For at this point Paul rose and walked quietly towards
the door.

"Go on," said the young man. "I will come back presently."

"But where are you going?" his father repeated with irritation. "Can't
you wait until this business is finished?"

"I think," said Paul, "that the Miss Kings--the Miss Yelvertons, I
suppose I ought to say--would rather be by themselves while you read
that paper. It is not just like the will, you know; it is a private
matter--not for outsiders to listen to."

Elizabeth rose promptly and went towards him, laying her hand on
his arm. "Do you think we consider _you_ an outsider?" she said,
reproachfully. "You are one of us--you are in the place of our
brother--we want you to help us now more than we have ever done. Come
and sit down--that is, of course, if you can spare time for our affairs
when you have so many important ones of your own."

He went and sat down, taking the seat by Patty to which Elizabeth
pointed him. Patty looked up at him wistfully, and then leaned her
elbows on the table and put her face in her hands. Her lover laid his
arm gently on the back of her chair.

"Shall I begin, my dear?" asked the lawyer hesitatingly. "I am afraid
it will be painful to you, Elizabeth. Perhaps, as Paul says, it would
be better for you to read it by yourselves. I will leave it with you
for a little while, if you promise faithfully to be very careful with
it."

But Elizabeth wished it to be read as the will was read, and the old
man, vaguely suspecting that she might be illegally generous to the
superseded representative of the Yelverton name and property, was
glad to keep the paper in his own hands, and proceeded to recite its
contents. "I, Kingscote Yelverton, calling myself John King, do hereby
declare," &c.

It was the story of Kingscote Yelverton's unfortunate life, put on
record in the form of an affidavit for the benefit of his children,
apparently with the intention that they should claim their inheritance
when he was gone. The witnesses were an old midwife, long since
dead, and a young Scripture reader, now a middle-aged and prosperous
ecclesiastic in a distant colony; both of whom the lawyer remembered
as features of the "old days" when he himself was a new-comer to the
out-of-the-world place that counted Mr. King as its oldest inhabitant.
It was a touching little document, in the sad story that it told
and the severe formality of the style of telling it. Kingscote
Yelverton, it was stated, was the second of three brothers, sons of
a long line of Yelvertons of Yelverton, of which three, however,
according to hereditary custom, only one was privileged to inherit
the ancestral wealth. This one, Patrick, a bachelor, had already come
into his kingdom; the youngest, a briefless barrister in comfortable
circumstances, had married a farmer's daughter in very early youth
(while reading for university honours during a long vacation spent in
the farmer's house), and was the father of a sturdy schoolboy while
himself not long emancipated from the rule of pastors and masters;
and Kingscote was a flourishing young captain in the Guards--when
the tragedy which shattered the family to pieces, and threw its vast
property into Chancery, took place. Bradenham Abbey was neighbour to
Yelverton, and Cuthbert Leigh of Bradenham was kin to the Yelvertons of
Yelverton. Cuthbert Leigh had a beautiful daughter by his first wife,
Eleanor D'Arcy; when this daughter was sixteen her mother died, and a
stepmother soon after took Eleanor D'Arcy's place; and not long after
the stepmother came to Bradenham Cuthbert Leigh himself died, leaving
an infant son and heir; and not long after _that_ Mrs. Cuthbert Leigh
married again, and her new husband administered Bradenham--in the
interest of the heir eventually, but of himself and his own children in
the meantime. So it happened that Elizabeth Leigh was rather elbowed
out of her rights and privileges as her father's daughter; which being
the case, her distant cousin and near friend, Mrs. Patrick Yelverton,
mother of the ill-fated brothers (who lived, poor soul, to see her
house left desolate), fetched the girl away from the home which was
hers no more, and took her to live under her own wing at Yelverton.
Then the troubles began. Elizabeth was young and fair; indeed, all
accounts of her agreed in presenting the portrait of a woman who must
have been irresistible to the normal and unappropriated man brought
into close contact with her. At Yelverton she was the daily companion
of the unwedded master of the house, and he succumbed accordingly.
As an impartial chronicler, I may hazard the suggestion that she
enjoyed a flirtation within lady-like limits, and was not without some
responsibility in the matter. It was clear also that the dowager Mrs.
Patrick, anxious to see her first-born suitably married and settled,
and placed safely beyond the reach of designing farmers' daughters,
contrived her best to effect a union between the two. But while
Patrick was over head and ears in love, and Elizabeth was dallying
with him, and the old mother planning new furniture for the stately
rooms where the queen was to reign who should succeed her, Kingscote
the guardsman--Kingscote, the handsome, strong-willed, fiery-tempered
second son--came home. To him the girl's heart, with the immemorial and
incurable perversity of hearts, turned forthwith, like a flower to the
sun; and a very short furlough had but half run out when she was as
deeply over head and ears in love with Kingscote as Patrick was with
her. Kingscote also loved her passionately--on his own testimony, he
loved her as never man loved before, though he made a proud confession
that he had still been utterly unworthy of her; and so the materials
for the tragedy were laid, like a housemaid's fire, ready for the match
that kindled them. Elizabeth found her position untenable amid the
strenuous and conflicting attentions bestowed on her by the mother and
sons, and went away for a time to visit some of her other relatives;
and when her presence and influence were withdrawn from Yelverton, the
smothered enmity of the brothers broke out, and they had their first
and last and fatal quarrel about her. She had left a miniature of
herself hanging in their mother's boudoir; this miniature Patrick laid
hands on, and carried off to his private rooms; wherefrom Kingscote,
in a violent passion (as Elizabeth's accepted lover), abstracted it by
force. Then the master of the house, always too much inclined to assert
himself as such, being highly incensed in his turn at the liberty that
had been taken with him, marched into his brother's bedroom, where
the disputed treasure was hidden, found it, and put it in his breast
until he could discover a safer place for it. They behaved like a
pair of ill-regulated schoolboys, in short, as men do when love and
jealousy combine to derange their nervous systems, and wrought their
own irreparable ruin over this miserable trifle. Patrick, flushed with
a lurid triumph at his temporary success, strolled away from the house
for an aimless walk, but afterwards went to a gamekeeper's cottage to
give some instructions that occurred to him. The gamekeeper was not at
home, and the squire returned by way of a lonely track through a thick
plantation, where some of the keeper's work had to be inspected. Here
he met Kingscote, striding along with his gun over his shoulder. The
guardsman had discovered his loss, and was in search of his brother,
intending to make a calm statement of his right to the possession of
the picture by virtue of his rights in the person of the fair original,
but at the same time passionately determined that this sort of thing
should be put a stop to. There was a short parley, a brief but fierce
altercation, a momentary struggle--on one side to keep, on the other
to take, the worthless little bone of contention--and it was all over.
Patrick, sent backward by a sweep of his strong brother's arm, fell
over the gun that had been carelessly propped against a sapling; the
stock of the gun, flying up, was caught by a tough twig which dragged
across the hammers, and as the man and the weapon tumbled to the ground
together one hammer fell, and the exploded charge entered the squire's
neck, just under the chin, and, passing upward to the brain, killed
him. It was an accident, as all the family believed; but to the author
of the mischance it was nothing less than murder. He was guilty of his
brother's blood, and he accepted the portion of Cain--to be a fugitive
and a vagabond on the face of the earth--in expiation of it. Partly
with the idea of sparing pain and disgrace to his family (believing
that the only evidence available would convict him of murder in a court
of law), and partly because he felt that, if acquitted, it would be
too horrible and impossible to take an inheritance that had come to
him by such means, in the overwhelming desperation of his remorse and
despair he took that determination to blot himself out which was never
afterwards revoked. Returning to the house, he collected some money
and a few valuables, and, unsuspected and unnoticed, took leave of his
home, and his name, and his place in the world, and was half way to
London, and beyond recall, before the dead body in the plantation was
discovered. In London Elizabeth Leigh was staying with an old Miss
D'Arcy, quietly studying her music and taking a rest while the society
which was so fond of her was out of town; and the stricken man could
not carry out his resolve without bidding farewell to his beloved. He
had a clandestine interview with Elizabeth, to whom alone he confided
the circumstances of his wretched plight. The girl, of course, advised
him to return to Yelverton, and bravely meet and bear whatever might
befall; and it would have been well for him and for her if he had taken
that advice. But he would not listen to it, nor be turned from his
fixed purpose to banish and efface himself, if possible, for the rest
of his life; seeing which, the devoted woman chose to share his fate.
Whether he could and should have spared her that enormous sacrifice,
or whether she was happier in making it than she would otherwise have
been, only themselves ever knew. She did her woman's part in helping
and sustaining and consoling him through all the blighted years that he
was suffered to live and fret her with his brooding melancholy and his
broken-spirited moroseness, and doubtless she found her true vocation
in that thorny path of love.

The story, as told by himself for the information of his children (who,
as children ever do, came in time to have interests of their own that
transcended in importance those that were merely personal to their
parents), was much more brief and bald than this, and the reading of it
did not take many minutes. When he had finished it, in dead silence,
the lawyer took from the packet of papers a third and smaller document,
which he also proceeded to read aloud to those whom it concerned. This
proved to be a certificate of the marriage of Kingscote Yelverton and
Elizabeth Leigh, celebrated in an obscure London parish by a curate
who had been the bridegroom's Eton and Oxford chum, and witnessed by
a pair of humble folk who had had great difficulty in composing their
respective signatures, on the 25th of November in the year 1849. And,
finally, half-folded round the packet, there was a slip of paper, on
which was written--"Not to be opened until my death."

"And it might never have been opened until you were _all_ dead!"
exclaimed the lawyer, holding up his hands. "He must have meant to give
it to you at the last, and did not reckon on being struck helpless in a
moment when his time came."

"Oh, poor father!" sobbed Elizabeth, whose head lay on the table,
crushed down in her handkerchief. And the other sisters put their arms
about her, Patty with a set white face and Eleanor whimpering a little.
But Mr. Brion and Paul were incensed with the dead man, and could not
pity him at present.

It was late before the two friendly advisers, summoned to dinner by
their landlady, went back to No. 7, and they did not like going. It
did not seem to them at all right that the three girls should be
left alone under present circumstances. Mr. Brion wanted to summon
Mrs. Duff-Scott, or even Mrs. M'Intyre, to bear them company and see
that they did not faint, or have hysterics, or otherwise "give way,"
under the exceptional strain put upon their nervous systems. Then he
wanted them to come next door for that dinner which he felt they must
certainly stand much in need of, and for which they did not seem to
have adequate materials; or to let him take them to the nearest hotel,
or to Mrs. Duff-Scott's; or, at least, to permit him to give them some
brandy and water; and he was genuinely distressed because they refused
to be nourished and comforted and appropriately cared for in any of
these ways.

"We want to be quiet for a little, dear Mr. Brion, that we may talk
things over by ourselves--if you don't mind," Elizabeth said; and
the tone of her voice silenced all his protests. The old man kissed
them, for the first time in his life, uttering a few broken words of
congratulation on the wonderful change in their fortunes; and Paul
shook hands with great gravity and without saying anything at all, even
though Patty, looking up into his inscrutable face, mutely asked for
his sympathy with her wistful, wet eyes. And they went away.

As they were letting themselves out of the house, assisted by the
ground-floor domestic, who, scenting mystery in the air, politely
volunteered to open the hall door in order that she might investigate
the countenances of the Miss Kings' visitors and perchance gather some
enlightenment therefrom, Patty, dry-eyed and excited, came flying
downstairs, and pounced upon the old man.

"Mr. Brion, Mr. Brion, Elizabeth says she hopes you will be _sure_
not to divulge what we have discovered to _anybody_," she panted
breathlessly (at the same time glancing at her lover's back as he stood
on the door-step). "It is of the utmost consequence to her to keep it
quiet for a little longer."

"But, my dear, what object can Elizabeth have in waiting _now?_ Surely
it is better to have it over at once, and settled. I thought of walking
up to the club by-and-bye, with the papers, and having a word with Mr.
Yelverton."

"Of course it is better to have it over," assented Patty.

"I know your time is precious, and I myself am simply frantic till I
can tell Mrs. Duff-Scott. So is Elizabeth. But there is something she
must do first--I can't tell you the particulars--but she _must_ have a
few hours' start--say till to-morrow evening--before you speak to Mr.
Yelverton or take any steps. I am sure she will do _whatever_ you wish,
after that."

The lawyer hesitated, suspicious of the wisdom of the delay, but not
seeing how much harm could happen, seeing that he had all the precious
documents in his own breast pocket; then he reluctantly granted Patty's
request, and the girl went upstairs again with feet not quite so light
as those that had carried her down. Upstairs, however, she subordinated
her own interests to the consideration of her sister's more pressing
affairs.

"Elizabeth," she said, with fervid and portentous solemnity, "this
is a crisis for you, and you must be bold and brave. It is no time
for shilly-shallying--you have twenty-four hours before you, and you
must _act_. If you don't, you will see that he will just throw up
everything, and be too proud to take it back. He will lose all his
money and the influence for good that it gives him, and _you_ will lose
_him_."

"How shall I act?" asked Elizabeth, leaning instinctively upon this
more courageous spirit.

"How?" echoed Patty, looking at her sister with brilliant eyes. "Oh!"
drawing a long breath, and speaking with a yearning passion that it was
beyond the power of good grammar to express--"oh, if it was only _me!_"



CHAPTER XXXIX.


AN ASSIGNATION.


That evening Mr. Yelverton was leisurely finishing his dinner at the
club when a note was brought to him. He thought he knew the writing,
though he had never seen it before, and put it into his pocket until he
could politely detach himself from three semi-hosts, semi-guests, with
whom he was dining. Then he went upstairs rather quickly, tearing open
his letter as he went, and, arrived at the reading-room, sat down at
a table, took pen in hand, and dashed off an immediate reply. "I will
certainly be there," he wrote, in a hand more vigorous than elegant.
"I will wait for you in the German picture gallery. Come as early as
possible, while the place is quiet." And, having closed his missive
and consigned it to the bag, he remained in a comfortable arm-chair
in the quiet room, all by himself, meditating. He felt he had a great
deal to think about, and it indisposed him for convivialities. The week
since his parting with Elizabeth, long as it had seemed to him, had
not quite run out, and she had made an assignation which, though it
might have appeared unequivocal to the casual eye, was to him extremely
perplexing. She had come back, and she wanted to see him, and she
wanted to see him alone, and she asked him if he would meet her at the
Exhibition in the morning. And she addressed him as her dearest friend,
and signed herself affectionately his. He tried very hard, but he could
not extract his expected comfort from such a communication, made under
such circumstances.

In the morning he was amongst the first batch of breakfasters in the
club coffee-room, and amongst the first to represent the public at
the ticket-windows of the Carlton Palace. When he entered the great
building, it was in the possession of officials and workmen, and
echoed in a hollow manner to his solid footfall. Without a glance to
right or left, he walked upstairs to the gallery and into that cosiest
nook of the whole Exhibition, the German room, and there waited for
his mistress. This restful room, with its carpeted floor and velvety
settees (so grateful to the weary), its great Meissen vases in the
middle, and casts of antique statues all round, was quite empty of
visitors, and looked as pleasant and convenient a place of rendezvous
as lovers could desire. If only Elizabeth would come quickly, he
thought, they might have the most delicious quiet talk, sitting side
by side on a semi-circular ottoman opposite to Lindenschmidt's "Death
of Adonis"--not regarding that unhappy subject, of course, nor any
other object but themselves. He would not sit down until she came,
but strolled round and round, pausing now and then to investigate a
picture, but thinking of nothing but his beloved, for whose light step
he was listening. If his bodily eyes were fixed on the "Cloister Pond"
or "Evening," or any other of the tranquil landscapes pictured on the
wall, he thought of Elizabeth resting with him under green trees, far
from the madding crowd's ignoble strife, absolutely his own, and in a
world that (practically) held nobody but him and her. If he looked at
autumnal rain slanting fiercely across the canvas, he thought how he
would protect and shield her in all the storms that might visit her
life--"My plaidie to the angry airt, I'd shelter thee, I'd shelter
thee!" And visions of a fair morning in Thuringia, of a lake in the
Bavarian mountains, of a glacier in the Engadine, and of Venice in
four or five aspects of sunlight and moonlight, suggested his wedding
journey and how beautiful the world she had so longed to see--the world
that he knew so well--would look henceforth, if--if--

There was a step upon the corridor outside, and he turned sharply from
his contemplation of a little picture of an Isle of Wight sunrise to
meet her as she came in. She had been walking hurriedly, but in the
doorway she paused, seeing him striding towards her, and stood for a
moment confused and hesitating, overcome with embarrassment. It was a
bright morning, and she had dressed herself in a delicate linen gown,
fitting easily to the sweeping curves of her noble figure--a gown
over which Mrs. Duff-Scott had spent hours of careful thought and a
considerable amount of money, but which was so simple and unpretending
in its effects as to suggest the domestic needle and the judicious
outlay of a few shillings to those admirable critics of the other sex
who have so little knowledge of such matters and so much good taste;
and all the details of her costume were in harmony with this central
feature--her drooping straw hat, tied with soft Indian muslin under
the chin, her Swedish gloves, her neat French shoes, her parasol--and
the effect was insidious but impressive. She had got herself up
carefully for her lover's eyes, and nobody could have looked less got
up than she. Mr. Yelverton thought how much more charming was a homely
every-day style than the elaborate dressing of the ball-room and the
block, and that it was certainly evident to any sensible person that
a woman like Elizabeth needed no arts of the milliner to make her
attractive. He took her hand in a strong clasp, and held it in silence
for a moment, his left hand laid over her fine unwrinkled glove, while
he looked into her downcast face for some sign of the nature of her
errand.

"Well, my love," he murmured eagerly, "what is it? Don't keep me in
suspense. Is it yes or no, Elizabeth?"

Her embarrassment melted away before the look he bent upon her, as a
morning mist before the sun. She lifted her eyes to his--those honest
eyes that he could read like a book--and her lips parted in an effort
to speak. The next instant, before a word was said, he had her in
his arms, and her mouth met his under the red moustache in a long,
and close, and breathless kiss; and both of them knew that they were
to part no more till their lives' end. While that brief ceremony of
betrothal lasted, they might have been in the black grotto where they
kissed each other first, so oblivious were they of their surroundings;
but they took in presently the meaning of certain sounds in the gallery
on the other side of the curtain, and resumed their normal attitudes.
"Come and sit down," said Mr. Yelverton, drawing her into the room.
"Come and let's have a talk." And he set her down on the velvet ottoman
and took a seat beside her--leaning forward with an arm on his knee
to barricade her from an invasion of the public as far as possible.
His thoughts turned, naturally enough, to their late very important
interview in the caves.

"We will go back there," he said, expressing his desire frankly. "When
we are married, Elizabeth, we will go to your old home again together,
before we set out on longer travels, and you and I will have a picnic
to the caves all alone by ourselves, in that little buggy that we drove
the other day. Shall we?"

"We might tumble into one of those terrible black holes," she replied,
"if we went there again."

"True--we might. And when we are married we must not run any
unnecessary risks. We will live together as long as we possibly can,
Elizabeth."

She had drawn off her right glove, and now slipped her hand into
his. He grasped it fervently, and kneaded it like a lump of stiff
dough (excuse the homely simile, dear reader--it has the merit of
appropriateness, which is more than you can say for the lilies and
jewellery) between his two strong palms. How he did long for that dark
cave!--for any nook or corner that would have hidden him and her from
sight for the next half hour.

"Why couldn't you have told me a week ago?" he demanded, with a thrill
in his deep voice. "You must have known you would take me then, or
you would not have come to me like this to-day. Why didn't you give
yourself to me at first? Then we should have been together all this
time--all these precious days that we have wasted--and we should have
been by the sea at this moment, sitting under those big rocks, or
wandering away into the bush, where nobody could interfere with us."

As he spoke, a party of ladies strolled into the court, and he leaned
back upon his cushioned seat to wait until they were gone again. They
looked at the pictures, with one eye on him, dawdled up and down for
five minutes, trying to assert their right to be there if they chose;
and then, too uncomfortably conscious of being _de trop_, departed.
After which the lovers were alone again for a little while. Mr.
Yelverton resumed possession of Elizabeth's hand, and repeated his
rather cruel question.

"Didn't you know all along that it must come to this?"

"A week ago I did not know what I know now," she replied.

"Ah, my dear, you knew it in your heart, but you would not listen to
your heart."

He thought he understood it all, perfectly. He pictured her regret and
hungry longing for him after he was gone, how she had fought against
it for a time, and how it had precipitately driven her to Melbourne at
last, and driven her to summon him in this importunate fashion to her
side. It was exactly what he would have done, he thought, had he been
in her place.

"Mr. Yelverton--"

She was beginning to speak seriously, but he stopped her. "No," he
said, "I am not going to be called Mr. Yelverton by _you_. Never again,
remember. My name is Kingscote, if you wish to know. My people at home,
when I had any people, called me King. I think you might as well call
me King--it will keep your dear name alive in the family when you no
longer answer to it yourself. Now"--as she paused, and was looking at
him rather strangely--"what were you going to say?"

"I was going to say that I have not wasted this week since you went
away. A great deal has happened--a great many changes--and I was helped
by something outside myself to make up my mind."

"I don't believe it--I don't believe it, Elizabeth. You know you love
me, and you know that, whatever your religious sentiments may be,
you would not do violence to them for anything _less_ than that. You
are taking me because you love me too well to give me up--for any
consideration whatever. So don't say you are not."

She touched his shoulder for a moment with her cheek. "Oh, I do love
you, I do love you!" she murmured, drawing a long, sighing breath.

He knew it well, and he did not know how to bear to sit there, unable
to respond to her touching confession. He could only knead her hand
between his palms.

"And you are going to trust me, my love--me and yourself? You are not
afraid now?"

"No, I don't think I am afraid." She caught her breath a little, and
looked grave and anxious as she said it, haunted still by the feeling
that duty meant sacrifice and that happiness meant sin in some more or
less insidious shape; a habit of thought in which she, like so many
more of us, had been educated until it had taken the likeness of a
natural instinct. "I don't think I am afraid. Religion, as you say,
is a living thing, independent of the creeds that it is dressed in.
And--and--you _must_ be a good man!"

"Don't begin by making that an article of faith," he returned promptly.
"To set up for being a good man is the last thing I would dream of.
Like other men, I am good as far as I was born and have been made so,
and neither more nor less. All I can take credit for on my own account
is that I try to live up to the light that has been given me."

"What can anyone do more?" she said, eagerly. "It is better than
believing at haphazard and not trying at all--which is what so many
good people are content with."

"It seems better to me," he said.

"I will trust you--I will trust you," she went on, leaning towards
him as he sat beside her. "You are doing more good in the world than
I had even thought of until I knew you. It is I who will not be up to
the mark--not you. But I will help you as much as you will let me--I
am going to give my life to helping you. And at least--at least--you
believe in God," she concluded, yearning for some tangible and definite
evidence of faith, as she had understood faith, wherewith to comfort
her conscientious soul. "We are together in _that_--the chief thing of
all--are we not?"

He was a scrupulously truthful man, and he hesitated for a moment.
"Yes, my dear," he said, gravely. "I believe in God--that is to say,
I _feel_ Him--I lean my littleness on a greatness that I know is all
around me and upholding me, which is Something that even God seems a
word too mean for. I think," he added, "that God, to me, is not what He
has been taught to seem to you."

"Never mind," she said, in a low voice, responding to the spirit rather
than the letter of his words. "Whatever you believe you are sure to
believe thoroughly, and if you believe in God, your God must be a true
God. I feel it, though I don't know it."

"You feel that things will all come right for us if we have faith in
our own hearts, and love and trust each other. So do I, Elizabeth."
There was nobody looking, and he put his arm round her shoulder for a
moment. "And we may consider our religious controversy closed then? We
need not trouble ourselves about that any more?"

"I would not say 'closed.' Don't you think we ought to talk of _all_
our thoughts--and especially those that trouble us--to each other?"

"I do--I do, indeed. And so we shall. Ours is going to be a real
marriage. We shall be, not two, but one. Only for the present we may
put this topic aside, as being no longer an obstruction in the way of
our arrangements, mayn't we?"

"Yes," she said. And the die was cast.

"Very well, then." He seemed to pull himself together at this point,
and into his fine frame and his vigorous face a new energy was infused,
the force of which seemed to be communicated to the air around her, and
made her heart beat more strongly to the quicker pulse of his. "Very
well, then. Now tell me, Elizabeth--without any formality, while you
and I are here together--when shall we be married?"

The question had a tone of masterful command about it, for, though
he knew how spontaneous and straightforward she was, her natural
delicacy unspoiled by artificial sentiment, he yet prepared himself
to encounter a certain amount of maidenly reluctance to meet a man's
reasonable views upon this matter. But she answered him without delay
or hesitation, impelled by the terrors that beset her and thinking of
Patty's awful warnings and prophesyings--"I will leave you to say when."

"Will you really? Do you mean you will _really?_" His deep-set eyes
glowed, and his voice had a thrilling tremor in it as he made this
incredulous inquiry. "Then I say we will be married soon--_very_
soon--so as not to lose a day more than we can help. Will you agree to
that?"

She looked a little frightened, but she stood her ground. "If you
wish," she whispered, all the tone shaken out of her voice.

"If _I_ wish!" A palpitating silence held them for a moment. Then "What
do you say to _to-morrow?_" he suggested.

She looked up at him, blushing violently.

"Ah, you are thinking how forward I am!" she exclaimed, drawing her
hand from his.

"Elizabeth," he remonstrated, with swift energy, "did I not ask
you, ever so long ago, not to be conventional? Why should I think
you forward? How can you be forward--with _me?_ You are the most
delicate-minded woman I ever knew, and I think you are showing yourself
so at this moment--when anything short of perfect truth and candour
would have disappointed me. Now, I am quite serious--will you marry
me to-morrow? There is no reason why you should not, that I can see.
Just think of it, calmly. Mrs. Duff-Scott gave her consent a fortnight
ago--yes, she gave it privately, to _me_; and Patty and Nelly, I know,
would be delighted. As for you and me, what have we--honestly, what
_have_ we--to wait for? Each of us is without any tie to be broken by
it. Those who look to us will all be better off. I want to get home
soon, and you have taken me, Elizabeth--it will be all the same in the
end--you know that no probation will prove us unfit or unwilling to
marry--the _raison d'être_ of an engagement does not exist for us. And
I am not young, my love, and life is short and uncertain; while you--"

"I am not young either," she interrupted. "I shall soon be thirty."

"Shall you? I am glad of it. Well, think of it then--_why_ should we
not do it, so exceptionally circumstanced as we are? We can take the
afternoon train to somewhere--say to Macedon, to live up there amongst
the mountains for a little while--till we decide what next to do, while
our sisters enjoy themselves with Mrs. Duff-Scott. I can make all
arrangements to-day, except for wedding cake and bridesmaids--and we
would rather be without them. Come here to-morrow morning, my darling,
as soon as the place is open, in that same pretty gown that you have
got on now; and we will take a cab and go and get married peaceably,
without all the town staring at us. I will see Mrs. Duff-Scott and make
it all right. She shall meet us at the church, with the girls, and the
major to give you away. Will you? Seriously, _will_ you?"

She was silent for some time, while he leaned forward and watched her
face. He saw, to his surprise, that she was actually thinking over
it, and he did not interrupt her. She was, indeed, possessed by the
idea that this wild project offered safety to them both in face of the
impending catastrophe. If she could not secure him in the possession of
his property before he was made aware that he had lost it, she might
anticipate his possible refusal to let her be his benefactor, and the
hindrances and difficulties that seemed likely to sunder them after
having come so near to each other. She lifted her eyes from the carpet
presently, and looked into his.

"Do you mean that you _will?_" he exclaimed, the fierceness of his
delight tempered by a still evident incredulity.

"I will," she said, "if--"

"Hush--hush! Don't let there be any ifs, Elizabeth!"

"Yes--listen. If Mrs. Duff-Scott will freely consent and approve--"

"You may consider _that_ settled, anyhow. I know she will."

"And if you will see Mr. Brion to-night--"

"Mr. Brion? What do we want with Mr. Brion? Settlements?"

"No. But he has something to tell you about me--about my
family--something that you _must_ know before we can be married."

"What is it? Can't _you_ tell me what it is?" He looked surprised and
uneasy. "Don't frighten me, Elizabeth--it is nothing to matter, is it?"

"I don't know. I hope not. I cannot tell you myself. He will explain
everything if you will see him this evening. He came back to Melbourne
with us, and he is waiting to see you."

"Tell me this much, at any rate," said Mr. Yelverton, anxiously; "it is
no just cause or impediment to our being married to-morrow, is it?"

"No. At least, I don't think so. I hope you won't."

"_I_ shan't if _you_ don't, you may depend upon that." He made up
his mind on the spot that there were some shady pages in her family
history that a sense of honour prompted her to reveal to him before
he married her, and congratulated himself that she was not like the
conventional heroine, who would have been too proud to make him happy
under such circumstances. "I am not afraid of Mr. Brion, if you are
not," he repeated. "And we will shunt him for the present, with your
permission. Somehow I can't bring myself to think of anybody just now
except you and me." The picture galleries were pretty full by this
time, and the public was invading the privacy of the German Court
rather freely. "Come and let us walk about a little," he said, rising
from the ottoman, "and enjoy the sensation of being alone in a crowd."
And they sauntered out into the corridor, and down the stairs, and up
and down the long nave, side by side--a distinguished and imposing if
not strictly handsome couple--passing shoals of people, and bowing now
and then to an acquaintance; mixing unsuspected with the common herd,
and hugging the delicious consciousness that in secret they were alone
and apart from everybody. They talked with more ease and freedom than
when _tête-à-tête_ on their settee upstairs.

"And so, by this time to-morrow, we shall be man and wife," Mr.
Yelverton said, musingly. "Doesn't your head swim a little when you
think of that, Elizabeth? _I_ feel as if I had been drinking, and I
am terribly afraid of finding myself sober presently. No, I am not
afraid," he continued, correcting himself. "You have given me your
promise, and you won't go back on it, as the Yankees say, will you?"

"If either of us goes back," said Elizabeth, unblushingly; "it won't be
me."

"You seem to think it possible that _I_ may go back? Don't you flatter
yourself, my young friend. When you come here to-morrow, as you will,
in that pretty cool gown--I stipulate for that gown remember--"

"Even if it is a cold day?--or pouring with rain?"

"Well, I don't know. Couldn't you put a warm jacket over it? When you
come here to-morrow, I say, you will find me waiting for you, the
embodiment of relentless fate, with the wedding ring in my pocket. By
the way--that reminds me--how am I to know the size of your finger? And
you have not got your engagement ring yet! I'll tell you what we'll do,
Elizabeth; we'll choose a ring out of the Exhibition, and we'll cheat
the customs for once. The small things are smuggled out of the place
all day long, and every day, as you may see by taking stock of the show
cases occasionally. We'll be smugglers too--it is in a good cause--and
I'll go so far as to use bribery and corruption, if necessary, to get
possession of that ring to-day. I'll say, 'Let me have it now, or I
won't have it at all,' and you will see they'll let me have it. I will
then put it on your finger, and you shall wear it for a little while,
and then I will borrow it to get the size of your wedding ring from it.
By-and-bye, you know, when we are at home at Yelverton--years hence,
when we are old people--"

"Oh, don't talk of our being old people!" she interrupted, quickly.

"No, I won't--it will be a long time yet, dear. By-and-bye, when we are
at home at Yelverton, you will look at your ring, and think of this
day, and of the German picture gallery--of the dear Exhibition which
brought us together, and where you gave yourself to me--long after I
had given myself to _you_, Elizabeth! It is most appropriate that your
engagement ring should be got here. Come along and let us choose it.
What stones do you like best?"

They spent nearly an hour amongst the jewellery of all nations before
Mr. Yelverton could decide on what he liked. At last he selected from
a medley of glittering trinkets a sober ring that did not glitter,
and yet was rare and valuable--a broad, plain band of gold set with
a lovely cameo carved out of an opal stone. "There is some little
originality about it," he said, as he tried it on her finger, which it
fitted perfectly, "and, though the intaglio looks so delicate, it will
stand wear and tear, and last for ever. That is the chief thing. Do you
like it? Or would you rather have diamonds?"

She had no words to say how much she liked it, and how much she
preferred it to diamonds. And so, after a few severe struggles, carried
on in a foreign tongue, he obtained immediate possession of his
purchase, and she carried it away on her finger.

"Now," said he, looking at his watch, "are you in any great hurry to
get home?"

She thought of her non-existent trousseau, and the packing of her
portmanteau for her wedding journey; nevertheless, she intimated her
willingness to stay a little while longer.

"Very well. We will go and have our lunch then. We'll join the _table
d'hôte_ of the Exhibition, Elizabeth--that will give us a foretaste
of our Continental travels. To-morrow we shall have lunch--where? At
Mrs. Duff-Scott's, I suppose--it would be too hard upon her to leave
her literally at the church door. Yes, we shall have lunch at Mrs.
Duff-Scott's, and I suppose the major will insist our drinking our
healths in champagne, and making us a pretty speech. Never mind, we
will have our dinner in peace. To-morrow evening we shall be at home,
Elizabeth, and you and I will dine _tête-à-tête_, without even a single
parlourmaid to stand behind our chairs. I don't quite know yet where
I shall discover those blessed four walls that we shall dine in, nor
what sort of dinner it will be--but I will find out before I sleep
to-night."



CHAPTER XL.


MRS. DUFF-SCOTT HAS TO BE RECKONED WITH.


Prosaic as were their surroundings and their occupation--sitting at
a long table, he at the end and she at the corner on his left hand,
amongst a scattered crowd of hungry folk, in the refreshment room of
the Exhibition, eating sweetbreads and drinking champagne and soda
water--it was like a dream to Elizabeth, this foretaste of Continental
travels. In the background of her consciousness she had a sense of
having acted madly, if not absurdly, in committing herself to the
programme that her audacious lover had drawn out; but the thoughts and
fancies floating on the surface of her mind were too absorbing for the
present to leave room for serious reflections. Dreaming as she was,
she not only enjoyed the homely charm of sitting at meat with him in
this informal, independent manner, but she enjoyed her lunch as well,
after her rather exhausting emotions. It is commonly supposed, I know,
that overpowering happiness takes away the appetite; but experience has
taught me that it is not invariably the case. The misery of suspense
and dread can make you sicken at the sight of food, but the bliss of
rest and security in having got what you want has an invigorating
effect, physically as well as spiritually, if you are a healthy person.
So I say that Elizabeth was unsentimentally hungry, and enjoyed her
sweetbreads. They chatted happily over their meal, like truant children
playing on the edge of a precipice. Mr. Yelverton had the lion's share
in the conversation, and talked with distracting persistence of the
journey to-morrow, and the lighter features of the stupendous scheme
that they had so abruptly adopted. Elizabeth smiled and blushed and
listened, venturing occasionally upon a gentle repartee. Presently,
however, she started a topic on her own account "Tell me," she said,
"do you object to first cousins marrying?"

"Dear child, I don't object to anything to-day," he replied. "As long
as I am allowed to marry you, I am quite willing to let other men
please themselves."

"But tell me seriously--do you?"

"Must I be serious? Well, let me think. No, I don't know that I
object--there is so very little that I object to, you see, in the way
of things that people want to do--but I think, perhaps, that, all
things being equal, a man would not _choose_ to marry so near a blood
relation."

"You _do_ think it wrong, then?"

"I think it not only wrong but utterly preposterous and indefensible,"
he said, "that it should be lawful and virtuous for a man to marry his
first cousin and wicked and indecent to marry his sister-in-law--or
his aunt-in-law for the matter of that--or any other free woman who
has no connection with him except through other people's marriages.
If a legal restriction in such matters can ever be necessary or
justifiable, it should be in the way of preventing the union of people
of the same blood. Sense and the laws of physiology have something to
say to _that_--they have nothing whatever to say to the relations that
are of no kin to each other. Them's my sentiments, Miss King, if you
particularly wish to know them."

Elizabeth put her knife and fork together on her plate softly. It was a
gesture of elaborate caution, meant to cover her conscious agitation.
"Then you would not--if it were your own case--marry your cousin?" she
asked, after a pause, in a very small and gentle voice. He was studying
the _menu_ on her behalf, and wondering if the strawberries and cream
would be fresh. Consequently he did not notice how pale she had grown,
all of a sudden.

"Well," he said, "you see I have no cousin, to begin with. And if I had
I could not possibly want to marry her, since I am going to marry you
to-morrow, and a man is only allowed to have one wife at a time. So my
own case doesn't come in."

"But if _I_ had been your cousin?" she urged, breathlessly, but with
her eyes on her plate. "Supposing, for the sake of argument, that _I_
had been of your blood--would you still have had me?"

"Ah!" he said, laughing, "that is, indeed, a home question."

"_Would_ you?" she persisted.

"Would I?" he echoed, putting a hand under the table to touch hers. "I
really think I would, Elizabeth. I'm afraid that nothing short of your
having been my own full sister could have saved you."

After that she regained her colour and brightness, and was able to
enjoy the early strawberries and cream--which did happen to be fresh.

They did not hurry themselves over their lunch, and when they left the
refreshment-room they went and sat down on two chairs by the Brinsmead
pianos and listened to a little music (in that worst place that ever
was for hearing it). Then Mr. Yelverton took his _fiancée_ to get a cup
of Indian tea. Then he looked at his watch gravely.

"Do you know," he said, "I really have an immense deal of business to
get through before night if we are to be married to-morrow morning."

"There is no reason why we should be married to-morrow morning," was
her immediate comment "Indeed--indeed, it is far too soon."

"It may be soon, Elizabeth, but I deny that it is too soon, reluctant
as I am to contradict you. And, whether or no, the date is fixed,
_irrevocably_. We have only to consider"--he broke off, and consulted
his watch again, thinking of railway and telegraph arrangements. "Am I
obliged to see Mr. Brion to-day?" he asked, abruptly. "Can't I put him
off till another time? Because, you know, he may say just whatever he
likes, and it won't make the smallest particle of difference."

"Oh," she replied earnestly, "you _must_ see him. I can't marry
you till he has told you everything. I wish I could!" she added,
impulsively.

"Well, if I must I must--though I know it doesn't matter the least bit.
Will he keep me long, do you suppose?"

"I think, very likely, he will."

"Then, my darling, we must go. Give me your ring--you shall have it
back to-night. Go and pack your portmanteau this afternoon, so that you
have a little spare time for Mrs. Duff-Scott. She will be sure to want
you in the evening. You need not take much, you know--just enough for a
week or two. She will be only too delighted to look after your clothes
while you are away, and"--with a smile--"we'll buy the trousseau in
Paris on our way home. I am credibly informed that Paris is the proper
place to go to for the trousseau of a lady of quality."

"Trousseaus are nonsense," said Elizabeth, who perfectly understood
his motives for this proposition, "in these days of rapidly changing
fashions, unless the bride cannot trust her husband to give her enough
pocket money."

"Precisely. That is just what I think. And I don't want to be deprived
of the pleasure of dressing you. But for a week or two, Elizabeth, we
are going out of the world just as far as we can get, where you won't
want much dressing. Take only what is necessary for comfort, dear,
enough for a fortnight--or say three weeks. That will do. And tell me
where I shall find Mr. Brion."

They were passing out of the Exhibition building--passing that noble
group of listening hounds and huntsman that stood between the front
entrance and the gate--and Elizabeth was wondering how she should
find Mr. Brion at once and make sure of that evening interview, when
she caught sight of the old lawyer himself coming into the flowery
enclosure from the street. "Why, there he is!" she exclaimed. "And my
sisters are with him."

"We are taking him out for an airing," exclaimed Eleanor, who was
glorious in her Cup-day costume, and evidently in an effervescence of
good spirits, when she recognised the engaged pair. "Mr. Paul was too
busy to attend to him, and he had nobody but us, poor man! So we are
going to show him round. Would you believe that he has never seen the
Exhibition, Elizabeth?"

They had scarcely exchanged greetings with each other when, out of an
open carriage at the gate, stepped Mrs. Duff-Scott, on her way to that
extensive kettle-drum which was held in the Exhibition at this hour.
When she saw her girls, their festive raiment, and their cavaliers, the
fairy godmother's face was a study.

"What!" she exclaimed, with heart-rending reproach, "you are back in
Melbourne! You are walking about with--with your friends"--hooking on
her eye-glass the better to wither poor Mr. Brion, who wasted upon her
a bow that would have done credit to Lord Chesterfield--"and _I_ am not
told!"

Patty came forward, radiant with suppressed excitement. "She must be
told," exclaimed the girl, breathlessly. "Elizabeth, we are all here
now. And it is Mrs. Duff-Scott's _right_ to know what we know. And Mr.
Yelverton's too."

"You may tell them now," said Elizabeth, who was as white as the muslin
round her chin. "Take them all to Mrs. Duff-Scott's house, and explain
everything, and get it over--while I go home."



CHAPTER XLI.


MR. YELVERTON STATES HIS INTENTIONS.


"I don't think you know Mr. Brion," said Mr. Yelverton, first lifting
his hat and shaking hands with Mrs. Duff-Scott, and then, with an airy
and audacious cheerfulness, introducing the old man (whose name and
association with her _protégées_ she immediately recalled to mind);
"Mr. Brion--Mrs. Duff-Scott."

The fairy godmother bowed frigidly, nearly shutting her eyes as she
did so, and for a moment the little group kept an embarrassed silence,
while a sort of electric current of intelligence passed between Patty
and her new-found cousin. Mr. Yelverton was, as we say, not the same
man that he had been a few hours before. Quiet in his manner, as he
ever was, there was yet an aspect of glowing energy about him, an air
of being at high pressure, that did not escape the immediate notice of
the girl's vigilant and sympathetic eyes. I have described him very
badly if I have not made the reader understand the virile breadth and
strength of his emotional nature, and how it would be affected by his
present situation. The hot blue blood and superfine culture of that
ardent young aristocrat who became his father at such an early age,
and the wholesome physical and moral solidity of the farmer's fair and
rustic daughter who was his mother, were blended together in him; with
the result that he was a man at all points, having all the strongest
human instincts alive and active in him. He was not the orthodox
philanthropist, the half-feminine, half-neuter specialist with a hobby,
the foot-rule reformer, the prig with a mission to set the world
right; his benevolence was simply the natural expression of a sense of
sympathy and brotherhood between him and his fellows, and the spirit
which produced that was not limited in any direction. From the same
source came a passionately quick and keen apprehension of the nature of
the closest bond of all, not given to the selfish and narrow-hearted.
Amongst his abstract brothers and sisters he had been looking always
for his own concrete mate, and having found her and secured her, he was
as a king newly anointed, whose crown had just been set upon his head.

"Will you come?" said Patty to him, trying not to look too conscious
of the change she saw in him. "It is time to have done with all our
secrets now."

"I agree with you," he replied. "And I will come with pleasure." Mrs.
Duff-Scott was accordingly made to understand, with some difficulty,
that the mystery which puzzled her had a deep significance, and that
she was desired to take steps at once whereby she might be made
acquainted with it. Much bewildered, but without relaxing her offended
air--for she conceived that no explanation would make any difference in
the central fact that Mr. Yelverton and Mr. Brion had taken precedence
of her in the confidence of her own adopted daughters--she returned to
her carriage, all the little party following meekly at her heels. The
girls were put in first--even Elizabeth, who, insisting upon detaching
herself from the assembling council, had to submit to be conveyed to
Myrtle Street; and the two men, lifting their hats to the departing
vehicle, were left on the footpath together. The lawyer was very grave,
and slightly nervous and embarrassed. To his companion he had all the
air of a man with a necessary but disagreeable duty to perform.

"What is all this about?" Mr. Yelverton demanded with a little anxious
irritation in his tone. "Nothing of any great consequence, is it?"

"I--I'm afraid you will think it rather a serious matter," the lawyer
replied, with hesitation. "Still," he added, earnestly, "if you
are their friend, as I believe you are--knowing that they have no
responsibility in the matter--you will not let it make any difference
in your feeling for them--"

"There is not the _faintest_ danger of that," Mr. Yelverton promptly
and haughtily interposed.

"I am sure of it--I am sure of it. Well, you shall know all in half
an hour. If you will kindly find Major Duff-Scott--he has constituted
himself their guardian, in a way, and ought to be present--I will just
run round to my lodgings in Myrtle Street."

"Are you going to fetch your son?" asked Mr. Yelverton, quickly. "Don't
you think that, under the circumstances--supposing matters have to be
talked of that will be painful to the Miss Kings--the fewer present the
better?"

"Certainly. I am not going to fetch my son, who, by the way, already
knows all there is to know, but some documents relating to the affair,
which he keeps in his strong-box for safety. Major Duff-Scott is the
only person whose presence we require, since--"

"Since what?"

Mr. Brion was going to say, "Since your solicitors are not at hand,"
but checked himself. "Never mind," he said, "never mind. I cannot say
any more now."

"All right. I'll go and find the major. Thank Heaven, he's no gossip,
and I think he is too real a friend of the Miss Kings to care what he
hears any more than I do." But Mr. Yelverton got anxious about this
point after it occurred to him, and went off thoughtfully to the club,
congratulating himself that, thanks to his sweetheart's reasonableness,
he was in a position which gave him the privilege of protecting them
should the issue of this mysterious business leave them in need of
protection.

At the club he found the major, talking desultory politics with other
ex-guardians of the State now shelved in luxurious irresponsibility
with him; and the little man was quite ready to obey his friend's
summons to attend the family council.

"The Miss Kings are back," said Mr. Yelverton, "and old Brion, the
lawyer, is with them, and there are some important matters to be talked
over this afternoon, and you must come and hear."

The major said that he was at the Miss Kings' service, and got his
hat. He asked no questions as he passed through the lobby and down
the steps to Mr. Yelverton's cab, which waited in the street. In his
own mind he concluded that Elizabeth's engagement had "come off," and
this legal consultation had some more or less direct reference to
settlements, and the relations of the bride-elect's sisters to her
new lot in life. What chiefly occupied his thoughts was the fear that
he was going to be asked to give up Patty and Eleanor, and all the
way from the club to his house he was wondering how far his and his
wife's rights in them extended, and how far his energetic better half
might be relied upon to defend and maintain them. At the house they
found that Mr. Brion had already arrived, and that Mrs. Duff-Scott was
assembling her party in the library, as being an appropriate place for
the discussion of business in which men were so largely concerned. It
was a spacious, pleasant room; the books ranging all round from the
floor to about a third of the way up the wall, like a big dado; the top
shelf supporting bric-à-brac of a stately and substantial order, and
the deep red walls, which had a Pompeian frieze that was one of the
artistic features of the house, bearing those pictures in oils which
were the major's special pride as a connoisseur and man of family, and
which held their permanent place of honour irrespective of the waves of
fashion that ebbed and flowed around them. There was a Turkey carpet
on the polished floor, and soft, thick oriental stuffs on the chairs
and sofas and in the drapery of the wide bow-window--stuffs of dim but
richly-coloured silk and wool, with tints of gold thread where the
light fell. There was a many-drawered and amply-furnished writing table
in that bow-window, the most comfortable and handy elbow tables by the
hearth, and another and substantial one for general use in the centre
of the floor. And altogether it was a pleasant place both to use and to
look at, and was particularly pleasant in its shadowed coolness this
summer afternoon. At the centre table sat the lady of the house, with
an air of reproachful patience, talking surface talk with the girls
about their country trip. Eleanor stood near her, looking very charming
in her pale blue gown, with her flushed cheeks, and brightened eyes.
Patty supported Mr. Brion, who was not quite at home in this strange
atmosphere, and she watched the door with a face of radiant excitement.

"Where is Elizabeth?" asked the major, having hospitably shaken hands
with the lawyer, whom he had never seen before.

"Elizabeth," said Mr. Yelverton, using the name familiarly, as if he
had never called her by any other, "is not coming."

"Oh, indeed. Well, I suppose we are to go on without her, eh?"

"Yes, I suppose so." They were all seating themselves at the table,
and as he took a chair by Patty's side he looked round and caught a
significant glance passing between the major and his wife. "It is not
of _my_ convening, this meeting," he explained; "whatever business is
on hand, I know nothing of it at present."

"_Don't_ you?" cried his hostess, opening her eyes.

The major smiled; he, too, was thrown off the scent and puzzled, but
did not show it as she did.

"No," said Mr. Brion, clearing his throat and putting his hand into his
breast pocket to take out his papers, "what Mr. Yelverton says is true.
He knows nothing of it at present. I am very sorry, for his sake, that
it is so. I may say I am very sorry for everybody's sake, for it is a
very painful thing to--"

Here Mr. Yelverton rose to his feet abruptly, nipping the exordium in
the bud. "Allow me one moment," he said with some peremptoriness. "I
don't know what Mr. Brion means by saying he is sorry for _my_ sake. I
don't know whether he alludes to a--a special attachment on my part,
but I cannot conceive how any revelation he may make can affect me. As
far as I am concerned--"

"My dear sir," interrupted the lawyer in his turn, "if you will wait
until I have made my explanation, you will understand what I mean."

"Sit down," said Patty, putting a hand on his arm. "You have no idea
what he is going to say. Sit down and listen."

"I do not want to listen, dear," he said, giving her a quick look. "It
cannot be anything painful to me unless it is painful to you, and if it
is painful to you I would rather not hear it."

The major was watching them all, and ruminating on the situation.
"Wait a bit, Yelverton," he said in his soft voice. "If it's their
doing there's some good reason for it. Just hear what it is that Mr.
Brion has to say. I see he has got some legal papers. We must pay
attention to legal papers, you know."

"Oh, for goodness sake, go on!" cried Mrs. Duff-Scott, whose nerves
were chafed by this delay. "If anything is the matter, let us know the
worst at once."

"Very well. Mr. Brion shall go on. But before he does so," said Mr.
Yelverton, still standing, leaning on the table, and looking round
on the little group with glowing eyes, "I will ask leave to make a
statement. I am so happy--Mrs. Duff-Scott would have known it in an
hour or two--I am so happy as to be Miss King's promised husband, and I
hope to be her husband actually by this time to-morrow." Patty gave a
little hysterical cry, and snatched at her handkerchief, in which her
face was immediately buried. Mrs. Duff-Scott leaned back in her chair
with a stoical composure, as if inured to thunderbolts, and waited for
what would happen next. "I know it is very short notice," he went on,
looking at the elder lady with a half-tender, half-defiant smile, "but
my available time here is limited, and Elizabeth and I did not begin to
care for each other yesterday. I persuaded her this morning to consent
to an early and quiet marriage, for various reasons that I do not need
to enter into now; and she has given her consent--provided only that
Mrs. Duff-Scott has no objection."

"But I have the greatest objection," said that lady, emphatically.
"Not to your marrying Elizabeth--you know I am quite agreeable to
_that_--but to your doing it in such an unreasonable way. To-morrow!
you must be joking. It is preposterous, on the face of it."

"You are thinking of clothes, of course."

"No, I am not thinking of clothes. I am thinking of what people will
say. You can have no idea of the extraordinary tales that will get
about. I must consider Elizabeth."

"_I_ consider Elizabeth," he said. "And before Mr. Brion makes his
communication, whatever it may be, I should like to have it settled and
understood that the arrangements she and I have made will be permitted
to stand." He paused, and stood looking at Mrs. Duff-Scott, with an air
that impressed her with the hopelessness of attempting to oppose such a
man as that.

"I don't know what to say," she said. "We will talk it over presently."

"No, I want it settled now. Elizabeth will do whatever you desire, but
I want her to please me." The major chuckled, and, hearing him, Mr.
Yelverton laughed for a moment, and then bent his emphatic eyes upon
the old man sitting silent before his unopened papers. "I want you and
everybody to understand that whatever is to be said concerns my wife
and sisters, Mr. Brion."

"Very good, sir," said Mr. Brion. "I am delighted to hear it. At the
same time I would suggest that it might be wiser not to hurry things
quite so much."

At this point Patty, who had been laughing and crying in her
handkerchief, and clinging to Eleanor, who had come round the table
and was hanging over her, suddenly broke into the discussion. "Oh, let
them, let them, let them!" she exclaimed eagerly, to the bewilderment
of the uninitiated, who were quite sure that some social disability
was about to be attached to the bride elect, from which her lover
was striving to rescue her. "Do let them be married to-morrow, dear
Mrs. Duff-Scott, if Mr. Yelverton wishes it. Elizabeth knows why she
consents--I know, too--so does Nelly. Give them your permission now, as
he says, before Mr. Brion goes on--how can anyone say anything against
it if _you_ approve? Let it be all settled now--absolutely settled--so
that no one can undo it afterwards." She turned and looked at the
major with such a peculiar light and earnestness in her face that
the little man, utterly adrift himself, determined at once to anchor
himself to her. "Look here," he said, in his gentle way, but with no
sign of indecision, "I am the head of the house, and if anybody has any
authority over Elizabeth here, it is I. Forgive me, my dear"--to his
wife at the other end of the table--"if I seem to take too much upon
myself, but it appears to me that I ought to act in this emergency. Mr.
Yelverton, we have every reason to trust your motives and conduct, and
Elizabeth's also; and she is her own mistress in every way. So you may
tell her from my wife and me that we hope she will do whatever seems
right to herself, and that what makes her happy will make us so."

Mrs. Duff-Scott got up from her chair proudly, as if to leave the room
where this outrage had been put upon her; but she sat down again and
wept a few tears instead. At the unwonted sight of which Patty flew
round to her and took her majestic head into her young arms. "Ah! how
ungrateful we _seem_ to hurt and vex you," she murmured, in the tone of
a mother talking to a suffering child, "but you don't know how it is
all going to turn out. If you give them your consent now, you will see
how glad you will be in a little while."

"It doesn't seem that anybody cares much whether I give my consent or
not," said Mrs. Duff-Scott. But she wiped away her tears, kissed her
consoler, and made an effort to be cheerful and business-like. "There,
there--we have wasted enough time," she said, brusquely. "Go on, Mr.
Brion, or we shall have dinner time here before we begin."

"Shall I go on?" asked Mr. Brion, looking round.

Mr. Yelverton, who was very grave, nodded.

And Mr. Brion went on.



CHAPTER XLII.


HER LORD AND MASTER.


It was not much after three o'clock when Elizabeth walked slowly
upstairs to her room, bearing single-handed her own responsibilities.
Now that she was alone and undisturbed, she began to realise how
great they were. She sat down on her little bed to think what she was
doing--to look back upon the past, and forward into the future--until
her head spun round. When she could think no more, she slid down
upon her knees and prayed a fervent, wordless prayer--rested her
over-weighted soul on the pillars of the universe, which bore up the
strange little world in which she was but an infinitesimal atom--and,
feeling that there was a strong foundation somewhere, and perhaps
even feeling dimly that she had touched her point of contact with it
only just now when she touched her true love's lips, she felt less
intolerably burdened with the charge of herself. She rose up with her
nerves steadied and her brain composed. What was done was done, and
it had been done for the best. "We can but do our best, and leave
it," he had said; and, thinking of his words, a sense of his robust
faith, which she did not call faith, permeated her unsettled mind
and comforted her with the feeling that she would have support and
strength in him. She could not repent. She could not wish anything to
be altered. She loved him and needed him; and he loved and needed her,
and had a right to her. Yes, he had a right to her, independently of
that fortune which was hers and which she dared not take away from him
while he was using it so much better than she could, he was her mate
and lord, and she belonged to him. What reason was there against her
marrying him? Only one; Mrs. Duff-Scott's reason, which even she had
abandoned, apparently--one obligation of duty, which conscience, left
to its own delicate sense of good and evil, refused to insist upon as
such. And what reason was there against marrying him to-morrow, if he
desired it, and by doing which, while they would be made so happy, no
one else could be made unhappy? She was unlearned in the social views
and customs concerning such matters, and said in her simple heart there
was no reason whatever--none, none.

So she set to work on her preparations, her eyes shining and her hands
trembling with the overwhelming bliss of her anticipations, which
awed and dazzled her; beset at intervals with chill misgivings, and
thrills of panic, dread and fear, as to what effect upon her blessed
fortune that afternoon's work at Mrs. Duff-Scott's house might have.
She took off her pretty gown, which he had sanctified by his approval,
and laid it tenderly on the bed; put on a loose wrapper, pulled out
drawers and opened cupboards, and proceeded to pack her portmanteau
for that wedding journey which she still could not believe was to be
taken to-morrow. If such a sudden demand upon the resources of her
wardrobe had been made a few months ago, she would have been greatly
perplexed to meet it. Now she had, not only a commodious portmanteau
(procured for their country visit), but drawers full of fine linen,
piles of handkerchiefs, boxes of gloves, everything that she could need
for an indefinite sojourn either in the world or out of it. When Mrs.
Duff-Scott had gained their consent to be allowed to become a mother
to them, she had lost no time in fitting them all out as became her
adopted daughters, in defiance of any scruples or protests that they
might make. Elizabeth's trousseau, it seemed to her, as she filled one
side of the portmanteau with dainty underclothes delicately stitched
and embroidered and frilled with lace, had been already provided for
her, and while her heart went out in gratitude to her munificent
friend, she could not help feeling that one of the dearest privileges
of being rich was to have the power to acknowledge that munificence
suitably. Only that very day, for the first time, she had seen an
indication that tended to confirm her and Patty's instinctive sense
that they had made a mistake in permitting themselves to accept so
many favours. Eleanor, feeling herself already rich and the potential
possessor of unlimited fine clothes, had put on her Cup dress and
bonnet to walk out with Mr. Brion; and Mrs. Duff-Scott, when she
met her in the Exhibition grounds, and while thrown for a moment off
her usual even balance, had looked at the girl with a disapproving
eye, which plainly accused her of extravagance--in other words, of
wasting her (Mrs. Duff-Scott's) substance in riotous living. That
little incident, so slight and momentary as it was, would have been
as terrible a blow to them as was Paul Brion's refusal of their
invitation to tea, had it not been that they were no longer poor, but
in a position to discharge their obligations. She thought how Mrs.
Duff-Scott would come to Yelverton by-and-bye, and to the London house,
and how she (Elizabeth) would lavish the best of everything upon her.
It was a delightful thought.

While she was building air castles, she sorted and folded her clothes
methodically, and with motherly care turned over those belonging to
her sisters, to see that they were well provided for and in need
of nothing for the time of her brief absence. While investigating
Patty's wardrobe, she thought much of her dear companion and that
next-door neighbour, still in their unreconciled trouble, and still
so far from the safe haven to which she was drawing nigh; and she was
not too selfish in her own happiness to be unable to concern herself
anxiously about theirs. Well, even this was to be set right now. She
and Kingscote, with their mutually augmented wisdom and power, would
be able to settle that matter, one way or another, when they returned
from their wedding journey. Kingscote, who was never daunted by any
difficulties, would find a way to solve this one, and to do what
was best for Patty. Then it occurred to her that if Patty and Paul
were married, Paul might want to keep his wife in Australia, and the
sisters, who had never been away from each other, might be doomed
to live apart. But she persuaded herself that this also would be
prevented, and that Paul, stiff-necked as he was, would not let Patty
be unhappy, as she certainly would be if separated by the width of the
world from herself--not if Kingscote were at hand, to point it out
to him in his authoritative and convincing manner. As for Nelly, she
was to comfort Mrs. Duff-Scott for awhile, and then she was to come,
bringing the fairy godmother with her, to Yelverton, to live under her
brother-cousin's protection until she, too, was married--to someone
better, far better, than Mr. Westmoreland. Perhaps the Duff-Scotts
themselves would be tempted (by the charms of West-End and Whitechapel
society, respectively) to settle in England too. In which case there
would be nothing left to wish for.

At five o'clock she had finished her packing, put on her dress--not
the wedding dress, which was laid smoothly on a cupboard shelf--and
sat down by the sitting-room window to wait for her sisters, or for
somebody, to come to her. This half-hour of unoccupied suspense was
a very trying time; all her tremulous elation died down, all her
blissful anticipations became overcast with chill forebodings, as
a sunny sky with creeping clouds, while she bent strained eyes and
ears upon the street, watching for the news that did not come. In
uncontrollable excitement and restlessness, she abandoned her post
towards six o'clock, and set herself to prepare tea in the expectation
of her sisters' return. She spread the cloth and set out the cups and
saucers, the bread and butter, the modest tin of sardines. As the warm
day was manifestly about to close with a keen south wind, she thought
she would light a fire in the sitting-room and make some toast. It
was better to have something to do to distract her from her fierce
anxieties, and, moreover, she wished the little home nest to be as cosy
and comfortable as possible to-night, which might be the last night
that the sisters would be there together--the closing scene of their
independent life. So she turned up her cuffs, put on gloves and apron,
and fetched wood and coals from their small store in the back-yard;
and then she laid and lit a fire, blew it into as cheerful a blaze as
the unsatisfactory nature of city fuel and a city grate permitted,
and, having shaken down her neat dress and washed her hands, proceeded
to make the toast. She was at this work, kneeling on the hearthrug,
and staring intently into the fire over a newly-cut slice of bread
that she had just put upon the fork, when she heard a sound that made
her heart stand still. It was the sound of a cab rattling into the
street and bumping against the kerb at her own gate. Springing to her
feet and listening breathlessly, she heard the gate open to a quiet,
strong hand that belonged to neither of her sisters, and a solid tread
on the flags that paved a footpath through the little garden to the
door. At the door a quick rapping, at once light and powerful, brought
the servant from her underground kitchen, and a sonorous, low voice
spoke in the hall and echoed up the stairs--the well-known voice of
Kingscote Yelverton. Kingscote Yelverton, unaccompanied by anybody
else--paying his first visit to this virgin retreat, where, as he knew
very well, his sweetheart at this moment was alone, and where, as he
also knew, the unchaperoned male had no business to be. Evidently his
presence announced a crisis that transcended all the circumstances and
conventionalities of every-day life.

He walked upstairs to her sitting-room, and rapped at the door. She
could not tell him to come in, for her heart seemed to be beating in
her throat, and she felt too suffocated to speak; she stumbled across
to the door, and, opening it, looked at him dumbly, with a face as
white as the white frills of her gown. He, for his part, neither spoke
to her nor kissed her; his whole aspect indicated strong emotion,
but he was so portentously grave, and almost stern, that her heart,
which had fluttered so wildly at the sight of him, collapsed and sank.
Taking her hand gently, he shut the door, led her across the room to
the hearthrug, and stood, her embodied fate, before her. She was so
overwhelmed with fear of what he might be going to say that she turned
and hid her face in her hands against the edge of the mantelpiece, that
she might brace herself to bear it without showing him how stricken she
was.

"Well," he said, after a little pause, "I have been having a great
surprise, Elizabeth. I little thought what you were letting me in for
when you arranged that interview with Mr. Brion. I never was so utterly
out of my reckoning as I have found myself to-day."

She did not speak, but waited in breathless anguish for the sentence
that she foreboded was to be passed upon her--condemning her to keep
that miserable money in exchange for him.

"I know all about the great discovery now," he went on. "I have read
all the papers. I can testify that they are perfectly genuine. I have
seen the marriage register that that one was copied from--I can verify
all those dates, and names, and places--there is not a flaw anywhere
in Mr. Brion's case. You are really my cousins, and you--_you_,
Elizabeth--are the head of the family now. There was no entail--it was
cut off before my uncle Patrick's time, and he died before he made a
will: so everything is yours." After a pause, he added, brokenly, "I
wish you joy, my dear. I should be a hypocrite if I said I was glad,
but--but I wish you joy all the same."

She gave a short, dry sob, keeping her face hidden; evidently, even to
him, she was not having much joy in her good fortune just now. He moved
closer to her, and laid his hand on her shoulder.

"I have come now to fetch you," he said, in a low, grave tone, that was
still unsteady. "Mrs. Duff-Scott wanted to come herself, but I asked
her to let me come alone, because I have something to say to you that
is only between ourselves."

Then her nervous terrors found voice. "Oh, tell me what it is!" she
cried, trembling like a leaf. "Don't keep me in suspense. If you have
anything cruel to say, say it quickly."

"Anything cruel?" he repeated. "I don't think you are really afraid
of that--from me. No, I haven't anything cruel to say--only a simple
question to ask--which you will have to answer me honestly, Elizabeth."

She waited in silence, and he went on. "Didn't you tell
me"--emphasising each word heavily--"that you had been induced by
something outside yourself to decide in my favour?"

"Not altogether induced," she protested; "helped perhaps."

"Helped, then--influenced--by outside considerations?"

"Yes," she assented, with heroic truthfulness.

"You were alluding to this discovery, of course?"

"Yes."

"And you have consented to marry me in order that I may not be deprived
of my property?" She did not speak immediately, from purely physical
incapacity, and he went on with a hardening voice. "I will not be
married on those grounds, Elizabeth. You must have _known_ that I would
not."

For a moment she stood with her face hidden, struggling with a rising
tide of tears that, when these terrible words were spoken, would not
be kept in check; then she lifted her head, and flung out her arms,
and clasped him round his great shoulders. (It is not, I own, what a
heroine should have done, whose duty was to carry a difficulty of this
sort through half a volume at least, but I am nevertheless convinced
that my real Elizabeth did it, though I was not there to see--standing,
as she did, within a few inches of her lover, and with nothing to
prevent their coming to a reasonable understanding.) "Oh," she cried,
between her long-drawn sobs, "_don't_ cast me off because of that
horrid money! I could not bear it _now!_"

"What!" he responded, stooping over her and holding her to his breast,
speaking in a voice as shaken as her own, "is it really so? Is it for
love of me only, my darling, my darling?"--pouring his long pent-up
passion over her with a force that seemed to carry her off her feet and
make the room spin round. "Would you have me if there was no property
in the question, simply because you feel, as I do, that we could not do
without each other? Then we will be married to-morrow, Elizabeth, and
all the world shall be welcome to brand me a schemer and fortune-hunter
if it likes."

She got her breath in a few seconds, and recovered sufficient
consciousness to grasp the vanishing tail of those last words.

"A fortune-hunter! Oh, how _preposterous!_ A fortune-hunter!"

"That is what I shall seem," he insisted, with a smile, "to that worthy
public for whose opinion some people care so much."

"But you don't care?"

"No; I don't care."

She considered a moment, with her tall head at rest on his tall
shoulder; then new lights dawned on her. "But I must care for you," she
said, straightening herself. "I must not allow anything so unjust--so
outrageous--to be said of you--of _you_, and through my fault. Look
here"--very seriously--"let us put off our marriage for a while--for
just so long as may enable me to show the world, as I very easily can,
that it is _I_ who am seeking _you_--"

"Like a queen selecting her prince consort?"

"No, like Esther--seeking favour of her king. I would not be too proud
to run after you--" She broke off, with a hysterical laugh, as she
realised the nature of her proposal.

"Ah, my darling, that would be very sweet," said he, drowning her
once more in ineffable caresses, "but to be married to-morrow will
be sweeter still. No, we won't wait--I _can't_--unless there is an
absolute necessity for it. That game would certainly not be worth the
candle. What is the world to me if I have got you? I said we would be
married to-morrow; I told Mrs. Duff-Scott so, and got her consent--not
without some difficulty, I must own--before Mr. Brion opened his
budget. I would not hear what he had to say--little thinking what it
was I was going to hear!--until I had announced my intentions and the
date of our wedding. Think of my cheek! Conceive of such unparalleled
impudence! But now that everything is square between us, that date
shall be kept--it shall be faithfully kept. Come, then, I must take you
away. Have you done your packing? Mrs. Duff-Scott says we are to bring
that portmanteau with us, that she may see for herself if you have
furnished it properly. And you are not to come back here--you are not
to come to me to the Exhibition to-morrow. She was terribly scandalised
at that item in our programme."

"In yours," said Elizabeth, ungenerously.

"In mine. I accept it cheerfully. So she is going to take charge of you
from this hour until you are Mrs. Yelverton, and in my sole care for
the rest of your life--or mine. Poor woman, she is greatly cut up by
the loss of that grand wedding that she would have had if we had let
her."

"I am sure she must be cut up," said Elizabeth, whose face was suffused
with blushes, and whose eyes looked troubled. "She must be shocked and
vexed at such--such precipitancy. It really does not seem decorous,"
she confessed, with tardy scrupulousness; "do you think it does?"

"Oh, yes, I think it is quite decorous. It may not be conventional, but
that is quite another thing."

"It is like a clandestine marriage--almost like an elopement. It _must_
vex her to see me acting so--so--"

"So what? No, I don't think it does. She _was_ a little vexed at first,
but she has got over it. In her heart of hearts I believe she would be
disappointed now if we didn't do it. She likes a little bit of innocent
unconventionalism as well as anybody, and the romance of the whole
thing has taken hold of her. Besides," added Mr. Yelverton, "you know
she intended us for each other, sooner or later."

"You have said as much before, but _I_ don't know anything about it,"
laughed Elizabeth.

"Yes, she told me I might have you--weeks ago."

"She was very generous."

"She was. She was more generous than she knew. Well"--catching himself
up suddenly--"we really must go to her now, Elizabeth. I told her I
would only come in here, where I have no business to be to-day, for
half a minute, and I have stayed more than half an hour. It is nearly
dinner time, and I have a great deal to do this evening. I have more to
do even than I bargained for."

"Why more?" she asked, apprehensively.

"I am going to have some papers prepared by Mr. Brion and the major's
lawyers, which you will have to sign before you surrender your
independence to-morrow."

"I won't sign anything," said Elizabeth.

"Oh, won't you! We'll see about that."

"I know what it means. You will make me sign away your freedom to use
that money as your own--and I won't do it."

"We'll see," he repeated, smiling with an air which said plainly that
if she thought herself a free agent she was very much mistaken.



CHAPTER XLIII.


THE EVENING BEFORE THE WEDDING.


"Now, where is that portmanteau?"

"It is in my room."

"Strapped up?"

"Yes."

"Let me take it down to the cab. Have you anything else to do?"

"Only to change my dress."

"Don't be long about it; it is seven o'clock. I will wait for you
downstairs."

Mr. Yelverton walked into the passage, possessed himself of the
portmanteau, and descended the stairs to the little hall below. The
wide-eyed maid-of-all-work hastened to offer her services. She had
never volunteered to carry luggage for the Miss Kings, but she seemed
horrified at the sight of this stalwart gentleman making a porter of
himself. "Allow me, sir," she said, sweetly, with her most engaging
smile.

"Thank you, my girl; I think I am better able to carry it than you
are," he said, pleasantly. But he scrutinised her face with his keen
eyes for a moment, and then took a sovereign from his pocket and
slipped it into her hand. "Go and see if you can help Miss King," he
said. "And ask her if there is anything you can do for her while she is
away from home."

"Oh, sir"--simpering and blushing--"I'm sure--_anything_--" and
she rushed upstairs and offered her services to Elizabeth in such
acceptable fashion that the bride-elect was touched almost to tears, as
by the discovery of a new friend. It seemed to her that she had never
properly appreciated Mary Ann before.

Mr. Yelverton meanwhile paced a few steps to and fro on the footpath
outside the gate, looking at his watch frequently. Paul Brion was at
home, listening to his father's account of the afternoon's events and
the news of the imminent marriage, with moody brow and heavy heart; it
was the end of the romance for _him_, he felt, and he was realising
what a stale and flat residuum remained in his cup of life. He had seen
Mr. Yelverton go to No. 6 with fierce resentment of the liberty that
the fortunate lover permitted himself to take with those sacred rights
of single womanhood which he, Paul, had been so scrupulous to observe;
now he watched the tall man pacing to and fro in the street below,
waiting for his bride, with a sense of the inequalities of fortune that
made him almost bloodthirsty. He saw the portmanteau set on end by the
cabdriver's seat; he saw Elizabeth come forth with a bag in one hand
and an umbrella in the other, followed by the servant with an ulster
and a bonnet-box. He watched the dispossessed master of Yelverton, who,
after all, had lost nothing, and had gained so much, and the great
heiress who was to know Myrtle Street and obscurity no more, as they
took their seats in the vehicle, she handed in by him with such tender
and yet masterful care. He had an impulse to go out upon the balcony
to bid her good-bye and God-speed, but he checked it proudly; and,
surveying her departure from the window of his sitting-room, convinced
himself that she was too much taken up with her own happiness to so
much as remember his existence. It was the closing scene of the Myrtle
Street drama--the last chapter of the charming little homely story
which had been the romance of his life. No more would he see the girls
going in and out of the gate of No. 7, nor meet them in the gardens
and the street, nor be privileged to offer them his assistance and
advice. No more would he sit on his balcony of nights to listen to
Beethoven sonatas and Schubert serenades. The sponge had been passed
over all those pleasant things, and had wiped them out as if they had
never been. There were no longer any Miss Kings. And for Paul there
was no longer anything left in life but arid and flavourless newspaper
work--the ceaseless grinding of his brains in the great mill of the
Press, which gave to the world its daily bread of wisdom, but had no
guerdon for the producers of that invaluable grist.

In truth, Elizabeth _did_ forget all about him. She did not lift her
eyes to the window where he sat; she could see and think of nothing but
herself and her lover, and the wonderful circumstances that immediately
surrounded them. When the cabman closed the door upon them, and they
rattled away down the quiet street, it was borne in upon her that she
really _was_ going to be married on the morrow; and that circumstance
was far more than enough to absorb her whole attention. In the suburbs
through which they passed it was growing dusk, and the lamps were
lighted. A few carriages were taking people out to dinner. It was
already evening--the day was over. Mrs. Duff-Scott was standing on her
doorstep as they drove up to the house, anxiously looking out for them.
She had not changed her morning dress; nor had Patty, who stood beside
her. All the rules of daily life were suspended at this crisis. A grave
footman came to the door of the cab, out of which Mr. Yelverton helped
Elizabeth, and then led her into the hall, where she was received in
the fairy godmother's open arms.

"Take care of her," he said to Patty, "and make her rest herself. I
will come back about nine or ten o'clock."

Patty nodded. Mrs. Duff-Scott tried to keep him to dinner, but he
said he had no time to stay. So the cab departed with him, and his
betrothed was hurried upstairs to her bedroom, where there ensued a
great commotion. Even Mrs. Duff-Scott, who had tried to stand upon
her dignity a little, was unable to do so, and shared the feverish
excitement that possessed the younger sisters. They were all a little
off their heads--as, indeed, they must have been more than women
not to be. The explanations and counter-explanations, the fervid
congratulations, the irrepressible astonishment, the loving curiosity,
the tearful raptures, the wild confusion of tongues and miscellaneous
caresses, were very bewildering and upsetting. They did, in fact, bring
on that attack of hysterics, the first and last in Elizabeth's life,
which had been slowly generating in her healthy nervous system under
the severe and various trials of the day. This little accident sobered
them down, and reminded them of Mr. Yelverton's command that Elizabeth
was to be made to rest herself. The heiress was accordingly laid upon
a sofa, much against her wish, and composed with sal-volatile, and
eau-de-cologne, and tea, and fans, and a great deal of kissing and
petting.

"But I _cannot_ understand this excessive, this abnormal haste," Mrs.
Duff-Scott said, when the girl seemed strong enough to bear being
mildly argued with. "Mr. Yelverton explains it very plausibly, but
still I can't understand it, from _your_ point of view. Patty's theory
is altogether untenable."

"I don't understand it either," the bride-elect replied. "I think I had
an idea that it might prevent him from knowing or realising that I was
giving him the money instead of his giving it to me--I wanted to be
beforehand with Mr. Brion. But of course that was absurd. And if you
can persuade him to put it off for a few weeks--"

"O dear no!--I know him too well. He is not a man to be persuaded.
Well, I am thankful he is going to let you be married in church. I
expected he would insist on the registry office. And he has promised to
bring you back to me at the end of a fortnight or so, to stay here all
the time till you go home. That is something." The fairy godmother was
certainly a little huffy--for all these wonderful things had come to
pass without her permission or assistance--but in her heart of hearts,
as Mr. Yelverton had suspected, she was charmed with the situation, and
as brimful of sympathy for the girl in her extraordinary circumstances
as her own mother could have been.

They had a quiet dinner at eight o'clock, for which the major, who had
been despatched to his solicitors (to see about the drawing up of that
"instrument" which Miss Yelverton's _fiancé_ and cousin required her to
sign on her own behalf before her individuality was irrevocably merged
in his), returned too late to dress, creeping into the house gently
as if he had no business to be there; and Elizabeth sat at her host's
right hand, the recipient of the tenderest attentions and tit-bits.
The little man, whose twinkling eye had lost its wonted humour, was
profoundly touched by the events that had transpired, and saddened by
the prospect of losing that sister of the three whom he had made his
own particular chum, and with the presentiment that her departure would
mean the loss of the others also. He could not even concern himself
about the consequences to his wife of their removal from the circle
of her activities, so possessed was he by the sad vision of his house
left desolate. Perhaps the major felt himself getting old at last, and
realised that cakes and ale could not be heaped upon his board for
ever. He was certainly conscious of a check in his prosperous career,
by the translation of the Miss Kings, and a feeling of injury in that
Providence had not given him children that he _could_ have kept around
him for the solace of his declining years. It was hard to have just
learned what it was to have charming daughters, and then to be bereaved
of them like this, at a moment's notice. Yet he bore his disappointment
with admirable grace; for the little major, despite all the traditions
of his long-protracted youth, was the most unselfish of mortals, and a
gentleman to the marrow of his bones.

In the evening he went to town again, to find Mr. Yelverton. Mrs.
Duff-Scott, when dinner was over, had a consultation with her cook,
and made arrangements for a festive luncheon for the following day.
The girls went upstairs again, and thither their adopted mother
presently followed them, and they spent an hour together in Elizabeth's
bedroom, absorbed in the sad but delightful business of overhauling
her portmanteau. By this time they were able to discuss the situation
with sobriety--a sobriety infused with much chastened emotion, to be
sure, but still far removed from the ferment of hysterics. Patty, in
particular, had a very bracing air about her.

"Now I call this _life_," she said, flourishing open the skirt of one
of Elizabeth's dresses to see if it was fit to be worn on a wedding
journey; "I call this really _living_. One feels as if one's faculties
were given for some purpose. After all, it is not necessary to go
to Europe to see the world. It is not necessary to travel to gain
experience and to have adventures. Is not this frock too shabby, Mrs.
Duff-Scott--all things considered?"

"Certainly," assented that lady, promptly. "Put in her new cashmere and
the Indian silk, and throw away those old things now."

"Go and get the Indian silk, Nelly. It is in the wardrobe. And don't
hang over Elizabeth in that doleful manner, as if she were going to
have her head cut off, like Lady Jane Grey. She is one of the happiest
women on the face of the earth--or, if she isn't, she ought to be--with
such a prospect before her. Think of it! It is enough to make one gnash
one's teeth with envy."

"Let us hope she will indeed realise her prospects," said Mrs.
Duff-Scott, feeling called upon to reprove and moderate the pagan
spirit that breathed in Patty's words. "Let us hope she will be as
happy in the future as she is now."

"Oh, she will--she will! Let us hope she will have enough troubles to
keep her from being _too_ happy--too happy to last," said the girl
audaciously; "that is the danger she will want preserving from."

"You may say what you like, but it is a rash venture," persisted the
matron, shaking her head. "She has known him but for such a _very_
short time. Really, I feel that I am much to blame to let her run into
it like this--with so little knowledge of what she is undertaking.
And he _has_ a difficult temperament, Elizabeth. There is no denying
it--good and nice as he is, he is terribly obstinate about getting
his own way. And if he is so _now_, what will he be, do you suppose,
presently?"

Patty, sitting on her heels on the floor, with her sister's clothes
spread around her, looked up and laughed.

"Ah! that is one safeguard against too much happiness, perhaps. I do
think, with Mrs. Duff-Scott, that you have met your master, my dear."

"I don't think it," replied Elizabeth, serenely. "I know I have."

"And you are quite content to be mastered?"

"Yes--by him."

"Of course you are. Who would marry a chicken-hearted milksop if she
could get a splendid tyrant like that?" exclaimed Patty, fervently,
for the moment forgetting there were such things as woman's rights
in the world. "I wouldn't give a straw for a man who let you have
your own way--unless, of course, he was no wiser than you. A man who
sets up to domineer when he can't carry it out thoroughly is the most
detestable and contemptible of created beings, but there is no want of
thoroughness about _him_. To see him standing up at the table in the
library this afternoon and defying Mrs. Duff-Scott to prevent him from
marrying you to-morrow did one's heart good. It did indeed."

"I daresay," said the fairy godmother. "But I should like to see _you_
with a man like that to deal with. It is really a pity he did not take
to you instead of Elizabeth. I should have liked to see what would have
happened. The 'Taming of the Shrew' would have been a trifle to it."

"Well," said Patty, "he will be my brother and lawful guardian
to-morrow, and I suppose I shall have to accept his authority to a
certain extent. Then you will see what will happen." She was silent
for a few minutes, folding the Indian silk into the portmanteau, and a
slow smile spread over her face. "We shall have some fights," she said,
laughing softly. "But it will be worth while to fight with him."

"Elizabeth will never fight with him," said Eleanor.

"Elizabeth!" echoed Patty. "She will be wax--she will be
butter--simply. She would spoil him if he could be spoiled. But I don't
think he is spoilable. He is too tough. He is what we may call an ash
tree man. And what isn't ash-tree is leather."

"You are not complimentary," said Nelly, fearing that Elizabeth's
feelings might be hurt by what seemed an allusion to the bridegroom's
complexion.

"Pooh! He is not the sort of man to compliment. Elizabeth knows what
I mean. I feel inclined to puff myself out when I think of his being
our own kith and kin--a man like that. I shall have ever so much more
confidence in myself now that I know I have his blood in my veins;
one can't be so near a relation without sharing some of the virtue of
it--and a little of that sort ought to go a long way. Ha!"--lifting her
finger for silence as she heard a sound in the hall below--"there he
is."

Mrs. Duff-Scott's maid came running upstairs to say, "Please'm, could
you and the young ladies come down to the library for a few minutes?"
She was breathless and fluttered, scenting mystery in the air, and she
looked at Elizabeth with intense interest. "The major and Mr. Yelverton
is 'ome," she added, "and some other gentlemen 'ave come. Shall I just
put your 'air straight, Miss?"

She was a little Cockney who had waited on fine ladies in London, and
was one of Mrs. Duff-Scott's household treasures. In a twinkling she
had "settled up" Elizabeth's rather dishevelled braids and twitched
her frills and draperies into trim order; then, without offering to
straighten any one else, she withdrew into the background until she
could safely watch them go downstairs to the hall, where she knew Mr.
Yelverton was waiting. Looking over the balustrade presently, she
saw the four ladies join him; three of them were passing on to the
library, as feeling themselves _de trop_, but were called back. She
could not hear what was said, but she saw what was done, to the very
best advantage. Mr. Yelverton fitted a substantial wedding-ring upon
Miss King's finger, and then, removing it, put another ring in its
place; a deeply-interested and sympathetic trio standing by to witness
the little ceremony. The maid slipped down by the back-stairs to the
servants' hall, and communicated the result of her observations to
her fellow-servants. Mr. Yelverton meanwhile led Elizabeth into the
library, where were seated at the same table where Mr. Brion had read
his documents earlier in the day, three sedate gentlemen, Mr. Brion
being one of them, with other documents spread out before them. The
major was languidly fetching pens and ink from the writing-table in the
window, and smiling furtively. He seemed to be amused by this latest
phase of the Yelverton affair. His eyes twinkled with sagacious humour
politely repressed, when he saw the betrothed couple enter the room
together.

He hastened forward to put a chair for the interesting "client,"
for this one night his ward, at the head of the table; the girls and
Mrs. Duff-Scott grouped themselves before the hearth to watch the
proceedings, and whisper their comments thereupon. The bridegroom took
his stand at Elizabeth's elbow, and intimated that it was his part to
direct her what to do.

"Why should I do anything?" she inquired, looking round her from face
to face with a vague idea of seeking protection in legal quarters. "It
cannot make the least difference. I know that a woman's property, if
you don't meddle with it, is her husband's when she is married"--this
was before the late amendment of the law on this matter, and she was,
as one of the lawyers advised her, correctly informed--"and if ever it
should be so, it should be so in _our_ case. I cannot, I will not, have
any separate rights. No"--as Mr. Yelverton laid a paper before her--"I
don't want to read it."

"Well, you need not read it," he said, laughing. "Mr. Brion does that
for you. But I want you to sign. It is nothing to what you will have to
do before we get this business settled."

"Mr. Yelverton is an honourable man, my dear," said Mr. Brion, with
some energy--and his brother lawyers nodded in acquiescence--as he gave
her a pen.

"You need not tell me that," she replied, superbly. And, seeing no help
for it, she took the pen and signed "Elizabeth Yelverton" (having to
be reminded of her true name on each occasion) with the most reckless
unconcern, determined that if she had signed away her husband's liberty
to use her property as he liked, she would sign it back again when she
had married him.

And this was the last event of that eventful day. At midnight, lawyers
and lover went away, and the tired girls to bed, and Elizabeth and
Patty spent their last night together in each other's arms.



CHAPTER XLIV.


THE WEDDING DAY.


After all, Elizabeth's wedding ceremonies, though shorn of much
customary state, were not so wildly unconventional as to shock the
feelings of society. Save in the matter of that excessive haste--which
Mr. Yelverton took pains to show was not haste at all, seeing that,
on the one hand, his time was limited, and that, on the other, there
was absolutely nothing to wait for--all things were done decently
and in order; and Mrs. Duff-Scott even went so far as to confess,
when the bride and bridegroom had departed, that the fashion of their
nuptials was "good art;" and that these were not the days to follow
stereotyped customs blindfold. There was no unnecessary secrecy about
it. Overnight, just, and only just, before she went to bed, the
mistress of the house had explained the main facts of the case to her
head servants, who, she knew, would not be able to repeat the story
until too late for the publication of it to cause any inconvenience.
She told them how the three Miss Kings--who had never been Miss Kings
after all--had come in for large fortunes, under a will that had been
long mislaid and accidentally recovered; and how Miss Elizabeth, who
had been engaged for some considerable time (O, mendacious matron!),
was to be married to her cousin, Mr. Yelverton, in the morning--very
quietly, because both of them had a dislike to publicity and fuss. And
in the morning the little Cockney lady's-maid, bringing them their
tea, brought a first instalment of congratulations to the bride and
her sisters, who had to hold a _levée_ in the servants' hall as soon
as they went downstairs. The household, if not boiling over with the
excitement inseparable from a marriage _à la mode_, was in a pleasant
simmer of decorous enjoyment; and the arrangements for the domestic
celebration of the event lacked nothing in either completeness or
taste. The gardener brought his choicest flowers for the table and
for the bride's bouquet, which was kept in water until her return
from church; and the cook surpassed himself in his efforts to provide
a wedding breakfast that should be both faultless and unique. The
men servants wore bits of strong-scented orange blossom in their
button-holes, and the women white ribbons in their caps. They did what
they could, in short, to honour the occasion and the young lady who had
won their affection before she came into her inheritance of wealth, and
the result to themselves and the family was quite satisfactory.

There was a great deal of cold weather in the last month of 1880,
summer time though it was, and this special morning was very cold.
Elizabeth had not the face to come down to the early breakfast and
a blazing fire in the gown she had worn the day before, and Mrs.
Duff-Scott would not hear of her going to church in it. "Do you
suppose he is quite an idiot?" she indignantly demanded (forgetting
the absolute indifference to weather shown in the conventional bridal
costume), when the bride gave an excuse for her own unreasonableness.
"Do you suppose he wants you to catch your death of cold on your
wedding day?"

"What does it matter?" said Patty. "He won't care what you have on. Put
it in the portmanteau and wear it at dinner every night, if he likes to
see you in it. This morning you had better make yourself warm. He never
expected the day to turn out so cold as this."

And while they were talking of it Mr. Yelverton himself appeared,
contrary to etiquette and his own arrangements. "Good morning," he
said, shaking hands impartially all round. "I just came in to tell you
that it is exceedingly cold, and that Elizabeth had better put a warm
dress on. One would think it was an English December day by the feel of
the wind."

She got up from the breakfast-table and went out of the room, hurried
away by Mrs. Duff-Scott; but in a minute she came back again.

"Did you come for anything in particular?" she asked, anxiously.

"No," he said, "only to take care that you did not put on that thin
dress. And to see that you were alive," he added, dropping his voice.

"And we really are to be married this morning?"

"We really are, Elizabeth. In three quarters of an hour, if you can be
at the church so soon. I am on my way there now. I am just going round
to Myrtle Street to pick up old Brion."

"Pick up young Brion, too," she urged earnestly, thinking of Patty.
"Tell him I specially wished it."

"He won't come," said Mr. Yelverton; "I asked him yesterday. His father
says his liver must be out of order, he has grown so perverse and
irritable lately. He won't do anything that he is wanted to do."

"Ah, poor boy! We must look after him, you and I, when we come back.
Where are we going, Kingscote?"

"My darling, I fear you will think my plans very prosaic. I think we
are just going to Geelong--till to-morrow or next day. You see it is
so cold, and I don't want you to be fagged with a long journey. Mount
Macedon would have been charming, but I could not get accommodation.
At Geelong, where we are both strangers, we shall be practically to
ourselves, and it is better to make sure of a good hotel than of
romantic scenery, if you have to choose between the two--for the
present, at any rate--vulgar and sordid as that sentiment may appear.
We can go where we like afterwards. I have just got a telegram to say
that things will be ready for us. You left it to me, you know."

"I am only too happy to leave everything to you," she said, at once.
"And I don't care where we go---it will be the same everywhere."

"I think it will, Elizabeth--I think we shall be more independent
of our circumstances than most people. Still I am glad to have made
sure of a warm fire and a good dinner for you at your journey's end.
We start at twenty minutes past four, I may tell you, and we are to
get home--_home_, my dear, which will be wherever you and I can be
together, henceforth--at about half-past six. That will give you time
to rest before dinner. And you will not be very tired, after such a
little journey, will you?"

"Elizabeth!" called a voice from the corridor above their heads, "send
Mr. Yelverton away, and come upstairs at once."

So Mr. Yelverton departed in his cab, to pick up old Brion and await
his bride at the nearest church; and he was presently followed by
the major in his brougham, and a little later by Mrs. Duff-Scott's
capacious open carriage, containing herself and the three sisters, all
in woollen walking dresses and furs. And Elizabeth really was married,
still to her own great surprise. She stood in the cold and silent
church, and took Kingscote, her lover, to be her lawful husband, and
legally ratified that irrevocable contract in the clearest handwriting.
He led her out into the windy road, when it was over, and put her into
the brougham--the major taking her place in the other carriage, and on
their way back both bride and bridegroom were very serious over their
exploit.

"You have the most wonderful trust in me," he said to her, holding
her still ungloved hand, and slipping the wedding ring round on her
finger--"the most amazing trust."

"I have," she assented, simply.

"It rather frightens me," he went on, "to see you taking me so
absolutely for granted. Do you really think I am quite perfect,
Elizabeth?"

"No," she replied, promptly.

"Well, I am glad of that. For I am far from it, I assure you." Then he
added, after a pause, "What are the faults you have to find with me,
then?"

"None--none," she responded fervently. "Your faults are no faults to
me, for they are part of you. I don't want you perfect--I only want you
to be always as I know you now."

"I think I am rather a tyrant," he said, beginning to criticise himself
freely, now that she showed no disposition to do it, "and perhaps I
shall bully you if you allow me too much latitude. I am too fond of
driving straight at everything I want, Elizabeth--I might drive over
you, without thinking, some day, if you give me my own way always."

"You may drive over me, if you like, and welcome," she said, smiling.

"You have no consideration for your rights as a woman and a matron?--no
proper pride?--no respect for your dignity, at all?"

"None whatever--now."

"Ah, well, after all, I think it is a good thing for you that I have
got you. You might have fallen into worse hands. You are just made to
be a victim. And you will be better off as my victim than you might
have been as another man's victim."

"Much better," she said. "But I don't think I should have been another
man's victim."

When they reached Mrs. Duff-Scott's house, Patty and Eleanor, who had
arrived a few minutes earlier, met their brother and sister, kissed
them both, and took Elizabeth upstairs, where they tenderly drew
off her furs and her bonnet, and waited upon her with a reverential
recognition of her new and high estate. During their absence, Mr.
Yelverton, Mr. Brion, and their host and hostess stood round the
drawing-room fire, talking over a plan they had hatched between them,
prior to taking leave of the old lawyer, who had to depart for his
country home and business by an afternoon boat. This plan provided for
a temporary disposal of that home and business at an early date, in
order that Mr. Brion might accompany the entire party--the major and
his wife, Mr. Yelverton and the three sisters--to England as the legal
adviser of the latter, it having been deemed expedient to take these
measures to facilitate the conveyance and distribution of the great
Yelverton property. The old man was delighted at the prospect of his
trip, which it was intended should be made both profitable and pleasant
to him, and at the certainty of being identified for some time longer
with the welfare of his young friends. Mrs. Duff-Scott was also ardent
in her anticipation of seeing Elizabeth installed at Yelverton, of
investigating the philanthropical enterprises of Elizabeth's husband,
and of keeping, during the most critical and most interesting period
of their career, the two unappropriated heiresses under her wing. The
major was pleased to join this family party, and looked forward with
some avidity to the enjoyment of certain London experiences that he had
missed from his cup of blessings of late years.

"And the dear girls will not be separated, except for this little week
or two," said the fairy godmother, wiping away a surreptitious tear.
"How happy that will make them!"

They entered the room as she spoke, clinging together; and they sat
down round the hearthrug, and were drawn into the discussion. Yes, it
did make them happy, they said; it was the sweetest and brightest of
plans and prospects. Only Patty, thinking of Elizabeth and Nelly going
and Paul Brion left behind, felt her heart torn in two.

The wedding breakfast was the mid-day lunch, to which they were
summoned by the butler with his bridal favour in his button-hole. The
little party of seven, when they went into the dining-room, found
that apartment decorated with flowers and evergreens in a manner
wonderful to behold, considering the short notice that had been given.
The table was glorious with white blossoms of every description, the
orange predominating and saturating the air with its almost too strong
fragrance; and the dishes and the wines would have done honour to the
bridal banquet of a princess. Little did anyone care for dishes and
wines, except the host and hostess, who would have been less than
mortal had they not felt interested therein; and most of them were glad
to get the meal over. Some healths were drunk in the major's best dry
champagne, and three little speeches were delivered; and then Mr. Brion
respectfully begged to be excused, said good-bye all round, made his
Grandisonian bow, and departed.

"Tell Paul," said Elizabeth (she could call him Paul now), "that we
have missed him to-day."

"I will, my dear, I will," said the old man. And when he delivered that
message half-an-hour later, he was hurt to see in what a bad spirit it
was received. "I daresay!" was Paul's cynical comment.

When Mr. Brion was gone, the little family returned to the
drawing-room, and again sat round the bright fire, and behaved
themselves as if nothing had happened. Elizabeth spread out her hands
to the warmth, and gazed at her thick wedding ring meditatively: and
the girls, who hung about her, gazed at it also with fascinated eyes.
Mr. Yelverton sat a little apart, and watched his wife furtively. Mrs.
Duff-Scott chatted, recalling the topography and notable features of
Geelong. They had afternoon tea, as usual (only earlier than usual),
in the familiar precious teacups, out of the familiar Queen Anne
teapot. There was an every-day homeliness about this quiet hour, and
yet it seemed that years had come and gone since yesterday. Presently
Mr. Yelverton's watch-case was heard to shut with a sharp click, and
the bride turned her head quickly and looked at him. He nodded. And
as she rose from her low chair, holding out her hand to the faithful
Patty, the wheels of the brougham crunched over the gravel in front of
the windows. It was time to go.

And in ten minutes more they were gone. Like that monarch who went
into his own kingdom and shut the door, Elizabeth went into hers--to
assume the crown and sceptre of a sovereignty than which no woman
can boast a greater, let her be who she may--passing wholly into her
strong husband's keeping without one shadow of regret or mistrust left
in her heart, either for herself or him. They were driven to Spencer
Street, where, while they waited a few minutes for their train, people
who knew them stared at them, recognising the situation. They paced
up and down the platform, side by side, she in her modest cloth dress
and furs; and, far from avoiding observation, they rather courted it
unconsciously, in a quiet way. They were so proud of belonging to each
other, and from the enclosure of their own kingdom the outside world
seemed such an enormous distance off. They went to Geelong in a saloon
car full of people--what did it matter to them?--and at the seaside
station found a carriage waiting for them. And by half-past six, as
her husband said, Elizabeth reached home. There was a bright and cosy
sitting-room, with a table prettily set for their _tête-à-tête_ dinner,
and a bright fire (of wood and not coal--a real bush fire) crackling
on the hearth. In an inner room there was a fire too; and here, when
her portmanteau had been unstrapped, and while Kingscote was consulting
with the landlord, she hastily threw off her wraps and travelling
dress, twisted up her fine hair afresh, put on that delicate gown that
she had worn yesterday morning--could it possibly, she asked herself,
have been _only_ yesterday morning?--and made herself as fair to look
upon as she knew how. And, when she opened the door softly, trembling
with excitement and happiness, he was waiting for her, standing on the
hearthrug, with his back to the fire--looking at her as he had looked
that day, not so very long ago, when they were in the cave together,
he on one side of the gulf and she on the other. He held out his arms
again, and this time she sprang into them, and lifted her own to clasp
his neck. And so they stood, without moving or speaking--"resting
before dinner"--until the waiter, heralding his approach by a discreet
tap at the door, came in with the soup-tureen.



CHAPTER XLV.


IN SILK ATTIRE.


The bride and bridegroom did not return to Melbourne until the day
before Christmas--Friday the 24th, which was a warm, and bright, and
proper summer day, but working up for a spell of north winds and bush
fires before the year ran out. They had been wandering happily amongst
the lovely vales and mountains of that sequestered district of Victoria
which has become vaguely known as the "Kelly Country," and finding out
before they left it, to their great satisfaction, that Australia could
show them scenery so variously romantic as to put the charms of the
best hotels into the shade. Even that terrestrial paradise on the ferny
slopes of Upper Macedon was, if not eclipsed, forgotten, in the beauty
of the wilder woodland of the far Upper Murray, which was beyond the
reach of railways. They had also been again to visit the old house by
the sea and Mr. Brion; had dawdled along the familiar shore in twilight
and moonlight; had driven to the caves and eaten lunch once more in the
green dell among the bracken fronds; had visited the graves of that
other pair of married lovers--that Kingscote and Elizabeth of the last
generation--and made arrangements for the perpetual protection from
disturbance and desecration of that sadly sacred spot. And it was only
on receipt of an urgent telegram from Mrs. Duff-Scott, to remind them
that Christmas was approaching, and that she had devised festivities
which were to be more in honour of them than of the season, that they
remembered how long they had been away, and that it had become time to
return to their anxious relatives.

They arrived in Melbourne by the 3.41 train from Ballarat, where
they had broken a long journey the evening before, and found Patty
and Eleanor and the major's servants waiting for them at Spencer
Street. The meeting between the sisters, after their first separation,
was silent, but intensely impressive. On the platform though they
were, they held each other's hands and gazed into each other's eyes,
unconscious of the attention they attracted, unable to find words
to express how much they had missed each other and how glad they
were to be reunited. They drove home together in a state of absolute
happiness; and at home Mrs. Duff-Scott and the major were standing on
their doorstep as the carriage swept up the broad drive to the house,
as full of tender welcomes for the bride as any father or mother could
have been, rejoicing over a recovered child. Elizabeth thought of
the last Christmas Eve which she and her sisters, newly orphaned and
alone in the world, poor in purse and destitute of kith and kin, spent
in that humble little bark-roofed cottage on the solitary cliff; and
she marvelled at the wonderful and dazzling changes that the year had
brought. Only one year out of twenty-nine!--and yet it seemed to have
held the whole history of her life. She was taken into the drawing-room
and put into a downy chair, and fed with bread and butter and tea and
choice morsels of news, while Patty knelt on the floor beside her,
and her husband stood on the hearthrug watching her, with, his air
of quiet but proud proprietorship, as he chatted of their travels to
the major. It was very delightful. She wondered if it were really
herself--Elizabeth King that used to be--whose lines had fallen on
these pleasant places.

While the afternoon tea was in progress, Eleanor fidgetted impatiently
about the room. She was so graceful and undulating in her movements
that her fidgetting was only perceived to be such by those who knew
her ways; but Elizabeth marked her gentle restlessness, in spite of
personal preoccupations.

"Do you want me to go upstairs with you?" she inquired with her kind
eyes, setting down her teacup; and Nelly almost flew to escort her out
of the room. There was to be a large dinner party at Mrs. Duff-Scott's
to-night, to "meet Mr. and Mrs. Yelverton on their return," all
Melbourne having been made acquainted with the romance of their
cousinship and marriage, and the extent of their worldly possessions,
during their absence.

"It is to be so large," said Patty, as her brother-in-law shut the
drawing-room door upon the trio, "that even Mrs. Aarons will be
included in it."

"Mrs. Aarons!" echoed Elizabeth, who knew that the fairy godmother had
repaid that lady's hospitality and attentions with her second-best
bit of sang-de-boeuf crackle and her sole specimen of genuine Rose
du Barry--dear and precious treasures sacrificed to the demands of
conscience which proclaimed Mrs. Aarons wronged and insulted by being
excluded from the Duff-Scott dinner list. "And she is really coming?"

"She really is--though it is her own right to receive, as I
think Mrs. Duff-Scott perfectly remembered when she sent her
invitation--accompanied, of course, by Mr. Aarons."

"And now," said Nelly, looking back, "Patty has got her old wish--she
really _is_ in a position to turn up her nose, at last."

"Oh," said Patty, vehemently, "don't remind me of that wicked, vulgar,
indecent speech! Poor woman, who am I that I should turn up my nose at
her? I am very glad she is coming--I think she ought to have been asked
long ago. Why not? She is just as good as we are, every bit."

Eleanor laughed softly. "Ah, what a difference in one's sentiments does
a large fortune make--doesn't it, Elizabeth? Patty doesn't want to
turn up her nose at Mrs. Aarons, because, don't you see, she knows she
can crush her quite naturally and comfortably by keeping it down. And,
besides, when one has got one's revenge--when one has paid off one's
old score--one doesn't want to be mean and barbarous. Oh," exclaimed
Nelly, rapturously, "I never thought that being rich was so delicious
as it is!"

"I hope it won't spoil you," said Elizabeth.

"I hope it won't spoil _you_," retorted the girl, saucily. "You are in
far greater danger than I am."

By this time they had reached the top of the stairs, and Eleanor, who
had led the way, opened the door, not of Elizabeth's old bedroom, but
of the state guest-chamber of the house; and she motioned the bride
to enter with a low bow. Here was the explanation of that impatience
to get her upstairs. Elizabeth took a few steps over the threshold
and then stood still, while the tears rushed into her eyes. The room
had been elaborately dressed in white lace and white ribbons; the
dressing-table was decorated with white flowers; the bed was covered
with an æsthetic satin quilt, and on the bed was spread out a bridal
robe--white brocade, the bodice frilled with Brussels lace--with white
shoes, white gloves, white silk stockings, white feather fan, white
everything _en suite_.

"This is your dress for to-night," said Patty, coaxing it with soft
hands. "And you will find lots more in the wardrobe. Mrs. Duff-Scott
has been fitting you up while you have been away."

Upon which Nelly threw open the doors of the wardrobe and pulled out
the drawers, and displayed with great pride the piles and layers of new
clothes that the fairy godmother had laboriously gathered together;
the cream, or, to speak more correctly (if less poetically), the
butter, churned from the finest material that the Melbourne shops
could produce, and "made up" by a Collins Street mademoiselle, whose
handiwork was as recognisable to the local initiated as that of Elise
herself. The bride had been allowed no choice in the matter of her own
trousseau, but she did not feel that she had missed anything by that.
She stood and gazed at the beautiful garments, which were all dim and
misty as seen through her tears, with lips and hands trembling, and a
sense of misgiving lest such extravagant indulgence of all a woman's
possible desires should tempt Fate to lay hands prematurely upon her.
Then she went to find her friend--who had had so much enjoyment in the
preparation of her surprise--and did what she could by dumb caresses to
express her inexpressible sentiments.

Then in course of time these upsetting incidents were got over, and
cheerful calmness supervened. As the night drew on, Mrs. Duff-Scott
retired to put on her war paint. Nelly also departed to arrange her
own toilet, which was a matter of considerable importance to her in
these days. The girl who had worn cotton gloves to keep the sun from
her hands, a year ago, had developed a great faculty for taking care of
her beauty and taking pains with her clothes. Patty lingered behind to
wait on Elizabeth. And in the interval before the bridegroom came up,
these two had a little confidential chat. "What have you been doing, my
darling," said the elder sister, "while I have been away?"

"Oh, nothing much," said Patty, rather drearily. "Shopping about your
things most of the time, and getting ready for our voyage. They say
we are to go as far as Italy next month, because January is the best
time for the Red Sea. And they want the law business settled. It is
dreadfully soon, isn't it?" This was not the tone of voice in which
Italy was talked of a year ago.

"And you haven't--seen anybody?"

"No, I haven't seen anybody. Except once--and then he took off his hat
without looking at me."

Elizabeth sighed. She was herself so safe and happy with her beloved
that she could not bear to think of this other pair estranged and
apart, making themselves so miserable.

"And what about Nelly and Mr. Westmoreland?" she inquired presently.

"Nelly is a baby," said Patty, with lofty scorn, "and Mr. Westmoreland
is a great lout. You have no idea what a spectacle they are making of
themselves."

"What--is it going on again?"

"Yes, it is going on--but not in the old style. Mr. Westmoreland
has fallen in love with her really now--as far as such a brainless
hippopotamus is capable of falling in love, that is to say. I suppose,
the fact of her having a great fortune and high connections makes all
the difference. And she is really uncommonly pretty. It is only in
these last weeks that I have fully understood how much prettier she
is than other girls, and I believe he, to do him justice, has always
understood it in his stupid, coarse way."

"And Nelly?"

"Nelly," said Patty, "has been finding out a great deal lately. She
knows well enough how pretty she is, and she knows what money and all
the other things are worth. She is tasting the sweets of power, and
she likes it--she likes it too much, I think--she will grow into a
bit of a snob, if she doesn't mind. She is 'coming the swell' over
Mr. Westmoreland, to use one of his own choice idioms--not exactly
rudely, because she has such pretty manners, but with the most superb
impertinence, all the same--and practising coquetry as if she had been
beset with abject lovers all her life. She sits upon him and teases him
and aggravates him till he doesn't know how to contain himself. It is
_too_ ridiculous."

"I should have thought he was the last man to let himself be sat upon."

"So should I. But he courts it--he obtrudes his infatuated
servility--he goes and asks her, as it were, to sit upon him. It has
the charm of novelty and difficulty, I suppose. People must get tired
of having their own way always."

"But I can't understand Nelly."

"You soon will. You will see to-night how she goes on, for he is coming
to dinner. She will tantalise him till he will forget where he is, and
lose all sense of decency, and be fit to stamp and roar like a great
buffalo. She says it is 'taking it out of him.' And she will look at
the time so sweet and serene and unconscious--bah! I could box her
ears," concluded Patty.

"And Mrs. Duff-Scott encourages him still, then?"

"No. That is another change. Mrs. Duff-Scott has withdrawn her gracious
favour. She doesn't want him now. She thinks she will make a pair
of duchesses of us when she gets us to London, don't you see? Dear
woman, I'm afraid she will be grievously disappointed, so far as I am
concerned. No, ever since the day you went away--which was the very day
that Mr. Westmoreland began to come back--she has given him the cold
shoulder. You know _what_ a cold shoulder it can be! There is not a man
alive who could stand up against it, except him. But he doesn't care.
He can't, or won't, see that he is not wanted. I suppose it doesn't
occur to him that _he_ can possibly be unwelcome anywhere. He loafs
about the house--he drops on us at Alston and Brown's--he turns up
at the theatre--at the Exhibition--at Mullen's--everywhere. We can't
escape him. Nelly likes it. If a day passes without her seeing him, she
gets quite restless. She is like a horrid schoolboy with a cockroach
on a pin--it is her great amusement in life to see him kicking and
struggling."

"Perhaps she really does care about him, Patty."

"Not she. She is just having her revenge--heartless little monkey!
I believe she will be a duchess, after all, with a miserable old
toothless creature for her husband. It would be no more than she
deserves. Oh, Elizabeth!"--suddenly changing her voice from sharps to
flats--"how _beautiful_ you do look! Nelly may be a duchess, and so
might I, and neither of us would ever beat you for _presence_. I heard
Mrs. Duff-Scott the other day congratulating herself that the prettiest
of her three daughters were still left to dispose of. I don't believe
we are the prettiest, but, if we are, what is mere prettiness compared
with having a head set on like yours and a figure like a Greek statue?"

Elizabeth had been proceeding with her toilet, in order to have
leisure to gossip with her husband when he came up; and now she stood
before her long glass in her bridal dress, which had been composed by
Mrs. Duff-Scott with an unlimited expenditure of taste and care. The
material of it was exceptionally, if not obtrusively, rich--like a
thick, dull, soft silk cloth, covered all over with a running pattern
of flowers severely conventionalised; and it was made as plain as plain
could be, falling straight to her feet in front, and sweeping back in
great heavy folds behind, and fitting like a pliant glove to the curves
of her lovely shape. Only round the bodice, cut neither low nor high,
and round her rather massive elbows, had full ruffles of the lace that
was its sole trimming been allowed; and altogether Mrs. Yelverton's
strong points were brought out by her costume in a marvellously
effective manner.

There was a sound at this moment in the adjoining room, on hearing
which Patty abruptly departed; and the bride stood listening to her
lord's footsteps, and still looking at herself in the glass. He
entered her room, and she did not turn or raise her eyes, but a soft
smile spread over her face as if a sun had risen and covered her with
sudden light and warmth. She tried to see if the waist of her gown was
wrinkled, or the set of it awry, but it was no use. When he came close
to her and stooped to kiss her white neck, she lost all recollection of
details.

"You want," he said, about ten minutes afterwards, when he had himself
turned her round and round, and fingered the thick brocade and the lace
critically, "you want diamonds with such a stately dress."

"Oh, no," she said; "I won't have any diamonds."

"You _won't_, did you say? This language to _me_, Elizabeth!"

"The diamonds shall go in beer and tobacco, Kingscote."

"My dear, they can't."

"Why not?"

"Because the Yelverton diamonds are heirlooms."

"Oh, dear me! Are there Yelverton diamonds too?"

"There are, I grieve to say. They have been laid up under lock and key
for about forty years, and they must be very old-fashioned. But they
are considered rather fine, and they are yours for the present, and as
you can't make any use of them they may as well fulfil their purpose of
being ornamental. You must wear them by-and-by, you know, when you go
to Court."

"To Court?" reproachfully. "Is that the kind of life we are going to
lead?"

"Just occasionally. We are going to combine things, and our duties to
ourselves and to society. It is not going to be all Buckingham Palace,
nor yet all Whitechapel, but a judicious blending of the two."

"And Yelverton?"

"And Yelverton of course. Yelverton is to be always there--our place of
rest--our base of operations--our workshop--our fortress--our home with
a capital H."

"Oh," she said, "we seem to have the shares of so many poor people
besides our own. It overwhelms me to think of it."

"Don't think of it," he said, as she laid her head on his shoulder, and
he smoothed her fine brown hair with his big palm. "Don't be afraid
that we are destined to be too happy. We shall be handicapped yet."

They did not go down until the carriages had begun to arrive, and then
they descended the wide stairs dawdlingly, she leaning on him, with her
two white-gloved hands clasped round his coat sleeve, and he bending
his tall head towards her--talking still of their own affairs, and
quite indifferent to the sensation they were about to make. When they
entered the dim-coloured drawing-room, which was suffused with a low
murmur of conversation, and by the mild radiance of many wax candles
and coloured lamps, Elizabeth was made to understand by hostess and
guests the exceptional position of Mrs. Yelverton of Yelverton, and
wherein and how enormously it differed from that of Elizabeth King.
But she was not so much taken up with her own state and circumstance
as to forget those two who had been her charge for so many years. She
searched for Nelly first. And Nelly was in the music-room, sitting at
the piano, and looking dazzlingly fair under the gaslight in the white
dress that she had worn at the club ball, and with dark red roses at
her throat and in her yellow hair. She was playing Schubert's A Minor
Sonata ravishingly--for the benefit of Mr. Smith, apparently, who sat,
the recipient of smiles and whispers, beside her, rapt in ecstasies
of appreciation; and she was taking not the slightest notice of Mr.
Westmoreland, who, leaning over the other end of the piano on his
folded arms, was openly sighing his soul into his lady's face. Then
Elizabeth looked for Patty. And Patty she found on that settee within
the alcove at the opposite end of the big room--also in her white ball
dress, and also looking charming--engaged in what appeared to be an
interesting and animated dialogue with the voluble Mrs. Aarons.

The young matron sighed as she contrasted her own blessed lot with
theirs--with Nelly's, ignorant of what love was, and with Patty's,
knowing it, and yet having no comfort in the knowing. She did not know
which to pity most.



CHAPTER XLVI.


PATTY CHOOSES HER CAREER.


The dinner party on Christmas Eve was the first of a series of
brilliant festivities, extending all through the hot last week of
1880, and over the cool new year (for which fires were lighted and
furs brought out again), and into the sultry middle of January, and up
to the memorable anniversary of the day on which the three Miss Kings
had first arrived in Melbourne; and when they were over this was the
state of the sisters' affairs:--Elizabeth a little tired with so much
dissipation, but content to do all that was asked of her, since she was
not asked to leave her husband's side; Eleanor, still revelling in the
delights of wealth and power, and in Mr. Westmoreland's accumulating
torments; and Patty worn and pale with sleepless nights and heart-sick
with hope deferred, longing to set herself straight with Paul Brion
before she left Australia, and seeing her chances of doing so dwindling
and fading day by day. And now they were beginning to prepare for their
voyage to a world yet larger and fuller than the one in which they had
lived and learned so much.

One afternoon, while Mrs. Duff-Scott and Eleanor paid calls, Elizabeth
and Patty went for the last time to Myrtle Street, to pack up the
bureau and some of their smaller household effects in preparation
for the men who were to clear the rooms on the morrow. Mr. Yelverton
accompanied them, and lingered in the small sitting-room for awhile,
helping here and there, or pretending to do so. For his entertainment
they boiled the kettle and set out the cheap cups and saucers, and they
had afternoon tea together, and Patty played the Moonlight Sonata; and
then Elizabeth bade her husband go and amuse himself at his club and
come back to them in an hour's time. He went, accordingly; and the two
sisters pinned up their skirts and tucked up their sleeves, and worked
with great diligence when he was no longer there to distract them. They
worked so well that at the end of half an hour they had nothing left
to do, except a little sorting of house linen and books. Elizabeth
undertaking this business, Patty pulled down her sleeves and walked to
the window; and she stood there for a little while, leaning her arm on
the frame and her head on her arm.

"Paul Brion is at home, Elizabeth," she said, presently.

"Is he, dear?" responded the elder sister, who had begun to think
(because her husband thought it) that it was a pity Paul Brion, being
so hopelessly cantankerous, should be allowed to bother them any more.

"Yes. And, Elizabeth, I hope you won't mind--it is very improper, I
know--but _I shall go and see him._ It is my last chance. I will go and
say good-bye to Mrs. M'Intyre, and then I will run up to his room and
speak to him--just for one minute. It is my last chance," she repeated;
"I shall never have another."

"But, my darling--"

"Oh, don't be afraid"--drawing herself up haughtily--"I am not going to
be _quite_ a fool. I shall not throw myself into his arms. I am simply
going to apologise for cutting him on Cup Day. I am simply going to set
myself right with him before I go away--for his father's sake."

"It is a risky experiment, my dear, whichever way you look at it. I
think you had better write."

"No. I have no faith in writing. You cannot make a letter say what
you mean. And he will not come to us--he will not share his father's
friendship for Kingscote--he was not at home when you and Kingscote
called on him--he was not even at Mrs. Aarons's on Friday. There is no
way to get at him but to go and see him now. I hear him in his room,
and he is alone. I will not trouble him long--I will let him see that
I can do without him quite as well as he can do without me--but I must
and will explain the horrible mistake that I know he has fallen into
about me, before I lose the chance for the rest of my life."

"My dear, how can you? How can you tell him your true reason for
cutting him? How can you do it at all, without implying more than you
would like to imply? You had better leave it, Patty. Or let me go for
you, my darling."

But Patty insisted upon going herself, conscientiously assuring her
sister that she would do it in ten minutes, without saying anything
improper about Mrs. Aarons, and without giving the young man the
smallest reason to suppose that she cared for him any more than she
cared for his father, or was in the least degree desirous of being
cared for by him. And this was how she did it.

Paul was sitting at his table, with papers strewn before him. He had
been writing since his mid-day breakfast, and was half way through
a brilliant article on "Patronage in the Railway Department," when
the sound of the piano next door, heard for the first time after a
long interval, scattered his political ideas and set him dreaming and
meditating for the rest of the afternoon. He was leaning back in his
chair, with his pipe in his mouth, his hands in his pockets, and his
legs stretched out rigidly under the table, when he heard a tap at the
door. He said "Come in," listlessly, expecting Betsy's familiar face;
and when, instead of an uninteresting housemaid, he saw the beautiful
form of his beloved standing on the threshold, he was so stunned with
astonishment that at first he could not speak.

"Miss--Miss Yelverton!" he exclaimed, flinging his pipe aside and
struggling to his feet.

"I hope I am not disturbing you," said Patty, very stiffly. "I have
only come for a moment--because we are going away, and--and--and I had
something to say to you before we went. We have been so unfortunate--my
sister and brother-in-law were so unfortunate--as to miss seeing you
the other day. I--we have come this afternoon to do some packing,
because we are giving up our old rooms, and I thought--I thought--"

She was stammering fearfully, and her face was scarlet with confusion
and embarrassment. She was beginning already to realise the difficulty
of her undertaking.

"Won't you sit down?" he said, wheeling his tobacco-scented arm-chair
out of its corner. He, too, was very much off his balance and
bewildered by the situation, and his voice, though grave, was shaken.

"No, thank you," she replied, with what she intended to be a haughty
and distant bow. "I only came for a moment--as I happened to be saying
good-bye to Mrs. M'Intyre. My sister is waiting for me. We are going
home directly. I just wanted--I only wanted"--she lifted her eyes, full
of wistful appeal, suddenly to his--"I wanted just to beg your pardon,
that's all. I was very rude to you one day, and you have never forgiven
me for it. I wanted to tell you that--that it was not what you thought
it was--that I had a reason you did not know of for doing it, and that
the moment after I was sorry--I have been sorry every hour of my life
since, because I knew I had given you a wrong impression, and I have
not been able to rectify it."

"I don't quite understand--" he began.

"No, I know--I know. And I can't explain. Don't ask me to explain.
Only _believe_," she said earnestly, standing before him and leaning
on the table, "that I have never, never been ungrateful for all the
kindness you showed us when we came here a year ago--I have always
been the same. It was not because I forgot that you were our best
friend--the best friend we ever had--that I--that I"--her voice was
breaking, and she was searching for her pocket-handkerchief--"that I
behaved to you as I did."

"Can't you tell me how it was?" he asked, anxiously. "You have nothing
to be grateful for, Miss Patty--Miss Yelverton, I ought to say--and
I cannot feel that I have anything to forgive. But I should like to
know--yes, now that you have spoken of it, I think you ought to tell
me--why you did it."

"I cannot--I cannot. It was something that had been said of you. I
believed it for a moment, because--because it looked as if it were
true--but only for a moment. When I came to think of it I knew it was
impossible."

Paul Brion's keen face, that had been pale and strained, cleared
suddenly, and his dark eyes brightened. He was quite satisfied with
this explanation. He knew what Patty meant as well as if there had been
but one word for a spade, and she had used it--as well, and even better
than she could have imagined; for she forgot that she had no right or
reason to resent his shortcomings, save on the ground of a special
interest in him, and he was quick to remember it.

"Oh, do sit down a moment," he said, pushing the arm-chair a few inches
forward. He was trying to think what he might dare to say to her to
show how thankful he was. It was impossible for her to help seeing the
change in him.

"No," she replied, hastily pulling herself together. "I must go
now. I had no business to come here at all--it was only because it
seemed the last chance of speaking to you. I have said what I came to
say, and now I must go back to my sister." She looked all round the
well-remembered room--at the green rep suite, and the flowery carpet,
and the cedar chiffonnier, and the Cenci over the fire-place--at Paul's
bookshelves and littered writing-table, and his pipes and letters on
the chimney-piece, and his newspapers on the floor; and then she looked
at him with eyes that _would_ cry, though she did her very best to help
it. "Good-bye," she said, turning towards the door.

He took her outstretched hand and held it "Good-bye--if it must be so,"
he said. "You are really going away by the next mail?"

"Yes."

"And not coming back again?"

"I don't know."

"Well," he said, "you are rich, and a great lady now. I can only wish
with all my heart for your happiness--I cannot hope that I shall ever
be privileged to contribute to it again. I am out of it now, Miss
Patty."

She left her right hand in his, and with the other put her handkerchief
to her eyes. "Why should you be out of it?" she sobbed. "Your father
is not out of it. It is you who have deserted us--we should never have
deserted you."

"I thought you threw me over that day on the racecourse, and I have
only tried to keep my place."

"But I have told you I never meant that."

"Yes, thank God! Whatever happens, I shall have this day to
remember--that you came to me voluntarily to tell me that you had never
been unworthy of yourself. You have asked me to forgive you, but it is
I that want to be forgiven--for insulting you by thinking that money
and grandeur and fine clothes could change you."

"They will never change me," said Patty, who had broken down
altogether, and was making no secret of her tears. In fact, they were
past making a secret of. She had determined to have no tender sentiment
when she sought this interview, but she found herself powerless to
resist the pathos of the situation. To be parting from Paul Brion--and
it seemed as if it were really going to be a parting--was too
heartbreaking to bear as she would have liked to bear it.

"When you were poor," he said, hurried along by a very strong current
of emotions of various kinds, "when you lived here on the other side of
the wall--if you had come to me--if you had spoken to me, and treated
me like this _then_--"

She drew her hand from his grasp, and tried to collect herself.
"Hush--we must not go on talking," she said, with a flurried air; "you
must not keep me here now."

"No, I will not keep you--I will not take advantage of you now," he
replied, "though I am horribly tempted. But if it had been as it used
to be--if we were both poor alike, as we were then--if you were Patty
King instead of Miss Yelverton--I would not let you out of this room
without telling me something more. Oh, why did you come at all?" he
burst out, in a sudden rage of passion, quivering all over as he looked
at her with the desire to seize her and kiss her and satisfy his
starving heart.

"You have been hard to me always--from first to last--but this is the
very cruellest thing you have ever done. To come here and drive me
wild like this, and then go and leave me us if I were Mrs. M'Intyre or
the landlord you were paying off next door. I wonder what you think
I am made of? I have stood everything--I have stood all your snubs,
and slights, and hard usage of me--I have been humble and patient as
I never was to anybody who treated me so in my life before--but that
doesn't mean that I am made of wood or stone. There are limits to
one's powers of endurance, and though I have borne so much, I _can't_
bear _this_. I tell you fairly it is trying me too far." He stood at
the table fluttering his papers with a hand as unsteady as that of
a drunkard, and glaring at her, not straight into her eyes--which,
indeed, were cast abjectly on the floor--but all over her pretty,
forlorn figure, shrinking and cowering before him. "You are kind enough
to everybody else," he went on; "you might at least show some common
humanity to me. I am not a coxcomb, I hope, but I know you can't have
helped knowing what I have felt for you--no woman can help knowing when
a man cares for her, though he never says a word about it. A dog who
loves you will get some consideration for it, but you are having no
consideration for me. I hope I am not rude--I'm afraid I am forgetting
my manners, Miss Patty--but a man can't think of manners when he is
driven out of his senses. Forgive me, I am speaking to you too roughly.
It was kind of you to come and tell me what you have told me--I am not
ungrateful for that--but it was a cruel kindness. Why didn't you send
me a note--a little, cold, formal note? or why did you not send Mrs.
Yelverton to explain things? That would have done just as well. You
have paid me a great honour, I know; but I can't look at it like that.
After all, I was making up my mind to lose you, and I think I could
have borne it, and got on somehow, and got something out of life in
spite of it. But now how can I bear it?--how can I bear it _now?_"

Patty bowed like a reed to this unexpected storm, which, nevertheless,
thrilled her with wild elation and rapture, through and through. She
had no sense of either pride or shame; she never for a moment regretted
that she had not written a note, or sent Mrs. Yelverton in her
place. But what she said and what she did I will leave the reader to
conjecture. There has been too much love-making in these pages of late.
Tableau. We will ring the curtain down.

Meanwhile Elizabeth sat alone when her work was done, wondering what
was happening at Mrs. M'Intyre's, until her husband came to tell her
that it was past six o'clock, and time to go home to dress for dinner.
"The child can't possibly be with _him_," said Mr. Yelverton, rather
severely. "She must be gossiping with the landlady."

"I think I will go and fetch her," said Elizabeth. But as she was
patting on her bonnet, Patty came upstairs, smiling and preening her
feathers, so to speak--bringing Paul with her.



CHAPTER XLVII.


A FAIR FIELD AND NO FAVOUR.


When Mrs. Duff-Scott came to hear of all this, she was terribly vexed
with Patty. Indeed, no one dared to tell her the whole truth, and to
this day she does not know that the engagement was made in the young
bachelor's sitting-room, whither Patty had sought him because he would
not seek her. She thinks the pair met at No. 6, under the lax and
injudicious chaperonage of Elizabeth; and, in the first blush of her
disappointment and indignation, she was firmly convinced, though too
well bred to express her conviction, that the son had taken advantage
of the father's privileged position to entrap the young heiress for
the sake of her thirty thousand pounds. Things did not go smoothly
with Patty, as they had done with her sister. Elizabeth herself was a
rock of shelter and a storehouse of consolation from the moment that
the pair came up to the dismantled room where she and her husband were
having a lovers' _tête-à-tête_ of their own, and she saw that the long
misunderstanding was at an end; but no one else except Mrs. M'Intyre
(who, poor woman, was held of no account), took kindly to the alliance
so unexpectedly proposed. Quite the contrary, in fact. Mr. Yelverton,
notwithstanding his late experiences, had no sympathy whatever for
the young fellow who had flattered him by following his example. The
philanthropist, with all his full-blown modern radicalism, was also a
man of long descent and great connections, and some subtle instinct
of race and habit rose up in opposition to the claims of an obscure
press writer to enter his distinguished family. It was one thing for a
Yelverton man to marry a humbly-circumstanced woman, as he had himself
been prepared to do, but quite another thing for a humbly-circumstanced
man to aspire to the hand of a Yelverton woman, and that woman rich and
beautiful, his own ward and sister. He was not aware of this strong
sentiment, but believed his objections arose from a proper solicitude
for Patty's welfare. Paul had been rude and impertinent, wanting in
respect for her and hers; he had an ill-conditioned, sulky temper;
he lived an irregular life, from hand to mouth; he had no money; he
had no reputable friends. Therefore, when Paul (with some defiance of
mien, as one who knew that it was a merely formal courtesy) requested
the consent of the head of the house to his union with the lady of his
choice, the head of the house, though elaborately polite, was very
high and mighty, and--Patty and Elizabeth being out of the way, shut
up together to kiss in comfort in one of the little bedrooms at the
back--made some very plain statements of his views to the ineligible
suitor, which fanned the vital spark in that young man's ardent spirit
to a white heat of wrath. By-and-by Mr. Yelverton modified those views,
like the just and large-hearted student of humanity that he was, and
was brought to see that a man can do no more for a woman than love
her, be he who he may, and that a woman, whether queen or peasant,
millionaire or pauper, can never give more than value for that "value
received." And by-and-by Paul learned to respect his brother-in-law for
a man whose manhood was his own, and to trust his motives absolutely,
even when he did not understand his actions. But just at first things
were unpleasant. Mr. Yelverton touched the young man's sensitive pride,
already morbidly exercised by his consciousness of the disparity
between Patty's social position and fortunes and his own, by some
indirect allusion to that painful circumstance, and brought upon
himself a revengeful reminder that his (Mr. Yelverton's) marriage with
Elizabeth might not be considered by superficial persons to be entirely
above suspicion. Things were, indeed, very unpleasant. Paul, irritated
in the first rapture of happiness, used more bad language (in thought
if not in speech) than he had done since Cup Day, when he went back to
his unfinished article on Political Patronage; Patty drove home with a
burning sense of being of age and her own mistress; and Elizabeth sat
in the carriage beside her, silent and thoughtful, feeling that the
first little cloud (that first one which, however faint and small, is
so incredible and so terrible) had made its appearance on the hitherto
stainless horizon of her married life.

Mrs. Duff-Scott, when they got home, received the blow with a stern
fortitude that was almost worse than Mr. Yelverton's prompt resistance,
and much worse than the mild but equally decided opposition of that
punctilious old gentleman at Seaview Villa, who, by-and-by, used all
his influence to keep the pair apart whom he would have given his
heart's blood to see united, out of a fastidious sense of what he
conceived to be his social and professional duty. Between them all,
they nearly drove the two high-spirited victims into further following
the example of the head of the house--the imminent danger of which
became apparent to Patty's confidante Elizabeth, who gave timely
warning of it to her husband. This latter pair, who had themselves
carried matters with such a very high hand, were far from desiring
that Paul and Patty should make assignations at the Exhibition with a
view to circumventing their adversaries by a clandestine or otherwise
untimely marriage (such divergence of opinion with respect to one's own
affairs and other people's being very common in this world, the gentle
reader may observe, even in the case of the most high-minded people).

"Kingscote," said Elizabeth, when one night she sat brushing her hair
before the looking-glass, and he, still in his evening dress, lounged
in an arm-chair by the dressing-table, talking to her, "Kingscote, I
am afraid you are too hard on Patty--you and the Duff-Scotts--keeping
her from Paul still, though she has but three days left, and I don't
believe she will stand it."

"My dear, we are not hard upon her, are we? It is for her sake. If we
can tide over these few days and get her away all right, a year or two
of absence, and all the new interests that she will find in Europe and
in her changed position, will probably cure her of her fancy for a
fellow who is not good enough for her."

"That shows how little you know her," said Elizabeth, with a melancholy
smile. "She is not a girl to take 'fancies' in that direction, and
having given her heart--and she has not given it so easily as you
imagine--she will be as faithful to him--as faithful"--casting about
for an adequate illustration--"as I should have been to you, Kingscote."

"Perhaps so, dear. I myself think it very likely. And in such a case
no harm is done. They will test each other, and if they both stand the
test it will be better and happier for them to have borne it, and we
shall feel then that we are justified in letting them marry. But at
present they know so little of each other--she has had no fair choice
of a husband--and she is too good to be thrown away. I feel responsible
for her, don't you see? And I only want her to have all her chances. I
will be the last to hinder the course of true love when once it proves
itself to _be_ true love."

"_We_ did not think it necessary to prove _our_ love--and I don't think
we should have allowed anybody else to prove it--by a long probation,
Kingscote."

"My darling, we were different," he said, promptly.

She did not ask him to explain wherein they were different, he and she,
who had met for the first time less than four months ago; she shared
the usual unconscious prejudice that we all have in favour of our own
sincerity and trustworthiness, and wisdom and foresight, and assumed as
a matter of course that their case was an exceptional one. Still she
had faith in others as well as in herself and her second self.

"I know Patty," she said, laying her hair brush on her knee and
looking with solemn earnestness into her husband's rough-hewn but
impressive face--a face that seemed to her to contain every element
of noble manhood, and that would have been weakened and spoiled by
mere superficial beauty--"I know Patty, Kingscote, better than anyone
knows her except herself. She is like a little briar rose--sweet and
tender if you are gentle and sympathetic with her, but certain to
prick if you handle her roughly. And so strong in the stem--so tough
and strong--that you cannot root her out or twist her any way that she
doesn't feel naturally inclined to grow--not if you use all your power
to make her."

"Poor little Patty!" he said, smiling. "That is a very pathetic image
of her. But I don't like to figure in your parable as the blind
genius of brute force--a horny-handed hedger and ditcher with a smock
frock and a bill-hook. I am quite capable of feeling the beauty, and
understanding the moral qualities of a wild rose--at least, I thought I
was. Perhaps I am mistaken. Tell me what you would do, if you were in
my place?"

Elizabeth slipped from her chair and down upon her knees beside him,
with her long hair and her long dressing-gown flowing about her, and
laid her head where it was glad of any excuse to be laid--a locality
at this moment indicated by the polished and unyielding surface of
his starched shirt front. "You know I never likened you to a hedger
and ditcher," she said, fondly. "No one is so wise and thoughtful
and far-sighted as you. It is only that you don't know Patty quite
yet--you will do soon--and what might be the perfect management of
such a crisis in another girl's affairs is likely not to succeed with
her--just simply and only for the reason that she is a little peculiar,
and you have not yet had time to learn that."

"It is time that I should learn," he said, lifting her into a restful
position and settling himself for a comfortable talk. "Tell me what you
think and know yourself, and what, in your judgment, it would be best
to do."

"In my judgment, then, it would be best," said Elizabeth, brief
interval given up to the enjoyment of a wordless _tête-à-tête_, "to
let Patty and Paul be together a little before they part. For this
reason--that they _will_ be together, whether they are let or not.
Isn't it preferable to make concessions before they are ignominiously
extorted from you? And if Patty has much longer to bear seeing her
lover, as she thinks, humiliated and insulted, by being ignored as her
lover in this house, she will go to the other extreme--she will go away
from us to him--by way of making up to him for it. It is like what you
say of the smouldering, poverty-bred anarchy in your European national
life--that if you don't find a vent for the accumulating electricity
generating in the human sewer--how do you put it?--it is no use to try
to draw it off after the storm has burst."

"Elizabeth," said her husband, reproachfully, "that is worse than being
called a hedger and ditcher."

"Well, you know what I mean."

"Tell me what you mean in the vulgar tongue, my dear. Do you want me to
go and call on Mr. Paul Brion and tell him that we have thought better
of it?"

"Not exactly that. But if you would persuade Mrs. Duff-Scott to be
nice about it--no one can be more enchantingly nice than she, when she
likes, but when she doesn't like she is enough to drive a man--a proud
man like Paul Brion--simply frantic. And Patty will never stand it--she
will not hold out--she will not go away leaving things as they are now.
We could not expect it of her."

"Well? And how should Mrs. Duff-Scott show herself nice to Mr. Brion?"

"She might treat him as--as she did you, Kingscote, when you were
wanting me."

"But she approved of me, you see. She doesn't approve of him."

"You are both gentlemen, anyhow--though he is poor. _I_ would have
been the more tender and considerate to him, because he is poor. He is
not too poor for Patty--nor would he have been if she had no fortune
herself. As it is, there is abundance. And, Kingscote, though I don't
mean for a moment to disparage you--"

"I should hope not, Elizabeth."

"Still I can't help thinking that to have brains as he has is to be
essentially a rich and distinguished man. And to be a writer for a
high-class newspaper, which you say yourself is the greatest and best
educator in the world--to spend himself in making other men see what is
right and useful--in spreading light and knowledge that no money could
pay for, and all the time effacing himself, and taking no reward of
honour or credit for it--surely that must be the noblest profession,
and one that should make a man anybody's equal--even yours, my love!"

She lifted herself up to make this eloquent appeal, and dropped back on
his shoulder again, and wound her arm about his neck and his bent head
with tender deprecation. He was deeply touched and stirred, and did not
speak for a moment. Then he said gruffly, "I shall go and see him in
the morning, Elizabeth. Tell me what I shall say to him, my dear."

"Say," said Elizabeth, "that you would rather not have a fixed
engagement at first, in order that Patty may be unhampered during
the time she is away--in order that she may be free to make other
matrimonial arrangements when she gets into the great world, if she
_likes_--but that you will leave that to him. Tell him that if love is
not to be kept faithful without vows and promises, it is not love nor
worth keeping--but I daresay he knows that. Tell him that, except for
being obliged to go to England just now on the family affairs, Patty is
free to do exactly as she likes--which she is by law, you know, for she
is over three-and-twenty--and that we will be happy to see her happy,
whatever way she chooses. And then let him come here and see her. Ask
Mrs. Duff-Scott to be nice and kind, and to give him an invitation--she
will do anything for you--and then treat them both as if they were
engaged for just this little time until we leave. It will comfort them
so much, poor things! It will put them on their honour. It will draw
off the electricity, you know, and prevent catastrophes. And it will
make not the slightest difference in the final issue. But, oh," she
added impulsively, "you don't want me to tell you what to do, you are
so much wiser than I am."

"I told you we should give and take," he responded; "I told you we
should teach and lead each other--sometimes I and sometimes you. That
is what we are doing already--it is as it should be. I shall go and see
Paul Brion in the morning. Confound him!" he added, as he got up out of
his chair to go to his dressing-room.

And so it came to pass that the young press writer, newly risen from
his bed, and meditating desperate things over his coffee and cutlet,
received a friendly embassy from the great powers that had taken up
arms against him. Mr. Yelverton was the bearer of despatches from
his sovereign, Mrs. Duff-Scott, in the shape of a gracious note of
invitation to dinner, which--after a long discussion of the situation
with her envoy--Mr. Paul Brion permitted himself to accept politely.
The interview between the two men was productive of a strong sense
of relief and satisfaction on both sides, and it brought about the
cessation of all open hostilities.



CHAPTER XLVIII.


PROBATION.


Mr. Yelverton did not return home from his mission until Mrs.
Duff-Scott's farewell kettle-drum was in full blast. He found the two
drawing-rooms filled with a fashionable crowd; and the hum of sprightly
conversation, the tinkle of teaspoons, the rustle of crisp draperies,
the all-pervading clamour of soft feminine voices, raised in staccato
exclamations and laughter, were such that he did not see his way to
getting a word in edgeways. Round each of the Yelverton sisters the
press of bland and attentive visitors was noticeably great. They were
swallowed up in the compact groups around them. This I am tempted to
impute to the fact of their recent elevation to rank and wealth, and to
a certain extent it may be admitted that that fact was influential. And
why not? But in justice I must state that the three pretty Miss Kings
had become favourites in Melbourne society while the utmost ignorance
prevailed as to their birth and antecedents, in conjunction with the
most exact knowledge as to the narrowness of their incomes. Melbourne
society, if a little too loosely constituted to please the tastes of
a British prig, born and bred to class exclusiveness, is, I honestly
believe, as free as may be from the elaborate snobbishness with which
that typical individual (though rather as his misfortune than his
fault) must be credited.

In Mrs. Duff-Scott's drawing-room were numerous representatives of
this society--its most select circle, in fact--numbering amongst them
women of all sorts; women like Mrs. Duff-Scott herself, who busied
themselves with hospitals and benevolent schemes, conscious of natural
aspirations and abilities for better things than dressing and gossiping
and intriguing for social triumphs; women like Mrs. Aarons, who had
had to struggle desperately to rise with the "cream" to the top of the
cup, and whose every nerve was strained to retain the advantages so
hardly won; women to whom scandal was the breath of their nostrils,
and the dissemination thereof the occupation of their lives; women
whose highest ambition was to make a large waist into a small one;
women with the still higher ambition to have a house that was more
pleasant and popular than anybody else's. All sorts and conditions of
women, indeed; including a good proportion of those whose womanhood
was unspoiled and unspoilable even by the deteriorating influences
of luxury and idleness, and whose intellect and mental culture and
charming qualities generally were such as one would need to hunt well
to find anything better in the same line elsewhere. These people had
all accepted the Miss Kings cordially when Mrs. Duff-Scott brought them
into their circle and enabled the girls to do their duty therein by
dressing well, and looking pretty, and contributing a graceful element
to fashionable gatherings by their very attractive manners. That was
all that was demanded of them, and, as Miss Kings only, they would
doubtless have had a brilliant career and never been made to feel the
want of either pedigree or fortune. Now, as representatives of a great
family and possessors of independent wealth, they were overwhelmed with
attentions; but this, I maintain, was due to the interesting nature
of the situation rather than to that worship of worldly prosperity
which (because he has plenty of it) is supposed to characterise the
successful colonist.

Mr. Yelverton looked round, and dropped into a chair near the door,
to talk to a group of ladies with whom he had friendly relations
until he could find an opportunity to rejoin his family. The hostess
was dispensing tea, with Nelly's assistance--Nelly being herself
attended by Mr. Westmoreland, who dogged her footsteps with patient and
abject assiduity--other men straying about amongst the crowd with the
precious little fragile cups and saucers in their hands. Elizabeth was
surrounded by young matrons fervently interested in her new condition,
and pouring out upon her their several experiences of European life,
in the form of information and advice for her own guidance. The best
shops, the best dressmakers, the best hotels, the best travelling
routes, and generally the best things to do and see, were emphatically
and at great length impressed upon her, and she made notes of them on
the back of an envelope with polite gratitude, invariably convinced
that her husband knew all about such things far better than anybody
else could do. Patty was in the music-room, not playing, but sitting
at the piano, and when Kingscote turned his head in her direction he
met a full and glowing look of inquiry from her bright eyes that told
him she knew or guessed the nature of his recent errand. There was such
an invitation in her face that he found himself drawn from his chair
as by a strong magnet. He and she had already had those "fights" which
she had prophetically anticipated. Lately their relations had been such
that he had permitted himself to call her a "spitfire" in speaking of
her to her own sister. But they were friends, tacitly trusting each
other at heart even when most openly at war, and the force that drew
them apart was always returned in the rebound that united them when
their quarrels were over. They seemed to be all over for the present.
As he approached her she resumed her talk with the ladies beside her,
and dropped her eyes as if taking no notice of him; but she had the
greatest difficulty to keep herself down on the music-stool and resist
an inclination to kiss him that for the first time beset her. She
did, indeed, suddenly put out her hand to him--her left hand--with a
vigour of intention that called faint smiles to the faces of the fair
spectators; who concluded that Mr. Yelverton had been out of town and
was receiving a welcome home after a too long absence. Then Patty was
seized with an ungovernable restlessness. She quivered all over; she
fidgetted in her seat; she did not know who spoke to her or what she
was talking about; her fingers went fluttering up and down the keyboard.

"Play us something, dear Miss Yelverton," said a lady sitting by. "Let
us hear your lovely touch once more."

"I don't think I can," said Patty, falteringly--the first time she had
ever made such a reply to such a demand. She got up and began to turn
over some loose music that lay about on the piano. Her brother-in-law
essayed to help her; he saw what an agony of suspense and expectation
she was in.

"You know where I have been?" he inquired in a careless tone, speaking
low, so that only she could hear.

"Yes"--breathlessly--"I think so."

"I went to take an invitation from Mrs. Duff-Scott."

"Yes?"

"I had a pleasant talk. I am very glad I went. He is coming to dine
here to-night."

"Is he?"

"Mrs. Duff-Scott thought you would all like to see him before you went
away. Let us have the 'Moonlight Sonata,' shall we? Beauty fades and
mere goodness is apt to pall, as Mrs. Ponsonby de Tompkins would say,
but one never gets tired of the 'Moonlight Sonata,' when it is played
as you play it. Don't you agree with me, Mrs. Aarons?"

"I do, indeed," responded that lady, fervently. She agreed with
everybody in his rank of life. And she implored Patty to give them the
"Moonlight Sonata."

Patty did--disdaining "notes," and sitting at the piano like a
young queen upon her throne. She laid her fingers on the keyboard
with a touch as light as thistle-down, but only so light because
it was so strong, and played with a hushed passion and subdued
power that testified to the effect on her of her brother-in-law's
communication--her face set and calm, but radiant in its sudden
peacefulness. Her way, too, as well as Elizabeth's, was opening before
her now. She lost sight of the gorgeous ladies around her for a little
while, and saw only the comfortable path which she and Paul would tread
together thenceforth. She played the "Moonlight Sonata" to _him_,
sitting in his own chamber corner, with his pipe, resting himself after
his work. "I will never," she said to herself, with a little remote
smile that nobody saw, "I will never have a room in my house that he
shall not smoke in, if he likes. When he is with me, he shall enjoy
himself." In those sweet few minutes she sketched the entire programme
of her married life.

The crowd thinned by degrees, and filtered away; the drawing-rooms
were deserted, save for the soft-footed servants who came in to set
them in order, and light the wax candles and rosy lamps, and the
great gas-burner over the piano, which was as the sun amongst his
planet family. Night came, and the ladies returned in their pretty
dinner costumes; and the major stole downstairs after them, and smiled
and chuckled silently over the new affair as he had done over the
old--looking on like a benevolent, superannuated Jove upon these simple
little romances from the high Olympus of his own brilliant past; and
then (preceded by no carriage wheels) there was a step on the gravel
and a ring at the door bell, and the guest of the evening was announced.

When Paul came in, correctly appointed, and looking so fierce and
commanding that Patty's heart swelled with pride as she gazed at him,
seeing how well--how almost too well, indeed--he upheld his dignity
and hers, which had been subjected to so many trials, he found himself
received with a cordiality that left him nothing to find fault with.
Mrs. Duff-Scott was an impulsive, and generous, and well-bred woman,
not given to do things by halves. She still hoped that Patty would not
marry this young man, and did not mean to let her if she could help it;
but, having gone the length of inviting him to her house, she treated
him accordingly. She greeted him as if he were an old friend, and she
chatted to him pleasantly while they waited for dinner, questioning him
with subtle flattery about his professional affairs, and implying that
reverence for the majesty of the press which is so gratifying to all
enlightened people. Then she took his arm into dinner, and continued
to talk to him throughout the meal as only one hostess in a hundred,
really nice and clever, with a hospitable soul, and a warm heart, and
abundant tact and good taste, can talk, and was surprised herself to
find how much she appreciated it. She intended to make the poor young
fellow enjoy his brief taste of Paradise, since she had given herself
leave to do so, and Paul responded by shining for her entertainment
with a mental effulgence that astonished and charmed her. He put forth
his very best wares for her inspection, and at the same time, in a
difficult position, conducted himself with irreproachable propriety. By
the time she left the table she was ready to own herself heartily sorry
that fickle fortune had not endowed him according to his deserts.

"I _do_ so like really interesting and intellectual young men, who
don't give themselves any airs about it," she said to nobody in
particular, when she strolled back to the drawing-room with her three
girls; "and one does so _very_ seldom meet with them!" She threw
herself into a low chair, snatched up a fan, and began to fan herself
vigorously. The discovery that a press writer of Paul Brion's standing
meant a cultured man of the world impressed her strongly; the thought
of him as a new son for herself, clever, enterprising, active-minded
as she was--a man to be governed, perhaps, in a motherly way, and
to be proud of whether he let himself be governed or not--danced
tantalisingly through her brain. She felt it necessary to put a very
strong check upon herself to keep her from being foolish.

She escaped that danger, however. A high sense of duty to Patty held
her back from foolishness. Still she could not help being kind to
the young couple while she had the opportunity; turning her head
when they strolled into the conservatory after the men came in from
the dining-room, and otherwise shutting her eyes to their joint
proceedings. And they had a peaceful and sad and happy time, by her
gracious favour, for two days and a half--until the mail ship carried
one of them to England, and left the other behind.



CHAPTER XLIX.


YELVERTON.


Patty went "home," and stayed there for two years; but it was never
home to her, though all her friends and connections, save one, were
with her--because that one was absent. She saw "the great Alps and the
Doge's palace," and all the beauty and glory of that great world that
she had so ardently dreamed of and longed for; travelling in comfort
and luxury, and enjoying herself thoroughly all the while. She was
presented at Court--"Miss Yelverton, by her sister, Mrs. Kingscote
Yelverton"--and held a distinguished place in the _Court Journal_ and
in the gossip of London society for the better part of two seasons. She
was taught to know that she was a beauty, if she had never known it
before; she was made to understand the value of a high social position
and the inestimable advantage of large means (and she did understand it
perfectly, being a young person abundantly gifted with common sense);
and she was offered these good things for the rest of her life, and a
coronet into the bargain. Nevertheless, she chose to abide by her first
choice, and to remain faithful to her penniless press writer under all
temptations. She passed through the fire of every trying ordeal that
the ingenuity of Mrs. Duff-Scott could devise; her unpledged constancy
underwent the severest tests that, in the case of a girl of her tastes
and character, it could possibly be subjected to; and at the end of a
year and a half, when the owner of the coronet above-mentioned raised
the question of her matrimonial prospects, she announced to him, and
subsequently to her family, that they had been irrevocably settled
long ago; that she was entirely unchanged in her sentiments and
relations towards Paul Brion; and that she intended, moreover, if they
had no objection, to return to Australia to marry him.

It was in September when she thus declared herself--after keeping
a hopeful silence, for the most part, concerning her love affairs,
since she disgraced herself before a crowd of people by weeping in
her sweetheart's arms on the deck of the mail steamer at the moment
when she was bidden by a cruel fate to part from him. The Yelverton
family had spent the previous winter in the South of Europe, "doing"
the palaces, and churches, and picture galleries that were such an
old story to most people of their class, but to the unsophisticated
sisters so fresh and wonderful an experience--an experience that
fulfilled all expectations, moreover, which such realisations of young
dreams so seldom do. Generally, when at last one has one's wish of
this sort, the spirit that conceived the charms and pleasures of it
is quenched by bodily wearinesses and vexations and the thousand and
one petty accidents that circumvent one's schemes. One is burdened
and fretted with uncongenial companions, perhaps, or one is worried
and hampered for want of money; or one is nervous or bilious, or one
is too old and careworn to enjoy as one might once have done; in some
way or other one's heart's desire comes to one as if only to show the
"leanness withal" in the soul that seemed (until thus proved) to have
such power to assimilate happiness and enrich itself thereby. But with
the Yelverton sisters there was no disillusionment of this sort. They
had their little drawbacks, of course. Elizabeth was not always in
good health; Patty pined for her Paul; Eleanor sprained her ankle and
had to lie on Roman sofas while the others were exploring Roman ruins
out of doors; and there were features about the winter, even in those
famous climes, which gave them sensible discomfort and occasionally
set them on the verge of discontent. But, looking back upon their
travels, they have no recollection of these things. Young, and strong,
and rich, with no troubles to speak of and the keenest appetites to
see and learn, they had as good a time as pleasure-seeking mortals
can hope for in this world; the memories of it, tenderly stored up to
the smallest detail, will be a joy for ever to all of them. On their
return to England they took up their abode in the London house, and for
some weeks they revelled delightedly in balls, drums, garden parties,
concerts, and so on, under the supervision and generalship of Mrs.
Duff-Scott; and they also made acquaintance with the widely-ramifying
Whitechapel institutions. Early in the summer Elizabeth and her husband
went to Yelverton, which in their absence had been prepared for "the
family" to live in again. A neighbouring country house and several
cottages had been rented and fitted up for the waifs and strays, where
they had been made as comfortable as before, and were still under the
eye of their protector; and the ancestral furniture that had been
removed for their convenience and its own safety was put back in its
place, and bright (no, not bright--Mrs. Duff-Scott undertook the task
of fitting them up--but eminently artistic and charming) rooms were
newly decorated and made ready for Elizabeth's occupation.

She went there early in June--she and her husband alone, leaving Mrs.
Duff-Scott and the girls in London. Mr. Yelverton had always a little
jealousy about keeping his wife to himself on these specially sacred
occasions, and he invited no one to join them during their first days
at home, and instructed Mr. Le Breton to repress any tendency that
might be apparent in tenants or _protégés_ to make a public festival of
their arrival there. The _rôle_ of squire was in no way to his taste,
nor that of Lady Bountiful to hers. And yet he had planned for their
home-coming with the utmost care and forethought, that nothing should
be wanting to make it satisfying and complete--as he had planned for
their wedding journey on the eve of their hurried marriage.

It is too late in my story to say much about Yelverton. It merits a
description, but a description would be out of place, and serve no
purpose now. Those who are familiar with old Elizabethan country seats,
and the general environment of a hereditary dweller therein, will
have a sufficient idea of Elizabeth's home; and those who have never
seen such things--who have not grown up in personal association with
the traditions of an "old family"--will not care to be told about it.
In the near future (for, though his brother magnates of the county,
hearing of the restoration of the house, congratulated themselves that
Yelverton's marriage had cured him of his crack-brained fads, he only
delivered her property intact to his wife in order that they might be
crack-brained together, at her instance and with her legal permission
in new and worse directions afterwards) Yelverton will lose many of
its time-honoured aristocratic distinctions; oxen and sheep will take
the place of its antlered herds, and the vulgar plough and ploughman
will break up the broad park lawns, where now the pheasant walks in
the evening, and the fox, stealing out from his cover, haunts for his
dainty meal. But when Elizabeth saw it that tender June night, just
when the sun was setting, as in England it only sets in June, all its
old-world charm of feudal state and beauty, jealously walled off from
the common herd outside as one man's heritage by divine right and for
his exclusive enjoyment, lay about it, as it had lain for generations
past. Will she ever forget that drive in the summer evening from the
little country railway station to her ancestral home?--the silent road,
with the great trees almost meeting overhead; the snug farm-houses, old
and picturesque, and standing behind their white gates amongst their
hollyhocks and bee-hives; the thatched cottages by the roadside, with
groups of wide-eyed children standing at the doors to see the carriage
pass; the smell of the hay and the red clover in the fields, and the
honeysuckle and the sweet-briar in the hedges; the sound of the wood
pigeons cooing in the plantations; the first sight of her own lodge
gates, with their great ramping griffins stonily pawing the air, and of
those miles and miles of shadow-dappled sward within, those mysterious
dark coverts, whence now and then a stag looked out at her and went
crashing back to his ferny lair, and those odorous avenues of beech
and lime, still haunted by belated bees and buzzing cockchafers, under
which she passed to the inner enclosure of lawns and gardens where the
old house stood, with open doors of welcome, awaiting her. What an old
house! She had seen such in pictures--in the little prints that adorned
old-fashioned pocket-books of her mother's time---but the reality, as
in the case of the Continental palaces, transcended all her dreams.
White smoke curled up to the sky from the fluted chimney-stacks; the
diamond-paned casements--little sections of the enormous mullioned
windows--were set wide to the evening breezes and sunshine; on the
steps before the porch a group of servants, respectful but not
obsequious, stood ready to receive their new mistress, and to efface
themselves as soon as they had made her welcome.

"It is more than my share," she said, almost oppressed by all these
evidences of her prosperity, and thinking of her mother's different
lot. "It doesn't seem fair, Kingscote."

"It is not fair," he replied. "But that is not your fault, nor mine.
We are not going to keep it all to ourselves, you and I--because a
king happened to fall in love with one of our grandmothers, who was
no better than she should be--which is our title to be great folks, I
believe. We are going to let other people have a share. But just for
a little while we'll be selfish, Elizabeth; it's a luxury we don't
indulge in often."

So he led her into the beautiful house, after giving her a solemn kiss
upon the threshold; and passing through the great hall, she was taken
to a vast but charming bedroom that had been newly fitted up for her
on the ground floor, and thence to an adjoining sitting-room, looking
out upon a shady lawn--a homely, cosy little room that he had himself
arranged for her private use, and which no one was to be allowed to
have the run of, he told her, except him.

"I want to feel that there is one place where we can be together,"
he said, "whenever we want to be together, sure of being always
undisturbed. It won't matter how full the house is, nor how much bustle
and business goes on, if we can keep this nest for ourselves, to come
to when we are tired and when we want to talk. It is not your boudoir,
you know--that is in another place--and it is not your morning room; it
is a little sanctuary apart, where nobody is to be allowed to set foot,
save our own two selves and the housemaid."

"It shall be," said his wife, with kindling eyes. "I will take care of
that."

"Very well. That is a bargain. We will take possession to-night. We
will inaugurate our occupation by having our tea here. You shall not be
fatigued by sitting up to dinner--you shall have a Myrtle Street tea,
and I will wait on you."

She was placed in a deep arm-chair, beside a hearth whereon burned the
first wood fire that she had seen since she left Australia--billets
of elm-wood split from the butts of dead and felled giants that had
lived their life out on the Yelverton acres--with her feet on a rug
of Tasmanian opossum skins, and a bouquet of golden wattle blossoms
(procured with as much difficulty in England as the lilies of the
valley had been in Australia) on a table beside her, scenting the room
with its sweet and familiar fragrance. And here tea was brought in--a
dainty little nondescript meal, with very little about it to remind her
of Myrtle Street, save its comfortable informality; and the servant was
dismissed, and the husband waited upon his wife--helping her from the
little savoury dishes that she did not know, nor care to ask, the name
of--pouring the cream into the cup that for so many years had held her
strongest beverage, dusting the sugar over her strawberries--all the
time keeping her at rest in her soft chair, with the sense of being
at home and in peace and safety under his protection working like a
delicious opiate on her tired nerves and brain.

This was how they came to Yelverton. And for some days thereafter they
indulged in the luxury of selfishness--they took their happiness in
both hands, and made all they could of it, conscious they were well
within their just rights and privileges--gaining experiences that all
the rest of their lives would be the better for, and putting off from
day to day, and from week to week, that summons to join them, which the
matron and girls in London were ready to obey at a moment's notice.
Husband and wife sat in their gable room, reading, resting, talking,
love-making. They explored all the nooks and corners of their old
house, investigated its multifarious antiquities, studied its bygone
history, exhumed the pathetic memorials of the Kingscote and Elizabeth
whose inheritance had come to them in so strange a way. They rambled
in the beautiful summer woods, she with her needlework, he with his
book--sometimes with a luncheon basket, when they would stay out all
day; and they took quiet drives, all by themselves in a light buggy,
as if they were in Australia still--apparently with no consciousness
of that toiling and moiling world outside their park-gates which had
once been of so much importance to them. And then one day Elizabeth
complained of feeling unusually tired. The walks and drives came to an
end, and the sitting-room was left empty. There was a breathless hush
all over the great house for a little while; whispers and rustlings to
and fro; and then a little cry--which, weak and small as it was, and
shut in with double doors and curtains, somehow managed to make itself
heard from the attic to the basement--announced that a new generation
of Yelvertons of Yelverton had come into the world.

Mrs. Duff-Scott returned home from a series of Belgravian
entertainments, with that coronet of Patty's capture on her mind,
in the small hours of the morning following this eventful day; and
she found a telegram on her hall table, and learned, to her intense
indignation, that Elizabeth had dared to have a baby without her (Mrs.
Duff-Scott) being there to assist at the all-important ceremony.

"It's just like him," she exclaimed to the much-excited sisters, who
were ready to melt into tears over the good news. "It is just what I
expected he would do when he took her off by herself in that way. It
is the marriage over again. He wants to manage everything in his own
fashion, and to have no interference from anybody. But this is really
carrying independence too far. Supposing anything had gone wrong
with Elizabeth? And how am I to know that her nurse is an efficient
person?--and that the poor dear infant will be properly looked after?"

"You may depend," said Patty, who did not grudge her sister her new
happiness, but envied it from the bottom of her honest woman's heart,
"You may depend he has taken every care of that. He is not a man to
leave things to chance--at any rate, not where _she_ is concerned."

"Rubbish!" retorted the disappointed matron, who, though she had had
no children of her own--perhaps because she had had none--had looked
forward to a vicarious participation in Elizabeth's experiences at
this time with the strongest interest and eagerness; "as if a man has
any business to take upon himself to meddle at all in such matters! It
is not fair to Elizabeth. She has a right to have us with her. I gave
way about the wedding, but here I must draw the line. She is in her
own house, and I shall go to her at once. Tell your maid to pack up,
dears--we will start to-morrow."

But they did not. They stayed in London, with what patience they could,
subsisting on daily letters and telegrams, until the season there was
over, and the baby at Yelverton was three weeks old. Then, though no
explanations were made, they became aware that they would be no longer
considered _de trop_ by the baby's father, and rushed from the town to
the country house with all possible haste.

"You are a tyrant," said Mrs. Duff-Scott, when the master came forth to
meet her. "I always said so, and now I know it."

"I was afraid she would get talking and exerting herself too much if
she had you all about her," he replied, with his imperturbable smile.

"And you didn't think that _we_ might possibly have a grain of sense,
as well as you?"

"I didn't think of anything," he said coolly, "except to make sure of
her safety as far as possible."

"O yes, I know"--laughing and brushing past him--"all you think of is
to get your own way. Well, let us see the poor dear girl now we are
here. I know how she must have been pining to show her baby to her
sisters all this while, when you wouldn't let her."

The next time he found himself alone with his wife, Mr. Yelverton asked
her, with some conscientious misgiving, whether she _had_ been pining
for this forbidden pleasure, and whether he really was a tyrant.
Of course, Elizabeth scouted any suggestion of such an idea as most
horrible and preposterous, but the fact was--

Never mind. We all have our little failings, and the intelligent reader
will not expect to find the perfect man any more than the perfect
woman in this present world. And if he--or, I should say, she--_could_
find him, no doubt she would be dreadfully disappointed, and not like
him half so well as the imperfect ones. Elizabeth, who, as Patty had
predicted, was "butter" in his hands, would not have had her husband
less fond of his own way on any account.

For some time everybody was taken up with the baby, who was felt to be
the realisation of that ideal which Dan and the magpies had faintly
typified in the past. Dan himself lay humbly on the hem of the mother's
skirts, or under her chair, resting his disjointed nose on his paws,
and blinking meditatively at the rival who had for ever superseded
him. Like a philosophical dog as he was, he accepted superannuation
without a protest as the inevitable and universal lot, and, when no one
took any notice of him, coiled himself on the softest thing he could
find and went to sleep, or if he couldn't go to sleep, amused himself
snapping at the English flies. The girls forgot, or temporarily laid
aside, their own affairs, in the excitement of a constant struggle
for possession of the person of the little heir, whom they regarded
with passionate solicitude or devouring envy and jealousy according
as they were successful or otherwise. The nurse's post was a sinecure
at this time. The aunts hushed the infant to sleep, and kept watch by
his cradle, and carried him up and down the garden terraces with a
parasol over his head. The mother insisted upon performing his toilet,
and generally taking a much larger share of him than was proper for
a mother in her rank of life; and even Mrs. Duff-Scott, for whom
china had lost its remaining charms, assumed privileges as a deputy
grandmother which it was found expedient to respect. In this absorbing
domesticity the summer passed away. The harvest of field and orchard
was by-and-by gathered in; the dark-green woods and avenues turned
red, and brown, and orange under the mellow autumn sun; the wild
fruits in the hedgerows ripened; the swallows took wing. To Yelverton
came a party of guests--country neighbours and distinguished public
men, of a class that had not been there a-visiting for years past;
who shot the well-stocked covers, and otherwise disported themselves
after the manner of their kind. And amongst the nobilities was that
coronet, that incarnation of dignity and magnificence, which had been
singled out as an appropriate mate for Patty. It, or he, was offered
in form, and with circumstances of state and ceremony befitting the
great occasion; and Patty was summoned to a consultation with her
family--every member of which, not even excepting Elizabeth herself,
was anxious to see the coronet on Patty's brow (which shows how
hereditary superstitions and social prejudices linger in the blood,
even after they seem to be eradicated from the brain)--for the purpose
of receiving their advice, and stating her own intentions.

"My intention," said Patty, firmly, with her little nose uplifted,
and a high colour in her face, "is to put an end to this useless and
culpable waste of time. The man I love and am _engaged to_ is working,
and slaving, and waiting for me; and I, like the rest of you, am
neglecting him, and sacrificing him, as if he were of no consequence
whatever. _This_ shows me how I have been treating him. I will not
do it any more. I did not become Miss Yelverton to repudiate all I
undertook when I was only Patty King. I am Yelverton by name, but I am
King by nature, still. I don't want to be a great swell. I have seen
the world, and I am satisfied. Now I want to go home to Paul--as I
ought to have done before. I will ask you, if you please, Kingscote, to
take my passage for me at once. I shall go back next month, and I shall
marry Paul Brion as soon as the steamer gets to Melbourne."

Her brother-in-law put out his hand, and drew her to him, and kissed
her. "Well done," he said, speaking boldly from his honest heart. "So
you shall."



CHAPTER L.


"THY PEOPLE SHALL BE MY PEOPLE."


Patty softened down the terms in which she made her declaration of
independence, when she found that it was received in so proper a
spirit. She asked them if they had _any objection_--which, after
telling them that it didn't matter whether they had or not, was a
graceful act, tending to make things pleasant without committing
anybody. But if they had objections (as of course they had) they
abandoned them at this crisis. It was no use to fight against Paul
Brion, so they accepted him, and made the best of him. The head of
the family suddenly and forcibly realised that he should have been
disappointed in his little sister-in law if she had acted otherwise;
and even Mrs. Duff-Scott, who would always so much rather help than
hinder a generous project, no matter how opposed to the ethics of her
class, was surprised herself by the readiness with which she turned her
back on faded old lords and dissipated young baronets, and gave herself
up to the pleasant task of making true lovers happy. Elizabeth repented
swiftly of her own disloyalty to plighted love, temporary and shadowy
as it was; and, seeing how matters really stood, acquiesced in the
situation with a sense of great thankfulness that her Patty was proved
so incorruptible by the tests she had gone through. Mrs. Yelverton's
only trouble was the fear of separation in the family, which the
ratification of the engagement seemed likely to bring about.

But Patty was dissuaded from her daring enterprise, as first proposed;
and Paul was written to by her brother and guardian, and adjured to
detach himself from his newspaper for a while and come to England
for a holiday--which, it was delicately hinted, might take the form
of a bridal tour. And in that little sitting-room, sacred to the
private interviews of the master and mistress of the house, great
schemes were conceived and elaborated for the purpose of seducing Mrs.
Brion's husband to remain in England for good and all. They settled
his future for him in what seemed to them an irresistibly attractive
way. He was to rent a certain picturesque manor-house in the Yelverton
neighbourhood, and there, keeping Patty within her sister's reach,
take up that wholesome, out-door country life which they were sure
would be so good for his health and his temper. He could do a little
high farming, and "whiles" write famous books; or, if his tastes and
habits unfitted him for such a humdrum career, he could live in the
world of London art and intellect, and be a "power" on behalf of those
social reforms for which his brother-in-law so ardently laboured.
Mr. Brion, senior, who had long ago returned to Seaview Villa, was,
of course, to be sent for back again, to shelter himself under the
broad Yelverton wing. The plan was all arranged in the most harmonious
manner, and Elizabeth's heart grew more light and confident every time
she discussed it.

Paul received his pressing invitation--which he understood to mean,
as it did, a permission to go and marry Patty from her sister's
house---just after having been informed by Mrs. Aarons, "as a positive
fact," that Miss Yelverton was shortly to be made a countess. He
did not believe this piece of news, though Mrs. Aarons, who had an
unaccountably large number of friends in the highest circles of London
society, was ready to vouch for its authenticity with her life, if
necessary; but, all the same, it made him feel moody, and surly, and
ill-used, and miserable. It was his dark hour before the dawn. In
Australia the summer was coming on. It was the middle of November. The
"Cup" carnival was over for another year. The war in Egypt was also
over, and the campaign of Murdoch's cricketers in England--two events
which it seemed somehow natural to bracket together. The Honourable
Ivo Bligh and his team had just arrived in Melbourne. The Austral had
just been sunk in Sydney Harbour. It was early summer with us here,
the brightest and gayest time of the whole year. In England the bitter
winter was at hand--that dreaded English winter which the Australian
shudders to think of, but which the Yelverton family had agreed to
spend in their ancestral house, in order to naturalise and acclimatise
the sisters, and that duty might be done in respect of those who had to
bear the full extent of its bitterness, in hunger, and cold, and want.
When Mr. Yelverton wrote to Paul to ask him to visit them, Patty wrote
also to suggest that his precious health might suffer by coming over at
such a season, and to advise him to wait until February or March. But
the moment her lover had read those letters, he put on his hat and went
forth to his office to demand leave for six months, and in a few days
was on board the returning mail steamer on his way to England. He did
not feel like waiting now--after waiting for two years--and she was not
in the least afraid that he would accept her advice.

Paul's answers arrived by post, as he was himself speeding through
Europe--not so much absorbed in his mission as to neglect note-making
by the way, and able to write brilliant articles on Gambetta's death,
and other affairs of the moment, while waiting for boat or train to
carry him to his beloved; and it was still only the first week in
January when they received a telegram at Yelverton announcing his
imminent arrival. Mr. Yelverton himself went to London to meet him,
and Elizabeth rolled herself in furs and an opossum rug in her snug
brougham and drove to the country railway station to meet them both,
leaving Patty sitting by the wood fire in the hall. Mrs. Duff-Scott
was in town, and Eleanor with her, trying to see Rossetti's pictures
through the murky darkness of the winter days, but in reality bent on
giving the long-divided lovers as much as possible of their own society
for a little while. The carriage went forth early in the afternoon,
with its lamps lighted, and it returned when the cold night had settled
down on the dreary landscape at five o'clock. Paul, ulstered and
comfortered, walked into the dimly-lighted, warm, vast space, hung
round with ghostly banners and antlers, and coats of mail, and pictures
whereof little was visible but the frames, and marched straight into
the ruddy circle of the firelight, where the small figure awaited him
by the twinkling tea-table, herself only an outline against the dusk
behind her; and the pair stood on the hearthrug and kissed each other
silently, while Elizabeth, accompanied by her husband, went to take her
bonnet off, and to see how Kingscote junior was getting on.

After that Paul and Patty parted no more. They had a few peaceful
weeks at Yelverton, during which the newspaper in Melbourne got
nothing whatever from the fertile brain of its brilliant contributor
(which, Patty thought, must certainly be a most serious matter for the
proprietors); and in which interval they made compensation for all past
shortcomings as far as their opportunities, which were profuse and
various, allowed. It delighted Paul to cast up at Patty the several
slights and snubs that she had inflicted on him in the old Myrtle
Street days, and it was her great luxury in life to make atonement for
them all--to pay him back a hundredfold for all that he had suffered on
her account. The number of "soft things" that she played upon the piano
from morning till night would alone have set him up in "Fridays" for
the two years that he had been driven to Mrs. Aarons for entertainment;
and the abject meekness of the little spitfire that he used to know
was enough to provoke him to bully her, if he had had anything of the
bully in him. The butter-like consistency to which she melted in this
freezing English winter time was such as to disqualify her for ever
from sitting in judgment upon Elizabeth's conjugal attitude. She fell
so low, indeed, that she became, in her turn, a mark for Eleanor's
scoffing criticism.

"Well, I never thought to see you grovel to any living being--let alone
a _man_--as you do to him," said that young lady on one occasion, with
an impudent smile. "The citizens of Calais on their knees to Edward the
Third were truculent swaggerers by comparison."

"You mind your own business," retorted Patty, with a flash of her
ancient spirit.

Whereat Nelly rejoined that she would mind it by keeping her _fiancé_
in his proper place when _her_ time came to have a _fiancé. She_ would
not let him put a rope round her neck and tie it to his button-hole
like a hat-string. She'd see him farther first.

February came, and Mrs. Duff-Scott returned, and preparations for the
wedding were set going. The fairy godmother was determined to make up
for the disappointment she had suffered in Elizabeth's case by making a
great festival of the second marriage of the family, and they let her
have her wish, the result being that the bride of the poor press-writer
had a _trousseau_ worthy of that coronet which she had extravagantly
thrown away, and presents the list and description of which filled a
whole column of the _Yelverton Advertiser_, and made the hearts of all
the local maidens to burn with envy. In March they were married in
Yelverton village church. They went to London for a week, and came back
for a fortnight; and in April they crossed the sea again, bound for
their Melbourne home.

For all the beautiful arrangements that had been planned for them fell
through. The Yelvertons had reckoned without their host--as is the
incurable habit of sanguine human nature--with the usual result. Paul
had no mind to abandon his chosen career and the country that, as a
true Australian, he loved and served as he could never love and serve
another, because he had married into a great English family; and Patty
would not allow him to be persuaded. Though her heart was torn in
two at the thought of parting with Elizabeth, and with that precious
baby who was Elizabeth's rival in her affections, she promptly and
uncomplainingly tore herself from both of them to follow her husband
whithersoever it seemed good to him to go.

"One cannot have everything in this world," said Patty philosophically,
"and you and I, Elizabeth, have considerably more than our fair share.
If we hadn't to pay something for our happiness, how could we expect it
to last?"



CHAPTER LI.


PATIENCE REWARDED.


Eleanor, like Patty, withstood the seductions of English life and
miscellaneous English admirers, and lived to be Miss Yelverton in her
turn, unappropriated and independent. And, like both her sisters,
though more by accident than of deliberate intention, she remained
true to her first love, and, after seeing the world and supping
full of pleasure and luxury, returned to Melbourne and married Mr.
Westmoreland. That is to say, Mr. Westmoreland followed her to England,
and followed her all over Europe--dogging her from place to place with
a steadfast persistence that certainly deserved reward--until the
major and Mrs. Duff-Scott, returning home almost immediately after
Patty's marriage and departure, brought their one ewe lamb, which the
Yelvertons had not the conscience to immediately deprive them of, back
to Australia with them; when her persevering suitor promptly took his
passage in the same ship. All this time Mr. Westmoreland had been
as much in love as his capacity for the tender passion--much larger
than was generally supposed--permitted. Whether it was that she was
the only woman who dared to bully him and trample on him, and thereby
won his admiration and respect--or whether his passion required that
the object of it should be difficult of attainment--or whether her
grace and beauty were literally irresistible to him--or whether he
was merely the sport of that unaccountable fate which seems to govern
or misgovern these affairs, it is not necessary to conjecture. No one
asks for reasons when a man or woman falls a victim to this sort of
infatuation. Some said it was because she had become rich and grand,
but that was not the case--except in so far as the change in her
social circumstances had made her tyrannical and impudent, in which
sense wealth and consequence had certainly enhanced her attractions in
his eyes. Thirty thousand pounds, though a very respectable marriage
portion in England, is not sufficient to make a fortune-hunter of an
Australian suitor in his position; and let me do the Australian suitor
of all ranks justice and here state that fortune hunting, through the
medium of matrimony, is a weakness that his worst enemy cannot accuse
him of--whatever his other faults may be. Mr. Westmoreland, being fond
of money, as a constitutional and hereditary peculiarity--if you
can call that a peculiarity--was tempted to marry it once, when that
stout and swarthy person in the satin gown and diamonds exercised her
fascinations on him at the club ball, and he could have married it at
any time of his bachelor life, the above possessor of it being, like
Barkis, "willin'", and even more than "willin'". Her fortune was such
that Eleanor's thirty thousand was but a drop in the bucket compared
with it, and yet even he did not value it in comparison with the favour
of that capricious young lady. So he followed her about from day to
day and from place to place, as if he had no other aim in life than
to keep her within sight, making himself an insufferable nuisance to
her friends very often, but apparently not offending her by his open
and inveterate pursuit. She was not kind, but she was not cruel, and
yet she was both in turn to a distracting degree. She made his life
an ecstasy of miserable longing for her, keeping him by her side like
a big dog on a chain, and feeding him with stones (in the prettiest
manner) when he asked for bread. But she grew very partial to her
big dog in the process of tormenting him and witnessing his touching
patience under it. She was "used to him," she said; and when, from
some untoward circumstance over which he had no control, he was for a
little while absent from her, she felt the gap he left. She sensibly
missed him. Moreover, though she trampled on him herself, it hurt her
to see others do it; and when Mrs. Duff-Scott and Kingscote Yelverton
respectively aired their opinions of his character and conduct, she
instantly went over to his side, and protested in her heart, if not in
words, against the injustice and opprobrium that he incurred for her
sake. So, when Elizabeth became the much-occupied mother of a family,
and when Patty was married and gone off into the world with her Paul,
Eleanor, left alone in her independence, began to reckon up what it was
worth. The spectacle of her sisters' wedded lives gave her pleasant
notions of matrimony, and the state of single blessedness, as such,
never had any particular charms for her. Was it worth while, she asked
herself, to be cruel any more?--and might she not just as well have a
house and home of her own as Elizabeth and Patty? Her lover was only
a big dog upon a chain, but then why shouldn't he be? Husbands were
not required to be all of the same pattern. She didn't want to be
domineered over. And she didn't see anybody she liked better. She might
go farther and fare worse. And--she was getting older every day.

Mrs. Duff-Scott broke in upon these meditations with the demand that
she (Eleanor) should return with her to Melbourne, if only for a year
or two, so that she should not be entirely bereft and desolate.

"I must start at once," said the energetic woman, suddenly seized with
a paroxysm of home sickness and a sense of the necessity to be doing
something now that at Yelverton there seemed nothing more to do, and in
order to shake off the depressing effect of the first break in their
little circle. "I have been away too long--it is time to be looking
after my own business. Besides, I can't allow Patty to remain in that
young man's lodgings--full of dusty papers and tobacco smoke, and
where, I daresay, she hasn't so much as a peg to hang her dresses on.
She must get a house at once, and I must be there to see about it, and
to help her to choose the furniture. Elizabeth, my darling, you have
your husband and child--I am leaving you happy and comfortable--and
I will come and see you again in a year or two, or perhaps you and
Kingscote will take a trip over yourselves and spend a winter with us.
But I must go now. And do, do--oh, _do_ let me keep Nelly for a little
while longer! You know I will take care of her, and I couldn't bear the
sight of my house with none of you in it!"

So she went, and of course she took Eleanor, who secretly longed for
the land of sunshine after her full dose of "that horrid English
climate," and who, with a sister at either end of the world, perhaps
missed Patty, who had been her companion by night as well as by day,
more than she would miss Elizabeth. The girl was very ready to go. She
wept bitterly when the actual parting came, but she got over it in a
way that gave great satisfaction to Mrs. Duff-Scott and the major, and
relieved them of all fear that they had been selfish about bringing
her away. They joined the mail steamer at Venice, and there found Mr.
Westmoreland on board. He had been summoned by his agent at home he
explained; one of his partners wanted to retire, and he had to be there
to sign papers. And since it had so happened that he was obliged to
go back by this particular boat, he hoped the ladies would make him
useful, and let him look after their luggage and things. Eleanor was
properly and conventionally astonished by the curious coincidence,
but had known that it would happen just as well as he. The chaperon,
for her part, was indignant and annoyed by it--for a little while;
afterwards she, too, reflected that Eleanor had spent two unproductive
years in England and was growing older every day. Also that she might
certainly go farther and fare worse. So Mr. Westmoreland was accepted
as a member of the travelling party. All the heavy duties of escort
were relegated to him by the major, and Mrs. Duff-Scott sent him hither
and thither in a way that he had never been accustomed to. But he was
meek and biddable in these days, and did not mind what uses he put
his noble self to for his lady's sake. And she was very gracious. The
conditions of ship life, at once so favourable and so very unfavourable
for the growth of tender relations, suited his requirements in every
way. She could not snub him under the ever-watchful eyes of their
fellow-passengers. She could not send him away from her. She was even a
little tempted, by that ingrained vanity of the female heart, to make a
display before the other and less favoured ladies of the subject-like
homage which she, queen-like, received. Altogether, things went on
in a very promising manner. So that when, no farther than the Red
Sea--while life seemed, as it does in that charming locality, reduced
to its simple elements, and the pleasure of having a man to fan her was
a comparatively strong sensation--when at this propitious juncture,
Mr. Westmoreland bewailed his hard fate for the thousandth time, and
wondered whether he should ever have the good fortune to find a little
favour in her sight, it seemed to her that this sort of thing had gone
on long enough, and that she might as well pacify him and have done
with it. So she said, looking at him languidly with her sentimental
blue eyes--"Well, if you'll promise not to bother me any more, I'll
think about it."

He promised faithfully not to bother her any more, and he did not. But
he asked her presently, after fanning her in silence for some minutes,
what colour she would like her carriage painted, and she answered
promptly, "Dark green."

While they were yet upon the sea, a letter--three letters, in
fact--were despatched to Yelverton, to ask the consent of the head of
the family to the newly-formed engagement, and not long after the party
arrived in Melbourne the desired permission was received, Mr. and Mrs.
Yelverton having learned the futility of opposition in these matters,
and having no serious objection to Nelly's choice. And then again Mrs.
Duff-Scott plunged into the delight of preparation for trousseau and
wedding festivities--quite willing that the "poor dear fellow," as
she now called him (having taken him to her capacious heart), should
receive the reward of his devotion without unnecessary delay. The house
was already there, a spick and span family mansion in Toorak, built
by Mr. Westmoreland's father, and inherited by himself ere the first
gloss was off the furniture; there was nothing to do to that but to
arrange the chairs and sofas, and scatter Eleanor's wedding presents
over the tables. There was nothing more _possible_. It was "hopeless,"
Mrs. Duff-Scott said, surveying the bright and shining rooms through
her double eye-glass. Unless it were entirely cleared out, and you
started afresh from the beginning, she would defy you to make anything
of it. So, as the bridegroom was particularly proud of his furniture,
which was both new and costly, and would have scouted with indignation
any suggestion of replacing it, Mrs. Duff-Scott abandoned Eleanor
æsthetically to her fate. There was nothing to wait for, so the pair
were made one with great pomp and ceremony not long after their return
to Australia. Eleanor had the grandest wedding of them all, and really
did wear "woven dew" on the occasion--with any quantity of lace about
it of extravagant delicacy and preciousness. And now she has settled
herself in her great, gay-coloured, handsome house, and is already
a very fashionable and much-admired and much-sought-after lady--so
overwhelmed with her social engagements and responsibilities sometimes
that she says she doesn't know what she should do if she hadn't Patty's
quiet little house to slip into now and then. But she enjoys it. And
she enjoys leading her infatuated husband about with her, like a tame
bear on a string, to show people how very, very infatuated he is. It is
her idea of married happiness--at present.



CHAPTER LII.


CONCLUSION.


While Mrs. Westmoreland thus disports herself in the gay world, Mrs.
Brion pursues her less brilliant career in much peace and quietness.
When she and Paul came back to Australia, a bride and bridegroom, free
to follow their own devices unhampered by any necessity to consider the
feelings of relatives and friends, nothing would satisfy her but to go
straight from the ship to Mrs. M'Intyre's, and there temporarily abide
in those tobacco-perfumed rooms which had once been such forbidden
ground to her. She scoffed at the Oriental; she turned up her nose at
the Esplanade; she would not hear of any suites of apartments, no
matter how superior they might be. Her idea of perfect luxury was to
go and live as Paul had lived, to find out all the little details of
his old solitary life which aforetime she had not dared to inquire
into, to rummage boldly over his bookshelves and desk and cupboards,
which once it would have been indelicate for her to so much as look
at, to revel in the sense that it was improper no longer for her to
make just as free as she liked with his defunct bachelorhood, the
existing conditions of which had had so many terrors for her. When Paul
represented that it was not a fit place for her to go into, she told
him that there was no place in the world so fit, and begged so hard to
be taken there, if only for a week or two, that he let her have her
way. And a very happy time they spent at No. 7, notwithstanding many
little inconveniences. And even the inconveniences had their charm.
Then Mrs. Duff-Scott and Eleanor came out, when it was felt to be time
to say good-bye to these humble circumstances--to leave the flowery
carpet, now faded and threadbare, the dingy rep suite, and the smirking
Cenci over the mantelpiece, for the delectation of lodgers to whom
such things were appropriate; and to select a house and furnish it
as befitted the occupation of Miss Yelverton that was and her (now)
distinguished husband.

By good fortune (they did not say it was good fortune, but they thought
it), the old landlord next door saw fit to die at this particular
juncture, and No. 6 was advertised to be let. Mr. and Mrs. Brion at
once pounced upon the opportunity to secure the old house, which,
it seemed to them, was admirably suited to their present modest
requirements; and, by the joint exercise of Mrs. Duff-Scott's and
Patty's own excellent taste, educated in England to the last degree
of modern perfectibility, the purveyors of art furniture in our
enlightened city transformed the humble dwelling of less than a dozen
rooms into a little palace of esoteric delights. Such a subdued,
harmonious brightness, such a refined simplicity, such an unpretentious
air of comfort pervades it from top to bottom; and as a study of
colour, Mrs. Duff-Scott will tell you, it is unique in the Australian
colonies. It does her good--even her--to go and rest her eyes and her
soul in the contemplation of it. Paul has the bureau in his study (and
finds it very useful), and Patty has the piano in her drawing-room,
its keyboard to a retired corner behind a portière (draped where once
was a partition of folding doors), and its back, turned outwards,
covered with a piece of South Kensington needlework. In this cosy nest
of theirs, where Paul, with a new spur to his energies, works his
special lever of the great machine that makes the world go on (when
it would fain be lazy and sit down), doing great things for other men
if gaining little glory for himself--and where Patty has afternoon
teas and evenings that gather together whatever genuine exponents
of intellectual culture may be going about, totally eclipsing the
attractions of Mrs. Aarons's Fridays to serious workers in the fields
of art and thought, without in any way dimming the brilliancy of those
entertainments--the married pair seem likely to lead as happy a life
as can be looked for in this world of compromises. It will not be
all cakes and ale, by any means. The very happiest lives are rarely
surfeited with these, perhaps, unwholesome delicacies, and I doubt if
theirs will even be amongst the happiest. They are too much alike to be
the ideal match. Patty is thin-skinned and passionate, too ready to be
hurt to the heart by the mere little pin-pricks and mosquito bites of
life; and Paul is proud and crotchety, and, like the great Napoleon,
given to kick the fire with his boots when he is put out. There will
be many little gusts of temper, little clouds of misunderstanding,
disappointments, and bereavements, and sickness of mind and body; but,
with all this, they will find their lot so blessed, by reason of the
mutual love and sympathy that, through all vicissitudes, will surely
grow deeper and stronger every day they live together, that they will
not know how to conceive a better one. And, after all, that is the most
one can ask or wish for in this world.

Mrs. Duff-Scott, being thus deprived of all her children, and finding
china no longer the substantial comfort to her that it used to be,
has fulfilled her husband's darkest predictions and "gone in" for
philanthropy. In London she served a short but severe apprenticeship to
that noble cause which seeks to remove the curse of past ignorance and
cruelty from those to whom it has come down in hereditary entail--those
on whose unhappy and degraded lives all the powers of evil held
mortgages (to quote a thoughtful writer) before ever the deeds were
put into their hands--and who are now preached at and punished for the
crimes that, not they, but their tyrants of the past committed. She
took a lesson in that new political economy which is to the old science
what the spirit of modern religion is to the ecclesiasticism which
has been its unwilling mother, and has learned that the rich _are_
responsible for the poor--that, let these interesting debating clubs
that call themselves the people's parliaments say what they like, the
moral of the great social problem is that the selfishness of the past
must be met by unselfishness in the present, if any of us would hope to
see good days in the future.

"It will not do," says Mrs. Duff-Scott to her clergyman, who deplores
the dangerous opinions that she has imbibed, "to leave these matters to
legislation. Of what use is legislation? Here are a lot of ignorant,
vain men who know nothing about it, fighting with one another for what
they can get, and the handful amongst them who are really anxious for
the public good are left nowhere in the scrimmage. It is _we_ who must
put our shoulders to the wheel, my dear sir--and the sooner we set
about it the better. Look at the state of Europe"--she waves her hand
abroad--"and see what things are coming to! The very heart of those
countries is being eaten out by the cancer-growths of Nihilism and
all sorts of dreadful isms, because the poor are getting educated to
understand _why_ they are so poor. Look at wealthy England, with more
than a million paupers, and millions and millions that are worse than
paupers--England is comparatively quiet and orderly under it, and why?
Because a number of good people like Mr. Yelverton"--the clergyman
shakes his head at the mention of this wicked sinner's name--"have
given themselves up to struggle honestly and face to face with the
evils that nothing but a self-sacrificing and independent philanthropy
can touch. I believe that if England escapes the explosion of this
fermenting democracy, which is brewing such a revolution as the world
has never seen, it will be owing to neither Church nor State--unless
Church and State both mend their ways considerably--but to the
self-denying work that is being done outside of them by those who have
a single-hearted desire to help, to _really_ help, their wronged and
wretched fellow-creatures."

Thus this energetic woman, in the headlong ardour of her new
conversion. And (if a woman, ready to admit her disabilities as
such, may say so) it is surely better to be generous in the cause of
a possibly mistaken conviction of your own, than to be selfish in
deference to the opinions of other people, which, though they be the
product of the combined wisdom of all the legislatures of the world,
find no response in the instincts of your human heart. At any rate, I
believe we shall be brought to think so some day--that great Someday
which looms not far ahead of us, when, as a Cornish proverb puts it,
if we have not ruled ourselves by the rudder we shall be ruled by
the rock. And so Mrs. Duff-Scott works, and thinks, and writes and
(of course) talks, and bothers her husband and her acquaintances for
the public weal, and leads her clergyman a life that makes him wish
sometimes that he had chosen a less harassing profession; economising
her money, and her time, and all she has of this world's goods, that
she may fulfil her sacred obligations to her fellow-creatures and help
the fortunate new country in which she lives to keep itself from the
evil ways that have wrought such trouble and danger to the old ones.

And the man who set her to this good work pursues it himself, not in
haste or under fitful and feverish impulses of what we call enthusiasm,
but with refreshed energy and redoubled power, by reason of the great
"means" that are now at his disposal, the faithful companionship that
at once lightens and strengthens the labour of his hands and brain,
and the deep passion of love for wife and home which keeps his heart
warm with vital benevolence for all the world. Mr. Yelverton has
not become more orthodox since his marriage; but that was not to be
expected. In these days orthodoxy and goodness are not synonymous
terms. It is doubtful, indeed, if orthodoxy has not rather become the
synonym for the opposite of goodness, in the eyes of those who judge
trees by their fruits and whose ideal of goodness is to love one's
neighbour as one's self. While it is patent to the candid observer
that the men who have studied the new book of Genesis which latter-day
science has written for us, and have known that Exodus from the land of
bondage which is the inevitable result of such study, conscientiously
pursued, are, as a rule, distinguished by a large-minded justice and
charity, sympathy and self-abnegation, a regard for the sacred ties
of brotherhood binding man with man, which, being incompatible with
the petty meannesses and cruelties so largely practised in sectarian
circles, make their unostentatious influence to be felt like sweet and
wholesome leaven all around them. Such a man is Elizabeth's husband,
and as time goes on she ceases to wish for any change in him save that
which means progression in his self-determined course. It was not
lightly that he flew in the face of the religious traditions of his
youth; rather did he crawl heavily and unwillingly away from them, in
irresistible obedience to a conscience so sensitive and well-balanced
that it ever pointed in the direction of the truth, like the magnetic
needle to the pole, and in which he dared to trust absolutely, no
matter how dark the outlook seemed. And now that, after much search,
he has found his way, as far as he may hope to find it in this world,
he is too intently concerned to discover what may be ahead of him,
and in store for those who will follow him, to trouble himself and
others with irrelevant trifles--to indulge in spites and jealousies,
in ambitions that lead nowhere, in quarrels and controversies about
nothing--to waste his precious strength and faculties in the child's
play that with so many of us is the occupation of life, and like other
child's play, full of pinches and scratches and selfish squabbling
over trumpery toys. To one who has learned that "the hope of nature is
in man," and something of what great nature is, and what man should
be, there no longer exists much temptation to envy, hatred, malice,
and uncharitableness, or any other of the vulgar vices of predatory
humanity, not yet cured of its self-seeking propensities. He is
educated above that level. His recognition of the brotherhood of men,
and their common interests and high destiny, makes him feel for others
in their differences with him, and patient and forbearing with those
whose privileges have been fewer and whose light is less than his. He
takes so wide an outlook over life that the little features of the
foreground, which loom so large to those who cannot or will not look
beyond them, are dwarfed to insignificance; or, rather, he can fix
their just relation to the general design in human affairs, and so
reads them with their context, as it were, and by the light of truth
and justice spread abroad in his own heart--thus proving how different
they are in essential value from what they superficially appear. So
Mr. Yelverton, despite his constitutional imperiousness, is one of
the most tolerant, fine-tempered, and generous of men; and he goes on
his way steadily, bending circumstances to his will, but hurting no
one in the process--rather lifting up and steadying and strengthening
those with whom he comes in contact by the contagion of his bold spirit
and his inflexible and incorruptible honesty; and proving himself in
private life, as such men mostly do, a faithful exponent and practical
illustration of all the domestic virtues.

Elizabeth is a happy woman, and she knows it well. It seems to her
that all the prosperity and comfort that should have been her mother's
has, like the enormous wealth that she inherits, been accumulating
at compound interest, through the long years representing the lapsed
generation, for her sole profit and enjoyment. She strolls often
through the old plantation, where, in a remote nook, a moss-grown
column stands to mark the spot where a little twig, a hair's breadth
lack of space, was enough to destroy one strong life and ruin another,
and to entail such tremendous consequences upon so many people, living
and unborn; and she frequently drives to Bradenham Abbey to call on or
to dine with her step-uncle's wife, and sees the stately environment
of her mother's girlhood--the "beautiful rooms with the gold Spanish
leather on the walls," the "long gallery with the painted windows and
the slippery oak floor and the thirty-seven family portraits all in a
row"--which she contrasts with the bark-roofed cottage on the sea-cliff
within whose narrow walls that beautiful and beloved woman afterwards
lived and died. And then she goes home to Yelverton to her husband and
baby, and asks what she has done to deserve to be so much better off
than those who went before her?

And yet, perhaps, if all accounts were added up, the sum total of loss
and profit on those respective investments that we make, or that are
made for us, of our property in life, would not be found to differ
so very much, one case with another. We can neither suffer nor enjoy
beyond a certain point. Elizabeth is rich beyond the dreams of avarice
in all that to such a woman is precious and desirable, and happy in her
choice and lot beyond her utmost expectations. Yet not so happy as to
have nothing to wish for--which we know, as well as Patty, means "too
happy to last." There is that hunger for her absent sisters, which
tries in vain to satisfy itself in weekly letters of prodigious length,
left as a sort of hostage to fortune, a valuable if not altogether
trustworthy security for the safety of her dearest possessions.


THE END.





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