|Chapter Title||UNCLE AND NIECE.|
|Newspaper Title||Illustrated Sydney News (NSW : 1853 - 1872)|
|Trove Title||Iris: An Australian Story|
UNCLE AND NIECE.
" Iris," began the impatient lover, " where are you hiding yourself ? Do you know that you are being
searched for all over Victoria ?"
" I ?" queried Iris, in troubled wonder. '"Who, why am I wanted ?"
" Your uncle, Mr. Moore, from Canada, is here and wants you to go to him."
And he told her of the anxiety her disappearance had caused, and many little points interesting to her ; and she in return let him know how she had lived and her encouraging success as an artist. With mutual confidences the time passed, and at last the modest dwelling at which Iris resided was
" Iris, how can I let you go ? You will disappear like a fairy sprite, and where shall I be then ?"
" It is impossible for me to say," she replied demurely, looking away. " But, Mr. Meredith, when can I see Mr. Moore, and where ?"
" Here, if you wish. Tomorrow morning I will bring him," said the young man eagerly. " How delighted he will be ; I shall go up to-night and tell him. He shall have a good night's rest for once. I think you will be very happy with him ; he is such a tender-hearted, fine old fellow."
" You can bring him, then," smiled Iris ; " and perhaps you will enlarge on his virtues another time, I must go in. Good night."
" Good night, Iris ; I want to say so much to you and dare not. But if I may ask a great deal of you one day, be merciful to me, my queen !"
She did not answer, but gave him her hand with pretty timidity and grace, and the loveliest pink mantled in her cheeks at the warm, long pressure it
Once more the hansom-driver was in requisition, and told to drive into his own well-known street ; then Iris, having finished her simple breakfast and arranged with her landlady to have the ugly little parlour to receive her visitors, sat there, a fair picture against a background of woolwork dogs and
white crochet mats.
When they came she saw from the window the face of the stranger, and its anxious, worn look and this brought tears into her eyes. " Was it all through her ?" she asked herself reproachfully.
" This is your niece, Miss Vaughan," said Meredith, as with beaming eyes he greeted her.
Then he left the room, and a tender, touching scene ensued between the lonely old man and the forlorn girl, and they felt drawn to each other as they talked on, and little things came out.
" And where shall we live, Iris ? You shall choose, the places are all alike to me now," said her uncle.
And she chose St. Kilda, where a charming little villa was selected, and Iris found herself once more in clean rooms, with dainty fare and ample means, with a kind relative, wishing her to feel free to follow the impulses of her generous heart ; who placed a liberal sum to her account at a Melbourne bank, and, moreover, paid all household expenses, wages, etc., himself, so that Iris should not be burdened by any heavy domestic responsibilities.
As to the occupation of her time, he wished her to continue her studies as an artist, and once more she trod the familiar path to the Art Gallery.
He would have liked her to learn music, too, without which he had a little old-fashioned idea that ladies were incomplete ; but Iris assured him she had no gift for it, and gravely represented to him that she would need all her time and energies for her work as an artist. Moreover, she would like to do what she could for the poor and distressed.
" I cannot say how glad I am that you have learnt the true value of money, my child," he said; " it would have hurt me to see my sister's only girl selfish and extravagant, like so many of her sex ; and I am only too glad to provide luxuries that never were mine in my youth, and see you wisely distribute the good things God has given me. Will you always stay with me, Iris ?"
" I don't want to go away from you, uncle," faltered Iris. " Why should I ?"
" Well, my dear," remarked the old man, " other, people may want to take you away. I think it quite probable, but I tell you what I should like, Iris ; let us stay here for about six months, and by that time I hope you will be fat and rosy."
" Uncle," laughed Iris, " I couldn't endure it. Imagine an artistic soul " fat and rosy !"
" Well, strong, then," amended he, looking at the delicately-tinted face and graceful, supple form, with an inward conviction that she was well nigh perfect as it was ; " and when I see you are strong enough, I shall take you for a long tour around the world - to India and Japan, Italy and Borneo, and to Canada."
" Uncle," ejaculated his niece, her mind working rapidly, as with delight and wonder she heard the proposition. She clasped her hands tightly and looked at him with a face of beaming gratitude. " I think it will be lovely, and it seems too good to be true," she said.
" Now, be off with you," remarked he, well pleased at her delight in his plan, " and don't come to grief with the ponies. Remember, James must drive you through the streets ; you must only drive in the park."
The bright little equipage, dark green, with cream ponies, was to be seen every day at the door, and Iris, sometimes with her friend, Madeline Meredith, went for long exhilarating drives round the coast, through the suburbs, and occasionally along the St. Kilda Road to town, where her fair face and some inkling of her romantic little history and the likelihood of her being heiress to the Canadian millionaire (as rumour made him out to be) caused her to be a very attractive feature in Collins Street.
Not often was Jack Meredith to be found 'on th block' ; but one afternoon, just as the ponies drew up at Mullens', he came out from the doorway, and greeted Iris.
He had seen Iris only once since the happy evening at Mrs. Wynne's, and it was but natural that he should make use of the unexpected opportunity. He approached the carriage and raised his hat to Iris, who was dignified, but evidently pleased to see him, and reproached him for not having called before.
" You are ceremonious, not friendly," she said with just a touch of hurt feeling in her voice.
A torrent of words rushed to his lips, but the time and place held them back. He looked at her lovely face, and at once made up his mind.
" Iris, I will call again to-night. May I come
to dinner ?' he said in a determined tone.
Something in the manner of her would-be love told Iris why he wished to come, and she felt
strange nervousness and timidity taking possession of her. With big, frightened eyes she looked up at him, and he, taking possession of one little hand, hurriedly whispered :
" Don't you want me to come, Iris? I must tell your uncle to-night. My little girl, be kind to me."
" I want you to come," she murmured in such a soft and low key, that it was a marvel he even heard it ; but he did, and walked on air for the remaining
couple of hours before he met her again at St Kilda.
As Meredith sat at the dinner-table that night, he might have been eating anything for all the interest he took in the well-served viands, so entirely
were his thoughts occupied with the fair maiden at
the end of the table.
Not quite so self-possessed as usual, and blushing every now and then in a way that made her look simply a goddess to the worshipping dark eyes that hardly knew how to keep their gaze away from her. Iris was enough to bewitch any mortal heart.
An old-fashioned punctiliousness on her uncle's part obliged her to dress elaborately for dinner every night, and in her black lace dress, square-cut at the neck, and with transparent lace sleeves to the elbow, and a bunch of snowy rosebuds at her breast, she looked most lovely.
Mr. Moore found Meredith a silent companion after Iris went into the drawing-room ; and so after a brief delay they followed her.
A beautiful little conservatory adjoined the apartment, and here a glimpse of snowy arms and a head of gold was visible through the masses of green fronds and tropical palms. Feeling anxious about some of his pet bulbs or seeds, Mr. Moore began diving under a shelf, and was soon absorbed in his occupation, for he was an enthusiastic florist.
Suddenly becoming satisfied with his investigations, he put his little packets away and looked around for his companions. But Meredith had made the best of the precious moments. With burning eloquence he had poured his soul out before his queen, and had prayed for a definite answer. And as that answer did not readily come, all the anxiety that is in the heart of every good man at a time spread over his face and into his words.
" I know I am not good enough for you, Iris ; no one on the face of this earth is. But I have loved you since I first saw you, and would do all I could to make you happy if you would only let me try."
Iris could not withstand the tender pleading voice,
and the wealth of love in the rich dark eyes. She remained still for a moment ; then suddenly she looked up into his face with all the deep
tenderness of her womanly soul glowing in her bright eyes, and said, blushing deeply :
" You need not say any more."
Then he drew her passionately towards him and
folded her in his manly arms.
" Iris, my darling," he whispered, " how can I ever
thank you for this ?" And a rain of warm kisses fell
on her soft throat and sweet little mouth.
" Ahem ! " ejaculated a voice. And Mr Moore, with his spectacles on, stood in no little amazement at
the unwonted sight ; and various suspicions which
picions which had stirred within him, at the dinner table that evening, resolved themselves into unmistakable certainty.
" I suppose you would like to have a little chat with
me, Mr. Meredith ?" he said not unkindly, as the black lace dress vanished through the open door, and the glowing face and erect form of the young lover
courageously faced him.
" I was going to ask that favour of you, sir," replied Meredith in a manly way, following his host from the conservatory into the empty drawing-room.
The interview proved satisfactory, and presently Mr. Moore went up to Iris in her little boudoir, and taking her in his arms, said :
" And do you love him truly, Iris ? It all seems so
Very sweetly and gravely she answered :
" I do, uncle ; but I won't leave you for a long, long while."
" You say that to Mr. Meredith, child," remarked the old gentleman, with a rather melancholy twinkle in his eye ; " and now I am going out into the garden to have a smoke, and you must see that your guest has a glass of wine, dear - and - God bless you both, my child." Then he kissed her again with unwonted emotion, and went slowly downstairs.
The light footsteps that followed the retreating ones of Mr. Moore fell like music on the ears of the waiting lover. So deep and heartfelt was his love and reverence for the fair girl he had won, that all the natural exuberance of youth was absent from him, and a silent bliss fell on both as he drew Iris to a couch and laid her head on his breast, kissing the glittering tresses with fond tenderness.
* Do you remember that night at Mrs. Wynne's ?" he asked her. " Oh ! my darling girl, I was proud to hear you that night speaking so sweetly and bravely to those girls, and then that lovely poem I shall never forget it. Who wrote it ?'
" A deaf girl in America - Miss A. Fuller ; I read it once in a popular magazine, and never forgot it," she replied, her hand caressing his with a loving touch that seemed to make a paradise of earth.
" Do you know that I am to see that you have supper ?" she said presently, raising her fair head
and looking at him with her soft, shining eyes.
" And that means that you will be keeping me at a long distance," he said, reluctantly, as she rose and rang the bell, and then seated herself in a low chair a little way off, smiling at his last remark.
Mr. Moore came in at this moment, and partook of some wine and cake with them. He was kindly oblivious to slight incoherencies on his guest's part, as he started a little general conversation, and very pleased he seemed as his keen loving eyes noted the genuine contentment and happiness expressed in the face of Iris, and the entire trust that beamed in her eyes when she looked at her lover.
" Surely," he thought, " there is a life of happiness for these, as far as may be possible in an earthly home, and yet how many have started with a fair promise, and have become shipwrecked."
With a weary feeling and a little soreness of heart, he recalled the story of his only love. She had not cared for him, and the man she had married under bright auspices had proved utterly selfish, unreasonable, and unpractical ; and soon the whole burden of life came upon her shoulders, and she died early, worn out by incessant care and trouble.
And his poor sister brought almost to starvation ! There was only one thing he could do - he would settle all his wealth upon Iris for the use of herself and of her children solely ; the rest he must leave in higher hands.
He said ' good-night ' cordially to Meredith, as the latter rose to take his departure ; and after his guest had left he bade Iris retire to rest, while he sat thinking dreamily in his chair.
' We will start on our travels in a few days,' he said to himself at last, and then left the room.