|Chapter Number||III and IV|
|Newspaper Title||The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 - 1954)|
|Trove Title||Sisters Three|
[NOW FIRST PUBLISHED.]
N. V. PHILPOTT.
[ALL RIGHTS RESERVED]
"Girls, do look!" cried the ever watchful
Freda, next afternoon. "This must be the man of the signature coming along!
"What tremendous style!"
Margaret glanced at the approaching team and smiled a little scornfully.
"Four bays and a groom in livery," said
"And a groom in livery!" repeated the
Sydney girl, in an awed whisper. " Who
can it be?"
"Someone travelling in tea or tobacco - or may be wax vestas," suggested Lily with a slight curl of her lip.
"What nonsense, Lil! No one in his senses would 'put 'em all on,' for tobacco."
"Oh, yes, they do," answered Margaret. " I am inclined to think Lil is right, but
we shall soon know."
"Will you? How?" Asked Freda in deep interest.
"He will come and tell us; they all do; there is a painful sameness about all new
Freda was watching the new comer through a small hole in the frosted window pane.
"There's the landlady on the verandah in a new gown and cap - all smiles and amiability. She is coming herself, to show
him his room."
"She always does, when they drive four in hand," said Lily.
"When do you think you will see him, Margaret, to-morrow?"
"No, this evening, when he has had a bath."
"How positive you are! I wonder if men know they all do just the same
"Oh, I don't mean all - only those who come in showy turnouts like this."
"But this man looks a thorough gentle- man, don't you think?"
"Distance lends enchantment to the view," laughed Margaret.
"Wait until he comes up for closer in- spection," said Lily, " and it's as likely as not he will have a wart on his nose and a squint! But here he comes! I'll decamp and make his acquaintance on a future occasion."
"Must I go ?" asked Freda half rising reluctantly.
"Not at all, I want you to see this fine gentleman. Hush ! No more.
Two minutes later when the stranger entered the office Freda was intent upon an open magazine and Margaret was writing.
They both looked up with supreme unconcern and regarded him innocently. He could well bear inspection, he was a tall fellow, with a high broad forehead, and a pair of rather sleepy but very fine blue eyes. He raised his hat courteously and the eyes lightened as he said.
"Good afternoon. Will you kindly tell me whether any letters or telegrams have come for Arthur Thorald?"
"I'll see," answered Margaret, knowing in her heart that it was quite unnecessary to look, but it would never do to say so.
While she was glancing through a pile
of letters, Mr. Thorald addressed Freda. "This is a pretty little spot," said he, pleasantly.
"Yes, I am quite in love with it," an- wered she, brightly. "That river out
there is the most delightful one I know. It seem to keep its world so cool and fresh."
"I suppose you have plenty of boating - it looks very tempting."
"Yes, we go out almost every evening after Miss Forster closes the office." .
"There is nothing for Mr. Thorald," said Margret putting the letters back in their place and looking at him with kindly
eyes of polite dismissal.
He had not expected anything, but he contrived to look sufficiently disappointed
for a moment; then he found a pretext for remaining a little longer.
"If it wouldn't be giving you too much trouble I should like to send a few messages this evening," said he.
"Of course it is not any trouble," smiled Margaret, and Freda began to think it would not be bad fun to be an
operator - if only one could master those
outrageous dots and strokes!
Margaret continued her monthly returns
while he wrote his messages. When he had finished the first he looked up with a smile and said:
"It does seem a shame to ask you to do
tiresome office work this lovely evening."
"I have got to keep the door open until six, you know," said she, "and the work
in itself is really nothing."
"I suppose your - sister helps you?"
"I have two sister who help me." Margaret's tone was not quite encourag- ing.
Freda looked at her rather reproach- fully. Why hold him at arm's length like that? A good looking gentlemanly fellow, who drove four in hand, ought to receive some consideration. But as Margaret would not encourage him she addressed the stranger again with a friendly look.
"You must know Miss Forster and her sisters live in this lovely place always. I
am only a poor waif whom they have mercifully taken in for a few months."
"I congratulate you!"
Perhaps Freda would have been more
pleased had he said "I congratulate them," for she had a weakness for com- pliments, even when she knew they were lip salve only. But Mr. Thorald put it the other way because he guessed Mar- garet would say something in reply, and he wanted to meet her eyes again, and
hear her voice.
"It's very good of her to come and bear us company," said she. "This is of course a lovely place, but scenery and solitude pall on one after months and
"With such companions as these you
cannot be very dull," and he laid his hand
on a yolume near at hand.
Margaret's heart was nearly conquered. She touched her Emerson and spoke feel- ingly.
you!" said Freda, warmly. "He is far too weighty for ordinary mortals; but if we ponder until we do make him out, we find he has only been saying some A.B.C. thing that everybody knows."
"Oh, Freda, Freda!" cried Margaret, in absolute pain. "Everyone does not know them until Emerson opens their minds, and teaches them how to think!"
Mr. Thorald was charmed by the warmth of Margaret's admiration for the great master. He had never seen any- thing finer than the glow in this magnifi- cent woman's dark speaking eyes. There was nothing little or cramped about her mind, evidently.
Freda put her hands to her ears.
"Oh, I know, I know, I know! I won't say any more ! I know you are as tender over him 'as any mother over crowing babe.' And you are so des- perately earnest, always. But I can feel Emerson, too, in my own way, which can never be yours, for he is knocking and hammering like a ponderous leaden weight at my poor frivolous brain."
Margaret could not speak, and Mr. Thorald, seeing her distress, asked Freda with a slight smile,
"May one ask what writers find ready admission to your brain when they
"I suppose you will be as much dis- gusted as Miss Forster, ' when I tell you that Mrs. Hungerferd's books, and Rhoda Broughton's and Rita's are quite the
nicest I know."
"I can never quite believe it, you know," said Margaret, taking the mes- sages, and going towards the Morse. " I think you only say it to horrify me."
Mr. Thorald took the hint, and after apologising for taking up so much time he departed.
"What a really splendid fellow !" ex- claimed Freda, when the sound of his retreating footsteps had died away. "Travelling in tobacco indeed. Lil wants a good shaking for suggesting such a thing."
Margaret laughed inwardly, but did not turn round from her place at the instru-
"My opinion is that he is one of the distinguished visitors that have been in- undating Australia lately - the younger son of a duke at the very least."
"The sort that Molly Bawn woman writes about ?" asked Margaret. "I think Lily is a better guide than Mrs. Hungerford."
Lily had entered the office and was studying the message her sister was dis- patching.
"Ha, ha ! I thought so," said she with evident relish. "He may be the son of a duke of course, for all we know; but he is travelling in tobacco."
"I cannot credit it."
"Oh, but you may. This is a telegram to his firm - it is no breach of trust to say so, for of course he will herald and pro- claim it far and wide. Was I right about his appearance? Does he squint?" " No, indeed ! he is quite wonderfully handsome and gentlemanly. It is very hard to believe he is what you say. I thought people like that must always smell of old clay pipes and the kind of whiff you get when passing a brewery."
"I have never been near a brewery," laughed the bushreared Lily, " but I know what an old clay smells like, well !" and she gave a little shudder of disgust.
"Where did you gain your experience ?"
"When we were girls"- began this maiden of sixteen, gravely, " we used to go sometimes to stay with an old woman in Shoalhaven, who had presided at the arrival of most of us in this 'mortal wale.' Do you remember the trouble I got into, Margie, for chasing the young ducks about in the duckpond, and finally flopping face downwards in their midst?"
" nd a neighbouring gander sailed in and danced on you," supplemented Mar-
"So he did - I can feel his clammy feet to this day - and the prod of his yellow beak. It was a painful encounter in every way, for Mrs. Heeney only scolded me soundly for spoiling an elaborate thing in frocks, instead of sympathising with my bedraggled wretchedness !"
"Poor Fairy Lilian! What a dirty little picture you must have made!" laughed Freda. "But what about the old day."
"Didn't I tell you? no - I forgot! Mrs. Heeney smoked one as black as ebony, and I used to sit pick-a-back and have the fumes of that awful 'dudeen' driven into my throat and eyes when she would turn round to look at me!"
Just then Nan, who had been, out walking-along the river bank, strolled back and entered the house.
"Poor dear little Nan," breathed Freda, when she passed into her own room. "I wish she had been here ten minutes ago, Mr. Thorald might have interested her."
"I don't think he would," said Mar- garet, a little sadly. "She does not like meeting strangers."
"Have you noticed how white and pinched her face is to-day?" asked Freda. "And she is so quite and still. I wanted to say something sympathetic to-day, but
when I looked at her I did not dare. Her coldness is impenetrable."
"For heaven's sake don't ever think of such a thing again !" gasped Margaret. "She is so proud - it would kill her if we seemed to notice anything."
"When Nan wraps herself up in her- self, inside a chalked ring, we have just got to toe the line ; it would be brutal to dream of stepping over," said Lily.
"Yes, she makes one feel that at once, but it is an awful pity. I am sure if she would allow us to speak openly about that dreadful mistake it would not be half so bad."
"That isnt her way, said Margaret. "I shouldn't know Nan if she took a moan upon her mouth, and spoke of her secret grief. Of course, we do not know what happened yesterday. We can only put things together and guess."
"I am pretty sure things were coming to a head when I made such an ass of
myself," said Lily, sadly.
"But something must be done," cried Freda. "You say he won't be very long in the district, and if it is not taken in hand at once, this breach will go on widening and widening until the whole world will lie between them, and no one can set things right."
"What can we do ?" asked Miss For- ster, a little impatiently.' "Do you ex- pect me to go to him and say I shook my fist at Lily and that frightened Nan? How could he be brought to understand ?" A thought came to Lily, but she, very
"I'll make up the mails this evening if you like."
"Will you? Thanks, Lily. I'll go and sit in the fernery for a little while," said Margaret.
"Is there anything I can do ?" asked
"If you finish making the toast for me, I'll call you the best girl in the world," answered Lily.
"Very good ; then we can have tea at the usual time and go out on the river
"You have a perfect genius for devis- ing," said Lily, who was truly glad to have the office entirely to herself that evening.
Margaret and Nan were sitting idle in the office next morning when Mr. Thorald entered, carrying a pile of letters that he had written the night before. He asked for some stamps and began slowly affixing them while he talked of various things. One letter seemed more bulky than the rest, and he asked Margaret if it required double postage.
She could not help reading the address as she laid it on the scales. "Mrs. A.
Thorald, No. 14 _St., Woolhara."
So he was married? Well, surely he had a perfect right to be. But Freda would be sorely disappointed.
"Yes, it is over weight," said she, hand- ing the letter back.
"I thought so," said he, smiling. "My mother would be sorely disappointed if I sent her less than eight pages."
So he was not married. Freda would be glad.
"I think women have a right to expect long letters," said she, "for they certainly write them. But, as a rule, I fancy men's letters are skimpy."
"As a rule, yes. But I am an excep- tion; at least I can always find plenty to say to this dear old woman, once I begin."
"Isn't that rather an irreverent way of styling your mother ?" asked Nan, with a little laugh.
" he likes it," he answered. " I nearly always call her that, or 'my old progeni- tor.' She is quite an ideal mother."
"You read Bab Ballads too?" asked
Margaret, looking at him with an ap- preciative smile in her dark eyes.
"I must plead guilty to a fondness for them. I hope you are not above enjoying
"Indeed not! I think there is more genuine fan in them than in anything I know. ' Ellen MacJones Aberdeen ' is a finished piece of fun. And the 'Sailor's Farewell to his Lass,' is intensely
"And you must not leave out ' Prince Agib '," put in Mr. Thorald. " Nor the 'Cruise of the Nancy Bell '."
"Nor little 'Annie Protheroe'," suggest- ed Nan. "Who kept a small post office we girls distinctly appreciate little Annie
"It seems to me you can appreciate all the good things that have ever been written," smiled Mr. Thorald.
"That is very sweeping flattery," said Margaret, "but certainly it would be a bad world for us if we did not know and love the silent speakers. Of course I do not intend to belittle the beauties of sky and trees and river; they are absolutely perfect in their own way, but not always sufficient for a trio of healthy gregarious
creatures like ourselves."
"I should think not, indeed!" said Mr. Thorald, warmly. "Books must be an inestimable blessing to you here, for I suppose there are very few you can
"We flatter ourselves with the thought that kindred spirts are rare," said Nan in a hard tone, remembering one who might have been kith and kin as well, only he had been so stupid. He would not try to understand. " Do you know any Irish?"
"I'm afraid not," answered he smiling, "do you?"
"Not a great deal - but they have a saying 'shin faen, shin faen,' which means 'ourselves are ourselves !' We derive an immense amount of consolation from the thought that we have got to be sufficient unto ourselves, because our minds are so delightfully exalted !"
"Nan !" breathed Margaret, in a tone of grave reproof; but Nan only laughed a bitter little laugh, and went out.
For she knew in her heart there was no consolation for her. Life had gone wrong, though so lately it was filled with golden promise, and a feeling of utter loneliness and desolation swept over her, flooding her soul with an unspeakable longing, and
her heart with a nameless ache.
There was an awkward silence for a minute or two, after Nan left them. Mr. Thorald saw a look of deep pain and pity- ing love in Margaret's eyes, as she
watched the slim retreating figure of her sister, then she said hesitatingly :
"She is not very strong, I am afraid." "Do you notice it, too? I have only seen it just lately. Oh, I hope we are wrong!"
He blamed himself fer adding to her evident distress, and tried to rectify his
"It is very likely I was mistaken," said he, hastily. "These long warm days are trying."
"Yes, very trying," Margaret repeated thoughtfully, thinking of Nan's secret
burden all the time.
He did not stay much longer; he saw that she was thinking deeply, and though he would have given a good deal to be able to offer comfort and sympathy, it would never do to risk having it rejected by this proud girl who had made snch a strangely deep impression upon him, from the first moment she had looked at him with those kind dark eyes.
"If a man had a wife like that," and Arthur walked moodily onward with bent head and downcast eyes.
He had hardly gone when Lily and Freda joined Margaret.
"What a time he stayed," said the latter, "talking about books again, eh ?"
"Yes, and other things."
"I think he is rather nice," said Lily patronisingly. "I liked his voice - what I heard of it, but don't you think he is just a shade too propitiating to be - all
"What nousense, Lil!" exclaimed Freda. "How could he contradict them flat, when he had the misfortune to agree with every word they said!"
"Well, anyhow, I think it would suit him better to go about his own business, getting orders for tobacco, than dilly- dallying in a post office all the morning!"
"What a nigger driver you will be, if
ever you marry the head of a firm!" cried