|Chapter Title||IRIS AT THE GRANGE.|
|Newspaper Title||Illustrated Sydney News (NSW : 1853 - 1872)|
|Trove Title||Iris: An Australian Story|
IRIS AT THE GRANGE.
To a girl accustomed to a retired life, and removed from society, the dinner was no slight ordeal, but Iris maintained a quiet dignity throughout, and, very observant of her friend and hostess, conducted herself with ordinary propriety, only a hot flush on her cheek betrayed mental disquiet.
The usual topics, the weather, recent amusements,
and so on, were discussed; the low, rich, voice of the visitor not being heard often, but her hearers were obliged to recognise that she had gathered much in the eighteen years of her life, and
was no dreamer.
After dinner they sauntered into the grounds, and old Mr. Rainsford drew Iris away from the others, and, not being over gentle at the best of times in speech, bluntly went at his subject and told her some of his wishes. He wanted her to tell him what he could do to help her in the art which seemed so much to her ; and, above all, if her mother was in need of anything, he was to be acquainted with it, and much more he said, kindly meant, but somewhat prematurely.
Iris, a motionless figure in cream-white draperies, her crown ol golden hair glittering in the light of the rising moon, listened to all this in a wondering way. Not recognising the practical help he intended, it seemed to her as visionary as the trees and hills all shadowy in the evening light.
Unconsciously she drew within herself and said, 'Thank you,' in a mechanical way, for the old man had roused thoughts and wishes in her heart too strong to be easily put aside, and had hurt her sense of independence.
When they entered the drawing-room Allan was seated at the piano, a magnificent grand, in black and gold, and Iris whose taste for music had been seldom gratified, settled herself luxuriously in the low chair which her host had wheeled near it, prepared to enjoy a treat, which, fortunately, was
before her, for young Rainsford was a born musician, and without books, interpreted Schubert and Beethoven with exquisite truthfulness and beauty. Quaint rondos, dainty gavottes, soul stirring marches and fugues followed one another in a long wave of harmony. Then the player rose, and taking a fauteuil near Iris began to talk to her.
He was not a keenly observant man, yet, as he had glanced at her face when he first rose from the piano, he was struck by its wistful, pathetic beauty, and his first words rose irom his heart,
" You love music ?"
Her beautiful clear brown eyes were lifted to his as she answered, a little tremulously, " I do ; almost too much I think." Then, as if vexed at having allowed herself to show her feelings so plainly, she coloured a little, and the soft look died from
" But you cannot love too much so ennobling a think as music," her companion said gently.
Iris looked down absently at the carpet for a few seconds, and then, with her eyes on the two playing chess at the end of the room, she said, " You do not understand me, Mr. Rainsford ; we have not lived the same kind of life, and all things we judge from our individual niche in the world, and our feelings cannot be the same on these matters. Music is to me a forbidden delight, and reading almost so - and I cannot explain why to you, it would be useless," with a sad smile, " but I thank you for the pleasure you have given me tonight ; " and then, pleasantly, " The air is so lovely out here."
The summer breeze, gently wafting the curtains aside, brought a delicious coolness and fragrance into the room, and Iris, leaning her fair head against the chair, turned her face for a minute towards the long French window.
Allan Rainsford looked at her and thought he had never seen a fairer picture than this young girl ; her soft dress clinging to an exquisite figure, her slim white throat and pure face in profile against the amber curtains, and the sweet, resolute mouth that could say such pathetic, yet wise little sayings - was not that the chiefest charm ?
Allan was young and impressionable, and his life was remarkably easy, not in any way conducive to deep thought or realization of the graver side of life. This was owing to the care of his father, who was inclined to be like the king in fairy lore, who shut up the young prince in a diamond-walled room, that he might never see pain or distress, or storm in nature, or strife. And when he was twenty years of age he was allowed to walk in the palace garden. A wounded bird fluttered down before him on the path, and as he took it up in wonder, after a few feeble struggles, it ceased to be, and the prinoe demanded of his attendants the meaning of it. Obliged to comply, they explained, and the young prince was so overcome by the thought of death, and it so preyed upon his unprepared mind, that shortly after Death claimed him also.
Not much better prepared was Joshua Rainsford's son. His father was content that he should have a good University education and then choose a profession if he wished, but his whole soul was bent
on music, and to that alone for the last three years he had given himself. He was an able amateur musician, and his father's name and influence secured for him the advantage of good society, where, his allowance being liberal, the smiles of the fair sex shone brightly o'er his path, and what with tennis parties, musical evenings, operas and theatres, his life was made gay and pleasant.
But much that was earnest and good was not brought out by this roseleaf kind of existence, and he was a stranger to the fears and struggles and hopes of his fellows who manfully fought against the stream and won a high place by their own intrinsic worth. To do him justice, something of this spoke in his own soul at times, and he felt as if he was not making the best use of his life, and the lot of his friend Meredith contrasted itself with his in bitter sharpness.
Meredith was a rising author, having an independence left him by his father, and for some time he had been living happily with his twin brother, a sister, and his mother. But one night his brother was cruelly murdered in the high road - in mistake for some one else, it was supposed - and the shock turned his mother's brain. They were obliged at last to send her to an asylum, and Meredith and his sister, almost crushed by the two consecutive troubles, lived together in utter retirement, their young lives darkened, clinging to each other in
Only rarely he came to see Allan, and his visits were always helpful. And now the tones of this girl, so wondrously beautiful, roused disgust in the careless young fellow. A wish to ease her
unhappiness or pain took possession of his heart, and with a little tender thrill at the thought, he felt it would be only too pleasant a task to woo and win this white Iris for his own, when she should have music and all her heart's desires.
" What a cool, delightful place you have chosen, Miss Vaughan !"
It was Mrs. Barry's gentle voice breaking in, and Iris turned her face from the window to smile assent at her friend. But her heart was full, and with a grave face she soon made her adieux. Declining the lemonade, and strawberries and cream just brought into the room, she hastened into the carriage. Mr. Rainsford held her hand at the door before he shut it, and earnestly invited her to come again, and urged her to remember what he had said about being of service in any way. Her low tones were audible only to two, but fell with sad meaning to them.
" It is impossible. I am a worker ; my place is not here. I think you mean to be kind, but it will better for me not to come again. Good night."
Alone in the carriage, Iris resolutely set her lips and prayed for self-control, that her mother might not see any traces of the tumult in her mind when she should reach home. For she was only human, and had a girl's love for beauty and dainty things, and delighted in music and in pleasant, genial company, such as she had been in that night.
A bitter discontent with her lot came over her, together with a sense of wrong that she and her
mother were in such straits while others revelled in luxury and ease.
It was the old cry that can never cease, " Why
are not all men favored alike ?"
In that chair by the window, Iris had felt how cruel it was to bring her into this place, and almost hated the kindness, so-called, that invited her, only to hinder her from earning the bread that was so hard to earn, and make her discontented with her life, and had felt a wish to get away from the place before these useless thoughts took stronger possession of her.
What would her mother think if she could see
her heart ? Would she not be ashamed of her envy
and discontent ?
So she tried to keep the rebellious thoughts down and think of that patient noble soul, and to divert ber thoughts as far as might be she kept her eyes on the long rows of brilliantly-lighted shops as the carriage rolled rapidly along from Hawthorn, down the Richmond road, the Parade, down Collins street, where followers of Esculapius hold out bright red lights for the suffering ; up noisy Swanston street and past the Public Library to the obscure part of Carlton where Mrs. Vaughan lived
Quietly and lovingly, the mother's kiss fell on the girl's face as she came into the dimly-lit room, and much outspoken anxiety was in the mother's eyes ; but Iris seemed cheerful, had enjoyed herself, and said that Mr. Rainsford had spoken kindly to her about wishing to help them in any way that he could.
Then, with womanly deftness, she made cocoa
and cut thin bread and butter for her mother's
supper, and sat on a low hassock enticing her to eat it. And the elder woman, with loving hand on the golden head, thrilled with motherly pride in the rare beauty which shone in that little room like a light in a dark place.
' Mother, I shall finish that painting for Mrs. Morcombe tomorrow, I expect, and, oh, I do hope she will let me have one of the girls as a pupil ; if she likes it she may."
" She will be very pleased with it, Iris, I think ; it is a nice bit of painting and a very novel design, said Mrs. Vaughan, critically, as the young artist produced a long strip of moss-green satin painted with roses, yellow, flesh-color, salmon, deep red, with foliage green and autumnal, and little beetles feeding on a leaf now and again.
This order, if promptly remunerated, would pay the week's rent, buy food, a new pair of boots for herself, and a thinner dress for her mother, calculated Iris, with a painful anxiety, which never could be realised by anyone who has not been in
such straitened circumstances.
It is a bitter thing to an honest mind to be made
to pay current claims, and to this girl of eighteen, whose exertions alone supported the two, the burden was often terribly heavy.
When she kissed her mother and whispered " Good night," she was struck afresh by her mother's extreme pallor and the too transparent beauty of
her skin. A sudden fear lest the end was nearer
than she thought, filled her heart with sudden terror, and with a wild cry which she could not
control, she cried, " Mother ! you are worse to-night !"
And indeed the feeble walk, the wasted figure, the unearthly beauty of the face, such as one sometimes sees in the dying, were only too evident. The time was nearer, and when her mother kissed her lovingly and gently, and acknowledged that she ' did not feel so well to-night,' Iris turned into her tiny little room and cried as if her heart
How could she live without her mother ! that brave, steadfast angel, who had taught her everything that she herself knew, and in all their anxiety had been so cheerful and patient, and had borne the grumbling and discontent of the younger soul without reproach or anger, for ' had not Iris
so much to learn,' queried her mother, in loving
Oh, girls, care for your mothers ; they bear much for you and love you with a wonderful love ; its ministrations encompass your life from morning to night, and from night to morning, and when their busy hands are folded in death you have not felt the parting one-thousandth part as much as they. We are too apt to take our mothers for granted those who live in wealth and peace especially ; perhaps we may wake to their value only when they are gone, and if so, God pity us !