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Title: Ruby - A Story of the Australian Bush
Author: Jamieson, Molly E.
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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produced from scans of public domain works at The National
Library of Australia.)



[Illustration: IN THE CHURCHYARD.      _Page_ 83.]



  RUBY.
  _A STORY OF THE AUSTRALIAN BUSH._

  BY
  MOLLY E. JAMIESON,
  AUTHOR OF “JACK,” “AT SUNSET,” “MOLLY AND I,” ETC.

  PUBLISHED UNDER THE DIRECTION OF THE GENERAL LITERATURE
  COMMITTEE.

  LONDON:
  SOCIETY FOR PROMOTING CHRISTIAN KNOWLEDGE,
  NORTHUMBERLAND AVENUE, W.C.;
  43, QUEEN VICTORIA STREET, E.C.
  BRIGHTON: 129, NORTH STREET.
  NEW YORK: E. & J. B. YOUNG AND CO.



“Love not pleasure; love God. This is the everlasting Yea, wherein all
contradiction is solved, wherein whoso walks and works, it is well with
him.”--CARLYLE.



[Illustration]



CONTENTS.


CHAPTER                             PAGE

     I. AN AUSTRALIAN CHRISTMAS        7

    II. JACK                          17

   III. THE CHRISTMAS CARD            28

    IV. RUBY’S DREAM                  38

     V. THE BUSH FIRE                 48

    VI. “I CAN NEVER DO IT NOW!”      57

   VII. A SUMMER MORNING              63

  VIII. ANOTHER CHRISTMAS DAY         72

    IX. FOR WAT’S SAKE                81

     X. MAY                           91

[Illustration]



[Illustration]



RUBY.



CHAPTER I.

AN AUSTRALIAN CHRISTMAS.

  “We shall think on Christmas morning
    Of our dear ones far away,
  Wafting them the tender wishes
    That, alas! we cannot say;
  Longing for their presence with us,
    Eye to eye, and hand to hand,
  On that day of happy meetings,
    Joy and peace throughout the land.”


Christmas Day in the Australian bush! Not the sort of Christmas Day we
dwellers in bonnie Scotland or merry England are accustomed to. The
sun is blazing down in remorseless strength upon the parched ground,
where the few trees about the station cast so slight a shadow. Past the
foot of the straggling garden the little creek dances and ripples on
its way to the river, half a mile away, and, as far as eye can reach,
stretch the blue distances of bush in long, monotonous undulation.

“Wish he’d come,” says Ruby. “The pudding will be quite cold.”

On such a day as this it does not seem of paramount importance whether
the pudding be hot or cold. In fact, Christmas Day though it be, it
would be rather a relief to have a cold pudding than otherwise.

Ruby’s anxious little face testifies that such is not her opinion. She
has come out to the verandah, and, shading her eyes with her hand from
the white glare of the sun, gazes now this way, now that. The pudding
lies heavily upon her heart.

“Ruby!” comes a rather querulous voice from the room beyond the shady
blue blinds.

The little girl gives one last long glance in every direction, then
lets the shading hand drop, and passes through the open doorway of the
pretty cottage which is Ruby’s home.

“Isn’t he coming, Ruby?”

The yellow-haired woman lying on the sofa is Ruby’s step-mother. The
roses of the once pretty pink cheeks have paled to white, and there are
fretful little lines about the corners of the mouth, and a discontented
expression in the big blue eyes; but with it all Mrs. Thorne has
pretensions to beauty still.

“He’s not in sight yet, mamma,” returns Ruby, wrinkling up her brow.
She calls Mrs. Thorne “mamma,” for the fair-faced unaffectionate woman
is the only mother the child has ever known. Ruby was only a baby when
her own mother died, and “mamma in heaven” is a far less real personage
to her little daughter than “mamma” on earth.

“It’s very tiresome.” The lady’s tone is peevish, and she fans herself
languidly with a large fan lying by her side. “I can’t conceive what
makes your father so irregular at mealtimes. Do bring me something cool
to drink, Ruby, like a good child. This heat is intolerable.”

The “station” is built in a quadrangle, and across one corner of this
quadrangle Ruby has to go ere she reaches the kitchen. If it is hot in
the living room, it is ten times hotter here, where Jenny, a stout,
buxom Scotchwoman of forty or thereabouts, who for love of her mistress
has braved the loneliness of bush life, is busy amidst her pots and
pans getting ready the Christmas dinner.

“Dad’s not come yet, Jenny,” Ruby says as she reaches down a tumbler
and prepares the cooling drink which her step-mother has requested. “Do
you think the pudding will keep all right?”

“It’ll be none the waur if he’ll no be that long,” Jenny returns,
giving the fire a stir-up. “I’d no mind the cookin’ if it wasna’ for
the heat; but the heat’s maist awfu’. It near sends a body gyte. To
think o’ the Christmas they’ll be havin’ in Scotland too. It a’most
gars me greet to think o’ it a’, Miss Ruby, and us awa’ in this
queer-like place. It’s fine enough to say that fortunes can be made out
here; but I wad rather dae wi’out the fortune an’ stay at hame.”

“But, you see, this is home now,” Ruby says, stirring up her decoction
gravely. “That’s what papa always says when mamma gets cross. Mamma
doesn’t like staying here, you see. She says Scotland never seemed so
bonnie as when she’s away from it. And I’m Scotch, too.” Ruby gives her
head rather a proud little toss. “But I call this home. But of course I
don’t remember Scotland--hardly,” the little girl admits slowly.

The tumbler has received its final stir-up now, and Ruby carries it
through the blazing sun of the courtyard to her step-mother, still
lying on the sofa.

“I’ll fan you, mamma, while you’re drinking it, and that’ll make you
feel cooler.”

“Thanks, dear; you _are_ a good little girl,” her mother says, with an
approving pat for the small hand wielding the fan.

Ruby’s heart gives a great leap of joy. It is so seldom that her
step-mother speaks to her like this. Not that Mrs. Thorne is unkind
to her husband’s little daughter; but, wrapped up in herself and
her own ailments, she has but small sympathy to waste on others. Had
she seen the gladness which shone out of the child’s eyes at the
unaccustomed words of kindness, she might have spoken them oftener.
Though she loves her husband as much as it is possible for such a
nature to love any one, it has been a bitter trial to Dora Thorne,
reared midst the refinements of a Scottish home, to leave friends
and kindred for his sake, and to exchange the well-known, well-loved
heather-hilled land of her birth for the hardships and uncertainties
of the Australian bush. So perhaps it is no wonder that her time is so
taken up in commiserating herself that she has but little leisure left
to commiserate or sympathize with any one else.

Suddenly Ruby raises her head, a “listening” look on her face.

“That’s him!” she cries. “I hear him coming now!”

The child rushes out to the verandah, and again shades her eyes with
her hand. Through the sunlight, across the cleared space of grass which
surrounds the station, a horse and rider are coming. With the sunny
glare in her eyes, it is not until he is quite near that Ruby sees
that the approaching figure really is her father. Strangers do not
come often to Glengarry; but it so chances that now and again a stray
traveller on his way to the coast claims the hospitality of the station.

He swings off his horse at the garden-gate, flings the reins to Dick,
the stable-boy, and stoops to kiss the face of the little girl who has
run out to meet him.

“I thought you were just never coming, dad,” complains Ruby,
plaintively. “And Jenny’s afraid the pudding’ll be spoilt. It’s been
ready ever so long.”

“Here I am at last anyway, little woman,” laughs the big man, whose
brown eyes are so like Ruby’s, and whose voice is the sweetest sound in
the world to his little daughter.

He goes into the house, with the child hanging upon his arm, her big
eyes gazing up at him, reflecting every smile in the dear face above
her. The love between those two is a very beautiful thing, like that
sweet old-fashioned love of which we read, that it was “passing that of
women.”

“I thought you were never coming, Will,” says his wife, giving vent
to her thoughts in the same words as Ruby. “You do look hot, and
no wonder; for it is hot enough even in here. And I have _such_ a
headache.”

“Poor little Dolly!”

Surely a shade of regret passes over the bronzed face as he strokes the
soft golden hair with his big rough hand. He is reproaching himself
that he has not been unselfish enough, as many a man has, to face the
battle alone, instead of bringing this fragile little Dolly of his away
from the dear “kent faces” of the land where she was born, to brave the
rough life and hardships of the Australian bush. And before his eyes
uprises another face--a young, bright, dauntless face, with fearless
grey eyes--the the face of Ruby’s mother, who would have gone through
fire and water for the sake of the man she loved; but who, in her quiet
Scottish home, had not been called upon to do any great thing, only to
leave her husband and child when the King called her away to that other
land which is fairer even than the dearly loved bonnie Scotland she
left behind.

It is no one’s fault that the wrong woman seems to have been put in
the wrong place, that the fearless Scottish lassie who would fain have
proved her love for her husband by braving peril and hardship for his
sake, had comfortable circumstances and a peaceful life for her lot,
and that the fair-faced, ease-loving woman who came after her should
have had to brave those very hardships which the first had coveted.

To Ruby her own mother is nothing more than a name, and Scotland itself
not much more. She was only three years old when the new golden-haired
mother came home, and but little more when the reverses followed which
forced her father to seek his fortune in an unknown land over the sea.
And Australia is now, as Ruby has said to Jenny, “home.”

The child goes dancing off, and across the sunshine of the quadrangle
to tell Jenny to bring the Christmas dinner in. It is a dinner which is
much too hot for an Australian bush Christmas; but, if we happen to be
Scottish, let us be Scottish or die!

“I shouldn’t have brought you out here, Dolly,” the husband is saying.
He has said the same thing for the last half-dozen years; but that does
not mend matters, or bring the faded pink back to his Dolly’s cheeks.
But she likes to hear him say it, poor little woman. It shows that he
sympathizes with those not always imaginary ailments of hers.

“You’ll take me home again soon, Will,” she coaxes, clinging to him.
Unlike Ruby, far-away Scotland is still home to Dora Thorne. “Now that
you are getting on so well. Just for a little while to see them all.
Couldn’t you manage, Will?”

“No saying, darling,” he responds brightly. He does not think it
necessary to trouble this fragile little wife of his with the knowledge
that things are not going on quite “so well” at present as she seems to
fancy. “Next Christmas Day, God willing, we’ll try to spend in bonnie
Scotland. That brings the roses to your cheeks, little girl!”

It has brought the roses to her cheeks, the light to her violet eyes.
Dora Thorne looks as young just now as she did one far-off June day
when she plighted her troth to the man of her choice in the old parish
kirk at home.

“Do you hear what papa says, Ruby?” she says when they are all three
sitting at dinner, and the faintest breath of wind is stirring the blue
blinds gently. “That we are going to Scotland for next Christmas Day,
to dear bonnie Scotland, with its heather and its bluebells. I must
write to the home people and tell them to-night. How glad they all will
be!”

“O-oh!” cries Ruby, with wide-open brown eyes. Then, as another
possibility dawns upon her, “But am I to go too?”

“If we go, of course our little girl will go with us,” her father
assures her.

Christmas in Scotland! Ruby seems lost in a happy dream. Scotland! the
dear, unknown land where she was born! The land, which to mamma and
Jenny is the one land of all, far above all others!

“Will Jenny go too?” she inquires further.

The two elders look doubtfully at each other.

“I don’t know,” says mamma at length rather lamely. “Don’t say
anything to her about it just now, Ruby, till it is quite settled.”

Quite settled! In Ruby’s mind it is quite settled already. She goes
out to the verandah after dinner, and, swinging idly in the hammock,
indulges in the luxury of dreaming. Above her stretches the cloudless
blue of the Australian sky, for miles on her every hand lie the
undulations of Australian bush; but Ruby is far away from it all, away
in bonnie Scotland, with its rippling burns and purple heather, away
in the land where her mother lived and died, and where Ruby’s own baby
eyes first opened.

“It’s about too good to be true,” the little girl is thinking. “It’s
like dreaming, and then you waken from the dream and find it’s all just
a make-up. What if this was a dream too?”

It is not a dream, as Ruby finds after she has dealt herself several
sharp pinches, her most approved method of demonstrating to herself
that reality really is reality. No dream, she has found by experience,
can long outlast such treatment.

But by-and-by even reality passes into dreaming, and Ruby goes to
sleep, the rippling of the creek in her ears, and the sunshine of the
Christmas afternoon falling aslant upon her face.

In her dreams the splash of the creek is transformed into the babble of
a Highland burn over the stones, and the sunshine is the sunshine of
dear, unknown, bonnie Scotland.



[Illustration]



CHAPTER II.

JACK.

  “As I lay a-thynkynge, a-thynkynge, a-thynkynge,
  Merrie sang the birde as she sat upon the spraye!
      There came a noble knyghte,
      With his hauberke shynynge brighte,
      And his gallant heart was lyghte,
          Free and gaye;
  As I lay a-thynkynge, he rode upon his waye.”

                                         INGOLDSBY.


Ruby always remembers the day that Jack came to the station.

It is the twenty-sixth day of December, the day after Christmas, and
Ruby, having busied herself about the house most of the morning, in her
usual small way, has gone down to the creek to do Fanny and Bluebell’s
washing.

There is no reason in the world why those young ladies’ washing should
not be undertaken in the privacy of the kitchen, save that Jenny, in
an inadvertent moment, has enlightened her young mistress as to the
primitive Highland way of doing washing, and has, moreover, shown her a
tiny wood-cut of the same, carefully preserved in her large-print Bible.

It is no matter to Ruby that the custom is now almost obsolete. The
main thing is that it is Scottish, and Scottish in every respect Ruby
has quite determined to be.

Fanny and Bluebell sit in upright waxen and wooden silence against a
stone, wrapped each in a morsel of calico, as most of their garments
are now immersed in water. Bluebell is a brunette of the wooden-jointed
species, warranted to outlive the hardest usage at the hands of her
young owner. She has lost the roses from her cheeks, the painted wig
from her head, one leg, and half an arm, in the struggle for existence;
but Bluebell is still good for a few years more wear. The painted wig
Ruby has restored from one of old Hans’ paint-pots when he renewed the
station outbuildings last summer; but the complexion and the limbs are
beyond her power. And what is the use of giving red cheeks to a doll
whose face is liable to be washed at least once a day?

Fanny, the waxen blonde, has fared but little better. Like Bluebell,
she is one-legged, and possesses a nose from which any pretensions to
wax have long been worn away by too diligent use of soap and water.
Her flaxen head of hair is her own, and so are her arms, albeit those
latter limbs are devoid of hands. Dolls have no easier a time of it in
the Australian bush than anywhere else.

It is not amiss, this hot December morning, to paddle one’s hands in
the cooling water, and feel that one is busily employed at the same
time. The sun beats down on the large white hat so diligently bent
above the running creek. Ruby, kneeling on a large boulder, is busily
engaged wringing out Bluebell’s pink calico dress, when a new idea
comes to her. She will “tramp” the clothes as they are doing in the
picture of the “Highland washing.”

Such an idea is truly delightful, and Ruby at once begins to put it
into practice by sitting down and unbuttoning her shoes. But the hand
unfastening the second button pauses, and the face beneath the large
white hat is uplifted, the brown eyes shining. The sound of horse’s
hoofs is coming nearer and nearer.

“It’s dad!” Ruby’s face is aglow now. “He’s come back earlier than he
thought.”

The washing is all forgotten, and flying feet make for the little side
garden-gate, where the rider is in a leisurely manner dismounting from
his horse.

“Oh, dad!” the little girl cries, then pauses, for surely this figure
is not her father’s. Ruby pulls down her hat, the better to see, and
looks up at him. He is giving his horse in charge to brown-faced Dick,
and, raising his hat, comes towards Ruby.

“Good morning,” he says politely, showing all his pretty even white
teeth in a smile. “This is Glengarry, is it not? I am on my way to the
coast, and was directed to Mr. Thorne’s as the nearest station.”

“Yes,” returns Ruby, half shyly, “this is Glengarry. Won’t you come in
and rest. Mamma is at home, though papa is away.”

Ruby knows quite what to do in the circumstances. Strangers do not come
often to Glengarry; but still they come sometimes.

“Thanks,” answers the young man.

He is of middle stature, with rather a tendency to stoop, and is of a
complexion which would be delicate were it not so sunburnt, with light
brown hair, dark brown eyes, and a smile which lights up his face like
sunlight as he speaks.

Ruby leads him along the verandah, where the flowering plants twine up
the pillars, and into the room with the shady blue blinds.

“It’s a gentleman, mamma,” Ruby gives as introduction. “He is on his
way to the coast.”

When Ruby has finished her washing, spread out all the small garments
to dry and bleach upon the grass, and returned to the house, she finds
the stranger still there. The mistress had said he was to wait over
dinner, so she learns from Jenny.

“Oh, there you are, Ruby!” her step-mother says as the little girl
comes into the room. “What did you run away for, child? Mr. Kirke
fancies you must have been shy of him.”

“Little girls often are,” says Mr. Kirke, with that smile which
illumines an otherwise plain face. “They think I’m cross.”

“_I_ don’t think so!” decides Ruby, suddenly. She is gazing up into
those other brown eyes above her, and is fascinated, as most others
are, by Jack Kirke’s face--a face stern in repose, and far from
beautiful, but lit up by a smile as bright as God’s own sunlight, and
as kind.

“_You_ don’t think so?” repeats the young man, with another smile for
the fair little face uplifted to his. He puts his arm round the child
as he speaks, and draws her towards him. “You are the little girl who
thinks such a lot of Scotland,” Jack Kirke says.

“How did you know?” Ruby questions, looking up with wide brown eyes.

“I rather think a little bird must have sung it to me as I came along,”
the stranger answers gravely. “Besides, I’m Scotch, so of course I
know.”

“Oh-h!” ejaculates Ruby, her eyes growing bigger then. “Tell me about
Scotland.”

So, with one arm round Ruby, the big brown eyes gazing up into the
honest ones above her, and the sunshine, mellowed by the down-drawn
blinds, flooding on the two brown heads, Jack Kirke tells the little
girl all about the unknown land of Scotland, and his birthplace, the
grey little seaport town of Greenock, on the beautiful river Clyde.

“You must come and see me if ever you come to Scotland, you know,
Ruby,” he tells her. “I’m on my way home now, and shall be jolly glad
to get there; for, after all, there’s no place like home, and no place
in all the world like bonnie Scotland.”

“Do you think that too?” Ruby cries delightedly. “That’s what mamma
always says, and Jenny. I don’t remember Scotland,” Ruby continues,
with a sigh; “but I dare say, if I did, I should say it too. And by
next Christmas I shall have seen it. Dad says, ‘God willing;’ but I
don’t see the good of that when we really are going to go. Do you, Mr.
Kirke?”

The sunlight is still flooding the room; but its radiance has died
away from Jack Kirke’s face, leaving it for the moment cold and stern.
Ruby is half frightened as she looks up at him. What has chased the
brightness from the face a moment ago so glad?

“When you are as old as dad and I you will be thankful if you can say
just that, little girl,” he says in a strange, strained voice.

Then Ruby knows that Mr. Kirke is sorry about something, though she
does not know what, and, child-like, seeks to comfort him in the grief
she does not know. She slips her small hand into his.

“I’m sorry too,” she whispers simply.

Again that flash of sunlight illumines the stern young face. The
child’s words of ready sympathy have fallen like summer rain into the
heart of the stranger far from home and friends, and the grief she does
not even understand is somehow lessened by her innocent words.

“Ruby,” he says suddenly, looking into the happy little face so near
his own, “I want you to do something for me. I want you to call me
Jack. Nobody has called me that since I left home, and it would make it
feel like old times to hear you say it. Don’t be afraid because I’m too
old. It isn’t so very long ago since I was young like you.”

“Jack,” whispers Ruby, almost shyly.

“Good little girl!” Jack Kirke says approvingly. A very beautiful light
is shining in his brown eyes, and he stoops suddenly and kisses the
wondering child. “I must send you out a Christmas present for that,”
Jack adds. “What is it to be, Ruby? A new doll?”

“You must excuse me, Mr. Kirke,” the lady of the house observes
apologetically as she comes back to the room. She has actually taken
the trouble to cross the quadrangle to assist Jenny in sundry small
matters connected with the midday meal. “I am sorry I had to leave you
for a little,” Mrs. Thorne goes on. “I hope Ruby has been entertaining
you.”

“Ruby is a hostess in herself,” Jack Kirke returns, laughing.

“Yes, and mamma!” cries Ruby. “I’m to go to see him in Scotland. Jack
says so, in Green--Green----I can’t remember the name of the place; but
it’s where they build ships, beside the river.”

“Ruby!” her step-mother remonstrates, horror-stricken. “Who’s Jack?”

“Him!” cries Ruby, triumphantly, a fat forefinger denoting her
new-found friend. “He said I was to call him Jack,” explains the little
girl. “Didn’t you, Jack?”

“Of course I did,” that young man says good-naturedly. “And promised to
send you a doll for doing it, the very best that Greenock or Glasgow
can supply.”

It is evident that the pair have vowed eternal friendship--a friendship
which only grows as the afternoon goes on.

When Mr. Thorne comes home he insists that the young Scotchman shall
stay the night, which Jack Kirke is nothing loth to do. Ruby even
does him the honour of introducing him to both her dolls and to her
bleaching green, and presents him with supreme dignity to Jenny as “Mr.
Kirke, a gentleman from Scotland.”

“I wish next Christmas wasn’t so far away, Jack,” Ruby says that
evening as they sit on the verandah. “It’s such a long time till ever
we see you again.”

“And yet you never saw me before this morning,” says the young man,
laughing. He is both pleased and flattered by the affection which the
little lady has seen fit to shower upon him. “And I dare say that by
this time to-morrow you will have forgotten that there is such a person
in existence,” Jack adds teasingly.

“We won’t ever forget you,” Ruby protests loyally. “Will we, mamma?
He’s just the nicest ‘stranger’ that ever came to Glengarry since we
came.”

“There’s a decided compliment for you, Mr. Kirke,” laughs Ruby’s
father. “I’m getting quite jealous of your attentions, little woman. It
is well you are not a little older, or Mr. Kirke might find them very
much too marked.”

The white moonlight is flooding the land when at length they retire to
rest. Ruby’s dreams are all of her new-found friend whom she is so soon
to lose, and when she is awakened by the sunlight of the newer morning
streaming in upon her face a rush of gladness and of sorrow strive
hard for mastery in her heart--gladness because Jack is still here,
sorrow because he is going away.

Her father is to ride so far with the traveller upon his way, and Ruby
stands with dim eyes at the garden-gate watching them start.

“Good-bye, little Ruby red,” Jack Kirke says as he stoops to kiss her.
“Remember next Christmas, and remember the new dolly I’m to send you
when I get home.”

“Good-bye, Jack,” Ruby whispers in a choked voice. “I’ll always
remember you; and, Jack, if there’s any other little girl in Scotland
you’ll perhaps like better than me, I’ll try not to mind _very_ much.”

Jack Kirke twirls his moustache and smiles. There _is_ another little
girl in the question, a little girl whom he has known all her life,
and who is all the world to her loyal-hearted lover. The only question
now at issue is as to whether Jack Kirke is all the world to the woman
whom, he has long since decided, like Geraint of old, is the “one maid”
for him.

Then the two riders pass out into the sunshine, Jack Kirke with a last
look back and a wave of the hand for the desolate little blue figure
left standing at the gate.

“Till next Christmas, Ruby!” his voice rings out cheerily, and then
they are gone, through a blaze of sunlight which shines none the
dimmer because Ruby sees it through a mist of tears.

It is her first remembered tasting of that most sorrowful of all words,
“Good-bye,” a good-bye none the less bitter that the “good morning”
came to her but in yesterday’s sunshine. It is not always those whom we
have known the longest whom we love the best.

Even the thought of the promised new doll fails to comfort the little
girl in this her first keenest sorrow of parting. For long she stands
at the gate, gazing out into the sunlight, which beats down hotly upon
her uncovered head.

“It’s only till next Christmas anyway,” Ruby murmurs with a shadowy
attempt at a smile. “And it won’t be so _very_ long to pass.”

She rubs her eyes with her hand as she speaks, and is almost surprised,
when she draws it away, to find a tear there.

[Illustration]



[Illustration]



CHAPTER III.

THE CHRISTMAS CARD.

    “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward
    men.”


“May?” Ruby says. “I wonder who that can be?”

She turns the card with its illuminated wreath of holly and
conventional glistening snow scene this way and that. “It’s very
pretty,” the little girl murmurs admiringly. “But who can ‘May’ be?”

The Christmas card under inspection has been discovered by Jenny upon
the floor of the room where Mr. Jack Kirke has spent the night, dropped
there probably in the hurried start of the morning. It has evidently
been a very precious thing in its owner’s eyes, this card; for it is
wrapped in a little piece of white tissue paper and enclosed in an
unsealed envelope. Jenny has forthwith delivered this treasure over
to Ruby, who, seated upon the edge of the verandah, is now busily
scrutinizing it.

“Jack, from May,” is written upon the back of the card in a large
girlish scrawl. That is all; there is no date, no love or good wishes
sent, only those three words: “Jack, from May;” and in front of the
card, beneath the glittering snow scene and intermingling with the
scarlet wreath, the Christmas benediction: “Glory to God in the
highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

“Who’s May, I wonder,” Ruby murmurs again, almost jealously. “P’raps
another little girl in Scotland he never told me about. I wonder why he
didn’t speak about her.”

Ruby does not know that the “May” of the carefully cherished card is
a little girl of whom Jack but rarely speaks, though she lives in his
thoughts day and night. Far away in Scotland a blue-eyed maiden’s heart
is going out in longing to the man who only by his absence had proved
to the friend of his childhood how much she loved him. Her heart is in
sunny Australia, and his in bonnie Scotland, all for love each of the
other.

Having failed, even with the best intentions to discover who May is,
Ruby turns her attention to the picture and the text.

“‘Glory to God in the highest,’” the little girl reads--“that’s out of
the Bible--‘and on earth peace, good will toward men.’ I wonder what
‘good will’ means? I s’pose p’raps it just means to be kind.”

All around the child is the monotonous silence of the Australian noon,
unbroken save by the faint silvery wash of the creek over the stones
on its way to the river, and the far-away sound of old Hans’ axe as he
“rings” the trees. To be “kind,” that is what the Christmas text means
in Ruby’s mind, but there is no one here to be “kind” to.

“And of course that card would be made in Scotland, where there are
lots of people to be kind to,” the little girl decides thoughtfully.

She is gazing out far away over the path which leads to the coast.
Beyond that lies the sea, and beyond the sea Scotland. What would not
Ruby give to be in bonnie Scotland just now!

The child rises and goes through the house and across the courtyard
to the stables. The stables are situated on the fourth side of the
quadrangle; but at present are but little used, as most of the horses
are grazing at their own sweet will in the adjoining paddock just now.

Dick comes out of the coach-house pulling his forelock. This building
is desolate save for a very dilapidated conveyance termed “buggy” in
Australia.

“Wantin’ to go for a ride, Miss Ruby?” Dick asks. Dick is Ruby’s
cavalier upon those occasions when she desires to ride abroad.
“Smuttie’s out in the paddock. I’ll catch him for you if you like,” he
adds.

“Bring him round to the gate,” his young mistress says. “I’ll have got
on my things by the time you’ve got him ready.”

Smuttie is harnessed and ready by the time Ruby reappears. He justifies
his name, being a coal-black pony, rather given over to obesity, but a
good little fellow for all that. Dick has hitched his own pony to the
garden-gate, and now stands holding Smuttie’s bridle, and awaiting his
little mistress’s will.

The sun streams brightly down upon them as they start, Ruby riding
slowly ahead. In such weather Smuttie prefers to take life easily. It
is with reluctant feet that he has left the paddock at all; but now
that he has, so to speak, been driven out of Eden, he is resolved in
his pony heart that he will not budge one hair’s-breadth quicker than
necessity requires.

Dick has fastened a handkerchief beneath his broad-brimmed hat, and his
young mistress is not slow to follow his example and do the same.

“Hot enough to start a fire without a light,” Dick remarks from behind
as they jog along.

“I never saw one,” Ruby returns almost humbly. She knows that Dick
refers to a bush fire, and that for a dweller in the bush she ought
long before this to have witnessed such a spectacle. “I suppose it’s
very frightsome,” Ruby adds.

“Frightsome! I should just think so!” Dick ejaculates. He laughs to
himself at the question. “Saw one the last place I was in,” the boy
goes on. “My! it was grand, and no mistake. Your pa’s never had one
here, Miss Ruby; but it’s not every one that’s as lucky. It’s just
like”--Dick pauses for a simile--“like a steam-engine rushing along,
for all the world, the fire is. Then you can see it for miles and miles
away, and it’s all you can do to keep up with it and try to burn on
ahead to keep it out. If you’d seen one, Miss Ruby, you’d never like to
see another.”

Rounding a thicket, they come upon old Hans, the German, busy in his
employment of “ringing” the trees. This ringing is the Australian
method of thinning a forest, and consists in notching a ring or circle
about the trunks of the trees, thus impeding the flow of sap to the
branches, and causing in time their death. The trees thus “ringed”
form indeed a melancholy spectacle, their long arms stretched bare and
appealingly up to heaven, as if craving for the blessing of growth now
for ever denied them.

The old German raises his battered hat respectfully to the little
mistress.

“Hot day, missie,” he mutters as salutation.

“You must be dreadfully hot,” Ruby says compassionately.

The old man’s face is hot enough in all conscience. He raises his
broad-brimmed hat again, and wipes the perspiration from his damp
forehead with a large blue-cotton handkerchief.

“It’s desp’rate hot,” Dick puts in as his item to the conversation.

“You ought to take a rest, Hans,” the little girl suggests with ready
commiseration. “I’m sure dad wouldn’t mind. He doesn’t like me to do
things when it’s so hot, and he wouldn’t like you either. Your face is
just ever so red, as red as the fire, and you look dreadful tired.”

“Ach! and I _am_ tired,” the old man ejaculates, with a broad smile.
“But what of that? But a little more work, a little more tiring out,
and the dear Lord will send for old Hans to be with Him for ever in
that best and brightest land of all. Is it not so, missie? The work has
not come to those little hands of thine yet, but the day may come when
thou too wilt be glad to leave the toil behind thee, and be at rest.
Ach! but what am I saying?” The smile broadens on the tired old face.
“Why do I talk of death to thee, _liebchen_, whose life is all play?
The sunlight is made for such as thee, on whom the shadows have not
even begun to fall.”

Ruby gives just the tiniest suspicion of a sob stifled in a sniff.

“You’re not to talk like that, Hans,” she remonstrates in rather an
injured manner. “We don’t want you to die--do we, Dick?” she appeals to
her faithful servitor.

“No more’n we don’t,” Dick agrees.

“So you see,” Ruby goes on with the air of a small queen, “you’re not
to say things like that ever again. And I’ll tell dad you’re not to
work so hard; dad always does what I want him to do--usually.”

The old man looks after the two retreating figures as they ride away.

“She’s a dear little lady, she is,” he mutters to himself. “But she
can’t be expected to understand, God bless her! how the longing comes
for the home-land when one is weary. Good Lord, let it not be long.”
The old man’s tired eyes are uplifted to the wide expanse of blue,
beyond which, to his longing vision, lies the home-land for which he
yearns. Then, wiping his axe upon his shirt-sleeve, old Hans begins his
“ringing” again.

“He’s a queer old boy,” Dick remarks as they ride through the sunshine.
Though a servant, and obliged to ride behind, Dick sees no reason why
he should be excluded from conversation. Nor does Ruby. She would have
found those rides over the rough bush roads very dull work had there
been no Dick to talk to.

“He’s a nice old man!” Ruby exclaims staunchly. “He’s just tired, or
he wouldn’t have said that,” she goes on. She has an idea that Dick is
rather inclined to laugh at German Hans.

They are riding along now by the river’s bank, where the white clouds
floating across the azure sky, and the tall grasses by the margin are
reflected in its cool depths. About a mile or so farther on, at the
turn of the river, a ruined mill stands, while, far as eye can reach on
every hand, stretch unending miles of bush. Dick’s eyes have been fixed
on the mill; but now they wander to Ruby.

“We’d better turn ’fore we get there, Miss Ruby,” he recommends,
indicating the tumbledown building with the willowy switch he has been
whittling as they come along. “That’s the place your pa don’t like you
for to pass--old Davis, you know. Your pa’s been down on him lately for
stealing sheep.”

“I’m sure dad won’t mind,” cries Ruby, with a little toss of the head.
“And I want to go,” she adds, looking round at Dick, her bright face
flushed with exercise, and her brown hair flying behind her like a
veritable little Amazon.

That settles the question. Dick knows by sore experience that when
this little lady wants her own way she usually gets it.

“Your pa said,” he mutters; but it is all of no avail, and they
continue their course by the river bank.

The cottage stands with its back to the river, the mill, now idle and
unused, is built alongside. Once on a day this same mill was a busy
enough place, now it is falling to decay for lack of use, and no sign
or sound either there or at the cottage testify to the whereabouts of
the lonely inhabitant. An enormous brindled cat is mewing upon the
doorstep, a couple of gaunt hens and a bedraggled cock are pacing the
deserted gardens, while from a lean-to outhouse comes the unmistakable
grunt of a pig. Dick heaves a sigh of relief.

“He’s not at home,” he mutters. “I’m just as glad, for your pa would
have been mighty angry with me. Somewhere not far off he’ll be, I
reckon, and up to no good. Come along, Miss Ruby; we’d better be
getting home, or the mistress’ll be wondering what’s come over you.”

They are riding homewards by the river’s bank, when they come upon a
curious figure. An old, old man, bent almost double under his load of
faggots, his red handkerchief tied three cornered-wise beneath his chin
to protect his ancient head from the blazing sun. The face which looks
out at them from beneath this strange head-gear is yellow and wizened,
and the once keen blue eyes are dim and bleared, yet withal there is a
sort of low cunning about the whole countenance which sends a sudden
shiver to Ruby’s heart, and prompts Dick to touch up both ponies with
that convenient switch of his so smartly as to cause even lethargic
Smuttie to break into a canter.

“Who is he?” Ruby asks in a half-frightened whisper as they slacken
pace again. She looks over her shoulder as she asks the question.

The old man is standing just as they left him, gazing after them
through a flood of golden light. Dick looks too.

“He’s an old wicked one!” he mutters. “That’s him, Miss Ruby, him as we
were speaking about, old Davis, as stole your pa’s sheep. Your pa would
have had him put in prison, but that he was such an old one. He’s a bad
lot though, so he is.”

“He’s got a horrid face. I don’t like his face one bit,” says Ruby. Her
own face is very white as she speaks, and her brown eyes ablaze. “I
wish we hadn’t seen him,” shivers the little girl, as they set their
faces homewards.

[Illustration]



[Illustration]



CHAPTER IV.

RUBY’S DREAM.

  “I kissed thee when I went away
    On thy sweet eyes--thy lips that smiled.
  I heard thee lisp thy baby lore--
    Thou wouldst not learn the word farewell.
  God’s angels guard thee evermore,
    Till in His heaven we meet and dwell!”

                               HANS ANDERSON.


That night Ruby has a curious dream. It is stilly night, and she is
standing down by the creek, watching the dance and play of the water
over the stones on its way to the river. All around her the moonlight
is streaming, kissing the limpid water into silver, and in the deep
blue of the sky the stars are twinkling like gems on the robe of the
great King.

Not a sound can the little girl hear save the gentle murmur of the
stream over the stones. All the world--the white, white, moon-radiant
world--seems to be sleeping save Ruby; she alone is awake.

Stranger than all, though she is all alone, the child feels no sense of
dread. She is content to stand there, watching the moon-kissed stream
rushing by, her only companions those ever-watchful lights of heaven,
the stars.

Faint music is sounding in her ears, music so faint and far away that
it almost seems to come from the streets of the Golden City, where the
redeemed sing the “new song” of the Lamb through an endless day. Ruby
strains her ears to catch the notes echoing through the still night in
faint far-off cadence.

Nearer, ever nearer, it comes; clearer, ever clearer, ring those glad
strains of joy, till, with a great, glorious rush they seem to flood
the whole world:

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace; good will toward men!”

“It’s on Jack’s card!” Ruby cannot help exclaiming; but the words die
away upon her lips.

Gazing upwards, she sees such a blaze of glory as almost seems to blind
her. Strangely enough the thought that this is only a dream, and the
attendant necessity of pinching, do not occur to Ruby just now.

She is gazing upwards in awestruck wonder to the shining sky. What is
this vision of fair faces, angel faces, hovering above her, faces
shining with a light which “never was on land or sea,” the radiance
from their snowy wings striking athwart the gloom?

And in great, glorious unison the grand old Christmas carol rings
forth--

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace; good will toward men!”

Open-eyed and awestruck, the little girl stands gazing upwards, a
wonder fraught with strange beauty at her heart. Can it be possible
that one of those bright-faced angels may be the mother whom Ruby never
knew, sent from the far-off land to bear the Christmas message to the
child who never missed a mother’s love because she never knew it?

“Oh, mamma,” cries poor Ruby, stretching appealing hands up to the
shining throng, “take me with you! Take me with you back to heaven!”

She hardly knows why the words rise to her lips. Heaven has never been
a very real place to this little girl, although her mother is there;
the far-off city, with its pearly gates and golden streets, holds but
a shadowy place in Ruby’s heart, and before to-night she has never
greatly desired to enter therein.

The life of the present has claimed all her attention, and, amidst
the joys and pleasures of to-day, the coming life has held but little
place. But now, with heaven’s glories almost opened before her, with
the “new song” of the blessed in her ears, with her own long-lost
mother so near, Ruby would fain be gone.

Slowly the glory fades away, the angel faces grow dimmer and dimmer,
the heavenly music dies into silence, and the world is calm and hushed
as before. Still Ruby stands gazing upwards, longing for the angel
visitants to come again. But no heavenly light illumines the sky, only
the pale radiance of the moon, and no sound breaks upon the child’s
listening ear save the monotonous music of the ever-flowing water.

With a disappointed little sigh, Ruby brings her gaze back to earth
again. The white moonlight is flooding the country for miles around,
and in its light the ringed trees in the cleared space about the
station stand up gaunt and tall like watchful sentinels over this
home in the lonely bush. Yet Ruby has no desire to retrace her steps
homewards. It may be that the angel host with their wondrous song will
come again. So the child lingers, throwing little pebbles in the brook,
and watching the miniature circles widen and widen, brightened to
limpid silver in the sheeny light.

A halting footstep makes her turn her head. There, a few paces away,
a bent figure is coming wearifully along, weighted down beneath its
bundle of faggots. Near Ruby it stumbles and falls, the faggots
rolling from the wearied back down to the creek, where, caught by a
boulder, they swing this way and that in the flowing water.

Involuntarily the child gives a step forward, then springs back with
a sudden shiver. “It’s the wicked old one,” she whispers. “And I
_couldn’t_ help him! Oh, I _couldn’t_ help him!”

“On earth peace, good will toward men!” Faint and far away is the echo,
yet full of meaning to the child’s heart. She gives a backward glance
over her shoulder at the fallen old man. He is groping with his hands
this way and that, as though in darkness, and the blood is flowing from
a cut in the ugly yellow wizened face.

“If it wasn’t _him_,” Ruby mutters. “If it was anybody else but the
wicked old one; but I can’t be kind to _him_.”

“On earth peace, good will toward men!” Clearer and clearer rings out
the angel benison, sent from the gates of heaven, where Ruby’s mother
waits to welcome home again the husband and child from whose loving
arms she was so soon called away. To be “kind,” that is what Ruby has
decided “good will” means. Is she, then, being kind, to the old man
whose groping hands appeal so vainly to her aid?

“Dad wouldn’t like me to,” decides Ruby, trying to stifle the voice of
conscience. “And he’s _such_ a horrid old man.”

Clearer and still clearer, higher and still higher rings out the
angels’ singing. There is a queer sort of tugging going on at Ruby’s
heart. She knows she ought to go back to help old Davis and yet she
cannot--cannot!

Then a great flash of light comes before her eyes, and Ruby suddenly
wakens to find herself in her own little bed, the white curtains drawn
closely to ward off mosquitoes, and the morning sun slanting in and
forming a long golden bar on the opposite curtain.

The little girl rubs her eyes and stares about her. She, who has so
often even doubted reality, finds it hard to believe that what has
passed is really a dream. Even yet the angel voices seem to be sounding
in her ears, the heavenly light dazzling her eyes.

“And they weren’t angels, after all,” murmurs Ruby in a disappointed
voice. “It was only a dream.”

Only a dream! How many of our so-called realities are “only a dream,”
from which we waken with disappointed hearts and saddened eyes. One far
day there will come to us that which is not a dream, but a reality,
which can never pass away, and we shall awaken in heaven’s morning,
being “satisfied.”

“Dad,” asks Ruby as they go about the station that morning, she hanging
on her father’s arm, “what was my mamma like--my own mamma, I mean?”

The big man smiles, and looks down into the eager little face uplifted
to his own.

“Your own mamma, little woman,” he repeats gently. “Poor little girl!
of course you don’t remember her. You remind me of her, Ruby, in a
great many ways, and it is my greatest wish that you grow up just such
a woman as your dear mother was. Why are you asking, little girlie? I
don’t think you ever asked me about your mother before.”

“I just wondered,” says Ruby. She is gazing up into the cloudless blue
of the sky, which has figured so vividly in her dream of last night. “I
wish I remembered her,” Ruby murmurs, with the tiniest sigh.

“Poor little lassie!” says the father, patting the small hand. “Her
greatest sorrow was in leaving you, Ruby. You were just a baby when she
died. Not long before she went away she spoke about you, her little
girl whom she was so unwilling to leave. ‘Tell my little Ruby,’ she
said, ‘that I shall be waiting for her. I have prayed to the dear Lord
Jesus that she may be one of those whom He gathers that day when He
comes to make up His jewels.’ She used to call you her little jewel,
Ruby.”

“And my name means a jewel,” says Ruby, looking up into her father’s
face with big, wondering brown eyes. The dream mother has come nearer
to her little girl during those last few minutes than she has ever
done before. Those words, spoken so long ago, have made Ruby feel her
long-dead young mother to be a real personality, albeit separated from
the little girl for whom one far day she had prayed that Christ might
number her among His jewels. In that fair city, “into which no foe can
enter, and from which no friend can ever pass away,” Ruby’s mother has
done with all care and sorrow. God Himself has wiped away all tears
from her eyes for ever.

Ruby goes about with a very sober little face that morning. She gathers
fresh flowers for the sitting-room, and carries the flower-glasses
across the courtyard to the kitchen to wash them out. This is one of
Ruby’s customary little duties. She has a variety of such small tasks
which fill up the early hours of the morning. After this Ruby usually
conscientiously learns a few lessons, which her step-mother hears her
recite now and then, as the humour seizes her.

But at present Ruby is enjoying holidays in honour of Christmas,
holidays which the little girl has decided shall last a month or more,
if she can possibly manage it.

“You’re very quiet to-day, Ruby,” observes her step-mother, as the
child goes about the room, placing the vases of flowers in their
accustomed places. Mrs. Thorne is reclining upon her favourite sofa,
the latest new book which the station affords in her hand. “Aren’t you
well, child?” she asks.

“Am I quiet?” Ruby says. “I didn’t notice, mamma. I’m all right.”

It is true, as the little girl has said, that she has not even noticed
that she is more quiet than usual. Involuntarily her thoughts have
gone out to the mother whom she never knew, the mother who even now is
waiting in sunny Paradise for the little daughter she has left behind.
Since she left her so long ago, Ruby has hardly given a thought to her
mother. The snow is lying thick on her grave in the little Scottish
kirkyard at home; but Ruby has been happy enough without her, living
her own glad young life without fear of death, and with no thought to
spare for the heaven beyond.

But now the radiant vision of last night’s dream, combined with her
father’s words, have set the child thinking. Will the Lord Jesus indeed
answer her mother’s prayer, and one day gather little Ruby among His
jewels? Will he care very much that this little jewel of His has never
tried very hard throughout her short life to work His will or do His
bidding? What if, when the Lord Jesus comes, He finds Ruby all unworthy
to be numbered amongst those jewels of His? And the long-lost mother,
who even in heaven will be the gladder that her little daughter is with
her there, how will she bear to know that the prayer she prayed so long
ago is all in vain?

“And if he doesn’t gather me,” Ruby murmurs, staring straight up into
the clear, blue sky, “what shall I do? Oh, what shall I do?”

[Illustration]



[Illustration]



CHAPTER V.

THE BUSH FIRE.

    “Will you shew yourself gentle, and be merciful for Christ’s sake
    to poor and needy people, and to all strangers destitute of help?”

    “I will so shew myself, by God’s help.”

                     _Consecration of Bishops, Book of Common Prayer._


Jack’s card is placed upright on the mantel-piece of Ruby’s bedroom,
its back leaning against the wall, and before it stands a little girl
with a troubled face, and a perplexed wrinkle between her brows.

“It says it there,” Ruby murmurs, the perplexed wrinkle deepening. “And
that text’s out of the Bible. But when there’s nobody to be kind to, I
can’t do anything.”

The sun is glinting on the frosted snow scene; but Ruby is not looking
at the snow scene. Her eyes are following the old, old words of the
first Christmas carol: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth
peace, good will toward men!”

“If there was only anybody to be kind to,” the little girl repeats
slowly. “Dad and mamma don’t need me to be kind to them, and I _am_
quite kind to Hans and Dick. If it was only in Scotland now; but it’s
quite different here.”

The soft summer wind is swaying the window-blinds gently to and fro,
and ruffling with its soft breath the thirsty, parched grass about the
station. To the child’s mind has come a remembrance, a remembrance of
what was “only a dream,” and she sees an old, old man, bowed down with
the weight of years, coming to her across the moonlit paths of last
night, an old man whom Ruby had let lie where he fell, because he was
only “the wicked old one.”

“It was only a dream, so it didn’t matter.” Thus the little girl tries
to soothe a suddenly awakened conscience. “And he _is_ a wicked old
one; Dick said he was.”

Ruby goes over to the window, and stands looking out. There is no
change in the fair Australian scene; on just such a picture Ruby’s eyes
have rested since first she came. But there is a strange, unexplained
change in the little girl’s heart. Only that the dear Lord Jesus has
come to Ruby, asking her for His dear sake to be kind to one of the
lowest and humblest of His creatures.

The child gives an impatient wriggle. “If it was only anybody else,”
she mutters. “But he’s so horrid, and he has such a horrid face. And I
don’t see what I could do to be kind to such a nasty old man as he is.
Besides, perhaps dad wouldn’t like me.”

“Good will toward men! Good will toward men!” Again the heavenly
voices seem ringing in Ruby’s ears. There is no angel host about her
to strengthen and encourage her, only one very lonely little girl who
finds it hard to do right when the doing of that right does not quite
fit in with her own inclinations. She has taken the first step upon the
heavenly way, and finds already the shadow of the cross.

The radiance of the sunshine is reflected in Ruby’s brown eyes, the
radiance, it may be, of something far greater in her heart.

“I’ll do it!” the little girl decides suddenly. “I’ll try to be kind to
the ‘old one.’ Only what can I do?”

“Miss Ruby!” cries an excited voice at the window, and, looking out,
Ruby sees Dick’s brown face and merry eyes. “Come ’long as quick as
you can. There’s a fire, and you said t’other day you’d never seen one.
I’ll get Smuttie if you come as quick as you can. It’s over by old
Davis’s place.”

Dick’s young mistress does not need a second bidding. She is out
waiting by the garden-gate long before Smuttie is caught and harnessed.
Away to the west she can see the long glare of fire shooting up tongues
of flame into the still sunlight, and brightening the river into a very
sea of blood.

“I don’t think you should go, Ruby,” says her mother, who has come
out on the verandah. “It isn’t safe, and you are so venturesome. I am
dreadfully anxious about your father too. Dick says he and the men are
off to help putting out the fire; but in such weather as this I don’t
see how they can ever possibly get it extinguished.”

“I’ll be very, very careful, mamma,” Ruby promises. Her brown eyes
are ablaze with excitement, and her cheeks aglow. “And I’ll be there
to watch dad too, you know,” she adds persuasively in a voice which
expresses the belief that not much danger can possibly come to dad
while his little girl is near.

Dick has brought Smuttie round to the garden-gate, and in a moment he
and his little mistress are off, cantering as fast as Smuttie can be
got to go, to the scene of the fire.

Those who have witnessed a fire in the bush will never forget it. The
first spark, induced sometimes by a fallen match, ignited often by the
excessive heat of the sun’s rays, gains ground with appalling rapidity,
and where the growth is dry, large tracts of ground have often been
laid waste. In excessively hot weather this is more particularly the
case, and it is then found almost impossible to extinguish the fire.

“Look at it!” Dick cries excitedly. “Goin’ like a steam-engine just.
Wish we hadn’t brought Smuttie, Miss Ruby. He’ll maybe be frightened at
the fire. My! they’ve got the start of it. Do you see that other fire
on ahead? That’s where they’re burning down!”

Ruby looks. Yes, there _are_ two fires, both, it seems, running, as
Dick has said, “like steam-engines.”

“My!” the boy cries suddenly; “it’s the old wicked one’s house. It’s it
that has got afire. My! they’ll never get that out. There’s not enough
of them to do that, and to stop the fire too. And it’ll be on to your
pa’s land if they don’t stop it pretty soon. I’ll have to help them,
Miss Ruby. And what’ll you do? You’ll have to get off Smuttie and hold
him in case he gets scared at the fire.”

“Oh, Dick!” the little girl cries. Her face is very pale, and her eyes
are fixed on that lurid light, ever growing nearer. “Do you think
he’ll be dead? Do you think the old man’ll be dead?”

“Not him,” Dick returns, with a grin. “He’s too bad to die, he is.
Those wicked old ones always live the longest. Nothing ever harms them.
My! but I wish he was dead!” the boy ejaculates. “It would be a good
riddance of bad rubbish, that’s what it would.”

“Oh, Dick,” shivers Ruby, “I wish you wouldn’t say that. What if he
was to be dead! And I’ve never been kind! I’ve never been kind!” Ruby
breaks out in a wail, which Dick does not understand.

They are nearing the scene of the fire now. Luckily the cottage is
hard by the river, so there is no scarcity of water. But the willing
workers are but few. Stations are scarce and far between in the
Australian bush, and the inhabitants not easily got together. There are
two detachments of men at work, one party endeavouring to extinguish
the flames of poor old Davis’s burning cottage, the others far in
the distance trying to stop the progress of the fire by burning down
the thickets in advance, and thus starving the main fire as it gains
ground. This method of “starving the fire” is well known to dwellers in
the Australian bush, though at times the second fire thus given birth
to assumes such proportions as to outrun its predecessor.

“It’s not much use. It’s too dry,” Dick mutters. “I don’t like leaving
you, Miss Ruby; but I’ll have to do it. Even a boy’s a bit of help in
bringing the water. You don’t mind, do you, Miss Ruby? I think, if I
was you, now that you’ve seen it, I’d turn and go home again. Smuttie’s
easy enough managed; but if he got frightened, I don’t know what you’d
do.”

“I’ll get down and hold him,” Ruby says. “I want to watch.” Her heart
is sick within her. She has never seen a fire before, and it seems so
fraught with danger that she trembles when she thinks of dad, the being
she loves best on earth. “Go you away to the fire, Dick,” adds Ruby,
very pale, but very determined. “I’m not afraid of being left alone.”

The fire is gaining ground every moment, and poor old Davis’s desolate
home bids fair to be soon nothing but a heap of blackened ruins.
Dick gives one look at the burning house, and another at his little
mistress. There is no time to waste if he is to be of any use.

“I don’t like leaving you, Miss Ruby,” says Dick again; but he goes all
the same.

Ruby, left alone, stands by Smuttie’s head, consoling that faithful
little animal now and then with a pat of the hand. It is hot,
scorchingly hot; but such cold dread sits at the little girl’s heart
that she does not even feel the heat. In her ears is the hissing of
those fierce flames, and her love for dad has grown to be a very agony
in the thought that something may befall him.

“Ruby!” says a well-known voice, and through the blaze of sunlight she
sees her father coming towards her. His face, like Ruby’s, is very
pale, and his hands are blackened with the grime and soot. “You ought
not to be here, child. It isn’t even safe. Away home to your mother,
and tell her it is all right, for I know she will be feeling anxious.”

“But is it all right, dad?” the little girl questions anxiously. Her
eyes flit from dad’s face to the burning cottage, and then to those
other figures in the lurid light far away. “And mamma _will_ be
frightened; for she’ll think you’ll be getting hurt. And so will I,”
adds poor Ruby with a little catch in her voice.

“What nonsense, little girl,” says her father cheerfully. “There,
dear, I have no time to wait, so get on Smuttie, and let me see you
away. That’s a brave little girl,” he adds, stooping to kiss the small
anxious face.

It is with a sore, sore heart that Ruby rides home lonely by the
river’s side. She has not waited for her trouble to come to her, but
has met it half way, as more people than little brown-eyed Ruby are too
fond of doing. Dad is the very dearest thing Ruby has in the whole wide
world, and if anything happens to dad, whatever will she do?

“I just couldn’t bear it,” murmurs poor Ruby, wiping away a very big
tear which has fallen on Smuttie’s broad back.

Ah, little girl with the big, tearful, brown eyes, you have still to
learn that any trouble can be borne patiently, and with a brave face to
the world, if only God gives His help!

[Illustration]



[Illustration]



CHAPTER VI.

“I CAN NEVER DO IT NOW!”

          “Then, darling, wait;
          Nothing is late,
  In the light that shines for ever!”


That is a long, long day to Ruby. From Glengarry they can watch far
away the flames, like so many forked and lurid tongues of fire, leaping
up into the still air and looking strangely out of place against
the hazy blue of the summer sky. The little girl leaves her almost
untouched dinner, and steals out to the verandah, where she sits, a
forlorn-looking little figure, in the glare of the afternoon sunshine,
with her knees drawn up to her chin, and her brown eyes following
eagerly the pathway by the river where she has ridden with Dick no
later than this morning. This morning!--to waiting Ruby it seems more
like a century ago.

Jenny finds her there when she has washed up the dinner dishes, tidied
all for the afternoon, and come out to get what she expresses as a
“breath o’ caller air,” after her exertions of the day. The “breath
o’ air” Jenny may get; but it will never be “caller” nor anything
approaching “caller” at this season of the year. Poor Jenny, she may
well sigh for the fresh moorland breezes of bonnie Scotland with its
shady glens, where the bracken and wild hyacinth grow, and where the
very plash of the mountain torrent or “sough” of the wind among the
trees, makes one feel cool, however hot and sultry it may be.

“Ye’re no cryin’, Miss Ruby?” ejaculates Jenny. “No but that the heat
o’ this outlandish place would gar anybody cry. What’s wrong wi’ ye, ma
lambie?” Jenny can be very gentle upon occasion. “Are ye no weel?” For
all her six years of residence in the bush, Jenny’s Scotch tongue is
still aggressively Scotch.

Ruby raises a face in which tears and smiles struggle hard for mastery.

“I’m not crying, _really_, Jenny,” she answers. “Only,” with a
suspicious droop of the dark-fringed eye-lids and at the corners of the
rosy mouth, “I was pretty near it. It’s dad. I _do_ wish he was home.
I can’t help watching the flames, and thinking that something might
perhaps be happening to him, and me not there to know. And then I began
to feel glad to think how nice it would be to see him and Dick come
riding home. Oh! Jenny, how _do_ little girls get along who have no
father?”

It is strange that Ruby never reflects that her own mother has gone
from her. All her love is centred in dad.

“The Lord A’mighty tak’s care o’ such,” Jenny responds solemnly.
“Ye’ll just weary your eyes glowerin’ awa’ at the fire like that, Miss
Ruby. They say that ‘a watched pot never boils,’ an’ I’m thinkin’ your
papa’ll no come a meenit suner for a’ your watchin’. Gae in an’ rest
yersel’ like the mistress. She’s sleepin’ finely on the sofa.”

Ruby gives a little impatient wriggle. “How can I, Jenny,” she exclaims
piteously, “when dad’s out there? Oh! I don’t know whatever I would do
if anything was to happen to dad.”

“Pit yer trust in the Lord, ma dearie,” the Scotchwoman says
reverently. “Ye’ll be in richt gude keepin’ then, an’ them ye love as
weel.”

But Ruby only wriggles again. She does not want Jenny’s solemn talk.
It is dad she desires. Dad, whom she loves so dearly, and whose little
daughter’s heart would surely break if aught of ill befell him.

So the long, long afternoon wears away, and when is an afternoon so
tedious as when one is eagerly waiting for something or some one?
Jenny goes indoors again, and Ruby can hear the clatter of plates and
cups echoing across the quadrangle as she makes ready the early tea.
The child’s eyes are dim with the glare at which she has so long been
gazing, and her limbs, in their cramped position, are aching; but Ruby
hardly seems to feel the discomfort from which those useful members
suffer. She goes in to tea with a grudge, listens to her stepmother’s
fretful little complaints with an absent air which shows how far away
her heart is, and returns as soon as she may to her point of vantage.
“Oh, me!” sighs the poor little girl. “Will he never come?”

Out in the west the red sun is dying grandly in an amber sky, tinged
with the glory of his life-blood, when dad at length comes riding home.
Ruby has seen him far in the distance, and runs out past the gate to
meet him.

“Oh, dad darling!” she cries. “I did think you were never coming. Oh,
dad, are you hurt?” her quick eyes catching sight of his hand in a
sling.

Her father laughs. “Only a scratch, little girl,” he says. “Don’t
frighten the mother about it. Poor little Ruby red, were you
frightened? Did you think your old father was to be killed outright?”

“I didn’t know,” Ruby says. Her eyes are shining now. “And mamma was
frightened too. And when even Dick didn’t come back. Oh, dad, wasn’t it
just dreadful--the fire, I mean?”

Black Prince has been put into the paddock, and Ruby goes into the
house, hanging on her father’s uninjured arm. The child’s heart has
grown suddenly light. The terrible fear which has been weighing her
down for the last few hours has been lifted, and Ruby is her old joyous
self again.

“Dad,” the little girl says later on. They are sitting out on the
verandah, enjoying the comparative cool of the evening. “What will
he do, old Davis, I mean, now that his house is burnt down? It won’t
hardly be worth while his building another, now that he’s so old.”

Dad does not answer just for a moment, and Ruby, glancing quickly
upwards, almost fancies that her father must be angry with her; his
face is so very grave. Perhaps he does not even wish her to mention the
name of the old man, who, but that he is “so old,” should now have been
in prison.

“Old Davis will never need another house now, Ruby,” Dad answers,
looking down into the eager little upturned face. “He has gone away.
God has taken him away, dear.”

“He’s dead?” Ruby questions with wide-open, horror-stricken eyes.

The little girl hardly hears her father as he goes on to tell her how
the old man’s end came, suddenly and without warning, crushing him in
the ruins of his burning cottage, where the desolate creature died
as he had lived, uncared for and alone. Into Ruby’s heart a great,
sorrowful regret has come, regret for a kind act left for ever undone,
a kind word for ever unspoken.

“And I can never do it now!” the child sobs. “He’ll never even know I
wanted to be kind to him!”

“Kind to whom, little girl?” her father asks wonderingly.

And it is in those kind arms that Ruby sobs out her story. “I can never
do it now!” that is the burden of her sorrow.

The late Australian twilight gathers round them, and the stars twinkle
out one by one. But, far away in the heaven which is beyond the stars
and the dim twilight of this world, I think that God knows how one
little girl, whose eyes are now dim with tears, tried to be “kind,”
and it may be that in His own good time--and God’s time is always the
best--He will let old Davis “know” also.



[Illustration]



CHAPTER VII.

A SUMMER MORNING.

  “There came a glorious morning, such a one
  As dawns but once a season. Mercury
  On such a morning would have flung himself
  From cloud to cloud, and swum with balanced wings
  To some tall mountain: when I said to her,
  ‘A day for gods to stoop,’ she answered ‘Ay,
  And men to soar.’”

                                          TENNYSON.


Ruby goes about her work and play very gravely for the next few days.
A great sorrow sits at her heart which only time can lighten and chase
away. She is very lonely, this little girl--lonely without even knowing
it, but none the less to be pitied on that account. To her step-mother
Ruby never even dreams of turning for comfort or advice in her small
troubles and griefs. Dad is his little girl’s _confidant_; but, then,
dad is often away, and in Mrs. Thorne’s presence Ruby never thinks of
confiding in her father.

It is a hot sunny morning in the early months of the new year. Ruby is
riding by her father’s side along the river’s bank, Black Prince doing
his very best to accommodate his long steps to Smuttie’s slower amble.
Far over the long flats of uncultivated bush-land hangs a soft blue
haze, forerunner of a day of intense heat. But Ruby and dad are early
astir this morning, and it is still cool and fresh with the beautiful
young freshness of a glorious summer morning.

“It’s lovely just now,” Ruby says, with a little sigh of satisfaction.
“I wish it would always stay early morning; don’t you, dad? It’s like
where it says in the hymn about ‘the summer morn I’ve sighed for.’
P’raps that means that it will always be morning in heaven. I hope it
will.”

“It will be a very fair summer morn anyway, little girl,” says dad, a
sudden far-away look coming into his brown eyes.

At the child’s words, his thoughts have gone back with a sudden rush of
memory to another summer’s morning, long, long ago, when he knelt by
the bedside where his young wife lay gasping out her life, and watched
Ruby’s mother go home to God. “I’ll be waiting for you, Will,” she had
whispered only a little while before she went away. “It won’t be so
very long, my darling; for even heaven won’t be quite heaven to me with
you away.” And as the dawning rose over the purple hill-tops, and the
birds’ soft twitter-twitter gave glad greeting to the new-born day, the
angels had come for Ruby’s mother, and the dawning for her had been the
glorious dawning of heaven.

Many a year has passed away since then, sorrowfully enough at first for
the desolate husband, all unheeded by the child, who never missed her
mother because she never knew her. Nowadays new hopes, new interests
have come to Will Thorne, dimming with their fresher links the dear old
days of long ago. He has not forgotten the love of his youth, never
will; but time has softened the bitterness of his sorrow, and caused
him to think but with a gentle regret of the woman whom God had called
away in the suntime of her youth. But Ruby’s words have come to him
this summer morning awakening old memories long slumbering, and his
thoughts wander from the dear old days, up--up--up to God’s land on
high, where, in the fair summer morning of Paradise, one is waiting
longingly, hopefully--one who, even up in heaven, will be bitterly
disappointed if those who in the old days she loved more than life
itself will not one day join her there.

“Dad,” Ruby asks quickly, uplifting a troubled little face to that
other dear one above her, “what is the matter? You looked so sorry, so
very sorry, just now,” adds the little girl, with something almost like
a sob.

“Sorry. Did I?” says the father, with a swift sudden smile. He bends
down to the little figure riding by his side, and strokes the soft,
brown hair. “I was thinking of your mother, Ruby,” dad says. “But
instead of looking sorry I should have looked glad, that for her all
tears are for ever past, and that nothing can ever harm her now. I was
thinking of her at heaven’s gate, darling, watching, as she said she
would, for you and for me.”

“I wonder,” says Ruby, with very thoughtful brown eyes, “how will I
know her? And how will she know me, dad? God will have to tell her,
won’t He? And p’raps I’ll be quite grown up ’fore I die, and mother
won’t think it’s her own little Ruby at all. I wish I knew,” adds the
child, in a puzzled voice.

“God will make it all right, dear. I have no fear of that,” says the
father, quickly.

It is not often that Ruby and he talk as they are doing now. Like all
true Scotchmen, he is reticent by nature, reverencing that which is
holy too much to take it lightly upon his lips. As for Ruby, she has
never even thought of such things. In her gay, sunny life she has had
no time to think of the mother awaiting her coming in the land which
to Ruby, in more senses than one, is “very far off.”

Far in the distance the early sunshine gleams on the river, winding out
and in like a silver thread. The tall trees stand stiffly by its banks,
their green leaves faintly rustling in the soft summer wind. And above
all stretches the blue, blue sky, flecked here and there by a fleecy
cloud, beyond which, as the children tell us, lies God’s happiest land.

It is a fair scene, and one which Ruby’s eyes have gazed on often,
with but little thought or appreciation of its beauty. But to-day her
thoughts are far away, beyond another river which all must pass, where
the shadows only fall the deeper because of the exceeding brightness
of the light beyond. And still another river rises before the little
girl’s eyes, a river, clear as crystal, the “beautiful, beautiful
river” by whose banks the pilgrimage of even the most weary shall one
day cease, the burden of even the most heavy-laden, one day be laid
down. On what beauties must not her mother’s eyes be now gazing! But
even midst the joy and glory of the heavenly land, how can that fond,
loving heart be quite content if Ruby, one far day, is not to be with
her there?

All the way home the little girl is very thoughtful, and a strange
quietness seems to hang over usually merry Ruby for the remainder of
the day.

But towards evening a great surprise is in store for her. Dick, whose
duty it is, when his master is otherwise engaged, to ride to the
nearest post-town for the letters, arrives with a parcel in his bag,
addressed in very big letters to “Miss Ruby Thorne.” With fingers
trembling with excitement the child cuts the string. Within is a long
white box, and within the box a doll more beautiful than Ruby has ever
even imagined, a doll with golden curls and closed eyes, who, when
set upright, discloses the bluest of blue orbs. She is dressed in the
daintiest of pale blue silk frocks, and tiny bronze shoes encase her
feet. She is altogether, as Ruby ecstatically exclaims, “a love of a
doll,” and seems but little the worse for her long journey across the
briny ocean.

“It’s from Jack!” cries Ruby, her eyes shining. “Oh, and here’s a
letter pinned to dolly’s dress! What a nice writer he is!” The child’s
cheeks flush redly, and her fingers tremble even more as she tears the
envelope open. “I’ll read it first to myself, mamma, and then I’ll give
it to you.”

    “MY DEAR LITTLE RUBY” (so the letter runs),

    “I have very often thought of you since last we parted, and now do
    myself the pleasure of sending madam across the sea in charge of
    my letter to you. She is the little bird I would ask to whisper
    of me to you now and again, and if you remember your old friend
    as well as he will always remember you, I shall ask no more. How
    are the dollies? Bluebell and her other ladyship--I have forgotten
    her name. I often think of you this bleak, cold weather, and envy
    you your Australian sunshine just as, I suppose, you often envy
    me my bonnie Scotland. I am looking forward to the day when you
    are coming home on that visit you spoke of. We must try and have
    a regular jollification then, and Edinburgh, your mother’s home,
    isn’t so far off from Greenock but that you can manage to spend
    some time with us. My mother bids me say that she will expect you
    and your people. Give my kindest regards to your father and mother,
    and, looking forward to next Christmas,

                          “I remain, my dear little Ruby red,
                                                “Your old friend,
                                                             “JACK.”

“Very good of him to take so much trouble on a little girl’s account,”
remarks Mrs. Thorne, approvingly, when she too has perused the letter.
“And what an exquisite doll! You must certainly write and thank Mr.
Kirke, Ruby. It is the least you can do, after his kindness, and I am
sure he would like to have a letter from you.”

“I just love him,” says Ruby, squeezing her doll closer to her. “I wish
I could call the doll after him; but then, ‘Jack’ would never do for
a lady’s name. I know what I’ll do!” with a little dance of delight.
“I’ll call her ‘May’ after the little girl who gave Jack the card, and
I’ll call her ‘Kirke’ for her second name, and that’ll be after Jack.
I’ll tell him that when I write, and I’d better send him back his card
too.”

That very evening, Ruby sits down to laboriously compose a letter to
her friend.

    “MY DEAR JACK” (writes Ruby in her large round hand),

[“I don’t know what else to say,” murmurs the little girl, pausing with
her pen uplifted. “I never wrote a letter before.”

“Thank him for the doll, of course,” advises Mrs. Thorne, with an
amused smile. “That is the reason for your writing to him at all, Ruby.”

So Ruby, thus adjured, proceeds--]

    “Thank you very much for the doll. She is just a lovely doll.
    I am calling her ‘May Kirke,’ after the name on your card, and
    after your own name; because I couldn’t call her ‘Jack.’ We are
    having very hot weather yet; but not so hot as when you were here.
    The dolls are not quite well, because Fanny fell under old Hans’
    waggon, and the waggon went over her face and squashed it. I am
    very sorry, because I liked her, but your doll will make up. Thank
    you for writing me. Mamma says I am to send her kindest regards to
    you. It won’t be long till next Christmas now. I am sending you
    back your card.

                         “With love, from your little friend,
                                                               “RUBY.

    “P.S.--Dad has come in now, and asks me to remember him to you. I
    have had to write this all over again; mamma said it was so badly
    spelt.”

Jack Kirke’s eyes soften as he reads the badly written little letter,
and it is noticeable that when he reaches a certain point where two
words, “May Kirke,” appear, he stops and kisses the paper on which they
are written.

Such are the excessively foolish antics of young men who happen to be
in love.

[Illustration]



[Illustration]



CHAPTER VIII.

ANOTHER CHRISTMAS DAY.

  “The Christmas bells from hill to hill
  Answer each other in the mist.”

                               TENNYSON.


Christmas Day again; but a white, white Christmas this time--a
Christmas Day in bonnie Scotland.

In the sitting-room of an old-fashioned house in Edinburgh a little
brown-haired, brown-eyed girl is dancing about in an immense state
of excitement. She is a merry-looking little creature, with rosy
cheeks, and wears a scarlet frock, which sets off those same cheeks to
perfection.

“Can’t you be still even for a moment, Ruby?”

“No, I can’t,” the child returns. “And neither could you, Aunt Lena,
if you knew my dear Jack. Oh, he’s just a dear! I wonder what’s keeping
him? What if he’s just gone on straight home to Greenock without
stopping here at all. Oh dear! what if there’s been a collision.
Dad says there are quite often collisions in Scotland!” cries Ruby,
suddenly growing very grave.

“What if the skies were to fall? Just about as probable, you wild
little Australian,” laughs the lady addressed as Aunt Lena, who bears
sufficient resemblance to the present Mrs. Thorne to proclaim them
to be sisters. “You must expect trains to be late at Christmas time,
Ruby. But of course you can’t be expected to know that, living in the
Australian bush all your days. Poor, dear Dolly, I wonder how she ever
survived it.”

“Mamma was very often ill,” Ruby returns very gravely. “She didn’t
like being out there at all, compared with Scotland. ‘Bonnie Scotland’
Jenny always used to call it. But I do think,” adds the child, with
a small sigh and shiver as she glances out at the fast-falling snow,
“that Glengarry’s bonnier. There are so many houses here, and you can’t
see the river unless you go away up above them all. P’raps though in
summer,” with a sudden regret that she has possibly said something
not just quite polite. “And then when grandma and you are always used
to it. It’s different with me; I’ve been always used to Glengarry.
Oh,” cries Ruby, with a sudden, glad little cry, and dash to the
front door, “here he is at last! Oh, Jack, Jack!” Aunt Lena can hear
the shrill childish voice exclaiming. “I thought you were just never
coming. I thought p’raps there had been a collision.” And presently
the dining-room door is flung open, and Ruby, now in a high state of
excitement, ushers in her friend.

Miss Lena Templeton’s first feeling is one of surprise, almost of
disappointment, as she rises to greet the new-comer. The “Jack” Ruby
had talked of in such ecstatic terms had presented himself before the
lady’s mind’s eye as a tall, broad-shouldered, handsome man, the sort
of man likely to take a child’s fancy; ay, and a woman’s too.

But the real Jack is insignificant in the extreme. At such a man one
would not bestow more than a passing glance. So thinks Miss Templeton
as her hand is taken in the young Scotchman’s strong grasp. His face,
now that the becoming bronze of travel has left it, is colourlessly
pale, his merely medium height lessened by his slightly stooping form.
Ay, but his eyes! It is his eyes which suddenly and irresistibly
fascinate Miss Lena, seeming to look her through and through, and when
Jack smiles, this young lady who has turned more than one kneeling
suitor from her feet with a coldly-spoken “no,” ceases to wonder how
even the child has been fascinated by the wonderful personality of
this plain-faced man.

“I am very glad to make your acquaintance, Miss Templeton,” Jack Kirke
says. “It is good of you to receive me for Ruby’s sake.” He glances
down at the child with one of his swift, bright smiles, and squeezes
tighter the little hand which so confidingly clasps his.

“I’ve told Aunt Lena all about you, Jack,” Ruby proclaims in her shrill
sweet voice. “She said she was quite anxious to see you after all I had
said. Oh! Jack, can’t you stay Christmas with us? It would be lovely if
you could.”

“We shall be very glad if you can make it convenient to stay and eat
your Christmas dinner with us, Mr. Kirke,” Miss Templeton says. “In
such weather as this, you have every excuse for postponing your journey
to Greenock for a little.”

“Many thanks for your kindness, Miss Templeton,” the young man
responds. “I should have been most happy, but that I am due at Greenock
this afternoon at my mother’s. She is foolish enough to set great store
by her unworthy son, and I couldn’t let her have the dismal cheer
of eating her Christmas dinner all alone. Two years ago,” the young
fellow’s voice softens as he speaks, “there were two of us. Nowadays
I must be more to my mother than I ever was, to make up for Wat. He
was my only brother”--all the agony of loss contained in that “was” no
one but Jack Kirke himself will ever know--“and it is little more than
a year now since he died. My poor mother, I don’t know how I had the
heart to leave her alone last Christmas as I did; but I think I was
nearly out of my mind at the time. Anyway I must try to make it up to
her this year, if I possibly can.”

“Was Wat like you?” Ruby asks very softly. She has climbed on her
long-lost friend’s knee, a habit Ruby has not yet grown big enough to
be ashamed of, and sits, gazing up into those other brown eyes. “I wish
I’d known him too,” Ruby says.

“A thousand times better,” Wat’s brother returns with decision. “He was
the kindest fellow that ever lived, I think, though it seems queer to
be praising up one’s own brother. If you had known Wat, Ruby, I would
have been nowhere, and glad to be nowhere, alongside of such a fellow
as him. Folks said we were like in a way, to look at; though it was a
poor compliment to Wat to say so; but there the resemblance ended. This
is his photograph,” rummaging his pocket-book--“no, not that one, old
lady,” a trifle hurriedly, as one falls to the ground.

Ruby clambers down to pick it up. “Mayn’t I see it, Jack?” she
petitions.

Jack Kirke grows rather red and looks a trifle foolish; but it is
impossible to refuse the child’s request. Had Ruby’s aunt not been
present, it is possible that he might not have minded quite so much.

“I like her face,” Ruby determines. “It’s a nice face.”

It is a nice face, this on the photograph, as the child has said. The
face of a girl just stepping into womanhood, fair and sweet, though
perhaps a trifle dreamy, but with that shining in the eyes which tells
how to their owner belongs a gift which but few understand, and which,
for lack of a better name, the world terms “Imagination.” For those
who possess it there will ever be an added glory in the sunset, a
softly-whispered story in each strain of soon-to-be-forgotten music,
a reflection of God’s radiance upon the very meanest things of this
earth. A gift which through all life will make for them all joy
keener, all sorrow bitterer, and which they only who have it can fully
comprehend and understand.

“And this is Wat,” goes on Jack, thus effectually silencing the
question which he sees hovering on Ruby’s lips.

“I like him, too,” Ruby cries, with shining eyes. “Look, Aunt Lena,
isn’t he nice? Doesn’t he look nice and kind?”

There is just the faintest resemblance to the living brother in the
pictured face upon the card, for in his day Walter Kirke must indeed
have been a handsome man. But about the whole face a tinge of sadness
rests. In the far-away land of heaven God has wiped away all tears for
ever from the eyes of Jack’s brother. In His likeness Walter Kirke has
awakened, and is satisfied for ever.

“How do you do, Mr. Kirke?” says Ruby’s mother, fluttering into the
room. Nowadays Mrs. Thorne is a very different woman from the languid
invalid of the Glengarry days. The excitement and bustle of town life
have done much to bring back her accustomed spirits, and she looks more
like pretty Dolly Templeton of the old days than she has done since
her marriage. “Will is just coming. We have been out calling on a few
friends, and got detained. Isn’t it a regular Christmas day? I hope
that you will be able to spend some time with us, now that you are
here.”

“I have just been telling Miss Templeton that I have promised to eat
my Christmas dinner in Greenock,” Jack Kirke returns, with a smile.
“Business took me north, or I shouldn’t have been away from home in
such weather as this, and I thought it would be a good plan to break my
journey in Edinburgh, and see how my Australian friends were getting
on. My mother intends writing you herself; but she bids me say that
if you can spare a few days for us in Greenock, we shall be more than
pleased. I rather suspect, Ruby, that she has heard so much of you,
that she is desirous of making your acquaintance on her own account,
and discovering what sort of young lady it is who has taken her son’s
heart so completely by storm.”

“Oh, and, Jack,” cries Ruby, “I’ve got May with me. Your dolly, you
know. I thought it would be nice to let her see bonnie Scotland again,
seeing she came from it, just as I did when I was ever so little. Can’t
I bring her to Greenock when I come? Because, seeing she is called
after you, she ought really and truly to come and visit you. Oughtn’t
she?” questions Ruby, looking up into the face of May’s donor with very
wide brown eyes.

“Of course,” Jack returns gravely. “It would never do to leave May
behind in Edinburgh.” He lingers over the name almost lovingly; but
Ruby does not notice that then.

“Dad,” Ruby cries as her father comes into the room, “do you know what?
We’re all to go to Greenock to stay with Jack. Isn’t it lovely?”

“Not very flattering to us that you are in such a hurry to get away
from us, Ruby,” observes Miss Templeton, with a slight smile.
“Whatever else you have accomplished, Mr. Kirke, you seem to have
stolen one young lady’s heart at least away.”

“I like him,” murmurs Ruby, stroking Jack’s hair in rather a babyish
way she has. “I wouldn’t like never to go back to Glengarry, because I
like Glengarry; but _I should_ like to stay always in Scotland because
Jack’s here.”

[Illustration]



[Illustration]



CHAPTER IX.

FOR WAT’S SAKE.

  “As the stars for ever and ever.”


“Jack,” Ruby says very soberly, “I want you to do something for me.”

Crowning joy has come at last to Ruby. Mrs. Kirke’s expected letter,
backed by another from her son, has come, inviting the Thornes to spend
the first week of the New Year with them. And now Ruby’s parents have
departed to pay some flying visits farther north, leaving their little
girl, at Mrs. Kirke’s urgent request, to await their return in Greenock.

“For Jack’s sake I should be so glad if you could allow her,” Jack’s
mother had said. “It makes everything so bright to have a child’s
presence in the house, and Jack and I have been sad enough since Walter
died.”

Sad enough! Ay, in all truth so they had. Few but Jack could have told
how sad.

“Fire away, little Ruby red,” is Jack’s rejoinder.

They are in the smoking-room, Jack stretched in one easy chair, Ruby
curled up in another. Jack has been away in dreamland, following with
his eyes the blue wreaths of smoke floating upwards from his pipe to
the roof; but now he comes back to real life--and Ruby.

“This is it,” Ruby explains. “You know the day we went down to
Inverkip, dad and I? Well, we went to see mamma’s grave--my own mamma,
I mean. Dad gave me a shilling before he went away, and I thought
I should like to buy some flowers and put them there. It looked so
lonely, and as if everybody had forgotten all about her being buried
there. And she was my own mamma,” adds the little girl, a world of
pathos in her young voice. “So there’s nobody but me to do it. So,
Jack, would you mind?”

“Taking you?” exclaims the young man. “Of course I will, old lady.
It’ll be a jolly little excursion, just you and I together. No, not
exactly jolly,” remembering the intent of their journey, “but very
nice. We’ll go to-morrow, Ruby. Luckily the yard’s having holidays just
now, so I can do as I like. As for the flowers, don’t you bother about
them. I’ll get plenty for you to do as you like with.”

“Oh, you are good!” cries the little girl, rising and throwing her arms
round the young man’s neck. “I wish you weren’t so old, Jack, and I’d
marry you when I grew up.”

“But I’m desperately old,” says Jack, showing all his pretty, even,
white teeth in a smile. “Twenty-six if I’m a day. I shall be quite an
old fogey when you’re a nice young lady, Ruby red. Thank you all the
same for the honour,” says Jack, twirling his moustache and smiling to
himself a little. “But you’ll find some nice young squatter in the days
to come who’ll have two words to say to such an arrangement.”

“I won’t ever like anybody so well as you, anyway,” decides Ruby,
resolutely. In the days to come Jack often laughingly recalls this
asseveration to her. “And I don’t think I’ll ever get married. I
wouldn’t like to leave dad.”

The following day sees a young man and a child passing through the
quaint little village of Inverkip, lying about six miles away from the
busy seaport of Greenock, on their way to the quiet churchyard which
encircles the little parish kirk. As Ruby has said, it looks painfully
lonely this winter afternoon, none the less so that the rain and thaw
have come and swept before them the snow, save where it lies in
discoloured patches here and there about the churchyard wall.

“I know it by the tombstone,” observes Ruby, cheerfully, as they close
the gates behind them. “It’s a grey tombstone, and mamma’s name below
a lot of others. This is it, I think,” adds the child, pausing before
a rather desolate-looking grey slab. “Yes, there’s her name at the
foot, ‘Janet Stuart,’ and dad says that was her favourite text that’s
underneath--‘Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so come, Lord Jesus.’
I’ll put down the flowers. I wonder,” says Ruby, looking up into Jack’s
face with a sudden glad wonder on her own, “if mamma can look down from
heaven, and see you and me here, and be glad that somebody’s putting
flowers on her grave at last.”

“She will have other things to be glad about, I think, little Ruby,”
Jack Kirke says very gently. “But she will be glad, I am sure, if she
sees us--and I think she does,” the young man adds reverently--“that
through all those years her little girl has not forgotten her.”

“But I don’t remember her,” says Ruby, looking up with puzzled eyes.
“Only dad says that before she died she said that he was to tell me
that she would be waiting for me, and that she had prayed the Lord
Jesus that I might be one of His jewels. And I’m not! I’m not!” cries
Ruby, with a little choke in her voice. “And if I’m not, the Lord Jesus
will never gather me, and I’ll never see my mamma again. Even up in
heaven she might p’raps feel sorry if some day I wasn’t there too.”

“I know,” Jack says quickly. He puts his arm about the little girl’s
shoulders, and his own heart goes out in a great leap to this child who
is wondering, as he himself not so very long ago, in a strange mazed
way, wondered too, if even ’midst heaven’s glories another will “feel
sorry” because those left behind will not one far day join them there.
“I felt that too,” the young man goes on quietly. “But it’s all right
now, dear little Ruby red. Everything seemed so dark when Wat died,
and I cried out in my misery that the God who could let such things be
was no God for me. But bit by bit, after a terrible time of doubt, the
mists lifted, and God seemed to let me know that He had done the very
best possible for Wat in taking him away, though I couldn’t understand
just yet why. The one thing left for me to do now was to make quite
sure that one day I should meet Wat again, and I couldn’t rest till
I made sure of that. It’s so simple, Ruby, just to believe in the
dear Lord Jesus, so simple, that when at last I found out about it, I
wondered how I could have doubted so long. I can’t speak about such
things,” the young fellow adds huskily, “but I felt that if you feel
about your mother as I did about Wat, that I must help you. Don’t you
see, dear, just to trust in Christ with all your heart that He is able
to save you, and He _will_. It was only for Wat’s sake that I tried to
love Him first; but now I love Him for His own.”

It has cost Ruby’s friend more than the child knows to make even this
simple confession of his faith. But I think that in heaven’s morning
Jack’s crown will be all the brighter for the words he spoke to a
doubting little girl on a never-to-be-forgotten winter’s day. For it is
said that even those who but give to drink of a cup of cold water for
the dear Christ’s sake shall in no wise lose their reward.

“I love you, Jack,” is all Ruby says, with a squeeze of her friend’s
hand. “And if I do see mamma in heaven some day, I’ll tell her how
good you’ve been to me. Oh! Jack, won’t it be nice if we’re all there
together, Wat and you, and dad and mamma and me?”

Jack does not answer just for a moment. The young fellow’s heart has
gone out with one of those sudden agonizing rushes of longing to the
brother whom he has loved, ay, and still loves, more than life itself.
It _must_ be better for Wat--of that Jack with all his loyal heart
feels sure; but oh, how desolately empty is the world to the brother
Jack left behind! One far day God will let they two meet again;
that too Jack knows; but oh, for one hour of the dear old here and
now! In the golden streets of the new Jerusalem Jack will look into
the sorrowless eyes of one whom God has placed for ever above all
trouble, sorrow, and pain; but the lad’s heart cries out with a fierce
yearning for no glorified spirit with crown-decked brow, but the dear
old Wat with the leal home love shining out of his eyes, and the warm
hand-clasp of brotherly affection. Fairer than all earthly music the
song of the redeemed may ring throughout the courts of heaven; but
sweeter far in those fond ears will sound the well-loved tones which
Jack Kirke has known since he was a child.

“Yes, dear,” Jack says, with a swift, sudden smile for the eager little
face uplifted to his, “it _will_ be nice. So we must make sure that we
won’t disappoint them, mustn’t we?”

Another face than Ruby’s uprises before the young man’s eyes as he
speaks, the face of the brother whose going had made all the difference
to Jack’s life; but who, up in heaven, had brought him nearer to God
than he ever could have done on earth. Not a dead face, as Jack had
looked his last upon it, but bright and loving as in the dear old days
when the world seemed made for those two, who dreamed such great things
of the wonderful “may be” to come. But now God has raised Wat higher
than even his airy castles have ever reached--to heaven itself, and
brought Jack, by the agony of loss, very near unto Himself. No, Jack
determines, he must make sure that he will never disappoint Wat.

The red sun, like a ball of fire, is setting behind the dark, leafless
tree-tops when at last they turn to go, and everything is very still,
save for the faint ripple of the burn through the long flats of field
as it flows out to meet the sea. Fast clasped in Jack’s is Ruby’s
little hand; but a stronger arm than his is guiding both Jack and
Ruby onward. In the dawning, neither Wat nor Ruby’s mother need fear
disappointment now.

“I’m glad I came,” says Ruby in a very quiet little voice as the train
goes whizzing home. “There was nobody to come but me, you see, me and
dad, for dad says that mamma had no relations when he married her. They
were all dead, and she had to be a governess to keep herself. Dad says
that he never saw any one so brave as my own mamma was.”

“See and grow up like her, then, little Ruby,” Jack says with one of
his bright, kindly smiles. “It’s the best sight in the world to see a
brave woman; at least _I_ think so,” adds the young man, smiling down
into the big brown eyes looking up into his.

He can hardly help marvelling, even to himself, at the situation in
which he now finds himself. How Wat would have laughed in the old
days at the idea of Jack ever troubling himself with a child, Jack,
who had been best known, if not exactly as a child-hater, at least as
a child-avoider. What has come over him nowadays? Is it Wat’s mantle
dropped from the skies, the memory of that elder brother’s kindly
heart, which has softened the younger’s, and made him “kind,” as Ruby
one long gone day had tried to be, to all whom he comes in contact
with? For Wat’s sake Jack had first tried to do right; ay, but now it
is for a greater than that dear brother’s, even for Christ’s. Like Mr.
Valiant-for-Truth of old renown, Wat has left as sword the legacy of
his great and beautiful charity to the young brother who is to succeed
him in the pilgrimage.

“Jack,” Ruby whispers that evening as she kisses her friend good night,
“I’m going to try--you know. I don’t want to disappoint mamma.”

Up in heaven I wonder if the angels were glad that night. God was, I
know. And Jack. There is an old, old verse ringing in my ears, none the
less true that he who spoke it in the far away days has long since gone
home to God: “And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of
the firmament, and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars
for ever and ever.”

Surely, in the dawning of that “summer morn” Jack’s crown will not be a
starless one.

[Illustration]



[Illustration]



CHAPTER X.

MAY.

                        “For God above
    Is great to grant, as mighty to make,
  And creates the love to reward the love:
    I claim you still for my own love’s sake!”

                                     BROWNING.


Ruby comes into the drawing-room one afternoon to find the facsimile of
the photograph in Jack’s pocket-book sitting with Mrs. Kirke there.

“This is our little Australian, May,” the elder lady says, stretching
out her hand to Ruby. “Ruby, darling, this is Miss Leslie. Perhaps Jack
may have told you about her.”

“How do you do, dear?” Miss May Leslie asks. She has a sweet, clear
voice, and just now does not look half so dreamy as in her photograph,
Ruby thinks. Her dark green frock and black velvet hat with ostrich
tips set off her fair hair and delicately tinted face to perfection,
and her blue eyes are shining as she holds out her hand to the little
girl.

“I’ve seen your photograph,” Ruby announces, looking up into the sweet
face above her. “It fell out of Jack’s pocket-book one day. He has it
there with Wat’s. I’m going to give him mine to carry there too; for
Jack says he only keeps the people he likes best in it.”

Miss Leslie grows suddenly, and to Ruby it seems unaccountably, as red
as her own red frock. But for all that the little girl cannot help
thinking that she does not look altogether ill-pleased. Mrs. Kirke
smiles in rather an embarrassed way.

“Have you been long in Scotland, Ruby?” the young lady questions, as
though desirous of changing the subject.

“We came about the beginning of December,” Ruby returns. And then she
too puts rather an irrelevant question: “Are you May?”

“Well, yes, I suppose I am May,” Miss Leslie answers, laughing in spite
of herself. “But how did you know my name, Ruby?”

“Jack told her, I suppose. Was that it, Ruby?” says Jack’s mother. “And
this is a child, May, who, when she is told a thing, never forgets it.
Isn’t that so, little girlie?”

“No, but Jack didn’t tell me,” Ruby answers, lifting wide eyes to her
hostess. “I just guessed that you must be May whenever I came in, and
then I heard auntie call you it.” For at Mrs. Kirke’s own request,
the little girl has conferred upon her this familiar title. “I’ve got
a dolly called after you,” goes on the child with sweet candour. “May
Kirke’s her name, and Jack says it’s the prettiest name he ever heard,
‘May Kirke,’ I mean. For you see the dolly came from Jack, and when I
could only call her half after him, I called her the other half after
you.”

“But, my dear little girl, how did you know my name?” May asks in some
amazement. Her eyes are sparkling as she puts the question. No one
could accuse May Leslie of being dreamy now.

“It was on the card,” Ruby announces, triumphantly. Well is it for Jack
that he is not at hand to hear all these disclosures. “Jack left it
behind him at Glengarry when he stayed a night with us, and your name
was on it. Then I knew some other little girl must have given it to
Jack. I didn’t know then that she would be big and grown-up like you.”

“Ruby! Ruby! I am afraid that you are a sad little tell-tale,” Mrs.
Kirke says. It is rather a sore point with her that this pink-and-white
girl should have slighted her only son so far as to refuse his hand
and heart. Poor Jack, he had had more sorrows to bear than Walter’s
death when he left the land of his birth at that sad time. In the fond
mother’s eyes May is not half good enough for her darling son; but
May’s offence is none the more to be condoned on that account.

“I must really be going, Mrs. Kirke,” the young lady says, rising. She
cannot bear that any more of Ruby’s revelations, however welcome to
her own ears, shall be made in the presence of Jack’s mother. “I have
inflicted quite a visitation upon you as it is. You will come and see
me, darling, won’t you?” this to Ruby. “Ask Mrs. Kirke if she will be
so kind as to bring you some day.”

“And I’ll bring May Kirke too,” Ruby cries. It may have been the
firelight which sends an added redness to the other May’s cheeks, as
Ruby utters the name which Jack has said is “the prettiest he has ever
heard.”

Ruby escorts her new-found friend down to the hall door, issuing from
which Miss Leslie runs full tilt against a young man coming in.

“Oh, Jack,” Ruby cries, “you’re just in time! Miss May’s just going
away. I’ve forgotten her other name, so I’m just going to call her Miss
May.”

“May I see you home?” Jack Kirke asks. “It is too dark now for you to
go by yourself.” He looks straight into the eyes of the girl he has
known since she was a child, the girl who has refused his honest love
because she had no love to give in return, and May’s eyes fall beneath
his gaze.

“Very well,” she acquiesces meekly.

Ruby, looking out after the two as they go down the dark avenue,
pities them for having to go out on such a dismal night. The little
girl does not know that for them it is soon to be illumined with a
light than which there is none brighter save that of heaven, the truest
land of love.

It is rather a silent walk home, the conversation made up of the most
common of common-places--Jack trying to steel himself against this
woman, whom, try as he will, he cannot thrust out of his loyal heart;
May tortured by that most sorrowful of all loves, the love which came
too late; than which there is none sadder in this grey old world to-day.

“What a nice little girl Ruby is,” says May at length, trying to fill
up a rather pitiful gap in the conversation. “Your mother seems so fond
of her. I am sure she will miss her when she goes.”

“She’s the dearest little girl in the world,” Jack Kirke declares. His
eyes involuntarily meet May’s blue ones, and surely something which was
not there before is shining in their violet depths--“except,” he says,
then stops. “May,” very softly, “will you let me say it?”

May answers nothing; but, though she droops her head, Jack sees her
eyes are shining. They say that silence gives consent, and evidently
in this case it must have done so, or else the young man in question
chooses to translate it in that way. So the stars smile down on an
old, old story, a story as old as the old, old world, and yet new and
fresh as ever to those who for the first time scan its wondrous pages;
a story than which there is none sweeter on this side of time, the
beautiful, glamorous mystery of “love’s young dream.”

“And are you sure,” Jack asks after a time, in the curious manner
common to young lovers, “that you really love me now, May? that I
shan’t wake up to find it all a mistake as it was last time. I’m very
dense at taking it in, sweetheart; but it almost seems yet as though it
was too good to be true.”

“Quite sure,” May says. She looks up into the face of the man beside
whom all others to her are but “as shadows,” unalterable trust in her
blue eyes. “Jack,” very low, “I think I have loved you all my life.”

       *       *       *       *       *

“_I_ said I would marry you, Jack,” Ruby remarks in rather an offended
voice when she hears the news. “But I s’pose you thought I was too
little.”

“That was just it, Ruby red,” Jack tells her, and stifles further
remonstrance by a kiss.


THE END.


  PRINTED BY WILLIAM CLOWES AND SONS, LIMITED
  LONDON AND BECCLES.



TRANSCRIBER’S NOTES:


  Text in italics is surrounded by underscores: _italics_.

  Obvious typographical errors have been corrected.

  Inconsistencies in hyphenation have been standardized.





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