|Chapter Title||A MIDNIGHT PLOT.|
|Newspaper Title||The Capricornian (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1875 - 1929)|
|Trove Title||Half Round the World to Find a Husband. A Comedy of Errors|
®i(to m& JTteicttesi
Half Bound the World to Find a Husband. A COMEDY~OF ERRORS.
By MAY CEOMMELIN, Author of ' Bay Ronald,' ' A Jewel of 0. Girl,' ' Goblin Gold,*1 ' Dead Men's Dollars,' ' Mr. and Mrs. Herriea,' &c
(GOFTBIGHT.) CHAPTER L — A MlDMGHT PLOT.
One night towards the end of January two girls were seated in a bate chilly room, crouch ing over the embers of a dying fire. Both were of the same age, about eighteen years old ; and each, though without any relation ship, bore a Btriking resemblance to the other. Both damsels had dark wavy hair and dark eyes ; they were large of bafld and had the fresh red and white colours of a spring posy. One had clasped, her arms round her knees, her head bowed in a tragic attitude. The other lay stretched in a classical bat comfort able nosition on the hearth me. alternately
trying to warm her chilled hands and stifling yawns. Presently the first girl threw up her head and uttered -. ' I don't believe there is a more miserable creature alive than I am.' She was a plump beauty with a face made for mirth, and eyes as bright aa black dia « You may think so. bat I know I am feeling more wretched,' echoed her companion emphatically. This one's eyes were like black sans, *'** her face was sensitively moulded to gypqw many emotions. At this moment a emlle curved the Cupid's bow of her cherry lips that quivered notwithstanding, as if a sob might follow. 'Ann!' ?? Anita, ! I' The fir«t girl spoke with a soft Spanish accent; for though of Scotch ancestry, she was foreign by birth. Bat the other echoed with the faintest brogue imaginable, which some people thought delightful ; and she, though Irish by birth, had the look of a daughter of GutOe. *' What can be worse than to be parting from one's lover — from the man I adore with ail my soul !' cried Anita. 'Itui great thing to have a lover at all. Now I may never get the chance of one.' ' But to marry an old man ! At my age to be tied to him for life. Ugh ! the beast ! B&tsey and the Beast ! Yon at least will have your liberty.' ' I don't know. Aunt Barbara is a stern old spinster, not at all likely to give liberty to any one under her roof, especially when I am dependent upon her generosity for every crust I swallow.' ' Oh ! to think I must paji in three days oat there/' Anita npiTftd the poker, and made a vicious dab at the atlas od the wall, somewhere about the Bfaank of the leg of mutton, illustrating Soutb America. 44 And that all that will be foaming aad seething between me and my best friend.' Ann gave a twirl to the globe, her hand out lining half of its surface, the Atlantic Ocean ?downwards to the Southern New World, with ?a gesture of dismay. 'Oh, Ann!' 'Oh, Anita! 1' '0-o-o-o-oh I' They flung their arms Tound each other's necks, and burst out crying in this sisterly embrace. ** Well, that does one good at all events,' «aH Ann, presently, breaking in and wiping her eyes, after the enjoyment of her woe. 'I am so hungry ! What wretched suppers those old mistresses do give us, now that school is broken up. Miss Wise should be ashamed of her meanness,*1 grumbled Anita. 'Come, we are gnests, remember, and one should not look a gift horse in the mouth. After afl, as Miss Wise poor soul, has influenza, she can't be expected to see after the house keeping ; and Miss Ward ia so blind the cook might give her lard for batter,' pat in Ann, deprecatingly. Then with a reflective air, ' Certainly our cutlets were about the Bize of commas this evening. I felt like eating a punctuation lesson. I say, Anita, has it ever atruck you why they pat little frills of white paper on the ends of the cutlets? It must have been from an old custom of taking them in one's fingers to pick them. I guessed that to-night, when I wanted to sock my booe, to get the very last off it. ** ** Why, of course ! That is how one ought to eat chicken bones,' replied Anita, absently, searching in the depths of a satin bag, apparently contaiaingembroidery. From this she produced two jam puffs and some chocolate ?cakes, which both guis proceeded to munch as slowly as possible, with au instinct that toe jfeast would seem the more satisfying. 'Then it is so hard that the ship leaves this week, and not one of the girls will be back Co see me married. ' ' Except me,' interposed Anita, with slight reproach. 'Ob, you dear thing, of coarse. Yes, it *ra« sweet of you bo come back from staying with Molly Hayes (though she's stock up ?inee she gat the prize for good conduct last term ; not that I wanted it \) Bat you are nek a darling, Anita, yon always do just as I want' Ann asaotbered a sigh. She was a homeless orphan daring her teens, for her annt's house had been onty a domestic prison, with after noon exercise allowed along two flat roads between lonely wide fields. So during many past holidays it was a deliverance from resigned dead when some school friend invited her to spend the whole vacation, -which nearly always happened, for Ann Montague was a general favorite. This was Ann's last term at school, indeed only for tier own entreaties she would have been taken
away Booner by her guardians. Now the fiat had gone forth that she was to live henceforth with her unmarried aunt, an only relation. This evil day was deferred awhile by the visit to Molly Hayes, and it would have been pro longed but that Ann returned to school at Liverpool, on a few days' visit, to help Anita with her wedding outfit and be her bridesmaid. The latter spent her holidays somewhat drearily as guest of the Misses Ward eai Wise, pricipals of a well-known young ladies' seminary. She was not popular enough to be invited home by her schoolzpates. ' How can you like that Chilian girL She's so sly, always making eyes at those young men cramming for the army at Captain Pass more's,' remarked' Molly, primly, and she has such a vulgar name, too, Anita Mac Tague,'1 'I believe her family is considered very good out there and the name is pronounced soft Mactabway,' Ann gently observed. ' Oh I Nan, you are always finding excuses for everybody. Why, she must be descended from some Irish or Scotch mechanic, or shepherd, or a run-away sailor, who drifted out there.' 'lam Irish myself, at least my father wax, and I love Irish people,' cried Ann Montague gaily. Both speakers were right. Anita's origin was as Molly supposed, and her social position such as Nan stated. Many soldiers of fortune took themselves and their swords to South America after Waterloo days when no more fighting was likely in Europe but luck might be in store for them in the Spanish colonies overseas which were struggl ing for independence. Also various British mechanics, emigrating to Chili, ' the England of South America,' won their fortunes and wives of blue blood, thanks to their industry and good qualities, and bave founded families, notable for energy and wealth in the land. ** It seems a Queer affair, my dear, ** said Mrs. Hayes, with an air of doubting the pro priety of the whole business. And very un English- Your friend is to be married by proxy, it appears, to an old husband she has never seen. Poor girl ! What a sacrifice I' **It is a f&mfly arrangement, which ia not unusual, I believe. I have never beard Anita complain, and she was engaged nearly all last term,' Nan replied, with her usual liking to make the best of things. (It was only on returning from Bayes Hall that the (good natured girl learnt with dismay her friend's secret clandestine love afiair, with one of Caotain Pasamore'e vouncr men. )
?' What can you expect when I was left all alone by my own self, and nobody else, these long days?1* Anita indignantly explained, with'Sj lively gesture of hands and shoulders, as who should say she was not to blame. And now the proxy wedding was to take place to-morrow evening. Anita's father had written directions that his daughter was to sail by the next steamer, the ' Yarrow,' leaving Liverpool in four days' tine. The (Captain, who vu commodore of the well-known line of Pacific steamers, was to act as the bride's guardian, being an old friend of the MacTague family. He had his in structions to see Anita legally married— by proxy, and to bring her out, passage paid ; and Captain Goodman, as Anita well knew, would folfil what he had ondert&ken. It was a terrible complication. *? What would you do in my place, now ?' burst out Anita, desperately, gulping down the Ust half oJ a jam tart. The action seemed unrom&ntic, but her manner was deadly earnest. ' I think,' began Nan. very seriously, speaking slow, '* I do think that I should try to do my duty by my husband, if I were going out instead of you. One might grow coaieated in time, yon know ; and possibly Don Edoardo would be very kind. Old husbands generally are, they say. Then his children might be good friends. Gome, how old are they V ' Oh, any age ! Why, think, he is quite old himself,' pouted Anita, 'I wish with all my heart you were in my place. Von are so docile and sweet and reasonable— ' She broke off suddenly, and a wicked flash leapt into her eyes. ' Ah ! I have an idea '* Young ladies, it is nearly midnight. I most request you to go to your beds.' The figure of Miss \V»rd, the elderly school mistress, stood at the door, peering short sightedly through her glasses. 'Good-night, Miss MacTague,' as Ann rose with her British law-abiding instinct. ' Good-night, Miss Montague,' as Anita, gracefully stifling a yawn, followed. The old lady hid mistaken the two girl'. 'Splendid!' breathed Anita, excitedly, outside in the dark corridor, clapping Nan my idea — glorious !' The next winter's morning, *s it was still datk. Nan lay dreaming that Anita, her friend, was slill patting her on the shoulder, when she awoke to find herself being champed. 41 Oh, Nan, wake up, do wake up !** Anita was ehivering by the bedside, wrapped in a shawl, her black hair hanging down in a long plait. ' Bow sound you sleep. I have not had a wink all night. Ob, such a wonderful plan came into my head with a flash last night. Listen.' Then she began to talk rapidly, coddling for warmth against the bedside. ' What* You want me to get married in stead of you ?' exclaimed Nan aghast, sitting bolt upright. 'Only by proxy ; only as a pretence, you know : not really,' pleaded Anita implor ingly, in hurried accents. ' Oh, uiy dear, dear, dear, listen ! No one will know the difference between us, we are so alike. Only reflect what it means to me — deliverance from that old tyrant — freedom — love. Darling little Nan, Nanicita* save vour unhappy friend.'
But Nan was inflexible ; she would not stoop to fraud, and an argument began, lasting till the housemaid appeared with hot water. Some two hours later Anita, red eyed, re turned to the charge. 'A letter has been given to me by the charwoman. He is going to shoot himself to-morrow night. Nan, how can you be so croeL Ob, my handsome lover, he is so fair -» Ann privately thought the youth like a canary, for he was yellow-headed and callow. ** Why getmarriedat all?' she cried despair ingly. 'Only say you won't. That is alL' 'And be locked op on bread and water these three days, by Miss Ward, and taken home in Ihe 'Yarrow* by Captain Goodman, like a prisoner. Then my father will force obedience or send me into a convent. Thank you for your kind help,' retorted Anita in ??Then run away with Mr. Finn,' pro posed Ann, though terrified at, her own daring. ??That is very fine to say when I do not have a chance of seeing my Weellie, this last week, since the old cat's began to suspect us.' This was strictly true, and made the second horn of the ^flpmmi. ' Oh, if I got through the ceremony, I am married, and it would be a sin to break it,' reiterated Anita, passionately. ' But if you only pretend to make a wriggle for your name, and wear my thick lace shawl as a veil, it will be only a eham and hurt nobody, not even Don Edoardo, for if I do have to marry him, I will give him such a time of if— (this viciously). ' And then my room is engaged at the hotel by Captain Goodman, while you, as my bridesmaid, are to stay that night- and take care of me. Next morning we are both free ; and ire hare left school. Then I ahall have some hour*1 to myself, and irn*f*n to marry Weellie, and he and I will both tell the Captain, just before the ship sails. He won't hare time to scold as, and you will have gone back to your aunt by train. Oh, it is all so beautiful, and to think that yon are the one person who wants to spoil it, and ruin all our lives. O — o — o — oh 1 Nan, there ia still time, you can't refuse me.' Anita's prophetic soul was right. Kan BtQl held out for some time, but the garrison was growing feeble ; its provisions of good precepts running short. An hour later, terrified by a fresh report of Weellie's frenzy, conveyed over the garden wall in a letter inside a potato, also by an hysteric attack, in which Anita showed the whites of her eyes, and lay for dead, the righteous maiden yielded. Whereupon Anita recovered with surprising rapidity, and danced some steps of a foreign jig ' I thought you would do it,' she observed complacently. ' I can eo always get every body to do whatever I want. ' This was slightly aggravating. Nobody likes to be considered dough, even when kneaded by friendly fingers ; bowever. Nan was in for it, and so eubmitted with as good a grace as possible.