|Chapter Number||VIII. (Continued).|
|Newspaper Title||The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 - 1954)|
|Trove Title||Sisters Three|
[NOW FIRST PUBLISHED.]
N. V. PHILPOTT.
[ALL RIGHTS RESERVED]
CHAPTER VIII. (Continued).
Another day was nearly spent when a horseman rode swiftly to the door and Arthur Thorald sprang from the saddle.
Margaret's face went scarlet and then
white as snow.
"I will never speak to him again," she cried, "you must see him, Nan, and send him away," and she passed quickly on through the side door, just as the man who had so deeply wounded her entered
Nan would see him readily enough. It would be a special pleasure to "put him down," and send him about his business.
She gave him a chilly little smile as he approached, and said, carelessly.
"Back again ? - I thought you had left Tarrubin for good."
Haggard, as if he had not slept, tired out, from his thirty-mile gallop. Mad splashed and travel stained; he did not look by any means the same fine gentle- man who had parted from her the day before. Nan was glad to see him so changed.
'He loved her, in his own. way," thought she. "It is right that he should
"Nan I What does this mean?"
She did not ask him to explain, she gave him a look hard and scornful, straight into his eyes.
"Where is Margaret?" he asked again.
"Margaret will not see you Mr. Thor- ald. She is in her room."
" But I say she must see me!" he an- swered hotly. "What does she mean by sending me such a message as that? and, forbading me to write to her! When it was only yesterday she promised to be my
"Ah, but she has changed her mind since yesterday!"
"I cannot believe it. It is not pos- sible! have you been hearing anything about me? I am certain she loved me
yesterday. She cannot have changed so
"How dare you make a boast of it?" cried Nan in a blaze of anger. "But you are altogether wrong. She liked you, we all liked you! but we have found you out, and mean to blot yon clean out of our
"Oh, so that's it, is it ?" he asked with a short laugh. "You have found me out? Do you mind telling me what my
"No crime at all. Something quite harmless in itself, but enough to shew us we were very silly in allowing you to come here on such a friendly footing."
"Let me see Margaret," said he. "What right have you to stand between
"Every right when she wishes it. You had better go - there is nothing else to be
"There is something more which she herself must say," said he, sternly. " She
cannot know that I am here?"
Nan laughed in his face.
"Do you think yourself quite irresist- able?" said she. "Margaret does know you are here, and she told me to see you and send you away; she herself will never speak to you as long as she lives!"
"Was that her message?" he asked, an angry fiush rising to his brow. "Thank you, Nan, for taking so much trouble. I congratulate you both on possessing such tender, womanly hearts!"
Then, without another word, he swung himself out of the room, reached his horse, and rode away.
Margaret bravely and resolutely tried to put away out of her life all memory of the man who had so deeply wronged her. She was glad no one had known of the brief engagement, outside of their own house. Hilary had not happened to call while it lasted, and now that it was no more, she commanded Nan to keep it from
"The less that's said about it, the easier it will be to forget," said she. " I want you dear girls to be cheerful and bright, just as you used to be. When I see you looking quiet and sorrowful, it reminds
me of the fool I have been."
"You were not the only fool," said Nan. "We were all as ready as you to swear by him!"
"All except Lill" sighed Freda. "I wish we had been guided by her hints and warnings."
"You needn't except me," said Lily, flashing. "I was as bad as the rest of you, once I had spoken to him, but I did not like to give in."
"There, there, say no more !" cried Margaret, unable to bear this. "We'll be wiser next time, we learn wisdom slowly, so we shall be able to profit by this les- son; only don't speak of him my dears, and you'll find it easy to forget!"
"Isn't she grandly sensible!" ex- claimed Freda, a little later, when she and the two younger sisters were together. "Fancy her being able to forget him simply because he is a worthless scamp!"
"Yes," said Nan, slowly. "To forget is a great gift."
She carefully avoided looking at Lily as she spoke. If Freda thought Margaret had forgotten, so much the better, but well they knew, those two who had grown up beside her, that Margaret could never
Oh, the agony of living through the
weeks ot torture that followed! the an- guish inconceivable to all those who have
never loved and lost!
To look out on the fair world, bathed in the mellow flame of the soft March sun- light, to see the pale underside of the leaves uplifted to the whispering breeze in palpitating ecstasy; to feel the beauty of the living world all round and above her, and to know the key that would put her in touch with those glories was lost in the discordant tumult of her ruined inner
Hilary often came, and they would all go boating together, laughing and talking merrily, as if there was never a heart ache amongst them; but the endless craving of Margaret's soul was to have
done with laughter and face joy, and life
for evermore. * * * *
"What has happened to Margaret?" Hilary asked one evening, as he and Nan stood on the river bank, watching the shining water, as it lay bathed in the sensuous light of a resplendent moon.
Nan started slightly, and gave him a questioning look.
"Happened to Margaret? Why do you ask that - she is all right!"
"She is different," Hilary answered, gravely. "She is not the same girl that she was a month ago."
"What an absurd idea!" Nan said, a little crossly.
"Do you mean to say you have not noticed it?" he asked, astonished.
"Well, if she is changed, it must be because I am wasting my time on - some- body," and she laid the back of his hand lovingly against her cheek for a moment, "and leave her too much work to do."
Hilary was not to be led away from the subject by soft caresses.
"My little girl," said he, gently. " I wish you would trust me. Do you think I can't detect the false ring in her laughter sometimes - the flagging step when she thinks no one is looking? And that tired look in her eyes, thongh she forces them to smile?"
"Hilary don't. Oh, don't ask me!"
"But, my dear one, you have given me the right to ask, to know! I am her brother, and she is very dear to me. It hurts me to see her act a light heart be- fore me, as if I were a stranger. I don't believe she ever gets any sleep, those dark rings under her eyes tell their own tale."
Nan sank down on the dew-laden grass and sobbed like a heart-broken child.
"Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear, it is a dreadful world! full of misery and wretchedness and wrong !"
"Nan, my darling Nan, my own little girl," cried Hilary in deep distress, try- ing in vain 'to take the hands that held her handkerchief pressed against her wet eyes. "You must not cry like this! I cannot stand it! What have I done,
what have I said."
"Don't touch me, Hilary. Oh, leave me alone! I hate myself for loving you, and for being happy, and forgetting the pain of others! I wish I could take her away, out there beyond the mountains where we should never see a soul, nor hear a human voice again !"
"And leave me?"
"Oh, that's the most dreadful part of it all! to know that I could not go away, even if it were possible, because you have made me love you more than all the
"And that is very dreadful, is it ?" he asked, gently, smoothing the trembled hair back from her hot forehead. He longed to take her in his arms and com fort her, but he would not attempt it while her soul was in rebellion against his power and mastery.
"But won't you tell me your trouble, Nan? It is right that I should help to share your griefs and burdens."
"Don't ask me," she stood up with a world weary, sigh and lifted her sad eyes to his face. "You couldn't help in any way - no matter how you tried: and I have promised not to mention it, - don't ever speak of it again."
One rainy day, a few weeks after Nan's bitter self-upbraiding, Lily was sitting in the office, idly watching the heavy
drops they descended into the river, that throw splash and spray to meet
She was very tired of her own thoughts an I was beginning to wish some one nice would come and take refuge until the shower was over, - when her ear detected
the word "Thorald," ticked off by the
Her curiosity was instantly aroused, and, not caring to trust her ears alone, she stood up and began unwinding the
Two operators at distant stations were talking.
"Thorald? I know who you mean. A long legged fellow that drove a team of bays in blaring style?"
"That's the chap ! Well, I put a spoke in his wheel when he was down this way a couple of months ago."
"Glad to hear it, but how?"
"I'll tell you in a minute - but I say - do you think T.N. is on?"
"I should say not; they have been cut off all day. I nearly wore out the seat of my best Sunday pair this morning, sitting here calling them!"
"Oh, did you, indeed!" muttered Lily, wrathfully.
"You better try them now."
A short pause, and then came the call "T.N., T,N., T,N., T,N" but Lily made
"T.N. is going to improve the showery hour by hearing all about that spoke in the wheel" thought she.
"It's all right - fire away - they're cut off," said the one who had called." There was a storm in that quarter this morning, and they hate lightning as old Scratch does holy water."
"Well, you must know this Thorald was clean gone on Miss Forster."
! ! ! ! ! Several notes of exclamation here. "How did you know that?"
"Well I dropped to it when he was here one day on business. I knew he had been down that way, so I just said they must be a stunning lot a girls, and I meant to call on them some day soon. He stiffened up and nearly went for me in my own office!!"
"He's a jolly conceited fellow - and she is as bad if it comes to that."
"So I'm told. They say she's as proud as a peacock! however the affair made me have an edge on Thorald and I did
"Fire away, I want to hear the rest."
"There was a Mrs. Thorald in Sydney who was always wiring to him about little nothings - his grandmother I should say, judging by the messages - Did he sleep well? how was his appetite,' and all that kind of dog rot. Well, the day he left another wire came for him - the same kind of thing. 'Why did he not write, and how was his liver?' I was called away from a game of billiards to repeat it and I was awful mad, so I in- serted 'your loving wife,' and transmitted
it to T.N."
"Ha, ha, that was a do ! Didn't she drop down?"
"Not she! that comes of being so precious stiff - she wouldn't ask for an explanation. I heard her give him a rare old slap in the face when he wired from Nurbwick-"
Lily madly snapped the tape in two and rushed into the sitting room with yards of it streaming about her.
Margaret was seated in a low chair, reading; Freda, sitting on the carpet was. nursing a puppy and a kitten, and trying to make them live in peace and harmony; Nan was standing playing her violin, and Hilary sat close by, adoring
"Girls, it's all right! he is not married, and we are a bad lot to have believed it. A bad lot and wrong all through." And Lily sat down on the middle of the floor, laughing and cry, and beating herself all
at the one time.
Nan looked at her in amazement. "Who is not married?"
With one dash Freda scattered cat and dog the width of the room apart, and put her arms round the hysterial girl.
Hilary looked on for an instant in pro- found astonishment, he knew it was some altogether extraordinary event that caused the usually self-possessed Lily to act in this way. Then he poured out a glass of
water and said :
"Drink this Lily, do, and then tell us
what it's all about."
Only Margeret sat motionless, stiff, stricken and mute.
"Be quick Lil, who is not married?"
"She means Arthur Thorald," said Freda. "I knew it was a mistake! he looked so true!"
Nan glanced hurriedly at Magaret as she sat with white lips and eager face, grasping the arms of her chair till the finger nails were blue from the pressure.
"Go on Lil. It is Arthur ? How do you know?"
"It's all here." said Lily, growing sud- denly calm. "Read it and see. It was a joke played by that vile new fellow at Woondah, I heard him talking to Karanba when he thought we were cut off!"
"Go on, what did be say?" and Nan stamped in her impatience. "Do you think we can wait to read the tape ?"
"That last wire was from his mother, the same as the rest, and he added ' your loving wife,' because he know Arthur was gone and could not give any explana-
"Great beaven !" murmured Nan, in dismay, looking helplessly at Margaret.
"The wretch! he wants horsewhipping, he wants murdering!" exclaimed Freda, crimson with anger.
But Margaret stood up with a harsh laugh that startled everyone in the room.
"It serves me right! I am well punished for doubting him, and for not giving him a chance te explain. I can bear it all now - knowing that he was good - and he will soon forget. It serves me right!"
Then she went out, and the three girls explained to Hilary the full, true history of the brief love story so rudely broken.
"But something must be done," said he.
"Thorald must be told the truth and
brought back. He is a splendid fellow! It will never do to let this go on."
"She would never let us explain, I am certain," Nan. "You have no idea how proud she is, and to punish herself she will bear the separation" - then her face went scarlet." I am the most to blame, I ought to have known that day he rode back from Nurbwick! I ought to be whipped for treating him so brutally! He will never forgive me!"
"That is all nonsense, Nan! In justice to him you must give him a chance. Lily, you are a girl of resources and good sense! Yon won't allow this mis-
take to stand?"
Lily shot a swift warning glance at him and did not speak. Nan had never been told of a certain meeting under the granite cliffs not so many mouths ago, and had no idea of Lily's resources.
"I don't see why you should credit Lily with more sense than the rest of us!"
said she. " But if she has she must see
that it will never do to submit Margaret to the indignity of being declined with
Hilary was wise enough not to press the matter, but he determined to have a confidential talk with the youngest of the sisters when opportunity offered.
He had not very long to wait; in a little while Nan followed Margaret, and then Lily said :
"You had better not let Nan know the extent of my resources, or you will get me
"I beg your pardon. Lily. It was a blunder," said he. "I promise to be
more careful in future."
"I always suspected that you had a hand in putting that twist straight," said Freda. " I suppose you had a purpose in view when you sent Nan to Mrs. O'Brien's that morning ?"
"Yes, but she would flay me alive if she
knew it !"
"You have been my best friend," said Hilary. "You will never know how much I owe you, and that's why I want you to interfere here. It is nonsense to imagine that he will bear malice. Why there is nothing a man won't forgive when he is in love, and you can let him know it is solely your own doing."
"Of course we must do something," said Lily, slowly, "but it won't be very
easy; that operator at Woondah would very likely confiscate a letter, he is bad enough for anything, but I have a plan -"
:I know!" broke in Freda, excitedly. "You write the letter and I'll deliver it when I go to Sydney in a fortnight!"
"That is better still! I was going to ask you to post it in Sydney, but if you see him you can explain everything so much better than one could on paper."
But that letter never came to be written, and presently I am going to tell why.
Nan tried to take all the blame upon
her own shoulders.
"I should have known when I saw his
white face that day," said she. "If he was a scamp he would not have ridden sixty miles for an explanation, but I would not listen to him, and enjoyed telling him
that we had done with him."
"No, Nan, the fault is mine," answered Margaret one day, sadly enough. "I had the offer of life's supreme happinesss, but I was tried and found wanting! I insult-
ed that great love and threw it away, and; now the more lonely I am, the more just it is. But, oh, I am glad he was worthy, I am glad to have known him. I thank God for those few days. A lifetime of these can never rob one of them. I shall always know I have lived!"
Nan's throat was hot and dry, and "like a living coal her heart was." She was just going to exclaim that it was too hard, too cruel, when a horseman rode fall pace along the lane, and drew rein at their door.
"He has come again. He is here," she, said, as Arthur sprang from his horse and ' bounded up the verandah steps.
She met him at the door.
"Where is Margaret ?" he demanded, , imperatively." I must see her this
Nan could have kissed him. She put her hands round his wrist and clasped it tightly for a moment.
"She is here," she answered, with shining eyes. "Forgive me, Arthur.
She did not turn to look, or stop to hear. His horse, neglected, was wandering away, and she ran lightly after him, caught the loose rein, and led him about to green patches of couch and summer grass, gathering here and there some choice morsel herself, and feeding him out of her hand. She would not have cared had a thousand pair of eyes been fixed upon her as she caressed and fed the horse that had carriad Arthur back to them.
In a little while George Washington, their messenger, came along, and she
handed him over.
"Take Mr. Thorald's horse to the
hotel," said she, "and tell them to groom him well and give him a feed in au hour. And will you go round by and bye and see that it is not 'forgotten, like a good lad? They have some nice chocolate creams at Turner's," she added, smiling, as she slipped a half-crown into his hand.
"Thankyou, Miss Nan," grinned the imp. But it was cigarettes he decided on
when he reached Turner's.
"I'm glad it was all I had," thought Nan, going back to the house. " If it was a sovereign I should have given it just the same. I am so jubilant !"
Margaret stood with hands pressed against her throat when her lover entered. As he approached, she put them out in
"Don't come nearer Arthur, don't speak to me!" she cried, but he did not
"Margaret - why did you treat me so? was it because of this?" and be held out
the fatal telegram that they had forward- ed to Sydney months ago.
"Oh, I was mad to have believed it but I have been punished. It has nearly broken my heart !"
"And in return you tried to break mine, quite?" said he, with loving reproach." I cannot account for it yet except that someone has blundered. I only got this five days ago, and I have been travelling ever since. My own, could you think so badly of me? - It was from my mother -"
"Oh, I know! I have known for three days, and I think you ought to go away, and never speak to me again!"
"Do you, do you, really?" and he be laughed joyously. "That would be letting you off too easily after all you have made me suffer. Instead of that I am going to hold you here, until you look into my eyes, and tell me you love me, and promise that you will never mistrust me again!"