Chapter 142929368

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Chapter Number
Chapter Title
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article142929368
Full Date1910-07-23
Page Number51
Corrections0
Word Count3285
IllustratedN
Last Corrected1970-01-01
Newspaper TitleThe Australasian (Melbourne, Vic. : 1864 - 1946)
Trove TitleThe Youngling
article text

THE STORYTELLER.

THE YOUNGLING.

Br M. FORREST.

"You must promise me two things-1* "Must I? Tell-what are they?"

He felt it would be easy to promise most tilings with the satin of her warm hand in

his own.

The sea, moon-silvered and wave-ruffled, slid in to their feet with a soft swishing. Behind them were black pine-woods strag gling up hill, and, closer to the sweep of sand among dark rocks, grotesque screw palms casting blurred shadows. It was pleasant indeed after the big plains grassed to the sky-line, the gum-tree flats, the flie?, and the red sun-a moonlit beach-a wash of waters- and a girl.

"Firstly-" he could see the laughter in her eyes, those witching eyes, whose colour he was nevet 6ure of-so bright was tlie moonlight, he almost believed he could see how red her mouth was-he knew, anyway, that it was confoundedly tempting.

"Firstly-if ever you find you are getting fond of me-you will tell me straight away -because, of course, that isn't in the

bond-"

"And you?"

| "Oh! I'll promise to tell you if I think 11 am caring too much. What an atrocious ibargain!" She rippled off into the laugh

that drew his attention to her mouth again

"Very well-and the sccond and last?"'

She meditated, seeing only the lift of waves, the horizon with a low-hanging star, the wonderful arch above-then, swiftly, brought her eyes back to his facc.

'That, when it is over, you will forget?" "Yes-a man is no man who does not."

His face was older than she bad thought it when they first met. One could somehow guess that he might develop into a man of some sternness, develop from the lovable fellow of earljr twenties Into something to be reckoned with in the thirties. He had a long head and a square forehead-there were possibilities about "The Youngling," as the called him-possibilities that deepened her

interest.

"Forget me? Altogether?" with a hide glance and an attempt to withdraw the hand He held.

He answered her look with his eyes, brows drawn a little closer, and pupils dilating.

"Well-not altogether."

Then there was only sea-murmur, wind whisper, and gossip of night-bound trees.

"She's engaged to another man-nice sw ings on," said the disappointed maideu In ay, craning her neck over the boarding-b-ous - balcony railing, between the bunya pines. She objected to sea-air, and looked rusty. "Nice goings on, I'm 6ure."

The maiden lady, whose failure to win tbe matrimonial stakes had left her sour of visage and acid of tongue, smiled vindic tively. She was a little woman, one shoul der slightl} higher than the other, with a creeping walk, the outcome of the habit of espionage which had grown upon her since she lived in boarding-houses and cul tivated that interest in other people's af fairs which the life engenders in some folk. In her intervals of attending divine service in the weatherboard church by the sea (whose rector was an avowed celibate, but of whose conversion she. «till held inter

jmitont hopes) she took it upon herself to net as censor of the behaviour of the in mates of the house- finding it unnecessary to ;isk tlieir permission, and gleaning many interesting fnets, or failing to do so, using her little imagination towards their manu

facture.

The thin. Ured woman in the cane ehair looked up from her magnzine. "Let them po nn, if they like it-a« long as the.v leave us alone, and don't want us to trapse round hot sands and through grass-seed pad docks and among ticky ferns-let them go on, say J."

"But it's disgraceful." The maiden lady prew red with indignation. "Somebody should tell the man she'B engaged to."

'"Twouldn't be much news to Jimmy Durham; he knew Cax-oline was a flirt when lie got engaged to her; he's just as bad him self. Ten to one they will be a devoted couple once married-they can flirt with cach other then!"

"But the way she runs after young Brand. She's not like me; I would wait till the young man came to me."

The thin woman's glance was expressive. "It's their concern anyhow, none of ours," she said, and returned to her magazine. Then, with a sudden flash of spirit, which left her more "bored-looking than ever, "I like Caroline, and though I know she can't do without someone dangling-I've never Been her run after any man-it isn't neces sary."

"I can't think what men can see in her," replied the other, turning a leaf of the Bible she held, and pencilling a passage. "She's not my style."

The thin woman vouchsafed no response io this obvious remark, and the two under discusion went down side by side, to the sea. It was a sparkling morning-shattered sun on every combing .roller, glitter of mica in the warm sand, sharp shadow of rock and shrub. They skirted the ocean, and turning inland, chose a little sanded path between tall red-gums, set round with brac ken, and flanked here and there with the Btraw-eoloured stems of young grass trees.

"Bad sheep country," said the man, drop ping into every-day life and the memory of Out Back.

"I thought mulga country was the had sheep countiy." She tilted her big hat from above the piquant face that sun and wind were kissing Drown. "And there isn't any mulga here." I heard someone speaking contemptuously of 'mulga wool' at the wool sales."

"Yes, mulga-country wool doesn't com mand the same "price as the other-it is often stained from the red soil-but, see those prass trees-or blackboys, as we call them West-that always means poor coun

try-there is more than one sort of bad; sheep country, you know."

"I don't believe you ever forget your old sheep and thing6 "

"Well-it's my living, you see." He looked straight ahead, his hat turned up at the hack ana over his eyes. She liked his

profile. i

There was a sweet smell of wattle in the

air. Through the trees came the sharp, penetrating cry of the sacred kingfisher, and presently they saw a flutter of orange and a flash of blue.

"Did you ever hear of the old supersti tion, which says, 'Calm seas when the king fisher nests'-Aristotle, I think?" she asked.

"I have not read much," said Brand, searching for his pipe. "May I smoke? There are sandflies among this fern."

"Yes, do. I suppose you read the papers, and the price of wool receives most of your attention-sheep and cattle market, and

that."

"Nothing.poetical!" he laughed. "If you make fun of me, I shall talk hides and fleeces till you are bored to death. Don't bring up tne subject again."

"Commanding! Really, Youngling. I am afraid you will grow into a very wilful man some day. What a good thing it isn't you I'm going to marry!"

"It is a good thing," said the Youngling, and smoked contentedly.

She was tearing convolvulus flowers from A swaying vine, pallid, frail things that would -wilt in half an hour.

"You're awfully misehievious," continued Brand. "I believe you wantonly destroy just to show what you can do."

"Xo. I really want them." The sun caught her yellow hair, her hat slid hack to her shoulders, hanging by its wide blue ribbons. j

"You want them-for ten minutes at most -crave possession of what you know will die on your breast. Leave the jpoor devils to sway in the cool shade under that stringy

bark-to live out their allotted span, with-! out having their hearts prematurely burned out of them as you march about in* the sun. I never 6aw such a woman to 6it and scorch herself. You hate the shadow."

"1 want as much 6un as the world holds tons of it-I want to press it into my heart -tight packed there-I am greedy. I want other people's sun as well as my own-Oh! 1 hate the grey days!"

"Just as you want fellows to love you whether you care a button or not."

"Oh, no!" Her eyes were couud, looking back at him. "I don't. I want to be. amused and petted-that's true-though,

being a woman, I suppose it's very brazen j to acknowledge it-but real love-no." Her

face grew crave. "That's different-a very1 different (liing-it's-it's serious."

"Oh is it? Perhaps I don't know," said the Youngling.

A liny blue moth, like the unharnessed petals of a bluebell, rose auiong the rank glasses and flitted past her, then dropped, hiding itself with outer wings of grey-in

visible, trembling on a stem. "'What a pretty little creature!" She was holding her ekiits aside. "Did you see where it settled? It seouis to have quite dis appeared."

"I suppose you want that, too?" Brand was watching, her steadily, his teeth grip ping on his pipe.

"What could I do with it?" She chal lenged him with her eyes.

"You would hold it in your hand a minute-rub it's little feathers off-quite unwitting-bruise it perhaps, even with your soft fingers-leave it to die somewhere, in the grasses. You shall not have the little moth," he said.

"You are getting awfully rude, Mr. Brand."

"Ah-^rdon't." He put his lighted pipe into his pocket recklessly, and 6tared be yond her, where sun and shadow interlaced

on tree-trunks.

"Don't what?"

She lifted her chin again-irresistibly. "Don't look like that!" "Why?"

"Unless you want me to kiss you!"'

"Oh, Youngling! Youngling! I fear you are developing too quickly even for me!"

"You promised to teach me how to flirt, didn't you-taking pity on my youth and in experience. I am progressing, am I not?"

"Remember promise number one, Mr. Brand!"

All sorts of dancing lights were in her eyes, she held the pale-mauve convolvuli against the cotton frock. She was sun, life, and love personified.

"That's alright." Brand put lus pipe back in his mouth. "I don't like you any better than I did the night on the beach-j night we made the bargain." I

She pulled her hat on to her sunny hair, j She had veiled her eves, but he saw her lips i straighten into a tnoughtful line. Then

she smiled and began to pluck more flowers. "The possessive fit is on me badly-I must have," she said.

The Youngling found a dead log to sit on.

He smoked. About his feet little insects | trailed through the grass-roots, tiny things rustled in the fern. There was a drowsy breeze stirring the gum-crowns, and a film of white cloud drifting over the gun. | After all, his thoughts were not entirely on wool and the price of stock.

* . « « * . >

The maiden lady had erected a screen on the balcony. It was covered with news paper pictures of her own choosing-sup plements to Christmas numbers of the holly berry and robin red-breast variety. Caro

line said they made her feel plum-puddingly j and bilious. Behind this the maiden lady; sat, her ears pricked, her eyes virtuously in-; tent on a "mat she was making of canvas

and green wool. Occasionally-in fact, very j

often-she felt constrained to coifie from her retreat, to see if the weather was breaking; also, it was, by some course of reasoning peculiar to herself, it was her duty to make the couple in the comer uncomfortable if possible, and to contrain any attempted love-making.

Caroline complained or reeling cold, and, wrapped in a fur rug, looked like a bright eyed bird from its nest, on Brand, who sat with his feet on the arms of a squatter chair, seemingly content.

"Jimmy is coming," said Caroline. There was an open letter in her . lap. The yard man had just arrived with the letters, there being no official delivery at the little seaside township.

The maiden lady sighed-"And high time," she muttered to the wool-mat. Her words reached Caroline as they were intended to, and she laughed under breath. The youngling lit a cigarette.

"I addressed you, Mr. Brand.

"Pardon. I thought it a soliloquy."

His voice was absolutely level. He was smoking quickly. The rain fell in sheets, and away on the rocks the sea complained. A flock of Aylesbury ducks waddled, quack ing joyously, across the black-soil road, where ruts were full of water.

It was time for the watcher to leave the defences of her modesty, and look at the weather. She came with a trail of green wool and an ostentatious disregard of the two in the corner.

"No improvement," she called to an un seen listener in the inner room. Her remark was open to misconstruction. Caroline frowned. Gad-flies become irritating when one has too much of them. A clerical figure crossing the roadway towards the post-office arrested the maiden lady's atten

tion, and fhe fluttered hurriedly into the j room to inform someone that Mr. Badderly] was out in the rain without goloshes. "Hej does want someone to look after him, i doesn't he?" and she crept back to the, balcony hut her stealth met with no re-| ward. Brand was looking out with fixed ]

eyes on the grey, beating Slower. Caroline was re-reading her letter. The chaira were, no closer together than when 6he left. !

"Getting tired of her-it's as good as a play," she called to the unwilling nearer in

side, and the rain made endless patter on the roof. ,,

"I hate this weather," said Caroline.

"Jimmy will bring the 6unl" answered

Brand. v

"Absolutely shameless!'' snorted tlie Gad

fly behind tne holly berries and the robin

redbreasts.

A fierce-eyed, Unshed-faced Amazon

was no doubt a respectable and amiable citizen in ordinary life) held like a

warrior to one side of the blue print marked "half-price." An equally determined, but less forceful person, with a baby on one arm, clung desperately to the other. A distracted shop-walker tried to make peace. "I got it first,' shviked the Amazon, and the milder one persuaded to take a sacri fice" in pink, retreated grumbling and look ing for brown paper and an assistant. Caroline clutched two yards of torchon lace, and wondered if she had better bolt witn it, and return to pay on the morrow, be fore some excited bargain-hunter snatched it from her, for to find a young person suf ficiently disengaged to put it up seemed an impossibility. But she carried no bag, and her purse was too small to hold it. Jimmy had broken her of the habit of carrying a handbag, because he called it "eo Ameri can," and for 6ome reason not given Jimmy hated all things trans-Atlantic. She sighed, and mentally cursed the memory of .Jimmy -for the memory of Jimmy was all that was left of their engagement. The maiden lady had thought it 'her duty'-and this time .1 inimy had proved restive. Wis re monstrance had roused an unexpected lire in Caroline-so the gadfly scored, though Jimmy, with an outward calmness and a scathing speech had shown her her pretty goul indecently bare f9r an unhappy mo ment-leaving her to bitterly regret having fulfilled "her duty" in the cause of such an unreasonable man. Brand had gone west before Jimmy "brought the sun" to the seaside boarding-house-there was nobody to defend Caroline, and the thin woman had i not been informed of the state of affairs j till it was all over, and the impression re maining with lier was that Caroline had de i liberately broken her engagement. She was i not surprised. She had known Caroline I long enough not to be.

Two years later found Caroline still unj married, and, after various "more or less

episodes, hunting bargains, very hot and in clined to be cross yet suffering from the , contagious, half-pleasurable frenzy, which ' a bargain-sale arouses in all women. \\ ith I the fury of a single-woman suffragette, a i delicate little person of lady-like appearance, ' tore frantically at a rack of parasols, in

search of a pink one she felt she wanted more than tne repose of manner she had lost, and which bad got down to the fasci nating "and three-farthings", till she brought the whole thing over among the

feet of the crowd.

Wonjen with hats awry, beatific smiles, and arms full of rubbish, women with eyes of doubt^and puckered brows, in an agony of indecision between the plainly useful and I the merely ornamental-so the infection ' spread and the doors were closed against j a fresh influx. The tlioughtful-looking man i with the long head, who had been lured in j with a promise of Crimean shirts for sta l tion work, driven from the men's depart j ment, and paralysed by the onrush of feini ! nities, met a closed door and a struggling | mass of chanticleer head coverings and wild i eved maidens-paused beside a counter of j soiled hats, ana wondered. It was as bad

as yarding cattle on a hot day--it was worse than driving frisky weaners on a sheep sta

tion.

"Phew!" lie found lilmseir with bis Pa nama. Then the pupils of his indifferent eves dilated suddenly. "H«llo!"-hc said very gently. Then went across to her, where she stood debating with the two varus of torchon-jusr the pattern she wanted in

her gloved hand.

"Isn't there any way of getting out of this mad-house? How do you dor1" he said.

"Oh!" She dropped the lace. A girl wno was making a trousseau and had a half filled glow-box at home pounced, caught, carried it off, was swallowed up in the

SU"!fy lace. O! you are a nuisance!" she

cried.

They both laughed.

"What a fashion to greet a man in-after two years!" . _ , _

"Xot very polite, was it. But I am sore about that lace." ,

"Shall I get it hack for you? He looked resolute. He had developed into tne determined sort of person the had pie

|dlShe fhook her head.. "Let it go." she said.

I "It would mean a_ pitched battle. 1 saw

trousseau in that girl's eye!"

"And that is over for you-some tune ago, I suppose?" , . , j

She laughed-began to speak, hesitated

k "Xo. I am not married," she said, and a

hurrying shopman cannoned oft her, with profuse apologies and a perspiring face They stood back against the counter, and a young hand pressed a tliillon hat upon

them. . r"

"Then-Where is Jimmy.'

"Ah-where?" She pretended to be ab sorbed in a purple velvet monstrosity, "suitable for Royal mourning.

Close to them the pirate of the torchon lnce passed triumphant. She carried a bulging leather bag. She made tor the door, but Brand failed to observe her. and Caro line did not seem to, so absorbed was she in last year's hats-none of which she would have* worn for a fortune. _

"Had plenty of sunshine lately? He fingered the purple hat-brim absently, Ins

hand close to here. .

"Have YOU kept your promises? Her yes did not meet his. It really was an in tricate sort of hat. He straightened his shoulders, and drew on his panama.

"I don t know that I played quite fair about the first promise, then, he mur mured. "Not that I ever liked you more than I did at the start." ......

"It is so ltjngago." she breathed into llie crown of the RoyJM mourning item.

But, he continued in the level voice she

remembered, ? .

> "I kept-the last -promise. ,

"Altogether?" She,;looked up at hint, the rose of !ljer$Mp» "teflected in her soft cheeks. Hisjafes were so close to hers now that he deciqSj finely their elusive colour ing was the ifekdeof

"Hot altog^lYoungling.