|Chapter Number||IV. (Continued.)|
|Newspaper Title||The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 - 1954)|
|Trove Title||Sisters Three|
[NOW FIRST PUBLISHED]
N. V. PHILPOTT.
[All Rights Reserved]
CHAPTER IV. (Continued.)
Lily went to the letter box and began, tumbling over the letters.
"Oh, ho! see this! ' Mrs. A. Thorald.' What do you think of that, Freda?"
"I-I'm sorry. I think lie is far too nice to be married," said Miss Mayland in deep disappointment.
"Mrs. A. Thorald is his mother !" said Margaret quietly, but she was conscious of a thrill of satisfaction as she imparted
"H'm-he says so, eh ?" asked Lily.
"Upon my word, Lil," cried Freda» warmly. "You are a bad minded
"Now look here, Freda, that's all you know," answered Lily, tolerantly. " You are so stupidly credulous. I think you actually believe everything you hear! I don't say positively that she is not his mother, but I think it like his impudence to say she is! Who wanted to know whether he had a mother or not? It looks very bad, to me !"
"I wanted to know, for one," said Freda, "and I am very thankful to him for saying so. I am only sorry his mother is plain Mrs. Thorald, instead of
Her Grace the Duchess!"
"He really didn't say it in a impudent way, Lily," said Margaret, who felt curiously shy of taking up the defence of this stranger. "I can understand how it may appear conceited to you, but it came out quite naturally from him, - you must come and study him personally when next he calls. I am inclined to think he is a white man, but I shall like to hear what you say."
"Then why does he travel in such a ridiculously ostentatious way? It would be far more becoming if he came on horse- back in a christain manner! You know you agree with me in your heart, for you curled your lips at first sight of that spanking team."
"Yes, I remember. I know I did. Now that I come think of it, I had no right to curl my lips, for if he came as you sug- tested, why, his groom would probably have to join the ranks of the great unem- ployed!"
"It is easy to find excuses, of course, but I don't consider myself quite qualified to disagree with you in every way, as I have never met this white man. What does Nan say?"
"I think she liked him for a while but then something jarred and she went
"I heard the watering can jingle," said Freda. "So I suppose she is in the bush house." And thither Lily went.
Nan did not hear her approaching, she stood thoughtfully contemplating the orchid Hilary had given her, as if debat- ing whether it should be nurtured or neglected, for the piston of the syringe was drawn out to it full length, but the nozzle still remained buried in the water- ing can.
Lily pretended not to see the orchid, or the few unthought of tears that lay on Nan's cheek, for her eyes were dry.
"I think some of these have had too much water lately," remarked Lily, slip- ping her arm round Nan's waist, and studying the luxuriant plants all round them." The golden fern is sick, and I'm awfully afraid the Brazilian maiden hair is going off, those achimenes must be moved soon- and, unless I am greatly mistaken that fuchsia has thrips."
It was thus she rattled on, giving Nan, time to get away from her sad thoughts, and something definite to think about in.
"You are quite right about the fuchsia,"
said Nan. "I wish I had never put it in here at all - it would have done very well on the verandah. What do you say if we throw it out bodily?"
"It's the best thing we can do, but it is almost too late. That hare's foot is slightly affected I'm afraid, but we must get some one to come and smoke strong tobacco over it - I think it can be saved."
"We have a good day's work here, Lil,"' said Nan, with sudden energy - glad to have found something do. "If you are not very busy we'd re-pot a lot of the things and give the place a thorough straightening up."
"I have some pastry in the oven that
wants watching," said Lily, "and when that comes out I have cakes to go in - in fact I came to get you to help me -"
"Oh, don't mind the cakes, Lil! What does it matter what we eat? it is too hot. for cooking!"
"I don't want you to help me with the cakes," answered Lily, quickly -" but Tonkin's boy said this morning that they cannoc spare any milk after this week, and I want you to go and try to arrange with Mrs. O'Brien about supplying us, - they have lovey cows."
To Lily's great inward joy, Nan seemed
to like the idea.
"I think I'll take a basket and gather
some raspberries on my way home," said
"That will be lovely - I'll save some cream," answered Lily, who had her own reason for wishing Nan to dawdle onu the
way. "Put a cool frock on and you won't notice the heat - your green pongee
will be best."
"I should get it torn to rags amongst the raspberry vines."
"Not at all; I was there a few days . ago and there are lots of paths in and out, of course you must go into the thickest bramble."
"Very well, but don't be disappointed if I come back empty handed, I may not feel inclined to gather any when I get
"Freda likes them so much - and it saves cooking!" said the wily fairy. "But good gracious. I smell those tarts* burning!" and she darted away.
The sun never shone on anything fairer than Nan as she stopped out into the clear morning air. Her dress of pale green pongee muslin fluttered a little in the whispering breeze, the airy "shaving" hat, pinched and crimped to frame her young face, was adorned with a simple
spray of loose briar roses and a tuft of natural looking grass, a white lace parasol with a bunch of pale green ribbon on top added the finishing touch to a delightsome
"She seemed a part of joyous Spring,
A robe of grass green silk she wore,"
quoted Freda, on seeing her. " But, l say,
Nan, why are you got up so amazingly at this hour in the morning ?"
"For the sake of a quiet life," smiled Nan. "I feel rather ashamed of my smart appearance, but Lily insisted on my wearing this."
"Oh, well, we have all got to obey the Smart Finish. But where are you
"To arrange with Mrs. O'Brien about our milk supply."
"Then take my advice and keep away from the cows, they might take you for a well grown lettuce - one crunch, and down you would go !"
As Nan walked away, Freda turned to Margaret, and said :
"After all there is some justice in that horrible mistake. Fancy such a perfect little gem as our Nan sinking her identity in matrimony and being monopolised by
one man !"
The subject of this enconium walked lightly on, with head well poised and a studiously bright look upon her face, until she had left the little township far behind and was alone in the vast forest. Then the loneliness appealed to her soul, and she weat on slowly with heart and thoughts that would not be stifled,
She found Mrs. O'Brien only too glad to accede to her wishes. Little Norah
should take the milk at seven o'clock every morning. Would Miss Nan like a glass of it now? It was that rich you could almost stand a spoon in it - 'twould do her good.
Nan drank the milk and praised it; she further delighted Mrs. O'Brien by saying she had always admirad her cows; then, accepting a bunch of roses and honeysuckle that little Norah presented,
shyly, she began her journey home.
It was nearly noon when she reached the place where the raspberries grew, she gathered half a basket full, and then, overcome with the heat and a strange feeling of weariness through all her limbs, she sank down to rest in the dense shade of a young tamarind tree.
It was pleasant to sit with half closed eyes, secure from the sun's rays, and watch the motionless leaves shine and glitter in the glassy air of the middle day heat; pleasant to hear the rustle of the gaudy locusts' wings, as they sped hither and thither; pleasant to listen to the strange din made by the shrill cica- das, as with marvellous accord, they set their myriad little musical bodies in motion - their song always beginning soft and low; gradually swelling and rushing along until the mighty roar culminated in a maddening crash. Then, absolute silence for a few seconds, and the same gradual swell once more. One little fellow settled on Nan's frock, and she watched him busily grinding out music in nnison with his fellows, and drowsily
wondered how he did it. Then her eye- lids drooped lower and lower till the lashes formed a downward arch upon her cheeks, and in a moment Nan was asleep.
And presently she dreamed, and dream- ing smiled. For it seemed to her that someone unspeakably dear, found courage to tell his love and to plead for hers in
return. And in her dream Nan was conrageous, too, for she smiled happily under fancy feigned kisses, while the warm blood flushed and glowed under the
Then she opened her eyes, and lo ! he was there - the subject of her dream carefully placing her open parasol so as to shield her face from the encroaching sun.
With a happy little laugh she slipped a supple wrist round his neck and said :
"Hilary, what a great stupid you were that day, and how miserable you made
Then she remembered that her happi- ness was only a freak of a riotous brain ; there had been no understanding, no word spoken to break down that towering barrier of shyness and shame.
With a cry of horror she covered her burning face with her hands, but he took them in his own and held them .close.
" Nan, my darling ; Nan, my love, my own, you have made me the happiest man,
on earth !"
"Oh, go away or I shall die ! I was dreaming - a horrible dream, and I did not know I had been asleep !"
"A horrible dream, was it ?" His face was transfigured, only she could not look at him. " I will never let you go until you look in my face and call me my name and touch me lovingly as you did in that
most delirious dream !"
"Oh, let me go. Don't speak to me
any more ! It is all too utterly shame- ful!"
" Nan, why did you snub me, and send
me away, and break my heart that day; tell me why?"
Her face flushed scarlet as she seemed to hear again Lily's song with its ghastly emphasises.
"They gazed on each other with honest
"Look up Nan - answer me! I will hold your hands here until you do !" and with one hand he tilted her chin until he compelled her eyes to meet his own.
A little smile dawned in her face, then and she continued to look without flinch-
"I'll never tell you why I ran away that morning - " (She did not know that a kind fairy had given him an idea of the true cause)," but, if it broke your heart I am very glad - for I'll mend it - if it is not
* * * *
"Hilary, do you see where the sun has got to? It must be three o'clock and they will think at home I have formed a dinner for a cow or a carpet snake!"
"I am coming with you to see that the blame is laid on the right shoulders!"
"Aren't you afraid to face the three girls, and tell them you have a claim on this bit of property?"
"I wonld not fear them if each one stood as high as the Tower of Babel - and had as many tongues!"
The Tower didn't have tongues, you great silly fellow!"
"Well, there were lots of tongues about - you know what I mean ! But I do wish, my Nan, there was some real difficulty to surmount, - I would glory in browbeating a stern uncle - or slaughter- ing a two-headed giant, for you - or in carrying you through fire and water, and seeing that you remained unharmed!"
"I'll give you something to do, since you are so eager to prove your prowess.
Tell the cicadas to be silent, for I can't hear half the delightful things you say to
Very soon, in an incredibly short time it seemed to Nan, they reached home and met with a score of questions.
"Did you lose your way, Nan? - we were just preparing to go out and look for you."
"And I said the cows had eaten you, and we should find nothing but a shoe heel, and perhaps a parasole handle, to shew what had become of you," said
But Lily laughed inwardly as she asked with apparent innocence.
"Can Mrs. O'Brien spare us the milk ?" She was standing a little apart from the others, and Hilary went towards her, tak- ing both hands in his.
"You are the grandest girl in the world, Lil - you are a perfect angel of light !"
"Ha, ha! Bar one, eh?"
" Bar one, of course, but only one."
The next time Mr. Thorald called on business, all four girls happened to be in
Three of them seemed to know him so well that they did not think it strange when he offered his hand like a friend - but Lily regarded this familiarity with evident mistrust. She studied him closely as he stood talking to Margaret and the others, and she had to acknowledge that to all outward appearance he was "white" and worthy of confidence, but she wondered greatly how Margaret, usually so guarded, could have forgotten her reserve and treated this utter stranger
like an old friend.
"I have brought you some books," said Mr. Thorald, "which perhaps you would like to read. I don't know whether you have seen any of this girl's writings, but I am certain that they would please you."
"What! Marie Corelli!" answered Margaret. "Yes - I know them, they
are beautiful wonderful! It often seems to me that she must be divinely inspired!"
Nan was reading the titles.
"'Thelma' we have read, and 'A Romance of Two Worlds,' but 'Vendetta'
"You will like it less than the others," said Arthur. "The subject is conven- tonal and - well - sensational. But lovers of Corelli can always forgive her her choice of a theme, the writing is so inimit-
"Yes, she is so wonderfully gifted," said Margarget. "She could not write the most simple sentence in a common- place or ordinary way; there is a touch of her own in everything she says, as if the pen she used were magical !"
She opened "Vendetta" and read the
words on the fly leaf,
"For my dear boy. Christmas, 189-" "From my dear old woman," said he, smiling. "She is an inveterate reader, and I can always trust to her taste in
But Lily glanced at the writing and thought, darkly,
"Your dear old woman writes a wonder- fully modern hand!"
"That is so nice," said Nan. " It is often painful to see the number of women who fritter away their time in useless knitting and fancy work - a very queer fancy, it seems to me. When they could be improving their minds and satisfying their souls with the delightful books that are at everyone's disposal now."
" And how horrified those women would be hear you say that!" laughed Freda. "They think it is you who fritter your time away in idle reading and neglect of
the feminine arts !"
In a little while Lily drifted out to pre- pare their midday meal.
"Can I help you, Lil ?" asked Freda, who was anxious to hear what opinion Lily might have formed of the stranger.
"You may help me to shell the peas if you like."
Then some other people came in for letters or stamps, and Nan supplied them, while Margaret stood listening to Arthur as he talked of his home and childhood, and many things.
And the Fates were by all the time, though she did not dream of it, weaving and winding a net around her, that would scorch and blister through the lonely days
Presently Hilary appeared, to Nan's intense surprise.
"I thought you had returned to camp, and we were not to see the light of your countenance until Saturday!" she re- marked, demurely.
"Did you, really!" and he laughed. "Well, I know I said so, and I lay awake thinking hard for some pretext as an excuse - then I remembered that I hadn't hung that orchid for you, so I have come
to do it!"
"That was disinterested and very kind," smiled Margaret. While Nan looked a little confused when her lover spoke thus openly, in the presence of a
"And now, Nan," proceeded he, "if you give me my orders, and a piece of string, I'll proceed to business under your supervision."
"Very well - but have you got your pipe ?" she asked, suddenly.
He produced it, wondering,
"And good strong tobacco ?"
"Ruby twist - it's as mild as milk," he answered. "A child might smoke it - or you, yourself, if you like."
"You are quite too kind. But just for once in a way you must use strong stuff," answered Nan. " I want you to smoke some horrid little insects that have attacked my plants."
"I couldn't make out what you were driving at," laughed Arthur. " I have just the thing that will suit. Some of my samples are strong enough to stiffen an ox." -Then to Hilary, "I'll go and get a bit for you, if you think you can
"Oh, please don't trouble," said Hilary. "There's a house close by where I can get stuff powerful enough to blow the roof
"But I should like you to try mine," said Arthur. "I may be able to do a good business with nurserymen in future - a thing I never thought of - if Miss Nan can recommend this as a cure for insect pests." And he went away off towards
"I say, Nan," remarked Hilary, ser- iously. "If that fine gentleman wants to come with us and watch the operation, I'll punch his head !"
"His head is not in danger," laughed Nan. And she was right, for he gave a fig of "Nigger head" to Hilary remark- ing, with a laugh :
"I shall be able to do a big trade if this succeeds, and I'll have your recommenda- tion printed in large type and post it to every nurseryman in New South Wales."
Then, when he was left alone with Margaret, he said :
"Your sister looks a different creature to-day, she is the picture of health and happiness."
" es, isn't she !" and then almost to herself, "dear little Nan."
"That seems a fine young fellow," he went on. "A great friend, I suppose ?"
"Yes, a very great friend - he is almost
like a brother to us."
"Am I mistaken in supposing he may become a brother indeed some day?" asked Arthur, seriously.
"You are not mistaken," she answered, quitely. " It is a source of great happi- ness to me, for there are not many I should care to trust with our Nan, but I think he is worthy."
"He is a lucky fellow to have won your good opinion, it is what I would prize more than anything on earth!"
His face was very pale and earnest, and
for a minute Margaret was deprived of the power of speech. The silence soon
became awful as she seemed to hear her
heart thumping loudly, and rushing
noises in her brain.
Arthur took her hand in his.
"Dare I hope that you will look upon me, some day, as something more than a mere acquaintance - something more than
a friend ?"
Margaret withdrew her hand and answered very gently :
"I think we have already shown you that you could be more than an ordinary acquaintance; we agree in so many things, and I think, in time, we might become very good friends."
Her hand was resting on the back of a chair. Arthur laid his lips upon it for an
"Thank you. I shall remind you of that some day," said he.
And then someone came in to transact business and Arthur had to take his departure.
(To he continued on Friday.)