|Chapter Number||I and II|
|Newspaper Title||The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 - 1954)|
|Trove Title||Sisters Three|
[NOW FIRST PUBLISHED.]
N. V. PHILPOTT.
[ALL RIGHTS RESERVED]
Let me say first, before I introduce these girls, that they are absolute flesh and blood. If this little story falls under their notice I hope they will forgive me for making "copy" of them - and believe that though I am taking a very great liberty, I think they are altogether the most delightful and beloved beings in a fairly delightful world.
Three sisters were grouped together in a country post office one warm summer day, all reading in unisonance the letter which one of them held. Does it matter what was the colour of their eyes and hair? Even if I described them I could give no idea of the individual charm of these girls; that is why I venture to un- furl a few years of their lives, that the reader may know them, even as I know
them; and love them, perhaps, a thou- sandth part as well!
Let as take a look, too, at the letter that engrosses them : -
"You must be having a glorious time in the country, here, in Sydney, the heat is just unbearable. The thermometer registers 80 to 100 daily, and keeps it up all night too, until the mosquitoes have hardly heart enough to serenade us with the song of the sick fiddle, and would certainly cave in if we could make the slightest resistance - but we are too far gone for that. Take pity on me, you dear girls in the breezy bush, and ask me to stay a month with you. I am growing beautifully less in this steaming heat, and there really isn't enough of me left to be in your way."
"Now I really am not so sure of that," said Nan, who was holding the letter, with
a little smile.
"But you have never met her," said Margaret, the eldest, - large hearted and generous always. "And I have. She is the dearest little thing, and no one can help loving her, we must write and ask
her at once."
"And, oh dear, I suppose she will expect hot dinners and high living, and all the rest of it," sighed Lily the youngest. "Airy Fairy Lilian" they often called her, because she turned the scale at eleven stone, "and I shall expire in that hot
"No, no, Lily - you need not worry about that kind of thing. Freda is one who can adapt herself to circumstances, and make the best of everything. You may be sure she will agree with ourselves in preferring cold meats and salad and fruit to smoking soups and souffie."
"All theory, I think," suggested Nan, cynically. "You will find before she is is here very long she will adapt us and all our surroundings to her own particular
"But, my dear Nan, you are altogether mistaken in her!" cried Margaret, warmly. "Wait until you see her - she is a genuine sunbeam - as clear as the day, and then so pretty ! - It is a joy to look at
"Ah" said Nan, thoughtfully, "I fancied she was pretty."
She absently broke the web of a spider that was letting himself down in jerks from the ceiling, and dropped him into a pot of liquid bluestone before she spoke again.
"She must come of course. It will be nice in a way to have her. I daresay Hilary Radford will admire her and they will be great friends."
"Oh, do you think so ?" and Margaret laughed a little. "I never thought of that. If I were in your place I should be vert glad' to test him - if he cannot remain true in the light of Freda's eyes he isn't worth keeping."
"Don't talk about testing and keeping!" said Nan, burying the spider deeper in the bluestone. " You know perfectly well I have no claim upon him. But we are all happy here, don't you think? and I don't like the thought of changing."
"It will not be much of a change," smiled Margaret, "and though there is, as you say, nothing of that kind between you and Hillary, you should be glad to see him in, the company ef another attractive girl."
"There's a fine surgeon spoilt in you," said Nan flushing a little. "You love the knife! You love to test and prove things, and if anything is weak or faulty, out it goes ! Now with me it is different. I can be happy without analysing my state. I know when life is good, and am satisfied without trying to prove that it is absolute perfection."
"I think you will find it good and per- fect, too, if you have courage to go through the experiment."
"Oh, it isn't a question of courage!
Of course she must come - I saw that from the first, and I'm sure I don't know what set me jabbering!"
"Well, all I can say is, I hope she isn't particular about what she eats," sighed Lily again.
For as Lily did not hold a government appointment, the household management was her particular care.
But when Freda arrived at Tarrulin all Nan's fancied jealousy vanished and was forgotten. It was impossible not to laugh with her and at her in an open whole-hearted way. Freda Mayland took the most astonishing interest in the most trivial things, for, like a great many city girls, a free out-of-door country life was quite new to her. She would lie in a hammock and peer between the passion- fruit vines at all that was going on out-
"That funny looking man down there in the water; what does he mean?" she would ask. "If he wants to burn logs why does he tie them in a row and take them into the middle of the river?"
"I almost believe this poor benighted creature has never seen a raft before !" said Lily to Nan.
"Oh, that's a raft is it? Well, any- way, why is he trying to set fire to it?" "He is not setting fire to it - he is lighting a fire in his stove. Sometimes he lives on his raft for weeks, without ever coming ashore."
"What if he were to fall off at night?"
"And does he never wear boots?" asked Freda. "How lovely it must be to sit on a raft and dangle one's feet in the water all day!"
"Oh, for a plunge in some vast water-
One long continuity of wade!"
parodied Lily in a lazy murmur.
"I have a bright idea," suggested Nan. "We'lI take the boat this evening and row up the North Bend, and when we are far from the madding crowd we'll have a glorious swim!"
"Swim!" echoed Freda. "I wish I knew how. My education has been ne- glected, I am sorry to say."
"I'll tell you what it is," said Lily. "When women are admitted to the franchise, and adorn Parliament and so on, the first time they place me at the head of a Government I'll pass a measure enabling us to treat such neglect as a crime, and all people over the age of twelve, not able to swim, shall be held under water until they learn."
"You murderous young wretch! You won't catch me out in a boat with you, 'far from the madding crowd,' " answered
"I'll answer for Lil," put in Nan. "She is rather given to talking big, but if you notice, she doesn't do much. You are quite safe, Freda, at least until she can legally hire menials to do the ducking
"Oh, do look at that beautiful old black gin!" cried Freda, suddenly. "At least she would be beautiful if her features were not so ugly! But see how proudly she carries her head, and she holds that spear like a royal sceptre."
"It's wonderful the way they walk, every one of them," said Nan. "You never see them slouching along, knocking their feet together like a lot of ungraceful whites! A young gin speeds along with an elastic step that seems almost electric; an old one moves with a firm stately motion - and always her head held proudly up, and her eyes straight before her."
"What is she thinking of?" mused Freda, with eyes fixed intently on her black sister." Is it about the glories of the days gone by - when wallabies were found in every hollow tree-"
" 'Possums, you mean," suggested Lily laughing. " You were a good deal more eloquent before you tried to express your-
"Silence, Lil!" said Freda, sternly. "How dare you check the flow of soul with ribald jests and laughter? Wallabies - wallabies, I say again! Is she think- ing of her shattered House and fallen race,
"I wonder !" echoed Nan a little ab- sently, for she was looking across the river, at a horseman half a mile away who was cantering towards the ferry.
"I'll ask her !" cried Freda decisively, as she bounded out of the hammock.
"In the name of the Shades, ask what?" "Ask that grand old woman what she is thinking about - I am dying to know."
" What, Betty? - she wouldn't under stand you - but I can enlighten you! Don't you see her veering off towards our back door? she is thinking of 'Cole tea, Misses? and broken pie' and I must go and get her some."
Nan was glad to find something to do. The horseman had reached the ferry, but a watched punt never seems to move.
A few minutes later, Margaret, who had been doing office work, appeared at
"Do you know where Nan is? There is a signature here to a telegram that I cannot make anything of."
"She is feeding the hungry," answered the adaptable Freda ; "but I'll make it, out for you. I am good at deciphering signatures."
"I am very glad to hear it," smiled Margaret, " come and bring your clever- ness to bear on this!" and she held out the telegraph tape."
"What a swindle !" cried Freda, "and what a shame that you should be expected to make out that dot and go one language."
"It's easy enough at most times; but there is a a new assistant at Woondah, who runs all his letters together - he is a perfect horror to work with.
"He does it intentionally," said Lily. "I asked him a few days ago to be a little more careful, and since then his work has been ever so much worse."
"I've got it," said Margaret. " A. Thorald - isn't that it, Lily?"
"Yes, I suppose so."
"Well go and find George Washington and let him take this to the hotel. A Thorald is coming to-morrow, and wants
"Is his name really George Washing-
ton?" asked Treda.
" I believe not," said Margaret. " Lily gave it to him because he 'cannot tell a truth.'"
By this time the punt had reached the wharf. Somebody paid his shot to the ferry man and led a handsome dark bay horse to land. Two minutes later some-
body entered the office, and was greeted as a friend by Margaret and Lily.
Margaret was right when she had told Nan the good and perfect would remain after Hilary Badford had been tested. One look at those trae hazel eyes shewed that he was no weathercock, but steadfast and faithful as Time itself. She was sorry
for him when she saw the look of keen
disappointment that came over his face when he found that the light of his eyes
She introduced him to the genuine sun- beam, and though he said just what he ought to have said, he kept glancing to- wards the side door, in hopes that a brighter sunbeam would appear.
Margaret could do nothing for him. Nan would be furious if they ventured to summon her on any pretext, for she often took it into her head to disappear in this way, as if, angry with her own heart, she denied herself the pleasure of these meetings.
At last Lily came to the rescue. It is a great happiness sometimes to have a young member in a family privileged to ask questions. Lily had been looking with some curiosity at a loose upright paper that he carried.
Then she asked.
"What is it you are guarding so jeal- ously? Is it a poodle, and you feared he might wet his little feet ?"
"Lily!" cried Margaret, reprovingly, but Hilary was glad to be questioned.'
"It's an orchid, I can't tell you the name" said he, in the most careless tone
were some very fine specimens, I thought - that is - I heard Miss Nan say -"
He could not speak the dear name without a tremor in his voice. Margaret was quick to help him.
"Nan will be so glad," said she, smil- ing pleasantly. "She was lamenting a few days ago that her collection of or- chids won't compare with her ferns. It is so that of you, Mr. Randford." Then turning to Lily she asked with well as- sumed innocence.
"Where is Nan, do you know?"
"She was feeding black Betty with pie not long ago," said Freda.
"But Betty put that in her dilly bag and took it to camp," said Lily. "Nan is reading Erie Mackay and eating bananas on the end verandah just now."
"A most sacreligious combination,"
"Go call her, Lily," said Margaret.
But Hilary's courage rose. The thought of finding Nan alone on that shaded verandah made him desperately strong.
"Don't trouble, Lily," said he, hastily. "I'll go and find her myself." And in an
instant he stood on the front verandah, and walked along towards the shady end.
"Bad case that," remarked Freda as she listened to the lover's impatient foot- step. "I couldn't make out why he stayed on looking so uncomfortable."
"Yes, wasn't he palpably uncomfort- able," said Margaret. " It was very awk- ward, for I really didn't know what to do
"He is a nice kind of fellow, I think a surveyor, eh ?"
"Yes, he passed his final examination very creditably indeed a few months ago. He is a nice fellow, but shy for a man, and
"And what does Nan say ?"
"That's a question nobody can answer until he speaks," said Margaret. "She is very reticent and proud - and shy too."
"For a girl and a colonial," laughed Lily. "I'm sure I hope they will come to some sort of an understanding soon. They are as ridiculous as a pair of ostri- ches - they think nobody can see what is going on because they won't own to it themselves."
"I say, Fairy Lilian, you are quite an oracle for your years," said Freda, admir- ingly.
"Lots of families culminate in a really smart finish," answered the precocious fairy.
Hilary found Nan seated in a cool verandah chair, with her eyes glued fast to the page of an open book, but at the sound of his steps the words began to dance and radiate, while her lips went suddenly dry.
"I have brought you an orchid," he said, abruptly. "I can get you several more if you care for them, but I wanted to ask if you have got this kind in your
Oh, why was it so hard to find ordin- ary words to thank him. How hot her forehead grew, and how dry her throat!
"You - are very kind. No, I have not got that. I tried to knock some off a tree with a stick once, but I couldn't manage it. I hope you did not go to very much
"Not a great deal," and he smiled. Was there any earthly task, not imposs- ible, that he would look upon as a trouble, when performed for her ? - "I will fix it up for you, if you like, if you come and
show me where."
"I wish you would, please." She looked at him now, and tried to speak naturally. "I have to stand on a box to do such things and am always toppling over."
"Don't ever risk that again," said he firmly. "You might have a nasty fall. Let me arrange high plants for you."
"But often you are ten miles away just when I want to fix or alter something," said Nan with a merry smile, and she ventured to look at him again.
That look did it. Many and many a time he had tried to speak, to tell this little girl of his love, and at the critical moment words would fail him, or a chilly little smile would freeze his blood. But
now a fancied something in Nan's eyes gave him courage.
"Wish for me, Nan," said he very softly, "and no matter where I may be, I shall know it and come."
Nan felt that the turning point of her life had arrived. In another moment she would hear the words she had longed for, yet fought against - and the "current of her being" expanded readily with joy to receive them:- he should speak, and the thin barrier between them would be
swept away with a word, and they would belong each unto each, at once an for
Oh, but the Fates are hard on some of us, sometimes, and full of cruel malice! Why did they prompt Lily, who had been crooning over an ancient lay, as she fluttered a feather duster about books and brackets, to burst at that stupendous moment into full song?
And of all the songs in the calendar or out of it, why did those most unkind
Fates make her choose.
"They gazed on each other with honest
Alonsa the bravo was the name of the Knight, And the maid was the fair Imogen."
"Great Heavens !" gasped Freda in the office, for that rich young voice penetrated everywhere. "Do you hear what that Smart Finish is singing?"
Margaret listened for a moment and then her face flushed sympathetically - she felt that the song would make poor Nan uncomfortable. She hurried to the room where Lily was, and, lifting a clenched fist, she made a forbidding gesture rapidly, and a slight grimace!
Lily, fully conscious of the enormity of the offence, stopped short, horrified, but alas, for the promise of that blissful moment! Alas for the word that would sweep the barrier away, and bring those two heart to heart! Every window and door was open, and Nan saw that fist and
A wave of colour, pitiful to see, swept from neck to brow. In sheer desperation she tried to look at him, to see whether he had seem them too ; but her eyes were hot and throbbing, and he only appeared as a giant smudge before her. Filled with shame, and fearful of a burst of hot tears, she turned, and left him there alone.
And he, poor fellow, could only inter- pret this treatment in one way, for he had neither heard the song nor seen Margaret ; he took his snubbing manfully, though there was a knot in his throat and a strange tightness at his chest, as he sought his sleek bay horse and slowly rode away.
(To be continued on Friday.)