Chapter 160091143

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Chapter NumberII
Chapter TitleA NEW ACQUAINTANCE.
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article160091143
Full Date1883-12-22
Page Number2
Corrections0
Word Count3090
IllustratedN
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleAdelaide Observer (SA : 1843 - 1904)
Trove TitleFor Mab. The Story of Two Christmas Gifts
article text

CHAPTER TT.

A NEW ACQUAINTANCE,

Meanwhile Mr. Main waving was meeting with an adventure. Riding leisurely back to Freshfield from the nearest township he fell a-musing, as was common with nim. A thoughtful, quiet man, as unlike in most

respects the generality of people : living

similar lives as could well be imagined; a kindly, genial, handsome man withal, with a mouth and chin of almost feminine beauty and lack of strength; for, as his harder Bister said, Ralph Mainwaring was weak, and yet his weakness bad never brought harm to others or himself, for his life had known but little temptation, and through all he possessed the mind and heart of a true gentle man. So, in his absent, drifting way, he let his horse take its own pace under the streaming rays of the afternoon sun, and it might have Deen remarked that Jock's in clinations did not chance to lie in the direction of undue haste. The day was hot, the roads were dusty, the flies aggravating, as only hush flies can be; but Jock did not seem to think that any of these evils would be alleviated by greater exertions on his part. So, with philosophical endurance, he pro ceeded slowly onwards,-while his master was absorbed in reverie. It seemed a strangely unsuitable time and place in which to indulge in retrospection ; nevertheless, Ralph Main waring's musings were all of the past, and his heart was stirred by the breath of spent emotions as the languid breezes of late summer stir the fading petals of the dying flowers, wafting a faint and subtle fragrance from what was once so richly redolent of full perfume.

Joy and sorrow, pride and loss, possessed and shook his sensitive soul again; and then, as if to complete the gamut of strange sensa tion through which he seemed fatea to run, .came physical suffering of an unfamiliar kind, to which he hardly appeared to be awake until it hadassnmed considerable pro portions. Curious thrills, alternately hot and cold, ran up and down his spine; a heavy pain, with darting flashes of sharper agony shooting acrosB it, took possession of his head: earth and sky were but one blinding glare of light, and danced in a maddening whirl about him; and then, for a time, Ralph Mainwaring

knew no more.

He was never sure how long hiB unconscious ness lasted, but after a while he experienced a vague and undefined sensation of move; ment|; and then, after an apparently long interval, he heard strange voices, which seemed to be gradually coming nearer and nearer from out of shadowy depths of dis tance: then came rest and closer murmurs, and then a sound as of the sweet joyous pattering of gentle rain upon sun-baked toofs ana thirsty leaves.

His heart seemed to leap into life at the

delicious sound, and his eyes unclosed upon a - cool and shady room in lieu of the blinding blaze and glaye which had last encountered their virion.

"Is it raining?" he queried in • feeble bewilderment.

"Raining?" repeated a pleasant bat un

known voice; " Aids! no. Ah, I perceive! i That sound is caused by my servant syringing

the window-mat in order to cool the room— an Indian fashion, of which I am thankful to avail myself these hot, dry days. You are feeling better now, I trust?'

With these words the speaker passed round the foot of the cane sofa on which Mr. Main

waring lay, and came into sight. He was an upright, broad - shouldered, dark • com pfexioned man of some five-and-thirty years, perhaps: closely shaven, save for a long moustache and short crisp cnrls, already tinged with grey.

" Thanks—I think I am all right," replied 1 Mr.Mainwaring, making a migEtyeffort to 1 sit up—ah effort rendered somewhat, abor-1 tire by a strange and sickening sensation of ' dizziness in the head. "But where am I? , How did J get here?" f

" "You are in the house formerly tenanted

by Mr. Harry,'' replied the stranger, hand ing him a cool and refreshing drink. "I am Hugh Hallerton, the new proprietor, and, unless I am misinformed, your nearest neigh bour. I am right in assuming that I am speaking to Mr. Mainwaring, of Freshfield, am I not?" f '? „

Mr. MainWaring .bent his head affirma tively.

"Ah, so the men told me when they

suppose, or something o{ that sort—doubtless owing to the extreme heat,. . Ywdon'jt feel any paimTdoyou? We'could notdefeermine" wliether jjbn ha^'.dismouxrted; of failed from your horse ;.-but yop wetei lying in the road',

and thevaalmal: standing:betide you,when they discovered Shu^' \V

"I mutt have fallen," replied Mr. Main waring, <"5* though I remember nothing of it. I think no bones are broken, however, or I should be aware of it. As it is I feel- a good deal bruised and shaken and giddy, hut that is alL . Quite enough, though, for a man of my age. I recollect, now that I did not put my clark glasses on. A" black hat, too!" he added meditatively, recognising as his own a dusty specimen of hpad gear that lay upon a chair beside him. "Very thoughtless of me, wasn't it? No wonder I got a kind of sunstroke, wearing a black hat on a day like this. How.Mab will scold, to be sure! She'll declare it was just like me—and so fit was 1 I -am so absurdly .forgetful, Mr. — Mr.- Hallerton—I often wonder how I should get'on without my two girls; they think of everything for me. By the-by, I must hurry home or else they will be anxiouB about me. Many thauks for your kind attention, Mr. Hallerton." Heattempted to rise, but sank back helplessly: and his host, who had listened quietly to his feeble and somewhat rambling speech, smiled slightly as he administered a little more of the ccol restorative, and answered, " There is no hurry, Mr. Mainwaring; rest quietly for a while. As soon as it grows a little cooler I purpose doing myself the pleasure of driving you to Freshfield, while my man rides your horse. I think you will admit that you are hardly strong enough to ride any more to-day."

" You are very good; let it be as you will," murmured Mr. Mainwaring, indistinctly. " Dear me ! how sleepy I feel, to be sure."

" The very best thmg in the world for him," remarked the other soito voce, as the hand some head of the elder man sank upon the sofa-pillow in irresistible sleep.

When Mr. Mainwaring awoke, considerably refreshed by an honr's profound slumber, he gazed around him with the dreamily ques tioning look with which we are wont to greet unfamiliar surroundings on our first hesitat ing return from the mysterious realms where Morpheus holds his sleepy sway.

"Ah, I remember now," he soliloquized

Old Hurry's place,' he said. okB rather different from Old Hurry's time, though." (The person thus indicated

as the late owner of the house was no other than the one suitor for the hand of fair Sara

Mainwaring, to whom Mab had so scornfully alluded.) ''Piano,books,pictures! Indica tions ot a different Bort of neighbour, thank heaven. He is a gentleman, no doubt about that, whoever he ib. Indian matting over the windows—wet still from what I took for rain! Been in India, I suppose. Ah, to be sure, retired Indian officer, Bomebody said—

that s it. Queer notion to take up sheep farming. About as much fitted for it as I

am, il expect. I wonder if I can stand yet. f Ah, that is satisfactory. Now for home. The girl 8 will—Good heavens—Sara!"

The sharpness of this ejaculation brought Captain Hallerton from an adjoining room,

to find his guest standing in speechless ! amazement before a handsomely mounted easel, on which rested a finely executed

painting of a female head. A beautiful head, i crowned with a boronal of soft dark hair; a

proud, pale face, softened into sweetness by J the tenderneBB of the lustrous eyes and the gracious bend of the scarlet lips. Altogether an uncommon sort of picture to find on a South Australian sheep station; and yet Balph Mainwaring felt convinced that his own secluded home held its original.

With an abruptness unlike his usual courtesy, Mainwaring turned towards his

host.

" Under what circumstances, may I ask,

did you become possessed of my daughter's i portrait?" '

"Your daughter's portrait!" repeated Captain Hallerton, in evident bewilderment.

Assuredly," returned the other, in some measure catching Hallerton's obviously Bincere perplexity. "That picture is so exact a representation of my daughter Sara as one seldom finds in a portrait. You can hardly.wonder at.myasking how.you came by

it."

" Certainly not—it is only natural," replied Hallerton, while the muscles of his keen, soldierly face, worked slightly, as if in the effort to repress some strong emotion. " But believe me, Mr. Mainwaring, the likeness yon speak of is no more than a coincidence. The original of that picture was called Evelyn Forrester, and had she lived but two months longer she would have been my

wife."

After this there was silence between the two men for a short space; and then Mr. Mainwaring said, in a low tone, "Pray pardon me. I would not willingly have evoked painful memories. But the likeness is certainly most remarkable. You will.see Sara—you will judge for yourself. Stay! Perhaps it may be to some extent explained. My memory often fails me, and to-day it seems unusually treacherous, but Forrester— Forrester! To be snre! My first wife's sister married a Major Forrester, in the Indiah army. Can this be their child!"

"Major Forrester was Evelyn's father." replied Hallerton, "With the same viable effort to repress the emotion he felt. ' "Her mother's maiden name was Selwyn."

" Well, well! That is indeed strange !

Gertrude's niece—Sara's cousin! Truly the world is small. Poor young thing—poor young'thing!"

Whereupon, in the weakly emotional way forwhich Mrs. Willis had such-profound con tempt, good Balph Mainwaring g'raspedthe handof hisnewttcquaintancewithsympathetic fervour, gazing the while with moistened eyes upon the lovely pictured face before them. When, a couple of bonis later, the two men approached Freshfield, their light buggy closely followed by Jock (inclined to be had- - tempered under a strange and unsympathetic burden), Hugh Hallerton grew conscious that his heart was beating in hard, fast throbs that almost choked his utterance.

"How shall I bear it?" he asked himself. " How shall I endure to look upon a face so like the face that I have lost? I musl-—thpre is no help for it. It would have to come some day, and the sooner the shock is over

the better. Perhaps after all the resem blanceis notso strong saber father imagines. Jt is treason jto her sweet memory to believe ":that any other face could; be so:fair.? He made a yesolate effortiand regained his self Control.*' Ho [One could hatfe guessed thS

'tumult of Awakened Memories add wild regrets thatfwaS surging through- the- soul of the apparently calm, soldierly man who accompanied Mr. Mainwaring into the Fresh field drawing-room.

Mrs. WilliB sat there alone, and received the visitor whom her brother introduced with much graciousness, ejaculating mentally, "Thankgoodness; some one to speak to at

last."

" Where are the girls, Marcia?" asked Mr. Mainwaring, when his sister's questions had all been replied tOi -

>'fln the garflipihT believe; at least Sara wdnt out just&oiw?! I) cannot answer for Mfcbeh She vfts hut thy greater part of the afternoon withyoimgNuttall, in Bpite efthe

kehtj^Snd very natukally complained of head" acfie when she/came in. 1 have not aeen her since.beford tehr'v' JI;. J ; 1

TherC serene' indifference about Mrs;

Willis's manngr'of speaking of her jdieces,

which had a'sinfrularly'galling effect'upon her good-natured brother; the more so, perhaps, that it gave him nothing to lay hold of. Her little speeches always seemed to infer a kind of calm disapproval, while never (to him) expressing it. . '

" Shall we go and look for thetn ?" he said to his guest. The latter responded with alacrity; and without asking Mrs. Willis to Join them, they passed out into the garden, leaving that lady once more to a discontented

solitude.

Freshfield was one of those charmingly -home - like, comfortable - looking country abodes' cf which SoUth .Australia possesses a treasured few. A fairly filled creek ran through the grounds, ana its kindly waters availed to keep a certain amount of refreshing greenery about the place,-even through the hottest weather. In a bare and uninteresting

{>art of the country, Freshfield seemed almost

ike an oasis in the desert; and its well-grown

fruit-trees and verandah covered with creep ing plants, bestowed upon it an air of repose ful antiquity to which, assuredly, its age could hardly entitle it.

The crimson and yellow flames of sunset were dying away into a flood of lemon coloured light, while overhead a fair pale moon and a few early stars shone serenely in. the deepening blue. Between that blue and the primroBe glory of the west lay vast stretches of amethystine tints, glowing gradually into royal hues of purple: and thus, under the mystic shimmer of this wondrous evening light, clad in white robes, with graceful, gliding step, came on to greet Hugh Hallerton, the lovely image of hislong dead love.

Involuntarily he started backwards as this sweet vision came in sight.

"Am 1 dreaming!" he muttered, "it is wonderful—most wonderful."

" Ah, you see the likeness," observed Mi-. Mainwaring. " I thought you would. I felt sure it could not be only my fancy, although

that confounded tumble did seem to disturb

my brain a bit this afternoon. Sara, my dear," he added, as the latter approached, " let me introduce Captain Hallerton, who has kindly rendered me a great service to day. You must not regara him as a mere acquaintance, for. apart from his kindness to me, he was well acquainted with some relatives of yours in India—the Forresters, yon know. You never knew much about them, however; your poor mother was never a good correspondent, and Cicely waBasbad; still you must have heard.your mother speak of 'Aunt Cicely' when you were a little thing. You don't remember ? , Of course not, now should you? It is so long ago—no dis respect to you, my dear Sara. Where is Mab? 'I haven't seen her yet?"

Thus chatting, Mr. Mainwaringendeavoured to allow Captain Hallerton a sufficiency of time in which to recover his equanimity, notwithstanding wtich Sara's quiet eyes had wonderingly noted the perturbation with which this new acquaintance regarded

her.

"Here I am, papa!" responded Mab for herself, appearing upon the scene from behind a cluster of pink-tasselled tamarisks, in company with the radiant Roy—radiant with the first glow of successful love: for Mab's paleness and distress had all disap peared, and she was as full of life and laughter as usual, and the young man deemed her to the full as happy as himself. "And pray what makes you so late, you incorrigible elderly truant?"

Then becoming suddenly aware of the presence of a stranger, she paused in pretty surprise.

"You shall scold me as much as you like presently, Mah. I deserve it, I know. Captain Hallerton — my daughter — Mabel Mr. Royston Nut tall. There, that is all right. It seems comical to be introducing you and Mab to anybody, Hoy. It appears only like the other day since you two made a point of introducing yourselves—uncere moniously enough, too, sometimes. These two are old playfellows, Captain Hallerton, and a wild pair they were, I can assure you. I hardly knew which was the worse of the two—Mab, I think. But they are beginning to fancy themselves grown up now, I sup pose."

"It is time we should, Sir," observed Hoy, with some gravity. "Mabel and I are no longer children."

" Eh ? well, well—I suppose not!" replied Mr. Mainwaring, looking at the pair with affectionate amusement, "I suppose not. Anyhow not children according to the standard of young Australia."

" Nor any other standard,". declared Royston, who, after the- events of the after noon, felt that it behoved him to assert his manhood in a decisive manner. "Perhaps yon forget that Mabel is nearly twenty, while I am twenty-three."

Mr. Mainwaring laughed good-humourodly. "Are you indeed ? Well, well! ' A great age truly. Mab, my child, I had no idea you were so old. Are you pulling out the grey hairs yet?"

''Papa, I am shocked at you! To expeot a lady to reveal the secrets of the toilet! I wonder at your indiscretion!" cried Mab, with her joyously welling laugh.

"Miss Mabel need Hardly shrink from such a revelation, sorely," observed Captain Hallerton gallantly. He wag himself again now, having exchanged a few quiet words with Sara, and discovered to his intense re lief that the tones of her voice, thongh musical enough, bore no resemblance to those well-remembered tones now hushed for

ever.

" There is a compliment for yon, Mab," said her father, smiling. "Rather ah un usual luxnry in this part of the world, is it

not?

' " So unusual that I am afraid I failed to

appreciate it at its fall value," replied Mab, turning her mischievous, laughing eyes upon the stranger. " We are very unsophisticated here- Captain Hallerton."

" Are you ? Then it is delightful to be un sophisticated. Freshfield appears to me to be altogether charming; and it certainly

loses nothing by comparison with my new proper" - -

" Shall We uotretnrn toithe house, papa ?" : suggested Sara.fi " Ahnt fMarcia is alone, ! ana it would be better for won to rest."

"Ton are, right asksuaC most wise Sara," replied Mr. M&inwaiing, in the half-banter ing. wholly-loving Way In which he usually addressed his daughters. " Let us not be un mindful of the duties of hospitality. And I am tired somehow—I own it. You shall refresh us with music and supper, and Mab Bhall brew us a nice, cool claret-cap, and we will drink it on the verandah while we indulge in a quiet smoke. What say you, Captain Hallerton ?"

"A delightful programme," declared Captain Hallerton, and it was accordingly carried put. -thus bringing to a close a day which" had been an eventful one to several ,of the oharacters with whom we are con cerned.