|Chapter Title||Revelry by Night.|
|Newspaper Title||The Queenslander (Brisbane, Qld. : 1866 - 1939)|
|Trove Title||More about Misrule|
MORE ABOUT MISRULE.
CHAPTER VII.-Revelry by Night.
By ETHEL TURNER.
And silver white the river gleams, As if Diana, in her dreams, Had dropt her silver bow Upon the meadows low.
More than my brothers are to me. The night of nights had come at last. Mis- rule was ablaze with light. It seemed as if a fairy's magic fingers had touched all within doors, for the shabbiness had all fallen away somewhere, and nothing but brightness was visible. Such a polish on the dancing-floor! Bunty had scraped up a whole packet of candles, and everyone had bruised themselves black and blue with sliding about to make it " slippery." For the three days the carpets had been up in the double room Nellie had permitted no rest to anyone. Did Poppet fling herself idly on a chair for a moment, did Peter and Essie attempt to waste their breath playing chasings she was behind them in a moment. " Oh," she would entreat, " that floor will be as heavy as possible; do go and fill in your time with sliding on it." And bumps and bangs would begin again instantly in the big empty room. Oh, the armsful of greenery Bunty cut ! The fire-places and overmantels stood out, banks of spring, trailed across with wild clematis, yellow and white roses, starry jasmine. Nellie had insisted on a yellow effect in these two rooms, and daffodils, buttercups, jonquils, nodded their sunny heads to smile approval on the charming scheme. In the breakfast-room it was the same. You had no chance to notice that the carpet was threadbare, the sideboard of common design and scratched and battered at that, the mantel piece mere wood, vilely ingrained to imitate marble. Your eye was arrested by this great vase where Nellie had stuck a bold branch of almond blossom, by that one where Bourbon rosebuds stood so tall, so slenderly. You stayed to admire the careless droop of that rich drapery that hung on the wall—a curtain, half-lifted to display a seascape—and never knew it was the back widths of Esther's old yellow brocade dress, and was drooped there because Essie and Peter had one sinful day striven in eager emulation as to who should draw the best blue-and-green horse on the wall. And the supper-table with its yellow ribbons, and daffodils and browny leaves and " shivery" grass, with its burden of temptingly-arranged dishes, its glowing jellies, its Alpine trifles—how were you to guess at the anxious thoughts that hovered about it ? Nellie's, in an agony lest those jellies, which had hardly been stiff enough, should melt be- fore the opening of the door. Esther's, be- cause she had a horrible fear she had salted some of the sandwiches twice, and left some quite without flavour. Poppet's, because Peter had made one descent on the room al- ready and carried off two of the bought cream cakes that were crowning with an air and dignity a plate of home-made rainbow and velvet cake. Suppose he made another raid ? Bridget and Martha, in the most stylish of muslin caps and aprons (Nellie's fingers again), were carrying in stacks of little plates and silver, and giving a last polish to the tumblers. You are not to know that the coachman and Malcolm, also enlisted in the service, were waiting just in the pantry, armed with bowls of water and dean cloths, to hurriedly wash up the scanty supply of plates and cups and send them flying back to use again. Up in Bunty's bedroom, which seemed quietest of all, Meg was patting her baby to bed in a clothes-basket, turned extempore into a cradle. She had been helping all day and was to stay the night, as there could of course be no question of his tenderly-watched baby- ship turning out into the night air when festi- vities were over and Alan was returning home. Meg wore a graceful black lace dress that had seen no end of service on board ship and at German concerts but told no tale of it. Her face was fresh, bright, and full of girlish ex- pectation of the evening's fun ; only when you looked carefully at the mouth, the eyes, and noticed the faint line across the brow, did you guess at the storm and stress of the last two or three years. " You will help me to listen for him, won't you, Poppet?" she said as she tucked up the rosebud feet, and put up the wee hand, always impatient of covering, under the blanket yet again. "Of course I will," said Poppet; " I'll run up after every dance. I shall have lots of time—not many will ask me, I know. Nellie says it isn't proper of me to be up at all, but it doesn't matter, does it—just for once?" " Not a scrap," said Meg. " Come here and let me tie your sash again. How nice you look, dear; Nellie really has very clever fingers, no one would think that was Esther's old white muslin; it looks as stylish as if it had just come home from one of the big shops. And that knot of cherry colour in your hair, just the right touch." " But I have only got on buttoned boots," Poppet said in a tone of much depression. Meg looked at the small feet clad in their walking-boots, carefully blackened and polished, it is true, but unmistakably walking-boots. "Haven't you any evening ones?" she said. " I've kept on wearing them to play tennis in, 'cause my sandshoes were worn out, and they are quite done for," sighed Poppet; " they are burst out at the sides." "Why didn't you tell Esther, she would have let you have her new ones ?" Meg said thoughtlessly. The Misrule income, whatever it had appeared to her in old days, seemed a most comfortable and elastic one now when compared with the narrow one she had to bind herself within. " Oh," said Poppet, "poor Esther, I couldn't! Such hundreds of things turned up we hadn't put on the list. And I couldn't give anything The sole right of serial publication in Queensland has been scoured by the proprie- tors of the "Queenslander."
to it 'cause of being in debt to the bike man. Do you think everyone will notice them much?" Meg reassured her. " There will be such a crowd feet will be invisible," she said ; " just you enjoy yourself and don't think about them." "I've got three dances down on my pro- gramme already," Poppet said, eagerly display- ing her card. " Pip has promised me one, and Bunty's going to give me two —unless the Chinese lanterns keep going out or flaring up, he has to look after them, you know; do you think if I begged hard Alan would give me just one? Or he could have one and just give me a turn or two." Meg answered for Alan—if he came at all, and no one sent for him to go back—a sadly unlikely thing. Bunty came striding up to his looking-glass again. He had shaved this evening—almost for the first time, and was horribly self-con- scious about it. Also the white tie he had borrowed from Pip fidgeted him, and he had twice split his white gloves. "I've a good mind to turn in and not show up at all," he said, gloomily regarding himself. " Everyone else will have dress suits on ; mine isn't even black." " It's such a very dark blue it looks black,'* said Meg, " and it would be useless for you to get a proper dress suit till you have finished growing. Truly, old fellow, it is as right as anything, especially as the dance is in our own house." "But you feel such an ass with gloves on," said Bunty, glowering at his hands; " you feel as if every one's looking at you. There, look at the fools of things, they've split again— hurry up and sew them again, will you ?" "You keep stretching and twisting them so," Meg said, getting out her needle to him for the third time. " Try to forget them, and just be as natural with the girls as you are with us." "Oh, that's all very well," said Bunty, " but what in the world can I talk about to a girl I've only just met? You just say, "may I have this dance ?" and she says, "Yes"—if she doesn't say no, thinking I look the right cut to crush her feet to jellies—and then what on earth is there left to say ?" " Oh, you say it's a warm evening, and isn't the floor nice, and have you been to the theatre?" said Poppet, who had also been trying to learn up " conversation." Bunty still looked unhappy. " Yes, I know those things," he said, "but they don't take a jiffy to say, and then all the rest of the time you can't think of a word to say, however you cudgel your head." "But the girl generally gives you an opening, doesn't she ?" said Meg, "and once you've got fairly started isn't it all right?" " Oh," said Bunty, "she generally says, ' How sweet your sister Nellie looks !' or ' What a lot here to-night!' but that doesn't keep you going for long. I often wish I had Pip's knack; he's a smart fellow, that chap, Meg; I often watch him, and his lips never seem to stop moving all the time. And he can make a girl laugh no end. I'll always be an ass at talking." "Oh, no," said Meg, handing back the glove, "it comes with practice. At your age Pip had just as little to say. But do your best to forget all about yourself, and try to give the girl as nice a time as you can." The first ring sounded through the house, and a flutter and thrill went with it. Bunty, who was just going out on the landing, dived back into his room again, and flattened him- self against the wall lest any one ascending the stairs should catch a glimpse of him. Poppet rushed importantly off to the bedroom to be ready with her delightful distribution of the pretty programmes. Essie and Peter crept out of bed where they were lying very wide awake, and stole in their nightgowns to a corner of the landing, where they squeezed together and giggled and squeaked and admired the opera-cloaks, and fondly imagined they could not be seen. Nellie, anxiously contemplating the jellies once more, beat a hasty retreat to be in readi- ness in the drawing-room to help Esther and her father receive. Nellie in cloudy white, with white Jasmine in her shiny hair, with fair young arms and tenderly-moulded white neck and shoulders, with dewy, lovely eyes, and a most exquisite, excited pink in her cheeks! A man—Nellie's "real man," going up- stairs to the cloakroom, caught a glimpse of this vision and smiled to himself approvingly. " Shows up even better by night than day," he told himself. " I'm not so sorry I came after all." While he changed his boots and removed his overcoat he looked a little superciliously around at the eager fellows who were doing the same. Friends of Pip's most of them were, embryo doctors and lawyers, University stu- dents, all very young and anxious to enjoy themselves, many head over heels in love with the white vision downstairs, and burning to inscribe her name on their programmes. They lost no time in getting on their patent leather shoes, and dragging on their gloves, and " settling" their ties; quite an army seemed to present themselves to Nellie at one and the same moment, so determined was each not to be last. But the blue eyes glanced at the door once or twice, over their heads, in the pauses of in- troductions, and seeing all the girls had their programmes well on the way to being filled. And when he came in coolly, languidly, what a throb her heart gave, what a tumult of sweet colour rushed into her face ! Nearly all the girls were looking at him, and with eyes so clearly admiring, their partners could have gnashed their teeth. Almost a head taller than anyone in the room he stood, finely made, distinguished looking. A black moustache with a military cut about it hid his lips, but not the cynical lines around them that thrilled these girls ; dark eyes, with a somewhat bored, melancholy expression in them, looked out at you. This was Captain Reginald Morton, who had been invalided home from the Transvaal with a sufficient amount of commendation for courage to make society delighted to pet him as a hero. He was enjoying the petting. Nellie gave him a dance. Those eager , youths had left her only one, and when he , begged so hard for a second, what could she do
but cross off Bunty's name and give him that space ? " But they are both together," she objected, "six and seven." " That is as it should be," he returned. " I shall enjoy six so much, it would be impos- sible for me to give you up for seven. We shall sit the second one out and talk to each other." Nellie moved through the crowded rooms with a fluttering heart. Bunty caught at her for one second. " It's my left arm I offer the girls, not the right, isn't it?" he whispered anxiously. " Yes," said Nellie, starting guiltily. The evening danced along. The floor repaid every bump and bruise it had caused ; the jellies melted not; Esther's sandwich fears were groundless; and the trifle promised to stand out against the most repeated attacks, to Bunty's great relief. In the earlier part of the evening a moon swam out, and helped the soft pink and green lanterns to make the old garden and the sleep- ing river incredibly beautiful. But later she drew a discreet veil over her kindly face, and the grounds were full of sweet shadows, and happy young love was able to whisper its tale in this nook Pip had made among the tree ferns—on that shaky seat beneath the Japanese maple, there on the grass bank where heavy magnolias intoxicated the air. Perhaps the programme had an unrehearsed event or two. As when Peter, compelled to just two more cream-cakes, miscalculated his time and the music stopped, and the breath- less, laughing guests trooped out to halls and staircases and verandas, just as his small figure in its grey and-pink pyjamas came stealing from the supper-room, booty in hand. And when Essie's shrill pipe floated down from a landing: "Oh, just look at father dancing—oh, doesn't he look funny !" And when Meg came into the room with a scared face and sought out Nellie, and then Poppet, and then Bunty, and then Pip, to ask whisperingly what they had done with Baby, and please please not to play jokes, as he would catch a dreadful cold being out of bed so long. And when at their genuinely-innocent faces she faced round and rushed out of the room so wildly, the guests thought there was a fire at least somewhere, but were able to smile re- lievedly when Pip came back from the short, frantic search, and reported a baby had been lost but was now found. As indeed it was, in Essie's little bed, be- tween herself and Peter, who had deserted his own couch—snuggled down so closely that Meg's first flying visit had never revealed the fact, and the trio continued its peaceful slumbers while the agonized mother and blank- faced sisters and brothers rushed hither and thither, looking under beds, behind doors and similar unlikely places, and downstairs the guests wondered and waited. One o'clock and the end of the sweet evening was come. The last strains of the last dance filled the air, plaintive in its gaiety even in the dancing-room, curiously burdened with sadness as it stole out from the bright windows and wandered over the damp grass, and through the dark, midnight trees down to the place where the cystrum nocturne bushes flung out the sweetness they keep alone for night. " I must go back to the house," Nellie said ; "every one will be going in a minute." She stood up from the rickety seat Bunty had contrived so merrily that very morning. "No, no," her partner said, "you shall not go—a little longer—a little longer." He caught her hand in its white suede glove and held it prisoner. " See how helpless you are," he murmured, "you cannot move unless. I let you." Nelliee tried to release her trembling hand. "How foolish you are, Captain Morton," she said, with a laugh, quite her ordinary laugh she persuaded herself. "I must go—the girls will be, waiting for me to say good-bye." But still he held her. " I too am waiting," he said softly, and looked down at her with tender eyes. To kiss the exquisite curve of the girl's young cheek seemed to him at the moment the most desirable thing in life. And yet he hesitated—hesitated as he seldom had done before when he had wanted such a thing as a conclusion to a dance. " Nellie !" he said. A shy, frightened dignity came to Nell, she withdrew her hand, stepped away from the seat. "Listen," she said, "some one is playing ' God Save the Queen, '— I must go at once." He walked along the path with her, the path where the last of the lantern candles was splutter- ing to a lingering death. He had not what he desired, yet he assured himself he was more in love with the child than ever. At the door he paused one minute. " I shall never forget this evening—never," he said, close to her ear, in his deep rather melancholy voice that had said the same thing so often, so often. Nellie slipped up to the lighted bedrooms, and laughed with her girl friends, and helped them on with their cloaks, and said good-bye to them with almost hysterical nervousness. Such eyes, such flushed cheeks, such a strange little trembling mouth! But how could any of them know just what had happen- ed to her?
CHAPTER VIII—The Other Side of the Fence. Adjoining the Misrule grounds stood a gloomy, ugly house where never a tenant stayed longer than a year at a time, and the average one found three or six months suffic- ient occupancy. The same river as at Misrule danced before it—the same air sweetened it, the same birds sang. But the architect had evidently conceived it in a saddened moment; the chief living rooms looked out on the sunless, viewless side, the veranda roofs sloped down as if their only object in life was to cut off light and sun from all windows; the gray, porous stones of the walls, even in the summer, seem saturated with the river's damps and mists. There were too many trees in the grounds, stiff, depressing pines for the most part—that, planted to make a girdle of privacy, grown now to maturity made prison bars instead.
This tenant left because his children had sore throats or bad chests from the moment of entering the place; that one flung up his lease after striving to relet, because rheu- matism attacked him the hour the winter westerlies set in; this one went off in a hurry because his wife became morbid and nervous in the place. The rueful landlord was just considering a scheme that included a wholesale chopping down of the pines and a general letting in of the sunshine, when a lady came along, ex- amined it very thoughtfully, and offered not only to occupy it, but—a thing the landlord's rosiest dreams never expected to realise—to buy it. Peter and Essie and Poppet were pleasurably excited, as they were with each fresh tenant, when movements of life began about the old house. Despite Esther's remonstrances they peeped through and over the fence, and from the stair case window which alone gave a glimpse of the house, until they had gleaned all the information they wanted. Yes, there were some children. A girl and a boy, Peter and Essie said; two girls and one boy, Poppet maintained. " Pooh, you only saw her twice," said Peter; " what was your other girl like ?" "About as old as me," said Poppet, "and she had the loveliest golden hair and a big white hat." "Why," said Peter, "that was the same one—wasn't it, Essie ?" Essie upheld him. Of course it was the same girl; she had buttoned boots on and gray gloves. " They both had." persisted Poppet, " when the carriage door opened and the boy and one girl got out, I saw quite plainly through my crack another girl, just like the other one. jump out and run up the steps." But they only jeered at her and said she saw double; indeed Poppet's "other girl" was a standing joke in the house afterwards for some time; for when speech and language became established between the two houses and Peter demanded " wasn't there some one else to play with ?" both boy and girl said no at once. Poppet also reported that first day that there was a lady with flashing eyes and a gentleman with a red face. Peter endorsed this state- ment ; at least he agreed to there being a man and a woman, but he hadn't noticed the red face or the flashing eyes. Then an excited statement that they all three tried to make at once. No woman servants to do by that old stone house as Martha and Bridget did by Misrule, but instead one, two, three inky black New Guinea boys—two of men's stature, one of Bunty's age perhaps. And in the months that followed and during which the intimacy between the two houses progressed chiefly through or over the dividing fence no other woman was ever seen about the place. After giving the new-comers time to settle comfortably down Esther called for neighbour- liness though she knew nothing of them but that they were from Queensland, where they had owned a large station, and that their name was Saville. Nellie went with her—laden with commission from Poppet to be sure to find out the name of the sweet little girl with golden hair, and how far she was in music, and did she play with dolls yet. " And you might ask the boy to come in and have a game," said Peter; " it's pretty sick for me only having Essie to play with always." Esther and Nellie went up the long drive to the house, and stepped into the girdle of pine trees, past which the sun came not. They rang at the bell. "Missa Saville—not at home," said the black boy who opened the door—indeed he be- gan to say his speech, as if a lesson learned by rote, before they even asked him. Esther handed out cards; he looked at them doubtfully, then took them into one great black hand, and with the other dosed the door before they had turned their faces round. Feeling a trifle snubbed they descended the steps and crossed the path again ; and so noiselessly fell their footsteps on the thick carpet of pine needles, the lady of the house, walking bareheaded among the trees with her boy and girl, did not hear them approach. It was an awkward moment; Esther and, Nellie would have been grateful for just one more second to put a space between them that would have excused exchange of courtesies, but they were actually face to face. The lady looked at them haughtily; Nellie was ever after able to attest Poppet's statement about flashing eyes. Esther mentioned her name, and said some- thing pleasant about being next-door neigh- hours and so on. She even had her hand extended. But Mrs. Saville barely touched it. " I must, ask you to excuse me," she said; "I never see visitors." "Oh, mamma," said a choked little voice beside her, "they live next door—the dear little girl with brown hair—oh, mamma !" Esther and Nellie caught a glimpse of a little beseeching face with sensitive lips and eyes full of quick tears at their rebuff. They could have picked her up and kissed her, so small she looked, so distressed, so lovely with her filmy gold hair making tender sunlight against those dark pines. Esther's colour was perhaps a shade warmer than usual. "You must excuse us,' she said, "it was unfortunate, but of course we had no means of knowing. Good-afternoon." " Good-afternoon," said Mrs. Saville. They turned and went down the drive again at once. "Oh, mamma," they heard the quivering little voice say again. Past the curve that hid the house they began to recover themselves a little. "I never felt so small in all my life,"' said Nell. " I feel crashed, trodden to earth. What a horribly insulting, ill-bred woman !" ' " I'm not sure if those are quite the right adjectives," said Esther, "but it was not a pleasant experience certainly, I feel distinctly snubbed myself, still " " I believe you would make excuses for the fiend himself, Esther," Nellie said hotly; " it was horribly ill-bred. And that sweet little girl—she isn't fit to be her mother." "A dear little child," said Esther, "but how fragile she looked. I should like to have
whipped her up and carried her off for a romp." Was ever such a chapter of accidents? They had been overheard—a man was sitting, his back to a gum tree, his coat so nearly the colour of the bark, he had been completely merged to them in the general colour scheme around. It was the one-time squatter himself, come to smoke his pipe where pines were not and the sun shone as it listed. He stood up and looked at them awkwardly— his face showed them he had heard. As Esther said afterwards all words deserted her; she never felt so inclined in all her life to pick up her dress and run straight out of an un- pleasant situation. She tried to pretend she did not see the man coming towards her; she began to hurry, talking very fast to Nell. But be came right into their pathway, and held out his hand with such an unhappy, anxious look on his kindly face, they were both touched. "You are our neighbours, aren't you?" he said—" Mrs. and Miss Woolcot ? Most kind of you to look us up—most kind; I thank you sincerely." Esther shook hands mechanically; she had an idea afterwards that she murmured some thing about it being a fine afternoon, but Nellie opined she had said unsteadily it looked like rain. The poor fellow agreed to whatever she said. " I'm afraid you did not find Mrs Saville at home," he added. "No," said Esther, her colour warming again. " I am sorry," he said, " most sorry. She— she never is at home." He sighed heavily. Esther's self-consciousness began to fade. She said a warm word or two of his beautiful little girl; she laughed and told him she had a little step-daughter at home, who she believed dreamed nightly about her. "Ah!" he said delightedly, "is that the little brown-haired thing? Lylie and I call her the Elf; we watch her playing from a window or the fence. I—forgive the question, Mrs. Woolcot, but would you mind telling me her name?—my little girl spends half her time wondering what it is." "Poppet," said Esther. " She was christened Winifred, but we always call her Poppet." " Poppet," said the old fellow, " I won't for- get. And—and—you will smile at me for ask- ing, but the answer would delight my poor little girl so much—do you mind telling me what turns she does, and whether she has given up playing yet with dolls?" There was something, pathetic here— some sad shadow born of those dreadful pine trees; Esther's throat swelled a little as she looked at the quiet-faced man asking this simple ques- tion. She forgot her snub—everything but the fact that there was unhappiness somewhere. "Couldn't she come in and play with my little girl?" she said. "Poppet talks of her all day; we would take great care of her." The man's face grew extremely unhappy again. "Very sorry," he said, " most sorry— her—her mother—thinks better not—never allows her—very sorry." Esther was very gentle. " Forgive me," she said, "I did not know. Tell little Lylie that Poppet does compound multiplication—badly, and is just beginning reduction, and that she has at least eleven dolls that she loves passion- ately. Now we will say good-afternoon." "Good afternoon," said Mr. Saville sadly. After this, episode, however, he constantly stopped Poppet when he met her walking up the River Road or riding on her ramshackle bicycle, and quite a friendship grew up between them, though Lylie was still as unattainable as ever. At first his questions seemed curious to Poppet, but after a time she grew quite accus- tomed to answering them, and used even to interrogate him herself. As for instance when he inquired whether her dolls had party dresses as well as day dresses, and if she put frills on her bonnets or only plain lace, and did she make their shoes herself ? She would reply yes, certainly, all of them, yes to the frills, yes to the shoes. And had Lylie a boy doll at all, and had she any with brown eyes or were they all blue, and had she begun to make their winter frocks yet ? One day Saville had a delightful proposition to make. It was that a doll of Lylie's should come on a visit to Poppet's, and one of Poppet's go in exchange to Lylie. Poppet was charmed with the idea. Then she paused suddenly. " But will the flashing- eyed lady allow her?" she blurted out, and then grew red, and made a stumbling apology and said " Mrs. Saville." "Oh, that will be all right—you needn't think of that," the father said reassuringly. Though, if the truth were known, he was more than a little nervous as to his success in smuggling one waxen lady out of the house and introducing another into Lylie's family without his wife's knowledge. Still it was his little girl's own idea, and she was so very eager about it. Poppet asked for two days' preparation. "Cherry's clothes will all have to be washed" she said frankly, " and some of them mended. But I will have her ready by Thurs- day." All Misrule was interested in the exchange, and had a look at the departing Cherry. She was a rather attenuated doll, with a painful red smile, blue eyes (one cracked across), and hair so thin she habitually wore a close cap. But she was bravely dressed to-day, and bore in a bundle beside her a complete change of underclothes, a party frock, a second bonnet, and another pair of shoes. The doll from the Pines came to hand, no one knowing it had been forced to travel as far as the gate inside a large silk umbrella. It came accompanied by a miniature tin trunk, a wee Paris hatbox, and a little dressing-case con- taining comb, brush, hairpins and even pow- der-puff. And such beautiful clothes, fine Liberty silk exquisitely tucked and embroidered! The doll itself was not painfully new; you could see it had been kissed and carried and played with these many days. But Poppet stared at the work in the clothes. " Can Lylie really sew as well as that?" she said, quite awed. "Oh, no," said Saville, "her mother makes those for her. She is a wonderful needle woman, there is nothing she can't do." He spoke proudly. It took Misrule a little time to read just its
ideas and picture the insulting, "flashing eyed" lady, sitting stitch, stitching at these patient little clothes. (To be Continued.)