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Title: Plain Living - A Bush Idyll
Author: Boldrewood, Rolf
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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                          Transcriber’s Note:

This version of the text cannot represent certain typographical effects.
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------------------------------------------------------------------------



                              PLAIN LIVING
                             _A BUSH IDYLL_



[Illustration]



------------------------------------------------------------------------



                              PLAIN LIVING
                             _A BUSH IDYLL_

                                   BY


                            ROLF BOLDREWOOD

       AUTHOR OF “ROBBERY UNDER ARMS,” “THE MINER’S RIGHT,” ETC.


                            =London=

                       MACMILLAN AND CO., LIMITED
                    NEW YORK: THE MACMILLAN COMPANY
                                  1898

        _The Right of Translation and Reproduction is Reserved._

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                    RICHARD CLAY AND SONS, LIMITED,
                           LONDON AND BUNGAY.

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                              PLAIN LIVING

                             _A BUSH IDYLL_



                               CHAPTER I


Mr. Stamford was riding slowly, wearily homeward in the late autumnal
twilight along the dusty track which led to the Windāhgil station. The
life of a pastoral tenant of the Crown in Australia is, for the most
part, free, pleasant, and devoid of the cares which assail so mordantly
the heart of modern man in cities.

But striking exceptions to this rule are furnished periodically. “A dry
season,” in the bush vernacular, supervenes. In the drear months which
follow, “the flower fadeth, the grass withereth” as in the olden Pharaoh
days. The waters are “forgotten of the footstep”; the flocks and herds
which, in the years of plenty, afford so liberal an income, so
untrammelled an existence to their proprietor, are apt to perish if not
removed. Prudence and energy may serve to modify such a calamity. No
human foresight can avert it.

In such years, a revengeful person could desire his worst enemy to be an
Australian squatter. For he would then behold him hardly tried, sorely
tormented, a man doomed to watch his most cherished possessions daily
fading before his eyes; nightly to lay his head on his pillow with the
conviction that he was so much poorer since sunrise. He would mark him
day by day, compelled to await the slow-advancing march of
ruin—hopeless, irrevocable—which he was alike powerless to hasten or
evade.

If he were a husband and a father, his anxieties would be ingeniously
heightened and complicated. The privations of poverty, the social
indignities which his loved ones might be fated to undergo, would be
forever in his thoughts, before his eyes, darkening his melancholy days,
disturbing his too scanty rest.

Such was the present position, such were the prospects, of Harold
Stamford of Windāhgil. As he rode slowly along on a favourite
hackney—blood-like, but palpably low in condition—with bent head and
corrugated brow, it needed but little penetration to note that the “iron
had entered into his soul.”

Truth to tell, he had that morning received an important letter from his
banker in Sydney. Not wholly unexpected; still it had destroyed the
remnant of his last hope. Before its arrival he had been manfully
struggling against fate. He had hoped against hope. The season might
change. How magical an alteration would forty-eight hours of steady rain
produce! He might be able to tide over till next shearing. The station
was being worked with the strictest economy. How he grudged, indeed, the
payment of their wages to the men who performed the unthankful task of
cutting down the _Casuarina_ and _Acacia pendula_, upon which the
starving flocks were now in a great measure kept alive!

But for that abnormal expenditure, he and his boy Hubert, gallant,
high-hearted fellow that he was, might make shift to do the station work
themselves until next shearing. How they had worked, too, all of them!
Had not the girls turned themselves into cooks and laundresses for weeks
at a time! Had not his wife (delicate, refined Linda Carisforth—who
would have thought to see a broom in those hands?) worn herself
well-nigh to death, supplementing the details of household work, when
servants were inefficient, or, indeed, not to be procured! And was this
to be the end of all? Of the years of patient labour, of ungrudging
self-denial, of so much care and forethought, the fruit of which he had
seen in the distance, a modest competence, an assured position? A
well-improved freehold estate comprising the old homestead, and a
portion of the fertile lands of Windāhgil, once the crack station of the
district, which Hubert should inherit after him.

It was hard--very hard! As he came near the comfortable, roomy cottage,
and marked the orchard trees, the tiny vineyard green with trailing
streamers in despite of the weary, sickening, cruel drought, his heart
swelled nigh to bursting as he thought how soon this ark of their
fortunes might be reft from them.

Surely there must be some means of escape! Providence would never be so
hard! God’s mercy was above all. In it he would trust until the actual
moment of doom. And yet, as he marked the desolate, dusty waste across
which the melancholy flocks feebly paced; as he saw on every side the
carcases of animals that had succumbed to long remorseless famine; as he
watched the red sun sinking below the hard, unclouded sky, a sense of
despair fell like lead upon his heart, and he groaned aloud.

“Hallo, governor!” cried out a cheery voice from a clump of timber which
he had approached without observing, “you and old Sindbad look pretty
well told out! I thought you were going to ride over me and the team, in
your very brown study. But joking apart, dear old dad, you look awfully
down on it. Times are bad, and it’s never going to rain again, is it?
But we can’t afford to have you throwing up the sponge. _Fortuna favet
fortibus_, that’s our heraldic motto. Why, there are lots of chances,
and any amount of fortunes, going begging yet.”

“Would you point out one or two of them, Master Hubert?” said his
father, relaxing his features as he looked with an air of pride on the
well-built youngster, who stood with bare throat and sun-bronzed, sinewy
arms beside a dray upon which was a high-piled load of firewood.

“Well, let us see! if the worst comes to the worst, you and I must clear
out, governor, and take up this new Kimberley country. I’ve got ten
years’ work in me right off the reel.” Here the boy raised his head, and
stretched his wide, yet graceful shoulders; “and so have you, dad, if
you wouldn’t fret so over what can’t be helped. You’d better get home,
though, mother’s been expecting you this hour. I’ll be in as soon as
I’ve put on this last log. This load ought to keep them in firewood for
a month.”

“You’re a good boy, Hubert. I’ll ride on; don’t knock any more skin off
your hands than is absolutely necessary, though,” pointing to a bleeding
patch about half an inch square, from which the cuticle had been
recently removed. “A gentleman should consider his hands, even when he
is obliged to work. Besides, in this weather there is a little danger of
inflammation.”

“Oh, that!” said the youngster with the fine carelessness of early
manhood. “Scratches don’t count in the bush. I wish my clothes would
heal of themselves when they get torn. It would save poor mother’s
everlasting stitch, stitch, a little, and her eyes too, poor dear! Now,
you go on, dad, and have your bath, and make yourself comfortable before
I come in. A new magazine came by post to-day, and the last
_Australasian_. Laura’s got such a song too. We’re going to have no end
of an evening, if you’ll only pull yourself together a bit. Now you
won’t fret about this miserable season, will you? It’s bad enough, of
course, but it’s no use lying down to it—now, is it?”

“Right, my boy; we must all do our best, and trust in God’s mercy. He
has helped us hitherto. It is cowardly to despair. I thank Him that I
have children whom I can be proud of, whether good or ill fortune
betide.”

Mr. Stamford put spurs to his horse. The leg-weary brute threw up his
head gamely, and, true to his blood, made shift to cover the remaining
distance from the homestead at a brisk pace. As he rode into the stable
yard, a figure clad in a jersey, a pair of trousers, and a bathing
towel, which turned out to be an eager lad of twelve, ran up to him.

“Give me Sindbad, father; I’m just going down to the river for a swim,
and I’ll give him one too. It will freshen him up. I’ll scrape him up a
bit of lucerne, just a taste; his chaff and corn are in the manger all
ready.”

“Take him, Dick; but don’t stay in too long. It’s getting dark, and tea
will soon be ready.”

The boy sprang into the saddle, and, touching the old horse with his
bare heels, started off on a canter over the river meadow, now
comparatively cool in the growing twilight, towards a gravelly ford in
which the mountain water still ran strong and clear.

With a sigh of relief, his father walked slowly forward through the
garden gate and into the broad verandah of the cottage. Dropping
listlessly into a great Cingalese cane chair, he looked round with an
air of exhaustion and despondency. Below him was a well-grown orchard,
with rows of fruit trees, the size and spreading foliage of which showed
as well great age as the fertility of the soil. The murmuring sound of
the river over the rocky shallows was plainly audible. Dark-shadowed
eucalypti marked its winding course. As the wearied man lay motionless
on the couch, the night air from the meadow played freshly cool against
his temples. Stars arose of wondrous southern brilliancy. Dark blue and
cloudless, the sky was undimmed. Strange cries came from the woods. A
solemn hush fell over all things. It was an hour unspeakably calm and
solemn—restful to the spirit after the long, burdensome, heated day.

“Ah, me!” sighed he; “how many an evening I have enjoyed from this very
spot, at this self-same hour! Is it possible that we are to be driven
out even from this loved retreat?”

A sweet girlish voice suddenly awoke him from his reverie, as one of the
casement windows opened, and a slight, youthful figure stood at his
shoulder.

“No wonder you are ashamed, you mean old daddy! Here have mother and I
been exerting ourselves this hot afternoon to provide you with a
superior entertainment, quite a club dinner in its way; attired
ourselves, too, in the most attractive manner—look at me, for
instance—and what is our reward? Why, instead of going to dress
sensibly, you sit mooning here, and everything will be spoiled.”

“My darling! I am ready for my bath, I promise you; but I am tired, and
perhaps a little discouraged. I have had a long day, and seen nothing to
cheer me either.”

“Poor old father! So have we all; so has mother, so has Hubert, so have
I and Linda. But it’s no use giving in, is it? Now walk off, there’s a
dear! You’re not so very tired, unless your constitution has broken down
all of a sudden. It takes a good day to knock you up, that I know. But
we must all put a good face on it—mustn’t we?—till we’re _quite_ sure
that the battle’s lost. The Prussians may come up yet, you know!”

He drew the girl’s face over to his own, and kissed her fondly. Laura
Stamford was indeed a daughter that a father might proudly look upon,
that her mother might trust to be her best aid and comfort, loving in
prosperity, lightsome of heart as the bird that sings at dawn, brave in
adversity, and strong to suffer for those she loved.

All innocent she of the world’s hard ways, its lurid lights, its dread
shadows. Proud, pure, unselfish in every thought and feeling, all the
strength of her nature went out in fondness for those darlings of her
heart, the inmates of that cherished home, wherein they had never as yet
known sorrow. The fateful passion which makes or mars all womanhood was
for her as yet in the future. What prayers had ascended to Heaven that
her choice might be blessed, her happiness assured!

“This is the time for action, no more contemplation,” she said, with a
mock heroic air; “the shower bath is filled; your evening clothes are
ready in the dressing-room; mother is putting the last touch to her cap,
Andiamo!”

When the family met at the tea-table—a comprehensive meal which, though
not claiming the rank of dinner, furnished most of its requisites—Mr.
Stamford owned that life wore a brighter prospect.

His wife and daughters in tasteful, though not ostentatious, evening
attire would have graced a more brilliant entertainment. The boys, cool
and fresh after their swim in the river, were happy and cheerful.
Hubert, correctly attired, and much benefited by his bath and toilette,
had done justice to his manifest good looks.

The well-cooked, neatly served meal, with the aid of a few glasses of
sound Australian Reisling, was highly restorative. All these permissible
palliatives tended to recreate tone and allay nervous depression. “The
banker’s letter notwithstanding, things might not be so very bad,” the
squatter thought. He would go to town. He might make other arrangements.
It might even rain. If the worst came to the worst, he might be able to
change his account. If things altered for the better, there was no use
desponding. If, again, all were lost, it were better to confront fate
boldly.

                  *       *       *       *       *

“Shall I pull through, after all?” said Mr. Stamford to himself, for the
fiftieth time, as he looked over the morning papers at Batty’s Hotel,
about a week after the occurrences lately referred to. In a mechanical
way, his eyes and a subsection of his brain provided him with the
information that, in spite of his misfortunes, the progress of
Australian civilisation went on pretty much as usual. Floods in one
colony, fires in another. The Messageries steamer _Caledonien_ just in.
The _Carthage_ (P. and O.) just sailed with an aristocratic passenger
list. Burglars cleverly captured. Larrikins difficult of extinction. The
wheat crop fair, maize only so-so. These important items were registered
in the brooding man’s duplex-acting brain after a fashion. But in one
corner of that mysterious store-house, printing machine, signal-station,
whatnot, _one thought_ was steadily repeating itself with bell-like
regularity. “What if the bank’s ultimatum is, no further advance, no
further advance, no further ad—--”

After breakfast, sadly resolved, he wended his way to the palace of
finance, with the potentate of which he was to undergo so momentous an
interview.

Heart-sick and apprehensive as he was, he could not avoid noting with
quick appreciation the sights and sounds of civilisation which pressed
themselves on his senses as he walked in a leisurely manner towards the
Bank of New Guinea. “What wonders and miracles daily pass before one’s
eyes in a city,” he said to himself, “when one has been as long away
from town as I have! What a gallery of studies to a man, after a quiet
bush life, is comprised in the everyday life of a large city! What
processions of humanity—what light and colour! What models of art,
strength, industry! What endless romances in the faces of the very men
and women that pass and repass so ceaselessly! Strange and how wonderful
is all this! Glorious, too, the ocean breath that fans the pale faces of
the city dwellers! What would I not give for a month’s leisure and a
quiet heart in which to enjoy it all!”

The solemn chime of a turret clock struck ten. It aroused Stamford to a
sense of the beginning of the commercial day, and his urgent necessity
to face the enemy, whose outposts were so dangerously near his fortress.

The ponderously ornate outer door of the Bank of New Guinea had but just
swung open as he passed in, preceding but by a second a portly,
silk-coated personage, apparently equally anxious for an early
interview. He looked disappointed as he saw Stamford make his way to the
manager’s room.

For one moment he hesitated, then said: “If your business is not
important, sir, perhaps you won’t mind my going in first?”

“I’m sorry to say it _is_ important,” he replied, with his customary
frankness; “but I will promise you not to take up a minute more of Mr.
Merton’s valuable time than I can help.”

The capitalist bowed gravely as Harold Stamford passed into the fateful
reception-room, of which the very air seemed to him to be full of
impalpable tragedies.

The manager’s manner was pleasant and gentlemanlike. The weather, the
state of the country, and the political situation were glanced at
conversationally. There was no appearance of haste to approach the
purely financial topic which lay so near the thoughts of both. Then the
visitor took the initiative.

“I had your letter last week about my account, Mr. Merton. What is the
bank going to do in my case? I came down on purpose to see you.”

The banker’s face became grave. It was the crossing of swords, _en
garde_ as it were. And the financial duel began.

“I trust, Mr. Stamford, that we shall be able to make satisfactory
arrangements. You are an old constituent, and one in whom the bank has
reposed the fullest confidence; but,” here the banker pushed up his
hair, and his face assumed an altered expression, “the directors have
drawn my attention to the state of your account, and I feel called upon
to speak decidedly. It must be reduced.”

“But how am I to reduce it? You hold all my securities. It is idle to
talk thus; pardon me if I am a little brusque, but I must sell
Windāhgil—sell the old place, and clear out without a penny if I do not
get time—a few months of time—from the bank! You know as well as I do
that it is impossible to dispose of stations now at a reasonable price.
Why, you can hardly get the value of the sheep! Look at Wharton’s Bundah
Creek how it was given away the other day. Fifteen thousand good sheep,
run all fenced, good brick house, frontage to a navigable river. What
did it bring? Six and threepence a head. Six and threepence! With
everything given in, even to his furniture, poor devil! Why, the ewe
cost him twelve shillings, five years before. Sale! It was a murder, a
mockery! And is Windāhgil to go like that, after all my hard work? Am I
and my children to be turned out penniless because the bank refuses me
another year’s grace? The seasons are just as sure to change as we are
to have a new moon next month. I have always paid up the interest and
part of the principal regularly, have I not? I have lived upon so little
too! My poor wife and children for these last long years have been so
patient! Is there no mercy, not even ordinary consideration to be shown
me?”

“My dear Mr. Stamford,” said the manager kindly, “do not permit yourself
to be excited prematurely. Whatever happens you have my fullest
sympathy. If any one receives consideration from the bank, you will do
so. You have done everything that an energetic, honourable man could
have done. I wish I could say the same of all our constituents. But the
seasons have been against you, and you must understand that, although
personally I would run any fair mercantile risk for your sake, even to
the extent of straining my relations with the directors, I have not the
power; I must obey orders, and these are precise. If a certain policy is
decided upon by those who guide the affairs of this company, I must
simply carry out instructions. Yours is a hard case, a _very_ hard case;
but you are not alone, I can tell you in confidence.”

“Is there nothing I can do?” pleaded the ruined man, instinctively
beholding the last plank slipping from beneath his feet.

“Don’t give in yet,” said Merton kindly. “Get one of these newly-started
Mortgage and Agency Companies to take up your account. They have been
organised chiefly, I am informed, with a view to get a share of the
pastoral loan business, which is now assuming such gigantic proportions.
They are enabled to make easier terms than we can afford to do; though,
after all, this station pawn business is not legitimate banking. If you
have any friend who would join in the security it would, perhaps, smooth
the way.”

“I will try,” said Stamford, a ray of hope, slender but still definite,
illumining the darkness of his soul. “There may be a chance, and I thank
you, Mr. Merton, for the suggestion, and your wish to aid me. Good
morning!” He took his hat and passed through the waiting-room, somewhat
sternly regarded by the capitalist, who promptly arose as the inner door
opened. But Harold Stamford heeded him not, and threading the thronged
atrium, re-entered once more the city pageant, novel and attractive to
him in spite of his misery. To-day he mechanically took the seaward
direction, walking far and fast until he found himself among the smaller
shops and unmistakable “waterside characters” of Lower George Street.
Here he remembered that there were stone stairs at which, in his
boyhood’s days, he had so often watched the boats return or depart on
their tiny voyages. A low stone wall defended the street on that side,
while permitting a view of the buildings and operations of a wharf.
Beyond lay the harbour alive with sail and steam. In his face blew
freshly the salt odours of the deep, the murmuring voice of the sea wave
was in his ears, the magic of the ocean stole once more into his being.

In his youth he had delighted in boating, and many a day of careless,
unclouded joy could he recall, passed amid the very scenes and sounds
that now lay around him. Long, happy days spent in fishing when the fair
wind carried the boy sailors far away through the outer bays or even
through the grand portals where the sandstone pillars have borne the
fret of the South Pacific deep for uncounted centuries. The long beat
back against the wind, the joyous return, the pleasant evening, the
dreamless slumber. He remembered it all. What a heaven of bliss, had he
but known it; and what an inferno of debt, ruin, and despair seemed
yawning before him now!

He leaned over the old stone wall and watched mechanically the shadow of
a passing squall deepen the colour of the blue waters of the bay. After
a while, his spirits rose insensibly. He even took comfort from the fact
that after the sudden tempest had brooded ominously over the darkening
water, the clouds suddenly opened—the blue sky spread itself like an
azure mantle over the rejoicing firmament—the golden sun reappeared, and
Nature assumed the smile that is rarely far from her brow in the bright
lands of the South.

“I may have another chance yet,” Stamford said to himself. “Why should I
despair? Many a man now overladen with wealth has passed into a bank on
such an errand as mine, uncertain whether he should return (financially)
alive. Are not there Hobson, Walters, Adamson—ever so many others—who
have gone through that fiery trial? I must fight the battle to the end.
My Waterloo is not yet lost. ‘The Prussians may come up,’ as darling
Laura said.”

Although receiving the advice of Mr. Merton, whom he personally knew and
respected, mainly in good faith, he was sufficiently experienced in the
ways of the world to mingle distrust with his expectations. It was not
such an unknown thing with bankers to “shunt” a doubtful or unprofitable
constituent upon a less wary student of finance. Might it not be so in
this case? Or would not the manager of the agency company indicated
regard him in that light? How hard it was to decide! However, he would
try his fortune. He could do himself no more harm.

So he turned wearily from the dancing waters and the breezy bay, and
retracing his steps through the crowded thoroughfare, sought the
imposing freestone mansion in which were located the offices of the
Austral Agency Company.

“How these money-changing establishments house themselves!” he said.
“And we borrowers pay for it with our heart’s blood,” he added,
bitterly. “Here goes, however!”

He was not doomed on this occasion to any lingering preparatory torture,
for in that light he had come to regard all ante-chamber detentions. He
accepted it as a good omen that he was informed on sending in his card,
that Mr. Barrington Hope was disengaged, and would be found in his
private room.

                               CHAPTER II


Mr. Stamford was at once strongly prepossessed in favour of the man
before whom he had come prepared to make a full statement of his
affairs, and to request—to all but implore—temporary accommodation. Bah!
how bald a sound it had! How unpleasant the formula! And yet Harold
Stamford knew that the security was sound, the interest and principal
nearly as certain to be paid in full as anything can be in this
uncertain world of ours. Still, such was the condition of the money
market that he could not help feeling like a beggar. His pride rebelled
against the attitude which he felt forced to take. Nevertheless, for the
sake of the sweet, careworn face at home, the tender flowerets he loved
so well, he braced himself for the ordeal.

Mr. Barrington Hope’s appearance, not less than his manner, was
reassuring. A tall, commanding figure of the true Anglo-Saxon type, his
was a countenance in which opposing qualities seemed struggling for the
mastery.

In the glint of the grey eyes, in the sympathetic smile, in the deep,
soft voice there was a wealth of generosity, while the firm mouth and
strongly set jaw betokened a sternness of purpose which boded ill for
the adversary in any of the modern forms of the duello—personal or
otherwise.

“Mr. Stamford,” he said, “I have heard your name mentioned by friends.
What can I do for you? But if it be not a waste of time in your
case—though you squatters are not so hard-worked in town as we slaves of
the desk—we might as well lunch first, if you will give me the pleasure
of your company at the Excelsior. What do you say?”

Mr. Stamford, in his misery, had taken scant heed of the hours. He was
astonished to find that the morning had fled. He felt minded to decline,
but in the kindly face of his possible entertainer he saw the marks of
continuous mental exertion, mingled with the easily-recognised imprints
of anxious responsibility. A feeling of sadness came over him, as he
looked again—of pity for the ceaseless toil to which it seemed hard that
a man in the flower of his prime should be doomed—that unending mental
grind, of which he, in common with most men who have lived away from
cities, had so cordial an abhorrence. “Poor fellow!” he said to himself,
“he is not more than ten years older than Hubert, and yet what an
eternity of thought seems engraven in his face. I should be sorry to see
them change places, poor as we are, and may be.” He thought this in the
moment which he passed in fixing his eyes on the countenance of
Barrington Hope. What he said, was: “I shall have much pleasure; I
really did not know it was so late. My time in town, however, is
scarcely so valuable as yours. So we may as well devote half an hour to
the repairing of the tissue.”

Mr. Stamford’s wanderings in Lower George Street and the unfamiliar
surroundings of the metropolis had so far overcome the poignancy of his
woe as to provide him with a reasonable appetite. The _cuisine_ of the
Excelsior, and the flavour of a bottle of extremely sound Dalwood
claret, did not appeal to his senses in vain. The well-cooked,
well-served repast concluded, he felt like another man; and though
distrusting his present sensations as being artificially rose-coloured,
he yet regarded the possibility of life more hopefully.

“It has done me good,” he said in his heart; “and it can’t have done him
any harm. I feel better able to stand up to hard Fate and her shrewd
blows than before.”

They chatted pleasantly till the return to the office, when Mr. Hope
hung up his hat, and apparently removed a portion of his amiability of
expression at the same time. He motioned his visitor to a chair,
produced a box of cigars, which, with a grotesque mediæval matchbox, he
pushed towards him. Lighting one for himself, he leaned back in his
chair and said “Now then for business!”

The squatter offered a tabulated statement, originally prepared for the
bank, setting forth the exact number of the livestock on Windāhgil,
their sexes and ages, the position and area of the run, the number of
acres bought, controlled or secured; the amount of debt for which the
bank held mortgage, the probable value of the whole property at current
rates. Of all of which particulars Mr. Hope took heed closely and
carefully. Mr. Stamford became suddenly silent, and indeed broke down at
one stage of the affair, in which he was describing the value of the
improvements, and mentioning a comfortable cottage, standing amid a
well-grown orchard on the bank of a river, with out-buildings of a
superior nature grouped around.

Then Mr. Hope interposed. “You propose to me to take up your account,
which you will remove from the Bank of New Guinea. You are aware that
there is considerable risk.”

(“Hang it!” Mr. Stamford told himself; “I have heard that surely before.
I know what you are going to say now. But why do you all, you
financiers, like to keep an unlucky devil so on the tenter-hooks?”)

Mr. Hope went on quietly and rather sonorously. “Yes! there has been a
large amount of forced realisation going on of late. Banks are
tightening fast. The rainfall of the interior has been exceptionally
bad. I think it probable that the Bank of New Guinea has none too good
an opinion of your account. But I always back my own theory in finance.
I have great reason to believe, Mr. Stamford, that heavy rain will fall
within the next month or two. I have watched the weather signs carefully
of late years. I am taking—during this season, at any rate—a strong lead
in wool and stock, which I expect to rise. Everything is extremely low
at present—ruinously so, the season disastrously dry. But from these
very dry seasons I foretell a change which must be for the better. I
have much pleasure in stating that the Austral Agency Company will take
up your account, Mr. Stamford, and carry you on for two years at the
same rate of interest you have been paying.”

Mr. Stamford made a commencement of thanking him, or at least of
expressing his entire satisfaction with the new arrangement; but,
curious to relate, he could not speak. The mental strain had been too
great. The uncertain footing to which he had so long been clinging
between ruin and comparative safety had rendered his brain dizzy.

He had been afraid to picture the next scene of the tragedy, when the
fatal fiat of the Bank Autocrat should have gone forth,—the wrench of
parting from the dear old place they had all loved so well. The
unpretending, but still commodious dwelling to which he had brought his
fond, true wife, while yet a young mother. The garden in which they had
planted so many a tree, so many a flower together. The unchecked freedom
of station life, with its general tone of abundance and liberality. All
these surroundings and comforts were to be exchanged—if things were not
arranged—for what? For a small house in town, for a lower—how much
lower!—standard of life and society, perhaps even for poverty and
privation, which it would cut him to the heart to see shared by those
patient exiles from their pastoral Eden.

When Mr. Stamford had sufficiently recovered himself he thanked Mr. Hope
with somewhat unaccustomed fervour, for he was an undemonstrative man,
reserved as to his deeper feelings. But the manager of the Austral
Agency Company would not accept thanks. “It may wear the appearance of a
kindness, but it is not so in reality,” he said. “Do not mistake me. It
is a hard thing to say, but if it seemed such to me, it would be my duty
not to do it. It is the merest matter of calculation. I am glad, of
course, if it falls in with your convenience.”

Here he looked kindly at his client—for such he had become—as if he fain
would have convinced him of his stern utilitarian temperament. But, as
he had remarked before, Mr. Hope’s eyes and his sentiments contradicted
one another.

“You have saved my home, the valued outcome of many a year’s hard
work—it may be my life also. That is all. And I’m not to thank you? Do
not talk in so cold-blooded a manner; I cannot bear it.”

“My dear sir,” said Mr. Hope, with calm, half-pitying expression, “I am
afraid you are not a particularly good man of business. It is as unfair
to praise me now for ‘carrying you on’ for another year or two, as it
will be to blame me for selling you up some fine day, if I am compelled
to do so.”

“Anyhow, it is a reprieve from execution. When shall I call again?”

“To-morrow morning, before twelve, let us say. I shall want you to sign
a mortgage—a necessary evil; and if you bring me an exact amount of your
indebtedness to the Bank of New Guinea, I will give you a cheque for
it.”

“A cheque for it!” How magnificent was the sound. Mr. Stamford had drawn
some tolerably large cheques in his time, which had been duly honoured,
but of late years the cheque-drawing method had fallen much into
abeyance.

Nevertheless, he felt like Aladdin, suddenly gifted with the wonderful
lamp. The sense of security and the guarantee of funds, for even their
moderate and necessary expenses, appeared to open to him vistas of
wealth and power verging on Oriental luxury.

He lost no time; indeed he just managed to gain his bank before its
enormous embossed outer door was closed, when he marched into the
manager’s room with so radiant a countenance that the experienced
centurion of finance saw plainly what had happened.

“Don’t trouble yourself to speak,” he said. “It’s all written on your
forehead. We bankers can decipher hieroglyphs invisible to other men.
‘Want my account made up—securities ready to be delivered—release—cheque
for amount in full.’ Who is the reckless _entrepreneur_?”

“The Austral Agency Company,” he replied, feeling rather cooled down by
this very accurate mind-reading; “but you seem to know so much, you
ought to know that too.”

“My dear fellow, I congratulate you!” Mr. Merton said, getting up and
shaking him warmly by the hand. “I beg your pardon; but really, any
child could see that you had been successful; and I began to think that
it must have been one of Barrington Hope’s long shots. A very fine
fellow, young but talented; in finance operates boldly. I don’t say he’s
wrong, mind you, but rather bold. Everything will be ready for you
to-morrow morning. Look in just before ten—by the private door.”

Mr. Stamford did look in. How many times had he walked to those same
bank doors with an aching heart, in which the dull throb of conscious
care was rarely stilled! Many times had he quitted that building with a
sense of temporary relief; many times with a more acutely heightened
sense of misery, and a conviction that Fate had done her worst. But
never, perhaps, before had he passed those fateful portals with so
marked a sense of independence and freedom as on the present occasion.

He had cast away the burden of care, at any rate for two years—two whole
years! It was an eternity in his present state of overwrought feeling.
He felt like a man who in old days had been bound on the rack—had
counted the dread contrivances for tearing muscles and straining
sinews—who had endured the first preliminary wrench, and then, at a
word, was suddenly loosed.

Such was now his joyous relief from inward agony, from the internal
throbs which rend the heart and strain to bursting the wondrous tissue
which connects soul and sense. The man who had decreed all this was to
him a king—nay, as a god. And in his prayer that night, after he had
entreated humbly for the welfare of wife and children in his absence,
and for his own safe return to their love and tenderness, Barrington
Hope came after those beloved names, included in a petition for mercy at
the hands of the All-wise.

It was not a long business that clearing of scores with the Bank of New
Guinea under these exceptional circumstances. Such and such was the
debit balance, a sufficiently grave one in a season when it had not
rained, “to signify,” for about three years, when stock was unsalable,
when money was unprecedentedly tight, but not, perhaps amounting to more
than one-third of the real value of the property. Here were the
mortgages. One secured upon the freehold, the other upon stock and
station, furniture and effects.

“Yes!” admitted Mr. Stamford, looking over it. “It is a comprehensive
document; it includes everything on the place—the house and all that
therein is, every hoof of stock, hacks and harness horses, saddles and
bridles—only excepting the clothes on our backs. Good God! if we had
lost all! And who knows whether we may not have to give them up yet.”

“My dear Stamford,” said the banker, “you’re almost too sentimental to
be a squatter, though I grant you it requires a man of no ordinary power
of imagination to look forward from your dusty pastures and dying sheep
(as I am informed) to a season of waving grass and fat stock. Why only
this morning, I see that on Modlah, North Queensland, they have lost
eighty thousand sheep already!”

“That means they’ll have a flood in three months,” answered Stamford,
forcing a laugh. “We _must_ have rain. This awfully sultry weather is
sure to bring it on sooner or later.”

“Ah! but when?” said Mr. Merton, corrugating his brow, as he mentally
ran over the list of heavily-weighted station accounts to which this
simple natural phenomenon would make so stupendous a difference. “If you
or I could tell whether it would fall in torrents this year or next, it
would be like—--”

“Like spotting the winner of the Melbourne Cup before the odds began to
shorten—eh, Merton? Good Heavens! to think I feel in a mood to jest with
my banker. That dread functionary! What is it Lever says—that
quarrelling with your wife is like boxing with your doctor, who knows
where to plant the blow that would, maybe, be the death of you? Such is
your banker’s fatal strength.”

“I envy you your recovered spirits, my dear fellow,” said the
over-worked man of figures, with a weary smile, glancing towards a pile
of papers on his table. “Perhaps things will turn out well for you and
all of us after all. You are not the only one, believe me, whose fate
has been trembling in the balance. You don’t think it’s too pleasant for
us either, do you? Well, I’ll send young Backwater down to Barrington
Hope with these documents. You can go with him, and he will give a
receipt for the cheque. For the rest, my congratulations and best
wishes.” He pressed an electric knob, the door opened, a clerk looked
in. “Tell Mr. Overdue I am at liberty now. Good bye, Stamford, and God
bless you!”

On the previous day Mr. Stamford had betaken himself to his hotel
immediately after quitting Mr. Barrington Hope’s office, and poured out
his soul with fullest unreserve in a long letter to his wife, in which
he had informed her of the great and glorious news, and with his usual
sanguine disposition to improve on each temporary ray of sunshine, had
predicted wonders in the future.

“What my present feelings are, even you, my darling Linda—sharer that
you have ever been in every thought of my heart—can hardly realise. I
know that you will say that only the present pressure is removed. The
misfortune we have all so long, so sadly dreaded, which involves the
loss of our dear old home, the poverty of our children, and woe
unutterable for ourselves, may yet be slowly advancing on us. You hope I
will be prudent, and take nothing for granted until it shall have been
proved. I am not to relax even the smallest endeavour to right
ourselves, or suffer myself to be led into any fresh expense, no matter
how bright, or rather (pastoral joke of the period) how cloudy, the
present outlook, till rain comes—until rains comes; even then to
remember that there is lost ground to recover, much headway to make up.

“My dearest, I am as sure that you have got all these warning voices
ready to put into your letter as if you phonographed them, and I
recognised the low, sweet tones which have ever been for me so instinct
with love and wisdom. But I feel that, on this present occasion—(I hear
you interpose, ‘My dearest Harold, how often have you said so
before!’)—there is no need for any extraordinary prudence. I am
confident that the season will change, or that something advantageous
will happen long before this new advance is likely to be called in. Mr.
Hope assures me that no sudden demand will at any time be made, that all
reasonable time will be given; that if the interest be but regularly
paid, the Company is in a position, from their control of English
capital, to give better terms than any colonial institution of the same
nature. I see you shake your wise, distrustful head. My dearest, you
women, who are said to be gifted with so much imagination in many ways,
possess but little in matters of business. I have often told you so.
This time I hope to convince you of the superior forecast of our sex.

“And now give my love to our darlings. Tell them I shall give practical
expression to my fondness for them for this once, only this once;
really, I must be a little extravagant. I shall probably stay down here
for another week or ten days.

“Now that I am in town I may just as well enjoy myself a little, and get
up a reserve fund of health and strength for future emergencies. I don’t
complain, as you know, but I think I shall be all the better for another
week’s sea air. I met my cousin, Bob Grandison, in the street to-day.
Kind as usual, though he studiously avoided all allusion to business;
wanted me to stay at Chatsworth House for a few days. I wouldn’t do
that. I don’t care for Mrs. Grandison sufficiently; but I am going to a
swell dinner there on Friday. And now, dearest, yours ever and always,
fondly, lovingly, HAROLD STAMFORD.”

Having sent off this characteristic epistle, Mr. Stamford felt as easy
in his mind as if he had provided his family with everything they could
possibly want for a year. He was partially endowed with that
Sheridanesque temperament which dismissed renewed acceptances as
liabilities discharged, and viewed all debentures as debts of the future
which a kindly Providence might be safely trusted to find means to pay.

Capable of extraordinary effort under pressure or the excitement of
emergency; personally economical; temperate, and, above all, benevolent
of intention towards every living creature, it must be admitted that
Harold Stamford was instinctively prone frankly to enjoy the present and
to take the future on trust.

Much of this joyous confidence had been “knocked out of him”—as he
familiarly phrased it—by the austere course of events. He had for five
years worked harder than any of his own servants. He had contented
himself with but the bare necessaries of food and clothing. Nothing had
been purchased that could in any way be done without by that
much-enduring, conscientious household, the members of which had made
high resolve to do battle with remorseless Nature and unmerited
misfortune.

And well indeed had all fought, all endured, during the long, dreary,
dusty summers—the cloudless, mocking, rainless winters of past years.
The family garrison had stood to their guns; had not given back an inch.
The men had toiled and ridden, watched and worked, from earliest dawn to
the still, starlit depths of many a midnight. The tenderly-nurtured
mother and her fair, proud girls had cooked the dinners, washed the
clothes, faithfully performed all, even the humblest, household work,
with weary hands and tired eyes, for weeks and months together. Still,
through all the uncongenial drudgery, their hearts had been firm with
hope and the pride of fulfilled duty. And now Harold Stamford told
himself that the enemy was in retreat, that the siege was about to be
raised.



                              CHAPTER III


Mr. Stamford, having fulfilled his home duties temporarily in this
liberal and satisfactory manner, felt himself at liberty to enter upon
justifiable recreations with an easy conscience. He was by no means a
person of luxurious tastes. But there had been always certain dainty
meats, intellectually speaking, which his soul loved. These are rarely
to be met with save in large cities. It had been an abiding regret with
this man that his narrow circumstances had shut him out from the inner
circles of art and literature. Now, he promised himself, at any rate, a
taste of these long-forbidden repasts.

On this memorable afternoon he betook himself only to the sea-marge,
where he lay dreaming in the shade of an overhanging fig-tree during the
closing hours of day. What an unutterable luxury was it to his
desert-worn soul thus to repose with the rhythmic roll of the surges in
his ear—before his half-shut eyes the wondrous, ever-changing magic
mirror of the ocean!

“What an alteration,” thought he, “had a single day wrought in his
destiny! What a different person was he from the care-burdened,
desponding man who had seen no possible outlet from the path of sorrow
and disaster, at the end of which lay the grisly form of Ruin, like some
fell monster watching for prey. Now the airs of Paradise were around
him. The fresh salt odours of the deep, the whispering breezes which
fanned his cheek, which cooled his throbbing brow, how strangely
contrasted were these surroundings with the shrivelled, arid waste, the
burning sun-blast, the endless monotony of pale-hued woodland, which he
had so lately quitted!”

As the low sun fell beneath the horizon verge, he watched the golden
wavelet and the crimson sky mingle in one supreme colour study. He heard
the night wind come moaning up from misty unknown seas of the farthest
South, where the hungry billow lay hushed to rest in eternal ice-fields,
where dwelt the mystery and dread of polar wastes.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Then, with the darkening eve, the pageant glided into the vestibule of
night and Mr. Stamford somewhat hastily arose, bethinking himself of the
dining hour at Chatsworth House. He had not overmuch time to spare, but
a few minutes before the appointed hour his cab deposited him beside the
Pompeian mosaic which composed the floor of the portico. A wide, cool
hall, gay with encaustic tiles, received him, thence to be ushered by
the accurately-costumed footman into the drawing-room, already fairly
astir with the expected company.

He was not an unfamiliar guest, but his present temper inclined him to
consider more closely the curious inequalities of life—the various modes
in which persons, not widely differing in tastes and aspirations, are
socially encircled. What a contrast was there between the abounding
luxury here heaped up, pressed down and running over, and the homely
surroundings of his own home, from which nevertheless the danger of
departure had well-nigh driven him mad. The parquet floors, the
glittering treasures of the overmantels, the lounges, the dado, the
friezes, the rare china, the plaques, the antique and the modern
collections, each a study, the cost of which would have gone nigh to buy
halt Windāhgil.

When the hostess was informed by the imposing butler that dinner was
served, and the guests filed into the dining-room, Mr. Stamford was
nearly as much astonished by the magnificence of the repast and the
concomitants thereof as if he had for the first time in his life beheld
such splendours. In earlier days, now almost forgotten, such repasts had
been to him sufficiently familiar. But these latter seasons of drought
and despair had wholly, or in great part, excluded all thought of the
pomps and vanities of life. So he smiled to himself, as he took the arm
of Miss Crewit the _passée_ society damsel to whom, by the fiat of Mrs.
Grandison, he had been allotted, to find that his first thought was of
startled surprise—his second of the habitudes which came to him as by
second nature, and a conviction that he must have witnessed such
presentments in a former state of existence.

All was very splendid, beyond denial. What was otherwise was
æsthetically rare and almost beyond price. Antique carved furniture,
mediæval royal relics, a sideboard which looked like an Egyptian
sarcophagus, contrasted effectively with the massiveness of the plate,
the glory of the glass, the triumph of the matchless Sèvres
dinner-service. In perfect keeping was the quiet assiduity of the
attendants, the quality of the iced wines, the perfection and finish of
the whole entertainment.

“Rather a contrast to the tea-table at Windāhgil!” Harold Stamford said
to himself; “not but what I should have been able to do things like this
if I could have held on to those Kilbride blocks for another year. Only
another year!” and he sighed involuntarily. “It is very fine in its way,
though I should be sorry to have to go through this ordeal every
evening. Grandison doesn’t look too happy making conversation with that
deaf old dowager on his right. He was brighter looking in the old
working-time, when he used to drop in at Din Din, where we had a glass
of whisky before bedtime with a smoke and a good talk afterwards. Bob
certainly read more or less then. He begins to look puffy too; he
doesn’t see much of the library now, I’m afraid, except to snore in it.”

Here his fair neighbour, who had finished her soup and sipped her
sherry, began to hint an assertion of social rights.

“Don’t you think dear Josie looks a little pale and thin, though she is
exquisitely dressed as usual? But I always say no girls can stand the
ceaseless excitement, the wild racketing of a Sydney season. Can they,
now?”

“To my eye she looks very nice, pale if you like; but you don’t expect
roses and lilies with the thermometer at 80° for half the year, except
when it’s at 100°.”

“Well, perhaps you’re right; but it isn’t the climate altogether in her
case, I should say. It’s the fearfully exciting life girls of her
_monde_ seem to lead nowadays. It’s that which brings on the wrinkles.
You notice her face when she turns to the light.”

“Are women worse than they used to be, do you think; or is Josie more
dissipated than the rest of her age and sex?” queried Stamford.

“I don’t know that, though they do say that she is the fastest of a very
fast set; and between you and me, there have been some rather queer
stories about her, not that I believe a word of them. But the girls
nowadays do go such awful lengths; they say and do such things, you
don’t know _what_ to believe.”

“Ah! well, she’s young and happy, I suppose, and makes the most of her
opportunities of enjoyment. My old friend, Bob Grandison, has been
lucky, and his family seem to have everything they can possibly want.”

“Everything, indeed, and more besides. (Chablis, if you please!) Then I
suppose you knew Mr. Grandison when he was not quite so well off? They
say he got into society rather suddenly; but I’m afraid it doesn’t do
the young people quite as much good as it might. There’s the eldest son,
Carlo, as they call him—he used to be Charlie when I first knew them.”

“Why, what about him? Nothing wrong, is there? He seems a fine lad.”

“Well, nothing wrong yet. Not yet; oh, no! Only he spends half his time
at the club, playing billiards from morning till night, and he’s always
going about with that horrid gambling Captain Maelstrom. They do say—but
you won’t let it go further—that he was one of that party at loo when
young Weener lost five thousand pounds, and such a scandal arose out of
it.”

“Good heavens! You horrify me! A mere boy like that! It can’t be true;
surely not.”

“I heard it on good authority, I assure you, and other stories too,
which I can’t repeat—really too shocking to talk about. See how
_empresse_ he is with that Mrs. Loreleigh! What men see in that women I
really can’t think.”

“My old friend had both sense and right feeling once upon a time,” said
Stamford. “He can’t be so weak as to allow all this.”

“He does all he can, poor old gentleman; but Mrs. Grandison is so
absurdly vain about Carlo’s good looks, and the fine friends he goes
about with, that she can’t see any danger. Lord Edgar Wildgrave and that
Sir Harry Falconer who was here last year (you know they do say that
Josie broke her heart about Lord Edgar, and that makes her so reckless).
But I know his father is very uneasy about him, and well he may be. I’m
afraid Ned bids fair to follow in his brother’s footsteps. Thanks—I will
take an olive.”

“What a wretched state of things!” groaned Mr. Stamford, almost audibly.
“I must hope, for the sake of my friend’s family, that matters may be
exaggerated.”

“I wish they are, with all my heart,” said the candid friend. “They
always have such delicious fruit here, haven’t they? I must say they do
things well at Chatsworth House. I always enjoy a dinner here. I see
Mrs. Grandison making a move. Thanks!”

And so Miss Crewitt followed the retreating file of ladies that, headed
by Mrs. Grandison’s stately form, quitted the dining-room, leaving Mr.
Stamford much disordered with the unpleasant nature of the ideas which
he had perforce absorbed with his dinner. He could not forgive his late
neighbour for introducing them into his system.

“Confounded, venomous, ungrateful cat!” he said in his righteous wrath.
“How she enjoyed every mouthful of her dinner, pouring out malice and
all uncharitableness the while! Serves Mrs. Grandison right, all the
same. If she’d picked me out a nice girl, or a good motherly dame, I
should not have heard all this scandal about her household. But what a
frightful pity it seems! I must talk to Grandison about it.”

At this stage Mr. Stamford was aroused by his host’s voice. “Why,
Harold, old man, where have you got to? Close up, now the women are
gone. Bring your chair next to Carlo.”

He walked up as desired, the other guests having concentrated themselves
in position nearer the head of the table, and found himself next to the
heir of the house, Mr. Carlo Grandison. That young gentleman, whom he
had observed during dinner talking with earnestness to a lady no longer
young, but still handsome and interesting, in spite of Miss Crewitt’s
acidulated denial of the fact, did not trouble himself to be over
agreeable to his father’s old friend.

He devoted himself, however, with considerable assiduity to the
decanters as they passed, and drank more wine in half an hour than Mr.
Stamford had ever known Hubert to consume in a month.

He did talk after a while, but his conversation was mainly about the
last Melbourne Cup, upon which he admitted that he had wagered heavily,
and “dropped in for,” to use his own expression, “a beastly facer.”

“Was not that imprudent?” asked Mr. Stamford, as he looked sadly at the
young man’s flushed face. “Don’t you think it a pity to lose more than
you can afford?”

“Oh! the governor had to stand the racket, of course,” he said, filling
his glass; “and a dashed row he made about it—very bad form, I told
him—just as if a thousand or two mattered to him. Do you know what we
stood to win?”

“Well, but you didn’t win!”

“I suppose in the bush, Mr. Stamford, you don’t do much in that way,”
answered the young man with aristocratic hauteur, “but Maelstrom and I,
Sir Harry Falconer and another fellow, whose name I won’t mention, would
have pulled off forty-five thousand if that infernal First Robber hadn’t
gone wrong the very day of the race. Think of that! He was poisoned, I
believe. If I had my will I’d hang every blessed bookmaker in the whole
colony. Never mind, I’ll land them next Melbourne Spring.”

“If there were no young gentlemen who backed the favourite, there would
be fewer bookmakers,” replied Stamford, peaceably. “But don’t you think
it a waste of time devoting so much of it to horseracing?”

“What can a fellow do? There’s coursing, to be sure, and they’re getting
up a trotting match. I make believe to do a little work in the
governor’s office, you know, but I’m dead beat to get through the day as
it is.”

“Try a year in the bush, my dear boy. You could soon learn to manage one
of your father’s stations. It would be a healthy change from town life.”

“By Jove! It _would_ be a change indeed! Ha, ha! ‘Right you are, says
Moses.’ But I stayed at Banyule one shearing, and I give you my word I
was that sick of it all that I should have suicided if I had not been
let come to town. The same everlasting grind—sheep, supers, and
saltbush; rides, drives, wire fences, dams, dampers, and dingoes—day
after day. At night it was worse—not a blessed thing to amuse yourself
with. I used to play draughts with the book-keeper.”

“But you could surely read! Books are easy to get up, and there are
always neighbours.”

“I couldn’t stand reading out there, anyhow; the books we had were all
dry stuff, and the neighbours were such a deuced slow lot. Things are
not too lively in Sydney, but it’s heaven compared with the bush. I want
the governor to let me go to Europe. I should fancy Paris for a year or
so. Take another glass of this Madeira; it’s not an everyday wine. No!
Then I will, as I see the governor’s toddlin’.”

In the drawing-room matters were in a general way more satisfactory. A
lady with a voice apparently borrowed from the angelic choir was singing
when they entered, and Mr. Stamford, passionately fond of music, moved
near the grand piano to listen. The guests disposed themselves _au
plaisir_.

Master Carlo, singling out Mrs. Loreleigh, devoted himself to her for
the rest of the evening, with perfect indifference to the claims of the
other lady guests.

“What a lovely voice Mrs. Thrushton has!” said his hostess to Stamford,
as soon as the notes of enchantment came to an end.

“Lovely indeed!” echoed he; “it is long since I have heard such a song,
if ever—though my daughter Laura has a voice worth listening to. But
will not Miss Grandison sing?” he said after a decent interval.

“Josie has been well taught, and few girls sing better when she likes,”
said her mother with a half sigh; “but she is so capricious that I can’t
always get her to perform for us. She has got into an argument with
Count Zamoreski, that handsome young Pole you see across the room, and
she says she’s not coming away to amuse a lot of stupid people. Josie is
quite a character, I assure you, and really the girls are so dreadfully
self-willed nowadays, that there is no doing anything with them. But you
must miss society so much in the bush! Don’t you? There are very few
nice men to be found there, I have heard.”

“We are not so badly off as you suppose, Mrs. Grandison. People even
there keep themselves informed of the world’s doings, and value art and
literature. I often think the young people devote more time to mental
culture than they do in town.”

“Indeed! I should hardly have supposed so. They can get masters so
easily in town, and then again the young folks have such chances of
meeting the best strangers—people of rank, for instance, and so on—that
they never can dream of even _seeing_, away from town. Mr. Grandison
wanted me to go into the bush when the children were young; and indeed
one of his stations, Banyule, was a charming place, but I never would
hear of it.”

“A town life fulfilled all your expectations, I conclude.”

“Yes, really, I think so; very nearly, that is to say. Josie has such
ease of manner and is so thoroughly at home with people in every rank of
life that I feel certain she will make her mark some day.”

“And your son Carlo?”

“Well, I don’t mind telling you, as an old friend, Mr. Stamford, that
Mr. Grandison is uneasy about him sometimes, says he won’t settle down
to anything, and is—well not really dissipated, you know, but inclined
to be fast. But I tell him that will wear off as he gets older. Boys
will be boys. Besides, see what an advantage it is to him to be in the
society of men like Captain Maelstrom, Sir Harry Falconer, and people of
that stamp.”

“I am not so sure of that, but I trust all will come right, my dear Mrs.
Grandison. It is a great responsibility that we parents undertake. There
is nothing in life but care and trouble, it seems to me, in one form or
another. And now, as I hear the carriages coming up, I will say good
night.”

Mr. Stamford went home to his hotel, much musing on the events of the
evening, nor was he able to sleep, indeed, during the early portion of
the night, in consequence of the uneasiness which the unsatisfactory
condition of his friend’s family caused him.

“Poor Grandison!” he said to himself. “More than once have I envied him
his easy circumstances. I suppose it is impossible for a man laden with
debt and crushed with poverty to avoid that sort of thing. But I shall
never do so again. With all my troubles, if I thought Hubert and Laura
were likely to become like those two young people as a natural
consequence, I would not change places with him to-morrow. The boy, so
early _blasé_, with evil knowledge of the world, tainted with the
incurable vice of gambling, too fond of wine already, what has he to
look forward to? What will he be in middle age? And the girl, selfish
and frivolous, a woman of the world, when hardly out of her teens,
scorning her mother’s wishes, owning no law but her own pleasure,
looking forward but to a marriage of wealth or rank, if her own
undisciplined feelings stand not in the way! Money is good, at any rate,
as far as it softens the hard places of life; but if I thought that
wealth would bring such a blight upon my household, would so wither the
tender blossoms of hope and faith, would undermine manly endeavour and
girlish graces, I would spurn it from me to-morrow. I would—--”

With which noble and sincere resolve Mr. Stamford fell asleep.

Upon awaking next morning, he was almost disposed to think that the
strength of his disapproval as to the younger members of the Grandison
family might only have been enthusiasm, artificially heightened by his
host’s extremely good wine. “That were indeed a breach of hospitality,”
he said to himself. “And after all, it is not, strictly speaking, my
affair. I am grown rusty and precise, it may be, from living so
monotonous a life in the bush, so far removed from the higher
fashionable existence. Doubtless these things, which appear to me so
dangerous and alarming, are only the everyday phenomena of a more
artificial society. Let us hope for the best—that Carlo Grandison may
tone down after a few years, and that Miss Josie’s frivolity may subside
into mere fashionable matronhood.”

Mr. Stamford finished his breakfast with an appetite which proved either
his moderation in the use of the good familiar creature over-night, or a
singularly happy state of the biliary secretions. He then proceeded in a
leisurely way to open his letters. Glancing at the postmark “Mooramah,”
the little country town near home, and recognising Hubert’s bold, firm
handwriting, he opened it, and read as follows:—


“MY DEAR OLD DAD,—I have no doubt you are enjoying yourself quietly, but
thoroughly, now that you have cleared off the Bank of New Guinea and got
in with the Austral Agency Company. Mother says you are to give yourself
all reasonable treats, and renew your youth if possible, but not to
think you have the Bank of England to draw upon just yet.

“I told her you were to be trusted, and I have a piece of good news for
you, which will bear a little extravagance on its back. I am very glad
we were able to pay off that bank.

“They had no right to push you as they did. However, I suppose they
can’t always help it. Now for the news, if some beastly telegram has not
anticipated it. We have had RAIN!

“Yes, rain in large letters! What do you think of that? Forty-eight
hours of steady rain! Five inches sixty points! Didn’t it come
down!—cats and dogs, floods and waterspouts!

“The drought has broken up. The river is tearing down a banker. You can
see the grass grow already. All bother about feed and water put safely
away for a year at least. Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah!

“I have sent most of the sheep out back. Dams all full, but none carried
away, thank goodness!

“I got the hill paddock fence finished and the weaners all into it
yesterday. Didn’t get home till midnight.

“The run like a batter pudding, soaked right down to the bed rock. We
shall have more grass than we can use. Old Saville (Save-all, I call
him!) would sell five thousand young sheep, mixed sexes. He wants to
realise. If Mr. Barrington Hope, or whatever his name is, will stand it,
they would pay to buy. Wire me if I can close, but of course I don’t
expect it.

“I think I may safely treat myself to John Richard Green’s _Making of
England_ and Motley’s _Rise of the Dutch Republic_, so please post them.
Everything looking first-rate. Laura is writing too.

“Your loving son,

HUBERT STAMFORD.”


Next came a letter in a neat, characteristic, legible hand, not
angular-feminine, which he well knew:—


“OH! DARLING DAD,—We are all gone straight out of our senses with
joy. We have had such blessed and beauteous rain. The windows of
Heaven have indeed been opened—where else could such a lovely
downpour come from?

“All our doubts and fears are cleared away. Hubert has been working
himself to death, poor boy; off before daylight and never home till
twelve or one in the morning. He says that we shall have the best
season known for years, and that nothing can possibly hurt the grass
for a whole twelvemonth. Besides, more rain is sure to come. They
always say that though. Some water came through here and there, but
it was a blessing that Hubert and the old splitter put the new roof
over the kitchen before the drought broke up. The dear garden looks
lovely, I have been sowing a few flower seeds—so fresh and beautiful
it is already.

“I rode to one of the out-stations with Hubert yesterday, and we got
such glorious ferns coming back. I am sorry to say dear mother is
not over strong. The hot weather, and the old trouble, ‘no
servants,’ have been too much for her. Do you think you could bring
back a good, willing girl as cook and laundress—that would shift the
hardest part of the work off our shoulders—and I think Linda and I
could manage the house-work, and be thankful too? Try your best,
that’s a good old dad!

“I have been reading _Middlemarch_ strictly in spare time, and am
getting on pretty well with my German and Italian. If you could
bring up two or three books, and by all means a pretty song or two,
we should have nothing left to wish for. Now that the rain has come,
it seems like a new world. I intend to do great things in languages
next year. How about Mrs. Carlyle’s letters? From the review we saw
in _The Australasian_, they must be deeply interesting. We expect
you to return quite restored to your old self. Write longer letters,
and I am always,

                                “Your loving daughter,

                                                   “LAURA STAMFORD.”


“So far, so good, indeed,” quoth Mr. Stamford to himself. “The year
has turned with a vengeance. Let me see what the _Herald’s_
telegrams say. Lucky I did not look at the paper. So Hubert’s letter
gives me first news. Ah! another letter. Handwriting unknown,
formal, with the English postmark, too. No bad news, I hope. Though
I can hardly imagine any news of importance from the old country,
good or bad, now. Luckily, I am outside the pale of bad news for a
while, thanks to Barrington Hope and this breaking up of the
drought. What says the _Herald_?


                             ”MOORAMAH.

                   “(From our Own Correspondent.)

“Drought broken up. Heavy, continuous rain. Six inches in
forty-eight hours. Country under water. Dams full. A grand season
anticipated.


“Quite right for once, ‘Our Own Correspondent,’ albeit too prone to
pronounce the ‘drought broken up’ on insufficient data. But now
accurately and carefully observant. I drink to him in a fresh cup of
tea.

“And now for the unknown correspondent. Here we have him.”

Mr. Stamford carefully and slowly opened his letter, after examining
all outward superscription and signs. Thus went the unaccustomed
missive:—

”HAROLD STAMFORD, ESQ.,
  “Windāhgil Station, Mooramah,
    “New South Wales, Australia.

                                            ”LONDON, 23 Capel Court,

                                              “_April 14, 1883_.

“SIR,—It has become our duty to announce the fact that, consequent
upon the death of your cousin, Godwin Stamford, Esq., late of
Stamford Park, Berkshire, you are entitled to the sum of one hundred
and seventy-three thousand four hundred and sixty-nine pounds
fourteen shillings and ninepence (£173,469 14_s._ 9_d._), with
interest from date, which sum now stands to your credit in the
Funds.

“You are possibly aware that your cousin’s only son, Mark Atheling
Stamford, would have inherited the said sum, and other moneys and
property, at the death of his father, had he not been unfortunately
lost in his yacht, the _Walrus_, in a white squall in the
Mediterranean, a few days before the date of this letter.

“In his will, the late Mr. Godwin Stamford named you, as next of
kin, to be the legatee of this amount, in the case of the deceased
Mark Atheling Stamford dying without issue. We have communicated
with our agent, Mr. Worthington, of Phillip Street, Sydney, from
whom you will be enabled to learn all necessary particulars. We
shall feel honoured by your commands as to the disposal or
investment of this said sum, or any part of it. All business with
which you may think fit to entrust our firm shall have prompt
attention.—We have the honour to be, Sir, your obedient servants,

                                    “WALLINGFORD, RICHARDS & STOWE.”


Mr. Stamford read the letter carefully from end to end, twice,
indeed, with an unmoved countenance. He pushed it away; he walked up
and down the room. Then he went into the balcony of the hotel and
gazed at the people in the street. He retired to his bed-room after
this, whence he did not emerge for a short space.

Returning to the table he sat calmly down, gazing at his letter, and
again examining the signature, the important figures, which also had
the value set forth formally in writing. Yes, there was no mistake.
It was not seven thousand four hundred and sixty-nine pounds.
Nothing of the kind. One hundred and seventy thousand pounds and the
rest. “One hundred and seventy thousand!” He repeated the words over
and over again in a calm and collected voice. Then the tears rushed
to his eyes, and he laid his head on his hands and sobbed like a
child.

“For what did it all mean? Nothing less than this. That he was a
rich man for life. That his wife, best-beloved, tender, patient,
self-sacrificing as she had always been since he took her, a
fresh-hearted, beautiful girl, from her father’s house, where she
had never known aught but the most loving care, the most elaborate
comfort, would henceforth be enabled to enjoy all the old pleasures,
even the luxuries of life, from which they had all been so long
debarred. They could live in Sydney or Melbourne, as it pleased them
best. They could even sojourn in London or Paris, and travel on the
continent of Europe.

“The girls could have all the ‘advantages,’ as they are called, of
the best teaching, the best society, change of scene, travel.

“Great Heaven! what a vista of endless bliss seemed opening before
him!”

But then, as he sat and thought, another aspect of the case, dimly,
shadowy, of darker colours and stranger light, seemed to pass before
him.

“Would the effect of the sudden withdrawal of all necessity for
effort, all reason for self-denial, be favourable to the development
of these tenderly-cultured, generous but still youthful natures?

“When the cares of this world—which up to this point had served but
to elevate and ennoble—were dismissed, would ‘the deceitfulness of
riches’ have power to choke the good seed?

“Would the tares multiply and flourish, overrunning the corn, and
would the uprooting of them import another trouble—a difficulty
which might be enlarged into a sorrow?

“Would indolence and reckless enjoyment succeed to the resolute
march along the pathway of duty, to the prayerful trust in that
Almighty Father who granted strength from day to day? Would the
taste for simple pleasures, which now proved so satisfying, be lost
irrevocably, to be succeeded, perhaps, by a dangerous craving for
excitement, by satiety or indifferentism?

“What guarantee was there for this conservation of the healthful
tone of body and mind when the mainsprings of all action, restraint,
and self-discipline were in one hour relaxed or broken?

“Could he bear to behold the gradual degeneration which might take
place, which had so manifested itself, as he had witnessed, in
natures perhaps not originally inferior to their own?”

Long and anxiously did Harold Stamford ponder over these thoughts,
with nearly as grave a face, as anxious a brow, as he had worn in
his deepest troubles.

At length he arose with a resolved air. He left the hotel, and took
his way to the office of Mr. Worthington, whom he knew well, who had
been his legal adviser and the depository of all official
confidences for many years past.

It was he who had drawn the deed by which the slender dowry of his
wife, with some moderate addition of his own, had been settled upon
her. He knew that he could be trusted implicitly with his present
intentions; that the secret he intended to confide in him this day
would be inviolably preserved.

This, then, was the resolution at which Harold Stamford had arrived.
He would _not_ abruptly alter the conditions of his family life; he
would gradually and unostentatiously ameliorate the circumstances of
the household. But he would defer to a future period the information
that riches had succeeded to this dreaded and probable poverty. He
would endeavour to maintain the standard of “plain living and high
thinking,” in which his family had been reared; he would preserve it
in its integrity, as far as lay in his power until, with characters
fully formed, tried, and matured, his children would in all
probability be enabled to withstand the allurements of luxury, the
flatteries of a facile society, the insidious temptations of the
world, the flesh, and the devil.

Intent upon removing such dangers from their path in life, he felt
himself warranted in using the _suppressio veri_ which he meditated.
And he implored the blessing of God upon his endeavours to that end.

Then, again, the station? It must stand apparently upon its own
foundation. What pride and joy to Hubert’s ardent nature for the
next few years would it be to plot and plan, to labour and to
endure, in order to compass the freedom of the beloved home from
debt! Now that the rain _had_ come, that the account was in good
standing, he had felt so sanguine of success that it would be cruel
to deprive him of the gratification he looked forward to—the
privilege he so prized.

And what task would employ every faculty of mind and body more
worthily, more nobly, than this one to which he had addressed
himself! Hubert’s favourite quotation occurred to him—

                   And how can man die better
                     Than facing fearful odds,
                   For the ashes of his fathers,
                     And the temples of his gods?

This he was wont to declaim when his mother, meeting him as he
returned from weary rides, chilled by winter frosts, burnt black
well-nigh by summer suns, had many a time and oft expostulated,
telling him that he would kill himself.

The tears came into the father’s eyes as he thought of these things.

“Poor Hubert! poor boy! How he has worked; how he means to work in
the future! We must manage not to let him overdo things now. I
daresay I shall be able to slacken the pace a little for him without
his suspecting the real cause.”

As he thought of his son, sitting Centaur-like on his favourite
horse, with his head up, his throat bare, courage in his eye and
manly resolution in his whole bearing—wild to do anything that was
self-sacrificing, dangerous, laborious, fully repaid by a smile from
his mother, a kiss from Laura, a nod of approval from himself—he
could not help contrasting him with Carlo Grandison, the product, as
he surmised, of a life of ease—of a system where self-restraint had
been rendered obsolete.

He thought of Laura’s patient labours, of her constancy to
uncongenial tasks, of her fresh, unsullied bloom, and sweet,
childlike nature.

“God forbid!” he said, “that they should ever know wealth if such a
transformation is likely to take place in their character. I know
what they are now. It shall be my aim to preserve them in their
present innocence. Let them remain unspotted from the world. I must
invent a way by which fair development and mental culture may be
furnished. But as to taking them away from this humble retreat where
all their natural good qualities have so grown and flourished in the
healthful atmosphere of home life, it were a sin to do it. I have
made up my mind.” And here Mr. Stamford almost frowned as he walked
along and looked as stern as it was in his nature to do.

On arriving at Mr. Worthington’s chambers, with the precious
document carefully secured within his pocket book, he found that
gentleman engaged. He, however, sent in his card with a request to
be admitted at his leisure upon business of importance, and received
a reply to the effect that if he could remain for a quarter of an
hour, the principal would be at liberty.

The time seemed not so long with a tranquil mind. The days of the
torture-chamber were over.

He employed it in re-considering the points of his argument, and
when the door of Mr. Worthington’s private room opened, he felt his
position strengthened.

“Sorry to detain you,” said the lawyer, “but it is a rule of mine to
take clients as they come, great and small. Haven’t seen you for
some time, Mr. Stamford. Had rain, I hear, in your country; that
means everything—everything good. What can I do for you?”



                               CHAPTER IV


The eminent solicitor, than whom no man in his profession held more
family confidences, not to say secrets in trust, here fixed a pair
of keen grey eyes, not unkindly in expression, but marvellously
direct and searching, upon his visitor.

“You have had a communication with reference to the subject of this
letter,” said Mr. Stamford, placing it before him.

“Ah! Wallingford, Richards and Stowe—first-class men in the
profession. Now you mention it, I certainly have, and I congratulate
you heartily upon it. I have heard generally about your affairs, Mr.
Stamford; losses and crosses, bad seasons, and so on. It has come at
the right time, hasn’t it?”

“It certainly has; but, curiously, I had managed, with the aid of
the grand change of season, to do without it. Now I have at once an
explanation and an uncommon request to make.”

Mr. Worthington settled himself in his chair and took a pinch of
snuff. “My dear sir,” said he, “pray go on. I am in the habit of
hearing uncommon requests and curious explanations every day of my
life.”

“Perhaps I may surprise even you a little. In the first place, does
any one know of this rather exceptional legacy which I have
received, or rather to which I am entitled?”

Mr. Worthington unlocked an escritoire, opened a drawer labelled
“Private,” and took from it a letter in the same handwriting as the
one before them. “Here is Wallingford’s letter. It has been seen by
no eye but mine. It was answered by me personally. No other living
soul is aware of it.”

“I have reasons, connected with my family chiefly, for not desiring
to permit my accession to a fortune, for such it is, to be known by
them, or by the public generally, till, at any rate, a certain
number of years has passed. Can this be done?”

“Most assuredly, I can receive the money, which will then be at your
disposal. No one need be a jot the wiser.”

“That’s exactly what I want you to do for me. To invest the amount
securely, and to let the interest accumulate for the present. At the
same time, I may, upon notice, be compelled to draw upon it.”

“That can be easily done. The interest will be lodged in the
Occidental Bank—they have no directors there, by the way—to be drawn
out if required, by cheque signed by you and me or my partner at my
decease—must provide for everything, you know. If you require the
whole, or any part, you have but to let me know, and I can send you
the firm’s written guarantee that the money will be at your credit
at the bank referred to, on any given day.”

“I am not likely to require the principal, but the interest I may
draw upon from time to time.”

“The arrangement can be made precisely as you desire. When you
authorise us on that behalf, the principal sum can be transmitted to
this colony without delay. You will be able to secure seven or eight
per cent. interest upon mortgage here without risk; and, as I said
before, to draw, should you require, by giving reasonable notice.
The course you are about to adopt is unusual; but I presume your
reasons to be adequate. It is not my business to be concerned with
them further than regards their legal aspect.”

“You have made my course easy, my dear sir, and relieved me of some
anxiety. I wish now to give instructions for the addition of a
codicil to my will, which is in your office. That being done, our
business will be over.”

This truly momentous interview was at length concluded most
satisfactorily, as Mr. Stamford thought. He made his way back to his
hotel in a serious but not uncheerful state of mind, reserving till
the following day a last interview with Mr. Barrington Hope.

On the morrow, when he betook himself to the offices of the Austral
Agency Company, he smiled as he thought with what different feelings
he had made his first entrance. How agitated had been his mind with
hope and fear! Scarcely daring to believe that he would receive
other than the stereotyped answer to so many such requests—“Would
have been happy under any other circumstances. Stock and stations
unsalable. The money market in so critical a condition. The company
have decided to make no further advances for the present. At another
time, probably,” and so forth. He knew the formula by heart.

How fortunate for him that it had been the policy of this company,
shaped by the alert and enterprising financial instinct of
Barrington Hope, to entertain his proposal; to make the sorely
needed advance; to float the sinking argosy; to risk loss and
guarantee speculative transactions for the sake of extending the
business of the company and gaining the confidence of the great
pastoral interest. The bold stroke, carried out as to so many larger
properties than poor, hardly-pressed Windāhgil, had been successful.
The daring policy, now that the rain had come, had turned out to be
wisely prescient. Capitalists began to talk of the man who,
comparatively young, had shown such nerve and decision in the throes
of a financial crisis—such as had just passed, thank God! The
oft-quoted succour might have proceeded chiefly from a superior
quality of head.

But Mr. Stamford told himself that to his dying day he should always
credit Barrington Hope with those attributes of the heart which were
rarely granted to meaner men.

At the present interview there were of course mutual
congratulations.

“Had rain, I saw by the telegram, my dear sir. Heartily glad for
your sake—indeed, for our own. Squatters fully appreciate the
benefit their class receives by such a glorious change in the
seasons. I wonder if they always remember their hard-worked
brethren, the managers of banks and finance companies, upon whose
weary brains such a weight of responsibility presses. Well, ‘to each
his sufferings, all are men condemned alike to groan,’ &c.; we must
bear our burdens as we best may. But this is very frivolous. It must
be the rain. Nearly six inches! Enough to make any one talk
nonsense. What can I do for you at present?”

Mr. Stamford shortly gave a _résumé_ of Hubert’s letter, and
mentioned the store sheep.

“Certainly, by all means; if, as I assume, you will have grass to
spare. Buy for cash and save the discount. Would you like to
telegraph? Excuse me.” He summoned a clerk. “Mr. Stamford wishes
this telegram sent at once.” He had written: “Buy store sheep at
once—for cash. Draw at sight.—BARRINGTON HOPE.—HUBERT STAMFORD,
Esq., Mooramah.”

“Is that right? Mr. Bowker, you will see that message sent through.”
The door closed. “It is best not to lose time in these matters.
Don’t you think so? Prices are rising every hour; sheep might be
withdrawn.”

Mr. Stamford was quite of the same opinion, and was moreover
delighted with the promptness with which the transaction was
concluded.

“Shall you want more sheep before shearing? If so, don’t scruple to
buy.”

“Well, we shall have more grass than we know what to do with, Hubert
says,” commenced Mr. Stamford, rather aghast at this magnificent
manner of buying all before him; “but I don’t know whether there is
not a risk of over-stocking.”

“None whatever, I should say; take advantage of a good season when
it comes, that’s the modern stock policy. Some very successful men,
whose names I could tell you, always practise it. You will consult
your son when you go home and let me know. But, admitting that you
bought up to your carrying capacity, and sold all but your best
sheep directly after shearing, you might make all safe, as they say
at sea. Our Queensland constituents are buying largely to stock up
new country. As your district has a good name for wool, you would
have no difficulty in quitting them at a profit.”

“That makes a difference, certainly,” said Mr. Stamford, to whose
mind—long a _tabula rasa_ as regards speculation, having been too
deeply occupied in compassing mere existence (pecuniarily
speaking)—gorgeous enterprises and profits commenced to present
themselves. “I will talk it over with Hubert, and let you know.”

“Certainly; wire rather than write, though; in matters of importance
time is generally most precious. You are going; good bye! Most happy
that our business intercourse has progressed so favourably.”

“You must permit me, my dear Mr. Hope, to say that I feel most
grateful,” said Mr. Stamford, standing up and holding out his hand,
“deeply grateful personally, for your kindness and courtesy, outside
of any business relation whatever. No, you must not stop me. I shall
feel it to my dying day, and I trust you will come and see us at our
home—the home you saved for us, I shall always think—whenever you
visit our part of the country.”

The hand-clasp was sincere and hearty; the interview terminated. The
squatter went his way musingly down narrow, not over-straight George
Street, on either side of which towering freestone buildings seemed
to be uprising daily; while Barrington Hope addressed himself to a
pile of letters from which he hardly raised his head until the
closing of the office. As for Mr. Stamford, his day’s work was done.
He mechanically thought over the store sheep question, but his face
suddenly changed as he remembered in such matters he would be
absolved from all anxiety or doubt in future. What rest—rest—all
blessed rest of mind and body, would be his for all time to come!

Are there any disorders, sorrows, misfortunes, here below which so
surely, if gradually, eat away the heart of man as those which
spring from pecuniary dearth or doubt?

How the days are dimmed! How the nights are troubled! The glory of
the sky, the beauty of the flower, the breath of morn, the solemn
hush of midnight, Nature’s best gifts and treasures, how unheeded
all, if not despised are they, when exhibited before the wretched
thrall of debt!

To the galley slave in old classic days what were the purple waters
of the Egean—the haunting beauty of the temple-crowned promontory?
The choral dances, the flower-wreathed fanes of the Greek Isles were
but mockeries to the haggard rowers of the trireme as she swept by,
all too close to land. The grim jest of the old-world humorist was
keenly close—that even the demons of the nethermost pit disdained to
torture the luckless debtor, so wasted and dried up was every
attribute of body and soul!

And was he indeed the same Harold Stamford that paced this very
street wearily and so despondingly but one poor week agone? “And
without the timely aid of the Austral Agency Company,” thought he,
“I was even then so near to safety, to triumph! I feel like the man
who clung so long to a marsh pile the long night through, in dread
of drowning, and, dropping from exhaustion, found himself in four
feet of water. And how wretched and despairing was I, how little
hope was there in the world apparently! But for Linda and the
children, I could have found it in my heart to make a quick end, in
the harbour, of the misery which was becoming unendurable. It shows
that a man should never despair. There are always chances. Hundreds,
as poor Hubert said. But shall I ever forget Barrington Hope and his
kindness? No, or may God forget me in my need. And what a grand
fellow he seems to be!”

Having satisfactorily finished his soliloquy, Mr. Stamford bethought
himself that he would make a parting call upon his friends, the
Grandisons. He was going home in a day or two now and should be
tolerably busy, he knew by experience, what with commissions and
other matters which he was but too apt to put off till the last
moment.

The ladies were engaged. Mr. Grandison was, however, at home, and,
as it turned out, not in that cheerful frame of mind which befitted
so rich a man. He had the world’s goods in profusion, but as
Stamford marked his anxious brow and perturbed countenance, he saw
that something had gone wrong.

“Oh, it’s you, is it?” Mr. Grandison said. “I was afraid it was a
young fellow just out from home—got letters to us—the Honourable Mr.
Devereux; he’s not a bad chap, but I don’t feel up to talking to a
youngster I never saw before and won’t see again after next week.
Come into my den and have a yarn, Harold. I want to talk to you.
And, I say, stop and have a quiet _tête-à-tête_ dinner. They’re
going out—Josie and her mother—to one of Ketten’s recitals, as they
call it. I’m in no humour for musical humbug, I can tell you. I’m
worried to death about that eldest boy of mine, Carlo. Stay, like a
good fellow, and you can advise me. I’m fairly puzzled.”

This was a matter of charity, and old friendship besides. Stamford’s
heart was touched at the spectacle of his old comrade troubled and
in distress. He forgot the obtrusive magnificence, and thought of
the long past days when they rode together beneath burning sky or
winter storm, before one had found the road to fortune and the other
had taken the bye-path which had only ended in happiness. “All
right, Bob,” he answered. “You shall have all the help I can offer.
I’m sorry you’ve cause to be uneasy about the boy. We must hope for
the best though. Youthful imprudence is not so uncommon.”

“It’s worse than that,” said Mr. Grandison, gloomily—with a
portentous shake of his head.



                               CHAPTER V


Just as dinner was announced, the carriage behind the grand three
hundred guinea browns—perhaps the best pair in Sydney—rolled up to
the door. Mrs. Grandison and Miss Josie fluttered down the stairs a
few minutes afterwards in the full glory of evening costume. As host
and guest stood in the hall, the lady of the house vouchsafed a
slight explanation, mingled with faint regret that the latter was
not coming with them.

“You know, Mr. Stamford, this is one of that dear Ketten’s last
recitals. We really could not afford to miss it—especially as our
friends, the Cranberrys, will be there. Lady C. sent a private
message to Josie that she _must_ go. I wanted to stop, for we really
are miserable about that wicked boy Carlo; but Josie said it
couldn’t make any difference to him, and why should we punish
ourselves because he chose to be selfish and extravagant.”

Mr. Stamford could not wholly assent to these philosophical
propositions. He thought of what Laura’s pleasure in hearing the
musical magnate would have been on the same evening that Hubert had
been declared a defaulter as to play debts, and was socially, if not
legally, under a cloud.

He simply bowed coldly. Then he saw the pained maternal expression
in Mrs. Grandison’s face, in spite of her worldliness and frivolity,
and his heart smote him.

“My dear Mrs. Grandison,” he said, taking her hand, “I feel for you
most deeply.”

Then suddenly came a voice from the carriage, in which Miss Josie
had ensconced herself. “Mamma, I shall catch cold if we wait one
moment longer. Hadn’t you better postpone your interesting talk with
Mr. Stamford?”

Mrs. Grandison started, and then recovering herself, shook Mr.
Stamford’s hand. “You will talk it over with Robert, won’t you? You
are old friends, you know. Don’t let him be too hard on poor Carlo.
I’m sure he has a good heart. Pray come and see us again before you
leave.”

The portly form of his hostess moved off at a swifter rate than her
appearance denoted. The footman banged the carriage door, and the
grand equipage rattled out over the mathematically accurate curves
of the drive. The dinner gong commenced to resound after a warlike
and sudden fashion, and caused Mr. Stamford to betake himself
hurriedly to the drawing-room. There he found Mr. Grandison standing
by the fire-place in a meditative position.

Mr. Grandison turned at his friend’s entrance. “Seen Mrs. Grandison?
Has she told you about it? Well, they’re gone now, and we can talk
it over quietly. Come in to dinner. I’ve no appetite, God knows! but
I want something to steady my nerves.”

The dinner, somewhat restricted for the occasion, was extremely
good, though his host ate little, confining himself to a cutlet and
some wonderful brown sherry. Not until the dessert was placed before
them and they were alone did he begin the subject which lay so near
to his heart.

“Of course I know, Stamford, that young fellows like my boy can’t be
expected to live in a town like Sydney upon a screwy allowance—at
any rate not if they are to be seen in good company. Therefore I’ve
always said to Carlo, ‘Let me see you make your mark, and live like
a gentleman. That’s all I ask of you, and you sha’n’t want for a
hundred or two.’ I hadn’t got it to spend when I was his age—you
know that, Harold; but if I like my youngster to be a bit different
in some things, that’s my own affair, isn’t it, as long as I am
willing to pay for it? Well that’s all right, you say. Take some of
this claret, it won’t hurt you. It’s my own importation from
Bordeaux. Of course I didn’t want the boy to slave in an office, nor
yet to live in the bush year after year with nothing but station
hands to talk to. If Mrs. Grandison had done what I wanted her to
do, while the children were young, and lived quietly at Banyule, it
might have been different. There we could have had everything
comfortable; nearly as good as here. It would have been better for
me, and them too, I expect. But she wouldn’t see it, and that’s why
we’ve always lived in town.”

“Still,” interposed Stamford, “though you have been well enough off
to afford to live where you pleased, I can’t imagine why Carlo
should not keep the course and run straight, even in Sydney, like
other young men of his age.”

Mr. Grandison sighed and filled his glass. “Some do, and some don’t,
that’s about the size of it. I don’t know why the lad shouldn’t have
enjoyed himself in reason like young Norman McAllister, Jack
Staunton, Neil O’Donnell, and others that we know. They’ve always
had lots of money, too; they’ve been home to the Old Country and
knocked about by themselves, and I never heard that they’ve got into
rows or overrun the constable. How my boy should have made such a
fool of himself with a father that’s always stuck well to him, I
can’t think. I’m afraid we’ve thought too much of his swell friends’
names and families, and not enough of their principles. I’ve told my
wife that before now.”

“But what has he done?” asked Stamford. “If it’s a matter of a few
thousands, you can settle that easily enough—particularly now we’ve
had rain,” continued he, introducing the pleasantry as a slight
relief to his friend’s self-reproachful strain.

“Yes, of course, I can do that, thank God! rain or no rain, though
it made a matter of thirty thousand profit to me on those back
Dillandra blocks—more than that. I shouldn’t care if the money was
all; but this is how it is. I may as well bring it straight out. It
seems that Carlo and Captain Maelstrom (d—--n him!—I never liked a
bone in his body) and some others were playing loo last week with a
young fellow whose father had just died and left him a lot of money.
The stakes ran up high—a deal higher than the club committee would
have allowed if they’d known about it. Well, just at first they had
it all their own way. This young chap was a long way to the
bad—thousands, they say. Then the luck turned, and after that they
never held a card. He played a bold game, and the end of it was that
Carlo and the Captain were ten thousand out, and of course neither
of them able to pay up. The Captain managed to get time, but Carlo,
like a fool, went straight off and said nothing about it. He was
afraid to come to me, it seems, as we’d had a row last time; so he
did the very worst thing he could have done and cleared out to
Tasmania. We got a letter yesterday. He’s over there now.” Here Mr.
Grandison fairly groaned, and looked piteously in his old friend’s
face.

“Well, well! but after all,” said Mr. Stamford, “of course it’s bad
enough, gambling—high stakes and folly generally; but if you pay up,
things will be much as they were, and it will be a lesson to him.”

“I hope it may be, but the worst of it is,” went on Mr. Grandison,
“that the whole thing came out, and there was a regular _exposé_.
The young fellow, Newlands, made a disturbance when he wasn’t paid,
swore he’d horsewhip Carlo whenever he met him, and went on
tremendously. Then the committee of the club took it up and talked
of expelling Maelstrom and him for playing for stakes above the
proper limit, and if the affair’s raked up it’s possible they will.
I paid up in full, of course, as soon as I could get to know the
amount. Newlands apologised very properly and all that. But the
mischief’s done! Carlo can’t show his face in Sydney for I don’t
know how long. All our hopes about his turning steady and settling
down are disappointed. It’s a round sum of money to throw away for
nothing, and worse than nothing. And what to do with the boy I don’t
know.”

“It certainly _is_ a hard case for his parents,” said Mr. Stamford,
thoughtfully. “I scarcely know what to advise. A year or two on a
station, or a turn at exploring in the far north used to be thought
a remedy, or, at any rate, to hold out reasonable hope of amendment
by change of scene and fresh interests, but—--”

“But that wouldn’t suit Carlo. He hates bush life—can’t live away
from excitement—and I’m afraid, if I sent him away against his will,
he’d take to drinking, or do something worse still. I’m at my wits’
end. He seems to have got it into his head that I’m to provide for
him under any circumstances, and the consequence is he never thinks
of doing anything for himself.”

“How do you think travel would act upon him? He has never seen the
Old World, ‘the kingdoms of the earth and the glory of them.’ Surely
that would rouse sufficient enthusiasm to counteract the meaner
pleasures?”

“Carlo would never get further than Paris if I trusted him alone.
However, I shall have to try it, I suppose. The long and the short
of it will be that we shall be obliged to move _en famille_. I can’t
send him by himself after what has happened.”

“I really do think it is the best thing you can do. You can afford
it easily. Station property is likely to look up for a few years
now. You have excellent managers, and it will most likely benefit
the other young people. I don’t see any objection; indeed everything
seems in favour of it.”

“Of course we can do it,” said his friend, doubtfully; “but I didn’t
intend to leave for a year or two yet—until we could have entered
Cecil at one of the universities, and, in fact, made other
arrangements. But Carlo is the master of the situation at present—he
must be, as usual, considered before everything and everybody. Well,
I’m much obliged to you, Stamford; indeed I feel most grateful; it
has been a great relief to my mind to be able to talk the matter
over with you quietly, and I really believe this idea of yours of
travel abroad will suit everybody. Mrs. Grandison and Josie will be
wild with delight, I feel sure.”

“I hope you will all have reason to be satisfied with the results of
the step; and now, as it is getting late, I will say good night.”

“Good night, and thank you very much, old fellow! By the way, this
rain has reached your part of the world, I see; I suppose your
affairs are improving a bit now—look brighter, eh!”

“I have been enabled to make satisfactory arrangements lately,” said
Stamford, shortly. “I have placed my account with the Austral Agency
Company and we got on very well.”

“Ah, indeed. Rising man, that Barrington Hope. I wish—but it’s no
use wishing. Well, good night again! Nothing like being independent
of the banks; that’s always the safest line!”

“Safest indeed,” thought his guest as he walked down the gravel
drive, just in time to miss the blazing lamps and chariot wheels
of Mrs. Grandison’s equipage, which bore herself and her daughter
back from the hall where the _maestro_ had been delighting the
_crême de la crême_ of fashionable musical Sydney. “Safest indeed;
but how is one to manage it with droughty seasons, and markets
practically closed? I think Master Bob might have asked that
question before. But his own troubles have been greater than mine,
poor fellow—greater, ah, a thousandfold. What bribe, indeed, would
tempt me to change places with him? However, we must hope for the
best, though I am afraid Carlo will only substitute Baden Baden
for Bent Street. Miserable boy!”

                  *       *       *       *       *

The sacrifice at the altar of friendship being duly performed, Mr.
Stamford addressed himself to the arrangements necessary for a
speedy return to the home which he had quitted under such depressing
conditions. How different were the sensations with which he set
about preparing for departure from those which he had good reason to
fear would have overshadowed his return journey! “The sad companion,
ghastly Care,” had retired, indefinitely banished, as far as human
foresight could discover.

All difficulties, all doubt as to ways and means, had vanished. The
kind hand of Providence had been specially exerted for his benefit.
He hardly recognised in himself the sanguine individual that had
replaced his boding, desponding entity, tortured by vain regrets and
undefined dread; hopeless of succour alike from God and man!

He went about his business with alacrity and a cheerful enjoyment of
life that even surprised himself. He seemed to have renewed his
youth. Tastes and fancies which had long been relegated to the realm
of the impossible reappeared like the wild-wood flowers of his own
land after the gracious rainfall of which he had received tidings.
He was now enabled to indulge them in moderation with a clear
conscience.

And he savoured them with a relish akin to that of the returned
traveller after perils by land and sea, of the desert-worn pilgrim
who sees again the green fields and rippling brooks of the
fatherland which he had despaired of again beholding.

What a novel joy was it to him to awake at midnight—at early dawn—to
realise with returning consciousness that safety, comfort,
honourable independence were to be the portion of his loved ones
henceforward and for ever! What a relief to turn again to his
pillow, and sink into untroubled slumber with a heart filled with
gratitude—with peace unutterable!

One of his first expeditions in the shopping line was to the chief
book mart, an establishment where he previously had been wont to
linger but for short intervals, regarding with a melancholy interest
the rows of new, enticing works, into the pages of which he hardly
dared to look. Now he boldly produced a list of standard authors,
magazines, works of travel, science, autobiography, fiction, what
not; commanded that they should be packed in a suitable case and
forwarded to the railway station to his address. How he relished the
actual writing of a cheque for the amount! How the thought of being
able to enjoy them with an untroubled mind, in the peaceful evenings
at Windāhgil, caused his spirits to rise, his heart to expand!

Hubert’s modest commission was not forgotten, nor the less-developed
literary needs of Maurice and Ned, while at a neighbouring
establishment he chose a collection of music, vocal and
instrumental, which would keep Laura and Linda moderately well
employed for a twelvemonth. A new piano the girls must have, but not
yet, not all at once, whispered Prudence. He must not show his hand
too suddenly. All in good time. And, as a young professional of the
period ran his fingers lightly over the notes of a lovely Erard
semi-grand, Mr. Stamford almost waltzed out of the shop, to the
seductive strains of “Auf Wiedersehn.” His last and crowning exploit
was to procure, after, perhaps, rather more personal exertion and
loss of dignity than were expended on the foregoing transactions,
the services of a well-recommended, capable female domestic, whose
scruples at going so far into the bush he combated by a liberal rate
of wages, and a promise to pay her return fare if she remained for
twelve months in his service. After all this Mr. Stamford paid a
farewell visit to Mr. Barrington Hope, with whom he arranged for
shearing supplies, and, finally, at the close of an exciting day, he
found himself in the mail-train in a state of high contentment, in
charity with all men, and honestly grateful to that Almighty Ruler
who had uplifted him from those dark depths, at the remembrance of
which he still shuddered.

At a reasonably early hour on the following day the unpretending
architecture of Mooramah emerged from the forest hills which
encompass that rising township, and there was Hubert sure enough,
with the well-worn buggy and the good old horses, still high in
bone, though, like himself, much improved in spirits and demeanour.

“Why, governor!” quoth that young man, after an affectionate
greeting and the gradual absorption into the recesses of the buggy
of the tolerably heavy miscellaneous luggage of his parent,
“you’re quite another man. Let me look at you. Fashionable and
distinguished-looking, I declare! Thought you were a gentleman
from England. Mother and the girls won’t know you. I suppose it’s
the rain, and Mr. Barrington—what’s his name, Hope or Faith, isn’t
it? He seems to have lots of the latter requisite, doesn’t he? We
ought to have made his acquaintance years ago. And this is the new
servant, I suppose. Very glad to see you, Mary Jane. Not Mary
Jane? Isabella; well, that sounds nicer—country looks grand,
doesn’t it? Old Mooramah’s quite another place. But I can’t take
my eyes off you, governor! You look ten years younger.”

“I feel so, my boy, I assure you. Things have gone well, I needn’t
tell you. I found Mr. Hope a most satisfactory person to do business
with. And of course the rain has crowned everything.”

“Satisfactory! I should think he was! Smartest man we’ve ever worked
with. I closed with old Saville, and bought six thousand Riverina
ewes bred at Broongal. Sent a wire to him, had his answer, and
nailed them before dark. I believe I could make a half-a-crown
profit a head on the whole lot. That’s something like business, if
you like.”

“And you’re sure you’ll have grass enough for them and our own, too!
It doesn’t do to run risks, you know, Hubert!”

“Grass!” retorted the young man scornfully. “Wait till you see the
old place. Now that the stock are all off the frontage, the prairie
grass and trefoil are coming up like a hayfield. Why, we sha’n’t be
able to _see_ the sheep in it at shearing time. Don’t the old horses
go differently? They’re picking up hand over hand, though of course
they’ve not had time to lay on flesh yet. The sheep are quicker
about it, and they look wonderful. You’d hardly know the dry flocks.
We’re not far from the river, now; it’s just crossable again. Wait
till you come to the outer gate. But it’s all alike. I feel almost
too happy. If I hadn’t had a good lot of hardish work just at first,
I think I should have gone off my head.”

Harold Stamford put his hand on the boy’s shoulder, and looked with
loving pride into his clear eyes and bold, frank brow. “God in His
mercy be thanked for our prosperity, my son!” he said. “May He keep
us in health of body and mind, and long preserve us to each other. I
feel, also, as if my cup was almost too full. May He aid us to enjoy
and use wisely the benefits He has conferred on us!”

The young man turned and wrung his father’s hand silently.

“Great Heaven!” thought Mr. Stamford to himself, as he noted the
clear bronzed cheek, the manly, frank impression, the muscular frame
of his first-born, the whole figure instinct with the splendid
health and graceful vigour of early manhood when developed to
maturity amid the wholesome influences of a country life. “What a
contrast does he present to Carlo Grandison! Surely I am wise in
shielding him from the disturbing forces, the crowding temptations,
with which wealth besets mankind. I dislike every aspect of
deception, but surely the postponing the dangerous knowledge, which
would relieve these children from all necessity for self-denial, is
a justifiable exercise of my discretion as the head of the
household. It will, it must, I feel convinced, be for their ultimate
advantage.”

By the time the train of reflection induced by this consideration
had come to an end, the river was forded—tolerably high indeed; so
much so as to cause the new domestic some natural misgivings, but
the strong, temperate horses breasted the swirling current, and
landed them safely, under Hubert’s experienced guidance, upon the
pebbly beach of the farther shore.

“So far, so good,” said the charioteer; “we couldn’t have done that
yesterday, and it’s not every pair of horses that would fancy all
that rushing and bubbling of the stream. Don’t you remember Mr.
Round nearly making a mess of it last year at night in this very
place, with the governess and all the children too? He had a pretty
bad quarter of an hour after he broke his pole. Now look at the
grass, that’s something like, isn’t it?”

Mr. Stamford had seen such things before in his pastoral
experience. Not for the first time did he look upon the marvellous
transformation wrought in “dry country” by forty-eight hours’
rain. But he could not avoid an exclamation of surprise when he
gazed around him. Was this the same place—the same country even,
which he had driven over so lately to catch the train, with the
self-same pair of horses too?

Then the river trickled in a thin rivulet from one pond to another
in the wide, half-dry bed of the stream; then the dusty banks were
lined with dead sheep; the black-soiled alluvial flat was innocent
of grass in root or stalk or living herbage as the trampled dust of
a stockyard. Now a thick, green carpet of various verdure covered
all the great meadow as far as eye could see, and brought its bright
green border to the very verge of the sand and shingle of the river
shore.

The half-flood which had resulted from the rainfall nearer the
source had swept away the carcases of the sheep and cattle and
deposited all saddening souvenirs of the drought amid the reed beds
of the lower Mooramah. All was spring-like and splendidly luxuriant,
though as yet but in the later autumn season. It was a new land, a
new climate, a region recovered from the waste.



                               CHAPTER VI


In ten minutes Mr. Stamford was deposited safely at the home which
he had quitted with such gloomy forebodings, such dreadful doubt and
uncertainty. Then he had asked himself, ‘Should he be enabled to
call it his own on returning? Was not Ruin’s knell already sounding
in his ears?’

A few short weeks had elapsed, and how different was the outlook!
When he beheld again the true and tender wife, the loving daughters,
the joyful children, his heart swelled nigh to bursting. An unspoken
prayer went up to heaven that he might ever remain worthy of the
unselfish love, the trusting faith which had been his since first he
had acquired a household of his own. How unworthy are the best of
men of such treasures—the purest, the richest, which are granted to
mortal man!

When his affairs were at the worst, had he not always known where to
receive wise counsel, tender consolation, heartfelt sympathy? When a
ray of sunshine broke through the cloud-wrack which environed his
fortunes, had not a double brilliancy been added to it by those
loving hearts which took their colour so readily from his every
mood? Now all was joy, peace, magical transformation. The
storm-clouds had passed over, the menacing powers had vanished like
evil dreams. All was hope and sanguine trust in the future. He was a
monarch restored to his throne, a leader once more in front of his
faithful band, the head of a household which care and pain, in
certain forms, could never more approach.

“So, father, you have deigned to return to us!” said Mrs. Stamford,
smiling the bright, loving welcome which had never failed her
husband. “We began to think that the ‘pleasures and palaces’ were
becoming too much for the ‘home, sweet home’ side of the question.
Didn’t we, Laura? But how wonderfully well you look, darling! We are
all ready to go on pilgrimage to the shrine of St. Barrington Hope,
as it seems he has wrought all these miracles.”

“Yes, indeed, dear old dad,” cried Laura; “I would have put up his
image in my bedroom, and done a little private worship if I had had
the least idea of what he was like. But you never vouchsafed any
sketch of his personal appearance. You haven’t brought a photo, have
you? That would be something.”

“Mr. Barrington Hope is a very fine man, pussy, as you will see
probably, one of these days—a good deal out of the common in every
respect.”

“Young, is he?” queried Linda, who, having climbed on her father’s
knee, was patting his face and smoothing his hair. “He isn’t a
horrid old man, or married? Good gracious! we never thought of that,
did we? Oh! don’t say he is bald or grey, or unromantic. Laura and I
would never get over it. We have fixed on him for our hero, like Guy
in the _Heir of Redclyffe_. Surely some one said he was young!”

“He is a good deal more like Philip, but there is nothing of the
prig about him, as I fear there was about that estimable young man,”
replied her father. “But what does his personal appearance matter, I
should like to know?”

“But it _does_, it matters everything,” returned the enthusiastic
damsel. “Oh! he can’t be plain, surely not—after all he has done for
us. You mustn’t knock down the romance we have all been building
up.”

“He is a very fine man, a few years older than Hubert, that is all.
I can’t give any inventory of his features, but he is tall and
distinguished looking. Isn’t that enough?”

“Oh! splendid!” Here Linda clapped her hands in childish glee. “Fate
is too kind! Our preserver is all that we could wish. Nothing was
wanting but that. We are the happiest family in New South Wales—in
the world.”

“Amen!” said Mr. Stamford. “Now you may unlock my portmanteau and
turn out a few presents I have brought my little girls. I shall be
ready for lunch when it comes in, I may venture to remark. The bush
air is still keen, I perceive.”

In accordance with his well-studied programme, Mr. Stamford informed
his family, in general terms, that the arrangements he had made with
Mr. Barrington Hope were of a satisfactory description. That
gentleman had behaved most liberally and courteously in all
respects. The rain having so fortunately arrived on the top of all
this, had enabled him even to improve on his first terms, which were
nearly all that could be wished. They would therefore be warranted
in allowing themselves a few indulgences such as, had the season
continued dry, could not have been so much as thought of.

After lunch, or rather dinner, the mid-day meal being of that
unfashionable description, Mr. Stamford and Hubert took a long drive
round the run. The appearance of the pastures, as also of the sheep
they encountered, was such as to draw forth exclamations of surprise
and delight from their possessor.

“I never remember such a season since the year I bought the run,” he
remarked to his son. “You were quite a little fellow then, and Laura
hardly able to walk. It puts me quite in mind of old times—of the
happy days which I thought had fled for ever.”

“Well, please goodness, governor, we’ll knock something out of the
old place this year that will make up for past losses. Sheep are
rising fast, and, as we can’t help having a fine lambing and a good
clip, you’ll see what we’ll rake in. We must put up a new washpen,
though, and enlarge the shed a bit. It won’t cost much, as I’ve put
a first-rate man on. He’s a Swede, been a ship’s carpenter, and the
quickest worker, when he understands what you want done, that I ever
saw. Not one of your cabinet-making humbugs who are all day
morticing a gate-head. I’ll draw in all the round stuff, and you’ll
see how soon we’ll knock it up.”

“All right, my boy; any improvements in reason, only we mustn’t
spend all our money before we make it.”

“Trust me for that, dad; you won’t find me spending a penny that can
be saved. We shall want no extra hands till shearing time. All the
paddocks are right and tight, so the sheep will shepherd themselves,
and do all the better, too. How jolly it is to have no bother about
water, isn’t it? And what a bit of luck we had that dam in the hill
paddock finished just before the rain came.”

“Nothing like doing things at the right time, Hubert,” replied Mr.
Stamford, with an air of oracular wisdom. “You had half a mind to
leave that same dam till next year.”

“Well, I must confess I hadn’t much heart to go shovelling and
picking that gravelly clay—hard as iron—with the weather so hot too,
and looking as if rain was never coming again. But you were right to
have it done, and now we have the benefit of it. Got a pretty fair
paddock of oats in too. It’s coming up splendidly.”

“How did you manage that without a team?”

“Hired a carrier’s for a week or two. He was short of cash, and
wanted to spell his bullocks; besides we ripped over the ploughing
in no time. Then I made a brush harrow and finished it with the
station horses. The main thing was to get in the seed the first
break of dry weather, and now we shall have a stack that will last
us two years at least.”

“Well done, my boy; dry seasons will come again some day; we must
prepare for them, though everything looks so bright, or rather so
delightfully cloudy, just now. We shall have to invent a fresh set
of proverbs to suit Australia, shall we not, instead of using our
old-fashioned English ones?”

“Yes, indeed. Can anything be more ludicrous than ‘Save up for a
rainy day?’ ‘Look ahead in case of a dry season,’ should be our
motto. This carrier was rather a smart chap, and understood similes.
‘Will that bullock go steady on the near side?’ I asked him the
other day. ‘Oh! he’s right,’ he said; ‘right as rain!’ That was
something like, wasn’t it? By the bye, dad, you didn’t forget those
books of mine, did you?”

“No, my son! I bought a few more in addition. In fact, there’s a box
of books coming up by the train.”

“A box of books! Hurrah! What times we shall have, when the evenings
get longer. But, I say, dad! isn’t that rather extravagant? You’ll
have the mater on to you if you begin to buy books by the box.”

“They will have to last us some time, Hubert; you will find a good
deal of stiff reading among them. But if things go well generally, I
won’t stint you in books. We must charge them to the rain account
this time.”

“I suppose we can save out of something else, but I really have
found it hard, the last year or two, to do without a new book now
and then. It’s so tantalising to see the names and read the reviews
when you’re not able to get them. But of course it couldn’t be
helped when things looked so bad.”

“I have a notion, Hubert, that things will never look so bad again.
However, we must not be led away by temporary good fortune.
Perseverance is, after all, the great secret of success. Without
that mere cleverness is misleading, and even mischievous.”

It was so far fortunate for Mr. Stamford, and it certainly made his
allotted task the easier, that he had always been somewhat reticent
as to business details.

They were subjects concerning which he disliked conversation
extremely, so that although he confided in his wife and family as to
every change in their pecuniary position, he was wont to ignore
special explanation, much more the repetition of detail.

When he announced therefore in general terms, from time to time, to
his family that things were going well, and that Mr. Barrington
Hope’s financial plan, coupled with that extraordinary advance in
the value of pastoral property occasioned by the rain, enabled him
to raise the standard of their house-keeping, they were satisfied,
and did not press for further information.

Now commenced for Harold Stamford the ideal country life towards
which he had always aspired, but from which, latterly, he had been
further removed than ever. He enjoyed the advantages of the dweller
away from cities without the drawbacks which so often tend to render
that idyllic life monotonous and depressing.

He had daily outdoor exercise in sufficient quantity to produce the
wholesome half-tired feeling so necessary to repose.

At the same time, he was entirely freed from dominant and engrossing
dread, a state of mind which had for years past coloured so large a
portion of his waking thoughts. How hard it had been to fall asleep
with endless plans coursing through his tired brain, having for
their central idea the admitted fact of bankruptcy. How were they to
act? What was there to support the family while he sought for
employment? Employment, too! To what occupation could he betake
himself, now that middle age was reached, and much of the vigour and
activity of manhood departed? He had acquired “experience.” There
was a grim irony in the expression—of what use would it be to him
without capital? A managership of the station of another? True that
might be possibly attained after weeks and months of effort, or
years, as the case might be.

He was familiar with the appearance of saddened men who haunted the
offices of stock-agents and merchants—the waiting-rooms of bankers,
the steps of clubs whence their more prosperous comrades walked
forth redolent of solvency. He had noticed such men growing
shabbier, more hopeless of aspect as the months rolled on. He had
heard them alluded to with contemptuous pity as “Poor old So-and-so!
Not up to much now, younger and smarter men to be had,” &c. He had
wondered whether such might be his fate, whether with his fall he
should drag down those beloved ones, who, whatever might be the
trials they had undergone together, had always enjoyed the fullest
personal freedom and independence.

Such dreary reflections had been his companions in the past—daily,
hourly, as well under the light of the sun as in the night watches,
when silence lends to every reproach of conscience, every signal of
danger, a treble force and distinctness.

In those terrible years of doubt and dread, of ruin and despair,
what tragedies had been enacted before his eyes, among his friends
and comrades, dwellers in the same region, dependent upon the same
seasons, betrayed by the same natural causes! But the other men had
not, like him, been shielded by the soft encircling influence of a
happy home. A logical mind, a sanguine spirit, combined with a
philosophical habit, had perhaps proved his safeguard. However that
might be, and Harold Stamford was the last man to boast to himself
or to others, his bark had battled with the angry waters while
others had become dismal wrecks, or had foundered suddenly and
irrevocably.

Despair had written its tale in the chronicles of the district, in
reckless deep drinking, in suicide, in brain-ruin.

All these things had he seen and known of. From these and other
evils, not less deadly, but of slower effect, had he been preserved.

When he looked around and saw himself on a pinnacle of prosperity,
safe in the possession of all that he held most dear—the lands he
had so loved—the life of labour and of leisure so happily
apportioned, which he had so fully appreciated—the assured position
of respect and consideration, which it is not in mortal man wholly
to undervalue, he could with difficulty restrain his feelings. His
heart swelled with thankfulness to that Supreme Ruler who had so
mercifully ordered all matters concerning him and his, and again he
vowed so to shape his future life that he might be held in some
degree worthy of the blessings which had been showered upon him all
unworthy.

This adjustment of ways and means he found nearly as difficult in
its way as the former trial. He often smiled to himself as he found
what an amount of conscientious reluctance to accept the unwonted
plenty he was compelled to combat. Did he effect a surprise of a few
rare plants for his flower-loving wife, she would calculate the
railway charges, and ask gravely if he was sure he could afford it.
Did he order a new riding-habit for Laura, a hat or a summer dress
for Linda, they were sure they could make the old ones do for
another season. It was interesting to watch the conflict between the
natural, girlish eagerness for the new and desirable and the inner
voice which had so long cried “refrain, refrain!” in that sorely
tried household.

However, in spite of their virtuous resistance, by the exercise of a
little diplomacy, Harold Stamford had his way. The garden was dug
over, the trees were pruned, the parterre refilled with choice
varieties of the old loved flowers that the drought had slain. Even
a bush-house and a fernery were managed—put up indeed by the man who
had been temporarily retained as gardener, and whom Mrs. Stamford,
deeply as she appreciated the enjoyment of once more beholding trim
alleys and well-tended beds, could not help regarding in the light
of a superfluity.

Then there was the American buggy, a wonderful vehicle, in which so
many journeys had been made over roads that were rough or smooth,
ways that were short or long, as need was, wherein all the family
had been closely packed in the days of their childhood, still strong
and serviceable, but woefully deficient in paint and varnish. This
family friend, and a friend in need had it been, found its way to
the coachmaker’s, whence it issued resplendent, nearly as
distinguished in appearance, Mrs. Stamford conceded, as when, in the
earlier days of their wedded life, they had been secretly proud of
their handsome carriage and well-matched, fast-trotting pair.

“It quite brought back,” she averred, “the old days of love in a
cottage, with all their precious memories.”

Gradually, and unobtrusively, was the master of the establishment
enabled to compass these and other desirable repairs and refittings.
All things that had become shabby were dismissed or replaced after
the same piecemeal manner. As time wore on, the process ceased to
alarm his wife or children, more especially as, aided by the
bounteous season and Hubert’s ceaseless energy, the general
prosperity of the station was marked and gratifying.

The increase of the stock was unexampled. The anxious, toilsome
period of shearing was passed successfully.

The new washpen answered beyond the most sanguine anticipation. The
clip was heavy, and “got up” so as almost to resemble raw silk—a
pardonable exaggeration—so free from dust and all contamination had
sleepless vigilance and care on Hubert’s part “turned it out.” The
crop was as “high as the fence,” Maurice averred, and the haystack,
consequently, a colossal and imposing pile of fragrant fodder. The
spring was sufficiently showery to lay the dust and keep the matted
grass green at the roots. Water was abundant, both “out back” as
well as on the frontage. “All went merry as a marriage bell,” and
when the last high-piled waggon-load had moved slowly away, on which
was imprinted “Windāhgil, First Combing, 348,” with other suggestive
and satisfactory legends, Mr. Stamford put his arm round his wife’s
waist, and remarked, “My dear, I think a trip to Sydney would do you
and the girls so much good. As I am compelled to see Mr. Hope on
business, we may as well all go together.”



                              CHAPTER VII


The thrill of pleasure with which this proposal was received showed
itself in the flushing cheeks and brightened eyes of Laura and her
sister—while upon Mrs. Stamford’s features an almost pathetic
expression appeared, as of a revelation of joy sudden and
unhoped-for. “You are so kind, Harold; but, oh! are you prudent?
Think of the expense—new dresses, new everything, indeed! Why it
seems an age since I saw Sydney!”

“Think of the clip, Mrs. Stamford,” retorted her husband. “Think of
the lambs, think of the fat sheep ready for market. Your journey to
town will be the merest trifle of expenditure compared to what we
can lawfully and reasonably afford. I speak in sober earnest.
Besides, the Intercolonial Exhibition is open. The girls may never
have such another chance. Hubert must stay at home for fear of bush
fires. He shall have his holiday when we return. So, girls, the
great Windāhgil migration is settled.”

The departure for the metropolis of a family that has long dwelt in
the “bush,” or veritable far country division of Australian life, is
an event of no ordinary magnitude.

Not that the conditions of their rural life are so widely different
from those in England. There is the country town within reasonable
distance, to which visits are by no means infrequent. There reside
the clergymen, lawyers, doctors, bankers, teachers, and
tradespeople, the chief component parts of rural society—as in
England. There are also various retired non-combatants, decayed
gentry and others, the poor and proud section—as in Europe. The
squirearchy is represented by large-acred, wealthy personages, who
have either acquired or inherited estates, exceeding ten- or
twenty-fold in value those of average proprietors—as in Europe.
These great people are frequently absent, but contribute fairly by a
higher scale of expenditure, often comprising picture-galleries, and
valuable collections of _objets d’art_, generally to the mental
advancement of the neighbourhood. It is not to be supposed, either,
that they are for the most part uneducated or unrefined.

It follows, therefore, that even when deprived of access to
metropolitan luxuries, the families of rural colonists are not
wholly without intellectual privileges, invariable as has been the
custom of the British novelist to depict them as living a rude,
unpolished, and wholly unlettered life.

In ordinary seasons it is the custom for squatters of a certain rank
to visit the sea coast with their families once a year, if not
oftener. The pleasures of city life are then moderately partaken of,
fresh ideas are acquired, old tastes are indulged; friendships are
contracted, repaired, or revived. Mental and physical benefits
unspecified are acquired, and after a few weeks’ absence the country
family returns, much contented with their experiences, but perfectly
resigned to await the changing year’s recurrence ere such another
momentous journeying takes place.

But when, as at Windāhgil, a succession of untoward seasons brings
the family ark well-nigh to wreck and ruin, it is obvious that no
such holiday-making can be thought of. “Certainly not this year,
perhaps not next year,” says Paterfamilias, sorrowfully, but firmly.
Then doubtless all the reserves are called up; steady, instructive
reading must take the place of travel, old acquaintances whose
minds, so to speak, have been read through and through, and
dog’s-eared besides, must perforce be endured through lack of
charmingly-new fresh romantically-respectful strangers. The old
dresses are turned and returned, freshly trimmed, and their terms of
service lengthened by every economical device, pathetic in the
patience and true homely virtue displayed. But though all these
substitutes and makeshifts are availed of, the time _does_ pass a
little wearily and monotonously.

But now the “route was given,” the delightful signal had sounded.
The sudden change of ideas necessitated by the announcement of Mr.
Stamford was at first bewildering to his wife, and nearly in an
equal degree to his daughters.

Calculation and arrangement were required; much forecasting as to
where they were to go first, when they could possibly be ready to
start, maternal doubts as to what poor Hubert would do in their
absence, as the maids would necessarily return to their friends.
These weighty considerations absorbed so much time and thought that
it was generally agreed to be a species of miracle by which the
family found themselves safely packed in the waggonette one
memorable Monday on the way to Mooarmah railway station, the luggage
having been sent on in the early morning.

“Poor dear Hubert, it seems so selfish to leave him at home by
himself,” said Laura; “I think one of us ought to have stayed to
keep house for him.”

“It’s not too late now,” said Linda. “Which is it to be? Shall we
toss up? I’m quite ready, if I lose.”

“No! I will stay,” said Laura. “I’m the eldest.”

“I think I will stop after all,” said Mrs. Stamford. “You two girls
are due for a little enjoyment, and it does not matter so much about
me.”

“You will do nothing of the sort,” said Mr. Stamford, with rather
more emphasis than usual. “Your mother wants a change as much as any
of us. It’s very good of you girls to be ready to remain, and it
pleases me, my dears. But Hubert is man enough to look after
himself, as well as the station, for a month or two. When our
holiday is up, his will begin.”

“As if I would have let anybody stop,” said Hubert, “let alone the
dear mater; bless her old heart! And how am I going to do when I go
to the ‘Never-Never’ country, do you suppose—and I must have a turn
there some day—if you all coddle me up so?”

“I hope you never will go to that dreadful new country,” said Mrs.
Stamford, half-tearfully. “Didn’t you read that shocking account of
the poor fellow who died of thirst by the telegraph line the other
day, besides that nice young Belford who was killed by the blacks?”

“Accidents will happen,” said Hubert. “The British Empire wouldn’t
be what it is, if every mother kept her boy at home so that she
could see him, while she knitted his warm socks. Windāhgil is paying
fairly now, but there’s no fortune to be made here, is there,
governor?”

“I didn’t know that you were growing discontented with your lot, my
boy,” said the father, looking admiringly at his first-born; “but
there’s time enough to think about all that. I’ll see when we are
all settled at home again. There goes the bell; we must take our
places. God bless you, my boy!”

The following morning found the Stamford family comfortably
deposited in one of the hotels which in Sydney combine proximity to
the sea with perfect accessibility from all city centres. Bath and
breakfast had removed all traces of fatigue or travelling
discomfort. Laura, with her sister, was standing at a window which
overlooked the sea, wild with delight at the unaccustomed glory of
the ocean.

“Oh! what a lovely, lovely sight!” cried Linda. “Look at that
glorious bay, with those white-winged boats flying across it like
sea-gulls—it’s an old simile, I know, but it always sounds nice.
Look at the rocks and promontories, beaches and islands! And there,
a great ocean liner is moving majestically along, as if she was
going to steam up to the verandah. Wouldn’t it be nice if she did! I
wonder what the people would be like? Oh! I shall expire with joy
and wonder if I stay here much longer.”

“Then put on your bonnet, and come to George Street with me,” said
Mrs. Stamford. “I want to do a little quiet shopping before lunch.
Laura can stay with her father. He is going to take her to see the
Grandisons.”

“Oh! how nice; I haven’t seen a real shop,” said Linda, “like
Palmer’s and David Bowen’s, you know, since I was a little girl.
That will tone the excitement down a little, or give it a new
direction. Oh, I _do_ feel so happy! Do you think it will last,
mother? It can’t be any better in England—or Fairyland. The world
does not offer anything superior to my present feeling of
perfect—yes, perfect happiness. Don’t let us go to the opera for a
week yet, till I have had time to subside. I feel like a glass of
champagne; I should effervesce over. La! la, la, la! la, la, la! la,
la!” And here the excited girl waltzed into her bed-room to the tune
of “The Venetia.”

When Mrs. Stamford and her youngest daughter departed on their
shopping expedition, the latter declaring that she felt the greatest
difficulty in restraining herself from bursting into song from pure
gladsomeness of heart, her father betook himself in a cab with Laura
to Mr. Grandison’s house, where he proposed to leave her with her
cousin Josie till his return in the evening. Laura was little less
inwardly delighted with her general surroundings than Linda, but not
being so highly demonstrative, she forbore to testify her pleasure
by bodily movement. Yet was her heart filled with innocent joy and
honest admiration as she surveyed the unwonted scene.

As their carriage wound slowly up one of the steep ascents by which,
on leaving the city proper, the more fashionable suburbs are
reached, her dark eyes sparkled and her fair cheek glowed while she
pointed out the fresh combination of sea and shore.

“Oh, father!” she said, “when you look on this, does it not seem
strange that any one should choose to live away from the sea? I
should spend half my time on the beach! What changeful beauty! What
new wonders arise, even from this tiny outlook! Nothing can be more
delicious than this harbour, with gardens and lawns down to the very
ends of the promontories. The dear little bays too, like fairy
pictures, with smooth shores, and a big rock with an archway here
and there. And oh! the Heads! Grand and majestic, are they
not?—frowning above the restless deep like eternal ocean portals. I
can see billows, I declare. How vast and awe-striking! I am really
thankful we haven’t been to Sydney all these bad seasons. A day like
this is worth a year of common life.”

“That’s an extravagant price to pay for a day’s pleasure, pussy,”
said her father fondly, as he watched the fire of enthusiasm glow in
the girl’s bright eyes, which seemed to dilate and sparkle at
intervals as if the glory of the grand vision had been transfused
into her very blood. “You will count your years, as other people
count their money, much more carefully as you grow older. But I
trust, pet, that you will have long years of happiness before you,
and that this is not the only one of earth’s precious things that
you will enjoy.”

“What a divine pleasure travel must be!” said she, gazing
steadfastly before her, as if looking out on a new world of wonder
and enchantment. “Think of seeing, with one’s own very eyes, the
cities and battle-fields of the earth, the shrines of the dead,
immortal past! Oh! to see Rome and Venice, Athens and the Greek
Isles, even dear old England with Saxon ruins and Norman castles. I
wonder it does not kill people.”

“Happiness is rarely fatal, though the sensation of sudden joy is
often overpowering,” remarked Mr. Stamford with a quiet smile, as he
recalled his own recent experience. “But I hope you and Linda will
qualify yourselves by study for an intelligent appreciation of the
marvels of the Old World. That is,”—he added—“in the event of your
being fortunate enough to get there. ‘We colonists have a great deal
to learn in art and literature,’ as Lord Kimberley was pleased to
say the other day. We must show that we are not altogether without a
glimmering of taste and attainment.”

“That is the fixed British idea about all colonists,” said Laura
with indignation. “I suppose Lord Kimberley thinks we do nothing but
chop down trees and gallop about all day long. Well, one mustn’t
boast, but we have been getting on with our French and Italian
lately, and Linda’s sketches show something more than amateur work,
I think.”

When they drew up at Chatsworth, and the cabman was opening the gold
and bronze-coloured iron gates, Laura’s ecstasies broke out anew.

“Oh! father, do look; did you ever see such a beautiful place? Look
at the gravel, look at the flowers, look at the sea which makes a
background for the whole picture! Look at that purple mass of
_Bougainvillea_ covering all one side of the house. Why the lawn is
like a big billiard table! It is a morsel of Fairyland. How happy
they must be in such a lovely home!”

“Humph!” said Mr. Stamford, “perhaps the less we say about that the
better. The people that live in the best houses do not always lead
the pleasantest lives. But it certainly is a show place.”

It was truly difficult to overpraise the Chatsworth house and
grounds. Nature had been bountiful, and every beauty was heightened,
every trifling defect corrected by art.

The gravel of which the drive was composed was in itself a study—its
dark red colour, its perfect condition, daily raked and rolled as it
was to the smoothness of a board. Rare shrubs and massed flowers
bordered the accurately defined tiled edges. The bright blue
blossoms of the _Jacaranda_, the scarlet stars of the _Hibiscus_,
the broad purple and green leaves of the _Coleus_, the waving,
restless spires of the pine, the rustling, delicate banana
fronds—all these and a host of tropical plants which the mild Sydney
winter suffers to flourish in the open air, were here. Fountains,
tennis-grounds, and shaded walks, all were to be found in the tiny
demesne, every yard of which had been measured and calculated so as
to produce the largest amount of effect and convenience.

The hot-house and green-houses were under the care of an autocratic
Scotch gardener, who treated Mr. Grandison’s suggestions with silent
contempt, and obeyed or defied Mrs. Grandison’s orders as to fruit
or flowers entirely as it seemed good to him.

Mrs. Grandison was at home. The footman admitted so much, as he
asked the country cousins into a morning room—a most grand apartment
to their eyes; nevertheless, Mrs. Grandison’s countenance—she was
there alone—wore a clouded and dissatisfied expression. She relaxed
considerably, though with an effort, as her visitors were announced,
and came forward to greet them warmly enough.

“So glad to see you, Mr. Stamford. It was nice of you to bring
Laura. Why you look as fresh as a rose, child! How do you manage to
have such a complexion in a hot district? I tell Josie she is
getting as pale as a ghost, and yellow too. The fact is, she goes
out too much, and this Sydney climate is enough to age any one. She
hasn’t been down to breakfast yet—naughty girl—but she was at the
Moreton’s ball last night. Mrs. Watchtower took her, and she didn’t
get home till past four o’clock.”

“I suppose Grandison’s in town,” said Mr. Stamford.

“Oh! yes; he goes in regularly every day, though I often tell him I
don’t know what he has to do. He lunches at his club; you’ll find
him there at one o’clock. He says it’s dull enough there, but
nothing to what it would be if he stopped at home. Not very
complimentary, is it? But men are all alike; they like to get away
from their wives and families.”

“I’ve brought mine with me, you see, this time; so I don’t fall
under your disapproval.”

“Oh! I do think you’re pretty good, as men go, though there’s no
knowing. But, Laura, you’d better go up to Josie’s room, if you want
to have a talk, or else you may have to wait. Now, Mr. Stamford,
when will you all come and dine? To-day you’ll be tired—to-morrow or
next day, which shall it be—and we’ll have somebody to make it a
little lively for the girls?”

“Thank you. I think the day after to-morrow, if it is equally
convenient,” said Stamford. “And now I must go, as I have some
business to attend to. I will leave Laura, with your permission, and
call for her as I return in the afternoon.”

“Oh! yes, by all means. Josie will enjoy a long talk with her. What
a fine girl she has grown, and so handsome too! She wants dressing a
bit. But how does she manage to get all that fine bloom in the bush?
I thought Windāhgil was a hot place, yet Laura looks as fresh as a
milkmaid.”

“She is a good girl, and has had very little dissipation. We lead
very simple lives in the bush, you know. My daughters are very
unsophisticated as yet.”

“That’s all very well, but being simple doesn’t give beauty or
style, and Laura seems to have a very fair share of both. You let
her come to the Assembly Ball next week that all the girls are
talking about, and see what a sensation she’ll make.”

“If there’s a ball while we are down I should not think of denying
the girls a legitimate pleasure, though Linda is rather young yet;
but I think you flatter Laura.”

“Not a bit. It’s her fresh, natural manner that will strike
everybody, and the way all her face seems to speak without words.
Her eyes are perfectly wonderful. Why didn’t you tell us she was
such a beauty, and had a charming manner?”

“To my mind, it’s rather a disadvantage than otherwise—the
beauty—not the manner, of course,” said Mr. Stamford
philosophically. “I beg you won’t inform her of the fact, though I
really don’t think she’d believe you, my dear Mrs. Grandison. But I
must go now, so good-bye for the present.”

“It is nearly lunch time now,” said Mrs. Grandison; “you may as well
stay, and go to town afterwards.” But Mr. Stamford pleaded “urgent
private affairs,” and notwithstanding the temptress—who began to
look forward to a lonely meal, with the two girls chatting in the
bed-room, and was fain to fall back on even a middle-aged
squatter—he sought his cab.

Mr. Stamford looked at his watch; it wanted more than half an hour
to one o’clock. He bade his cabman drive briskly, and was landed at
the palatial offices of the Austral Agency Company in reasonable
time. He dashed into Barrington Hope’s sanctuary with something like
boyish enthusiasm. That gentleman raised his head from a pile of
accounts, and to Mr. Stamford’s eyes looked even more careworn and
fagged than at his last visit.

“How are you, Mr. Stamford?” he said, with a sudden brightening up
of the weary features. “But I needn’t ask. You’re a different man
from what you were when our acquaintance commenced. And no wonder.
Talk about physicians! Rain is the king of them all. Tell me a
healer, a preserver like him! What a grand season you have had, to
be sure—the precursor of many others, I hope. The Windāhgil wool
brought a high price, didn’t it? Splendidly got up; every one said
so. Bought for the French market. It made a character for the brand,
if one was wanted. But all this is gossip. You wanted to say
something on business.”

“Not now,” said Mr. Stamford; “‘sufficient for the day,’ and so on.
We only reached Sydney this morning. But I have a piece of very
particular business. I want you to come down and dine with us, _en
famille_, at Batty’s this evening. Brought my wife and daughters
down. They’re anxious to make your acquaintance.”

“Delighted, I’m sure. I hope the ladies will find Sydney amusing.
There’s nothing going on particularly, except a Bachelors’ Ball next
week, of which I happen to be a steward. Perhaps you will allow me
to send you invitations.”

“I can answer for their being accepted,” said Mr. Stamford, “as far
as my daughters are concerned. Their parents are rather old to do
more than look on. But I will promise to do that energetically. And
now I will not bother you longer. You have a stiff bit of work
before you there. Don’t knock yourself up, that’s all. There’s such
a thing as overdoing these confounded figure columns, and when a
cogwheel goes, Nature’s workshop provides no duplicate.”

“I understand you,” said Hope, pressing his hand with a quick
gesture to his forehead. “I _have_ felt rather run down lately. The
business has been increasing at a tremendous rate, too. I must take
a holiday before long, though I don’t quite see my way.”

“Come and see us at Windāhgil,” said Mr. Stamford warmly. “The fresh
bush air and a gallop on horseback will set you right again. That’s
all you want. We must talk about it. In the meantime, adieu.” And
Mr. Stamford vanished.

He reached his hotel in time for lunch, where he found Mrs. Stamford
and Linda, who had returned from their expedition into the heart of
the kingdom of finery.

Linda declared that she had never comprehended the subject
before—never was aware that she knew nothing, so to speak, of this
all-engrossing subject, so important in all its details to
womanhood. “I can quite imagine people with lots of money going to
any lengths in the way of dress,” she said. “The variety is so
charming, and the milliners are so persuasive. How that dear little
girl at Farmer’s tried to get me to take the silk dress. Didn’t she,
mother?”

“I was afraid she would succeed at one time, my dear; you appeared
to be hesitating.”

“I should have liked it, of course. Such a lovely lilac. It suited
my complexion perfectly, she said; but I knew my allowance wouldn’t
stand it, and you have been so good, my dear old dad. I don’t want
you and mother to think I can’t resist temptation.”

“Act on steady principles through life, my dear, and you will never
regret it. I don’t say the silk dresses and other suitable vanities
may not come in time, but not just yet, not yet for my little girls.
And now for the reward of merit. Mr. Hope is coming to dine with us
this evening, so you and Laura must entertain him pleasantly.”

“Oh, what a delightful surprise! Sydney is full of them. Of course I
knew we should see him some time or other, but perhaps not for ever
so long, unless he called. I wonder if he will be like my impression
of him? Does Laura know of it?”

“Not until I go for her, unless you would like to send her a
telegram; but I think she will have full time for preparation.”

“What a pity it will be if they keep her at Chatsworth! They are
sure to want to. But don’t you give in, if they do ever so much.”

“There will be the less necessity for that, my dear Linda, as we are
all to dine there on the day after to-morrow. They can feast their
eyes on Laura and all the family then.”

“That is surprise number two. A real dinner-party! It will be my
first invitation to one. I hope I shall behave well, and not upset
my wine-glass or do anything dreadful. I shall be looking at the
butler or the hostess, or the attractive guests, I know, and break
something. I think I shall begin to practise calm dignity to-night,
mother. Don’t you think it a good opportunity?”

“If my little girl remembers what she has always been taught,” said
the fond mother, looking at the girlish, eager face, bright with the
hues of early womanhood, “and will not think about herself, or the
effect she is likely to produce, she will do very well. I don’t
think we shall have cause to be ashamed of her. And now for a little
luncheon. My appetite is really quite surprising.”

After lunch Mr. Stamford betook himself to the Archaic Club, where
it was tolerably certain his friend would be found, for an hour or
two. By the way, how very few married men return to their homes,
even those of abounding leisure, before it is time to dress for
dinner. They will sit yawning at a club, when they have nothing to
do, where they care for nobody, and don’t go in for reading or even
play billiards, until the late afternoon, when there is just time to
catch a cab or train to reach home in the gathering twilight.

How, then, can these things be? The solution of this and other
social problems must be left to the coming philosophical student,
who will analyse and depict the causes of all seeming anomalies.



                              CHAPTER VIII


Mr. Stamford, on inquiring of the club porter, found that his friend
was at home, so to speak, and had not been more than ten minutes in
an apartment very unostentatiously furnished, which was devoted to
the reception of strangers, when Mr. Grandison entered.

“Are you club magnates afraid that strangers may run away with a
chair or two, or a spare sofa, that you are so confoundedly
parsimonious in the furniture line?” inquired Stamford. “I have more
than once considered the question when I have been kicking my heels
here and at the Junior Pioneers, and that is the conclusion I have
arrived at. It must be so. Surely there must be a legend of a
dried-out squatter being driven to spout an arm-chair or a
table-cover. Isn’t that it?”

“You’re in famous spirits, Harold, old man,” said the capitalist,
who was by no means over-joyous of demeanour. “It’s the rain that’s
done it, I suppose. ’Pon my soul, you’re right about this room. It
isn’t fit for a gentleman to be put into. I must bring it before the
committee. How are Mrs. Stamford and the girls? Brought them down?”

“Yes, we’re at Batty’s. I took Laura to Chatsworth this morning; I’m
going out now to call for her. I saw Mrs. Grandison; she was kind
enough to ask us to dine on Thursday.”

“That’s all right. Now I’ll tell you what I’ll do. The mail-phaeton
will be here in five minutes, and we’ll go out home together. I want
to have a talk with you. Things are not going altogether right in
the family, and I want another good yarn with you. You know what I
told you about Carlo? Well, he’s done worse since then, pretty near
broke my heart and his mother’s.” And here Mr. Grandison looked so
worried and hopeless that his friend felt himself to be grossly
selfish in that he found himself in such good spirits.

“I’m very sorry to hear it, Bob, my dear fellow,” said he with real
concern. “But worse! how can he have done worse?”

“He _has_ done worse, much worse. He has married, and married badly
too, by Jingo!” and here Mr. Grandison could no longer contain
himself.

“I hate to talk about it,” said he, after a pause, “but it’s one of
those things that must be faced. And of course you and I are too old
friends to mind telling each other the whole truth. But the fact is,
the confounded young fool has gone and married a barmaid.”

“You don’t say so!” said Mr. Stamford, starting back as from a blow,
but gradually bringing his mind to bear on the question, and
wondering how the consequences and complication of such an
inconceivable step in the case of an eldest son would end. “Carlo a
married man! And to a barmaid too! Surely there must be some
mistake. How in the world did it happen—how could it happen?” he
asked.

“I suppose it could happen, because it did,” answered his friend
gloomily. “Unfortunately, it’s only too true. The fact is, that
while he was living in Tasmania—you know he had just gone there when
you were in Sydney last, after that card-scrape he got into here—he
was living an idle, aimless life. He did that here, for that matter,
so that there was no need for him to complain about it so bitterly.
I sent him a very fair allowance, and thought he was well out of
harm’s way. He used to write his mother long letters; I thought he
was on the way to be reformed.” Here Mr. Grandison lit a cigar.

“What happened then?”

“After that he wanted me to give him an allowance, and let him go to
Europe. I wish to heaven I had done so now!”

“But why didn’t you?”

“Because I couldn’t trust him. I knew if I let him go on that
understanding, he would overdraw his allowance—gamble on a large
scale at some of those foreign places—Baden Baden or Homburg. Blow
his brains out then, perhaps.”

“I should have let him go, but I can understand your very natural
reluctance.”

“Yes, he’s a bad boy, Stamford, there’s no denying. But he’s my
eldest son, my first child. My God! how I remember all the love and
fondness poor Mary and I lavished on him—how we fretted ourselves to
death when he had any childish complaint—the agony we were in when
he was away from home one night, we thought he was lost. And to
think he should have repaid us for all our care and love, perhaps
foolish indulgence, like this—like this! It’s very bitter; it’s hard
to bear. Dashed if I didn’t envy our gardener last week, whose son
was apprenticed to a blacksmith! I did, by Jove! What’s all the
money to us now?”

“It is hard, my dear fellow,” said Stamford, touched by his friend’s
evident distress and hopeless air. “I pity you from my heart. But
are things so very bad? Can nothing be done?”

“Well they might be worse. The girl’s character is good, I believe;
she is a dairyman’s daughter, with no education, and that’s all the
harm I know of her. She has a pretty face. Carlo met her at a
roadside inn near where he was lodging. He writes over and says he
was so confoundedly dull and miserable that he’d made up his mind
he’d either marry the girl if she’d have him, or shoot himself. She
did have him. So this is the end of all our slaving and striving for
his benefit and to give him a chance of keeping in the first flight
of the best society the colony could show. He goes and throws
himself away like this. And we have a daughter-in-law that doesn’t
know an aitch when she sees it, I suppose, and if ever she comes
here, which isn’t likely, perhaps, can’t tell a finger-glass from a
flower-pot.” At this dreadful picture evoked from his inner
consciousness, Mr. Grandison groaned again, and made as if he could
tear his hair, were such gestures of grief permissible in a member
of a fashionable club.

Mr. Stamford did not really know for the moment what to say to
console the unhappy father, who, unless his son had died, could
hardly have been in a position of more hopeless sorrow. No doubt
some fathers would have been sufficiently Spartan to have preferred
an honourable death to an undesirable marriage. But, except in
business matters, he was not a hard man. Stamford knew that such
Lacedæmonian severity was alien to his nature. He set himself to
suggest consolatory ideas as the London built phaeton drew up to the
club steps.

“It’s a bad enough affair, doubtless. I won’t say I don’t think so.
I should have felt all you do, in my own case.” Here Mr. Stamford
inwardly scoffed at the possibility of Hubert’s acting in this
manner under any possible circumstances. “But it’s no use taking too
sombre a view. The girl is good looking, and honest, which is much.
She will, doubtless improve with opportunities. If she has any
strength of character, she will probably keep Carlo straight for the
future. We have known such things happen before. It’s a desperate
remedy, but occasionally efficacious.”

“Desperate! You may say so,” replied Mr. Grandison, testily. “Take
the other side of the question. Suppose she turns out a flirt or a
scold—or both; runs away from him, or he from her, leaving three or
four half-bred brats to worry me in my old age. What then?”

With the expression of these gloomy apprehensions as to the probable
matrimonial fate of the heir apparent of Chatsworth and many a fair
acre of plain and woodland, the phaeton entered the massive and
ornate portals of Chatsworth House, and crunched the immaculate
gravel, while the lord of all sat with folded arms and darkened
brow, indifferent as a captive to outer grandeur.

“Here we are! Come in Harold, old man,” he said, as the wheels
almost grazed the portico. “By George, I could find it in my heart
to sit down and cry on our own doorstep, but we have to live and see
it out, I suppose. Didn’t you say you were going to take Laura back?
Better stay and dine. Keep me company, there’s a good fellow. I’m
low enough, God knows!”

Harold Stamford would have agreed to this proposal at once, so
touched was he by his old friend’s woebegone appearance and
desponding words, but he recalled his own engagement. This he
pleaded successfully, adding, “You’ll have the whole family here on
Thursday.”

“All right, if you can’t, you can’t. Here, Bateman,” he called out
to the coachman who was driving away from the front, “don’t go away
yet. I want you to take Mr. Stamford and his daughter home. You may
as well go back to Batty’s in comfort, and this pair doesn’t get
half work enough. They’ll be making a bolt of it one of these days
like Carlo, if I don’t look out. Ha, ha!”

Mr. Grandison’s laugh was not pleasant to hear. His friend followed
him into the drawing-room in silence. Here sat the three ladies, who
were apparently not in bad spirits. Mrs. Grandison had chased from
her brow the marks of care which were so apparent at an earlier
period of the day, and was joining, apparently without effort, in
the vivacious discourse of the two young ladies. Miss Josie had
contrived to arise and apparel herself after the fashion of the
period, and though showing some of the pallor produced by a round of
gaiety in a semi-tropical climate, was on the whole sufficiently
attractive.

“So this is Laura,” said Mr. Grandison, as he advanced and warmly
greeted the young lady in question. “Why, what a woman you’ve grown,
and a handsome one, too, or I mistake much. Why, Josie, we must send
you up to the banks of the Warra Warra, or wherever Windāhgil is.
Near Mooramah, isn’t it, Stamford? ’Pon my soul! I forget where my
own stations are sometimes.”

“You won’t catch me going into the bush, father!” said Miss Josie,
in a rather sharp tone of voice. “That is, not farther than North
Shore. It certainly agrees with some people, and Laura here might
play the part of Patience without dressing. But Sydney is my home,
and I don’t mean to stir from it.”

“It’s the worst day’s work I ever did in my life when I brought you
all to live here,” said her father. “I wish to heaven we had
continued to live at the old bush cottage you were born in, my
lady.”

“I don’t see what difference that would have made, Robert,” said his
wife.

“But I do,” said the master of the house. “You and your children
would never have learned the habits of fashionable folly and
reckless extravagance in which your lives are spent. We might have
been satisfied with a more natural existence—aye, and, a happier
life.”

“If you only come home early to say disagreeable things, my dear
Robert, I must say that I like the old way best,” said Mrs.
Grandison with dignity.

“I would say a great many more things of the same sort,” replied he,
“if I could persuade myself that they would do any good. But it is
too late now. We have sown the wind and must reap the whirlwind.”

This form of discussion tended to render things generally rather
uncomfortable. It would have been difficult to direct the
conversation into a more conventional channel had not Mr. Grandison
abruptly left the room.

“I can’t think what has put Robert out so this afternoon,” said his
wife, “of course he keeps worrying himself about that dreadful
affair of Carlo’s—wicked boy! He told you about that, Mr. Stamford,
I know. I’ve cried my eyes out, and I shall never be the same woman
again, I know. But what is the use of making your life one long
misery for the sake of a selfish, disobedient son? He never
considered us, I firmly believe, since he was a boy at school. Then
why, as Josie says, should we consider him? I am not going to grieve
over him any longer. He has chosen his path.”

“He’s a selfish, stupid, unprincipled fellow,” said Josie, with an
air of cold decision. “He has done everything he could to disgrace
himself and us. I am not going to spoil my life on his account, and
I shall never mention his name, or that of the servant-girl he has
chosen to bring into the family.”

“I think you are too hard; I do indeed, Josie!” said her mother,
“though he deserves very little at our hands. You are not his
mother, my dear, and you don’t know how it feels. But I can’t think
we should deny ourselves anything in society for his sake. Just at
the beginning of the gay season in Sydney, too!”

Laura, who had looked extremely grave throughout the discussion, now
felt inclined to smile at Mrs. Grandison’s distressful _finale_. She
rose, and looked at her father to explain the absolute necessity for
their departure.

“We shall see you all here at dinner on Thursday, then, mind that!”
said their hostess. “And, Laura, put on your best bib and tucker.
I’ll have some of our show young men to meet you.”

“I’m sure I don’t know where you’ll find them, mother,” said Josie,
disdainfully. “Since the Lorenzo went to Fiji, there hasn’t been a
man in Sydney fit to look at.”

The coachman’s temper was not improved by the length of time during
which he had been kept waiting. One of the highly-conditioned,
irregularly-exercised horses had indeed revenged himself by pawing
and scraping, the result of which was a hole in the gravel, which
caused the head gardener to use a much stronger expression when he
saw it than, still mindful of kirk and minister, he was in the habit
of employing.

As they went spinning down the incline to Double Bay, in the easy,
well-hung carriage, her father said, “Wouldn’t you like to have a
drag like this, my dear, to put your husband down at his office in
if you were married and lived in Sydney?”

“That means if I were somebody else altogether,” replied Laura, with
a slight blush. “I can’t say how I might act then. But if you ask me
whether I would change places with the poor people in the splendid
house we have just left, I say, with the country mouse, ‘Give me my
hollow tree and liberty,’ or rather our love and affection for each
other. I don’t think anything could happen to alter that; do you,
father?”

Mr. Stamford answered by a quick, decided movement rather than by
words. It is to be hoped no one in that fashionable suburb observed
the action; but even if so, the faultlessly aristocratic appearance
of the equipage in which the offenders sat would have sufficed to
condone the offence.

A comparatively short time saw them at Hyde Park—too short, indeed,
it seemed to Laura, eager to enjoy the varied beauty of the scene.
The splendours of the dying day, the roll of the surge upon the
outer shore, the rising ocean breeze, all these seemed to the keen
and cultured sense of the enthusiastic maiden but portions of a
wondrous panorama, of which each hour furnished a fresh presentment.

Linda, from the balcony, beheld them arrive in state, and waved her
handkerchief in token of welcome and approval. “Oh! Laura, I was
beginning to think you were never coming. What kept you so late? You
will hardly have time to dress for dinner, and I do so want you to
look well.”

“Why should you want me to look well? I fancied I was looking rather
nice—that is, for a country cousin, as Josie says.”

“What!” almost shouted Linda; “hasn’t father told you? I see he
hasn’t—isn’t it just like him? If the Duke of Edinburgh and Lord
Wolseley were coming to dinner he’d forget all about it. And yet he
thinks he’s a good father.”

“So he is,” said Laura, “and I won’t have him run down. What is the
dreadful secret? Has the aide-de-camp come to ask us to dinner at
Government House?”

“No! But without joking, Laura, it is a matter of importance. That
is—we should have thought so at Windāhgil. Mr. Barrington Hope is
coming to dine.”

“Is he?” said Laura, coolly. Linda afterwards said it was “unnatural
calmness.” “Then suppose you ask the maid to turn on the gas
directly. We must put on our best bibs and tuckers, as Mrs.
Grandison says.”

Mr. Barrington Hope arrived in due time, accurately apparelled and
looking—as most men do—to great advantage in evening costume. Though
much above the ordinary height, his breadth of shoulder and justness
of proportion prevented any appearance of incongruity. Evidently one
of those persons who wisely dismiss the problems of the day with
their ordinary garb, his features wore an entirely different
expression, so closely allied to careless ease that Mr. Stamford
could hardly believe he saw before him the anxious brain-worker of
the morning.

As the two men stood together on the balcony overlooking the bay
with its evening crowd of water-wayfarers and pleasure seekers, the
elder said—

“How wonderful an image of rest and peace a calm sea presents,
especially at this hour! There are hard work and deep thoughts
frequently upon blue water, but I confess I can never connect them
together.”

“My own feeling, quite,” said Hope. “I am passionately fond of the
sea, but few people have less time for indulging such a taste. I
always feel it to be the true home of the lotus-eater. ‘In calm or
storm, by rock or bay,’ there is rest for the soul when on the deep.
If I were safely embarked for Europe and clear of the Heads, I
should almost expire of joy, I really believe.”

“But why do you not take a holiday—a run to Fiji, San Francisco,
Galle, anywhere? All places strange and foreign are equally good for
change.”

“Or to the moon,” laughed the young man. “Nearly as much chance of
getting to one as the other. However, I will think it over and
arrange.”

“Depend upon it, you should not delay. I am something of a
physiognomist, and I see reasons for a foreign tour. Why not make an
application? Urgent private affairs. They could not be more
truthfully described. But here come my young people.”

Mrs. Stamford and her daughters now appeared. With her usual prompt
kindness she advanced, upon hearing her husband commence a formal
introduction, and held out her hand to the young man.

“You are well known to us by name, Mr. Hope! I have great pleasure,
believe me, in making your acquaintance. I trust some day that we
may be able to see you at Windāhgil. You will be indeed welcome to
our country home.”

Mr. Hope bowed with an air as if disclaiming all title to unusual
indulgence, but his eyes strayed from the kind face of the speaker
to that of Laura Stamford, to whom, with Linda, he was now
presented.

Both these young ladies, in spite of an air of calm repose, were
inwardly somewhat agitated at beholding a personage in whose favour
they had heard so much. Prone, like most damsels of the romantic
age, to invest the probable hero with striking attributes, they had
yet fallen short of a correct estimate of Barrington Hope’s
appearance. Connecting him in more or less degree with his
mercantile profession, they had expected perhaps a look of greater
age, a more concentrated regard, or care-encumbered countenance.
When therefore they were confronted by one of the best-looking,
best-dressed men in the metropolis, separated as to air and manner
apparently from any commonplace pecuniary labours, they could hardly
believe their eyes.

Linda was inwardly gnashing her teeth, and reproaching the author of
her being in that he was such an inefficient hand at description.
“Would not any one have imagined, Laura,” she said afterwards, “that
Mr. Hope was a hard-headed sort of person, clever at figures and all
that, and good to us? And now, quite suddenly we are brought face to
face with a magnificent man—the finest man I ever saw in my life.
Isn’t it a shame—a crying shame, Laura?”

“Isn’t what a crying shame? That Mr. Hope is asked to dine, or that
we couldn’t write and request his photograph before the original
burst upon us in all his glory? Do you think you would have liked to
behave differently?”

“I am sure I can’t tell. But it was such a surprise. I might have
fainted and disgraced myself. But you are such a cold-blooded
creature, Laura; I sometimes think you have no heart.”

“H’m,” said Laura, “that is a matter of opinion. I do not profess to
wear my heart upon my sleeve, but there is an article of the kind
somewhere deep down, I daresay. What do I think about Mr. Hope? I
think him very nice. He is well-informed, though he did not parade
his knowledge. Understands the science of music, and plays with
taste. I don’t know that I can say more about him at present.”

“What a prosaic list of qualities; it might have been read out of a
book! But didn’t you like him a great deal?”

“How could I like any one a great deal the first day I met him? Do
you think I resemble Miss Morton’s heroines, who meet a perfectly
unknown young man, and in an hour have told him all their family
affairs and inmost thoughts? That kind of transparent simplicity is
not in my line.”

“But you do like him, Laura. Say you do really.”

“Of course I like a handsome, agreeable man who has been of the
greatest use and benefit to the family, as I like any pleasant
acquaintance. Further than that I decline to commit myself. And now
let me go to sleep.”

“How you can go to sleep entirely astonishes me. Oh! wasn’t it a
delightful dinner? I felt so nice. I am sure I looked the essence of
propriety and countrified inexperience. Do you think he could
discover that we had seen very little society, Laura?”

“If he was not a very unobservant man he might easily have made out
so much, I should say; that is if he troubled himself to study us so
deeply. What can it matter?”

It was not only on that memorable evening that Barrington Hope
produced a favourable impression upon the youthful portion of the
Stamford family. Mrs. Stamford was charmed with him. His manner was
so easy, yet so deferential and so respectful to her and her
daughters. Well-informed as to the European politics of the day, he
inferentially, in an argument with Mr. Stamford, showed himself to
be widely read. He was familiar with the latest songs, the very last
waltz; he sang a duet with Laura, and even played an accompaniment
which showed more than theoretical knowledge of the science of
music.

When he made his adieux somewhat early in the evening, every voice
was musical in his praise.

“He’s a delightful creature,” said Linda, “all my fancy painted him,
and more. How different he is from most of the men one meets. So
free from conceit, and yet he knows so much, doesn’t he? And what a
good touch he has on the piano! But men always play better than we
do when they play at all. When are we going to see him again?”

“He is to send us tickets for the Bachelors’ Ball,” said Laura. “We
shall meet him there, of course. What a grand affair it is to be!”

“I shall catch a fever and die before the day arrives,” said Linda,
plaintively. “The happiness will be too great to be realised. Oh!
oh, dear! Oh! dear! how shall we pass the intervening days? Luckily
our dresses will take up a good deal of our thoughts and spare time.
Do you think he dances well, Laura?”

“Mr. Hope appears to do many things well. I don’t suppose he showed
us all his good qualities in one evening. He is a man of the world,
and doesn’t have all his goods in the shop window at once.”

“What a horrid idea, Laura. You haven’t half as much sentiment as I
have. I hope he hasn’t many more accomplishments; I don’t care for a
man being perfect. Perhaps he has a bad temper underneath. Men with
soft voices often have.”

“I didn’t notice any uncommon softness of voice. I thought he spoke
naturally, which is the great thing after all, with men or women
either. But after we go to the ball you will most likely discover
that there are other men in the world.”

“I don’t care. I am quite certain there are very few nicer ones, if
any. I think you must admire him yourself, Laura; you are so guarded
about him, and I am sure he has taken a fancy to you.”

“Nonsense, Linda! Really you are old enough to talk more sensibly.
How can any one form any liking or otherwise in a single evening?”

“What, not love at first sight?” exclaimed Linda, jumping up in an
excited manner. “Do you disbelieve wholly in that? What does
Disraeli say in that lovely _Venetia_ of his? ‘There is no love but
love at first sight,’ or first love, I forget which.”

“They are different things,” answered Laura; “but Disraeli ought to
have more sense than to write in a way to turn silly girls’ heads. I
think your novel-reading will have to be restricted, Linda, before
long; I must really speak to mother.”

“It’s too late now, Laura. I’ve read all sorts of things, but they
don’t do girls any harm. Bad companions do, if you like. They are
destructive; but we never had any friends that we were ashamed of.
And so you don’t like Mr. Hope.”

“I didn’t say that,” answered Laura; “but really you’re as
persistent as an interviewer, Linda,” and she quitted the room.

In spite of Linda’s repeated assertions that the week preceding the
ball never would come to an end, the despised days passed
away—perhaps too quickly indeed for some people. A picnic in the
harbour, the detail of which was arranged by Mr. Hope, and which
every one enjoyed ecstatically, as Linda avowed, perhaps aided the
flight of time. A visit to the theatre, where the London Comedy
Company was performing, also tended to prevent undue concentration
of thought. And, oh! wonder of wonders, and joy of joys, was not the
Intercolonial Exhibition, that Aladdin’s Palace of Art and Industry,
daily open, daily enjoyed to the very acme of novel excitement?

How delicious was it to stroll around the fountain in the afternoon
of each day, while the music of the Austrian Band rose to the lofty
roof or floated dreamlike amid the aisles and courts; to sit
silently absorbing delicious sounds amid the strange beauty and
variety of the scene; to wander amid the heaped up riches of the
curiosities of every land under the sun, encountering well-known
friends unexpectedly, or exchanging the pleasantries of the hour
with gay acquaintances. Such were the resources thrown open to the
erstwhile dwellers at Windāhgil. Small surprise need therefore be
aroused by Linda’s next declaration, that the ball would be upon
them all too swiftly, and find them unprepared. Strangely sweet
sorrows and sighs of youth! joys in disguise are they for the most
part.



                               CHAPTER IX


Although the ball bore the name of the Bachelors’, it was generally
known to be an entertainment got up by the unmarried members of the
leading clubs. As was their wont, no expense would be spared.
Invitations had been comparatively restricted; many had been
disappointed who had made certain of the privilege. All this, of
course, made the happy possessors of the tickets still more
gratified by their good fortune. The finest hall in the city had
been secured for the occasion. The ornamentation was said to be
unparalleled, the supper without precedent for style and
expensiveness. A celebrated European band, then on a tour through
Australia, had been engaged. Sailors from a man-of-war anchored in
the harbour were kindly lent to hold a rope which served to divide
the ball-room. It was questionable whether so truly magnificent a
ball had ever been given in Sydney, or perhaps would be given again.

The weather was evidently “set fair”—there would be no deduction
from comfort on that account. It was weeks since a great society
entertainment had been given. The _haute volée_ of Sydney was
manifestly fluttered. Some of the younger feminine members openly
stated that, after tasting to the full of its delights, they would
be ready to lie down and die.

At length the long-expected day arrived, on the night of which the
fondly-anticipated Bachelors’ Ball was to take place. All feminine
adult Sydney—that is to say, the fortunate section which was
entitled to the _entrée_—was moved to its centre. No statistics are
to hand of the number of dressmakers who temporarily became of
unsound mind because of the terrific call upon their fingers and
brains, tempers and tongues. Nevertheless, according to the doctrine
of averages, there must have been a certain number of the managers
and of the young persons whose passage to an early grave was thereby
accelerated.

Mrs. Stamford, wisely forecasting, had carried out arrangements for
her own and the girls’ dresses at a comparatively early period, had
got them home with all necessary alterations and trimmings decided
upon long before the real crush of the thoughtless began, or the
panic of the dangerously late set in.

Simple as were the materials, few the ornaments, and unobtrusive the
accordance with the prevailing fashion, the full measure of
satisfactory fitting was not completed without several interviews
and divers alterations. The sum total of her milliner’s bill
astonished, even alarmed, Mrs. Stamford.

But her husband, when giving her _carte blanche_, had intimated that
he did not wish trifling economies to be studied, that his wife and
daughters must look their best; all the world was to be there, and
as it was to be a rare occasion, they had better take full advantage
of it.

When the hour sounded, Laura had been dressed and finished to the
last lace; had indeed been sitting quietly reading, awaiting the
arrival of their carriage. But Linda could not contain her
impatience. She walked up and down the sitting-room spreading out
her dress occasionally, and requesting her mother to say if it was
“straight,” whether her flowers were exactly in their places,
whether it would not have been better for her to have worn another
colour. This conversation was varied by wondering whether she would
get any partners, or have to sit on a seat the whole evening;
whether Mr. Hope would find them out, or be so occupied with his
duties as steward that he would not observe them or have time to
dance with them. To which inquiries her parents either were unable
to reply satisfactorily or said she would see when she got there.

“Do you know, Laura,” she suddenly added, “impartially speaking, you
are really a pretty girl! I am sure if I were a stranger I should
think so; I should indeed. Your features are not perfection, except
your eyes, I mean—I don’t think any one could say they were not
first class. But you have a very taking look when you are interested
about anything; and then you are tallish and slight—not too tall
either. You could look dignified too, if you liked, which is a great
advantage to a woman, while I am afraid I never could. If I were to
set my mouth and knit my brows and say ‘Sir! I fail to understand
you,’ people would only laugh and pat me on the back. It would never
freeze the blood in their veins, or anything of that sort. Now
‘father, dearest father!’ as the Wanderer in the play says, don’t
you think Laura looks perfectly splendid to-night?”

“Bless her heart!” said Mr. Stamford, answering the question while
he gazed at his eldest daughter with fond admiration, “she looks
like a—like a queen in a book, like a princess in the _Arabian
Nights_; like her father’s own dear girl. I trust she will enjoy
herself as much as she deserves; and you too, Linda, darling.”

Laura Stamford without doubt did look a most perfect incarnation of
innocent, girlish beauty. And, indeed, when is a maiden more likely
to present that appearance than on the night of the first ball of
note and importance to which she has been bidden? Her cheek slightly
flushed with the excitement of untasted pleasure, her eyes sparkling
with innocent excitement; her red-rose lips; her rounded arms; her
ivory neck; her slender, supple form; her free, elastic step—if
these attributes do not, in combination, make up the wondrous,
God-given, crowning gift of beauty, then have the grateful eyes of
mankind never been gladdened with the vision.

“Father is perfectly just in his opinion of dear Laura’s appearance
to-night,” said Mrs. Stamford, with a mother’s guarded approval;
“and my little girl here, too, looks extremely nice. I might say
more, were I not afraid of making her vain. I can only tell her not
to be anxious about herself; to trust to the course of events, and
all will go well. We must have a grand talk over it all to-morrow
morning.”

“Here comes the carriage at last, I am thankful to say,” said Laura,
as the grand London-made barouche rolled up to the door, while the
footman rang the bell sufficiently long to make a nervous inmate
conclude it to be a fire.

“Muffle up and run down, my dears! We must not keep three hundred
guineas’ worth of horseflesh waiting at night,” said her father.

Mrs. Grandison and Josie were in the carriage. The former made room
beside her for Mrs. Stamford, saying, “You girls must sit together
on the back seat. It’s large enough to hold four of you now there’s
no crinoline—at least, none to speak of. Perhaps Mr. Stamford won’t
mind sitting on the box—once upon a time two people would have
filled this carriage. How did you get on with your dresses, girls?
Mine and Josie’s only came late in the afternoon, after that
infamous Madame Rocheretti promising to have them fitted on and
everything done in the way of trimmings yesterday. However, she
threw herself on my mercy, as she said the Government House people
had come down upon her at the last moment.”

“I don’t believe a word of it,” said Josie. “However, I have made up
my mind to have my dresses made at Justine’s in future. She is
dearer, but she has twice as much originality. What have you got on,
Laura?”

“Nothing very wonderful. We went to mother’s old dressmaker, Madame
Schlesinger, that she used to have when she was first married. She
is behind the times, I dare say, but a ball is a ball with Linda and
me. We shall enjoy ourselves, I dare say. If we are much disfigured
this time, we shall gradually advance to a knowledge of high
millinery.”

“You’ll see when you go into the room how the other women are
dressed,” said Josie authoritatively. “If you’re dowdy, it will make
you so miserable that you’ll be more careful next time. I would have
come down and given you a hint or two, but I make it a rule never to
stir out on the day of a ball, and all yesterday I was too busy.”

“It is very kind of you,” said Laura, warmly, “and we were uncertain
about several things, but it doesn’t matter particularly.”

“Laura must make up by freshness and youth what she wants in style,”
said Mrs. Grandison good-humouredly. “I dare say she and Linda will
do very well, though I really believe Josie’s will be the best dress
in the room. And indeed it ought to be. Mr. Grandison’s cheque, and
it was a large one, didn’t nearly pay for it.”

“Laura is only a year younger than I am, mamma,” said Josie, rather
sharply. “One would think I was getting quite an old hag. I wonder
if all the best men are going? Is that good looking Mr. Hope sure to
be there?”

“Yes,” said Linda; “he told us he was one of the committee.”

Further conversation was rendered difficult by the dashing of the
carriage into the “line.” The string of ball-ward carriages, of
which they now formed a part, compelled them to proceed at a walk
until the foremost vehicles drove up and deposited their occupants.
The novelty of making a part of such an astonishing procession
almost roused Linda’s spirits to the point of expressing the
admiration of everything which she felt. But, recalling her mother’s
advice and the responsibility of decorous demeanour now cast upon
her, she refrained, at great personal cost and self-denial. She was
rewarded in turn by the arrival of the carriage at the magic portal,
from the interior of which a blaze of lamps and fairy splendour was
visible.

A few moments saw them safely ushered into the dressing-room,
provided with all accessories needful for repairing temporary damage
or partial disarray. Small stay, however, was made here, and after
Josie had gazed at herself in the mirrors from every conceivable
point, and had herself adjusted by her obedient mother in several
different modes, they bent their steps towards the main entrance to
the ball-room, where they found Mr. Stamford awaiting them. By a
curious coincidence, Mr. Barrington Hope chanced to come that way,
when, giving his arm to Mrs. Stamford and Laura, he walked up to the
top of the enormous room, leaving Mr. Stamford to bring up the rear
with Mrs. Grandison and the two girls.

The latter lady lost no time in locating herself next to the wife of
a well-known member of Parliament, and at no great distance from the
wife and daughter of the Governor.

She signed to Mrs. Stamford to sit next to her, and being thus
within the Vice-regal circle, as it were, considered the seating and
rendezvous part of the business to be settled for the night.

Mr. Barrington Hope immediately possessed himself of Laura’s card,
upon which he inscribed his name for two waltzes and said something
about an extra as well. Josie was surrounded by several of the
_jeunesse dorée_, who appropriated a large share of the dances not
marked engaged. Of these there were several unnamed, and yet not
open. When questioned, she declined to give the names of her
partners, merely remarking that she reserved them for friends. As
for Linda, she sat down in a state of wonder and admiration at the
whole splendid array, to her astonished gaze supernal in glory and
dazzling in brilliancy. The magnificent and lofty hall, the crowd of
well-dressed men and women, the glass-like floor, the melodious
crash of the band, which filled the room with the music of the
spheres, as it seemed to her, the hall divided by a rope held by
picturesque tars modelled upon the lines of the nautical melodrama;
the swing and sway of the immortal dance-music of Johann
Strauss—which had for some time commenced—the uniforms of the naval
and military officers, all these wonders and splendours for a time
obscured in her mind the fact that nobody had as yet asked her to
dance.

She had suddenly become aware of this fact, and was subsiding into a
plaintive and resigned condition, a prey to dismal anticipations,
when Mr. Hope suddenly appeared in company of a naval lieutenant,
whom he begged leave to introduce.

Linda bowed with acquiescence, and the next moment was whirling
around with the joyous throng, conscious that she danced well,
feeling herself to be one of the leading performers, and quite on a
par with all other individuals of her age and sex.

The young officer danced well, as do naval men generally. He talked
easily and agreeably, with that happy mixture of brusquerie and
refinement which renders the service so irresistible. Linda
apparently came up to his standard of a nice girl and a desirable
partner, since he begged leave to put down his name for two more
dances; he also brought up some brother officers, including a stout
doctor and a small but preternaturally cool and amusing midshipman,
so that when Mr. Hope came for his dance, he was nearly crowded out
by the naval brigade, who quite encompassed Linda, to the exclusion
of the most irreproachable civilians.

If Linda was a success, it seemed that Laura was destined to achieve
a genuine triumph.

Shortly after her first dance with Barrington Hope there appeared to
be an unusual amount of interest displayed in the vicinity of Mrs.
Grandison, who, of course, was extensively known in the _grande
monde_. A variety of entertaining conversation was indulged in with
that lady, generally ending with a respectful request for an
introduction to the young lady in white.

The good-natured matron did not grudge the girl her meed of praise;
still she occasionally remarked without satisfaction that the great
guns of the fashionable world, the inheritors of wealth and estates
of proverbial grandeur, the travelled and fastidious “elegants,”
contented themselves with a passing notice or a laughing exchange of
badinage with Josie while they struggled for Laura’s card, and
searched closely the lower figures of the programme, uncertain as
she declared it to be that her party would remain to conclude it.

Mr. Grandison, who had stayed rather late at the club over a
seductive hand of whist, now came up in time to glance at things
generally. He was extremely complimentary as to the appearance of
his young friends, and declared that Laura had been voted the belle
of the ball by several of the leading authorities of the club,
against whose decision there was manifestly no appeal.

“There’s a sort of freshness, and, well, I hardly know what to
call it,” he said, “about girls that come from the country that
fetches the men of taste. The town girls are better millinered and
so on; but they can’t get the colour and the innocent look,
the—ah—dew-drop, early morning sort of brightness,” continued Mr.
Grandison, who had refreshed liberally with the Heidsiek dry
monopole which the club imported, and was becoming poetical.
“That’s what there’s no standing against. Dash it, Stamford, old
fellow! Laura’s cut ’em all down to-night. White dress, rose in
her hair, and so on. It’s the real thing when the complexion will
stand it. There’s not a girl here to-night who’s a patch on her. I
heard Donald M’Intosh say so himself.”

This stupendous announcement produced no reply for the moment. That
_the_ bachelor eligible, _par excellence_, the man of estates and
establishments, who had travelled, had taken an English University
degree, distinguished equally for tennis play as for parliamentary
influence, who was generally an invited member of the Vice-regal
party at public demonstrations and amusements, that _he_ should have
awarded the golden pippin to the unknown provincial damsel, struck
Mrs. Grandison dumb with astonishment, and caused Josie to turn
paler with envy than even her ordinary complexion warranted.

When Mrs. Grandison recovered herself, she said, “Upon my word, Mr.
Grandison, you’re determined to make the girl vain—though she is
dancing now, and can’t hear. One would think you hadn’t a daughter
of your own. Not but what Laura does look very nice, Mrs. Stamford,
only it seems to me the champagne’s very good to-night.”

“What do people come to a ball for?” returned her husband,
gallantly. “Come over to the supper-table and have a glass yourself,
my dear. Stamford, you bring my wife and Josie. I’ll take Mrs.
Stamford, and we’ll drink Laura’s health. After that it’s time to go
home. Struck two, and the best of the fun’s over.”

“I’ve had enough,” said Josie, who had sat out the last two dances.
“For my part, I begin to hate balls; they get stupider every time, I
think. And, oh, how tired I am!”

So in ten minutes afterwards, Mr. Stamford and his wife marched down
the room and carried off their daughters, to the great and sincere
grief of their prospective partners.



                               CHAPTER X


Laura Stamford, like other girls, would have preferred to stay at
the ball for another hour—to have danced another waltz with Mr.
Donald M’Intosh, who indeed made himself most agreeable. But her
natural tendencies lay in the direction of sympathetic consideration
for others. When, therefore, she remarked the tired look on her
mother’s face, and, moreover, instantly remembered that they were to
be conveyed homeward in the Grandisons’ carriage, she at once
declared her willingness to depart, telling her despairing partner
that “she must really go; Mrs. Grandison and her mother were waiting
for her.”

“If I persuade Mrs. Grandison to wait for the next waltz, may I say
I have your permission?” eagerly inquired Mr. M’Intosh.

“No! indeed, no!” said Laura, looking at Mrs. Stamford’s resigned
yet weary countenance, the lines on which she could read so well.
“No, thank you! I must say good bye, I really must not consent to
stay on any terms whatever. Please to take me to my mother.”

Mr. M’Intosh bowed low, and made his most impressive adieu. After
which he betook himself to the supper-room, and declined dancing for
the short time for which he remained among the revellers.

Latish, but not unreasonably near to lunchtime, the Stamford family
showed up to breakfast after the ball.

Every one was tolerably fresh. The slight pallor, the darkened lines
under the eyes of Laura and Linda, only communicated an added charm
to their youthful countenances.

Mrs. Stamford looked hardly restored, but after the first cup of tea
rallied, and enjoyed a _réchauffé_ of the great night’s
entertainment.

“Whatever happens, _Ich habe gelebt und geliebt_,” said Linda, who
had a turn for German literature. “I did not believe such happiness
was to be found on earth! And to think that I am only nineteen, too!
I shall die early, or else it will consume me.”

“You certainly seemed to be having a very pleasant time of it, with
your naval friends,” assented Laura. “People’s views of the area of
existence must be enlarging. But it certainly was the most
transcendent ball. I feel almost humiliated at having enjoyed it so
much.”

“I begin to think we must not have many dances of that sort,” said
Mrs. Stamford. “I’m afraid they are too exciting. You girls will
find Windāhgil dull and prosaic after this.”

“Not at all,” said Laura, taking her mother’s hand affectionately.
“We shall have souvenirs that will last us a year, that is all. Next
to coming to town the going back to dear, peaceful, happy old
Windāhgil is the greatest pleasure I can imagine in life.”

“Won’t it be delightful,” said Linda, “talking over all our
experiences? Then reading up the lovely books we’re taking home. I
always wonder how any one can call “the bush” dull. It will be a
perfect elysium of rest after all this fierce excitement.”

“And when are we to go home?” inquired Mr. Stamford tentatively; “at
the end of the week?”

“Oh! no, no! out of the question,” called out both the girls.

“Mr. Fitzurse said,” pleaded Linda, “that they were going to have a
_déjeuner_ and a dance on board the _Eurydice_ on Monday, and if I
didn’t go the ship would turn over and sink, like the _Austral_.”

“Mr. M’Intosh mentioned something about a _matinée musicale_ which
was to be at Government House on Tuesday,“ said Laura, at which
Mademoiselle Claironnet was to give her celebrated recitals out of
_Lohengrin_. It would be a pity to miss that. He felt sure we would
have tickets sent us.”

“There’s to be a tennis party at the Whartons’,” said Linda, “on
Wednesday. They have an asphalte court, and the winners of the last
tournament are to be there, besides Miss Constance Grey, who is the
champion Melbourne player. I want to see if I have any of my old
form left.”

“Mr. Hope is going to drive four-in-hand to the picnic at Botany
Heads on Thursday,” said Laura, carelessly; “he said he could easily
take us all, and I was to have the box seat. It would be almost a
pity not to go, don’t you think?”

“Exactly so,” said Mr. Stamford; “and we’re all to dine at
Chatsworth on Friday, so it looks as if the week was pretty well
discounted in advance. Well, Saturday for recovery, on Sunday we’ll
all go to the Cathedral, on Monday—mind, Monday week—we start for
home, if all the picnics, parties, and pleasure-promises of Sydney
were to be left unfurnished and unfulfilled.”

“I am sure, girls, you should think your father the best of living
parents,” said Mrs. Stamford. “I don’t know how we can be grateful
enough to him. I wanted a day’s shopping before our departure, and
this will give us time to finish up comfortably. I was dreadfully
afraid that we should have to leave town this week.”

Laura and Linda laughed outright at this.

“Why, mother,” said Linda, we couldn’t do that without breaking our
words, being ungrateful, and doing everything that you have brought
us up not to do; could we, Laura? I promised faithfully to go to
this dance on board the _Eurydice_; she’s anchored in Neutral Bay,
and Mr. Fitzurse said he’d send a boat specially for us. It would be
disgraceful to throw him over.”

“And who gave you leave to promise and vow, Miss Linda, in the
absence of your parents, may I ask?” said Mr. Stamford. “You don’t
seem to understand that, unless we are consulted, all your
undertakings are vain.”

“Oh! but I knew you would approve,” said Linda; “besides Mr.
Fitzurse was so respectful and nice—perfectly timid, in fact—that I
thought it would be unladylike to refuse. And we have never seen a
man-of-war—a ship I mean. What a lot we shall have to tell Hubert,
shall we not, mother?”

“If you tell him everything you’ll have a great historiette, or
confession, whatever you call it, to make,” said Laura, “if one may
judge by the amount of chattering I saw going on.

“Some people may not chatter, but do a great deal of
serious—h’m—friendship-making in the same time,” retorted Linda.
“But I don’t mind, I’m so happy. Everything’s delightful. I had no
idea the world was such a nice place.”

Although matters could not be expected to keep up to the degree of
high pressure indicated, an unusual and highly satisfactory amount
of recreation was transacted during the remainder of the reprieve
allowed by fate and Mr. Stamford.

The dance on board the _Eurydice_ came off, when Linda enjoyed the
supreme and exquisite felicity of being taken off from the pier in a
barge with twelve rowers and the _Eurydice_ flag flying; the crew
being dominated by an implacable midshipman of the sternest
demeanour. They were received with all due formality and ceremony at
the gangway, and being thereafter marshalled about by Lieutenant
Fitzurse, before envious comrades, Linda’s joy was complete. The
dance, as most naval entertainments are, was wonderfully organised,
and truly successful. Epauletted heroes were plentiful, and even the
Commodore himself graciously explained the rudiments of nautical
science to Laura and her mother. The happy day ended with a romantic
return sail, with a favouring breeze, under a silver moon, over the
mystical, motionless deep.

It was fairyland once more possible in this world below. The happy
girls could hardly realise that they were the same people who had
been, but one little year ago, mourning the unkind season, sadly
contending with the wrath of Heaven and the wrongs of earth.

The _matinée musicale_, honoured by Vice-regal patronage, was also
transacted with all the society population of Sydney in full array
and punctual attendance. Here Mr. Donald M’Intosh, a distinguished
amateur, held pre-eminent sway. His “marked attentions” to Laura
caused her to be the observed of all observers, a circumstance
which, however, did not interfere with her frankly expressed
enjoyment of the musical luxuries.

“Why, Laura!” said her cousin, “if you go on in this way you and
Linda will have all the Sydney girls mobbing you, or petitioning for
your rustication without delay. You have fascinated the sailors, and
not contented with that, you seem only to have to hold up your hand
to have that difficult, delightful Mr. M’Intosh, the least
susceptible man in Sydney, at your feet. Then there is Mr. Hope,
neglecting his business and driving four-in-hand, as I hear to this
picnic, all for your sake! What is your charm, may I ask?”

“I don’t quite understand you, Josie,” she answered (which, perhaps,
was pardonably insincere); “we are enjoying ourselves very much, and
everybody is extremely kind.”

“I should think so, indeed,” replied Miss Josie, scornfully.

As for the great picnic, everybody was there. The day was lovely,
the sea calm, the sky of the glowing azure which the south land only
boasts, the road perfect. The rival four-in-hand drags, including
Mr. Hope’s chestnuts, combined to produce a perfectly faithful
presentment of the ideal life which Linda had previously concluded
to be limited to society novels, and the, perhaps, mythical
personages depicted therein.

There was even a Royal Duke among the guests, though when he was
pointed out to her, Laura committed the error of mistaking for him a
well-known officer of police in attendance, whose aristocratic
figure and distinguished bearing at once decided her in her quest
for royalty. However, the slight mistake was soon rectified, and the
day burned itself into her maiden consciousness as one of those
seasons of enjoyment which rarely fulfil anticipation, but if so,
continue to illumine the halls of memory until life’s latest hour.

“This is our farewell to the sea for a while,” thought Laura. “I
can’t help feeling melancholy. What a lovely haze spreads over the
ocean in the distance! How strange to think that it is nearly a
hundred years since Cook sailed into these silent headlands. What a
new world he was preparing! It was more than a discovery. Almost a
creation. Oh, day of days! Oh, whispering breeze! Oh, soft blue sky!
Can the earth hold anything more lovely?”

The “pleasures and palaces” having come to an end, the fatal Monday
made its unwelcome appearance.

As the Stamfords’ day of departure was known, there was an unwonted
influx of afternoon visitors at their rooms, besides a dropping fire
of cards, notes, and messages, expressive of different shades of
regret.

“Oh, dear! I had no idea Sydney was such a nice place,” exclaimed
Linda, as the twilight hour approached, and the stream of friends
and acquaintances ceased to flow. “I could not have believed there
were so many delightful people in the world. Why will writers say so
many unpleasant things about society? It seems full of polite,
graceful, affectionate persons. As for the malignant and wicked
people that all the books rave about, where are they? We have not
seen them, certainly, or even heard of them, have we, Laura?”

“I believe not—yes—no,” answered Laura, absently. “But who said
anybody was wicked?”

“Nobody, of course,” explained Linda. “I only meant that in every
book you read there are pages and pages devoted to descriptions of
ingeniously wicked people, who seem as common in every city as
bookmakers at a racecourse, whereas I said we never see any of them,
or hear either.”

“See whom?” inquired Laura, who was looking out thoughtfully over
the harbour. “Do you mean any one who called this afternoon?”

“What nonsense you are talking, Laura! I really believe you must be
thinking of something, or rather somebody, else. I wonder whom it
can be? Certainly you have received a good deal of attention—‘marked
attention,’ as Mrs. Grandison always says. How cross Josie looked
when she said it! First of all Mr. Barrington Hope, then Mr.
M’Intosh, then Mr.—who was that nice man from New Zealand?”

“Really Linda, you are altogether too ridiculous. Am I to be called
to account about every one of my partners? If so, you had better get
my ball programmes—I have kept them all—and ask everybody’s
intentions right down the lists.”

“I don’t mean partners, Laura; I had plenty of them, I am thankful
to say; but people didn’t come every other day to the house—besides
waylaying one everywhere, and making a fuss over father and poor
dear mother. They drew the line at that.”

“I feel more and more convinced, Linda, that you have not quite
finished packing,” remarked Laura calmly. “The tea-bell will ring
directly, and we shall have no more time then. Do think a little. I
saw your cerise silk in our room, I feel sure, just now.”

“Oh, my lovely cerise silk! To think I should have forgotten it!”
said Linda, quite diverted from her line of cross-questioning. “But
where will it go? I haven’t the faintest notion. My trunk is
full—more than full—and pressed down. It wouldn’t hold another
handkerchief.”

“Be a good girl, and promise to talk sensibly, and I may spare you a
place in mine,” said Laura, smiling at her victory. “I am just going
to fold and put away my last dress.”

“You are always so kind, Laura. I did not mean to tease you, but I
really do feel anxious about Mr. M’Intosh. Suppose he was only
amusing himself with you all the time!”

“Then you will be able to console yourself with the idea that you
have seen at least one wicked person,” said Laura, with great good
humour; “and so your knowledge of the great world will be expanded.
But I will venture to contradict the charge, as far as he is
concerned. But remember on what terms I provide a place for your
forlorn dress. Besides I want to write one or two good-bye notes.”

                  *       *       *       *       *

Although Laura was outwardly calm and self-possessed, she was not
wholly unmoved by certain considerations which Linda’s badinage had
suggested.

Unless her perception played her false upon a subject on which
women, even when inexperienced, commonly judge correctly, both Mr.
Barrington Hope and Mr. M’Intosh were seriously interested in her
good opinion of them. The latter gentleman had indeed been so
persistent and pressing, that she had been compelled with great
gentleness, yet with firmness, to discourage his advances. This step
she took with a certain reluctance—more perhaps, because she had not
finally resolved as to her state of feeling than because she in any
way disliked him.

Dislike him? No—who could, indeed, dislike Donald M’Intosh? Was he
not handsome, accomplished, manly, possessed, moreover, of all the
subtle graces of manner that almost invariably attach themselves to
a man, be he good, bad, or indifferent as to morals or brains, who
has “seen the world,” as the phrase runs—who has met his
fellow-creatures all his life under the highly-favoured
circumstances of an assured position and ample means?

He certainly had been most assiduous, most respectful, most
flatteringly _empresse_ in his manner, bestowing that unconcealed
admiration which gratifies the vanity of womanhood, at the same time
that it is apt to arouse the ire of the virgins, both wise and
foolish, who are less prominently noticed.

Then his “position,” as it is called. He possessed that social
distinction, that untitled rank, which is perhaps as clearly
defined, as freely yielded, or firmly refused, in a colony as in
England. He was a great country gentleman—such a man as in Britain a
hundred years ago would have periodically gone up to London in his
family carriage attended by outriders and driven by postillions.
Here in the colonies he was known as a man of good family, who had
inherited large estates, besides pastoral possessions of even
greater value, lands in city and suburbs, houses in fashionable
squares all derived from well-considered investments in those early
days when every hundred pounds in cash—sometimes even a tenth of
that proverbial sum—so invested bore fruit fiftyfold or a
thousandfold, as the case might be.

Then there was his magnificent place, Glenduart, of which everybody
had heard. Such a drawing-room, such suites of apartments! Gardens
and stables, conservatories and fountains, picture-gallery and
statuary—what not! Had he not entertained the Governor and Lady
Delmore there? Everybody said it was like a nobleman’s house in
England, or, at any rate, one of those beautiful old country seats
which are the glory of the parent land. His horses, too, his
carriages—what a four-in-hand team had he driven at the picnic they
had all gone to!

And all this at her feet! Was there a girl in Sydney—as far as any
one could judge—that would not—she could not say “jump at,” even in
her thoughts—but willingly accept him?

What a chorus of congratulations or detractions, both equally
gratifying, would not the announcement of her engagement arouse!

Thus far the world, the natural, impulsive feeling of the human
heart, unchecked by the calm voice of reason, the warnings of the
inner soul.

On the other hand, was he so fitted in character and mentally
fashioned as to accord with the tone of her mind, with the
principles in which from childhood she had been reared? Did they
agree in opinion on subjects which were to her vitally important?
Were their tastes mainly in accord? and if differing, was his
disposition such as would lead her to suppose that he would modify
his predilections to suit her wishes?

She could not say. She did not know. Her ignorance of his character
was complete. All that she could possibly assure herself that she
knew concerning Donald M’Intosh was what the world said of him, and
no more—that he was brave, generous, courteous, and rich. So much
she admitted. But her experience had been merely of the outer husk
of his nature. The varnish with which the natural man is concealed
from his fellows was flawless and brilliant. All might be in
accordance with the fair-seeming, attractive exterior. On the other
hand, much might be hidden beneath, the revelation of which would
constitute the difference to Laura Stamford between joy and peace,
hope and happiness upon earth, or misery complete and unending,
hopeless despair.

It was a terrible risk to run, an uncertainty altogether too
momentous to encounter at present. Dismissing the subject of Mr.
M’Intosh’s interests and prospects, there was—and she blushed even
when naming his name in her own heart—there was Barrington Hope. He
had little to offer in any way comparable to the other in what most
people would consider the essentials of matrimonial success. A
hard-worked man compelled to tax his every mental faculty to the
uttermost, in order to meet the demands of his occupation. From one
point of view, no doubt, his position was high; no man of his age
had, perhaps, the same rank and consideration in finance. But the
magnificence of “seigneury” was not his—never probably would be. In
spite of his birth, which was equal to that of any magnate of the
land, no girl of the period, no matron who knew the world, would
think for a moment of comparing the social status of the two men.

But in his favour there were arguments of weight. She knew him to be
a man of refined tastes, of literary culture, of high moral
principle, of fastidious delicacy of tone and taste. It may be that
Laura Stamford only thought she knew these things, that she
committed the feminine mistake of taking for granted that the hero
of her girlish romance was perfection. It may be confessed here that
Barrington Hope was the first man who had had power to stir those
mysterious passion-currents which sleep so calmly in the heart of
youth, puissant as they are when fully aroused to hurry the
possessor to destruction or despair. But she was, for her age, a
calm observer, having, moreover, a full measure of the sex’s
intuitive discernment. In all their light or serious conversation,
she had marked in the mind of Barrington Hope the signs of high and
lofty purpose, of a chivalrous nature, an inborn generosity only
controlled by the voice of conscience and the dictates of an
enforced prudence.

And did he love her as in her heart she told herself she deserved to
be loved?

Of that all-important fact she could not yet assure herself. But,
patient ever, and modestly doubtful of all things which concerned
her personal influence, Laura decided that she could well afford to
await the direction of circumstances. Her home duties were still
paramount in her steadfast mind. She had no immediate wish that they
should be cast aside for objects purely personal. There was yet much
to do at Windāhgil. Linda was scarcely capable of assuming the
responsibilities of housekeeping, and should she make default, she
knew upon whose shoulders the burden would fall. The younger
brothers and Hubert, who had hardly been separated from her thoughts
for an hour since childhood—all the love and gentle tendence due to
them were not to be uprooted and flung away to wither like weeds out
of the garden path. No! The time might come when she, Laura
Stamford, like other girls, would go forth from her father’s house,
bidding farewell to the loved ones of her youth—of her life—part of
her very soul, as they were; but there was no necessity for haste.
She must take time for careful choice—for sober counsel. She had
never been wont to do anything of importance hastily. She would not
furnish so bad a precedent now.

So in spite of Linda’s desponding protestations that they never
would be actually, completely, and finally packed up, the fated
evening came which witnessed a devoted cab, overladen with such an
array of luggage as caused Mr. Stamford to exclaim and the
hall-porter to smile.

On the preceding Sunday every one had gone dutifully to church, but
in the afternoon Linda’s devotional feelings must have been somewhat
intermixed with ideas of a nautical nature, judging from audible
scraps of conversation, as carried on by Lieutenant Fitzurse, R.N.,
and his comrades, who had thought it only decent and fitting, as
they observed, to make their adieux to Miss Linda Stamford before
she went back to Western Australia or Riverina, or whatever far-away
place “in the bush,” they had heard she was bound for.

Mr. Hope did not arrive on that afternoon, although Mr. M’Intosh
did, but, having something to say to Mr. Stamford, presumably on
business, he came in time to accompany them to the railway station,
and to receive a warm invitation from that gentleman to visit them
at Windāhgil directly he could get leave of absence.



                               CHAPTER XI


Linda began to look out of the window at least two miles from the
Mooramah railway station. A few seconds before the train stopped,
she discovered Hubert on the platform.

Waving his hand to her, he was at the window in a moment, receiving,
indeed, personal tokens of welcome long before the guard could open
the door and collect the tickets.

“Oh! I _am_ so glad to see you again, dearest, dearest Hubert,”
exclaimed Linda. “You have no idea how nice and large Mooramah
looks. I am sure I shall never stir away from dear old Windāhgil for
a year. I don’t feel proud at all, do you, Laura? I am sure we are
both immensely improved, though. Don’t you think so, Hubert?”

“You must wait till you are at home again, and I can turn you round
and examine you both carefully,” said Hubert; “there are too many
people here at present. I think mother looks splendid, and the
governor gets younger every time he sees Sydney. I shall have to go
soon, or our ages will be reversed.”

“Poor, dear old Hubert!” said Laura, looking at her brother’s
sun-burnt face, and spare, muscular figure; “I’m sure you’ve been
working yourself to death while we were away, with nobody to stop
you. Never mind, we’ll soon make a difference—if we don’t talk you
to death the first week.”

“I can hear all you’ve got to say,” said Hubert; “but just now let
us get the luggage counted and ready for Jerry to put in the spring
cart; then we’ll rattle home in the buggy. Don’t the old horses look
well?”

“Splendid!” said Linda. “They have beautiful coats too, which I did
not expect. They’re not quite so aristocratic in demeanour as Mr.
Grandison’s carriage horses, but they can trot about double as fast,
I daresay.”

“They look very different to what they did this time last year,”
said Hubert, running his eye over the middle-sized, well-bred, wiry
pair. “Do you remember poor old Whalebone tumbling down—Whipcord was
nearly as bad—as we were driving to church, from sheer weakness?”

“Oh! yes,” said Linda; “we had to tie up the pole of the buggy with
our pocket-handkerchiefs; poor old dear! He looks as if he could
pull one’s arms off now.”

Once fairly off behind the fourteen-mile-an-hour buggy horses,
spinning along the smooth bush road—the best wheel track in the
world in good weather and in a dry country, that is, its normal
state—the spirits of the party rose several degrees. Mr. Stamford
and his wife were calmly happy at the idea of returning to their
quiet home life, having had enough of the excitement of city and
suburb for a while. The girls were continually exclaiming, as each
new turn of the road brought them within sight of well-remembered
spots and familiar points of the landscape, while Hubert, much too
happy to talk, kept looking at his relatives, one by one, with an
air of intense, overflowing affection.

“It’s worth all the loneliness to have you back again,” he said,
patting his mother’s cheek; “but it was horribly dismal for a time.
I felt as if I could have left the run in charge of the
boundary-riders, only for shame, and run down to Sydney myself.
Fortunately, Laura wrote so regularly that I seemed to know what you
were doing and saving, as well as almost everything you thought.”

“I wrote too, I’m sure,” said Linda, with an injured air.

“Well, you were more spasmodic. Though I was very glad to get your
letters too. I acquired a deal of information about the ‘Queen’s
Navee,’ in which department I was weak. However, I suppose it’s as
well to know everything.”

“I’m sure you are most ungrateful,” pouted Linda, “If you only knew
how hard it is to write!”

“Oh, ho! quoting from Lord Sandwich’s lines:—

                 ‘To all you ladies now on land
                   We men at sea indite,
                 But first I’d have you understand
                   How hard it is to write.’”

“You are too clever altogether, Hubert,” said Linda, with rather a
conscious laugh. “You must have been taking lessons in mind-reading,
or some such stuff, in our absence. But oh! there are some of the
Windāhgil sheep. How well they look! I’d almost forgotten there were
such dear creatures in the world.”

“If it were not for them and their fleeces there would not be any
trips to Sydney, or bachelors’ balls, or picnics,” said Mr.
Stamford; “so keep up a proper respect for the merino interest, and
all belonging to it.”

“They never looked better than they do now,” said Hubert; “the
season has been a trifle dry since you left, but I think they are
all the better for it. And did not the wool bring a capital price?”
he continued. “I see you sold it all in Sydney—two and a penny, and
two and threepence for the hogget bales. The wash-pen was paid for
over and over again. However, I have a plan in my head for getting
it up better still next year.”

“That’s right, my boy,” said his father; “stick well to your
business and it will stick to you—a homely proverb, but full of
wisdom. How does the garden look?”

“Not so bad. I had it made pretty decent for mother to look at. I
kept all the new plants watered—they’ve grown splendidly, and I
managed, with a little help, to get up a ‘bush house’ in case mother
brought up any new ferns, or _Coleus_ novelties.”

“The very thing I am wishing for, my dear boy,” said his mother. “I
was just wondering how I could manage; I did get a few pot plants
and ferns.”

“A few!” said Mr. Stamford, making believe to frown. “You showed a
correct estimate of your mother’s probable weakness, however,
Hubert. I don’t know that you could have spent your leisure time
more profitably.”

“Home, sweet home!” sang Linda, as they drove up to the well-known
white gate. “How lovely the garden looks, and everything about the
dear old place is flourishing; even the turkeys have grown up since
we left. I feel as if I could go round and kiss everything—the very
posts of the verandah. That is the advantage of going away. I really
think it is one’s duty to do so; it makes you value your home so
when you come back.”

“I shall have no curiosity about the great world for a year at
least,” said Laura. “It will take us nearly that time to read all
the new books; and to properly enjoy the garden, I am going to have
a fernery of my own. I bought the _Fern World_ out of my own money,
and somebody—I forget who it was—promised to send me some rare New
Zealand and South Sea Island ferns. After all, the pleasures of
country life are the best, I really do believe; they are so calm and
peaceful and yet satisfying.”

That first meal, lunch or dinner, as it might happen to be, in the
old familiar room, was an unmixed delight to all. The two servants,
having just returned, had exerted themselves to prepare a somewhat
_recherché_ repast for the family, to whom they were attached, and
whose return they hailed with honest expressions of welcome. The
cookery and arrangements generally met with special commendation,
while in the intervals of talking, laughing, and sudden exclamations
of delight, Linda repeated her conviction that she had never enjoyed
eating and drinking so much since she left Windāhgil.

Immediately after this necessary performance, Hubert and Mr.
Stamford betook themselves to one of the outlying portions of the
run, where the son was anxious for his father to behold the success
of a new dam lately constructed. This piece of engineering had
“thrown back” the water of a creek nearly two miles, thus affording
permanent sustenance for a large flock of sheep.

“These weaners were formerly obliged to come in to the frontage, you
remember governor, where they were always mixing with the other
sheep. The water dried up regularly about this time. Now they can
stay here till next shearing, and I think the country suits them
better, too.”

“They are looking uncommonly well,” said Mr. Stamford, running his
eye over a flock of fine, well-grown young sheep, which were just
moving out to grass after their noonday rest. “They ought to cut a
first-rate fleece this year.”

“Yes; and the wool is so clean,” said Hubert. “There is nothing like
having your sheep within fences; no running about with dogs and
shepherds; they don’t get half the dust and sand into their fleeces.
But I’m afraid this is about the last improvement Windāhgil wants
doing to it. It’s getting too settled and finished. How I should
like to tackle a big, wild, half-stocked run in new country, with no
fencing done, and all the water to make!”

“You must bide your time, my boy,” said Mr. Stamford, with a serious
face. “It will come some day—in another year or two, perhaps. You
mustn’t be in too great a hurry to leave us all. Windāhgil is not
such a bad place.”

“On the contrary, it’s getting too good altogether. There’s only
half enough work, and next to no management required. Why, you could
do all the work yourself, governor, with a steady working overseer!”

“Thank you, my boy, for the compliment,” said Mr. Stamford, taking
off his hat.

“Oh, you know what I mean, father! so don’t pretend you don’t. I’m
not growing cheeky because things have gone well lately; but really
there’s only enough managing to keep you in exercise. It will half
break my heart to go away, but what’s the use of settling down on a
small comfortable place like this? And how can I feel that I’m doing
the best for the family, when I hear of fellows like Persse, and
Grantley, and Philipson taking up that new country beyond the Barcoo
by the thousand square miles; splendid downs covered with blue grass
and Mitchell grass? Grand water, too, when you come upon it. Think
what all that country will be worth in a few years.”

“I understand you, my boy,” said the proud father, while a sudden
emotion stirred his heart, as he remembered the days of his own
youth, when he too had nourished the same high thoughts of adventure
and discovery, and had played his part amid the dangers and
privations of frontier life. “You can talk it over with Mr. Hope.
We’ll see what can be done.”

“I suppose,” said Hubert, after a while, “when you’ve been up a week
or ten days, and I’ve talked over everything with mother and the
girls, from the regatta to the last new waltz step, I may as well
take my holiday. I haven’t had one for three years. I begin to
forget what the sea looks like, and I think a month in the ‘big
smoke’ and a few new ideas will do me no harm.”

“Have your holiday, by all means, and enjoy it too, my boy. Thank
God, it is not a question of money now. I have the fullest belief in
the sanitary value, mentally, of a trip to the metropolis now and
then.”

“Thank you, father. I’m sure it will brush me up a little; besides,
I want to go to the Lands Office for certain reasons. I want, above
all, to have a good talk with this Mr. Barrington Hope that I’ve
heard so much about.”

“You’ll find him an uncommon sort of person. The more you see of
him, the more you’ll like him, I feel certain. He is just the man I
should like you to make a friend of. Try and get him to return with
you, if he can spare the time.”

After the tea-things were cleared away, and the large, steadfast,
satisfactory table was left free for reading, writing, or
needlework—for all of which purposes it was equally well
adapted—what a season of rational enjoyment set in! The book box had
been opened before. The beautiful new uncut volumes, the titles of
which were received with exclamations of joy, were placed upon a
table. The collection of new music was inspected, Linda going there
and then to the piano and dashing off a waltz; making, besides, a
running commentary upon half-a-dozen songs which she and Laura were
going to learn directly there was a minute to spare. Mr. Stamford
took his accustomed chair, and devoted himself to the _Sydney
Morning Herald_. Mrs. Stamford resumed the needlework which is
apparently a species of Penelope’s web for all mothers of families,
while Hubert and Laura, somewhat apart from the rest, kneeling on
their chairs as if they had been children again, made a cursory
examination of the new books, exclaiming from time to time at
passages or illustrations.

“I feel inclined not to go to Sydney till after I’ve read most of
these books,” said Hubert; “only that would make it so late. But it
seems a pity to leave such a lot of splendid reading. Certainly
there’s the Public Library in Sydney, but I hardly ever go in there,
because I find it so hard to get out again. I did stay there once
till the lamps were lit. I had gone in for a few minutes after
breakfast.”

“What a queer idea!” said Laura, laughing outright. “How strange it
must have felt to have lost a whole day in Sydney. Never mind,
Hubert! There are a good many young men to whom it would not occur
to spend a whole day in a library, public or private. Everything in
moderation, though. You must have another station at your back
before you can read all day long.”

“Please God, we’ll have that too,” replied he with a cheery smile,
“or else the new country will be taken up very fast. I don’t think
Windāhgil will see me after next shearing; that is if the governor
doesn’t forbid it.”

“You don’t care about breaking our hearts, you naughty boy!” said
his sister, pressing her cheek against his, as they looked over the
same book. “What are we all to do when you are gone! You don’t think
how lonely and miserable the place will be.”

“Are you going to stay here all your life, Laura? If you will, I
will. But don’t think I shall not feel the parting bitterly; I quite
tremble to think of it. How miserable I was when you were in Sydney!
But what is a man to do? A few years of self-denial and hard life
now will make things easy for the rest of our days. I am the working
head of the family now. Father is not the man he used to be. And if
I take life too easily for the next few years, all these great
opportunities will be gone, and we shall regret it all the rest of
our lives.”

“But the risk!” sighed Laura; “the wild country, blacks, thirst,
fever and ague. Every paper brings news of some poor fellow losing
his life out there. What should we do if you were taken? Remember
how many lives you carry about with you.”

“You set a great value on Hubert Stamford,” he said jokingly, while
something in his eyes showed a deeper feeling. “Other people
wouldn’t think any great loss had taken place if I dropped. But men
still go to sea, though wrecks occur. Think how nice it will be when
I return bronzed, and illustrious, a gallant explorer with a whole
country-side taken up for ‘Stamford and Son,’ with runs to keep and
to sell, and to give away if we like.”

“I’m afraid you won’t be stopped; you are an obstinate boy, though
no one would think it. I think I shall take possession of the piano
and sing you that lovely ‘Volkslied,’ though I’m afraid my voice is
weak after the night journey.”

Laura had taken a few lessons in Sydney, very wisely. Her naturally
sweet, pure voice and correct intonation were therefore much aided
by her later instruction.

“You _have_ improved,” said her brother. “I never expected you to
turn out such a _prima donna_, though there is a tone in your voice
that always makes me wish to cry, as if that would be the height of
enjoyment. You brought up a duet for me, didn’t you? Well, we won’t
try it to-night. You’re rather tired, I can see. We’ll attack it
some morning after breakfast, when we’re fresh.”

From this day forward, life flowed on with uninterrupted felicity
for the Windāhgil household. It was nearly a week before the
excitement passed away of enjoying all the treasures and novelties
brought from the metropolis. The weather even became favourable to
the new development of the garden, in which Mr. Stamford and his
wife were principally interested. Genial showers refreshed the
soil—always inclined to be thirsty in that region—so that Mrs.
Stamford’s ferns and flowers, and plants with parti-coloured leaves,
as well as her husband’s new varieties of vegetables, shrubs, and
fruit trees, all partook of the beneficence of the season.

As for Hubert and his sisters, they rode and drove about by day
whenever the weather was favourable; indeed sometimes when it was
not. They read steadily at the new books by night, and by that
means, and a few visits to old friends in the neighbourhood, filled
up every spare moment in a mode of life each day of which was
consciously and unaffectedly happy.

In addition to these quasi-pastoral occupations, one day brought the
exciting news that a new proprietor—indeed a new family—was about to
arrive in the district—now the owner of a sheep station distant from
Windāhgil about twenty miles had for some months, indeed since the
change of season, cherished hopes of selling out to advantage.

An astute, unscrupulous speculator, he had purchased sheep largely,
at low prices, directly the weather broke, had crowded on to
Wantabalree all the stock it could hold—and more, had sent the rest
of his cheap purchase “on the road.” This means, in Australia,
travelling for grass to a distant undefined point in a neighbouring
colony whence at any time they could be ordered back; subsisting at
free quarters, on other men’s pastures till shearing.

He then offered Wantabalree for sale, at the high market price of
the day, describing it as a magnificent pastoral property with a
stock of sheep of the highest quality and breeding; puffed up the
grass, the improvements, the homestead, the water supply, directly
and indirectly, and having done all this, awaited quietly the usual
victim provided with cash and deficient in experience.

In Australia, as in other countries probably, it is a fact patent to
observers of human nature that the weak points of any particular
locality are rarely obtruded upon the incoming proprietor or tenant.
He is, in a general way, prone to spend money on a liberal scale for
the first two or three years.

The interests of other proprietors are, in a way, identical.
Assuming that the newly-arrived purchaser has made an indifferent
bargain—that is, has misunderstood wholly the value of his
investment, or bought in total ignorance of the peculiar drawbacks
of the district, it is rarely that any one volunteers to enlighten
him.

Such information, if unfavourable, might tend to depreciate the
value of property locally. It was none of their business. Every one
had enough to do to look after their own affairs. They might want to
sell out themselves some day.

Besides, after all, the seasons might prove wet for years to come,
in which case a tide of general prosperity would set in, quite
sufficient to float Colonel Dacre’s as well as the other partially
stranded argosies of the period.

This was the mode of reasoning which mostly obtained around
Mooramah—possibly not wholly unknown in other centres more or less
connected with financial operations.

Even an experienced Australian pastoralist may be placed at
considerable disadvantage when he comes to inspect station property
in a region previously unknown to him. He may under-rate or
over-estimate the changes in pasture produced in varying seasons. He
may be wholly ignorant of probable or latent disease. Summer’s heat
or winter’s cold may surprise him by their diverse results. Such men
may make—have indeed made—the most astonishing mistakes in
purchasing stations in unfamiliar country. How much more so the
wholly inexperienced, newly-arrived buyer from Europe, or
Hindustan—ignorant of the very alphabet of pastoral science! He is
indeed delivered over as a prey. The net is, in a manner, spread for
him. Unless he be clearly warned, and indeed vigorously frightened
away from this all-tempting enclosure, he is very apt to be
enmeshed. After his entanglement—from which except by the blindest
chance he rarely emerges save with despoiled plumage and drooping
crest—he can hear from his too reticent neighbours doleful tales of
loss and distress, a portion of which information would have been
sufficient to deter him from (as he now believes) so suicidal an
investment.

To do the Stamfords justice, they were not the sort of people likely
to stand by and see an injustice perpetrated without protest.
Colonel Dacre, on arriving in the district, had called at Windāhgil,
and informing Mr. Stamford that he felt disposed to buy Wantabalree,
which was then offered for sale with so many sheep, so much
purchased land, &c., had asked his opinion of the policy of the
purchase.

Hubert and his father looked at one another for a moment. Then the
younger man burst out—“I think it’s a confounded shame that any
gentleman coming to a fresh district should be taken in, utterly
deceived in a purchase like this one of Wantabalree. It is known to
every child within fifty miles that the place is over-stocked by
nearly one-half. The reason the run looks so well is that a lot of
sheep that were travelling have just been put on. They haven’t had
time to eat down the grass yet. If a dry season comes they’ll die
like flies.”

“You must be careful in making statements to Mr. Dealerson’s
prejudice,” said his father. “We are not on good terms with him.
That should be, perhaps, considered by Colonel Dacre. At the same
time, I endorse every word you have said.”

“I know I hate the fellow like poison,” said Hubert. “He’s mean and
dishonest—and deserves to be had up for false representation to
boot; but I would say the same if he were my own brother. The sale
of Wantabalree with the stock at present on it, under the
advertisement of a fairly-stocked run, is a deception and a robbery.
I give Colonel Dacre leave to repeat my words to Mr. Dealerson or
his friends.”

“I gather from what you say,” said the Colonel; “that the stock upon
Wantabalree is in excess of what it would be safe to depasture in
ordinary seasons; that the buyer would probably, in the event of an
unfavourable season, be at a disadvantage—--”

“Such a disadvantage that he would lose twenty or thirty thousand
sheep to begin with,” replied Hubert; “and even under the most
favourable circumstances the place could never carry its present
stock.”

“Yet the sheep look very well—are indeed fit for market—as I am
informed by the person the agents recommended me to consult.”

“This is the finest season we have had for five years. It is the
best time of year also,” said Hubert. “Any run about here would
carry double its ordinary stock for a few months—till winter, for
instance. If a third more sheep were put on now, say on to this run,
neither sheep nor run would exhibit much difference until the autumn
was well over.”

“And what would happen then?” asked the Colonel.

“Then they would merely begin to starve—become weak and die—thousand
after thousand, while all the survivors would be impoverished and
lessened in value.”

“Good Heavens!” said the astonished soldier. “I never imagined such
deceit could be practised in a pastoral community. It amounts to
obtaining money under false pretences!”

“Not legally,” said Mr. Stamford; “but every word which my son has
told you is substantially true. Wantabalree with its present stock
is nothing better than a trap skilfully set to catch the unwary
purchaser. Mr. Dealerson is, so to speak, an enemy of ours, but I
will do Hubert the justice to say that a friend acting similarly
would have fared no better at his hands.”

“Well! forewarned is forearmed,” said the colonel. “I feel deeply
indebted to you, but your conduct has been in marked contrast to
that of all the other residents to whom I have spoken on the
subject.”

“Unfortunately, there is too much caution or apathy in matters of
this sort,” said Mr. Stamford. “We should have been delighted to
have you as a neighbour, believe me, but not at such cost to
yourself.”



                              CHAPTER XII


About a week after this conversation Hubert dropped the local paper
he was reading in the evening with such a sudden exclamation that
his mother and sisters looked up in mild astonishment.

“‘Well I’m gormed!’ as Dan Peggotty has it!” he said at length.
“Nothing will ever surprise me again as long as there is such a crop
of fools in the world—no wonder that rogues like Dealerson flourish!
After all I said too! Listen to this! headed ‘Important Sale of
Station.—We have much pleasure in noticing that our energetic and
popular neighbour, Mr. Dealerson, has completed the sale of his
well-known station, Wantabalree, with fifty-four thousand six
hundred sheep of a superior character, to Colonel Dacre, a gentleman
lately arrived from England. Furniture, stores, station, horses and
cattle given in. The price is said to be satisfactory.’ Well, the
devil helps some people,” said Hubert. “How that poor gentleman
could have run into the snare blindfold after the talking to father
and I gave him, I can’t make out. Mark my words; he’s a dead man
(financially) unless it’s going to rain for years.”

“Dealerson is a very astute man,” remarked Mr. Stamford, musingly.
“As a persuasive talker he has few equals. Fine, frank, engaging
manner too. Bold and ready-witted; I think I can see how he managed
it.”

“Well I can’t see—can’t make it out at all,” said Hubert, “unless he
is a mesmerist.”

“No doubt he made the most of being on bad terms with Windāhgil. He
would rake up that old story of the disputed sheep; tell it his own
way; get that fellow Ospreigh, who always goes about with him, to
back him up; also make small concessions such as furniture and
working plant; talk about the house and garden—they would be
attractive to a new arrival; and if Colonel Dacre is at all
impulsive—and I think he is—he has thus landed him. I wonder what
the Colonel will think of Dealerson about three years from this
time?”

“I’ll tell him what _I_ think of him, the next time we meet in
public,” said Hubert, squaring his shoulders, while a dangerous
light came into his eyes. “If he could be tempted into giving me the
lie, I should like to have the pleasure of thrashing him.”

“Gently, my boy!” said Mr. Stamford; “we must not set up ourselves
as the redressers of wrongs for Lower Mooramah, Few people are in a
position to discharge the duties of that appointment. I honour your
righteous indignation all the same, and trust you will always retain
an honest scorn of wrong and wrongdoers.”

“I should hope so,” said Laura. “I can’t imagine Hubert holding his
tongue discreetly or passing by on the other side. There are a good
many Levites in this part of the world, I am afraid.”

“Oh, my gracious!” said Linda, who was reading a closely-written
letter; “think of this! Isn’t his name Colonel John Dacre, late of
the 75th Regiment? There is one redeeming feature about the affair,
at all events.”

“What can that be?” said Laura and Hubert both together.

“Why! there’s a distressed damsel in the case. If I didn’t know
better, I should think Hubert must have heard about her. Listen to
this!” And she read aloud:—“‘I hear that you are to have delightful
neighbours. I was told that Colonel Dacre was going to settle in
your neighbourhood. He has bought Wantabalree station—young Groves
told me last night. He is a widower, handsome and middle-aged. But I
don’t mean him. He has an only daughter, also a son. Think of that!
Jane Robinson met her at Mrs. Preston’s, where she is staying. She
says she is most sweet—handsome, though not objectionable in the
beauty-girl line, clever, sensible, distinguished-looking, &c. Take
care of Hubert, if you don’t want to lose him for good and all.’
That’s from Nellie Conway. Oh! isn’t that lovely?” and here Linda
held the letter aloft, and danced for joy.

“I don’t see what difference it makes,” said Hubert, gloomily,
“except that there are three people to be ruined instead of one. You
girls are always thinking of marriage and giving in marriage.”

“Now don’t be provoking, Hubert,” said Laura, coaxingly; “we know
somebody who is not always thinking about cattle and sheep. Now,
listen to me. How long will it take for Mr. Dealerson to ruin them?”

“About three years,” said Hubert; “depends on the terms. Of course
he’s got all the Colonel’s cash, but he would take long-dated bills
rather than let him slip. Say three—three and a half—that’s the very
outside month.”

“That means that we are to have the society and companionship of the
very nice girl for three or four years,” said Laura; “we can ask her
here for the last six months, you know, I really think, Hubert, it
won’t turn out such a bad investment for the Colonel after all.”

“You’d better marry him out of pity,” said Hubert; “get father to
endorse his bills, and that will effectually finish up the Stamford
family as well—stock, lock, and barrel.”

“I’ll complete the tragedy by marrying Mr. Dealerson,” said Linda,
“whom I shall afterwards poison, then come on to the stage and
repent in white satin in my last agonies, having by mistake taken
some out of the same glass. What a charming melodrama! Who says
there are no Australian romances possible in real life?”

“No; but nonsense apart,” said Laura, “I intend to make a friend of
Miss Dacre; she will be rather lonely. There are no decent people
within twenty miles of Wantabalree. You must drive us over to call
directly we hear that they have arrived at the station. It is a
pleasant house, and the garden is lovely, to give Mr. Dealerson his
due.”

“You girls generally manage to persuade everybody to do as you
like,” said Hubert, making believe to be sulky still, but putting
his arm round Laura’s waist. “It’s a pity you didn’t tackle the
Colonel about not buying the beastly place, instead of father and
me. He’d have dropped it like a shot most likely.”

“Don’t you worry yourself any more about it,” said Linda. “You have
been ‘faithful’ to the Colonel—as Mrs. Christianson always says—and
done the honest and disagreeable. Now let it rest.”

“You’re bordering on a Levite,” retorted her brother. “However, it
was always the fashionable side.”

About a fortnight after the return of the family party, when most of
the books had been read, when all the songs had been sung, when
every conceivable incident that had happened in Sydney had been
described and dilated on, after every new phase of intellectual
growth in the three young minds had been stated and reviewed, Hubert
Stamford relinquished his charge of Windāhgil, and departed for the
metropolis on his long-expected holiday. Not without tears shed by
his female relatives did he leave Windāhgil, that true and sacred
home in every sense of the word—a family abiding place consecrated
by fervent, unselfish love, which had grown and deepened since
childhood’s hour with every opening year. How could they think
without a sudden pang of the possibility of an accident—of one of
the everyday mischances in this age of rushing, resistless forces
harnessed to the car of man’s feverish need—depriving them for ever
of the sight of that pleasant face, those frank, kind eyes, that
manly form! Such might happen—_had_ happened. Therefore, there were
averted heads, fast falling tears, as the signal sounded, and the
punctual, pitiless steam-giant bore away the hope of Windāhgil from
the little platform at Mooramah.

“Poor, dear Hubert!” said Linda, sneezing violently, and then wiping
her eyes; “it seems ridiculous to cry, when he’s going away to enjoy
himself so much, and deserves it so well; but, somehow, one can’t
help it. There is a great relief in tears. I think they are
specially adapted to the feminine temperament, a nice, comforting
sort of protest against circumstances. Dear me! how lonely we shall
be to-night.”

“I really believe father was afraid he would ‘give way’ too, as
Nurse Allen used to say,” said Laura, “and that was the reason he
declined to come. Never mind; we shall have a telegram to-morrow. He
must have been much more lonely when we departed. Fancy you or me at
home, Linda, and all the rest of the family away!”

When Hubert Stamford had got over the first feeling of parting with
those whom he loved better than his own life, the change of place
and scene which the fast-speeding mail train rapidly furnished
commenced to raise his youthful spirits. After all, _ce n’est que le
premier pas qui coûte_. Ah, but that first step! Some people never
can accomplish it, for things good as well as evil, and a whole
world of delights and dangers remain unexplored.

In Hubert Stamford’s case the initiatory stage was now accomplished.
The journey, more or less eventful to home-keeping youths—the first
really accredited visit to the metropolis since his manhood, with
all things made easy for him, was now about to take place.
Imagination commenced to conjure up the various wonders and
witcheries which he was about to encounter, as well as the campaign
of business which he hoped to plan out and engineer definitely, if
not finally.

Much revolving these pleasing and, in a sense, profitable thoughts,
the night became reasonably far advanced. It then occurred to him
that, as he intended to have a long day before him in Sydney, he
might as well prepare for it by an orthodox allowance of sleep; so,
commending himself and those never-forgotten idols of his heart to
the mercy of the All-wise, All-seeing Father of this wondrous world,
he wrapped himself in his rug and fell asleep.

When he awoke the train was speeding down the long incline which
divides the mountain world of rock and dell-rifted peak and alpine
summit, from the lowlands of the Nepean River. A few more
miles—another hour. Farms and home-steadings, orangeries and
orchards, vineyards and cornfields, alternated with wide pastures,
dank with river fogs and morning dew, darksome jungles of eucalyptus
which the axe of the woodman had as yet spared. Yet another
terminus, suburbs, smoke, a distant view of the great sea, a turmoil
of railway sheds, carriages, tramcars, and cabs—Sydney!

                  *       *       *       *       *

Comfortably established at Batty’s Hotel, to the management of which
he had taken the trouble to telegraph for a room, and received with
that pleasing welcome accorded to the guest who is known to spend
liberally and pay promptly, Hubert found the situation, as he
surveyed the harbour from the balcony with after-breakfast feelings,
to be one of measureless content mingled with sanguine anticipation.

Oh! precious spring-time of life! Blest reflex of the golden days of
Arcady. What might we not have done with thy celestial hours, strewn
with diamonds and rubies more precious than the fabled valley of the
Arabian voyager, had we but have divined their value. For how much
is it now too late? The scythe-bearer, slow, passionless, pitiless,
has passed on. The irrevocable winged hours have fled. Opportunity,
fleet nymph with haunting eyes and shining hair, has disappeared in
the recesses of the charmed forest, and we, gazing hopelessly on the
shore of life’s ocean, hear from afar the hollow murmur of the
maelstrom of Fate—the rhythmic cadence of the tideless waves of
eternity.

Hubert Stamford, more fortunate, had all the world before him;
moreover, nothing to do but elect, with the aid of a sufficiency of
cash, leisure and introductions, to what particular pleasures he
should devote the cheerful day. He revolved in his mind several
kinds of entertainments of which he would like to partake, but
finally resolved to present himself at the office of the Austral
Agency Company, having a great desire to see the wonderful
Barrington Hope, of whom he had heard so much, as also to sound him
as to a Queensland stock speculation. He would leave a card for Mr.
Grandison at his club. If no engagement turned up he would take a
steamer to Manly Beach, and afterwards go to the theatre.

Having mapped out the day to his satisfaction, Hubert betook himself
to the Austral Agency Company’s offices, by the splendour of which
he was much struck, and sent in his card.

He was not suffered to remain long in the outer office, but was
promptly ushered into the manager’s room and confronted with the
head of the department in person. Doubtless it was a mutual
pleasure. Hubert was impressed with the autocrat’s appearance, the
manner, as well as the reserve of power which in every word and
gesture Barrington Hope displayed. The latter, on the other hand,
did full justice to the bold, sincere countenance, the manly,
muscular figure of his young visitor. Reading between the lines, he
saw there written quenchless energy and love of adventure, yet
shrewd forecast.

“This youngster is not like other men,” Mr. Hope said to himself,
after the first direct, searching gaze. “He only wants opportunity,
encouragement, and the backing-up of capital to become a successful
speculator. He has enterprise, undying pluck, persistent energy, and
still sufficient apprehensiveness to shield him from disaster. We
must send him along. He will do well for himself and the company.
His complexion and features are different—but how like he is to his
sister!”

Much of this he may have thought, but merely said, “Mr. Hubert
Stamford, I am sincerely glad to make your acquaintance. Having had
the pleasure of knowing your family, I was really anxious to meet
you. I venture to predict that we shall become friends and allies. I
trust you left all well at Windāhgil, and that the season continues
favourable.”

“Perfectly well, thank you,” said Hubert. “My father desired to be
particularly remembered to you. My sisters have not yet left off
describing their pleasant visit to Sydney. The season is a trifle
dry, but otherwise everything that can be desired.”

“Thanks very much! Tell your sisters when you write that a great
melancholy fell upon me when they left. We had been so much together
in town, fortunately for me.”

“I have been waiting for an opportunity to thank you for the
assistance you gave us at a very critical time,” said Hubert. “My
father has, I daresay, told you all we thought about it. But I
always determined to speak for myself on the subject.”

“It was a speculation, a purely business risk, which I undertook,”
replied Mr. Hope. “I told your father so at the time. That it has
resulted so favourably, is of course, most satisfactory.”

“I see your point. All the same, it was more than fortunate for us,
and for Windāhgil, that you happened to take that precise commercial
risk at that particular time. It is, besides, more agreeable to work
financially with some people than others. And now, will you come and
lunch with me, so that we may have a talk?”

“I am really sorry,” said Mr. Hope, looking at his watch, “but shall
not have five minutes to spare till five o’clock, when I should like
to consult you on a business matter. If, afterwards, you will dine
with me at the club, at seven sharp, I will talk as much as you
like.”

“That will do as well, indeed better,” said Hubert, “as the day will
be over, which is a great advantage if one is to enjoy oneself. I
have a call or two to make, so adieu for the present!” Making a
direct point for the club which Mr. Grandison ornamented, Hubert was
fortunate in discovering that gentleman just emerging from the
strangers’ room with an elderly gentleman, whom Hubert recognised as
Colonel Dacre.

“How are you, Hubert, my boy?” said Grandison. “What a man you’ve
grown! Nothing like bush air. Father quite well? Mother and the
girls? Glad to hear it. Let me introduce you to Colonel Dacre, soon
to be a neighbour of yours at Wantabalree.”

“I’m very sorry for it,” blurted out Hubert. “That is, in one sense,
as I told Colonel Dacre before. I said then, and think now, that he
made a bad bargain. That apart, I am, of course, delighted to hear
that he is coming with his family to live so near us.”

“Oh! indeed; I didn’t know you had met before.”

The Colonel bowed, and looking slightly embarrassed, for a veteran,
before so youthful a soldier as Hubert, said, “I ought to thank Mr.
Stamford and his father for their sincere and kindly advice about my
purchase. I did not take it wholly, and indeed acted on my own
judgment and that of other friends in buying Wantabalree. But I
shall always feel grateful for their well-meant counsel.”

“Why, how is this, Hubert?” said Mr. Grandison with an important
air. “You seem to have been very decided on the subject. My friend
Barterdale, under whose financial advice Colonel Dacre acted, says
he is credibly informed that it is a most paying purchase. And
Dealerson says it is the best bargain of the day.”

“For _him_, no doubt; but Dealerson is a liar and a rogue,” said
Hubert, bluntly. “I will tell him so to his face, if ever I meet
him. As for Mr. Barterdale, he keeps Dealerson’s account, and
perhaps may not wish to offend a good customer. The Colonel has been
deceived and robbed, that’s all! And having said enough, perhaps
more than is polite, I shall not speak another word about the
affair, except to assure Colonel Dacre that all Windāhgil is at his
service in the way of neighbourly assistance.”

“Thanks very much!” said the Colonel, looking rather crestfallen;
“but have you heard” Hubert felt quite ashamed of his savage
sentence as he remarked the old gentleman’s humility of tone—“the
price I have sold the fat sheep at?”

“No,” replied Hubert, “I can’t say that I have; but, assuming that
the wool does as well you are still in a dangerous position, with an
overcrowded run. However, I sincerely trust that it may be
otherwise.”

“And so do I,” said Mr. Grandison; “but you’ve done your duty, my
boy, and Providence must do the rest. Colonel Dacre is coming to
lunch with me. Here’s the phaeton, jump in and you will see Mrs.
Grandison and Josie, besides another young lady that you haven’t
before met.”

“I asked Mr. Hope to lunch,” said Hubert; “but as he can’t come I am
free. And so, if Colonel Dacre isn’t offended by my plain speaking,
I shall be most happy.”

At luncheon Mrs. Grandison appeared with the fair Josie, who
welcomed Hubert so warmly that he began to think that he was
mistaken in the opinion he had previously formed of both these
ladies. Certainly, in his boyhood, they had expressed remarkably
little interest in his welfare. But being slow to think evil, he
took himself severely to task, and decided that Mrs. Grandison was a
warm-hearted matron, and Josie a very attractive-looking girl.

At that moment a young lady entered the room and apologised to Mrs.
Grandison in so sweet a voice, and with so much natural grace of
manner, for being late that his too susceptible heart was
immediately led captive. Miss Josie’s charms receded to a register
below zero, where they remained as unalterably fixed as the “set
fair” in an aneroid barometer in a drought.

“Allow me to introduce our cousin, Mr. Hubert Stamford,” said the
elder lady; “Miss Dacre, I think you are to be neighbours in the
bush.”

“I am happy to meet Mr. Stamford,” said the young lady, bestowing a
gaze on Hubert so honest, kindly, and yet questioning, that his
subjection was complete. “Though, from what papa tells me, it is not
his fault that we are not in some other district.”

“I was acting against my own interest—against all our interests,”
Hubert said, rather nervously. “Believe me that the whole family
were most anxious to have you as neighbours. So you must give me
credit for honesty of intention.”

“I shall never doubt that, from all I hear,” said Miss Dacre. “Papa
is rather sanguine, I am afraid.”

“And perhaps I am not sufficiently so,” said Hubert; “It’s all over
now. Let us find a pleasanter subject. When do you think of going
up?”

“Oh! next week at farthest. Are we not, papa?”

The Colonel nodded. “I’m enthusiastically fond of the country. I
hear there’s such a nice cottage, quite a pretty garden, a flowing
stream, a mountain, cows and pigs, and chickens, a fair library—in
fact, almost an English home. You’ll admit that, I hope, Mr.
Stamford?”

“I’ll admit anything,” said Hubert; “the homestead’s the best in the
district. My mother and sisters will be charmed to put you _au fait_
in all matters of bush housekeeping. And now, Josie, are you going
to the opera on Thursday night, and would you like a cavalier?”

“We were thinking of it,” said she. “Mother was doubtful, and father
doesn’t care about opera. If you can get some one else, I have no
doubt Mrs. Stopford would be glad to act as chaperon, and Miss Dacre
and I would go—if she would like it?”

“Oh! above all things,” said that young lady; “I am always ready to
hear opera. And I hear you have a very good company here. I was
stupid enough, when I left England, to think I should never hear
Italian opera again. I feel ashamed.”

“We are not quite barbarians, nor yet copper-coloured,” said Josie;
“though I am afraid we Sydney girls can’t boast of our complexions.”

“I am quite ready to make recantation of all my errors,” said Miss
Dacre. “I suppose it need not be done publicly, in a white sheet. I
am divided between that and writing to the _Times_.”

“I believe you will make the best bush-woman possible,” said the
Colonel, with an admiring glance. “Only we both have so much to
unlearn. I didn’t expect to see a room like this, for instance, or
such appointments,” he continued, raising a glass of claret
pensively to his lips.

“It’s rather a bad thing for us, pappy, as we have to live in the
real bush, don’t you think? We must forget it all as soon as
possible.”

“It won’t make the least difference to you, my dear,” said Mrs.
Grandison. “If you had seen Hubert’s sisters here you would have
been—well—astonished to see such girls come out of the bush. For
some reasons I begin really to think it would be better for all of
us to live there.” Here she glanced reflectively at Josie, who
looked scarcely as self-possessed as usual.

“I shall not say another word about bush matters,” said Hubert.
“They will keep. When Miss Dacre comes up she will judge for
herself. If my opinion is requested, I shall be happy to give it,
but shall not volunteer advice. Will your brother travel up with
you, Miss Dacre?”

“Willoughby went to stay a few days with a ship friend, who lives
near Penrith, I think it is, but he is quite as enthusiastic as I am
about beginning life in earnest. He will be in town again on
Friday.”

“Come and dine with us on Saturday, then, Hubert,” said Mrs.
Grandison, and I’ll ask Mr. Hope and one or two of your rude bush
pioneers. Josie, can’t you get a couple of young ladies for Hubert’s
benefit and to show Mr. Dacre?”

“I don’t think Hubert wants any more young ladies,” said Josie
mischievously; “but I’ll ask the Flemington girls to come in—one of
them plays marvellously and the other sings. Her voice is very like
Parepa’s.”



                              CHAPTER XIII


The dinner was a success, the party to the opera having gone off
without a drawback to the unbroken joyousness of the affair. The
Misses Flemington came and performed such musical feats as were
expected of them, and Miss Dacre admitted that she had not heard a
voice unprofessional for years to equal May Flemington’s. She
wondered, indeed, what she could have been thinking of to imagine
that when she came to Australia all artistic luxuries were to be
banished from her thoughts.

“The fact is,” she said, “we are frightfully narrow and prejudiced
in England. We know a great deal about France, Germany and the
Continent generally, because we are always running backwards and
forwards. But of our own countrymen in Australia and New Zealand we
know next to nothing. I was going to say as little as about
Timbuctoo, but we do really know something about Africa, because the
missionaries tell us, and we have returned evangelists from
Borioboolah Gha, even from Fiji and New Zealand. But of Australia we
know nothing.”

“When you go home again, Miss Dacre,” said Hubert, “you will be able
to do battle for us, I see. We must make you Agent-General, or
Ambassadress, if any such post is vacant. I am sure you will do us
justice.”

“Indeed I shall, but I feel ashamed of the ludicrous notions which I
brought out with me. No one would think of going down to Yorkshire
and saying, ‘I suppose you have nothing newer in songs than “The
days when we went gipsying,”’ or asking the Edinburgh people if they
had ever seen a bicycle. But really men and women who have had
‘advantages,’ as they are called, do come out here (five weeks from
England) and expect to see you living a sort of Fenimore Cooper
life, cutting down trees, ‘trailing’ your enemies, and sleeping in
wigwams or huts only once removed.”

“Perhaps a portion of this is natural enough,” said Hubert, “we are
a long way from town.”

“No, it is not natural,” said Miss Dacre; “because have not so many
of our friends come out for generations past? And then for us to
think that their sons and daughters were to grow up as clods and
_belles sauvages_!”

“It will all come right in time,” said Hubert. “It doesn’t hurt us,
if it pleases them, always excepting people”—here he bowed—“whom we
don’t want to have wrong impressions about us. Wait till you get
fairly settled at Wantabalree, Miss Dacre, and you’ll lose a few
more illusions.”

“Oh! but I don’t want to lose all of them,” replied the young lady.
“Some of them are so nice, that I want to retain them in full
freshness. I am going to keep pigs and poultry and send wonderful
hams to England to show our people what we can do. I am going to be
a great walker, and write letters about my impressions to the
magazines. I am sure they will do good. Then I shall have a good
collection of books, and grow quite learned, besides making myself
acquainted with all the people round about, and doing good among the
poor. I am certain there is a great field for an energetic person
like myself.”

“True!” replied Hubert reflectively. “Australians are rarely
energetic, and your programme is excellent. I fully agree with all
your plans and ideas, but I am only afraid there may be difficulties
in the way of carrying them out.”

“You really are most disappointing people—you colonists.” Here
Hubert held up his finger warningly.

“Oh! I forgot. I am not to call you colonists, but to talk to you as
if you were like everybody else—is not that so? Well—but you _do_
disappoint me. There is an air of guarded toleration, or mild
disapproval, which I observe among all of you when I begin to talk
of carrying out reforms. You are very polite, I admit; but tell me
now, why should I not? Surely one does not come all this way to do
only what everyone else does!”

Josie laughed. Hubert looked sympathetic, but did not offer an
explanation. Then Mrs. Grandison took up the running. “My dear, you
are quite right in wishing to do everything in your power in the way
of good; it is what every girl ought to strive after. It would keep
them out of mischief, and so on. But where you English people—when
you first come out, not afterwards—differ a little from us is that
you are all going to set us benighted colonists right, and to
improve us in a great many ways. You say, “I only want to do my
duty—just as one would do in England,” but the idea is that you can
improve things ever so much.”

“Well, perhaps there may be a feeling that a good deal appears to be
left undone; but the intention is to do our duty in that state of
life, &c.”

“Quite true,” assented Mrs. Grandison; “but remember what you said,
that so many of the best people of the old country had come out
here. May not they and their children have worked to some purpose,
with results like the Miss Flemington’s music and singing?”

“Well, that does seem probable, but a great deal remains undone; you
must admit that, surely?”

“I am afraid many of us are not up to the mark in our duties, but
the same kind of persons would perhaps have done no better in an
English county. But I could show you people who pass their lives in
doing good—who hardly do anything else, in fact.”

“And for what is not done,” said Hubert, who had been regarding Mrs.
Grandison’s defence of Australian institutions with a slightly
surprised air, “there is commonly some reason, though not visible to
a newly arrived young lady like yourself.”

“Thank you, Mr. Stamford. But why did you not call me a ‘new chum’
while you were about it? I know you all look down on us.”

“We do not call ladies ‘new chums,’” said Hubert gravely, bowing
slightly at the same time. “And I really must decline any more
passages of arms about my native land. I hope you will like it, and
us too on further acquaintance. I will hand you over to my sisters,
who will argue the point with you at any length, and if you can
inoculate each other with your different opinions, it will be
mutually advantageous.” With which diplomatic recommendation Mr.
Hubert Stamford looked at his watch and bowed himself out. “I
mustn’t be late for this appointment with Barrington Hope,” he told
himself. “It is important enough, and though I could sit and argue
with that nice, fresh, enthusiastic Miss Dacre all day, yet
‘business is business.’”

From which latter proverb, it may be inferred that Mr. Stamford,
junior, although by no means averse to the proper and gallant
attendance upon ladies which every man of his age should hold to be
a part of his knightly devoir, was yet in the main a practical
youth, likely in the long run to win his spurs in the modern tourney
of pastoral commerce.

After thinking over the points of the coming conference, he
signalled to a hansom cabby, and was taken up by that modern
benefactor of the late, the imprudent, and the unlucky, and whirled
swiftly to the offices of the Austral Agency Company. Here Mr. Hope
had arranged to meet a Mr. Delamere, who was anxious to acquire a
pastoral property in the new country, Queensland, just opened and in
every man’s mouth. This gentleman had but lately arrived from
England. In a kind of way he was consigned to the company by one of
the English directors, who happened to be his uncle.

Mr. Delamere, senior, had known the colonies in former years, and
being fully aware that high hope and lofty purpose, even when
combined with an available capital, do not altogether make up for
total inexperience of all Australian pastoral matters, had besought
the manager of the Melbourne branch of the Austral Agency Company to
advise the cadet of his house.


“I am aware, my dear Thornton,” he wrote, “that in a general way it
is thought better that a newly arrived young gentleman should work
out his own destiny in Australia—that after repeated falls and
losses he learns to run alone, and may be trusted henceforth to move
more circumspectly than if he had been ‘shepherded’ from the first.
But I dissent from this theory. The falls are often serious; after
some losses there is nothing left. I prefer a partner, such a one as
I had myself thirty years ago if possible. There ought to be a few
well-bred youngsters knocking about who know everything that can be
known about stations and stock but are held back for want of
capital. Such a one could supply the experience, while Frank
Delamere would find the capital. The old joke used to be that in two
or three years the new arrival had acquired all the experience and
the colonist all the cash. This reads smartly, but is false enough,
like many _bons mots_ both in the Old World and the New. Where was
there ever a better man than my old overseer, Jock Maxwell,
afterwards partner, and now deservedly pastoral magnate? He could
work twice as hard as I ever did; he knew station life _ab ovo_. He
was honest to a fault. He—but I always prose when I get on this
topic. It is enough to say that I had sufficient sense to form this
estimate of his character and act upon it, ‘whereby,’ as Captain
Cuttle has it, I am now writing from Greyland Manor, near
Glastonbury Thorn, instead of being a white slave in a counting
house, or the half-pay pauper generally known as a retired military
officer.

“Therefore—a convenient, if illogical expression—I charge you to
procure a good steady ‘pardner’ for Frank, who will see that his ten
thousand, perhaps more, if need be, is not wasted or pillaged before
he cuts his wisdom teeth as a bushman. Draw at sight, when
investments are made with your consent.—Yours ever sincerely,

                                                  “ROBERT DELAMERE.”


#/

This was the business on which the three men met on this day at the
Austral Agency Company’s office. Before this momentous interview a
certain amount of preliminary work had been done. Letters and
‘wires’ had circulated freely between Windāhgil, Sydney and
Melbourne, from which city the newly-fledged intending purchaser had
recently been summoned. Permission had been reluctantly granted by
Mr. Stamford, who foresaw years of separation from the son and heir,
who had never cost him an anxious moment as to his conduct. The
affair was tearfully discussed by Mrs. Stamford and the girls, who
thought life would no longer be worth living at Windāhgil when
Hubert’s merry voice and unfailing good spirits were withdrawn.

“Why do people want to change and alter things—to go away and bring
sorrow and misery and destruction—no, I mean desolation—on those
they love?” demanded Linda. “And we are all so happy here! It seems
cruel of Hubert to take it into his head to go to Queensland—all
among blacks, and fever, and sunstroke, and everything.” Here she
got to the end of her list of probable disasters, and though
sensible that her climax was not effective, was fain to conclude,
“Don’t you think it’s too bad, mother?”

“We shall feel dear Hubert’s absence deeply, bitterly, I grant,”
said the fond mother; “but he is animated by the very natural desire
of all high-spirited young men to improve the fortunes of the
family, and to distinguish himself in a career which is open to
all.”

“But the danger, mother!” said Laura, in a low voice; “you remember
poor young Talbot, whom the blacks killed last month, and Mr.
Haldane, who died of fever. Suppose—oh! suppose—--”

“Suppose the house fell down and killed, us all,” said Mr. Stamford,
rather testily, for the purpose of hiding his own inward disquiet,
which, though not expressed, was as deeply felt as that of his wife
and daughters. “It’s no use talking in that way, as if a young man
had never gone out into the world before. Boys go to sea and into
the army every day of the year. People must make up their minds to
it. It is a grand opportunity, Mr. Hope says, and may not occur
again.”

“I shall hate Mr. Hope,” said Linda, “if he has induced Hubert to go
into this speculation along with some one no one knows, into a
country which half the people, it seems to me, never come back from.
But I suppose those mercantile men don’t care.”

“You mustn’t be unjust, Linda,” interposed Laura. “Whatever Mr. Hope
has done has been in Hubert’s interest, we may feel sure. He has
always been most friendly to the family. And you must remember that
Hubert has been lately always pining to go to Queensland, and
talking about wasting his life here in this old settled district.”

“What’s the use of being miserable if you can’t be unjust to some
one?” retorted Linda. “If you felt as deeply as I do, Laura, you
wouldn’t talk in that cold-blooded way. I can see the whole thing.
Mr. Hope and his company are anxious to establish a great station
property out in Queensland, or Kimberley, or King George’s Sound, or
wherever it is, and they have pitched upon poor Hubert as a likely
victim for the sacrifice. That’s the whole thing! They’re regular
Molochs, and Mr. Hope is the officiating High Priest—nothing else. I
wonder how he’d look with a garland of oak leaves, like the Druid in
_Norma_?” Here Linda’s feelings, brought to a climax by a smile
which she detected on Laura’s countenance at her _mélange_ of
metaphors, became too much for her, and pressing her handkerchief to
her eyes, she retreated to her bedroom.

All the high contracting parties having sent in unqualified assent,
it but remained for Mr. Hope to introduce the young men to each
other—the representatives of the Parent Land and that Greater
Britain which has now in the South and West attained such vast
proportions; also to reduce to writing the terms of an agreement by
which the two men bound themselves to work together for their joint
benefit as graziers, explorers, stock and station proprietors for
the fixed term of five years.

Mr. Delamere was to place to the credit of the new firm of Delamere
and Stamford the sum of ten thousand pounds, which would be amply
sufficient for the purchase of stock, the taking up, or even
securing at second-hand, the requisite areas of Crown lands in new
or partially settled country.

Hubert Stamford, on the other hand, “did agree and contract to
personally manage and conduct the details of the joint concern—to
superintend the management of stock, the hiring of station hands,
the purchase of stores, and whatever work, either of exploration,
travel, or management, might be found necessary, for which he was,
in consideration of such personal knowledge and experience of the
management of stock and stations by him acquired, to be placed and
held to be the possessor of one-third share of the said property and
of the profits of said stock and stations.”

These provisions and declarations were embodied in an agreement,
which was drawn up by the company’s solicitor and submitted by him
to Mr. Worthington for inspection and approval.

That gentleman, as instructed, wrote to Mr. Stamford, senior, who,
it would appear, made some subsequent communication to him, inasmuch
as Mr Hope received a letter signed Worthington, Wardell and Co.,
which briefly but clearly stated that his friend and client, Mr.
Stamford, of Windāhgil, approved generally of the terms of the
agreement entered into by his son and Mr. Delamere, and that he was
quite willing that he should enter into such an arrangement, and
that Mr. Hope, of the Austral Agency Company, had his full
confidence and trust. But that he desired his son to place a
proportionate sum of ready money to the credit of the firm, and not
to enter it wholly upon the outlay of another. And therefore that he
had placed in Mr. Worthington’s hands securities to the value of
five thousand pounds, which sum they were ready to pay over on Mr.
Hope’s order to that effect.

Upon the receipt of this letter, Mr. Hope at once proposed that the
share of the profits to which Mr. Hubert Stamford was entitled under
the agreement should be altered to one half, inasmuch as his
superior knowledge and experience would be in value to the interest
of the other moiety of the ten thousand pounds to be advanced by Mr.
Delamere, and would thus equalise matters. This was at once agreed
to, on the part of Mr. Delamere and the Melbourne manager of the
company acting in his interests, upon which the agreement was
“signed, sealed, and delivered.”

Nothing now remained but for Hubert to pay a farewell visit to
Windāhgil, for the purpose of settling up what personal business he
might have, to take leave of the family, and then to journey into a
far country after the fashion of the princes, prodigals, and younger
sons of historic ages.

Place and time being appointed for the newly-joined partners to meet
and take ship for their destination, Hubert Stamford commenced all
requisite preparation for a start homewards.

He had no further heart for the pleasures of Sydney—the ordinary
distractions of a young man palled upon him. He felt like a general
whose army is about to march for the imminent battle—like a soldier
picked for a forlorn hope, or an advanced guard. The meaner
pleasures revolted him. Balls and picnics, theatres and concerts,
were but the straws and _débris_ of life’s ocean. The argosy which
carried his fortunes was about to sail with canvas spread and
streamers flying. Would she return gold-laden, or would the cold
ocean engulf her as so many other fairer barks which, “youth at the
prow and pleasure at the helm,” had sailed away through the _ingens
aequor_, and returned nevermore? Was it to be so with him?

Might it be a proved success, a wider experience with the praise of
all men, the joyful tears and triumph of those who loved him? Or
that other thing? Who could tell? He could only resolve to do and to
dare worthily, whatever might befall, for their dear sakes.

Miss Dacre, with her father and brother, had left town for
Wantabalree, being anxious to be settled in their new abode. The
Colonel, distrusting more deeply day by day the wisdom of his
purchase, had become restless and uneasy; he wanted to see with his
own eyes how things went on, and to justify himself, if possible,
for the investment, at which more than one disinterested critic had
shaken his head. Willoughby Dacre, an ardent inexperienced
youngster, who thought Australian squatter life made up wholly of
galloping about on horseback, and lying under shady trees eating
tropical fruits, was also impatient to be in the thick of the
half-Arab life he pictured to himself.

Rosalind Dacre, though the chief doubter and dissentient, was yet
eager to see with her own eyes this land of promise, which was,
according to Hubert, to fail so woefully in performance, and also to
put in practice her own ideas of “the gentle life” as possible in
Australia; at the same time to comfort her father and aid in the
household management.

For all these reasons the Dacre family had departed; and Hubert,
calling at their hotel, found to his surprise and slight
dissatisfaction, that they had gone the day before, a note of the
Colonel’s alone remaining _en souvenir_, in which he thanked him for
his well-meant, valuable advice, and trusted they would meet in the
neighbourhood of their respective stations.

For some unexplained reason Hubert read this trivial note several
times, and then tearing it up in a reflective manner, walked slowly
towards his own hostelry.

“When do you think of leaving, Hubert?” said Mr. Hope, as they were
talking over districts and markets, land laws and tenures, railways
and syndicates, all more or less bearing on the great pastoral
central idea. “When shall you go home?”

“On Friday, I think. I am getting tired of town, and everything is
fully arranged.”

“Everything is settled that needs settling, and nothing more can be
done until you young men manage to get pretty far back, and make
your first deal in new country. It’s a gloriously exciting,
adventurous kind of life, this starting to take up new country. I
often wish I’d taken to it myself in youth, instead of this branch
of the business.”

“Living in town seems a pleasant life enough,” said Hubert. “You
have all sorts of things that we people in the bush have to do
without.”

“And we need them all,” said the elder man. “This office life is one
eternal grind, month after month, year after year. But I don’t wish
to complain. I suppose all men get ‘hypped’ sometimes.”

“I never do,” laughed Hubert; “the day’s never long enough for me;
but I suppose I soon should if I lived all the year round in town.
It’s being so much in the open air that saves one. But why don’t you
clear out to Windāhgil for a change? Come home with me. The governor
and my mother are always expecting you to send them word you’re
coming.”

“I wish to heaven I could,” said the man of the city, looking
enviously at Hubert’s cheery countenance and unworn features; “but I
can’t find the time at present. However, I promise to turn up at
Mooramah—isn’t that your railway town?—some time before Christmas. I
shall count the days till I can, I assure you.”

“I shall be away then, I am sorry to say,” said Hubert. “I should
like to have taken you all over the old place. There are one or two
decent views, and rides and drives no end. However, the girls and
the young brothers know them as well as I do; you must get them to
do the honours. Oh! I forgot, too—you can drive them over to the
Dacres’. But you mustn’t put it off too long. Still, they can’t be
ruined within a year or eighteen months, anyhow.”

“And perhaps not then,” said Mr. Hope, with a smile. “Friends might
intervene judiciously, you know. It won’t be Mr. Dealerson’s fault
if they pull through, however.”

“No, hang him! However, there must be Dealersons in the world, I
suppose. They act as a kind of foil to honest men, and serve as
transparencies to show roguery in all its glory. Well, good-bye till
then. We may meet before Delamere and I start for the ‘Never-Never’
country.”

                  *       *       *       *       *

When Hubert Stamford beheld his sisters and his younger brother, who
had driven to Mooramah to meet him, he felt more like a stranger and
pilgrim than he ever expected to feel in that familiar spot. He was
there with them, but not of them, as it were. He was to stay a month
or so at Windāhgil—only a month at the dear old place where he had
lived ever since he could remember anything; he was to go over all
the familiar scenes once more, and then—to leave it, certainly for
years, perhaps for ever. After the first warm greeting the girls
looked inquiringly at him; the tears came into Laura’s eyes. “Oh,
how happy we are to see you, our own dear Hubert; but to think you
are going away so soon nearly breaks my heart!” she said.

“He looks wonderfully well. Town life—not too much—always refines
people,” said Linda, with an air of tender criticism; “but I think
there’s a hard look about his eyes. I suppose it’s making up his
mind to this grand new speculation.”

“You see exactly the same Hubert Stamford that went away, you little
analysing duffer, but is it my fault that I have had to move with
the rest of the world? Do you want me to stay at home and become a
superior sort of ‘cockatoo,’ and are you and Laura—if it is to come
to that—prepared to remain at Windāhgil for the rest of your lives?”

“I wish I could,” groaned Laura; “but as you say, we must move with
the rest of the world. Still these separations are heart-breaking.
You needn’t mind us overmuch, dear; but we are women, remember, and
you must let us have our cry out. It does us good, and relieves the
overcharged heart.”

“Very well, I consent. But you must manage it all to-day. To-morrow
must be sunshine, and only blue sky appear till I depart. But
there’s a whole month or more yet. Think of that! We can be ever so
happy all that time. Now, to change the subject. Have you seen
anything of the Dacres?”

“That means Miss Dacre, I suppose,” said Linda. “Oh, yes; we went to
call almost directly we heard they were up. Said we thought they
might want something. That was how we described our curiosity.”

“And what do you think of her?”

“She’s a dear, sweet creature, and Laura and I have agreed that if
you don’t fall in love with her, your taste isn’t as good as we
believed it to be.”

“She’s very nice,” said Hubert, with society nonchalance; “but I’ve
got something else to do besides falling in love for the next three
or four years. Besides, she mightn’t condescend to a humble colonist
like me. But tell me, Laura, what was there about her that you were
struck with chiefly?”

“Several things,” said Laura, reflectively. “She is a high-caste,
cultured girl in every respect, though she is so fresh, and natural,
and plain in all her ways, that people who are always looking out
for the airs and graces of the Lady Clara Vere de Vere species might
be disappointed in her.”

“All that I can understand and generally agree with,” said Hubert.
“What next?”

“She is awfully energetic,” continued Laura. “Of course, there are
plenty of girls in this country that are, but she never seems to
have any notion of repose from the time she gets up, which is early,
till bed-time. She reads and writes and does her housekeeping, and
walks, and rides and drives, and what she calls visits the poor (oh,
there is quite a good story about that, which I must tell you!), all
with unvarying industry.”

“She is a newly imported broom,” said Hubert, “and naturally sweeps
with effectiveness. It will slow down a little with time. But it’s a
fault on the right side. Tell us the story, Laura dear.”



                              CHAPTER XIV


“Well,” said Laura, putting on a Scheherazade expression of
countenance, “it appears that Miss Dacre, having been used to be
good to the poor of the village near where they lived in England,
could not get on without them. Much to her surprise, she found them
scarce in the neighbourhood of Wantabalree. Mr. Dealerson did not
‘believe in’ poor people, and generally ‘fed out,’ ‘blocked,’ or
bought out small holders. At length, in one of her rides, she came
upon an old couple living in a miserable hut, the man feeble and
half-blind, both apparently destitute; their one little girl was
barefooted and in rags. They told a pitiful story of having been
deceived in the matter of a free selection—which, of course, she
couldn’t understand—and deserted by their children. Charmed by their
evident poverty and artless expressions of gratitude, she gave them
what silver she had, and promised them employment.”

“Her intention was good,” said Hubert. “I can guess the kind of
people they were; but it speaks well for her kindness of heart.”

“Nothing could be kinder, I am sure; but I grieve to say, she rushed
into a declamation (she confessed) about the hardness of colonists’
hearts—who would let so deserving a couple almost die of hunger in a
land of plenty.”

“As to that,” said Hubert, “very few people suffer from hunger in
Australia, except when they decline work. Even then, they manage to
live on their friends. How did the story end?”

“Well, she formed a plan for persuading these delightful poor to
migrate to Wantabalree, where they were to be fed and furnished with
light work. Fortunately for her peace of mind, when she told her
father and brother, they made inquiries among the neighbours. Then
they found out that the old man was one of the most artful and
successful sheep-stealers in the district, and had even been tried
for graver crimes. The money she gave him he invested in rum, under
the influence of which he beat his wife and turned his little
daughter out of doors.”

“And what effect had this discovery on her philanthropy, for of
course it was old Jimmy Doolan—a man the police have been trying to
get hold of for years—as slippery as a fox and as savage as a wolf?”

“She had to recant; to admit that perhaps, on the whole, the
characters of people were known and appreciated by those amongst
whom they lived. Still, she said there was a want of systematic
benevolence in the neighbourhood, and that she would rather be
deceived occasionally, than sink into a state of cold indifferentism
towards her fellow creatures.”

“It’s really quite pathetic,” said Hubert. “One feels drawn towards
a girl of such tendencies as if she were a nice child. It seems hard
that a few years of colonial experience should deprive her of such
tender illusions.”

“I don’t think anything will tone her down into anything
uninteresting, if you mean that,” said Linda; “she has too much high
principle and refinement.”

“She will learn to act judiciously in time, as mother does, for
instance,” said Laura. “She’s always bestowing father’s substance
upon some poor creature or other; but she finds out the right sort
of people, and the proper when and where.”

Before long a return visit occurred from Wantabalree, from which
place Willoughby Dacre drove his sister to Windāhgil about a week
after the conversation above recorded.

The brother and sister made their appearance in a vehicle of
unpretending appearance, being, indeed, no other than the
spring-cart which was “given in” ostentatiously by Mr. Dealerson,
along with furniture and other station requisites. Willoughby,
having managed to rig up leading harness, had accomplished a tandem
with two of the best-looking horses on the station, so that the
turn-out was not wholly plebeian.

Much mutual delight was expressed by the girls, and various
experiences interchanged which had occurred since their last
meeting. The young men went off together to put up the horses, and
took advantage of the opportunity to have a little sheep-talk.

“How are you getting on so far?” said Hubert. “Shaking down a bit, I
suppose. Does your father approve of bush life?”

“Oh, he finds himself most comfortable,” answered Willoughby. “He
has a snug morning room with a fire, and plenty of books and papers.
He says he never expected to enjoy himself so much in the bush. He
takes a great interest in the garden too. The fruit trees and vines
are really something to look at.”

“I don’t doubt it,” said Hubert. “The house and grounds, stabling
and out-offices are about the best in the district. Well, I hope
you’ll all live there many years to enjoy them.”

“I hope so too,” said Willoughby; “but excuse me if I say that you
don’t seem to expect it. Now, why is it that, as everything is so
good in its way, the sheep well-bred, everybody says, and looking so
well now, that you regard the investment as a bad one? You are not
alone in that opinion either, though the other neighbours don’t
speak so honestly.”

“My prophecy of evil may not come off, after all. This is an
uncertain country as to weather, and weather with us is everything.
But if the rain holds off, you’ll see what I mean. You have about
two-thirds too many sheep on the run. That is all.”

“What can we do?”

“Well, nothing just at present. In a general way, sell off surplus
stock as soon as you can do so profitably. But in a dry season
everybody wishes to sell, and few care to buy except at the lowest
prices. However, I’ll put you up to the likeliest dodges when the
time comes.”

“Thanks very much. I can’t help feeling anxious from time to time
when I think that our all is embarked in this undertaking. I thought
it was so safe and solid, and never dreamed that there could be such
a swindle worked when all looked fair outside. The governor was
rash, I must say. It’s a way of his. But we must fight our way out
of the scrape, now we’re in it.”

“That’s the only thing to be done, and not to lose heart. There are
always chances and changes with stock in Australia. Fortunes are
always to be made.”

“And to be lost, it seems. You are just going to invest in
Queensland, I hear. Isn’t that a long way off?”

“It’s never too far off if the country’s good,” said Hubert. “Runs
are cheap there now, but they are always rising in value. I intend
to send a lot of our Windāhgil sheep out there as soon as we get
settled.”

“If we hadn’t spent all our money,” said the young Englishman
regretfully, “we might have bought a run there too. However, it
can’t be helped, as we said before. I shall be glad to hear from you
when you get there.”

“Any information I can give shall be at your service, as well as all
possible assistance,” said Hubert, warmly. “Always depend upon that.
But it’s early in the day to talk about such things. We shall see
more clearly what to do as the occasion arises. And now, we had
better join the ladies.”

It was settled after a rather animated discussion that the visitors
were not to return to Wantabalree that night. In vain they pleaded
household tasks, station exigencies, the anxiety which Colonel Dacre
was certain to experience at their absence. All these reasons were
treated as mere excuses. There couldn’t be much housekeeping for one
person, especially as they had, for a wonder, a decent cook. The
station could wait, the less work done among the sheep at present,
the better; while it was extracted in cross-examination that Colonel
Dacre had told them that if they did not return, he should conclude
they had stayed at Windāhgil. So the truce was definitely arranged,
the horses turned into the river paddock, the young men went out for
a drive in Hubert’s buggy to inspect a dam “at the back,” concerning
which young Dacre had expressed some interest, while the three
girls, after a ramble in the garden, settled down to a good steady
afternoon’s needlework and an exhaustive discussion of bush life,
and Australian matters generally.

“What a famous, light-running, easy trap this is of yours!” said
Dacre, as they spun over the smooth, sandy bush track, Whalebone and
Whipcord, an exceptionally fast pair of horses, slipping along at
half-speed.

“Yes,” said Hubert. “It’s the best thing of the kind that’s made, I
believe. I bought this to take out with me to the new country. I
think it is economical to have a vehicle of this sort. There are
many bits of station work that a buggy comes in for, and you save
horseflesh. I wonder you don’t get one for your sister.”

“Well, we found the tax-cart at the station, and Rosalind’s such a
terrific economist that she wouldn’t hear of us buying a carriage,
as she calls it, for her. But I really must go in for a buggy, if
it’s only on the governor’s account. He’s not so young as he was,
and riding knocks him about, I can see. But how fast your horses
are! I didn’t think Australian horses went in for trotting much.
None of ours do.”

“Australian horses (and men and women too, as I think I have
mentioned before),” remarked Hubert with suspicious mildness,
“resemble those in other parts of the world, though the contrary is
asserted. Some are good, others bad. Some of them—the horses, I now
allude to—can trot. Others cannot. This pair, for instance”—(here he
tightened his reins, and in some imperceptible fashion gave a
signal, which they answered to by putting up their heads and
bursting into sixteen miles an hour)—“can do a mile in very fair
time for non-professionals.”

“So I see,” replied the young Englishman. “I wish I was not so hasty
in forming impressions; however, I shall be cured of that in time.
But it is awfully trying to hold your tongue when everything is new
and exciting, and to talk cautiously is foreign to the Dacre
nature.”

“‘_Experientia_ does it,’ as we used to say at school,” laughed
Hubert. “You’ll be chaffing new arrivals in a couple of years
yourself. The regulation period is about that time, and I don’t
think you’ll take so long as some people.”

“That’s a compliment to my general intelligence,” said Dacre. “I
suppose I ought to feel grateful. But one can’t help a slight
feeling of soreness, you know, that after being regularly educated
for a colonial life, as I was, and coached in all the necessary
carpentering, blacksmithing, agriculture, and so on, I should find
myself so utterly ignorant and helpless here.”

“Come, come,” said Hubert; “you do yourself injustice. It won’t take
more than a year to make a smart bushman of you, I can see. But I
suppose it’s something like going into a strange country to hunt.
You remember that when Mr. Sawyer went to the Shires he felt under a
disadvantage at first.”

“Yes, but you wouldn’t, or M’Intosh, or any of the other fellows
I’ve seen; that’s what makes me so savage with myself. You’d know
your way about; people wouldn’t discover, unless you told them, that
you had lived in England all your days, while we fellows, who came
out here certainly thinking ourselves as good all round as any one
we were likely to find, are always exposing our ignorance, getting
laughed at, or taken in, and are marked for immigrants and tyros as
far as we can be seen.”

“I observe your point, and it is a little aggravating,” replied
Hubert. “But after all, it is a compliment to our mother country
that we make it our business from childhood to know all about her
history and traditions, manners and customs, from a thousand
accurate chronicles. Our usages, modelled upon hers and religiously
handed down by our parents, are identical, or as nearly so as we can
make them. But our country and our trifling yet marked departures
from English standards have found few close observers, accurate
descriptions, and fewer narrators still. There is hardly any way of
getting acquainted with us, except by actual experience.”

“It looks like it,” assented his friend, reluctantly; “but I mourn
over the fond illusions Rosalind and I are doomed to lose before we
complete our apprenticeship. Hope we may acquire others not less
satisfactory. The outlook at Wantabalree at present might be
brighter too, if what you told my father comes to pass.”

“It may not happen after all, or it may be parried and averted. All
manner of chances may arise in your interest. So do not _think_ of
desponding,” said Hubert. “One of the special characteristics of
Australians is, that they _never despair_.”

“Never know when they are beat, in fact,” said Dacre, with a
returning smile. “Well that is a genuine English trait at any rate,
so I must support the credit of my country.”

                  *       *       *       *       *

The dam was inspected and the principle of the “by-wash” explained
to Dacre, who showed an aptitude and readiness to comprehend the
necessary detail which favourably impressed Hubert.

The free horses pulled more on the homeward track than coming out,
and elicited high commendation.

“They certainly are superb goers, and this is the poetry of motion,”
Dacre exclaimed, as, sending out their eight legs as if they
belonged to one horse, the well-matched pair made the light, yet
strong vehicle spin over the level road with an ease and velocity
which no two-wheeled trap ever approached. “I shall be unhappy till
I set up a buggy and a pair of trotters—all the good resolutions to
spend nothing that could be helped made at the beginning of the
month notwithstanding.”

“It’s false economy to go without a buggy,” said Hubert. “Tell your
father I said so. And that is easily demonstrable. It saves
horse-flesh, enables you to carry feed in a dry season, and has
other useful and agreeable qualities.”

The tea, for which they were just in time to dress, was an
agreeable, not to say hilarious, meal. The Miss Stamfords, it would
seem, had been admitting their visitor into all kinds of occult
mysteries of domestic management. How they arranged when they were
short of a servant, without a cook or a housemaid, or indeed, as
occasionally happened, though not for any protracted period, when
they had no servant at all.

Miss Dacre was astonished to find what a complete and practical
knowledge these soft-appearing, graceful damsels displayed with many
branches of household lore, and how many hints they were able to
offer for her acceptance, all of which tended to lighten the labours
of bush housekeeping, which she had already found burdensome.

From Mrs. Stamford, on opening the relief question, it was
discovered that she had various humble friends and pensioners, all
of whom she helped, after a fashion which encouraged them to be
industrious and self-supporting; others again received advice in the
management of their families, the treatment of their children, the
choice of trades for their sons, and of service for their daughters.
In a number of humble homes, and by all the neighbouring settlers,
this gentle, low-voiced woman was regarded as the _châtelaine_ of
the manor, the good angel of the neighbourhood, the personage to
whom all deferred, whose virtues all imitated at a distance, and
whom to disappoint or to pain was a matter more deeply regretted
than the actual shortcoming which had led to reproof.

And all this work had been done—this sensible system of true
Christian benevolence and aid was in full flow and operation—without
one word being said by the agents themselves which gave a hint of
the energy, contrivance, and self-denial manifestly necessary for
such results. All things were done silently, unobtrusively; no one
spoke of them, or seemed to think them other than matters of course.

This was a phase of colonial life which struck the eager critic of
the new land with something like dismay. Was it possible in this
strange country that there might be yet other instances of human
love and charity efficiently performed with equal thoroughness and
absence of demonstration? If so, had she not been making herself
somewhat ridiculous in assuming hurriedly that there were so many
niches in Australian temples sacred to heroic effort which were
unfilled before she arrived.

In spite of the slight feeling of soreness which the knowledge
caused her, the general influence of the symposium, separated as she
had been for some weeks from companions of her own sex and social
standing, was unusually exhilarating. Her naturally genial
temperament led her, therefore, to laugh secretly at her own
miscalculation and discomfiture as a very good and choice joke
indeed.

However, she was less explanatory than her brother had been,
preferring inferential admission, after the manner of her sex. This
concession to the wisdom of the colonists exhibited itself in
unaffected good humour and affectionate cordiality towards her
comparatively recent friends.

She joined cheerily in all the amusements and occupations of the
evening. She sang and played, praising the performances of the
Stamford girls and the new songs they had brought back with them
from the metropolis. She talked flowers and greenhouse with her
hostess, and had a slight political tilt with Mr. Stamford. In all
these subjects she exhibited sound teaching as well as a careful
theoretical training. Nothing could be more modest and less
assertive than her general manner, at the same time that a wider
range of thought, consequent upon European travel and extended
social experience, was unconsciously apparent. When the Windāhgil
family retired for the night, Mr. Stamford expressed his opinion to
his wife, in the sanctity of the matrimonial chamber, that he had
never met a finer girl in his life before, and that he was delighted
that they should have such a neighbour; while Hubert, in the
smoking-room, whither he had retired with his young friend at a late
period of the evening, _may have_ meditated upon the command “to
love thy neighbour as thyself,” but forbore to commit himself by
unguarded expression.

On the next day, after a mirthful and consolatory breakfast—a trifle
later than usual, inasmuch as the three maidens sat talking so late
that the morning slumbers were prolonged—the new neighbours
departed. Fresh expressions of approval and surprise were exhibited
by this English guest at the home-baked bread, the butter, the
honey, the incomparable home-cured bacon, and other triumphs of
domestic economy.

“I have enjoyed myself as I never expected to do in the bush,” she
said; “I thought there would be nothing but devotion to ‘duty, stern
daughter of the voice of God.’ I never dreamed that so much of the
poetry of life was attainable. You have taught me a lesson” (this
was in confidence to Laura at parting) “for which I shall be all the
better henceforth. I am not too old or too conceited to learn, at
any rate.”

“You have nothing very much to learn,” replied Laura; “we may be
mutually advantageous to one another, that’s all, if we make an
agreement to put as much friendship and as little ceremony into our
intercourse as possible. It will not be long before we come over to
stay a night at Wantabalree, before poor Hubert starts for
Queensland, I grieve to say, and then you must comfort us in our
loneliness.”

“Papa will be quite charmed to see you again. If you had heard all
the fine things he said about you and Linda, you would have thought
he was looking out for a step-mamma for me. But he is purely
theoretical in that department, I am thankful to say, and now good
bye, and _au revoir_!”

The promised visit was paid, and a renewal of friendship and good
offices ratified, while the days passed on and the period of
Hubert’s stay with his family drew near to a close. The
long-expected, long-dreaded day arrived for his departure to the
land of adventure, and, alas! of danger—it could not be concealed.

All preparations for the momentous event were at length completed,
and once more the family assembled at the railway terminus at
Mooramah to bid farewell to the son and brother—the mainstay, the
hope of Windāhgil. Deep and unaffected was the grief, although
outward manifestations were heroically suppressed.

The warning bell sounded, the last adieux were said, and, as the
train moved off, relentless, irrevocable as fate—the fair summer day
gloomed, while the family party drove sadly back to their home, from
which the sunshine seemed to have been suddenly withdrawn.

Such are the partings in this world of chequered joy and sorrow—of
light and shadow. What prayers were that night offered up to the
All-wise Dispenser of events for the safety, the success, the
return—ah, me!—of the absent wayfarer—for him might the fervid
sunbeams of the inner deserts—be tempered—for him might the fierce
denizens of the wild be placated—for him might the terrible
uncertainty of flood and field be guided for good! The sisters wept
themselves to sleep in each other’s arms, while the mother’s face
was sad with unuttered grief, and the father’s brow grave for many a
day after this long-remembered parting.

But Time, the healer, brought to them, as to others, the successive
stages of calm resignation, of renewed hope. The post brought
tidings of a safely concluded voyage, of accomplished land travel.
At longer intervals, of promising investment, of successful
exploration, of permanent settlement in the land of promise, of the
occupation of pastures new in a region richly gifted by nature, and
needing but the gradual advance of civilisation to be promoted to a
profitable and acknowledged status.

Lastly, a despatch arrived of an eminently satisfactory nature, from
Mr. Barrington Hope, confirming the latest advices from “the
wandering heir.” “Mr. Hubert Stamford had more than justified all
the expectations formed of his energy and business aptitude. He had
purchased, at a comparatively small outlay, a lightly-stocked and
very extensive station upon the border of the settled country.
Leaving Mr. Delamere and a manager of proved ability in charge, he
had pushed on, and after a toilsome journey, happily accomplished
without accident or loss, had discovered and taken up, under the
Queensland regulations, which are most favourable to pioneers, an
immense tract of well-watered, pastoral country of the best quality.
They had received from their correspondents the highest commendation
of the value of the property now secured and registered in the name
of Delamere and Stamford. Windāhgil Downs was a proverb in the
mouths of the pioneer squatters of the colony, and the Laura and
Linda rivers were duly marked upon the official map at the
Surveyor-General’s office as permanent and important watercourses.

“The Austral Agency Company had the fullest confidence in the
prospects of the firm, and any reasonable amount of capital would be
forthcoming for necessary expenses in stocking up and legally
occupying the magnificent tract of pastoral country referred to.”

A private letter accompanied this formally-worded official
communication, informing Mr. and Mrs. Stamford that the writer
proposed to avail himself of their kind invitation to visit
Windāhgil at Christmas, when he would be enabled to utilise a
long-promised leave of absence for a few weeks.

It may be imagined, but can with difficulty be even sketched
faintly, with what feelings of joy and gratitude this precious
intelligence was received at Windāhgil; the happiness, too deep for
words, of the parents; the wild, ecstatic triumph of the sisters;
the elation of the servants and station hands, which communicated
itself to the inhabitants of the surrounding sub-district, all of
whom were included in the general glory of the event and unfeignedly
happy at the news of Hubert’s brilliant success.

“He deserves it all. I never thought but he’d come to good, and show
’em all the way if he got a chance,” was the general comment of the
humbler partisans. “He was always the poor man’s friend, was Master
Hubert; and now he’s going to be at the top of the tree, and it’s
where he ought to be. He’s a good sort, and always was. There wasn’t
a young man within a day’s ride of Mooramah as was fit to be named
in the same day with him.”

“Oh! Laura, isn’t it splendid, delicious, divine?” exclaimed Linda,
dancing round her sister and mother with inexpressible delight. (Mr.
Stamford had retired to compose his feelings in the garden.) “Oh!
dear, this world’s a splendid place of abode, after all, though I’ve
had terrible doubts lately. Wasn’t it fortunate we had strength of
mind to let dear, darling Hubert go, though it nearly broke our
hearts? I was certain some of my heart-strings cracked—really I
was—but now I feel better than ever, quite _young_, indeed! Oh! how
grateful we ought to be!”

“You were not the only one who suffered, were you, dear?” said
Laura, looking dreamily into the distance, beyond the gleaming
river, now indeed reduced to nearly its old dimensions. “Our prayer
has been answered. Some day we shall see our hero returning
‘bringing his sheaves with him.’ Oh! happy day! Mother, what shall
we do to relieve our feelings? I feel as if I could not bear it
unless we did something.”

“Suppose we drive over to Wantabalree?” suggested Linda. “Father
always enjoys a chat with the Colonel, and that dear, good Rosalind
is always so nice and sympathising about Hubert. I wonder if she
cares for him the _least little_ bit? But she’d die before she let
anybody know, and Hubert was so disagreeable, he refused to give me
the least hint. What do you think, mother?”

“I think nothing at all, my dear child. In all these matters, it is
the wisest course neither to think nor to speak prematurely. But I
daresay your father would drive us over, if we asked him, and we
could stay a night there. As you say, a chat with the Colonel always
does him good.”



                               CHAPTER XV


So at Windāhgil and Wantabalree the calm, uneventful bush life went
on as usual. That life so peaceful, so wholesome for the spirit, so
chiefly free from the sharp cares and anxieties of city
existence—where the eye is refreshed daily with nature pictures, at
once grand and consoling. The early morn, so fair and fresh, when
the sun first glorifies the pale mists of dawn, changing all the
Orient with magic suddenness to opaline hues and golden flame. The
green gloom, the august solitude of the boundless forest, the
glowing sunshine which pierces even its inmost recesses at midday;
the wavering shadows, born of the inconstant breeze; the tender eve
when a solemn hush falls alike on stream and valley, on
mountain-side or wildwood glade, and all the ancient majesty of
night awes the senses. For the Windāhgil family, the placid days
came and went, lightened, as of old, by the regularity of customary
home duties, by books and music, by walks along the rippling river,
by rides and drives through the winding forest paths. Occasional
expeditions to Wantabalree made salutary change for all. As the
summer months wore on—as the days lengthened, and the mid-day heat
became intense; as the fiercer sun rays commenced to wither the bush
herbage of the river meadows, the many-hued wild flowers of heath
and hill; as the watercourses, fed by spring showers, commenced to
trickle faintly—there was a tendency to complain of the tyrant
Summer, and yet to long for the Christmas-tide as a period of mirth
and enjoyment—this year invested with a special charm.

For had not a telegram from some unknown, unknowable place, and
costing quite a small fortune, arrived, which stated that Hubert,
the _bien aimé_, would return at Christmas—actually return? “Like
the prodigal,” as Linda said, “only that it was the reverse in
everything except the coincidence of its being ‘from a far
country.’”

“The coincidence being so very slight, Linda,” said her mother,
“perhaps it would have been as well to refrain from Scriptural
parallel altogether. Don’t you think so, Miss Dacre? I had given up
expecting him after his last letter, in which he said there were
insuperable difficulties in the way.”

“He has managed to surmount the insuperable apparently,” said Linda.
“Hubert always was a wonderful boy for accomplishing things just at
the last moment. I don’t think I ever knew him beaten by anything he
made up his mind to do, though he used to leave things rather too
long.”

“That is one of Hubert’s worst points—or rather, most pronounced
weaknesses,” said Laura; “he won’t be wise in time except on what he
thinks are occasions of importance. It seems a defect with people of
energy and resource. For instance, I can’t imagine Hubert saying he
will cross a river or accomplish a journey and failing to carry out
his purpose, whatever happened. He is one of those people who seem
made for difficulties.”

“But difficulties which come upon the unprepared are apt to be
disastrous,” said Miss Dacre; “for my part, I am strongly in favour
of taking every imaginable precaution before the time of need.”

“The principle is good, but it doesn’t apply to Hubert,” said Linda,
still unconvinced. “Difficulties and impossibilities only stimulate
his resources, which are innumerable. When another man would lie
down and die, he would be quite in his element, ordering, inventing,
combining, and finally pulling through triumphantly.”

“It must be interesting to watch such a _tour de force_,” said Miss
Dacre; “but I prefer the generalship which surveys the field, and
places the battle in advance. Hit or miss, conquerors find their
Moscow some day.”

“Hubert has made a glorious campaign this time,” said Laura. “What a
day of days it will be when he shows his brown face at Mooramah
again! Doesn’t it seem an age since he went away, Rosalind?”

“I am sure papa and Willoughby will be very glad to see him again,”
said she. “I know they wish to have his advice about the sheep and
the season. They are getting quite anxious.”

                  *       *       *       *       *

No! The engine did not break down. The steamer with the Chinese
name, from the far north, the _Ly-wang-foo_, did not founder or take
fire. The floods did not sweep away the railway bridges. There was
not even an earthquake. All these phenomena and abnormal occurrences
were, in Linda’s opinion, almost certain to happen because Hubert
was coming home to spend Christmas with the family, and envious Fate
would be certain to interfere. Everything had gone so prosperously
hitherto that Destiny must be propitiated by sacrifice. Mr.
Barrington Hope was coming up also, as he had looked forward to a
holiday—of course _he_ would be disappointed, and so on.

Wonderful to relate, a few days before Christmas, again the family
trap was in requisition, driven by one of the boys.

The door of the first-class carriage opened, and a bronzed,
Indian-officer-looking man stepped out. The boys at first did not
know him. But when a tall, broad-shouldered gentleman, who followed
him, proposed to send a porter for their luggage, the younger boy
shouted out—“Why, it’s Hubert! Hubert! What a lark! We didn’t know
him. Why you _have_ changed! You’re ever so much thinner, and your
eyes are larger, and your face browner. What have you done to
yourself? We’ve come for you and Mr. Hope. Is this him?”

“Yes, this is he, Master Maurice. Your grammar appears to have stood
still, though you have grown such a big fellow. See about the
luggage, and have it put in the buggy; it will hold it all, unless
it has got smaller. Well, how are mother and father and Laura, and
Linda, and Waterking, and everybody? Why didn’t they come?”

“Well—they thought they’d be hugging you before all the people, and
they’d better wait and do it at home. So they sent me and Val with
the buggy. You’d better drive.”

“That is my intention, Maurice. I prefer to drive, though I know you
can handle the reins. But tell me about Windāhgil. What is the grass
like? Had much rain?”

“Only enough for sprinkling the garden these three months. I heard
old Jerry, the shepherd, tell Paddy Nolan that he thought it was
going to set in dry—the west wind was always blowing. _We’ve_ lots
of feed yet.”

“Old Jerry is a good judge of the weather at Mooramah; he’s been
watching it these fifty years. And how are they at Wantabalree?”

“Very poor, almost starving.”

“What?” said Hubert. And then laughing at the boy’s strictly
pastoral ideas, he said—“You mean the sheep in the paddocks, I
suppose.”

“Yes, of course; they’re getting as bare as your hand. What they’ll
do with all those sheep in another month or two nobody knows. Half
of ’em’ll die before winter.”

“You seem to take a practical view of things, Maurice,” said Mr.
Hope. “Are matters as bad as all that?”

“Well, I’m about a good deal, and I can’t help seeing. It’s a pity,
too; they’re so nice, all of them.”

                  *       *       *       *       *

Hubert at home again! After all the doubts, fears, delays. Maurice
had not exaggerated the amount of hugging, as he disrespectfully
expressed it, which the returning hero had to undergo, and which
would probably have created a stoppage on Mooramah platform. Mr.
Hope stood by with a tolerant air, and even made some light remark
to Miss Dacre as to their being left out of the extremely warm
greetings which prevailed. A very short time, however, was suffered
to elapse before all due apologies were made to their guests, and
the cordiality of Laura’s manner perhaps caused Barrington Hope to
overlook any overweening measure of love bestowed upon the
long-absent brother.

“How her eyes sparkled, how her cheek glowed, how she seemed to
devour the young fellow with her eyes!” he said to himself. And he
argued favourably, knowing something of womankind, of the probable
devotion to her husband should she ever condescend to endow mortal
man with that supreme and sacred title.

It was in vain to expect much general conversation that day. If the
visitors had been less sympathetic persons they might easily have
been aggrieved at the predominance of Hubert’s personal adventures,
opinions and experiences in all subsequent intercourse.

For the moment, everybody thought him much altered and changed,
wasted even in frame, sunburned, blackened by exposure, but, on the
whole, improved. There was a determination in his expression which
had not so habitually marked his features before—a look as of a man
who has confronted the grim hazards of the waste—who has dared the
odds which in the desert land of the savage are arrayed against him;
dared them only to conquer. It was the face of the conscript after
the campaign and the battle-field. If there was less than the old
measure of schoolboy gaiety and frolicsome spirits, there was an
added infusion of the dignity of the man.

Then his adventures. He must relate some of them. Even Miss Dacre
joined in this request. Like the knife-grinder, “story he had none
to tell,” but could not escape owning to having been laid up in a
bark hut with fever and ague, that had pulled him down so; nearly
drowned in crossing a flooded river; had a brush with the blacks,
who rose up from the tall grass all round him; horse speared under
him, and so on. All this, though Hubert made light of it with
characteristic modesty, seemed to his hearers of the nature of
thrilling and exciting romance.

“Hubert must feel like a troubadour of the Middle Ages,” said Linda,
“reciting before the lady of the castle and her maidens. It must
have been an awful temptation to improvise situations, and I dare
say they did. Fancy if we had no books, and were dependent entirely
upon wandering minstrels!”

“It mightn’t be altogether such a bad thing, Miss Linda,” said
Barrington Hope. “A handsome young troubadour would be more
entertaining than a dry book, or even an indifferent novel.”

“It wouldn’t be such a bad trade for the unemployed,” said Laura;
“but I suspect neither their manners nor their education would be
found suitable.”

“Some of the swagmen in Queensland would fill the requirements so
far,” said Hubert. “I have seen more than one ‘honourable’ on the
tramp. Only it would not do to trust them too near the sideboard.”

“What a pathetic picture,” said Miss Dacre; “fancy the son of a peer
trudging along the road, with his knapsack on his back, actually
begging from door to door!”

“It is not regarded as begging in outside country,” said Hubert. “It
is the recognised mode of locomotion for labourers and artisans.”

“And can they not procure steady employment?” said Miss Dacre, in a
tone of deep anxiety. “Surely it only needs some one to take an
interest in them, and give them good advice. Now, don’t smile in
that provoking way, Mr. Stamford, or I shall think you have brought
back unimpaired one of your least amiable traits.”

“Forgive me, Miss Dacre, for presuming on my part to hint that you
do not appear to be cured of what I supposed you would have learned
by this time to distrust—an unlimited trust in your less favoured
fellow creatures. The men of whom I speak live at free quarters when
they travel, are occasionally received on equal terms, and are paid,
when they condescend to do work, at the ordinary high rate of wages,
viz., from thirty shillings to two pounds per week, with board and
lodging.”

“And are they not encouraged to save this? They could soon put by
quite a small fortune.”

“Their misfortune is that they never _do_ save. They invariably
gamble or drink—generally the latter—till all is gone. Once lapsed,
they follow the habits of the uneducated working man with curious
fidelity.”

“What a terrible condition! What a terrible country where such
things can take place!”

“On the contrary; it is the best land attainable by the confirmed
prodigal. In England, I take it, the dissipated, improvident men of
their order go rapidly and thoroughly to the bad, passing swiftly
out of knowledge. Here they have intervals of wholesome labour and
compulsory sobriety, which recruit the constitution and give them
opportunity for repentance, if they ever _do_ repent.”

While this conversation was proceeding, Mr. Stamford and Barrington
Hope had been having a quiet semi-business talk, and this being
concluded, Miss Dacre was persuaded to open the piano, after which
Mr. Hope gave them some of the latest _Parsifal_ morceaux fresh from
Bayreuth, where he had a musical correspondent, having spent there
some of the days of his youth. Music now absorbed all attention for
the rest of the evening, everybody being more or less of an amateur;
and even Hubert showing that he had not been wholly without the
region of sweet sounds by bringing back and displaying two new
songs.

“Who played the accompaniments for you, Hubert?” said Linda.
“Somebody did, or you couldn’t have learnt them so well.”

“Do you suppose there are no ladies in the ‘Never-Never’ country?”
said he. “Quite a mistake. People of culture abound.”

The next day was adjudged by common consent to be spent at
Wantabalree. Miss Dacre was anxious to get home, and would by no
means consent to stay another day at Windāhgil. Mr. Hope thought he
would like to see Wantabalree, of which celebrated station he had
heard so much, and to pay his respects to the Colonel. So it was
arranged that Hubert should drive Miss Dacre and Linda, while Laura
went under Mr. Hope’s guidance in the Windāhgil trap. Mr. and Mrs.
Stamford elected to stay at home to take care of the house, and talk
quietly over Hubert’s return, personal appearance, prospects, and
generally interesting belongings.

Arrived at Wantabalree, the Colonel met them with his usual
courteous and hospitable manner. He congratulated Hubert on his safe
return from Queensland, and hoped he had not taken up all the good
country, as it seemed to him that other people would have to
migrate, if the season did not improve.

“Not for another year or two, Colonel, at any rate,” said Hubert,
cheerily; “you’ve plenty of water here, and Willoughby must do a
little ‘travelling’; anything’s better than throwing up the sponge.”

“I see little else for it,” said the Colonel, who had come to wear
an anxious expression. Miss Dacre grew grave as she marked her
father’s face, but she controlled herself with an effort, as it
seemed to Hubert, and telling Linda to go into the drawing-room and
admire her flowers, followed her guests. The men remained outside
and lounged into the stable yard, where the horses and traps were
being arranged, looking about them, and chatting on indifferent
subjects before going to the house.

“What a pretty situation you have here!” said Hope. “The
accomplished Mr. Dealerson, of whom I have heard so much, must have
been a man of taste. How picturesquely the creek winds round the
point near that splendid willow; the elevation is just sufficient,
and the flat seems made on purpose for a few fields and the
fruit-garden. The view of the distant mountain-range completes the
landscape. Capital stabling too.”

“Oh! confound him!” growled Willoughby; “he was sharp enough to see
that a smart homestead like this was just the thing to catch
‘new-chum’ buyers. It’s not bad in its way, but I hate the whole
thing so, when I think of the price we shall have to pay for it,
that I could burn the house down with pleasure.”

“I don’t know so much about that,” said Hope; “it doesn’t do to be
hasty in realising in stock matters any more than in purchasing. You
and Hubert had better have a good talk over accounts before I leave,
and if he can suggest anything, perhaps we may manage to tide over
for a while. He’s quite a rising man of business, I assure you.”

“I wish to heaven the governor had remained in Sydney with my
sister, and sent me out to Queensland with him,” said the young man;
“but it’s too late to think of that now. We must make the best of
it. But I won’t stand grumbling here all day, Mr. Hope. Come in and
we’ll see if there’s any lunch to be had. ‘Sufficient for the day,’
and so on?”

Hubert had found his way into the drawing-room before this colloquy
had ended, and was looking over a collection of Venetian photographs
which Miss Dacre had collected during their last visit to that city
of the sea.

“I wonder if I shall ever see the Lion of St. Mark again?” she said.
“I feel as if we were in another planet.”

“It is difficult to say where we shall all be in a few years’ time,“
said Hubert. ”_I_ am not going to stay here all my life. But you
won’t run away from Australia just yet, Miss Dacre?”

“I should think not,” she replied, cheerfully; “matters don’t look
like it at present. The doubt in my mind is whether we shall ever be
able to leave it. I don’t say that I am dissatisfied, but I should
like to see the Old World again before I die.”

“When Willoughby has made his fortune, or other things come to pass,
you will be able to go home and do all sorts of fascinating travel,”
said Hubert. “We must look forward.”

“I feel certain you are not laughing at me, Mr. Stamford,” she said,
fixing her eyes upon him with a wistful expression; “but if I did
not know you so well I should suspect it.”

“Nothing, of course, is farther from my thoughts,” said the young
man, meeting the gaze with equal directness; “but I really see no
reason to doubt your seeing Europe within the next five years, so
many changes take place in this Australian world of ours.”

“Hardly such a change as that,” she replied, smiling apparently at
the absurdity of the idea; “and now I think I hear the luncheon
bell. You must have thought I meant to starve you all.”

That no intention of this kind had actuated the fair hostess was
made apparent as they were ushered into the dining-room, a large and
handsome apartment wherein the furniture and appointments were in
keeping with the general plan of the house. Everybody was in capital
spirits; youth and hope were in the ascendant in the majority of the
party, and as their conversation became general, everybody seemed as
joyous as if Wantabalree were the best paying and the most fortunate
station in the district.

“What a lovely place this is altogether!” said Linda. “Mr. Dealerson
must have had some good in him after all. If father and Hubert had
not been so prejudiced against him, he might have married and
settled in the district. I believe he’s not so bad-looking.”

“I should never have come to see you, for one,” said Hubert, “if you
had been the lucky girl that carried off such a prize. But I should
like to have condemned him to work out this place, with its present
stock, in a dry season; that would have been a truly appropriate
punishment for his iniquities. The ancients used to think of fitting
fellows in another world in their own line. But this savours of
shop. Willoughby, did you get any snipe this spring?”

“Made two or three capital bags, but they went off as soon as the
weather got dry. Hares are getting plentiful too, and I was going to
get up a couple of greyhounds, but all that sort of thing’s knocked
on the head now.”

“Oh! nonsense; you mustn’t give up your shooting. ‘Never allow your
business to interfere with your pleasure’; we have little enough
recreation in Australia. You should have seen the brown quail in the
Mitchell grass in our new country. I used to put up bevies of them
looking like partridges. I must take some setters up next time.”

“Isn’t the heat very dreadful up there?” inquired Miss Dacre.

“Rather tropical,” said Hubert; “but there is a freshness in the air
that carries you through. The mosquitoes and sandflies, are perhaps
the worst evils. But with a good pisé house, which you could shut up
and keep cool, they might be greatly reduced.”

“Then the blacks; they seem nearly as bad as the North American
Indians?”

“Not quite. I suspect ‘Sitting Bull’ or ‘Red Cloud’ would have given
us a deal more trouble. Not but what we have to be careful. The best
way, I find, is to treat them with perfect justice, to keep your
word with them for good or evil. They learn to respect you in the
end. After a while we shall have no trouble with them.”

During the afternoon, which was devoted to nothing in particular, a
very agreeable arrangement which leaves guests at liberty to amuse
themselves as they feel inclined, Hubert found himself in Miss
Dacre’s company at the end of the lower walk of the orchard which
followed the winding bank of the creek.

The bank was high at this particular spot, having been partially
worn away by flood waters, leaving a wide, low shore at the opposite
side. A deep pool had been formed, which now gleamed and sparkled in
the lowered sun rays. A grand weeping-willow, self-planted, perhaps,
in the earliest days of the occupation of the station, shaded it
with trailing green streamers.

“Wantabalree is certainly the show station of the district,” said
Hubert. “You were fortunate in some respects in having so pleasant a
home in which to make your first Australian experiences.”

“I have been very happy here,” said she; “but that will make it all
the more painful to leave, as I fear we shall be obliged to do at no
distant period. I do not so much care for my own sake, but it will
be discouraging to Willoughby, and my father is certain to feel the
change more than any of us.”

“Matters look bad, and we are going to have another dry season, I
believe,” replied Hubert. “I don’t like these westerly winds, and
clouds coming up without rain. Still there is hope.”

“But had we not a drought two years before—just before my father
made this purchase?”

“Quite true, but of late years, unfortunately, that has been no
reason why another should not follow in quick succession. It is
rather unfair of _Madre Natura_, but there is no help for it.”

“And what shall you do at Windāhgil, for I suppose we shall all be
in the same boat?”

“I shall persuade my father to start every sheep he has, with the
exception of the best flock, for my new country. The Wantabalree
sheep had better take the road too. I must have a talk to
Willoughby.”

“Oh, I do so wish you would, Mr. Stamford. I am sure he and papa are
growing very troubled about our prospects. Willoughby and I can bear
all that may come, but it will be a terrible blow to poor papa.”

“Miss Dacre, if you will permit me to confide in you—I have been
concocting a little plot. If carried out it may—I say only it
may—perhaps serve to improve the aspect of things. If you thought
the Colonel would like to consult with me and Willoughby about the
coming difficulty, I should be very glad to make the attempt.”

“Nothing would give my father more pleasure, and, indeed, tend to
relieve his mind. I feel certain he has been anxious to consult you,
Mr. Stamford, but hardly likes to begin the subject.”

“We must have a council of war then, which will include Mr.
Barrington Hope. He is a tower of strength, as I know by experience,
and it’s a piece of luck his being here now.”

“We should be grateful to you all the days of our lives, you may be
sure, whatever happens, for the interest you have always shown in
our welfare. If your advice had been taken in the first instance,
all would have been well.” And here the young lady looked at Hubert
with such an approving expression of countenance, that he felt as if
he could throw up the new country and devote himself to the
Sisyphean task of getting Wantabalree out of debt, if only she would
promise to repay him by an occasional smile such as this one, the
memory of which he felt certain would haunt him for an indefinite
period.

“I can’t, of course, guarantee success, but I think I see my way
towards lightening the ship and getting steerage way on her.” This
nautical simile had probably been derived from his late maritime
experiences, and was, perhaps, not altogether appropriate; but Miss
Dacre was evidently not by any means in a critical frame of mind,
for she again looked approvingly at him, and then led the way to the
verandah, where Laura and Willoughby, Mr. Hope and Linda, were
apparently having such an animated conversation that they seemed to
be trying who could make the most noise.

The principal contention was whether a town or country life was the
more wholesome and enjoyable. Laura and Willoughby were in favour of
rural felicity, while Linda and Mr. Hope brought all the arguments
they could think of in favour of cities—greater stimulation of the
intellect, removal of prejudice, leaning towards altruism; in fact,
higher general development of the individual. When Miss Dacre
arrived, she, being appealed to, in the capacity of referee,
unhesitatingly gave her decision in favour of a country life,
stating her arguments so clearly that she completely turned the
scale, besides causing Hubert the keenest enjoyment by, as he
supposed, thus laying bare her own predilections.

After this contest of wits the Colonel appeared on the scene, having
returned from his usual afternoon’s ride; and Hubert, with some
address, managed to interest him in a discussion on station
management, and the probable profits of agriculture, listening with
deference to his senior’s ideas and suggestions.



                              CHAPTER XVI


Before the Windāhgil party returned on the following day a council
of war was held, at the conclusion of which the Colonel’s face
assumed a very different expression from that which it habitually
wore. The four men met in his study, where the accounts, assets, and
liabilities were laid before the financial authority, who scanned
them with keen and practised eye.

After what appeared to the others, and especially to Willoughby and
his father, an astonishingly short examination, he raised his head
and asked these pertinent questions: “I see your next bill, £12,437
14_s._ 10_d._, falls due in March,” he said. “After that, there is
nothing more to be met but station expenses for another year,
against which there will, of course, be the wool clip. You have
54,786 sheep, more or less, on the run. Is that so?”

“Half of which are to die this winter, Hubert says. Oh, yes—they’re
all in the paddocks,” replied the younger Dacre, in a tone of
reckless despair, while the Colonel’s face set with steadfast
resolve, yet showed by the twitching of his lips how severe was the
repression of feeling—how tense the strain of anxiety.

“Never mind about that just yet,” said Barrington Hope. “We’ll see
into the available assets first. About this next bill, Colonel; how
do you propose to meet it?”

“By the sale of sheep, I suppose. There is no other way. And if this
drought comes to pass I am informed they will be next to valueless.
How is the next one—of equal amount, and another still, to be paid?
In such a case I see nothing but ruin staring me in the face. Good
God! that I should have brought my poor children to such a pass!”

Here the brave soldier, who had fought with cheerful courage on more
than one battle-field, when comrades lay dead and dying around
him—who had been the first man across the breach when the rebel
artillery were mowing down his regiment like swathes of meadow grass
at Delhi, appeared quite unmanned.

“It will never do to give up the fight before the end of the day,
Colonel,” said Mr. Hope, gently. “As a military man, you must know
that reserves may come up at any moment. I will promise to give you
a decided answer at the end of our colloquy. But we must move
according to the rules of war.”

“You must pardon me, my dear sir,” said the Colonel, with a faint
smile. “I trust not to embarrass the court again; but the fact is, I
am a child in commercial affairs, and the probable loss of my
children’s whole fortune touches me too acutely.”

“Have _you_ any advice to offer, Hubert?” queried Hope. “I
understand we are all here on terms of friendly equality.”

“Yes, I have,” said the young man, with an air of decision. “You can
judge of its value. All the Windāhgil sheep, with the exception of a
couple of flocks of studs, start for our Queensland country in
January. The dry belt likely to be affected by the coming drought is
a narrow one not more than two hundred miles wide, and as the sheep
are fairly strong now, though they won’t remain so, they should
cross that with trifling loss. Donald Greenhaugh, a first-class man,
has agreed to go in charge. Sheep are sheep over there now for
stocking up new country, and we can sell to advantage what we do not
want for Windāhgil Downs. The larger the number sent in one overland
journey like this, the smaller the expense of droving per head. I
propose that Wantabalree should be cleared in the same way.
Willoughby can go in charge of his own sheep, and we can share the
expense.”

“I see nothing to prevent your idea from being carried out,” said
Mr. Hope. “I am aware that sheep of good quality, as the Wantabalree
sheep proverbially are, are scarce, and saleable at high rates, in
the new country. The main thing will be to have a first-class road
overseer.”

“Greenhaugh has been out with an exploring party over all that
country,” said Hubert; “and as a head drover is worth his weight in
gold. A sober, steady fellow, too, and a good hand with men. No
better bushman anywhere.”

“I’m ready to start next week,” said Willoughby, with the fire of
ardent youth in his kindling eye. “I never expected to have such a
chance. But—” and here his face became grave and thoughtful—“what do
you say, father? Will you and Rosalind be able to get on without
me?”

“We must try, my boy. The time will pass heavily, I doubt not; but,”
and here he walked over to Hubert, and put his hand on his firm
shoulder, “your father did not grudge you in the path of honourable
ambition, nor can I be more selfish. God bless you both, my boys!
and bring you safe back once more to gladden our hearts. It seems to
me as if Providence had decided this issue, and that I have little
hand in it.”

“I wish now to understand, Colonel Dacre,” said Hope; “if, upon
their arrival in Queensland, you will place 20,000 sheep in our
hands for sale—at such prices as may be then ruling—and whether by
the terms of your mortgage to Mr. Dealerson—who has of course, taken
care to tie you up as tightly as he could—you have the power of
disposing of so many.”

“It so happens that I have permission to reduce the stock—I believe
that’s the expression—by just such a number,” said the Colonel more
cheerfully; “and I most willingly invest you with the power of
disposing of them.”

“Then I will take upon myself to state that the Austral Agency
Company will guarantee to take up your bill next coming due, and to
provide you with funds to carry you over the next shearing, when we
may perhaps make a more complete and satisfactory arrangement.”

The Colonel gazed at Mr. Hope with an expression as of one not fully
realising the effect of the words he heard with his outward ears.
Then suddenly stepping forward, he stretched out his hand, and
taking that of the younger man wrung it silently.

He retreated to his chair, where he sat down with an expression of
relief too deep for words. He then left, apparently, all further
transactions of the interview in the hands of the “coming race.”

They began to go into detail a little, as if about _un fait
accompli_, Hubert, more particularly, talking rapidly, in order to
cover any appearance of awkwardness on the part of his hosts.

“You know,” he said, “that by doing this travelling business, we
‘hedge,’ so to speak, instead of standing to lose on the double
event of a dry season and a panic in the money market, more than any
of us can afford. If the weather breaks in February, of course we
needn’t have started, but we can’t lose anything, as our sheep will
be regularly run after when we get them over, and at high prices
too. They talk of maiden ewes being worth a pound from the shears,
and anything else fifteen shillings, while if it holds dry for three
or four months here, sheep will have to be given away, or next thing
to it.”

“I suppose I shall have to hire a lot of shepherds,” said
Willoughby; “that will be a nuisance, won’t it?”

“If I were you I’d leave all that to Greenhaugh; he’s accustomed to
these fellows, and knows how to talk to them on the road, which you
don’t. You’d better, ostensibly, be second in command of the
expedition. You won’t have much responsibility, and will be able to
pick up heaps of experience. All you will have to find will be your
own horses. He’ll arrange everything else and keep the accounts of
rations and wages, which you and I can settle when you get there.”

“I suppose there’s a strong probability of a drought setting in,”
said Mr. Hope; “if not, you will be rather premature.”

“The more I see of the weather signs, the more certain I am that we
are on the edge of another drought, perhaps worse than the last,”
said Hubert. “You’ll see that a great many people will hang on,
expecting it to break up; then, making sure of getting the ‘tail
end’ of the tropical rains, and generally trusting to the doctrine
of chances until their sheep get too weak to travel, and then—--”

“And what then?” asked Willoughby. “I haven’t had the pleasure of
witnessing a dry season as yet.”

Hubert smiled grimly. “You will thank your stars the Wantabalree
sheep cleared out in time. You would never have forgotten it as long
as you lived. Some squatters will lose half their stock, some
two-thirds, some even more. A man told me he lost a hundred thousand
sheep in the last drought. But _he_ could afford it.”

“If it’s going to be so bad, what will your governor and mine do
with the sheep we leave behind, for we must leave some.”

“They will have all the grass and water to themselves, which will
give them a chance, and then, if it gets very cruel, they must cut
scrub and oak for them.”

“Cut the trees down!” said Willoughby, with astonishment. “I never
heard of such a thing!”

“You’ll find out everything in time,” said Hubert. “‘The brave old
oak’ has an antipodean signification here. I don’t know what we
should do without him in a dry time. I’ve known sheep kept in good
condition that hadn’t seen grass for eighteen months.”

Before the drive back, which took place after lunch, in the midst of
pathetic leave-takings between the Windāhgil girls and Miss Dacre,
the latter young lady took an opportunity of expressing to Hubert
her sincere gratitude for his organisation of the opportune alliance
which was, so to speak, to raise the siege of Wantabalree.

“It has made dearest papa quite young again,” she said. “For weeks
he has not been able to sleep at night, but used to get up and go
wandering up and down the garden. I really began to fear for his
reason. And now he seems quite a different man. I am so happy myself
at the change for the better, that I cannot feel properly sorry that
dear Willoughby is going away from us.”

“He is going among friends, at any rate, Miss Dacre,” said Hubert,
pressing the young lady’s hand warmly in the agitation of the
moment. “He will be well looked after, rely upon it. I feel certain
it will be for everybody’s benefit in the long run.”

“I shall always think that you and that good genius, Mr. Hope, have
stood between us and ruin,” said she, and here her bright, steadfast
eyes were somewhat dimmed. “If papa does not say all that is in his
heart, believe me that we are not ungrateful.”

“_Nothing_ could ever lead me to think that,” said Hubert meeting
her eyes with a glance which expressed more than that simple
sentence, if freely translated. “Whatever happens, I am more than
repaid by your approval.”

By this time Whalebone and Whipcord, harnessed up and having their
heads turned homeward, began to exhibit signs of impatience, which
caused Linda to call out to Hubert that she was sure Whipcord would
throw himself down and break the pole if they didn’t start at once,
which appalling contingency cut short the interview, to Hubert’s
secret indignation. This expressed itself in letting them out with a
will and quitting Wantabalree at the rate of fourteen miles an hour.

Some people would have felt nervous at proceeding along a winding,
narrow bush road, well furnished with stumps, at such an express
train rate, but the sure hand and steady eye of Hubert Stamford, in
combination with the light mouths and regular if speedy movement of
the well-matched horses, engendered the most absolute confidence in
his driving.

“What do you think of bush life generally, Mr. Hope?” said
Laura—after the first rush of the excitable goers had steadied into
a twelve-mile-an-hour trot—“and how do you like Wantabalree?”

“I think the Wantabalree people perfect in their own way, worthy to
be neighbours of Windāhgil,” he added with a slight inclination of
his head. “A man could live there very happily, ‘with one fair
spirit to be his minister,’ if Miss Dacre would condescend to the
office. It’s a lovely verandah to read in. It would be like the days
of Thalaba, while it lasted.”

“And why should it not last?” demanded Laura. “The bush appears to
me the place of all others where the feelings and emotions are the
most permanent and deep-seated.”

Barrington Hope fixed his eyes upon her as she spoke with a gaze
wistful and almost melancholy in its earnestness.

“Can anything endure that is fair, joyous, dreamlike, in this
uncertain life of ours?” he said. “Is the ideal existence realised
for most of us, or, if so, does it continue? You are more fortunate
than I in your experiences, if such is your belief.”

“Surely you have no reason to talk of despondency,” said she,
turning towards him her bright face, in which the summer-time seemed
idealised. “You, who have made a success in your profession, and
whom everybody talks of with—with, I won’t say admiration, it might
make you conceited—but high approval.”

“I have done fairly well, I _suppose_,” he said. “I may take it as
the natural consequence of twenty years’ hard, unrelieved work. I
have coined my brain, my very heart’s blood, for it; and I will not
say but that I have had my reward in a proved success and high
consideration. But, at times, a feeling comes over me of unrest and
of doubt, well-nigh despair, as to the reality of human
happiness—the value of success—against which I can scarcely defend
myself.”

“You have been working too hard lately. Reaction has set in. In old
days Hubert used to suffer so, occasionally doubting whether life
was worth living, &c. But with men it is generally a temporary
ailment. You must take life easily for the next few weeks, and, like
the old farm labourer in the village church, ‘think about
nothing’—Linda and I must cultivate part-singing, and improve our
acquaintance with Wagner, now that we have the benefit of your
criticism.”

“It is a passing weakness, I suppose,” he said; “still, you would
wonder at its intensity. But I didn’t come here to bore you with my
whims and fancies. One thing I shall carry away as a pleasant
souvenir—that Hubert and I have been able to lighten the load on
poor old Colonel Dacre’s heart.”

“I _am_ charmed beyond measure,” said Laura. “Hubert told me
something—though he is such a close creature when he is speaking
about himself that I could get next to nothing out of him.
Willoughby will be able to get the sheep away to Queensland, I
suppose, with ours, and they may not be ruined after all.”

“They will have a struggle, but I really believe the station will
pull through with Hubert’s assistance and advice. If anything
serious does happen at Wantabalree, it will not be for want of all
the aid that an energetic young friend can furnish. I can see as
much as that.”

“And so can I,” said Laura; “he could find no better or sweeter
reason if he looked for a century.”

Linda and Hubert, according to their wont and usage, were embarked
in such an animated argument that it is probable they did not hear
this last confidential reference; more especially as—perhaps for the
greater convenience of separate converse—the speakers’ voices had
become somewhat lowered, and Hubert’s attention was partly taken up
with his horses.

The twenty miles were accomplished in less than two hours. The
horses in as hard condition upon the now partially-dried summer
grasses as if they had been stabled, apparently treated the drive as
the merest trifle, trotting off down the paddock, when released from
harness, apparently as free from fatigue as if they had not gone a
mile.

“I must say your bush horses surprise me,” said Mr. Hope. “They are
like Arabs of the desert for speed and hardihood.”

“These two are a little out of the common,” said Hubert; “not
plentiful here or anywhere else.”

                  *       *       *       *       *

The merry Christmastide was nearly spent—a season fully enjoyed in
those newer Englands, which are growing fast and blooming fair
beneath the Southern Cross, in despite of the red summer sun, and
brown crisp pastures—a blessed time of rest from toil, “surcease of
sorrow,” gathering of friends and kinsfolk. Barrington Hope had
thoroughly enjoyed his holiday; more, he averred than on any
previous vacation of his life. There had been walks, drives and
rides, picnics to the limestone caves in the vicinity, where vast
halls were explored by the light of torches, stalactites brought
home in triumph, and wondrous depths of gloom and primæval chaos
penetrated; fishing parties on the river, where, although the water
trickled faintly over the gravelly shallows, the wide reaches were
deep and sport-permitting. Occasional visits to Mooramah township,
their communication with the outer world, helped to fill up the
term, and drive away the dreadful thought, uppermost in the hearts
of the Windāhgil family, that Hubert was so soon to leave them for
the far north land.

As soon as Christmas was well over the serious work of the year—only
interrupted by this “truce of God”—began again with even greater
energy; the industrial battle, never long pretermitted in Australia,
raged furiously. So there was great mustering on Windāhgil and
Wantabalree. Counting of sheep and tar-branding of the same with the
travelling “T,” hiring of shepherds and “knock about” men. Purchase
of rations, tools, horses, drays, harness, hobbles, “bells, bells,
bells”—as Linda quoted—in short, the thousand and one road
requisites for a long overland journey.

Towards the end of January Mr. Donald Greenhaugh arrived, riding one
serviceable horse, and leading another, whereon, disposed over a
pack saddle, was all his worldly wealth deposited. A keen-eyed, mild
voiced Scottish-Australian, sun-bronzed, and lean as an Arab, who
looked as if the desert sun had dried all superfluous moisture out
of his wiry frame, he superintended the preparations at Windāhgil in
a quiet, superior sort of way, occasionally offering suggestions,
but chiefly leaving Hubert to manage matters as he thought fit. He
also found time to go over to Wantabalree, where he remained a week,
meeting with apparently greater exercise for his generalship.

At length the great day of departure arrived. The first flock of two
thousand took the road through the north Windāhgil gate, followed by
a second, at a decent interval, until the whole thirty thousand
sheep passed out. Next day the advanced guard of the Wantabalree
contingent showed themselves—Greenhaugh having decided to keep a
day’s march between them. Forty thousand of these came by. The fat
and saleable sheep of both stations had been retained. After these
had been sold in the autumnal markets there would be but a small and
manageable balance on either station.

The Colonel came as far as Windāhgil, and even a stage further, with
his daughter, to see his boy off. They were dreadfully downhearted
and saddened in appearance as they called at Windāhgil on their
homeward route, but cheered up a little under the attentions of
sympathising friends. Hubert had remained behind, not choosing to
follow for another week. He was already beginning to assume the air
of a large operator and successful explorer. “Greenhaugh can do all
that business as well or better than I can,” he said. “It’s no use
paying a man and doing the work yourself; I can catch them up easily
before they get to Banda.”

“Then we might have had Willoughby for another week,” said Miss
Dacre, with a slightly reproachful air.

“I don’t suppose it would have made much difference,” admitted
Hubert; “but it is perhaps as well that he made the start with the
sheep. He has a larger lot to look after; I don’t know but that it’s
as well to have the wrench at once, and get it over—like a double
tooth, you know.”

“It’s the most philosophical way to look at it,” said the girl,
smiling through her tears, “and no tongue can tell the comfort it
has been to us to know that matters are in a comparatively
favourable train. I must not weary you with protestations, but papa
and I can never adequately express our gratitude.”

“That could be done easily enough,” thought the young man; but he
said: “At present it’s only a case of good intentions; we must wait
to see how they turn out. How will you and the Colonel get on by
yourselves?”

“Better than I at first thought; Willoughby left us our working
overseer, who will do excellently to look after a smaller number of
sheep. It will just give papa exercise, and occupation to help him
to manage them, he says. Laura and Linda must be good neighbours,
and perhaps Mr. Stamford will come over now and then and indulge
papa with a game of whist.”

“I will undertake everything,” said Hubert, “for our people, but you
and the Colonel must reciprocate. If both families make common cause
till ‘Johnny comes marching home’—I mean Willoughby—you will find
the time pass more quickly than you anticipate.”

                  *       *       *       *       *

Those last days of a pleasant holiday time, what an element of
sadness pervades them. How swiftly they fly! Ah, me! The flowers
fade, the sky clouds over as if at the touch of an untoward
magician. The land of faery recedes—the region of plain prose, of
arduous effort, and heroic but dreary self-abnegation looms
painfully near. Much, however, of this sombre aspect of the
inevitable is relieved in early youth by the kindly glamour of high
hope, and the ardent imagination of the as yet successful aspirant.
For him the forest gloom is but the high road to the castle of the
enchanted princess; the sternest tourney is more than recompensed by
the smiles of his queen of beauty; the burning summer day, the drear
winter night, but aids to fortune and accessories to boundless
wealth.

So, for Barrington Hope and Hubert Stamford, the tranquil days came
and went, scarce tinged with melancholy, till the fateful morn of
departure arrived; before noon Windāhgil was left desolate and
forsaken of its heroes. Hubert fared forth along the north-west
trail, bound for the sea-like plains of the Lower Warroo, where the
wild orange flowers bloom on their lonely sand islands, bright with
glossy-leaved shrubs; where the emu rears her brood undisturbed
under the sad-hued myall, that waves her slender streamers and
whispers ghost-like at midnight to the pitiless desert moon.

Mr. Barrington Hope, on the other hand, betook himself by rail to
the metropolis, to plunge once more, with the eagerness of a strong
swimmer, into the great ocean of speculative finance, which there
“heaves and seethes alway.” But before he departed he had transacted
a rather important interview, in which Laura Stamford was the person
chiefly interested; had, indeed, promised to revisit Windāhgil
before the winter ended.



                              CHAPTER XVII


Local critics were not lacking around Mooramah, as in other places.
They failed not to make unfavourable comments upon Hubert’s decided
course of action. They were pleased to say “that young man was going
too fast”—was leading his father into hazardous speculations; all
this new country that such a fuss was made about was too far off to
pay interest upon the capital for years and years to come; the
Austral Agency Company had better mind what they were about, or they
would drop something serious if they went on backing every boy that
wanted to take up outside country, instead of making the most of
what his family had and helping his parents at home. As for young
Dacre, he would most likely get his sheep eaten by the blacks and
himself speared, as he knew nothing about the bush, and hardly could
tell the difference between a broken-mouthed ewe and a weaner.
Besides, the season might “turn round” after all—there was plenty of
time for rain yet. Most likely it would come in February, as it had
often done before. Travelling sheep was a most expensive game, and
you were never done putting your hand in your pocket.”

Thus argued the unambitious, stay-at-home, easy-going section of
society which obtains in rural Australia in almost the same
proportion and degree that it does in English counties. In the
older-settled portions of the land one may discern the same tendency
to over-crowding the given area with unnecessary adults, procuring
but a bare subsistence, narrowing with each generation as in
Britain, where sons of proprietors are too often contented to sink
somewhat in the social scale rather than forego the so-called
“comforts” of civilised life. The poorly-paid curate, the Irish
squireen, “Jock, the Laird’s brother,” and the French _hobereau_, so
cordially hated by the peasantry before the Revolution, are examples
of this class.

And, in the older-settled portions of Australia are to be found far
too many men of birth and breeding who are contented to abide in the
enjoyment of the small amenities of country town life, to sink down
to the positions of yeomen, farmers, and tenants, rather than turn
their faces to the broad desert as their fathers did before them,
and carve out for themselves, even at the cost of peril and
privation, a heritage worthy of a race of sea kings and conquerors.

Hubert Stamford did not belong, by any means, to the contented
mediocrities. Willoughby Dacre was a kindred spirit. So the two
young men fared cheerfully forth across the dusty, thirsty zone,
beyond which lay the Promised Land. Hard work and wearisome it was,
in a sense, but held nothing to daunt strong men in the full vigour
of early manhood. The days were hot, and Willoughby’s English skin
peeled off in patches for the first week or two from the exposed
portions of his person. But cooler airs came before midnight, and
the appetites of both after long days in the saddle were surprising.
The sheep, being in good condition at starting, bore the forced
marches, which were necessary, fairly well. Donald Greenhaugh seemed
to know every creek, water-course, and spring in the whole country.
And on one fine day Willoughby pulled up his horse, and in a tone of
extreme surprise exclaimed, “Why, there’s grass!” pointing to a fine
green tuft of the succulent _Bromus Mitchelli_. It was even so. They
had struck the “rain line,” marked as with a measuring tape.
Henceforth all was peace and plenty with the rejoicing flocks, which
grew strong and even fat as they fed onward through a land of
succulent herbage and full-fed streams.

“Well, Willoughby, old man; what do you think of this?” asked Hubert
one evening, as they sat on a log before their tent and watched the
converging flocks feeding into camp; marked also the fantastic
summits of isolated volcanic peaks which stood like watch-towers
amid a grass ocean waving billowy in the breeze. “Do you think we
did well to cut the painter? How do you suppose all these sheep
would have looked at Windāhgil and Wantabalree?”

“They’ve had no rain yet,” said Willoughby. “In that letter I got at
the last township we passed, the governor said there hadn’t been a
shower since I left. It’s nearly three months now, and we should
hardly have had a sheep to our name by this time.”

“There’ll be some awful losses in the district,” said Hubert. “Men
_will_ put off clearing out till too late. My own idea is that this
will be a worse drought all down the Warroo than the last one. Our
people will make shift to feed the few sheep we have left, thank
goodness! And we have enough here to stock more than one run or two
either. Windāhgil Downs will carry a hundred thousand sheep if it
will ten. All we have to do now is to breed up. That’s plain
sailing.”

“I wish we had some Wantabalree Downs ready to take up,” said
Willoughby, regretfully. “If we hadn’t those beastly bills yet to
pay, we might have done something in that way too.”

“Wait till we’ve settled a bit, and have landed the sheep all safe,”
said Hubert. “That will be stage the first. After we ‘see’ that, we
must ‘go one better.’ Barrington Hope is a good backer, and outside
country is to be had cheap just now.”

Events—in that sort of contrary way which occasionally obtains in
this world—went far to justify the bold policy of this confident
young man, who quietly ignored his elders, and to confound the wise,
represented by the cautious croakers who stayed at home and
disparaged him.

There had occurred a drought of crushing severity but three years
since, and only one “good”—that is, rainy season had intervened, so
rendering it unlikely, and in a sense unreasonable and outrageous,
as one exasperated impeacher of Providence averred, that another
year of famine should so soon succeed. Nevertheless, the rain came
not. The long, hot summer waned. Autumn lingered with sunny days and
cold nights. Winter too, with hard frosts, with black wailing winds,
that seemed to mourn over the dead earth and its dumbly dying
tribes. _But no rain!_ No rain! The havoc which then devastated all
the great district watered by the Warroo and its tributaries was
piteous, and terrible to behold.

Rich and poor, small and great, owners of stock fared alike. A herd
of five thousand head of cattle died on Murragulmerang to the last
beast. Eight thousand at Wando. John Stokes, Angus Campbell, Patrick
Murphy, struggling farmers, lost every milch cow, every sheep, every
horse. They were too short of cash to travel. Their small pastures
of a few hundred acres were as dust and ashes. Too careless to
provide a stock of hay and straw, selling all when prices were good,
and “chancing it,” they lost hoof and horn. Mammoth squatters were
short—fifty thousand sheep—seventy thousand—a hundred thousand.
Smaller graziers with fifteen or twenty thousand, lost two-thirds,
three-fourths, four-fifths, as the case may be. Ruin and desolation
overspread the land. Waggon loads of bales stripped from the skins
of starved sheep—“dead wool” as it was familiarly called—were seen
unseasonably moving along the roads in all directions.

From all this death and destruction Hubert’s family and the
Wantabalree people had been preserved, as they now gratefully
remembered, by his prompt yet well-considered action. Harold
Stamford, as he watched his stud flocks, fairly nourished and
thriving from constant change of pasture which the empty paddocks
permitted, thanked God in his heart for the son who had always been
the mainstay of his father’s house, while the Colonel was never
weary of invoking blessings on Hubert’s head, and wishing that it
had been his lot to have been presented with a Commission in the
Imperial army, in which so bold and cool a subaltern would have been
certain to have distinguished himself.

“Better as it is, father,” said Miss Dacre; “he might have sold out
and lost his money in a bad station. Except for the honour and
glory, I think squatting is the better profession, after all; if
Willoughby only turns out successful, I shall think Australia the
finest country in the world.”

“We shall have to live in it, my darling, for a long time, as far as
I see, so we may as well think so,” said the Colonel. “Suppose we
drive over to Windāhgil, and have another rubber of whist? Stamford
plays a sound game, though he’s too slow with his trumps; and Laura
has quite a talent for it—such a memory too!”

                  *       *       *       *       *

Many games of whist were played. Much quiet interchange of hopes and
fears, discussions of small events and occurrences, such as make up
the sum of rural daily life, had taken place between the two
families ere the famine year ended. It left a trail of ruin, not
wholly financial. Old properties had been sold, high hopes laid low,
never to arise; strong hearts broken. “Mourning and lamentation and
woe” had followed each month, and still Nature showed no sign of
relenting pity.

Through all this devastation the life of the dwellers at Windāhgil
had been comparatively tranquil; if not demonstratively joyous, yet
free from serious mishap or anxiety. The tidings from the far
country were eminently satisfactory, and as regular as circumstances
would permit.

“Windāhgil Downs” was quoted as one of the crack stations of North
Queensland, and in order to devote his whole attention to that
principality in embryo, Hubert had sold his share in the first
station purchased to Willoughby on long credit. All the Wantabalree
sheep were there, and doing splendidly. Mr. Delamere and Willoughby
were sworn friends, and whenever Hubert could get a chance to “come
in” Delamere would take his place at Windāhgil Downs, and leave
Willoughby in charge at the home station. Added to this, Mr. Hope
had “taken over” the Wantabalree account, and saw no difficulty in
providing for future payment and working expenses.

This was good news in every sense of the word. The Colonel became so
exceedingly cheerful and sanguine, that his daughter again asserted
that he must be thinking of a stepmother for her. In which behalf
she implored Laura and Linda to continue their complaisance towards
him, lest he should in despair go farther afield, and so be
appropriated by some enterprising “daughter of Heth.”

“That is all very well,” said Linda; “I suppose it’s a quiet way of
warning us off. But here we are living in a kind of pastoral
nunnery, with no society to speak of, and nothing to do. The
atmosphere’s pervaded with _bouquet de merino_, for though ours are
all right, I feel certain I can catch the perfume of Mr. Dawdell’s
dead sheep across the river. Now, why shouldn’t I take compassion on
the Colonel? I like mature men, and can’t bear boys. I should rather
enjoy ordering a superior girl like you about. Wouldn’t it be grand,
Laura?”

“I have no doubt Rosalind will grant you her full permission,” said
Laura, “if you think such a little chit as you is likely to attract
a man like Colonel Dacre.”

“Little chit, indeed!” said Linda, indignantly. “That’s the _very
reason_. It would be my youth, and freshness, and general stupidity
(in the ways of the world) that would attract him. Oh, dear! think
of the white satin, too! I should look so lovely in white satin with
a Honiton lace veil and a train.” Then Linda began to walk up and
down the room in a stately manner, which created a burst of laughter
and general hilarity.

Now that fortune had taken it into her head to be kind, she, like
other personages of her sex, became almost demonstrative in her
attentions. Every letter from Queensland contained news of a
gratifying and exhilarating nature. Hubert had heard of some
“forfeited” country, of which he had informed Willoughby, who,
having gone out with the requisite number of sheep, blackfellows,
and shepherds, had “taken it up.” He expected in a year or so to
sell a portion of it, there being about a thousand square miles
altogether, and thus help to clear off the Wantabalree account. As
soon as they got it into working order they would sell Delamere and
Dacre’s home station, with twenty thousand sheep, and put all their
capital into Glastonbury, as Mr. Delamere had chosen to name the new
property.

Hubert had several times been offered a high price for Windāhgil
Downs, but he was not disposed to sell on any terms, being bent on
stocking it up and improving it, so as fully to develop its
capacity. “Some day, when the projected railway from Roma comes
through, we’ll have a syndicate formed to buy it,” Hubert said. “In
the meantime, there’s a few thousand acres of freehold to pick up
round old Windāhgil.”

“All this was very well,” said the dwellers in the old homes; “but
were the young men going to stay away for ever? They might just as
well be in England. Surely, now that the season had changed and
everything was going on so prosperously, they could afford two or
three months’ time to see their relatives.”

This view of the case was pressed upon Hubert’s attention in several
of Laura’s letters. Linda went so far as to threaten that she would,
in default of Hubert’s paying attention to her next letter, invent
an admirer of distinguished appearance for Miss Dacre, which
harrowing contingency might serve to bring back the wanderer.

But there be many important, and, indeed, indispensable duties in
new country. Men are scarce. Responsibilities are heavy. Risks
abound. The captain and the first mate cannot leave the ship, be the
inducements ever so great, until the anchor is down. Some day,
however, the commander dons his shore-going “togs,” frock coat, tall
hat, gloves, and all the rest of it, and goes in for a little
well-earned enjoyment.

So, as again the summer days drew near, word came that matters had
so moulded themselves that Hubert and Willoughby were on the
homeward track. The “home station” of Delamere and Dacre had been
sold to Messrs. Jinks and Newboy with thirty-three thousand sheep at
a satisfactory price (_vide_ the _Aramac Arrow_), as the energetic
proprietors had concluded to concentrate their capital upon their
magnificent newly taken up property of Glastonbury.

Mr. Delamere was to locate himself thereon, in the absence of his
partner, while Donald Greenhaugh would be left in charge of
Windāhgil Downs, now pretty well in working order. Hubert and
Willoughby would come down from Rockhampton by steamer to Sydney,
and might be expected to be home in a month or six weeks at
farthest. This promise they faithfully carried out, and by a
remarkable coincidence, Mr. Barrington Hope arranged to have a short
holiday, and come up to Windāhgil with them.

There _is_ a little true happiness in the world, however
hard-hearted materialists and cynical poets affect to deny the fact.
There might have been an approximation in other young persons’
lives; to the state of blissful content in which the two families
were steeped to the lips on the arrival of the long-absent heroes,
but no conceivable satisfaction here below could have exceeded it.

The Colonel kept walking round his son, taking in every personal
detail with unflagging interest for hours and hours, as Miss Dacre
averred; she was positive he never took his eyes off him, except
when he retired to bed, for a whole week afterwards.

Laura and Linda declared Hubert had grown bigger, taller, handsomer,
older—in short, had in every way improved. Miss Dacre, when called
upon to confirm the decision, seemed to have a slight difficulty in
putting her opinion into suitable form, but it was understood to be
on the whole favourable. At any rate, the object of all this
affectionate interest had reason so to believe.

Mr. Barrington Hope was surprised to find both home stations alive
and kicking—so to speak—after the terrific ordeal which they had
undergone. But, as he remarked, understocking was a more scientific
mode of management than most squatters would allow. It was many a
year since the paddocks on either station had looked so well. As to
the non-wool-bearing inhabitants, he was lost in astonishment at
their brilliant appearance after the deprivation of so many of the
comforts of life.

“We were sorely tempted to go away to Sydney during the worst part
of the drought,” said Laura. “Father gave us leave at the end of one
terrible month, when we had not tasted milk, butter, or any decent
meat. But as Mr. Dacre and Hubert were living on salt beef and
‘pig’s face’ (_Mesembryanthemum_) when last heard from, and risking
their lives as well—moreover, as Rosalind wouldn’t hear of leaving
the Colonel—we determined to bear our share of discomfort also.”

“I declare I grew quite nice and thin,” said Linda, who was
sometimes uneasy about a possibly redundant figure; “mine was just
what the old novelists used to call ‘a slight, but rounded form.’
Laura and poor Rosalind fell off dreadfully, though. No vegetables
either. We were reduced to eating an onion one day with positive
relish. Father said it was medicinally necessary.”

“Good heavens, if I had had the least idea that matters were so
bad,” said Mr. Hope, glancing at Laura with a look of the tenderest
compassion, “I should have insisted upon everybody migrating to
Sydney, and come up in person to take charge, or done something
desperate. I should indeed.”

“That would have been a last resource,” said Hubert, laughing.
“Fancy the Austral Agency Company, with the manager ruralising at
such a time! That would have caused a financial earthquake, which
would have been more serious than the absence of milk and butter and
a short supply of vegetables. Never mind, it was only a temporary
inconvenience—much to be lamented, doubtless—but everybody looks
very nice, notwithstanding.”

“I suppose we can put up with the old place for a few weeks longer?”
interposed Mr. Stamford. “After Christmas, as we’ve all been such
good boys and girls, I think we’re due for another trip to Sydney. I
want to see the pantomime, for one. Miss Dacre requires change of
air. I’m not sure that the climate of Tasmania or Melbourne wouldn’t
brace us all up after the rather—well, not particularly exciting
life we’ve had for the last year.”

“Oh! you dear old father,” said Linda; “you’re a man of the most
original ideas and splendid ingenuity. You’ve divined our inmost
thoughts intuitively.”

With such a prospect before them, the members of both families
endured the unmistakably warm weather which generally precedes
Christmas with philosophical composure. Indeed, so extremely
contented were they with the existing state of affairs, that Linda
vowed it was hardly worth while going away at all. This unnaturally
virtuous state of mind was, however, combated by the majority, who
possibly had reasons of their own for desiring to wander for a
season far from their usual surroundings, for early in the first
week of the new year the _Mooramah Independent, and Warroo, Eyall,
and Bundaburhamah Advertiser_ contained this wildly interesting
announcement:—


                            “MARRIAGES.

“On the 3rd January, by the Rev. Edward Chalfont, at St. John’s
Church, Mooramah, Hubert, eldest son of Harold Stamford, Esq., of
Windāhgil, to Rosalind, only daughter of Lieutenant-Colonel Rupert
Dacre, of Wantabalree, late of H.M. 83rd Regiment. At the same time
and place, Barrington, second son of Commander Collingwood Hope,
R.N., to Laura, eldest daughter of Harold Stamford, Esq., of
Windāhgil.”


These momentous events were not wholly unexpected. It may be
imagined how the church at Mooramah was crowded on that day. It was
not a particularly small one either, having been built mainly
through the exertions of an energetic young clergyman, who did not
allow himself to be discouraged by the fact that a considerable debt
thereon still remained unpaid. So there was not a seat, or half a
seat, to be had inside, while a much larger congregation than usual
stood around the porch and entrance doors. School children strewed
flowers on the pathway of the happy brides, and none of the usual
ceremonies were omitted.

As it had not rained for three months, and apparently was not likely
to do so for three more, the old-word proverb, “happy is the bride
that the sun shines on,” received most literal fulfilment. However,
the near prospect of ocean breeze and plashing wavelets sustained
them amid the too ardent sun rays. Hubert, as a local celebrity,
came in for a certain amount of guarded approval, and, in spite of
the misgivings with which his Napoleonic policy had been regarded,
it was conceded that “he looked twice the man” since his departure
for foreign parts. Rosalind Dacre quietly, though becomingly,
dressed, on that account was thought to have scarcely paid due and
befitting regard to her serious and sacred duty as a bride. But as
to Laura, there was no thought of dispraise or any, the faintest,
doubt. Universally admired and beloved, the flower of a family not
less popular than respected in the district, each one in that
crowded building seemed to take a personal pride in her day of
maiden triumph. Barrington Hope, radiantly happy and enjoying the
prestige of a distinguished stranger, also received the highest
compliments of the spectators by being declared to be worthy of the
belle of Mooramah.

The happy couples departed by train to Melbourne, _en route_ for
Tasmania, that favoured isle where the summer of Britain is
reproduced with the improved conditions of assured fine weather, and
a less inconvenient proximity to the Pole. There annually do the
desert-worn pilgrims from the tropic north and central wastes of the
Australian continent resort for coolness, greenery, and agreeable
society, as to the garden of Armida. Thus, in those rare intervals
when they were not engaged in gazing on the perfections of their
brides, were Hubert Stamford and Barrington Hope enabled to indulge
in a little pioneer talk, and to listen to far-off echoes from the
wild scenes which the former had so lately quitted.

Mr. and Mrs. Stamford, with Linda, remained for a few days longer
before they took wing for the metropolis, leaving behind the Colonel
and Willoughby, who elected to remain at home in charge of both
stations. They arrived in Sydney just in time to take leave of their
friends, the Grandisons. Chatsworth had been let for a term of
years, and preparations were complete for their going to live upon
one of the station properties.

“The fact is, my dear fellow,” said Mr. Grandison, “that my wife and
I have resolved to take these younger children up into the bush and
live there quietly with them till their education is finished. We
must try if possible to bring them up in an atmosphere untainted by
fashionable folly and excitement. It has been the ruin (at least, I
think so) of the older ones. Now that Josie has married—--”

“What! Josie married?” exclaimed Mr. Stamford. “I never heard of it.
You astonish me!”

“Married, indeed,” said Mrs. Grandison, who now joined them; “and a
pretty match she has made of it. Not that there’s anything against
the young man—he’s two or three years younger than she is—except
that he’s rather stupid, and hasn’t an idea of anything, except
billiards and betting, that I can discover. As he’s only a clerk in
an insurance office, he has just enough to keep himself and not a
penny for a wife, unless what her parents give her.”

“The sort of young fellow I never shall be able to take the
slightest interest in,” said Mr. Grandison; “not bad-looking, I
suppose, but quite incapable of raising himself a single step by his
own exertions, or aspiring to anything beyond a sufficiency of
cigars and an afternoon lounge in George Street.”

“Of course you tried to prevent the marriage,” said Mrs. Stamford;
“but it’s too late now to do anything but make the best of it, for
poor Josie’s sake.”

Mr. Grandison turned away his head as his wife said, in a tone of
deep feeling, “The silly girl went and was married before the
Registrar. She knew we could not approve of it, and took that means
of being beforehand with us. Her father won’t see her yet; but of
course she’ll have an allowance, and we must help them if he keeps
steady. But it nearly broke our hearts, you may believe.”

“We see all these things too late,” said her husband, with a sigh,
which he tried bravely to repress. “If we had brought our children
up with other ideas, or placed before them higher objects of
ambition, a different result might have been reached. Over and over
again have I cursed the day when we left the bush for good—for good,
indeed!—and came to live in this city of shams. Not worse than other
places, I believe; but all this artificial town life, while not too
good for older people, is ruin and destruction for young ones. What
a fortunate man you’ve been, Stamford, though, in our selfish grief,
I’ve forgotten to congratulate you.”

“It is the goodness of God,” he replied, warmly grasping the hand
which was silently held out to him. “My children have never given me
a moment’s anxiety. We have been sheltered, too, from the
temptations of the world, and so far from the ‘deceitfulness of
riches.’ I can never be sufficiently thankful.”

“That won’t last long,” said Mr. Grandison, with an effort to be
cheerful. “People tell me that Windāhgil Downs is going to be the
finest sheep property west of the Barcoo, and Hubert’s reputation as
a pioneer is in everybody’s mouth now. He managed to pull the
Colonel’s investment out of the fire. Well paid for it too, by all I
hear! Give our love to Laura. She must live in Sydney, I suppose,
now she’s married a business man. A rising fellow, Barrington Hope,
and one of the smartest operators we have. Heigho! time’s up. We
shall meet again some day I hope, when I have a better story to tell
you.”

Mrs. Stamford was sincerely grieved to hear of this latest
misfortune of the Grandison family. She could hardly forgive Josie
for the insincerity and ingratitude with which she had acted.
“However,” said the kindly matron in continuation, “perhaps it is
not so bad as they are disposed to think. They’re dreadfully
disappointed, of course. If the young man’s character is good, he
may get on, and of course Mr. Grandison will help them by and by. It
will do Josie good to have a house of her own to look after, and to
be obliged to save and contrive. The girl’s heart is not naturally
bad, I believe; but she has been spoilt by over-indulgence and
extravagance ever since she was a baby. A poor marriage may be the
best thing that ever happened to her. Oh! Harold, should we not be
deeply grateful for the mercy of Providence in so ordering our lives
that until lately we have never had any money to spare, and
self-denial has been compulsory?”

“H’m,” said Mr. Stamford, musingly; “no doubt, no doubt! Too much
money is one form of danger, of moral death, which the devil must
regard with great, great complacency. Few people take that view,
though.”

“I am very glad we have never been tried in that way,” said Mrs.
Stamford, simply, looking up into her husband’s face. “I have pitied
you, darling, when I have seen you tormented and anxious about money
matters, but we have always been very happy among ourselves, even
when things were at their worst. There is no chance now, I suppose,
of our affairs going wrong? These Queensland stations are quite
safe!”

“Quite safe, my dearest wife,” answered Harold Stamford, with a pang
of remorse at his heart, as he imprinted a kiss on the fond face
which had never looked into his save with truth and love shining in
her clear eyes. “‘Safe as a bank,’ or suppose we say as Australian
debentures. I don’t mind affirming that nothing, humanly speaking,
could materially injure our investments now.”

“I am glad to hear that, for the dear children’s sake,” she
answered. “If their future is secured, that is everything.”

                  *       *       *       *       *

Before the close of the summer, a naval squadron cruising in
Australian waters, strange to say, happened to need partial
refitting in Sydney Harbour, and, entering that picturesque haven,
anchored as usual in Farm Cove. In one of the delicious sea-girdled
nooks of Neutral Bay, it so chanced that Mr. Stamford had rented a
furnished villa for the season. The ladies were wont to use the
telescope in close inspection of any strange vessel that approached.
Wonderful to relate, it appeared that the frigate which on a
previous occasion had been the ocean home of Lieutenant Fitzurse was
even now among the graceful war-hawks which, after battling with
storm and tempest, were, so to speak, furling their pinions under
Linda’s excited gaze.

There may or may not be a new system of marine telegraphy, but the
fact comes within my experience that naval men have exceptionally
prompt means of discovery, upon arrival in port, whether the ladies
of their acquaintance are in town, and if so, where they abide.

It so chanced, therefore, that, upon the following afternoon, a gig
left H.M.S. _Vengeful_, and with eight able seamen pulled straight
for the Dirrāhbah jetty, landing the lieutenant and a brother
officer, who, making their call in due form, betrayed great anxiety
for the health of Mr. and Mrs. Stamford and the young ladies during
their long absence from Sydney. They were also politely astonished
at the news of Miss Stamford’s and Hubert’s marriages. Indeed, the
recital of the family news (presumably) as conveyed by Linda to Mr.
Fitzurse in full, during an examination of the green-house, lasted
so long that Mrs. Stamford looked several times from the window, and
the gallant tars in the boat referred to the protracted absence of
their superior officers in unqualified Saxon terms.

                  *       *       *       *       *

What more is left to tell? It would appear that there might have
been a previously implied, if unspoken confession between the young
people. Reference being permitted to Stamford _père_, and
satisfactory credentials forthcoming, it was arranged that an
“engagement” should be officially allowed, hope being cautiously
held out by that wary diplomatist that, in the event of the coveted
“step” being attained, the full concession might be thought about.
Which decision gave unqualified satisfaction, Linda being, as she
averred, willing to wait for years; indeed rather glad on the whole,
that separation and delay were necessary, so that she might have
time to think over and thoroughly enjoy her unparalleled happiness.

With the autumn came the returning travellers, Hubert declaring that
he dared not stay away another week from the Downs; frightful
consequences might happen; Mr. Hope and Laura preparing to inhabit
the comfortable abode which, for a few years to come, they had
agreed, would be commensurate with their means. Something was said
about Mrs. Hubert Stamford remaining at Wantabalree with her father
while her husband went forth again on his task of subduing the
waste. But that young woman replied promptly, with the opening words
of an ancient family record, “Where thou goest, I will go.” In
reference to the possibly rude architecture of their abode, she
declared “that if Hubert had only a packing case to live in, she,
being his wife, thought it her duty to live there with him.”

After this, of course, there was no more to be said, and the
_Catterthun_, sailing soon afterwards for the uttermost northern
port, had in her passenger list the names of Mr. and Mrs. Hubert
Stamford and servant.

                  *       *       *       *       *

From this time forth the star of Stamford family was manifestly in
the ascendant; for not only did their undertakings flourish and the
sons and daughters of the house “grow in favour with God and man,”
but everyone bound to them by the ties of kindred or friendship
prospered exceedingly. The debt on Wantabalree was cleared off in
due time, while the “Glastonbury Thorn” seemed to have taken deep
root in the northern wilds of the far land to which it had been
carried, and to bring a blessing upon the dwellers around its sacred
stem. The Colonel lived rather a solitary existence at the home
station after Willoughby had departed again for the north, but he
got into the way of going to Sydney for the summer, where the
Australian Club afforded him congenial society, with a certainty of
comradeship at the nightly whist table.

Mr. and Mrs. Hubert Stamford returned after a year’s absence, the
latter, though having lost something of her English freshness of
complexion, by no means delicate of health, and very proud of the
infant Harold, whose steadfast eyes and bold brow marked him out as
a future pioneer. Neither were sorry to abide with the Colonel for a
season, and Hubert threw out hints about “the far north” being too
hot for any white woman, although Rosalind would rather die than
admit it. “She’s the pluckiest little woman in the world, I
believe,” he said. “Didn’t she wash and cook for me and Donald the
whole month we were without a servant? I believe she’d have kept the
station accounts too, if we’d have let her. But I don’t want to run
risks.”

Mr. and Mrs. Stamford, being more impartial observers, were of
opinion that a change would be beneficial to both the young people.
Hubert was too thin to satisfy the maternal eye. She believed that
he had never properly got over that horrid fever and ague attack.
“And of course Hubert would never give in; but really as the boy had
done so well, wouldn’t it be a nice time for them to run home for a
year or two? The station was settling down, and as Mr. Greenhaugh
had been taken into partnership, surely he could manage things for a
time? It would benefit Hubert in every way, and as he had never been
‘home,’ of course they would like him to see a little of the world.”

Something of this sort may have occurred to Mr. Stamford, but he had
refrained in order to permit his more cautious helpmate to propose
the extravagant notion. He shook his head oracularly, said he would
think over it, and if it was decided—mind, if after due
consideration it turned out to be feasible—he thought it would do
Barrington and Laura a great deal of good too. Barrington would
knock himself up if they didn’t mind. He was such a terribly
constant worker, and so conscientious that he did not permit himself
the relaxation that other men in his position would have claimed.

“What a splendid idea!” exclaimed Mrs. Stamford; “my dear Harold,
you always seem to hit upon the exact thing we have all been
thinking of but have hesitated about mentioning. It will be the
saving of Barrington, and as for Laura, the great dream of her life
will be fulfilled. I know she almost pines for Rome and Florence,
but she told me once she did not think they could afford it for some
years to come.”

“_I_ can afford it, though,” said Mr. Stamford, with pardonable
exultation. “Things have prospered with us lately. And what have we
to think of in this world but our children’s happiness? Barrington
shall have a cheque for a thousand the day their passage is taken.
As for Hubert, he can draw one for himself now, thank God! without
interviewing his banker.”

Mrs. Stamford was an economical and intelligent woman as to her
household accounts, but she had the vague idea of “business” common
to her sex. She knew in a general way from her son and husband that
the stations were all paying and improving in value. So she accepted
the situation without further inquiry. When her husband, therefore,
spoke of drawing so large a cheque for travelling expenses, she was
not alarmed as she would once have been at the idea of paying a
tenth part of the amount, but regarded the apparent profusion of
money in the family as a consequence of the higher standard of
pastoral property which they had been so wonderfully guided to
reach. “Hitherto has the Lord helped us,” she quoted softly to
herself. “May His mercy be around our paths and shield those who are
dear to us from every evil!”

The news that a trip to the old country was not only possible but
considered expedient, and in a sense necessary, came with the effect
of a delightful surprise upon both couples. Hubert had, in a hazy,
contemplative way been revolving the idea, but had not thought it
likely that it could be arranged in less than three or four years.
But now, brought face to face with the idea, he found it to be
unexpectedly practicable. There was no very complicated work or
management necessary for two or three years. Donald Greenhaugh, who
had now a fourth share, was fully able to superintend the ordinary
station work. Fencing, branding the increase and selling the fat
stock, were operations which he could conduct as well as—in a sense
better—than Hubert could himself. In case “anything happened to
him”—and such things have occurred ere now, disastrously for the
absentee partner—there was Willoughby, with whom he could leave a
power of attorney, on the spot. All that was wanted was to increase
the cattle herd from five thousand head to twenty, and that would
not half stock the runs. The sheep of course were right. One man of
experience could see to that process nearly as well as another.

Barrington Hope too, urged by his wife, who was fully of opinion
that he worked too hard, also that a purely sedentary life was
drawing fresh lines upon his brow, and prematurely ageing
him—pressed firmly his claim for a lengthened vacation. To that end
a relieving manager was appointed to take his place during his
absence. When he found that Mr. Stamford’s liberality was about to
take such a pleasing form, he was indeed surprised as well as
gratified. That gentleman felt it necessary to make a slight
explanation as to his private means, but he merely mentioned that he
was now possessed of certain family funds not available at the time
of their first acquaintance, and could therefore well afford the
outlay.

As for Laura, it seemed as if the old days of nursery tales had come
back. The fairy godmother had arisen and gifted her with the precise
form of happiness previously as impossible as a slice of the moon.
It had long been the wish of her heart to behold, to wander amid,
those historic relics, those wondrous art creations, those hallowed
spots with which her reading and her imaginative faculty had
rendered her so familiar. It was her favourite dream for middle
life. When years of self-denial and steady industry had wrought out
the coveted independence, _then_ the journey into the land of
ancient fame, of wonder, mystery, and romance, was to be their
reward. But to think of its being vouchsafed to them in their youth,
before the stern counsel of middle age, with its slower
heart-currents, had warned them that the years were slowly
advancing, fated to carry with them the best treasures of life.

And oh, gracious destiny! in the full tide of youthful feeling, of
the joyous exalting sense of happiness born of the unworn heart of
youth, _now_ to bestow on them these all-priceless luxuries! It was
more than wonderful—it was magical. Who were they to have so much
undeserved happiness showered upon them? Hubert and Rosalind would
join them, perhaps to part in England for a while. But they would
roam the Continent together, they could in company gaze upon the
dead giantess Rome; the city by the sea, even Venice; resting under
the shade of German pine forests, they could listen to weird legends
beneath the shadow of the Hartz Mountains. Oh! joy, glory, peace
unspeakable! What an astonishing change in their life-history! And
to think that in less than a month—so it had been ordered—they would
be saying farewell to the land of their birth!

It was felt by the Colonel and Willoughby to be an unfair stroke of
destiny that Rosalind, the chief joy and glory of their life, should
be spirited away to Europe. But her father also considered that,
when in Queensland, she was virtually as far from his ken, while the
pleasures and advantages procurable from the former locality bore no
comparison with the latter. There was an unspoken wish also on the
part of the elder relatives that the Australian contingent should
enjoy the inestimable advantage of beholding with their own eyes the
wonders of the other hemisphere, of forming an alliance by personal
experience with the glory and the loveliness, the literature and art
of the ancient world, to endure in memory’s treasure-house till
life’s latest hour.



                             CHAPTER XVIII


Barrington Hope could hardly realise the fact, till he found himself
actually on board of a mail steamer, that he would have no business
cares for the next two years—a whole elysium of rest and recreation.
For this respite from the “figure and fact” mill, Laura was deeply
grateful, sensible as she had been for some months past that the
calculating machine was working under occasional effort.

When the Hubert Stamfords and Hopes bestowed themselves on board the
_Lahore_—the last triumph of the Peninsular and Oriental Company—one
would have thought all Sydney was coming to say farewell—such was
the congregation on the deck and in the magnificent saloon of that
noble vessel. Of course the Colonel and Willoughby, Mr. and Mrs.
Stamford, and all their Sydney friends turned out on purpose to “see
them off” as the phrase is, according to British etiquette on such
occasions. Other people—friends and relatives—had come to say
farewell to their wives and daughters, sons and sweethearts. Thus
many a saddened countenance and tearful eye were to be noted as the
great steamer moved slowly astern, and then glided at half-speed
down the harbour.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Of their safe and pleasant voyage—of fast friends, and congenial
acquaintances made on board and parted from with regret—what need to
speak? Of the entrance to fairyland which the first few months’
sojourn in the dear old island so closely resembles for
home-returning Australians. Of the stores of information acquired.
Of the intoxicating luxury of mere existence under such conditions.
Of the transcending of all anticipation and belief.

Barrington Hope and Laura remained in Europe for the full term of
their holiday—two years. But six months ere that period closed
Hubert and his wife became impatient to return to their life-task in
the south land, too satiated with mere sensuous enjoyment to remain
longer.

“We are young and strong, thank God,” said Hubert; “it’s not as
though we did not see our way to be back here again within a
reasonable time. But my work lies in Australia, and I can’t settle
to this kind of easy-going life just yet. When Windāhgil Downs is in
thorough working order and fully stocked, we can treat ourselves to
a run home every five years or so without feeling uneasy about the
seasons or anything else. So we’ll just take our passage by the next
boat and wake them up at Mooramah once more.”

“I’m ready, dearest,” said his wife. “With you, I think our work is
only half-done, and the sooner we commence life in earnest the
better. We’ve seen picture galleries enough to last us for the next
few years, and I begin to pine for a sight of my dear old father,
and Willoughby, poor boy! I wonder how they are getting on at
Wantabalree?”

                  *       *       *       *       *

Once more the family circles were replenished, irradiated by the old
love and tenderness in the persons of the wanderers—once more
grateful hearts were full to overflowing, and humble thanks were
offered up to the Supreme Power which had permitted their happy
reunion, in spite of perils by land and sea—the thousand chances of
danger and death which had irrevocably marred less fortunate
households. All had gone well in their absence—Linda and her sailor
love had been made mutually happy, and through the exercise of
judicious local interest Captain Fitzurse, as he was now proudly
styled by mankind and his adoring bride, had secured a colonial
appointment involving naval duty, but not forbidding the occupation
of one of those delightful marine residences of which Sydney boasts
so many perfect specimens.

Donald Greenhaugh had amply justified the confidence bestowed on
him. The stations were growing and flourishing to the fullest extent
of sanguine expectation. Willoughby had developed into a stalwart
bushman, properly bronzed and duly experienced in all pastoral lore.
The seasons “out back” had been good. Nothing was wanting of all the
conditions of permanent prosperity.

Of all the members of the two families so happily united and
thankfully enjoying their unwonted success, universally admired and
envied, Mr. Stamford alone seemed to be laden with care. At times
abstracted and preoccupied, silent and grave amidst the family
hilarity; at whist, striking out confusing lines of play, for which
no precedent could be found. Such was his departure in general
behaviour from the ordinary cheerful and equable habit that his wife
and children commenced seriously to fear that the unwonted
prosperity had turned his head, or that old anxieties had induced
morbid action of the brain. The Colonel shook his head as he
delicately alluded to the melancholy fact in a walk with Rosalind.
It would grieve him to the heart. He didn’t think really he could
stay on at Wantabalree; that a man who could lead from a weak suit
and play the Queen of Hearts when the King was still _in petto_,
_must_ be suffering from incipient softening of the brain, was
patent to him.

The fact was that Mr. Stamford had come to the conclusion that the
time had arrived when it was necessary to make a clean breast of his
secret. And he did not like the idea at all. When the matter was
buried in his own breast and in that of Mr. Worthington, than whom
his own iron safe was not more reticent of office secrets, it did
not, like other hidden deeds, appear so frightful. But now, after
all these years, to be compelled to tell his wife and children, who
believed that they shared every thought of his heart, that he had
carefully, wilfully, artfully concealed from them the knowledge of
their true position! He could hardly stand up and face the idea.
“What if his children should resent this want of all confidence?
Would his wife think that all her love and trust deserved a
different return?”

Mr. Stamford wiped his heated brow and thought the position
unendurable. Still, the motive was a good one, a pure one, even
practical. And how had it worked? The result might not have directly
proceeded from the means employed; but still everything had followed
for which he had hoped and prayed.

His children had not shrunk from any test of self-denial, of
fortitude, of continuous industry rendered necessary by the apparent
narrowness of their fortunes. True, they were at the same time
actuated by filial reverence and family love, swayed by the tenets
of that religious teaching which from their infancy had been
unwaveringly inculcated. But could these influences have been
sufficiently strong to counteract the strong currents of ease and
pleasure, the soft zephyrs of flattery, the clinging weight of
indolence, all urging towards the wreck-strewn shore of
self-indulgence, when once the fatal knowledge should be acquired
that all care for the morrow was superfluous?

Who shall say? Had not the fate of his friend’s family, the
melancholy failure of even his modest aspirations for social
distinction, been as a beacon light and a warning?

As it was, every noble feeling, every desire to spare no effort
either of mind or body which could tend to raise the fortunes and to
lighten the hearts of those so dear to him, had been stimulated and
intensified in his son and heir by the sharp urgency and weight of
the Alternative. His daughters had emulated their mother’s virtues
and with uncomplaining patience had endured isolation, monotony,
plain living, and sparing apparel. For this they had had their
reward—doubtless. But would all these fragrant flowers of the soul
have thriven and bloomed in the ungenial soil of luxury, and the
indolence born of unwonted, uncounted wealth?

Whatever had been his sin of omission or commission, could he fairly
be chargeable with apathy as to the welfare of his children?

For them, and in their interest, he had striven in every conscious
hour from that of their birth until now. For them he had toiled and
endured hardness—had hoped and prayed. For their welfare in this
world and the next was his every waking thought engaged. Other than
these had he no pleasures worthy of the name in the latter years of
a life now approaching—slowly, but still approaching—the inevitable
close. He had, it was true, chosen an unusual mode, but withal an
intelligible course of action.

Looking at the question in all its points, and pushing the reasoning
on either side to its conclusion, Mr. Stamford began to find his
position more tenable than he had expected. After all, he had only
done in life what most people did in death—reserved the distribution
of his fortune until a later period, for the eventual benefit of his
children.

Thus fortified, Mr. Stamford, having made up his mind, as the phrase
runs, resolved to communicate the terrible secret fully and finally
to his assembled family that very evening, being averse to spoiling
another night’s rest with a burden of thought the weight of which
had become so oppressive. It happened that the Colonel and
Willoughby were at Windāhgil, so Mr. Stamford rightly judged that it
would save all after trouble of explanation if he made his Budget
speech when nearly all concerned were present.

Partly in deference to the Colonel’s habitudes and those of the
European travellers, the fashion of a late dinner had been revived
at Windāhgil. Everybody had been unusually cheerful. The
never-failing fund of Continental or English experiences had been
drawn upon over the “walnuts and the wine,” or rather, when grapes
and peaches were receiving attention—Hubert had been laughingly
threatening Rosalind with a dozen more years of Queensland life—when
Mr. Stamford stood up and remarked that “the time had arrived when
he felt it his duty to make a statement which had been, for reasons
of his own, postponed—perhaps unnecessarily so. However, it deeply
concerned the interests of all present, directly or indirectly, and
as he said before, the time had come for him to explain, he might
say disclose, the a—a—affair.”

Here Mr. Stamford, who was not a fluent speaker, became aware that
though he had not furnished a particularly accurate termination to
his last sentence, he had at all events sufficiently puzzled, not to
say alarmed, his audience. He therefore filled his glass and sipped
it slowly, while Mrs. Stamford looked wistfully at him. Laura gazed
with fully opened eyes, in which might be observed a slight glimmer
of dread; Hubert waited calmly for the next words, and Mr. Hope and
the Colonel politely preserved a studied indifference. Rosalind took
the cue from her husband, and betrayed no uneasiness by word or
gesture.

“My dearest wife, my children, my friends,” the speaker proceeded,
“what I have to tell you is rather of a pleasing than of an alarming
nature. The only awkwardness of my position arises from uncertainty
as to whether I ought to have said what I do now several years ago.
I can truly assert that it is the only secret I ever kept from my
dear wife, or even from my children since they arrived at years of
discretion.”

Here everybody’s face expressed different degrees of amazement.

The orator continued. “The leading fact is that I am a much richer
man than is generally supposed.” (“Hear, hear,” from the Colonel.)
“In a year we all remember well, as you will see by the date of this
letter, I was left £170,000 or thereabouts by a relative. You do not
forget the dry year in which we were so nearly ruined? We recovered
our position chiefly through the well-considered, safe, yet liberal
action of my dear son-in-law, Barrington Hope. The gratitude I felt
for the way in which he then acted, strictly consonant as it was
with proper business principles, is still warm and fresh in my
recollection.”

Here Laura’s eyes sparkled.

“Immediately after this comparative good fortune I received this
letter, which told me of a bequest beyond all hope or expectation.
It rendered me a rich, a very rich man, as fortunes go in Australia.
Circumstances which then came under my observation caused me to
doubt whether a sudden accession of wealth would act beneficially
upon the as yet unformed characters of my darling children. Up to
that period their dispositions, their principles, had been all the
fondest parent could have wished. Why, then, run the risk of an
alteration, necessarily for the worse? Would they so continue under
a total change of conditions and prospects? I felt doubtful, judging
from analogy. So deeply was the danger to them at such a critical
period of their lives borne in upon me, that I took time to consider
my course of action. Finally, after deep thought and earnest prayer,
I resolved to withhold the important intelligence—to permit them to
remain in ignorance of aught but a gradual relief from threatened
ruin. In short, I elected to live our old life, gradually modified
and developed, until, in course of time, their characters had
acquired maturity, with that strength to resist all ordinary
temptation which I hoped and trusted the coming years would bring.
My secret was known to but one man, our trusted legal adviser and
friend, Mr. Worthington. Meanwhile, I proposed judiciously to
improve our mode of living, and to provide, by degrees, such
indulgences as befitted our apparent position. You can judge whether
I have kept the promise which I then made to myself, whether our
cherished ideal of ‘plain living and high thinking’ has been
reached.”

Here Mrs. Stamford approached her husband, and placed her hand in
his, amid the silent astonishment which pervaded the company.

“I have only now to say that all things shaped themselves in every
respect as I could have wished. I am the happiest and proudest
father this day in Australia. I can trust my beloved children, in
ripened manhood and womanhood, with the full knowledge of their
altered position, and I ask their forgiveness, and that of my
dearest wife, for the apparent want of confidence involved in this
my first and last secret, as far as they are concerned.”

Here Mr. Stamford resumed his seat, and looked round vainly for any
sign of dissent. Before other comment was possible, his wife turned
towards him with a countenance expressive of the purest tenderness,
the most loving and perfect confidence.

“My darling husband,” she said, “you lay too much stress upon the
reserve necessary for your purpose. As the head of the family, you
had a perfect right to give or withhold the information. Have you
not always considered the best interests of us all? You _might_ have
taken me into your confidence, perhaps, but no child of ours would
dream of questioning your action in this or any other matter. Could
we have been happier with all the money in the world?”

“And so say all of us, my dear old governor,” said Hubert, walking
round to his father’s chair and shaking his hand warmly, a
proceeding which was quickly followed by Barrington Hope,
Willoughby, and Colonel Dacre. “I should never have stuck to my
collar or been half the fellow, if I had thought, years ago, that
work or play was optional with us—would never have tackled the
things that now I feel proud and happy to have carried through;
never had such a little wife, most likely, either. In her name, in
all our names, I thank you from my heart for what you did.”

Laura’s arms had been for some moments round her father’s neck; her
feelings were too deep for words; her tears were those of relief and
gratitude. The Colonel made an opportune diversion by expressing a
hope that his esteemed friend’s whist would now undergo a beneficial
change. His sudden deterioration of form had, he confessed, caused
him, the Colonel, great uneasiness, even alarm. Now that the murder
was out, and his breast unburdened of its dreadful secret, he felt
confident they would return to their former most enjoyable social
relations. As a friend, a father, and an antagonist in the king of
games, he begged to be permitted to congratulate him most warmly and
sincerely.

                              THE END


         RICHARD CLAY AND SONS, LIMITED, LONDON AND BUNGAY.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

                          _Crown 8vo. 6s._

                                THE
                         QUEEN OF THE MOOR

                   A TALE OF DARTMOOR IN THE DAYS
                            OF WATERLOO

                          BY FREDERIC ADYE

                            _CONTENTS._

                   CHAP.

                      I. TOR ROYAL.

                     II. MORNING ON THE MOOR.

                    III. THE WAR PRISON.

                     IV. _PARCERE SUBJECTIS._

                      V. THE DARTMOOR HUNT.

                     VI. A FOX CHASE ON DARTMOOR.

                    VII. SOUTH HESSARY.

                   VIII. A KISS IN TIME.

                     IX. OKERY COTTAGE.

                      X. THE SHERBURTON BULL.

                     XI. MADAME GALMADY DE TOR ROYAL.

                    XII. BY THE CORNISH SEA.

                   XIII. THE FORSTERS AT HOME.

                    XIV. FAMILY TALK.

                     XV. FATHER SEGUIER.

                    XVI. MISS CALMADY ENTERTAINS.

                   XVII. A DINNER PARTY AT TOR ROYAL.

                  XVIII. “DO TAKE HIM, HE’S
                         THOROUGH-BRED.”

                    XIX. THE FISHERMAN’S DAUGHTER.

                     XX. A PERILOUS SAIL.

                    XXI. NAUGHTY GUNHILDA.

                   XXII. THE HONOURABLE JACK.

                  XXIII. “THERE SHOULD BE A GENTLEMAN.”

                   XXIV. SNOWBALLING.

                    XXV. THE TAME HERON.

                   XXVI. A SCENE ON THE ICE.

                  XXVII. THE FRENCH SERGEANT.

                 XXVIII. DANGER AHEAD.

                   XXIX. A DISCIPLE OF LAVATER.

                    XXX. THE REVEREND ROUNDER.

                   XXXI. FRANK IN TROUBLE.

                  XXXII. DRIVING THE DRIFT.

                 XXXIII. POVERA PICCIOLA.

                  XXXIV. THE KING’S SHILLING.

                   XXXV. THE MARSEILLAISE.

                  XXXVI. _VAE VICTIS._

                 XXXVII. WISTMAN’S WOOD.

                XXXVIII. BROTHER AND SISTER.

                  XXXIX. CECIL VISITS THE BARBICAN.

                     XL. THE SEARCH WARRANT.

                    XLI. THE DOCTOR’S KITCHEN.

                   XLII. GOOD-BYE TO THE MOOR.

                  XLIII. WAR’S ALARUMS.

                   XLIV. THE EIGHTEENTH OF JUNE.

                    XLV. AMONG THE PROVENCE ROSES.

                   XLVI. THE BELLS OF BATTREAUX.

                  XLVII. CONCLUSION.

                       OPINIONS OF THE PRESS.

_DAILY TELEGRAPH_—“His chapters in praise of the stout hill foxes,
and the brilliant runs they give over miles of grass and fern,
remind us in their freshness and abundance of life of Whyte Melville
at his best.... The novel is an excellent one.”

_GRAPHIC_—“It is long since we have read a novel with so much
unbroken pleasure.”

_PALL MALL GAZETTE_—“A very pretty little plot of adventure and love
is woven out of this material. Interspersed, but not too frequently,
are some hunting scenes drawn with great spirit.”

_MANCHESTER EXAMINER_—“Reminds us very forcibly of some of the most
characteristic romances of Charles Kingsley and Mr. Blackmore. The
_Queen of the Moor_ is like _Westward Ho!_ and _Lorna Doone_, full
of nature and of human nature.”

_MORNING POST_—“Since _Lorna Doone_ the natural features of an
English district have not been described with such a vigorous touch
as is Dartmoor and the country that surrounds it in Mr. Adye’s novel
... his delightful romance which has the freshness of the wild moors
it so vividly paints.”

_DAILY CHRONICLE_—“Lovers of the picturesque in nature will render
grateful thanks to Mr. Adye for the admirable sketches he gives of
romantic Dartmoor.... There is a charm about these descriptions
which reminds us of those of Mr. R.D. Blackmore. We never tire of
them, for they are never twice the same. Each time we get a new
glimpse, and each time we feel more strongly drawn to this land of
heath and tor.”

_OBSERVER_—“A work that will rank high among the historical romances
of the present day.”



                          _Crown 8vo. 6s._

                   _ROLF BOLDREWOOD’S NEW NOVEL_

                            PLAIN LIVING

                       =A Bush Idyll=

                         BY ROLF BOLDREWOOD


                            BY THE SAME

                            MY RUN HOME

                         =_Crown 8vo. 6s._=

_ATHENÆUM_—“Rolf Boldrewood’s last story is a racy volume. It has
many of the best qualities of Whyte Melville, the breezy freshness
and vigour of Frank Smedley, with the dash and something of the
abandon of Lever... His last volume is one of his best.”

_GLASGOW HERALD_—“There is a fresh breeziness about the book which
makes it pleasant reading.”

_DAILY MAIL_—“A sprightly book, this is, as much English as
Australian, with a style distinguished by a rattling freedom which
rarely degenerates into slipshodness. The interest is mainly horsey,
yet the men and women live and the whole story goes with a swing and
a rush.”

_OBSERVER_—“Lacks neither incident nor interest, and will,
doubtless, find many readers.”

_MANCHESTER GUARDIAN_—“There is always life and movement in what Mr.
Rolf Boldrewood writes.”



                          _Crown 8vo. 6s._

                                THE

                        SECRET OF ST. FLOREL

                          BY JOHN BERWICK


_SPEAKER_—“A book to be unreservedly recommended.”

_DAILY TELEGRAPH_—“The thrilling interest of the narrative is
continuously sustained by the malefactions of no fewer than three
several and distinct villains, whom the author utilizes with
consummate ability as instruments of romantic complication.... Teems
with novel incident, and bristles with exciting adventures.”

_OBSERVER_—“A capital romance, and well worth reading.”

_STANDARD_—“Clever and well written.”

_DAILY CHRONICLE_—“The story is interesting.... The end is dramatic
and original.”

_GLASGOW HERALD_—“The descriptions of foreign life and travel are
delightful, and this novel is in every way a well-written one.”

_SCOTSMAN_—“A thoroughly healthy and well-told story, with plenty of
stirring incident and variety of scene and situation, and it is not
wanting in study of character and knowledge of life, savage,
semi-savage, and civilized.”



                         _Globe 8vo. 12s._

                  _F. MARION CRAWFORD’S NEW NOVEL_

                             =CORLEONE=

                         _In Two Volumes._


_DAILY CHRONICLE_—“These Sicilian scenes are admirably rendered, for
Mr. Crawford is an artist, and an artist of strongly dramatic
instincts.... All who love Mr. Crawford’s work (roughly speaking,
all who know it, that is) know well enough that the oldest story
would be improved by his telling of it.”

_ACADEMY_—“The story is told in Mr. Crawford’s best manner, and
after the preliminary chapters are well out of the way, you can
hardly lay it aside.”

_PUNCH_—“The reader’s interest in the story, roused at the
commencement, grows in intensity as the plot is artistically
developed to its climax. Mr. Crawford’s pictures of Italian scenery
are perfect, and his characters, belonging to the Roman Society,
with which he has familiarized us in so many of his books, are
living beings before our eyes.”

_DAILY TELEGRAPH_—“A good story ... full of vigorous touches,
interesting, and even absorbing from beginning to end.”

_SPECTATOR_—“The glories of the Sicilian landscape are admirably
painted, and the book is enriched by a good deal of illuminative
commentary on the peculiarities of the Italian and Sicilian
temperament.... A brilliant and engrossing story.”

_LITERATURE_—“We have not often met with a more satisfactory novel
than Corleone, and have little doubt that it will be regarded as one
of Mr. Crawford’s best works.... An exciting and dramatic story.”

_PALL MALL GAZETTE_—“Mr. Marion Crawford at his best, with his
inventive faculties at their boldest, his constructive skill at its
fullest, and with his grace of manner always before us, gives such
joy as the fabulist may rarely hope to afford. In _Corleone_ we find
to our huge delight that it is once again Mr. Crawford at his
best.... A splendid romance of much originality, and always
captivating and impressive.”

_SPEAKER_—“This is almost, if not quite, the strongest and most
striking of the brilliant series of romances to which it belongs.”



                    NOVELS BY F. MARION CRAWFORD

                       _Crown 8vo. 6s. each._

                       =A ROSE OF YESTERDAY.=

                    _WORLD_—“A charming story.”

                            =TAQUISARA.=

_PALL MALL GAZETTE_—“Cannot fail to be read with interest and
pleasure by all to whom clever characterization and delicate drawing
make appeal.”

                      _Crown 8vo. 3s. 6d. each._

          =Mr. Isaacs=: A Tale of Modern India.

          _Athenæum_—“A work of unusual ability.”

                   =Doctor Claudius=: A True Story.

          _Athenæum_—“Mr. Crawford has achieved another
          success.”

                          =A Roman Singer.=

          _Times_—“A masterpiece of narrative.... Unlike any
          other romance in English literature.”

                             =Zoroaster.=

          _Guardian_—“An instance of the highest and noblest
          form of novel.”

                         =Marzio’s Crucifix.=

          _Times_—“A subtle compound of artistic feeling,
          avarice, malice, and criminal frenzy is this
          carver of silver chalices and crucifixes.”

                     =A Tale of a Lonely Parish.=

          _Saturday Review_—“Unlike most novels ‘A Tale of a
          Lonely Parish’ goes on improving up to the end.”

                            =Paul Patoff.=

          _St. James’s Gazette_—“Those who neglect to read
          ‘Paul Patoff’ will throw away a very pleasurable
          opportunity.”

                        =With the Immortals.=

          _Spectator_—“Cannot fail to please a reader who
          enjoys crisp, clear, vigorous writing, and
          thoughts that are alike original and suggestive.”

                           =Greifenstein.=

          _Guardian_—“The book, we doubt not, will rank very
          high among Mr. Crawford’s novels.”

                           =Sant’ Ilario.=

          _Athenæum_—“The plot is skilfully concocted, and
          the interest is sustained to the end.... A very
          clever piece of work.”

                         =A Cigarette-Maker’s
                              Romance.=

          _Globe_—“We are inclined to think this is the best
          of Mr. M. Crawford’s stories.”

                     =Khaled=: A Tale of Arabia.

          _Anti-Jacobin_—“Mr. Crawford has written some
          stories more powerful, but none more attractive
          than this.”

                          =The Three Fates.=

          _National Observer_—“A brilliant variation from
          Mr. F. Marion Crawford’s wonted style.”

                        =The Witch of Prague.=

          _Academy_—“It is a romance of singular daring and
          power.”

                   =Marion Darche=: A Story without
                               Comment.

          _Athenæum_—“The characters are thoroughly
          interesting, the dialogue easy, and the situations
          effective....”

                       =Katherine Lauderdale.=

          _Punch_—“Admirable in its simple pathos, its
          unforced humour, and, above all, in its truth to
          human nature.”

                     =The Children of the King.=

          _Daily Chronicle_—“Mr. Crawford has not done
          better work than ‘The Children of the King’ for a
          long time.”

                          =Pietro Ghisleri.=

          _Speaker_—“Mr. Crawford is an artist, and a great
          one, and he has been brilliantly successful in a
          task in which ninety-nine out of every hundred
          writers would have failed.”

                            =Don Orsino.=

          _Athenæum_—“‘Don Orsino’ is a story with many
          strong points.”

                           =Casa Braccio.=

          _Daily Telegraph_—“The reader will not easily lay
          it down until he has reached the concluding page.”

                       =Adam Johnstone’s Son.=

          _Daily News_—“Mr. Crawford has written stories
          richer in incident and more powerful in intention,
          but we do not think that he has handled more
          deftly or shown a more delicate insight into
          tendencies that go towards making some of the more
          spiritual tragedies of life.”

                           =The Ralstons.=

          _Academy_—“A book to be read, and read more than
          once.”

                  MACMILLAN AND CO., LTD., LONDON



                          _Crown 8vo. 6s._

                          BY THE AUTHOR OF
                 “THE COURTSHIP OF MORRICE BUCKLER”

                           =PHILANDERERS=

                                 BY

                            A.E.W. MASON

_GLOBE_—“His work is virile; it is individual; it is, in certain
fine qualities, distinguished.”

_WORLD_—“One of the most interesting novels we have met for a long
time.”

_ACADEMY_—“_The Philanderers_ should add to Mr. Mason’s reputation—a
reputation which, I am convinced, will continue to grow.”

_DAILY MAIL_—“There is no weakness here, no shallowness, no
compromise. Built up with strength and sincerity, and finely
written, the story braces the mind as much as it captivates the
taste.”

_PALL MALL GAZETTE_—“The charm of the story lies in the clear, sharp
outlines and delicate shading with which the chief characters are
limned, and the grace and ease of the style and of the dialogues....
All Mr. Mason’s _Philanderers_ are convincing—‘neither children nor
gods,’ but men and women in a world of afternoon teas—and thoroughly
convincing.”

_DAILY TELEGRAPH_—“It is light, sparkling, and very well told.”

_ATHENÆUM_—“Mr. Mason is to be much congratulated on a fine book.”

_BRITISH REVIEW AND NATIONAL OBSERVER_—“A book to read.”

_GUARDIAN_—“It is cleverly and well written, with both humour and
brilliance.”

_WESTMINSTER GAZETTE_—“A clever and original story, told with much
freshness and vivacity.”

                  MACMILLAN AND CO., LTD., LONDON



                          _Crown 8vo. 6s._

                          =THE COURTSHIP=

                                =OF=

                         =MORRICE BUCKLER=

                          BY A.E.W. MASON

_TIMES_—“It is a pleasure to meet a romance of historical times,
rather than a romance of history (for actual events are scarcely
introduced), so vigorous, brilliant, rapid, and exciting as _The
Courtship of Morrice Buckler_.... If his work be not widely read, if
many do not breathlessly follow Morrice Buckler from Leyden to
London, to Bristol, to Lukstein, and in all his wanderings, the loss
will be that of novel-readers.”

_ATHENÆUM_—“Mr. Mason’s manner is alert and engaging, and his matter
fresh and stirring. No one who takes up his novel is likely to lay
it down unfinished.”

_PUNCH_—“If this my hint will increase the number of readers, they
will, unless gratitude be extinct, thank me for my strong
recommendation as to the excellent entertainment provided for them
in _The Courtship of Morrice Buckler_.”

_PALL MALL GAZETTE_—“A right gallant romance of the seventeenth
century, which is attractive from one end to the other.”

_SPECTATOR_—“A thrilling romance, with a most ingenious and
mysterious plot. The story is excellently told.”

_BLACK AND WHITE_—“Admirable in every respect.”

_SPEAKER_—“A fine dramatic tale.”

_DAILY TELEGRAPH_—“Without a doubt the name of Mr. A.E. W. Mason
must be added to that small but distinguished band who have given so
brilliant a revival to the old-fashioned bustling romance of fair
and haughty ladies, brave gallants, duels, ruffles and brocades, and
all the varied and charming ingredients of those tales of bygone
days which are such welcome refreshment in these prosaic times.”

                  MACMILLAN AND CO., LTD., LONDON



                          _Crown 8vo. 6s._

                        =STORIES OF NAPLES=

                             =AND THEM=

                             =CAMORRA=

                          BY CHARLES GRANT

_GUARDIAN_—“These stories are written from personal knowledge of the
Neapolitan peasant class, and in consequence they are most
remarkable. To gain this knowledge, Mr. Grant gathered his material
‘by personal intercourse with the lower classes in their narrow
homes, or in by-ways and lanes still narrower.’... Such material
gained in so intimate a fashion Mr. Grant has worked up into stories
thrilling in their realistic interest.”

_PALL MALL GAZETTE_—“We cordially recommend the book, especially to
the lovers of Italy and her picturesque people.”

_NATIONAL OBSERVER_—“As a picture of the way in which the South
Italians live and act, and think and feel, these sketches, drawn
mostly from life, are of historical as well as literary value.”

Mr. GLADSTONE writes to the publishers: “In all the tales I think it
most interesting and instructive—in the two first delightful, and
extremely skilful also.... Mr. Grant must have been a delightful
man.”

_TIMES_—“Mr. Grant’s collection of Neapolitan sketches, or studies
in fiction, founded on his peculiar and extensive knowledge of the
populace, is a work of poignant interest.... Full of incident and
colour.... The book is one of permanent value.”

_MORNING POST_—“Within its limits leaves nothing to be desired for
fidelity of characterization and colouring, and induces regret that
a writer of such varied gifts should have died at a comparatively
early age.... The entire volume is vividly descriptive and full of
Southern colour.”

_DAILY NEWS_—“The book is well worth reading and even studying. The
street scenes are handled with artistic effectiveness, and the
people seem to live before us.”

_SCOTSMAN_—“It is not a bare, Zolaesque, photographic picture of low
life that is revealed. The hand of the artist in words, and the
touch of the genial sympathizer with human nature in all its aspects
invest it with infinite charm, and few who take up this book will
lay it down without feeling that Mr. Grant has conveyed in these
pages some notion of the fascination which held him so long in
Naples.”

_GLASGOW HERALD_—“If Mr. Grant has left any other studies of the
city he loved so well, we hope that they too may be published, for
this book makes us long for more.”

                  MACMILLAN AND CO., LTD., LONDON



                          _Crown 8vo. 6s._

                                =A=

                        CHAPTER OF ACCIDENTS

                                 BY

                          MRS. HUGH FRASER

                          _Crown 8vo. 6s._

                         BY THE SAME AUTHOR

                             =PALLADIA=

_SATURDAY REVIEW_—“It has a capital plot, fascinating characters,
and much dramatic interest.... A good piece of work, full of
interest and humour.”

_SPEAKER_—“There are very few who, having begun the perusal of
Palladia, will care to lay it down until the last page is reached.”

_MORNING POST_—“Romantic, picturesque, and interesting.”

_NATIONAL OBSERVER_—“A romance of thrilling interest.”

_SPECTATOR_—“A most engrossing and ingenious story.”

_ACADEMY_—“It cannot be said there is a dull page in _Palladia_ from
beginning to end.”

_DAILY TELEGRAPH_—“It is even better than _The Brown Ambassador_,
good as that delightfully humorous book was in its way, and higher
praise than this it is unnecessary to bestow.”

_GLASGOW HERALD_—“This is in every respect a capital romance.”

_PALL MALL GAZETTE_—“A satisfactory romance is _Palladia_.”

_SCOTSMAN_—“Full of stirring and exciting scenes. Many of the
characters are drawn with great skill, and the novel deserves to
find many readers.”

                  MACMILLAN AND CO., LTD., LONDON



                          _Crown 8vo. 6s._

                       =A SON OF THE PLAINS=

                         BY ARTHUR PATERSON

_TIMES_—“As a book for a railway journey, or to pass a pleasant,
indeed a thrilling, hour with, Mr. Arthur Paterson’s _A Son of the
Plains_ may be thoroughly recommended.”

_PALL MALL GAZETTE_—“A book of great interest.... He has written a
most thrilling and effective story in the simplest and most
unaffected manner.”

_WORLD_—“The interest is never allowed to flag.”

_BRITISH WEEKLY_—“The book is written in a masterly style.”

_DAILY CHRONICLE_—“If boys are what they were and what they ought to
be, and parents and guardians know how to select books for presents
at Christmas time, Mr. Paterson will receive a big cheque from his
publishers; and most thoroughly will he have deserved it.”

_DAILY TELEGRAPH_—“A bright, exhilarating story of thrilling
adventures and hairbreadth ’scapes in Western America.... As a
sensational romance Mr. Paterson’s latest fiction may safely be
pronounced ‘bad to beat.’”

_ST. JAMES’S BUDGET_—“It would be difficult to find a more exciting
story of adventure than that provided by Mr. Arthur Paterson in _A
Son of the Plains_.... The interest never flags for a single
instant.”

_GLASGOW HERALD_—“There is a fine spirit of adventure about this
story.... Mr. Paterson is, as it were, a Fenimore Cooper born out of
due time, and his story is distinctly clever and exciting.”

_SCOTSMAN_—“A better story of love and adventure, specially
adventure, neither boy nor man has any need to desire.”

_ADMIRALTY GAZETTE_—“A graphic and extremely readable tale of
western frontier life.”

_WHITEHALL REVIEW_—“The author has succeeded in producing a work
that will rank among high-class fiction, and as a wholesome book for
boys nothing will be more eagerly welcomed.”

_SPEAKER_—“His new story is as thrilling, as brimful of adventure
and incident, and as graphic in narration as anything he has yet
written.... To say that there is not a dull page in the story is to
understate the case.”

                  MACMILLAN AND CO., LTD., LONDON



                          _Crown 8vo. 6s._

                       =FOR PRINCE & PEOPLE=

                    =A Tale of Old Genoa=

                                 BY

                            E.K. SANDERS

_MANCHESTER GUARDIAN_—“A spirited story of political strife in Genoa
in the sixteenth century. The conclusion does not land us in
fairyland, but if the sober colouring of a work-a-day world would be
not an absolute bar to the enjoyment of youthful readers the book
can be heartily recommended to them, both for its sustained interest
and for the high tone pervading it.”

_SCOTSMAN_—“The plot is well conceived and well handled.”

                  MACMILLAN AND CO., LTD., LONDON



                          _Crown 8vo. 6s._

                            =RED ROWANS=

                         BY MRS. F.A. STEEL

               AUTHOR OF “ON THE FACE OF THE WATERS”

_STANDARD_—“Mrs. Steel’s book is healthy and well written, full of
rational optimism and sympathetic understanding of poor human
nature.”

_DAILY CHRONICLE_—“Judge it by what canons of criticism you will,
the book is a work of art.... The story is simple enough, but it is
as life-like as anything in modern fiction. The people speak and act
as people do act and speak. There is not a false note throughout.
Mrs. Steel draws children as none but a master hand can draw.”

_BLACK AND WHITE_—“It reveals keen sympathy with nature, and clever
portraiture, and it possesses many passages both humorous and
pathetic.”

_NATIONAL OBSERVER_—“Her cleverness reveals itself in many a
felicitous phrase expressive of just judgment and earnest thought.”

_ST. JAMES’S GAZETTE_—“It is such as goes far towards the making of
a solid and enduring reputation.”

_GLASGOW HERALD_—“Her book is a notable one.”

_SCOTSMAN_—“It is not every day that one lights on a story so
entertaining, clever, and at times even brilliant.”

_PUBLISHERS’ CIRCULAR_—“The story is thoroughly interesting
throughout, being clever alike in its style, plot, and character
drawing.”

_WESTMINSTER GAZETTE_—“_Red Rowans_ is far and away above the
average of novels, and, without doubt, one of those books which no
reader of current fiction should miss.”

_DAILY NEWS_—“The book is written with distinction. It is moving,
picturesque, the character drawing is sensitive and strong.”

                  MACMILLAN AND CO., LTD., LONDON



                          _Crown 8vo. 6s._

                        =THE FALL OF A STAR=

                          =A Novel=

                                 BY

                       SIR WM. MAGNAY, BART.

_DAILY CHRONICLE_—“Its interest is breathless and cumulative from
the first page to the last.”

                         ---------------------

                     WORKS BY RUDYARD KIPLING.

                       _Crown 8vo. 6s. each._

          THE LIGHT THAT FAILED.
          SOLDIERS THREE.
          WEE WILLIE WINKIE.
          LIFE’S HANDICAP.
          MANY INVENTIONS.
          PLAIN TALES FROM THE HILLS.
          SOLDIER TALES.
          THE FIRST JUNGLE BOOK.
          THE SECOND JUNGLE BOOK.
          CAPTAINS COURAGEOUS.

                  MACMILLAN AND CO., LTD., LONDON



             80,000 copies of this work have been sold.

                          _Fcap. 8vo. 6s._

                       =THE CHOIR INVISIBLE=

                                 BY

                          JAMES LANE ALLEN

     AUTHOR OF “SUMMER IN ARCADY,” “A KENTUCKY CARDINAL,” ETC.

_ACADEMY_—“A book to read, and a book to keep after reading. Mr.
Allen’s gifts are many—a style pellucid and picturesque, a vivid and
disciplined power of characterization, and an intimate knowledge of
a striking epoch and an alluring country.... So magical is the
wilderness environment, so fresh the characters, so buoyant the life
they lead, so companionable, so well balanced, and so touched with
humanity, the author’s personality, that I hereby send him greeting
and thanks for a brave book.... _The Choir Invisible_ is a fine
achievement.”

_PALL MALL GAZETTE_—“Mr. Allen’s power of character drawing invests
the old, old story with renewed and absorbing interest.... The
fascination of the story lies in great part in Mr. Allen’s graceful
and vivid style.“

_DAILY MAIL_—”_The Choir Invisible_ is one of those very few books
which help one to live. And hereby it is beautiful even more than by
reason of its absolute purity of style, its splendid descriptions of
nature, and the level grandeur of its severe, yet warm and
passionate atmosphere.”

_BRITISH WEEKLY_—“Certainly this is no commonplace book, and I have
failed to do justice to its beauty, its picturesqueness, its style,
its frequent nobility of feeling, and its large, patient charity.”

_SPEAKER_—“We trust that there are few who read it who will fail to
regard its perusal as one of the new pleasures of their lives....
One of those rare stories which make a direct appeal alike to the
taste and feeling of most men and women, and which afford a
gratification that is far greater than that of mere critical
approval. It is, in plain English, a beautiful book—beautiful in
language and in sentiments, in design and in execution. Its chief
merit lies in the fact that Mr. Allen has grasped the true spirit of
historical romance, and has shown how fully he understands both the
links which unite, and the time-spaces which divide, the different
generations of man.”

_SATURDAY REVIEW_—“Mr. James Lane Allen is a writer who cannot well
put pen to paper without revealing how finely sensitive he is to
beauty.”

_BOOKMAN_—“The main interest is not the revival of old times, but a
love-story which might be of to-day, or any day, a story which
reminds one very pleasantly of Harry Esmond and Lady Castlewood.”

_ATLANTIC MONTHLY_—“We think he will be a novelist, perhaps even a
great novelist—one of the few who hold large powers of divers sort
in solution to be precipitated in some new unexpected form.”

_GUARDIAN_—“One of those rare books that will bear reading many
times.”

_DAILY NEWS_—“Mr. J.L. Allen shows himself a delicate observer, and
a fine literary artist in _The Choir Invisible_.”

_ST. JAMES’ GAZETTE_—“A book that should be read by all those who
ask for something beside sensationalism in their fiction.”

_SPECTATOR_—“Marked by beauty of conception, reticence of treatment,
and it has an atmosphere all its own.”

_DAILY CHRONICLE_—“It is written with singular delicacy and has an
old-world fragrance which seems to come from the classics we keep in
lavender.... There are few who can approach his delicate execution
in the painting of ideal tenderness and fleeting moods.”

                  MACMILLAN AND CO., LTD., LONDON

------------------------------------------------------------------------

                         Transcriber’s Note

The following issues should be noted. In general obvious errors were
corrected and noted below. The use of the ‘ā’ in Windāhgal, a place
name, is almost universal, and has been corrected where the printer
occasionally neglected to employ it. Where the author’s intent is
unclear, the text is retained.

Errors of punctuation in the advertisement section at the end of the
text were corrected, silently, in the interest of consistency.

  p. 9       Reisling                                 _Sic._

  p. 40      [“]but Mrs. Grandison                    Removed.

  p. 107     —he[—]added—                             Spurious dash
                                                      removed.

             [‘]We colonists                          Added.

  p. 286     [“]as the energetic proprietors          Removed.

  p. 315     so say all of us,[”] my dear             Removed.





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