Chapter 160091145

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Chapter NumberIV
Chapter TitleA CHANGE OF SCENE.
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article160091145
Full Date1883-12-22
Page Number3
Corrections0
Word Count3459
IllustratedN
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleAdelaide Observer (SA : 1843 - 1904)
Trove TitleFor Mab. The Story of Two Christmas Gifts
article text

CHAPTER IV.

A CHANGE OF SCENE.

The same query had haunted the mmd of Sara.Mainwaring ever since—two days ago— the engagement had been made known to her.

"Oh, papa, have you really given your consent? she asked, almost reproachfully, seeking her father in the darkened solitude of his own little " study "—where, it must be confessed that novels, poetry, pipes, and a hideous, if interesting, series of glass-covered cases filled with impaled insects, occupied a

great deal more of his time than the business cares of his property, which were chiefly relegated to the attention of his foreman. The latter was a trustworthy person, luckily, and attached through long years of service to his good-natured employer, of whom he was wont to observe with affectionate contempt that he had " no more head for business than a babby." But this is en parenthise. To return to Sara, and her anxious question, " Have yon really given your consent?"

" Why, yes, my dear Sara, I am afraid I really have," replied her father, ruffling up his hair with an air of perplexity. " That is, if you mean about Mab and . Boy. I am sorry if you don't approve; but what could I do? They seem to have made up their mindB. I pooh-poohed the matter at first, and said they were a couple of children. They replied that they were grown up; and I suppose they had the best of that. Then I enquired how they proposed to live, and Royston assured me that ne had plenty; and then there's Mab's little bit of money aB well, you know, Sara. Then I said I thought they had better wait a year or two before entering into any engagement, which they deolinedT

Of course when I say "they" 1 mean Boy. I suppose he was a sort of anal representa tive. Well, now, what oould I do? It's supremely ridiculous, though, isn't it?"

" It is worse than ridiculous, papa," said

Sara, sadly. " 1 do not believe that Mab

would be nappy in such a marriage. I do not believe that she is happy about it even

now."

" Tot, tut, Sara! Yon are fanciful, my

dear," responded Mr. Mainwaring. " Why

in the name of all that is reasonable Bhoula

Mab have promised to marry the lad if she did not expect to be happy with him ?"

"I do not.know why, replied Sara, with a Perplexed sigh. "I only know that Mab has not been her own bright Belf for some time—ever since she refused him some weeks ago; for she did refuse him, I know, Though he would not take no for an answer. Of course I cannot say how he has prevailed upon her to change her uiind, but of one thing I feel sure, that Mab does not feel

happy abont it. I never saw her cry, since she was a child, as violently as she aid just now when I spoke of it to her, and she ran away and locked herself in her room. So

unlike Mab."

And Sara's chiselled lips quivered slightly with the pain of remembrance of this first lack of confidence on the part of her idolized

sister.

"Crying, eh?" exclaimed good Ralph Mainwaring, looking troubled. " What is sne doing that for? Excitement, probably, Well, well, you women cure curious creatures! There is no accounting for you 1 Perhaps girls make a point of doing that sort of thing when they become engaged. Do they, Saraf' ?

"I do not know. ' I have had so few op portunities of judging," replied Sara, smiling a little in spite of herself. "But seriously, papa,-1 do wiBh yon would try to put a;stop • to this. I am sure Royston is' not at all the

'sort of husband for our Mabel."

? " What do you mean, Sara?" asked her father, anxiously, in his turn. " You don't know any harm of the lad, do you ?"

"Not exactly—at least not more than I have always known," answered Sara, with reluctant hesitation. " Of coarse I am fond

of Royston in a way, after having known him all these years, papa; but I cannot conceal from myself that he is both selfish and passionate. I know this—and I fear for -Mabel's happiness with him."

"Selfish1 and passionate 1" repeated Mr. Main waring. " Come, come, Sara, my dear, you are surely judging the poor lad too harshly. I don t suppose he is faultless; but where would Mab fiud a faultless husband, 1 wonder? I can't say 1 approve of it, Sara, but I don't see that anything can be done. It seems to me'that we muBt just let things take their course."

And here, looking nervous and worried, Mr. Mainwaring raised his hands to his head. Instantly Sara forgot all in affec tionate care for him, and springing to his side laid her cool palm upon his brow.

"Is your head bad, dear?" she asked tenderly.

" Just a little, Sara. Since the other after noon my head is constantly feeling rather queer. First of all a sharp pain comes, then giddiness, and then I get quite confused. I seem to forget everything for a time. Funny, isn't it, Sara?"

" It is the hot weather, papa, dear," re plied Sara, soothingly. " You will he better when the change comes."

. " I hope so," responded her father, with an impatient sigh. "I don't want to become a feeble old man before my time. Fifty-five is no great age, is it, Sara? Too soon to begin to lose ones memory."

There was such a wistful tone in these J words that Sara's eyes filled with tears {

as she bent to kiss his nandsome grey head.

"Of course, dear," she said, struggling to speak cheerfully; twenty years too soon at the very least. You are not going to lose your memory; don't think of such things. And now I must go and see about tbe house hold afiars, or there will be no dinner to-day."

"Give ub a salad and some stewed fruit and cream, or something of that sort, Sara. It is too hot to eat much to-day," suggested Mr. Mainwaring, his mind diverted to a fresh subject.

" That's all very well for you, you ethereal being," said Mab, appearing in the doorway; "but what do you suppose Aunt Marcia would say ? She declares it is affectation to lose one's appetite, and makes it a point of honour to aievote a certain amount of atten tion to all the courses, even in the hottest weather. Aunt Marcia would not have made a good Israelite in the desert, would she,

papa? liow Blie would have hankered after | those Egyptian fleehpots 1"

" Mab,' said her sister, with laughing re proof, as she passed out of the room, "you are a disrespectful puss."

"I don't see that Aunt Marcia deserves j

any particular respect," observed Mab, with dauntless independence. "It was by no merit of hers that she had the honour of being

born your sister, was it. papa ? To be sure |

she is pretty old, but 111 undertake to say she would not he inclined to base her claims to respect on that score."

" Why, you rancorous - tongued little vixen 1" laughed Mr. Mainwaring, pinching tbe pretty pink ear that was nearest to him.

" Pray, where did you pick up these revolu- |

tionary sentiments ?"

" I can't say, I am sure," replied Mab, perch ing herself upon the arm of the well-worn

morocco chair in which her lather sat. "You see, papa, I don't like Aunt Marcia, and Aunt Marcia doesn't like me; and this mutual animosity results in an extraordinary capacity for saying disagreeable things, on both sides.

"So it seems—on your side, anyhow," replied her father, who, it must be admitted, was Becretly iniquitous enough not to regret that the many annoyanoes to which his sister subjected hiin were likely to be fully avenged by Mali's quick tongue. " But, Mab, chad, I had no idea you had such a shocking temper."

"Well, neither had I, papa,, until Aunt Marcia came," said Mao, confidentially. "You see, dear, you and Sara have always spoiled me so outrageously that I never had any occasion to find it out. You can't think

how I enjoy shocking her, papa. You know j the notches Roy. cut into the oldi

gumtree, and the rope he hung there for me to climb up by, when we were children, papa? Well, I had not been up there for two years nearly until she came; but I have been up several

times since, just for the fun of seeing the [ horrified expression of Aunt Marcia's face." .

But the mention of Roy's name had diverted her father's thoughts into a fresh channel. "There was something I wanted to say to you, Mab," he said, passing his hand over his forehead again. "But I can't quite recollect what it was. My memory playB. me such odd tucks lately. Ah t I remember now—about Roy. Are you sure you are quite happy, child ? Sara said you

' been crying; and now I come to look at

you^our eyes are red."

'onsense, papa, dear. Tbe sun was very

strong when I was in the garden just now,

replied Mab, evasively. Apd pray what do you mean by taking snoh notions about losing your memory into your

dear, foolish, old head? 1 won't allow it, do you hear, sir? There, you shall have no less than ten kisses on the little bald spot on the top of your head by way of punishment. By-the-by, what have you done with the praying mantis I brought you yesterday?"

" There he is, performing his devotions on the top of that box. I broke a little branch

off one of the almond-trees for him. yon see."

Having effected this diversion, Mab stood beside her father to watch the carious crea ture'at its grotesque antics—now raising its tiny human-like arms with a gesture of entreaty, now apparently joining them in profound devotion, and ever and anon tnrn mg its little triangular head and bright eyes from side to side, as if gifted with almost preternatural intelligence.

Meanwhile Sara, entering the dining-room

in search of something, found Mrs. Willis

clad in a loose gown, lolling at ease in a low ' chair, as seemed to be her habitual custom.

" You look gloomy, Sara," observed her j aunt, Sitically. " Has something occurred to displease you f

"Yea, Aunt Marcia," replied-Sara, with nnwonted curtness, unlocking a cupboard, and peering into its dark recesses as if com pletely absorbed in her search.

"It is about Mabel's marriage, I suppose," pursued Mrs. Willis, in her even tones. " You don't approve of it, do you, Sara ?"?

"No, Aunt Marcia, I do not," replied Sara, taking her queenly head out of the cupboard, and regarding her aunt with a look which might well have daunted any one else. Sara

was too honest to equivocate, but she had no ? desire to discuss her sister's affairs with Mrs. Willis.

" Well, to tell the truth, Sara, I hardly ex pected you would," remarked Mrs. Willis, sweetly, "although I must say it "appears to me to be a very suitable match. But elder sisters so seldom do approve in these caseB. It is galling to see one s younger sisters married over one's head, as it were. At least, I should think so; especially where there's so great a difference in age. ' It seems to place you on the shelf, and make an old maid of you at once, doesn't it, my dear? I remember quite well how furious your Aunt Jane was when I became engaged to-your poor Uncle Willis'; she would hardly speak civilly to either of us for weeks." <

But neither Aunt Marcia's amiable speech nor the account of Aunt Jane's equally amiable behaviour provoked a verbal answer or comment from Sara. Simply regarding her aunt with a lofty look of proud astonish ment, Bhe swept past her with her most stately air, her dignity in no way impaired by the fact that her hands were full of the spoils of the cupboard, Mrs. Willis's com placency was hardly proof against this.

" What airs these bush-bred chits do give themselves, to be sure,' she remarked, half aloud, with an uneasy laugh, as Sara dis appeared; and thereupon _ resettled herself

in her comfortable chair and resumed her novel.

Her nieces appeared no less insufferable when, on Captain Hallerton's second visit, it

became palpably evident that the Bociety of the " bush-bred chits possessed far greater attractions for him than that ot the maturely fascinating woman of the world, as Mrs. Willis estimated herself. Aunt Marcia had fully calculated upon Hugh's devoting a con

siderable portion of his time to her enter- j

tainment in the excess of his relief at find ing some one to some extent accustomed to the ways of " society" in such an out-of-the way locality. But in this she was dis appointed ; and she could not help remark ing how rapidly Sara and the stranger seemed to have attained a footing of confidential in timacy.

Mab noticed this, too; but the circum stance, which only annoyed her aunt, gave her unmitigated pleasure. It seemed to her to be most meet and fitting that her beau tiful and stately sister should be receiving the homage of such a gallant, soldierly ad mirer. This was at first: but, as the months rolled on, an uncontrollable dissatisfaction grew in the girl's ingenuous and trusting heart. She did not know what it meant She only knew that she had grown into a habit of comparing Royston Nuttall with Hugh Hallerton upon all possible occasions, and always, sad to say, to the former's dis

advantage. In vain she reproached herself |

for this.

"It is ungenerous — unfair," she would assure herself. " I have no right to compare

them. If Boy had had Captam Hallerton's |

advantages it would have been different."

But certainly the faults in Boyston's dispo sition seemed to become more prominent day by day. Having obtained Mab's reluctant promise, his passionate pleading and lover like humility disappeared at once, and he ventured to assume an air of mastery which could not be gratifying to the feelings of a girl of spirit. He seemed to think that he had obtained a right to control

Mab's actions, and selfishly begrudged

the smallest portion of her time to others-r-even to her father, reproaching her ungently if Bhe were not always ready and willing to walk, ride, or converse with him, entirely regardless of other claims upon

her attention.

Captain Hallerton was very kind, Mab thought; very considerate, almost tenderly

so, in his friendly anxiety to consult her cou- j venience and anticipate her wishes in all j little matters; but, of course, Sara received

the greater part of his time and attention. Dear, beautiful Sara 1 what a handsome pair they made to be Bure! And she—why, she was engaged to Boy I She had given her promise, and everything was as it should be.

And at this conclusion a strangely choking sensation arose in Mab's slender throat, and an undue dimness veiled the lustre of her pretty eyes.

The condition of Mr. Mainwaring's head did not improve with the passing months, and the cooler weather seemed to bring no healthful blessiugs with it, as far as he was concerned. So, when the winter's rains were over and the earth was rejoicing in her teem ing wealth of verdure once again, it was decided that they should pay a visit to Ade laide, in order to try at once the possible benefit of change of scene and skilled medical advice.

" It will do you all good," Hugh 'Hallerton remarked, noting, not for the first time, the weary eyes and forced gaiety with which Mab endeavoured to sustain her reputation as the merry madcap of the family. " Fresh field is charming, as I have always said, bnt there is no denying its monotony, and a little of the gaiety of town will be beneficial to all of you. I snail be in Adelaide myself when you are there, and we must manage to see all - that there is to be seen together, if you will permit me the privilege."

Certainly the viBit proved, very different from the two former occasions on which Mr. Mainwaring had taken his daughters to the metropolis. Then they had known nobody and seen but little. Mabel had been hut a child, and Sara's remarkable beauty had at tracted such wondering stares whenever she appeared in the streets that, in her proud shyness, she had feared there must be some thing peculiarly countrified or objectionable in her appearance, apd.had clung to the shelter of their own room in the hotel while her father pursued the objects which had brought him to town. -

This time, with Aunt Marcia for chaperone and Hugh and Boyston for cavaliers, and Mr. Mainwaring happily content to go wherever they might lead, they learnt the charms of beautiful Adelaide by heart, growing fond and proud, as all true South Australians should be. of their queenly little city, girt by its grandly rounded range and broad ex panse of sapphire sea, and garlanded by its wealth of blushing rose's ana gleaming lilies, sturdy, golden-fruited,' perfume-breathing oranges, and clinging, promise-laden vines. .

Dr. Chiiinery, to whose care Mr. Main waring committed himself, proved to be a quiet, clever gentleman of middle age, who having no household ties of his own, seemed to find it agreeable to pass as mnch as possible of his spare time with his new patient's family, and was an adept at devising pleasant excursions and evening amusements.

Had it not been for Ronton, Mab thought, she would have been quite, or if not quite, at least almost, happy. Aim | poor, pretty light-hearted Mab! Had it come to this T It was curious that the idea of breaking her engagement never occurred to her. Loyal to the core, she had promised and she would, keep her word.

But how much harder would she have deemed it bad she known then that more

than once^Captain Hallerton had encountered her young lover on his-way toher presence with such an unsteady gait and inarticulate speech that he had sternly forbidden his entrance, and - been rewarded: by a flood

of insensate abuse for his interference. Nor was this 'all, though much. Young as he was, Royston Nuttall had long been bitten by the rage for gambling; and,'in pursuit of this fatal passion, ho haunt was too low or too degraded for his half-frenzied visits. It woe in strange places and by strange devices that the viguant eye of the law was some times evaded; and it was accidentally coming across a clue to such a one that Hugh Haller ton discovered the meaning of" Sulky Jim's"

reference to " Blair's."

"Heaven knows how much truth there may be in Bates's other suggestion," mused Hallerton. "The young reprobate 1 I begin to think he is bad enough for anything. It is no use speaking to him; one gains nothing but insults. But this state of things cannot be allowed to go on. - The poor girls father should be warned; but where would be the use! He is not capable of concentrating his attention sufficiently to take any decisive steps in the matter. Sara disapproves, I am certain; but even ahe does not know all, and she seems to be powerless. Poor Mab I Poor Mab 1 She should be told ; but who could tell her! It would break'her loving heart 1"

It may have been that Captain Hallerton was a trifle surprised at the bitter pain which all this caused him. But a year ago he had abandoned all human interest, he thought,' and- lived only in the memories of the paBt. And- now he was vividly ali7e to such interest—keenly sympathizing with— nay, even suffering for—others! That was howheputit.

Thus, to all outward appearance, matters were in much the same position when the Mainwarings, accompanied by Mrs. Willis and Hugh Hallerton (the former relapsing into a deeper discontent) left Adelaide for their several homes, save only that Roys too Nuttall remained behind, for some unavoid able reason which he did not clearly explain, his absence being a fact which more than one of the party secretly acknowledged to be a relief.