|Chapter Number||3. I|
|Chapter Title||THE AUSTINS.|
|Newspaper Title||Evening Journal (Adelaide, SA : 1869 - 1912)|
|Trove Title||Whatsoever a Man Soweth|
WHATS0EEVR A MAN S0WETH.
BOOK III. — THE REAPING OF THE HARVEST. CHAPTER I. THB ACBTINS.
Robert Austin was the Manager and proprietor of Warrydong Station. In appearanoe he was tall and slight, very fair, and with kindly blue eyes, whioh at times were lit up by an expression of good-natured raillery. In manner he was usually quiet and reserved, rarely speaking unless «poken to, and then replying in as few words as possible. No one had ever seen him out of temper, nor did he ever descend to the use of saroasm. This, in these days, ia a virtue worth - reoording. Robert Austin, though he said little, knew a great deal, and was respeoted as a man of sound ootninon sense and undoubted integrity. Like other men he waa naturally pleased when he succeeded in making a good bargain, but he never stooped to the employment of unjust means in order to gain tbe desired end. In his Dusiness and private relations he was alike honest and open as the day. Those who knew him intimately admired bim moat, and in tbis ohe beet proof of his charaoter is to be found. It is often eaid that "tbe men wbo most deserve good wives are generally the very ones who draw a blank in the great matrimonial lottery." What truth there is in this statement it would be hard to determine, but certainly it did not justly apply to ttobert Austin, for he, at any rate, had no reason to complain of the partner he had chosen. She was not what the world would oall haodnome ; ehe was, indeed, rather plain and homely, with a round goodhumoured face, and a figure of very ample proportions. But Mrs. Austin possessed a heart overflowing with sympathy. She was essentially a motherly woman, and the world is in need of suoh. She loved her husband, and understood him. She did not consider him perfect. All men have their faults, and he bad Qie. Nothing but a blind, unreasoning passion oould possibly imagine any man or woman to be wholly pnrfeot, and Mrs. Austin was eminently practioal. She saw chat her husband wanted bujiueBS taot. He read toe much and talked too little, she thought. He was of a rather dreamy disposition, and there were always some people ready to take advantage of his absent-mindedness. Then, again, be was too easy with the ohiidren ; he spoi.t them, in her opinion, and it became neoissary for her to counteract his influunoe by being more than usually strict herself. But still Mrs. Austin realized that she, too, baa failings. Although usually good-tempt red and amiable, she was subjeot to what she oalled "nerves," and occasionally she grew irritated, and faid things she didn't mean. These times were very rare, and never laBted any length of time ; but tbe knowledge of her weakness in this reapeot caused her to be lenient towards what she considered her husband's shortcomings; and thus, husband and wife, doing their best to please eaoh other, and yet not expecting impossibilities, were happy together, as they deserved to be. Mr. and Mrs. Austin were blessed with a large family—too large, some persona thought —but those most concerned did not think so. In all there were five girls and three boys. Mrs. Austin sometimes sighed, and wished that it was the other way about ; but her husband alwayB expressed himself as being quite satisfied, and Mrs. Austin's feelings of regret were usually short lived. Tbe eldest child of the family was Minnie, a young lady of about twenty summers. Sbe was tall and prepossessing in appearance. Her manners were irreproachable, and like many other young ladies she posseesed an uncommonly good opinion of herself. Her education was, to use her own expression, " finished," and she bad but lately returned from a visit to friends in Adelaide, where ehe had been made muoh of. Tn strong contrast to her sister was Mabel, who oameseoond on tbe list. She resembled her mother, being inclined to stoutness, and possessing a large fund of animal spirits. Mabel was always ready for what she termed a "lark,"and during the holidays was the sworn ally of her brother Robert who, at present was at College in Adelaide. The two were never out of mischief, and Miss Minnie's life was made a burden to her, for this very proper young person hated anything whioh tended towards vulgarity, and it oertainly seemed to her tbe height of vnlgarity for a girl of Mabel's age and education to be continually romping about the garden and playing practical jokes upon everybody like an overgrown schoolboy. The rest of tbe children, with the exoepcion of the baby, wbo ruled the house, were under tbe charge of Miss Melville, the governess, and it is with her that our story is chiefly oon- 3erned. Miss Melville had been with the Austins for nearly three years, and her engagement in the first plaoe had been due soleiy to an acoident. Mr Austin owned a small sheep- Htntion some 200 miles to the north-east of Wirrydong, whioh at rare intervals he visited. The station was near a township, and it was here that Mr Austin beoame acquainted with Miss Melville, who was earning a livlihood in the neighbourhood as a teaeher of musio. She possessed no piano of her own, but visited her pupils at their homes, and amongst tho-e she taught were the two daughters of Mr. Kent, the Manager of Robert Austin's station. Mr. Austin prided himself upon his abiluy to read charaoter, and hit first meeting with Miss Melville left him with a desire to know more of her That she was a lady he deoided at tbe first glanoe, and it did not take him long to arrive at the oonolusion that she was a lady whose acquaintance it would be well worth cultivating. She was young—not more than twenty-three—but evidently sorrow was no stranger to her. Her faoe wore an expression of deep melancholy; she rarely smiled, but when she did her smile was one of rare sweetness. Miss Melville was not strictly beautiful; bnt, what was better, her faoe was a good one. Her eyes and mouth were charming, although the latter was perhaps a trifle hard, as though trouble had suooeeded in altering its original expression. The nose was large, but well shaped ; her complexion was habitually pale but not unhealthy, and above the low, broad forehead hung a heavy mass of brown wavy hair, whioh was the admiration and envy of all the ladies of her aoquaintance. In addition to these many charms nature had bestowed upon her a figure of unusual grace and beauty. She was slightly above the middle height; her carriage was erect but not stiff, ber movements being free and graceful. The very poise of her shapely head was sufficient to distinguish her from the general run of womankind ; and, altogether, Miss Melville was a woman who, despite herself, would exoite attention no matter in what position she was placed. Even in the small township in whioh she lived her admirers were manv, but not one could say that be was favoured ahove another. Miss Melville avoided them all, and even rejected the proposal of a wealthy young squatter who sought her hand in marriag6. It seemed as though the memory of some past sorrow dwelt continually with her, overshadowing ber life, and oausing her to shrink from the sooiety of those who were abont her. It was not, however, the undoubted oharm of Miss Melville's appearance whioh arrested Mr. Austin's attention. He was strusk rather by her simplicity and sinoerity of manner and speeoh. In her dark tender eyes he read truth, purity, and candour, and from what he heard of her oonversation he judged her to be a lady of superior attainments. It chanced at that time that the Austins were losing their governess, who was leaving to be married. Without hesitation Mr. Austin offered the position to Miss Melville, who, finding it a difficult task to make more than a hare living at her musio, accepted the offer. She had never regretted tuis step. Mrs. Austin took to her as readily as her husband bad done, and as for the children, they simply idolized ber. Nor was Miss Melville undeserving of the affection that was so freely lavished upon her. Sbe watched over her oharges with all the anxiety of a young mother, and under her care and guidance they improved both morally and mentally. Mr. Austin grew prouder than ever of his skill as a physiognomist, and looked upon Miss Melville very muoh in the light of a daughter. Indeed, she bad now oome to be regarded by them all as a member of the family, and very happy she was with them. Now that we have beoome acquainted with the Austins let us turn our attention for a moment to the home in whioh they lived. Warrydong Station was in South Australia. Perhaps, to a young lady brought up in the city, it would have seemed almost out of the world. The nearest township was twelve miles away, and, except the employes' cottages, there was not a single house within a distance of some three or four miles. The young Austins were thus at liberty to amuse themselves as tbey pleased without any fear of annoying their neighbours. This was fortunate, as some of the younger members of the family were rather inclined to eojoy themselves in the noisiest fashion possible. Tbey raoed about the garden, laughing and shouting at the tops of their voic98, and generally a number of dogs followed close at their heels helping to swell the uproar. Mr. Austin said it did them goad, and no one contradicted him, although at times Miss Austin would utter a feeble protest. But her words produced very little effect on such oacasions. The first thing to strike a stranger on a visit to Warrydong would be the exceeding flatness of the country round. For miles and miles it was the same— level and thiokly timbered in many parts. Nowhere would the eye light upon anything approaching a hill. Yet the scenery was not altogether monotonous. It possessed a oharm of its own, particularly in the winter months when the swamps were full and many of the lower portion* of the ooantry were under water. Then as evening approaohed and the
western eky took on a tinge of deeper colour, the long clear ehadowe of the gums, gnarled and Btunted, no doubt owing to tbe quantity of moisture at their roots, were reflected in the still waters lying round till the branches of the trees, the olouds above, and tbe deep glow of the sunuet, seemed all reproduced on the earth's surfaoe as though in a mirror, and added a strange beauty to the solemnity of the surrounding scene. Then high overhead a loud whirring noise would be heard, and a dark mass would ba discerned sweeping swiftly onwards through the still eveningair. Then another, and another—sometimes in a long line—wild fowl, passing aud repassing each other, wheeling in and out amongst the flock, but flying ever" onwards towards the swamps, whioh were their homes. At times a strange cry would float downwards from above, but for the most part tbe birds were silent, save for the whirring of their wings, whioh alone told of their approach. Then later on as the darkness crept over the earth, the hoarse croaking of frogs would disturb the stillness. From far and near oame tbe unearthly sounds —tenors aod basses, sopranos and contraltos, all were there ; and ever and anon there oame, borne on the evening breeze the plaintive cry of the ourlew oalling to its mate. Then, when the moon had risen above the tree-tnp«, the weirdness of the scene beoame apparent. Monotonous it was not, nor oould it ever be to one with soul attuned to tbe wonders and beauties of nature. With regard to the homestead at Warrydong little need be said. It was not noted for any originality of architecture, and boasted no pretentions to beauty. Portions of tbe house were very old, but from time to time, as oocasion required, fresh rooms had been added, until at length the whole presented a rather peculiar appearance. But this mattered little. Within, oomfort abounded, and there was room and to spare for every one. The Austin?, ' rom the youngest to the eldest, loved their home, and were proud of it, as was only natnral. It is a oold, cbe rless evening in May. Mr. Auxtin has driven to a small railway siding at some distance from home in order to meet an old friend who is coming by train, and the family are anxiously awaiting his arrigal. Must of the ohiidren are in the sohoolroom, where a huge log-fire is burning fierce and hot. Here, too, is .Vtiga Austin, sitting in the rocking-chair, studying the Q'lt'n. H*r sister Mabel is seated on the floor playing a game of "knuckle-bones" wito a young brother and sister, and if the noise tbey are making is any guide to tbe amount of pleasure they are deriving from the game, they assuredly are to be envied. At the end of the room, away from the fire, is Miss Melville, the governess. Occasionally she raises ber eyes and glances with an amused smile from the trio on tbe floor to the quiet, deeply engrossed figure of Miss Austin, who is evidently contemplating the purchase of a new dress. Miss Melville has some work in her hands whioh she is apparently in no hurry to finish. She appears preoccupied, and even restless whenever a shoi t period of quiet settles down upon the room. To-night at anyrate ehe prefers hearing the merry voicos of the ohiidren to being left alone with her thoughts. Not so Miss Austin, however, who taps her foot impatiently upon the hearthrug, and at length bunts out— " I wish to goodness you ohiidren would go somewhere else and play." "Children!" echoed Mabel. "Oh myt listen to tbe dear, fussy old thing. Bother my hands ! I wish they were largur ; I oan't catch these horrid knuckle-bones at all." " You, at anyrate, ought to be ashamed of yourself,"oontinued the irate elder sister. "So I am, my dear," said Mabel complaoently. "Why, even ten-year-old Bertie oan beat me now, and I used to play so well at one time. I think I had better give up." "Yes, you are right. Knuckle-bones indeed ! A. nioe game for a lady." "Oh, you needn't tnrn np your nose like that. You nssd to enjoy the game immensely when you were in Adelaide at school. So you would now, only you are afraid to open your hands very wide for fear the exercise might necessitate a larger size in gloves. Now then Rose, fire away, but don't make a sound, because Minnie isn't very well. Don't you see how pale she is?" "What is the matter?" asked Rose innocently. " Sbe has a lover," replied Mabel in a stage whisper, " and tbey have had a juarreL" Miss Austin allowed this thrust to pass in dignified silence; but little Arthur, oommonly oalled by his sisters the "Smiler," etared at her with great solemnity. Then toddling aoross the room be asked, " As 'oo dot a lover. 'Innie?" "No," was the sharp reply, and " Smiler" beat a retreat with a face that belied his name. Instinotively he went to Miss Melville, who took the obild upon her knee, an i quickly dried the falling tears. Mabel, the oause of all tho misohief, burst into a peal of girli-h laughter, and springing to her feet made for the window. " What an old crabBtick you are, Minnie," she said, pulling her sister's hair as she Miss Austin flushed angrily. "It is a great pity you can't learn to behave like a lady, Mabel.'' " Yes ; especially when I have so excellent a model to copy. But what a dismal night! I hope dad won't lose his way ; he is eo shortsighted. " " Don't yon think it would be possible to make use of a more appropriate word than "dad?" asked Minnie, who had thrown aside the Queen, and sat idly rocking herself to and fro. " No; I've kept to dad ever sinoe I oould speak at all, and he likes it better than anything else. You should see him frown when you address him as ' papa.' Oh ! you needn't get your hair off. It's a faot, that's what it is," and Miss Mabel threw herself into a chair, and folded her arms as if ready to do battle against any one coarageous enough to cjntradiot her. But no one took up the gauntlet, and a silenoe followed. MisB Melville smiled, and Hinnie stared at the fire with a look of supreme disdain. Bertie and Rose were still at their " knuckle-bones," but Bertie's heart was evidently not in the play. He was a delioate, dreamy-looking boy, the only really quiet one of the family, his mother said, and he sat eyeing his sister with a thoughtful, faraway look, which presently attracted Miss Melville's attention. "What are you thinking of, Bertie?"she asked in a low, sweet voioe, and speaking for the first time. "I was wondering something, Miss Melville?" he answered, rising and crossing to his his governess. " What were you wondering, dear?" and she brushed baok with her hand the dark ourla whioh had fallen over his forehead. " I was wondering what Mr. Meadowsere is like." The reply was unexprcted. A faint tinge of ooiour orept into Miss Melville's pale cheeks, and she bent over her work. " What do yon imagine him to be like?" she asked, almost timidly. "Heis tall and sad-looking,said Bertie, his eyes fixed on vacancy. " His faoe ia very pale, and hie eyes are dark. He IetB his hair grow long, and he never hardly speaks—only thinks and writes. And he is a very good man,"he added as an afterthought. "Good gracious! What on earth is the boy talking about?" exclaimed Mabel in astonishment. " He it a good man, isn't he. Miss Melville?" said Bertie eagerly. " Ye%" she answered in a whisper, "I am sure he is." " Pooh! Bertie doesn't know anything about it," observed Rose, who, being two years older than her brother, concluded that she was perfeotly justified in treating his description of the unknown with contempt. " Well, let us see what you have to say)" cried Mabel, highly amused. Ro-e began very gravely. " He may be tall, and he is a clever man, or else he ooulda't make books." Mabel laughed, and Rose shot an indignant glance in her direotion, but oontinued deliberately, " He isn't like Bertie savs, because he talks a lot. All clever men talk, and when he comeB we won't be able to open our mouths at all." " What a comfort it will be to hear nothing of Mabel's voioe for a mouth," murmured Miss Austin. " Oh ! All right old girl. Jnst wait till Bob comes home, and we'll eee all about that,"said Mabel, nodding her head. "But go on Rose, it's growing interesting." " Then don't interrupt. Let me see; where was I? Oh! I know. Mr. Meadowsere will be very nasty. He will call us ignorant, rude girls, and say we know nothing. He will look at UB in a grand sort of style, and pat us on the head, aud be very—very ear—sar—I don't know what you oall it, but it's being sharp like—like Minnie is sometime*." " That's sarcastic, dear ; all finished young ladies indulge in sarcasm,"eaid Mabel, with a low ohuckle of delight. " Yes, that's what I meant," went on Rose, utterly ignorant of having offended her elder sister. " And then, if we don't epeak proper grammar like, he will smile, and pull his whiskers, and—and " Poor Rose got no further, for Mabel, easily excited to laughter, gave vent to a shriek, which brought her mother flying into the room, and effectually put an end to her sister's imaginary description of Mr. Meadowsere. " Well," remarked Mrs. Austin, after she had learnt the reason of the uproar " I haven't seen Mr. Meadowsere for a number of years, but I am pretty otrtain he won't prove the unpleasant personage that Rose has painted him. But come and have your teas now, children ; there is no saying what time your father will be home. No, never mind. Miss Mel ville ; don't you trouble about them " exclaimed Mrs. Austin, as the governess rose to leave the room with her young oharges • " I KIrli wiU tr PP °« 5 r for their father and M.r. Meadowsere, and you had better keep them in countenance. They are very shy with strangers, especially Mabel, as, of course, you are aware, Miss Melville." . " t . h ?, fc ' e not fair mother," expostulated Mabel." " I'm sure I am as quiet a* any of the others when we have visitors."
"The visitors are quiet, you mean, suggested Minnie. " They can't get in a word edgeways." "Don't quarrel, girls," said Mrs. Austin, briskly. "Off you go, children : and if you are good you will be allowed to remain up half an hour extra." In a moment the room was empty, save for the governess and the two elder Miss Austins. Mabel put her hand to her mouth, and yawned dismally. "You are very rude, Mabel, eaid her " 1S «'It would give me a good deal of satisfaction to box your ears, Miss,"the half-angry rejoiner." " I would, too, if you were only a boy." . Hera Miss Melville put in a quiet word or two, whioh stilled the riling storm. Presently Mabel laughed merrily. "What a funny idea Rose has of Mr. Meadowsere^ she observed. "She is very young yet, eaid MISB Melville, "so that his writings are not familiar to her. If she had read his books ehe would not hare spoken as ehe did." "Oh 1 I don't know. You can't judge of authors by their books," was Mabel's reply. I have often read how disappointed people are when they meet some great novelist or poet. He is always totally different from what they expeot. Why, I have read books I liked awfully, and then, perhaps, I have seen somewoere a description of thn writer, and it has given me, well a—a regular 'smackin the eye.' Yes; that's right, Miss Stuck-up; make that celestial nose of yours touch the ceiling." This to Minnie, whose faoe wore an expression of profound disgust, oooasioned by her sister's most unladylike language. "One would imagine that you had been brought up amongst a party ot larrikins," ehe said oru6hingly. " Yes; perhaps one might if one's imaginations were as weak as yours ie. But, really Miss Melville," turning to the silent figure bending over her work, " I shouldn't be at all sui prised if Mr. Meadowsere were a big, stout man, who thinks of nothing but his dinner, and sleeps tbe greater part of tbe day." "How oan you say that?" is the pained rejoinder. "The photo your mother has should give you a more correot idea even if his books do not." " Oh ! but that was taken ever so long ago; before he made a name for himself." " It was not more than ten years ago," said Minnie. "He had the portrait taken just before be made his last visit to Warrydong." "Have yon never seen him sinoe?"asked Miss Melville, without raising her eyes. " No ; but papa has—often. Mr. Meadowsere intended coming over leveral times, but something always turned np to prevent him." "Yes; he got engaged onoe," eaid Mabel, shrugging her shoulders, " and that put the sorew in one visit." Miss Melville looked up quickly. "Engaged ! but be never married. "Oh, no! This was nearly five yean ago, and tbe lady married somebody else. That shows he oan't be such a fascinating man as Bertie thinks he ia. The lady was magnificent—a regular'stunner,'as Bob would say. She was regarded as the beantyof Melbourne, or Victoria, or Auttralaeia, or something of the sort." " If yon think for a moment of her sad end,"said Miss Austin, without a traoeof her former superciliousness, " yon will epeak a little less unfeelingly Mabel." "That is true," acknowledged the nsnally thoughtless girl. " But you teil Miss Melville about it Mia.; I am always saying things that might be better left unsaid. 9 ' Miss Austin dearly loved hearing herself talk, especially when ehe bad a listener so attentive as Miss Melville promised to be. "Mr. Meadowsere beoame engaged to a Miss Remersque, a very handsome lady residing in Melbourne. They had not been engaged long, however, when the engagement was broken off. Why, no one appeared to know, but shortly afterwards Miss Remersque was married to a squatter named Stornhill, who owns a large ana valuable tract of oountry north of here." Miss Melville atarted suddenly, and her pale cheeks grew paler, bnt oontrolling hereelf with an effort, she bent low over her work, aad Minnie continued without notioing the governesses emotion.' "The marriage tnrned ont unhappily; at least, so we imagine, for not many months later Mr*. Stornhill committed suioide by taking poison. At that time Mr. Meadowsere was about to make • trip to England, but the sad affair appeared to cat him up completely. He was seized with brain fever and for weeks was not expeoted to reoover. However, he eventually regained his health, and about three or four years ago went to England, where he remained until a few months ago. How he has distinguished himself as a novelist and dramatist, you know as well as we do. Papa and he are old friends, but why he has taken it into his head to visit us in the winter, when he might be enjoying himself in Melbourne, ia more than I oan imagine." "It shows hiB good sense," interrupted Mabel. "But there ie tbe buggy. I'm going to meet dad at the door, whether it is ladylike or not ;" and with a rush she was out of tbe room. Miss Anstin rose and smoothed her dress. "Is my hair all right, Miss Melville?" she asked anxiously. "Yon look oharming, dear," was the given in a somewhat trembling tone. " I—I think I will go to my room, and return later." She vanished quietly, and reaohing her own room looked the door, and lighting a candle, stood motionless for an instant, breathing rapidly. Then going to her writing-desk she unlocked it, and drew out an old, well-worn purse. This she gazed at earnestly, and pressing her lips upon it, said with a sob—"He saved my life. To his goodness I owe everything, and my one wish is that he will never know it. Will he recognise me? No! He cannot; he has never seen my faee—it is impossible." A voioe that thrilled her through and through sounded in the hall. She replaced the parse, and looked the desk ; then with a etrange pain at her heart, went to join the family oirole, lest her absenoe might be wondered at.