|Chapter Title||THE TWO FRIENDS.|
|Newspaper Title||Illustrated Sydney News (NSW : 1853 - 1872)|
|Trove Title||Iris: An Australian Story|
IRIS : AN AUSTRALIAN STORY.
THE TWO FRIENDS.
' Well, old man, and now you have it ; and I'm awfully glad you came in to-night, of all nights, for I feel so disgusted about the afiair, and yet - the governor's heart is set on it, and I don't see how l'm to go against him. '
The speaker throws himself back in his chair and puffs rather fiercely at his cigar, and his friend,
Jack Meredith, quietly watches him, and there is
silence for a few seconds.
' I don't know that your plight is quite so desperate, Allan,' he says, meditatively, and there is a sadness and gravity in the voice which marks as great a dissimilarity between the two men as one finds in the faces, not caused evidently by the topic under discussion, but a part of the man ; a trace of the pain and sorrow of life, from which he cannot escape any more than other human atoms tossed about in the world's whirlpool. His face is pale, and the features strongly marked, with dark eyes. Inscrutable, not handsome, is Jack Meredith, but his friends find him strong and faithful, and a brilliant talker at times, when the grave reserve from which he looks out on things and men thaws a little, and a spirit of geniality
and touch of satire show that gravity and good
sense do not altogether constitute the character of
this friend of Allan Rainsford.
They are sitting in the smoking-room at the Grange, and looking out on green slopes which lose themselves in the rich wild growth on the banks of the Yarra, now gleaming purple and rose and gold in the light of a brilliant Australian sunset. The scent of roses fills the air with fragrance, and the hum of myriads of gauze winged insects makes a very Babel of fairy sounds and voices, and the two figures in easy Indian
lounging-chairs are becoming a little indistinct in
the growing darkness of the room.
Allan Rainsford's voice, a little eager, breaks the silence. ' Why do you say that, Meredith, don't you think my lines are rather hard ?'
I don t know. She might not do you the honour to become your wife, if you could bring yourself to ask her,' replies his friend coolly. ' Women must be won, and I trust you have passed from the narrow-minded stage which makes men imagine that any of the fair sex is to be had for the asking.'
' Did I say I did ?' queries Rainsford, flushing a little but good-natured withal. ' And besides, I don't mean any disrespect to this young lady,
Jack ; only the way I'm told she is to be my wife, just to make an old sore right between her father and mine, makes me feel as if she is just the woman out of all the world that I don't want ; but I shall see her tomorrow for the first time, and then, old man, be prepared to hear my -'
' Raptures,' suggests his friend, his voice almost drowned in the clangor of the dressing-bell, and they walk away together.
The long drawing-room at the Grange is lighted in the artistic and pleasant fashion of the day, by lights shining softly through tinted globes ; and porcelain and ruby glass, polished cabinets and mirrors, inlaid work and ivory carving are seen in a glorious juxtaposition of colour and rich Oriental beauty that would almost satisfy the fastidious eye of Sir Frederick Leighton, that lover of beauty and harmony in our rooms, that true artist whose influence has done so much for the artistic adornment of English homes.
But old Mr. Rainsford was no artist, and that his home was very beautiful and yet a thorough home was due to his wealth, and to his own good sense in deferring to those whose taste and judgment he
felt to be better than his own.
He had his gifts ; industry and perseverance went hand in hand with them,: and in the comparatively early days of the colony gold showered down on him ; and now on his one son and his home every care and comfort were lavished in these the closing years of his life.
Sometimes, a strange look was seen in the face of this successful man, a look almost of despair and remorse. Perhaps a certain scene in a humble room (years ago now) could never be quite obliterated from his mind : a woman's white face, always the most beautiful in the world to him, pleading for her husband, who had forged his employer's name for ten pounds; driven to it by the illness and distress of his wife and child, miserably clothed and housed and fed.
As if it were yesterday, Joshua Rainsford hears the hard voice telling her that ' justice has claims,' and ' wrong must be punished,' and with a bitter shame recalls the spiteful half-whisper in her ear, ' You'd have done better to marry me,' and the maddened look of her husband's face, and ah, worst of all, the cold scorn and disgust in the voice of Iris Vaughan as she answered, ' I always felt you to be cold and selfish, but to-day you have offered me cruelty and insult ; now go.' Then, moving to her husband's side, she lovingly pressed his hand, and the pain and shame he had left with
them were as nothing compared with the torture in the heart of Joshua Rainsford as he slowly wended his way home, with that last picture engraved on his memory for ever.
And next his thoughts dwell on a paragraph in the Argus :- Richard Vaughan, after long illness, aged 36 ;' and later still, by some careless talk, he learns that the widow is very ill and in straitened circumstances. Something touches him at last, and he thinks that perhaps he may atone a little for his bitter cruelty in the past, and he vows before God that all he can do to bring happiness and comfort to Iris Vaughan he will do.
It seemed something of a miracle when a cheque for £50 was sent to the little cottage in Carlton, with a short letter in an unknown hand, to say that it was the payment of a debt owing to Richard Vaughan. Later on, Mrs Barry-a widowed sister of Joshua Rainsford, who had managed his house and cared for his little boy ever since his wife died some years back-called, and gave some orders for several hand-painted cards, having learnt that Miss Vaughan was a clever young amateur artist, and now the acquaintance had ripened- almost into intimacy between gentle Mrs. Barry and the Vaughans.
With some fear and trembling, Joshua Rainsford took the next step, and indited a short letter to the sad-faced woman whose days were to be few now ; and, as on the verge of another land, a quiet, forgiving note came back. She could never leave the
house again, but Iris could go if she would. Innocent, beautiful Iris, who knew nothing of the past, she should have all her mother could leave her of kindness and comfort in the world ; and in her anguish, her mother prayed that a measure of peace and joy might be given to the orphan girl.
In the summer evening they wait in the Grange drawing-room for Iris Vaughan. In Mrs. Barry's womanly hands, bright needles flash as she busily knits ; and her brother stands motionless on the hearthrug, with bent head. The carriage has been sent for the visitor, and now it is heard at the door, and a minute later Iris stands in the spacious hall, with its foreign weapons and curios, and
Words of friendly welcome greet the girl's ears, and she is taken up the broad staircase to remove her hat, and then into the cool, beautiful room, which delights her artistic soul at once, and Allan
Rainsford is introduced.
One quick glance into her face as he bows, and a
sudden interest is aroused in his heart ; words spoken an hour ago yesterday eve recur unpleasantly to his mind, and it would seem as if the
dainty figure in the soft cream-colored dress is the most self-possessed in the room, for Joshua Rainsford, try as he will, cannot be unmoved with this living image of his old love before him, and when they leave the drawing-room for dinner, it is half over before the host can trust his voice to speak to