|Chapter Title||The Heart of a Maid. Oat of the day and night A Joy has taken flight.|
|Newspaper Title||The Queenslander (Brisbane, Qld. : 1866 - 1939)|
|Trove Title||More about Misrule|
MORE ABOUT MISRULE.*
CHAPTER XII.—The Heart of a Maid. Out of the day and night A Joy has taken flight.
By ETHEL TURNER.
The next day saw Meg at Misrule. Every third or fourth Sunday she and Alan and the baby spent the day there, leaving Lizzie in charge of the house and the telephone that too
rarely made its harsh music through the hall. Baby won something particularly dainty in the shape of a white muslin pelisse and a white sun-hat; on the boat people turned again and again to see his sunny little face and hear his bubbling laughs at the water, the sky, the smoke that ran out in a gray ribbon behind their progress. Meg was a little grave and abstracted, her heart heavy with Nellie's secret. Alan, swift to notice the cloud, had at first insisted on being told the cause. But Meg had begged to be allowed to keep it to herself, albeit they gave each other their frankest confidences always; she explained to him how it was a little private matter relating to one of " the children," and that she had come by the knowledge almost illegitimately herself. S0 he said, " Keep it, Girlie," and gave her shoulder a pat, and saw Little Boy did not unduly worry her during the passage on the boat. At the wharf they were met as usual by various members of the family. Peter had brought his express-cart down to beg that the baby might journey up the road in it. Essie had dragged down her large doll's go-cart. " There's heaps of room in it, Meg, he couldn't fall out—oh, do, do, do let me wheel him up in it." " I brought my arms," said Poppet; " they won't break down." " Any one can have him as far as I am con- cerned," said Alan, mopping his brow with his disengaged hand; "he's licked half the nap off my hat, and he's tried to walk head down- wards down my back, and he's made a con- certina of himself and doubled himself up and shot himself out till I'm a wreck. Here you are, any one—I'll give him away with a pound of tea." Meg had stopped to speak a few words to a friend on the wharf, and by the "time she caught up to her family the " any one" had proved to be Peter, who was now careering at a fine pace up the hill, the cart rattling behind him. Meg's feet found wings. "How could you let him?" she gasped as she flew past Alan. " He's as safe as a house," said Alan easily; " look how high the sides are. The shaking will do his digestion good." But Meg snatched her son from the reckless young carter, and Poppet had the happiness of the velvet cheek and the kisses and the surpris- ing weight for the rest of the walk, Essie following enviously behind with her empty perambulator. Nellie was arranging the flower-vases when they arrived—she did this every second morn- ing, and always threw her heart into the pleasant work, making the daily tables, the mantelpieces and other resting-places real feasts for the artistic eye. To-day the mantelpieces showed withered blossoms only, and dead, dry leaves she had not even troubled to remove. For the table, since that duty could hardly be neglected, she was sticking a handful of stiff, ugly dahlias into half-a-dozen vases. She had found these flowers growing a little nearer to the house than anything else. She looked listless, colourless; her eyes were heavy, the girlish roundness of her face seemed fallen away. Her very clothes seemed to par- take of her state of mind—the Nellie Misrule knew in the morning was a pleasure to look at, so fresh was her blouse, so exact her collar and tie, so trim her skirt. This Nellie wore yesterday's blue blouse, and any sort of a skirt, and any sort of a tie. There were no confidences; perhaps Meg's kiss was a little longer than usual, though un- intentionally, for the girl gave her a swift, dis- trustful look and went back to her flowers as soon as might be. Only when Bunty came in the room did her manner alter at all, and then she talked and laughed about anything or everything in a manner that was absolutely painful in its striving to be careless and natural. Presently they all went in the garden to superintend the swinging of a hammock in the shade of the trees, that his babyship might breathe sweet air during his day naps. Poppet established herself on the grass close by with a story-book, and a fan to keep the flies off the dimpled face. Esther and Meg strolled about the paths, arm-in-arm, talking, talking. Bunty on the side veranda was seeking for a puncture on one of his tyres, Peter and Essie at his elbow absorbedly watching him try his water test to that end. Down at the stable yon could see the Major's old helmet, and Pip's cap, and the white tennis cap for which Alan had been quick to exchange his professional silk hat. Through the leaves of some low bushes Nell's blue blouse could be seen ; she was sitting on the grass, her back against a tree, and a book open in her hand. But Meg, looking at her anxiously from time to time, noticed she never once turned a leaf; just sat there motionless, looking with hard, cold eyes straight in front of her, or down on the printed page. Once Meg went to her. Little Boy had awakened up, stretohed himself, tossed off his coverlid and held up his warm little arms to signify he "The sole right of serial publication in Queensland has been secured by the propri- tors of the " Queenslander."
was once more ready for the world to take and enjoy him. Meg bore him off over the grass to where that quiet figure in the blue blouse was sitting. " Would yon mind looking after the laddie, Nell?" she said; "I want to run into the kitchen and warm his food; it is nearly his- 3 o'clock meal-time." Nellie took the child without a word; any other time she would have jumped up with great eagerness and gone to dance him all over the lawns. " It's not interrupting you?" said Meg. " Oh no," the girl said listlessly. Meg went towards the house, drawing the reluctant Poppet with her. " I shall want yon to show me where things are kept," she said. " I can't be expected to remember Martha's and Bridget's places as well as Lizzie's." " Let me go and do it," said Poppet, " or let me tell Martha." But Meg did not leave to unhallowed hands so immensely important a thing as the mixing of nourishment for so immensely important a person as her son, especially on a summer day like this, when the sun had power to make milk dangerous as dynamite. When she came back to the garden seat with her tray Nellie's eyes were softer, for Baby was now painstakingly sticking up first one bare pink foot and than the other to be bitten, and now thrusting his curious little fingers into the meshes of her bright hair or trying to insert them in her eyes. "Here, take your little villain," she said, a trifle more life in her tone; " how well he looks, and how sweet is that white frock. I don't feel fit to hold him in this old dress. Take him and I'll ran up and change—I didn't go to church with the others this morning, and I'm just as I got up." " Oh," said Poppet in a disappointed tone, "I did hope we were going to have a really lovely afternoon all to ourselves. Whoever is it coming in at the gate ? Let's slip off and hide down near the river, and Martha can say we're not at home." But Nell was standing up and also looking through the leafy soreen. When she spoke her voice had a metallic sound. " It is the Brownlows," she said, "and Miss Lyttleton who is staying with them. Will you go, Meg? And Esther is about somewhere. I must fly upstairs and change this dress; I didn't know it was so late." " Oh, Esther and I entertain them if you'd rather not bother about changing your dress," Meg said. "I dare say they won't stay long." The girl who was staying at the Brownlows' —was not this the dark-eyed Queen Esther of Bunty's wretched story? Of coarse Nell would rather not see her in her present mood. But the girl's young head was very high. " I shan't be ten minutes dressing," she said, and moved hastily to the wide veranda steps. " Poppet, go and see Martha gets tea nicely ready, will you? I didn't make any little cakes to-day, but there are wafers and scones. Get a clean tray-cloth, the drawn-thread one, and see Martha doesn't put the old cosey on." Meg entrusted the feeding of her Boy to Poppet, and went with Esther to entertain the callers. The men came up from the stables at the same moment, and refused to hear of the ladies going indoors, and Pip carried chairs and lounges to the favourite corner of the lawn, and Pip eagerly arranged cushions and invited Miss Lyttleton to the most comfortable seat of all. She took it and the young man's homage as a matter of course, and seated herself languidly and yet with a grace that seemed to turn the ordinary pith chair into a royal throne. A dusky, splendid beauty with velvety, mag- nificent eyes, a creamy skin and vivid lips— Misrule, from the Major to Bunty, and Esther to Essie, found itself waiting upon and admiring her most warmly. " And where is your other daughter, Major?" the beauty said, "the one who made such a success the other night as 'The Lady of Shallot' ? I told Mrs. Brownlow how much I wanted to meet her." The Major looked round. "Nellie!" he said, "where is she, Meg?— Peter, Essie—go at once and look for her. She cannot know Miss Lyttleton—and Miss Brownlow—are here." Suppose Nell had changed her mind—had found herself unequal to this unexpected ordeal! Meg gave an anxious glance at an upstairs window. " I am not sure," she said, " that she has not gone out—she was saying something an hour ago about going up to the vicarage to borrow some books." But who was this coming down the steps to disprove her words ? Nellie in the very newest gown her wardrobe held, a silky muslin of palest green, made with her own clever fingers in latest style; Nellie with a brilliant smile of welcome on her lips for the callers; Nellie, and on her cheeks a bright colour that had—be the sad secret whispered in shamed tones—been on a rose in her hat five minutes ago. Those colourless cheeks her glass had shown! Her pride aflame had snatchad at the red rose-petal that lay so temptingly at hand and had damped it and rubbed it anxio- usly, so anxiously on the cheeks where the live rose, till a week ago, had bloomed so freely. Meg was the only one who detected it; she turned to help Esther with the tea-tray, her throat tightening a little. Presently the Brownlows rose; they had promised to take their beautiful guest on to some friends farther along the road. Nell went down to the gate with them, her bright laughter and chattered soundings the most often of any one's. Bunty gave a relieved sigh once as he stood near Meg. "I knew you'd soon fix things up," he said; " she'd quite herself again, you see, and she's been as glum as a boiled owl all the week." But the girl trailed back from the gate as if suddenly tired—nothing the same about her but the gown and the fixed colour. "Why," said Poppet, who had joined the group again after a very happy hour with the Baby "all to himself,"—" I thought that dress was for the garden-party at the Thornes, Nellie ; whatever did you put it on just for tea in the garden ?" " Oh, mind your own business," said Nellie irritably, and picked up a magazine and - fected to read it.
"I thought you looked a bit dolled up my- self," Pip said; " Esther and Meg didn't eat off for their best bibs and tuckers." Nellie looked at him coldly. " Allow me the privilege of managing my own wardrobe," she said. Even Esther had a word to say. " I'd take it off now if I were you, Nell," she said ; "it won't look half so fresh on Thursday if you don't. It really is quite a triumph—the pretti- est dress you ever had." " Oh," yawned Nellie, " I don't know that I care to go on Thursday, it is sure to be like all other garden-parties." Click went the far-off gate again. " We must have some more tea mad," said Esther; " that has stood too long. "Essie, go and ask Martha to come down for the teapot she has not brought me the hot-water kettle." Four visitors this time, all on horseback. Sybil Moore, small, dainty in a white linen riding-habit, a sailor hat and gossamer; Ralph Moore, her eighteen-year-old brother, whom Nellie's beauty reduced always to a state of semi-idiocy; Edgar Twynam, a plain-faced quiet-natured cousin of the family, and, riding last of all, Captain Reginald Morton, the ' show" cousin of the family. Surely Nellie was going through an ordeal of fire this calm Sunday afternoon. Meg's eyes sprang to her; the girl looked quite odd for a moment, so drained of colour were her cheeks —all but those pink patches from the rose petals. The next minute up came a wave of pink to neck, ears and forehead. Bunty crossed the lawn, so clumsily he almost upset the tea-table. He ranged himself by Nellie's side; you saw his shoulders were squared and could almost fancy his hands were clenched. He scowled heavily at the last horseman. But Nellie—Nellie of course was herself again by this time. She ran to kiss Sybil, to untie her gossamer, to offer a palm fan; she flung a laughing word to her abject Ralph, another to Twynam, another, just as gay, to Morton. Bunty drew a breath of relief and sat down. Had be expected Nellie to treat them to a hysterical attack ? Even after Esther's teapot was emptied for a second time, and the seltzogene and fruit syrups had been carried down for the thirsty riders, no one made a move of departure. The Misrule garden with its face to the river, the cool, soft stretches of shade afforded by the "old trees, its flowers, its frank, happy-natured young people, and the absence everywhere of constraint, was the pleasantest place in the neighbourhood on Saturday and Sunday after- noons. The Major dropped off to sleep on a lounge, a doll's lace cape over his face to keep off the flies. Bunty carried young Moore off to see his neatly-mended puncture. Pip bore the dainty Sybil down to the boatshed to see the altera- tions he had made in the sailing-boat, and Nellie strayed about the paths with Edgar Twynam, and was so very sweet and gracious to him and looked so lovely that the level headed fellow, who in all his thirty-two years had only felt the slightest prickings of the Cupid he had heard so much about, went home with as sharp a dart in his heart as the one that had transfixed young Ralph. The Captain was left sitting on the grass, exchanging small, very small, talk with Esther and Meg. His eyes followed Nellie up and down, up and down. He dragged at his magnificent moustache when her merry laughter floated across the grass and flung itself in his face. He had really flattered himself up to a week ago that he had made a great impression on this lovely child, and though not in a state of bondage sufficient to make him cease his attentions to various other beauties he ad- mired, he still felt much chagrin that she seemed heedless of him now. At last Monday's theatricals had she not filled up her pro- gramme for the dance that followed entirely without reference to him. She had said lightly, when he reproached her, that she was sorry she had no space, but there were so many very old friends there that night. There had been a moonlight picnic on the Thursday evening, and she had managed to make herself quite unapproachable to him, kept a shy girl friend beside her half the time, and for the rest of the time joined the circle that was singing round the bush fire in pre- ference to the couples who were sauntering about in the moonlight. And this afternoon here she was giving the whole of her attention to Twynam, and entirely ignoring himself. He forced an opportunity to speak to her alone just before he left. "Have I done anything to offend you, Nellie ?" he whispered, and bent his handsome, reproachful eyes on her. Nell looked up at him with quiet dignity. "Yes," she said, "you offend me by that use of my Christian name. It is a familiarity only allow to old friends." He looked at her narrowly. " I thought," he said, "I fancied we were becoming very good friends." " Did you ?" said Nellie politely. " Have you forgotten," his voice was lower still, " you gave me four dances not six weeks ago—and we sat out one, here in this very garden ? And yet on Monday you would give me none." Nellie looked at him quietly. " Perhaps I had begun to see," she said, " that you were incapable of understanding that giving you four dances was not a license to treat me with disrespect. Now I must go, I see Sybil is mounting." The Captain stared at her a moment, but he had neither brains enough nor good feeling enough to really feel the snub, and when she moved away, lightly, brightly to the group on the path, he followed perforce, shook hands all round, and rode away down the uneven path, his magnificence in no way dimmed. But after they had all gone the red patches stood out on white cheeks again, and the green-clad figure crossed into the house as if suddenly wearied with hard dancing or riding. She did not even come down to tea—said the afternoon sun had made her head ache. The decisive battles might be over, but guerilla warfare would trouble the young general in all weak spots for many a day to come (To be continued.)