Chapter 138631102

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Chapter NumberNone
Chapter Title
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article138631102
Full Date1897-11-27
Page Number27
Corrections6
Word Count3966
IllustratedY
Last Corrected2019-02-19
Newspaper TitleThe Australasian (Melbourne, Vic. : 1864 - 1946)
Trove TitleA Day with Miss Kit
article text

THE STORYTELLER.

A DAY WITH "MISS KIT".

By ETHEL MILLS.

"Miss Kit" was becoming quite accustomed to dressing by candlelight in that little verandah-room of hers at her uncle's station. Every morning when the station bell clanged out the summons to the work- ing day, Miss Kit ran to her door and peeped out at the faintly primrose east, and listened to the wild-duck flying in startled squads over the house as the black boy ran the horses through the ford of the wading creek. And then Kit and her uncle would eat a hurried breakfast in the big, dark dining room, where the night shadows still lurked, and where Kit shivered in spite of the cape thrown over her trimly built, dark-green habit. Once in the saddle, however, with the red sun rays turning the woolshed windows to gold, and the thin smoke just beginning to rise from the cottages along the creek, she forgot that there were such things as chilly downs and dark night shadows, for Miss Kit was only nineteen, and was having her first ex- perience of cattle-station life, and the de- lights of spending whole days with the musterers. And the intoxication of the fresh morning breeze that has been sweep- ing over so many wide miles of country destitute (save for the home of a boundary rider or so) of human habitation is a thing that is remembered for ever by those who have known it on the warm, fresh mornings of the Australian spring.

Martini Downs was a cattle-station, and the mustering parties were large ones. Miss Kit knew most of the men, white and black, by name, now, and expected to be kept sup- plied in all "station information" by Chris Lee, the jackaroo, who rode with her when the boss was otherwise engaged. Sweet faced Sydney girls were not a glut in the district, and Miss Kit's advent had created an excitement whose waves spread further than one might imagine. She was not pretty exactly, but had a clear, round, little figure, and that gift of the gods (both of the upper and under worlds), "fascination," and she was a flirt—not of circumstances only, but a flirt ingrained—through and through,

from the top of her dusky-haired head to the tip of her small, neat shoes; and like all

true flirts, slightly cold-hearted, and not moved by the passions of herself or

others. She could no more help flashing long? George Gordon (the head stockman), one of her slow, dreamy glances from her grey, black-lashed eyes, when he picked the

horse? for her, than she could have helped

blinking if she looked at the sun, although she had naturally a strong bias of conser-

vatism in her nature, which her life, as rich

retired squatter's only daughter, had helped to foster.

Lee saw the glance, and said—"Isn't Gordon a fine-looking fellow, Miss Kit. By

George, I wish I could ride one half as well as he can. He's a bit superior to the usual run of workingmen, too; reads a lot, you know."

"Ah!" said Miss Kit, "yes; he is good- looking; it's his figure and height chiefly, you know, and the picturesque cabbage-tree

and 'get-up' altogether. Yes; he is a fine animal."

"Are you a beauty lover, Miss Kit?"

"I worship it—perhaps because I'm not

beautiful myself—no, stop—I'm not fishing for a compliment, and nothing could undo a lesson I learnt once. Oh! a year ago, when I was staying near Euston, three of us had gone for a walk—myself, a girl friend of mine, who was seventeen and very beau- tiful, and a friend, a man friend, who—well, who cared for me, then —we came to a little stream, the sort that one is always coming across in New England country, smothered in wild violets and maiden-hair, and crawling with snakes and death-adders. (No, don't look pleasantly excited, there isn't going to be a tragedy of any kind, only a moral lesson.)

"Well, I jumped over it, and so did the man, and my girl friend, who was really timid, stood stock-still, her colour coming and going—such a colour, red as the heart of a damask rose, and her lovely little mouth was red, too, and she had the whitest of teeth, and the bluest of eyes, like stars, and the brightest, golden curls on her forehead, and was, moreover, largely made and well-de- veloped, although she was so young—are you listening, Mr. Lee?"

"Oh. yes; but I was just going to say that all fellows don't admire tall girls," with a languishing glance at Miss Kit's diminutive

figure.

"So my man friend assured me, thus my moral will suit you both. Of course, he ran to the rescue, and took my girl friend's hands. I wonder if you could realise the pic- ture better if I told you that she was dressed in white and wore a white sun-bonnet, with lacy frills round her lovely, innocent face. And he looked at her as he helped her

cross—please remember that he was really fond of me—and that we both knew the beau- tiful friend was about as intellectual as a sheep, and quite as hopelessly stupid. Still, for all that, there was a look in the man's eyes which will never be in any man's eyes for me—love, tenderness, passion. I have

SCENE I.

THE SCOFFER.-"I REALLY CANNOT UNDERSTAND HOW ANY RATIONAL Hi "MAN IU.ING CAN SPEND HOURS, EVEN DAYS, IN KNOCKING THAT MISERABLE BACILLI'S ABOUT THE COUNTRY. WILL I TRY ONE SHOT? CERTAINLY! JUST TO OBLIGE

SCENE It

THE SCOFFEH (AFTER MISS1KU THE BALL FIVE TIMES).-"C

YOU, I WILL HIT YOU!"

HOW THE BACIL1

seen them all, but not the adoration, the worship—call it what you will, that comes to most men's eyes when they see a really beautiful woman—it's something quite dis- tinct and apart from love."

"Were you jealous?" hazarded Chris. He did not quite understand his divinity

always.

"Of course I was, wickedly jealous, of her beauty, that was all, of course, for I knew the man liked me and always would. I saw the girl the other day, she was already be- ginning to run to the 'fleshy' and florid style, but oh, she was beautiful two years ago. All this is apropos of what—oh! George Gordon, the stockman, just to explain, you know, that we can worship the beauty, and not the man himself, or was it to explain the craving and longing all women have for personal loveliness. Beauty is only skin deep, Mr. Lee, so you men write, but your eyes tell a different tale. Now, please, don't say you 'have never liked pretty girls,' hoping to reassure and compliment me— now confess, you were just going to."

"I was, Miss Kit, and I mean it, too; somehow or other I never did— "

"Oh! race me down the hill," cried Kit; "and don't make it worse than ever. My sex is credited with having very little sense of humour, but I have my doubts if it's all on one side. Come on, Mr. Lee, Starlight is simply mad for a gallop."

The gallop brought them level with the

boss again.

"The river paddock is a large one," he said: "keep near Lee, Kit, and if you knock up, he can ride home with you. We shall all divide after we leave these slip-rails."

"Knock up," said Kit, scornfully, and she

made a little move towards the keen-faced old Scotchman, who was her present guardian, and quite made up her mind to give young Lee the slip as soon as possible. She did not approve of being treated as a baby, and to be be put in the charge of Chris Lee, who was no older than herself, with his boyish face and sunny curls, and ridiculous, pinky complexion, that never would burn brown, added largely to the in- sult, and so it was, when the sliprails passed and the men had scattered in various direc- tions that Miss Kit spied a white steer "just disappearing" into the reeds of a distant

swamp.

"You haven't found one yet," said Kit, re- proachfully; "in fact, I don't see how you could, very well, when you look at me all the time. Now, I suppose George Gordon and the other men will find hundreds."

Goaded into action by this veiled sarcasm, young Chris put spurs to his horse and gal-

loped to the swamp, shouting to Kit to wait for him in the brigalows. No sooner was he out of sight than giving Starlight her head, Miss Kit made off in a northerly direction, hoping to reach the river and appear at the camping-ground by dinner-time, in a manner befitting her independence.

Some hours later, long George Gordon, the stockman, riding leisurely along the banks of the big Barwon River, came upon a gossamer veil hanging on the end of a branch, which overhung the cattle-track. He had seen that veil before, and, in fact, had been thinking of its owner pretty con- tinually during the last few days. There was a wide social gulf between Miss Kit, the rich station-owner's niece, who had been home to England and back, besides her other claims to exclusiveness; and George Gordon, his head stockman—and son to old Gordon, the shepherd of earlier days; but for all that, they were man and woman, and had been thrown together a good deal in one way and another during

the mustering.

And there is a strange spell about an open-air life in the wide Australian bush that acts as a leveller to social distinctions. Above all, Miss Kit was a flirt, and famed for her talent of being "all things to all men." That intuition which she trusted so rightly told her what style of woman this big fellow would most admire, so that when in his company she half-unconsciously became that woman. As for the man, it seemed to him that the ideal woman of his inmost thoughts had taken shape and substance. Since he had helped her to remount Star- light, and had glowed all over because her little foot lay in his hand a moment before she went up light as a bird. Once she had asked him to get her some hoya flowers, and had smiled graciously when he brought them. Yes; that was all that had passed between them, but hot young blood takes fire easily, and the flame that never dies was

lighted in George Gordon's breast, and all

his common-sense and could not

quench it This was her veil. ? she had been this way—str ? ? they all

camped for dinner ? ? Miss Kit and Chris Lee had not turned up, and the boss had shown triumph ? saying— "Ah, I thought ? was a bit tired, though she would ?it and no doubt

finds her ? ? grape-vines

cooler than the ? ? if they had passed this way they could notbe home

yet." Still ? ? Gordon untwisted the

veil and put it in the bosom of his shirt, and pursued ? ? A shrill neigh

brought an answering one from his horse,

who was a ? ? companion of Miss Kit's favourite ? and seized with indefinable ? ? galloped towards

a grassy ? ? river from which the sound came from water had in some by gone flood ? ? and left ragged knolls (now covered with sparse, tussocky river grass ? ? sand, soil, and the whole plain ? > beyond were golden with yellow buttercups. Star

light with ? ? was feeding quietly which, com

fortably ? ? the tussocks and reeds, lay Miss Kit

"Oh" she exclaimed, "I am so glad you have come George ? ? it's ages past dinner ? ? and I'm so hungry—where are the others?"

"Camped ? ? — further up— your aunt ? ? mistaken the place!"

"I thought you said ? round the first bend I came to after ? ? the brush-fence—isn't this it?"

"Well, ? ? can't, Miss—you see you've ? ? and gone down instead

of up ? ? you some tea before you s ? ? my quart here."

"All right, I'm dreadfully thirstv. And so

I've ? ? altogether. Why, Gordon might not have found me. I might

have at."

"Yes," said George, soberly, as he

gathered the ? ? "Your uncle thought you ."

George Gordon's grammar was decidedly faulty, although his voice, being rich and soft speech a little—and Kit ? ? slip and smiled,

She bend a little, as none of the other ? ? her right and proper

chaperone ? ? and the man was so undeniably handsome, although his skin was ? ? and the colour of dried apples.

Chris Lee was his superior in birth,

breeding, and wealth no doubt, but she was tired of callow boys (only women far older than Kit can really stand and ap preciate the freshness and inexperience of adolescence), and it would be a change to talk to a working man on terms that were something like equality-and to find out if they really thought and acted quite dif ferently from the men whom society des tined as her companions.

Gordon made some good bush tea, and the girl found cake and ginger-bread and a sandwich in her saddle-bag, and insisted upon his taking some for afternoon tea, as she called it. Gordon let the still un mustered end of the river paddock "slide," and gave himself up to the dangerous plea sure of doing Queen Kit's bidding and "talking." "Was he fond of reading?" she asked.

"Yes; of course he was—what bushman is not—he was reading a novel then, called 'His Heart's Desire'; there was a lot in it about England—it must be a wonderful place—had Miss Kit seen any of the old houses or castles that had belonged to the same chap's family for hundreds of years?"

"Yes," Kit said; she had stayed in one of them, a manor-house, really old, with a moat and drawbridge. "But, for my part," she said, "I hate those old, uncomfortably built places; the rooms seemed full of ghosts, who scowled to see their things touched by irreverent, living, modern hands. There is such a musty sense of tragedies and by-gone lives that should have been forgotten long ago. It's a thing one can't explain: some people call it 'a special charm,' but I would far rather have a nice house built in my own life-time, according to my own ideas, than all the ill drained castles and ghost-haunted old houses in Christendom. That's why I like Martini Downs so much," she said, "it's a comparatively new station yet, and hasn't any memories or tragedies."

"No," said Gordon, "it's been a lucky station in that way; no accidents to speak

of! But I'd like to see one of them castles —that the plucky chaps used to defend in old days, and a fellow would like to have one belonging to his people."

"No doubt you come of some of those old fighting Gordons, George—gypsy Gor dons, you know. Now I come to think of it, mine is a gypsy name, too, 'Heron.' 'Gordon and Heron,' no wonder we are en joying this picnic, gypsy's picnic all the year round."

Gordon smiled, showing his strong, even, white teeth. "There was a tale that my grandfather was a gypsy. I've heard tell don't know-Miss Kit, but I think he was lagged for stealing a horse-anyway, I don't think I ever heard of a castle belong ing to him!" And he laughed again.

"Of course, he was a gypsy, George; and that is where you get your black eyes and black hair from. So you like old castles and mustv ancestors-and I hate them, an other of Fate's mistakes-you slnuld be in my place, and I in yours. I can tell you I shocked the aunts and cousins at Herne Manor House. I wish I had your rever-

'$r"?

SCENE III.

THE SCOFFER (OXE WEEK LATER).-"FORE!"

(From "Harper's Magazine.")

ence-take off your hat, George, and let me see if the bump is well-developed."

The young bushman took of his cabbage tree hat, and bent his head as directed; it was a shapely head, and Kit tapped it critically with one forefinger, just above

the forehead.

"Yes; it's there," she said, "George, I'm afraid from what I can see, also, that you

are dreadfully serious and sentimental - I might have known it when you told me you enjoyed reading books with a title like 'His Heart's Desire.' What is your heart's desire, George, wealth, love, fame?"

But George looked away across the river, through the green aisles of the wooded flats, and was silent.

"You know what I mean," continued Kit, "they say everyone wants something more than anything else in the world, that if they were to have one wish, one only, gratified it would be that."

"Yes! Miss Kit, I do know what you

mean."

"Ah! of course, well, your heart's desire is a very moderate one, I suppose- the over- seership of Martini Downs, or a snug little place of your own - something, at any rate, that there is a possibility of being grati-

fied?"

George rose and leant against the steep bank of the knoll before he replied. Miss Kit looked really pretty lying back amongst the feathery grasses; her hat had fallen off, and the warmth of the day had brought a rosy flush to her usually pale cheeks.

"A while back," he said, slowly, "I don't think I fancied anything much, saving it was a bit of a selection of my own when I was too stiff and old to break in horses."

"And now?" the big grey eyes were questioning his own.

"Well, now it's different; I do want something - so badly that if I would have it and break my neck the moment after I got it, why I'd jump at the offer."

"Then I'm afraid there's a woman at the bottom of it - it is love after all that you want. Now, my heart's desire is so complex - so utterly impossible; I want happiness, beauty, power - oh! and a thousand things; I should never know which to choose. Now you only want a certain woman's

love "

"I never said I wanted her love, Miss Kit: I don't know as I do want that, it would mean misery to her, and to me through her. She's not meant for such as me - it's best as it is."

"Then your heart's desire should be to be of such as are meant for her!"

"That's again imposible, Miss Kit; you

can't make a silk purse out of a sow's

ear."

I'm afraid Gordon pronounced the last word "year." But Kit had forgotten to be critical. She was charmed with this "new experience" - this man who could follow her wayward fancies so easily, whose respect- ful manner altered not one jot although she was talking to him so freely. And, above all, she was a beauty lover, and Gordon was very handsome. And more than that still Kit was a liirt, and if you put a duck in water you cannot blame it for swimming, and there was no one to remind her that she was making herself as charm- ing as possible to her uncle's head stock- man. Then again, it was Australian noon- tide, and clouds of little white buterflies were dancing over the long reaches of but- tercups, amongst which, on dry oases of

ground, were islands of blue-bells and strips of white everlasting daisies, and the grass of the big swamp lower down was all dimpling with the breeze. That breeze was an excuse in itself, so intoxicating was the scent it bore with it from the groves of wattle and wild white jasmine.

"It must be a woman's love," said the girl. "Now, tell me, George."

"No, Miss Kit" (gently, but firmly). "I

can't do that."

"But, you will tell me some day," coax- ingly.

"No, I'm certain I never will."

"Oh, this is exciting," said Kit, adding to herself, it must be Anna, the housemaid, she is always especially attentive to me; perhaps they want uncle to raise his wages."

"Could I help you to it?" she said aloud.

"Yes."

"Good gracious, have you wanted it for

long?"

"No, yes; that is more to-day than ever before, Miss Kit."

Miss Kit must have been very certain of the reliability of her intentions as applied to this earnest-eyed young stockman, quite certain that he would take no advantage of her condescending familiarity, for she laughed long and merrily at his last words.

"Why, George, I believe it haunts your dreams," she said. Gordon sprang up from his lowly seat at her feet, and flung his arms out with a passionate, unstudied

gesture.

"Night and day," he cried. "Night and day, if I live to be a hundred, Miss Kit I'll be no nigher it, and I'll want it my whole

life long."

She was really curious, and sprang to her feet too, her habit falling all about her, in long, sloping folds. Alas, her besetting sin was curiosity (no doubt it helped to make her sweetly sympathetic), and for getting all else under its influence, she stretched out both her little gloveless hands and seized his big sun-browned ones, and looking up eagerly into his face -

Tell me. It is the only thing I have ever asked you. Tell me," she cried.

When a certain point is reached in temptation, the average man yields; the point is an indefinite one, sometimes near, sometimes so far that it is scarcely touched. Gordon was twenty-five, strong, warm blooded, and deeply in love, and the touch

those smali, white, fluttering hands caused him to forget everything except that they were man and woman - every- thing except that his heart was filled with despairing love, that found its outlet in

the words -

"Yesm I will tell you - God - but I love you, Miss Kit - love you too much to want you to love me. One kiss, that's all I want - one kiss, that's what I've been after wanting ever since I knew you."

The girl's hat was lying on the grass at her feet, and the rays of sunlight filter- ing through the over-arching boughs played lovingly about her sweet little face, with its half-shy, half-mischievous eyes, and pretty red mouth. George Gordon's arms were around her, tightening their hold, and yet she did not resist the electricity of his great, unselfish passion. Something seemed to wake a faintly answer- ing thrill in her heart, as if it were the heart of another Kit in a long forgotten world, who had loved and been beloved, with no barriers of circumstance between. "Oh, why!" she cried; "why has this happened?"

"It's your own fault, for being yourself." he began wildly, then stopped as the sense of her words dawned on him, and unclasp- ing his arms, he strove to put her from him, but she put both her little hands on his shoulders.

"George," she said, softly, "you may have your heart's desire."

Scarcely believing her, he caught her in his arms again, and stooping, pressed his

lips to hers.

Kit withdrew herself quickly, turning her hot, flushed face away. There was a

silence for a moment - to the man it was as as if he had tasted the supreme joy of heaven and the bitterness of hell during that silence, and then Kit said,

"And now, George, you had better get the horses."

Miss Kit's voice had the note of chillv dignity again, as she gave orders to her uncle's stockman. The mood was over, the

reaction had set in.

Gordon walked over to the horses, and as he did so Chris Lee came in sight. He rode

up at a quick trot to Miss Kit.

"So here you are," he said cheerfully,

"safe and sound, with George; the boss reckoned you were lost when I returned without you. That swamp nearly swamped me, Miss Kit; got into a deep hole, and my horse wouldn't swim; he rolled over in- stead, and got out without me. I was hours chasing him. Gordon can ride down

and tell them you are safe, and I'll take you straight home.

"Gordon."

"Yes, sir."

"Ride to the slip-rails and tell the boss that Miss Heron is all right. And he wants you to leave a message about the ra- tions at Smiths. Don't forget to ask him."

"Yes, sir."

Gordon swung into the saddle, and rode

slowly past; he half pulled up as he passed Miss Kit, but did not look at her as he said,

"Thank you, Miss Kit. I promise you that you'll never be sorry you was so good

to me."

Kit flushed a little. "I kept my promise; see that you keep yours, George Gordon,"

she said.

Already the declining sun was sending level rays along the river flats, showing every stalk and leaf and slender star of the myriad buttercups distinctly. Already the shadows in the brigalow scrubs were deepening to purple. Looking back, George Gordon saw a girl's slender figure out-

lined a moment against the crimsoning west, then it disappeared, and George knew that his "day with Miss Kit" was

over.