Chapter 160139454

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Chapter NumberV
Chapter TitleAS A VISITOR.
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article160139454
Full Date1880-12-25
Page Number35
Corrections0
Word Count3966
IllustratedN
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleAdelaide Observer (SA : 1843 - 1904)
Trove TitleClare's Christmas Eve
article text

CHAPTER Y.

AS A VISITOR.

Id the drawing-room they found several visitors,'mostly ladies who were drinking after noon tea and generally entertained by Mrs Rutherford, while Dolly divided her attention between the teatray and a fair young man with sandy hair and moustache, and a look of deter mined earnestness. This was George Kendall, Dolly's fanc6e. His mother and one of his oisteis were also making a call. They were both very expensively dressed, talked volubly, and had reddish hair, which was, indeed, a peculiarity of the whole family. Perhaps it

was this monotonous trick of Nature that Dolly found so tiresome when she on one occa sion before her engagement said to Glare, " One Kendall is very well, two are not amiss, three mBy be tolerated, hut as for the whole family, nothing but the grace of God can enable one to endure them, j

Mrs. Rutherford had a refined and somewhat fragile appearance. She was close upon sixty, but her complexion was still softly fair, and in her silky brown hair not a trace of grey was yet to be seen; this, with the large quiet eyes, and delicate serious mouth, gave an expression of sipgnlar sweetness to her face.

Clare, looking happy and animated, sat some what apart from the rest, talking to a young man whose eyes were very like her own, but with a very bronzed face and a heavy dark moustache and beard. Clare cast a searching look at her father and lover as they entered, then motioned the latter to her side of the

room.

"Mat, this is Mr. Roxburghe; my brother Matthew."

The two men shook hands.

" Matthew has just arrived," said Clare. " Ha is a wild man of the woods, who despises tbe trammels of civilization, and rarely condescends to leave his beloved busb."

"Yes; iust now.and again when I want a panDikiD, or a 'possum-rug made in the latest fashion, I am obliged to come to town," said

Matthew;

"Then do you live far away from your home?" enquired Harltigb.

" It's just the other way," returned Matthew. "My people have deserted the old nest—a beautiful place in tbe heart of the woods, with breathing space for thousands on it, with grow ing trees and sweet water, and p9acefol flocks of sheep; and here they stay near town —a placB

hideous with noise, with ugly houses, with want

of room and cleanliness."

" And hideous most of all with the concourse of hnmanjbeinga that envy and cheat and jostle each other in it from morning till night, eh, Matthew," said the sister.

*' Quite true," answered Matthew emphati cally. There was no make-believe or exaggera tion about Matthew's love of tbe great un peopled woods. He was one of those to whom Mature in ber large grand leisure, in ber deep solitude, broken only by the sound of winds that rise and fall, the music of running waters, the fluttering of branches, and the singing of birds, was almost as necessary as the bread he ate and tbe water he drank. He did not theo rize about the matter, nor tabulate his impres sions. Bat when he came into town periodically and stayed a few weeks the noise, the bustle, the hurrying to and fro, the appointments to be kept, the dances to be danced, and the polite unmeaning speeches which must be made,

seemed to him a burden not to be borne. When

sick of these things, the memory of the vague mournful cry of waterfowl flying over a waste of sand, gleaming white and still in the deep soli tude ,of a starry moonlight night, of the per petual hush and shadow of deep, gullies in tbe heart of closely-wooded ranges, would suddenly sweep across his mind, and he would feel that he must return to his flock and herds, to his free simple life in the Australian bush

But on the present occasion Glare's return, after an absence of two years, had induced him

to come into town the second time within a few months, though it was now shearing time—that Hegira of station life,

" I hope my Cousin will find life in the woods as fascinating as you do," said Harleigh, feeling not a little amuied at the look of critical enquiry which the young man bent on him.

" My siBter has just been telling me that Mr. Dunetan intends to go into the country. If he does not form any more pressing engagement, I hope be will come back with me to Millanilla and stay a while, to see how he likes bush life in the north."

Harleigh expressed his thanks for this hos pitable offer, and Matthew, who knew what the purport of Harleigh's present visit was, found his wcy to Dolly's side, and tried to convince her that the tea ehe gave him in an exquisite cup of Meissen china, with frothy cream, sweetened with loaf sugar, waa not to be compared to the same beverage made in a qaartpot, under the shadow of a gumtree at sunset, after a long day's march. And then he listened with a comic

half-wondering look to the talk of two ladieB who sat near him. The youuger one—Mrs. Yere Brown—was a self-important, rasping-voiced little woman, who "went in" for being literary, and was given to repeating extracts from reviews and art criticisms with an exasperating air of proprietorship, as if the fact of filching them made those oppressively smart, semi-false, and superficial judgments the original pro duct of her own small brains. It was currently reported that oDe sensitive young aitist, who had come for "studies" to Aus tralia, fled the colony one night after she had persisted in talking to him for a whole evening about "barmonieB of tone"and the "supreme melody of nocturnes by So-and-so." When not bent on airing her superior talents and penetrat ing critical insight, .Mrs. Yere Brown was prone to dwell on all the ill-natured versions of her neighbours' affairs which she could collect. She did this, however, with an affectation of false sj mpatby and regret that many people found more intolerable than downright scandal. " Have you seen 'any of. the Lackgelds lately?" she would say; "I am so sorry for these poor girls. What with the father's intemperance, and the mother's extravagance, I really don't know what is to become of them. It is snch a pity three nice, nice girls like them should have no prospect of settling. Why, the youngest must be cIobc upon thirty. Oh! I am sure ehe is. They begin to look very paasee. Dear girls, they are very nice. I am ao fond of them," &c., &e.

On the present occasion she was in her literary vein.

" The modern novel, like the modern drama," , she was saying in her high-pitched unmodulated voice, " if too essentially the reflex of transitory phaec-s of external life. Neither can keep a permanent place in literature. Nor can we

wonder"—

" W hat a good memory you have, Mrs. Brown," interrupted Mrs. Clanagh-.n, the lady to whom she spoke. "The Major was reading that article in one of the quarterlies the other day; but he thought it was such nonsense he would

not finish it."

".What article, dear Mrs. Olanaghan ?" asked Mrs. Vere Brown shrilly.

"Oh, just that style of thing about the great creative geniuses of the past, and the dull level of mediocrity in the present—the sad certainty of the writer that nothing which is the product of the nineteenth century can endure —not even its steam-engines, the workmanship being so bad. The Major got ont of all patience with the thing. Be said the worst of every one learning to read was that ptople of shallow understanding, eager to be considered smart and in the van of so-called modern thought, formed a sort of foolish clicrus for such ill - digested stuff." Mrs. Olanaghan was a tall spare woman with a commanding Boman nose, a sallow complexion, dark restless eyes, and thin resolute lips, who had a special faculty for bitter speeches, when she wished to wipe out some real or imaginary social grievance. She bah once or twice heard how Mrs. Vere Brown made remarks of thia kind—" The Major and Mrs. Olanaghan are very good sort of people in their way, but what an infliction it is that they can never talk of anything but India. Some one said the other day the Major left his liver there and Mrs. Olanaghan her manners. Isn't it a shame to say such things ?" ke. Hence the savRge reception accorded by the Major's wife to Mrs. Vere Brown's attempt at profound conversation. Matthew sipped his tea aud listened to these amenities of high bred friend ship with half-cynical amusement, musing on the little lives of men, and how they mar that little withthi ir strife. Then be glanced towards Glare, and ? wondered why there was such a troubled look on her face while talking to her

lover.

" You have spoken to papa?" Glare had said, with a certain feeling ot uneasiness, as soon as they were alone. With the quick intuition of a keenly sensitive temperament she felt sure that the interview in the library hid not been what she wished. Had not Harleigh's face lost something of the expression of gUd content which it wore when she had spoken to him a short time ago ?

"Yes. and he has spoken to me," answered Harleigb, smiliDg. " He has not absolutely re fused his consent to our engagement, OUre; but he withholds it for six months—if we are constant till then. Do you thiuk we shall be ?"

Clare flushed up violently, and then the blcod receded, leaving her paler than before.

"Did my father give any reason for not con senting to our engagement ?" she said, in a low

tone.

" I cannot say that he gave any precise reason. Perhaps he saw some strong signs of fickleness in .my face; or is it you, Glare, who is not to be ligl tly trusted ? Are you like the wicked princess in the fairy tale, who sat in a castle with the bones of her rejected lovers bleaching

around ?"

Ir stead of responding to this raillery with

her usual gaiety, Clare looked pale sni agi

tated.

"Tell me, Harleigh, did my father apeak barahly to you ?" she said, frith a quiver in her proud mobile lips.

" No, my darling; unless you call the condi tion I have named harsh. X do not pretend to like it myself; but,after all, I think auch a dear little wife aa I am going to have is well worth waiting for mnch longer than that. it need be.11

Clare looked across the room where heriather sat talking to Mrs. Kendall, and the thanght that he had cordially approved of George as a son-in-law, while Harleigh's suit was for the time beiDg rejected, made her heart swell with anger and a keen sense of injustice.

" My father is always unjust to me," she said bitterly; " before I left home—" She paused abi uptly. " Harleigh, there is something I want to tell you- something that caused a coolness between myself and try father before I went away. I suppose X was to blame, but"—

" Never mind it just now, darling. But don't think too hardly oi your father. He is quite right to be cautious before he entrosts yon .to any one—even to me." ' Clare looked singularly troubled and annoyed, but Harleigh was bent on making the best of it. •

" See here, Clare," he said, taking up a book that lay on a little table near them—a book of modern poetry, bound in pale blue, with slender gold lilies growing on the cover, and turning the leaves as he spoke—that is one, two, three, four, five, six months from now—that will take us to March. Well, on the 22nd of March your father, seeing our undying constancy, will give us his blessing; on the 23rd, that is the day after, I shall come riding up to Calthrope Park, I'll borrow Tony for the occasion, and here I'll find you waiting to go to church, in a lovely, white tulle moire antique."

Despite her annoyance, Clare burst into a laugh at this.

" It is not that we have so long to wait, Har leigh, but that my father should hesitate and place such restrictions; but of course you will

come here."

" Oh, yes; your father kindly made me wel come as a visitor. Clare, I wish you would write me a little manual of etiquette as to what one may or may not do in that capacity.' A terrible suspicion creeps into my miud that at some unguarded moment I may remember only that I am your lover."

" As' a visitor.' So that is my father's decree. I dare say he was thinking of Mr. Drumbleton, who pays ns a visit every Thursday afternoon with the even regularity of a planet. He always stays fifteen minutes, always says the same thing, and smiles in the same dreadful way, just like a continuation of his last smile, as if he had put it in his pocket when he had done with it, and then taken it out when he wanted it again."

" I have a presentiment that I shall bear a fatal resemblance to this unfortunate man, Clare. I am snre I shall say the same thing each time I see you."

"What is that?"

" Can you not guess ?"

Clare reflected a moment, and then said gravely, " I suppose yon will say. ' This is not a very good season for nectarines.'"

" No; I shall say,' Clare, I do believe you are the deareBt little girl that ever lived.'"

" Ah! you think that now," said Clare wist fully, without a trace of coquetry, thinking ruefully of a certain confession that must be made—some time. Harleigh laughed, and just

then it struck him that a visitor should not

devote himself exclusively to one member of

be household.

The Kendalls left, and Mr. Butherford went out with them.

" Now, Clare, I mast not stay moch longer just now, and I have a very important piece of news yet to tell yoa. Last night Patrick and I were at the house of an old London friend, Dr. Sheen ess. Among other people there was Mr. Laker, the incumbent of St. Christopher's. Perhaps you know him ?"

" Slightly. I have heard him preach once or twice. Be always begins: * It is eventide. Across a plain some sojourners on camels are hastening towards a group of palm-trees, which mark an oasis—a welcome plaoe of rest for man and- beast. My dearly beloved brethren, this was in the Holy Land.' And then he pauses, sb if to give his hearers a chance of recovering from thtir surprise at this vividly graphic description. Now, Harleigb, you need not shake your head at me. You know he has a meFt elaborate way of saying nothing."

" I can see that a certain youug lady has a wicked way of saying something. But what I want to tell you is that Mr. Laker is going away for his health for six months, and proposed thet I should take bis charge during that time. I have not yet decided, but I think I shall most likely do so."

" Oh ! then would you live in Barbaja ? Or is it at MilJhaven St. Christopher's is ?"

" The parish—do you speak of parishes here ? —compiises both suburbs. I understand they

are three miles west of the town. Mr. Laker

spoke in rather a desponding way of., his parishioners."

" Ob, there is hardly any one in the place but brickmakers and labourers aud people who do something to skins far gone in mortality. - I believe the chief amusement of the place is wife-beating. Really, Harleigb, nearly all the dreadful things happen in that neighbourhood. But you needn't live there, need you?" said Clare, in a deprecating tone.

"Yes, of course I shall live there, Clare. I do cot suppose it is anything like my London district. You see. dear, I have very Low tastes in that way," said Harleigb, smiling.

" Tell me, please, what you did iu your London parish—district was it? That sounds more doleful; Jong stretches of crowded back streets and lanes, with vilianous-looking roughs in tattered clothes waiting round the corners to heave bricks at one! Did any of your people - become better, Harleigb."

" My dear child, some of the people 1 knew among the very poor of London were the greatest example and encouragement I.found in my work. But you must disabuse yourself of the idea that the majority of even those who are wretchedly poor and disgracefully housed are either paupers or criminals. I knew men and women who lived in fool rookeries — I cannot call them houses — in crowded courts and alleys, constantly sur rounded by the depressing grimy monotony of the streets, who lived honest; true, and brave lives; who were cheerful and kind and capable of real heroism in (he way of unselfish helpful ness to others. Of course these were the excep tion ; they ere the exception in every rank of life. But the knowledge that it was possible for such livc8 to grow and develop in the face of. so much terrible discouragement kept the

Devil at bay when be would have one believe"' that seed sown among masses of partially pauperized and indifferent human beings could bear no fruit. Then in the pastoral work, in * the house-to lionse visitation, sick visiting, provident clubs, penny banks, reading-rooms, day, night, aud Sunday. schools, meetings, lectures, and social gatherings, I had a splendid band of earnest workers as my "coadjutors, with my sister Laura—yon will love her so fondly, Clare—always to the fore. A great feature in our district was the establishment of. numerous mission houses for amusements, social reunions, end quiet evenings. It was a kind of opposi tion we etarted to the public-houses,

beershcps, - and gin • palaces. These are always open, always handy, and we did not expect people tired with their day's bard toil to trudge-to ns past these ever-open tempting resorts. 80 as thickly as possible we hired or built rooms (as cheaply as possible) -that were well lit each evening, where good periodicals, works of fiction, &cM were to be had, also tea and coffee were supplied at almost nominal prices. In many oases these rooms became self-supporting. We made no distinc tion of Chnrch or creed.- any one who chose to drop in, and who behaved deoently, was welcome. Otherwise these rooms would have been on a very unequal footing with the public houses. A good deal of my work was decidedly secular. From the first—acting on the advice of experienced fellow-workers—I set rry face agaibBt alms-giving. There are always nnmbers of hopeless hereditary paupers in London districts and parishes, who regard the Church as a beneficent institution for giving charity tickets. But these are not the people one hopes to do much with. If I did not believe that life is in itself.a moral end, the only remedy I would advocate for such people would be whole sale euthanasia. The larger number of my parishioners were hard-working, but with such a close battle for a livelihood that any mis fortune or drawback may suddenly precipitate tbem into pauperism. A little judisious help in

such cases is of incalculable value. Ton would be surprised to know, Clare, how large my dealings as a money-lender have been."

"And do you charge a very high rate of

interest?"

" Ob, I am not going to reveal business secrets. If you want to raise a lean of coarse it's a different matter. But haven't you had enongh of this just now?"

"Bo, indeed," answered Clare, who was absorbed not merely in listeniog bnt in drawing mental pictures of the life and scenes Harlbigh's simple facts suggested. " This was Clare's invariable habit when listening to what deeply

tonched or interested her. It was not an

unusaally powerful imagination that led to this, bat 9 vivid dramatic faculty, that turned scraps of conversation, the meagrest description, or even a chance allnsion, into scenes that came and went as swiftly as slides in a magic lantern.

"Yon need to write sometimes, didn't you, Harleigb? You see, Fat gave me bushels of statistics about yon."

"Ob, my writing, dear, was chiefly of a very prosaic character. It generally took the form of protracted onslaughts on vested interests that stood in the way of some material or social bet terment in our district. I suppose most people get what Herbert Spencer calls a professional bias sooner or later. When I was a soldier my ideal achievement was to lead a charge of cavalry to a brilliant victory against fearfal odds. Bat at St. David's in the Bast, to level to the ground some of the stifliog courts where people are packed from attic to basement in'degrading wretchedness, was one of my dearest dreams. And some of them were realized; but, oh! the endless interviews, the official letters, the meet ings, the appointments, the statistics, which had to be encountered. And then the abuse that was sometimes heaped upon ns. We made more beautifnl the Temple of onr God, and had daily services; we were Papists in diagnise. We lent a helping hand to all whom we could aid, irre

apective ct creed or sect; our only aim was to proselytize; we struggled to compass the social improvement of the district by having better dwelling-houses and mission-rooms for innocent amusements; we were Socialists and Materialists. I remember a writer once in a local evening paper referred to sundry of our methods as being "very carnal." I have never yet, how ever, had the opportunity of being as carnal as I would libe. One of my day dreams is to see large theatres thoroughly well conducted within the reach of the very poorest."

''Theatres! Oh, Harleigb, how delightfully unorthodox," said Glare, with a beaming face.

AVculd you have French plays translated with an uneasy air of English propriety performed in

them ?"

"Now, Clare, that is cruel. More than three hundred years ego God gave us a man whose genius is so rare and splendid that even a partial appreciation of his works is a kind of education in itself. Tet to

the people of England they are to this day a sealed book. They always will be. till they are properly rendered. So when my ideal theatres, free from the associations that have brought disrepute on the stage, have emerged from the shadowy land of dreams, they need not depend for their attractions on the pert, modern French play, with its sechercsse of soul, its restless at titudinising, and feverish anxiety to make one laugh at everything. Now, don't tempt me into any more disquisitions on this subject. Oh, yes, I can see I am undone. After this, when

Iwant to remonstrato with you—that's a good connubial word, Glare—instead of listening with a contrite heart, you will smile, as you do 2ow, and say, ' Tell me a fairy tale; about an ideal theatre, for example.'"

"O,yes; one clearly foresees that you will bo the most ill-used of men," said Glare, laugh ing ; and then, Harleigb, feeling that no right minded visitor would linger so inexcusably, made his adieus and went away.