Chapter 139145660

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Chapter NumberI
Chapter TitlePORTSEA.
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article139145660
Full Date1889-12-21
Page Number1
Corrections0
Word Count2901
IllustratedY
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleThe Australasian (Melbourne, Vic. : 1864 - 1946)
Trove TitleMiles Dunlop's Mistake
article text

MILES DUNLOP'S MISTAKE.

BY M. GAUNT.

Chaptek I.

pobtsea.

" To hia eye

There was but one beloved (ace on earth. And that was shining on him,"—Byron.

ILES DUNLOP,

walking gloomily along the pier, had just decided that he had made a great mis take in coming to

Portsea. There wan

a keen wind blowing Btraight from Antarctic ice bergs; the sky, instead ot being one bright, cloudless, dark blue dome, as it really ought to have been on an Aus tralian December day, was gloomy and overcast; the swish-swash of the water among the piles made him shudder, and yet there was nowhere for him to go to except his hotel, which he had just stigma tised in hiB own mind.

"In fact," continued Miles to himself, throwing away his cigar and knocking his stick against the bags of coal which pretty nearly covered the little pier, " they were quite right when they told me about Portsea, and I'm blessed if I know why I was such a tool as to come, and all for nothing, too. Well,

nnvhnw T annnnsa T «n no/»lr nn

my traps again and be off to-morrow." And he strolled back, and asked again to see the visitors' book.

The hotel was fall enongb ; he conld Bee that for himself. The verandah was crowded with people; women knitting, crocheting, and gossiping as if their lives depended on it, and men playing quoits, smoking, and inwardly wondering what the devil they were going to do next, while children were everywhere. All this Miles Danlop saw, bnt he saw never a person he knew or cared to know ; therefore he asked again for the visitors' book, as if it conld by any means have altered since he had stndied it an bonr ago.

"Campbell, Carstairs, Beetham, Smith, Popham. No,'confound it," he muttered, " not a soul I know, and yet—and yet—I didn't think the little girl would play me false, and she certainly said the Lonsdale Hotel, Portsea. Well, well, I can go away again, I suppose. Landlord," he added, aloud, " I don't suppose I'll stay long. Is there anything to be Been about

here ? "

"Oh, lots to see," said the landlord. "Get a trap and go to the Back Beach, or go to the wreck of the Cheviot, or even to Nepean, or get a boat and go fishing, or go to the South Channel Fort—wind's favourable,

"Hold bard," said Dunlop," "How far is the Back Beach? A mile—or

two?"

"I'll order the trap."

"Nonsense; I asked you how far it was. Is it two miles?"

"Well, it's heavy walking through the sand. You'd better have the trap "

"Mydear sir," put in a friendly individual standing by, "you take my advice and walk, it'll do you good, and it won't take you above 20 minutes. There's the track, round by that cottage, where you see the French flag flying."

Miles thanked bim, and marched away at double quick pace down the sandy track that led him over the hill and away into the dense ti-tree scrub. The sand, as "mine host" had said, was heavy walking. However, after a stiff pull he reached the brow of the hill overlooking the Southern Ocean, and all his ill-temper vanished. The south wind still rushed on bitter and cold, but it bore on ita wings the fresh salt breath of the ocean, and the waves were ridged with Bnow-white foam.

"By Jove," said Miles to himself—"by Jove, it really was worth coming for, after all;" and after another look round at the wide expanse of ocean he began to descend by the steep and winding path to the shore. Uninvit ing as the day was, other people were there before him—young people, children almost, he judged by the shouts of laughter that reached his ears, borne on the sea bieexe. Then he tnrned the shoulder of the hill, and right beneath him saw a little company of six walking in Indian file, and as nearly as possible in one another's footsteps. First came a lad of about 14, his boots slung across bis shoulders, and his trousers tucked up to be out of the way of possible waves. Two smaller boys, a girl of 12, and another much younger followed carefully in his wake, and the little company was brought up in the rear by a figure which was strangely familiar to Miles Dunlop, and his heart beat high with hope as he fairly raced down the last steep pinch and landed on his hands and knees in the sand. He raised a shout to attract attention, but the south wind blew his voice back to the hills again, and unnoticing, the little company passed by. Miles, thinking, perhaps, he had been mistaken, took another look at them, and found to his intense delight his surmises had been correct, and his eyes had not deceived bim. Such a pretty girl, he thought her, this last one; oh! such a pretty girl. Tall and slight, with & dainty figure that even the badly fitting old pink; print she wore could not disguise. Deep, dark blue eyes shaded by long dark eyelashes were now dancing with fun, her long fair hair streamed down over her shoulders, the keen air bad brought a most becoming flush to her cheeks, and like her brothers and Bisters she was barefoot.

" Well, I am in luck," thought Miles to himself. " By Jove, what pretty feet and ankles ! Hallo, there I" he shouted aloud, "you'll be drenched to

the skin."

His warning cry came too late, and a great white wave, bigger than its tellowg, caught the little company and soaked them to the waist With a

simultaneous shriek they separated, and racing np the sands caught sight

of the newcomer.

The f&ir-h&ired girl dropped down where she stood, and gathered together her damp pink skirts over her pretty bare feet

Miles disregarded the other five, who clamoured round him, and made his

way towards her.

" Miss Nairn," he said, holding out his hand, " I'm delighted to see you.

I've just been abasing this place for a beastly hole, for I thought there

wasn't a soul here I knew. Now "

Inopportune as it was, he coald not in his delight resist the temptation to press her hand and look meaningly into those blue eyes.

^Dearlie Nairn blushed crimson. Much as she liked—nay, perhaps more

than liked—Miles Da nlop, she wished him anywhere else in the world than at her Bide at that particular moment

" I've glad yon've come," she stammered faintly. " I thought you'd for get, but "

At that moment another big wave rolled over Dearlie as she sat on the beach, wetting her more thoroughly than ever, and, of course, as Dunlop stood immovable beside her, sparing not his trousers and boots. The boys

and girls beside them, whoBe limbs were bare

io aoove tne Knees, ana woo naa tnereiore nothing to fear from the water, shouted with delight, bnt Dearlie only looked more dis

tressed than ever.

"Oh, dear," she sighed, "you're getting so wet Hadn't yon better get out of reach of

the waves ? "

" Hadn't you," he asked, holding out his hands. "You must be wet through and through."

" Yes, but ." Dearlie, thinking of her bare feet, grew crimson ; and Miles divining her thoughts, was wondering whether he should offer to go away, when her eldest

brother came to the rescue.

" Get up, Dearlie, at once," said Mr. Tom with all a schoolboy's aathority in his tones. "Don't be a little fool. What does it matter if yon are barefoot. I'm sure Mr. Dunlop doesn't care a bang. Come, get up, I say.'

Thus adjured, Dearlie, with Dunlop's help

rose to her feet, and pre

sently, much to her own re lief, found herself walking along by his side, chatting as easily as if the back beach were the Bhady side of Collins-street, and she bonneted and booted in quite the correct Style.

" Might I ask," said Miles, deferentially, " what on earth you were doing when I came up ?"

Dearlie laughed.

"You'll think me a great baby, I expect," Bhe said; "but we were playing In dians—walking in each other's footsteps, you know, eo as to leave only one trail, which the sea was to wash away. Tom's been reading Fenimore Cooper ever since be went to the grammar school. Now here's my hat I wonder where my boots and stock ings are. I'm sure I pat them under this bush. Oh dear, oh dear, whatever Bhall I do if they're lost!"

"Lost! They can't be lost," said Miles, comfort ingly, and immediately he and the boys instituted a vigorous search among the thick ti-tree scrub that fringed the shore, but as Dearlie had entirely for gotten the landmarks she had trusted to it was rather like seeking for the pro verbial needle in a bundle of hay, and Tom was not alow to announce that fact

"You know, Dearlie," he said, "I told you how it 'ud be. You ought to have car ried them like we did, only you said you'd to-hold your dress up out of the water, and nicely you've done it, too You look like a drowned rat You'd better put your hair up."

" I can't," sighed Dearlie ; '' all my hairpins are gone."

" Whew," whistled Tom, and "My word," cried the others, in chorus. " Won't you just catch it when Aunt Pop sees you."

Poor Dearlie looked on the verge of tears, and Miles, stooping, whispered by way of oomiort—

" You have no idea how charming you look," a re mark which hundreds of lovers have made hundreds of times before, and this time it was as effective as

usual

" Well, it's no good stick ing here." said nr&ctical

Tom. "It moat be near time to go home, and— Oh,' crumbs! Dearlie, look out for aqnalla. Here's Aunt Fop."

A tall, straight, elderly lady, with snow-white hair and 'a severe cast of countenance, had come npon them unawares, and was apparently not in the

best of tempera.

"Children," she said, severely. "Children, whatever have you been doing to be away ao long: I was really getting alarmed for your safety, and— Good gracious me, Keziah! Keziah Nairn, are you aware you look like a scarecrow ? Have you iorgotten you are a lady—the daughter of a gentle

man 7

"I'm sure 1 don't know, Aunt," sighed Dearlie, apologetically. "I'm Borry. I've lost my boots and etockings, and my hairpins, but "

"No excuse, now. You know you cannot afford to lose boots and

Btockings."

Dearlie hung her head. That fact she understood a great deal more fully

than her aunt could.

" Pray," went on the old lady, putting up her eye-glasses and surveying Miles severely through them, much to his discomfiture. "Pray, who is this gentleman?"

Dearlie introduced him.

" Mr. Dunlop, my aunt, Miss Poph&m."

Miss Popham thawed somewhat She had heard her half-brother, the lather of these young Nairns, speak in warmest terms of Mr. Dunlop as an Englishman and a man of the world, so she held out her hand and smiled graciously on him.

"You are staying at the 'Lonsdale,' I suppose, Mr. Dunlop. Ah, so are we. We Bhall see you at tea then, when I shall introduce you to another niece, who is not"—with a severe look at poor Dearlie—"a disgrace to the family. You are walking, I suppose. Yes. Then that is certainly the nearest way. We are driving. Come, children ; come, Keziah. I am ashamed. I am truly humiliated. Mr. Dunlop, I trust you will forget having met this hair-brained girl. Good bye for the present, then."

Forget her. Miles Dunlop looked at the sweet face, half hidden beneath the big poke hat, and saw the tears of shatne and vexation in the blue eyes, while just the ghost of an amused smile played round her mouth, and wondered if lie ever could forget her. If he were not a fool for tbiuking

of her so much.

"A fool," he called himself; "an old fool," as he took the back track to Portsea, accompanied by Master Tom, who telt all a schoolboy's elation at being invited by the older man to be his companion, and set it down to his own charms of person or conversation, never dreaming for a moment that bis sister could have aught to do with this desire for his company. How ever, he discoursed learnedly on the fishing ami boating to be procured at Portsea to deaf ears, his companion answering at random, and going over and over again in his own mind his interview with Dearlie Nairn.

"A fool, a fool, an old fool." His words kept time to his footsteps, and wrought themselves into a sort of dismal rhythm. He was thirty-six and Bhe was nineteen. Why, there was half a generation between them. He had lived a lifetime, while she was yet a child; and besides, besides— Ah, there lay the sting. Miles Dunlop, well-built, good-looking fellow as he undoubtedly was, had had, a few years back, his beauty terribly marred by a gun accident, and though the left tide of his face was handsome as of old, the right was seamed and scarred out of all semblance to humanity, and the eye vrfgs gone.

It was very bitter—it was cruelly bitter, he thought, as he strode home ward through the heavy sand, listening to Tom's chatter; cruelly, cruelly bitter. She was so Bweet, so fair, so charming. Ah, dear, what a fool he was to dream snch happiness could be his. Another man—younger, better looking—would woo lier and Here he caught his foot in a spreading root of ti-tree scrub and measured his length on the black sand.

"There; I told you so," cried Tom, who felt himself on terms of perfect friendship with Dunlop, and privileged to say what he pleased. "There; I knew you'd come to grief if you didn't look out. The track's so narrow and full of roots. I guess, though, you can't see so well with only one eye. Isn't that it? Here, take my hand," and Tom held out a friendly though somewhat grimy paw.

Miles laughed.

"Well, no," he said, " I can really see very well, though I have only one eye. I am afraid I was thinking of something else."

"Can you really see all right," asked Tom, who was certainly not troubled with any sensitiveness on his own account, and could not imagine that

anyone else was.

" Yes, 1 can see all right," said Miles, with a half sigh.

"Oh, can you," went on Tom ; " I'll just tell Dearlie that We were talk ing about you, you know, one day, and Dearlie said she was awfully sorry for you. She thought it 'ud be dreadful to have your face all scarred like that, and Bhe always tried to walk on the other side. 1 say, how did you manage to do it ? "

Poor Dunlop. If he had felt the world bitter before, life seemed to him twenty times more hopelessly dark and dreary after the boy's careless chatter. He had always thought himself a ghastly object, but that she, the only woman in the world for whose opinion he cared one jot, should openly Bay it made her shudder to look at him. Well, well, it was only natural, be supposed. He didn't want to hurt ber. He would take himself off by the Ozone next day, as he had at first intended, and would never cross her path again. And yet The thought would come, spite of himself. She bad been very sweet to him ever since he had known her. She had been very glad to Bee him this afternoon. She had looked brightly up out of those blue eyes of hers and

Tom's voice broke in on his thoughts, complaining—

"Crumbs! I say, you are a fellow. I've asked you about a dozen ques tions and you haven't answered one."

Miles roused himself.

"Weil, Tom," be said, "I apologise. I was thinking of something else. Come, now ; what was it you wanted to know ?"

" How you lost your eye and spoiled your beauty, you know ?" "Oh ! that; that was an accident—a gun accident."

"Well," said young Australia irreverently, " I guess I know that much. I bet you didn't do it on purpose—but how?''

"It was in India. I and a friend were out on a shooting expedition, and while we were pushing our way through some jongie his gun caught in a branch, went off, and lodged the contents in my face. That's all. It was

all over in a minute."

" Yes," said Tom, with very little sympathy in his fresh young voice, as they ascended the steps that led up to the verandah of the Lonsdale. " Yes, and it's an awful pity, for, as Dearlie says, you'd have been awfully good looking if it hadn't been for that. Oh ! and I say, there's the tea-belL I'll be late, and, by Jingo, won't I catch it from Aunt Pop!"