|Newspaper Title||Australian Town and Country Journal (Sydney, NSW : 1870 - 1907)|
|Trove Title||Crushed Flowers. Breathing Fragrance All Around Him|
'?' BREATHING FRAGRANCE ALL AROUND
^ (BY MRS. A. BLITZ.)
Though barely four decades had passed over Jasper Noel's head, it was capped with a grizzled mass Of rich, soft, wavy hair. His face, while still bearing" traces of a quondam beauty, showed seams at the brow, and crow's feet at the temples ; the finger-posts of harsh circumstance, but not of years, obliterating the remains of youth. A shadow seemed to rest there, like that peculiar grayness 'which follows the setting sun, and "precedes the first visible twinkling of the star, beyond bright day and not yet dark night, but a misty link connecting both. The sun of his life had seemingly set. But its light had not yet all "departed. The glow lingered lovingly about "a countenance which was still attractive. There was a grave sweetness about tho firm-set, well-moulded mouth, which supported an abundant moustache ; a perfect arch connecting itself with a pair of whiskers flowing into a short, full beard, all more decidedly grizzled than the hair, and hot in keeping with the eyes,-which were brown in hue and gentle in expression, and could- sometimes sparkle enough to make one. think him twenty
We see him now for the first time, in the smoking carriage of a - suburban train, which, having left v,the . Sydney terminus at 6 o'clock p.m., is speeding on its way with its dull roar of defiance, as it mocks at space, and the earth
rumbles above and around it.
He was sitting by- an open window, disinclined to talk to the fellow occupants of the carriage, and puffing slowly at his cigar, or holding it aloof : between thumb and forefinger, vinwittingly permitting it to die to ash during his musing. His eyes were fixed as if in deep tenderness on some distant object. He saw nothing of rustic cottages and lordly tenements, orchards and gar- dens, flashing by him on either side, in swift succession, and still bathed in the pale golden light of a January evening. He heard nothing tiU the train, slackening speed, glided ùnto a station/ and the porter on the platform cried aloud, 'Petersham, Petersham.'
. Abruptly, roused from his reverie, he rose with some few others hurriedly to make his exit from the carriage, and so,' with cigar still in hand, un- lighted, he wended his way now on foot, leaving the-train to rumble farther on. By the time her panting had ceased to stir the air, and the .last carriage had turned the line at the distant curvé, he was knocking for admission at the door of a handsome white cottage set in some few acres of ground, and fronted with a neat garden abound- ing? in floral treasures. . ...
A sérvant maid opened the door, and Jasper Noel, with a nod and a ' Good evening, Martha,' passed her by, hung his hat on the rack in the hall, and walked straight into ' a cosy dining room, where an elderly lady sat in the act of reading; She was of the buxom order of women, comely, peachy-skinned, and of the average height.
With the familiar footfall through the hall, she lifted a pair of mild blue eyes in expectancy, and then, without any preface or greeting, she said as he entered- ,
' How' is he to-day, Jasper ?'
' Dying still, by inches,' he answered ; and, throwing himself rather wearily into a chair, with an air of a man at home, he relapsed into musing.
'The table was prepared for dinner; and evi- dently dinner was awaiting his pleasure, for presently, seeing that he did not move, and knowing that it was his habit to wash and ref fresh himself after each journey from the city, she ventured to say very gently, ' Shall I ring for dinner ^or will you rest longer ?'
' I beg your pardon,' he said, starting to his feet as if roused from asleep ; 'I forgot. I am keeping you waiting,'and ho hurried off toper
form the desired ablutions.
' Poor fellow,' thought the lady, when he was gone. 'He thinks I don't-know. But I do.'-An inward 'assertion to be made explicable to the reader in due cprirse. The lady, being Mrs. Noel, was not necessarily Jasper's wife, for Jasper was a bachelor, but a young stepbrother of the husband she had lost many years ago, through 8%idden . untimely death by accident, whereupon Jasper took the maintenance of his widow'and one little son upon his own shoulders, for he was rich, and his brother comparatively poor. But, as wealth never yet saved a sinking ship, bribed Time in his flight, or restored a withered hope, or did the thousand and one things which we know it is powerless to dp toward that perfect attainment cf otu* 'being's end and aim,' Jasper had missed his goal. It was no uncommon bitterness which had been his, either, as a very considerable percentage of im- pressionable susceptible mortals are doomed to chink deeply of the same cup, the acidity of which happily diminishes as the years grow. But here it was the man who was uncommon. Jasper Noel, having let his heart go out to a fair young creatiu'ë against his will and better judg- ment (she being already the betrothed of his old college friend), was consumed with self-contempt, as well as a hopeless passion, and so pvit thousands nf miles between them and himself by coming put
Shakespeare's Viola may have let 'conceal-
ment feed on her cheek like a worm in the rose- bud.'. But in cases where ardent, suppressed affec- tion touches a youth invested with all the higher attributes of will power, courage, endurance, and reflection, the worm goes to the heait, and feeds there in secrecy like a red hot cinder. It was this very cinder which had created ashes at the heart of Jasper Noel, and sapped the buoyancy out of his prime.
He settled in Sydney to practise as an archi- tect." His professional ability, business acumen, profitable mining speculations, all tended to float
'the weather-tight barque of his fortunes on a
When he took his sister-in-law and nephew on board of this craft he felt all the happier for a duty done. This was some few years after his settlement in the colony. But in that same year here came two arrivals to add a new zest to his life. One was the college friend (Will Clavere) from whom he had fled like a guilty thing. The other was Will Clavere's little motherless daugh- ter. Thus Jasper, no longer burdened with shame, clasped hands once again with his friend under the Southern Cross. His little girl, the juvenile counterpart of the mother they had both loved, seemed to act as a stay on the premature setting of his sim. She made a sweet mellow twilight for him now. She was taught to call him ' Uncle Jasper/ and, with childish liberty uncheckèd, woitld climb his knee, pull at his whiskers, or twine her baby fingers about his moustache, or smother him with kisses. So, with her advancing girlhood, he was still 'Uncle Jasper/ and her father's dearest friend, to be teased and coaxed in a breath. She would make him "saucy, harm- less speechos ; and by fifty endearing wilful ways she wound her fresh young life about his.
And now in her 19th year she held that worm at his heart at bay, it was in her own keeping, to crush and expel, or to aggravate. But in the innocence of her affection, and all unconscious of her power, she would kiss him coming to and going from her father's house with a eitnple niece-like demonstration ; and yet the toiich of her lips made his nerves dance with renewed youth, and sent the blood leaping to his temples. Her father was dying now, and dying, penniless.; Not as fortunate as Jasper in grasping ready means on his arrival in the colony, he was fain to live on a meagre salary for service in the Lands Office. He was not in a position to hoard for the future; and illness struck him down; and death was about to claim him. Knowing this, he found strength to speak to his friend upon the subject uppermost in his mind, and made a peculiar bequest, which was half a
request, and which Jasper swore that he should fulfil under certain conditions. The dying |man, whose observation was quickened by anxiety on his daughter's account, probably had said to him- self, as Mrs. Noel had mentally uttered, 'He thinks I don't know ; but T do.' For, after having made known his wishes, he murmured, 'I should not ask this of you, old fellow. Only I may see more than you give me credit for.' Then he turned his face wearily to the wall, and
the interview was over.
Mrs. Noel, we have said, had a son, now a man grown, but from whom she had been parted for many years ; for the boy, having shown a precocious talent for figure and landscape drawing, was sent to an Oxford college, where his uncle had studied before him-to prosecute a general education, and thence to Italy, to be- come a willing and zealous disciple of those great masters who had gathered their artistic strength in that, nursery of the divine arts. He was thinking of returning home now ; and 3he naturally counted the days, the months, the hours likely to intervene between the receipt of his letter announcing the day of his departure from Milan and his arrival in Sydney. She had cried over him and wished him godspeed,'and was prepared to welcome him back to her arms as a man ; and her maternal devotion was strengthened perhaps by her widowhood. Her feeling for her brother-in-law could not be as easily- defined, being a blending of reverence, deference, and exalted gratitude, independent of a sisterly tenderness. Moved by such emotion for him, Bhe loved to administer to his comfort by word and deed. She had studied his character, and knew the meaning of his every gesture,
frown or smile.
Through this knowledge her penetration had
not been at fault when she made that mental
' He thinks I don't know ; but I do.' For Blanche > Cia vere, whose lines, to slightly alter the text, had not been cast in luxurious places, had visited the house occasionally when her father had not been an invalid j and it was at such times that she had divined what was passing in his mind, as his countenance was as an open book to her. At first the intuition pre- sented itself with a revulsion of feeling-a slight shock, with the fear that this girl might clash with her son's future interest. But the thought, soon overcome by her thorough conscientious- ness, died a righteous death ; and stood ready to befriend her in case of need, knowing how dear , she was to Jasper, how soon inevitable grief was to be hers, and how his head was bent now in sorrow and deep meditation, with the chilly an- ticipation of his friend's death-the daughter's misery.
About a week after our introduction to Mr. and Mrs. Noel they met one morning in the cottage hall just before breakfast. First saluting her in the usual way, with a grave kiss, he asked quietly, 'How is she this morning?
' Better. More resigned ; less apathetic. It will take her some time to pick up her strength entirely. Tho tension on her system has been heavy. Weary watching and nursing tell on her now, you see. But she is a brave girl, and I am sure/ here she looked up into his face, ' she is a thoroughly good one.'
He made no answer to this ; nor did he return her look. But, drawing her arm through his, he led her into the breakfast parlor, and then asked farther, ' Will she come to breakfast ?'
' No. She is not equal to that yet. But I told her you were anxious to see her about again.1
' Don't let her over-exert herself, poor child/ he said, gently ; ' and she might in her effort to please us.'
' No, no. I will take care of that. Trust me. She said she would try to come to the drawing room this evening.' She had said much more. But Mrs. Noel had her reasons for reticence just
then. * '
This prelude to our second chapter contains an inference which the intelligent reader has already elicited, no doubt.
What remains of poor Will Clavere rests peacefully at Rookwood. His daughter has been transferred to Jasper Noel's home, to be nursed and soothed by Mrs. Noel.. The shock of death to one so young was prostrating, and its misery somewhat intensified with the thought of her future condition. The world seemed to her gigantic, cold, black, repellent, when she looked forward to seeking her, bread and raiment at its hands through work of some sort. She coiüd not feel friendless.with Uncle Jasper and Mrs. Noel standing by ; and yet it was their very hospitality and earnestness of sympathy and protection which determined her not to impose longer than necessary on such genuine goodness.
For two days sha had lain in' a comatose state, making no lament, refusing food..; On the third morning she was able to partake of some break- fast; and a couple of hours before that Mrs. Noel came to her bedside with a small cup of coffee, and sat down close by her, saying
* How are you feeling this morning, dear ?'
.' Much better, I think,' Blanche replied, with a grateful upward glance at the comely, motherly
' That is right. I am so glad. My brother is so anxious to see you up and about again.'
A faint flush temporarily colored the girl's face ; and MrsT Noel in that moment thought, ' Has he spoken to her, I wonder, of his hopes ?' But she only said, ' That will be soon, I hope.'
' Very soon,' answered Blanche, ' I'll try and come to the drawing-room this evening ; I will, indeed. Dear Uncle Jasper! how more than good he has been to me ; and how good you are, Mrs. Noel! What a miserable, solitary girl I shoiüd be to-day but for your friendship !' With a sudden impulse she bent forward, and kissed the peachy cheek nearest to her. ' How can I ever repay you ?'
'Don't talk about repaying, my dear/ said Mrs. Noel, returning the caress affectionately; 'only get well; That is all we ask at present. And now drink your coffee, like a good girl. It will brace you up a bit.'
Blanche, in docile obedience, took the cup, and drained it ; and then, setting it down on a table close by, she was profuse in thanks for the kind attention; and said that the coffee was delicious. ' If ever you are ill, and in want of a nurse/ she went on, 'I will nurse you back to health. I will serve you night and day ; and even then my repayment will be inadequate.'
'You will harp.on that ugly word, Blanche. Please don't. You must know that you shall never want a mother's sympathy while I live. Can a mother's sympathy call for compensation? Yoii shall never need a father's-^-.'. Here she
stopped, almost blushing, and certainly confused. ' I meant to say/ she continued, recovering her- self, 'that there is one who would go through fire and water to serve you.' Blanche lifted her eyes quickly, and searched Mrs. Noel's face with an appealing earnestness. They were glorious, won- derful eyes, deep as wells, honest as the day, large, limpid, and in health, lustrous, with lids heavily, darkly fringed, shading the violet orbs sometimes with an undecided blackness.
These, together with lips of ripe cherry fresh- ness, and a pure Batin-like complexion, invested her with a wonderfiú charm, independent of manners which, in happier circumstances, were piquant and. fascinating. What matter that her features were out of the very regular order, when her eyes alone lent the soid-light to her face? They were fixed on Mrs. Noel in silent
questioning, forcing that lady to ask, ' "Well, ! dear, what have I said ? "What is it ?'
' How much do you know ?' interrogated the girl mysteriously. ' Could papa have spoken to you too ?'
' I know nothing, but guess much,' was the : reply, given very softly. Mrs. Noel, feeling con-
vinced now that her brother had found some
opportunity of hinting at his hopeB, went on : ' And I woiúd give a great deal to see him happy/
Blanche, understanding at once to whom she referred, spoke up warmly, ' So would I ; and it is
because of that I intend to take a certain stand.
Surely your mother's sympathy deserves a daughter's confidence.'
' Don't speak yet, dear, if it distresses you.' This was said because tears filled the beautiful eyes. * I can wait.'
' I can't,' exclaimed Blanche, with a little of her old vivacity asserting itself as she tried to dash the tears away. ' I can't. You know" Mrs. Noel, that papa's salary was a poor one, and that the little money we saved was absorbed by his illness and the attending expenses. In reality, I am a beggar ; and poor papa knew that this would be ; and it was this terror of my future which haunted him to madness, I think, and ex- cited strange fancies. Ho must have been under some painful delusion, certainly, to have con- ceived such a possibility as ho tried to urge on me one day. Oh, poor, poor, dear papa !'
Mrs. Noel resorted to the usual condolatory phrases, and began to stroke one of the girl's hands with much tenderness.
' Yes ; I feel he is happier now/ Blanche said in answer, ' and that I should be rejoicing ; for, as you say, he is out of his misery; but I am too selfish yet to "feel that way. And yet, thank heaven, I am not selfish enough to fall back upon that preposterous possibility.' She hesitated for a moment, as if gathering thoughts; while her listener waited patiently for their conveyance in words. Then came a sudden question. 'What would you think of a girl, strong, and willing to earn her own living honorably, being so contemptible as to shirk that duty for the prospect of imposing her childish self upon any man's generosity' for a lifetime because that man, actuated by charity, could be ' so easily im- posed upon through his friendship and generous compassion ?'
' What man do you refer to ? My answer de- pends upon yours.'
'O, you know as well as I do. You know I refer to that man who was my, father's trusty friend, who is mine, and whom I honor too much to let suffer for a wild idea, an unreasonable-wish of poor papa's. I would never have mentioned this but for that remark of yours about fire and water; for it seemed as if you also had been asked to conspire. against the ; happiness of a
'My dear girl, you are all wrong !' exclaimed ' Mrs. Noel; 'it is you who are laboring under a
'I?' cried Blanche, in surprise. 1
(TO BE CONTINUED.)