Chapter 160091144

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Chapter NumberIII
Chapter TitleIS HE WORTHY
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article160091144
Full Date1883-12-22
Page Number2
Corrections0
Word Count3064
IllustratedN
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleAdelaide Observer (SA : 1843 - 1904)
Trove TitleFor Mab. The Story of Two Christmas Gifts
article text

. CHAPTER in.

/" is be worthy?"

On the following morning when Captain 'Hugh JMtertoil awoke from misty dreams, in whidh hia 16at Evelyn lived agam in com

nanv with a lovelv voiweer eirl who called

her sister, it was with a clearly defined reso

lution to avail himBelf oi the invitation extended to him to revisit Freshfield at the

earliest " opportunity. "? Realizing " this, he broke Into a laugh which was not altogether

mirthful.

" A nice recluse!" He cynically remarked to himself.-'"An:-admirable recluse, truly I

Have I crossed the world' in search of soli tude for this-? What ridiculous, inconsis tency 1 I, who strove to leave" my kind behind me in the .other'. hemisphere, to seek a. life, which should be wholly differedt from anything that I had' knowh Before . —a life that should be absolutely cut off from

hnman society and leave me in solitude with the memories of the past — / am actually taking a friendly interest in people who are strangers to me. Yet no," he went on, in a softened tone, " not strangers.. It is her dear memory that clothes these people with the strange attraction I feel for them—it is for her sake that 1 wish to be with them again. Heavens 1 what a cloud of recollec tions enveloped me last night, and followed me in that long moonlit drive; aye, and hung over my bed, if one may judge by dreams. But it was not painful—not as I had expected and feared—soothing and cheering rather. Hugh Hallerton, you have been a fool!" he added emphatically, spring ing from his couch with a decisive move ment. " A morbid and a selfish fool, witbaL You have allowed yonrself to get into an unhealthy and cowardly frame of

mind, and this frustration of Tour idiotic plans ought to do yon good." With which remark the person addressed applied himself energetically to the bathing and apparelling of his stalwart frame. As a veracious chronicler, 1 am bound to admit that these frank self-criticisms were not

entirely undeserved. Hugh HaUertsi had been both cowardly and foolish, although, most assuredly, no one had ever dreamt of ascribing either cowardice or folly to the gallant soldier who had faced death more than once with absolute intrepidity, or the kindly and sensible friend who'nad saved many a youthful brother-officer from1 "mak ing a mess of it"—to use an expressive if somewhat vulgar phrase. Left ah orphan at . an early age, with a sufficiency of money for all his needs, he had met with but little op position throughout his life ; and when he was announced as victor in the active competition for the graces of an acknowledged beauty, it was generally admitted to be natural enough, and jealousy was hushed in apervading sense of " the fitness of things."

Thus, when Death, in one of his Bwiftest and most merciless forms, laid his cold grasp upon the beautiful young fiancee, he smote Hallerton. with a blow under which, for a time, his very senses reeled. It seemed incredible—impossible—that he, to whom life had been so lavishly indulgent—he, whose will had seemed almost as absolute as one of Nature's laws—he, the spoiled darling of a wonderfully tender fortune—should

suddenly and hopelessly be bereft of all that

made existence precious! It'is to be feared that, in the excess of his bitter grief, he deemed that the sorrow of the bereaved parents who gave her beauty to the world, and nursed and reared it to its sweet perfection, was as nothing to his own ssd "pain of loss;" for he paused to offer them no consolation, but threw up his com mission and started away alone to hunt the world for peace. And he would have told you that for all his searching the years had brought him no .consolation. Still, when a desire of activity began to mingle with the desire of solitude,. and finally led to the acquisition of a South Australian sheep station, consolation was nearer than the morbid mourner deemed, and. nature, began to exercise her healthier sway, though he himBelf had grown so tardily consoious of it that he attributed to one day's events results which were actually the unrecognised out come of many months.

It was surprising with what energy Hugh plunged into the details of his new life after

this. '

" I believe I am really interested 'in it all, too," he said to himself a few mornings later, when his overseer had been elaborately ex plaining to him the various beauties of a singularly truculent-looking ram—beauties , which Hallerton would certainly have been | at a loss to discover through the medium of I his own unaided intelligence. "It is no

longer merely a feverish hunger for some occupation to help me to .'forget, hut a

genuine enjoyment of the work. . Thank

eaven 1 a burden seems lifted froin my soul

at last. No more morbid self-study. It is a villainpuslj bad habit, and I hare done with it for ever. Henceforth 'Excelsior!'" Half smiling at his own earnestness, he turned at the sound of approaching hoofs, and recognising the rider as Rdystonmittall strode, pipe in mouth, to meet him. 1

" Good morning, Captain Hallerton," said Roy, reining in his spirited little nag at Hugh's aide. "I'm off to Freshfield till Monday, and I came to see if you cared to ride over with me. You'll, find Sunday precious slow if you stop here by yourself, I

eX^Not a doubt of it, my dear fellow,"

laughed Hugh, in considerable ' amusement. " But I hardly see how that would, justify me in bestowing my society gratuitously upon our kind friends at Freshfield.

" Excuse me, .but that's humbug, replied Roy. "I-heard them, ask you, to go over when yon liked. Of course, if you'don t caie about it, that's another thing."' '?

" I do care about it. There are.few.things I should like better. But I dontwish to in trude, and I certainly did not .understand Mr. Mainwaring's polite invitation in that

W*^We don't invite people *unless we want

them in the bush," explained Roy, loftily. " When we ask a fellow to visit us 'whenever he feels inclined we mean it, and make him welcome. Of course yon are a stranger and haven't got into our ways yet; but you'll find it all out in time. Anyhow, I'll undertake

to assure you that the Mainwarings will be glad to see you, and you can come or not,' as yon like."

"I will come, then,with much pleasure," replied Hugh, "leaving the responsibility with you, however. Meanwhile, come in and have some breakfast with me."

"Thanks, I have breakfasted," replied Roy. " But I'll go in with you while you have yours. Don t let us be long, though, for it is going to be confoundedly hot to-day.'

So saying, Boy sprang from his horse, and "flung the reins into the hand of a man who •seemed to be waiting there for the purpose of receiving them — waiting, with nis hat .slouched low over his brow, apparently to shelter his eyes from the already brilliant

.sunshine.

Old campaigner as he was, Hugh Hallerton was a trifle startled'at the sangfroid with which that "good-looking bov, as he men tally designated ^ him: naked for and dispatched a " nobbier." It struck him, too, that whisky was hardly a salubrious kind of draught with which to commence a hot day: but Boy seemed to regard it as a matter of •course, and his host decided that it was one •of "the ways that he hadn't got into yet." India had shown him a good deal, but "young Australia" was undoubtedly ahead of the British subaltern in some things, he thought.

While Hallerton was giving some parting 'instructions to Hughes (the faithful body servant who had followed him through all his wanderings, and grumblingly declared ,that they had reached the end ot the world at last) Boyston sauntered out to remount his ihoree. As he wa° about to do so, however, the man who held the bridle laid hiB hand •upon the young man's arm, and said in a low, hoarse voice, "I want a word or two with you,Mr. BoystonNuttall!"

"What for?" queried Boy, impatiently •shaking himself free.

"You know as well as I do," replied the

man, pushing his hat back so as to expose his anything but prepossessing features. "It's .no use trying to look as u you didn't know

?me."

A flash of absolute fuiy appeared for an instant on Royston's careless face. " Know you, you impudent scoundrel!" he said, -angrily. "I'll soon let you see whether I know you or not. Stand out of my way this instant, or"

"Or what?" asked the other, insolently, •clinging to the reins as the young man sprang to the saddle.

" Or I'll make you !" cried Boy, furiously, raising his heavy-handled whip.

" Do it," retorted the man, with a taunting grin.

_Take it, then," ejaculated Royston, be side himself with passion, and bringing the whip smartly down across that insolent up

tuined!face.

" Hallo, Nuttall 1 What on "earth is up?" exclaimed Captain Hallerton, appearing from 3he house, in astonishment at the scene of excitement before him. .

"That fellow has been insolent," replied Boyston, still flushed with rage. " I know him of old. He is a bad. lot, and you had better get rid of him, Hallerton."

For a moment the man had glared upon

Boyston with an expression of almost { tigerish ferocity; but, at the sound of his •employer's voice, he loosed his hold upon the reins and stood aside, wiping his smarting

face. :

" And pray what have you to say for your

self, sir? queried Hugh Hallerton sternly, 1 turning towards him the resolute face which,

in the army, had always owned so powerful j

an influence over his men.

"Nothing, Capten," the fellow replied,

•sullenly. "Leastways, only^ that I wanted to say a few words to Mr. Royston Nuttall,

he called me an impudent scoundrel

and

instead of listening to me."

" H you had anything to say to Mr. Nuttall you should have chosen a more fitting oppor tunity, or, at all events, spoken civilly. You

will be good enough to remember in future ' that on no account can 1 permit my guests

to be insulted. Now you can go to your |

work."

"All right, Capten, I'm off. Only just

vou ask Mr. Boyston Nuttall how long it is

• i i j_ ^ ii-j

since he played cards at Blair's, and what has become of Nellie Winoh, will you?"

"Are you going, sir?" demanded Hugh,

•quietly, but with such a look and tone as I effectually daunted the other. Mr. James Bates, altos "Sulky Jim," went back to his work with a dim sense that there was a form •of reproach which was infinitely more crush ing than any he had hitherto received, in spite of such being usually garnished with spite

volleys of profanity.

" Not a blessed oath in it either I" he

muttered in bewilderment. " I'm hanged if | he swore a bit I Comes of being a swell, I •suppose I"

"lam sorry the fellow was rnde, Nuttall," remarked Hugh, quietly examining the girths of his own saddle-horse, which a boy had just led round from the stable. " Been drinking,

probably. I dare say there are some queer |

enough characters knocking abont here.

Thank you, Tim, my lad. You run and tell Mr. Harrison to keep his eye on •James Bates till I come home—quietly, mind. Now, Nuttall, I am at your service. Are you ready?"

Boyston assented silently, and they started. •Still full of anger the younger man rode on, •ever and anon casting a side-long glance at his companion, as if expecting him to make •some remark or ask some question.

But nothing seemed farther from Hugh's intentions. He patted the neok of the hand some beast he bestrode, and spoke to it ?caressingly once or twice; but, to judge by

his expression, the stormy scene be had just I witnessed had provoked in him neither •curiosity nor more than a passing wonder.

Presently the Captain fell to carelessly humming some operatic air; and, curiously enough, this in some way displeased Boyston Nuttall, although he was fain to confess that it would certainly have'been more embarrass ing had the former been inclined to ask ques

tions.

Bnt this unconcerned coolness—this appa : rent oblivion of what had juss passed—ap peared to Royston to in some way stultify ids. own importance, even in his own eyes, and, to his mind, few offences could be more unpardonable. So a certain sense of shame,

which had hitherto held him somewhat abashed,gave way to a sense of irritation which drove him into speech,

" That fellow BateB is a regular brute 1" he burst out, easing his horse's pace into a walk. •The Captain followed his«xample,and, draw ing out nis cigar-case, proceeded to " light up," responding quietly—

"Is He? Ah! I shouldn't wonder. .He looks it."

" A lying vagabond I I would be willing to lay any money that he'll come to the gallowB!"

But as this cheerful form of proposed gam bling appeared to aronse no sort of enthu siasm in Captain HaRerton's bosom, he went

on—

"After all it wasn't worth while to lose one's temper over such scum of the earth. I'm half sorry I hit the fellow."

"I have no doubt he fully participates in

your regret," remarked Hugh, in" the same tone. " I hardly fancy that weal across the face would be a very pleasant accompaniment to a hot day."

'•It is no more than he deserves," said Roys ton sullenly, unaccountably irritated by the dispassionate calm of his companion. '• You won't find him any good for work, I can tell you. . At his best he's only a sun downer."

. "A sundowner. And pray what is that 1" asked Halierton.

"Don't you know? Oh, of course you don't. -' I forgot you were a new chum," replied the other, in some measure .regaining

bis good humour at an opportunity hugely ; relished by the average youthful colonial— an'opportunity of explaining (with SQpae con deseension) terms or customs with. Which the new-comer is unacquainted—more partieu latly if that new-comer chance to be ah older man with an air of "having seen.the world.'.' " A sundowner is a sort of tramp, you know —a chap who goes about from' station to station .for the sake of the lodging and food that's given to everybody in the bush, and never does any work worth mentioning."

" Thanks, I feel wiser. And so our friend Bates is that sort of character, is he ?"

" That's about the best of .him," replied Royston. "He is a good deal worse than that, though. life not the first time be has annoyed me, pestering for money. I've a great mind to give him into custody.'.'

" Ah—a good idea I Why don't you ?" said Halierton, turning his quiet keen gaze upon Roystou's face between the puffs of bis cigar.

Roy flushed and frowned under this tran quil scrutiny, and the simple question seemed

difficult to answer.

"Oh. well, you know—there are some things —be stammered at length. " In fact, as I Baid before, that fellow Bates is an infernal liar, and he would probably .go t^nd tell a lot of yarns about me that—tnat might be believed, you know. I don't say they would, but tliey mighty you see; and a man doesn t care about having all manner of lies circulated about bim, especially when he's engaged to be married."

Royston had gained confidence as he pro ceeded, and felt that he'bad asserted bis dignity at the close; and those unpleasantly keen eyes owned by his companion were now gazing up the white and dusty road, which made things easier, somehow.

"Of course not—it is always unpleasant to be lied about," acquiesced the latter, " especially, as you say, under sueb circum stances. By-the-by, is there no such thing known as a summons for assault in this part of the world ?"

" Of course there is. Why do you ask ?"

" Only because it occurred to nie that our friend the sundowner might seek balm for his wounded face and feelings in some such

manner. That is all."

" I never thought of that," said Royston, ruefully. "That would be deucedly awk ward, you know. Oh, well, I'll send him some money—that will plaster liim up. ' Sulky Jim'—that's the name he goes by— would sell his soul for a note—if he s got one

to sell."

" Ah! Another amiable characteristic of the sundowner. Charming person be seems altogether irom your description. 'Take him for all in all we shall not look upon his like (again'—at least,it is to be hoped not. Well, of course if a note will settle it, that simplifies matters, and you are all right. Now, what do you say to our pushing on a bit, before it gets any hotter ?"

There was little more conversation between them, and somehow that ride did not tend to increase their mutual liking. Royston chafed fretfully under the sense that thiB new acquaintance had unwittingly obtained a kind of bold upon him. Apart from this, too, there was something abont the elder man—something which he could not define, something either of appearance, manner or speech, or perhapB a little of all three— which, while evidently perfectly natural and unaffected, made him feel " small," young, and foolish. It made him feel also that when he addressed him as " Halierton," it was almost as presumptuously out of place

as it would have been to call Mabel's father

"Mainwaring." Altogether he felt galled and resentful, and in nis heart conceived a smouldering hatred of the new-comer. Hal ierton, meanwhile, comprehending the posi tion of things to some extent, thought of Mab as he had judged her a few evenings ago —bo freshly ingenuous, so prettily loving—and partly estimating the character of the youth who rode beside nim, asked himself, regret fully, " Is he worthy?"