|Chapter Number||5 & 6|
|Chapter Title||MAGGIE'S SECRET.|
|Newspaper Title||The Queenslander (Brisbane, Qld. : 1866 - 1939)|
|Trove Title||Lost in the Winning|
Lost in the Winning.
CHAPTER V. MAGGIE'S SECRET.
I HAVE got into a bad habit of late; I have doubtless, in the opinion of the Bouncer and other ignorant people, a good many bad habits, but this I acknowledge to be a bad habit; it's
stopping out late at night. First time I did it, it was unintentional; just the same as a man always says he first got intoxicated unintentionally. I got shut out in mistake; at least I trust so; I have an idea that James did it in the hope that the cats would assemble in large numbers and destroy me; but they didn't, and I had so many novel experiences that night and it seemed such a rakish dissipated sort of thing to do, that I have repeated it subsequently. The night before last I went out for a prowl; I knew I should feel very seedy, and have a headache next day; but that did not stop me any more than it stops you men from taking more wine than you ought to. I flew down as far as the Victoria bridge, and from the top of a lamp-post took mental notes of all that went on. It was about 11 o'clock and a moonless night; the river stretched away on either side of me; the reflection of the rows of lights shimmering and flickering on its surface, the monotonous tread of a policeman, and the clang of the post- office clock striking the hour were all the sounds I heard for some time after taking up my position; presently the clatter of a hansom cab driving across broke the stillness; then, another and another; soon foot passengers began to pass beneath my post of observation; men and women — I beg pardon: you people are so particular; ladies and gentlemen; the ladies with shawls round their heads, and, to judge by the scraps of conversation I hear, just returning from some concert or other place of amusement. Their talk floated up to me as they passed in the most absurd manner. "In splendid voice to-night; quite a musical treat; not often we get that here." "No; I did enjoy it and —" Awfully tiresome, wasn't it? just as much as I could do to sit it out." "Yes, you don't catch me there again." "Jemima, dear, do let me wrap that shawl closer round you, I am so afraid you'll catch cold." "O, thank you so much, Alfred." I suppose it was the fear that his companion would catch cold that made the last male speaker walk with his arm round her waist. I was about to fly after them a bit, for I do enjoy listening to a spooning couple, when a voice I recognised stayed me. Our James, and another; they were coming the opposite way to the home-returning concert-goers and halted underneath my lamp- post. (In reality I suppose the lamp-post is the property of the corporation; it's merely a figure of speech speaking of it as mine.) "Well, I won't go any further with you," said Jim's friend, who had a dark beard, and rather a seedy appearance generally so far as I could make out. "Good-night," said James; "when shall I see you again?" "I should like to say never," returned the other; "but unfortunately I can't". "It's not my fault, you know; I've simply got to do as I'm told." "Yes, of course; I can guess what you make out of the affair; you've got a nice tutor, and you'll do him credit." "I won't be taiked to like this," said James, beginning to bluster, in a feeble kind of way "I'm only an agent in the matter; go and talk to Mr. Bloomington." "So I would if I got the chance. If I had him here instead of you to-night, one of us would go into that river." James remarked vaguely, that that would do no good; but seemed rather taken aback at this novel view of the situation, and not at all anxious that the programme should be followed out, with a change of one of the principal performers. "Good-night; it's getting late, I must be going home:" he went on, holding out his hand. "Good-night to you; but I'm not going to shake hands, with you. You're young enough in years, but I would not change places for all the world; what you'll arrive at under Bloomington's tuition goodness knows; either the House of Assembly or the house of correction." And the speaker thrust both hands in his pockets, and strode back in the direction they had come from. James muttered something about a low cad, and walked off homeward, apparently rather relieved at not finding himself in the river. I was undecided as to my course of action for a few seconds, but with the promptitude of genius decided on following James' friend. I had some distance to go, until at last he stopped at a small wooden cottage, just the
ordinary kind of building that is so common in Brisbane suburbs: two rooms in front and two behind, and an apology for, a verandah. There was a light in one of the windows; and the front door was unfastened, for it yielded at once to my new friend's touch; he entered, and closed it after him. The blind at the window was but scanty, and perching on the back of an old rocking chair in the verandah I could see distinctly beneath it. I had a good look at the stranger now that I had him in the light with his hat off; he was a man under thirty, with a dark beard and moustache, rather a good-tempered face; a man who looked the sort of being popularly known as a rattling good fellow; a man who could probably sing a good song with a chorus to it; and the very last to enunciate such bloodthirsty sentiments as I heard him giving way to on the bridge. He was not alone; a boy was sitting at the table with a book before him, a precocious looking boy whom l at once took a dislike to: the sort of boy who would throw a stone at me without any reasonable provocation. In some parts of the world there are creatures called monkeys; I have seen some in captivity here; I believe they are in the habit of pelting boys with cocoanuts in their own country. I have always liked monkeys ever sinoe I read that; I don't know that it is true, but if it is not it ought to be: there should be some show of justice in this world. "Why did you not kick him out?" said this boy. "I'd have done it in half a minute." "Don't talk like an ass, Ben," said the other; "what do you know about kicking people out?' As the youth was at the mature age of fourteen or thereabouts it is probable he knew nothing whatever about it: however, he made up for it by glowering fiercely at his book as though it was an imaginary enemy, and even smote it with his hand. "Where's Milly?" said the man, unappalled by these warlike demonstrations. "I'm here," said a voice from the other room; and a woman came in and joined them. I took to her at once; something about her reminded me of my glrl Clara. Not in face, for she was nothing like so good-looking, but in her gentle quiet way of coming into the room, in the intonation of her voice—which was "soft, gentle, and low, an excellent thing in woman"— and in other little indescribable points. The man was now sitting down, and she went up and rested one hand on his shoulder as she spoke to him. "Did you do any good?" she asked. "No; but I got something by my, walk, I found out that this youngster is doing Bloomington's dirty work for him. Since Bloomington turned respectable he shows up as little as possible. So far as I can make out he got this young Danten into his hands by first lending him money, and now gives him commissions to go to the places he does not like to visit himself; or is not game to, I should say." "Hush! don't talk like that; I suppose he imagines he is right." "Right! has he not had the money twice over, and now does he not want it a third time—if he can get it! I made him a fair offer." "If you had kicked him out," said the boy, returning to his first point, "it would have been all right" like many an equally sage remark this was unappreciated. The woman called Milly intimated that he had better go to bed; and he gloomily retired into some back settlement; and I heard him pull off his boots noisily, as though regretting that they had not been used in the kicking process he so strongly advocated. "Had you not better do the same!" said the man, whose name I had a burning curiosity to discover, but did not see how to do it. "Not if you are going to sit up." "0, I shan't stay up long; I only want to write two short letters." Milly left the room, and the Unknown moved to the small table and commenced to write. I was getting sleepy, and thought I'd better go home, and roost in the big tree at the bottom of our garden, for there seemed no more fun on hand that night. I glanced round the room; it was shabbily furnished, but, as they used to say in good old moral novels, scrupulously clean. Over the mantelpiece was a stockwhip and a leathern revolver case, apparently with a revolver in it; and above on two nails was a double-barrelled gun. Suddenly my investigations were interrupted; the man at the table started up, and, tearing up the letter he was writing, exclaimed : "What a fool! Why Dunwick, of course!" He gave me quite a start, for seeing the shot gun had already made me nervous; but it seemed to relieve him, for, putting the writing materials away with quite a cheerful expression of countenance, he blew the lamp out, and left me nothing to do but go home. As I winged my way, with occasional rests, over the now sleeping city, I could not help chuckling at the thought of what I had found out about James. So elated was I that I routed out a lot of pigeons who were camped under the eaves of the Town-hall, and made the idiots think the old gentleman was amongst them. At least one of two men who were passing and heard the noise remarked as much; whereupon the other intimated that he (the old gentleman) was probably coming after the first speaker; which idea was so intensely amusing in their then elated frame of mind that I heard them laughing all the way up the street about it. I got no sleep at all that night; a lot of horrid cats would keep prowling around and kept me in a nervous fidget until sunrise; then one of our servants opened the door, and I went in and hopped upstairs to Jack's room where he smoked; there I had a good nap till Clara woke me up about 11 o'clock, and enquired affectionately where I had been to. I was cross at being disturbed, and pecked her on the finger; but was sorry for it immediately afterwards: for she only said "0, Maggie, how could you!" although I had pecked her pretty hard. I'm getting an awful old scamp, that's a fact; I'll have to reform. I had some lunch, and a dear old woman I love came to see Mrs. Danten and the girls in the afternoon. She's a treasure, that old lady; according to her account there's not a respectable woman or a sober man in Brisbane. Her name is Maclure, and I heard her one day scandalising
a mutual friend to Mrs. Danten. "Really it's quite too public, the way that woman goes on; positively if my girls were at home I would not allow them to call there; I think it's high time somebody spoke to her husband; but there! poor man, he's never quite sober, so what can one do!. And just then the very lady in question —whose only fault is being better-looking and better dressed than most other women—was shown in; and the old cat kissed her and fawned upon her in a way that nearly made me yell. I like that old woman to come when I am dyspeptic and apt to run myself down: it makes me feel thankful that I am a magpie. I heard them talking about a ball that was coming off in the town-hall. I'll be there; I did not clear those pigeons out for nothing. I've wanted to go to one for a long time; now I see a chance. I tried to look knowingly at James when he came home last night, but it was a failure—at least on his part. I appeal to any enlightened Christian whether a magpie cannot look more knowing than any other bird that flies; and yet that obtuse James only tried to kick me, and couldn't see what I meant. I have it! he has a latch key; if I don't plug that key up with something, first chance I get, I'm a pelican: I'll teach him to kick at me. The Bouncer was great on this approaching ball. She always insists on dressing the same as Clara, which is hard upon Clara; and equally so on the Bouncer if she only knew it, but she doesn't. She has all manner of old jokes she makes about being taken for twin sisters, and always comes up smiling the morning after a party with innumerable fictitious anecdotes about people asking her which is the elder. Of course everybody will say that I'm spiteful and prejudiced because we're not friends, but its not so; I know what is what (I have not the slightest idea what that means, but as I hear other people saying it I suppose its all right) There was a great disturbance between the Bouncer and me the other day; we have scarcely been on speaking terms since. I got at her box where she keeps her provisions—she left it carelessly open—and I made a fine mess of things; I got the cork out of that sherry bottle, after hard pecking and picking, and upset it amongst her clothes; and the dear child has had fearful work to destroy the scent of the wine.
Chapter VI "Forget?" she murmured low, and turned her eyes On his, and laid her hand within his own. But that her bosom heaved in fall and rise But that each breath came choking through a moan, She seemed a soulless woman carved in stone. The pony was a grand idea; Nevil had to give his young friend riding lessons, which of course entailed his frequent attendance over at Sedgemoor, until Dick Grattan, the blushing young man, began to think that the boss must be gone on the new comer. Poor Dick himself had been vanquished at once, but of oourse had to retire quietly when Nevil put in an appearance; but, although the youngster credited Nevil with being attracted by the charms of the elder young lady, he never was more mistaken in his life. There is a certain amount of interest in any kind of contest, whether it be physical or mental; fighting between man and man or flirtation between man and woman; and in the latter kind of excitement both Miss Dunwick and Davy Nevil were very fairly matched. Ada could not make out why her cousin, or aunt as she had been taught to call her, was suddenly so wondrous kind; she was not old enough to understand the position of being a bait. The riding lesson was orer one afternoon, and Nevil was loitering in the verandah for a few minutes before leaving. "You can smoke if you like, Mr. Nevil," said the dark lady graciously; "I'm going to do the equivalent so far as our sex goes." "Thanks, I'll take up a humble position on the edge of the verandah. What do you call the equivalent, Miss Dunwick?" "This; this nonsensical fancy work, that occupies your hands and not your thoughts: I never tried smoking but I fancy it must be very much the same." "Not altogether; I certainly never tried that sort of work, but still I imagine there must be a difference: smoking with a great many people induces thought." "So does this, because it prevents your going to sleep. If you were to sit down simply to think, and do nothing else, you would find that you either speedily got up again, or went to sleep." "Yes, so far I see a resemblance; but what about some mysterious counting operation I have noticed young ladies indulge in over fancy work; does not that interfere with connected conversation? I don't have to count the number of puffs of smoke I emit." "One should never argue when one's opponent displays gross ignorance of the subject in dispute; and I'm afraid, Mr. Nevil, that your last remark compels me to class you amongst such. Shall I give you a lesson in the art?" "I'm afraid I should be but a dull pupil, even under such tuition." She looked at him as he said this as though suspecting hidden irony, but Nevil's face was quite open. "What subjects are you quick at learning?" "Everything that I should not learn; I have a natural predisposition for doing everything I ought not to do, and for leaving undone those things I ought to do." "And of such is the Kingdom of Heaven," remarked little Ada, who was half asleep with her head on Nevil's shoulder, and had been somehow dreamily reminded of the church service. "I stand a bad chance for that place," said Nevil. "You're not bad; you're very good," returned Ada, who was now wide awake. "How delightfully frank children are in their remarks; what a pity we men and women canmot be equally sincere!" "I don't quite agree with you; is it not better for a man to beg your pardon and say he differs from you than for him to call you a liar?" "On second thoughts I believe it would lead to the rapid extinction of the human race; but would that not be a blessing in disguise?" "Well, yes, if you knew of anything better to replenish it with; the question is, do you!" "No; my knowledge is imperfect I have at times thought that beings exist, almost in daily and actual contact with us, who are our superiors in every attribute that we possess."
"I don't follow you exactly. Do you mean exceptional minds, 'mute Inglorious Miltons,' and that sort of thing?" "I know what auntie means," broke in Ada: "the people I see when I am asleep." "Ada!" said Miss Dunwick, holding up a warning finger; and the child was silent at once. "I think I must be off," said Nevil rising, for a sudden chill seemed to have come over him. "We shall see you tomorrow, I suppose?" "I am afraid I shall be considered taking up my quarters here directly; you must blame this young lady for it," he replied, patting the child's cheek. "You know you are always welcome, so don't let me think you are seeking for a compliment." "I suppose, then, we must consider another ride to-morrow the order of the day, Ada; and in a few minutes Nevil was on his homeward way, with two pairs of eyes watching him with very different feelings. "Jane," said a voice from the room, and Miss Dunwick turned and joined her father. "There are a letter and a telegram by the mail. You can read them; both extremely pleasant in their way." "From Robert Armstrong, wanting money, says the telegram; I should imagine that having reached that stage of expectation he would have to remain there." "Read the letter." "From Uncle William, pleasant as usual; will be up in a week, and wants horses sent down to meet him. He'll be a bore and highly disagreeable; but this being his own place, and we occupying the proud position of his paid servants, I suppose we shall have to put up with it." "Unfortunately that request for money by Armstrong is one that will have to be complied with." "How perform the impossible?" "It will have to be done; evidently he is under the impression that I have dropped on my feet up here instead of being only in hiding as it were." "You surely do not anticipate trying to get it from your brother?" "Scarcely: but there is another who might be made available—that gentleman who has just left." "I have no objection provided you do it; you can scarcely expect me to ask him. And how long does my amiable uncle intend to stay here?" "About a week I suppose; for heaven's sake keep your sweet temper in order during that time." "O, I'll be good; wait on him dutifully, and even clean his boots if required." "Without going quite so far as that you may try to humor him." "My dear father, what is the good? I have no greater objection than you have to do all manner of sand-eating if any aim is in prospect: but with your brother you know, as well as I do, that the thing is absurd; he knows what we are worth." "Deuced little at present," said her father grimly. "Exactly, and that is his opportunity." "Worse than that, as you know," replied the man gloomily. Meanwhile Nevil pursued his homeward way humming tunes to himself; his mind not at all occupied by the image of the young lady he had just parted from. He was a man who had scarcely had justice done to him in this world. As a boy he suffered by a comparison with his brothers, who were quicker and cleverer than he, and he gradually was thought the dunce of the family. Under these circumstances it was considered that the colonies would probably make him acquainted with congenial spirits, so to them he was despatched when arrived at years of discretion. A ramble of a couple of years through Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland led to his finally setting down and investing his small capital in the last-named place, where he prospered and did exceedingly well. His father and both his brothers having died before the date of this story, he was the possessor of a considerable fortune, apart from what he had made for himself. Ever since his secession to wealth he had been always going to return to England, but something—as he put it—was continually turning up to stop him. The last obstacle was his going to take up new country out West, in company with an old friend and neighbor. This enterprise was nearly, as we have seen, making him a permanent resident in the colony, with a very limited landed estate. As he rode home this evening, he persuaded himself that this time he really intended to "put his foot on a ship and sail;" or probably do the less romantic act of putting it on a steamer. In pursuance of this wise resolution, that evening saw him confiding that resolution to Grattan, who was plunged by the communication into a state of amazed doubt as to whether Nevil had proposed and been rejected, or was running away because he was frightened that he would propose if he stopped. According to his promise Nevil rode over to Sedgemoor the following day. Little Ada, with the pony ready saddled, was waiting for him, and they were soon cantering round the paddock, for in the three weeks that had elapsed she had, made great progress in horsemanship. After about an hour's ride they returned, and in the course of conversation Nevil mentioned his in tention of leaving the colony in a short time. Poor little Ada was quite heart-broken, and wept bitterly at the news, refusing all comfort in the shape of new and wonderful toys from England. "Don't imagine that Ada is the ony one who will regret your departure," said her cousin. "Don't lead me to flatter myself that you will care, Miss Dunwick." "And why not? Considering the utter loneliness we live in here, you would have to be a most uninteresting individual for your presence not to be missed." "Then I am only to regard myself as one whose place in your thoughts can as readily be filled by the next comer who will amuse you?" "Even if I could define the exact position you occupy in my thoughts, it would be highly improbable that I should afford you any information on the subject." "The social relations of men with women are so strangely constituted that any position of that sort would be difficult to define," returned Nevil, who somehow felt that he was getting worsted. "You mean where love begins and friendship
ends!" said his adversary, keeping him to the point "Ah, there we differ; for I hold that friendship and love alike have neither beginning nor ending; they are like eternity in that respect." "But there must be a beginning, and there is certainly an ending, to most friendships." "Not to real friendship. Men may quarrel, and remain separated for years, but the old feeling is always there; Bret Harte knew that when he wrote the story of the two friends who quarrelled about making the biscuits." "But about the beginning?" "Well, can you define the exact moment when you first began to like a man, and court his society." His companion laughed. "0, of course I mean a woman in your case; we're talking of friendship in the abstract," he added in some confusion. "But a woman never has a friendship with another woman," said Miss Dunwick magnanimously passing over Nevil's late slip. "Judging from outward show they have most absorbing ones." "Be wise then, and never trust to outward show; but when do you expect to come back?" for with such short time before her Miss Dunwick thought that the conversation ran too much into generalities, which were all very well in their way but did not seem to lead any farther. "Like Lord Lovel, in a year and a day; but, as this is the fourth time I have started to go home without succeeding, don't be surprised if I get no further than Brisbane." "And when do you start for there?" "The first thing to-morrow morning." "Then this is a farewell visit! You are very sudden in your determinations, or you would have mentioned it yesterday," she said with the least trace of pique in her tone. "I only made my mind up last night" "I am so sorry my father is out: cannot you wait!" "I am afraid not; I must say good-bye now." But here Ada created a diversion. She had nearly sobbed herself to sleep on Nevil's knee, and now finding that he was really going she held him tightly round the neck, and refused to let go, so that her cousin had to loosen her hands by force, and carry her inside. "Good-bye," she said, giving Nevil her hand on her return; "may you have a safe and pleasant voyage!" Their eyes met as they shook hands: both were questioning glances, and both were unanswered; or at least not answered in the way expected: matched in every respect they felt but "the stern joy that warriors feel in foeman worthy of their steel." As Nevil rode away he turned once and looked back. She was standing leaning against the verandah in a faultless attitude, evidently watching him to the last. "By Jove!" he thought, with all a man's vanity; "but she does care something for me after all;" and he pulled his moustache thoughtfully, and took, another glance at the sorrow stricken figure before losing sight of the house. He even felt tempted to wave his handkerchief, for he remembered many romantic pictures of cavaliers leaning back waving a last farewell to saddened damsels crying for them on the top most tower; but he didn't—he restrained himself, principally because he thought his horse would buck. It was just as well that he did, for Miss Dunwick was only thinking what a nuisance it was that her father had not come home in time to borrow some money from him! It was a fine moonlight night, and having a restless fit on him Nevil determined to start for port that night. His way was back past Sedgemoor, and, as that peculiarly pretty picture of a girl leaning against a verandah-post watching his departure remained pertinaciously in his memory, it may have had something to do with it: anyhow he had his horse brought up, and within a couple of hours was on his road again. Strange that our most carefully prepared assaults are generally failures, when by some most unexpected and unintended stroke we nearly always achieve the end we aim at! Miss Dunwick had not the most remote idea of posing for Nevil's benefit; she was simply looking after him with an eye to his cheque-book; and yet she had unintentionally succeeded in creating interest if nothing more—a thing she had never done before. It was after midnight when.Nevil repassed Sedgemoor, yet to his surprise there was a light still burning in the sitting-room. Thinking it probable that either father or daughter would be there, he dismounted and went on foot up to the house. He went quietly; if the old man was alone he would probably retire as he came; if, on the contrary, the daughter was alone it seemed cruelty to awaken the father, who was probably tired by his day's rlde. Like an old soldier he reconnoitred through the trellis-work at the edge of the verandah. But after investigating he did not retire quietly, he did not steal in quietly, he simply stood, rather amazed at what he saw: he felt that he ought to go, that he was acting in a low and ungentlemanly manner in standing there prying and eaves-dropping; but he could not move. Curiosity or some other power had him spell-bound. From where he stood he could see the interior of the room through the open French window; he could hear every word in the deep hush of mid night; and a most unusual feeling of awe began slowly to creep over him, such as he had never experienced in the loneliest desert in the most remote solitude. Ghostly and shadowy forms seemed to glide from the darkness and take their place beside him; to look over his shoulder, to surround him and prevent him from moving. He could have sworn that he was touched by them; but, as on cooler consideration be concluded that it was probably a tendril of the climbing vine that touched his cheek, he did not become a convert to the supernatural on that account. What he saw in the room was nothing very astonishing. Ada was sitting on her cousin's lap, her face hidden in her shoulder; Dunwick was sitting at the table writing; Miss Dunwick had some old tattered, soiled, and begrimed pieces of parchment in her hand, and Ada was repeating something after her cousin or her cousin was repeating what she said—nothing more; probably the child was saying her lessons, although it seemed a strange time to choose, (TO BE CONTINUED)