|Newspaper Title||West Gippsland Gazette (Warragul, Vic. : 1898 - 1930)|
|Trove Title||Noel: Or Love and War|
NOEL. Or LOVE AND WAR. By "WAIF WANDER." . The fair, bright Broken River, By a thousand homes it goes; And its murmurs make sweet music That many a fair maid knows. Sweet notes of rippling waters, Inlaid with sunny gleams, That many a fair Australian maid Hears singing in her dreams. Colonel and Mrs Brandt sat on the broad verandah of their pretty home on the banks of the Broken River. The garden, with its wilderness of foliage and flower, ran down to the very border of the bright stream from which the sweet sunny morning air of spring reached them, and brightened the creeping roses that nodded in rich clusters above their heads. They were not alone. Two young people stood on the gravel of the space in front of the cottage; one, the Colonel's only child, a bright-looking girl, who looked far younger than her real years. No one could call Plevna Brandt beauti ful, for her face was charmingly irregu- lar, but there were intellect and soul looking from under the long lashes of her lovely grey eyes, and her rosy cheeks and sweet lips were expressive of a child's dainty innocence. She was taller than the middle height, had a slim yet rounded figure, full of supple promise, and a hidden skin so fair as to mock the sun-tanned face, and brown ungloved tands that were so small and shapely and yet so strong. The young man, whose horse was tied to the fence outside, and whose hand rested on the latch of the gate, was twenty-four or five. A decidedly good- looking young fellow, and so well dress- ed as to suggest perhaps a little too much of the city fop. At the moment he was introduced there was more than a shadow on his face, and he had moved to the gate with evident reluctance. "I am greatly disappointed, Plevna," he said, reproachfully, "I considered that I had your promise." "You were mistaken, Bert; if I had even half-promised I should have gone, even if it had been disagreeable to me. As it is, I would not lose the last of the lovely wattle days for all the picnics of future years. Just look at Jerry! Do you think Jerry would ask us to go to a stupid picnic while the river is actually calling us to go out in the boat? No, in- deed. Jerry! Neither would I! Just fancy putting on uncomfortable clothes to be stared at and criticised by a lot of would-be-fine ladies. Could I go in my old serge?" Herbert Shelley glanced gloomily at the well-worn short skirt alluded to,with- out even seeming to note the pretty feet beneath it in their strongly soled, well- fitting shoes. If he looked at Plevna's face, or even the pretty brown chin out- lined by the white-trimmed sailor collar of the serge jacket, it was so perfunc torily that a young girl's vanity might have been offended, but Plevna had no vanity, and she laughed lightly. "I suppose it's no use asking you to let me go on the river with you?" Plevna laughed again, and looked roguishly at her disappointed suitor. "Would you venture again, Bert? Oh, I can't help it indeed! You looked so fun- ny! I laugh every time I think of it! And your new suit, too! I suppose you never could wear it afterwards?" Young Shelley's face flustered darkly. "You know it was only an accident, Plev na, and your ridiculous dog was entirely to blame for it. I see there is no use de- taining you from your favorite amuse- ment, which, by the way, I think is scarcely safe for you to enjoy alone. Good morning, Mrs Brandt, God morning, Colonel." and with the salutation Shelley mounted and rode quickly away. Mrs Brandt's pleasant motherly-looking face clouded a little, the Colonel smiled furtively behind his hand. "My dear, I wouldn't so often allude to that misfor- tune to Herbert, if I were you," said Mrs Brandt "Perhaps not, mamma, but it was in evitable when he asked to go with me again. I had nearly asked him if he had learned to swim yet; it seems unnatural to think of a man be:ng unable to swim. And he called Jerry my ridiculous dog! Why, dad, if it hadn't been for Jerry dragging at his leg, I belive he would have been drowned before I could help help him for laughing. Poor Bert." Jerry, who was a rough-haired dog of medium size and no particular breed, hearing his name introduced began to bark loudly and to seize with his teeth a lit:le bundle tied up in a white towel or napkin, that was lying on the edge of the verandah among the roses. "You needn't be shaking your head at me, dad," the girl went on, "for I know you are laughing! If you had seen poor Bert sprawling among the rushes when he slipped and fell out of the boat with Jerry pulling at his fine new pants, you would have laughed more! Good bye, mamma, I shan't be home to lunch—Jerry and I are going to make a day of it. I'll row up as far as the creek and bring back a boat load of wattle. I'm afraid it will be the last. All right, you ridiculous dog, Jerry, come on: now we're off;" and off ther were, Jerry dropping the bundle and scampering down the garden before Plevna as if the boat and the river were a: the moment the sole object of his doggy ambition. 'I'mn vexed that she doesn't favor Her- bert more," the good woman said when she and the colonel were alone. "He is really a fine young fellow with property in 1 every way desirable. You know, George, she will not always be a child." "Let her be a child as long as she can," the colonel said. heartily, as he rose and , took his tall, soldierly figure down to the level of the garden. "Don't, for my sake, begin to try and matchmake for our girl. N-o matter how de?irable in every way young Shelley may be I don't want to see I my only child settled in Australia. I have been thinking that as our lease of I this place has nearly expired, we had bet- ter get home to the old country again." Mrs Brandt looked in wonder at her husband. "I had no idea you thought of going home so soon." "So soon! We have been nearly seven a years here, my dear Sybella. Our object has been fully accomplished. Plevna has grown into a strong and healthy young woman. You remember what she was when we brought her here, a delicate girl with so weakachest that I dreaded for her that terrible consumption that is so insati able in its cravings for young life. I thank God He has spared us our one darl- ing. And now you want to marry her to Herbert Shelley?" a "We shall wish to see her settled some day, George," the wife said deprecatingly. "We shall wish to see her happy when her own heart has chosen its mate, my love. The darling does not know she has a heart yet; when Plerna does love it will be for good or evil, but forever." "Don't talk of an evil choice for our dear one, George." "When it is made I do not think it will be for evil, my dear. Plevna is a girl of a thousand, with the instincts of a true woman and a heart of gold. She will never care any more than she does now for Her- bert. She looks upon himn as a brother or rousin, but no more. Let nature have its way, wife, it will not lead our Plevna astray." The soldierly looking father watched his girl until she was out of sight beyond the point that cut off the vlew of the Upper iBroken. The banks of the stream and all the grassy bush land that sloped down to them were ablaze with the blossoms of the golden wattle now in their full glory of bloom. Not. however, on the sweet scented wattles did the colonel's fond eyes rest, but on the figure of Plevna, her strong young arms sending her light boat through the sunflashed water with steady strokes. One of her "dad's" soft felt hats on her dark curls, its brim turned up in front, giving the fresh young face a slight appearance of chic that was not unbecom- ing. Jerry sat bolt upright in the bows eagerly watching on either hand for a chance to bark at a bird on the wing, or 647
the brown back of a hare that scudded into a bush. It was a decorated boat that two or :hree hours later returned down the river. A great double sheaf of wattle boughs, ablaze with blossom, lay across the stern and drooped dipping fronds into the oar-rlpp!ed stream. Plevna had not gathered bouquets. She had cut or broken off the most heavily laden branches, not despising the wealth of rich green feathery foliage that surrounded, and still more beautified the sprays of golden balls. The boat, with its sweeping wattle and girl woman, not forgetting the eager and excited Jerry, formed as fair a picture as eye could rest on. Suddenly Jerry stood up and barked. Plevna had turned the boat with an evi- dent intention of making the bank. It was into'a rush-grown little nook fringed with bushes that the girl had rowed, and one that Jerry was quite familiar with as a camping place, so that Plevna turned in wonder to see what had occasioned the canine warning. What she saw made the girl's large eyes open to their fullest extent. On the grassy spot Jerry and she were wont to use as a picnic ground a little wite tent stood, and near it on an empty case sat a young man with a tin dish awkwardly propped on his lap. That was all the girl saw ere the boat, with the impetus of the last stroke, glided close in to the usual landing place, and the screening bushes shot out from Plevna, the tent and the stranger. Greatly excited, but no longer barking. Jerry bounded on to the bank and disap- peared behind the bushes on a tour of in- spection. Plevna paused to think, and then her curiosity got the better of her dis- cretion. She had seen in one glance, ere he was hidden by the green screen, that the stranger's arm was bandaged and in a sling, and that he looked generally "seedy" as well as ill.. She got out of the beat. secured it safely to its iusual saping and stepped lightly round the foliage. When he saw her Jerry barked joyfully and bounded to meet her. The stranger, with the tin in one hand, stood up and bowed. "I did not know that there was anyone here until I had run in," she said. "Jerry and I are in the habit of lunching here." "I shall be truly sorry if I am in the way." the stranger replied. "Do not mention it. Jerry seems quite - satisfied, and he is a judge of character. "Will you resume your seat, please?" "I can offer you another, such as it is," and putting down the tin, which appeared to have flour in it, the young fellow drew another empty case from the tent and placed it on the grass near Plevna. Me- chanically she seated herself, her eyes still fixed wonderingly on the stranger. He was a tall man, with a slender, yet athle- tic figure, and a proud carriage of the head. His close-cropped hair was very dark, and so were the strongly marked eye-brows and carefully trimmed moustache. His face was darkly sun tanned, except under the hair, where a distinct line marked where the rim of his cap or hat had shaded it. His features were somewhat aquiline, and their ex- pression decidedly stern. Until Plevna I met the look in his grey eyes she was a little inclined to be afraid of him. When the girl had accepted the seat he resumed his, and again lifted his tin to his lap. Trying to steady it against one of his long limbs he resumed his occupa- tion without the least apparent conscious- ness. He was stirring the flour somewhat awkwardly with a large spoon. It was the left arm that rested in the black silk sling. Plevna watched for a few seconds In silence. As for Jerry, he seemed deep- ly interested in the young man's perform- ance, and sat watching with a wagging tail sweeping among the grass occasion- ally. "What are you trying to do?" the girl at length asked. "Trying to make a damper," he grave- I ly replied. "A damper? It is very awkward for you with only one hand. Are you fond of—of dampers?" "Rather than no bread, any form of baked flour must be acceptable." "No bread! Do you mean to say you have no bread?" Plevna asked in. con sternation, as she glanced quickly at the stranger's careless looking Crimean shirt, that was decidedly worn and faded, and the shabby dark trousers on his long limbs. In that glance the girl saw it all, the worn boots on a well-shaped foot, the old soft felt hat tossed on the grass by his side. She rose and put out her brown hand for the tin dish. "If you will al low me, I will make the cake, or whatever it is. I have at least two hands, and I can mix flour pretty well." With a grave smile he thanked her, and let the tin go. Plevna put the dish on her seat, and, returning to the boat, stooped to dip her hands in the river, and then wiped them on a towel procured from her craft. When she resumed her seat, and took the dish on her lap again, the towel was spread over her knees, and she tossed the big spoon to the grass. "What have you got in this flour?" she asked with a business air. "Nothing; it seemed lumpy, and I was trying to get it smooth," was the hum ble reply. "I have salt here and some thing in a tin-baking powder the label calls it" "And you mean to mix it with water, I Ssuppose?" "Yes, that was my intention. There is nothing else except-except wine." "Wine!" Plevna cried in surprise, and with such a suspicious look that the sun burned face of the stranger grew red. "You see, my friend-I have a-a mate, you know-has some wine, and the doc tor recommends a little." "Ah, yes," was Plevna's reply, "I sup pose your poor arm- You are not fit to Sdo anything now. Why did your mate leave you?" "He went up to some station. I thought he would have got back before the bread was done." and meeting the girl's ear nest look once again the speaker flushed. "Gone to look for work, has he? It must be very hard for you to have lost the use of your arm. I am very sorry for you. How did it happen?" "It was-it was-an accident. The loss, if it is permanent, will ruin my whole life." "Oh, you must not despair, for God is very good," she said earnestly, her lit tle brown hands mixing and kneading the flour deftly, while she spoke. "Even should your arm never be as it was again, there are many things you could do with one. I shall speak to papa, he is so good." "Would it be impertinent to ask who your father is?" "Not at all; he Is Colonel Brandt, an in valided soldier," Plevna replied proudly, as she drew up her slender figure. "He was invalided after the Soudan campaign, but, thank Heaven, he is quite well and strong again now. We live not half a mile from this. I think," she added, with an energetic dab at the dough, "that every man who is a man must want to be a soldier! Did you never think of being a soldier?" "Yes," he replied, with a sad bitterness, "I have often thought of it. Now you see," and he pointed toward the helpless arm, "that career is closed to me." Plevna heard the deep musical voice falter, and looked up wistfully. "I am so sorry for you, but it may get quite strong yet. And you kInow, after all, it would not do for every man to be a soldier, other r ork has to be done. My father some times says that my name has infused the spirit of a soldier's daughter into me, but how could I be a soldier's daughter with out having the spirit of a soldier's daugh ter in me. I am called Plevna in memory of a great friend cf Dad's. Now, will you tell me where your fire is?" "Near a log Just behind the tent. My mate chose the place; he is more au fait in bush housekeeping than I am," and he led the way to a spot where embers were glowing on the lee side of a log. (To be continued.) King Peter of Servia, after witnessing the ceremony of the reservists taking the oath of allegiance. paid a visit to Colonel Micsics—who took a leading part in the assassination of the late monarch—and cougratulated him on the occasion of his name-day.