|Chapter Title||Res Angustae.|
|Newspaper Title||The Queenslander (Brisbane, Qld. : 1866 - 1939)|
|Trove Title||More about Misrule|
MORE ABOUT MISRULE.*
CHAPTER X.—Res Angustae.
By ETHEL TURNER.
"Then give me leave that I may turn the key, That no man enter till my tale be done." "I'm afraid that I've hardly got this wide enough," Alan said, and stood back with a
somewhat anxious air to survey his afternoon's handiwork ; " suppose you want to get a really big joint in some time, Meg?" Meg laughed. "Suppose something a little more likely," she said. " Our butcher would really have a severe shook if he got an order for a joint from us that had not the strict proviso attached, 'Not more than five pounds.'" " But you have to allow for the dish too," Alan said. " Our pantry holds no dish that would re- fuse to go through that door," said Meg. "Oh, well," said Alan, and took up his hammer again, relief on his face, " that's all right. I've almost finished." " You are quite sure the door will fit so that no flies or ants can get through ?" Meg said, and examined the hinges with much care. " I lose so mach meat this dreadful weather." Alan glanced unhappily at the cheerful crevice or two that plainly showed. " Couldn't you paste a bit of mosquito net over?" he said. " I'm afraid I can't make it fit better." "Perhaps I can manage" said Meg—" hush, wasn't that the bell ? Oh, Alan, I'm sure it is a patient this time—it isn't a bit like a hawker's ring. Oh, Alan, if only it is !" Alan had laid down his saw and his hammer and was gazing with painful expectancy at the back door. Meg's colour went and came in waves. Oh, the quick, bright hopes that leapt up in her each time that loud gong sounded through the house, and oh how often they were quenched ! Lizzie, in her neat equipment of goffered cap and apron, crossed the yard. "Two nuns collecting for the Hospice of St. Margaret, ma'am," she said. " Hang the Hospice of St. Margaret!" was Alan's pious ejaculation, and he picked up his saw again and began to look for his pencil mark on the length of wood in front of him. Meg's colour was quiet again. " Tell them I am sorry, but I have too many calls on my purse," she said; and I hope you are listening to Baby, Lizzie." "He's sleeping like a lamb yet," said Lizzie. " I'm sitting on the veranda near him while I cut my papers for the shelves." She went back through the house to the front door to bear the disheartening news of refusal to the sable-clad sisters waiting there. Alan's hammer smote the quiet air of the yard from time to time, and the movable meat safe that the summer demanded and the household purse refused to afford approached nearer and nearer to completion. It was not a very neat job—indeed Bunty, who was clever with tools of carpentry, made the mental comment "clumsy, hulking thing" when he saw it. But Meg had been so worried with the difficulty of keeping the meat good and Baby's milk sweet in thin little incon- venient house, the young doctor had laid down the scalpel that never had use enough, and picked up an unfamiliar saw. " It's time I knew better how to use these tools," he said as he worked ; " there must be many things you want, Girlie, though you never worry me to make them." "Oh," said Meg, "till Bunty got this bicycle fever there was no need, he did all I wanted. But I am certainly just beginning to find out what a violet he was to me." " What else do you want ?" Alan said; " I've spare time enough, Heaven knows, to build furniture for half-a-dozen houses. What shall I start with ? You shall not be worried for want of the ordinary decencies of life." "But I'm afraid it would hardly do for Lizzie to see you wasting time over such things, said Meg gravely; " she would tell the baker, and the frightful scandal would spread through the suburb. As long as you are out or in the consulting-room among your books, she considers you are respectably employed. But making meat-safes! I'm sure if she sickened with measles to-night she would make me send for some other doctor." " Hang Lizzie !" said Alan, "you shall not go without things you want for her. You can give her to understand hammering is my hobby. Now, deliver your orders." Meg had been made comfortable on a cushion placed at one end of the rough car- penter's bench Alan had improvised for him- self in the wood and coalshed. She looked up from the baby bonnet she was trying to con- struct from a white silk blouse of her own. " I should love to have a toy cupboard for Little Boy," she said with pleased eyes. " Pip and the others give him so many tilings the house seems strewn with his toys." " That's one ; what else ?" " Oh, if you could make another wide set of shelves for me to put clothes on," Meg said; "your good coat ought not to hang, it gets so shapeless. And where to put my starched blouses and Boy's pelisses after I have ironed them I don't know." "After you have ironed them !" Alan re- peated sharply. " Surely Lizzie can iron !" Meg was swift to cover her slip. "Of course she can," she said, "all the uninteresting things. Baby's things and my pretty blouses are specialities I like to attend to myself. There's the bell again—this really might be some one, mightn't it? A nice wealthy old man with rheumatism, or a messenger to say scarlet fever has broken out at the boarding school on the hill. Oh no, not scarlet fever, because you might bring it home to Baby. Something harmless but lengthy—an epidemic of sprained ankles, for instance." She talked lightly, quickly, but with anxious eyes all the time on the back door through which Lizzie seemed so long in appearing. "Oh, it is the children," she said, pleasure and disappointment both in her voice as
Poppet first and then Bunty appeared in the doorway. Such a pair of hot, red faces! It was a heat-wave day; the thermometer had gone steadily from eighty-five to ninety-six degrees in the shade during the afternoon, but a trifle like that never kept those particular wheels idle in the Misrule hall. " Where's your seltzogene ?" said Bunty; " I'll empty it for you in five minutes." He looked around thirstily as if expecting to find it in the woodshed. Poppet reminded him with a delicate poke of her elbow of the fact that seltzogenes are luxuries, costing money for both purchase and keeping up, and there- fore strangers in this little household. "Or water'll do just as well," said Bunty, recollecting; " a tap and a tumbler are all I crave. Hope you don't have a water-meter here, Meg, if you have you'll find I've made a big difference in your bill in a minute or two." "I've lemons," cried Meg, jumping down from the bench; " you shall have a lemon squash each in a moment But how could you ride such a day ? Alan, I'm afraid you'll say there really is insanity in the family." " Well," said Alan, " and who better quali- fied than I to minister to such a family ? Did I not make a special study in Heidelburg of brain disease, and didn't old Hamburgher once actually grunt 'not bad' to my theories ?" Who was old Hamburgher ?" said Bunty. " Only the greatest brain specialist in all the Fatherland," said Meg, open pride on her face, " and he thought so much of Alan's ideas he used to talk to him and argue with him for hours together." "Fudge," said Alan, hie took pity on a half-blind beggar and helped him to pass the time, that was all. Still it qualified me for dealing with Misrule madness. And these two plainly have a virulent attack. Well, my chief desire has been a really good lunacy case, and now I am happy." "Pooh!" said Bunty; "the heat's nothing to make a fuss about—is it, Poppet ? There's Nellie lying on the matting in the nursery and feeling it a lot more just because she keeps thinking about it. You forget all about it when your riding, don't you, Poppet?" " Nearly," said Poppet, wiping her stream- ing, scarlet little face. - "Where's Baby, Meg?" "On the veranda," said Meg, standing at the kitchen table cutting her lemons; "it is the coolest place. You like plenty of sugar, don't you, Bunty ?—You take this—here is yours, Poppet—I'll just run with this to Alan —sawing is hot work too." The cyclists drank with slow and deep enjoy- ment while Meg went first to Alan with his drink, then to Lizzie, who had just begun to lay the cloth for tea, which on Saturdays and Sundays always took the place of the half-past 6 dinner. The cloth was very white and uncreased, pink carnations and feathery grass with wan- dering pink ribbon made a pleasant resting place in the centre for the eye, and the simple white china was prettily arranged. Lizzie would presently add a plate of thinly-cut bread and butter or a stand of toast, a crisp lettuce or a small glass of some preserve. Nothing more—it was the customary tea, and with the addition of porridge the customary breakfast in the little household. But two hungry cyclists! The perturbed housemistress went into her pantry and looked anxiously at her shelves. There was a tin of salmon there cer- tainly, and with parsley or egg sauce it could quickly be made into an appetising dish. But it cost ninepence halfpenny! A very large sum when one remembered a tin of Bartlett pears had been opened to make out the dinner of the night before, when Andrew had come in unexpectedly; and a shilling tin of whitebait on Tuesday, when the Major had come to share, as he expressed it, "pot luck." Which, happening to be precisely two small outlets, albeit they wore frills and reposed on a bed of feathered potatoes, refused to be shared. Eggs ! There were just three lying in the basket—Meg had not dared to order more that morning, for they were two-and-threepence a dozen. If they were scrambled nicely and put on big slices of toast, they might appease the hungry young appetites just come. And the last jar of pine- apple jam up there—Alan's eyes would brighten at the sight of it—he was such a school-boy for these dainties, though he pro- fessed so strongly he cared nothing for them, and had never been in better health than under the present regime of strictly wholesome diet. Yes, half the jar of jam and the other half would make a pudding next week—Meg took it down from its resting-place. And into the pantry came Poppet with downcast eyes and a basket. "I just slipped these things in, Megsie, to keep my tools from rattling about," she said. " I haven't got a proper tool-bag, you know, so I use this basket, and it's such a nuisance when the oil-can and things bang about all the way." To prevent this nuisance she had padded the basket with a bunch of parsnips, some beetroot and French beans from the vegetable garden, several lemons from the orchard, a bottle of milk, five eggs that her own two fowls had laid, and a bunch of marguerites to keep the table going until next visit. Certainly two of the eggs were broken with the jolting. Such a weight the basket had been on the already heavy machine; Bunty often called her an obstinate little donkey for insisting on carry- ing such a large clumsy basket on these rides; he never dreamed it held anything heavier than the legitimate tools. There was a tear in Meg's eye as she took out the loving little gifts and laid them on the pantry shelves; no one but Poppet realised quite how bare those shelves were, and even she always pretended the little things she brought had no particular purpose. More than once had she dragged a great cabbage or cauliflower all the way from Mis- rule's prolific garden, and then said she had just brought it down for Meg to see the funny way the heart curled. And Meg would see, and thankfully, during the two or three dinners which it served and lightened thus her greengrocer's bill. " Chickie, you mustn't, you really mustn't," she said this afternoon as she put the things aside; " the basket is dreadfully heavy, I can't allow it." "You don't feel a little weight like that a scrap on a bicycle," said the child, so anxious
not to hurt that truth was left to go to the wall. And Meg, who had never mounted a wheel in her life, was glad to accept the state- ment. " Now I'm off to Baby," cried the little girl. " I've been dying for him all the week. He must be nearly awake now." " If he isn't, don't wake him," called Meg after her. "I wouldn't for worlds," said Poppet, "the very most I would do would be drop a brick just near." Meg put the paste-board and rolling-pin on the little pantry table and reached down the flour and baking-powder with a light heart; this extra milk would make a delightful plate of scones—Alan loved the scones she made— and now there would be plenty of eggs to go round. She sang "We are Gentlemen of Japan" in gayest voice as she made her dough. In to her, at the sound of her voice, came Bunty. " Where's Lizzie?" he said. " Setting tea," said Meg. " Are you getting impatient?" " She can't overhear ?" "Not a sound—especially if you shut the door." Bunty shut the door, moved some crockery aside and sat down on the edge of a shelf. Meg glanced at him smiling. "What's she like ?" she said. " Blue eyes or brown? Does she frown on you or favour the suit ?" " It's a long way from a joke, I can tell you," said Bunty. Meg looked swiftly grave. Essie, Peter, Esther, Nellie, Pip—all the dear ones she was no longer among, but who were still twined in with all the warm threads of her life—was something wrong with one of these ? " Tell me at once," she said. "I hardly know how," said Bunty, and changed the position of cups that were hanging on a shelf beside him, and took a lid off a tea pot and looked in, and split the baking-powder, and even then had received no help. "Who is it about?" " Nellie! Why she was down here as bright and happy as a girl could be on Monday," said Meg. " This is Saturday," said Bunty, with deep pessimism. " But she was in particularly good spirits," said Meg, " and Esther was here yesterday and said nothing." "Esther doesn't know—I'm the only one who does, bad luck!" said Bunty. "It's frightful to have a thing like on your mind and to feel you'll be a low sneak if you tell any one, and yet for ever good feel you ought." " It's something that's come to your know- ledge accidentally? Nell, would rather you hadn't known ?" "I should smile! She's hardly looked at me all the week 'cause she knows I know." "Then you must keep it to yourself. It would be very wrong to tell me," Meg"said. Bunty looked worried to death. " Just what I tell myself every day," he said; " but she'll get ill. Some one ought to look after her. What can a clumsy fellow like me do ? I'll have to tell you, Meg—you never saw anything like how white she is, and she hardly has eaten a thing this week. You'll know what to do—a boy is such a thick-headed ass!" "Perhaps you had better tell me, then," said Meg, and floured her scone tin with a very anxious took on her face.
CHAPTER XL—What Bunty Had to Tell. What storm is this that tightens all our sail? "Well, look here," said the boy, "it was this way. Too know that chap, Captain Mor- ton, who came to our spree ?" " Yes," said Meg, and the trouble in her eyes deepened, for she had noticed the gallant Cap- tain's assiduous attentions to her young sister, and been vaguely worried, she knew, not why. Since then, however, she had dismissed the matter from her mind, feeling sure that Nellie had too much good sense now to be attracted by a man who, though good-looking enough, was so palpably shallow and insincere. " What about him?" said Meg. Bunty's eyes burned. " He's a bounder, that's what's about him," he said. "I'd like to shoot him—no, a gun's too clean for the purpose—l'd like to hand him over to the Boxers and let them finish him." Meg bundled her scones on the tin. "Are you going to take all day to tell me ?" she said, her voice quite sharp with the anxiety; " let me know the worst straight off." "Keep your hair on," said Bunty; "I've got to tell you my own way or not at all. It's the only way you'll understand it." " Let me slip these in the oven," said Meg, and ran to the kitchen for a moment with her tin. " Now let me have it all." " Well of course I don't know this for certain," Bunty said, "but it's my belief the beggar has been making love pretty heavily to old Nellie. At our dance while I was looking after the lanterns I came across them once, and he was holding her hand in a pretty sickening way under a tree." Meg frowned. She had conceived the great- est dislike to the man from the moment of her introduction. The older she grew the more and more able she became her- self to find out the people around her who rang true; she might be amused or interested by those who did not, but the only ones she cared to follow up a friendship with were those who, whatever their other faults, had something intrinsically true and high-minded in them. And from the instant she had lifted her quiet eyes to this man's handsome ones she had known the soul that lodged there had not truth in it. Surely Nellie's eyes, at nineteen, were not blind! "Well, after that," continued Bunty, "I suppose they went on seeing each other a lot. I remember Pip chaffing her about dancing a lot with him at a ball on a man-o'-war. And when she's been to town I've seen him more than once seeing Poppet and her down to the boat; one day when she was alone—l was up on deck—he came right up the river with her." " Well," said Meg sharply, "it all may have been just accident—Nellie knows plenty of men—she's a pretty girl, they naturally like to talk to her. But she has too much sense to care herself——"
" Oh, has she ?" said Bunty; " that's just where your fooling yourself. It's my belief you could put all Nellie's sense in your thimble and still be able to wear it. But I thought like you at first—bless your heart, I didn't trouble myself over it. Girls have got to play around a bit; I'll want them to do so myself some day, I suppose ; I didn't put my oar in, only to chaff her a bit sometimes, of course." "Well?" said Meg. " Well, I've been busy cramming; up for the exam., and then there's the bike—I give you my word I'd forgotten such a cbap lived as Morton all this month. The bounder !" " Well ?" said Meg. "Well, on Monday night you remember it was the tableaux at the Bartholomews'." " Yes, Nell came down in the afternoon to borrow those draperies I got in Germany. She was to be 'The Lady of Shallot,' wasn't she ? I haven't seen her since." " Yes, something of the sort, hair done any way and a rummy sort of a dress. Well, no one had seemed to think I'd bring down the house as 'A Beefeater', or 'Henry the Fifth', or anything fancy like that, so I was running the limelights in a little place near the stage " " Yes," said Meg. " Well, Nellie came in for a second to ask was her hair all right or something, and to tell me to be sure to put the rose-pink light on her." " Well ?" said Meg once more. " Well, there was a tableau ready on the stage, only some dook or aide-de-camp or some one like that had just come late and was taking his hat off upstairs, and Mrs. Bartho- lomew told them not to pull the curtain up again till he was ready. So the tableau just had to stand still and wait. It was that chap Morton as Ahasuerus, and Queen Esther was that stunning girl with black eyes staying at the Brownlows'." "Yes," said Meg, and her brows knitted themselves now in anticipation. "And Nell was in the little room with you all the time ?" ' "Yes; she hadn't had time to slip out again, she was afraid the curtain would go up just as she ran." " Yes." " Well, Esther and Ahasuerus began to flirt like anything; a good many of the others had done the same ; they all must have known there was a chap near working the lights, but bless you that didn't stop them. These two went it hot and strong." " Yes," breathed Meg. " Well, I'd other things to think of, and I didn't want to hear the rot they talked, you bet. And then suddenly I found I was hearing it, and they were talking about old Nellie." " Yes," said Meg, her heart a-throb for the other unwilling listener. " The girl said,' Oh, I don't believe you, you say it to every one ; why, not a month ago you had no eyes for any one but that light-haired Miss Woolcot.'" " And what did he say?" said Meg. " The bounder, the cad!" snorted Bunty, "just smiled in that sickening way of his and said, ' Oh, she's not a bad-looking little thing, I have quite an affection for the child. But there is only one Queen —one Esther, and where she shines nil other lights are only as candles!' And he kissed her about seventeen times." " Well," said Meg, her head up, her cheeks burning, " what does that matter ? Nellie wouldn't care a straw." Bunty caught at a cup dangling above his head, and twisted it so savagely the handle snapped off. " You'd think she wouldn't, but—she did," he said, his voice grown suddenly thick. " Are you sure ?" murmured Meg, " what makes you think so?" "First thing I know," said Bunty, " she got up and went to the door—well, as if she was drunk. I went after her to tell her she couldn't go that way—that it only led out into the laundry. But she pushed me away and would go. Well, I got her a drink, she was as white as chalk; but she couldn't drink it—I was in an awful funk that she'd go in hysterics or something, she was gasping so. Well, that's all." All the boy could bring himself to put to words; he would not let even his memory go over again the wild two minutes that the girl had clung to him and implored him to take her home, and tell her she was in the middle of some bad dream—to take her home, home. "What did she do?" Meg said mechanic- ally. Bunty almost broke another dangling cup. " Next minute the bell went, and I had to go back to the lights," he said, "but I got her to sit down quietly on a tub and to promise to wait till I came back to her." His face lost its look of keen emotion, and a light of most unholy joy came over it. "I got a bit square," he said. " Morton was posing fit to kill you, of course, when the curtain went up, and I mixed up some awful colours, and played such ghastly greens and yellows on his face, there was a yell of laughing all through the room." "But Nellie," cried Meg, her heart torn. "I was tied fast to the blessed lights for the next ten minutes," said Bunty, "and a nice mess I made of them—l didn't know whether I was standing on my head or my heels, and at last they sent two other chaps to do it instead of me—l was spoiling the whole show. Well, I cut down to the laundry and she'd gone. I hunted all over the garden and the verandas and couldn't find her anywhere. And at last I went into the room to find Pip and get him to come and help me—I thought she must have fainted somewhere—and there she was talking and laughing more than I ever saw her in, my life, and no end of a colour, you'd never have known the least thing was wrong. She's a good plucked one, isn't she?" Meg had no answer for him; she was dredg- ing, dredging at her paste-board with reckless waste of flour and blinded eyes. "Even when that outsider Morton went up and spoke to her," pursued Bunty, " she answered just like any one else. And when she was on the stage she was the best of the whole lot—never saw her look so stunning in my life—every one clapped their hands off." " Isn't it about tea-time?" said Alan, coming in. "I've been looking everywhere for you. There's been a patient, Meg—seven-and-six,
and he'll come again ! Scones for tea, eh ? Come along. I hope you made enough, or the others won't stand much show of getting any." But the scones were burnt to cinders. (To be continued.)