|Chapter Number||3 & 4|
|Chapter Title||MAGGIE'S SECRET.|
|Newspaper Title||The Queenslander (Brisbane, Qld. : 1866 - 1939)|
|Trove Title||Lost in the Winning|
Lost in the Winning.
CHAPTER III. MAGGIE'S SECRET.
THE look of dreadful mystery that sat upon the Bouncer's face the next morning was worth witnessing. That girl always does try to put on an interesting, not to say romantic, air : she likes
you to think she is a prey to deep and hidden sorrow. Pensive melancholy is what she goes in for. It suits her style of face, as you may imagine. James looked subdued too. Of course he did not know that his sister had seen Bloomington the preyious night: still he had the air of a dog who had stolen a bigger dog's bone and thought that the big dog was around somewhere, looking for him. James occupies the responsible position of a clerk in the firm of Walker and Wingham, stock and station agents, who entrust him with the key of an old safe where they keep their letters, the butt of a cheque-book, and a bottle of whisky. James plays up old gooseberry about this key as soon as he comes home every evening. I've been accused of stealing it times out of number—wait till I get a chance! Old Mrs. Danten thinks that trade and commerce would be arrested at once if it was lost; and the innocent Clara regards it with superstitious awe. I was blinking on the window-sill in the morning sun when I heard the Bouncer address her sister in a most loving way. I knew there was something up at once. "I wish I was like you, dear." Clara looked rather surprised at the compliment. "I mean so simple-minded and free from disappointment." "Well, I suppose we hare both experienced the same troubles." "But there are troubles of the spirit that even our nearest know nothing of." "One soon gets over that sort of thing," laughed Clara. "Ah, but darling!" she said with a sigh that was a cyclone in itself, "you have yet been spared the pain of seeing your illusions, your fondest illusions, shattered and destroyed." She gazed absently at me as she spoke, as though I had been one of these illusions! Clara looked puzzled; poor little girl she had the most implicit faith in everybody, and the Bouncer used to work on her credulity in a shocking manner. Still she could not exactly see the drift of these remarks. "It must be rather painful," she replied at a venture. "Painful! it is wonderful what the heart can bear and yet not cease to beat." If her heart was of solidity in proportion to the rest of her frame I should have thought it would have borne a good deal. "Clara, darling," she went on, " have you got any money left ?" Ho! I knew that was coming. "A little," said her sister doubtfully; "how much do you want!" "Thirty shillings," said the Bouncer, with, every touch f romance gone from her voice. "I can lend you that," said Clara; "but do give it me back when you get your allowance, as I have had to lend James some." "My dear Clara, of course you shall have it back without fail; and I think it very mean of James—a young man—to borrow from his sisters." The injured tone in which she said this was glorious. My poor little girl went and got her purse and handed the Bouncer the required sovereign and a-half. Agatha kissed her rapturously in return, and I crept slyly up and gave her a dig that I had owed her for a long time. After I had been hunted under the table, behind chairs, and generally much abused, Agatha went out, leaving Clara alone. I sat in the quiet room after the Bouncer's departure, thinking deeply—as was my wont. I was annoyed by what had passed. But who could look long at my pretty Clara as she sat in
a low chair busy at some foolish (I think it foolish) girl's work, without feeling better and calmer for the sight? I'll just describe her as she sits there, and then see if I haven't got good taste! To start with, she has not got a wealth of golden hair, nor is it tawny with wondrous gleams of gold through it, nor is it like an auriole, or any other outlandish thing. Her hair in just honest straightforward brown, and when it's twisted up in a simple knot, with one white rosebud stuck in it, I'd back it for long odds against all your golden or raven locks. As for eyes—"what could such eyes do there but weep, and weep that they were born so fair?" as I heard Jack quote one day. But hers are not of the weeping sort; they're dark gray, and in some lights they look blue, and always bright and kind. A dear little nose, straight as a dart and well-cut; none of your "tip-tilted" arrangements. A short upper lip, and the only mouth I ever saw that makes me sorry for being the proud possessor of a beak (I'd say bill, but you men are so touchy on the subject of bills). An oval chin, and a trim white throat springing up from as lithe a little figure as ever a lucky man took to his arms for better for worse (but there's no worse about Clara, I assure you on my honor as a magpie); and there you have Clara Danten. Well, I hopped up close to her, and let her stroke my head and call me a cross old bird, which is the hardest reproof she ever indulges in. I was puzzled to know what the Bouncer particularly wanted thirty shillings for. She was always hard-up and constantly borrowing from Clara; that was nothing new; but I could not help thinking that this particular want had some connection with the scene of the night before. A strange cat looked in at the window whilst I was puzzling my brains over the matter. I could not stand that. I had that cat off the premises in less than no time, and as I returned from pursuit of the enemy I saw the Bouncer coming up the street carrying a parcel! More mystery. Young ladies don't carry their parcels home as a rule when they go out shopping. Now I must be at the bottom of everything; I don't believe in domestic fifth-of-November plots being carried on unless l am one of the conspirators. So l at once made for the Bouncer's room, and took up an obscure position on the top of the bed. I had not long to wait; my sweet sylph came in, and carefully looked the door after her before depositing her precious parcel on the dressing-table. I did not like this locking of doors. If she discovered me she might make it a pretext for paying off innumerable old scores. You may be sure that I kept extremely quiet. The Bouncer undid the string of the parcel, and unfolded the paper. Shade of Guy Fawkes! what did she produce therefrom?—a dark lantern, a mask, or a dagger? Neither. Six boxes of sardines, a German sausage, a big parcel of biscuits, and a bottle of sherry. I felt hugely disgusted with myself at having allowed my curiosity to be excited in such a paltry manner. Hold! there was something else; a book, a novel; and Agatha settled herself down comfortably for a read, after a glass of sherry from her tooth-glass. What on earth was I to do ? I felt certain I should probably go to sleep, and begin talking in my sleep—a habit they say that I have fallen into lately. This would occasion my instant discovery; and how I should fare in the conflict that would ensue I had my doubts; the old guard might die, but would certainly never surrender. Still I did not feel altogether fit for death; strange to say very few magpies do; same with you men I think. I watched mine enemy, out of the corner of one eye. She was not a bad-looking girl, but there was too much of her, and she had the worst possible taste in dress. Why could she not take a lesson from me? Look at the nicely shaded tints of a magpie's plumage. To my great relief there came a knock at the door. Agatha started, guiltily, and rammed her perchases hastily into a box before opening the door, and admitting her sister. "What funny scent you've been using I" remarked this horrid little hypocrite; for there's no getting rid of the smell of sherry in a hurry. "Yes," said the Bouncer languidly, "I have a slight headache; it will be better directly." "I hope so," said Clara, who had the morning paper in her hand; "but did you see this telegram? and she read aloud : "Mr. W. L. Kellet is reported to have perished from thirst, about forty miles west of the O'Hara. He was found by Messrs. Blount and Nevil, who were themselves only saved by a passing thunderstorm. The deceased gentleman was on his way in, to apply for some country he had lately stocked in the far West; and, strange to say, some of the same country that Mr. Nevil was also on his way to apply for; he bad been dead about twelve hours when found." "That was Mr. Kellet of Barangerie, I suppose," said the Bouncer; "I think his initials were W. L." " Yes; you remember him better than I do; but was it not strange that Mr. Nevil found him?" " Well, I don't know," returned her sister, profoundly; "perhaps he went to look for him." " I suppose that was it. He'll come down to Brisbane I expect," said Clara with transparent carelessness. "Probably; but I'll be down stairs in a minute, dear," and she hurried her sister out of the room. So this was what Bloomington meant to insinuate last night; he must have been very drunk to have dreamt of such a thing. Kellet I remembered perfectly. He managed a station called Barangerie, about thirty miles from our old place. The Bouncer had a flirtation with him once; she was young then, and did not appreciate the difference between a super and an owner. What he had to do with Bloomington I did not know, but felt sure I should get to the bottom of it directly. After putting her provisions away the Bouncer left the room, to my great relief; and I speedily followed her. Jack came home to lunch, and I heard him say that he had received a telegram from Nevil saying that he would be down in Brisbane in about a month. James looked gloomily mysterious at this information, and remarked that he did not care much for "that Nevil." Jack, who is rather hot-tempered when his absent friends are concerned, asked him what he knew about him.
"Nothing," returned James; "I suppose a fellow may like and dislike just as he pleases." "I don't like Mr. Nevil either," said the Bouncer. Jack was always polite to his sisters—one of the few men I ever met who was. " I really don't see what opportunities you have had of studying Nevil's character, Aggie; you surely can't deny that he is a gentleman." "0, yes, his manner is nice enough, but it always appears to me that there is something hidden, something concealed, beneath that smiling exterior." And the Bouncer looked wise, as though to her it was granted to dive into depths that others might not penetrate—to rush in where angels feared to tread. " What novel did you get that from, Aggie ? I always thought Nevil a remarkably frank and open fellow. At any rate, Jim, you can't accuse your new friend Bloomington of having a smiling exterior; he looks as though he had been brought up on a diet of unpaid bills and dishonored cheques, and they had not agreed with him." "Really, Jack, said James solemnly, " I shall not sit her* and hear my friends insulted." "Very sorry to hear that you consider him in that light; but, while we are on the subject, I must request that you don't bring him here too often." " Well, indeed!" said the Bouncer; "but your judgment isn't everything, Master Jack." "I don't want you to listen to my judgment, but I intend you shall to my prejudice, if you like to call it so; and I am prejudiced against Bloomington, and don't want him to become too familiar here." The Bouncer pouted, and James sulked. Jack did not often exert his authority; but when he did he was pretty hard; and, moreover, being the inheritor of what, few annual hundreds had been saved from the wreck, which he scrupulously paid over to his mother and sister, it was as well not to quarrel with their bread and butter. Not that I think Jack ever presumed upon that fact or thought of it; and, as I said before, it was seldom he came out as head of the family. Mrs. Danten was too deaf to understand the discussion, and Clara preserved a discreet silence; but when Jack left a little before 2 I noticed that she gave him a very kind sisterly kiss; and, not being a girl much given to gushing over with affection, I made a note of it: inferring therefrom that she entirely approved of his conduct in the matter. As I also endorsed it, what more was wanted? Now I must confess that Jack was really hard upon Bloomington, who never spoke to one of the young ladies without addressing her as "Miss" without any affix to it, and who never occupied the whole of a chair, contenting himself with the extreme edge of it. If he brought his hat into the drawing-room he put it underneath his chair where it could not possibly annoy anybody, and he always said "Ma'am" to Mrs. Danten. Certainly he called Jack "old fellow" several times, and once "Jack," but I suppose he thought it showed an easy familiarity on short acquaintance that was probably good form. Altogether he was a harmless young man, and there was no possible reason why our side of the house should have such "a down upon him." Still the "down" was there, and it was particularly marked that evening, when Bloomington turned up. James, that unhappy young man, had asked him before Jack put in the prohibition; and Jack, being in his own house, had to be civil to his brother's guest. We got on famously, though Bloomington out-did himself; he came out as a combination of Sir Charles Grandison and a bushranger in a way that was simply paralysing. He was so infatuated with Agatha's singing that I—and I'm sure the Bouncer— thought that his intentions were serious. I quite enjoyed myself that evening : Jack in a bad temper, trying not show it; James evivedently in a fright; Agatha triumphant at what she thought Bloomington's marked attention; and Clara uneasy because she saw Jack was uncomfortable. As for the "fair cause of all this strife" he seemed very happy; he even tried to be funny once or twice, but I was the only one who laughed, and he did not appreciate my applause; doubtless he did not understand that it was meant for laughter. (You men are so dense.) At last Bloomington had to go. The Bouncer shook hands with him in her most gushing manner, Clara in her coldest; Jack looked hard at his hand afterwards, as if to see if he had got it soiled in the process; and James went out with the hero. An uncomfortable silence ensued. Mrs. Danten was dozing; Clara gazing absently at a book in her lap that she was not reading; Jack looking at yesterday's paper, holding it upside down; the Bouncer putting her music together. In the course of my desultory reading I once found an able theory adduced about the influence of suns spots upon the social atmosphere. Every eleven years these spots get remarkably lively—so my authority said—and every eleven years you men get fighting amongst yourselves all over the world. It's a matter of history; look it up for yourselves. Well, I have noticed just the same thing amongst families—only the cause is not due to spots on the sun, and it occurs much oftener than eleven years. As a rule I notice that the air gets charged with electricity about every five weeks; and then little tiffs and snarls take place. Well, the social sun spots were evidently very lively just now, or Jack would not have been so hard upon Bloomington, whom before he regarded with easy indifference. The Bouncer too was charged for a growl, and commenced the attack by asking her brother what objection he had to raise to Bloomington's conduct that evening. "My dear Aggie," said Jack, with forced calmness, "why commence a discussion that can lead to no good ? I know more of Bloomington than you possibly can, and I have made my mind up in the matter; and perhaps you'll allow that I have a right to do so." "Of course. You men are all the same; you are all tyrants and bullies." "Agatha!" said Clara, before Jack could speak, "you must be joking. Fancy Jack a tyrant or a bully!" and she went and put a slender white hand through his arm, and rested her cheek against his shoulder; for she knew he could say nothing cross or ill-tempered then. Jack patted the other little cheek softly and kindly. The sun spots were stationary, and the overcharged atmosphere was lightened.
"My dear Aggie, if you like Bloomington so much I'm sure you and James are welcome to him, but I object to Clara and myself being afflicted; so give us notice when he is coming, that we can have a prior engagement." The Bouncer only snorted defiantly. She knew, with a woman's intuitive knowledge of her own power and a man's nature, that, once get Jack into a temper, she had him fairly; but let him adopt the good-humored tone of mild chaff, and she had not a leg left to stand upon (metaphorically of course, for in reality she had as good and substantial a pair as ever a young lady wanted). So the family parted for their respective couches without any more words passing. Just the touch of a woman's hand, and the quiet words at the right time, had turned away wrath. Why in the name of fortune you women, who have such great capabilities for making peace, should prefer making strife is a thing I never could understand; but I fully agree with a certain saying about quarrels, and "who is the lady?"
Chapter IV. Forbear! have a care Of that beauty so rare; Of the pale proud face and the queen-like air And the coil of bright tresses that glisten and twine And the whispers that madden, like kisses or wine. Blount and Nevil gazed upon the still form at their feet without speaking: both their thoughts were the same: "This would have been our fate but for an accident." Nevil spoke at last: "What can we do? we have no tools to dig a grave, and little time to stop." "Cut down what boughs we can, and try and protect the body; I will come back with help, and bury it." "Nothing will touch it; the rain water will be dry in a few hours, and neither dogs nor crows will be out here until there is water." "Do you know, Davy, apart from the physical torture that thirst inflicts, I should like, when my turn comes, to die like this, by myself. Surely it must be better than gasping one's life out in a stuffy room ; with the cant of the world, and hollow friendship, attending you to its threshold." "You are an awful old cynic; but had we not better discuss the philosophy of life to-night, old man? Let's cover up the poor fellow, and get on; we are not out of the wood ourselves yet." Cutting down such boughs as the scantily limbed coolibah trees afforded, they covered up the poor remnant of humanity, and left it to the great peace of the desert. At the O'Hara the friends parted, Blount going back with volunteers from a neighboring station to bury Kellets body; and, that service performed, to return by the longer and safer route to their cattle. Nevil left for the nearest township where resided the Crown Lands Commissioner. Arrived there he made the necessary applications for the country, and, having reported Kellets death, resumed his journey to his own place, four hundred miles away, on one of the small rivers that helped to swell the Burdekin. After many days' travelling, under hot sunny skies and starlit summer nights, by mountain and plain, by forest and scrub, he reached the unpretending homestead that years of residence had made so familiar. It was a pretty site for a station, perched up as it was on the steep bank of a river that brawled in a score of tiny streams across the rocky bar that broke the sandy course of its bed. Far off over the tree tops you could see the broken outline of a range; its fantastic peaks and square-topped hills standing boldly out against the sky. The giant tea-trees—the weeping willows of Northern Queensland—drooped over and trailed their long boughs in the waters of a deep still hole, lying just below the rocky bar before mentioned; and at its lower end a shelving sand-bank gleamed white amongst the green foliage. Many a time in the winter months, when the mid-day sun was at its strongest, huge alligators stretched their ungainly length along that smooth sand, basking in the warm rays, and many a bullet had been sent, with slight success, to find its billet in their uncouth bodies. The rambling buildings with their gray bark roofs, the yards, the milking cows standing about, the horses feeding in the paddocks; the dogs playing before the huts; all looked peaceful and homelike, to Nevil's travel-tired spirit, as he rode up. Albeit he was a very careless individual, and apt to place small value on life and its surroundings, he had to confess that a warm welcome was worth having in this world. The men lounging on the verandah smoking their evening pipe crowded up to take and unpack his horses, telling him they were glad to see him back safe; the dogs yelped and jumped wildly around; a tame cockatoo shrieked with excitement and wrath: evidently the boss was a popular personage, beyond a cheque-drawing machine. Lying lazily back, smoking, after the evening meal had been discussed, Nevil listened to the young fellow who had been managing the place during his absence as he afforded him information concerning the doings during his exile out West. His young friend was a smart-looking youth, physically speaking, but with rather weak uncertain eyes, and a hesitating way of speaking that, combined with a habit of blushing, did not argue much force of character. "So there is a new man at Sedgemoor, is there; what is he like?" said Nevil referring to their nearest neighboring station. "He's in charge for Dunwick, his brother; he is an elderly man, with one daughter, and a niece." "So ho! ladies, eh? what are they like, Dick?" "The daughter is about five-and-twenty, the niece about ten or eleven." "Yes, but as to their appearance, my friend ? you've surely used your eyes when you have been over." "Well," returned the other with the ever-ready blood rushing to his face, "Miss Dunwick, the daughter, is good-looking, and dark; the little girl i« a very pretty child; and the old man is a dreadful old muff about station work." "Isee I shall have to go over and judge for myself; good-looking and dark is very vague indeed. How does Dunwick—who is reported to be rather smart—come to put a man in charge who does not understand his work?"
"A brother, very hard up, I believe, and Dunwick gives him next to nothing." "Well, I hope the daughter won't make an impression on your susceptible heart, Dick, or I shall have to pack you out west, where there is not a petticoat within a couple or three hundred miles." Dick retreated to his room, looking like a beetroot; and Nevil soon followed his example. Having some curiosity to see his new neighbors, Nevil rode over to Sedgemoor a few days after his return. It was a larger and more pretentious looking place than his own, the former owner having spent a good deal of money on the house, which perhaps helped to account for the fact that he was now the former owner. It was about 3 o'clock in the afternoon when Nevil rode up to the station; it was a calm hot day, and a sleepy silence brooded over the place. Nobody appeared to be stirring about, nor did the tramp of his horse bring anybody to the door, to investigate the new arrival. Fastening his horse to the garden fence he proceeded to explore. His footsteps on the verandah attracting no attention, he —after a few preliminary loud coughs—entered the sitting-room. All silent there. A clock over the fireplace ticked loudly in the stillness, a cat basking in the sunshine winked sleepily at him; the furniture, save for a few slight articles betokening a woman's presence, seemed unchanged; but there was something in the room he had never seen before. Lying on the floor, fast asleep, with her head pillowed on an old railway rug, a book that had escaped her grasp close beside her, was a child. A very pretty child too; so Nevil determined as be looked at the little sleeping beauty. The dark eye-lashes rested on cheeks delicate as a flower; on the one upturned to the intruder there was the trace of a scarce-dried tear, and the half-parted lips still bore the sign of recent trouble in their pretty pout. Nevil looked admiringly at her for some time: "I suppose the little dame would feel affronted if I awakened her with a kiss after the manner of the enchanted princess," he thought. Stooping he touched the child lightly on the shoulder. To his amazement she did not open her eyes but her lips; for without moving she commenced to talk quickly and incoherently. He could make nothing of what she said; it seemed all disjointed nonsense; and he listened half-frightened at her weird gabble. "Wake up, my child," he said at last, putting his hand on her forehead. In an instant ahe was aroused, and started up staring wildly at him with big brown eyes. "Come and shake hands with me, and tell me where everybody has gone to," said Nevil, holding out his hand to her. The child advanced, looking curiously at him, and then as if satisfied put her hand confidingly in his. Nevil sat down on a chair and drew her to his knee. "Where are your uncle and cousin?" he asked. "Gone out riding, and there's nobody here but me; I went to sleep trying to learn this," and she showed Nevil a French exercise book. "Hum. You know, I'm a neighbor of yours. I live over at Riversdale: you've heard of that place?" The child nodded. "We must make friends; tell me what your name is." "Ada. Ada Bright." "My name is Nevil; and I've got such a pretty pony at home, that you can learn to ride on, if I send it over to you." "Ah, but if you do, and it's a very nice one, auntie will take it to ride herself," returned the artless young lady. Nevil colored a little; this seemed too much like getting behind the family scenes. "Oh, no; it's only big enough for a little girl like you to ride." "And has it got a nice tail!" "A lovely tail, and it will eat bread, and sugar, and follow you about" "That will be nice; I shall like you very much, I think," said the young lady, regarding the artful hypocrite who had made such quick progress in her affections with a look of strong appreciation. "Do you know," she went on, "I think I must have seen you before." "I don't think so, Ada." "Yes, I'm sure I have ; in my sleep, I think— the nasty sleeps auntie puts me in, when I always have a bad headache afterwards." "What do you mean by nasty sleeps, Ada?" "My auntie goes like this;" and she put up her little hands, with the palms turned towards Nevil's temples; and then I never remember anything more, but I always wake up in bed with a very bad headache." "And what was I doing when you saw me ?" "0, I never remember anything plainly, only I'm sure I've seen you: I recollected your face directly." Nevil thought it but proper to drop this subject; so he turned the child's attention to other things, and before an hour had passed had in the most heartless manner completely enthralled his new acquaintance, who did not hesitate to tell him that he was the nicest man she had ever met; and when they were interrupted by the arrival of Mr. Dunwick and his daughter she had taken possession of his knee, and they were amicably going over the French lesson together. As Nevil rose to greet his new neighbour, he had afterwards to confess to experiencing an intuitive feeling of dislike that he could not account for, and one that seemed wholly irrational. Dunwick, who had entered the room with a "Who the deuce are you? sort of look in his face, changed it at once to one of fawning politeness on hearing his visitor's name, and greeted him in a manner that was peculiarly distasteful to Nevil, who despised gush immensely. "My daughter, Mr. Nevil," he said, introducing him to the young lady, who followed him. In all his after life Nevil never forgot the feeling he first experienced at shaking hands with Jane Dunwick, and that was, that those shapely fingers that just touched his, in cold courtesy, could—strong man and tall fellow as he was— just have squeezed and crushed his hand into a jelly if they had been so minded. In one of the picture galleries in Germany, I forget where, there is a picture of Judas receiving the price of blood. The faces are nothing; but the hand into which the money has been dropped is a revelation. Cover up the whole of the picture, and leave but that hand, and the whole story ia there; in every line, in every carve, itching
avarice cries aloud. This is real art; for the hand is an index of character far truer than the eyes; only it is not so easily read. "'Good looking, and dark,'" thought Nevil: "why she's as handsome as Cleopatra, and devilish like her I should think." The young lady who was the subject of this mental simile was certainly strikingly good-looking, and every curve of her graceful figure was well displayed by her tight-fitting riding habit. A warm complexion, dark full eyes, an oval face, and a well-shaped head were her best points; her worst were thin cruel lips and a defect in one of her eyebrows that gave her face an unequal look when seen in front. Nevil, who had a quick eye for details, noticed all this at a glance, and in the course of his visit could easily account for a habit she had of resting one elbow on the table, with her hand laid carelessly on her temple, when talking. It hid the inequality in her eye brows, and displayed her wonderfully well-made arm. There seemed to be nobody on the station but a man and a boy, who had their rations in a distant hut. Miss Dunwick and little Ada laid the table for the meal that Nevil consented to stop and share, and that meal was of the plainest: salt beef, bread, and tea; not the smallest extra luxury that generally serves to eke out station fare was to be seen. The dresses of the two girls, though well fitted and tastefully worn, were wofully shabby, and evidently the poor remains of better days. But Nevil had. to confess that more agreeable conversationalists than the father and daughter he had seldom met; both possessed in the highest degree that invaluable quality—tact; and seemed to know by intuition what subjects were most agreeable to their guest. The thing that puzzled Nevil most, as he rode home, was the strange and evident fear that the child stood in of both her relations. Nevil, careless, easy, and essentially good natured, had taken a great liking to the little maid, and, if Miss Dunwick did not make the impression she intended, a good deal of the reason might be traced to that cause. [TO BE CONTINUED.]